Friday, March 31, 2006

Top DeLay Aide Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy

More bad news for the indicted Tom "Getting Hammered" DeLay. His former top plead guilty to conspiracy charges. Even worse new than for DeLay is for the Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio who has been fingered in the bribery scheme.

Former DeLay Aide Pleads Guilty
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - A former top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and promised to cooperate with a federal investigation of bribery and lobbying fraud that has so far netted three convictions and prompted calls for ethics reform in Congress.

Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, admitted to conspiring with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff both while Rudy worked for DeLay and after he left the lawmaker's staff to become a lobbyist himself.

He faces up to five years in prison, but could receive much less based on the extent of his help with the investigation, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle told Rudy at a court hearing in Washington.

As a top aide to DeLay in his role as House majority leader, Rudy took payments from Abramoff in 2000, then helped stop an Internet gambling bill opposed by Abramoff's clients, according to court papers.

Later, while working as a lobbyist, Rudy also was extensively involved in arranging a golf trip to Scotland for Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record), described as Representative 1, and congressional staffers, the court papers said.

(Full Story)

Chicago Won't Criminalize Illegals

In the continuing debate of the immigration issue, Chicago is saying that it will not comply with any federal laws that criminalize illegal aliens. Chicago is home to the nations third largest immigrant population, and many are not here legally.

Chicago is a traditional destination of immigrants dating back to the 19th century, but it has not been without its racial tensions. It has long been a hot bed of self segregation of racial discrimination. While the situation in Chicago has improved tremendously over the past 30 years, tensions are still at a point where the city is often divided.

While I am fully for immigration reform, felonizing illegal is not the answer. Many who attempt to be here legally fall victim to the arcane and confusing immigration laws. A while ago, I sat through a 7 hour immigration law training seminar. Not only is immigration law immensely complex due to it being a hodge-pogde of rules and litigation, most of the rules appear in no books. They are just made up as the agencies go along.

As for the whole argument of guess worker programs. I just want to put one issue to rest. There is no immigration application for non-professional workers. So, unless an unskilled worker is to be one of the lucky green card lottery winners out of the six million filed each year, there is no way for a migrant worker to enter the US legally. And, even if there were, an H-1 work visa application cost around $1300. If you think Dole Fruit is going to pay $1300 plus attorney fees to bring a migrant worker to this country, you are insane. They will just continue to hire illegals and take the risk of fines, since the fines would be cheaper.

It is better to document unskilled laborers so we know who they are, where they are, and can collect taxes to pay for the social services that they are already using. The hard line Republicans are making no sense on this issue.

City may buck feds on immigration

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Thanks But No Thanks

An organization that represents more that 70% of Army chaplains is opposing a demand from conservative Congressmen that chaplains be able to pray in the name of Jesus.

Congressmen are demanding that the president issue an order to guarantee that chaplains are allowed to pray in the name of Jesus. But, the chaplains are saying that such an order is not necessary. The issue began with some military personnel, including chaplains, complaining that some chaplains were abusing their positions. Apparently, all the hub-bub is for not.

Chaplains Group Opposes Prayer Order

An association that represents more than 70 percent of the chaplains in the U.S. military, including many evangelical Christians, is opposing a demand by conservatives in Congress for a presidential order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus.

The rising calls for an executive order are based on "confusion and misinformation," because Christian chaplains routinely pray in the name of Jesus, in public, thousands of times a week in military chapels around the world, said the Rev. Herman Keizer Jr., chairman of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces.

(Full Story)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Jack Abramoff gets Minimum

A judge sentenced Jack abramoff to 5 years and 10 months in prison for his fraud charges. Abramoff and this colleague were sentenced to the minimum amount allowed by law for bilking his clients out of millions dollars. Of course, if he lived in the Bronx and stole a $500 TV and his name was Jerome, he would have probably have received the same jail time.

Does anyone wonder why people on the lower end of the social and economic spectrum have little respect for our justice system?

Abramoff Gets Minimum Sentence

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Victory for Free Speech

The FEC today ruled on political speech within the internet, specifically blogs. The FEC exempted blogs and added them to the realm of the MSM when it comes to political speech. The only area that will be regulated is paid political advertising.

