December 2010 Archives

Bipartisanship: "Obama and GOPers Worked Together to Kill Bush Torture Probe"

For two years, President Obama and the GOP have largely failed to cooperate. But they happily united around one cause — protecting America’s torture leaders from due process:

[T]he Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners had requested that Spain’s National Court indict six former Bush officials for, as the cable describes it, “creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture.” The six were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel. The human rights group contended that Spain had a duty to open an investigation under the nation’s “universal jurisdiction” law, which permits its legal system to prosecute overseas human rights crimes involving Spanish citizens and residents. Five Guantanamo detainees, the group maintained, fit that criteria.

Soon after the request was made, the US embassy in Madrid began tracking the matter…. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and the embassy’s charge d'affaires “raised the issue” with another official at the [Spanish] Ministry of Foreign Affairs….

Here was a former head of the GOP [Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.)] and a representative of a new Democratic administration (headed by a president who had decried the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of torture) jointly applying pressure on Spain to kill the investigation of the former Bush officials….

The next day, April 16, 2009, Attorney General Conde-Pumpido publicly declared that he would not support the criminal complaint, calling it “fraudulent” and political…. Still, in September 2009, Judge Garzón pushed ahead with the case.

The case eventually came to be overseen by another judge who last spring asked the parties behind the complaint to explain why the investigation should continue. Several human rights groups filed a brief urging this judge to keep the case alive, citing the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute the Bush officials. Since then, there’s been no action. The Obama administration essentially got what it wanted. The case of the Bush Six went away.

Posted by James on Dec 02, 2010

Free miracle drug: Feel younger and live 6-7 years longer

When my wife and mom both independently tell me to do something, I stop whatever I’m doing and do it.

So I read this article focusing on a charming 91-year-old world record-holding athlete. You would probably enjoy her story, but I want to highlight the practical scientific advice in the middle of the article:

Exercise has been shown to add between six and seven years to a life span (and improve the quality of life in countless ways). Any doctor who didn’t recommend exercise would be immediately suspect. But for most seniors, that prescription is likely to be something like a daily walk or Aquafit. It’s not quarter-mile timed intervals or lung-busting fartleks. There’s more than a little suffering in the difference.

Here, though, is the radical proposition that’s starting to gain currency among researchers studying masters athletes: what if intense training does something that allows the body to regenerate itself? Two recent studies involving middle-aged runners suggest that the serious mileage they were putting in, over years and years, had protected them at the chromosomal level. It appears that exercise may stimulate the production of telomerase, an enzyme that maintains and repairs the little caps on the ends of chromosomes that keep genetic information intact when cells divide. That may explain why older athletes aren’t just more cardiovascularly fit than their sedentary counterparts — they are more free of age-related illness in general.

Exactly how exercise affects older people is complicated. On one level, exercise is a flat-out insult to the body. Downhill running tears quadriceps muscles as reliably as an injection of snake venom. All kinds of free radicals and other toxins are let loose. But the damage also triggers the production of antioxidants that boost the health of the body generally. So when you see a track athlete who looks as if that last 1,500-meter race damn near killed him, you’re right. It might have made him stronger in the deal.

Exercise training helps stop muscle strength and endurance from slipping away. But it seems to also do something else, maintains Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (who also happens to be a top-ranked trail runner). Resistance exercise in particular seems to activate a muscle stem cell called a satellite cell. With the infusion of these squeaky-clean cells into the system, the mitochondria seem to rejuvenate. (The phenomenon has been called “gene shifting.”) If Tarnopolsky is right, exercise in older adults can roll back the odometer. After six months of twice weekly strength exercise training, he has shown, the biochemical, physiological and genetic signature of older muscle is “turned back” nearly 15 or 20 years.

If you aren’t already too frail to exercise, it’s not too late to gain tremendous health and mind-sharpening benefits from exercising. So get started!

I’ve now seen too many scientific studies touting the powerful health benefits of strengthening muscles to continue being so lazy. I’ve been cycling on a recumbent bike Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’m going to clear off our weight bench that has become a dumping ground for boxes and start lifting weights (and doing push-ups and sit-ups) Tuesdays and Thursdays. See you in 2100!?!?

Posted by James on Dec 01, 2010

Friedman: "America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems"

Tom Friedman imagines how China’s embassy in Washington views America:

Americans just had what they call an “election.” Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other (all from businesses they are supposed to be regulating) so he could tell bigger lies on TV more often about the other guy before the other guy could do it to him. This leaves us relieved. It means America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent.

The ambassador recently took what the Americans call a fast train — the Acela — from Washington to New York City. Our bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin would have made the trip in 90 minutes. His took three hours — and it was on time!

…[Americans] travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how “exceptional” they are. Once again, we are not making this up. On the front page of The Washington Post on Monday there was an article noting that Republicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are denouncing Obama for denying “American exceptionalism.” The Americans have replaced working to be exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are.

Posted by James on Dec 03, 2010

I love Julian Assange

I wrote eight months ago that WikiLeaks deserves a Pulitzer for “producing better investigative journalism than anything Fox, CNN, ABC or NBC has put out in a long time.”

