Saturday, April 05, 2008

Health Insurance Mandates... Fun For the Whole Family!

In their debate in LA at the end of January, Sen. Obama said of Sen. Clinton's plan to mandate purchasing health insurance (their respective plans are fairly similar, except for this one major sticking point), "There's still going to be people who can't afford it [after subsidies]. And if they cannot afford it, then the question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to fine them? Are you going to garnish their wages? Those are questions that Sen. Clinton has not answered with respect to her plan."

I bring this up because, in addition to other reports on how cash-strapped the Clinton camp is in general, there was this story last weekend-
Among the debts reported this month by Hillary Clinton’s struggling presidential campaign, the $292,000 in unpaid health insurance premiums for her campaign staff stands out...

...The campaign provides health insurance to all its employees, their spouses, partners and children — and that wasn’t interrupted by any lag in payments to insurance providers, said Jay Carson, a Clinton campaign spokesman.

He said the campaign this month paid off all outstanding bills...

I post this not because it's extraordinary, but because it is ordinary. Health premiums are expensive and sometimes hardworking people/presidential candidates get a little behind. But under Clinton's proposed plan, how would this have been handled when the problem first arose? Would they have garnished $292,000 out of her presidential coffers, regardless of whether or not she could afford it? Would she have been fined, or otherwise penalized? As Obama noted in January, these are questions that Sen. Clinton still has not answered.

And then there's also this potential dilemma the Christian Science Monitor ponders-
Are health insurance mandates constitutional? They are certainly unprecedented. The federal government does not ordinarily require Americans to purchase particular goods or services from private parties.

The closest we come is when government imposes a condition on the grant of discretionary benefit or permit. For instance, in most states, you must have auto insurance to drive a car, or you are required to install fire sprinklers when building a new house. But in such cases, the "mandate" is discretionary – you don't have to drive a car or build a house. Nor do you have a constitutional right to do so.

But Americans do have a constitutional right to live in the United States. Accordingly, neither federal nor state governments can require you to purchase health insurance as a "condition" for residency.

I appreciate this because it distinguishes between health care and health insurance. These proposals really focus on the latter, rather than the former, which has been the real problem.

All that is being proposed here is universal health insurance, and not even that really, because everyone would still have something different (different policies, costs, and standards). It's the same broken system that we have now, except we'd all have no choice but to be a part of it. Her proposal would not change the reality of a having a profit-based healthcare system. And-- unless I have misheard her (please do correct me if I am wrong)-- this is her endgame. She has no larger plans to repair this system, she simply believes that it will run smoother if we all are a part of it. This is either naive or corrupt. Obama, by contrast, at least has a more consistent long-term plan in regards to health care.

A traditional, single-payer system would be better for everyone financially, be more efficient, and would not run into any constitutional battles. And while we are likely still a long ways away from that possibility, that doesn't mean the medicine Clinton offers is the cure for now.

More Odds and Ends

Just some more miscellaneous news of interest that have popped up since yesterday...

The Clintons have finally released their tax return info... late on a Friday afternoon, knowing that next week the media attention will be taken up by Gen. Petraeus' testimony. Ohh, those wacky Clintons.

Speaking of the Petraeus testimony, ahead of it there are some calls-- by U.S. lawmakers, etc-- for the administration to release the contents of the latest Iraq NIE, so that they can have a point of view other than the falsely rosy view we can expect from Petraeus.

Moreover, this announcement is likely intended as a political ploy to get the administration positive press ahead of the testimony, but I suppose is still good news regardless: "The Bush administration plans to announce next week that U.S. soldiers' combat tours will be reduced from 15 months to 12 months in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning later this summer."

Back to campaign news, the idea of a Michigan primary do-over is now officially dead. Howard Dean insists he will find a way to get the delegates seated at the convention. Sen. Obama says let's just split the delegates 50-50.

Finally, in China, what's a few dead protestors between friends?

Friday, April 04, 2008

AG Mukasey's FISA Fairy Tales

Earlier this week, the release of the declassified Yoo torture memos was met with crickets in most circles, putting a punctuation mark in Bush's final year in office on how casually he has politicized the Justice Department and the war on terror.

