Saturday, October 27, 2007

More Odds and Ends

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White House press secretary Dana Perino looks on the bright side of climate change. Go girl!

Hey, speaking of crappy conservative governance and anti-journalism tactics, our ol' friends at Bush's FEMA held a press conference on their handling of the SoCal fires. Turns out they pulled a Jeff Gannon and had FEMA staffers pose as journalists to ask softball questions. The White House, of course, was shocked, shocked at this! has a great compilation of the best gay-themed 'Daily Show' segments.

A disturbing finding: "A poll released yesterday by the Associated Press made it official: Americans are more likely to believe in ghosts (34 percent) than to believe that President Bush is doing a good job with the war in Iraq (29 percent)." Both of those numbers are way too high.

The fine minds at the Washington Post editorial board assure us that the administration is not preparing for war with a certain Middle Eastern nation beginning with "I". They assured readers the same thing in 2002, as well. I can't remember, did that turn out well?

The Nation's Chris Hayes has a great piece on the role that email forwards play in the right-wing noise machine. I found one site that archives some of them.

Finally, I found a YouTube member with lots of rare 'Schoolhouse Rock' videos. Enjoy!

Compassionate Conservatism

Mark Noonan-- among the cultiest of Bush cultists-- posts a personal appeal on his Blogs For Bush site on behalf of a friend. This friend "got hit with some extra high medical expenses," Noonan laments, and he asks his readers to send donations to his friend to help pay his bills.

My initial thought upon reading this was the irony coming from this man who believes that, on the matter of health care and other economic issues, people need to take personal responsibility for their choices and actions... and that in your moment of need, you shouldn't expect the larger society to come to your rescue.

Turns out I was not alone. Some sample, snarky comments Noonan received-
#1- "Sounds like a handout to me, Mark. Tell, me is your friend a homeowner? If so, he can afford to pay his own medical bills without any help. Where do you think you are, Havana??"

#2- "[T]he government is not picking my pocket [for health-care] any more than they are when the government takes my money to educate other children, to save others from floods, etc, etc... I wonder how you sleep at night Mark. I will donate money to your friend because it is the right thing to do. you would think though this would give you thought as you deny poor children health care."

#3- "I'm sure more than a few of us will remember this hypocrisies. Maybe you won't be so quick to judge the next time you rally against some perceived evil of shared sacrifice, be it in the form of taxes or other obligations one has a member of society."

#4- "I assume your friend didn't choose to run up big medical bills. No one does. Socialize medicine already. It's way past time. Under a universal umbrella, risk is spread out over the maximum number of covered individuals, lowering expenses to their absolute minimum, and cutting out profit as ransom for suffering means we are all cared for when 'there, DESPITE the grace of God, go I.'"

#5- "So, what is it, Mark? Do you have the best health care system in the world; where each and every citizen gets the attention he needs without the worry of financial ruin, or do you have a system that truly sucks? A system where the almighty dollar is the bottom line... How many Americans are in the same situation that [your friend] finds himself today? How many Americans have to rely on the goodness of others to help bail them out?"

Mr. Noonan responded, and not just by ranting about the heartlessness (!) of the 'leftists' leaving these comments. First up, he insisted that government-run programs are...
"government picking my pocket to provide for people"

...And then, in regard to those questioning whether to give, that-
"Search your heart and decide what to do... keeping in mind that what you do for the least of these, you do for the Lord."

How he reconciles these two statements is difficult for this atheist to see.

Ultimately, the answer to that seems to come back to his belief that he doesn't want his money to go to government-funded health services, and that we take care of ourselves. Apparently for conservatives, Christian charity begins, and ends, at home. As for all the other people with similar health-care/financial troubles... well let's hope that they have blogger friends to solicit $$$ for them.

If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, maybe a liberal is a conservative who's realized that there are other people in the world outside their personal inner circle.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What, Me Worry?

