I just want to make sure I have all this straight. In order for legislation on, say, healthcare, or carbon cap-and-trade to be passed, any bill must be “bipartisan.” By this we don’t mean Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) voted for it. We mean that a much more substantial number of Republicans, maybe 4,5, or 6 at a minimum, voted for it. Otherwise it is a mean, partisan bill, not done in the true spirit of Chistmas bipartisanship, without legitimacy, and not representative of the will of the American People.

Keep in mind that the president, who ran explicitly on a platform of universal healthcare (with a “public” plan) and cap-and-trade for global warming, trounced his Republican contender, who was against these things. Likewise the Democrats won a resounding victory in the House of Representatives. They also won a historical victory in the Senate, and with the defection of Specter and the (eventual) seating of Al Franken, they will have a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Meanwhile, the popularly elected president commands a 60-something percent approval rating while the Republican Party is approved of by less than 30%.

We are told, though, that it is undemocratic now for that popularly elected president, popularly elected House, and overwhelming Senate majority to enact the legislation they were elected to pass if they DO NOT FIRST compromise with the LOSERS?? Even when they command overwhelming majorities? Even when the legislation they propose is supported by the majority of the population (over 50% of Americans support the “public option”)?

And even when those with whom they are supposed to compromise have utterly antithetical positions on these issues (i.e., the solution for healthcare is tax cuts, and global warming doesn’t exist)?

This would mean that any bill would have to carry the support of almost 70% of the Senate to pass, losing the support of only the 30 most conservative members. On issues such as healthcare, on which conservative Republicans have an ideological objection to doing anything!

Somehow, when the Democrats hold power, “democracy” gets redefined to mean the party that just got slapped around in elections holds equal power – that is, the election doesn’t really count.

We hold elections for a reason – to find out what the majority of the people want. They wanted Barack Obama, healthcare reform, the Democrats in charge of the legislature, and the Democratic Party policy agenda. The Republicans lost. The end.

And yet, I have to hear John Boehner endlessly telling me what the “American people” want – and guess what? They don’t want the guy they elected! No – you see, apparently in this country, the guy that was elected by the national vote to run the country and the party that won the national vote have no idea what the American people want. Who does? The guy who represents Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, John Boehner (largest city in the district is Dayton).

Makes sense, no?

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1981

June 25, 2009

I don’t have a lot to say about this one, believe it or not. Amazing, yes. And highly entertaining. First he’s missing, then he’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, then he’s off to “recharge” in Buenos Aires, then he’s having an affair. Awesome. To be honest, I don’t care that he’s having an affair. Kind of fucked up he’s off in Argentina on Father’s Day when he has little kids. Also fucked up that he’s a moralizing Bible-thumping jackass on a family-values kick WHILE AT THE SAME TIME off in Argentina having an affair on Father’s Day.

But best of all: remember during last year’s election when we heard all about Palin’s commander-in-chief experience? She was the commander-in-chief of the US National Guard Our Troops of Alaska of the United States of America or somesuch, and was all set to charge into battle should Putin rear his head into Alaska’s airspace or whatever. While Obama was only a community organizer or tree surgeon or something. Well, Alaska only has 700,000 people. South Carolina has almost SEVEN TIMES that. Shouldn’t that make Sanford Supreme Allied Commander of Our Boys In Uniform US National Forces Awesome Jesus Harm’s Way Shock and Awe South Carolina or something like that? And he’s off with the fer’ners for a week, and nobody knows where he is?? What if Hugo Chavez decided to rear his head?? Isn’t Argentina near Venezuela or Iran or somewhere? What if his girlfriend was a Cuban/Venezuelan spy and stole South Carolina’s nuclear codes?

On the other hand, of course, this is good for the Republicans. By going to Argentina, as opposed to just seeing it from South Carolina or something, Sanford now has foreign policy expertise.

By the way, Fox News identified Sanford as a Democrat. Just like Mark Foley. I guess once they have an affair they become Democrats. Damn liberal media.

Obsessive Thoughts

June 25, 2009

Not sure why, but I’ve had this song running through my head over and over and over. Love the song, but it’s now driving me batshit. So in an attempt to purge finally purge it…btw, I CANNOT BELIEVE this song is now a DECADE OLD.

