See? Bush was right, after all!

“The Lebanese have been having parliamentary elections for decades,” Juan Cole pointed out on Democracy Now, but now that they’re agitating for the Syrians to leave — though this is hardly a new issue (read Kahlil Gibran) — neoconservatives are crowing about how invading Iraq has transformed the region.

As Arianna Huffington puts it, “In the corridors of power, Republicans are high-fiving, and Democrats are nodding in agreement and patting themselves on the back for how graciously they’ve been able to accept the fact that they were wrong. The groupthink in the nation’s capital would be the envy of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.”

But what about the elections in Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Huffington points out that women still can’t vote in Saudi Arabia and that, “In Egypt, President Mubarak’s promise to open future elections to competing parties hasn’t been accompanied by the lifting of the current repressive emergency laws that, among other things, ban all public demonstrations and allow citizens deemed a threat to national security to be held indefinitely without formal charges. Nor did it stop the recent arrest of Ayman Nur, a leading opposition figure in Egypt.”

But what about those elections in Iraq, where they had a high turnout despite a Sunni boycott and a continued insurgency? That’s a more difficult case. Huffington complains that they still don’t have a government; she might just be too impatient.

But Huffington’s bottom line is right on: Elections do not a democracy make. “Just ask the people of Russia. Or Algeria. Or Haiti. Or Africa.”

The fact is, Bush has raised the profile of the United States in the Middle East. And he’s been pushing the issue in the wake of his failed weapons of mass destruction claims to justify his invasion of Iraq. But as Huffington points out, you can’t impose democracy by military force. Moves in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are small steps in a right direction. So it’s unsurprising that local governments are giving a litle ground.

But as Huffington points out, “the vast majority of Arabs remain skeptical of U.S. motives. So as long as the idea of democracy is equated with America–and promoted by America–it will be much harder for real democracy to take root in the Middle East. Especially when it is democracy accompanied by 150,000 U.S. troops.”

1950s redux

Imagine a tax code amended to favor big (heterosexual) families and small business, and husbands paid a “family wage” and wives staying home, barefoot and pregnant. What kind of drugs am I on and how can you get some?

Sorry, no drugs, and it ain’t me.

According to the Salon.com War Room, “On Wednesday, a coalition of conservative groups held a press conference to announce ‘The Natural Family Manifesto,’ a joint project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society and the Sutherland Institute. Unveiled in the wake of Tuesday’s court ruling in California declaring that a ban on same-sex marriage violated the state’s constitution, the 36-page manifesto is a radical re-envisioning of the family unit in social and economic terms, and a sweeping prescription for the pro-family movement.”

Given Bush administration ties to big business, this scenario seems a little unlikely. Maybe the evangelical Protestants are on drugs? If so, I definitely don’t want any. But “[a]pparently religious conservatives are frustrated with the Bush administration’s inertia on the marriage amendment and other pet issues, and the manifesto is only one part of their next line of attack.”

I think maybe I’ll head to the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. This is a really bad trip, man.

Mars ‘alive’

The BBC is reporting on peer-reviewed articles in Nature, which document a large frozen sea and geologically-recent volcanic activity.

The interesting part about this is that according to physicists, the reason Mars lacks a more substantial atmosphere is that its core has cooled and solidified. Such a core cannot generate the magnetic field needed to shield the atmosphere from solar wind. Unprotected, the atmosphere literally gets blown away.

Mars is believed to, at best, possess a very weak magnetic field induced by solar wind. But Venus, which has a very thick atmosphere, also apparently possesses only an induced magnetic field.

But apparently “Venus has no magnetic field, perhaps because of its slow rotation.” Like earth, Venus still has a molten core. Volcanism on a planet like Mars, presumed to have a cold solid core, is a little harder to explain.

If Mars has a warmer core than anyone expects, then the absence of a magnetic field is also apparently unexplained. And since the lack of a magnetic field explains the relative lack of atmosphere, then we also don’t know why or if Mars can’t be terraformed.

USS Augusta Ada March Meeting announced

The meeting this month is on Saturday, the 26th, at 1:00 pm at the Round Table Pizza on the northeast corner of 16th Avenue and Geary in San Francisco.

We still have amendment 13 carried over from previous months’ agendas. Heather is due to offer an alternate version; please offer any suggestions you have for resolving this problem to her. The amendment will set a new policy for officer commissioning.

