Monday, October 29, 2007

John Edwards' Speech Today

I like this guy. Along with Chris Dodd, he's one of my favorite candidates for President. This is a speech he gave today in New Hampshire, and it's the sort of thing I've been wanting to hear from both him and other major politicians for several years now. I copied it lock, stock, and HTML from Tracy Joan's post at Kos:

Remarks by Senator John Edwards
St. Anselm’s College, Manchester, New Hamphshire
October 29, 2007

Many of you know that I am the son of a mill worker – that I rose from modest means and have been blessed in so many ways in life. Elizabeth and I have so much to be grateful for.

And all of you know about some of the challenges we have faced in my family. But there came a time, a few months ago, when Elizabeth and I had to decide, in the quiet of a hospital room, after many hours of tests and getting pretty bad news – what we were going to do with our lives.

And we made our decision. That we were not going to go quietly into the night – that we were going to stand and fight for what we believe in.

As Elizabeth and I have campaigned across America, I’ve come to a better understanding of what that decision really meant – and why we made it.

Earlier this year, I spoke at Riverside Church in New York, where, forty years ago, Martin Luther King gave a historic speech. I talked about that speech then, and I want to talk about it today. Dr. King was tormented by the way he had kept silent for two years about the Vietnam War.

He was told that if he spoke out he would hurt the civil rights movement and all that he had worked for – but he could not take it any more – instead of decrying the silence of others – he spoke the truth about himself.

"Over the past two years" he said, "I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silence and speak from the burning of my own heart."

I am not holier than thou. I am not perfect by any means. But there are events in life that you learn from, and which remind you what this is really all about. Maybe I have been freed from the system and the fear that holds back politicians because I have learned there are much more important things in life than winning elections at the cost of selling your soul.

Especially right now, when our country requires so much more of us, and needs to hear the truth from its leaders.

And, although I have spent my entire life taking on the big powerful interests and winning – which is why I have never taken a dime from Washington lobbyists or political action committees – I too have been guilty of my own silence – but no more.

It’s time to tell the truth. And the truth is the system in Washington is corrupt. It is rigged by the powerful special interests to benefit they very few at the expense of the many. And as a result, the American people have lost faith in our broken system in Washington, and believe it no longer works for ordinary Americans. They’re right.

As I look across the political landscape of both parties today – what I see are politicians too afraid to tell the truth – good people caught in a bad system that overwhelms their good intentions and requires them to chase millions of dollars in campaign contributions in order to perpetuate their careers and continue their climb to higher office.

This presidential campaign is a perfect example of how our politics is awash with money. I have raised more money up to this point than any Democratic candidate raised last time in the presidential campaign – $30 million. And, I did it without taking a dime from any Washington lobbyist or any special interest PAC.

I saw the chase for campaign money at any cost by the frontrunner in this race – and I did not join it – because the cost to our nation and our children is not worth the hollow victory of any candidate. Being called president while powerful interests really run things is not the same as being free to lead this nation as president of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

If protecting the current established structure in Washington is in your interest, then I am not your candidate. I ran for president four years ago – yes, in part out of personal ambition – but also with a deep desire to stand for working people like my father and mother – who no matter how hard things were for our family, always worked even harder to make things better for us.

But the more Elizabeth and I campaigned this year, the more we talked to the American people, the more we met people just like my father, and hard working people like James Lowe. James is a decent and honest man who had to live for 50 years with no voice in the richest country in the world because he didn’t have health care. The more people like him that I met, the more I realized something much bigger was stirring in the American people. And it has stirred in each of us for far too long.

Last month Ken Burns – who made the great Civil War documentary – launched his newest epic on World War II on PBS – and what a story it tells.

At the cost of great suffering, blood and enormous sacrifice, within four years after Pearl Harbor it is incredible what this nation achieved. America built the arsenal of democracy worthy of our great history. We launched the greatest invasion armada in the history of warfare against Hitler’s fortress Europe, and, with our allies, we freed a continent of suffering humanity.

At the same time on the other side of the globe we crossed 10,000 miles of ocean and liberated another hemisphere of humanity – islands and nations freed from the grip of Japanese militarists. While at the same time succeeding in the greatest scientific endeavor ever undertaken – the Manhattan project – and topped it off with building the Pentagon, one of the largest buildings in the world in a little over a year.

It is incredible what America has accomplished. Because no matter what extraordinary challenges we have been faced with, we did exactly what America has always done in our history – we rose to the challenge.

And, now, as I travel across America and listen to people, I hear real concern about what’s going on. For the first time in our nation’s history, people are worried that we’re going to be the first generation of Americans not to pass on a better life to our children.

And it’s not the fault of the American people. The American people have not changed. The American people are still the strong, courageous people they have always been. The problem is what our government has become. And, it is up to us to do something about it.

Because Washington may not see it, but we are facing a moral crisis as great as any that has ever challenged us. And, it is this test – this moral test – that I have come to understand is at the heart of this campaign.

Just look at what has happened in Iraq. What was the response of the American people to the challenge at hand? Our men and women in uniform have been heroes. They’ve done everything that’s been asked of them and more. But what about our government? Four years after invading Iraq, we cannot even keep the lights on in Baghdad.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the American people were at their best. They donated their time and their money in record numbers. There was an outpouring of support. I took 700 college kids down to help – young people who gave up their spring break. But what about our government? Three years after hurricane Katrina thousands of our fellow Americans, our brothers and sisters, are still housed in trailers waiting to go home.

There’s no better example of the bravery and goodness of the American people than the response to the attacks of 9/11: firefighters and first responders risking and too often giving their lives to save others, charging up the stairs while everyone else was coming down; record bloodbank donations; and the list goes on. But what about our government? Six years after 9/11, at Ground Zero there sits only a black hole that tortures our conscience and scars our hearts.

In every instance we see an American people who are good, decent, compassionate and undeterred. And, American people who are better than the government that is supposed to serve and represent them.

And what has happened to the American "can do" spirit? I will tell you what has happened: all of this is the result of the bitter poisoned fruit of corruption and the bankruptcy of our political leadership.

It is not an accident that the government of the United States cannot function on behalf of its people, because it is no longer our people’s government – and we the people know it.

This corruption did not begin yesterday – and it did not even begin with George Bush – it has been building for decades – until it now threatens literally the life of our democracy.

While the American people personally rose to the occasion with an enormous outpouring of support and donations to both the victims of Katrina and 9/11– we all saw our government’s neglect. And we saw greed and incompetence at work. Out of more than 700 contracts valued at $500,000 or greater, at least half were given without full competition or, according to news sources, with vague or open ended terms, and many of these contracts went to companies with deep political connections such as a subsidiary of Haliburton, Bechtel Corp., and AshBritt Inc.

And in Iraq – while our nation’s brave sons and daughters put their lives on the line for our country – we now have mercenaries under their own law while their bosses sit at home raking in millions.

