Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...

This is Part One of a two-part post on the subject of North Korea.

Nicholas Kristof has written a wonderful fairy tale for the New York Times. Stop me if you'd heard this one before. There once was a multilateralist President who felt the pain of a lonely and isolated Korean tyrant and comforted him. One day, a new President came along, but he was a unilateralist cowboy who bullied the lonely Korean tyrant. So, the lonely Korean tyrant ran away to hide in his underground lair where he could build nuclear weapons to destroy his neighbors in a "Sea of Fire"!

Well, I've heard this one before and I admit that Kristof did not stick strictly to the script. It's usually the 29 JAN 2002 Axis-Of-Evil speech that supposedly triggers the lonely Korean tyrant's retreat to the dungeons. Instead, Kristof seems to believe it's the Bush Adminstration's "ABC" or Anything-But-Clinton approach that is the cause of this ongoing problem with North Korea. I'm going to sprinkle some magic reality dust on his analysis because as is, this story just doesn't fly.

When last we had a serious diplomatic conflict with North Korea, the Clinton Administration engaged them in bilateral negotiations resulting in the 1994 Agreed Framework (pdf). Larry A. Niksch of the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) summarized the Agreed Framework as a deal under which the United States will provide North Korea with a package of nuclear, energy, economic, and diplomatic benefits in return for a halt to the operations and infrastructure development of the North Korean nuclear program. Basically, we ship an average of $40 million in oil and $60 million in food to North Korea every year until we get a couple of light water nuclear reactors built for them. Plutonium from light water nuclear reactors would be harder to use for weapons than the plutonium from North Korea's current graphite moderated ractors. Now, let's examine Mr. Kristof's analysis of this:

A bit of background: North Korea made one or two nuclear weapons around 1989, during the first Bush administration, but froze its plutonium program under the 1994 "Agreed Framework" with the Clinton administration. North Korea adhered to the freeze on plutonium production, but about 1999, it secretly started on a second nuclear route involving uranium.

That was much less worrisome than the plutonium program (it still seems to be years from producing a single uranium weapon), and it probably could have been resolved through negotiation, as past crises had been.

Instead, Mr. Bush refused to negotiate bilaterally, so now we have the worst of both worlds: that uranium program is still in place, and the plutonium program is churning out weapons material as well.

It is generally accepted that North Korea (DPRK) did halt the plutonium reactors in their nuclear power plants, but Kim Jong Il, the President of the DPRK, never really came into full compliance with the Agreed Framework and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Before I get into that, I want to point out that North Korea's High Enriched Uranium (HEU) program was not much less worrisome as Mr. Kristof suggests. I promise you that if a nuclear weapon is detonated near San Diego, my first thought is not going to be whether it was a plutonium or a uranium bomb. There is another reason the HEU program was a little more troubling than what Mr. Kristof leads us to believe in his article. According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), questions remained unanswered about the quantity and disposition of spent fuel from North Korea's nuclear power plants that were shutdown under the Agreed Framework.

September 1995:IAEA Director General Hans Blix reports to a special IAEA Board of Governors meeting that North Korea has denied the IAEA permission to measure the amount of plutonium in the 8,000 spent fuel rods or in the liquid-waste at its radiochemical lab [reprocessing facility]. Blix says that North Korea agreed only to allow IAEA inspectors to determine if the fuel rods were irradiated and to photograph the radiochemical lab. North Korea has indicated that it will make the examination of plutonium contingent upon progress in negotiations for a light-water reactor supply contract.

The United States rejects as “not implementable” the IAEA’s requests to verify North Korea’s nuclear history. The IAEA wants to inspect the plutonium contained in North Korea’s nuclear fuel rods located in a cooling pond. The United States wants to store the rods and delay inspections for four or five years, after which the rods can be examined with special inspections of North Korea’s undeclared nuclear facilities. IAEA officials insist that it will be impossible to verify North Korea’s nuclear past if the rods are not examined prior to storage. A US official insists however, that the stance taken by the Agency represents an “abrogation of the Geneva Agreement.”

This exchange presents a number of questions. First, why would we be so concerned about the amount of plutonium remaining in spent fuel rods? Well, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, it can be used to make nuclear bombs, albiet the less worrisome kind, like the ones the U.S. was deploying through the late 1970s.

Until the late 1970s, the United States acquired materials for nuclear weapons by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from government-owned nuclear reactors. - DOE

It seems the good doctor, Hans Blix, was rather concerned with measuring the plutonium in the spent fuel rods, but this CNS report indicates the U.S. administration only wanted to seal the rods and measure the plutonium years later. For all the faith Kristof has in the Clinton Administration's ability to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, this particular concession doesn't seem all that constructive. Mr. Kristof even makes note of the importance of the fuel rods currently used in the Pyongyang nuclear power plant. He states that it could give North Korea enough material for two or three more weapons. An unclassified portion of a December 2000 CIA report relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction gives us some indication of the kind of priority the Clinton Administration assigned to canning the spent fuel rods.

The United States and North Korea completed the canning of all accessible spent fuel rods and rod fragments in April 2000 in accordance with the 1994 Agreed Framework. That reactor fuel contains enough plutonium for several more weapons.

It took five years to get around to sealing the spent fuel rods and, apparently, the level of plutonium remaining in the rods was never ascertained. The CIA report can only estimate the amount of plutonium in the now sealed cannisters to be enough for several more weapons.

These spent fuel rods would certainly be less worrisome in the absence of a uranium enrichment program, but even Kristof admits North Korea constituted a uranium enrichment program in about 1999. In fact, it is suspected that North Korea has had a High Enriched Uranium (HEU) program since the 1980s. According to CNS, Larry Niksch reported to Congress that North Korea's HEU program began in earnest some time after 1995 with help from Pakistan. Of course, that gets into the whole epsiode involving Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

This is where I'll get into the current crisis between the United States and North Korea. For the first two years of the Bush Administration, everything was going along just as it had under the Clinton Administration. We were spending $100 million per year to ship food and heavy-fuel oil to North Korea, construction was beginning on the two light water nuclear power plants, and Kim Jong Il was diverting the food aid to his Communist Party supporters in Pyongyang and proceeding with his secret uranium enrichment program. Along comes Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly who, in October 2002, presents his North Korean counterparts with clear evidence of their uranium enrichment program. It is this confrontation that led North Korea to publicly acknowledge it had a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the NPT.

At first the North Koreans tried to deny the evidence, but eventually "they acknowledged they had a secret nuclear weapons programme involving enriched uranium," one official said.

"By acknowledging that, the agreed framework was essentially nullified," he said, referring to the 1994 Agreed Framework under which in return for halting its weapons programme North Korea was given US assistance in building two light water reactors.

Less than 30 days later, a state broadcast from North Korea followed their admission with the revelation that the DPRK actually had an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In addition to the North Korean state run broadcast, it was the New York Times that reported A.Q. Khan's confession to interrogators that he saw what he described as three plutonium nuclear devices while in North Korea sometime in 1999. The North Korean state run broadcasts and even Mr. Khan are not entirely credible under the circumstances, but the CIA has believed that North Korea possessed one or two nuclear weapons since the Clinton Administration. However, there is still no hard evidence that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea actually has even one functioning nuclear weapon.

In my next post due out this week, I'll be discussing the Bush Administration's reaction to these admissions and try to figure out why Nicholas Kristof sees a problem in President Bush's approach.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Wine of the Week...

I'm starting a new regular post called Wine of the Week where I will choose the whiniest person or group from this week. Since I also enjoy a bottle of wine from time to time, I will celebrate the occassion by raising a glass to the whiners and pronouncing my critique of the winery's product. Of course, being indigent, we're strictly talking cheap wines usually under six bucks.

The runner-up this week are all the highly paid baby-boomers (aka Generation Gimme-my-Pension) complaining that personal accounts or even means testing will threaten the confidence in Social Security and make it seem like Welfare. These guys are just getting going, so they'll be the ones to beat next week.

This week's Wine of the Week goes to all the prima donnas that are the American employees of the US mission to the United Nations.

After his nomination in early March, John Bolton, in an unusual step, requested that all American employees of the US mission to the UN must submit their resumes for review, government sources were quoted as saying. The move cast a chill over the operation, where some saw it as "presumptuous". It may also have been premature, Time magazine reports in its upcoming issue.

