Saturday, November 3, 2007
Some friends came by last night, and we had a great visit. "D" makes wonderful mead. Just plain delicious. However, I am now reminded that mead can cause hangovers (not bad, but slightly foggy). The pic is from a trip that said friends and I were on this past spring.
Tonight, most of you get to set your clocks back. Not me. I get to change time zones. I get to move from Pacific time to Central time without even getting out of bed. That's one advantage to living here. When I lived in other states, I hated the disruption of time changes. I have a very stable bio-rhythm which takes about 2 weeks to adjust to changes.
So, does the time change mess with you, or is it no big deal?
Friday, November 2, 2007
President Bush has yet to be truly challenged on any of his vetoes of Democratic bills this year.
But with his Friday veto of the water resources development act, known by the acronym WRDA, Bush may have finally found something that unifies Congress against the veto pen.
The WRDA bill passed both chambers of Congress with much more than the two-thirds margin required to override a veto, but the White House has decided to create a confrontation over spending in the bill because $9 billion was added to the measure, which funds water infrastructure projects around the nation. The legislation's total cost is about $23 billion, and it has won such widespread support in Congress because it would help with hurricane protection, flood mitigation and wetlands restoration.
In light of the water crisis in Georgia, and pending water shortages around the country, the WRDA bill is actually way too little, too late. But this might be the stupidest veto I've seen in my lifetime. Shrub is a lame duck, so he has nothing to lose. But the country does. Earlier this week, he was bitching about congress not getting appropriations bills to his desk. Now he vetoes another one.
We deserve better.
U.S.-allied Gulf states are willing to set up a body to provide enriched uranium to Iran to defuse Tehran's stand-off with the West over its nuclear plan, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister told a newspaper on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries -- Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates -- share Western concerns that Iran's nuclear energy program will lead to it acquiring atomic bombs, a claim Tehran denies.
"We have proposed a solution, which is to create a consortium for all users of enriched uranium in the Middle East," foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED).
"(We will) do it in a collective manner through a consortium that will distribute according to needs, give each plant its own necessary amount, and ensure no use of this enriched uranium for atomic weapons," he said, according to MEED's Web site.
Prince Saud said Iran was considering the offer, which envisages building a plant in a neutral country.
"We believe it should be in a neutral country -- Switzerland, for instance," said Prince Saud. "Any plant in the Middle East that needs enriched uranium would get its quota. I don't think other Arab states would refuse. In fact ... other Arab countries have expressed a desire to be part of the proposal."
"They (Iran) have responded that it is an interesting idea and they will come back to us. We hope the Iranians will accept this proposal. We continue to talk to them and urge them not only to look at the issue from the perspective of the needs of Iran for energy, but also in the interests of the security of the region."
The six Gulf Arab states have announced plans to start their own nuclear energy program, raising concern over an arms race in the world's top oil exporting region.
It's actually a very rational idea, and coupled with Russia's nuclear offer to Iran, could allow Iran to have nuclear energy with a much lower risk of nuclear weapons.
Of course, this would remove one of shrub's justifications for a war with Iran. By offering to work with Iran, Prince Saud has changed the whole Middle East dynamic.
Cheney is probably drop kicking kittens as he reads this.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Many of you have read about the testimony in recent Congressional hearings presented to Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, regarding the legacy of uranium contamination on Navajo land. For decades, the Navajo Nation and many grass roots organizations have been trying to address this human tragedy in real terms -- with only marginal success.
Hopefully, one of the defining moments of this struggle took place last week. As one of the attorneys representing the Navajo Nation on the uranium contamination issue, I had the privilege of working with the Navajo delegation to help prepare them for this hearing. I was also honored to attend the hearing in Washington, D.C. and to monitor the testimony and questions first hand. In spite of ongoing discussions with the Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA"), the Department of Energy ("DOE"), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), and limited clean up of specific areas, this was the first sense I had that something meaningful may actually be accomplished-that this tragic legacy of contamination may eventually be addressed on a large scale.
An L.A. Times article from November 2006 first alerted Chairman Waxman to the plight of the Navajo - not the fact that the federal government had utterly failed to
address this mess for decades. As outlined in the L.A. Times article, "from 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains. The mines provided uranium for the Manhattan project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb . . . private companies operated the mines, but the U.S. government was the sole customer. . . . As the Cold War threat gradually diminished over the next two decades, more than 1,000 mines and four processing mills on tribal land shut down." The radioactive waste and debris from these operations, however, largely remains. People live in and around uranium-contaminated areas. Livestock grazes and children play amongst radioactive waste and debris. There is a palpable threat of radioactive contamination to the ground water in many areas.