This is a big victory in the battle of free speech on the internet. Originally, it was looking like the FEC was going to come down on the side of regulation of internet speech.

Now, if we could just get freedom of speech within 500 feet of the president, we might just have a democracy on our hands. But, I won't be holding my breath.

FEC Rules Exempt Blogs From Internet Political Limits

No Surprise Here

Andy Card, the presidents chief of staff resigned today. This comes as little surprise to me or to most of the poli-dorks out there. In all fairness to Mr. Card, the White House Chief of Staff job is probably even more difficult than even the president's. Mr. Card was the second longest serving Chief of Staff in modern history. Even though I disagree with Mr. Card and his policies I will give him credit for sticking around as long as he did. It is unclear if Card is stepping down under pressure from top republicans or from his own fatigue (or some combination of the two).

He will be replaced by Josh Bolton.

I am doubtful that this will lead to any great re-thinking of the Bush administration policy agenda since Mr. Bolton is an inside man, but you never know.

Andrew Card Resigns as White House Chief of Staff

Monday, March 27, 2006

Immigration Reform

I am all for some form of immigration reform. Immigration is second only to the tax code in its complexity and I have to deal with it up close and personal. Every body likes to make the argument that they have no problem with those who immigrate to the US legally. Neither do I. I which it could all be done legally.

What I don't think most people realize is how difficult and how long legal immigration takes. Say you are a Pilipino who has relatives in the US and you wish to immigrate. First off, if you are a non-professional, work visas are not an option. so, you have to pay a lawyer about $10,000 - $20,000 to put all the paper work in. Then, because of the departmental backlog and the shear number of applications, the applicant is looking at about a 23 year wait to get a green card. If you have no blood relatives in the US, you are looking at even a longer wait.

So, it is no surprise to me that legal immigration is not an option either for many people who are looking for the American dream.

This is not to say that I endorse illegal immigration. I don't. But the system is seriously broken and needs to be redone. Currently, immigration is run by three separate departments, answering to three separate bosses. There is no clear chain of command and processes in one department can be contradictory to another.

For instance. If someone where to come over to the US on a travel visa and while here, meets someone who wants to employ that person. If the potential employee than applies for a work visa, they can be denied since the requirements for a travel visa is that there is no intent to stay. Since the person is now applying for a work visa, the Department of Homeland Security sees that the persons intentions were not purely to visit, but to find work, so then will deny the application because the person "obviously" lied on the tourist visa application.

Another problem is that there are two different types of "permits" you need to be in the US. You need both a visa, and an I-94 for which gives you status. A visa is often good for 10 years, but your I-94 is good for only 3-6 months at a time. Meaning, you can visit the US as many times as you want in 10 years, but can never stay for longer than 3-6 months (depending on your allowance). If you stay one day more than what is allowed on your I-94, you are barred from re-entering the US for 3 years. So, you can have a valid visa but still be barred from entering the US. This is a trap that ensnares many people because they don't understand how they can have a valid visa, but still be here illegally.

We obviously need to secure the boders. But what ever your feeling on immigration is, the system as a whole needs to be thrown out and rewritten to make legal immigration attainable.

Help Wanted as Immigration Faces Overhaul

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wounded Vet Wins Dem Primary

So, a wounded Iraq war vet, Tammy Duckworth, won the democratic primary in Illinois for the opportunity to run against the a Republican to fill the seat of the retiring Henry Hyde. Duckworth, even though disagreeing with Bush on the Iraq war, volunteered to go and later lost both her legs in a grenade attack.

I am wondering how the GOP is going to Swift Boat this one? I suppose they will claim that the loss of her legs was just a "flesh wound" and didn't "really loose them in combat" but instead cut them off her self and donated them to an al Qaeda terrorist who lost his legs while building IEDs.

Don't laugh. It is no more ridiculous than what they pulled against Max Cleland and John McCain.

Wounded Iraq War Vet Wins Ill. Primary
By DENNIS CONRAD, Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO - Iraq war veteran L. Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs in a grenade attack two years ago, narrowly won the Democratic congressional primary nomination for the suburban Chicago district held by retiring Republican Rep. Henry Hyde.

Duckworth, 38, who spent months recovering from her wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., was heavily recruited by Democrats eager to give the party more credibility on security issues.

