Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Movies

Time for my annual accounting of movies that I saw during the past year.

Spider Man 3
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
No Reservations
The Bee Movie
Meet the Robinsons.

And the movies that I still want to see from 2007:

The Bourne Ultimatum
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I Am Legend
Live Free of Die Hard
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
American Gangster
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The Golden Compass
3:10 to Yuma
No Country For Old Men
Michael Clayton
Charlie Wilson’s War
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Great Debaters
There Will Be Blood
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Bridge to Terabithia
The Simpsons Movie
No End in Sight

Another monstrous editorial

The Express-News ran another monstrosity of an editorial last week while I was gone. It is titled ”Another year, another monstrosity of a budget” and it is right in line with the editorial they ran in November that prompted me to write this rebuke. They even published my letter to the editor on that subject. But it was apparently all for not as in this latest editorial they once again unfairly chide Democrats for passing an omnibus spending package after “failing to pass 11 of the 12 appropriations that fund government operations.”
Sure, passing an omnibus bill at the last minute is not the best way to run the government, but once again the E-N editors are willfully and dishonestly ignoring the Republican shenanigans (record filibusters and obstructionist tactics) that forced us to this result. Thus the final graph of their editorial in which they piously suggest a “better way” to do things...

There's a better way. Congress is supposed to pass all 12 appropriations in a transparent budget process before the fiscal year begins. Presumably, that was part of the Democratic leadership's pledge to reform the way Congress does business.

....Is nothing more than the worst kind of partisan hackery dressed up as legitimate editorializing. It is utterly shameless and the editors who persist in allowing this to be published over and over again are either clueless twits or partisan shills for the current administration. Take your pick.
Also, you can bet that the crockodile tears that they are shedding over the earmarks in the bill will dry up and disappear in a future editorial when they laud those very same earmarks that will fund numerous significant projects in and around San Antonio, including the BRAC realignment that is bringing hundreds of new jobs to San Antonio.

Voice of Reason persists

I really should not be commenting on the frightfully appalling things going on over at All Things Conservative, but I was pleasantly surprised and heartened to see my old friend Mark Harden standing up for what is good and noble and challenging the forces of darkness and ignorance on the issue of torture.
As Bill Crawford stubbornly continues to insist that “waterboarding is not torture” and “even if it is it’s OK because we only do it to really, really bad people”, Mark has suddenly and uncharacteristically stepped forward to serve as the sole voice of reason at ATC and effectively obliterated Bill’s lame and dopey arguments.

For me, at least, "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity."
You just cannot torture another one of God's children, just as you cannot kill them except in self-defense.


E-N disses Aggies, eviscerates Op-Ed section

I came back from my Christmas vacation to find that the Express-News was hyping a nonstory on its front page meant to embarrass and humiliate the Aggies. How else can you explain this kind of piss-poor news judgment by the editors other than that it was intended to be a shot at Texas A&M?
The fact that an Aggie Yell Leader said something inappropriate at a midnight pep rally should hardly merit an inside story in the sports section, but the E-N chose to put the story on the front page - the above-the-fold, lead story for the day. There is no excuse for this kind of nonsense.
My co-workers tell me there is no question that the E-N is biased in favor of the University of Texas and point to the numerous times when UT ballplayers have been arrested and caught with drugs only to have the story buried inside the sports section if it is published at all. I don’t pay attention to that sort of stuff well enough to know if the charge has any merit, but based on this latest example I now have to wonder.

But the Express-News folks apparently have bigger problems to deal with lately than the wrath of a few die-hard Aggies. Lately they have chosen to eviscerate the Sunday Opinion section. Beginning next week, the Views section of the paper on Sunday will be pared back to just three pages and tacked on to the end of the Metro Section. That means no more Random Notes which I had recently griped about, and no more canned editorial features which I had also griped about recently. And I should also mention belatedly that we no longer have Rebeca Chapa to kick around anymore. As much as I was disappointed with Chapa’s recent editorial contributions, she was one of the only outspoken liberals on the E-N editorial page, not counting the shrill, one-note ranting of Mansour El-Kikhia. While I don’t mind having El-Kikhia express his views once a week in the paper, I do have to object when he becomes the sole voice representing my side of the debate on every issue.
Canning Chapa is just the latest poor decision by the editorial overlords at the E-N, right up there with the decision earlier this year to fire the talented Leo Garza in favor of the insomnia-curing blandness that is John Branch.

But Bruce Davidson assures us in an editorial note that “the commentary department will continue to provide varied opinions from local and national columnists...”
Is that so? One of the only “liberal” syndicated columnists in the E-N is New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, and while it is true that she tends to be politically liberal, she also has it out for Hillary Clinton and spends most of her column inches these days in a concerted effort to bash Hillary at every turn. Meanwhile, the wingnut side of the E-N which was already loaded up with George Will, Cal Thomas, Rich Lowry and Kathleen Parker, has now been beefed up with a new addition - Jonah Goldberg whose latest book is called “Liberal Facism.” It’s as if they decided that having one right-wing neo-con with the initials JG wasn’t enough. Of course, I’m talking about Jonathan Gurwitz, who along with Ken Allard and T.R. Fehrenbach, sets the right-wing tone of the whole editorial section.
Anyway, it looks like I will have plenty more things to grouse about in regards to my local paper during the new year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Hobbit movie

Great news about a new JRR Tolkien movie with Peter Jackson at the helm.
Apparently, New Line Cinemas and Peter Jackson have decided to kiss and make up. I don’t think there was ever any question that this would happen because it would have been terribly stupid on New Line’s part to do anything else.
Now it looks as if Jackson will executive produce, but not direct, the next two, yes two, Tolkien films. The first will be based on The Hobbit, the precursor to Lord of the Rings, and the second will deal with the 60 year period between the time when the Hobbit story ends and the Lord of the Rings story begins.

Here is a web site with all the details.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Creationists strike back Part II

The Express-News had a story the other day about a committee on accreditation at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board giving the "green light" for the Institute for Creation Science to get state certification for an online master's degree program in science education.
That means these nut jobs who believe the world was created in seven days just 5,000 years ago will be able to teach science classes in our public schools.

When I saw this my first though was "How the hell did this happen?"
It seems I wasn't alone.
What happened is that a delegation of so-called experts made a formal site visit to the ICS in Dallas and gave them a glowing report which led to a unanimous vote of affermation from the accreditation committee. Now the issue will go to the full committee in January.
But who were these "experts" that evaluated the ICS? The E-N reports thusly:

The trio consisted of two scholars at Texas A&M University-Commerce, reference librarian David Rankin and educational leadership professor Lee "Rusty" Waller, and Gloria White, managing director of the Dana Research Center for Mathematics and Science Education at the University of Texas at Austin.

A reference librarian and an education leadership professor? Where are the scientists?? Oh, and here is the kicker. The educational leadership prof is also a Baptist minister.
And the third person, Gloria White, is a graduate of Abilene Christian University, a private religious school in West Texas.
It certainly sounds like the deck was stacked in favor of the fundamentalist crowd.

So now what? If they actually allow this group to get accredited here it will make Texas a laughing stock and the accreditations for all the legitimate schools won't be worth crap anymore. It is high time that some heads started to roll up in Austin.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Morally Repugnant, Part II

It seems that my old friend Bill decided to respond to my previous post on this subject.

Ann already posted her reply.

I take this as a positive sign. At first, Bill had indicated to jimmyk that he would not respond at all. But it seems like he just could not resist. I think this might be the first time Bill has given me a link on his site since the little blow-up a while back when he began deleting all of my comments (and Ann’s) and stopped responding to my e-mail.

He is continuing to tout the one CIA officer’s claims as rock solid proof that torture works and ignores the contrary claims and the fact that the CIA officer can’t backup what he says with any specific examples.
Instead, he demands that Democrats “defend their policy of outlawing an interrogation technique that is: 1) reserved for the worst of the worst, and 2) saves lives...”

First off, when we take a “suspect” into captivity, we generally don’t even know for sure that they are guilty of anything, much less that they are the “worst of the worst.”
Secondly, the link that Bill provides for his next assertion that torture saves lives is little more than a rightwing blogger’s rant claiming that Khalid Sheik Muhammed deserved to be waterboarded because he was such a bad guy.

The man earned his waterboarding. He masterminded 9/11 on behalf of Osama bin Laden. He admits he beheaded Daniel Pearl.

