Monday, January 30, 2006

Climate Change: Why Government Scientists are Speaking Out

The New York Times today describes efforts by the Bush White House to silence NASA climate expert James Hansen and other government climate scientists, and the efforts of these scientists to fight back and get the word out about what they consider to be disturbing trends in the earth's climate. Why are climate scientists feeling so fiesty? Why is the White House so upset at what they have to say?

Excellent articles in the Washington Post and the Guardian provide some clues. The Washington Post describes how scientists are increasingly concerned that the climate is rapidly approaching a "tipping point," after which feedbacks in the climate system will encourage more rapid warming, which in turn trigger additional changes which trigger still more warming. The Guardian article provides details on a particularly disturbing recent piece of evidence of such a feedback mechanism: a recent study that found that a large area of permafrost in Siberia is melting, to reveal the peat bog beneath. This event could result in the release of substantial amounts of methane and, by exchanging white ice for dark peat bog, cause the earth to absorb more solar energy. Not a happy prospect.

The White House is committed to putting out the perspective that we have endless time to act on global warming. No urgency about it at all. Information that suggests the problem might be more urgent is clearly unwelcome.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hamas: The Glass is Half Full

Fafnir points out the little-noticed bright side of Hamas: a "sensible fiscal policy" and "intriguing plans for health savings accounts." Fafblog? Yes. Fafblog!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bush-Made Catastrophe

From Jenifer Moses's Washington Post op-ed today.
though Congress passed a $29 billion aid package for the Gulf Coast region, it's being split between Mississippi and Louisiana, perhaps because, even though Mississippi has fewer than one-fifth the number of affected households Louisiana does, its governor, Haley Barbour, an ex-Republican National Committee chairman, is a pal of the president.
Maybe also because a lot of the displaced people in Louisiana are Democrats.
One long-term fix -- not just for residential planning but for flood control in general -- is restoring Louisiana's wetlands, which in the olden days acted as a natural buffer to storm surges, and without which none of South Louisiana would have been inhabited in the first place. But no one's talking much about the wetlands, perhaps because the subject is too, well, environmental. (And we know how the Bush administration regards the environment.)

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bush rebuilding policy-- help out the Republicans and screw the rest, ignore the environmental roots of the problem, nickel and dime the rebuilding of the levees-- oh yes, and make promises you have no intention of keeping.


Promises Unfulfilled

Citizen Cain recommends this morning's Washington Post article by Spencer Hsu about the Bush administration's failure to deliver on its promises about rebuilding after hurricane Katrina. Read it. Future historians will debate the relative importance of incompetence, indifference, venality, and retrogressive social experimentation in contributing to this debacle. Just who are these 43 percent who think this guy is doing a good job?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More dumping on Dowd

Reed Hundt joins the noble alliance of Maureen Dowd bashers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

O'Reilly Tells Half the Story; Smears Vermont Judge

Bill O'Reilly has clamped his jaws like a pit bull onto the case of the Vermont judge who gave out a 60-day sentence to a man convicted of sexual assault on a young girl. O'Reilly shows no signs of letting go until the judge, Edward Cashman, loses his job, and he seems to consider it a disgrace to the entire state that Vermont citizens haven't hung the judge from the highest tree.

I've got to admit-- the judge's sentence sounds pretty indefensible, if all you know about the case comes from O'Reilly. Here's what readers of O'Reilly’s most recent column and viewers of his January 13 “Talking Points Memo” know about the subject:
  • 34-year old Mark Hulett "confessed to raping" a girl over a period of four years, while the girl was 6 to 10. Hulett lived in the girl's home, a friend of her parents.

  • Judge Cashman suspended all but 60 days of what could have been, should have been, a life sentence, or at least a 25-year sentence-- the mandatory minimum in the noble state of Florida.

  • Judge Cashman's "sympathies are with the rapist," not with the little girl or her family.

  • Vermonters who don't push for removal of Judge Cashman from the bench are complicit in evil.

  • Inexplicably, elements of the left-wing, secular press are defending Cashman.
As you may have suspected, there are a few things about this version of events that aren’t quite right, and a few that O'Reilly forgot to tell you.

