Saturday, December 08, 2007

Morning in America

A new lead article in the National Review-- 'The Grim Truth'-- seems a more depressed version of all those 'Okay, we're going to get our asses kicked in this election, but let's try to minimize the impact' articles from last year. It was written by Ramesh Ponnuru (whose name I can't read without remembering his ass-kicking by Jon Stewart last year) and Rich Lowry.

The article's subtitle-- 'Republicans face a calamitous political situation; but they can act to avoid it'-- gets to the crux of what the article hopes to convey to conservatives. However, for me, it contains a few revealing truths about the intellectual dishonesty of Republicans.

Noting how the surge has put the GOP back on offense on the Iraq issue, they write that "If more supporters of the war had been willing to admit that the war was going badly in 2005–6," this could've begun sooner. Yes, if only they hadn't spent the last 4+ years bullshitting the public about the war for pure partisan gain, maybe things wouldn't have gotten as quagmire-y over there. Put your trust in these folks, America!

In the next paragraph, after lamenting the fact that, in the near future, the Supreme Court could have more than 2 out of 9 Justices appointed by a Democrat, they also state that "[Democratic victory] would probably also mean a national health-insurance program that would irrevocably expand government involvement in the economy and American life, and itself make voters less likely to turn toward conservatism in the future." Boy, I wish!

That last line is revealing to me. It doesn't seem to argue (explicitly) that a national health-care system would be bad, though I'm sure they feel it would be. In fact, it notes that it is something that the public would likely be very satisfied with, and that would lead to... and here's the bad part... the public being more likely to have more positive attitudes toward liberal government. And that's really what it's all about, right? It's what the S-CHIP fight was about too. That was a successful program that showed thousands of families (as Medicaid has done for seniors, and low-income families) that dealing with the government for health care $$ rather than the insurance industry is much more reliable and efficient. It threatens the conservative argument that the government that works best is the government that works least, and therefore has to be destroyed.

Right on the merits or not, what mattered was that it is a threat to conservatism.

Finally, they sum up the GOP's problems as resulting from "A mishandled war, coupled with intellectual exhaustion on the domestic front," and add that "It is not just the politicians but conservative voters themselves who are out of touch with the public, stuck in the glory days of the 1980s and not thinking nearly enough about how to make their principles relevant to the concerns of today." I agree completely here. All the more maddening then that the party and base (including the usual writings of Ponnoru and Lowry themselves) have taken previously sane candidates and forced them to the party's extremes to even be considered contenders.

So that advice would be well-followed by conservatives, but it won't be. The 2006 defeat seems only to have made the GOP base nastier and more divisive. That, in turn, has sealed their fate with the general public next year. Maybe a 2008 thumpin' will finally wake the party up and force them into the 21st century. If we're lucky.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The System Is Adequately Functioning

Andrew Sullivan has written a piece on how the release of the new NIE on Iran (as well as a return to saner policies following the Rumsfeld-Gates and Gonzales-Mukasey switches, Condi asserting herself over Cheney, etc) shows that "the system is working" and how "the Founders would for the first time be pleased" this year at how it has pushed back against extremes. I don't disagree per se (the examples cited do prove checks and balances got their groove back), but it says a lot at how low the bar has been set that the events of this past year seem praiseworthy in comparison to what came before.

For instance, all the examples Sullivan uses to innumerate the problems prior to any corrections this year-- "an untrammeled executive branch... contemptuous of critics and empowered by understandable public fear ... half-assed commitment to Afghanistan, the reckless over-reach with Iraq, the embrace of torture as a primary weapon in the war against Islamic terrorism, the loss of critical allies, the collapse of American moral standing, and then apocalyptic rhetoric over Iran"-- are still very much the reality of U.S. policy today. Yes, there's greater discussion and oversight of all of these things now, but in the grand scheme of things, the root policy remains untouched.

Moreover, we have a majority party that has yet to find a way to use its power to do anything but simply nibble around the edges. Even worse, the now-minority party has been bitter in defeat, and has been relentless in its obstruction and its search for a scapegoat.

Case in point: What are Republicans demanding an investigation into this week? Is it the reports that the CIA "destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives", thereby obstructing justice and engaging in criminal destruction of evidence? Right! Wrong!

No, Senate Republicans-- urged on neocon thinktanks and nutcases like John Bolton-- are...
..."planning to call for a congressional commission to investigate the conclusions of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran as well as the specific intelligence that went into it, according to congressional sources.

The move is the first official challenge, but it comes amid growing backlash from conservatives and neoconservatives unhappy about the assessment that Iran halted a clandestine nuclear weapons program four years ago."

