28 February 2006

Today's weather--a cold day in hell

It always sends shivers up my spine when I find myself agreeing with George Will. At this rate, it won't be long before all my friends insist I change the name of my blog and move across the tracks.

The following exchange, I am told by those who possess a cable connection, occurred recently on ABC's This Week:

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does civil war look like?
WILL: This. This is a civil war.

Later, Will even questioned whether Iraq can even be said to have a government:

Now, does Iraq have a government? Let me just postulate the question. A government exists when it has a reasonable monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. As long as the militias are out there, the existence of an Iraqi government is questionable. Think of Los Angeles. If Los Angeles said the Bloods and the Crips are going to be tolerated, they’re going to be armed and police their areas and enforce the law in certain areas, what sense would Los Angeles have of government?

I guess the Iraqis are getting a taste of democracy a la shrub--based on the idea that when all's said and done, those with the money (or the guns purchased with the money) are going to rule.

27 February 2006

Re dog-sitters and masseuses

Dohiyi Mir got so ecstatic over the latest good news that the mouse nearly hit the screen:

Whoohoo! The Iraqis have captured a top aide to al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi! I think he's Zarqawi's dogsitter. Add that to the ever growing list of Number Threes, barbers and webheads, and even the most ardent Bush hater will have to acknowledge that our strategery is working. Of course, the liberal media and blogosphere will totally miss the significance of this event: it means our troops can now come home!

But last Sunday, DM didn't sound so confident, expressing confusion over the al-Qaida political structure:

I wish somebody would draw up an org chart for al Qaeda. I just don't understand how it all fits together. After nabbing 517 Number Three guys and 154 Number Twos, now we've capture their barber and webhead. When the masseuse gets nailed, I think we''ll have won the war on terror...

Sheez! (For you heathen, that's short for "Jesus!") These liberalz just don't get it, do they? They're all enemies. All them brown people over there. They're all out to get us. They're out to destroy our freedoms and the only thing that's going to prevent them from achieving their nefarious ends is if the American people rise up and hand over their freedoms to a mysterious cabal of oily men who have deep financial interests in the Middle East.

Just step off, Sam! Just step off!

Simply Appalling has an excellent discussion of views on the Iraqi Civil War (previously known as Shrub's War). The post concludes with SA's advice:

I have seen no indication that Iraqis of any persuasion are inclined to glom onto the Americans. And if any of them were so inclined, it is more likely than not that the Americans would be pushing them away, since they prudently avoid a close association with Iraqi forces. It is perfectly ludicrous to suggest that the U.S. military is going to be much in the way of glue.
There is speculation that the Iraqi civil war will bring in other participants—Turkey, Iran and the Sunni Arab countries. Perhaps the American role will be to fend off invasion by these other interested parties while the Iraqis have at it.

But the wisest, most humane course would be to announce a timetable for American withdrawal "in an orderly, but rapid manner" and "without delay," as Congressman Steve Rothmann is now
urging. This would leave the Iraqis so stunned, at least temporarily, that they might be able to find some unity at the prospect of an American withdrawal.

26 February 2006

How will this be spun?

The situation in Iraq continues to unravel. What I'm wondering is how the rightwing will spin this if everything falls apart. Will they claim that the Left, by not offering moral support, sapped the vitality of the troops? Any ideas on what they'll be saying?

24 February 2006

Building detention centers (just in case)

Hungry Blues (quoting a Kimberly) had a rather chilling post about new detention centers being built in the U.S. I've quoted a key segment of the post below:

The Black Commentator's Margaret Kimberly notes that Halliburton has won yet another multi-million dollar government contract—this one to build "temporary detention facilities" in case of an "immigration emergency." (This contract was apparently mentioned in a NY Times article.)

Halliburton tentacles seem to find their way into everything these days. (As when the company hired Joe Allbaugh, former FEMA director and leading figure in helping Bush get into power. FEMA wouldn't be the first place I'd look for managerial expertise.)

The contract may also provide migrant detention support to other U.S. Government organizations in the event of an immigration emergency, as well as the development of a plan to react to a national emergency, such as a natural disaster. In the event of a natural disaster, the contractor could be tasked with providing housing for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) personnel performing law enforcement functions in support of relief efforts. Kimberly quotes the passage, above, from Halliburton's press release and then comments:

Anyone paying a little bit of attention will ask, "What immigration emergency?" If there is an immigration emergency looming on the horizon it is a big secret. Of course immigrants will be the first ensnared in the net that big brother Bush has in mind, but the net won't stop with them. What sort of national emergency requires detention centers? America has plenty of prisons. More of our population is behind bars than in any country on earth. There are detention centers for immigration in existence already. As for helping in case of a natural disaster, hurricane Katrina proved that saving American lives is not on the Bush agenda. When the word detention comes up, hairs should rise on the back of every neck. Thanks to the Patriot Act and the creation of "enemy combatants" these detention centers can be used to lock up anyone for any reason for any length of time that Uncle Sam wishes.

Of course, we hope that this is all much concern about nothing, but with the Bush administration, one never knows. These people have the audacity to try anything if the people are willing to stand for it.

Omar Singhson

Badmash has put together a hilarious alternative Simpson's opening called the Singhsons.

23 February 2006

Daytime Curfews

Years after the initial invasion, we're seeing daytime curfews. Shrub's War seems to be headed south on the fast lane.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen killed dozens of civilians Thursday and dumped their bodies in a ditch, as the government ordered a tough daytime curfew of Baghdad and three provinces to stem the sectarian violence that has left at least 114 dead since the bombing of a Shiite shrine. Seven U.S. soldiers died in a pair of roadside bombings north of the capital, and American military units in the Baghdad area were told to halt all but essential travel to avoid getting caught up in demonstrations or roadblocks.

True Majority video

True Majority has an excellent video out that discusses the bloated U.S. military budget along with better options. You can watch it here.


I had intended to blogment on this movie when the topic was still fresh but I guess it's better late than never. I'd just like to say that I'm very pleased to see that Crash has won top prize for original screenplay at the WGA. The jagged narrative of the film weaves together a series of overlapping vignettes that examine the theme of racial stereotypes. Of course this has been done before: what makes this Paul Haggis film so unique is the way it rapidly flips between alternative takes on reality (usually contrasting the "two-dimensional" stereotype with a more realistic "3-D" perception of a character). Cheadle, Bullock, and Dillon were well casted for the film and deliver convincing performances (as does the ever-foxy Thandie Newton). The characters ultimately elicit some sympathy for racist attitudes, while at the same time warning of the dangers they represent. I find this wholly reasonable. Racism, after all, is essentially a cognitive strategy (creating generalizations to cover particulars that we don't know enough about) which has gone awry. Unfortunately, it can culminate in horrific disasters--hence the wonderful metaphor of the crash.

Other blogments on the movie are available at Press On (Japanese) and Rotten Tomatoes.

Is the port controversy a Republican ruse?

I think Glen gets it right when he describes that port controversy as much ado about nothing. At the same time, Constant (via Cut to the Chase) may be on to something when she suggests that this whole "controversy" might be nothing more than ruse to give the Republicans a chance to "look tough" against the president while ignoring the NSA domestic spying controversy. On her blog, Constant provides some suggestions on what we need to do to address the illegal spying on Americans.

P.S. WaPo has a good sensible article on the whole ports issue.

22 February 2006

Iranian Government Says Blogging's OK!

Iran is fascinating to watch, these days. Not only because it's at the center of the nuclear weapons controversy, but because it's a society that seems ripe for change brought about through internal forces (albeit, with a great deal of foreign influences on the periphery). Within this context, the Guardian Unlimited had an interesting article today about Hossein Saffar-Harandi, supposedly "the most fundamentalist minister of culture and Islamic guidance Iran has ever had," publicly endorsing blogs. Ironically at this same time, Iran's government is tightening restrictions on pernicious Western ideas such as feminism, liberalism, nihilism and humanism. Comments on the GU post ran the gamut between those who suggested that it might be all part of a negarious plot to ferret out the traitors to the regime to others who believe that such tolerance is rooted in Islam scriptures and tenets. Personally, I don't see how the Iranian government's going to keep a lid on this stuff. If they're going to have thousands of bloggers publishing blog-posts every other minute, they're going to need a very large room of government spies with some good speed-reading skills (or some NSA software).

21 February 2006

Looking for ET

As I see it, the most exciting discovery human beings could make is that they aren't alone in the universe. Contact with an extraterrestrial life form would, I believe, fundamentally alter mankind, bringing into focus who we are, what makes us unique, and what we might share with other life forms. The short list mentioned in the following article, while representing only a babystep, is all the same interesting. When searching the almost infinite expanse of space, one has to start somewhere, after all.

Astronomers offer list of top candidates for extraterrestrial life
Mon Feb 20, 3:34 AM ET

US astronomers have come up with a short list of five stars in the Milky Way galaxy that are most likely to support extraterrestrial life. The stars were chosen based on a number of criteria, including size, composition, age and color, that would make them similar to the sun and enable planets resembling Earth to orbit them, said Margaret Turnbull of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Turnbull's list would enable astronomers to point telescopes towards the stars with the most potential of sending radio signals from extraterrestrial life. "These are places I would want to live if God were to put our planet around another star," Turnbull said on Saturday at a conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St Louis, Missouri.

