The Aeration Zone: A liberal breath of fresh air

Contributors (otherwise known as "The Aerheads"):

Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
ChiTom in Illinois -- KISSweb in Illinois -- HoundDog in Kansas City -- The Binger in Ohio

About us:

e-mail us at:

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

US Policy on Palestine will backfire

Our decision to refuse to continue to give aid to the Palestinians as long as Hamas is in control there seems likely to backfire badly. Take this bit of news:

Syria plans proposing to Arab nations to compensate the Palestinians for any aid Western powers might cut after the election victory of Islamist group Hamas.
Furthermore, the Palestinians alread receive significant aid from Iran. It seems likely they will now get more from that source as well, thus driving them further and further into the arms of the Muslim extremists.

Lying to Congress, again and again

Think Progress has caught both General Hayden, former director of the NSA, and Attorney General Gonzales in outright lies to Congress. At the time they gave the testimony below, both were fully aware that the NSA was spying on Americans without a warrant:

GOSS: OK, my second question, then. General Hayden, you said something about bin Laden coming across the bridge, hypothetical, of course. But I take that to mean that if bin Laden did come there would be capabilities that we have that we can use elsewhere in the world that we cannot use in the United States of America. Is that correct?

HAYDEN: Not so much capabilities, but how agilely we could apply those capabilities. The person inside the United States becomes a U.S. person under the definition provided by the FISA Act.

GOSS: Well, lets — again, I don’t want to get into details. I’m aware of the public nature of this meeting. But let’s just suppose this sniper [in the United States] is somebody we wanted to catch very badly. Could we apply all our technologies and all our capabilities and all our know how against that person? Or would that person be considered to have protection as an American citizen?

HAYDEN: That person would have protections as what the law defines as a U.S. person. And I would have no authorities to pursue it.


SEN. FEINGOLD: I — Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I’m asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he’s commander in chief? Does he — does he have that power?

After trying to dodge the question for a time, Gonzales issued this denial:

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not — I — it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

Lying to Congress is, of course, against the law. But, since this president thinks he's above the law, I guess he thinks his men are above the law as well.

Americans love domestic spying (not)

Notwithstanding the "liberal" main stream media's oozing about how much the NSA spying story is hurting Democrats and how the public just loves this spying stuff (because they polled 51 - 46 in favor of the president's spying), John Avarosis at Americablog points out the next question in that very same poll:

Do you think that the Bush administration should conduct wiretaps of American citizens who are suspected of having ties to terrorists without a court order, or do you think that the Bush administration should be required to get a court order before conducting these wiretaps?

Should be able to wiretap without court order ......................... 41
Should be required to get a court order before wiretapping .... 53
Depends (VOL).......................................................... 4
Not sure............................................................... 2

Not quite overwhelming support for Bush, I would say. But, instead of pounding on this issue, as they should, the Dems are steering clear of it for fear it will backfire on them. If they let this continue, it will. The Thuglicans will pass a law that only card carrying Thuglicans can vote.


Coretta Scott King passed away last night at age 78.

How does Bush play in Peoria?

Spin: The main stream media have been effervescing for the past week about how Bush's approval ratings are "inching" back up.

Reality: Here's the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll result.

...Bush’s approval rating at 39 percent, which is unchanged from last month’s NBC/Journal poll. (Other recent national surveys have shown his approval rating to be slightly higher, in the low 40s.) In addition, only 25 percent say they want to see Bush take the lead role in setting policy for the country, while 49 percent say they prefer Congress.

They may love him in the media, but it doesn't appear he's quite so popular on Main St.

A Third View

This is sort of an update to my post below titled, "Two Views of the World." Here's what Meteor Blades says over at Kos. I think I'll try to buy into this one:

For now, I'm laying off the recriminations. Instead, the first thing I'm doing as soon as this is written is to call my two Senators - Boxer and Feinstein - to tell them I appreciated their "No" votes. And I urge others to do so as well. But, more important, I urge others to put their energy into a new fight. Because the Alito nomination is all over but the final vote, and we need to invest the next week into making something useful out of next Monday's Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on "Wartime Executive Power and the NSA's Surveillance Authority."

Given what an atrocious job most of the Democrats on the committee did in querying Samuel Alito, particularly bad when it came to follow-up questions, and in framing the issues of concern raised by Alito's extensive judicial record, it is incumbent upon us to try to ensure that Democrats ask tough questions at these hearings. We need to push the Dems away from playing enabler for what is sure to be Attorney General Gonzales's efforts to make the hearings nothing more than a forum for the idea that the Administration's evasion of FISA is being done to protect us from the bad guys.

Many of us are, I know, psychologically exhausted from seeking victory that we knew since November would be a long shot. And I've seen a fat chunk of comments saying: what's the use, the right wing has won, there's no point in fighting anymore. Understandably. But a battle is not a war. And, disappointing as it was, and as devastating as Alito's tenure on the court may turn out to be, giving up is simply not an option.

No matter what the odds, and no matter how few of our elected representatives we can count on to stand with us on this matter, and a hundred others, we have to keep up the fight. The war against Big Brotherization is as crucial as that for abolition, for women's suffrage, for civil rights.

In every case, the warriors in those wars suffered immense setbacks, repeatedly so, and found it hard to get the politicians to speak up and stand up for them. Eventually, however, because they refused to surrender, and because they took the fight beyond the electoral arena, they won.

We will, too.

Two views of the world

Two views of the world.

Kevin Drum says,

The lefty blogosphere has spent the last week trying to fire up support for a filibuster of Samuel Alito. This campaign was never likely to succeed, and today it failed as expected. But that's not all: it failed by the embarrassingly lopsided margin of 72-25.

I'm glad the filibuster took place, because even in failure it puts a marker down for future court fights. Still, even given the amateurish way that Senate Dems handled it, I expected it to get more than 25 votes. So here's today's assignment: In 5,000 words or less, what does this say about the influence of the lefty blogosphere?

On the other hand, Digby says,

The last time we had a serious outpouring from the grassroots was the Iraq War resolution. My Senator DiFi commented at thetime that she had never seen anything like the depth of passion coming from her constituents. But she voted for the war anyway. So did Bayh, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Kerry and Reid. The entire leadership of the party. Every one of them went the other way this time. I know that some of you are cynical about these people (and ,well, they are politicans, so don't get all Claud Rains about it) but that means something. Every one of those people were running in one way or another in 2002 and they went the other way. The tide is shifting. There is something to be gained by doing the right thing.

As for me, I feel much the way I did on the morning after election day one year + ago. Still, I do have to congratulate the Kennedy, Kerry, et al crowd for at least doing something. It's the seventeen or so spineless Dems that I fault -- and, perhaps, the failure of anyone to impose some party discipline.

Meanwhile, I do not intend to watch the Thuglicans gloat tonight when Mrs. Alito (who won the best actress award for her crying stint at the Judiciary Committee hearings) sits down next to Laura.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Merits of Planning and Execution

The NY Times had a story this morning that is instructive in showing why the Republicans are where they are today, and, consequently, why the Dems are where they are.

Last February, as rumors swirled about the failing health of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, a team of conservative grass-roots organizers, public relations specialists and legal strategists met to prepare a battle plan to ensure any vacancies were filled by like-minded jurists.

The team recruited conservative lawyers to study the records of 18 potential nominees — including Judges John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — and trained more than three dozen lawyers across the country to respond to news reports on the president's eventual pick.

"We boxed them in," one lawyer present during the strategy meetings said with pride in an interview over the weekend. This lawyer and others present who described the meeting were granted anonymity because the meetings were confidential and because the team had told its allies not to exult publicly until the confirmation vote was cast.

