Archive for August, 2006

Filling in the White House’s gaps.

Events | Posted by admin
Aug 18 2006

I took the liberty of putting back some of the key details of the White House’s statement criticizing yesterday’s ruling that the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” violated the FISA law and the First, Fourth, and Fifth amendments to the Constitution.

Statement on the Terrorist Surveillance Program (White House):

Last week America and the world received a stark reminder that terrorists are still plotting to attack our country and kill innocent people [which, by the way, didn't rely on underhanded, super-secret, and legally questionable means. In fact, warrants were actually issued. How's that for irony?]. Today a federal judge in Michigan has ruled that the Terrorist Surveillance Program [, a name we made up after the New York Times busted us last year,] ordered by the President [, he is The Decider, after all,] to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the American people is unconstitutional and otherwise illegal. We couldn’t disagree more with this ruling, and the Justice Department will seek an immediate stay of the opinion and appeal [so we can dig ourselves into an even deeper Constitutional and legal hole]. Until the Court [we tried to pack with hard-core conservatives who won't challenge our actions] has the opportunity to rule on a stay of the Court’s ruling in a hearing now set for September 7, 2006, the parties have agreed that enforcement of the ruling will be stayed.

United States intelligence officials have confirmed that the program has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives [, but don't you ask how or we'll accuse you of aiding and abetting the terrorists]. The program is carefully administered [, again, don't ask how, or else], and only targets international phone calls coming into or out of the United States where one of the parties on the call is a suspected Al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist [, and that's it. Really, honest, and truly. Cross our hearts... if we had hearts... and hope to lose our tax cuts]. The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out [, so there]. That’s what the American people expect from their government [yet should remain totally clueless on how we do it, what criteria we use, or what real effect it has on preventing terrorist attacks], and it is the President’s most solemn duty to ensure their protection [, so don't you, as John Ashcroft said in his last speech as Attorney General, go "questioning presidential determinations].

The Terrorist Surveillance Program is firmly grounded in [some] law [somewhere, but we won't tell you] and regularly reviewed [by us, so don't you worry your pretty little heads] to make sure steps are taken to protect civil liberties [as we have defined them, just as we have defined what torture means these days]. The Terrorist Surveillance Program has proven [by us, and wow... these rose-colored glasses Alberto gave us are great!!!] to be one of our most critical and effective tools in the war against terrorism [and because it's totally super-secret, we can't tell you, but it has been really, really effective, so much so that the world would stop spinning if we were forced to end it], and we look forward to demonstrating on appeal the validity of this vital program.

On a slightly more serious note, today was another good day for the rule of law and Constitutional government.

Lebanon: Now that it is (somewhat) over (for now).

Events | Posted by admin
Aug 15 2006

It looks as if the cease-fire is holding between Israel and Hezbollah. People in Lebanon, where most of the month-long conflict took place, are beginning to return to the homes and cities they fled. After days of bombs, rockets, and mortars lobbed from both sides, we should reflect on what has taken place.

Never mind, so much, whether Israel or Hezbollah won — or Syria or Iran, if you are so inclined. That geopolitical wonkiness makes for a fine evening diversion around a bar table and shouldn’t be ignored, but we miss the larger picture of what went on over there. Focus instead on who lost and I think we will have a clearer idea of the situation in the Middle East.

First of all, the Lebanese people lost… big time. Hundreds of thousands were displaced for a month, away from their homes, neighbors, friends, family, and livelihoods. They lost key parts of their civic, economic, and social infrastructure, too, with the destruction of roads, bridges, and buildings that were either residential or commercial. Mostly, however, they lost the developing sense of security they spent years trying to rebuild following the 1982 Israeli invasion, the civil war that followed, and a concluded with a Syrian occupation that ended only recently.

Israelis lost as well. While they suffered less damage and displacement from incoming Hezbollah rockets than the Lebanese did from IDF bombs, they still lost as much of that precious sense of security that the Lebanese just started to enjoy.

So, instead of chalking this recent conflict up to the same-old, dead-end comments that conflict in the Middle East is some kind of normal situation we should all simply accept, I think we should ask ourselves how we can help support actions designed to seek reconciliations between disparate groups, redemption for people engaged in these hostilities, and restoration for people who have felt the impact of the conflict and strife in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Simply attempting to bash the other side into submission or oblivion will not resolve the many issues at play in the Middle East. We already have clear examples of that in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more still in Israel and Lebanon over the last month.

