Archive for March 11th, 2010
Very interesting video. Well worth the click and the time to watch.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is making plans for the final floor activity on health care reform, and if there are lingering doubts from skeptical House Dems about Reid’s intentions, they should check out his new letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explaining the path forward on health insurance reform. In the letter, Senator Reid details the steps that Senate Democrats have taken to secure bipartisan support for health reform despite the lack of cooperation from Senate Republicans. Reid said he will seek a democratic, up-or-down simple majority vote to revise the health reform bill already passed by a supermajority of 60 Senators last December. Reid also reiterated the commitment of Senate Democrats to deliver meaningful health reform that will ensure access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.
Reid’s letter wasn’t exactly tepid. It accuses Republicans of "distorting the facts" and spreading "outright lies" while millions of Americans "struggle to afford to stay healthy, stay out of bankruptcy and stay in their homes."
Reid reminded McConnell that Republican concerns about reconciliation are "unjustified," and that "the reconciliation bill now under consideration would not be the vehicle for comprehensive reform." The Majority Leader added that it’s McConnell’s party that has long loved this same procedure: "[O]ne might conclude that Republicans believe a majority vote is sufficient to increase the deficit and benefit the super-rich, but not to reduce the deficit and benefit the middle class. Alternatively, perhaps Republicans believe a majority vote is appropriate only when Republicans are in the majority. Either way, we disagree."
He concludes by effectively daring McConnell and his caucus to oppose the legislation: "Keep in mind that reconciliation will not exclude Republicans from the legislative process. You will continue to have an opportunity to offer amendments and change the shape of the legislation. In addition, at the end of the process, the bill can pass only if it wins a democratic, up-or-down majority vote. If Republicans want to vote against a bill that reduces health care costs, fills the prescription drug "donut hole" for seniors and reduces the deficit, you will have every right to do so."
Seems like someone had his Wheaties this morning.
Via mistermix at Balloon Juice, you can now get biking directions from Google maps. mistermix said that he’d been biking to work for 10 years, and Google showed him a better route. Go here to see.
This recipe is now simmering.
UPDATE: Unbelievably tasty. I amped up the crushed red pepper (of course), so it’s nice and spicy. I used Pacific swordfish as the fish and “lite” coconut milk.
It wasn’t clear whether the garlic and lemon/lime juice marinade for the fish should go into the soup. I did include it.
Governors and education leaders on Wednesday proposed sweeping new school standards that could lead to students across the country using the same math and English textbooks and taking the same tests, replacing a patchwork of state and local systems in an attempt to raise student achievement nationwide.
But states must first adopt the new rigorous standards, and implementing the standards on such a large scale won’t be easy.
Two states — Texas and Alaska — have already refused to join the project, and everyone from state legislatures to the nation’s 10,000 local school boards and 3 million teachers could chime in with their opinions.
The public is invited to comment on the proposed new standards until April 2, and the developers hope to publish final education goals for K-12 math and English in May.
The state-led effort was coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Experts were called in to do the writing and research, but state education officials and teachers from around the nation were actively involved.
After the standards are complete, each state will still have to decide whether to adopt them as a replacement for their existing education goals.
The stakes could be high. President Barack Obama told the nation’s governors last month that ..
"Filegate" is a term that always deserved scare quotes, because the putative scandal concerning the misuse of FBI files in the Clinton White House was so clearly, from its very beginning in 1996, no scandal at all. But the obvious absence of any credible evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton or any of their employees or associates had ordered up such files, or committed any abuse of them, did nothing to dissuade mainstream media, right-wing outlets, or Republican politicians from hysterically promoting the pseudo-scandal.
Today it is amazing to recall how significant this nothingness was once deemed to be, with nightly coverage on network newscasts. On Capitol Hill, Sen. Orrin Hatch demanded a fingerprint analysis to determine whether Hillary Clinton had touched the files (she hadn’t) while lengthy investigations got under way in the Senate, the House and the Office of the Independent Counsel led by Kenneth Starr. Bob Dole, the Republican presidential candidate in 1996, compared "Filegate" with Nixon’s Watergate scandal and asked: "Where’s the outrage?"
