Monday, June 29, 2009

Change in Sea Ice

Ice CapA bigger image can be seen at Paul Krugman's blog post, but check out the reduction in the polar ice cap on just thirty years. What's interesting to me is that there is almost no change at all on the eastern side, the North Sea, and along the northern coast of Greenland; but the western side, in the Bering Sea, the change is pretty dramatic. Is the Pacific Ocean warming more than the Atlantic? Or is something else at work?

Update: Wednesday 1:30pm
Oops, the Gulf Stream has been doing that for centuries. I am an idiot.

Computer problems will mean very little posting until I get it fixed.

Update: Wednesday 7:00pm
It was not a virus, technically "malware," so apparently all of those porn sites I've been visiting did not burn me after all. It was something that either M$ Vista or Google was doing to me. If you ever have computer problems the folks at Virtual Dr. are awesome.

Update: Thursday 9:00am
Well, no, Virtual Dr. declaring me malware free or not, the problem is still extant. The issue seems to be, in medical parlance, "idiopathic," meaning "we don't have a clue what's causing it." It's certainly beginning to make
me "idiosomething" all right.

"Supporting the Troops"

Back when a Republican was president and kept funding his wars with “special” bills in Congress, the Republicans would target Democrats who voted against those bills as “unpatriotic” and as “voting against the troops.”

The persons voting against those bills often were not voting against the war funding at all, but against some pork that the Republican majority had tacked onto those bills, but that didn’t stop the Republicans from their “voting against the troops” attack ads. Often there would be two versions of the same bill and a Democrat would vote for the one without the pork and against the one with it; that Democrat would still be cited for voting against the second bill and attacked for “voting against the troops.”

The practice was widely decried by the Democrats as ridiculous, dirty, and “unfair,” and I fully agreed with all of those descriptors. The campaign ads and sound bites rather seriously annoyed me.

Now that we have a Democratic president funding his wars with “special” bills in Congress, we get this from Think Progress last Friday,

Now, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) plans to run ads on the July 4 holiday criticizing several vulnerable Republican members for their votes against the supplemental last week. As Glenn Thrush reports, “A series of 60-second radio ads will run during drive time from July 1 through July 8, according to a script provided to POLITICO — and they have the support-our-troops ring of GOP spots.”

Do I think this is acceptable now that Democrats are doing it rather than Republicans? No, I do not. It was deceptive at best when Republicans did it, and it is deceptive now when Democrats are doing it. I do not like politicians deliberately distorting facts in order to mislead people into supporting their politics, no matter who those politicians are.

The end does not justify the means.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Leadership" for Gay Issues

Suppose that, in the 1960's, President Johnson had signed a bill giving blacks the right to ride in the front of buses that were on even numbered routes. "Civil Rights is a tricky issue right now," he would say, "and I'm dealing with this war in Veet Nayum. I'll get around to the Civil Rights thing later, but for now here's a little bit to make you happy. You can ride in the front of even-numbered buses."

That is pretty much what Mr. Obama has done for gay rights so far, and as Frank Rich points out in an NY Times op-ed yesterday, it is a long way short of what he promised in his campaign. Frank Rich is not happy with Obama's "leadership" on gay issues, with his recognition of public opinion, or with his willingness to keep promises made to those who supported him in his bid for the presidency. Like Mr. Rich, I am unhappy with Obama's failure to lead on this issue, and like him I do not see the need for it.

Unlike Mr. Rich I am beginning to suspect a reason, and it is not pretty.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Strange Affair

I don't usually comment on the various political wick-dipping episodes, but this Sanford guy has me seriously baffled. His wife discovered the affair back in January and while they are "working on their marriage" he keeps "asking her for permission to visit Argentina?" Really?

There are quite a few debatable reasons for him to resign; abandoning his office, moral turpitude, frolicking at taxpayer expense, being generally pathetic... But asking your wife for permission to visit your mistress?

The man is a loon. Ipso loquitor. "The thing speaks for itself."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Elder Statesman

Jimmy CarterI did not vote for Jimmy Carter either time, and I do not say that with any pride at all. Quite the reverse. This man is turning out to be one of the greatest statesmen this nation has ever produced.

The only Middle East nation with which Israel is at peace is Egypt, a peace forged by Jimmy Carter, and one that has lasted for thirty years and has survived the subsequent assassination of the leaders of both nations. He began his presidency with a pursuit of peace in the Middle east, and he has never stopped.
A Haaretz Editorial last year said that, “For the peace agreement with Egypt, he deserves the respect reserved for royalty for the rest of his life.”

The man is in his eighties, for heaven’s sake, and he is still at it with the energy and stamina that many much younger men could not maintain.
The release of an Israeli soldier held by the Palestinians, in exchange for Palestinians held by the Israelis, appears close to becoming a deal and Carter’s hand is quietly and unobtrusively part of the process. Glenn Greenwald explains in some detail how diplomacy, by Carter and the Obama Administration, has been at work in the process and a picture emerges of a tireless elder statesman quietly pursuing a peace agenda.

The idea to transfer Shalit to Egypt in exchange for the release of Palestinian women, teens, cabinet ministers and parliamentarians being held in Israeli prisons was raised about a year ago during a visit by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to Damascus, Jerusalem and Gaza... Carter raised it again on his visit earlier this month...

Emphasis added by me. I wish we had more like him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Misplaced Priorities

Farrah Fawcett, a beautiful and gracious person who fought a battle with cancer for 30 months with grace and courage, lost that battle today with barely a whisper in the press. I suspect there are many in the country right now who do not even know that she is gone. She fought her fight with only the degree of publicity needed to inspire others who are faced with similar difficult paths. Self pity or personal gain were never part of "Farrah's Story."

The press is too absorbed with the death of a rock star who lived his entire life as a monument to self adulation and lived his last years as a pedophile and a monster. Hour after hour of archival footage of this grotesque excuse for a human being is played as politicians and stars rush to microphones to praise his contributions to rock music, conveniently ignoring his lifelong grossly self-indulgent lifestyle and the wrecked lives of children left in the wake of his twisted passions.

Men and women are dying in Iran in the quest for freedom. Our soldiers are placing their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan in defense of this nation. Great and weighty matters of long-term import to the entire nation are being debated in Washington. There is a crisis of energy and global climate change. And the media is absorbed in the death of a has-been, pedophile rock star.

Something is wrong with the priorities here.

Weaponized Keynesianism

I sometimes halfway wish, when I see Barney Frank speak, that I were not both married and straight. I swear, I would move to Washington and make a run at him. I know, he has a partner, but still... He comes up with some of the most penetrating and delightful statements. Like this one, quoted by Paul Krugman, about people defending a Cold War weapons program,

These arguments will come from the very people who denied that the economic recovery plan created any jobs. We have a very odd economic philosophy in Washington: It’s called weaponized Keynesianism. It is the view that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.

Given the comment, I perhaps should add that I'm thinking intellectually here, not... Oh, crap, maybe I should delete the post.

Healthcare and Vaporware

I watched the ABC News “Prescription for American Health Care” yesterday and was reminded of a term we used in the computer software business; “vaporware” was software that was promised or advertised but which never actually existed.

