She gives hope Check out Ava's Christmas video… I don't feel good. James Brown has died. High gas prices. Something to look foward to in 2007. Odd timing..... yes? Last we heard was just before the elections, now comes this news, out of the blue that Saddam has to be sentenced within the next 30 days. Would it not then put it right before the state of the union address so that the Commander-in-chief and after all the surge in negative discussion from the announcement about a surge in troops. Is the surge even to stem the violence backlash from the sentencing. I am not wiling to overlook any conspiracy theory by this corrupt bunch. "Bush faces some discouraging poll numbers. A majority, 55 %, no longer believe
Bush shares their values. In a CNN poll, 53 % say he is not honest and trustworthy,
and the same number believes he does not understand complex issues."
-- CNN Political Ticker, Stupid Pentagon bigots I can only hope Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs were sitting down when they heard about this one.

The armed forces, already struggling to meet recruiting goals, are considering expanding the number of noncitizens in the ranks -- including disputed proposals to open recruiting stations overseas and putting more immigrants on a faster track to US citizenship if they volunteer -- according to Pentagon officials.

Foreign citizens serving in the US military is a highly charged issue, which could expose the Pentagon to criticism that it is essentially using mercenaries to defend the country. Other analysts voice concern that a large contingent of noncitizens under arms could jeopardize national security or reflect badly on Americans' willingness to serve in uniform.

The idea of signing up foreigners who are seeking US citizenship is gaining traction as a way to address a critical need for the Pentagon, while fully absorbing some of the roughly one million immigrants that enter the United States legally each year.



Let me get this straight: The Pentagon is open to having people who aren't American citizens serve in the military, but they're not open to having well-trained, patriotic, law-abiding Americans serve, if they happen to be gay.

Just to be clear, my personal take is that both groups of people should be welcome in the military. My grandfather immigrated to the U.S. and became a citizen by virtue of serving in World War I. If the Pentagon wants to consider a program that would accelerate citizenship for legal residents who volunteer for the military, it sounds good to me.

But I can't help but wonder, if armed forces' recruiting is struggling to the point in which noncitizens would be welcome, shouldn't the Defense Department at least consider letting capable, qualified gay volunteers wear the uniform?

Playing prevent ain't a good sign “President Bush is bracing for what could be an onslaught of investigations by the new Democratic-led Congress by hiring lawyers to fill key White House posts and preparing to play defense on countless document requests and possible subpoenas.”

An ugly way to mark Christmas More U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq than the number of people killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. At least 2,977 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and the 9/11 milestone came on Christmas.

Don't let the door hit you... Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, “a vocal abortion opponent, charged a well-known abortion provider with illegally performing late-term abortions, but a Sedgwick County judge yesterday threw out the charges after less than a day.” Kline lost his reelection bid and leaves office in three weeks.

Bah humbug! “The pouty Bratz dolls so popular as Christmas presents are made at a factory in southern China where workers are obliged to toil up to 94 hours a week, among other violations,” a new report finds. “Calls to the China-based spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a main distributor of the dolls, went unanswered Friday.”

The global warming damage has begun “Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth.” Some uninhabited islands have been covered in recent years, but disappearance of Lohachara, an island off the coast of India that was “once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.”

Understanding church-state separation The New York Times has a fascinating piece today on Democratic strategist Mara Vanderslice, and her 2-year-old consulting firm, Common Good Strategies, which aims to help the Democratic Party and its candidates appeal to theologically conservative voters. I found most of what Vanderslice had to say compelling, with one major exception.

Vanderslice reportedly helped Dems make "deep inroads" among white evangelical and churchgoing Roman Catholic voters in 2006 in Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I haven't seen the specific numbers -- nationally, the evangelical vote was largely unchanged this year -- but the Times piece reports that Vanderslice's candidates did "10 percentage points or so better than Democrats nationally among those voters." If so, that's pretty impressive.

All of Vanderslice's advice -- speak at conservative religious schools, buy commercials on Christian radio, and organize meetings with politically influential clergy -- sounded largely inoffensive to my secular ears, right up until Vanderslice addressed church-state separation.

In an interview, she said she told candidates not to use the phrase "separation of church and state," which does not appear in the Constitution's clauses forbidding the establishment or protecting the exercise of religion. "That language says to people that you don't want there to be a role for religion in our public life," Ms. Vanderslice said. "But 80 percent of the public is religious, and I think most people are eager for that kind of debate."



That's spectacularly wrong, and frankly, a little dangerous. The separation of church and state is what guarantees religious liberty in the United States. It's the principal reason religion has flourished in this country -- because believers have always known that they are free to worship (or not) without aid or interference from the state, which is bound by the Constitution to remain neutral on matters of faith. No matter what your beliefs, the separation of church and state protects you, not inhibits you.

