Thursday, January 26, 2006

Holy sh*t, Grover Norquist does the right thing (Or -- this is the tide turning)

See below:

Grover Norquist (president of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the leading Republican think-tank hawks in Washington, D.C.) has just joined forces with Democrats and the ACLU in calling for President Bush to reverse his position on wiretaps (though no mention has been yet made of torture). Norquist says he is doing this because he is a Republican and a friend of the President, and he feels that somebody like that needs to say this now. Though Norquist wants to see the terrorists caught/killed, he does not want that outcome at the expense of the liberties upon which this country was founded.

When Norquist comes out against a Republican President on any issue, you know something is up. This issue matters. You probably won't see this on ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN/FOX/etc. T.V. news anytime soon, but word will creep out. Torture and the invasion of the privacy of Americans will not be tolerated by the people of this country. Driving SUVs, drilling in the arctic, and running the government bankrupt to fight unnecessary foreign wars... that's another thing. But apparently, a line in the sand has been drawn, and the Bush administration has crossed it.

Impeachment does seem unlikely... but add this to the current corruption scandal, and it certainly seems like the tide may be turning, the pendulum losing momentum and beginning the turn-around for the swing back.

see for yourself:


Political opposites aligned against Bush wiretaps
- James Sterngold, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006

Larry Diamond, a Democrat and a Hoover Institution senior fellow, went to Baghdad in 2004 as a consultant for the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority, believing strongly in the Bush administration's goal of building a democracy there. While critical of many aspects of the Iraq war, he has, he says, wholeheartedly supported President Bush's aggressive approach to the war on terror.

Grover Norquist is one of the most influential conservative Republicans in Washington. His weekly "Wednesday Meeting" at his L Street office is a must for conservative strategists, and he has been called the "managing director of the hard-core right" by the liberal Nation magazine. Perhaps the country's leading anti-tax enthusiast, he is, like Diamond, a hawk in the war on terror.

Despite coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, they agree on one other major issue: that the Bush administration's program of domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency without obtaining court warrants has less to do with the war on terror than with threats to the nation's civil liberties.

"My view on the terrorists is that we should find all of them and kill them," said Norquist. "But we should also protect our civil liberties, which the terrorists are trying to destroy."

Diamond, whose academic specialty is the building of democracies, has taken his opposition one step further, joining a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union last week to halt the president's program.

"I teach about democracy and the rule of law, the quality of a democracy," he said. "I meet so many people around the world who want to look up to the American model, and a spying program like this really harms us."

Bush and his senior officials have defended the wiretaps as essential in a time of war, while many White House and GOP officials have attempted to characterize opposition as coming mostly from partisan Democrats critical of the war in Iraq. In a speech to the Republican National Committee last Friday, Karl Rove, the president's chief strategist, accused Democrats of making "wild and reckless and false charges" on the wiretap issue.

But, in fact, a number of prominent Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have criticized Bush and the wiretapping without court warrants as a violation of the law and basic civil liberties. So have other well-known conservatives, including former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia. Bruce Fein, a lawyer who worked in the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan, wrote in a commentary in the Washington Times last week that Bush should face "possible impeachment" if the practice is not stopped.

"There have been as many Republicans as Democrats who've spoken out on the issue," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Tuesday as he stated that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he heads, will begin hearings on the matter on Feb. 6.

Norquist and Diamond explained in interviews why this odd alliance has come together in spite of the bitter divisions between left and right on most other political issues.

Diamond, who also teaches at Stanford University, is an expert on democratic development -- the reason he was hired as a consultant for the Coalition Provisional Authority by his old friend and former Stanford colleague Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

He says that, though he is a Democrat, his focus is civil liberties, not the president.

"I give Bush credit for his vigilance since 9/11," said Diamond. "I'm very much in sympathy with the need to monitor al Qaeda and terrorists, to uproot them, interdict them, catch them and when necessary to kill them. But we can't roll over on something like this."

Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says he knows some fellow conservatives have labeled him a traitor for condemning the same administration that instituted the biggest tax cuts in recent American history -- cuts for which Norquist vigorously lobbied. But an even greater disloyalty, Norquist responds, would be to allow what he regards as the trampling on civil liberties to go unimpeded.

"The president's friends are exactly who you want telling him this," said Norquist. "No one else has the credibility. We are being team players by telling him, not by keeping quiet."

Norquist said one of his main concerns is that, once the government becomes so intrusive, there is no way to prevent continued erosion of individual rights.

"Even if you believed an angel was making these decisions, and that's not what I'm saying, at some point the person in the White House will change," he said. "Hillary Clinton might be making these decisions."

The New York Times first disclosed last month that the president had approved a program under which the NSA had been intercepting an apparently large volume of communications to and from the United States without first obtaining special court approval, as required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But the president and senior administration officials insist that Congress gave the president the authority to bypass that law. They also say that the extraordinary threat presented by terrorist groups require such measures. Initially, most national opinion polls narrowly favored the administration's position, but polls released this week show a majority in favor of obtaining a warrant before such surveillance is permitted.