Yesterday the last wheeze of hype was squeezed from that old controversy, when U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed the remaining civil lawsuit against former Clinton administration officials in the FBI files affair. Brought by eccentric attorney Larry Klayman, who became a favorite of cable television and conservative funders during the Clinton era, those costly lawsuits were described in the judge’s decision as essentially baseless.
Summing up his findings, Lamberth wrote: …
One of the greatest hardships facing America’s college students is student debt; the average student in the class of 2008 graduated with $23,000 of debt, “a figure 25 percent higher than what their older brothers and sisters owed when they graduated from college in 2004.”
To tackle this student debt crisis, last year the House of Representatives passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which expands and improves successful student aid programs like the Pell Grant and the Perkins Loan program, and eliminates billions of dollars in subsidies to wasteful private lenders by arranging loans directly with students instead of through bank middlemen.
The Senate is currently deliberating over its own version of the bill, and it is one Senate floor vote away from being signed into law by the President. However, the student lending industry has launched an “aggressive lobbying campaign” of senators representing states where big lenders are based, scaremongering about job losses resulting from passing SAFRA. Now, it appears that their lobbying is paying off, as six Democratic senators have written to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, asking him to “consider potential alternative legislative proposals” to SAFRA’s major lending reforms:
Six Democrats signaled deep concerns with their chamber’s student lending reform bill on Tuesday, imploring party leaders to “consider potential alternative legislative proposals” in the coming days.
That could spell trouble for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and other Democratic leaders, who once hoped to advance the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act to the president’s desk using the chamber’s 50-vote reconciliation process.
In a brief letter dated Tuesday, Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (Fl.), Tom Carper (Del.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Jim Webb (Va.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) describe reform to the country’s “higher education funding” system as a “priority.” But the group…also express concerns the Senate’s lending bill could ultimately result in local job loss.
While the senators may be claiming that passing SAFRA would result in job losses in their states, the truth is that it would be minimal at worst. The fact is that only 30,000 people at most are employed in the student lending industry. And because the companies would still be in charge of servicing all the government issued loans, servicing jobs could actually increase. For example, “Nelnet (Ben Nelson’s biggest donor) saw their servicing revenues [increase] 13% in 2009 as a result of a contract they won to service student loans for the Department of Education.”
One way to avoid a filibuster by Republicans and lender-friendly Democrats is to pass SAFRA with the health care legislation in one reconciliation bill. The Hill reports that “a Democratic official familiar with negotiations” over the student lending bill has told them that the leadership has already decided to “pair [the] overhaul of student lending with healthcare reform,” although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office says “no final decision has been made.” Using reconciliation for a major education reform bill would hardly be without precedent. In 2007, the Senate passed the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 through the reconciliation process by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 79-12.
Ed Brayton writes (and thanks to the commenter who suggested that I read Brayton’s blog daily):
The incredible thing is that even after scandal after scandal, Blackwater (now Xe) is still being considered for and given huge contracts by the government. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan is trying to prevent that from happening again in Afghanistan:
A senior Senate Democrat said Thursday the Pentagon should consider barring Blackwater, now called Xe Services, from a new $1 billion deal to train Afghan police because of "serious questions" about the contractor’s conduct.
The comments by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin suggests thinning patience in Congress for the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on contractors on the battlefield.
And the activity that got them thrown out of Iraq — being trigger happy and killing civilians without provocation — continues in Afghanistan:
But the outsourcing has made it more difficult for military commanders to control what happens on the battlefield.
In one recent incident in Afghanistan, two contractors tied to Blackwater allegedly killed two Afghan civilians and injured a third. U.S. officials say the May 2009 shooting damaged relations with the local population.
The Pentagon is looking to award a $1 billion contract for training Afghan troops, a job that should be done by the military, not by mercenary companies out to make a buck.
