Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin, creationist?

From The Boston Globe (and elsewhere).
Earlier this year, she told the newspaper that schools should not fear teaching creationism alongside evolution. 'Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information.'
Does she really think creationism is information? Where did she get that idea? What does she think she means by "information?" If someone thinks that the moon is made of green cheese, should that be taught alongside other theories of the solar system? How is that "information" different from the "information" associated with creationism? How would she decide what gets taught alongside what?

If she disagrees with the universal conclusion of biologists that evolution is the best way we know to explain the evidence we have, then perhaps she should say that biology is still a mystery. I wonder how much of biology and other sciences she does believe. How about DNA? Does she believe it exists and that it works the way the biologists say it works? Does she think the President of the country should know anything about these issues?

But no matter what she thinks of evolution I don't know of any "information" that supports creationism. What is she talking about? Does she take the bible as a source of scientific information? Is that how she will make decisions that depend on scientific judgment? If so, then as the saying goes, Heaven help the country.

I haven't been able to find anything that definitely says that she believes creationism. That should be one of the things the Democrats press her on. If she says she believes it, that would make a good campaign issue. Do we really want a President who is that ill informed about science? Even her current position makes her vulnerable to that charge. But if she actually embraces creationism, it should be all over.

Is that really whom McCain nominated? What does that say about his judgment?

If she says she hasn't made up her mind, that still says she is considering as true something that is demonstrably false. Is that the person we want as president? What other scientific conclusions does she not believe? For example, does she have an opinion about whether the sun goes around the earth? (If so, why does she have an opinion about that and not about evolution?) What is her approach to deciding when to believe scientific results? Certainly we can't all know everything. So how does she decide when to accept the conclusions of presumed experts on a subject?

Apparently she doesn't believe that we don't have an energy problem or that global warming is a result of human activity.
Speaking of energy, how much oil and gas does America really have?

We have billions and billions of barrels of oil and trillions of feet of natural gas. We have so much potential from tapping our resources here in Alaska. And we can do this with minimum environmental impact. We have a very pro-development president in President Bush, and yet he failed to push for opening up parts of Alaska to drilling through Congress — and a Republican-controlled Congress, I might add.

I thought when we hit $100 a barrel for oil it would have been a psychological barrier that would have caused Congress to reconsider, but they didn't. Now we are approaching $200 a barrel. It's nonsense not to tap a safe domestic source of oil. I think Americans need to hold Congress accountable on this one.

What is your take on global warming and how is it affecting our country?

A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.
I would like to hear her explain how she arrived at these conclusions. I wonder if she has an opinion about where "those billions and billions of barrels of oil and trillions of feet of natural gas" came from and how it got where it is. Does she think it matters?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Big Misconceptions about Small Businesses and Taxes

Another great piece by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Many of the roughly 650,000 filers with small-business income who face one of the top two tax rates are merely passive investors who have nothing to do with running the business. This is because the Tax Policy Center data cited above use the Treasury Department’s relatively broad definition of “small business.” Under the Treasury definition, for example, the $84 of income President Bush received in 2001 from a passive investment in an oil and gas company[7] made him a “small-business owner.” About 35 percent of “small-business owners” with incomes above $200,000, and about 58 percent of “small-business owners” with incomes over $1 million, received some or all of their business income in the form of passive investments. The Treasury definition also counts as “small-business income” the fees that CEOs are paid for sitting on corporate boards.

In short, few small businesses see any benefit from reductions in the top two income tax rates. The imagined impact on small businesses is a poor justification for extending the current top two rates, which would increase the deficit by $450 billion over the next ten years. …

Furthermore, the small-business estates that do owe estate tax generally pay a very small percentage of their value in tax. The 740 small-business estates that will pay any estate tax from deaths in 2008 will pay an average rate of just 8 percent, which is less than half of the 17.9 percent average rate that taxable estates overall will pay this year.[11]

There are two main reasons why. First, since small-business estates tend to have a smaller gross value than other estates,[12] the fact that the first $2 million of any estate is entirely exempt from estate tax ($4 million for a couple) generally protects a greater percentage of the value of small-business estates than it does for other estates.[13] Second, a number of special estate tax provisions targeted to small-business estates allow them to reduce significantly the amount of tax they pay.[14]

As in the debate about the top marginal income tax rates, concerns about small businesses under the estate tax are unwarranted.

