Saturday, November 10, 2007

Recommended Reading

Here are some articles I enjoyed reading this past week, and wanted to pass along...

Mother Jones: U.S. Out Now How?-- The Moral Dilemma of Leaving Iraq

Time magazine: Down on The Farm-
U.S. Agricultural Policy is bad for the country's economy, environment, global image and rural towns. But don't expect it to change anytime soon.

The Atlantic: Goodbye to All That-
Is Iraq Vietnam? Who really won in 2000? Which side are you on in the culture wars? These questions have divided the Baby Boomers and distorted our politics. One candidate could transcend them.

Time magazine: The Eco Vote-- A field guide to the would-be Presidents

Friday, November 09, 2007

Quote of the Day

Hey, speaking of the liberal media... A waitress at the heart of the latest non-scandal Clinton scandal had this to say in response to the resulting media frenzy-
"You people are really nuts. There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip."

And money-quote followup from blogger Matthew Yglesias-
"I think most campaign reporters would rather spend an hour being waterboarded than spend it trying to understand the important questions facing the country."

And that is, indeed, the larger problem. OMGZ, Edwards' haircut!

Media Pet Peeve

One little thing that's been bothering me in the 'liberal media' coverage of what's happening in Pakistan (the new foreign policy obsession of the week... sorry Myanmar, sorry Sudan, sorry Turkey/Kurdistan!) is their uncritical reporting of the origins of the emergency rule. Most stories I have seen imply that it's really about defending Pakistan from extremists like President/General Musharraf says... and not about protecting his personal power from constitutional rebuke, as is the reality.

This speaks to a larger media problem of recent years, which is regurgitating official government spin as fact, with any actual fact-checking or journalism buried far under the lede, if present at all.

This is selective, of course. When it comes to Iran, they take the worst-case scenario as fact. Are they developing nuclear weapons? Yes? No? Who cares! They're scary! Too often once the media settles into the established narrative, they're unwilling to do the critical analysis necessary to see the larger picture (Watergate was just a third-rate burglary, ya know).

I am reminded of Meet The Press's Tim Russert explaining to Bill Moyers (skip to 7:10) why he never featured on his show before the war anyone who could debunk the administration's case. He just couldn't be bothered to seek them out. "To this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them," he sighed.

The fact is that Gen. Musharraf is no more doing all of this for the purpose of keeping Pakistan secure than President Bush is seeking amnesty for telecom companies for the purpose of saving America from islamofascism. Do your homework, reporters.

Weekend Odds and Ends

An insane amount of news today and I'm too tired to handle it. Here's a quick roundup...

Despite some token opposition, Michael Mukasey is confirmed as the new Attorney General.

Despite a media-touted lull in violence, polling shows more and more Americans want Congress to be aggressive in ending the war. House leaders responded with a sure-to-fail bill "that would spend $50 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but require that President Bush start bringing troops home." Yea, good luck with that.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, democracy's return grows closer: "Pakistani police placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest Friday." (UPDATE- And now she's free. Thousands of other activists? Notsomuch.)

Bad news for a certain '08 candidate... Bernie Kerik was indicted on corruption charges.

U.S. officials have had to recall yet another kids' toy, this time because it contained "a chemical that, once metabolized, converts into the toxic 'date rape' drug GHB." Sweet! Deregulation is awesome.

Remember last month when the White House watered-down a CDC report on the impact(s) of climate change? The White House is blocking inquiries into that, citing... executive privilege. Climate denial = national security issue?

Finally, the planned border fence... a endless parade of mass stupidity.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Presidential Wisdom

The war in Iraq-- 4.5 years and growing!-- is a very complicated issue. With much of Iraq in chaos and the conflict threatening to extend elsewhere (into Iran from us, into the Kurdish region from Turkey), it's important our leaders take a sober, honest look at where we are. Unfortunately, we have instead a guy who said this at a press conference yesterday-
"I don’t — you know quagmire is an interesting word. If you lived in Iraq and had lived under a tyranny, you’d be saying: God, I love freedom, because that’s what’s happened.

And there are killers and radicals and murderers who kill the innocent to stop the advance of freedom. But freedom’s happening in Iraq. And we’re making progress."

Yes, I'm sure that Iraqis are running around every day saying 'Save me from this nightmare!' 'God, I love freedom!'

