Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A gift of love

Washington Post - With Gratitude In Every Stitch
More than 7,900 "comfort quilts," each carefully stitched with love and gratitude, have been sent through the Quilts of Valor Foundation to the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed and 70 other U.S. military medical centers. Kallerson prays over and hands out quilts from church groups, schoolchildren, quilting bees.

[. . .]

"This is a gift from the heartland," Kallerson said. "Soldiers get CD players and iPods and DVDs, but this is the greatest gift of all. It comes from people's hearts. This is a simple thank you for your service."
I love to hear stories like this. As a quilter myself, I understand the time, effort and love that goes into making a quilt. Giving quilts to people who need them or who need to know that someone is thinking of them is one of the greatest joys I get from making quilts. It is truly a gift of love.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Senate to vote on minimum wage

Houston Chronicle - Senate clears way for minimum wage vote
The Senate cleared the way for an increase in the minimum wage Tuesday, but only with business tax breaks that House Democrats want removed.

Final Senate passage of the legislation is expected later this week, setting the stage for a round of difficult negotiations between House and Senate Democrats over how to get the legislation to President Bush for his signature.

In a key test, the Senate voted 87-10 to end debate on the bill Tuesday, well clear of the 60 votes needed.

Earlier this month, the House passed the same increase in the wage floor — from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over two years — without any tax provisions. Senate Democrats tried to push through the House version last week, but failed to get the 60 votes to end debate.
On the one hand, I hate to see a minimum wage increase tied to tax cuts for businesses. However, on the other hand, they seem to favor small business over big business, so I'm okay with that.

It must not be too bad a deal since corporate groups aren't happy about it:
To help pay for the tax breaks, corporations no longer would be able to deduct the cost of jury verdicts or settlements in liability suits against them and their executives' tax-deferred pay packages would be capped at $1 million a year.

The bill's business critics are especially annoyed that the tax benefits would be short-term while the provisions that pay for them would alter tax law for the long-term.

Record losses for Ford

BBC - Ford hit by record $12.7bn loss
Ford has reported a loss of $12.7bn (£6.5bn) for 2006 - the biggest annual loss in the embattled US carmaker's 103-year history.

A slump in sales, combined with major restructuring costs, saw the firm lose $5.8bn in the final three months of the year alone.

The iconic US carmaker has been struggling in the face of competition from Japanese rivals such as Toyota.

Ford has plans to close 16 factories in North America and cut 45,000 jobs.

The company, which is currently the second-biggest carmaker in the US, may be overtaken by Toyota in its domestic market later this year, reports have suggested.
I saw this story the other day and never commented on it. Every time I have heard a Ford truck commercial since then I've thought about this article. The commercials say "the best selling truck in America" and I think, "maybe you should stick to selling trucks, then."

Every time the commercials say "Built Ford tough" I think, "well that's just redundant, now isn't it?" Why is it necessary to say a Ford is built as tough as a Ford? Ah well, I'm obviously not the target demographic for those commercials anyway.

New Find Near Stonehenge

CNN - Stonehenge workers' village found
Archaeologists have uncovered what may have been a village for workers or festival-goers near the mysterious stone circle Stonehenge in England.

The village was located at Durrington Walls, about two miles from Stonehenge, and is also the location of a wooden version of the stone circle.

[. . .]

The researchers speculated that Durrington Walls was a place for the living and Stonehenge -- where several cremated remains have been found -- was a cemetery and memorial.
I didn't realize they had determined that Stonehenge was a cemetery. I guess I'm behind the times.
Durrington appears "very much a place of the living," Parker Pearson said. In contrast, no one ever lived at the stone circle at Stonehenge, which was the largest cemetery in Britain of its time. Stonehenge is thought to contain 250 cremations.
I guess you learn something new everyday.

Can it be done?

My husband emailed an article from The Nation to me this morning. It's called "The Way Down South" and it is about the Democrats finding a strategy to win votes in the South during the Presidential election and future Congressional elections. If you are a Democrat and interested in how this can be accomplished, the whole article is worth a read.

The article makes an excellent point about the need to differentiate from the opposition:
[Harold] Ford's loss was widely chalked up to race-baiting attack ads run by the Republican National Committee. But his defeat--like those of all but one of the Democrats' chosen candidates in the South last year--can also be viewed as a lesson in the limitations of Clintonian compromise. So can the results from the border South state of Kentucky, where self-described "liberal" John Yarmuth--whose pleas for national funds fell on deaf ears--pulled off a startling upset in the state's 3rd Congressional District by running a campaign that was the antithesis of Ford's. "The mistake Democrats have made here over the years is that they never provided a sharp contrast," says Yarmuth, who bested five-term Republican incumbent Anne Northup. "I said from day one, 'Anne and I are 180 degrees apart. If she believes something, I don't.' I was that clear. I wanted the voters to have a real choice and see where they'd go." They went with the frank-talking, antiwar, labor-loving candidate his own party considered too "liberal" to win.
The point of having two parties is to give voters a choice. When the choices are practically the same, apathy prevails.

There was really only one statement in the whole article that just struck me as stupid:
While no President had ever been elected without winning a sizable chunk of Dixie
That's funny, I don't remember President Lincoln taking "a sizable chunk of Dixie." He may possibly be the only exception, but it has obviously happened. Maybe they mean the modern United States with its current 50 state configuration, but that is not what it said. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Who should make the decisions?

NYT - Bush Directive Increases Sway on Regulation
President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

[. . .]

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The White House said the executive order was not meant to rein in any one agency. But business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

[. . .]

“Having lost control of Congress,” Mr. Strauss said, “the president is doing what he can to increase his control of the executive branch.”
I can see that the President should, in theory, have a lot of control over the branch of government of which he is the head. And, also in theory, the government is supposed to be run by those elected to office.

That being said, there are things that I believe are best left to experts to decide. The people don't always make the best choices for themselves and they certainly don't always make the best choices for others. In areas like health and safety, it seems fitting to have experts make the decisions, not politicians.

Additionally, this administration can't be trusted. It has been shown time and time again. Why should we trust it with more power over things that are so important? 2009 can't get here soon enough for me.

No Soup for You!

NYT - Europe Resists U.S. Push to Curb Iran Ties
European governments are resisting Bush administration demands that they curtail support for exports to Iran and that they block transactions and freeze assets of some Iranian companies, officials on both sides say. The resistance threatens to open a new rift between Europe and the United States over Iran.

Administration officials say a new American drive to reduce exports to Iran and cut off its financial transactions is intended to further isolate Iran commercially amid the first signs that global pressure has hurt Iran’s oil production and its economy. There are also reports of rising political dissent in Iran.
It is just always funny (ironic) to me that the answer to every problem is economic sanctions. I thought we believed in capitalism and the free market. And yet, the first answer is always to use economics as a weapon.

The idea is to hurt the economy in order to provoke the changes in political policy that we want to see. Instead, it hurts the average citizen of the country more than it hurts the rulers, because the rulers are more equipped to insulate themselves from the economic downturn.

I suppose this strategy might work if it were used on a democracy, where the people had some say in who govern and what the policies were, but we like to insist that Iran is not a democracy. Also, it doesn't surprise that the Europeans are reluctant to play along - it will hurt them economically as well. So, how is this going to help?

Monday, January 29, 2007

A SciFi Quiz

I am:
William Gibson
The chief instigator of the "cyberpunk" wave of the 1980s, his razzle-dazzle futuristic intrigues were, for a while, the most imitated work in science fiction.


Which science fiction writer are you?


I have no idea who this person is, but I like taking quizzes.

H/T: PoliSciFi

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Check it out

For those of you who love sports, check out this blog I found. It's called American Legends and it's all about sports. Have fun.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Chavez makes threats

CNN - Chavez may boot U.S. envoy from Venezuela
President Hugo Chavez warned the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela that he could be asked to leave the country after the envoy said U.S. companies and investors must receive a fair price for their shares of Venezuela's largest telephone company when it is nationalized.

