Sunday, February 29, 2004

Tolkien and Jackson Rule

In an extraordinary sweep of the 76th Academy Awards, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the last in a trilogy based on the epic fantasy by J. R. R. Tolkien, won all 11 Oscars for which it was nominated, including best picture.

The High Cost of Pharmaceuticals
Women, the maker of Viagra has found, are a lot more complicated than men.

After eight years of work and tests involving 3,000 women, Pfizer Inc. announced yesterday that it was abandoning its effort to prove that the impotence drug Viagra improves sexual function in women. The problem, Pfizer researchers found, is that men and women have a fundamentally different relationship between arousal and desire.
Duh! They spend eight years to discover what has been known for aeons and we wonder why the cost of drugs are so high.

Better Late Than Never ...The Resurrection [of the press; not a Mel Gibson sequel]
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, George Tenet was asked why the C.I.A. never picked up the trail of Marwan al-Shehhi, the pilot who crashed Flight 175 into the south tower on 9/11.

Thirty months earlier, German intelligence had passed on a hot tip to the C.I.A.— the Al Qaeda terrorist's first name and phone number.

"The Germans gave us a name, Marwan — that's it — and a phone number," the director of central intelligence replied, adding: "They didn't give us a first and a last name until after 9/11, with then additional data."

For crying out loud. As one guy I know put it: "I've tracked down women across the country with a lot less information than that."
The catchphrase du jour is Donald Trump's snappy, "You're fired." But no one has lost a job over the intelligence failures that led to 9/11 or the war that was trumped up and velcroed to 9/11. In fact, the only people the president and vice president are trying to put out of business are the members of the commission charged with figuring out how 9/11 happened and how to prevent another one.

The White House seems more worried about the public's finding out how much it knew and how little it did before 9/11 than it does about identifying and fixing security weaknesses.

After trying to kill the commission and then trying to put Dr. Strangelove-Kissinger in charge, President Bush and Dick Cheney have done their best to hamper the panel that's the best hope of the 9/11 widows, widowers and orphans to get justice.

"This is not no-fault government," said Lorie Van Auken, a 9/11 widow. "You don't just let people go on doing what they're doing wrong."

It is a triumph of chutzpah for Mr. Bush to thwart the investigation into 9/11 at the same time he seeks re-election by promoting his handling of 9/11 and scaring us with the specter of more terrorism. He's even using 9/11 memorials as the backdrop for his convention in New York.[Nitpicker emphasis]
Gosh Maureen, you guys are quick. Bush, use a backdrop? Yeah, and if your profession continues to let them slide, he'll be dragging the Mission Accomplished banner out of mothballs in November.

Noise Pollution
BERLIN (Reuters) -A German woman took her male neighbor to court for noise pollution after he repeatedly kept her awake through half the night and had at least one four-hour sex session, a court spokeswoman said Friday.
Guess that was the night he had taken Cialis.
Continued Complicity or Newly Found Energy
WASHINGTON - The United States is rounding up and questioning the relatives of fugitive al-Qaida leaders to generate information on the possible whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his top deputies. This tactic helped lead to Saddam Hussein's capture.
Meanwhile, American commanders in Afghanistan have expressed new optimism about finding bin Laden. Late last month, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said the military believes it could seize bin Laden this year, perhaps within months.
Let's say they capture binLaden in October. Doesn't that beg the question as to why they didn't have him, say, last October, or October 2002? The real question is -will the press fall all over themselves praising the Administration for bin Laden's capture as they did in December over the capture of Saddam or will they begin to ask the questions that should have been broached before Iraq was invaded.

Sick, Sick, Sick

Sorry, I had a nasty bout with the flu and then had to play 'catch up' with 'real' work. All better now.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Tomorrow will be a 'No Post' Tuesday

Well, tomorrow marks my first Idaho Caucus. I think we're ready. We have two congressional districts participating in the same location (albeit separate rooms/counts). We're anticipating a turnout of ~1500 (850 last election) - we'll see. Seven 'candidates' (in order of personal preference) have been 'certified' by the state for the caucus: Clark, [Edwards, Kucinich, Dean, Gephardt, Uncommitted] and Kerry. You'll likely know the outcome before I post it here - hey, maybe the press will even report the results as Idaho's instead of Iowa's. Until Wednesday ...

Feelin' Safe Yet?
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is posting a letter on its Web site in hopes that someone will recognize the handwriting and phrases the writer used and help authorities find whoever is sending ricin through the mail.

Hey, I think it's from an old supervisor of mine; maybe I'll write Bob a note.

Just Call Me Rodney
Johnny Depp, in a genuine upset, was named best lead male movie actor for his comedic turn as the flamboyant Capt. Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,' on Sunday night at the 10th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.
I do like Johnny Depp and he was quite entertaining in this role developed from an amusment park ride. Although I missed Sean's performance in 21 Grams during it's short run in our local independent film theater (another amazing performace according to my daughter), I thought he was outstanding in Mystic River, the role for which he was nominated. The guy just gets 'no respect'.

The Show Must Go On
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Monday it opened a criminal investigation of fraud allegations against a unit of Vice President Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton Co., including possible overpricing of fuel delivered to Iraq.
Is anyone delusional enough to believe that a Pentagon investigation will have even a scintilla of value.

Campaign Sludge

Bush, the unelectable is apparently a pot as well.

In Harm's Way
SAN FRANCISCO - California's attorney general plans to ask the state Supreme Court on Friday whether San Francisco's approval of same-sex marriages violates state law .

The Campaign for California Families has argued that the weddings harmed the 61 percent of California voters who in 2000 supported Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that said the state would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman as valid.[Nitpicker emphasis]
Harm: n. physical injury, especially that which is delberately inflicted; material damage; actual or potential ill effect. v. physically injure; have an adverse effect on. I don't see it. However, if that's what you believe, then may I suggest you just get the hell out of harm's way.

How're You doin', eh?

Our neighbors to the north live longer and pay less for care. The reasons why are being debated, but some cite the gap between rich and poor in the U.S.

Want a health tip? Move to Canada.

An impressive array of data shows that Canadians live longer, healthier lives than we do. What's more, they pay roughly half as much per capita as we do ($2,163 versus $4,887 in 2001) for the privilege.

Exactly why Canadians fare better is the subject of considerable academic debate. Some policy experts say it's Canada's single-payer, universal health coverage system. Some think it's because our neighbors to the north use fewer illegal drugs and shoot each other less often with guns (though they smoke and drink with gusto, albeit somewhat less than Americans).

Still others think Canadians are healthier because their medical system is tilted more toward primary care doctors and less toward specialists. And some believe it's something more fundamental: a smaller gap between rich and poor.
There isn't a single measure in which the U.S. excels in the health arena," says Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, a senior lecturer in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington in Seattle. "We spend half of the world's healthcare bill and we are less healthy than all the other rich countries."

"Fifty-five years ago, we were one of the healthiest countries in the world," Bezruchka continues. "What changed? We have increased the gap between rich and poor. Nothing determines the health of a population [more] than the gap between rich and poor."[nitpicker emphasis]

Gauging SecurityRisks in of Iraq
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew to Iraq Monday to gauge security risks ahead of a handover of power to Iraqis and to weigh an insurgency highlighted by a suicide bombing that killed 13 Iraqi policemen.

Gawd I hope we wipe the grins off of their faces in November - before that would be nice. Tumblin'

Sunday, February 22, 2004

A Potatoe by Any Other Name ...

Am I the only one here who's going to speak up for Dan Quayle? This is a role, I must admit, that I never expected to assume.

I do like to think that during the elder George Bush's administration I was not the worst of the Quayle-bashers. Yes, it was obvious whom I had in mind when, during that period, I suggested an amendment to the Constitution making a C average a requirement for the presidency. On the other hand, I was always sympathetic to Mr. Quayle's spelling problems. I happen to have a small deficit in that area myself. In moments of ruthlessly honest self-examination— moments I have always tried to keep to an absolute minimum — I have to admit that I'm still not certain how I would have made that call on the spelling of potato.

Anyway, fair's fair, and it has apparently been left to me to remind everybody of that. What I'm talking about is Mr. Quayle's military service during the Vietnam War. Remember now? When Dan Quayle was chosen by George H. W. Bush to become the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1988, a firestorm broke out on the subject of whether the considerable influence of his family in Indiana had been used to get him a slot in the National Guard.

