Time to Pop That Cork!

Looks like the Mars rover Spirit is down! Nice work, all you folks who made it happen.

I have to admit I'm terribly opposed to manned missions at this point, because they're more PR and attitude and expense, while the unmanned missions have tended to offer more real scientific value for what we most need to know at this stage of the game. And I'm tired of losing Shuttle crews to avoidable mistakes.

But when you see this - this pure bit of science and adventure, this moment of great pride (and you noticed that many of the faces and voices at JPL were multi-ethnic) defines the America I thought I knew. And after 3 years of hearing up was down, war is the Christian thing to do, global warming is good for you, justice means "execute and then have a trial", and "evolution didn't get us here, the Bible did" - it was nice to see the US and the people of other nations who contributed to it do what it does so well: seek real scientific information as part of an exploratory process. The moment seemed quite crystalline, almost pure (for want of a better phrase) to me, not at all tied up with the schlock we've engaged in for years.

And we didn't have to kill a single person to do it. Imagine that!

But want to bet the president is asleep and will be told in the morning, when Condi comes in with his bowl of Froot Loops and Sunday funnies? After all, he keeps telling us he doesn't watch the news, and this isn't a ball game.

Disgusting (I think Karl Rove's picture appears with this word in the dictionary)

The Christian Science Monitor has this piece about the GOP using newspapers' letters to the editor sections to promote a fake "voice of the people" impression. It was almost difficult to be disgusted by this after reading several right-wing sites that were going after Dr. Dean for having a Jewish wife and questioning his Christianity.

Religious tolerance might have been part of this country's first days (as long as, of course, you weren't Native American) but the far right wing is doing everything in its power to remake God and this country into an entity as intolerant as they themselves are.

I keep asking myself, "Why do people like this bother to draw another breath with this much hatred in their souls?"

9-11 Committee Chair Thomas Kean Speaks

Deborah Solomon has a Q&A session with Thomas Kean about the investigation into 9-11 in tomorrow's New York Times.

Scary story even if you don't read between the lines

[Ed. note: My apologies. I found this story originally linked from another site - one of the five dozen or so I read this evening. But I can't find where I was to give proper credit to the correct party.]

George Paine has quite a tale to tell about a visit to his bank in the Age of Ashcroft.


Gee, I can't imagine why...

...Iran wouldn't be crazy thrilled to have Libby Dole (the most junior member of the Senate possible) and an "as yet unnamed member of the Bush family" come visit them after the earthquake

...Mr Bush - who took 6 chefs with him on our tax dollar to London when he visited in November, seriously pissing off the Queen - needed to go shoot quail before he announced to the American people that they needed to keep eating beef; I'm positive it has nothing to do with the fact that extremely wealthy cattlemen give him huge sums of money and that he pretends to be one, or the fact that the beef he eats is not from the same consumer chains we peons eat from (but I'm also not sure how we'd tell if he began to display symptoms of a brain wasting disease since he uses his brain so rarely)

... The New York Times gave David Brooks - who I sorta/kinda/almost liked appearing with Mark Shields on Fridays during the Lehrer News Hour - an OpEd column; he's not very good in print

... God hasn't smited Pat Robertson

... I'm so surprised that the world is so insane right now (with America leading the pack of lunatics)

Pat Robertson's hearing voices again

According to Pat Robertson (remember, the one who suggested the State Department be blown up because he doesn't like Colin Powell; the same one who was NOT visited by federal authorities because his support was fundamental - pun intended - to Bush's election), God spoke to him and told him that no matter what Bush does, good or bad, he'll be re-elected in a landslide simply because Bush is "chosen".

Bush was chosen, although by the Supreme Court.

Oops. Phone. Hey, God's on the line one (of course) and He says Pat Robertson is the anti-Christ's illegimitate son who blows smoke out of his ass and claims its divine prophesy.

Clark on "one person, one vote"

South Knox Bubba has a speech tendered by ret. Gen. Wesley Clark delivered in Birmingham, Ala on the constitutional issue of "one person, one vote" that I think deserves a thorough reading. We agree whole-heartedly with Clark on this one.