As to that confession about Pearl, it came as welcome news to Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh who had already been arrested by Pakistani authorties and charged with Pearl’s murder. Now he is planning to use the Khalid confession in his appeal.

But Bill seems genuinely confused when he also reposts this bit:

ABC News reported: “A senior CIA official said KSM later admitted it was only because of the waterboarding that he talked.”

Bill seems to think this means that Khalid is crediting waterboarding with getting him to confess to a murder he actually did commit.
What that bit is really saying, however, is that Khalid now denies killing Pearl and says he only confessed to it because they were torturing him and he told them what they wanted to hear.

The fact that Bill can’t seem to make this distinction might explain his inability to understand why “liberals oppose waterboarding” (along with most every other decent American liberal or otherwise). He goes on to speculate that “even a liberal” would approve of waterboarding if there was a chance that it would save their family’s lives. But this is a ridiculous fantasy unlikely to ever occur outside a script for an episode of Fox’s “24.” And if we are suddenly going to say waterboarding is OK in that instance, is there ever a point where we would draw the line? Would you approve torturing the suspect’s wife and children if you thought it could “save the lives of your family”? What if someone held a gun to your family and threatened to kill them if you did not go out in the street and kill some random innocent person. Would you do it?
We cannot set policy based on such ridiculous and outrageous rightwing fantasy scenarios.

Bill then goes on to claim that I would be in favor of torturing people if a Democratic president were doing it and the only reason I’m not for it now is because it’s being done by Republicans.

...the real reason the Left opposes waterboarding is because the president is a Republican.  They'll pipe down if a Democrat wins the White House.

You mean like the far right piped down about immigration when a pro-immigration Republican president (Bush) was elected? Nonsense!
And no, it doesn’t change anything whether or not Nancy Pelosi failed to protest about waterboarding prior to 9/11. If the allegation is true, then I am disappointed in her. But regardless, at least she is on the right side now, which is more than can be said about most Republicans.


The FBI is calling “bullshit” to the CIA’s claims that torture works.

Al-Qaeda captive Abu Zubaida, whose interrogation videotapes were destroyed by the CIA, remains the subject of a dispute between FBI and CIA officials over his significance as a terrorism suspect and whether his most important revelations came from traditional interrogations or from torture.

While CIA officials have described him as an important insider whose disclosures under intense pressure saved lives, some FBI agents and analysts say he is largely a loudmouthed and mentally troubled hotelier whose credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and to other "enhanced interrogation" measures.

There is little dispute, according to officials from both agencies, that Abu Zubaida provided some valuable intelligence before CIA interrogators began to rough him up, including information that helped identify Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla. Footnotes in the 9/11 Commission report attribute information about a variety of al-Qaeda personnel and activities to interrogations of Abu Zubaida beginning in April 2002 and lasting through February 2004.

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou -- who participated in Abu Zubaida's capture, was present for the next three days and later saw classified reports of the agency's harsh interrogations -- attracted attention last week when he said that information obtained from Abu Zubaida under measures that Kiriakou now regards as torture "probably saved lives."

Former CIA director George J. Tenet, in his book recounting his tenure at the agency, also said claims that Abu Zubaida's importance was overstated were "baloney." Tenet wrote: "Abu Zubaydah had been at the crossroads of many al-Qaida operations and was in position to -- and did -- share critical information with his interrogators."

But FBI officials, including agents who questioned him after his capture or reviewed documents seized from his home, have concluded that even though he knew some al-Qaeda players, he provided interrogators with increasingly dubious information as the CIA's harsh treatment intensified in late 2002.

In legal papers prepared for a military hearing, Abu Zubaida himself has asserted that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the treatment stop.

So they got all the good information out of him by using legitimate interrogation techniques. But once they started the torture sessions, all they got was whatever he thought they wanted to hear just to make them stop. In other words, crap.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Baseball singled out

How is it that the only professional athletes who have apparently dabbled in steroids or growth hormones over the years are either baseball players or Olympic athletes?
Did the steroid era totally miss all the other sports? No football players or basketball players ever got “juiced”?
Does anyone else find that hard to believe?
And yet, here we are singling out baseball for condemnation and turning a blind eye to every other professional sport.
OK, enough of that whining.
I have a mixed reaction to the Mitchell Report that came out last week. First, I think it was unfair to throw all those names out there when many of them are based on second-hand, hearsay evidence that would never hold up in court. Also, players who were using a controlled substance before it was formally banned by baseball should not have be penalized. That would include players like Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch who were apparently using a human growth hormone to deal with injuries prior to their being banned by the league.
In Knoblauch’s case, it appears that his use of the hormone was part of a desperate attempt to deal with his throwing problem which brought his career to a premature end. Likewise, Pettitte says he was trying to heal faster from an arm injury when he took the drugs, and not trying to pump up and gain an edge on the field.
But what about the players who clearly were juicing up to get that extra little “edge”? I’m torn. I see how the drug would give them an unfair advantage, not just against contemporary players not on the juice, but also compared to stars of the past whose baseball records were broken during that period.
But at the same time, the fact that so many people were apparently juiced also makes players like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire seem better in retrospect. That’s because it shows that simply taking steroids isn’t enough to turn anyone into a homerun champ. You still have to have the talent.
And finally, this whole steroid mess should make Pete Rose come out smelling like a, well, a rose. After all, no one can claim that his all-time record for most hits was due to anything other than his own natural efforts. Even his gambling addiction which got him banned after he was no longer an active player had any impact on his record.
Clearly if any of these steroid-era ballplayers make it into the Hall of Fame, then Pete Rose should be allowed in too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Morally repugnant

After reading the following post and subsequent comments at All Things Conservative the other day, I can only say that it is a good thing and even a testament to my good character that I am no longer welcome in that little community...

Since waterboarding works, any debate over whether to use it is just ridiculous in my mind....

Ahhh, such a very small and closed mind indeed. The evidence they use to demonstrate that “waterboarding works” is an AP article in which a former CIA official confirms that the U.S. has used waterboarding against suspected al-Qaeda operatives:

According to the former agent, waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah got him to talk in less than 35 seconds. The technique, which critics say is torture, probably disrupted "dozens" of planned al-Qaida attacks, said John Kiriakou, a leader of the team that captured Abu Zubaydah, a major al-Qaida figure.

But as Dan Froomkin points out, the former agent could not back up any of his claims:

Kiriakou, whose first interview was with Brian Ross of ABC News, also made the unsubstantiated claim that torture worked. Kiriakou told Ross yesterday that, as a result of waterboarding, suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah coughed up information that "disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
Ross asked Kiriakou to say a bit more about those thwarted attacks: "Were they on US soil? Were they in Pakistan?"
Kiriakou replied: "You know, I was out of it by then. I had moved onto a new job. And I-- I don't recall. To the best of my recollection, no, they weren't on US soil. They were overseas."

Furthermore, his claims about Zubaydah providing useful information is contrary to what investigative reporter Ron Suskind said in his latest book “The One Percent Doctrine,” an excellent book, by the way.

...investigative reporter Ron Suskind has written that Zubaydah was a mentally ill minor functionary, and that most if not all of the information he provided to the CIA was either old news -- or entirely made up.

Nevertheless, as far as the denizens of ATC are now concerned, torture works and they are absolutely giddy about the prospects of doing more of it. In fact, they think it should be an election year issue for Republicans:

Democrats should be forced to defend their opposition to waterboarding in light of the evidence proving that it works, but the liberal media won't be doing that anytime soon. 
On this plus side, this is a great election issue for Republicans and I can't understand why we haven't seen ads on it yet.

As if the thought of GOP adds touting themselves as the Torture Party wasn’t bizarre enough, we then get the following exchange in the comments:

I don't think the issue is whether it works or not, it's pretty clear that it does. The issue is whether it is legal or not or whether it is torture. It's obvious there is a difference of opinion on that and it hasn't been resolved. If we want to be intellectually honest about it I think our position has to be that it is torture but we get valuable information that might save lives so we should do it anyway.

Posted by: David | December 11, 2007 at 11:33 AM

If you want to be intellectually honest about it, we wouldn't use the word "torture" to describe things that 20 years ago might have been used as fraternity initiation ceremonies. Just because our society has become weak and cowardly over time doesn't mean we need to start changing the meaning of words. Otherwise you'll soon have people screaming "torture" every time an inmate is denied his ice-cream sundae desert.

