Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Iraqi Army Training Video

I found this YouTube video through The Daily Kos:

A Halloween Trick-or-Treat: Maria and the Ghost Mice

I wrote this story out for my five-year-old niece, and she loved it. My five-year-old niece has a stuffed, black, kitten, who wears a witches' hat, that she loves for Halloween. She has named this kitten Maria. When I babysit her, we end up creating fun little stories about Maria, or any of the other hundred stuffed animals she has. Since Maria is a Halloween decoration, I came up with an wonderful little Halloween story titled Maria and the Ghost Mice. My niece loved the story. And so, I'll share it with you for a Happy Halloween.

Maria and the Ghost Mice
By Eric A Hopp

Once upon a time, there lived a little kitten named Maria. She was an all-black kitten with green eyes, orange whiskers, and a pointed witches’ cap. Maria’s mistress was an old witch, who lived in a creaky, deserted mansion in the outskirts of town.

Maria loved being a witches’ cat. Every day, she would go seek out the plant herbs and ingredients her mistress, the old witch, would need to make her potions and spells. After she gathered the herbs, Maria would then perform her favorite job—catching mice! Maria would prowl the rooms of the old mansion, using her senses to locate where the mice were. Then she would flatten her body against the floor, like coiled spring, and then pounce on the mice, catching them with her paws. Maria would then take the mice outside into the fields and release them, where they could live happily and eat the field grasses, rather than nibbling on the spell herbs inside the old witch’s pantry. Of course, there were other times that Maria would have little mouse snack between chases.

But Maria’s most favorite time was Halloween Night, when the old witch would invite her witches’ coven to the mansion for a Halloween party of celebration, spell casting, and scaring trick-or-treaters. “Now Maria,” the old witch said. “The mansion has been decorated in spider webs and jack-o-lanterns. The table has been set with Halloween treats and spell ingredients. I’m going out tonight to scare some trick-or-treaters.” Maria’s mistress pulled an old broomstick out of the closet. “But I’ll be back soon with all our witch friends, and together we’ll have a wonderful party. I want you to watch the house for me, and make sure that the mice don’t eat all our treats and spell ingredients. Can you do that for me?” Maria proudly gave an affirmative MEOW!

The old witch smiled, and then gave Maria a scratch behind her ears. “That’s a good kitty. Take care of the house for me. And watch out for the ghost mice—they can be very troublesome.” And with that, the old witch flew off into moonlit night on her broomstick.

Ghost mice? What are ghost mice? Maria wondered. With that, she began her patrol of the old mansion, looking for mice. But going through room after room in the old mansion, she couldn’t find any mice. That’s strange, Maria thought. The mice always wanted to come out of the field and live in the old mansion, where they could nibble on the food and the spell herbs. Maria strolled into the dining room, where the table was set with Halloween treats, spell ingredients, and a bubbling cauldron of apple cider.

Just then, Maria saw a shadow out of the corner of her eye. She crouched, and then slowly crept towards the shadow. Maria then discovered that the shadow formed into the shape of a gray mouse, which was oblivious to the stalking witches’ cat. Maria slightly wiggled in anticipation, and then pounced on the gray mouse—MEOW! Maria caught that gray mouse!

Or did she?

Maria looked down at her paws, and saw nothing. The mouse escaped! She looked around the room. Where did that gray mouse go? She looked back down at her paws. Slowly, a ghostly head rose up through her paws to look up at Maria—a ghostly head of a little gray mouse! The gray mouse laughed, “Hee! Hee! Hee! Silly kitty! You can’t catch us! You can’t catch us! For we are the ghost mice!”

And with the little taunt, the ghost mouse ran through Maria’s paws and across the dining room, with Maria in pursuit. Maria pounced again with the intention of trapping the little ghost mouse right at the wall. But then, the ghost mouse ran through the wall! BAM! Maria slammed her head right into the wall, where the ghost mouse ran through, bumping her nose! Maria rubbed her nose for a moment, and then looked around the room. Suddenly, she saw another ghostly gray mouse right by the dining room table. She ran towards the mouse, with every kitty intention of catching and eating that mouse. The ghostly gray mouse looked at Maria, waved, and then floated up into the air and on to the dining room table. The ghost mouse laughed, “Hee! Hee! Hee! Silly kitty! You can’t catch us! You can’t catch us! For we are the ghost mice!”

Maria was very angry. She promised her mistress that she would take care of the house and protect the Halloween treats from these mice. And now the mice were on the dining room table, about ready to eat those treats. Maria jumped up on the dining room table. She saw the ghost mouse sitting at the edge of the bubbling cauldron, cleaning his face. Maria crouched, and then pounced on the mouse—MEOW! The ghost mouse completely vanished in front of Maria’s eyes, as she flew towards the bubbling cauldron. WATCH OUT! Maria fell into the bubbling cauldron of apple cider! SPLASH! Quickly, the little black kitty jumped out of the cauldron and landed, sopping wet, on the dining room floor. Maria could see ghostly mice appearing all around her. “Silly kitty!” the ghost mice taunted. “Chase us! Catch us! Again! Again! Again!” The ghost mice danced around Maria. “We will wear you out! Out! Out!” Maria slammed her paw down on a ghost mouse, but her paw went straight through the dancing mouse’s body. The ghost mouse laughed, and then continued singing, “Wear you out! Out! Out! Then the brown mice can feast on Halloween treats!”

Maria sat in the circle of dancing ghost mice. “How can I catch a ghost mouse, when my paws go right through them?” she asked. Maria thought for a moment. “I can catch live mice with my paws because I’m alive, but I cannot catch ghost mice because they are ghosts. Perhaps there are ghost kittens that can catch ghost mice because they are ghosts! I must find the ghost kittens!” Maria ran out the dining room. The ghost mice cheered happily, “YES! We’ve driven the kitten away! Three cheers for the ghost mice!”

Maria ran out of the mansion, and into a small pet cemetery, located behind the old mansion. There, she found an incredible sight. Maria saw ghost cats and kittens chasing and pouncing little brown field mice that were running through the pet cemetery. “Help us!” the ghost cats cried. “The living, brown field mice are taunting us, as they dig into our graves. We can’t drive them back into the fields where they belong!”

Maria suddenly had an idea. “I will drive the living, brown field mice back into the fields, where they will not bother you. And in return, you can help me drive the ghost mice out of the mansion, and away from the Halloween treats.” The ghost cats agreed, “Yes! Yes! We’ll do it.” And so Maria chased the brown field mice away from the pet cemetery, and back into the fields, where they could continue to live and eat the field grasses. “And now,” Maria smiled. “Let’s get rid of some ghost mice.”

Back in the dining room, the ghost mice were still celebrating at how they drove the kitten away, when Maria walked back into the dining room, alone. “Hello again.” The ghost mice taunted. “Have you come back for some more punishment from us?”

Maria smiled, “Yes, I’ve come back,” she said. “And I’ve brought some new friends with me.” Suddenly, the ghost cats leaped through the dining room walls and surrounded the ghost mice.

The ghost mice shrieked. “It’s the ghost cats! Run away! Run away!” The ghost cats drove the ghost mice out of the old mansion, and back into the fields where they also belonged.

Maria thanked her ghost cat friends. “Now my mistress will come back with her witch friends, and we can have a wonderful Halloween party. Would you like to join our party?” The ghost cats agreed. And so for the rest of the night, Maria and the ghost cats celebrated Halloween with the witches.

The End.

State Dept. immunity deal to Blackwater hinders investigation

This is from The Washington Post:

The State Department said yesterday that it had provided "limited protections" to Blackwater Worldwide security guards under investigation in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians but insisted that its actions would not preclude successful prosecution of the contractors.

Signed statements the guards provided to State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 16 shooting deaths included what law enforcement officials said was a standard disclaimer used in "official administrative inquiries" involving government employees. It said that the statements were being offered with the understanding that nothing in them could be used "in a criminal proceeding."

