God Meddling in Party Politics

God is getting involved in our party politics, at least if you believe anything Tom Delay says:

DeLay says that when, in the coming years, he is not fighting the indictment in Texas (he insists that he is not guilty) he will be building a conservative grass-roots equivalent of MoveOn.org. “God has spoken to me,” he said. “I listen to God, and what I’ve heard is that I’m supposed to devote myself to rebuilding the conservative base of the Republican Party, and I think we shouldn’t be underestimated.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, George Bush believes God chose him to be President and advised him to go to war in Iraq. Some have also claimed that Rumsfeld’s decisions on the war were also inspired by God.

Soldier Questions Why We Are in Iraq

On Memorial Day, a soldier in Iraq asks, Why Are We Here? (Emphasis mine.)

My name is Donald Hudson Jr. I have been serving our country’s military actively for the last three years. I am currently deployed to Baghdad on Forward Operating Base Loyalty, where I have been for the last four and a half months.

I came here as part of the first wave of this so called “troop surge”, but so far it has effectively done nothing to quell insurgent violence. I have seen the rise in violence between the Sunni and Shiite. This country is in the middle of a civil war that has been on going since the seventh century.

Why are we here when this country still to date does not want us here? Why does our president’s personal agenda consume him so much, that he can not pay attention to what is really going on here?

Let me tell you a story. On May 10, I was out on a convoy mission to move barriers from a market to a joint security station. It was no different from any other night, except the improvised explosive device that hit our convoy this time, actually pierced through the armor of one of our trucks. The truck was immediately engulfed in flames, the driver lost control and wrecked the truck into one of the buildings lining the street. I was the driver of the lead truck in our convoy; the fifth out of six was the one that got hit. All I could hear over the radio was a friend from the sixth truck screaming that the fifth truck was burning up real bad, and that they needed fire extinguishers real bad. So I turned my truck around and drove through concrete barriers to get to the burning truck as quickly as I could. I stopped 30 meters short of the burning truck, got out and ripped my fire extinguisher out of its holder, and ran to the truck. I ran past another friend of mine on the way to the burning truck, he was screaming something but I could not make it out. I opened the driver’s door to the truck and was immediately overcome by the flames. I sprayed the extinguisher into the door, and then I saw my roommate’s leg. He was the gunner of that truck. His leg was across the driver’s seat that was on fire and the rest of his body was further in the truck. My fire extinguisher died and I climbed into the truck to attempt to save him. I got to where his head was, in the back passenger-side seat. I grabbed his shoulders and attempted to pull him from the truck out the driver’s door. I finally got him out of the truck head first. His face had been badly burned. His leg was horribly wounded. We placed him on a spine board and did our best to attempt “Buddy Aid”. We heard him trying to gasp for air. He had a pulse and was breathing, but was not responsive. He was placed into a truck and rushed to the “Green Zone”, where he died within the hour. His name was Michael K. Frank. He was 36 years old. He was a great friend of mine and a mentor to most of us younger soldiers here.

Now I am still here in this country wondering why, and having to pick up the pieces of what is left of my friend in our room. I would just like to know what is the true reason we are here? This country poses no threat to our own. So why must we waste the lives of good men on a country that does not give a damn about itself? Most of my friends here share my views, but do not have the courage to say anything.

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Waxman Returns Oversight Function to Congress

Congressional oversight used to be expected from Congress, regardless of which party controlled Congress and the Executive Branch. When Jimmy Carter was in the White House, the Democratic Congress continued its responsibilities to provide oversight of the Executive Branch. Such oversight functions were destroyed after Congress fell under Republican control. Oversight of Bill Clinton degenerated into investigations of sexual misconduct which did not justify the Republican over-reaction, and oversight of George Bush has been non-existent.

Henry Waxman’s actions to restore Congressional oversight are reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle:

Since he became chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in January, Waxman, 67, has been probing some of the more contentious issues surrounding the administration, including prewar intelligence on Iraq, corruption in postwar reconstruction, White House contacts with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, allegations that administration officials used political party e-mail accounts to conduct government business, and the misinformation surrounding the friendly fire death in Afghanistan of former NFL star Pat Tillman.

Republicans complain that such investigations represent “Bush-bashing” but Waxman just replies, “I believe in government, and I want the government to be effective. I want us to look and make sure that government agencies are doing a good job for the American people.”

Los Angeles Times Calls for Carbon Tax

Ithas become increasingly rare for many newspapers to review a topic in depth, and provide real background as opposed to limiting discussion to the day’s headline. The Los Angeles Times has an excellent review of proposed plans to deal with climate change, but first outlines the problem:

IF YOU HAVE KIDS, take them to the beach. They should enjoy it while it lasts, because there’s a chance that within their lifetimes California’s beaches will vanish under the waves.

