Archive for the 'Politics' category

...and then, when they came for Jane Harman...

Apr 22 2009 Published by under Politics

Unless you've been asleep for the last couple of days, you've probably heard that our government apparently wiretapped a member of Congress a few years back. According to the reports, the National Security Agency captured Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) engaging in a quid-pro-quo agreement with a pro-Israeli lobbyist where Harman would try to get the government to go easy on some accused Israeli spies, while the lobbyist would work to get Harman appointed to chair the Intelligence Committee.

Harman has vigorously denied the reports, and there's been a great deal of speculation about the timing of the leaks, who they were intended to embarrass, and what message sits behind them. As interesting as all that may be - and as important as it is to find out - that's not what I'd like to look at right now.

Today, Harman is "outraged" at the "abuse of power" that occurred when the NSA wiretapped her. She's "very disappointed" that her country "could have permitted ... a gross abuse of power in recent years". It's a damn good thing that I put my coffee down right before I read that last bit. Two seconds earlier, there would have been a hell of a spit-take.

Excuse me, Congresswoman, but you're very disappointed that your country could have permitted such a thing? You're disappointed??? You bloody nincompoop, you were one of the people who wanted to permit this sort of thing. Did you forget, or did you just think we did? Let's review:

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"Dead Teen Pirate Porn" versus the legitimate use of force

Apr 14 2009 Published by under Politics

Over at Majikthise, Lindsay Beyerstein has a post up that takes a look at the Navy's handling of the attempted piracy/hostage standoff involving the captain of the Maersk Alabama. She makes some good points at the beginning and end of the article, but I think she misses to point a bit in the middle.

At the start of the article, she writes:

I'm relieved that the Navy SEALs rescued the American hostage from Somali pirates. Their skill and professionalism was indeed impressive.

But really... Two days after the rescue, the banner headline on the front page of the Washington Post should not read "3 Rounds, 3 Dead Bodies." And if that's the front page headline, surely they don't need a second story about pirate-shooting in the same edition.

The American public is relishing the deaths of the pirates to a degree that's downright unseemly.

I'm certainly not going to argue with that. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to the news yesterday, but even the little bit that I caught - the cheesy CG SEAL snipers that MSNBC went with repeatedly on countdown - was not exactly what I'd call exemplary journalism. There has absolutely been far more jingoism going on than is healthy.

I'm also totally onboard with her last paragraph - with the exception of two words:

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Gotta Love Politico - "Franken" puts Pawlenty in a jam.

Apr 02 2009 Published by under Politics

Politico's Manu Raju wrote an interesting article on the Energizer Bunny Election in Minnesota yesterday. His analysis of the situation focused on the political bind that Minnesota's Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty seems likely to find himself in within the next month or two: if and when the Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Norm Coleman's election contest, who does he decide to piss off:

Franken won big Tuesday when a three-judge panel allowed the review of no more than 400 absentee ballots in a race he currently leads by 225 votes. Coleman's camp says an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court is coming; once that's done, the dispute lands in Pawlenty's lap.

If Franken's ahead at that point, Pawlenty will have a choice: sign the election certificate that will allow Democrats to seat Franken in the Senate or play to the Republicans whose support he'd need in 2012 by withholding the certificate while Coleman challenges the election in the federal court system.

It's true that you definitely don't want to be Pawlenty in that situation.

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Charlie Rangel Says Don't Tax AIG Bonuses - And He's Right. (Updated - but he didn't mean it)

Update: My praise for Charlie Rangel in this post was, sadly, premature. Politico is now reporting that Rangel has gotten behind a 91% tax bracket for AIG bonuses.

When it comes to the AIG bonuses, I'm about as angry as any other taxpayer who has been paying attention. This morning, I was absolutely undelighted to read that quite a bit of the "retention" money is going to people who have, in fact, not been retained. The look I just took at AIG Chariman Edward Liddy's opening statement for today's Congressional hearing did absolutely nothing to improve my mood. When he says, "I share that anger," one has to wonder how much of that anger he actually understands.

Not to try to dish out the class warfare, but that's probably because he's rich enough that the numbers don't mean the same thing to him that they do to most of us. On the (very very small) chance that he might see this, let me try to put this into perspective. According to reports, one of the bonus recipients who worked in the AIG unit that caused the catastrophe received a $4.6 million retention payment, and has left the company.