Before a new geopolitical mess arises, it would behoove us all to talk about how we can put down the guns and find ways to get parties to sit down and work out just means of peacemaking to just, peaceful and equitable ends.

Radioactive green rivers, all around.

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Aug 10 2006

Remember those nuclear Republican talking points on nuclear energy, on how it is “clean energy?” Yeah, right, keep thinking that…

Spillages cost nuclear firms £2m fines (Guardian UK):

The operators of two nuclear power plants have each been fined £2m over radioactive spillages, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority revealed today.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) was penalised over an incident at Dounreay in Caithness, last September.

And BNG Sellafield was fined for a radioactive leak at its Thorp reprocessing plant in Cumbria, in April last year.

The penalties will be imposed in the form of £2m deductions from money that the authority pays the operators.

Hmmm… if it was “clean” energy, I would think that we could recycle those control rods into playground equipment or something. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking by some people who think that such things as the disasters at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island were isolated incidents and that we could have survived a global thermonuclear war had one occurred during the Cold War years.

The truth of the matter is that nuclear energy is “clean” as long as the radioactive fuel remains contained. When it is released — in the water as it was in the UK, or in the air as it happened when Reactor #4′s roof blew off in Chernobyl — nuclear energy loses that “clean” label rather quickly. In fact, Chernobyl, the nearby town of Pripyat, and an area tens of miles in diameter remain off-limits twenty years since the disaster because of radioactive contamination.

Time to lower speed limits.

Events | Posted by admin
Aug 08 2006

With BP’s announcement today of the shutdown of its pipeline from the North Slope of Alaska for, possibly, weeks or months in order to repair parts that have corroded too much, the markets reacted quickly and predictably. Oil prices surged and people are worrying about the possibility of their future gas purchases hovering around $4.00 per gallon. The administration is even releasing oil stocks from the nation’s petroleum reserve to help cope with this recent event.

It is time for our representatives in state legislatures and in Congress to take reasonable measures to help reduce the financial impact. As I write, people in many parts of the country are cruising on the interstates with posted speed limits of sixty-five, seventy, or seventy-five miles per hour; many of them will drive in excess of those limits.

I have two proposals for our representatives to entertain: The first is a simple, across the board cut in speed limits on the interstate highways. Maybe they can take them down by five miles per hour for any speed limits currently above sixty-five miles per hour. It might be palatable to the current generation of leadfoots out there and would certainly reduce the rate of fuel consumption.

The second is more drastic, yet one that I favor at this point: Cap the speed limit at sixty, everywhere. Drivers would have to accept that a mile a minute is a reasonable sacrifice in these times of constrained fuel supplies. This doesn’t have to be an effort solely for environmentalists and conservationists. Conservatives — even the most rabid, Hummer-driving, cigar-chomping, gun-toting wingnut — can also take part by printing up and distributing fuel pump hose and nozzle ribbon magnets with “Support Our Speed Limit” emblazoned on them. Heck, they can tie it to their war on terror, for all I care at this point. (Why not? They tend to tie everything else to it — torture, domestic spying, war profiteering, or Republican party power grabs. What’s one more?)

It is no secret that speed kills fuel economy. I can drive my aging Ford Focus at sixty and get thirty miles per gallon. If I drive at seventy, it drops to twenty-six. Now imagine those big ol’, gas guzzling SUVs that, more often than not, pass me by as if I was standing still. They are certainly not getting thirty miles per gallon. It’s almost certain that many of them are flirting with numbers under the teens. Add to their road speed such factors as air conditioning, wind resistance, and/or whatever they might be towing (ATV’s, boats, or horses) and we’re now talking single-digit ranges. Since Congress is dragging its heels on mandating increases in fuel economy standards, we might as well tell them to act to slow down the current fleet of vehicles, many of which are getting lousy fuel economy due to their years of inaction.

If this matter were simply about the speeds we travel, the fuel crisis might not be such a big deal, relatively-speaking. Unfortunately, it is much more than that. The price of gasoline, along with everything else affected by the price of a barrel of oil, has had a noticeable impact on people’s purchasing power and habits this year. What is worse is that we have yet to enter the winter months, when the price of heating fuel will be felt by millions of Americans. Last year, many people were compelled to turn their thermostats down to levels that were merely uncomfortable. For us in Minnesota, we were fortunate to experience a mild winter. If this winter turns out to be a harsh one, and with the added costs of fuel, I fear that many people will be more than uncomfortable. If we do not act to reduce the consumption of gasoline for use in travel, we will have a negative effect on the stocks and/or price of heating fuel.