Posted by: Alex | December 11, 2007 at 11:38 AM

If you want to be intellectually honest about it, we wouldn't use the word "torture" to describe things that 20 years ago might have been used as fraternity initiation ceremonies.

I agree, waterboarding is not torture, it's an interrogation technique.

Posted by: Bill Crawford | December 11, 2007 at 11:55 AM

No, it was not a “fraternity initiation ceremony” 20 years ago. But we did prosecute Japanese soldiers after WWII for waterboarding American POWs at that time. I’ll bet if any of those soldiers were still alive they probably would not say that they had gone through a fraternity initiation.

But the final word at ATC is that, torture or not, it is “an interrogation technique” and one that works. Therefore we should use it without question and without hesitation.
Does torture really work?
Digby has a fine example of a torture session from 1628 that “worked.”
Come to think of it, the denizens of ATC would have fit in quite well with the folks in 1628.

But if the only criteria is whether or not an “interrogation technique” works or not, then why not capture members of an al-Qaeda suspect’s family and torture them as well. I’m sure if a suspect isn’t telling us what we want to hear after being tortured themselves, they might think twice when we start torturing their infant children.
Then the ATC folks would have even more things to cheer about and I’m sure it would make a great GOP campaign ad.

Morally repugnant imbeciles.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Gurwitzification of the Express-News

The editorial the other day in the San Antonio Express-News about the new NIE report on Iran is a perfect example of what I call the Gurwitzification of the San Antonio Express-News editorial page.
That is what has happened lately as columnist Jonathan Gurwitz has become the driving force behind most of the paper’s editorial opinions. Gurwitz’ hawkish neo-con views are clearly evident in this editorial that trys to play down the NIE reports conclusions and glosses over the fact that the Bush administration has been trying to cover the report up for the past year while beating the war drums for a military confrontation with Iran.
Gurwitz is by far the sharpest tool in the E-N’s tool pouch and so it isn’t too surprising that he has managed to steer the listless editorial board his way on most issues, foreign policy in particular. I have long said that Gurwitz is the best columnist the E-N has and he would be a good columnist even if the other columnists at the paper weren’t so worthless. But unfortunately Gurwitz stands especially tall above the pack because the others are so pitiful. Most of the so called “columnists” on the page write the kind of non-controversial pablum that would be more at home in the Lifestyles section than on the Opinion page — Maria Anglin, Gloria Padilla and Kathy Clay-Little fit that bill while Rebeca Chapa, who started out more promisingly, is rapidly heading in that same direction.
For a time, I thought that Chapa might actually be the liberal voice that the paper is so severly lacking, but lately it seems as if she has fallen under Gurwitz’ spell just like the rest of the staff. Her last two columns, bashing leftist leader Hugo Chavez and the fundamentalist mullahs in Saudi Arabia, with only the mildest rebuke directed at President Bush, could have easily been penned by Gurwitz himself.
While Gurwitz is a hardline partisan on most issues, he does have a humanitarian streak which I find admirable that comes through on occasions like when he focues on the crisis in Darfur. I’m guessing Darfur will be one of the next topics that Chapa will tackle under Gurwitz’ tutelage.
But back to the Iran editorial, it trys to cast doubt on the latest NIE report by noting that it differs sharply with the one done in 2005. What they fail to acknowledge is that the intelligence agencies haven’t forgotten about their 2005 report, it is just that they have new information now that clarifies things in the 2005 report that they did not fully understand at the time.
I am not privvy to all the classified information obviously, but this is what I have gleaned from the news articles I have read. Back in 2003-04 sometime they obtained a laptop belonging to some Iraqi scientist that had information about a nuclear weapons programs and made some references to it that they did not fully understand. The person was apparently upset about something but they did n’t know why. What they have learned since then is that the person who owned the laptop was upset because the funding for his program had been cut off when the government shut down the weapons program in 2003. So the 2005 report now makes better sense, although the ultimate conclusion they had drawn has been reversed. And they are more certain about that now than they were in 2005.
Knowing this, it is irresponsible for the E-N to ignorantly cast aspersions on the new report. Moreso, it makes little to no sense to continue hounding Iran about a weapons program that they have not been pursuing for the past four years. If we truly have a stick and carrot approach, it would seem that it is long past due to present the carrot, not bash them over the head with another stick.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

McCain after all?

Maybe John McCain will be the Republican nominee after all. First, Fred Thompson’s late-start campaign fell flat. Then Rudy Giuliani’s campaign began to freefall with the recent revelations that he used state resources to supplement his extramarital affairs while serving as mayor of New York City. Then it seemed there was an opening for Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher who has become the darling of the religious right crowd.
But now it looks like Huckabee will get hammered over his role in releasing a convicted rapist who turned around a week later and sexually assaulted and murdered another woman. It is like Willie Horton all over again, except worse because Huckabee was more involved in Wayne Drummond’s release than Mike Dukakis was in the furlough of Horton. Willie Horton was furloughed as a result of a program supported by most law enforcement and prison officials for its effectiveness in reducing recidivism rates. Dukakis had no direct role in Horton’s release other than that he supported the program itself.
Huckabee, however, was directly petitioned by a group of Clinton-hating wingnuts in the 1990s who wanted Wayne Drumond released solely because his victim had been a distant cousin of President Clinton’s. The fact that Huckabee went along with that crowd should disqualify him from ever holding public office again.
So that leaves Mitt Romney, who is having trouble selling his mormonism to the wingnuts, and John McCain. And I still haven’t figured out why McCain got cast aside early on other than that he perhaps wasn’t the fresh new face they were looking for.

It shouldn’t matter anyway it goes, however, because 2008 will be a Democratic year thanks to George Worst.President.Ever Bush.

Sticks and carrots

Despite the conclusion of our intelligence agencies that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, President Bush is still trying to garner international support for sanctions.
But what sense does that make now? Bush even mentioned at one point in his news conference the other day that the “stick and carrot” approach had worked back in ‘03 - the Iranians apparently dropped their weapons program as a result of international pressure. But where is the carrot in Bush’s current policy? Instead, we have the stick and bigger stick approach. Iran does what we wanted - four years ago - and we continue to bash them over the head the entire time. Great diplomacy there, guys!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dead Parrots

Sometimes I feel like we are living in a Monty Python sketch. For the past year, the Bush administration has been pushing for a military confrontation with Iran by claiming that the country is developing nuclear weapons.
Now we find out that Iran halted its nuclear arms bid in 2003 according to a National Intelligence Estimate that came out over a year ago. So the Bush administration has been pushing this line about Iran and nukes all the time knowing that the consensus view of the intelligence community was the complete opposite.
And now when you try and confront the administration or its apologists/defenders they start acting like the pet shop owner in the Monty Python skit, refusing to acknowledge that the parrot is dead.
“Iran’s nuke program is dead.”
“No, it’s not. It’s only resting.”
And so on.
But that is the state of political discourse today. We essentially have a rouge regime in control of our country pushing forward with a foreign policy agenda that is opposed by the vast majority of the citizenry. And the only way they can continue to do this is by repeatedly denying the obvious. They lie. They obfuscate. They play word games (”The President never said it was an ‘imminent threat’.”) And they push ahead as if the will of the American people does not matter.
And if they succeed in doing so and still win the next election with a Bush clone like Giuliani, then perhaps they will have been right.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Evel Knievel

People of a certain age know where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I know where I was when Evel Knievel attempted his rocket-powered jump over Snake River Canyon. I grew up watching Knievel on the Wide World of Sports and his antics inspired a generation of youngsters to race their bicycles over makeshift ramps. I still remember the thrill from the feel of your bike lifting off the ground and being temporarily airborne before coming down with a hard jolt.
Knievel took a lot of hard jolts. I read way back then how he had more than 100 broken bones (the real figure I think is closer to 80).
I had just thought about Knievel the other day before I learned that he had died. I was flipping through a catalog with “vintage” toys and saw an Evel Knievel motorcycle set that was one of the coolest toys of my youth.
Knievel was more than just a stunt man, he was a pop culture icon of the ‘70s.