"If you continue meddling in Venezuela's affairs, first of all, you are violating the Geneva agreements and getting yourself involved in a serious violation and could ... be declared a persona non grata and would have to leave the country," Chavez said Thursday, apparently in response to comments made earlier by William Brownfield.
[...]
U.S. officials have accused Chavez of becoming increasingly authoritarian and being a destabilizing force in Latin America. The Venezuelan leader repeatedly has accused Washington of scheming against his left-leaning government.
The nationalization of industries by socialist governments can be a breaking point for US diplomatic relations. That was certainly an issue when Castro did it in Cuba. However, I wouldn't expect to see the US envoy packing his bags anytime too soon.
Chavez, who has repeatedly called President Bush "a drunkard," "a donkey" and "the devil," has threatened to expel Brownfield before. In April, Chavez warned that Brownfield could be asked to leave after accusing him of provoking a confrontation by visiting a poor pro-government area where protesters beat on the ambassador's car and chased his convoy.
Chavez likes to make outrageous statements, and he has begun to act in some less than amicable ways, but I think he's still willing to talk at the moment. Plus, he doesn't have a powerful Soviet Union to fall back on like Castro did.

Joke of the Day

The President's Morning Briefing:

Gates briefed the President this morning.

He told Bush that 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq.

To everyone's amazement, all of the color ran from Bush's face, then he collapsed onto his desk, head in hands, visibly shaken, almost whimpering.

Finally, he composed himself and asked Gates: "Just exactly how many is a brazillion?"

H/T: My Aunt Charlotte, via e-mail.

Can I have your autograph Mr. President?

I found an interesting post over at The American Mind: Congressmen as Autograph Hounds and Groupies
After President Bush’s State of the Union speech a few Congressmen acted quite un-Congressman-like. President Bush walked out of the House of Representatives only to be barraged with requests for autographs. It’s like grown men and women were at baseball Spring Training begging players to sign their baseballs and cards.
I've never paid that much attention to the President leaving the House floor before, so I can't say with certainty if it is normal of the SOTU Address or not, but it certainly struck me as odd when I saw it.

The post also points out the behavior of Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann;
she attached her hand to President Bush’s shoulder and wouldn't let go for 30+ seconds. It appears she was using her “schoolgirl-crush moment” to try to get a photograph with Bush. But it also looked like she was too close to a person she has a deep crush on. She ended up kissing the President in a way that would make Laura flare slightly.
I must have missed the kiss, but I definitely noticed the shoulder holding move. I was beginning to wonder if she was ever going to let him go. The article links to a clip of the incident if you are interested in seeing it.

After viewing the clip, the kiss didn't seem that different from the person who kissed him just before her, but combined with the whole shoulder-holding thing it did seem very odd in total.

Partial lifting of martial law in Thailand

BBC - Thailand partly lifts martial law
Martial law has been lifted in more than half of Thailand, two months after the move was authorised, a government spokesman said.

The move means Bangkok and 41 of Thailand's 76 provinces are no longer under the special restrictions imposed in the wake of September's coup.
. . .
Martial law continues in northern and border provinces, including Chiang Mai.
The lifting of martial law would seem to be a step in the right direction, however:
While the military leadership has been under international pressure to lift martial law, in practice few Thais have felt the restrictions, correspondents say.
This gives the impression, and it is the impression I have gotten all along, that the coup was only viewed as a bad thing by a portion of the population, while the rest seemed largely unaffected. That doesn't give them a pass for what they have done, but it adds an element of complexity to the situation.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Unbelievable

Brian over at Flashpoint has an interesting post on Alabama state representative John Rogers, Jr. and the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus (ABLC). Check it out, it is definitely worth a read.

What's next?

CNN - New York to tout official city condom
NEW YORK (AP) -- Available soon: an official New York City condom.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration wants to reduce rates of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, and part of the strategy is the aggressive promotion of free condoms. Officials say more people will use them if they have jazzy packaging.

One idea is a subway theme, with maps on the wrappers.
Yeah, jazzy packaging with a subway theme, that will make all the difference. Who comes up with these ideas, really?

Revisiting the Hobbits

BBC - Hobbit cave digs set to restart
Archaeologists who found the remains of human "Hobbits" have permission to restart excavations at the cave where the specimens were found.

Indonesian officials have blocked access to the cave since 2005, following a dispute over the bones.

But Professor Richard "Bert" Roberts, a member of the team that found the specimens, told BBC News the political hurdles had now been overcome.
I remember reading about this find back in 2004. It is a very controversial subject. My time as an anthropology student leads me to doubt that any definitive answer will ever be found. As much as they like to believe they are being objective, it is always actually a very subjective process.

Hunter makes it official

CNN - It's official: Rep. Duncan Hunter kicks off presidential run
SPARTANBURG, South Carolina (AP) -- Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, best known for his advocacy on behalf of the military, launched a longshot bid for the presidency Thursday in this early voting state.

"Let's begin this race for the American presidency and let's win," Hunter, said, wrapping up 25 minute speech.
Yeah, good luck with that.
Hunter has been a familiar face on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon. Until Democrats took control of Congress this month, he was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the powerful panel that oversees military policy.

However, Hunter is little known outside of Congress and his San Diego district. He is a strong opponent of illegal immigration who wants fences extended along the U.S.-Mexico border and supports the prosecution of smugglers bringing illegal immigrants across the border.

Last week, Hunter filed a bill calling for a congressional pardon of two U.S. Border Patrol agents who are both serving more than a decade in prison for shooting a Mexican drug dealer as he fled, then covering up the crime.
So he's a supporter of the ridiculous fence idea and he supports covering up crimes. Sounds like the right man for the job to me. . .NOT!

I guess I'm just feeling a little sarcastic this morning. . .

Primary Fever

NYT - Big States’ Push for Earlier Vote Scrambles Race
As many as four big states — California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey — are likely to move up their 2008 presidential primaries to early next February, further upending an already unsettled nominating process and forcing candidates of both parties to rethink their campaign strategies, party officials said Wednesday.
. . .
The developments mark the latest upheaval in a political calendar already in disarray. The Democratic Party voted last year to allow Nevada and South Carolina to move their nominating contests into the narrow period at the beginning of the process that once was confined to just Iowa’s caucus and New Hampshire’s primary.

The developments mark the latest upheaval in a political calendar already in disarray. The Democratic Party voted last year to allow Nevada and South Carolina to move their nominating contests into the narrow period at the beginning of the process that once was confined to just Iowa’s caucus and New Hampshire’s primary.
It has always seemed unfair to me that Iowa and New Hampshire had so much pull in the nominating process. The idea of adding a state from the South and a state from the West to the early process makes sense. I really don't feel like New Hampshire and Iowa are necessarily representative of the views of the nation as a whole. I do feel like smaller states need some advantage in the process or else they get almost completely ignored. It seems like a difficult balance to strike.

The New Hampshire reaction seems almost childish, however:
But New Hampshire officials, protective of their first-in-the-nation primary status, have responded by saying they will schedule their primary as early as it takes, even before Jan. 1, to protect its traditional role. And no one seems to know where the scramble for influence among the states will end.
Early primaries do have a major impact on later voters and everybody wants to have a chance at influencing that impact. As a voter in Alabama, I've always felt like my vote in the Presidential primary was meaningless. Now that Alabama has moved its primary forward I have felt like the change has improved our position and increased the attention we receive from candidates, so I can understand NH not wanting to loose that power. But just insisting on continuing to move theirs forward if other get too close could escalate into utter nonsense.

Another interesting part of this whole process for me, considering my current study of party politics and candidate selection processes, is the loss of power the party is experiencing:
The developments suggest that the national parties are losing any control they have had over the calendar by which they will nominate presidential candidates in 2008.
. . .
It has sowed unease and confusion among campaign staff members as they have tried to measure its implications, and has prompted them to begin making moves now to prepare for a whole different nominating system.
I wonder what that last comment could foreshadow.

Update: For more commentary on the unfairness of the current system check out what Steven Taylor has to say on the subject over at Poliblog.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Uranium Smuggler Caught in Georgia

CNN - Russian smuggled nuclear-bomb uranium, officials say
Now before anyone gets too worked up, I'd like to make clear that it is the Republic of Georgia (the former Soviet Republic NOT the state next to Alabama).
Republic of Georgia authorities, aided by the CIA, set up a sting operation last summer that led to the arrest of a Russian man who tried to sell a small amount of nuclear-bomb grade uranium in a plastic bag in his jacket pocket, U.S. and Georgian officials said.

The operation, which neither government has publicized, represents one of the most serious cases of smuggling of nuclear material in recent years, according to analysts and officials.

The arrest underscored concerns about the possibility of terrorists acquiring nuclear bomb-making material on the black market, although there was no suggestion that this particular case was terrorist-related.
This is obviously very serious, even if it is in Eastern Europe not the Eastern United States. The penalty for the act is what actually surprised me the most:
The man was arrested and sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison on smuggling charges. His accomplices were sentenced on lesser charges.
Although the CIA was involved, the arrest took place in the Republic of Georgia and is therefore subject to their laws, I'm sure. It just seems to me that if such a thing had happened in the US, the person would be in Guantanamo right now and treated as a terrorist. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but it seems likely to me.

