20 December 2005

Emptiness and the Sublime ~ A Holiday Reflection

One of the wisest and most profound scholars and practitioners of the Buddhist tradition of Madhyamaka, the second-century master Nagarjuna, taught that the real meaning of the somewhat cryptic wisdom teachings on emptiness of our Founder, Shakyamuni, as, for example, in the Heart Sutra, mean that all form, all matter; even consciousness itself; are without inherent existence and have as their essential nature emptiness. There are elaborate and very involved logical and experiential bases for this doctrine, but I won't belabor the point. The conclusion from all of this (often omitted in glosses on Buddhism), however, is that far from there being simply nothing, i.e., no-existence (nihilism), the mere appearances to mind which those of us living in the World experience as suffering, transitory enjoyment, form, consciousness. . . the universe itself . . . are by their essential nature beyond conceptual thought; a genuine reality which is open, expansive, relaxed, and blissful.

Perhaps this points to the common ground between Western theological religion and Buddhist practice: The Western One-God and our Vajradhara are both representations of that which is so beyond human ordinary mental conception that all description, all words, all concepts fail us, and we can only revere it and seek to involve ourselves in its direct experience. And in so doing we discover that the sublime creates in our hearts potentially limitless lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity, purification, and wisdom.

May everyone's holidays be happy, and may they have a happy, productive, and healthy New Year!

More on Why Bush should be impeached and removed from office

Josh Marshall has an excellent analysis of why the right-wing apologists for this president's failure to uphold the constitution have it all wrong. Even if the argument that the president has extraordinary emergency powers has some merit, it is clearly and in my view inarguably incumbent upon the president to inform Congress of any such actions, as soon as practicable, and follow their legislative dictates on any further use of a particular power or application of a particular policy. Any other conduct is misdemeanor in office, and the president should be impeached. Including for failure to so consult with Congress. This president has been explicitly and quite blatantly violating the clear provisions of statutory law for years, without seeking Congressional approval. This is unacceptable, and the President should be impeached, convicted, and removed from office with all speed.

19 December 2005

The President has deliberately violated his oath to uphold the constitution and must be impeached

The New York Times reports this morning on Bush's explanation for why he violated the explicit terms of the law on surveillance of American citizens and the requirement for judicial review. His explanation is entirely unsatisfactory. There is no credible legal defense: when Congress speaks on a particular subject, and explicitly requires judicial review for a particular executive action, the president may not reply on vague "use of force" authorization or reliance on undefined additional executive powers to openly and deliberately violate the law. The conclusion is inescapable: this President has intentionally violated his oath to uphold the constitution. Impeachment forthwith is the only reasonable course of action, and those who fail to see this are facing the slippery slope of the end of American representative government (in the relatively near future), and facing it with frightening indifference.

13 December 2005

Global Warming: Rushing towards Catastrophe

The NYT has an editorial today about the shameful fiasco in Montreal, saying that the best that can be said about it is that the other countries struggling to work out a framework for dealing with the crisis of global warming refused to allow the US to blow the entire conference to smithereens.

Elizabeth Kolbert has a lead "Talk of the Town" piece in the current New Yorker too, in which she says it's no longer a question of putting off catastrophe; it's a question of rushing towards it. (No link currently available).

08 December 2005

Intolerable Shame, If True

I have no way of verifying the following, from Steve Clemons's The Washington Note, but I can say that Clemons is a generally reliable and sober person, who reports this as fact, so it carries a certain credibility to me. If this is true, it is so abominably shameful that a major shakeup at the CIA and the Administration is called for. This kind of unAmerican activity simply must stop. We Americans must not continue to tolerate this sort of thing being committed in our names.

Make it $100 million for Innocent Rendition Victim Khaled El-Masri
I just got off the phone with a prominent Arabic journalist producing a program on the politics and practice of rendition.This journalist,
Yosri Fouda, has interviewed at length Khaled El-Masri, the innocent victim of American kidnapping and rendition gone very wrong. I have not read extensively about El-Masri's case, so this may be public record, but what I did not know when I wrote last night's post were the details of how he was "dumped" after American authorities learned he was innocent.

Get this now. El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was kidnapped while vacationing by American intelligence agents. He was transported and "questioned" -- allegedly roughly -- by American authorities in Afghanistan. Along the way, these investigators finally figured out he was innocent and reported back to CIA Director George Tenet. Tenet had him held ANYWAY for another two months. And then. . .you might ask, could it get worse? Well, yes.
We dumped him blind-folded in the deep forest, mountainous triangle area between Albania, Serbia and Macedonia. He had to walk out with no money, no identification. He got to a border guard station -- and because of his inability to identify himself and because of how "outlandish" his story sounded to the border guards he met, he feared that the entire process would begin. We dumped him blindfolded in a forest in one of the toughest regions nearby. Were U.S. authorities hoping he'd just be shot by someone else? What were they thinking?Let's make sure that one of the journalists traveling with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asks about this detail of the story that had escaped me and others before. What is this about dumping a known-innocent guy in the Serbia-Kosovo-Macedonia triangle? More later.-- Steve Clemons

UPDATE: My friend, journalist Eli Lake, has suggested in the comments section that someone (including TWN) pose the question of how the El-Masri case occurred to the CIA, which handled this case. He has a good point, and we will follow up on it. But others in the press corps ought to also follow up with the CIA. SCC

02 December 2005

The Great Misleader

Krugman in today's Times (unfortunately behind Times Select Firewall) argues cogently that Bush's "major policy address" on Iraq was more of the same deliberate misleadership we've become accustomed to, and, at least up until now, the press has largely acquiesced in.

Among his chief examples are the completely misleading figures given on oil production. Of course oil production in Iraq increased from 2003 to 2004. During and just before the war in '03 there was effectively no oil production, so if it didn't increase in '04 it would really be a major drop. The truth is that oil production in Iraq, depsite rosy predictions by the neocons in Fantasyland, has never achieved in pre-war, Sanctions-in-effect levels.

He also points out that the statements about "progress" in Fallujah, Samara and Najaf are pretty blatantly just not borne out by the real facts.

I was impressed by the CBS News dialog between Bob Schieffer and Lara Logan on the day of Bush's speech. Schieffer asked her about the Airport Road, which Bush claimed was now under Iraqi control. Logan said, "That's just not true, Bob," and proceeded to describe the real situation. This is what the American people have a right to expect: a press that does its homework and fact-checks everything the Great Misleader says.

01 December 2005

Lieberman defends Bush Iraq Policy

This is a good example of why I've thought for some time now that Joe Lieberman should resign from the Democratic party -- like Sharon from Likud -- and join the Republicans. Of course, he should resign his Senate seat too, since he was elected as a Democrat. To continue to serve as a Republican is a fraud upon the electorate... and he's already doing it, in everything but name.

21 November 2005

Bamford on White House Prewar Deception Strategy

See James Bamford in Rolling Stone on the White House's outsourcing strategy to create the propaganda climate to sell a war to depose Saddam Hussein.

18 November 2005

My letter to my congressman about Medicare Rx Coverage

Dear Congressman Berman,
I am still in my 50s, so the Medicare Prescription Drug fiasco does not directly affect me personally, and my elderly father has a health plan that makes the choices simpler for him than for most.
Nonetheless, I feel impelled to write to you to urge you to sponsor and support IMMEDIATE REFORM to this very-ill-conceived plan. Seniors everywhere are very confused, and the "do-nut hole", prohibition against negotiated prices, and needless mandate of "gratuitous privatization," as Economist Paul Krugman puts it, are all hugely negative and badly thought-out features of this plan.

I believe a great political price will be paid by those who fail and refuse to radically overhaul this Republican boondoggle, and replace it with honest, government paid, and fair prescription drug coverage as part of Medicare. Such fairness must include a means-based formula for any premiums and humane considerations taken into account in any restrictons of coverage.

Thank you.

07 November 2005

Sullivan on Torture Policy: good questions

Andrew Sullivan has two very good posts on the Bush torture policy, asking some excellent questions.

BUSH DIGS IN DEEPER: Here's a fascinating quote:
"There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law. We do not torture," -
President Bush, today. If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the lee-way given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the President: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?

