Folks, sorry for the hiatus. I’m thinking and working a lot, so the spam management of this blog has made it less inviting to me.

On Tuesday, I finally shut off non-authenticated commenting on this blog. Consequently, the commenting system will remain available to anyone who registers with TypeKey. Previously, I was deleting 300 spams every day or two and, most often, my server was simply shutting off comments because the flow of spam. You can still use trackbacks to RatcliffeBlog—and I get spam there, too, but not so much—but this was a necessary step to making the blog a useful thing rather than a time-suck that took 15 minutes to clean up every day.

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Rumsfeld replacement Robert M. Gates and Iran-Contra

Par for the Bush course. But this time there’s someone with the power to ask questions.

Robert Gates, the appointee selected to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the Department of the Defense, was an un-indicted coconspirator in the Iran-Contra conspiracy, according to the special investigator, Lawrence Walsh’s Iran / Contra Report – Chapter 16 Robert M. Gates:

Gates’s defense was that he did not recall the Kerr meeting.15 To say the least, this was disquieting. He had been told by a very senior officer that two of President Reagan’s personal priorities were in danger — not something an ambitious deputy director of central intelligence would likely forget. Allen was acting as a whistle-blower in a difficult situation. His concern was for the safety of the hostages and the success of the efforts of the President. His information suggested serious malfeasance by Government officials involved in a clandestine and highly sensitive operation. Even though Gates may have believed Allen to be excessively concerned, could such an expression of concern be forgotten, particularly after it had been corroborated within a few weeks? Logically, Gates could ignore or forget the Allen report only if he already knew of the diversion and he knew that Casey and Poindexter knew of the diversion….

In the spring and summer of 1986, Gates became involved in a debate over what role Vincent Cannistraro, a CIA officer detailed to the NSC, should play in the $100 million contra program that was expected to take effect in October 1986. There was concern that if Cannistraro replaced North, the CIA would be drawn into North’s contra supply activities. Gates discussed Cannistraro’s assignment with a number of CIA and NSC personnel, including Fiers, Clair E. George, and Poindexter. Gates met with Cannistraro himself in an attempt to resolve the situation. OIC’s inquiry focused on whether Gates, in the course of these discussions, learned about North’s role in contra operations….

Independent Counsel found insufficient evidence to warrant charging Robert Gates with a crime for his role in the Iran/contra affair. Like those of many other Iran/contra figures, the statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid. Nevertheless, given the complex nature of the activities and Gates’s apparent lack of direct participation, a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.

Via the History News Network. Thankfully, we now have a Democratic Congress that can ask about this passage before rubber-stamping the Gates appointment. Welcome back to democracy.

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2006 Election in summary: The center rules – Elections 2006 is a summary of the ballot measures that tell another part of the story of the 2006 mid-term election. A variety of kinds of Democrats won seats in the Senate and House, not just the conservative Democrats. The Republican spin that this is “still a conservative country” is a polarizing view of what’s really happened. The center has said enough of the extremes that characterize the “socially conservative” agenda.

In every ballot measure where minimum wage was on the ballot, voters supported increasing the minimum wage. In Arizona, one of the most conservative states, raising the minimum wage passed by 66 percent. In Missouri, the minimum wage increase passed by a whopping 76 percent.

Every ballot measure calling for greater limits on abortion failed. Every ballot measure on stem cell research passed.

In Washington state, voters rejected eliminating the estate tax by almost two-thirds and voted to require energy companies to provide a target level of renewable capacity by a slim marging.

The only “traditional” issues that gained strong support was opposition to gay marriage or domestic partnership, which lost by a wide margin in every state where it was on the ballot. This is only the most recently flogged on the far-right issues and, like the others, will give way to more centrist positions.

Now, we’ll have to see if one-party rule is really over or whether the White House and a split Senate will attempt to filibuster all House action. The center, however, has told Republicans it is time to come back to the table.

If there are no shenanigans in Virginia, it should be a Democratic Senate, as well, though without a clear majority on many issues. WIth these kinds of narrowly divided Congresses, the art of bipartisanship can accomplish great things.

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You can put a price on human life? / Companies / UK – How BP put a price on human life:

BP was not only willing to put a value on human life, something its predecessor Amoco refused to do – it listed it at $20m (£10.5m) for a single fatality incident, with the cost escalating for multiple deaths in the same accident, the Financial Times has learned.

