|Protests in Tahir Square, Cairo, Egypt|
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
What Will Replace Egyptian, Tunisian, Bahraini, Jordanian, Syrian, and Yemeni Tyrants? Democracy, If You Can Keep It
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Friday, February 4, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
House Republicans Unveil Plans to Boost Greenhouse Gases, Leaving Mandate on Jobs and Economy Behind
|Representative Darrell Issa, from California|
House Republicans yesterday unveiled draft legislation yesterday that bans the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The legislation, which will easily pass in the House, is another sharp rebuke to the Obama Administration, just days after Representative Darrel Issa reportedly was asked by the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) to attack decades of regulations and consumer protections.
Perhaps the more scary part of this story is that Democratic lawmakers might just go along with it. Already a handful of Senators are supporting plans to impose a two-year moratorium on EPA attempts to, essentially, do its job. It's almost as if Republicans, so intent on proving that government is inefficient, will go to the extraordinarily length of sabotaging efforts to take practical and necessary steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, just to prove their point.
Daily Kos author Jed Lewison pointed out today that, "Conservatives can claim climate science is a hoax until they go blue in the face, but that won't change the immutable fact that dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere traps solar energy."And while he's completely right, there is another reason why conservatives should be going blue in the face -- this bill would also be bad for the economy. In fifty to a hundred years from now, there simply won't be much oil or gas to go around. With the explosion in the use of energy, especially in China and India, it's imperative that we continue to capitalize on the benefits that clean energy will give us now, but more importantly in the future.
China already understands this, and in many respects they are already ahead of us. Reversing decades of energy policy is not only bad environmentally, but economically as well. But I suppose it's not news that Republicans are proposing yet another bill that has nothing to do with their mandate on jobs and the economy.
Huffington Post: House GOP Readies Severe New Restrictions on EPA
Daily Kos: GOP Unveils Pro Greenhouse Gas Legislation
Health-Care Repeal Fails in Senate, Next Course: Incrementally Defeat Individual Sections of Health Care -- Promising Long, Drawn-Out Debate
We all read yesterday that the Senate struck down the bill to repeal health care reform, which, of course, was not really news. The House vote to strike down job-killing Obamacare was largely a symbolic measure. The real news came out today, which is that after weeks of wrangling about a bill that actually has a negative impact on the economy, House Republicans announced they will dedicate many more weeks and possibly months attempting to incrementally defeat the most unpopular elements of the bill.
Americans are, according to polls (poll analysis), increasingly flocking towards the President as Republicans continue to bungle their mandate to focus on jobs and the economy. Obama’s approval ratings are the highest they’ve been for years, largely due to an increase in support from independents (36% approval rate last July, compared to 48% now). Not only are Republicans over-focusing on the outright repeal of health care, they're also focusing more on ‘family values’ issues like abortion. Just today Republican lawmakers, after massive outcries from women’s groups and days of dragging their feet, finally removed the term “forcible rape” from the antiabortion bill being debated in Congress. Critics argue that rape is by definition forced, as it seemed lawmakers were trying to make some cases of rape except – like in cases where the victim is unconscious.
But back to health care, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, prepared Americans for a long fight on repealing individual parts of the law, saying “These are the first steps in a long road that will culminate in 2012. We will continue to expose flaws and faults in this legislation… and the courts will continue to review it.” Democrats and Republicans alike are both hoping the Supreme Court will quickly take up the case to put an end to the debate.
Also coincidentally in the news today Virginia’s attorney general announced that he wanted to bypass the lower court system by asking the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of the health care law on a more expedited basis. But, historically at least, Democrats have a lot more precedents to point towards in arguing that the health care law is constitutional. As Senator Richard Lugar, Democrat of Illinois, said, “This is not the first major law that’s been challenged in the courts, even challenged successfully in the lower courts.” He then cited the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Federal Minimum Wage law – all of which were challenged, sometimes successfully in lower courts, and ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.
CS Monitor: Health-care repeal fails in Senate
NY Times: VA. to ask supreme court to rule on health law
As Egypt is One Step Closer Towards Democracy, Western Officials Fear Favorable Outcome for Muslim Brotherhood
The Bush Administration also grappled with this paradox as it fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish democracies there, yet at the same time condemned the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005. We basically seem to have a policy of supporting free societies just up to the point where the we find the people elected don’t really seem to jive well with the status quo balance of power in the Middle East.