SOME MORE QUESTIONS: What does the president think of Ian Fishback's testimony that abuse and torture was routine and that no one in the military hierarchy would say they were not permitted during eighteen months of his trying to get an answer? What does the president make of the following quote from another servicemember of his time in Iraq: "I think our policies required abuse. There were freaking horrible things people were doing. I saw [detainees] who had feet smashed with hammers. One detainee told me he had been forced by Marines to sit on an exhaust pipe, and he had a softball-sized blister to prove it. The stuff I did was mainly torture lite: sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions, hypothermia. We used dogs." Since the president signed the finding of September 17, setting up a series of secret CIA detention camps where 'waterboarding' is permitted, does he believe and will he state categorically that no torture has ever occurred at those camps?
Watching and listening to this man, it seems to me we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American servicemembers. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging. But there is, of course, an easy way forward for the president if this is truly what he believes: support the Congress in backing the president's own position. Pass the McCain Amendment. Given what he said today, why on earth would he not?

My response to Mr. Sullivan:

Excellent, excellent questions. The Gagglers should ask every one of them, every day, until they're answered. And the nightly news broadcasts should show Scotty trying to dodge the questions. "We don't torture," "We act within the law," are not answers to these very, very specific questions; not to mention the fact that the premise of the questions shows these kinds of answers to be lies.

What I would like to know is how can those responsible for congressional oversight justify not holding hearings to ask these questions of whoever they can from the administration, again, every day, until they are answered? The shame of such a process would force change of policy amounting to complete reversal.

You are absolutely right that this issue goes beyond ideology, and it goes beyond whether the prosecution of war in Iraq is worthwhile or not. America's reputation for "fair play" is already shot, but its very legitimacy as a "defender of freedom" is on the line, and about to go down in a way that will be very, very long and hard to recover.

01 November 2005

Lies and Conspiracy

Of course political reality is one thing. The government is completely controlled by the Republican Party. Nonetheless, we have to ask:

It's now clear that Bush and his administration waged a campaign of deliberate deception, in which the "mainstream media" was complicit, to justify involving America in a catastrophic war.
  • How is this not an impeachable offense?

It's equally clear that Cheney, Libby and Rove (and probably others) conspired to out to the press a covert CIA operative, during wartime, with serious consequences to American intelligence assets and effectively ending her career.

  • How is this not treason?

At the very least, there should be an unceasing drumbeat in the op-Eds and commentaries across the land, demanding that Bush explain and account for his actions, and for Cheney and Rove to resign now.

27 October 2005

Karma and Damnation

Whether or not the modern Westerner wishes to believe in the real existence of infernal realms is in a sense beside the point. Evil simply brings forth suffering; and it hardly matters whether one conceives of this in the picturesque terms of Dante’s Inferno or shares the view of Jean-Paul Sartre that “hell is other people.” Nevertheless, it is important to grasp that the idea of eternal damnation as a punishment for sin is foreign to Buddhist understanding. Suffering is a consequence of one’s own action, not a retribution inflicted by an external power. Infernal torments, moreover, though they may last for aeons, belong to samsara and are therefore not exempt from the law of impermanence. And even if the notion of a divine vengeance is regarded as an approximation, in mythological terms, to the concept of karmic consequences, it is perhaps worth suggesting that the impersonal view proposed by Buddhism should have the advantage of exorcising the paralyzing sense of guilt, or revolt, that can so often be the outcome of a too anthropomorphic theism. The doctrine of karma has only one message: the experience of states of being follows upon the perpetration of acts. We are the authors of our own destiny; and being the authors, we are ultimately, perhaps frighteningly, free.

--from the Padmakara Translation Group’s Introduction to Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara (Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life) (Shambhala Publications, 1996).

17 October 2005

End Gerrymandering: a Modest Proposal

The whole issue of Congressional redistricting has become central to any analysis of why representative government in the United States is so dysfunctional. In Texas, Republicans were able to strongarm an overturning of the traditional ten-year cycle to force through a grossly disproportional mid-decade reapportionment, resulting, by some accounts, in a pick-up of five seats by Republicans. This is not because of any change in the votes of the electorate; merely in the system which determines what those votes will determine. In California, the governor has proposed an initiative to change the constitution of the State to create a commission of un-elected retired judges to make the determination of congressional redistricting . . . with no guarantee that the new system will lead to districts which any more accurately represent the actual views of the people than the current system.

My proposal is relatively simple, and to my knowledge has not been widely discussed anywhere before. I am not a statistician or mathematician, but let’s take it as a given that there are a limited number of mathematical solutions to the following problem: with minimal adjustments to prevent districts from bisecting buildings, etc., require the drawing congressional districts in a given state so that each has the same number of registered voters, and the minimum possible perimeter. (Which translates to the most compact area). This should amount to essentially a mathematical problem, or algorithm, to be calculated by a computer from the census data and geographical data points.

If this idea were put into effect, “gerrymandering,” which is the drawing of weirdly contorted borders for congressional districts in order to guarantee the re-election of incumbents, would be effectively outlawed, and there would be no negotiation over or arbitrary designation of districts. In the random fallout of advantage and disadvantage from such a system, no party would be prejudiced and none unduly advantaged. Such redistricting could occur with each census, or, based on politics-proof government updated estimates, more often.

12 October 2005

Plamegate heating up

Plamegate timeline, for anyone interested, here.

This thing is really heating up. See this and this.

It causes one to wonder if total meltdown is avoidable. It appears that Rove at least may be doomed.

See this for one take on "Why this matters."

07 October 2005

Ain't no use arguin' about religion

My nephew, an evangelical Christian, suggested I read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, I suppose to encourage me, whom he knows to subscribe to Buddhist teachings, to at least have a better idea where his faith comes from. I’d actually read the book, or part of it, years ago, but I dutifully went out and found an old copy and read it. I can’t say I found it particularly profound. Professor Lewis, in the first part of the book, The Case for Christianity, tries to prove the truth of his religion in six sentences or so, but this seemed like a series of non-sequiturs to me. The conclusion was foregone. The rest of the book presumes at least a degree of acceptance of the basic premises, i.e. that the World was created by God, that he sent his Son, begotten not made, to Earth to save us, etc. He seems to be trying to make a logical case for belief in his religion, but I think his task is impossible, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t succeed. It isn’t that Christianity is any more difficult to prove logically, it’s just that religion, by practical definition, must transcend rational issues like real-world proof of its premises. Acceptance must be based on something other than… (more than, if you prefer) ... reason.

I suggested to my nephew nothing in return, not because there aren't useful commentaries on what I believe, but because I have no desire to try to convince him or any Christian of anything, or to question, or try to induce them to question, their beliefs. I’m perfectly content for to have different religious views from my friends and relatives, and only hope that they can be marked by mutual respect. Of course, no one follows, to any considerable extent, a religious tradition, without being convinced that it comes closer to Truth with a capital T than other traditions. That doesn’t mean, though, that he can’t respect those who have come to different conclusions, even if he believes they would be better off if they believed as he does, which of course is equally inevitable.

I think it is inherent in any religion, to at least some degree, that intuition, (or faith, if you prefer), is involved. Thus, the holding of belief or practice is in some degree dependent upon logically or factually indefensible acceptance of specific statements of belief taught or related by past spiritual teachers on whom one chooses to rely. Religious doctrine, again all but by definition, will necessarily contain that which is not falsifiable (or verifiable), and which is necessarily open to the charge, by those who choose not to believe in it, of being arbitrary. Were it otherwise, the doctrine under examination would be provably true, and would cross over from being religion to being science, and denial of such doctrine would go from being an intellectually defensible difference of choice to being mere stupidity. Yet most (not all) people find that if all they are willing to accept, or practice, must be derived from that which can be verified, i.e., that which is science, there is something missing, something important to their well-being. Thus, they make a conscious (or sometimes unconscious) choice to rely on intuition, or faith, and accept as true certain spiritual elements which they find irresistible, regardless of proof. In simpler terms, they choose to believe something not because it’s provably true, but because it seems to them that it just must be true; i.e. they feel it to be true. As an aside, the fact that many of these spiritual elements are in fact common to most spiritual traditions is at least suggestive of their universal truth.