T.A. Frank writes in Washington Monthly that we need to overhaul the current H1-B visa system and make it easier for foreign graduates of our top universities to stay here. Right now, we’re giving people top-notch educations and advanced degrees from places like Yale and Princeton and then sending them to China and India by erecting formidable obstacles to their staying here. If they do stay here, they’re dependent on their employers for their visas, and therefore at their mercy. They can be exploited, and their wages are depressed. This is madness. We bend over backward to make sure foreign basketball and baseball players can come into the US and stay here because of their athletic skills, but we don’t do the same for the world’s brightest minds and sharpest innovators.

This reminds me of something I came across recently while reading Thomas Reed’s and Danny Stillman’s The Nuclear Express (strongly recommended, btw). China built its nuclear program on the foundation of Western-educated scientists, many of whom received their degrees in the United States at places like MIT and Berkeley. In particular, they tell the story of Qian Xuesen, one of the fathers of China’s rocket program:

“One golden apple fell off the tree in 1955, for in that year Qian Xuesen, a twenty-year veteran of work at the cutting edge of American and German rocket science, returned to China. In 1936, Qian had been sent to the United States as a student. He received his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1939. In 1943, he proposed the organization of what became that institute’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At the end of World War II, Qin, holding a U.S. Army commission as a full colonel, was debriefing captured Nazi rocket scientists. In conjunction with those interviews he was laying out plans for early American rocket work. But then, with the advent of the war in Korea, Qian was considered a security risk. His clearances were lifted, and he remained under virtual house arrest at Caltech until he was deported in 1955 as part of the Korean postwar prisoner exchange. Qian was welcomed home with open arms. Within a few months he had been installed as the leader of China’s Fifth Academy, the organization pulling together China’s missile and space program. The Silkworm anti-ship weapon, Dong Feng ballistic missiles, and China’s first satellite launch (in 1970) were all Qian Xuesen’s doing. He retired within China, decades later, as a national hero.”

But he had a funny name, so we don’t want people like that staying here.

Here’s Iran expert Gary Sick:

“President Obama today went as far as he could prudently go by declaring:

‘I’ve said this throughout the week, I want to repeat it, that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that’s a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for. And I’m very concerned, based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made, that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching. And how they approach and deal with people who are — through peaceful means — trying to be heard will I think send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and is not… . this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran; this is an issue of the Iranian people.’

But what he didn’t say was that it directly affects his policy of engagement. As long as the crisis persists, there is no chance that he can initiate meaningful negotiations with Iran.

He is also under immense and growing pressure – largely from people who deeply opposed the concept of engagement from the start – to take sides. And the pressure will grow, especially if there is a bloodletting by the regime in Iran. Obama’s statement today strikes me as typically precise and about as far as he can go without sliding into partisanship that will inevitably lead to escalating confrontation.

Despite the siren calls to give full vent to American outrage, short of widespread carnage he should recognize that such statements will not assist the beleaguered opposition in Iran. On the contrary, it will increase their vulnerability, raise false hopes of U.S. physical intervention, and will provide an excuse for the regime to carry out the kind of brutal repression that they are threatening, all in the name of fighting imperialism.

Shouts of outrage are fine by folks like me on the web, but the U.S. government should never forget that its primary task is to do no harm. It may be hard to hold your tongue, but then nobody ever said foreign policy was easy.”

Amen.

I’ve been reluctant to post about this because I feel I waste too much time on this page responding to or pointing out ridiculous right-wing blather that (a) isn’t worthy of response, (b) is more legitimated by any response than it is refuted, and (c) is generally espoused by lost causes who aren’t going to be persuaded by reason. However, I suppose a reason for keeping this page in the first place is for self-interested cathartic purposes, so here goes…

John McCain, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, Bill Kristol, and numerous others among the usual suspects have been criticizing the Obama administration’s response (or lack thereof) to the mass protests in Iran in the wake of that country’s election. Their argument is that Obama has dropped the ball on spreading democracy, is coddling Ahmadinejad, is essentially in bed with the antidemocratic forces of darkness, and ought to take a firm public stand on the election, putting the United States squarely on the side of the pro-Moussavi forces.

These people are simply not serious. And by this I mean: (a) their arguments are not worthy of any serious consideration by foreign policy makers, and (b) I doubt that most of them even mean what they say.

