Saturday, December 15, 2007

More Practical, Centrist Compromise From Democrats

Whether out of fear of being called bad names by George Bush and the usual pundits, or out of desire just to get everything wrapped up by the Christmas break, our courageous congressional Democrats have again made the practical choice with popular legislation facing threats of vetoes from a hugely unpopular President... and caved. Here is a headline from the past few days that just feels like a big lump of coal in my holiday stocking.

Washington Post: Democrats Bow to Bush's Demands in House Spending Bill
House Democratic leaders yesterday agreed to meet President Bush's bottom-line spending limit on a sprawling, half-trillion-dollar domestic spending bill, dropping their demands for as much as $22 billion in additional spending but vowing to shift funds from the president's priorities to theirs...

...The agreement signaled that congressional Democrats are ready to give in to many of the White House's demands as they try to finish the session before they break for Christmas -- a political victory for the president, who has refused to compromise on the spending measures...

The Democratic defense seems to be that, while they are caving, they are caving on their terms instead of Bush's. They promise that "the final bill will reflect their priorities, if not their preferred funding -- 'the president's number, our priorities,'" Pelosi says. That's a low bar in terms of silver linings.

Oh, and about that energy bill-
The Senate passed a trimmed-back energy bill Thursday that would bring higher-gas mileage cars and SUVs into showrooms in the coming decade and fill their tanks with ethanol.

The measure was approved with strong bipartisan support 86-8 after Democrats abandoned efforts to impose billions of dollars in new taxes on the biggest oil companies, unable by one vote to overcome a Republican filibuster against the new taxes.

The bill now goes to the House where a vote is expected next week. The White House issued a statement saying President Bush will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk, as is expected. Bush had promised a veto if the oil industry taxes were not removed.

To give you an idea of how crazy things are in the Senate these days, the original, non-trimmed version of the bill had 59 votes, an obvious majority. But that's one vote shy of what is needed to pass the cloture vote (filibusters without the actual filibustering) threshold. So what did Sen. Reid do? Postpone the final voting for a day or two while he finagled that one final GOP vote he needed? Nope. He just said 'the hell with it' and stripped down the bill so he can get it passed quickly.

Hey, it's the weekend... people wanna go home! Sorry, environment!

And on another front, the same day as the super-independent new Attorney General worked "to delay congressional inquiries into the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes," and as Senate Republicans blocked the new anti-torture bill, Sen. Reid realized he needed to respond. With a choice between two versions of the FISA bill, he has chosen to move forward the one... that gives the White House what they wanted, including retroactive immunity for telecom companies. You can understand, given the cooperation they're getting from Bush and the Justice Department on all this, why he would do them this favor.

These 'compromises' from the Democrats came, as you'll recall, in the same week as the President compromised and signed the S-CHIP expansion vetoed S-CHIP again, and the House found time to pass (372 to 9) a bill "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith." That's what the Democrats got in return for all this.

I have to imagine that the current congressional leaders understand why their branch collectively has a lower approval rating than the much-hated President. It's because no one expects any better from Bush at this point (and he has a solid quarter of the country who will support him come hell or high water... the latter of which was proven in September '05). We did, however, expect better from Congress, who really appeared by the end of 2006 to learn how to fight back. Instead, they have just allowed the Republicans to run over them due to a lack of political savvy and courage.

I am hopeful for more (and mostly, better) Democrats after 2008 to cut through this mess (when we won't have Bush around threatening vetoes to everything). But that's a year away. Until then, Pelosi and Reid-- mostly the latter-- need to learn how to fight for every vote, or step aside for a colleague who will.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Surge Is Working (© 2007- GOP Inc.)

Andrew Sullivan posts a letter a soldier in Iraq wrote to his father-
"No one ever mentions the fact that we have literally built walls around each neighborhood and along every highway as the reason the violence is down here. The place looks like an Orwell novel gone wrong. The people cannot shoot each other through walls and the insurgents cannot move around to plant their bombs. A society cannot function walled off form each other. We pay every bill, manage every facet of governance. The government at every level is a joke. The ministries are controlled by one faction (Shia). They have almost no experience or education. A bunch of guys walk around in suits and look important while they do nothing.