Still, this lack of possibility of proof of spiritual belief is the uncrackable nut: just as the old saw says de gustibus non est disputandum, it is equally true that you can’t usefully argue logically about faith, or intuitive belief. These are ultimately personal matters, apart from the ethical and moral standards which we accept as societal conventions in the interests of public order, insisting not on belief in their truth but in obedience to their form, under compulsion, as the price of living in society. This is the borderland not between religion and science but between religion and law, which of course gives rise to a whole series of other disagreements, based on how people view ethics, but these cross the frontiers of religious categories as well.

Sometimes someone (usually a young person) is seeking something, and is open to suggestion about matters of intuition or faith. And sometimes people’s beliefs gradually evolve, or even spontaneously and suddenly change, in a process common enough that there’s a word for it: epiphany. But usually there are no logical arguments, and no amount of cajoling, short of brainwashing techniques, which will convince someone to change his mind about these essentially non-rational beliefs, on which all religions ultimately rely to at least some extent.

25 August 2005

Wittmann: Win or Get Out? -- A Bleak Scenario

Marshall Wittmann, the moderate Democrat calling himself "Bull Moose," who used to work for John McCain, has a thoughtful piece about the non-option, in his mind, of unilateral withdrawal from Iraq.

My comment to him:

I'm unconvinced of the utility of keeping forces in Iraq, but assuming you're right, I notice your piece says nothing about the possibility, even at this late date, of securing more international involvement. Surely if Iraq is so dangerous to our future security, it poses at least to some degree the same danger to Europe, China, Russia? Why should the U.S. bear this burden alone? I believe if Kerry had been elected president he would have spent the last year on just this effort. This president has not, and as a result the situation in Iraq is so bleak that there appears less and less likelihood that any outcome other than eventual unilateral withdrawal can successfully be brought about. And that is a catastrophe. The only way to wrest some kind of victory from this debacle would be through honest admission of past mistakes, and appeal to common security interests to secure international commitment, including U.N. troops, to ensuring stability in that country. I can't see this administration doing this or being successful at it even if it tried. The moral gravitas simply isn't there.

At this point, it seems to me that otherwise the eventual outcome will almost certainly be worse than if we had simply left Saddam Hussein in power. And THAT is the real betrayal of the sacrifice of all the ordinary citizens who have been asked, or forced, to serve there; some to sacrifice their lives there. The chief fault here lies not in those who see quagmire and oppose any further commitment to a lost cause, but in the halls of power. And the greatest tragedy is that any other outcome is coming closer and closer to being impossible, politically if not militarily. If that happens, those who propose withdrawal will come to be seen as having proposed the "least worst" option, in terms of mounting casualties, since the outcome will be the same. In this way, the war in Iraq does indeed resemble Vietnam more and more.

See also Larry Johnson's piece in TPM Café.

23 August 2005

Pakistan, Iran, and nuclear deceit

Iran built its nuclear program in secret over 18 years with the help of Abdul Qadeer Khan, a top Pakistani official and nuclear scientist who sold spare parts from his country's own weapons program to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Khan's black-market dealings were uncovered in 2003. He confessed on national television, was swiftly pardoned by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and is now under house arrest.

Pakistan has denied IAEA inspectors access to Khan and to the country's nuclear facilities, but earlier this year it agreed to share data and some equipment with the inspectors to expedite the Iran investigation. Among the equipment were discarded centrifuge parts that match those Khan sold to Iran.

That's from Dafna Linzer's piece today in the NYT.

Am I alone in thinking that we should hold Musharraf's feet to the fire?
What kind of so-called ally is this, who has all but admitted that his government is doing nothing to find Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri? How 'bout revoking evey single Pakistani national's visa and cutting off every cent of aid unless he makes Khan available for interrogation by the IAEA, and Pakistan's own nuclear facilities available for inspection? And if he won't (it isn't "can't") locate and turn over these 9-11 enemies, pressure him open up his territory to commando raids to get 'em ?

But the real point of Linzer's piece is that Bolton and other Bush officials are playing worse than fast and loose with the truth about Iran's mostly ineffective and non-weapons capable nuclear program, thereby eroding still further U.S. credibility on the non-proliferation issue.

26 July 2005

My two cents: what America needs

I feel quite sure that I will be tactitly dismissed by some who happen to read this, for "oversimplifying" complex issues and failing to understand how an intricately interacting global economy works. But my point is that, for the majority of American working people, who are the people to whom I believe our government owes its first and foremost loyalty, the intricately interacting global economy isn't working. It is resulting in good jobs disappearing, declining standard of living, increasing dependence on formerly third-world countries not only for energy supplies but for basic manufactured goods, soaring deficits, and increasing and very troubling debt to other countries, particularly China.

I believe we need to rethink, revamp, and largely do away with the post WWII Free Trade Regime, and recast our domestic and international policies, with these priorities (after security and defense of course; we're talking economic policy): 1) Ensure that American working people have opportunities for education and good jobs, including retirement and health care security; 2) Ensure that American business can compete on a level field with other countries, while requiring that to do business in America you must comply with American law, whether here or anywhere. Part of this would be revamping labor laws to encourage organizing and unionizing workers. This benefits everyone in the long run, and anyone who disagrees is not really interested in a consumer economy, they've cast their lot with the current Robber Baron economic model.

To do this, beyond encouraging workers to organize, we need to re-regulate the economy to require business to provide decent wages and decent benefits, or else, no business in the U.S. As for foreign competition, my solution is quite simple: assess a "wages and benefits" tariff on any products sold in the U. S. from countries that fail to pay a calibrated living wage/benefits compensation level, or who fail to provide open information about their economies. This will make their goods cost exactly what they would cost if the wages and benefits were paid. We could then earmark the revenues to assist lower and middle income citizens in our country. In other words, pay and play fair, or else we'll tax your goods and use the money for our people. That way our products will compete on a level playing field. It's time to abandon the whole paradigm of Free Trade, GATT, etc., and consider that decent living standards for working people everywhere must come first, corporate profits second, or else you don't get to play in the world's largest consumer market. If the U.S. were to lead on this (for once), Europe would follow. As for the Chinese and Malaysia; their interests are clearly not ours. Let them fend for themselves in the NEW New World Order.

Meantime, I believe that a program at least comparable to the Interstate Highway System, the wartime and postwar program to develop nuclear weapons, and the Space Program, needs to be funded, with increased taxes as necessary, to invest in developing the necessary technology to move beyond fossil fuels as the dominant source of energy as soon as possible.

If the Democrats embraced something like this; something really meaty, and really meaningful to ordinary people, they would attract a large majority of voters. Politicians of the past 30 years have been far too timid: the problems of our times demand bold solutions.

08 July 2005

Bush War on Terror, Iraq Strategy: Miserable, Immoral Failure

TCR, self-styled "honest conservative," has a terrific post on why the Bush "war on terror" is such a miserable failure and how the "flypaper" strategy in Iraq is both totally misguided and unsuccessful, and morally bankrupt.

My comment is that it isn't honest conservatism that bothers me. It's the total contempt for the people and the truth consistently demonstrated by this administration. At 52, I've never felt more alienated from the centers of power of American government.

05 July 2005

Say no! to Eminent Domain for Private Development

This is my response, actually agreeing (sacre bleu!) with John Tierney's column in the New York Times today.

Mr. Tierney:

Usually, I disagree with what you have to say pretty much entirely, but here's a curious area of common ground between the "get government off our backs" conservatives and those of us liberals who have come to realize that the road to perdition is indeed often paved with good intentions... and with a little of that "for their own good" paternalistic mindset all too willing to stretch the plain meaning of the original constitutional protections.

I know I'm out of step with most of my liberal compatriots, but I think most "redevelopment" has been an unfortunate mess (and yes, for the same reasons that State Socialist infrastructure like that of East Germany and the Soviet Union is so mind-numbingly dreary and ineffective). It is indeed past time to rethink the rationale that allowed it in the first place. Genuine public use...public buildings, highways, roads, rail lines, airports, hospitals, schools, universities... of course. But private redevelopment "for their own good," using the strong arm of eminent domain, I say no, too. And for the simple and obvious reason: it just ain't right.