We have squandered millions on building Olympic size swimming pools and buildings that have never been used. We have weapons and ammunition unaccounted for that may now be being used against our own soldiers. We literally have billions wasted or misspent – while our troops and their families continue to sacrifice. And the politically connected lobby for more. What’s their great sacrifice – higher profits.

It goes on every minute of every day.

Corporate executives at United Airlines and US Airways receive millions in compensation for taking their companies into bankruptcy, while their employees are forced to take cuts in pay.

Companies like Wal-Mart lobby against inspecting containers entering our nation’s ports, even though expert after expert agrees that the likeliest way for a dirty bomb to enter the United States is through a container, because they believe their profits are more important than our safety. What has become of America when America’s largest company lobbies against protecting America?

Trade deals cost of millions of jobs. What do we get in return? Millions of dangerous Chinese toys in our children’s cribs laden with lead. This is the price we are made to pay when trade agreements are decided based on how much they pad the profits for multinational corporations instead of what is best for America’s workers or the safety of America’s consumers.

We have even gotten to the point where our children’s safety is potentially at risk because nearly half of the apple juice consumed by our children comes from apples grown in China. And Americans are kept in the dark because the corporate lobbyists have pushed back country of origin labeling laws again and again.

This is not the America I believe in.

The hubris of greed knows no bounds. Days after the homeland security bill passed, staffers from the homeland security department resigned and became homeland security consultants trying to cash in. And, where was the outrage? There was none, because that’s how it works in Washington now It is not a Republican revolving door or a Democratic revolving door – it is just the way it’s done.

Someone called it a government reconnaissance mission to figure out how to get rich when you leave the government.

Recently, I was dismayed to see headlines in the Wall Street Journal stating that Senate Democrats were backing down to lobbyists for hedge funds who have opposed efforts to make millionaire and billionaire hedge fund managers pay the same tax rate as every hard-working American. Now, tax loopholes the wealthy hedge fund managers do not need or deserve are not going to be closed, all because Democrats – our party – wanted their campaign money.

And a few weeks ago, around the sixth anniversary of 9/11, a leading presidential candidate held a fundraiser that was billed as a Homeland Security themed event in Washington, D.C. targeted to homeland security lobbyists and contractors for $1,000 a plate. These lobbyists, for the price of a ticket, would get a special "treat" – the opportunity to participate in small, hour long breakout sessions with key Democratic lawmakers, many of whom chair important sub committees of the homeland security committee. That presidential candidate was Senator Clinton.

Senator Clinton’s road to the middle class takes a major detour right through the deep canyon of corporate lobbyists and the hidden bidding of K Street in Washington – and history tells us that when that bus stops there it is the middle class that loses.

When I asked Hillary Clinton to join me in not taking money from Washington lobbyists – she refused. Not only did she say that she would continue to take their money, she defended them.

Today Hillary Clinton has taken more money from Washington lobbyists than any candidate from either party – more money than any Republican candidate.

She has taken more money from the defense industry than any other candidate from either party as well.

She took more money from Wall Street last quarter than Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama combined.

The long slow slide of our democracy into the corporate abyss continues unabated regardless of party, regardless of the best interests of America.

We have a duty – a duty to end this.

I believe you cannot be for change and take money from the lobbyists who prevent change. You cannot take on the entrenched interests in Washington if you choose to defend the broken system. It will not work. And I believe that, if Americans have a choice, and candidate who takes their money – Democrat or Republican – will lose this election.

For us to continue down this path all we have to do is suspend all that we believe in. As Democrats, we continue down this path only if we believe the party of the people is no more.

As Americans, we continue down this path only if we fail to heed Lincoln’s warning to us all.

"At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected," he asked, "if it ever reaches us it must spring up amongst us. It can not come from abroad. If destruction be our lot – we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we must live through all time or die by suicide."

America lives because 20 generations have honored the one moral commandment that makes us Americans.

To give our children a better future than we received

I stand here today the son of Wallace and Bobbie Edwards. The father of Wade, Cate, Emma Claire and Jack – and I know, as well as you, that we must not be the first generation that fails to live up to our moral challenge and keep the promise of America.

That would be an abomination.

There is a dream that is America. It is what makes us American. And I will not stand by while that dream is at risk.

I am not perfect – far from it – but I do understand that this is not a political issue – it is the moral test of our generation.

Our nation’s founders knew that this moment would come – that at some point the power of greed and its influence over officials in our government might strain and threaten the very America they hoped would last as an ideal in the minds of all people, and as a beacon of hope for all time.

That is why they made the people sovereign. And this is why it is your responsibility to redeem the promise of America for our children and their future.

It will not be easy – sacrifice will be required of us – but it was never easy for our ancestors, and their sacrifices were far greater than any that will fall on our shoulders.

Yet, the responsibility is ours.

We, you and I, are the guardians of what America is and what it will be.

The choice is ours.

Down one path, we trade corporate Democrats for corporate Republicans; our cronies for their cronies; one political dynasty for another dynasty; and all we are left with is a Democratic version of the Republican corruption machine.

It is the easier path. It is the path of the status quo. But, it is a path that perpetuates a corrupt system that has not only failed to deliver the change the American people demand, but has divided America into two – one America for the very greedy, and one America for everybody else.

And it is that divided America – the direct result of this corrupt system – which may very well lead to the suicide Lincoln warned us of – the poison that continues to seep into our system while none notice.

Or we can choose a different path. The path that generations of Americans command us to take. And be the guardians that kept the faith.

I run for president for my father who worked in a mill his entire life and never got to go to college the way I did.

I run for president for all those who worked in that mill with my father.

I run for president for all those who lost their jobs when that mill was shut down.

I run for president for all the women who have come up to Elizabeth and me and told us the like Elizabeth they had breast cancer – but unlike Elizabeth they did not have health care.

I run for president for twenty generations of Americans who made sure that their children had a better life than they did.

As Americans we are blessed -- for our ancestors are not dead, they occupy the corridors of our conscience. And, as long we keep the faith -- they live. And so too the America of idealism and hope that was their gift to us.

I carry the promise of America in my heart, where my parents placed it. Like them, like you, I believe in people, hard work, and the sacred obligation of each generation to the next.

This is our time now. It falls to use to redeem our democracy, reclaim our government and relight the promise of America for our children.

Let us blaze a new path together, grounded in the values from which America was forged, still reaching toward the greatness of our ideals. We can do it. We can cast aside the bankrupt ways of Washington and replace them with the timeless values of the American people. We can liberate our government from the shackles of corporate money that bind it to corporate will, and restore the voices of our people to its halls.

This is the cause of my life. This is the cause of our time. Join me. Together, we cannot fail.

We will keep faith with those who have gone before us, strong and proud in the knowledge that we too rose up to guard the promise of America in our day, and that, because we did, America’s best days still lie ahead.

[emphasis mine]

If you ever wondered why the news' coverage of John Edwards always discusses the nonsense of his campaign, like haircuts and good ole' boys, this is why. They're part of the corruption he's referring to, and they don't want that to change. The large corporations that run the news, both in print and broadcast form, hate people like this, and they'll ignore them and what they really stand for as long as they can. Then they'll try to dismiss them as not worthy of consideration by serious people.

