Friday, July 13, 2007

Birthday movies

My wife bought me a whole slew of movies for my birthday so I am stocked up on films that I need to see. Our movie watching habits have changed dramatically since the kids were born. We very rarely go to movies at the theater any more. We almost never rent movies anymore either because we can never be sure when we will have time to sit down and watch a movie. We will occassionally watch a movie on pay-per-view on the spur of the moment, but most of the time I like to buy the used DVDs from Hollywood Video or Blockbuster for my collection and those are the ones we typically see.
For my birthday I got:

Casino Royale (James Bond)
The Da Vinci Code
Flags of Our Fathers
Letters From Iwo Jima
Mission Impossible III
The Good Shepherd
Everyone’s Hero
Tom and Jerry: Shiver Me Whiskers (Mostly for my kids)

I also got some birthday money and went out and bought:

Happy Feet
X-Men III: The Last Stand
Blood Diamond

This will catch me up somewhat on my 2006 movie watching. Here is the list of 2006 films that I now have seen or own (a * means I’ve actually watched the movie):

*Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest
*Night at the Museum
*The Da Vinci Code
Happy Feet
Casino Royale
*Devil Wears Prada
*World Trade Center
The Good Shepherd
Curious George
Blood Diamond
The Wild
Flags of Our Fathers
Letters From Iwo Jima
United 93
*An Inconvenient Truth
Everyone’s Hero

I haven’t seen anything that has come out in 2007 yet but eventually I expect to see:

Spider Man III
Pirates of the Caribbean III
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
and probably Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Oh, and also Live Free or Die Hard.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Political obstructionism

I’ve always known that Republicans, at least the modern day authoritarian/fundamentalists running the show now, have been far more lock-step partisan than Democrats could ever muster. But this post by Anonymous Liberal really lays it out well and is worth a long excerpt. Hat tip to Ann!

Since at least the beginning of the Clinton administration, the defining feature of our political system has been an intense Republican partisanship.

No Republicans were willing to sign on to Clinton's major policy initiatives. His tax bill passed only when Al Gore cast the deciding vote; every Republican opposed it. And his health care bill was defeated when Democrats joined every Republican in opposing it.

When the Republicans took over in 1994, they began changing rules and procedures in an effort to shut Democrats out of the legislating process. They initiated the K-Street Project, which was an effort to systematically purge all Democratic lobbyists from Washington. They implemented a majority-of-the-majority policy so as to ensure that only bills that a majority of Republicans supported would even be considered. They shut down the government in a budgetary squabble. They investigated everything and subpoenaed everyone imaginable, including the Socks the Cat. And they made a mockery of our constitutional system and paralyzed our country for over a year by insisting on impeaching and trying a popular Democratic president over matters related to a sexual indiscretion.

When President Bush took over, the Republican-controlled Congress grew even more aggressively partisan. Under Karl Rove's direction, Republicans in Congress actually pursued a policy of attempting to minimize bipartisan support for legislation (and thereby keep Democrats from taking any credit). They would tinker with bills that had bipartisan support by adding provocative amendments and provisions until no self-respecting Democrat could support the final product. In the Senate, Republicans went as far as attempting to eliminate the filibuster.

They solidified their majority in the Fall of 2002 by shamelessly politicizing the issue of terrorism just a year after the 9/11 attacks. The goal was to turn terrorism into a Republican (as opposed to bipartisan) issue. And, of course, unlike the previous six years, in the first six years of President Bush's term, the Republican-controlled Congress conducted no oversight at all and issued no subpoenas.

And now that the Republicans are a minority again, they have resorted to partisan obstructionism of an unprecedented scale. Republicans in the Senate are now using procedural tactics to block just about everything, including bills that have already been passed by overwhelming margins:
Remember the Congressional Ethics Reform package, for instance? It passed both houses of Congress by substantial majorities: 96-2 in the Senate, and 396-22 in the House. And yet, strange to say, the Republicans are refusing to let it go to conference, where both houses agree on a uniform final version of the bill to enact.
And the filibuster has gone from being a tool of last resort to a daily occurrence:

Normally, filibusters are used only when one side feels that some bill is exceptionally important. They have always been for special circumstances, not for everyday use. But the Senate Republicans have, essentially, decided that they are going to require not a majority vote, but 60 votes, for everything more important than naming post offices. And that is unprecedented.
Unprecedented but, sadly, not unexpected.

