Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

Mukasey

I was kinda looking forward to Michael Mukasey’s appointment as Attorney General.  He seems liked a nice enough guy, and he is certainly better qualified than Alberto Gonzales was (although, in fairness to Mr. Gonzales, everyone is better qualified than he was).  He also seems to be a moderate and unlikely to continue the practice of politicizing the Justice Dept. as his predecessor did.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that he refuses to characterize waterboarding as torture, one of the few things that the Justice Dept., the military, most Americans and most of the world can all agree upon.  So it is, just like that, in one week of hearings his credibility and experience go down the toilet (another torture technique?) as he falls in line with the status quo.

I had thought that by now there would be little incentive for anyone to support the failed and incredibly self-defeating interrogation policies implemented by this administration.  I thought that surely no one would willingly associate himself with the least popular aspect of a deeply unpopular President, lest he be tarred with the broad brush that will be history’s judgment of this decade.  I thought wrong.
Until Mr. Mukasey can find the dignity and strength of character to uphold the oath of his would-be office, he deserves to be overlooked in favor of a more qualified and less ideological nominee.  In other words, the office should probably stay vacant until at least 2009.

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Genarlow Wilson

The Georgia Supreme Court just ordered the release of Genarlow Wilson for the second time.  While the decision should be applauded, it’s also concerning that it was split 4-3.  That three of the justices did not feel the punishment was cruel and unusual is inexcusable, but their reasoning is downright appalling:

[The dissenting justices] said Wilson’s sentence could not be cruel and unusual because the state Legislature decided that Wilson could not benefit from subsequent laws reducing the severity of the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

When enforcing the law becomes more important than the validity of the underlying crime, we’re in a bad way.

Video Prof is still a dickbag

A few weeks ago I briefly commented about the Video Professor’s practice of filing lawsuits against anonymous internet posters who he feels are defaming the company. Now we get Mr. Professor’s take on his reasoning straight from his blog:

“A number of people have gone to web sites and anonymously posted less-than-flattering statements about their experiences with Video Professor. I am simply trying to learn who these individuals are so that I can fix the problems they have had with my company. I am committed to satisfying my customers and I will go to great lengths to make them happy, as we always have. However, I can’t help them if I don’t know who they are.”

No, I’m not making this up – he cares so much about his unhappy customers that he needs to sue them in order to help them.  With over 600 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau in the last 36 months alone, it looks like he’s going to be busy suing and helping people for quite a while.

Jeff

Jeff

It’s been 7 years but we still miss you lil’ bro.

Secrecy

What better indicator is there of our incompetent response to terrorism than this news. More than 755,000 names are now on the federal government’s terror watchlist. Over three quarters of a million people. But that’s a rough estimate because the exact number is classified, as are the methods used to determine who should and should not be on the list.

No matter what your political affiliations are, this should alarm you. mistrust.gifA reasonable person can easily conclude that the percentage of people on that list who might possibly have ties to terrorism is in the low single digits, if not decimal places. To assume that there are that many dangerous people ready to attack us is to succumb to the climate of irrational fear that leads to poor decision-making every time.

So what use, then, is this list to anyone? Again, we don’t know because it’s classified.

Let’s recap: the federal government is keeping a secret list of a secret number of people who are on the list for secret reasons. We know this secret list is used in part to determine who can board airplanes, but whatever else it may be used for is also secret. We can surmise that this secret list also aids in identifying targets of the warrantless wiretapping program that the Bush administration has engaged in for the last 5 years, but we can’t know that because everything about that program is also a secret. Congress subpoenaed several administration officials over the summer to testify about some of these secrets, but every one of them refused to speak (one didn’t even bother to show up).

All the while, we’re told that these secrets are necessary to protect us. That we should trust that the government has our best interests in mind. That the Bush administration is using this secret information appropriately and reservedly.

There’s just one small problem with this: they aren’t, we shouldn’t, and it’s highly unlikely. America’s founders knew that secrecy was the enemy of democracy and freedom centuries ago. They divided the federal government into three antagonistic branches specifically to avoid the degeneration of government into an oppressive, secretive, Gestapo-like institution. They recognized the fundamental aspect of human nature to exploit situations when there is little to no chance of being caught, and they did their best to ensure that America wouldn’t fall victim to this phenomenon as most nations in history have.

Unfortunately, events of the last few years have shown that the Constitution is still limited in the extent of its protections. That’s why it is so important to pay attention and be vigilant about issues like this. The founders made sure to point out that the Constitution is a living document that needs periodic attention.

It’s up to us to take the lessons we’ve learned about abuse of authority and update the law for the next generation. Until that time comes, and until the government comes clean about the terror watchlist, I will have a hard time believing that the current largest threat to our way of life is not coming from within our own government.

Employment discrimination

The brilliance of this administration has been in its ability to confound its detractors by moving faster than anyone in the media can keep up.  By the time we learn that illegal wiretapping has not led to any criminal convictions – in direct contradiction with what the President and various administration officials explicitly stated (that’s a nicer way of calling them bald-faced liars) – they have already moved on to create new firestorms.  Sometime when I’m feeling motivated I will create a list that contrasts the White House’s claims on some of the more pressing issues with the evidence that eventually appeared to discredit those claims.  The extent of this phenomenon is breathtaking.  It’s not that these guys are the first to lie; it’s that they’ve taken it to such unprecedented extremes.