If you are trying to recall the congressional commission investigating the Iraqi intel before we rushed off to war (or even one looking into Iran back when we were talking about WWIII), don't waste your time. Instead of being pleased that the latest intelligence allows us to ratchet down international tensions, and renew regional efforts to deal with Iran (and therefore Iraq too), they are livid that they have been robbed of a bogeyman and determined to keep those drums banging.

Now, I don't think that this will go anywhere; it's most likely the last, desperate squawking of a bitter crowd. Despite the White House playing fast and loose with what they knew and when they knew it, they are not contesting the findings of the NIE. The director of national intelligence stands by them; even VP Cheney does. But none of this means that sanity has, in general, returned to our foreign policy (yet).

Nor does it means we've developed an exit strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan. Or stopped using torture as official policy. Or regained our moral standing. Or stopped using fear to cow the public and the press. Etc.

So no celebrating yet. The 'system' still needs a lot of help and repair.

[Related reading: Forget War With Iran (Newsweek)]

More Odds and Ends

This has been a bad week for the neocons. Their anger is hilarious. Here's the news...

The President unveiled his mortage crisis bailout plan, and as usual, it's a huge mess.

Middle-class tax relief and higher fuel-efficiency standards? Republicans will stop that shit.

The military's Stretch Armstrong policy soldiers on just a little longer: "The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday that 15-month combat tours are too long for U.S. soldiers but probably cannot be shortened until next fall as troop levels decline."

The Supreme Court tackled another Guantanamo case on detainee rights this week.

Another blow for fundamentalist sex ed: "In a troubling reversal, the nation's teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years, surprising government health officials and reviving the bitter debate about abstinence-only sex education." But condoms are, like, so evil.

We got a little snow here up north, but in the South... there's still a serious drought/water crisis. And down in the other hemisphere, the rainforests continue to be decimated.

Meanwhile, Australia's new Prime Minister keeps his promise and ratifies the Kyoto Protocol.

Ben Wallace-Wells has written an article for Rolling Stone entitled 'How America Lost the War on Drugs'. It's creating quite a buzz, pardon the pun.

Finally, did Morgan Spurlock find Osama bin Laden? Find out at Sundance!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

John Edwards' Bastardized 'Universal Health Care' Proposal

John Edwards' health care proposal is basically the same as the one Sen. Clinton has adopted... require everyone to carry health insurance and offer federal subsidies to help reduce the cost of coverage. At the time of Clinton's proposal, I asked the obvious question... how do you could actually enforce such a mandate?

Edwards has given his answer and it's a doozy-
Under the Edwards plan, when Americans file their income taxes, they would be required to submit a letter from an insurance provider confirming coverage for themselves and their dependents.

If someone did not submit proof of coverage, the Internal Revenue Service would notify a newly established regional or state-based health-care agency [which] would enroll the individual into the lowest cost health-care plan available in that area....The newly covered individual would not only have access to health benefits but would also be responsible for making monthly payments with the help of a tax credit.

....If a person did not meet his or her monthly financial obligation for a set period of time (perhaps a year, perhaps longer) the Edwards plan would empower the federal government to garnish an individual's wages for purposes of collecting "back premiums with interest and collection costs."

As an LOL Cat would say, "NO WANT!!!". Having to prove private insurance ownership when filing tax returns? Then having the IRS treat objectors (or those who made the decision to opt out) like deadbeats and garnishing their wages? This plan couldn't be any worse if it tried.

Fair warning- This is what you're getting when you vote for John Edwards or Hillary Clinton.

Look, we all know the political system is too corrupt (and the insurance business too bloated and powerful) to create a U.K.-style national health care system overnight, but then just have the courage to admit that. Us dirty liberals won't bite, we swears. These publicly-subsidized private insurance 'compromises' are anything but, and everyone knows it. In fact, I would argue that they are actually worse than the status quo, if done in the way Edwards proposes (if there's a better way of going about it, I am all ears).

We know what 'universal health care' is. This isn't it. As Tim F. at Balloon Juice argues, if you're going to propose a plan that will piss people off (and the Edwards plan will piss everyone off), then just have the guts to go for a single-payer, national system. "We might as well make it a fight worth winning," he says, and I concur.

[UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias also has a good post on this mandate debate.]

Quote of the Day

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."
--Mitt Romney, in his overly-hyped speech placating religious conservatives.

Mitt, for the record, I don't care if you're a Mormon. I do care that you're an asshole.

