Friday, May 28, 2004

From, it's Republican Survivor! George Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Ann Coulter, Katherine Harris, and Tom Delay are all stuck on an island, and their fates are in OUR hands! Watch the trailer now, sign up for a pass, and when episodes start June 3rd, you can help decide who gets kicked off the island each week. Have fun!
If more Republicans were like John Warner (and John McCain), I'd have SO much more respect for the party as a whole! The 77-year-old chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is pissing off many members of his own party, including Mr. "Outraged by the outrage" James Inhofe, by holding televised hearings to investigate the Abu Ghraib scandal. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but here are some highlights:
The silver-haired Virginian with courtly manners is a throwback to a forgotten era of congressional comity. But as he leads the Senate's inquiry into abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) also shows another side: a penchant for bucking his party, taking heat and surviving.

Warner says his committee has a "solemn responsibility" to discover what went wrong and to "make sure it never, never happens again." But some conservatives are angry about the high-profile televised hearings, saying the prisoner-abuse issue is overblown and threatens to undermine the United States' primary mission in Iraq.

"I think he should stop the hearings at this point; we've heard enough," said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a committee member. "We have a war to win, and we need to keep our talents concentrated on winning the war as opposed to prisoner treatment."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) complained that Warner and other Senate members have become "mesmerized by cameras." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was irked when Warner, in a departure from normal committee practice, decided to put all abuse-inquiry witnesses -- including the secretary -- under oath, according to Senate sources.

But Warner shows no signs of backing off, arguing that the country wants and deserves a vigorous examination of the sexual humiliation, physical abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. He has held three televised hearings this month to question top Pentagon officials and military commanders -- two more televised sessions than the House has allowed -- and he is planning more.

Friends say Warner -- a sailor in World War II, a Marine during the Korean War and secretary of the Navy before he came to the Senate in 1979 -- is motivated by a strong belief that the reputations of both the military and the Senate are at stake unless they get to the bottom of the scandal. "To do otherwise would be contradictory to everything he has experienced in his professional life," said committee member John McCain (R-Ariz.). Besides, McCain added, "it would be incredibly stupid politically."

Still, Warner's pursuit of the issue has the backing of most Armed Services members as well as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), though he has infuriated some conservatives. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), another committee member, has expressed concern that the hearing may be "a real distraction from trying to win the war, especially at this most fragile time." House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) also suggested a lower profile for the prisoner-abuse issue, saying, "We should not allow it to distract us from the war at hand."

In contrast, both Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the Senate committee, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a senior member of the panel, applaud the course that Warner has taken. "I think he deserves a lot of credit for standing up to the more excitable elements of his party who want to put a halt to the hearings," Kennedy said. "They have been useful and informative."

In a recent interview, Warner brushed off the GOP criticism and seemed to take pride in his independence. He confessed to being a bit of a "maverick" in his recent commencement address at the University of Virginia. "Sometimes you have to say politics be damned," he added.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Debate 100: Remedial Debate for Pre-Schoolers and Republicans

Welcome boys and girls, to Debate 100: Remedial Debate for Pre-Schoolers and Republicans. For today's lesson we will be covering the three debate techniques most commonly employed by pre-schoolers and Republicans: the "Name-Calling" technique, the "Shut Up" technique, and the "Sticking Your Fingers in Your Ears While yelling 'La la la! I'm not listening!'" technique.

The first technique is the "Name-Calling" technique, which is simple, in theory. This technique involves calling your opponent nasty names in order to win the argument. Example: "You're wrong Stupid-head" and "You're a Feminazi!" Frequently, your opponent will respond with the same technique. In this case, the person who comes up with the most creative derogatory names for his opponent wins the debate. Occasionally, your opponent will refuse to employ this technique in response, in a crafty attempt to throw you off your game. Instead, they will respond with research and evidence to support their point and discredit yours. Do not be deterred; backing off of the "Name-Calling" technique shows weakness, and you will surely lose the debate.

The "Name-calling" technique is a favorite of conservative pundit Ann Coulter: "You're a slanderous liberal traitor, it says so in the footnotes of my new book!" (Here Coulter skillfully combines the "Name-Calling" technique with the "It's in the Footnotes" technique, which will be covered in the next course "Debate 101: Advanced Remedial Debate for Hack-Writers and Neo-Cons".)

