Tuesday, August 29, 2006

MARIA CANTWELL: FAILING THE ETHICS TEST

The Seattle Times brings us the latest news on the mudwrestle the contest for Washington’s junior Senate seat has degenerated into:

“No "millionaires" boost for Cantwell, FEC says”

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2003233883_webfeccantwell29.html

From the article:

“A $2 million loan by U.S. Senate challenger Mike McGavick to his own campaign does not trigger a "millionaires' amendment" that would allow Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell to raise more money, the Federal Election Commission ruled today.

The FEC's decision means that Cantwell will have to abide by normal campaign finance laws, at least until the Sept. 19 primary.

In a unanimous decision, the FEC said the so-called millionaires' amendment — which lifts campaign donation limits for anyone facing a candidate who self-finances a campaign — applies only to McGavick's Republican primary opponents, not Cantwell.”

The article then notes:

“Ironically, that figure [$10 million of personal money McGavick might spend] is the amount that Cantwell, a high-tech millionaire, contributed to her campaign in 2000, when she upset then-Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash. Much of the money was in loans that were later repaid to Cantwell, whose personal wealth has declined significantly in recent years as the stock of her former company, RealNetworks, has plunged.

The millionaires' amendment, adopted in 2002, did not apply to the 2000 election.”

I’ve often noted “fair” is where you go to look at bunnies and roosters… Nothing is ever “fair” in the mostly bloodless bloodsport of American politics. But Senators – like the President – have too damn much power to lack self-restraint.

Just like McGavick’s golden parachute… Just like Maria’s stock option manipulation of her Real Networks holdings… This challenge may be legal but it isn’t ethical. It’s a good thing the FEC shot her down.

That’s two for Senator Bubblehead. She financed much of her first campaign with smelly money; now she’s complaining about the other millionaire’s smelly money and how he is spending it.

As a person who – at least in theory – became wealthy by entrepreneurial success, she should be pleased the other guy got rich in business and can afford to finance his own campaign. After all, the alternative is to raise tons of money from those damned lobbyists who represent “special interests”…

At least she should be pleased if this was about “fairness” and the people’s interest in the best person winning… But isn’t; it’s just about winning.

Forecast for the fall: lying and shit throwing from both monkeys punctuated by repeated legal challenges of everything that can be challenged…

Damn shame we can’t do better than this.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

UNDERTONES: THE NEW TERRORIST THREAT

Here’s another one for those afflicted with the delusion that pursuit of the phony “war on terror” won’t lead to everything from outright idiotic hare chasing to tangible abuse of innocent citizens…

From AP via The Seattle Times:

“Idea to remove dam triggers probe by FBI”

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003228878_dam27.html

From the article:

“ST. LOUIS — Jim Bensman thought his suggestion during a public hearing was harmless enough: Instead of building a channel so migratory fish could go around a dam on the Mississippi River, just get rid of the dam.

Instead, the environmental activist found himself in hot water, drawing FBI scrutiny to see whether he had any terrorist intentions…”

Bensman claims he never mentioned blowing up the dam – which is after all how one removes a no longer needed dam – but that the sponsor of the meeting, the Army Corps of Engineers, did so in their presentation…

But a reporter from the local rag of record got it wrong, and a few days later the man was leaning on Bensman. His comments were “construed to have terrorist undertones”…

You know, I bet the section charged with counterterrorism in the FBI office covering Missouri is real busy… Why every sandmonkey alive must dream of blowing up… What? Is there anything in Missouri worth blowing up?

Maybe Rush Limbaugh on a trip back to Cape Geraldo…

So these boys are pulling down 50 grand a year or better each to???