This began right after (heck, before) 9/11 with Attorney General Ashcroft. Then we got Alberto Gonzales and he turned out to be even worse and more shameless. Then he fell on his sword for his President, and we got Michael Mukasey, and all was supposedly well. One recent event in particular shows Mukasey to be no different than his two predecessors. It is in regards to the ongoing battle over the President's warrantless wiretapping program.

Speaking last week to make the case for expanding the President's surveillance authority and for telecom immunity, AG Mukasey teared up and said the following-
Officials "shouldn't need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that's the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that's the call that we didn't know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went."

At that point in his answer, Mr. Mukasey grimaced, swallowed hard, and seemed to tear up as he reflected on the weaknesses in America's anti-terrorism strategy prior to the 2001 attacks. "We got three thousand. . . . We've got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn't come home to show for that," he said, struggling to maintain his composure.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, there are several lies packed in these two paragraphs. The first being that FISA never prevented the type of international surveillance he refers to here. And even if it had-- which it didn't-- surveillance could've begun immediately, as long as a warrant was filed for retroactively within 72 hours (hardly a difficult task). To argue that the very flexible FISA was a constraint that needed to be removed is to argue-- as Yoo did in the memos mentioned above-- that the President can invalidate any law he doesn't like on a whim.

But the bigger lie may be that the example he uses in that speech (the safe house in Afghanistan)... is a complete fabrication. The Attorney General, lie? I know, I am shocked too. How could they know about a call that they failed to intercept? How come this is not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report? Etc.

Greenwald received a response from Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission Executive Director (and former Counselor to Condi Rice), indicating that he has no idea what the Attorney General is talking about. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers never heard of this either, and has demanded answers.

There was a call intercepted just prior to 9/11, but not the one Mukasey mentions. It was intercepted on September 10, warning of the next day's attacks, but it wasn't acted on because they simply didn't have anyone to translate it. And in regards to connecting the dots, the pre-9/11 problem wasn't a failure to collect the dots, but to connect them. Doing so is a question of intelligence; not sure how warrants and court oversight impede that.

Back to the tale that Mukasey is telling, Greenwald today received a response from the Principal Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the DoJ, which-- read the full article at that link-- raises more doubts than it eases them.

The administration's defense of their wiretapping program has-- from the very beginning-- been riddled by deceit, shifting rationales and reasonings, and fearmongering. That the Attorney General of the United States would seemingly lie in his promotion of this agenda, while using the memories of those killed that morning like cheap emotional blackmail, is no longer a shocking revelation. I am hopeful that Rep. Conyers is serious about following up on this because this should be treated as shocking.

The GOP will continue to abuse this issue all year. Democrats, in turn, should expose them as the liars they are.

Remembering Dr. King...

...With some videos. The BBC looks back on his legacy. And flashback to Robert Kennedy's speech at a campaign rally in Indianapolis, in which he broke the tragic news to supporters.

Weekend Odds and Ends

It's the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. Something to think about. Here's news-

The administration intends to appease the immigration hardliners at all costs... "The Bush administration will use its authority to bypass more than 30 laws and regulations... [and] cut through bureaucratic red tape and sidestep environmental laws that currently impede the Homeland Security Department from building 267 miles of fencing in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, according to officials familiar with the plan." Hey, gotta get that fence up asap. The rule of law is sacrosanct, you know.

But on a related issue, states are fighting back! "Officials of 18 states are taking the EPA back to court to try to force it to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that rebuked the Bush administration for inaction on global warming."

Meanwhile, members of Congress shake their fists at oil company executives.

Elsewhere in congressional news, the Senate has agreed on a bill to deal with the housing crisis. It "contains $4 billion in grants to local governments to buy and refurbish foreclosed homes, new authority for states to issue bonds to be used to refinance subprime mortgages and a $7,000 tax credit for people buying new homes or properties in foreclosure." Yay?

And with food and fuel costs rising, worldwide hunger is becoming a growing epidemic.

In other news, President Bush remains hopeful that NATO will do as he wishes. He got "strong support Thursday for a missile defense system in Europe" and asked for more suckers to help him save Afghanistan. And NATO makes a decision on new alliance members.

In Zimbabwe, they are still working out the fallout from their recent elections.

