Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken

Monday, February 28, 2005

Right-wingers who can't tell and from or, and a midnight treat 


I had heard this in the past, but the notion that the law said to protect Valerie Plame's identity would only apply had she served outside of the US within five years of her outing is again rearing it's head in the right-wing echo chamber.

The thought comes from misreading "or" as "and" - the stuff about "five years" and other definitions not likely to apply are snipped out here,

(4) The term "covert agent" means - 
  (A) [...] or 
  (B) a United States citizen whose intelligence relationship 
  to the United States is classified information, and - 
    (i) [...]  or 
    (ii) who is at the time of the disclosure acting as an 
    agent of, or informant to, the foreign counterintelligence or 
    foreign counterterrorism components of the Federal Bureau of 
    Investigation; or [...]

Besides, it's nutty to suggest the DOJ would be investigating who revealed her identity for so long without first ascertaining whether the law applied. Then again, we're looking at wing-nuts here, so nuttiness is to be expected.

The NewsMax article linked to above not only repeats what appears to be a misreading of the clause mentioning "five years", but also excerpts a quote noting that Novak didn't commit a crime as if the original essay was saying no crime was committed by anyone. Says NewsMax,

Says Toensing, "The Novak column and the surrounding facts do not support evidence of criminal conduct.

Actually, said Toensing,

The Novak column and the surrounding facts do not support evidence of criminal conduct.

When the act was passed, Congress had no intention of prosecuting a reporter who wanted to expose wrongdoing and, in the process, once or twice published the name of a covert agent. Novak is safe from indictment.

Of course Novak shouldn't be indicted for printing something someone told him - bad judgment, perhaps, a crime - certainly not. He should instead be jailed on general principles.

OK, on that last bit I'm joking, I'm joking.

Congress ought to keep eyes peeled for black helicopters 

luscious salad

Reproducing enough of a P.J. O'Rourke piece in last month's Atlantic to get in the punch-line of the last paragraph,

Something that confirms all fears and many conspiracy theories about government is finding out what our elected representatives would put into law if they could. Especially if they have an item of must-pass legislation trapped like a foie gras goose and are able to force-feed it with as many special-interest provisions as they like. The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 - an alteration of the U.S. tax code that Congress was required to make to bring the United States into compliance with World Trade Organization agreements - is such an item.

... Congressman Charles Rangel (D- NY) succinctly characterized the bill: "It stinks to high heaven." It passed 280 to 141 in the House and 69 to 17 in the Senate.

Title I of the American Jobs Creation Act repeals the export subsidies in question. But the legislation continues for another 626 pages.

... Builders of U.S. warships can defer taxes on their profits until the ships are complete. ("All done now, Secretary Rumsfeld, except for the tippy-top of the mast. We'll get to that first thing in 2054.")

Among many, many other hornswoggles is tax relief for nascar track owners, ceiling-fan importers, archery-equipment purveyors, and fishing-tackle-box manufacturers. Plus, "sonar devices suitable for finding fish" are "not treated as sport fishing equipment." Meaning, I guess, that they can be deducted as office equipment.

On Capitol Hill, legislation carefully tailored to the needs of a tiny constituency is sometimes called a "Redheaded Eskimo." He is in the Jobs Creation Act under "expenses paid by certain whaling captains in support of Native Alaskan subsistence whaling."

... If I were a congressman who had voted for the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, I'd claim it was forced on our country by a sinister international organization. I'd announce that the face-pierced anti-globalization window-busters and the gun nuts with skinny sideburns and New World Order paranoia were on to something. And if the voters in my district ever actually read the bill, I'd hope that one of those UN black helicopters would come get me, quick.

Good god, g-d, god Bush 

So, while as noted in my last post, Bush is still justifying his mission in Iraq based on his incompetent misunderstanding that Saddam could kill 1,000,000 Americans, today, insurgents reportedly killed well over 100 Iraqis in a single event. OOPS!

Bush, Bush, Bush, oh Lordy my Bush, my Bush 

During a press conference just earlier this month, Bush still tried to claim UNSCR 1441 justified the invasion of Iraq.

The international community was convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction -- not just the United States, but the international community -- and had passed some 16 resolutions. In other words, diplomacy had -- they tried diplomacy over and over and over and over again. John was at the United Nations during this period. And finally, the world, in 1441 -- U.N. Resolution 1441 -- said, disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. This was not a declaration by the United States of America, it was a declaration by the United Nations Security Council -- and a 15-to-nothing vote, as I recall.

