Keith Olbermann Speaks the Truth

Posted on July 4th, 2007 in Politics by EngineerBoy

There are occasions when one person stands up and articulates a watershed moment in history, and last night it was Keith Olbermann on his NBC show Countdown:

For those who prefer to read it, the full transcript appears at the bottom of this page.

I could not have said it better myself. This Administration has inexorably eroded the trust placed in them by the American people, and their continued conniving has lost them their right to any moral authority in matters foreign or domestic.

Olbermann refers several times to the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration. There were at least two positive aspects to the outcome of the Watergate scandal. First, the American public and the media set aside their blind faith in the office of the President and has since subjected the office to high levels of scrutiny and accountability. And second, we got Nixon. He didn’t get away with it. He did wrong – he perverted the government for his own ends, we caught him, and he resigned in disgrace. That doesn’t change what he did, but it forever puts the actions of his administration in the category of “Wrong”.

And that’s what needs to happen with the current administration. They have done wrong and they cannot be allowed to get away with it. Just for context, if you know me or read much of this site, you know that I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, I’m not a Liberal or a Conservative. I’m just an American. And I am fed up. The following excerpt from Olbermann’s diatribe sums it all up for me:
Keith Olbermann:

You both crossed the Rubicon yesterday. Which one of you chose the route no longer matters. Which is the ventriloquist, and which the dummy, is now irrelevant. But that you have twisted the machinery of government into nothing more than a tawdry machine of politics, is the only fact that remains relevant.
Below is the full text:
Keith Olbermann:

Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on what is, in everything but name, George Bush’s pardon of Scooter Libby.

“I didn’t vote for him,” an American once said, “but he’s my President, and I hope he does a good job.” That, on this eve of the 4th of July, is the essence of this democracy, in 17 words. And that is what President Bush threw away yesterday in commuting the sentence of Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

The man who said those 17 words, improbably enough, was the actor John Wayne. And John Wayne, an ultra-conservative, said them when he learned of the hair’s breadth election of John F. Kennedy instead of his personal favorite, Richard Nixon, in 1960. “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my President, and I hope he does a good job.”

The sentiment was doubtlessly expressed earlier, but there’s something especially appropriate about hearing it now in Wayne’s voice: The crisp matter-of-fact acknowledgment

Supreme Court Justices – Liberal, Conservative, or Realist?

Posted on April 8th, 2007 in Politics by EngineerBoy

Supreme CourtI just read an article where the voting records of Supreme Court Justices were analyzed to determine if justices tended to stick to their leanings at the time of appointment (Liberal, Centrist, Conservative) or if they strayed over time. To the surprise of the investigators, the justices tended to drift over time, and sometimes even oscillated between positions from ruling to ruling.

I find this to be not only not surprising, but also dramatically refreshing. Interpreting the law of the land is not the milieu for rigid dogma, it is the place for thoughtful consideration of all sides of an argument. And, if one is to thoughtfully consider all facets of every argument, it becomes increasingly more difficult to stick to preconceived notions of right and wrong, of liberal versus conservative, of Republican versus Democrat.

If you then remove the external motivations of re-election/re-appointment or personal enrichment and replace them with the fact that justices are evaluated almost exclusively by the backward lense of history, and that the railings and wailings of any pundits du jour have absolutely no effect on the life or career of a justice, we find (to me simplistically) that over time justices tend to actually try to do what is right and just.

Now, we all have differing opinions on what is right and just – that’s why there are nine justices. And I certainly don’t agree with all decisions by the Court, however, if/when I take the time to actually read the opinions I find that the rulings, while not what I would have decided, are (with exceedingly rare exception) based on law, logic, and justice.

What I find most surprising is when self-labelled Conservative or Liberal talking-heads bemoan the fact that one Justice or the other “betrayed” their ideology by voting in a certain way in a certain case which said talking-head is holding up as a rallying flag for “the cause”. The judges are then labelled as “activist”, which in the US political arena is apparently defined as “making decisions with which I do not agree”.