NIE: Iran ended weapons research in 2003

When I first saw the news about Iran dropping its nuclear weapons research in 2003, I wondered how the Bush administration could still justifying beating the war drums for a military confrontation.
Then I saw this tidbit from Kevin Drum noting that the NIE report has been out for more than a year, meaning the Bush administration knew about it this whole time.
This is appalling on every level, but, unfortunately, not without precedent for this administration.
Now I’m curious how the wingnuts will react, but I figure they will simply ignore it like it didn’t happen and go on with their warmongering as usual.

A pro/con sham

On Sunday, the San Antonio Express-News ran a canned editorial feature on its Views section front about clean air legislation under a pro/con format. They didn’t post it online, but it is essentially the same as what ran in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch a week earlier.

Here is the thing that always galls me about this - They get a reknowned scientist who is an expert in this field to write an op-ed piece, in this case it is Michael E. Kraft, the Herbert Fisk Johnson Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Then they turn around and for the con view do they get another academic whose studies have pointed to an opposite conclusion? No. They get some right-wing hack from a “conservative think tank” to review the article and then pen a rebuttal.
That always seems to be the pattern. For the “liberal” side you have a dispassionate academic and/or scientist applying their research to real world situations, and for the “conservative” side they go to an ideological warrior, funded by the oil industry, with no real expertise in anything but churning out propaganda and disinformation.
While I am glad to have the intelligent person who actually has a clue on my side, this is still not a fair fight in that they are pitting apples against oranges. The academic is not being paid to push a specific agenda like the "think tanker" and thus doesn't always come across as having the slam-dunk answer to everything. So people who don't know any better at best walk away thinking the two sides are equally correct when there is really no comparison.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rudy’s sordid past

Considering all the dirt and scandal that has come out recently concerning Rudy Giuliani, how is it that he can still be considered a viable presidential candidate?
Do Republicans get passes on these kinds of things today? If Rudy was a Democrat he would be dead in the water right now. Sheesh!

Creationists strike back

Here we go again...

The state's director of science curriculum said she resigned this month under pressure from officials who felt she gave the appearance of criticizing the instruction of intelligent design.

The Texas Education Agency put Chris Comer on 30 days paid administrative leave in late October, resulting in what she described as a forced resignation.

The move came shortly after Comer forwarded an e-mail announcing a presentation being given by the author of Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse. In the book, author Barbara Forrest says creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Comer sent the e-mail to several individuals and a few online communities.....

TEA officials declined to comment Wednesday on the personnel matter, but they explained their recommendation to fire Comer in documents obtained by the Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act.

"Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral," the officials said.

Neutral!?! Who says they have to remain neutral? Are they also remaining neutral on the question of whether the earth is round or flat? How about whether dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time? Are they neutral on that too?

I really thought we got all of this resolved in Kansas a few years ago.

Cognitive dissonance

I don’t get it either.
Fred Clark at Slacktivist has a good question about the disconnect necessary to be a rightwinger these days.

Right wing bloggers, talk radio hosts and Fox News readers spent the first few weeks of spring lambasting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for her trip to Damascus because, they said, talking to the Syrians is Bad, it Legitimizes the Enemy, etc. This required a bit of nimble footwork on their part, because they had to pretend that no Republican members of Congress took part in these Syrian delegations. But the principle was clearly established: Talking to Syria = Hates America.

Yesterday, Syria agreed to send representatives to the Annapolis Conference organized and hosted by the Bush administration. This is something the administration, to its credit, pursued and achieved. So now, just seven months later, Talking to Syria = Good.

If you're completely unprincipled and you don't care about logical consistency or coherence -- if all of politics is just a big game of Fizzbin -- then this isn't a problem and it's simply a matter of following the latest talking points from the central office: Talking to Syria is now Good. We've always been at war with Oceania.

But I would think that at least some of these right wing bloggers and talk radio hosts, and maybe even one or two Fox News readers, are actually true believers sincerely arguing for what they genuinely believe. I can't imagine it's easy for them to suddenly have to stop believing X and start believing Not X.

It's actually even stranger than that -- they have to suddenly switch from arguing that Nancy Pelosi is a demon because she believes X to arguing that George Bush is a genius and a patriot because he believes X, all while somehow arguing that Pelosi is still a demon. It's like the Triple Lindy of cognitive dissonance.

How do they accommodate that? What's the mental trick? Seriously. I don't get it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More E-N grousing

Today is a perfect example of why I am so disgusted with the Express-News editorial section these days. On the commentary page we have this unhinged rant from Ken Allard that would fit in well with the comments that Bill Crawford used to get at his All Things Conservative blog.

It is as though the land of the free had suddenly become the Wimpodite nation. As if Beowulf had inexplicably conceded that Grendel had issues or the Spartans at Thermopylae had sent a tactful note to the Persians deploring the senseless use of violence.
But with the war in Iraq turning decisively in our favor, the Democrats controlling Congress are living in Fantasyland, barely able to get up each morning without legislating fresh absurdities requiring U.S. troops to evacuate the combat zone in, let's say, the next 10 minutes or so.

Wimpodite nation!?! What the hell is that?? And Democrats are in Fantasyland because they want to withdraw our troops from that hellhole where they have been mired for the past four years? We’ve been in Iraq longer than we were in WWII for crying out loud. But no matter what the situation on the ground is, it is always the wrong time to withdraw. When things are going really bad we can’t leave because that would be cutting and running and al Qaeda would claim victory. And now that things are going less badly, we can’t leave because we are on the verge of victory (kind of like the insurgency was in its last throes a few years ago).

But if Allard’s rant isn’t bad enough, we also have syndicated wingnut Cal Thomas lauding rightwing paleocon Pat Buchanan for his xenophobic prescriptions on immigration.

But not to worry! We still have “liberal” columnists Rebecca Chapa and “liberal” cartoonist John Branch to add a little balance. So what does Chapa choose to talk about in her once-a-week column? She goes after leftist leader Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
OK, that’s fine and all and the guy does deserve criticism, but haven’t the rightwingers been pounding on the guy enough? Why does Chapa have to pile on too? Can’t she find some other topic to highlight that might be better at balancing out the hard-right tilt of the editorial page?
Oh, and Branch’s cartoon today? An attack on Hillary Clinton! What a surprise!

A brief glimpse of reality at NRO

Most neutral observers of American politics already know that Republicans are going to get their butts whooped next year. But you generally don’t hear that sentiment being expressed or acknowledged in rightwing circles.
But apparently the National Review breached that topic earlier this month with a lead article in its Nov. 19 print edition that is unfortunately not available online. The article by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru gives a surprisingly harsh assessment of GOP election prospects in 2008 spelling out in no uncertain terms that things are even worse for Republicans than they imagine.

Here is an excerpt:

So while Republicans are depressed these days, their condition is actually worse than they think it is. The deepest cause of the party’s malaise is not the inadequacies of the presidential field. It is that the party’s base is out of step with the public. On issue after issue, polls find independents lining up with Democrats.

Take the economy. Republicans are much happier with their economic circumstances than Democrats: 81 percent of the former, and only 54 percent of the latter, express satisfaction. Independents are exactly where the Democrats are. At their recent economic debate, however, most of the Republican candidates essentially advised dissatisfied Americans to look up some economic statistics to see how well things are going. The ones who acknowledged public gloom proffered protectionism as a remedy.

Or take global warming. The public thinks it is real and worrisome, but is not ready to embrace liberal policies that would drastically reduce economic growth. Republicans would have an opening here, if so many of them had not persuaded themselves that global warming is a hoax.

If the public debate is confined to a choice between people who brush off public concerns and those who offer bad solutions, the latter group will win. Conservatives, right now, are not offering better solutions. And because the Republican base is not demanding those solutions, the competitive dynamic of the primary is not producing them. For most of the year, the Republican presidential debates have featured barely a word about health care, the public’s most pressing domestic concern.

The thing that Lowrey and Ponnuru are not acknowleding is that Republicans HAVE put forward ideas on these issues for the past 12 years and they simply have not worked. That is why they are ignoring the problems now and trying to focus on other things, because they don’t know what to do next since their ideas flopped.

As you can see from this excerpt, Lowrey and Ponnuru still think “free-market policies” and tax cuts for the rich are the cure all for everything and assume that we just haven’t pushed those ideas hard enough.

