Archive for July, 2007|Monthly archive page

CNN’s Reality Problems

Remember the terrorist „dry runs“ that gave CNN wet panties a couple of weeks ago?

Well, it turns out they were “just kidding.” And no. I’m not kidding.

Attytood points out that on Saturday morning, ratings highpoint of the week, T.J. Holmes apparently said,

Also, you should remember all that talk earlier this week about the terrorist dry runs at airports here in the U.S. Well, just kidding. It turns out it was all one big false alarm. We’ll explain…

As Wonkette points out the original story has been – um – left entirely alone because the joke wouldn’t even be funny if they changed it. Right?

After the Paula Zahn’s atheist drive by shooting attack panel, after the Lou Dobbs’ leprosy bullshit, after the attack piece on Sicko (if it was serious journalism, why did they need scare music after some of their “statistics”?) which had little or no real meat.

CNN has gotten in the habit of making mistakes followed up by non apology apologies. Just like Fox but with nicer people and better sets.

That’t two cable “news” shows that have moved into infotainment; MSNBC does a similar job, just in a different direction; the WSJ is being sold to Rupert Murdoch and GENERAL GIGGLES still hasn’t resigned.

Is there any reason not to believe that world isn’t coming to an end? Seriously?

Advertisements

Don’t Try This at Home

According to AP reporter Paul Davenport, police responded to an out of control exorcism in Phoenix. It didn’t go well.

Officers responding to a report of an exorcism on a young girl found her grandfather choking her and used stun guns to subdue the man, who later died, authorities said Sunday.
The 3-year-old girl and her mother, who was also in the room during the struggle between 49-year-old Ronald Marquez and officers, were hospitalized, police said. Their condition was unavailable.

The relative who called police said an exorcism had also been attempted Thursday.

“The purpose was to release demons from this very young child,” said Sgt. Joel Tranter.

Now there are a couple of things to think about here.

I’d start by asking what rituals were being used here? Obviously we need more information to be able to avoid this doctrine. I mean, it obviously can’t be a Catholic exorcism because the child was the granddaughter of the exorcist. So, we need much more information here.

But while we’re at this. Let’s take a look at some of the possible ramifications.

Has anyone considered the idea that the exorcism was a partial success? The child was saved and the demons hopped over to the grandfather, who, unable to defend himself, died?

His death obviously can’t be brought in connection with the stun guns. I mean those folks have been telling people for years just how safe stun guns are. Wouldn’t to see want all that PR money get wasted, just because one little exorcism went awry.

But more seriously, just like skeptics always say: <b>these kinds of beliefs</b> (not to mention non lethal weapons) <b>do cause harm</b>. Sometimes the harm is immediate and causes national headlines. Sometimes the harm is low level, causing economic turmoil and unhappiness in an individual family. But these things do cause harm – every day.

When we have a president in the White House who isn’t fact but faith based; when we have an Attorney General whose only connection with reality is the point where his butt meets the witness chair; when we have newspapers, radio and television stations increasingly hammering on the idea that there are always two sides to any story and there is no objective reality; is there any question that this will happen?

I don’t really know what’s worse. The fact that the grandfather died. Or the thought of that young girl growing up in that environment.

But I do know one thing. Don’t try exorcism at home (or anywhere else) !

Pop Quiz Interrupts Summer Phantasies

Do you remember your last couple of months of High School? You know; you already had your acceptance letter from a college, most your classes were winding down and your interests in things academic were on a back burner?

I suspect that is a little how Alberto Gonzales felt while leaving the Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon. He had made it! Even if congress planned to do something; the wheels of Justice turn slowly. Especially if you’re one of the people standing on the brakes.

Eighteen months is a very short time in Washington and, just like a high school senior with a couple of months and finals left, Gonzales probably felt he could coast from here. Just a couple of difficult papers, one or two orals and then freedom. At least that is the tone of the post I expected to be writing today. About how General Giggles was more or less home free for the next few months.

Why did I think that? Let’s look at this not from the perspective of the American people; let’s look at this from inside the Bush bunker.

There are 18 months left and we are facing a 5 week congressional break is coming up at the end of next week. Senators and Congresspeople are busy trying to get bills passed so the visit back to home states can be greeted with big checks and pork laden rhetoric. The administration thought there wouldn’t be any time to start anything major against the AG until fall. By then the Iraq report would be taking most of the limelight and even more time would pass. Nothing would get started until shortly before Christmas (another break!).

And it looked like it was going to work. Despite strong words from both Patrick Leahy and Arin Spector, both men are willing to give the Justice Department enough time to re-craft (or warcraft) the comments made by Gonzales into a more reality oriented piece of legal weaselling, dodging wrongdoing but never actually approaching the abyss of truth. Both senior Senators, although fed up with Gen. Giggles, are “eagerly” awaiting the possible “corrections” from the DOJ.

As has also been often mentioned, in the current political climate, Bush would have difficulties getting Senate conformation for any Gonzales replacement. It’s not like no one has ever reported that the administration isn’t quietly looking for ‘Berto II. As a matter of fact, looking at the number of open posts in senior administration positions, I suspect Bush would have difficulties finding anyone to take the job.

The idea has also been floated, that the Bush administration both needs and wants Gonzales to stay. With so many, shall we say, dodgy legal moves over the past six years, administration officials might feel that Gonzales the last line of defense. After all, they still have to keep working and you can’t work if you have to delete an e-mail before you have time to read it. And as Scooter Libby can say, those legal fees get pressing if you don’t have a large number of fund-raisers behind you. I doubt there are that many hard-core, deep-pocketed Republicans to protect the entire White House staff.

Gonzales can also be fairly sure that his seat is right now secure because there is no reason for Bush to fire him at the moment. There is no direct need to boost his poll numbers during the off season. October might be a different story when relief is sought from the “Iraq report” onslaught after the next set of benchmark progress is published. But during the summer slump? Nah!

Thus I figured General Giggles was safe for the next year and a half.

But remember what happened to Donald “he’ll stay until the end of the term” Rumsfeld? Rumors of his replacement were also widespread and always denied. He looked a bit miffed the day he got canned. That might be what is going on here. And Bush might not have much choice.

I was amazed at how fast congress responded to Gonzales’ newest silliness.

First came the documents – who knew there would be documents, don’t these people understand shredding? (Is Oliver North available for consulting?) The comments from Democratic participants in the Gang of Eight* meetings were to be expected; the absolute lack of response from the Republican side (Tom Delay anyone?) is more puzzling. But I seriously doubt that anyone, at least anyone as far outside Washington as I sit, would have expected yesterdays testimony from Robert S. Mueller III, FBI director, disputing Gonzales testimony. That made the White House attempts at claiming everything is political theatre a little difficult to swallow.

But to see four senators respond within two days with a request to the Solicitor General to see if perjury charges could be brought? Two days?! I’m stunned.

I suspect the aides in Gonzales’ office are working around the clock to attempt damage control on this. But the task isn’t easy. From the Washington Post, quoting Schumer during yesterday’s press conference,

“He tells the half-truth, the partial truth and anything but the truth,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), as he and three other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department yesterday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales lied to Congress about the NSA program.

I suspect this is a pop quiz Gonzales and the administration hadn’t expected. No more coasting. They thought they’d have a week to rewrite reality, five weeks of quiet to massage (or massage parlor) various lawmakers, and a September filled, not with the Department of Justice, but the Department of Defense. Now they are facing a summer of Justice, not much to fill the news cycle and lots of time for the democrats to explain the case to the American public.

I hope all those aides got travel cancellation insurance when they booked their vacations. Stupid pop quizzes!

Enabling a Third Term

Bush’s Third Term?I’ve been giving some thought as to just exactly how the White House plans to achieve a third term for Bush. Never mind that it might be illegal or that Bush’s poll numbers are abysmal. None of that has stopped them before, they’ll just change or distort the law and the facts. If you think I’m absolutely insane, I encourage you to think back to the stunt the White House pulled last summer.

Remember Rockey Vaccarella, the guy who drove from Louisiana to Washington with a “FEMA” trailer? The guy who just wanted to talk to Bush about what “a heck of a job” he was doing rebuilding the Gulf Coast? The guy who “just happened” to make enough of a media splash to be able to meet the president? You remember that this “normal guy” just managed to mention that Bush should get four more years. (And it’s not like he misspoke and took back the comment later. )

Ever since that happened, despite what Faux News and spokeshottie Dana Perino said at the time, I’ve been wondering how the administration is planning to achieve exactly that, a third term.

(By the way liberal media. Wouldn’t it make a great story to hunt that clown down this year?)