Eliminating Tax Breaks for Hedge-Fund Managers Would Not Harm Small Businesses

Finally, critics have charged that a proposal the House passed this summer to no longer allow private equity fund managers with multi-million-dollar incomes to pay tax at lower marginal rates than most middle-income Americans would “hurt small businesses.” This claim, too, is incorrect.

Currently, executives who manage investment funds are able to receive a portion of their compensation in the form of “carried interest” (i.e., a share of the profits of the investment fund) and pay tax on it at the capital gains tax rate, which is typically much lower than their marginal income tax rate. Such preferential treatment for carried interest compensation is difficult to justify. While these executives’ compensation is calculated as a percentage of profits, they cannot accurately be viewed as earning shares of the profit of the investment fund, since they have not contributed any capital to the fund.

The House proposal would require carried interest compensation to be taxed at the recipient’s marginal individual income tax rate. This is a reasonable proposal to eliminate an inefficient and inequitable loophole. Furthermore, the proposal would use the $31 billion that closing this loophole would save over the next decade to help prevent millions more taxpayers from becoming subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax.

One response to this proposal has been the familiar but baseless refrain that the proposal “could affect countless ‘mom and pop’ businesses along Main Street, U.S.A.”[16] However, taxing carried interest in the same way as ordinary income would only affect individuals who provide investment management services and are paid in the form of carried interest. It would have no effect on small-business proprietors or individuals starting up small businesses, except for people who set up and run investment management firms. Indeed, when the director of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation was asked about the provision’s impact on “mom and pop” operations, he jokingly replied, “mom and pop private equity firms?”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another great column by Thomas Friedman

A Biblical Seven Years. Here's most of it.
As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Poverty and Share of Americans Without Health Insurance Were Higher in 2007 - And Median Income for Working-Age Households Was Lower - Than at the Bottom of Last Recession

From The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
This marks the first time on record that poverty and the incomes of typical working-age households have worsened despite six consecutive years of economic growth. The new data show that in terms of poverty and median income, the economic expansion that started at the end of 2001 was the worst on record. The data provide fresh evidence that the gains from the expansion were quite uneven and flowed primarily to high-income households.

Monday, August 25, 2008

McCain's answer to every question.

On the Tonight show, Jay Leno asked McCain how many houses he had. McCain's answer:
'Could I just mention to you Jay, that in a moment of seriousness, I spent five and a half years in a prison cell, I didn't have a house, I didn't have a kitchen table, I didn't have a table, I didn't have a chair,' said McCain, citing his history as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. 'I spent those five and half years not because I wanted to get a house when I got back home.'
I suppose he would have the same answer if you asked him about the country's energy problem, or about health care, or about Iraq. It's nice to know that McCain has an answer for everything. Too bad it's always the same answer.

What Obama Needs to Do

Drew Westen: What Obama Needs to Do in Denver Here's the second part.
When I started writing this piece two weeks ago, like many Democrats, I felt like I was watching a bad sequel to the election of 2004. Just as the Kerry campaign let the flip-flopper charge fester, the Obama campaign let the Internet smears designed to paint him as foreign, Muslim, dangerous, and "other" persist for over a year before even mentioning them publicly. Once McCain had secured the presumptive nomination, not only did the Obama campaign fail to begin branding him, but it implored progressive donors not to fund any independent expenditure organizations (527s) that could have done it for them, essentially unilaterally disarming the left just as Rove protégés were beginning to nest in the McCain campaign. As the newly infested McCain campaign began attacking Obama relentlessly, he and his entire campaign team waited to respond until they saw severe damage in the polls.

In recent days we have seen a dramatic course correction, and with every objective indicator on his side (a terrible economy, the most unpopular incumbent in the history of polling, an unpopular war, and a poor campaigner as an opponent), hopefully Obama will regain the momentum in Denver and begin to pull out of reach of John McCain. The only disasters that could come out of the convention would be if the Hillary roll call stunt spirals out of control and leads to a narrative about the convention that re-ignites old passions or if the Convention goes as planned, Obama wins, and Democrats conclude that the strategies that almost cost him the election were the ones that delivered it to him.

None of this is to deny the aspects of the Obama campaign that have indeed been spectacular. Its "ground game," it ability to organize people, and its use of new media have been brilliantly orchestrated and should serve as models for future campaigns.