At the time it was thought that if the jackals of the press, who were in full pursuit, managed to find proof that influence had been used — that he had been jumped over a waiting list of less than influential Hoosiers, one of whom might have gone to Vietnam in place of this cosseted rich boy and been killed — Mr. Quayle would have had difficulty remaining on the ticket.
But in the current furor about George W. Bush's military record it seems to be taken for granted that Mr. Bush got into the so-called Champagne unit of the Texas Air National Guard through influence. The stories begin by saying he was jumped over a 500-man waiting list. Then they quickly go on to investigate the details of his sojourn in Alabama. Using influence to get into the guard and therefore out of Vietnam is no longer disqualifying for "sons of the powerful"; it's assumed. Or could it be that Dan Quayle is judged by stricter standards than other politicians?

That possibility makes it worth taking another look at his academic record. When Mr. Quayle finally authorized the indirect release of his marks, for a long Washington Post profile by Bob Woodward and David Broder — a profile, I should mention, that was much more favorable than people had expected — it turned out that he'd had a C+ average. George W. Bush had a straight C. Dick Cheney flunked out of Yale twice. Nobody accuses them of not being able to spell potato. I bring up these matters not to embarrass the president and the vice president. They have enough embarrassments as it is. But fair's fair.[Nitpicker emphasis]

Who would have thought at the time that we were no where near the bottom of that barrel.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

So Far, So Good
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A San Francisco judge on Friday denied a request by a conservative family values group to stop the city from performing same-sex weddings that now number in the thousands after Mayor Gavin Newsom lifted a ban on gay marriages last week.

John Kerry's The Man

Okay, not really. However, our caucus is this Tuesday and he did bring Carole King in for a free concert that I went to this evening. Hey, that's fair given the eventuality that in the general election I may have to close my eyes, plug my nose, grit my teeth and remove the chad by his name. Anyway, the concert was in a club, the Blues Bouquet, it was standing room only and many were turned away by the fire marshall. Ms. King decided to do 'split sets' and asked that those currently in the club leave after the first set to allow the others in for the second. So, the downside was I only got to listen to her for about one hour instead of two but she was fabulous. This woman is 62 years old now and hasn't changed much in the few years, okay decades, since I saw her last. She is the same crowd pleaser she was when we paid $8.50 for eighth row seats. We all remembered the words and she had everyone stomping their feet and clapping their hands so that we all could ...Feel the Earth Move under our feet. I'm listening to Tapestry in iTunes while I look around and see what's been happening in the news and around the blogs. I have to be up early and have many Democratic things going on this weekend in preparation for the caucus (I'm the legislative chair for my district). We had a central committee meeting last night with the largest turnout ever and we're expecting more of the same for the caucus. So, blogging will be light 'til after the caucus on Tuesday.

Friday, February 20, 2004

The 'Tell' Returns

"Close your eyes, cover your ears and chant "la-la-la-la-la--la-la-la…I can't hear you". Well, at least that's what the 'troops' over at the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal would have you do. How do we know this? Simple. Kerfuffle.

Nitpicker's very own Terry previously made the astute observation that whenever James Taranto, et al would most like to use slight of hand or misdirection, to have you believe that the topic of discussion is really much ado about nothing, they invariably resort to using the word, kerfuffle.

They have invoked kerfuffle (meaning commotion or fuss) over the 2000 election re-count, Iraq's WMDs, gay rights and same-sex marriage, the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame as well as other topics - you get the picture. I'm amazed we haven't seen an opinion piece on the National Guard kerfuffle (maybe I missed it) but I digress.

In previous iterations of the Plame kerfuffle (cited here) they would have us believe it was nothing more than an insubstantial scandal but perhaps the Grand Jury investigation has dissuaded them from that argument.

In their latest iteration they would have us believe that all journalists are calling for Robert Novak to reveal his sources and in doing so they are abandoning their principles. Of course they are doing this only because the ethically superior Mr. Novak is a "conservative journalist" -let's call it the "Novak Exception". Never mind that, in actuality, journalists are split as to whether confidentiality should be breached. Never mind that Novak has revealed his source before. Most of all, ignore the fact that journalists don't withhold sources because of some sense of journalistic integrity, they do so for the very self-serving motivation of maintaining those sources to further their careers.

Nothing to see here folks, the CIA didn't prevent Novak from publishing, Mr. Wilson's just looking for headlines (I mean he supports Kerry), the grand jury depositions are just looking for scapegoats … Kerfuffle? Indeed.

My thanks to our good friend and fellow blogger Sadly, No! for bringing the WSJ article (that Terry would have posted on given the opportunity) to my attention.

My apologies to Terry for the inadequacy of my posting.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Here We Go
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- International inspectors have discovered uranium enrichment centrifuge parts in Iran that are much more sophisticated than the type Tehran has admitted to having, a senior Bush administration official said Thursday.

International Atomic Energy Agency officials found 'P-2' centrifuge parts that are 'far superior, more sophisticated than anything' that the Iranians have revealed publicly, the official said.[Nitpicker emphasis]
While there's little dispute that Iran (unlike some other country that shall go unnamed) has been developing nuclear capabilities, I think there will be a little more skepticism of the Administration's assessment of those capabilities this time around. Let's just hope their evidence of centrifuges consists of more than satellite photos:

San Francisco Takes a Large Bite
SAN FRANCISCO -- After sanctioning more than 2,700 gay marriages in the past week, the city said Thursday it is suing the state of California, challenging its ban on same-sex marriages on constitutional grounds.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera planned to file the suit in the afternoon, said his spokesman, Matt Dorsey.

Two judges already are considering challenges from conservative groups seeking to halt the marriage spree that began last Thursday. The city's lawsuit asks that those cases be consolidated into one case.

The city is asking Superior Court Judge James Warren to declare unconstitutional two sections of the California Family Code that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

City officials want the judge to determine if restricting same-sex couples from marrying violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the California Constitution.

The Devil's in the Details

On the worksheet, Bacanovic made circles, check marks and other notations in blue ink on the document. The “(at)60” mark, also in blue ink, is underlined, and appears next to an entry for Stewart’s 3,928 shares of ImClone.

Bacanovic claims he and Stewart struck the $60 agreement days before she sold her stock on Dec. 27, 2001. The next day, the government declined to review an ImClone cancer-fighting drug, sending the stock price into a sharp decline.

Lawyers for Bacanovic and Stewart are expected to argue that Bacanovic simply picked up a different pen to make the “(at)60” notation — not that he filled it in later to back up a cover story.

The ink expert’s testimony gave a detective-novel aspect to trial that, for four weeks, has dealt heavily in stock charts and arcane financial terms.

Jurors saw photographs of infrared testing of Bacanovic’s worksheet. Most marks on the sheet appeared black under infrared light, but the “(at)60” notation glowed white.

Larry Stewart testified that ultraviolet-light and chromatography testing had confirmed the inks were distinct.[Nitpicker emphasis]
It's always the little things. Of course, Stewart's attorneys will argue that Bacanovic merely picked up another pen from his desk and it doesn't mean that the entry was added at a later date but... Personally, I think prosecuting Martha is a crock and a waste of taxpayers' dollars; she's a prominent scapegoat -period. I believe she did what any sane person would do when "receiving" information on status of ImClone stock- so fine, prosecute Waksal and Bacanovic for insider trading and Stewart for being human. However, I can't help thinking that if she had just come clean from the start, she'd have received little more than a slap on the wrist.

Justice a l'Orange:The Administration's Missteps - A Movie

Via MotherJones
...Okay, it's a modern trailer, so let me just give away the plot right up front: The Bush administration has been in trouble ever since its arrogance met its incompetence at Intelligence Pass last summer; ever since Plame Gate began (see below), ever since George's guys tried to solve their problems -- all those already nagging lies and exaggerations, all the fun and games that panicked a country into war -- by throwing CIA director George Tenet to the sharks, and he refused to walk the plank.[Nitpicker emphasis]
An essay about the "growing gaggle of barely supressed scandals" - have a read. Tumblin'

We Tossed a Coin; Iraq Lost

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 — In the Bush administration, it is considered heresy to suggest postponing the planned return of sovereignty to Iraq. Turning over control by June 30, administration officials say, is crucial to assuaging Iraqi distress over living under American occupationthe pResident's election bid.