If you're still not convinced, consider all the major pieces of legislation that have been enacted in the last two decades. What do they all have in common? Virtually all of them were Republican initiatives that important Democrats agreed to support: welfare reform, the Bush tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription drug bill, the Iraq War authorization, the Military Commissions Act, etc. The only real exception was the Clinton tax bill, but that's the exception that proves the rule; that bill passed without a single Republican vote (at least in the Senate).

In other words, for a long time now, bipartisanship has been a one-way street. It only happens when Democrats are willing to go along with an idea that most Republicans support. It almost never happens in reverse. In the Senate right now, Republicans are even blocking the bills that many Republicans themselves support. The goal is to make Congress look as ineffectual as possible. And to accomplish that goal, Republican leaders are blocking everything, for no other reason than to stop anything constructive from occurring.

I think it is key right now for people to realize that Republicans are using obstructionism as a political tool and not a legislative tool. They are not obstructing bills because they think they are bad or harmful. They are obstructing bills because they want to make Democrats look bad by making it so that they can’t accomplish anything. And then President Bush can go out, like he did the other day, and lambaste the Democrats in Congress for not getting things done.
It is incredibly cynical what Republicans are doing today and the only reason they can get away with it is because most people don’t care enough to pay attention and because the media is more interested in celebrity gossip and scandal than they are about matters of state.

I’m afraid the only way to fight this kind of partisanship is to be equally partisan in the voting booth. Sometimes I want to support certain Republicans, and in the past I have, because I think they are good, well-meaning politicians whose positions are not so radically different from my own. But when these same Republicans form a block in the House or Senate that prevents anything from being done for purely partisan reasons, they have gone too far and the only recourse is to throw them out and put in a filibuster-proof Democratic majority.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that is possible considering the state of our democracy today.
A better option, of course, would be for a core of moderate, mainstream conservatives to break away from the radical group leading our nation over the cliff and help the rest of us to steer the country back onto course.

$250,000 per minute

Wow! Now that’s putting it into perspective. We spend more money than I make in five years every single minute that we are in Iraq.

As we debate what to do in Iraq, here are two facts to bear in mind:
First, a poll this spring of Iraqis — who know their country much better than we do — shows that only 21 percent think that the U.S. troop presence improves security in Iraq, while 69 percent think it is making security worse.

Second, the average cost of posting a single U.S. soldier in Iraq has risen to $390,000 per year, according to a new study by the Congressional Research Service. This fiscal year alone, Iraq will cost us $135 billion, which amounts to a bit more than a quarter-million dollars per minute.

We simply can’t want to be in Iraq more than the Iraqis want us to be there. That poll of Iraqis, conducted by the BBC and other news organizations, found that only 22 percent of Iraqis support the presence of coalition troops in Iraq, down from 32 percent in 2005.

If Iraqis were pleading with us to stay and quell the violence, maybe we would have a moral responsibility to stay. But when Iraqis are begging us to leave, and saying that we are making things worse, then it’s remarkably presumptuous to overrule their wishes and stay indefinitely because, as President Bush termed it in his speech on Tuesday, “it is necessary work.”

We can’t afford universal health care at home — but we can afford more than $10 billion a month so that American troops can be maimed in a country where they aren’t wanted?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Losing its grip

Jonathan Gurwitz has an interesting column in today’s paper basically warning the GOP that it may be losing its grip on Texas.
I agree with much of what Gurwitz says, even if I don’t agree with his tone. I think it is a good sign that Texas may be veering back to being a two-party state rather than a one-party monolith as it has been for the past decade. I think the signs that Gurwitz sees are pretty clear and I don’t think there is much that mainstream Repubicans like Gurwitz can do to change it as long as the GOP is being led by the authoritarian/fundamentalist wing of the party.
He makes the key point that the growing Latino vote in Texas will knock the GOP back into minority status if they can’t win more than 40 percent of that demographic. But I disagree very strongly with his characterization of Latino voters:

Latinos are natural GOP voters, strong on family, self-reliance and faith. Republican candidates simply need to make them follow their inclinations to the voting booth.

