Saturday, May 19, 2007

Actions and Consequences

I already posted about the latest GOP debate in a more general sense on Wednesday, but I wanted to follow up on one specific part. A lot of buzz was created when Rudy '9/11' Guiliani went after libertarian Rep. Ron Paul in a fit of righteous anger when Paul suggested that the origins of 9/11 are in part due to U.S. foreign policy decisions involving the Middle East. With help from his Fox News hosts, Guiliani has made great hay from this moment.

Moderator 'rpeate' at Livejournal Democrats asked people their opinions on this debate-- and asked how much does 9/11 "entitle" us to-- and here was my response.

I wouldn't say that 9/11 was the logical consequence of our foreign policy choices (because mass murder/war never seems logical to me), but it was a consequence nonetheless. We can quibble over the degree to which it was, but it's nonsense to say that our foreign policy wasn't a key factor in why al Qaeda targeted us. They don't "hate us for our freedoms" (as Guiliani well knows, but he's playing a role now for the base)... if it was freedoms they hated, they'd be blowing up Amsterdam. Look at the other countries attacked since 9/11-- Spain, England-- both were key supporters of the invasion of Iraq. Our actions have consequences. That doesn't mean, per se, that we/they 'deserve' to be attacked, but just the logical acknowledgement that actions have consequences.

As for this question: "how much does 9/11 entitle us to do?"

The answer is nowhere near what we have done in its name over the past 5+ years. And that's not just on the foreign front, either, but also the numerous domestic abuses of power justified by the events of that one day.

We have wrapped ourselves in 9/11 in a psychologically unhealthy manner and we believe it entitles us to act unilaterally in whatever manner we choose. We are accountable to no one. A New York magazine article last September wrote that-
The memory of 9/11 continues to stoke a weepy sense of American victimhood, and victimhood, as used by both left and right, is a powerful political force. As the dog whisperer can tell you, strength and woundedness together are a dangerous combination. Now, 9/11 has allowed American victim politics to be writ larger than ever, across the globe. When someone from Tulsa, for example, says, “It’s important to remember 9/11 every day,” what he means is, “We were attacked, we are the aggrieved victims, we are justified.” But if we were victims then, we are less so now. This distorted sense of American weakness is weirdly mirrored in the woundedness and shame that motivate our adversaries. In our current tragicomedy of Daddy-knows-best, it’s a national neurosis, a perpetual childhood. (With its 9/11 truth-conspiracy theories, the far left has its own infantile daddy complex, except in that version, the daddies are the source of all evil.) No doubt, there are real enemies, Islamist and otherwise, more than ever (although the cure—the Iraq war—has inarguably made the disease worse). But the spectacular scope of 9/11, its psychic power, continues to distort America’s relationships. It will take years for the country to again understand its place in the world.

I think that sums it up well. How long will it take? That remains to be same.

Citizen Gore

With Al Gore's latest book-- 'The Assault on Reason'-- due out on Tuesday, it's time for the obligatory articles and speculation about whether he'll run for President next year.

Time magazine has a pretty flattering article out along these lines, calling Gore "the perfect stealth candidate for 2008". It does note, of course, that Gore has no desire to go back into the system that chewed him up and spit him out. But as far as speculatory articles go, this one's a decent read.

I think it's safe to say I'm in the camp of those who'd like him to change his mind.

Did Hell Just Freeze Over...

...Or did Fox News just give Michael Moore's new documentary a glowing review?

[Related: Michael Moore's new film is Cannes's hottest ticket (AFP)]

Weekend Odds and Ends

It's been another crazy week and now my head hurts. Here's the rest of the news-

This was the big news out of the Middle East this week: "Israeli planes pounded Hamas targets and rival Palestinian factions exchanged bursts of automatic weapons fire outside Gaza City's Islamic University on Friday, as a volatile mix of Israeli strikes and Palestinian infighting plunged Gaza deeper into chaos."

And this morning Palestinian officials announce a new ceasefire between Hamas and Fatah.

More global warming fun to keep things interesting for this ol' planet of ours: "The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is so loaded with carbon dioxide that it can barely absorb any more, so more of the gas will stay in the atmosphere to warm up the planet, scientists reported Thursday."