Addressing supporters early Wednesday, Duckworth expressed her thanks "to my buddies who pulled me out of that field in Iraq, to the medical professionals who saved my life and taught me to walk again, to the many volunteers who worked so hard throughout this campaign."

"I especially would like to thank my husband ... He's been there with me every step of the way," she said. Her husband Bryan Bowlsbey is a captain in the Illinois Army National Guard.

(Full Story)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Do Nothing Congress

I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Congress is slated to work only 97 days in 2006. This is 11 shorter than the famed "Do Nothing Congress" of 1948, which worked a total of 108 days.

I guess it is good since the less time the Republican controlled congress is in session, the less time they have to screw things up.

Although, I think their $165,000 a year salary should be proportional to the amount of time they work.

Lawmakers get out of the House
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY
Mon Mar 20, 6:48 AM ET

The House of Representatives is on track this year to be in session for fewer days than the Congress Harry Truman labeled as "do-nothing" during his 1948 re-election campaign.

Members of Congress are taking an entire week off for St. Patrick's Day. It's the latest scheduling innovation to give members more time to meet with constituents.

Through Friday, the House was in session for 19 days, compared with 33 for the Senate. If they stick to their current schedule - including two weeks off in April, a week in May and July, plus all of August - House members will spend 97 days in Washington this year.

The House was in session 108 days in 1948, according to the chamber's archives, compared with 141 days last year.

(Full story)

More Stupid Rushisms

In continuing with the idiotic rhetoric coming from the right wing media pundits, I had to comment on Rush Limbaugh, wind bag extraordinaire, today.

He had not just one, but two choice stupid comments.

First, he attacked a Zogby International poll that was sponsored by Le Moyne College's Peace and Global Studies Program. In the poll, 72% of soldiers surveyed in Iraq felt that troops should be withdrawn in the next year. Additionally, "while 58% say mission is clear, 42% say U.S. role is hazy," "90% think war is retaliation for Saddam’s role in 9/11, most don’t blame Iraqi public for insurgent attacks," "majority of troops oppose use of harsh prisoner interrogation," and "Plurality of troops pleased with their armor and equipment."

Why is Limbaugh attacking the poll? I could see how a wingnut would not like the results. But Rush doesn't believe the results because it was sponsored by a program that contains the word "peace" in its title.

The poll was funded by Le Moyne College's Center for Peace and Global Studies.

And when I -- anytime an organization has the word "peace" in it, throw it out. It's just a bunch of long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking, FM peace-types that have an agenda.

"But what about Zogby, Rush? What about Zogby?" I'm just telling you what I think. I'm a manly guy. I stand by it.

So, anytime that a organization has the word "peace" in their title, they must me pinko-commie bastards that want to turn this country into an Islamic state.

Turns out that if Rush had done the minimal amount of homework on Le Moyne College, he would discover that it is a Jesuit School. Yes, it is a Catholic university. Does he really expect a religious school to promote war? Is he seriously claiming that the Catholic church is now the mouth piece of Islamic extremism? And, being a Catholic, I can honestly say I have never met a Jesuit brother who is a long haird, maggot-infested, dope-smoking, FMer. Correct me if I am wrong.

Personally, I would have reservations of any religious school that had a program for "War and Global Studies."

Secondly, Rush attacks Senators Schumer, Leahy, Durbin, and Bidan for their comments during a congressional hearing on the cost of oil and its exponential increase.

LEAHY: Every time there's been a merger, prices have gone up. Anybody want to respond to that? Is that just coincidence?

SCHUMER: There are fewer, more massive players in the markets, prices have spiked, and what has gone up has not come down. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Limbaugh sys "this is Stalinist. This is Stalinist and Marxist."

Stalinist and Marxist? I guess the OxyContin really did screw with Rush's brain. Econ 101 - monopolies are anti-capitalistic. Competition is what drives capitalism. Monopolies destroys capitalism. When the number of suppliers is reduced by mergers, it leads to price increases. At a certain point, economies of scale hit an plateau and the lack of competition leads to price increase. That is just the way it is. I guess in Rush's economic utopia, there would be only one oil company.

Again, this just shows that Rush is more concerned about filling the air waves with crap than actually attempting to initiate discussion. I guess they don't call his listeners ditto heads for nothing.