Real or Hoax?

BBC - 'Jungle girl' attempts to speak
A woman believed by some to have lived in the jungle for 19 years has tried to speak, says a Spanish psychologist who visited her in north-east Cambodia.

. . .

She was reportedly discovered 10 days ago, naked and scavenging for food in the forests of Rattanakiri province.

A family claims she is their daughter, Rochom P'ngieng, who went missing when she was eight.

They say they identified her from a scar on her arm.

But others are sceptical, saying she could be somebody with mental problems, or have gone missing more recently.
An interesting story, however, it seems unlikely to me that an 8 year old girl could have survived for that long all alone in the jungle.

The story continues:
He [the girls alleged father] has said he will have DNA tests taken to prove she is the daughter he lost when she disappeared while tending buffalo in 1988.
It will be interesting to see how the story develops. It would seem to me that even if this woman is their daughter, it doesn't necessarily mean that she had been in the jungle this whole time.

To Flea. . .Get over it!

BBC - Hendrix energy drink upsets fans
"To see his image and the beautiful feelings it has created in me cheapened by advertising is very disappointing," said Red Hot Chili Peppers star Flea.
I'll agree that it can be disappointing to have the music you know and love corrupted into the fallen art of advertising, but it happens everyday. It's not like it is some great tragedy that requires public lament. And personally it surprises me that Flea was so influenced by Hendrix. I mean really, Jimi Hendrix didn't feel the need to use the same rhyme all the way through every verse of his songs, did he?

Kerry Keeps His Hat

BBC - Kerry will not seek White House
Senator John Kerry, who lost to George W Bush in 2004, will not run for US president in 2008, he has said.

The Massachusetts Democrat had been thought to be considering another run, and had kept campaign staff and a fundraising operation in place.

But he would have faced an uphill battle for his party's nomination, given the likely candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

A visibly emotional Mr Kerry made the announcement on the Senate floor.
I think it is just as well that he's not running. I was not happy that he won the nomination last time around. If he couldn't beat Bush in 2004 he has no business running again.

The SOTU Address

I watched the State of the Union Address last night, but really didn't feel like I had enough to say about it to merit a blog post. I've thought about it some during the day today, and decided to make a brief commentary. Obviously, as one can find in multiple comments elsewhere, the President really had very little to say that was anything new or exciting. Give war a chance and all that. I was a little surprised to hear him refer to global warming as a serious threat after so many years of down-playing the issue, however.

The thing that stood out the most to me was just the pomp and circumstance of it all. I know this is always the case, but I think I was just especially paying attention this time. I spent a lot the time focused on Nancy Pelosi's reactions. She was obviously quite happy with the attention that she was rightly given at the beginning of the speech. Throughout the speech, even in places where she stood and clapped, her face was nearly expressionless (in fact, at times I wondered if she was chewing gum or just sucking on her teeth, I'm not sure what she was doing). The only time after the opening sequence that I saw her appear genuinely pleased was when Bush was introducing the "everyday heroes" in the audience. At that point she smiled like when she was introduced.

Anyway, back to the pomp and circumstance, the whole ordeal largely amounted to ceremonial rising and falling with the tide, at least the tide of one's party. It was like watching an Episcopal church service (stand, sit, stand, etc., but at least no one had to kneel). It all seemed so perfunctory.

I did like how Jim Webb, in the Democratic response, referenced Teddy Roosevelt. Pointing out that Republicans of the past had been willing to take on big business and do what was right for the lower classes.

Overall, however, the whole experience was less than exciting.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

News on The Class

For those of you who have been watching The Class, you may have noticed Holly Ellenbogen (played by Lucy Punch) was missing from last night's opening sequence. Apparently she has left the show (see The Class Drops a Mate). I, personally, am not too sad to see her go. She really didn't fit that well into the rest of the storylines. I wonder if she might still make some guest appearances as the producer says:
"Due to creative changes, Lucy Punch is no longer a cast member. She is a superb actress and did a fabulous job. We hope to work with her again in the near future."
Also, the article indicates that Perry, Holly's husband, will "stick around."

Monday, January 22, 2007

In case you were wondering

For those of you out there who are wondering who all has thrown their hat into the ring at this point (as so many have it is hard to keep up), I found this website that seems to have a comprehensive list of declared candidates (in bold) and possible candidates. There is an abundance of them.

A theory on Heroes

After tonight's episode, I'm wondering if Linderman actually knows about the heroes. It seems that if he wants to get as many of Issac's paintings as he can get and he has the sword that Hiro needs, it seems like he is too connected to whole thing to not know something. I'm thinking that maybe Linderman is the mystery guy that Claire's dad works for.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Manning gets his first Super Bowl

Manning caps Colts' title game comeback
A comeback, a drive, a legacy. And, yes - finally - Peyton Manning gets his Super Bowl trip. So does Tony Dungy.

Football's most prolific quarterback put on a show for the ages Sunday, rallying the Indianapolis Colts from 18 points down and driving them 80 yards for the winning score in a wildly entertaining 38-34 victory over the New England Patriots.
It was quite an exciting game. I went into the game not really pulling for either team, but before it was all over I was definitely anxious to see the Colts win it. The reasons:
1) I love to see a good comeback.
2) The Patriots have been to the Super Bowl too many times recently.
3) I wanted to see Manning get his much awaited Super Bowl.
4) I like the idea of both teams in the Super Bowl having an African American coach.

That we all may be one

An article in today's Washington Post caught my attention: Carter, Clinton Seek To Bring Together Moderate Baptists. The article talks about President Carter's desire to form a Baptist coalition that would rival the Southern Baptist Convention. He stresses the fact that he is not looking to form a wholly political group with a religious affiliation, but to change the image of Baptists in the world's mind.
"We hope . . . to emphasize the common commitments that bind us together rather than to concentrate on the divisive issues that separate us," Carter said. "There's too much of an image in the Baptist world, and among non-Christians, that the main, permeating characteristic of Christian groups is animosity toward one another and an absence of ability to cooperate in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood."
It was this particular part that struck me. I'm not a Baptist, I'm currently a member of the Episcopal Church, but the Episcopal Church has quite a bit of division within it at the moment as well. Today, in the "Prayers of the People" (a prayer lead by a lay reader and read responsively with the entire congregation) the prayer began:
Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church;
That we all may be one.
(Prayer of the People, Form III, page 387, Book of Common Prayer)
And this should be the desire of all good Christians, that we can put our differences aside and see the common thread that binds us. I don't know what political goals Carter and Clinton may have in mind for this new organization, there are some undoubtedly. I'm not sure how setting up a rival group will promote unity. But I do understand the desire to present a more tolerant image of the Baptist religion than the SBC gives. And, if the SBC is going to be political, which they obviously are, there is no reason this group can't do the same.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Are We Ready?

Washington Post - Far From a Hindrance, Gender Could Be Key for Clinton
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton enters the presidential arena as the most viable woman ever to seek the office and at a propitious moment.

More women hold elected office than ever before, and 9 million more women than men voted in the last presidential election. The New York Democrat's candidacy will test whether she can turn excitement over gender into a powerful political advantage.

"Over the last 35 years, the political climate has changed to make women more acceptable to Americans at all levels of office," said Ruth B. Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "And now, finally, the moment has arrived when we have a candidate ready to make that leap and a public that can see a woman in that role.
I agree that it is high time the United States elected a female president, at least in theory. Many countries less "developed" than we are have had female leaders. That said, I'm not willing to vote for Hillary just because she is a woman.

The articles continues:
"I like her because she's a Democrat and a woman, and it's time for a female president," said Rene Davis, 23, of Gloucester, N.J. "If I have a daughter, I want to know that she can run for president."
I don't think that it is right to vote against someone based on race, ethnicity, religion or gender, but I don't think it is right to vote for them for those reasons either. When it comes time to cast a vote, I think it should be based on the merit of the individual and I'm not yet convinced that Hillary is the right person for the office. Maybe she is, maybe she isn't, but just being a Democrat and a woman is not sufficient to merit my vote.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Issue Ads in the spotlight

CNN - High court takes 'issue ad' cases
Jumping into a heated free-speech dispute a year before the presidential primaries, the Supreme Court on Friday accepted a pair of appeals over a sweeping campaign-finance reform law that limits "issue ads."