Only in Virginia, folks... as a fuck you to gun control advocates (such as my mayor, Mike Bloomberg), "The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group, organized Thursday night's 'Bloomberg Gun Giveaway'" to award two guns to lucky winners as large crowds showed up.

The ironic part of the article?: "The winners did not immediately receive the weapons — they will still be required to undergo federal and state background checks." And that folks is called... gun control.

Finally, the JFK assassination comes under scrutiny once again.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More Fun With Fox News

Christopher Hitchens debates Jerry Falwell's legacy with Hannity, Colmes, and Ralph Reed-

I'm not the world's biggest Hitchens fan, but kudos to him for acknowledging the elephant in the room-- Jack Abramoff-- in regards to Ralph Reed, particularly when he was trying to make a point about religious hucksters.

Quote of the Day

"Well, I suppose that's true if you leave out the fact that she authorized it and supported it and I said it was a bad idea."
--Barack Obama, responding to Bill Clinton's argument that Hillary Clinton's voting record on Iraq is almost identical to Obama's.

That Sound You Hear? The Far-Right's Collective Head Exploding.

Someone send ol' Lou Dobbs some Tums. This was the big news yesterday-
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators reached agreement on Thursday on an immigration reform bill that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants and establish a merit-based system for future migrants, lawmakers said.

The agreement sets the stage for what is expected to be a passionate Senate debate over immigration and lead the way for what would be one of the most significant accomplishments of President George W. Bush's final term...

...The legislation would create a temporary worker program that would require laborers to return home after a period of time. Tough border security and workplace enforcement measures would go into place before the temporary worker program, congressional aides said.

The proposal would limit family-based migration to immediate family members and establish a merit-based system by which future migrants could earn points for skills, education, understanding of English and family ties.

Well, looks like the problem will be solved forever. [*dusts off hands*]

Seriously, though, this seems to me to be a somewhat half-assed solution to a complex issue. I can't claim to know what is the right solution here, but I don't believe this it.

It has good elements to be sure (the odious 'guest-worker' program an obvious exception), but I can't see this surviving intact given the political climate. It seems that many in Washington DC-- too afraid of all the conflicting interests here (from corporate business owners who want cheap, exploitable labor to pro-immigrant rights activists to isolationist xenophobes)-- figure that something is better than nothing. Are they right?

[PS- You think I'm joking with that subject title? Then you have to read this. ]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The World Bank's Long International Nightmare Is Over

For those who had Paul Wolfowitz in the office pool over whether he'd resign before Attorney General Gonzales... congratulations, pick up your money. He'll be out by June 30.

ABC News: World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz Resigns-
Iraq War 'Architect' Leaves Bank Amid Controversy Over Girlfriend's Raise

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bush Administration...

The following video is from former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony to Congress this week. The event Comey is discussing was first revealed by the NY Times in January 2006. As acting Attorney General at one point in 2004 while John Ashcroft was hospitalized, Comey refused to sign off on President Bush's warrantless wiretapping. With Comey not budging, the President did the only thing a man of his character would do... sent then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andy Card to Ashcroft's hospital room to force him to sign off on the program. Comey, tipped off by Ashcroft's concerned wife, witnessed this incident.

More details on what this all means at TPM Muckraker.

And, of course, despite this shameful episode, the program more or less continues today.

President Bush and James Dobson Plot The Apocalypse

I don't know what I find more disturbing about this story... the obvious non-separation of church and state that it represents, or the fact our President (who believed he went to war to do God's work) is meeting with wrath-happy evangelical leaders to discuss volatile foreign policy issues. Let's call it a tie-
President George W. Bush met privately with Focus on the Family Founder and Chairman James Dobson and approximately a dozen Christian right leaders last week to rally support for his policies on Iraq, Iran and the so-called "war on terror."

“I was invited to go to Washington DC to meet with President Bush in the White House along with 12 or 13 other leaders of the pro-family movement," Dobson disclosed on his radio program Monday. “And the topic of the discussion that day was Iraq, Iran and international terrorism. And we were together for 90 minutes and it was very enlightening and in some ways disturbing too."...

...Dobson described Bush as “upbeat and determined and convinced, adding, “I wish the American people could have sat in on that meeting we had.”...

So do I. Oh, to have been a frightened fly on that wall, indeed.

I'm sure we can all sleep safe at night knowing our foreign policy is in these men's hands for another 19 months.