So, here's what I say - if you like the speech, pass it on. You're not going to be seeing any of it on TV, I can guarantee you.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dear Harry Reid ...

Image credit: National Archives

Several bloggers and progressive political action committees have joined together to petition Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to honor Senator Chris Dodd's hold on the FISA modification bill now in committee. The issue, of course, is immunity for telecomm corporations that cooperated with the Bush Administration in violating the FISA law. The co-signers are:

American Civil Liberties Union
Electronic Frontier Foundation Political Action
Working Assets Wireless
Jane Hamsher, Firedoglake
Duncan Black, Eschaton
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, DailyKos
Christy Hardin-Smith, Firedoglake
Glenn Greenwald, Salon
Matt Stoller, OpenLeft
John Aravosis, Americablog
Chris Bowers, OpenLeft
Digby, Hullaballo
John Amato, Crooks and Liars
Howie Klein, DownWithTyranny
Taylor Marsh,

Our Open Letter to Harry Reid

All kidding aside, these are the top blogs in progressive politics.

They've asked the rest of us (that means bloggers and readers) to join with them in helping to preserve the constitutional protections we ought to be able to take for granted. Which ones? Why, these:

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

NARA: Bill Of Rights

The telephone system and the Internet, which are increasingly becoming one and the same, are the "papers" of our age. Our personal information, including bank records, medical histories, and other thing we'd just as soon not have in the hands of unscrupulous people, pass through these channels every day. Allowing the government and the telecomms to listen in at will is tantamount to having no privacy at all.

The immunity issue is a bit more complicated, but it boils down to this - if the telecomm executives who cooperated with the government are allowed to skate, then there is no reason for them to ever implicate the Bush Administration officials who enlisted them in this sad business. As I've mentioned before, that means that we'll never get to the bottom of what the Bush Administration did, and that means no one will pay for violating the law and our civil liberties. If the government can violate the law, we become a banana republic with above-average living conditions. If you don't believe that, quite frankly, you should have stayed awake in civics class. As the letter explains:

Providing amnesty to lawbreaking corporations is a complete assault on the rule of law and on the basic fairness of our political system. When ordinary American citizens are accused of breaking the law, they are forced to go to court and, if the accusations are proven, they suffer the consequences. If the telecoms really did nothing wrong, they should prove that in court, like all Americans must do.

Congress has faced up to this before. In 1965, some of our nation's largest banks were found by courts to have broken our anti- trust laws and also wanted amnesty from Congress for what they did. Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke out forcefully against this. As The New York Times reported:

He objected to the basic philosophy of retroactive immunization which, he said, might logically be applied to 'murder or any other crime.'

The rule of law is the basic guarantee in our society that all Americans are treated equally. Amnesty for big business is an assault on that principle. To grant retroactive amnesty would be to announce that our wealthiest corporations are free to break the laws we pass, and amnesty would be yet another huge step in eroding our core political principles.

Tell Harry Reid: No Immunity for Lawbreaking Companies

So, please, sign the petition, follow the links in Taylor's article, and maybe call a Senator or two on this list and find out where they stand on this issue. Here's the electronic whip count as it stood when you loaded this page:

FISA Amendment Whip Count Chart

I'm usually reluctant to embed such things, because they inevitably have to be cleaned up afterward, but this time I'll make an exception. So I hope that if you're not the sort who normally signs online petitions, you'll make an exception here.

UPDATE: Been wondering why we haven't heard anything but warmed-over pap from the Clinton camp on this? Looks like Jane Hamsher has the answer to that one, not that I'm surprised:

Now everyone who has been soaking up all that telecom money, who needed that “war on terra” excuse for their vote, is in a bit of a bind. Is it a coincidence we haven’t heard anything convincing from Hillary Clinton, who took in $87,130 in telecom contributions in the 2006 cycle — more than anyone else currently in the Senate? That makes Jay Rockefeller’s contributions look like abject chicken feed.

Hillary Clinton, A Bundle of Telecom Money….And A Strange Silence

Hey, everyone has a price, but $84K? That will barely get her through a day in Iowa.

UPDATE (Oct. 27): As Taylor mentioned in the comments, she's one of the bloggers sponsoring the petition. I've added her name to the list.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Finally, A Definite Answer

According to Talking Points Memo, Senator Barack Obama's campaign office has released a definite position regarding telecomm industry immunity in the new FISA bill:

It's official: Obama will back a filibuster of any Senate FISA legislation containing telecom immunity, his campaign has just told Election Central. The Obama campaign has just sent over the following statement from spokesman Bill Burton:

"To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."

As we reported here yesterday, MoveOn and a dozen top liberal bloggers were preparing to wage an aggressive campaign today to pressure Obama and Hillary to say that they'll support Chris Dodd's vow to filibuster any Senate FISA bill containing telecom immunity. And late yesterday both Obama and Hillary put out statements saying that they'd back Dodd's threatened filibuster of the current legislation that's just come out of the Senate intel committee.

Obama Camp Says It: He'll Support Filibuster Of Any Bill Containing Telecom Immunity

[emphasis from original]

Previously, Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton seemed to be engaged in a contest of who could release more vague statements on their positions. Here's Sen. Clinton's statement, courtesy TPM:

Q: Can you discuss your position on the reauthorization of the FISA bill?

HRC: I am troubled by the concerns that have been raised by the recent legislation reported out of the Intelligence Committee. I haven't seen it so I can't express an opinion about it. But I don't trust the Bush Administration with our civil rights and liberties. So I'm going to study it very hard. As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently.

Hillary Says She Would Support Filibuster Of Intel Committee's Telecom Immunity Bill

I'll just add parenthetically that I don't trust any government with my civil rights and liberties. Governments are supposed to serve their people, not the other way round. That's as true for a Clinton Administration as it is for a Bush Administration. Everyone who has been in politics for a while has enemies and antagonists. You'd think all these bozos who assume that they can trust President Bush would think about that for a moment. Of course, if you're foolish enough to trust Bush, thinking probably isn't your strong suit.

Obama's earlier statement on the matter was almost as vague:

"Senator Obama has serious concerns about many provisions in this bill, especially the provision on giving retroactive immunity to the telephone companies. He is hopeful that this bill can be improved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But if the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it."

Obama: I Would Support Dodd's Filibuster

Even though he mentioned retroactive immunity and other "serious concerns", you are left wondering if they just removed a dangling participle or two Obama would change heart.

Still, I think Hillary Clinton was way ahead in vagueness, even before Obama's camp clarified. As Scarecrow observes:

Neither of these statements is as definitive as it should be, nor as clear on the important principles at stake. And both statements leave wiggle room — in Clinton’s case far too much. What does she stand for? What will she risk to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution? I honestly can’t tell. It’s agonizing to ponder how Clinton and her aides must have agonized over the wording of that statement.

Dodd Leads; Obama and Clinton Follow, Sort Of

Today's statement by Obama is much more definite, and a worthy companion to Senator Biden's simple answer.