Sure. A third term would have been easier with a Republican controlled House and Senate and I suspect back in August 2006 the administration fully expected to achieve that. Then again, remember back when Ron Suskind profiled the White House, reality and faith? Remember the words of the “senior administration aide?”

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

“We create our own reality. And … we’ll act again, creating other new realities” That phase has stayed in my head as well.

Now, perhaps I’m paranoid, perhaps I’ve been watching too many horror movies, but a couple of things have wondered across my radar in the past couple of weeks that I’d like to juxtapose.

The first is the rather unsettling Executive Order the Bush Administration quietly published on July 17th. The order entitled “Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq” The order that allows the government to seize the property of people who, as it says in part

Section 1. (a) Except to the extent provided in section 203(b)(1), (3), and (4) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(1), (3), and (4)), or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the date of this order, all property and interests in property of the following persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons, are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense,

(i) to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of:

(A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or

(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people; [my emphasis]

This order, had it been issued as a Papal Bull say 500 years ago, reads to me like nothing more than an act of excommunication. A method of destroying and outlawing opponents without immediate recourse to the courts. Indeed, if one seizes all of someone’s assets, it get’s really difficult to hire lawyers to defend yourself.

It is clear this passed muster in Gonzales’ Department of Justice, but they aren’t the people mentioned as executors, it is the Secretary of the Treasury with the Sec State and the Secretary of Defense.

That might be why Senator Clinton got rather upset when she got mail from the Pentagon in response to requests about possible plans for the withdrawal of American troops. The response came from Under Secretary of Defense, Eric Edelman. It read in part

Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia.

The letter was dated July 16, 2007.

That is how Bush achieves a third term. He can claim the “Democrat party” is undermining the Iraqi government, seize their assets and declare a national emergency. There can be no election because none of the candidates have funds.

Fortunately, the real SecDef, Gates sent a follow-up letter this week to smooth ruffled feathers.

But you sometimes just have to wonder about the timing. Synchronicity? Fate? Planning? Prayer circles? The similiar language comming from the White House and the Under SecDef in the same week has to make you think of “created reality.” Doesn’t it?

How do you think they will manage the third term?

Who do you trust?

If you don’t trust the government, do you trust the insurance companies more?

From today’s LA Times,

State fines Kaiser again
The HMO’s second such penalty in a year targets its handling of patient complaints at nine hospitals.

Kaiser Permanente will be assessed a record fine today for its haphazard investigations of questionable care, physician performance and patient complaints at its California hospitals, according to state HMO regulators.

The California Department of Managed Health Care said it will levy a $3-million fine against Kaiser, the largest HMO in the state, with 29 medical centers and more than 6 million members. If Kaiser makes necessary improvements, agency director Cindy Ehnes said, she will forgive $1 million of that.

The penalty marks the second time in a year that Kaiser has been publicly rebuked and fined for glaring breakdowns in oversight.

The state’s latest inquiry grew out of its investigation into problems that forced the closure last year of Kaiser’s kidney transplant program in San Francisco. Hundreds of patients were endangered when Kaiser forced them to transfer to its own fledgling program from established transplant centers at outside hospitals.

Last August, the state fined Kaiser $2 million for the transplant debacle, and the HMO agreed to pay an additional $3 million to promote organ donation.

Do you send letters and expect them to arrive? Do social security checks get delivered every month – usually on the same day? Do you expect streets to be cleaned? Garbage to be picked up? Aren’t the mistakes the government makes so glaring because they are so rare? Government works every day.

But the effects are so common place, many choose to ignore them.

My General Giggle Notes

I was going to write a different post here, but I thought I’d just share my notes on Tuesday’s Mr. Giggle visit in the Senate. I’ll post my take tomorrow.

Sen. Leahy: Did you mislead us about the violations of the Patriot Act?
Gonzales: Tee Hee. Oops
Sen. Leahy: What’s with the 17 remaining open US Attorneys positions
Gonzales: We’re working on it.
Sen. Leahy: What’s the DOJ’s stand on the Contempt Question
Gonzales: I say nothing!

Sen. Specter: What about the Ashcroft hospital visit
– Gonzales: Just a chat among friends, after emergency meeting with the Gang of Eight
Sen. Specter: Were you there to get approval for NSA wiretapping?
– Gonzales: We never asked.
Sen. Specter: What about executive privilege
– Gonzales: Sorry, that’s under privilege
Sen. Specter: Death Penalty?
– Gonzales: Did I ever hear anything about the death penalty. Can’t recall

Sen. Kohl:
How do we get Guantanamo closed?
– Gonzales: Love to, Let’s just blow up America now.
Sen. Kohl: Filling US Attorney posts?
– Gonzales: What’s with the US Attorney questions?
Sen. Kohl: Why doesn’t DOJ enforce price fixing laws against OPEC?
– Gonzales: We can’t do that. Rich corporations and foreign countries might get grumpy

Sen. Hatch: Bla bla bla. I won’t go into it. His lips were brown when he finished..

Sen. Feinstein: Who wrote the list of people to be fired?
– Gonzales: What list!? You know more than I do! I just signed it.
Sen. Feinstein: How many people have you fired?
– Gonzales: No idea, people come and go. It’s so confusing!
Sen. Feinstein: You want change, why has the new DOJ Voting Rights manual been raped?
– Gonzales: (Rats, she read the book) Um. We’ll look into it.

Sen. Kyl: Guantanamo, good for the US?
– Gonzo: It’s good for me
Sen. Kyl: bla, bla, bla

Sen Cardin: Why were the names on the list
– Gonzales: Good, God fearing reasons. But exactly? No idea.
Sen Cardin: Gang of Eight meetings are classified – Did you just leak classified material?
– Gonzales: It’s OK. GW will retroactively declassify it if necessary.
Sen Cardin: Hiring of career lawyers – has that been fixed? – Gonzales: Just like the voting book.

Sen Grassley: I want my documents (snit)
– Gonzales: Yes, sir
Sen Grassley: Fraud in Iraq?
– Gonzales: Working there is like working in a war zone!
Sen Grassley: Custer Battles case
– Gonzales: waffle, waffle, waffle

Sen Whitehouse: Were activities okayed before Ashcroft went to the hospital
– Gonzales: This is just way too complex to explain to Senators!
Sen Whitehouse: Did you have a document to seek reapproval of the “Program”
– Gonzales: Yes, but we didn’t ask. So there!
Sen Whitehouse: Can Whitehouse control litigation in the DOJ
– Gonzales: (You can’t prove it if we use RNC e-mail accounts) Nah!

Sen. Sessions: Bla, bla, bla. Michelle Malkin illegal immigration, bla, bla bla
Sen. Sessions: Isn’t there a problem with crack sentences being too high?
– Gonzales: They just aren’t high or tough enough!

Sen Schumer: There was only one secret program?
– Gonzales: Yes
Sen Schumer: But you testified that there had been no dissent from DOJ officials…
– Gonzales: Oh. You mean THAT secret wiretapping program. No. No. This was about something completely different.
Sen Schumer: ?!
– Gonzales: Really
Sen Leahy: ?! @#+§$! ?!
– Gonzales: No. Really. Scouts Honor.

Sen Durbin: Executive order on torture. DOJ look at that?
– Gonzales: Sure
Sen Durbin: Any feelings on it?
– Gonzales: No, we in the upper management of the DOJ are robots
Sen Durbin: Would it be legal for foreign countries to treat Americans this way?
– Gonzales: Um. By our laws or theirs?
Sen Durbin: No, Really
– Gonzales: La, La, La, La… I can’t hear you.
Sen Durbin: Guantanamo, why no convictions?
– Gonzales: Too few kangaroo courts

Sen Feingold: @#+§$! @#+§$!!!
– Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Feingold: Have you lied under oath?
– Gonzales: I don’t lie, I weasel
Sen Feingold: Potential liability helps privacy laws
– Gonzales: (Danger, Danger, Non Sequitor) Sure

Sen Kennedy: Torture policy, Can we get the memos on that?
– Gonzales: We have no memos. We give no paper. We are not human.
Sen Kennedy: Torture bla, bla, bla
– Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Kennedy: Peace Corps! They used the Peace Corps to get diplomats to attack Democrats!
Gonzales: Heh, Heh. Good one, huh?
Sen Kennedy: Did it happen at the DOJ?
– Gonzales: Um. I know nothing!
Sen Kennedy: Why only 2 civil rights cases in voting issues.
– Gonzales: We forgot to fudge the data.

