Monday, July 31, 2006

Playing Hardball

The Paris Hilton tax break estate tax repeal is a bad idea that stinks and the way in which the House GOP is trying to push it stinks even more. I think it's time that Dems start playing hardball. I would have recommended the Dems boycott the vote and hold a press conference instead, but that's kind of hard to do when the vote is held at midnight. Democrats have to start playing hardball against this cynical, conniving GOP controlled House. And it should start now--before the GOP starts swift-boating everyone.

Heal The World

If you care enough for the living, make it a better place...

Michael Jackson on YouTube:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Five Bucks

I have to admit, I'm a little irate this morning. Yesterday it was extremely hot in lab because our building needs to conserve energy and has had to cut air conditioning. That's tolerable, but I've had to put off some experiments for at least a week. I'll spare you details of the extremely LOUD work right below my desk, but just mention that I was a foot away from getting drilled in the foot. Deep breath.

Then I wake up to read that the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee is comparing me to the Third Reich. That can really push me over the edge when I'm already wound up. (The LA Times had a good op-ed on global warming deniers.)

To calm my nerves a little, I'll donate some money to the DSCC. I typically go out for lunch with friends two or three times a week. Rather than doing that, I'll skip a meal (~$5) and give that to the DSCC instead. There are about 15 weeks before 11/7, which corresponds to $75. Since the DSCC is triple matching that's $225. I'll also be getting others to donate soon.

Here's to hoping there will be a Democratic Senator as chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee in January 2007 (my contribution confirmation code: VQEE0A70A099). One that isn't the town dunce and extremely offensive. Feel free to leave your confirmation code in the comments.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005

Here is part of the text of H.R.810 that deals with the Ethical Requirements:
`(b) Ethical Requirements- Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following:
`(1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment.

`(2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded.

`(3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
I highlighted parts of the text that says specifically that the stem cells that would be used would otherwise be discarded.

So, this seems to be the Bush stance: It's immoral to use embryonic stem cells. But we'll provide federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells that are essentially worthless (more on that later). Furthermore, we'll let it be completely legal to use private funding to do something that is immoral. Also, we think it's morally superior to throw away old stem cells than to use these otherwise discarded stem cells to do research. Throwinng them away is morally acceptable.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Poor Editorship

Over at MSNBC.com, an AP article has the headline, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ lands man in slammer. But, in the last paragraphs we find this:
Just before the verdict was announced on June 29, Border called city Deputy Prosecutor Sean Sanada and Kwock to the bench and told them he didn't want a show of emotion by either side, according to a defense request to dismiss the contempt charge.

When Stowers made his remarks after the verdict was announced, the judge told him, "There will (be) no more of that," the papers said.
It wasn't the content that got the man in trouble even though the headline implies it was. Will Bill O'Reilly or John Gibson use this in their next book as "proof" of a war on Christianity?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An Eye For An Eye...

Makes the whole world blind, according to Gandhi. I do believe there is a lot of truth to that.

I was thinking of that statement as I came accross this quote from an article in the Guardian:
"When the Zionists behave like there are no rules and no red lines and no limits to the confrontation, it is our right to behave in the same way," a tired-looking but defiant [Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah] Nasrallah said in a televised address. He said Hezbollah hit Haifa because of Israel's hits on Lebanese civilians.
Sadly, this kind of thinking results in the deaths of people who do not believe the same and who do not want to die. After thousands of years of humanity, it is sad to still see this behavior.

And the U.S. is not immune. One thing that upsets me the most is the view that we have the right to treat detainees in inhumane ways because they wish to do us harm. I'm offended that we resort to the same level as terrorists. We are Americans, not terrorists! I believe I am better than a terrorist and would like to think that our country is. Why, then, do we calibrate our moral compass based on what the terrorists do? We should stop terrorism, but we should never resort to their level.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Boys With Toys

I hate being alarmist, but I'm genuinely scared by what appears to be the bloodlust of so many with influence over the Administration (documented here). These are the same people who talked about troops being greeted with flowers in Iraq rather than the IEDs that really greeted them.