But the courts need not have to revisit the issue, and it need not be a litmus for future supreme court justice candidates. (We have enough other issues to fight over). The congress, which too often abrogates its responsibilities, could, without fear of being overturned, simply legislate that no government agency, whether federal, state, or local, may take property except for certain defined ... and genuine ... public purposes, regardless of "fair compensation." There's no need for reinterpretation of the constitution, still less amendment of it, on this one, as it quite clearly falls within the congress's legislative and regulatory powers. (The state and local part would come under the interstate commerce clause, but given the way THAT's been used in the past, this would hardly be a stretch; see the Medical Marijuana decision).

Real conservatives in congress (of both parties) should readily support such legislation. I fear it wouldn't pass right now, though, and largely because most of the Republicans in congress aren't really conservative at all... they're as solidly in the pockets of big business contributors as are the likes of the Democrats-in-Name-Only Biden and Lieberman.

It seems strange to say this, but good luck with your campaign to convince Americans that this is an important issue, and that their rights here (as in many other areas), are under assault.

David Studhalter

Rove source of Plame leak, big surprise

This is excerpted from Editor & Publisher, in a piece by Greg Mitchell:

. . . Friday night, on the syndicated McLaughlin Group political talk show, Lawrence O'Donnell, senior MSNBC political analyst, claimed to know that name--and it is, according to him, top White House mastermind Karl Rove.

Today [July 1], O'Donnell went further, writing a brief entry at the Huffington Post blog:

"I revealed in yesterday's taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine's e-mails will reveal that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source. I have known this for months but sidn't want to say it at a time that would risk me getting dragged into the grand jury.

McLaughlin is seen in some markets on Friday night, so some websites have picked it up, including Drudge, but I don't expect it to have much impact because McLaughlin is not considered a news show and it will be pre-empted in the big markets on Sunday because of tennis.

"Since I revealed the big scoop, I have had it reconfirmed by yet another highly authoritative source. Too many people know this. It should break wide open this week. I know Newsweek is working on an 'It's Rove!' story and will probably break it tomorrow."

Here is the transcript of O'Donnell's McLaughlin Group remarks:

"What we're going to go to now in the next stage, when Matt Cooper's e-mails, within Time Magazine, are handed over to the grand jury--the ultimate revelation, probably within the week of who his source is.

"I know I'm going to get pulled into the grand jury for saying this but the source of...for Matt Cooper was Karl Rove, and that will be revealed in this document dump that Time magazine's going to do with the grand jury."

Other panelists then joined in discussing whether, if true, this would suggest a perjury rap for Rove, if he told the grand jury he did not leak to Cooper. Besides his career at a TV journalist, O'Donnell has served as a producer and writer for the series "The West Wing."

According to published reports, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the case, has interviewed President Bush and Vice President Cheney and called Karl Rove, among others, to testify before the grand jury.

"The breadth of Fitzgerald's inquiry has led to speculation that it has evolved into an investigation of a conspiracy to leak Plame's identity," the Chicago Tribune observed on Friday, "or of an attempt to cover up White House involvement in the leak."

28 June 2005

A Republican Defector

An interesting piece in the Eugene (Oregon) Register-Guard by a longtime Republican who feels so betrayed by what that party has become that he is hanging it up and dissociating himself from the party once and for all.

24 June 2005

Karl Rove Remarks

TCR offers these two quotes juxtaposed, without comment. I certainly concur that they speak for themselves.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and
prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.

--Karl Rove 6/22/05

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

--Hermann Goering 4/18/46, during the Nürnberg trials

15 June 2005

Saudi Regime a rogue state, newest member of Axis of Eviule ?

Today our friend The Cunning Realist is pointing out this piece in the Guardian. Do some of us recall that one of the justifications for invading Iraq was the Hussein regime's refusal to cooperate with U.N. nuclear inspections? Seems our so-called allies the Saudis are doing the same thing. By the logic of the Bush Doctrine, we should be giving them an invasion ulimatum even now. But don't hold your breath.

14 June 2005

TCR on similarity between Vietnam and Iraq

The Cunning Realist has a truly excellent post, "History's Rhyme," giving an analysis of the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, thus shedding light on the total implausibility, even on its own premises, of current U.S. policy.

08 June 2005

Bush Admin. Prevaricates on Global Warming

NYT: Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming -- This is an example of why I remain convinced that the Bush Administration is bent on the destruction of our environment, in flagrant disregard of America's laws. This rogue administration is out of bounds on almost everything, but on the environment they are nothing short of criminals.

02 June 2005

My Letter to Nazi Apologist Pat Buchanan

June 2, 2005

Mr. Patrick J. Buchanan
The American Cause

501 Church St., Suite 217
Vienna, VA 22180

Dear Mr. Buchanan:

I recently came across your
May 11, 2005 column in WorldNet Daily. I am appalled, sir. Your views are positively un-American. Were a so-called liberal to express views anything like as far from, and as contemptuous of, the principles for which tens of thousands of my parents’ generation fought and died, he would be pilloried and attacked by you rabid-dog conservatives. But this, sir … all but defending Nazism, accusing Churchill and FDR, who were faced with terrible choices as their best options, of virtual treason, and ignoring the published facts about the genocidal intent of the Nazi regime; failing even to mention the murder of millions of Jews… this, sir, is beyond the pale.

I agree with former Mayor Ed Koch. Anyone who sits at the same table with you on the Sunday talk circuit as you spew your right-wing propaganda and hate is polluted by your very presence, and should refuse to do so.

You should hang your head in shame, and withdraw forever from public life.

Very truly yours,

David Studhalter

27 May 2005

Septentrional - Ursa Major

While the focus of this log is mostly political, occasionally I indulge other interests, including unusual connections, where one thing leads to another.

I had occasion today to comment to my father, who was offering me several unusual words for use as my “words for the day,” on the word "Septentrional," a more or less interchangeable term with "boreal." "Septentrional" refers to the Seven Stars of Ursa Major (aka "Septentrion"), which dominates the skies of the North. I have been unable to find a truly comparable term linking the regions of the South with some prominent feature of the Southern Sky. "*Argonavital," "Magellanic," or even "Crucial" come to mind, but none of them has any pedigree, and the last one has obvious drawbacks in that it already has other meanings.

It’s a not-too-well known fact that the Sun and its planets are located in a somewhat enriched region of the Milky Way Galaxy, from the point of view of stellar populations and especially prevalence of bright stars in the vicinity. At least part of the reason for this is that the Sun happens to be in the midst of a slowly dissolving star cluster, the Ursa Major Stream or “Moving Group.”

The seven chief stars of Ursa Major (“The Big Dipper,”) and some of the other stars of the constellation, to which could be added Sirius, are the main members of a real star cluster in space, noticeable from any given direction for a distance of at least a couple of hundred light years. You may notice, from the inclusion of Sirius, which is something like 50 degrees of arc across the sky, that the Sun is actually inside this loose association of stars, but it is not a member of it. These are relatively young stars, having formed together from a protostellar nebula something like 150 million years ago, since which time they have been gradually drifting apart, and the cluster losing coherence as the stars "evaporate" into the general stream of stars in the galactic plane. The Sun, in its normal streaming orbit around the Galaxy, just drifted on in to their region.

Probably most stars in the galaxy are somewhere near something prominent like a group of bright stars, but this feature (usually called nowadays the "Ursa Major Moving Group" or “Ursa Major Stream,” and consisting of about 100 stars, most of them dimmer than the Sun), is the most prominent nearby feature for us. 30 or 40 million years ago, the Sun was nowhere near these stars, as it peregrinated on its 250 million year galactic orbit.

Compared to the bright stars of Orion's Belt, which are much younger, brighter, and farther away, this little cluster isn't much, and wouldn't gain any special notice from even 300 light years away.

Septentrional, incidentally, was one of those obscure words which turned up in James Joyce's Ulysses, to titillate the verbophiles of the Literary World.

For more information about Ursa Major as a real feature in nearby space, see this, from which the following is an exceprt:

Many other stars scattered all over the sky share a common space motion with the UMa cluster. And like the cluster the most massive, hence brightest, stars have evolved to the subgiant and even giant phases. One hundred or so stars have been accepted as members of the UMa stream, as it is called. Spanning a few hundred light years of space, it's much too big to be a cluster proper. As these stars are seen in all directions, we are obviously passing through the stream. The spectral types give stellar ages similar to that of the cluster, and this together with the space motions suggests a common origin about 150 million years ago -- just over half a galactic rotation. This age is about midway, ratio-wise, between the youngest and oldest star clusters (one million to 10 billion years).

