Monday, December 31, 2007

Like they said!

I'm taking the liberty of reprinting in its entirety the lead editorial in the NYT opinion page from today...

"There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.

It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.

The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.

Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.

The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.

Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, so that the White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws. Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.

In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where “high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts, including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that “experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed, after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans would never know.

The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were let go without any apology or hope of redress.

These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America." order to add my voice to the editors'. That last sentence expresses my most heartfelt wish for 2008, that after November, we will be able to see the reflection of the United States of America as we used to know it--not that of a hulking, marauding thug in combat fatigues, the nightmare creature haunting us for seven long years.

Another classic of 2007

Can you stand another addendum to the "best/worst" list? Here's the award for "most blatant evidence of election rigging" in 2008, or possibly ever...after the recent parliamentary "elections" in Russia, there were all those reports and video of ballot-box stuffing, prizes being awarded, cash appearing, etc., but then there was the main sqaure of the capital, where God and everyone learned that "MOSCOW IS VOTING FOR PUTIN!" and then were exhorted to "VOTE LIST 10!" There were other candidates on the ballot, but the people responsible for this poster unaccountably failed to inform their fellow citizens.

That was really rather had all the subtlety of a baseball bat blow to the head. But it certainly reminded me of the good old days, when an instructor in my language class astounded everyone by informing us that OF COURSE they had free elections in the USSR!. You were FREE to vote for the ONE CANDIDATE on the ballot! So there!

2007 - The Best and the Worst

Best person. Al Gore. Like Carter before him, Gore has shown that it's possible to move from one of the highest offices in the land to a life of even higher service. In Gore's case, it has been fighting for the very existence of the planet. Many were not impressed with Gore's tenure before and during his Veep years, nor with his presidential campaign. The new Gore has thrown himself into fighting for our future with such fervor that he has helped keep the issue in the news (between Anna Nicole Smith updates) and in our minds. And while I'm sure he was pleased to get the Oscar and Nobel, being named as "best person" by "Make it Stop! Make it Stop!" will, no doubt, be the highlight of his year ;).

Worst person. Bush or Cheney? Bush or Cheney? Each has so much going for them in this category. Cheney's health scares pop up from time to time as they try and convince us that the man has a heart. On the good side, Cheney didn't shoot anyone in the face this year. On the other side, he continues to emit such evil that his office caught fire this year. But in the end, Bush wins this hands down. Even if Bush was only the channel for Cheney's decisions, the buck still stops at his desk. In the end, the decisions that have resulted in so many deaths and such destruction are Bush's.

Best decision. New Jersey's decision to abolish the death penalty. New DNA evidence has helped overturn convictions across the county. LaPopessa has been against the death penalty all my life - for the simple reason that I don't believe in killing, and I certainly don't think the state has the right to do it in my name. I also understand the desire for justice and gut need for vengeance. But life in prison without parole takes the person off the streets without risking the chance that we have killed in error.

Worst decision. Pick a vote (or non vote), almost any vote in the House or the Senate. The prize for worst decision of 2007 is that of the Democrats in the U.S. Congress to ignore the mandates that brought them to power and cower in the face of the most widely unpopular and hated president of ages.

Biggest Disappointment. Find a dart board. Put up the names of every Democratic member of Congress. Throw dart. You've found the winner. Repeat.

Best Surprise. The fact that OJ Simpson might actually spend time in jail for his misdeeds.

Most Annoying Thought. That if Simpson is sentenced to prison, it will because he tried to take back his sports memorabilia, not because he murdered two people.

Silliest Media Obsession. This one was hard. Anna Nicole Smith's death and Paris Hilton's jail time both gobbled hours of cable news hours that could have been used to inform the public about so many other things, including actual news. This one gets a tie.

Worst Media Misstep. Ok, so the obsession with celebrity "news" that really wasn't news certainly seems an automatic win. But I think the worst media misstep in 2007 continued to be the inability of the press to give the American public an actual view of what America is doing in Iraq.

Best Media Contribution. Even with the writers' strike, Jon Stewart's Daily Show wins this hands down. Whether we're laughing to keep from crying, or just laughing because it's so damn funny, the Daily Show regularly surpassed anything on the cable news stations. And yes, Colbert comes in a close second.

Worst Performance by a US Government Agency. Is there room for a multi-agency tie here? I mean the choices are so many. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) didn't seem to pay any attention to the flood of lead-tainted toys coming out of China. The Justice Department was . . . well, little more than a national joke. The Environmental Protection Agency seemed to believe that the P in agency's title stood for Profits. In just one example of many, the EPA refused California the right to set its emissions standards for vehicles, even though the state got them in the past. Agency director Steve Johnson argued that "one state" cannot set standards that compete with the newly passed CAFE standards. Well, actually, make that 17 states seeking one tougher standard--and they comprise nearly half (45 percent) the nation's electoral votes. But as sad as those three agencies' performance has been in 2007, the award goes to one of the newest government agency, The Department of Homeland Security. The Department (which includes FEMA, don't forget) that more than any other is charged with our safety continues to be unable to find its butt with both hands. Only two years after their miserable performance during an actual national emergency (Katrina) they have yet to convince anyone that they would actually be able to help anyone during a new national disaster (whether man-made or natural). DHS did manage to institute a color-coded terrorism alert system that continues to do more to confuse than alert and has yet to develop a plan to deal with an outbreak such as Avian flu. (shhh, don't tell al Qauda, they'll start coughing on us!).

