Saturday, May 26, 2007

How's Congress Doing?

6 months in the new Congress, here's a chart outlining the status of its legislative priorities.

Weekend Odds and Ends

As the nation mobilizes to tackle this holiday weekend, another roundup of news. I'd add further thoughts on all these, but it's too hot and sweaty in here to form proper thoughts...

You remember that minimum wage increase? It's finally a done deal.

And after a disappointing war vote, it's nice to see the Democrats get this one right: "The House voted on Thursday to make lobbyists disclose when they round up campaign donations for members of Congress and to broaden prohibitions on their accepting gifts, meals and travel from lobbyists." Pressure to water this down from long-time congressfolk (so used to the perks) was fortunately squashed by newer representatives who still have their dignity.

Defense Secretary Gates addressed a graduating U.S. Naval Academy class with a refreshingly un-Rumsfeldian message... Congress and the press are not our enemy and are, in fact, key to protecting our democracy! OMG11!

He also said, yesterday, that violence in Iraq is likely to increase over the summer. That means that the surge is working, because the enemy is scared. Unless the violence stays the same or goes down. That also means the surge is working. Duh.

This just in... Atheists are writing books!!!

Finally, people are already beginning to fall out of love with the ethanol alternative. While ethanol may not be the answer (the hard truth is sacrifices-- like driving less-- is the real solution), the fact is that any alternatives will be costly and burdensome in the initial development stages.

The Liberal Media, Hard At Work As Usual

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Friday, May 25, 2007

What's The Democrats' End Game On Iraq?

Congress has approved the blank check Iraq war funding bill, with Speaker Pelosi voting against in the House and Majority Leader Reid voting for in the Senate. It should get to the President's desk very soon, I imagine.

So what now, Democrats?

This video is from a month ago, but since we're just moving around in circles as usual, it's still relevant. Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall spoke w/ Sen. Kerry about what the Democrats' end game is with the Iraq war debate. Given the veto of funding/timetable bill, it seems that they've resolved themselves to funding the war but with some toothless 'benchmarks' to create the appearance of political pressure. And hope that, in 2008, the public will still be in the same mood they were last November.

Sen. Kerry's very diplomatic in his discussion of the approach, but a copout is still a copout.

(UPDATE: I should note, for fairness, that Kerry did vote against this funding bill.)

Back to where we stand today, Salon's Joan Walsh nails it here... if Democrats want to argue that they simply didn't have the votes to pass a substantive bill and have been left empty-handed by the Republicans, that is one thing. But to argue, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is doing, that this toothless funding bill, this check as blank as any the GOP Congress gave Bush, is some kind of victory is a pure insult to our intelligence.

Voters have agreed with the Democratic position for some time now (on pretty much every issue). Moreover, voters like politicians to have the strength of their convictions. That after all they've been through in the past 6 years, the Democrats still don't get grasp these things is nuts to me. If you're gonna cave, don't think people won't notice.

Oh, and Democrats... After capitulating completely to him, President Bush is still bashing you on TV every chance he gets. Eventually, Charlie Brown, you have to realize that no matter how nice you are, Lucy will never let you kick that football. Eventually, you just need to-- to continue this metaphor-- kick that bitch in the face.

[PS- You think I'm angry about this? Keith Olbermann makes me look downright pleased.

UPDATE #2: E.J. Dionne says we should think long-term. Isn't that what we've been doing?]

It's Okay, I Didn't Want To Donate My Blood Anyway

Wanted to donate blood once, read the form, realized I couldn't. It made me mad. Still am.

AP: Banned for life: Gay men still can’t donate blood--
FDA wants to prevent HIV spread; Red Cross, others say it’s ‘unwarranted’

Gay men remain banned for life from donating blood, the government said Wednesday, leaving in place — for now — a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions.

The Food and Drug Administration reiterated its long-standing policy on its Web site Wednesday, more than a year after the Red Cross and two other blood groups criticized the policy as “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”...

Maybe in 1983 when HIV was new and people were still figuring out the facts, this made some sense. It's over 20 years later. You'd think some rationality would have returned to the issue, but this country has been a little slower on the learning curve in recent decades. And I trust the Red Cross more than I do the FDA, seeing as how the former hasn't recently been allowing tainted foods to poison people left and right these days (isn't deregulation fun?).

I'm a healthy guy who'd be happy to donate some day. Just let me know I'm un-blacklisted.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Are You A Republican Operative With Memory Problems?

Well, have no fear. Help is available. Contact your local committee chairman today!

Changing Your Mind/Learning From Mistakes = BAD!