Well, guess what? That’s *exactly* how it’s supposed to work. Supreme Court Justices are *supposed* to be free from the political pressures of re-election or re-appointment, specifically to allow them to practice rationality instead of dogmatism. And the pundits and talking heads flail about in histrionic rage which they direct at the justices, when instead they should direct at their own stupidity for not understanding the basic construct of the US government.

Suck it, true believers, the system works.

Halliburton Moving to Dubai

Posted on March 1st, 2007 in Politics by EngineerBoy

So, Halliburton has announced that they are moving their corporate headquarters from Houston, TX, USA to Dubai, UAE. Their stated reasoning is that, well, that’s where the action is and it makes sense for their CEO to be there.

Also note that Halliburton is spinning off their KBR subsidiary – and take special note that KBR is Halliburton’s engineering and military contracting arm, the arm that has done the bulk of contract work for the US government in Iraq.

So, here are three pieces of information that just seem to point to one inescapably unethical conclusion:

The CEO and Headquarters for Halliburton will relocate to Dubai.
Halliburton is spinning off KBR, which did most of the contracting work in Iraq for the US, and which is coming under increasing scrutiny by the ascendant Democratic party for no-bid contracts, shoddy work, price gouging, etc.
The outgoing Republican administration is losing their ability to protect the company that Dick Cheney ran just six short years ago – in fact, he went directly from being head of Halliburton to being the Vice President.

And now for some conjecture:

I’ll bet that extraditing someone from the UAE to the US can be made difficult, particularly if you are an executive with a multi-billion dollar multi-national corporation who recently moved your headquarters (and revenue base) to the UAE.
Halliburton is stating that they intend to retain their incorporation in the US and that only the CEO’s office and HQ are moving. I would not be surprised to hear an announcement down the line that Halliburton intends to move its incorporation to Dubai, as well. That’s strictly conjecture, but it sure seems like the next shoe to drop.
I’ll bet that Halliburton is going to do their damndest to get moved before the current lame-duck presidency ends and the new administration, almost assuredly Democrat, takes power and starts getting to look at the Iraq debacle from the inside. 
I’ll bet that there will be far-reaching, ongoing investigations and prosecutions related to the Iraq war, particularly directed against Halliburton for things as potentially drastic as war-profiteering, and perhaps even against members of the current administration for the ease with which business was simply handed to Halliburton/KBR, seemingly with no thought to competitive bid, fair pricing, or even ability to deliver. 
I’ll bet that divesting itself of the unit that did most of the contracting work in Iraq will serve to make it incrementally more difficult to involve Halliburton executives in the investigations/prosecutions (“What, you mean that company over there? They have nothing to do with us!”). 
I wonder if the UAE has any records-retention laws, and if they do, if they enforce them, and if they do, if Halliburton will care. I can see the situation arising where it will be awfully difficult for investigators to subpoena records from Halliburton, when said records either no longer exist, only exist in the UAE, or can’t really be located because they got misplaced during the spinoff of KBR – you

The Execution of Saddam Hussein

Posted on December 3rd, 2006 in Politics by EngineerBoy

With startling speed, Saddam Hussein was executed last night. Mynagirl and I were enjoying a quiet evening at home with CNN Headline News playing as background noise when the news reports started. First it was that Hussein would be executed before the end of the year. Then it was that he would be executed some time this weekend. Then it was that he would be executed some time Friday evening. Then it was that he would be executed at dawn in Baghdad (10pm Eastern time).

Then he was dead, at 10:05pm Eastern. Just like that. I mean, yes, his trial had been ongoing, and the war seems endless, and I think we all knew he was going to end up dead. But to an American used to our justice system’s endless death sentence appeals process this felt closer to a lynching than an execution. Not that I think he was a railroaded innocent, or anything, it’s just that it seemed to happen without warning or preamble.

Which may have been the point. In a country so beset with violence it may be that such swift execution of his…execution…was necessary from a security perspective. If the date had been set days/weeks/months in advance then the date would have become a big, juicy target for symbolic actions. Doing the entire thing over the course of a few hours meant that anyone wanting to strike a symbolic blow in concert with the execution would have had to have a plan already in place and ready to go at a moments notice – and it looks like nobody did.