Harass citizens who advocate removing obsolete dams, it looks like... Harass citizens at the request of bureaucrats from the Corps who weren’t at the meeting to hear the advocacy but objected to a second-hand account…

This is how it starts. Think of it as an adjunct to Giuliani’s “broken window’s” idea or the slow boiling frog theory. You don’t just wake up one morning with two cops and a posting of 50 new rules on every street corner. You get used to it a little at a time, like broken windows or warming water. Pretty soon these common, petty insults to citizens – these foolish wastes of our money - become accepted… And then one day if a Jim Bensman complains and thereafter disappears for a few days only to reappear beaten and drugged, well, he shouldn’t have stuck his head up…

People stop sticking their heads up… And stop being free men but instead become slaves to petty bureaucrats and the fear and paranoia abuse creates.

It is real and it isn’t inconsequential. There is no room in a free America for cops who chase shadow “threats” parsed out of comments made under the most American of protections, the right to address the government directly in a public assembly.

Zero tolerance to terror power abuses is the only way.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

WHORING CHRISTIANITY

A wail of desperation could clearly be heard under the comments of the neocons darling – and unindicted election thief – Katherine Harris, as she stooped to exhorting – or is it extorting - the “faithful”…

Via The Seattle Times from The Orlando Sentinel:

“Congresswoman: Elect Christians or "legislate sin"”

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003226852_harris26.html

“"If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin,"”

I’d be disgusted except people who drag religion into politics are beneath contempt…

And I’d recommend some reading for her and the ignorant that follow her… Particularly Timothy and Paul, both of whom were a lot closer to Christianity as designed by Christ than she and both of whom had some choice comments for bigmouthed uppity women…

Something along the lines of seldom heard and never in charge…

If she wants a theocracy she should emigrate… There are still several in the world… And they know what to do with bigmouthed uppity women…

Oh well. The rest of the religious community will stomp this Neanderthal and I should shut up…

But there is a context I don’t think the faithful will see. Harris is desperate. She’s sunk everything she has into this race and she’s losing. She will probably get the Republican nod for the November race but the only people who think she can win are the ones buying Florida swampland…

She’s losing and she’s desperate. Desperation is like anger: It releases the real person. The “person” a good politician knows needs to be kept shut up – the keeper of hidden agendas.

And she, like a lot of other neocon Christians, really does believe America would be better off as an old-fashioned theocracy, where people could be discriminated against over any of a number of ugly, barbaric prejudices – denied housing, denied employment, or even jailed for not following their sick creed.

So it’s good she’s desperate… She is showing her true colors – and they aren’t red, white and blue…


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

FACT CHECKING "HALF-TRUTH" MCGAVICK

“That’s not right, is it?” said Mrs. Possum to no one in particular – me – as we sat in our office going through e-mails on our respective computers and listening to 103.7 FM in the background. I knew what she was referring to – she took the words right out of my head… We had just been treated to Mike!™ McGavick’s new commercial…

““You know, by deducting their sales taxes from the federal income tax, the average Washington family saves $550 a year. That really helps families get by,” Mike says in the ad.”

That’s not from memory. I wouldn’t do that. That’s a quote from Mike’s!™ website:

“Campaign Launches New Radio Ad — Mike Expresses Disappointment with Sen. Cantwell for Following Party Over State’s Interests”

http://www.mikemcgavick.com/pressrelease.asp?prid=77

The subject was Cantwell’s vote on the so-called “trifecta” tax legislation. And as far as I’m concerned, the ad is the end of any claim Mike!™ McGavick had to being the honest campaigning good guy…

He’s just one more fact manipulating, lying politician…

I wasn’t going to get into this race…

I don’t like Cantwell and I don’t understand people who do. I voted for Slade, I’m still suspicious of the last minute returns that cost him the election, and I’m still disgusted that the people of Washington would be stupid enough to retire someone with Slade’s seniority and connections in favor of a bubblehead dotcommie who epitomized everything that was wrong with the dot.com opium dream – someone whose biggest private sector accomplishment was bailing out before the shit truly hit the fan.

And nothing she has done since her election has impressed me either….

I liked Slade. He was my kind of Republican – a Republican from the time before the party deserted me with its disastrous right turn.

