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:: Saturday, May 24, 2003 ::

Fear of a Quagmire?

Krugman's got a good article up on liquidity traps.
The particular type of quagmire to worry about has a name: liquidity trap. As the I.M.F. report explains, the most important reason to fear deflation is that it can push an economy into a liquidity trap, or deepen the distress of an economy already caught in the trap.

Here's how it works, in theory. Ordinarily, deflation — a general fall in the level of prices — is easy to fight. All the central bank (in our case, the Federal Reserve) has to do is print more money, and put it in the hands of banks. With more cash in hand, banks make more loans, interest rates fall, the economy perks up and the price level stops falling.

But what if the economy is in such a deep malaise that pushing interest rates all the way to zero isn't enough to get the economy back to full employment? Then you're in a liquidity trap: additional cash pumped into the economy — added liquidity — sits idle, because there's no point in lending money out if you don't receive any reward. And monetary policy loses its effectiveness.


Given the utter lack of fiscal policy emanating from the White House, this is truly worrisome. Bush and Congress have shown no interest in passing stimulative measures, preferring tax cuts that phase in over many years, targeted towards businesses and the wealthy, and often phase in an out of existence like demented Jack-in-the-Boxes. No tax cuts aimed at those who will spend it, no spending increases in areas that will shove money into the right pockets (road construction, for instance), no relief to states...nada.

I won't go so far as to say his fiscal policy is actively encouraging recession, although I wonder about the affects of long-term deficit spending on interest rates. I can say, however, than in the three years of his Presidency, has has not done a single thing to encourage recovery.
:: Morat 11:30 AM :: ::

Tom Delay and the Killer D's

Once more, there is no keeping up with Josh Marshall. From the Houston Chronicle which is, according to various Letters to the Editor both obviously conservative and horribly liberal, he has new tidbits on Delay's wiggling:
Transportation Department spokesman Leonard Alcivar said Mineta was notified on Wednesday, the day before DeLay volunteered the information to Texas reporters, that DeLay had used the FAA to get information on the whereabouts of Laney's plane.

"The office of the secretary was notified by the FAA that an employee of Rep. Tom DeLay requested information on the location of a specific airplane for two specific dates," Alcivar said Friday. He would not specify the dates. DeLay said Thursday that he understood his office had sought the information on May 12.
...
He said he relayed to Craddick the information that the plane was in the air heading from Ardmore to Georgetown, but doesn't know whether that information led to the discovery of the Democrats in Oklahoma.

DeLay's office clarified Friday that the majority leader did not mean to imply that the FAA flight data was publicly available, but rather that the public could gain access to the information via commercial Web sites.

Bill Shumann, FAA spokesman, said the public does not have access to flight tracking data through his agency. But the information, generated by air traffic control centers throughout the country, is bundled and used by commercial companies, some of which make the data available online.


As Marshall noted Delay only came admitted it (and spun it) because it was going to come out anyways. What I'm really interested in is what sort of information the FAA sells to commercial concerns. Specifically, how up to date is it? Do they sell real-time data?

If Delay was using his power to get data directly from the FAA that he could have gotten at that moment by paying for it, that's bad enough. If, however, he leaned on the FAA to get data that would not be available to the public for hours or days, that's something else entirely.

Either way, this is looking worse and worse for the Hammer...
:: Morat 11:22 AM :: ::

:: Friday, May 23, 2003 ::

Civet Cats Likely SARS Source

Interesting:
And a top Hong Kong scientist said it was likely that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which has killed nearly 700 people and infected more than 8,000 worldwide, jumped to humans from civet cats, eaten as a delicacy in southern China.


:: Morat 1:34 PM :: ::

Evolution and Creationism

I thought I'd point out a quick index to common Creationist claims. It's divided into sections ranging from Philosophy to Astronomy and Biology. It's really well done, and an ideal quick reference.
:: Morat 12:44 PM :: ::

Interview with Howard Dean


Truthout did an interview with Howard Dean. It's pretty interesting. Mind you, I've been pretty enthusiastic about Howard Dean since the beginning, far more enthusiastic than I've ever been about a candidate. As I'm not alone in that, I consider it a good sign. One of the pressing problems has been the lack of a candidate or issue to really energize the Democratic base. Hating Bush isn't enough. Hatred his policies, distrust of his judicial nominees....none of that's enough. Some people will vote out of dislike or fear, but more than anything you need to give them positive reasons to go to the polls. Dean's given me a huge one. I'm excited about voting for him. I can't wait to vote for him. I'm not sure he can win, and I know that I don't agree with some of his policies.
PITT: It is axiomatic in politics that you run to the left in Democratic primaries, and then run to the center in the general election. Do you have a plan for how you will do this, how you will run to the center, while still maintaining the support of the liberal base?

DEAN: I don't think I've run to the left. I am who I am, and I say who I am. I'm not saying anything different than I've said in my Governor's races. I don't think you run to the left or you run to the center. You go out there and lay out your ideas, and your ideas are the same in the primaries as they are in the general election. I'm more conservative on budgets and guns, and I'm pretty liberal on civil rights and health insurance and investing in children. People are just going to have to make up their minds if they can deal with all these different positions. I'm not unwilling to change positions based on facts, but I am unwilling to change positions based on polls.


It's pretty obvious Dean is attempting to run as a liberal and a centrist. He's liberal on ideas that are popular among Democrats and indepedents, and centrist on the areas normally considered a Democratic weakness. And because he's held these positions for close to a decade now, as governor of Vermont, it's hard to claim he's a cynical politician triangulating for votes.