New details about the "protections" given Blackwater contractors allegedly involved in the shootings sparked outrage from congressional Democrats yesterday, along with a flood of letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from committee chairmen demanding more information.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who heads the Judiciary Committee as well as the appropriations subcommittee overseeing State's budget, called the contractor issue the latest example of the Bush administration's refusal to hold anyone from "their team" accountable for misconduct or incompetence. "If you get caught," Leahy said in a statement, "they will get you immunity. If you get convicted, they will commute your sentence."


The decision to offer Blackwater guards protection from any use of their statements was made by State Department personnel in Baghdad without approval from Washington, sources said. Department lawyers subsequently determined that decades-old federal court rulings required such guarantees against self-incrimination for all government employees during internal investigations; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the protections also applied to federal contractors.

But the inability of State's own law enforcement branch to pursue a possible criminal case based on the Blackwater statements, as well growing controversy over the Sept. 16 shootings here and in Baghdad, led Rice early this month to ask the FBI to take over the investigation.

So the State Department officials in Baghdad give immunity protection to the Blackwater guards without getting any approval from Washington. And because of giving this immunity, now the State Department nor the FBI can prosecute these guards for breaking U.S. law in these shootings. The question I would have to ask here is who in the State Department can grant immunity from prosecution to these Blackwater guards? It appears to me like the State officials in Baghdad saw an old federal court ruling on immunity, and decided to use it without consulting with the State lawyers in Washington. And now the investigation into this Blackwater shooting in Iraq is completely screwed up.

I am just amazed at the incompetence and stupidity of this government.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Monday Schoolhouse Rocks--Them-Not-So-Dry-Bones

In celebration of Halloween, I think it is only appropriate that we learn about Them-Not-So-Dry-Bones. I mean, look at all the skeleton costumes and decorations in haunted houses we come across on that spooky day? Music and lyrics are by George Newall, and the song is performed by Jack Sheldon. From YouTube:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Home ownership declines in longest slide since 1981

This is off

Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Homeownership in the U.S. dropped for a fourth consecutive quarter, the longest decline since at least 1981, suggesting more Americans will miss their best chance of building wealth.

The proportion of households that own their residences fell to 68.1 percent in the July-September period from 68.3 percent in the prior three months, according to a report today from the Census Bureau in Washington, whose comparable records go back to 1981. The rate has been declining from a peak in 2004, which culminated a decade of gains fueled by easier lending standards and rising home purchases by immigrants and younger households.

``Owning a home in this country has been a principal source of wealth creation for low- and moderate-income people,'' said Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. ``In the absence of home equity, families will inevitably spend less.''


The Census Bureau report also found that a record 17.9 million U.S. homes stood empty in the third quarter as lenders took possession of a growing number of properties in foreclosure.

The figure is a 7.8 percent gain from a year ago, when 16.6 million properties were vacant, the Census Bureau said. About 2.07 million empty homes were for sale, compared with 1.94 million a year earlier, the report said.

Slowing residential construction has detracted from growth in gross domestic product for the last six quarters through June, shaving as much as 1.3 percentage point off growth in the third quarter of 2006, when the overall economy grew at just a 1.1 percent pace. Most economists forecast an extended construction drag on growth after credit tightened further in August amid subprime-market turmoil.

``If homeownership declines significantly, the implications for new-home sales could be dramatic,'' said Hatzius. With further weakness in sales, ``the drag from new-home building on GDP growth will last longer than most people have in their forecasts, perhaps, if things go badly, into 2009.''

Read this sentence again--The Census Bureau report also found that a record 17.9 million U.S. homes stood empty in the third quarter as lenders took possession of a growing number of properties in foreclosure. Is it any wonder that U.S. home ownership has had its longest slide since 1981? Subprime and predatory lending certainly fueled the increased demand in housing, and the rise in prices. The problem is that this speculation can only go so far--what goes boom, can certainly go bust. And with the increase in interest rates on the adjustable rate mortgages, those new American homeowners discovered they could not keep up with their increased mortgage payments, thus have been forced to foreclose on their homes. Banks are now stuck with a glut of empty homes on the market, where their values have been dropping below what the banks have lent out for mortgages--look at how the bank and mortgage companies are reporting big loses. Countrywide Financial reported a $1.2 billion dollar loss. Merrill Lynch reported a $7.9 billion dollar write-down. Washington Mutual reported its third-quarter profit shrank by 72 percent, and Citygroup suffered a 57 percent drop in third quarter profits as they took a $3 billion hit in losses. All of these loses are the result of the mortgage mess. And we're still not out of this housing mess.

State Department to order diplomats to Iraq

This is off The Washington Post:

The State Department will order as many as 50 U.S. diplomats to take posts in Iraq next year because of expected shortfalls in filling openings there, the first such large-scale forced assignment since the Vietnam War.

On Monday, 200 to 300 employees will be notified of their selection as "prime candidates" for 50 open positions in Iraq, said Harry K. Thomas, director general of the Foreign Service. Some are expected to respond by volunteering, he said. However, if an insufficient number volunteers by Nov. 12, a department panel will determine which ones will be ordered to report to the Baghdad embassy next summer.

"If people say they want to go to Iraq, we will take them," Thomas said in an interview. But "we have to move now, because we can't hold up the process." Those on the list were selected by factors including grade, specialty and language skill, as well as "people who have not had a recent hardship tour," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice previewed a possible shortfall in June, when she ordered that positions in Iraq be filled before any other openings at the State Department headquarters in Washington or abroad are available. At the time, Rice said it was her "fervent hope" that sufficient numbers would continue to volunteer. Her order followed a request by Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker in Baghdad for an increase in the number and quality of economic and political officers.

Carpetbagger nails this story in that no one wants to go to Iraq. and that they really don’t want to be forced to go to Iraq. Iraq is a complete disaster. There is still continued ethnic violence taking place between the Shiites and Sunnis, Turkey is threatening to move into northern Iraq to take out Kurdish guerrillas, and the Bush administration seems intent on starting a third war with Iran. Is it no wonder that career foreign service officials are balking at going to Iraq, considering the utter failure of this PNAC neocon Bush administration and its failed Iraq foreign policy?

The real political damage here will be a mass of State Department resignations, if the Bush administration attempts to force these diplomats to go to Iraq. We could see a complete gutting of the State Department as both career officials decide it is not worth continuing to work there, and young graduates decide not to join the diplomatic corps, due to the incompetence of this administration. And if we do have a mass of State Department resignations over the last year of this second Bush term, I seriously wonder if the gutting will continue into 2009 if the Republicans keep control of the White House.

Merril Lynch CEO paid $159 million for losing $8.4 billion on subprime mortgage losses

This is how you reward failure for CEOs. From The New York Times:

Merrill Lynch’s directors may be weighing E. Stanley O’Neal’s future, but one thing is already guaranteed: a payday of at least $159 million if he steps down.

Mr. O’Neal, the company’s chairman and chief executive, is entitled to $30 million in retirement benefits as well as $129 million in stock and option holdings, according to an analysis by James F. Reda & Associates using yesterday’s share price of $66.09. That would be on top of the roughly $160 million he took home in his nearly five years on the job.

Under Mr. O’Neal, Merrill moved aggressively into lucrative businesses like the packaging of subprime mortgages and other complex debt securities. That led to a string of blow-out quarters — and blow-out paydays. Last year, Mr. O’Neal’s $46.4 million pay package made him Wall Street’s second-highest paid chief executive, behind Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, who was paid $54.3 million, according to Equilar research.

But those big bets appeared to go bust this week. Merrill announced an $8.4 billion write-down, raising questions about whether Mr. O’Neal will keep his job. One thing that he surely will hold onto, though, are the giant paychecks he has collected.

“I lay the blame at the foot of the board,” Frederick E. Rowe Jr., a money manager and president of Investors for Director Accountability. “He was paid a tremendous amount of money to create a loss that is mind-boggling, and he obviously took risks that should never have been taken.”