Sources: MMFA, MMFA

Update: More stupidity from Rush

On his web site (of which I refuse to link) Rush states:

Facts Fail to Match Media Action Line

American Deaths over the Last Three Years Put in Perspective:
• Auto Accidents: 120,000
• Falling Down: 45,000
• Poisoning: 27,000
• Drowning: 12,000
• War in Iraq: 2,300

Rush's point here? That is is much more dangerous to be in the US than to be a soldier in Iraq. But, once again, as most right wing media pundits like to do, he lies to you. He is using fuzzy math.

Lets do the math. 2300 soldiers have died in Iraq in the last 3 years. That makes a total of 767 deaths per year. We have around 130,000 troops in the field per year. Thus, making your chances of being killed in Iraq .6%.

Now, lets take all the deaths in the US from auto accidents, falling down, poisoning, and drowning. The grand total is 204,000 deaths by those causes. The number looks staggering, but when you take into account that we have 300 million people in this country, your chance of dying from any one of those causes is .07%. Meaning, a soldier is 10 times more likely to die in Iraq than all of the causes Rush cites combined when he or she comes home.

So, Rush is either ethically, or mathmatically impaired. Since we all know Rush lies more than he even gets high, it is most likely the former of the two.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mistress of the Dark, Ann Coulter Speaks

Town Hall seems to be good at putting forth drivel. I commented on one such idiotic article last week by Ben Shapiro. Now, it is Ann's turn (Welcome to my world, Claude Allen). I always have to read Ann. It is like watching the J-walkers on the Tonight Show, or the Surreal Life. It makes me so thankful for having functioning grey matter.

Ann has decided to weigh in on the recent scandal of one of Bush top aids, Claude Allen. Mr. Allen, for those of you not in the know, was arrested two weeks ago for fraud at his local target stores. It is alleged that Mr. Allen would purchase an item in the store, drop it off in his car, go back into the store and pick up a new item, go to customer service and return it for a refund. He did this with over $5000 worth of merchandise.

Something like this is going to get play in the press. Sorry, but that is how things go, especially when Bush had nominated Mr. Allen for a federal judgeship.

But Ann takes exception to the media covering this. She, in fact calls it "revenge of the queers." Back when Mr. Allen was working for Jessie Helms, he made a comment that Helms opponent was having problems because he was surrounded by queers. According to Ann, the queers are out to get Allen.

To prove her point, she notes that Mr. Allen was only mentioned 11 times by the NY Times prior to his arrest. From 2000 to 2003, Mr. Allen was the number 2 in command at the Department of Health and Human Services and then later became a policy advisor to the president.

Oh, the horror. How could the NY Times not write more about the number two man at DHHS? This must be a conspiracy... well, maybe not. Come to think of it, I couldn't name you the number 2 man under Clinton either... Actually, I couldn't name you the number 1 man under either Clinton or Bush. I had to Google the DHHS to find out the current head is Mike Leavitt. I had to jog my memory that Donna Shalala was the head under Clinton. No mention anywhere of Shalala's number 2.

For you extreme poli-wonks out there, I am sure you knew that and that Louis Wade Sullivan was Bush Sr.'s Sec. I, on the other hand had no idea.

But, Ann doesn't stop her drivel there. Ann is no slouch and leaves no stone unturned in her attempt to prove herself the most irrelevant political pundant out there. She then claims that Clinton's highest appointed African American was his secretary. Not only is this utter BS, but she knows it.

But even as Coulter touts Allen as a "talented, intelligent, magnificently conservative black man" she admits that she has heard of him only for the first time this week after he was arrested...

What?!?!? only now has Ann heard of him? But, she is a writer, a columnist, and a conservative one at that. Yet, she has never written long in-depth analytical stories about the rising star of the Bush administration? How could this be? If the NYT only mentioned Allen 11 times prior to his arrest, and Coulter has mentioned him none, what does that mean about the esteemed writer? I guess if the NYT is a bunch of racists queers for mentioning Allen only 11 times, Coulter must be getting fitted not only for her grand master robes, but also getting a Harley, comfortable shoes and a butch haircut.