To tell candidates to avoid support for church-state separation, and to insist that the constitutional principle is somehow hostile towards religion, is not only to play the religious right's game, it's endorsing the movement's rules.

I can appreciate the fact that Vanderslice is almost certainly well-intentioned, and her approach to religious outreach appears to be successful, but have we really reached a point in which Democrats have to hesitate before embracing First Amendment principles, for fear that voters won't approve?

Don't answer that; I'm afraid I already know the answer.

Almost as old as Clinton-Monica jokes The AP ran a story over the weekend about the ways in which presidential hopefuls are turning to the Internet to boost their chances. It's a fairly routine piece, but it leads with a joke that has long since outlived its usefulness.

Al Gore claimed he invented it. John McCain predicted it would revolutionize political campaigning. Howard Dean made it pay -- and then some. Ah, the Internet.



Ah, the six-year-old Gore joke. What would an article about politics and the web be without it? In a word, better. Look, this was debunked years ago. Gore never claimed he invented it; he actually did take the lead congressional role in developing the Internet as we know it today; and media coverage of the "exaggerated" claim has always been ridiculous. And yet, he we are, six years later, and the AP is still going for the cheap laugh. Isn't it time to retire this joke once and for all?

Those ... "liberal" activist judges For some reason, legal experts seem to believe it's problematic for a sitting judge to write a book bashing everyone with whom he disagrees.

Chapter 1 of Circuit Judge Robert H. Dierker Jr.'s book, "The Tyranny of Tolerance: A Sitting Judge Breaks the Code of Silence to Expose the Liberal Judicial Assault," has circulated via e-mail since last month and been widely read in legal circles, lawyers and judges say.

The sentiments expressed in that chapter, which frequently uses the term "femifascists" and is titled "The Cloud Cuckooland of Radical Feminism," have already prompted a complaint with the state body that can reprimand or remove judges.

Other judges and lawyers have said that Dierker may have violated a state rule against a judge using his or her position for personal profit. One judge said it would be surprising if Dierker was not removed, calling the book "professional suicide."



In a disclaimer at the end of the book, Dierker writes that the views in the book are "personal, and should not be construed as any indication of how I would rule on any case coming before me." No, of course not. Just because he spent nearly 300 pages explaining his beliefs that liberals and "femifascists" are wrong about everything is certainly no reason to question his judicial independence, temperament, and impartiality, right?

Certainly women in St. Louis bringing a case about, say, sexual harassment, can take comfort in knowing that Dierker will be fair and evenhanded, right?


Corruption watch DC lobbying giant Dutko Worldwide behind election robocalls. The cost of war the cost to us is now more than 353 billion dollars. (That would translate to over 17 million four-year scholarships at public universities.) Let your mind float. What would our county be like if $353 billion had been invested in education, health care,and veteran's benefits. Family values Here's a few hints for religious conservatives. No one wants lectures on marriage from the federal government. And no one wants their cubicle doused in olive oil. The pain never ends The LA Times tells the sad story of one of New Orleans' black middle-class neighborhoods post-Katrina.

Health care returns to the agenda.

“After years in which Iraq and national security dominated the debate…the return of Democratic control in the House and Senate and the ramping up of the presidential campaigns are expected to bring health policy back into the legislative mix.” Check out the American Progress plan to cover every American HERE.

More on health care Ezra Klein has an op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times arguing for the inevitability of universal health care in the U.S. "The realization that our illogical, mistaken healthcare system can't go on forever has dawned," he writes, "and so it will end. The question now is what replaces it."

I'm not sure that realization has dawned everywhere, but I do think we've reached a point at which a critical mass of the American middle class understands the system is seriously bleeped and is willing to listen to options. Unfortunately the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy still has a tight enough grip on news media that it damn near impossible to have the dispassionate national discussion on health care we need to be having. As soon as the phrase "universal health care" leaves anyone's lips, you can count on a right-wing goon to be standing nearby to shout it down. Thanks to the VRWC, all the average person knows about other nations' health care systems is that there are waiting lines in Canada.
(Read the rest of this story…)

Let them eat Katrina Cake Investigations have revealed the Bush Administration wasted more than $2 billion of the money allocated for Katrina, the Associated Press reports today. Much of this waste is the result of lucrative contracts awarded with little or no competition. Hope Yen of the AP writes,

Federal investigators have already determined the Bush administration squandered $1 billion on fraudulent disaster aid to individuals after the 2005 storm. Now they are shifting their attention to the multimillion dollar contracts to politically connected firms that critics have long said are a prime area for abuse.

