Saturday, December 30, 2006

Farewell To A President

I'm watching CNN's coverage of the procession for the state funeral of Gerald Ford in Washington DC tonight; it's very low-key and respectful. The most somber part to me was when the motorcade procession stopped briefly in front of the WWII Memorial, a nod to Ford's Navy service in that war. If you haven't been to DC in a few years since that memorial was built, I recommend it. It's beautiful.

And as somber as it is, I'd rather watch this than more Dead Saddam Theatre coverage.

Rest in peace, Mr. Ford. The news cycle almost forgot you, but I got your back.

Christianism In Our National Parks

I wish this was satire, but it isn't-
Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is 'no comment.'"

To the religious right and their White House allies, it is politically incorrect to acknowledge basic scientific reality.

Is it 2009 yet?

Charlie Brown Politics

I'll give Republicans this... they never stop giving me reminders of exactly why they deserved to be thrown into the minority last month. Earlier this month, Tom Delay reminded us what the conservative approach to governing really is. And now top Republicans are giving us a preview of just how they plan to conduct themselves over the next two years. Via Steve Benen at Washington Monthly-
In a Republican-led Congress, life in the minority was surprisingly unpleasant. Legislation was written without Democratic input; bills were passed without letting Democrats read it; Democrats' bills were denied hearings and votes; they weren't allowed to offer amendments to legislation; they weren't even allowed to use hearing rooms. If Dems managed to win a key vote on the floor, Republicans would simply keep the vote open -- literally for hours, if necessary -- until enough arms could be twisted and/or lawmakers bribed. For the last several years, it was nothing short of humiliating.

Back in the majority, congressional Democrats have a choice: act like the Republicans acted for 12 years, or act the way a majority is supposed to act. The New York Times noted today that the new Dem leadership has decided to take the high road.

It all sounds very nice. Out of respect, Pelosi made sure Hastert got prime office space in the Capitol. She's also reached out to House Minority Leader John Boehner on creating some task forces. The Times added that the new leadership has issued a statement of principles that "calls for regular consultation between the Democratic and Republican leaders on the schedule and operations of the House and declares that the heads of House committees should do the same."

So, how will Republicans respond to these open and democratic conditions? We'll see.
...Republicans are hoping Democrats stick to their guns and allow the minority a stronger voice on legislation. The opposition leadership said it would take the opportunity to put forward initiatives that could be potentially troublesome for newly elected Democrats in Republican-leaning districts who within months will have to defend their hard-won seats.

"There are going to be days when we will offer alternatives in ways that are going to be very appealing to Democrats in districts the president carried just two years ago," said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, who will be the second-ranking House Republican in the 110th Congress.

Republicans see the ability to force tough votes -- which they avoided in the majority by stifling Democratic alternatives -- as having two potential benefits: It can put vulnerable Democrats on record with positions that might not be popular at home, or it can fracture the untested Democratic majority. Mr. Blunt noted that even senior Democrats who served in Congress when Democrats held control had no experience dealing with a relatively thin, 16-seat majority that will not allow many lawmakers to avoid tough votes.
I certainly like the idea of changing the way Congress operates; the last 12 years have been frequently ridiculous. But, as Kos noted, "This is an era of hardball politics, and the GOP clearly has no intention to play nice." I suspect he's right -- and I hope Pelosi, Hoyer, & Co. keep it in mind.

The Charlie Brown/Lucy/football analogy still sums up this madness.

So, while I don't think anyone wants the Democrats to resort to the tactics Republicans used while in the majority, it must be said that Charlie Brown really needs to stop running for that football. He knows Lucy will pull it away and hurt him, but he naively hopes otherwise, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Bipartisanship should not mean bending over and taking it from the other side in the name of civility, as had been the Democratic approach up until a year or so ago; voters like politicians who stand up. Pelosi and the rest should make good 100% on these overtures to the GOP (because it seems fitting to me that the party derided as too secular should remember the golden rule), but on the important stuff-- legislative battles, policy issues, budget, etc-- they must stand their ground against these partisan games. The polls are with them here.