The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s unrest and the recent majority Hezbollah gained in Lebanon has reignited this debate. There are, to be fair, serious concerns about balancing an Islamist Party with democracy, the biggest being the establishment of Shariah Law versus an independent judiciary. Islam is the only organized religion with its own set of judicial laws that run directly counter to Western notions of freedom and liberty. But Americans don’t seem to have a problem of continuing their precious support for Saudi Arabia, which is probably the biggest hotbed of Anti-Western and anti-Jewish sentiment in the region. So why the disconnect?
So what if Egyptians want to elect an Islamist Party? Why should we stop Egyptians from doing what they want? Is it not their country? If they want to be a theocratic state (which seems highly unlikely), then let them! If they want to wear Hawaiian shirts on Friday, then why not? If they want to wear their underwear on their heads, why not? Aren’t they a ‘free people’ now? Egypt should be for Egyptians.
If President Obama truly wants to stand with the democratic aspirations of all people, like he said in his State of the Union, he will simply have to accept the fact that the outcome may not be favorable to the US. We have for many years purchased stability at the cost of democracy, and we should recognize that we simply cannot have it both ways anymore. President Obama should take steps towards recognizing democratically elected Hamas and Hezbollah, and also towards bringing the Muslim Brotherhood into the newly formed Egyptian government. In order for these groups to shed their fundamentalist nature, they will have to eventually come out of the shadows – and we should do everything we can to facilitate that process.
There are, of course, many risks that we take in supporting the democratic process, but there are arguably even more risks that we have seen unravel over the past week from hedging our bets against the democratic aspirations of the Arab people.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
|Judge Roger Vinson|
Judge Roger Vinson, of Federal District Court in Penasacola, Florida, released a 78-page legal opinon on the ruling to strike down health care reform on Monday. But while the outcome of the ruling is not surprising, what is drawing a lot of attention is what seems to be a deliberate nod to a political movement and perhaps an instance of political bias by one of the state's highest court judges. "It is difficult to imagine," the opinion read, "that the nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place." Some commentators are even referring to the document as the 'Tea Party Manifesto." It is unclear so far how much damage this will do to the chances of health care repeal getting admitted to the Supreme Court, and that, in turn, depends on how much bad press the opinion gets.
But this is not the first time Americans have heard of radical Tea Party members peddling influence with the some of the most prestigious courts in America. Just last week it was reported that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke on Capitol Hill in a closed-door session with a group of conservative lawmakers. While it is proper for justices to interact with Congress, like any other job it requires an obligation on the judges part to at least act like they are being impartial. Jonathan Turley wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post Sunday about this, saying that "If justices come to personify political movements, the law appears to be merely an extension of the personalities -- and the politics -- of the bench."
Also recently in the news Virginia Thomas, Supreme Court Clarence Thomas's wife, has for decades worked for and received money from conservative think-tanks and political groups, but Justice Thomas has not reportedly made public where the money is coming from. Mrs. Thomas is the founder and head of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called Liberty Central, and because of the 501(C)(4) status she does not have to publicly disclose any of the contributors. But, the New York Times reported, "A federal law requires justices to recuse themselves in an number of circumstances where real or perceived conflicts of interest could arise, including in cases where their spouses could have a financial interest. But the decision to step aside is up to each justice; there is no appeal from the nation's highest court."
While Judge Vinson's ruling may not be taken up by the Supreme Court and very well could soon be invalidated, there are still serious questions remaining about the ability of justices who serve in state and federal courts to dissociate themselves with political groups when deciding upon matters that are to be influenced by the law, and only the law. How did we even get ourselves into this pathetic state of affairs?
NY Times: Justice Scalia to Speak to Tea Party...
NY Times: Activism of Thomas's Wife Could Raise Judicial Issues
NY Times: Tea Party Shadows Health Care Ruling
Huffington Post: Florida Judge Rules Health Care Reform Unconstitutional
|Obama's Chief Political Advisor, David Axelrod|
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Iraqi Government Follows in US Footsteps: Secret Detention Facilities, Torture, and Indefinite Detention
|Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki|
Human Rights Watch uncovered information today that indicted the Army's 56th Brigade and counter terrorism service, both under the direction of Prime Minister Maliki, of operating secret detention facilities and using torture on detainees right in the heart of Baghdad. "Revelations of secret jails in the heart of Baghdad completely undermine the Iraqi government's promises to respect the rule of law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that the only country who could exercise any influence in Iraq is the United States, and we of course use all of these detention tactics that run counter to international law, and run counter to any sense of moral dignity in general.