The President was far more oblique, slippery and just plain dishonest in selling his “health care reform” than he ever was on the campaign trail. In the latter case he was selling a really good product, himself, but now he is trying to sell vaporware. He is trying to sell a package that consists of nothing more than tinkering with and expanding the existing system as if it was “fundamental reform.” In the process he is having to dodge questions, claim that things will happen that won’t happen, and just plain lie.

He used the Mayo Clinic to illustrate cost containment, for God’s sake. Now, the Mayo found my health problems when other medical systems could not four years or so ago, and I am grateful to them for that. They are an incredibly fine medical center and I admire not only their medical service but the manner in which they provide it. Every procedure they billed me for, however, was tagged by my insurance for me to pay about 40% of the billed amount as being “above reasonable and customary,” so I have trouble seeing them as a model for cost containment.

The President of the AMA asked him how he could assure that a person’s treatment was going to be dictated by the person's doctor and not by some government bureaucracy, and the President went into his five-minute speech about “If you like the plan you have you will be able to keep it...” Obama not only wasn't in the ballpark of answering the question, he didn’t even enter the city in which the ballpark is located.

Asked about the $1 trillion+ cost, he referred to “up front costs” and talked about offsetting it with savings that “may be realized” from various things. When a former Medicare Director asked what he could offer “that the CBO would count” he put on his short skirt, picked up his pom poms and went into a cheerleading routine about how "America always meets challenges."

Indeed we do, but getting a grip on vapor transcends mere “challenge.”

Usual Vapid Reporting

There are ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is a Swine Flu Pandemic. Obama and Congress are tangling on several very important pieces of legislation. There is a crisis in Iran. So of course Chris Matthews spent his entire hour dissecting the amorous misadventures of a Republican Governor, and Olbermann spent more than half of his hour doing the same.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Action Required

Immediately upon inauguration, Barack Obama announced that the use of torture was banned, to thunderous applause. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief; a dark day in our nation’s history was over, a chapter closed.

Well, not so fast. A small band of Bush loyalists began prating about Obama’s actions making the nation less safe, and glorifying the use of torture as somehow having prevented a host of undescribed disasters following September eleventh. The media, instead of ignoring them, saw a delicious conflict which they could feed on and have been running with it ever since.

Obama is saying only that “we prefer to look forward” and the torturers are glorifying and defending their actions. The result is not pretty. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday contained the following question,

"Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects?"

Support for not using torture has dropped from 58% in January to only 50% now. For "cases to consider" the response has risen from 40% to 46%.

Put another way, in January we are against the use of torture by 58%-40%. We still are, but in June the margin is down to 50%-46%, which is getting pretty marginal. Of course, I thought the January margin was rather sickening, but my point is that the numbers are going the wrong direction. A full half of this country is unwilling to take a stand against the use of torture.

It also asked,
"Do you approve or disapprove of Obama's decision to close the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, early next year?"

In January 46% approved, and 45% still do. The disturbing part of the response is that in January 39% disapproved and now a full 50% do. More people want to keep Guantanamo Bay open than want to see it closed.

What happened to all of the thunderous applause that followed the announcement about banning torture? What happened to electing a president based in part upon his promise to close Guantanamo?

If anything ever illustrated the need to investigate and prosecute the misdeeds of the past, it is this. It is that all of this ineffectual condemnation of these misdeeds without action, all of this talking and allowing “point-counterpoint” discussion, all of this permission of endless self-justification by the perpetrators of the misdeeds; all of this “normalizes” those misdeeds. Those polls tell us exactly why we need to appoint a special investigator and bring to justice those who ordered torture, and those who performed it. We need to release photos, and we need to hold trials.

With all of this actionless prating about it, we are slowly moving toward becoming a nation of torture. Guantanamo Bay is becoming a symbol of who we are.

Slightly warmer, but...

June GloomAnd sun in some afternoons. Whee.

Italy's Got Talent

My friend in North Carolina sent me this one. I really like the kid in the nerdy glasses, but all of them can sing, and I'm not all that hot for opera. As for the announcer, red is definitely her color and I could never speak Italian; my lips and tongue would just never move that fast.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Public Option, Trojan Horse

The “healthcare reform” debate is now condensing down to whether or not there will be a “public option” included in it. Dr. David Himmelstein raised an interesting point in an interview with Bill Moyers back in May, suggesting that such an option might not only be irrelevant but might actually be to our disadvantage. But first, to restate my case that what is being discussed is not reform at all. Here is President Obama, with a phrase that he has repeated many times,

We have historically a tradition of employer based health care and although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is that the vast majority of people currently get their health care from their employers, and you've got this system that's already in place.

The emphasis, added by me, is just plain a false statement. Ford Motor Company does not employ a horde of doctors and nurses and own a network of hospitals. People do not get healthcare from their employers. What they get is health insurance from their employers, and if they are “happy with what they have and don’t want to lose it” it is because they have never had to use it due to any kind of serious illness.

I am covered by my wife’s employer-provided plan, one of the “gold plated” plans that Obama wants to tax. To obtain the best degree of coverage, the plan limits me to certain doctors and hospitals, it restricts what medications it will pay for, and when I got sick in 2003 my out-of-pocket expenses came to more than $30,000 for the year. Happily, we were not in a position that a financial impact like that bankrupted us. Others are not as fortunate.

Bill Moyers: You had had cancer of the uterus, and while your husband was suffering from heart disease. And you went bankrupt even though you were insured?

Donna Smith: Yep. That's why I was asked to testify. I tell people that our story, my husband's and my story's not unique. It's not because we're so unique that people talk about us because we're not unique. So many millions of Americans do what all middle-class families do. You hang on. You watch your premiums rise over time and your benefits shrink. And as long as you're healthy, you absorb some of that cost and you deal with it and you make decisions.

But if you get sick, you find out just how inadequate that insurance may be. And I tell people not only did I have health insurance, I had Aflac disability insurance and a health care savings account on top of that. So we were like the prime example of responsible people who try and keep ourselves covered. And yet when we got sick, there was no way the deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum exposure added up so quickly that we were buried very quickly financially.

So how, precisely, does extending health insurance to more people solve that part of the problem? How does having health insurance help someone who cannot pay the $500 deductible? If someone cannot afford that first $500 of medical expense then they have no access to healthcare, whether they have insurance coverage or not.

The Public Option
The public option is touted as a method of keeping the private insurance “honest” by competing with them while not having to make a profit, thereby driving down the cost of insurance. The unvoiced hope is that it would eventually drive the private plans out of business and lead to single payer. Enter Dr. Himmelstein, single payer advocate, who says that the public option is a half measure that provides only small savings at best.

Bill Moyers: There aren't any details. But he seems to be advocating a public option that would compete with the private insurance-driven sector, as a way of lowering the cost. What do you think about it? Is that- am I reading his plan correctly?

Dr. David Himmelstein: Well, most of the cost savings he's talking about are really illusory, I think. And my research group has done most of the research work on administrative costs in health care. And the administrative costs he's talking about saving are a tiny fraction of the potential savings under single-payer. 'Cause hospitals have to keep their bureaucracy, if you're dealing with hundreds of different plans. And doctors have to keep the bureaucracy in our office. You don't actually get the streamlining that you get from having one payer that has one set of rules and can pay lump sum budgets to hospitals. But more than that, we're worried that the public plan actually becomes a dumping ground for the unprofitable patients. As it's happening in Medicare.

