Interlude: Moment of Silence

Image shows Mount St. Helens, nearly devoid of snowcap and looking very grim, with the curved granite memorial in front of her.
Memorial to the people killed in the May 18th, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Johnston Ridge Volcano Obervatory, Mount St. Helens, WA.


























































Previous: Prelude to a Catastrophe: “The Volcano Could Be Nearing a Major Event.”

Next: The Cataclysm: “Vancouver! Vancouver! This Is It!”


Originally published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

Interlude: Moment of Silence

Viva la Differance

Compare and contrast time, my darlings.

Back when Bush was a burden, we had to watch supposed lawyers fuck the law up the back passage without lubricant, and his supposed lawyers are still trying to do so today:

David Shuster and Harper’s Scott Horton break down John Yoo’s poorly written op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, defending his part in allowing the Bush administration to spy on millions of Americans under the guise of keeping us safe from terrorists.

From The Anonymous Liberal–John Yoo: Still Lying:

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, John Yoo has an op-ed defending himself from the malpractice charges set forth in the recent Inspecter General’s report. As with the opinions themselves, the op-ed is deeply disingenuous and misstates the law repeatedly.

Not surprisingly, Yoo begins the op-ed with a collosal straw man. He points out how important it is to intercept al Qaeda communications and writes: “Evidently, none of the inspectors general of the five leading national security agencies would approve.” Of course, the issue is not whether intercepting communications is a good idea, but whether the program violated the law. Yoo was not a policy maker. He was a lawyer. His job was to state what the law was, not what it should be.

Now contrast Bush’s assclowns with Obama’s lawyers:

Last week, Assistant Attorney General David Kris and Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to talk about Military Commissions. David Kris got into a little bit of a discussion with Sen. John McCain because McCain was shocked to learn that the Constitution may operate in ways that apply to non citizens. In his defense, McCain is not a lawyer, but I didn’t think this was a novel concept. Yet, Kris had to patiently explain the fundamentals:

Ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) questioned Assistant Attorney General David Kris about his remarks on the appropriateness of administering the Miranda warning to terrorist suspects captured abroad. “It is the administration’s view that there is a serious risk that courts would hold that admission of involuntary statements of the accused in military commission proceedings is unconstitutional,” Kris said in his opening statement.

“Does that infer that these individuals have constitutional rights?” McCain asked Kris.

“Ah, yes,” Kris answered.

“What are those constitutional rights of people who are not citizens of the United States of America, who were captured on a battlefield committing acts of war against the United States?” McCain asked.

“Our analysis, Senator, is that the due process clause applies to military commissions and imposes a constitutional floor on the procedures that the government sets on such commissions …” Kris said.

“So you are saying that these people who are at Guantanamo, who were part of 9/11, who committed acts of war against the United States, have constitutional rights under the Constitution of the United States of America?” McCain asked.

“Within the framework I just described, the answer is yes, the due process clause guarantees and imposes some requirements on the conduct of (military) commissions,” Kris said.

If you click the above link, you can watch Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson wipe the floor with Joe Lieberman, who “respectfully disagrees” that terrorists can and should be tried in the same civilian courts that have been trying and convicting terrorists by the truckload for a good many years now. ‘Tis a thing of beauty.

I think we can all concur with the following sentiment:

I am gratified to see that New York Times thinks Messrs Kris and Johnson have provided good legal counsel to the Committee. From the Times editorial page:

After years of watching government lawyers undermine the rule of law, it has been especially gratifying to see President Obama’s lawyers urging senators to do even more to create a system that will fairly try prisoners and no longer shame Americans.

I know that Obama’s not perfect. I know that there’s vast room for improvement on several aspects of his national security policy. But the improvement over the last administration is remarkable. And I can’t even begin to tell you how relieved I am that we didn’t elect that mega-fucktard John “Do Terrorists Really Truly Have Rights?” McCain.

You made a good choice this time, America. Keep up the excellent work.