That brilliant linker of news items journalist Matt Drudge has this up today-

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

John Edwards gave a campaign speech yesterday on foreign policy in which he reiterated his position that the 'war on terror' is a political buzzword, which poorly describes the real situations that we face in the world.

But Matt Drudge did some Googling and found a quote from Edwards over five years ago in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when emotions were running high and everyone short of Russ Feingold and a few House liberals would've probably voted to suspend the Constitution if George W. Bush had asked, and therefore has exposed... something.

Oh, I know! The same secret they exposed about Sen. Kerry in 2004. People change their minds over time as new facts come to light and as circumstances change! OMGZ!!11! Oh, if only John Edwards could be resolute like George W. Bush and other Republicans like Mr. Drudge who made a series of bad decisions and choices years ago and, refusing to change their minds, have spent the years since propping up those failures in a web of lies and spin.

Thank you Matt Drudge for exposing the truth about Mr. Edwards' political and intellectual growth.

[Related reading: The Matt Drudge primary--
How professional political operatives secretly control the news you read about the 2008 campaign. Hint: It involves the Drudge Report.

Odds and Ends

Did you catch that 'Lost' finale? Damn, that shit was crazy! Anyway, here's the news...

The consequences of 'Don't ask, don't tell' are finally going to be explored: "Lawmakers who say the military has kicked out 58 Arabic linguists because they were gay want the Pentagon to explain how it can afford to let the valuable language specialists go."

Better question... how can the Pentagon afford to let those translators get their gay cooties all over everyone!??

Hey, speaking of homophobia, Mary Cheney has given birth to her first son, a boy. Odd thing, though... The official baby photo doesn't feature the child's parents at all. Isn't that odd? Yes, it's very odd.

Former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling testified to Congress yesterday and basically admitted a bunch of scandalous things for which no one will be held accountable.

Moving on... good news! President Bush's nominee to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission has withdrawn his nomination over concern from Senators, who were all mad just because the guy is a manufacturing industry lobbyist.

Finally, deaths related to Ground Zero dust are being added to the 9/11 death toll.

What Is It About The Climate Debate That Angers Right-Wingers?!

A lot of political observers in the past few years have noticed that there is no longer any discernible ideology to the Republican base anymore (their willingness to look the other way on the past philosophies of front-runners Mitt Romney and Rudy Guliani prove this).

The main thing-- besides embracing fear and authoritarianism-- that unites them now is being anti-liberal.

Very few issues illustrate this like the right-wing denial over global warming-- and their insane belief that it is merely a conspiracy concocted by Al Gore, the Democrats, and their cabal of socialist scientists to destroy American capitalism forever. This nonsense is just as prevalent as 9/11 'truth' conspiracies, but gets far less attention.

Case in point... Yahoo! Answers has the following open question from Nancy Pelosi (or rather a representative of her office, natch): "Congress is working on legislation to address global warming - what would you like to see included?" You have to scroll down and read some of these responses... they're nutty. Lots of rants about 'junk science', personal attacks at Al Gore (killing the messenger is fun!), rants about liberals coming to take away their cars, and super-hilarious quips about ending the "hot air" coming from Democrats in Washington.

That so many of these type of responses are the same is not a coincidence... they're just regurgitating the same talking points they've been fed from talk radio, cable news, and conservative magazines.

Liberals and/or environmentalists have rallied around the climate issue, and therefore conservatives will not.

Now I wouldn't even care about this, except that it does have an impact (unlike the 9/11 Truthers, who are irrelevant). Scientists and politicians have been debating global warming/climate change since the 1970s when the trends first became apparent. It's over 30 years later and we've done jack shit. And that due in part to the fact that all this noise has created a political climate in which we have to pretend there is questions about all of this, despite the scientific concensus being quite clear. And so we talk in circles for years at a time instead of taking action. That is costing us time we increasingly can't afford to lose.

I have no solution to stop all of this; just consider it a general rant.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Quote of the Day

Jim Smith, just some random guy on my LiveJournal friends list, wrote this-
"Here in Bloomington, unleaded was around $2 even in mid-January. It's $3.42 today. By Memorial Day weekend I'm sure it'll be $3.50. So that's a 75% increase in the price after only four and a half months. There hasn't been 75% inflation since January. Violence in the Middle East has not gotten 75% worse. US-Iranian relations have not become 75% chillier. Hurricanes have not cut off access to 75% of oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Hugo Chavez has not become 75% more of a dick. They have not added enough special summertime additives to comprise 75% of the gasoline's chemical makeup. My car does not get 75% more miles per gallon. And they sure as hell aren't producing 75% less of the stuff. There aren't 75% more people travelling in May than in January, and there sure aren't 75% more Asian countries using it. Gasoline does not contain 75% more chocolate chips.

