Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Republican Party

I am pretty used to the insanity of our politics at this point, yet every once in a while, a benign news article manages to get under my skin. This AP article-- about the hard lessons Democrats are learning from the GOP's successful attempts to water down and delay the minimum wage increase-- is one of those articles.

AP: House, Senate Dems realize power limited
At first, legislation to raise the minimum wage loomed as a clean, quick triumph for Democrats eager to celebrate their new majority in Congress. Two months later, it stands as an early lesson in the limits of their power.

A cohesive Republican minority backed by the White House, the Senate's complex rules and internal divisions among Democrats have combined to slow the measure's progress since it cleared its first hurdle in mid-January.

While final passage is highly probable, Democrats and their allies in organized labor long ago capitulated to GOP demands, agreeing to accept business-friendly tax cuts as the price for the first minimum wage increase in a decade.

"The minimum wage-tax relief package was a good early lesson for them as to how things will work," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said with a chuckle in a recent interview...

Bold added by me... those Republicans sure have a great sense of humor, no? Proving to the Democrats that they still have power trumps the economic concerns of countless Americans. Your modern Republican party in a nutshell.

The Republicans intend to go out of their way to create gridlock for gridlock's sake over the next two years, so that come election time, they can simultaneously brag to their base about defeating the Democrats and lament to the general public how the Democrats failed to lead. The consequences of their actions to the people whose votes they hope to scam away be damned.

The GOP had six years complete control of the government (not even counting the six additional years they held Congress in the Clinton years) and in that time they passed countless tax cuts and pay raises for themselves and other pro-corporate bills, but no wage increases for average Americans or anything similar. And now that their greed and legislative failings have cost them their majority, they intend to undermine the people trying to right this ship.

There will be NO compromise. It's war to them. Keep in mind that a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll a month after the midterm elections found that "By 59% to 21%, Americans say Congress rather than Mr. Bush should take the lead in setting policy for the nation." It further found that "items on the Democrats' opening agenda for Congress enjoy strong initial backing. More than seven in 10 Americans support raising the minimum wage — on which Mr. Bush has indicated flexibility — and forcing the federal government to negotiate lower Medicare drug prices with pharmaceuticals companies — which Mr. Bush opposes."

And yet with this noteworthingly broad support, the Republicans will either squash or water-down everything on this agenda. Why? Just to prove it can. Just to give themselves a chuckle.

(I won't even get into conservatives who simply oppose the very idea of a minimum wage.)

Their intention here is to demoralize the Democratic base which had such high hopes in November and to show the GOP base that they've still got it. Yet rather than demoralizing liberals and Democrats, I post this in hopes that our anger will strengthen our resolve and our determination to see to it that as many Republicans as can be voted out in 2008 will be. It is not hyperbolic to say that this party has contempt for the average American. I hope voters still see it, I hope 2008 is a repeat of 2006. Because beyond the satisfaction of seeing this strategy fail, the less Republicans there are in power (particularly in the Senate), the less gridlock these important issues will face.

2006 was the beginning, not the end. America won't be fixed in one day.

Quote of the Week

Andrew Sullivan on the 'political Katrina' raining down on the administration-
"Add them up. We witness another horrifying suicide bombing in Iraq, murdering dozens of Shiite pilgrims. There is damning evidence that U.S. attorneys were leaned on by Republicans before the elections to bring cases against some Democrats - and the ones who refused were then fired. The vice-president's closest aide has been found guilty of perjury over whether he and his boss tried to discredit a critic in the summer of 2003 with respect to pre-war WMD intelligence. The guiltier parties - Rove and Armitage and Cheney - are still in power. We now see shameful neglect of injured veterans under the very noses of the defense secretary. On the intellectual front, we have now seen a conservative icon reveling in bigotry in full view of the national media and at the same podium and on the same day as Giuliani and Romney. Any one of these stories individually is damaging. Together, they exert a hurricane-strength storm on the Bush administration and the conservative movement.

More important, these developments re-enforce and amplify the arguments that defeated the Republicans last November. They have no control over a war they started and no way to bring it to an end. The reasons they started it look a lot more dubious now than they did then; the circumstantial evidence for Cheney's willful misleading of the American public before the war is mounting. Their treatment of the troops has been sickening from the start: they sent too few with insufficient body-armor and now give the wounded shamefully bad treatment. They are ruthless operatives who abuse the system for partisan ends (DeLay and Domenici). They are nasty bigots (Coulter) or theocons sympathizing with Islamists (D'Souza). They are perjurers (Libby) or cowards (Rove). Our future fiscal health is far, far worse than it was in 2000. Climate change looks more and more real and they have no serious policy to deal with it.

