Thursday, March 29, 2007

Voter Fraud?

At this point it is clear that the Republicans will be trying to raise accusations of voter fraud throughout upcoming elections. So to be prepared the good guys will need web resources to help track these accusations and rebut them. Well, I found the following recently which seems to be quite useful.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

North Korea and Uranium

This is a bit old, but it is one of the more significant failures of this administration. The evidence is mounting that the North Korean program to enrich Uranium is, and has been, much smaller and much less advanced than the Bush Administration, or Republicans in Congress prior to 2001 have been claiming. This is important because it is yet another example of what seems to me to be the most striking characteristic of Republican and conservative positions on foreign policy and national security. Namely, wherever the major threats are that face this nation, Republicans are somewhere else. For years now, the one large danger for American security in and around Korea, has been the possibility of North Korea getting a nuclear weapon. By far and away the greatest danger of that was that the North Koreans would collect the plutonium from spent fuel rods from their graphite moderated nuclear reactors and build a bomb from that. In 1994 Clinton established the Agreed Framework with the North Koreans precisely to keep the North Korean plutonium locked up. It worked well. The Republicans, however, were outraged because the agreement left open the option for the North Koreans to develop means of enriching uranium. Now, uranium enrichment is much more difficult, takes much longer and requires much more space and so is far less of a danger than plutonium enrichment. The Republicans just knew, however, that the North was now well on its way to getting a uranium bomb and had run circles around Bill Clinton. So since 1994 the Republicans have been trying to do in the Agreed Framework to save us from the dreaded North Korean uranium program. Well, the succeded and with the Agreed Framework dead before George Bush's first term was over, the North processed the spent fuel rods (remember with the plutonium, that were locked up under the Agreed Framework that the Republicans had killed) put together and exploded a plutonium bomb. Now we learn that the dreaded North Korean uranium program that the Republicans were so concerned to protect us from, was never much of a threat. That is conservative, Republican national security in a nutshell.

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Pleading the Fifth

Ok, so Monica Goodling, senior official at the Justice Department, will decline to testify before Congress, pleading her fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination. Now, doesn't this just leap out at you as a bad thing. I mean, senior official at the Justice Department can't talk about what she's doing because it might incriminate her. Um, shouldn't the folks at the Justice Department, that is the department in charge of identifying and prosecuting people engaged in criminal activity, have particularly little concern about incriminating themselves. Ok, I know that I'm one of Atrios' dirty fucking hippies, but isn't it kind of a big, I mean really big, problem if the folks in the Justice Department are generally engaged in criminal activity. I would describe this a surreal, except that implies too high a degree of normalcy.

On a related note, I wonder who now is our nations chief law enforcement officer. Why do I wonder that you say? Well it is kind of a semantic issue, but one which is illuminating nonetheless. For nearly all of my life, the phrase nations chief law enforcement officer has referred to the Attorney General. See for example here, here or here. This has been the meaning of the phrase, except during a brief period of the Clinton impeachment when the president became the nation's chief law enforcement officer. See, for example, the list of 81 impeachment questions. It made the whole thing seem more serious to have the nations chief law enforcement officer doing something illegal, so of course the phrase had to change meaning. So, I'm wondering, given Alberto Gonzales's recent divorce from honesty, will the problems for the Bush administration be worse having Alberto as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, and if so will the Republican approach be the same, change the meaning of the phrase.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Latest on Alberto Gonzales

The latest on the Alberto Gonzales front (from the AP via TPM) is that among the latest documents released by the White House are some that show that the AG was directly involved in the firings of the US Attorneys. Josh Marshall seems to think that this might be a 'Bye Alberto' moment. Now, in a normal administration it would be, but this is not a normal administration and I doubt this will drive him out, but it will increase the pressure on him and the White House.

The thing is, I believe, that there are many, big skeletons in numerous White House, and Justice Department, closets. I don't believe that the current administration can afford to have anyone in the position of AG who is not a solid Bush loyalist. And no one that qualifies in that regard could get Senate approval. I also don't believe that the administration could afford to leave the Justice Department to the Civil Servants. So, I conclude that the White House will try and keep Alberto and ride this out, at least for quite a while longer. What happens as this scandal continues though will be interesting.