But the campaign's failure to brand either its own candidate or its opponent, its reluctance until recently to fight back when hit hard (if even simply to say, "There you go again--that's the same politics of division that has gotten us where we are"), and its tone-deafness to narratives and nonverbal communication, reflected in its inability to self-correct after more than 20 tries when its candidate couldn't apply his natural skills as an orator to debates and similar formats (exemplified yet again in his recent performance relative to McCain's at Rick Warren's forum), illustrate how destructive Democratic strategic dogma can be even with the best of candidates.

So what does Obama need to accomplish at the convention? The same five things he needs to accomplish every week from now until the election.

First, he needs to tell Americans his story in a way that allows them to identify with him, and to make clear that he understands their stories, their pain, and their aspirations for their families. He needs to drive home the story he has told intermittently since he began running for president: That he grew up with his white mother and grandparents, whose Kansas values, along with his subsequent life experiences, shaped who he is and the values he teaches his own daughters; that in no country but America could a man with his history and his story be where he is today, and that he counts his blessings every day for being an American; that he understands the trials and tribulations of the millions of women who are raising children on their own because he saw what that was like for his mother; that he understands the toll it takes on men who want to nothing more than to feel the pride of providing for their families to see their jobs shipped overseas or their income no longer keeping pace with the rising cost of gas and groceries; that he understands the importance of fatherhood because he never had a father and had to try to invent one, and that he will do everything in his power to reverse the breakdown of the family in our inner cities; that he understands both the pain of prejudice and the extent to which we have overcome it as a society because he has seen and experienced both; and that he understands what happens when people begin to despair and lose hope because he has seen that despair with his own eyes.

Second, he needs to explain to the American people how we have gotten to this place in history, where American prestige and power are at low ebb, where our economy and infrastructure are in tatters, and where our dependence on foreign oil is not only economically devastating but a serious danger to our national security. He needs to offer an indictment of the Republican Party and the Bush presidency, and to make clear that the economic insecurity of middle class families, the spiraling cost of gas and health care, and the indifference to future generations that has produced our current energy crisis is not an accident but is a direct result of a radical ideology that has proven dangerous, reckless, and now discredited. He needs to compare American economic power and our world leadership during the 1990s under a strong Democratic administration with what has followed in eight short years of Republican rule. He needs to make clear to the American people that he understands their anxiety and anger as they struggle to pay for health care for their families and to put groceries on the table, as they watch their hard-earned money transferred to big oil companies that are getting tax breaks at the expense of the people they are gouging at the pump, and as they watch their biggest asset--the equity in their homes (if they can still afford to pay the mortgage)--plummet because of a get-rich-quick scheme designed for the few and now paid for by the many. He needs to tell a compelling story about why we are where we are and what he is going to do to help a realistically worried nation get back on its feet again and restore American productivity at home and prestige and security abroad.

Third, he needs to explain why John McCain is not the right man for the times. He has to build a compelling case--a sustained and compelling emotional argument--for why John McCain should not be President. The Obama campaign has a wide choice of narratives they could offer about McCain, some of which they have floated at times but none of which they have repeated over and over in the way that leads a story to "stick." None would require them to utter a word of untruth; in fact, they could tell most of these stories using nothing but McCain's own words, as Joe Biden did in his first address as Obama's running mate: that McCain is Bush's third term, that he is a man who has stood on every side of every issue except for the one about which he has stood strong (that he wants to be president), that he is a Washington insider who is part of the problem and not the solution, that he's the Man from Hopelessness, that his ideas and epithets (e.g., "tax and spend liberal") are old and tired, that he is out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans, that he is filled with 20th century solutions to 21st century problems (like invading sovereign states when the states that harbor terrorists tend to be failed states, or offering up free market rhetoric in an era of globalization in which it's just not quite that simple).