I'm playing fast and loose with the stats here, but I think my point should be clear--all these stupid excuses people toss around when gas goes up miss the point that it's almost twice as expensive as it was four and a half months ago. And in two months it might be back down to $2.50 for all I know. There is no rhyme or reason to this except what the people who make money from gasoline think they can get away with at any given time. Just accept it and quietly wait for ethanol or cavorite to become cost-efficient instead of spouting all these stupid rationalizations. Geez."

Just one dude's unscientific rant, of course, but there's definitely some truth in there.

I think I've said this before, but I am so glad I live a city where owning a car is completely unnecessary. I've got my unlimited Metrocard, some Sketchers, and a lot of energy. Too bad most people don't have that luxury. You car-owners have my sympathy.

How A Bill Becomes Law

During the immigration debate earlier this week before it began to unravel, Sen. Sessions (R-AL) discusses how a bill becomes law, using a graphic from the famous Schoolhouse Rock segment as a prop. Click the image below if you want to watch the Senator explain the legislative process. Personally I think he'd have been better off singing the song-

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

[PS- Related reading: Is Rush Limbaugh right?-
Could immigration really be the issue that finally cracks the Republican base? It's already making the party's '08 contenders act funny.

Democrats Blink First?

Apparently, standing up to a President with record low approval ratings on the issue of a war that is failing and increasingly unpopular is harder than it sounds. That's what the latest actions by the Democratic leadership would have me believe, anyway. Here's the buzz that one AP reporter is hearing-
In grudging concessions to President Bush, Democrats intend to draft an Iraq war-funding bill without a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and shorn of at least some of the billions they want for domestic programs, officials said...

Aka- the Democrats give up everything, and the President concedes nothing. Great! More-
The legislation would include the first federal minimum wage increase in more than a decade, a top priority for the Democrats who took control of Congress in January, the officials added.

That raising the minimum wage-- which hasn't been done in over 10 years despite inflation and monstrously increased cost-of-living expenses-- has to be snuck into this monstrosity instead of a stand-alone bill tells you everything about what Republican leaders have done to suppress even the most basic Democratic proposals.

While details remain subject to change, the measure is designed to close the books by Friday on a bruising struggle between Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress over the war. It would provide funds for military operations in Iraq through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Democrats in both houses are expected to seek other opportunities later this year to challenge Bush's handling of the unpopular conflict...

Ahh yes, the fabled September in which we are to believe that Republicans will 'revolt' (as we've been hearing every six months for a year or so now they will do) and then the President will actually yield to congressional concern on the war. Keep dreaming, folks. President Bush is all in through January 2009. Not even the hand of God can change that. And the Republicans in Congress certainly aren't going to do a 180 either.

But back to the Democrats' bill, I'd add that many of the party leaders are opposing this.

And while I understand that Democrats are between a rock and hard place here, this is nonsense. What President Bush asked for at the beginning of all of this was a blank check to continue the war without any accountability, exit strategy, etc. It now appears more likely than not that he will get it.

Fears of a veto do not excuse this. Democrats passed a perfectly good bill at the beginning of this month. They should just keeping sending that to the President and leaving the funding ball in his court.

President Bush wants to run out the clock at the expense of many people's lives and our national integrity. Democrats shouldn't allow that just because fighting a lame-duck Decider is politically exhausting. If they can't manage this, they're in the wrong line of work.

Falwell Funeral Terrorism! Get This Man To Gitmo!

Matt Drudge had this sensational headline up on his site tonight-

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

What this headline purposely doesn't tell you is that the potential terrorist was not from one of the many parts of American society that Mr. Falwell verbally condemned to Hell, but rather a 19-year old student/Falwell supporter who intended to target any protestors who showed up near the service. His possible accomplices were a fellow student of Liberty University and a soldier from nearby Fort Benning.

How odd that this crucial aspect of the story is not the lead. And how odd that this plot-- as hairbrained as the six paintball jihadists who were gonna storm Fort Dix by themselves-- has not received major news attention. How odd indeed.

[PS- All the '08 GOP candidates were too "busy" to attend the service. Also very odd indeed.]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Odds and Ends

So I ended up watching 'Heroes'. Nathan, I knew you'd come through. Here's the news...

You know that war/conflict that Lebanon's been engaged with in the past week or so? Well, it looks like we're hooking them up with some cash to help move things along: "Lebanon has asked the United States for $280 million in military assistance to help put down an uprising by al-Qaida-inspired militants operating from a Palestinian refugee camp, the State Department said Tuesday." Better take that penny jar to the CoinStar machine, Condi.