It would be foolish not to expect some aftershocks to this, however, and I will not be surprised when dramatic actions are taken in response. However, I have a perhaps naive feeling that the responses won’t be too grandiose, as I don’t believe that Hussein has much direct support for himself as a person, only as a power-base. So while Sunnis will lament the loss of their ascendancy and will dislike their new position as a persecuted minority, I don’t think that they’ll actually miss Hussein himself, only the protections he offered (and maintained with ruthless violence and oppression).

The saddest part of this entire story, to me, is that although he was a maniacal bastard, Saddam Hussein had tried to set Iraq up as the only secular country in the entire region. Iraq was not ruled by the Islamic Sharia laws, but by a western-style set of courts and laws. Women and Christians had positions of power within the government and the business world. Hussein hoped to spread secular rule across the Arab world, with Iraq leading the way, naturally.

Stop for a moment and consider that fact. Saddam Hussein took Iraq and molded it into a country that was tolerant of religious differences (except when those differences opposed the rule of Hussein), championed the rights of women, rejected fanatical Islam

Solving the World’s Energy Crisis

Posted on May 4th, 2006 in Politics by EngineerBoy

Today the world derives the vast majority of its energy from non-renewable resources like oil, coal, and natural gas. There is a finite amount of these fuels, and at the current growth rate of usage they will all be used up within 100 years. That means that some of the young babies of today will live to see the end of the age of hydrocarbon fuels. What will they use to fulfill their energy needs?

There is a strong push to replace hydrocarbons with “green” energy sources, using so-called renewable resources such as sunlight, wind, or thermal energy. While I can see that these resources could be considered renewable given their current levels of usage, I fear the impact on our environment if we scale usage up to the point where they could provide most of the world’s energy needs.

Consider wind power, which today consists of a few wind farms in a few places, and which have no discernable impact on weather patterns (or the energy supply, for that matter). However, if you scale up wind power so that it is ubiquitous, and you remove all of that wind energy from the meteorological realm, what would be the resulting long-term impact? I have been unable to find any estimates of this, nor do I see a logical way to predict such an impact, even if one were to attempt to figure it out. Today we see huge, wild shifts in the world’s weather with each degree of temperature change — what would be the impact of reducing wind energy by one mile per hour around the globe?

The same with sunlight. Today people have solar cells or solar water heaters on the rooftops of their homes, and there are a few large-scale commercial solar energy farms, but again nothing noteworthy in relation to the overall world energy supply. And these few solar installations really have no impact on global weather, as they are so small as to be inconsequential. But, again, imaging scaling up the production of energy from sunlight, with vast farms of solar cells or solar water heaters absorbing energy from sunlight, energy that would previously have hit the ground and contributed to the natural forces of our biosphere. What if large-scale solar energy farms reduced the global temperature by one or two degrees?

The same can be said for geothermal energy, as well as other “renewables” such as biomass or flowing water. These may seem to be potentially endless reserves of energy, but when one uses one’s imagination to extrapolate usage up to providing any significant portion of the worlds energy needs it becomes much less clear as to the long-term effects and actual “renewability” of these resources. Keep in mind that if you take a long enough view of the world, oil is a renewable resource, we just have to wait a few geologic millenia for natural forces to replenish the oil supply naturally (just like it was created in the first place). An energy source is “renewable” only

Believe and Belong: American Politics, Religion, and Sports

Posted on May 9th, 2005 in Commentary,Politics by EngineerBoy

I consider myself an impartial observer of politics, religion, and sports. I don’t stake my belief system on any particular political party, deity, or team. I also don’t believe that my beliefs are right and other beliefs are wrong, but I do believe that my beliefs are right for me. There are certain philosophies which I categorically reject (e.g. terrorism, straight-ticket voting, designated hitters), but for the most part I am tolerant of other’s beliefs and do not think they are idiots for not seeing things my way (even though many are).

And from my lofty perch of impartiality it appears that American’s views on politics, religion, and sports are morphing into one giant pep rally. People label themselves and then adopt the trappings of their self-imposed pigeonholing. One says, “I’m a Conservative, Catholic, Red Sox fan” and you can just visualize almost all aspects of that person. How they dress. What they say. Where they live. What they eat. Whom they vote for. Which news network they watch. Etc.