Silliest quotes from 2007. There are too many to make room for here. Fortunately, we've got a sister site, "Notable Quotables" that handles these. Check them out.

Worst Recommendation for Unchecked Capitalism Since the Savings & Loan Scandals. This of course goes to all those bankers and mortgage brokers who fought each other bloody trying to lend money to anyone who had a pulse. As the CEOs and presidents of all those companies and banks relax with umbrella drinks in the tropics this winter, hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. are wondering how much they can take with them when they go to live in their cars.

Best Use of Brain Power to Tackle Impossible Situation. The Iraq Study Group (James Baker, Lee Hamilton, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Edwin Meese III , Sandra Day O'Connor, Leon E. Panetta, William J. Perry, Charles S. Robb, and Alan K. Simpson.)

Least Surprising Non Use of Brain Power to Tackle Impossible Situation. Bush Administration's unenthusiastic reaction and lack of adherence to the study group's report.

Best Use of a Minority Group as Knee-jerk Punching Bags. As always, there are several notable candidates for this award. But we're looking for more than just one stupid headed statement (sorry Imas). This year the award goes to a group of people who have found common ground in one thing - Fear of Immigrants. Ok, not just any immigrants, but those who speak Spanish. (British ones get millions of dollars to come over and play soccer in LA). So this year the award goes not only to Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who made this the touchstone of his campaign, but to the rest of the Republican presidential candidates, who worked hard to grab the issue from him and run with it. Unfortunately, the coat-tails of this award are long - other winners include television pundits such as Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck.

Greediest Stupid Political Maneuver. To the politicians of Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire and a few others for their juvenile grabs at national attention by moving their political primaries earlier and earlier and earlier until we have presidential wannabes breathing down our necks months earlier than they should be.

Least Surprising Move. Bush commuted Scooter Libby's prison term.

Most Surprising Move. It took more than eight months for Don Imas to get back on the air after being a racist idiot on the air. Call me cynical, but I thought he'd have been back on the air in weeks.

Best Dealing With Horrible Circumstances. This award I am giving to a group of local people. The players and coaches of my beloved Washington Redskins. Joe Gibbs has shown the leadership and class that those of us who knew and loved the team during his first years knew he had in him. Sean Taylor's death was a blow not only to his family, but to his sports family as well. Taylor's locker, uniform on display, is under Plexiglas now, a reminder that he is always with them.

So have a good new year, and whatever you do, "Don't Get Tased, Bro!"

Summing up 2007 in Cartoons

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A New Year's gift from...the undertaker?!

Popessa is preparing the ubercompilation of bests and worsts from 2007. While the listings become clay in her powerful hands, I offer these two seasonal gifts, maybe small "bests" in their own way, from a most unusual source...

Item: A funeral home near here is trying hard to put itself temporarily out of business, help death take a New Year's hiatus, as it were. The owner is offering free rides home on New Year's eve to anyone who calls the funeral home and declares him or herself unfit to drive a motor vehicle--no questions asked. That's what you call philanthropy!

Item: The truck belonging to the Batesville casket company spotted on I-84 near Pendleton, Oregon. It was festively decorated for the season, with Christmas trees and brightly colored wreaths painted on both sides. Its message, aside from the usual contact information: "Please drive safely: Heaven can wait!"

Happy 2008 to all!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Santa Was Generous With Our Tax Dollars in 2007

It definitely paid to be a Friend of a Congressman or woman this year. Among the items found under various trees this year thanks to your tax dollars and Congress:

Ohio-based paint company Sherwin Williams got $2 million to develop a super-paint that can kill toxic bacteria - something that may not even be feasible. Who was their Santa? None other than Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

A brand new fitness center in Columbia, South Carolina was built with help from $1 million in taxpayer money from Rep. James Clyburn of that state. And how did the center thank their Santa? Of course by hiring his daughter. I wonder which member of the Clyburn family is going to be looking for work at the First Tee golf program which has received $7.5 million in Clyburn-directed earmarks in the last four years and is still going strong. The First Tee program is set up "to impact the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf.”

Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens is certainly no stranger to playing Santa with over $30 million in public funds. So it can't be surprising that he used federal money to create a group to market Alaskan seafood. And no further surprise that the group hired Stevens' son to lead it.

Back in Ohio, the "First Ladies Library" in Canton gets $1 million in our tax dollars each year thanks to Ohio representative Ralph Regula. And who started the library? Wife Mary, of course. But why stop there? The library's director is Regula's daughter.

And for the wine drinkers out there - never fear, money from all levels of the government are flooding in to help out the industry which someone seems to think is struggling (they probably haven't gone on those tours of wine country that now seem to exist in just about every state).