The local governments (to use the term loosely) are a collection of gangsters and strong men concerned with consolidating power and lining their pockets with cash from kickbacks of U.S. construction projects. The people have no work ethic. (I offered two grubby starving men 20 dollars each to unload some grain bags... they asked for fifty and then refused to work for less. I unloaded it myself) They throw their trash in the street until it piles high enough for the kids to play on it, and get sick. So, in short, I don't see a Capitalistic Democracy sprouting along the Tigris. I see the little boy (The U.S. Army) with his finger in the dike. If we remove our hand, it all goes away."

I can't imagine why people-- Iraqi citizens, Americans-- are so ungrateful toward our brilliant leaders for this.

Every lie uttered, every soldier and Iraqi killed, every billion spent, every year wasted... and this is what we have to show for it. It's stories like this that make me wish I didn't care so much about all of this. We all want to hope for the best, but reality is something else.

There's a reason that the pundits are pretending that the war is over. It's super depressing.

More Odds and Ends

There are only 12 more shopping days until Boxing Day. Here's the news...

Repeat after me... Tax Cuts Don't Boost Revenues

And here's more encouraging economic news: "Small business confidence in the U.S. economy tumbled for the second straight month in November because of worries that economic growth will slow." It's the lowest it's been in over 14 years.

The final Democratic debate of 2007 was yesterday. Sounds like it was fairly routine.

Republicans <3 torture. They also <3 the war.

Al Gore to U.S.: Stop blocking our climate conference, jerks!

Here's a depressing find. A university professor discusses, in reading student papers, how many young people have internalized the 'Iraq-9/11' propaganda. Funny how that happened.

The President has named conservative economic author (?!) James Glassman as the State Department's foreign policy PR man. I've always said the way to win muslim hearts and minds is with a former guest-host for Rush Limbaugh's show.

Halliburton employee in Iraq gang-raped by coworkers? That'll need smoothing over, James.

Finally, Christianity gone wild!!! The Pope adds abortion, birth-control, and gay marriage to the list of obstacles to world peace. Conservative congressmen grab their legislative firearms to do battle in the War On Christmas. And take a trip to the Creation Museum! Fun for the whole (holy?) family!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Iran Warmongering: RIP?

The pro-war bleating from neocons (or just regular conservatives desperate for a new weapon of mass distraction) towards Iran has been a regular in our political dialogue for at least two years now. With the new NIE changing that equation to a degree yet to be determined (Time had a good article on the report and how it came to be), it's time for a trip down memory lane.

Highlight reel of aggressive Iran-related rhetoric-

Matthew Yglesias has a post on this issue that-- like the Andrew Sullivan piece last week I rambled on-- gives the administration more credit than they deserve. He states that the release of the NIE makes it more likely now for the White House to gain international support for sanctions against Iran for any ongoing nuclear activities, because now the insanity has seemingly been removed from our policy.

"The underlying principle is simple enough: the US secures more international cooperation when people see us as acting rationally and responding in a reasonable manner to events around the world," he writes. I don't disagree per se, but a) it's clear many in the administration enjoy(ed) that insanity, and b) it's also clear they have no plan whatsoever to capitalize on any of this. The crazy self-defeatist rhetoric is sure to remain us for now.

Meanwhile, In Afghanistan...

The Secretary of Defense continues to chastise NATO over Afghanistan-
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sharply criticized NATO countries yesterday for not supplying urgently needed trainers, helicopters and infantry for Afghanistan as violence escalates there, vowing not to let the alliance "off the hook."...

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 NATO countries didn't start this war. They're doing us a favor. They deserve thanks for helping to clean up our mess, not a scolding from a man too frustrated by out-of-control events to focus his ire in the correct direction. "Off the hook"? We need them, not the other way around.

Grand Old Pander

The GOP candidates had another debate yesterday in the all-powerful state of Iowa (pity them, though, some genius invited Alan Keyes). It was the kind of pander-fest that really makes you pray for Spring, when all this will be over.

Reason magazine's Matt Welch has this to say on the embarrassment that is the GOP primary-
"This article about Mike Huckabee's blatant flip-flops on Cuba policy and illegal immigration, coming as it does in a season where the immigrant-embracing ex-mayor of New York is rebranding as a deport 'em all toughie while a northeastern RINO Republican Mormon performs daily feats of Moral Majority-pleasing contortionism, begs the question -- didn't Republicans think that flip-flopping was bad last time around?