That task will force conservatives to explain how free-market policies can address the economic anxieties of this group of voters. We don't have to support "universal coverage" on health care. But we ought to talk more about health care than about the budget; and when we talk about health care, we should explain how Republican policies will help people keep and control their own health care. We don't have to abandon attempts to reform the tax code and to drop the top tax rate. But we should put much more effort into providing tax relief for middle-class parents. We don't have to open the borders. But we should make it clear that our immigration policy isn't based on anger. We don't have to give up on the idea that sometimes the U.S. must fight wars, even going it alone; but we need to persuade people that we see unilateral military action as a last resort -- that we're not spoiling for a fight.

The bad news for conservatives is that we can't blame other people for our troubles. The good news is that if our problems are of our own making they are also within our control. If we address them now, we may not need to undergo a stretch out of power to right ourselves. But the first step toward recovery is admitting that we have a problem.

Republicans do indeed have a problem and it is not that their ideas have not been tried. It is good that they are ready to admit to having a problem, but they aren’t ready to accept what that problem really is yet. There is a disconnect going on somewhere. Whenever a Republican policy such as tax giveaways, deregulation of industry and crony capitalism is instituted resulting in one disaster or another - record deficits, Enron collapse, poor response to New Orleans flood, etc. - rightwingers are quick to shift the blame as with this commenter the other day who dismissed a lengthy critique of Republican policies:

Ah, you are confusing Republicanism with Conservatism.
The Republican party is losing because they are drifting away from Conservatism.

So, when they present an idea it is “Conservatism,” but when it fails to have the desired result it suddenly turns into “Republicanism” and the answer is to push harder for more “Conservatism.” And round and round the circle goes.

Quico vs. Ciro

I’m starting to see “Quico for Congress” signs popping up around my neighborhood. Aside from the fact that “Quico” is very close to “Ciro,” the name of our incumbent congressman, the signs don’t tell you much. Not even party affiliation. So what should we think of this “Quico” Canseco fellow?

Here is a quick analysis of Quico’s positions according to his website:

Quico makes it clear that despite his Hispanic heritage, he would be somewhere to the right of Tom Tancredo on immigration issues. Without actually using the buzzword “amnesty,” he spells out his position this way:

America is a welcoming nation and it should continue to extend a warm welcome to those that want to enter in accordance with the laws, the rules and the regulations for entry. Those that do so otherwise disrespect our nation’s sovereignty and they must not benefit by their illegal trespass.

That means he will oppose any immigration reforms that might lead to citizenship for any of the six million illegal aliens already living in the United States. This is not a realistic response to a serious social issue and it just demonstrates that Quico would champion ideology over humanitarian compromises that are needed to deal with the reality at hand.

Abortion rights
On “Human Life,” Quico declares himself to be a “a pro-life conservative who defends the right to life of the unborn.”
Since he does not elaborate, one must assume that this means Quico would push for a constitutional amendment to ban abortions and would not make exceptions for the life or health of the mother. He does not mention a position on capital punishment which leads me to believe that he supports it, but finds it inconvenient to do so while also posturing as a so-called pro-lifer.

Quico clearly has no clue as to what he is talking about here. He mentions “reform of the insurance market” and “efficient implementation of health technology.” He also talks about the need for “a balanced playing field among providers and insurers.” But as for how he would accomplish any of this, we have no clue since he also claims that having government take responsibility for accomplishing any of these reforms would be a “disaster for our entire population.”
Come to think of it, that may be true if our government is filled with people like Quico.

Economy and Taxes
Quico comes out as a full-fledged supply sider, promising to make Bush’s fiscally irresponsible tax cuts permanent and permanently eliminate the inheritance tax, which would no doubt be a windfall for someone wealthy enough to dump $700,000 into his own congressional campaign.
Quico is living in a fantasy world with respect to the economy. He claims that the 9/11 attacks “challenged our economy,” but that Bush’s tax cuts “brought us out of the economic slump.” No mention of the skyrocketing federal deficits that resulted from Bush’s tax cuts or the fact that Americans are overwhelmingly unhappy with an economy that has left workers’ wages stagnant while gas prices and health care costs eat into their pocketbooks.

National Security
Be afraid! Be very afraid!!
Quico certainly is. He believes that:

Our nation and the rest of the free world are facing a threat like no other; one bent on destroying our way of life: our very existence.

Yikes! That sounds worse than the Nazis during WWII and the Commies during the Red Scare. To combat this evil threat, Quico believes that you need to give up your liberties and allow Big Brother to spy on you without any sort of judicial oversight.

All reasonable measures must be taken to protect the American homeland and I believe that sacrificing moderate intrusions of personal privacy are necessary to this mission.

National Defense
Quico is ready to spend lots of money making sure our Armed Forces “have the newest and best equipment” and also pledges to show his gratitude to our soldiers when they come home “by providing benefits for them and their families.” Where he expects to get this money with all of his tax cutting hysterics is not at all clear. I guess we will just put it on old Uncle Sam’s charge card with all the rest of the Iraq War spending.

Quico seems to be very much conflicted on this issue. He starts out by saying that education is “the foundation of any great republic” and complains that “we have neglected our charge and allowed the education of our youth (to) slip by the wayside.”
So what should we do about it? Nothing. At least, as far as the government is concerned. Quico’s only answer is to leave everything to the local districts and not burden them with “unfunded mandates.”
Quico lashes out at President Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy:

...governmental meddling in the operation of schools must cease and we must admit that the mandates of No Child Left Behind stifle creative thinking in the classroom, increase bureaucracy, and drive the costs of education upward.

And he insists that government “must stay away from the state school system” and “release control to local school boards.”
But at the same time, he wants to encourage teachers to meet “standards of excellence” and wants to “find more effective ways to assure that our children are meeting standards and that these standards are fairly applied.”
But how can you have standards if everything is being done independently at the local level? I guess each school district could just set its own goals — ones that they could easily achieve — and Voila! Our education system is all fixed! Isn’t that amazing?

Social Security
Quico acknowledges that “to many Americans” Social Security “has proved to be a vital safety net.” However, he charges that the government has failed to administer the program for longevity and has not adjusted to the change from an agrarian society to an industrial society. Nevermind that that change actually occurred before Social Security was created. Now Quico says:

Social Security must meet the challenges of the 21st century in order to fulfill its promises to all Americans. 

Translation: Quico would support privatizing Social Security. Hope you are feeling lucky as you risk your life savings in the stock market.

Quico apparently did not think environmental issues, much less global warming, was significant enough to merit a bullet point on his issues page.

To sum up, Quico is a certifiable wingnut with a lot of personal cash and no political experience beyond serving as a Republican Party functionary. He recently received the endorsement of Dr. Jim Leininger who has bankrolled many of the rightwing causes here in Texas. The fact that Quico is independently wealthy makes him the ideal candidate for the GOP this time since the national party has little money to expend in these races.
Overall, I would say that Quico’s chances are slim to none for beating giant killer Ciro Rodriguez. Ciro is still riding high after knocking off entrenched incumbent Henry Bonilla in 2006 and the electorate’s mood has, if anything, only gotten more soured on Republican rule since then.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I’m reading Jonathan Chait’s new book “The Big Con: The true story of how Washington got hoodwinked and hijacked by crackpot economics” in which he lays out the sordid disaster that is “Supply-side economics” and details how such a loopy and discredited economic policy became the guiding principle of a major political party (i.e. Republicans). Chait begins his book this way:

"I have this problem. Whenever I try to explain what's happening in American politics - I mean, what's really happening - I wind up sounding a bit like an unhinged conspiracy theorist. But honestly, I'm not... so please give me a chance to explain myself when I tell you that American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane"

Insane is probably putting it mildly. Supply side economics - the idea that there is some inverse correlation between cutting taxes and increasing government revenue (i.e. the more you cut, the more revenue that will come in) - has been discredited more times than I can count. Starting with the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s that brought us into the era of runaway deficits and repeated again by W. Bush whose tax cuts made the Clinton-era surplus vanish only to be replaced with record deficits once again.
And still, Republicans in power today insist that all we need to do is cut taxes more and that it will magicly solve all of our problems.

There is a scene in “The Bee Movie” in which Jerry Seinfeld’s bee character gets trapped in a house and trys to fly out through a closed window. He slams into the glass and is shocked that he can’t get through. He trys again with the same result, at which point he starts banging into the glass repeatedly over and over, each time saying “Maybe this time, maybe this time, maybe this time...”
It’s hilarious because that is exactly what bugs tend to do, but it is also a good description of your typical wingnuts who never let something like repeated failures dissuade them from pushing the same discredited theories over and over again.

