Monday, April 30, 2007

Movie Review: Unfaithfully Yours (1948)

Unfaithfully Yours is an old b&w comedy by Preston Sturges. I first found out about Sturges by finding Sullivan's Travels (and The Lady Eve) on lists of the all-time funniest films. That's a great film and I think it aged well, better than Unfaithfully Yours did.

Rex Harrison plays Sir Alfred De Carter, a famous orchestra conductor and Linda Darnell is his wife. The first 30 minutes introduces the characters and has a lot of dense banter that while witty just struck me as rather unnatural. There's also a slapstick attempt to put out an office fire. De Carter finds out that his wife has been cheating on him with his secretary Tony. During an evening performance of three pieces he imagines three ways to deal with the situation. After the show he returns home and tries putting the first plan into action. The film returns to slapstick as things don't go at all the way he imagined it.

I laughed a fair amount at the end, but I found the rest rather silly.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

82 Innocent Guantanamo Inmates Still Held

The Washington Post report 82 Inmates Cleared but Still Held at Guantanamo.

"Since February, the Pentagon has notified about 85 inmates or their attorneys that they are eligible to leave after being cleared by military review panels. But only a handful have gone home, including a Moroccan and an Afghan who were released Tuesday. Eighty-two remain at Guantanamo and face indefinite waits as U.S. officials struggle to figure out when and where to deport them, and under what conditions."

The article merely says they were "cleared" but doesn't that mean "innocent and wrongly imprisoned for years"? in what seems like classic CYA, officials are saying they're approved for release but still calling thing enemy combatants and not exonerating them. Apparently since we've continually called them "the worst of the worst" other countries don't want them back. In some cases ethnic Uighurs were captured and countries don't want them back "for fear of angering China which considers them terrorists for leading a secession movement in the western province of Turkestan."

"Complicating the return process is that virtually all the prisoners at Guantanamo come from countries that the State Department has cited for records of human rights abuses....'It often takes us months and months, or even years, to negotiate the human rights assurances that we are comfortable with before we will transfer someone to another country,' said [John B.] Bellinger, the State Department's legal adviser." So in other words, you can't torture your people, only we can torture your people.

"Only two people have been charged under a military tribunal system approved by Congress last year." Apparently pleading guilty is the best way to get released.

Belinger also says "Countries believe this is not their problem. They think they didn't contribute to Guantanamo, and therefore they don't have to be part of the solution." I think ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner counters this capably with "This is a problem of our own creation, and yet we expect other countries to shoulder the entire burden of a solution."

This situation is just completely deranged.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kitchen Diaries

Kitchen diaries on YouTube is funny but the moment he puts it in the oven is worth your time to watch it:

A Failure In Generalship

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling (deputy commander, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment) writes in Armed Forces Journal about A failure in generalship "America's generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America's generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress."

Feith-Based Intelligence

Daily Kos in Feith-Based Intelligence (SUPER-SIZED) points out: "Since 2003, there's been a distinct trend. One by one, the intelligence agencies of the United States have been handed over to former military officers, and only those officers who have been most supportive of the Bush approach."

Some might call this hiring good people, where good is defined as agreeing with your point of view. However, I'm not happy.

Giving an Academic Talk

Good tips on Giving an Academic Talk

Energy Legislation

Carl Pope writes The Empire Strikes Back in The Huffington Post. In this case the Empire is the big carbon industry and the striking is how they are successfully lobbying Congress to keep their head in the sand. "the House of Representatives voted, 264-154, to make the two worst available energy options (coal-to-liquids and nuclear reprocessing) the top priorities for federal research. Seventy-five Democrats joined the Republicans to override their own leadership and cave in to the energy special-interests that have always run energy policy in DC."

"In a similar move, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) is reported to have made it clear that he will filibuster any legislation that improves auto fuel-efficiency standards, and West Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher announced that he would not move climate change legislation through his subcommittee until the Fall, defying Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has asked for a bill by the 4th of July."

Actually I'd like to see the Levin filibuster. I can't fathom what arguments there are against improving efficiency when I last paid $3.50 for gas. Let's keep our dependence on oil and lets continue to make the Earth inhabitable.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Brief Hiatus

Friday I'll be visiting some friends so I suspect there won't be posts until Tuesday.

Ten Steps To Close Down an Open Society

Naomi Wolf in the Huffington Post writes about the Ten Steps To Close Down an Open Society "As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration."

Retired Generals on Getting Out of Iraq

Daily Kos writes about : Retired Generals on Getting Out of Iraq

Bush (Finally) Losing Republican Support

David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post The Oval Office Bunker.

"Now, say what you like about Gonzales, but only a visitor from another planet would describe as 'very candid'" as Bush has done.

"I spoke with a half-dozen prominent GOP operatives this past week, most of them high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush I and Bush II administrations, and I heard the same devastating critique: This White House is isolated and ineffective; the country has stopped listening to President Bush, just as it once tuned out the hapless Jimmy Carter; the president's misplaced sense of personal loyalty is hurting his party and the nation."

"This is the most incompetent White House I've seen since I came to Washington," said one GOP senator. "The White House legislative liaison team is incompetent, pitiful, embarrassing. My colleagues can't even tell you who the White House Senate liaison is. There is rank incompetence throughout the government. It's the weakest Cabinet I've seen." And remember, this is a Republican talking.

Purgegate Expands

Talking Points Memo explains how "Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) is tied up in the US Attorney Purge scandal".

"So basically what we have here is a classic scandal harmonic convergence -- new nuggets about the Renzi scandal and the revelation that another of the US Attorney firings may be tied to an investigation of a Republican lawmaker. At a minimum, the DOJ has concealed critical information about the story."

Yale Allows Realistic Looking Stage Weapons

Remember how Yale Banned Realistic Looking Stage Weapons? As Bruce Schneier pointed out "Not only does this not make anyone safer, it doesn't even make anyone feel safer."

Now the university has repealed the ban. "Administrators decided Monday afternoon to require that audiences instead be informed of the use of stage weapons before the start of every performance."

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said "I think people should start thinking about other people rather than trying to feel sorry for themselves and thinking that the administration is trying to thwart their creativity,...They're not using their own intelligence. … We have to think of the people who might be affected by seeing real-life weapons." These must be those theater goers who don't watch TV or see movies or read history or newspapers or watch the news or see Shakespeare.

New Planet Could Harbor Water and Life

"An Earth-like planet spotted outside our solar system is the first found that could support liquid water and harbor life, scientists announced today."

"The new planet is about 50 percent bigger than Earth and about five times more massive. The new “super-Earth” is called Gliese 581 C, after its star, Gliese 581, a diminutive red dwarf star located 20.5 light-years away that is about one-third as massive as the Sun."

"Gliese 581 C is the smallest extrasolar planet, or “exoplanet,” discovered to date. It is located about 15 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun; one year on the planet is equal to 13 Earth days. Because red dwarfs, also known as M dwarfs, are about 50 times dimmer than the Sun and much cooler, their planets can orbit much closer to them while still remaining within their habitable zones, the spherical region around a star within which a planet’s temperature can sustain liquid water on its surface."

Almost two years I blogged about the discovery of an Extra-Solar Earth-like Planet. That was Gliese 876 d and it was 7x the mass of Earth and wasn't in the habitable zone of its star. It was almost exactly two years ago that I went to a lecture on discovering extra-solar planets. That's still one of the best talks I've been to.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What the News Media Should Be

Everyone in the news media should watch the Daily Show tonight with John McCain as the guest. He and Stewart went at it. Two people who respect each other and disagree and were talking as fast as they could on top of one another to make their points and try to get the other to as well. McCain didn't convince me of anything, except maybe he's not quite as crazy as I've thought lately. I still disagree with him but I wish every interview was like this.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Movie Review: Black Book

Most Americans when they hear the name of director Paul Verhoeven think of such over-the-top films as: Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Total Recall, Robocop and Starship Troopers. Before going to Hollywood he apparently made some of the best Dutch films of all time. Black Book is his first Dutch film in 20 years. It's not crazy over-the-top but there's still plenty of sex and violence and suspense making Black Book more thriller than drama. Fun might be the wrong word, but it's a very good solid movie.

Rachel Stein is a Dutch Jew hiding from the Nazis on a farm. When the farm house is bombed she has to find another hiding spot and soon is caught up in the Dutch resistance. She creates a new identity of Ellis de Vries a German singer and is sleeping with the head of the Gestapo to spy on them. i won't give more away but there is a lot of plot to follow. None of the characters are stupid and few are entirely good or entirely evil. Lots of shades of grey here in what you have to do to survive.