Finally, reform in Cuba? The new Castro regime "loosened controls on consumer goods and invited private farmers to plant tobacco, coffee and other crops on unused state land." Among the goods they are now allowed to purchase are "DVD players, motorbikes and pressure cookers." Yes, democracy is on the march now!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Checking In With The Democrats

There's still about two weeks left before the Pennsylvania primary, and so the silliness that erupts in such a vacuum continues. For instance, Sen. Clinton decides to officially delve into self-parody with her latest ad... a re-do of the 3am ad, this time on the economy-

The concerns of Pennsylvania voters likely explain the change to the economy, though the Bosnia flap may also explain her decision to focus away from national security for the time being. Kudos, though, for attacking McCain rather than Obama this time.

(UPDATE: And since Hillary set up the football for him, McCain released his own 3am ad)

Meanwhile, senior Hillary adviser Harold Ickes spoke with TPM, and confirms that the Clinton camp is pushing the Rev. Wright story to superdelegates, as a way of getting them to turn away from Sen. Obama. Scary scary black scary! Still, he insists that they are running a "genteel" campaign. Harold, tell that to Bill Clinton, whose superdelegate strategy appears to involve screaming and pointing.

And as the tensions of this genteel campaign continue to grow, Howard Dean continues to insist that he will make sure that the race is settled before the convention. "The only thing that's going to keep us from winning is disunity in the Democratic Party. We've got to bring this to an orderly close at the right time," he said. Better get ready to make good on this promise, Howie.

Over on the Obama side, he made some headlines by answering a question on whether Al Gore would have a place in his administration. "I will make a commitment that Al Gore will be at the table and play a central part in us figuring out how we solve this [climate] problem," adding that "He's somebody I talk to on a regular basis."

And someone forget to tell Obama that NY already has its primary, because he's been here more often than our own junior Senator lately. His latest trip was for a private LGBT fundraiser in Manhattan. The article notes that "Obama said he did not think it was 'politically feasible' to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country at this point.... but said that he favored civil unions for now while leaving open the possibility that his position might evolve in the future." Points for honesty, at least.

Finally, Obama joined Chris Matthews for the first College Tour special 'Hardball' episode.

In Summation

Talking Points Memo sums up the shifting, umm, talking points on Iraq this past week-
Within less than a week the Basra offensive has gone from "a defining moment" in Iraqi's history, in the President's words, to an operation conceived by Maliki that the U.S. didn't plan, had little warning of, and couldn't control.

The surge is working!!! :D

Chicken Little Says The Social Security Sky is Falling

Sen. McCain's new BFF Joe Lieberman insists that Maverick McGee doesn't support the privatization of Social Security, which might be reassuring... if it wasn't a total and complete lie. Trust your country with these folks, America!

This coincides with the latest round of conservatives cherry-picking the numbers to declare the end of Social Security is nigh. The Daily Kos' Devilstower looks at the new report himself and notes that "There's little change from last year's numbers, with the fund staying solvent through 2041, and a change in employee payroll deduction of less than 1% required to make the system solvent for at least 75 years." Less than 1%?!? Good lord, that's just too much! Kill it! Kill it!

As usual, it's Paul Krugman who has the best smackdown of the conservative freakout-
Social Security is a government program supported by a dedicated tax, like highway maintenance. Now you can say that assigning a particular tax to a particular program is merely a fiction, but in fact such assignments have both legal and political force. If Ronald Reagan had said, back in the 1980s, “Let’s increase a regressive tax that falls mainly on the working class, while cutting taxes that fall mainly on much richer people,” he would have faced a political firestorm. But because the increase in the regressive payroll tax was recommended by the Greenspan Commission to support Social Security, it was politically in a different box - you might even call it a lockbox - from Reagan’s tax cuts.

The purpose of that tax increase was to maintain the dedicated tax system into the future, by having Social Security’s assigned tax take in more money than the system paid out while the baby boomers were still working, then use the trust fund built up by those surpluses to pay future bills. Viewed in its own terms, that strategy was highly successful.

The date at which the trust fund will run out, according to Social Security Administration projections, has receded steadily into the future: 10 years ago it was 2029, now it’s 2042. As Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong, and others have pointed out, the SSA estimates are very conservative, and quite moderate projections of economic growth push the exhaustion date into the indefinite future.