So, when Ann titled her column "Welcome to my world, Claude Allen," I am not sure exactly what she means.

Abortion Ban Woes

In South Dakota, where the Republican controlled legislative branch passed a bill banning all abortion and then signed by Republican Governor Mike Rounds, the Governor is starting to feel the effects of the ban.

On February 13, 2006, the governor's approval was at 72% with only a 28% disapproval rating. These are numbers that are the dream of any elected official. These numbers have been consistent since the same time last year (tracking points).

But only a month after signing the bill, his approval dropped to 58% approval and 38% disapproval. Such a large drop will give any pro-life governor significant pause in ever singing a similar bill in another state. Especially, when the drop is in a state that is overwhelmingly pro-life.

So, not only has he signed a bill that will almost surely be overturned by the courts, he has damaged his ability to function in every other aspect of governance. This all for nothing strategy often employed by the Bush administration does nothing more than to polarize and inhibit the ability of good governance and energizes the opposition to take on the controlling party in every form.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Thursday, March 16, 2006

So Painful

Apparently wingnuts believe in the Left wing media bias so incredibly much, it is now a marketing tool to lonely wingnut men. I was looking at News Max today and saw this lovely little ad on the left hand side.

It starts off simply enough:

(Flash) Men: Do you hate rejection by women?

Well, sure. What man loves to be rejected by women

(Flash) Women will approach YOU first - Click here now

Ok, I could see how this would be appealing. What could be better than sitting back and letting the ladies flock to you, right?

But this is where it gets absurd

(Flash) Discover forbidden attraction secrets the liberal media does not want you to know!

Oh, for the love of god. Yes Wingnuts! There is a huge left wing media conspiracy in place just to keep you from getting laid. That is our goal... out breed you all. If we get all of the chicks, we get to breed and create more and more of us left wing-pinko-commie bastards. You found us out, the gig is up! So, please, go buy what ever dating guide they are selling you that will get you all the honies. Don't let the liberal media keep you down!

Illogical Logic

Ignorance, while it baffles me, never surprises. Nor does the sheer stupidity of the logic that is rendered upon us by many right wing writers. A piece written by Ben Shapiro, "Should We Prosecute Sedition?" is one such example. I am not sure if Mr. Shapiro is logically or historically impaired, but in either case, thought was lacking in his column where he contemplated the success of U.S. wars and the suppression of opposition.

At some point, opposition must be considered disloyal. At some point, the American people must say "enough." At some point, Republicans in Congress must stop delicately tiptoeing with regard to sedition and must pass legislation to prosecute such sedition.

To further his point, Shapiro cites cases in history to show how oppression of opposing views won us the war. He notes that opposition news papers were shut down by Lincoln and the writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended. Mr. Shapiro does not note that many of Lincoln's activities were found to be unconstitutional.

Second, he points to the Espionage Act of 1917 where opponents of WWI were to be prosecuted for sedition... Well, first, a correction. It was the Sedition Act of 1918 that was to prosecute sedition, not the Espionage Act. The Sedition Act was repealed in 1921 because it was deemed to be extremely un-American (I guess the congress in 1921 was a big bunch of traitors for repealing the act). And, the law was passed 5 months prior to the end of WWI. So, while Mr. Shapiro gives credit for the wars success to the Sedition Act, he forgets that there were not only others fighting by our sides (France, England, Arabs, etc) but also that by the time the bill was made a law, the war was already winding down. Additionally, the Sedition laws that Mr. Shapiro seems to love so much are now only found in dictotorial regims such as North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, and Lybia. It is good to know that Mr. Shapiro would follow their lead in legislative affairs.

Third, Mr. Shapiro points to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII by President Roosevelt as a contributing factor in winning WWII. Seriously Ben, there were many great achievements by the U.S. in WWII, but do you really believe that locking up Japs won us the war? So you think that if we had not placed Japanese-Americans in camps we would be goose stepping right now? Please...

Lastly, Mr. Shapiro claims that the loss of the Viet Nam war was related to the Supreme Court upholding the right of Americans to criticize the war and wear "jackets emblazoned with the slogan 'F--- the Draft.'" Apparently, with superior technology, military capability, and half a million American troops in the field, it was the anti-war movement back in the states that lost us the war. It didn't have anything to do with the support of an unpopular Vietnamese president, support of the feudal system that the peasants were rebelling against, or the sheer determination of the VC to fight to the death. No, it was because of hippies.