The second technique is the "Shut Up!" technique, frequently used by Bill O'Reilly. This technique involves yelling "Shut up!" at your opponent until they comply. If you want to get creative, you can change it up a bit by adding additional words. Examples include: "Shut the hell up!" (heck, for you pre-schoolers) and "Shut up already!"

Once you've become proficient in each of the preceding two techniques, you can experiment with combining them. Examples include: "Shut up you jerk!", "Shut up, bed-wetter!" and "Shut up Pinko Commie America-hater!" This "combo" technique has been most famously employed by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and 5-year-olds all over the world.

Finally, we have the "Sticking your fingers in your ears while yelling 'La la la, I'm not listening!'" technique. This technique involves sticking one's fingers in one's ears, while yelling "La la la! I'm not listening! La la la!" over and over. While you may use any of your fingers for this technique, I've found the index fingers are most effective for me. A variation on this technique involves covering one's ears with the palms of one's hands.

The "Sticking your fingers in your ears while yelling 'La la la! I'm not listening!'" technique was most recently employed by President George W. Bush and Condileeza Rice, in response to Richard Clarke's repeated warnings about Al Qaeda, prior to the 9/11 terror attacks. (After 9/11 they switched to the "Name-calling" technique.)

One major drawback of the "Sticking Your fingers in your ears..." technique is that, unlike the first two techniques, it can only be used in verbal debate. The "Name Calling" and "Shut Up!" techniques work well in verbal debates as well as online debates (such as internet message boards, and the comments sections of most "blogs"). Unfortunately, the last technique doesn't have quite the same impact in cyber-space, where no one can tell that you're using it. (Unless, of course, you type "La la la! I'm not listening! La la la!" and let's face it, THAT is just lame!)

This concludes today's lesson in "Debate 100: Remedial Debate for Pre-Schoolers and Republicans." I would like you to practice these techniques between now and our next class, when I will require you to pair up and demonstrate your new skills in front of the class. You should have ample opportunities to practice on your parents, playmates, reporters, and political opponents. Those of you who fail to demonstrate proficiency in these techniques will be subjected by me, to the "Name-Calling" technique in front of the class, so no slacking off! Have a good day!
Quote for the Day: "Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man."--Bertrand Russell (Hopefully, Dubya has helped to put THAT little myth to rest!)

Idiotic Quote for the Day: "It's extremely difficult to govern when you control all three branches of government,"--John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (via the Funny Farm).
Despite a bumpy start, Air America Radio appears to be doing fairly well in the ratings. Al Franken's show is even beating Rush Limbaugh's in one market.
Despite ongoing financial woes, Air America Radio appears to have garnered a significant audience during its first month on the air, particularly among the younger listeners sought by advertisers.

An analysis of recently released figures from Arbitron, the radio ratings service, showed that in New York Air America beat Rush Limbaugh's station among 25-to-54-year-olds during the period that Limbaugh and Al Franken, the host of the flagship show "The O'Franken Factor," go head-to-head.

In Chicago, even though the network was available for only 28 days in April, Air America increased the average share of 25-to-54-year-old listeners on WNTD-950 AM from a 0.1 percent share in February to a 2 percent share in April.

Air America was pulled off WNTD-950 AM due to a billing dispute. The network is seeking a new home in Chicago.

"We're actually doing very well despite everything we've managed to do to ourselves," Franken said on Saturday in an address to the Talkers Magazine New Media Seminar in New York.

He was referring to the network's failure to meet payroll earlier this month and the departure of no fewer than six key executives in its first eight weeks on the air.

"If this is how we're doing now, imagine what things will be like when we actually know what we're doing," Franken said.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., a period that includes Franken's show, WNTD pulled in 3 percent of 25-to-54-year-old listeners in Chicago. That number puts the fledgling network in the same league as WGN-720 AM, which scored a 2.1 percent share of the same demographic, according to the extrapolation of April figures. WLS-890 AM, which airs Rush Limbaugh during the same period, beat WNTD with a 4.8 share.