You can go read the transcript of the interview, or watch it, but to condense the argument a bit, it consists of three parts; you are eliminating the bureaucracy of a handful of insurance companies but not that of thousands of medical providers, the private plans will “cherry pick” the healthy people and dump the sick ones into the public plan, and instead of leading to single payer the public plan winds up failing and proving that “government can’t do healthcare.”

The first point is certainly right; you have not reduced the cost for one single doctor’s office. That doctor still has to deal with all the differing forms for different insurance companies, plus the new public option, and deals with obtaining payment from all the multiple sources. This “healthcare reform” has made no cost savings here.

I question that there is any administrative cost savings at the insurance level. No one has indicated how the addition of a public plan will cause the insurance companies to reduce staff, other than a desire to reduce costs. One way to reduce costs is to reduce benefit payments, and that seems like a significantly likely outcome. Maybe they’ll trim their “overhead” but that is, as the doctor points out, pretty trivial compared to the provider overhead that cannot be trimmed.

The second point is an illegality, but since when has that ever stopped corporate America? Dr. Himmelstein points out that, despite bring illegal, it is routinely being done with Medicare today, and you can bet it will be done with a public option.

The third point, not really made well in the interview since the idea of a public option as a bridge to single payer is being kept below the horizon lest it scare supporters away from it, is that with all the sickest people being dumped on it and therefore operating with severe losses, the public option can then actually be used as proof that government-run healthcare is not viable, leading to the return of private health insurance dominance.

My question is, why do we have to go there in baby steps and half measures at all? The obvious answer is, of course, that we have no leadership on the issue but that begs the question. Why do we have no leadership for single payer?

Barack Obama says that going to single payer is “too disruptive.” What? Are we children who cannot handle disruption? As Dr. Himmelstein points out, it doesn’t disrupt the doctors or hospitals, they just continue to practice medicine, but their billing and collections get a lot easier. Agreed, the insurance executives will find it fairly disruptive.

Canada took the plunge in the early seventies. They just said, “Okay, let’s do it.” And they did it. Are we less courageous, less able, than Canadians?

Dr. Sidney Wolfe: ... [a]nd in Canada, back in 1970 or so, they were spending the same percentage of their gross national product as we were on health. They had huge numbers of uninsured people. They had the same insurance companies. Blue Cross Blue Shield. They decided to just get rid of the health insurance industry.

And the guy that led that, Tommy Douglas, founder of Canada’s national healthcare system, was voted by Canadians who use that system as the greatest leader in Canada's history.

Not half measures; not health insurance; healthcare. Just do it.

Not-Boring Volcano

My nephew tipped me off to this view of Sarychev Peak blowing its stack; he knows I like volcanos. It was taken from the International Space Station on June 12th and, as far as I'm concerned, the ISS just paid for itself with this one picture. Click on it for a bigger image, and NASA has a page about the event here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Green Shoots" Facade

I was wondering how the number of new unemployed increased last month, and by quite a lot, but the "jobless" number actually declined a bit. I had a feeling it was not a reflection of people getting jobs, and suspected it was people running out of time-limited unemployment benefits.

I was right. Once you run out of benefits, you are no longer unemployed.

Perspicacity in Reportage

During the NASCAR race yesterday a reporter came up to the crew chief of the driver who was leading the race and asked, "How does your driver plan to handle this restart? What is his plan?"

I so wanted that crew chief to reply, "Well, it's a tough decision, but we're thinking he might press the freaking gas pedal real hard."

Some reporters can't help it; they are just morons.

Independent Justice

Obama has been under fire recently for supporting several decisions by the Supreme Court which flew in the face of campaign promises; one decision which shut down a civil suit based on "state secrets," another that offended same-sex marriage supporters, and most recently one in which the court ruled that convicted persons did not have the right to DNA testing for the purpose of appeal. (To over-simplify all three issues.) In all three cases "Obama’s Justice Department" actively sought and argued for the ruling that the Supreme Court made.

It seems to me that Obama critics are being a bit hypocritical here, but I’m not sure to what degree that is the case. From where I sit it looks like the same people who were screaming about Bush interfering with the Department of Justice are now screaming about Obama not doing so.

Let’s go back to a "major scandal" about the firing of a handful of Attorneys General by the Bush Administration and the subsequent resignation of Alberto Gonzalez. Wasn’t one of the biggest criticisms of Fredo that he let the president interfere in the operation of the Justice Department?

The Department of Justice is supposed to administer justice impartially, apolitically. The uproar over Gonzalez was that it failed to do that.

In all three of the cases mentioned above, Obama is being criticized for refusing to reverse arguments that had begun during Bush's administration, or to at least cease making those arguments, but doing that would have been blatantly political, would it not? Is it okay for the president to order the DoJ to change its position in the middle of an ongoing court case? My understanding of the nature of an "independent, apolitical" Department of Justice is that it is not.

When Bush put his hand into the operation of the DoJ we criticized him for doing so, and now that Obama is not putting his hand in we criticize him for not doing so. You can’t have it both ways saying, in effect, "We want the president to keep hands off when we don’t like his policies, but now that we have a president with policies we like we want him to interfere."

We’re critical of him for not violating principle? I’m not sure of this because I have no legal training and I’m not certain of precisely how independent the Department of Justice is supposed to be, but it’s food for thought.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

CA, NV, AZ, NM...

yeccchThe entire western part of the country is cloud-free. The lower left corner, as usual, basks in the dank grayness of the "marine layer." The only variation from "patchy fog" in our forecast is "chance of drizzle." June sucks.

Our hottest day on record occurred in October; don't recall the year.

Economic Nonsense

For the most part, I avoid opining on the financial crisis at any detailed level because I don’t really know enough about it. I do know enough about it that I get tired of Congress critters repeatedly saying that we have to accept whatever Treasury proposes because the whole subject is too complicated for anyone other than Timothy Geithner to understand it. My response to that little piece of sophistry is that if a Congressman doesn’t understand the bill in question, then he should recuse himself from voting on it.

I also know enough to reject the fond idea, embraced even by Barack Obama, that the economy will recover and all will be well if we can just get banks to resume lending and persuade consumers to start buying again. Once those two things happen, all of the unemployed will, apparently, in some magical fashion become employed.

Oh wait, I forgot the 150,000 jobs that have already been “created or saved” to replace the six million lost jobs and the ongoing 400,000 jobs being lost every month. I also forgot the untold jobs that will be created by the high-speed rail projects in the Stimulus Bill; projects which will be built at some yet-to-be-determined place in a yet-to-be-determined year.

Banks, having learned something of a lesson, are not going to lend money to people who are unemployed or underemployed; nor are they going to make loans secured by products and real property that is declining in value.

Which leaves getting consumers spending, and the only engine for that is by “restoring consumer confidence in the economy.” That project is actually going rather well, and consumer spending is increasing by fractions of a percent every month, which is enough to bring the stock market roaring back to levels almost equal to thirty years ago.

Paul Krugman is, of course, still saying that the government needs to directly stimulate the economy with spending that directly creates immediate jobs. The public, believing the dulcet tones of its president however, has gained so much confidence in the economy that it is willing to ignore the still-increasing job losses, and is now much more concerned with the federal budget deficit, ala’ 1935.