Sen Leahy: Monica Goodling – did you know she was evil?
– Gonzales: No. She was kind of hot.
Sen Leahy: Monica Goodling – did you talk to her about what had happened.
– Gonzales: She was distraught. Did I mention she is kind of hot?
Sen Leahy: Did you tell us you hadn’t talked to anyone?
– Gonzales: I thought you were asking about something else
Sen Leahy: Why deny benefits to public servants
– Gonzales: (Because that would cost money) I’ll look into it.

Sen Specter: If we want to put you in jail, who do we talk to?
– Gonzales: (Just try, sucker!) That would be the Solicitor General.
Sen Specter: TSA not the intelligence activities. Boy, you in a heap of trouble.
– Gonzales: Giggle
Sen Specter: Back to the death penalty, bla, bla, bla
– Gonzales: I don’t remember anything
Sen Specter: @#+§$!
Sen Specter: Oxycontin judgment. Were you on drugs?!
– Gonzales: We got a good price

Sen Whitehouse: I am on the intelligence committee. @#+§$!
– Gonzales: …
Sen Whitehouse: Remember the Ashcroft memo? The one linking the Whitehouse to the DOJ like Siamese twins. The memo you were concerned about.
– Gonzales: Sure
Sen Whitehouse: Why did you sign one similar?
Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Whitehouse: Why did you add the Office of the Vice president, the VP council, the VP Chief of staff etc.
– Gonzales: (Because Cheney uses mind control?)  Because the VP – um – asked? No. Memo. What memo?
Sen Whitehouse: The moral is miserable in the DOJ. You are scum
– Gonzales: Yes, I am. Giggle

Sen Cardin: The meeting with the Gang of Eight. That is classified.
– Gonzales: It was

Sen Schumer: Why were you in the hospital?
– Gonzales: Just visiting
Sen Schumer: Who sent you?
– Gonzales: Can’t say
Sen Schumer: No, really. Who sent you?
– Gonzales: Can’t say
Sen Schumer:
No, really, really. Who sent you?
– Gonzales: No, really, really. Can’t say. They’d eat my soul.

Sen Specter:
We’re kind of grumpy have you noticed?
– Gonzales: heh, heh

Sen Leahy: We’re kind of grumpy have you noticed?
– Gonzales: heh, heh

Mr Giggles Gets Nailed

I’m sorry. Let no one ask why I call him Mr Giggles! (about minute 3:10)

From an atheist. Senator Schumer. God bless you!

Angry

Although Bush’s poll numbers seem to have stopped or at least slowed on the way to the pit of political desparation, the latest Washington-Post/ABC poll still won’t give him much joy.

The war has been the single biggest drag on the president’s approval ratings.

Thirty-one percent give him positive marks on handling the situation in Iraq, which is near his career low on the issue. The last time a majority approved of the president’s handling of the war was in January 2004.

Even among those Americans who said they had served or had a close friend or relative who served in Iraq, 38 percent approve of Bush’s handling of the conflict.

Read that last paragraph again.

Now I’ll quote from a Minnesota National Guardsman serving in Iraq, nearing the very end of his 22 month (yes, you read that right) deployment,

The word around the campfire is that our replacements were told to ‘give us a wide birth’ because we are ‘angry’. I don’t know if this rumor is true, but I know that at this point I don’t have the energy to be angry.

The new Marines are the same guys that were supposed to relieve us four months ago. I can think of several people that would be much better off if they had, but it was not up to our replacements. That decision was made by fat men in white suits.

George W. Bush claims to support the troops. William Kristol claims that George W. Bush supports the troops. The only people who still believe that mantra seem to be those who only vote Republican.

And the troops coming home. I guess they are “angry.” How do you spin anger?

Landslide for Religion in Turkey

According to all reports, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) or Islamic party in Turkey took the election by a landslide managing almost 50 percent of the vote.

According to what I have read up until now, I suspect there were two different campagns. The first, which took place on the Bosphoris, highlighted econmic progress and increased relations with the European Union. The second was carried out using more openly religous terms and would have been found in less “industrialised” parts of Turkey.

At least I can outright say that there is no reason to believe the previous and current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. From a recent interview he gave with Der Speigel:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the world is alarmed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, especially after the announcement that it is now capable of enriching uranium on an industrial level. Do you share Western fears about the possibility of Tehran developing a nuclear bomb?

Erdogan: We are against nuclear weapons, regardless of whether they are in the hands of Iran or Israel or any Western country. But obviously some states are allowed to have weapons of mass destruction while others are not. If nuclear energy is used for the sake of humanity, then we say yes. But if it is used destructively, then no. The knife in the hand of a murderer kills, but if you give it to a doctor he will heal with it.

SPIEGEL: Do you believe that Iran is exclusively pursuing civilian use of nuclear energy?

Erdogan: Right now I can only take the answers that I am given. I personally spoke several times with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about this — also at the request of France, theUnited Kingdom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And he is always saying: We will use it only for the benefit of our people. For now I have to accept it like this, without implying something else.

Read the answers carefully. He doesn’t answer the questions but deftly avoids them.

Let’s be clear, the US scare mongering of the Iranian uranium enrichment program is just that, scare mongering. But that doesn’t mean that Iran isn’t trying to get nuclear weapons. They just won’t get there next year, it will probably take 5 years. But they are trying. To take Ahmadinejad at face value when he says that Iran only wants peaceful use of nuclear power – well then let’s just take him at face value on the issue of the elimination of Israel and anti-Semitism.

All of Erdogan’s answers about a deeper islamification of the Turkish society are equally as obtuse. Actually all of his answers come across as being either obtuse, nationalistic or simply misinformed.

While I do disagree with the use of the word Islamist in connection with the AK – I don’t think they are that extreme – I am concerned about a country that has chosen to remove evolution from it’s textbooks because it doesn’t conform to the Koran. I am concerned about a country where laws are enforced imprisoning people for writing and dramatising history. I am concerned about about a country still more or less at war with an EU country over Cypris.

I’m also more that a little concerned that all the images I am seeing from this election, the cute women in reveling clothing, were taken in Istanbul. I am not seeing any file photos from the less industrialized part of the country, Erzurum, Gaziantep or Adana. I wonder why?

I think this vote was religious where religion is important and economic where economics are important. But I think the Washington Post brought the money quote.

Dya Alawa, 37, was among the [AK] party’s backers waiting outside one busy site.

Economic gains meant her husband no longer had to worry about impromptu layoffs at his textile factory, Alawa said, while she could count on buying most staples at the same prices as five years ago.

“For me, my kitchen is what’s important, and my issue is cooking oil, and that’s why I’m voting AKP,” she said, using the Justice and Development Party’s Turkish initials.

Her issue is cooking oil, enough to eat and a stable economy. No government need offer anything more. Freedom of speech be damned!

No Sleeping Says Prince Charming

“The monster”

Ah. Thank goodness!

After a couple of weeks where the Bush administration had things come out on a Wednesday or a Thursday, I was starting to think they had lost their touch. Maybe they found out I cared.

In an executive order issued Friday, Bush again reiterated the US stance on torture,

Bush’s order requires that CIA detainees “receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.”

A senior intelligence official would not comment directly when asked if waterboarding would be allowed under the new order and under related _ but classified _ legal documents drafted by the Justice Department.

However, the official said, “It would be wrong to assume the program of the past transfers to the future.”

A second senior administration official acknowledged sleep is not among the basic necessities outlined in the order.

Remember. This executive order comes out about three weeks after Mr. Bush assured high Presidential Scholars that “America doesn’t torture people.” From the Boston Globe,

Before the scholars posed for a photo with Bush on Monday, she handed him the letter. He put it in his pocket and took it out after the photo shoot. Reading silently to himself, the president looked up quizzically at Oye and said, according to her, “We agree. America doesn’t torture people.”

The scholor who handed the letter to Bush, signed by approximately a third of the students honored, was the daughter of a former detainee; her mother is of Japanese decent, her family interned during the Second World War. One can understand why she cares. (Bush’s grandfather, Prescott, helped fund Hitler which might show why he cares.)

But hey: Let’s give Bush credit. – America doesn’t torture. Um – Right? Let’s see how America used to defined torture. This from an article also in the Washington Post, this time from March 2005

The State Department’s annual human rights report released yesterday criticized countries for a range of interrogation practices it labeled as torture, including sleep deprivation for detainees, confining prisoners in contorted positions, stripping and blindfolding them and threatening them with dogs — methods similar to those approved at times by the Bush administration for use on detainees in U.S. custody.

Look again at the reported language in the new executive order. None of those things are excluded. They just stopped being torture. Because torture is everything the Bush administration decides it won’t do.