As for McGavick, I know very little about him, but I won’t support anyone who accepts a 20 million dollar goodbye kiss from an insurance company. Oh, I’m sure it was legal, opposition rock throwing notwithstanding, and I don’t care. It isn’t ethical. The insurance industry has a captive market: Unless you are rich enough to tell the whole world to kiss your ass, you have to patronize them. That being the case, I think it’s immoral for them to make even a dime of profit.

I think it should be a matter of law that insurance companies make zero profit. And I think the salaries of their upper level execs should be set by law… Set low.

That 20 million was stolen from the policy holders, IMO, in the form of inflated premiums… And I’ll be proud to be a bigot on this one…

So I was going to keep my mouth shut. I really don’t have a horse in this race. I won’t vote unless the race is really close, in which case I will vote for the bubblehead, her mediocre record notwithstanding, because I think the Nation desperately needs a Democrat majority in Congress right now.

But I sure wasn’t going to promote her… And I’m still not. But this ad pisses me off, because it, and the bill it refers to, says so much about what is really wrong with American governance today.

First the bill. The nick-name says it all: “Trifecta.” Let’s lump a bunch of vaguely related stuff together in such a way as to try to make political hay… Screw the people – they’re not important… And screw the merits of the individual ideas. This isn’t about bettering the Nation; it’s about bettering the Party’s position…

It’s dirty, and the fact both parties have done it when they were in the driver’s seat doesn’t make it clean.

Even if it takes a Constitutional Amendment, this sort of thing should be stopped. But it never will be, because the one thing neither party will ever do is surrender a way to twist arms.

The damned ad… That excellent example of lying by telling half the truth… That excellent insight into the Republican mindset…

True: Cantwell voted against the bill. I’m not interested in her reasoning right now.

False:

“You know, by deducting their sales taxes from the federal income tax, the average Washington family saves $550 a year.”

You only get this deduction if you itemize. Again, from Mike’s!™ website:

“[the deduction] will benefit an estimated 940,000 people who itemize deductions — about 22 percent of the state's federal tax filers.” — “Tax break for nearly 1 million in Washington,” Seattle Times, 10/12/2004

22%... The average person will get zero benefit from this… Who will benefit? The itemizers. Who are they? Here’s an older analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

http://www.cbpp.org/6-8-04tax.htm

In this 2001 analysis, 34% of Washington’s taxpayers are expected to benefit. Of those, 17.8% earn less than $50,000, and 29.9% earn less than $100,000.

Two-thirds of the itemizers make more than $100,000… 93% of those making over $200,000 itemize.

That’s Mike!™ McGavick’s “average” Washingtonian…

You know, it’s funny…  Just about everyone wants to be rich, but nobody wants to be known as the “party of the rich.” I guess we now know who makes up Mike’s!™ party…

And who he is willing to lie for, to distort the facts for. He’s happy to try to bullshit people onto his team with his “average Washington family” shtick.

The hell of it is, this proposal will just screw the real “average” Washington family. It’ll cut into Federal general fund revenues, forcing the government to borrow more to meet its obligations, driving inflation, pushing interest rates up and dragging the overall economy down… Depressing buying power still further for those “average” taxpayers as it raises their borrowing costs…

As it pushes the burden to pay off the debt onto everyone’s kids…

As far as I’m concerned, the Republicans are going in the wrong direction. The deduction should be yanked out from under everyone. Sales tax shouldn’t be deductible. Neither should State income taxes. The whole system is designed to benefit those who need it least while bleeding those who haven’t got the blood to give.

It’s a big part of why the middle class is vanishing, with a tiny few rising and the vast majority – the real average – sinking into serfdom…

But then I doubt Mike!™ gets that… After all, when you’re one of Mike’s!™ party, where a 20 million dollar golden parachute seems “normal,” it must be hell to try to make it on only $200,000 a year…

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Legal Stress

Driving home from work today, it suddenly struck me that I needed a little more stress. My radio was pleasantly filling my car with music from the local classic rock station. That obviously wouldn’t add the stress I was craving. So I tuned in to one of those wonderful talk radio stations where I new I could be assaulted with the asinine ranting of a right wing lunatic punctuated with moronic comments from people calling in.