It's a Verhoeven film so it's not without controversy. This film has at least one sympathetic Nazi and covers the brutal retribution of the Dutch to the Nazi sympathizers. As harsh as it is, apparently Verhoeven toned that down from real life. This is a film that has several endings but they all add something. It has a framing device of starting with a scene in Israel in 1956 with Rachel and tells the story in flashback. Normally I dislike such things but it allows a final scene that's a pretty powerful statement.

I enjoyed Black Book a lot. There's an involved plot that keeps adding twists and turns and the production values are all strong. But what makes this film is Carice van Houten's great lead performance as Rachel/Ellis. She's strong, capable, resourceful, sympathetic, plays a full range of emotions and is utterly stunning.

I will give the advice to pay attention to try to learn all the characters names. Towards the end of the film a lot of off-screen characters are referred to by name and you'll want to be able to keep up. So yes, I'm implying you should see this.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Yale Bans Realistic Looking Stage Weapons

"In the wake of Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions."

"According to students involved in the production, Trachtenberg has banned the use of some stage weapons in all of the University’s theatrical productions. While shows will be permitted to use obviously fake plastic weapons, students said, those that hoped to stage more realistic scenes of stage violence have had to make changes to their props."

Of course Yale does have a fencing team. I wonder for how long?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gonzales' Testimony

The short version is that Gonzales said nothing new today.

The slightly longer answer is that there were no smoking guns found, but with nothing new coming out, he clearly didn't help his case at all. Most Democrats questioned him hard but the real story is that some Republicans did too and several senators from both sides called for him to resign.

Gonzales' story is that he started the process and delegated it to his senior staff. He has no reason to believe anything improper was done. They came back with a recommendation and he signed off on it. Mistakes were made in how this all blew up and he's committed to fixing them.

Honestly, that's his story. He repeated the above things over and over again. He didn't offer much depth beyond the sentences in the above paragraph. He didn't say for example why he had no reason to believe anything improper was done. When asked about what the process for putting people on the list was he said he didn't know, that Kyle Sampson did that. When asked how he knew the process prevented something improper from happening he said he trusted his staff. When told that Kyle Sampson said he had no safeguard in the process to prevent something improper from happening because he was just the aggregator, Gonzales said he wouldn't attempt to answer for what Sampson believed his role was.

The Senators had 7 minutes to ask questions in two rounds. it's a really annoying process because it's not enough time to get to any depth. Particularly when the witness can stall. Nevertheless, over 7 hours a few senators managed to follow a train of thought.

Arlen Specter (R-PA) began by slapping down Gonzales for saying "Senator I prepare for every hearing". He struck back with "Do you prepare for your press conferences?" Later on in a response to Chuck Grassley (R-IA) Gonzales said "The reasons my statements were incorrect was that I did not go back and review the record." but no one connected the two. Specter listed several ways Gonzales was involved in the decision to fire the US Attorneys and asked if he could characterize that as being merely "a limited extent" as Gonzales had called it. Gonzales said it was and Specter couldn't understand that. Specter was apparently trying to get him to take the mistake approach as opposed to incompetent approach but Gonzales wasn't going there, deliberately.

Ted Kennedy (D-MA) then went with the track of, how can you know that none of them were removed for improper reasons since you had a limited involvement, the process wasn't rigorous and you left it basically to someone else? Gonzales said he relied on the consensus recommendation of his senior staff. Kennedy asked "At the time you made the judgement and decision, you didn't really know the actual reason when you approved the removal, at the time" and Gonzales' answer was "For two I didn't, for the others I did know the reasons independently so I wasn't surprised they were on the list." Kennedy points out "We're reminded that the documents don't show any clear rationale for the decisions." and mentions the standard DOJ performance evaluation process is known as EARS and it seems Gonzales never reviewed this.

Diane Feinstein (D-CA) asked about the amendment to the US Patriot Act that allows the AG to replace US Attorneys without the consent of the Senate. Now I find this a little dumb as the Senate did in fact vote in favor of this. But Gonzales again has no recollection of when this idea started other than that it goes back to 2004. He approves it because he "doesn't like the 'judiciary' [I think he meant legislature] deciding who's on my staff."

Feinstein then went into details on US Attorney Carol Lam. She was distinguished, one of the top 10 US Attorneys and the best on corruption cases and yet DOJ never told her that there were performance issues. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) followed up on the Carol Lam issue. He said Kyle Sampson said no one from the department talked to Carol Lam. Gonzales said she was aware but in further questioning it's because Congressmen expressed concerns to her, but no one from DOJ did. "Is it DOJ policy to let Congress communicate their department concerns?"

Gonzales kept saying "I'm not aware of anything improper" occurring but Russ Feingold (D-WI) (and others) keep saying how he didn't look into it so how can he know? But no one came out and said to him that being unaware of something you didn't investigate isn't valid.

Jeff Sessions (R-AL) actually asked real questions about Gonzales' lack of memory though he also seemed to imply that Sen. Domenici's inquirey to David Iglesias about a case was ok, Gonzales disagreed with that.

Chuck Schumer (D-NY) followed up on Carol Lam and then talkeda about how on Dec 15 Gonzales talked to Senator Mark Pryor (D-AK) assuring him that he'd seek confirmation. But in an email 4 days later Kyle Sampson distributed a detailed plan to avoid Senate confirmation. Senator Pryor has uncharacteristically come out and said Gonzales "lied to him" Gonzales says that Sampson testified that Gonzales rejected the plan but Schumer points out the testimony says he rejected the plan in February but in December Sampson says you approved it.

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked: "Was this really performance based or did these people just run afoul of personality conflicts in the office and we were trying to make up reasons to fire them because we wanted to get rid of them?" Gonzales said that if you look at the documentation I think there is documentation supporting these decis..." and Graham cut him off saying "most of this is a stretch. I think it's clear to me that most of the people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or the White House and we made up reasons to fire them, some of it sounds good, some of it doesn't and that's the lesson to be learned here. He followed up saying he didn't believe in the conspiracy theories but as you said "sometimes it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time" If I applied that standard to you what would you say?" Gonzales replied that he thinks he can still do a good job.

Dick Derbin (D-IL) asked about Karl Rove and that didn't get too far. Same with questions about Patrick Fitzgerald. But in an answer to a question on Sen. Domenici improperly calling David Iglesias, Gonzales said that it was wrong but since Iglesias didn't report it to the DOJ so he should have been fired.

Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) asked how Gonzales could be sure that no improper considerations influenced the process. Gonzales said he wouldn't do that and neither would his people. Cardin pointed out that Kyle Sampson testified that "Local political concerns from partisans may have been influential in the firing" but Gonzales stuck to the line. Cardin said that Sampson testified that there were no safeguards in the process to avoid improper influence and still Gonzales stuck by his statements that he now knows the process was flawed but has no knowledge that anything improper was done.

Tom Coburn (R-OK) was pretty calm but said "You said earlier this was an unfortunate episode. You also said that these attorneys were evaluated based on their leadership skills and management skills and you answered a question from Senator Graham earlier about your position in light of all this. Why would we not use the same standards in handling this event that you applied to these same individuals." Gonzales replied that he admitted mistakes and will work to correct them.

Coburn went on: "To me there has to be consequences to accepting responsibility. I would just say Mr. Attorney General it's my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled. It was handled incompetently, the communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It was generous to say there were misstatements, that's a generous statement, and I believe that you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered and I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation."

Gonzales said "I don't know whether or not that that puts everything behind us quite frankly.. I know the mistakes that were made here and am committed to fix those mistakes and I'm committed to working with you to restore the faith and confidence that you need to work with me." Coburn replied: "Mr. Attorney General you set the standard, you said leadership skills, management skills. They were sorely lacking in this instance and the responsibility is to start with a clean slate; a new set of leadership skills a new set of management skills. To heal this in the country to restore the confidence in this country"

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) questioned Gonzales at this point and I've blogged about that already.

Jon Kyl (R-AZ) followed up on this and then talks about internet gambling

Pat Leahy (D-VT) asked about the White House and RNC email accounts and policies. And then pointed out how so many different statements by Gonzales have varied and that he doesn't know what is the complete record. Gonzales didn't help, merely saying he takes responsibility for his misstatements and if there are specific questions he'll be happy to answer. I want to know what happened to telling the whole truth?