The list was developed to guide the use of NASA's new powerful orbiting observatories, or the Terrestrial Planet Finder, which will search for Earth-like planets. "There are 400 billion stars in the galaxy, and obviously we are not going to point the Terrestrial Planet Finder at every one of them," Turnbull said. Among the most promising sun-like stars was beta CVn, about 26 light years from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici. One light year is equivalent to 9.5 billion kilometers. Turnbull and her colleagues initially set out to select a dozen stars that were the most promising and sufficiently close to the Earth's solar system. In 2003, after a painstaking study of close to 120,000 stars, the team of astronomers came up with a catalogue of 129 "habitable stellar systems."

Another star on the short list, Pegasus 51, was made famous in 1995 when Swiss astronomers discovered the first planet outside the solar system. The giant planet resembling Jupiter orbits Pegasus 51. A star named 16 sco, a popular target for planet searches, also made the list. The star is located in the Scorpion constellation near the center of the Milky Way and is virtually a twin of the sun, according to Turnbull. To be considered as potential homes for intelligent life to evolve, stars had to be at least three billion years old. Turnbull said the list was merely a starting point and it remained difficult to rank stars as more or less likely to shelter life.
"There are inevitable uncertainties in how we understand these stars," she said. "If I took the top 100, it would be very difficult for me to tell which is the best."

The list will provide potential targets for the Terrestrial Planet Finder, which was originally set to be launched in 2016 but has been postponed due to federal budget constraints. Research for the list was sponsored by NASA and the privately funded Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) organization. The institute was created in 1984 by the renown astronomer Carl Sagan, who died in 1996.

20 February 2006

Blogosphere reactions to domestic spying

The blogosphere continues to resound with demands that Congress do its job and fully investigate the Shrub administration's illegal domestic spying. What's it going to take for Congress to do their job? Are they going to continue to continue their picnic under the apple tree, waiting for even more facts to fall off and hit them in their head. At some point, leadership requires a modicum of basic gumption. The president has retreated to his retort of last resort: essentially, "Well so what if it's illegal, what'cha gonna do about it, heh?"

Let's look what some of the clearer minds around the blogosphere have to say about all this:

The Reaction: Congress needs to act. Now. But Democrats can't do it alone. Ultimately, it will take Republicans, the Republican leadership (Frist and Roberts, not just Hagel and Snowe), to rebel against the White House, to place love of country over love of party, and to demand that Bush relent.

Michael hits it on the nose--at some point conservatives will have to step forward en masse and realize that Bush doesn't stand for anything beyond cynicism and a raw grab for power.

Americablog suggests that there are actually a few Republicans with a conscience, but apparently too few: So far, the White House bullying has prevented Congressional oversight. Apparently, along the way, they've pissed off some of their fellow Republicans. So far, no surprise but the GOPers in Congress are still abdicating their oversight responsibilities.

And then there's this insightful argument by the Nitpicker:

Remember, Republicans believe Bush can do whatever he wants because, as Senator John Cornyn put it, "None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead." They're still too scared to stand up for true American values.What has been pointed out about that argument is the idea that life itself is the end-all-beat-all of human existence, that principles are transitory and malleable and not worth dying for.Is it any wonder, then, why so many service members then are turning on these Republican cowards? The idea that living is the only real value basically says that anyone who puts his or her life on the line is a sucker. It means that a person's service, his oath to the Constitution and even the lives they've given mean nothing more than extending the lives of others. Unfortunately for Republicans, most of the people I've met in the military know what real American values are. And more and more of them are speaking up.

18 February 2006

An IRC History of WWII

I think They Hate Us for Our Freedoms is on to a great way to teach history to the current generation of computer-game-o-philes:

An IRC history of WWII

*Hitler[AoE] has joined the game.*
*Eisenhower has joined the game.*
*paTTon has joined the game.*
*Churchill has joined the game.*
*benny-tow has joined the game.*
*T0J0 has joined the game.*
*Roosevelt has joined the game.*
*Stalin has joined the game.*
*deGaulle has joined the game.*
Roosevelt: hey sup
T0J0: y0
Stalin: hi
Churchill: hi
Hitler[AoE]: cool, i start with panzer tanks!
paTTon: lol more like panzy tanks
T0JO: lol
Roosevelt: o this fockin sucks i got a depression!
benny-tow: haha america sux
Stalin: hey hitler you dont fight me i dont fight u, cool?
Hitler[AoE]; sure whatever
Stalin: cool
deGaulle: **** Hitler rushed some1 help
Hitler[AoE]: lol byebye frenchy
Roosevelt: i dont got **** to help, sry
Churchill: wtf the luftwaffle is attacking me
Roosevelt: get antiair guns
Churchill: i cant afford them
benny-tow: u n00bs know what team talk is?
paTTon: stfu
Roosevelt: o yah hit the navajo button guys
deGaulle: eisenhower ur worthless come help me quick
Eisenhower: i cant do **** til rosevelt gives me an army
paTTon: yah hurry the fock up
Churchill: d00d im gettin pounded
deGaulle: this is fockin weak u guys suck
*deGaulle has left the game.*
Roosevelt: im gonna attack the axis k?
benny-tow: with what? ur wheelchair?
benny-tow: lol did u mess up ur legs AND ur head?
Hitler[AoE]: ROFLMAO
T0J0: lol o no america im comin 4 u
Roosevelt: wtf! thats bullshiat u fags im gunna kick ur asses
T0JO: not without ur harbors u wont! lol
Roosevelt: u little biotch ill get u
Hitler[AoE]: wtf
Hitler[AoE]: america hax, u had depression and now u got a huge fockin army
Hitler[AoE]: thats bullshiat u hacker
Churchill: lol no more france for u hitler
Hitler[AoE]: tojo help me!
T0J0: wtf u want me to do, im on the other side of the world retard
Hitler[AoE]: fine ill clear you a path
Stalin: WTF u arsshoel! WE HAD A FoCKIN TRUCE
Hitler[AoE]: i changed my mind lol
benny-tow: haha
benny-tow: hey ur losing ur guys in africa im gonna need help in italy soon sum1
T0J0: o **** i cant help u i got my hands full
Hitler[AoE]: im 2 busy 2 help
Roosevelt: yah thats right ***** im comin for ya
Stalin: church help me
Churchill: like u helped me before? sure ill just sit here
Stalin: dont be an arss
Churchill: dont be a commie. oops too late
Eisenhower: LOL
benny-tow: hahahh oh shiat help
Hitler: o man ur focked
paTTon: oh what now biotch
Roosevelt: whos the cripple now lol
*benny-tow has been eliminated.*
benny-tow: lame
Roosevelt: gj patton
paTTon: thnx
Hitler[AoE]: WTF eisenhower hax hes killing all my shiat
Hitler[AoE]: quit u hacker so u dont ruin my record
Eisenhower: Nuts!
benny~tow: wtf that mean?
Eisenhower: meant to say nutsack lol finger slipped
paTTon: coming to get u hitler u paper hanging hun cocksocker
Stalin: rofl
Hitler[AoE]: u guys are fockin gay
Hitler[AoE]: ur never getting in my city
*Hitler[AoE] has been eliminated.*
benny~tow: OMG u noob you killed yourself
Eisenhower: ROFLOLOLOL
Stalin: OMG LMAO!
Hitler[AoE]: WTF i didnt click there omg this game blows
*Hitler[AoE] has left the game*
paTTon: hahahhah
T0J0: WTF my teammates are n00bs
benny~tow: shut up noob
Roosevelt: haha wut a moron
paTTon: wtf am i gunna do now?
Eisenhower: yah me too
T0J0: why dont u attack me o thats right u dont got no ships lololol
Eisenhower: fock u
paTTon: lemme go thru ur base commie
Stalin: go to hell lol
paTTon: fock this shiat im goin afk
Eisenhower: yah this is gay
*Roosevelt has left the game.*
Hitler[AoE]: wtf?
Eisenhower: shiat now we need some1 to join
*tru_m4n has joined the game.*
tru_m4n: hi all
T0J0: hey
Stalin: sup
Churchill: hi
tru_m4n: OMG OMG OMG i got all his stuff!
tru_m4n: NUKES! HOLY **** I GOT NUKES
Stalin: d00d gimmie some plz
tru_m4n: no way i only got like a couple
Stalin: omg dont be gay gimmie nuculer secrets
T0J0: wtf is nukes?
T0J0: holy ****holy****hoyl****!
*T0J0 has been eliminated.*
*The Allied team has won the game!*
Eisenhower: awesome!
Churchill: gg noobs no re
T0J0: thats bull**** u fockin suck
*T0J0 has left the game.*
*Eisenhower has left the game.*
Stalin: next game im not going to be on ur team, u guys didnt help me for ****
Churchill: wutever, we didnt need ur help neway dumbarss
tru_m4n: l8r all
benny~tow: bye
Churchill: l8r
Stalin: fock u all
tru_m4n: shut up commie lol
*tru_m4n has left the game.*
benny~tow: lololol u commie
Churchill: ROFL
Churchill: bye commie
*Churchill has left the game.*
*benny~tow has left the game.*
Stalin: i hate u all fags
*Stalin has left the game.*
paTTon: lol no1 is left
paTTon: weeeee i got a jeep
*paTTon has been eliminated.*
paTTon: o shiat!
*paTTon has left the game.*

America Abandoned

The following article, penned by Alex Sabbeth, appeared in Consortium News (February 16, 2006). Sabbeth provides an excellent "big picture" discussion of the Bush Misadministration.