Bush, Bush, Bush. For point number zero, Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction or factories to build them. Capiche?

But for one, the "international community" was not convinced that Iraq had WMD - they were very concerned but uncertain during the formulation of UNSCR 1441, and after the inspectors gained access, still concerned but skeptical.

For another, Bush invaded Iraq to change the regime - something the UNSC not only didn't approve, but did not even discuss.

But in case he meant to be making the argument that UNSC authorized the disarming Iraq through military force, here is an explanation of why that understanding is not correct.

  1. UN Resolutions gain their authority through the member states who agree to it, of course. France, Russia, and China - all of whom hold veto power - attached a provisio to UNSCR 1441 stating that the resolution did not call for the "automaticity in the use of force." A provisio is something you attach to a document upon your agreement to it stating "I am agreeing to this upon the condition that it means ____."

    The text of the Proviso. Mexico, although not a signer to the proviso also joined in this understanding.

    This point is all Bush needs to understand, however I'll continue, only to explain why the understanding expressed in the proviso is correct.

  2. When an authorization of force is made, the language of the authorization is addressed to those to use force, not the belligerent. UNSCR 1441 is addressed to Iraq. Had it been been an address to the member states, it would have "called upon" those states to provide resources to enforce the resolution.

    The only language which could remotely be construed to refer to military force would be,

  3. "[The Security Council,] 13. Recalls, in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations;"

    "Facing" is something that Iraq does, not something the member states do. The "serious consequences" refer to the next action of the Security Council - which Iraq faces.

  4. If for some reason the above explanations don't sink into Bush's brain, I will allow someone else to finish out the explanation that the Resolution did not implicitly - far less explicitly - authorize use of force. March 6, 2003:

    Q: Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren't sure you have the vote?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I don't think -- it [the resolution the UK was circulating at the time] basically says that he's in defiance of 1441. That's what the resolution says. And it's hard to believe anybody is saying he isn't in defiance of 1441, because 1441 said he must disarm. And, yes, we'll call for a vote.

    Q No matter what?

    THE PRESIDENT: No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.


And of course, the US never called for the vote, because we knew an authorization of force would not pass. Contrary to Bush's 2004 campaign talking point, I suppose one doesn't always know where he stands based on were he says he stands.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

My empty bowl of potage fèves avec bacon; my empty ideology 

empty bowl of soup

Ayn Clouter skewers the liberal anti-logic of the introduction to my recent Francophile screed.

empty bowl of soup

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Genius discovers 9/11 was a crime against humanity 

Right now my blog's tagline is "to expose the raving horde of sudden political scientists generated on 9/11".

Look - there goes one now! Cinnamon Stillwell writes about her conversion in The Making Of A 9/11 Republican,

Having been indoctrinated in the postcolonialist, self-loathing school of multiculturalism ... I put aside the nagging question of why so many people all over the world risk their lives to come to the United States. Freedom of speech, religious freedom, women's rights, gay rights (yes, even without same-sex marriage), social and economic mobility, relative racial harmony and democracy itself were all taken for granted in my narrow, insulated world view.

So, what happened to change all that? In a nutshell, 9/11. The terrorist attacks on this country were not only an act of war but also a crime against humanity. It seemed glaringly obvious to me at the time, and it still does today. But the reaction of my former comrades on the left bespoke a different perspective. The day after the attacks, I dragged myself into work, still in a state of shock, and the first thing I heard was one of my co-workers bellowing triumphantly, "Bush got his war!" There was little sympathy for the victims of this horrific attack, only an irrational hatred for their own country.

As I spent months grieving the losses, others around me wrapped themselves in the comfortable shell of cynicism and acted as if nothing had changed. I soon began to recognize in them an inability to view America or its people as victims ... I, on the other hand, for the first time in my life, had come to truly appreciate my country and all that it encompassed, as well as the bravery and sacrifices of those who fight to protect it.

Translation: I realized I was an arrogant cuss. But also discovered I have the chutzpah to project my pomposity onto an imaginary group of Americans I like to pretend are even more small-minded than I! I go as far as fantasizing that this group tacitly supports the 9/11 attacks!

Men in cahoots discuss men in black 

Rush Limbaugh had Mark Levin on his show earlier this month. Levin is author of "Men in Black", a new book about the evil men and women of the Supreme Court. Here, the motivation for writing the book was discussed, some emphasis added for easy scanning,

RUSH: ...We'll get into what's in the book, but what was it that caused you at this point in your life to do to want this?