What strikes me about all of this is how the same people who continue to buy into supply-side economics are typically the same ones who are going to deny that global warming is a problem, or who still believe that going into Iraq was a good idea, or who favor teaching “intelligent design” in the schools; etc.
Don’t try to confuse these people with the facts. They are immune to such arguments. They will just continue to smash themselves into that window over and over again, dragging us along with them if they can.

Blue Skies

It’s Looking Like Blue Skies All Over Again

Blue skies smiling at me. Nothing but blue skies do I see.
— Irving Berlin

Just over a year ago, Democrats seized control of Congress because of the voters’ exhaustion with the war in Iraq and disgust at the Republican majority’s increasingly brazen manipulation of the levers of power. Now, less than a year from the next election, little has happened to elevate the voters’ mood — or their impression of the party that ruled the federal government from 2003 through 2006.

The GOP remains burdened with a highly unpopular war; President Bush’s troop “surge” in Iraq, initiated over strong Democratic objections, appears to have diminished the violence but has given no sign that it will lead to a big reduction in U.S. troops anytime soon. The corruption scandals, ethical challenges and settled Beltway mentality that helped drive Republicans into the wilderness have yet to dissolve from public memory.

So, even if Democrats have done little to burnish a reputation for running things any better — as reflected in the extraordinarily low public approval ratings for the Congress they now control — the fact remains: They may not have to.

That’s because every traditional indicator of election forecasting — from public opinion polls and issue resonance to candidate recruitment and the “over/under” balance of seats in play — suggests that congressional Democrats have just as much going for them in 2008 as they had in 2006, if not more. They now have the power of incumbency to give them added advantages in raising money, attracting top-tier candidates, controlling the legislative agenda and capturing the political zeitgeist.

All this leads Democrats to profess clear confidence that they’ll retain majority control next fall. And not only that, but they may now harbor realistic visions of emerging with 55 to 58 seats in the Senate (pushing them within arm-twisting distance of the 60 votes needed to bust a filibuster) as well more than 240 seats in the House, a cushion that neither party has enjoyed since the end of the last Democratic era in the House, in 1994.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Macy's Broadway Revue

The network coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade gets worse and worse every year. It is practically unwatchable now. They absolutely will not show the parade itself. No floats, no marching bands. Just one canned, lip-synched broadway show commercial after another, interspersed with mindless blather from the "hosts" and wall-to-wall commercials. Yuck!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mom's Art

My mom has dabbled in painting for all of my life, but lately she has gotten more serious with it. She and an artist friend have set up a studio in Old Town Spring - 318C Main St. - where they are exhibiting their art.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

McClellan: Bush is a LIAR!!!!

Scott McClellan, the former White House spokesperson, is coming out with a book in which he calls President Bush a liar.
Here is the excerpt:

"The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.
"There was one problem. It was not true.
"I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself."

I’m glad that he finally cleared that up.

IPCC final report

The IPCC issued its final report on global warming over the weekend with even more certainty and more dire warnings of catastrophe if we don’t act soon. The report concludes that if we don’t take action before 2012 that will be too late.
So let’s see. Bush is out of office at the end of 2008. The new administration, assuming it’s not another Republican, will need a few months to get established before it can start pushing any kind of climate proposals, and whatever is proposed will have to wind its way through a possibly hostile Congress. So that means we will have about two years to turn things around at that point. No wonder the scientists are not sounding very optimistic!

Meanwhile, on a related topic, I was watching a NOVA special last night on the fight over intelligent design in Dover, Pa. and every time they would interview one of the creationists it would immediately bring to mind the people fighting tooth and nail today to deny that global warming is a) a real threat and/or b) that there is anything we can do about it.
Most of the wingnuts I’ve come across seem to hold these two positions simultaneously. First, they deny that global warming is happening at all, and when that position becomes untenable, they fall back on the second contention which is that the warming is not caused by humans and therefore we can’t do anything about it anyway. And then they will mindlessly flip back and forth between these two positions depending on whatever nugget of news their rightwing agitprop sources are spooning out to them that day.
In fact, if you read the wingnut websites you would have assumed that the IPCC’s final report would have said something like “Oops, Never Mind” because it’s been proven that either contentions a or b or perhaps both have been firmly established by valiant pseudoscientists and bloggers who know much more about this subject than a bunch of internationally renowned climate experts.
And, in fact, there were some scientists who dissented from the final report. Unfortunately, they only dissented because they thought the report was too optimistic about our chances to turn things around.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Republicans stall and delay and the E-N blames Democrats

I wanted to pull my hair out this Saturday after reading this editorial in the San Antonio Express-News.
The piece is entitled "Democrats flunk fiscal responsibility" and it unfairly bashes Democrats for being late in passing budget resolutions before the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The editorial starts out by noting the past failure of Republicans to complete their budget work on time while they were in charge of the Legislature. Calling the GOP “fiscally irresponsible,” the editorial goes on to say:

Nothing exemplified that irresponsibility better than the failure of the GOP-led Congress to pass in a timely manner the annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government.
In 2004, Congress passed only one of 13 appropriations on time. In 2005, it passed only two of 12 appropriations on time. Last year, it passed only one spending bill before the 2007 fiscal year began.
With a record that poor, you'd think the new Democratic majority would find it easy to distinguish itself, deliver on campaign promises about fiscal responsibility and burnish its credentials with voters. Evidently, Republicans set the bar too high.
When the new fiscal year began Oct. 1, the Democrat-led Congress had passed no spending bills.

But hold on a minute! First off, this has nothing to do with fiscal discipline. If anything, I guess you could criticize them for their time management skills, but even this would be unfair to Democrats in light of the way the Republican opposition has behaved all year.
As this article from the Center for American Progress makes clear, it has been a Republican strategy this year to gum up the legislative process, slow things down and generally try to make Democrats look bad by throwing up as many roadblocks and legislative delays as possible. The artcile notes that Republicans sponsored 209 amendments to appropriation bills this session, more than four times as many as Democrats sponsored in 2006 when they were still in the minority.
Many of these amendments did not garner majority support from their own party and appear to have been little more than delaying tactics.

All of these efforts in the House did not stop the approval of appropriation measures this year, nearly all of which passed by wide margins. They did, however, delay transmission of those measures to the Senate. Had the House been able to meet its target of completing action on all appropriations by the end of June, which is its normal goal, it would have more than doubled the number of legislative days available to the Senate for the completion of those bills before the beginning of the new fiscal year. As it is, the delays in the House will strengthen the ability of senators allied with the White House to use obstructionist tactics to cause even greater mischief.

And once in the Senate, the appropriation bills are subject to filibusters and cloture votes which Republicans have been employing this year in record numbers according to McClatchy News Service.

The power of a determined minority in the Senate can block completion of the work of the entire Congress, and this power is increasing as the year is passing. Obstruction in one area of legislative activity increasingly affects Congress’ ability to finish its work in other areas. By the beginning of the August recess, the Senate had been forced on 13 occasions to vote on motions to proceed. That is more than six times the average number of cloture votes required over the same time period in the previous two Congresses. Each one of those votes required wasted days that could have been used to consider appropriation measures. Most of the measures that were filibustered eventually passed the Senate by huge majorities, such as legislation fulfilling the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, which was adopted 97-0; a bill improving security in U.S. Courts, which passed 93-3; and the Clean Energy Act, which passed 91-0. The problem in each instance was shutting off the filibuster so that the Senate could do its work.

On the same day the E-N editorial ran, it was reported that Republicans had successfully blocked the Farm Bill with yet another filibuster.

Typically a bipartisan bonanza for rural America, the agriculture policy measure was stalled by a Republican filibuster that summed up the dismal state of relations in Congress. The bill joined an income-tax repair, a children’s health insurance program, energy measures, terrorist surveillance and Pentagon policy — not to mention financing for every agency except the Pentagon — as issues needing attention next month.

Why block a Farm Bill that will ultimately pass with overwhelming bi-partisan support? Simple politics. Sen. Tom Harkin some it up thusly:
“Republicans sense they are going to have a tough time next year,” Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said. “So any way they can stain Democrats and anything they can do to make this place look dysfunctional and blame everybody for it, they think that is going to help them.”