To put it bluntly, it is exactly the thinking of Mr. Shapiro that leads to blunders and failures at our highest levels. We are not here to serve the government, the government is here to serve us. Does Mr. Shapiro think that we would have had no Iraqi insurgency if there was 100% support from the American people? Does he think that Americans would be any less dissatisfied if Howard Dean and Al Gore were thrown in jail for their criticism of Bush. Suppression of opposition does not win you wars. Public support is achieved through competence of leadership, not silence of opposition. Maybe Mr. Shapiro should concentrate less on the opposition and concentrate more on the incompetence of leadership. Good leadership is how wars are won. Public support is a byproduct.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Travel Report: Guatemala

Well, finally, I am putting up my travel report of my trip to Guatemala. I decided to go since many of my pro bono clients (immigrant children) speak only Spanish. so, I attended two weeks of Spanish school. While I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish, it has improved in leaps and bounds. Not only can I now say that my name is Aaron, but can also ask from which country is Juan. Pretty impressive, huh?

Anyhoo, my Spanish school was in Antigua, Guatemala. With over 75 schools in the little town to choose from, it seemed like a good place to go. I didn't know what to expect when I signed up for the program. I had been to Nicaragua before and did a little work at an orphanage. Needless to say, since Antigua is an international tourist destination, it was worlds apart from Granada, Nicaragua.

I can't express how beautiful the city was. It was the original capital of Guatemala, but after several earthquakes in the 1500's, the capital was moved to another location. What made the Spaniards place the capital in the middle of three volcanoes in the first place is still a mystery to me.

The town center was beautiful and quite relaxing on any of the picture perfect weather days that persisted throughout the two weeks

Just in case you can't quite make out what is on the fountain, here is a close up for you.

At one end of the central park was the cathedral.

Lit up at night, it was even better.

On the first weekend, I traveled to Lake Atitlan, where you can take small ferry boats to the other towns that ring the lake (which is ringed with more volcanoes)

The next day, I ascended the volcano Agua. After a 5 hour hike up the side, we arrived at the top which greeted us with breath taking views of the county for hundreds of miles as we rested our weary legs above cloud level

This is a camp about half way up. Locals haul up water and snacks to sell to the tourists climbing the volcano.

Most of our travel was done on the world famous (or infamous) chicken buses. All the school buses from the 70's and 80's now make their home in Central and South America. While these buses are perfect for Guatemalans who tend to be rather short in stature, then were a little more difficult to fit my long legs in any comfortable position.

During the week, I used these buses to visit some near by towns. In San Andreas, we viewed the locals praying to the patron saint of the town, St. Simon. The cult of St. Simon tended to be more on the Santeria side, where they would make offerings of alcohol and money, and burn candles of different colors in return for prosperity, health and happiness. Apparently at this shrine, a woman once gave birth to a very large frog.

I also visited San Antonio where I was treated to a light dinner made by the locals. The chicken soup was amazing.

I am not sure how it happened, but I think I somehow got married a little prior to dinner.

Due to the earthquakes in the 6th and 18th centuries, the city of Antigua is littered with the ruins of the ancient churches erected when Antigua was the social and spiritual capital of Central America

And while the outside of the houses in Antigua may be not always be the best in the world to look at, behind lays some of the most beautiful courtyards I have ever seen.

For the final weekend, I flew to Tikal, which is the ancient center of the Mayan empire. Much of the former capital is still covered by rainforest, but the parts they have uncovered give a glimpse into what the ancient city would have looked like.

For my final day, I climbed another volcano. This time it was Pacaya, which is still active.

So, to say that I enjoyed myself would be an understatement. For anyone looking for a vacation that will give you something more than just a week on the beach, I recommend visiting Guatemala. Not only is it extremely beautiful, it will also make you appreciate what you do have even more. Once you make your way out of Antigua, you see the abject poverty of most of the rural population. The locals do everything they can to make you feel welcome and at home because without tourism, they know that their economy would collapse. I would have no hesitation in returning to Antigua again.