Global warming will redraw the maps of the world. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that sea levels will rise 7 to 23 inches by the end of the century; as the water gets higher, the sandy beaches that make California a tourist magnet will be washed away. Beachfront real estate will end up underwater, cliffs will erode faster, sea walls will buckle and inlets will become bays. The water supply will be threatened as mountain snowfall turns to rain and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta faces contamination with saltwater. Droughts will likely become more common, as will the wildfires they breed.

Global warming is happening and will accelerate regardless of what we do today, but the scenarios of climatologists’ nightmares can still be avoided. Though the cost will be high, it pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing.

The article looks at various solutions and, as does Al Gore, ultimately supports the carbon tax:

There is a growing consensus among economists around the world that a carbon tax is the best way to combat global warming, and there are prominent backers across the political spectrum, from N. Gregory Mankiw, former chairman of the Bush administration’s Council on Economic Advisors, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to former Vice President Al Gore and Sierra Club head Carl Pope. Yet the political consensus is going in a very different direction. European leaders are pushing hard for the United States and other countries to join their failed carbon-trading scheme, and there are no fewer than five bills before Congress that would impose a federal cap-and-trade system. On the other side, there is just one lonely bill in the House, from Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), to impose a carbon tax, and it’s not expected to go far.

The obvious reason is that, for voters, taxes are radioactive, while carbon trading sounds like something that just affects utilities and big corporations. The many green politicians stumping for cap-and-trade seldom point out that such a system would result in higher and less predictable power bills. Ironically, even though a carbon tax could cost voters less, cap-and-trade is being sold as the more consumer-friendly approach.

A well-designed, well-monitored carbon-trading scheme could deeply reduce greenhouse gases with less economic damage than pure regulation. But it’s not the best way, and it is so complex that it would probably take many years to iron out all the wrinkles. Voters might well embrace carbon taxes if political leaders were more honest about the comparative costs.

The world is under a deadline. Some scientists believe that once atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have doubled from the pre-industrial level, which may happen by mid-century if no action is taken, the damage may be irreversible.

John Edwards’ Populism Called a Risky Bet

The Los Angeles Times reviews how Edwards’ populist campaign has kept him alive for the Democratic nomination, but is a risky platform for the general election:

In adopting poverty and low-wage work as his themes, Edwards has struck a far more combative, populist tone than in his 2004 presidential campaign. And that has helped him elbow into the top tier of a field dominated by better-financed candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — and has even boosted him to a lead in polls in the key early-voting state of Iowa.

But Edwards’ 2008 strategy carries risks, in part because it speaks most directly to a slice of the electorate that has notably little political clout. Perhaps the last major presidential candidate to make fighting poverty a central theme was Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) in 1968, before his assassination that June. Some analysts warn that an agenda that might suggest “class warfare” risks alienating middle-class swing voters and moderate Democrats who do not want to revive criticisms that theirs is the party of the poor.

“It is very brave to take on an issue that he himself says has no constituency that has power, but it’s a tough road to be trodding to the White House,” said Matt Bennett, a vice president of Third Way, a centrist Democratic research organization.

Among the risks is that his populist platform is bringing out charges of hypocrisy:

But Edwards’ focus on the disenfranchised has also left him open to allegations of hypocrisy. Wealthy from his career as a lawyer, Edwards has been pummeled by reports that he spent $400 for haircuts, built himself a 28,000-square-foot mansion on a 100-acre estate, and did consulting work for a hedge fund that trafficked in offshore investing of the sort he had criticized.

“It has hurt him, and I say that as someone who admires and respects John Edwards a tremendous amount,” said Fischer.

I believe Edwards could survive charges of hypocrisy if it was limited to this issue, but his credibility is further damaged by similar changes in position on multiple issues. It was bad enough defending a candidate such as Kerry from charges of being a flip-flopper when the charges were untrue. It will be impossible to defend a candidate such as Edwards who is guilty as charged.

Some Democrats on the left on economic matters see Edwards as a welcome change from the Clinton years, but fail to recognize why Democrats won in 2006, and lost so many elections previously. With the breakdown of the old New Deal coalition, the Democrats won in 2006 with a new coalition which might be better characterized by their opposition to many of the Republican policies than support for a single platform.