According to the definitions in the 2004 State department report – sleep deprivation was still considered “torture”. Under the entry for Saudi Arabia,

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Criminal Procedure section of the Basic law prohibits torture and Shari’a (Islamic law) prohibits any judge from accepting a confession obtained under duress; however, authorities reportedly at times abused detainees, both citizens and foreigners. Ministry of Interior officials were responsible for most incidents of abuse of prisoners, including beatings, whippings, and sleep deprivation. In addition, there were allegations of beatings with sticks and suspension from bars by handcuffs. There were allegations that these practices were used to force confessions from prisoners.

I guess in the last three years, that paragraph wouldn’t be allowed any more.

Once again Prince Charming has decided to spin a fairy tale where sleep is optional and reality is whatever he choses to release to the public. Just don’t let him near Sleeping Beauty – she’ll be looking like a hag in no time.

But at least I can go back to sleeping well. Bush & Co. stayed true to form by releasing the executive order on a Friday afternoon. They aren’t slowing down any; They just have too much democracy to destroy, so little time for destroying

Voting in a Muslim Country.

Va Va Va Voom

All I can say is va, va, va, voom… and that from Al Jazeera. (Sorry, sexist I know, but every now an then I have to get a dig in.)

From the Reuters coverage (without a hottie for a draw)

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Millions of Turks flocked to vote on Sunday in a parliamentary election seen as crucial to the future direction of this large Muslim but secular democracy straddling Europe and the Middle East.

Opinion polls show the ruling pro-business, Islamist-rooted AK Party government winning a fresh five-year mandate but strong gains by nationalist and secularist opposition parties could slash its majority and result in slower reforms.

“Now the people will speak,” Sunday’s Milliyet daily said.

Newspapers splashed pictures across their front pages of empty beaches at Turkey’s coastal resorts after many people postponed or cut short holidays in order to go home to vote.

Note: The secularist opposition are doing better. That should make those who claim all muslims are evil think twice. No wait. They don’t think once so they will likely just ignore the results.

Just a Little Blue (Updated)

As part of my continuing documentation of the girl teen band – hate group. Prussian Blue, I found out they were the subject of a new documentary, Nazi Pop Twins.

Apparently, the British television network Channel 4 aired the documentary about Lamb and Lynx last night. I figured this out because once again my Prussian Blue posts got a national boost following by the amazing number of visitors from England (Hi guys!).

This one was even less flattering than the documentary by Louis Theroux, Louis and the Nazis.

You can read the original press release here and from there view clips of the show. They are worth the couple of minutes. Apparently Lamb and Lynx are starting to grow up and ask – um – unfortunate questions.

A critique of the show was posted the next day on the Telegraph web site,

My heart sank slightly during the opening minutes of Nazi Pop Twins (Channel 4), a documentary about the American “white pride” pop duo Prussian Blue. Was it to be another trip stateside to seek out a weirdo or two and add to the oxygen of publicity, to use Margaret Thatcher’s term, they probably didn’t deserve? At 14, twin sisters Lamb and Lynx Gaede have generated hundreds of column inches with Prussian Blue’s white nationalistic music. Since their singing voices are rubbish, it’s the neo-Nazi connection that’s got them noticed and the less said about that the better, unless it’s to grind it firmly into the ground. Thankfully, film-maker James Quinn didn’t disappoint on that score.

Behind every teenage performing phenomenon there’s a pushy parent and here it took the form of “white nationalist” April Gaede, the twins’ mother and manager, who described Prussian Blue T-shirts featuring an image of Hitler as “funny”, and actively promoted a telephone/pen-pal relationship between her daughters and a sick-minded white supremacist serving a 19-year term in a maximum security jail. She and the girls lived on a ranch in California with her equally vile father Bill, whose sweeping denunciations of black Americans and Mexicans were so revolting as to not be repeatable here. He branded his cattle with swastikas and wondered whether people in Britain wished that Germany had won the Second World War. It was not a surprise that he loved guns; to call him difficult to like would be an understatement. “This goddam Nazi shit has ruined my life,” said his wife Diane. “I don’t have a single friend because he’s so hateful.”

It’s a credit to Quinn that he managed to retain the family’s co-operation with filming for as long as he did. His mission was to show how April was using her malleable twin daughters as a mouthpiece for her own extremist views, and to an extent he succeeded. As Holocaust deniers they sounded uncertain about the story they’d been fed by their elders, and they admitted privately that the “politics” surrounding their music had been draining. Because “a lot of people think we’re a bunch of psychos”, they felt, understandably, like taking a break. April is taking no chances with her three-year-old daughter – named Dresden – whose ABC lessons start with A is for Aryan.

Even more interesting is the fact that April’s mother apparently goes on a major tear, hammering Bill Gaede for his White Supremacist ways. A clip can be seen on the Channel 4 page above. The quotes are amazing,

It’s all because of this God Damned Nazi shit. That It’s just fuckin’ ruined my life. I’m gonna let it all hang out boy. […] Even though we’ve lived here 30 years, I don’t have a single friend. You know why? I don’t have a single friend because he’s so hateful.

The girls themselves seem less “brainwashed” if questioned alone.

John Quinn: So what is the family’s image, what would you say the Prussian Blue’s image is?

Lamb or Lynx, I don’t know which is which): I think that most people think we’re a bunch of pschycos to tell you the truth.

JQ: Do you ever think of winding it down with the band?

L: [nods]

JQ: Really?

LoL: Yeah, we just kind of want to take a break for a little while. You know, I’ll aways be doing this for the rest of our lives; I’ll always play my guitar, I’ll aways write songs. I just.. We’re not going to be doing this our whole lives. We’re not gonna… We have other dreams and other goals than this.

If you are lucky enough to live in England, you can watch the whole thing online. (If you do, leave a comment and let me know what you think.)

While researching this, I also found out that Lamb and Lynx were the inspiration for an off, off Broadway musical last year. James Quinn, the producer of the documentary also spent time filming the production.White Noise. It was featured on Good Morning America and got a write up in Playbill

White Noise is billed as “A Cautionary Musical,” and is described by the authors this way: “Confirming the old adage that it’s better to be a star than wear one, an adorable pair of sisters, Blanche and Eva, lead the teen band White Noise, mixing irresistible harmonies with white power rhetoric and taking the nation by storm. Their message of racial purity resonates with young people across America and the rise of White Noise coincides with a rise in the white supremacist movement which threatens to engulf the country, as Blanche and Eva prove themselves to be masters of the most terrifying and unstoppable form of Fascism in today’s culture: Top Forty pop.”

I don’t think any of this will stop Prussian Blue from coming to Europe this summer and I am still trying to find out whether they have any venues planned for Germany, I will keep you up to date if I find anything out.

Please leave a comment if you saw the documentary. I’d really like to hear some opinions.

Update:

I found a blog completely decribing the show. It does seem like April, the mother, is losing her grip in the children. (No  wonder, she lost her grip on reality years ago.) But the writer of the blog entry makes another very telling point,

What scared me, ultimately, was not the radical anti-Prussian Blue response, which is positive, but the way it manifested itself, which is just as scary as the fascist claptrap these reluctant, confused girls are now regretting peddling on behalf of their damaged mother. A young, white man says “they ought to have their asses kicked; someone should kill them” without a trace of irony. The anti-hate campaigning that follows them across America is hardly surprising, but it’s none too cleverly handled. Directing violence at those who encourage hate in a tit-for-tat attempt at revenge is pretty bloody stupid. April Gaede clearly loves nothing more than being a martyr, claiming that every death threat and protest is a “gold medal” because she’s obviously “doing something right”. We need to fight hatred and intimidation with education and contempt, not with death threats and martyrdom.

What a depressing world. *sigh*

F**k Yourself Isn’t Just For The Senate Floor

Remember Dick Cheney’s perfect personality mirror but minor verbal misstep when he told Patrick Leahy to “go f**k yourself” on the floor of the U.S. Senate? It seems the White House is going to make it an official policy.

All the other news outlets are pointing out that yesterday the House Judiciary Committee ruled that excecutive privilege cannot be used to protect documents in the district attorney firings. Many feel this would be a first step towards filing contempt charges against current Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten for refusing to give congress the information it requested. (That would be in addition to former White House Council Harriet “no-show” Miers for those not keeping score.)

The Washington Post has headlined with the story (from an unnamed source) that the Department of Justice will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges base on executive privilege. Ever.

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals. Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, “whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”

But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.

This is the political version of taunting “bring it on” to a professional wrestler.

I suspect this will leave people like William Kristol jump for joy and constitutional and political scholars sputter. I have no doubt that Gonzales won’t mind. It means even less for him to do or have to deny.

