April 23, 2007

Government Report Slams “Emergency” War Funding Request

While the President sits in the Oval Office and claims that the desire of the Democratic leadership to bring an end to this violent and bloody conflict in Iraq in a responsible and sustainable manner, and to involve the Iraqis in their own political and military future is “irresponsible,” and while he makes empty invitations to Congressional leaders to come by his office to talk when what he really means is to listen to him tirade about why the war must go on without end or accountability, it has surfaced that the real “irresponsible” actions are at the hands of the President himself and his lackeys when drafting their so-called “emergency” war-funding requests – requests that are often held over the heads of those who would like to see a greater deal of accountability, fiscal responsibility, and measured success and withdrawl from this conflict.

While many progressives crow about an immediate needs to withdraw from the Iraq conflict, I think cooler heads prevail, even in the progressive community, and understand that the situation in Iraq cannot have a military solution. You can’t just kill all the bad guys, when the bad guys keep popping up, and entire communities support the bad guys more than they support you. There needs to be a vested political interest by the Iraqi government in making their own nation theirs, and the government needs to stand up to meet the expectations and the needs of the people, instead of the US government. The sooner this happens, the sooner the Iraqis can reconcile themselves and build a real coalition, secular government, the sooner our brave men and women can stop being the buffer between warring factions and can stop spilling their own blood for a war without end and can come home to be with their families and loved ones.

But back to point – these “emergency” war funding resolutions that are so often held over the heads of politicians who dare to speak out against the Bush Administrations “endless war” policy, have turned out, thanks to a new government report, to be anything but emergency, and are primarily funding efforts that can hardly be classified as an emergency:

A large portion of the emergency funding, according to the report, would be used by the administration to pay for non-urgent matters unrelated to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, calling into question whether the supplemental request represents a true emergency.

According to a copy of the supplemental bill, $695 million in emergency funding would be used to send an additional aircraft carrier and Marine Expeditionary Force to the Persian Gulf, which many critics interpret as sending a hostile message to Iran. Furthermore, the Bush administration intends to use $10 million of the supplemental to help the State Department finance the US-established Alhurra Television (the free one) into 22 Middle Eastern countries. The channel, which broadcasts a wide variety of programs in Arabic from a studio in Springfield, Virginia, is seen as a propaganda tool whose messages are controlled by the Bush administration, according to a report in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The report added that “the request asks for additional authority for DOD to help Iraq restart factories that could be controversial.” However, when asked to elaborate, CRS could not provide further details and Congressional representatives did not return calls for comment.

The Congressional Research Service report says the non-urgent items the administration included in its emergency supplemental request and is asking Congress to pay for “appears to be based on a new and expanded definition of war costs that permits the services to fund not only operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the ‘longer war on terror.'”

“There is no specific definition of the ‘longer war on terror,’ now one of the core missions of the Department of Defense,” the report says. “This new guidance may be the primary reason for the 40 percent increase over [fiscal year] 2006 funding that DOD is proposing for [fiscal year] 2007. The new definition constitutes a significant shift from long-standing DOD financial regulations that require that costs be necessary to carry out specific operations.”

Finally, the Defense Department has also included a request for $500 million to expand its inventory of spare and repair parts, a “reflection of DOD’s decision to expand the scope of costs permitted in supplemental requests to include costs of the ‘longer war on terror’ and not just emergency war costs.”

Now why would the Administration do such a thing? Other than a pathological fear of oversight and the nasty thought that someone who doesn’t agree with them might have a say in what they can and can’t do, let’s put it this way:

“When the president submits an emergency supplemental request, the authorizing committees are bypassed,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan federal budget watchdog group. “The request goes directly to the appropriations committees, and they are pressured by the need to act quickly so that troops in the field do not run out of funds. The result is a spending bill that passes Congress with perfunctory review.”