Speaking of the eternal progress-making goalposts that keep moving (this is from May)-

The day after his midterm election thumpin', the President was temporarily unsettled enough to acknowledge basic reality. Asked by a British journalist if he was in denial about Iraq, he responded "It's bad in Iraq. Does that help?" No, not really, sir. In the year since then, perhaps assuaged by his victory over Democrats on the issue, the President has retreated back into his bubble. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

Certainly I'm not naive enough to expect ol' Bushie to come out and say "You're right, we need to stop digging in our heels. Let's work out a timetable and start getting out," but is it too much to ask that he respond to questions about Iraq without a childish grin on his face? Nevermind, I know the answer.

Meanwhile, he finally issues a direct statement to President Musharraf-
"You need to take off your uniform. You can't be President and head of the military at the same time."

You tell 'em! The last thing a democracy wants is the military entangled with the political.

And with economic jitters growing, the President has Roosevelt-esque words of comfort-
"The economy is in pretty good shape, and we've got some issues, but the economy is pretty strong, which -- and the other side does want to raise taxes."

How blessed we are to have such a leader. I don't know why more people don't see that.

A Happy (Temporary) Victory

If this bill does pass the Senate, it's almost guaranteed to be vetoed by The Decider, but it's an encouraging victory for right now-
The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Wednesday defied a White House veto threat and voted to protect millions of Americans by outlawing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation...

Democrats vowed to try to mount support, but face stiff opposition from the religious right and others in what's been a 30-year effort to enact such legislation into law.

Still, it's not perfect-
In a letter to House members, a coalition of nearly 400 gay, lesbian and transgender groups wrote that it opposed the legislation because it "leaves some of us behind."

Democrats had initially sought transgender protection. But many backed off when they realized they did not have the votes, and feared transgender coverage could sink the bill.

"I wish we had the votes in this House to ban discrimination of all sorts," Barney Frank said. But they don't. The younger generation-- conservatives and all-- are very progressive on the gay issue. This current ruling generation is the last one for which this will be an issue.

Andrew Sullivan has reluctant libertarian support for this bill, with video of a great speech by Rep. Frank for this. "We do not need their affirmation to love one another," he says, "But some do still need some framework of protection in order to work without fear." Amen.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Humility, Thy Name is Rudy

It's pretty easy to categorize the GOP field already. Mitt Romney is the guy who will say literally anything to get elected. Fred Thompson is the empty suit who's actually been fairly straightforward, but no one cares anymore. Mike Huckabee's the evangelical populist. John McCain is the guy who went crazy in 2004, but not crazy enough for the base. Ron Paul's the one with the crazy supporters. And Rudy Guiliani... well, he's just crazy (also 9/11!).

This video sums up one of Rudy's worst straits- his megalomania.

And speaking of! Rudy scored the endorsement today of Pat Robertson, a man who shared the belief that American tolerance for things like gay rights, abortion rights, secular values (things Rudy used to support) made us to blame for... yep, 9/11! The moral collapse of the GOP comes full-circle at last.

More Odds and Ends

There were elections yesterday (seriously!). A roundup of results- here. Here's more news...

The Democrats scored their first anti-veto victory of the Bush era with a successful override vote that passed the important Water Resources Development Act. Because water is understandably less polarizing than health-care, stem cells, or war.

Speaking of resources, oil hit "a new record above $97 a barrel". Alternative energy, anyone?

Rep. Kucinich took to the floors of Congress yesterday to attempt a vote of impeachment for Vice President Cheney. The move was squashed by worried Democratic leaders.

I debated mentioning this at all, but it's certainly newsworthy how much Ron Paul's devout (and religiously so) supporters have raised for him. That's no endorsement, of course. Like Greg Saunders, I too am tired of how his supporters have co-opted the idea of 'freedom'.

Note to MSNBC: Please don't hire Rosie O'Donnell. You're better than that.

Finally, that great defender of democracy-- George W. Bush-- used some sneaky maneuvers to create a conservative majority on the non-partisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Michael Moore's 'Sicko' is on DVD today (as is 'The Best of the Colbert Report', 'Ratatouille', 'Sesame Street: Vol. 2 - Old School 1974-1979', and 'Martin: The Complete Third Season'... so crack open those penny jars).

Not sure the film helped galvanize the health-care debate in this country as much as 'An Inconvenient Truth' did for the climate change debate, but it helped. Of course, in both cases, we haven't seen any substantive changes in action or policy, but people are talking.

Populist muckraking very rarely changes the system in that way, of course. 'Roger and Me' didn't save the failing U.S. auto industry and its workers, 'Bowling for Columbine' didn't slow down America's love of firearms, and 'Fahrenheit 9/11' didn't do John Kerry any favors. Crackers the Corporate-Crime Fighting Chicken didn't stop America's CEOs from raping our economy. Etc... just being realistic about this!

