State of the Union 2006

Here’s the blow-by-blow of tonight’s festivities, when the oil president will talk about the nation’s addiction to oil—we’ll see if there is anything of substance to back those words. We need more than ethanol incentives. Extending the hybrid tax credit would be okay, but we really need to make this a hydrogen economy (figuring out, first, how to make hydrogen with less energy than it produces).

The rumor that Cindy Sheehan has been arrested before doing anything is rather troubling. Used to be it was necessary to do something illegal before the cuffs went on. UPDATE: Sheehan is reported to have “unfolded a banner” in the House Gallery, which is prohibited.

Sam Alito looks almost dazed by the clamor in the House chamber. It’s actually rather charming.

Here he is, Mr. President. The low-expectation setting by CNN’s commentators, combined with assurances the President is a “nice guy” is appalling. Just report the news, don’t do the spinning for Karl Rove. He’s paid for it, so let him do it. Opening ovation: About 35 seconds.

Nice that he starts with Coretta Scott King, who passed away today. Begins with our gathering for mourning and a lot of past tense language. He appeals for civility and good will and respect, but he hasn’t done his part. The Great Divider speaketh and his words pass away, as he goes right on to accuse people who disagree with him as believing his pursuit of “freedom” is “misguided optimism.”

I’m glad he’s talking about isolationism, but trade and opportunity must be combined with deep investment in public education to make the gains democratic.

The advance of freedom…. unfortunately, most of those democracies showed their faces in the 20th century, not this century. The process of bringing freedom in Bush’s plan has alienated people around the world from the United States. Hey, I agree about radical Islam—bad, but the idea that bin Laden is tempted to “seize power in Iraq” is silly. We do love our freedom, we will fight to keep it…. but we’re fighting to impose “our freedom” on others so that bad people don’t come to our shores. Doesn’t play well overseas.

Battlefield to our shores: We needn’t retreat from the world and no one is calling for that. But folks would like to have gone to war for a legitimate reason. He’s tying isolationism to the anti-war movement. That’s an illegitimate approach to the legitimate difference of opinion. There’s no one asking for all troops to come home from everywhere; we’re asking for a rational plan for getting out, diplomacy to bring more countries to help Iraq.

Not a lot of clapping going on.

The dramatic progress of a new democracy: Iraq’s accelerated path from Saddam to today has killed hundreds of thousands, alienating Iraqis and the Middle East from Americans. He mentions the “plan for victory,” but what is it?

Refers to responsible criticism and defeatism. What? Second-guessing? How about “learning from our mistakes”?

Does anyone really think that Iraq would welcome bin Laden? We should support our military by using their lives responsibly. The sacrifices of the fighting men and women does not purchase excuses for a badly managed presidency.

The soldier’s family looks proud, but a little confused. There is a shot of Bush, who seems to be jealous of the long applause for someone else. He shrugs and winks at someone. Agreed, we should never forget the sacrifices of the military families, but asking if the sacrifices are made wisely by this President is also what these men and women fought for. We’re not second guessing you, Mr. President. We’re asking you be open and debate the war, your reasons for taking us to war, so that we can learn together how to get out of the war with the success we all want.

We’re almost a half-hour into the speech and it’s still war and the Middle East. I agree that liberty is the right and hope of all humanity. Why are civil liberties at home being sacrificed, Mr. President. The Iranian passage sounds like pre-war Saddam rhetoric, right down to speaking to the citizens of Iran, as he did the people of Iraq before the invasion.

Again, isolationism? The Republicans have been behind the calls for getting disentangled every time the U.S. got involved with Africa for the past three decades…. The AIDS and malaria battles have been declared and underfunded by government. Private funding has done amazing things.

Patriot Act: Ah, there we are. That’s the civil liberties we are protecting. Goes on to suggest that the FISA courts prevented the intelligence community from spotting the 9/11 hijackers. He says previous presidents have done the same and courts backed them — not true, this question has not been addressed by the courts in favor of Bush’s position.

More isolationism accusations? We’re in a “long war” that will be “fought by presidents of both parties.” Thank you, but I’d like future presidents to fight for liberty by protecting civil rights.

35 minutes in we get to domestic policy. We hear the usual litany of the good things in the economy, but the economic gains have not been shared by all, only by Bush’s top one percent. As he cites China and India, says we’re going to become protectionist, that power will be centralized in Washington (as though it hasn’t been dramatically since 2000?). Economic retreat toward a stagnant economy….