  • Judge Cashman is a conservative Vietnam vet, appointed by a Republican governor, and is a former prosecutor with a reputation for being tough on defendants.

  • Hulett has an IQ of between 75 and 85, putting him in the category of "borderline intellectual functioning." Judge Cashman also determined that he had the emotional maturity of a 12-14 year old, and did not seem to understand why people were upset with him about what he did.

  • The girl’s parents seem to have emotional or mental problems of their own, and seem to have been quite lax about protecting their daughter. They allowed Hulett to sleep in the same bed with their child, and a second man has pled guilty to abusing the girl in separate incidents.

  • Hulett has no criminal record, and there is no evidence that Hulett ever abused any other children—that is he has not sought out children that he hasn’t been placed into bed with.

  • The sexual molestation involved fondling and oral sex, but not vaginal or anal intercourse.

  • Hulett's suspended sentence is for 10 years to life in prison. If he fails in treatment, refuses treatment, uses drugs or alcohol, lives in an apartment complex that has children, visits a bar, or looks at pornography, he can receive life in prison.

  • Cashman had intended to impose a three years of jail time, as recommended by the Vermont Department of Corrections, but if he had done so the Dept. of Corrections would not have provided sex offender treatment to Hulett until he finished his jail term. Cashman determined that the danger to the public upon Hulett’s release would be greater if he did not get treatment immediately, as he can with a 60-day sentence.

  • Cashman found that for Hulett is a good candidate for treatment, but that without treatment he poses a serious risk of reoffending. More on this below.
Did Judge Cashman make the right decision? Citizen Cain isn’t wise enough to say. But reading his statement on the reconsideration of the sentencing order, I was struck by the careful thought that Cashman put into the case, and I was glad that an independent judge was making a decision on the individual merits of the case. Much better that than a huge mandatory minimum imposed regardless of the circumstances. Consider the following from Judge Cashman’s statement:

Treatment experts in this area of human misbehavior believe they are able to group those who molest children based upon the of the offender's perception of the relationship. lf the offender views the encounters as "child to child," the perpetrator is reliving a prior abuse of his own. The age of the child molested often is the same age as that of the offender when he suffered a similar molestation. These offenders appear amenable to treatment and present low risks to re-offend, provided competent personnel properly treat and supervise them.

The other group of offenders perceives the relationships as "adult to adult." This group presents different treatment issues that make predictions of treatment compliance and success much more guarded.

The evidence on this point came into the record from the defense expert. He believes that the defendant falls into the latter group. He did not agree that the defendant would fail in treatment compliance. Yet, he did offer-guarded concern that Mr. Hulett would need lifetime treatment and supervision.

The court finds the balance of the evidence shows that Mr. Hulett presents a long-term risk to re-offend. How long could it go? The evidence of record was that it might be for the rest of his life. He needs treatment. He needs supervision. This presents the most pressing concern for public safety arising in this case.

The cognitive and emotional impairments described above do not impress the court as mitigating factors, as first impression might dictate. Rather, they present additional concern for long term risk control. Mr. Hulett's failure to empathize, as well as his emotional age, may create substantial supervision problems. His intellectual skills require specialized materials and treatment techniques.

The solution to these concerns requires quick and effective treatment. Delay in treatment, especially if connected with lengthy imprisonment, creates additional risks by hardening the defendant into a pattern of thinking that further alienates him from the fundamental social values we are trying to promote.
Again, I don’t know if Cashman came to the right decision, but he clearly was a man trying to do his job as best as he could. Could the same be said of a journalist who sensationalizes a difficult case, incites a public campaign and fails to give his readers and viewers key information to help the evaluate the situation? Bill O’Reilly has every right to disagree with Cashman’s decision, but he’s doing a public disservice by telling only half of the story.

Lewinsky, Barnes

Why is it that President Bush and Fred Barnes can get away with doing the very same thing that got President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in such trouble?