We’ve pushed things too far for too long and it is way past time we consider actions to lower the speed limits – if not across the nation, then at least here in Minnesota.

Onward Christofascist soldiers?

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Aug 05 2006

Although I have greatly hesitated in relishing the thought that the GOP’s political chickens will come home to roost this November, its candidates this year sure don’t make it easy for me to hold back.

Take Duncan Bremer, one of the GOP’s candidates for Congress in Colorado, who has an idea on how the US should conduct its war on terror in the Middle East:

All 6 in GOP back Iraq efforts (Denver Post):

… Bremer, a former El Paso County commissioner, said the war against fanatical fundamentalist Islam should be fought on two fronts: militarily and religiously.

“There’s an aspect of it that people are not willing to talk about, and I am – its religious basis. … Our best hope is that we actually convert them away from their religious fanatical basis,” Bremer said.

He said that would best be accomplished by missionaries of various faiths.

“I’d prefer that they get converted to evangelical Christianity, but my point is that there is a religious battleground and our government is disabled from fighting on that battleground,” Bremer said. …

Such a statement deserves a serious and thoughtful critique. Too bad it won’t come from me, because all I can muster is this: Yeek!

Okay, seriously now: What gets me is that I have heard or read of many commentators on the Right who constantly talk of people who practice the Muslim faith as fanatical, and then without skipping a beat, they make bone-headed statements similar to Bremer’s without noting the irony. I wonder Bremer can spare a moment to explain the difference between his evangelical “religious battleground” and the “religious fanatical basis” al Qaida’s version of Islam? That might help assuage concerns some of us share of a militant form of Christianity developing here in America.

If candidates like Bremer are that out of touch with foreign affairs, I can only imagine that their domestic policy ideas are orbiting some minor moon of Saturn. Case in point: Michele Bachmann was on AM1280 today touting the glories of Bush’s deficit-producing, fiscal reality denying, inflationary tax cuts as some stroke of genius that has given us the economy we enjoy today. It makes you wonder if she noticed the price of gasoline here in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, hovering around $3.00 to $3.20 per gallon.

Yes, indeed, I think it may be a very interesting election season this year. (Dangit… My left foot has started doing a happy dance. I didn’t know that was an involuntary act. Stop that, foot. Wait until the election results come in. Come on, now. Be patient.)

About those gas prices…

Interesting | Posted by admin
Aug 05 2006

Has the price of gas, now around $3.00 per gallon on average, had a constraining effect on your weekend outing plans with friends and family? If you said, “Yes, ideedly-doodly, it has,” you are not alone (except, perhaps, in saying “indeedly-doodly”). The restaurant scene is suffering as a result.

Restaurants get gas pains (Baltimore Sun):

Angela Pierce and husband Nicolas used to enjoy a dinner date once a week. Now the Culver City, Calif., couple patronize restaurants just twice a month, thanks to gasoline prices that are on average 71 cents a gallon higher nationwide than a year ago.

Unfortunately for the $175 billion U.S. sit-down restaurant business, the Pierces aren’t the only ones staying away from their favorite eating places. In the past few months, restaurants such as Chili’s, Cheesecake Factory and Applebee’s – what analysts call the “casual dining” category that offers table service and alcoholic beverages – have recorded small but discouraging sales declines.

They are responding with discount burger specials, new menus featuring less expensive items with smaller portions and by pushing the gift-card business.

The culprit, restaurant chains say, is soaring gas prices. But rising interest rates and increases in the minimum payments consumers must make on credit-card debt have added to the problem.

“The Chili’s and Applebee’s of the world – some of their customers who don’t have all that much money,” said Michael Smith, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. “They get startled when they fill up their SUVs, so they stop dining out or they trade down to fast food.”

I shudder to think what would happen if the nation’s restaurants started folding up their operations en masse.

Weren’t we supposed to keep spending in order to win the war on terror? C’mon, people! The Decider-in-Chief needs you now more than ever. If we stop now, Spain will revert to Muslim rule.