LEVIN: Well, you know, the book is written for the public, not for you know, Main Street, not for Harvard square. It's for regular Americans so they can understand what's happening to their government, how the Supreme Court is disenfranchising them and what they can do about it. There's really not a year that goes by, Rush -- and you talk about it all the time -- when there's some case that comes down, some decision that is really shocking to the American people, whether it's conferring rights on terrorists or conferring benefits on illegal immigrants and on and on and on. So I thought it was time to really dissect this, really get into this -- especially since we're about to have a major battle over the Supreme Court when the president nominates one, two or three justices in the future. So I'm really trying to arm people who are interested in this subject with information so they can take it to their representatives and participate in this fight.

RUSH: That's the point. The point is you're trying to affect the knowledge of the American people so that they can then influence the people they elect to then wield that influence in a productive way. This is something you're aiming right at the hearts and minds of the people in the arena of ideas.

LEVIN: Yeah. I mean, you know, the public stands there. We watch these left-wing groups savage one outstanding judicial candidate after another. We stand there and we watch the Supreme Court issue one outrageous policy decision after another ...

So the book is to "affect the knowledge" not of "Main Street" Americans but of "regular Americans". OK, whatever. But let's look at the makeup of the court that hands down one "outrageous" decision after another while "left-wing" groups obstruct outstanding judicial nominees,

Oh, my! Seven of the nine of the sitting justices authoring "really shocking" decisions are Republican appointees! How shocking!

There is nothing traditional or conservative about a movement that disparages both the "left" and a governmental institution seven-ninths of which was built by Republican presidents over the last 35 years.

Sure, anybody has the right to disagree with Supreme Court decisions - and to be vocal about it, but to place blame by implication on "left-wing" groups is ludicrous. That Rush Limbaugh embraces this dolt as the "director our legal division here at the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies" is proof positive that the Republican party has recently been co-opted by extremists who are using the party as a tool to implement their radical agenda.

Case closed.

My answer 

A substitute on the Rush Limbaugh show yesterday asked listeners to rank four ideals - Liberty, Freedom, Justice, Peace. After searching the depths of my psyche, I can now lay bare the depths of my soul this profound wingnut exercise has revealed,

  1. Liberty Bell Ale
  2. Free Domino's pizza
  3. Piece of blueberry pie
  4. Poetic justice

Friday, February 25, 2005

I blame Terri Schiavo 

So for now, Terri Schiavo's feeding tube will soon be removed.

The primary person who could have done something to avoid the legal mess was Terri Schiavo - by having an advance directive making her desires clear - whether to be artificially kept alive or not, or transferring the decision to another party. I'm not saying she should have anticipated her parent's selfish act of challenging the authority of the marriage license. Just that we have advance directives for a reason.

Perhaps her parents and the Florida legislature would have challenged the authority of an advance directive as well the marriage license, but the controversy has been driven by public opinion - both camps of the family playing the media like a cacophonous fiddle. Had she had an advance directive, it may have been a clear-cut case that her body ought to be sustained, or not.

It was never the public's rightful business to have an opinion on whether she should be allowed to die or not, nor was it the Florida legislature's place to try to claim the right to make medical decisions for one of their citizens. Our obligation is to support the rule of law. One can't help but wonder if the "pro-lifers" thought through the implications of the legislature's effort to make a "special law" declaring sovereignty over a citizen's life or death.

If any good comes out of things, perhaps it will be the nation considering humane alternatives to death's natural course in a new light.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

What I learned by being a pig for a day 

Things I learned from my extreme dining experience yesterday,

Saturday, February 19, 2005

I feel like I ate a horse 

Definitions which may help you better read the following:

  1. 8:30 am: Spyhouse: coffee shop: Earl Grey

    I met Nick and Kella here to start the adventure. The goal was for me to eat at every restaurant on Eat Street between Franklin and Lake that has a door opening onto Nicollette Ave (AKA "Eat Street") - all two dozen of them. Nick would write an article for the Whittier Globe, I would make a weblog entry. The geographical constraints were dictated by the boundaries of the Whittier neighborhood. This was that day I was to be twenty-four times as likely to get food poisoning and the day I would eat the equivalent of three eight course meals.

  2. 9:32 am: McDonald's: billions served: breakfast burrito

    Pictured in the inset is a child who seemed like he could have had his picture taken all day. He experienced complete ecstacy when Kella showed him what he looked like in her videocam's view area. He had introduced himself to us by exclaiming, "Baby? No baby!" when he overheard me ask Kella if she'd like her own baby.