FEMA holds fake press conference

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in the Twilight Zone here. This is from The Washington Post:

FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing.

Reporters were given only 15 minutes' notice of the briefing, making it unlikely many could show up at FEMA's Southwest D.C. offices.

They were given an 800 number to call in, though it was a "listen only" line, the notice said -- no questions. Parts of the briefing were carried live on Fox News (see the Fox News video of the news conference carried on the Think Progress Web site), MSNBC and other outlets.

Johnson stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before saying he would take a few questions. The first questions were about the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.

He was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case, he appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked an oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by the president. He once again explained smoothly.


"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" a reporter asked. Another asked about "lessons learned from Katrina."

"I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far," Johnson said, hailing "a very smoothly, very efficiently performing team."

"And so I think what you're really seeing here is the benefit of experience, the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good partnership," Johnson said, "none of which were present in Katrina." (Wasn't Michael Chertoff DHS chief then?) Very smooth, very professional. But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.

You can watch the YouTube video of the Fake-FEMA press conference here:

I'm dumbfounded by this. The first question I would have to ask is why did FEMA even create this dog-and-pony show in the first place? Granted, the southern California wildfires were some of the worst I've seen, but I didn't see a reason yet for FEMA to perform a disastrous CYA like this fake press conference. I didn't see the news media showing appalling conditions of people living in shelters with no food or water, like we've seen in the first few days after Katrina. That is not to say that FEMA did an excellent job here in the Southern California wildfires, nor is it to say that FEMA screwed up here. What amazes me here is that FEMA would be so scared of screwing up the disaster response to the wildfires, that they would screw up in creating this fake news conference, rather than just doing the job that they were suppose to do in the first place--respond to the disaster! It is like the Bush administration's incessant desire to PR-manage everything has filtered down into FEMA here. Hence, FEMA announces a press conference with only 15 minutes advanced notice, and then staffs the press conference with their own employees playing reporters, when the real reporters were unable to show up. FEMA would have been better off just issuing a press release, and left it at that.

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Scooby Doo in A Night of Fright is No Delight

For today's Saturday Morning Cartoons, I thought it would be fun to play a classic Scooby Doo scare cartoon, A Night of Fright is No Delight. In order to receive an inheritance, Scooby and the gang must spend the night in a mansion, haunted by two chain-rattling, green ghosts. From YouTube in two parts. Watch out for the scary goldfish.

Part One:

Part Two:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Craig to argue sex sting law is unconstitutional

I'm not sure what to say about this Minneapolis Star-Tribune story:

Sen. Larry Craig will argue before an appeals court that Minnesota's disorderly conduct law is unconstitutional as it applies to his conviction in a bathroom sex sting, according to a new court filing.

This is the first time Craig's attorneys have raised that issue. However, an earlier friend-of-the-court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that Craig's foot-tapping and hand gesture under a stall divider at the Minneapolis airport are protected by the First Amendment.

Craig has been trying to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct. A judge turned him down earlier this month, and now Craig is taking his request to the state Court of Appeals. The Republican at one point said he would resign but now says he will will finish his term, in January 2009.

Craig's legal arguments are previewed in a "statement of the case" filed late Thursday. In addition to the constitutional argument, it says the judge erred by not allowing Craig to withdraw his plea, and that the judge who sentenced Craig to a fine and probation never signed anything saying he accepted the guilty plea.

Craig was arrested in June by an undercover police officer who said the senator moved his foot next to the officer's foot and tapped it in a way that indicated he wanted sex. He was also accused of sending a signal by swiping his hand under the divider between the stalls. Craig said the officer misconstrued those motions.

Craig's attorneys are due to file formal briefs on the matter by mid-December, and they asked to make an oral argument before the appeals court judges in St. Paul. No hearing has been scheduled.

I find especially ironic that Craig is siding with the ACLU in arguing that foot tapping in an airport men's room is protected under the First Amendment free speech. That is not to say that I either agree or disagree with Craig here--I just find this story incredibly funny. Also, check out the comments on this story at TPM Election Central--they are great to read.

Lock of "Che's" hair sold at Dallas auction

A lock of revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara's hair sits next to photos of Guevara's dead body and fingerprints taken after his death at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas,Texas October 25, 2007. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Today's Friday Fun Stuff is very weird. From Yahoo News:

DALLAS (Reuters) - A lock of socialist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara's hair and related items were auctioned on Thursday in Dallas to a Houston-area bookstore owner for the very capitalist sum of $119,500 (52,000 pounds).

The curious collection had belonged to Gustavo Villoldo, 71, a former CIA operative who helped hunt Guevara down in the jungles of Bolivia in 1967 and who claims he cut off the lock before burying the guerrilla fighter with two of his comrades.

There was media speculation that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leftist who greatly admires the iconic Guevara, would bid for the items.

In the end, it went to Houston-based Bill Butler.

"Butler ... is thrilled to own items from Che (and) will display them in his store," said Kelley Norwine, vice president of marketing for Heritage Auction Galleries, which auctioned the mementos.

The auction house said the hair could provide DNA proof that the remains of Guevara -- affectionately known by his admirers as "Che" -- are in Cuba, where he is venerated as a hero of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power five decades ago.

Then 39, the bearded rebel was captured by CIA-backed Bolivian soldiers on October 8, 1967 and shot dead the next day in a schoolhouse. Some remains believed to be his were dug up decades later and taken to Cuba.

"This may be the only DNA that could prove that Castro has his body. Gustavo helped bury Che and he claims there were only two other bodies with his corpse," Norwine told Reuters shortly before the auction, as she pointed to the dark lock of hair sealed in a plastic envelope in a glass display case.

"But when the remains said to be his were dug up and taken to Cuba there were six other bodies in the grave," she said, adding that Villoldo claimed to know the precise location of his grave because he wrote down the coordinates.

The hair was auctioned with a few related items to Butler in one batch.

A scrapbook containing what Heritage says are previously unpublished photos of the dead guerrilla went with the hair. One shows a group of rag-tag soldiers brandishing rifles and standing proudly around his corpse like hunters posing with a trophy. Others show his corpse propped up, eyes wide open.

A hand-written note from one of Che's comrades-in-arms to the guerrilla leader saying he had reached an undisclosed location and awaited further orders was also sold.

Heritage had tightened security after receiving threatening e-mails from groups in Argentina, Guevara's home country, protesting the sale.

Guevera has came to symbolize rebel chic with his likeness emblazoned on countless T-shirts and buttons. But many of his left-wing admirers are uncomfortable with what they see as the commercial exploitation of his legacy.

Conservatives on the other hand see red at the pop-star status accorded a man they see as a ruthless communist killer.

Norwine said Heritage Auction Galleries has auctioned off hair before including strands from the heads of Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

Who would spend $119,500 for Che Guevera's hair? I wonder how Che would feel, knowing that a lock of his hair was sold at a very capitalistic price, or that it will be displayed in a bookstore? Then again, maybe his lock of hair will inspire a communist revolution here?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Strike on Iran would cause "all hell to break loose" in world oil markets

This is off The Washington Post:

A U.S. military strike against Iran would have dire consequences in petroleum markets, say a variety of oil industry experts, many of whom think the prospect of pandemonium in those markets makes U.S. military action unlikely despite escalating economic sanctions imposed by the Bush administration.

The small amount of excess oil production capacity worldwide would provide an insufficient cushion if armed conflict disrupted supplies, oil experts say, and petroleum prices would skyrocket. Moreover, a wounded or angry Iran could easily retaliate against oil facilities from southern Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz.

Oil prices closed at a record $90.46 a barrel in New York yesterday as the Bush administration tightened U.S. financial sanctions on Iran over its alleged support for terrorism and issued new warnings about Tehran's nuclear program. Tension between Turkey and Kurds in northern Iraq, and fresh doubts about OPEC output levels also helped drive the price of oil up $3.36 a barrel, or 3.8 percent.

