Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tricks from the Bush Administration

Here are several stories that are developing on Halloween. They are brought to you by the Bush Administration and they are definitely not treats.

First story is about the head of the Justice Department’s voting rights section.

For some strange reason this got him into trouble. He suggested:
black voters are not hurt as much as whites by voter identification laws because “they die first.”

“I want to apologize for the comments,” Tanner said. “. . . I understand that my explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way, which I deeply regret.”

But Tanner, a 31-year Justice Department career employee, also stuck by his assertion that demographic differences between racial groups temper the impact on minorities of laws requiring that voters present detailed identification, prompting several Democrats to question his fitness to be a senior official in the department’s Civil Rights Division.

Except it seems that the data does not support his statement or at least calls into question his statement:

National health statistics show that blacks have shorter life expectancies than whites. But lawmakers and some voting experts said other data also show that older minority voters frequently cast ballots at higher rates than their white counterparts.

I think this sums things up rather well:

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) said voting statistics in his own state show that a higher percentage of blacks older than 60 voted in the 2004 presidential election than whites in the same age group.

“You engaged in analysis without knowing the numbers,” Davis said. “If you are basing your conclusions on stereotypes rather than facts, then it suggests to some of us that someone else can do this job better than you can.”

I have to say how stupid can people be. This guy seems to think the tone of his statement is what set people off as opposed to what was said. The tone has nothing to do with it.

The second story is about immunity given by the State Department to members of Blackwater involved in the shooting in Iraq in September.

Here’s the start of the story:

The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month’s deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

Later in the story and this is the real important point:

Prosecutors will have to prove that any evidence they use in bringing charges against Blackwater employees was uncovered without using the guards’ statements to State Department investigators. They “have to show we got the information independently,” one official said.

So a prosecution can happen but it will be more difficult then it should be because of this. Clearly considering the to do over this someone in the State Department should have thought to contact someone in the Department of Justice and ask if this was a good idea.

The final trick involves the nominee for Attorney General. Here’s what he said:

Attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey told Senate Democrats yesterday that a kind of simulated drowning known as waterboarding is “repugnant to me,” but he said he does not know whether the interrogation tactic violates U.S. laws against torture.

Stories about this in the Post and USA Today.

Mukasey goes on to say:

“If, after such a review, I determine that any technique is unlawful, I will not hesitate to so advise the president and will rescind or correct any legal opinion of the Department of Justice that supports the use of the technique,” Mukasey wrote to the committee’s 10 Democrats.

Just in case anyone is not clear on what waterboarding is:

Waterboarding generally involves strapping a prisoner to a board, covering his face or mouth with a cloth, and pouring water over his face to create the sensation of drowning, human rights groups say. The practice dates at least to the Spanish Inquisition and has been prosecuted as torture in U.S. military courts since the Spanish-American War. The State Department has condemned its use in other countries.

Here the Post’s editorial opinion on waterboarding.

It also seems Mukasey thinks it ok for “the president has broad and ill-defined powers to ignore a law when he believes his constitutional authority to defend the nation empowers him to do so.”

Wow isn’t that reassuring.

And those are my three tricks from the Bush Administration. I’m sure there are more but these three are scary enough for this Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween (Boo!)

Happy Halloween!

Here are some pictures that my brother sent me to post.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Yes, it's that time of the year again. Time to roll out the Peanuts specials. This is my second favorite behind the Christmas special. But it does have one of the funniest sequences in any of the specials. My brother and I especially enjoyed this while growing up. First a cartoon and then the clip.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Concert, Part II

Here's a list of the songs Annie Lennox sung. (You can find such great things on the internet.)

1. No More I Love You’s
2. Little Bird
3. Broken Glass
4. Pavement Cracks
5. Smithereens

Annie solo at piano:

6. Here Comes the Rain
7. A Thousand Beautiful Things
8. Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves (joined by back up vocalists) Annie directed the audience to sing along.

Band Returns:

9. Cold
10. There Must Be an Angel
11. Ghost in My Machine
12. When The Morning Comes
13. Thorn in My Side
14. Sweet Dreams


15. SING
16. Why

This is the third time I've seen her. I saw her four years ago when she toured and then in 1989 when she toured supporting the We Two Are One album of the Eurythmics.

This concert was outstanding. She was in great voice throughout the show. I think she has some of the most expressive gestures that I've seen from an artist. They are ballet like.

I think she is genuinely surprised from the response that she gets from the audience.

The song Sing is about AIDS in South Africa and what needs to be done to help the stop the spread of it. Before she sang why she talked about that and what democracy means to her. I thought it was interesting that she said I'm not talking against anyone I'm just expressing how I feel. They were very appropriate and heart felt words.