Get that? Being asked for your resume cast a chill over our entire mission to the United Nations! Well, I think our dear gentle sons at the UN better get used to operating in an environment where people might sometimes ask for qualifications and juustification.

In recognition of the considerable whining, I'll be drinking a botte of Twin Fin Wines' (California) 2002 Cabernet Savignon with twist-off cap. I paid $6 for this wine at my local grocery store. With that, I'll be dining on a Picante Shrimp flavored Cup-O-Noodles Souper Meal.

I'm pleasantly surprised with the wine. Make no mistake about it, this wine could never be great, no matter how long it sat around in a cellar. However, it has a nice fruitful body and it goes down with pretty smooth. It blended well with the spice (cayenne pepper) of the soup, but it had a bit of a sour, unripe after taste that distracted the pallet.

Do You Smell That Smell?

Dale Franks discusses an editorial by Mort Kondrake of Roll Call about the Democrats and their current problem with Christianity. He makes a point that I was going to make in a future post.

Increasingly, one of the most reliable predictors of voting behavior is church attendance. Voters who attend church regularly and frequently are overwhelmingly more likely to vote Republican than they are Democrat. Now, perhaps this is because religious voters tend to be slack-jawed morons whose love of God is rivaled only by their desire to marry their first cousins. Or, perhaps it is because, after hearing themselves portrayed as a fascist, intolerant, “American Taliban” by various Democratic Party spokesmen, they sense a certain amount of hostility from Democrats.

Thank You! Personally, I've never been all that excited about the Republican Party, and until the 2004 election; I had never voted for a Republican presidential candidate. However, the national Democrat Party offers a very poor alternative. I don't so much care about legalized abortion and whether or not homosexuals can marry. I won't be having an abortion or marrying a man anytime soon. However, why do I feel like I'm under assault as a Christian? I think Democrats, and Libertarians, think Christians are the one group of people in American who can be discrimminated against without consequence.

You can read it all over at The QandO Blog. By the way, I include Libertarians because that's how radio talk show hosts Mark Ziegler and Jerry Doyle describe themselves politically. However, I will say that The QandO Blog is an interesting Libertarian blog. It's nice to see this piece there. It would be reassuring to see something like this piece on a Democrat or, God forbid, a "progressive" site.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Blogs and the Bill of Rights...

Democracy Guy has a piece about blogs and the FEC. I'm not a lawyer, so I may be way off on this, but it seems that the Bill of Rights applies to individuals only. Corporations, whether they be for-profit or non-profit, are not individuals. They partake of the legal benefits of incorporation (i.e. tax filing, fund-raising, etc) and are also subject to the regulation of incorporation. In my opinion, a blogger can praise and plug any cause or candidate he likes without restriction. However, once a blogger becomes an agent or proxy of a corporate entity (for-profit, non-profit, whatever), then that blogger becomes subject to regulation, of course.

This runs along the same lines as certain media groups decrying the assault on press freedoms in the wake of the premature departure of Dan Rather and Eason Jordan. Keep in mind the decision to jettison Rather, Jordan, Rush Limbaugh from ESPN, and Bill Maher from ABC were made by executives at a for-profit corporation. Those decisions were probably made to protect credibility and, as an extension, ad revenues.

Spare the Rod - Arrest the Child...

I've seen and heard all the controversy over the five year old girl that was recently handcuffed by police while at school in Florida.

The Indigent Daughter, who is now eight years old, was raised with the knowledge that a spanking would always be the punishment for certain types of misbehavior. The misbehavior that could earn her a spanking included things like willful disobedience and hitting, kicking, shoving, or biting another person. I know what you're going to say, and I have in fact recently had to answer that question, "how can I teach her that violence is wrong by hitting her?"

The answer is that when I spank the Indigent Daughter, it is not a beating, it is not hitting, and it is not violence. First, in each of the three (possibly four) times I have had to spank the Indigent Daughter, I was not angry or frustrated, and she knew the punishment was coming (poor thing). Second, I have never told her that violence was wrong, though that is certainly how she may be interpreting the message at this point. I have always taught her that violence towards another person always has very unpleasant consequences, and one of the consequences for her is a spanking. Finally, I absolutely agree that not every parent or school principal has the temperament and discipline for corporal punishment, and I therefore do not recommend it or approve of its use for everyone.

When the Indigent Daughter was born, my eyes were opened to the truth of human nature. I have always believed that the best parents are those people that don't have children, and I can tell you that I was a much better parent before I had children. I used to ask highly intelligent and thoughtful questions when I saw a child misbehaving. You know the questions I'm talking about, "Who taught that child how to bite?" or "Where did that child learn to steal?"

Of course, it only took a few days of caring for my newborn daughter to bring the fallacy of my own backward thinking crashing down around me. I clearly remember the day I realized my cute little baby daughter was little more than a smart animal, with all the instinctive tendancies for violence and vocalizing discomfort native to every animal from the day of their birth. All my careful pre-planning for child-rearing went out the window in an instant. My task was no longer to avoid inadvertently teaching her animal-like behavior. Instead, it was now my responsibility to teach my daughter to behave like a civilized human-being. I had to teach her how not to hit, how not to bite, and how not to raise a fuss every time she was uncomfortable or frustrated. Needlessly to say, that is a much harder task.

I don't fault the police for handcuffing that five year old girl in Florida. Police officers have only a few legal tools to help them fulfill their duty to protect and serve. When faced with a subject that won't obey commands, their only options are lethal and non-lethal use of force. Any dog owner understands a dog that has not been adequately socialized and who will not obey commands should be leashed, caged, or otherwise restrained at all times. In fact, owning a dog is very much like having a perpetual toddler.

I certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but suing the Police Department or the School District is not going to do anything to help this child. Rather than a lawyer, the child's mother may need instruction in parenting; someone to show and teach her alternatives to what she may be doing now. I'm not an always blame the parent kind of guy, but I understand that some parents need help. So, rather than taxpayers absorbing the costs of the lawsuit, the liability insurance, and the cage that will eventually be the home for this child; I wonder if it would make more sense to have a "Super Nanny" type service available. Is such a thing even feasible? Do we really care enough to be bothered with such considerations?

Well, that's my rambling disconnected thought for the day. I have a little work to do... You know, indigence is not all lying on the beach soaking up the Sun and a bottle of wine. However, you can look forward to my upcoming post about North Korea.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Brief Update...

I'm working on a North Korea piece to correct a few... how shall I say it... misperceptions that the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof has about the current situation between the US and the DPRK. I'll probably have it ready for tomorrow, but until then, here is some interesting reading.

Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times that John Bolton is not the right pick for Ambassador to the United Nations. He believes the right man for the job would be... are your ready for this... brace yourselves... former President George Herbert Walker Bush. Ok, I like George H. W. Bush as a person, but I have to disagree with Mr. Friedman. Aside from being much too old, Bush 41 was one of the worst President's this nation has had, right down there near the bottom with Jimmy Carter. Friedman has more to say about Bolton and the United Nations. What can I say? There seems to be no shortage of misperceptions at the New York Times.

Walter Olson has posted my Brother's Keeper commentary over at his PointofLaw blog. Since I am a High School dropout and he is a lawyer, there may be a more serious discussion of the legal impacts of this case.

Finally, if you use the Firefox web-browser and have not already done so, download and install version 1.0.3 to patch a serious java-script vulnerability. Internet Explorer users are not susceptible but you should keep your browsers up-to-date using Microsoft's Windows Update feature.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Updates & Stuff...

My conflict over whether of not I would support a recall of San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy is now moot. The Mayor has just announced that he will resign effective July 15. This obligates the City Council to appoint a replacement within 30 days or call a special election within 90 days. They will need to accomplish this in the midst of the ongoing Securities Exchange Commission investigation into the fraudulent pension scheme. In the meantime, Deputy Mayor Michael Zucchet will serve as acting mayor until the vacancy is filled. Unfortunately, he will be running the city from a court room as he goes on trial May 3 on federal corruption charges.

By the way, Brit Hume on Fox News Channel's Special Report repeated Time Magazine's reference to Councilmember Donna Frye as "surf shop owner Donna Frye".