At least in 1935 they waited until unemployment was no longer rising, had dropped from 25% to 15% before they started prating about eliminating the simulative spending and balancing the budget.

Today, unemployment is a “a lagging indicator” that will magically reverse itself once we get banks to resume lending and persuade consumers to start buying again.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Photo Food Blogging

Barbeque Basket Grill, starting with a picture of the finished product.
The Finished ProductWe're going to try some photo-blogging; not giving a recipe, but providing pictures of the process of making one of our favorite one-dish meals. This is a mixture of meats and vegetables, all grilled together on the barbeque. The dish is flexible, as one can throw in whatever ingredients one has on hand or strike the fancy of the moment.

The BasketYou start with a basket like this one. I don't know where you get these; we got this at Bed, Bath and Beyond quite a few years ago, and they don't carry it any more. There are some so-called "baskets" that are sheet metal with holes punched in them, but I don't think they would work well; I think you want to look for one made of wire mesh. This one is 11" by 14" in size, but size isn't critical. You do want one that is pretty deep, though.

Start your grill to preheat, if you are using charcoal or a gas grill with lava rock. You want a pretty hot fire.

The VeggiesNext you want to chop some veggies into smallish pieces. As you can tell, we like mushrooms. Note to self, next time don't cut the Zucchini in half lengthwise before slicing it. That's a bit of a sore point, my wife hates Zucchini and has to sort of "eat around it" when I put it in. Use sweet onions, Vidalia or whatever your store has that is equivalent; the onions are not going to get all that thoroughly cooked and anything other than sweet onions will be a fail.

You can use whatever vegetables you want, but you should not use any vegetable that is at all fragile. You will be stirring this mixture in the basket and anything which is not very sturdy will just come apart and make a mess. Tomato and eggplant, for instance, are definitely out.

Toss VeggiesPut the cut-up vegetables in a bowl, add a generous amount of olive oil and then sprinkle with whatever herbs you like. I use Oregano, garlic power and just a bit of Thyme. Toss that well in the bowl and let it sit for a minute to allow any excess oil to drain off.

Spray the basket well with cooking spray (please don't do this anywhere near the grill) put the basket on the grill and dump the vegetables into it, being careful not to pour any drained olive oil (which will flare up) in with them. There may be some initial flare-up anyway, so have a squirt bottle handy to quench it.

I know we haven't mentioned any meat yet; the vegetables take longer to cook than the meat does. I realize that sounds counterintuitive but, trust me, I've done this before.

Prepare MeatWe'll let the vegetables be cooking while we cut up the meat in smallish pieces. We're going to be a little busy, because we need to periodically stir the vegetables; about every couple of minutes or so.

For meat, I usually use a mix of beef and chicken; you could use either one alone if you like. You could also add some shrimp, but you'd want to add it to the grill basket a little after the other meats to avoid overcooking it. Season to taste with garlic power, salt and pepper, and you can now drizzle a little bit of barbeque sauce on it; not too much. Barbeque sauce is really good on meat, but too much will overwhelm the vegetables. Stir that up to coat the meat with sauce. I usually leave the bbq sauce off at this point and drizzle it over the mix in the basket when I add the meat.

Shaping UpToss the meat into the basket, drizzle a little bbq sauce if you didn't add it to the meat earlier, and mix it in with the vegetables. Kitchen cleanup can be done while this is cooking; a good cook cleans up the mess that he makes in the process. Just don't forget to keep stirring the basket; about every 4-5 minutes after you've added the meat.
Ready to GoOh, yum, this is ready to go as soon as the chicken is cooked all the way through. The beef, with pieces cut the same size as the chicken, will be medium rare. (If you want them more done cut them smaller.) Be careful when dumping this onto a platter: that basket is hot.
Finished ProductAnd there we have it. Enjoy.

Hardball Award Farce

Chris Matthews made another of his pontifical "Hardball Awards" yesterday. Sheesh. It was all well and good to praise the people of Iran, but this trophy thing and his posturing as he "awards" it is just idiotic. Organizations who have been doing good works present awards, not some self-important entertainer pretending to be a newsman. I don't know how he can keep this grandiose farce going, anyway, after presenting one of these goofy things to Sen. Roland Burris, of all people.

Wierd Forecast, Updated

June Gloom6/17: No comment needed. June Gloom, forsooth.
June Gloom6/20: Improving; notice the blazing sunshine Mon & Wed afternoons.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Loyalty to The Preznit

I was disgusted with Democrats who caved in and voted for bills that they disagreed with because they were stampeded into doing so by the Bush Administration, and with Republicans who did the same out of "loyalty" to their party and their president. There was wide opprobrium delivered to the tune that Congress had "abdicated its role in government" as a result of that kind of thing.

It got worse when Democrats had a majority in both houses during the last two years of the Bush Administration, and continued the same behavior.

This past Tuesday Congress passed a War Funding bill; was forced to do so by the Obama Administration in much the same manner as the previous administration passed bills in its first two years; strong arming party members based on "loyalty to their president" and with Obama making phone calls to reluctant members. The upshot is we have Democrats caving in and voting for a bill that they disagree with because they have been stampeded into doing so by the Obama Administration.

The president who promised to put war-fighting costs back into the budget where it belongs is demanding passage of a war-fighting supplemental bill. Some members of Congress are objecting to the war funding itself (good for them), others are objecting to the items which could probably not pass on their own but have been added on to a must-pass bill (good for them, too). Does any of this sound familiar?

So we still have a president who is willing to demand that the Congress bend to his will, and we still have a Congress that is willing to subvert its own authourity in deference to the demands of the President.

How, in principle, is it to any degree better for us to have an Obama Administration emasculating Congress than it was to have the Bush Administration doing so? Just because we like his policies better does not mean that his implementation of them against the will of Congress, his acting in an imperial manner to put them in place, is an acceptable method of government. He promised to "restore the constitution."

Our constitution specifies a Legislative Branch, not an Imperial President.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Who Landed the Plane?

Updated below

Big story about how the Pilot of a Continental Airlines transatlantic flight died during the flight. Salon.com's Patrick Smith is going to weigh in on this because at least one news agency has already gotten it wrong. From Mercury News.com,

Two co-pilots moved the captain's body to an empty seat in a crew rest area, and they took command of the Boeing 777 aircraft for the remainder of the flight.

Nope. It was the "First Officer" and another, visiting, Flight Commander who took over and landed the airplane. They are not called "co-pilots" any more, as the First Officer is a fully qualified pilot.

The New York Times got it right,

Two other pilots — a first officer with 9,800 hours of flying time and an international relief officer with 15,500 hours — assumed the controls of the plane, officials said.

Update: Friday, 9:20am
See, I told you so. When a pilot dies mid-flight

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A New Cold War?

The media has barely mentioned that, even with Iran in turmoil, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is out of the country for an international meeting in Russia. They have not said what that meeting is about or who else is included in the meeting.

The meeting is at Yekaterinburg, and it is a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, consisting of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The nations of India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have official observers.

The United States asked to attend the meeting and was told no.

What do those nations have in common? Well, in a word, Afghanistan. They are all bordering upon or very close to Afghanistan.