But in New York, where Air America still broadcasts over WLIB-1190 AM, the network beat Limbaugh's station, Disney-owned WABC, among both 25-to-54-year-olds and 18-to-34-year-olds during the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. period. In the 25-to-54 demographic, WLIB garnered a 3.4 share to WABC's 3.1; among 18-to-34-year-olds, WLIB won sevenfold with a 2.9 share to WABC's 0.4.
Just one more illustration of why the Republicans may regret choosing New York for their convention this summer. Hostile territory, indeed!
This WaPo article details domestic spending cuts planned for 2006, should Bush get re-elected. (Bold is mine)
The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if President Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include spending cuts for virtually all agencies in charge of domestic programs, including education, homeland security and others that the president backed in this campaign year.

Administration officials had dismissed the significance of the proposed cuts when they surfaced in February as part of an internal White House budget office computer printout. At the time, officials said the cuts were based on a formula and did not accurately reflect administration policy. But a May 19 White House budget memorandum obtained by The Washington Post said that agencies should assume the spending levels in that printout when they prepare their fiscal 2006 budgets this summer.

"Assume accounts are funded at the 2006 level specified in the 2005 Budget database," the memo informs federal program associate directors and their deputies. "If you propose to increase funding above that level for any account, it must be offset within your agency by proposing to decrease funding below that level in other accounts."

The funding levels referred to in the memo would be a tiny slice out of the federal budget -- $2.3 billion, or 0.56 percent, out of the $412.7 billion requested for fiscal 2005 for domestic programs and homeland security that is subject to Congress's annual discretion.

But the cuts are politically sensitive, targeting popular programs that Bush has been touting on the campaign trail. The Education Department; a nutrition program for women, infants and children; Head Start; and homeownership, job-training, medical research and science programs all face cuts in 2006.

"Despite [administration] denials, this memorandum confirms what we suspected all along," said Thomas S. Kahn, Democratic staff director on the House Budget Committee. "Next February, the administration plans to propose spending cuts in key government services to pay for oversized tax cuts."

The administration has widely touted a $1.7 billion increase in discretionary funding for the Education Department in its 2005 budget, but the 2006 guidance would pare that back by $1.5 billion. The Department of Veterans Affairs is scheduled to get a $519 million spending increase in 2005, to $29.7 billion, and a $910 million cut in 2006 that would bring its budget below the 2004 level.

Also slated for cuts are the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Small Business Administration, the Transportation Department, the Social Security Administration, the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program was funded at $4.7 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, enough to serve the 7.9 million people expected to be eligible. But in 2006, the program would be cut by $122 million. Head Start, the early-childhood education program for the poor, would lose $177 million, or 2.5 percent of its budget, in fiscal 2006.

Even homeland security -- a centerpiece of the Bush reelection campaign -- would be affected. Funding would slip in 2006 by $1 billion, to $29.6 billion, although that would still be considerably higher than the $26.6 billion devoted to that field in 2004, according to an analysis of the computer printout by House Budget Committee Democrats.

Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige told House members in February: "It is my understanding that long-term estimates are calculated by formula. OMB has advised us that the numbers beyond 2005 do not reflect detailed policy decisions by this administration. They are roughly held estimates, and so we will have to await the policy decisions to draw conclusions about what the funding level will be in years outside or years in front of 2005."

The May 19 memo contains no such caveats.

"Continuing the strategy of last year's Budget, the 2006 Budget will constrain discretionary and mandatory spending while supporting national priorities: winning the war on terror, protecting the homeland, and strengthening the economy," the memo states.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Captain Anti-Planet is at it again! According to this Alternet article, the U.S.D.A. issued new guidances, and one directive, which seem to render useless the "Organic" food label.
And the changes – which would allow the use of antibiotics on organic dairy cows, synthetic pesticides on organic farms, and more – were made with zero input from the public or the National Organic Standards Board, the advisory group that worked for more than a decade to help craft the first federal organic standards, put in place in October 2002.

The USDA insists that the changes are innocuous: "The directives have not changed anything. They are just clarifications of what is in the regulations that were written by the National Organic Standards Board," USDA spokesperson Joan Shaffer told Muckraker. "They just explain what's enforceable. There is no difference [between the clarifications and the original regulations] – it's just another way of explaining it."