Oil traders said that even if the chances of military conflict with Iran were small, the huge run-up in oil prices that would result encourages some speculators and investment funds to bid up the price of oil, adding a premium of $3 to $15 a barrel.

"It will be chaos. . . . I can't really see it," said Abdulsamad al-Awadi, an oil trading consultant and former executive at Kuwait Petroleum. "Having been in the marketplace for almost 30 years, I can't see a scenario for it. Or precautionary measures [that oil companies could take]. There are no precautionary measures."

"If war breaks out, anticipate that all hell will break loose in the oil markets," said Robin West, chairman of PFC Energy, a Washington oil consulting firm.

There is not much else to say here, except that a U.S. strike on Iran would certainly cause oil prices to spike well above $100 a barrel--perhaps $110 to $120 a barrel. And along with oil prices, you can expect gas prices to spike as well. The scary thing here is that we've got Vice President Dick Cheney practically demanding a U.S. strike against Iran:

Although the Bush administration is not openly threatening a military strike against Iran, the president recently spoke of needing to avoid "World War III," and Vice President Cheney said that the United States would "not stand by" while Iran continued its nuclear program. "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said. Yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Bush is "committed to a diplomatic course on Iran," but she added that U.S. patience is "not limitless and allies need to know that."

"These crises have a habit of bursting on the scene and leading to unforeseen places," [Deputy executive director and chief economist of the Center for Global Energy Studies Leo] Drollas said. "Everyone wants it not to happen, but it's like a crash happening slowly. You can see the two cars coming toward each other . . . There's an inevitability about it."

Daily Headliners--House passes revised S-CHIP, Giuliani on torture, Bush aids say Iran sanctions used to stop war,

I've been a little busy the last couple of days, so I haven't had a chance to blog. Here are some more Daily Headliners.

House passes revised S-CHIP bill: Well, the House of Representatives has passed a revised version of the S-CHIP children's health insurance bill. From MSNBC News;

WASHINGTON - The House passed a revised children's health proposal Thursday, but not by the two-thirds margin that supporters will need if President Bush vetoes the measure as promised.

The 265-142 vote was a victory for Bush and his allies, who urged House Republicans to reject Democrats' claims that changes to the legislation had met their chief concerns. If the same vote occurs on a veto override attempt, Bush will prevail, as he did earlier this month when he vetoed a similar bill.

Liberal groups continue to run attack ads against Republicans siding with Bush on the issue, which many Democrats consider a winner for their party.

Democratic leaders said changes to the bill, which would add $35 billion to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, had addressed critics' concerns about participation by adults, illegal immigrants and families able to afford health insurance. But GOP leaders called the changes insignificant and politically motivated.

The first thing I would have to note is how MSNBC is calling this story a victory for the Bush administration. I'm not sure if it is a victory yet for the Bush White House. First, you need to remember this October 17, 2007 CBS News story reporting that 80 percent of Americans support this S-CHIP expansion program. Republicans, who are goose-stepping with the Bush administration in opposing the S-CHIP bill, will again feel the political pressure of attack ads for going against the American public on this bill. And it is a serious problem for these Republican congressmen. By continuing to support the Bush White House on this children's insurance program, these GOP congressmen are threatening their own political careers as their opposition, and votes, become ammunition for Democratic candidates attacking them in the 2008 election. Second, the Democrats are going to continue introducing revisions of this bill, again and again. The more that these GOP congressmen vote against the S-CHIP bill, the greater the voting record that can be used against them in the elections. It is a situation where the Republicans are giving President Bush a tactical victory, but at what strategic cost? What is the cost of Republican seats going to be in 2008, as this issue becomes an election issue?

Giuliani on torture: This is through The New York Times;

DAVENPORT, Iowa — At a town hall meeting here last night, Rudolph W. Giuliani expanded upon his views of torture. Here is a transcript of the exchange.

Linda Gustitus, who is the president of a group called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, began her question by saying that President Bush’s nominee for attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey (who happens to be an old friend of Mr. Giuliani’s) had “fudged” on the question of whether waterboarding is torture.

“I wanted to ask you two questions,’’ she said. “One, do you think waterboarding is torture? And two, do you think the president can order something like waterboarding even though it’s against U.S. and international law?’’

Mr. Giuliani responded: “O.K. First of all, I don’t believe the attorney general designate in any way was unclear on torture. I think Democrats said that; I don’t think he was.’’

Ms. Gustitus said: “He said he didn’t know if waterboarding is torture.”

Mr. Giuliani said: “Well, I’m not sure it is either. I’m not sure it is either. It depends on how it’s done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it. I think the way it’s been defined in the media, it shouldn’t be done. The way in which they have described it, particularly in the liberal media. So I would say, if that’s the description of it, then I can agree, that it shouldn’t be done. But I have to see what the real description of it is. Because I’ve learned something being in public life as long as I have. And I hate to shock anybody with this, but the newspapers don’t always describe it accurately.”(Applause)

This is just sheer lunacy. Rudy Giuliani is saying that he doesn't know if waterboarding is torture, or even if the "liberal media" can be trusted to define what constitutes torture. So the question I would have to pose is specifically who defines torture? The Bush White House?

Further into the statement, Giuliani continues, saying:

“Now, on the question of torture. We should not torture. America should not stand for torture, America should not allow torture. But America should engage in aggressive questioning of Islamic terrorists who are arrested or who are apprehended. Because if we don’t we leave ourselves open to significant attack.”

“And the line between the two is very delicate and very difficult. But we can’t abandon aggressive questioning of people who are intent on coming here to kill us. Or killing us overseas. I think that that’s the point that the attorney general designate was trying to make.”

“And the powers of the president are pretty significant in protecting the national security of the United States. They always have been. So I think what he was also trying to do was protect the powers of the United States to deal with unforeseen circumstances like the hypothetical we were asked during one debate – I’ve forgotten which one: If there was a terrorist attack on an American city, and it was clear that there were all going to be additional attacks, some of them were going to be nuclear, and they were planned for the next couple of days and one of the people involved in it was arrested, and the head of the C.I.A. came to you and said we have to do certain things to get the information from him, would you authorize it? And I think most of us answered it, yes we would, we would authorize doing whatever we thought was the most effective to get that information.”

“The president has to have that kind of leeway. We’ve got to trust our president well enough to allow that. If we surround this so much with procedure, we’re going to have some unforeseen circumstance in which a president’s not going to feel comfortable making the right decision, particularly if you have the wrong person there. “

What Giuliani is saying here is that the president can define what torture is, when and how to use it. Giuliani never specifically answers whether waterboarding is torture or not--he simply claims he doesn't know if waterboarding is defined as torture. What is more, by parsing both his I-don't-know answer with his hypothetical terrorist-attack-and-we-must-use-torture-to-stop-it, Giuliani is really saying that he supports the Bush administration's use of torture, even as he publicly states that America should not use torture. It is complete insanity.

Iran Sanctions Are Meant to Prevent War, Bush Aides Say: The insanity continues on. This is from The Washington Post;

In approving far-reaching, new unilateral sanctions against Iran, President Bush signaled yesterday that he intends to pursue a strategy of gradually escalating financial, diplomatic and political pressure on Tehran, aimed not at starting a new war in the Middle East, his advisers said, but at preventing one.

Bush believes Tehran will not seriously discuss limiting its nuclear ambitions or pulling back from its involvement in Iraq unless it experiences significantly more pressure than the United States and the international community have been able to exert so far, according to administration officials and others familiar with the president's thinking.

With yesterday's actions, which included the long-awaited designations of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and of the elite Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism, Bush made clear that he is willing to seek such leverage even without the support of his European allies.

"The president does not want to be stuck -- and doesn't want his successor to be stuck -- between two bad choices: living with an Iranian nuclear weapon or using military force to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons," said Peter D. Feaver, who recently left a staff position on the National Security Council. "He is looking for a viable third way, negotiations backed up by carrots and sticks, that could resolve the Iranian nuclear file on his watch or, failing that, offer a reasonable prospect of doing so on his successor's watch."

