Friday, August 31, 2007

From the Imagination of John Bolton

In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, John Bolton criticizes America's handling of North Korea. At the end of the article, almost as an afterthought, he muses:

Finally, we need to learn the details of North Korean nuclear cooperation with other countries. We know that both Iran and Syria have long cooperated with North Korea on ballistic missile programs, and the prospect of cooperation on nuclear matters is not far-fetched. Whether and to what extent Iran, Syria or others might be “safe havens” for North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, or may have already participated with or benefited from it, must be made clear.
To summarize: at the end of an article about North Korea, Bolton considers the possibility that, hey, maybe Iran and Syria might be helping out North Korea. Not that he has any evidence of this; he simply imagines that it could be so, and says the US should look into it. Fair enough.

Then Jay Nordlinger at NRO's The Corner reads Bolton's editorial and writes a post entitled "The Axis in Action":
Are North Korea, Iran, and Syria helping one another with nuclear weapons — not weaponry in general, but nuclear weapons? If so, this is a stunning new development, or revelation. This could be unutterably dangerous for the world. Security-minded people in Congress may want to inquire about this. And we are reminded, once more, of the complete validity of the much-mocked phrase “axis of evil.”
The Right-Wing Echo Chamber at work! Let's break this down line by line, shall we?

Are North Korea, Iran, and Syria helping one another with nuclear weapons — not weaponry in general, but nuclear weapons?

It sure is easy to make up something scary in the form of a question. For example: "Where was Jay Nordinger on the night that Owen Wilson tragically attempted to take his own life?"

If so, this is a stunning new development, or revelation.

If so, this would be a stunning new development, or revelation. Of course, there's no evidence that it is so.

This could be unutterably dangerous for the world.

If there were any evidence that it was so.

Security-minded people in Congress may want to inquire about this. And we are reminded, once more, of the complete validity of the much-mocked phrase “axis of evil.”

What?? In related news, John Doe told his friend Bob Smith that, theoretically, his wife might be cheating on him. This hypothetical situation reminds us of the the validity of the phrase "you can't trust women."

Nordlinger is apparently unaware that the hypothetical musings of John Bolton in an editorial have absolutely no effect on the validity of the phrase "Axis of Evil."

The worst part of the whole post, though, is the title: "The Axis in Action." A more appropriate title would be: "The Axis in Action... in John Bolton's head."

Look, I don't mean to suggest that two or three dictatorial countries could never work together on nuclear technology. But the world is full of scary possibilities. Let's see some evidence that they are before we panic, ok? The imagination of John Bolton doesn't count.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Goodbye Gonzo, Hello ...

Liberals across the country are rejoicing at Alberto Gonzales' resignation, and sure, it's good, but who will take his place? Will s/he be any more competent or apolitical? Perhaps there is hope, as Donald Rumsfeld was replaced with Robert Gates. Although, perhaps that wasn't even that great. Was there any significant policy change after Rumsfeld left? Not as far as I can tell. So, the best we can expect from Gonzo's replacement is probably a competent person who will forward irrational policies. After all, the Bush Administration will not all of a sudden insist on an apolitical Justice Department (and I doubt that any modern administration would). So, is Gonzo's ousting worth celebrating?

Maybe for a little, sure. Even if nothing changes, at least the point has been made that incompetent hacks do not deserve to sit in high governmental positions. That certainly doesn't mean that any lesson has been learned, though. I think the Bush administration is incapable of learning from mistakes, because they are incapable of admitting mistakes. So, here's what I expect in Bush's nominee: a political clone of Gonzo (who is really just a political clone of Bush), but with better credentials. I suppose that's a step in the right direction.

P.S. I apologize for my absence from blogging. I will do my best to post at least a few times a week during the next few months.