~+~+~+~

I think the press reports on John Bolton's demise in the Senate may be a little premature. I think the widespread consensus on his future is the working of national journalists' echo chamber. Unfortunately, those echos are bouncing off the walls at Greg Djerejian's Belgravia Dispatch. I chimed in on his comments to address his mention of the Democracy Arsenal's labeling of Bolton as a "Category Four" abuser; a theory that was refuted in the first day of the Senate hearings. I still have not heard or seen any evidence or even a significant argument worthy of denying the President his nominee.

On a rich side note, I learned that Democrats have defeated a high-profile Bush nomination in the past. Senate Democrats rejected President George H. W. Bush' selection of Senator John Tower for Secretary of Defense in 1989, which is how Dick Cheney made his way to into the political machinations of presidential administrations.

Here's something to reflect on for a moment. John Tower died in a plane crash two years later in 1991. Would he still be alive had he been confirmed?

Monday, April 25, 2005

More Grist for the Mill...

I always like to say that blogs would be nothing without the mainstream media. Heck, without the BBC, New York Times, and San Diego Union Tribune, I'd be writing about such interesting things as irregularities in my dogs' bowel movements and how hard it is to kill a queen carpenter bee. However, even the mainstream media doesn't always provide good material for blogging. It may be a slow a news week or they may be going into full saturation coverage mode on things that don't interest me all that much, such as the new Pope or Michael Jackson.

Having said that, the future is looking brighter! During lulls in the news cycle, I would usually cruise on over to one or two progressive leaning message boards and get the latest moonbat conspiracy theories, but even they were sometimes a little too off-the-wall and not very well written.

Well, the New York Times has written a product placement piece... uh, what's that you say? Oh, a product placement piece, in its simplest form, is an advertisement disguised as a news story. For example, it could be an article in the New York Times about an upcoming show on the Discovery Channel, in which the New York Times Company has a 50% ownership stake. Or it could be a puff piece in Time magazine about a conservative author whose new book is published by Crown Forum (Bertelsmann) and distributed through Time Warner's Book-of-the-Month Club®, which is also managed by Bertelsmann. Or it could be an appearance by Carmen Electra on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno to remind everyone that NBC has a sitcom named Joey that isn't doing too well.

Anyway, the New York Times has written a product placement piece about a new blogging-news site being organized by Arianna Huffington. It will be called the Huffington Post. Presumably, the Huffington Post is going to feature guest blogging and editorials by the likes of Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer, Warren Beatty, and even Walter Cronkite.

Are you pondering what I'm pondering? I'm willing to give some of the names on that list... Ok, one of the names on that list, Walter Cronkite, the benefit of the doubt. However, it won't surprise me in the least if his first entry out of the gate is a throwback to the days when what Walter Cronkite said, well, that's the way it is! The rest of the names will likely continue to preach to the crowd, in Hollywood. I hope Arianna's site is a huge success with many blogs and media outlets picking up on it. Hollywood involvement in politics worked wonders in 2004. Yes sir, close the garage door, start the engine, and uncork the tinsel-town tailpipe. This should be great fun to watch and provide some good material for a good old-fashioned unlubricated fisking!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Encouraging Our Enemies?

This whole discussion of John Bolton is beginning to reveal an accepted mentality in the State Department that makes me wonder whether it might not be more in need of reform than even the United Nations.

The New York Times is reporting on the contents of declassified State Department email that are allegedly about John Bolton, though none of them were actually sent by John Bolton. I'm sure the Times believes these emails speak to the accusation that Bolton abuses his subordinates and co-workers, but I think they tell us something even more important about the state of the State Department itself. The first email mentioned in the article is a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about. Apparently, a State Department intelligence official, Mr. Westermann had his feelings hurt when Bolton's prinicipal assistant used the word "wimpy" to describe Westermann's approved language for a speech on Cuba.

Westermann's response would be comical if it weren't so pathetic. According to the Times, he wrote an email to his boss, Mr. Fingar, saying "personal attacks, harassment and impugning of my integrity" by Mr. Bolton and Mr. Fleitz were "now affecting my work, my health and dedication to public service." And Mr. Fingar, probably code-named "Mommy", responded with comforting encouragement for such hyper-sensitivity. "I am dismayed and disgusted that unwarranted personal attacks are affecting you in this way," was Mr. Fingar's reply to Westermann.

Do you remember the scene from the movie Braveheart where King Longshanks is trying to decide who he can send to negotiate a truce with William Wallace? He makes an interesting observation regarding his hopelessly effeminate son.

"Whom do I send? Not my gentle son. The mere sight of him would only encourage an enemy to take over the whole country." - Edward the Longshanks, Braveheart

Now let's take a look at a new report by Michael Hirsh for Newsweek relating an account of the State Department's handling of complaints by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

At a meeting in London in November 2003, his counterpart, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, was complaining to Powell about John Bolton, according to a former Bush administration official who was there. Straw told the then Secretary of State that Bolton, Powell's under secretary for arms control, was making it impossible to reach allied agreement on Iran's nuclear program. Powell turned to an aide and said, "Get a different view on [the Iranian problem]. Bolton is being too tough."

Unbeknownst to Bolton, the aide then interviewed experts in Bolton's own Nonproliferation Bureau. The issue was resolved, the former official told NEWSWEEK, only after Powell adopted softer language recommended by these experts on how and when Iran might be referred to the U.N. Security Council. But the terrified State experts were "adamant that we not let Bolton know we had talked to them," the official said.

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh seems to think this illustrates Bolton's problem of taking an extreme and uncompromising line on issues and that he has bullied subordinates who disagree with him. I, on the other hand, think the various accounts of these incidents illustrate that we have far too many gentle sons in the State Department.

I'm all for consensus as long as it doesn't jeopardize the security of the United States. There is little benefit in a consensus to ignore Iran's continued deception surrounding their uranium enrichment program. Consensus is exactly how the U.N. Human Rights Commission crafts a resolution that fails to condemn the Sudanese government by name for atrocities committed in Darfur, but calls on all parties to immediately end all violence. Besides, even Michael Hirsh's favorite gentle son, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, demanded stronger language from EU and UN diplomats on numerous occasions, and rightfully so.

Can I go ahead an say it? This is laughable! In addition to our Senate Foreign Relations Committee embarrassing itself and demeaning the entire U.S. Senate on live television, we now have the New York Times and Newsweek parading our gentle sons before the entire world. It seems to me that Bolton's only sin at this point was being nominated by President Bush. I can only hope that the behavior of our Senate and State Department officials isn't encouraging too many of our enemies to take over the whole country. I am convinced now more than ever that John Bolton is exactly the right man, for exactly the right job, at exactly the right time.

Worst Mayor? Time Will Tell...

Time Magazine has named San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy one of the worst mayors in the nation. I wish to take exception with their description of our beloved Mayor. Oh, I certainly agree that Mayor Murphy could be one of the worst in the nation, but nevertheless, Time has poorly stated a few facts about the Mayor and his opponent in the last election.

The crisis has so discredited him, he almost lost his job last November to Donna Frye, a last-minute write-in candidate who runs a surf shop. She actually won more votes, but some 5,500 people who wrote in her name failed to shade in an oval box, and the courts ruled the ballots invalid.

There are some pretty serious problems with this portrayal of Mayor Murphy's competition. As someone who voted for Donna "Surfer Girl" Frye, they're pretty obvious to me. First, Donna Frye is indeed a co-owner of a surf shop, but her more relevant distinction is that she is a current City Councilmember for the 6th District of San Diego. So, let's dispel the idea that San Diego voters were going to throw out their Mayor for a surfer girl, even if she is the wife of surf legend Skip Frye. Second, the 2004 mayoral election was an excruciatingly close three-way election between Murphy, Frye, and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts (R). It is not exactly accurate to say Donna Frye actually won more votes.

Remember when we saw the interviews of the poor old Jewish ladies in Florida, after the 2000 elections, talking about how hard it was to punch out the little chads? Well, Frye being a write-in candidate, we were required to write her name on the line and fill in the corresponding bubble for that write-in line. Voters for Dick Murphy and Ron Roberts also had to fill in the corresponding bubble for their names. Votes for the Presidential race, and all other races, also required the bubble for the corresponding candidate to be filled-in. This was not a new or complex concept. The reason we were using the manual bubble ballots was the decertification of the Diebold E-Voting Systems after widespread failures during the 2004 Primary Elections. The reason we had a write-in candidate on the General Election ballot was a controversy over conflicting candidate qualification rules between the city charter and the municipal code. Yes, the joys of democracy in California never cease.