Last Tuesday, the ACLU and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed separate lawsuits in federal courts seeking to stop the administration from the eavesdropping without obtaining warrants.

Joining the ACLU suit were a mix of supporters and opponents of the Bush administration, including Diamond, James Bamford, who has written several books on the NSA, and Christopher Hitchens, a columnist who vocally supported the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and has written extensively about the threat posed by "Islamo-fascism," the term he uses to characterize the ideology of al Qaeda.

Diamond and the others who have signed on to the ACLU suit say they suspect that some of their overseas communications might have been intercepted.

Diamond also fears that some researchers, especially in the Middle East, will stop communicating with him for fear they might be caught in the NSA's electronic net, making it harder for him to continue his own work on democratic development in countries like Egypt and Iraq.

And, like Norquist, Diamond worries about how the Bush administration or others might use the wiretap information.

"That information could be sitting in a database somewhere for a long time," said Diamond. "It might be there not just for this administration, but for anyone.

"That data could be mined for any reason," he added. "It's frightening."

Norquist is not a party to either suit, but he has been outspoken in criticizing his party's leader. He said that he had brushed aside concerns that he was harming the president or being disloyal at a critical time.

"You need someone who is a Republican to call the president on this," he said.

Norquist said, ironically, he was particularly concerned about the problem because the Democrats appeared to be so weak.

"For 40 years we always assumed the left would take care of our civil liberties," he said. "If there were problems, the Democrats were the ones who would push back. But now with a Republican Congress and a Republican in the White House, the ACLU can't get their calls returned."

Referring to what some see as a conflict between fighting vicious terrorists and upholding all civil liberties, Norquist said: "It's not either/or. If the president thinks he needs different tools, pass a law to get them. Don't break the existing laws."

E-mail James Sterngold at

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©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fixing health care in this country

Health care in the U.S., as a system, is broken. Does this mean that you or I can no longer get coverage? No. This means that the system as a whole, costs too much with relation to the services that it provides. The price is high beyond justification.

Paul Krugman has written many articles on this topic. One of the latest makes a bogeyman out of health savings accounts, as created in 2003 by the Bush Administration:

"In practice, the health savings accounts created by the 2003 Medicare law will serve primarily as tax shelters for the wealthy. But let's put justified cynicism about Bush administration policies aside: is giving individuals responsibility for their own health spending really the answer to rising costs? No."

Personally, I'm on the fence about this. I would like for my naturopath to be my primary care physician, but my health plan does not allow this. Perhaps a personal health savings account would allow me to pay for my naturopathic visits using my pre-tax health care benefit, rather than having to pay for most of it out of pocket. If I'm misunderstanding the nature of this benefit or how I might be able to use it, I'd like to know.

In another article, Krugman writes:

"Several readers have asked me a good question: we rely on free markets to deliver most goods and services, so why shouldn't we do the same thing for health care? Some correspondents were belligerent, others honestly curious. Either way, they deserve an answer."

This is the one to read for a really good argument for nationalizing our national health care system. Incidentally, Oregon's former governor John Kitzhaber, a former medical-room physician from Roseburg, OR, has presented a plan for Oregon as a state to do exactly that. He's calling it the Archimedes Movement:

...and he's posted a manifesto there, one that does a good job, over 10 pages, of outlining the problem with the U.S. health care system, and intimating what the shape of the ultimate solution might look like. In case you fear that this might be dry reading, here's a quote from near the end:

"Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve today’s problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” That is true. But I think that Edward Abbey -- the late Western novelist -- put it more succinctly, if not as eloquently when he said: “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up you get a lot of scum on the top.”

The manifesto, entitled Road to Revolution, is at:

So, let me close this blog post by quoting directly from Kitzhaber's manifesto, in fact, his closing statement:

Let me close with the words of Oregon poet Kim Stafford who eloquently defines the
challenge, the opportunity – and, indeed, the responsibility -- that lies before us in what he calls “Lloyd’s Story.” Lloyd Reynolds, the international citizen of Portland, spent his last days in pain, silent, unable to speak or to write, lying in his hospital bed. On his last day at home, as his wife scurried to pack his suitcase for the hospital, Lloyd made his way outside to the garden and there she found him on his knees, with a spoon, awkwardly planting flower bulbs. “Lloyd,” she said, “you will never see these flowers bloom.”

He smiled at her. “They are not for me,” he said, “they are for you. The salmon
coming home? They are for you. The calls of the wild geese? They are for you. The
last old trees? They are for you and your children, to the seventh generation and
beyond. They are all blooming into being for you.”

That is our challenge today. To plant the seeds of tomorrow; to change the world by
acting, by leading, by personally reengaging in this struggle -- not as victims of the status quo, but as architects of a new future.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

30 Beers to have on tap

Somebody recently asked "If you were to wander into a bar with 30 beers on tap, which 30 would they be, in your perfect world?"