More Odds and Ends

Another day, another batch of news. Let's round it up...

Because apparently just impeaching the bastard would be too mean, Senate Democrats will "seek a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over accusations that he carried out President Bush's political agenda at the expense of the Justice Department's independence." And they're going to keep their fingers crossed that the President will give a shit what anyone thinks.

More information on the war on terrorism hippies... Documents concerning the NYPD's actions before and during the 2004 Republican Convention have been unsealed. Performance art troupes and more were looked into for "support of anti-RNC organizations", among other serious crimes upon our beloved nation.

Governors can now order flags lowered for military deaths, thanks to Congress.

How do other countries' vacation times compare with ours? We're getting screwed.

Finally, it's been 27 years since we've had an election without a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket. Change in 2008?

The GOP's 'Voter Fraud' Game In A Nutshell

Notice anything odd about the stock footage selected for this Fox News report?

Speaking Of 2008...

One look at the pros and cons of the 2008 Democratic candidates and the Republican ones.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Fox News GOP Debate (aka- An Authoritarian American Idol)

The Republican '08 candidates had their second debate last night (and it's only May 2007!!), this one hosted by their fluffers at Fox News. I've only seen a few clips here and there-- hey, 'Veronica Mars' was on last night-- but it sounded like a battle to outcrazy each other for the Fox News/South Carolina audience. Andrew Sullivan has a frightening summary-
...The Republicans, we learned, have absolutely no idea what to do about Iraq. The only two people with coherent positions were McCain and Paul. McCain supports a war without end, a permanent occupation of Iraq, regardless of whether a national government there can exist in the foreseeable future. He's for empire, as are Cheney and Bush. I can see no reason for him to withdraw any troops in the next five years. The notion that a national Iraqi government, composed of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, will be able to defend itself and take the side of the West in the war in Jihadist terror is simply ludicrous in the imaginable future. That much we surely know by now. So empire is the new Republican consensus: an empire built entirely for security reasons, and an empire which somehow manages to make us less secure... [T]he others were risible in their soundbites and faux toughness...

...Giuliani revealed himself as someone we already know [on torture/detention]. He would have no qualms in exercising executive power brutally, no scruples or restraints. Romney would double the size and scope of Gitmo, to ensure that none of the detainees have lawyers, regardless of their innocence or guilt. That is in itself a disqualification for the presidency of the United States. A man who has open contempt for the most basic rules of Western justice has no business being president...

...I was surprised to see Romney so aggressively embrace torture and Gitmo. On reflection, however, I was being naive again. Romney aims to please. He knew where he was - South Carolina. You can largely determine his beliefs in advance by judging the audience he is attempting to win over...

Leaving aside Sullivan's questionable conclusion that he now supports John McCain (whom he described in this same entry as being for empire) and Ron Paul (a man of principle, yes, but who ventures questionably into the isolationist camp), I think this a good summary of has become to the Republican party. They want authoritarians, they want endless war. And previously sane men must lower themselves to the common denominator to accomodate these demands. You should also watch this clip of Rudy "9/11" Guiliani talking to Sean Hannity to see a summary of how fear is still the top selling point for the Grand Old Party.

Sullivan, though, as an old-school conservative, doesn't get into the GOP's social positions, economic singular-mindedness, etc, all of which for me remain non-starters.

Time magazine's Ana Marie Cox live-blogged the debate for those wanting the full details.

Odds and Ends

I found these news stories playing in the street unsupervised; I got to them just in time...

Sen. Feingold's Iraq withdrawal vote in the Senate went to defeat today: "The Senate on Wednesday rejected legislation that would cut off money for combat operations in Iraq after March 31, 2008... But the effort picked up support from members, including presidential hopefuls previously reluctant to limit war funding — an indication of the conflict's unpopularity among voters."

Meanwhile, Britain flip-flops... Prince Harry not going to Iraq.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the funhouse known as the Middle East, Israeli attacks in Gaza continue as "widening hostilities could bring down a two-month-old unity government formed between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah." Plus ça change...

Here's a non-depressing news item, for once: 'Greenpeace builds replica of Noah's Ark'

Is Paul Wolfowitz in his last throes at the World Bank??

Finally, the White House/Justice Department to the Senate: Subpoena? What subpoena?