So I guess that makes Democratic voters anti-family and anti-faith. Sheesh!
Or better yet, if Latinos are supposed to be pro-family why would they ever vote for Republicans? The Party of Rudy Guiliani who is currently on his third marriage and estranged from his kids? Or the Party of Fred Thompson who dumped his wife of 30 years to find a trophy wife 25-years his junior?
With the combination of the Republican Party’s anti-immigrant zeal, its continuing pursuit of the disasterous Iraq war and the overall unpopularity of President Bush in general, Republicans will be hard-pressed to win anywhere close to 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2008.

Global warming is threatening baseball!!!

OK, this is the final straw! It’s gone too far now. Our national passtime is being threatened by the global warming crisis, according to the latest report from the New York Times.

...a warming of the local climate could also affect the ash used for bats, some scientists say. As temperatures rise, the ash wood that now makes an ideally dense but flexible bat might turn softer because of a longer growing season.

Softer bats!!! Why didn’t Al Gore warn us about this in his movie? Surely people wouldn’t be sitting still knowing that our ballplayers may soon be forced to use squishy bats in the near future.
Naturally, I blame President Bush and all those people driving Hummers, SUVs and big trucks (bigger than a Dodge Dakota, naturally, which is what I drive).

I just hope that it is not already too late!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

GOP Family Values

How does the Republican Party get away with portraying itself as the party of “family values?” I just don’t get it.
Today we learn that Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who was elected to Congress in 1998 to fill in for the disgraced adulterer and would-be Speaker Bob Livingston, has been caught in his own sex scandal.

Glenn Greenwald gives a good rundown of the whole sordid affair.
This is just another in a long line of Washington sex scandals and by my count Republicans have been the culprits in twice as many of these as Democrats during the past decade.

And yet this myth persists that Republicans are somehow morally superior to Democrats because of their intolerant and often hypocritical stand on “family values.”
Right now the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is Rudy Guiliani who has been divorced twice, is estranged from his kids and had to drop out of the 2000 Senate race against Hillary Clinton when it was revealed that he was having an affair at the time.
And now here comes Fred Thompson, the supposed saviour of the political right, who it turns out divorced his wife of nearly 30 years just as his Hollywood career was taking off in 1985. Thompson then had dalliances with a string of celebrity starlets before getting remarried a few years later to a woman who is a quarter century younger than him.
I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if Republicans weren’t so insistent on presenting themselves as the Holier than Thou party, but somehow this whole charade persists.

McCain down and almost out

John McCain’s presidential campaign has apparently imploded.

Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign took another serious blow Tuesday when two of his top strategists left the effort, prompting a series of rumors that McCain may be considering a withdrawal from the race.
Terry Nelson, McCain's campaign manager, and John Weaver, the senator's longtime chief political strategist, have stepped aside.

It’s all over for him. His brand of maverick conservatism just doesn’t sell in today’s GOP culture of strict fealty to the “conservative” movement. The problem for McCain is that conservatism is no longer the leading ideology of the GOP, rather it is radical right-wing authoritarianism that is driving the party.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Never too late

The New York Times finally came out with an editorial the other day calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
I’d say it is about time! I came to that conclusion three full years ago.
I was opposed to the war from the beginning and questioned the administration’s rationale before they pulled the trigger.

In other news, Colin Powell is desperately trying to restore his tattered image by claiming that he tried to talk Bush out of going to war sometime before he shot his global credibility by making a speech before the U.N. chock full of bogus and trumped-up claims of Iraq’s WMD arsenal.

Seven Wonders

Since all but one of the original Seven Wonders of the World no longer exists, someone came up with the bright idea of selecting seven new wonders of the world. So they had a list of nominees drawn up and then opened up a big, worldwide vote. The final results were just announced the other day and they are mostly impressive with just a few quibbles.

The new Seven Wonders include (in no particular order):

Chichén Itzá pyramid, Mexico

Christ the Redeemer statue, Brazil

The Great Wall of China, China

Machu Picchu, Peru

Petra, Jordan

The Roman Colloseum, Italy

The Taj Mahal, India.

The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt was not included in the voting because it already has Seven Wonder status as the sole remaining wonder from the original historic list.
Some famous monuments that just missed making the list include the Statue of Liberty in New York; The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, and the Acropolis in Greece.