Of all the stories Obama could tell, three are probably the most compelling. The first is that a vote for McCain is a vote for continuing the failed policies of George W. Bush, policies that have weakened us economically and threatened our national security in a world whose greatest dangers lie in international terrorism (which require coordination with other nations, not condescension toward our allies, refusal to speak to our enemies, and saber rattling when we have no sabers left to rattle). The second is that McCain is not the straight-talking maverick who many admired in 2000 but a man whose ambition has gotten the best of him, who learned the wrong lessons from watching himself swift-boated by George W. Bush and Karl Rove--a man who is so desperate to be President that he will say whatever he has to say to convince conservatives he is one of them, say whatever he has to say to convince moderates that he isn't really the person he is telling the far right, and convince himself that if he has to take the low road to the presidency, that's just politics. The third is that McCain is out of touch with the American people; that he has no idea of the suffering his party and their policies have inflicted on working Americans; that a man who can't remember how many houses he has, whose wife says the only way to get around Arizona is by private jet, and whose closest economic advisor thinks people who lose their jobs or can't keep up with the bills through no fault of their own are just whiners clearly doesn't understand what middle class families are experiencing.

The fourth thing Obama needs to do in Denver is to address head-on the stories told by the other side that have eroded positive feelings toward him among a large swath of the electorate and that have kept so many people undecided in a race that should be all but over. In particular, he needs to address the stories that he is just an empty celebrity, that he is an elitist, and that he is not really American, patriotic, or "one of us." He needs to do what he should have done the day McCain launched his celebrity ad, to fire back with something as simple as, "John McCain makes fun of the fact that people are coming out all over this country to hear what I have to say and to talk with me about their lives, their concerns, and their dreams. But he doesn't seem to get that there's a reason no one's listening to him: because they've been hearing the same party line for 8 years, and they've seen where it's taken us. If John McCain wants to draw some crowds of his own, perhaps he should stop filtering out everyone who isn't already his supporter and try listening to people who may not agree with all his solutions." He needs to turn the charge of elitism back on the man who has to ask his staff how many homes he has. And he needs to attack McCain and his allies directly for questioning his patriotism and to redefine turning American against American as un-American. He needs to ask McCain just what he is implying about Obama when he runs ads that call himself "the American President Americans have been waiting for." What kind of President is saying Obama would be if not an American President? And what is he implying (which Joe Lieberman actually made explicit) in his campaign theme that he, unlike Obama, will put "country first." He needs to turn the attack back on the attacker. And he needs to confront the issue of race head-on, not run from it, and signal to working class and rural whites that the most offensive and elitist thing he has heard in this election is that people like them won't vote for him because he's black and that they're too ignorant and bigoted to judge him on the content of his character. He needs to acknowledge that what they need from him most is to know that he shares their values and that he understands people like them--the same thing black voters often wonder when a white politician comes to town--and he needs to let them know that he will come to their neck of the woods to talk with them and let them get to know him.

And finally, he needs to recognize that an accidental but toxic byproduct of his effort to make this campaign a positive one about his own vision for America and McCain's effort to make it a negative one about Obama's differentness and dangerousness is that he has allowed this election to be a referendum on him, just as Kerry did. This election should be a referendum on the Bush-McCain years and whether we can afford any more of them.

What Obama Needs to Do

Great piece by Drew Weston. Drew Westen: What Obama Needs to Do in Denver I'll post it in two parts. First, what Obama shouldn't do, i.e., what the old Democratic play book says. And second what he should do.
It is time, once and for all, for Democrats to burn the Kerry playbook. For those who have done their best to forget, here are some of its key features. It is the same playbook used to guide one losing Democratic campaign after another for decades:

1. Be nice. Be positive. It's okay to take an occasional swipe, but don't remind the public regularly why they should be concerned about keeping the incumbent or his party in the White House no matter how incompetent, deceitful, or criminal their actions (e.g., don't talk about Abu Ghraib because the other side might accuse you of "nor supporting our troops").

2. If you get attacked, don't attack back. If you absolutely have to respond, start with a weak rejoinder, preferably one without any hint of masculinity, like "If that were the case, I would find it very disappointing." Show as little emotion as you can when responding to attacks. Never express outrage at attacks on your character or patriotism or strike back at your opponent for making them or colluding with those who do.

3. Assume people know who your candidate is because you do and they've heard about him for months. Wait until the convention to start defining your candidate in richer detail, after he's already been branded by the other side and it's difficult to change people's minds. Don't inoculate in advance against the ideas you know will appear in early August attack books that are likely to morph into television ads around the time of the Democratic Convention or in October, particularly if their content is predictable and potentially toxic.

4. If there are elements of your candidate's life story that worry you, don't talk about them. Cross your fingers and close your eyes really tight, and hope Karl Rove won't notice them.