Meanwhile, President Bush declassifies an intelligence report that reveals that... Osama bin Laden is evil and would like to attack America again!!! OMG, knock me over with a feather! Thank goodness we let him get away and started a new war of our own making elsewhere.

And does that report mention al Qaeda money is being funneled into Pakistan from Iraq?

And ABC News reports that President Bush has authorized covert action inside Iran.

On the domestic news front, newly released Justice Department documents relating to the Attorney purge reveal more about how the Department responded internally to the scandal.

Finally, hometown news... NYC taxis will be entirely hybrid by 2012, as per a new order.

The Assault On Reason

Al Gore's new book is out today. I just started reading it... it's great. It's an "analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason" and our democracy in turn.

As if to prove his point for him, ABC's Diane Sawyer recent interview with him was a brainless, style-over-substance farce. Instead of digging into the issues the book brings up, she grilled him about running for President and his weight. Here's an excerpt:
GORE: Just as one of many examples of how our conversation of democracy has turned toward these buzzwords and phrases, like the frame for the discussion, the logo Campaign ‘08, that’s not what this is about. You know, for anybody who has asked the question, Has something gone wrong in our country? this book is about that. It’s about what’s gone wrong and how we can fix it.


SAWYER: But to dig not very deep, once again, at my peril here…I just want to say, Donna Brazile, your former campaign manager, has said, If he drops 25 to 30 pounds he’s running. Lost any weight?

GORE: I think, you know, millions of Americans are in the same struggle I am on that one. But look — but listen to your questions. You know, the horserace, the cosmetic parts of this — and, look, that’s all understandable and natural. But while we’re focused on, you know, Britney and K-Fed and Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff, meanwhile, very quietly, our country has been making some very serious mistakes that could be avoided if we, the people, including the news media, are involved in a full and vigorous discussion of what our choices are.

SAWYER: Former Vice President Al Gore.

I weep for the future.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan...

Time once again to check in on the forgotten war-
Scores of heavily armed Afghan troops and fighters from special border police units – determined, professional and evidently spoiling for a fight – gathered around their senior officers for orders...

...Yet the enemy was not the Taleban, nor an infiltrating column of al-Qaeda fighters. Instead, in the remote border district of ’Ali Kheyl in eastern Afghanistan, Afghan security forces have found themselves pitted against an older and bigger enemy: Pakistan.

Clashes between the two neighbours – two of the West’s biggest allies in the War on Terror – began here last Sunday morning when Paki-stani forces fired on an Afghan post at Toorgawe, a strategic point on the border. The fighting is the most serious of its kind for years...

Much of the recent tension is due to a Pakistani security fence-
...Pakistan has recently started building a security fence in selected areas of the border, ostensibly to halt the flow of insurgents. This, in turn, has provoked more Afghan wrath.

The Kabul Government does not recognise the border, drawn up by the British in 1893. Named the Durand line after Sir Mortimer Durand, then Foreign Secretary of the British Indian Government, the demarcation was intended to divide warlike Pashtun tribes antipathetic to British influence. Now Afghanistan sees the security fence as the de facto consolidation of a border dividing them from tribal areas in Pakistan that they claim as their own...

Another tribal war with U.S. troops caught in the middle. Did we end terrorism forever yet?

You Win This Round, Lou Dobbs

AP: Senate puts off immigration action

Meanwhile, In Iraq...

I have no time to do any of these individual stories justice, so here's a quick rundown...

Our government may not be preparing for a U.S. departure from Iraq, but Iraq's is-
Iraq's military is drawing up plans on how to cope if U.S.-led forces leave the country quickly, the defense minister said Monday.

The statement by Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi marked the first time a senior Iraqi official has spoken publicly about the possibility of a quick end to the U.S.-led mission.

It was unclear if the remarks were more than routine contingency planning...

And yet, simultaneously, there's reports that the people actually running Iraq are mostly away or MIA. And there are also other reports that the White House's 'Plan B' (odd, I thought we were up to Plan Q or R by now) might be "using Iraq as a springboard and rationale for an American military strike into Iran," and "strong-arming the admittedly faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki out of office and replacing Maliki with a U.S.-anointed Iraqi savior", although there's less and less time now for them to pull off that scam.

And, of course, all of this was easily predictable in 2002/2003, except it was totally unpatriotic back then to listen to the people trying to sound the alarm bells-
Two intelligence assessments from January 2003 predicted that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq could lead to internal violence and provide a boost to Islamic extremists and terrorists in the region, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials familiar with the prewar studies...