Yet in recent weeks, diplomats and even some in the administration have begun to worry that the date reflects more concern for American politics than Iraqi democracy. Their fear is that an untested government taking power on June 30 may not be strong enough to withstand the pressures bearing down on it.[Nitpicker editing]

Kerry Lobbied for Contractor -Not Halliburton
Between 1996 and 1999, Kerry participated in a letter-writing campaign to free up federal funds for a guided missile system that defense contractor Parthasarathi 'Bob' Majumder was trying to build for U.S. warplanes.

Majumder's firm, Science and Applied Technology Inc., was paid more than $150 million to design and develop the program in the 1990s. But the program ran into some stumbling blocks at the Pentagon.

Kerry's letters were sent to fellow members of Congress — and to the Pentagon — while Majumder and his employees were donating money to the senator, court records show. During the three-year period, Kerry received about $25,000 from Majumder and his employees, according to Dwight L. Morris & Associates, which tracks campaign donations.[Nitpicker emphasis]
Wow! $25,000 in a span of three years, that's enough to influence...what exactly? Stumbling blocks at the Pentagon - guess they didn't have strong enough ties to Cheney. Oh wait, this was before 2001. I'm no fan of Kerry but this is ...weak.

Off Sides -Offense
DENVER (Reuters) - The head football coach at the University of Colorado has been placed on Yahoo! News - Colorado University Football Coach Put on Leavepaid leave about two hours after a police report said he warned a woman that he would back one of his players 100 percent if she reported being raped to the police, officials announced.

Head coach Gary Barnett was placed on administrative leave late Wednesday pending an investigation by an independent panel into the coach's comments as well as a growing controversy about the school using alcohol and sex parties to recruit star athletes.
The university has been embroiled in controversy over charges that star athletes were recruited with the lure of alcohol and sex parties. The school has been sued by three women who said they were raped at or shortly after an off-campus recruiting party in 2001.

On Tuesday, former player Katie Hnida, the only woman to ever play on the school's football team, told Sports Illustrated magazine that she had been subjected to lewd comments by other players, groped in team huddles and raped by a teammate.
Barnett tried to explain why Hnida had been harassed, said she was an awful player who was not respected by team members.

"You know what guys do; they respect your ability. Katie was a girl, and not only was she a girl, she was terrible. She couldn't kick the ball through the uprights," he said.[Nitpicker emphasis]
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Barnett is guilty of stupidity.

Sweat This, Ken
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Former Enron Corp. chief executive Jeff Skilling was charged with multiple counts of fraud, insider trading and giving false statements to auditors in a federal indictment released on Thursday.

The 42-count indictment also includes new charges against former Enron chief accounting officer Rick Causey, who pleaded not guilty to six fraud counts last month.

Skilling, 50, turned himself in to the FBI and was taken to the federal courthouse in downtown Houston on Thursday, where he awaited a court hearing. can almost taste Ken's sweat. Walls keep tumblin'

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Violence in the Cosmos

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A big black hole ripped apart a sun-like star, gobbled a bit of it and flung the rest out into the cosmic neighborhood in an act of celestial gluttony caught by two orbiting observatories, scientists said on Wednesday.

The doomed star probably went off-course and into the supermassive black hole's path after a close encounter with another star, according to astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory.

As the star approached the heart of a galaxy some 700 million light-years from Earth, the black hole lurking there stretched the star and ultimately tore it into bits. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

'Stars can survive being stretched a small amount ... but this star was stretched beyond its breaking point,' said Stefanie Komossa, leader of the international team of researchers who detected the event.

'This unlucky star just wandered into the wrong neighborhood,' Komossa said in a statement.

Aside from the sheer violence of the event, astronomers believe this is strong evidence to support a long-held theory that black holes are capable of pulling in cosmic bodies, stretching them until they break and then consuming them.

'This is one of the Holy Grails of astronomy,' Alex Filippenko, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said at a briefing at NASA headquarters.
I'm not a fan of violence but this really is fantastic isn't it?

When is a Group of Cells a Baby?

A rose is a rose is a rose, even if ? like many commercial plants ? it is essentially a clone. But is a normal human blastocyst, a microscopic bubble of proto-life that forms about five days after sperm meets egg, the same as a cloned blastocyst ?

That may seem an arcane technical question in the debate about human cloning, reignited last week with the announcement by South Korean scientists that they had cloned a human embryo and harvested embryonic stem cells from it. But scientists, politicians and bioethicists have been grappling for years with the biological and moral subtleties encapsulated by that tiny dot of tissue.

The future of human therapeutic cloning in this country ? the laws governing it, the knowledge to be gained from it, the ethical costs of doing it and the medicines it might eventually bestow ? may hinge on how society views that question.
The South Korean group did not try to create a baby. The promise of therapeutic cloning, still theoretical, derives from the following premise. By introducing the DNA of an adult human cell into a human egg whose nucleus has been removed, the resulting hybrid cell can be induced to behave like a fertilized egg. Like a normal embryo, it begins its development as a single cell, but it contains the genetic payload ? and, presumably, the immunological identity ? of the adult patient. Treatment, not children, is the ultimate point of the exercise.

But cloned embryos may not be genetically equivalent to normal embryos. Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch, an expert on the genetics of animal cloning at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., has published studies showing that cloned mice are riddled with genetic abnormalities. Those glitches suggest that a cloned embryo would have "little if any potential to ever develop into a normal human being."

When an egg cell reprograms the DNA of an adult cell during a cloning experiment, Dr. Jaenisch said, the process is probably incomplete ? raising the possibility that genes in the cloned embryo are not activated (or "expressed") at the right time, in the right amount, and properly suppressed when not needed.

Gene regulation of this sort is especially significant in a class of genes known as imprinting genes, which play a crucial role in fetal development. "We think that 30 to 50 percent of imprinted genes are not properly expressed in clones," Dr. Jaenisch said, "and imprinting genes are mostly important for pre-natal development."

As a result, he said, the South Korean approach may be "useful for therapy, but not useful for cloning." Dr. Daley, who with Dr. Jaenisch published one of the first animal experiments suggesting the promise of therapeutic cloning, said, "All of the concerns and risks of mammalian reproductive cloning have not changed with this paper.
In addition to being a notoriously inefficient procedure, animal cloning has produced many animals with conspicuous developmental problems, like respiratory illnesses and overly large placentas. Dolly the cloned sheep suffered from premature arthritis before dying last year. Such genetic dysfunction is one reason for nearly unanimous scientific opposition to reproductive cloning. As Dr. Daley put it: "As a scientist, I would be willing to support a ban on reproductive cloning, if it allows us to pursue legitimate therapeutic research. That is the most rational way of approaching the debate."

But Dr. Jaenisch also made a distinction between cloned embryos and the kind of blastocysts formed during normal reproduction, including embryos fertilized in vitro. "When you really think about an I.V.F. embryo that rests in a deep freeze, it only has three fates," he said. "It can be destroyed, it can be implanted into a woman or it can be converted into embryonic stem cells. When you make embryonic stem cells, you do destroy an embryo, and that is an ethical issue.

"Cloned embryos also have three fates. "They can be destroyed, they can be used to make normal embryonic stem cells tailored to the needs of patients, but they cannot make a normal baby. In my opinion, the destruction of a cloned embryo to make embryonic stem cells poses less ethical problems than the destruction of frozen embryos in the I.V.F. clinic."

Dr. Thomas H. Murray, president of the Hastings Center in Garrison, N.Y., says this scientific distinction has moral import. "What are the ethical implications if embryos created in this way are not viable, or severely impaired?" he asked. "If Rudy Jaenisch is right, if embryos created by cloning are a fairly abnormal ball of cells, that would compel us to think very hard about what moral meaning to attach to such an entity."

Such a scientific distinction, Dr. Murray also noted, could "complicate" a split in the anti-abortion movement that emerged several years ago during the debate over stem cell research and cloning. Several prominent abortion opponents, including Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, supported federal financing for stem cell research; Mr. Hatch has also co-sponsored legislation allowing therapeutic cloning while prohibiting reproductive cloning.[Nitpicker emphasis]

As the article intimates, scientific knowledge as well as technology, has a ways to go before human reproductive cloning will be a reality. What of the Human Genome Project? Remember how it was going to result in the identification of all these 'disease' genes as well as diagnostic tests and therapeutic treatments? In reality, as most scientists (without financial/professional gain from the project) would acknowledge, knowing the sequence of the 3 billion basepairs was much ado about not very much. Knowing the sequence of a given gene tells little of its function and nothing of the regulation of its expression. Distinctions are important and hopefully with respect to therapeutic cloning, they will be made clear so that scientific advances in the U.S. will not be hampered by the misunderstanding of anti-abortion proponents in Congress.