This issue tends to resonate better with the larger population than some of those, though.

I do believe that while Americans allowed themselves to be scammed by well-connected opponents of reform during attempt #1 in 1994 (oMgZ, teh govment is gonna socialize your doctors!1!!), the problem has gotten much worse for everybody in the 13 years since then. And they know that. Telling people scare stories about wait times for services in other countries and other dead horses like that doesn't exactly work when... people wait for services here, if they can even afford them at all without going into massive debt.

The usual suspects are still at, of course... see the latest rant against 'socialized medicine', this time courtesy of hypocrite Rudy Guiliani, a man who now seems to believe the only job of government is to chase islamofascists to the far corners of the earth.

The big benefit for us is that while you can spin abstract issues like terrorism, you can't spin something that everyone deals with in a very personal way. Let's hope people focus that anger in the right directions. If we can get put the fear of God into the Democrats over this the way the Republican base scared their party off of immigration reform (oMg amnestyz!), we'd been in a good place.

Finally, here's a good clip from the movie summing up my feelings on 'freedom' and 'choice'-

Quote of the Day

At yesterday's White House press briefing, press secretary Dana Perino delivered this answer in response to a question about what Gen. Musharraf is doing in Pakistan-
Q: Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?

MS. PERINO: In our opinion, no.

Dana, you are a-dorable! {*pinches cheeks*}

For the record, none of the journalists in attendance had a follow-up to that.

The Politics of Justice

The inevitable grows more so today... Michael Mukasey will be the next Attorney General.

The critics of Mukasey's critics don't understand why there were so many last-minute efforts to derail his nomination. Isn't this the guy you wanted, they asked? Shouldn't you just be glad that Gonzales is gone and move on?

But the primary crime of Alberto Gonzales was not his stonewalling and obstruction of numerous congressional investigations, as became the scandal toward the end... it was that he was not an independent law enforcement agent. He was a Bush crony, pure and simple. Together, with Karl Rove and other diehard loyalists, he turned the Department of Justice from a independent agency with some general political ideals into a full-blown partisan arm of the RNC. He was also a willing enabler, in a way that retroactively made John Ashcroft (!) seem somewhat honorable, of the neocon worldview of unaccountable executive power in a time of (endless) war.

All critics wanted from the AG nominee for Bush's final year was a sign that would change.

And so we got Michael Mukasey, who appeared to be a decent compromise nominee. His first day of testimony-- in which he declared torture unconstitutional and spoke of the importance of the rule of law in a time of war-- was reassuring. But then day two of testimony came, and it appeared Mukasey had been corrected by his new bosses overnight. Now he refused to even acknowledge what torture was. He declared the President has a Nixonian right to break laws he declares bothersome. He was dismissive and secretive.

And the response of Democrats-- despite principled opposition from the reliable good ones-- was 'Fuck it, let's confirm him anyway'. Best to just do it and move on to being embarrassed by the President over the next issue.

And so Charlie Brown is again flat on his back while Lucy retains her hold on that football.

Certainly, Attorney General Mukasey cannot do any greater damage to the Justice Department than ol' Abu Gonzo did. But he doesn't exactly appear in a rush to undo the status quo his predecessor set up either. And no other nominee from Bush would have been better; let's not kid ourselves there.

But worse than that is the precedent that this sets. All of these horrible things-- that 15 years ago we couldn't even fathom-- are now standard, sanctioned operating practice of the U.S. of A. Even the best President will have a tough time dialing all this back. The abuses of the Cold War era were dialed back after Watergate, of course. And all it took was one bad day for us to chuck those reforms away. Fixing the system again will be that much harder.

Andrew Sullivan has more. There's still at least another year left of this nightmare.

Saving The World, One Concert At A Time

Yesterday, MySpace wanted me to rock for Darfur. Now it's advertising a celebrity expose show. MySpace rules.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Odds and Ends

The writers strike is underway; I found a good FAQ- here. Anyway, here's the news...

Two different takes on violence statistics in Iraq from the Washington Post and Daily Kos.

Meanwhile, more inconvenient truths for the Iran war saber-rattlers: "Despite President Bush's claims that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons that could trigger 'World War III,' experts in and out of government say there's no conclusive evidence that Tehran has an active nuclear-weapons program."

Speaking of the nuclear issue, some good news on the diplomatic front: "North Korea was expected Monday to start an unprecedented disabling of the nuclear programme it has pursued for half a century, under the supervision of a US team of experts."