At this point, it looks like two things need to be done:

1. Write or call Obama's campaign to thank him for his support, and to remind him that "blanket" or "umbrella" warrants are just as much of a danger as immunity for the telecomms.

2. Write or call Clinton's campaign to demand a definite answer to the question of whether she'll support Senator Dodd, with a statement of the principles that are important enough for her to filibuster over.

Obama's unqualified statement, though late, is still a good sign. It means that citizen input still means something in this country, at least occasionally.

And all you politicians out there? See what happens when you do the right thing? You get your picture in a blog post where you're not looking like a putz. See how much better that feels?

UPDATE: Corrected the URL for Clinton's campaign site. It originally pointed to her Senate contact form. For the Senate contact form for Senators Clinton and Obama, go to my previous article on FISA.

UPDATE 2: A lot happened while I was away. First off, New Mexico Governor and Presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say, as reported by Firedoglake:

Bill Richardson put out this statement today:

There can be no compromise on personal rights and privacy. I urge my Democratic primary opponents, and every Senator, to stand up and state loudly and clearly — without any equivocation — that he or she will not pass any bill that grants retroactive immunity to companies that willingly aided the Bush administration in violating the law and spying on our own people.

Biden, Obama, Dodd all standing up for the rule of law…who’s missing?

FISA: Richardson’s In

Who, indeed? Nice to see other candidates weighing in on this.

Meanwhile, Senator Dodd is keeping an electronic whip count of Senate Judiciary Committee members' positions on telecomm immunity. He's hoping to keep that provision from making it out of committee. If you live in states represented by these Senators, please call them to ask what their positions are. At the moment (Oct. 24, 10PM PDT), there are only two Senators known to be opposed, and most have not stated a position. Lots of work to do, in other words.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Invite Must Have Gotten Lost ...

Image credit: National Archives

Via Taylor Marsh, MoveOn has this to say:

In a move that will up the pressure on Hillary and Barack Obama to stand firm against the Senate telecom immunity FISA bill, MoveOn and a dozen top progressive blogs will launch an all-out campaign tomorrow to pressure the two Senators into publicly declaring their support for Chris Dodd's threat to place a hold on and filibuster the bill, Election Central has learned.

MoveOn And Top Bloggers To Launch Campaign Pressuring Hillary And Obama To Back Dodd On FISA

Hmmm, I must have just missed the cut. Hey, sometimes you have to sacrifice popularity to maintain your artistic integrity, right? Anyhow, if you need to be reminded about the FISA issue, go here, go here, and then go here. Or just go read everything Glenn Greenwald has written in the last two weeks. Follow the links. After you've done that, you'll understand why I'm writing this:

Senator Chris Dodd, who is also a Presidential candidate, believe it or not, has threatened to filibuster the new FISA bill if it comes out of committee with amnesty for telecomm executives who violated the current version of FISA attached. He did that because the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid has threatened to ignore the hold Dodd placed on the bill. So far, neither Senator Hillary Clinton nor Sen. Barack Obama, who are also Presidential candidates, have made their positions on this filibuster known. Tomorrow, all those "important" blogs are going to be asking them why they haven't done that yet.

So, purely in the public interest, and not out of any spirit of self-promotion or spite, here are the contact forms for the esteemed Senators:

Senator Hillary Clinton:
Presidential campaign:
Senate office:

Senator Barack Obama:
Presidential campaign:
Senate office:

When you tell them where you read about this, just remember that "Spittle" is spelled with two t's.

Not sure what to write? I posted an e-mail I wrote to my Senators on the issue. It wasn't all that well received, but I'm starting to think that's a good thing. You could also check out this Greenwald column on Robert Kennedy and a plea for retroactive immunity in his day:

Just as now, the lawbreaking banks insisted that they must be protected from the devastating consequences of their lawbreaking -- claims that Kennedy and Katzenbach easily destroyed. After all, the banks -- like the telecoms now -- were the ones who chose to break the law, knowing that it was illegal, because they perceived there to be great economic benefit in doing so. To then grant them amnesty would be to reward lawbreaking.

Robert Kennedy speaks out against Retroactive Immunity

Or, you could just ask why don't they stand up to the Bush Administration for real, just this once?

Requiem for a Neocon?

Over at Democracy Arsenal, Shadi Hamid wonders if neocon spokesmodel Josh Muravchik has lost his edge:

In this interview (via Matt) with Chris Matthews, AEI resident scholar and bomb-Iran-now advocate Josh Muravchik says "we don't have to bomb Iran this minute." Muravchik is, apparently, getting soft. I'm worried. Because if we wait even a day, then it becomes another day, then a month, then a year...when does it end?

A Neo-con Shows His Moderate Side

Follow the link. Either it's hilarious, or the people who run this country have finally driven me insane. That I find myself agreeing with Matthews makes me wonder, but for now I'm going to go with "it's hilarious".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Iraq's Refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) now estimates that 4.4 million Iraqis have fled their homes. Roughly half, 2.2 million, are displaced within Iraq:

More than 2 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, with over 1 million displaced since the February 2006 Samarra bombings. While most of the security incidents happen in the centre and south of the country, the displaced are not confined to these regions. In the north, there are more than 780,000 displaced Iraqis, over 650,000 in the centre of the country, and 790,000 in the south. Many are barely surviving in makeshift camps, inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons.

Iraq: Rate of displacement rising

As the UNHCR report notes, many of these refugees are housed in camps that are largely inaccessible to relief workers due to security concerns.

The remaining refugees, estimated to be another 2.2 million people, are now in foreign countries. Most, including a young Iraqi woman who blogs as Riverbend, are in Syria or Jordan. As I noted last month, she left Iraq for neighboring Syria, as have an estimated 1.2 to 1.4 million Iraqis. As Riverbend notes:

Within a month of our being here, we began hearing talk about Syria requiring visas from Iraqis, like most other countries. Apparently, our esteemed puppets in power met with Syrian and Jordanian authorities and decided they wanted to take away the last two safe havens remaining for Iraqis- Damascus and Amman. The talk began in late August and was only talk until recently- early October. Iraqis entering Syria now need a visa from the Syrian consulate or embassy in the country they are currently in. In the case of Iraqis still in Iraq, it is said that an approval from the Ministry of Interior is also required (which kind of makes it difficult for people running away from militias OF the Ministry of Interior…). Today, there’s talk of a possible fifty dollar visa at the border.

Bloggers Without Borders...

As you might imagine, the welcome mat is being rolled up in Syria and Jordan. With estimated populations of nineteen million and six million, respectively, Syria and Jordan are housing roughly 2 million refugees, according to UNHCR. That's a tremendous burden, especially considering that they are among the region's poorest countries. According to the CIA World Factbook, Syria has an unemployment rate of over twelve percent. Jordan's is fifteen percent. Neither is in a position to support a refugee population that is one tenth the size of their native population. UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond explained this in rather blunt language in September:

Despite all of the expressions of support and concern from governments during the UNHCR-sponsored Iraq displacement conference here in Geneva in April, the two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees – Syria and Jordan – have still received next to nothing in bilateral help from the world community.