Another says, “I’m a Liberal, Unitarian, soccer fan” and you can, once again, grok the gestalt of this individual.

On the one hand, I applaud people for being able to so narrowly define their views. I see good and bad most places, and can usually see the merits of both sides of an argument, and so find myself in a perpetual state of re-evaluating my personal philosophies. It’s very confusing, often tiring, but ultimately invigorating. So on the other hand, I find it difficult to understand how people can adopt a canned set of views and then go through life without constantly questioning themselves.

The World Is Grey

I’ll give you an example of a hot-button topic: capital punishment. Now, from a philosophical perspective I am both for and against capital punishment. How, you say, can you be both? Well, first of all because I reject the polarized views espoused over this issue in America. I am for capital punishment because there are times when a crime is so heinous and the proof is so incontrovertible that nothing short of execution is a fitting punishment. However, I’m also against capital punishment because the fallible nature of humans means that sometimes innocent people are executed, which is unconscionable.

I’ll use two hypothetical examples to explain. In the first, picture a man who is so angry with the boss that recently fired him that he pockets a gun and drives to his bosses house to confront him. The boss ends up shot dead, but there are no witnesses. The fired man says that they exchanged angry words and he pulled the gun, but then changed his mind and tried to leave. He then goes on to say that at that point his former boss attacked him and tried to take the gun away, and in the ensuing struggle the gun went off accidentally, killing his former boss. In this instance I wholeheartedly disagree with the death penalty, as

Insane In The Beltway – Our Crazy Presidents

Posted on November 22nd, 2002 in Politics by EngineerBoy

I believe that all modern (Post-WWII) US presidents have been crazy. Insane. Bonkers. Nuts. Loopy. Etc. On what do I base this belief? Did I perform extensive analysis of discernable behavior patterns and/or gain access to private documents and records that showed demonstrable dementia? No. My belief is based on it being the only possible explanation. Allow me to elaborate.

The Short Version
A person does not become president by accident, he has to want it, and he has to think he can actually handle the job in order to survive the selection and competition processes. But a person who believes that he can compete and win the job of president, and then handle being the most powerful human on the planet, is clearly delusional. There’s a perfect word to describe the condition of a serious Presidential candidate:

Main Entry: megalomania (meg•a•lo•ma•nia)
Pronunciation: “me-g&-lO-‘mA-nE-&, -ny&
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin
Date: circa 1890
1 : a mania for great or grandiose performance
2 : a delusional mental disorder that is marked by infantile feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur

Definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster at http://www.m-w.com.

(On an unrelated note, I think it would be a hoot if a Chinese restaurant had a big promotion or contest and called it Mega Lo Mein-ia!)

Think of it this way…what would your reaction be if someone said to you: “I really want to be President of the United States, and I think I’d do a great job!”? My reaction would be, “You’re crazy!” Why would anyone want that job? Unsolvable problems, unknowable enemies, unrelenting danger (to one’s self and one’s family), incomprehensible issues, and non-stop criticism. To *want* that job, you have to either think you are truly one in 250,000,000, the one great leader who can shepherd this flock through the rocky straits of the winds of change (he mixed, metaphorically), or you have to be willing to sacrifice everything in order to get power. In either case, you are insane, in my estimation.

The Long Version
First of all, no modern president has been elected by virtue of a grass-roots movement. Sure, some have come out of nowhere (Carter, Clinton), but they still came through their party machine, and followed the cow paths laid down by countless previous candidates. And those paths lead through some pretty stinky pastures, my friend. In modern America, the Democrats and Republicans have an oligopoly (I would assert that they have a monopoly, actually) on the office of President. They control the means of production, distribution, and delivery. You don’t get to be the Democratic or Republican Presidential candidate unless you pass muster within the party. And the standards are very exacting. Notice that I didn’t say “high”, I said “exacting”.

First and foremost, you (as the candidate) must be controllable, to reduce the risk that you will harm your party. How are you made to be controllable? How does one control the most powerful person in the world? By having more power over the candidate than the candidate will over you, if elected. How do you, as a

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