What is perhaps most disturbing is the complete disregard of the horrors that war entails. Here's William Kristol:
Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.
I'm sure it's "healthy" when other people's lives are lost. Probably not as "healthy" when it's you or your loved ones. We shouldn't be so quick to unleash death, especially when it runs the rather large risk of spreading death dramatically. We also shouldn't be so quick to trust the judgement of those who have proven to be so dismally and embarassingly wrong.

I hope the escalation in violence turns out to be merely a jockeying for position that Laura Rozen describes. If so, I hope Bush ignores those who seem to hunger and thirst for death and destruction.

Republicans: The Party of Reform

OK, that was sarcastic. From the Times:
Tapping a rich vein of longstanding relationships with lobbyists and their corporate clients, Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has raised campaign contributions at a rate of about $10,000 a day since February, surpassing the pace set by former Representative Tom DeLay after he became majority leader in 2002, a review of federal filings shows.

His fund-raising pace is roughly twice what it was before he became majority leader in February; in April his two federal committees took in $334,500 from political action committees, a monthly take that Mr. DeLay did not match for more than two years after the elections in 2002.

Mr. Boehner’s biggest donors include the political action committees of lobbying firms, drug and cigarette makers, banks, health insurers, oil companies and military contractors. Seven American Indian tribes with casinos have contributed $32,000...

Mr. Boehner is a frequent traveler, having accepted 39 trips since 2000, compared to 2 trips for Mr. Hastert and 18 for Mr. DeLay, according to House travel records compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign and lobbying activities. Mr. Madden said such trips were valuable because they allowed “members to find out about the issues that they’re voting on.”
Seems like Tom DeLay on steroids.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Angelides Leads Schwarzenegger

According to the latest Rasmussen poll, Angelides is up 46% to 44%.

Angelides has been consistently increasing his poll numbers. Though his campaign hasn't been that visible, he has a lot of proposals. His website goes through many of them.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Failure of Conservative Libertarian Government

I often here Republicans, conservatives and libertarians blaming all the ills in our country on big government. That's patently absurd. Before Social Security, there was high elderly poverty (over 30%), but since then there has been a marked decrease in elderly poverty that has been contributed to S.S.. The same thing with poverty in general and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society legislation. Responsible government can work.

But take the flip side and look at no government. Case in point Iraq. They have about as small government as you can imagine. But they have high poverty, extremely high unemployment, no order, and a whole slew of other problems.

Given the choice between no/limited government and responsible government (Social Security, Great Society, etc.), I'll take the latter. It works. Conservative/libertarian dreams of limited government doesn't seem to work.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More on Mexico: Democracy Doesn't Have A Time Limit

I'm hoping to go through this in more detail when I have another sleepless night, but for now, I think it's worth highlighting the Greg Palast interview on Democracy Now this morning. Personally, I'm generally not fond of jumping into the fray of other countries' practices "willy-nilly". But since President Bush was so eager to congratulate Calderon, being one of the first leaders to do so, my stink detector just won't let up. Some highlights...
GREG PALAST: On a computer printout, Dr. Romero showed how the official tallies matched the exit polls, with challenger Lopez Obrador ahead by 2% all night. That is, until the very end, when several precincts came in for the ruling party by 10-to-1, and then 100-to-1, putting their candidate Felipe Calderon over the top, literally in the last minutes. The doctor found that statistically improbable.

VICTOR ROMERO [from Mexico's National University]: We reached the point I said, “It’s over.” But then, from 71% ‘til the very end, there was not a single moment in which the difference from one report to the next became bigger.

GREG PALAST: So it didn't change at all. Just was perfect.