Syria and Jordan, with an estimated 2 million Iraqi refugees between them, are struggling to cope. Syria continues to receive about 2,000 Iraqis a day, and about 30,000 a month end up staying. The growing refugee population and the communities that host them are facing enormous hardships that will only get worse if the international community doesn't put its money where its mouth is.

Iraq displacement: Generous host countries left in the lurch

[emphasis mine]. No wonder Riverbend and her countrymen are increasingly viewed as a burden by Syria.

In Syria, for example, only 32,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugee children in the country are actually in school. Syria, with 1.4 million Iraqis, is the only country in the region that allows free public school access for all Iraqi children. But there simply isn't enough space to take them all in. To try to cope, Syrian education officials have been forced to convert scores of public schools back to the double-shift system that the country had expected under a long-term national development plan to end by 2010.

Iraq displacement: Generous host countries left in the lurch

The report also notes that the Syrian medical system is undergoing similar strain.

Riverbend noted the change in Syrian policies this way:

Iraqis who entered Syria before the visa was implemented were getting a one month visitation visa at the border. As soon as that month was over, you could take your passport and visit the local immigration bureau. If you were lucky, they would give you an additional month or two. When talk about visas from the Syrian embassy began, they stopped giving an extension on the initial border visa. We, as a family, had a brilliant idea. Before the commotion of visas began, and before we started needing a renewal, we decided to go to one of the border crossings, cross into Iraq, and come back into Syria- everyone was doing it. It would buy us some time- at least 2 months.

Bloggers Without Borders...

I'm sure that right now Syria would rather have people do this than have to send them back to Iraq, but this situation probably won't last long:

For the first time in months, if not years, UNHCR field workers visiting the Syrian-Iraq border yesterday found the crossing point virtually empty. Yesterday was the first day of new visa restrictions that the Syrian government is imposing on all Iraqis wishing to enter Syria – with the exception of certain professional categories.
UNHCR has received assurances from various government authorities that Syria will not forcibly return Iraqi refugees currently residing in the country. Syria, of course, has been extremely generous in accepting some 1.4 million Iraqis with only limited international support.

UNHCR fears for safety of fleeing Iraqis as Syrian visa restrictions bite

Then what? The logical thing would be to try to resettle some elsewhere, and to increase aid to the countries that are shouldering most of the burden. So far, neither has happened. The chart at the top of this article, which comes from UNHCR's September report on Iraqi refugees (PDF), illustrates the issue - the world outside of the Middle East has taken in less than five percent of the the refugees. The lion's share of those have been taken in by Europe. This table from that report shows a disturbing trend among other Western nations:

Resettlement of Iraqi Refugees 1992-1998 (Government Figures)
United States3,4404,6104,9803,4802,5302,6801,410

Resettlement of Iraqi Refugees 1999-2005 (Government Figures)
United States1,9603,1502,47046030070200

The remaining countries in the table had taken in so few refugees as to be statistically insignificant. Nevertheless, a pattern is obvious. Since the war began, refugee influx to the most likely destination countries, particularly the United States, has slowed to a trickle. If anything, it should have changed by orders of magnitude in the opposite direction given the number of refugees the war has created.

Refugees are people without a home. Those who are refugees in a foreign country have an additional burden:

By the time we had reentered the Syrian border and were headed back to the cab ready to take us into Kameshli, I had resigned myself to the fact that we were refugees. I read about refugees on the Internet daily… in the newspapers… hear about them on TV. I hear about the estimated 1.5 million plus Iraqi refugees in Syria and shake my head, never really considering myself or my family as one of them. After all, refugees are people who sleep in tents and have no potable water or plumbing, right? Refugees carry their belongings in bags instead of suitcases and they don’t have cell phones or Internet access, right? Grasping my passport in my hand like my life depended on it, with two extra months in Syria stamped inside, it hit me how wrong I was. We were all refugees. I was suddenly a number. No matter how wealthy or educated or comfortable, a refugee is a refugee. A refugee is someone who isn’t really welcome in any country- including their own... especially their own.

Bloggers Without Borders...

She's a number, and part of a number. That number, the people who have been displaced by the war, is huge, and it's growing. We in the United States are doing almost nothing to help resettle people. It almost seems as though we don't want to see the problem. Riverbend's article concludes:

The first evening we arrived, exhausted, dragging suitcases behind us, morale a little bit bruised, the Kurdish family sent over their representative – a 9 year old boy missing two front teeth, holding a lopsided cake, “We’re Abu Mohammed’s house- across from you- mama says if you need anything, just ask- this is our number. Abu Dalia’s family live upstairs, this is their number. We’re all Iraqi too... Welcome to the building.”

I cried that night because for the first time in a long time, so far away from home, I felt the unity that had been stolen from us in 2003.

Bloggers Without Borders...

Out of a country of 27 million people, we've managed to displace or kill more than five million. As incredible as it seems given the state the country was in before we arrived, we've accomplished one thing in Iraq - we broke it. Sooner or later, we're going to have to help fix it. We can start by accepting refugees here at the rate we did when it was politically expedient.

UPDATE (Oct. 23): First of all, I'll point out that this article has gone through several minor edits, and one that corrected the tables. If you have any doubts about the accuracy of the table, please follow the link to the source. Let me know if you find a problem.

Hopefully, it's finished now.

Second, one of the most troubling aspects of our sudden reduction in immigration from Iraq has been our treatment of Iraqis who worked for us as translators. Needless to say, their helping us has now put their own lives in danger. The Department of Homeland (In)Security has been congratulating itself on making it easier to get them here, but as NPR reports:

A new system of security checks for Iraqi refugees who want to settle in the United States was rolled out by the Department of Homeland Security this week. The government hopes the procedures will help it meet a pledge to take in 7,000 refugees from Iraq by Sept. 30. So far, only a fraction of that number have made it into the United States.

New U.S. Security Checks for Iraqis Seeking Asylum

Effectively, we've abandoned the very people who were trying to help us make Iraq a better place. It's not our biggest failure in Iraq, but I think it illustrates the length the people who run our country will go to deny that what they've done in Iraq is fail, and fail spectacularly.

UPDATE 2 (Oct. 28): This article has been cross-posted to

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Today's Must Read

People For The American Way and RightWing Watch have created a parody FaceBook page for Republicans. It's a fun way of learning about the connections between the various wingnuts and their enablers. Not a part of FaceBook? That's not a problem. To quote the site:

Right-Wing Facebook is a satirical take on right-wing presidential candidates and is a project of People For the American Way. This site is a parody of Facebook but is not associated or affiliated with Facebook in any way.

The Right Wing Facebook


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Roll Over And Beg Award: Senator Harry Reid

Today's "Roll Over And Beg" award, which will be awarded at random times to politicians whose pandering to absurd constituencies really honks me off, goes to the allegedly Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It's rare, at least so far, for an individual lawmaker to earn this award, but today the Senator from Nevada really earned that biscuit. Incidentally, as was the case with all prior awardees, selection and procurement of biscuits is the responsibility of the awardee.