Thanks to Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York, the Center for Grape Research is going to be built in ... which state? Well NY, of course! Why would you doubt the need for such a place? Simply because Congress has already spent $11 million in support of the wine industry and research? And $2.6 million for studying grapes in California. Oh, and the Center for Grape Research? What began as a $20 million project is now closing in on $30 million. Darn cheap, considering that they haven't even begun to build it.

The Seattle Times has a nice article on how earmarks can work between a new company and Congressional friends:

Not long after Nelson Ludlow and his wife started a technology business in Port Townsend with money scraped together from friends, family and retirement accounts, they spent precious dollars in an unlikely way:

They hired a lobbyist and started giving to a congressional campaign fund.

The lobbying paid off. Soon, an $800,000 earmark for the Ludlows was tucked into a 2003 spending bill, giving their tiny startup, Mobilisa, a no-bid contract to provide Internet service on Puget Sound ferries. . . .

Nelson Ludlow and his wife, Bonnie, have donated generously in the past five years, giving $11,500 to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and nearly $20,000 to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.

At the same time, the Ludlows have mastered the earmark game. Since 2003, Murray and Dicks have favored Mobilisa with at least nine earmarks worth $20.3 million.

Mobilisa had to split some of the earmark money with others and hasn't received all of it yet. But most of the company's $13 million to $14 million in revenues since 2003 have come from political pork, federal dollars for which Mobilisa didn't have to competitively bid. That puzzles competitors, who describe the company's technology as dated and overpriced.

Back in New York, Congresswoman Nita Lowery earmarked $10 million in the recent Iraq defense spending bill for rehab of Fort Slocum, a defunct military garrison. She is also sending $1 million to the Natural History Museum for "advanced research to further national security goals." The money is going for the study of pathogenicity (ability of one organism to cause disease in another). Interesting. But worthy of national security funding.

The University of Alabama must be glad to have Senator Richard Shelby among their alumni, since the Senator has gone out of his way to find $11 million to support building construction at the UA. I wonder if it'll be for a new building like 2004's "Shelby Hall," built by our tax dollars, but named for Shelby because he found the $35.5 million laying around on the Senate floor to pay for it.

Makes me wonder - would I be less pissed off about these wasted dollars if the new building was going to be named for me? I say that from now on if the earmarks are going through, they have to be named for ordinary citizens - names drawn from a lottery of some sort. I can see it now! And no, it wouldn't make me less pissed off. But it would be a nice photo op for our Christmas letters.

End of the Year - Say Goodbye to More of Your Money

Let's look at some of the places our tax dollars have gone this year. A year after Republicans threw away both houses of Congress on their Iraq policy and greed, how do things stack up in the old earmarks department? To help us keep track of these things, and a few others, I've added another group of links to the right side - "Trust, but Verify."

Today's WaPo has a nice article on some of those earmarks, including one of John Murtha's favorite groups, the National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence. He's helped direct about $676 million to this group since it opened in 1991. Murtha may be great on Iraq policy, but he's pitiful as a steward of our tax dollars. From the Post:

Only nine systems developed by the center since 2001 have been put into use at more than one installation, one standard auditors use for measuring the success of technology transfer, Army officials said. That includes such equipment as compost-monitoring technology, bullet-trap technology and hand-held computers for collecting information in the field about unexploded ordnance. Just one system made the leap from the center's labs to multiple locations in the 1990s, Pentagon auditors found.

Army officials responsible for overseeing the center, known as the NDCEE, acknowledged the shortcomings. In interviews and statements, officials said they are working hard to do a better job to identify Defense Department needs and translate the center's research into action.

"Merely showing that a technology works and is cost-effective, and placing the results in a report has not been sufficient," an Army statement said.

The environmental program illustrates the gaps in oversight that have often accompanied the government's surging use of private contractors. It also shows how politically connected programs can thrive over many years in the face of questions about performance and cost. . . . Murtha also helped start Concurrent Technologies, the tax-exempt charity that manages the center. Established in an old high school in 1988, Concurrent has grown into a contracting powerhouse. Its annual revenue is now nearly $250 million, most of it from an eclectic array of Defense Department contracts.

The Project on Government Oversight notes that contractors and lobbyists have not slowed down a bit in response to the new political landscape. Democrats out of power were barely on their rollerdexes. Now they're on speed dial.

This week, Government Executive reports that the leading federal contractors are directing the bulk of their campaign contributions to the Democratic presidential contenders. Sen. Hillary Clinton currently leads the field, raising more money from the employees and political action committees of the 50 biggest federal contractors (most of which are featured in POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database) than any of the other Democratic and Republican candidates.

Now, as a reasonable person, you would think the contracting community would steer clear of a candidate who makes slashing up to half a million federal contracting positions a centerpiece of her campaign. Why, then, are contractors so keen on Hillary?