But Jim Riddle, vice chair of the NOSB and endowed chair in agricultural systems at the University of Minnesota, argues that what the USDA is trying to pass off as a clarification of regulations is actually a substantial change: "These are the sorts of changes for which the department is supposed to do a formal new rulemaking process, with posting in the federal register, feedback from our advisory board, and a public-comment period. And yet there is no such process denoted anywhere."

One practice favored by large agribusiness is the use of antibiotics on cows, and a guidance [PDF] issued on April 14 will allow just that on organic dairy farms, a dramatic reversal of 2002 rules. Under the new guidelines, sickly dairy cows can be treated not just with antibiotics but with numerous others drugs and still have their milk qualify as organic, so long as 12 months pass between the time the treatments are administered and the time the milk is sold.

Another new guidance [PDF]put out on the same day would allow cattle farmers to feed their heifers non-organic fishmeal that could be riddled with synthetic preservatives, mercury, and PCBs and still sell their beef as organic.

And the following week, on April 23, the USDA took the particularly egregious step of issuing a legal directive [PDF] that opens the door for use of some synthetic pesticides on organic farms.

According to the new guidelines, however, organic farmers and certifiers are only required to make a "reasonable effort" to find out what is in the pesticides being applied to crops. "If they can't come up with the info on toxic inert ingredients that may be in their pesticides, they're off the hook" said Liana Hoodes, organic policy coordinator for the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. "This takes all the pressure off of pesticide manufacturers to reveal their ingredients and develop non-toxic products. In fact, it creates a disincentive."

Despite the USDA's demurrals, activists view the department's changes as a serious threat to hard-won standards for organic products. The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture and other groups are investigating possible industry influence into the USDA's process, and some environmental groups are preparing to take legal action.
Personally, I think this is disgusting. I buy a lot of organic products specifically BECAUSE they are supposed to be free of chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, bovine growth hormone, etc. These new "guidelines" undermine the public's right to choose more natural alternatives to conventional products. Under these rules, the only way to assure you're getting truly "organic" products is to grow and raise them yourself! If you would like to express your disapproval of the new guidelines, feel free to email Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman at or call her office at 202-720-3631.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Echoing thoughts I, myself, have had, Alternet's Allan Hunt Badiner wonders, "Is Bush the Anti-Buddha?"
When George W. Bush mouths the word "compassion" chills dart up my spine. Anyone paying attention can easily see how the actions of the Bush regime reflect a distinct lack of empathy and understanding. This is an administration bent on blatant paybacks to friends and contributors at everyone else's expense. Its single truth: What is good for extractive profits is good for the country. Trees and caribou don't contribute cash so Bush's environmental policy opens majestic old growth forests for commercial logging and protected wilderness areas for domestic oil exploration. His foreign policy confuses justice with punishment, disagreement with treachery, and cultural differences with evil. He willingly risks escalating and perpetuating a continuous cycle of global violence.

Compassion, according to Bush, is allowing utility plants to upgrade their infrastructure without the pollution abatements previously required by law when, according to the National Academy of Sciences, 50,000 American children are born every year with brains damaged by prenatal exposure to methyl mercury compounds from fossil-fuel and industrial air pollution. And adding insult to injury, Bush and his minions spend their holidays shooting innocent creatures – bird, fox and deer hunting not for supper but for sport.

Thai Buddhist professor Sulak Sivaraksa likens Bush to Hitler and Stalin, arguing that his declaration of an 'Axis of Evil,' Hitler's 'Final Solution,' and Stalin's pogrom of peasants were actually similar attempts "to perfect the world by destroying its [perceived] impurities." Bush has withdrawn the U.S. from nearly all cooperative efforts for the planet like international treaties for nuclear disarmament, and initiatives like the Kyoto Accord to abate climate instability. Even if Bush does not win reelection, or otherwise get elected, the damage he has done will live on in the form of zealots in judicial robes that will set misguided legal precedents for hundreds of years. His is the zealotry and the extremism that Shakyamuni Buddha spent his life defining as the cause of suffering.

How does a student of the Dharma deal with the rising temptation to wish ill will on the perpetrators of such shocking and detestable undertakings? To the specter of four more years of Bush, what is an appropriate Buddhist response?