Fuzzy Math Science
The Bush administration has deliberately and systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad, a group of about 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, said in a statement issued today.

The sweeping charges were later discussed in a conference call with some of the scientists that was organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent organization that focuses on technical issues and has often taken stands at odds with administration policy. The organization also issued a 37-page report today that it said detailed the accusations.

Together, the two documents accuse the administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice, and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases.

'Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front,' the statement from the scientists said, adding that they believed the administration had 'misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.[Nitpicker emphasis]
Tumblin', tumblin', tumblin' ...

Another One Down
BURLINGTON, Vt. - Howard Dean will end his campaign for the presidential nomination and launch a new 'campaign for change' within the Democratic Party to keep his issues alive and his supporters organized, a key campaign aide said Wednesday.

The former Vermont governor, who went winless in 17 caucuses and primaries after falling from leading contender early in the year, does not intend to endorse either John Kerry or John Edwards, the aide said on condition of anonymity. Dean has been impressed with Edwards and suggested on the campaign trail that he would make a better nominee, but Dean has decided to stay out of the Kerry-Edwards contest, the aide said.

Dean was planning to call both men before publicly announcing his withdrawal from the race.
I was rather hoping that he would endorse Edwards so we'd at least have a 'race' but I concur with suburbanguerrilla, Dean as next DNC chair would be excellent.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Removing All Doubt


"A woman can take care of the family. It takes a man to provide structure, to provide stability."

— Tom DeLay

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt.[Samuel Johnson 1709-1784]

A Picture's Worth a Thousand...Okay, It is the Words
Via Newsday

The Lottery
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - James Groscup thought he would never see his prized trombone again after the custom-made instrument he had played for 20 years was stolen from his van.

But, thanks to a quirk of fate, Groscup and his cherished trombone are making music again, and the notes couldn't be sweeter.

'I've got something I thought I would never, ever see again,' said Groscup, a Charleston musician.

The trombone, which was stolen in January, turned up recently in the trunk of a stolen car that Charleston police had recovered and returned to the owner. The man drove the car for several days before he opened the trunk to retrieve a pair of jumper cables and found the trombone, Groscup said.

The man took the instrument to David Stern, South Charleston High School's show choir director, Groscup said.

Stern didn't need the trombone, so he offered it to Brad Bradley, director of American Federation of Musicians Local 136. The musicians' union furbishes old instruments and gives them to low-income kids.

After hearing a brief description, Bradley said he knew the trombone was Groscup's so he arranged for the two men to meet. On Feb. 10, Groscup and his trombone were reunited.
Don't you just love happy endings.

Soaring Away From Extinction

CONCRETE, Wash. -- So many bald eagles swoop down from the treetops to pluck their breakfast from the Skagit River, you wouldn't think they were a threatened species.

Technically, they aren't. But because they're found in every one of the lower 48 states, it's taking the federal government longer than expected to get them reclassified — an initiative the Clinton administration pitched 4 1/2 years ago.

"It's like Pandora's box. It seems like a simple thing, but it's not when you start delving into it," said Cindy Hoffman, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman in the agency's Washington, D.C., office.

Once the government says an animal is ready to be taken off the list, it usually takes about a year for it to happen. That's because most federally protected species inhabit relatively small areas, Hoffman said.

The bald eagle's territory, by comparison, stretches over much of the North American continent, with tens of thousands living in Alaska and British Columbia. The most recent survey in the contiguous United States counted nearly 6,500 nesting pairs in 2000 — up from just 417 in 1963.

Drafting a post-recovery plan for such a huge range requires updated counts in each state and directives that factor in eagle-protection rules certain states already have in place — rendering a one-size-fits-all transition impossible.

Despite its status as the nation's symbol, eagles were frequently shot and killed throughout most of the 1800s and early 1900s, in many cases by ranchers who complained the birds preyed on their sheep. Shoreline development and logging led to widespread habitat loss, and after World War II, use of DDT and other pesticides that weakened egg shells sent the bald eagle's birth rate plummeting.

The first move to protect the majestic birds came in 1940 with the federal Bald Eagle Protection act, later revised to include the golden eagle. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT, saying the bald eagle was teetering on the brink of extinction outside Alaska.

In 1978, Fish and Wildlife listed the bald eagle as endangered in 43 states and threatened in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. By 1995, the species had rebounded enough to be reclassified as threatened throughout the lower 48

Every year from November to March, as many as 500 bald eagles flock south to the Skagit River Basin, drawn by spawning chum salmon. Several other Western Washington rivers lure impressive numbers of eagles, including the Sauk, Siuattle, Skykomish, Stillaguamish and Nooksack.

Wintering eagles spread far and wide — from northern California to Montana to Arizona — but no state hosts more of them year after year than Washington. Some stay year-round, but most migrate north to breed.[Nitpicker emphasis]
...and to think Ben Franklin wanted the turkey for our national symbol.

Homeland Security
WASHINGTON -- The former chief internal watchdog at the FBI has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl and has admitted he had a history of molesting other children before he joined the bureau for a two-decade career.

John H. Conditt Jr., 53, who retired in 2001, was sentenced last Friday to 12 years in prison in Tarrant County court in Fort Worth, Texas, after he admitted he molested the daughter of two FBI agents after he retired. He acknowledged molesting at least two other girls before his law enforcement career, his lawyer said.[Nitpicker emphasis]

It would appear the FBI has a little difficulty with routine background investigations - do you feel safer?

It Depends on What Your Definition of 'with us' Is
At the very start of his Meet the Press interview, Bush said, "I'm a war President." Winning the "war" that he declared has been this President's stated mission, and it is how he will be judged. From the days immediately following Sept. 11, the rhetoric has been stark and bellicose. "You're either with us or against us," he warned early on. Any country that "harbors or supports terrorism will be regarded as a hostile regime." But Bush's actions, except for Iraq, haven't matched the dire nature of the threat described—and his rhetoric has betrayed a moral simplicity that misrepresents the true difficulties of the struggle. Take the "with us or against us" point: Saudi Arabia is the primary funder of Islamic radicalism in the world. Pakistan is the primary residence of the most dangerous terrorists. Both are nominally "with" us.

The Saudis represent a particularly serious problem. Bush hasn't had very much to say about them. Indeed, the Bush and the al-Saud families have a long history of personal friendship and business dealings—and this relationship may soon become an issue in the presidential election. "Bush has not only been passive regarding the Saudis," says Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "He has covered up for them." Graham is infuriated by Bush's refusal to release 21 pages of the Senate's investigation into the 9/11 attacks—allegedly the section dealing with Saudi involvement—and by the Administration's reluctance to cooperate with the independent 9/11 commission. "I think we'll eventually find that people who had positions of responsibility in the Saudi government were facilitating the funding of some, if not all, of the hijackers," he says.

For the past quarter-century, the Saudis have financed jihadist movements and radical schools throughout the Islamic world. They have changed the very nature of Islamic practice—making it less tolerant—in formerly moderate countries like Pakistan. The recent discovery that a Pakistani ring supplied some of the world's worst governments with nuclear technology only served to emphasize the contradictory nature of our "friendship" with that fragile country. "It's true the Pakistanis have helped us to capture some of the leading al-Qaeda figures," says Jessica Stern of Harvard, a terrorism expert. "But you also have to wonder: Why do we find them all in Pakistan?"

President Bush once famously told Senator Joe Biden, "I don't do nuance." But the struggle against Islamic radicalism is a festival of nuance. It is not quite a war, and it doesn't yield easily to simple notions of good and evil, friend and foe. We need the limited cooperation we get from the Pakistanis, and we certainly need Saudi oil. Even those, like Graham, who see the Saudis as the root of the problem, are calling for little more than a public statement of the facts—in the hope that the Saudis will be shamed into modifying their dreadful behavior. Bush has called for even less. His war of choice has featured lots of bombs and boots, lots of highfalutin moral rhetoric and patriotic visuals, but absolutely no public sacrifice—no steps to make America less dependent on Saudi oil; not even the taxes needed to pay for the occupation of Iraq. He is having trouble defending his dangerously simple policies, for good reason.[Nitpicker emphasis]

No Campaigning on the Track
As we all know, George W. Bush opened the Daytona 500 race on Sunday not, or not principally, because he "likes speed," but because he buys the conventional wisdom that there's guy out there called the "NASCAR dad" -- lots of them, actually -- whose vote is up for grabs in November.
Regardless of the meaning of NASCAR dad, Bush’s appearance at the Daytona race did guarantee him face time with 180,000 people from the stands, and 35 million on TV. And even though not all fans feel the same way, NASCAR chairman Brian France said at the track on Sunday: "This is George Bush country here."