Now realize that no major Republican candidate has the backing of the base and the elites. There is no incumbent. The eclipse of old-style, limited government, realist, inclusive conservatism by the new pro-torture, left-baiting, homo-hating, debt-building, war-losing apparatchiks of the Rove machine could lead to most moderate Republicans and Independents voting Democrat or staying home next year. Of course, many things can happen before then. I've learned not to make predictions. But this feels to me like an implosion. Part of me wants to help rescue what's left of the right; part of me thinks that the only way to rescue the right is to allow it to continue committing suicide. Only once the GOP wakes up and realizes it has become a nasty rump of Dixie will some see how deep the damage of the Bush years goes.

One thing I suspect, though. Only Hillary can save them now."

Note: We can also now add the FBI/Patriot Act revelations to this list too. Of course, much like the actual Katrina, I imagine the real damage will be mostly forgotten as the dust settles from all of this.

I hope I'm wrong, though.

[PS- Did you know this administration has been "mostly free of scandal"? Who knew?]

Recommended Read

The recommended read of the day, via Slate-

Would You Privatize Defense?: The case for socialized medicine, Part 1.

The basic argument/scenario-
Suppose the national defense of the United States were relegated to the private sector. Instead of the publicly funded Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, the country would be defended by private militias funded mainly by insurance companies. In the event of foreign attack on U.S. soil, the militias would defend those citizens in the affected areas who'd paid defense insurance premiums through their places of work (or, if self-employed, as individuals).

The best-armed troops would defend the wealthiest and most hawkish segments of the population, who would have paid the highest premiums.

The less-wealthy and more dovish customers who'd chosen a less-generous policy would likewise be defended against attack, but they could expect to pay heavily out of pocket because their insurance would only cover costs for weapons and manpower above a fairly high deductible. The doves' militias might or might not call in air support, knowing the insurance company would pay for it only in the most dire circumstances—difficult to calibrate as bombs are dropping all around you. Or perhaps these troops would belong to defense maintenance organizations (DMOs) that blended defense and insurance functions. If so, the soldiers would be required to follow strict protocols that would likely forbid not only air support but also the use of tanks.

Poor people and outright pacifists would buy no defense insurance at all, and therefore would end up being saddled with ruinously large debts to private militias they'd chosen hastily after the invasion was under way. Alternatively, these individuals might simply say the hell with it, wave a white flag, and surrender....

...Bottom line: A market approach to national defense would give us a lousy national defense.

And yet this is how we run our healthcare system. At least we know where our priorities lie.

It's worth reading in full. Food for thought.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Quote of the Day II

Another take on the ever-dwindling state of the GOP from Chris Hayes-
Just had an interesting interview with a Republican State Senator in which he raised an interesting point. Basically, he was complaining about how the conservative movement had essentially been reduced to one single, inviolable principle: never raise taxes ever. It's crazy he said...."The notion that these are programs Democrats want and Republicans abhor may have been true thirty years ago, but I feel like there's been a shift. Now, everybody wants the programs, but one group [the Republicans] is unwilling to pay for them, and the other group [the Democrats] is unable to pay for them."

(hat tip- Washington Monthly)

Worth Noting

This weekend is the Mideast regional diplomatic conference to discuss the Iraq situation, which the United States will be attending, along with Iran and Syria.

No one seems to be expecting any significant changes/results to arise from these talks, but it's a good (baby) step forward for diplomats and a loss for neocon war zealots in regards to the U.S.-Iran situation. Worth keeping an eye on.

[UPDATE 3/11: Oh well... it was a disaster and another lost opportunity for all parties.]

Yet Another Example of Why The Patriot Act Is Bad

It will be a very appreciated day in America when it is repealed.

From the AP-
The FBI improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the USA Patriot Act to secretly obtain personal information about people in the United States, a Justice Department audit concluded Friday.

And for three years the FBI has underreported to Congress how often it forced businesses to turn over the customer data, the audit found.

FBI agents sometimes demanded the data without proper authorization, according to the 126-page audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. At other times, the audit found, the FBI improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances....

...At issue are the security letters, a power outlined in the Patriot Act that the Bush administration pushed through Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The letters, or administrative subpoenas, are used in suspected terrorism and espionage cases. They allow the FBI to require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to produce highly personal records about their customers or subscribers — without a judge's approval...

...Fine's annual review is required by Congress, over the objections of the Bush administration.

The audit released Friday found that the number of national security letters issued by the FBI skyrocketed in the years after the Patriot Act became law...

Bold added by me.