And has there been a single broad area of pandering this cycle that one would describe as indicating a positive trend for the Republican Party? It would be one thing if every candidate felt compelled to burnish his bonafides on limited government, but it seems the required notes this year are ever-shriller shrieks against immigration and ever-louder hosannas to God. Am I missing something?"

Yes. You forgot the pandering on who will blow up more islamofascists.

By the way, the Google link he posts showing 2004 stories on John Kerry and "flip-flop" are a real fun trip down memory lane. Many of the examples cited represented subtle changes in policy (the most famous 'voted for it, before voting against it' one was a complete misrepresentation... of Kerry's making, admittedly), not core changes of character.

By contrast, the Republican front-runners are all former moderates who are now disavowing nearly everything they ever believed in so they can portray themselves as conservative caricatures for the party loyalists. It's a completely different ball-game; I'm not sure the childish phrase "flip-flop" (hated it then, hate it now) suffices. And it reveals more about the conservative base than does it about the candidates themselves. Any hint of tolerance or progressive thinking will not be tolerated. It's actually quite disturbing.

UPDATE: Just came across this video... a brilliant, Colbert-quality parody-

(The same guy did equally good videos on Mike Huckabee and Clinton's Obama attacks)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Veto #7

S-CHIP again. More of that practical compromise that those darn Democrats should focus on.

AP: Bush vetoes kids health insurance bill

More True Facts

As part of Torture Week, CIA director Michael Hayden is giving behind-doors testimony to the Senate and House intelligence committees on the destroyed tapes. The testimony follows an ABC interview with John Kiriakou, the first CIA officer to debrief Abu Zubaydah, who described the waterboarding of that suspect, defending it as "something that we needed to do." Given the closed nature of the Hayden testimony, expect little followup.

But the Senate also held open hearings yesterday on Guantanamo Bay. Testifying to the Senate Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security subcommittee was Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser at Guantanamo Bay. According to the report, "Hartmann declined an invitation from South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham to say whether waterboarding violated the 1949 Geneva Conventions that prohibit cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners of war." As an illustration of the road where that leads, Hartmann then had no answer as to whether it would violate Geneva if a foreign army waterboarded a captured America. Rendering international laws pointless = fun!

But it was Sen. Durbin who had really eaten his Wheaties that morning-

"My focus is on the trials," Hartmann says. "I want to change that record." Yep, give him another 10 years, and they may even have one.

'This Is Just Between You and Me, Smashed Hat'

It seems that every week there is one big story that overtakes all others. Last week, for obvious reasons, it was all about Iran and the fallout from the NIE. This week, it's the fallout from the revelations that the CIA "destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives." After a couple days delay allowing officials to cover their tracks, the CIA and the Justice Department announced a joint inquiry into this matter. It will no doubt be a thorough and objective review.

"It’ll be interesting to know what the true facts are," President Bush said, insisting that he just learned of the tapes' destruction last week (a statement as believe as his assertions last week on the Iran intel). Gosh, for a big-time War President, he sure seems out of the loop!

The CIA insists that the tapes were destroyed "out of fear [they] would leak and reveal the identities of interrogators." It totally had nothing to do with the fact that the tapes had been requested by investigators, they swear! Oh, also no one at the CIA knows how to blur out someone's face in a video (should've splurged for Final Cut Pro, guys!).

Andrew Sullivan has a good post on the case of Abu Zubaydah, the detainee whose torture was on the destroyed tapes. This man's case is well-known and has been documented as part of several books already. In one, we learned that the President was directly involved in urging the CIA to go farther than they had been in their interrogations. Another book (and one I actually read... Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine) elaborates-
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be....Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics...

...Under that duress [of constant torture], he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to" And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

Remember all those terror warnings circa 2002-2004? Most of them came from stuff like this.

Sullivan concludes, in light all of this, about the tapes' destruction-
"These tapes could have brought all this home to the American public and the world, revealing the president to be an active proponent of torture, even of a mentally ill man who provided nothing of any worth. They were and are critical to proving - in way that could not be denied or buried - that we have a war ciminal in the Oval Office. That is surely the simplest and most obvious reason they were destroyed. And it's the most plausible reason that on a matter in which he was very personally involved, a matter where he risked being exposed as a war criminal, the president "has no recollection" of being informed about the tapes' destruction...

...And it is the Congress's and the Attorney General's vital responsibility to see that justice is served, whomever it applies to."

