Later On

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Archive for March 10th, 2008

A must-read book

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From ThinkProgress:

Vodpod videos no longer available. from thinkprogress.org posted with vodpod

In his new book, “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” New York Times reporter Philip Shenon alleges that 9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikow had an obvious conflict of interest while serving on the panel.

Zelikow allegedly scaled back criticisms of the White House and did not inform the Commission he helped Condoleezza Rice set up Bush’s National Security Council in 2001. Zelikow also held periodic discussions with Karl Rove, which he ordered his secretary to keep off-the-record. He also helped “demote” Richard Clarke, a vocal critic of the administration’s counterterrorism policies.

This weekend on CSPAN’s Book TV, Shenon bolstered the case that Zelikow was inextricably tied to the administration. Shenon said Zelikow authored the September 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS), which outlined the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war and helped make the case for the invasion of Iraq:

Zelikow was the author of a very important document issued by the White House in Sept. 2002 that really turned military doctrine on its head and said that the United States could become involved in pre-emptive war, pre-emptive defense, that we could attack a nation that didn’t pose an immediate military threat to this country.

And obviously in September 2002, it sure appeared that document was being written with one target in mind: Iraq.

The author of the NSS at the time was anonymous, Shenon explained. Commission members, including Chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton reportedly did not know Zelikow authored it when the Commission was created in December 2002. Only in the “final months” of the investigation did members discover this fact.

Zelikow’s White House ties were so pronounced that former senator Bob Kerrey threated to Kean, “It’s either him or me. Zelikow goes, or I go.” In the interview, Shenon concluded that Zelikow’s authorship of of the pre-emptive strategy “appeared to pose yet another conflict of interest for Zelikow.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 2:36 pm

OMG! What a luscious dinner!

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You really have to go through the series of posts—lots of photos. Here’s the menu:

Head to Tail Dinner: Chef Chris Cosentino, Host Michael Ruhlman

Bits & Bobbles (Standing Appetizers)

Beef Heart Tartare Puttanesca
Fritto of Honeycomb Tripe with Picholine Olives and Marjoram
Crostino of Salt Cured Pork Heart, with Eight Minute Farm Egg
Porchetta di Testa with Radish and Pecorino
Wine: Zucchi Pignoletto NV, Emilia-Romagna

Supper

Beef Tendon & Sweetbreads, with Chile and Mint
Wine: Nero d’Avelo, Feudo Montoni 2003, Sicily

Turf and Surf: Pig Trotters and Lobster Tarragon
Wine: Ribolla Gialla, La Castellada 2000, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Crudo of Venison Liver, with Beets and Juniper Balsamic Vinegar
Wine: Sangue di Giuda, Tenimenti Confalonieri, la Versa 2006, Lombardy

Whole Roasted Spring Lamb Neck, with Sheep’s Milk Polenta and Gremolata
Wine: Nieddera Rosso, Conitini 2003, Sardinia

Dessert

Blood Orange Candied Cockscombs, with Bay Leaf Rice Pudding
Wine: Recioto di Soave “Col Foscarin”, Gini 2004, Veneto

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Food

When the GOP is in charge…

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Regulators fail to regulate, inspectors fail to inspect, and in general the government fails at its assigned tasks and instead begins to accommodate the wishes of businesses. For example:

FAA officials overseeing Southwest Airlines ignored safety violations, leaked sensitive data to the carrier and tried to intimidate two inspectors to head off investigations, according to previously undisclosed allegations by the inspectors.

The Federal Aviation Administration inspectors are scheduled to testify April 3 before the House Transportation Committee. They say others in the agency allowed Southwest to skip critical safety inspections for years. The charges are in government documents provided to USA TODAY.

The federal Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that investigates complaints from whistle-blowers, such as the two inspectors, found a “substantial likelihood” that the allegations are true, according to the documents.

The FAA on Thursday fined Southwest $10.2 million for intentionally flying 46 jets without performing inspections for cracks in the fuselage. The agency also reassigned two FAA managers in the office that oversees Southwest, but has neither identified them nor said when the action occurred.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 1:20 pm

Show much harm, then we’ll act (maybe)

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Sigh:

In 2005, a group of toxicologists published a study suggesting that mothers whose urine contained high levels of an important component of plastics were more likely to have male babies with subtly feminized genitals. This, the first research showing human effects from a group of chemicals known as phthalates, infuriated the plastics industry, stirred an active controversy among toxicologists and kick-started U.S. legislators into taking steps to ban the substance.