Glenn Greenwald explains how the President's signing statement on last year's Patriot Act renewal makes it not surprising that he has refused to comply with the provision requiring him to report to Congress on the use of these letters. As he sums up, "the law which the FBI has now been found to be violating is the very law which George Bush publicly declared he has the power to ignore." The Bush presidency in a nutshell.

The only truly shocking thing by now is that Congress keeps acting surprised by this.

And hey, speaking of the Justice Department and Patriot Act abuses...

Calls for Attorney General Gonzales to resign heat up, as the scandal surrounding the forced resignation of numerous U.S. Attorneys during the 2006 political season expands in scope.

On one note, the Justice Department has backed down and will allow Congress to reverse the policy that made all of this possible. But new revelations keep coming out, revealing the extent to which the White House, the Attorney General, and key congressional allies used the Justice Department as a partisan weapon.

Neither of these stories is over yet.

Quote of the Day

"The Republican base does not really care about social conservatism. It just hates liberals. This is something people have not yet come to terms with."
--Blogger 'Digby' on what Rudy Guiliani's popularity says about the GOP

This isn't 100% for the party as a whole, but for the base, it definitely is.

Every right-wing blog I read, hell why narrow it down to them, every issue of the NY Post I read, every second of Fox News I see, every segment of talk radio I hear, all reiterates to me that one fact... whatever conservatism once stood for has completely unraveled and disintegrated. What they stand for now is simply opposition to whatever Democrats and/or the liberal boogeyman they fear support. There's no overarching ideology anymore. It's just an anti-liberal party now.

They'll continue the war just to avoid the political embarassment. They'll support torture and the erosion of civil liberties because Bush said to. They'll ignore global warming because that's a "liberal" issue. They can't do anything on health care because that would be 'socialist' of them. They'll privatize everything and let the market decide our fates for the same reason. Etc etc.

The Bush cultists and a small-- but uber-loyal-- smattering of religious voters and Dixie folk are all they have left and they are trying to do right by them, while keeping a worried eye on the general public who is in turn not taking a friendly eye back at them. Their superior marketing skills had kept them in the majority up until last November, but they lost their narrative, which had been their greatest strength. Now it's just a mess.

And, as Digby said, until they (and those who care about a viable conservative alternative in America) come to real terms with this reality, it's just going to get worse. But I have a feeling I'm just screaming into the wind here.

[PS- As for the Democratic '08 group, this cartoon gets it about right.]

More Odds and Ends

Here's some miscellaneous news of interest before we start our weekend...

Conservatives really, really want Scooter Libby pardoned like whoa.

This as a Time cover story calls his old boss "the Administration's enemy within".

A new investigation reveals that Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer was pre-planned. From Reuters: "Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has testified he launched last year's war against Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon in line with a contingency plan he approved four months before, the Haaretz daily said on Thursday." That such a contigency plan was in place is understandable; that they rushed into war so hastily is definitely not.

On the diplomatic front, President Bush visits South America, is not greeted as a liberator.

A former gay porn star joins the Marines; finds new career as right-wing professional victim.

Finally, the hits from Walter Reed and beyond keep on coming.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Meanwhile, In Iraq...

Haven't checked in on the war in a few days... how's it going? Still shit? Okay then!

First up, Gen. Petraeus reiterates the obvious-
The new US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, urged Iraq's leaders on Thursday to put aside sectarian rancour and warned there was no "military solution" to the nation's conflict...

..."There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq. Military action is necessary to help improve security... but it is not sufficient. There needs to be a political aspect
," he said.

Petraeus was speaking inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone after three days of attacks by Sunni insurgents on Shiite pilgrims left more than 150 dead and dramatically increased political tensions...

And yet there has been no real acknowledgement by the civilian administration leaders of this reality as they continue to throw more soldiers into a lost battle in the hopes of dragging this out for another year or two putting out the flames we have fanned.

Already there are concerns that the escalation may get more escalated-
The number of U.S. troops needed to carry out President George W. Bush's Iraq security plan could approach 30,000, significantly more than he projected in January, a senior Pentagon official said on Tuesday.

Why, it's Vietnam deja vu all over again!

And a Washington Post article further reiterates the obvious... the administration has no backup plan for if when their current plan (stay the course, but with extended tours of duties for soldiers) fails. "Plan B was to make Plan A work," the Tennessee governor recalls Gen. Peter Pace saying.

Regional diplomacy helps, but we hardly have a strong hand to play there.