Finally, the Washington Post reports that the administration is giving the Iraq Study Group report a second look (on benchmarks, regional diplomacy, etc). "They are coming our way," Hamilton said in a recent interview. I'll believe it when I see it, Jim.

Overwhelmed? Me too. I should go to bed.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I will take everybody's word for it that this is a bad bill. One question, though — could there ever have been a good bill? I don't mean a bill that instantly teleports every illegal to the country of their choice using Star Trek technology, which is, I gather, what resides in the dreams and visions of many on the restrictionist side. I mean an actual piece of legislation with any kind of chance on earth to pass Congress and be signed by the president."
--National Review (and NY Post) columnist John Podhoretz, talking back to the hyperventilating right.

I think most people agree that this is a flawed bill, but the level of hysteria on the right is absurd, even by their standards. And I think the reason that they have been ignored on this issue (for the most part) is that their real concern about immigration reform has very little to do with security and law enforcement and everyone knows it.

Homer Simpson, Kent Brockman, and the Media

From last night's "The Simpsons" season finale (the 400th episode!), one mistake gets Kent Brockman kicked off the air after protests by angry conservative watchdog groups. Forced to move in with the Simpsons, we get a look at Fox News and the 'liberal media' and Lisa's failed attempt to keep Kent honest.

Odds and Ends

'Heroes' and '24' finales on tonight at the same time. What to watch and what to DVR? Decisions, decisions...

Once again, America falls behind the rest of the first world in terms of social progress: "Since the British military began allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of its fears — about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness — have come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue."

You don't say?

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, things are fun as ever... Israel continues its assault(s) in Gaza, with an eye on targeting Hamas leaders. And over in Lebanon, this is happening: "Battles engulfed a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon on Monday and the death toll from two days of fighting between the Lebanese army and al Qaeda-inspired militants climbed to 71."

And a U.N. food ship for Somalia is afraid to complete its mission due to piracy fears. Arrrr!

Back in Washington DC, while members of Congress continue to believe that anyone in the White House cares whether or not they have confidence in the Attorney General, the deeper scandal behind the curtain comes into greater focus.

Finally, one member of the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge gets his PB&J confiscated by airport security.

More Climate Change Debating Tips

New Scientist-Environment has a good resource wading through the evidence on various aspects of climate change.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Pulling Away The Football

Stephen Colbert debates himself on Iraq while using a classic 'Peanuts' reference-

[PS- President Bush continues to turn down even the most watered-down Democratic proposals on Iraq. Democrats agreed to a) ditch a lot of domestic spending, and b) make the timetable optional (!). Bush still balked. He wants his blank check and he wants it now.

And what's 104 acres and costs $592 million? The new U.S. embassy compound in Iraq.]

More Of This, Please

Here's a story that's fun to read-
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) stood before the refrigerated section of the Safeway on Capitol Hill yesterday and looked longingly at the eggs.

At $1.29 for a half-dozen, he couldn't afford them.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Ryan and three other members of Congress have pledged to live for one week on $21 worth of food, the amount the average food stamp recipient receives in federal assistance. That's $3 a day or $1 a meal. They started yesterday.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), co-chairmen of the House Hunger Caucus, called on lawmakers to take the "Food Stamp Challenge" to raise awareness of hunger and what they say are inadequate benefits for food stamp recipients. Only two others, Ryan and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), took them up on it.

"All of us in Congress live pretty good lives," said McGovern, who ate a single banana for breakfast yesterday and was going through caffeine withdrawal by midday. "We don't have to wake up worrying about the next meal. But there are a lot of Americans who do. I think it's wrong. I think it's immoral that in the U.S., the richest country in the world, people are hungry."

McGovern and Emerson have introduced legislation that would add $4 billion to the annual federal food stamp budget, which was $33 billion last year and covered 26 million Americans. The proposal could be incorporated by Congress into the new farm bill...

...According to the rules of the challenge, the four House members cannot eat anything beside their $21 worth of groceries. That means no food at the many receptions, dinners and fundraisers that fill a lawmaker's week...

...McGovern and his wife, Lisa, did their food shopping for the week with help from Toinette Wilson, a D.C. resident and mother of three who relies on food stamps. Wilson gave him some tips, but it was still a struggle, he said.

"No organic foods, no fresh vegetables, we were looking for the cheapest of everything," McGovern said. "We got spaghetti and hamburger meat that was high in fat -- the fattiest meat on the shelf. I have high cholesterol and always try to get the leanest, but it's expensive. It's almost impossible to make healthy choices on a food stamp diet."...

...Both lawmakers will keep blogs about the experience, McGovern at and Ryan at

Kudos to these congressmen. And I have three words of advice... macaroni and cheese.