Friday, November 30, 2007

Pelosi Stands Strong-For Now

We're all worried that the Democratic Congress will again capitulate to the man down the street with the 30% approval rating [a.k.a President Bush]. After all, they did so in May by significant margins.

And then we hear this today from Rep. John Murtha, Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

I think the ’surge’ is working.

This let Republican whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) issue the following statement:

With one of the Democrats' leading war critics now saying the surge in Iraqis working, it's difficult to understand why the majority continues to push an irresponsible withdrawal plan that jeopardizes critical support funding for our troops. It can't be the facts on the ground that are influencing their decision-making: After all, our servicemen and women have made tremendous progress the past six months, with fewer attacks on our troops, greater security in historically insecure areas, and terrorist insurgents on the run.

I'm baffled by Murtha's willingness to enable the party that has said these things about him:

Mean Jean Schmidt(R-OH)
A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bop, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body – that we will see this through.

Louie Gohmert(R-TX)

thank God he was not here and prevailed after the bloodbaths at Normandy and in the Pacific or we would be here speaking Japanese or German.

At any rate, one would expect that Speaker Pelosi would compromise/capitulate.

But CNN's latest story makes it appear otherwise

But a spokesman for Pelosi, Nadeam Elshami, said Democratic leaders do not plan to change this timeline or bring anything back to the floor before Congress leaves for the year.

"The speaker has said we will not initiate any funding legislation for the war this year," Elshami said. "The House has already passed $50 billion."

Of course, she may capitulate in 2008, or she may change her mind.

But for now, she seems to be standing strong. I'm grateful for that.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

CAFE Standards Increase Has Loopholes

So says CNN.

This is unbelievable. Dingell claims "we've got to do it in a way that doesn't destroy our industry or manufacturing" and "We have to address the Senate bill to make sure we don't combine light trucks and automobiles in a way that will destroy them."

Every industrialized country and many developing countries have higher fuel economy standards.

Later in the presentation, when discussing automotive fuel economy standards, Gore - speaking at a venue about an hour from Detroit, and in the midst of some of the worst months in the history of the American auto industry - seemed to pull some of his punches. "Forgive me if this is a sensitive topic," Gore said before producing a chart that showed American fuel economy standards far below those of the European Union, China, Japan, Australia and Canada.

While noting efforts by the American auto industry to block California legislation that would bring the state's emissions standards closer to China's, Gore was quick to add that he doesn't own a foreign car: "I'm loyal to GM and Ford and the United Auto Workers," he said. "I just want them to make more stuff that's good for the environment."

This hasn't stopped China from having massive economic growth. The problem is that the United States hasn't been willing to take action against China through the WTO (whether the WTO was a good idea can be left for another diary). China's been violating international law and basic human rights left and right, but we're doing nothing.

Why? Because we need China to finance our unnecessary wars and low taxes-and it sounds like we may be somewhat scared of them too based on the recent U.S. Navy vessel incident in Hong Kong.

So it's not going to hurt the auto companies. It will, however, hurt the oil companies over the long term. Better mileage means less consumption, which means we won't have a supply shortage (we don't have one yet, mind, but it's coming).

All it will do is continue to allow huge, wasteful vehicles on the public roads.

Large "work trucks" like the Dodge Ram, the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado would be exempt from the 35 mpg standard, according to sources involved in the negotiations.

There's no reason why these pickup trucks shouldn't be able to 35 mpg when not carrying a load. Our engineers are more than smart enough.

New Primary Opponent for Wayne Gilchrest

Of the 200 or so Republicans in the House of Representatives, the one I'm probably least concerned with beating is Wayne Gilchrest. He's pro-choice, pro-environment, wants to leave Iraq and has a relatively moderate voting record on economic issues.

And his district is pretty heavily Republican (62-38 for Bush in 2004, 57-40 for Bush in 2000). So even a True Believer® will be tough to beat here.

Wayne's biggest fight has always been in the primary. He's nearly been Clubbed for GrowthTM several times now.

And Pat Toomey's organization is at it again with a new attack website, Wayne Gilchrest is a Liberal.

This is the same strategy they used to help True Believer® Tim Walberg take down Rep. Joe Schwarz, another moderate Republican. Well, that and $500,000 in Schwarz-bashing ads.

So True Believer® State Sen. Andrew Harris is running as a "real conservative" and could well take him down.

But it looks like Gilchrest may have some good news. State Senator E.J. Pipkin has announced his intentions to run against Gilchrest as an "Eastern Shores conservative," and pundits believe this will help split the anti-Gilchrest vote.

The Club for Growth will stick with Harris (they've been a conduit to raise money for him); however, E.J. Pipkin is a multi-millionaire and is willing to spend vasts sums of money, so he'll get himself some exposure.