But the privatizers won’t take yes for an answer when it comes to the sustainability of Social Security. Their answer to the pretty good numbers is to say that the trust fund is meaningless, because it’s invested in U.S. government bonds. They aren’t really saying that government bonds are worthless; their point is that the whole notion of a separate budget for Social Security is a fiction.


The Social Security system won’t be in trouble: it will, in fact, still have a growing trust fund, because of the interest that the trust earns on its accumulated surplus. The only way Social Security gets in trouble is if Congress votes not to honor U.S. government bonds held by Social Security. That’s not going to happen. So legally, mechanically, 2018 has no meaning.

Now it’s true that rising benefit costs will be a drag on the federal budget. So will rising Medicare costs. So will the ongoing drain from tax cuts. So will whatever wars we get into. I can’t find a story under which Social Security payments, as opposed to other things, become a crucial budgetary problem in 2018.

What we really have is a looming crisis in the General Fund. Social Security, with its own dedicated tax, has been run responsibly; the rest of the government has not. So why are we talking about a Social Security crisis?

Because a lot of rich people and ideologues at conservative think tanks have been pissed for decades that the marketplace can't get a piece of this fancy 'social safety net' racket. My heart weeps and weeps for them.

In all seriousness, even if there's a Social Security 'problem', there's a hundred other bigger ones waiting in line ahead of it. And privatization isn't the answer for any of them.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Nothing To See Here, Move Along, Move Along...

More than likely, you didn't see this story get played on the news today (omg, Barack Obama can't bowl, lolz!), but it's important because it cuts to the heart of the monarchical, unconstitutional mentality that has guided the Bush administration's governing philosophy.

The story is the declassification of an infamous 2003 memorandum, written by John Yoo, at that time working in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo-- more than anyone other than Alberto Gonzales and David Addington-- was the legal architect of Bush's post-9/11 reign. From torture to indefinite detentions to warrantless wiretapping, Yoo helped craft the legal documents to make true Richard Nixon's infamous 1977 assertion that "when the president does it that means that it is not illegal."

(This is the same John Yoo who railed against the "imperial presidency" of Bill Clinton)

The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum posts the highlights (lowlights?) of this memo, which he notes basically "says that criminal law doesn't prohibit torture because it doesn't apply to the military. Treaties don't prohibit torture because they only apply to uniformed enemy soldiers. Ditto for the War Crimes Act. And federal statutes prohibiting torture don't prohibit torture because they don't apply to conduct on military bases." One section-
Any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of enemy combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President.... Congress can no more interfere with the President's conduct of the interrogation of enemy combatants than it can dictate strategic or tactical decisions on the battlefield.

So Congress has no authority in matters of war whatsoever, despite what Article I, Section 8 says. And boy, don't get them started on those 'court' thingies!!! But we knew this already.

Any presidential decision to order interrogations methods that are inconsistent with [the Convention Against Torture] would amount to a suspension or termination of those treaty provisions.

So the President has the power to invalidate treaties with his mere thoughts. Fantastic!

If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.

In short, there is no limit to the President's power... he can arrest, torture, or kill whomever he desires, as long as he provide a national security justification for that activity. But don't ask to him to prove that justification, that's top secret! Shhhh!

To give you an idea of how inhuman-- beyond the constitutional issues-- these people are, consider Yoo's answer in a 2005 interview whether even "crushing the testicles of the person’s child" would be permissible under these guidelines. Is there any treaty which could stop him? "No treaty," Yoo replied nonchalantly.

And what is this monster doing today? Hiding in shame? Being dragged before Congress to answer for any of this? Nope. He's currently a Berkeley Law Professor, infecting the young lawyers of tomorrow with his thoughts on our pesky constitution. But hey, we locked up that rotten apple Lyndie England, so this is all taken care of. Case closed.

I wonder how these conservatives' feelings on presidential power will change when Barack Obama is sitting in the Oval Office.

Sen. Obama's Cooper Union Speech

I had actually mentioned this speech in passing after it was given last week, but with the issue of economic reform being in the news this week, it deserves a formal posting. This is the speech Sen. Obama gave at Cooper Union in NYC last week on the economy.

Economic Reform! Fox To Placed In Charge Of Regulating Henhouse!

This was the big economic news earlier this week-
Under an ambitious Bush administration plan, the Federal Reserve would take on the unwieldy role of uber cop in charge of financial market stability. Other regulatory agencies could see their influence diminished.