Here's the point. The Republicans started putting their court appointment strategy together almost a year ago -- in fact the article goes on to say that the plan was hatched back in 1982. As far as I can tell, the Dems didn't start to hatch a plan to fight Alito (at least not as a group) until they walked into the Senate hearings. Even then, they couldn't coordinate their attacks at all because each Senator was more interested in seeing his mug and hearing his eloquent speech on TV than on stopping the appointment.

As far as I can tell, the same thing is happening as we close in on the NSA spying hearings. The Thuglicans, as usual, will come in fully armed and totally prepared to do battle. The Dems will still be wondering what clothing they look best in on TV.

Nobody's going to vote for these jerks in November if they can't get their act together.

Now, all this raises an interesting question. How can it be that the Republicans can be so incredibly competent in planning and executing political strategies when they are so incredibly incompetent in running the country? Tell me anything that the Bush administration and/or the Republican Congress has done well when it comes to actual governance?

The War in Iraq - nope
Balancing the Budget - nope
Stimulating the economy - nope (at least not for the "working" man)
Handling natural disasters - nope
Catching terrorists - nope
Implementing Medicare Part D - nope

... the list could grow as long as your arm. There's just nothing the administration has done well. And, legislation and oversight are the jobs of Congress. Find me anything good in those spheres that they have done.

Medicare Part D - nope
Oversight - what's that?

Are good politics and good governance oxymorons?

$7 Trillion could be saved

The UN has a new study that envisions the possibility of freeing up $7 trillion in global wealth through better cooperation among countries and improved fiscal accountability.

In a groundbreaking move, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has drawn up a visionary proposal that has been endorsed by a range of figures including Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate.

It says an unprecedented outbreak of co-operation between countries, applied through six specific financial tools, would slice through the Gordian knot of problems that have bedevilled the world for most of the last century.

If its recommendations are accepted - and the authors acknowledge this could take years or even decades - it could finally force countries to face up to the fact that their public finance and growth figures conceal the vast damage their economies do to the environment.

At the heart of the proposal, unveiled at a gathering of world business leaders at the Swiss ski resort of Davos, is a push to get countries to account for the cost of failed policies, and use the money saved "up front" to avert crises before they hit. Top of the list is a challenge to the United States to join an international pollution permit trading system which, the UN claims, could deliver $3.64trn of global wealth.

I wouldn't count on any of this coming to pass as long as Bush is in power. Nor would I count on this getting much press coverage in the US even though it's headline news abroad.

Even Tony Blair gets it

Even Tony Blair seems to understand that climate change and global warming are serious issues.

Tony Blair warns that the impact of climate change may be more serious than previously thought in a new government report on global warming published today.

The report raises fears that both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are likely to melt, leading to a devastating rise in sea levels.

It warns of large-scale and irreversible disruption if temperatures rise by more than 3C (5.4F) - well within the range of climate change projections for the century.

Meanwhile, George Bush seeks to silence US scientists who have reached the same conclusion.

Why does anyone support the GOP?

Publius asks his conservative readers a simple question:

I’d really like my conservative readers to answer this simple question – what is the argument in favor of the GOP these days? What’s the affirmative case? Is there any reason other than that Democrats would be worse? Help me – because I just don’t see it. When I look at the GOP leadership and the White House, I don’t see one thing that I approve of – especially on "big picture" issues. I mean, seriously, what are they doing well?

Small government? Please. Limited government? The unitary executive is really consistent with that part of conservative philosophy. Lower taxes? The GOP isn’t cutting taxes – it’s shifting taxes to future generations. Anytime tax cuts cause the sort of structural deficits we have, they’re not really tax cuts. Good domestic policy? Rx drug bill. Katrina. National security? I just can’t see how anyone makes this argument with a straight face after seeing how the Iraq war and occupation were planned and executed. And that’s not even counting the authorization of torture, which is the most morally disgusting action by our government in the post-WW2 era. And then you add in corruption, the K Street alliance, the payment of journalists, the appointment of cronies to important administrative positions, and the more general disregard for policy – and you get a government that is an utter and absolute failure (miserable even).

Gone fishing

Here we are in northern NJ on January 30. The temperature on the nearby bank building read 55 degrees at 10:00 am. It's probably in the 60s by now. Bye bye. I'm going out to enjoy it.

Hard to figure

Virtually everything this administration does is mystifyingly stupid, but this one really takes the cake:

...Tabarak served as a bodyguard for the al Qaeda leader, worked on his farm in Sudan and helped run a gemstone smuggling racket in Afghanistan, court records here show.During the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when al Qaeda leaders were pinned down by U.S. forces, Tabarak sacrificed himself to engineer their escape. He headed toward the Pakistani border while making calls on Osama bin Laden's satellite phone as bin Laden and the others fled in the other direction...

Tabarak was captured and taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was classified as such a high-value prisoner that the Pentagon repeatedly denied requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to see him. Then, after spending almost three years at the base, he was suddenly released.

Today, the al Qaeda loyalist known locally as the "emir" of Guantanamo walks the streets of his old neighborhood near Casablanca, more or less a free man. In a decision that neither the Pentagon nor Moroccan officials will explain publicly, Tabarak was transferred to Morocco in August 2004 and released from police custody four months later.

The claim is that this guy was one of Osama's most loyal body guards. It's hard to conjur up any plausible reason why they would just let him go. Maybe that's what we'll do with Osama if we ever catch him. Or maybe we already have.

I know this sounds a bit shrill, but is it possible we deliberately let Osama escape so that Bush could have a continuing threat to scare Americans about? It's certainly Rove-like.

How to win friends and influence people, not

I said something similar about Harry Belafonte last week, but today I'm going to say it about Cindy Sheehan. Today's news reported that she was at a rally in Venezuela, arm in arm with Hugo Chavez, denouncing the war and the president.

Now, I have no beef with Hugo Chavez, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you want to win friends and influence people, you don't go trapsing around the world denouncing an American president while you're hand in hand with a foreign leader -- particularly a foreign leader who has been labeled a communist by your own government. It just isn't good politics. Hanoi Jane. Caracas Cindy?

I don't watch Faux News, but I can just imagine the field day they'll have with this. It will be almost as good as Kerry calling for a fillibuster from the ski slopes in Davos, Switzerland.

How old are you?

Since I am even older than Andrew Tobias, these remarks of his really hit home.

The United States is 230 years old. I, it shocks me to realize (could this math be right?), have been around for more than a quarter of it. So the notion that things will “always” turn out right in America because they “always do” (except for, say, little hiccups like the Civil War), is really not a given. We have to make them turn out right.

I believe we will; but in order to do so, we need to learn to get along and to find common ground. Having a fourth rightwing Supreme Court Justice is not a step in the correct direction.

This is not to say Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito are not all charming, well-intentioned Federalist Society enthusiasts (I think Justice Kennedy may be a Federalist Society enthusiast as well) . . . merely to say that tilting the Court sharply from the center to the right – as replacing a moderate conservative like Sandra Day O’Connor with a hard-right conservative like Samuel Alito would do – would be a mistake. And one we would have to live with for decades.

In that context, I would urge you to call your Senator and ask him or her to support a filibuster – 202-225-3121 (or Google his or her name, then call the phone number listed for one of his or her offices in your state – where the switchboard might not be so jammed).

Sunday, January 29, 2006

To fight or not to fight, that is the question

Digby has some insights on the merits of the fillibuster that I think I agree with.

The chattering classes are all very sure that the Democrats have made a grave mistake on Alito. According to reports in the press, many insider Democrats believe this too. I believe they are wrong. This may look like a ragged strategy in some respects, but it is good for us to be seen doing things that have no obvious political advantage and for which we can legitimately claim to have taken the moral high ground. Yes, the tittering congnoscenti will flutter their fans and whisper that Democrats are witless and dull, but in this case we are talking directly to the people not to them. They have no idea anymore that a world exists out here where poltical calculation is beside the point.