I was not disappointed. Today’s topic was about the brand new Seattle cop that was killed by a drug crazed woman running a red light at 80 MPH. Read the story yourself. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003199343_crash15m.html

The bone of contention for this true blue (oops, I mean red) lockem up law and order fanatic was that this woman had been released after only serving a couple of months in prison because she was sentenced under a DOSA plea bargain. Under a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative a suspected drug offender can plead guilty and promise to get treatment in return for serving a much shorter sentence. The thinking went something like this. If this woman had been tried and given a real sentence she would have been cooling her heals in prison when Mr. Policeman was driving through the intersection in question and would therefore be a public servant for many happy years.

Sounds wonderful don’t it? So why was my blood pressure spiking while I chugged along in rush hour traffic? Was it that I hated cops and want all of them killed? NO! It had more to do with the fact that tragedy happened because our legal system has become totally twisted by the “ if I don’t like it make it a crime crowd” and then made insane by the “ criminals are the real victims crowd”.

Let me explain. In the first place we have labeled many behaviors as crimes that in and of themselves have no direct negative impact on our ability to enjoy our own pursuit of happiness. Drug use itself should not be a crime. Stealing to support your habit is a crime. Endangering the public by driving under the influence is a crime. Letting your children go hungry so you can spend all your money on crack is a crime and should be dealt with as a crime.

OK, now what? If someone commits a “real” crime we should remove him or her from society for a time that is proportionate to the severity of the crime. For relatively minor crimes, a couple of years. For major crimes, a decade or two. For heinous crimes, life. Lets not stop there. If an offender is also a drug addict give them treatment while still in the properly controlled environment of prison. If they need job skills to give them a hope of a life without crime teach them. Give them what they need to be able to choose a life without crime. If they choose to go back to crime when they are released then warehouse them for life.  

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tired Turtles Rant

Tired Turtle’s Rant Of The Day

The world anxiously waits to see if the Israeli-Hesbola cease-fire will actually happen. I for one am not holding my breath. Each and every faction involved is plotting it’s failure while smiling for the camera. Israel is betting that Hesbola’s hatred of all things Jewish will make it impossible for them to restrain themselves from kicking Israel in the shins which will justify more carnage to civilian populations. Hesbola has embarrassed Israel by showing they are not an invincible superstate. A reputation earned by continually beating on the impotent Palestinians. Hesbola knows they will continue to receive ample resources from Syria and Iran as a reward for showing that the IDF has feet of clay. Even now you can bet that the Lebanese government officials are figuring out how they can skim enough from the imminent humanitarian aid to keep themselves comfortable while their nation burns. This show is far from over.  

Friday, August 11, 2006

BETTER KILLING THROUGH CHEMISTRY

Dominating the news today, and very likely for many days to come, is the story of the thwarting of an alleged plot to blow up as many as ten airliners in mid-flight between the UK and the US using explosives made from ingredients smuggled onto the planes. It is speculated the bombers intended to play chemist in the bathrooms…

FoxNews doing a good job of following the story and Matt Drudge is at his best today providing links on the unfolding plot. Links I thought worthwhile include:

Washington Post.com “Tip Followed '05 Attacks on London Transit”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/10/AR2006081001654_pf.html

The article begins “It all began with a tip: In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on London's transit system, British authorities received a call from a worried member of the Muslim community, reporting general suspicions about an acquaintance.”