The Government Executive article quotes Stan Soloway, president of a federal contractor trade group called the Professional Services Council and longtime, ahem, friend of POGO, who dismisses her downsizing proposal as mere campaign rhetoric that doesn’t stand a chance of becoming a reality. Soloway has a point. After all, the contractors contributing to Clinton’s campaign are doing so for a multitude of reasons other than landing plum business deals with the government. Some are building on connections they established during her husband's administration. Soloway, for example, served as deputy undersecretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, whose “Reinventing Government” program was a tremendous boon for contractors. Perhaps these contractors are hopeful the other Clinton will prove equally beneficial.

Close to home, Congress has poured another $400 in cost overruns to their new visitor's center. A lovely place that was designed and redesigned and re-redesigned. It will open one of these days, hopefully without too much more of our money having been poured into it.

Bhutto's Assassination - Finally We Have the Facts

Bhutto was killed by al-Qaida who claimed credit. Or she was killed by someone else as an al-Qaida spokesman has denied involvement. Or we don't know which group or person killed her, but it was the fault of the government that did not adequately protect her.

But at least we know how she died.

She died when blast concussion threw her head against the lever on the car's sunroof. Or according to Shery Rehman of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, she was killed by a bullet "I have seen the bullet wound myself" says Rehman in a VOA article. Or she was killed by shrapnel from the blast according to Dr. Mussadiq Khan, the surgeon who treated Bhutto after the attack.

At this point - is there anyone who can say anything that will be believed?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan Press Conference

I'm watching a press conference out of Pakistan that mentions an intercepted message from Al Qaida offering congratulations on the attack. I don't have much faith in the Pakistan government to tell the truth, and quite honestly don't know what to think about all of this. As much as Musharraf wants opposition out of the way, her death can't be good for his government (certainly not in the short run, and I'd bet not in the long run either). Of course, does that mean that he or members of his military think logically? Probably not. And still we have conflicting information on what killed Bhutto - not the gunshots blamed yesterday. Now the question is was it shrapnel? Or was it the force of the blast throwing her head against the sun roof? Rumors and speculation continue to pour out of Pakistan.

Bhutto's party has already continued on the record that they believe the government is rigging the upcoming elections. The unrest and conflict will continue. Al Qaeda will continue to cling to the influence they have to maintain operations. Musharraf and military leaders will continue to think of themselves first and the country last. Nawaz Sharif doesn't seem poised to be the person Bhutto's party would turn to or work with.

So where does that leave Pakistan? Well, in the view of this admittedly non field expert - it leaves a country in disarray - a country with nuclear weapons.

Nervous yet?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Killed

So much for hopes of health peace and happiness in the world. Benazir Bhutto was injured in a suicide bomb attack. The CNN report I'm looking at now on TV notes that she was injured and has died. The online report hasn't caught up yet, but will soon. CNN is saying that Bhutto's husband has reported that she was shot in the neck and was critically injured.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Twas the Night Before Christmas, Reprise

From last year - a recycled poem, sad to say, little has changed, so the poem remains the same.

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through White House
The creatures were stirring
Including head louse
The neo-cons sat one by one with great air
And looked at their mess with nary a care
They laughed with glee at where they had led
As visions of "victory" floated in their heads

And Cheney at his desk with W in his lap,
Who had just settled down for his afternoon nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
They jumped from their desks to see what was the matter
And "whish" past their eyes what was that mad flash?
Was it, could it, have been making a dash?
Past the secret service and with something in tow
It looked like a sleigh to eyes watching below

The sleigh they could see, as it drew quite near
Was dragging a banner, that was quite clear.
What did it say, the neo-cons asked Dick?
Who leaned out and looked and then felt quite sick.
For the man in the sleigh was a man of some fame.
He shook his head, pointing his finger with shame.
"Now Dick! Now George! Why act like Nixon!
The lies, the war, your mess needs some fixin’!"

"You lied to the people, you lied to them all!
And led them to war, and then watched them fall
Young men and women so many to die
For the stupid things, stupid things that you try
Calling those traitors who warned us of you
And told from the start of the things that they knew
Your WMDs not there, or did they go 'poof'?
In a flick of an eye when we looked there for proof"

You send troops across Iraq and yet found
No weapons of mass destruction on the ground
So what did you do when that your cause was moot?
But said now the reason was to give Sadaam the boot.
So neo-cons continued their cries to attack!
No troops took time to stop any loot carried by sack
While we searched high and lo for Sadaam without terry
Ignoring Iraq’s plunge into disrarry

Our nation only able to take UK in tow
The rest of the world when asked to join say NO!
Sensing that neo-con argument weak underneath
And none other than Bushies wanting to be kicked in the teeth
With faith in themselves and friends at Fox on the telly
Deluded Bushies and neo-cons keep going by nelly
Lying to all in his way, to even himself,
George W. keeps pushing on, keeps better plans on the shelf.

All the world knows to what depths we’ve been led
When they look at Iraq and then count up the dead
Among those who fight and who over there work,
Not a daughter or son of any neo-con jerk.
The morons who stay home, taking it easy and doze
Send the others to fight, suffer and what else who knows
From their safe and warm desks they lean back and whistle
Safe from bombs and mobs and even a wild missile

I heard one exclaim, as Santa wept out of sight,
"My cigar’s gone out, won’t you give me a light?"