Link to Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall March 23, 2007 09:54 PM

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Monday, March 19, 2007

What Liberal Media?

This tells us something about the state of the so called "liberal" media. Now Michael Kinsley is well known as a "liberal" pundit, yet it seems that he illustrates all too well how poorly progressive and liberal ideas are being represented in the major media outlets. Too often his views are more like Republican talking points than the views of a thoughtful liberal. Today he wrote this piece in reference to the growing scandal over the firing of the United States Attorneys. Mr. Kinsley's thesis is that the scandal is overblown and much ado about nothing. To make his point he links to an earlier Washington Post editorial here explaining the scandal in order to critique the editorial and show the slender basis for the scandal. The Internet being what it is, however, I went to the trouble of reading both Mr. Kinsley's piece and the Washington Post editorial to see how well Mr. Kinsley's critique held up. The answer was not very well.

To quote Michael Kinsley at length, here is his criticism of the Washington Post editorial:
An editorial in the Washington Post last Thursday, for example, avoids disingenuousness—but only at the price of utter confusion. It dismisses the Clinton administration precedent as “a red herring, not a useful comparison,” but fails to explain why. The editorial scrupulously points out that one of the US attorneys fired by Clinton was weeks away from indicting a powerful Democratic congressman—a closer connection to a more important investigation than anything now at stake. The Post concedes that Clinton’s mass firing was “unprecedented,” and “unprecedented” is the toughest adjective the Post can bring itself to apply to the recent Bush firings, too. Then it says, “But unprecedented doesn’t equal wrong.” It acknowledges that a “president…is entitled to have..prosecutors committed to his law enforcement priorities,” and is honest enough to include concerns over issues like immigration and obscenity cases as falling in this permissible-motive category. Then it runs out of steam, notes accurately that the Bushies have been lying up a storm, says this is another reason that the Clinton episode is a bad comparison, and stops.
But the editorial actually says
The Reno precedent is a red herring, not a useful comparison. The summary way she announced the move was, indeed, unusual if not unprecedented. But a turnover in the top prosecutorial jobs with a new administration taking power -- especially one of a different party -- was not.
Which most certainly consists of an explanation as to why the comparison was a red herring, contrary to Michael Kinsley's claim. Yes, as Kinsley states, the editorial points out that one of the US Attorneys fired by Clinton was weeks from indicting a major Democratic Congressional leader, but the editorial states in full about the Reno removal of this attorney is
...consider that when he was ousted by Reno, the U.S. attorney in the District, Jay Stephens, was just weeks away from deciding whether to indict House Ways and Means Chairman Daniel Rostenkowski (D-Ill.). Inconveniently for these conspiracy theorists, Mr. Rostenkowski was in fact indicted and convicted...
Not quite what Kinsley would have you believe. Kinsley, likewise, makes much of the use of the word "unprecedented" used by the Washington Post for both the Reno and Bush firings. But the Post editorial of this week describes the manner in which Janet Reno fired US attorneys to be unprecedented, not the act (she was, apparently, rather abrupt and curt). On the other hand, the Post editorial describes the Bush firings, not the manner but the act itself, as unprecedented
The question, then, is what to make of the president's move to fire several of the prosecutors. This recent group firing, in the midst of a presidential term, is unprecedented; Mr. Bush was simply incorrect yesterday when he described it as "a customary practice by presidents."
Finally, Mr. Kinsley protests that the Post editorial did not adequately explain the growing obstruction of justice charge related to the recent firings (from Kinsley)

Cohen cuts through all this, and offers several grounds for at least suspecting that the firings were part of an illegal obstruction of justice. Read it for yourself and see if you buy it. And try to be honest: would you buy the argument if it was being applied against a Democratic president? I’m afraid I wouldn’t, absent more evidence than I believe is there.

But the limitations of an editorial format, length primarily, hardly make it possible to outline the differences between the Reno and Bush firings (at which, as I've shown above, the editorial does a fine job) and give a full and detailed account of the reasons to suspect obstruction of justice charges as well. The conclusion of the Post editorial does a decent job though of laying out the basics and giving reason to believe that there are legitimate concerns (for more detail see Talking Points Memo). Specifically
(The potential for misusing the newly bestowed interim appointment authority to evade Senate confirmation is a separate, and troubling, concern.)