Frankly, I think that may be a good thing. In heavily Republican districts, I'd much prefer a moderate Republican to a far-right Republican.

However, there is always the possibility that Gilchrest could choose to run as an Independent and skip the primary; he's popular enough to do that.

It wouldn't be the first time a Republican left the party (or made noises about it) after a Clubbing for Growth.

  • Lincoln Chafee left the Republican party after narrowly winning his primary against CFG-backed Steven Laffey and then losing the general

  • Joe Schwarz has made noises about leaving the party

  • Arlen Specter, who was challenged by now-CFG president Pat Toomey, would probably leave if he wasn't a coward-he Bloomberged his way into the Republican party [Bloomberg = running as a Republican for city office to avoid heavily ethnic Democratic primary]; he should Bloomberg his way out again

  • Bob Smith endorsed John Kerry for president after losing his primary to CFG-backed John Sununu

Rest In Peace, Henry Hyde

Former U.S. Representative from Illinois Henry Hyde(R-Chicago suburbs) has passed away. Hyde entered the House in the Democratic landslide year of 1974, and left it in the Democratic landslide year of 2006.

He'll be remembered in history for two things.

1. The Hyde amendment-staunchly anti-choice, Henry Hyde introduced an amendment in 1976 which prohibited federal funding of abortions. Currently, it requires coverage of abortion in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, but prohibits it otherwise.
2. His instrumental role as Judiciary Chairman in the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

But I prefer to remember Henry as a relic of a simpler time. See, Henry had normal, simple, adulterous sex scandals. They ruined families, true, but nothing special.

You don't see that anymore.

These days we see:
Ted Haggard-party n play gay sex with prostitutes
Mark Foley-dirty e-mails with underage pages
Larry Craig-wide stance on not being gay in airport bathrooms
Rudy Giuliani-has taxpayers pay for his affair, dumps his wife on TV, lives with gay couple

So, rest in peace, Henry Hyde. We'll miss your simplicity.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Americans Overwhelmingly Support the Writers

A new poll from SurveyUSA tells us how the public feels about the writer's strike.
Their key finding:

Americans Seven Times More Likely to Back WGA as Studios

About 70% of those polled claimed familiarity with the strike.

Of those familiar, 49% side with the writers, 7% side with the studios, and 42% side with neither.

SurveyUSA releases cross-tabs for their polls. The results here are just as striking.


Even among Republicans and conservatives, no more than 10% side with the studios and over 35% side with the writers.

Why is support so overwhelming?

One reason might be that people consider intellectual property rights and royalties more important than they consider, say, health care; this would explain the differences in public support.

However, I think the most pertinent reason is the way the question was framed.

Which side are you on? The writers? The studios? Or neither?

Setting the question up as worker versus faceless corporation probably makes a big difference in public perception.

That difference may be necessary. After all, the mainstream media is owned by the same conglomerates that aren't paying WGA members the royalties they deserve.

See, for instance, how CNN (owned by Time Warner) covers CBS (owned by CBS corporation, but with basically the same ownership as the new Viacom)'s canceling of the Democratic debate due to the network's failure to agree to pay the writers what they deserve:

Democrats abandoned their plans for a December 10 debate at CBS studios in Los Angeles, blaming the continuing writers strike for the cancellation. Most of the candidates, including the three frontrunners, had said they would not cross picket lines set up outside the event site in Los Angeles.
CBS had asked the WGA to suspend picketing on that day, but the union did not respond to that request.

One expects that the media owned by News Corp, Disney, GE/NBC Universal and perhaps under the Bush administration, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is doing the same sort of thing.

This is, again, one of those cases where Web 2.0 media is crucial.

wgaamerica is the #4 most subscribed Youtuber this week, 20th most subscribed this month, 79th most viewed this month.

Of course, the Writer's Guild of America has a huge advantage in this area. Their members know how to write scripts that'll make people want to watch.

Still, there have to be some lessons that the rest of the labor movement can take from this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Keith Ellison's Bill Will Fix the Peru Free Trade Agreement

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives approved the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (Peru FTA), and the Senate is expected to approve it in the near future. Thanks to the pressure put on Bush by the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, this agreement contains real labor and environmental standards that led the AFL-CIO to state that "undoubtedly, the Peru TPA, as amended, marks a substantial step forward toward a trade model that will benefit the working people of both countries."

However, there are still serious problems with this agreement. The biggest is that enforcement is up to the executive branch. And as John Edwards' campaign site notes:

Despite progress on labor and environmental standards, worker rights are no stronger than George Bush's willingness to enforce them. He has proven his indifference to workers through seven years of inaction.