While it's important to recognize the full scope of the damage generated by this President and his cronies, and understandable to feel bitter, the Dharma clearly counsels us against hating our enemies. As Buddhists, we can assume that Bush-hating doesn't help anyone. Buddhist philosophy is centered on non-duality, the unity of all things, so we must concede that we ourselves are not separate from the corruption and unprincipled behavior of those who represent us. It is in fact an old political axiom that people get the government they deserve.

Asked how those in the dharma should respond to times like these, and how they should live their lives in a world where evil runs like an open sewer, the great Tibetan master Thrangu Rinpoche said "You must counter the negative energy with as much positive thought and action as you can possibly muster. You must unceasingly sustain Bodhisattva action." It is the Buddha's teaching to make of ourselves an example, a light, a beacon. What a practice opportunity has been thrust upon us!

This opens the possibility that the consequence of our long suffering in the realm of the Bush regime will be a complacent body politic that wakes up. The bold and unrepentant corroding of the core principles of justice, fairness and personal liberty that made this nation great, could make people feel an urgent need for a U-turn. The Bush years could be the threshold to another great society, an era of great compassion in which elected officials become representatives of the people again and restore the environment, reinvigorate social programs, and bring fairness and integrity back to government.

The consistent unskillfulness of the Bush government makes it tempting to confuse evil and ignorance. Buddhism observes that people are not inherently evil – even if their behavior has that appearance. "Like a blind man in a room full of deaf people." is how Ex-U.S. Treasury secretary Paul O'Neil describes a surprisingly disengaged Bush during cabinet meetings. The Bush sangha, i.e., Cheney, Rumsfeld etc., have taken refuge in an old and outdated vision of the world, one hopelessly Cartesian, self-referential, and completely lacking awareness of interconnection, cause and effect, and certainly the true meaning of compassion.

Just after 9/11, anxious to do what he could to prevent all out war, the Dalai Lama broke with a long tradition of not commenting on the internal affairs of other nations and wrote to Bush. "It may seem presumptuous on my part," said His Holiness, "but I personally believe we need to think seriously whether a violent action is the right thing to do and in the greater interest of the nation and people in the long run." His Holiness stressed to Bush how "violence will only increase the cycle of violence." He suggested the American President deal with the root causes of such senseless violence: hatred and anger. Bush didn't get it. "The Bush administration simply doesn't trust smart people," says Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz. "It's anti-intellectual by nature, and it doesn't even want to hear their advice."

Given the countless Iraqis and over 4,000 Americans killed or injured – not in self-defense but in cold blood, and given the enablement of pollution, the trees and animals hurried into extinction, can we even begin to calculate the negative karma Bush & Co. are mounting? But if Buddha could forgive and even ordain Angulimala, whom the sutras say viciously killed thousands of innocent people with his own hands, then can George W. Bush be beyond our forgiveness and compassion? And didn't the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa practice black magic and kill people before he turned his mind so magnificently to the dharma?

George W. Bush is unfortunately no Angulimala or Milarepa who were able to overcome, to awaken to the unskillfulness of their actions and repent the loss of life they caused. In fact, Bush may be the closest we can come to an anti-Buddha: a global poster-boy for profound ignorance. We can use him in our visualizations. We can breath in his confusion and breath out to him our clarity. We can also get out on the campaign trail for candidates who more closely represent that first precept: Do no harm. Sit and breathe contemplating this and see if you feel called to volunteer on voter-registration drives.

Now my visualizations are of bearing witness to a panoply of devas and gods, the Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara, and countless rows of Buddha's and Bodhisattvas throughout space and time sitting in the clouds and celebrating Bush's retirement from the Oval Office and his safe return to Crawford, Texas.

Then I close with two healing mantras in rapid succession: "May all beings be happy and free from suffering – even Bush" "May all beings be happy – and freed from Bush."