  3. 9:52 am: Yummy: Pan-Asian: steamed pork wontons

    Awesome: pork, shrimp and fish eggs. Inexpensive: $2.20.

    First time I've eaten in this relatively new establishment. I will be returning. They have tanks of live eel and crab, both of which I really like to eat after someone has cooked them.

  4. 10:19 am: Bubble Tea: Bubble tea house: coconut milk tea

    Not "coconut milk" tea, but coconut, soy milk, tea and tapioca pearls - chilled. Can't really go wrong with that.

  5. 10:41 am: Sinbad's: Middle Eastern: date cookie, pistachio cookie

    Inset is Freddie. Sinbad's is a Middle Eastern grocery store with great prices, as is the case with most ethnic groceries here. Sinbad's makes their own pastries and bread and have a restaurant which serves a buffet daily. The restaurant consists of tables and chairs in the front of the store in place of aisles. Freddie encouraged us all to dance, snapping our fingers with palms facing upwards like ... well, like he was dancing to Arab pop music.

  6. 11:27 am: Quang Restaurant: SE Asian: spring rolls, Hmong red bean drink

    This is the restaurant I usually argue for when going out for pho. Extensive but not overbearing menu, excellent pho and cold noodle salads, great prices, comfortable booths, fast, polite and efficient service. This restaurant is unique among the pho shops on Nicollette in that it is just as popular with ethnic Asians as ethnic Minnesotans. I usually get the pho with meatballs and beef tripe or mock duck noodle salad, but was going light.

    Jamie and his daughters Ivey and Ursula joined us.

    I enjoy the heck out of Hmong red bean drink (its a dessert, not a beverage) and its nothing like you would expect: its creamy and sweet, not "beany" at all although it does contain both soybean milk and actual beans. I also enjoy what they sell under the name "sandwich": french bread, lunch meat, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro. Two bucks - they have them to go by the cash registers. Picked one up for later.

    Update, next day: They've changed the recipe for "sandwich": it is now a medley of the ingredients, chopped. The sprig of cilantro is still whole. I like this better - one of the lunch meats included used to fight back when you tried to bite it apart.

  7. 12:27 pm: Java: Middle Eastern: herb pot soup

    I forget the vegetable name - something like "mlooka" - its like spinach but firmer. The herbs were mostly dill or a spice very like dill - at least that is what I detected.

  8. 12:56 pm: Old Arizona: SW American cafe: oatmeal crasin cookie

    I wasn't even aware this place existed - attached to the Old Arizona center for performing arts. As its their off-season and they were only open due to tap dancing tryouts, the menu was limited. The cookie was good.

    old arizona
  9. 1:13 pm: Pho Tau Bay: SE Asian: beef and young papaya strips

    I refer to this place as "the airplane pho place" as it has a line drawing of an airplane on the menu and used to have a huge photo of an airplane as part of the decoration. Nick always calls is "Pho Tau Bay" in a caricatured Vietnamese accent. The menu is much like Quang, but I just like Quang more - service is not as friendly here, although not exactly unfriendly. This was a very pleasing dish though. Immature papaya is more like a lettuce heart or cabbage than ripe papaya.

    pho tau bay
  10. 2:12 pm: Harry Singh's: Caribbean: chicken wings

    Harry Singh is the proprietor. This was the first time any of us had eaten here since it moved to Eat Street and the first time anyone had had the wings. They were great! Somewhat like jerk sauce, but distinctly different - maybe somewhere between jerk and mole sauces. Harry would not tell us what was in it - "You couldn't make it even if I told you and even if you could you'd then have no reason to come back. I have no reason to tell you."

    This is a really fun place to eat - the service is very welcoming and Harry's son Rob - pictured - is always so friendly, it doesn't even make sense to wonder if he remembers you, you may safely assume you are his most valued customer ever.

    harry singh's
  11. 2:59 pm: Christo's: Greek: chilled octapodi

    Tender; good marinade. When given the choice between squid and octopus, I almost always choose squid. But was in the mood for tentacles and there were no appetizer size squid. Being that we were on the verge of half-way though, this was one of my last chances for an appetizer.