Internal administration e-mails released Tuesday offer some indications of those sorts of policy-related issues, from references to "woodshedding" the U.S. attorney in San Diego, Carol C. Lam, over immigration cases to complaints about whether Paul K. Charlton in Arizona and Daniel G. Bogden in Nevada were balking at obscenity prosecutions. But there are also ample grounds for suspicion about improper motives, including the involvement of White House political aides and telephone calls from lawmakers to prosecutors about politically sensitive cases. The dishonest conduct of the Justice Department has only served to deepen suspicions, to underscore the importance of figuring out exactly what transpired here and to distinguish this situation from the Reno precedent.

In short, once again, one of our foremost "liberal" pundits demonstrates himself willing to plainly mislead and distort the writings of someone else, in order to advance Republican talking points. Do folks in the press really wonder at the growth of daily Kos, TPM and the rest.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Me and SF

In addition to the political blogs, I like to read science and math blogs. Note the stuff on evolution over on the right hand side. Check it out. One excellent blog that I've recently discovered, and that I strongly recommend is Good Math, Bad Math, by Mark Chu-Carroll. Check it out. I'll get it up on my blog roll soon as well. As an aside, although I've only come across Mark's blog in the past couple of months, I've read him a lot in the past. I used to read the Usenet group a great deal, back in the 90's. He was quite a prolific, and knowledgeable writer on that group. When I saw a post of his, it was nearly always very much worth reading. His blog is every bit as worth reading, although a lot of it is only of interest to math and science geeks like myself.

Enough preamble. This post on Good Math, Bad Math is in response to a list of the 50 most important works of science fiction in the past 50 years (although in true math/science fashion that is apparently with a +/- unknown delta). Apparently, the list was started by PZ Myers on pharyngula. Check it out. So, I decided I'd add my comments on what I've read as well. The books, I've read are in bold.

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

    Brilliant work. The world would be a poorer place without Tolkien

  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov

  3. Dune, Frank Herbert

  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson

  7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke

  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.

  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov

  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras

  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish

  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

    While I haven't read The Colour of Magic, I have read a lot of Prathett. He is great. Douglas Adams for fantasy. And the beauty of Discworld is that Pratchett has a huge supply of possible characters. He won't grow tired of them as I feel sure Adams did with his set.

  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison

  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison

  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester

  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany

  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey

  22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson

  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl

  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling

  27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice

  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

  31. Little, Big, John Crowley

  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

    Partially highlighted because I haven't read Lord of Light, but I have read, and loved, Princes of Amber. Zelazny is worth reading

  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement

  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon

  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith

  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute

  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven

  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

    This is more of a reference work about Middle Earth than a novel. If read from that perspective (and you have any interest in that perspective) it is quite worth reading

  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

    I have started this book a few times. I have never finished it. I recall it having promise, but it never caught my attention. That actually says a lot, because I rarely fail to finish a book.

  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford

  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Ok, that's 29 of 50, over half, close to 60%. Not a complete geek, but fairly serious.


Saturday, March 10, 2007


Conservapedia is a new invention of some conservatives as a balance to Wikipedia. A little background for those unfamiliar with the latest web technologies. Wikipedia is an online interactive encyclopedia. People all over the world can sign up for an account and submit entries. So if you look something up on Wikipedia it was very likely written by some expert in the field or someone very knowledgable of the field. It is therefore an excellent starting point for any number of research projects. According to many conservatives it, like reality, has a strong liberal bias, hence the creation of Conservapedia. Conservapedia has gotten a lot of derisive commentary, particularly on science and math blogs, as it's entries tend to lack something of the rigorous standards such folks expect. Indeed, nearly all the entries I've seen are simply awful. I was leaving it to others to comment on this monstrosity but I just has to go look for myself and check out something that is hardly a major controversy and about which I know something, the Hubble Space Telescope. Here is the entire entry:

The Hubble Telescope was an American space probe that explored distant space beginning in 1990.

It included one of the biggest engineering mistakes ever when its telescopic lens was mistakenly placed backwards on top of other lens, thereby reducing the clarity of the images. In a space mission, astronauts were able to add a corrective lens to it which restored it to its intended performance.