Friday, May 14, 2004

By now you've probably heard about GOP Senator James Inhofe's comments earlier this week about being "outraged by the outrage" over the Abu Ghraib scandal. There have also been comments around the blogosphere expressing a "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" type of mentality, especially since the Nick Berg tragedy. I have to say, I have never understood this line of thinking, as it seems to defy any type of logic you could come up with. Often the people expressing this mentality are Christian, and follow the Christian Bible. The last time I checked, there were no exceptions to the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment. Didn't it ever occur to them that their God might not particularly appreciate this type of opinion, an opinion which advocates killing without regard as to guilt or innocence? Or that holding this opinion, and especially acting on it, could lead God to "sort" THEM, possibly in a way they might not like? At the very least did it not occur to them that they are expressing the very opinion held by the terrorists about us--"kill the infidels, and let Allah sort them out"?

I, personally, am an agnostic Buddhist, so "God" never factors into my opinion of what's happening in the world. In both cases, the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the beheading of Nick Berg, I am outraged, and my interest is to see justice done. The killing of innocents is never justice, it's vengeance, and vengeance begets vengeance. In the never-ending quest to "even the score", there is always SOMEONE for whom the score is uneven. Good luck trying to find the moral high ground when you're drowning in the blood of innocents!
A group of American Muslims has started an online petition rejecting the use of terrorism.
The Council on American Islamic Relations' petition, called "Not in my Name", follows the beheading in Iraq of a US hostage by a group said to be linked to Al Qaeda.

The move reflects a growing defensiveness among American Muslims who feel they are being forced to prove their patriotism.

The message could not be clearer: "We hope this effort will demonstrate once and for all that Muslims in America and throughout the Islamic world reject violence committed in the name of Islam."

The tone, bordering on exasperation, betrays the deep sense of unease among American Muslims who have increasingly felt alienated by what they feel is a "with us or against us" mood that has deepened after the beheading of US hostage Nicholas Berg.
From the Church of the Apathetic Agnostic (We don't know, and we don't care!), it's Bertrand Russel's Ten Commandments:
1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it is from your family, endeavour to overcome it with argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do, the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that is happiness.
Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party wins a surprise victory in India's elections, and she's the favorite for the new Prime Minister.
India's Congress party is beginning work on building a coalition government after its shock victory in the country's general elections.

Italian-born party leader Sonia Gandhi has begun meeting key alliance members in Delhi, but has not yet indicated if she will be the new prime minister.

If she does, she will become the fourth member of India's legendary Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to hold the post.

She has vowed to try to form a "strong, stable and secular government."

Mrs Gandhi has been careful not to say that she is seeking to become prime minister.

In her first comments to journalists after the scale of the Congress victory became apparent, she said it was up to Congress members of parliament to decide on who becomes the new prime minister.

Many in the party believe the job is hers - should she want it.

The Congress party finished well ahead of the governing BJP-led alliance of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who resigned as early results came in.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Delhi says it is the huge mass of Indians - largely ignored by the BJP and who have no electricity, poor sanitation and filthy water - who have spoken.
First Spain, now India. Dare we dream...
Alternet's Chris Mooney, on The Fraud of 'Sound Science' as used by the GOP:
Much of the modern conservative agenda on science is embodied in the enigmatic phrase "sound science," a term used with increasing frequency these days despite its apparent lack of a clear, agreed-upon definition. In one sense, "sound science" simply means "good science." Indeed, when unwitting liberals and journalists have been caught using the phrase - which happens quite frequently - it appears to have been with this meaning in mind.

A short history of the phrase "sound science," and its development into a mantra of the political right, clearly demonstrates its anti-regulatory, pro-industry slant. Strategic uses by the business community trace back at least to Dow Chemical Company president Paul F. Oreffice's 1983 claim that a $3 million program to allay fears of dioxin pollution in Michigan would use "sound science" to "reassure" the public - i.e., downplay risks. To rebut Dow's claims, a young South Dakota representative named Tom Daschle promptly released results from a confidential study suggesting that dioxin damages the immune system. In this incident, it's possible to see the first sprouting of a political debate over "sound science" that would bloom into a full schism a decade later.

In early 1993, Philip Morris and its public relations firm, APCO Associates, created a nonprofit front group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) to help fight against the regulation of secondhand smoke. To mask its true purpose, TASSC assembled a range of anti-regulatory interests under one umbrella, and rarely, if ever, explicitly challenged the notion that secondhand smoke poses health risks. Instead, the group, headed by former New Mexico governor Garrey Carruthers, described itself as a "not-for-profit coalition advocating the use of sound science in public policy decision making." Still, at the very least TASSC implied that the science of secondhand smoke was bogus. For example, in 1994 the group released a poll of scientists suggesting that politicians were abusing science on issues such as "asbestos, pesticides, dioxin, environmental tobacco smoke or water quality."