  12. 3:48 pm: Blue something: bubble tea: thai tea shake

    I don't remember the exact name of the place, and see no reason to. They were out of tapioca balls, and when trying to ask what was in the drink, they couldn't tell me if it had actual coconut milk in it or not. Whatever I ended up ordering - which contained the words coconut, tea and milk wasn't very good - actually not good at all. Tasted like 1 part regular milk, 1 part water with some instant coffee and sugar. The Air Supply video on the flat panel made the experience a bit interesting though.

    made me blue
  13. 4:00 pm: Taste of New York: NYC style pizza by the slice: spinach and mushroom pizza

    I had feared all the cheese would fill me up, and I did feel uncomfortably full for an hour afterwards. Let's hear it for self-fulfilling prophecies.

    taste of new york
  14. 4:31 pm: Evergreen: Taiwanese: hot and sour soup, garlic and ginger seaweed

    This is an excellent and inexpensive place. Everything is prepared with excruciating attention to detail. Enjoyed my food immensely despite being somewhat full from the pizza. If you are feeling under the weather, you can describe your symptoms and have soup custom prepared for you. Once, Nick and I described symptoms to get soup-to-go for a sick friend - we were asked "Is your friend man or woman?"

    It may be a bit hard to find, so a hint: it is in the basement of a mall on the same side of the street as McDonald's between 24th and 26th streets - on Nicolette, of course.

  15. 5:17 pm: Azia: Pan-Asian: cranberry cream cheese wontons

    First time I ate at this relatively new and potentially spendy place. The cranberry cream cheese wonton's reputation had preceded them and they lived up to it. This location has had a new restaurant in it every few years since I moved to Minneapolis in the early 90's. Looks like Azia may be a keeper. A lot of attention is given to atmosphere and presentation.

  16. 5:49 pm: Jasmine Deli: Americanized SE Asian: BBQ pork sandwich

    The sandwich was very good and the proprietor - who sat with us - was very friendly in an outgoing way and very proud of his business. He picked our minds about what we liked about the food on Eat Street and noted he felt his was the best a few times. He also noted that the clientele are almost exclusively ethnically Minnesotan and told us he had spent a lot of effort determining what Americans like and what they don't like. He responded to my offer that I do like tripe in my pho - his response - "Yes, but you can't go more than maybe 10%." He is right - I should have more accurately said "I like a little tripe in my pho."

    jasmine deli
  17. 6:25 pm: Seafood Palace: Chinese: back pepper and salt broiled quail

    You will get real Chinese food here, not Americanized - so I've heard. The menu items are different than most American Chinese restaurants - whole pieces of meat and dishes containing almost exclusively of one vegetable. I've only eaten here three or maybe four times.

    The quail was very good: perfectly crispy and flavorful.

    seafood palace
  18. 6:52 pm: Pho 79: SE Asian: coconut desert drink with tropical fruit

    I tried to order the drink, but the guy wouldn't let me.

    "To go?"
    "For here, I'm just having a snack."
    "Not have that here."
    "You mean even that one in the glass glass?"
    "First you eat."

    When he came around again, Nick started to try to explain what we were doing, but he ran off again. I caught up with him at the cash register and told him I'd take one to go. Everybody felt quite jarred by the exchanges - the same guy had been running around in a state of hurried irritation a few weeks ago when we had gone around to write down hours each restaurant was open. See "Caravelle" entry further down.

    pho 79
  19. 7:31 pm: Rainbow: Chinese: chicken and corn soup, Rainbow Martini

    Rainbow is very good, but on the opposite end of the spectrum of Chinese food from Seafood Palace. Almost exclusively white clientele, and offers the Americanized version of Chinese food: heavier sauces, most of them sweet and sour.

    My chicken and corn (that is, maize) soup was good, but good like American corn chowder is. The Rainbow Martini is fresh ginger in Finlandia vodka. I enjoy their chow fun and would have ordered it had I not felt that I could tell there was little space left for burps between my mouth and what it had already eaten.

  20. 8:10 pm: Caravelle: SE Asian: fortune cookie

    Caravelle and Pho 79 share the same kitchen. Both had closed early due to the snowy conditions. We ate fortune cookies while the hostess cleaned up and politely explained that there was a rule that customers couldn't just come in and order coffee or just dessert. This could have been explained as politely in Pho 79 as it was in Caravelle.

    My fortune read, "It is easier to be critical than to create." Apparently designed with restaurant reviewers in mind.

  21. 8:27 pm: Pancho Villa: Mexican: flan, Corona beer

    Our server was perhaps the most appreciative of our expedition. The flan went down surprisingly easily.