Arlen Specter (R-PA) then talked about VA Tech, the FBI abusing National Security Letters, and the FISA Court and the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Diane Feinstein (D-CA) tried to track down how the list was formed but didn't get anywhere. She pointed out that i was almost 10% of the US Attorneys on the list. Kyle Sampson said he didn't put people on the list he was merely the aggregator. Mike Battle the Dir of the Executive Office of US Attorneys said he had no input. Bill Mercer acting Associate Attorney General and number 3 at DOJ said "I didn't understand there was a list, I didn't a list, it was just that any time I had a particular concern I made it known to different people". "You said you didn't know the reasons US Attorneys were put on the list until after you decided to fire them." She tried to find out the people that put names on and off the list and didn't get an answer.

She pointed out the 3 page document for the firing process at the November 27th meeting. She started with an aside that part of the plan mentioned that in districts losing an Attorney if they had a Republican Senator, they were called, but if they had a Democratic Senator, instead of the Senator getting called the "political lead" was called. Isn't that nice. But she didn't ask him why that was or if he approved of it.

Then she said that it said "on the question of who decided, the talking point is that the administration made the determination to seek the resignations, not any specific person at the White House or the DOJ" and she added that "to this time we do not know who actually selected the people to be put on the list. I would like to know who selected the individuals that were on that list. Somebody had to, a human being had to". Gonzales said that while he wasn't going to characterize Mr. Sampson's testimony but talked about what he thought was supposed to happen. But Feinstein didn't say, I don't want to know what you thought was supposed to happen, but five months later I want to know what actually did happen, why can't we know this by now?

Said that we know the White House was involved in the removal of Bud Cummins; Karl Rove called you and asked about 3 districts; the President about New Mexico in fall of '06 and Harriet Miers about Debra Lang from Los Angeles (she resigned). "Given all this, how could you say just 3 weeks ago that the WH did not play a role in adding or removing names from the list?" Gonzales just said that in his mind he didn't relate these conversations to the ongoing process of evaluations.

Gonzales said: "You the committee I'm assuming, I'm presuming has interviewed the people involved in this process and could ask that question. I would like to know, I would like to ask that question but out of respect for this investigation I have no done so. The only thing that I can do today is to give you the information that I know, the truth as I recall it, that's what I'm trying to do here today is to tell you that I received the recommendation, what I presumed, most importantly what I cared about was did this reflect the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General, that would be the most important thing I cared about." I don't know why this isn't grounds for him to resign based on incompetence.

Gonzales brought up Carol Lam, "I believe based on my review of the documents, that MIss Lam knew that there were concerns or certainly there was an interest in her her performance with respect to immigration prosecutions. I don't know whether or not Miss Lam knew that the DOJ had concerns or if things didn't change that she might lose her job."

Feinstein said "Let me tell you we all get concerns, all the time. But if I were employed by justice I would be curious what my bosses think not the flak that I may or may not be getting from other places because the flak to some extent comes with the territory." Gonzales replied "Senator I expected that my concerns about her immigration prosecution numbers and her gun prosecution numbers would be communicated to Miss Lam." and Feinstein said "But two months before she was fired in a letter to me, [Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General] William Moschella said that everything was fine with her immigration numbers and she has told us she was never contacted by the department about immigration. My time is up." Her time and out then and Gonzales didn't answer. When Leahy gave him time to answer, he didn't.

Later on Whitehouse made two more interesting points. He said that over the years there have been more and more safeguards put in place to prevent improper communications between the White House and the DOJ. He had a chart with how the Clinton administration had it structured. There were only 4 people in the Clinton White House that could communicate with DOJ and only 3 in DOJ that could talk to the White House. He then pointed out that under Bush there are 400+ people in the White House that can communicate with the DOJ and 30+ in the DOJ that can talk to the White House. Gonzales merely said he thought controlling it was important.

Senator Whitehouse then went on about a conversation that Harriet Miers had with a US Attorney McKay and she told him he mishandled a case. Apparently this is a precise legal term and to use that term she'd have to have had access to information that she shouldn't have. Gonzales didn't have an answer about it but there are ongoing investigations into this. Apparently Gonzales had the Office of Professional Responsibility but they don't normally investigate such things and their reports are not public. Whitehouse asked why he choose them and if this fact was relevant to the decision. Gonzales merely said that the Office of the InSpecter General is now investigating it but they choose to do so on their own and he can't claim responsibility for that. And that he's rescued himself during the investigation so he can't comment on it. WTF?

When the hearing ended the audience started chanting "Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, Gonzales, Goodbye". Someone yelled out "74 times, I don't recall, how did he get through law school?"

After the testimony the White House put out this statement saying in part "President Bush was pleased with the Attorney General's testimony today. After hours of testimony in which he answered all of the Senators' questions and provided thousands of pages of documents, he again showed that nothing improper occurred." After this we found out the president had not seen the testimony.

Sheldon Whitehouse Questioning Gonzales

I don't know Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) but he struck me as a cross between David Gregory and John Larroquette, and he rocked yesterday. In writing my post, I found I couldn't summarize what he wrote, so I just transcribed all seven minutes. Here's you go, read it.

SW: Here's what concerns me Attorney General Gonzales. The administration of justice in our country is controlled within structures. Some of them are constitutional structures, some of them are statutory structures. but some of them are structures that have developed over time that amount to tradition and practice, but they are there for good and important reasons and my concern after reading your testimony after hearing your testimony today is that you don't seem to be aware of the damage to those structures that this episode has caused. And I'd like to run a few by you just to let you know where I'm coming from. The two areas where you ask us to agree with you in testimony. the first is that US Attorney can be fired at will by the President. That's undeniably true, but I think its use as a rhetorical point in this discussion is highly misleading, deeply misleading. Because I think you and I both know that for years, for decades, there has been a tradition of independence on the part of US Attorneys. Once they're appointed unless there is misconduct they're left to do their jobs and that rule, that practice has existed for good and meaningful reason and it can just be overlooked by just blithely saying the president has the power to remove these people. That misses the point. These people make tough decisions, they're out there on their own very often. Very often the DOJ and the political environment that surrounds it is one that you want to protect them from. And the idea that willy nilly that senior staff people can come out and have the heads of US Attorneys I think is highly damaging to that piece of structure. This was not customary practice, we can agree on that can we not?"

AG: Senator, I do agree on that and I do agree with that structures and traditions are important. I agree with that as well.

SW: Well the second piece of the structure there that I think is significant is that although you as Attorney General are in command of the administration of justice in the federal system, there's actually very little prosecution that takes place out of main justice. The enormous majority of the prosecutive authority of the US of A has been dispersed out into 93 judicial districts; and it's been dispersed to men and woman who have certain characteristics. One is that that they're from the local community and when they are done they go back and live in that local community and it's good for the administration of justice when they are accountable in that way for their decisions given the power and often terror that prosecutive action can take in a family. The second is that they gotta get a senator to sign off on them, in fact they gotta get a majority of the whole senate to sign off on them and a President of the US. And when those things happen, it creates a corps if you will, c.o.r.p.s. A corps of practicality, of common sense, of responsibility, of experience that I consider to be a huge value to the administration of justice in this country. And in every way in which this was handled it is highly destructive of that independence. Whether it's people from Justice going out and taking these positions; whether it's ducking Senate confirmation; whether it's not bringing people from the local community up to take those positions; or whether it's the general level of disrespect that's been shown for the US Attorneys through this whole process. And I guess I'd like to ask for you to comment. Do ya think that that's a structural component of the administration of justice, that dispersion of the authority out to 93 independent local US Attorneys that has value and that is important and should be protected?

AG: I do think it has value and I think that the independence of the US Attorneys is important. I think US Attorneys should feel independence to exercise their judgement in prosecuting cases based upon the evidence. However I have to qualify that a bit Senator in that with respect to policies and priorities. Again the President of the US is elected based upon his policies,...

SW: I'll spot you that Attorney General, but my point is that when you're making a decision like that, there's a counterbalance to it. When you go to Carol Lam and you say you know what, you're not doing enough immigration prosecutions therefore you're fired; there are all sorts collateral consequences of that some of which are really quite damaging and evil. Particularly when you're knocking off somebody who is known among her colleagues as being really the prime US Attorney in the country on public corruption prosecutions. It sends a really rough message. So in the balancing between the structural protections and the respect and all of that and this question of policy, I would hazard to you that you can't let the policy question just run away with the issue. You've got to think it through thoughtfully and I can't find a place in the whole tragic record of the situation in which that careful thought was administered.

AG: No question about it. No question about it that we have to take into account about how decisions may affect ongoing cases. There's no question about that. But I think it's important for the American people to understand that even when there's a change at the top with the Attorney General or a change at the US Attorney, the cases continue...