On Thursday, with at least eight states contemplating a phthalate ban similar to one California passed last year, the U.S. Senate, while overhauling the Consumer Products Safety Commission, included an amendment to ban phthalates from all children’s toys and products. Hundreds of thousands of tons of phthalates are produced each year and put in plastics used for everything from shower curtains to baby bottle nipples, to make them soft and pliable.

If the amendment, added by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), survives conference committee and is signed by President George W. Bush, Americans will have the same protection that citizens of the European Union have had since 1999, when the EU parliament responded to studies that suggested phthalates might cause harm to baby boys. Since Europe banned the substances from toys, they’ve been joined by countries like China, Romania and Mexico—not usually regarded as ground breakers in public health. How is it that the United States, which used to set the gold standard for public health regulation, has fallen so far behind?

Research done in the 1990s showed that female rats fed phthalates gave birth to male pups with defective genitals. It was such a reproducible effect in the laboratory that scientists started calling it “phthalate syndrome.” Babies and toddlers suck on plastic toys all the time, so there was concern that ingesting too many phthalates could affect testosterone or other male hormones. Little data, until recently, showed human harm, however. So why did Europe act, while U.S. regulators stayed mum?

The answer, as investigative reporter Mark Schapiro ably points out in his new book Exposed, is that Europe has embraced the “precautionary principle,” the idea that when evidence of harm reaches a certain threshold, it’s best to take action to protect people when there’s doubt about safety. In the United States, however, the operating principle is that we shouldn’t act without definitive evidence [which industry does everything possible to hide, to obscure, to question, and to avoid – LG].

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 1:15 pm

Jay Rockefeller, Bush stooge

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Jay Rockefeller, nominally a Democrat, is famous for rolling over on FISA and telecom immunity. And he’s still at it, playing the GOP game for them. Spencer Ackerman:

Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, has always been a hapless sort, prone to getting rolled by the Bush administration and his GOP counterparts on the committee. But this is a new low.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the final phase of the committee’s looooooong delayed report into pre-war intelligence is nearing completion. That phase deals with the question of whether the administration publicly misrepresented what it knew about Saddam Hussein’s (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and (imaginary) ties to al-Qaeda. The answer to that question is Duh. But, reports Greg Miller, the report will perform an expert horticultural examination of each species of tree, at the expense of the forest:

But officials say the report reaches a mixed verdict on the key question of whether the White House misused intelligence to make the case for war.

The document criticizes White House officials for making assertions that failed to reflect disagreements or uncertainties in the underlying intelligence on Iraq, officials said. But the report acknowledges that many claims were consistent with intelligence assessments in circulation at the time.

Because of the nuanced nature of the conclusions, one congressional official familiar with the document said: “The left is not going to be happy. The right is not going to be happy. Nobody is going to be happy.”

Well, which intelligence? Real intelligence? Or Feith-based intelligence ? What intelligence supports the following statement, made by George W. Bush on September 25, 2002:

Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn’t, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world.
Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it’s a comparison that is — I can’t make because I can’t distinguish between the two, because they’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.

Unlike WMD in Iraq, this one really is a slam dunk. And Rockefeller is going to pass back out to the top of the key?

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Congress, Iraq War

Blackwater again

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This is an old dodge they’ve attempted, and it doesn’t work: calling your employees contractors:

Super-private security firm Blackwater has managed to stay out of the headlines for the last couple of months. But that might be about to change.

House oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) released a memorandum this afternoon to committee  members that Blackwater is evading  tax and employment laws by deceptively labeling its armed guard employees as “independent contractors.” In March 2007, the committee found that Blackwater had cost the IRS $50 million by improperly labeling its employees. Today’s report found the following:

  • Blackwater has received $1.25 billion in federal contracts since 2000. Despite this haul, they have asked for—and gotten—special privileges for the government as a “small business.” The State Dept. has awarded Blackwater $144 million in small business set asides since 2000. The reason is that when armed employees are counted as independent contractors their staff is considered small enough for the designation.
  • For six months now, Blackwater has not cooperated with a Department of Labor inquiry into whether they are using discriminatory practices in hiring armed guards. Again, Blackwater has said that they don’t need to follow affirmative actions and anti-discrimination laws because they are hiring contractors not employees.

