Friday, October 26, 2007

Amendment election

We have another Constitutional Amendment election coming up next week - Nov. 6.
I hate Constitutional Amendment elections. Most people are far too busy with their daily lives to take the time to study up on all these issues and make any kind of informed decisions. That is why we elect representatives to go to Austin in our stead. It’s their job to make these decisions for us. If we don’t like the decisions that they are making, then we pitch them out at the next election.
But this business of putting everything into an amendment and bringing it up for a statewide vote is ridiculous. The Texas Constitution needs to be chunked in the trash and written anew. The only problem is that I am scared to death of the kinds of people who would get in there and write the new Constitution. The chances of them making it worse than it is already is very high.
People like Cathie Adams of The Eagle Forum who made news today by coming out in opposition to a $3 billion bond proposal to support cancer research.

A well-known social conservative is urging Texans to oppose a $3 billion bond proposal for cancer research, warning the money could be used for controversial embryonic stem cell testing.
Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, cautioned fellow Republicans in an email this week that the borrowed money — $300 million annually over 10 years — might not stay in Texas and could be used for research on human embryos.

Good Lord! This nutcase puts more value onto a collection of leftover cells in a petri dish sitting in a fridge at a fertility clinic than she does in the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from cancer who could potentially be saved or have their lives prolonged by this funding. It’s disgusting.

And yet, thousands of people will now vote against this proposition because this woman told them to.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rightwing anger

One thing I learned during my time as the house liberal at ATC, is that anger seems to be a defining characteristic of many rightwingers today. They are almost always angry about something and their list of things they dislike and/or hate is long and extensive: Liberals; Democrats; Hollywood; Illegal Immigrants; Muslims (i.e. Islamofacists); enviromentalists; gays; atheists; criminals, poor people, etc.
I guess the reason I’m not a rightwinger is I have a hard time building up that kind of anger and sustaining it for any length of time. Somedays I get up and find that I’m really not that angry at anyone (which can hamper my blogging).
But rightwingers don’t seem to have this kind of difficulty. Not only are they clear on who or what they hate, but they are consistent with it. They won’t watch a movie if it has an actor or actress that they don’t like (and there are lots of those). They won’t listen to music if the singer has expressed an opinion they disagree with (ditto). They won’t read newspapers or watch TV shows that have expressed opinions in the past that they disagree with. They won’t send their kids to schools where they think they might be taught by people with opinions contrary to their own. They won’t shop at stores or eat at restaurants where they have found reason to be offended or upset.
Eventually, they can become very isolated and before long all their news of the world is being funneled to them through a very select group of heavily filtered outlets - talk radio; right-wing blogs; Fox News; Ann Coulter books...
This, of course, makes it very difficult to have any kind of fulfilling discussion with them since they deem any news sources outside of their little sphere (i.e. the MSM) as false, blasphemous and suspect.
I thought at one time that I could establish a dialogue by reaching out and presenting the other side with a real flesh and blood person whom they could interact with rather than just dealing all the time with caricatures spoon fed to them by rightwing manipulators and propagandists. But I think what I underestimated was this need that many on the right have for being angry all the time. No matter how I argued any point, whether aggressively or conciliatory, they always came back the next day more angry than before. Eventually, the whole framework collapsed and I found myself pitched out on my rear and banished from the site - my comments deleted.
So while I still hold out hope that there can be dialogue and productive debate between the two sides, I’m a little more cynical about how quickly this can happen.
But there are also some who believe that this intransigence is more of a political ploy than a natural condition. Digby calls it the The Art of the Hissy Fit
and notes how it has become a pattern for rightwingers to shift debate in their favor by throwing wall-eyed hissy-fits over nonsensical and trivial matters. I saw it happen a number of times at ATC where someone would raise a stink about something and then insist that all liberals must jump through a series of hoops to be cleansed or else be condemned and defamed in a sort of ritual humiliation. The hypocricy of these exercises was rank, but pointing this out only increased the other side’s anger, thus coming full circle.