Even so, the administration's actions yesterday immediately rekindled fears among Democrats and other countries that the administration is on a path toward war. Bush's charged rhetoric in recent months, including a warning that Iran could trigger a "nuclear holocaust," and his close consultations with hard-liners -- such as former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz -- have led many outside the White House to conclude that the president will order airstrikes to eliminate any Iranian nuclear capability.

The WaPost story reports that these new sanctions the Bush administration is imposing will be the first time that the U.S. "has tried to punish another country's military," and is "the broadest set of punitive measures" imposed on Iran since the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. These punitive measures consists of a call for countries and companies to stop doing business with three Iranian banks. Russia and China are balking at approving these new sanctions until two new reports on Iran's nuclear program are submitted to the United Nations next month by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union. I'm guessing that the Bush administration doesn't want to wait until the results of these reports are published, since their conclusions may cause cracks in administration's arguments that Iran is building nuclear weapons, and must be stopped now. Why do I get the feeling that I'm looking at the same playbook that the Bush administration used to market the U.S. war with Iraq?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Daily Headliners--Bush at 25 % approval rating, Bush wants $46 billion more for Iraq, NASA buries airport safety survey

Here are today's Daily Headliners for you to chew on.

George W. Bush's job approval rating drops to 25 percent: I found this America Research Group poll through Americablog, and I find it rather interesting. From The America Research Group;

George W. Bush's overall job approval rating has dropped to 25% as nearly seven in ten Americans say the national economy is getting worse according to the latest survey from the American Research Group. This matches the lowest approval rating for Bush recorded by the American Research Group.

Among all Americans, 25% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 67% disapprove. When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 23% approve and 67% disapprove.

Among Americans registered to vote, 26% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 67% disapprove. When it comes to the way Bush is handling the economy, 25% of registered voters approve of the way Bush is handling the economy and 67% disapprove.

Approval among Republicans has dropped back to 67%. In September, 80% of Republicans approved of the way Bush was handling his job. In August, 66% of Republicans approved of the way Bush was handling his job.

The results presented here are based on 1,100 completed telephone interviews conducted among a nationwide random sample of adults 18 years and older. The interviews were completed October 18 through 21, 2007. The theoretical margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, 95% of the time, on questions where opinion is evenly split.

Overall, 25% of Americans say that they approve of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president, 67% disapprove, and 8% are undecided.

When you consider that the current Zogby poll rates President Bush's job approval rating at 24 percent, I'm thinking that we are finally getting down to Bush's base of support of around 25 percent approval rating, with a margin of error at around +- 3 percent. I'm not sure that President Bush's poll results will get any lower than this, but considering the incompetence of this administration, it wouldn't be too surprising.

Bush wants $46 billion more to fund the Iraq war: And President Bush vetoed the $30 billion S-CHIP children's health insurance bill. I guess we know where the president's priorities are--kill more Iraqis, while denying poor American children health insurance. From MSNBC News;

WASHINGTON - President Bush asked Congress on Monday for another $46 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and finance other national security needs.

"We must provide our troops with the help and support they need to get the job done," Bush said in comments a month after his Pentagon chief made the same appeal before lawmakers.

The figure brings to $196.4 billion the total requested by the administration for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for the budget year that started Oct. 1. It includes $189.3 billion for the Defense Department, $6.9 billion for the State Department and $200 million for other agencies.

To date, Congress has already provided more than $455 billion for the Iraq war, with stepped-up military operations running about $10 billion a month. The war has claimed the lives of more than 3,830 members of the U.S. military and more than 73,000 Iraqi civilians.

What can I say? President Bush prefers war over the health of American children.

NASA sits on air safety survey: I found this off;

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. --An unprecedented national survey of pilots by the U.S. government has found that safety problems like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than previously recognized. But the government is withholding the information, fearful it would upset air travelers and hurt airline profits.

NASA gathered the information under an $8.5 million federal safety project, through telephone interviews with roughly 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots over nearly four years. Since shutting down the project more than one year ago, the space agency has refused to divulge its survey data publicly.

After The Associated Press disclosed details Monday about the survey and efforts to keep its results secret, NASA's chief said he will reconsider how much of the survey findings can be made public.

"NASA should focus on how we can provide information to the public, not on how we can withhold it," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said in a statement. He said the agency's research and data "should be widely available and subject to review and scrutiny."

Last week, NASA ordered the contractor that conducted the survey to purge all related data from its computers. Congress on Monday announced a formal investigation of the pilot survey and instructed NASA to halt any destruction of records. Griffin said he already was ordering that all survey data be preserved.

The AP learned about the NASA results from one person familiar with the survey who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss them.

A senior NASA official, associate administrator Thomas S. Luedtke, said earlier that revealing the findings could damage the public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits. Luedtke acknowledged that the survey results "present a comprehensive picture of certain aspects of the U.S. commercial aviation industry."

The AP sought to obtain the survey data over 14 months under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

"Release of the requested data, which are sensitive and safety-related, could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey," Luedtke wrote in a final denial letter to the AP. NASA also cited pilot confidentiality as a reason, although no airlines were identified in the survey, nor were the identities of pilots, all of whom were promised anonymity.

Reread this story again. NASA conducts an $8.5 million dollar safety survey of the airlines, and now that NASA doesn't like the results of the safety survey, they destroy the data so that the American public will not lose confidence in the airlines. In other words, NASA is placing the airlines' greed for profits above the safety of American citizens.

Disgusting. But what do you expect with a Bush-politicized NASA?

Monday Schoolhouse Rocks--Little Twelvetoes

This Monday Schoolhouse Rocks song will certainly make your head spin. Say hello to Little Twelvetoes, or the duodecimal (base-12) numbering system. The duodecimal system is a numeral system that uses the number 12 as its base, rather than the decimal (base-10) numbering system that we use all the time. I'll admit that the duodecimal system can get a little complicated here, but this Schoolhouse Rock song does give you a little introduction to this numbering system. And the song is pretty cool. Music, lyrics and performance is by Bob Dorough. From YouTube:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Canned Feud

This is a classic Warner Brothers cartoon. Canned Feud is a 1951 Friz Freleng cartoon, where Sylvester the Cat is locked away in the house while the family goes on vacation, and there is nothing to eat. Going frantically through the kitchen, Sylvester discovers a cabinet full of canned tuna, but there is no can opener. It turns out that a small mouse has the only can opener, and taunts Sylvester with it. The rest of the cartoon is about Sylvester first trying to open a tuna can without the can opener, and then trying to get the can opener away from the mouse. The beauty of this cartoon is that your sympathies lie with Sylvester here. In the Tweety/Sylvester cartoons, Sylvester is the antagonist, where Sylvester first initiates the chase of Tweety in the hope of catching and eating Tweety. Here the mouse is the antagonist in taking the can opener and taunting Sylvester for no reason at all--just pure spite. And at the end of the cartoon, the antagonistic mouse still wins over Sylvester. It is a brilliant twist of the cat-chases-mouse theme, especially with the Tom and Jerry cartoons that were also produced at that time.

So here is Canned Feud. From YouTube:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dow drops more than 360 points

This is off The New York Times:

Stocks plunged today to their lowest level in a month, with the Dow Jones industrials dropping more than 360 points.

The steep decline culminates a week in which the market was hit repeatedly with poor earnings reports. The trend did not let up today: lowered profits and reduced forecasts from Wachovia Bank and Caterpillar, the big machinery manufacturer, set off the downturn soon after the opening bell.

The Dow, which recorded its worst week since late July, has fallen more than 4 percent from the all-time high it set just 10 days ago. The benchmark index closed at 13,522.02, down 366.94, or 2.6 percent. All 30 of the Dow’s components declined. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the Nasdaq composite were showing comparable declines.

It was the worst one-day loss for the Dow since Aug. 9, when the average closed down 387.18.

“We’re like a bunch of adolescents right now,” said Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds, of his fellow investors. “Last week we got some good news and we’re happy. Now we’re all sullen and down in the dumps.”