Oral arguments in the cases will be held in late April, with a ruling expected by late June -- six months before the 2008 election officially kicks off with primaries and caucuses in such states as Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

The question for the high court is whether issue ads aired mainly on television -- and funded by businesses, labor unions, and other groups -- can be banned 60 days before a general election, and 30 days before a primary.

That restriction was a key part of the McCain-Feingold congressional bill setting strict limits on political spending and the message behind it.

The issue ads are widely used to promote particular causes such as environmental protection or tax reform, and they specifically cannot endorse or even mention any particular candidate or political party.
I have to admit that I was not familiar with that part of the McCain-Feingold bill. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

World's oldest woman dies at 115

BBC - World's oldest woman dies at 115
Julie Winnefred Bertrand was born 16 September 1891 in the Quebec mill town of Coaticook near the US border.

She was officially proclaimed the world's oldest woman, and the second oldest person, after the death of American Elizabeth Bolden in December.

She passed away quietly in her sleep in the retirement home where she had lived for the last 35 years, her nephew said.
She was older than my great-grandmother who was born in 1897 and passed away in 1986. The thing that I found most interesting about the story was this line:
She never married but she had suitors, said her niece Elaine Sauciere.
I was always impressed that my great-grandmother lived alone as a widow for 30 years, but for a woman of that generation to have lived her entire life without being married is impressive.

An Invitation

But an invitation to what? An arms race or treaty talks?

NYT - Flexing Muscle, China Destroys Satellite in Test
China successfully carried out its first test of an antisatellite weapon last week, signaling its resolve to play a major role in military space activities and bringing expressions of concern from Washington and other capitals, the Bush administration said yesterday.

Only two nations — the Soviet Union and the United States — have previously destroyed spacecraft in antisatellite tests, most recently the United States in the mid-1980s.

Arms control experts called the test, in which the weapon destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite, a troubling development that could foreshadow an antisatellite arms race. Alternatively, however, some experts speculated that it could precede a diplomatic effort by China to prod the Bush administration into negotiations on a weapons ban.
It is kinda funny to me that the US likes to act like everyone else is causing the problems and we are just so virtuous and peace-loving, when in reality others are often just reacting to the threat we are posing in the international arena.
In late August, President Bush authorized a new national space policy that ignored calls for a global prohibition on such tests. The policy said the United States would “preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space” and “dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so.” It declared the United States would “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”
The logic seems to be that the world should just trust us to do whatever we want, where ever we want, but few others in the world should be granted that freedom. Hypocrisy!

Amusing

I was checking out some of the new features since I upgraded my blog template. Before if I clicked on a label that had more posts than would fit on the page there seemed to be no way to view the older posts. Now, with the upgrade, there is a link at the bottom of the page to the older posts. I was checking it out by looking at the posted labeled "personal interest" because there are so many of them. Anyway, when I got to this post I was amused by the picture of U2 at the bottom of the post. It just stuck me that it looks like Bono's crotch is offering a shining light to the world.

On a related note, I thought of a novelty t-shirt idea yesterday. It would say: "Help! My mind has fallen into the gutter and I can't get it out!"

Odd coincidence or crooked politician?

You decide. WaPo - Identity of Edwards Home's Buyers Veiled: Assisted-Living Magnates in SEC Probe Paid Candidate $5.2 Million
The grand 18th-century house had lingered on Washington's slowing real estate market for more than 18 months. The Edwardses paid $3.8 million in 2002 for the six-bedroom Federal-style house once owned by socialite Polly Fritchey, and they did substantial renovations. The final sale price was half a million dollars below the asking price but still $1.4 million more than the Edwardses paid four years earlier.
Okay, there is nothing wrong with making a profit when you sell your house. Everyone hopes (expects) to do that. He even sold it for less than his original asking price, which sounds quite reasonable if the house had been on the market for a year and a half without moving. The man wants to run for president and he needs the money. Sounds reasonable. But then there is the issue of the buyers:
The wealthy founders of the nation's largest assisted-living housing chain for seniors, the Klaassens are currently cooperating with a government inquiry in connection with accounting practices and stock options exercised by them and other company insiders. They are also the focus of legal complaints by some of the same labor unions whose support Edwards has been assiduously courting for his presidential bid.
. . .
Edwards was told the Klaassens' name "in passing" around the time the offer came in on Dec. 18, Palmieri said last night, but he did not investigate further and had no knowledge of their business until a reporter's inquiry Wednesday. Palmieri said Edwards had not delved into the Klaassens' background: "They left it to be done at arm's length, real estate agent to real estate agent."
One could still make the argument that nothing is afoul here. Who does background checks on the people they are selling their homes to? And why would Edwards want to make a deal that could potentially hurt his image with his desired constituency? He must be telling the truth that he didn't pay any attention to who they were, right? But then you get the kicker:
Edwards has run into controversy once before on a house sale. In 2002, he reached a deal to sell a Washington house to a U.S. lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and then refused to give back the lobbyist's $100,000 earnest money when the deal collapsed. At the time of the sale, the Saudis were trying to improve their image in Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Edwards was serving on the Senate intelligence committee.

Edwards said he did not know the buyer was a Saudi lobbyist until after the deal had fallen through.
So this sort of thing has happened before, with a similar excuse attached? One would think that if he had this same problem in the past he would pay closer attention to who he is selling to a second time around. Politicians can't expect to just behave like average people and not be scrutinized for it. They really need to show exceptional judgement, especially if they are trying to differentiate themselves from the current administration, which I would assume Edwards would be trying to do. This may not be a deciding factor in the primary campaign. I don't now how the public will react to the news, but it does make me have sincere doubts about his use of better judgement.

Is Corn Oil Deadly?

Apparently it can be if it is injected into one's buttocks. CNN reports: Beautician gets 15 years for deadly Mazola injection
A former beautician who injected cooking oil into a woman's buttocks as an anti-aging treatment, killing the client, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Martha Mata Vasquez, 39, who pleaded no contest in October to involuntary manslaughter, practicing medicine without a license and fraud, apologized during Wednesday's sentencing hearing.

"I'm very sorry to my family, and I'm sorry to them (the victims and their families)," the married mother of two said.

Vasquez had charged clients up to $1,400 for each injection of Mazola corn oil, claiming the "French polymer" treatment would reduce wrinkles, prosecutors said.
One has to wonder, why did she use Mazola corn oil? Did she really believe that it would do something beneficial for the these people? Did she just think that if you could consume it you could inject it? What is wrong with some people?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

And the plot thickens

BBC - Rule by decree passed for Chavez
Venezuela's National Assembly has given initial approval to a bill granting President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months.

. . .

The bill allowing him to enact laws by decree is expected to win final approval easily in the assembly next week on its second reading.
Just more evidence that Chavez is consolidating an authoritarian regime in Venezuela, as Matthew Shugart so rightly pointed out in his comment here. Steven Taylor offers more such commentary here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nation-States

Today in the World Politics class I have been observing this semester, the professor talked about the difference between nations and states and what makes a nation-state. I was already familiar with the differentiation, and it reminded me of a discussion I had with my sister last week after Governor Schwarzenegger's inauguration speech. In the speech Schwarzenegger says:
And yet here in this nation-state of California, people from all over the world live in harmony. I call California a nation-state because of the diversity of our people, the power of our economy and the reach of our dream. Every race, every culture, every religion has been drawn to California.
When my sister told me what he said in the speech I responded with "that's ridiculous! It is obvious that the governor of California has no idea what a nation-state really is." (I then had to explain the difference to my sister.) Anyway, a state is a legally defined territory that has a government that is recognized by and can enter into diplomatic agreements with other states (there are other legal criteria, but I won't bore you with all the details.) A nation is defined by a homogeneous culture not a diversity of cultures as Schwarzenegger posits. A nation-state is when a state is made up of citizens that are all part of the same nation (as defined above). So technically speaking, California is neither a nation nor a state (in the international sense that the governor was alluding to) and is certainly not a nation-state. His argument simply illustrates his ignorance of terminology on the subject.

I would have mentioned that in class today if I were allowed to comment in class, but I'm not so I didn't.

I also would have said "not if it is held in place by art". I'll let the professor decide where that comment would have been interjected. :)

Cartoon of the Day

My oldest son has to find political cartoons once a week for school. Yesterday he found this one which I thought was particularly good, so I decided to share. This and other cartoons can be found at caglecartoons.com

Helping the homeless in France

BBC News - French bill to fight homelessness
The French cabinet has adopted a bill to create a legal right to housing, after a series of high-profile protests by campaigners.