5. If the other side starts to define your candidate in ways that might be damaging, hold your fire, and if you have to say anything, start with, "the American people are smarter than that." If you have to take corrective measures, do so only after your polling data have shown definitively that the damage has been done.

6. If the other side predictably defines you as elite (as they have done against every Democrat for 40 years), don't respond, especially if your opponent is from a much more privileged background than you are. Find a way to mention any elite universities you've attended or slip them into images in your biographical ads.

7. Don't make any sustained effort to brand your opponent, even as he is branding you. That would be negative, and focus group participants don't like negativity. Let your opponent define both of you.

8. To prepare for debates and similar television performances, focus on facts, figures, and briefing books. Spend little or no time on nonverbal cues, like making eye contact with the audience, and be sure not to have anyone prep the candidate who has expertise in nonverbal communication.

9. When asked in debates and similar forums about wedge issues such as abortion or guns, appear as if you've heard the question for the first time, or be ready with dispassionate responses, and make little effort to connect with voters in the center who could hear your values and resonate with them if you spoke about them with conviction. Do not describe the slippery slopes on the other side the way Republicans always do against Democrats (e.g., that your opponent believes that if your sixteen-year-old daughter were raped, the government, not you and your daughter, should decide whether she should carry the baby to term).

10. If anti-incumbent sentiment is high and your opponent's party is unpopular, make the election a referendum about your candidate (the challenger) rather than the incumbent and his party.

Is this a parody of the Kerry campaign? I wish it were. It's a synopsis.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wal-Mart's short-sited political thinking

In discussing Wal-Mart's political strategy (typically very pro-Republican because Wal-Mart thinks the Republican's will support its anti-union policy), Daniel Gross makes a very good point.
Instead of asking whether a particular candidate or political party will be favorable to Wal-Mart's labor-relations policies, the executives in Bentonville, Ark., should be asking whether the candidate or party will be good for Wal-Mart's customers.
Here are the two paragraphs that precede this one.
Wal-Mart's brass plainly believes—no, know—that a Republican president would be good for Wal-Mart, while a Democrat would be bad. Despite Clinton's Arkansas roots, most Wal-Mart executives probably opposed Clinton in both his successful campaigns. But during his presidency, Wal-Mart's stock more than tripled. By contrast, Wal-Mart executives polled in 2000 would have been exultant at the prospect of two George W. Bush terms, especially if they were to be coupled with mostly Republican control of the House and Senate. And yet this decade has been a lost one for Wal-Mart shareholders: In the Bush years, the stock hasn't budged at all.

Yes, politics matters. But in the end, the macroeconomic climate matters a lot more. Wal-Mart's success ultimately depends on whether the lower-income and middle-income customers on whom it depends are doing well or getting eaten up by stagnant incomes and rising costs for health care and gas. Here, again, the last two decades offer a pretty good contrast. In the 1990s, when a Democrat was in the White House, the rising economic tide lifted all boats (though not all boats equally), and Wal-Mart benefited. In this decade, the rising tide lifted only the yachts. The Bush years have been something of an economic disaster for people on the lower rungs of the income ladders. Census data show that household income in 2006 was below its 1999 peak and that the uninsured rate has steadily risen throughout the decade. Layer on soaring energy prices in the past couple of years, and you've got trouble. It's not all the fault of Bush or congressional Republicans, of course. But it's pretty clear that the dominant fiscal and economic policies of the past eight years—massive tax cuts for the wealthy, economic royalism, hostility to labor, and neglect on health care—haven't made things better for Wal-Mart customers.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

From Nouriel Roubini

From an article in
“Once you run current-account deficits, you depend on the kindness of strangers,” he said, pausing to let out a resigned sigh. “This might be the beginning of the end of the American empire.”

Friday, August 15, 2008


Los Angeles

Sunday, August 10, 2008

English Cows

My picture of English Cows continues to get occasional hits.

English cows

Friday, August 08, 2008

Real men don’t think things through

Paul Krugman
Know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy.
Read the rest of it also.