The Plame Blame Game

I was trying to put my reaction to words yesterday related to new excuses being offered for how Valerie Plame was "outed" by the White House - in what should be considered an act of Treason and a serious one considering it was sanctioned by that White House - when I found that Joshua Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo.com had already covered it beautifully.

The appearance of Victoria Toensing (I've been convinced for years that she and her husband have a decency level somewhere deeply into the negative numbers) on the talking heads shows offering an excuse signals something bad: this investigation isn't real. We're going to let a White House staffer get away with outing a CIA deep undercover operative for political payback and the theory going about that Ashcroft recused himself so it won't look as bad when the whole thing is swept under the rug is accurate. I am sick about this.

There is nothing this White House and administration can't get away with; I'm sicker still that we allow it to happen again and again while all we hear is non-stop Laci Peterson, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jackson.

TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime

For those who may not have found their way there yet - and most good blogs have a link to it - I encourage you to check out Jeralyn Merritt's fine TalkLeft.com covering the politics of crime.

You've no doubt seen Jeralyn on several news programs as a legal consultant; she's an astute, savvy lawyer who has an excellent grasp on defense issues and seems like a warm, genuine human being as well. I came to respect her a great deal several years ago when she became involved in the Tim McVeigh case. Lawyers who represent those considered reprehensible deserve an extra nod, because they understand that everyone should be properly represented. Justice isn't supposed to be metered out to a few; the term is "justice for all".

Pete Rose, a Legend in His Own Mind

As I'm reading The New York Times today, I saw an op/ed by Fay Vincent re: Mr. Rose's constant, chest-pounding attempt to be reinstated.

Let me just posit a point or two here. There are so many other issues in the world that are far more important than Mr. Rose. Yet for years, wherever I look, there's Mr. Rose crying "poor me". Millions lose their jobs, but Mr. Rose knows his problems are paramount. The nation comes under attack, and there's Mr. Rose wiping a tear from his eye because he can't have all the money and fame. The country is horribly divided on a number of critical issues, and there's Mr. Rose again telling us everything will be all right if only he gets back what he's sure he so richly deserves.

Does the Hall of Fame really need such a cry baby so desperately?

Mr. Rose, you're insignificant. You've been irrelevant for a number of years. Only you are worried about you.

Tell you what. Spend at least 1% of all that energy you expend getting on TV at every opportunity to spread the word of your mistreatment trying to do something for someone who's a lot less fortunate than yourself and who isn't in the mess he or she is in because of his/her own misdeeds. Then you might be worth something. Until then, you're just a sad old fool crying in your own poo.

Krugman's "Who's Nader Now?"

Paul Krugman's Friday New York Times column asks the above question. Although I'm not sure I agree with everything written there (I'm uncomfortable with deciding who will be the Democratic candidate so far from the nomination point - it excludes voices we should perhaps hear from first), I concur wholeheartedly on the issue of Leiberman.

Leiberman did his utmost to out-conservative, out-war, and out-GOP most of the neocon GOP in the past few years in his lapdog treatment of the Bush White House - so much so that there has been tremendous joking that Leiberman will be Bush's VeeP choice if they can Mr. Cheney.

While it was refreshing to see Mr. Gore name any non-Christian as his VP running mate in 2000, Leiberman seemed like an unusual choice even then. Under the best circumstances, Leiberman's about as exciting as a bowl of fat-free, spice free chicken soup and his petulance after Mr. Gore chose to support Dean in the 2004 race didn't seem particularly presidential (unless you use Mr. Bush as a role model - petulance is his forte).

More importantly, Leiberman's behavior since 9-11 (to me) means he does not deserve any serious consideration as a Democratic candidate. Leiberman as the Dem choice in 2004 would also serve to undermine the continuing crisis in the Middle East, given what I feel I've seen of his blindly pro-Israel comments in the past.

Is that true of any Jew who might run for president? I don't think so. I think one can strongly support the right of Israel to exist and flourish while also recognizing that men like Netanyahu and Sharon are as much enemies to peace as many in Israel feel Yassir Arafat is. I would even argue they are greater enemies because Arafat has been so marginalized by a joint effort of BushCo and Sharon.