KCRW's 'To The Point' had a good show this week on the increasingly dry conditions in many areas of the country, what's causing this, and how disputes over resources may make people rethink how we choose to live. An interesting debate, even if many of the participants were sort of on the same page to begin with.

If all these trends are signs of a larger problem, it's a good thing we have leaders who are taking this crisis seriously, and are actively looking for solutions. Oh, wait. The Republican war on science continues-
The White House significantly edited testimony prepared for a Senate hearing on the impact of climate change on health, deleting key portions citing diseases that could flourish in a warmer climate, documents obtained by The Associated Press showed Wednesday.

Is this just ideological fervor, or are these people cartoonishly evil? Your mileage may vary.

There are many, many reasons why we are a long time from seriously dealing with climate change (people's general unwillingness to sacrifice anything, for starters, and business interests pushing back). But the fact that one side of the political divide in this country refuses to acknowlege basic reality is no small obstacle.

What happened to the grownups being in charge? Are there any left?

[PS- I've been reading lots of debate (okay, reactionary sarcasm) on the issue of whether climate change is to blame for the SoCal wildfires. Science Daily makes a good case for that position. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson, however, says sometimes a fire is just a fire. Obviously, the latter is true, though the former doesn't help.]

Weekend Odds and Ends

Only 5 days 'til the Great Pumpkin arrives. Is your pumpkin patch sincere enough?

Last week, Sen. Dodd announced plans to filibuster the current wiretapping bill, because of its retroactive immunity for the telecom companies involved in the months after (and before?) 9/11. Backup arrived in the form of statements from not only Sen. Biden, but also from Sens. Obama and Clinton too, who indicated filibuster support. Perhaps they realized that cowering before an unpopular, failed President is not a winning campaign position.

Glenn Greenwald is (understandably) skeptical about all this for now.

U.S. to Turkey: We know our war is awesome, but please stop trying to crash this party.

The State Department concedes that maybe we need this 'oversight' business for Blackwater operations. Potentially being subject to laws is not something they're taking well, though.

Do Republicans know the definition of 'torture'? Ol' Bushie and Rudy Guiliani proudly do not.

Is Stephen Colbert serious about his presidential bid? If so, federal election law dissents.

Finally, a Florida state investigation concludes that "University of Florida police were justified in using a Taser against a student who refused to stop questioning Sen. John Kerry on campus last month." Don't tase me, bro!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's The Economy, Stupid??

Here's blogger Matthew Yglesias looking at the economy-related reasons for the GOP's recent bad fortunes, while reviewing a review (how meta!) of Paul Krugman's book-
"[W]hat makes America weird isn't that we have a conservative political party (they have 'em everywhere) or that the conservative political party succeeds at winning elections (happens in England, Canada, France, Italy, etc. all the time) but that the conservative political party is so unreconciled to the modern welfare state. That's what's weird. It isn't true of major political parties outside the United States, and for a while it wasn't true of the United States either.

In other words, we could have a politics where the parties disagreed about a lot of stuff -- abortion, gay rights, tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic growth, foreign policy, crime control, paternalistic public health measures, etc. -- while operating from within a broad consensus about the need for a robust public sector commitment to universal social insurance programs and basic public services...

...[T]he initial analysis [about modern GOP electoral strategy] that this wouldn't be adequate over the long-run was, of course, correct -- the white Christian share of the electorate is shrinking -- and the post-9/11 boom in nationalist sentiment wasn't bound to last forever. And it turns out that traditionalism alone isn't good enough to make non-whites want to vote Republican. To succeed over the long run, they'll probably need to moderate their economic agenda."

^What he said.

Not getting into specific policy disagreements and limitations, it seems the core difference recently has been (on the war, on climate change, etc) who accepts basic reality. On economic issues, Republicans say 'Everything is great, the system works fine. Just keeping working hard and you'll get there.' Democrats say 'We understand your concerns, and we are proposing some solutions.' Given a simple choice between those two attitudes, it's understandable why so many would gravitate toward the latter.

I've just started reading the book. Focused on the domestic side of things, but very good.

