Live Earth on All Seven Continents

Al Gore has succeeded in having the Live Earth concerts on July 7 occur on all seven continents:

As first reported by The Examiner, after the British Antarctic Survey informed Gore that it would be impossible to fly a band to Antarctica for the gig, the former Vice President has confirmed that a team of scientists working near the South Pole will play his Live Earth event. According to BAS press representative Linda Capper, the station has a band named Nunatak that features five researchers. For its first public gig, Nunatak will perform outside on July 7 for an additional 17 scientists stationed on the southernmost continent. One scientist will film the performance for inclusion on Live Earth’s TV and internet feeds. According to Capper the group’s style is “indie rock-folk fusion” and its name Greenlandic word for “summit.”

Kerry Calls for More Action on Initiatives to Help America’s Veterans and Reservists

From a press release: Today Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, sent letters to the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and Small Business Administration calling on the agencies to work together to reach out to veterans and reservists to inform them about available small business programs. Kerry also released the following statement in reaction to the Small Business Administration’s announcement of a pilot loan program targeted to serve veterans, reservists and their spouses:

“This program is a good first step by Administrator Preston to address the growing needs of America’s veterans and reservists who work for or want to start a small business. I will work with Administrator Preston to lower the interest rate and reduce loan fees for this program and hopefully make it a success.

“As the Administration develops a plan to reach out to veterans and reservists about this new program, it must be aggressive, comprehensive and coordinated so our military service members and their families are aware of all the resources available to them. The Administration must provide information about the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program as part of this outreach and work with Congress to make important fixes to it.

“The SBA needs the full weight of the White House behind them to put the money and resources necessary into this program to make it a success. However, there is more we can do including improving existing loan programs, creating grant programs, implementing tax incentives for small businesses that employ reservists, and enforcing the government’s federally mandated contracting goal with service-disabled veteran owned firms.”

Under the SBA’s new program, today a veteran or reservist would pay 10.5 to 13 percent in interest on a loan. While this is a few percentage points less than other express loans, the rate is far higher than on loans made through the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which are capped at four percent. Kerry created this program in 1999 for small businesses that have experienced economic hardship due to the deployment of an owner or key employee, yet most reservists do not know about this program due to a lack of information provided by the Administration and lack of coordination among the relevant federal agencies.

Today there are more than 25 million veterans in America, with more than 1.1 million men and women who have left military service since 2001. Over the last five years, more than 500,000 reservists have been called to active duty — and they are often staying longer or serving multiple deployments. These numbers demonstrate the need for a comprehensive, coordinated effort by the Administration to reach out to these men and women to make sure they know about small business loans and counseling available to help them preserve their business while they are deployed or to start a business after their service is completed.

Senator Kerry has been a leader in the Senate to expand economic opportunities for veterans and reservists after they have served their country and is the author of several proposals to achieve these goals.


Bush Falls to New Low

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News shows George Bush’s approval falling to a new low in their poll at 29%, with only 19% believing the country is head in the right direction. Approval of Congress remains higher than when under Republican control, but at its lowest level since January at 23%.

Republicans commenting here have sometimes cited low approval for Congress as evidence of anti-Democratic sentiment, but this hardly proves support for the Republicans. If asked by a pollster I would state disapproval of Congress due to insufficient action in getting out of Iraq and investigating the abuses of the Bush administration. I do recognize that they have not been in power very long, and their majority is too small to expect much, and therefore I am reluctant to place too much blame on individual. Regardless of that, I would state disapproval of Congress as a body, but this hardly suggests any support for the Republicans who were far worse when in control.

Gore on Iraq, 1992 and Present

Steve Benen has debunked the attacks on Al Gore,which started in the right wing blogosphere yesterday and spread (naturally) to Fox News. They use a clip from YouTube of Al Gore in 1992 to create a false appearance of inconsistency:

Yesterday, Hot Air, a leading far-right site, posted a YouTube clip from 1992 in which Al Gore blasted the Bush/Quayle team for its Iraq policy. The right was instantly giddy over the video because, as Hot Air perceived it, the clip proves that Gore is a “craven opportunist.” (via Too Sense)

The thesis of the Gore speech: Reagan-Bush had looked the other way and let Saddam Hussein become a terroristic [sic] menace and a WMD developer. They had ignored Saddam’s many operational ties to terrorists over the years so they could maintain relations with him and offset the threat from the mullahs in Iran.