As news outlets have been pointing out since the Senate chose to being pursuing Miers, there are two different paths which congress can follow. Since 1934, congress has usually used the civil contempt option requiring the Senate to defer to the Justice department for prosecution of the case. Criminal contempt proceedings, popular in the 1800’s have fallen out of style but remain solely in the legislative realm. The Senate’s Sergeant at Arms has long had the legal power to arrest people, like journalists or presidents, but hasn’t needed chosen to use that power much lately.

There are the logistical difficulties. Even though the office of the Sergeant at Arms is the largest in both size and budget, the Senate has neither the personal nor space to confine anyone. I suspect that is the loophole the White House is betting on. Further, whether the Democrats can muster enough support to actually arrest either Meirs or Bolten is doubtful. Does anyone know what the rules are there?

No matter whether you are on the side of the President,

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel’s office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a “unitary executive.” In practical terms, he said, “U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president’s will.” And in constitutional terms, he said, “the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch.”

Or you side with more “traditional” legal scholars

But Stanley Brand, who was the Democratic House counsel during the Burford case, said the administration’s legal view “turns the constitutional enforcement process on its head. They are saying they will always place a claim of presidential privilege without any judicial determination above a congressional demand for evidence — without any basis in law.” Brand said the position is essentially telling Congress: “Because we control the enforcement process, we are going to thumb our nose at you.”

Rozell, the George Mason professor and authority on executive privilege, said the administration’s stance “is almost Nixonian in its scope and breadth of interpreting its power. Congress has no recourse at all, in the president’s view. . . . It’s allowing the executive to define the scope and limits of its own powers.”

his issue will now define the Bush presidency almost as much as the Iraq war. Setting up these kinds of sideshows also saps the political strength of the Democratic opposition. No matter how weak the attack, even the strongest elephant donkey can be overcome by billions of rat attacks.

This is will be an official “go fuck yourself” to the House and Senate. Will they put up with it?

Evolution is not just a theory!

Evolution is not just a theory.

Pass the word! Digg it! Memorize the arguments!

That is all.

(Hat tip: Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy)

Catch – um – Click 22

DARPA Headquarters?Well so much for keeping the address of the DARPA headquarters under raps.

Even though address of the agency that oversees research into everything from autonomous vehicles, robotic pack mules and Imaginary Weapons, can easily be found using Google and is clearly listed on it’s webpage (with directions), you can’t take a picture of the building itself. (At least not if you are nearby.)

Even worse, should you take a picture of the building, one could end up landing in some kind of Orwellian watch list. That’s what Kenneth W. McCormann found out. According to Marc Fisher at the Washington Post,

If you happen by 3701 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington and decide you have a sudden craving for a photograph of a generic suburban office building, and you point your camera at said structure, you will rather quickly be greeted by uniformed security folks who will demand that you delete the image and require that you give up various personal information.

When Keith McCammon unwittingly took a picture of that building, he was launched on an odyssey that has so far involved an Arlington police officer, the chief of police and the defense of the United States of America.

McCammon could not have been expected to know when he wandered by the building that it houses the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a low-profile wing of the Defense Department that conducts all manner of high-tech research that evolves into weapons systems and high-order strategery.

DARPA’s presence at 3701 N. Fairfax is hardly a government secret–Google finds nearly 10,000 pages listing the agency’s use of the building. But there’s no big fat sign on the building, so how was McCammon to know that this was a building he dared not photograph? And why would the government care if anyone took a picture of the exterior of an office building? This is as silly and hypersensitive as the now-common harassment of people who innocently take pictures of random federal buildings in the District.

Unfortunately, in the next days and weeks, this will likely become one of the most photographed nondescript office buildings in Fairfax County, Virginia. Why? Because people are going to blog about it and wander down to see what the big deal is.

The problem here isn’t that DARPA really has anything to hide. The building itself probably isn’t even the problem. Perhaps the people entering and leaving the building would be an issue, but any spy or terrorist worth their salt could simply install a minicam in a car and park it across the street. Absolutely no problem getting images of each and every person entering the building on a given day.

Actually when McCammon followed up on the ‘contact’ writing complaints to the Arlington County Police Internal Affairs Section, he was met with openness. His blog shows the information he received. Now he has move up the line to find out what the security official at that installation has on file about him.

Think about ending up on a watch list or a no fly list simply because you took a picture of a building.

Conservatives, please connect the dots. Support the troops and obey the law. Public photography should be illegal, right? (Actually under a strict reading of the bible, image making should be illegal but we won’t go there.) Anyone could be a terrorist; anyone a target? Anywhere a secret installation? Are the liberals so far off when they say that security measures have gone a bit far?

And the officer who stopped McCammon was off duty, doing private contracting; a hired gun (abet working for the government). This says two things. Why does the governement have to contract off-duty police officers to do that kind of work (is it cost effective?). Indeed, are off-duty police officers a higher class of citizen – those who must be obeyed?

Finally, as McCammon point out,

Further, setting aside the issue of officer discretion, the most disturbing aspect of this incident is the simple fact that we had no way of knowing that we were acting in a manner that might have been so much as considered suspicious. If the subject in question is devoid of any type of external marking or warning sign, one should have no reason to suspect that it cannot be photographed (or approached while in possession of photographic equipment). And it follows that one should certainly have no reason to suspect that photographing such a subject might land one’s name on a list, or in a database. Reasonable, law-abiding people tend to avoid these types of things when it can be helped. Thus, my request for a list of locations within Arlington County that are unmarked, but at which photography is either prohibited or discouraged according to some (public or private) policy. Of course, such a list does not exist. Catch-22.

The absurdity of this type of situation is clear: We’re being penalized for violating poorly documented, questionably legal (an argument that I’m certainly unqualified to make) and arbitrarily enforced policies. We’re not being told what is expected of us. And to the extent that we are able, we need to take a stand. We need to know our rights, document the fact that we’ve been wronged, and work for change. And if we fail to enact change, the very least that we can do is make it such a pain in the ass to harass photographers that those who would otherwise jump at the chance will think twice, if for no other reason than to avoid a mountain of paperwork and an internal affairs investigation.

If you do nothing else today, tell some random person the address of the DARPA headquarters in Fairfax Virginia. It’s 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, a non descript brown office building.

You can’t miss it. You just can’t take pictures of it. Click – 22.

(Hat tip: Noah Shachtman/Danger Room)

Slate V does Cyberstalking

Check it out.

The music is the best part.

Baby Got Book (Updated)

God there are terrifying YouTube videos out there…

Listen to the rap really closely, there is so much bible trivia in that video it makes me woozy. For those of you who haven’t really “gotten big booked,” most of the references made won’t make any sense. Here’s a handy, dandy little study guide for you.

“I like big bubbles and I can not lie…”
Refers to the Message Remix 2.0 Hypercolor vinyl: Bubble Bible. Translation in modern, hip language with an obnoxious soothing blue cover. Still doesn’t drop the F* bomb though.

Notice His KJV chain?

Got her name engraved, so you know this girl is saved!
Do people still do this!?

You say you want koinonia?
Koinonia comes from the Greek and is used to mean partnership or fellowship. Wikipedia is your friend; Conservapedia – not so much. Koinonia is also used the name of an amazing number of bible colleges.

Bless me, Bless me, and teach me about John Wesley.
He doesn’t mean this one. But otherwise, I won’t increase your education. I. Just. Don’t. Go. There. But for those masochrists out there, here you go.

NIV – With a ribbon bookmark
NIV = New International Version, as opposed of course to
TNIV = Today’s New International Version,
NIrV = New International Reader’s Version or
NIVI =New International Version Inclusive Language Edition.

I ain’t talking about a paraphrase, caus Paul wouldn’t use those anyways
Yet another bible version from 1971. The Living Bible put together by Kenneth N. Taylor (while on the train to work) Was quite popular at the time but has since gone out of style. Note the contempt – tossing the bible aside – for shame, sir, for shame!

I like em real thick and red lettered. You can’t find nothin’ better
Just in case you’ve never noticed, some printings of the bible went with red lettering in order to highlight the places where God actually speaks. I have no idea whether that is the origin of the phrase red letter day but it does give a whole new spin to the phrase scare quotes.

A word to the Christian sistas, I can’t resist ya. I do God’s time with ya. But I gotta be straight when I say I want to pray til the break of day.
And people wonder why the American public is frustrated?

We might just get it on. Like the wife in Proverbs 31
I bet he’d like that! *Shutter* On the other hand Proverbs 31 does make a nice case for drinking your misery into the gutter.

6 Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;

7 let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

Thomson Chain with the big red letters
No, the chain is not referring to blink. You guessed it. Yet another version. (How can there even be people who want to be biblical literalists?) In this case it is a handy reference bible for those who need to cross check their daily dose.