There simply has to be a way to bring about a situation in the Middle East that doesn't demand the dismantlement of Israel or the obliteration of the Palestinians. I don't know if Dean has the answer to that conundrum, yet I feel confident that Bush certainly does not, and Lieberman does not. I feel more strongly that Dean, Clark ... or even Kerry... might approach the situation better than has been done in the past 3 years when Sharon is at the White House more often than Mr. Bush is while we've all but cut the Palestinians out of the dialog into their own future. I don't think it's any coincidence that the worst violence seen there has been since both Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon took office.

The Middle East is an incredibly important issue for so many reasons - mostly all centered in the fact that much of the Muslim world sees the treatment of Palestinians as a cause celebre - and perhaps rightly so - and those that want an excuse to wreak havoc use America's alliance with Israel at every turn. America must approach the situation there wisely, with a recognition of both sides of the issues at hand. While everyone debates and dances, people die there almost every day either directly or indirectly as a result of policies America has helped to craft.

If there was no other reason for a change in the occupant of the White House, I would say this one issue warrants it. And we need to choose very wisely.


Professional Request

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* drug treatment professionals concerned about potentially easier access to drugs that could be abused
* regulators trying to control the proliferation of drugs ordered outside the usual means

Before I finish the proposal, I want to make certain I've got a full grasp of the situation from many different perspectives.

All responses will be considered confidential, and thanks. Contact me here.

2004 Predictions

Everyone is looking back at the year(s) gone by, but it's the first day of a new year, and an appropriate time to look ahead with some predictions.

But for clarity, let's break up this list into two separate parts, divided between what we'd like to see happen in 2004 and what we're very much concerned may happen.

    What Should Happen in 2004:

* Congress will stop acting like a rubber stamp for the White House
* The economy really will turn around for all, and not just all multi-billionaires
* We'll realize what short shrift our kids are getting with education and start diverting away from Donald Rumsfeld back to the three Rs - remember, an ignorant generation is a national security threat as well
* Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Peggy Noonan, Ann Coulter, and Jonah Goldberg will all choke on their own lies, piousness, and deceit [that's the one reality TV show I'd like to see]; Joe Scarbrough, on seeing O'Reilly fall over dead, will do his best to imitate him (poorly, of course)
* We'll stop creating wars to improve the finances of the Bush dynasty and the military-industrialist complex
* We'll elect a real human being to the White House: one who thinks and acts on what is needed by the people he/she serves rather than the corporations who bought him or her
* Judges will continue their still-fledgling start at questioning some of the irrational policies that have been forced into place like mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses, indefinite confinement of detainees, etc.
* Journalists will go back to actually researching their work rather than accepting White House press releases at face value

    What Probably Will Happen in 2004 Unless We Smarten Up Right Fast:

* The 2004 presidential election will be stolen in even more egregious ways than the 2000 election and we'll be so deluged by terror threats that people will let them get away with it after we promised ourselves we would not let it happen again
* By the end of the year, we'll be ignoring Iraq as much as Afghanistan as we pursue war against another nation
* Saddam Hussein will die in custody; we'll never hear what he might be able to tell
* All the people currently predicted to leave the Bush Administration after Election 2004 will be replaced by even worse types
* Moves will be made to force our country to become a Christian nation when our forefathers were very careful to try to preserve the religious tolerance it was founded upon
* More people will be put to death than ever before; not just through the carrying out of death penalties but through loss of health care, the religious right's lack of interest in any poor child past its fetus stage, increased violence on the streets and in our homes as the economy becomes much more dominated by a few top players with little left for the workers


Minimum Wage

Kevin Drum at Calpundit has an interesting formula for coming up with a more suitable minimum wage rate: 10% of what is currently the roughly $75 per hour paid to US Congress persons, which would then go up each and every time the Congress votes themselves a pay raise (which they do each year, regardless of how poorly they've behaved in their elected capacity).

Wired Take on National ID Card

Here's a link to a Wired.com article on how to institute a national ID card that may have far less intrusion value than most of those proposed so far. Alas, however, I do not see that this will solve the problem.

Safe but...

With all the talk of the orange-status Terror alert and placing air marshals on foreign flights coming into the US, and how we're checking more shoes.... how is it that in less than a week, two different bodies have been discovered in the wheel wells of planes coming into New York airports? If these planes were being checked so carefully, wouldn't the wheel wells - an unfortunate, relatively frequent, and usually fatal way people try to get into the US - be checked?