And what of Congress? The Democratic party, and its base to a much larger extent, is increasingly frustrated with its inability to push through any measures to wind down the war. Sen. Feingold said last week that "It’s still George Bush's war. But we run the risk of gaining some ownership of it if we don’t make it absolutely clear that we are the party that wants to get out of there," a warning to his colleagues that it's time to stop playing around.

And so today House leaders unveiled their 17th latest plan for ending the war-
In a direct challenge to President Bush, House Democrats are advancing legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the fall of next year....

Right before the election??! {*shock*} What a coincidence!! More-
...Democratic officials who described the measure said the timetable would be accelerated — to the end of 2007 — if the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki does not meet goals for providing Iraq's security.

The conditions, described as tentative until presented to the Democratic rank and file Thursday, would be added to legislation providing nearly $100 billion the Bush administration has requested for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan...

Easy bets: Speaker Pelosi will be able to rangle up support for this in the House, but in the Senate things will grind to a halt. Republicans will foam at the mouth about "the troops! the troops!" and how treasonous Democrats are plotting to murder us all. The media will be easily confused/bored by all this and report on more frivolous stories. The President will pound a podium, if he speaks at all. The House leaders will be forced back to the drawing board. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And if this Daily Kos blogger is any indication, most people's patience is wearing thin-
The point is not to come up with a be-all, end-all Iraqi plan this week or next to shove down the administration's throat. The point is to start the plan. The point is to lead. The most absolutely critical thing, right here, right now, is to begin limiting the ongoing damage...

...There are no good ways out of Iraq: every path is dangerous. That is precisely why so many experts shuddered at the long-term damage of this "preemptive" war. There are no good answers, and events on the ground may dictate altering any proposed plan three months from now, or six months from now, or a year from now -- a shocking concept lost on the Bush administration these last few years.

Fine, then: alter it when the time comes. It is not necessary to end the war tomorrow, it is necessary to do what the Bush administration is entirely incapable of, which is to define how to end it, and start working towards that goal...

...Quit jockeying for position among yourselves. Quit expecting ultraconservative apologists to offer anything more than plans to get more people killed and call it "progress". Quit expecting anything but another two years of incompetent buffoonery from the Bush administration. Quit expecting bipartisanship. Quit expecting miracles that haven't come for three years, and aren't just over the horizon now. And quit expecting patience...

What he said.

And that's where we stand... and where I fear we will remain for some time.

A Watched Planet Never Warms

Administration memo to science/environmental employees:
Don't discuss climate change, sea ice and/or polar bear issues unless specifically instructed. And have a fun trip!

[UPDATE: A new House committee targeting global warming has been officially approved.]

Recommended Reading: The Iraq Edition

Two recommended links today, both on that never-ending war of ours.

First up, from Mother Jones: Iraq 101

It's broken up into 5 parts... (1) Iraq 101: From Allawi to Zarqawi (Players, Haters: Iraqi Politics at a Glance); (2) Civil War: Lost In Translation (Things Fall Apart: The Iraqi Civil War FAQ); (3) The Cost: Paying The Price (Down The Drain); (4) Aftermath: Long-term Thinking (Breaking the Army; The Iraq Effect: The War in Iraq and Its Impact on the War On Terrorism); and (5) Sources.

Good bathroom reading if you really need some time to work it out.

Secondly, from Rolling Stone: Beyond Quagmire-
A panel of experts convened by Rolling Stone agree that the war in Iraq is lost. The only question now is: How bad will the coming explosion be?

The panel? Zbigniew Brzezinski (National security adviser to President Carter), Richard Clarke (Counterterrorism czar from 1992 to 2003), Nir Rosen (Author of 'In the Belly of the Green Bird', about Iraq's spiral into civil war, speaking from Cairo, where he has been interviewing Iraqi refugees), Gen. Tony McPeak (retired-- Member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War), Bob Graham (Former chair, Senate Intelligence Committee), Chas Freeman (Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War; president of the Middle East Policy Council), Paul Pillar (Former lead counterterrorism analyst for the CIA), Michael Scheuer (Former chief of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit; author of 'Imperial Hubris'), Juan Cole (Professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan)

Their assessment? "Humpty Dumpty can't be put back together again."

[UPDATE: Jacob Weisberg writes about 'The Four Unspeakable Truths' of the war in Slate.]

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The War On Easter

It's that time of year again...

[UPDATE (3/8): Stephen Colbert gives his take on this most pressing matter.]

Odds and Ends

Some miscellaneous news and notes on this snowy afternoon...

Fox News says Libby's not guilty; conservatives want him pardoned, like, yesterday.

Meanwhile, Huffington Post posts one juror's personal account of the trial.