“Since 9/11, Congress has passed at least one emergency bill to cover war costs, making supplemental spending the method of choice for the majority of funding for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror,” Alexander added. “Of the $510 billion spent thus far, $331.8 billion (about 65 percent) has come from supplemental spending legislation. If the so-called “bridge fund” included in the fiscal year 2007 appropriations bill is included, the total rises to $401.8 billion. That means nearly 80 percent of all funding for these wars was the result of emergency and supplemental spending, not regular budgetary means.”

Well that explains it.

[ Government Report Slams “Emergency” War Funding Request ]
Source: TruthOut

April 19, 2007

Supreme Court Upholds Late Abortion Ban: Right-wing Judicial Activism Run Amok

I’m actually very amused by the turn of phrase against the Right of the term “judicial activism.” It’s a dirty term, polluted by conservative idealogues who were desperately seeking a way to describe even the smallest judicial ruling that they disagreed with. I almost take exception to using it in this situation; but in this case it’s not a matter of agreeing, or a matter of smallness – this issue is huge, and will have a chilling effect on not only women’s rights in America in the future, but also human rights around the world. America is often looked to as an example of human rights, and nations far less willing to allow their peoples the ability to control their own lives, their own destinies, and at heart- their own families, will follow in the footsteps of this decision in a sad and painful way.

By now we all know the Supreme Court’s decision, but the truly sad part is that the Court decided to abandon decades of precedence and prior ruling to uphold the ban, doing exactly what President Bush chose his nominees to do- sway the court of so-called “moral” issues that are critical energizing issues for the conservative base’s religious, evangelical, and socially fascist elements – those people who believe that the government has every right to tell American citizens not only what they can and cannot do with their bodies in a medical situation (a la Terri Schaivo), but those who believe that your body does and should belong to the State, that the government and the church should have every right to enforce and choose when, how, and with what method a woman or a family has a child but cares little about the future rearing of that child, and so on. These are the folks who truly believe that their misguided interpretation of religion, or in other cases their misguided interpretation of what powers a government should have (eg, you can tell me how or when to or not to have a child, but you can’t keep me from arming myself and shooting my neighbors) gives them just cause to impose their will on millions of Americans who are perfectly capable of directing their own lives. It’s saddening.

Even so, the Justices that begged and pleaded with the Senate before their confirmation hearings that they would not bring a political agenda to the court and won votes because of their convincing act have done exactly as they were tapped to do now that they’ve been allowed to make a crucial decision like this. Future women’s and human rights cases will stall and hesitate before coming to the Supreme Court for justice, just as planned, and this opens the door to future abortion bans and reproductive rights restrictions that the anti-choice crowd have been wringing their hands in glee to push through various state and the federal legislatures for years now.

Over at Alternet, there’s an excellent rundown of the turnabout that the most recently confirmed justices made in their attempts to highlight their multi-sided work before and through the confirmation hearings, but their gleeful demeanor at overturning previous legislation at their first real opportunity. As thrilled as the mainstream and progressive communities have been at some of the court’s rulings to date, this proves that all it takes is one incredibly contentious issue (and interestingly, one seat) to swing the court backwards from America’s great tradition of individual rights and freedoms.

[ Supreme Court Upholds Late Abortion Ban: Right-wing Judicial Activism Run Amok ]
Source: Alternet

April 11, 2007

Imus and Beyond

When Michael Richards flipped out, they called it “a mad tirade,” excusing him for his behavior. Now that Don Imus has done the same – revealed the true face of today’s racism; a face that’s not full of spite, not one that will spit on you in anger and light a cross in your yard, instead the kind that will piss on your head and try to say it’s rain, explain to you why you deserve to be underprivileged, and tell you to pick yourself up by your “bootstraps” while quietly sawing them off of your feet – the focus of the media attention has been on all the wrong things. Let me explain.