When it comes to a good book Steven Kings resume just can’t compare. 39 + 27 = 66 books. And if you’re Catholic, there’s even more.
Maybe that’s what Benedict was getting at with his “church” snarking last week. But seriously, he does have an interdenominational point. (Note: clever little chart at Wikipedia)

Protestant: O.T 39 + N.T 27 = 66
Catholic : O.T 46 + N.T 27 = 73
But the winner is – Orthodox Christians: O.T. 53 + N.T. 27 = 80! Go bearded guys in Siberian monasteries!

Of course to try to go up against Steven King? Let’s take a look shall we? 45 Novels, 33 movies, 11 TV movies, 3 non fiction, 7 serial novels, a screen play, a childrens book… Need I go on? Steven King!? Bad choice – at least he didn’t go up against Perry Rhodan.

Update (Missed one)
Your girlfriend quotes Bill Hybels?
Bill Hybels is the founding minister at the the Willow Creek Community Church. This is a very small, cozy congregation having, according to their press release, 17,500 attendees (yes, you read that right) every weekend.

Finally. Did you count the number of abstence references?I lost count. There were just too many.

When is someone like Skepchick, Rebecca Watson, or the Friendly Atheist, Herman Mehta, going to fight back and do a “Oh, Baby, Baby, Bookless!” rap?

Since I can’t leave you completely, utterly traumatised, use this as a small piece of balance.

Political Meltdown

newradiationsymbol_300×200.gifIt’s been a bad month for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It all started rather well. Although not all media outlets were as fawning as Spiegel-Online Merkel did enjoy international praise after the G8 summit in June.

She took that momentum into a German energy summit held in at the beginning of July in order to discuss how CO2 targets can be met. At the summit, it became clear that Merkel planned to pursue one of her long term goals, rolling back the current plan to completely phase out nuclear power in Germany by the year 2021.

There are legitimate reasons to discuss using nuclear power at least as a bridge to achieve lower CO2 emissions while pursuing longer term solutions. Even if no new power plants were built, a very strong argument could be made to keep existing plants in the net. While it is unlikely that she would be able to convince either the SPD or a huge majority of the German public, it was probable that Merkel had planned to put nuclear power back on her party’s platform in time for the next elections.

At this point, a little background is probably necessary for those not familiar with German energy policy.

In the summer of 2001, after long negotiations, then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, joined with his coalition partners, the Greens, to in push through a deal to completely eliminate nuclear energy from Germany by 2021 based on a similar plan already in place in Sweden.

Now, depending on whose side you are on, this can be either a good or a bad choice.

On the one hand, it is difficult to deny that there are problems with the current nuclear industry. In Germany, as in many countries, a final repository for nuclear waste has yet to be found. Massive protests are staged every time nuclear waste is re-imported after being processed in France to prepare it for final storage and transported to the interim facility in Gorleben. Another issue is the increasing age of nuclear power plants in Germany. The youngest reactor in the German mix is almost 20 years old, and most were build in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Finally, in an age of terrorist threat, real or imagined, nuclear power stations do make nice targets.

On the other side of the issue stands the elimination of carbon dioxide producing power plants. (Indeed the fly ash produced by coal power plants has been said to be more radioactive because naturally occurring radioactive elements are concentrated in the ash. Of course this is only a problem for coal from certain areas and is something to think about (but not worry about) the next time you spend a lot of time in a cinderblock building.) Lastly, one can make the claim that a normally operating nuclear power plant releases almost no measurable radiation into the environment..

Finally It should also be noted that, following his term as Chancellor, Schröder accepted a job working for the Russian energy supplier Gazprom to build a pipeline to the EU bypassing the eastern European countries. A pipeline that will also supply gas for – you guessed it – non-nuclear power plants. It was a move sharply criticised at the time.

But back to Merkel. As far as I know, alone among top western politicians, Merkel has a science PhD – in physical chemistry. That perhaps explains much of her understanding of the urgency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions – she understands the science and not just the policy summaries.

But she also understands politics. And that’s why she’s having a very bad month.

It all started on June 28 with two seemingly unrelated incidents at two different nuclear reactors in Germany,both run by the energy company Vattenfall.

One, Krümmel, had a transformer fire, another reported a minor leak. Later it came out that the transformer fire had been far more serious that first admitted. Plant operators at one point had been forced to put on gas masks. Information has come to light showing that plant operators might have been trying to increase output which ultimately lead to the fire. The “leak” turned out to be a pipe which had exploded due to a hydrogen build up. Vattenfall also doesn’t have a great safety record with two different reactors in Sweden being forced to shut down due to ‘malfunctions.’ They also have a reputation for trying to coverup or downplay events that happen at their reactors.

Merkel was noticeably irritated. According to Spiegel Online,

“It does make me angry, and it’s an experience I had while environment minister, when (safety) regulations are not actually followed from day to day,” Merkel, who led Germany’s ministry of the environment under former chancellor Helmut Kohl, told German television on Tuesday. “That needs to be cleared up, and I mean strictissimi (i.e. according to the letter of the law), otherwise we can’t guarantee ongoing safety.”

Sigmar Gabriel, current environment minister in Merkel’s cabinet, has also been vocally critical of the way Vattenfall has handled the recent reactor mishaps. On Wednesday, he once again took a swipe at the company, saying: “It is a major loss of face for the company. They are campaigning for trust in atomic energy, they should really be the first to say, ‘We are going to lay everything on the table, let’s clear it up.’ Instead, all we see from them is this strange carrying on.” The state of Schleswig -Holstein, where the reactors are located, is looking into whether the company should lose its license to operate nuclear reactors.

Instead of being able to use “glowingly” green energy as part of her next campaign, Merkel will probably have to scrap it. As a matter of fact the Social Democrats, long quite on the issue are becoming far more vocal. From an excellent overview also from Spiegel Online,

Suddenly the Social Democrats, especially Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, see themselves justified in taking the position that nuclear energy is a “risky technology.” “German nuclear power plants are the safest worldwide,” Gabriel said acerbically last week, “aside from the occasional explosion or fire.”
And the public is starting to worry as well. Perhaps for a reason. The article continues with,

The reason for the change in thinking is clear. Whereas most of the some 130 reactor incidents reported annually in Germany are minor and go unnoticed, smoke pouring out of a transformer as happened in Krümmel tends to attract attention. It took the fire department hours to extinguish the blaze. Even worse, the plant operator’s claim that a fire in the transformer had no effect o n the reactor itself proved to be a lie.

In short, the incident has made it clear that nuclear energy is by no means the modern, well organized high-tech sector portrayed until recently by politicians and industry advocates. Indeed, the frequency of problems occurring at Germany’s aging reactors is on the rise. Just as old cars will eventually succumb to rust, the country’s nuclear power plants, built in the 1970s and 80s, are undergoing a natural aging process.

The problems are complicated by maintenance and supervision issues among aging and unmotivated employees. A dangerously lackadaisical attitude has taken hold that is making Germany’s nuclear power plants increasingly unsafe. Most incidents to date have proven to be relatively minor, and yet each new incident becomes yet another link in a chain of problems with the potential to end in a serious accident.,

But the problems aren’t only related to safety issues. In today’s increasingly competitive energy (and management) marketplace, companies are increasingly willing to take risks to improve profit margins.

Industry insiders complain that for some time power plant operators have been attempting to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their old, and for the most part depreciated, reactors. In recent years, for example, the owners of the Krümmel nuclear power plant have invested about €50 million in technical improvements to increase the efficiency of the plant’s turbines, a move that has brought a 7 percent improvement in net output. But these alleged improvements have also increased stress on secondary systems such as the plant’s transformer, systems that were apparently not retrofitted. In fact, this may have been the cause of the Krümmel fire. According to Günther Pikos, a nuclear expert from the western German city of Düren, “the transformer was apparently already damaged by a string of earlier incidents.” Pikos believes that this, combined with the increase in turbine output, was what ended up overloading the transformer.

Finally, perhaps just so Merkel gets the point, yesterday’s earthquake in Japan caused not only a transformer fire but a coolant leak into the Sea of Japan as well.

What all this means is that nuclear power just got much more unpopular in Germany. The long term effects will probably be minimal but Merkel will likely be forced to shelf plans to extend the life of nuclear power until after the next elections.

Any attempt to right now to try to lower carbon dioxide emissions in Germany using the “nuclear option” is, at least politically, radioactive.

Extreme Wheelbarrowing Quote of the Day…

And just in case you didn’t get enough extreme wheelbarrowing from the first video, how about some synchronized extreme wheelbarrowing set to “Come on Eileen.” It’s like experiencing hell before you even get there.

Go here for the original post and videos.

