Friday, December 24, 2004


So, blogging will be light through the new year, I imagine, as I hit Ann Arbor, Philadelphia, and New York City.

Oh, and one other thing: I completely despise Delta Airlines with every fiber of my being.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Those Brilliant Electors

Apparently, Edwards came in fourth in the presidential election, and some guy named John L. Kerry came in third. Can we abolish this yet?

Even John Q. Public knows the middle initial of losing presidential candidate John F. Kerry. But New York's 31 electoral college votes are currently on the books for some guy named John L. Kerry.

State officials acknowledged the mistake Tuesday after the official "certificate of vote" appeared on the Web site of the National Archives.

The document was sent to officials and archivists in Washington and Albany, N.Y., as well as to Columbia University in New York, before the error was spotted.


Another Victory

Not for us, but for our smarter, saner neighbors to the north:
A Newfoundland court ruling on Tuesday made the maritime province Canada's seventh to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. The Newfoundland ruling comes after the supreme court of Canada ruled earlier this month that the federal government has sole authority to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Prime Minister Paul Martin said after the supreme court's ruling that since judges in six of Canada's 10 provinces and one of its territories already allow same-sex marriage, it should be approved nationwide. He said his government would introduce a bill in January.

The bill is expected to pass by about 25 votes in Ottawa's 308-seat parliament with the backing of the leftist New Democrat Party and the regional Bloc Quebecois. If the legislation is approved by parliament, Canada would become the third country--along with Belgium and the Netherlands--to embrace same-sex marriage.


Contractor Flees

Forget the farcical "Coalition of the Willing." We cannot pay people enough to stay in Iraq now:
Contrack International Inc. has reportedly become the first major US contractor to pull out of the reconstruction effort in Iraq (news - web sites), adding that high security costs were to blame.

"We reached a point where our costs were getting to be prohibitive," company president Karim Camel-Toueg told the Los Angeles Times.

Contrack, based in Arlington, Virginia, had won a 325-million-dollar award to rebuild Iraq's shattered transport system.


Sheer Coincidence

Suicides of U.S. Marines have reached their highest level in five years, prompting a Defense Department effort to encourage Marines to seek mental health services, a Marine Corps spokesman said on Tuesday.

But spokesman Bryan Driver said there was no evidence linking the higher suicide rate with the long tours of duty and frontline fighting Marines have engaged in Iraq.


Gay Marriage in Utah?

Oddly enough, it might happen, due to a bill which assiduously avoids mentioning sexual orientation at all:

A bill to be put before the Utah legislature in the new session could provide some of the benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

But, none of the bill's supporters will call it a gay rights bill. Instead, the legislation has been crafted to give benefits to a wide swath of the state - from unmarried couples to relatives who live together and depend on one another.

In conservative Utah, a gay rights bill would most certainly go down to defeat. But, its supporters argue, who could oppose giving benefits to two aged siblings who depend on one another for support.

The legislation, written by Republican state Sen. Greg Bell, would allow unmarried adults who live together but are ineligible to marry in Utah to sign a contract legally establishing their relationship and granting the couple some rights assumed in marriage.

Even the title of the bill is innocuous - the "Mutual Dependence Benefits Contract".

Under the legislation pairs who sign up would have the same rights as married couples in areas such as hospital visitation and end-of-life decisions.

It would also provide that if two people purchase a home together and one dies, the remaining person would have "survivorship".

(Via Republic of T.)


More Deficit, Less Food

The effects of the Bush economy are beginning to be felt, painfully. The GOP has once again affirmed its status as the party of death:
In one of the first signs of the effects of the ever tightening federal budget, in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty.

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

"We have between five and seven million people who have been affected by these cuts," said Lisa Kuennen, a food aid expert at Catholic Relief Services. "We had approval for all of these programs, often a year in advance. We hired staff, signed agreements with governments and with local partners, and now we have had to delay everything."