It seems that the usual antonym for "septentrional" is "meridional." This word, however, doesn't refer to a celestial feature in the South, but to the noonday sun:
1. Of or relating to meridians or a meridian.
2. Located in the south; southern.
3. Of or characteristic of southern areas or people.

An inhabitant of a southern region, especially the south of France.

[Middle English, pertaining to the sun's position at noon, from Old French meridionel, southern, from Late Latin meridionalis, from Latin meridianus, of midday, southern. ]

Why the noonday sun is associated with the South is a bit unclear to me.

Neo-Goldwater Conservatives v. Bush

See Bullmoose's interesting comments on the re-emergence of old fashioned conservative Republicans à la Barry Goldwater, who are very uncomfortable both with the big-government, fiscally irresponsible, and plutocratic tendencies, as well as the theocratic leanings, of the current administration.

Unlikely these folks will vote for a Democrat in a general election, but they very well might split the Republicans enough to enable the whole climate of politics in this country to finally shift away from its current dismal course.

26 May 2005

Common Ground: Fiscal Conservatism and Liberalism

Many fiscal conservatives, like the Cunnning Realist, are sounding more like liberals than like the "Radical Conservatives," (as Robert Reich calls them), who rule Washington these days. It seems the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are becoming increasingly inaccurate and irrelevant as labels for people's political persuasions. See avowedly-conservative columnist David Brooks's piece in today’s New York Times, in which he talks about an emerging alliance between "liberals" like U2's Bono, and evangelical Christians on the issue of poverty amelioration.

Many Goldwater-style conservatives look at the 30+% growth in Federal spending in this administration, the unprecedented policy- and tax-cut- driven shift of wealth from the middle class to the rich, the fast and loose attitude towards the obligation to tell the public the truth, and the incredibly unrestrained growth in the national debt and annual deficit spending ... and say, “if this is conservative government, I want no part of it.”

At the same time, many liberals have come over the years to realize that a balanced policy, which respects the rights and values of religious people, which recognizes the necessity for incentives to work, and which strives to keep government within the means provided by its revenues, rather than shifting the burden of today's government to future generations, is best. These people are finding fiscal conservatives, who generally believe in the right of privacy and keeping government out of people's private lives, their natural allies.

The war in Iraq, too, is a terribly divisive issue. There are rational reasons for believing it was a good policy, although I do not believe they are right. In fact, this administration misrepresented the reasons for war, and continues to do a very poor job both of managing it and explaining in plain language why they believe it is in America's national interests to continue prosecuting it. Old fashioned conservatives, like
Marshall Wittmann, even if inclined to give the administration some benefit of the doubt, just don't go for the kind of propaganda and double-speak coming out of the administration. No wonder many traditional conservatives are abandoning the Bush radical right-wing movement, and thinking it's time to work with liberals to move the country away from polarity and divisiveness, and towards comity, mutual respect, and a government which can function effectively both in the World and as steward of America's economic and social weal. Here, it seems to me inevitable that history will judge this President's government harshly indeed.

25 May 2005

Rats and the Sinking Ship

Marshall Wittmann comments:

Ralph [Reed] and Grover [Norquist] are claiming that they were completely ignorant of any nefarious doings by their old pal. A curious case of amnesia perhaps. Or are they headed for the tall grass as the feds may be on their tails? In any event, it is not exactly a profile in loyalty. Consider this in today's New York Times,

"As Mr. Abramoff's problems touched Mr. DeLay - the majority leader may face an ethics inquiry over trips arranged by Mr. Abramoff - Mr. Norquist was their most vocal defender. But in recent weeks he has distanced himself from the two men whose success has been so intertwined with his own.

At a gala dinner this month to support Mr. DeLay, Mr. Norquist declined a seat on the dais, despite being listed as a host. He slipped out after a predinner reception, he said later, for a dinner party at his home.

Mr. Abramoff attended his wedding on April 2, yet Mr. Norquist described him as simply a "friend," someone he has lunch or dinner with a few times a year. "I knew him when we were in college," he said. "But there's no business or financial relationship."

Mr. Norquist later elaborated: "I haven't seen that much of him recently, and I don't - and it's mostly because - I'm not shunning him or anything. It's just, I'm busy, he's busy, he's in a different world. He took the path I didn't take, which was to go make money as a consultant, and I decided to build A.T.R."

Really, with the scabrous likes of these two, it seems hardly surprising.

24 May 2005

My e-mail to pabaah.com

I tried to engage these loony toons, but it was no use. An obviously futile venture, I must admit.
To: jonalvy44@hotmail.com
Date: Thursday, May 19, 2005 10:36 am
Subject: My registration on pabaah.com
Dear Mr. Alvarez, [http://pabaah.com]

I was directed to your website by an article in the New York Times, and I mistakenly assumed that, as with most public interest websites, there would be room for a diversity of views. Having observed your "rules," which apparently quite explicitly prohibit any disagreement, I must ask that you delete my registration. I gather that were I to post anything on one of your message boards, I would find myself exiled to oblivion in any case.

If you will accept the challenge to read a few sentences of explanation:

I am an American with pre-Revolutionary antecedents (on my mother's side; the last name is Swiss). I am very proud to call myself a Patriot. I believe in America, not only as my homeland but as an embodiment of the ideal of representative government and guaranteed rights of free expression. These guaranteed rights make our nation stronger, not weaker. Your anti-dissent views are, I believe, anathema to the spirit of the American Revolution, and I find the unwillingness to even consider others' take on things to be characteristic of closed-minded people who really do not really believe in the principles of representative democracy on which our nation was founded. Moreover, I believe that the opinion, espoused everywhere on your webiste, that a man is a traitor because he is a dissident from the policies of his government, is a very betrayal of the spirit of the founding of this country. People holding such views have no legitimate claim to call themselves patriots.

Patriotism is not "supporting our president." It is supporting the ideals on which our nation is based. A patriot's duty to his country is to seek to change that with which he disagrees. If you do not understand this, you do not understand the central idea of America, and I am sorry for you.

I support your right, of course, to boycott entertainers who you think are advancing a political agenda with which you disagree. This is a time-honored form of dissent. But calling such people traitors, and shutting up all dissent in your own forums, is indicative of a profound lack of understanding of what the right to dissent is all about. Calling for the government to prosecute dissenters like Michael Moore, is a frightening and ugly throwback to the worst excesses of 1950s McCarthyism.

Some day, I believe, people will look back on people like you the way post-WWII thinking Americans have tended to look back on the regrettable racist-fascist views of such people as Huey Long, Father Conklin, and Charles Lindbergh. Which is to say, as part of a dark chapter of our history, but not in stream with its main currents.

Thank you.

David Studhalter

Gazpacho and Ensalada de lentejas

Once again, it's summer, and time for gazpacho. If you don't know gazpacho, try it. It's lovely. But don't use the the recipe in Pedro Almodovar's Mujeres al bordo de attaca de nervios... (barbiturates are not an essential ingredient).

Most gazpachos have oil and breadcrumbs, which make them heavy and filling. This one is light and delicious, like liquid salad. Put in ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, if you really want to, but leave out the breadcrumbs. Garnish with croutons if you like bread. Use a mandolin to cut up the vegetables if you have one.

Flexible Gazpacho Andaluz

1½ lb. ripe garden tomatoes, cut in chunks, carefully preserving juices (If all you have is supermarket tomatoes, used canned tomatoes instead, they're riper).
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut up
1 good size cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small onion, peeled and cut into chunks. Sweet onions are nice here.
1 clove garlic, toasted in the jacket in dry skillet, then peeled and minced (optional; or use raw if you don't mind the sharpness of raw garlic)
1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut up into chunks (optional, but it adds a nice fruitiness; pear is good too)
¼ - ½ tsp. tarragon or something similar; basil or marjoram. Not rosemary or sage, they're too distinctive.
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup tomato juice or ice water
1 tsp. sugar (may omit if using apple; substitute 1½ tsp. honey if you want)
2 tbs. wine vinegar, or 3 of rice vinegar (more vinegar to taste)
Few drops worcestershire, if desired

Mix in batches in blender until no big chunks remain, but don't puree. Strain, pushing mixture thru with wooden spoon into large bowl. Stir thoroughly to blend all the batches of different stuff into a unified mixture.