Somehow, I think this would be a wonderful sport for the teenagers in small rural communities, especially in North American states. Towns like – say – Bemidji.

Subsidizing Big Oil

Oil tanker Omala in Rotterdam, Picture by Danny Cornelissen from the portpictures.nlWhat do you get when you mix bio-diesel, American tax subsidies and Rotterdam? The ultimate proof that oil and water don’t really mix; especially if funded by US tax dollars.

The trick is called “splash and dash” and was highlighted back in June in the Christian Science Monitor.

Created under the 2004 American Jobs Act [hint: Republican congress], the “blenders tax credit” was supposed to boost US production of biodiesel by encouraging US diesel marketers to blend regular petroleum diesel with fuel made from soybeans or other agricultural products. It succeeded, perhaps too well.

Attracted by the $1-per-gallon subsidy, US diesel-fuel marketers mixed away, setting off a nationwide boom in biodiesel refinery building. But no one anticipated splash-and-dash.

The maneuver begins with a shipload of biodiesel from, say, Malaysia, which pulls into a US port like Houston, says John Baize, an industry consultant in Falls Church, Va. Unlike domestic diesel-biodiesel blends, which typically contain from 1 to 10 percent of biodiesel, the Malaysian fuel starts off as 100 percent biodiesel, typically made from palm oil.

Then, the vessel receives from a dockside diesel supplier a “splash” of US petroleum diesel. It doesn’t take much to turn it into a diesel-biodiesel blend that is eligible for US subsidies.

I know. It’s hard to believe that American taxpayers might actually be spending tax dollars to credit oil companies. It’s not like they are similiar to big tobacco or have anyone high up in the current administation sympathetic to their cause.

The Europeans are upset because they have spent 10 long years trying to grow (sorry, bad pun) a local biodiesel industry. Splash and dash is destroying it. As a matter of fact I heard one supplier comment that it would be more cost effective to ship his oil to America, have it refined there, get the tax credit and ship the resulting fuel back to Europe. He’d still make money.

There is one thing the CS article get’s wrong though; European drivers aren’t benefiting, it’s the oil companies.

In Germany, locally produced bio-diesel costs about € 0.70; imported fuel costs about € 0.60 and is selling for about € 0.98. Seeing absolutely no reason to pass that savings on to the consumer during times of high demand, the oil industry has simply been skimming the profits off the top. (Gee. Imagine that.)

In order to put an end to this practice which was annoying everyone except the people who are profiting, the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007 (H.R: 2776, pdf) has been introduced into the House. It includes language that would restrict this tax credit solely to biodiesel produced inside the U.S. for consumption in the U.S. It would hopefully put an end to “splash and dash.”

There are only two problems remaining. Will this actually solve the problem or would it simply be better to give tax credits to people who drive cars which run on bio-diesel – instead of taxing them? In other words, will the oil companies find a loop hole in the plug.

Second, will this language survive into the final bill? Start writing your Congresspersons now! I’m sure the lobbyists are busy as I type.

I Wonder If Michael Deutsch Got His Job Back.

According to one of the local television stations, NASA managed to misspell the name of the space shuttle set to lauch in August. 

The first NASA sign at launch pad 39A encouraging the next launch of space shuttle Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center was misspelled and noticed by someone looking at the craft.

When the shuttle rolled out from the Vehicle Assembly Building Wednesday, a giant “Go Endeavour” sign was put on a fence in front of the craft.

However, one item was missing from the sign: the “u” in Endeavour.

Someone spotted the mistake and called KSC to fix it, WKMG-TV reported.

NASA scrambled someone out to pad 39A with a new sign that has orbiter Endeavour’s name spelled correctly.

A photo with the correct spelling was also posted on the Kennedy Space Center’s Web site.

The orbiter is named after HM Bark Endeavour, the ship commanded by 18th century explorer James Cook; the name also honored Endeavour, the Command Module of Apollo 15. This is why the name is spelled in the British English manner, according to Answers.com.

For those who think I am just making things up and virally spreading malicious gossip, (something I always try to achieve but never actually manage), here is an image of the Endeavour docked to the ISS with the name shown.

Endeavour docked to the ISS

Sigh.

(Hat Tip: Wonkette)

Yeah, but It’s a Dry Heat

This needs no comment…

 Q Is the Iraqi government and the Iraqi parliament taking the month of August off?

MR. SNOW: Probably, yes. Just not —

Q They’re taking the entire month of August off, before the September deadline?

MR. SNOW: It looks like they may, yes. Just like the U.S. Congress is.

Q Have you tried to talk them out of that?

MR. SNOW: You know, it’s 130 degrees in Baghdad in August, I’ll pass on your recommendation.

Q Well, Tony, Tony, I’m sorry, that’s — you know — I mean, there are a lot of things that happen by September and it’s 130 degrees for the U.S. military also on the ground —

MR. SNOW: You know, that’s a good point. And it’s 130 degrees for the Iraqi military. The Iraqis, you know, I’ll let them — my understanding is that at this juncture they’re going to take August off, but, you know, they may change their minds.

Q But have you tried to convince them not to?. Does the U.S. government pressure them not to, because then the September deadline —

MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not going to — you know, I’m just not — I’m not getting into the — the Iraqis understand the importance. It’s not a September deadline, it’s a September report. I think it’s very important, in an age where everybody wants to create a sense of, sort of, finishing up on a deadline — it’s a report, it is not a deadline. It is a report that will, in fact, measure progress —

Q It’s a pretty important report —

MR. SNOW: It is a very — it’s a very important —

Q (Inaudible.) I mean, a month they’re not working.

MR. SNOW: Sheryl, will you let me answer Martha’s questions first? And then Helen is next, and then I’ll call on you.

Now, where were we, because —

Q We were a month off, we have —

MR. SNOW: Okay, so what you’re saying — yes —

Q — 130 degrees for the Iraqi parliament, so they need a month off, even though it’s 130 degrees for U.S. soldiers.

MR. SNOW: Well, you know, you’re assuming that nothing is going on. As I said, there are any number of things going on in Iraq. Let’s see what the parliament does during the course of this month. Let’s also see what happens, because quite often when parliaments do not meet, there are also continuing meetings on the side. And there will be progress, I’m sure, on a number of fronts.

I’m just — I’m not in a position at this point to try to gainsay what the Iraqis are doing. We are working with them and trying to help them succeed. They have a vested interest also in doing this and doing it right, and what they’ve done is they’ve set a higher bar for their legislative accomplishments than we do because they’re trying to operate on a basis not of simple majority, but consensus. It’s probably a wise thing to do at the outset of a country that has been driven by strife for so many years. It is a tough business.

But I would suggest not merely looking at the legislative accomplishments, but also, again, taking a look overall at what’s going on in terms of creating a sense of national unity, dealing with problems of sectarian strife — that certainly were rife last year, but are far less prevalent today, at least according to the trajectory mentioned in the report — and, therefore, take a comprehensive and factual look at all the aspects of what’s going on in Iraq.

From Friday’s White House press conference.

Using His Kristol Ball

He’s at it again.

William Kristol, Fox News überpundit and Weekly Standard editor managed to get an Op-Ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. His point, if you have not already guessed, is to point out just how wonderful a president Bush will considered – in retrospect of course.

With current poll numbers in a Nixonian nosedive, one wonders how Kristol manages to come to this rather reality estranged viewpoint. As mentioned, both in the first sentence of the piece and perhaps the only one in the Op-Ed with any relationship to the laws of reality as we know them, Kristol comments that he will “merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush’s presidency will probably be a successful one.”

Why yes, Mr. Kristol, you will; here’s mine.

Kristol starts by looking at the wonderful things that have happened in the years of the Bush presidency. Things like no more terrorist attacks on US soil, a strong economy and * cough * an obviously winning strategy in Iraq.

Let’s take these in order, shall we?

First, the no more terror attacks on US soil. True. The sky also didn’t turn green and the Germans haven’t elected a new Hitler and the 60% of Americans becoming increasingly frustrated with the federal government still haven’t left the country either. Funny that Kristol doesn’t assume these to be accolades of the current administration. Perhaps we only have to give him time.

But what about those pesky little terror attacks. Madrid, London, – London again (sort of), Glasgow (sort of). Kristol is right that the US has largely avoided al Quaeda terror attacks in recent years. Of course the same could have been said of Bill Clinton in 1999. But hey, why go there?

There was the largely forgotten and never explained Anthrax attacks that took place – um –after 9/11?

Then there was that pesky little hurricane thingy that destroyed New Orleans and reshaped the Gulf Coast. Not terror but the federal response, lead and coordinated by Bush, was terrifyingly bad.