I'm just asking.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thinking About Wal-Mart

Yesterday, I attended this excellent conference, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Chicago. I won’t summarize it, but here are some thoughts that it provoked:

  • When I first started hearing about opposition to Wal-mart in the 1980s and early 1990s, the issues were primarily about protecting small businesses, preserving the character of small town business districts, and preventing sprawl. The critique of Walmart was fundamentally against the model of “big box” retail—small is beautiful; the big box is ugly. There are still important issues related to where retail development is sited, what it looks like, how well it fits with the neighborhood, its impact on transportation, and its use of public subsidies. However, the focus of the anti Wal-mart campaigners has shifted, and protecting small business is now a tertiary issue. The big box has won. It is unstoppable, because it increases the efficiency of the retail sector and translates these efficiencies into lower prices that benefit consumers, especially low-income consumers. So now what Wal-mart critics want is a better big box—one that pays better wages and health care benefits, that treats its employees better, that allows union organizing, and (for the more ambitious campaigners) that doesn’t create pressure on its suppliers to reduce wages and benefits to hold costs down. They want Wal-mart to be more like Costco.

  • Anti Wal-mart campaigners have focused on keeping Wal-mart out of particular communities. Campaigners usually do seek to connect local campaigns to the broader fight for workers by imposing conditions on Wal-mart’s entrance to a community through a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). A CBA can include a requirement to pay a “living wage” significantly higher than the general minimum wage, to provide health care benefits, to contribute towards neighborhood beautification, etc. I have a lot of sympathy for these efforts, but this approach is a tough sell when, as in Chicago, Wal-mart wants to move into neighborhoods that have little existing retail and few job opportunities, and when Wal-mart can locate in suburban communities right on Chicago’s border without facing these obstacles. They naturally lead to questions about why big box retailers face requirements that don’t apply to smaller retailers and other types of employers. Moreover, the focus on Wal-mart expansion into new communities seems more suited to a campaign to protect local small business than to a campaign to improve working conditions for workers at the big boxes. The current critique of Wal-mart as a bad employer cries out for broader efforts: to raise the minimum wage, to enforce labor laws, to establish a national healthcare system. Given the current state of our national politics, I can’t blame anti Wal-mart campaigners from focusing on local fights, but it doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Moreover, broader-scale efforts are possible even without immediate prospects for national legislation. Rather than fight expansion of Wal-mart into particular communities one at a time, it would seem more productive to organize a boycott of existing Wal-mart stores, until the company meets specific demands, perhaps related to allowing unionization. Boycotts have been attempted, but the primary focus of the anti Wal-mart effort is organizing communities against Wal-mart expansion.

  • Wal-mart pursues a “low-road” strategy of lousy wages and benefits, accepting the costs of high turnover, high costs for re-training, “shrinkage,” bad employee morale, and poor corporate image. To some extent, this strategy arises out of Wal-mart’s corporate history, management style and preferences, and are therefore changeable—Wal-mart might be equally profitable with a strategy that treated its employees better. However, to a large extent, Wal-mart’s approach is dictated by its role as a retailer of low-end goods for whom low-cost is everything. For Wal-mart, in comparison to higher-end retailers such as Costco, it is less important to have high quality staff who are highly knowledgeable and helpful. Therefore, boycotts and community organizing can accomplish only limited objectives. A low-end retailer can follow a high road labor strategy only so far and remain profitable, if its competitors are taking a lower road. Which is why a decent minimum wage, enforcement of labor law, and creation of a national right to basic health care are so essential.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Maureen Dowd: Stupid, Insincere, and Ugly

Has there ever been a worse liberal pundit than Maureen Dowd? Any more shallow, smug, and harmful to liberal causes? Dowd condemns Gore and Kerry because "they allowed themselves to be painted as girlie men." Daily Howler has the goods, showing how Dowd herself tossed the paint on Gore 2000, doing great service to the RNC in the press corps' War Against Gore.

Don't worry Bob! Josh and Kevin (and even Atrios) may not link to you, but Citizen Cain will!

During the 2004 campaign, Citizen Cain fell out of his lazyboy when Dowd basically called Kerry a pussy on Real Time with Bill Maher. I don't remember Dowd's exact words, but I do vividly remember Aaron McGruder summarizing Dowd thus-- "So you're saying that Kerry is a bitch?" Dowd smirked and shrugged, as if to say, "if the shoe fits . . ."