Ohh Andrew, you moonbat! Why do you hate America so much?

Here's my best guesstimate for how this will play out... there will be lots of hearings, and one or two minor officials may even resign. Democrats will ask for answers, and the White House will stonewall and accuse them of endangering national security. Then, as the presidential campaign really heats up, everyone will lose focus and the investigation(s) will lose steam. Then there will be another horrifying revelation and this process will repeat itself-- as it has again and again-- until next January when this presidency is over.

As Principal Skinner once said, "Prove me wrong, children. Prove me wrong."

[UPDATE: TPM has a thorough timeline of the story of these tapes and who knew what.]

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Recommended Listening

Not a lot of time for blogging today, but I did listen to this and recommend it...

KCRW's 'To The Point': Climate Change: International Challenge and Business Opportunity

Democrats Incompetent On Caving On War Funds

Here is yet another example of how when modern Democrats attempt to 'compromise' with the Bush administration on the war, they come out looking like chumps. A NY Times article on Saturday noted that-
Congressional leaders are assembling a $500 billion package to try to resolve an impasse by providing President Bush with unfettered money for the Iraq war in exchange for new spending on popular domestic programs.

While I am sure those domestic concerns do include some important spending (the article notes "health care, education, home heating programs, border enforcement and other initiatives" as examples), I think that for the leaders-- ie. Majority Leader Hoyer, and others-- this can be roughly translated as 'We need the money for our pet projects, so we are totally willing to cave on the war issue'.

The decision to free some money for the war without a deadline or goal for withdrawal would represent a major concession by Democrats. They had earlier said they would not send Mr. Bush any more war money this year unless he accepted a change in Iraq policy.

But Democratic leaders now say they have concluded that a logjam of 11 appropriations bills cannot be broken without acceding to at least some of the president’s demand for more war money.

You know, I think I'm more offended by all this dancing around than the actual caving.

And how is the White House reacting to this compromise on the part of Democrats? Well-
Congressional Democrats are poised to hand President Bush upward of $50 billion in Iraq funding with no strings attached, and they've already offered to cut $11 billion from their domestic spending bills.

But in an unusual Saturday afternoon statement, the White House said it would veto any omnibus spending bill that exceeds the president's domestic spending request, a clear sign that the administration is unwilling to compromise on appropriations as the Christmas holidays approach. The House is expected to vote Tuesday on a $520 billion bill that wraps all domestic spending into one package, along with billions for Iraq with no troop withdrawal conditions, and the Senate is likely to follow with a vote later in the week.

Still, White House Budget Director Jim Nussle said Saturday it's too much money for domestic programs - and not enough for the war.


In the end, President Bush will get his war money. Democrats will not get the domestic funding they need. You know... the typical compromise that centrists love so much.

Republicans play hardball and win. It's time Democrats give it a try. Voters respect courage.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Odds and Ends

Know what I hate? Mondays. And Garfield. Here's the news...

Al Gore and the U.N. climate panel accepted their Nobel Peace Prizes today, in what must've been a bittersweet victory for Gore almost 7 years after the Supreme Court decision that sealed his (and our) fate. In his speech (transcript), Gore called on the U.S. and China to stop dragging their feet and start leading by example.

Scooter Libby has dropped his appeal case. The White House has no comment.

The Republican candidates participated in a Spanish-language debate this past weekend. Tom Tancredo boycotted, likely fearing some insurgent Mexican would steal his congressional seat in his absence.

More proof that even the more congenial GOP candidates are to be feared. Here's the latest on Huckabee: "Mike Huckabee once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public, opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure and said homosexuality could 'pose a dangerous public health risk.'" You know, compassionate conservatism again.

The Wall Street Journal will belong to Rupert Murdoch in a matter of days. Expect lots more lingerie ads, and more editorials like this, chastising President Bush for ever letting facts get in the way of ideology.

Finally, Oprah <3 Obama, and people are pretty excited about this.

What is Wrong with the Left?

Self-defeatists like this who think conviction is a weakness, and capitulation is compromise.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Flashback Edition

The writers strike doesn't look to be ending anytime soon. So still no more truthiness to get us through the days for a while longer. But I did find this 1996 video of Jon Stewart (man, he got old), talking about-- what else?-- the U.S. bombing Iraq. Enjoy-