Article :

Editor’s Note: As an investigative news Web site, we often concentrate on the details of some very interesting trees and thus can be accused at times of missing the full panorama of the forest. Indeed, we do focus on specific facts, in part, because we believe that if our readers are armed with enough reliable information, they can reach their own wise judgments. We also trust in the old news axiom, “show, don’t tell.” But there are times when an overview can be helpful in recognizing patterns or coming to broader conclusions. In this guest essay, author Alex Sabbeth applies a wider lens to America’s present political crisis:

Take a look at New Orleans today. It resembles the burned out blocks of Detroit, not rebuilt since riots decades ago, testifying to a basic truth. America's wealth and power are not directed towards our well-being and security. Maybe it's easier to grasp this when pondering Sept 11. Our vaunted military did not protect us from low-tech attacks. America has over 800 military bases strung across the globe, but the fact is New York and Washington were not protected. Doubtful? We were warned about Katrina for years. Newt Gingrich is right when he asks how we can think we're safe when New Orleans was destroyed under our noses. [Fox News, Sept. 6, 2005]

Before continuing, I want to point out an obvious fact. The Bush administration purveys falsehoods as a matter of policy. Those who prove this are disparaged as the "reality community." [Boston Globe, quoting writer Ron Suskind, Nov. 5, 2004] These obvious falsehoods are directed to the administration’s political base, which either doesn't realize this, or doesn’t care. A few examples of very significant deceptions are in order.

Bush claimed he invaded Iraq because Saddam refused to allow inspectors into Iraq (while they were there). Also, Bush said Saddam refused to disarm. [Nationwide radio address, Feb. 21, 2004, Office of the Press Sec. July 14, 2003] It's well documented that the inspectors were in Iraq from November of 2002 to just before the invasion, when Bush warned them to leave. CBS publicized their reaction to Powell's speech while in Iraq, in a story called “The Man Who Knew.” Also, our own inspectors say Saddam disarmed in the early 1990s, and was left with idle programs. [CBS Oct. 17, 2003, Associated Press, Feb. 13, 2004]

Bush traveled the country, repeatedly emphasizing that warrants were required for government wiretaps, while he had been wiretapping without them for years. [AFP, Dec. 12, 2005] Regarding Sept. 11, do you remember Condoleezza Rice telling us the August 2001 Presidential Brief was mostly “historical” in nature, vague, not concerned with an impending attack? The brief warned that Osama bin-Laden was preparing an attack in America, using planes, activating cells already here. [Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2004] You get the point.

America Hurt

I want to show that Bush’s policies hurt America and our national interests. Despite detailed warnings of both Sept. 11 and Katrina, we were unprepared and unprotected. We invaded Iraq, although our intelligence officers warned that terrorism would increase as a result. [The Guardian, Feb. 24, 2003]

While we were told that the invasion made Iraq and the world safer, the State Department issued a warning of increased al-Qaeda activity against U.S. personnel and interests worldwide. [State Department Worldwide Caution] The invasion was supposed to make Israel more secure, but their security officers have recently warned the chaos in Iraq makes the region more unstable and dangerous. [Guardian, Feb. 9, 2006] All this was foretold by U.S. and British intelligence.

Military resources were redeployed away from the hunt for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, to a country that absolutely was no threat to us. Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, wrote that Saudi Arabia’s role in financing the Sept. 11 attacks was covered up, as proved in the deleted pages of the Congressional report about Sept 11. [Graham’s “Intelligence Matters”] Our budget deficits have private-sector and government analysts warning of a genuine financial meltdown. Even the mellifluous Alan Greenspan has been warning these deficits are not sustainable.

Our country's safety has been neglected, according to the Sept. 11 Commission, which issued failing grades to the government's response to its recommendations. In 2004, undercover teams slipped weapons past security barriers in 15 U.S. airports. [USA Today, Sept. 23, 2004] In 2005, a mock attack in Boston revealed complete disarray among the terror response units. [AP, Dec. 27, 2005]

Government scientists warning about climate change, mercury and soot levels, and contaminants at Ground Zero, were overruled by political managers. Fifty Nobel prize winners signed a complaint that science is corrupted by this Administration. As a result, we miss out on the benefit of scientific guidance. [Reuters, June 20, 2004]

Our military and intelligence officers warned that an invasion of Iraq would harm our international standing just when cooperation was most needed to coordinate information and responses to terrorist threats.

Military Stress

Also, our troops would be endangered by incompetent assault planning, and our economy would be stressed dangerously. The Army itself would be stretched to breaking because of repeated tours, morale-crunching stop-loss orders, insufficient protective armor, etc. [Los Angeles Times, July, 4, 2004; Washington Post, Jan. 13, 2004]

We’re told our troops will begin to leave Iraq because of improvements in security. The attacks continue daily, and the real reason, admitted by Colin Powell, is that current troop levels can’t be sustained without serious damage to the Army, including recruitment problems. [AP, Dec. 18, 2005]

When undercover agents are most needed in the war on terror, Valerie Plame was outed for political sport, showing that our agents are not safe from their own government. Would you risk your life overseas knowing that?

To those who believe in the President, I say you live in a dream world. The President routinely does the opposite of what he says. Therefore, you have no idea what it is you support.
Mr. Bush campaigned in 2000 on a “humble” foreign policy, deriding nation-building. But he clearly planned the Iraq invasion before Sept 11, and Condi Rice testified that the administration decided to remake the entire Middle East. [UPI, Oct. 19, 2005; Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, Judicial Watch Web site, March 2004] How humble is that? How do you think they're doing so far? Does Katrina make you pretty confident? They are enacting goals written in 1992 by Paul Wolfowitz, long before Bush was elected. [Carnegie Endowment for Peace, March 19, 2003]

Did you know that during the 2000 campaign? Bush was going to restore honor and integrity to the White House. Have you ever heard of Abramoff? Did you see articles reporting how Rove is threatening Republicans if they revolt against NSA wiretaps? [Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, Feb. 7, 2006] How about the Medicare actuary threatened if he revealed the true cost of the seniors' drug benefit? [CBS, March 16, 2004, “Medicare administrator warns actuary, Rick Foster to not tell Congress the price tag.”] Bush traveled the country assuring us that court warrants are still required for wiretaps. He guaranteed that. Yet years before, he had ordered wiretaps contrary to the FISA requirements. Who still has faith in what Bush says? Why listen at all?

Bush scared us with dire threats of WMDs in Iraq. Wolfowitz slipped up by saying WMDs were only a bureaucratic device to gain agreement among individual planners. [AP, May 30, 2003]
But Bush, faced with absence of WMDs, told Fox News he would have ordered the invasion knowing they weren't there. [Fox News, anchor Brit Hume, Dec. 14, 2005] They didn't matter at all!

Mushroom Cloud

Remember the mushroom cloud? Scott Ritter, the lead U.N. inspector, reported the U.S. knew Iraq had no WMDs since 1995! [Newsday, June 4, 2004] Blair's minister, Robin Cook, wrote that he was told by the chief of British intelligence that Saddam had no usable WMDs before the invasion. [Guardian, July 12, 2004] Our top CIA analyst in the Middle East (Paul Pillar) just wrote that the Administration corrupted the intelligence on Iraq, and invaded for entirely different reasons. [AFP, Feb. 10. 2006]

We’re told Bush needs wiretaps to keep us safe. Did you know that he permitted the evacuation of dozens of Saudis, without proper interviews, right after Sept. 11, while commercial planes were grounded? [NYT, quoted in AFP, March 28, 2005] Or that hundreds of hours of Arabic language intercepts remain untranslated? [Justice Department inspector general's report released in September 2004] Who knows what’s on those tapes. Does that make you feel safe?

I want to draw the obvious conclusion underlying these few examples. Bush has been governing like a King, not a democratically elected President. He lied to Congress about the weapons in Iraq, and then said their absence made no difference. He lied to all of us by assuring that warrants were required for wiretaps, while he was wiretapping thousands of innocent citizens with no court order. [NYT, Jan. 17, 2006] He has devised a veto of Congressionally enacted statutes by signing statements, which declare his refusal to honor the clear intent of the law. [Boston Globe, Jan. 4, 2006] He claims authority to ignore explicit laws under theories which caused Justice Department officers to resign, and which Gonzales admitted Congress would not have granted. [Newsweek, Feb. 6, 2006; Council on Foreign Relations Feb. 3, 2006]

Republican senators have pointed this out, but have no stomach for forcing him to follow the law. They enact a charade of hearings, according Mr. Gonzales credence while he lied about existing wiretaps. [Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2006] Instead of censuring Gonzales, they continue the theatrics, knowing full well he’ll say whatever is needed to distract attention from the criminality of the secret surveillance. Most importantly, the lie is given to the “everything changed after Sept. 11” canard. New York Times reporter James Risen writes that these wiretaps were established right after Mr. Bush’s inauguration, eight months before Sept. 11. [Risen’s State of War] After the attacks, thousands of innocents were tapped, causing the FBI to be flooded with useless information. Does this sound like a “highly targeted” tap on only U.S. to overseas communications?

Dear readers, the truth doesn’t matter today in Washington. The Administration assumes nobody pays attention, cares, or notices the bulk of its disinformation. If we don’t wake up, the America we learned about in school will remain only a shimmering dream. The British magazine, The Economist, is right for calling Bush incompetent. [The Economist, Oct. 28, 2004] But worse, he’s dangerous, and has harmed America and the world.

Author Alex Sabbeth acts as an informal researcher and organizer for several retired intelligence officers who share his concerns about America's future.

17 February 2006

Got a blog? Need extra income?

In recent news:

Modernization is crucial to winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide who are bombarded with negative images of the West, Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Pentagon' chief said today's weapons of war included e-mail, Blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras and Web logs, or blogs.

Hmmm. I'm imagining some basement office in some building in Virginia where rightwing bloggers with security clearances, all making 90 grand a year, spend their days producing "propaganda" for the "war to win hearts and minds."