The telescope is named after astronomer Edwin Hubble whose observations of galaxies led him to the discovery that the universe is expanding.
That's it. Now in the first place the Hubble is still operating and NASA plans another servicing mission next year. The use of the past tense is a bit premature. The mirror was not put in backward, that error would have been quite uncorrectable. Rather the mirror was installed just fine, but was manufactured to be a few microns (that is thousandths of a millimeter) off of design at the edges of the 2.4 meter disk. That error, small though it may sound, was far more than the manufacturing process should have allowed and was sufficient to greatly reduce the quality of the images. I'm not sure what the author is talking about and whether the actual explaination makes NASA look better or worse, but his entry is just wrong. Also, to categorize this as "one of the biggest engineering mistakes ever" is a bit absurd. It is a matter of opinion, so I can't prove it wrong, but really I think I can come up with about a hundred engineering mistakes that were much worse than this. The final paragraph is fine.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Libby Verdict

Of course by now everyone is aware that 'Scooter' Libby was convicted on four of the five counts against him. No news there, but I was reading Mark Kleiman just now and it struck me that the consequences of this verdict may be a great deal greater than has been so far supposed.

The Congressional investigation is now getting underway on the firing of the US Attorneys. Several people have already testified and more people, and people higher up, are being brought to Congress for questioning. While this administration has been well known to date for stonewalling and obstructing any type of oversight or investigation, the Libby verdict can be expected to have some effect. The people, such as Harriet Miers, going up to testify before Congress will be somewhat less willing to shade the truth and obstruct while under oath, having just seen their friend and colleague be convicted in a federal trial of perjury and obstruction of justice. I think we can expect a bit more openness and honesty than would otherwise be the case.

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Who Needs Government?

Kevin Drum reports on the end of the tax revolt which suggests that we can start worrying less about how well our Democratic principals will fare in upcoming elections as we are not wedded to tax cuts at all cost. However, I think that our message still will need a lot of work and that we will remain vulnerable unless we have a more complete and coherent concept of what government should and should not do, what should be taxed and what limits exist on taxation and spending. The message also needs to be one that can be clearly articulated to the general public and then one that does get so articulated. It is my impression that over the past several decades while the Republican assertion that Democrats were in favor of unlimited taxation and spending were completely unfair and false, no one on the Democratic side was able to do a very good job of explaining why they were unfair and false. I'd like to take a stab at the general idea by starting in this post with the titular question, who needs government?

During the past several decades it became a staple of all political arguments that the poor are most desperately in need of government assistance. This has come to be accepted by both the left and the right. Now it is certainly the case that the many programs provided by the government have been a great aid to the poor, many people are much better off today thanks in part to this assistance. It is true that poverty has been greatly reduced via federal aid and that many places enjoy prosperity today that would be quite impoverished in the absence of one form of governmental aid or another. I would argue that for all this benefit the poor are by no means the greatest beneficiary of federal assistance by any economic measure and that is without doubt true over history. For all that the poor have been aided the primary function of government is to provide a general climate of stability and peace in which people can go about there business and in which they may accumulate wealth in safety and security. Government at all levels serves first as a guarantor of the security of one's person and property. Given this, it is now, and has always been, those who accumulate property and wealth in great store who are most in need of government. Without the security that can only be provided by means of some sort of government or other, the accumulation of wealth in any great quantity is impossible. Even if you consider the whole length of human history and the entire surface of the planet you will find no people, no society, no culture who has ever accumulated an large measure of wealth without the protection of a government. At the turn of our time keeping from BC to AD it was not the Germanic tribes absent a strong government who enjoyed great wealth while the Romans suffered in poverty oppressed by their government, likewise the Mongol tribes and Chinese empire, or in medieval times the Scottish highlanders and English merchants. Government is the only institution that can provide the security needed to have large accumulations of wealth.

