Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The conservative don't-think tanks

Some of you may know that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar the other night... It didn't take long, but the conservative "think-tanks" are already starting a new swift-boat campaign of mis-information. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research says
Gore deserved “a gold statue for hypocrisy” for his own energy use.

The group in a written statement sent out to area media claimed Nashville Electric Service records show the Gore home in Belle Meade uses “more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year.”
and goes on to paint a picture of a man who says one thing, but does another...

Of course, if most of the "research" from conservative non-think tanks were true I wouldn't have any material to blog... (e.g. - my post below).

Even a cursory check of the TCPR "facts" reveals a different picture:

"As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk (the) walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use," said Drew Johnson, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, identified as a free-market think tank.

Gore's power bill shows, however, that the former vice president may be doing just that.

Gore purchased 108 blocks of "green power" for each of the past three months, according to a summary of the bills.

That's a total of $432 a month Gore paid extra for solar or other renewable energy sources.

The conservative think tank "conveniently" forgot to mention that... also:

"They, of course, also do the carbon emissions offset," she said.

That means figuring out how much carbon is emitted from home power use, and vehicle and plane travel, then paying for projects that will offset that with use of renewable energy, such as solar power.

Gore helped found Generation Investment Management, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe, she said.

So it would seem that while Al Gore is expending a lot of energy to promote his goals, he's also expending a lot of his own money to do it in a way that furthers those goals.

So much for thinking...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Accountability

I’m still amazed at the irrationality of some of my conservative friends here at work. They simply refuse to hold this administration accountable for its actions. Of course, 9 years ago all I heard was “responsibility” and “accountability”: the situation was different then – after 4+ years of investigations into his financial dealings, it was discovered that president Clinton lied, under oath, about a sexual affair.

Four years and more than 72 million to find out the president wanted to cover up a sexual affair. The conservatives were so outraged they tried to impeach him—and maybe rightly so. After all, the president is accountable to the people. Seemed like the people didn't much care tho: Clinton's approval rating went up to 67% after the affair...


But some seem to have forgotten that government is accountable to the people... and that this administration promised to bring integrity back to the white house... Competence? It was assumed the inexperienced president would bring some high-powered experience into the administration.


We got the "power" -- but it turned out to be thin on competence.


About nine years after the Clinton investigation (which dominated congress and the media for some time) we have a president that’s somehow still "acceptable" to about 35% of the population (likely that same %33 or so that were appalled about Clinton's lie). He’s actually considered “a good leader” by some of my colleagues. Let’s review his record:


0. He spent more time on vacation -- in his first year in office -- than another other modern president (Nixon was close I think). Of course, he was home "clearing brush" after getting a daily intel briefing labeled "Osama determined to attack US". I guess Cheney's counter-terrorism working group was on the case... Oh yeah, there's no record of it ever meeting.


1. He started an unnecessary war: The office of the Inspector General has determined that the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans systematically cherry-picked intelligence to (as Seymor Hersh put it)

find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons (WMD) that threatened the region.

When WMD’s were not found, who was blamed: not the OSP, but the intelligence community.


Strike one for accountability.


2. Bush and Co. completely underestimated what it would take to stabilize Iraq. Many of the countries top military officials counseled the president and SECDEF as to the need for a large number of troops to stabilize the country. They were ignored and marginalized.

The cost? Lives and $$$.


3.Iraq reconstruction was deliberately put in the hands of cronies with little, if ANY, experience in the fields they were assigned. From the Washington Post:


After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.


Premeditated incompetence is fraud.


4. Progress, by any meaningful measure, has not been made. The president likes to talk of constitutions and elections: but those are means-to-an-end – that end being a stable, safe and (somewhat) free society. Iraq has none of those things. Even by the presidents own measures (which he mentioned in a speech last year) the situation has been deteriorating CONTINUOUSLY for 4+ years. Mr. Bush said (in 2006 on NBC’s Today) that progress can be measured:


in megawatts of electricity delivered" and "in terms of oil sold on the market on behalf of the Iraqi people.

Of course oil production is still below pre-war levels and electricity is available in Baghdad about 8 hrs a day.


5. Osama Bin Laden is not even in the news… let alone dead or in custody. The American public has been treated to a very inept version of “bate and switch” – all of our energy has been focused on the Iraq quagmire. The man that was behind the murder of 3000+ American’s hasn’t been “smoked out” as the president was fond of saying back in 2001/2002. He is more likely enjoying a smoke in the protected region of western Pakistan where our “ally” will not send their forces nor let us operate.


Clinton still gets harangued for not "going after" OBL. Well, 37 American's died as a result of terrorist action on Clinton's watch. He had regular meetings with the terror chief Clarke, would "shake the trees" within the FBI and CIA when there were threat reports. Bush? He went home to Crawford to clear brush.


All of this points to incompetence in international affairs – on a grand scale. (But what should we have expected from the CEO-president who’s only successful business venture was putting together an investor group to buy a baseball team?) What’s the reply I hear from my conservative friends when I level the charges? “Well, these things are ‘hard’” is usually the refrain.