What’s the plan?

The first step is more tax cuts? How do we finance more education, better schools? How about continuing education? Oh, no! If we don’t keep the tax cuts in place for those top earners who don’t expect to pay more, even though the returns on American investment have increasingly gone into their pocket. More cuts? If we cut education anymore, there won’t be a public school system. What’s the plan for being competitive?

Here comes the Social Security harangue…. What if, instead, we invest in new educational opportunity to increase economic growth? How is it that the President always paints the economic upside of his deficit-ballooning tax cuts while refusing to acknowledge that more investment in Americans’ intelligence and opportunity would secure Social Security, which is the bedrock of our economic existence—what would older people do if they had nothing to live on?

He says no one can outproduce and outcompete the American worker. Yes, that’s true if the country invests in them, if, like a great coach, the President encourages learning and risk-taking not by investors but by individual workers. How about universal healthcare so that job mobility was easier? He says competitiveness depends on affordable healthcare, but only for the poor and elderly (with lots of loopholes), while using healthcare costs to lock people into jobs that don’t offer them a future. Portable coverage is not the answer, because sometimes there are times that the next job isn’t on the horizon.

It would be good to believe he really wants to help small business get insurance, but in five years there’s been no progress there. (I know, I’ve been a small business person the whole time).

47 minutes in: Energy. We’re on the threshhold of incredible advances. Twenty-two percent for the DOE to push “clean coal”, solar and “clean, safe nuclear.” Increased research for batteries and hydrogen. Ethanol that can be practical and competitive in six years. BTW, 2005 DOE research spending was flat at $2.5 billion, so this is just a catch-up spending plan. A 22% increase appears to be about $550 million.

Double basic research over ten years? Let’s do make the R&D tax credit permanent. But let’s also give any kid who goes into research a free education. Talking No Child Left Behind now, but the gains are illusory. How about paying teachers to do a good job, not just more teachers?

Our greatness is in how we treat one another…. hence all the divisiveness. Ah, we are in a revolution of conscience. Apparently, before conservatives came along we weren’t aware of the need for personal responsibility. Our culture is apparently in trouble because of crooked pols, activist judges and so forth. Says we shouldn’t believe America is in decline, but he just listed all the threats that are dragging it down? Oh, well, Justices Roberts and Alito will fix all that….

After all the advances talk, there is a moderated stem cell research agenda. If I heard right, he didn’t say no stem cell research, only no cloning, no patenting of embryos…. Is there movement there?

If he wants to show responsibility in government, how about releasing the Katrina documents, information about White House staff contact with Jack Abramoff and generally being more open to public scrutiny? There are so many secrets these days that almost nothing can be discussed. How about some sunshine laws?

We’re rebuilding the Gulf Coast, talking commitments of money, not all of which appears to be available after all. Can’t say for sure, because not all White House documents are accessible. Takes a poorly turned line that echoes Martin Luther King, then we veer back to HIV and blacks. This is pandering and kind of rude, because AIDS isn’t a black problem, it’s a human problem.

Lincoln? MLK? Bush? There’s a list for you. Will we finish well? How about finishing this presidency and getting past the decline in civil liberties, the widening income and wealth gaps, the clouds of secrecy clearing. He smiles as he finished like “Yeah, I gave a speech.” Less than hour.

CNN goes right into “the president playing to his strengths” when 60 percent of Americans are sick of his war-mongering. They go on to say “the Democrats haven’t given the country a unified voice” because that’s “honest” to point out—so, they credit Bush and discredit his opposition. That’s balance?

Bush signs lots of autographs on the way out. Tacky. The speech doesn’t provide any details to relieve anyone concerned about the state of the nation. It was war, war, terror, terror for two-thirds of the time, then a slice of domestic pabulum.

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Criminals learning from CSI

CNN.com – ‘CSI: Crime School’s In’ – Jan 30, 2006:

When Tammy Klein began investigating crime scenes eight years ago, it was virtually unheard of for a killer to use bleach to clean up a bloody mess.

Today, the use of bleach, which destroys DNA, is not unusual in a planned homicide, said the senior criminalist from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

It’s fascinating that we can see the impact of a crime drama in real crime.

So, do we now expect the Bush Administration to censor CSI because it teaches criminals to cover up their crimes? But, seriously, this shows that TV can teach and criminals are not beyond learning new behaviors—if only we could get them to focus on something positive.

