Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ticket thoughts

Over this past weekend, Newt Gingrich (who is himself still considering a run at the Republican nomination) voiced his opinion the eventual Democratic ticket for 2008 would be Hillary Clinton for President, with Barack Obama as VP. Over at his blog this morning, x4mr has a post up explaining why he and Newt see eye-to-eye on this matter (eye-of-Newt ... get it??? Oh, I crack myself up .... ).

I know x4mr spends a lot of time perusing the blogs, but I had no idea Newt did ... both, however, obviously saw my comment last week in a thread at The Data Port, which included the following:

I can't see Obama/Clinton for partly the same reasons you give for not seeing Gore/Clinton -- why would Hillary take the second post instead of the safe Senate seat? About the only reason I can think of is if her reasoning ran to the macabre and she basically decided "Hey, 2008 was my chance, If I couldn't win then, I am not going to when I am 4 or 8 years older either ... so maybe I'll take the VP job now, and who knows, maybe Obama has a stress-induced heart attack or something."

On the other hand, I could very easily see Clinton/Obama, particularly if a deal were struck to give Obama some high-profile foreign policy portfolio. Eight years as VP would set him up nicely as the "heir apparent" in 2016, when he would still only be 55.

Now, I respect x4mr's opinion a heck of a lot more than I respect Gingrich's, and in all seriousness I am sure my comment above had no affect at on either of them reaching the conclusions they have. However, with all due respect to both (x4mr is due a lot more than Newt), and despite my prior musings, I think they are both wrong.

That's not to say I wouldn't like to see a Clinton/Obama ticket. I agree entirely with x4mr's assertion that ticket would win the race, and, in addition to merits I think both candidates have anyway, I confess I would love to see a White House with a women and a minority filling the two top slots of our government. It would just add to the attraction for me. I don't see it happening, however.

Clinton and Obama are clearly shaping up as the two most serious claimants to the Democratic nomination, and this is reflected in both camps starting to snipe at each other. By the time the convention actually rolls around, there will have been a lot of hard campaigning, and certainly some hard feelings generated by both sides.

Furthermore, there is another candidate who would seem to make much more sense to be Hillary's running mate should she win nomination - Bill Richardson.

Yes, Richardson is running for President as well, but odds are any conflicts between his campaign and Clinton's during the run up to the convention will be far smaller and less bitter than prospective issues between Clinton and Obama. Also, having served as both UN Ambassador and Secretary of Energy in Bill Clinton's administration, the Clintons and Richardson should already have some degree of comfort working with each other.

Richardson has been (in my mind, at least) somewhat disappointing in the initial debates, but would add a lot to the ticket for Clinton - some foreign affairs experience, his own experience from governing a state executive branch. He would also provide representation from the Mountain West, an area with a growing population that has been trending increasingly Democratic in recent years. There's no real reason a Clinton/Richardson ticket would be any less competitive in the national race than Clinton/Obama.

So while I would personally like to see Clinton, should she win the nomination, select Obama as her running mate (I am particularly drawn to the notion of it setting him up as the natural Democratic "successor" when she leaves office), I think Richardson is the much more likely choice.

Don't just take my word for it though -- those futures traders down at Intrade happen to agree with me ... and for the record, I came to my conclusion before I checked the market listings.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Televised trolling

A PEW Research poll earlier this year found the widest gap in 20 years of measure political party self-identification, with Democrats enjoying a +15% advantage (50% - 35%). The same poll shows increasing majorities favor democratic positions on such questions as "government should help more needy people, even if debt increases?". Support for increases to minimum wages was solid even among Republicans (69%), and higher among Independents and Democrats. A majority (59%) favored immigration reform which provided some form of path to citizenship for current illegal residents. Etc.

Across a wide range of social and economic issues, the clear trends since 1994 (with some exceptions) favor liberal positions. On virtually every major issue, voters have more confidence in Democrats' ability to deal with matters than the current administration.

It would seem nearly unarguable that the nation as a whole is trending left. To the extent voters are irate with Congress, they are upset at it not being liberal enough. In particular, people want to see more done by Congress to get our forces out of Iraq at the earliest reasonable date.

Somehow, none of this seems to sink in to large portions of our D.C.-based media, which consistently harps on the supposed "dangers" of not acting in a "bipartisan" manner (a particular favorite of columnist David Broder), or of being seen as "too confrontational". The latest offender I saw over the weekend was Cokie Roberts opining on "This Week" about the big risk Democratic candidates would take if they move "way to the left".

I'd make some crack conflating Ms. Robert's first name with the type of drug-induced haze she must be in to make such a comment in the face of all evidence to the contrary ... except for the fact another panelist, David Gergen, agreed with her.

I simply don't understand how much willfulness is necessary to make statements like this, without a shred of actual evidence to support the claim. It's as if both Roberts and Gergen are acting like real-life concern trolls.

Frankly, my major concern is that Democratic candidates might actually pay some attention to these blithering morons. The sooner Clinton, Obama, Edwards et. al., stop paying any heed to these pundits - who apparently form all their notions within the warm cocoon of the DC beltway - and pay more attention to what voters actually say they want as opposed to what Roberts, Gergen and their ilk would like those voters to think the better off the candidates will be.

Update: Digby has a post on the same matter here.


The NY Times has an op-ed piece today by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack this morning discussing how wonderfully things are finally going in Iraq. Glenn Greenwald has a nice, lengthy response to it here.

My only addition to Greenwald's piece is to note I made mention of Pollack and his long-standing support of the Iraq war and occupation in a post last week. A perusal of O'Hanlon's writings will make clear he shares Pollacks views on this matter.