The proposal won't fix the host of economic and financial problems that threatens to plunge the United States into a deep recession, but it might help guard against future troubles. It would take years and a lot of political wrangling -- in Congress, on Wall Street, in statehouses and elsewhere -- to implement all the changes envisioned...

...Rather than checking on the health of a particular organization, the Fed's focus would be on whether a firm's or industry's practices pose a danger to overall financial stability...

...At the same time, the Fed would lose daily supervision of big banks, something the Fed probably would fight to keep intact, Gramley said. Taking away that supervision is a problem because the Fed is also the lender of last resort for commercial banks, he said.

In the biggest expansion of its credit authority since the 1930s, the Fed in mid-March temporarily granted that emergency lending privilege to big investment houses. It came after the crash of the once-mighty Bear Stearns, the nation's fifth-largest investment firm, stoked fears others could be in jeopardy.

Day-to-day banking supervision would be consolidated into one agency, compared with the current five. The Office of Thrift Supervision, which oversees savings and loans, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which oversees the trading of gas, oil and other commodities, would be eliminated, with their functions merged into other agencies...

Hey, remember when the Dept. of Homeland Security was formed (conservatives, take comfort, Democrats acknowledge this was a major 'our bad!' on our part, seriously bad idea), dismantling separate agencies like FEMA and immigration and others and just lumping them all together? Hey, how'd that work out? Heckuva job, Paulson!

The most succinct smackdown of this proposal comes from the NY Times' Paul Krugman-
Anyone who has worked in a large organization — or, for that matter, reads the comic strip “Dilbert” — is familiar with the “org chart” strategy. To hide their lack of any actual ideas about what to do, managers sometimes make a big show of rearranging the boxes and lines that say who reports to whom.

You now understand the principle behind the Bush administration’s new proposal for financial reform, which will be formally announced today: it’s all about creating the appearance of responding to the current crisis, without actually doing anything substantive...

...The Bush administration, however, has spent the last seven years trying to do away with government oversight of the financial industry. In fact, the new plan was originally conceived of as “promoting a competitive financial services sector leading the world and supporting continued economic innovation.” That’s banker-speak for getting rid of regulations that annoy big financial operators.

He continues-
To reverse course now, and seek expanded regulation, the administration would have to back down on its free-market ideology — and it would also have to face up to the fact that it was wrong. And this administration never, ever, admits that it made a mistake...

...And sure enough, according to the executive summary of the new administration plan, regulation will be limited to institutions that receive explicit federal guarantees — that is, institutions that are already regulated, and have not been the source of today’s problems. As for the rest, it blithely declares that “market discipline is the most effective tool to limit systemic risk.”

The administration, then, has learned nothing from the current crisis. Yet it needs, as a political matter, to pretend to be doing something.

So the Treasury has, with great fanfare, announced — you know what’s coming — its support for a rearrangement of the boxes on the org chart. OCC, OTS, and CFTC are out; PFRA and CBRA are in. Whatever.

And concludes-
So, will the administration’s plan succeed? I’m not asking whether it will succeed in preventing future financial crises — that’s not its purpose. The question, instead, is whether it will succeed in confusing the issue sufficiently to stand in the way of real reform.

And that's the whole point. 'Reform?! Why, we already fixed everything!', they'll say with a wink and a nod. They know this debate is coming, and they wanted it on their terms. That's fine, but I hold out hopes that most Democrats won't go along for the ride.

Hey, What's Al Gore Up To?

Pundits may be fantasizing about Al Gore sneaking in at the Democratic convention and making peace between the two candidates (or running himself in their dreams), but he's made it clear he's not interested in any of that. So what is he up to these days? Well, this-
Former Vice President Al Gore launched a three-year, multimillion-dollar advocacy campaign Monday calling for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Alliance for Climate Protection's campaign, dubbed "we," will combine advertising, online organizing and partnerships with grass-roots groups to educate the public about global warming and urge solutions from elected officials...

You can watch their first advertisment- here.

I definitely feel like this a remarkable effort, and more power to them for it. But I just fear that Fox News-ification of American political debate continues to ensure that we will never, ever solve this crisis. Because the minority on this issue is very good at attempting to blur the lines, and ensure that we'll be "debating" it forever, rather than working together to find common purpose and solutions.