A baseball bet

I’m not one who normally gambles. In fact, I have a deep and personal dislike for certain types of gambling such as the state-run lotteries which I think are regressive forms of taxation that prey on the poor and the stupid.
Nevertheless, I recently made a wager with a friend over the outcome of the Baseball playoffs - winner buys lunch.
I figured that I had screwed up the bet because I picked the Yankees to go all the way and win the World Series, while my friend picked the Cleveland Indians. I even went so far as to concede the bet and offered to buy my friend lunch (an offer that has so far been ignored).
But now, looking back on our wager, I think I may have conceded too soon. While I blew my Yankees vs. Indians prediction, I correctly predicted that the Red Sox would beat the Angels in the first round of the playoffs. I also correctly picked the Diamondbacks to beat the Cubs in the first round of the National League playoffs, although I screwed up and picked the Phillies over the Rockies.
Meanwhile, my friend also picked the Red Sox in the American League first round, but he completely blew his National League predictions going with the Phillies and the Cubs. So by my estimation that comes to two correct picks each - a virtual tie.
We re-upped our predictions at the start of the second round of the playoffs and I went with the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks while he went with the Indians and the Rockies. So it looks like we are still tied. So since my initial concession has been rebuffed, I guess I will declare our wager a draw and leave it at that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hysteria on the right

Via Digby
I see that Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria is throwing cold water on the right-wing’s latest thrill fantasy about needing to launch a war with Iran.

The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism." For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

Iran does pose some problems for us right now, but we really need to keep things in context and not allow neo-con whackjobs like Podhoretz to scare us into a frenzy. The fact that Podhoretz, who Glenn Greenwald rightly identifies as a psychopath, is now an advisor to the Giuliani campaign should tell us all we need to know about which direction he would take us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Alleged terror financing case falls flat

The Bush Justice Departments big terror financing case just collapsed.

The U.S. Justice Department suffered a major setback in another high-profile terrorist prosecution Monday when its criminal case against five former officials of a now-defunct Islamic charity collapsed into a tangle of legal confusion.
U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish declared a mistrial, but not before it became clear that the government's landmark terrorism finance case -- and one of its most-costly post-9/11 prosecutions -- was in serious trouble.
His decision came after jury verdicts were read to a packed courtroom indicating that none of the defendants had been found guilty on any of the 200 combined counts against them. Jurors had acquitted defendants on some counts and were deadlocked on charges ranging from tax violations to providing material support for terrorists.
However, during routine polling of the jurors to determine that their votes were accurately reflected in the findings, two said they were not. When efforts to reconcile the surprise conflict failed, Fish declared the mistrial.
The case presented to a Texas jury of eight women and four men relied heavily on Israeli intelligence and involved disputed documents and electronic surveillance gathered by federal agents over a span of nearly 15 years. Fish's order ended a two-month trial and 19 days of jury deliberations over allegations that Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and five of its former leaders provided financial aid to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
President Bush announced in December 2001 that the Texas-based charity's assets were being seized, and in a Rose Garden news conference accused the organization of financing terrorism. Monday's outcome, however, raised serious questions about those allegations as well.
"I think it is a huge defeat for the government," said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor specializing in 1st Amendment cases and terrorism prosecutions.
"They spent almost 15 years investigating this group, seized all their records and had extensive wiretapping and yet could not obtain a single conviction on charges of supporting a terrorist organization."
According to one juror interviewed Monday afternoon, the panel was evenly split on most of the disputed charges and not close to convicting anyone.
Juror William Neal, 33, who said his father worked in military intelligence, said that the government's case had "so many gaps" that he regarded the prosecution as "a waste of time."
It was unclear Monday whether the government would seek to retry all five defendants, but supporters viewed the outcome as vindication.
"My father was singled out for feeding, clothing and educating the children of Palestine," said Noor Elashi, the 21-year-old daughter of defendant Ghassan Elashi, Holy Land's former chairman. "I am the daughter of an American hero," she said.