Viva la Differance

The Regulators Are Coming

Remember when we were talking about speculators being responsible for spiking gas prices? Seems like said speculators may be in for a nasty shock:

I’ve been following this for a while, and it’s encouraging news if the commodities regulators follow through. These guys have been driving up the cost of oil with the same sort of shady tactics used in the financial markets. Good for the Obama administration if they take this aggressive approach:

WASHINGTON — Reacting to the violent swings in oil prices in recent months, federal regulators announced on Tuesday that they were considering new restrictions on “speculative” traders in markets for oil, natural gas and other energy products.

The move is a big departure from the hands-off approach to market regulation of the last two decades. It also highlights a broader shift toward tougher government oversight under President Obama.


In the case of oil and gas trading, regulators made it clear that they were willing to move, without waiting for Congress to act on Mr. Obama’s overhaul, invoking their existing powers.

Woot! You go, guys!

You know, I often wish Obama would do a better job – his Bush Mark II impression on various detainee issues and sundry other national security issues being the prime examples – but when I get news like this, I’m reminded just how much he doesn’t resemble Bush.

Once we get the man disabused of certain notions, I think he’s going to turn out to be a delight. Well, to folks who don’t make their livings fucking over the financial markets, that is. This is change I can believe in.

The Regulators Are Coming

Our Vulcan President

Ladies and gentlemen, the evidence that Barak Obama is, in fact, a Vulcan, despite his penchant for flashing beaming grins.

Exhibit A, which is evident in his every speech and appearance, and thus needs no link: his preternatural calm.

Exhibit B: His ability to flash a Vulcan salute.

And Exhibit C: His response to inane questions about public plans driving private plans out of business:

I believe it was David Jackson, from USA Today, who suggested to the president this afternoon that a public health care option would “drive private insurance out of business.” I thoroughly enjoyed the Obama’s response.

“Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government — which they say can’t run anything — suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical…”

Pure Spock, that is. And you know something? It’s fantastic to have a Vulcan in charge, especially after the last eight years of Tweedledum and Tweedlevil.

Others have compared Obama’s remarks to Spock, but none of them created a clip. This means that instead of filching one, I had to create my own:

Live long and prosper, Mr. Sp – er, President.

(Tip o’ the shot glass to and the unwitting fools at, who respectively supplied sound and image.)

Our Vulcan President

Obama Better Do Better

This week isn’t going down as one of the more inspiring of Obama’s young presidency.

First, he’s flirting with continuing Bush’s indefinite detention policy:

Haven’t we already seen this movie? Didn’t we already reject this policy with Obama’s election? I didn’t vote for him because I wanted him to embrace Bush’s policies, and if he does, I want a damned good legal explanation:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is weighing plans to detain some terror suspects on U.S. soil — indefinitely and without trial — as part of a plan to retool military commission trials that were conducted for prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


[…] Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who met this week with White House Counsel Greg Craig to discuss the administration’s plans, said among the proposals being studied is seeking authority for indefinite detentions, with the imprimatur of some type of national-security court.

Sen. Graham said he wants to work with the administration to pass legislation to increase judicial oversight of military commissions, but noted the legal difficulties that would arise.

“This is a difficult question. How do you hold someone in prison without a trial indefinitely?” Sen. Graham said.

You don’t. You either try them or let them go. This indefinite detention bullshit is almost as outrageous as torture.

Speaking of trials, this doesn’t cut it:

Bmaz hit this latest chapter in the “Yes we can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to” tour on Saturday (and Spencer hit it again this morning), but today, the White House made it official—Bush’s military commissions have now become Obama’s military commissions:

Military commissions have a long tradition in the United States. They are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, provided that they are properly structured and administered. In the past, I have supported the use of military commissions as one avenue to try detainees, in addition to prosecution in Article III courts. In 2006, I voted in favor of the use of military commissions. But I objected strongly to the Military Commissions Act that was drafted by the Bush Administration and passed by Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework and undermined our capability to ensure swift and certain justice against those detainees that we were holding at the time. Indeed, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay had only succeeded in prosecuting three suspected terrorists in more than seven years.