In addition to write-in names like "dudette", the registrar of voters did not count over 5,000 attempts where Donna Frye's name was written on the line, but the bubble was not filled in properly. Those may amount to votes for journalists at Time magazine, but I'm far less willing to exchange the technical requirements of a vote for subjective divining of voter intentions, even if it means the narrow defeat of a candidate I supported.

It should be noted that each of the five cities which, according to Time magazine, have the best mayors in the nation also have a strong mayor form of government. The City of San Diego has had a weak mayor-city manager form of government until the city voters passed Proposition F in 2004, changing San Diego to a strong mayor government structure. That certainly doesn't absolve Mayor Murphy of failures to address pollution (we're talking sewage, not trash) along our beaches and the purely corrupt pension program negotiated by Mr. Murphy and the Council. This would usually prompt me to launch into a vitriolic tirade re-labeling baby boomers as "Generation Pension" and explaining why the growing burden of generous government pensions are going to thrust most government services into privatization; but I'll exercise some restraint this time around.

There is a currently an effort underway to recall the Mayor, but it is not very well publicized and there doesn't seem to be much public support for it. Personally, I think a politically weak Dick Murphy in a strong mayor form of government could be very useful to the most vocal voting groups in San Diego. However, this touches upon another of my alarmist rants about corporatism being the gateway to fascism, so I'm conflicted on even the positive side to Mayor Dick Murphy. I thought the Recall of Governor Gray Davis was one of the most democratic elections in which I have ever voted, but I'm still not ready to support a recall effort against Mayor Dick Murphy, though he be one of the worst in the nation.

Gunning Fog Index ---- 15.52
Flesch Reading Ease -- 51.96
Flesch-Kincaid Grade - 12.00

- provided by Juicy Studios' Readability Test (hat tip: Overlawyered)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Haloscan Commenting Added...

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Well, I've been wondering about this Trackback business on other blogs, and I didn't know exactly what it did. Now I know. It deletes all the comments from a blog. I wish to express my sincere apologies to all my readers and fans. Both of you are very much appreciated.

UPDATE: Hmmm, I seem to have now lost my trackback after republishing again, but at least I got my comments back. I retract my apology but stand by my appreciation. I wonder if I need to hide existing comments or something.

UPDATE #2: Ok, I think I've got it figured out. I now have Blogger comments and Haloscan Trackback. Well, I figured out how to get it working. Now I need to figure out exactly how to use Trackback, how it benefits me, and whether or not it makes this page load too slowly. Feedback on the blog performance would be appreciated.

Countdown to International Justice (Day 21)...

I would like to take this moment to congratulate the International Criminal Court in their decisive action to impose justice upon the perpetrators of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. No! I won't apologize for using the word genocide even though the United Nations Human Rights Commission has failed to label the atrocities committed in Darfur as such on the basis that the term genocide carries a legal obligation to act. However, the official position of the United States is that genocide is indeed exactly what is taking place in Darfur. So, I'll trust my own government on this one, for the time being.

Enough digression! That is all ancillary debate over semantics now that the ICC has added Darfur to its extensive workload of investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity around the globe. I am sure the starving, homeless victims of these heinous crimes will take great comfort in knowing the ICC will be sparing no expense to defend those behind these abominable acts. The Committee on Budget and Finance for the ICC proposed the following monthly allotments for each defendant in their fourth budget (pdf):

...monthly fees per defendant of €19,864 (US $25,958) for the initial phase, €36,509 (US $47,710) for the trial phase and €26,451 (US $34,566) for the appeals phase, as well as a fee of €55,315 (US $ 72,286) for 90 days of investigation...

You and I may be quite ready to expend great amounts of cash and capital on justice, but to the refugees and displaced peoples of Darfur; I can't imagine this international justice being anything more than an incomprehensible luxury. That is obviously because our priorities are different. I live in a country where unemployment over six percent is an "economic disaster", where my daughter can get a decent education for little out-of-pocket expense, and where my dogs eat better than most humans. Yes, the dogs sleep on a heated queen-sized bed at night for crying out loud! Most of us in the West aren't even satisfied with justice. We also want fairness these days; a truly fantastical indulgence of privileged civilization.

The International Criminal Court has not prosecuted even a single war criminal in its four years of service to the world. That raises the questions of exactly who this court serves and how could it could possibly be a deterrent to future war criminals?

"The Court is strong enough to bring war criminals to justice and provide a deterrent against future atrocities." - Senator Patrick Leahy (via PGA (pdf))

I don't believe that, and I can't believe someone as smart as Senator Leahy believe's that either. A better deterrent would be for tyrants and war criminals to watch their fellow tyrants and war criminals tried by their own people, like will happen in Iraq. Imagine the second-thoughts that would occur if cruel despots realized it wouldn't be a villa on the Riviera for them, but instead a local trial, by their own people where they would have to face their victims and answer for their crimes. I think most would consider that justice.

The trial of Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic by the U.N. tribunal entered its third year in February 2005, and the prosecution have just completed their arguments in that same month. Milosevic, who is acting in his own defense, now gets to present his arguments in the case. Assuming his defense fails and he is convicted another year or more from now, then the appeals process will begin. If we start applying some of those dollar amounts recommended by the Committee on Budget and Finance for the trial phase, we quickly start approaching $2 million applied to a single man. That may be money well spent for the people of the former Yugoslavia whose lives, though tattered and uncertain, are infinitely better off than the lives of those living in Darfur.

So, I ask you, is it justice to spend well over $2 million defending a single person in a conflict where 1.8 million have been burned out of their homes, 50,000 have already been murdered, and up to 250,000 others have died of starvation?

Of course, the question is purely rhetorical until Sudan actually hands over a war criminal to the International Criminal Court. It will be interesting to see how the ICC will affect such an assumption of custody. The members of the Sudanese government didn't seem overly impressed with the United Nations Resolution 1593 referring war criminals from the Darfur region to the Hague, but then again, neither was I.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Someone To Watch Over Me...

Unlike our friends in France, we have a 40 hour standard work week in the USA. Most people work eight hours a day for five days a week to get their 40 hours. Most, if not all, of the states in the nation consider any hours beyond 40 in any one week to be overtime, obligating the employer to pay time and a half for each hour of overtime. California takes overtime pay one step further and considers any work hours beyond eight in any one day to be overtime. Please note, we are talking about non-exempt workers in all cases.

Many companies are allowing their exempt and non-exempt employees to work a 4-10-40 week. That is four ten hour days to get the forty hour work week. This is a popular option, when available, amongst most employees, even for those that don't actually take advantage of it. A number of California governmental departments offer its employees this optional 4-10-40 work week, like at the AIR Resources Board (doc), Department of Corrections (pdf), and the County of Santa Clara Sheriff's Office. The problem is, with the exception of governmental departments, California employers must offer over-time pay to any non-exempt employee who works more than eight hours in any one day, making the 4-10-40 option cost prohibitive. California AB 640, by Republican Van Tran, would have allowed employers to permit employees to work a 4-10-40 work week without paying overtime on the ten hour days. The employer could only make this option available upon employee request and could not encourage the 4-10-40 work week. Daniel Weintraub reports that AB 640 died today in the Assembly Labor Committee. I'm sure our beloved labor unions has something to do with it. I think they've worn out their welcome in California, but I'm also sure they are treated like movie-stars in the marbled halls of Sacramento. I'm confident our legislature only had my best interests in mind when they killed this bill.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

France Allies with China in the Next Cold War

I read on Instapundit that France supports China's anti-secession law targeting Taiwan and want the European Union (EU) arms embargo against China lifted.

At the outset of a three-day visit to China, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said he supported Beijing's "anti-secession" law on Taiwan, and vowed to keep pushing for an end to an EU arms embargo that could open the door for Paris to sell weapons to the Asian giant.

Of course, France is not alone in their opinion of the arms embargo. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agree the ban should be lifted.

China's anti-secession law, Taiwan's continuing drive towards independence, and a lifting of the EU arms embargo could converge into a scenario where our European allies are enriched by supporting China in an arms race with the United States. The Bush Administration advocates a "One China" policy and discourages Taiwan's independence movement for a very simple reason; the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. The United States has some pretty serious obligations under this legislation.