The Onion Pwns The Media

The Onion News Network takes a look at what matters most to voters-

Here are some stories from the past few days the media is obsessing over, but I just can't seem to get invested in... a convict Mike Huckabee got released in Arkansas comes back to haunt him, Mitt Romney fires some illegal immigrants, and Sen. Clinton attacks Obama over something he wrote in kindergarten.

Only the latter really counts as 'bullshit' (it affects no one), of course, but do any of these matter in the grand scheme of things? I'm too jaded to know.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mission Accomplished

Bob Schieffer on 'Face The Nation' had a good commentary on Iraq war triumphalism.

[UPDATE: Atrios reminds us it's the very serious Iraq Study Group report's anniversary.]

The Iran Bombshell (Pt. II)

Well, a day after the NIE report turned upside down much of what the Bush administration has been saying about Iran for the past year or two, we finally have their official reaction. "Nothing's changed," the President said.

Rather than use this as an opportunity to take the Iranian leadership (the actual leadership, bypassing Ahmadinejad) up on their past diplomatic overtures and step back from the brink (which is no fun), the Bushies are sticking to their guns-
President Bush said Tuesday that the international community should continue to pressure Iran on its nuclear programs, asserting Tehran remains dangerous despite a new intelligence conclusion that it halted its development of a nuclear bomb four years ago.

"I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program," Bush said. "The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

Of course. They could restart the program that you had insinuated, if indirectly, was close to its goal already, risking immediate WWIII. The smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud. But you have lost the benefit of the doubt yet again. I trust facts, not rhetoric.

Note also the shifting rationale, as after the Iraq invasion, when inconvenient truths arise.

Andrew Sullivan sums up the Bush/Cheney approach to reality-
"[Y]ou have here a classic example of Bush's foreign policy thinking: his position is that Iran is a threat and must be countered by all necessary means. This applies whether Iran is cooperating or not cooperating. It applies if Iran is accelerating work toward a nuke or if it has suspended its work. Like other idees fixes, i.e. tax cuts, the data are less important than the assertion of doctrine."

Now watch the President address what he knew, and when he knew it, on Iran-

Okay, so let's sum this whopper up. The Director of National Intelligence told the President in August that they had "some new information", but didn't tell the President what it was (because, ya know, the President's not high enough up on the food chain for that info) and the President didn't care to ask. Bush insists that he-- the leader of the free world-- found out basically the same time as the NY Times and the rest of us. Even Byron York at the National Review seemingly calls bullshit on that.

Andrew Sullivan adds that, in regards to the release of this report at last, "My hunch is that this is the final collapse of the neocon wing of the Bush administration." I hope that is the case... and I truly believe that this report now makes it impossible for them to sell a war with merely one year left. But the neocon elders-- including Norman Podhoretz, who's now advising Giuliani-- aren't going down without a fight.

Still, there's now hope Iran will end up being another North Korea, and not another Iraq.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dems To Do Something On Energy? / Bush To Veto Either Way

Democrats are attempting to finalize, beginning with votes this week, their big 2007 energy bill. As much as I pay attention to the climate issue, I admit I am no expert on energy matters, so I can never tell if these congressional proposals are substantive or just kabuki. So I found two separate AP articles on the bill, to try and get an overview of it. The first-
Congressional Democrats reached a compromise late Friday to boost automobile fuel economy by 40 percent, clearing the way for a House vote probably next week on an energy bill...

The agreement came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reached an accord with Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a longtime protector of the auto industry that dominates his home state, to ease the impact of the new fuel economy requirements...

...Automakers would be required to meet an industrywide average of 35 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks, including SUVs, by 2020, the first increase by Congress in car fuel efficiency in 32 years...

...[Pelosi] said the bill also will include a ramp up in the use of ethanol and other biofuels and a requirement for nonpublic electric utilities to use a minimum amount of renewable energy such as wind and solar to produce their power.

The second version of the article reiterates the same points, but clarifies the compromises-
Dingell had demanded and won an extension of the use of so-called flex-fuel vehicles that run on 85 percent ethanol to offset some of the fuel efficiency increases until 2014 after which the program will be gradually phased out and eliminated in 2020. Automakers also are given greater flexibility in meeting new fuel efficiency for SUVs and pickups, and assurance of no "backsliding" on measures designed to protect U.S. auto industry jobs.

Still, the industry overall must achieve 35 mpg average...

So, does anyone who follows energy minutia better than I do have a take on this bill?

My initial reading was mixed, but then I read this article, in which the President threatens a veto (natch), and I realized there must be some heft to the bill. As with S-CHIP, the President becomes Mr. Veto Man anytime a decent bill threatens the system. What has the President reaching for veto sharpie? Let's see-
The White House said it opposed provisions expected to be included in the bill that would require utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and raise taxes on oil and natural gas companies.