Let me see if I’ve got this right: The previous extra-legal system wasn’t up to snuff because it wasn’t codified enough? The new! improved! Obama-era secret trials will be better because they are swifter and more certain? Seriously?

If this is the kind of shit America wanted, we would’ve elected McCain in a landslide. I don’t care how many sparkles you sprinkle on military commissions, they’re still pure bullshit. Our courts are more than capable of trying terrorists. We’ve got plenty of terrorists locked up who enjoyed the full protection of our laws. We didn’t need kangaroo courts to convict them.

As far as new directions go, don’t we have someone whose history doesn’t include this?

General McChrystal, leader of the Joint Special Operations Command, is the man just put in charge of the war in Afghanistan. Fred Kaplan has more:


This appointment will not be without controversy. McChrystal’s command also provided the personnel for Task Force 6-26, an elite unit of 1,000 special-ops forces that engaged in harsh interrogation of detainees in Camp Nama as far back as 2003. The interrogations were so harsh that five Army officers were convicted on charges of abuse. (McChrystal himself was not implicated in the excesses, but the unit’s slogan, which set the tone for its practices, was “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.”)

Kaplan says the replacement of McKiernan with McChrystal means this is now unequivocally “Obama’s war” and that this decision could make or break the Obama presidency. The fact that he’s just appointed a man who supports torture is not a good sign.

Andrew Sullivan has a piece on this guy that gives one some serious doubts about his fitness for command. Is our military really so bereft of talented leadership that McChrystal’s the least worst choice? I somehow doubt it.

And, for the toxic cherry on top, check out this genius nomination:

President Barack Obama has nominated a lawyer for the nation’s largest toxic polluters to run the enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. On Tuesday, Obama “announced his intent to nominate” Ignacia S. Moreno to be Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Department of Justice. Moreno, general counsel for that department during the Clinton administration, is now the corporate environmental counsel for General Electric, “America’s #1 Superfund Polluter“…


This February, General Electric lost an eight-year battle to “prove that parts of the Superfund law are unconstitutional.” One of the 600-person DOJ environmental division’s “primary responsibilities is to enforce federal civil and criminal environmental laws such as” the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund.

Obama hasn’t been a perfect president, but this is the first time since the inauguration he’s been this unrelentingly stupid. It’s almost as if his brain has been replaced with a hash of Bush, Cheney, and William Kristol.

Mr. President, you have to do better than this.

Obama Better Do Better

Another Reason to Plant an Organic Garden

No, it’s not just because Michelle Obama’s doing it, although she makes it look good:

Michelle Obama helped with spring planting in the White House garden yesterday, along with some of the WH kitchen and grounds staff and students from Bancroft Elementary School in DC.

This is a great teaching moment on nutrition and activity in a nation where childhood obesity has become rampant. More and more children are taking diabetes and blood pressure medications, and that costs us all.

As Michelle Obama said yesterday (via WH transcript):

This is one of the main reasons we’re doing this, is that what I’ve learned as a mom, in trying to feed my girls, is that it is so important for them to get regular fruits and vegetables in their diets, because it does have nutrients, it does make you strong, it is all brain food. And when you go to school, it is so important for you to have a good breakfast, to make sure in your lunches that you have an apple or an orange or a banana, that you have something green when you eat any meal, lunch or dinner.

And we’re looking to you guys to help educate the country, not just in your own homes, but other people as they think about how to plan their meals for their kids, to think about the importance of making sure that we have enough fruits and vegetables. And doing this garden is a really inexpensive way of making that happen.

This is fantastic and sorely needed. Kudos to the WH and Michelle Obama for doing it, and for using the WH podium to promote healthy, sustainable gardening. And, more important, healthier eating for the nation’s children.

Those are all excellent reasons to grow an organic garden, certainly. But you know what’s also a good reason? Doing so really gets up the chemical companies’ noses:

However, the Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) — which represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and DuPont Crop Protection — are unhappy that no chemicals are being used on the food:

Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical,” the Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) wrote the first lady last month a few days after she and fifth-graders from a local elementary school planted the White House Kitchen Garden.