Will Skype solve the problem?

Although I have Skype somewhere on my computer, I have yet to use it. But I did run across an interesting article today. Apparently, Skype uses such secure encryption that it's difficult to eavesdrop. Law-abiding citizens who are concerned about recent expansions in government eavesdropping or phone companies selling our phone records should perhaps think about trying the service.

The Article (my bold): Skype, the Internet calling service recently acquired by eBay Inc., provides free voice calls and instant messaging between users. Unlike other Internet voice services, Skype calls are encrypted — encoded using complex mathematical operations. That apparently makes them impossible to snoop on, though the company leaves the issue somewhat open to question.

Skype is certainly not the first application for encrypted communications on the Internet. Secure e-mail and instant messaging programs have been available for years at little or no cost.
But to a large extent, Internet users haven't felt a need for privacy that outweighed the extra effort needed to use encryption. In particular, e-mail programs such as Pretty Good Privacy have been considered too cumbersome by many.

And because such applications have had limited popularity, their mere use can draw attention. With Skype, however, criminals, terrorists and other people who really want to keep their communications private are indistinguishable from those who just want to call their mothers.
"Skype became popular not because it was secure, but because it was easy to use," said Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at Counterpane Internet Security Inc.

Luxembourg-based Skype was founded by the Swedish and Estonian entrepreneurs who created the Kazaa file-sharing network, which has been the subject of several court actions by the music industry. Skype's software for personal computers is distributed for free. Members pay nothing to talk to each other over PCs but pay fees to connect to people who are using telephones. Skype software is also being built into cell-phone-like portable devices that will work within range of wireless Internet "hot spots."

While still somewhat marginal in the United States, Skype had 75 million registered users worldwide at the end of 2005. Typically, 3 million to 4 million users are online at the same time. Skype calls whip around the Internet encrypted with "keys," which essentially are very long numbers. Skype keys are 256 bits long — twice as long as the 128-bit keys used to send credit card numbers over the Internet. The security is much more than doubled — in theory, Skype's 256-bit keys would take trillions of times longer to crack than 128-bit keys, which are themselves regarded as practically impossible to break by current means.

"It is a pretty secure form of communication, which if you're talking to your mistress you really appreciate, but if Al Qaida is talking over Skype you have probably a different view," said Monty Bannerman, chief executive of Verso Technologies Inc. His company makes equipment for Internet service providers, including software that can identify and block Skype calls.
Security experts are not completely convinced that Skype is as secure as it seems, because the company hasn't made its technology open to review. In the cryptographic community, opening software blueprints to outsiders who can point out errors is considered to be the safest way to go. Because of the complex mathematics involved, a properly designed cryptographic system can be unbreakable even if its method is known to outsiders.

But according to Schneier, if Skype's encryption is weaker than believed, it still would stymie the kind of broad eavesdropping that the National Security Agency is reputed to be performing, in which it scans thousands or millions of calls at a time for certain phrases. Even a weakly encrypted call would force an eavesdropper to spend hours of computer time cracking it. Kurt Sauer, Skype's chief security officer, said there are no "back doors" that could let a government bypass the encryption on a call. At the same time, he said Skype "cooperates fully with all lawful requests from relevant authorities." He would not give particulars on the type of support provided.

The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to questions about its views on Skype's encryption. Verso's Bannerman notes that Skype calls are decrypted if they enter the traditional telephone network to communicate with regular phones, so a conversation could be intercepted there. Skype does not reveal how many of its calls run on the phone network.
"There are other ways of getting at the conversation than brute-force decryption of the hacking," Bannerman said.

Schneier believes that eavesdropping on the content of calls is not as important to the NSA as tracking the calls, which is still possible with Skype. For instance, if a particular account were associated with a terrorist or criminal, it would be possible to identify his conversation partners.

"What you and I are saying is much less important than the fact that you and I are talking," Schneier says. "Against traffic analysis, encryption is irrelevant." Steve Bannerman, vice president of marketing at Narus Inc. (he is unrelated to Verso's Bannerman), said his company's systems enable wiretapping of voice calls routed over the Internet, but not those from Skype.

The most that Narus' technology, which is used by telecommunications carriers, can do is identify what type of Skype traffic — voice call, text chat or video conference — is being used, and record the scrambled data for law enforcement officials. From there, he said, "who knows what those guys can do?"

15 February 2006

Sacrificing for those who need it more

I'm glad to see that the U.S. government has the largesse of heart to repeal all taxes for oil companies. I don't know about you but I was losin' quite a bit of sleep worrying about how they were going to get by on their mere record-breaking profits. And I'm also glad to hear that the government has stepped forward and given away my joint ownership in public lands for free to the wealthiest sliver of society. Lord knows, I've got no experience in disposing of such wealth. I'm sure you all don't mind giving away your share either. We all have to sacrifice, after all, so that they Cheneys of the world can go shoot tame birds released from pens on private lands:

U.S. Has Royalty Plan to Give Windfall to Oil Companies (New York Times):The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years. New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government. Based on the administration figures, the government will give up more than $7 billion in payments between now and 2011. The companies are expected to get the largess, known as royalty relief, even though the administration assumes that oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period.

(via Yowling from the Fencepost)

It's the law, stupid!

From WaPo (via Cut to the Chase):

Congress appeared ready to launch an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program last week, but an all-out White House lobbying campaign has dramatically slowed the effort and may kill it, key Republican and Democratic sources said yesterday.

Nobody seems to get it. This is about the law, pure and simple. It would seem on the face of things that Bush broke the law. The proper response is obvious: investigate. The mere existence of a Republican majority in Congress does not provide the equivalent of a Get Out of Jail Free Card--even in the current era of oligopolic excess.

The Truth? You can't handle the truth!

We now learn what we already knew: soldiers were coerced into going along with the cover-up of Abu Ghraib, in many cases, being demoted for speaking out. "Truth" (does the word have any meaning anymore?) has been handed out to we the people in teensy cups flavored with heavy spices and saccharin.

14 February 2006

VP is "ready to assist"

Just a few days ago, we read that Whittington was "alert and doing fine." He was only hit with a friendly shotgun blast after all. Now we read this:

The 78-year-old lawyer who was shot by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident has some birdshot in or touching his heart and he had "a silent heart attack" Tuesday morning, hospital officials said. The victim, Harry Whittington, was immediately moved back to the intensive care unit for further treatment, said Peter Banko, the administrator at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial in Texas. Banko said doctors conducting a regular checkup on Whittington Tuesday morning discovered an irregularity in the heartbeat caused by a pellet, and they performed a cardiac catheterization around 10 a.m. EST. Whittington was in stable condition after treatment and expressed a desire to leave the hospital, but Banko said they would probably keep him for another week to make sure that more birdshot does not move to other vital organs.

In spite of this downturn, we shouldn't be too concerned. After all, Cheney says that he stands "ready to assist." I'm sure Mr. Whittington was happy to hear that! If things take another turn for the worse, I'm sure Cheney can pull some strings and get Halliburton to come check things out; maybe he can have them take a no-bid contract for the job and then they can get together in a Texas hotel to discuss the issue over single-malt Scotch and wine-cooked pheasant.

Intellectwals are Us

Para Publishing has compiled some chilling statistics about that endangered beast called the "reading public." But look on the bright side, if you've made it to page 19 of a book, you can proudly count yourself as one of America's intellectual elite. You can also get into this elite club if you bought a single new book last year. A few of the stats:

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Many do not even graduate from high school.

58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.

42% of college graduates never read another book.

80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.

70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

57% of new books are not read to completion.
--Jerrold Jenkins.

Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

63% of adults report purchasing at least one book during the previous three-month period. (Most were probably exaggerating).
--Bookselling This Week, November 10, 1997.

53% read fiction, 43% nonfiction. The favorite fiction category is mystery & Suspense, 19%.
--Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1997, page 13.

Of the top fifty books, fiction outsells nonfiction about 60% to 40%. Fiction peaks in July at 70% but nonfiction reaches almost 50% in December.
--USA Today, April 30, 1999.

55% of fiction is bought by women; 45% by men.
--Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1997, page 13.

Thirty percent of Americans surveyed by the Harris Poll say they would rather read a book than do anything else; twenty-one percent said watching TV is their favorite activity. That's the good news. The bad news is that only 13 percent selected "spending time with family.
--Publishers Weekly Email Daily, July 9, 1998.

Each day, people in the US spend 4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.
--Veronis, Suhler & Associates investment bankers

70% of Americans haven't visited a bookstore in five (5) years.
--Michael Levine, June 2002

Customers 55 and older account for more than one-third of all books bought.
--2001 Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing by the Book Industry Study Group

People reduced their time reading between 1996 and 2001 to 2.1 hours/month.
2001: per capita spending on books per month was $7.18.
--Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2003

Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.
--David Godine, Publisher.

The time Americans spend reading books.
1996: 123 hours
2001: 109 hours
--Veronis, Suhler & Associates investment bankers

1996 to 2001
Consumer spending on book rose 16%
Unit sales dropped 6%
(Readers spend more and purchased fewer books)
--Veronis, Suhler & Associates investment bankers

2001: Households purchasing at least one book 56.5%
--Veronis, Suhler & Associates investment bankers

The mean age of book buyers
1997: Age 15-39: 26.5% of the books bought
2001: Age 15-39: 20.8% of the books bought

1997: Age over 55: 33.7% of the books bought.
2001: Age over 55: 44.1% of the books bought
--Ipsos NPD reported in Publishers Weekly, January 6, 2003

13 February 2006

Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit...