Keith Ellison also understands this problem. That's why he's introduced a bill which will force the executive branch to ensure that these provisions are upheld.

Representative Ellison has introduced a bill with former mill worker Mike Michaud of Maine "to allow United States citizens to bring civil actions against persons who fail to perform an act or duty under the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act."

The full text of the bill is as follows:


Section 102(c) of the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act is amended to read as follows:

`(c) Third Party Right of Action Allowed- Any citizen of the United States may commence a civil action on his or her own behalf or in a representative capacity against any person (including the United States or any other governmental instrumentality or agency to the extent permitted by the eleventh amendment to the Constitution) who is alleged to have knowingly failed to perform any act or duty under this Act. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia shall have jurisdiction, without regard to the amount in controversy or the citizenship of the parties, to issue appropriate orders requiring such person to perform such act or duty.'.

Guaranteeing every American standing to sue for failure of action is very important. Without it, the courts will likely find that potential litigants have no standing to bring the suit. This guarantees it, and makes court-ordered enforcement a real possibility if the executive branch fails to enforce provisions.

One might wonder why this was not introduced as an amendment to the Peru Free Trade Agreement.

The problem is that the House and Senate signed away their ability to amend or filibuster or in any way hold up the passage of the Peru (or Central America or Oman or Chile or Panama or South Korea or Colombia) Free Trade Agreements back in 2002 when the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the Baucus-Grassley amendment to the Andean Trade Pact, which gave the president fast-track negotiating authority for any trade agreement negotiated before July 1, 2007.

Fast-track negotiating authority does the following:

If the President transmits a trade agreement to Congress, then the majority leaders of the House and Senate or their designees must introduce the implementing bill submitted by the President on the first day on which their House is in session. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(c)(1).) Senators and Representatives may not amend the President’s bill, either in committee or in the Senate or House. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(d).) The committees to which the bill has been referred have 45 days after its introduction to report the bill, or be automatically discharged, and each House must vote within 15 days after the bill is reported or discharged. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(e)(1).) In the likely case that the bill is a revenue bill (as tariffs are revenues), the bill must originate in the House (see U.S. Const., art I, sec. 7), and after the Senate received the House-passed bill, the Finance Committee would have another 15 days to report the bill or be discharged, and then the Senate would have another 15 days to pass the bill. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(e)(2).) On the House and Senate floors, each Body can debate the bill for no more than 20 hours, and thus Senators cannot filibuster the bill and it will pass with a simple majority vote. (19 U.S.C. § 2191(f)-(g).) Thus the entire Congressional consideration could take no longer than 90 days.

Basically, it's a huge giveaway of authority and power to the executive branch. One wonders why Congress would ever willingly do so.

So thanks to fast-track, Representative Ellison is required to introduce this as a stand-alone bill.

Unfortunately, it has little chance of becoming law unless we can somehow get the Dem leadership to put it into a must-pass bill in conference (if they decide to capitulate and give Bush more money sans timetable, this would be one good provision to put into it).

However, the model of ensuring standing for citizens who may not be able to prove they've been directly affected by governmental [and non-governmental] negligence/lawbreaking is a very good one.

Consider the whole telecom immunity issue. One of the biggest reasons as to why the issue is so important is that the courts have said that most people lack standing to sue the NSA directly, as they can't prove they were the target of illegal surveillance, whereas customers of phone companies who illegally gave the NSA access do have standing (under breach of contract, I think; the important thing is that they have standing). If those companies were given immunity, we'd have no way to subpoena and find out the details and scope of the lawbreaking.

However, if a bill giving telecom immunity also incorporated a provision allowing any citizen standing to sue over breach of the FISA law, that would no longer be an issue. Of course, there'd still be the issue that telecom immunity = corporate welfare, but the worst parts of telecom immunity would no longer be relevant.

Presidential candidates running on reform would do well to put the assurance of citizen standing to sue in their platforms. Presidential candidates who want to look better on trade would do even better to introduce Representative Ellison's bill in the Senate.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ron Paul's running mates-David Duke, Lou Dobbs, Dennis Kucinich

So DR. RON PAUL!!1!!11!!1!1! has been raising tons of money from a diverse group of libertarians, paleoconservatives, anti-war purist morons, conspiracy theorists, gold bugs, nativists, white supremacists and severely misguided, high, anti-entitlement college students.

He's been polling surprisingly well lately;

8% in South Carolina [with McCain at 9%, Huckabee at 12%, Giuliani at 13%, and Thompson and Romney tied at 21%].

About 7% in Nevada, with Huckabee at 5%, McCain at 8%, Thompson at 14% Romney at 21%, and Giuliani at 28%.