We could look at last week’s report by the GAO that a fake firm, basically a mailbox and a telephone number, would have been able to purchase the materials for a dirty bomb. No not an attack, but terrifying.

Perhaps the only reason al Quaeda doesn’t attack is because there isn’t any reason. America is doing a just fine self destructing all by itself, thank you. Perhaps that is why Chertoff has a stomach problem. Maybe he was simply eating salmonella infested spinach picked by “undocumented workers” his department seems unable to keep out of the country.

Which brings me to the economy.

What does Mr. Kristol have to say?

After the bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve had more than five years of steady growth, low unemployment and a stock market recovery. Did this just happen? No. Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right. Even the budget deficit, the most universally criticized consequence of the tax cuts, is coming down and is lower than it was when the 2003 supply-side tax cuts were passed.

Bush has also (on the whole) resisted domestic protectionist pressures (remember the Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 complaining about outsourcing?), thereby helping sustain global economic growth.

What do those pesky facts show?

Well, I’ll just ask the U.S. Census Bureau. Since the yearly reports come out in August, (perhaps the reason for Mr. Kristol writing this Op-Ed now) I have to reach back to the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005 released in August 2006.

A quick graph of those incomes (adjusted to 2005 dollars) by quintile shows that current income still hasn’t reached the level of 2000. But the rich are still getting richer having increased from a meager 49.8% of the total share of income in the year 2000 to 50.4% by 2005, an all time high. (Click for full size version)

Mean Household Income by Quintiles 1986 - 2005

And a few more tidbits from the report:

  • ”The Gini index, one of the most widely used inequality measures, did not measure a statistically significant change in household income inequality between 2004 and 2005. Over the past 10 years, the Gini index has increased 4.2 percent (from 0.450 to 0.469), although the individual annual differences since then were not statistically significant.” (pg. 8 )
  • After 4 years of consecutive increases, the poverty rate stabilized at 12.6 percent in 2005— higher than the most recent low of 11.3 percent in 2000 and lower than the rate in 1959 (22.4 percent), the first year for which poverty estimates are available. (pg. 13)
  • “The percentage of people without health insurance coverage increased from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005. [up from 14,5% in 1999]” (pg. 20)
  • The percentage and the number of children (people under 18 years old) without health insurance increased between 2004 and 2005, from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent and from 7.9 million to 8.3 million, respectively. (pg .21)

Then there is the minor fact that gasoline prices have now almost doubled since George W. Bush took office.

Kristol then comments that even progressives would have to admit that Roberts and Alito are impressive supreme court judges. I’d say no problem Mr. Kristol. I’m sure you would agree that Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chaves are impressive international statesmen. Impressive is such a malleable word, isn’t it? As to making the claim that Roberts and Alito are conservative constitutionalists, I guess I would say that you might think so. Of course, if you assume the constitution is based on enlightenment principles and not on the ten commandments, it could have been worse.

Kristol then moves from domestic fantasies into international ones.

He starts off pointing out that “the war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well”. I won’t even go there except to reference the attack of the 10 foot tall marijuana plants. Something Mr. Kristol is certainly glad to see based on what he must have been smoking while writing this piece.

He then proceeds to wave his hand at any Pakistani problems and assumes that “Bush will deal with them.” Oh. Great.

Generally, in Mr Kristols world everything else is – well…

As for foreign policy in general, it has mostly been the usual mixed bag. We’ve deepened our friendships with Japan and India; we’ve had better outcomes than expected in the two largest Latin American countries, Mexico and Brazil; and we’ve gotten friendlier governments than expected in France and Germany. China is stable. There has been slippage in Russia. The situation with North Korea is bad but containable.

Hmm. The recent Pew report might present reality a bit differently. Let’s see.

In the current poll, majorities in 25 of the 47 countries surveyed express positive views of the U.S. Since 2002, however, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.

The U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America’s oldest allies. Favorable views of the U.S. are in single digits in Turkey (9%) and have declined to 15% in Pakistan. Currently, just 30% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S. – down from 42% as recently as two years ago – and favorable ratings inch ever lower in Great Britain and Canada.

I’m actually surprised Mr Kristol didn’t make more of Americas improving relationship with “Christian” Africa.

That Russian – slippage? I have to admit, that is a neat turn of a phrase. And it is amazing what happens when the Bush White House basically rolls back to pre-Bush positions in order to “contain” North Korea. You remember, North Korea gets heating oil; they shut down reactors. Rocket Science! (Well, hopefully not.)

And then Kristol get’s to the heart of the matter. That teeny-weeny, eensy-bitsy, tiny detail he’d been avoiding the whole Op-Ed: Iraq. Here Kristol starts harkens back to the days of Ulysses S. Grant and pushes Petraeus into the forefront. Bush is no longer Commander in Chief but the guy who picked the guy who’s going to win in Iraq. Or maybe not.

I’m starting to think that Patraeus will be named Patsy by September and it seems I am not alone.

After Kristol wins Iraq, the path is clear for him to move into the Bush library (has anyone agreed to let it be build near them yet?) and start creating legends. Of course, as opposed to most presidential libraries, the George W. Bush library probably won’t be all that interesting to scholars who go to look at the original documents. Those have all been cleverly moved to RNC e-mail accounts that were unfortunately “de-archived.”

Sorry Mr. Kristol, no happiness there. Oh. But then again maybe facts don’t bother Mr Kristol.

You might notice something about my post. I have links to where I got the information to refute Mr Kristol’s “facts.” His Op-Ed is largely – no – completely link free; just like his reality. There is no reason to back up statements with facts. Facts are just so yesterday.

One can only look forward to the days when the Washington Post finally decides to stop publishing this balderdash.

In the meantime. If Mr. Kristol’s last comments are any indication of his betting ability, I’d love to get in a game of poker with him. His crystal ball seems a bit smudged.

What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

I like the odds.

E Plurbus Unim

*sigh* From the floor of the Senate during the first Hindu invocation on the floor of the Senate.

E Plubus Unim – “Out of many, One.” And people wonder why I think Europe is more tolerant?

More and hat tip to Eric Kleefeld at TPMCafe

Sometimes Think-Tanks Should Rethink

The right-wing think-tank, The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, has put up a study showing the relationship between longevity and “medical innovation” defined as the overall age of drugs being prescribed.

Siting a study prepared by Frank R. Lichtenberg from Columbia University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study shows that, surprise, new drugs do increase life expectancy.

Lichtenberg then set out to examine why this “longevity increase gap” exists by measuring the impact of several factors that researchers agree could affect life expectancy. He found that, although some obvious suspects—obesity, smoking, and the incidence of HIV/AIDS—played a role, the most important factor was “medical innovation.”

Specifically, Lichtenberg found that longevity increased the most in those states where access to newer drugs—measured by mean “vintage” (FDA approval year)—in Medicaid and Medicare programs has increased the most. In fact, about two-thirds of the potential increase in longevity—the longevity increase that would have occurred if obesity, income, and other factors had not changed—is attributable to the use of newer drugs. According to his calculations, for every year increase in drug vintage there is about a two-month gain in life expectancy. These represent important findings given the fact that the costs of prescription drugs continue to receive a great deal of attention in the ongoing debate over health-care policy, while their benefits are often overlooked.

Lichtenberg also estimated impacts on productivity and per-capita medical expenditure. He concluded that states adopting medical innovations more rapidly had faster labor productivity growth, conditional on income growth and other factors, perhaps due to reduced absenteeism from chronic medical ailments. He also found that states that use newer drugs did not experience above-average increases in overall medical expenditure, which contradicts the common perception that advances in medical technology inevitably result in increased health-care spending.

I would expect this to be a bit of propaganda attempting to show that big pharma isn’t the global evil everyone seems to think it is. Pharma companies are good and only have your best interests (and sex lives) at heart. Profits? Banish the thought!
But hey, since the graphics the institute put up were a bit dull, I thought I’d go in and do a little paint by numbers.

The paper has two main tables. The first shows the states ranked by life expectancy. I simply colored the chart according to the way the states voted in the 2004 presidential election.

US States Ranked By Life Expectancy

The second table shows increase life expectancy. Here the coloring was a little easier.

US States Ranked by Increase In Life Expectancy

Interestingly, as far as I can tell the measurement being used is the vintage of drugs supplied by Medicare and Medicaid. Strange that there would seem to be that big a difference in how federal programs are being operated at the state and local level. Perhaps all those who decry the evils of Medicare shouldn’t look at the evil heartless Federal Government and spend more time looking a little closer to home at how the federal guidelines are implemented.

But it would also seem to me, that those think-tanks fighting the good fight for Republican values shouldn’t use studies showing how much better life is in Democratic states.

I guess I think they should have rethought their article.