Human Rights Watch: Secret Jail Uncovered in Baghdad
Washington Post: Human Rights Watch: Maliki's secret forces abusing detainees at secret sites
CS Monitor: Secret prison in Iraq raises fresh concerns over torture
|effigy of Mubarak (photo credit: Victoria Hazou/AP)|
In the face of the largest protest in Egypt yet (several hundred thousand people gathered at Tahir Square in Cairo alone) and increasing lack of support from Mubarak's biggest beneficiary, the United States, the president agreed not to run in the elections next fall. In his lackluster remarks, the aging dictator actually claimed at one point that he was going to retire soon anyway, saying "In all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term."
In all sincerity my foot.
Mubarak's concessions are too little, too late, and it's far from certain that the protesters intend to renounce their demands of immediate resignation. It seems like everyday there is a desperate, last-ditch effort by the Egyptian government to disperse the protests. On Wednesday and Thursday the police in Cairo tried to break up the protests through violence -- it didn't work. Friday the regime tried to intimidate the demonstrators with the military presence throughout the city -- it didn't work. Over the weekend the regime tried to incite unrest by using plainclothes police officers to start looting and encourage others to join in the 'mob mentality' -- it didn't work. Also over the weekend Mubarak made an effort to instill fear in the crowds by flying US made helicopters and fighter jets low over the ground, and guess what -- it didn't work.
Protesters have demanded that Mubarak step down by Friday. At the rate of the Egyptian President's current failures to quell the unrest, they could very well have their wish.
NY Times: Mubarak Says He Won't Run....
Huffington Post: Mubarak Tells Egypt He Will Not Seek Re-election
|King Abdullah II of Jordan|
Monday, January 31, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
I wanted to post this raw footage from Cairo this morning, one day after the most violent protests in recent history. What you are watching is a group of Egyptian policemen attempting to clear a street which leads to Tahir Square, a major protest site over the past few days. The police subsequently fired shotguns into the air and the Egyptian police moved tanks in front of the rock-wielding protesters to shield them from the line of fire. If there is an onslaught of violence between the police, who are currently guarding the presidential palace, and the military, who show signs of increasingly strained relations with dictator Hosni Mubarak, we could very well see some sort of revolution take place within the next few days.
Over the past two years, President Obama has managed to avoid a political showdown regarding same-sex marriage, but two pending federal lawsuits are now threatening this fragile balancing act. To date, executive officials have been upholding the Defense of Marriage Act (which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriage) by citing their duty to defend Acts of Congress. In general, the Obama Administration has previously been able to downplay 'family value' issues in the last two elections, which normally tend to get a lot of conservative voters to the polls. More attention has been put on the economy and jobs in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Democratic legislators across the country have also been grappling with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) issues concerning marriage over the past decade. California voters passed the infamous Prop 8 Law in 2008, which denied same-sex couples the short-lived right to marry -- 173 days to be exact. But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend the prop in court, which basically ended up nullifying the voter-passed initiative. The Obama Administration is essentially facing the same dissonance between its responsibility to defend the law of the land, or force the federal courts to prove why there has to be a separate set of laws for the gay community.
The New York Times reported today that "Some conservatives have accused the administration of throwing the fight by not invoking other arguments, like morality. And in particular, lawmakers' primary focus in 1996," (when DOMA passed), "was 'encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing....' [but] other cases disavowed that rationale, noting that infertile heterosexuals may marry and citing studies that children raised by same-sex parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexuals."
Not only should Obama ask himself whether certain individuals' moral beliefs should be imposed onto everybody else -- which they shouldn't -- but he should also ask himself whether or not he learned anything at Harvard Law School. I find it hard to balance the fact that our president studied constitutional law at the most prestigious university in the world, and also thinks that gay people should have a 'separate' institution of marriage called civil-union, 'but equal' in that it affords them all the same rights. How can he square this rationale when everything history teaches us tells us different?
The Obama Administration has until March 11 to decide whether or not to defend DOMA. The United States is indeed exceptional, and as the president noted in the SOTU, we were the first country in history to be founded on an idea -- that all men are created equal, and possess the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hope our administration makes the decision to live up to these firmly held values.