The organization was formed in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the American Afghan proxy war of 1978-1992, and went through several changes of form and members in subsequent years. The SCO added a military cooperation clause in the Fifth Summit meeting in 2005, by which time SCO members were becoming very concerned by the actions of the United states and its NATO allies. We had remained in Afghanistan as a military presence for several years, had begun building major bases, and were showing signs that we had no intention of leaving. From GlobalResearch.ca,

The United States and its NATO allies had launched three unprovoked wars in four years - Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 - as well as waging counterinsurgency and proxy conflicts and subversion campaigns in Colombia, Macedonia, Ivory Coast, Yemen, the Philippines, Liberia and elsewhere.

What alarmed SCO members as much as the preceding was the so-called Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in March of 2005 and what government authorities in Tashkent saw as a variation on the theme of regime change in Uzbekistan in May of that year, a month before the SCO summit.

In a declaration issued that year, 2005, the SCO stated,

"Considering the completion of the active military stage of antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization consider it necessary that respective members of the antiterrorist coalition set a final timeline for their temporary use of the above-mentioned objects of infrastructure and stay of their military contingent on the territories of the SCO member states."

A Chinese daily newspaper reiterated that statement thusly,

"The Declaration points out that the SCO member countries have the ability and responsibility to safeguard the security of the Central Asian region, and calls on Western countries to leave Central Asia. That is the most noticeable signal given by the Summit to the world."

It was as this point that members of this organization began demanding that we close our military bases in their nations and leave. Our media reported one or two of these, and represented them as having been “bribed” by Russia to take such action, but these demands carried much larger implication. These were not isolated incidents; the nations doing it were members of an organization, rather equivalent in nature to NATO, which was calling for us to leave the area and the statements by those nations, unreported in our media, reflected that fact.

In July, 2006 Uzbekistan demanded we close our base and leave, saying that they have provided the base "for the sole purpose of ousting Taliban rulers from Afghanistan" which had been achieved almost four years earlier.

That same month, Kyrgyzstan demanded that we leave that country.

Tajikistan, that same month said that "it is time for the United States and its allies to set a date to pull their conventional troops out of Central Asia as the situation in Afghanistan has stabilized," and cancelled permission to use a former Soviet base in its territory. Notice that this statement, like the one from Uzbekistan, not only demands that we leave their boundaries, but that we leave Central Asia altogether.

Both Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld attempted to obtain extensions of the use of these bases and failed. The United States and NATO held “show of force” exercises on Central Asia, and the SCO countered with similar exercises. The cancellation of the use of these bases, like the military exercises countering our “show of force,” were not isolated incidents, but were the concerted efforts of nations aligned in common interest against us. We have not even acknowledged that this organization exists.

Our leadership has a bad case of the vapors over a handful of maniacs in the wilds of the Hindu Kush, and have so over-reacted to that panic that we seem to have started a whole new Cold War.

Where You Can't Steal Elections

That would be Iran. After three days tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are in the streets screaming their outrage over a stolen election.

United States in 2000 yawned. In Minnesota today, with no Senator seated after almost seven months; yawn. Illinois; an interim Senator appointed by a Governor indicted for graft and corruption; yawn.

Which country is a democracy?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Healthcare Reform" Gets Scarier

The CBO ran an estimate on what the present "Healthcare Reform" Bill, actually the Health Insurance Enhancement Bill, would cost over the next ten years, and Congress didn't like the numbers. You won't like them either.

But, according to Jonathan Cohn, not to worry because the CBO ran the numbers with a preliminary bill. "CBO ran its estimates with no employer mandate and an individual mandate with a laughably small penalty. The bill that CBO scored did not look much like the bill they intend to write."

So, if you are a small employer that cannot afford to provide insurance, be afraid. If you are self employed, be afraid. The mandates and penalties that Obama promised he would not implement, which he condemned Clinton for proposing, are coming.

Words vs. Actions Again

The Bush Administration took action, considered rather shocking at the time, to deny access to the visitor's logs at the White House, claiming that a list of who visited that building was part of Presidential Privilege. A judge ruled more than two years ago that such a claim was nonsense, and the Bush Administration has an appeal of the ruling which is still pending.

Guess what, the Obama Administration is denying access to those logs for its visitors under the same claim, and is continuing to press the former administration's appeal of the court ruling. The President who promised a whole new level of "transparency in government" apparently is of the opinion that transparency doesn't including letting the public know who is visiting him; letting us know what lobbying groups have access to his office and what ones don't, which power brokers are getting his ear, which members of the corporatocracy are talking to him, etc. Mr. Obama has a different definition of "transparency" than I do.

More and more I am seeing a President who says one thing and does another on issues of principle. Certainly he is doing some good things, and certainly he is a better president than any of the alternatives would have been. But this pattern of talking idealistically and then acting in the same old political manner is becoming increasingly disturbing. How long can I believe anything he says?

As the head of the organization who filed for the logs, and is now having to sue for them, said, "It's great that President Obama made this commitment to transparency. But now you [sic] need to make good on it."

He said in the campaign that he would work to reverse the Defense of Marriage Act and to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell on military service for gays. He has done neither and when asked about them, he has dodged the question, claiming that he will get to them when he has time or some such thing. Reversing DADT doesn't even risk using any political capital since, as Dick Pohlman points out, it has become widely accepted that gays should serve openly in our military.

He admits that he does "not favor gay marriage" and, given his proclivity
for saying one thing and acting otherwise on matters of principle, I am beginning to think that offers a clue. He is a converted Christian and Reverend Wright was his mentor. I wonder if he is as supportive of gay rights as he claims he is.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Netanyahu Speech

I was listening to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, delayed, on Cspan last night and I was thinking to myself as I listened, “Boy, it sounds like he’s trying to piss off as many people as possible.” Judging from reactions in the news today, it sounds like he succeeded very well.

Obama didn’t sound all that annoyed, but then Obama doesn’t do annoyed. You could pee on Obama’s leg and he would barely raise his eyebrows. The Secret Service would, of course, raise considerably more than eyebrows.

Obama said the speech was a “great step forward.” He didn’t say forward toward what.

The Washington Post headline was “Netanyahu endorses 2-state goal.” Either they were listening to a different speech than I was, or they have a different definition of “state” than I do. To me a “state” gets to at least go rabbit hunting within its own borders, controls its own air space, and doesn’t have to ask permission from Israel to sign treaties. Netanyahu maybe endorsed a “1.25-state goal.”

Palestinians would have their own national anthem and flag. They can sing and wave their flag, so that's all good. Singing and flag waving is excellent.

Netanyahu said that he would meet with the Palestinians without any preconditions. He then listed half a dozen things that the Palestinians would have to do before that non-preconditioned meeting could take place.

One commentator said that Netanyahu’s terms were “carved in stone.” I don’t think so. If all of those terms were carved in stone, Israel would have sunk into the sea under the sheer weight of them.

At one point Netanyahu said that Israel had withdrawn its settlements from Gaza and was “rewarded with a hail of rockets.” I think the hail of rockets had less to do with Israel’s withdrawal than with it subsequently sealing the borders and denying the Gazans any food, fuel or electricity. People who are sitting in the dark, starving and freezing, tend to be a bit peevish.

I found myself wishing I had kept count of how many times the word “peace” occurred in the speech, compared to how many times for “demand.” It was a lot for both; I think “peace” won by a narrow margin, but only because he sometimes said that the Palestinians “must” do things.