Senate Republicans continue to fight a provision in the Democrats' anti-terrorism legislation granting union protection for airport screeners. They say the President will veto the bill if said provision remains. Democrats are looking for a compromise, but Republicans continue to insist that union protection for these workers will doom western civilization forever.

Elsewhere, Osama bin Laden turns 50; Middle East still dangerous.

And John Stossel looks at the industry of terrorism fear our leaders have created.

Comedian and scientist Matt Drudge tries out his favorite punchline one more time.

Corrupt Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) may not get that free ride after all.

Lastly, Stephen Colbert and Ben & Jerry are finally united in one delicious pairing.

The Bush Administration In A Nutshell

'Minor' headlines like this always stick out to me...

Reuters: U.S. won't seek seat on U.N. human rights panel

[PS- Salon's Walter Shapiro has a news item that summarizes their domestic policy too.]

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Scooter Libby Found Guilty

Whoa, speaking of scandals... our poor Scootie!! 'Scooter' Libby guilty on four of five counts

He was convicted of-
-obstruction of justice when he intentionally deceived a grand jury investigating the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame;

-making a false statement by intentionally lying to FBI agents about a conversation with NBC newsman Tim Russert;

-perjury when he lied in court about his conversation with Russert;

-a second count of perjury when he lied in court about conversations with other reporters.

Not guilty on count 3 (false statement relating to conservation with Time's Matt Cooper)

Libby, 56, faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. A hearing on a presentencing report is scheduled for June 5.

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said, "He is virtually certain to go to prison if this conviction is upheld."

There's no question that President Bush will pardon Libby, of course. The only question is whether it will be soon or in January 2009. The best bet is that it will be the latter, with endless appeals through late 2008.

Still, this seems to be a good year for justice (slowly) catching up with this administration.

[UPDATE(S): Patrick Fitzgerald speaks following the verdict. Fox News reacts as expected. And, finally, some salient commentary on the larger scandal behind this investigation from Andrew Sullivan.

UPDATE #2: A good roundup/debunking of right-wing talking points- here.]

Scandal Overload

Trying to keep track of ongoing political scandals is like juggling bowling balls, eventually you're going to drop one. Besides the continuously scandalous policies of the current administration, the two biggest headaches for the White House right now are the revelations of shoddy care for wounded soldiers and the purge of U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. As heads begin to roll, let's catch up.

Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey resigned in the wake of the revelations of what wounded soldiers face at Walter Reed and elsewhere. If only the buffoons responsible for the war itself met such quick justice. The usual suspects are saying this is just further proof that the government sucks and we should privatize everything. Oops, but wait, what's that, it's the facts making a return assault! It turns out that privatization had already sunk its claws into Walter Reed.

The real lesson here, as I mentioned on Saturday is that when you elect people who hate government to run it, you get crappy government. Elect competent people who care about the government and the people it serves and you get better results. Pretty simple concept.

Moving on to the purged U.S. Attorneys, this scandal is like watching "Lost"... if you missed one episode, you're shit out of luck. Here's the backstory: Someone (read: Sen. Specter and/or his subordinates) slips a provision into the Patriot Act renewal making it easier for the White House to fire said Attorneys and replace them without Senate approval; White House acts accordingly.

Soon revelations come out that Republican members of Congress may have assisted the White House in pushing out undesirable attorneys (read: those investigating Republicans instead of Democrats). Some quick sleuthing narrows this down to Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Sen. Domenici (R-NM), both of whom reversed previous denials by admitting they may have talked to the Attorneys about stuff, but didn't threaten them or anything, no way. Then comes news yesterday that Michael Battle, executive director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, has resigned. Attorney General Gonzales tells Congress he is too busy to answer their pesky questions.

The House and Senate are holding hearings today. TPMmuckraker has continuous updates.

Phew! I feel (slightly) more educated already. Until tomorrow, when we'll be behind again.

Failing Upwards

Sirotablog: Welcome to the Post-Factual Era

Monday, March 05, 2007

What He Said

John Cole on the deeper ugliness on view at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Recommended Reading

Here's some links to start the week. Hopefully you find one or two of interest...

-New Orleans Times Picayune: LAST CHANCE: The fight to save a disappearing coast-
It took the Mississippi River 6,000 years to build the La. coast. It took man 75 years to wash away a third of it. Experts agree we have 10 years or less to act before the loss becomes irreversible.

-NY Times editorial: The Must-Do List

-Mother Jones: Breaking the News -
It's not the Internet that's killing newspapers. It's the equity-chasing investors and their friends at the FCC who have put outsize profits before a free press.

-ABC News: Don't Ask, Don't Debate: Pentagon Calls for Silence on Gays