The most telling part of the interview, to me, was this:
PITT: You have done a good job to date of capturing the hearts and minds of the liberal base. What views or beliefs or policy ideas do you have that would surprise some of the more liberal individuals who are considering supporting you?

DEAN: I don't think much would surprise them, because I am very up-front about what I believe. When I was up in Seattle last week, there were 1,200 people who came out. In the middle of it I asked, "How many of you have not been involved in politics in the last ten or fifteen years?" Half of them -600 people - raised their hands. I went on to talk about the balanced budget and got them all hooting and hollering. I stopped again and said, "Hey, here we are, a roomful of progressives and Democrats hooting and hollering and cheering for a balanced budget." They all laughed.


That's me I want a balanced budget. I want fiscal responsibility. And I'm willing to vote for anyone I believe will try to offer it to me, as long as they're not murdering my civil liberties in the process. Judging from the polls I've seen, there is a vast number of voters who want moderate-to-liberal social environmental policy coupled with fiscal good sense. If Dean can give that to me, if he's even willing to try, then he's got my vote.
:: Morat 12:16 PM :: ::

Killer D's Redux

Via Off the Kuff, we have this story from the Chronicle:

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay admitted Thursday he provided Texas Speaker Tom Craddick with the same information that state police used to enlist a homeland security agency in the search for runaway Democratic legislators.

DeLay said his staff used public information at the Federal Aviation Administration to track former Texas Speaker Pete Laney's airplane.

Color me shocked. Tom Delay got involved? In a partisan fight? For shame! Personally, I'm wondering if the Hammer would have started this redistricting push if he had an inkling over the potential backlash. It's not just that the Texas Legislators who did his bidding are taking it on the chin, but it's even slopped back over onto him.

It's been a long time since Delay was entangled in a scandal that was gaining media attention. Not to mention one so cut and dried.

I blogged about how this had the making of a major scandal. It gets more and more likely every day. Not only are the newspapers still covering this a week later, but each day brings more damaging revelations.

A Travis County DA is investigating the destruction of DPS records (quite illegal under Texas law), and Tom Ridge is talking 'potential criminal investigation' for misuse of Homeland Security resources. And several Democratic lawmakers are pushing for investigations on both the state and federal levels.

With laws broken, power abused, documents destroyed, and all at the instigation (and with the help of) Tom Delay, and all for something as blatantly partisan as a second redistricting, well....Even the Mighty Wurlitzer can't ignore that.

I'm not sure if anything will stick to Tom. It might, with sufficiently loyal people to take the blame, end with DPS officials. But if someone rolls, or the media finds (using Texas' Open Records laws) evidence of collusion between the DPS, Delay, Craddick and Perry over the manhunt...well, then it might reach high enough to hurt those behind it all.

Update: Here's a nice listing of everyone damaged in Delay's push for redistricting. If I was Tom, I'd start watching my back. He strongarmed a lot of people, and they're getting pretty hurt. The temptation to pin the blame on Tom must be getting pretty strong...
:: Morat 11:23 AM :: ::

A Search for Meaning

Via Atrios, I read this amazing article by Slacktivist. Go read it, if you haven't already. It talks about the book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and is a really interesting look at some of the things that drive us.

:: Morat 10:46 AM :: ::

Slimy Mollusks

I have evolved once more, on the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem. I have revised my "Time until Spine" numbers. Only 12.6 years.
:: Morat 8:37 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, May 22, 2003 ::

Chess

I was browsing through Slate and noticed this little article about a father taking his son to a chess tournament.

Now, I play chess. Poorly, to be sure. I know how the pieces move, I know basic openings and strategies, but I simply lack the patience required. It's occasionally frustrating, because I'd like to be really good at chess, rather than just capable.

My child (who is 6) is learning. He's a bright boy, and loves to play. Other than having a bit of a problem with his knights, he picked up - and remembered - the moves by the second or third game. But, like the child in the article, he hates to lose. Absolutely hates it. He's much the same way about any competitive sport.

Now, intellectually, I know he's six. Good sportsmanship is something you learn, slowly, over your childhood, and for a lot of people, into adulthood. But it still bugs me to see him so upset, so angry, over losing a simple game. It's one of the reasons we're still mulling whether to place him in the competitive or non-competitive soccer leagues this summer.

It's a fine line, really, between teaching your kid to lose gracefully, but encouraging them to be competitive. And as we try to teach him this, I constantly worry that if I screw this up, 20 years from now he'll be one of those insane soccer parents.....

When I worry too much, I go watch Searching for Bobby Fischer, a truly excellent book made into a truly excellent film. It's written by Fred Waitzkin about his son Josh, who is one of the best US players his age. It's a good story about the perils of a father's ambitions for his son. Mortal Games (about Kasparov) is a pretty good book as well, if not in the same class as Searching for Bobby Fischer.
:: Morat 2:59 PM :: ::

Makings of a Scandal

In the last few decades, one piece of conventional political wisdom is that nothing makes the public more suspicious than acting like you've got something to hide. It's absolutely amazing what you can pull off as long as you don't act guilty. But the second the media starts saying "cover-up" you're in political hot water, regardless of the actual facts.