At the hearing, Edith Hood, while choking back tears, talked about the mining waste near her home in the Church Rock area, and the sickness and illnesses that plagued her and her family. These sentiments were echoed by Larry King and Ray Manygoats. Phil Harrison, although a Navajo Nation Council Delegate, testified as to his personal experience with uranium contamination. George Arthur, also a Council
Delegate, testified in his capacity as the Chairman of the Navajo Natural Resources Committee. Mr. Arthur made it clear to the Committee that enough study has been done. It was now time for the federal government to take action to address this ongoing human tragedy. Stephen Etsity, the head of the Navajo EPA, managed to bring Navajo soil (from the Tuba City area) into the hearing chambers, where he used a device to demonstrate the existence of gamma radiation.
It was, however, the Committee's questioning of government officials following the Navajo testimony that truly shed light on the process. Chairman Waxman led the charge, berating officials from EPA, DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ("NRC"), Indian Health Services ("IHS"), and BIA. Waxman asked what these agencies needed to make this situation right. He also commanded that the parties come back before the Committee on December 12 to discuss what, if any, progress has been made. I must add, however, that I was also impressed with the passion and questioning of Congressman Udall from New Mexico -- as he pressed the head of the BIA as to his understanding of the government's trust responsibility to the tribes. Congresswoman McCollum from Minnesota was also among the representatives who presented a strong showing of support for the Navajo Nation.
Although skepticism in matters such as these is usually the rule, I left the hearing with a feeling of hope. I am hopeful that Congress will follow through on the journey it has apparently committed to beginning. As a candidate for Arizona's Congressional District 1, not just an attorney helping to represent the Navajo Nation, one of my priorities has been and will continue to be to address this ongoing human tragedy on the Navajo Nation.
Regular readers know that I'm supporting Mr. Shanker here in AZ-01, both because of his stance on a wide variety of issues and his overall integrity, and I'm glad he's standing up for the Navajo Nation on the uranium issue. In light of the current push for increased nuclear power, it's important to address the problems from past uranium mining to ensure that we don't repeat past mistakes.
I am once again reminded why I think Howard would be a damn good representative in congress.
And this got me thinking of the essential quandary facing congress regarding the next attorney general. If the AG is to uphold the constitution, they must prosecute members of the administration. Shrub is not going to nominate anyone who will prosecute his people. Therefore, any shrub nominee is going to be constitutionally unacceptable.
I believe that congress should reject Mukasy, and most probably any other shrub nominee, but that leads to another problem. How long can the justice department, and the country, operate without an attorney general? Given that the administration won't prosecute itself, congress is the last line of defense.
The constitutional answer would be impeachment. But congress lacks the strength to impeach.
It's a huge dilemma, with no good answer in sight.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
So we had an affair. A very sexual affair. She spent a river trip with me (on which we had a hell of a lot of fun), and several other trysts.
Zymurgian asked if her husband knew. I've spent time with her husband, and I think he knew but really didn't care.
Was our sexual relationship moral or immoral? I know that I thought it was moral, but some have told me I'm wrong.
I'm not doing anything special for Halloween, but I was amused by a local NPR news story that Halloween generally marks the end of the Tarantula mating season here in Arizona. That's right, Tarantulas have a mating season. Late summer to early fall:
Male tarantulas mature when they are 10 to 12 years of age, at which time they leave their burrows in search of females. Upon finding the burrow of a mature female—she’s usually at least 10 years old—the male will announce himself by stroking the silk at the top of the burrow and tapping particular sequences that the female responds to. During mating, the male must reach under the female to insert his pedipalp into her gonopore to deposit sperm. He is particularly vulnerable to predation by the female when mating. The male’s first pair of legs has a “spur”located behind the knee which he uses to hold the female above him during copulation. After copulation the male makes a hasty retreat. The female lays her eggs in a burrow, sometimes staying with them. The young remain in the burrow until they disperse.
They're a pretty common sight around here, but they might give some city folk a good Halloween scare.
I would have worn a costume if I could have found a "flying zombie vampire pig" disguise, but, alas, none were available.
Added: But this picture is pretty scary:
(found somewhere on the web)
The "lightning round" format sucks. Giving each candidate 30 seconds to answer policy questions? Impossible to do. There is no serious policy question that can be answered in 30 seconds. All you can do is spew out a "talking point" or a "sound bite". It's a fine format for a game show, but not a real, important debate. Unfortunately, our media treats the campaign for president as one big game show. Entertainment trumps substance.
Brian Williams was bad, but Tim Russert was absolutely horrible in asking "gotcha" questions. The whole debate was a series of Republican based attack points, designed to provoke fights, mud slinging, or other embarrassments. Russert oozed a slimy contempt toward everybody.
Everybody is running against Hillary Clinton, whom the media have already crowned. It was the "6 guys vs. Clinton" food fight that Russert/Williams were trying to provoke, and they were mostly successful.