Note also that Gore and Kerry's crime is they "allowed themselves" to be portrayed as weak. Not that they actually were. As if anything they could have done could have kept the likes of Dowd and the RNC from their nasty work. Dowd also manages in today's column to call Senator Clinton a "manly girl." Nice.

Did you know, by the way, that Dowd isn't as smart, sincere, or pretty as Naomi Wolf? It's true! Says so right here.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The South Side Gets Screwed! Citizen Chien Edition

In the second of our our continuing series covering instances where Chicago's South Side doesn't get a fair shake, we turn to the issue of dog parks-- those little patches of the Chicago public park system where dogs can run around off leash. These places are essential for those of us who have young, athletic and sociable dogs for whom a leash walk just doesn't cut it. In fact, Citizen Chien is sitting next to me right now, whimpering softly as he pines for the society and stimulation of a dog park.

So, where in Chicago can you find this essential public service-- you guessed it, on the North Side. The Chicago Park District maintains 10 DFAs-- Dog Friendly Areas. All but one of these is on the North Side, and the single South Side location is Coliseum Park in the South Loop, a long distance from most South Side neighborhoods. Moreover, Cain and Chien have visited three North Side dog parks-- Wiggly Field, Montrose Beach and Margate Park-- and each is vastly bigger and nicer than Coliseum Park.

Don't our South Side dogs deserve the thrill of running free with other dogs every bit as much a North Side dog? Don't our South Side children deserve to use public parks without being terrified by dogs whose owners illegally let them off leash because that's the only way they have to exercise them properly (not that Citizen Cain excuses this behavior)? What do you say-- Chicago Park District?

One South Side neighborhood, Hyde Park, had a group organized to get a dog park. This group, whowever, has given up on getting a park, for reasons that its web site doesn't make entirely clear. Don't give up South Siders! Your pooches are getting screwed!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Reconstructing Iraq-- Oh Nevermind

Remember back in 2003, right after President Bush declared victory in Iraq, how the political controversy of the moment was whether all of the fantastic reconstruction that would be occurring would be paid for with U.S. grants or with loans? “Why not loans?” asked foolish optimists on both Right and Left, “since the Iraqis are going to be swimming in all that oil money.” In the end, we decided to provide $18 billion for reconstruction, that the Iraqis wouldn’t have to pay back. When we weren’t debating that important topic, we were discussing what other countries we would cut in on all that lucrative Iraqi business action—the French and Germans were definitely out; the coalition of the willing was in. But what about those who didn’t join the coalition, but didn’t oppose our invasion too strongly? For instance, should we cut the Canadians in for a piece?

Those were the days! Hard to imagine that at one time reconstruction was supposed to be fun and fun and profitable and a means of rewarding our friends and punishing our enemies. After this optimistic beginning, we started realizing that anything that got reconstructed would be blown up unless we provided security so roughly half of the reconstruction money was reprogrammed towards security. And, of course, the Coalition Provisional Authority just lost $8.8 billion—let it disappear down a dark hole.

Nonetheless, just a month ago, President Bush cited reconstruction of Iraq as a key element of strategy for victory in Iraq:

BUSH: And all three aspects of our strategy—security, democracy, and reconstruction—we have learned from our experiences and fixed what has not worked. We will continue to listen to honest criticism and make every change that will help us complete the mission.
On Thursday, Keith Olberman pointed out when discussing President Bush’s meeting with former Secretaries of State and Defense to discuss Iraq (for five minutes) that Bush seems to have kicked away one leg of this tripod:

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We take to heart the advice, we appreciate your experience, and we appreciate your taking time out of your day. We have a dual-track strategy for victory. On the one hand, we will work to have a political process that says to all Iraqis, The future belongs to you. And on the other hand, we‘ll continue to work on the security situation there.

The main thrust of our success will be when the Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy that wants to stop their democracy. And we‘re making darn good progress along those lines.

