Saturday, October 20, 2007

Weekend Odds and Ends

Most of these deserve their own post. Alas, I have a wedding to attend. So let's run through-

For Bushies, telling the truth's bad for job security: "Three days after Americans saw the Bush administration's counterterrorism chief say the Iraq war has likely not made the United States safer from terrorism, the official announced his resignation, citing health reasons."

And the construction of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad finds itself under investigation.

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto returned from exile this week as part of a process "meant to mark a transition from military to civilian-led democracy." Good luck with that. Her arrival was marked with an assassination attempt by terrorists. She was unphased.

AG nominee Michael Mukasey's testimony regarding torture and executive power have many concerned that he's not much of a step up from his predecessor. To confirm or not to confirm? Mark Kleiman and Andrew Sullivan, no Democratic apologists they, both dissent.

Mukasey, read this Live Science article: 'Torture Has a Long History ... of Not Working'.

If you can believe it, the President's meeting with the Dalai Lama upset China. Poor babies!

The GOP 'Values Voters Summit' is this weekend. Here's one report. And Bill Maher's take.

Finally, hypocrisy thy name is GOP: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has warned about the slippery slope leading to 'government-run health care for everyone' while rallying his colleagues against expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program... But as a U.S. senator, McConnell gets government-run, taxpayer-subsidized insurance through the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program." BING BING! We have a winner!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Spy Lies (A Continuing Saga)

Last August, when Congress passed a FISA-gutting bill (which basically rubberstamped the President's warrantless wiretapping), Democratic leaders reassured everyone that it was a temporary move before the summer recess and that they would fix it all in the Fall. Well, it's Fall. So where do we stand?

Democrats introduced the Responsible Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective act (aka- RESTORE... they can do dumb acronyms too!). This was actually a fairly decent bill meant to correct the previous bill's extremes. Could such a bill pass? We may never find out, because...

...House Republicans added a ridiculous amendment meant to scuttle the bill for the time being. It worked. Democrats have pulled the bill. So it's back in a state of legislative limbo.

Republicans once again played the 'terror' card, insisting that no matter what Democrats did it was a gift to the terrorists. This ploy would be less annoying if it weren't so effective in cowing our dear majority party.

For instance, when Democrats introduced this bill, Republicans dismissed it as a dangerous obstacle. They milked the story of 3 soldiers captured in Iraq, blaming "onerous surveillance laws" with slowing rescue efforts. So they expressed happiness when the bill was pulled, right? Nope! Rep. Cantor, a high-ranking congressional Republican, said "House Democrats have pulled the FISA bill. They are so desperately against allowing our intelligence agencies to fight OBL and AQ, that they pulled the entire bill to prevent a vote."

The Charlie Brown party fell for it again. Arrrrgggggghhhhh!

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Meanwhile, over in the Senate, this is happening: "Telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on domestic phone and computer lines between 2001 and 2007 without court orders can escape civil lawsuits if the government certifies they acted with the president's authorization, under a draft Senate bill." That great champion of democracy worldwide, George W. Bush, says he will veto any bill that doesn't have this provision. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Kudos to Senator Dodd, though, who is fighting hard to put a hold on this bill.

Salon's Tim Grieve echoes many people's frustration on all of this-
"The Democrats who were handed majorities in both houses of Congress in November still haven't accomplished much of anything the voters sent them there to do. Bring the troops home? There are more of them in Iraq now than there were in November. Curtail the Bush administration's spying powers? It has more power now than it did in November. And yet, we'll bet dollars to doughnuts that, come next fall, we'll be hearing all over again about how the Democrats undercut the troops, deny the good guys the right to listen in on al-Qaida and generally hate America.

In the meantime, we'll hear Democrats complain again today about Republican obstructionism, about how the Democrats don't have enough votes to override vetoes and overcome nonexistent filibusters. But the Republicans can't make the Democrats vote for funding to pay for the war. They can't make the Democrats vote for legislation to give the Bush administration more spying powers. If congressional Democrats don't want to vote for such things, they shouldn't vote for them. And if they do, they should stop pretending that they're some kind of meaningful alternative to the Republicans they replaced last year."