Prove me wrong, Earth. Prove me wrong!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Good News!

Yes, actual good news... Walmart has agreed to drop their lawsuit against the Shank family.

Taking The Commander-in-Chief Test

A month or so ago, Sen. Clinton mentioned that she had passed the Commander-in-Chief test along with John McCain. Sen. Obama, apparently, hadn't. So what is this test exactly? Keith Olbermann got a hold of it, and asks you to take it at home, and see if you have what it takes to be Commander-in-Chief of America.

Eye of the Tiger

Sen. Clinton made an amusingly odd comparison today. Speaking in Philadelphia, she said that ending her campaign now would be as if "Rocky Balboa had gotten halfway up those art museum steps and said, 'Well, I guess that's about far enough.'" She also added, "Let me tell you something, when it comes to finishing a fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up. And neither do the American people."

Oddly enough, the first thing that came to my mind was the toy company Jakks made an action figure of "the meat" that Rocky punches in the film. Just because. The second thing I thought of was this excerpt from Stephen Colbert's monologue at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner-
"I mean, it's like the movie 'Rocky.' All right. The president in this case is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed is -- everything else in the world. It's the tenth round. He's bloodied. His corner man, Mick, who in this case I guess would be the vice president, he's yelling, 'Cut me, Dick, cut me!,' and every time he falls everyone says, 'Stay down! Stay down!' Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky, he gets back up, and in the end he -- actually, he loses in the first movie.

OK. Doesn't matter. The point is it is the heart-warming story of a man who was repeatedly punched in the face."

Yea, I really don't know why I thought of that at all.

[PS- I have also just been informed by the liberal media that Sen. Obama doesn't know how to bowl, and is therefore disqualified from the race. Damn.]

What's Going On In Iraq? (Pt. II)

I gave my take on the latest goings-on in Iraq last week... in short a political battle between Prime Minister al-Maliki and the nationalist Shiite cleric al-Sadr, being fought on the streets of Basra and elsewhere in a bloody battle. Here's how things stand after the weekend. From the NY Times-
The Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr on Sunday called for his followers to stop fighting in Basra and in turn demanded concessions from Iraq’s government, after six days in which his Mahdi Army militia has held off an American-supported Iraqi assault on the southern port city...

...The negotiations with Mr. Sadr were seen as a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who had vowed that he would see the Basra campaign through to a military victory and who has been harshly criticized even within his own coalition for the stalled assault.

Last week, Iraq’s defense minister, Abdul Kadir al-Obeidi, conceded that the government’s military efforts in Basra have met with far more resistance than was expected. Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

It sounds like poor al-Maliki really is now the George W. Bush of Iraq.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. In the statement, Mr. Sadr told militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.”

But Mr. Sadr also demanded concessions, including that the government grant a general amnesty for his followers, release all imprisoned members of the Sadrist movement who have not been convicted of crimes and bring back “the displaced people who have fled their homes as a result of military operations.”

It was not clear if the government was willing to meet those demands.

Some early reports yesterday indicated that there is still some sporadic fighting in Basra, though that may be a few dead-enders not having gotten the memo of the ceasefire agreement. They don't exactly have Blackberrys down there in beautiful, liberated Iraq.

And this aspect of the story is the real salt in the wound for President Bush-
Iranian officials helped broker a cease-fire agreement Sunday between Iraq's government and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to Iraqi lawmakers...

...Iran has close ties with both al-Sadr's movement and al-Maliki, who spent several years in exile there. Al-Nujaifi said the agreement was brokered by the commander of Iran's al-Quds Brigade, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington.

Awesome. So we did we win (again) yet?

Congestion Pricing

This may not interest my rural/suburban readers, but the New York City Council has approved the mayor's congestion pricing proposal, which now needs final approval by the state legislature. This would "charge drivers with an E-ZPass $8 a day to enter Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Those drivers would also receive a credit for bridge or tunnel tolls they paid on the same day. Drivers without an E-ZPass would pay $9 and would not receive credit for tolls" and it would also "qualify [the city] for $354 million in federal grants for mass transit improvements." It's all part of the city's PLANYC 2030 proposal, and has been pretty controversial.