Friday, March 10, 2006

O'Conner: Top Republicans Threaten American Freedoms

Yesterday at Georgetown University, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, a Republican judge appointed by Ronald Reagan, blasted top Republican officials for their blatant attack on the independence of the courts.

"Republicans challenge the independence of judges and the freedoms of all Americans when they attack judicial independence," O'Conner said.

While not naming Tom DeLay directly, she chided him for his attacks on the courts and their independence. She mocked DeLay for his constant labeling judges as being activist and then threatening retaliation when the courts show judicial restraint as in the Terri Schivo case.

She also chided Republican Senator John Cornyn for his statements that the increase in violence against judges is due to their decision.

O'Conner said that she was opposed to judicial reform that is being "driven by nakedly partisan reasoning," as is being done by top Republicans.

She also drew the analogy of developing countries and former soviet block countries where the politicians can strong arm the judiciary to conform to their will. She said that there is a lot of degeneration before a country ends up in a dictatorship, but it is best to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Funny That... Santorum Right Back In the Back Pocket

Even after Rick Santorum tried to distance himself from the infamous K-Street project and the million dollar lobbyist by saying he will no longer have his twice a month meeting with them, he is right back at it.

But, don't worry, because it is fine. He is no longer selling us out in the capital building. He has moved his operations to the Republican headquarters down the block... That makes me feel so much better.

Just like a junky, when you are hooked, you are hooked - and Santorum is hooked.

Senator Resumes Lobbyist Huddles
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Charles Babington
Thursday, March 9, 2006; Page A04

After saying in January that he would end his regular meetings with lobbyists, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), the third-ranking GOP leader in the Senate, has continued to meet with many of the same lobbyists at the same time and on the same day of the week.

Santorum, whose ties to Washington lobbyists have been criticized by his Democratic challenger, suspended his biweekly encounters on Jan. 30. His decision came as Democrats named him as their top target in November's Senate races, and after the guilty plea of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to charges of conspiring to corrupt public officials.

But in the month since his announcement, Santorum has held two meetings attended by the same core group of lobbyists, and has used the sessions to appeal for campaign aid, according to participants. Both of those meetings were convened at the same time as the previous meetings -- 8:30 a.m. -- on the same day of the week -- Tuesday -- and they lasted for about as long as the earlier meetings -- one hour.

Instead of being held in the Capitol, however, the recent meetings were conducted nearby. The first was held about three blocks away, at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the second was held around the corner from that building, at the Heritage Foundation.

(Full Story)

Troubles for Bush Continue on NSA Spy Program

The Bush Administration is sure to come under even further attack on the NSA Warrentless spy program in the coming weeks.

First, a former Justice Department lawyer lays into the foundation of Bush's defense (Ex-Justice Lawyer Rips Case for Spying). Most of it is already agreed upon by the legal community (that there is little to no legal backing to his actions), but since it is coming from the Bush Administrations former lawyer who oversaw national security issues for the justice department from 2000 to 2003. David S. Kris, the former Justice Department official, writes "that the Bush administration's contention that Congress had authorized the NSA program by approving the use of force against al-Qaeda was a 'weak justification' unlikely to be supported by the courts." In his paper, he attacks the president assertion that the resolution to fight on war on terror gave him the authority to subvert the law. While none of us in the legal community are fully knowledgeable about the program, I have not talked to a single lawyer (liberal or conservative) who sees any justification legally for the program. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have blocked any further investigation into the alleged breach of the constitution.

Second, Bush is sure to come under more fire due to the FBI releasing their report today on the infractions committed by their own agency (FBI Cites More Than 100 Possible Eavesdropping Violations). The FBI reported over 100 possible violations to an oversight board, including situations where agents taped wrong calls, searched beyond their authority, and continued tapping calls long after the warrant had expired. And this is all done by a program that does have oversight. One can only imagine the laxity of a program that has absolutely no oversight at all.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Read the Bill

Via Maxed Out Mama, I found this great bill proposed by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA). The bill (H. Res. 688) would require any bill other than declaration of war or matters of national security to be posted on-line 72 hours prior to floor debate of proposed legislation. This changes the rules of the House to require public disclosure.