Oh, the horrors! Not renewable energy mandates! Not taxes! Kill it! Kill it!!!

So what do the Republicans want from this bill then? Well-
House Republicans have called the legislation a "non-energy bill" because, they said, it ignores any measures to promote domestic production of oil, natural gas or increased use of coal.

Ahhh, yes. That's looking toward the future all right. [/sarcasm]

An industry analyst said that they expect Pelosi, Reid, et al, to cave, stating that "We expect the House to proceed back to a leaner energy bill" that will escape a White House veto and a possible Senate filibuster threat. Probably a safe bet, but for me is proof that the bill-- as it stands now-- is a pretty serious piece of legislation.

[PS- World-renowned scientist Matt Drudge is at it again (flashback).]

When Democrats Debate!

If you were listening to NPR this afternoon (and who wasn't?), you just heard the latest Democratic debate. Topics discussed included Iran, China and trade policy, immigration, and the economy. I thought it was a substantive debate-- no one pretended to have all the answers, just good proposals to serious problems-- and a welcome reprieve from last week's GOP YouTube/CNN insanity.

[UPDATE: Check out NPR's news blog for fact-checks and thoughts on the debate.]

The Iran Bombshell

The long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has finally been released, after a number of delays from inside the Bush/Cheney bunker. After years of doomsday warnings from the Bush administration and other neocon cheerleaders, the findings of our intelligence community (cleaned up after the Iraq debacle) following detailed research must be quite frightening, no?

No. The NY Times has the details-
A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb.

Bolded added by me, because... well, duh. This is big, BIG news. The article continues-
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran’s ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

“Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might — if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program,” [it] states.

It further notes that, even if Iran were to resume a nuclear weapons program, it'd still be several years before they could build a weapon, and it's "very unlikely" they could produce the necessary materials in that time.

Think Progress has more on the NIE assessment.

No reaction yet from the President, Vice President, or the usual warmongers, but one administration official is trying to spin this news to their advantage. Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, states that this proves they were right about Iran all along (?!), and adds that "It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that [nuclear proliferation] does not happen." Yes, your 2005-2007 rhetoric is definitely responsible for the halting of their program in 2003.

The article does partly credit "international pressure" and "sanctions" for the halt.

2003 was also the year when Iran offered the U.S. a diplomatic agreement (they'd renounce terror ties, allow transparency of nuclear work, etc... we'd renew diplomatic normalcy) which the Vice President had nixed. This new news might be a great opportunity to try and renew those talks.

After all, this is just two weeks after this also-encouraging news-
Iran seems to be honoring a commitment to stem the flow of deadly weapons into Iraq, contributing to a more than 50-percent drop in the number of roadside bombs that kill and maim American troops, a U.S. general said yesterday.

The comments by Maj. Gen. James Simmons marked rare U.S. praise for Iranian cooperation in efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Despite what so many have spent years telling us, war with Iran is not inevitable. Their threat has been exaggerated, using the same script as with Iraq. Now that reality is cemented in the form of this report, that scary rhetoric won't have the same impact. Not that the neocons won't still try, of course. Reality is a mere inconvenience for them.

But for now, another win for diplomacy, and another loss for war.

[UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias joked that neocon warmongers would decry this as a conspiracy to deny them their war. And proving that you can't out-satire our reality now, that's exactly the opinion of the National Review's Cliff May. As Time's Joe Klein notes, this report was gathered from multiple intelligence sources over a long period of time.]

Immigration: A Followup

I posted my immigration post on LJ Democrats. The responses I got were revealing unhinged.

Monday, December 03, 2007

'Murtha Complimented The Troops; Now Give Us Our Money, Dems.'

Right-wingers last week gleefully misrepresented a statement by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) on the surge, as part of their larger plan to use any Democratic acknowledgment of ambiguity in Iraq or gratitude toward hard-working troops as a sign that President Bush was right all along to lie the country into a war of choice that's been circling the drain for nearly 5 years.

Murtha had told reporters after a congressional green-zone PR trip to Iraq that "I think the surge is working" in helping the select areas it was focused on, and went on to explain how, despite that, we cannot continue to throw money and lives away indefinitely on this occupation (a particularly apt point given new confirmation that the powers that be want a permanent U.S. presence). The latter part of his remarks-- the real meat of it-- was not mentioned by cheerful war supporters. His remark was seized upon in the first place because Murtha had been the congressman who helped the Democrats rediscover their spine on Iraq, before they misplaced 'em again this year.