Words by LaPopessa
The shame of the world by Bush & his neo-cons

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Looking for a Last Minute Gift?

There's so much to choose from - gifts that make giver and recipient feel good - and that help the world. What's a better Christmas gift than that?

One of my all time favorites is Oxfam - Give the gift of support to a family who needs help somewhere in the world. I've purchased sheep, goats and part of an ox for family and friends in years past. This year, who knows :). Practical Presents is a British organization that offers animals as well as a number of other options to purchase for families across the globe.

Maybe you'd prefer to be known as a charity land baron - helping organizations buy land to keep or use wisely, instead of letting it go to wild, unrestrained development? Then check out the Ecology Fund, or the World Land Trust.

There are many worthy causes to choose from - and one of my favorite stops to sort them all out is the Intelligent Giver. This year they've got an award for best gifts of 2007 that you can find here. Several are taken from the Good Gifts Catalogue, another site worth browsing.

Maybe your the recipient this year of money from relatives - do you want to spend it (well, of course you do), but should you decide to save and invest it - think about The Blue Fund.

And if you aren't sure what charity you'd like to donate to (as a donation or to purchase goods for someone), then scroll through some of the highest rated charities to find something that fits your needs. Charity Watch is a good start.

So whatever course you choose - remember that just about any of these choices are good for those last minute freak outs when it's Christmas Eve and you're debating just how quickly your spouse will leave you if you come home with the something from the nearby 7-11 as a Christmas gift.

Giving - It's As Easy As a Click

If this site isn't on your bookmark list - maybe now is the time to change that.

Click to give.

Click to help support ending hunger or breast cancer, to support children's health, literacy, the rain forest and animal rescue.

There's a click option for everyone. Click once a day, every day.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Year, Another Billion Dollars Stolen Here or There

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics group has released its list of the top 10 ethics violators of 2007. This year's "winners" (their winnings has made the rest of us losers):
  • No new enforcement mechanisms for congressional ethics
  • Ted Stevens still sitting on Senate Appropriations
  • Senate Ethics Committee looking into Sen. Craig, but not Sen. Vitter
  • Millions of missing White House emails still unaccounted for
  • Rep. Murtha’s abuse of the earmarking process remains unchecked
  • Lurita Doan remains chief of GSA despite illegal conduct
  • White House covering up its role in the firings of the U.S. Attorneys
  • No Child Left Behind funds directed to Bush fundraisers who provide inadequate reading materials for kids
  • Court decision regarding search of Jefferson’s office limits ability of DOJ to investigate other corrupt lawmakers; and
  • FEMA knowingly let Katrina victims live in hazardous trailers
The list seems to have been put together before the latest bit of fun from Bush & Co., the destroyed torture tapes. But then again, given this administration, limiting ethics violations list to only 10 must have been pretty hard. Check out the page link at the beginning of this post for more information on each of the "winners."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's All in the Eyes

Building on Bucky's post below - the choice of Putin as Time's Person of the Year. I was looking through the Time site and was enjoying this paragraph:
No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin's. The Russian President's pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an affect, the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking. The affect is now seamless, which makes talking to the Russian President not just exhausting but often chilling. It's a gaze that says, I'm in charge.
It reminded me of this quote of Bush's from 2001 - "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul. I knew that President Putin was a man with whom I could work."

Now it all starts to make sense. Of COURSE a souless cold monster is just the person with whom Bush could work - after all, this is the man who chose to work with Cheney and Rumsfeld. Compared to those two, Putin's icy stare probably seemed soft and cozy.

That Putin Person of the Year

Time magazine has just named Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin Person of the Year. I was semi-outraged at that until I remembered that he shares that title with such fine and upstanding, contributing citizens as the Ayatollah Khomeni and...Herr Adolf Hitler.

Now I mind...NOT SO MUCH, to paraphrase Putin's former countryman, Borat from Kazakhstan.

Cheney on Fire?

Probably not. But the building holding his office seems to be this morning. Tons of mess down there, traffic all mucked up, fire engines on the scene, smoke coming out of the side and top.

Cheney's utterly evil presence has finally set the building on fire?

Hopefully it'll get under control soon, it is a beautiful old building, used to be the War Dept., building in the 19th century, now the Old Executive Office building, right next door to the west wing of the white house.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mitt's monologue on religiosity

I missed Mitt Romney's "major address" on religion last week, but I gather it was less than impressive, since it implied that there was no room for secularists, skeptics or unbelievers in his America. As usual, James Carroll of the Boston Globe has some trenchant and timely comments about Romney's riff:

"Is "secularism" dehumanizing? When Mitt Romney praised vital American religion in contrast to Europe where churches are "so grand, so inspired, so empty," one could wonder what the collapse of institutional faith in Europe actually means. Romney condemned the "religion of secularism."