VICTOR ROMERO: Perfect, perfect. And so we just couldn't believe it. I mean, it fell -- with 5% to go, it fell one full point.
OK, this is fishy, but not necessarily an indictment--I'd still like to verify this myself. But when you compound this with exit polls showing AMLO (the PRD candidate) winning and a supposed video (that I'm trying to track down) showing ballot stuffing, there is a little more to this. Also, I find this astonishing:
The rush to announce a winner was all the more surprising given the wave of other reported irregularities. This is Cesar Yanez who directed the campaign for Lopez Obrador’s party, the PRD. He noted there were 300,000 fewer votes for president than for senator, a drop-off that voting experts say never happens without fraud. Yanez guessed maybe they ate their votes.
I find it really hard to believe that a lower ticket race would have more votes than the top ticket, but it is still not conclusive. I find this most damning:
The Federal Election Commission's rush to announce a winner caught my attention because of the astonishingly high pile of supposedly uncountable votes: nearly one million blank unreadable ballots, four times the alleged margin of victory. The smell of Florida was unmistakable. In the 2000 U.S. election, Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris stopped a hand count of 179,000 supposedly blank ballots. Mexico's Electoral Commission, taking the exact same stance as Harris, is refusing to have a public hand count of those supposedly blank one million ballots.

Yanez noted that the commission agreed to open a fragment of 1% of the ballot packets. In most cases, ballots that were totaled as blank were, in fact, votes for Obrador. Each box opened produced enough newfound votes for Obrador that opening all the boxes should statistically change the outcome of the election. But all the boxes won't be opened. The ruling party, the PAN, and the Electoral Commission refuse a full public recount, and the government says that it's over.
There is no excuse not to have a full recount for a race this close. In the 2004 presidential election, the results didn't seem close so I had no problem without a recount (and revised exit polls corraborated the results).

In Washington state's '04 gubernatorial race, there was an automatic recount due to the closeness of the race. This makes sense because statistically, such narrow margins could be within the noise of counting statistics (though that argument may not be justified in this case, haven't done the math). But when you have nearly one million "blank votes", the need for a recount is all the more necessary.

Hopefully I can delve into this more soon and find some other reports that verify Palast's claims. But, since George Bush is always talking about how Democracy is "on the march", it would be nice if we were to ensure that Democracy is actually taking place amongst are allies. Plus, there is no excuse to prevent a full recount. As one of the commenters says, "Democracy doesn't have a time limit."

Hooked On A Feeling

I'm sure everyone's already read Hoekstra's comment: "I don't have any evidence. But from my perspective..."

I know I shouldn't try to lower the political discourse, but this made me think of David Hasselhof:



Faith based politics, to be sure.

Florida, Washington State and Mexico

More on this later, but there is one thing that separates the elections of Florida (in 2000), Washington State (2004), and Mexico (2006). In 2000, the Supreme Court and the Republican election officials prevented a complete recount of the ballots in Florida. Bush did not hesitate to force the issue, nor did he show much concern about counting ballots. In 2006, it looks like he is following the same tact. In what appears to be an extremely close vote--with many claims of voter fraud--Bush didn't seem to care about waiting for a recount, calling the current election leader before a recount.

For someone claiming to promote Democracy, I find it odd, not that he supports the right-wing candidate, but that he was in such a rush to crown the leader without concern for ensuring the ballots were properly counted. I won't accept an argument from him that this needs to be settled quickly. After all, he has stated repeatedly that it will take time to establish a Democracy in Iraq--it won't happen overnight. I'm not suggesting voter fraud, but why the hesitation to do a real recount?

That brings up Washington State. Regardless of the outcome in 2004, Washington did the right thing by counting all the votes. The right to vote is essential for a Democracy and any attempt to infringe or prevent the counting votes is undemocratic.

As I said, more on this when Democracy Now posts today's transcript.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

This Just In: Taliban Will Be Defeated

At some point, according to Rumsfeld. I'm glad this Administration does the job quick and effectively.

Really, it is beyond my comprehension why we are even discussing the Taliban beyond slight historical references FIVE YEARS after 9-11! I think Rumsfeld should be given some award for his prompt undertaking of this matter.