The Washington Post points out that when NBC interrupted race coverage on TV for a shot of Air Force One flying over the track and into the clouds, "he got a last shot of publicity that no opponent could buy."

So don’t be surprised to see John Kerry, or (ritual disclaimer) whoever the Democratic nominee is, at a NASCAR event or two. Of course, unlike Bush, whose trip to the Daytona 500 was called "nonpolitical" and thus tabbed to the taxpayer, Kerry will have to pay his own way.[Nitpicker emphasis]

Nothing political - a mere coincidence the last race Shrub attended was in 2000.

We're Open to Ideas Outta Here

The United States remains committed to giving the Iraqi people control getting the hell out of their country by July 1 but is open to ideas from the United Nations about how an interim government is chosen, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday.

Marking time until he hears from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan later in the week, Powell said ''we've got an open mind on it.'' He spoke against the backdrop of reports of defections within the U.S.-appointed Governing Council from a plan to choose an Iraqi interim government through caucuses.
The plan approved last November by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III and the Governing Council calls for caucuses to be held in Iraq's 18 provinces. Then 15-member selection committees, chosen by the Council and local councils, would screen participants who would select an interim assembly.

The U.S. occupation would end July 1, and direct elections would not be held in Iraq until next year.

Objecting to the complex, indirect plan, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and other Shiite clerics have demanded direct elections for the assembly while some members of the Governing Council who approved the plan in the first place are said now to want to abandon the caucus approach and have the council assume sovereignty until elections are held.

Powell said he was withholding judgment until he received a report from Lakhdar Brahimi, a U.N. official whom Annan sent to Iraq for an assessment.

If Annan decides that elections are not possible by the July 1 target date for restoration of Iraqi sovereignty, he is expected to recommend other possible options. The final decision will be made by the U.S.-led coalition now running Iraq and the Iraqi Governing Council.

Annan told reporters Tuesday in New York that he hoped his conclusion ''is going to be helpful.''

Powell raised the possibility, meanwhile, that elections might be held at the end of this year.

He said nobody believes full elections possibly could be held before July 1. ''But at some point in the future, whether it's the end of this year or sometime next year remains to be determined,'' he said.

''Whoever we transfer sovereignty to at the end of June would be an interim arrangement of some kind until you get into a full, ratified constitution, elections and a government that flows from those elections at some point in the future,'' Powell said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher suggested, meanwhile, that while the United Nations had a role to play it was an auxiliary one.

''We're looking to hear from the United Nations,'' he said. ''We have always said that we think U.N. views on these matters are important. We think the U.N. does bring to bear a particular U.N. expertise, including Mr. Brahimi's expertise. So we look forward to seeing what he had to say.''

With the U.S. presidential election campaign heating up, the war in Iraq and the postwar American occupation are significant political issues.

U.S. peacekeepers and Iraqi security forces are struggling with Iraqi and foreign fighters. Since President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq last March to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, 540544 U.S. soldiers have died. And, U.N. and U.S. inspectors have not found the storehouses of weapons of mass destruction he said Saddam had hidden.[Nitpicker emphasis]
I could have sworn the Administration intimated that the UN was irrelevant but then I thought Iraq was an imminent threat because they knew Saddam had WMDS - they even knew where they were as I recall -my bad.

Perception Over Reality in War on Terra Results in Subpeona for Ashscroft
WASHINGTON - A federal prosecutor in a major terrorism case in Detroit has taken the rare step of suing Attorney General John Ashcroftt, alleging the Justice Department interfered with the case, compromised a confidential informant and exaggerated results in the war on terrorism.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino of Detroit accused the Justice Department of "gross mismanagement" of the war on terrorism in a lawsuit filed late Friday in federal court in Washington.

Justice officials said Tuesday they had not seen the suit and had no comment.

The suit is the latest twist in the Bush administration's first major post-Sept. 11 terrorism prosecution, which is now in danger of unraveling over allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Convertino came under internal Justice Department investigation last fall after providing information to a Senate committee about his concerns about the war on terror. His testimony came just months after he helped convict some members of an alleged terrorism cell in Detroit.

Evidence wasn't shared
The government now admits it failed to turn over evidence during the trial that might have assisted the defense, including an allegation from an imprisoned drug gang leader who claimed the government's key witness made up his story.

Convertino is seeking damages under the Privacy Act, alleging he has been subjected to an internal investigation as retaliation for his cooperation with the Senate and that information from the internal probe was wrongly leaked to news media.

The lawsuit states Convertino first complained to his superiors more than a year ago about the Justice Department's interference in the Detroit terrorism trial, saying Washington supervisors "had continuously placed perception over reality to the serious detriment of the war on terror."[Nitpicker emphasis]

...and the walls keep tumblin' down

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Sanctity of the Catholic Church
NEW YORK (AP) -- A draft of the upcoming national survey of sex abuse claims against Roman Catholic priests has been viewed by CNN, which reported Monday that 4,450 clergy have been accused of molesting minors since 1950.

The draft survey said 11,000 abuse claims have been filed against the U.S. churchmen during that period, CNN reported.

The survey is being overseen by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel the American bishops formed, and conducted by researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

John Jay refused to comment on the CNN report, while board members contacted Monday by The Associated Press wouldn't say whether or not the latest statistics were accurate. They stressed the report is not finished, and that any numbers tallied so far could change before the study is released Feb. 27.

The figures are roughly in keeping with a trend the AP reported on last week.

Some individual dioceses have released the abuse statistics they compiled for the national survey, and the AP has been tracking those reports. Through Monday, 84 of 195 U.S. dioceses had reported claims - with 1,413 clergy accused of abuse since 1950. Tens of thousands of priests worked in those dioceses during that period.

The number of accused clergy is already much greater than the scope of abuse previously estimated by victims' groups and the media.

'I would hope that the public would kind of withhold any immediate judgment until they get the full story on Feb. 27th,' said Leon Panetta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff and a National Review Board member.[Nitpicker emphasis]
Yes, we wouldn't want to make any moral judgments - it's not as though these priests (that have been protected by 'the church') were in consensual, loving same-sex relationships and wanted the right to marry.

Still No Ties
The discovery of a memo attributed to terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that calls for incitement of civil war in Iraq raises questions again about whether Saddam Hussein, as the Bush administration claimed, once plotted with Al Qaeda.

But al-Zarqawi's memo--trumpeted by the Americans as a "blueprint for terror"--also should sound alarms about whether the U.S.-led war opened Iraq to global terrorism by making it unstable, insecure and ripe for exploitation.

Counterterrorism experts still are mulling over the al-Zarqawi find, and its credibility has not been proved. But the memo, 17 pages of an Arabic missive found in a compact disc held by a known courier of Al Qaeda, adds luster to al-Zarqawi's reputation as a dangerous and highly motivated operator in international terrorism and a senior ally of and collaborator with Al Qaeda.

His boastful screed lends credence to the notion that terrorist attacks now are coordinated in Iraq and that al-Zarqawi, since the U.S. invasion, has helped carry out such attacks and sees Iraq as fertile ground for terrorist growth.

There is nothing in the memo, however, that confirms or bolsters some key prewar White House claims: that al-Zarqawi was operating in the north as a leader of an Al Qaeda affiliate known as Ansar al-Islam, that he had set up a camp to produce deadly poisons and that, with Hussein's blessing and cooperation, he had moved people, money and supplies in and out of Iraq for months.

A curious omission

If al-Zarqawi were involved in prewar activities in Iraq, it would be a curious omission in a memo by a terrorist who was trying to foment rage against the country's majority Shiite Muslim population and was calling for kidnappings and killings of Americans in Iraq.

Al-Zarqawi, 37, has been a nimble, destructive point man among radical Islamists for years. He is a round-faced Jordanian whose real name is Ahmed al-Khalayleh and, like Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, he is a veteran of the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

In 1999, al-Zarqawi was tied to a part of the so-called Millennium Plot in which and Al Qaeda schemed to blow up the Radisson Hotel and religious sites in Amman, Jordan. He lost a leg during the U.S-led war against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan (news - web sites). He was convicted in absentia in the October 2002 slaying of a U.S. government employee Laurence Foley in Amman. German intelligence reportedly views al-Zarqawi as one of the major coordinators of Iranian-sponsored terrorism and Al Qaeda.