It is the policy of the United States --
  • to make clear that the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means;
  • to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States;
  • to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character, and
  • to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.
Sec. 3. (a) In furtherance of the policy set forth in section 2 of this Act, the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.

The implications of this law are troubling in the face of China's growing impatience with Taiwan's independece movement. However, the thought of an escalated arms race between the U.S. and Europe, through their Chinese proxies is not all that far-fetched an idea. It would take an act of Congress to repeal the Taiwan Relations Act, but to do so at a time when the going gets a little dicey seems a little cruel and more than a little cowardly. The disposition of the EU arms embargo against China is worthy of close scrutiny by Americans.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

John Bolton to the United Nations...

Personally, I don't know much about John Bolton and had never heard of him before President Bush nominated him to be the next Ambassador to the United Nations. However, Senator Barbara Boxer (my senator) played an introduction to John Bolton at the confirmation hearings.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., played a three-minute video clip in which Bolton said that "there's no such thing as the United Nations" and if 10 floors of the 38-story U.N. headquarters building were eliminated, "it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Those are truly revealing comments. Wanting to remove ten floors from the United Nations building in New York makes him a little too moderate for my tastes, but we have to start somewhere. So far, I've seen no reason not to send Bolton to the United Nations and many reasons why he is exactly the kind of Ambassador to the United Naitons we need at this point in time. Frankly, I believe the American people sent a message to the world (and it wasn't "we're sorry") when we re-elected President Bush, and I think I like the idea of the President passing that message along to the United Nations. Anyway, there is a good summation of the latest antics of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at roger l. simon about the confirmation of John Bolton.

Points of Interest...

Damian has been cranking out recent updates over at the Pave France blog, including Jacques Chirac's failure to stir up support for the European Union constitution among the French voters. They'll be voting to accept or reject it in May. Apparently, there is not 'Plan B' in the event the people reject the constitution.

~+~+~+~ ~+~+~+~

Acepilots' UNSCAM blog will get you up-to-date on the latest in the UN Oil-For-Food scandal. I haven't been reading it long, so I can't say whether it also covers United Nations peacekeeping efforts, such as trafficking women and children for sex in Bosnia, sexual misconduct in Africa and Haiti, and shooting Australian whistleblowers for reporting the sexual abuse of East Timorese boys. I also don't know whether Acepilots covers the constant stream of sexual harassment cases amongst top officials at the United Nations.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Castro Goes Cuckoo for Carriles...

Fidel Castro has stirred up his fans in the reactionary left with a rousing two hour and forty minute speech earlier this week. Coming from the cacophony of "progressive" message boards, I revisit them from time-to-time, this story is attracting the usual pack of ankle-biters.
Caribbean Net News (AFP): Castro slams US for harboring terror suspect

"I am going to report a grave situation," the Cuban leader, 78, stated late Monday in a two-hour-and-40-minute special appearance on official media, in which he lashed out at rival US President George W. Bush as a "hypocrite" for his policies on international terrorism.

"We are going to tell the world about his garbage and his maneuvers," Castro said in a bid to throw the international spotlight on the case of fugitive Cuban anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles, who has turned up in the United States, and according to Castro has been in Miami for 19 days with US protection.

Posada Carriles, 76, is a chemist by training who was convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail in Panama for trying to murder Castro during a Latin American presidential summit in 2000. But he was pardoned and released from jail by Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso last year.

Far from harboring Mr. Carriles, it would seem that U.S. officials are not sure of his exact location. I couldn't find any reports that Posada Carriles has turned up yet, but his lawyer is apparently communicating with U.S. immigration officials. However, the anonymous immigration official quoted in the Miami Herald seems to think Mr. Carriles won't be staying in the U.S. long if he shows up at an immigration office.


If Posada, 77, comes forward, a high-level U.S. official in Washington, D.C., said he would be immediately detained and put in deportation proceedings -- though it's unlikely he would be sent back to the island. Cuba has said Posada would face a firing squad.

The U.S. official in Washington, who is in a position to know and spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Herald on Wednesday that ``if Posada Carriles is in the United States, we would consider him to be an excludable alien.''

The official added: ``If he presents himself, he will be immediately detained until we obtain a final order of deportation.''

The U.S. official said it would be unlikely that Posada would be deported to Cuba ''because of torture concerns,'' but did not rule out the possibility of considering extradition to Venezuela, where he escaped from prison while his alleged role in the 1976 airplane bombing was pending.

Note the officials use of the term "excludable alien" in reference to Posada Carriles. I found the term "inadmissable" has replaced the term "excludable" and could refer to people that have criminal records, certain health problems, are thought to be subversive or are unable to support themselves financially. I also found a note on FindLaw about the deportability of excludable aliens.

A common ground of deportability provides that an alien may be subject to deportation if he was excludable when he entered the United States. There are many grounds of excludability found in the law.

If the immigration official is accurate in his classification of Carriles as an "excludable alien", that would certainly make Carriles deportable. The "torture concerns" expressed by the unnamed official could prevent a deportation under Article 3 of the U.N. Covention Against Torture ratified by the Senate in October 1994.

1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

However, according to an overview (PDF) of the U.S. implementation of CAT Article 3 presented to Congress by legislative attorney Michael Garcia, Carriles' status as an "excludable alien" at the time he re-entered the U.S. disqualifies him from CAT Article 3 protections.


These authorities, which require the withholding or deferral of the removal of an alien to a country where he is more likely than not to be tortured, generally provide aliens already residing within the United States a greater degree of protection than aliens arriving in the United States who are deemed inadmissible on security or related grounds such as terrorism.

Having said all that, even if Carriles has been residing here in the U.S. for many years, he would certainly be extraditable to Venezuela. Of course, considering the ever closer relationship between Venezuela's Chavez and Cuba's Castro, anything is possible once Carriles arrive in Venezuala.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Viva UKIP-Green Coalition Government, Viva!

If I could vote in the upcoming elections in the United Kingdom, I should vote for the U.K. Independence Party according to this "Who Should You Vote For?" survey. I thought I'd be considered a conservative in the U.K., so that's what I expected the outcome to be. There were a few questions that I didn't understand what was being asked, such as the question about replacing the Council Tax with an Income Tax.



Who Should You Vote For?


8 Labour
13 Conservative
0 Liberal Democrat
36 UK Independence Party
30 Green


You should vote: UK Independence Party

UKIP's primary focus is on Europe, where the party is strongly against joining both the EU constitution and the Euro. UKIP is also firmly in favour of limiting immigration. The party does not take a clear line on some other policy issues, but supports scrapping university tuition fees; it is strongly against income tax rises and favour reducing fuel duty.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Schiavo to be Democrat Campaign Prop...

Still harboring resentment at not being able to use flag-draped coffins on the campaign trail, the Democrats are determined not to be denied their morbid props in 2006 and 2008.

Back on Your Heads!


The new voice of the Democrat Party, Howard Dean, has announced that Democrat candidates will be resurrecting Terry Schiavo in the 2006 and 2008 elections.


Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Friday that his party would wield the Terri Schiavo case against Republicans in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but for now needed to stay focused battling President Bush on Social Security.

"We're going to use Terri Schiavo later on," Dean said of the brain-damaged Floridian who died last month after her feeding tube was removed amid a swarm of political controversy. - L.A. Times

I guess Mr. Dean wants to capitalize on the great history of successes highly polarizing and divisive issues has garnered for the Democrat Party. Or... it might be that Terry Schiavo will be one of those issues, like gun control, abortion, and gay marriage, that Democrat candidates don't want to talk about.

Saddam Hussein and Friends...

The Big Pharoah is reporting an interview with Saddam Hussein conducted by Al Fayhaa, a popular Iraqi satellite channel. I have not seen this picked up in any other news outlets, but that does not necessarily mean that it did not happen. Iraqi bloggers, like Iraq The Model, have been out in front of the global news cycle many times before. I'll take a wait-and-see approach to this news.

Of course, since we're talking about Saddam Hussein, that must mean that former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark is also in the news; peas in a pod those two. Dan Abrams interviewed Mr. Clark on his show, The Abrams Report, in a piece that MSNBC calls Saddam Hussein's Unlikely Ally. That must be the more relative and tolerant 21st century version of Ramsey Clark because by the end of the 20th century he was simply known as The War Criminal's Best Friend. Considering Ramsey Clark was the legal counsel for the Baathist regime over a period of years before the invasion of Iraq, it seems not unlikely at all that he would now be an ally to the leader of that fallen regime.