Innocent Man Helped by Gitmo Bay Attorney — One of the Cases Liz Cheney Doesn’t Want You to Read About
Every so often, 42-year-old Fouad al-Rabiah took leave from his four kids and a longtime desk job at Kuwait Airways to help those less fortunate than him. In 1994 he did relief work in Bosnia. He spent part of 1998 working with the Red Cross in Kosovo. In 2000 he flew to Bangladesh, where he helped deliver dialysis fluid to hospitals. And in 2001, he traveled to Afghanistan, intending to provide humanitarian relief when he wound up in the custody of the United States military. In that chaotic year, our troops came across lots of foreigners in Afghanistan, some of them traveling abroad for entirely innocent reasons, others engaged in jihad against the American war effort.
It took until the summer of 2002 for Mr. al-Rabiah to be visited by a CIA analyst and Arabic expert. “He wasn’t a jihadi, but I told him he should have been arrested for stupidity,” the CIA agent told New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer in an interview. Ms. Mayer’s book The Dark Side goes on to explain that two National Security Council staffers — senior terrorism expert General John Gordon, and legal adviser John Bellinger — sought to brief President Bush about reports that an innocent man was being held at Guantanamo Bay. Before they could reach President Bush, however, they were intercepted by David Addington, legal counsel to vice-president Dick Cheney, who said, “No, there will be no review. The President has determined that they are ALL enemy combatants. We are not going to revisit it!”
It is worth revisiting Mr. al-Rabiah’s case as America debates whether lawyers who did pro-bono work for Gitmo detainees deserve praise or scorn. Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Marc Thiessen, and Andrew McCarthy are among the folks who argue the latter — all either helped air or defended a television advertisement calling the subset of these lawyers who now work in the Obama Justice Department “the al Qaeda seven.” In the New York Times, Mr. McCarthy wrote, “Only criminal defendants are entitled to counsel, and those who represent them do indeed perform a constitutionally valuable function. It has never been the law, however, that war prisoners are entitled to counsel to challenge their detention as enemy combatants.” He goes on to assert that “the lawyers chose to offer themselves, gratis, to our enemies for litigation the Constitution does not require. They did so knowing that this litigation would be harmful to the war effort.”
Orin Kerr, a law professor who blogs at The Volokh Conspiracy, has published a devastating take-down of Mr. McCarthy’s argument. It is worth reading in full. I’ll excerpt just one sentence: “McCarthy strangely overlooks the basic fact that much of the litigation for the Guantanamo detainees concerns whether they are in fact the enemy.” Even as an abstract argument, Professor Kerr’s point is persuasive, as are all parts of his rebuttal. But the wrongheadedness of the Cheney/Kristol/Thiessen/McCarthy view can be fully appreciated only by looking at how it played out in a particular case.
Thus Mr. al-Rabiah. It isn’t just that he was an innocent man thrown into Gitmo, or that he was held even after a CIA analyst concluded that he was innocent, or that National Security Council Staffers were aware of his innocence and actively trying to bring about a review of his detention — Mr. al-Rabiah’s case is apt because after the CIA’s 2002 determination of his innocence, he spent another seven years wrongly imprisoned, regaining his freedom and seeing his children only after retaining the help of American attorneys…
In early 2008, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM) published their Petition Project, a list of names from people who all claimed to be scientists and who rejected the science behind the theory of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming (AGW). This was an attempt to by the OISM to claim that there were far more scientists opposing AGW theory than there are supporting it. This so-called petition took on special importance coming after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, and specifically the Working Group 1 (WG1) report on the science and attribution of climate change to human civilization.
The WG1 report was authored and reviewed by approximately 2000 scientists with varying expertise in climate and related fields, and so having a list of over 30,000 scientists that rejected the WG1’s conclusions was a powerful meme that AGW skeptics and deniers could use to cast doubt on the IPCC’s conclusions and, indirectly, on the entire theory of climate disruption. And in fact, this meme has become widespread in both legacy and new media today.
It is also false.
According to the Petition Project “qualifications” page, “Signatories are approved for inclusion in the Petition Project list if they have obtained formal educational degrees at the level of Bachelor of Science or higher in appropriate scientific fields.” The fields that are considered “appropriate” by the OISM are as follows:
by David Shields
A review by Debra Gwartney
Somerset Maugham is said to have once announced: "There are three rules for writing a good novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." This is a quip contemporary writer David Shields might appreciate, feeling, as Shields does, that the literary novel’s relevance has passed.