At roughly the same time, fortuitously or otherwise, the incoming Republican Congress of 1994 adopted "sound science" as a mantra. Just a week after the November 1994 elections, Newt Gingrich and company had set the tone. "Property rights" and "sound science" had become "the environmental buzzwords of the new Republican Congress," a Knight-Ridder news report noted. The perceptive report also included a definition of "sound science," which suggested it meant much more than simply "good science." Instead, the point was deregulation: "'Sound science' is shorthand for the notion that anti-pollution laws have gone to extremes, spending huge amounts of money to protect people from miniscule risks."

Calls for "sound science" closely accompanied the push to enact a key tenet of the Republican Party's "Contract With America" - regulatory "reform," an industry-backed gambit to provide steep hurdles to future environmental, health, and safety regulations. Reform bills sponsored in 1995 by Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole would have imposed stringent new rules on the process by which the Environmental Protection Agency and other government bodies conducted science-based risk assessments to determine whether a particular danger should be regulated. The proposals demonstrated that the new Republican majority wanted nothing less than to become government's science cops – and to start fixing the tickets of industry.

The leading regulatory reform proposals would have legislated the very nature of science itself. They prescribed a one-size-fits-all standard for risk assessment across very different government agencies, potentially stifling scientific adaptability. The bills also would have erected a "peer review" process to scrutinize risk assessments with large potential regulatory impacts - one that would have not only bogged down the regulatory process, but also allowed industry scientists to participate in or even dominate reviews. In addition, regulatory reform would have created new opportunities for federal court challenges over agency risk assessments - an ideal opportunity for business interests to engage in scientific warfare over analyses they didn't like. The whole process, Public Citizen lawyer David Vladeck wrote at the time, smacked of an attempt to achieve "paralysis by analysis."

Ultimately, the regulatory reformers went too far and their proposal died in the Senate -but not before it had helped crystallize a new conservative lexicon. In a 1996 report, the late Rep. George Brown, ranking Democratic member of the House Science Committee, issued a long and anguished reflection on the Republican Party's adoption of "sound science" principles entitled "Environmental Science Under Siege: Fringe Science and the 104th Congress." Brown's report provides a powerful riposte to the "sound science" movement, whose proponents he accused of having "little or no experience of what science does and how it progresses."

Conservatives and liberals both agree that science is crucially important for making public policy. But the answers provided by scientific research are rarely certain and always open to disputation or challenge. When conservatives today call for "sound science," the evidence suggests that what they really want is to hold a scientific filibuster - and thereby delay political action.
No where in the Republican Party is this attitude more prevalent than in the Bush Administration, which has virtually waged war on the environment based on the "sound science" argument. It's actually an interesting dichotomy, the Republicans resist enacting environmental legislation due to so-called lack of sound science, yet they were willing to send our troops to war based on the flimsiest of evidence. Anyone who thinks their motives are anything but self-serving is delusional!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Paul Krugman, on the Bush Administration's motto of "Just Trust Us":
When the world first learned about the abuse of prisoners, President Bush said that it "does not reflect the nature of the American people." He's right, of course: a great majority of Americans are decent and good. But so are a great majority of people everywhere. If America's record is better than that of most countries — and it is — it's because of our system: our tradition of openness, and checks and balances.

Yet Mr. Bush, despite all his talk of good and evil, doesn't believe in that system. From the day his administration took office, its slogan has been "just trust us." No administration since Nixon has been so insistent that it has the right to operate without oversight or accountability, and no administration since Nixon has shown itself to be so little deserving of that trust. Out of a misplaced sense of patriotism, Congress has deferred to the administration's demands. Sooner or later, a moral catastrophe was inevitable.

Just trust us, John Ashcroft said, as he demanded that Congress pass the Patriot Act, no questions asked. After two and a half years, during which he arrested and secretly detained more than a thousand people, Mr. Ashcroft has yet to convict any actual terrorists. (Look at the actual trials of what Dahlia Lithwick of Slate calls "disaffected bozos who watch cheesy training videos," and you'll see what I mean.)