It should go without saying that when it comes to Iranian politics, public support from the United States is the kiss of death. Anti-Ahmadinejad protests in Iran have nothing to do with the United States. The protesters, and Moussavi and his allies among the elites, do not seek public support from the United States. And any public statement of support from Obama will make it easier for Ahmadinejad to paint protesters as treasonous, unpatriotic, and puppets of the Americans. They will lose legitimacy from US support, not gain it. Any such statement from President Obama will backfire, plain and simple.

Beyond a statement of support, which would be exactly the wrong move for the United States, there is nothing productive we can do.

I suspect that most of the administration’s critics are well aware of this fact, and are publicly criticizing the president for cheap partisan gain. The American public’s sophistication when it comes to foreign policy is minimal. There is also a general assumption (that is utterly false) among the American public that the United States almost always has the ability to influence or even control events beyond our borders to effect favorable outcomes, and when such outcomes fail to materialize it is due to the foolishness or incompetence or even corruption of our leaders. This is a dangerous and wrong way of thinking. America is the most powerful country in the world, and can exert more influence than any other state or even any existing alliance of states we are not a part of. This having been said, our ability to influence or control outcomes, particularly when it comes to the domestic politics of adversarial states, is greatly limited. Our levers of influence over a country such as Iran, with whom we have no diplomatic ties and very few ties of trade, are few. Short of using military power, which would entail huge costs and run the risk of serious unintended consequences (most likely creating far more adverse consequences than positive ones), there is nothing we can do in this case. Foreign policy is hard. If it were so easy as simply deciding we want Moussavi in power rather than Ahmadinejad and telling our security and intelligence apparatus to make it so, the world wouldn’t look anything like it does. You would think our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, or with North Korea and Iran over the past several decades, would convince more people of this unpleasant fact.

Many conservatives have not gotten this message. John McCain was on a Georgia kick only months ago (remember when we were all Georgians and we were reminded how Georgia has been Christian for umpteen thousand years?). Now we are apparently all Iranians. Jonah Goldberg has written (and a major newspaper published this crap!) that the United States needs to “lift a finger for democracy”, whatever the fuck that means (seriously – read Goldberg’s op-ed piece and tell me this isn’t something to expect from a 10th-grader rather than a college-educated adult who opines on politics for a living; shame on the LA Times for printing this).

Not all conservatives have jumped on the idiot wagon. Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana has thrown his support behind the administration 100%. So has former Bush administration policy make Nicholas Burns. They are not alone. These, however, are serious people (it is astounding how the serious people from both parties are much closer in their thinking on foreign policy than the cable news channels would ever have you believe), and therefore boring, and therefore not on the talk-show circuit. If you turn on the television, you’re more likely to hear from international relations experts such as Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity.

We desperately need to elevate our public discourse on foreign policy to something higher than a Kindergarten level. I understand that there are easy political points to be scored by branding Obama as a lover of dictators if he does not launch into a rant about every non-democratic regime on the planet (or bomb them). But I find it very difficult to believe that the Pences and Cantors out there actually believe any of this garbage. Every time there is political turmoil in a country with which we have an adversarial relationship, the two sides are portrayed as outlandish caricatures. There is the anti-American, pro-dictatorship (and pro-Terrorist) side; and there is the freedom-fighter, pro-American side. This is idiocy, folks. The world’s not so simple. Whatever factions have taken to the streets in Tehran, I assure you that they are not Christian Democrats who want Iran to join NATO and the EU. If a referendum were held, freely and fairly, in Iran over its nuclear program, the development of nuclear weapons would be supported by the overwhelming majority. Nor would free and fair elections produce anything remotely close to a pro-American, pro-Western style democracy.

As difficult as it is to believe, not everything that happens in the world is ABOUT US. People’s political preferences in other countries do not fit into our domestic political frameworks. And most importantly, our control over these things is not only limited, but our actions always run the risk of serious unintended consequences. The sooner we acknowledge this the better. I am not, however, hopeful that this will happen any time soon.