Regardless of how this comes out in the end, and we don't know until the votes are cast, this may be seen as a defining moment for the Democratic Party. When a calculating political creature like Dianne Feinstein rushes to support a filibuster rather than reaffirm her opposition once conventional wisdom says a filibuster will fail, is meaningful. Democratic politicians (if not their moribund strategists) are feeling the pressure from the people to do the right thing.

John Avarosis, over at Americablog, is far more skeptical. He thinks the Democrats shouldn't do this unless they combine it with a massive media campaign to explain it to the public, something they are clearly not doing. He's afraid the Dems may end up getting the same treatment people gave the Republicans after the Schiavo affair.

Although I agree with the need for a media campaign, I'm inclined to support the fillibuster even without it. While it is true that the polls show majority support for Alito, I really don't feel that this support is very enthusiastic (apart from the extreme right) or very well informed. Because of that, I doubt people will care that much one way or the other, and the fillibuster shouldn't do the Dems much harm politically, even if they lose. At least they will have stood to face the enemy, rather than turning to flee before the first shot, as they have been inclined to do in the past.

And, even if I'm wrong, I don't think we can go down on this without a fight. If it comes back to haunt us, so be it.

Another Republican gets it

Another Republican gets it. Today on ABC's This Week, Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says he doesn't think Bush has the authority he claims:

HAGEL: I don’t believe, from what I’ve heard, but I’m going to give the administration an opportunity to explain it, that he has the authority now to do what he’s doing. Now, maybe he can convince me otherwise, but that’s OK.


HAGEL: Not yet. But that’s OK. If he needs more authority, he just can’t unilaterally decide that that 1978 law is out of date and he will be the guardian of America and he will violate that law. He needs to come back, work with us, work with the courts if he has to, and we will do what we need to do to protect the civil liberties of this country and the national security of this country.

Going Nuclear?

The outlook for the fillibuster is improving. Here's what mcjoan at DailyKos writes:

Senator Kennedy just had a conference call with a number of bloggers to update us on his and Senator Kerry's filibuster effort, and to encourage the netroots and the grassroots to keep up our efforts. He's very excited by what he's seeing here and throughout the blogosphere, and gave a great pep talk.

He is encouraging you to contact your Democratic Senators, regardless of what they might have said so far, but specifically mentioned Senators Pryor, Lincoln, Cantwell, Murray, Baucus, Harkin, Levin, Bayh, Lautenberg, Menendez, and Lieberman. In addition, he said to keep the pressure on Republican Senators Snowe, Collins, Chaffee, and Stevens.

Senator Kennedy talked in particular about one thing that I think is critical to keep in mind as we approach our Senators, and for them to keep in mind as they are considering this vote. We need to overcome the media noise machine by letting our Senators know that in voting their conscience, and making it clear that they are voting on principle, on conscience, they will overcome the media noise machine calling them obstructionists. We can help them realize this by letting them know that we've got their backs. That they are voting our conscience as well, and that we will not forget their courage.

UK women want to restrict abortion

This is an interesting finding from the liberal UK Guardian. Of course, public opinion in the UK may differ markedly from that in the US, but it makes you wonder whether all the talk by the pro-choicers about women wanting to have control of their own bodies is in synch with reality.

A majority of women in Britain want the abortion laws to be tightened to make it harder, or impossible, for them to terminate a pregnancy.

Evidence of a widespread public demand for the government to further restrict women's right to have an abortion is revealed in a remarkable Observer opinion poll. The findings have reignited the highly-charged debate on abortion, and increased the pressure on Tony Blair to review the current time limits.

The survey by MORI shows that 47 per cent of women believe the legal limit for an abortion should be cut from its present 24 weeks, and another 10 per cent want the practice outlawed altogether. Among the population overall, reducing the upper limit was the preferred option backed by the largest proportion of respondents, 42 per cent, made up of a 36-47 per cent split among men and women.

Good News for Dems in ABC/WAPO poll (hopefully)

There's some good news in the ABC/Washington Post poll results published in today's WAPO.

The Post-ABC News poll offers a revealing portrait of a restless electorate at the start of the campaign year. By 51 percent to 35 percent, Americans said they preferred to go in the direction outlined by congressional Democrats rather than the direction established by the president. On the eve of last year's State of the Union address, 45 percent said they preferred to follow the path of the president, compared with 39 percent who said they favored the Democrats' course.

By 54 percent to 38 percent, voters surveyed said they would vote for the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate for the House in November. That is one of the largest margins favoring the Democrats in two decades, although the gerrymandered House districts mean that incumbents are safer today than they were in the past.

By 51 percent to 37 percent, Americans said they trust the Democrats more than the Republicans with the main problems facing the country over the next few years, the first time since spring 1992 that Democrats have gained more than 50 percent support on that question.

Four in 10 (43 percent) surveyed said they approve of the way Congress is doing its job, while 64 percent said they approve of the job their own member of the House is doing. In comparison, in March 1994, the year Republicans captured control of the House and Senate, approval of the Democratic-controlled Congress stood at 35 percent, with 62 percent approving the job their own House member was doing.

Democrats have gained ground in the past two months on two other measures. The public sees Democrats as more likely to stand up to lobbyists and special-interest groups, 46 percent to 27 percent. In December, Democrats held a lead of eight percentage points. Republicans still are viewed as having stronger leaders, but Democrats have narrowed that gap by more than half.

The question is, can the Democrats turn this into an electoral advantage? It's our only hope, Obi-Wan, it's our only hope.

Bush can clean house (but not while chewing gum)

Newsweek has a good story out about lawyers within the administration who tried to stop the NSA spying program. As you would expect, they were drummed out.

These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president's eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want-indeed avoided-publicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.) They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray-as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story has been obscured behind legalisms and the veil of secrecy over the White House. But it is a quietly dramatic profile in courage. (For its part the White House denies any internal strife. "The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn't based in fact," says Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney. "This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.")

Order in the Court

Saddam's trial is turning into an absolute circus. We're now on the third judge. Saddam stormed out of the proceedings, along with several of his co-defendants. The defense lawyers stormed out as well, while the judge told them that if they left the Court, they would not be allowed to return. I guess that means the rest of the trial will go forward without a defense team.

Even the trial of the "Chicago Seven" wasn't this crazy.

Somehow, I don't think the final verdict in this case is going to look as though it came about in an orderly, fair and balanced proceeding. It may not be a kangaroo court, but it might be likened to a gathering of howler monkeys.

If it's science, silence it

The NY Times has a story this morning about NASA climate expert, James E. Hansen, who claims the Bush Administration is trying to silence him when he speaks out about global warming.

Ho hum. So what else is new?

What is refreshing about this story, however, is the fact that Hansen is refusing to obey his orders and is fighting back. It's about time we had a mutiny or two on this ship of state.

Update: Here's a bit of what Hansen is saying, from today's Washington Post:

The debate has been intensifying because Earth is warming much faster than some researchers had predicted. James E. Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, last week confirmed that 2005 was the warmest year on record, surpassing 1998. Earth's average temperature has risen nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, he noted, and another increase of about 4 degrees over the next century would "imply changes that constitute practically a different planet."

"It's not something you can adapt to," Hansen said in an interview. "We can't let it go on another 10 years like this. We've got to do something."

Good Night and Good Luck

I went to see "Good Night and Good Luck" last night. If you haven't seen it, it's on my highly recommended list now.