Clinton handled it fairly well, appearing confident and unflappable while basically saying nothing (or contradicting herself). She's good at selling an image, but carefully avoided any substance. I hate this type of politics, but it will be tough to beat. She's slick, and no one landed a major blow against her. If the debate were a game show, she won.
Barack Obama came off poorly, looking rather tired and uninspired. His message, which seemed to be "can't we all just get along" while throwing in some subtle digs at Clinton, got mixed results. He was much better at handling questions on policy, and it was clear that he would prefer to discuss substantive ideas over playing "gotcha", but he got sucked into the game. Overall, he was fairly flat.
John Edwards looked good, and he was able to make some arguments with substance while attacking Hillary. In a "real" debate, he did very well. In this "food fight", Hillary was able to duck everything he threw.
Chris Dodd continues to be a fiery constitutionalist. In a true intellectual debate, he would have been tough to beat. In the "game show" debate, he never had a chance.
Bill Richardson continues to be Bill Richardson: calm, intelligent, extremely experienced, and (unfortunately) completely uninspiring. In a serious campaign to choose the person most qualified to be president, he would be a serious contender. In the media circus, he doesn't stand a chance.
Dennis Kucinich...what can you say? The guy makes a lot of sense, but ends up looking goofy at the same time. Let's face it, the media finds him an easy target to make fun of because he's an easy target. Kucinich has some really good policy positions which are completely ignored, as Russert would much rather ask him about UFO's. It's a sad reality.
Joe Biden is verbose. Experienced and knowledgeable, therefore almost invisible, the format of the debate made him irrelevant.
Is Clinton inevitable? No. But she does have a large advantage thanks to the media. For either Edwards or Obama to defeat her, they will need a "blockbuster" performance.
That is the current sad state of politics in America. The person who ends up holding the most powerful office on the planet will be chosen by a process similar to "American Idol".
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The latest example of shrub keepin' us safer comes from the Consumer Product SAFETY Commission:
But as it turns out, Bush’s appointed chief of the CPSC wants less money, a smaller staff, and weaker rules for product safety.
The nation’s top official for consumer product safety has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation intended to strengthen the agency, which polices thousands of consumer goods, from toys to tools.
On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.
Ms. Nord opposes provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistle-blowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.
That's right; less inspection and enforcement of product safety is GOOD for you!
We deserve better.
AT THE MOSUL DAM, Iraq -- The largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water, possibly killing thousands of people and flooding two of the largest cities in the country, according to new assessments by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. officials.
Even in a country gripped by daily bloodshed, the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam has alarmed American officials, who have concluded that it could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths by drowning Mosul under 65 feet of water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet, said Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, the dam manager. "The Mosul dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure probability," in the dry wording of an Army Corps of Engineers draft report.
Of course, we're trying to fix it...right?
At the same time, a U.S. reconstruction project to help shore up the dam in northern Iraq has been marred by incompetence and mismanagement, according to Iraqi officials and a report by a U.S. oversight agency to be released Tuesday. The reconstruction project, worth at least $27 million, was not intended to be a permanent solution to the dam's deficiencies.
"In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world," the Army Corps concluded in September 2006, according to the report to be released Tuesday. "If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely."
The effort to prevent a failure of the dam has been complicated by behind-the-scenes wrangling between Iraqi and U.S. officials over the severity of the problem and how much money should be allocated to fix it. The Army Corps has recommended building a second dam downstream as a fail-safe measure, but Iraqi officials have rejected the proposal, arguing that it is unnecessary and too expensive.
Almost immediately after the dam was completed in the early 1980s, engineers began injecting the dam with grout, a liquefied mixture of cement and other additives. More than 50,000 tons of material have been pumped into the dam since then in a continual effort to prevent the structure, which can hold up to 3 trillion gallons of water, from collapsing.
And then we have more mind numbing stupidity from the administration:
The debate has taken place largely out of public view because both Iraqi and U.S. Embassy officials have refused to discuss the details of safety studies -- commissioned by the U.S. government for at least $6 million -- so as not to frighten Iraqi citizens. Portions of the draft report were read to The Washington Post by an Army Corps official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The Post also reviewed an Army Corps PowerPoint presentation on the dam.
How patronizing is this? We don't want to frighten the Iraqi's, so we won't tell them about the risk? First, many people in Iraq can read the WaPo. Second, a good evacuation plan could save many thousands of lives in the event of a collapse.
Is there anything in Iraq that we haven't screwed up?
Martin Scheinin, the U.N.'s independent investigator on human rights in the fight against terrorism, said in a report released Monday that he's concerned about U.S. detention practices, military courts and interrogation techniques.
He urged the U.S. government to end the CIA practice of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects are taken to foreign countries for interrogation.