The next step in these developing scandals could be messy and complicated. But the point Waxman’s memorandum makes is clear: the IRS has determined the armed guards are, in fact, employees. So the latest evidence fuels the suspicion that Blackwater is playing by its own rules and costing the government millions in the process.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 1:08 pm

My collection of shaving stuff…

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Could it be this:

Film-maker Martin Hampton has created a revealing documentary on four people with different degrees of compulsive hoarding, where individuals incessantly collect household objects, even to the point of not being able to throw out rubbish.

Compulsive hoarding is often linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, where affected people experience intrusive thoughts or urges to complete certain actions (most commonly ‘washing’ or ‘checking’) even though they know how seriously these intrusions are affecting their lives.

Hampton’s documentary is a remarkably well made account of people with similar urges, in this case to collect and retain, and just lets the individuals and the images speak for themselves (it is also freely available online as wide screen HD, so looks wonderful).

Apparently the documentary was created as part of a Master’s course in visual anthropology, a field I’d not come across before, but which seems to be concerned with documenting the diversity of human experience through film.

Possessed does this admirably and seems to have garnered numerous awards since its release.

I should add that I just entered into an agreement with another shaver on ShaveMyFace.com that we would buy no shaving stuff for one year.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 12:54 pm

The track of Rove

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Dahlia Lithwick has a good article in Slate:

Almost a year ago, I first wrote about the U.S. attorney purge, trying to sort out how and why eight (at the time) high-ranking federal prosecutors could be fired by the Justice Department en masse, without explanation, in December 2006. At the time I suspected there was no simple explanation for the firings: It was likely a messy combination of White House meddling, Rovian attempts to groom new people for future judgeships, a Cheneyesque power grab for the executive branch, and a bunch of dummies on the ground who just didn’t realize that what they were doing was going to create a huge stink.

Today we know a little bit more about the U.S. attorney firings, thanks to some zealous congressional oversight and award-winning journalistic coverage by Talking Points Memo. We now know, for instance, how completely bogus was the proffered excuse that these U.S. attorneys were fired for so-called “performance-based” reasons. We also know the extent to which virtually every person on the chopping block had done something to evince a lack of “loyalty” to the president—loyalty meaning placing fealty to the GOP over faithfulness to the law. We know that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was completely complicit in these firings while at the same time almost completely uninvolved in the details, most of which were left to unqualified underlings who treated the dismissals as a monthslong game of paintball.

Eleven of those underlings are gone now, as are most of the overlings. But no one has been disciplined or in any way held to account for the firings, in large part because the new overling has no real interest in getting to the bottom of it. In fact Attorney General Michael Mukasey went out of his way last Friday to block the congressional investigation by declining to refer to prosecutors the House’s contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Both of them had claimed some kind of transitive property-executive privilege in refusing to testify about the U.S. attorney purge last year. As Mukasey has argued and Jonathan Turley has decoded, the Bush administration formulation of executive privilege constitutes a perfect legal möbius strip: “[L]awyers cannot commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president—and a president cannot commit a crime when he acts under advice of lawyers.”

Between Mukasey’s obstruction and the 27 billion or so lost White House e-mails, there remains a lot we still don’t know about the purge, and as time goes on, it will be more and more readily consigned to ancient history. Unless of course you’re David Iglesias, former U.S. attorney from New Mexico, who is still struggling to understand what happened to his dream job and why. Iglesias, as you may recall, testified before Congress last year that shortly before the 2006 elections, he received phone calls from Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., asking about the timing of indictments in a public corruption case against a Democratic official. After disappointing both nosy parkers with the news that he wouldn’t peg the indictments to coincide with the elections, Iglesias was added to the DoJ hit list of U.S. attorneys. He was fired shortly thereafter without warning or explanation.

In his forthcoming book about the scandal, In Justice, co-written with Davin Seay, Iglesias attempts to puzzle out who did him in and why. Like another purged colleague, former U.S. Attorney John McKay from Washington’s Western District, who has recently written a long law review article about the firings, Iglesias is persuaded that the nameless, faceless folks who engineered the firings were engaged in serious, if not criminal, wrongdoing. And although the evidence is, he concedes, still mostly circumstantial, one of his chapter titles is “All Roads Lead to Rove.” The mild-mannered McKay, for his part, argues for bringing obstruction of justice charges against Gonzales.