First, everyone’s treating Don Imus like the victim here – following his every move, discussing how heartfelt his apology is, how much he meant it, how he went on Al Sharpton’s show to deliver it and spoke with Jesse Jackson. Let’s be absolutely clear here. No one cares how Don Imus feels. No one even cares about his racism, everyone who knows Don Imus knows he’s a racist, sexist, homophobe. He has nothing to offer society aside from being yet another trash radio jock, and never has. Perhaps the only bright spot in his career is his fundraising for children. Still – no one cares how he feels, how broken he is. What people do – or should – care about, are the women of the Rutgets basketball team, who have had their moment of glory stolen by one racist man making a ridiculous comment about them. That team has had their time in the limelight shattered because of one person’s lack of self-dignity and self control, and that’s the real shame here. While people are debating whether Imus was racist or not, my real concern is why no one is looking Imus in the eye and telling him (and those who support him) that those women didn’t deserve the insults and “jokes” that he slung at them. Until then, and until Imus realizes that, the apologies mean nothing.

Second, there’s too much focus on the psuedo-leaders of the black community involved here. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, the rest. They’re indeed visionary men, and have stood strong for civil rights for a long time, but they’re by no means focal to this story, and they shouldn’t be. In many ways, they should simply step aside, rather than clamoring to be the focal people, to be seen as leaders of the black community – in many many ways, they do themselves, and black America, more harm than good.

When I was a child, people used to refer to my hair as nappy all the time. It was racial then, and it’s racial now – it was always white children, looking to degrade me somehow, who used to sling insults at my hair, telling me it was nappy and asking me how often I washed it. It was about demeaning my humanity, making me feel less than they were, with their straight, perfectly combed hair, their movie-star hairstyles, and their cheap cuts at the Hair Cuttery. Nothing’s changed, and I’m not so old that I expected it to.

But now that Imus has been called out on his nonsense, its time to point the finger at the people who make Imus possible – the people who stand behind him and hide behind the “I just say what’s on everyone’s mind but no one has the guts to say” lie that many racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic public officials and public personalities love to hide behind – the folks who try to say that we’re all thinking those racist “jokes” and “gags,” but they somehow are allowed to elevate themselves beyond the dreaded “PC” (another lovely lie – that there’s some kind of PC police keeping people from speaking their so-called minds) and spout nonsensical (and most importantly, not at all funny) jibberish guised as cutting-edge humor.

Isaiah J. Poole, executive director of TomPaine.com, has some choice words about the fiasco, and where to go from here:

Soon, the Don Imus groveling and penitence tour sparked by his jaw-dropping description of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ‘hos” will come to an end. And then what?

Does Imus say, in the words that the Rev. Al Sharpton used when Imus appeared on his radio show Monday, “let’s get past that, go on to the next commercial, and I live to curse another day”?

If the past is any guide, that is a sure bet. Imus has a long and sordid history of trafficking in racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. And a lot of people who consider themselves reputable—both Democratic and Republican politicians, political consultants, journalists and pundits—have shacked up in this seedy AM radio motel as if it were a five-star forum for serious political discourse. They knew better, as did the advertisers who bankrolled this enterprise and the networks that broadcast it. They have no one to blame but themselves for the soil on their own images as a result, and for whatever consequences they face if they go back in.

Imus keeps saying that he is a “good person” who said “a bad thing,” but that’s not the full truth.

Poole goes on to describe why we should be skeptical of any such on-air personalities, and explain how this is just another in a pattern of behavior by Don Imus. Still, he’s being made out as a scapegoat for an entire industry. The blame doesn’t just like with Imus, it lies with the entire psuedo-news trash radio industry that makes people like Imus possible.