The demonstrations prompted President Jacques Chirac to promise action in his New Year's address.

If approved by parliament, the bill will legally oblige local authorities to provide accommodation for the homeless from the end of next year.

People facing eviction or living in squalid conditions will also be helped.

The bill would also create a new repatriation and resettlement package to allow immigrants with no family ties in France to return home.
I'm all for a right to housing. I feel like if we call what live in "civilization" we should provide for the less fortunate. If we don't, can we really call ourselves civilized or are we just living by the law of the jungle.

This was not the thing that particularly struck me about this article. It was the last sentence of the blockquote above that really caught my attention. The "repartiation and resettlement package" makes me wonder. Is this an excuse to deport people or is it really just help for those that want to return to their home country? The article really doesn't say. It is just kinda stuck in there. It makes the deal seem all progressive and liberal, but I wonder if there is an ulterior motive attached.

An interesting timepiece

CNN - 'Doomsday Clock' moved forward
The world has nudged closer to a nuclear apocalypse and environmental disaster, a trans-Atlantic group of prominent scientists warned Wednesday, pushing the hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight.

It was the fourth time since the end of the Cold War that the clock has ticked forward, this time from 11:53 to 11:55, amid fears over what the scientists are describing as "a second nuclear age" prompted largely by atomic standoffs with Iran and North Korea.
It is all very dramatic indeed, but I doubt that we are seriously that much closer to atomic holocaust than we were yesterday. Now I will grant that I am no nuclear physicist, but I am a political scientist. Just because Iran wants to get nuclear weapons, it doesn't mean they will succeed, nor does it mean they would be any more willing to use them than anyone else who already has them. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see nuclear weapons go away, but until the big boys are willing to get rid of them, the little boys are going to want to get them too.

The article also notes some other instances when the hands of the clock have moved.
Since it was set to seven minutes to midnight in 1947, the hand has been moved 18 times, including Wednesday's move.

It came closest to midnight -- just two minutes away -- in 1953, following the successful test of a hydrogen bomb by the United States. It has been as far away as 17 minutes, set there in 1991 following the demise of the Soviet Union.

Like a Stone

The chorus of "Like A Stone" by Audioslave has been going through my head ever since I woke up this morning. I'm not quite sure why. Here is the chorus:
in your house i long to be
room by room patiently
i'll wait for you there
like a stone i'll wait for you there
alone
It is a good song, with some really interesting lyrics; some of which I can identify with, others not so much. I think, for some reason, this morning I particularly identify with the title.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

34000 Civilians killed in 2006

NYT - Iraqi Death Toll Exceeded 34,000 in '06, U.N. Says
The United Nations reported on Tuesday that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed in violence last year, a figure that represents the first comprehensive annual count of civilian deaths and a vivid measure of the failure of the Iraqi government and American military to provide security.

The report was the first attempt at hand-counting individual deaths for an entire year. It was compiled using reports from morgues, hospitals and municipal authorities across Iraq, and was nearly three times higher than an estimate for 2006 compiled from Iraqi ministry tallies by The Associated Press earlier this month.

Numbers of civilian deaths have become the central indicator for the trajectory of the war, and are extremely sensitive for both Iraqi and American officials. Both follow the tallies, but neither will release them.
We like to keep track of the number of Americans killed but it is important to remember how many Iraqi civilians are loosing their lives as well.

Afghan Civilian Heroes

CNN News - Afghan civilians stop terror attack at U.S. base
Two civilians thwarted an attempted terrorist attack Tuesday when a vehicle loaded with explosives attempted to crash through the front gate of a U.S. base in the Afghan capital, according to the U.S. military.

The two men, an interpreter and a security guard, dragged the apparent suicide bomber from the vehicle before he could detonate explosives, said Col. Tom Collins, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"I think it's a pretty amazing and heroic event," Collins said.

He said that at about 9 a.m. Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET Monday) a driver crashed his vehicle into Camp Phoenix, the base where the Afghan National Army and police are trained. The driver reached for what appeared to be a cord to detonate a bomb, he said.

"Amazingly, a couple of Afghans who just happened to be on the scene there realized what was happening," Collins said.

"Anyone's inclination would have been to run away but these guys are genuine heroes," Collins said.
It is always good to hear about bombing that are stopped. It is also good to hear that there are people willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to save other people.

Additionally, it is nice to have an example of people in the country we are trying to help that are willing to help us in return. I never doubted that they were there, it is just good to have an example to point to.

The Passive Personality Principle

BBC News - Spain seeks US soldiers' arrest
Spain has issued an international arrest warrant for three US soldiers accused of causing the death of a TV cameraman during the Iraq war.

Jose Couso, 37, died in April 2003 after a US tank fired on a hotel used by foreign journalists in Baghdad.

The US has admitted its tank crew fired at the Palestine Hotel but has cleared Sgt Thomas Gibson, Cpt Philip Wolford and Lt-Col Philip De Camp of blame.
How can they do that, you might be asking yourself. The person was killed in Iraq, how could Spain have any jurisdiction to file an arrest warrant?

Well, the answer is the Passive Personality Principle. This is one of the 5 customary practice principles of international law on jurisdiction. This principle holds that a state has jurisdiction when one of its own citizens or nationals is harmed, even if that harm happens in another country. The logic behind this principle is that states (countries) have the right to protect their citizens no matter where they go.

It is a controversial principle of international law and one that the United States strongly opposed until relatively recently. In 1985, when Palestinians hijacked the Achille Lauro and killed an American citizen, the US decided that it had the right to try the hijackers based on this principle. This does not, by any means, indicate that the US will recognize the right of the Spanish to try the American soldiers. They undoubtedly will not. However, the Spanish are well within their rights to try.

How is Castro doing?

Well, apparently it is unclear exactly what his health status is at the moment.

BBC - Castro 'worse after failed ops'
The odd thing to me is that no where in the story does it say where that quote is exactly from. It does say:
Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in a serious condition after three failed operations, a Spanish newspaper says.

President Castro - who has temporarily handed power to his brother Raul - is suffering from a serious intestinal infection, the report in El Pais says.
The article continues on to give details of Castro's surgeries and condition (which I won't quote because it is sorta gross, but you can read the article for yourself if you'd like), but ends with the assertion 'No change', stating that the Spanish surgeon who attended to Castro in December says that his prognosis has not changed.

Whether one goes with the "worse" or the "no change" assessment of the situation, reading the details of his condition really makes it sound BAD.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Iran Courts Latin America

CNN - Iranian, Nicaraguan leaders meet, vow to work together
Ahmadinejad was in Managua as part of a whirlwind series of meetings with Latin America's newly inaugurated leftist leaders.

He visited fellow OPEC member Venezuela on Saturday, vowing with President Hugo Chavez to spend billions of dollars financing projects in other countries to combat the global influence of their common enemy, the United States.
. . .
On Monday, the Iranian leader will attend the inauguration of Ecuador's new president, Rafael Correa, and meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales. Both are both outspoken critics of the Bush administration's policies in Latin America.
I'm not quite sure what Ahmadinejad is hoping to accomplish here. I guess the idea is to make people nervous that they are "in our own backyard" like during the Cold War days. It never really worked out too well back then, now did it.

I did find this statement in the article rather interesting:
Ortega, however, did not match Ahmadinejad's confrontational rhetoric in his remarks Sunday.

The Nicaraguan president instead focused on how Iran and Nicaragua should work to help the developing world.

He spoke of "constructive agreements to combat hunger, unemployment and poverty."

While pledging close ties with Ahmadinejad, Ortega has tried to start his new government on a cordial note with the U.S. government.
Who would have thought that Daniel Ortega would be a voice of moderation in Latin America?

How do they do it?