What most shines through in the draft copy of Iglesias’ manuscript, provided to Slate by the author, are the raw politics animating both his dismissal and the subsequent cover-up. Indeed Iglesias describes that at his very first meeting with then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in 2001, which took place shortly after he became a U.S. attorney, Gonzales offered him the following warning: “This is a tough town. They are out to destroy the president, and it is my job to protect him.”

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 12:52 pm

And here come more attacks on Al Gore

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Weird how the global warming deniers focus on Gore instead of on facts. Gore’s irrelevant. The problem is the earth is getting warmer because of increasing loads of CO2 in the atmosphere. At any rate:

Tomorrow, the ultra conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) will launch a new round of television ads attacking former Vice President Al Gore for his leadership on climate change. The right-wing Washington Times gleefully reported on CEI’s ad buy on Saturday:

Al Gore’s opulent lifestyle and his virtuous plea to save the planet from global warming don’t mesh, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which announced plans yesterday for a new national advertising campaign to showcase the contrast before the American public.

In fact, Al Gore has worked diligently to reduce his own carbon impact. After a thorough renovation of his house — complete with a fight to obtain zoning permission for solar panels — Gore has one of the first 14 homes in the United States to receive the LEED gold certification for efficiency and green practices. The renovations “cut the home’s summer electrical consumption by 11 percent compared with a year ago.”

CEI’s campaign simply recycles old partisan smears. According to the Times, CEI is relying on “research released last year by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research,” a conservative group founded by Drew Johnson, who previously worked for the right-wing National Taxpayers Foundation and interned for the Exxon-funded American Enterprise Institute.

CEI is hardly a neutral player either:

– The Washington Monthly reported, “The Competitive Enterprise Institute has been a particularly aggressive advocate of the notion that global warming is a ‘theory not a fact.’” [LINK]

–CEI “adjunct analyst” Donald Boudreaux said in 2006: “the best policy regarding global warming is to neglect it – and let capitalism continue to make us healthier and wealthier.” [LINK]

– CEI has received more than $2 million from ExxonMobil since 1998. [LINK]

– CEI’s global-warming denying position is so radical that last year, ExxonMobil announced it had ceased funding CEI, in an effort to improve its corporate image. [LINK]

– CEI belongs to the State Policy Network, a “voluntary and by invitation-only” coalition of free-market think tanks that includes both the Tennessee Center for Policy Research and the Heartland Institute, which ran last week’s global warming denial conference. [LINK, LINK]

This is not the first time CEI has tried to distract attention from global warming science in order to attack Gore. Last year, it produced two ads asserting the virtues of carbon dioxide. The ad campaign had the Orwellian title, “They call it pollution. We call it life.”

UPDATE: Desmog blog notes that CEI is trying to fundraise off their Gore campaign.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 10:46 am

We’re at a critical point in global warming

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According to scientists, that is—not according to oil and coal companies, whose main concern is to increase profits.

 The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.

Their findings, published in separate journals over the past few weeks, suggest that both industrialized and developing nations must wean themselves off fossil fuels by as early as mid-century in order to prevent warming that could change precipitation patterns and dry up sources of water worldwide.

Using advanced computer models to factor in deep-sea warming and other aspects of the carbon cycle that naturally creates and removes carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists, from countries including the United States, Canada and Germany, are delivering a simple message: The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.

“The question is, what if we don’t want the Earth to warm anymore?” asked Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, co-author of a paper published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “The answer implies a much more radical change to our energy system than people are thinking about.”

Although many nations have been pledging steps to curb emissions for nearly a decade, the world’s output of carbon from human activities totals about 10 billion tons a year and has been steadily rising.

For now, at least, a goal of zero emissions appears well beyond the reach of politicians here and abroad. U.S. leaders are just beginning to grapple with setting any mandatory limit on greenhouse gases. The Senate is poised to vote in June on legislation that would reduce U.S. emissions by 70 percent by 2050; the two Democratic senators running for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), back an 80 percent cut. The Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), supports a 60 percent reduction by mid-century.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 10:43 am

Bad news on domestic surveillance

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Surveillance is increasing. Troublemakers, beware:

Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans’ privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the data-sifting effort didn’t disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people’s communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

NSA

Congress now is hotly debating domestic spying powers under the main law governing U.S. surveillance aimed at foreign threats. An expansion of those powers expired last month and awaits renewal, which could be voted on in the House of Representatives this week. The biggest point of contention over the law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is whether telecommunications and other companies should be made immune from liability for assisting government surveillance.