Which brings me to Texas. The walkout by the Texas Democrats was far more effective than they could have hoped for. To begin with, they accomplished what they set out to do, blocking the redistricting vote. As a bonus, they managed to do so without gaining too much negative press. By and large, both the Texas public and the press seemed quietly supportive, laying the lion's share of blame on Perry, Craddick, and Delay.

But that was just the beginning. At some point, a call was made to the Department of Homeland Security, asking it to locate an errant lawmaker's plane. The official making the call implied that the plane was overdue. At the same time, Tom Delay was passing along requests to the Justice Department, quietly trying to get the FBI and US Marshals to help locate and return the errant Democrats. Texas state troopers were, at this point, visiting relatives and spouses of the Killer D's, even to the point of accosting one outside a neonatal unit as she was visiting her premature infants.

All in all, it was a huge overreaction. None of the Killer D's had broken a single law, yet there was a state wide manhunt, attempts to involve the US government and federal agencies, and surprisingly strong-arm tactics.

And that's when things got interesting. It turns out that the attempts to involve Homeland Security were illegal, or close to it. Tom Delay's role in redistricting was being exposed, and his efforts to get the FBI involved looked too much like misuse of power for partisan goals. Questions started being raised about who made the calls, who authorized the tactics, and whether government power and authority had been misused for partisan gain.

And that's when DPS sent down an order to erase and destroy all records and communications of their manhunt.

So now we have the key elements of a scandal. We have what appears to be widespread attempts to use governmental power and authority for partisan goals. We have a relatively innocent injured party, whom the press was already slightly sympathetic to. We have meddling by federal level politicians in a purely state-level affair. And we have the cover-up. And a panicky one at that.

This has the makings of a state scandal. Perhaps even a national one, thanks to the involvement of Delay and Homeland Security. We even have (from the Houston Chronicle via Off the Kuff) Tom Ridge admitting that there is an investigation ongoing into the misuse of Homeland Security resources.

With all of that, it'll be hard to bury, even under GOP-controlled legislatures.
:: Morat 2:02 PM :: ::

DPS and Killer D's Update

Talking Points Memo updated on the DPS and it's varied excuses for destroying documents related to it's Killer D search. Happily, he and his sources agree with me, although his post is considerably better written. I really need to work on my prose.
:: Morat 1:27 PM :: ::

DPS's destruction of the Killer D's documents.

Josh Marshall talks about the Texas DPS's destruction of all records related to their search for the Killer D's.

The destruction (a clear violation of Texas' Open Records Laws) was excused by DPS as follows:
The Texas public safety department said that it destroyed the records because federal regulations prohibit it from keeping intelligence information that is not part of a criminal case.


Josh Marshall wonders, quite understandably, which federal law they were referring to. After some searching around through various news stories, I'm pretty certain that the DPS is referring to 28 CFR 23.
23.2 Background.
It is recognized that certain criminal activities including but not limited to loan sharking, drug trafficking, trafficking in stolen property, gambling, extortion, smuggling, bribery, and corruption of public officials often involve some degree of regular coordination and permanent organization involving a large number of participants over a broad geographical area. The exposure of such ongoing networks of criminal activity can be aided by the pooling of information about such activities. However, because the collection and exchange of intelligence data necessary to support control of serious criminal activity may represent potential threats to the privacy of individuals to whom such data relates, policy guidelines for Federally funded projects are required.

23.3 Applicability.
(a) These policy standards are applicable to all criminal intelligence systems operating through support under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. 3711, et seq., as amended (Pub. L. 90-351, as amended by Pub. L. 91-644, Pub. L. 93-83, Pub. L. 93-415, Pub. L. 94-430, Pub. L. 94-503, Pub. L. 95-115, Pub. L. 96-157, Pub. L. 98-473, Pub. L. 99-570, Pub. L. 100-690, and Pub. L. 101-647).


I helpfully bolded the important section. The DPS is not a criminal intelligence system operating with federal support. That means that the DPS clearly violated Texas state law, without any federal justification.

Worse yet, even if they were bound by this law, then their very investigation into the Killer D's was illegal!
(b) A project shall not collect or maintain criminal intelligence information about the political, religious or social views, associations, or activities of any individual or any group, association, corporation, business, partnership, or other organization unless such information directly relates to criminal conduct or activity and there is reasonable suspicion that the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct or activity.


The DPS is truly up the creek here. If they excuse their breaking of state law by claiming to adhere to federal law, they admit they broke the federal law as well. Heads are going to roll over this one.
:: Morat 12:28 PM :: ::

I have evolved!

Lo and Behold, I have become the mightiest of all creatures, the lowly insect. Okay, so four links isn't really "bragging rights". But I've moved passed the crustacean stage, and give me approximately 17.5 years, and I expect to have a spine.


:: Morat 11:14 AM :: ::

New Nukes!

I found this lovely little piece today.
Senate Democrats lost a fight to keep a ban on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons, and now they want a compromise that would allow the research and prohibit the development.


I've got to agree with Liberal Oasis on this one. It's rather obvious that we need nukes because of all the wars we keep losing. I mean, let's face it, the last two were real squeakers.
:: Morat 10:29 AM :: ::

Raising the Debt: One Trillion

Three cheers for the party of fiscal discipline!
The timing could not be much better for Democrats: The Republican-led Senate will vote this week on whether to let federal borrowing grow by an unprecedented $984 billion, even as it considers a costly tax cut that President Bush wants.