[ Imus and Beyond ]
Source: TomPaine.com

On the other, and equally important hand, is an amazing commentary by Earl Ofari Hutchinson about how we as the black community should never accept such commentary and insults from anyone, and by anyone, we distinctly mean anyone, including black Americans. It’s not enough to demand that Imus apologize for calling the Rutgers woman “nappy-headed ho’s,” we should demand an equal apology from black comedians and personalities who would never hesitate to describe them that way as well. He brings up a point that I’ve been crowing about for years, a point that’s made me feel more than politically and philosophically isolated from the black community, but personally isolated as well:

Why do we ready our swords and shields against whites who make comments like this, against latinos and asians and everyone else, but accept it from within our own ranks? Why do we declare media war on anyone who uses the word “nigger,” but accept it as a cultural, in-group, “okay,” from a black person who says “nigga?” It doesn’t fly, it doesn’t make sense, and it makes black Americans look supportive of a racial double-standard.

The bulk of his piece deals with the very real implications of societal in-group and out-group degredation of Black women, and he is more than justified in the matter, but here’s the core that I was looking for:

The daunting puzzle then remains why so many blacks storm the barricades in fury against a Richards or an Imus but are stone silent, or utter only the feeblest of protests when blacks bash and trash? Or even worse, tacitly condone their verbal abuse?

There are two reasons for that. Blacks have been the ancient target of racial stereotypes, negative typecasting, and mockery. This has made them hypersensitive to any real or perceived racial slight from whites. That’s totally understandable, and civil rights leaders are right to call the legion of other white celebrities, politicians and public figures that get caught with their racial pants hanging down on the carpet for their racial gaffes, slips, or outright verbal broadsides.

The second reason is that blacks fear that if they publicly air their dirty racial laundry it will be gleefully twisted, mangled, and distorted into a fresh round of black bashing by whites. But that’s a lame reason for not speaking out, and speaking out loudly against those blacks who either out of ignorance or for profit, or both, routinely commercialize racial and gender trash talk. That failure fuels the suspicion that blacks, and especially black leaders, are more than willing to play the race card, and call a white a bigot, when it serves their interest, but will circle the wagons and defend any black who comes under fire for bigotry, or for any other malfeasance.

The same standard of racial accountability must apply whether the racial and gender offender is an Imus or a 50 Cent. When it doesn’t that’s a double standard and that always translates into hypocrisy. Imus got his trash talk pass yanked. Now let’s yank it from those blacks who do the same, or worse.

Now Hutchinson gets a pass because he’s Black, naturally – the same way I might get a pass for supporting him. Still, if a white commentator wrote the same thing, he might be feeling an editorial sting, and that’s a shame, because it’s not only truthful, but critical and open-minded. It is, as many of my white and more conservative friends might say, a double-standard that needs airing out. Still, it’s a double-standard that simply can’t be aired or brought to the fore by anyone who’s not in-group. Even so, seeing it written by someone else is like a breath of fresh air.

[ Imus Got His Trash Talk Pass Yanked, Now Yank it for Blacks Who Talk The Same ]
Source: Alternet

April 4, 2007

Court Rebukes Administration in Global Warming Case

In a victory for not just environmentalists (although if you left it up to most of the media, they’d leave it at that) but everyone interested in clean water to drink, unpolluted land to walk on, and clean air to breathe, the Supreme Court handed down a decision on Monday that essentially told the EPA to stop shirking its responsibility of regulating air pollutants and step up to the task. At issue was the suits filed by several states and environmental groups stating that the EPA was failing to regulate carbon dioxide on any level, attempting to get away with not classifying it as a pollutant. The EPA’s counterclaim was that CO2 hasn’t been classified as a pollutant, even though it’s a greenhouse gas, has been proven to cause smog, haze, and high ground ozone levels, and so on, and that it doesn’t have the authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act. Most people recognized the EPA’s flimsy defense for the excuse that it was, but the dirty air lobby latched on to the notion, running the hilariously popular “We Call it Life” ads (which were popular not for the reasons the dirty air lobby hoped – people thought the ads were hilarious when they were supposed to be serious, and they were quickly pulled after garnering national media attention) to try and bolster the claim.