    There was a soccer game on - as well as a boxing match. We discussed American football vs football. After spending some time trying to make sense of soccer's "offsides" rule and not understanding it, I wondered aloud if just as many non-Americans are convinced they'd still dislike American football had the been born here as there are natural born Americans convinced they would not despise the sport had they been born elsewhere. We didn't come to a consensus, but all agreed that Bush could never have won a single election had he worn a hat and moustache like Emiliano Zapata.

    pancho villa
  22. 10:11 pm: Porter's: Bar and Grill: bacon, Newcastle Ale

    Being as this is the only restaurant besides McDonald's we went to that is distinctly American, I tried to order the most American thing I could find on the menu: coleslaw. They were out, so I settled for bacon.


In addition to Caravelle closing, one pho place had closed before we got to it. Other than that, we succeeded. More later.

February 19, a day which will live in gluttony 

Today is the anniversary of the day FDR ordered the internment of Japanese Americans. In celebration thereof, my friend Nick and I will be eating at the 24 Jap restaurants on Eat Street between Franklin and Lake. Well, not all of them are Japs, there's a couple of Mexican ones. Same thing, they all eat too much rice.

My friend Nick is one-quarter Jap, so I'm not really generalizing or being racist here.

I don't think its going to be too daunting of a task although Nick does, thus the early start. Its just like a quarter Jap to want to get up so early. We're not going to be having full meals at each, just like egg rolls or a bowl of soup. As a matter of course, I eat following in one sitting because I am hungry,

Twenty-four tiny meals seems to me just like eating a 20" double cheese pizza twice in the same day, except spread out over the whole day. I think it will be easy. This is for an article in a neighborhood newspaper, its not just madness unto itself. I'll be donating any money I make to some sort of hunger charity.

So stand by for pictures - I've demanded that I be able to come home for whatever Chinamen call a siesta.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Unintended consequences 

Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision and War Helps Recruit Terrorists, Hill Told, Intelligence Officials Talk Of Growing Insurgency

I could have told them that. Er, wait. I did. On March 28, 2003.

Proliferation Brief had more details, dateline March 26, 2003,

What lesson will North Korean or Iranian leaders draw from the war? Will they curtail their nuclear ambitions, or speed them up?

If inspections had been given a chance to work, if Hussein had been disarmed without war, it would have been seen as a tremendous victory for Bush and as the world's enforcement of international treaties.

This is now Bush's War, a highly personal vendetta and exercise in raw power. Worse, to justify war, the Bush administration has disparaged inspections, thus undercutting future applications in Iran or North Korea.

Today's prognostication. Sign up for news alerts on Kirkuk for a preview of Iraq's post-electoral direction.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

This man could get away with murder 

Meet new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. He may be a competent and very nice fellow, I don't know much about him. But if the Real ID Act passes in the Senate as it did in the House last week, he could literally get away with murder.

First, what the Real ID Act isn't: it is not a law requiring all Americans to get a "national ID card".

What it is: a law requiring state IDs to conform to national standards so they can be used with all interactions with the federal government. I say sure, great idea - not that it will, but this has the potential to make government more efficient. On a personal level, I'd rather keep track of just my driver's license than a driver's license and Social Security card. If you don't want one, get rid of your driver's license. Problem solved.

But here's what else it is: a get out of jail free card for the Secretary of DHS.

 Section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and
 Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (8 U.S.C. 1103
 note) is amended to read as follows:
  '(c) Waiver-
   '(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision
of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the
authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary,
in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to
ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads
under this section.
   '(2) NO JUDICIAL REVIEW- Notwithstanding any other
provision of law (statutory or nonstatutory), no court shall
have jurisdiction--
     '(A) to hear any cause or claim arising from any action
undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of
Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1); or
    ' (B) to order compensatory, declaratory, injunctive,
equitable, or any other relief for damage alleged to arise
from any such action or decision.'.

Breaking the legalese down,

The Secretary of Homeland Security shall ignore all laws which, in his sole judgment may slow up the construction of barriers and roads at the border. No one can challenge his judgments in court in any way whatsoever. He can do anything he wants to get those barriers and roads up and you have no rights. He is completely and legally above the law.

Said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in the floor debate over the bill,

"If this provision, the waiver of all laws necessary for quote improvements of barriers at the border was to become law, the Secretary of Homeland Security could give a contract to his political cronies that had no safety standards, using 12-year-old illegal immigrants to do the labor, run it through the site of a Native American burial ground, kill bald eagles in the process, and pollute the drinking water of neighboring communities. And under the provisions of this act, no member of Congress, no citizen could do anything about it because you waive all judicial review."