"I Don't Mind If We Bomb Next Month."

This exchange between Chris Matthews and Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute (and MIT's Jim Walsh, though he's less important here) really sums up the simple-minded war-lust of American hawks. Here's my translated summary-
J. Muravchik: 'We have to bomb Iran NOW or the whole world is DOOMED!!!11!!!'

C. Matthews: '{*reasonably detailed discussion of issue/dissection of Muravchik's logic*}

J. Muravchik: 'Okay, maybe I'll wait a year to blow them up.'

This is the video of the segment. The media coverage of this issue is still often quite silly, but compared to the 'debate' prior to the invasion of Iraq, we are almost discussing this volatile issue like adults.

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria is not as optimistic on that front as I am. He has a really good article on Iran, and how hawkish conservatives are using deceitful rhetoric to paint a doomsday scenario. In looking not only at the real history of our relationship with Iran, but also at the history of the real threats we have faced in the past, he puts all this craziness in context better than most politicians seem capable of.

"The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality," he notes. Agreed.

President Bush To Hit Up The ATM Congress Again

Mr. Fiscal Conservative prepares to throw more of your money down the war well-
President Bush will ask Congress for another $46 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and finance other national security needs, The Associated Press has learned.

The figure, which Bush was expected to announce later Monday at the White House, brings to $196.4 billion the total requested by the administration for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for the budget year that started Oct. 1. It includes $189.3 billion for the Defense Department, $6.9 billion for the State Department and $200 million for other agencies...

...To date, Congress has already provided more than $455 billion for the Iraq war, with stepped-up military operations running about $12 billion a month. The war has claimed the lives of more than 3,830 members of the U.S. military and more than 73,000 Iraqi civilians...

And how is Congress reacting? Well let's see-
Top House lawmakers have already announced that they do not plan to act on Bush's request until next year, though they anticipate providing interim funds when completing a separate defense funding bill this fall.

Translation: 'Yes, we will give the President his money. Just not all at once.'

But it's not all about Iraq. Some pennies, relatively, will be thrown toward other situations-
The request also includes $724 million for U.N. peacekeeping efforts in the war-torn Darfur region in Sudan, $106 million in fuel oil or comparable assistance to North Korea as a reward for the rogue nation's promises to cease its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Another $350 million would go to fight famine in Africa.

Rest of the world to America: 'Hey thanks for remembering us!' / Iraqis: 'Please don't get comfortable.'

[PS- Congressional Budget Office estimates the final war costs... a measly $2.4 trillion.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Happy Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week!

The right-wing base continues to devolve deeper into self-parody (c'mon guys, you're gonna put Stephen Colbert and The Onion out of jobs!). They have declared this to be.... Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. It's the demagogue-iest time of the year!

Internment camp fangirl Michelle Malkin is all over it. There's even a website with local events! TPM's Josh Marshall gives us a thrilling overview-

(And it turns out many of the participating universities... aren't participating! How sad.)

Balloon Juice's Tim F. says better than I could why this is so ridiculous, and dangerous-
"Reading through a typical rightwing blog or speech by 9/11-humping candidates like Giuliani you get the impression that they have no idea that al Qaeda is a Sunni movement that detests Shiites and secular Arab leaders as much as they detest us, that Zarqawi spent most of AQI’s energy attacking the Shiite community, that Iran and the Sunni Arab world view one another with thinly veiled hostility...

...This is not a trivial point. Our true enemies, in the sense of the people who attacked us unprovoked, represent a small minority of hardened extremists. Their long-term strategy and even their very survival depends on mainstreaming their radical ideas into a broader Arab movement. To the degree that we nurture the modernist and moderate factions of Muslim society and emphasize the differences between them and the cave-dwelling nuts, al Qaeda loses. But to the degree that we lump all of Islam into a mistrusted category that gets strip searched, disappeared, tortured and denounced without discrimination bin Laden’s fringe movement wins big time...

...So yes, an Islamofascism Awareness Week sounds like a fine idea. Maybe one day we should have one."

