Saturday, March 18, 2006

Protests are small.

Today thousands of people from around the world went into the streets to protest the war in Iraq and the coming war with Iran. For the second time in history we could be seeing anti-war protests for a war that hasn't happened yet. All the media were quick to point out that the numbers of protesters was lower than the protest organizers had expected. The WaPo headline in typical, "Iraq War Protests Attract Fewer People." So, I guess, what they're trying to say is no one really cares about the war in Iraq except for a few hippies and freaks.

Before the Iraq war the media pulled the same crap by low-balling the numbers etc., but what they didn't expect was that the people who were actually at the protests, and could see that the march went on for miles and miles, would call them on it. All those soccer moms from Takoma Park proved the anti-war movenment wasn't just a bunch of anarchists. I remember the WaPo writing that there had been "tens of thousands" at an Oct. 26th 2002 protest, (with a tight-in shot of the rally) but had to admit later that the actual number was closer to 100,000. That protest was so large that, for the first time ever, the D.C. police came out and estimated a crowd size at from 100,000 to 200,000. [metafilter]

In a slideshow of pictures at the BBC I saw protesters holding up a sign that said Bush was the #1 terrorist. They probably should have worn masks, now that the British government has criminalized thought. On the Ides of March, the British Thought Police arrested five men who had been at the protest at the Danish embassy in London, where some idiot dressed up in a suicide vest and other morons held up signs calling for the beheadings of the Mohammed cartoonists. [Guardian] All five are being chrged with "using words or written material to stir up racial hatred."

See, now all you have to do is write something and you can be arrested. Why didn't W. think of that?

But, don't worry civil libertarians, newspapers can still publish cartoons that offend the religious sensibilities of Muslims.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Legalize it?

While we're all preoccupied with Russ Feingold's censure resolution, the Republicans are getting ready to render (no pun intended) the whole matter academic by legalising W.'s domestic spying program. The WaPo reports that:

"The bill would allow the NSA to eavesdrop, without a warrant, for up to 45 days per case, at which point the Justice Department would have three options. It could drop the surveillance, seek a warrant from FISA's court, or convince a handful of House and Senate members that although there is insufficient evidence for a warrant, continued surveillance "is necessary to protect the United States."

The "oversight committee" would comprise seven members, four Republicans and three Democrats, so you can be sure that no matter how rediculious the reason for continuing to spy would be, the Dems would be out-voted. Keep in mind, the "pre-9/11" FISA law said the DOJ had 72 hours to get a warrent in the case of an extreme national security crisis, now they've got 45 days! But, there's hope yet, some Republicans are skeptical about the idea of just signing off on this blank check.

"Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)-- whose panel plays a major role in the surveillance matter -- pointed his thumb down yesterday when asked about the measure. He said he particularly objects to letting the government "do whatever the hell it wants" for 45 days without seeking judicial or congressional approval."

Good for him! He might as well be a Democrat at this point.

Arlen Spector for Democrat!

While we're busy bitching about the Dems lack of interest in censure, the Republicans are gettign ready to make illegal spying legal.

The WaPo reports that when asked about this new bill "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) -- whose panel plays a major role in the surveillance matter -- pointed his thumb down yesterday when asked about the measure. He said he particularly objects to letting the government "do whatever the hell it wants" for 45 days without seeking judicial or congressional approval.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Howard Dean for president, again!

Dana Milbank wrote in yesterday's WaPo that the Democrats were running away from Russ Feingold like the plague on this censure issue and highlighted some hilarious scenes of "the great escape" from a Democratic luncheon on Tuesday. This episode shows just how pathetic the Dems are: Hillary very bravely "tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.), John Kerry was running away from reporters like he never did for election and Christopher Dodd stood up for his good friend Russ by saying, "Most of us feel at best it's premature, I don't think anyone can say with any certainty at this juncture that what happened is illegal." Right, who knows? And no is ever going to find out, either, because they're little 'fraidy cats.

The Republicans are rolling out their smear machine as the Dems cower. The NYT has a story today saying that the Republicans are using impeachment, not censure, as a rallying cry to fire up their base. Although, I think the Democrats should be focusing on the Republican deficit, Bush's disastrous drug prescription plan and Iraq and keep pounding away it, I also think they have a viable argument on censure that they shouldn't abandon just because the right-wingers are calling them names. Scurrying out the back door to avoid the press on the censure issue is not the way to show the American people that they're a party of principles.

Is there not one issue these Democratic invertebrates can agree on and then stand up and fight for? Sure, Rush Bingbong is on the air calling them names and the WSJ editorial board is writing about the "Impeachment Agenda," and right-wing pollsters are saying the base is energized over this whole thing, but so is the Democratic base. The small numbers of fanatical Republicans that get their marching orders from a fat, pill-popping blowhard aren't going to vote for the Democrats, no matter how much they try to act more macho then W. By ignoring their base and rolling over to the Republicans once again, they don't exactly inspire the base to come out on election day, like they did in record numbers for John Kerry (even though most of us held out noses while we did it).

