Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Marginalization of the Republican Party

The house passed its version of President Obama's stimulus bill this week. Without a single Republican vote.

Republicans complained that it was too much spending and not enough tax cuts.

They even proposed an alternative program. It was composed completely of tax cuts.

There are a number of studies out there that show that direct spending on things like unemployment insurance extensions and infrastructure projects are far more effective at spurring economic growth and creating jobs than tax cuts.

There are also studies that show that tax cuts not accompanied by spending cuts do little to spur short term economic growth, never pay for themselves, and because of the impact of the long term debt they create, do not spur long term economic growth.

Yet the Republican Caucus, despite its constant complaints about Bi-Partisanship, proposed a bill composed entirely of tax cuts.

They have no ideas and little influence. All they have left is to be obstructionist, to try and get in the way of progress.

It is gratifying to me to see them implode like this. They are rapidly becoming a small regional party. Their famous Southern Strategy has come full circle.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Investigate, Prosecute, Convict

One of the issues that our new President has to face is the call to investigate and possibly prosecute members of the Administration of George W Bush for a myriad of crimes, most importantly torture.

President Obama has made it clear he would prefer not to go there. He understands, as most do, that prosecuting members of the previous administration would be a major distraction from what he is trying to accomplish, would damage his efforts to move forward on issues in a Bipartisan fashion, and might, in the end, only yield minor convictions of peripheral characters.

He should do it anyway.

I have no interest in seeing Congress doing the investigating. It would be immediately politicized, Congress would give immunity to people we should be investigating or even prosecuting, and they have more important things to do.

Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint a Special Prosecutor. Perhaps Patrick Fitzgerald after he is done with Blogovich. Or a career prosecutor that was hired by the Bush Justice Department, or another holdover US Attorney.

There is little doubt that employees of the United States Government tortured people held in their custody. The Convening Authority for the Military Tribunals has already dismissed all charges against one of the prisoners held at GITMO specifically that person had been tortured by military interrogators. President Bush admitted to and defended water boarding of prisoners. At the end of WWII we prosecuted Japanese Officers for Water boarding our prisoners. How can we argue that we are above the law, that its OK for us to torture?

The Bush Administration argued exactly that. They were wrong. Torture is immoral and illegal.

It is also clear that the Bush Administration monitored the phone calls, some of them purely domestic phone calls, without a warrant. A clear and unequivocal violation of the Constitution ever Military Officer and every President swears to protect.

One of the ways that we can and should recover our standing in the world is by showing that we don't' hold ourselves to be above our own laws, let alone international laws.

As an aside, were the tables reversed, I have no doubt that a Republican Administration, and/or a Republican controlled congress would pursue those investigations with vigor.

We must pursue the investigations, in as non-partisan and transparent was as possible to remind ourselves and prove to the rest of the world that we are a Nation of Laws.

Despite the cost, despite the distraction, its something we must do.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nicotine, Evolution, Global Warming and the Politics of Faith

As I watched the swearing in of our new President and listened to his inauguration speech, I was struck by one line in particular.

"We will restore science to its rightful place"

One of the hallmarks of the administration of George W Bush and many Republicans is a willingness to deny science in deference to beliefs, often irrational beliefs.

For years through the 60's and 70's and in some cases into the 80's many conservatives denied the clear science that demonstrated that cigarettes were both addictive and deadly. Their beliefs were supported by scientists paid for by the cigarette companies. Somehow they succeeded in making science, not a matter for debate over the facts, but a political issue, a debate between liberal and conservative.

Those who would deny the addictiveness and lethality of cigarettes were wrong. Science was right.

The theory of evolution, the concept that natural selection, is the dominate mechanism for species to change and for the creation of new species, is only a theory. But its a theory that best explains the available data. That's what science is, evaluating the data and creating or refining a theory that best explains the data. That is what we should be teaching, science. There are those, mostly conservative Christians, who don't believe in evolution. They reject evolution as a valid theory, not because they have a theory that better explains the data, but because its not a perfect explanation and because they believe that the Biblical story of creation and the theory of evolution are incompatible. They reject science not because their theory better explains the facts, but because they chose to reject the facts.

And now, incredibly, there are those who deny that the average surface temperature of this planet is increasing, they deny that its increasing at a dangerously fast pace, they deny that human activity is driving the pace of increase in temperatures globally.

They look at a study that looked at over 900 studies of changes in global climate and found not a single study that contradicts the theory that human activity is causing/accelerating this increase in temperature. And they reject it.

I have been told that mankind could not possibly be the source of the increase in temperature. Expressed emphatically. A belief. No science to support the belief.

I have been told that using tree ring studies and ice core studies don't yield good data because these studies are imperfect. No acknowledgement that tree ring studies are not used by them selves. Ice Core Studies are not used by themselves. These tools are used in concert with written histories. They are used in concert with the geologic record. But since these studies are imperfect, the deniers reject them, not because they have better theories, but because they have their beliefs.

I have been asked how we know what the temperature was 1000 years ago because the thermometer hadn't been invented yet. They deny sciences estimates of temperatures not because they have better theories, but because they have their beliefs.

I have been told that we don't know what the temperature was 100 years ago because thermometers were not as accurate as they are now. As if old thermometers were not just less accurate but just plain wrong. Either reading high or low all across the world. Not science, just belief.

So they deny that human activity is causing global warming. They don't put forward a competing theory to explain the data. The closest they get is solar cycles, which could well be a factor in the current warming, but isn't significant enough to be causing it, which doesn't explain the clear relationship between atmospheric concentrations of Methane and CO2 and increases in temperature, and which doesn't explain the long term trend in temperatures since the 1850's.

It comes down to belief.

They don't like the theories, they don't have better theories to explain the facts, so they just deny the theory or even deny the facts. Based on belief.

And now our President promises to ". . .restore science to its rightful place." It can't happen too soon.

Those who denied the addictiveness and lethality of cigarettes were free to keep smoking and they get to die sooner as a result.

Those who reject the theory of evolution can believe what they want as long as they don't try to teach their beliefs as science.

But those who deny that human activity is driving global warming are harming more than just themselves. Their denial of science and their opposition to the measures necessary to address the problem have made addressing the causes of Global Warming even harder and more urgent.

Based on their beliefs.

I look forward to a return to science as a basis for policy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Waterboarding is Torture

Perhaps nothing that we have heard in any of the confirmation hearings so far expresses the differences between the tragedy of the last 8 years and the coming administration that has promised CHANGE.

Eric Holder, Attorney General designee, was asked very simply, Is Waterboarding Torture.

His answer was equally simple.

Yes, waterboarding is torture.

Michael Mukasey, Alberto Gonzales' successor and our current Attorney General, pretended not to know what waterboarding was, so he never answered the question. Alberto Gonzales, while proclaiming that the US did not torture, was never willing to state clearly that we would not waterboard. The President himself has admitted that the United States did use waterboard in interrogations of our prisoners.

The difference is clear and stark and heartening.

We, through our government, are finally admitting that we, through our government, tortured our prisoners.

And Barack Obama has promised that we will not torture, we will not waterboard.

It can't happen soon enough