Admitting the Obvious, Expecting the Ridiculous

I cannot wait for Safire to retire. His columns come from Bizarro-world, and they hold the fascination of a train wreck for me--I can't not look:
I now admit to having expected the war in Iraq to be won in a matter of months, not years. Saddam's plan to disperse his forces and conduct a murderous insurgency, abetted by his terrorist allies, was a surprise.

This by no means suggests that President Bush's decision to overthrow a dangerous despotism was a mistake. On the contrary, it was and is the right war (against a genocidal maniac who was gaining strength) in the right place (the Middle East cradle of terror) for the right purpose (to get the Arab street out of the rut of hatred and onto a path to freedom).

In return for today's grudging concession of tactical misjudgment, however, I claim this expectation: When and if we discover hidden supplies of germ weapons in Iraq or Syria, and as future confessions reveal the extent of connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam, the legion of war critics will forthrightly admit their certitude was misplaced.


What's in a Name?

Apparently, rather a lot:
New York Medical College, in Westchester County just north of New York City, has banned a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus.

NYMC is a a private Catholic college affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York.

At the beginning of this academic year, the LGBT student group, previously called the “Student Help” organization, changed its name to the “NYMC Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender People in Medicine.”

The new name, the students said, is consistent with many other “LGBTPM” groups associated with the American Medical Students Association, which itself has a national LGBT People in Medicine caucus.

But, after the NYMC student group changed its name, NYMC’s administration revoked the group’s charter. Unlike other student groups, the group will not receive funding, may not use space on campus for its activities, and may not use the college’s e-mail system.

In a notice to the group, the administration and the Student Senate said that the removal of the charter was based on the LGBT group’s wanting “to promote the lifestyle of GLBT people in conflict with the standards and values of the College.”


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Poetic Justice

You may have noticed my story on the censorship of an image deemed insulting to our Dear Leader in a New York art gallery.

And now, there's this:
A portrait of President Bush (news - web sites) using monkeys to form his image that was banished from a New York art show last week amid charges of censorship was projected on a giant billboard in Manhattan on Tuesday.

"Bush Monkeys," a small acrylic on canvas by Chris Savido, created the stir last week at the Chelsea Market public space, leading the market's managers to close down the 60-piece show.

Animal Magazine, a quarterly arts publication that had organized the month-long show, said anonymous donors had paid for the picture to be posted on a giant digital billboard over the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, used by thousands of commuters traveling between Manhattan and New Jersey.

The original picture will be auctioned on eBay, with part of the proceeds donated to parents of U.S. soldiers wishing to supply their sons and daughters with body armor in Iraq (news - web sites).


If You Think This Matters to Bush...

Then you must have been living in a cave for the last four years:

A new Zogby International survey shows that Americans oppose opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling by a solid 55% - 38% margin. Their opposition is even stronger, 59% - 25%, to a proposed "backdoor maneuver" that would use the annual Congressional budget process to let the oil industry into the Refuge.

Moreover, an overwhelming 80% say that conservation, improved fuel efficiency and the development of renewable energy alternatives are the best ways to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Only 17% say that more drilling on America's public lands is the solution.


Major Attack

When, exactly, are we supposed to "turn the corner" in Iraq?
An attack at a US military base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has killed 24 people and injured more than 60, the US military has said.

The US military said there was a single explosion at a dining tent in the Camp Merez base, at around noon (0900 GMT).

A US commander in Mosul said the dead and injured included Americans, Iraqis and foreign contractors.

The attack comes amid an upsurge of violence in the run-up to elections planned for 30 January.

A statement attributed to the Ansar al-Sunna militant group on an Islamist website said one of its suicide bombers carried out the attack.


Victory for Democracy

Let us just hope that something might come of this:
The U.S. government lost a bid on Monday to block civil rights groups from obtaining CIA (news - web sites) records of its internal investigation into abuse of detainees held by U.S. forces in Iraq (news - web sites) and Afghanistan (news - web sites).

In a ruling from the bench, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein denied a government motion aimed at stopping an earlier order to turn over documents.