This is a story that will be viewed differently depending on whether you are wearing right-tinted or left-tinted goggles. Rightwingers will see a travesty in which terrorists are being allowed to go free and they will blame the U.S. Justice system and claim that it just proves how we can’t fight terrorism in the courts.

Those on the left will also see a travesty, but one in which an innocent and peaceful charity organization was persecuted and villified by a reactionary Bush Justice Department desperately looking for a scapegoat’s scalp to hang on its belt.

Bush destroying conservatism

Gary Kamiya at asks the very salient question What is up with conservatives these days? Are they just stoooopid or what?

The real question is: After seven years of George W. Bush, why would any genuine conservative still support his party?
Bush's presidency has made a shambles of real conservatism. Let's leave aside the issues on which liberals and conservatives can be expected to disagree, like his tax cuts for the rich, expansion of Medicare or his position on immigration, and focus solely on ones that should be above partisan rancor -- ones involving the Constitution and all-American values. On issue after Mom-and-apple-pie issue, from authorizing torture to approving illegal wiretapping to launching a self-destructive war, Bush has done incalculable damage to conservative principles -- far more, in fact, than any recent Democratic president. And he has been supported every step of the way by Republicans in Congress, who have voted in lockstep for his radical policies. None of the major Republican candidates running for office have repudiated any of Bush's policies. They simply promise to execute them better.

There is very little that is “conservative” about the Bush administration. They are most certainly not fiscally conservative with the way they have allowed the federal budget deficit to explode. They are most certainly not prudent or cautious in their handling of U.S. foreign policy. They have little to no respect for tradition or established principles.

As I’ve said many times before, they are not “conservatives”, they are right-wing radicals. They want to make radical changes to our governmental institutions that would have the primary effect of further enriching their small cadre of political supporters at the expense of everyone else in the nation.

A lot of old school conservatives like William F. Buckley abandoned Bush a long time ago. But the majority of self-described Republicans remain stubbornly in lockstep marching toward the cliff. Many will see their political fortunes go splat after the next election.

What a mess

It’s hard to believe that Mr. 25 percent Approval Rating expects us to cough up another $46 billion to finance his boondoggle in Iraq.

New reports out today confirm that the Bush administration is far too incompetent to keep track of the money it has recieved so far.

The U.S. State Department is unable to account for most of $1.2 billion in funding that it gave to DynCorp International to train Iraqi police, a government report said Tuesday.
"The bottom line is that State can't account for where it went," said Glenn D. Furbish, who was involved in putting together the 20-page report for the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR).
The Department of State's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) "did not have the information needed to identify what DynCorp provided under the contract or how funds were spent," the report said.

And it’s not just this one contractor that’s the problem, according to the NYTimes:

A pair of new reports have delivered sharply critical judgments about the State Department’s performance in overseeing work done by the private companies that the government relies on increasingly in Iraq and Afghanistan to carry out delicate security work and other missions.

A State Department review of its own security practices in Iraq assails the department for poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability involving armed security companies like Blackwater USA, according to people who have been briefed on the report. In addition to Blackwater, the State Department’s two other security contractors in Iraq are DynCorp International and Triple Canopy.

At the same time, a government audit expected to be released Tuesday says that records documenting the work of DynCorp, the State Department’s largest contractor, are in such disarray that the department cannot say “specifically what it received” for most of the $1.2 billion it has paid the company since 2004 to train the police officers in Iraq.

But I’m afraid this is the best we can expect from a Republican administration today. They think their only job is to pass out government booty by the billions to their favorite private contractors and then don’t bother to follow up and make sure the funds are used properly. I’m sure they see that as unneccessary government intervention in business. But the result is that we are flushing our money down the drain in Iraq.
And unfortunately all of this is not new:

Corruption within the Iraqi government is costing the country billions of dollars, the US official monitoring reconstruction in Iraq has said.
Stuart Bowen told the BBC that Iraq was facing a second insurgency of corruption and mismanagement.
He said Iraqi government corruption could amount to $4bn (£2.1bn) a year, over 10% of the national income, with some money going to the insurgency.