On April 7th of this year, the Dept of Homeland Security issued a report entitled “Right Wing Extremism: Current Economic And Political Climate Fueling Resurgence In Radicalization And Recruitment.” Predictably, the right wingers threw a temper tantrum. Obama’s rounding us all up, you see. He’s ‘targeting’ the regular-American patriots and he’s going to throw us all into Glenn Beck’s FEMA concentration camps. Pay no attention to the fact that the report was ordered by the BUSH ADMINISTRATION’S DOJ. That’d be too much information to confuse our little heads. Obama, you see, is including in the definition of “Right Wing Extremism” everything from being against socialism to opposing universal cannibalism. Of course they weren’t talking about things like this:

“[Scott] Roeder, 51, a mentally ill, unemployed anti-abortion activist from Kansas City, Mo., was charged with first-degree murder [for killing abortion doctor George Tiller].

On Friday, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Roeder, who had enough money to stalk Tiller for years despite having little or no income, had help from accomplices.

Anyone who played a role in the killing will be prosecuted “to the full extent of federal law,” said Loretta King, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division.”

Or this:

“[Self-described patriot and right-wing nutjob Jim David] Adkisson pleaded guilty Monday in Knox County Criminal Court to a deadly shooting rampage at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, the Kingston Pike home of what the 58-year-old Powell man deemed ‘ultra liberals’ and ‘foot soldiers’ for the powers-that-be in the liberal movement.

‘I’d like to encourage other like-minded people to do what I’ve done,’ Adkisson wrote. ‘If life ain’t worth living anymore, don’t just kill yourself. Do something for your country before you go. Go kill liberals.’

He will spend the rest of his life behind bars for killing Greg McKendry, 60, and Linda Lee Kraeger, 61, after opening fire with a sawed-off shotgun inside the church where more than 200 people were gathered to watch a children’s musical. He admitted wounding six others.”

Or this:

“A gunman wearing a bulletproof vest and ‘lying in wait’ opened fire on officers responding to a domestic disturbance call Saturday, killing three of them and turning a quiet Pittsburgh street into a battlefield, police said.

Police Chief Nate Harper said the motive for the shooting isn’t clear, but friends said the gunman recently had been upset about losing his job and feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.

Richard Poplawski, 23, met officers at the doorway and shot two of them in the head immediately, Harper said. An officer who tried to help the two also was killed.

Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and ‘didn’t like our rights being infringed upon,’ said Edward Perkovic, his best friend.

Perkovic, 22, said he got a call at work from him in which he said, ‘Eddie, I am going to die today. … Tell your family I love them and I love you.'”

Or this:

“An 88-year-old gunman with a violent and virulently anti-Semitic past opened fire with a rifle inside the crowded U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, fatally wounding a security guard before being shot himself by other officers, authorities said.

Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the gunman was ‘engaged by security guards immediately after entering the door’ with a rifle. ‘The second he stepped into the building he began firing.’
Law enforcement officials said James W. von Brunn, a white supremacist, was under investigation in the shooting and that his car was found near the museum and tested for explosives. The weapon was a .22-caliber rifle, they added. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the investigation just beginning.”

Whew. Good thing we didn’t take that DHS report seriously.

Read Paul Krugman’s column from today’s Times. Lots of people have now written on the rise in right-wing political violence, how it’s reminiscent of what happened the last time a Democratic president took office, and how it’s fueled by kooks like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity telling everyone that President Obama is a Muslim/Socialist/Fascist/Illegal Immigrant usurper who is going to turn the United States into the Soviet Union and/or Nazi Germany and take everybody’s guns away. Krugman points out hwo this is happening not only obscure rags or on local talk radio but right in the mainstream conservative media among pundits who had the closest access to the White House during the Bush administration and continue to exert tremendous influence on Republican lawmakers.

But they have no responsibility, you see, if some ‘lone-wolf’ nutcase out there takes their hateful babble seriously.

And the “left” is much worse. I think David Letterman said something bad about Bristol Palin and Alex Rodriquez or something and Sarah Palin and Jesus cried.

Someone needed to say it:

Picture 930

Then there’s this little piece of news:
Picture 931

“The man charged with murdering a high-profile abortion doctor claimed from his jail cell Sunday that similar violence was planned around the nation for as long as the procedure remained legal, a threat that comes days after a federal investigation launched into his possible accomplices.
A Justice Department spokesman said the threat was being taken seriously and additional protection had been ordered for abortion clinics last week. But a leader of the anti-abortion movement derided the accused shooter as ‘a fruit and a lunatic.’
Scott Roeder called The Associated Press from the Sedgwick County jail, where he’s being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller one week ago.
‘I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal,’ Roeder said. He would not elaborate.”