Katherine of Cut to the Chase fame brings up an interesting point about the recent Cheney shooting. Where are the charges? Would some 18-year-old Hispanic blue-collar worker shoot his friend, sending him to intensive care, and then walk free without even questioning? Is a different standard to be applied to balding rich white men?

At the same time, the media reporting of this incident is positively bizarre. Whittington, the man shot, was taken to intensive care but we were immediately told not to worry (he was "moving" after all). WaPo, that bastion of leftist ire, almost falls over itself trying to apologize for Cheney. We're told (in a quote of Armstrong, one of the hunters) that Whittington was such an idiot that he walked up "behind the vice president" but completely failed to "signal them or indicate to them or announce himself." How would you like to hunt with these guys? You wear a bright flourescent orange vest, stand behind your friends, and yet they turn and shoot you, and you're blamed for not announcing your arrival on a bullhorn.

Maybe i was wrong all along and this Cheney dude really is a mean-ass cowboy. One of dem folks who would just as soon shoot ya as look at ya. Just da kind a guy we need to show dem mid-easterns a thing or 2. Or perhaps we've somehow ended up with Elmer Fudd as the second to the Commander in Chief. Come to think of it, Elmer bears a striking resemblance to .

Urban cowboys get better body counts

This link was provided by the Continental Op in the comments to my previous post, but i think it's worth posting the key excerpt from the article here. There's something very telling about the culture of these urban cowboys, who take such joy in shooting tame birds released from nets (and the occasional old friend who's foolish enough to approach without a full suit of body armor).

Vice President Dick Cheney went pheasant shooting in Pennsylvania in December 2003, but unlike most of his fellow hunters across America, he didn't have to spend hours or even days tramping the fields and hedgerows in hopes of bagging a brace of birds for the dinner table.

Upon his arrival at the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township, gamekeepers released 500 pen-raised pheasants from nets for the benefit of him and his party. In a blaze of gunfire, the group—which included legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), along with major fundraisers for Republican candidates—killed at least 417 of the birds. According to one gamekeeper who spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cheney was credited with shooting more than 70 of the pen-reared fowl.

12 February 2006

Who gave this guy a gun?

It's not enough that this guy encourages wars all over the world--now he's shooting his friends!

Cheney Accidentally Shoots Fellow Hunter

By LYNN BREZOSKY and NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writers 56 minutes ago

Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a companion during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, spraying the fellow hunter in the face and chest with shotgun pellets.

Harry Whittington, a millionaire attorney from Austin, was in stable condition in the intensive care unit of a Corpus Christi hospital on Sunday, according to Yvonne Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Christus Spohn Health System.

The incident occurred Saturday at a ranch in south Texas where the vice president and two companions were hunting quail. It was not reported publicly by the vice president's office for nearly 24 hours, and then only after the incident was reported locally by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Katharine Armstrong, the ranch's owner, said Sunday that Cheney was using a 28-guage shotgun and that Whittington was about 30 yards away when he was hit in the cheek, neck and chest.

Each of the hunters were wearing bright orange vests at the time, Armstrong told reporters at the ranch about 60 miles southwest of Corpus Christi. She said Whittington was "alert and doing fine."

Armstrong in an interview with The Associated Press said emergency personnel traveling with Cheney tended to Whittington before an ambulance — routinely on call because of the vice president's presence — took him to the hospital.

Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said the vice president met with Whittington and his wife at the hospital on Sunday. Cheney "was pleased to see that he's doing fine and in good spirits," she said. Armstrong said she was watching from a car while Cheney, Whittington and another hunter got out of the vehicle to shoot at a covey of quail.

Whittington shot a bird and went to look for it in the tall grass, while Cheney and the third hunter walked to another spot and discovered a second covey. Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong said. "The vice president didn't see him," she continued. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good." Whittington has been a private practice attorney in Austin since 1950 and has long been active in Texas Republican politics. He's been appointed to several state boards, including when then-Gov. George W. Bush named him to the Texas Funeral Service Commission.

McBride did not comment about why the vice president's office did not tell reporters about the accident until the next day. She referred the question to Armstrong, who could not be reached again Sunday evening. Armstrong, owner of the Armstrong Ranch where the accident occurred, said Whittington was bleeding and Cheney was very apologetic. "It broke the skin," she said of the shotgun pellets. "It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that." "Fortunately, the vice president has got a lot of medical people around him and so they were right there and probably more cautious than we would have been," she said. "The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came."

Cheney is an avid hunter who makes annual hunting trips to South Dakota to hunt pheasants. He also travels frequently to Arkansas to hunt ducks. Armstrong said Cheney is a longtime friend who comes to the ranch to hunt about once a year and is "a very safe sportsman." She said Whittington is a regular, too, but she thought it was the first time the two men hunted together. "This is something that happens from time to time. You now, I've been peppered pretty well myself," said Armstrong.
The 50,000-acre Armstrong ranch has been in the influential south Texas family since the turn of the last century. Katharine is the daughter of Tobin Armstrong, a politically connected rancher who has been a guest at the White House and spent 48 years as director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He died in October. Cheney was among the dignitaries who attended his funeral.

10 February 2006

Mandatory testing for colleges?

When I first saw this article, I immediately assumed it was a parody. I guess truth is sometimes stranger (and more radikyulus) than fiction:

A higher education commission named by the Bush administration is examining whether standardized testing should be expanded into universities and colleges to prove that students are learning and to allow easier comparisons on quality.

The Bush administration is going to make sure people in college are really learning? Someone reach through cyberspace and pinch me, please! I want to wake up!

Charles Miller, a business executive who is the commission's chairman, wrote in a memorandum recently to the 18 other members that he saw a developing consensus over the need for more accountability in higher education. "What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats," Mr. Miller wrote, adding that student learning was a main component that should be measured.

Translation: "We should create a test that everyone can teach to that is filled with non-controversial 'facts.' Anyone who teaches anything else will effectively penalize their students and ultimately reduce funding for their programs." What I'd like to know is what the college accreditation boards have been doing all this time? Isn't this their job? Have all these people who were reportedly running from college to college evaluating programs really been vacationing in the Bahamas all this time? It's good to know that their detailed research into college programs can be replaced by a multiple-choice quiz.

Mr. Miller was head of the Regents of the University of Texas a few years ago when they directed the university's nine campuses to use standardized tests to prove students were learning. He points to the test being tried there and to two other testing initiatives as evidence that assessment of writing, analytical skills and critical thinking is possible.

Isn't this what the GRE and other assessment's test?

The Commission on the Future of Higher Education, appointed last fall by the secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, has until August to make a report on issues that include accountability, cost and quality. Educators are wary. "To subject colleges to uniform standards is to trivialize what goes on in higher education," said Leon Botstein, president of Bard College. "Excellence comes in many unusual ways. You cannot apply the rules of high-stakes testing in high schools to universities."

"Trivialize." A euphemism for "undermine."

In an interview, Mr. Miller said he was not envisioning a higher education version of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires standardizing testing in public schools and penalizes schools whose students do not improve. "There is no way you can mandate a single set of tests, to have a federalist higher education system," he said.

We are entering the Twilight Zone. Is he saying you would have different tests yet be able to make valid comparisons? I'd like to hear about these new statistical tools that are able to make comparisons across completely different measures. And since colleges already have different tests, I'm a bit perplexed about the need to create a new set.

But he said public reporting of collegiate learning as measured through testing "would be greatly beneficial to the students, parents, taxpayers and employers" and that he would like to create a national database that includes measures of learning. "It would be a shame for the academy to say, 'We can't tell you what it is; you have to trust us,' " Mr. Miller said.

"What it is" is "education." And you don't have to trust anyone. If you don't like the college's curriculum, don't go there.

He said he would like the commission to agree on the skills college students ought to be learning — like writing, critical thinking and problem solving — and to express that view forcefully. "What happens with reform," he said, "is that it rarely happens overnight, and it rarely happens with a mandate."

I think the Bush administration needs to worry about itself. The country would be a hell of a lot better off if Shrub and his fellow neo-cons had engaged in critical thinking, problem solving, and an honest desire to get at the objective truth.

"It does happen with levers," Mr. Miller added, "and maybe the accreditation process will be one. Or state legislators. Or members of Congress." His push comes as college officials in an era of high tuition say they already feel pressure to justify costs. But university officials are wary of the notion that testing regimes should be used to measure all the different institutions that make up American higher education — small liberal arts colleges, large public universities, proprietary schools and religious academies — particularly if there is government involvement.

It's interesting. Even the arch-conservative Bloom has stated that the institutions of higher education need to be, in the positive sense of the word, "elitist" and stand apart from government and popular movements. This move would essentially put government in charge of deciding what education consists of.

David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and universities, a group representing private, nonprofit colleges and universities, said: "What we oppose is a single, national, high-stakes, one-size-fits-all, uber-outcome exam. The notion of a single exam implies there are national standards, and that implies a national curriculum. Then we are on the way to a centralized Prussian education system."

"Centralized." Everything the Bush regime does has this singular motive: the endless push to centralize all power in the executive.

When Ms. Spellings, the education secretary, named the commission, she said that choosing a college was one of the most important and expensive decisions families make and that they were entitled to more information.

There's all sorts of information readily available, ranging from course curriculums, college rankings, and statistics on graduates' job success. If people want to see how students do on a multiple choice test, someone can compile stats on graduates' GRE scores when they apply for graduate school.