And, these are the lucky ones

So sayeth Juan Cole:

A third of US veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, some 40,000 persons, exhibit at least some signs of mental health disorders. Some 14,000 were treated for drug dependencies, and 11,000 for depression. Societies that think that aggressive war is some macho game and that the price is well worth it just have a lot of homeless and limbless people after a while.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Appeals Court Judge: Breaking Law Okay?

Glen Greenwald at Crooks and Liars points us to an essay in The New Republic by Federal Judge Richard Posner, who sits on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, about the NSA surveillance program. In effect Judge Posner says it doesn't matter whether the program broke the law. If the program was necessary, then the president should have implemented it even if he knew it broke the law. And, the Court should not interfere.

The revelation by The New York Times that the National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting a secret program of electronic surveillance outside the framework of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has sparked a hot debate in the press and in the blogosphere. But there is something odd about the debate: It is aridly legal. . . .

Lawyers who are busily debating legality without first trying to assess the consequences of the program have put the cart before the horse. Law in the United States is not a Platonic abstraction but a flexible tool of social policy. In analyzing all but the simplest legal questions, one is well advised to begin by asking what social policies are at stake. Suppose the NSA program is vital to the nation's defense, and its impingements on civil liberties are slight. That would not prove the program's legality, because not every good thing is legal; law and policy are not perfectly aligned. But a conviction that the program had great merit would shape and hone the legal inquiry.

This strikes me as a bizarre interpretation of law. We find someone who broke a law, but to determine whether he should be held accountable, we should first inquire whether the action that broke the law was worthwhile (in someone's eyes).

I'd be interested in comments from those of my co-bloggers who are attorneys -- or from anyone else for that matter.

Alito fillibuster - some progress

Notwithstanding all the mocking of the Democrats in the press, it looks like the Alito fillibuster effort is moving forward, and slowly gaining some traction among some of the wavering Democrats. I doubt this will prove successful, but at least someone is trying. Firedoglake has some suggestions on action moves we can take.

Just got off the phone with someone highly placed in the filibuster fight: this is doable. It is an uphill battle, no doubt, but that person's words were: the momentum is shifting and has shifted perceptibly since Thursday. Senators are responding to the fact that this is the right thing to do, for the good of the country.

For once, at least a few people are showing some spine.

The War Crimes Prez confirmed

Yesterday I blogged about the fact that our troops were capturing the wives of suspected insurgents and holding them hostage in the hopes of using them to lure the insurgents to give up. I said then that while I wasn't sure, I thought this was a violation of the Geneva Convention. Matthew Gross confirms that today. Here are the relevant articles:

Art. 33. No... person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Art. 34. The taking of hostages is prohibited.

Getting rid of the troops

The news today is that Bush is planning to cut the size of the Army Reserve and the National Guard. It appears the reasons are two-fold. 1) They can't recruit enough people to maintain the current size and 2) they can't afford the cost when they are paying for a war while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

Does it strike anyone else as odd that the "war" president is cutting the size of our military when we are in the midst of a war?

Touchy touchy

Here is one of the many comments to the Washington Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, that the Post removed for being "profane hate speech that made personal attacks on Ms. Howell."

Ms. Howell, I look forward to the Washington Post printing a pie chart of this spreadsheet:

When one sees $172,933 contributed to Republicans and $0 contributed to Democrats, one can reasonably conclude "the remark in my column Sunday that lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to both parties" requires a full retraction.

As an ombudsman, does your job not entail representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens?

Please read the comments above and the comments to follow with the interests of the Washington Post's readship in mind.

Posted by: bartkid | Jan 19, 2006 1:42:10 PM | Permalink

Most of the rest were just about as innocuous. Yet, the the liberal blogosphere is being accused of being a "vulgarian force" by the likes of Jim Lehrer.

Pity the Washington Post

So writes Digby:

years of relentless violent eliminationist right wing rhetoric toward liberals goes unnoticed or unremarked upon and yet a few hundred hostile e-mails to the Washington Post ombudsman turns the whole town into a tizzy. The liberal blogosphere is thus turned into a rampaging vulgarian force while the relentless cacophany of wealthy right wing gasbags continues to go out to tens of millions of people unabated, undisturbed and unnoticed by the media cognoscenti.

Bush a failed president

The most recent CNN/Gallup poll finds:

Fifty-eight percent of those polled said Bush's second term has been a failure so far, while 38 percent said they consider it a success. A smaller number -- 52 percent -- consider his entire presidency a failure to date, with 46 percent calling it successful.

Unfortunately, when measured by its real goal -- to take dictatorial power --, the administration is a complete success.

My school's better than your school

An article in this morning's NY Times caught my attention. It relates a large-scale study of math achievement among children in public and private schools. According to the Times, the study concludes:

...that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.
This conclusion was reached after adjusting the students' raw scores for differences in their backgrounds:

Though private school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as "the nation's report card," the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances. The researchers said they compared math scores, not reading ones, because math was considered a clearer measure of a school's overall effectiveness.

The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools. A spokeswoman for the National Catholic Education Association did not respond to requests for comment.
I'm finding it very difficult to come to grips with what this really means, if it is true at all. I know that it does NOT mean that even though little Johnnie can't add two and two all is well. His public school is doing just fine! It's just the fact that little Johnnie is poor and black that holds him back.

Perhaps it means that little Johnnie shouldn't be moved to a private school when he can't add, but I'm not at all sure of that either. In fact, without looking into the methodology used to make these adjustments for background, I can't conclude much of anything, but I'm very skeptical. Take this paragraph, for instance:

The report found that among the private schools, Lutheran schools did better than other private schools. Nevertheless, at the fourth-grade level, a 10.7 point lead in math scores evaporated into a 4.2 point lag behind public schools. At the eighth-grade level, a 21 point lead, roughly the equivalent of two grade levels, disappeared after adjusting for differences in student backgrounds.

Here we have the average kid in a Lutheran school two years ahead of his counterpart in a public school. What does the study mean? If that same child were poor and black instead of rich and white, he would be more than two years behind his rich, white classmate in the Lutheran school, and worse off than his counterpart in the public school? Somehow, I very much doubt that.

The study is being used to argue against school vouchers and charter schooling, a thrust I'm inclined to agree with (though for different reasons). But, I suspect we really need to examine the methodology behind this study before we begin to use it to argue about policies.

One side issue in the study, which I find it less difficult to question, was this finding:

The current study found that self-described conservative Christian schools, the fastest-growing sector of private schools, fared poorest, with their students falling as much as one year behind their counterparts in public schools, once socioeconomic factors like income, ethnicity and access to books and computers at home were considered.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Russia to mine the Moon

I just happened to find this interesting. Meanwhile we here in the U.S. are mining data:

Russia is planning to mine a rare fuel on the Moon by 2020 with a permanent base and a heavy-cargo transport link, a Russian space official has said.

"We are planning to build a permanent base on the Moon by 2015 and by 2020 we can begin the industrial-scale delivery ... of the rare isotope Helium-3," Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Energia space corporation, was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying at an academic conference on Wednesday.

The International Space Station (ISS) would play a key role in the project and a regular transport relay to the Moon would be established with the help of the planned Kliper spaceship and the Parom, a space capsule intended to tug heavy cargo containers around space, Sevastyanov said.

Quid pro quo

As I noted earlier today, Bush has promoted the prosecutor investigating the Abramoff matter, thereby almost certainly delaying the entire investigation until after the elections, perhaps forever.

Today, Abramoff repaid Bush:

In a tersely worded statement to RAW STORY late Thursday, a spokesman for fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff hinted that he did indeed have the photos of himself with President Bush and said that he would not release or sell the images.

"To the extent that Mr. Abramoff has possession of any of these photos, he will not be releasing them, nor is he seeking to sell them or use them for any other purpose," spokesman Andrew Blum said in an email.