And more here:

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

U.S. officials have previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time that inspectors have found that projects officially declared successes - in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections - were no longer working properly.

The inspections ranged geographically from northern to southern Iraq and covered projects as varied as a maternity hospital, barracks for an Iraqi special forces unit and a power station for Baghdad International Airport.

At the airport, crucially important for the functioning of the country, inspectors found that while $11.8 million had been spent on new electrical generators, about three-quarters of the generators were no longer functioning.

At the maternity hospital, a rehabilitation project in the northern city of Erbil, an expensive incinerator for medical waste was padlocked - Iraqis at the hospital could not find the key when inspectors asked to see the equipment - and, partly as a result, medical waste including syringes, used bandages and empty drug vials were clogging the sewage system and probably contaminating the water system.
The newly built water purification system was not functioning, either.

Waste. Fraud. Corruption. And all of it being put on Uncle Sam’s credit card for our children and grandchildren to pay for someday. Thanks Republicans!
And they wonder why they are struggling in opinion polls these days. It must be that nasty liberal media.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Beginning To Wonder

Ann, another exile from ATC, has just set up her own blog.
She has decided to call it Beginning To Wonder which is similar sounding to my friend Robert's Beginner's Mind, but probably not based on the same Budhhist inspiration.
I will look forward to reading lots more of Ann's posts now that she has discovered this new outlet. ATC's loss is the rest of the blogosphere's gain!
Give 'em hell, Ann!

Pelosi unfairly attacked

Jonathan Gurwitz’ latest column in the Express-News is a partisan screed attacking Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi over matters of foreign policy.
Gurwitz begins with a trumped up accusation that Pelosi created a tempest during her visit to Syria last April:

Pelosi created an international tempest by claiming to bear a message for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, one stating his country was prepared to engage in peace talks with its longtime enemy without preconditions. That would have marked a significant departure from six decades of Israeli practice.
Olmert did not make such a departure, which forced the Israeli Foreign Ministry to issue a clarification that contradicted Pelosi's supposed communiqué.

First, we don’t know what was actually said between Pelosi and Olmert. After her meeting with Assad, all Pelosi said was that Israel was ready to negotiate for peace. She did not elaborate further and has not since. She did not say there were no preconditions or any other such nonsense that would have been a “significant departure” from Israeli policy.
Furthermore, Olmert’s “clarification” afterward did not contradict Pelosi, as Gurwitz implies, but simply reaffirmed these preconditions.
I personally think that Olmert’s “clarification” was brought on at the urging of the Bush administration which was looking for any excuse to undermine Pelosi for partisan political reasons.

Pelosi had, in fact, brought up quite a few of these “preconditions” with Assad during her meeting, accroding to the NYTimes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her delegation said they had frank words with President Bashar al-Assad and other senior Syrian officials here on Wednesday, pressing the president over Syria’s support for militant groups and insisting that his government block militants seeking to cross into Iraq and join insurgents there.
Delegation members said that they sought to persuade Mr. Assad to distance himself from Iran, and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So the only real tempest that came from the meeting was that which was drummed up by the rightwing noise machine that had been desperately attacking Pelosi over the Syria trip from the moment it was announced.

That also calls into doubt Gurwitz’ next accusation that Pelosi “glossed over Assad's totalitarian tendencies and his regime's routine violation of human rights.”
That is a highly unfair and partisan charge that is unsupported by the reporting at the time of the meeting.

The rest of the column tries to lay the blame for the timing of the Armenian genocide resolution on Pelosi. The resolution, which Gurwitz admits has merit and should be approved, has come up time and time again only to be knocked down for fear that it would strain relations with Turkey. Apparently, there is never a good enough time to do the right thing in this case. It has once again been set aside due to foreign policy concerns. We are now even more indebted to the Turks than we have been in years past thanks to Bush’s blundering in the Middle East.