Just trust us, George Bush said, as he insisted that Iraq, which hadn't attacked us and posed no obvious threat, was the place to go in the war on terror. When we got there, we found no weapons of mass destruction and no new evidence of links to Al Qaeda.

And finally: Just trust us, Donald Rumsfeld said early in 2002, when he declared that "enemy combatants" — a term that turned out to mean anyone, including American citizens, the administration chose to so designate — don't have rights under the Geneva Convention. Now people around the world talk of an "American gulag," and Seymour Hersh is exposing My Lai all over again.

To their credit, some supporters of the administration are speaking out. "This is about system failure," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. But do Mr. Graham, John McCain and other appalled lawmakers understand their own role in that failure? By deferring to the administration at every step, by blocking every effort to make officials accountable, they set the nation up for this disaster. You can't prevent any serious inquiry into why George Bush led us to war to eliminate W.M.D. that didn't exist and to punish Saddam for imaginary ties to Al Qaeda, then express shock when Mr. Bush's administration fails to follow the rules on other matters.

Meanwhile, Abu Ghraib will remain in use, under its new commander: General Miller of Guantánamo. Donald Rumsfeld has "accepted responsibility" — an action that apparently does not mean paying any price at all. And Dick Cheney says, "Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had. . . . People should get off his case and let him do his job." In other words: Just trust us.
This article in the Herald Tribune sheds some light on the irony, and hypocrisy, in BushCo's latest attack ad against John Kerry:
The ad shows weapons systems disappearing from a battlefield -- weapons that the ad says Kerry "repeatedly opposed," including the B-2 bomber, Patriot missile and Bradley fighting vehicle.

But that "repeated" opposition can largely be traced back to votes by Kerry in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the time, many people in the federal government -- including then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney -- supported military cutbacks to create a "peace dividend" of billions of dollars.

It was Cheney who canceled the B-2 program, after 20 of the incredibly expensive Stealth bombers were built, even though the Pentagon wanted at least 132.

And, in congressional hearings, it was Cheney who complained that the Democratic-controlled Congress was forcing weapons programs on the Pentagon that it neither wanted nor needed.
Pot, kettle...
George Bush's new plan to hasten the demise of Fidel Castro's rule has met with criticism from Cuban dissidents:
Leading dissident Oswaldo Paya said it was up to Cubans, not the US, to bring about change in the country.

US President George W Bush on Thursday endorsed new sanctions and a $36m plan to promote change in Cuba.

Two other Cuban dissidents handed in a protest letter at the US diplomatic mission in Havana.

One of the authors, Manuel Cuesta, said the US had "no right to set the pace of a transition in Cuba".

The other, fellow dissident Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, said: "This is a total interference that does not benefit the building of democracy in Cuba."

"It is not appropriate or acceptable for any forces outside Cuba to try to design the Cuban transition process," said Mr Paya, winner of the European Parliament's Andrei Sakharov human rights prize, in a separate statement.

Veteran Cuban human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez described the proposals as "totally counterproductive and clearly involve meddling" from abroad.
If this is a just a stunt to gain valuable Cuban-American votes for Bush in Florida this fall, it could end up backfiring. If nothing else it shows that Bush hasn't learned his lesson about meddling in the affairs of foreign countries. How does the saying go..."The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results."

Monday, May 10, 2004

Via Atrios, it's the Wingnut Debate Dictionary. The Wingnut Debate Dictionary is an invaluable resource for anyone who frequently finds themselves involved in political discourse with neo-cons, fundies, or anyone employed by Sinclair Broadcasting. It breaks down the debate strategies used by such Right-Wing pundits as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Their arguments may be frought with enough logical fallacies to make Spock's head explode, but they're cleverly designed to catch their opponents off-guard, making them appear weak, flustered, and incompetent. With the Wingnut Debate Dictionary, YOU can turn the tables on THEM, and watch them squirm in frustration as their strategies blow up in their face.

For your amusement, DU's Top Ten Conservative Idiots list for this week.

Quote for the Day: "The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair."--Douglas Adams (Kind of like the situation in Iraq...)

Idiotic Quote for the Day: "Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had."--Dick Cheney