And I would say that the reason for this big Dow drop can be found here:

Wachovia reported a 10 percent decline in third-quarter income after writing down $1.3 billion in loans and investments related to mortgage-backed securities.

Wachovia’s report came after Bank of America’s announcement on Thursday that its third-quarter earnings plunged 32 percent, including heavy losses in its consumer banking division, the largest among the big brokerage firms. Bank of America joined with Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase earlier this week in creating an ambitious fund intended to stave off further problems in beleaguered credit markets, though investors have appeared ambivalent on the idea.

Again, we go back to the mortgage meltdown, where we're seeing increases in home forclosures as Americans are unable to pay their adjustable rate mortgages. The mess is now snowballing into the big banks, as they are trying to figure out how much they've lost packaging these loans into worthless securities. And I don't think that the banks fully understand this mess, or have revealed the extent of their losses as this mortgage mess slowly moves through the U.S. economy. There will be more uncertainty in the future.

Martinez resigns as RNC Chairman

This is off The New York Times:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mel Martinez, the public face of the Republican National Committee as its general chairman, announced Friday he was stepping down from his post after serving only 10 months.

''I believe that our future as a party and nation is bright and I have every intention of continuing to fight for our president, our party and our candidates,'' the Florida senator said in a statement.

His resignation came months earlier than anticipated. Martinez wasn't expected to step down until a Republican presidential nominee was selected, and the earliest that could occur is February.

The RNC said Martinez' job would not be filled.

Martinez, a prominent Cuban-American who is up for re-election in 2010, said he was relinquishing the job to spend more time focusing on his Florida constituents. He also said the RNC had achieved the objective he set when he assumed the job in January.

''It was my goal as general chairman to lead the party as it established the structure and raised the resources necessary to support our presidential candidate and ensure Republican victories next November. I believe we have accomplished those goals,'' Martinez said.

This is a rather surprising story. The big question I would have to ask here on Martinez's resignation is why? The NY Times story gives the reason of Martinez wanting "to spend more time focusing on his Florida constituents." According to the Times:

Several Republicans with close ties to the RNC said Martinez needed to focus on retaining his seat in Florida, where his job approval rating has fallen. A Quinnipiac University poll in September found that 38 percent of those surveyed said they approved of the job he was doing, down from 48 percent in February.

The problem I have with this excuse is that Martinez's re-election is in 2010--that is three years away. Martinez only had to stay on the RNC chairman's job until a new Republican presidential candidate was selected, which would probably occur between February-May 2008--say around three-to-six months or so. And yet, Martinez is stepping down after 10 months on the job. There is another reason here.

And I think the NY Times only got the reason half right:

In addition, Republican officials say Martinez had grown frustrated with juggling his two jobs.

The first-term senator was brought on to be the face of the party, focusing on fundraising, outreach and travel to promote the GOP agenda.

Martinez was certainly juggling two jobs, but one of those jobs was almost impossible to perform. Martinez had an impossible task to carry out as chairman of the GOP. Martinez is forced to deal with Republican President George W. Bush's own selfish attitude and the desire for Bush to salvage his own failed legacy by continuing to send the Republican Party, and the country, down a cliff. The face of the Republican Party is George Bush. And the continued disastrous actions, the war, and the Bush White House scandals, continue to reflect a very negative image on the Republican Party--regardless of who the chairman is. President Bush has shown himself to place his own selfish interests above that of the Republican Party--the S-CHIP veto is a perfect example of this. There is just now way that Martinez can go out to Americans and sell the GOP agenda, when Americans are watching just how the GOP agenda is destroying the country through the Bush White House.

This brings up a second problem for Martinez--the 2008 presidential election. The 2008 presidential election is now a referendum of the Bush administration's agenda. And the GOP base is not especially energized in supporting their candidates. The current Republican presidential candidates have mainly been Bush-lite candidates. None of the front tier candidates have really attacked President Bush on the issues, but instead have either tacitly supported the Bush administration, or have distanced themselves from Bush. Again, Martinez can't place a new face on the Republican Party, because the front-tier candidates are positioning themselves to solicit support from the 30 percent hard-core conservative base, who loves Bush, while ignoring the two-thirds of the rest of the country that is opposed to Bush, and would have serious questions with these GOP candidates in the general election. There is even some serious fractures taking place within the GOP, where James Dobson is threatening to pull his evangelical Christian voters out to support a third-party candidate if the Republican Party nominates Rudy Giuliani, who was considered pro-abortion. This fracture of the Religious Right over selecting a pro-abortion candidate is also causing headaches for Martinez is selling the GOP to voters.

So in the ten months that Martinez has been on this job as the Republican chairman, I think he may have realized that there is no way he could promote the GOP agenda, and get Americans excited on voting Republican because of the current situation the Republican Party finds itself in when the Party entwined itself with George W. Bush. In fact, I don't think there is anyone who can sell the Republican Party after eight years of disaster by President Bush. Martinez may have also realized this, and decided that the Republican chairman's job wasn't worth the crap he may have had to deal with, outside of his own reach. So why bother staying around until a stale-new Republican candidate is nominated, who may not be able to energize the GOP base, and will probably lose to a Democratic candidate? It may not have been worth it. So Martinez decides to quit the chairman's job, and go back to working full time in the Senate, where he could wash his hands of the Bush and GOP disaster.

Dodd threatens to filibuster telecom immunity bill

The stakes just got a little higher regarding the telecom immunity bill. Senator Chris Dodd is now threatening to filibuster the telecom immunity bill if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brings the bill to a floor vote. Here's the story through TPM Election Central:

Amping up his efforts to block the Senate FISA bill containing retroactive immunity for the telecom companies, Senator Chris Dodd's campaign says that he will filibuster the measure if the Dem Senate leadership tries to circumvent the hold he plans to put on the bill.

The Dodd campaign will reveal his plans to filibuster the measure in an email being sent out to supporters by the campaign's Web guru, Tim Tagaris. Election Central obtained an advance copy of the email.

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

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

And here is the video of Senator Dodd reiterating his filibuster threat:

Senator Chris Dodd played his cards rather brilliantly here. Dodd realized the disconnect between the anger of Democratic Party's liberal and progressive wing against this telecom immunity bill, and the ignorance of the top Democratic congressional leadership in trying to quietly pass this bill. By opposing the telecom immunity bill, Dodd has caused some major political shifts here. First, Dodd is generating a lot of support from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the liberal and progressive blogs. This support could provide a boost in monetary contributions in his presidential campaign. Second, by making this opposition to the telecom immunity bill, Dodd has created a major fracture within the Democratic Party. The Democratic leadership in Congress was suppose to be an opposition party, and an opposition branch of government to provide some type of check against this disastrous Bush administration. Granted, there is not much that the Democrats can do in either passing legislation over a GOP filibuster in the Senate, or even overriding a presidential veto with the less than two-thirds majority they have in both houses of Congress. But the one area that the Democratic leadership has shown themselves to be spineless has been with the Iraq war and the domestic spying programs. The Democrats have continued to give to President Bush whatever he wanted on those two issues. They have continued to fund the Iraq war without any conditions or timetables. The Democratic congressional leadership played rubber-stamp in allowing the illegal wiretappings to continue without court orders. And now the Democratic congressional leadership has again caved to President Bush on the telecom immunity bill. My guess here is that the Democratic congressional leadership is more afraid of President (Mr 24 Percent) Bush, and the Republicans, calling them "weak" and "soft on terrorism, over having their own Democratic constituents calling them spineless. What is really interesting here is that just after Dodd announced his hold against the telecom immunity bill, both senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden have come out against the bill. Dodd's little hold against the telecom immunity bill is providing some cover for big-name Democrats to announce their own opposition to the bill. I'm thinking that if Dodd had not announced his hold, then both Obama and Biden would have kept quiet on the telecom immunity bill for the sake of their own presidential ambitions, rather than taking a personal conviction stand in opposing the bill. This is a huge problem for Reid since he could be facing an open revolt by his own party's senators who oppose this latest cave-in to the Bush White House. Of course, we won't know if such a revolt will occur until Reid attempts to place this bill on the floor, and if Dodd actually goes through his filibuster.