What is not known is when or how al-Zarqawi found Iraq a convenient place to work.

Terrorism expert and former FBI analyst Matthew Levitt, who has studied al-Zarqawi, noted that the memo reveals the ambitions of the "most frenetic operator working on behalf of Al Qaeda," but it does not provide ammunition for those out to prove that Al Qaeda and Hussein were in cahoots before the war.

"When people say `I told you so'" by linking the memo to prewar activities, "I'm skeptical," said Levitt, now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Role of foreign fighters

Al-Zarqawi's letter also adds tension to the debate among the U.S. military and intelligence communities over whether foreign fighters play a significant role in the insurgency in Iraq. U.S. Army commanders have downplayed the likelihood that the attacks have been coordinated and planned by outsiders.

But last week a military commander in charge of operations described al-Zarqawi as "the most capable terrorist in Iraq today" and emphasized that, in the memo, al-Zarqawi lays claim to 25 attacks in Iraq.

With that information and with what officials would describe only as developing intelligence, the coalition last week blamed two of the most devastating, unsolved attacks in Iraq--deadly bombings of the UN headquarters in Baghdad and the Ali Imam mosque in Najaf--on al-Zarqawi. They doubled a bounty for his capture and dubbed him the "wild card" in the administration's deck of cards in Iraq: a new $10 million man.

The coalition did little to explain why al-Zarqawi is implicated. Officials rebuffed questions about forensic evidence or whether other means, signal intelligence or intercepts, provided the link. Law-enforcement sources familiar with both bombings, however, say that as far as they know, forensic tests have not tied al-Zarqawi to either.

Daniel Benjamin, a former director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff, said the military has been cautious about linking the jihadist movement to Iraq's unrest. Benjamin, co-author of "The Age of Sacred Terror," a chronicle of the roots and ambitions of radical Islam, said he finds the plans attributed to al-Zarqawi in the memo "very plausible."

As Benjamin sees it, the memo is a sketch of the terrorist's goals in Iraq--and for all kinds of terrorists who now see Iraq, nearly a year after the American invasion, as an open playing field. But Benjamin finds little evidence that jihadists prospered inside Iraq before the U.S. invasion.

Instead, if al-Zarqawi's memo is to be believed, jihadists now are comfortable in Iraq.

"Al Qaeda had glancing contacts with Iraq before. It had many more contacts with Iran but . . . the real state sponsorship just wasn't there," Benjamin said.

"[The letter] tells us nothing about prior connections between Al Qaeda and Iraq," he said. "What it does tell us is, now, we have a big terrorist problem in Iraq.[Nitpicker emphaisis]
Well, as Cheney, the Dick says, it's better to fight them on the streets of Iraq than in New York, Boston... It's all part of 'the plan', increase al Queda recruitment, draw more 'terra'-ists to Iraq, keep them busy killing Americans and Iraqis over there so we won't find out our Homeland Security Department hasn't made much of a dent in security here.

And Speaking of delays Delay's ...
AUSTIN, Tex. — A political action committee created by Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, enjoyed tremendous success here in 2002: all but 3 of 21 Republican candidates the committee backed for state representative won their races, helping the party take control of the Texas House.

Last year, the Republicans used that clout to carve Texas into new Congressional districts under a plan that political analysts say will bring them at least five new seats in Congressional elections this year.

But local prosecutors and a grand jury here have been investigating the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, including its use of corporate donations in the election, lawyers close to the case said.

Investigators are also examining whether there were violations of a law intended to curb the ability of outside groups to influence the race for House speaker, the lawyers said. The investigation follows a complaint filed with prosecutors last year by Texans for Public Justice, a campaign watchdog group.

The extent to which Texans for a Republican Majority used corporate money in the 2002 races is laid out in a trail of recently obtained documents. Under Texas law, political action committees are generally prohibited from using corporate and union donations for anything other than administrative expenses, like rent and utilities.

But records and interviews show that fund-raisers from Texans for a Republican Majority who were paid with corporate money solicited donations on behalf of individual candidates backed by the committee, which also spent corporate donations on fund-raising events, polling and a voter identification project.

In one case, corporate donations were used to pay a $1,200 legal bill to defend a new Republican legislator, Bill Zedler, against accusations from his opponent that he did not live in the district that elected him.

The documents, and interviews, also show that the committee often coordinated its efforts with Tom Craddick, a Republican state representative whom lawmakers elected speaker of the House after the 2002 elections. Later, at the urging of Mr. DeLay, Mr. Craddick helped lead the bitter fight to carve the state into new Congressional districts.

John Colyandro, who was the committee's executive director, said that Texans for a Republican Majority operated lawfully and that hundreds of other political action committees in Texas had conducted business similarly.

"The notion that TRMPAC alone administered itself in this way is deceitful and offensive," Mr. Colyandro said. The payment in the Zedler case, made several days after the election, was legal because it had "nothing to do with the campaign," he said. Mr. Colyandro has been granted limited immunity in return for grand jury testimony, a person close to the case said.

But Cris Feldman, a lawyer in Austin who has sued the treasurer of Texans for a Republican Majority on behalf of four defeated Democratic House candidates, said Mr. DeLay and his aides "clandestinely funneled illegal corporate cash into the elections."

In all, the committee spent $1.5 million, including $600,000 in corporate money, according to an analysis by Texans for Public Justice.

Jim Ellis, Mr. DeLay's political aide, said he, Mr. DeLay and Mr. Colyandro created the committee. Mr. DeLay served on a five-member advisory board, which decided whom to endorse, Mr. Colyandro said. Mr. Ellis, executive director of Mr. DeLay's own political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, was one of three officers authorized to make decisions about expenditures and contributions by Texans for a Republican Majority, state records show.

Mr. DeLay's daughter was also paid by the committee to set up events, other records show.

Before the 2002 elections, Mr. DeLay wanted lawmakers to take up redistricting, Mr. Ellis said, adding that "there is no question" that Mr. DeLay wanted Mr. Craddick elected speaker. The two men served in the Texas House together in the 1980's.
n an interview, Mr. Colyandro said he believed that the committee was legally allowed to spend corporate money to raise other money that the committee collected and then distributed to candidates.

But in a separate interview, Susan Lilly, the committee's Texas fund-raiser during the 2002 elections, said she had a different understanding: that people involved in raising money intended for state campaigns — whether or not that money first passes through a political action committee — are not supposed to be paid with corporate money.

Ms. Lilly said she did not know Texans for a Republican Majority had paid her with corporate money until after the election, when prosecutors began looking at the committee's activities. She said she solicited donations that went straight to candidates, confirming a report in The Austin American-Statesman.

Records and interviews show that other committee officials were involved in raising money sent directly to candidates.

On Aug. 12, 2002, Ms. Lilly wrote an e-mail message to Mr. Colyandro and Warren Robold, a fund-raiser for Mr. DeLay who worked for the committee and, records show, was paid with money from corporate donations. In it, she described a visit from Ron Olson, an official with Union Pacific railroad.

Mr. Olson, she wrote, "came down this morning and said that through DeLay's efforts (i.e. Warren) that UP had identified $25,000 worth of TRMPAC targets that he is supposed to individually go and give checks to. However, he was asked that a `DeLay' person accompany him when he gives the checks (so that the recipient will know that it was TRMPAC related)."

A Union Pacific spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Robold asked Union Pacific to make donations from its political action committee to candidates backed by Texans for a Republican Majority. He made the request, she said, after the railroad declined to donate to the committee.

Union Pacific donated to 11 candidates but would have made those donations anyway, she said. She also confirmed Mr. Craddick handed out some Union Pacific checks to candidates, explaining that company officials did not have time to do it.

Mr. Robold did not return calls seeking comment. He has been subpoenaed by prosecutors, a person close to the case said.

Another document, dated Sept. 27, 2002, and written by Ms. Lilly, states that committee officials sent letters to the candidates letting them know that some donations made by others were due to their efforts.

"All checks that have been distributed were pre-empted by faxed notes from Beverly or Dianne letting the recipient know the checks were coming via TRMPAC's efforts," the document states, referring to two state representatives on the committee's advisory board, Dianne Delisi and Beverly Woolley. "The only exception was the Union Pacific checks which were given to Tom and he distributed. TRMPAC has gotten credit for all the funds distributed to date."