The Party of Family Values, Part III

In the New York Times, Gail Collins (sort of) defends all those politicians in the news caught with their pants around their ankles:

People, have you ever in your life pointed to your kids or grandkids and said that you hoped they grew up to be like Larry Craig? Or Bill Clinton? Or Mitt Romney? No. You might hope they were as politically skillful as Clinton or as financially successful as Romney or as ... um, good at barbershop quartet singing as Larry Craig. We do not hire our elected officials to shape our children’s characters. We want them to pass good laws and make sensible decisions on our behalf. If something terrible happens, we want to feel that they are strong enough to get us through it. But we have very little investment in whether they’re faithful to their wives, or even whether they’re tortured by demons of sexual confusion.

Although if it involves men’s rooms, we would really rather not hear about it.

Collins does have a point here-- and if a politician were to run a campaign based just on, say, government efficiency and tax cuts, then I agree that the personal behavior of that politician would be irrelevant. However, that is not the case here. Many, if not most, Republican candidates today run as "family values" conservatives, devoted to imposing a fundamentalist view of sexual morality on the American public through the power of the law. (Abstinence-only sex education! No Plan B! Outlaw gay marriage! Save the country from "San Francisco Values"!) Therefore, the fact that an inordinate number of Republican Congressman seem to have been caught cruising for gay sex, or visiting prostitutes, couldn't be more relevant. It's all about the hypocrisy.

The Party of Family Values, Cont.

It turns out I forget to mention several other Republican sex scandals. Pam at AMERICAblog has a list of what has happened in just the past month and half, and I'm not even bothering to include the Craig and Vitter scandals when I cut and paste it here:

* Glenn Murphy, Jr., the recently elected chairman of the Young Republican National Federation, caught sexually assaulting a sleeping man.
* former White house spiritual advisor and fallen megachurch pastor Tweaker Ted "I'm completely heterosexual" Haggard asking whatever fans he has left for money.
* former NC Republican lawmaker and Christian Action League president, Coy C. Privette -- caught at the no-tell motel with a sex worker -- also guilty.
* Mark Foley is back in the news, he won’t turn over his former congressional computer to investigators.
* Rep. Bob Allen, another Republican, caught asking to blow an undercover officer and willing to pay $20 for the pleasure; currently coming up with an excuse for the day (scary black men, thunderstorms) for his same-sex appetite.
Election 2008: Boy, I'd hate to see the Democrats win and "San Francisco Values" spread across the nation!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Party of Family Values

Another day, another Republican sex scandal. From Senator Vitter and his prostitutes to Senator Craig and his liaisons in public restrooms, the Party of Family Values never ceases to amaze me. Craig, like Vitter, is a married man. I can't wait for the 2008 election and the inevitable Republican moralizing about the sanctity of marriage.

The Last Word on Gonzales

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned. A full list his misdeeds would fill a book, so I'll turn to Bruce Reed for the final word on Gonzales, the man who rose from a desperately poor background to become the first Hispanic Attorney General:

Torture, spying, and partisan conspiracy were once the province of the elite few. Now anyone can grow up to be a puppet, apologist, and laughingstock.
Yes, indeed.


Check out TPM's great video tribute to the ridiculousness that is Alberto Gonzales' testimony before Congress. Watch the whole thing- it gets better and better.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hebrew Language Charter School Opens in Florida. Controversy Ensues

Apparently a Hebrew language charter school in Florida is creating a bit of controversy:

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., Aug. 23 — The new public school at 2620 Hollywood Boulevard stands out despite its plain gray facade. Called the Ben Gamla Charter School, it is run by an Orthodox rabbi, serves kosher lunches and concentrates on teaching Hebrew.

About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.
The battle over Ben Gamla parallels one in New York over Khalil Gibran International Academy, a new public school that will focus on Arabic language and culture. But some who have followed the evolution of both schools say Ben Gamla could prove more problematic. As a charter school that receives public money but is exempt from certain rules, they say, it is subject to less oversight.
Then there's this:

Rabbi Siegel said the school was proceeding with such extreme caution that even a neutral mention of religion was unlikely. The sign outside Ben Gamla was going to include a Hebrew phrase for “welcome,” Rabbi Siegel said, but because the literal translation is “blessed are those who come,” he decided against it.