This is usually my cue to launch into Ramsey Clark's leading role in organizing "anti-war" protests since 1990 against the United States and NATO, which happen to be the greatest threat to war criminals in the last 15 years. However, I think the Indepundit has a good summary of Ramsey Clark and his nefarious do-gooding on behalf of tyrants and war criminals all over the globe.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Let Them Eat Questionnaires...

A recent press release by United Nations rapporteur Jean Ziegler reveals an alarming increase in malnutrition rates among children in Iraq since the invasion. The report claims the number climbed from a 4% acute malnutrition rate just before the U.S. led invasion to a 7.7% acute malnutrition rate after the invasion. Let's be brutally honest here. That is an appalling rate similar to that of nations like Haiti and Pakistan. However, even more disturbing is the proclivity of many in the blogosphere and the corporate media to attribute this increase to the U.S. military. Jean Ziegler, a Swiss professor of sociology and member of the executive committee of Socialist International, certainly makes it clear that is exactly the reason for the plight of these children. Some othes, like Terry Jones in his article Let Them Eat Bombs, even go so far as to claim Iraqi children were better off under Saddam Hussein.

A report to the UN human rights commission in Geneva has concluded that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now.

Of course, that is absolutely true if, like Terry Jones and the Guardian UK, you agree those malnourished children would be better off dead! UNICEF's Iraq Child and Maternal Mortality Surveys of 1999 became a mourning cloth for many opposed to the sanctions against Iraq. The survey reveals that U.N. Oil-For-Food funds provided to Saddam Hussein did nothing to abate the sky-rocketing infant and child mortality rates in Iraq.

Life Under Saddam Hussein

Is it possible that the funds made available from the Oil-For-Food program simply were not enough to reverse this humanitarian disaster? There does exist convincing evidence to the contrary. When Oil-For-Food funds were made available to the Kurdistan Regional Government, operating under the protection of U.S. and British warplanes, child and infant mortality rates decreased to levels below that of Saddam Hussein's utopian Iraq of 1989.

Life Without Saddam Hussein

I have a feeling those northern Kurds don't share Terry Jones' wistful reminiscing of the good old days under Saddam Hussein. In fact, considering that UNICEF At-A-Glance statistics show improved child and infant mortality rates of 125 and 102, respectively, in 2003, and the United Nations Statistics Division reports further improvement, listing Iraq with an Infant Mortality rate of 83 through January 2005; I would surmise that most Iraqis aren't pining for the gentle ministrations of the Butcher of Baghdad.

Of course, all of these mortality figures do nothing to refute the 7.7% acute malnutrition rate cited by Jean Ziegler, and I don't pretend to have the analytical skills to do so even if that were my intention. However, Ziegler's remarks have not gone undisputed.

The UK's Department for International Development says the Unicef and Iraqi statistics suggests a decline in child malnutrition from 17.3% in 2000 to 11.7% in 2004. - BBC

The problem here is that Ziegler has singled out acute malnutrition (low weight for height or wasting) from the other measures of malnutrition, which are underweight (low weight for age) and chronic malnutrition (low height for age or stunting). So, I decided to hunt down that report to figure out what happened to those other numbers. The source of that 7.7% number is reported to be a survey performed by Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies, but I was unable to find the actual report with all the malnutrition data. Again, I can't overstate the travesty of that malnutrition rate and want to re-emphasize that an average acute malnutrition rate of 7.7% means that some areas must have rates much, much higher.

One of the problems with these numbers from Saddam Hussein's paradise is that he had huge portions of the population segregated into sprawling slums containing millions of people, such as Sadr City, without access to food, healthcare, or even electricity. These days the people living in these slums are benefitting from a more democratic distribution to all these services, though certainly far from adequate. Contrast that to the treatment these slum-dwellers received under Terry Jones' bygone days of Saddam Hussein reported in the BBC:

Another mass grave has been discovered in Iraq at Salman Pak, just south of Baghdad, in the grounds of what used to be a sprawling military complex. Most Iraqis at the site are from Baghdad's Sadr City, a Shia slum formerly known as Saddam City. - BBC

I can't say whether the more than two million inhabitants of this slum alone were ever included in the U.N. surveys performed under Saddam Hussein's rule. I have found what appears to be a very comprehensive survey of 28,500 households performed by the World Food Program in the latter half of 2003.

Before the war started in March 2003, aid agencies were saying that 60 percent of the population was dependent on food aid. However, there was no real way of making an accurate assessment during Saddam Hussein's rule.

"This is the first comprehensive study of its kind in Iraq as the political environment before the war made it impossible to analyse the level of poverty and hunger in the country," Torben Due, Country Director for WFP's operations in Iraq, told IRIN. "For the first time, we are getting an accurate picture of people's access to food. As a result, we are much better able to plan assistance," he added.

"This survey is unique and one like this has not been done on this level in Iraq before. It provides a foundation for other surveys," Turner pointed out.
- IRIN

First Post-Saddam Survey

This study seems to refute the 7.7% rate of malnutrition with a 4.4% acute malnutrition (wasting) rate. However, a measure of 27.6% suffering from stunting is a few points higher than the 22% reported in the U.N. At-A-Glance chart of data gathered between 1995 and 2003.

I think the conclusion that could be gathered from all of this is that Iraq still has many problems to sort out. However, to say that things were better under Saddam Hussein is incredibly cynical and incredibly self-serving. The Kurdistan Regional Government found out that Oil-For-Food funds, minus Saddam Hussein and his cronies at the United Nations, can improve the situation. It would not surprise me if people all over Iraq found that proper funding, minus Saddam Hussein and the Oil-For-Food middlemen, also results in improvements. I not only think that Iraq is better of without Saddam Hussein, but also that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.

UPDATE: Welcome to visitors from Debunkers.org!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Parental Notification for Abortions...

It looks like I'll get a chance to vote on the Parents Right to Know and Child Protection Initiative in the upcoming special California election later this year. Some of the press accounts of the signature gathering seem to imply some sort of furtive or secret effort to get this on the ballot.

Amid the escalating hostilities over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's political agenda, a little-noticed but highly emotional measure has been quietly gathering momentum and will probably be the first to qualify for the next statewide ballot. - San Diego Union Tribune

Of course, this begs the question on how one quietly acquires one million signatures. Since only 598,105 valid signatures are necessary, I think this measure will certainly make the ballot. The initiative would require an abortion provider to notify a parent or guardian 48 hours before performing an abortion on an unmarried minor, unless there is a medical emergency. A judge can waive the requirement in the event of abusive parents.

I think it's unconscionable that notification isn't required already. It seems that such a barrier of silence, especially between an authority figure like a doctor and a frightened minor, is a recipe for malpractice and general malfeasance. The thought of my daughter being provided such a physically and emotionally invasive surgical procedure without needing parental notification is more than alarming. I haven't yet seen the text of the legislation, but I'll be voting to approve it unless it contains some highly controversial language.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Thanks, You Needed That!

Nicholas Kristof is sounding off on the woes of corporate news media in his op-ed, A Slap in the Face, published in the New York Times. Kristof makes a few mistakes in this editorial. First, he conjures up the usual bogey-man of the "right-wing demogogues", just as Bertrand Pecquerie of the World Editors Forum recently blamed his failing industry on "right-wing bloggers". Second, he doesn't seem to take any stabs at why credibility might be declining, other than to say it is partially a result of "right-wing demogogues". Finally, he seems to assume the constitutionally protected freedoms of the press, afforded to individuals by the Bill of Rights, automatically apply to employees acting in the interests of for-profit corporations. I think an appropriate debate of the latter is yet to be had.

As I pointed out in my entry about bloggers and campaign finance reform, it wasn't "right-wing bloggers" that ran Dan Rather (and crew) from CBS, Eason Jordan from CNN, Bill Maher from ABC, and Rush Limbaugh from ESPN. Those were executive decisions made to protect profits, a favorite past-time of for-profit corporations. I think these semi-famous columnists are beginning to run into the conflicts between the lifestyle mass synidcation affords them and the stifling effect of the dependancy upon advertising/sponsors, necessary to sustain that lifestyle, has on their work.