I'd honestly like to thank them. I had a few qualms about voting Democrat, because I was drawn to a more moderate fiscal policy.

Thankfully, I no longer have to worry about being forced to choose between social freedoms and fiscal good sense.
:: Morat 10:19 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, May 21, 2003 ::

Goodbye Brunching!

In a stunning announcement, Brunching Shuttlecocks is calling it quits. Expect weeping and wailing and much gnashing of teeth as fans suffer collective withdrawal.

Happily, not all is lost. The Self Made Critic is getting his own site, and the Book of Ratings will be doing it's own thing too (and already has a site). And the archives are still there.

And at least I still have The Onion.

:: Morat 2:10 PM :: ::

Warren Buffet Speaks

An excellent and timely editorial in the Washington Times, Buffet writes in Dividend Voodoo:
Let me, as a member of that non-endangered species, give you an example of how the scales are currently balanced. The taxes I pay to the federal government, including the payroll tax that is paid for me by my employer, Berkshire Hathaway, are roughly the same proportion of my income -- about 30 percent -- as that paid by the receptionist in our office. My case is not atypical -- my earnings, like those of many rich people, are a mix of capital gains and ordinary income -- nor is it affected by tax shelters (I've never used any). As it works out, I pay a somewhat higher rate for my combination of salary, investment and capital gain income than our receptionist does. But she pays a far higher portion of her income in payroll taxes than I do.
...
Now the Senate says that dividends should be tax-free to recipients. Suppose this measure goes through and the directors of Berkshire Hathaway (which does not now pay a dividend) therefore decide to pay $1 billion in dividends next year. Owning 31 percent of Berkshire, I would receive $310 million in additional income, owe not another dime in federal tax, and see my tax rate plunge to 3 percent.

And our receptionist? She'd still be paying about 30 percent, which means she would be contributing about 10 times the proportion of her income that I would to such government pursuits as fighting terrorism, waging wars and supporting the elderly. Let me repeat the point: Her overall federal tax rate would be 10 times what my rate would be.

When I was young, President Kennedy asked Americans to "pay any price, bear any burden" for our country. Against that challenge, the 3 percent overall federal tax rate I would pay -- if a Berkshire dividend were to be tax-free -- seems a bit light.

Administration officials say that the $310 million suddenly added to my wallet would stimulate the economy because I would invest it and thereby create jobs. But they conveniently forget that if Berkshire kept the money, it would invest that same amount, creating jobs as well.


Virtually every blog I've been to today mentions this piece. I don't know if it's because of Buffet's stature (the man has made a metric ton of money. He obviously knows a little something about the economy), because of the stereotype that the rich favor Republican economic plans, or because the man is, in effect, arguing that he should pay his fair share of taxes.

But I do know that he makes several excellent points in this piece, and ends on one of the most important:
When you listen to tax-cut rhetoric, remember that giving one class of taxpayer a "break" requires -- now or down the line -- that an equivalent burden be imposed on other parties. In other words, if I get a break, someone else pays. Government can't deliver a free lunch to the country as a whole. It can, however, determine who pays for lunch. And last week the Senate handed the bill to the wrong party.


I think the various Democrats currently running scared have just been given a great deal of ammunition. Buffet makes clear, concise points. Points that apparently resonate on the left (if blogs are any guideline) and with a little work would resonate in the middle as well. The simple truth of the matter is that the vast majority of Americans won't see a dime of this tax cut. We all own our stock in 401(k)'s. It's the millionaires and billionaires who are going to get the money, and we're the ones who are going to get stuck with the bill.

UPDATE: Washington Post. Apologies for the dyslexia.
:: Morat 12:18 PM :: ::

Killer D Update

Josh Marshall's column in The Hill is all about Tom Delay's involvement in the search for the fugitive legislators in Texas. It's doesn't leave Delay much wiggle room.

Taken together, DeLay's own statements paint a picture of pretty deep involvement in the effort to get the Feds to corral the runaway Dems. He was in active consultations with Craddick. He knew which Justice Department officials were looking into the matter. He had his own staff researching whether it could be done. And he was talking to the Justice Department on Craddick's behalf.

And just what was a House majority leader doing passing on queries from a state House Speaker to the U.S. Justice Department, asking whether federal officers could arrest members of his own Legislature? When I asked DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy, he told me Craddick's inquiry was no different from any other constituent-service request, like finding out why a Veterans Affairs check hadn't arrived yet.


In related news, and even more upsetting than Tom Delay's potential misuse of power, is this report from the Star Telegram Apparently, the cover-up has already begun.

One day before Democrats ended their boycott of the Texas House last week, the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all records and photos gathered in the search for them, documents obtained Tuesday show.

A one-sentence order sent by e-mail on the morning of May 14 was apparently carried out, a DPS spokesman said Tuesday. The revelation comes as federal authorities are investigating how a division of the federal Homeland Security Department was dragged into the hunt for the missing Democrats -- at the request of the state police agency.

Addressed to "Captains," the order said: "Any notes, correspondence, photos, etc. that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept. Any questions please contact me."

It was signed by the commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service, L.C. "Tony" Marshall.

The head of a state House panel looking into law enforcement's role in the search expressed outrage at the order, obtained by the Star-Telegram under the Texas Open Records Act.