She opened and closed with my two favorite songs and who could ask for more.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Concert

It was incredible. I've seen three concerts this year. Hall and Oates who are legendary and were just great. Chris Isaak who is a great entertainer.

And Annie Lennox. Well she was genius.

I'm still trying to sort out all my feelings on the concert and I'll comment on that more later. She opened with No More I Love Yous (one of my favorites) and the concert just built from there.

Here a few links to reviews. First from the Chicago Tribune. Next from the Chicago Suntimes (it's interesting to read two different perspectives on the same concert). The final is from The Globe Mail in Canada.

Also here are two different versions of the classic song Why. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tonight . . . Annie Lennox

Tonight I'm seeing Annie Lennox at Lisner Auditorium. This is a tour in support of her new album, Songs of Mass Destruction. Here's a link to her official site.

I only find out about the concert a little over a month ago and the tickets went on sale about three and a half weeks ago. Usually tickets go on sale months before a show; I was lucky to get these. The seats are good but then again there really isn't a bad seat in Lisner.

Here's one one my favorite songs by her:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mortgage Matters

I had an interesting experience with my mortgage company last week. Here’s a little bit of background on what happened. The District of Columbia has a program where first time home buyers are exempt from paying property taxes for the first five years that they own their homes. I was lucky to be able to get that tax break. Well it expired at the end of September.

I called my mortgage company and was told to fax the letter from the District stating the tax exempt period was over. The mortgage company would factor in the new payment based on having to pay taxes. In the middle of September, I received my annual escrow account disclosure statement. It factored in the taxes into the mortgage payment. At the end of this statement was the new mortgage payment which would take effect on November 1, 2007.

That’s the important date to remember November 1. So I get a statement for my October payment. I send off my check. Then last week I get a letter from the mortgage company. It says: We recently received a payment from you but are unable to apply it to your account. I did not pay the proper amount. Continuing:

It appears the payment is short and cannot be applied to the account due to one or more of the following reason(s):

( ) Escrow Shortage Due To Analysis
( ) Interest Rate Change
( ) Escrow Payment Not Included
( ) Mortgage Insurance Not Included
( ) Transposed Numbers
( ) Cannot determine the reason the payment is less than the amount due.

One would assume that with parentheses in front of each item that one or more would have been checked but not one of them was.

So I called the bank. I was told that the mortgage payment had changed on October 1. My response was that nothing sent to me reflected that there was a new payment amount in October or what they amount would be. After all the official escrow analysis from the bank said that the new payment wasn’t due until November 1. If I was supposed to have paid a different amount in October, I should have received another statement. At the other end of the line was well hmm. Yes I guess you’re right sir.

My next question was would I be getting a late charged tacked on. One is applied if you don’t pay by the 16th of the month. I was told that once I sent in the additional amount to make up the difference in payment that the whole payment would be applied to my account. Also that I would not be paying a late fee.

I said I was not happy that this had happened. I said I should have received another statement reflecting the change in the payment. I added I was going on the documents that the bank had provided and those stated that the new payment would not go into effect until November 1. I said this was very bad customer service. Many apologies from the other end of the line.

And the upshot of all this: Monday in the mail I received another statement. It showed a past due amount along with a late charge. What a surprise.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

IED Training

This is from an article from USA Today on the training the military is undertaking to prepare soldiers for encounter IEDs in Iraq. This from the article:

Across the Pentagon’s entire training complex, there are no more than a few of the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, that are being rushed to Iraq as the latest response to the IED threat.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Mattis, selected in September to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command, told Congress in confirmation testimony that all troops are prepared when they reach combat.

But Mattis acknowledged that “units are challenged in their readiness by equipment needs … and (lack of) time to train.” Many don’t get to practice with the equipment they’ll use in combat because there’s only enough to supply troops already in the theater, he said, and they don’t reach a combat-ready state until “just in time” for their deployment.

If they don’t have the equipment they are going to use in Iraq to train on, how could anyone say the troops are "prepared" when they reach Iraq. One also has to ask the question why this hasn’t been going on since the first encounters with IEDs:

In recent years, that training has evolved and improved dramatically, but “it hasn’t been quick enough,” says Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the 1st Army, which trains all National Guard and reserve troops in the mainland USA. “It’s gotten better and better, but we’re still a long way from perfect.”

and this

The lag in IED training mirrored the reluctance of top Pentagon officials to acknowledge the potency of the insurgency — and the persistence of IEDs.

“We had a period there where the Pentagon wouldn’t even acknowledge that there was an insurgency,” says Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on military oversight. “So we were behind every step of the way — on training, equipment, technology.”