There are, and have been, many benefits to a Democratic congress. This isn't one of them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Health-Care Odds and Ends

Taking a brave stand against expanding children's health care, House Republicans (because you know what fiscally responsible, small government folks they have been these past few years), with a few dozen exceptions, voted against overriding the President's S-CHIP veto.

Take that, "socialized medicine".

"We won this round on S-CHIP," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. The administration then reiterated its desire to compromise on the issue. 'Compromise' being GOP parlance for 'shut the fuck up, and agree to our policy'. This usually works for them.

On a related (less depressing) note, Al Gore issues support for real universal health care.

Yes, it's much easier for him as a private citizen to say this than if he were a politician, but I still think it's significant. Leading Democrats are still very afraid to come right out and say this, settling for Hillary-esque 'compromises' involving mandates to buy into the existing insurance system. It changes the scales of the debate when a prominent Democrat (whose name isn't Dennis Kucinich) cuts right to the chase. Assuming anyone pays attention, natch.

Okay, So We're Only Up To WWIII?

It's all fortunately still just rhetoric, but the increasing bellicoseness of it (see highlights the Sunday shows this week) is cause for concern. It was all just rhetoric with Iraq 5 years ago, after all. Here's President Bush raising the stakes and lowering the bar yesterday-
"If Iran had a nuclear weapon, it'd be a dangerous threat to world peace," Bush said at White House press conference today. "So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested" in preventing Iran from gaining that capability.

Matt Yglesias notes that the exact quote used by the President was this: "So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Holy shit! World wars just aren't what they used to be, are they?

[PS- Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, warns the U.S. against an attack. And tensions grow wider.]

More Odds and Ends

The elections last night on 'Kid Nation' were almost as silly as ours. Here's the news...

President Bush once again pretends to care about the budget. Adorable.

This isn't imminent, but disconcerting news for sure: "Turkey's parliament approved by a large majority on Wednesday a government request to allow troops to cross into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels based there."

The AG confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey began yesterday. Is he the right guy... or did he play the committee like a fiddle? TPM has detailed reports from them (on torture, Guantanamo, DoJ politicization, etc), with video clips- here.

Not scared of the thought of a Guiliani presidency? Then watch this video on his advisors.

The House has passed bills this week on an internet tax ban extention, a condemnation of the State Department's refusal to divulge details on Iraqi corruption, and a shield law for journalists among other things. The downside... most of this'll likely die in the Senate.

Finally, Larry Craig sits down with Matt Lauer to show everyone how honestly not-gay he is.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Cost Of A Veto

If the Congress fails to override the President's S-CHIP veto tomorrow, here are the consequences for the states counting on this expansion-
[S]ome states are preparing contingency measures such as enrollment caps or cutting children from the rolls...

...Should the [veto] override fail, the players will have to go back to the drawing board in search of a lasting compromise while the decade-old program, originally set to expire Sept. 30, continues operating until mid-November under a temporary measure that extends the previous year's funding levels.

But many state program leaders say the short-term fix will not be enough to maintain existing enrollment if gridlock continues...

Children's health care, stem cell research... boy the President sure knows how to pick those vetoes, eh? Today might be a good time to contact your local House representative and see how they're voting, especially if he/she is a Republican or a conservative Democrat.

[PS- The right-wing blogger child-attacking antics on this are so nuts, they even scared off the GOP leadership. It's okay, though, they have lots of new children/families to take on.]

World War IV

Putting foreign policy concerns aside for a moment, let's take a look at the all-encompassing threats from terrorists and caliphate-mongers we face in our own backyard-
Six years of investigations and prosecutions have turned up little evidence of Islamic jihadists at work in the United States, according to a study released Monday...

...In a statement issued Monday afternoon, the Justice Department said the report "reflects a serious misunderstanding" of anti-terrorism efforts and includes "wildly inaccurate" statistics....

...The study found [that] "The vast majority of cases turn out to include no link to terrorism once they go to court,"... The analysis "suggests the presence of few, if any, prevalent terrorist threats currently within the U.S."