Honour is not Seemly for a Fool...

The Little Green Footballs (LGF) blog published a nice roundup of some recent awards presented to various media corporations. A few days ago, I discussed the morally bankrupt, and tremendously futile, endeavor towards journalism without subjectivity and included a reference to the controversial Pulitzer Prize winning AP photo of insurgents assassinating Iraqi election workers. In addition, LGF notes that Dan Rather was the Peabody Award for his reporting of the abuses committed in Abu Ghraib by coalition forces, and now the awarding of a Payne Award to Kevin Sites for his loose interpretation of the events during a raid on a mosque in Fallujah.

As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool. - Proverbs 26:1

Of course, these journalism awards aren't the only honorary acknowledgements of media portraying the United States' invasion of Iraq in a negative light. Remember that Michael Moore was awarded the Palme d'Or, France's highest acknowledgement of a feature film at the Cannes Film Festival. In their zeal to protest the Bush Administration and the invasion of Iraq, the French jury at the Cannes Film Festival honored the stereotypically arrogant, overweight, and boisterous American by bestowing upon his sophomoric and fictional film, Fahrenheit 9/11, equal status to the only other documentary to receive the Palme d'Or, Jacques Cousteau's The Silent World. That would be similar to placing a film like Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street on the same pedastal of history as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Over and above all these various media accolades was the Nobel Peace Prize award to former President Jimmy Carter in 2002. I have nothing against Jimmy Carter receiving the award, especially considering his competition was Bono and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. I have a problem with the occassion of an American President receiving such a prestigious award being used by a flacid Norwegian politician as a soapbox for airing dissent on issues that he knows nothing about and that do not involve his nation.

Although Mr Carter has not openly criticised President George W Bush's policy on Iraq, Friday's award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken," said Committee chairman Gunnar Berge. "It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States," Mr Berge said. - BBC

"In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights and economic development," Berge said.

Committee member Gunnar Staalsett said he fully supported the remarks and agreed the citation was indeed a criticism of Bush, The Associated Press reported. "Berge offered an interpretation that I have no problem in supporting," Staalsett said. - CNN

I present to you Gunnar Berge, a man so self-important and self-righteous that he doesn't hesitate to overshadow the considerable life's work of Jimmy Carter, a former U.S. President, with his own impotent and vacuous disapproval of the policies of a current American Administration that is not only above, but beyond him. Honestly, even more than the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Yaser Arafat, this is the event that proved to me that the Nobel Peace Prize was absolutely worthless, a purely political statement by an otherwise insignificant bureaucracy somewhere in Norway.

So, this is what these awards have become, political pulpits to address a congregation of the already converted. I admit that it grates to hear the political ideologies and wrong-headedness commonly espoused at these awards events, but the true tragedy is the loss of integrity, the sullied legacies of past recipients and nominees.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Markos Moulitsas on C-SPAN Yesterday...

I saw Markos Moulitsas, of the Daily Kos, on C-SPAN yesterday. He has been blogging for a long time and is probably most well known for his infamous "screw them" comment concerning the four civilian service men killed and hung from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq.

I tuned into C-SPAN expecting to see some horned, cold-blooded reptilian creature with a foaming mouth spouting rabid rants against Empire, occasionally broken by a spray of froth caused by involuntary psychosomatic barking and outbursts of "Halliburton!" and "BushLied!" symptomatic of Political Tourette's Syndrome.

I can report that he is a normal looking fellow, a couple of years younger than me. He was asked about his "screw them" comment, but his answer was unsatisfactory and too nuanced for me to repeat it. His story of getting started in blogging and his rise in popularity is a good one.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

That is a question that has been debated probably since those words were first recorded in chapter four of the Book of Genesis. A San Diego resident is suing a taco shop for an attack that occurred outside the shop, but witnessed by all three employees of the shop. Apparently, at no time did the employees even bother calling 911 to summon help. Greg Moran's account of the attack in the San Diego Union Tribune even has the attacker, a gang-member named Cuevas, going into the taco shop and retrieving a 15 inch butcher knife from the employees' kitchen area, which he then used to continue attacking the victim. A friend of the victim ran to another nearby restaurant and called 911.

The victim, Charles Morris IV, ultimately survived and has sued the taco shop owner. The case was thrown out by a San Diego Superior Court judge, but the Fourth District Court of Appeals later reinstated the case, ruling that a jury should decide whether the employees had even the minimal responsibility to dial 911 and call for help. This takes us to the California Supreme Court where the matter will be decided.

Personally, I believe the employees did have the minimal responsibility to call the police and an ambulance, but look at how the lawyer for the taco shop, Mark Israel, misrepresents the question at hand:

"Someone has been injured, or raped or murdered. The question here is, when is it fair to hold the landowner responsible for the conduct of a third party?"

I don't believe Charles Morris is attempting to hold the shop owner, Silvano De La Torre, responsible for the conduct of a third party. However, Silvano De La Torre can certainly be held responsible for the conduct of his employees, and that seems to be the question under consideration. We can see that question clearly defined in the Appeals Court ruling (PDF):

For reasons we shall explain, we hold De La Torre had no duty to take preventive measures such as hiring security guards, issuing warnings, or screening employees. However, because we conclude a special relationship existed between De La Torre and Morris, De La Torre's employees had a duty to take reasonable steps in response to the ongoing criminal conduct. A triable issue of fact exists as to whether De La Torre's employees breached the duty by failing to summon help for Morris. In defining the scope of this duty, we reject Morris's contention that the employees, who were in fear for their own safety, were required to refrain from complying with the gang member's demands for access to a knife.

The Appeals Court seems to clearly indicate that the employees were not responsible for getting directly involved, even to prevent the attacker from obtaining the knife, but that they had "a duty" to summon help for the victim. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, but Deborah La Fetra of the Pacific Legal Foundation doesn't even bother miscontruing the question. She simply objects to placing the onus of reporting crimes to save a person's life upon the employees who witness those crimes.

Deborah La Fetra, the lawyer for the foundation, said the appeals decision could lead down a "slippery slope" that would impose liability on any business whose employees witnessed a crime outside its establishment but did not summon help.

I should hope so! I agree that it is entirely different if we're discussing direct involvement, but simply picking up the phone and calling 911 seems like a reasonable burden. This should be an interesting story to follow.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Objectivity Without Subjectivity?

When we have troops in combat, I find the idea of American journalists (or those working for American networks) acting as neutral observers in this conflict to be absurd. Many Americans were adamantly opposed to the deployment of U.S. troops to the European conflict in World War II, especially since it would only leave a remnant of our forces to pursue those that actually attacked us in the Pacific. However, most of the journalists reporting for American outlets during that time seem to recognize they were Americans first, then objective journalists second.

The reports of a CBS cameraman being wounded, then detained on suspicion of rebel activity by U.S. forces in Iraq illustrate the futility of so-called non-subjective reporting. It appears the CBS cameraman had video of multiple road-side bomb attacks against U.S. forces on his camera, suggesting that he knew in advance where and when these attacks were going to take place. The first question that comes to my mind is how much of this type of video is lying on the cutting room floor over at CBS News? I guess we'll address that later.

This news controversy comes on the heels of the recent Pulitzer Prize winning AP photo of Iraqi insurgents assassinating Iraqi election workers on Haifa Street.



Let's assume for a moment the AP photographer was miraculously in the right place at the right time by happenstance. Fortunately, the AP dispels any concerns we may have about the remarkable luck and timing of the photographer with the following snippet:

How did the photographer come to be in one of the most dangerous parts of one of the most dangerous streets in Baghdad at this particular time? He had been tipped by another journalist that "something happened on Haifa Street." Immediately he headed out the door for a car trip to Haifa Street. He found a burning car and photographed it about 300 meters from what would later turn out to be the execution scene.

Did that other journalist happen to work for CBS? Ok, I'll let that one pass because Richard Alexander of the Views From Right blog claims to have an email from Jack Stokes answering questions about the AP photograph and the work of their journalists in Iraq. Here is the most interesting part of the email, in my opinion:

Several brave Iraq photographers work for AP in places that only Iraq's can cover. Many are covering the communities they live in. Where family and tribal relations give them access that would not be available to Western photographers or even photographers who were not from that area.