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Another reminder government can’t be trusted with warrant-less eavesdropping powers

WXIA 11Alive.com – ACLU Releases Government Photos:

The ACLU of Georgia released copies of government files on Wednesday that illustrate the extent to which the FBI, the DeKalb County Division of Homeland Security and other government agencies have gone to compile information on Georgians suspected of being threats simply for expressing controversial opinions.

Two documents relating to anti-war and anti-government protests, and a vegan rally, prove the agencies have been “spying” on Georgia residents unconstitutionally, the ACLU said. (Related: ACLU Complaint — PDF file)

We knew the government was anxious about dissent and monitoring domestic groups, but it is good to be reminded in the midst of the Bush Administration’s assurances that it can be trusted not to overstep the Constitution with regards domestic spying, that this is a government with a poor record of tolerating any dissent. Pictures of protesters, wiretaps, next come the kangaroo courts.

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More calls for dictatorship: It’s just easier!

Via John Robb’s Weblog: A Military Dictatorship in the US?:

Newsmax: Gen. Tommy Franks says that if the United States is hit with a weapon of mass destruction that inflicts large casualties, the Constitution will likely be discarded in favor of a military form of government.

I’m with John, who says Franks is a disgrace to his uniform and country. Would Congress please convene hearings on the military’s increasingly rancid rhetorical and literal attacks on freedom? We’re not just talking about the warrantless wiretapping, but the repeated assertions that the military is better positioned to run the country than ordinary people.

If Congress won’t do it, how about the American people convene a series of hearings online and in public meetings?

Of course, it all began with President-elect George W. Bush, who said: “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.”

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More vectors and more damage with Avian flu

Nature reports that the avian flu is far more aggressive than typical flu viruses, attacking systems and cells throughout the body. I also didn’t know that cats could be another infection vector. Glad we have poodles….

The team first reported that the H5N1 flu strain could infect domestic cats1 in 2004, a discovery that was startling because cats were previously thought to be immune to the flu. In a follow-up study, published in the American Journal of Pathology this month2, they carefully probed the tissues of eight infected animals.

The virus wreaks havoc in the brain, liver, kidney, heart and numerous other tissues, they find, killing cells and triggering inflammation. By contrast, the flu viruses that strike people in winter largely limit their damage to the nose and lungs.

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A sign of the times….

Bush to Take Unscripted Audience Questions – New York Times:

Move over, Oprah. President Bush is making himself into television’s newest talk show host by making audience participation a feature of his appearances.

Bush has been taking questions from audience members in recent speeches, and the White House says none has been prescreened. The sessions are not open to the public, but instead limited to invited groups.

That this is a headline at all is frightening. The President will answer questions. Wow. But, it turns out, he’ll only do it in private, where no one can hear him say it. It’s like a bad dream we can’t wake from.

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Bushies aim to politicize the World Bank

FT.com / World / International economy – Wolfowitz triggers graft storm at World Bank:

The dispute has come to a head with the appointment last week of Suzanne Rich Folsom, a counsellor to Mr Wolfowitz with close ties to the Republican party, as the new director of the Department of Institutional Integrity, the internal bank watchdog that investigates suspected fraud and staff misconduct.

Her appointment has raised objections that a person close to Mr Wolfowitz, and with a political background, has been put into a senior position at a unit that was seen as independent of the president’s office since it was set up in 2001.

Robert Hindle, previously the senior manager of the unit and a long-time World Bank employee, resigned in November largely as a result of what four current and former bank sources said was concern at the targeting of employees who had worked on projects that developed corruption problems, and pressure on two occasions from Ms Rich Folsom to bypass internal rules on investigating the e-mail records of a number of employees.

This is an interesting development: The World Bank’s been an independent entity, but now that Bush advisor Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq War, is heading the institution, he’s following a fairly standard script for neocon usurpation of power. Not only has he brought in a Republican activist, but the bank has begun to go around established procedures for accessing employee email possibly to target people based on political views rather than actual performance. That the program is designed to ferret out corruption sounds noble, but the reality has been that Bushmen tend to call any disagreement with their agenda a plot or corruption.

Wherever you go in Bush’s America, your privacy is in a shambles. We need to keep a close eye on this campaign to see if it is legitimate or politically motivated.

I also went into the privacy principles in question over at ZD Net….. (read more).

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