But, but... dhimmitude! Caliphate! 9/11 9/11 crusadelikezeal!! {*head explodes*}

[PS- John Mcquaid notes ways in which The Onion and 'South Park' are satirizing all this.]

'Sexy' Terror Cases in 2008?

Given the way in which the administration moved Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other high-profile prisoners from CIA 'black sites' to Guantanamo-- partly as a way to sell the Military Commissions Act (aka- the Kangaroo Court and Torture Bill of 2006)-- right before the '06 elections... rumblings like this shouldn't be surprising. But they should be alarming-
Politically motivated officials at the Pentagon have pushed for convictions of high-profile detainees ahead of the 2008 elections, the former lead prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay said last night, adding that the pressure played a part in his decision to resign earlier this month.

Senior defense officials discussed in a September 2006 meeting the "strategic political value" of putting some prominent detainees on trial, said Air Force Col. Morris Davis. He said that he felt pressure to pursue cases that were deemed "sexy" over those that prosecutors believed were the most solid or were ready to go...

..."There was a big concern that the election of 2008 is coming up," Davis said. "People wanted to get the cases going. There was a rush to get high-interest cases into court at the expense of openness."

Hat tip to Mark Kleiman, who notes that "the pressure came from a general, not directly from a civilian political appointee. Turning the career civil service and the uniformed military into partisan weapons is among the worst sins of the current junta."

It was Karl Rove's view that everyone and every agency was political, and that the job of everyone-- be it a military general, a Justice Department staffer, or the Secretary of Agriculture-- was to get Republicans elected. This began blowing up in their face last year, but his blueprint continues in his absence. As we saw in the U.S. Attorney scandal, it only fails when it is spotlighted and scrutinized.

So I am with Mr. Kleiman on this... hearings, please.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California Burns

This isn't politics per se, but I have a lot of friends in Southern California (and actually a trip there planned this weekend... we'll see if that happens), so I've been keeping a worried eye on the out-of-control wildfires there these past days.

If I were a religious person, I'd pray. I'm not, so I guess I'll settle for worrying some more.

Odds and Ends

My gaydar must be off, you took me by surprise, Dumbledore! Anyway, here's the news...

Climate change is creating all sorts of exciting new adventures for people. Here's how the Coast Guard is reacting: "The Coast Guard is planning its first operating base [in the Artic] as a way of dealing with the cruise ships and the tankers that are already beginning to ply Arctic waters... Such a long-hoped-for polar route would cut 5,000 miles or more from a journey that would otherwise entail passage through the Panama Canal or the Suez." Yay! :D

Turkish forces have "massed on the [Iraqi] border and tensions rose over a threatened military incursion," after a cease-fire with Kurdish rebels was rejected. Kevin Drum laments the lacking coverage of the details of all this.

The NY Times had a good editorial on immigration, Eliot Spitzer's controversial proposal, etc.

Andrew Sullivan actually has a decent piece on how the Bush years helped 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' hone their satire skills, though I disagree that the shows have peaked. Hey, speaking of... check out the Daily Show's new video archive site!

Finally, Sen. Obama doesn't hate gay people. So why's he hanging around people who do?

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan...

Like many people who still remember Bush war #1 (preparations for #3 continue to progress nicely), Bob Gates is not satisfied with the status of our mission (?) in Afghanistan-
Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized European members of NATO on Monday for failing to provide the extra troops that their governments promised last year for security duties in Afghanistan...

...Gates has been pushing for more help in Afghanistan from European countries, not only those in the NATO alliance but others with security and other resources that could contribute to stabilizing the country.

No word in the article on whether Mr. Gates also berated the President who abandoned that war to fight a cooler one five years ago. It would seem he simply settled for insulting those who are trying to hold it together.