Golly, what a question. Here's my answer today:

1. Hair of the Dog: Ruth
2. Bridgeport: IPA
3. Deschutes: Black Butte Porter
4. Rogue: Dead Guy
5. Lagunitas: 10
6: Widmer: Drop Top Amber
7. MacTarnahans: Amber
8. Bridgeport: Ebeneezer
9. Deschutes: Jubelale
10. Hair of the Dog: Doggie Claws
11. Widmer: Snow Plow
12. Full Sail: Wreck The Halls
13. Full Sail: Wassail
14. Full Sail: Sessions Lager
15: Full Sail: IPA
16: Bridgeport: Pintail Copper Ale
17: MacTarnahans: Mac Frost
18: MacTarnahans: Black Watch Porter
19: Rogue: Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale
20: Hair of the Dog: Fred
21: Lagunitas: Censored
22: Deschutes: Cascade Ale
23: Deschutes: Obsidian Stout
24: Pelican: MacPelican's Scottish Style Ale
25: Rogue: Shakespeare Stout
26: Hair of the Dog: Rose
27: Caledonian: 80/-
28: Murphys: Irish Stout
29: Widmer: Dopplebock
30: Salvator: Dopplebock


My ideal hybrid diesel/electric all-purpose vehicle

What would my ideal vehicle be, for driving from America to Argentina nonstop (except perhaps for the ferry from Panama to Ecuador)?

It would be based on something that was a cross between a Jeep Commander, a Toyota Pathfinder, a Jeep Liberty, a Subaru Forester, a Saturn VUE, a Volvo Cross Country and a Unimog. Basically, it would:

* Seat 5 normally, with the option for a 3rd row of seating in a pinch to accommodate 7-8
* Be light-weight, with the polymer body panels that Saturn uses on all their vehicles
* Be tough, with skid plates underneath it to protect from rocks, etc.
* Be truly 4wd, with the ability to drive in loose sand, mud, potholes, dirt roads, as well as city streets and on the freeway
* Not necessarily be the fastest thing around, but be able to keep up with traffic and pass slower vehicles without needing an airplane runway to get the speed up to do so.
* Climb hills steadily carrying a heavy load
* Hold a winch on the front bumper to allow it to get out of a pinch, or pull another vehicle out, or do the other things that winches allow for
* Have a heavy-duty roof rack on top that could carry the cargo for 4-5 people on a 2-week (or 1-year) journey, in combination with the storage space below
* Have a rear-mounted spare tire that also had room for a spare gas (diesel) can
* Have fog lamps
* Have crush protection for all lights, so they wouldn't get smashed by debris
* Operate using a hybrid diesel-electric powertrain, possibly one with a separate electric motor for low and another for high speeds.
* Have the ability to run entirely off of battery-electric power until the batteries run nearly dry
* Have the ability to use biodiesel/SVO
* Get at least 45mpg on diesel fuel, averaged between highway and city (but not less than 42 in either situation).
* Have at least a 450-mi range on a single tank of gas (preferably 500mi)
* Have rollover protection -- it must not roll unless driven in the most extreme/insane situations, such as at 50mph on a 15% slope while turning the wrong direction (i.e. it shouldn't roll in any situation that a regular passenger car would not roll in). Volvo, I believe, can already make this claim with its SUVs.
* Potentially have solar panels to assist with charging the battery to provide additional motive power (hey, this might help increase fuel economy by another 5 mpg, right?)
* Be able to tow a trailer (though not necessarily quickly)
* Have durable leather seating (I haven't met any other type of seat that I like as much as leather in an automobile)
* Have the potential for a 50-year life span (or even 100 if well-maintained and lucky), assuming that some parts would need replacement or refurbishment at semi-regular intervals (batteries, tires, windshield wipers, etc.)
* Have at least a 10-year/250,000-mile warranty on the essential systems (drivetrains, computers, etc.) ...if you're going to build it, build it right!
* Have a good sound system with a subwoofer, at least 4 tops, and an RCA aux-in port
* Cost less than $50,000 (And I'd prefer $30-35,000!!!) with all of the above features.
* Have a good security system engineered into it from the beginning, so you could park it anywhere without fear of what might happen to it while you're away. Part of this would be not looking too flashy, fading into the background, having shatter-proof glass, good solid electronic locks, electronic ignition lockout, good
* Have oh-shit handles accessible to every passenger that will not break under any circumstances or loads
* Have cargo hooks in every conceivable useful location
* Have rubber/waterproof floors and durable interior materials throughout. Not necessarily be able to spray down the interior with a hose, but at least be able to wash it and maintain it for 50 years without it rotting/molding/mildewing if it gets wet repeatedly/prolongedly or if somebody spills their coffee/soda/etc on it.

Sure, I'd pay up to $50,000 for a vehicle that was engineered to last 50 years and guaranteed for the first 10 to have the manufacturer replace faulty parts for free! Especially if it could go anywhere and do anything, with finesse and style!

UC Davis, NUMMI, anybody else care to partner up and/or take these specs and run with them? I'd like to test-drive this sucker in 2007.