“As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S. in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply.”

In other words, “Pour some fucking chemicals, lady!” Aren’t they funny when they’re in a snit? And if they’re this upset over a lil ol’ garden, imagine how they’d be if Michelle Obama started an actual organic farm.

You know what I think she should do next? Free range chickens on the South lawn, baby, yeah! I can’t wait for the howls of outrage from the industrial chicken farms.

Another Reason to Plant an Organic Garden

Doing the Right Thing

From time to time, Obama earns a trip to the woodshed. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that he’s also doing a hell of a lot of good, and taking the country in directions it should’ve been going all along:

I’ve been ragging on Obama relentlessly over the ways in which he has continued the vile policies of the Bush administration. Here’s a big attaboy for changing one ridiculous decision:

The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration’s French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on.

Administration sources only spoke anonymously because they had not yet informed Congress of the decision, but they said exactly the right thing:


“In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation ‘has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom’,” the official said.

Amen, brother. Amen.

It feels good to see us headed in the right direction. There was no reason not to endorse the U.N.’s declaration. Unless, of course, you’re a homophobic, frothing fundie. I’m glad Obama’s announcing this is no longer the case for the United States as a whole.

In other doing right news, Tim Geithner’s fessed up:

Claiming full responsibility for the situation, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told CNN today that his office “asked Sen. Chris Dodd to include a loophole in the stimulus bill that allowed bailed-out insurance giant American International Group to keep its bonuses.” He said he requested the measure to prevent costly governmental litigation.

It looked for a little while like the Obama administration was going to play the coward and let Dodd be their scapegoat. Kudos for resisting the urge.

You might also want to throw a little support Obama’s way to ensure that obnoxious Bush Health Care Denial rule gets nixed. Y’know – the one that would’ve let religous fuckwit doctors impose their morality on their female patients. Obama’s moving to axe that one. Let’s show him we’ve got his back.

Doing the Right Thing

Wielding the Paddle So I Don't Have To

Eli at Firedoglake has a pretty damning piece on Obama’s willingness (or lack thereof) to make the hard decisions:

One of the changes I most hoped for (but did not, however, expect) was to have a president who puts the rule of law and well-being of the country ahead of the narrow self-interest of the rich and powerful. Admittedly, it’s still very early in Obama’s term, but so far I’ve seen precious little evidence that he has the stomach for it.

No matter how high the stakes, he tiptoes around the elephant in the room rather than confronting it head-on.

He goes on to list three areas where Obama’s seriously deficient in the hardnosed department. And these are areas – the economy, healthcare, accountability for the Bush regime – where a tough, merciless approach is needed. Yet, as Eli notes, “More than anything, Obama strikes me as a man who will spare no expense on balms and ointments to soothe a painful boil, but simply cannot bring himself to lance it.”

It’s early days yet. Obama may still find that lance – especially if we apply not-so-subtle hints that we expect lances to be found and duly employed. And while he’s fallen far short of expectations in some departments, I can’t help seconding Digby, who at the end of a post about McCain’s unwillingness to defend his own daughter against Laura Ingraham’s high-school attacks, says:

Whenever I find myself getting down about something the Obama administration is doing all I have to do is picture that man in my head and I immediately bring myself back from the brink. Imagine.


Still, no matter how grateful I am that we have an intelligent Democrat rather than a dumbshit Con in office, I can’t sing nothing but hosannas. Especially not when Obama’s administration plays dirty tricks such as this:

Good to see that the Treasury Department is so concerned about the AIG bonus babies that they are throwing Chris Dodd to the wolves to deflect criticism.

The administration official said the Treasury Department did its own legal analysis and concluded that those contracts could not be broken. The official noted that even a provision recently pushed through Congress by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, had an exemption for such bonus agreements already in place.