How do people sit and watch T.V. all day long? Yesterday afternoon I spent 6 hours straight watching a marathon of Psych episodes. (The marathon was actually 7 1/2 hours long, but I missed the first 30 minutes and the last hour.) Anyway, before I had even sat through the first 4 hours I was getting a headache, and by the time I stopped watching I just felt totally "out of it". Now don't get me wrong, Psych, rocks, or else I wouldn't have watched them. I had never seen it before, but it turned out to be a really great show. I would recommend watching it, just not for 6 hours straight. Television can be a good and enjoyable thing, but I think I need to remember to partake of it in moderation from now on.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sleuthing out trouble

Washington Post - Amateur Sleuthing Lands Grisham in Real-Life Court
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled yesterday that John Grisham must face a jury for his actions in a real-life whodunit.
From what I can gather from the article, John Grisham, best-selling author and lawyer, decided to try to find out who was sending anonymous letters to his friend's wife. In so doing, he used his position on the board of trustees of his son's school to obtain confidential information from school records. He then used that information against a person who later proved to be innocent.
Both sides agree that Grisham and Alan Swanson then obtained enrollment and medical release forms from the school filled out by Almy and stamped "strictly confidential." They provided the forms to the handwriting expert, who issued a report saying the letters "possibly" were written by Almy, the lawsuit states.
. . .
The lawsuit says that Almy provided handwriting samples to another examiner, who cleared her, and that she passed a polygraph test.

I personally think that he should be called out for that type of behavior. First, he's a lawyer so he should know the law. If it was illegal, he should have known it. Second, just because you write novels doesn't give you the the appropriate expertise to carry out a proper investigation. I don't know what the possible consequences are, I'm sure they are relatively minor, but I think he deserves to feel some repercussions from his actions.

Just for the record, I've read some of his novels, and I wasn't overly impressed.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Reacting to the Carter book

Washington Post - Carter Center Advisers Resign Over New Book
Fourteen members of an advisory board to the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned yesterday in protest over former president Jimmy Carter's best-selling new book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that they could "no longer in good conscience continue to serve."
Obviously, if what the former President has written bothers them that much they should disassociate themselves with him.
The resignations were the latest episode in an escalating controversy over the book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," published in late November. It has been criticized within the American Jewish community as tilting sharply toward the Palestinians. Scholars have found fault with his fact-checking on small and large points. At least one former Mideast negotiator expressed outrage over what he called "misrepresented" history.
I haven't read the book, so I can't actually speak to its bias or lack thereof, or its accuracy. However, I have two things on this point.

1) Many people have the tendency to assume that something that is not biased in their favor is biased against them, even when it is an honest attempt at a fair, unbiased appraisal of the situation.

2) I will say, as a trained historian, that history is often misrepresented by those who record it. The winners tend to write history and they like to portray it in the way that makes them look the best. This is nothing new. I'm not saying it is right, but it is a fact of life.
The deciding factor for board member Steve Berman, he said yesterday, was a passage on Page 213 that he quoted easily from memory: It was imperative, Carter wrote, that Arabs and Palestinians "make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals" of an internationally proposed peace accord "are accepted by Israel."

"What does that say to you?" asked Berman, a commercial real estate developer in Atlanta. "It says they can stop when they get their state. He's condoning terror as a means of obtaining the objective of a Palestinian state."
I'll answer Berman's question, it doesn't say to me what it obviously says to you. It says to me that the Palestinians need to make it clear that they intend to stop when they get their state. That does not mean that they have a free pass to continue bombing until they get their state or that Carter is suggesting that they should continue until they get their state. However, many believe that they won't stop even once they get a state. This is important. Many believe that the Palestinians want the state of Israel gone and that they won't stop until it is. And my understanding is that many do feel that way. It is one of Hezbollah's stated goals. However, I think that Pres. Carter is trying to convey the idea that if Palestine wants to succeed in its goal of achieving statehood, it needs to make it clear that getting rid of Israel is not its ultimate goal.

Now, as I said before, I have not read the book and I am not defending the book, per se. I can only comment on the article and the quote that Berman offers. He asked "what does that say to you" and I simply offer my opinion.

Parenting Woes

An update on yesterday's Oh, the Irony post.

I talked to a counselor today at the college of his choosing (and my alma mater) and found out that it is NOT too late for him to apply for the fall and still receive a full scholarship based on his ACT score. However, the bad news (and there is always bad news) is that his GPA may not be high enough to qualify for the scholarship even though his ACT score is. UGH! Again!

Speaking of Embassies. . .

BBC News - Tunisia gunmen 'had embassy plan'
Tunisian police have found plans of embassies and explosives after a gun battle with suspected Islamic extremists, the interior minister says.

A list of names of foreign diplomats in the country was also discovered after the 3 January clash in which 12 gunmen were killed, said Rafik Haj Kacem.
. . .
Mr Kacem described the men as "Salafist terrorists" - a reference to the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a radical group opposed to Western [?] which aims to create an Islamic state in Algeria.

It is not clear which embassies or diplomats featured in the seized documents.
Attacking embassies is a good way to get attention, I guess. I'm not sure what it is designed to accomplish beyond that, if anything.

After-thought: Obviously the take-over of the US embassy in Iran accomplished more than simply getting attention. Without knowing what the terrorist involved planned to do with their information, it is hard to fully evaluate the situation.

US Embassy in Athens attacked

MSNBC reports - Rocket slams into U.S. Embassy in Athens
An anti-tank shell was fired at the U.S. embassy early Friday, striking the front of the building but causing no injuries. Greece's Public Order Minister said the blast was probably an act of domestic terrorism, raising fears of resurgent violence by far-left Greek militants.
. . .
Polydoras said police were examining the authenticity of phone calls to a private security company claiming responsibility on behalf of a militant left-wing group.

"There are one or two telephone calls, from unknown callers, who claimed that the Revolutionary Struggle assumes responsibility," Polydoras said. "We cannot rule out that they were genuine."

Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for a May 2006 bomb attack on Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, in which nobody was injured.

I heard about this story just before going to bed last night, but there were no details at the time. I'm glad to hear that there were no injuries, but acts of terrorism are never really a minor thing. When political actors turn to violence, it is harmful to the democratic process.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

And what you didn't hear last night. . .

Via the NYT - Bush Adds Troops in Bid to Secure Iraq

The article reveals:
“If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush declared.

He put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress visited the White House earlier on Wednesday. “I said to Maliki this has to work or you’re out,” the president told the Congressional leaders, according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.”
Yeah, that's democracy at work at Iraq and rational thinking on the part of the President.

H/T: Ratoe in a comment at Poliblog

The article also pointed out:
But on the same page, the report warned that “adding more American troops could conceivably worsen those aspects of the security problem that are fed by the view that the United States presence is intended to be a long-term ‘occupation.’ ”
It seems to me that if the idea is to clear the area of insurgents, maintain the area, and rebuild the area, that is going to require long term occupation. Sometimes what it looks like is what it actually is.

Raising Minimum Wage?

Via WaPo: House Passes Increase in Minimum Wage to $7.25
The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved the first increase in the federal minimum wage in nearly a decade, boosting the wages of the lowest-paid American workers from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years.

The 315 to 116 vote could begin the process of ending Congress's longest stretch without a minimum-wage increase since the mandatory minimum was created in 1938. In the past decade, inflation has depleted the value of the minimum wage to the lowest level in more than 50 years.
Not everyone is happy with the idea.
Republican leaders, backed by small-business lobbyists and restaurant groups, argued fiercely that raising the minimum wage would cripple the economy and must be accompanied by significant tax cuts for small businesses to lessen the effect on them. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) predicted that a wage increase "will leave recent economic growth dead in its tracks."
There is, however, reason to believe the nay-sayers are wrong. A related article in the New York Times, For $7.93 an Hour, It’s Worth a Trip Across a State Line, suggests:
Nearly a decade ago, when voters in Washington approved a measure that would give the state’s lowest-paid workers a raise nearly every year, many business leaders predicted that small towns on this side of the state line would suffer.

But instead of shriveling up, small-business owners in Washington say they have prospered far beyond their expectations. In fact, as a significant increase in the national minimum wage heads toward law, businesses here at the dividing line between two economies — a real-life laboratory for the debate — have found that raising prices to compensate for higher wages does not necessarily lead to losses in jobs and profits.
I think a minimum wage increase is a good thing. The more money that workers at the lower end of the pay spectrum earn, the more they are going to spend. That is a good thing, isn't it?

Oh, the Irony

Yesterday my oldest son (a senior in high school) received his ACT scores. He is a really intelligent boy, but he has been a real slacker since he started high school, getting As, Bs, and Cs when he could have been a straight A student with minimal effort. Anyway, he got his ACT scores yesterday and he made a 31 composite score! The bad news is, it is too late to apply for a scholarship in the fall. What is a mother to do. . .

The State of Diplomacy

Robert D. Novak has an interesting article in today's Washington Post: The Mess of State
It addresses the move for Negroponte from intelligence to State and talks about the wholesale bailing-out of State officials. It is worth a read.