The body found on a JFK plane last night may have been there since Christmas Eve/Day, when it took off in Nigeria. A week - during what's been called the tightest screening process ever.

Now, I doubt any terrorist would choose this route to travel, because he or she would probably want to be alive to reach his/her destination to inflict the terror. But what it says about our security is frightening.

So, too, was the fact that a small plane was allowed to circle around a Manhattan landmark - containing a convicted murderer, btw - for a period of time before the pilot was intercepted (by a helicopter of heavily armed cops - were they going to shoot him at 20,000 feet?).

More frightening is that airplane cargo is still not being aggressively screened. So we can overwork these air marshalls all we like, make as many grandmas as we desire remove their shoes to be frisked, do facial and background scanning all we bloody well please, and yet what lies in the belly of the ship, beneath all those unsuspecting passengers, could yet harbor just about anything.

Now, I'm not a big believer in giving my life over to fear, especially a fear of terrorism. While I still have nightmares and occasionally tears over what occurred on 9-11, I recognize that in the US alone, we lose 12x the number of people to influenza each year than we lost at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in that Pennsylvania field. I've been to New York since the tragedy (it remains one of my favorite places in the world). I have little doubt that tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations will provoke no attack.

What I do fear, however, is the dumb stuff (shoe screening, refusing foreign journalists and scholars entrance into this country, and a wealth of other ignorant processes) we seem willing to do in the name of fear, while refusing to check things like plane cargo and the like. And I find myself suspicious/incredulous of our measures to force foreign airlines to place - and pay themselves - US air marshals onto flights when such a tiny percentage of US-only flights have no such air marshal.

I keep thinking, "What would a single air marshall have been able to do on any one of those three flights on 9-11?" The answer is we don't know.

US Rep Christopher Shaps (R-CT) took flak yesterday for suggesting that people heed the terror warnings and perhaps stay home from places like NY's Time Square tonight. Mayor Bloomberg in NY had a hissy fit - and I can understand his PoV, too. But Shays said something that may need to be said, that there can be no 100% assurance of safety and that if you are actually concerned, you should stay away. We seem to want to place ourselves in bubble wrap and pretend that everything is normal... but as long as conditions exist that are anything but normal... we either need to heed the warnings or insist that our government supply more than bubble wrap and yes, duct tape.

Me? I've got some cheap champagne, some good Vermont cheese and crackers, and plans here with my family and a few friends tonight. I wish everyone safety and sanity. I also hope that we as a country get far smarter in 2004, less afraid to look at the bigger picture in what's causing us to feel so unsafe.

About Time (Plame Investigation)

Word was out everywhere last evening that US Attorney General John Ashcroft had finally decided to recuse himself from the investigation into high-ranking White House leaks that led to the uncovering of "superspy" Valerie Plame, who is also the wife of former US Ambassador to Gabon, Joseph Wilson. Good for Mr. Ashcroft; it was the right thing to do.

I would tend, however, to agree with The New York Times that this should have happened some time ago, that there is much investigation yet to be done and that the very recusal itself doesn't mean true answers will be sought, and that we may never know the extent of the damage done because of the delay in months before Mr. Ashcroft chose this route.

We can't say we value those who risk their lives in "the war on terrorism" (this appears in quotations because the administration means very different things when it invokes this term which it does with seeming carefree abandon) in one breath, while allowing "high-ranking White House sources" in another to "out" operatives just because they don't like something the operative's husband said.


Greetings from the Other

Although I'm a bit less acerbic than our cranky editor, I wanted to chime in here with my list of New Year's Resolutions... not just for things I would like to change but that I would like to see the country embrace in 2004:

* Trust the mainstream media less and do our research more to understand what is going on; this country is involved in a tremendous amount of issues both here and abroad and we can no longer trust the media to try to keep us apprised in a fair and balanced way (oh dear, Fox will sue me)

* Better appreciate that issues are not always black and white

* See ourselves more as a responsible community and identify ourselves less by our divisions (GOP vs. Dem, black vs white vs Latino vs.., Christian vs. Jew vs. Muslim vs....)