An attached spreadsheet lists donations made by others directly to candidates at the request of the committee, including $22,000 by Compass Bancshares' political action committee. A separate document, outlining the itinerary for a fund-raising trip to Houston by Ms. Lilly and Ms. Woolley on Sept. 9, 2002, mentions a visit to an official at Compass Bank. Next to that is written, "22K direct." Ms. Woolley and bank officials did not return phone calls for comment.

Mr. Colyandro said he did not recall the documents outlining contributions by others at the committee's request. But he said, "Raising any money on behalf of any specific candidate and being compensated with corporate money is inappropriate."

Documents show that Mr. Craddick worked closely with officials from the committee to raise money. In turn, the committee sent Mr. Craddick campaign checks that he then distributed to individual candidates. For example, on Oct. 18, 2002, Mr. Colyandro wrote an e-mail message instructing the committee's accountant to send Mr. Craddick, via Federal Express, $152,000 in checks made out to 14 Republican House candidates, records show.

A spokesman for Mr. Craddick, Bob Richter, said Mr. Craddick "never passed out any money to any members or would-be members with the idea that they would vote for him for speaker. There was never a quid pro quo: I give you this check and you give me your support for speaker."

In another episode drawing scrutiny, the committee donated $190,000 raised from corporations to the Republican National Committee on Sept. 10, 2002. On Oct. 4, the national committee wrote checks totaling the same amount to seven Texas House candidates supported by the committee, money that unlike that sent to the national committee could be given directly to a campaign.

A spokesman for the national committee said there was "no record" of discussions about the transactions with Texans for a Republican Majority. Mr. Ellis also said he could not recall whether he discussed the state candidates when he delivered the check to the national committee.[Nitpicker emphasis]
Keep watching - will there be enough fingers for the dyke? Why is it that Republicans seem to have so much difficulty in recalling details of relatively recent events; someone should do a scientific study.

Science 23:4, Politics?: A Plan B Update

WASHINGTON — The government is postponing its decision on whether morning-after birth control should be sold without a doctor's prescription.

The delay comes with the Food and Drug Administration under intense political pressure to reject the move.

The FDA had been scheduled to decide next week on whether Barr Laboratories' version of emergency contraception, called Plan B, could be sold over the counter. Barr announced late Friday, however, that the FDA had extended its deadline for making that decision to May.

The FDA had requested more explicit information about 16- and 17-year-olds who have used the pills, and the agency now needs time to evaluate the data, said Barr spokeswoman Carol Cox.

The FDA's scientific advisors recommended in December that Plan B be sold without prescription, calling it a very safe and important way to decrease the number of abortions.
The delay sparked suspicion from contraception advocacy groups that the FDA was ignoring scientific advice because of political pressure.

"This delay is somewhat hypocritical," said Dr. Jeffrey Waldman of Planned Parenthood in California. "Every day someone doesn't have access [to the pills] is another day when someone's going to be pregnant when they don't need to be and don't wish to be."

The delay is "absolutely not" based on political pressure, FDA drug chief Dr. Steven Galson said. "It's totally based on scientific issues and questions."

Proponents have been further dismayed by news that FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan's office is weighing in on the review. But Galson said that consulting with the agency's chief was "not atypical for a contentious, difficult decision."

A coalition of conservative lawmakers, led by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.), is urging the Bush administration to reject the move, arguing that easier access to emergency contraception will increase unsafe sex, particularly among teenagers.

Proponents argue that there is no evidence that morning-after birth control lulls women into complacency about regular birth control or sexually transmitted diseases or encourages more sexual activity in general.
Not Political? And yet, we don't typically categorize scientific decisions as "contentious"; the vote of the scientific panel in December didn't seem contentious. But, as noted in my December post Plan B, We'll See, this , apolitical delay was not unanticipated.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Nukler, Atomic, Danger, Attack, 9/11, Remember, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Greatest Threat ...
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush urged the United Nations on Saturday to enact tougher controls to stop the spread of nuclear weapons as he warned Americans about the dangers of deadly weapons.

Bush has made national security a key theme of his re-election campaign. Earlier this week, he unveiled proposals to stop a nuclear black market as he detailed the network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic program.

The president suggested limiting the transfer of nuclear technology to those countries that forswear atomic weapons.

In his radio address, Bush invoked memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States as he warned of 'the prospect of even worse dangers' that could arise if nuclear weapons fall into the wrong hands.

'The possibility of secret and sudden attack with weapons of mass destruction is the greatest threat before humanity today,' he said.[Nitpicker edits]
Just one question. Are these the same WMDs, you know the ones in Iraq that appear to not have existed or are these new WMDs? You are getting sleepy... your eyelids are getting heavy, on the count of 3 you will awake... you will believe I was an honorable veteran, that the invasion of Iraq was justified and successful, that we are safer today and then you will go to the voting booth and elect George W. Bush. One, two,, three ...What the F*#@?

23 Killed, More Than 37 Wounded, and Dozens of Prisoners Freed

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Guerrillas overwhelmed an Iraqi police station west of Baghdad on Saturday, meeting little resistance as they went room to room shooting police in a bold, well-organized assault that killed 23 people and freed dozens of prisoners, officials said.

The fierce daylight attack in Fallujah raised questions whether Iraqi police and defense forces are ready to battle insurgents as the U.S. military pulls back from the fight in advance of the November U.S. presidential election.

Well, look at the bright side -can you imagine what it would be like if we hadn't captured Saddam?

Friday, February 13, 2004

Martha Stewart's Stock -10.00 Wednesday, +10.00 Friday, Ending the Week at 0

Martha Stewart won a round in court Friday as a judge ruled that prosecutors cannot call expert witnesses to testify that she duped investors into buying stock in her company by making false statements.

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum ruled that the government cannot ask Wall Street analysts if their ratings of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia stock were influenced by Stewart's statements that she did nothing wrong in selling her ImClone Systems Inc. stock in late December 2001.

The statements are essential to the government's assertion that Stewart tried to influence the price of her own company's stock with her denials of wrongdoing in the case.
Stewart is accused of lying to investigators about the reason for her stock sale and trying to prop up the price of Martha Stewart Living stock by not telling the truth.

The government says Stewart sold because of an inside tip -- passed from Bacanovic through his assistant at the time, Douglas Faneuil, to Stewart -- that ImClone founder Sam Waksal was trying to sell on Dec. 27, 2001. Stewart and Bacanovic say they had a long-standing pact to sell ImClone stock if the shares fell below $60.

On Wednesday, the ninth day of the trial, Stewart's lawyer asked for a mistrial, but the federal judge overseeing the case denied the motion.

Duty, Honor, Country Privilege Character
Mr. Moore explores the murky circumstances surrounding President Bush's service in the National Guard in the late 60's and early 70's in a book that is soon to be published called 'Bush's War for Re-election.' This issue remains pertinent because it foreshadowed Mr. Bush's behavior as a politician and officeholder: the lack of engagement, the irresponsibility, and the casual and blatantly unfair exploitation of rank and privilege.

Mr. Bush favored the war in Vietnam, but he had the necessary clout to ensure that he wouldn't have to serve there. He entered the Texas Air National Guard at the height of the war in 1968 by leaping ahead of 500 other applicants who were on a waiting list.

Mr. Bush was eventually assigned to the 147th Fighter Group (later to become part of the 111th Fighter Interceptor Group), which Mr. Moore described in his book as a 'champagne' outfit. 'The ranks,' he said, 'were filled with the progeny of the wealthy and politically influential.'

So here's the thing: After strolling to the head of the line, and putting the Guard to the considerable expense of training him as a pilot, Lieutenant Bush didn't even bother to take his duties seriously. He breezed off to Alabama to work on a political campaign. He never showed up as required to take his annual flight physical in 1972, and because of that was suspended from flying.

This cavalier treatment of his duties as a Guardsman occurred as thousands of others were being killed and wounded in Vietnam -youngsters of great promise like Roy Dukes, who was 20 when he died. Having escaped the horror of the war himself, one might have expected Lieutenant Bush to at least take his duties in the National Guard seriously.

Now, more than three decades later, there are questions about the seriousness of Mr. Bush's stewardship as president. He has certainly been profligate with the people's money, pushing through his reckless tax cuts and running up a mountain range of deficits that extends as far as the eye can see.