2006 was the year Democrats dusted off their spines. 2007 should be the year that they show us they remember how to use them. Perhaps the wise philosopher Homer Simpson was right when he said, "you don't win friends with salad."

[PS- Digby looks at conservatives' bizarro world in which Democrats are the real aggressors.

Finally, Paul Krugman had an excellent column in the NY Times on the end of the Republican Revolution.]

Quote of the Day: Flashback Edition

"And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?

And the answer is not very damned many."
--Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, August 1992.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Quote of the Day II / Saddam Hussein Executed

"This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us."
--Talking Point Memo's Josh Marshall, on the impending execution of Saddam Hussein

Personally, I find it hard to care whether Hussein lives or dies, but something about this definitely does feel off to me. Not simply because of an opposition to the death penalty (I'm mostly against, but willing to make key exceptions), but largely because of the obvious theatricality of this hanging that Marshall acknowledges. Perhaps the Iraqi government sped this up as a show of power, but at least to me Saddam's sentencing by an Iraqi kangaroo court and a quickie hanging looks pretty pathetic (which may be all Saddam deserves, but still). Would not a real trial in an international court been better for all parties? All moot questions now, I guess.

Also, no consideration seems to have been given as to what effect this quickie hanging will have on already explosive tensions in Iraq. Or, maybe they did take it into consideration, and just figured 'hey, they were all killing each other already'. Win-win for Bush; Saddam's dead and any ensuing violence gives him a reason to stay.

Finally, I find it very odd what with all the rhetoric in 2002/2003 about how Saddam was an imminent threat to America (not) and the greatest terrorist mastermind in the world (definitely not), that the crimes he was put on trial for stopped at 1982. Anyone have guesses on this? Why stop there? My instinct tells me it has something to do, in some way or another, with the fact that the U.S. officially cemented its relationship with Hussein's Iraq in 1983. A very tangled web.

In closing, I hope the media at least has the dignity not to air the footage.

[UPDATE (10:15pm): CNN reports breaking news that it's done. Saddam is dead.]

Masturbatory 2008 Talk

I still believe all this 2008 talk is very silly at this point (our political system has apparently decided that the next election cycle begins two days after the last one ends), but it's fairly inescapable, so here goes... former Senator and 2004 VP candidate John Edwards has shocked the world officially announced his candidacy for the presidency. He made the announcement in New Orleans, a site meant to highlight his key issue of economic divide in America.

His top five issues? "Provide moral leadership in the world," "strengthen our middle class and end poverty," "guarantee universal health care for every American," "lead the fight against global warming," and "get America and other countries off our addiction to oil." Sounds good, but it remains to be seen if that (and/or his 2004 bid having been vindicated by changed political realities) can put him over the top in a crowded primary season. With that said, he's the most realistic Democratic candidate thus far.

Hillary Clinton seems the primary front-runner, but the bottom line is that she's also a Republican campaign manager's wet dream. Right now the Republican party is dispirited and fractured. This is for the best. But nothing would unite and galvanize them more than another opportunity to take down the Clintons. There's a reason partisan shills like the NY Post's John Podhoretz regularly tout the inevitability of President Hillary... because the 'threat' of that is the best hope for a united GOP front in 2008. Another Democratic favorite, Sen. Obama, is also a bad idea. Popular, yes, but not presidential material. Yet. And while Republican operatives will never so say so out loud, they would love having Democrats try for the first black president in 2008. This too would awaken certain parts of the conservative base. Most of the other candidates-- Joe Biden, etc-- are jokes.

So, short of Al Gore answering my prayers and entering the race (please!), and not counting governors (who, historically, have much better electability odds than members of congress) like Tom Vilsack or Bill Richardson, Edwards would seem to be the Democratic front-runner right now in my book.