These are very serious people running things. Don't ever argue otherwise.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I don't know, it might be a little colder -- I'm not sure. But I'm not sure we'd be any better off, right? We'd be in a lot worse shape, I think, with Al Gore. Thank you, Florida. Thank you. You saved us in 2000. That was a big one."
--Rudy Guiliani's thoughts on life today, had the 2000 election gone the other way.

No comment... just no comment. Full GOP debate roundup- here. Video summary- here.

Bill Maher vs. 9/11 Truthers

Living in NYC, I am very familiar with the 9/11 Truth people. There's 9/11 conspiracy graffiti here and there, and they seem to have set up permanent camp in Union Square. I rarely mention them, because what's to say? They've been throughly debunked and mocked. I think back in the '90s, they were ranting about black helicopters.

Based on what I read online, apparently 9/11 was but merely one intricate part in a larger conspiracy involving the Federal Reserve, international bankers (and I think we know what they mean there), various U.N. treaties and laws, illegal immigration, and the most incompetent New World Order ever. Mumbling something about the "CFR" will really help you earn your conspiracy stripes. And then insist that anyone who doesn't share your viewpoint is a zionist tool of this organization and its failed schemes. Oh, and also only Ron Paul can save us by abolishing the government and letting the free market decide our fates. Or something. Don't look for logic.

Yes, Bush/Cheney are evil leaders and used the event to move forward with preset ideological agendas. And they, and the politicians and companies in their favor, continue to milk it for all its worth. But that doesn't mean that there is no such thing as 'terrorism', or that some incredibly-convoluted scheme (involving hundreds of people who all kept quiet) has to be behind what happened that day. You don't have to be an engineering genius to understand the how and why of the World Trade Center's collapse.

Writing in New York magazine last year on the grief culture that America embraced after the event, John Homans had a good take on the psychology behind this worldview: "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... In our current tragicomedy of Daddy-knows-best, it’s a national neurosis, a perpetual childhood. (With its 9/11 truth-conspiracy theories, the [truth movement] has its own infantile daddy complex, except in that version, the daddies are the source of all evil.)... It will take years for the country to again understand its place in the world."

Anyway, they have now set their sights on a new enemy- Bill Maher.

Bill Maher had been harassed by 9/11 Truth-ers to mention the topic on his show. He finally did... and I don't think it was what they expected. First, on the May 12, 2006 show, he dismissed the theories. On a later show, he focused on them in his New Rules segment, insisting that they should be medicated. The Truth-ers decided this man needed spanking.

And for the past couple of weeks, they have infiltrated his studio audience, and started heckling him during the broadcast, insisting he address the 'truth' about what happened that day. Needless to say, Maher's been getting pissed off. This week, the shit really hit the fan-

I post this not just because I find it interesting/amusing, but because I think this is the Truth movement's jumping the shark moment. These people believe that the Bush administration pulled off the greatest scheme since the Nazi party took control of Germany. And yet, they don't camp out in front of the White House or make serious appeals for greater awareness. Instead, they harass people, spam internet sites, and... heckle Bill Maher.

I give assholes like Michelle Malkin crap on a regular basis. But these folks deserve it too.

Headline of the Day

Captain Obvious swoops in with another shocking news item...

AP: ' Living paycheck to paycheck gets harder'

[PS: This story-- about Kid Rock arrested at Waffle House-- came a very close second.]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Clusterfuck to the White House

Jon Stewart looks at the presidential campaign (prior to Mr. Colbert's triumphant arrival)-

[PS- Rolling Stone's blog has an encouraging reminder on supposed 'inevitability'.]

"Are You Too Well-Behaved to Get Us Out of Iraq?"

Anyone who sat through Speaker Pelosi's recent interview on 'The View' (why god why?) probably wanted something with more substance. No offense to Joy Behar, who actually made Tucker Carlson look articulate on last week's Bill Maher show, or her cohosts.

On her website, Arianna Huffington shows them how it is done. While she doesn't manage to get Pelosi out of her comfort zone (it's Huffington, not Keith Olbermann), it's good to get answers from the oddly media-shy Speaker. Welcome, but frustrating, viewing.