8% in New Hampshire, several points ahead of Huckabee and Thompson.

6% in Iowa, tied with McCain.

Although his numbers have gone up, he has no real shot at the Republican nomination. If school was in session, he would definitely have done well enough in Story County (Iowa State) and Johnson County(U of Iowa) and maybe some other counties with university to reach the viability level and get some state delegates. With break, he may not be able to; either way, he has no chance of winning the Republican nomination, because he has a relatively low maximal support, and once the field thins to him and one or two others, he'll never be able to do well enough.

But there are still 2 important questions to be answered.

1) Who will his supporters decide to switch to at the Iowa and Nevada caucuses, and will it make a difference?

This sort of thing is always difficult to predict, even with candidates with similar constituencies who aren't fairly out of line with their party. After all, Dennis Kucinich was the left-wing candidate in 2004-one would've expected him to push his supporters to go with either the labor candidate (Gephardt) or the anti-war candidate (Dean). If they'd gone with Dean, Dean would've probably finished a fairly weak second and/or the scream thing might've gone differently, and Edwards would've been a weak third. This might well have set up Wes Clark as the anti-Kerry candidate (or maybe Dean would've managed to win NH), and would've meant Edwards would've faded and probably wouldn't be running this time.

However, I'll give the best predictions I can.

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are at the top in Iowa, with a big gap. I highly doubt Paul supporters will be going with someone perceived as extremely disingenuous and flip-flopping and "ask my lawyers if torture is okay" (Romney) or as somewhat populist (Mike Huckabee), and Thompson's so old and boring.

Had McCain not decided to be so resolutely pro-war this cycle, I'd think they'd go with him; he's had the most consistently anti-spending/pro-balanced budget record of any of the candidates and he opposes torture.

Giuliani has got to be the least likely, though. His ideology can be summed up by 9/11 and "I'll protect you from the terrorists and criminals". This pisses off pretty much the entire Paul constituency. The conspiracy theorists think the U.S. government did it, the white supremacists think the Jews/Israel did it, the libertarians hate the loss of liberty it spouted, and the students/potheads despise his record on crime.

So I'd guess McCain (then again, he may not make it to 15% even with the Paultards).

2) Paul has really not been spending much money. Before the start of the 4th quarter, he had more money on hand than John McCain (and way more than Huckabee who raised only a total of $1 million; businesspeople don't like him in the primary) with Giuliani being the only one with more than twice what he had on hand

He managed to raise $4.2 million online at the beginning of this month in honor of Guy Fawkes Day, and his supporters are trying to raise $10 million in honor of the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party [I expect them to raise several million at least].

I expect the reason he's not spending very much money now is that he's planning an independent general election run and he can use the money he's raising to promote his candidacy until the Republican National Closet-in in St. Paul (honoring Larry Craig).

Of course, he needs a vice president. Three possibilities are David Duke, Lou Dobbs and Dennis Kucinich.

Paul has recently taken a hit from white supremacists because some "Jews for Ron Paul" (as my good friend GoldnI says, What a Shande) and worse (or perhaps equivalent, I don't understand racists), "Zionists for Ron Paul" online groups have been coming into being. They're also worried that he's going to succumb the "neo-commie Jew filth" (or whatever they'd say; I prefer not to read their sites) at the Anti-Defamation League.

The Anti-Defamation League has also demanded that he return the donation he was given by Don Black, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and webmaster of the racist skinhead website Stormfront, convicted of trying to invade Dominica and get the white leader back into power.

In order to re-assure these guys, he could pick David Duke, well-known former Ku Klux Klan leading anti-Semite, Republican State Representative from Louisiana, and twice the Republican nominee for statewide elections in Louisiana.

But Duke would probably hurt him among the other constituencies that probably couldn't stomach the overt racism.

Lou Dobbs would probably be a better-choice. He's made noises about running, and his nativist (anti-immigrant/anti-outsourcing etc.) rantings on CNN has made his show one of the most-watched on cable news. Nativism has often been good for quite a few votes in American history (from the Know-Nothing party to Ross Perot; major parties have adopted it in the past as well); Dobbs as VP would help get those constituencies and could really help such a ticket.

Finally, there's Dennis Kucinich, who recently said he'd be okay with being on a ticket with Paul. Kucinich might freak some of his other constituencies.

However, as a proud leprachaun, Dennis Kucinich is almost certainly more than okay for gold bugs.

His staunch anti-free trade record makes him well-liked by the nativist crowd.

His staunchly pro-civil liberties and hard-core anti-war/anti-defense spending record (at least since he became pro-choice) will be enough to make libertarians overlook his somewhat socialist economic positions [in the #2 role].