There are many core liberal issues which the Democrats can defend as a majority party, including protection of civil liberties, a foreign policy which is both strong and sensible, providing better access to affordable health care, restoration of our traditional principles of separation of church and state which is necessary for true freedom of religion, eliminating the collusion between big business and Republican government which violates the fundamental principles of the free market, and restoration of the checks and balances on government which were damaged under the Republicans. However, if the Democrats see their victory as a mandate to move to the far left on economic issues, they will quickly lose the support of the independents and “Starbucks Republicans” who voted for them in 2006, and once again become a minority party.


Paul Krugman On How The Troops, and America, Was Betrayed by George Bush

Paul Krugman celebrates Memorial Day by noting that the war has predictably turned into a disaster and asks how it all went so wrong:

Future historians will shake their heads over how easily America was misled into war. The warning signs, the indications that we had a rogue administration determined to use 9/11 as an excuse for war, were there, for those willing to see them, right from the beginning — even before Mr. Bush began explicitly pushing for war with Iraq.

In fact, the very first time Mr. Bush declared a war on terror that “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” people should have realized that he was going to use the terrorist attack to justify anything and everything.

When he used his first post-attack State of the Union to denounce an “axis of evil” consisting of three countries that had nothing to do either with 9/11 or with each other, alarm bells should have gone off.

But the nation, brought together in grief and anger over the attack, wanted to trust the man occupying the White House. And so it took a long time before Americans were willing to admit to themselves just how thoroughly their trust had been betrayed.

It’s a terrible story, yet it’s also understandable. I wasn’t really surprised by Republican election victories in 2002 and 2004: nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how bad the leaders and no matter how poorly conceived the war.

The question was whether the public would ever catch on. Well, to the immense relief of those who spent years trying to get the truth out, they did. Last November Americans voted overwhelmingly to bring an end to Mr. Bush’s war.

Yet the war goes on.

To keep the war going, the administration has brought the original bogyman back out of the closet. At first, Mr. Bush said he would bring Osama bin Laden in, dead or alive. Within seven months after 9/11, however, he had lost interest: “I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s at the center of any command structure,” he said in March 2002. “I truly am not that concerned about him.”

In all of 2003, Mr. Bush, who had an unrelated war to sell, made public mention of the man behind 9/11 only seven times.

But Osama is back: last week Mr. Bush invoked his name 11 times in a single speech, warning that if we leave Iraq, Al Qaeda — which wasn’t there when we went in — will be the winner. And Democrats, still fearing that they will end up accused of being weak on terror and not supporting the troops, gave Mr. Bush another year’s war funding.

If only the insanity would end when Bush when Bush leaves office. As discussed yesterday, the Republican candidates are repeating the same lies we’ve heard from the Bush administration, even if thoroughly debunked, and finally rejected by the voters in the last election. Krugman tells how these absurd claims from the Republican candidates should be answered:

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic.

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn’t in Iraq, will “follow us home” if we leave, he should be laughed at.

But they aren’t, at least not yet. And until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves, men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people’s children to graves at Arlington.

Republican Candidates Repeat Bush Lies on Iraq and Terrorism

There was a time when it felt like the absurd foreign polilcy of the Bush administration was an aberation, not only from what we would expect from a rational leader, but even from what we would expect from a Republican. It appeared that in George Bush we had a poorly informed President who followed the lead of extremists like Dick Cheney which did not represent the more moderate views of other Republicans. I suspected that even when Republicans backed Bush’s policies, it was more out of party loyalty than out of being so out of touch with reality to really believe what they were saying.

As the campaign for the 2008 nomination goes on, it is becoming increasing apparent that the views of the Bush administration now represent the Republican mainstream. This may partially be a result of so many moderates and sane conservatives leaving the GOP, but we are still left with the prospect of a major party candidate continuing to advocate policies which undermine the national security of the United States.

The Boston Globe reviews many of the claims being made by the Republican candidates which have been shown to be counter to fact:

In defending the Iraq war, leading Republican presidential contenders are increasingly echoing words and phrases used by President Bush in the run-up to the war that reinforce the misleading impression that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the May 15 Republican debate in South Carolina, Senator John McCain of Arizona suggested that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would “follow us home” from Iraq — a comment some viewers may have taken to mean that bin Laden was in Iraq, which he is not.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani asserted, in response to a question about Iraq, that “these people want to follow us here and they have followed us here. Fort Dix happened a week ago. “

However, none of the six people arrested for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey were from Iraq.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney identified numerous groups that he said have “come together” to try to bring down the United States, though specialists say few of the groups Romney cited have worked together and only some have threatened the United States.

“They want to bring down the West, particularly us,” Romney declared. “And they’ve come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent.”