Yet such American smugness seems to miss the largest point of difference between the Old World and the New. In the very years that majorities of Europeans were walking away from organized religion, they were resolutely turning away from government-sanctioned killing, whether through war or through the death penalty; they were leaving behind narrow notions of nationalism, mitigating state sovereignty, and, above all, replacing ancient hatreds with partnerships. All of this stands in stark contrast to the United States, where the most overtly religious people in the country support the death penalty, the government's hair-trigger readiness for war, and the gospel of national sovereignty that has made the United States an impediment to the United Nations."

These are very tough words about those who consider themselves the most pious people in America. If we are to extricate ourselves from the malaise in which we are now mired, I believe we need to elect the candidate who puts the LEAST emphasis on religion in this campaign. That would be a good start on something better.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

While We're Chatting About the NRA

Mitt claimed an NRA endorsement today on Meet the Press that he hadn't actually received. There's a bit of chat about that on some of the boards. I'd like to share another NRA piece from today's WaPo. A piece in their Outlook editorial section by Richard Feldman, an ex NRA lobbyist.

What we do have, though, is an organization whose senior leadership is dedicated to keeping the gun debate alive and burning in the American consciousness, for its own self-serving and self-preserving reasons. That organization is the National Rifle Association.

Unfortunately for American gun owners, the nation and the NRA itself, this major lobbying group has become intoxicated with money and privilege. The leadership has lost sight of its mission. Safeguarding the rights of gun owners has become secondary to keeping the fundraising machinery well greased and the group's senior staff handsomely compensated.

I know, because I once worked for it.

It's definitely worth the read.

With Friends Like These . . .

McCain picked up the endorsement of the Des Moines Register - which may or may not help him in Iowa. But he's picking up another endorsement that just makes my skin crawl. None other than "Democrat" Joe Lieberman. Apparently the two are old friends. And let's face it, anyone who seriously considered Lieberman a Democrat anymore just hasn't been paying attention. Lieberman's dropped quite a bit from his days as running as VP candidate to Gore a few years ago to the Bush toddy he is today.

Just say no John, nobody needs an endorsement bad enough to get Lieberman's.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trust Us, We're From the Justice Department

Yesterday the Justice Dept. asked the House Intelligence Committee to postpone its investigation into those destroyed CIA torture tapes. Why? It seems that the congressional prob presented "significant risks" to the Justice Department's own investigation.

Ok, well let's say, just for laughs, that I am willing to believe the Bush administration Justice Department. After all, if they are investigating the destruction, it's only fair to give them time to conduct their queries.

Or, one could look at the Justice Department's refusal to provide the house committee with information about its own role in the destruction of those tapes and say .... hmmmm.

Where are those 20-some percent of the population who still think Bush & Co., are doing well and right?

Rapes? What Rapes?

It's not news that too many women in the US military have been attacked and raped while serving their country. But what about those lovely defense contractors? The Halliburton and groups like it? We know the groups themselves don't bother much with such niceties as laws and ethics, but what about the guys who work for them?

Recently Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has asked the Pentagon & Justice Department to look into the rape of a Florida woman who worked for a KBR subsidiary in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005. This is the second woman to come forward with a story of rape within this organization. Nelson asked that the investigation determine how many rape examinations US military doctors performed in Iraq and what was being done to prosecute cases on that evidence.

I think I speak for many of us when I say that I doubt much will happen on this. No doubt just more to be swept under the rug in the administration's race to find only good stories in the quagmire.

So We're All Safe Now in Pakistan?

The state of emergency has been lifted and the constitution restored in Pakistan. (Well that's at least one development they've got on us to this point - we don't have the state of emergency).

Musharraf's Minister of Information Nisar Memon (side note here, I wish the US had a "Minister of Information" position - so much more fun to say than "Press Secretary.") said "The caretaker government is under oath to hold free, fair, transparent and impartial elections to put the country back on track." Good news indeed. Although remember those dismissals of judges during the emergency order? Well apparently those decisions get to stand. So close, Memon & Musharraf, so close.

Amazingly enough, even after Musharraf took back his state of emergency decree - people in Pakistan are concerned that the elections might not be free and open.

Wherever on earth do they get such silly ideas?!

Elephant, Indeed

Not resting on his Nobel peace prize laurels, Al Gore has been attending the Bali climate change meeting. The official US delegation has been ... less than helpful in the proceedings. In his speech to attendees, Gore pointed out that "my country is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali." and asked that the delegates "find the grace to navigate around this enormous obstacle, the elephant in the room that I have been undiplomatic enough to name.” The US delegates are standing firm in opposition to a reference to non-binding (yes, NON BINDING!) goals for rich countries to cub emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020. We didn't want to even agree to non-binding goals.

The latest news from the Telegraph is that the US delegation has finally given in a bit - and there may actually be an agreement. Think any of them were swayed by Gore's forceful words? Nah, me neither. But something happened.
America's return to the fold on climate change - after reneging on the Kyoto treaty six years ago - came after a sleepless night and a day of high drama in which the UN secretary general and the Indonesian president called on delegates to show leadership.