President Bush Finds A Sucker His New War Czar

Well, after being turned down by everyone with dignity a lengthy and comprehensive search, the White House has finally found its new 'war czar'-
After a frustrating search for a new "war czar" to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ABC News has learned that President Bush has chosen the Pentagon's director of operations, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, for the role.

In the newly created position of assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation, Lute would have the power to direct the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies involved in the two conflicts...

What the hell does that even mean? Direct what exactly? He must have people skills.

And while publicly the White House will tout the addition of Lt. Gen. Lute to the team as a further sign of a 'new direction' (recycling troops + same policy = new policy) and thus the need for more time-buying patience with the war, I think we can all guarantee that this man will make no decisions of consequence. The Bush/Cheney crew is still The Decider. If Mr. Lute decides to break ranks and make uncomfortable comments-- like Sec. Gates has done with Guantanamo, for instance-- it will be remarked upon by no one.

Speaking of uncomfortable comments, $10 to the first Senator to bring up this 2005 article at his confirmation hearings-
The US is expected to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next 12 months in spite of the continuing violence, according to the general responsible for near-term planning in the country.

Maj Gen Douglas Lute, director of operations at US Central Command, yesterday said the reductions were part of a push by Gen John Abizaid, commander of all US troops in the region, to put the burden of defending Iraq on Iraqi forces...

...He said: “We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the . . . coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward.

“You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It's very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country.”...

Sounds like a smart guy. But hey, how'd that work out for ya, Dougie?
George W. Bush, the US president, has said no decisions have been made on troop levels in 2006. “I think they were rumours. I think they're speculation,” he said at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, this month after meeting his national security team.

Ahhh, of course. The Decider struck again.

Welcome to the team, Lt. Gen. Lute. Please join us in counting down the next 614 days.

Nothing To See Here, Move Along, Move Along

Live Science: California-Sized Area of Ice Melts in Antarctica

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spying on the Home Front

After the 'Gilmore Girls' finale tonight, here's something else to tune in to... PBS' Frontline will be airing a new documentary called "Spying on the Home" at 9pm EST. It's about the ways that the government has expanded its surveillance powers in the post-9/11 world.

The commercial, via YouTube. You can watch it later for free on PBS' website if you miss it.

[UPDATE: Former Deputy AG James Comey confirms that John Ashcroft (!) tried to shut down the program in 2004, but Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card interceded to save it.]

Jerry Falwell Died

Rev. Jerry Falwell passed away this morning.

For the sake of civility, I am not going to say a goddamn thing other than that.

[UPDATE: Still leaving emotion out... a look back at the life and words of a national figure.]

Modern Politics Summed Up, Via 'Family Guy'

Lois Griffin, running for Mayor, tries to reach out to undecided voters-

And, after winning the election, tries to convince the electorate to support her policies-

Sacre Bleu!

It only took about a week, but the American right just realized that newly elected conservative French president-elect, Nicolas Sarkozy, is not George W. Bush.

Freedom fries are on back on the menu! Pass the liberty cabbage too, please!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Meanwhile, In Iraq...

Here's the big news of the day from Iraq-
The Islamic State of Iraq -- a Sunni insurgent coalition that includes al Qaeda in Iraq -- issued a statement Monday saying it is holding three American soldiers and warning the U.S. military to call off its search...

...The soldiers went missing after an ambush Saturday on their military convoy in a volatile region south of Baghdad...

And in news of internal Iraqi politics, more expected and obvious unsettling news-
It has not even reached parliament, but the oil law that U.S. officials call vital to ending Iraq's civil war is in serious trouble among Iraqi lawmakers, many of whom see it as a sloppy document rushed forward to satisfy Washington's clock.

Opposition ranges from vehement to measured, but two things are clear: The May deadline that the White House had been banking on is in doubt. And even if the law is passed, it fails to resolve key issues, including how to divide Iraq's oil revenue among its Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni regions, and how much foreign investment to allow. Those questions would be put off for future debates...

Don't worry, I'm sure all of this will be fixed by 2009 the end of time September.

[PS- The Iraqi government plans to censor media coverage of the war. They are learning!]

What's That, Lassie? More Trouble at the Justice Department?

This just in from the AP: "Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said Monday he will resign, the highest-ranking Bush administration casualty in the furor over the firing of U.S. attorneys." Oops!