Urban Myths

Via Kevin, Ezra Klein points to a large body of evidence contradicting the notion of frivolous law suits against doctors:
As proof, Baker marshals an overwhelming array of research. The most impressive and comprehensive study is by the Harvard Medical Practice released in 1990. The Harvard researchers took a huge sample of 31,000 medical records, dating from the mid-1980s, and had them evaluated by practicing doctors and nurses, the professionals most likely to be sympathetic to the demands of the doctor's office and operating room. The records went through multiple rounds of evaluation, and a finding of negligence was made only if two doctors, working independently, separately reached that conclusion. Even with this conservative methodology, the study found that doctors were injuring one out of every 25 patients—and that only 4 percent of these injured patients sued.

The Harvard study stands for a large body of literature. On their own, however, the results don't disprove the Republicans' thesis that many medical malpractice suits are frivolous. Maybe badly injured patients don't sue, while the reflexively litigious clog up the legal system, making tort reform a viable solution. But a new study, released in May, demolishes that possibility. Dr. David Studdert led a team of eight researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham Young University who examined 1,452 medical malpractice lawsuits. They found that more than 90 percent of the claims showed evidence of medical injury, which means they weren't frivolous. In 60 percent of these cases, the injury resulted from physician wrongdoing. In a quarter of the claims, the patient died.

...

Nor is there evidence to show that the level of jury awards has shot up. A recent RAND study looked at the growth in malpractice awards between 1960 and 1999. "Our results are striking," the research team concluded. "Not only do we show that real average awards have grown by less than real income over the 40 years in our sample, we also find that essentially all of this growth can be explained by changes in observable case characteristics and claimed economic losses."
Since many of the GOP's claims about frivolous lawsuits has been shown repeatedly to be without merit, why do they insist on repeating themselves?

Thrive By Five

The quickest way to winning my heart is by working to expand educational opportunities and making sure every child has a chance. So it will probably be no surprise that I find Christine Gregoire's work to establish a cabinet level position for early learning exciting. (You can go to the website to find out more about Washington state's Department of Early Learning.) Washington state is taking the lead on this and I'll definitely be following their progress.

Washington state is also doing more. They recently started a public-private partnership for a program called "Thrive by Five":
A nonprofit organization aimed at improving learning opportunities for Washington's youngest children, funded with $9 million in private and public money, was unveiled Monday.

The Thrive by Five partnership will pay for improvement and innovation at early learning centers around the state. Two locations will receive initial funding. The first will be in the White Center neighborhood on Seattle's southern boundary; the other has yet to be announced.

Thrive by Five's goal is to prepare all Washington children for preschool.
I'm generally a believer that government is the best way to get things done, but I have no problem with private, or public-private efforts to accomplish important objectives--whatever it takes to get things done.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Man In the Mirror, Part II

You can see a live performance on YouTube:

Man In The Mirror

Sorry, this won't be some grandiose insight, but on my way home from book club I had Michael Jackson playing and his song "Man in the Mirror" came on. It's a song that almost inevitably brings a tear to my eye and makes me wish I could do more. I'll let the words speak for themselves:
As i, turn up the collar on my
Favourite winter coat
This wind is blowin my mind
I see the kids in the street,
With not enough to eat
Who am i, to be blind?
Pretending not to see
Their needs
A summers disregard,
A broken bottle top
And a one mans soul
They follow each other on
The wind ya know
cause they got nowhere to go
Thats why I want you to know

Im starting with the man in the mirror
Im asking him to change his ways
And no message could have
Been any clearer
If you wanna make the world
A better place
Take a look at yourself, and
Then make a change

Ive been a victim of a selfish
Kind of love
Its time that I realize
That there are some with no
Home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me,
Pretending that theyre not alone?

A willow deeply scarred,
Somebodys broken heart
And a washed-out dream
They follow the pattern of
The wind, ya see
Cause they got no place to be
Thats why Im starting with me
There are 30,000 children who die each day from causes that are mostly preventable (inexpensive vaccines, food, medicine, prenatal care, etc.). Yet we do nothing. Hurricane Katrina flashed over our television screens the effects of generations of nearly inescapable poverty.