Yes, they are… They are hard – they were also largely un-necessary and are draining our blood and our treasury.


The president’s policies have not made us (or the world) safer… They have not resulted in the capture of OBL… They have not resulted in a decline in terrorism… In fact, they have increased anti-Americanism throughout the region and the world and provided exactly the conditions OBL needs to call more Muslims to arms against us. In this sense they have bolstered terrorism for the foreseeable future. They have resulted in the creation of an Iraqi state that is more closely aligned with the interests of our adversaries than the west. They have created more tension between the Sunni and Shite states (e.g. - Saudi Arabia and Iraq) and resulted in greater hegemony for Iran. His policies have, in short, been a complete and utter disaster.


Remember: Clinton also got the nation involved in foreign sectarian violence -- in the Balkans. However, by heeding wise advice and carefully planning our involvement, his policy was able to bring an end to ethnic cleansing without the loss of a single American life and without getting the nation involved in a protracted military engagement. Whether or not you agree with his intervention is beside the point: at least the policy and operation was formulated and conducted competently: the proof is in the pudding.


But now we’re supposed to let the man who created the current mess, who has been unable to fix it for 4+ years, continue to lead us further into the box-canyon…


Why?


My conservative friends tell me “because he’s our leader”… (The same friends that berated Clinton for getting involved in the Balkans. They claimed it was intended to distract the country from the truly important matter of a presidential blow-job.) Well, the American system of government isn’t supposed to work that way:


The genius of republican liberty seems to demand...not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those entrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people....

-- James Madison, The Federalist, No. 37


There’s the crux: the people have the power – but we entrust a few to weld it for us… They are not our masters – they are our servants. They depend on our consent to weld that power. When they willingly deceive the people – when they hide the truth and pursue a personal, ideological agenda that is based on deception and secrecy – they have failed to fulfill their duty as public servants. Its time for them to be removed.


So what does it take for that 35% or so of Americans who “approve” of the presidents job performance to see that the emperor has no cloths? To see that we have the most incompetent leader in American history at a period in our history when we need real leadership?


I think it comes down to this: that 35% simply like the idea of a “strong” authority figure: it makes them feel safe that someone “decisive” is in charge. Policies, actions, even results: these things really don’t matter. What matters is the visceral: “We need to be strong” – never mind if diplomacy leads to a better result; never mind if other paths actually address the problem. It’s the gut reaction that needs to be satisfied: in this case, to meet violence with violence. To kick butt. Who’s butt? That doesn’t matter.


Don’t get me wrong- I would be one of the first to support an escalation of operations in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan in the hunt for OBL: bringing him to justice is the message we need to send to those who attack us… and it serves justice”. But somehow violence against a surrogate has been substituted for justice… and for about 1/3 of the American populace it helps them to sleep at night knowing that our forces are “killing the bad guys”.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Back-lash

Looks like competence does make a difference... people actually are starting to care about results as opposed to rhetoric.
But the real jaw dropper is when independents are asked which party they lean toward. This is important because historically, independents who lean toward a party tend to vote almost as consistently for that party as those who identify themselves with the party.

There are just some people who like to call themselves independents but, functionally speaking, are really partisans. In this category of leaners, Democrats had an advantage of 1.3 points in 2001. The parties were within the margin of error in 2002, when four-tenths of a point separated them and in 2003, when there was just a one-tenth of a point difference.
In 2004, Democrats had a 2.7 point advantage, and it grew to 4.4 points in 2005.

But in 2006, this category exploded to a 10.2-point advantage for Democrats: 50.4 percent for Democrats, 40.2 percent for Republicans.

The remaining 9.4 percent did not lean toward either party.

This 10.2-point advantage is the biggest lead either party has had since Gallup began tracking the leaners in 1991.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Delusions in power

The president gave an interview on C-SPAN yesterday... I realize our commander-n-chief is supposed to be optimistic, but the content of his answers went beyond optimism ... and into delusion.

Case in point.

Q Mr. President, in 23 months our 44th President will be sworn into this office. With regard to the Middle East and Iraq, specifically, what will he or she inherit?

THE PRESIDENT: A society in Iraq that is learning to live with themselves; a unified -- a country that's heading toward more unity, based upon a modern constitution which was approved by the Iraqi people. There will be violence. There will be criminality. But they will also see a country in which the security forces are better equipped and better adapt at dealing with the extremists. They will see a political process that is working toward reconciliation. They will know there have been local elections, which enables the local folks to have more buy-in to the provincial government. They'll see a society that is an ally in the war on terror.

They will also know what I know, that the real challenge in the Middle East is to confront extremists and not allow the extremists to bully and marginalize and use their weapon of terror to gain safe haven and/or to gain an ideological advantage over the millions who want to live in peace.

My god... where do you begin? ..."learning to live with themselves"?? That's like saying an arsonist is training to become a fire-fighter by burning down his apartment building...