SW: That's true. As you and I know the leadership from the US Attorney makes a big difference that's why you felt these replacements were important in the first place. But if I may make my second point cause I'm running out of time here and it's the second thing that you suggest which is that we should further agree on a definition of what an improper reason for the removal of a US Attorney would be. And over and over again you've used the word improper as sort of your target word as to where the boundary is as to where you should and shouldn't go. But your definition of Improper is almost exactly the same as Kyle Sampson's. He came in here and testified, he said without consulting with anybody, and said that the improper reasons include an effort and I quote "to interfere with or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage." And your testimony is to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain. You've loaded up those words, you've used them repeatedly and I think that the definition of where impropriety lies, clearly that would be improper, that would be grotesquely improper. But I think you've set the bar way low for yourselves if that's your standard of where impropriety is. Because and I'd like to hear you comment on this. I think any effort to add any partisan or political dimension into a US Attorney's conduct of his office, irrespective of whether it's intended to affect a particular case or not, is something that we need to react to firmly, strongly, resolutely, and without any tolerance for it and yet you've set the bar so that it's not impropriety until it affects a particular case. Why did you do that?

AG: Senator because the accusation that have been made, primarily, certainly as an initial matter was that there was something improper, that we were trying to interfere with particular cases. That's why, certainly the focus in my mind was to focus on ok, well what is the legal standard, and I think it's important for us to understand, as an initial matter, what is the legal standard, what would be inappropriate or improper?

SW: But something a lot less than that would be improper would it not? I mean when Admiral Byng got hanged there was a famous comment that every once in a while you gotta hang an admiral just to encourage all the others. Ya know, if you hang a US Attorney every once in a while just to discourage all the others, even if your intention is not to affect a particular case ya have to agree that would be highly improper.

AG: Senator, it may be improper as a matter of management, some would have to wonder is that an appropriate way to manage the department, but again senator you have to understand...

SW: Otherwise it would be obstruction of justice correct?

AG: ...that these individuals have served their four years, they're holding over, there's no expectation of job here, there shouldn't be because of the fact that they are presidential appointees. Now clearly, as management issue there is value added to a person who's served as a US Attorney in terms of experience, expertise, and so...

SW: It's more than just a management issue. It's an issue about the structure through which justice is administered in this country. And when it's broken and when it's damaged and when the Attorney General of the US says that the only place where impropriety exists is when political and partisan influence has risen to the point that it's intended to affect a particular case but otherwise it's fine, I have a real problem and I think everyone in America US should have a real problem with that. My time has expired.

A Felony to Own a Model of a WMD?

Carnegie Mellon had a bomb scare. It was a false alarm. Photos are here.

"Police originally began following the car because it matched a description given by an anonymous caller who reported seeing somebody putting something that looked like a bomb inside the vehicle."

What surprises me is that "it is a felony to own a model of a weapon of mass destruction". I'm pretty sure I've seen models of Fat Man and Little Boy in museums.

What do People Have Against Atheists?

I have not been a fan of Dinesh D'Souza but his recent post, Where Is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?, really annoyed me. "Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found...What this tells me is that if it's difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho's shooting of all those people can be understood in this way--molecules acting upon molecules."

I don't believe in one or more gods so I can't understand good and evil?!?! I understand some chemistry so I can't understand people and emotions? This is ridiculous and moronic.

What is it about atheists that frighten or confuse the religious so much? You want to believe in a god and follow a religion, fine with me. In such situations it can bring comfort and if that works for you, great. There are plenty of good moral lessons that can be learned from most every religion. There are also plenty of traditions and ceremonies that can help in times of need. Just don't replace facts with beliefs. Don't confuse allegories with historical facts. And don't warp your religious teachings to hate others (though sadly, many religions and other groups find the need to shun disbelievers, claim superiority, convert or conquer them).

As an atheist I'm perfectly able to comfort those in need. To talk through tough times, offer a shoulder to cry on or help a grieving family. And apparently I'm more able than some religious people to accept others for what they are.

Oh Yeah, Iraq...

Think Progress reports Iraqis ‘Curse’ U.S. Security Plan Following Deadliest Day Since Escalation Began: "The increasing presence of the U.S. occupation is fueling a bloody cycle of violence: it motivates terrorists to carry out attacks; the locals blame the attacks on the U.S.; the terrorists then find a new recruiting pool willing to carry out new attacks."

More on Carhart

Balkinization writes The Big News About Gonzales v. Carhart-- It's the Informed Consent, Stupid. A couple of key quotes:

"Justice Kennedy argues that the government may ban intact D&E because it has the right, under the Casey decision, to ensure that a woman's choice is informed. Kennedy then argues that given a mother's natural love for her child, some women will regret having abortions after the fact. And some women may especially regret having an abortion if they knew the details of the procedure-- intact D&E-- used to perform the abortion. Hence, Kennedy argues, the state may ban that procedure, because it will cause some women not to have abortions, and because it will force doctors to 'find different and less shocking methods to abort the fetus in the second trimester'."

"Thus Kennedy's opinion opens the door for states to pass increasingly unreasonable versions of abortion restrictions designed to frighten, manipulate, and discomfit women under the guise of providing informed consent."

McCain's Singing

You've probably heard about McCain answering a question on Iran by singing to the tune of the Beach Boys Barbara Ann, ‘Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.’ I heard the clip on NBC this morning. They just said on a question about Iran and played the clip of the singing. Think Progress had a longer clip that included the question, see this YouTube video. The question was:

"It's well-documented that we have for quite a long time now known where the real problem is in the middle east, and in fact the president adequately described it as the axis of evil. I guess my question is that how many times do we have to prove that these people are blowing up people now nevermind if they get a nuclear weapon; when do we send them an airmail message to Tehran."

You have to admit it was a loaded and moronic question (well-documented, real problem, these people). Also notice that the clip cuts off just before he gets to the substance of his answer. The singing was in poor taste and improper for a presidential candidate, but depending on what he said after it was clearly a joke.

Already someone has editted that clip to the Greenday song "I walk along" playing the singing over and over again. At least in one of the repeated parts they included more of his answer, that he considers Iran a treat. Another clip editted pictures of bombed children after the singing.

I know it's been a world of sound bites for a while but this seems far more extreme. The level of debate just went down even further. I don't know what this election is going to bring in a year and half. It might all depend on what youtube clip is popular.

He's an older clip of McCain singing Barbara Streisand. It might be from SNL but yeah, that's in bad taste too, nevermind.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gonzales Hearing

I watched the Gonzales hearing today. I'll have more comments later, but I was not impressed with him. He added nothing new and said he didn't know or remember a lot. Senators on both sides asked some probing questions. Of course come Republicans abdicated their oversight role and asked nothing of substance (Hatch and Brownback come to mind). But I was impressed that Alfred Spector (R-PA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) all asked some real questions. Benjamin Cardin (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) who I don't know did a really good job as well.

Gonzales couldn't be pinned down. No one can say who put names on the list. Gonzales says he's sure nothing improper was done but doesn't say how he knows that because whenever he was asked about how things happen he said he delegated the process to his staff and trusts them. But from the testimony of the staff, they said they had no checks in the process to ensure that. Also, Gonzales' definition of improper is really more like illegal. Sheldon Whitehouse made the point that improper is broader than merely illegal.

There's no way today's testimony won anyone over. More details tomorrow.

iPhone Issues? Source: iPhone running into OS issues, won't meet demand

There are all sorts of rumors on the iPhone and the delay of Leopard it apparently called, the latest is iPhone running into OS issues, won't meet demand. We'll have to see, but so far I've seen nothing to sway me from my thought that you don't buy rev 1 of an Apple product.

Yes, there will be a test.

I really enjoy Jessica Hagy's blog indexed. Here's the latest:

Crazy Tattoos

Crazy Geek and Video Game Tattoos .

More on Gonzales v. Carhart

Other's far more knowledgable than me have managed to read the decision and have posted their views.

Michael C. Dorf summaries the important points in Supreme Court Partial Birth Abortion Ruling far more briefly than I managed.

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate writes Father Knows Best, Dr. Kennedy's magic prescription for indecisive women rips apart Kennedy's decision and I have to say it seems pretty fair.

Steve at Eminent Domain talks about Why the Concurrence Says More than the Majority. He walks through all 4 sentences and finds lots of questions.

Law Professor Michael Stokes Paulsen was in the middle of teaching the relevant precedent when the decision came out and his students (online on their laptops) informed him. In The Pernicious Doctrine of Stare Decisis. He make a case that's a little over my head that precedence is not a good a doctrine because it leads judges to decide cases against the way they think they should. I'll have to read this again.