State of the Union preview

Got 6.5 minutes? Want to laugh? Then go here to see a preview of the SOTU speech.

[A hat tip to DailyKos]

The War Crimes Prez

We've heard this before, but apparently there's now confirmation that the U.S. is seizing the wives of suspected insurgents to try to force the husbands to surrender.

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

I am not absolutely certain, but I believe this is a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. Anyone know for sure? If so, one more war crime to chalk up against this president.

Bush Approval by state

Bush approval ratings, state by state.

Thanks to Dreamonempty at DailyKos.


And these are the guys that say, "just trust us," when they say they are only spying on suspected terrorists:

WASHINGTON - United States intelligence agencies have been hunting for one of al-Qaida's most notorious members - an expert in poisons and lethal chemicals. But NBC News has learned they have been trying to find him by using a photo of the wrong man on his wanted poster.

For a year and a half, the U.S. government has been asking for the public's help in finding Midhat Mursi al-Sayid 'Umar, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, a dangerous al-Qaida operative. But now intelligence officials admit to NBC News they were using a photo of a different man.

The economy is great, the economy is crummy

You really wonder what drives reporters to select what they say about a news event. A case in point is today's release of economic data by the Commerce Department. That's the news event. Here's the first paragraph of the AP report by Jeannine Aversa on this event.

WASHINGTON - New-home sales for all of 2005 climbed to an all-time high, marking the fifth year in a row of record sales.

Now, there's nothing really new in that piece of information. It's been known for quite awhile that new-home sales for the year would be higher than the previous year. But, the report goes on throughout it's entire length to extol the great housing news, despite the fact that existing home sales have fallen for three months in a row.

Meanwhile, another AP report has the real new news from the Commerce Department's release:

The economy grew at only a 1.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year, the slowest pace in three years, amid belt-tightening by consumers facing spiraling energy costs.

I suppose that home builders may prefer to focus on the first report. I also suppose that Bush would prefer us to focus on the first report. But, I wonder what led Ms. Aversa to focus on the housing news.

Best ex-vice-prez

Everyone says that Jimmy Carter is one of the best ex-presidents ever, despite his "failures" as president. After reading this piece from the UK's Guardian, I am wondering whether Al Gore may go down as one of the best ex-vice-presidents ever, despite ...

It does not exactly have blockbuster written all over it. The film is a documentary about Al Gore, the famously wooden vice-president and failed presidential candidate, wheeling his suitcases from town to town and presenting a slideshow about climate change.

Yet An Inconvenient Truth is getting standing ovations at the Sundance film festival in Utah this week. The festival guide describes the film as a "gripping story" with "a visually mesmerising presentation" that is "activist cinema at its very best". In Nashville, Mr Gore's home town, fire marshals had to turn away hundreds of fans trying to get into a screening.

An Inconvenient Truth follows Mr Gore as he undergoes the daily indignities of emptying his pockets and taking off his shoes at airport security screens, sitting alone in hotel rooms working on his computer, and warning audiences around the world about the imminent danger of global warming.


Unlike his former boss, Bill Clinton, who is making millions on the lecture circuit, Mr Gore tells his story for free. In the film, he comes across as funnier and more self-deprecating than the stiff performer of the ill-fated 2000 presidential campaign.

He reveals that his commitment to the environmental cause was, in part, triggered by the near death of his son in a car accident in 1989, which he says forced him to ask: "How should I spend my time on this earth?"

In the midst of despair

Like me this morning, Paradox at the Left Coaster is in despair, but read the rest.

Obstruction of Justice?

Via Talk Left, we learn that Bush is trying to muck up the Abramoff investigation:

Noel Hillman has been leading the Abramoff lobbying investigation for two years. He's about to leave it because President Bush has nominated him for a federal judgeship.

The prosecutor, Noel L. Hillman, is chief of the department's public integrity division, and the move ends his involvement in an inquiry that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

....Colleagues at the Justice Department say Mr. Hillman has been involved in day-to-day management of the Abramoff investigation since it began almost two year ago. The inquiry, which initially focused on accusations that Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, is being described within the department as the most important federal corruption investigation in a generation.

Democrat Senators Chuck Schumer and Ken Salazar and two Congressman say this is even more reason to appoint a special prosecutor and wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a letter yesterday requesting he appoint one:

This is by no means the first time that Bush has moved prosecutors around just as they were about to pounce. In fact, Abramoff was the beneficiary of such a move back in the early days of the administration when the federal prosecutor responsible for Guam was closing in on him. Bush had the guy moved to a new job.

Digby points out that Jeb Bush just recently appointed the guy who is prosecuting Rush Limbaugh to a judgeship, slowing down or maybe stopping that prosecution.

Correction: In the post above I referred to the Mariana Islands. I should have said Guam. The post is now corrected.

How many balls can you drop and still be allowed to play?

There are two major items in the news this morning that got my attention. First, if the NY Times is correct, the Democrats didn't rally to the Kerry-Kennedy call for an Alito fillibuster. Instead, they scurried like rats for some holes to hide in.

Second, the Times conducted a poll on the warrantless surveillance program and found that the Democrats have once again let the Republicans frame the issue. A majority favor warrantless wiretapping to protect us from terrorists. Sixty-eight percent favor warrantless wiretapping of Americans "suspected" of terrorist ties.

The questions, of course, don't really go to the main issue. "Do you favor a president who deliberately breaks the law, when he could do the same things legally but chose not to?"

An interesting sidelight of the Times polling is that they asked the question in different ways and got markedly different answers. If they dropped the part about protecting us from terrorists from the question, a (small) majority were against warrantless wiretapping. Therein lies the problem.

The problem once again is the Democrats and the press. The Democrats sit around waiting for the polls to tell them what to do. In the meantime, the Republicans, assisted by the press, frame the issue in such a way that the polls will support whatever they do. The Democrats waiver and then give in to the Republicans once the polls are published.

When this story first broke, the Democrats should have been screaming from the rooftops about how un-American it was. Instead, they waited until they could read the lay of the land. The White House aggressively took the stage to frame the issue. Now, sadly, it's probably too late. The thuglicans have framed the issue in their favor, and the President has packed the Court in his favor.

Our secrets are in good hands

President Bush says he relies on his, Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a "nonpartisan body offering the President objective, expert advice on the conduct of U.S. foreign intelligence," according to the White House. Georgia10 at DailyKos (via Salon) put up the secret list of members in 2002 when Bush supposedly made the decision to authorize NSA surveillance.

  • Brent Scowcroft: national security adviser to President Bush I. Scowcroft heads the Scowcroft Group which "sells intelligence and other services to globe-trotting corporations."
  • Pete Wilson: former GOP Senator, Governor.
  • Cresencio Arcos: AT&T executive and former US ambassador.
  • Jim Barksdale: former head of Netscape.
  • Robert Addison Day: chairman of the TWC Group, a money management firm, Bush Pioneer.
  • William DeWitt: Ohio businessman, Bush Pioneer, top fund-raiser for Bush's 2004 Inaugural committee, former partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.
  • Stephen Friedman: past chairman of Goldman Sachs.
  • Alfred Lerner: chief executive of MBNA.
  • Ray Lee Hunt: super-rich Texas oil man, Bush Pioneer, finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, Halliburton Board of Directors.
  • Rita Hauser: "a prominent lawyer and longtime advocate of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation."
  • David Jeremiah: retired admiral.
  • Arnold Kanter: national security official under Bush I, founding member of the Scowcroft Group.
  • James Calhoun Langdon, Jr.: "a power-lawyer in Texas," Bush Pioneer, Washington lobbyist.
  • Elisabeth Pate-Cornell: head of industrial engineering and engineering management at Stanford University.
  • John Harrison Streicker: a "real estate magnate."
  • Philip Zelikow: National Security Council staffer during Bush I.
A few okay choices and then a whole bunch of political hacks. I happen to know Bill DeWitt, who, as far as I know, is a fine man, but he certainly isn't someone who is likely to have any great insights about state secrets. He just owns baseball teams. These people were given secrets about our national security that not even members of Congress were given!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fillibuster, bring it on

Who knows whether it will be successful, but finally someone is trying. Kerry and Kennedy are calling for the fillibuster. So, we're going nuclear (or is it nukular?).
It's about time someone stood up to these thugs. If we get defeated, as is probable, so be it. At least someone stood up to them. If we shut down the Congress for the next two and a half years, so be it. It will cut off the harm these guys are doing. We can do without their brand of new legislation.