There is no unanimity on the commission, but some members also expressed interest in measuring student learning. Kati Haycock, a commissioner who is director of the Education Trust in Washington, which has supported standardized testing, said in an e-mail message: "Any honest look at the new adult literacy level data for recent college grads leaves you very queasy. And the racial gaps are unconscionable. So doing something on the assessment side is probably important. The question is what and when."

I think we should start testing government officials. It's only reasonable that tax payers know that candidates can really do the job. I'm betting that my grade-school daughter would beat the president in a basic geography test.

Jonathan Grayer, another commissioner, who is chief executive of the test-coaching company Kaplan Inc., said that with so many students in college and so many tax dollars being spent, "it is important for us to seek some type of knowledge about how much learning is going on." "What I am for is for institutions on their own or in groups to seek their own standards to show what they are achieving," Mr. Grayer said. "Whether that should be elective or mandatory, that is something the commission is thinking about."

Institutions do have "their own standards." Unless you're talking about UC Santa Cruz, these standards are put out in the form of something called "grades."

The question of how to assess higher education has been simmering for years. In the mid-1980's, the Department of Education directed the groups that accredit colleges and universities to include assessments of student academic achievement. College students have always been graded on exams, but there were relatively few standardized measures of the skills they had when they left college, except for licensing exams and graduate school admissions tests. And even those did not show how much the students had learned.

"The unanswered question in higher education is: How good is the product?" said Robert Zemsky, a commission member who is a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania. "A growing number of people are beginning to want answers. What higher education is about to learn is that they can't play the 'trust me' game anymore."

It's the government that we need to stop simply trusting. We pay only part of the money that goes to colleges (and benefit from the positive externalities associated with education), whereas we pay all of the money that goes to government. I'd like to know what the government's doing without constantly being told "just trust us."

Part of what is driving the demand for accountability is money. Ms. Spellings has said that about one-third of the annual investment in higher education comes from the federal government and that officials know very little about what they are getting in return.
In addition, there has been growing attention to how many college students drop out and how poorly even graduates perform in the workplace and on literacy tests in an era of rising global competition. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, given in 2003 by the Department of Education, found that less than a third of the college graduates it surveyed demonstrated that they were able to read complex English texts and draw complicated inferences.

I've heard that some Yale and Harvard grads have been particularly disappointing . . .

It is not clear whether the commission would recommend that funding be used as an incentive for testing or else withheld from colleges that refuse to use standardized testing. Although public universities seem most vulnerable to regulatory oversight because they are subsidized by state taxpayers, Mr. Miller points out that private colleges are subject to regulation, too. They are accredited by groups authorized by the federal government. And they must meet certain standards to qualify for federal grants and financial aid. "What we call public universities would be under the most pressure," Mr. Miller said. "But the question is, How public are some of the private universities? They depend a lot on public funding, too. And we have shifted more of the cost back to students. So I think consumers and other people will begin to ask questions like this more." "It would be O.K. with me," Mr. Miller added, if individual institutions like the elite universities in the Ivy League did not want to offer measures of student learning on standardized tests. "But would it be O.K. with everyone?" he asked, referring to their trustees, their donors, potential employers and others.

Of course, being sure that tests measure what students learn is difficult. Peter T. Ewell, a testing expert at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems in Colorado, said it was hard for students to take tests seriously unless they were "embedded in the curriculum."

"You have to provide incentives for students to want to do it and to do their best," he said. Still, numerous colleges are experimenting. Mr. Miller, in his recent memorandum and in the interview, pointed to the recently developed Collegiate Learning Assessment test as a breakthrough. The exam, developed by the Council for Aid to Education, a former division of the RAND Corporation, asks students to write essays and solve complex problems. Mr. Miller also cited a recent demonstration project backed by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and a computerized version of a test from the Educational Testing Service in New Jersey.

The University of Texas has worked for several years to address the Regents' mandate that its campuses use standardized testing to assess student learning. Pedro Reyes, the system's associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the campuses first tried to develop their own tests but concluded it was too time-consuming. Next, they turned to an Educational Testing Service exam, but found it "didn't quite get what we were looking for," Dr. Reyes said. The university then turned to the Collegiate Learning Assessment exam, which Dr. Reyes called "a much better tool not only to improve student learning but also to enable conversations about academic expectations and standards."

Not everyone on the Texas campuses is enthralled with standardized testing. John R. Durbin, a mathematics professor at the University of Texas at Austin and former faculty council officer, said in an e-mail message, "It would be a sad state of affairs if the people at the top had so little confidence in our faculty that they really believed outside bureaucrats and committees could help us raise standards."

Mr. Miller expressed confidence that the process would improve learning. "I think the process has been very effective," he said. "The surprising thing is that people who went through it, some of them reluctantly, all felt they had gained."

Where are the protest songs?

I was just listening to music from the Live Music Archive, which has become my favorite spot for finding music, when I came across Michael Franti and Spearhead -- a band that plays a lot of music opposing Shrub's War. And I was thinking about the current situation in the pop music world and comparing it to the 60s. Things have certainly changed. Popular music used to include provocative songs that confronted the status quo, songs that had a distinct voice and message (Bob Dylan's songs come to mind). The current generation's left with the occasional drab song seeking aid money for Africa or hurricane victims. I get the feeling that radio stations refuse to play any protest song that's any more controversial than a Pepsi commericial. At one point, I was under the mistaken impression that nobody's singing protest songs anymore (or at least no one with talent). But the truth seems to be that commercial interests in the music and film industries have pretty much choked off creativity in the desire for formulaic productions that are gauranteed to make money. For this reason, I'm very optimistic about the current movement away from CDs and tape in favor of MP3s, and the Live Music Archive in particular. Michael Franti and Spearhead has some decent songs among a very eclectic mix. Bomb the World is worth a listen. Just about anything in the archive is an improvement over the drivel coming from commercial radio.

This has been crossposted from Tangled Up in Blue.

9 February 2006

The domestic spying scandal: It just gets worse.

It has now come out that:

1. The Bush administration knew that domestic spying was illegal and therefore sought to change the law as part of the authorization to use force. Congress refused to go along. The Bush administration decided to go ahead with the illegal program anyway.

2. The FISA court itself sought to exclude evidence that had been obtained through the program--a clear indication that the court considered all such evidence illegal.

And yet some so-called conservatives still support this program! This amazes me! The FISA court is essentially a rubber-stamp organization that approves virtually 100% of everything that crosses its desk and even allows a 72-window for eavesdropping that it hasn't yet approved! And we're supposed to believe that this miniscule level of oversight is burdensome!


Driftglass (found via Alternate Brain) has an excellent rant about the Democratic Party's utter failure to take the ball and run with it. How true. We have an administration whose complete lack of values (liberal or conservative) and cynicism run so deep that only the modern-day Niccolòs, Coulters , and other parasitic ass-smoochers of the world can support it wholeheartedly. In short, the ball's been dropped on the two-yard line; the Dems just need to grab it and fall, just pick up the ball and allow the weight of their gumptionless carcuses to lean forward--gravity and Shrub's hubris will do the rest. And yet they're back at the fifty yardline discussing whether, on the next round of plays, they should punt or . . . simply head back into the locker-room.

8 February 2006

Brokeback to the Future!

Brokeback Mountain is just out and already they're making Brokeback to the Future.

Making the right people pay

While Libertarians might decry such government intrusion into the market, I applaud Oakland's latest law since it forces businesses to pay for some of the negative externalities involved with their operations. Oddly enough, it's precisely this sort of legislation that we'd need if we were to fully adopt a Libertarian free-market paradigm.

Oakland First City to Tax Fast-Food Trash

Fed up with burger wrappers, french fry containers and paper cups, Oakland is the first city in the nation to force fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses to help pay for cleaning up street trash.

Under a tax approved Tuesday night by the City Council, businesses will be assessed between $230 and $3,815 annually, depending on their size. More than three-quarters of the affected businesses would only pay the minimum fee, which amounts to 63 cents a day.

"I don't think that's too much to ask so neighbors don't have to keep picking up trash from their doorways," said Councilwoman Jane Brunner, who proposed the measure.

The city would use the projected $237,000 a year to hire small crews to pick up litter in commercial areas around high schools and middle schools where most of the garbage is found.
The fee was opposed by the Metropolitan Oakland Chamber of Commerce and business organizations that say the costs will be passed along to customers, including low-income residents and young people who are the biggest consumers of fast food.

Businesses say the city should educate the public and enforce littering laws. Some say they already pay employees to pick up trash in their neighborhoods.

Litter from fast-food restaurants has become a major problem in communities nationwide. Recent surveys show that fast-food packaging makes up about 20 percent of all litter, with packaging for chip bags, drink containers, candy wrappers and other snacks comprising another 20 percent, said Rob Wallace, a spokesman for Keep America Beautiful, a Stamford, Conn.-based nonprofit group.

Around the internets this morning...

Just a few things I came across while sipping my morning tea:

PiL lambasts Bono's launching of "product red" to help Africa (PiL's got his bloggin' mojo back, I think.) Blue Collar compares the print media's response to Gonzales and the domestic spying scandal with that of the TV news stations. And Blogger Radio expresses wide-felt skepticism that anyone in Congress--Dems included--has any backbone:

"They pretend to ask a few tough questions for the cameras, and then punt. End of story. A few sound bites, a photo op, and nuttin' more."

6 February 2006

What a riot!

Ever clever Via Negativa has the following picture posted on his blog with the double-edged double-entendre.

Sure enough, someone in the comments is miffed over a supposed slight to the Muslim religion. Good grief. Where were all these rioters when the Taliban were blasting millenia-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan? I find the extreeeeeme sensitivity of such people a bit hypocritical. We're told by Muslim theologians that for anything to exist for even a moment, God must will it into being. Are we to believe that such a God is so weak that he needs a holy war everytime someone cracks a joke or writes a cartoon (which God, paradoxically, has willed into being)?!