Feeling safe kills

From Book Review - 'Traffic,' by Tom Vanderbilt - Review by Mary Roach.
This basic truth — feeling safe kills — lies beneath many of the book’s insights. Americans think roundabouts are more dangerous than intersections with traffic lights. Roundabouts require you to adjust your speed, to merge, in short, to pay attention. At an intersection, we simply watch the light. And so we may not notice the red-light runner coming at us or the pedestrian stepping off the curb. A study that followed 24 intersections that had been converted from signals or stop signs to roundabouts showed an almost 90 percent drop in fatal crashes after the change.
I have often thought that the driver zigzagging from one lane to another in an attempt to shave a few seconds of his drive was safer than the one obediently following the car ahead of him. Perhaps there's something to that.

Bin Laden Driver Sentenced to a Short Term

It was more like a party than a sentencing. From
Rejecting a prosecution request for a severe sentence, a panel of military officers sentenced the convicted former driver for Osama bin Laden to five and a half years in prison on Thursday. The sentence means that the first detainee convicted after a war crimes trial here could complete his punishment by the end of this year.

The military judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, had already said that he planned to give the driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, credit for at least the 61 months he has been held since being charged, out of more than six years in all. That would bring Mr. Hamdan to the end of his criminal sentence in five months. …

The sentence was far less than military prosecutors had sought. Through more than five years of proceedings, prosecutors had pursued a life sentence. Earlier in the day, faced with Mr. Hamdan’s acquittal on the most serious charge against him, the prosecutors recommended a sentence of at least 30 years and had said life might still be appropriate. …

“What ultimately happened, in spite of the system, was justice,” said Charles D. Swift, a former Navy lawyer who has forged a close relationship with Mr. Hamdan through more than five years of battles as his lawyer.

After just over an hour of deliberations on the sentence, the panel of six senior military officers returned to the windowless tribunal room with their sentence on the single war crimes charge on which they convicted him, providing material support to a terrorist organization.

After the president of the panel, the most senior officer, read the sentence, Mr. Hamdan rose at the defense table, collected himself and spoke. Referring to an apology he had made to victims of terrorism on Thursday morning in the same room, he began, “I would like to apologize one more time.” …

After the panel members filed out, Mr. Hamdan, who was captured in the Afghan war on Nov. 24, 2001, hugged Mr. Swift, who helped take his case to the Supreme Court. As he left the sparsely attended courtroom here, Mr. Hamdan, who at times has shown a mischievous sense of humor, raised his arms and said a good-natured, “Bye, bye everybody.”

During pretrial proceedings, Mr. Hamdan, a father of two daughters in Yemen, and the judge, a career Navy lawyer, had regularly exchanged smiles and, on occasion, chats. Before he left the bench, Judge Allred said a few parting words to the man he had gotten to know in a most unusual way.

“Mr. Hamdan,” Judge Allred said, “I hope the day comes that you are able to return to your wife and daughters and your country.”

“Inshallah,” Mr. Hamdan said in Arabic, before an interpreter gave the English translation of “God willing.”

“Inshallah,” Judge Allred responded. …

At the trial, the defense portrayed Mr. Hamdan as eager to work with his American captors, even helping in their hunt for Mr. bin Laden.

After the sentence, the lawyers were asked if it would be safe for Mr. Hamdan to return to his native Yemen. Charles Schmitz, a college professor who has worked for years as the defense team’s Arabic translator, said Mr. Swift had asked Mr. Hamdan that long ago.

Mr. Hamdan’s answer, Professor Schmitz said, was: “Look, you guys get me out of Gitmo. I’ll take care of Yemen.”

Hamdan: After 7 Years, Found Guilty Of A Crime He Never Denied

From Ken Gude at Wonk Room.
Salim Hamdan was found guilty of providing material support for terrorism at a Guantanamo military commission today, but acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiracy to commit terrorist attacks and murder American soldiers. So let me get this straight: After seven years and numerous court challenges including two Supreme Court rulings, the Bush administration finally stumbled its way to its first conviction in a military commission for a crime that is routinely handled in federal courts. Is this is the best they can do?

Hamdan was Osama bin Laden’s driver, not Osama bin Laden. He never denied that he was bin Laden’s driver. It would have been an open and shut case of material support for terrorism in federal court. Hamdan could have been securely locked away years ago, but the Bush administration chose to pursue the risky path of an untested military commissions system. The judge in Hamdan’s case was put in the unprecedented position of deciding how much torture was too much in determining which of Hamdan’s statements made during “coercive” interrogations would be allowed into evidence. No U.S. court has yet to decide if the entire military commissions system is lawful, and a negative verdict like the two others already handed down on military commissions by the Supreme Court could invalidate Hamdan’s conviction putting us back at square one.