The novel, which by its definition creates an artificial world, "has never seemed less central to the culture’s sense of itself," Shields writes. In his latest book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, Shields, author of three books of fiction and six books of nonfiction, waxes aplenty on the traditional novel’s demise ("unbelievably predictable, tired, contrived and essentially purposeless") while making clear his disappointment over nonfiction that strains too hard to seem "true" (all such prose is at least part fiction, is his claim).
The conventional memoir — in that it has a plot, scenes, a narrative structure — is sternly scrutinized. Yet, while Shields excoriates the literary forms most of us are accustomed to, he uses most of his book to celebrate and urge a prose that does its best to reflect current reality, via, for instance, the lyric essay and collage. A prose that rejects what he considers worn-out conventions.
On the face of it, Shields’ book seems best suited to those in or on the periphery of the literary establishment, including budding writers enrolled in the nation’s abundance of creative writing programs. Instead, the book reaches out to all thoughtful readers. By intertwining ideas of popular culture (including snippets of reality television, the James Frey debacle, etc.) with erudite quotes from Plutarch to Thomas Mann and many in between, Shields makes startling observations about the plight of a culture he considers desperate for reality in books and stories because we have so little of it ourselves.
Reality Hunger is a collection of wisdoms and aphorisms, some borrowed/stolen/appropriated from others, some written by Shields himself — which layer one upon the other to shimmer with an insistence on a literature that reflects modern life’s many complexities and contradictions. The book presents its arguments in the style of Pascal’s Pensees or Montaigne’s Essays, and is equally as scintillating — a thrill to many who’ll read this book, a poke in the eye to plenty of others.
Shields calls the book a "manifesto." …
Matt Yglesias highlights an important double standard: "sex scandals aren’t interesting when they involve Republicans."
Interestingly John Ensign, like David Vitter but unlike Elliot Spitzer or Eric Massa, hasn’t yet been driven from public life.
I continue to find the trend fascinating. Sen. John Ensign (R) of Nevada is caught in a truly humiliating sex scandal — and remember, the media generally loves political sex scandals — involving a shameless hypocrite, who ran on a "family-values" platform, committing adultery with one of his own aides, who happens to be married to another aide. The scandal involves the immediate affair, plus alleged ethics violations, hush money, and official corruption.
And yet, no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign’s home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace.
I know how tiresome it is to hear "imagine if a Democrat had done this," but in this case, it doesn’t take much imagination. Spitzer got caught in a sex scandal, and he was forced to resign. Massa’s controversy appears to relate to sexual harassment, and he was forced to resign. John Edwards hasn’t served in public office in any capacity for six years, and yet the interest in every imaginable detail of his sex scandal continues to get an enormous amount of attention.
Then consider the folks on the other side of the aisle. Ensign sex scandal, which appears to include possible criminal misconduct, hasn’t interfered with him remaining a Republican senator in good standing. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), another right-wing, "family-values" hypocrite, got caught with a prostitute. Not only did he stay in office, but he’s seeking re-election — and polls show him winning. Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R-S.C.) sex scandal got plenty of coverage, but note that he’s still the governor. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) found himself in a sex scandal, but like Vitter, he not only stayed in his job, but he’s running for another term, too. Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was caught up in an especially humiliating controversy, but he didn’t resign before the end of his term, either.
This is, by most measures, backwards. For decades, Republican candidates at every level have emphasized the GOP’s moral superiority on "family values." If you want to protect the "sanctity" of marriage, the argument went, it’s incumbent on you to vote Republican. There’s a culture war underway, Americans have been told, and Democrats just aren’t as reliable on these issues as the GOP.
Republicans, in other words, have demanded higher moral standards of all of us, while failing to meet these standards themselves — and failing to ostracize the guilty from their ranks.
It’s quite a racket, which the media encourages by playing along.