Largely missing from the public discussion is the role of the highly secretive NSA in analyzing that data, collected through little-known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Supporters say the NSA is serving as a key bulwark against foreign terrorists and that it would be reckless to constrain the agency’s mission. The NSA says it is scrupulously following all applicable laws and that it keeps Congress fully informed of its activities.

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called “transactional” data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA’s own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge’s approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA’s enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world’s main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called “black programs” whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions.

It isn’t clear how many of the different kinds of data are combined and analyzed together in one database by the NSA. An intelligence official said the agency’s work links to about a dozen antiterror programs in all.

A number of NSA employees have expressed concerns that the agency may be overstepping its authority by veering into domestic surveillance. And the constitutional question of whether the government can examine such a large array of information without violating an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy “has never really been resolved,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a national-security lawyer who has worked for both parties on Capitol Hill.

NSA officials say the agency’s own investigations remain focused only on foreign threats, but it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between domestic and international communications in a digital era, so they need to sweep up more information.

In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, then NSA-chief Gen. Michael Hayden has said he used his authority to expand the NSA’s capabilities under a 1981 executive order governing the agency. Another presidential order issued shortly after the attacks, the text of which is classified, opened the door for the NSA to incorporate more domestic data in its searches, one senior intelligence official said.

Keep reading. It gets worse.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 10:40 am

“Balance at all costs” be damned

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Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column today that clearly shows how any thoughtful critique of the GOP today, including the Bush Administration, is dismissed as “unbalanced and unserious.” He provides excellent (and staggering) examples, and concludes:

… Note that none of these dismissals has anything to do with the accuracy of the writer’s critique or how well-documented it is. They just proclaim the critique too extreme and imbalanced, and therefore angry, partisan, overly broad and out of bounds, no different than Limbaugh or Coulter.

This is all just an attempt to limit, control and totally distort political discourse. One is permitted to offer tepid, balanced, respectful critiques of the Bush presidency and the conservative faction that sustained it, but there is a line that one must not cross, regardless of accuracy. Boehlert himself, in writing about the New York Times‘s dismissive review of Blumenthal’s painstakingly well-documented attack on the Bush administration, put it this way:

But what makes this review so irksome is it doubles as a swipe at an entire political movement; a calculated attempt to dismiss and ridicule Bush critics who time and again have been proven right about his incompetence, yet remain MSM targets. Indeed, the Times critique strains mightily to paint Bush critics as “smug,” “unglued,” “condescending,” “berserk”, and “not wholly credible” “loathers” who reside beyond the mainstream. . . .The review does not represent serious journalism or criticism as much as it does the latest round in the MSM game of gotcha against Bush critics who have the nerve to say what most CW-loving media insiders don’t want to hear — Bush’s presidency is a radical one and a failed one.

It is the political and media establishment which supported and enabled the Bush presidency and all of its grotesque excesses. They therefore recoil at any commentary that points out the radicalism and deep corruption of the movement they enabled. And they harbor particular scorn for commentary that points out their role in all of it.Thus, over the last eight years, the “shrill partisan hysterics” are the ones who warned — accurately — of the grave dangers of the Iraq War, documented the radical assault on our system of government, complained of the wholesale degradation of our political discourse and institutions, and objected to the complete erosion of our core political values and identity. Conversely, the Serious, Sober Thinkers were — and remain — the ones who saw both sides, who understood the good and important things the Bush administration was achieving, who vouched for their good intentions, who refrained from strident criticisms and confined themselves to respectful, balanced, supportive analysis.

In reality, it is the preachers of Centrism and Balance who stand exposed as the deeply irresponsible and mindless enablers of the last eight years. We needed far more unvarnished opposition to the administration and the political establishment that supported it, and far less of the Balanced Bush apologists and Centrist Mavens embodied by the likes of David Broder, Fred Hiatt and Joe Klein.

“Balance” and “centrism” are only virtues when prevailing circumstances are actually balanced and centered. When they’re not — as they haven’t been for the last eight years at least — respectful balance and restrained centrism are delusions, self-regarding luxuries, ones that can be as dangerous and destructive as they are slothful and unserious.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 10:28 am

Posted in Media

No torture. No exceptions

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A strong voice, and supported by good arguments. Stop torture now. Bush may love it, but that doesn’t make it right.