And obviously the tactic is working when the GOP can play these delaying games and then get the Express-News to publish editorials bashing Democrats for being “fiscally irresponsible” for failing to pass these appropriations bills on time.
My one question is whether the E-N wrote this editorial out of ignorance - not realizing what is really going on. Or if they are well aware of what is happening and are simply playing their part in a coordinated partisan effort.

Friday, November 16, 2007

They love us, they really love us!

This new poll explains very clearly why the Congress has approval ratings rivaling those of President Bush. There are too damn many Republicans in it!

Despite a slew of recent polls findings Americans unhappy with Congress, a new USA Today/Gallup poll finds that the majority of Americans still hold a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. 54% of respondents viewed Democrats favorably with only 37% holding an unfavorable opinion of the party. The Republicans faired far worse, receiving a favorable opinion from only 40% of Americans while being viewed negatively by half.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A liberal blogger

It looks like my post the other day ilicited a reaction from my old friends at ATC.

In related news, ATC read Mark Harden points out this statement from a liberal blogger:
The Iraq war was a disaster and no matter what happens from this point forward that fact will not change.
The Left is so open-minded. 
So, by this theory, if no one dies in Iraq tomorrow, that'll be a disaster?  Nice.

That’s funny. Bill is still so upset with me that he won’t even refer to me by name anymore. I’m just “a liberal blogger” now.

Here is Mark’s comment:

Here is a good example of the "stick my fingers in my ears, nyah nyah nyah, I cannot hear about good things happening in Iraq!" psychological denial from the left:

The Iraq war was a disaster and no matter what happens from this point forward that fact will not change. We’ve already spent too much in blood and tax dollars for even the rosiest outcome to compensate. No matter what happens at this point, it was NOT worth it.

"No matter WHAT happens..." Now, there is an "open mind" for ya...

Posted by: Mark Harden | November 14, 2007 at 02:11 PM

To correct their misunderstanding of my post, I did not say that it would be a disaster tomorrow if no one dies. I said the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a disaster period. And there is no good news that can come out of Iraq at this point that can change that reality for most Americans.
It would be great if the Sunnis and the Shia would all join hands tommorrow and sing “Kumbaya”, but even if they did it would mean little to the average American and would not justify Bush’s decision to sacrifice the lives of thousands of U.S. servicemen and blow through nearly $1 trillion in U.S. taxdollars.
The stakes for the U.S. fell to nothing once it was demonstrated beyond any doubt that Iraq did not pose any kind of threat to the U.S. or event to its neighbors.
The sad thing is that many people saw before the invasion that there was no threat, but the Bush administration was intent on going to war at all costs. Well, now we are finally starting to get a clear picture of those costs and most Americans don’t like it. That is why Bush and the Republicans in Congress have less than a 30 percent approval rating today.

More Bush Budget Bluster

President Bush has issued the 5th veto of his presidency just days after having his 4th veto overridden by Congress.

Bush rejected a $606 billion bill to fund education, health and labor programs, complaining that it is too expensive and is larded with pork.

Wow! $606 billion! That’s a lot of money. Those porkers! But wait! How big a difference is there between this bill and the amount that Bush wants to spend?

He said that the bill spends nearly $10 billion more than his proposed budget

Nearly $10 billion?!? Bush is vetoing this bill and posing as a fiscal conservative for less than $10 billion? That’s chickenfeed compared to the amount that Bush wants to spend in Iraq!

Why $10 billion is so small that the Bush team can’t even keep track of it over in Iraq. That’s about the same amount that they lost track of last year. I guess Bush is going to make up for the money they lost track of in Iraq by chopping it out of domestic spending bills back home. Thanks, Mr. President! You’re incompentent and we suffer for it!

Oh, and then there is this...

At the same time, Bush signed a $459 billion annual Defense Department spending bill that increases the Pentagon's budget 9.5 percent to fund operations other than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A 10 percent increase (nearly $5 billion) on military spending NOT RELATED to Iraq and Afghanistan. And that is not counting the $200 billion we are spending in Iraq this year alone! So who is spending money like a teenager with his parents’ credit card?

The education-health bill he rejected included entitlement spending for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as well as $150.7 billion in discretionary spending. Congress sought to restore $3.6 billion that Bush had cut from those discretionary programs in his proposed budget and add $6.2 billion on top of that, for a net 4.3 percent increase in spending. Among the additions was more money for Bush's own No Child Left Behind school-accountability program.

So Democrats are trying to add back in funds for Bush’s own education program and Bush is vetoing it.

Oh, and Bush is decrying the earmarks in the bill even though some of the biggest pieces of pork are sponsored by Republicans. I suppose if the Democrats wanted to be mean they could make up the $10 billion difference by stripping out all the earmarks sponsored by Republican lawmakers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Billions and billions and billions...

Some interesting news today in the WaPo.
'Hidden Costs' Double Price Of Two Wars

The economic costs to the United States of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far total approximately $1.5 trillion, according to a new study by congressional Democrats that estimates the conflicts' "hidden costs"-- including higher oil prices, the expense of treating wounded veterans and interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars.

That amount is nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested to wage these wars through 2008, according to the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee. Its report, titled "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thus far cost the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000.

Meanwhile, the wingnuts are flustered because more people aren’t acknowledging that the surge has been a success in light of the fewer number of deaths this past month in Iraq. Nevermind that there has still been little to no progress towards the kind of reconciliation necessary to establish any kind of long-term government solution for the debacle over there. I’m thrilled that there are fewer deaths, but since we should have been out of there several years ago anyway it is not something I’m going to celebrate as some kind of vindication of Bush’s policies.
The Iraq war was a disaster and no matter what happens from this point forward that fact will not change. We’ve already spent too much in blood and tax dollars for even the rosiest outcome to compensate. No matter what happens at this point, it was NOT worth it.

At this point, Iraq is like a money-losing salvage operation with the sole purpose of saving face for Bush and Republicans. To claim now that the Iraq invasion was a success would be like someone going out and using modern technology to raise the Titanic from the bottom of the ocean and then sailing it back to England and claiming the voyage was not a disaster after all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The cultural divide

I see from Taegan Goddard's Political Wire that there is a new survey out purporting to show a measurable difference in the forms of entertainment preferred by self-described conservatives and liberals.
According to the survey, conservatives prefer Fox News while liberals like MSNBC and Comedy Central (The Daily Show, Colbert Report). No real surprise there.
But conservatives allegiance to Fox News also carries over to the Fox network despite its heavy reliance on profane, anti-authority shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and MADtv. However, conservatives definitely do not want their MTV with 82 percent saying they never watch it. Of course, I don’t either since they stopped showing music videos.

The survey seems to bolster some stereotypes by noting that Liberals tend to like “cerebral material” such as documentaries, the arts, and educational programming as well as comedies and dramas. Conservatives, on the other hand, prefer action/adventure shows and sports programming. They also like game shows and reality shows that liberals tend to avoid.
On the music front, liberals like a broad range of genres including world, punk, Latin, hip-hop and rap, blues, reggae, electronica, R&B and soul, jazz, folk and traditional music. But Rock was still the most popular genre among liberals at 67 percent. Conservatives, meanwhile, seem to dislike most forms of music with the exception of country and gospel.
Overall, liberals seem to be more diverse in their tastes while conservatives seem to be most notable in what they won’t watch or listen to.
But I disagree with the sentiment expressed here that “you can safely bet that if conservatives like it, liberals hate it.” I certainly like action/adventure shows and sports as much as the next guy or gal. It’s just not the only thing I watch 24-7 like some seriously close-minded people.