The name of the $4.6 million dollar person has not been released - Mr. Liddy is apparently afraid that publicizing the names of the recipients might endanger their lives - so for the sake of simplicity I'll be referring to this person as "Mr. Scheisskopf". Mr. Scheisskopf worked for the unit at AIG that wrote credit default swaps that dropped AIG - and the American Taxpayer - in the drink. After contributing to a catastrophic collapse of the entire company that has required billions of taxpayer dollars, Scheisskopf, for whatever reason, left the firm. Now, as a "retention" award, the un-retained Scheisskopf is walking away with a cool $4.6 mil.

Let's put that in perspective. The median income for a man in the US was a little over $45,000 in 2007. More than half the wage-earners in the country, at whatever their current salary might be, would have to work for more than a century to earn what this AIG joker is walking away with. Scheisskopf walking away with far more money than most of us will earn in a lifetime, and to top it all up, we're the ones who are paying to clean up the mess he left. If Mr. Liddy thinks that he shares the popular anger about this right now, I'd suggest that he think again - preferably after spending three or four years working a long-hour, low pay job.

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You Almost Have To Feel Bad For Jim Tedisco

Mar 17 2009 Published by under Politics

As you may know, there's a special election campaign going on in the 20th Congressional District in NY. Jim Tedisco is the Republican candidate for the seat. He's running against a Democrat named Scott Murphy. Initially, Tedisco was considered to be the strong favorite for the seat. The Representative who vacated the seat, Kirsten Gillibrand, is a Democrat, but the district is quite conservative, and Tedisco has much greater name recognition in the area than Murphy.

At the moment, polling suggests that Tedisco's once formidable lead has been cut to four percent. His problem, apparently, is his party.

Tedisco seems to be trying to run away from the Republican Party:

GOP Assemblyman Jim Tedisco started the race with a 21-point lead, according to a Republican poll, but he was also far better known than his opponent, and his campaign insists it always expected the race to close within the margin of error.

Tedisco has taken steps over the last two days to separate himself from the national party, saying he will wrest control of his campaign's message from the National Republican Congressional Committee.


Tedisco spokesman Joshua Fitzpatrick downplayed the role of the national parties.

"I know that Jim appreciates their assistance and support," Fitzpatrick said. He then added that "this is not about political parties."

Unfortunately for Tedisco - who actually has a sense how people feel in his district - his party is not letting him run away from them.

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A Weekend Ideological Survey

Mar 14 2009 Published by under Politics

The Center For American Progress recently released the results of a political positions survey. They asked respondents to rate their level of agreement with 40 questions on a scale of 0-10, with 0 at the 'disagree' end of the spectrum. They converted each person's responses into a numerical value (that they call a 'composite ideology measure') between 0 and 400.

They've also put the online version of the survey up on their website. I came in as "extremely progressive" (although I still swear I'm a moderate), with a score of 315/400. If you take the survey, I'd be very interested to hear what your score is. Let me know in the comments. If you're not an American, I'd appreciate it if you mention that, too.

The Center for American Progress' findings are below the jump.

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The Stewart/Cramer Affair

Mar 13 2009 Published by under Politics

Sam: Toby, do you really think it's a good idea to invite people to dinner and then tell them exactly what they're doing wrong with their lives?

Toby: Absolutely. Otherwise it's just a waste of food.

The West Wing

Season 1, Episode 7, The State Dinner

Jon Stewart understands better than anyone - except possibly Steven Colbert - the tremendous opportunity that a comedian has when it comes to speaking truth to power. He's been making the most of that opportunity over the past week or so, with the "weeklong feud of the century". If you've missed it, you've probably been in a coma, but it's basically a been fight over the role irresponsible financial journalism has played in the current financial crisis.

On one side of the battle, we had the cable network CNBC, aided and abetted by other NBC networks. On the other, we had a comedian, his 4 night a week 30 minute cable show, and his writing staff. In a reasonable world, where the journalism industry takes its responsibility to the public seriously, there's no way - no way - the comedian should have walked away from the fight a winner. But that's not the world we live in.

In the world we live in, the comedian won handily.

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Confirmation Update - Wed, 11 March 2009

Mar 11 2009 Published by under Politics

To the best of my knowledge, there have been no significant developments in the continuing saga of "who is blocking the science nominees in the Senate". Progressive Alaska's Philip Munger noted in a comment here that Senator Mark Begich's (D-AK) office says Begich is not involved, and that he has received additional information pointing to David Vitter as the culprit. Meanwhile, Talking Points Memo's Elana Schor reports that she's received denials from both Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and John Barrasso (R-WY) - and that's in addition to the denial she received from Vitter yesterday.

In the absence of information, the only recourse for those of us interested in trying to push this issue forward remains contacting our own Senators and the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Contact information for those folks can be found in my earlier posts on the topic.) As I've said before, it's important to keep pressure up on this. Anything you can do will be helpful.