After a decade of being pummeled by the Republicans and losing every election, is there not one Democrat out there that can figure out how to turn the tables on the Republican media machine by using their own tactics against them? I think the Democratic establishment made a major error by yanking their backing of Howard Dean (Who isn't afraid to support Feingold) after his "AAAARRRRR!" speech. He was a little bit too excited that night, but he excited the rank and file, which is the point, and he got a lot of press. Any press is good press and no matter how silly he looked that night, it would have passed and he surely wouldn't have done something stupid like have his picture taken hunting or wind surfing, which Rove & Co. used against Kerry to great effect. There's a reason Rove was so afraid of Howard Dean and the Democratic powers-that-be made it that much more easy for him. This is the same bunch who thinks Hillary has a chance. If she win the nomination, the Republicans could run a cocker spaniel and they'd win.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ali's believe it or not:

Pennsylvania representative Curt Weldon is in the news again. Two articles this morning in the Inquirer say his Able Danger story, which fired up the right-wing blogosphere with plenty of conspiracy theories [And lots of posts at LTAD] "is unraveling." It appears it was all much to do about nothing. The chart that had a picture of Mohamed Atta on it, supposedly proving that the CIA knew about him before 9/11, might not have had a picture of him on it after all. (You know, they all look alike.) The story perfectly served two of Weldon's agendas, more funding for data mining and expanded spying on Americans. Weldon says now he's not so sure about the whole thing and besides he was relying on the memory of an intelligence analyst who was in the program. The article goes on to say that, "Weldon has begun to allow that there are parts of his story that may not be proven." Imagine that!

But that's not stopping him from making more "explosive allegations." Now he's saying his whacko "source" in Paris, a flunky of Iran/Contra arm dealer and pathological liar Manucher Ghorbanifar, told him that Osama Bin Laden recently died in, of all places, Iran . (Maybe Scott Speicher is there too!) How convenient that he should come up with a story about the Iranians harboring OBL just has W. & Co. are cooking up new excuses to start another war. Weldon's source, "Ali", really Fereidoun Mahdavi, is naturally an unimpeachable font of reliable information, which the stupid CIA keeps ignoring. They claim he's a fabricator, believe it or not. He's has come up with other such whoppers as Pakistanis plotting to fly planes into a nuclear power plant, since debunked, and a story about buried nuclear suitcases in California, which were never found. Weldon says, "In my opinion, I can't name one thing that Ali said that I haven't been able to prove." Of course, the problem with that is, besides Weldon, no one else has been able to prove anything this scheister has said. Ali did predict the election of Mamoud Ahmadinejad, though, so he's not completely useless. (It's not so difficult to make a lucky guess when you've only got a few choices to pick from.)

I think the congressman should stick to working for his constituents in Delaware County and stop wasting everybody's time and money. The Weekly World News has much better stories and you don't have to fly all the way to Paris to pick it up.

Can't beat our meat, part II:

The USDA found another case of Mad Cow disease in Alabama. In order not to find anymore mad cows and hurt the meat industry, they're going to scale back their testing. The AP reports, "The Agriculture Department boosted its surveillance after finding the first case of mad cow disease in 2003. About 1,000 tests are run daily, up from about 55 in 2003." The proposed budget for testing this year, "calls for 40,000 tests annually, or about 110 daily." So, a tenth of what they had been doing. That makes sense, if you find more disease, stop testing. Agriculture secretary Mike Johanns says what's the big deal? "Keep in mind the testing was for surveillance. It was to get an idea of the condition of the herd." Well, that explains it.

Senator Tom Harkin says the confidence in the safety of our meat is a stake. "USDA ought to continue a sound surveillance testing program to demonstrate that U.S. beef is indeed safe and that anti-BSE safeguards are, in fact, working." What planet is this guy on? If you find BSE in cows, no one will want your meat. The government's policy is "don't find, don't tell." That's a lot cheaper than spending money on testing that could otherwise to go Iraqi reconstruction.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The smell of fear in the Senate:

Although, the left leaning blogosphere and the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party are all fired up about Russ Feingold calling for the censure of W., Feingold's Democratic colleagues in the Senate are predictably scurrying for cover. I heard Joe Lieberman, a Dino if I ever saw one, say yesterday that not one person in the Senate thought Bush's spying program was illegal. Wow, that's news to me! Lieberman's solution to the president's end around of the constitution and the law is to legalize it by legislation. Yeah Joe, give 'em hell, that'll show 'em! He's putting the president on notice that whenever he decides to break the law he'd better come to Congress for a rubber stamp first.

This characteristic timidity on Lieberman's part was in stark contrast to Feingold who said that, eventhough he wasn't pushing for impeachment (why not?), "This is clearly more serious than anything President Clinton was accused of. It is reminiscent of what President Nixon was not only accused of doing but was basically removed from office for doing."

That kind talk gives Democratic strategists the heebee jeebies. The Wapo reports several of them warned that, "Surveillance issues are not Bush's most vulnerable spot...the party may appear extremist." They might appear extremist? What could be more extreme than lying to Congress and spying on Americans? When Dick Cheney said, "Some Democrats in Congress think the resident is the enemy," these lilly-livered types had to change their Depends. The only public support Cheney's got in the whole country is from one guy, who he shot, and yet one sentence from him makes the Democrats in the Senate soil their pants.