Even so, the court, in a split decision, upheld the public good, the legal right of way, and the spirit in which the Clean Air Act was passed by issuing their ruling:

In a 5-4 decision, the court said the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars.

Greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the landmark environmental law, Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion.

The court had three questions before it.

–Do states have the right to sue the EPA to challenge its decision?

–Does the Clean Air Act give EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases?

–Does EPA have the discretion not to regulate those emissions?

The court said yes to the first two questions. On the third, it ordered EPA to re-evaluate its contention it has the discretion not to regulate tailpipe emissions. The court said the agency has so far provided a “laundry list” of reasons that include foreign policy considerations.

The majority said the agency must tie its rationale more closely to the Clean Air Act.

“EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change,” Stevens said. He was joined by his liberal colleagues, Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, and the court’s swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The court’s conservative justices dissented, of course, attempting to wash their and any governmental body’s hands of anything involving the public good or anything that smacks of regulation or accountability – that much was expected, but the ruling stands on its own, and like a flame war on the internet, the dissenting justices could only nitpick at the details while bowing their heads to the greater point of both the EPA’s responsibility, the Clean Air Act itself, and the need for public authorities to exercise the responsibilities the public has trusted them with. In the end, it turned out to be a victory for not just environmentalists, but anyone who is looking forward to handing our children and future generations a cleaner planet and stronger environment than we inherited from those before us.

[ Court Rebukes Administration in Global Warming Case ]
Source: The Associated Press (courtesy of the New York Times)

The Inspiration Budget

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), a bicameral bloc of 72 members of Congress led by California U.S. Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, have put together an alternative budget to the President’s and to previous Congressional budgets that, heaven forbid, addresses the needs of ordinary Americans, cuts back on our spending bloat and waste in a responsible manner, but doesn’t simultaneously sacrifice the poor and America’s support programs and social safety net in order to save a few dimes to turn around and give back to the wealthy in tax breaks.

This budget is a deeply impressive document. It reflects the spending priorities of the majority of Americans who would like to see our role in the Iraq war come to a close, and for Congress to address domestic priorities relating to economic security. As such, it stands in direct contrast to the president’s budget and war supplemental requests, which consistently and perplexingly ignore both the public and the Congress’s shifting sentiments regarding guns and butter.

The theme of the CPC budget is to shift resources from war, weapons, and tax cuts for the wealthiest to domestic spending. The contrast to the budgets proposed by the president and the House Republican minority is striking. The CPC invests in health, education, housing, rebuilding communities and developing renewable energy sources. The conservative hawks plow money into the military and high-end tax breaks.

Take a look at where the Progressive Caucus gets the revenue they—that is, we—need to start addressing our most pressing domestic priorities, without adding to the deficit. They spend $86 billion less than the White House and Congress on the military. They save over $200 billion over the next two years by leaving Iraq by the end of this year. And they get some serious bucks from ending the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent, yielding at least $300 billion.

Are the military cuts reckless? In the documents accompanying their budget, the CPC provides a clear, detailed and compelling discussion of the cuts they propose. They’re heavily influenced by the work of Lawrence Korb, former high-ranking defense official under Reagan (there’s some street cred for you). Korb elaborates a series of cuts with reference to specific weapon systems that are being kept on life support by the pols and contractors feeding the military industrial complex, not by any realistic rationale for our security.

To be perfectly honest, we could save a great deal of money by shifting our priorities towards real security instead of military blustering and expensive carrier maneuvers, and by ending the President’s tax cuts for the wealthy. The CPC doesn’t tackle the Alernative Minimum Tax unfortunately, but the budget makes some significant progress towards refunding some woefully ignored domestic priorities like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and restoring funds that the Bush administration revoked from pre K education. You can read the analysis of Jared Bernstein and Deborah Weinstein at TomPaine.com, and pick up a link to the actual CPC proposed budget there as well.

[ The Inspiration Budget ]
Source: TomPaine.com