Supreme Disharmony?

The Law Blog at the Wall Street Journal has a post Supreme Disharmony?. It points out that Robert's goal of more consensus doesnt' seem to be working as there are many 5-4 rulings. Apparently too they aren't all along the lines I think of because they point out that Alito and Scalia disagree a lot. So much for Scalito. They also point to a juicy Scalia dissent in Zuni v. Dept of Education. He does write well but I'll have more to say on his writing when I finish my post on MA v. EPA.

SCOTUS Upholds Partial Birth Abortion Ban

The US Supreme Court today announced a 5-4 decision in Gonzales v Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. The decision and concuring and dissenting opinions are 73 pages and the experts are still deciphering what it all means and whether it was a narrow or a broad decision. But that hasn't stopped people from getting early comments out.

In 2003 Congress passed, and Bushed signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. In 1995 and 1997 Bill Clinton vetoed similar bills. Reuters has a recap of Supreme Court abortion rulings. In particular in 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruled that some limitations on abortions were allowed (parental consent, informed consent, and a 24-hour waiting period) as long as they didn't present an undue burden to the woman (spousal notification was not allowed).

In 2000, the court in Stenberg v. Carhart struck down by a 5-4 vote a Nebraska "partial birth abortion" law. "The Nebraska law at issue prohibits any 'partial birth abortion' unless that procedure is necessary to save the mother's life." The court struck it down for two reasons. First, since it didn't have exceptions to preserve the woman's health (merely her life). Second because there was some disagreement on the medical definitions involved so "because all those who perform abortion procedures using the D&E method must fear prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment, the Nebraska law imposes an undue burden upon a woman's right to make an abortion decision"

"The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 5, 2003, and immediately challenged. Three different U.S. district courts, the Northern District of California in Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft, the Southern District of New York in National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft, and the District of Nebraska in Carhart v. Gonzales declared the law unconstitutional. All three cited the law's omission of an exception for the health of the woman, and all three decisions cited precedent set by Roe v. Wade (1973) and Stenberg v. Carhart (2000)." On appeals of these cases the US Court of Appeals for the 8th, 9th and 2nd Circuit all found the law unconstitutional for the same reasons: (1) it unduly burdened a woman's ability to choose a second-trimester abortion, (2) was too vague in it's definition of the banned procesdure, and (3) lacked a health of the woman exception. So six courts thought the new law violated the precedents of Casey and Stenberg.

Kennedy wrote the decison of the court, with RATS (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia) joining.

Since some of the justices joining didn't agree with the Casey decision, this opinion starts by saying that all agree that Casey shows the government has a legitimate interest in protecting an unborn fetus. Casey had 3 holdings: (1) that before viability the woman has a right to choose without undue state interference, (2) after viability the state can restrict abortion with exceptions for endangering the life or health of the woman, and (3) "the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child." For some reason the opinion only discusses the third though it says all three apply.

Without getting too graphic, the act bans only "intact dilation and evacuation" (D&E) as opposed to standard D&Es. They say it's not vague in describing the banned procedure since it defines specific anatomical landmarks in the procedure (delivery of the head or feet up to the navel) that must be deliberately met and if met merely accidently the ban doesn't apply. They also say that "it applies both previability and postviability" and I thought that went against Casey.

They say it's not an undue burden because there are other alternatives that are allowed. While some doctors claim an intact D&E is safer, this isn't agreed too. "Congress found, among other things, that ì[a] moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion . . . is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited."

"In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the means that will be used, confining themselves to the required statement of risks the procedure entails...The State has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed." But since they are banning the procedure I don't see how this applies. The woman can no longer make a choice, informed or not.

They said that there was no concensus on whether an intact D&E was safer than a standard D&E. "The Court has given state and federal legislatures wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty." They don't accept Congresses finding of fact that a intact D&E is never medically necessary on face value and yet for some reason they don't let that influence them on the health risk to the woman. "When standard medical options are available, mere convenience does not suffice to displace them; and if some procedures have different risks than others, it does not follow that the State is altogether barred from imposing reasonable regulations. The Act is not invalid on its face where there is uncertainty over whether the barred procedure is ever necessary to preserve a womanís health, given the availability of other abortion procedures that are considered to be safe alternatives."

Reading the opinion through it seemed ok but not particuarly tight. Reviewing it to write this I didn't find it compelling at all.

Thomas wrote a concurring opinion: "I write separately to reiterate my view that the Court's abortion jurisprudence, including Casey and Roe v. Wade, has no basis in the Constitution." What's interesting is that only Scalia joined in this, Roberts and Alito did not. Maybe they really don't want to overturn Roe or Casey.

He also says "I also note that whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court." leadinig people to believe that he thinks this is another way to attack Roe.

Ginsburg wrote a scathing dissent with Stevens, Souter, Breyer joining. "Today's decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman's health."

"In Stenberg, we expressly held that a statute banning intact D&E was unconstitutional in part because it lacked a health exception. We noted that there existed a 'division of medical opinion' about the relative safety of intact D&E, but we made clear that as long as 'substantial medical authority supports the proposition that banning a particular abortion procedure could endanger women's health,' a health exception is required." That is a division in medical opinion means there is risk.

She then rips apart Congress' findings of fact pointing out the even the opinion agrees. However she gives much more description about how wrong Congress was. "[N]one of the six physicians who testified before Congress had ever performed an intact D&E. Several did not provide abortion services at all; and one was not even an obgyn. . . . [T]he oral testimony before Congress was not only unbalanced, but intentionally polemic."

"For example, Congress determined that no medical schools provide instruction on intact D&E. But in fact, numerous leading medical schools teach the procedure. Among the schools that now teach the intact variant are Columbia, Cornell, Yale, New York University, Northwestern, University of Pittsburgh, University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, and University of Chicago."

"[T]here was no evident consensus in the record that congress compiled. There was, however, a substantial body of medical opinion presented to Congress in opposition. If anything . . . the congressional record establishes that there was a 'consensus' in favor of the banned procedure."

"Similarly, Congress found that [t]here is no credible medical evidence that partial-birth abortions are safe or are safer than other abortion procedures...But the congressional record includes letters from numerous individual physicians stating that pregnant women's health would be jeopardized under the Act, as well as statements from nine professional associations, including ACOG, the American Public Health Association, and the California Medical Association, attesting that intact D&E carries meaningful safety advantages over other methods. No comparable medical groups supported the ban. In fact, all of the government's own witnesses disagreed with many of the specific congressional findings."

Is this really the level of competence of Congress? Pathetic. Clearly this law was political motivated and not fact-based.

During the trials there was even more evidence. "During the District Court trials, 'numerous' 'extraordinarily accomplished' and 'very experienced' medical experts explained that, in certain circumstances and for certain women, intact D&E is safer than alternative procedures and necessary to protect women's health."

"The District Courts' findings merit this Court's respect. Today's opinion supplies no reason to reject those findings. Nevertheless, despite the District Courts' appraisal of the weight of the evidence, and in undisguised conflict with Stenberg, the Court asserts that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act can survive 'when . . . medical uncertainty persists.' This assertion is bewildering. Not only does it defy the Court's longstanding precedent affirming the necessity of a health exception, with no carve-out for circumstances of medical uncertainty,"

She says that while the court claims the ruling advances the governments legitimate interest in preserving fetal life, it doesn't since it only targets a method of abortion. "And surely the statute was not designed to protect the lives or health of pregnant women." The standard D&E procedure is equally brutal; "that the State furthers any legitimate interest by banning one but not the other, is simply irrational."

"Ultimately, the Court admits that ìmoral concernsî are at work...the concerns expressed are untethered to any ground genuinely serving the Government's interest in preserving life. By allowing such concerns to carry the day and case, overriding fundamental rights, the Court dishonors our precedent." She points out the courts claim that some women are depressed after an abortion and worry that doctors might withhold information about the procedure. But she says "the solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks...Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.

Casey tried to balance the woman's vs the states interests at the line of viability. "In some broad sense it might be said that a woman who fails to act before viability has consented to the State's intervention on behalf of the developing child...Today, the Court blurs that line, maintaining that '[t]he Act [legitimately] appl[ies] both previability and postviability because . . . a fetus is a living organism while within the womb, whether or not it is viable outside the womb.'