I'm guessing certain figures in the DPS really don't want it known who had the bright idea of calling the Homeland Security folks. Now, I've got my suspicions on who that was. But, just to be clear, Craddick knew nothing about it. Just because the most likely candidate spent his time coordinating the search for the Democrats in an temporary office right next to Craddick's doesn't mean the Speaker had anything to do with the search or any irregularities. Nope. None at all. And the destruction of documents is just the implementing new efficiency standards...





:: Morat 12:05 PM :: ::

A Farewell to Buffy

(Spoilers) I liked it. It had it's flaws, but most appear to be rooted in trying to fit the final show into an hour. I can hope Joss had a longer "director's cut" for the DVD. Of course, he could be planning a movie as well, since all the Scoobies (Buffy, Giles, Xander and Willow) all made it through.

It was a good way to end, in my opinion, because it showcased the wit and byplay that made the show so wonderful in the first place. A lot of that had been lost over the last seasons, and I was happy to see it back. I was saddened by Anya's death, and still am trying to figure out why. Spike, I can understand, as he has spent the last several seasons searching for redemption. But Anya? I suppose Joss wanted to bring the group back to what it was in the beginning. If so, he succeeded. At the end, the Scoobies were exactly who they were in the beginning. Well, minus an eye. And there were two scenes that showcased solely the original Scoobies, and highlighted the interaction that has become the hallmark of the show. More than a gimmie to the fans, it was a reminder of what made the show worth watching.

A few nice moments:

Anya: "I wouldn't say it to their faces. What am I, insensitive?"
Angel: "You're dating Captain Peroxide?" and "You know, I started this whole 'Having a Soul' thing. That was mine. I was the first".
Andrew: Trogdar the Burninator. Enough Said.
Wood: "I'm way prettier than you".

And, of course, the entire conversation about going shopping the next day. As well as the followup on how they must tell the world about the malls and shops of Sunnydale, now that they were gone. Too bad Joss couldn't swing two hours.

I understand James Marsters is signing onto Angel (does anyone know the validity of that?). If so, his being dead isn't all that big a problem. Vampires keep coming back from hell around Angel.

Still, I was shocked by Anya's death. I liked her, especially at the end. It must have been a heavy blow to the Giles and Anya shippers.

Oh well, if there is anything I've learned watching Buffy, it's that death isn't always the end. And I'm certainly happier about the prospect of a Buffy movie (which is, I understand, labeled "maybe some day" time-wise) than I was before, as Joss showed he can still write the sort of Buffy his fans want to watch.

Thanks, Joss. The show suffered without you, but you made up for it in the end. It was a good 7 years, and I'm more grateful than you know that you ended it on a high note.

:: Morat 10:15 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, May 20, 2003 ::

Chimps are Human

Casting some more light on human evolution, New Scientist reports:

The latest twist in the debate over how much DNA separates humans from chimpanzees suggests we are so closely related that chimps should not only be part of the same taxonomic family, but also the same genus.

The new study found that 99.4 percent of the most critical DNA sites are identical in the corresponding human and chimp genes. With that close a relationship, the two living chimp species belong in the genus Homo, says Morris Goodman of Wayne State University in Detroit.
...
On the basis of the new study, Goodman would not only put modern humans and all fossils back to the human-chimp divergence into Homo, but would also include the common chimp (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus).


I don't find this personally surprising, as chimps are far more human-like (or we are far more monkey-like) than most people want to believe. Bonobo's even practice prostitution, which is a pretty good indicator of humanity right there. Then again, Linnean Taxonomy is so limited. I prefer cladistics myself.

I'd imagine that a large number of people are going to go up in flames about this, and draw moral inferences about what "atheistic science" is trying to teach their kids. I honestly think they have a form letter they use for any evolutionary news.

:: Morat 10:25 AM :: ::

Al Qaida

Hesiod linked to this:
U.S. Says More Saudi Attacks 'Imminent'

"The Embassy continues to receive credible information that further terrorist attacks are being planned against unspecified targets in Saudi Arabia," Americans were warned in a statement posted on U.S. Embassy and consulate Web sites.
...
The Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity Tuesday, said Saudis were aware of about 50 Muslim militants, some now dead, believed to belong to three cells, including the one that carried out the May 12 bombings. Another cell has fled Saudi Arabia and the third is at large in the kingdom with members ready to volunteer for suicide attacks, the official said.
...
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, told reporters in Riyadh that "there is chatter, a high level of chatter regionally and in other international spots" about possible new attacks in Saudi Arabia or America.

The FBI (news - web sites) is warning that al-Qaida could mount new attacks in the United States as well as target American and Western interests overseas.

"The U.S. intelligence community assesses that attacks against U.S. and Western targets overseas are likely; attacks in the United States cannot be ruled out," said an FBI bulletin dispatched to state and local law enforcement agencies around the country.


As of this moment, the Threat Level is still yellow. I'm not sure it's possible to be cynical or upset enough about anything anymore. We just got done invading Iraq on the pretext that it would reduce terrorism (despite the fact, of course, that everyone up to and including the head of the CIA said otherwise) and end a grave threat to the nation. We even cheerfully lowered the threat level once it was done.

And now, of course, it appears the threat is even worse. But don't expect the threat level to go to Orange unless Bush needs a distraction. Otherwise, it'd be an admission that invading Iraq failed to make us any safer.