Chill at least 3 hours, better overnight. Keeps several days in refrigerator. Serves 6, but just barely (no room for seconds). Recipe can easily be doubled, if you want to make a lot.

Serve cold in tall bowls if you have them. Set out with small bowls of cut up onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and croutons, if desired, as garnishes. (Traditional in Spain).


A good accompaniment:

Ensalada de lentejas (Spanish Lentil Salad)

2/3 cup of lentils, washed
2 cloves garlic, toasted in the jacket in dry skillet, then peeled and minced
2 cloves
½ tsp. cumin
bay leaf
2 tbs. pimientos, cut into strips
3 tbs. wine vinegar or use rice vinegar
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) 1 small zucchini
½ cup shredded carrots... use more if you like more carrot

Put cloves and bay leaf in a bouquet garni or tea ball. Cover lentils with water at least 2 inches above surface of beans, add salt (about 1 tsp.) and cumin. Bring to boil, cover then cook on low heat until not quite tender, about 30 minutes. At this point, add the zucchini, cut into ½ inch pieces, and re-cover. Continue cooking another 5 min. or so, until lentils are just tender. If not using zucchini, skip this step, and just cook straight through until just tender, about 35 min.

Remove bouquet garni and pour beans into strainer and immediately rinse thoroughly with cold water, until cool.

Add remaining ingredients to lentils in bowl, stir together, add salt and pepper to taste; add other herbs like Ms. Dash if you want to, but not too much. Chill, preferably overnight, as it gets better if the ingredients marinate together for awhile. Serve cold. Serves 4, or 6 if you're giving French-size portions.

These two and a little pasta with pesto or agli oli, and/or bread (such as garlic bread, pan con tomate, or bruschetta) will make a light summer supper.

09 May 2005

Carbon Dioxide and the Climate Change

I'd like to again take the opportunity to highly recommend The New Yorker: Annals of Science: The Climate of Man I, II, and III* by Elizabeth Kolbert, in the April 25, May 2 and May 9 issues. This is pretty clearly the dominant environmental issue of the present decades, and these pieces sound a warning which should compare with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring... except the stakes are far, far higher, and next to nothing is being done about it.
*Pt. III doesn't seem to be online currently, but should be shortly.

08 May 2005

Krugman: The Final Insult

Please see Krugman's piece on how the Bush claim to be indexing social security to benefit the poor at the expense of the rich is ... well, a lie, as well as an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

06 May 2005

This oughtta scare ya

From The New Yorker: Annals of Science: The Climate of Man - II, May 2, 2005:

...By studying Antarctic ice cores, researchers have been able to piece together a record both of the earth's temperature and of the composition of its atmosphere going back four full glacial cycles. (...) What this record shows is that the planet is now nearly as warm as it has been at any point in the last four hundred thousand years. A possible consequence of even a four- or five-degree temperature rise -- on the low end of projections for doubled CO2 -- is that the world will enter a completely new climate regime, one with which modern humans have no prior experience.
A scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put it to me -- only half jokingly -- this way: "It's true that we've had higher CO2 levels before. But, then, of course, we also had dinosaurs."

04 May 2005

Comity and Civility

We proud liberals tend to maintain comity and civility in public discourse a good deal better than our Radical Conservative opponents, but since they've essentially declared war on (almost) everything I believe in, I think it's necessary to call a spade a spade when these people spout dangerous nonsense. I will therefore continue to insult, cajole, and backbite these folks, at least until that scabrous drug-addict hatemonger Rush Limbaugh is off the air for good.

03 May 2005

My e-mail to John Tierney

This is my e-mail to John Tierney re: his April 30 column claiming that Democrats are flummoxed by Bush's "progressive" Social Security gambit.

Mr. Tierney:

As usual, your column is Radical-Conservative nonsense. The most important effect of Bush's deceptive proposal would be cuts in retirement benefits for anybody earning over $20,000 a year. People making median income would be substantially impacted. These are FACTS, which give the lie to any idea that the Bush plan is truly "progressive indexing" rather than an overall, massive cut in benefits for the majority of American wage-earners. As Matthew Yglesias puts it in TPM, "people raising families on salaries in the $30,000-$60,000 range are hardly living high on the hog or setting up trust funds for their kids."

Social Security taxes are capped at $90,000 of payroll income, so the very rich ALREADY pay no more in taxes and receive no more in benefits than do those in the upper tier of the middle class. The very rich are irrelevant to the debate on social security.

The scam of Bush's plan, which you endorse, is simply belied by the inescapable facts. Fortunately, for once, the majority of Americans have their BS detectors set on high, and this crap isn't playing in Peoria.

I wish the Times would find someone other than you to replace old man Safire. At least he was witty.

02 May 2005

My e-mail to Andrew Sullivan.

Andrew Sullivan, who's pretty good lately on social issues and foreign policy, continues his troglodyte politics on bread and butter issues. He posted a virtually content-free support for Bush on social security "indexing," with a gratuitous attack on Paul Krugman (see below). Here's my e-mail to him:
Your pro-Bush comments about means-testing social security are baffling and insubstantial, as is your attack on Paul Krugman, which amounts to nothing but an ad hominem. It should be fairly obvious that the issue of means testing is pretty meaningless without some parameters. There is a huge difference between a means testing regime that cuts benefits for almost everyone (like Bush's proposal) and one that (as an example) would continue social security in its role as minimal old age insurance for most working people while removing or limiting the benefit for those with such abundant resources that they are not needed. Such a scheme, were it to be proposed, might even win some bipartisan support, whereas the Bush plan is so lopsided it clearly will not.

Far more logical, in my view, is the idea of increasing the social security tax to include higher income levels, and capping social security benefits, so that they reach a maximum payout amount based on contemporaneous median income (i.e at the time benefits are paid out, not while the tax is being paid in). There could also be a sliding scale drop off after a certain level of current income, (i.e. retirement actual income, as opposed to wage history), so that those who truly have essentially no need for the benefits would not receive them. Something like this could be engineered to completely remove the fiscal problems the program faces, but this clearly is not anything like the plan Bush advocates, which is, just as clearly, a disguised incremental phase-out of social security for the middle class for purely ideological reasons.

Your attack on Krugman is completely unspecific. His article is clear, and his points have not been refuted in any way by anything you said.

I think as a "big league" commentator and blogger, you should be willing to back up your comments on economic issues with economic analysis of some kind. I've found none in your supposed justification for supporting Bush on this issue. Perhaps economics just isn't your strong suit; if so, perhaps you should spare us your unsupported opinions on these subjects.

Krugman Explains How Bush Plan is Really a "Gut Punch" to the Middle Class

Paul Krugman explains, about as clearly as it's possible to explain, how Bush's "indexing" of social security benefits proposal is really nothing less than an incremental scheme to do away with Social Security for the vast majority of Americans.

29 April 2005

Speak Out! Crush the Dear Leader's Social Security Heist!

The Washington Post (Millbank and VandeHei) is saying that the Dear Leader is gambling his second term legacy on his bold stroke of outlining his social security plan and energy policy in last night's press conference.

Ow. I didn't watch the press conference. I just can't stand his smirky face or snotty voice anymore. But I did read the transcript. The "details" of the social security plan... huge benefit cuts falling mainly on the middle class, (especially impacting baby boomer members of that class up to age 55), all out of proportion to the modest fiscal problems of social security... are worse than might have been expected, given the abject failure of his taxpayer financed PR campaign over the last couple of months. Two out of three now oppose Bush on social security.

Time to remind our congressional representatives that we are strongly opposed to Bush's plan to take away ... however incrementally ... the most successful social program in American history.

The less said about the industry-pandering and useless energy "plan" the better, except that it's a real tragedy that we have no leadership in this country willing to confront this issue for real, since there can hardly be a more important one to our nation's future. (Vastly more important than the relatively modest problems with social security funding).