"The Court's hostility to the right Roe and Casey secured is not concealed. Throughout, the opinion refers to obstetrician-gynecologists and surgeons who perform abortions not by the titles of their medical specialties, but by the pejorative label ìabortion doctor. A fetus is described as an 'unborn child,' and as a 'baby', second-trimester, previability abortions are referred to as 'late-term', and the reasoned medical judgments of highly trained doctors are dismissed as 'preferences' motivated by 'mere convenience', And, most troubling, Casey's principles, confirming the continuing vitality of ìthe essential holding of Roe,' are merely 'assume[d]' for the moment, rather than 'retained' or 'reaffirmed'."

She points out that in Casey the undue burden clause was not to be applied to the population of all women as the opinion does but to those women that would be burdened with an actual restriction. "Thus the absence of a health exception burdens all women for whom it is relevant--women who, in the judgment of their doctors, require an intact D&E because other procedures would place their health at risk."

"It makes no sense to conclude that this facial challenge fails because respondents have not shown that a health exception is necessary for a large fraction of second-trimester abortions, including those for which a health exception is unnecessary: The very purpose of a health exception is to protect women in exceptional cases.

"In sum, the notion that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act furthers any legitimate governmental interest is, quite simply, irrational. The Court's defense of the statute provides no saving explanation. In candor, the Act, and the Courtís defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court--and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives. When 'a statute burdens constitutional rights and all that can be said on its behalf is that it is the vehicle that legislators have chosen for expressing their hostility to those rights, the burden is undue.'"

Having read all 73 pages I can't imagine how anyone can not be convinced by Ginsburg's arguments. I've found some of her past decisions to be sometimes unrigorous (in my layman''s terms and I haven't read many of her decisions) but not this one. Congress apparently ignored medical experts who said it was a safer procedure and merely deemed it not so. The court even agreed this was wrong but didn't let facts sway their decision. They couched their decision in terms that it wasn't an extreme restriction because an arbitrary line was specifically drawn. I wonder why they bothered stopping at that. Is it because that wasn't the case presented to them or merely that they don't have the votes to overturn Roe so they are just "chipping away"?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Government Watches Your Prescription Drugs

Glenn Greenwald takes a small mention in an ABC report about VA Tech "Some news accounts have suggested that Cho had a history of antidepressant use, but senior federal officials tell ABC News that they can find no record of such medication in the government's files." and asks: "Is there any good reason whatsoever why the federal government should be maintaining 'files' which contain information about the pharmaceutical products which all Americans are consuming?"

"The federal government data base which contains all of our controlled substance prescriptions, for instance, was mandated by a law -- The National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act -- passed in 2005 by the Republican-controlled Congress (though with full bipartisan support) and signed into law by the "conservative" Leader. That law appropriates funds to each state to create and maintain these data bases which are, apparently, accessible to federal agencies, federal law enforcement officials, and almost certainly thousands of other state and federal employees (as well as, most likely, employees of private companies)."

He then goes on to talk about the REAL ID Act which is really a national ID card and starts to connect some dots. I whole-heartedly agree but my complaint about most of these articles is that they never point out the real risks except in vague terms: "It is hardly worth pointing out that the idea of the Federal Government engaging in massive surveillance of innocent American citizens is about as far away from the core beliefs of the American Founders as one can get. Anyone who does not realize that is likely beyond the realm of persuasion."

To be equally vague but at least to put it into movie terms, see The Lives of Others, I really liked it. Yeah there are sub-titles, get over it.

These data collection systems don't work. They don't prevent crimes. The No-Fly list it turns out is a bunch of no-fly lists and at one point had 119,000 people on it. The problem is it has names on it not people and names aren't exactly unique or even accurate. There have been false names on it (like John Smith and Ted Kennedy) because criminals lie! And the officals know the names are wrong but since they are known aliases they stay on the list. They just make it harder for some completely innocent people to travel.

The other problem is that first-time criminals aren't criminals until they've actually committed a crime. Now we're hearing a lot about Cho Seung-Hui and the warning signs that people saw, but until monday he hadn't done anything wrong. Do you really want the government (federal, state or local) to "detain" people on what they might do? Who gets to predict the future? Who gets to interrogate them about what they were planning? Under what rules or oversight? Is putting them in a prison without a lawyer and waterboarding them ok? Such a question is usually asked with a addendum of "if it will prevent another 9/11", but the right addendum is "even if it doesn't prevent another 9/11".

Now "National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has circulated a draft bill that would expand the government's powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, liberalizing how that law can be used." Basically it's all stuff to let our spy agencies spy on us without judicial oversight, that is without warrants. Digby puts it well:

"There is no reason that the government needs anything more than the already existing secret court to issue secret warrants that are good for 120 days. If they can't "protect us" with that kind of power then they are either incompetent or they are doing something so wrong that even a kangaroo court won't sign off on it. Loosening those rules is absurd on its face."

Everyone has embarrassing things they'd rather not let others know about. If keeping track of all this info doesn't actually make us safer then it's just an enabler for corrupt people intimidate us. Robert Bork's unremarkable video rental history was published during his failed confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court and congress passed the Video Privacy Protection Act probably out of fear that their rental records would leak out. There's obviously nothing illegal about whatever anyone rented but it's also obviously something people would prefer to be private. We had these federal protections for years before we had any similar protections on even more private things like health care records.

And I really think the new laws protecting health care records just add more paperwork and make it harder for doctors to do their jobs. You now routinely have to sign a form that you probably don't read that lets the doctor and all involved read the records. Of course you will because if you don't they can't do their job. But how many people at insurance companies read the records and why don't you sign to let them access them? I've also heard from a doctor friend that his review board seemed confused and thought making a paper list of anonymous patient records to be used in a research study is a privacy violation but having that same list in electronic form in an email account isn't.

Big centralized databases of personal information don't prevent crimes. They just make it easier for someone to use something against you. And by "you" that might be you or it might be a Martin Luther King or a John Lennon or Robert Bork or a Clarence Thomas or a Joe Wilson or a Mathew Dowd.

World Public Opinion

World Public Opinion seems to be a new group (formed in Jan 2006) that poles public opinion of the world. "Others report what the world does, we report waht the world thinks." The put out recent poll: World Publics Reject US Role as the World Leader.

Most say the US shouldn't be the preeminent world leader but should do it share. "Majorities in 13 out of 15 publics polled say the United States is 'playing the role of world policeman more than it should be.'" To me the most troubling was "In 10 out of 15 countries, the most common view is that the United States cannot be trusted to 'act responsibly in the world."

This is what Bush did to this country, and the problem is most of the world would accept it as Bush's fault, but by re-electing him in 2004, they think the US agrees with him. Maybe that's right, but US poles seem to suggest that's changing. Hopefully we can convince the world again, but I think it will take a long time.

Process of Firing US Attorney Daniel Bogden

TPMmuckraker reports on some of the deliberations invovled in the Justice Department decision to fire US Attorney Daniel Bogden.

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty in an email wrote: "he has been with DOJ since 1990 and, at age 50, has never had a job outside of government. My guess is that he was hoping to ride this out well into '09 or beyond. I'll admit have not looked at his district's performance". Kyle Sampson apparently said that in a meeting McNulty brought this up in a meeting and asked how he'd care for his family but stopped when he was told he didn't have one. I guess single people deserve their job less.

"[Gonzales Chief of Staff Kyle] Sampson couldn't say who had put Bogden on the list (even though he was the 'keeper of the list') or why. He'd never looked at Bogden's performance, and neither did Alberto Gonzales."

Gates Contradicts Bush, Cheney On Timelines

Think Progress report Gates Contradicts Bush, Cheney On Timelines. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday: "The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact…in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

This of course contracts Bush and Cheney who keep saying that a timetable sends the wrong to the Iraqis and al Qaeda. I wonder if binding legislation would help more?

Executive Privilege on RNC Emails?

White House Raises Potential Executive-Privilege Claim on RNC E-mails

"In a letter to Robert Kelner, the RNC's counsel, Emmet Flood, a special counsel to President Bush, reiterated the desire of the White House to review any materials it is considering turning over the House Judiciary Committee before doing so."

A little more on it here, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) isn't buying it: "The White House's position to clear all RNC emails before they can respond to our request is extreme and unnecessary. This is a clear attempt, on the Administration's part, to delay this process and keep the wheels of Justice turning slowly."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Movie Review: 300

I seem to be seeing a lot of dumb-but-fun action films lately; 300 was no exception. I was mixed about seeing this but I had heard enough good reviews and decided I wanted to see it on a big screen vs DVD. A cheap matinee was perfect.

The film is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (which I haven't read, though I've flipped through) about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. King Leonidas led 300 Spartans against overwhelming odds in perhaps the most famous last stand in history. I didn't know much about the battle but after the movie, spent some time reading about it in Wikipedia. The movie got me interested.