Friday Fun Stuff--Controlled demolition of the Sands Casino in Atlantic City

Last night, the Sands Casino at Atlantic City was imploded in a brilliant display of fireworks, before 400 pounds of dynamite brought the famed hotel down. You can read the story here at the North However it is more fun to watch the video from YouTube:

Damn impressive.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Christmas Defense Kit--A perfect gift for the War on Christmas!

I found this story through ThinkProgress, and I'll admit that I'm dumbfounded. I know that the War on Christmas has been raging within the delusional minds of Fox commentators Bill O'Reilly, John Gibson, and even Michelle Malkin. But I never expected that you could get a Christmas Defense Kit to prepare you for that good fight in the War on Christmas.

Yes, you heard me--a Christmas Defense Kit! What is a Christmas Defense Kit? Let's go to the World Net Daily News online store, which is selling these Christmas Defense Kits fruitcakes?

It's coming!

You know it's coming.

Like clockwork, the American Civil Liberties Union grinches will be out in force punishing those erecting Nativity displays, extending Christmas greetings and otherwise exercising their God-given, First Amendment-protected rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

But now you can fight back – and you don't need a lawyer to do it.

Just check out WND's online store for your personal "Christmas-defense kit." What you'll find are three choices of bumper stickers:

* "This is America! And I'm going to say it: 'Merry Christmas!'"

* "It is STILL a wonderful life – Merry Christmas!"

* "Merry Christmas! An American Tradition"

They're all magnetized for seasonal use. Buy them separately or all together. Use them this year, next year and for many years to come.

In addition, there's the "Reason for the Season Auto Magnets," also perfect for your refrigerator or office file cabinet or desk. Part of every purchase goes to Christian charities.

It's the perfect way to make your statement this Christmas – that Jesus is the reason for the season. Buy one, buy 25, buy 50!

There's one more component of your Christmas-defense kit: It's the "Operation: Just Say 'Merry Christmas' Bracelet." They make great stocking stuffers, but why wait! Make your feelings about Christmas known to one and all. Wear them to pick up the kids, when you buy groceries and when you go to work. They're guaranteed to ward off the evil spirits of the ACLU grinches.

Get your order in now, because Christmas will be upon you before you know it.

And, if you think it's just too early to worry about the anti-Christmas onslaught, go on the offensive now and proclaim the true meaning of Thanksgiving. After all, it's not really about pilgrims and turkeys -- it's about thanking God for all the blessings in our lives.

Check out WND's "Christmas-defense kit" now.

I went on to World Net Daily's store, and downloaded the pictures of the magnetic bumper stickers and the bracelet. You can pick up a 3-pack of the magnetic bumper stickers for $14.95, or a single bumper sticker for $5.95 each:

War on Christmas 3-Pack Magnetic Bumper Stickers.

The War on Christmas bracelet can be yours for only $2.00 each:

The War on Christmas Bracelet.

And if you're so anxious to become a Christian foot soldier in the War on Christmas, but can't wait until December, well, the World Net Daily store also has the War on Thanksgiving magnetic bumper sticker for only $5.95:

The War on Thanksgiving Magnetic Bumper Sticker.

And even more, according to the World Net Daily website:

"This is just about the nicest bumper sticker I've ever seen." - Joseph Farah

This Thanksgiving season (and every Thanksgiving season from now on), remind the world of what this distinctively American holiday is all about, with this beautiful magnetic bumper sticker.

It says, "Remember to thank Him. Happy Thanksgiving."

I'm trying to think of some type of comment or analysis on this, but I can't. There is this level of absurdity here that is just incredible. Who buys this stuff? Who is so angry enough that they are willing to make a political statement about Christmas?

Then there are those who are profiting in this War on Christmas. The people who created this merchandise at World Net Daily really have two agendas here. The first, obviously, is to continue this political deception of screaming how Christmas is being destroyed by liberals--a deception that meant to create a sense of victimization in order to maintain political power and control of hard-lined conservatives and the Religious Right by the conservative elite. It is about maintaining GOP political power and control of the Religious Right vote. The second agenda is to economically profit from the Religious Right. Here we have all these wonderful symbols to show your support for the War on Christmas--all for a price. The marketing strategy is brilliant--the evil liberals are going to destroy Christmas! Buy this bumper sticker in order to stop the evil liberals from destroying Christmas! I'm sure that there are plenty of World Net Daily readers who are getting sucked into this scam, and have parted their Christmas dollars for this junk. The funny thing is that there really is a War on Christmas--a war that is being won by marketers, toy manufacturers, and Big Business constantly demanding that the American consumer spend even more money, shopping earlier, for Christmas gifts. It is not the evil liberals that are destroying the meaning of Christmas, but rather Big Business' desire to commercialize Christmas. Then again, I doubt that the Fox News War on Christmas foot soldiers could ever understand that lesson.

Rep. Pet Stark (D-CA) gives a Howard Beale moment on House floor

This story is coming up the news media. Apparently Rep. Pete Stark is mad as hell and won't take it anymore. Let's start with part of Bloomberg's story on the House failure to override the Bush veto on the S-CHIP bill:

The tensions over Schip erupted in a dispute during the House debate when Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, made remarks on the war in Iraq. Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas stopped the debate to ask that Stark be admonished for inappropriate comments.

While the House chair, Democrat Ellen Tauscher of California, ruled those comments weren't out of order, Republicans denounced remarks Stark had made earlier.

Stark's Remarks

Republicans will spend to ``blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement,'' Stark said, according to a copy of the remarks from his office.

And here is the YouTube video of Stark's remarks:

I'll say this, it is rather interesting that we've seen some extremely angry words coming from Pete Stark on the S-CHIP bill, and some tough action by Senator Chris Dodd to place a hold on the telecom immunity bill.

Glenn Greenwald on the telecom immunity mess

Glenn Greenwald writes an incredible post through Salon about the entire telecom immunity mess:

The fact that this was completely predictable does not make it any less reprehensible:

Senate Democrats and Republicans reached agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on the terms of new legislation to control the federal government's domestic surveillance program, which includes a highly controversial grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have assisted the program, according to congressional sources. . . .

The draft Senate bill has the support of the intelligence committee's chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and Bush's director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. It will include full immunity for those companies that can demonstrate to a court that they acted pursuant to a legal directive in helping the government with surveillance in the United States.

Such a demonstration, which the bill says could be made in secret, would wipe out a series of pending lawsuits alleging violations of privacy rights by telecommunications companies that provided telephone records, summaries of e-mail traffic and other information to the government after Sept. 11, 2001, without receiving court warrants. Bush had repeatedly threatened to veto any legislation that lacked this provision.

Let's just describe very factually and dispassionately what has happened here. Congress -- led by Senators, such as Jay Rockefeller, who have received huge payments from the telecom industry, and by privatized intelligence pioneer Mike McConnell, former Chairman of the secretive intelligence industry association that has been demanding telecom amnesty -- is going to intervene directly in the pending lawsuits against AT&T and other telecoms and declare them the winners on the ground that they did nothing wrong. Because of their vast ties to the telecoms, neither Rockefeller nor McConnell could ever appropriately serve as an actual judge in those lawsuits.

Yet here they are, meeting and reviewing secret documents and deciding amongst themselves to end all pending lawsuits in favor of their benefactors -- AT&T, Verizon and others. Let me quote again from that 1998 Foreign Affairs essay by Thomas Carothers helpfully outlining the steps required to install the "rule of law" in third-world, pre-democracy countries:

Type three reforms aim at the deeper goal of increasing government's compliance with law. A key step is achieving genuine judicial independence. . . . But the most crucial changes lie elsewhere. Above all, government officials must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making and accept the judiciary as an independent authority.