The report questioned the usefulness of the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act, passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks, finding prosecutors relied primarily on previous laws...

So who are you going to believe... the Justice Department, or your lying eyes?

Colbert/Colbert '08!

A great American threw his hat into the ring last night. He is America (and so can you!)-

[AP: 'Colbert announces presidential pursuit']

Quote of the Day

"There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice."
--12 former Army captains, in a Washington Post op-ed this week.

Layman's terms... shit or get off the pot. Sounds like what Jon Stewart told Tony Snow too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spy Lies

The warrantless wiretapping scandal-- which lest we forget was, when it was first revealed, being seriously considered by both sides as potential grounds for impeachment-- now exists mostly as background noise amid all the numerous other scandals this administration has created for itself. Honestly, who can prioritize exactly what we need to be angry at today?

But new revelations thankfully keep this important story near the surface.

The President has insisted all along that he had the right to violate existing U.S. law authorize this program because of 9/11. He didn't want to expand executive power or marginalize the other branches (or invade Iraq), he swears... the terrorists made him!!

Amidst talks of immunizing the telecom companies from prosecution for their roles in handing over data sans warrants, this bombshell was quietly dropped in the WaPo-
A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

Before 9/11? But that does not compute!! [/Bush cultist]

Something Congress won't should keep in mind as they debate the various wiretapping bills.

Abortion, Birth-Control: A Reality Check

I know I'm most likely preaching to choir on this blog, but here are some numbers that social/cultural conservatives should mull over-
Two studies published on Friday show abortions are declining worldwide due to wider use of birth control practices and that the rate of pregnancy-related deaths is not shrinking quickly enough to meet global targets.

This should be obvious-- greater access to birth control decreases unwanted pregnancies, and thus abortions-- but to some it remains heresy. These folks don't want to educate, they just want to (selectively) moralize.

More from the study-
The number of abortions fell most in developed countries where it is legal compared to poorer countries where it is largely banned and considered unsafe, researchers said.

Again, food for thought. Again, duh.

That's Cool, But We're Now Scapegoating Iran Anyway

From the Washington Post, good words and caution-
The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group, which the Bush administration has long described as the most lethal U.S. adversary in Iraq.

But as the White House and its military commanders plan the next phase of the war, other officials have cautioned against taking what they see as a premature step that could create strategic and political difficulties for the United States. Such a declaration could fuel criticism that the Iraq conflict has become a civil war in which U.S. combat forces should not be involved...

Civil war? That would just be crazy talk! Well, it's been treated as such for almost two years now. It's not a civil war... it's, umm, sectarian strife! See? Big difference!

And while I am all for getting whatever positive news we can from Iraq, could this 'crippling' of AQ-in-Iraq (with seemingly no actual strategy employed toward them, with the surge instead focused on kicking down insurgents' doors) be another sign that threat was overblown and overhyped by DC politicians looking to distract from the larger picture? I don't wanna say 'yes', but... yes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Turkey and Genocide: To Condemn Or Not To Condemn?

I briefly mentioned this on Friday, but it deserves its own post. At issue is a U.S. House resolution backed by Speaker Pelosi and others branding the WWI-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks officially as genocide. The Turkish government is taking offense to this, and it is having ripple effects on U.S.-Turkey relations.

In particular, it has consequences for this already-tense situation-
Turkey's government agreed on Monday, as expected, to seek parliamentary permission to send troops into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels there, but said it still hoped this would not be necessary.

"Our wish is that we will not have to use this motion... but the most painful reality of our country, our region, is the reality of terror," government spokesman Cemil Cicek told a news conference after a cabinet meeting.

The United States has urged Turkey, its NATO ally, to refrain from sending troops into mainly Kurdish northern Iraq, fearing this could destabilise the only relatively peaceful area of Iraq and potentially the wider region...

(And let's ignore for now the hypocrisy of American hawks warning Turkey against this, while simultaneously campaigning for the possibility of chasing Iranian agents across their border.)

My initial feeling is that the House would do best to bow to reality and drop this for the time being. Condemning this genocide (and yes, it was genocide) would have no real-world benefits for the Armenian people. On the other hand, they do deserve the acknowledgment of what happened to their people. So should the timing be taken into consideration? And are the demands of the Turkish government reasonable, or diplomatic blackmail?