In extraordinary scenes, developing countries slogged it out with US delegates on the floor of the conference over the last points of disagreement and the US reconsidered its position in front of the eyes of the world – and backed down.

The "road map" agreed in Bali now means a new climate treaty must be negotiated by the end of 2009 to replace the Kyoto treaty that the United States reneged on six years ago.

The treaty, which will come into force in 2012, also sets up a global agreement to stop tropical deforestation, for which many environmental groups and developed countries have campaigned for more than 20 years. . . .

The conference reconvened, but instead of getting closer together, the two sides grew further apart. Saudi Arabia, in what observers assume was a wrecking tactic, supported India and the United States' chief negotiator, Paula Dobriansky, riposted that India's proposed change was something "we are not prepared to accept".

South Africa then made an emotional appeal for the Americans to reconsider their statement – and was supported by delegation after delegation from the developing world while Miss Dobriansky and James Connaughton, President Bush's climate change adviser, talked increasingly animatedly off-microphone.

The killer blow came from the Harvard-educated representative of Papua New Guinea, Kevin Conrad, who used Mr Connaughton's diplomatic gaffe of earlier in the week to humiliate the Americans.

Mr Connaughton had said: "We will lead. We will continue to lead but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow."

Mr Conrad said, to applause: "If you are not willing to lead, then get out of the way."

Miss Dobriansky finally pressed her button to speak again and said: "We will go forward and join the consensus."

Dare we imagine progress?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Iraq War - Money Not Well Spent

No big surprise here - we've got contracts going to friends of the administration and firms Cheney used to run. We've got American taxpayer money targeted for this war secured as tightly as water in a sieve. So you won't be surprised to read two stories from today's WaPo business section that discuss the Blackwater contracts and missing armaments. When Robert O'Harrow, Jr. of the Post filed a FOIA request on a Blackwater contract, he got this in return. No, don't adjust your screen, most of those pages are blank. Apparently Blackwater folk recommended a few redactions in the documents. And of course, what private industry wants, this government accedes to - because we wouldn't want the public bothered with knowing what Blackwater is really doing. And again, unsurprisingly, this sort of response is the standard, not the exception these days.

Who can blame them - whenever the public does learn what is going on, it's never good news. For instance, the Post reported today that Pentagon auditors have admitted that they can't find a whole lot of equipment that was being used to train and equip Iraqi security forces "because of inadequate paperwork and a lack of oversight personnel." So what has gone missing? Well nothing of any import or danger to our troops. Just a few millions of dollars worth of rocket-propelled grenades, armored vehicles and ammunition and supplies.

Just how poor is that "inadequate paperwork?" Well, for instance, the command can't prove that received 12,712 of 13,508 weapons purchased because nobody noted the serial numbers or provided paperwork to track them. So that's a few pistols, assault riffles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns that are out there . . . somewhere. Hopefully in the hands of our troops or our friends, but we don't know. And apparently command doesn't care!

Friday, December 07, 2007

So What's all the Fuss?

Look, it's like this. The administration is just concerned about our delicate natures, and they know that we would be repulsed and overcome by the torture videos, so they merely deleted all of that work for our own good.

After all, if there is one thing this administration is good at, it's protecting itself for our own good.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Craig's List

The Idaho Statesman Journal is running a story about four gay men who have stepped up to say that they either had sex with Idaho Senator Larry "wide stance" Craig or that he made a sexual advance or them unusual attention. The four are: David Phillips, Mike Jones, Greg Ruth, and Tom Russell. A fifth man claimed an advance by Craig, but did not want his name used. Of the group, I'd be willing to toss Mike Jones' name out as just an attention seeker (you might remember Jones' name from his 10 minutes of fame as the former prostitute who said he had sex with the Rev. Ted Haggard last year. Personally I'd be willing to bet that Jones just wants more time in the limelight.). But that would still leave four men with stories that Craig continues to deny. From the paper:

David Phillips is a 42-year-old information technology consultant in Washington, D.C., who says Craig picked him up at a gay club in 1986 and that they subsequently had sex.

Greg Ruth was a 24-year-old college Republican in 1981 when he says he was hit on by Craig at a Republican meeting in Coeur d'Alene.

Tom Russell, now 48, is a former Nampa resident who lives in Utah. Russell said his encounter with Craig occurred at Bogus Basin in the early 1980s.

Craig continues to deny everything while the rest of us sit back and wait for the next guy he hits on to capture it on his camera phone. In the meantime, you can enjoy your own Craig denials with this handy "Larry Craig Still Not Gay" doll from

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The message from Moscow--

literally--is, according to an outsized billboard at the city's busiest intersection:


Now, just imagine the city of New York or Washington putting up a similar message, i.e. WASHINGTON, DC IS VOTING FOR BUSH, and you will immediately see why Russian "democracy" is such a farce now. If you go on a little ways, you can see dozens of flags flying in the breeze, urging you to "Vote for list #10!," shorthand for Putin's party. There ARE other candidates in the running, but you would never know it.