Well, WikiLeaks clearly also deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

By publishing video of American video game players remote control pilots murdering unarmed civilians — including a Good Samaritan whose only crime was trying to rescue injured people he saw lying in the street — and then laughing about it, WikiLeaks exposed the deadly, immoral reality behind the sanitized version of war Americans are shown on our television sets.

WikiLeaks has certainly done more to promote peace than President Obama, who continues to oversee two military occupations and has somehow compiled a worse record on civil liberties than even George W. Bush. At least Bush never claimed — as Obama has — the right to murder an American, without a court trial, simply because the President declares him a national security threat.

And WikiLeaks is now exposing the ugly reality of U.S. “diplomacy,” which includes spying on even United Nations diplomats.

Julian Assange has a big brain and a huge heart. He cares about our world and wants to expose evil to make our world better:

“We believe it is the most closed societies that have the most reform potential,” he said. Assange said that while parts of the Chinese government and security services “appear terrified of free speech” he believed it was “an optimistic sign because it means speech can still cause reform.”

He added: “Journalism and writing is capable of achieving change which is why Chinese authorities are so scared of it.”

Assange argued that countries like China could be easier to reform than countries like the US and the UK, which “have been so heavily fiscalised through contractual obligations that political change doesn’t seem to result in economic change, which in other words means that political change doesn’t result in change.”

While secrecy was important, Assange said, in keeping the identity of sources hidden, secrecy “shouldn’t be used to cover up abuses.”

He said that revealing abuses could lead to positive changes in countries and organisations. “They have one of two choices … to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavours, and proud to display them to the public” or “to lock down internally and to balkanise, and as a result, of course, cease to be as efficient as they were. To me, that is a very good outcome, because organizations can either be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient.”

Assange is the people’s revolutionary, a modern Tom Paine. He’s the thoroughbred version of one-trick-pony Daniel Ellsberg because he has built the infrastructure and established the credibility to publish several Pentagon Papers every year forever.

No wonder Assange is the world’s most wanted man. America never found Osama bin Laden because we didn’t want to (since bin Laden served Bush Jr. and Bush Sr.’s Carlyle Group buddies and business partners — including bin Laden’s father — very well). But many powerful people — including every major U.S. bank that fears they’re the target of Assange’s promised document dump / major scandal expose — want to shut Julian Assange up.

They’ve been hunting him hard, and they’ll likely find some way to bring him down. Maybe Dick Cheney’s quail gun?

Posted by James on Dec 02, 2010

Tax cuts for multi-millionaires or save Social Security and Medicare?

According to Paul Krugman, extending Bush’s tax cuts for billionaires and multi-millionaires would cost $4 trillion per decade, necessitating massive future cuts in Medicare and Social Security:

Back in 2001, former President George W. Bush pulled a fast one. He wanted to enact an irresponsible tax cut, largely for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But there were Senate rules in place designed to prevent that kind of irresponsibility. So Mr. Bush evaded the rules by making the tax cut temporary, with the whole thing scheduled to expire on the last day of 2010.

The plan, of course, was to come back later and make the thing permanent, never mind the impact on the deficit. But that never happened. And so here we are, with 2010 almost over and nothing resolved.

Democrats have tried to push a compromise: let tax cuts for the wealthy expire, but extend tax cuts for the middle class. Republicans, however, are having none of it. They have been filibustering Democratic attempts to separate tax cuts that mainly benefit a tiny group of wealthy Americans from those that mainly help the middle class. It’s all or nothing, they say: all the Bush tax cuts must be extended. What should Democrats do?

The answer is that they should just say no. If G.O.P. intransigence means that taxes rise at the end of this month, so be it….

America, however, cannot afford to make those cuts permanent. We’re talking about almost $4 trillion in lost revenue just over the next decade; over the next 75 years, the revenue loss would be more than three times the entire projected Social Security shortfall. So giving in to Republican demands would mean risking a major fiscal crisis — a crisis that could be resolved only by making savage cuts in federal spending.

And we’re not talking about government programs nobody cares about: the only way to cut spending enough to pay for the Bush tax cuts in the long run would be to dismantle large parts of Social Security and Medicare.

I could not agree more. Perhaps 95% of the benefits of a tax extension would go to the very wealthiest Americans who least need a tax cut. And the pain of future spending cuts would be borne by the working class and poor.

Don’t give in to Republican blackmail! Shine a spotlight on what Republicans are fighting for — budget-busting tax cuts for the very richest Americans — and reap the political windfall.

Posted by James on Dec 06, 2010

Why I've stopped posting

I haven’t posted in a while and plan to post infrequently for the foreseeable future.

I’m just sick about what’s happening in our country and world. But blogging about the world’s ills on my little website isn’t helping make things better.

So I have resolved to focus (even more) on work and parenting. As a parent with two young kids, I’ve got precious little free time. So I need to use every minute as efficiently as possible. Reading the news and blogging are luxuries I’ve cut back on.

Happy holidays to you all!

Posted by James on Dec 13, 2010