The following is only an agenda outline:

1) Starfleet business

    a) USS Augusta Ada

      Membership count
      Amendment 13

    b) Region 4
    c) Starfleet

2) Crew Announcements
3) Away Mission reports/Treknese in Everyday Life
4) Star Trek/Science Fiction

    a) Upcoming Conventions
    b) Other news/discussion

5) Sciences
6) Technology

    a) Upcoming Conventions/User Group meetings
    b) Demonstrations/Presentations
    c) Other news/discussion

7) Unscheduled Business

Italy seeks to withdraw from Iraq

On the heels of the shooting of an Italian journalist, and already facing deep domestic opposition to the war in Iraq, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, “one of President Bush’s few close allies,” said he will seek to begin withdrawing Italy’s forces.

    “I’ve spoken about it with Tony Blair, and it’s the public opinion of our countries that expects this decision,” Mr. Berlusconi said in the talk show “Porta a Porta,” referring to the British prime minister, who faces similar public disenchantment for his support of the war. “We have to build an exit strategy.”

Militarily, the withdrawal won’t amount to much, but the fig leaf of an international coalition supporting Bush’s war on Iraq is crumbling away. Italy has 3,000 troops in Iraq. “Britain, with 8,000 troops, the second largest contingent in Iraq after the United States’ 150,000, has not announced any withdrawal date. But Poland, another important European ally, has announced it will withdraw several hundred of its 1,700 troops in July with the intent of leaving entirely around the start of the new year. The Netherlands and Ukraine have both begun withdrawing their combined 2,900 troops or plan to do so.”

Test battle over judicial nominations on Thursday

The Christian Science Monitor reports that “Thursday’s vote on the first of President Bush’s blocked judicial nominees sets up a test of a ‘nuclear option’ whose fallout could effectively bring the US Senate to a stop for the balance of the 109th Congress – and affect the balance on US courts for decades.”

The Judiciary Committee will likely send “the nomination of William Myers to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals” to the full Senate on a party-line vote. The Democrats will likely filibuster and Republicans will likely use this occasion to seek to introduce a rules change — the so-called “nuclear option” — to limit the ability of the minority party to filibuster. “‘Both parties understand that this is a dress rehearsal for the Supreme Court,’ says Sheldon Goldman, a political scientist and expert on judicial nominations at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. ‘It’s been nicknamed the nuclear option because the fallout would be radioactive as far as our politics goes.'” The Democratic Party has issued an action alert asking people to sign a petition to — in their words, protect free speech. This isn’t really about free speech. It is about protecting minority rights against a tyranny of the majority. It is about the purpose of the Senate itself — as a counterweight to the more popularly representative House of Representatives. And, it is about stacking the courts in favor of the right wing — an effect which could last decades.

Losing focus in Minnesota

Apparently Minnesota legislators are considering a ban on gay marriage. Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings asks, “Does amending the constitution to ban gay marriage really trump a budget deficit, a gathering storm in public education, cuts in health care to poor people and soaring costs for everyone else — not to mention the nuts and bolts of state government, like repairing highways, arguing about sports stadiums and building nice zoos?”

Strengthening Freedom of Information

The ACLU has issued an action alert in support of a Senate bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. I’ve previously commented on this issue, and lots of people have commented that the Bush Administration is one of the most secretive in history. The Bush Administration, of course, has reasons to be secretive, and that is something we should all be concerned about.

Former WorldCom Chief Ebbers guilty on all charges

This story should be popping up all over. The Bloomberg.com report focuses not on whether Ebbers was guilty but on the decision to send him to the witness stand:

    “The conviction today signals a complete rejection of his testimony by the jury, and it will leave many questioning the wisdom of sending Ebbers to the stand in the first place,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor who is now with the Newark, New Jersey, law firm of McCarter & English. “The high- risk gamble of taking the stand simply blew up on him.”

According to a Forbes newsletter, “[t]he crimes carry a potential 85 years in prison.”

Just remember, high technology is the economy of the future.

I remember Clinton saying high technology was where the jobs of the future were. Even after the dot-com bust in 2001, Kerry, in his presidential campaign of 2004, pointed to high tech as the economy of the future. Why am I so cynical?

“Silicon Valley remains the biggest drag on California’s wobbly economic recovery, a group of Southern California economists concluded in a report released today.” That’s the lead in this article on SiliconValley.com. Now that I’ve gone for four years without gainful employment, can someone please explain to me again how free trade is going to benefit our economy?