I personally believe the costs outweigh the negatives, but I don't own a car, so maybe my opinion doesn't count.

[UPDATE: A comment on that article that raises a fair point: "You know, this system works great in London, but THEY HAVE A SAFETY NET LIKE HEALTH CARE FOR THEIR CITIZENS!!" Fair enough, NYC isn't London. But do any of the critics have a better proposal? If so, now's the time to speak up, and speak loudly.]

Monday, March 31, 2008

Clinton's Self-Defeating Campaign?

Every week, there's a new take on what Clinton's road to the nomination is. Is it superdelegates? Something else? The answer this week seems to focus on Michigan and Florida (again). Yes, the states that 5 months ago even Sen. Clinton agreed were "not going to count for anything" seem her rationale for keeping this fight going all the way to the convention (meaning, of course, Democrats couldn't start a general election campaign until Labor Day).

Clinton now insists that, if a solution for those states isn't reached, she will take it to the convention's credentials committee to demand that the delegates be fully seated. A cynic might think that this is just an excuse to drag this out until August while she a) strongarms superdelegates, and b) prays for the Obama implosion that has yet to come. But you know me, totally not a cynic.

Furthermore, considering that even with Michigan and Florida counted, Obama would still be in the lead, it seems that sowing uncertainty has to be her goal.

I noted earlier this month that Howard Dean had been going above and beyond trying to find solutions to the Michigan and Florida dilemma, many of which the Obama camp was receptive to. It was the Clinton camp that kept turning down plans (ie. the proposed Michigan caucus) that didn't suit their needs. Moreover, the Clinton camp's activities of late-- having her donors blackmail both the DNC and the DCCC, her praise of McCain, etc-- is what is largely responsible for why Dean and others have thrown their hands up in the air, and said "fuck it". The party leadership had been going out of its way to help the Clintons resolve all of this, and they received nothing but headaches in return.

Is it any wonder why Howard Dean is now just letting the process play itself out?

Yes, things have certainly not gone Sen. Clinton's way so far in this primary race. But that is not Obama's fault. Or the media's. Or the Democratic party leadership. The culprit is staring the Clintons right in the mirror... and rather than dial things back to make their case more appealing to party elders, they continue to dig in deeper and make nervous Democrats stare at the calendar and wonder when this debacle will be put out of its misery.

Odds and Ends

A lot of big news today, but first a few odds and ends...

Remember the 2001 anthrax attacks? Most people don't (hey, we couldn't blame it on Saddam, so fuck it), but the Daily Kos has a good post on the status of this forgotten case.

Another new week, another Bush scandal: "HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, his tenure tarnished by allegations of political favoritism and a criminal investigation, announced his resignation Monday amid the wreckage of the national housing crisis. He leaves behind a trail of unanswered questions about whether he tilted the Department of Housing and Urban Development toward Republican contractors and cronies." Some background- here.

With the economy in trouble, food stamps are making a comeback!

In Zimbabwe, the results of the election are coming in slowly, with voter fraud accusations.

Meanwhile, at home, Joe Lieberman makes it official... he's endorsing his BFF, John McCain. This will come as sad news to the voters of Connecticut whom he lied to in 2006 in his desperate bid to get reelected.

Finally... Bush: The Movie? Oliver Stone is at it again.

Should She Stay or Should She Go

Late start to blogging today (Mondays = hectic/lazy)... so before I get into it, another video. The big debate on the Democratic side right now is whether Sen. Clinton should drop out and face the music, or keep on fighting until June July August. My feelings on the matter are clear, and I'll have another post on this later, but here is how the folks on Bill Maher's show this past weekend weighed in on this.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weekend Video Theatre: Ohh, Big Box Mart!

I wasn't sure what video to post for today-- if you need a Bill Maher fix, this guy has the whole show on YouTube-- but then I started thinking about the story of Debbie Shank and her battle with Walmart that I posted about the other day. And after I got mad again (like Keith Olbermann-level mad), I remembered a funny video that the Jib Jab guys did in 2005.

Their later video on the news is much better, but this remains a close second-

Note: This, at least to me, isn't simply a knock on Walmart specifically (I admit it, I went there once), but rather a knock on modern American business practices to a large degree, and our consumerist culture to a smaller degree. As embodied so perfectly by... Walmart.