Over on the GOP side, I have no idea what's going on. Sen. McCain's too old, the religious base doesn't trust him, and his Iraq policy is only supported by like 11% of Americans. Mitt Romney's been outed as a phoney. Rudy Guiliani is popular, but the religious base doesn't trust him either, and it remains to be seen whether my former mayor can ride the coattails of 9/11 to Washington DC. That's their big guns thus far.

And that's where it stands now... two long years before the actual election.

"I don't think I would have gone to war."

Not that this matters much in the end, but it's certainly noteworthy... former President Ford revealed to Bob Woodward two years ago that he disagreed with the invasion of Iraq-
Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."...

...Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."...

Audio available at the Washington Post website (see sidemenu on right)

This interview was, of course, embargoed until after Ford's death (hence its release now). Gerald Ford, like many in 2002 and 2003 no doubt, had very strong-- but private-- reservations about the course of action President Bush was taking our nation in. They understand that the administration's little crusade was, in fact, a very bad idea. But political politeness and the general state of jingoism at the time kept them silent. And who can blame them? Those who did speak out and try to warn against invasion (like Howard Dean or Al Gore or the CATO Institute) had their patriotism questioned and were viciously attacked.

Still, one wonders what difference it might've made as the President prepared the march to war-- while denying he was doing any such thing-- if people like Gerald Ford had made their voice heard. Or, barring that, if they had not waited until well after the 2004 election and after Bush poll numbers were already hitting the '30s before they decided to say that they did, in fact, have opinions of their own.

[UPDATE: Pres. Ford also told Woodward the real reason he pardoned Nixon... it was a friendship thing.]

At Some Point, We Should Take This Seriously

Another inconvenient truth-
The Bush administration has decided to propose listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, putting the U.S. government on record as saying that global warming could drive one of the world's most recognizable animals out of existence.

The administration's proposal -- which was described by an Interior Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity -- stems from the fact that rising temperatures in the Arctic are shrinking the sea ice that polar bears need for hunting. The official insisted on anonymity because the department will submit the proposal today for publication in the Federal Register, after which it will be subject to public comment for 90 days...

This just further reinforces that, privately, the administration does recognize the serious impacts of this crisis. Publicly, in terms of actual policy, we get bupkis. In fact, we get policies that exacerbate the problem.

Tim F. at Balloon Juice has a good post on the polar bear issue. After discussing things we can do to stem the tide of climate change, he adds this depressing-- if realistic-- caveat: "[D]on’t expect to save the polar bear... The fate of Arctic sea ice was sealed some time during the Clinton era if not sooner. We should enact serious carbon mitigation policies not for the animals which are already at the brink, most of which will soon be gone, but for the endangered species we don’t know about yet." What he said.

Finally, a major ice shelf has snapped free south of the North Pole in the Canadian Artic.

Odds and Ends

What'd I miss? A quick recap of some news before I tackle the bigger things later...

Saddam Hussein is scheduled to hang. But nobody seems to know when. Crooks and Liars' Nicole Belle says hanging Hussein on the eve of a major religious holiday for Muslims shows exactly the type of cultural ignorance that got us into this mess in the first place.

Meanwhile, here at home, tributes begin for former President Ford.

The idea that a secret military program named 'Able Danger' identified 9/11 hijackers over a year before 9/11-- a key theory of conservatives used in criticizing the 9/11 Commission's work-- has now been debunked by a lengthy Senate investigation. And there you go.

White House says capturing bin Laden is "a success that hasn't occurred yet". Que?

More proof that the hardline anti-immigration stance was also a loser in last month's election: " Counting on the support of the new Democratic majority in Congress, Democratic lawmakers and their Republican allies are working on measures that could place millions of illegal immigrants on a more direct path to citizenship than would a bill that the Senate passed in the spring." Also at issue is whether or not to go ahead with 700 miles of fencing that had been approved.

Is Iran being honest in its need for nuclear power? One study says yes.

Conservatives, meanwhile, want war no matter what. Sen. Lieberman's definitely in.

Conservative bloggers, desperate to find good news in Iraq/bash Democrats (same difference to them), are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Reality beckons, my friends.