He’s quite a guy. I’m going to call him “Giggles” from now on.

Fierce Urgency of Now

Back in the days of the Bush Administration there was a panic rush to pass a financial bailout bill before some sort of firestorm burned the house down, and it was widely recognized after the fact that Congress got it all wrong because they were forced to move too fast, to pass something right away without being given the time to get it right.

Then came Barack Obama with his passion for a stimulus bill which had to be done right away. There was simply no time to give this any thoughtful consideration, the house was burning down around our ears, and this bill had to be passed at once. And so we have increased unemployment benefits that raise a family above the food stamp cutoff, so that they are making $21 more per week in unemployment and have therefor lost $150 per week in food stamp benefits.

And now we are working on health care reform, with Obama touring the country berating us about how “The time is now” and how this has to be done before the August recess of Congress. Again the house is burning down around our ears and we must hurriedly pass some sort of botched up mess and label it “reform” instead of considering all of the alternatives and maybe getting it right.

The “fierce urgency of now” is starting to sound like a railroad job.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

An Older, Uglier War

Our local paper has, like many others, atrophied over recent years; but it still has at least one writer who can produce a thoughtful, moving story.

Mike Neil of San Diego, who was deployed to Vietnam in 1967, befriended an 11-year-old Vietnamese boy whom his fellow Marines nicknamed GTO because he knew all the words to the song “G.T.O.” Neil, who eventually became a brigadier general, returned to Vietnam seven weeks ago for the first time since the war, intent on finding his old friend, though he didn't even know his name.

Trust me, The vietnam vet and his long-lost friend is well worth your time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Voting Requirements

As a liberal, I oppose setting requirements for voting, but once in a while something happens that makes me waver on that.

In an adult discussion group the topic was presidential qualification; natural born citizen of at least 35 years of age. The discussion included one woman who opposed the first part of that, declaiming that it was terribly unfair and unreasonably barred many qualified people from our nation's highest office. She wanted to know, "What makes a natural born citizen any more qualified to lead this country than one born by c-section?"

We let these people vote?

Every Stinking June

June GloomI know that San Diego does this every June. Every year I blissfully think, "Well, maybe it won't do it this year." Every year it does it. The entire Western United States is free of any trace of cloud today, and we have this blotch that covers from San Diego, up to Los Angeles and almost to Santa Barbara. It is so enduring we have a name for it, "June Gloom" and it sucks.

There will never be sunshine again. We are doomed to live the rest of our lives in a dank gray world with the temperature barely above sixty degrees.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Accommodating Shooters

One of the things that shooters, like the guy yesterday at the Holocaust Museum, want is to go out in a blaze of glory. They want to publicize their "cause." And the media accommodates them by spending hours talking about them, showing pictures of them, repeating their name endlessly, analyzing why they did it, talking at great length about the "purpose" of the shooting. The media should not speak their name, should not mention their cause, and should get the whole subject of the shooter (not necessarily the event) off of the air as soon as possible.

"An unnamed shooter fired into a crowd at the Holocaust Museum today, in what has been confirmed as a hate crime. To avoid granting the killer's wish for publicity we are not naming him or his cause. Killed were..."

Afghanistan's New Plan

According to the New York Times today, the new war plan for Afghanistan starts not only with a new general, but by flooding the zone of operations with a whole bunch of new generals hand picked by him. This brings the number of generals in the combat theater to a new high, with generals filling posts formerly held by colonels. If memory serves me, this is actually not a good sign, in that more generals does not usually lead to more efficient warfare but rather to more frequent snafu. That certainly was the way it worked out in Vietnam.

Additionally, the article says that General McChrystal's plans include, "...reduction in I.E.D.’s, reduction in poppy, more interdiction of Taliban crossing the border, some anticorruption arrests/exiles, and greater civilian effort possible as a result of a reduction in the threat."

The last is not a method, merely a braggadocio statement that he is going to have better success. The first and third sound pretty much like what his predecessor has been doing. It's "reduction in poppy" and "anticorruption arrests/exiles" that worry me. This sounds like more of a war on drugs than it does the war on that criminal act which has America cowering in foxholes and so terrified that we have declared a war on it.

We have been trying for decades to get Americans to quit using drugs by eliminating the production of drugs in South America with, so far, about zero success. Now we are going to start trying to make the whole world stop using drugs by eliminating poppy farmers in Afghanistan.

America: the most fearful nation in the world, but still the world's police.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Boring Volcano

boring valcanoI told you; boring volcano. It never quits erupting, but...    This is pathetic.

The More Things Change...

Electing a Democrat to the White House was going to change everything.

We are still waging, in three countries now instead of two, a war against a criminal act that is being perpetrated in many other nations which do not feel the need to declare a war against it, or become traumatized by it, or endlessly declare that their entire nation is in danger of being obliterated by it. These other nations regard it as a crime, use law enforcement to track down the criminals who did it, and then employ their legal systems to successfully bring those criminals to justice.

We are still debating whether or not we should torture prisoners “captured” in our “war” on a criminal act, and the debate is seemingly still unresolved. Even those who oppose our own actions still call them “detainees,” of course, and refer to it as “harsh treatment” because the concept of “torturing prisoners” is something that we are unwilling to admit we are were doing even while we are protesting against us doing it.

We are still hiding what we were doing, and may still be doing, behind a wall of “state secrets” and using high court appeals to prevent the release of documents that might reveal the truth on the grounds of “national security.”

While closing Guantanamo, we are still claiming that prisoners detainees at our other overseas bases do not have any rights at all; that we may hold them at will and that our treatment of them is not subject to oversight; and we are appealing court rulings that are contrary to that position.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Comedy in National Security

We all know the Dick Cheney thing about how President Obama is making us unsafe with all this namby pamby thing of granting rights to terrorists and wanting to turn them loose on American streets to pillage and loot. Did you know that the loss of Air France Flight 447 might be a symptom of that issue? This is a comment in a thread discussing that subject on Salon,

Isn't it interesting that they are so quick to ignore the possibility of terrorism? The media has become so biased for Obama, they would hide a terrorist attack if they think they can get away with it. If, after years of investigation, it turns out to be a terrorist attack, the media can act all surprised -- gee, we never would have guessed. But they will ignore the very real possibility to keep Obama from the accusation that his administration's weakness had something to do with it.

Assuming it was a "terrorist bomb" that caused the loss, exactly how would such a bomb, on a French plane flying from Brazil to France, reflect on Obama's national defense policies?

Sad State of Our Planet

Searchers are beginning to recover wreckage and bodies from Flight 447. The search has been difficult because the precise location of the plane's crash has been unknown, but it was approximately in the middle of the Atlantic. A big part of the problem, searchers tell us, is not so much finding the wreckage, as picking it out from all of the other debris that is floating in the location they are searching.

Think about that statement. The middle of our ocean is so littered with debris that it makes searching for a downed airliner difficult. What are we doing to our planet?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Modern Marketing, Part Two

This blog is hosted on Blogspot, a Google product, and I am quite a fan of the platform. Google has created something that can be quite easily used by non-computer people, but still offers ease of access to more technical types to get fancy if they wish. The platform is open source, so a vast amount of add-ons have been created for it.

Google Search is, of course, well known along with Google Maps. If you have not tried out Google Earth and Google Space you should do so. Everything that Google does it does well.