It is quite scary to me to think about the sad state of the State Department during this time of international crisis when diplomacy is so important. War may be diplomacy by other means, but that doesn't mean it should be our only means.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Presidential Address Commentary

Several things struck me as I listened to Bush speak tonight. First was what a horrible public speaker he is even after 6 years in office, but the others are more important. (The full text of the speech can be found at The Drudge Report.)
Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
This comment was something of a surprise just because Bush has been so reluctant to admit any mistakes. It is, however, probably the best move he could make for the party as a whole at this point.
This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering.
This says to me: "It's gonna look bad, but take my word for it that it's really getting better. Believe what I say, not what you see."
To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.
I thought that in a democracy the outcome of votes in a legislature were the result of debate and the act of the members of the legislature, not the dictates of a foreign president. I guess I was wrong. . .
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity – and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.
I have to wonder, what exactly does this mean? Especially the "seek out and destroy" part. We obviously can't afford to start wars with two more countries at this point. I certainly hope that is not what he intends.

More commentary can be found at Poliblog and my thanks to Steven for posting a link to the text of the speech so that I didn't have to find it myself.

Update: The video of the speech is available at The Washington Post website

Swearing in

I know this is old news, but it is to facilitate getting information to my sister. Here is a list of the texts Presidents have been sworn in on.

H/T: Poliblog His whole post is definitely worth a read if you are interested in the subject.

Why does he do that?

I have a beautiful fluffy black cat (part Angora, part Manx I was told) who hardly ever goes outside, because he scares very easily. However, when he does go outside, the first thing does is roll around and get completely coated in dirt, sand, and/or pollen (depending on the season). He then comes back inside, carrying nearly a pound of dirt in his fur. Okay, I over exaggerate, but you get the picture. Why does he do this? Does he think I have nothing better to do than clean up after him? UGH! CATS!

A Show of Hand, but little else

NYT - Democrats Plan Symbolic Votes Against Bush’s Iraq Troop Plan
Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they intended to hold symbolic votes in the House and Senate on President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Baghdad, forcing Republicans to take a stand on the proposal and seeking to isolate the president politically over his handling of the war.
I know that symbolism does have some power, and often times symbolic measures can't be distinguished from actual measures in the mind of the population as a whole, but I personally would like to see something more than symbolic gestures come from the new Congress on the Iraq War.
In both chambers, Democrats made clear that the resolutions — which would do nothing in practical terms to block Mr. Bush’s intention to increase the United States military presence in Iraq — would be the minimum steps they would pursue. They did not rule out eventually considering more muscular responses, like seeking to cap the number of troops being deployed to Iraq or limiting financing for the war — steps that could provoke a Constitutional and political showdown over the president’s power to wage war.
I know that politically (and practically) it is difficult to take back what has been given away, but I would love to see the Congress take back much of the war power they have given away over the decades. Not just because of Bush, but because I think an executive with too much power can be a dangerous thing. The founding fathers intended for the people to make the supreme decision on going to war, not one man. It was an important part of the separation of powers that has now been almost completely eroded.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Healthcare for all in California?

NYT - California Plan for Health Care Would Cover All
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday proposed extending health care coverage to all of California’s 36 million residents as part of a sweeping package of changes to the state’s huge, troubled health care system.
. . .
Under Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan, which requires the approval of the Legislature, California would become the fourth and by far the largest state to attempt near universal health coverage for its citizens. The other three states are Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.

This seems like an odd move for a Republican governor. Now universal health care could mesh with Republican interests if it took the burden of providing health care off of employers, but this is not what Schwarzenegger's plan does.
The plan, which Mr. Schwarzenegger estimated would cost $12 billion, calls for many employers that do not offer health insurance to contribute to a fund that would help pay for coverage of the working uninsured. It would also require doctors to pay 2 percent and hospitals 4 percent of their revenues to help cover higher reimbursements for those who treat patients enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

This does not sound like a Republican plan. And the article points out that Republicans in the California legislature are not pleased with the idea.
Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan includes elements that quickly provoked opposition from many powerful interests, including doctors and the governor’s Republican colleagues in the Legislature.

What this says to me is that Democrats and Republican are not necessarily as diametrically opposed on all issues as some people like to think. A Democratic in one part of the country is not necessarily the same a Democratic in another part of the country, and the same is true of Republicans. (Or I guess it could say that Arnold is really a closet Democrat and Maria is rubbing off on him. )

The article also suggests that this move could put health care firmly in the 2008 Presidential debate. I hope it does. In 2008 we need to remember that while the war in Iraq is important, we still have a country here at home and what happens here matters too. There is more than one type of security to be had in the world. It is true that no one wants another 9-11 to happen, but no one wants to see their children or their other loved-ones sick and not be able to afford medical care. Health care matters. Domestic social issues matter. I hope we all can remember that, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Monday, January 08, 2007

New York Stinks and no one knows why

CNN - Mystery smell settles over Manhattan
New York officials evacuated a number of buildings and shut down some trains after a mysterious gaslike odor was reported Monday.
. . .
Authorities are investigating the source of the smell. Several buildings were evacuated, and the PATH commuter trains along the Sixth Avenue line were temporarily suspended. The odor had no effect on subway service in the city.

Utility company officials said a comprehensive search found no gas leaks.

Steven Jones of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management said officials were looking at facilities involved in the production of mercaptan, the chemical additive put in otherwise odorless natural gas to gives it a "rotten egg" smell.

Hopefully the authorities are right and there is actually no danger from the smell. However, you have to admit it is a little funny to hear that New York City smells like rotten eggs.

It does seem somewhat odd to me that there could be something causing a smell so pervasive that it can be smelled all the way to Jersey and no one knows what is causing it. It does make one lack confidence in the their ability to secure the area from an actual airborne attack, or even locate it if there were to be one.

Book Review

I thought I'd start posting book reviews of some of the books I read. This weekend I finished reading The Open Spaces of Democracy by Terry Tempest Williams. When we went to the Western Literature Conference in Boise, she was the honored author at the conference. We heard her read some passages from older works (including this one) and she read a chapter from her newest manuscript. Hearing her read from her work prior to reading this book added to the experience of reading it. I could imagine her voice saying the words as I was reading them. Considering that the middle section of the book is almost poetic in form, it seemed fitting to imagine it read in her voice.

The book consists of three somewhat short essays. The first essay focuses on her experience of giving the graduation address at the University of Utah on May 2, 2003. The entire text of the speech is reprinted in the essay. Her speech was political in nature and had a definite liberal angle. The speech was meet with both boos and cheers. Afterward, she had a discussion with a Utah politician (Utah is a conservative state) which later continued through letters between the two. Some of which were also reprinted in the text.

The second essay is something like a journal of her visit to the Arctic and the much disputed 1002 region of the Wildlife Preserve.

The last essay deals with political activism. She discusses her personal experience with land development issues in her own community and her experience observing demonstrations in Italy against U.S. intentions prior to the invasion of Iraq.

The first and last essays were more linear and politically focused. The middle essay was more stream of consciousness and focused on nature, both the human being's place in nature and preservation of open spaces.

The author takes a very environmentally focused view of life and democracy. She equates democracy with the equality and cooperation she sees in the natural world. She also looks to nature as a guide for personal spiritual and even political growth.

Although this book would not be especially useful for scholarly work in political science, it does provide some first hand accounts that could be useful. It is, however, mostly a work of literature, and as such, it is stimulating and intriguing.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Avalanche in Colorado

Via ABC News - Colo. Avalanche Buries, Sweeps Away Cars
A huge avalanche buried several cars and sent others over the edge Saturday on U.S. 40 near 11,307-foot-high Berthoud Pass, Colorado highway officials said.

"Our crews said it was the largest they have ever seen. It took three paths," said Stacey Stegman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
My kids love the idea of snow, but they have never had to really deal with it. It is amazing the power that it can have.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Friday Fun Challenge

It's really only a meme if someone copies it, so I'll just call it a Friday Fun Challenge. Here goes, look at your site meter and see what the last 5 visitors that reached your blog through a search engine were searching for. Here are mine:

1) hida scan
2) nessy - elephant?
3) alabama constitution "amendment 2" autauga county schools 10 mill
4) irrational women in relationships
5) alabama football coach "nick saban"

Join in and let me know what you found. It is always funny to me to see what people are searching for and how they accidentally find me.

Sounds Reasonable to Me

Jim at Coldflame had a pretty good idea. Go check it out.