Not so Random Notes

The Express-News has a regular feature on its Op-Ed section every Sunday called Random Notes that hasn't been so random since it was taken over by right-wing columnist Jonathan Gurwitz. And now even more so during the past few weeks when I've noticed that my good friend Bill Crawford is getting credited with contributing items for the section.
Perhaps I'm just overly sensitive, but it would appear now that most of the "random notes" are carefully chosen items meant to either laud President Bush and/or zing the Democrats/liberals.
But I also find it ironic that Bill, who writes the rightwing blog All Things Conservative would now be a regular contributor to the section when he has regularly bashed the E-N on a consistent basis. In fact, his blog used to be called Anti-Express News Blog and he still celebrates to this day anytime there is a story about newspaper circulation numbers going down.
Ironic, but not all that surprising considering the E-N's consistently pro-Republican editorial stances over time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Numb to it all

I read about this in the WSJ this morning and was shocked dumbfounded apalled, OK I guess I’m just numb to it by now. Anyway, here it is:

The Committee had invited Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, a former Guantanamo Bay prosecutor, to testify about his experiences. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Asked last week to appear before the panel, Col. Couch says he informed his superiors and that none had any objection.” But Counch’s appearance was blocked by Cheney-backed Pentagon counsel William Haynes:

Yesterday, however, [Couch] was advised by email that the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, “has determined that as a sitting judge and former prosecutor, it is improper for you to testify about matters still pending in the military court system, and you are not to appear before the Committee to testify tomorrow.“

Haynes has been a forceful advocate and key architect for the administration’s harsh interrogation techniques. Couch’s potential testimony posed a serious danger to Haynes’ work.

$9 trillion debt

Wow! US debt tops $9 trillion for first time

Congratulations George “Worst President Ever” Bush and all the “fiscally conservative” Republicans out there. Heck uv a job!
I’m sure we will reach the $10 trillion mark before Bush leaves office the way we are gushing funds for the Iraq boondoggle.

I think President Bush has made our country worse off in just about every conceivable way during his tenure. Militarily we are weaker, with an Army that is overstretched and in desperate need of about two or three years downtime to recover. On the foreign affairs front, more people hate us today than ever before.

And now with the stock market plunging and the economy on the brink of yet another Bush recession, we are saddled with $9 trillion in public debt that will make it very hard to dig ourselves out of our current predicament.

Fortunately, the electorate seems to have finally regained its senses beginning in 2006 and has been pitching out Republicans and electing Democrats at every opportunity. Nevertheless, we will still have to suffer through another whole year of the Bush nightmare before we can begin to see very much relief.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Veto override

It looks like Bush will have a veto overriden for the first time.
Unfortunately, it is not for the SCHIP bill. Republicans can’t be bothered to fight for children’s health care. But a nice pork bill for their home districts?? No problem!
Actually, it was stupid and hypocritical that Bush chose to veto this $23 billion water infrastructure bill that had passed the House and Senate by overwhelming margins. Especially when at the same time he is demanding that we spend an additional $200 billion on the boondoggle in Iraq.
The veto override in the House wasn’t even close at 361-54 and unless the Republican’s in the Senate can be forced to bite the bullet this one is almost certain to be overriden later this week.
I imagine there will be more to follow provided that Bush continues to veto bills such as this one.

A sample of things to come

The Democratic tidal wave that began in 2006 has not slowed down if yesterday’s elections are any indication.
The very red state of Kentucky overwhelmingly elected a Democratic governor, while the very red state of Virginia gave Democrats control of the state Senate for the first time in 12 years. Democrats also held strong in state elections in New Jersey. The only bright spot for Republicans seems to be an upset victory in the Indianapolis mayors race and the re-election of Haley Barbour as governor of Mississippi.
In Texas, the constitutional amendment funding cancer research that had been opposed by wingnuts passed overwhelmingly, as did all of the amendments as I expected.

In other news, there was an odd scuffle in the U.S. House yesterday that I got to see in part on C-SPAN when far-left Rep. Dennis Kucinich brazenly put forward a resolution calling for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. The Democratic leadership attempted to table the measure only to have Republicans put the House through a long drawn out vote in which each GOP member took turns one at a time switching their vote from Yes to No so that the measure would remain alive. Apparently, they thought by doing so they could embarrass Democrats by forcing a debate on Cheney’s impeachment.
Well, I have news for the clearly out-of-touch GOP leadership. If that measure had been put up for a straight up or down vote by the people, it would have passed overwhelmingly. Cheney is a deeply unpopular figure today and I have no doubt that a majority of people would say “Sure, let’s impeach the SOB.” Fortunately, for him, it doesn’t work that way, and the Democratic leadersip did not want to waste more time on the matter so they had it sent to committee where it will be buried.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bush passes Nixon

Good news for fans of former President Richard Nixon!
No longer will he bear the historical ignominy of being the most unpopular president of modern times. That ill distinction is now where it rightly belongs, with George W. Bush.
I think it is only right that the worst president ever should also have the distinction of being the most unpopular president. Nixon was pretty bad, but at least he did not combine his malfeasance with gross stupidity and boneheaded incompetence.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I agree with Robert Novak!

Robert Novak wrote a column today that I never expected to read... a glowing tribute to former President Jimmy Carter. At least with respect to his efforts to bring peace in the long-running struggle between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is partly a review of the new Jonathan Demme documentary “Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains.” But it also makes some stinging points about the current administration that I would not have expected to come from the pen of Mr. Novak. This line in particular stands out:

“...the former president's clarity on the Palestinian question contrasts sharply with George W. Bush's refusal to face reality...”

Bush’s “refusal to face reality” is the key to why his entire presidency has been an unending disaster. The refusal to face reality about WMDs (or lack thereof) in Iraq. The refusal to face reality about the war in Iraq. The refusal to face reality that his massive tax cuts for the rich have left us with an enormous deficit in a time of war. The refusal to face reality with respect to global warming and many other scientific issues that fail to mesh with his fundamentalist warped view of the world.

Novak goes on to make some very reality-based observations about the Israeli-Palestinian situation including this one:

”...Carter repeatedly and unequivocally states what Palestinian and Israeli peace advocates view as undeniable: to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, with all its benefits for the world, Israel must end its illegal and oppressive occupation of the West Bank. That is a prerequisite that neither President Bush nor congressional leaders of both parties can approach for fear of being labeled anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic (as Carter has been).”

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sour mood

47 million Americans lack health insurance, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The number of Americans lacking health insurance rose by nearly 8.6 million to 47 million from 2000 to 2006, with children and workers from every income level losing coverage, a new report said on Thursday.
The increase was "driven primarily by the continued erosion in employer-provided health insurance," said the report by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute.
In 2006, 2.3 million fewer Americans received health benefits from their employers than in 2000, the report said, noting the decline does not take the population increase into account.
Nearly 60 percent of the nation's children are covered by the insurance provided by their parents' employers, but 3.4 million fewer children had benefits in 2006 compared with 2000.
"Public health insurance is no longer offsetting these losses," said the report by the nonpartisan think-tank.

Is it any wonder that people are so unhappy today? Pretty much since Bush took office, the national mood has been in a downward spiral. Why? The war, for one. It was supposed to last six months. You know, a cake walk, rose petals thrown at our feet, etc. All bullshit.
The surplus that Clinton left us? The promise of finally starting to chip away at our national debt that has been spiraling out of countrol since the Reagan years? All gone. Instead, we are spending hundreds of billions every year on the Iraqi boondoggle while Republicans, at the same time, insist that we can’t afford comparatively tiny increases in domestic spending back home.
It does not compute. You can’t continue to support spending hundreds of billions in Iraq year after never-ending year, while telling us that we can’t afford to fix problems at home and expect the nation’s mood to do anything but bottom out.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Life is a Rock

I had this song on a Ronco record collection when I was a kid and I nearly had the lyrics memorized (or at least what I thought were the lyrics). Now someone has put together a custom video for the song that is truly hilarious.

Fox in the hen house

Here is a story that spells out more clearly than any other I’ve read in a while what is really wrong with the Bush administration and the core of the Republican Party today:

The nation’s top official for consumer product safety has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation intended to strengthen the agency, which polices thousands of consumer goods, from toys to tools.

On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.

Ms. Nord opposes provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistle-blowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.

The measure is an effort to buttress an agency that has been under siege because of a raft of tainted and dangerous products manufactured both domestically and abroad. In the last two months alone, more than 13 million toys have been recalled after tests indicated lead levels that sometimes reached almost 200 times the safety limit.

Ms. Nord’s opposition to important elements of the legislation is consistent with the broadly deregulatory approach of the Bush administration over the last seven years. In a variety of areas, from antitrust to trucking and worker safety, officials appointed by President Bush have sought to reduce the role of regulation and government in the marketplace.

Republicans are not interested in practicing good government. Their ideology precludes it, so rather than using the government to protect the interests of the people as it is supposed to do, they shut it down and attempt to undermine it at every point. Bush has filled our government with these kinds of ideological cronies such as Mrs. Nord who are looking out for the best interests of their former and probably future employers and not the interests of the people.
It is truly despicable.