That’s just not true, as both Jane and Glenn Greenwald explain pretty definitively. Under a Dodd-written amendment, the Senate version of the stimulus bill included executive compensation limits for all recipients of TARP money, only to have the amendment stripped of retroactivity and applied strictly toward future payouts, after negotiations with none other than Tim Geithner and Larry Summers…


The President brought this upon himself through his hirings. But if he wants to find a way out, he could stop the practice of his team blaming others and start living up to his own rhetoric.

We had quite enough lying and refusal to take responsibility during the last administration. More won’t be tolerated. A few sharp reminders may be necessary. The woodshed will remain open for business until the President grows a pair.

Wielding the Paddle So I Don't Have To

Woodshed Time

And just think, I don’t even have to tire out my own arm.

On many fronts, Obama’s doing a damned good job. However, this doesn’t immunize him from criticism when he spectacularly fails to meet expectations. And just lately, it’s become clear that he needs a bit o’ reminding about this document called the Constitution, that we elected him to reverse Bush’s abuses rather than continue them, and that keeping America safe involves making a clean break with the Bush policies that turned us into a nation of belligerent, torturing fucktards.

To that end, our very own Thinking Brain Dog has decided it’s time for some consequences:

Every time I write an article about some extraordinary power the Obama Administration has decided is warranted for itself, I’m going to combine images of Obama with something that symbolizes that excess. Today, it’s this. This picture symbolizes as well as any the unaccountable nature of the Bush Administration’s rendition and torture policies. Both have been embraced, in slightly reworded form, by the Obama Administration.

If he’s going to ignore the Constitution that is supposedly a scholarly interest of his, then he will wear the shame that comes with that action. At least, he will wear it around here.


Ed Brayton rolls up his sleeves and gets to work with the paddle.

And, for those who are horrified and wondering why a man who campaigned on hope and change seems so intent on continuing the worst abuses of the previous administration, there’s something of an answer from Roger Shuler:

Why does President Barack Obama continue to embrace many Bush Administration policies related to justice and the war on terrorism? It’s probably because Obama’s White House counsel has myriad conflicts related to the Bush administration, says an Alabama lawyer who played a pivotal role as whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case.

The most recent curious move by Obama officials came when the Department of Justice filed a brief renewing the government’s motion to dismiss Rasul v. Rumsfeld, in which plaintiffs allege that former Bush defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was responsible for their torture.

This continues an alarming trend of Obama embracing policies that he appeared to criticize on the campaign trail, reports Scott Horton of Harper’s.

How could this happen? How could the president of “hope” and “change” agree on important issues with George W. Bush? Alabama attorney Jill Simpson points a finger at White House Counsel Greg Craig.

And for good reason. The man’s slept with far too many Bush officials.

I know Obama’s got a lot on his plate, but it’s not like this is small, ignorable stuff. He was elected to clean the rot out of our government. He’s going to lose plenty of public support if he doesn’t, and then watch his agenda come crashing down due to that rot he decided he liked.

Best get scrubbing, Mr. President.

Woodshed Time

Science Hero

I know all of you have probably seen this in one form or another, but I just want to point out that our new President is a champion for science:

As expected, President Obama today reversed Bush-era restrictions on stem-cell research, but that’s not all he did today. While hosting a White House ceremony to announce the change, the president also explained a new memorandum addressing scientific integrity itself.

“Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry,” Obama said. “It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

He said his memorandum is meant to restore “scientific integrity to government decision-making.” He called it the beginning of a process of ensuring his administration bases its decision on sound science; appoints scientific advisers based on their credentials, not their politics; and is honest about the science behind its decisions.

Alex Koppelman noted that this carried with it an “unsubtle … repudiation of the Bush administration and its attitude towards science.”

Good. The previous administration’s efforts to subvert science were unprecedented, ridiculous, and kind of dangerous. Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters yesterday, “The president believes that it’s particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals.”

It feels so good to have a President who wholeheartedly supports science again. Now if we can just usher the fundies, Cons and other assorted lunatics out of the way, America might once again become a country on the cutting edge.

Thank you, President Obama.

Science Hero