There is nothing particularly new about long-standing supporters of the war telling us: "Yes, things in Iraq have been terrible, but now they really are getting better. We swear. Really. Trust us. Just give it six more months." This claim has been made by different people repeatedly for some years now, and has been wrong every time.

There is no reason either O'Hanlon or Pollack should be any more credible now than they have been in the past.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Starting the Rumpus

One of my favorite quotes to throw out for various occasions is "Let the wild rumpus begin!", which is lifted from one of my favorite (and a favorite for many others as well) books a a child, Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are".

Sadly, in researching this post, I learned I have apparently been misusing the line all these years, and it should actually be "Let the wild rumpus start!". Sigh. Oh well, c'est la vie. I prefer my version, I think it rolls better off the tongue. Sendak needs to release a new version with my proposed improvement.

Tedski over at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion has a post up today discussing "buzz" about Tim Bee opting to run for county supervisor instead of challenging incumbent Gabrielle Giffords for the her Congressional seat after he gets term-limited out of the Arizona Senate when this session ends. I don't think anyone, including whoever is feeding those rumors to Tedski, believes that -- Bee is the best nominee Republicans can hope to get for that race, and if they don't get Giffords out in 2008 she may be ensconced until she chooses to leave on her own terms.

It didn't take long in the comments section for the ranks of "GiffOnators" (to borrow x4mr's term; the "villains" in question were ThinkRight, The Guard and TonyGOPrano) to start in with calling Giffords a "light-weight", a "Pelosi clone" and other such claims.

In defense of his claims, Guard at least pointed out this Daily Star story in which Republicans complained Giffords voted with Pelosi "96% of the time". I happily pointed out Republicans making such claims might be a little biased, and further noted more recent data which showed Giffords among those Democrats most willing to vote against the party line.

None of which is terribly significant ... it's just, for whatever reason, this was the first give-and-take exchange in some time that reminded me of all the hoopla and sparring over the CD 8 race in the run up to the elections last year. It felt symbolic somehow, like throwing out the first pitch before a baseball game. Ahhh ... the memories ... the days of 30+ comment threads ... it nearly brings a tear to my eye.

The last race didn't really get underway in the blogosphere until Jan. 2007. While I don't expect to see regular posting and threads on the matter for a couple months yet, things will still get heated up for next year's race months earlier than Jan. 2009. At least for me it feels like the warm-ups are already starting.

Let the Wild Rumpus Begin! Er ... Start! Er ... Begin!

Update: As of now, the associated comment thread on R-Cubed has 19 comments attached to it -- 30, here we come!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Playing the odds

Conservative columnist/pundit Jonah Goldberg had a column yesterday accusing liberals of turning their back on genocide in Iraq when they call for our troops to be pulled out of the country, and further accuses them of hypocrisy for supporting intervention to prevent genocide in the 1990's, but "flipping" on it now.

Of course, this argument makes the assumption that pulling our forces out would lead to genocide in Iraq, but Goldberg addresses that:
Of course, some advocates of withdrawal try to maintain the moral high ground by arguing that there won't be genocidal slaughter -- though that usually sounds like self-delusion to me. Most close observers of the situation believe that if the U.S. were to sail out of Iraq, it would be on a river of Iraqi blood.

"The only thing standing between Iraq and a descent into a Lebanon- or Bosnia-like maelstrom," a new report from the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution concludes, "is 135,000 American troops." Rapid withdrawal, the report says, could bring "a humanitarian nightmare" in which we should expect "hundreds of thousands (conceivably even millions) of people to die."

There are a couple things wrong with the above, however. The "new report" Goldberg cites is, in fact, neither particularly new nor a report. It is, instead, an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post last August, nearly a year ago. Also, it's not as if this opinion is universally shared within the Brookings Institute. A truly recent article (as in, from two days ago) from the same institution argues the US must withdraw now to contain civil war in Iraq. Furthermore, while the Brookings Institute as a while may be "liberal-leaning", it's questionable (at best) either author of the piece, Kenneth Pollack or Daniel Byman, fit that description in regards to their views vis-a-vis the Iraq war, at least as one can best conclude from perusing their publications.

Further, in considering what "close observers of the situation" have to say about what might happen if US troops withdraw from Iraq, Goldberg apparently doesn't think actual Iraqi citizens qualify. If he did, he would be aware the large majority those who might be most expected to fear genocide if left to fend for themselves actually think their security situation would improve.

Fair enough -- what's a little mischaracterization, disingenuousness and outright dishonesty between pundits after all? That doesn't mean Goldberg's underlying claim that pulling out from Iraq could lead to genocide. So lets examine his record as an Iraq prognosticator.

Perhaps most famously, in a debate from 2005 Goldberg said:
Let's make a bet. I predict that Iraq won't have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I'll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now).
Well, those two years were up this past February, and Goldberg at least had the courage to do something which the current administration is chronically incapable of doing -- admit he as wrong.

That's not the only one, though ...
"Some pro-war arguments are very strong, some less so. But you have to add them all up together and look at the final tally. So: Is Iraq a brutal totalitarian regime? Check! Is it a proven threat to its neighbors? Check! Is it a proven threat to its own people? Check! Is it a proven threat to our allies? Check! Is it willing to export terrorism abroad? Check! Is it likely that if it got weapons of mass destruction, it would use them recklessly? Check! Is it working very hard to get weapons of mass destruction? Check! Would Saddam's people be better off without him? Check! Would we and our allies be better off without him? Check! Do we have the power and capabilities to get rid of him without paying too high a cost? Check! And, would getting rid of him make it less likely that another September 11 would "happen again"? Check."

And another ...
"I don't care if you hate George W. Bush; it's not like I love the guy. And I don't care if you opposed the war from day one. What disgusts me are those people who say toppling Saddam and fighting the terror war on their turf rather than ours is a mistake, not because these are bad ideas, but merely because your vanity cannot tolerate the notion that George W. Bush is right ... "

I actually spent a fair bit of time looking up statements by Goldberg on Iraq, and have yet to find one of any significance which has actually turned out to be correct. I imagine one such example must exist somewhere, but finding that needle-in-a-haystack is going to take more effort than I am willing to put in.

It's not just Goldberg of course -- nearly all well-known predictions made by conservatives regarding the course of the Iraq war have turned out to be wrong. Have you seen any Iraqi civilians greeting us as liberators and throwing rose petals at our tanks recently? Neither have I.

A common warning for prospective investors is "past performance is no guarantee of future results". Just because Goldberg and company have been wrong on nearly every single claim they have made regarding Iraq over the last 5 years is no guarantee they are wrong this time. If you had to trust someone on this matter, who would you choose? Conservative pundits or Iraqi's themselves?

Yes, a genocide may begin if we pull our troops out. If it does, we can revisit the situation - no one wants to see a genocide occur. If nothing else, were we to leave, then find ourselves having to go back to prevent a genocide situation, we would be likely to have more support from all quarters, home, abroad, and within the Iraqi populace itself ... and who knows, it's also possible form will hold, and Goldberg and Co. will be wrong on Iraq yet again.

I know which way I would bet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What Sept. benchmarks?

Do you recall way back in February when the entire Iraqi "surge" notion was being debated? Do you recall those "benchmarks" which were supposed to be met by September? Well, it's becoming increasingly obvious none of those benchmarks will be met. Do you suppose this will lead to serious discussion within the administration regarding withdrawing troops from Iraq?

Of course not. The notion is laughable.

The New York Times has a story this morning discussing military plans to retain significant forces in Iraq at least into 2009:

By Michael R. Gordon
Published: July 24, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 23 — While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years.

The Reach of War

The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document.

The detailed document, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq. That signaled a shift from the previous strategy, which emphasized transferring to Iraqis the responsibility for safeguarding their security.

Even just reading the opening three paragraphs above it is clear all that time the administration was talking about a "limited" surge and "reassessment" in the fall, it was well aware any real results would take years, if they came at all. The fix has been in from the start (yes, the administration lied about Iraq yet again, quelle surprise) -- no matter how grim the September assessment might be, there is no way the administration will not insist on continuing the occupation. To paraphrase another conservative icon, the only way we are going to get our troops home is if we "pry the war from (Bush's) cold, dead hands".

At this point, the only way troops might be brought home prior to 2009 is if Congress finally grows the cojones to insist upon it in funding bills (sending the same bills back when Bush vetoes them), or to defund the war entirely. Even then, it's uncertain the administration wouldn't simply appropriate the money anyway to carry on its glorious crusade.

The beat goes on ...

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is testifying before Congress again. One wonders why. He continues to apparently have no knowledge whatsoever about how his office works. When asked outright how many attorneys he had fired he claimed not to know. He doesn't know, his aides all don't know, no one knows.

Apparently, some magical list * poofed * into existence on his desk with a series of names of people to be fired, and Gonzales simply signed the list without questioning it ... because, you know, it's not like attorneys to be skeptical or ask questions of anything. One assumes the mystical appearance of the list suddenly appearing in front of him convinced him of it's divine provenance, or something like that. Who was he to question God (or President Bush -- apparently members of the current administration often conflate the two).

Gonzales claimed he hadn't made the now infamous hospital-room trip to visit John Ashcroft in order to get Ashcroft to overturn his deputy's decision vis-a-vis the warrentless surveillance program not having sufficient legal authority. Shortly after, he was forced to admit he did take a reauthorization order with him on his little foray. What, he just took that along as some bed time reading? That's a close an admission of lying to Congress as one is likely to get.

Senator Patrick Leahy has flat out told Gonzales "I don't trust you." Other Senators have followed in the same vein. Senator Herb Kohl asked why Gonzales should be kept on, which Gonzales admitted "That's a very good question, Senator", before going on to give a not very good response.

Same game, second round. Gonzales knows nothing, hears nothing, does nothing, yet somehow expects people to have confidence in his ability to repair the credibility and morale issues within the department. Why not? It's the same tack the administration is taking on Iraq: "Sure, we've botched everything horribly, we lied about our motivations for invading in the first place, we've repeatedly been completely wrong on our predictions for how things would work out, but trust us - this time we really are on the road to stability there." A decade from now, these folks would still be asking for "six more months", and blaming "defeatist liberal attitudes" for the ongoing lack of progress.

The House judiciary committee will move forward with pressing contempt charges against Harriett Miers and Joshua Bolton tomorrow. It's a complete waste of time -- the word is already out on the street any statutory contempt case won't be prosecuted by the US Attorney's office. That's the same US Attorney's office presided over by the oh-so-incompetent Alberto Gonzales. If there is one thing we can trust him on, it's that the office certainly won't do anything to support a Congressional investigation into possible wrong-doings within ... well ... within itself. Still, I guess formalities must be preserved. I don't believe there has been an inherent contempt case tried within Congress since the 1930's, I am looking forward to witnessing a small piece of history.

While Gonzales and the administration are doing their best to be obstructionist, Republicans in Congress don't want to get left out of the fun. Remember all those complaints they had about Democratic filibusters? Remember the nuclear option? Apparently they feel no need to lead by example. McClatchy Newspapers had an article last week highlighting just how out-of-hand things have become.

While the number of filibusters has definitely been on a general upward rise, the current group of Republicans is on pace shatter the old record of 58 in a two-year session. With 42 cloture votes so far (that's nearly 1/6 of all Senate votes, according to the article, if the pace were maintained it would lead to 153 over the course of the term.

Of course, that isn't enough ... when legislation does get passed, such as an ethics bill which garnered a 97-2 majority, things get held up ... either it's our own Senator Jon Kyl placing a secret hold, or it's delays in naming members to a committee negotiating differences with the House. It's the best of all worlds! All those Republican Senators can claim they voted for the ethics bill without, you know, actually having to take a chance on those tighter standards actually being applied.

It's just part of the "game" now. Filibuster everything, hold stuff that you don't think can be safely filibustered, and then claim Democrats aren't getting anything done. Meanwhile, smile and discuss the need for "more bipartisanship".

Just another day in D.C.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Accountable to none

I admit to feeling a bit prescient this morning. A couple days ago I noted even if the House Judiciary Committee pressed well-earned contempt charges against Harriet Miers it was unlikely the U.S. District Attorney would actually prosecute the matter. Really, though, it didn't take much divining to see that state of affairs ... and the reality is beyond even what I expected.

The Washington Post has an article (free registration required) this morning in which an anonymous source says the administration is asserting no Justice Department official would ever prosecute a contempt case in an affair in which the administration had previously asserted Executive Privilege. Think about some of the implications of that ... go ahead ... I'll wait.

Here's one possibility ... way back in the Nixon administration, Mr. "I am not a crook!" asserted Executive Privilege in an attempt to not hand over the Watergate tapes. The court ruled against him, the tapes were handed over, and shortly after Nixon resigned.

Now, those issues did not revolve around contempt charges, but it would have been easy to make them do so. Let's hypothesize Nixon continued to refuse to hand over the tapes. He is found in contempt of both Congress and the courts. Now he says no US DA will prosecute the contempt charges. Essentially, he might have been able to create a shield of immunity about himself, no matter how illegal his actions might have been.

Whether the administration was within in rights or not regarding firing of the attorneys last year (for what it's worth, it's my opinion the firings were legal, but unethical), it's undeniable by any but the most die-hard supporter of the unitary executive theory that it has engaged in illegal activities involving wiretapping of US citizens.

Extend the logic a little, and it applies to anything. The administration or any of it's personnel could engage in any illegal activity. Congress (or any body) initiates an investigation and issues subpoenas for documents or for individuals to testify in person. The administration refuses to hand over requested documents and orders individuals not to testify, citing Executive Privilege ... oh, and by the way, don't bother filing contempt charges, because the US prosecutors are not gonna prosecute those charges.

I'm pretty sure when our founding fathers (whom die-hard conservatives so often like to cite, usually inappropriately) set up a system of government based on checks and balances, this wasn't what they had in mind. Unfortunately, the system does not work when one of the branches refuses to acknowledge it's rights and powers can be either checked or balanced by the other two.

I guess it makes some decisions easier. Since there is clearly no point in pursuing any statutory contempt case against Miers Congress might as well call the President's raise, skip any of those procedural steps and move straight to inherent contempt charges. I suggest taking time out of the traditional summer recess for this. That should get our Congressional representatives in the proper frame of mind.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Permanent Filibuster

The Senate had a sleepover last night, as Senate majority leader Harry Reid kept debate open on whether or not a bill to set a timeline to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq would get a voe. Although there were 52 votes in favor of bringing the matter to a formal vote, 60 were needed since Republicans were effectively filibustering the bill.

The Washington Post reports that, as part of the negotiations surrounding the matter minority leader Mitch McConnell suggested any Iraq-related amendment automatically require 60 votes to pass. Apparently this had been agreed to in a similar situation some months ago as a means of short-cutting certain procedural steps.

Think about that for a moment. McConnell is essentially stating outright that on any matter related to Iraq, if it might involve any restrictions on the President's handling of affairs then it will be filibustered. Senate Republicans are in a state of permanent filibuster, against the repeatedly expressed will of the citizens they purportedly represent.

Of course, McConnell and company could allow straight votes on the matters, knowing the President would veto the bill anyhow. However, they knowsthat would only make the President look bad (well, worse than he already does), and we can't be having that, now can we? So instead, they throw every possible parliamentary obstacle in the way as a means to protect the clown occupying the Oval Office for another 17 months.

Then they'll blame Democrats for "not passing legislation" or some such tripe.

Inherently Contemptible

Former White House Counsel Hariet Miers has once again refused to appear before the House Judiciary committee in response to a subpoena requiring her testimony regarding what she knew of the US Attorney firings. Miers, through her lawyer, indicated she was refusing because President Bush had exerted Executive Privilege and ordered her not to appear.

While this privilege has a clear purpose and precedent, it has in the past been applied to documents from the Executive branch, and potential testimony from those currently working within the Executive branch. Even then, it's not absolute -- Nixon was forced to hand over tapes, and Clinton aides were forced to testify regarding the Lewinsky scandal, both times overriding privilege claims.

This makes Miers' refusal to appear on claims of Executive Privilege grounds apparently unprecedented for at least two reasons (warning, I am most certainly not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV):

1. Miers is a private individual, she is no longer part of the Executive Branch. As such, on what basis would any claim of Executive Privilege extend to her person?

2. To assert a refusal to testify, one has to actually appear. Using a claim of privilege as a defense against appearing at all is a new wrinkle.

Miers could have taken the approach another former Deputy Assistant to the president Sara Taylor did and appeared before the committee but refuse to answer certain questions by asserting the administration's privilege claims. These claims are debatable, but at least it shows some respect for Congress and the process.

Miers, however, has chosen to not show up at all. She has shown no respect for Congress. Congress should respond in the same vein.

Committee Chairman John Conyers is quoted by Fox news as saying "Her failure to comply with our subpoena is a serious affront to this committee and our constitutional system of checks and balances. We are carefully planning our next steps."

Those steps could include hearings on contempt charges both within the committee and the full House. If the House votes to press charges (likely, in my opinion -- even Republicans will not like seeing a precedent set where private individuals can refuse subpoena's issued by Congress), it would fall upon the District Attorney for the District of Colombia to prosecute .... or not. The DA in question, Jeff Taylor, is a Bush appointee, and there is precedent for a DA refusing to prosecute a Contempt of Congress charge.

So skip the preliminaries and move straight to Inherent Contempt proceedings. Enough pussyfooting around. Congressional satisfaction numbers are historically low largely because people feel Congress is not doing enough to rein in the Bush administration. This applies largely to Iraq, but extends to other issues as well.

Let's get the show on the road. Get the Sergeant-at-arms on the next plane to Texas and haul her back in front of the House, kicking and screaming if needed.

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's Tim(e) to Bee deciding

In that little, insular corner of the blogosphere interested in such things, there has been a great deal of speculation the last few months as to whether Republican Tim Bee, member of the Arizona State Senate from District 30 and that and body's current President, was likely to run against incumbent Democrat Gabrielle Giffords next year for the US Congressional seat from Arizona District 8.

If so, these numbers can't be something he's smiling about this morning.

Giffords managed to raise over $580,000 this last quarter, and has over $900,000 on hand already. Those are big numbers. Scary numbers.

To put it in perspective, I am fairly certain the money Giffords raised just this past quarter exceeds that raised by her opponent in the last election, Randy Graf, for his entire primary campaign. Bee, should he run, would be expected to raise considerably more money than Graf, but starting almost $1 million in arrears in the fund raising race is a daunting mountain to climb.

What's especially noteworthy about the numbers from last quarter is how far out from the election we are. Giffords' fund raising efforts haven't really kicked it into high gear yet - on suspects those quarterly tallies can still get significantly higher once the first of the year passes.

It's looking more-and-more like people have been caught flat-footed by just how early campaigning has begun, not just in Presidential campaigns but in Senatorial and Congressional ones as well. Campaigning for the AZ 8 seat in last year's election didn't get seriously underway until Dec. 2006 or Jan. 2007. Anyone who thought they could wait that late this year before getting things underway has now had a rude shock.

As an additional factor, for all her prowess raising money last year, Giffords spent a large chunk of it in a competitive primary race. That's very unlikely to be the case next year, meaning all that money being gathered in her war chest can be saved for the general.

Should Bee opt to run he likely has the stature to keep out any other high-profile Republicans. He needs to hope so anyway, as a primary brawl including some mix of Graf, Mike Hellon and Steve Huffman would only seriously hurt conservative hopes to retake the seat.

Recent studies seem to indicate that while money raised is certainly correlated with who wins a political race, it doesn't determine who will win. (Freakonomics has an entire chapter on the subject). The brief argument is people like to back winners, and tend to donate money to those they think will win. In other words, good candidates tend to get more money.

If so, there are apparently a lot of people already out there who think Giffords can (and will) win re-election in 2008. If Tim Bee (or, for that matter, anyone else) wants to take a good shot at here, they can't wait any longer ... a decision needs to be made now.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What's good for the Iraqi goose ...

I was listening to NPR yesterday, and caught an interview with a female member of the Iraqi parliament (unfortunately, I did not catch her name). The question was raised about the current Congressional (and public) debate over "progress", or lack thereof, in Iraq, and she said something along the lines of "That's not something we can worry about here. We have to concern ourselves with waht's best for Iraq and Iraqis. That's an issue for Congress and America to deal with."

The above quote is not exact, it's my best recollection of her words (unfortunately, I couldn't get the exact wording written down and drive at the same time), but I am certain the gist is correct.

She's right, of course. As a representative of the Iraqi people she (and all members of the Iraqi parliament) has a responsibility to place the well-being of Iraqi's and her country ahead of issues raised by other nations, including our own.

However, the reverse is also true. We often hear how if we leave Iraq now, the place will devolve into even more violence (a debatable proposition at best -- most Iraqis think violence would decrease if U.S. forces left, and they are in the best position to know), how we have to give the Iraqi government a chance to stabilize, etc. Throw in the ridiculous "if we don't fight them there we'll just have to fight them here" argument, and those are the primary reasons given for continuing the war there.

Maybe we need to learn from the Iraqi interviewee. Our representatives, both in Congress and the White House, have a responsibility to place the interests of our citizens and our nation ahead of the concerns of other nations (including Iraq) and their citizens. When taking into account whether we should stay or go, the issue of increased violence or even civil war in Iraq may simply be something they need to work out. To steal a phrase, "Thats something for Iraqis and their parliament to deal with".

It's long past time to go. It's increasingly obvious those benchmarks which are suppose to be met by September are not going to be close to completed ... at which time the administration will come up with some reason why we need to wait yet another six months. Left to their devices, it will never end.

Talk to the Kurds. Try to cut a deal with them where we will post two brigades there to help ensure their sovereignty in return for them actively looking to shut down Kurdish groups launching raids and promoting attacks in Turkish territory. If the Kurds don't go for that, let them fend for themselves. Then let things work themselves out ... could hardly go worse than things are going now.

Plan B obfuscation

The Washington Post has a story today about Plan B pills. Not surprisingly, in the year since the FDA approved their use without a prescription by women 18+, the use of these pills has spiked. Also not surprisingly, certain segments of our society, largely the same ones which would rather see embryos thrown in incinerators than used for potentially life-saving stem cell research, are up in arms.

"This is very concerning," said Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council, which is among several groups suing the FDA to reverse the decision. "We think this is putting women's health at risk."

Exactly how does the pill put a woman's health at risk? Yoest doesn't say. The FRC web site has a list of reasons they oppose the use of Plan B pills, but only one of them is a legitimate health concern:

Birth control pills, which are essentially a lower dose regimen of Plan B, require a prescription. They are not available OTC. They require an appointment with a licensed clinician to determine contraindications, obtain a prescription, and provide for medical oversight throughout the usage period.

"Birth control pills are available by prescription only for sound medical reasons: They can cause significant or life-threatening conditions such as blood clots and heart attacks. Birth control pills are contraindicated for women with diabetes, liver problems, heart disease, breast cancer, deep vein thrombosis, and for women who smoke and are over 35. A medical exam is necessary to ensure that none of these contraindications exists. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1.85 million women of reproductive age (18-44) have diabetes; approximately 500,000 do not know that they have the disease."1

The OTC status would increase access to Plan B to larger populations of women, including women who have not been screened for contraindications.

Unfortunately, this argument is flawed:

1. Yes, birth control pills can cause problems for some women with some health issues (typically blood clots, heart problems). This is made clear on the packaging. Which leads us to ...

2. Many over-the-counter medications with similar issues are sold. There is nothing unique or special about Plan B pills in this regard. Any over-the-counter medication can be misused.

What, in fact, are the general health risks for users of Plan B pills? According to Michigan State University, these include:

Some women experience temporary side effects after taking Plan B. Approximately 23.1 percent of women taking Plan B experience nausea (compared to 50.5 percent with the older Yuzpe regimen of high-dose estrogen-progestin pills), and 5.6 percent vomit (compared to 18.8 percent). Other side effects may include lower abdominal pain (17.6 percent), fatigue (16.9 percent), headache (16.8 percent), dizziness (11.2 percent), breast tenderness (10.7 percent), and menstrual changes, including heavier bleeding (13.8 percent) and lighter bleeding (12.5 percent).

Most women won't see any of those effects. For just about any woman using Plan B, suffering the above effects is well worth it to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. None of the above would be considered a "serious" health concern.

Most opponents of Plan B, such as the FRC, don't really give a rat's ass about any "health concerns" for woman. What they really are concerned about is abortion ... and they see Plan B usage as being (potentially) the equivalent of an abortion. They know that argument won't fly with the general populace, though, so they are forced to fall back on those old standbys -- obfuscation and fear-mongering.

Bad Christians! No donuts!

Yesterday, for the first time ever, a Hindi religious figure, Rajan Zed, presented the morning prayer in the Senate. Here is the text of his prayer:

Let us pray. We meditate on the transcendental Glory of the Diety Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky, and inside the soul of Heaven. May he stimulate and illuminate our minds.

Lead us from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality. May we be protected together. May we be nourished together. May we work together with great vigor. May our study be enlightening. May no obstacle arise between us.

May the Senators strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world, performing their duties with the welfare of others always in mind, because by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. May they work carefully and wisely, guided by compassion and without thought for themselves.

United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be as one, that you may long dwell in unity and concord.

Peace, peace, peace be unto all. Lord, we ask You to comfort the family of former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Amen.

It reads to me as if Zed bent over backwards to present a non-denominational prayer. Do you see anything there that threatens our American Way Of Life? Anything that threatens Christianity? Anything at all?

If not, you must not be working hard enough. A family of conservative Christian protesters felt the need to burst in and interrupt the affair shortly after it began, yelling and shouting until they were hauled off in handcuffs. I'm sure they think of themselves as martyrs rather than intolerant idiots they actually are.

“For all of these years we have honored the God of our Founding Fathers. It was not a group of Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims that came here. It was Christians,” said, Rev. Flip Benham, head of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America, speaking to The Hill. As if that somehow gives Christians the right to act like asses toward representatives of other religions.

Lets be clear -- our founding fathers definitely came from cultures where Christianity was the dominant religion. However, most of them arrived here (or their ancestors did) because they were looking to escape from religious intolerance. They favored the idea of people being able to practice religion as each best saw fit (and assuming it wasn't directly harmful to others ... human sacrifice being right out for example).

There's a reason that, despite the predominantly Christian backgrounds of the signers, our Constitution doesn't mention "God" or "Creator". There's a reason we don't have an official state religion (despite what some people, including Rev. Benham, appear to believe).

Many of our founding fathers, to which such people so readily leap to apply "Christian" values, were not, in fact, good, practicing Christians. George Washington would leave church prior to receiving the sacrament. When the church pastor pointed out he was setting a poor example for the other attendees, Washington agreed ... and stopped attending church entirely.

With that attitude, George Washington could never be elected to any serious political office today, much less President. Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence and our 3rd President, was unquestionably not a Christian. He would be lucky to be elected to a school board these days.

We are becoming a theocratic nation, and that's not a good thing. Most people who claim to be "religious conservatives" don't believe in many of the main tenets of science (evolution being the prime, but not sole, scientific matter they dispute). You could say the same about Islamic conservatives, and look where that stifling of research and questioning has left most Islamic cultures today -- what had been a thriving, intellectual culture, the forefront of human existence a millennium ago, is now broken and backward, scrabbling to come to terms with the modern world.

After barging into the room, the protesters interrupted Zan's prayer by shouting "this is an abomination". Ironically, that part they got right, if not in the sense they meant.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Obstinance or Criminality?

All the way back in April, three long months ago, the House judiciary committee requested (but did not issue subpoenas for) copies of emails from administration officials that had been sent from (or to) email accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee.

A couple days ago, administration counsel Emmet Flood informed the RNC and Congress it was the position of the White House those emails were covered under the President's recently invoked "Executive Privilege" order. The RNC followed shortly after by indicating it would abide with the administrations desires, and not make the emails available.

Now, subpoenas have not yet been issued but they have been approved, meaning they could be issued at anytime, including today. If so, it will be an additional log on the fire which is beginning to flame between Congress and the White House over how far Executive Privilege actually reaches.

I can't see any reasonable interpretation in which the RNC emails can be protected. One of two scenarios must apply:

1. The emails in question do not involve official administration business. If so, then they can't possibly be protected under executive privilege guidelines.

2. The emails in question do involve official administration business, in which case the administration is in clear violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978. If this is the case, the investigation becomes a criminal investigation, and precedent has established Executive Privilege does not apply in the face of criminal investigations (here and here). As an extra-special added bonus, the Act explicitly states it applies to the office of the Vice President too, no matter what branch of government it resides in for any given day of the week.

So the White House is either admitting to criminal behavior on its part or willfully obstructing a legal request (and one it knows is legal) for documents. There is no third option. Personally, I'm going with the latter choice -- even this administration, with it's noted propensity for grandiose claims leavened with a large dollop of stupidity isn't going to freely admit it's been violating the law.

Issue the subpoenas and ask for an expedited decision. Lets get the farce over with.

Update: Speaking of Republican obstructionism, Anonymous Liberal has an excellent post about a different (but related) form of it. ALs post references another excellent post on the matter, this one by Hilzoy.

Update: Earlier today (July 13), subpoenas were issued to the RNC for the requested information.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Gaza Blockade

The NY Times had an article this morning describing the effects the blockade of Gaza is having on people there. United Nations building projects have been halted, factories are closing since they can no longer get needed materials, and so on. Unfortunately, as always seems the case, it will be the majority of civilians just doing their best to lead normal lives who will likely suffer most.

While I appreciate the difficulty of their lives, I find it hard to sympathize.

About 18 months ago the citizens of Palestine were given an opportunity to vote, a privilege they exercised. In doing so, they elected Hamas to power. Now, that election may have said a lot more about the disgust the citizenry had with the corruption rampant within the other main party, Fatah, than it did about their degree of alignment with Hamas ... but whatever the motivation, Hamas won.

All well and good -- elections held, and the will of the people was implemented. However, since among the founding tenets of Hamas is the commitment to the destruction of Israel, one can understand why Israel might be a bit concerned about the result. Since the election, Hamas has held to it's tenets and refused to recognize Israel's right to exist, and last month implemented a military coup in the Strip, driving off or killing Fatah supporters. Israel responded by closing access to Gaza, leading to the current state of affairs where the economy of the area is turning from disastrous to non-existent.

The article mentioned the seeming lack of concern within Israel (and in the West Bank for that mater) over the situation, and the apparent lack of haste in re-opening commercial access to the Strip. However, given Hamas' intransigence it can't be a surprise Israel might not be in a real hurry to provide aid and assistance to an organization committed to Israeli destruction.

What the people of the Gaza Strip are learning is that, while elections are great to have, they don't occur in a vacuum. Elections have consequences. The citizens living in the Strip are learning about some of those consequences, and they are likely to continue living with them until either Hamas officially recognizes Israel or the people themselves institute a change in their government.

I may be too harsh on Palestinians for not understanding the consequences of their vote. After all, they were new to Democracy. We've had centuries of experience, but apparently couldn't figure out the same lesson in 2004.

Attorney Firing Catch-22

The President yesterday claimed executive privilege in suggesting former staffers Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor should not testify before Congress regarding the basis for deciding which attorneys were let go from the Attorney General's office last fall.

Bush places himself in an interesting position with the claim. While the privilege certainly exists, it's not an expressed right of the Executive branch, and thus may be denied under certain circumstances. Generally, court cases have found that the "closer" one is to the President, the stronger the privilege is. Cases have also determined that direct communication with the President merits stronger protection than communications with other staffers. Attempts to apply executive privilege claims to such communications have lost in court several times in the past -- something which this administration surely knows.

Sooo ... either Bush is simply throwing roadblocks in the way, knowing he has a losing case but intentionally trying to slow things down (and hey, maybe a court will rule his way against precedent), or he plans to assert the "stronger" form of executive privilege, in which case he will have to confess he was, to some degree, involved in the entire sordid affair to a degree he has so far denied.

In other words, he's either a liar or intentionally obstructing a legal investigation. If I had to guess it's the latter, done in an attempt to keep Alberto Gonzales from even more embarrassing disclosures. Neither is good, though.

Various blogs are reporting Taylor will appear before Congress tomorrow anyway, despite the President's assertion. As she is now a private citizen, it doesn't look like there is anyway for the administration to prevent her testimony, should she choose to give it. It remains to be seen if she does much more than assert her 5th Amendment rights on any of the more interesting questions.

Friday, July 6, 2007

One of these things ...

... is not like the other.

The Bush administration is attempting to divert attention from it's egregious commutation of Scooter's sentence by screaming as loudly as it can "hey, Clinton did it too", a claim which, of course, has at least two problems with it:

1. Even if the Clinton administration had done the exact same thing, two wrongs don't make a right as the saying go. One is tempted to ask Tony Snow, or whatever administration mouthpiece is available, "Well, if Clinton had jumped off a roof would President Bush do the same?".

2. Clinton did not actually "do it too".

Now, it's indisputable Clinton issued a number of pardons, including a large set as he was leaving office. There really isn't anything unusual about this, as prior out-going Presidents have done the same thing. The vast majority of these pardons are largely symbolic, being issued for deceased individuals. For those not yet deceased, the vast majority have served their time and the primary practical effect of the pardon is to restore the individuals' voting rights.

I am not aware of any Clinton pardon which rewarded a Clinton administration official for stonewalling an investigation into the Clinton administration. Not to put it too bluntly, that's almost a textbook description of "corruption", and it's what the Bush administration just engaged in.

Among Clinton's pardons, perhaps the case which most closely parallels Scooter's (closest I could find anyway) was that of Susan McDougal, who was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to answer questions concerning Whitewater in front of Kenneth Starr's grand jury panel, and who Clinton pardoned on his last day in office. However, prior to being pardoned McDougal had served her entire 18-month sentence. The pardon did not save her a single day of incarceration.

Scooter, needless to say, won't spend a single day inside a jail cell. He is not out a penny of the $250,000 fine he just paid, that will come from the same donors who contributed over $5 million to his defense fund. He won't suffer for being unable to practice law, as he will easily command $25,000 or more per appearance on the speaking circuit for some time, and after can find a safe home in some right-wing think tank, waiting out time until President Bush can pardon him on Bush's last day in office.

No, Scooter won't suffer. Scooter knows that, the President knows that and, most importantly, every other member (and former member) of the current administration also knows that.

Why would any current or former member of the administration hesitate to perjure themselves or, at least, refuse to answer questions, even in the face of contempt charges, after it has just been clearly demonstrated that, ultimately, they will suffer no serious consequences for their actions? The clear implication is "good soldiers" will "be taken care of", and far better than our actual soldiers are once they return home.

In providing amnesty for Scooter, El Jefe said he did it because the sentence was "excessive". as has been well documented, there was nothing at all excessive about Scooter's sentence. Even some conservatives admit the only thing extraordinary about the case was not the degree of punishment but, rather, who was involved.

Only the course of events will let us know if the message Bush sent to future witnesses will turn out to be the most "extraordinary" part of the entire affair.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Health (un)insurance

I saw today X4mr has joined the ranks of the uninsured, those 45 million Americans who are rolling the dice and hoping nothing goes seriously wrong with their health. He seems optimistic that situation will be remedied in the near future, and I hope it is. Unfortunately, most Americans who share his fate don't have the same prospects for regaining health insurance.

It's worth noting x4mr is most emphatically not some lower-class, poor, uneducated working schmo. Read his blog, look at his profile ... this is a bright, educated individual who was, until recently, gainfully employed, and I expect will be again shortly. Still, even he can't, for whatever reason, afford health insurance in the interim.

Michael Moore, famous or infamous depending on where you stand on the political spectrum, has a new documentary out examining the US health industry, and comparing it to the way health insurance works in other countries. It's not likely to surprise anyone that the US market-based, privatized approach comes off second-best. The US is the only major western industrial power without national health insurance, and "Sicko" will definitely leave viewers asking themselves exactly why that is.

The management consulting firm McKinsey put together a very detailed report (free registration may be required) laying out the various costs and inefficiencies in the US system which cause it to be, by a vast margin, the most expensive in the world while not providing better general health care by any measurable standard. Yes, it's true if you are a billionaire and money is no object, the best health care available anywhere in the world can be found here. If, however, you are among the majority who actually have to worry about money, that simply isn't the case, as, for example, infant mortality rates and average life expectancy and even average population height can attest.

McKinsey noted the US system results, among other extra expenses, in $98 billion additional administration costs when compared to an average system. Some of those costs are necessary, certainly, but some of them are extraneous in a national health-care system. Costs for marketing, for screening prospective participants, for finding reasons to deny claims, all become unnecessary if our priority switches from profit-based to public-welfare-based. As a comparison, McKinsey estimates it would "only" cost $77 billion to cover all uninsured Americans in a national system.

None of this is new, of course -- many of these same issues were relevant when we last had a national discussion about national health, more than a decade ago now with the failed Clinton bill. What may finally push this over the top so something is actually done could be a coalition of business lobbies standing up to the insurance and pharmaceutical industry lobbyists. Sad, but true ... it seems nothing gets done these days because it's actually the right thing to do, but rather because one army of lobbyists manages to kick the butt of another army of lobbyists.

Soaring health insurance costs are becoming an increasing burden on companies and corporations. Starbucks famously announced two years ago it was spending more on health insurance than on actual goods needed for it's stores. Things have only become worse in the interim, and other companies are feeling the pain. A more recent study found health insurance is the fastest growing cost for employers, and will overtake profits by next year. This can't be sustained.

This country has a historical faith in markets, and markets work well if your primary purpose is to maximize profits. However, sometimes profit-making should not be the primary raison d'etre for an institution's existence, and national health care is on that list. Our health insurance system is sick. It's time to turn the table, deny it coverage and let it die, while the rest of us work toward something better.