And it'll guarantee him a whole host of idiots on the left, especially if Hillary is the Democratic nominee.

He has no chance of winning the general, but getting 10% is very possible.

Why Be Scared of (Bringing Up) Social Security

Most of us in the progressive blogopshere have long been calling Democratic elected officials spineless cowards for failing to take progressive actions on things like abortion, gay rights, civil liberties and energy.

Why, then are we scared of taking progressive actions on social security?

Eliminating the cap makes basic progressive sense; there's little dispute on this issue (or there should be).

The main worry stated is that bringing up Social Security plays into the Republican's hands.

Those worried have forgotten what happened in 2005. The public didn't outright reject changes, and the public still thinks overwhelmingly that Social Security needs some changes (a poll from October this year by CBS [see Polling Report] revealed that 30% think it's in a crisis, 36% think it's in serious trouble, and 26% think it's in some trouble, with only 5% thinking it's in no trouble at all). That's a powerful mandate against doing nothing.

Instead, the public emphatically rejected the Republican proposal of privatization and started the sequence that sent their party from their strongest position in decades to their current weak, pathetic state.

And polls show that raising or eliminating the cap is the solution the public prefers.

Finally, we need a revenue increase.

So what is there to be afraid of?

Details on polls thanks to one of the best sites for polls, Polling Report:

Polling OrganizationDatePrivatization (Support/Oppose)Increase Cap (Support/OpposeRaise Tax Rate (Support/OpposeRaise Retirement Age (Support/Oppose)Slow Down Benefit Increase (Support/Oppose)
CBS/NY Times6/10/05-6/15/0545/5063/3041/5430/6759/35

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Stem Cell Breakthrough Proves Government Intervention Works

I have several reactions to the breakthrough allowing researchers the flexibility of embryonic stem cells without requiring the destruction of an embryo.

1. I'm glad that "embryonic" stem cell research will now get adequate funding (moderate but staunchly anti-choice Republican Chris Smith's bill to fund non-embryo-destroying stem cell research passed the House with "Dr." Ron Paul casting the lone NAY vote.
2. I'm disgusted that the Bush administration chose to hold up life-saving research for over 6 years.

However, there's another very important lesson that I don't expect the media to pick up on, if only because it's contrary to the interests of the media conglomerates which stand to be broken up if government intervention comes into vogue again.

Government intervention and restriction WILL spur innovation

While I heartily disapproved of the Bush administration's decision to prohibit funding for embryonic stem cell research, there's no denying that it spurred this innovation.

Scientists overwhelmingly believe that embryonic stem cells have the potential to save far more lives (and make more money) than adult or cord blood cells.

The federal government's refusal to fund embryo-destroying research created a powerful incentive to get around the restriction by creating "embryonic" stem cells without destroying embryos.

This government-provided incentive combined with American ingenuity resulted in this new technique.

This same principle applies to environmental and energy legislation.

Consider this new ad being run by Ford Motor Company.

Those are some pretty pitiful numbers for fuel efficiency. The market recognizes that gas prices are higher and that more people are caring about fuel efficiency numbers, but it's doing almost nothing to increase those numbers.

Automakers (including not just the Big Three, but Toyota as well) have lobbied Congress against increasing fuel efficiency standards, claiming, among other things, that it'll hurt their industry.

Conservatives have opposed strict carbon caps and elimination of subsidies for fossil fuels on the same grounds. They claim, again, that It's bad for business.

On the DC metro en route from Foggy Bottom to Union Station, I saw an ad sponsored by the National Resources Defense Council (I can't find it online, unfortunately). The ad advocated carbon caps and trading, making the claim that this intervention and restriction by the federal government would result in unprecedented innovation in efficiency and clean energy to meet these caps.

The stem cell breakthrough proves the NRDC's point in a way that should really hit home.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Give Harry Reid The Praise He's Due

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is once again the subject of criticism for spinelessness for what seems like a capitulation on war funding. This criticism is well-deserved.

However, Reid also deserves credit for his willingness to play hardball with President Bush when it comes to nominations and recess appointments.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he would schedule "pro forma" sessions during the two-week break, even though lawmakers will be absent and no business will be conducted.

According to the Senate website, traditionally, a pro-forma session is "a brief meeting ... held usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other." When confronted with a non-traditional president like George W. Bush, it has another use.

Pursuant to Clause 2 of Section 2 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the president

by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for.

When the Senate is not in Session, Clause 3 of that section states that

[t]he President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies
that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall
expire at the End of their next Session

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, the purpose of the power in this clause was "to allow the President to maintain the continuity of administrative government through the temporary filling of offices during periods when the Senate was not in session."