The rap against comic book films is that they are light on story. People don't say this about A History of Violence or Road to Perdition, but of course most people don't know those were originally graphic novels. Then again Frank Miller isn't known for depth as much as iconic imagery and graphic violence; 300 delivers.

Why is it that movies based on comic books try to stop the action and show static images while comics (usually) try to convey motion in a series of static images. 300 uses a lot of slow motion and posed stances (with maybe a little bit of wind) to look like the large splash images of the graphic novel. Often the camera slowly pans over the image similar to what Apple calls the Ken Burns Effect as if your gazing over the printed page. There are a few great slow motion battle scenes where you could believe a spartan killed a dozen Persians one after another. It's a little Bruce Lee but it's not like all the enemies are holding back for no reason, and of course this apparently did happen historically. Then it gets a little ridiculous as the enemies become mutants and while a single spear vs a giant charging rhino is completely unrealistic, it's also very cool.

300 almost kept my interest, I was bored at times. There's a fair amount of politics going on back home involving Leonidas' wife which I understand wasn't in the comic. But it's obvious that wasn't the point of the film and it seemed to just remove us from the action. And since the action was so often in slow motion it felt like things weren't advancing. I'll probably never see 300 again, but it was ok for a matinee.

Movie Review: World's Fastest Indian

The World's Fastest Indian tells the real life story of Burt Munro, a New Zealander who set the the under-1000 cc world motorcycle land speed record in 1967 while in his late sixties. The Indian in the title refers to the brand of motorcycle he used, a 1920s Indian Scout. Anthony Hopkins plays Munro and as usual does a good job of fleshing out a real character. He a cantankerous loner and tinkerer, very Kiwi. He starts in New Zealand and travels to the US alone to race his bike and of course he meets intersting characters like a transvestite hotel clerk. It's sort of a combination of British small town quirky comedic drama and a sports film. It works and is pleasant enough for its 2 hours.

Mac Nuttiness

I find it amazing that today I've seen 6 articles reporting that the Apple World Wide Developer's Conference Keynote is schedule to be 3 hours long. E.g., : 3 hours of WWDC keynote goodness penciled in. Get a life people!

And now it turns out it was a mistake and it will only be a typical 1.5 hours long, so now the updates.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Purgegate Worsens

Murray Waas writes in the Huffington Post Justice Documents Corroborate U.S. attorney's Charge He Was Intimidated by Superiors to Keep Silent Post

DOJ Fails to Comply with House Judiciary Subpoena

Nancy Pelosi's blog reports: DOJ Fails to Comply with House Judiciary Subpoena

"Today, U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) issued the following statement in response to the Justice Department’s failure to comply with the Committee’s subpoena response deadline of 2 p.m. today. The subpoena seeks information the Department has continued to refuse to provide or has provided only in redacted form.

“We are disappointed that the Justice Department failed to produce the documents and other materials for which we issued a subpoena last week. While we understand that the Department considers this effort a priority and we plan to continue working with them, we will review all available legal options to secure compliance with the subpoena."

The Pulitzer Prizes

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced today.

Glenn Greenwald has a post praising winner Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe. Savage won the National Reporting award "for his revelations that President Bush often used 'signing statements' to assert his controversial right to bypass provisions of new laws." That's the only journalism winner I'm familiar with.

Be a Journalist With Electronic Disclosure

Daily Kos has a Quick Primer on Electronic Disclosure & Citizen Journalism. The presidential candidates quarterly FEC filings are downloadable and you can go through all the numbers and doners and expenses yourself; Daily Kos tells you how.

A Good Post on Imus

Here's a somewhat long and rambling but good post on the Imus story.Making Carefully Nuanced Distinctions Regarding the Totally Unacceptable. After a background describing the code that politicians use to talk to their racist base and some other interesting things, he ends with:

"I kind of hate to be part of what James Wolcott calls a big public pile-on, but I have to admit thinking that the final outcome was pretty satisfying. I'm something of a free speech absolutist, but I also have some belief in the wisdom of the marketplace, and this was an example of it working rather well, I think. Imus is not a first amendment martyr; he wasn't hounded and clapped in chains and driven to unemployment like Lenny Bruce, he was informed by a couple of major media conglomerates who had been paying him a fucking fortune that they had come to the conclusion that any continued association with his disgusting self was no longer something they wanted to explain to their stockholders. He won't starve, and he probably won't even be gone for as long as some of us would like. But at least his admirers will have to live with the memory of him spending the week crawling on his belly, whimpering and licking every boot he came across in his pathetic bid for forgiveness, a most gratifying commentary on just how much of a ballsy anti-P.C. outlaw the jowly cretin and most of his ilk really are. No, the public excoriation and humilation of Don Imus will not rid the country of racism. But surely a country where the Don Imuses are never publically excoriated and humilated would be a worse place to live."

Why It's Hard to Find an Iraq War Czar

Retired Marine Corps General John J. Sheehan writes in the Washington Post Why I Declined To Serve as the Iraq War Czar. He apparently was considered, had discussions and ultimately declined. It's worth a full read.

"What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region."

"We cannot 'shorthand' this issue with concepts such as the 'democratization of the region' or the constant refrain by a small but powerful group that we are going to 'win,' even as 'victory' is not defined or is frequently redefined."

"It would have been a great honor to serve this nation again. But after thoughtful discussions with people both in and outside of this administration, I concluded that the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to a broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically. We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan -- and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq. For these reasons, I asked not to be considered for this important White House position. These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff. They need to be addressed before an implementation manager is brought on board."

Now the Gun Control Question

No More Mister Nice Blog in Just Another American Massacre is absolutely right. This story will unfortunately bring out the gun control people saying if people could carry concealed handguns things like this wouldn't have happened. In fact Instapundit is already saying this.

No More Mister Nice Blog is right: "Here's what I think: Law-abiding citizens packing heat sometimes do prevent horrors like this, or minimize the number of innocent victims. But the gun culture that puts weapons in the hands of those law-abiding citizens is the same gun culture that makes it too freaking easy for sickos and psychopaths to arm themselves for slaughter. As long as the gun absolutists insist that it's jackbooted totalitarianism to have background checks at gun shows, or to make serious attempts to shut down dealers who sell to straw purchasers with impunity, we'll have plenty of incidents like this."

And yeah, I believe in gun control and the first clause of the 2nd Amendment.

WSJ on Wolfowitz

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on The Wolfowitz Files: The anatomy of a World Bank smear. . They point to an ethics committee hearing and a paper trail that shows Wolfowitz tried to recluse himself from dealing with the conflict of issue and only interacted on the topic after the ethics committee advised him to. They say it's a plot by other bank members to get rid of him. They don't mention at all how the raises were double what policy allows.

12 Breeds of Client and How to Work with Them

Interesting tips: 12 Breeds of Client and How to Work with Them

Was Einstein Right Again?

Was Einstein right? Scientists provide first public peek at Gravity Probe B results:

"For the past three years a satellite has circled the Earth, collecting data to determine whether two predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity are correct. Saturday, at the American Physical Society meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., Professor Francis Everitt, a Stanford University physicist and principal investigator of the Gravity Probe B (GP-B) Relativity Mission, a collaboration of Stanford, NASA and Lockheed Martin, provided the first public peek at data that will reveal whether Einstein's theory has been confirmed by the most sophisticated orbiting laboratory ever created."

"GP-B scientists expect to announce the final results of the experiment in December 2007, following eight months of further data analysis and refinement. Today, Everitt and his team are poised to share what they have found so far—namely that the data from the GP-B gyroscopes clearly confirm Einstein's predicted geodetic effect to a precision of better than 1 percent. However, the frame-dragging effect is 170 times smaller than the geodetic effect, and Stanford scientists are still extracting its signature from the spacecraft data. The GP-B instrument has ample resolution to measure the frame-dragging effect precisely, but the team has discovered small torque and sensor effects that must be accurately modeled and removed from the result."

"Conceived by Stanford Professors Leonard Schiff, William Fairbank and Robert Cannon in 1959 and funded by NASA in 1964, GP-B is the longest running, continuous physics research program at both Stanford and NASA. While the experiment is simple in concept—it utilizes a star, a telescope and a spinning sphere—it took more than four decades and $760 million to design and produce all the cutting-edge technologies necessary to bring the GP-B satellite to the launch pad, carry out this 'simple' experiment and analyze the data."