The question of whether the telecoms acted in "good faith" in allowing warrantless government spying on their customers is already pending before a court of law. In fact, that is one of the central issues in the current lawsuits -- one that AT&T has already lost in a federal court.

Yet that is the issue that Jay Rockefeller and Mike McConnell -- operating in secret -- are taking away from the courts by passing a law declaring the telecoms to have won ("Senators this week began reviewing classified documents . . . and came away from that early review convinced that the companies had 'acted in good faith' in cooperating with what they believed was a legal and presidentially authorized program"). They are directly interfering in these lawsuits and issuing a "ruling" in favor of AT&T and other telecoms that is exactly the opposite of the one an actual court of law has already issued.

Read the rest of Greenwald's essay--it is that devastating.

Senator Chris Dodd places a hold on telecom immunity bill

Talk about a monkey wrench here. This is from TPM Election Central:

Senator Chris Dodd plans to put a hold on the Senate FISA renewal bill because it reportedly grants retroactive immunity to telephone companies for any role they played in the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program, Election Central has learned.

Dodd will send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this afternoon informing him of his decision. Dodd also plans to put up a page today at his campaign Web site where opponents of the immunity provision can register their opposition.

“Later today Senator Dodd will be sending a letter to Majority Leader Reid informing him that he plans to put a ‘hold’ on a bill that would provide for retroactive amnesty for telecom giants that were complicit in the Bush Administration’s assault on the United States Constitution," Dodd spokesman Hari Sevugan told Election Central. "Senator Dodd said that he would do what he could do to stop this bill, and with this announcement he has again shown that he delivers results.”

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

Dodd's planned action comes amid reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has reached a deal with the White House on the legislation that would give telephone carriers legal immunity for whatever role they played in the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program, which was approved by President Bush after 9/11. The White House and the phone companies have been lobbying aggressively for immunity, and the announcement of the immunity deal today dismayed many opponents.

The bill is getting marked up by the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon.

Dodd, who has aggressively courted the liberal blogosphere as part of his Presidential run, was being loudly appealed to by top liberal bloggers today to put a hold on the bill. Dodd has for some time now spoken out against the immunity provision but had stopped short of saying that he would exert his power as a Senator to hold up the legislation.

Now, however, he is going to do just that.

So Senator Chris Dodd has thrown a huge monkey wrench into stopping this supposed "bipartisan" deal in allowing the telecoms immunity against legal action in supplying the government customer phone records without a warrant. The problem with the Democratic leadership here is that they are so afraid of the Republicans calling them wimps and accusing them of being "soft on terrorism," that the Democrats are so willing to sign away Americans' civil rights to stop this GOP name-calling. And the Democratic leadership still has not yet learned that the Republicans will still call the Democrats "weak" and "soft on terrorism" anyways. It is why there is a lot of anger against the Democrats on the liberal and progressive blogs in that the Democrats still refuse to stand up for anything--even against a president with a 24 percent approval rating! Dodd basically told both Senators John D. Rockefeller IV, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Christopher S. Bond, the ranking Republican, that they could take their compromise bill and stick it up their wahoos. This is where politics can get really fun. Because Dodd is acting the way the congressional Democrats should be acting with serious brass balls, and a desire to pull this country away from the cliff that both President Bush and the Republicans have been happily sending us over. Had the telecoms been granted immunity from civil lawsuits for their own role in Bush's illegal domestic spying program, not only would have negated the hundreds of civil lawsuits that the telecom industry is currently facing, but it would have also clamped down on future discoveries regarding the details of this illegal Bush spying program. In other words, the telecom immunity makes the Bush spying program secret from the courts.

Good work Dodd.

Republicans "out-conservative" each other

This is off Reuters News:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It's not enough for U.S. Republican presidential candidates to be conservatives. They've got to be bigger and better conservatives to win the hearts of right-wing America.

As Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain fight for votes, some of the hardest punches are from those accusing one another of being newcomers to lower taxes or opposing abortion.

"The Republicans have had to 'out-conservative' each other," said Lee Miringoff, pollster at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York.

That contest heats up this week, when several candidates seeking the Republican Party's nomination in the November 2008 presidential election visit with conservative Christians at a "Values Voter Summit" in Washington.

But just being conservative isn't enough, said Doug Muzzio, professor of political affairs at New York's Baruch College. "It's how conservative are you, and how long have you been conservative?"

Appealing to the right is always a vital strategy for candidates seeking the Republican nomination, but the battle over conservative credentials is particularly sharp in this campaign because several of the top candidates have distinctly liberal-leaning records.

What is interesting about this story is that we have the top GOP presidential candidates doing everything they can to convince the base that they are more conservative than the others. It is a seriously blatant, pandering towards the hard-lined and Religious Right voters that the candidates are currently engaged in, regardless of how moderate, or liberal, their political and ideological records were in the past. The problem here starts when the GOP candidate is actually nominated, he is going to have to explain, to the moderates and independents, the hard-lined campaign promises and statements that nominee originally made to the base and Religious Right. How do you reconcile the two opposing political viewpoints between the hard-liners and the moderate/independents? And the more that these GOP candidates attempt to "out-conservative" each other, the harder it is to shift their political positions to the center for the general election.

House fails to override Bush's S-CHIP veto

There is not much else to say here, except that the House of Representatives has failed to override President Bush's veto on the S-CHIP bill. From MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - House Democrats failed Thursday to override President Bush's veto of their pre-election year effort to expand a popular government health insurance program to cover 10 million children.

The bill had bipartisan support but the 273-156 roll call was nine votes of the two-thirds majority supporters needed to enact the bill into law despite Bush's objections. The bill had passed the Senate with a bigger than two-thirds majority.

The proposed $35 billion spending increase over five years for the State Children's Health Insurance Program would expand it from the 6.6 million people -- most of them children -- currently covered. The program now costs about $5 billion a year.

According to the final vote tally, two Democrats opposed the S-CHIP bill, while 154 Republicans opposed the bill. Essentially, the GOP killed this bill. And now it will remain front-and-center in the election-year debate on domestic politics.

Brownback drops out of WH race

This is off MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Republican Sam Brownback will drop out of the 2008 presidential campaign on Friday, people close to the Kansas senator told NBC News Thursday.

Trouble raising money was a main reason for his decision, said one person close to Brownback, who requested anonymity because the candidate had not yet announced his plans.

Brownback, a lesser-known conservative contender, is expected announce his withdrawal in Topeka, Kan.

The senator is widely expected to seek the Kansas governor’s office in 2010, when his term—his second—expires. He had promised in his first Senate campaign to serve no more than two terms.

Brownback had raised a little more than $800,000 from July through September and around $4 million overall. He is eligible for $2 million in federal matching funds.

So the GOP presidential field has seen Virginia Governor James Gilmore, former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, and now Brownback, drop out of the race. Now Brownback is an interesting candidate, since he is a hard-lined conservative and is something of a darling to the Religious Right. But he was never able to utilize the strong conservative and Religious Right credentials to become a national consensus candidate. I find it ironic how Focus on the Family's James Dobson is screaming at how he will place his support for a third-party candidate if Rudy Giuliani is nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, rather than considering to support a strong conservative as Sam Brownback. And while I totally do not agree with Sam Brownback on social issues, at least he had the integrity to remain consistent with his beliefs on social issues, rather than playing the flip-flopper on social issues for political gain, as we've been seeing with Giuliani, and Mitt Romney.

Then there is this news of Sam Brownback running for the Kansas governor’s office in 2010. That may be a more plausible office for Brownback to win. At the moment, Kansas is a reliable red state for a Republican candidate to run in, and win. This 2008 presidential race may have been a stepping stone for Brownback in getting his name out on a national level, while he continues preparations for the governor's race. Also remember that Brownback is not completely dropping out of politics--he still has his senate seat to remain in Kansas politics, until 2010. So we'll certainly be seeing Brownback for Kansas Governor signs fairly soon.