Insurgents want there stories told as much as other people and some are willing to let Iraq photographers take their pictures. It is important to note that the photographers are not "embedded" with the insurgents. They do not have to swear allegiance or other wise join up philosophically with them just to take their pictures.

When does the lack of subjectivity become indifference to the deaths of other human beings? I know this is a question that has long been debated in the U.S. media and has even led to the old journalism question about filming someone drowning. Of course, I couldn't possibly address all the questions and plumb the depths of this issue in a single blog entry, but is it not right that American journalists (e.g. working for CBS) should first be American, then apply subjectivity only after that? What kind of American journalist could unemotionally film the defeat of the American military and the deaths of American soldiers?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Countdown to Int'l Justice (Day 5)...

The UN has passed the names of 51 people suspected of war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region to the International Criminal Court (ICC). So far, so good. I remain willing to be pleasantly surprised by the ICC, but I remain opposed to the abuse of jurisdiction. I believe this was not only a violation of the UN Charter, but also a very poor political move.

Protesters gathered outside a key UN building in Khartoum, as well as the French and US embassies, waving banners criticising the UN, the US and its allies, our correspondent said.

"We are coming here to say to America 'no' to these orders. We are not people who have to listen to orders from anybody except the Sudan," one demonstrator said.

Get that? I've slept since then, but I seem to recall the U.S. being opposed to this resolution and finally abstaining from using its veto only after receiving protections for U.S. citizens operating in Sudan.

Famous Zamos and the Evil Empire...

A college student fought off the Microsoft lawyers that sued him for selling Microsoft software on E-Bay (hat-tip: Overlawyered.com). It's a great story.

UPDATE: By the way, if you're using the Firefox web-browser, you'll need to keep checking the Firefox download site for version 1.0.3 that will patch a serious security vulnerability related to javascript. Internet Explorer users are not vulnerable to this exploit.

Illegal Immigration and Social Security...

The answer to shoring up Social Security appears to be illegal immigrant workers. Eduardo Porter of New York Times new service reports that illegal immigrants may contribute up to $7 billion per year in Social Security taxes without ever receiving any benefits from the system.

As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated 7 million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.

Setting aside all the supposed benefits of illegal immigration to the Social Security system, this story highlights yet another problem for legal immigrant workers. Contrary to the underlying assumption that illegal immigrants are simply taking jobs that Americans won't do, there is growing concern over the tide of illegal immigrants within the communities of legal immigrant workers. I recently read the story of Gerardo Jimenez, a beneficiary of the amnesty awarded to illegal immigrants during the Reagan Administration, who now runs a dry-wall crew of legal migrant workers. Gerard seems to think illegal immigrants may actually be taking jobs that attracted the legal migrant workers in the first place, putting downward pressure on wages for those legal workers.

The current Social Security system compounds the attraction of illegal immigrants for employers by creating an unintended financial incentive. Apparently, after hiring a legal and documented worker, an employer must pay Social Security payroll taxes to both the United States and the worker's nation of origin. So, an employer hiring illegal immigrants presenting forged documents can plausibly deny any wrong-doing and avoid paying the double Social Security taxes to foreign countries. The solution to this problem is called Totalization and has been used with workers from a number of countries, but does not yet include Mexico.

That's one of the problems with the immigration issue; it touches so many aspects of our society. President Bush's immigration policy won't help much without also strengthening control of our borders. Strengthening our borders will have a marginal effect on illegal immigration without a more accommodating immigration policy and totalization with Mexico. After all, a program for legal guest-workers will benefit no one if those workers have to compete with illegal aliens for the same jobs.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Conan the Destroyer...

Iraq's fledgling democracy has taken another step forward with the help of our fighting men and women, but democracy is not doing well everywhere. What if I told you there was a nation where all 100 contested parliament seats were won by the incumbent member or the imcumbent party's candidate when the incumbent member had died or retired? Would you say that democracy was doing well? No?

Well, that democratic state is California. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) had this to say in their report (PDF) on the 2004 California Election:

The status quo reigns in California’s Congressional Delegation.

Of the 53 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 51 incumbents were up for reelection this year and all were reelected. In the two open seats, a Democrat and a Republican were elected to office. In January, California will send 33 Democrats and 20 Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives, reflecting no change in the partisan balance of the state delegation.

The State Legislature's partisan makeup is unchanged.

Legislative elections were held for all 80 of the two-year seats in the State Assembly, and 20 of the four-year seats in the 40-member State Senate. Incumbents won all of their State Senate races (10) and State Assembly races (56). Although there were 18 open seats in the State Assembly and 8 in the Senate due to term limit vacancies, there is no change in the partisan makeup of the new State Assembly (48 Democrats, 32 Republicans) and State Senate (25 Democrats, 15 Republicans).

I can't think of a more damning assessment of the corruption in the California State government. Fortunately, we have Conan the Destroyer as our Governor, and he has introduced legislation to the Assembly that would destroy the gerrymandering currently inhibiting democracy in the state. Predictably, the Assembly has not even sent the bill to committee, but there is now a signature drive underway that will get the bill on the ballot in a special election. I suspect the signature drive will be successful and that the voters will pass this legislation with an overwhelming majority.

Conan, what is good in life? To crush the losers, to drive the special interests from Sacramento, and to hear the lamentations of the gurly-men!

The Portrayal of the Social Security Trust Fund...

I just read a news piece in the San Diego Union Tribune with the headline Bush portrays Social Security fund as worthless paper (UT). The portrayal of Bush's media stunt is very interesting.

Using a government filing cabinet as a prop, President Bush yesterday played to fears that the Social Security Trust Fund is little more than a stack of worthless IOUs.

I saw the video of the President at the Bureau of Public Debt yesterday and the "prop" he used was the actual filing cabinet where the actual special-issue Treasury Bonds are kept in folders. This article continues by glossing over the nasty truth about the Social Security Trust Fund.

The Social Security Administration has tried for years to downplay fears that the IOUs are an empty promise. The agency's Web site addresses the question, "Is there really a Social Security Trust Fund?"

The SSA's answer: "Yes."

Another SSA Web section address concerns that the bonds are of little value.

"Far from being 'worthless IOUs,' the investments held by the trust funds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government."

The full faith and credit of the U.S. Government is its ability to raise tax revenues. However, this is not a definitive asset, like gold or real estate, which is exactly why both domestic and international investors pay close attention to the U.S. public debt and the deficit spending that created it.

So, as the story points out, the U.S. government is taking in more Social Security payroll taxes than it is paying out in Social Security benefits. The President was at the U.S. Bureau of Public Debt to demonstrate that these surpluses are not equating to cash in the bank, so to speak. This surplus cash is spent on things like the military and education while the Social Security Trust Fund is back-filled with IOUs, otherwise referred to as special-issue U.S. Treasury Bonds. What makes these U.S. Treasury Bonds "special-issue" is that they can only be held by the U.S. government. In other words, the Congress is converting the revenue surpluses of the Social Security program into public debt in order to cover deficit spending on other programs.

Congress created the real magic by declaring the Social Security accounts completely "off-budget" in 1990, which precipitated the perverse situation of the late nineties where politicians were proclaiming "surpluses as far as the eye could see" while the government was actually increasing the public debt to cover continued deficit spending.

National Public Debt

09/28/2001 $5,807,463,412,200.06
09/29/2000 $5,674,178,209,886.86
09/30/1999 $5,656,270,901,615.43
09/30/1998 $5,526,193,008,897.62
09/30/1997 $5,413,146,011,397.34
09/30/1996 $5,224,810,939,135.73

As we can see, the government had to borrow more money to cover deficit spending in each year of the so-called "budget surpluses". Our politicians were able to declare this debt as a surplus because borrowing against the Social Security Trust Fund is "off-budget". I guess the point of this post is the dishonesty of the so-called realists in this entire debate over Social Security. The entire reason there is an "upfront cost" to converting some Social Security revenues to privately held investments is precisely because the past and current Social Security surpluses are already spent.

President Bush was right to go the Bureau of Public Debt to view the Social Security Trust Fund because the Social Security Trust Fund is precisely that, a public debt. He was also absolutely correct in referring to the Social Security Trust Fund as IOUs because U.S. Treasury Bonds are exactly that, IOUs issued by the government.