* Think more, watch reality TV less

* Have a much better voter turnout in 2004; voting is a primary responsibility in a representative democracy

* Not just grin and bear the intolerable; whether the injustice is being visited upon ourselves or others

* Use our First Amendment privilege strongly and wisely

* For those who believe in a higher power, perceive Him, Her, or It as more compassionate than we are and that the best gifts tendered to us were our minds and our free will; such gifts should not be squandered

* Understand that a "recovery" of any type can only help so much if that recovery is not offered to all

* Listen more carefully to voices different from our own

* Treat each day as a fresh opportunity with which to learn and to grow

Remember: "I'm a uniter, not a divider."

George W. Bush spoke those words repeatedly during the presidential campaign of 2000 and yet, despite the fact that people (let's use the term loosely, shall we?) such as Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly insist all the "good" American people are behind the president, polls, discussion, and so much else indicates that this country has never been more sharply divided.

We're divided over war (and divided in our reactions to Afghanistan vs. Iraq), national security interests, Israelis vs. Palestinians, over national health care, over both Patriot Act I and II (with the government trying to make librarians out to be dissidents), over whether school vouchers should be implemented or whether Medicare should undergo a massive change, over tax cuts in the face of mounting deficit... the list goes on ad infinitum.

I'm reminded of Mr. Bush's oft-used quote this morning reading EJ Dionne's piece about the Republicans being wrong that Howard Dean (and no, we have not endorsed a particular candidate yet) and the Democrats are leaning so far to the left that they cannot hope to win in 2004 (308 days to the day we vote, people). I, like Dionne, think there is strong unity - not just limited to Democrats - among the base of people who feel that we're making some serious missteps in the War on Terrorism, on education, on health care, and on so much else.

Most people who identify themselves as strongly hanging to the left on most issues tell me they do not at all see Dean a leftist. As more centrist, I believe, in my own orientation (feeling that the US has to represent all people and not just those within a particular spectrum), I have to admit feeling that Mr. Dean leans a bit to the right of where I think. I base that not on campaign speeches but on living and working in the state he governed.

In Vermont, Dean was neither particularly pro-corporation or anti-corporation.

He opposed the passage of medical marijuana law (as someone who worked with cancer patients and hospice programs, I've seen marijuana produce some excellent results for some, if not all, who often had to argue ethically with themselves to try it for pain and nausea relief).

He helped push through the legality of civil unions while stopping far short of true equality for homo- and heterosexuals alike.

He helped institute a program that gave greater health care coverage to Vermonters (although not every Vermonter is guaranteed coverage, there are programs in place for those who earn particularly low incomes and full coverage for children in that boat) to the point where almost 94% of Vermonters have some form of health insurance.

He could be hard-headed and aggressive, yes. As usual, it depends on the side you were on relative to Dean whether you saw this as aggressive and bone-headed or impassioned and committed. We see this same phenomenon relative to George Bush.

Perhaps I live in a strange little shell here, but I don't go anywhere or participate in or overhear any converation between two or more people in which people don't seem quite divided already by the policies put in place (or arrogantly ignored) by the current administration. So I don't see Dean as whipping up and inflating the anger felt by so many; I see those already angry and scared and hopelessly disappointed in the current direction of our country responding to Dean because he shares some of their views.

Paul Krugman and the Boom

This morning's Paul Krugman column in The New York Times nails it perfectly in his discussion of "Our So-Called Boom". The economic recovery, he writes, is a rather exclusive party to which relatively few of us have been invited based upon data that has been telling us for some months that while luxury items are selling quite well (thank you, Bush tax cut!), more mortal sales are distinctly less robust.

"An aside: how weak is the labor market? The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but there's something funny about that number. An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed, and many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed. Such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years."

Krugman's OpEd pieces are always sobering and almost always very well thought out.

What Did 2003 Mean for You?

It's that time of year when our thoughts inevitably turn to the year(s) past as we consider what has gone right and wrong.

Yet, while the TV pundits are busy patting the president on the back for having such a fine year, crediting him with turning around the economy, catching Saddam Hussein, winning the war in Iraq, and looking like a stud in that flight suit when he arrived on the deck of the Lincoln back in May, I'm just not at all certain that everyone is so much better off.