There are elections this week, so that means it's time for anti-gay fearmongering.

New statistics show that "The number of foreign visitors to the United States has plummeted" in recent years, and people want to know why. Andrew Sullivan believes that the simple process of coming and going for international tourists has become a nightmare. Atrios, meanwhile, blames the failing dollar.

Sen. Clinton laid out a comprehensive climate/energy plan today. Reviews are positive, but to me while there's some good (raise CAFE standards to 55mpg by 2030... but why not sooner?), there's also some bad (too much emphasis on cap-and-trade system, corn ethanol, etc). Still, compared to the virtually non-existent proposals from the other side, it's gold.

Finally, meet PetroChina... now the world's first trillion-dollar company.

What's the Deal with Pakistan?

A friend of mine IM'ed me trying to figure out what is actually happening in Pakistan behind the vague headlines of 'emergency rule'. I found this good, succinct summary from-- where else?-- Wikipedia-
On November 3, 2007 President Musharraf declared an emergency rule across Pakistan and purported to suspend the Constitution, imposing martial law. In Islamabad, troops apparently entered the Supreme Court and were surrounding the judges' homes and opposition leaders were put on house arrest. Troops have been deployed inside state-run TV and radio stations, while independent channels have gone off air. Land and mobile telephone lines are down in Islamabad. The court was to decide whether Musharraf was eligible to run for election last month while remaining army chief.

A new chief justice has been appointed, due to the refusal of the previous chief justice to endorse the emergency order, declaring it unconstitutional.

To quote Atrios, "No one could have predicted that an unelected dictator who took power in a military coup would behave just like that."

The latest updates this morning are that "Police fired tear gas and battered thousands of lawyers protesting .... as Western allies threatened to review [foreign] aid." Fun!

Politically-speaking, the reaction of the right is again revealing (as their reactions to crises in Afghanistan and Myanmar have been). "Is Musharraf a patriot? Tyrant?," Blogs For Bush's Mark Noonan asks in a non-committal manner. The National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez laments this turn of events, but also notes that, as odious as Musharraf may be, the thought of what would follow his fall is even more frightening. More proof that a) their supposed disdain for dictatorial thug leaders in that region is inconsistent and only activated when convenient, and b) the dirty liberals are right that these issues are never black-and-white.

Some in the State Department, meanwhile, are apparently glad to have a distraction from Iraq. Somehow I think the majority of our diplomats in that region aren't finding a silver lining in all this.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: It's The Great Democrat, Charlie Brown!

SNL presents this exclusive footage from the Clintons' Halloween party this past week-

Needless to say, humorless conservative bloggers didn't like the bit. Probably needed more islamofascism jokes. I'm sure they hated Guiliani's endless SNL cameos too.

Waiting On The World To Change?

Courtney Martin in The American Prospect summing up how many of us feel-
"We are not apathetic. What we are, and perhaps this is what Friedman was picking up on, is totally and completely overwhelmed. One of the most critical questions of our time is one of attention. In a 24-7 news climate, it is all but impossible to emotionally engage all of the stories and issues you are taking in, and then act on them in some pragmatic way. So instead, young people become paralyzed ...

...My generation tries to create lives that seem to match our values, but beyond that it's hard to locate a place to put our outrage. We aren't satisfied with point-and-click activism, as Friedman suggests, but we don't see other options. Many of us have protested, but we -- by and large -- felt like we were imitating an earlier generation, playing dress-up in our parents' old hippie clothes... In the 21st century, a bunch of people marching down the street, complimenting one another on their original slogans and pretty protest signs, feels like self-flagellation, not real and true social change.

When Friedman was young and people were taking to the streets, there were a handful of issues to focus on and a few solid sources of news to pay attention to. Now there is a staggering amount of both. If I read the news today with my heart wide open and my mind engaged, I will be crushed. Do I address the injustices in Sudan, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan, the Bronx? Do I call an official, write a letter, respond to a request? None of it promises to be effective, and it certainly won't pacify my outrage."

What she said. This blog is cathartic, but it accomplishes nothing. But at least I am engaged.

The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum also defends the current generation by noting that the fabled era of '60s activism (civil rights, anti-Vietnam, sexual revolution, etc) is the exception in American history, not the rule. He states, "it's not the 80s, 90s, or 00s that are unique here. What's unique was a single period of about ten years from the early 60s to the early 70s... It was sui generis, and pretending otherwise is silly." And also recall that the draft was what fueled the original anti-war protests. Now, things seem less personal.

As Jon Stewart said, Americans are busy. But I don't think it's that they don't care.