Assertions of connections between bin Laden and terrorists in Iraq have heated up over the last month, as Congress has debated the war funding resolution. Romney, McCain, and Giuliani have endorsed — and expanded on — Bush’s much-debated contention that Al Qaeda is the main cause of instability in Iraq.

Spokespeople for McCain and Romney say the candidates were expressing their deep-seated convictions that terrorists would benefit if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq. The spokesmen say that even if Iraq had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists have infiltrated Iraq as security has deteriorated since the invasion, and now pose a direct threat to the United States.

But critics, including some former CIA officials, said those statements could mislead voters into believing that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks are now fighting the United States in Iraq .

Michael Scheuer , the CIA’s former chief of operations against bin Laden in the late 1990s, said the comments of some GOP candidates seem to suggest that bin Laden is controlling the insurgency in Iraq, which he is not.

“There are at least 41 groups [worldwide] that have announced their allegiance to Osama bin Laden — and I will bet that none of them are directed by Osama bin Laden,” Scheuer said, pointing out that Al Qaeda in Iraq is not overseen by bin Laden.

Nonetheless, many GOP candidates have recently echoed Bush’s longstanding assertion that Iraq is the “central battlefront” in the worldwide war against Al Qaeda and have declared that Al Qaeda would make Iraq its base of operations if the United States withdraws — notions that Scheuer said do not withstand scrutiny.

“The idea that Al Qaeda will move its headquarters of operation from South Asia to Iraq is nonsense,” said Scheuer.

The belief that there is a clear connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks has been a key determinant of support for the war. A Harris poll taken two weeks before the 2004 presidential election found that a majority of Bush’s supporters believed that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks — a claim that Bush has never made. Eighty-four percent believed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had “strong links” with Al Qaeda, a claim that intelligence officials have long disputed.

But critics have maintained that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney encouraged these ideas by using misleading terms to describe the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Bush, for instance, repeatedly spoke of Hussein’s support for terrorism — which many Americans apparently took to mean that Hussein supported Al Qaeda in its jihad against the United States. The administration, however, sourced that claim to Hussein’s backing of Palestinian terrorist groups targeting Israel.

Now, some GOP presidential candidates refer to “the terrorists” as one group, blurring distinctions between Al Qaeda, which has attacked the United States repeatedly, and groups that former intelligence officials say have not targeted the United States.

Romney said Friday: “You see, the terrorists are fighting a war on us. We’ve got to make sure that we’re fighting a war on them.”

Romney’s comment in the earlier debate that “they’ve come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” struck some former intelligence officials as particularly misleading. Shia and Sunni, they said, are branches of Islam and not terrorist groups. There are an estimated 300 million Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, many of them fighting Al Qaeda.

The article provides additional examples, and quotes one CIA analyst a saying, “There’s a tendency to exaggerate in a debate. You push the envelope as far as you can.” In this case, pushing the envelope is just a polite way to say they are lying. We’ve already seen the consequences of one Republican President who has based his foreign policy on claims which are counter to fact. We cannot afford another President who both plays politics with our national security, as the Repubicans do, or who fails to understand the basic issues on matters so crucial to our national security. I’m not sure which is worse–a candidate who repeats these claims which have been discredited by most experts, or a candidate who is ignorant enough to believe these claims. Regardless of whether these views are stated out of political expediency or out of ignorance, those who repeat them are not fit to be President.

Michael Moore and Cuban Health Care

I wish Michael Moore had stuck with documenting the problems needing reform in our health care system. Sicko has received favorable reviews, including form conservative sources such as Fox News and The Wall Street Journal for doing this. I fear that the important facts will be forgotten as the media dwells on the more controversial aspects of the film, such as Moore’s comments on Cuba’s health care system. The New York Times looks at Cuba’s health care system, and does find that there is some validity to what Moore says:

Dr. Robert N. Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on aging, has traveled to Cuba to see firsthand how doctors are trained. He said a principal reason that some health standards in Cuba approach the high American level is that the Cuban system emphasizes early intervention. Clinic visits are free, and the focus is on preventing disease rather than treating it.

Dr. Butler said some of Cuba’s shortcomings may actually improve its health profile. “Because they don’t have up-to-date cars, they tend to have to exercise more by walking,” he said. “And they may not have a surfeit of food, which keeps them from problems like obesity, but they’re not starving, either.”

Cuban markets are not always well stocked, but city streets are dotted with hot dog and ice cream vendors. Bellies are full, but such food can cause problems in the future, as they have in the United States.

Dr. Butler has just completed a study that shows it is possible that because of the epidemic of obesity in children, “this may be the first generation of Americans to live less long than their parents.”