The fear from some is that a censure vote would alienate swing voters. What might swing them to our side is if the Democrats would grow a spine and frame the issue as an effort by Congress to hold a lawbreaking president accountable for his actions. I don't know, how about taking a position and sticking to it? That might get some traction.

But they won't, they're just going to shuffle the issue off to the Judiciary committee and get on with rolling over on making tax cuts permanent. You know, some Democrats in the Congress think the rich are the enemy!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Censure or Impeachment? Decisions, decisions.

On Sunday, Senator Russ Feingold (D. WI.) threw down the gauntlet and launched a campaign to get Congress to censure George W. Bush for his violation of the 1978 FISA law. [WaPo] On ABC's This Week he said, "The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable." This a pretty bold move for a politician trying to get the presidential nomination of a skittish Democratic party seemingly content to just sit back and let the Republicans implode on their own. Feingold's gutsy gambit presents an intriguing departure from politics as usual by the Dems thus far and one could envision a scenario wherein such an audacious move could overwhelm a reeling Republican majority and a weak president and propel the Democrats into control of Congress, despite themselves. Although, it's true that the obvious downside of this move is that it might unite the currently fractious Republicans to rally around the president, the upside is also that it might unite the Republicans to rally around the president.

Bill Frist says there's no way this will ever come to a vote, but he might want to consider that the race for the '06 midterms is going into high gear and his fellow congressional Republicans are desperately trying to run away from Dubya' and his dismal poll ratings as fast as they can. By refusing to allow a vote on censure, the Republicans in the short term can claim they're defending the NSA domestic spying program as an extension of the war on terror, but over time if the Democrats are able to redefine the national security debate into a larger discussion about Iraq and the multitude of other failures of this administration, from Katrina to the DPW ports deal, then the defenders of Bush might find themselves between a rock and a hard place with their constituents. By appearing to be giving Bush a pass on breaking the law, they might risk undermining their recent attempts to distance themselves from him on the DPW deal and possibly lose the all important independent vote. If they don't support him 100% against censure, they risk having their base sit at home on election day.

If Feingold sticks to his guns and can force the Democrats to keep this issue alive for a few more months, the Republicans are going to have to make a tough choice. Either, they go into the full heat of the election battle with this albatross hanging around their necks, or they cut their loses and let a vote for censure go ahead. Such a vote might appear DOA at the moment, but from a Republican perspective it might not be worst thing. If they were to lose the House in November, which is daily becoming more and more of a possibility, John Conyers would become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he wants to impeach Bush, never mind censure him. All bets would be off at that point, and remember also, the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton with 70% of the public opposed to it; imagine what a Democratic controlled House with pay-back on their minds could do with a president who is just marginally more popular than the bird flu.

This idea of censure might not be such a pipe dream after all. If the Democrats can somehow manage to present themselves as defending the American people from a power hungry and incompetent George W. Bush who is more interested in selling off large chunks America to the highest foreign bidder than he is in defending them (not such a hard sell), the Dems might just have a chance of pulling this off. Of course, the operative word in all of this is, "if."

Another resignation under fire.

Just as everyone is speculating about why Interior Secretary Gail Norton suddenly resigned and about her connections to Jack Abramoff and his Indian friends, here comes another resignation. Claude Allen, a domestic policy advisor for W. abruptly resigned on Feb. 9 and was arrested this past Thursday for allegedly ripping off Target and Hechts for $5000 in phoney refunds. W. says he's "shocked." [LA Times.]Why? This is sort of thing is pretty much par for the course in this administration at this point isn't it?

Can't beat our meat!

Last Wednesday, a report by the CDC went public saying that in 2004 the Agriculture Department didn't inform the public that suspect ground beef had poisoned 31 people or request a recall. The WaPo reports, "The Department decided no action was needed because the plant was following federal guidelines. Department spokesman Steven Cohen said officials did a full investigation and were prepared to act on any probelms at the plant," which remains unnamed. That's pretty reassuring eh? I'm sure it's all a misunderstanding and all those people that got sick are reassured that the governemnt is watching out for them and won't let this happen again.

From another story about the Agriculture Department a day later in the NYT, "An internal report from the Agriculture Department has found that one of the nation's leading kosher slaughterhouses violated animal cruelty laws and that governemnt inspectors not only failed to stop the inhumane practices but also took improper gifts of meat from the plant managers. Also, some of the plant's 10 inspectors made faulty inspections of carcasses, failed to correct unsanitary conditions and were seen asleep and playing computer games on the job, said the report, by the agencies inspector general."

So in this case what action was taken, you ask? After pressure from the Orthodox Union kosher cerification authority and Israel's chief rabbinate the plant claened up its act, somewhat. The Agriculture Department then decided, "legal action will no be insitiuted at this time." But you better watch it, if you screw up again we might ask for more free meat! After a six month investigation of the inspectors, one was suspended for 14 days and tow other were give warning letters! Wow, that's harsh.

For more on this go to PETA and eat kosher meat from AgriProcessors Inc. of Postville Iowa, because the USDA says it's oh so yummy.
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