Creation scientists pinpoint impediment 

From a paper published by the Institute for Creation Research,

"A second cause for the lack of creationist astronomy is the lack of Biblical specifics."

In other words, if something is not in their Theory of Everything, creation "scientists" can't study it. This results in a cascade of avalanches which further handicap the discipline, for instance having to perform all night study by candlelight.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

North Korea catching up in the arms race, but America is still far superior to France 

When I first heard the big news about N. Korea's big bombs, I wanted to make a post, "So it appears we invaded the only member of the Axis of Evil which was not developing nuclear weapons," but went to find out how to say "Axis of Evil" in French and never got around to making the post.

But I'll now tell you a bit more about France and America.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

4 percent optimistic cowboys, 96 percent shysters 

While reading the following, keep in mind that there is one man who can alone limit discretionary spending: the president. Government cannot spend a single discretionary dime without his signature.

And my point of view I make in Washington, and that I want you to help me on is, we can meet priorities: we can fund education and good conservation programs; we can fulfill our commitment to the elderly; we can make Social Security is safe and secure today and around tomorrow for the younger folks. We can do all that -- (applause) -- by growing the discretionary account at 4 percent and still have meaningful tax reductions.
August 21, 2001

To achieve these great national objectives -- to win the war, protect the homeland, and revitalize our economy -- our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term, so long as Congress restrains spending and acts in a fiscally responsible manner. (Applause.)
January 29, 2002

I will send you a budget that increases discretionary spending by 4 percent next year -- about as much as the average family's income is expected to grow. And that is a good benchmark for us. Federal spending should not rise any faster than the paychecks of American families. (Applause.) January 28, 2003

I have proposed a 4-percent increase in discretionary spending for this year's budget. It's about equal to the increase of the average family budget. If it's good enough for American families, it ought to be good enough for the appetite of some of the congressmen.

January 20, 2004

It's also interesting to note that the (Applause) from the above quotes are from Congress - the quotes were taken from State of the Union addresses. So our entire body of elected officials are applauding keeping spending down. But nobody does it.

The "4 percent increase" mantra has been repeated and repeated and repeated again. Let's look at the White House's Office of Management and Budget's data to see how effective they've been (Excel spreadsheet hist08z7.xls).

  2001 2002 2003 [2004 estimate] [2005 estimate]
Discretionary spending
(in $millions)
649,326 734,328 825,705 908182 914000
% increase -- 15% 14% 10% 0.06%
(I'll believe the estimate when
I see the actual numbers)

The "4% mantra" has persisted throughout the two wars - defense spending is included in "discretionary spending". Even assuming they inaccurately mean "non-defense discretionary spending" when they say "discretionary spending",l their record is dismal:

  2001 2002 2003 [2004 estimate] [2005 estimate]
Discretionary spending (non-defense)
(in $millions)
343,258 385,383 420,759 456,585 465,803
% increase -- 12% 9% 10% 2%
(I'll believe the estimate when
I see the actual numbers)

So they've failed horribly. My skepticism about their "estimates" is not based solely on a lack of faith, rather it's mostly based on their horrid track record for estimating economic and financial data: their projected budget deficits, projected job growth, cost of the Iraq war. There are only two possibilities: they are incompetent or being intentionally deceptive. Given that the White House has tremendous resources for making these types of projections and their consistently overly optimistic projections, I favor the latter possibility.

Why increase spending on a program that is "going bankrupt"? 

A curious excerpt from Bush's 2001 State of the Union Address - he notes his budget proposed increasing spending for Social Security ...

We increase spending next year for Social Security and Medicare, and other entitlement programs, by $81 billion.
February 27, 2001

... and four years later he is issuing an alarmist warning that it's going bankrupt ... go figure.

Watch out for that reach 

Early on in Bush's first term, Ari Fleischer established this White House views the "reaching out" aspect of governing not as two-way communication and compromise, but the casting about to find people to pull along with their agenda,

"I think it's called the essence of governing, is to ... is to reach out to the voters, to talk to them, so they agree with the Presidential agenda"
- Ari Fleischer 3/5/2001

Four years later,

"The President will continue to reach out, and it's important for other people to reach back, as well, so that we can focus on what's best for the American people."
- Scott McClellan 12/3/2004

And reaching out he is,

"I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals." - George Bush 11/4/2004

"I will listen to anyone who has a good idea to offer." - George Bush 2/5/2005

Maybe they also calculate Bush would not consider growth in wages as economic growth 

Brad DeLong points to a curiosity about the President's Council of Economic Advisors' report on Social Security. First, they claim that faster "economic growth" can not push forward a theoretical date the Social Security system may experience funding problems - because it "does not apply". Later in the same report, they present a calculation of exactly how much further out faster wage growth would push that date. (via Atrios).