UPDATE: Well I'll be darned, they actually changed the Terror Level to High. Given this happened after a spate of bombings, I can only imagine they're using the newspaper to calculate threat levels. Perhaps the CIA stopped returning their phone calls.
:: Morat 10:03 AM :: ::

A startling list

UggaBugga has helpfully compiled a list of lies and disinformation used to sell the Iraq war. It's worse than I remembered. Perhaps someone should forward the list to Dean or Kerry. Or, as a last resort, the media. It's certainly a worthwhile read, that's for sure.

:: Morat 9:55 AM :: ::

Fiscal Discipline


I notice this today:

Republicans, who pride themselves on being frugal with taxpayers' money, were bigger spenders than Democrats in state legislatures over the past five years, a USA TODAY analysis shows.


Daily Kos talks about it today as well, and while I share his enthusiasm, I don't think it really changes anything. I think the "Republicans are the Party of Fiscal Discipline" meme is too solidly entrenched, too much a part of common wisdom, to be removed quickly.

While I don't doubt the playful spending spree our all-GOP congress is engaging in will hurt that image some, I consider it far more likely that it conservative voters will punish prolific spenders during the primaries, well before their wasteful spending habits threaten their fiscal image. I simply don't think the Democrats have the time to change that meme before Republicans are forced to change their ways.

The GOP relies on two major constituencies: Those who vote their wallet, and those who vote their religion. If they lose either of these to the Democrats, they're done as a party. They simply cannot afford to alienate those who support them for their "fiscal discipline", anymore than they can afford to anger the Religious Right. I'm guessing they'll get punished for it in one of the next election cycles, and swing back to fiscal sanity out of pure self-defense.
:: Morat 9:18 AM :: ::

End of the Buffyverse

Side Note: I wish BlogThis and BlogQuote worked right with the new Dano Blogger software. Oh well...

MSN Entertainment has a piece up on the Best of Buffy. As devoted, if recent, watcher of the show, I'm kind of sad to see it go. I got hooked when my wife (then girlfriend) convinced me to watch Once More With Feeling, the musical episode. (I confess to owning the soundtrack. Extras include Joss' wife singing "Life's a Song" as a demo, and scores from several episodes, including Hush).

It's a wonderful show, and I'll be sorry to see it go. Certainly better than "Who Wants to Marry A millionaire".

Out of their list of Top Ten moments, I certainly agree with the Gentlemen from Hush being there. Most of the episode is filmed in silence, and the musical score was incredibly well chosen. The Gentlemen themselves rate as some of the creepiest of TV baddies, and can still give me the willies.

While some of the episodes were silly and pointless, Buffy was consistently wittier, smarter, and better written and acted than any show it shared airtime with. I'll be sad to see it go, but I'm glad it's leaving before jumping the shark.

Note: If you haven't seen the show, but plan to, don't read the article. It gives away some important moments in Season 2 that really work best as surprises.
:: Morat 8:44 AM :: ::

Wow...

I got blogrolled by Thinking it Through. Considering it's one of my favorite blogs, that's pretty heady. Thanks!
:: Morat 8:27 AM :: ::

:: Monday, May 19, 2003 ::

Personal Conflicts

Did you ever have one of those personality conflicts with another person? To the point where you actively avoided them and anything that reminded you of them? An almost pathological dislike or anger with another human being?

I'm embroiled in one at the moment. I find myself having to bite my tongue around him, simply because my immediate impulse is to belittle every word from his mouth. I don't think I've been this angry with someone since my early teens, when I spent my time being angry at my parents, or my brother, or if neither had given me a real excuse, God. Although, admittedly, it's hard to be angry at something you were fairly sure didn't exist. But I managed. Teenagers are good at that.

This strange anger, this active dislike, this true loathing of this particular person, at this particular time, has made me wonder a few things. How much of it is truly their fault? Can a human being truly be that bad? Am I projecting, perhaps reacting in anger to mirrored flaws? I'm so angry that I have a hard time trusting my own judgment where this person is concerned. It's a nasty little cycle, one I can't even decide if I should break, much less how. I can force myself to calm down, to ignore the things that anger me, to analyze the conflict rationally, but even then I simply can't trust my own judgment.

So, careening towards a point here, let me ask the pertinent question: Does it matter who Person X is? Should I indulge in more or less self-scrutiny, more or less questioning of issues, motives and emotions, if this person is a coworker? Family member? President? Business owner? Local bum? Preacher?

Should I spend more time trying to ferret out the "truth" of my feelings if I am angry at a friend? Less if I'm angry at a acquaintance? What about the ideologies who populate our op/ed columns, or run our country? 'Cause, truthfully speaking, Ann Coulter does this to me all the time.

What I'm getting at, with this, is at what point can you simply drop all attempts to compromise, to communicate with, another person or group? Is there any point? This has a lot of bearing, across all aspects of personal and public life. I hate the thought of writing someone off, permanently. It goes against things I've always believed.

:: Morat 2:04 PM :: ::

Hissy Fit


Neil Cavuto of Fox News is an anchor, not a commentator. Yet after Baghdad's fall he told ‘those who opposed the liberation of Iraq’ -- a large minority -- that ‘you were sickening then; you are sickening now.’"

First off, Mr. Krugman, let me correct you: I'm a host and a commentator, just like you no doubt call yourself a journalist and a columnist. So my sharing my opinions is a bad thing, but you spouting off yours is not?


Now that, my friends, is a man who missed the point completely. And threw a giant hissy fit to compound it.
:: Morat 11:51 AM :: ::

Orrin Hatch: The Maestro via Buzzflash

Tom Spencer pointed this one out. It's certainly a must read.