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Why tonight is and isn't the State of the Union Address.

Feb 24 2009 Published by under Politics

Tonight, President Obama is going to address a joint session of Congress. It's the same time of year that the State of the Union Address is given. It's the same format. It's expected that he will cover the same kind of topics that you see in the State of the Union. There's even going to be a speech in response from the opposing party - just like the State of the Union. But tonight's speech is not a State of the Union Address.

At least if you live in the United States. Internationally, the speech is at least occasionally being billed as The State of the Union. So what's the deal?

Traditionally, Presidents don't give a State of the Union speech during their first year in office. There's no rule that says that they can't, they just don't. Of course, there's not actually any rule that says that they ever need to give a State of the Union Address. It's a tradition, not a requirement. So, tonight's speech is not the State of the Union Address because traditionally Presidents do not deliver the traditional State of the Union Address during their first year in office.

Confused yet?

Here's what it comes down to: the President's obligations in this matter are given in Article 2, Section 3 of the United States Constitution:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient

That's the entire obligation. Technically, the President could scrawl "Everything's cool, I don't need anything from you" on a post-it note, send it to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, and he'd have met his Constitutional requirements. The pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union exists not because it's required (in fact, a lot of Presidents just sent Congress a written statement), but because it's fun to do.

So if you've got a feeling that all of the fuss over whether this is or isn't a State of the Union Address might be a little silly, I'd say "go with the feeling."

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Senate Confirmation Hearings - NOAA and Science Advisor

Feb 12 2009 Published by under Politics

Updated - The archived video is now available on the committee website, so I've been able to go back and fill in the details I missed due to earlier technical problems.

Due to technical problems, this liveblog of the Confirmation hearings for Jane Lubchenco and John Holdren begins in progress. Dr. Lubchenco is giving her opening statement.


Opening Statements:

Dr. Holdren:

Honor and privilege to appear as Office of Science and Technology Policy nominee. Office has two areas of responsibility. One is input into policy, education and training, and fostering innovation. Other is science and technology FOR policy - making sure that good science is available to policymakers. Need to recruit good talent and use it well.

Challenges at intersection of science and policy:

Investments in science and technology have driven huge part of economy. In economic crisis, must resist temptation to decrease science funding. R&D in space is particularly important, not a luxury. Crucial to national defense, communications, weather forecasting, earth conditions, and more. Investments in space are a bargain.

Important function in promoting move from R&D to application. Fostering capacity for translating Sci&Tech knowledge to real benefits. Development of new tech crucial at intersection of energy, defense, climate change.

Information technology changed global communications, but we're just scratching surface of possibilities. Better use of IT key to improving K-12 education and beyond, and not just to produce scientists. STEM education key across the board. Education key to providing Americans with the tools they need to participate successfully in our democracy.

Sci and Tech crucial to national security. DARPA important. So is international cooperation. Unilateral action not good.

Speed of advancement is largely a policy choice.

Dr. Lubchenco:

Introduced by Senator Wyden (D-OR). "Bionic Woman of Good Science". Several minutes more gushing.

Honor to be here. Thanks Senator Wyden. Thanks family. (Earth to Dr. Holdren, there might be something you forgot to do.)

Personal history about love of oceans. Oceans essential to human life and prosperity. Healthy ocean ecosystems are absolutely critical. Science should inform, but not dictate, policy. NOAA creates jobs, protects lives and property, premier government agency for applied science.

Need to bring back fisheries. Improve weather forecasting. Work on climate forecasting. Protect and recover coasts, bays, oceans.

Need better information about potential local impacts of climate change. Will work to create National Climate Service if confirmed, along lines of Weather Service.

Question for both from Sen. Rockefeller (I guess I missed the Holdren opening):

How do you protect integrity of science?


Science doesn't tell us what to do, it helps us understand potential effects of different choices. Hopes scientific info will be available to inform decisions, not dictate choices.

(sounds sort of familiar)


Agrees. Scientific facts aren't everything in decisionmaking, but are something. Need to distinguish between best assessment of science. Need to clarify rules for disseminating information.


Many scientists have different views - how serious climate change, what do we have to do - remarkable differences, all scientists, how resolve?

Holdren: Will always be diverse opinions on complex science. In matters of policy, bet with the odds. Look at range of opinion, center of gravity, organizations. Go with the bulk of the opinion of the scientists WHO HAVE ACTUALLY STUDIED THAT ISSUE. Relevant expertise. Climate change real, accelerating, caused by us, getting more dangerous.

Sen Hutchison:

Softball question. Will you help our committee if we ask for it?

Both: Duh.

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