19 April 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

I hope that Catholics around our sorry globe have the same kind of patient response to the events in Rome that progressives in America have had to try to muster in the wake of the last two presidential elections. Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, an inveterate ueber-conservative, seems a very unfortunate choice for Pope for anyone who believes in inclusiveness, consensus, openness and the concept of a popular church, but his reign will inevitably be relatively brief, and perhaps the future will hold a new outlook. Sorry, that's the best I can do in the way of optimism.

A matter of semantic courtesy

Something which has grated on me for years, ever since Bob Dole made his infamous crack about "Democrat wars," is the tendency of right wing partisans to use "Democrat" as an adjective, instead of "Democratic," as a fillip of deliberate discourtesy.

Legitimate commentators and news reporters are always careful to say "Democratic." Invariably partisans, and especially hard right partisans, including President Bush, will say things like "Democrat economist," (Bush recently), and "Democrat-friendly press," etc. (DeLay today).

There's a place for political invective and derision, but public statements intended for the general public is not it. Would they like it if our leaders called their policies "Republicist policies," or some other malapropism? This kind of deliberate discourtesy sends a message: you're not legitimate, and we are. I consider it just a subtle, but significant part of the right wing's efforts to stifle political diversity and freedom in this country, through all disinformation all the time.

06 April 2005

Bill Frist Republican Presidential Nominee 08

I keep reading references to Senator Bill (Filibuster Killer) Frist's presidential ambitions in 08. I hope the Repubs do nominate this zero charisma goon. The only way he could win would be through massive vote fraud... oh, wait. Why do I have this sick, sick feeling?

05 April 2005

12/03: BuzzFlash.com Talks with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., About His Emile Zola-like "J'Accuse" Indictment of the Bush Anti-Environmental Record

December, ‘03


"This, to me, is one of the most alarming things that this Administration is doing -- it’s compromised the scientific process and systematically intimidated, blackballed, fired, muzzled and gagged scientists in every department of government. Scientists who produce science that challenges corporate profit taking, or that might be an obstacle to corporate profit taking, are routinely punished or punished by muzzled or gagged." -- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

For his entire adult life, Robert F. Kennedy has fought to protect our environment. In a recent lengthy commentary in Rolling Stone Magazine, Kennedy issued a brilliant, impassioned, well-documented indictment of the Bush administration for its assault on the air, water, and land owned by all Americans for our common good.

Kennedy serves as chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and serves as the President of the Waterkeeper Alliance. He is a clinical professor and supervising attorney at the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law in New York.

BuzzFlash recently interviewed Kennedy about his case against the Bush administration's ruinous policies toward the environment.

* * *

BuzzFlash: Your recent article in Rolling Stone caught our attention because it’s sort of a modern version of Emile Zola’s J’Accuse -- in this case, an indictment of the environmental policies of President George W. Bush. And toward the end of this rather lengthy indictment, you ask the question: "Does the government protect the Commonwealth on behalf of all of the community members or does it allow wealth and political clout to steal the commons from the people?" That seems to be the central crux of the question about how any administration is dealing with issues of what belongs to "the American people in common." And certainly that’s something that applies to the environment. What is your judgment about the Bush Administration in terms of how it measures up on that question?

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: One of the central roles of government from the beginning of the first organized communities has been protection -- the safeguarding of the commons on behalf of the public. The commons under Roman law -- under the Code of Justinian -- were defined as those things that are not susceptible to private ownership; in other words, the shared resources, the air that we breathe, the waterways, the dune lands, wetlands, wandering animals.

And under Roman law, if you were a citizen of Rome, the Emperor himself, whether you were humble, noble, rich or poor, could not stop you from crossing a beach flowing at an ebb and taking out the fish. Everybody had a right to use those resources. Nobody had a right to use them in a way that would diminish or injure their use and enjoyment by others.

That principle is echoed in the Magna Carta and in the constitutions of all of our states, through a doctrine that’s called the Public Trust Doctrine. And it’s at the heart of our environmental laws. And again, from the beginning of time, the first acts of tyranny were to privatize the commons. In fact, the Magna Carta was passed because of the Battle of Runneymede, which was precipitated by King John’s efforts to turn the rivers, the fisheries and the deer over to private corporations and privileged parties.

Under the Bush Administration, we’re seeing the same thing that happened in this country during the 1880s and 1890s, during the Gilded Age, where now -- as then -- large corporations have an undue influence on government officials, and where they are literally stealing things that belong to the public.

One out of every four black children in New York now has asthma. We don’t know what’s causing the pandemic itself, but we know that asthma attacks are triggered by ozone in particulates, and that the primary source -- about 40 percent of those components of air pollution -- are coming from 1,100 coal-fire power plants that were supposed to have been cleaned up 10 years ago.

But the energy industry gave $48 million to President Bush and the Republican Party during the 2000 race, and the payback is billions of dollars of relief from regulations that are meant to protect the commons, including the Clean Air Acts’ resource performance standards, which the Bush Administration abandoned last month. So it’s illegal for those companies to put those substances into our air, but the Bush Administration has now said that it is no longer going to enforce the laws against them.

BuzzFlash: You call this, in your article in Rolling Stone, "looting the commons."

Kennedy: Let me add one other thing. Yesterday, the Bush Administration announced that it wasn’t going to enforce mercury standards. And mercury, you know, is a potent neurotoxin brain poison. Forty percent of the mercury emissions in our country are coming from those same 1,100 power plants, and they have poisoned the fresh water bodies across America. They’re now 28 states in which it is unsafe to eat any freshwater fish in the state.

According to the CDC, there are 325,000 children born each year who have been subjected to such high levels of mercury in the womb that they are at risk for permanent brain damage. The Clinton Administration classified mercury as a toxic substance under the Clean Air Act, and required the utilities industry to remove 90 percent of the mercury within three years. But the Bush Administration has now abandoned that requirement and adopted a new proposal that will effectively allow them to discharge mercury forever.

BuzzFlash: How is this happening? You’ve been involved with the environment throughout your professional career. You’re an attorney who works on cases trying to protect the environment. How is the Bush Administration getting away with what you describe -- in essence, an assault on almost every aspect of the environment?

Kennedy: There are over 200 major environmental rollbacks that are now being promoted by the Bush Administration, and they’re listed on NRDC’s website. They’re getting away with this because the media isn’t paying attention. And the reason I say that is that polling, including the Republican Party polls taken by Frank Luntz, consistently shows that Americans across party lines favor strong environmental protection and strict enforcement of our laws. Republicans and Democrats favor strengthening our environmental laws by margins upwards of 75 percent. So the White House proceeded with an understanding that its anti-environmental agenda is unpopular with the American people and has successfully concealed its agenda through a series of stealth attacks designed to eviscerate 30 years of environmental law.

NRDC obtained a memo and released it to the press -- from Frank Luntz to the President and to top Republican leaders -- in which he recommended that strategy as necessary for preserving the President’s electoral strength. Luntz says in his memo that the rollbacks are unpopular with the public, including the Republican Party stalwarts, and that the science was against the Republicans on these issues. And he recommended recruiting industry scientists who would sow confusion about the science. And he recommended concealing the anti-environmental actions of the Administration underneath the mantle of environmental rhetoric.

BuzzFlash: Can you give examples? The cynically named "Clear Skies," for instance?

Kennedy: Yes, "The Clear Skies" initiative. The Bush Administration has followed Luntz’s advice by cloaking its anti-environmental agenda with deceptively named initiatives -- for example, "The Healthy Forests Act," which was passed Wednesday, is really a way of reintroducing 1950s-style industrial logging to public lands that were thought to be protected forever. "The Clear Skies" Agenda is a bill that guts the Clean Air Act. Environmentalists called it the Clear Lies Initiative. And Luntz recommends that, instead of weakening, that the Republicans use the word "streamlining," which they do.

The Administration invariably releases news about these initiatives on Friday afternoons when the press is sleeping, or on holidays. Over the next several weeks during the Christmas holiday, you can expect that we’re going to see a lot more of these initiatives.

BuzzFlash: The use of science comes off as somewhat ironic almost from the first week Bush was sworn in. One of the first issues that came up was global warming. He said we’re not going to enact any regulations unless we can first put them through a "science-based" series of tests. What you’re suggesting, Robert, as one of the subtitles in the Rolling Stones commentary states, is that they’re "cooking the books" scientifically.