Remember that, Muslim bashers… But for a Muslim those planes might be falling out of the sky as you read this…

The New York Times provides some insight into the scope of the problem this tactic creates for security agencies:

“Liquid Threat Is Hard to Detect”

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/11/world/europe/11threat.html?ei=5065&en=77fb08a134ace3bf&ex=1155960000&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print

And from Time.com:

“Thwarting the Airline Plot: Inside the Investigation”

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1225453,00.html

Or if you enjoy being unnecessarily alarmed, there’s this from the UK TimesOnline:

“Science briefing: chemical mix could create deadly flight blast”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2306994,00.html


Quite the event…

We’re being told the plot is at least a year old, has operatives in at least Britain and Pakistan, was thoroughly infiltrated in both nations, may – or may not – have Al-Qaeda connections, and involved making an explosive organic peroxide, probably TATP, from hard to detect liquid components.

We’re not being told why the British moved against the plotters now, which leads to speculation of a political motive…

And I think we may be being told a few things that are just plain inaccurate. So before somebody calls for banning Miss Clairol, I’d like to offer three deep breaths and some thoughts on the practical side of this crazy endeavor…

Along with a couple of suggestions as to how this could be a hell of a lot worse.

TATP has been in the news quite a bit in the last few years. We’re told it is easy to make from “ordinary” chemicals bought in hardware stores or supermarkets, and we’re reminded it’s been used as a component – sometimes a main explosive, but usually a detonator – in suicide vests, IED’s, and Richard Reid’s shoes.

There are a lot of pages available on TATP, some of which I have found to be dangerously inaccurate. For a good basic read on just what TATP is, I’ll vouch for this Wikipedia entry:

“Acetone peroxide”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acetone_peroxide

I’d like to offer a little practical chemistry you probably won’t get elsewhere. Bear with me…

In chemical kinetics, a reaction goes forward anytime entropy is favored and the reactants are present. But in a reaction system, concentration is what we call a “rate step.” In other words, if even a tiny amount of reactants are present, a reaction happens, but it happens very slowly.

There is a pertinent example anyone with lab experience knows about. Diethyl Ether, usually just called ether, forms an explosive peroxide much less stable than TATP when it combines spontaneously with oxygen. If you open a bottle of pure ether, pour half of it out, and then put the rest on a shelf for several months, the tiny bit of oxygen available in the air in the bottle will decompose the ether, forming peroxide crystal around the bottlecap. Just opening the bottle will set it off. To prevent this, stabilizer is added to ether when it is packaged.

A little oxygen… A slow reaction and a scant amount of product.

There are a lot of dangerous chemicals available “off the shelf,” so to speak. And a lot of very ordinary products have dangerous ingredients. The main difference between that nasty industrial chemical and the Mr. Clean under your sink is the industrial version is highly concentrated and the cleaning fluid isn’t…

TATP… Triacetone triperoxide is made from acetone, hydrogen peroxide, and a strong acid. Acetone is a common chemical with a zillion uses which can be purchased in pure form in a hardware store, where it is sold as a paint solvent.

The other two are a bit trickier…

Hydrogen peroxide is one of those “dose makes the poison” cases. Medicinal peroxide, the stuff you pour over cuts, is sold at 3% strength. The stuff used to bleach hair is 6%. From there you go on up through concentrations into the 70% range, which is used in industrial processes like bleaching paper. The strongest stuff easily attainable is 30%, and is used to clean pools or hydroponic equipment.

And 30% is the weakest that is really practical for making TATP. You can use weaker mixes, but you get a poor yield, it’ll take forever, and you have to remove the water – the rest of the peroxide solution is water – at the end of the process. You can also concentrate the peroxide by careful boiling.