The details, revealed in sworn testimony, come as the first civil trial begins this week arising from the fatal explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery in 2005.

“If the incident had four fatalities, then the number would escalate to $40m. In, you know, 100 fatalities, the number would escalate to $200m per life,” said Robert Mancini, who is now a BP consultant in process safety, following his 2004 retirement from the UK company as a chemical engineer.

Look, they even have a heinousness factor in the escalating price per life if they kill a lot of people at one go. That’s some thinking. But what if the death was gruesome, such as if a chemical released from a BP plant caused not just death but weeks of tortuous pain? What about long-term agony, such as generations of birth defects? It all looks moral, but treating any life like it has a price is immoral. Only you can choose the price of your life.

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A lousy November Surprise

Judgment day looms for Saddam – Yahoo! News:

Three years after American soldiers found him hiding in a hole, Saddam Hussein may be condemned to hang on Sunday if an Iraqi court finds him guilty of crimes against humanity.

Does anybody doubt Saddam was a bad guy? It is not, however, the reason we went to Iraq, because we had him confined and drastically limited his ability to act even against his own people. This isn’t much of a “November surprise” when more people are dying in Iraq today than before the invasion. Iraq is badly broken and it was our doing. The only rational response is to remove the leaders who took us into this war, then go about extracting ourselves through smart diplomacy that replaces our troops with an international force, because an Iraq unpoliced will descend into something even worse that Saddam.

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Low unemployment? Then where’d all the workers go?

Mark Thoma at Economist’s View tackles a question I’ve been wondering about: The number of new jobs it takes to sustain full employment.

That is, how many jobs does the economy have to add in a month to keep the unemployment rate steady. In recent years, since the beginning of the “Bush recovery,” the number of jobs added has been suspiciously low. This past month, 92,000 jobs added brought the U.S. to the lowest level of unemployment in five-and-a-half years. yet, it used to take 150,000 to 200,000 jobs added each month to do the same thing.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Federal Reserve now says only 110,000 jobs added is sufficient to sustain current employment rates. But this seems to me to be the result of the increasing politicization of the Fed, which seems more concerned with supporting White House messaging than managing the economy that actually exists.

Economist’s View: What Level of Job Creation will Sustain Full Employment?:

The change from 150,000 to 110,000 is fairly recent. Michael Moskow’s speech, the first time I heard the revised estimate, was in June, 2006, a year and a half after the trough shown in the graph below. Moskow said:

With overall population growth continuing to slow and labor force participation not expected to rise, we probably need to adjust our benchmarks for what level of employment growth is consistent with economic growth near potential and a steady unemployment rate. It used to be that increases in payroll employment that averaged 150,000 per month were consistent with flat unemployment. Now that number may be closer to 100,000.

Here’s the overall participation rate, and it doesn’t seem to support such a large change in estimate of the job growth needed to hold unemployment steady (to two-thirds of its previous value)… read the rest.

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Linguist fight!

Steven Pinker replies to George Lakoff’s reply to his George Lakoff’s tendentious theory of everything:

It’s true that I accept Lakoff’s earlier, measured account of the role of metaphor in cognitive psychology, but not his later, and far more grandiose proposals about the nature of mathematics, philosophy, and rationality itself. He is free to argue for his new, “higher rationality,” but I think it is unwise to for the Democrats to base their electoral strategy on one man’s tendentious theory of everything.

I think Lakoff’s explanation of physiological experience as the metaphorical foundation of cognition makes a lot of sense, but I agree with Pinker that Lakoff’s vision for reframing political debate as a cure-all for Democratic woes is far off base.

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We broke the seas

Folks, it’s time to think differently.

Seafood Population Depleted by 2048, Study Finds –

The world will run out of seafood by 2048 if steep declines in marine species continue at current rates, according to a study released today by an international group of ecologists and economists.

The paper, published in the journal Science, concludes that overfishing, pollution, and other environmental factors are wiping out important species across the globe, hampering the ocean’s ability to produce seafood, filter nutrients and resist the spread of disease.

“We really see the end of the line now,” said lead author Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Canada’s Dalhousie University. “It’s within our lifetime. Our children will see a world without seafood if we don’t change things.”

We’re not just talking about no sushi for the grandkids, but a complete failure of the global ecosystem with devastating results for human civilization and health.

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