NY Times: Lawsuits on Same-Sex Marriage May Force Administration to Take a Stand
Washington Post: Cairo falls into near anarchy; army warns it will treat protesters as criminals
Friday, January 28, 2011
The Commerce Department released a report today showing the US Economy sped up it's growth rate in the last quarter of 2010 to 3.2%, up from 2.6%. As Americans felt comfortable buying again during the holiday season, and businesses are increasing funding for equipment and software, economists are hoping these numbers will be coupled with investments in new workers as well.
The real story, however, will be unraveling over the next few days. And that is, who will take credit for the strong growth rate? President Obama obviously has reason to claim his policies have turned the economy around, with hundreds of pieces of legislation promoting growth to prove his point. But, I would not at all be surprised if Republicans claim the growth is due to a boost in confidence from consumers and businesses, stemming from their recent victory in November.
I hope to bring more updates on this, as it could get really juicy.
NY Times: U.S. Economy Grew at 3.2% Rate in the 4th Quarter
|forged Kenyan birth certificate that circulated the conservative blogosphere|
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Well, once again we made it through that time of year when the halls are decked with holly, the five golden bells are pealing, and the elves are waxing the skids so Santa can cruise through the skies, dispensing gifts to all the good little girls and boys. That means it was also time for a thousand re-runs of It’s A Wonderful Life, the Frank Capra film that manages to pull off a Yuletide hat trick by combining capitalism, communalism, and Hollywood hokum to save the day in small town Americana. Only this year it seemed that there was something smudgy around the edges of this particular charm. Americans have come to understand that instead of rescuing Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, we have rescued Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, the epitome of greed who drips venom instead of Christmas cheer.
How did it come to this? Rather than bail out the millions who are suffering foreclosures we bailed out those who perpetrated the fraud that led to the foreclosures. Rather than helping the needy and indigent, we are helping the coddled at the highest ends of the income bracket. Rather then reaching out a helping hand to the homeless, we have reached out a helping hand to those with multiple homes, sometimes so many that, like John McCain, they have lost count of how many they own.
We have been told by the wise sages of the economy that we had to rescue capitalism, that Wall Street would have imploded if we had not lent it a cool trillion, that those receiving taxpayer funds were deeply sorry about their financial transgressions, and that the mistakes of the past would be rectified once the money was handed over.
But doesn’t it seem a little odd that hardly any of the bullish free-marketers have acknowledged that something went drastically wrong with their foolproof system? Isn’t it true that those who most earnestly believe in the power and glory of the private sector to solve any and every problem are still acting as if the public has no right to meddle in their affairs?
Consider the following quotation from FDR inscribed on the Roosevelt Monument in Washington, D.C: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." We seemed to have flipped this credo over during the last thirty years, continually succumbing to an odd urge to ensure that the rich get richer and the poor poorer. We have waged wars while cutting taxes, an untenable economic feat completely unprecedented in its degree of foolhardiness. That such profligacy would lead to huge deficits is hardly shocking; what’s shocking is that it was done in the first place. As President Clinton once admitted, the only sacrifice the wealthy were asked to make for the war effort was to open up envelopes with their tax refunds stuck inside.
Meanwhile, the middle class is crumbling and the poor are being blissfully ignored, just as their numbers increase to startling proportions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for children under 18 rose from 19.0 percent to 20.7 percent in 2009, while the total number of people living in poverty stood at 43.6 million, the largest number in the 51 years that such an estimate has been published by the Bureau. Yet the poor have no funds to pour into the coffers of our politicians so, while they may be pitied, nothing is done to ameliorate their condition.
Bank profits are soaring. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, net income for banks went from $3.2.billion during the first nine months of 2009 to $53.6 billion in 2010. During the same period, millions of Americans lost their homes through foreclosure. Potter is gleeful. And we seem intent on giving him even more. Meanwhile, George Bailey seems to have disappeared. Or maybe he fled, having realized that America is no place for him, not with its citizens intent on rewarding Potter over and over again while sending his borrowers out into the cold.
|2010 US Budget|
NY Times: G.O.P. Splits Over Plans to Cut Defense Budget
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
|Inquiry Commission Chairman, Phil Angelides|
Revolutions tend to come in waves, and it's hard not to draw a link from the unrest to the protests that rocked Tunisia before its leaders fled. At least six people have set themselves on fire in Egypt, in imitation of Tunisian dissident Mohamed Bouazizi. The government has since gone to the extraordinary length of forbidding gas stations to sell to people who are not in cars.
Many of the marchers captured the clashes with cellphone cameras, like these: