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Question of the day: do you worry about dictatorship in the US?

September 25th, 2007 by Steve

Ten years ago I would almost have been embarrassed to ask the question.  Not now.

Personally, I’m not all that concerned over the possibility of George W. Bush, or someone of his ilk, suddenly declaring himself (or herself) to be the new emperor.  It’s the more insidious loss of freedom that gives me cold sweats at night.  We surrender a little liberty here to feel safer; we look the other way in response to an presidential power grab there.  Then bit by bit we stop being America.

Given how far down that road the country has already gone during the Bush years, can anyone reasonably doubt the danger?

So what do you think? 

A few words on the “joys” of flying

September 24th, 2007 by Steve

I flew into Austin last night on business, then onto LA this evening.  I’ll be going home in a couple of days.  A few thoughts:

1. Wouldn’t it be good for the country to have free wireless in all airports?  As it stands now, in most places you have to pay close to $10 for 24 hours of access: but, of course, you don’t need 24 hours of access — just one or two hours while you wait for your connecting flight.  But since you feel like a schmuck forking over that kind of dough for such a short period of usage, you often don’t do it.  The amount of productivity lost to the economy because of this has to huge.

2. Why do the seats on commercial airlines seem to keep getting smaller, when Americans keep getting bigger?  I suspect the impression that airline seats are getting smaller probably has more to do with the increase in usage of small commuter jets than with an actual shrinkage of the seat size on the big birds: still, it sure feels like they’re getting smaller.

3. Why do airlines use seats that let people recline if they’re going to squeeze passengers so close together that the reclining seat ends up in the face of the person sitting behind it?

4. Why are the airsick bags so small that it’s virtually impossible to hit the target?

5. How do the airlines get away with saying you earn free travel with your frequent flyer miles when many of them now charge a fee when you cash them in?  

6. When an airline deliberately sells more tickets than it has seats, why isn’t that fraud? 

7. Isn’t there something strange about the fact that some airlines charge extra for emergency row seats (on the theory they have more leg room) when the person occupying that seat is supposedly assuming the obligation of helping the crew in an emergency?

8. Given that airport security personnel are federal employees, how are the airlines (in some cities) getting away with setting up special quicker security screening lines for first class passengers.

9. I understand airlines gave up serving meals as a cost cutting measure, but was handing out the small bags of pretzels with the pop really driving them into bankruptcy?

By the way, the guy next to me spilled an entire can of pop onto my pants during the flight to LA.  Of course, it could have been a lot worse, considering that whole it’s hard to hit the airsick bags thing.

So what was so ill-advised about the MoveOn.Org ad, asshole?

September 24th, 2007 by Steve

I’m taking a little creative license here (adding the word asshole) with RJHall’s very pertinent challenge to my reference to the “infamous” MoveOn.Org ad as being ill-advised.  His comment caused me to do a little soul searching.  I found myself wondering: in describing the ad as ill-advised was I giving my honest independent appraisal, or was I just jumping on board with the conventional wisdom (like I always bitch at the corporate media for doing)?

Happily, just like the neocons who advocated the war — (Hmmm, I wonder if I really want to use that example?) — upon due reflection, I still think I was right all along.

Yes, my problem is with the ad’s title.  And, no, I don’t myself find it offensive in the least.  But let’s be honest: it should have been obvious up front that a bold headline declaring, “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” was a perfect set up for the right wing noise machine to go to town with the unfair suggestion that was questioning the general’s patriotism.  And, yes, of course, the corporate media applies a double standard, routinely giving a pass to right wingers who engage in actual challenges to the patriotism of those they oppose.  But this is the world we live in and it’s the one we have to navigate in fighting for change.  

By opening the door to the bad guys to create just this sort of stink, the ad gave Bush some breathing room he didn’t deserve.

Life ain’t fair folks.  If we want to change business as usual in the Beltway, we have to be smart. 

None of this changes the fact (as I’ve said before) that the Senate’s action in censuring the ad was stupid and that those Democrats who voted that way were both gutless and politically naïve.  But while I remain a supporter of, I do think they blew it with this one. 

When puppets bite back — again

September 22nd, 2007 by Steve

Uh-oh, the “independent government” of Iraq is starting to show signs of wanting to act like, well, an independent government.  For one thing, they’re not too happy about the US arresting a visiting Iranian representative.

(LA Times) Iraqi leader demands U.S. release Iranian official

BAGHDAD — — Iraqi President Jalal Talabani demanded today that the United States release an Iranian official arrested in an early morning raid in the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan this week.

“We express our resentment over this arrest without coordination with the local government. This means it is an insult and trespasses on our rights and authorities,” Talabani, who is Kurdish, said in a letter addressed to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

“I demand his immediate release to protect Iraq and Kurdistan interests and relations with Iran,” he said.

“Resentment?”  “Demand?”  “Insult?” Trespasses on our rights?”  With talk like that, it’s a good thing I know that these guys really, really love us, or I might begin to wonder about the feasibility of that long term close “friendship” between our two nations the neocons are counting on. 

Our Iraqi friends are also showing disturbing signs of refusing to play ball in sweeping that whole Blackwater killing innocent civilians thing under the rug.

(AP) Iraq: Blackwater guards fired unprovoked  

Iraqi investigators have a videotape that shows Blackwater USA guards opened fire against civilians without provocation in a shooting last week that left 11 people dead, a senior Iraqi official said Saturday. He said the case was referred to the Iraqi judiciary.

*  *  *

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said Iraqi authorities had completed an investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad and concluded that Blackwater guards were responsible for the deaths.

He told The Associated Press that the conclusion was based on witness statements as well as videotape shot by cameras at the nearby headquarters of the national police command. He said eight people were killed at the scene and three of the 15 wounded died in hospitals.

No doubt about it, they just don’t make client states like they used to

A vetoing fool — literally

September 22nd, 2007 by Steve

Having previously vetoed two bills that would have provided funding for stem cell research that could potentially have led to cures for horrible illnesses and one bill creating timelines (if fairly weak ones) for getting our troops out of the morass in Iraq, bush is clutching his veto pen again. 

The likely victim this time: children’s health insurance, what else? 

(AP) Bush: Kids’ health care will get vetoed

At issue is the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a state-federal program that subsidizes health coverage for low-income people, mostly children, in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private coverage. It expires Sept. 30.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a proposal Friday that would add $35 billion over five years to the program, adding 4 million people to the 6.6 million already participating. It would be financed by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents to $1 per pack.

The idea is overwhelmingly supported by Congress’ majority Democrats, who scheduled it for a vote Tuesday in the House. It has substantial Republican support as well.

But Bush has promised a veto, saying the measure is too costly, unacceptably raises taxes, extends government-covered insurance to children in families who can afford private coverage, and smacks of a move toward completely federalized health care. He has asked Congress to pass a simple extension of the current program while debate continues, saying it’s children who will suffer if they do not.

Bush’s vetoes have, of course, been few and far between.  For the first six years of his presidency, he was protected by a consistently obedient GOP majority in Congress: and even now that there are small Democratic majorities in both houses, Senate Republicans have been able to filibuster to death most legislation Bush opposes.

But while Bush’s vetoes have been few in number, they speak volumes for where his priorities lie.  And it ain’t pretty.  

Something remarkable

September 20th, 2007 by Steve

Jerry Sanders, the pudgy white Republican mayor of San Diego announces in an emotional press conference that he has changed his mind about gay marriage.  His daughter is lesbian: he can’t see how he can treat her as a second class citizen and still look her in the eye. 

I think this is important.  I think this is something that will change some hearts.

Read about it and see the clip here at Salon.

Thank God America is now safe from

September 20th, 2007 by Steve

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to feel a lot safer in bed tonight knowing that the Senate has rebuked the evil  A Senate made up of lesser men and women might spend their time on silliness like trying to get our troops out of Iraq, rebuilding our crumbling national infrastructure and protecting our ports and nuclear energy plants from terrorist attacks.  But not this bunch.  No, sir.  These folks understand that what’s really important is passing a meaningless resolution condemning a political issue ad.

And, yes, nearly half the Democrats voted in favor of the resolution.  God, what a pathetic bunch — chicken and tone-deaf all at the same time. 

The point here isn’t the MoveOn ad itself — an advertisement that I personally think was ill-advised.  No, the real point, of course, is what the hell the Senate is doing wasting its time acting as media critic when brave young Americans are dying unnecessarily in an ill-conceived and negligently prosecuted war.

Chris Dodd hit precisely the right tone:

“It is a sad day in the Senate when we spend hours debating an ad while our young people are dying in Iraq. Now that the Senate has twice voted on this ad, it is time to move on and vote to end the war.”

Sad, indeed.

But something else that’s sad is watching so many Democratic senators reflexively peeing in their pants in fear, unable to grasp that Dodd’s position is such an obvious political winner. 

Question of the day: How can Democrats best frame GOP obstructionism?

September 19th, 2007 by Steve

It’s mind-boggling really: Democrats garnered 56 votes in the Senate, a strong majority, in support of Jim Webb’s bill (pdf) to protect our troops.  The bill failed for one and only one reason — because obstructionist Republicans used the filibuster to prevent an up or down vote: the very same tactic, of course, they’ve been using to thwart virtually every Democratic legislative goal.

And how do major media outlets cover the story?  Do they emphasize GOP obstructionism?  Or the clear undermining of the will of the people?  Or perhaps note the gross hypocrisy inherent in having the very same senators, who, not so very long ago, were ferociously decrying Democratic filibusters against a few judicial nominations, now using it themselves as a matter of course?   

No, instead, we get this.

(AP) Senate blocks bill on Iraq combat tours

Democrats’ efforts to challenge President Bush’s Iraq policies were dealt a demoralizing blow Wednesday in the Senate after they failed to scrape together enough support to guarantee troops more time at home.

The 56-44 vote — four short of reaching the 60 needed to advance — all but assured that Democrats would be unable to muster the support needed to pass tough anti-war legislation by year’s end. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., was seen as the Democrats’ best shot because of its pro-military premise.

“The idea of winning the war in Iraq is beginning to get a second look,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who led opposition to the bill alongside Sen. John McCain.

Note the storyline: not Republican obstructionism, but Democratic failure.  And that’s been the consistent theme of reporting in filibuster situations since the first day the Democrats gained majority status.

So how do we change it?  Here’s my take: congressional Democrats need to make Republican obstructionism THE ISSUE for the rest of this congressional session.  Forget about compromise.  The only compromises that interest Bush Republicans anyway are those based upon Democratic surrender, and we’ve been down that road enough already.  Besides, Beltway style deals — however much they may warm David Broder’s heart — are irrelevant to the war issue.  The only “compromise” the GOP leadership will agree to now is one that maintains the status quo.  The American people want us out of Iraq, period.  Anything less is beside the point.

The best chance we have to speed an end of this disastrous war is to force widespread Republican defections based upon the fear of electoral defeat.  But that will never happen as long as the Democrats make it easy for Republican senators and representatives to pretend they oppose the war, while actually supporting Bush.  So forget the fruitless reaching across the aisle, and, instead, force one antiwar vote after another.  And every time the GOP stages a filibuster, go in front of the cameras and accuse them of obstructing the will of the nation.

If the press won’t report it, go around them.  Work with the netroots.  Run advocacy ads.  Raise hell.  Then raise some more hell.  And if need be, go to the voters in 2008 as the party that did everything possible to end this nightmare.

Then let democratic process settle the issue.

That’s my thinking anyway: so what are your thoughts on how the Democrats can better frame Republican congressional obstructionism?

A goodbye Limerick for Alberto Gonzales

September 19th, 2007 by Steve

(Okay, so I’m a few days late on this: but I just couldn’t let him leave without adding my own special thought.)

There once was a man named Alberto,
Who lie after lie he’d bestow,
Couldn’t do it for squat,
Almost always got caught,
Until finally he just had to go.

No time for no black or brown folks

September 19th, 2007 by Steve

It seems that some Republicans have concluded that having their presidential candidates consistently refuse invitations to debate in black and Latino forums may, shall we say, send the wrong message in terms of GOP minority outreach.

And to think that some people claim there’re no rocket scientists left in the Grand Old Party.