No applause, please

One of the more curious habits of humankind — one taken for granted and seldom commented upon — is the giving of a round of applause as a sign of enthusiasm. We the people can’t just sit still and glow when we hear something we like: We have to bang our paws together and make a clapping sound.

Torture? What’s that?

Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused Wednesday to define waterboarding as illegal torture, even while admitting that if he underwent the interrogation technique that he would “feel” it is torture.

Fending off pressure in a Senate Justice Committee hearing to categorically call waterboarding, which simulates drowning, as torture under US law, the top US legal official suggested that under certain conditions it could be legal, and said that learned people could disagree on the issue.

Ghosts on the farm

I have worked with ghosts for decades. They’ve been part of our family’s fields, and on many farms across our lands. They want to remain undetected, laboring in the shadows, avoiding scrutiny.

But it’s not just agriculture that has ghosts; they’re part of communities and businesses throughout the nation. They’re commonly called undocumented workers, illegal aliens, unauthorized immigrants.

The sky really is falling

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, the government quietly passed word over the weekend that a 2-ton U.S. satellite the size of a small bus had gone out of control and was headed toward Earth.

Because it’s a spy satellite, believed to be for photo reconnaissance, the government won’t say what kind of dangerous stuff might be aboard. As for the question on everybody’s mind — “Where’s it going to hit?” — officials don’t know.

As for the date of impact, late February-ish or early March-ish.

Hunger in America

Because I’m an upper-class American, I often get expensive stuff for free.

For instance, last weekend my friends Melanie and Dave took me to an NBA game. We had excellent tickets with a combined face value of several hundred dollars, but we paid nothing for them because Melanie’s father’s girlfriend had been given the tickets by her employer (who no doubt deducted them as a business expense).

Elite and out-of-reach

One would think the move by the nation’s most elite colleges and universities to become more affordable to the middle classes would mean opportunities for tens of thousands of needy young men and women who until now had to settle for lesser institutions. One would be wrong.

Where, but where, to spend?

How would the U.S. government be spending money if it wasn’t fighting the Iraq War? Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., raised the question during Monday’s Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“We are spending $9 billion to $10 billion every month,” Obama said. “That’s money that could be going right here in South Carolina to lay broadband lines in rural communities, to put kids back to school.”

Is the war keeping federal money out of local communities? And if so, is the cost worth it?

A dark cloud settles over America

As America heads into perhaps its most pivotal Presidential election in modern times candidates for the highest office in the land face an angry, disillusioned, depressed electorate that fear hard times now and see harder times ahead.

Many Americans face the coming year with sullenness and despair. Many have lost their homes as foreclosures mount. Many lost their jobs and face uncertain employment prospects for the future.

Here at Capitol Hill Blue we see that anger and darkness daily in our interaction with readers. It spills out in comments to stories, dominates discussion and touches most of the stories we print.

Many readers ask "what's the use?" In an election where "change" dominates the debate, most voters don't expect change. They see little hope from any of the candidates on either side of the political aisle.

More waste and fraud in Iraq

A defense contractor hired to repair combat equipment routinely failed to do the job right and then charged the government millions of dollars for the extra work needed to get the gear ready for battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a newly released audit.

Overall, the contractor’s employees at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait worked about 188,000 additional hours to fix Humvees, heavy transporters and fighting vehicles that allegedly were mended but flunked a military inspection, the Government Accountability Office said.

The Jose Padilla debacle

The Bush administration’s case against alleged dirty bomber Jose Padilla has sputtered to an inglorious close.

Padilla, you’ll remember, was supposed to be the leader, as the U.S. attorney general himself announced, of “an unfolding terrorist plot against the United States” that featured radioactive dirty bombs and exploding apartment buildings.