Friday, February 04, 2005

Notes from the Kreationist Korner 

Thought I'd share a mondo smackdown to a creationist.

Creationist: In the 1980's, there were 4,294,967,296 people on earth and you can step back through the population doubling to arrive at 2 people about 6,000 years ago just as the Bible states. Here it is: ...


... About 4200 years ago, there were 2 to the 15th power (32,768) people on earth.


... About 6000 years ago, there were 2 (2 to the 1st power) people on earth. They were Adam and Eve.

Evolutionist: Now that is the biggest load of balderdash posted to this thread yet!

The Great Flood wiped out everyone but Noah and his family in 2349 BCE - 150 years before 4200 years ago. There is no way Noah's had 32,768 descendants in just 150 years!

While looking for the date Creationists figure God destroyed that which He saw as "good", I also happened across the date of Creation - as precisely calculated by Dr. John Lightfoot, (1602 - 1675): October 23rd, 4004 BCE at 9 am. Genesis 1:26-31 states that God created man on the 6th day. So I share a birthday, October 29th, with Adam and Eve. I'm special. Someone offer up a burnt offering to me.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

White House ignores my problem 

The Bush/Cheney '04 campaign is still sending me the campaign news I signed up for. I just received this from Ken Mehlman,

President Bush is committed to keeping the promise of Social Security for today's seniors while strengthening Social Security for our children. In his State of the Union speech speech the President discussed his plan to save Social Security for younger workers by allowing them the choice to set aside portions of their salary in personal accounts so they can start creating their own nest egg for retirement. The Social Security benefits for those at or near retirement will not change.

I don't disagree with anything mentioned in it: Although supporters of this particular plan do not assert this plan will necessarily result in greater benefits for younger workers, some sort of choice about a private account may work out great for future generations without affecting seniors. My objection concerns those unmentioned: those of us in generations between "our children" and current seniors.

I like the idea of having a private account for retirement 

I believe having a personal account through which I can invest in the stock market to save for retirement is a great idea. In fact, I like the idea so much that I'm already doing it and don't really need a law to force me to put in more. This doesn't mean I'm adverse to the idea of having control over a portion of what I pay into SS, but control is what I want - control over my retirement: The Social Security aspect of my plan is something to fall back on which I know will always be there..

In principle, a government administered investment fund is not a bad idea: if you make it easier for people to save their own money for retirement, more will. But the time to consider allowing individual control over a portion of SS payments would be when the system has an anticipated surplus - not an anticipated deficit.

Bush has a line that goes something like, "Don't believe any lies that you should worry if you're over fifty-five. Nothing is going to change for you." They don't have to worry - no changes for them, fine. But despite the fact I'm only 37, I've already been paying into the system for two decades. What does Bush want to change about it for me? I've been paying into the system for 20 years, and expect to receive all of what's been promised me in exchange. Or, if he's going to also promise no change in payments to me, he needs to show where my payments are going to come from if workers younger than me are putting my promised payments into their private accounts instead.

So this is exactly what Bush is saying to me, paraphrased: When you retire, there won't be enough money going into the system to make the payments promised you. So my solution is for workers younger than you to put in even less.

Josh Marshall is keeping track of Republicans against and Democrats for privatization - in the Senate, it's already reasonably close to 50/50 support/dissent even if you assume all the Republicans who will dare go against Uncle Bush's wishes have already dared to publicly state their opposition. And most of the Democrats who Marshall lists in the "fainthearted faction" seem more to be voicing support for the principle, not support for the proposal.

CNN: "Oops, yeah, I guess we had our finger on the scale" 

From a post SOTU address CNN poll,

The strong positives for the president's policies may in part be a reflection of the poll's sample. Of the 485 people surveyed, 52 percent identified themselves as Republicans, 25 percent as Democrats and 22 percent as independents.

UPDATE: CNN has updated the the article so as to accurately present the group being polled: those who watched the speech, not Americans in general. That's two posts in a row where I've mentioned sloppy editing at the CNN desk which has later been corrected - the link to a video report about the Iraqi vote only shared a title with a Nazi propaganda film for a few hours before it was changed to something inoffensive.

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