The decision was made in a lawsuit brought against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) and other groups for what they said was the illegal withholding of records about U.S. military abuse of prisoners held in Iraq, the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and other locations.

The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, charged that the CIA and other federal agencies failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request filed by the groups in October 2003 and May 2004. The FOIA allows citizens access to public federal records.

"This (ruling) is extremely important," said attorney Lawrence Lustberg, who is assisting the civil rights groups. "What we're going to get are the fruits of the CIA's own internal investigation."


Monday, December 20, 2004

Buyers' Remorse

Oh, so now people think that the whole Iraq war is not so much a good idea? Shocking:
While a slight majority believe the Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties. This led 56 percent to conclude that, given the cost, the conflict there was "not worth fighting" -- an eight-point increase from when the same question was asked this summer, and the first time a decisive majority of people have reached this conclusion.


America: .13% Liveable

That's what a new study shows, for those working full time at minimum wage:
In only four of the nation's 3,066 counties can someone working full-time and earning federal minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment, an advocacy group on low-income housing reported Monday.

A two-bedroom rental is even more of a burden -- the typical worker must earn at least $15.37 an hour to pay rent and utilities, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in its annual "Out of Reach" report. That's nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.


Bush Directly Responsible for Torture

So much for the whole "a few bad apples" routine. So much for trying to blame the troops. What a bastard:
An FBI document suggests the president authorized inhumane interrogation methods against Iraqi detainees, the American Civil Liberties Union said Monday.

The document is among those obtained from the government by the ACLU in a Freedom of Information Act suit in New York.

A two-page FBI e-mail refers to "a presidential executive order," and contends President Bush directly authorized interrogation techniques that included sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.," The ACLU said.

The FBI e-mail was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander -- Baghdad" to senior FBI officials.

The techniques are "beyond the bounds of FBI practice but within the parameters of the executive order ..." The e-mail said some FBI personnel witnessed the use of the techniques, but did not participate.



I guess all those years of booze and coke really did do some serious damage to Bush's brain:
In Washington, there are plenty of ways to say "no comment," but President George W. Bush offered his own formulation, after he refused to "negotiate with myself in public."

Bush used the phrase to deflect a question on the future of Social Security (news - web sites) at a televised news conference.

"Now, the temptation is going to be, by well-meaning people such as yourself and others here, as we run up to the issue, to get me to negotiate with myself in public," Bush told the questioner on Monday. "To say, you know, "What's this mean, Mr. President? What's that mean?

"I'm not going to do that. I don't get to write the law. I'll propose a solution at the appropriate time," Bush said.

In essence, this Bushism means the president will discuss options on such issues as Social Security with members of Congress who write the law, but not with the media.

Asked to explain one facet of his Social Security policy, Bush agreed but said, "I will try to explain how without negotiating with myself. It's a very tricky way to get me to play my cards. I understand that."


Oops, Again

Once again, this is why we need due process--so that we don't steal years of innocent people's lives:
A military review has determined a second prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is wrongly classified as an enemy combatant, and he will be released to his home country soon, a Pentagon official said Monday.

Navy Secretary Gordon England refused to provide the man's name or nationality, and the circumstances of his original capture were not immediately available.

The State Department has been notified of the decision and will make arrangements to return him home.

The prisoner would be the second to be released under a military process instituted to help satisfy the Supreme Court's ruling this summer that prisoners at Guantanamo could challenge their detentions through the U.S. court system.

And what the hell is this supposed to mean? The review said he was wrongly held, for God's sake!
England stopped short of saying the latest prisoner determined to be wrongly classified as an enemy combat had been held as a mistake.

"I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to this. I think this is a gray area," he said.