Then there is the acid. You can use either hydrochloric or sulfuric, the latter being the best choice. Moderately strong hydrochloric acid is sold as muriatic acid in hardware stores; you use it to clean brick. Battery electrolyte is 50% sulfuric acid. Neither of these is really strong enough to do a good job. Weak acid gives a slow reaction and creates a lot of DADP - diacetone diperoxide – which is less explosive but way less stable, having the unhappy habit of exploding spontaneously. Practically, you need the purest sulfuric acid you can steal – you can’t buy the “good stuff” in Wal-Mart…

So the assertion you could just pick the stuff up on the way to the airport is incorrect. Ordinarily available chemicals either won’t make the right stuff or make so little of it so slowly you could never accomplish the synthesis in an airliner bathroom…

The TimesOnline article claims the components were to be smuggled in two containers. That’s possible – you could mix the acetone and the peroxide, and then drizzle in the acid. So imagine trying to do this…

You got your bottles by the security teams. You had to seal the acetone-peroxide mix well, because it has a powerful odor any person can detect. Likewise, if your acid had leaked, it’d have eaten most anything organic or metallic it touched and might have started a fire. Now you’re in the can… You need to keep the mix cool somehow as you mix it, if your goal is to make TATP, wash it, dry it, and then set it off with some kind of electronic device, as has been suggested… And you need to accomplish all this before someone wonders why Abdul is barricaded in the John…

Or maybe that’s been considered… It will explode prematurely if the temperature rises too fast as you add the acid or the acid is too weak and you make DADP.  You might not need a detonator if you tried to “do it wrong”… Just dump the acid straight in, glug glug… And shake the hell out of the mix… It wouldn’t be foolproof, but it might be proof enough for the fools involved. Perhaps that’s why there was to be so many attempts at once – to assure at least one success out of many efforts.

And a final issue: It has been claimed these liquids are not easily detectable. Bullcrap. Either bottle would have a suspiciously low pH; the acid alarmingly low. A simple dipstick test would reveal that. Likewise, the peroxide can be detected by a similar dipstick test. Sure, it means opening a zillion bottles… But it can be done.

But just so you don’t get any sleep for a while – at least not on a plane – consider a few other possibilities:

First, a “true confession:” I thought of this before it happened, and I’ve thought of a lot of other ways to do the same thing. I’m trained in the subject, but so are a lot of other people. If I thought of it, millions have… And they have thought of ideas like:

Turning metal hydrides into explosives. A hydride is an ionic combination of a metal and hydrogen. In most common chemical systems, hydrogen forms a positive ion – that’s what acid is. In a hydride, hydrogen takes on a negative charge. If you mix an acid – even water, which is a weak acid – with a hydride, you make hydrogen; a lot of it, very fast. So for example…

Start with sodium borohydride. It’s a common industrial chemical, hard to buy but easy to steal. You could use it as a dry powder – that would be best – but if it were hard to smuggle the powder, you could mix it with a very high pH solution of sodium hydroxide to form a very heavy, thick liquid – it would be a lot like Liquid Plumber. Put it in a stout bottle – there will be some gas pressure – and smuggle that onto a plane. In the bathroom, mix it with water. You’ll make enough hydrogen very fast to blow the plane to bits, Hindenburg style… One match and it’s history. You could also make an auto mixer that would do the same thing from the cargo hold…

Or a real nightmare scenario. We hear of suicide bombers wearing vests. What if the bomb were in the bomber?

You have a lot of “extra” organs… You could do without a kidney, a lobe of your liver, or even a couple of lobes of lung. If you’re a suicide bomber, you won’t miss them at all… Remove some of those “extra” organs… Then replace the tissue with a bag of explosive.

You could even do it with breast implants…

Fashion a detonator that looks like a pacemaker…

There are a lot more, but I’ll shut up. The point is made. We really can’t win this. The first hijackings cost the traveling public dear; 9-11 was astronomically more expensive. Even this foiled attempt will be costly, and had it succeeded… If this sort of thing keeps happening, it will destroy air travel as an available option for the general public. Eventually, only people thoroughly vetted beforehand will be able to fly, and they will pay a big price for the privilege. That will probably eliminate hundreds of flights and flight destinations – and tens of thousands of jobs.

There has to be a better way… Fighting the invisible enemy only works until it doesn’t, and then all the successes mean nothing.

New ideas, anyone?

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