However, in recent times, Presidents have used recess appointments to confirm nominees who might be rejected if the Senate were to vote on them. George Bush has used the recess appointment for this purpose more than any other president, and for some of the extremely unqualified and controversial appointees.

Some of the worst:

The Bush administration made a decision (which they almost certainly regret) to inform Senator Reid that they'd be making some recess appointments during the Thanksgiving recess. However, in violation of long-standing tradition, Bush has totally ignored Democratic recommendations to such important agencies as "the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

Reid decided he wouldn't let the administration have their way this time. He's scheduling pro-forma sessions throughout the Thanksgiving break to keep the Bush administration from making any recess appointments.

For this, at least, he deserves praise.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Tyranny of the People's Republic of China.

First of all, I despise the name People's Republic of China. Calling the ruling party the Communist party doesn't make the country communist or even socialist, any more than my calling myself the "Duke of awesome" makes me royalty. They're fully neo-liberal or corporatist on the economic spectrum.

On the social spectrum, they're in line with Stalin, true, but also with Hitler and Pinochet-staunchly fascist.

The latest outrage is the Three Gorges Dam, detailed by the New York Times in their series on the problems posed by China's pollution. For an American like myself, this dam is a net positive. It's an alternative to building more coal power plants, and this dam does minimal global damage.

But for the Chinese people, it's severely damaging.

Last year, Chinese officials celebrated the completion of the Three Gorges Dam by releasing a list of 10 world records. As in: The Three Gorges is the world’s biggest dam, biggest power plant and biggest consumer of dirt, stone, concrete and steel. Ever. Even the project’s official tally of 1.13 million displaced people made the list as record No. 10.

As you can imagine, the Chinese people aren't that keen on getting displaced. Of course, they have riot police to quell resistance.

Resettlement remains a volatile issue. Two years ago, more than 100,000 people protested the Pubugou Dam project in Sichuan Province, until the riot police crushed the demonstration.

This is one advantage our political system clearly has on China. As much as our Congress loves pork, Congress would never willingly force 350,000+ Americans to relocate-we are, after all rebuilding New Orleans. Of course, by the same token, we'll never be able to store our nuclear waste anywhere-a solution might be to pay the Ukraine to make a sector of the Chernobyl region the world's nuclear waste dump; it's already uninhabitable, after all. And unlike us, they're not giving any sort of compensation or doing insurance reform (they may not have the hell of insurance yet in China)

Residents now are supposed to relocate to a new village site less than a mile away. But many people did not get enough compensation to pay for new housing. “We have three family members,” Ms. Han said. “We only have 10,000 yuan (about $1,300). With such a small amount of money, I can’t even build a first floor.”

Farther upstream, people in Jianmin Village are in the same predicament.

Around daybreak on June 22, Lu Youbing awoke to the screams of her brother-in-law and the sickening sensation of the earth collapsing. Her mountain farmhouse in Jianmin Village buckled as a landslide swept it downhill. In all, 20 homes were demolished. Five months later, Ms. Lu is living in a tent, fending off rats and wondering where her family can go.

“We have nothing left,” she said. “Not a single thing.”

At any rate, these are just some of the latest human rights abuses in China. And the U.S. continues to do nothing to pressure them; according to Senator Joe Biden, we could take action against them through the WTO. According to Representative Dennis Kucinich, we could modify our most-favored nation status with them and take action that way. But we haven't done so. We just don't value human rights enough.

The Problem with Hillary: On Openness

I've been cursed with a lack of ability to "read" people. I'm always wondering, "How does she feel about me?", "Is he offended by that remark?", "Is there a subliminal meaning behind that?" Those are the good days, though. Many days I'm left to stare blankly and think (or say) "Whaaaaaaaaaaaatttt?" or "I don't get it ......." (both of these remarks made my CTY class t-shirt in 2003, mostly thanks to me).

However, when it comes to politics, I'm in the same boat as everybody else. One of the primary goals for a politician has become to prevent anybody from finding out anything about you.

Consider, for instance, the job of the president's press secretary. Initially, this position was to facilitate the dispersal of information from the presidency to the American people at large, as the president was too busy to be constantly interviewed.

Today, this job requires someone with the ability to give non-answers to every conceivable non-softball question.

Scott McClellan was the master of this. He was able to give extremely long-winded non-answers to every non-softball question, and this usually satisfied our current excuse for a White House press corps.

Of course, members of Bush's cabinet have done the same thing, dancing around or simply "not recalling" things. Alberto Gonzales did this to such an extent that even Arlen Specter was getting furious, although he remained too cowardly to actually support taking any action.