Well, I think they have outdone themselves with their next goody, called Google Wave. You can watch a film about its release here. I did not intend to watch the whole thing, as it's over an hour long, but I could not tear myself away. To say that this thing is like a feature-rich email on steroids combined with instant chat is to describe only a small portion of what it does. The features it offers for collaborative document creation and editing are mind-boggling. It is being released later this year, and I cannot wait.

To its very great credit, Google is making the whole thing open source, and is releasing enough of the source that others will be able to write competing client software the will interact with its own product. They are drawing on the decision of IBM to maintain open architecture when designing their initial personal computer, a decision that has resulted in the computer environment that we have today.

Funny name or not, Google is just awesome.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Modern Marketing

Modern marketing methods never fail to amaze and amuse me, but a little bit of background first.

I have a gas grill that is, I think a Methuselah brand or something similar. I refuse to part with it because, unlike the newer pieces of trash, it is configured to use lava rock, which is the secret of being able to actually cook anything on a gas grill. Gas burns at far to low a temperature for satisfactory grilling but lava rock, after suitable preheating, reaches a temperature approaching that of napalm and grills very nicely. Some of the new ones use little square briquettes, but don’t be fooled; those things are about as useful as teats on a boar hog.

My trusty gas grill needs to be refurbished from time to time, and parts for that endeavor are becoming increasingly difficult to find. The cooking grate is enameled and lasts just fine, but the burner needs to be replaced, as does the grate that holds the lava rock and once in a rare while the lava rock itself needs to be replaced. Lowe’s has everything except the grate to hold the lava rock, so I went to Barbecues Galore to see if they had it.

Boy, is that place ever misnamed. Turns out they only carry their own brand, which must not be terribly popular since the store was empty on Saturday afternoon. The store had three sales persons, one of whom approached me eagerly as I entered. I may well have been the first customer of the day. I inquired about the grate and he asked me what brand my grill was. I told him, “Old,” and he replied, “Oh, we only carry parts for our own brand.”

I could not help but laugh and said, admittedly somewhat unkindly, “It must be nice to carry only the things you want to. That may explain why there’s nobody in your store.”

I think they are trying to be elite, which is one form of modern marketing.

Clinton Returns

The Hillary Clinton that we came to know and loathe, the one we prayed would not win the primary, the one who was the "wtf" moment when named as Secretary of State, is back. As repulsive as she is, it's almost like hearing the other shoe drop to hear her say that China,

"...should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal."

This is the same Hillary Clinton who represents an administration which resists the "political distraction" of examining the Bush Administration's abuses and lawbreaking because it would "prefer to look forward" and pursue its current legislative agenda.

Admittedly, we are comparing apples and oranges to no small degree; the Bush gang did not kill large numbers of American citizens. Nonetheless, the phrasing, especially the "examine openly" and "to learn and to heal" parts, is tone deaf and rank hypocrisy.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Lifting Effect

Lifted CloudsThe cutoff low that I mentioned before is now to the northwest of us and the winds are from the lower left of this satellite image to the upper right. The lacy clouds are upper level clouds driven by the southern jet stream, which has moved up and is starting to steer the low. The others are at lower level, are associated with that cutoff low, and contain much more moisture. To get that moisture to form clouds, though, the air needs to be cooled or lifted. Over the coast general atmospheric instability is creating some little puffy clouds, but look what happens where the flow of moist air hits the 4000' mountains to the west of us. This is not really all that unusual, but stuff like this always strikes me as really cool.

Getting Health Care Reform Wrong

I have said it before; what Obama and Congress are doing is tinkering with health insurance regulations and calling it health care reform. It is about as similar to health care reform as I am to Jupiter, and its benefit to the American people is almost entirely illusion. Consider this from Reuters,

Medical bills are behind more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday in a report they said demonstrates that health care reform is on the wrong track.

More than 75% of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts, the team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported in the American Journal of Medicine.

(emphasis mine) You do not fix what is not working by doing more of it.

Saying whether or not the "for profit model" of health insurance "works" depends on how you define the term. We have a health plan that is flexible and has good coverage, and when I am not in contention with the insurance company over payment, I am in contention with a provider who has billed the insurance company incorrectly, or is billing me for something the insurance has already paid. I'm one of the lucky ones, because copays and deductibles have not bankrupted us.

This model of health insurance certainly "works" for those who profit from it, and it will "work" for them even better when the government requires more people to pay into it, as is their present proposal for "reform."

Health care reform does not mean expanding and enriching the health insurance industry. It means redesigning to system to actually deliver health care to our people in a manner that does not financially ruin them, as the rest of the industrialized world already does.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Egyptian Speech

Well, it was in Egypt. I'm still taking it in; there was a lot to like. I keep getting reminded that I'm glad we elected him. At the end of it somebody shouted from the audience, "I love you," and he replied, "Thank you."

That beats having somebody throwing shoes and calling him a dog.

Mind Your Own Business

Andrew Sullivan over at the Daily Dish, which I am not going to link to for reasons that will be obvious, is carrying on an ongoing monologue about his agonies of doubt over the abortion issue, exacerbated by the murder of Dr. Tiller. He's making statements about how, while he could "never condone" these late term abortions, his heart goes out to the women who have "had to make these agonizing decisions."

Andrew Sullivan is an arrogant, sanctimonious jackass and a prick.

It is not up to him to "condone" the decisions these unfortunate women have made in consultation with their doctor, their families and their spiritual guidance counselors. They did not ask for his blessing, nor should they do so. Sullivan should stick to writing about something that is in some small degree a matter that is his own business.

Obama & Doing Things Right

A couple of items of note, the first being the unified front that Obama and Clinton are displaying regarding the “two state solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and his apparent steadfast adherence to it in the face of Israeli attempts to walk him back from it. To say that this is encouraging would be a significant understatement. If he stays with it, and there is increasing cause to hope that he will, the Israelis will have to back down. No Israeli government has ever crossed swords with an American President and survived. Israelis know which side of the bread their butter is on.

The other thing is a bit more subtle, but perhaps even more encouraging. According to David Ignatius in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, unfortunately hidden behind a subscription firewall, Syria and the US are actually talking to each other and significant credit is due to John Kerry. Seems that Kerry and President Assad have been developing a relationship of “respect and friendship” and, instead of rebuking Kerry and telling him to butt out of State Department business, the Obama Administration said something to the effect of, “Oh, cool, let’s see if we can build on that.” The upshot is that Syria is welcoming a deputation of U.S. Central Command officers this month to discuss efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Obama seems to believe we’re all in this together, or something.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wild Weather

weatherThis is what the weather service puts up when it doesn't have a clue.

There is a low pressure sitting in the Pacific that is not connected to the jet stream; called a "cut off low." It is just sitting there, spinning idly, going nowhere and driving weather forecasters nuts because it will eventually go somewhere at some time, maybe, and affect somebody's weather in some fashion yet to be determined.

It's actually kind of our version of hurricane season.

Meddling in Others' Affairs

President Obama is being accused of “meddling in Israeli politics” recently, and I am torn between two responses to that. The first is, “Well, I certainly hope so,” and the second is, “Well, it’s about time.” I think I’ll go with the first, because he hasn’t been in office all that long, so the second would imply an inappropriate degree of impatience, even though the thought would be that it’s about time a president did so, not necessarily this president.