How did Senator Reid win this singular honor? Let's take a step back to yesterday, when I wrote this:

The "RESTORE" Act, as it is currently written, is a sham. It gives the illegal actions of the Bush Administration legal cover. It allows the government to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant. As the ACLU has observed, "blanket warrants" aren't warrants at all. They are license for the government to do whatever it wants to listen in on its citizens and to steal their private information.

FISA, RESTORE, and Those Pesky Oaths

Since then, I've seen these warrants also referred to as "basket" warrants, but somehow "blanket", and "umbrella" warrants seem more appropriate terms. The problem with this bill is that it is just about as bad as the travesty they passed in August that was supposed to be temporary. They've changed things here and there, and at least a few civil liberties groups back the measure, but it's basically the old bill with some window dressing, as near as I can tell. The ACLU seems to agree. On the subject of amnesty and the motivation behind domestic surveillance, they say:

With FISA legislation heading to the floor this week, we wanted to make sure everyone was up to speed on the latest. Last week it was revealed in a story in the Rocky Mountain News that illegal domestic spy was going on before 9/11. According to the article, Qwest, a telecom company, was originally approached by the National Security Agency to cooperate in its domestic spying program way back in February 2001. This is significant for two reasons: First, it reiterates that phone companies had a choice whether or not to violate their customers' privacy, and secondly, it proves that the illegal domestic spying program was going on before 9/11. Interesting that the Bush administration says it needs changes to FISA because of 9/11, but we have to ask: If the illegal program was going on before 9/11, does that mean it didn't prevent the 9/11 attacks from happening? This revelation should really be the nail in the coffin for telecom immunity. Let's hope Congress pays attention.

Big FISA Developments Coming This Week

So this thing, as it has been marked up by the Senate intelligence committee, grants both immunity to telecomm executives who really don't need it, and it gives the government the ability to spy on anyone it likes as long as it's willing to state that it's reasonable to believe that no Americans are on the line. Considering the rhetorical contortions Bush's nominee for AG is willing to go through so as not to say that torture the government has conducted in the past is in fact torture, I am not reassured by this.

Reassuringly, there are at least one or two Senators who think this is way more than any government needs. One of those Senators, Chris Dodd (D-CT), has declared his intention to place a hold on this bill, which should keep it from being voted on. As Talking Points Memo explains:

By doing this, Dodd can effectively hold up the telecom immunity bill, because bills are supposed to have unanimous consent in the Senate before going forward. One Senator can make it very difficult to bring a bill to the floor by objecting to allowing it to go to a vote.

Senator Chris Dodd Will Put A Hold On Telecom Immunity Bill

The bill should have died a well-deserved death at this point, but Harry Reid decided to come to the rescue:

Tim Starks of Congressional Quarterly reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring the Senate's surveillance bill up for floor debate in mid-November. That's despite the hold that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) plans to place on the measure

CQ: Surveillance Bill Will Go to Senate Floor Next Month

Jane Hamsher takes up the tale from here:

I’m a bit confused here. This just doesn’t happen. So I chatted with someone I know with extensive Hill experience, who said:

“I can’t think of one time when Harry Reid went around his own. It’s just not normal for a leader to do that to his own side. Sometimes you’ll go around Republicans, sometimes they’ll use holds to be “spoilers,” but that happens to the other guy. You just don’t do it to one of your own.”

Consider what happened when Chris Dodd introduced the Emmet Till cold case bill, which called for more money for unsolved civil rights crimes. Tom Coburn put a hold on the bill — and Reid just let it go. The bill died.

Reid Tries To Shut Down Dodd’s Hold

Reid is willing to go against one of his own to pass what, in any sane universe, would be considered an unconstitutional piece of garbage, but is unwilling to oppose someone from the opposition party on the issue of spending some money to uphold civil rights.

For doing his utmost to make sure that we're even less safe from our own government than we were three months ago, Harry Reid richly deserves his Roll Over and Beg Award. And as an extra special prize, the Senator gets to see this picture of him looking like a hopeless putz yet again.

UPDATE (Oct. 19): I neglected to mention that Senator Dodd has an online petition supporting his efforts to stop this bill. Please sign it if you haven't already.

Jane Hamsher reports that Dodd will filibuster the bill, and that Senator Russ Feingold may back him up.

UPDATE 2 (Oct. 19): Taylor Marsh seems just a tad upset with Senator Reid. Yep, really upset.

UPDATE 3 (Oct. 19): TPM Election Central confirms that Dodd has threatened to filibuster if Reid decides to go around the hold:

The threatened filibuster, which comes a day after Dodd revealed to Election Central that he will place a hold on the bill, will place Dodd in direct confrontation with the Dem Senate leadership on a hugely contentious issue.

Dodd's filibuster threat comes in response to reports -- based on anonymous quotes from the leadership's office -- which said that Reid's aides think they can get the bill to the floor despite Dodd's hold.

Dodd Will Filibuster Telecom Immunity Bill If Reid Brings It To Vote

Looks like it's game on. I suggest that if you haven't done so already, you sign Dodd's online petition and then call or write your Senators to tell them you appreciate Dodd's efforts, and want them to help him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

FISA, RESTORE, and Those Pesky Oaths

Image credit: National Archives

As you probably know if you're reading Firedoglake, the "RESTORE" Act, a nasty bit of business that basically gives the Bush Administration license to spy on us without a warrant, and a similar measure in the Senate are coming up for a vote soon. Here's what I wrote to my Senators on the matter:

I realize this bill is still in committee at the moment, but the House is voting on a version soon that is completely unacceptable. Please do what you can to make these committees remove the "amnesty" for telecomm industries for their part in the illegal surveillance the Bush Administration has conducted the last few years, and to remove anything like the "blanket warrants" proposed in the RESTORE Act.

There has been a story making the usual rounds when the Bush Administration leaks something, about a soldier from the 10th Mountain Division whose rescue was somehow delayed due to the current FISA law. It is false on several levels. First, the Attorney General has the right under FISA to immediately begin wiretapping, and then has up to 72 hours to obtain a warrant. That process shouldn't take more than an hour or so. Second, that soldier swore the same oath you did, which was to protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. What a sad irony it would be if, in the interest of making some illusory improvement in our ability to rescue such a person, our legislature trashed that very Constitution. Yet that is exactly what it appears the Congress is poised to do.

The "RESTORE" Act, as it is currently written, is a sham. It gives the illegal actions of the Bush Administration legal cover. It allows the government to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant. As the ACLU has observed, "blanket warrants" aren't warrants at all. They are license for the government to do whatever it wants to listen in on its citizens and to steal their private information.

Giving the telecomm industry amnesty, by the way, really just gives the Bush Administration amnesty. You can bet those telecomm company lawyers have plenty of paper saying that the government declared their actions legal. If they don't have immunity, they'll have to present those documents to protect themselves. With that amnesty, they won't ever have a motivation.