Senator Clinton has been doing the same thing at the last few debates. Consider her answer to the driver's license question at the October debate.

Or consider her inability to recall Ross Perot, who ran against her husband twice.

The American people are more fed up with Washington now than they were when Perot got nearly 20% of the vote [and would've gotten more if people hadn't figured that he had no chance] than they've ever been before.

As Bill Richardson has put it

"The Congress today is at an 11 percent approval rating. You know what's higher than the Congress? Dick Cheney," he said. "The only entity that is less popular than Democrats is Republicans in Congress and the president."

No matter how progressive Hillary may be, this is a serious problem.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why is Chris Dodd Voting With Lieberman on Iraq?

Chris Dodd's honeymoon with the netroots may be coming to an abrupt stop.

Consider his answer on the relative importance of human rights and national security.

BLITZER: What is more important, human rights or national security?

DODD: Obviously, national security, keeping the country safe. When you take the oath of office on January 20, you promise to do two things, and that is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and protect our country against enemies both foreign and domestic. The security of the country is number one, obviously.

Compare that to the answers of Edwards, Obama and Richardson.

EDWARDS: Well, I think, first of all, we have some basic goals that we need to be focused on with respect to Pakistan.

One is to make sure that the extremists in northwest Pakistan are under control; second that we provide support for the democratic reformers; third, as Senator Biden just spoke about, to make sure these elections take place in January; and, fourth, we need to make certain that the nuclear weapons are under control.

Now, this leads to a bigger questions. I think Pakistan is the living, breathing example that America's ad hoc policy of dealing with the spread of nuclear weapons, while it's absolutely required in today's world given what's happening with Iran, given what we see today in Pakistan and the incredible fragility of the administration in Pakistan and the presidents of an extraordinary extremist element within Pakistan.

But this is the living, breathing example of a policy that will not work over the long-term -- I'm about to finish. What we have to do, what America needs to do and what I will do, as president of the United States, is to lead a long-term international effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

OBAMA: The concepts are not contradictory, Wolf.

They are complementary. And I think Pakistan is a great example.

Look, we paid $10 billion over the last seven years and we had two goals: deal with terrorism and restore democracy.

And we've gotten neither.

And Joe and Bill are exactly right on this. Pakistan's democracy would strengthen our battle against extremists.

The more we see repression, the more there are no outlets for how people can express themselves and their aspirations, the worse off we're going to be, and the more anti-American sentiment there's going to be in the Middle East. We keep on making this mistake.

As president, I will do everything that is required to make sure that nuclear weapons don't fall into the hands of extremists, especially going after Al Qaida in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But we've got to understand that, if we simply prop up anti- democratic practices, that that feeds the sense that America is only concerned about us and that our fates are not tied to these other folks.

And that's going to make us less safe.

Yes because I believe we need to find ways to say to the world that, you know, it's not just about what Halliburton wants in Iraq. It's also about our values of freedom, equality. Our strength is not just military and economic.
Our strength as a nation is our values: equality, freedom, democracy, human rights.

But this pales in comparison to his vote against cloture on the Iraq withdrawal bill this morning.

My good friend andgarden noted Wednesday night that 231 House members voted to reject a motion to give Bush a no-strings bill

As Kagro X often explains, there is a split between those who believe that motions to recommit are purely procedural and those who believe that they carry all of the meaning of a proper amendment. In this Congress, they have mostly been given the latter meaning.

In that context, the vote on the motion to recommit on tonight's Iraq supplemental funding appropriation seems especially important to me. 223 Democrats voted no on that motion, which would have given the President $50B, no questions asked. They were joined by 8 Republicans.

To me it seems obvious that the President could be in dangerous territory: the House could actually have the votes to defeat ANY clean funding bill. We might, against all odds and predictions, actually be able to end the war during this Congress.

The bill passed the House 218-203, with 15 Democrats voting no; these were a combination of Bush Dogs and Kucinich purity trolls.

This morning, the United States Senate rejected a cloture motion on this Iraq withdrawal bill

Every Democratic presidential candidate was in attendance. Trent Lott and John McCain were absent.

48 Democrats and Bernie Sanders voted for cloture, as did Hagel, Smith and the 2 Senators from Maine.

Every other Republican, Joe Lieberman, and Chris Dodd, voted NAY.

There are three possible explanations for Dodd's vote:

  • It was a mistake

  • He's decided to become a Kucinich purity troll

  • He's decided to change his mind on Iraq.

Or there may be something I'm overlooking.

Whatever it was that caused him to vote against cloture, Chris Dodd owes us an explanation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Problem with Staged Events

Everyone's heard about Hillary's having planted questions at her events, thanks to Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff's decision to come forward and tell the press about it.