This link, via Kevin Drum, is to a special collection of essays arguing against torture. You can download the full set as a PDF. As Kevin Drum says:

The latest issue of the Monthly is devoted to a single subject: torture. An editors’ note explains:

In most issues of the Washington Monthly, we favor articles that we hope will launch a debate. In this issue we seek to end one. The unifying message of the articles that follow is, simply, Stop.

What follows is a set of 37 short essays by writers from all over the political spectrum, from Bob Barr on the right to Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Carter on the left. You can find them all here, and I’ll be highlighting a few of them throughout the week. In one of them, journalist Peter Bergen talks about the torture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

What is perhaps most astonishing of all is that the mistreatment of KSM and bin al-Shibh was entirely unnecessary. Before they were captured, they had explained the details of the 9/11 attacks in an April 2002 interview with Yosri Fouda, an Al Jazeera correspondent….The CIA provided summaries of the interrogations of KSM and bin al-Shibh to the 9/11 Commission. There is little or no difference between the account that KSM and bin al-Shibh freely volunteered to Fouda in the spring of 2002 and the version the commission published in its 2004 report. Nor was Fouda’s reporting difficult to find: he hosted a one-hour documentary on Al Jazeera, wrote a long piece in London’s Sunday Times, and coauthored a book, Masterminds of Terror, about KSM and bin al-Shibh. By the time CIA officials captured the pair, a full account of their operations was only a Google search away.

Obviously, then, it was unnecessary to waterboard KSM to find out what he knew about the 9/11 plot. What, though, of the administration’s assertion that coercive interrogation techniques have saved American lives? To assess that claim, we must examine the details of other terrorist plots that KSM gave up after his capture, presented in a document the government released in 2006:

KSM launched several plots targeting the US Homeland, including a plot in late 2001 to have … suicide operatives hijack a plane over the Pacific and crash it into a skyscraper on the US West Coast; a plan in early 2002 to send al-Qa’ida operatives to conduct attacks in the U.S.; and a plot in early 2003 to employ a network of Pakistanis … to smuggle explosives into New York and to target gas stations, railroad tracks, and a bridge in New York.

It all sounds very frightening, except that there is no indication that these plots were ever more than talk.

In other words, not only was torture unnecessary, but it was actually counterproductive. KSM produced no new information under torture, only a litany of false confessions — maybe out of vanity, maybe in an effort to protect other al-Qaeda operatives. Who knows. What we do know is that torturing KSM did no good, sent hundreds of agents scurrying after phantoms, and has made his prosecution far more difficult than it needed to be.

Most of you reading this hardly need to be convinced on this score. But you almost certainly know people who do need to be convinced — and who need more than just a moral argument. So this is it. The next time somebody asks, tell them the story of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Tell them the story of not just how torture has tainted America’s claim to the moral high ground throughout the world, but how it’s actively hurt the war on terror. Tell them.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 10:20 am

Proteins for vegans

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Useful list:

I’m more interested in traditional, or time-tested, vegan/vegetarian protein alternatives.

This is the list I’ve come up with so far. They are Japanese-centric, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. Do you have any others to add?

  • Soy bean products:
    • Boiled soy beans
    • Green boiled soy beans (edamame)
    • Fermented soybeans (natto)
    • Fermented black soy beans (mostly Chinese)
    • Fermented soy bean paste (miso and related products; Japanese, Chinese, Korean)
    • Tofu and tofu variations – fried, etc.
    • Soy milk
    • Yuba (skimmed soy milk sheets)
    • Tempeh (Southeast Asian)
  • Chickpeas and chickpea products:
    • Hummus
    • Chickpea flour
    • Cooked whole chickpeas
  • Other beans and legumes (also often available ground)
    • Lentils/ Dal
    • Azuki beans (also called red beans)
    • White beans or navy beans
    • Black beans
    • Kidney beans
    • Lots of other beans
  • Whole grains
    • Brown rice and other whole-grain rices (black rice, red rice, etc.)
    • Whole wheat
    • Quinoa (particularly high in protein)
    • Millet
    • Whole oats
    • Buckwheat
    • Amaranth
  • Seeds and nuts and products made from them
    • Sesame seeds
    • Tahini
    • Flax seeds
    • Peanuts
    • Peanut butter
    • Almonds
    • Cashew nuts
    • Walnuts
    • Hazelnuts
    • All kinds of other nuts
  • Other whole foods
    • Chestnuts
    • Chestnut flour
    • Coconut
    • coconut milk
    • Avocado
  • Traditional processed proteins (other than soy bean based ones)
    • Fu
    • Seitan (since the 1960s anyway)
  • Protein-rich sweets
    • An or anko (sweet azuki or white bean paste)
    • Annin dofu (almond jelly, made with agar-agar)
    • Many Indian sweets and Persian sweets are bean, chickpea based
    • Ice cream! (well it is lacto-ovo-vegetarian :))