NNSA Administrator fired

NYT - Administrator Is Dismissed From Nuclear Security Post
The Energy Secretary fired the head of the department’s nuclear weapons program on Thursday, citing a series of security failures at national laboratories, including the discovery of a computer device containing thousands of classified documents in the home of a former worker during a drug raid by the police.

The official who was dismissed, Linton F. Brooks, had been administrator of the National Nuclear Security Agency since May 2003. The agency was established in 2000 because of chronic security problems in the weapons program.
. . .
Describing the gaps revealed by the drug raid, in New Mexico, the new report on the Los Alamos laboratory, a center for nuclear weapons research, concluded, “In a number of key areas, security policy was nonexistent, applied inconsistently, or not followed.”
Obviously, security in our nuclear weapons agency should be a very high priority. We worry that if Iran got nukes they would leak info out to others, but I think we need to get the log out of our own eye first.

Will this move fix the problem? Probably not:
Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement on Thursday evening, “While it may be appropriate to begin to address the incessant string of security, safety and management lapses at Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities with the removal of high-level managers, I am afraid that it will take more than a new boss to fix the problems, which are far more systemic and pervasive in nature.”
It is easy to change management, it is much more difficult to fix problems. With this, as with the Iraq issue and the intelligence community issues, more than just a cosmetic change is needed. However, when problematic behaviors become ingrained over time, change can be next to impossible to achieve. Firing Brooks may be necessary and a step in the right direction, I don't know, but certainly more needs to come with it.

My Map

At home on our refrigerator each family member has a map of the US with the states they have visited shaded. Oddly enough, everybody's map is different except for my two youngest boys (and theirs were different until this summer when Middle son finally caught up with Youngest son). A friend told me about a site where you can make the same sort of thing for your blog. Here is mine (I'm actually in the lead at my house).


create your own visited states map


I didn't count states where I have only been at the airport and changed planes. If I did I could add Utah and Ohio.



In this map (which I edited) I added the states I've only landed in (yellow) the states I plan to visit next year (purple), the state I most want to visit but haven't (green)

h/t: Poliblog

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Congressional Ethics in the Spotlight

NY Times - Ethics Overhaul Tops the Agenda in New Congress
Democrats, who campaigned relentlessly last year on the theme of a Republican culture of corruption, introduced the proposed ethics rules as part of a week of choreography designed to deliver the message that they did not intend to do business as usual in Washington. In some cases, like restrictions on the use of corporate jets, the rules on gifts and travel by lobbyists go further than what Democrats had pledged earlier.

Another part of the Democrats’ package called for detailed disclosure of pet projects or special-interest tax benefits that individual lawmakers insert into major bills. On Wednesday, President Bush jumped into the debate on such spending projects, called earmarks, urging that their number and cost be cut in half this year, a proposal that Democrats immediately rejected.
. . .
But the ethics rules do not address the most valuable gifts that come from lobbyists and others interested in legislation: campaign donations. And the Democratic Party’s fund-raising machine — revved up by the advantages of being in the majority — continued apace this week with individual members inviting lobbyists and other contributors to a host of events.
I'm glad to see that they are at least planning to make an effort toward ethics reform. I'm not really fond of earmarks, but I'm also aware that they are an integral part of how elected officials get things done for their home states and how they get re-elected. I'm not naive enough to believe they will, or even can, ever go away. I do feel like full disclosure is a step in the right direction.

I do wish that they were more willing to do something about campaign finance reform. The problem is that no one really wants to bite the hand that feeds them. Elected officials want to get re-elected. Money makes the world go 'round. It is a sad but true fact that it is easy to criticize those in charge and say that changes should be made when you are not the ones in charge. It is much harder to actually change things once in charge, especially if it requires changing the very thing that helped you get there in the first place. That is true of campaign finance and electoral rules, and probably many other things in politics as well.

Negroponte to move to State Department

NY Times - Intelligence Chief Is Shifted to Deputy State Dept. Post
John D. Negroponte, whom President Bush installed less than two years ago as the first director of national intelligence, will soon leave his post to become the State Department’s second-ranking official, administration officials said Wednesday.

Mr. Negroponte will fill a critical job that has been vacant for months, and he is expected to play a leading role in shaping policy in Iraq. But his transfer is another blow to an intelligence community that has seen little continuity at the top since the departure of George J. Tenet in 2004 as director of central intelligence.
The article goes on to say:
The administration has had great difficulty filling the State Department position. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has asked several people who have turned down the post, according to senior State Department officials.
I can understand why Negroponte might want to make the switch. My guess, and the article suggests as well, that as a career diplomat Negroponte feels more comfortable in the State Department than in the intelligence community.

To me, the important things illustrated by this move are:
1) the Bush Administration is not good at appointing people to their best possible posts in the first place (I never thought Condi was appropriate as Sec. State, but that's another story I guess)
2) People willing to jump on board a sinking ship are hard to come by
3) the Bush Administration is actually less interested in intelligence reform than they would have us believe. And it could be equally true that Negroponte has realized that intelligence reform is impossible to achieve and just wants to go somewhere that he feels he can actually accomplish something, regardless of what the rank is "on paper."

One of the most interesting things to me about the article is the picture they chose to put with it. The way Bush is standing behind Negroponte in the photo it makes him look rather small and less significant. To me it is just an odd photo.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Another Heroes Update

I'm almost completely caught up on Heroes now. I watched the marathon on NBC on New Year's Day and last night I watched episodes 8-9 that a friend of mine was nice enough to record for me. I'm really looking forward to watching the last two (also recorded for me). The next one in line is "Six Months Ago" which my sister tells me will answer a lot of my questions. It is really turning out to be a great show. I'm even considering going back and watching the first two over again. They were confusing at the time, but I think they would make more sense now. If you haven't watched, go check it out. All the episodes are available here.

To answer my last question. . .yes it is.

Saban accepted Alabama's offer to be their new head coach, but at what price? Well, I've heard numbers as high as $50 million and as low (if you can call it low) $32 million. Either way, it's a high price to pay.

From what I've recently read about Saban, it seems that he is a good coach and does have a good record in college football. But I stand by my assessment that he will never live up to Alabama's standards. No coach can. Even if you cloned "Bear" Bryant and brought him back to coach the Tide today, I doubt he could live up to Alabama fans' standards. And if, by some chance, Alabama is thrilled with him, the chances seem good that he could skip out on them. The previously linked ESPN article notes:
For instance, Saban, for all his success, has found a reason to leave the last three coaching jobs he's had. At Michigan State, he didn't like being The Other School to Michigan. At LSU, he felt underappreciated after winning the national championship and he left for the money and the challenge of the NFL. At the Miami Dolphins, he didn't like the lack of control he had over his adult players. Why would he be happy at Alabama when he has had trouble being happy everywhere he has coached?


And I have to agree with how the article starts out as well.
The power of college athletics once again ran right up the middle against higher education. Alabama's hiring of Nick Saban takes everything that is skewed about college football, shines a spotlight on it and says, "Hey, watch this!"
As the wife of a professor, I'm always appalled to see how much coaches get paid in comparison to how much rank and file professors get paid. I know that athletics brings in a lot of money for universities, but as a college graduate, my donations to my alma mater has NEVER been tied to how well the football team does.

Well, at least his name isn't Mike. . .

Monday, January 01, 2007

Will it be Saban?

From WSFA News - Report: Tide Offers Coaching Job to Nick Saban
According to a published report, the University of Alabama may be close to hiring a new head football coach. The Miami Herald is reporting Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban is considering a huge offer from the Tide -- $40 million to $50 million to be exact, including endorsements.

That would make Saban the highest-paid college coach in the nation. The length of the proposed contract is unclear tonight. Some speculate it would last for eight years.

It is certainly not a done deal at this point however.
In recent weeks, Saban continually denied any interest in the job. He also announced during a news conference Sunday he had no plans to leave Miami.

One source told The Herald the Dolphins organization would be "absolutely shocked" if Saban were to leave.


The article concludes by suggesting that University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is next in line should Saban turn down the deal.

Okay, I must admit, I don't follow football very closely and I have no idea who this guy is. But still, to make him "the highest-paid college coach in the nation," to coach at Alabama just seems ridiculous. Alabama has got to be desperate at this point. And with the expectations they have, I'm sure they will be buying this contract out in a few years too no matter who they hire. They just need to learn to give a guy some time and give a guy a break every now and then. I mean, honestly, even Bear Bryant went through a dry spell.