Should all the other religions follow suit? Should Buddhists start torching restaurants everytime they see a Buddha statue atop an ash-try in the foyer? Should Hindus go on a rampage when Homer Simpson pokes fun at Ganeesh? I pray that the higher power(s) that be bestow upon us a more advanced sense of humor, inshallah.

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5 February 2006

Specter speaks out against King Bush

More voices are asking the obvious question about the latest domestic spying case. The Republican Senator Arlen Specter had the following comment:

"I believe that contention is very strained and unrealistic," Specter said. If the FISA law was inadequate, he said, Bush should have asked Congress to change it rather than ignore it. "The authorization for the use of force doesn't say anything about electronic surveillance."

In other words, presidents also have to follow laws. Kings don't. This is supposedly the reason we had a war with England--so that we'd have a president who would submit to checks on his power. Like it or not, we now have a man in the highest office of the land who would like to be king, who feels highly inconvenienced about having Congress or a judiciary who places constraints on his power.

2 February 2006

Keeping those Quakers in line

Bush keeps saying that only "terrorists" are being spied on. But we recently found out that our hard-earned tax dollars are in fact going to spy on non-violent Quakers and others who "pose a threat" (to the Bush regime). The following article was published in the Progressive:

Rumsfeld Spies on Quakers and Grannies
By Matthew Rothschild December 16, 2005

Not to trouble you or anything, but the next time you’re going to a protest, the eyes of the government may be upon you. And I’m not just talking about local police filming your activity.
I’m not talking about the FBI under cover in your midst. I’m talking about the Pentagon, too, getting into the act. According to an MSNBC story on December 13, Rumsfeld’s Pentagon is tracking some of the most innocuous and lawful protests. For instance, the Pentagon has a file on an anti-war group that was gathering at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Florida, to plan a counter-recruiting effort at local high schools. That group of Quakers constitutes a “threat,” according to a 400-page Pentagon document that MSNBC got hold of. It was “one of more than 1,500 ‘suspicious incidents’ across the country over a recent 10-month period” that caught the attention of the Pentagon snoops, MSNBC said. Of these, “nearly four dozen” were anti-war meetings or protests.

The Pengaton’s partial file on the spying is available tDODAntiWarProtestDatabaseTracker.pdf.
It lists 43 events in a six-month period alone, dating from November 11, 2004, to May 7, 2005. Pentagon political spying took place in the following states and the District of Columbia: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
One took place in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 26, 2005, according to the Madison Capital Times. It was sponsored by the Student Labor Action Coalition and the Stop the War, the Capital Times reported. “Participants in the rally numbered only about 20,” the paper said, and it was designed to protest recruitment in Madison. “A planned Air Force recruiting drive was abandoned as a result.”

The Pentagon’s database “listed the type of threat posed by the event as ‘anti-DOD vandalism’ and marked the source as ‘not credible.’ The case, however, was left on a status of open/unresolved,’ ” the Capital Times reported. The Pentagon snooped on another counter-recruitment protest, this one in Santa Cruz on April 5. It labeled the protest a credible “threat.”
“Over 300 students marched into a campus job fair, occupying the building and holding a teach-in until all military recruiters left,” according Santa Cruz Indymedia. It quoted third-year student Jen Low saying: “The notion of the Pentagon spying on peaceful protesters is a major threat to the freedoms that they claim to protect.”

The Pentagon also surveilled Code Pink and the Raging Grannies in Northern California, starting a file on a November 10, 2004, protest at the Sacramento Military Entrance Processing Station (“Disposition: Open/Unresolved,” the document states) and a May 7, 2005, counter-recruiting protest at the San Francisco Recruiting Station (“probably peaceful,” it notes).

“It’s just a big waste of time and money,” says Natalie Wormeli, who is on the board of directors of the Northern California ACLU and is co-founder of the Davis chapter of Code Pink. “I think taxpayers should be outraged at that.” She adds, “We are not the enemy of the state. And I do worry it could have a chilling effect on newcomers to the cause. I get concerned we’re headed to a new COINTELPRO. The U.S. can do better this. We should not be living in a surveillance society.”

Ruth Robertson of the Raging Grannies, who provided songs for the San Francisco rally, says, “I guess they still don’t get it that grannies in flowery hats are peaceable.” Gail Sredanovic of the Raging Grannies makes an additional point: “Aside from the disturbing civil liberties aspects of the Pentagon spying on local peace groups, it makes me scared to think that the folks in charge of protecting us from possible terrorist attacks can't tell the difference between a terrorist threat and a peaceful citizen gathering. Are they really that stupid?”
[Personally, I don't think they're "stupid." Rather, they're concerned much more about maintaining power and stifling dissent than they are about terrorism.]

1 February 2006

State of the Union Address

Mr. Speaker, Vice-President Cheney, Members of Congress, Members of the Supreme Court and diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Today our nation lost a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who called America to its founding ideals and carried on a noble dream. Tonight we are comforted by the hope of a glad reunion with the husband who was taken from her so long ago, and we are grateful for the good life of Coretta Scott King.

Is the prez referring obliquely to the same MLK who was hounded by the U.S. government's secret domestic spying programs?

Each time I am invited to this rostrum, I am humbled by the privilege, and mindful of the history we have seen together. We have gathered under this Capitol dome in moments of national mourning and national achievement.

"Humbled?" Humility isn't the word that comes to mind when I think of the Shrub administration. I think the prez is looking for another "h" word--perhaps "hubris."

We have served America through one of the most consequential periods of our history - and it has been my honour to serve with you. In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of good will and respect for one another - and I will do my part. Tonight the state of our Union is strong - and together we will make it stronger.

This from the prez who has perhaps done more than any predecessor to expand the executive branch's power and overturn the notion of checks and balances.

In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country. We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom - or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life.

I agree. We need to persue those enemies: Bush, Cheney, and all the other thugs and hucksters.

We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy - or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting - yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people - the only way to secure the peace - the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership - so the United States of America will continue to lead.

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time
Abroad, our nation is committed to a historic, long-term goal - we seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On September 11, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country.

Notice the failure to name the country. Is Bush referring to Saudi Arabia--the home of his wealthy backers and friends?

Dictatorships shelter terrorists, feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. (which are primarily produced and sold by the U.S.)

Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbours, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom's cause.

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies on Earth. Today, there are 122. And we are writing a new chapter in the story of self-government - with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan - and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink - and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom.
At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half - in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran - because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom as well.

No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam - the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death. Terrorists like Bin Laden are serious about mass murder - and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously.

They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder. Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world.

Lacking the military strength to challenge us directly, the terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. When they murder children at a school in Beslan - or blow up commuters in London - or behead a bound captive - the terrorists hope these horrors will break our will, allowing the violent to inherit the Earth. But they have miscalculated: We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it.

Bush got that right. Terrorists lack military strength. That's why they're terrorists. And that's why the threat doesn't justify turning our world upside down and throwing all our rights out the window in the process.

Once again, we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed, and move this world toward peace . In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honour in retreat.

By allowing radical Islam to work its will - by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself - we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage. But our enemies and our friends can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil.

America rejects the false comfort of isolationism. We are the Nation that saved liberty in Europe, and liberated death camps, and helped raise up democracies, and faced down an evil empire. Once again, we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed, and move this world toward peace.

Not this tired analogy of us fighting the equivalent of the Nazis. What complete nonsense. If we were, the concern wouldn't be home-made bombs along dirt roads in Iraq but state-of-the-art bombs raining down on New York and L.A.

We remain on the offensive against terror networks. We have killed or captured many of their leaders - and for the others, their day will come. We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan - where a fine president and national assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy. And we are on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory. First, we are helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased, and the insurgency marginalized.

Second, we are continuing reconstruction efforts, and helping the Iraqi government to fight corruption and build a modern economy, so all Iraqis can experience the benefits of freedom.
Third, we are striking terrorist targets while we train Iraqi forces that are increasingly capable of defeating the enemy. Iraqis are showing their courage every day, and we are proud to be their allies in the cause of freedom.

Our work in Iraq is difficult, because our enemy is brutal. But that brutality has not stopped the dramatic progress of a new democracy. In less than three years, that nation has gone from dictatorship, to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections. At the same time, our coalition has been relentless in shutting off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds, and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces. I am confident in our plan for victory - I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people - I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military. Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning.

The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels - but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington DC.

So we will soon win the war and stamp out "terrorism" for all time! Oooah!

Our coalition has learned from experience in Iraq. We have adjusted our military tactics and changed our approach to reconstruction. Along the way, we have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel offered by Members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice.

Step down from office!

We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in its vital mission. Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy. With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candour. A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison - put men like Bin Laden and [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country - and show that a pledge from America means little.
Members of Congress: however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our Nation has only one option: We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in its vital mission.

Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices - and showing a sense of duty stronger than all fear. They know what it is like to fight house to house in a maze of streets - to wear heavy gear in the desert heat - to see a comrade killed by a roadside bomb. And those who know the costs also know the stakes.

Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay was killed last month fighting the enemy in Falluja. He left behind a letter to his family, but his words could just as well be addressed to every American.
Here is what Dan wrote: "I know what honour is. It has been an honour to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to. Never falter! Don't hesitate to honour and support those of us who have the honour of protecting that which is worth protecting."