These days, with far more robust instructional programs in place, there still isn’t enough time and money to make sure that all war fighters get all the best possible IED training.

There are some rays of hope:

The bigger goal is to make training at Fort Irwin — with its mock Iraqi villages and 110-degree heat — even more realistic. Native Arabic speakers are hired by the Army to play roles as insurgents, as Iraqi troops and as bystanders during training exercises. They interact with soldiers training to interrogate troublemakers or to search Iraqi homes for IED components.

“This is the best training in the world,” says Col. Steven Salazar, who heads operations at the training center. The emphasis on IEDs, he adds, “is huge.”

But once again the lack of proper planning or any planning at all, for that matter, by the Bush Administration on the war means in yet another area the military is playing catch up. And playing catching up is costing American soldiers their lives.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Another fun site

If you are interested in TV and especially sci-fi on TV here is a great site to go to for commentary on this season's shows. It is Television Zombies.

Jake, Jeff and Tina offer a very interesting and fun perspective on current shows. Enjoy their podcasts.

Solar Decathlon

A very unique event has come to Washington the Solar Decathlon. Twenty universities from around the world are competing for a prize from the Department of Energy on who can build the most efficient solar house. Here's an article from the Post on the competition. As another article states:

If you've been to the Mall recently, you may have noticed a big change: Twenty houses have sprouted up in the past few weeks.

The structures, striking examples of modern design, are part of the third Solar Decathlon, a project of the Department of Energy. Student teams from 20 universities in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany and Spain are vying to construct the most livable, attractive and energy-efficient houses that run entirely on solar power. Through Saturday, you can peek inside their creations.

Designed and built over two years, the 500- to 800-square-foot houses have been transported from their respective campuses and reassembled to form a solar village. They boast fully functioning kitchens and bathrooms, plus central air conditioning, heating and hot water powered by photovoltaic panels. They also employ such green features as recycled building materials, modular construction and energy-efficient appliances; some of these are already on the market, while others represent the cutting edge of green building technologies.

It's good to know that there is at least some attempt underway in this country to address alternative fuels and how they can be used in everyday life.

Solar Decathlon II

Here are a couple of brochures from houses that I visited.

This was my favorite house of those I visited. I'm hoping to get back next weekend to see who won.


I haven't posted anything about my favorite pussy cat in a long time so here is a picture of Sam. He how likes to read the newspaper well actually play with it especially if there is an article on George Bush.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Neat site

This is a friend's new site. He is a very talented artist so check out his first post. I think it is really great.

Hot Hot Hot

That’s what it’s been like in Washington lately. Sunday the high was 92 degrees. It is of course also very humid. To get an idea of how hot it is for the first week in October the low on Monday was above the average high for the day. All of this hot weather and so little rain has finally begun to kill off the petunias I have in my flower boxes on the front porch. It doesn’t seem to make any difference how much I water them.

However, the flowers in the back yard are another story. I have been very attentive and watering often and the flowers in the back are blooming like crazy. Here are a a couple of pictures:

In the next couple of days a cold front will be coming through and it should feel much more like fall.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Those We've Lost

In honor of the brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date 444 in Afghanistan and 3,798 in Iraq. Here are a few faces of those we've lost. Heroes all.

Spec. Zandra T. Walker
Lost August 15, 2007

Spec. Steven R. Jewell
Lost August 14, 2007

Spec. Alun R. Howells
Lost August 13, 2007

Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey D. Kettle
Lost August 12, 2007 in Afghanistan

See an additional story on this soldier in the Post.

Spec. Justin O. Penrod
Lost August 11, 2007

Sgt. Nicholas A. Gummersall
Lost August 6, 2007

Pfc. Matthew M. Murchison
Lost August 4, 2007

Master Sgt. Julian Ingles Rios
Lost August 2, 2007

"This government does not torture people"

So says our president and that should put all questions to rest on whether the US tortures people. But I guess it depends on what the definition of torture is. And we have absolutely no idea the tactics used by the government. We should probably not know all of the methods used to extract information from our enemies. But on the other hand this administration has played fast and loose on what the accepted rules are that questions should be asked. Here are a couple of links to stories. This is about more torture memos surfacing. This on Bush defending US methods.

The bottom line is once again the Bush administration is saying "trust us" when we say we don't torture. The only problem is that no one believes that line any more. One wonders why the Bush people think it will still persuade people.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I was on Air Tahiti Nui flight 3101 on my way to New Zealand. I can hardly believe it is a year. I have to say it was one of the best adventures of my life.

A very special thanks to my hosts Nigel and Arthur. I hope I'll be seeing you guys in 2009.

A few of the many favorite pictures of my visit:

I think I like this one best of all. To see all about my trip click here.