Here, Keith Olbermann and Jon Soltz from VoteVets put all this in its proper context-

As with the post-YouTube debate discussion on the right, the focus is always on the trivial.

Even if you believe the surge worked in accomplishing whatever is defined as 'victory' this month (I don't), what now? It was always the finger in the dam plan. The surge was, and still is, set to expire and end this Spring, and then we're back to the levels we were at in 2006, a time everyone now agrees was a disaster for the U.S. and for Iraq. The real answer is that the powers that be will move on to the next finger in the dam plan, and we'll be told to shut up and support it. And this goes on indefinitely, until someone follows the advice Rep. Murtha gave over two years ago, and removes us from this mess.

Odds and Ends

We had the first snow of the season yesterday! Hooray... winter? Anyway, here's news...

Congress is back in session today. They've, umm, got quite a bit of work to do.

President Bush issued his first signing statement since his thumpin' last year. Added to a military appropriations bill, it "challenged several requirements to provide information to Congress." Take that, legislative branch!

Speaking of ol' Bushie, business lobbyists are working overtime for favors from his administration. They, "nervously anticipating Democratic gains in next year's elections, are racing to secure final approval for a wide range of health, safety, labor and economic rules." Some cited examples are proposals "to roll back rules that let employees take time off for family needs and medical problems" while "electric power companies are pushing the government to relax pollution-control requirements." You know, all good stuff for America.

Now, news from the housing crisis: "Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Monday he is confident there will soon be an agreement to help thousands of homeowners avoid mortgage defaults by temporarily freezing their interest rates." Well, that's nice.

Rudy Giuliani... not only Mr. 9/11, but Mr. Tax Cuts too.

The disgraced Paul Wolfowitz may be back in the administration as "chairman of the International Security Advisory Board, [which] advises Rice on disarmament, nuclear proliferation, WMD issues and other matters." Wow, I feel safer already!

Right-wing boogeyman Hugo Chavez got pwned in the Venezuelan elections, as voters narrowly defeated his constitutional reforms which would've 'let him stand indefinitely for re-election and endorse[d] a huge leap to a socialist state'. "From this moment on, let's be calm," Chavez said, "There is no dictatorship here."

Finally, Time magazine's Michael Kinsley takes on the GOP's stem cell gloating.

"Immigants! I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them."

Anyone who watched last week's GOP debate (specifically the first half-hour) knows that immigration has become a top campaign issue, particularly on the conservative side. But why now? And why so hostile? Those are the questions Joe Klein-- thankfully no longer writing about wiretapping bills-- tries to figure out in his new Time column. He speaks to a few of the candidates to get their take on all this.

Two of the answers he got I think nailed it. Said Sen. Clinton, "During the 1990s, I cannot remember being asked about immigration... Why? Because the economy was working... And average Americans didn't have to go around looking for someone to blame." Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Mike Huckabee reached similar conclusions. "There's a lot of underlying [economic] anxiety," he said. "People are working harder and not getting ahead. There is a disconnect between the insider establishment in the country — and in my party — and the middle class about this. There's a greater divide between the top and bottom than ever before ... That's the stuff out of which revolutions are born."

By George (W. Bush), I think they've got it. It's no random choice that the rallying cry among the hardcore anti-immigration folk is "They took our jobs!" (because, of course, we all remember hordes of armed Mexicans taking the U.S. economy by force).

Rising economic inequality has been caused by years of bad conservative policy... policies which greatly favor those at the top, while offering mere platitudes for those toward the bottom. And it is those at the top who've been outsourcing the jobs, firing workers left and right to maintain record profits, and-- yes-- hiring illegal immigrants who will work cheap and not cause any trouble. But rather than focus on that elephant in the room (pardon the pun), working class conservatives found-- whether on their own or through Lou Dobbs-style prodding-- the perfect scapegoat... Mr. Immigrant.

My kingdom for candidates who can discuss these issues without sounding like an asshole.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Bender vs. Al Gore

'Futurama' was not only awesome, it was also Al Gore's favorite TV show (what a geek!). Gore did two guest voice-appearances on the show as his head in a jar, and featured a clip from the show in 'An Inconvenient Truth'. They returned the favor by producing an ad for said movie.

Now 'Futurama' is back, with a new direct-to-DVD movie. And yes, Gore returns to voice himself again. The plot largely revolves around time travel, in which Bender inadvertently causes... well, a lot of problems. Here's a clip-

Don't feel too sorry for Al, though. He returns later to help blow up some Death Stars.