There could be one great leveler for Cubans and Americans. While all Cubans have at least minimal free access to doctors, more than 45 million Americans lack basic health insurance. Many are reluctant to seek early treatment they cannot afford, Dr. Butler said. Instead, they wait to be admitted to an emergency room.

“I know Americans tend to be skeptical,” he said, “but health and education are two achievements of the Cuban revolution, and they deserve some credit despite the government’s poor record on human rights.”

The overall record in Cuba is mixed, as described by a doctor who has practiced both in Cuba and the United States:

“Actually there are three systems,” Dr. Cordova said, because Cuba has two: one is for party officials and foreigners like those Mr. Moore brought to Havana. “It is as good as this one here, with all the resources, the best doctors, the best medicines, and nobody pays a cent,” he said.

But for the 11 million ordinary Cubans, hospitals are often ill equipped and patients “have to bring their own food, soap, sheets — they have to bring everything.” And up to 20,000 Cuban doctors may be working in Venezuela, creating a shortage in Cuba.

The fact that 45 million Americans are uninsured, and many more are uninsured, is a problem worth addressing. While looking at Cuba might be of interest, their system provides a poor model for repairing our problems at home.

A Review of “The Assault on Reason”

Books by candidates for office are typically watered down, and limit discussion to what could be said on the campaign stump. Al Gore shows in The Assault on Reason that he could make a far better President than most candidates for the office as he gets at the core problems of the Bush years in a manner which we rarely hear from politicians seeking office. I wish there was a way to require all those who seek the Presidency to write a book of this nature. We would both see the underlying principles held by the candidate, as well as whether they are up to the task of intelligently discussing these ideas. If their underlying principles were honestly laid out as Gore does, the vast majority of Americans would be appalled by the views of the Republican candidates, and there are candidates from both parties who would not be up to the task of discussing them as intelligently as Gore does.

Gore frequently bases his political philosophy on the works of the founding fathers, as well as taking from other great philosophers of history. Gore writes at length on the dishonesty behind recent Republican arguments, and how they have relied on exploiting fear. They have been successful in exploiting fear, and avoiding arguments which would disprove their claims, due to a breakdown in the bodies which have acted in the past to place a check on such power.

Gore repeats many of the facts showing that the Bush administration lied to get us into the Iraq war, but also chastises Congress for not holding real debates. The Republicans created an atmosphere where Congress was made subservient to the Executive Branch, and there was no deliberation over public policy and no oversight hearings as were common in the past.

The media also receives part of the blame, as Gore criticizes the movement from people obtaining their news from newspapers to television. Television news has become dominated by trivial stories while the real news gets ignored. Gore sees the internet as a way to move beyond these problems.

The country has also turned from reason under a President who lacks intellectual curiosity:

There are people in both political parties who worry that there is something deeply troubling about President Bush’s relationship to reason, his disdain of facts, and his lack of curiosity about any information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.

Yet Bush’s incuriosity and seeming immunity to doubt is sometimes interpreted by people who see and hear him on television as evidence of the strength of his conviction, even though it is this very inflexibility–this willful refusal even to entertain alternative opinions or conflicting evidence–that poses the most serious danger to our country.

This naturally leads the manner in which the religious right violates the principles of our founding fathers as reason and fact-based arguments are replaced by religious fundamentalism. Gore rejects the idea that the problem is simply a lack of intelligence in George Bush:

I know President Bush is plenty smart, and I have no doubt that his religious belief is both genuine and an important motivation for many things that he does in life, as my faith is for me and as it is for most people. I’m convinced, however, that most of the president’s frequent departures from fact-based analysis have much more to do with his right-wing political and economic ideology than with the Bible. I’ve alluded to James Madison’s warning, over two centuries old, that “a religious sect may degenerate into a political faction.” Now, with the radical Right, we have a political faction disguised as a religious sect, and the president of the United States is heading it. The obvious irony is that Bush uses a religious blind faith to hide what is actually an extremist political philosophy with a disdain for social justice that is anything but pious by the standards of any respected faith tradition I know.


Lindsay Lohan, Driving Drunk and Strip Pole Dancing

There’s not much news being a holiday weekend, but Lindsay Lohan is helping provide the web with things to talk about. Lohan is under investigation on a DUI charge. Maybe she’ll get to share a cell (or would that be luxury prison pad) with Paris.


There’s also the video (above) going around the blogs of Lindsay Lohan stripping in her upcoming movie, I Know Who Killed Me. Don’t get your hopes up. By now most people have seen much more of Lohan’s body, even if published photos each provide a view of a differnt part (including this nipple slip posted here previously).