The die-hard crazy liberal ass holes

Here's the main steam media's take on the effort to stop Scalito:

WASHINGTON - Die-hard Democratic critics of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito threatened to block a vote on his confirmation Thursday

Here we are, the die-hard crazy, way-out, spaced-out, far-left, liberal, communist, ass holes. That's the way the "liberal" main stream media portrays people with principle.

For everything a season

New co-blogger at Scatablog, KISSweb in IL, laments the fact that Democrats can't seem to get their message across to the press. Those over at the Poor Man Institute suggest part of the reason:

When one is an Elder Statesman of the American media, and when one can’t be bothered to look into the particular details of some issue, it is never a bad idea to fall back on Ecclesiastes, and remind the readers - in a tone as wise and weary as you can muster - that the seasons change and the winds blow now this way, now that, turn turn turn, but there is nothing new under the Sun. As there was a time of saying Clinton was a coke-dealing Commie and a serial rapist, now comes the time of saying that George W. Bush shouldn’t run secret torture prisons. Men of Principle lament both of these equally, for they are just two sides of the same lamentable coin. Vanity of vanity, all of it. Can’t we just play nice?

Elections-These People vote!

Co-blogger, Simon in Ontario, sends the following post-Canadian-election snark:

Some guy bought a new fridge for his house. To get rid of his old fridge, he put it in his front yard and hung a sign on it saying "Free to good home. You want it you take it".
For three days the fridge sat there without even one person looking twice at it. He eventually decided that people were too un-trusting of this deal, looks to good to be true, so he changed the sign to read "Fridge for sale $50".
The next day someone stole it.

Caution! These people Vote...
While looking at a house, my brother asked the real estate agent which direction was north because, he explained, he didn't want the sun waking him up every morning.
She asked, "Does the sun rise in the North?"
When my brother explained that the sun rises in the East, (and has for sometime), she shook her head and said, "Oh, I don't keep up with that stuff". .

She ALSO votes!

I used to work in technical support for a 24x7 call center. One day I
got a call from an individual who asked what hours the call center was open.

I told him, "The number you dialed is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
He responded, "Is that Eastern or Pacific time?"
Wanting to end the call quickly, I said, "Uh, Pacific" . . .
He ALSO votes!
My colleague and I were eating our lunch in our cafeteria, when we
overheard one of the administrative assistants talking about the sunburn
she got on her weekend drive to the shore.
She drove down in a convertible, but "didn't think she'd get sunburned because the car was moving". . .
She ALSO votes!
My sister has a lifesaving tool in her car. It's designed to cut through a
seat belt if she gets trapped.

She keeps it in the trunk.

My sister ALSO votes!
My friends and I were on a beer run and noticed that the cases were
discounted 10%. Since it was a big party, we bought 2 cases.
The cashier multiplied 2 times 10% and gave us a 20% discount...
He ALSO votes!
(should have bought 10 cases!)

I was hanging out with a friend when we saw a woman with a nose ring attached to an earring by a chain.

My friend said, "Wouldn't the chain rip out every time she turned her
head?" I explained that a person's nose and ear remain the same distance apart no matter which way the head is turned.

My friend ALSO votes!
I couldn't find my luggage at the airport baggage area. So I went to the lost luggage office and told the woman there that my bags never showed up.

She smiled and told me not to worry because she was a trained professional and I was in good hands.
"Now," she asked me, "has your plane arrived yet?"
SHE ALSO votes!

go figure .......

So Who's Really Partisan About Alito?

Predictably, Senate Republicans and their mouthpieces have accused Democrats opposing Alito of playing partisan politics. It’s hard to know when the Dems are just taking it lying down – they do seem to do that a lot, don’t they? -- and when the media are refusing to air their voices.

But we do know the press has a hard time staying away from a good fight. So why aren’t the Democrats giving them some raw meat to work with, either taking it to them first or, at a minimum, angrily fighting back? It's a totally false accusation. Democrats are standing up for our most fundamental American principles: for the right of privacy that has been a central principle of Supreme Court decisions for a century; for the right of a woman to make her own moral decisions without government meddling in such deeply personal matters; for the historic checks-and-balances between the branches of government that the framers of the Constitution, unlike the modern Right-Wing Extremists who have taken over the Republican Party, knew were absolutely vital to a free country.

The real partisans here are the Republicans. Alito refused to answer questions honestly, has little interest in standing up for the right of privacy, and believes the President can decide for himself when to uphold the law passed by Congress or just make up the law himself and violate his oath of office. Alito is a standing rebuke of historic conservative Republican principles.

Indeed, Mr. Republican Robert Taft and Mr. Conservative Barry Goldwater are turning over in their graves, but do these Republicans care? In virtual lock-step, if not goose-step, they care not one bit whenever their supreme leader doesn’t. Now THAT’S partisan, and it is regretable that this kept press cannot recognize it. While we should not forget during our family squabbles that the most gutless members of Congress are the Republicans, it would be nice if the Democrats could learn to anticipate some of these attacks and be ready with a good counter-move. Once again, no such luck.

Byrd Finks

I am incredibly disappointed with Sen. Robert Byrd's decision to endorse Alito today. Here's the man who has spoken so eloquently of the need to protect this republic from the emperor and his armies, now turning traitor and supporting the very people who will rob us of our democracy. Apparently, it's all because he is being challenged from the right in his re-election bid this year. What is this, the "if you can't beat them, join them" strategy? Try that, and they'll devour you.

Lying to Congress, again

Think Progress catches Gen. Hayden in an outright lie to Congress. Will he be prosecuted for violating the law? Not likely as long as the Rethuglicans rule the roost.

As Think Progress documented back in December, Hayden misled Congress. In his 10/17/02 testimony, he told a committee investigating the 9/11 attacks that any surveillance of persons in the United States was done consistent with FISA.

At the time of his statements, Hayden was fully aware of the presidential order to conduct warrantless domestic spying issued the previous year. But Hayden didn’t feel as though he needed to share that with Congress. Apparently, Hayden believed that he had been legally authorized to conduct the surveillance, but told Congress that he had no authority to do exactly what he was doing. The Fraud and False Statements statute (18 U.S.C. 1001) make Hayden’s misleading statements to Congress illegal.

Cingular Patents the Emoticon

The news reached me today that Cingular Wireless has obtained a patent on the emoticon :(.

The USA based mobile operator, Cingular Wireless has managed to get a patent on the concept of using emoticon on mobile phones. While the aim of the patent is to enable the displaying of MSN style graphics on handsets, they also managed to patent the delivery of text based emoticon - so presumably sending :) via an SMS - if selected via a dedicated or softkey, would be a breach of the patent in future.

One of the requirements for an idea to be patentable is that it be non-obvious. Somehow, I find it hard to believe any that sane person would consider this non-obvious. My god, every first grader with a mobil phone has been doing this for years. If the test for creativity is that low, we might as well patent the idea of breathing. I wonder which megafirm will try to patent that. I suppose we would all have to pay a royalty each time we took a breath.