Unified? Iraq's sectarian divisions -- which have existed for decades (actually, as long as the country has exists) -- have boiled over into full-throttled violence. Over the last couple of years Iraq has moved steadily away from unity and towards sectarian chaos. Does the president really see a few thousand more troops changing this trajectory? If it didn't work a year ago -- when the violence was not as widespread -- why should it work now?

Security. Iraqi security forces are largely a part of the sectarian problem: Tribal and religious identify has trumped loyalty to any concept of "Iraq". By allowing the insurgency to get to the stage its reached, we've guaranteed that reprisal killings and vendetta will take a back seat to law and order.

As for elections, the president talks of elections and democracy as if they were ends in themselves -- not the means to a stable and just society. I wonder if he intellectually realizes this: democracy works in this country (to the degree it does) because we have liberal, constitution that guarantees our "inalienable rights" . Iraq's constitution pays lip service to the concept, but actually pays homage to Islam: a mis-mash of contradictory edicts from which you can justify anything from torturing infidels to killing a woman who has been raped.

The war on terror: we've helped to put a Shia majority in power that is every bit as fundamentalist as the terrorists that attacked us on 9/11. To gen an appreciation for this, just look at the proclamations of Matadr al Sadr -- one of the major power brokers in the government.... or consider the number of trips the prime minister (Malaki) has made to Tehran in the last few months. None of these "signs" bodes well for an alley in the war against radical Islamic nut-cases.

Either our leader is completely out of touch with reality, or he has the ability to lie between his teeth in the face of contrary facts. In either case, he should be removed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Powell's break with the administration

Yeah, it was back in Dec, but Colin Powell finally decided to speak out about the fiasco of foreign policy:

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the United States is losing what he described as a "civil war" in Iraq and that he is not persuaded that an increase in U.S. troops there would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the government in Baghdad sooner rather than later, with a U.S. drawdown to begin by the middle of next year.
[...]
The summer's surge of U.S. troops to try to stabilize Baghdad failed, he said, and any new attempt is unlikely to succeed. "If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question . . . is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish? . . . Is it something that is really accomplishable? . . . Do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"

Instead, we're likely to sacrifice more American lives before we finally begin to drawdown forces and hand the problem over to those who are perpetuating it: the Iraqi people.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Delusion

Self-delusion -- the religious right seems to have cornered the market.

He is completely heterosexual. That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing.

— REV. TIM RALPH
on disgraced pastor Ted Haggard, who has completed intensive counseling since a male prostitute's allegations forced him out of his congregation
Instead of dealing with the truth of the situation -- Haggard you are a homosexual -- sounds like he's opted for the same denial routine he's practiced for his life so far.

So instead of moving on -- living in the real world... He'll likely be condemned to hate his innermost desires and put on a facade.

Until the pot boils over -- again.

I just hope it doesn't happen with an under-aged boy this time. As it seems to often do in the catholic clergy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A flood of idiocy


Looks like the folks who keep reason neatly tucked away in a dusty corner of their mind are at it again.

The National Park service, Grand Caynon visitor center, is selling a book purporting that the canyon was formed by Noah's flood and that the structure is only about 4500 years old. Never mind that the canyon exposes layers of rock dated to more than 2 billion years ago.

I really don't care that they sell such a book. What's amazing is that it actually sells... that there is a market for such incredibly bad ideas.

What's truly amazing (i.e. irrational) is that the creationists -- while "standing firm" on the authority of the biblical account of creation -- try to have it both ways. From the oped:

But here's the rub: Wise acknowledges that nothing can convince him that Earth is older than five or six thousand years. Why? Because the Bible is his ultimate authority. "The most important thing," he says, "is that you ought to be able to trust your God and the claims the Bible makes."

Given their rock-solid religious convictions, creationists such as Wise ultimately are not interested in science, in setting aside preconceptions and following trails of observable evidence to logical, testable conclusions.

Why, then, are they bothering with fossils and geology and quasi-scientific exhibitions that purport to prove that the Bible "can be trusted," as the organizers of the Creation Museum phrase it? No doubt, concern for the public credibility of their faith has a lot to do with it. They appear to have accepted that we live in a rational age, one that will not abide propositions that lack objective evidence to back them.

How ironic, then, that by dabbling in science to promote their beliefs, anti-science creationists are more likely eroding the very credibility they aim to bolster.

So, essentially they use bits and pieces of scientific research when it (vaguely) supports their position. As for the consensus of scientific conclusions on the topic -- well, better to go back to the bible than trust those conclusions.

Why are people like this even considered in the public debate? They should be laughed off the stage as idiots. They are no more rational than the man who claims to have been abducted by aliens...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Religion - pablum for the masses

The study is a couple years old, but the conclusion should put to rest the notion that religion and/or faith is the foundation of societal harmony.

A report in the Journal of Religion and Society found that "higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

Of course, the study just found the correlation, so it is incorrect to conclude causality from these results. But the data does (or should) put to bed the concept that religion and faith are prerequisites for social stability.

Religion and faith are excuses people give themselves when they don't want to think. And everyone should realize the implications of an ignorant (or intellectually lazy) populace -- we've seen those results too often in human history.