Saturday, April 01, 2006

Political news of the week, take 7

[See also: political links of the week take 6, take 5, take 4, take 3, take 2, and take 1.]

Bush Was Set on Path to War, British Memo Says - A New York Times article about a secret memo detailing conversations between Bush and Blair just before the start of the Iraq war.
In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.


The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.
Bush Has No Plans to End War:
During yesterday's press conference, President Bush was asked when the troops could come home from Iraq and he answered, "that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." It is clear that he has no intention of finding an end to this conflict and it will take a new administration in 2009 to bring the troops home.
Lobbysist Abramoff, pal Kidan get 5 years, 10 months each in SunCruz fraud case:
Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday to five years, 10 months in prison by a federal judge for his role in a fraud scheme with a former partner during their purchase in 2000 of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.

Abramoff, 47, and ex-partner Adam Kidan, 41, received the same sentence, the minimum under federal guidelines.
Call to Censure Bush Is Answered by a Mostly Empty Echo - A New York Times article about this week's hearing on Feingold's censure motion.
Five Republicans at the hearing took turns attacking the idea as a reckless stunt that could embolden terrorists. Just two Democrats showed up to defend it, arguing that Congress needed to rein in the White House's expansive view of presidential power.


Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the committee and the only other Democrat to speak at the hearing
[other than Feingold], said he, too, was inclined to support censure. Only two other senators, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, have signed on as co-sponsors of Mr. Feingold's resolution.

Republicans argued that censure would undermine the president's efforts to fight terrorism.

"This hearing, I think, is beyond the pale," said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

Mr. Cornyn argued that the censure proposal could send a "perverse and false message" of presidential weakness to terrorists around the world and thus "make the jobs of our soldiers and diplomats harder and place them at greater risk."
Baghdad? Suburb of Istanbul? Same thing ... - A post of my own looking at a Republican Congressional candidate using a photo of a city in Turkey to demonstrate how peaceful Baghdad is.

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math - A New York Times article looking at the effect that No Child Left Behind is having on education (via Orac):
Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.

The survey, by the Center on Education Policy, found that since the passage of the federal law, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math ...
The First Step in Increasing the NIH Budget - Orac and Evolgen have both been tracking the proposed NIH research budget (which was is going to be cut), and have some good news about a senate amendment that increases the research budget [update: see the next entry for the latest on this topic]:
The Specter-Harkin Amendment passed the Senate, but this does not guarantee an increase to the NIH budged. The House must still vote on it and it must be reflected in House and Senate Appropriations Committees' allocation for the Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee. ...

That said, an important step has been taken towards ensuring important biomedical research gets funded. The amendment passed by a vote of 73 to 27. [Evolgen includes a list of senators voting for and against the amendment in the original post].
One more chance to support the NIH - After reporting the good news (above) a few days ago, today Orac reported that the NIH budget is once again in trouble; Orac's post has a list of ways you can help in the coming week.
Evolgen previously reported on the success of the Specter-Harkin Amendment in the Senate to change a completely flat National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget containing actual real cuts to the budget of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to one with a modest increase in fiscal year 2007. Both the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) and Genetics Society of America both weighed in when the budget was sent to the House in order to garner support in committee for adding an amendment similar to the Specter-Harkin Amendment to the Department of Health and Human Services budget.

Apparently, the effort to add this amendment to the HHS budget has failed, with the House Budget Committee electing to go with a version of the HHS budget that resembles the President's meager budget.
How Environmentalists Lost the Battle Over TCE: The first of a two part LA Times series looking at how the Pentagon successfully prevented the EPA from creating more stringent regulations surrounding a potential carcinogen that is contaminating water supplies:
Following four years of study, senior EPA scientists came to an alarming conclusion: The solvent, trichloroethylene, or TCE, was as much as 40 times more likely to cause cancer than the EPA had previously believed.

The preliminary report in 2001 laid the groundwork for tough new standards to limit public exposure to TCE. Instead of triggering any action, however, the assessment set off a high-stakes battle between the EPA and Defense Department, which had more than 1,000 military properties nationwide polluted with TCE.

By 2003, after a prolonged challenge orchestrated by the Pentagon, the EPA lost control of the issue and its TCE assessment was cast aside. As a result, any conclusion about whether millions of Americans were being contaminated by TCE was delayed indefinitely.
President Straw Man - Orac reports on an AP article discussing the use of straw-man arguments by politicians (and then, a day later, Orac noticed some more; one could make a career of pointing out straw man arguments by politicians).
[A] straw man argument is the refutation of a weaker argument than the one that one's opponent has actually proposed. Most commonly, it involves either paraphrasing one's opponent's argument in highly weakened form or misrepresenting it completely in such a way that it is more radical or less nuanced, attributing that weaker argument to him or her, and then refuting that argument. The weaker argument is the "straw man" that is knocked down in place of one's opponent's true argument. The use of the straw man argument can represent either dishonesty or merely sloppy thinking (or a combination of the two), and it is one of the most common logical fallacies I (and most others interested in skepticism and critical thinking) encounter.
Science teachers in Arkansas self-censoring about evolution:
Via Red State Rabble, I've become aware of an incredibly depressing story about science teachers in Arkansas explicitly censoring themselves when it comes to teaching evolution (the "e-word," as they call it) or in geology class teaching that the earth is 4.5 billion years old:


The teachers there are so frightened of the reaction of fundamentalists that they wouldn't allow the reporter to mention the name of the school, nor would the teachers cooperate without assurances of anonymity
Gov., Rivals Leave Fiscal Crisis in the Wings - And, to end with some California politics, the LA Times reports that none of the gubernatorial candidates (yes, there is going to be another big California election this November) are addressing the impending financial problems of the state.
The cash crunch — the state expects tax collections to fall at least $5 billion short of its spending within three years — is apt to be one of the toughest challenges facing the next governor. It threatens to undercut schools, hospitals, transportation and other public services even as the state's population, and its needs, keep growing.

Yet Schwarzenegger and one of his Democratic opponents, Controller Steve Westly, have offered no concrete plans to close the budget gap. Neither has identified any spending he would cut if elected in November, and both have said higher taxes would be only a last resort.


While keeping his future budget plans vague, Schwarzenegger has been bold about how he defines his fiscal record so far: He takes credit for saving the state from bankruptcy. He argues that by cutting the cost of insurance for workplace injuries, slashing the car tax and refusing to raise income taxes, he has created a business climate that spawned 500,000 jobs on his watch, along with a surge in new tax revenue.


The state's job growth has occurred in sync with the rest of the country's. And Thornberg, the UCLA economist, said Schwarzenegger's policies had nothing to do with the surge in tax collections.

"The fact is, Schwarzenegger is no more responsible for the recovery the state's economy is going through than Gray Davis was responsible for the collapse of the tech sector," he said. The dot-com bust wiped out billions of dollars in tax revenue while Davis was governor.

It is largely the surge of unexpected tax revenue, along with billions of dollars in new borrowing under Schwarzenegger, that has pulled California out of the fiscal crisis.

The governor has restrained spending substantially in just one area, slowing the legally mandated growth of the education budget.

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