Contained therein, perhaps the only reason news to have come out of today‘s photo opportunity at the White House, the president‘s strategy for victory in Iraq mysteriously shrinking to only two elements, having been threefold just last month.

Back in 2004 pundits loved to our President call a man of constancy, principle, and follow-through. But when it comes to reconstruction of Iraq, as with so many issues, the closer we look the more it seems that this Presidency is best described as a short attention span Presidency—one that devotes constant attention to securing electoral advantage and to pleasing the Republican donor class, but when it comes to following through on policies and programs, it just can't be bothered.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Pat Robertson-- Nothing if Not Reliable

Pat Robertson can always be relied upon to be crazy and offensive:

Conservative Christian evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson on Thursday linked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke to God's "enmity against those who 'divide my land.'"

"He was dividing God's land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations, or the United States of America," Robertson said on his television program, "The 700 Club," broadcast from his Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach. "God says 'this land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.'"

Apparently, the 77-year old morbidly obese Sharon would have lived in perfect health forever were it not for his decision to cede control of Gaza to its inhabitants.

What's Next for Israeli Politics

Shmuel Rosner and Christopher Hitchens at Slate both predict that Arial Sharon's incapacitation will work to the benefit of the Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in the upcoming Israeli elections. Slate also has a roundup of U.S. bloggers that are predicting Likud victory, the withering away of Sharon's new Kadima Party, and the end to Sharon's policy of strategic unilateral withdrawals from some of the occupied territories.

But in Israel, Rosner's paper Ha'aretz has published opinion polls that indicate that Sharon's new Kadima Party will likely do roughly as well in the elections without Sharon as they were expected to do with him. In other words, they'll get the most Knesset seats-- about 40 to 42 out of 120 with either Ehud Olmert or Shimon Peres as their leader. Moreover, Ha'aretz has also published a variety of assessments that show that if Kadima starts to decline, a variety of possibilities other than a Likud resurgence present themselves. Likud's prospects are limited by Netanyahu's ascendency and and the desire for many former Likud voters for a more moderate path. Labor could make gains, particularly if Shimon Peres and other defectors return. Another possibility is that if Kadima falters, Shinui could pick up support as a moderate alternative.

Citizen Cain's bold prediction-- a coalition that excludes Likud will win. Some combination of Kadima, Labor and smaller parties, who will continue the policy of selective unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Citizen Cain Gets Results: Christmas Tree Edition

Southsiders can in fact get their Christmas trees recycled.  My previous post, relying on the Chicago Park District web site, reported that the Park District was offering Christmas tree recycling at only six locations, all on the North Side.  But La Citoyenne contacted the Park District and found out that in fact they are offering Christmas tree recycling at 23 locations, including ten on the South Side (defined as anything South of Madison).  The correct information is here.  The incorrect information was here, but was updated just this afternoon.  I didn’t get a screen capture, so you’ll just have to trust me that until this afternoon there were only 6 locations listed, all North Side.  Could it be that Citizen Cain’s bold reportage prompted the Park District to correct its site?

While not commensurate with the South Side’s area, this level of service is acceptable and isn’t the outrage that my previous post had described.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The South Side Gets Screwed! Holiday Edition

To mark the New Year, Citizen Cain is launching the first of an occasional exclusive series—the South Side Gets Screwed!  This series will be of special interest to our Chicago readers, and will document instances in which Chicago’s glorious South Side doesn’t get a fair deal, whether from City government, the media, national retail chains, Cubs fans, or anyone else.

For our first installment, we will consider Christmas Tree Recycling.  The Chicago Park District web site offers six locations where Chicago residents can recycle their Christmas trees on January 7.  And where are all six?  You guessed it—the North Side.  In fact, the recycling location that is furthest south is on Fullerton Ave, which is 2400 North, a good 15 miles from much of the South Side.  If the Park District can afford only six tree recycling sites, wouldn’t you think that they might have thought to put at least a couple on the South Side?  Afraid not.  The South Side Gets Screwed!

Please feel welcome to e-mail me with additional examples.  Remember to use as your subject line—The South Side Gets Screwed!