My problem with the planting is not that it makes Hillary dishonest. Nor is it that it's reminiscent of what the Bush administration has done. Her campaign's merely requested that people ask softball questions. One can't even compare that with what the Bush administration has done, and at taxpayer funded events, moreover.

Three months ago, the three were thrown out of a taxpayer-funded Bush Social Security event in Denver by a person they thought was a Secret Service agent, because of a "No More Blood for Oil" bumper sticker on one of their cars. Similar incidents have occurred at other presidential events around the country, and the three have not been silent since.

The problem is that planting all of the questions insulates the candidates. This makes it much harder for them to think on their feet. This was made evidently clear by Senator Edwards' campaign video "The Politics of Parsing," made in response to Senator Clinton's non-answer on the question about driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

But there will also inevitably be unscripted situations on the campaign trail, no matter how good a job campaign staff does. Consider Senator George Allen last year:

Or Senator Conrad Burns:

Or Senator Conrad Burns again:

I think if the two of them had been used to less-than-totally friendly audiences, they'd have been more prepared to think on their feet and not say and do things so incredibly damaging to their campaigns.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Israel Prefers the Democrats on Iran

This past Thursday GW Hillel had the privilege of a fireside chat with Ron Dermer, the Israeli Economic attache from the embassy. A native of Miami Beach, Florida who made aliyah, he's not the kind of Israeli politician I'd support were I to make aliyah; I'd probably vote either Meretz or Labour as an Israeli. I stand with former Prime Minister and Labour party leader Ehud Barak that "To Be Pro-Israel is to Be Pro-Peace"

Dermer, on the other hand been an aide to Likud politicians such as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky. In fact, he co-wrote with Sharansky " The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror," highly influential to neo-conservatives in the United States.

And in fact, he spent most of the talk bashing socialism as stupid for Israel, and worshipping at the altar of private enterprise. I may be being harsh on Mr. Dermer, as even with the Likud reforms, Israel still spends a far larger percentage of his GDP on domestic issues as the U.S. (and twice the U.S. on defense). He did in fact criticize the Republican candidates in the U.S. for failing to note that government intervention is necessary for some things, such as the prevention of monopolies.

However, after this, I was naturally apprehensive about what he'd say about Iran.

However, I was pleasantly surprised.

He of course talked about how Ahmadinejad is a crazy nut who'd like to take over the world.

He didn't mention bombing at all.

What he did mention was sanctions and divestment.

Democratic Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos has led on putting further sanctions on Iran. His bill passed the House with only 16 nay votes and will likely pass the Senate nearly unanimously.

Divestment is another story. Mr. Dermer is a huge supporter of this. He believes that the United States should be putting the squeeze on businesses that are directly or indirectly supporting the Iranian regime.

Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, along with Democratic Representative Barney Frank, have introduced a bill to do just that.

Americans need to come together to confront the challenge posed by Iran. Yet the Bush administration and an anonymous senator are blocking a bill with bipartisan support that would ratchet up the pressure on the Iranian regime. It's time for this obstructionism to stop.


In response, the Bush administration's policy has been tough talk with little action and even fewer results. While conventional Washington thinking says we can only talk to people who agree with us, I believe that strong countries and strong Presidents shouldn't be afraid to talk directly to our adversaries to tell them where America stands. The Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to Iran has not worked. As President, I will use all elements of American power to pressure the Iranian regime, including the power of tough, smart and principled diplomacy.

For diplomacy to work, we need to dial up our political and economic pressure - not just our tough talk. Iran's troubling behavior depends in large part on access to billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue. That is why I introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act last May, to build on a movement across the country to divest from companies that do significant business with Iran. This would send a clear message about where America stands, increasing Iran's isolation and hitting the Iranian regime where it hurts.

The bill works in three ways. First, it would educate investors and pressure foreign companies to reconsider doing business with Iran by requiring the U.S. government to publish - every six months - a list of companies that invest more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector. Second, it would give explicit congressional authorization to state and local governments to divest the assets of their pension funds and other funds under their control from any company on the list. Third, it would give private fund managers who divest protection from lawsuits, while urging the government's own 401(k) fund to create "terror-free" and "genocide-free" investment options for government employees.


Talking tough and keeping our troops in the middle of Iraq's civil war has only served to strengthen Iran's position. It's time to turn the page on a failed foreign policy. It's time for strong diplomacy backed by common-sense measures that pressure the Iranian regime.

It passed the House with only 6 NAY votes, 4 of them by Republicans.

Unfortunately, Republican Senator Richard Shelby has placed a hold on the bill as a favor to the Bush administration, which stands resolutely against it as "against our national interest."