Staff Sergeant Dan Clay's wife, Lisa, and his mom and dad, Sara Jo and Bud, are with us this evening. Our nation is grateful to the fallen, who live in the memory of our country. We are grateful to all who volunteer to wear our nation's uniform - and as we honour our brave troops, let us never forget the sacrifices of America's military families.

Our offensive against terror involves more than military action. Ultimately, the only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change.

So the United States of America supports democratic reform across the broader Middle East. Elections are vital - but they are only the beginning. Raising up a democracy requires the rule of law, protection of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote.

The great people of Egypt have voted in a multi-party presidential election - and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism. The Palestinian people have voted in elections - now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace.

Saudi Arabia has taken the first steps of reform - now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts. Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens.

Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity. The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon - and that must come to an end.

The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions - and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our Nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

To overcome dangers in our world, we must also take the offensive by encouraging economic progress, fighting disease, and spreading hope in hopeless lands. Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need.
We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/Aids, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption, and despair are sources of terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking, and the drug trade.

In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight Aids and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform.

For people everywhere, the United States is a partner for a better life. Short-changing these efforts would increase the suffering and chaos of our world, undercut our long-term security, and dull the conscience of our country. I urge Members of Congress to serve the interests of America by showing the compassion of America.

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us. Fortunately, this nation has superb professionals in law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and homeland security. These men and women are dedicating their lives to protecting us all, and they deserve our support and our thanks.
They also deserve the same tools they already use to fight drug trafficking and organized crime - so I ask you to reauthorize the Patriot Act. It is said that prior to the attacks of September 11, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy.

If there are people inside our country who are talking with al-Qaeda, we want to know about it
We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al-Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack - based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute - I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al-Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America.
Previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have - and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate Members of Congress have been kept informed. This terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al-Qaeda, we want to know about it - because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
In all these areas - from the disruption of terror networks, to victory in Iraq, to the spread of freedom and hope in troubled regions - we need the support of friends and allies. To draw that support, we must always be clear in our principles and willing to act. The only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world.

Yet we also choose to lead because it is a privilege to serve the values that gave us birth. American leaders - from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan - rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march. Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy - a war that will be fought by Presidents of both parties, who will need steady bipartisan support from the Congress.
And tonight I ask for yours. Together, let us protect our country, support the men and women who defend us, and lead this world toward freedom.

Here at home, America also has a great opportunity: We will build the prosperity of our country by strengthening our economic leadership in the world. Our economy is healthy, and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations.

In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new jobs - more than Japan and the European Union combined. Even in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.

The American economy is pre-eminent - but we cannot afford to be complacent. In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors like China and India. This creates uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed peoples fears. And so we are seeing some old temptations return.
Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy. Others say that the government needs to take a larger role in directing the economy, centralizing more power in Washington and increasing taxes.
We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy - even though this economy could not function without them. All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction - toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.

Tonight I will set out a better path - an agenda for a Nation that competes with confidence - an agenda that will raise standards of living and generate new jobs. Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it.
Keeping America competitive begins with keeping our economy growing. And our economy grows when Americans have more of their own money to spend, save, and invest. In the last five years, the tax relief you passed has left $880bn in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses, and families - and they have used it to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth.

Yet the tax relief is set to expire in the next few years. If we do nothing, American families will face a massive tax increase they do not expect and will not welcome. Because America needs more than a temporary expansion, we need more than temporary tax relief. I urge the Congress to act responsibly, and make the tax cuts permanent.

Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we have reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending - and last year you passed bills that cut this spending.

This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14bn next year - and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

I am pleased that Members of Congress are working on earmark reform - because the Federal budget has too many special interest projects. And we can tackle this problem together, if you pass the line-item veto. We must also confront the larger challenge of mandatory spending, or entitlements. This year, the first of about 78 million Baby Boomers turn 60, including two of my Dad's favourite people - me, and President Bill Clinton. This milestone is more than a personal crisis - it is a national challenge. The retirement of the Baby Boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the Federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone will be almost 60% of the entire federal budget. And that will present future Congresses with impossible choices - staggering tax increases, immense deficits, or deep cuts in every category of spending. Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security, yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away - and with every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse. With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker
So tonight, I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of Baby Boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This commission should include Members of Congress of both parties, and offer bipartisan answers. We need to put aside partisan politics, work together, and get this problem solved. Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow. One out of every five factory jobs in America is related to global trade, and we want people everywhere to buy American. With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker. Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our Nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection.

And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty - allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally - and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.

Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care. Our government has a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are meeting that responsibility. For all Americans, we must confront the rising cost of care - strengthen the doctor-patient relationship - and help people afford the insurance coverage they need.
We will make wider use of electronic records and other health information technology, to help control costs and reduce dangerous medical errors. We will strengthen Health Savings Accounts - by making sure individuals and small business employees can buy insurance with the same advantages that people working for big businesses now get.

We will do more to make this coverage portable, so workers can switch jobs without having to worry about losing their health insurance. And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice - leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB-GYN - I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.

Yes. Hopefully some magical solution will spring forth out of a test-tube somewhere. Thanks for keeping your fingers crossed Mr. President.

Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10bn to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources - and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative - a 22% increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas.

To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy. We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen.
We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment - move beyond a petroleum-based economy - and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

And to keep America competitive, one commitment is necessary above all: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity. Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hard-working, ambitious people - and we are going to keep that edge.

Tonight I announce the American Competitiveness Initiative, to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our Nations children a firm grounding in math and science.

First: I propose to double the Federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of Americas most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.

Second: I propose to make permanent the research and development tax credit, to encourage bolder private-sector investment in technology. With more research in both the public and private sectors, we will improve our quality of life - and ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come.

Third: We need to encourage children to take more math and science, and make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. We have made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country.

Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers, to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science - bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms - and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good, high-wage jobs. If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.

Preparing our Nation to compete in the world is a goal that all of us can share. I urge you to support the American Competitiveness Initiative - and together we will show the world what the American people can achieve.

America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society.

In recent years, America has become a more hopeful Nation. Violent crime rates have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1970s. Welfare cases have dropped by more than half over the past decade. Drug use among youth is down 19% since 2001. There are fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades, and the number of children born to teenage mothers has been falling for a dozen years in a row.

These gains are evidence of a quiet transformation - a revolution of conscience, in which a rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfilment. Government has played a role.

Wise policies such as welfare reform, drug education, and support for abstinence and adoption have made a difference in the character of our country. And everyone here tonight, Democrat and Republican, has a right to be proud of this record.

Yet many Americans, especially parents, still have deep concerns about the direction of our culture, and the health of our most basic institutions. They are concerned about unethical conduct by public officials, and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage.
And they worry about children in our society who need direction and love - and about fellow citizens still displaced by natural disaster - and about suffering caused by treatable disease.
As we look at these challenges, we must never give in to the belief that America is in decline, or that our culture is doomed to unravel. The American people know better than that. We have proven the pessimists wrong before - and we will do it again.

A hopeful society depends on courts that deliver equal justice under law. The Supreme Court now has two superb new members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sam Alito. I thank the Senate for confirming both of them. And I will continue to nominate men and women who understand that judges must be servants of the law, and not legislate from the bench.
Today marks the official retirement of a very special American. For 24 years of faithful service to our Nation, the United States is grateful to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research - human cloning in all its forms - creating or implanting embryos for experiments - creating human-animal hybrids - and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator - and that gift should never be discarded, devalued, or put up for sale.

A hopeful society expects elected officials to uphold the public trust. Honourable people in both parties are working on reforms to strengthen the ethical standards of Washington - and I support your efforts. Each of us has made a pledge to be worthy of public responsibility - and that is a pledge we must never forget, never dismiss, and never betray.

As we renew the promise of our institutions, let us also show the character of America in our compassion and care for one another.

A hopeful society gives special attention to children who lack direction and love. Through the Helping America's Youth Initiative, we are encouraging caring adults to get involved in the life of a child - and this good work is led by our First Lady, Laura Bush.

This year we will add resources to encourage young people to stay in school - so more of America's youth can raise their sights and achieve their dreams.

A hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency - and stays at it until they are back on their feet. So far the Federal government has committed $85bn to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

We are removing debris, repairing highways, and building stronger levees. We are providing business loans and housing assistance. Yet as we meet these immediate needs, we must also address deeper challenges that existed before the storm arrived.

In New Orleans and in other places, many of our fellow citizens have felt excluded from the promise of our country. The answer is not only temporary relief, but schools that teach every child - and job skills that bring upward mobility - and more opportunities to own a home and start a business. As we recover from a disaster, let us also work for the day when all Americans are protected by justice, equal in hope, and rich in opportunity.

A hopeful society acts boldly to fight diseases like HIV/Aids, which can be prevented, and treated, and defeated. More than a million Americans live with HIV, and half of all Aids cases occur among African-Americans. I ask Congress to reform and reauthorize the Ryan White Act - and provide new funding to states, so we end the waiting lists for Aids medicine in America.
We will also lead a nationwide effort, working closely with African-American churches and faith-based groups, to deliver rapid HIV tests to millions, end the stigma of Aids, and come closer to the day when there are no new infections in America.

Fellow citizens, we have been called to leadership in a period of consequence. We have entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite. We see great changes in science and commerce that will influence all our lives.

And sometimes it can seem that history is turning in a wide arc, toward an unknown shore. Yet the destination of history is determined by human action, and every great movement of history comes to a point of choosing.

Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma, and achieved only half a victory over segregation. The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe, and been complicit in the oppression of others.

Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back, or finish well? Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedoms advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy.

We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward - optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of victories to come.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless America.