Kennedy: Yes. This, to me, is one of the most alarming things that this Administration is doing -- it’s compromised the scientific process and systematically intimidated, blackballed, fired, muzzled and gagged scientists in every department of government. Scientists who produce science that challenges corporate profit taking, or that might be an obstacle to corporate profit taking, are routinely punished or punished by muzzled or gagged.

I’ll give you an example. Last year, a Department of Agriculture scientist produced a series of reports that showed that discharges from hog factories operated by big agri-businesses like Smithfield and Tyson’s Foods, the air emissions from these factories include, on average, a billion antibiotic-resistant bacteria every day, which cross property lines and threaten downwind neighbors and their herds.

I invited this scientist to make a presentation to a group of farmers and farm activists in Clear Lake, Iowa last year, to about 1,100 or 1,200 farmers and farm activists who are fighting agri-business on factory farms. And the hog industry -- the Pork Producers Council -- learned a day before he was supposed to make his presentation to us that he was going to visit our conference. They contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered him not to appear at the conference. He later told me that he had been ordered to not speak at over a dozen events -- mainly presentations to local county health departments on his findings. And remember, this is a taxpayer-funded study. The USDA also ordered him to withdraw the study and not publish it.

The study is peer-reviewed quality study that was funded with taxpayer money, but it offended the industry. And the industry has so much control over our government officials that the USDA, which is supposed to be protecting small farmers and rural communities, has instead become an advocate for big agri-business and is muzzling its own scientists when the science shows that agri-business practices are posing a public health threat. The same Administration ordered government scientists not to study methal bromide, another pesticide. They’ve ordered government scientists not to study mercury. And they’ve muzzled two scientists within the EPA who were studying mercury poisoning.

The U.S. Department of Interior has altered a series of reports on polar bears, trumpeter swans, and caribou in the Arctic that show that industry practices are damaging these animals. They’ve done the same on desert fishes in Arizona, on timber wolves, on grizzly bears. All of these reports indicated that corporate activity was threatening the continued existence of these species. And so the Administration ordered the science halted.

BuzzFlash: On this specific topic of manipulation of science, you have a paragraph, about midway through the article, about global warming, in which you mention that a report, which had been suppressed by the Bush Administration, was leaked by dissident EPA scientists. It showed that a Senate plan co-sponsored by John McCain could reduce pollution that causes global warming at a very small cost, and the Administration basically squashed that. To knock the leaked study off the radar screen, the Bush Administration announced it was launching a $100 million, 10-year effort to prove that global temperature changes have, in fact, occurred naturally.

Kennedy: Ha.

BuzzFlash: And you say now the delay tactic was done to benefit the fossil fuel barons. So we had a study ostensibly that showed really we could reduce the pollution that causes global warming for very little cost. The Bush Administration suppresses that. When it finally is leaked, then they come up with a study that’s going to waste one-tenth of a billion dollars to try to prove, over a 10-year period, that it’s all really due to natural causes.

Kennedy: That’s right. My Rolling Stone piece mentions 12 different major studies on global warming that have been suppressed or altered by the Bush Administration. And the President’s father did this same tactic. One of the studies that this Bush Administration has suppressed was a 10-year intensive study that was inaugurated by President Bush’s father when he was President for the same reason -- to delay action on what was already a consensus among the world’s scientists: that global warming exists, and that it’s caused by the byproducts of our population growth aided by industrial discharges into our atmosphere.

That report, inaugurated by the original President Bush, also concluded that this is a crisis that has to be addressed immediately. That was suppressed, and then the son has launched another 10-year study. His intention is transparent -- a continued delay on any action on global warming gasses.

BuzzFlash: Near the end of the indictment of the Bush Administration, you make the statement that corporate capitalists do not want free markets. They want dependable profits, and their surest route to crush competition is by controlling the government. You go on to suggest that what we’ve seen happen in the Bush Administration is that the industries that are governed are now basically governing themselves because Bush has appointed so many industry people to regulatory jobs. They’ve gone through the revolving door and end up policing the very industries they’re coming from.

Kennedy: All of our federal agencies have now been captured by the industries that they’re intended to regulate. The head of the Forest Service is a timber industry lobbyist. The head of our public lands is a mining industry lobbyist. The chief of staff in the White House, Andrew Card, was chief counsel to General Motors and its top lobbyists. And 22 of the top 38 White House officials all have energy industry pedigrees. We have a president that says that he doesn’t listen to TV, and he doesn’t get his news from the newspapers, but gets it from his staff. Unfortunately, all of his staff are from the energy industries, and the rest of them have corporate pedigrees. So they, of course, have a rosy view of what’s going on in our country, and their opinions about how our nation ought to work may not always reflect the best interests of the American public.

I think my concern regarding the increasing control of government by large corporations should be a central issue to all Americans. I was raised in a milieu where I was taught that communism leads to dictatorship and capitalism leads to democracy. But it’s not that simple. Free-market capitalism definitely democratizes a country. But corporate crony capitalism is as antithetical to democracy in America as it is in Nigeria. And corporate control of government is fascism. The definition of communism is the control of business by government. The definition of fascism is the control of government by business.

A farmer sent me a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of fascism the other day, and the definition is roughly that the control of government by large corporations with right-wing ideologies, driven by bellicose nationalism. That has a familiar ring these days.

Democracy is fragile. It needs to be nurtured. It needs to be stewarded. And the free market has to be protected through government regulation. As I say, capitalists do not want free markets. They want profits. And the best way to capture profits -- to capture a reliable profit stream -- is to get control of government and use government to crush your competition.

And that’s what’s happening in this country -- the free market is being eliminated. And in many of the major sectors, the free market has already disappeared. There is no free market left in agriculture. A farmer can’t raise a pig and get it slaughtered, and bring it to a stockyard and sell it. The stockyards are gone. The farmers are out of business, and hog production and meat production and chicken production in this country is now controlled by giant agri-businesses, as is grain production. The same is true in the energy sector, and in the media -- you’ve got 17,000 news outlets in this country that are now controlled by 11 corporations. And it’s even happening on Main Street, where Wal-Mart is coming and knocking out the Main Street merchants, the small entrepreneurs. They’re really making American democracy viable. And it’s a frightening thing for our country. But we need a free market.

I heard him Jim Hightower the free market is a great thing. We should try it sometime. We’re losing it in America. And when we lose the free market -- the free market democracy, the democracy of the marketplace -- political democracy will fall soon after. And that’s something all of us should be afraid of.

BuzzFlash: Again, you’ve devoted your life to trying to keep the environment as pristine and as useable as possible for the public good. There’s been talk by some large corporations -- Enron was dabbling in it -- of actually privatizing water rights. Is the public not seeing what’s happening in terms of the privatization of the environment?

Kennedy: The privatization is occurring when a coal company and a utility poison the air that your children are supposed to be breathing. That’s the privatization of a public resource. It’s a privatization of a public resource when General Electric dumps PCBs into the Hudson River so that nobody can eat the fish, so it’s illegal to sell the fish in the marketplace, because those fish were owned by the public. And they were owned by the commercial fishermen who utilized that resource for generations -- for 350 years. But all of a sudden, those fishermen were put out of business -- the small business enterprises were put out of business because General Electric had better lobbyists up in Albany. And they were able to dump grease the political skids and dump their PCBs into the Hudson. They made a big profit by privatizing the commons -- by liquidating a public asset for cash, which were the fish of the Hudson River.

And the coal companies and the utilities are liquidating a public asset for cash, which is the air that we breathe. And it’s not just that our public lands are being opened, or that our water systems are being sold to private companies, but you can privatize the commons through pollution, because that’s a public asset that is being essentially reduced to private control. It’s being stolen from the public through your actions.

And that’s what’s going on on Capitol Hill. It’s much more subtle, in most cases, than somebody kind of outright buying a public water supply. But it’s much more ubiquitous too. It’s happening everywhere, all around us, with the things that we always took for granted -- the air, the water, the fisheries, the wetlands. All the things that are owned by the public, such as the aquifers that are the infrastructure to our quality of life. Those things are being stolen from us by private corporate entities with political clout.

BuzzFlash: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., thank you very much for your time.

Kennedy: Thanks for having me.

From www.buzzflash.com