Watching how the drug cartels are penetrating the highest levels of some Central American governments, I can’t help wondering whether the nearly 40-year-old U.S. war on drugs has only helped push the drug barons from Colombia to Mexico and now from Mexico to Central America.
Are Washington’s drug interdiction programs really helping reduce the supply of drugs? Or are they just chasing the drug lords out of one country only to see them reemerge in another?
During a 48-hour visit here for a business conference, I turned on the television on my first night in town and learned that President Alvaro Colom had fired his top law enforcement official, Interior Minister Raúl Velásquez, in connection with an anti-corruption investigation.
Velásquez was the fourth interior minister who was fired since Colom took office in January 2008. Two of Valásquez’s predecessors had been sacked on charges of working for the drug cartels.
But that wasn’t all. Hours later, I learned that Colom had just fired the country’s police chief, Baltazar Gómez, and the head of his anti-drug unit in connection with the theft of 700 kilos of cocaine seized from drug traffickers last year.
Gómez’s predecessor, Porfirio Perez, was fired in September on charges of stealing $300,000 from drug traffickers. One of Perez’s most recent predecessors, Adán Castillo, was fired after being secretly taped accepting $25,000 from a DEA informant in 2005.
Drug trafficking is not new in Guatemala nor in most of its Central American neighbors.
But as the State Department conceded in its 2010 International Narcotics Strategy Report, released last week, it has boomed since Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched his U.S.-backed war on drugs three years ago.
From the Center for American Progress:
This week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) slammed the brakes on a Senate bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), objecting to a change in the House version of the bill that fixes an inequity in labor law that makes it more difficult for truck drivers at Memphis-based Federal Express to unionize than drivers at other shipping companies. Fellow Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) applauded Corker’s effort, pledging to "use every right or privilege I have as a senator to make sure that in the end of the process, the legislation does not include the unfair provisions singling out FedEx that’s in the House bill."
The senators’ effort to prevent what they call an "unfair" provision singling out FedEx labor workers is itself a contradiction because, as Jim Berard, a spokesman for House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) noted, the House language seeks to "treat people who have the same type of job equally under federal labor laws."
FedEx has successfully lobbied for years to remain classified as an airline subject to Railway Labor Act (RLA), a law that is technically supposed to apply only to airlines and railroad companies and stipulates that workers can’t form local unions. CEO Fred Smith — "who raised more than $100,000 for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and was George W. Bush’s fraternity brother" — defends this exception, adding, "I don’t intend to recognize any unions at Federal Express."
The language that Corker objects to would bring FedEx under the National Labor Relations Act like other shipping companies, such as UPS. Corker announced Wednesday that he will release his hold on the bill after receiving assurances from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that the FedEx provisions would not appear in the Senate bill.
I do not believe that Israel is interested in a stable peace. Rather Israel will continue to land-grab and fight the occasional war so long as they can—and they’re doing with US compliance and assistance. An email from the Center for American Progress:
This week, Vice President Biden arrived in the Middle East to attempt to restart peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. On Tuesday, shortly after he assured Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, "Every time progress is made, it’s been made when the rest of the world knows there’s no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security," the Israeli Interior Ministry announced plans "to build 1,600 new housing units for Jews" in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. In response, Biden issued an unusually strong statement: "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel." Jerusalem is an especially sensitive area; Israel insists that it will remain its "undivided" capital, but the Palestinians claim Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. A European Union investigation last year found that the Israeli government was "working deliberately to alter the city’s demographic balance and sever East Jerusalem from the West Bank." Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his position on Wednesday that he would not move forward with proposed peace talks with Israel unless settlements were halted. In an emergency meeting Wednesday, the Arab League "demanded that Israel reverse the East Jerusalem housing decision," but did not revoke its endorsement of proximity talks.
Tabac is one of the reliable shaving soaps: always a great, thick lather, this morning created with another of my powder-puff Omega Silvertips, totally soft and luxurious brushes that feel wonderful on the face. And, of course, the Omega Silvertips have no problem generating a great lather from a soap. The Gillette English Aristocrat with a Super Iridium blade did a great job, and a splash of Tabac sent me on my way.