Orrin Hatch: The Maestro - BuzzFlash Guest Commentary
While conservatives who are mortals must content themselves with merely lying every time they open their mouths, Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch has evolved into a superhuman fabricator extraordinaire. Hatch has an implacable vendetta against reality; he treats facts the way Itchy treats Scratchy. In his unctuous way, the senator has established himself as the most shamelessly hypocritical operative in a political movement based on shameless hypocrisy and festering with hypocritical operatives.


They even talk about my favorite Orrin Moment!

The quintessential Hatch moment occurred in 2000 during the Florida recount. The senator was being interviewed about vote-counting procedures when he misinterpreted a question. He launched into a stirring defense of what he thought was the Bush position and condemned anyone who disagreed with him as being un-American. When it was pointed out that he had actually just defended the Gore point of view, Hatch – without flinching or showing the slightest outward sign of embarrassment – then launched into a stirring defense of the opposite position and condemned anyone who disagreed with him as being un-American

:: Morat 9:54 AM :: ::

Ari Quits!

My wife called me this morning to tell me the good news. I was going to go searching for a story later, but Atrios already had a link. I'm tempted to start a "Top Ten Reasons Ari Is Leaving" list, but I can only think of a few.

  • He doesn't even believe himself anymore

  • Even liars have standards

  • Considers selling Bush's record "too hard"



Anyone else have any?

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Monday he will resign later this summer.
"I informed President Bush last week that after 21 years of doing nothing but government and politics ... that I have decided that my time has come to leave the White House. And I will leave later this summer, most likely in July," Fleischer said

:: Morat 9:34 AM :: ::

Wishful Thinking

Donald Rumsfeld is apparently feeling the heat. According to this, he actually called up the New York times to explain why things in Iraq are going so badly.

Looting Is Derailing Detailed
The looting, lawlessness and violence that planners thought would mar only the first few weeks has proved more widespread and enduring than Mr. Bush and his aides expected and is threatening to undermine the American plan.
Five weeks after Baghdad fell, Mr. Bush finds himself exactly where he did not want to be: forced to impose control with a larger number of troops and to delay the start of efforts to turn power over to Iraqis.
The message that reached the White House from two recent meetings with potential Iraqi leaders, officials say, was that it would be foolish to start experimenting with democracy without making people feel secure enough to go back to work or school, and without giving them back at least the basic services they received during Saddam Hussein's brutal rule.
Senior administration officials said they had foreseen some problems, but not all. "You couldn't know how it would end," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a telephone conversation on Friday that he initiated. "When it did end, you take it as you found it and get at it, knowing the single most important thing is security."
Another senior administration official said the White House was surprised to learn how badly broken Iraq's prewar infrastructure was. "From the outside it looked like Baghdad was a city that works," the official said. "It isn't."


This says two things. One, obviously, the White House is feeling the heat. Things in Iraq aren't going swimmingly, and now that it's so bad denial is no longer an option, we're seeing the beginning of operation "Pass the Buck".

Judging by the last sentence, the Administration is going to blame the CIA. Heaven forbid they blame Wolfowitz's special Intel group formed because the CIA persisted in giving honest evaluations, or blame the Iraq exiles they listened to so heavily.

If the White House didn't see this coming, it's because they ignored clear intel because it wasn't what they wanted to hear. Foreign policy really shouldn't be built on wishful thinking.
:: Morat 9:23 AM :: ::

:: Sunday, May 18, 2003 ::

John Lott's little error

If you're interested in gun control or the second Amendment, you know who John Lott is. Lately, he's come under increasingly heavy fire for some of the claims he's made, and some of the things he's done. This is the best site on the net for up-to-date information on John Lott, and what appears to be the utter disintegration of his career.

John Lott's Mysterious Survey
The story so far: John Lott has claimed that he conducted a survey over three months in 1997 that found that in 98% of defensive gun uses the defender merely has to brandish the gun to break off an attack.

:: Morat 6:09 PM :: ::

LiberalOasis: Interview with Howard Dean

Liberal Oasis did an email interview with Dean. They're hoping to interview all nine candidates, so here's the first:

LiberalOasis: Interview with Howard Dean
LiberalOasis conducted an exclusive interview with former Governor Howard Dean, in what will hopefully be the first in a series of interviews with the Democratic presidential candidates.
The interview was done via email, and Dr. Dean sent his answers to LiberalOasis on May 16, 2003.

:: Morat 6:05 PM :: ::

Iraq, Anarchy, and WMD

From Tom Spencer we have two stories on Iraq. First

Iraq's Slide Into Lawlessness Squanders Good Will for U.S.
It was another bad week for Karim W. Hassan, director general of Iraq's electricity commission.
Looters had already pilfered underground cables, carted off computers that regulate power distribution, stolen 25 of the guards' 30 patrol cars, emptied warehouses of spare parts, ransacked substations and shot up transmission lines across the country's electric grid.
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Then, his men reported, armed bandits stole the only cable splicer in central Iraq, needed to repair countless vandalized electric lines.
On top of that, another group of gunmen stole his own car. The upshot: yet more delays in restoring electricity in this city, weeks after the war ended.
"Give me security," said Dr. Hassan, speaking for many Iraqis, "and I'll give you electricity."