I doubt I could ever be in Congress because I don't know how I could look into the eyes of people who could save millions of lives every year but don't seem to care or even try. I don't want to cast judgement on all MoCs because I know there are some who really care. But for a Congress that wraps themselves in morality, I find it dispicable that we are not providing measles vaccines for every child in Africa. I find it dispicable that we let children and working families in our own country go without food, medical and dental care. It's dispicable that we have not demanded accountability in Iraq reconstruction so that countless families go without electricity, water and security. I know both conservatives and liberals care about these things so why is Congress speding time trying to outlaw flag burning and letting people--children--die?

If only members of Congress would start with the person they see in the mirror every day and make a change.

Holding Congress Accountable

The latest Democracy Corps strategy memo lists four elements that Democrats should consider. The first
Demonstrate that Democratic candidates and Democrats in general are the outsiders demanding change. They need to be as much for change as the voters. In this survey, there is nothing as powerful as the commitment:
No pay raise for members of Congress until the incomes of average Americans starts to rise again.
Three-quarters found this reassuring, including 56 percent very reassuring –10 points stronger than anything else considered. That says Democrats are the outsiders challenging Washington and are concerned with the incomes of ordinary Americans (the same commitment linked to minimum wage is also strong, though less so).

This position on the pay raise and voters’ income re-enforces our main message below – making the economy and America work for everyone.
I'd go further and tie all future pay raises to the rate increase of the median income. I don't think it's possible, but I'd be willing to entertain the idea of decreasing Congressional salaries if median income decreases at any point. If we want Congress to work for the people, we should have them be accountable.

What a concept, accountable lawmakers. In an era where money can take even a bumbling incompetent to power, we need institutional rules to counteract the lack of accountability. I've already mentioned another way to hold lawmakers accountable. Maybe I should come up with an equation...

Helping The Children

On one hand, we can spend our time trying to prevent same-sex marriage to "help the children"--or, to some, "save the children". On the other, we can do something that will actually help children. And that is enforcing child support laws, as Illinois, under Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has done:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Sunday that the state helped to collect a record $1.14 billion in child support payments this fiscal year. Last year also set a record, with $1 billion collected in child support payments.
This is real help to parents who generally need it the most.

To quote Helen Lovejoy, "Will someone please think of the children!" If only the GOP controlled congress--and the President--had the leadership to push child support reforms on a national level. But I guess debating flag desecration amendments does more to help children than enforcing child support.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Time To Grow Up

It seems as though some on the right blogosphere are having troubles with their "scandals". I'd really like to move beyond grade-school hijinks and start having a grown-up discussion about the important issues facing our nation: Poverty, Medical insurance, education costs, national security, etc. When one side is going out of their way to manufacture fake scandals that rival grade school pettiness, we're in a lot of trouble.

Oh, Joe

I've been much more sympathetic to Lieberman's campaign than to Lamont's campaign. From a progressive point of view, I think the money that Lamont will require to win a general election could be better spent helping someone like Sherrod Brown win in Ohio (not to mention helping us keep the Maryland seat, where a Nader aide is trying to be a spoiler.)

I don't mind Lieberman's disagreements with the Democratic leadership the few times there are disagreements. I happen to think a party is less likely to become as corrupt as the current GOP and more effective if there are some internal debates. But Lieberman's decision to ignore the results of the Democratic Party is pretty shameless.

If Lieberman would spend more time running a campaign, he wouldn't be in the trouble he's in. It doesn't even look like he's running a campaign. Declaring he won't listen to the results of the Dem primary makes the Party look less united than it really is. Given the media's propensity to greatly exaggerate any difference among Democrats, Liebermans ploy only helps perpetuate a false perception. He should know better. And he should have been running a better campaign.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Not Again

Last year, I was routing for Mary Pierce at Wimbledon and was disappointed (she lost in the quarters). This, year, I was routing for Martina Hingis during her comeback. Sadly, I was disappointed again this year. I suppose two Grand Slam quarter final appearances so far this year, after three years off, isn't so bad. There is also the U.S. Open and she's a better hard court player anyway.

I'm looking forward to the Bank of the West Classic this year after missing last year's tournament. I think I'm routing for Chanda Rubin so far, but I'm not sure how good her chances are.