Finally, health care (universal?) is going to be a Democratic priority in 2007.

Quote of the Day

"[T]here is no unision possible with the extreme right, they do not compromise and they will steal everything that isn't nailed down. Letting the Cheney's and Rumsfeld's (and Libby's) have a medal and a pat on the head in the interest of 'sparing the nation the scandal' (as Ford supposedly did when pardoning Richard Nixon) just means, as Digby says, that the same zombies will re-emerge and commit the same crimes again and again, or their heirs will, thinking there is no price to be paid...

...[T]here is speculation as to whether the Democrats are going to be naughty or nice in the majority. I just hope they don't wind up a bunch of co-dependent saps who give in to the GOP demands for quarter they never gave, and I most certainly hope that they do not accept the Clintonian notion of no accountability in the interest of moving forward. That's hooey.

As Digby says, it's stake-in-the-heart time for the right wing crazies and the crooks. Anything less is short-term political opportunism that shirks responsibility and endangers the future. "
--Jane Hamsher, urging Democrats not to use Ford's pardon of Nixon as the precedent in dealing with Bush administration crimes.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Former President Gerald Ford Passes Away

That's the big news this morning. He passed away last night after a year of medical troubles.

Details and obituary at the link below...

AP: Former President Gerald Ford dies at 93

[UPDATE: Various, and varying, commentary at the following:-, Pam's House Blend, Wonkette, Balloon Juice, This Modern World, Huffington Post, and HuffPo's Eat The Press.]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Very Inconvenient Truth

As I walked to the bus this morning in my light fall jacket with some post-Christmas drizzle (not flurries) hitting my face, I let the realization sink in that white Christmases, exceptional enough as they are, are not something I should waste my time wishing for in the coming years. "That's okay," I thought, "I hate bulky winter jackets anyway." Then later this morning, I read the following in the UK's The Independent newspaper and remembered what's really at stake-
Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities...

As someone who lives and works on two of New York's islands, this news is very disturbing to me. Obviously, only low-lying islands/areas are in immediate danger, but this is definitely a wakeup call. An island was just swallowed by rising sea waters. That computer model Al Gore showed in his film was dismissed as hyperbole by some critics, but it is climate reality.

Unfortunately, until the day that the American press finds information like this as important as their overseas counterparts-- and certainly more important than faux-journalism like pretending that Bush is at his ranch on a holiday week to 'think' about 'Iraq', or excitement over the possibility that he may have read a newspaper-- than people will not know these things. And they should.

It's for this reason I second Bob Cesca in naming Al Gore 2006's 'Voice of Reality'.

Recommended Reading

If, unlike me, you are lucky enough to have this whole week off, you may be doing some reading. Good for you! If not, why not start now? Below are two articles online that I have found of particular interest in the past few days. I pass them along to you.

-A Parable For Our Times by Bill Moyers

-10 myths—and 10 Truths—About Atheism by Sam Harris

Back To Reality

Sorry to ruin everyone's Boxing Day, but I didn't want to ignore this headline-

AFP: US fatalities in Iraq top 9/11 toll
The number of American fatalities in Iraq have surpassed the death toll for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, shining the spotlight on US policy in the war-wracked country...

...The macabre US milestone was marked, according to an AFP count, by the deaths of three soldiers in a bomb attack northwest of Baghdad on Tuesday, 24 hours after another four troops were killed on Christmas Day...

...It is a shattered Iraq which enters the new year this week, after the deadly insurgency following the 2003 invasion escalated into brutal sectarian war, forcing Bush to contemplate a major policy shift to halt total disintegration...

...Since the US-led invasion to remove Saddam, just 17 months after US-led troops invaded Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Iraqis have perished...

And it's all been worth it, right? Because of those Iraqis who blew up the World Trade... oh, wait. Was that something about Afghanistan? And an 'O-sama'? Oh well, who can bother to remember. All that matters is we're at war with someone and that's good for business America. Or something.

Of course, the new way forward is coming. Unfortunately, 2009 isn't coming sooner.