Currently, many bills are proposed or amended just hours prior to a House vote. This gives other Representatives no time to actually read and digest what is in the bill (often 300 plus pages long), and gives no time for the general public to know the contents of the bill prior to it already being passed.

Additionally, many bills proposed have tabs in them with wording that includes reports and recommendations that were never actually in the bill itself. Thus, giving no one an idea what is even in the referenced material.

H. Res. 688 will change the house rules for the benefit of all Americans, not just right or left. In order to have a functioning democracy that is trusted by the people, there must be transparency. Currently, there is little until after the damage has been done. I urge you to contact your congressman and support this bill. For further information, you can also read more about it at

To contact you representative, go here and then proceed to their web page.

Iran Threatens the US with 'Harm and Pain' Over Uranium Enrichment

Well, the tension with Iran grows over their plans for uranium enrichment. While the US presses for Iran to be brought in front of the UN security council, Iran threatens us with "harm and pain" if there are in fact brought before the council. (Iran Threatens U.S. With 'Harm and Pain').

If the issue does come before the UN SC, it is likely that it will come sometime next week (Iran likely to face Security Council next week). If sanctions are imposed, they could include economic and political sanctions, none of which would likely have any effect on Iran.

Sanctions on oil are unlikely for several reasons. First of all, Russia and China who have veto power on the SC have significant economic interest in Iran's oil industry. This is a real issue even though the US and Russia have presented a united front on the issue (U.S., Russia Cooperate on Iran Amid Rifts). Second, any disruption in Iran's oil production could lead to world oil prices reaching over $100 a barrel.

We can't threaten an arms embargo. That already exists for the most part.

The UN can threaten to freeze Iran's assets overseas, but due to that prospect, Iran has already pulled billions out of overseas accounts.

Revocation of visas to travel abroad? Gee... that is a whopper. 90% of Americans have never been outside of the US. I don't think that will hurt too many Iranians either.

Military options include invasion and strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. The invasion prospects are dim at best. With US forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be years before we would have the logistical ability to mount such and invasion (and Iran knows this).

There is the option of air strikes against facilities in Iran, but this would bring about the possibility of a counter offensive of Iranian forces moving into Iraq. While the Iranians would probably be welcomed by Iraqis in the Shiite dominated south, Sunnis would be afraid of Shiite dominated Iran gaining control of Iraq and the reprisals for the Iran-Iraq war in addition to the general treatment of Shiites in Iraq over the past 30 years. We would have Sunni Iraqis fighting Iranian and Iraqi Shiites, but not necessarily on our side or in any coordination with our military. Basically, our troops could end up in the crossfire of a 1400 year old Islamic schism.

Additionally, the invasion of the 2nd of 3 axis of evil countries would surly precipitate North Korea's advancement of their own nuclear program. With the US engaged in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, NK would have 5-10 years of breathing room in which they can develop nuclear weapons to ensure their survival.

Additionally, the distraction to the east could lead Turkey to finally play its hand in Kurdish held northern Iraq. This is a small possibility, due to Turkey's desire to enter into the EU, but none the less, a possibility.

So, in the end, at best, we are likely to see weak and ineffective sanctions against Iran. This will strengthen the hand of the hardliners. Cheney can talk tough all he wants, but words will do little.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

South Dakota Bans Abortion

So, South Dakota wants to revert to the days of coat hangers by banning all abortions except to save the life of the mother (and that was only a compromise that most of the wingnuts didn't want to add). There is no exception for rape, incest, or the health of the mother. (South Dakota Bans Most Abortions).

I respect the belief of those who believe that life begins at conception. But, of course, that is a personal belief. Not all religions hold to that tenant. It also brings up an interesting question I saw posted today:

If a fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you can only save a petri dish with five blastulae or a two-year old child, which do you save?...

It seems like a silly question. But theologically speaking, it is a legitimate question. If the embryo is the most innocent of all because it is without sin, then it should take precedence over the life of a 2 year old who has broken at least 2 of the 10 commandments.

I'm Baaaaaaaccckkkkk

Well, I am back from my vacation to Guatemala and dead tired. In a word, Guatemala is - Amazing. I will try to get a vacation report up within the next couple of days. As for the goings on in the US, I have been completely out of touch with it over the past 2 weeks, so I am trying to catch up.