Hamas victory. Now what?

I haven't fully internalized the victory of Hamas yet. I think it's pretty clear that the outcome was largely a repudiation of the corrupt politics that the PLO and Fatah have practiced for longer than anyone can remember, not an endorsement of terror tactics.

My hope is that now that Hamas has the responsibility to actually govern, they may begin to act a bit more responsibly -- if the Israelis allow it.

My fear is that the Israelis won't allow it. They may just go in and take over.

Maybe we'll get a clearer picture once the dust starts to settle.

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

To the Editors of the New York Times
Re: "Senators in Need of a Spine"

I quite agree with the thrust of the above referenced editorial in this morning's Times. Yes, many, perhaps most of our senators have been spineless on the Alito confirmation. Yes, the appointment of Alito is very likely to destroy the fabric of our democracy. But, while I welcome you to the party, you've arrived a bit late. The beer kegs are empty, the guests have all gone home, and the hosts have gone to bed.

If your paper had not allowed Judy Miller to spout Bush propaganda from your front page while burying the truth in articles deep inside the paper, if printed at all, things might be different. If your paper had published the N.S.A. spying story as soon as it learned of it, rather than waiting for an entire year, things might have been different. If your paper had done any decent investigative reporting into the culture of corruption in the Republican establishment over the past five years, things might have been different.

I could go on, but now it's too late. So, it seems to me that those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.


F.I.S.A. was okay when it wasn't

Markos over at Dailykos points us to some reports on positions the Bush Administration formerly took regarding F.I.S.A. Back in 2002, the Justice Department went before Congress to recommend against loosening the requirements of F.I.S.A. for warrants to snoop on foreigners in the U.S. Their reason, in part, was that it was unconstitutional. This was at the very same time that the Prez was ordering the N.S.A. to bypass the F.I.S.A. courts.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Why an Alito Fillibuster wouldn't hurt the Dems

Publius makes a very good point today. He reminds us that though the polls seem to show that the public wants Alito confirmed by a 54% to 30% margin, they also say that if they thought he would vote against Roe they would be against him 56% to 34%.

As Publius points out, anyone who has spent any time looking into Alito knows that the chances are very strong that he will vote to overturn. Obviously, the people aren't paying much attention, which means they don't care much, which means they won't care much if he is blocked.

Therefore, the Dems wouldn't be harmed significantly if they chose to fillibuster.

Unfortunately, the inside-the-beltway "wisdom" doesn't work that way.

Poll taxes back in Georgia

Well, it looks as though poll taxes are back in Georgia. The legislature has just passed the bill that requires all voters to obtain special state ids unless they have driver's licenses. The id's are hard to obtain and come at significant cost.

Do you suppose they'll legalize slavery again as their next step into the past?

Alito Fillibuster: Where are the leaders?

Right at the moment, the odds of the Democrats in the Senate staging a fillibuster to block Alito are pretty poor. Apparently there is a great deal of frustration over this among some of the senators' aides. As Raw Story put it:

One aide said part of the problem is that Democratic senators haven’t felt a groundswell of opposition from constituents. Polls show that Alito’s nomination is supported by most Americans.

“People aren’t engaged in this fight,” one senior aide said. “The reality is this isn’t something that American people are calling in droves about. We’re getting more calls in on NSA spying than we are on Alito.”

I'm sorry. What did we elect these guys to do? Sit around and wait for us to tell them what to do? No. They wanted to be leaders -- so they should be doing the leading. We need to throw them all out.

The Dems need to work the refs

Steve Soto at the Left Coaster has some good suggestions for the Democrats. As usual, I doubt they will listen:

What can be done? Well, every afternoon there should be a DNC press conference aimed specifically at 1) debunking whatever Scottie McClellan said that morning; and 2) restating the Democratic talking points for the week in time for the afternoon and evening news and cable shows so that the media has a coordinated Democratic pushback they can include in their stories that night. And if the Democratic pushback and counter-narrative isn’t included in what the NYT, the WaPost, MSNBC, CNN, and the major news networks said that night or the next day, Democrats should make an issue of that as evidence of bias, every time it happens. Remember, work the refs, but do it with facts.

And yes, every week there should be a Democratic version of the Grover Norquist message coordination sessions that take place now within the GOP's right wing. Democrats will not agree on everything, but Norquist doesn't force agreement either. He seeks areas of common ground from which talking points and coordinated messages can be developed, and then between him and the White House and RNC the script is blasted far and wide for that week and the weekend cable and news shows, and aimed right at Fox. Democrats can do the same thing, and still ignore Fox by calling it repeatedly for what it is: a right wing propaganda outlet.

Health Savings Accounts

The word has been out for sometime that, in his upcoming State of the Union speech, Bush is planning to tout health care savings accounts as his next major program. I feel compelled to make a few comments about this.

First, the idea is that each person sets aside some savings, say $2,000, into a health care savings account and gets a tax deduction for doing so. Then, the first $2,000 of health care expenses are paid out of the savings account. As long as the withdrawals from the account are for IRS-approved health care expenses, there is no tax on the withdrawal. Meanwhile, you purchase a low-priced high-deductible ($2,000 deductible) health insurance policy (or, your employer buys it) instead of a high-priced standard low-deductible (e.g., $250 deductible) plan.

The question is, who does this help?

Let's first take the 50 million or so people who earn so little money that they pay no federal income taxes. None of them will benefit one iota from the tax deductibility of the plan. Many of these people are now uninsured. The uninsured will remain uninsured, since the combined cost of the savings program and a high-deductible medical plan is likely to be just about the same as the current cost of a low-deductible plan, which they already can't affort.

Those of the 50 million who are insured now are largely covered under low-deductible plans provided by their employers. The employer's cost of these plans is tax deductible to the employer. With government sponsored health care savings accounts available, these employers are likely to switch the coverage they offer employees to high-deductible plans. Some, but certainly not all, will decided to pass the savings through to their employees in wages. Some, but not all, of those receiving the higher wages may decide to buy into the savings accounts, but, since they won't get any tax benefit from doing so, there is no great incentive for them to do so. Most will end up with poorer insurance than they had before and none will benefit from the plan at all.

Now, turn to the moderate income tax payers. While they do get a small tax benefit from the deductibility of the monies invested in the savings accounts, the benefits are small when you are in a low tax bracket, as these people are. In all probability, few would opt for the savings plan and would simply become uninsured for the first $2,000. Just look at how few moderate income people contribute to their companies' 401K plans, even when the companies provide matching funds. Once again, most end up with poorer health insurance than they had before. Moreover, many companies will probably not pass the savings in premium expense they achieved by buying high-deductible plans through to their employees, so there would be no partially compensating benefit for these people. Corporate profits, however, would be higher.

Finally, there are the wealthy. They, of course, will find a distinct benefit here due to their relatively high tax brackets. But, they are the least in need of assistance to purchase health insurance. And, if they are lucky enough to turn out to be healthy, they get to keep the savings in the end. So, those who least need the benefits of health insurance get the largest benefits.

One more plan to play Robin Hood in reverse.

Sheer incompetence

The president's signature domestic initiative is discussed in a Washington Post op ed by Harold Meyerson.

It's the president's prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D), though, that is his most mind-boggling failure. As was not the case in Iraq or with Katrina, it hasn't had to overcome the opposition of man or nature. Pharmacists are not resisting the program; seniors are not planting car bombs to impede it (not yet, anyway). But in what must be an unforeseen development, people are trying to get their medications covered under the program. Apparently, this is a contingency for which the administration was not prepared, as it has been singularly unable to get its own program up and running.