There is a line in a show, where a man is remonstrating with a child who is still living at home as a young adult, “As long as you have your feet under my table you will abide by my rules.” As Glenn Greenwald, in his usual elegant manner explains today, Israel has its feet under our table, and it is time we started laying down some rules for its behavior.

Probably nothing is more damaging to our image in the Middle East than our unwavering support for Israel and all it does, and our ongoing support of its illegal expanding occupation of Palestinian territory is a stain on our image worldwide. For us to be providing Israel with the degree of moral and financial support that we do while sitting back and allowing it to damage our international reputation and standing to the degree that it has done for years is utterly incomprehensible to me.

One does have to admit that invading two countries, and bombing and killing civilians in three is certainly unhelpful to our reputation and standing. There is also the matter of Guantanamo and torture, of course. None of that alters the points made above.

Obama should be “meddling in Israeli politics” like crazy. More seriously, President Obama is making a beginning stand on a position in the Middle East that is courageous and important, and he deserves our vigorous and vocal support in that effort.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

June Gloom

weatherTypical. Notice we get a real heat wave on Friday and Saturday.

The Elegance of Lawyering

Lawyer bashing is great fun; everybody hates lawyers because they sue on behalf of clumsy people who spill their coffee, and they get criminals off to walk the streets and all that. They also defend our freedoms, and they do it in very powerful and elegant ways. I am an admirer of the use of language, and there is sheer poetry in listening to a good lawyer argue the law. Their ability to phrase “this is what this law means” and “this would be the effect of such a ruling” can rival the elegance of a poet laureate.

That’s one of the reasons I read Glenn Greenwald on a regular basis, by the way. Even when he is not arguing legalities, he is a lawyer, and he uses language and makes his arguments really well.

Ted Olson and David Boise are preparing a case to go before the Supreme Court in defense of same sex marriage, and they were interviewed on Hardball the other day. The clip is not included on MSNBC’s website, and I wish it were because the lawyers’ words would be so much more effective if you could hear them. Since you cannot, I’m going to make an exception to my usual rule of avoiding long quotes so you can read their words. After the jump, emphasis added by me.

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Ted. Could a state argue effectively that although the rights should be equal, the word marriage should apply only to male/female relationships? Because it means something under our language, that it has a particular linguistic meaning, marriage, and the states have a right to preserve that meaning?

OLSON: In fact, that‘s essentially what California does. They have something called domestic partnerships, which provides many of the same rights as marriage. What if we were to tell individuals after coming to this country and taking the test and becoming citizens—what if we told them you‘re from Japan, you can vote, you can do all the other things that individuals can do who are citizens, but we are not going to allow you to use the word citizen, because you came from another country, because you are Japanese or you are Mexican or something like that. That would be discrimination on an unacceptable basis.

And that‘s what we have here. We‘re saying that we don‘t mind if you live together. We don‘t mind if you have the other relationships that exist in marriage. We just don‘t want you, because of your sexual orientation, to use that word marriage. We think that‘s unconstitutional. And I can‘t say it better than David did.

There follows some discussion about not forcing the issue through a court decision, but rather allowing it to evolve through individual state decisions. The two lawyers very elegantly point out that interracial marriage, which is widely accepted today, began with a Supreme Court decision, as did the Civil Rights Act itself. They say, beautifully and, I think quite correctly, that movements need to be kick started.

They also say, and I think this is a key point, that civil rights are not something that are an issue upon which the people should be voting. Civil rights are rights, and it is entirely proper, indeed mandated, that a court should declare them to be so.

OLSON: That case that David mentioned, Loving versus Virginia, involving interracial marriage, at that point in time in 1967, it was accepted that states could prohibit interracial marriage. That didn‘t stop the Supreme Court from rendering the decision that said that that was unconstitutional. And people now think that that would be crazy to say that we couldn‘t allow people of different races to marry.

We‘re asking—we would be saying, Chris, to someone who has a Constitutional right to marry, wait a few years until 50 states approve that. Go stand in the back of the line, and wait until the political process goes through its forms, and people vote to give you your Constitutional rights.

You don‘t take your Constitutional rights to the ballot box. They‘re protected by the Constitution. That is why we have a Constitution, and that‘s why we have courts.

BOIES: Remember also that we wouldn‘t have had the Civil Rights Act without Brown against Board of Education. The Supreme Court had to step in and start that process. After that process was started, we had important legislative accomplishments. But the Supreme Court has been in the forefront of establishing fundamental rights for a long time.

When the subject was introduced I was lukewarm to the idea of a Supreme Court test, fearing that it might harm popular opinion, but by the time these two men were finished arguing their case, I was completely sold that they should pursue it.


Monday, June 01, 2009

Another Bushian Move

I promised myself that I would judge Obama by his actions, not by his words, nor by any perceived lack of action since he may be doing things unseen or may be prevented by forces beyond his reasonable control. So, when he fails to reverse Bush policy I wait (for the most part) patiently, but when he actively embraces and utilizes Bush policy I criticize.

More than seven years ago we had a group of Chinese Uighurs fall into our hands who wound up in the camp at Guantanamo. It rapidly became known that, while they almost certainly were planning to engage in attacks on China, they never had any designs on attacking us and that we were detaining them illegally. A judge ordered them released into the US forthwith in October of last year. Bush delayed that action and, after more than five months in office, the Obama administration is actively fighting against it.

We cannot return these Uighurs to China; they would be tortured or killed if we did so, and our laws make it illegal for us to do that. Several nations offered to accept some of the prisoners in Guantanamo if we released them but, after Congress made it clear that this nation was unwilling to accept any of them, those other nations withdrew their offers. So these Uighurs have nowhere to go except the US, and the US will not accept them even though a court has ordered that they be released here. The Obama Administration is actively fighting that court order.

The gist of the Obama filing, by US Solicitor General Elena Kagan,

"Petitioners are free to return to their home country, but they understandably do not wish to do so, because they fear inhumane treatment there. Petitioners are also free to go to any other country
that is willing to accept them."

The filing is a bit disingenuous. We cannot legally deport them to any country which will torture or kill them. Other countries have declined to accept them, and those refusals are based on our refusal to do so.

This is not a Bush court filing that President Obama inherited and is maintaining; this is a brand new filing that Obama is initiating on his own. The filing goes on to say that it is just fine to keep them in Guantanamo because they are housed in a nice part of the prison and are provided with
a television and a DVD player.

To top that one, the Obama Administration is actively backing a Terry-Schaivo-type law pending in Congress, the type of law that allows our government to take some specific, illegal action that it wants to take merely because it wants to take it.

A court has ordered the release of photos, of the same type previously released, of the mistreatment of prisoners held at military facilities. Obama has actively fought that release, after initially agreeing to it and being dissuaded by the military, and is all but certainly going to lose on appeal. So now Congress is coming up with this absurd law retroactively making it illegal to release photos and Obama is, in full Bush mode, supporting it.

Glenn Greenwald has details. The gist,

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman -- called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 -- that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States."

My God, "The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009."
The Senate of The United States actually passed this piece of nonsense, and the President is actively supporting it.

"Your actions speak so loudly," Mr Obama, "that I can't hear what you say."