Even more disturbing is that revelations at the commission point to the Bush administration squandering a real chance to capture senior al Qaeda figures, perhaps even bin Laden himself. Some testimony from government witnesses at the commission about Hamdan’s interrogation was kept secret, but statements by the defense during the closing argument show that according to government witnesses, Hamdan, who was Osama bin Laden’s driver, made a serious offer of assistance that the government failed to pursue. Hmmm. Now what kind of offer would Osama bin Laden’s driver make that would be worth the defense reminding the jurors about?

The worst aspect of this whole episode is that the Bush administration has completely devalued the concept of a war criminal. War crimes should be reserved for the most serious offenses and war crimes trials are extraordinary. Charles Taylor is a war criminal. Radovan Karazdic is a war criminal. Salim Hamdan is a chauffer. He is clearly guilty of the crime of material support for terrorism. But now he has been elevated to the status of warrior, legitimizing al Qaeda terrorists’ belief that they are waging a holy war against the United States and our allies.

We waited seven years to convict a low-level al Qaeda figure of a crime he never denied. In the process, the Bush administration passed up the chance to get bin Laden and squandered, perhaps forever, the hard-fought credibility and legitimacy of the United States. All this to give al Qaeda terrorists exactly what they wanted—confirmed status as holy warriors.

Great job, guys.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Senator Obama, where are you?

This is not the time for a happy smile. This is the moment for you to show your strength, your substance. McCain is attacking you. The American people want to see you fight back. If you can't fight back against McCain, how can you possibly be an effective Commander in Chief and defend the country against its adversaries. The world may not be the Hobbesian jungle that the Republicans want us to believe it is. But there are bad guys in the world. We are not ready to disband either our local police force or our defensive military.
  • How dare you John McCain lie to the American people about solving the energy problem?! Your party has been in charge for the past 8 years. You got us into this mess. How can you be so shameless as to tell us that you can get us out?! And especially by doing more of the same. Are you crazy? Aren't you smart enough to learn from the experience of the last eight years?
  • How dare you John McCain take advantage of a recession and the suffering of our fellow citizens to play dishonest politics?!
  • How dare you John McCain lead people to believe that you can solve the energy crisis when all you are really doing is offering the country one more hit of poison—and even that's a lie. Even(!) George Bush knows that we have to solve our addition to oil. That means get off it, not feed our habit with stories of oil forever if we just keep drilling.
  • How dare you John McCain attempt to lull people to sleep and attempt to convince them that offshore drilling will solve anything. Misleading the country in this way is the most unpatriotic thing you can do.
  • Have you no shame? You act like you are willing to sell the country down the river to the oil companies in an attempt to steal the election.
  • People are suffering John McCain and you are telling them to take two drill bits and call you in the morning. Are you crazy? High oil prices are a symptom of something much more serious. Don't tell the American people that you will lower the cost of oil by reducing the oil tax. Don't tell them that you will solve the problem by focusing on the symptoms. That's bad medicine and you would make a very bad doctor.
  • How dare you John McCain be obstructionist in finding a solution to the energy problem. We have a serious problem, and you are apparently not capable of even looking it in the eye. You are telling the country to put its head in the sand and see if there's any more oil down there, and then perhaps the problem will go away. You are making it that much harder for those of us who want to deal with the problem to get started.
  • So get out of the way John McCain. If you can't lead towards a solution, and if you can't follow when led, get out of the way!
  • They call you a war hero? They call you a patriot? You are doing more damage to the country than any terrorist. How dare you!
Senator Obama, where are you? Why aren't you saying this sort of thing. The American people want to see your fire, your anger, your conviction, your ability to lead in a crisis. (And this is a crisis. The Republicans will keep blaming you for the energy problem and may very well steal the election. If that's not a crisis, what is?)

The country can take it if you can lead. But if you don't have it in you to respond to McCain's lies and lead in the right direction, you don't have what it takes to be president.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Why can't Obama attack back?