In January, investigators will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts. The charges range from political favoritism to limited opportunities for small and minority-owned firms, which initially got only 1.5 percent of the total work.

Democrats in Congress are vowing closer oversight of the Katrina reconstruction debacle. Let's hope.

However, today's news isn't exactly news. Last August the House Committee on Government Reform Minority Office (that means Democrats) released a report titled “Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Hurricane Katrina Contracts.” Here are key findings from a press release:
(Read the rest of this story…)

Corruption watch Surprise, surprise, surprise…. WaPo:

The Defense Department paid two procurement operations at the Department of the Interior to arrange for Pentagon purchases totaling $1.7 billion that resulted in excessive fees and tens of millions of dollars in waste, documents show.

Defense turned to Interior, which manages federal lands and resources, in an effort to speed up its contracting. Interior is one of several government agencies allowed to manage contracts for other agencies in exchange for a fee.

But the arrangement between Interior and Defense "routinely violated rules designed to protect U.S. Government interests," according to draft audit documents obtained by The Washington Post.

More than half of the contracts examined were awarded without competition or without checks to determine that the prices were reasonable, according to the audits by the inspectors general for Defense (DOD) and Interior (DOI). Ninety-two percent of the work reviewed was awarded without verifying that the contractors' cost estimates were accurate; 96 percent was inadequately monitored. Read on..

They write letters -- the "they" being in this case the Wisconsin Conference Minister, David Moyer, sending out New Year's greetings:

A true story: In the 1950's, my brother-in-law's father went out to buy the family a new truck. He went to the International dealer in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and he went with the idea of buying an International Travelall...a true classic. Now the family did a lot of traveling, and they enjoyed outings and deer and elk hunting trips into the Wyoming mountains.

In speaking with the salesman, an important question came up. Those of you old enough to remember truck dealerships in the 1950's, and the salesmen who worked at them, can picture this scene and imagine the salesman. Those who have been to car dealerships recently, and worked with "sales associates" trained on the two hour video and power point presentation on "closing the deal", may not fully appreciate the conversation that follows.

My brother-in-law's father said to the salesman, "Now we like to get off the road and up in the mountains to hunt and fish and picnic. Should we buy this truck with two wheel or four wheel drive?"

The salesman said, "Well, I'll tell you. If you buy this truck with two wheel drive, and you go off into the mountains hunting, you're going to get off the road, and about two or three miles back, you're going to get stuck. If you buy the truck with four wheel drive, you're going to go off into the mountains hunting, and you're going to get off the road, and you're going to get about eight or ten miles back, and you're going to get stuck. The real question is, `How far do you want to walk back?'"

The New Year is a time for great hope and optimism. It is a time to make resolutions and plans and imagine that the slate is clean and much is possible. Well and good. But it's still not a bad idea to ask the question, "How far do you want to walk back?"

I think of the 2006 State of the Union Address by the President who told glowingly about winning a war. Then last week I heard a very different and more sobering view from the President, who is retracing some long and difficult rhetorical and political steps, this time on foot. We went in with the four wheel drive and the Hemi engine, and now we're stuck.

It isn't like the wise older ones didn't say it back when we were shopping for a strategy about four years ago. The military and older political hands, including a former President and current father, warned about ruts and the sand and the long walk back. They counseled a two wheel drive that would do much of the job but not carry quite the same risk. But we borrowed extra for the four wheel drive and the big horsepower, and off we went on a mission of "shock and awe" that we envisioned was "accomplished" in a few short months. Now, which way was it that we came in here?

A good old Elmhurst grad who spent three years in Niebuhr Hall can't help but think of the namesake when thinking about such things as U.S. power, its possibilities and its limits. In The Irony of American History, the professor who once had a voice in American political dialogue and an ear in significant places, had some interesting things to say. Written in 1952, it coincides with the trip to the International dealer.


    If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory...

    Our moral perils are not those of conscious malice or the explicit lust for power. They are the perils which can be understood only if we realize the ironic tendency of virtues to turn into vices when too complacently relied upon; and of power to become vexatious if the wisdom which directs it is trusted too confidently. The ironic elements in American history can overcome, in short, only if American idealism comes to terms with the limits of all human striving, the fragmentariness of all human wisdom, the precariousness of all historic configurations of power, and the mixture of good and evil in all human virtue.

Thinking of adventures in the coming year? We all should be...nation, church, individuals...for human life is an adventure and a striving. But it's not bad to ask a question that perfectly blends the theological twins, judgment and grace: "How far do we want to walk back?"

I'm starting to like it when "they" write letters...

Submitted by RKing on