I can't believe that such a bill would be seriously discussed by a legislature in a democracy, particularly when it's controlled by Democrats. If you want to know why people say there's not a bit of real difference between the two parties, you can take this bill, and the fact that it could even reach the House floor, as an example.

Please don't make the same mistake in the Senate.

Feel free to plagiarize while writing or calling your Congressmen and Senators.

UPDATE: While watching the nonsense that was the Mukasey confirmation hearing today, Jane Hamsher summed up the Washington elite in a single sentence:

We’re ruled by moral pygmies.

Succinct, colorful, and depressingly accurate.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Iraq Looks Like On The Ground

image credit: U.S. Army

The image caption reads:

A Baloor resident talks with Soldiers from 6-9 Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, at a temporary checkpoint after a concerned local citizen stronghold was shot during a drive-by shooting in Baloor, Iraq, Oct. 6.

It seems like there's been a succession of right-wing morons proclaiming recently that the people who oppose the Iraq war aren't the ones fighting it. As with just about everything they say, this is about 180 degrees away from being true. Another case in point surfaced today as an op-ed in the Washington Post:

As Army captains who served in Baghdad and beyond, we've seen the corruption and the sectarian division. We understand what it's like to be stretched too thin. And we know when it's time to get out'

What does Iraq look like on the ground? It's certainly far from being a modern, self-sustaining country. Many roads, bridges, schools and hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

Iraq's institutional infrastructure, too, is sorely wanting. Even if the Iraqis wanted to work together and accept the national identity foisted upon them in 1920s, the ministries do not have enough trained administrators or technicians to coordinate themselves. At the local level, most communities are still controlled by the same autocratic sheiks that ruled under Saddam. There is no reliable postal system. No effective banking system. No registration system to monitor the population and its needs.

The Real Iraq We Knew

One of the reasons it's been hard for Americans to understand what's going on in Iraq is their lack of access to real information. Covering the war is dangerous, and so the main view we get of the war is from the soldiers (and Marines) who are involved in it, and the journalists who are embedded with them. The real lives of ordinary Iraqis are largely hidden from view. As the preceding quote shows, things haven't been getting any better there since Saddam fell.

For readers of this blog, and other progressive blogs that cover defense issues, this should be no surprise. The first article I wrote dealt with the incredible increase in mortality since the war began. The Johns Hopkins study published in The Lancet in late 2006 indicated that perhaps 650,000 people had died in Iraq due to the changes brought on by the war. Needless to say, this study has been pooh-poohed by the war's apologists, mostly because it doesn't agree with other studies that either gather data differently or don't count the same kinds of casualties.

Yet we hear very little about this on television news, which is what most Americans depend on to keep them informed. While we can deplore this choice of news sources, the fact remains that the people who like this war are the ones largely in control of what we see of it. The Defense Department is protecting the journalists who are embedded with our troops, and the rest of the Administration has a great deal of regulatory power over broadcasters. They call the shots. This isn't how it's supposed to work, but it's how it is.

So you can add those twelve former Army captains to the long list of current and former soldiers who think this war is a mistake. As far as I'm concerned, the people who call them "phony soldiers" can go fight the war themselves.

Just remember to take plenty of seat cushions and water purification kits.

(h/t to Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Florida Says Goodbye To E-voting

image credit: Composite image by Cujo359

"I will get them off my hands, one way or the other” - Florida Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning

That quote, from a New York Times article on electronic voting, signals a radical shift by one of the country's largest states on the question of what methods will be used to count our votes in future elections.

Florida is the biggest state to reject touch screens so sweepingly, and its deadline for removing them, July 1, 2008, is the most imminent. For the 15 counties that must dump their expensive systems, buy new optical-scan machines and retrain thousands of poll workers, hurdles abound.

Six counties still owe a combined $33 million on their touch-screen machines, which most bought hurriedly to comply with a new federal law banning punch-card and lever voting systems after the recount. Miami-Dade County alone must cast aside 7,200 touch-screen machines, for which it paid $24.5 million and still owes $15 million.

Voting Machines Giving Florida New Headache

Thanks to efforts folks like Bev Harris and Brad Friedman, who have done a great job of documenting the problems with the design and use of electronic touch-screen voting systems, voters are suspicious enough of the systems to reject their use despite some rather large amounts of money that have already been sunk into the systems.

As a technocrat, my opinion is that some of those machines are so flawed and badly verified that they should not have been bought in the first place. In principle, there is no reason voting machines can't be as secure and reliable as paper ballots. All it takes is time, money, and citizen involvement. The problem, I think, is that while the latter was available, there wasn't enough interest in spending the time and money required. There are many examples of computer systems that function reliably under adverse conditions. They are considerably more expensive than the voting machines Florida is now scrapping.

Nevertheless, Florida's actions are the right one, at least in the short term:

Under the state’s new election law, disabled voters can keep voting by touch screen — akin to using an A.T.M. — until 2012. But everyone else will use them only twice more, for the presidential primaries on Jan. 29 and municipal elections next spring. With optical scanning, voters use pens to mark paper ballots that are then read by scanning machines, leaving a paper record for recounts.

Voting Machines Giving Florida New Headache

Right now, paper ballots that are counted electronically seem to represent the best compromise between reliability, speed of counting, and expense. If true open-source electronic voting machine designs are implemented, and sufficient interest in them exists, they may be a better way to go in the future. For now, though, the current generation of touch screens aren't worth the expense to record the votes of the average voter.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Congatulations to Al Gore and the IPCC

Former Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body created to study the effects of climate change, won the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday. Congratulations to both. For anyone who hasn't been comatose or living in a cave the last few years, the reason for Gore's award is obvious:

The Nobel committee praised Gore as being "one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians."

"He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted," said Ole Danbolt Mjos, chairman of the Nobel committee.

Gore shares Nobel Peace Prize with U.N. panel

His film, An Inconvenient Truth, and its attendant publicity campaign, created an awareness of the situation among non-technical people. He's made carbon offsets a part of our vocabulary. His message is as much about what we can do as individuals as what our governments ought to do:

I'm under no illusions about how big an impact one person can make. But I do think that if all of us begin to make these changes, it adds up. And it begins to stimulate the emergence of a new marketplace, in which there is a business advantage in reaching out to consumers who want to be environmentally responsible.

Al Gore Interview: "It Is Not Too Late to Stop This Crisis"

The IPCC took a moment to remind us what this award is about, which is their efforts to raise our awareness:

In New Delhi, Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist who leads the UN committee, said the award was "not something I would have thought of in my wildest dreams." In an interview in his office at the Energy and Resources Institute, Pachauri cast the award as a vindication of science over the skeptics on climate change.

"The message that it sends is that the Nobel Prize committee realized the value of knowledge in tackling the problem of climate change and the fact that the IPCC has an established record of producing knowledge and an impartial and objective assessment of climate change," he said.