Initially, Part D's biggest glitch seemed to be the difficulty that seniors encountered in selecting a plan. But since Part D took effect on Jan. 1, the most acute problem has been the plan's failure to cover the 6.2 million low-income seniors whose medications had been covered by Medicaid. On New Year's Day, the new law shifted these people's coverage to private insurers. And all hell broke loose.

Pharmacists found that the insurers didn't have the seniors' names in their systems, or charged them far in excess of what the new law stipulated -- and what the seniors could afford. In California fully 20 percent of the state's 1.1 million elderly Medicaid recipients had their coverage denied. The state had to step in to pick up the tab for their medications. California has appropriated $150 million for the medications, and estimates that it will be out of pocket more than $900 million by 2008-09. Before Jan. 1 the Bush administration had told California that it would save roughly $120 million a year once Part D was in effect.

California's experience is hardly unique. To date at least 25 states and the District have had to defray the costs to seniors that Part D was supposed to cover. What's truly stunning about this tale is that, while officials may not have known how many non-indigent seniors would sign up of their own accord, they always knew that these 6.2 million seniors would be shifted into the plan on the first day of the year. There were absolutely no surprises, and yet administration officials weren't even remotely prepared.

No such problems attended the creation of Medicare itself in the mid-1960s. Then, a governmental agency simply assumed responsibility for seniors' doctor and hospital visits. But, financially beholden to both the drug and insurance industries, the Bush administration and the Repsublican Congress mandated that millions of Americans have their coverage shifted to these most byzantine of bureaucracies.

This is, remember, the president's signature domestic initiative, just as the Iraq war is his signature foreign initiative.

Global what?

I'm surprised the Bush administration didn't amend the wording to this NASA document:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Last year was the warmest recorded on Earth's surface, and it was unusually hot in the Arctic, U.S. space agency NASA said on Tuesday.

All five of the hottest years since modern record-keeping began in the 1890s occurred within the last decade, according to analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

I suspect some heads will roll. Once amended, I bet will read something like, "Based on the long record of recorded temperatures since the 1890s, scientists say the odds are the earth will be cooling down next year."


John Avarosis at Americablog points us to two headlines in today's NY Times.

War Protester Sentenced to 6 Months for Damaging Upstate Recruiting Station

Published: January 24, 2006

BINGHAMTON, N.Y., Jan. 23 - Expressing doubt that incarceration would make the defendant reform or repent, a federal judge nevertheless sentenced an antiwar campaigner on Monday to serve six months in prison for his role in damaging a military recruiting center during a protest in 2003.

No Prison Time for Soldier Held in Iraqi's Death

Published: January 24, 2006

FORT CARSON, Colo., Jan. 23 (AP) - A military jury ordered a reprimand but no jail time Monday for an Army interrogator convicted of negligent homicide in the death of an Iraqi general who died after he stuffed him headfirst into a sleeping bag and sat on his chest.

The Midas Touch

I do not understand why so many prominent celebrities like Harry Bellafonte, who are truly hoping for a more liberal and progressive government, allow themselves to be used by the right wing media machine to destroy the very causes they espouse.

Last night, there's Harry Bellafonte on Tweetie's Hard Ball telling Americans that Bush might be worse than Osama. Now, yes, I understand what he's saying and, yes, I might even agree with him in a sense, but most American's are going to say that Harry's a nutcase and reject the people, such as Barak Obama, whom he endorses just because he endorsed them.

It's not unlike Jane Fonda in her day.

Is this just because celebrities love the spotlight?

Update: I mis-spoke above. It wasn't on Tweetie's show, it was on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room.

Abramoff photos

Michael Isikoff tells MSNBC that the photos of Abramoff with the Prez are owned by Abramoff himself who is shopping them around to get the best price.

ISIKOFF: As a general rule, if you’re the president … you don’t like pictures out there of you with convicted felons. It sounds like … there’s at least one picture of him with at least one convicted felon and another indicted, so it’s probably not a picture the White House is eager to have out there. The other interesting aspect of this is, while the White House hasn’t put these out, Jack Abramoff has clearly shown them to people. I don’t know anything about Time sources, but I do know that he showed them to Washingtonian magazine, which suggests he may be playing a little bit of a game here. He has, of course, pled guilty already to the Justice Department. But it does raise a question in my mind at least as to whether Abramoff is maybe sort of sending some sort of signal out here: “Hey, I’ve got this stuff.” Maybe he wants something from somebody at the White House, or he wants someone at the White House not to do something, and just sort of subtly playing with people here.
[via ThinkProgress]

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Afghan aid

The World Bank is complaining that the US and the UK are undermining Hamid Karzai's government by funnelling their aid to outside groups rather than through the Afghan government.

The system used to channel Western aid to Afghanistan is undermining the government of Hamid Karzai and damaging development prospects, the World Bank has warned.

Donor countries including Britain and the United States are engaged in often wasteful projects outside the control, and sometimes the knowledge, of the Afghan administration, says a report by the Bank's economists.

I guess the fear is that if the Afghan government got the money, it wouldn't give Halliburton all those no-bid contracts.

Filibuster Alito: "to preserve, protect and defend"

In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune today, Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago law professor who supported the confirmation of John Roberts and initially that of Alito, came out against confirmation, on the grounds that Alito will lean too far toward granting the Executive branch unlimited power.

I supported the confirmation of John Roberts Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court and, until recently, the confirmation of Samuel Alito Jr. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion, however, that Judge Alito should not be confirmed and that this is a matter of real importance to the nation.

Alito is a smart, experienced and knowledgeable jurist. I have no doubt of his legal ability. On balance, the Senate should give more weight to excellence than judicial philosophy. Why, then, should the Senate deny confirmation to Alito? The most fundamental responsibility of the Supreme Court is to preserve both the separation of powers and the individual liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. They are the bulwarks of our freedom. Yet history teaches that these indispensable elements of our constitutional system are most threatened in time of war. Too often in wartime, the president demands excessive authority in his role as commander in chief and the president and Congress run roughshod over civil liberties in their effort to protect, or appear to protect, the nation.

The last line of defense against such excesses is the Supreme Court. With life tenure, the justices are largely insulated from the need to please any particular constituency for personal advancement. And with their unique commitment to long-term principle rather than short-term political expediency, they are well-placed to resist the fears and anxieties of wartime.

Now, Bush arrogantly asserts that he has the inherent constitutional authority to wiretap American citizens on American soil without first obtaining a warrant, in direct defiance of federal legislation and the 4th Amendment. This is on top of his previous assertions of inherent authority to employ torture, wiretap lawyer-client communications, confine American citizens incommunicado and close deportation and other legal proceedings from public scrutiny.

Given the times in which we live, we need and deserve a Supreme Court willing to examine independently these extraordinary assertions of executive authority. We can fight and win the war on terrorism without inflicting upon ourselves and our posterity another regrettable episode like the Red Scare and the Japanese internment. But that will happen only if the justices of the Supreme Court are willing to fulfill their essential role in our constitutional system.

Whatever else Alito may or may not have made clear about his views on such issues as abortion, federalism and religious freedom, he has certainly made clear that he has no interest in restraining the acts of this commander in chief. That, in my judgment, poses a serious threat to the nation and is a more than adequate reason for the Senate--Republicans and Democrats alike--to deny his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
At the very least, this makes me feel less like Chicken Little than I was feeling in my earlier post on this topic. Though some liberals are still calling for a "pragmatic" resignation to his confirmation [note my $.02 there, and the mention of Scatablog!], I am even more inclined to take this vote far more seriously, and view the filibuster as a necessary and principled action, involving nothing less than the Senators' oath of office.