For example:

Perhaps you are one of the many people still looking for a job after 2 years. See, the government changed the way it reports unemployment statistics. Once you've been unemployed long enough, you simply aren't counted any longer because you're.. shall we say... inconvenient. Congress went on holiday break without extending unemployment benefits to many. Remember to give thanks for that!

Or maybe you're one of many watching the jobs you do have go overseas while the Republican Congress is working so very hard to give additional tax cuts to the very companies moving your jobs to India.

You might also be one of the record number of people still suffering from the grave economic losses from the collapse of the Enron/WorldCom bubble.

Or you may be one of the people in Connecticut struggling to get by while the Republican governor gets state contractors to pay for improvements to his expensive cottage in Litchfield County.

Or you could be among the record number of people in this country without health care... or close to the time when you'll depend on the Medicare system that Mr. Bush is very compassionately dismantling.

Or counted amidst the record number of people losing their homes to foreclosure.

Or the rising number of folks who live paycheck to paycheck - some studies suggest that MOST Americans now live with way, up sharply from just a few years ago.

Or perhaps you're a member of the military - or family/friend to someone who is - who finds that enrollment is extended indefinitely while Mr. Bush and Congress are cutting programs to support you and your family. Just being in Iraq or Afghanistan right now seems like danger enough without having to spend each waking moment worrying whether your kids are fed and educated and whether your spouse can get medical care or pay the mortgage.

Or maybe you depend on one of the many social services such as Meals on Wheels that are being cut back so that huge tax cuts can be directed to the most wealthy Americans.

Or you watch as your kids have their school weeks shortened by a day or more because more and more of the federal tax dollar goes to Halliburton and Bechtel rather than educating your children.

Or you lost someone you loved on 9-11-01 and noticed that funding for the investigation of the loss of the Columbia shuttle and its crew was more than 12x that of the money given to investigating what allowed 9-11-01 to occur. And the committee investigating has been stonewalled by the administration again and again.

Or your business has lost a mint because whenever poll and confidence numbers for the administration begin to slip, the terror alert warnings go up, impacting business, travel, and almost everything else.

And this is just the very tip of the frigid iceberg we're living in right now.

Just remember: 308 days to Election 2004.


What's Worse than Being Bill O'Reilly?

Well, besides being someone inclined to worship believe Bill O'Reilly, that is.

We've decided there is actually one entity worse: trying to be Bill O'Reilly. Sadly, that's all MSNBC's Joe Scarbrough does. He tries to be just as disingenuous, just as twisted, just as blithely impervious to reality, and just as anger-provoking. Thankfully, he's got just a miniscule percentage of O'Liely's O'Reilly's ratings.

This seems to be MSNBC's success strategy: try to be Fox, which means not being a news channel. Keith Olbermann remains the only reason to ever turn on MSNBC.

Call the firing squad - he's carrying an almanac!

The Associated Press via the Chicago Sun-Times informs us that the FBI spent Christmas Eve warning police throughout the country to be on the lookout for anyone carrying an almanac.

But I suppose it should be no great surprise that this administration lives in great fear of anyone who might consult a reference book. I mean, we have a president who doesn't watch the news or read newspapers - who feels that his best intelligy (his word, not mine) comes from his advisers - the same people who don't listen to their own intelligy. The mind shudders.

Oh yeah... 309 days to Election 2004. Let's elect someone who knows how to read this time, shall we?

Your cranky editor

Ne acclametur times? This roughly translates to, "Are you afraid to be booed?"

We are not. Thinking people never are.

Welcome to the blog.

Your cranky editor.

Greetings from the So-Called Socialist Republic of Vermont

If you want to better understand our POV on the above issue, visit here.

If, however, you would like to better appreciate our views on Halliburton, Bechtel, the Carlyle Group, and a few select others, there's an ancient Latin quotation that seems unfortunately all too appropriate:

"Cui dubium potest esse quin opulentiam istam ex sanguine et miseriis civium pararis?"

Roughly translated, this means "Who could doubt that you have reaped the opulent wealth of yours from the blood and misery of the people?"

In any event, the blog is open, along with our main site. Enjoy but more importantly, think.

Your grouchy editor.