The reasons for seeing this are not just historical. A careful examination of our current society will show as well the profound need that the very wealthy have in government. Consider that the small shopkeeper can reasonably expect to keep his employees from stealing his money or goods with personal oversight, the threat of firing and his personal wrath. The small shopkeeper does not often have need of the police, the courts or government for this purpose. A great institution such as a major bank cannot, however, get by in the same manner. Bank of America would soon be a valueless shell should its CEO be forced to rely only on personal oversight, the threat of firing and his personal wrath to keep executive VPs from transferring millions to the Cayman Islands and then disappearing. An institution such as this must have the FBI, the federal Justice Department and the federal penal system to back up and insure the security of its assets. The same applies as well to any corporation that must entrust its employees with substantial assets. Corporations, and other accumulators of wealth, depend upon the ability to secure their trademark from use by others, yet that security can only be effectively provided by a government. How much is the wealth in Microsoft, or Viacom, or Time/Warner, or Disney, or how many others dependent upon the federal government securing their copyrights? Would the very wealthy have any chance of keeping their wealth without the government providing police and military protection services? How much does Exxon/Mobile depend upon the government of the United States to secure their physical assets overseas? I have more examples but I think I've made my point.

Given that accumulating wealth and property is only possible where government exists, I maintain that it is those who have accumulated wealth and property who are in true need of that institution. For all that the rest of us would be worse off without an effective government, those with great store of property would be devastated. The poor and the middle class have benefited greatly from the assistance provided by the US government there is no doubt of that, and that benefit has grown greatly over the last century, in particular for the poorest members of our society. And indeed anyone who holds any amount of property, however modest, has some need to rely upon the security provided by government to protect it. As true as that is, the greatest beneficiaries of the actions of the United States government have, without doubt, been the wealthiest among us.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lost Iraq?

I think Matthew has a very good point here, both on substance and on the politics of how to describe the war. Clearly, we did defeat Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army in 2003 and clearly we did install an elected government. We won the war, it is just that winning this war was no benefit to the United States.

For the politics of the issue, clearly it is better to be able to say the United States was not defeated. I have no interest in presenting this country as defeated, nor do others on the left. Furthermore, to describe the war, in its entirety, as a loss is unduly pessimistic and unnecessarily discouraging and demoralizing to the rest of the electorate. Clearly the performance of our armed forces was superlative during the invasion. Furthermore, at this point, if we withdraw, we will do so by choice, we have not been forced to. All together it is wrong to say that the United States lost this war.

Additionally, this just points up the utter failure of the Bush Administration leadership. As Matthew says, this was a victory, but a hollow victory. But given that, what level of incompetence does it take to launch a war of choice where victory is just a less bad outcome than defeat. Given the absence of any possible good outcome from the conservative policies, the ineptitude of those who would pursue those policies is staggering.

This ties in too with a point that was being made just after the elections regarding the use of force resolution, but of which I have not heard much for awhile. The point being that we invaded Iraq to

  1. eliminate WMDs
  2. remove Saddam
  3. install a democratic government

Given that the first was never relevant that the other two have been completed, the use of force resolution no longer applies and we can come home. That was the gist, in any case. We accomplished everyting we set out to do and the situation sucks. That is lousy leadership.

Link to Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

No NK Uranium

This is staggering. This has to be one of the all time most idiotic foreign policy blunders in US history. More than that it is a clear demonstration of the almost total failure of conservatives' ability to handle foreign policy and national security. Conservatives have for more than a decade been beside themselves over the threat from North Korea. North Korea, they have been insisting, is well on their way to develop nuclear weapons which will then make them a massive threat to the US. Now, no one doubted that North Korea was interested in making nuclear bombs and were making efforts to acquire them. However, anyone with any sense was aware that the NK plutonium program was the major threat and that the Uranium program, even if the most grave estimates of the NK Uranium program were correct, was not as great a danger. Under this belief the Clinton administration pursued a foreign policy course which shut the NK plutonium program down, but doing nothing about the plutonium program. This has had conservatives in a lather, Clinton had betrayed the US by failing to take decisive action against the Uranium program. Since then the Bush administration, to save us from the NK Uranium program, totally abandoned the Clinton policy. The only effect so far is that the NK plutonium program has gotten underway again and they have in fact built several bombs. Now we learn that the Uranium program that the Bush administration was so intent on saving us from, didn't exist in the first place.

No try and understand this. Conservatives were deeply concerned by the threat of NK nukes. So they destroyed the US policies that were preventing NK from getting nukes by the only route open to them in order to defend us from NK getting nukes by a means that they couldn't have used anyway. This is so absolutely typical of conservative foreign policy. Defend from threats that don't exist and ignore those that do.

See also Josh Marshall on this

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