Wow. Too bad this guy’s a Christian white man. If he were Muslim or had brown skin, we could waterboard him 183 times and keep him awake and naked for 180 hours at a stretch to MAKE him elaborate! I mean, after all, he’s a terrorist with knowledge of coming attacks. Sounds pretty ticking-time-bomb to me. Where’s Dick Cheney?

Here’s the definition of terrorism from the US State Department:

“[T]he term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

I’m no lawyer (but hey, neither is Dick Cheney!), and I don’t know what’s required to meet a legal definition of “terrorism” in a courtroom, but it sounds like we’re on the right track here. And certainly other US citizens held for terrorism and tortured such as Joe Padilla (who was held for years without trial in a military prison) didn’t have any opportunity to challenge whether he met any government definition in court. So I assume we’ll be shipping Roeder to Guantanamo Bay or Bagram any day now. And going after any Christianist ‘terrorist organizations’ that provided him ‘safe harbor’ or material support.

For a less snarky and more enlightening post on this very topic by esteemed law professor Jack Balkin (who, unlike me, knows what he’s talking about), follow this link.

Obama’s Cairo Speech

June 7, 2009

I don’t think there should be any doubt that this was an excellent speech that serves to undercut extremist rhetoric and assuage hostility toward the US (as far as a speech can do such a thing, but you have to start somewhere). It was also pretty tough and firm at points. A few key excepts:

He takes on anti-Americanism:

“Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire.

We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal. And we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words, within our borders and around the world.

We are shaped by every culture. Drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept, E pluribus unum: Out of many, one.”

He attacks al Qaeda apologists and 9/11 deniers:

“We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject, the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as president to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued Al Qaida and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice. We went because of necessity. I’m aware that there’s still some who would question or even justify the offense of 9/11. But let us be clear. Al Qaida killed nearly 3,000 people on that day.

The victims were innocent men, women, and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaida chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach.

These are not opinions to be debated. These are facts to be dealt with.”

He also (and this is VERY important) point out to his audience that the vast majority of al Qaeda’s victims have not been Christians, or Americans, or US soldiers, but MUSLIMS themselves, a message that Bush should have been driving home over and over again:

“They have killed people of different faiths but, more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam.”

He asserted a strong US-Israel bond:

“America’s strong bonds with Israel are well-known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

And he took aim at Holocaust deniers (Ahmadinejad, this includes you):

“Around the world the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. And anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented holocaust. Tomorrow I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich.

Six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless. It is ignorant, and it is hateful.”

Aside from tough talk, though, the president also was careful to moderate Bush-era rhetoric that have harmed perceptions of the US for the past 8 years. The words “terrorist” and “terrorism” were not uttered, given the overuse of those terms and their association with Muslims across the board among many in this country. President Obama likewise took the issue of Guantanamo Bay and torture head on, coming closest on this point to a show of regret for US policies (although by no means, I should point out, offering an apology as his critics have disingenuously claimed):

“And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable. But in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States. And I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.”

Obviously, because the president didn’t swagger into Cairo and launch a barrage of tough-guy talk and patronizing sermons on “freedom,” the right wing is pissed off. And, well, they’re also pissed off because he’s not a Republican. Tough bring-em-on, dead-or-alive talk was the norm for 8 years. Exactly what has it accomplished besides swelling the ranks of recruits for al Qaeda and the like? It certainly has not helped US interests in the region, or anywhere else. It is also not clear to me how, by not using tough talk, the US is projecting weakness. When our adversaries use conciliatory language toward us, the right wingers tell us they are trying to lull us into a false sense of security and pull a fast one on us. They certainly do not interpret it as a sign of weakness. Yet when we, the most powerful country in the world, use moderate language when addressing the inhabitants of a region in which most of the states are ALLIES of the United States, we’re putting ourselves at risk. Exactly how precarious do these people believe US security to be if a speech can weaken us? Additionally, how can the same people who tout the endless virtues and utility of military power and the powerlessness of diplomacy AT THE SAME TIME claim that a president’s speech weakens the posture of the United States? IF speeches carry so much weight, then shouldn’t diplomacy be very powerful?

As if this is the first area in which these people contradict themselves.