Also, elections are now accompanied by truckloads of heavily armed men in battle fatigues. Elections+Russia=Security services. Several of them glowered at me today, and I glowered back. It wasn't a pretty sight.

As Iakov Smirnov so memorably said, "what a country!"

Does Bush Get a Psychobabble Defense Too?

Once and a while national attention is drawn to the future we've given our Iraq & Afghanistan troops. What lives do they get after doing Bush & Co.'s bidding? After surviving the violence and insanity of these conflicts, they return to an almost non existent support system. The Walter Reed disgrace made headlines and changed ... well, a little for those who returned with physical problems and disabilities.

But what of those whose minds, not bodies, are broken in Iraq? Today's WaPo has a story of First Lieutenant Elizabeth Whiteside. She is charged with trying to kill herself and endangering the life of another soldier while in Iraq. Today, Whiteside is an outpatient at Walter Reed psychiatric while waiting for military judgment that could result with life in prison.

From the WaPo -
Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside's superiors considered her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. At the hearing, Wolfe, who had already warned Whiteside's lawyer of the risk of using a "psychobabble" defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.

Whiteside was assigned as a platoon leader in the 329th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance) at the Camp Cropper detainee prison near Baghdad International Airport. The hot light from the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal still charged the atmosphere at Cropper, which housed 4,000 detainees and included high-security prisoners such as Saddam Hussein and Ali Hassan Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali," as well as suspected terrorists and insurgents.

Whiteside, given the radio handle "Trauma Mama," supervised nine medics who worked the night shift at the prison. She was in charge of dispatching drivers, medics and support staff to transport sick and wounded Iraqis and U.S. troops around the prison and to a small hospital inside.

"I loved our mission," Whiteside said, "because it represented the best of America: taking care of the enemy, regardless of what they are doing to us."

The hours were brutal. Whiteside ate one meal a day, slept in two four-hour shifts and worked seven days a week. Her superiors credited her with her unit's success. "She has produced outstanding results in one of the most demanding and challenging Combat Zones," her commander, Lt. Col. Darlene McCurdy, wrote in her evaluation.

But the dynamics outside her unit were rockier. From the beginning, Whiteside and some of her female soldiers had conflicts with one of the company's male officers. They believed he hindered female promotions and undercut Whiteside's authority with her soldiers, according to Army investigative documents.

As the tensions with the officer increased, Whiteside said, she began suffering panic attacks. She stopped sleeping, she said, and started self-medicating with NyQuil and Benadryl, but decided against seeking help from the mental health clinic because she feared that the Army would send her home, as it had recently done with a colonel.

On Dec. 30, U.S. military officials took Hussein from his cell at Camp Cropper for execution. The next day, the prison erupted. Thousands of inmates rioted, and military police used rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and tear gas to restore order.

Whiteside took charge in the chaos, according to written statements by troops in her unit. She dispatched a pair of medics to each compound to begin triage, handed out gas masks and organized her unit to smuggle the prison's doctors out in an ambulance.

The next day, weary from the riots, Whiteside ran into the problem officer. They had another argument.

Army investigative documents describe what happened next.

At 6:20 p.m. a soldier frantically approached Maj. Ana Luisa Ramirez, a mental health nurse at the prison, and said Whiteside was "freaking out" and wanted to see Ramirez. The nurse found Whiteside sitting on her bed, mumbling and visibly upset. Ramirez left to get some medication.

Later, she spotted Whiteside in the darkened hallway with her sweatshirt hood pulled over her head and her hands in her pockets. Ramirez asked Whiteside to come into her room and noticed what appeared to be dried blood on her neck and hands. When she tried to take a closer look, Ramirez said, Whiteside pointed her sidearm, an M9 pistol, at her and "told me to move away and she locked the door," according to a statement Ramirez gave to the Army.

Ramirez tried to take Whiteside's gun, but Whiteside pushed her away and expressed her hatred of the officer she thought was sabotaging her. She grew more agitated and twice fired into the ceiling.

Nurses in the hallway began yelling, and Whiteside shouted that she wanted to kill them, the report said. She opened the door and saw armed soldiers in battle gear coming her way. Slamming the door, she discharged the weapon once into her stomach.

Whiteside's story (and I recommend reading the rest of this tale) reminds us once again that the damage from this insanity won't stop even if we pulled all of our troops out of the area today. We are going to be living with the results of this mess for decades to come. And you thought the only long-term damage was going to be to the shattered nation of Iraq.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Works For Me

The New York Public Library has hit the news recently with a photo exhibit that has garnered some attention. "The exhibit, 'Line Up,' is the work of artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese. Each Bush administration member clutches a clapboard, as in a standard mug shot, with the date of his 'arrest' - a day when each made "incriminating" statements regarding the Iraq war. The installation includes audio clips of the administration members - complete with the sound of a flashbulb popping and a prison door slamming."

It has drawn scattered bits of shock and awe by no doubt those in the 20-percent still think Bush isn't a criminal poll group.

Free Web Counter
hit Counter