It's been almost a month. They still don't have power or security. This was one of the primary issues doves (and even a large number of reluctant hawks) had about the war. We honestly didn't think the US government or the US military was going to be able to handle the post-war occupation. Speaking for myself, I'm shocked at how far downhill it went so quickly. I expected the military to handle the easy stuff, like offering initial security and getting utilities working. I didn't expect a problem until later, when increasing factionalism and the inevitable draw-down of US forces (we don't have the numbers we need now, and we're already planning on removing troops) led to a breakdown of law and order and either a civil war or the imposition of a theocratic Shia government.

I didn't expect we'd have problems this quickly. I was certain our fearless leaders would have planned this far ahead, since the problems we've encountered we certainly predictable. The fact that it's this bad, so soon, doesn't bode well for the rest of the occupation. Bush's dream of democracy in Iraq and a cascading change in other Middle Eastern nations is getting more and more laughable by the day.

Second story concerns our well-equipped, led, and thought out approach to finding those pesky WMDs.

Team 3's odyssey through Iraq is a tale of frustration and disillusionment. Allison and his unit arrived with the firm belief -- and dread -- that Iraq possessed the weapons of chemical war. They expected U.S. intelligence to guide them, and they were secure in their own technology and skills. When probe after probe sank dry holes, and the team's mission appeared to have failed, a sardonic tone began to creep into discussions of their work.

"No weapons of mass destruction here, sir," Deal deadpanned to his boss at a bombed-out presidential palace annex, the day after the vacuum cleaner affair. Both men were standing with handfuls of scavenged faucets, strip lights and circuit breakers. Finding no weapons to inspect, they had turned their attention to getting repair parts for their war-damaged headquarters nearby.
...
Other intelligence leads among the Top 19 appeared to be simply errors.

One such site, the Malab Ashab Chemical Co., was suspected of concealing an underground store of weapons or their ingredients. Team 3 arrived on April 25 and found an Olympic swimming and diving complex. The Dhubbat Chemical Storage Site, another of the Top 19, turned out to be a factory for metal signs. Team 3 found thousands of license plates where looters had trampled them.

Intelligence also dispatched the team to a place it called the "Al Sald Suspected Chemical Site."

Its Christian owners called it Asriya Anis Arak. Acting director Janan Roger Lassow showered Allison and his men with hospitality, escorting them around the family-owned distillery and attempting to press them with gifts of arak, the company's anise-flavored liqueur. A tip on a secret cache of documents brought Team 3 to the doorstep of a man who admitted taking them from his chemistry lab. But he was only a frightened graduate student, anxious that looters might destroy his masters thesis, in progress. His subject was metallurgy, Gordon said afterward, and "apparently he wasn't very good at it. Our interpreter found some of his tests, and he scored about 30 percent."

Intelligence was supposed to have been better than this. British Wing Commander Sebastian Kendall, who has helped lead planning for the weapons hunt from the headquarters of U.S. and British land forces, said analysts had identified numerous sites at which they assessed there was "a high probability of finding a link to WMD." That comment was made in an interview on April 20, when the probabilities of finding such weapons were already dipping but had not yet crashed. "We started off with a list," he said. "It is true that the environment is changing based on reality."
...
Collectively, the conversations portrayed a hunt without the means, so far, to flush its quarry. Team 3 was sent to some facilities without being briefed on inventories already known from years of U.N. inspections. At other sites, the team could not work effectively for lack of Arabic language skills. In a repository for disabled nuclear equipment, Allison and his inspectors had to labor side by side with looters too numerous to evict. More often, the looters had come and gone. Twice, the team found signs of machinery disassembled and expertly removed.
...
Around present-day Hilla, not far from Baghdad, archaeologists believe the Tower of Babel once stood. Team 3 is a Babel in miniature. Among its 25 men and women are Turkish, Spanish, Russian and Chinese speakers, but no one understands the local language.


It's becoming more and more obvious by the day that this war was waged on bad intel. And for once, the CIA isn't to blame. The intel Bush and Co relied upon came from a special group set up by Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, because they felt the CIA was being too conservative.

Worst of all, there is enough to suspect that Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Powell and Cheney knew the intel was unreliable. It's reliability didn't matter, of course. The decision to invade Iraq was made in September of 2001, and everything since then has been a search for a justification.
:: Morat 6:00 PM :: ::

Terrorism

Some of my friends have wondered why I dislike Bush so intensely. It's not his policies, although I oppose virtually all of them. It's not his hypocrisy, although it bugs me greatly. It's because he had a chance, was given a virtual mandate after 9/11, to address one of the biggest problems of the modern era. He had the chance most Presidents only dream of, and the responsibility they dread. He was given a tough, complex problem with life or death consequences. He had the people of America behind him, had Congress behind him, had no opposition to doing what was needed.

It's not that he failed. Failure is understandable. Sometimes failure is inevitable. Sometimes there are no solutions. No, it wasn't that he failed. It was that he embarked on a series of actions that no one, least of all himself, believed would end or even contain terrorism.

He used this mandate for tax cuts, to invade Iraq, to push the budgets he wanted. He squandered this unique opportunity, forswore his responsibility, all for partisan goals. That's why I dislike him. I do not think history will be kind to him.

Saudis arrest 4 in Riyadh attacks
Saudi authorities have arrested at least four suspected al-Qaida members in connection with last week’s suicide bombings in Riyadh, the Saudi interior minister said Sunday. As the Saudis scrambled to hunt down the perpetrators, the United States warned of more likely attacks in coming weeks.

:: Morat 9:28 AM :: ::

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