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 10:11 am

Posted in Food

Flavor your eggs

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Interesting idea:

We know that egg shells are porous and will absorb flavors. Our previous smoked eggs and the proven technique of storing truffles with eggs to infuse them with their flavor may have been the initial spark. Why stop there? What if we could infuse eggs with smoke without putting them in the smoker? That would be quite clever. It turns out that we can. We took raw eggs in their shells and rubbed them with hickory smoke powder from Terra Spice. We let the eggs infuse for twelve hours and the results produced a faintly smoky flavor on the egg. We believe another twelve hours of infusion will produce the balanced smoke flavor we are looking for. The next experiment will be to to make a paste with the smoke powder and water and apply that to the egg shell for complete coverage and more rapid infusion.

If the infusion works with smoke what other essences and infusions will emerge? Fresh herbs and citrus zests and juices, jalapenos and vanilla beans, cinnamon and szechuan peppercorns, ground chiles and evaporated tequila. Freeze dried powders could be a great resource here as well as kasu and miso. The variety of options they provide are almost endless. The aromas will be captured by the egg, which can be served simply, without the inclusion of the ingredient in the egg itself. And if an infusion works, what about soaking eggs in brines. Can we make bacon broth and soak eggs in it? Will we then have bacon in eggs? Imagine the possibilities.

UPDATE:

As it turns out, our initial calculations for infusing eggs with smoke flavor via smoke powder were slightly optimistic. We ended up utilizing the paste method and leaving the eggs in a mixture of smoke powder and water for 48 hours versus our initial plan of twenty four hours in just the powder. Breakfast this morning was a revelation. The smoke flavor was concentrated in the yolk and a bit more delicate in the white. It had a rich and well rounded smoke flavor that evoked visions of country ham and cheesy grits without any of that ancient ashtray flavor that sometimes appears in overly smoked foods. These eggs are amazing. If you have any smoke powder in the pantry get going. They’ll be ready in time for Friday night supper or the perfect weekend breakfast. The results are totally worth the two minutes of effort it will take to make the paste, rub it on the eggs, wrap them up, and leave them in the fridge for two days. Seriously, these eggs will make your meal.

Next up rubbing eggs with flavored oils and letting them infuse for 48 hours, black truffle being the first on deck. We’re also going to rub a few with some pureed lime pickle just for fun. We’ll see what develops this weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 10:08 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

More bacon!

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This goes out especially to Zach. Via Accidental Hedonist, I point you to Candied Bacon Ice Cream. Check out the recipe at the link.

Candied Bacon Ice Cream

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 9:09 am

Boot-up speed-up

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Over the past weeks I’ve had more and more trouble booting up the computer—it got slower and slower, and more erratic as well, not all programs working as they should.

I use Roboform Pro to handle form-filling, passwords, and the like, and when I went to get my new update (updates are all free), they were plugging a program called Registry Booster 2. I thought, “Free scan—why not?” and downloaded and installed the freebie. It did the scan, found 535 Registry problems (missing links and the like: each problem specified), and offered to fix 15 of them. So I ponied up the $30 to buy the program, ran it, and fixed all 535 problems.

Amazing! Rapid boot-up once more, and the weird problems have totally vanished. It was worth $30—plus I can run the program now as I want.

UPDATE: I’ve now found that whenever I uninstall a program, the uninstall procedure leaves errors in the registry. So once you have Registry Booster, it’s good to run it periodically. The “defragment registry” operation (in the same program) also seems to help.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 8:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Super smooth

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Great shave today. The D.R. Harris Almond shave stick produced its usual exceptional lather, this time with the Rooney Style 3 Size 1 Super brush. I put a new Trig blade in the Futur, and the whiskers slid smoothly from my face. The Trig really is a “best blade” for me. YMMV.

The the Gessato shave oil for the oil pass, barely needed, and Agua Lavanda Puïg as the aftershave.

Feeling good.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2008 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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