Citing phantom weapons of mass destruction, he led the nation into a war of choice that has resulted so far in the tragic deaths of more than 500 American troops and thousands of innocent Iraqis, and the wounding of thousands upon thousands of others. Like Mr. Bush during Vietnam, privileged Americans have had the luxury of favoring the madness in Iraq without having to worry about fighting and dying there. If the sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful were in danger of being sent to Iraq, the U.S. wouldn't be there.
Mr. Bush has been nothing if not consistent. He has always been about the privileged few. And that's an attitude that flies in the face of the basic precepts of an egalitarian society. It's an attitude that fosters, that celebrates, unfairness and injustice.

More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, another war of choice that was marketed deceitfully to the American people.

Mr. Bush's experience in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam years is especially relevant today because it throws a brighter spotlight on who he really is. He has walked a charmed road, with others paying the price of his journey, every step of the way.[Nitpicker emphasis]
In his Op-Ed piece, Bob Hebert makes the point that has been overlooked in the mad scramble for documents and the media's attempt to 'save face' - his record is relevent not because of actions taken thirty years ago but because of what those actions reflect about the character of the man and his actions today as commander-in-chief and pResident.

Sensory Creative Deterrence

A prominent Israeli rabbi has proposed hanging bags of pig fat in buses to deter Muslim suicide bombers who may want to avoid contact with an 'unclean' animal, an Israeli official said on Thursday.

The idea -- suggested by Rabbi Eliezer Fisher, a rabbinical judge, in a letter to police -- signaled the extremes to which some Israelis may be willing to go to stop Palestinian bombers who have killed hundreds of Israelis in recent years.

Judaism, like Islam, considers pigs unclean. But the ultra-Orthodox rabbi has ruled that special dispensation can be given for placing bags of lard in buses and public places in an effort to prevent attacks.

Police had no immediate comment on the proposal.
What effect do you think this might have on ridership? I guess you might still deter a suicide bomber from killing himself and the bus driver.

Maybe If We Give them More Copies

President Bush, trying to calm a political storm, released his Vietnam-era military records Friday to counter Democrats' suggestions that he shirked his duty in the Texas Air National Guard. But there was no new evidence documenting he was in Alabama during a period when Democrats have questioned whether he showed up service.[Nitpicker emphasis]

I'm thinking 'ol Scott is glad the weekend is finally here - I don't think this is going to help him much in his next meet the Whitehouse press corp outing.

Remember the War on Terror? You know -Osama, al Qaeda, Afghanistan

At least two Afghans and a U.S. soldier were killed and 15 people wounded on Friday in separate incidents in Afghanistan, police and the U.S. military said.

The U.S. central command said a U.S. soldier was killed and nine others wounded by a mine near Ghazni. The incident was under investigation and no further details were available.

In Khost, at least two Afghans were killed and six wounded in an explosion at a government military post near the former Taliban stronghold in southeastern Afghanistan, police said.
The attacks in Khost are the latest in a wave of incidents which more than 550 people have been killed in the last six months, mostly in southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban militia remnants are most active.

The incidents came two days after Khost's deputy intelligence chief was shot dead by a suspected Taliban militant who then blew himself up to avoid being arrested.

Khost used to be part of the heartland of the Taliban, overthrown by U.S.-led troops for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

U.S. soldiers in Khost, part of the 10,600-strong American-led force hunting al Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban, regularly come under rocket attacks and ambushes, most of which are ineffective.

Approximately 15X as many troops are in Iraq though at least they've given up looking for nonexistent WMDs - does this say our priority was is the war on terror?

Time for a Little Bluegrass

Via Mistakes Were Made

Scott McClellan's He Fulfilled His Duties Blues
[McClellan's remarks 2/10/04 to Wynne Osborne and his Blugrass Playboys]

Thursday, February 12, 2004

White House Concerned Obsession With Lying About National Guard Could Distract Nation From Current Lies

Via Opinions You Should Have

The White House is losing patience with America's preoccupation with President Bush's lies about his National Guard duty and records, said Scott McClellan.

'We tell far more important lies every day,' leaked Press Secretary McClellan. 'America should be concerned with what President Bush is saying today, not what he said yesterday.'"

Tom's 'on' as usual, go read the whole thing.

Two cells, Four Cells, Eight Cells a ...

In a clash of politics and science, the first successful cloning of a human embryo — and the extraction of stem cells from it — has ignited new calls for a ban on all forms of human cloning

The cloning announcement by South Korean scientists on Thursday prompted members of Congress and church leaders to ask for immediate legislation.

"Cloning human beings is wrong. It is unethical to tinker with human life," said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. A ban must be passed, he said, "before this unethical science comes to our shores."

The Bush administration favors such action and referred reporters to a statement by the president calling for "a comprehensive and effective ban."

"Human life is a creation, not a commodity, and should not be used as research material for reckless experiments," Bush said last month.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who voted against a bill passed last year by the House that called for a ban on human cloning, said there needs to be legislation that would prevent cloning of babies, but permit "lifesaving stem cell research to proceed under strict ethical guidelines."[Nitpicker emphasis]
Okay, but what of this reckless experiment?

The Fall Out

Barbie and Ken 'Split' After 43 Years

After the Massachusett's Supreme court decision, Ken decided to end the charade.

See, they were right all along; look at the profound effect allowing gays and lesbians to marry will have on our civilized society.
Via Modulator

Some Days
it just goes on and on...
It's been one of those days.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Peterson's Defense: Satellite Blinked

Peterson defense challenges police use of GPS
Scott Peterson's defense lawyer grilled an expert Wednesday about the reliability of satellite technology that police used to track the murder suspect before his arrest.

The hearing will determine whether evidence gathered from global positioning system devices secretly placed on Peterson's vehicles in the weeks after his wife's disappearance can be used in his upcoming trial.

Modesto police used GPS to track Peterson for nearly four months last year -- from Jan. 3 through April 22 -- when they arrested him near San Diego. He was caught carrying $10,000 and his brother's driver's license days after the bodies of his wife, Laci, and unborn son surfaced in San Francisco Bay."
The military developed the satellite-based system, which can pinpoint a user's location at any time, in all weather, anywhere in the world. The decades-old technology is now used by everyone from airline pilots to weekend hikers and Sunday drivers.

But GPS technology has yet to be tested in California's criminal courts. As a result, prosecutors first must establish its reliability using properly qualified experts, and then demonstrate the technology was used correctly. Only then could GPS-related evidence be introduced at Peterson's trial.

That process began Wednesday morning when Judge Alfred A. Delucchi agreed with prosecutor Rick Distaso, who said Loomis qualified as an expert.

Loomis acknowledged that at least twice the GPS devices used to trail Peterson provided inaccurate information for several minutes. Geragos is likely to seize on those errors to argue that the technology is unreliable.

Ever have your cell phone cut out? Does that mean you weren't having the phone coversation in the first place? I am a firm believer in innocent until proven guilty and despise defendants being tried in the press. However, we ought to have a new law where indivuals are entitled to any 'legitimate' defense. Increasingly we've reached a point where opposing sides call experts and the jury is put in a position of figuring out who's giving valid testimony - a task for which jurors are often ill-prepared. In many instances, particularly for the defense (in my experience), these 'experts' are merely prostitutes for hire. Often, prosecutors are aware that they could blow the expert out of the water but don't. Why? Appeals. Let them have their phony experts, they typically don't have a negative impact on the prosecution and there is one less opportunity for an appeal, as the 'evidence' was challenged by an expert for the defense. It's all a game no matter which side you're on. Perhaps we've reached a point where we need to reconsider the concept of 'jury of your peers' and have some expertise on the jury panel to cut through the B.S. It's a door that swings both ways, defendents are also convicted by insufficient evidence because of the power of personal persuasion rather than evidentiary strength. Our legal system, almost as depressing as our political system.

Defining InDecency

What's is decent, indecent?
It amazes me that, according to the FCC, a couple of seconds of the partially naked human body can do more harm to our children, families and values than images of a city being bombed on prime-time television.

I guess our progressive desensitization to war and torture comes at the expense of things that are natural, beautiful and positive.

Why is it considered reasonable to broadcast one of our missiles hitting a target that likely has people inside? Is it considered broadcasting history, or is it to rile up people under the guise of patriotism?

Why not launch a full review of decisions to broadcast bombings and killings as opposed to spending probable millions to investigate the momentary exposure of a breast? Better yet, how about a nonpartisan investigation of why we went to war?[Nitpicker emphasis]

It's seems the FCC has a little difficulty defining what's indecent. Let me help. This is indecent.