Scheinin, a law professor from Finland appointed by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, issued a preliminary report after visiting the United States in May. His final report was issued on Monday, coinciding with the report to the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee.http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/2007/10/un_try_or_release_enemy_combat.php
That would be the human rights commission that the U.S. was kicked off of a few years back. It's a sad time for America, once the beacon of human rights, is now in violation of international law:
In the report, Scheinin called for the abolition of the military commissions which were established in 2001 by President and declared unlawful by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 because they were not authorized by Congress. Congress responded by passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
Scheinin said the offenses in the 2006 law — including terrorism, wrongfully aiding the enemy, spying and conspiracy — "go beyond offenses under the laws of war." He argued that the offense did not apply at the time of the alleged acts by detainees, and maintained that the commissions are applying criminal law retroactively in violation of international law.
Due to various concerns, Scheinin recommended the abolition of the commissions. "Wherever possible, ordinary civilian courts should be used to try terrorist suspects," he said.
Scheinin also recommended that the U.S. government abandon "the categorization of persons as `unlawful enemy combatants,'" calling it a "a term of convenience without legal effect."
The report called on the "United States to release or to put on trial those persons detained under that categorization."
While acknowledging the need to bring those accused of war crimes to justice, Scheinin emphasized that "the chance of ensuring a fair trial diminishes over time." He added that "the detention of persons for a period of several years without charge fundamentally undermines the right of fair trial."
Scheinin called on the U.S. to lift restrictions that prohibit Guantanamo Bay detainees to seek "full judicial review of their combatant status." The U.S. prohibition violates the International Covenant's prohibitions on arbitrary detention, the right to a judicial review which could grant freedom, and the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time, he said.
How did it come to this? Do we have any legitimacy left when we condemn human rights abuses in other countries? If our own congress lacks the will to end this type of abuse, how much of an impact can the U.N. have?
We deserve better.
Monday, October 29, 2007
EARLIER this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the White House agreed to allow the executive branch to conduct dragnet interceptions of the electronic communications of people in the United States. They also agreed to “immunize” American telephone companies from lawsuits charging that after 9/11 some companies collaborated with the government to violate the Constitution and
existing federal law. I am a plaintiff in one of those lawsuits, and I hope Congress thinks carefully before denying me, and millions of other Americans, our day in court.
At 95 years old, Studs is a cultural icon with a long and fiesty history. His perspective:
During my lifetime, there has been a sea change in the way that politically active Americans view their relationship with government. In 1920, during my youth, I recall the Palmer raids in which more than 10,000 people were rounded up, most because they were members of particular labor unions or belonged to groups that advocated change in American domestic or foreign policy. Unrestrained surveillance was used to further the investigations leading to these detentions, and the Bureau of Investigation — the forerunner to the F.B.I. — eventually created a database on the activities of individuals. This activity continued through the Red Scare of the period.
In the 1950s, during the sad period known as the McCarthy era, one’s political beliefs again served as a rationale for government monitoring. Individual corporations and entire industries were coerced by government leaders into informing on individuals and barring their ability to earn a living.
I was among those blacklisted for my political beliefs. My crime? I had signed petitions. Lots of them. I had signed on in opposition to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes and in favor of rent control and pacifism. Because the petitions were thought to be Communist-inspired, I lost my ability to work in television and radio after refusing to say that I had been “duped” into signing my name to these causes.
By the 1960s, the inequities in civil rights and the debate over the Vietnam war spurred social justice movements. The government’s response? More surveillance. In the name of national security, the F.B.I. conducted warrantless wiretaps of political activists, journalists, former White House staff members and even a member of Congress.
Terkel is a great writer, and a true giant in American cultural history, chronicling the people and times in ways that both outrage and inspire the reader. This column has both:
Compounding these wrongs, Congress is moving in a haphazard fashion to provide a “get out of jail free card” to the telephone companies that violated the rights of their subscribers. Some in Congress argue that this law-breaking is forgivable because it was done to help the government in a time of crisis. But it’s impossible for Congress to know the motivations of these companies or to know how the government will use the private information it received from them.
And it is not as though the telecommunications companies did not know that their actions were illegal. Judge Vaughn Walker of federal district court in San Francisco, appointed by President George H. W. Bush, noted that in an opinion in one of the immunity provision lawsuits the “very action in question has previously been held unlawful.”
I have observed and written about American life for some time. In truth, nothing much surprises me anymore. But I always feel uplifted by this: Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing. By revealing the truth in a public forum, the American people will have the facts to play their historic, heroic role in putting our nation back on the path toward freedom. That is why we deserve our day in court.
Studs Terkel is the author of the forthcoming “Touch and Go: A Memoir.”
Keep fighting the good fight, Mr. Terkel. I wish I had his optimism, but it improved my mood just by having his wisdom for part of my morning reading.