Gore and UN panel are awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Of course, the International Herald Tribune felt the need to remind everyone that everything that other nations do is about making President Bush look bad:

Ole Danbolt Mjoes, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, addressed reporters after the award was announced and tried to dismiss repeated questions about whether the awards were a criticism - direct or indirect - of the Bush administration. He said the committee was making an appeal to the entire world to unite against the threat of global warming.
In this decade the Nobel Peace Prize has been given to prominent people and agencies whose views on a range of issues differ with those of the Bush administration. They include the former American president Jimmy Carter, who won in 2002, and the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency as well as its director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, in 2005.

Gore and UN panel are awarded Nobel Peace Prize

I'd like to remind the press in the U.S. and elsewhere that even in America we sometimes do things that are completely unrelated to making George W. Bush look like a fool. President Carter and Mohamed ElBaradei did some very worthwhile things to earn those prizes. How myopic do you have to be to think that everything is about W., because people just love to hate him dontcha know?

So, congratulations, Mr. Gore and the IPCC. You earned it, and if it ticks off our current President, thanks for that, too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fix FISA Now

Image credit: National Archives

If I may take a moment to interrupt our collective explorations on the themes of turtle heads and cats in sinks, it's come to my attention that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is trying to draft another amendment to FISA. As the ACLU explains, it's starting to look like nothing more than a continuation of the lamentable surrender of our rights Congress perpetrated on us a couple of months ago. What's worse, it apparently grants retroactive immunity for any illegal activities telecommunications companies may have engaged in to assist the Bush Administration's illegal activity:

Well this gets a big, fat “hell, no” from me. Via e-mail from Liz Rose of the ACLU on the draft Senate version of the FISA bill, which is not yet publicly available and not being widely shared for review either:

…the Senate bill (Committee draft) does contain immunity/amnesty for the telecom companies…Including retroactive immunity for anything they’ve done wrong in cooperating in illegal domestic spying for the past six years.

If they didn’t do anything wrong, why should they get retroactive immunity? And, worse, if it is likely that they broke laws, why on earth would the Senate just hand lawbreakers retroactive immunity before fact-finding on potential criminal conduct was even completed?!? That makes no logical or ethical sense.

Not Ready To Make Nice

Christy Hardin Smith at FDL has the details. If your Senator is on this list, please call or fax them today. If you're not sure what to say or write, there are talking points galore in those links above. Here is the list, courtesy of FDL and Taylor Marsh:

*Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman — (202) 224-6472
*Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — (202) 224-3841
*Sen. John Warner (R-VA) — (202) 224-2023
*Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) — (202) 224-5244
*Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) — (202) 224-4224
*Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) — (202) 224-5623
*Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) — (202) 224-4654
*Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) — (202) 224-5344
*Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) — (202) 224-5274

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) — (202) 224-3154
Sen. Kitt Bond (R-MO), Vice-Chairman — (202) 224-5721
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) — (202) 224-3521
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — (202) 224-5251
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) — (202) 224-5323
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) — (202) 224-2921

The bolded Senators are the ones that need concentrated calls — the ones which are not highlighted are already on the right track or, unfortunately, likely hopeless on this issue. If Feingold or Whitehouse are your Senators, do take a little time to call and give them some thanks for standing up for the Constitution and the rule of law, but the bolded names need the most push in the next few days. Might as well make the calls count as much as possible. You can reach them toll free as well thanks to these numbers that katymine found:

1 (800) 828 - 0498
1 (800) 459 - 1887
1 (800) 614 - 2803
1 (866) 340 - 9281
1 (866) 338 - 1015
1 (877) 851 - 6437

The preceding was lifted lock, stock, and HTML from Firedoglake. I'm sure they won't mind.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has written a terrific column about professional moron Joe Klein's support of the "Protect America Act" of August:

Thus, in two short paragraphs, Klein manages to say: "I am absolutely opposed to X, and I vigorously support this bill which grants X." He's obviously writing about his support for a bill that he has not read and that he has not begun to comprehend. And yet he repeatedly writes articles on FISA for Time, the largest weekly newsmagazine in America. That isn't anything more nefarious or complex than just garden-variety sloth and ignorance.

Joe Klein's defense of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty

Stupidity and sloth may explain why Joe Klein writes such things, but I don't think it explains why he's writing those things for Time. That part of the story might just be best explainable by something nefarious. I can't believe the folks who run that magazine are that stupid.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Hazards Of Blogging: Why People Read You

image credit: Canada Phoenix Education Group

This is a photo of the Turtle's Head Islet in the Taihu Lake, near the Yangtze River. Trust me, it's just as obscure a reference as the one that inspired this article.

Some folks show up here for the darnedest reasons. For instance, today several people, from all over the world, suddenly landed here because they were searching for the phrase "wino spittle". To say the least, this struck me as an odd coincidence. Why they showed up here, of course, is obvious. My Google ranking as one of the leading authorities on both "slobber" and "spittle" is a natural draw. Heck, I've even been consulted by a medical school or two on that subject. What concerned me was why so many folks from so many different countries were interested in such an odd phrase. After spending some time on The Google, I've resolved this mystery to my own satisfaction. In short, blame it on Dilbert:

I thought I could get away with “turtle head” because the naughty meaning isn’t universally known and an actual turtle’s head would fit Dilbert’s analogy just as well. So there was a degree of deniability built in. And turtles are cute, damn it!

The Day I Will Be Slightly Amusing

It shames me to admit, but I didn't know what a turtle head was, either. Fortunately, the Urban Dictionary is there for those of us who stopped being cool a decade or two ago. Adams goes on to explain:

So I changed “turtle head” to “wino’s spittle” and you’ll see that on Saturday. Sigh. It could have been something special.

The Day I Will Be Slightly Amusing

Sucks, doesn't it? Of course, I can write pretty much whatever I want, within the bounds of copyright and common sense. I still have to work for a living, though. Freedom, as Kris Kristofferson once observed, means you have nothing to lose.

It turns out that there's no definition for "wino spittle" yet, so I think we'll have to assume that's just a metaphor.

I'm also sorry that I can't show you the cartoon in question, but thanks to our draconian intellectual property laws, I'd be sued for so much money I'd need two or three lifetimes to pay it off.

So, far all of you visitors today who came here looking for an explanation of these mysteries, click the links and move on. We only discuss serious subjects here.

UPDATE (Oct. 7): Thanks to an anonymous commenter, corrected the explanation of what the photo represented.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Slow Day

Today's a day when I'm doing stuff not related to writing. Meanwhile, here are a few interesting things I read in some old Earthlink News e-mails:

- A site called Cats In Sinks publishes photos of cats in sinks from around the world. Isn't the Internet a wonderful thing?

- There's another site called Nietzsche Family Circus that mixes what EN refers to as one of the most banal cartoons ever with quotes from the most depressing philosopher ever. It's something that has to be experienced to be understood.

On a more serious note, check out Scarecrow's article at Firedoglake, "How Do You Repudiate A Lawless Regime?". Good question, and one I've been asking myself for some time. I wish I had an optimistic answer. I'm a afraid I'm with Niezsche on this one:

Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it is even becoming mob.

Keep reloading the link about the cats, and maybe it won't seem so bad.