CNN on VA Tech Shooting

At about 4:09 today CNN played a video tape taken during the horrible shootings at VA Tech. This time they took up a 1/4 of the screen with large white numbers counting the "Shots Heard". If that wasn't tasteless enough, the background behind the numbers looked like a blood smear. But if you look carefully it was a map of Southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle east, and India with the land and water colored slightly different (and uneven) shades of red. I guess they had it lying around and thought it would fit.

Medical Ethics and the Interrogation of Guantanamo 063

Here's a new angle on the US's torture of prisoners in the American Journal of Bioethics Medical Ethics and the Interrogation of Guantanamo 063 : "The declassified Army investigation and the corresponding interrogation log show clinical supervision, monitoring and treatment during an interrogation that employed dogs, prolonged sleep deprivation, humiliation, restraint, hypothermia and compulsory intravenous infusions. The interrogation and the involvement of a psychologist, physician and medics violate international and medical norms for the treatment of prisoners."

"The physician in the interrogation cell who ordered parenteral fluids over the prisoner’s objection did not simply treat a dehydrated patient, he or she prolonged a harsh interrogation. The psychologist who oversaw the use of dogs, sleep deprivation and culturally-targeted humiliation was using clinical insights and the tools of behavioral science to break a prisoner down rather than to establish rapport for cross cultural negotiation. Al-Qahtani had no treating psychologist. This problem is not resolved by simplistically invoking ‘dual loyalty ethics.’ In this situation, dual loyalty ethics, like international law, obliges the clinicians who work in environments pressuring them to do otherwise to hold the wellbeing of their imprisoned patients as their primary obligation "

"The diverse clinical societies’ ethics codes should be harmonized and unequivocally grounded on the standards in international laws like the Geneva Convention. In this way, the United States medical community would express its accountability to international law and be able to call upon foreign governments and medical communities to do likewise."

I also learned a new (French) phrase, "hors de combat" used in the Geneva Conventions. It means "out of action due to injury or combat" according to my mac's builtin dictionary.

Waiting for Leopard Why the Leopard delay is a (somewhat) big deal

ars technica explains Why the Leopard delay is a (somewhat) big deal. I was holding off a new laptop purchase for Leopard and after reading this I'm certainly waiting.

Paxman v. Bolton

"BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman interviews neocon former US ambassador to the UN and Bush-buddy John Bolton, and crushes Bolton's false notions about Iraq (watch Bolton turn red). If only American TV news was this good..."

Andrew Sullivan says: "The BBC's interviewers are not as deferent as some in America. Paxman is among the most aggressive"

What Your Taxes Go For

I'm not a fan of the Washington Times or the Heritage Foundation but assuming these numbers are right, What your taxes go for is interesting.

Rulers and Numbers and Disposing Hazardous Waste

My friend Dan came over other day to borrow DVDs for a business trip to India he's taking. Somehow I ended up telling the story how in 9th grade I just missed being allowed on the bus because I was just under 1.5 miles from the school. In fact, the middle of our block (where there were no 9th grade students) got the bus but not the end of the block (where I was). So my dad went to the library and got the surveying maps and measured the distance. It had all the blocks but not the cross streets.

So he went to the hardware store (this was 1980 or so, before Home Depot) and bought a 50' tape measure. I still remember, "Lufkin 50' yellow steel clad tape No. 50". And we went and measured all the cross streets. One was a major road (like 5th at Pitt) and that was fun trying to do it during a red light. End result, we determined I was 1.5 miles 158 feet 3 inches from the school and I got a bus. I won't ever forget these numbers. If I get Alzheimers and am mumbling numbers, it won't be the Lost numbers it will be these.

So to tell the story, as a visual aid, I went to my yellow plastic toolbox to get the ruler. It reeked of oil. I had a can of WD-40 in there and apparently it leaked. So after Dan left I was cleaning this up. Time to get rid of the can, hmmmm I wonder if I have to dispose of this specially. Here's what the label says:

"Danger: Extremely flammable (propane). Keep away from heat, sparks, open flame, heat sources, any other source of ignition. Disconnect electrical tools and appliances before spraying. Keep can away from electrical source or battery terminal. Harmful or fatal if swallowed. Contains petroleum distillates. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. call physician immediately. Use in a well ventilated area. Do not breathe vapor or spray mist. Deliberate or direct inhalation may be harmful or fatal. Contents under pressure. Do not: store above 120 deg F, exposure to heat may cause bursting, puncture, incinerate (burn) can, discard in trash compactor."

Read the end of that. I couldn't figure out if I was supposed to puncture and incinerate it or not? Maybe I had to find a trash compactor? Puncturing would relieve the pressure, is that what they wanted? Remember Happy Fun Ball?

Every 6 months or so I get a notice from the town about recycling and how to throw things out. I keep it in a drawer and looked at it. It said things like don't recycle light bulbs even though they're glass (who thinks of this?) and they don't accept pizza boxes because they are food stained (but they do take them from me). There's a town recycling depot and it had the hours so I went over. Another friend used to go often and get computers and computer parts for free and build frankenstein machines to run as music servers or to use to upgrade our TiVo's.

I stopped into the office and asked the guy. He said that it's a hazardous waste and they took them every two weeks on saturdays starting in May. I asked "there's a season?" Yeah from Oct to May they don't take hazardous wastes at the dump. You're supposed to store them (the hazardous waste) at home. He asked if it was just one can (I had it in a non-biodegradable plastic bag I got from the supermarket), I said yes and he took it from me and threw it in the trash bin in his office on top of the wrapper from his lunch.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I didn't really get the media's fixation on the Imus story. I didn't listen to him because I didn't like him. His comment didn't surprise me and it's fine with me he was fired. It's not a free speech question because the government isn't involved. The market finally decided they had enough.

I heard Gwen Ifill this morning on Meet the Press and I liked her comments. Digby goes into some more depth and Andrew Sullivan translates this all for the British.

Iglesias' Firing

TPMmuckraker has a good summary of what we know about Domenici and Iglesias' firing: Domenici Brought Prosecutor Complain to White House. Maybe Gonzales wouldn't fire a US Attorney for political reasons, but Bush would.

Gonzales' Op-Ed

Alberto R. Gonzales has an op-ed in today's Washington Post called Nothing Improper. I find it really unsatisfying.

He starts with "My decision some months ago to privately seek the resignations of a small number of U.S. attorneys" and later says "I directed my then-deputy chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to initiate this process" but he doesn't at all say why (there's a hint, "changes in leadership might benefit the department"). Did he just want to fire 8 people?

He says "I apologize to them, their families and the thousands of dedicated professionals at the Justice Department for my role in allowing this matter to spin into an undignified Washington spectacle." Not about firing them and not about falsely saying the reasons were for performance when they were merely political.

He says "I know that I did not -- and would not -- ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason. Furthermore, I have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason." But doesn't define "improper". Is firing people because they pissed off a Republican congressman for not partisanly prosecuting Democrats improper?

He says he's testified before Congress and will do so again, that he's ordered department officials to testify and "ordered the release of thousands of pages of internal documents". He doesn't mention that he's testifying again because his previous statements have been shown to be false or misleading. He don't mention that one of the officials took the 5th and wasn't let go for several weeks (actually she resigned) and he doesn't mention that related White House emails have not been give or have been claimed to have been lost. He also hasn't apparently used though close White House connections to convince their people to testify under oath and with a transcript on the matter. Finally, documents release were redacted (sometimes entire pages) to the point that Congress has felt the need to issue subpoenas for the information they need.

"All of these documents and public testimony indicate that the Justice Department did not seek the removal of any U.S. attorney to interfere with or improperly influence any case or investigation." Actually that's not clear (regarding Domenici). The White House won't comment on an on-going investigation at all (well when it suits them), nice to draw conclusions before it's over.

Here's a good one: "I have nevertheless asked the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility to further investigate this matter. Working with the department's Office of Inspector General, these nonpartisan professionals will complete their own independent investigation so that Congress and the American people can be 100 percent assured of what I believe and what the investigation thus far has shown: that nothing improper occurred." Now doesn't that sound like they are tasked to prove him right?

"While I have never sought to deceive Congress or the American people, I also know that I created confusion with some of my recent statements about my role in this matter. To be clear: I directed my then-deputy chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to initiate this process; fully knew that it was occurring; and approved the final recommendations. Sampson periodically updated me on the review. As I recall, his updates were brief, relatively few in number and focused primarily on the review process. During those conversations, to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign." Funny how that does contradict the fact that he was in at least one meeting where this was the main agenda topic, the he requested a spreadsheet from Goodling on each attorney including their political activities and membership in the Federalist Society, And of course he previously said ""I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood." If I believe him now, it means he lied before.