To me, this is lose-lose. Either you lose on principle, or you lose in international relations.

The Reality-Based Community's Michael O'Hare advocates for pragmatism on this. Philip Giraldion Huffington Post does the same. Mark Kleiman, also from the Reality-Based Community, dissents and makes the case for what the House is doing.

Odds and Ends

I wish it was Sunday, my I-don't-have-to-run day. Anyway, here's the news...

Believe it or not, Iranians who seek change in their country don't appreciate the heavy-handed, unhelpful tactics of Americans. From WaPo: "More than two dozen Iranian American and human rights groups have launched an appeal to Congress to reduce or eliminate new financial support of up to $75 million aimed at promoting democracy inside Iran." But why? We've had such success!

Many Republicans are either quitting or becoming Democrats. Will Dems screw this up?

Mitt Romney tries to out-crazy Guiliani in new ad, warns of Islamic caliphate coming to 'collapse' America if we don't... what? Who knows, but those sure were lots of scary words!

Hillary visits 'The View, Edwards gets union endorsement, and Obama goes door-to-door.

Republicans who tried to force Larry Craig out are now stuck with their worst nightmare... Larry Craig. They "privately acknowledge that an earlier strategy to drive Craig from office has backfired, sticking them with an open-ended ethics investigation likely to keep the issue before the public for months." Tip for the Senator... just make like a priest and tell everyone you were just pretending to be gay.

Oh, and also be glad you're not this guy. More family values!

Finally, Paul Krugman looks at conservatives suffering from Gore Derangement Syndrome.

Ohh Condi, You Are Precious!

Secretary Rice is currently pushing hard on new efforts to work toward a Palestinian state. But last week, before heading into Mideast matters, she decided to take a humor break elsewhere to lighten the mood-
The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has amassed so much central authority that the power-grab may undermine Moscow's commitment to democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

"In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development," Rice told reporters after meeting with human-rights activists.

"I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma," said Rice, referring to the Russian parliament.

Hahahahahahaha! Oh Condi, you are hilarious. I see what you're saying there. {*wink*}

Seriously though, beyond our own domestic concerns, this is exactly why the Bush/Cheney imperial presidency is so dangerous. Just as our torture and war policies have destroyed our moral standing in the world, so has the administration's broader views on power (in which they are accountable to no one, and everything is politicized) destroyed our ability to lead other nations on democratic values. For the Cheneys of Washington DC, getting back at the 1970s trumped all other concerns.

There are legitimate concerns about what is happening in Russia. But who there reacted to Ms. Rice's words with anything but laughter?

Fair (Tax Cuts Rule!) and Balanced (Deregulation Too!) Journalism

Slow blogging start today. But first, Fox News has launched their new business channel today, forcing me to memorize revised cable channel numbers! Brave New Films looks at past Fox shows to guess what's coming-

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Don't Mess Around With God's America

This past week marked the fifth anniversary of when Congress authorized President Bush to take military action in Iraq, kicking off years of death and stupidity. This Mr. Show sketch is a good summary of the attitude in the nation at the time. Sure, it's from 1998, but it works-

[BONUS! Onegoodmove posted video of Janeane Garofalo debating the 'Fox & Friends' panel a month before the war. Hey, guess who turned out in hindsight to have the facts right?]

Democrats Asleep At The Wheel

Blogger 'Digby' highlights a letter sent by the Chief Deputy Republican Whip of the House of Representatives to supporters (regarding the Limbaugh nonsense). It begins with this-
"One failure after another, Washington Democrats have built a record of legislative failure; one disappointment after another, Washington Democrats have failed to deliver results to the people who got them there."

Gee sir, I wonder why it is that the Democrats can't seem to get their agenda through, despite its large popular support? I have no clue! {*smashes head into wall*}

Fuck the GOP for playing these games. But fuck the Democrats more for not calling them on it every day, as loudly as possible, until every American understands what's been happening in that ol' Congress of ours. Republicans love to fight. So give 'em one.