That’s a relatively accurate description. Gore’s speech highlighted a wide variety of Saddam Hussein’s terrorist tendencies, and H.W. Bush’s response to each — which was always tolerance. No matter what Iraq did, and how much it promoted terrorism, and how often it would use chemical weapons, Bush 41 preferred to look the other way.

Gore’s point, in the context of the 1992 presidential campaign was clear — if H.W. Bush wants credit for the 1991 Gulf War, he ought to also accept responsibility for helping enable Saddam Hussein for the better part of a decade…

Gore was right in both instances — Bush 41 was wrong to repeatedly cooperate with and reach out to a brutal dictator, and Bush 43 was wrong to launch an unnecessary war under false pretenses and then bungle the conflict every step of the way. The right sees a contradiction here. There isn’t.

This is just more of the same. Since the war began, supporters of the war have pulled up any quotation from a Democrat criticizing Saddam to claim a contradiction. They repeat quotes from Bill Clinton criticizing Saddam, but ignore the fact that Clinton didn’t invade.

I’ve also seen a number of conservatives quote from John Kerry’s pre-war speech at Georgetown. They quote his criticism of Saddam but totally leave out the central message of the speech which was to oppose going to war.

This comes down to the black or white mentality seen among conservatives. Many cannot conceive of a position as complex as recognizing Saddam was an evil man but not supporting the war. That’s far too nuanced for them. To them, liberals who opposed the war must either like Saddam, be blind to the threats to the country, or hate America. The simpler explanation that we recognize the problems but also consider which actions are in our country’s best interest, is beyond them.

Mr. Wizard Dies At 89

Don Herbert, who played Mr. Wizard, has died at age 89 of cancer:

“He really taught kids how to use the thinking skills of a scientist,” said former colleague Steve Jacobs. He worked with Herbert on a 1980s show that echoed the original 1950s “Watch Mr. Wizard” series, which became a fond baby boomer memory.

In “Watch Mr. Wizard,” which was produced from 1951 to 1964 and received a Peabody Award in 1954, Herbert turned TV into an entertaining classroom. On a simple, workshop-like set, he demonstrated experiments using household items.

“He modeled how to predict and measure and analyze. … The show today might seem slow but it was in-depth and forced you to think along,” Jacobs said. “You were learning about the forces of nature.”

Herbert encouraged children to duplicate experiments at home, said Jacobs, who recounted serving as a behind-the-scenes “science sidekick” to Herbert on the ’80s “Mr. Wizard’s World” that aired on the Nickelodeon channel.

Herbert leaves behind a country where a significant portion of the country does not believe in evolution as a consequence of fundamentalist misinformation on creationism. Science and reason also remain under attack from believers in astrology, ghosts, and unproven conspiracy theories.

FBI Data Mining Program Seen as Threat to Civil Liberties

The Blotter warns of the civil liberties consequences of an FBI data mining program:

Lawmakers are questioning whether a proposed FBI anti-terrorist program is worth the price, both in taxpayer dollars and the possible loss of Americans’ privacy.

The National Security Analysis Center (NSAC) would bring together nearly 1.5 billion records created or collected by the FBI and other government agencies, a figure the FBI expects to quadruple in coming years, according to an unclassified FBI budget document obtained by the Blotter on…

The FBI has a track record of improperly — even illegally — gathering personal information on Americans, most recently through the widespread abuse of so-called National Security Letters, the two men noted in a letter to Congress’ investigative body, the Government Accountability Office…

The FBI even wants to predict terrorist activity before it happens. Will the next step be something along the lines of Minority Report, the science fiction book and movie in which the government punishes people for crimes which it is predicted they will commit:

Of further concern to the two congressmen are the FBI’s stated hopes to “pro-actively” mine the data to find terrorists using “predictive” analysis, according to its budget request, an unproven method according to experts and even the U.S. intelligence chief’s office.

In theory, predictive analysis involves mapping a known pattern of terrorist behavior — for instance, the sequence and timing of such mundane activities as bank transactions and travel purchases — against a massive collection of such records like the NSAC databases. If an individual’s actions match the pattern, they can be considered a suspect, even if they have no known ties to any suspected terrorists or known terrorist groups.

Such a method would help identify “sleeper cells,” the FBI claims in its request — secret groups of terrorists living innocuously within the United States, waiting for a signal from a terrorist group leader to assemble and strike.

But to date the approach has not proven workable. So far, terrorism researchers “cannot readily distinguish the absolute scale of normal behaviors” for terrorists or ordinary Americans, conceded a 2006 document from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and obtained by National Journal magazine. In other words, no one can figure out how terrorists act differently from normal Americans.