Anyway, I thought I’d comment on this little-publicized story that represents these people in my eyes.  Today the White House issued a statement of administrative policy [PDF] regarding a House bill under consideration that would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation.  In what can only be considered irony of truly monumental proportions, one of their primary reasons for promising a veto is the constitutionality of such a bill.  That’s right, the U.S. Constitution.  It turns out they have heard of it after all.  And their argument?  It would impose an unconstitutional burden on religious organizations that currently reserve the right to make heterosexuality a job requirement.

Personally I just don’t envision throngs of gay people flocking to religious organizations demanding fair employment, even if such a bill did become law.  Those that do probably deserve the rejection they’ll no doubt experience if they dare to try.  After all the religious right aren’t exactly the kindhearted compassionate people they vehemently insist they are, if one can imagine such a thing.

So let’s employ that long lost art of compromise here – exempt religious organizations and sign the rest of it into law.  If that still isn’t acceptable to the religious right, and I suspect it won’t be, it then becomes evidence of their desire to inject their religious beliefs into the federal government.

And suddenly the Constitution becomes a hurdle again.

Dick

Vice President Cheney on October 21, 2007:

“Given the nature of Iran’s rulers, the declarations of the Iranian president, and the trouble the regime is causing throughout the region — including direct involvement in the killing of Americans — our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.”

Vice President Cheney on January 31, 2003:

“We will not permit a brutal dictator with ties to terror and a record of feckless aggression to dominate the Middle East and to threaten the United States.”

How can it be happening again? Perhaps because we still haven’t bothered to figure out how it happened the first time around? How about a little wisdom and common sense from Fareed Zakaria:

“Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on? . . .

“We’re on a path to irreversible confrontation with a country we know almost nothing about. The United States government has had no diplomats in Iran for almost 30 years. American officials have barely met with any senior Iranian politicians or officials. We have no contact with the country’s vibrant civil society. Iran is a black hole to us — just as Iraq had become in 2003.”

Alberto

As early as next month, according to this article, Alberto Gonzales could finally find himself in a whole heap o’ trouble over the U.S. attorney firings.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, I say.  With any luck his participation in the “permanent Republican majority” scheme should earn him a few years to contemplate the perils of leveraging trusted authority to increase power. He needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to send the message that party over country is not an American mindset.
I still think his prosecution should be delayed until 2009.  That’s when our current Pardoner in Chief will no longer be able to wield his get-out-of-jail-free pen.

Wildfires

A quote from a guy caught up in the fires currently raging across southern California:

The house three doors down had burned overnight, and Mr. Weinstock climbed onto his roof with a garden hose. “I’ve lived here 20 years,” he said, “and I am not going anywhere.”

This is how residents die.  It’s also how firefighters die.  As the article points out, people staying behind to protect their houses force the fire department to divert resources to rescue operations.  It forces firefighters into dangerous situations that they would rather avoid.

And it’s all for nothing.

A cheap 1/2″ garden hose flows about 9 gallons per minute.  Upgrade to the common 5/8″ and you get 17 gpm.  Go all-out and get 23 gpm from 3/4″.  Let’s contrast that with hoses used in the fire service.  1 1/2″ and 1 3/4″ are the most common sizes for fast attack lines.  They flow roughly 150gpm and 200gpm respectively, depending on the length of the run, relative elevation, and a few other factors.  At large fires they also break out the deuce-and-a-half, which flows 250+ gpm.  A single engine with its pump in volume mode can easily supply over 2000gpm to multiple lines, again depending on several factors.

2000 gpm from one truck.  23 gpm from one house.  Trust the experts when they tell you to leave.  “But what if embers fall on my roof?  A garden hose could put them out, but only if I’m there to do it!”  If a fire is close enough to drop embers on your roof, the odds are you’re only delaying the inevitable – and doing so at the expense of the people who are there trying to help you and your neighbors.

If you live in an area prone to wildfires, the two best things you can do to protect yourself and your property are to keep vegetation trimmed back as far away from the house as possible, and to get out when you’re asked to.

Rudy Strikes Again

“If we are not careful and you don’t elect me, this country will be to the left of France.” — Rudy Giuliani, quoted by Iowa Politics, on the Democratic presidential candidates.

I’m amused to no end by this clown’s chronic inability to live in the present. Like Napoleon Dynamite’s uncle Rico who spent most of his days fantasizing about being back on the high school football team, Rudy cannot contemplate a world in which he is not the hero for walking around in downtown Manhattan for a few hours on that terrible day.

Seriously, it’s been over 5 years since the embarrassing France-hating chapter of our national history ended. Remember the people pouring bottles of French wine into the East River? How about the House of Representatives’ resolution renaming french fries as “Freedom Fries”?

Yeah, no thanks Rudy. I prefer my presidents to be familiar with diplomacy at a level beyond that of a grade school playground. Here’s hoping we finally get one again next year.