Presumed Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, speaking in Pennsylvania, again advocated more oil drilling off the U.S. coast. 'Anybody who says that we can achieve energy independence without using and increasing these existing energy resources either doesn't have the experience to understand the challenge that we face or isn't giving the American people some straight talk,' he said.
Straight talk???!!
  • Anyone who argues that we can solve our addiction to oil by drilling in the outer shelf is acting as a shill for the oil companies. Why can't Obama say that?
  • Anyone who fails to point out that the oil companies are sitting on leases on which they can currently drill but are refusing to do so is acting as a shill for the oil companies. Why can't Obama say that?
  • Anyone who fails to point out that Exxon/Mobile made Billions of dollars in profit in the last quarter alone and wants still more tax breaks is acting as a shill for the oil companies. Why can't Obama say that?
  • Anyone who doesn't point out that the demand for drilling is simply a further land grab by the oil companies is acting as a shill for the oil companies. Why can't Obama say that?
This is what the Republicans always do. They make the contest into one in which Republicans attack Democrats and Democrats defend themselves. Why can't the Democrats attack back? Or perhaps Obama really doesn't have the substance to be President if he can't deal with this sort of tactic.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Crowd-sourced traffic data

From Slate Magazine
As you traverse your favored metropolis, the Dash Express Navigator anonymously transmits information about its location and speed to a central server. Every other Dash driver does the same. Using this data, Dash can paint a stunningly accurate picture of traffic patterns. Have you ever been stuck in a jam and wished there were some way to look two miles ahead to see whether things are still ugly? Dash essentially does that for you.

The Dark Side

This review of Jane Mayer's new book suggests that the book is a devastatingly researched indictment of the Bush administration's torture policy.
By the end of 2005, those defending the regime of torture were no longer seeking primarily to protect the search for valuable intelligence. They were fighting for its survival … because they feared being prosecuted should the program be halted and exposed. Even releasing detainees whom they knew to be entirely innocent was dangerous, since once released they could talk. “People will ask where they’ve been and ‘What have you been doing with them?’” Cheney said in a White House meeting. “They’ll all get lawyers.”

Republicans refuse to go home

If Republicans can make offshore drilling a positive issue for them, this country is in very sad shape. From
Republican congressmen refuse to go on vacation

* Elana Schor in Washington
* Friday August 1 2008
* Article history

Decorum, formality and austerity are the normal watchwords on the floor of the US House of Representatives. That changed today, when Democrats moved to adjourn – and Republicans refused to go home.

Republicans launched their raucous protest, which one congressman likened to "question hour in the British parliament" on the social networking site Twitter, over offshore oil drilling.

Beleaguered by the indictment of their senior senator, Ted Stevens, and the uneven campaign of their presidential nominee, Republicans have turned to offshore drilling as their singular political bright spot this summer.

So when House Democratic leaders adjourned today without voting on whether to end the 26-year ban on drilling along the US coastline, Republicans pounced. In a legislature where business is conducted according to strict rules, they simply refused to accept the result.

"Although this Democrat majority just adjourned for the Democrat 5-week vacation, House Republicans are continuing to fight on the house floor," the office of Roy Blunt, No 2 Republican in the House, said in a statement to

Republicans were reported to be inviting unaffiliated visitors onto the House floor to sit in congressmen's chairs, which is strictly prohibited during normal business. The group of lucky guests included "several dozen Cub Scouts", according to

"Although the lights, mics and [TV] camera's [sic] have been turned off, House Republicans are on the floor speaking to the taxpayers in the gallery who, not surprisingly, agree with Republican energy proposals," Blunt's office wrote.

The lights and microphones were turned off at one point during the Republicans' raucous protest but later were reactivated.

Peter Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House intelligence committee, used Twitter to update the media on his party's curious rebellion.

"This is unprecedented … crowd keeps growing here on the floor," Hoekstra wrote on his website.

Less than an hour later, he added: "Wow. This is unreal. There's excitement on the floor. A real energy … I thought I'd experienced everything. This is new." also provided updates on the bizarre goings-on, which included one Republican congressman displaying a photo of a Volkswagen Beetle car with sails attached. "I am a Democrat and here is my energy plan," he declared to cheering colleagues.

The TV cameras that capture every minute of official congressional sessions were turned off when the Democrats adjourned, forcing Republicans to rely on word of mouth to promote their protest.

"All Republicans who are in town are encouraged to come to the House floor," Blunt's office wrote.