Note to Attorney General Alberto 'Geneva What?' Gonzales... hang in there, baby!

[Related reading: Voter-Fraud Complaints by GOP Drove Dismissals (Washington Post)

UPDATE: Another official-- Lanny Davis, the only Democratic member of the president’s civil liberties watchdog board-- has also resigned, as a protest to the panel's partisanship.]

Odds and Ends

How's your Monday going? Good, good. Here's some of the news flying under the radar...

I know this shouldn't have come as a surprise, but it appears some House Democrats are having second thoughts about lobbying reform: "The growing resistance to several proposed reforms now threatens passage of a bill that once seemed on track to fulfill Democrats' campaign promise of cleaner fundraising and lobbying practices."

I am all for any media outlet putting a spotlight on this story, to force Democrats into the light on this issue. The last thing we want after all this is a Democratic K Street Project.

Gas prices set a new record...

...While April's Supreme Court ruling forces Pres. Bush to plan greenhouse gas regulation.

Man, what won't we outsource these days? The editor of a local California news site is looking to hire someone based in India to help in their reporting. Next up? CNN outsources Lou Dobbs' job, Lou Dobbs burns down CNN.

The trial of 'dirty bomber' Jose Padilla finally begins.

Finally, silly speculation about what Sen. Chuck Hagel will do in '08 runs rampant.

Worst Field Trip Ever.

Note to teachers/educators, this isn't the best idea: 'Teachers stage fake gun attack on kids'

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Victory Redefined

Jon Stewart looks at the increasingly lowered standards for 'victory' in Iraq-

[PS- President Bush says he'd be open to benchmarks... as long as they're totally toothless.

And guess how many of the angry moderate Republicans voted for the new Iraq bill? Zero.]

Recommended Listening

KCRW's 'To The Point': Biofuels: Another Look at Alternative Energy

If We Leave

The Washington Monthly has a more rational take on 'Al Qaeda in Iraq' then we usually get-
"[T]here's a dirty little secret of the Iraq war that neither party is eager to acknowledge publicly: namely that the fastest way to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is probably for us to leave and let the Iraqis do it themselves...

...If we leave Iraq, the country is unlikely in the extreme to become an al-Qaeda haven. Partly this is because it's rage at the American presence itself that provides a big part of the fuel for AQI's growth. Our withdrawal would eliminate that source of rage and devastate AQI's ability to continue its recruiting. Partly it's because, as we're seeing in Anbar province right now, even Sunni extremists don't like AQI. Left to their own devices they'll kill off AQI jihadists in order to protect their own tribal turf. And partly it's because once we withdraw, non-Kurdish Iraq will be free to finish its inevitable transition into a Shiite theocracy — a transition that's sadly unavoidable whether we stay or not. Yes, this transition will be bloody, but in the end Iraq will almost certainly be composed of the Kurdish north, which has no use for al-Qaeda; the remaining Sunni sheikhs, who also have no use for al-Qaeda; and the victorious Shiite central government itself, which likewise has no use for murderous Sunni jihadists on its soil. Between the three of them, AQI isn't likely to last a year.

Of all the reasons for staying in Iraq, a desire to finish off AQI is by far the least convincing. It's our presence that largely keeps AQI going, and our withdrawal is the surest way to ensure their demise. It won't happen without a lot of bloodshed, but it will happen."

Now, we don't know that this will happen, but it's an alternative take on the situation.

Time's Joe Klein has some related thoughts... here.

A Living Wage? What Will They Think Of Next?

Here's some interesting news: "On May 8, 2007, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley became the first governor in the United States to sign living-wage legislation. The law requires state contractors in Maryland to pay at least $8.50 an hour to workers in most of Maryland, while contractors in the more expensive Baltimore-Washington area must pay $11.30 an hour."

Hopefully this is the start of a trend, and not an isolated incident of political conscientiousness.

Meanwhile, on the federal level, Congress still hasn't finalized the minimum wage increase bill (going from $5.15/hr to $7.25/hr) the House first passed in early January... thanks to consistent Republican meddling, natch. At this rate, it should be reach the President's desk sometime before his term ends, at which point I hope he remembers he's not supposed to veto this bill.

This'll likely have to be solved state-to-state, but I fear Gov. O'Malleys are hard to come by.