Christmas in Iraq

From Riverbendblog:
Ok- what is the typical Iraqi Christmas wishlist (I won't list 'peace', 'security' and 'freedom' - Christmas miracles are exclusive to Charles Dickens), let's see:

1. 20 liters of gasoline
2. A cylinder of gas for cooking
3. Kerosene for the heaters
4. Those expensive blast-proof windows
5. Landmine detectors
6. Running water
7. Thuraya satellite phones (the mobile phone services are really, really bad of late)
8. Portable diesel generators (for the whole family to enjoy!)
9. Coleman rechargeable flashlight with extra batteries (you can never go wrong with a fancy flashlight)
10. Scented candles (it shows you care- but you're also practical)

When Santa delivers please make sure he is wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet. He should also politely ring the doorbell or knock, as a more subtle entry might bring him face to face with an AK-47. With the current fuel shortage, reindeer and a sleigh are highly practical- but Rudolph should be left behind as the flashing red nose might create a bomb scare (we're all a little jumpy lately).


There He Goes Again

Once more, the Pope is spouting off about the horrible threat gays pose to "normal people":
Pope John Paul launched a new assault on same-sex marriage on Saturday accusing gays of an "aggressive attempt to legally undermine the family."

In his strongest words on the subject yet the 84-year old pontiff's pre-Christmas message called on Catholics around the world to step up their opposition to gay marriage.

"Attacks on marriage and the family, from an ideological and legal aspect, are becoming stronger and more radical every day," his statement said.

"Who destroys this fundamental fabric causes a profound injury to society and provokes often irreparable damage."

The Pope also attacked couples who live together, abortion and artificial insemination.

"These things that are presented as civilized progress or scientific conquests, in many cases are in fact a defeat for the dignity of human life and for society," his statement read.


Conversations Civilized People Don't Have

This is how low we have sunk:
The CIA had a question for the top lawyers in the Bush administration: how far could the agency go in interrogating terror suspects—in particular, Abu Zubaydah, the close-mouthed Qaeda lieutenant who was resisting standard methods? So in July of 2002 the president's chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales, convened his colleagues in his cozy, wood-paneled White House office. One by one, the lawyers went over five or six pressure techniques proposed by the CIA. One such technique, a participant recalls, was "waterboarding" (making a suspect think he might drown). Another, mock burial, was nixed as too harsh. A third, the open-handed slapping of suspects, drew much discussion. The idea was "just to shock someone with the physical impact," one lawyer explained, with "little chance of bone damage or tissue damage." Gonzales and the lawyers also discussed in great detail how to legally justify such methods.

Among those at that first White House meeting was Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who sat on a couch along the wall. And partly out of the discussions in Gonzales's office came the most notorious legal document to emerge from last spring's Abu Ghraib interrogation scandal. This was an Aug. 1, 2002, memo—drafted by Yoo, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee and addressed to Gonzales—which provoked outrage among human-rights advocates by narrowly defining torture. The memo concluded, among other things, that only severe pain or permanent damage that was "specifically intended" constituted torture. Mere "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment did not qualify.


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Death, Cont'd

Iraq, "better" post-Saddam:
A car bomb blast during a funeral ceremony Sunday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf killed 30 people and injured 65, a hospital official said.

The blast rocked an area near central Najaf's Maidan Square, close to the revered Imam Ali shrine compound, as a large crowd of people gathered to watch a funeral procession for a tribal sheik pass by.


America Playing Games with AIDS?

This story is most unnerving, although somehow unsurprising:
South Africa's ruling party has accused top U.S. officials of treating Africans like guinea pigs amid questions over testing of a key HIV/AIDS drug before a U.S.-backed roll-out of the treatment across the continent.

The African National Congress (ANC) said on its Web site U.S. health officials had "conspired" with German drug firm Boehringer Ingelheim to hide adverse effects of nevirapine when used to try to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Media reports have suggested tests on the drug's use with pregnant women in Uganda were flawed and that single-dose treatments of nevirapine could result in future drug resistance.

The United States has denied the charges and said while there were some procedural problems with the tests the results pointing to a dramatic reduction of HIV transmission were sound.


Heed the Elders

In this instance, at least, they are correct:

Nearly three-fourths of older Americans support legalizing marijuana for medical use, according to a poll done for the nation's largest advocacy group for seniors.