“Even basic things, like if there was a page that had a picture of a shofar, I pulled it out,” Rabbi Siegel said, referring to the ram’s horn used in High Holy Day services. “We went so far overboard, it’s crazy.”

The school board rejected Ben Gamla’s first two Hebrew curriculum proposals after finding they included religious references. The second, which relied on a textbook titled “Ha-Yesod,” asked students to translate phrases like “Our Holy Torah is dear to us” and “Man is redeemed from his sins through repentance.”

Rabbi Siegel said the school would have omitted such phrases from lessons. On Tuesday, the school board hired Nathan Katz, a religious studies professor at Florida International University, to vet the latest curriculum proposal before its next meeting on Sept. 11. The school cannot teach Hebrew before then, a school board spokesman said.
As long as the school stays away from blatant religious instruction, I don't think there should be a problem. The more bilingual schools the better. I'm no Constitutional scholar, but it seems like it should be permissible to study some sections of the Torah in Hebrew as literature. We're allowed to study Genesis in English class, right? It's probably a good thing, though, that this guy isn't in charge anymore:

Rabbi Siegel was originally the school’s principal, but he hired someone else after people said it was inappropriate for a rabbi to oversee instruction. Rabbi Siegel, who does not have a congregation, said it should not have mattered.

“One of the most ridiculous complaints is that the line between culture and religion is so thin,” he said. “Who better to make that distinction than a rabbi?”

Who, indeed?

Turkey Attacks the ADL for Acknowledging the Armenian Genocide

Turkey doesn't appreciate the fact that the Anti-Defamation League has reversed course and acknowledged the Armenian genocide:

The Turkish government, reacting to a controversy that started in Watertown, yesterday condemned the Anti-Defamation League's decision to call the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a genocide.

"We consider the statement of the ADL as an injustice to the unique character of the Holocaust, as well as to the memories of its victims," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We expect it to be rectified."

Burak Akcapar, first counselor of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Turkey has registered its concerns with Israel, the United States, and "friends everywhere."

The councilors were protesting the Anti-Defamation League's refusal to state that the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, beginning in 1915, was genocide.

After the vote, the League's New England director, Andrew H. Tarsy, defied the organization's policy and agreed to use the term. He was fired the next day.

Jewish leaders in Boston and beyond protested, pointing out that Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, among others, have recognized the Armenian genocide.

Under mounting pressure, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement on Tuesday saying that the killings were "tantamount to genocide," but it stopped short of supporting a congressional resolution recognizing the genocide, saying it was counterproductive.

The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups had raised concerns that passage of the resolution could jeopardize the safety of Turkey's Jews.

Yesterday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry stated its continued opposition to the resolution, but said the League's concerns that it could lead to retaliation against Jews was unfounded.

"The Jewish community in Turkey is part of our society, and its members do not have any reason to worry," the ministry said in a statement.

Let's hope not. Bizarrely, the ADL has acknowledged the Armenian genocide but continues to oppose a Congressional resolution that would do the same:

Yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement reiterating that it does not support congressional efforts to recognize the Armenian genocide.

"The force and passion of the debate today leaves us more convinced than ever that this issue does not belong in a forum such as the United States Congress," the League said yesterday. "The proper role of those of us who deeply believe the controversy must be resolved is to promote and support Turkey and Armenia in efforts to bring them together to begin the process of reconciliation."


The Anti-Defamation League's unwavering stance angered some Armenian leaders.

"It's an attempt to appease the government of Turkey by backtracking away from their position and [to] avoid supporting the legislation," said Aram Suren Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee, an advocacy group in Washington. Hamparian called it "patently illogical" for the League to acknowledge the genocide and not ask Congress to do the same.

The ADL's position may make tactical sense: acknowledge the genocide to placate the Armenian community, but oppose the Congressional effort in an attempt to minimize the offense to Turkey. But Hamparian is correct when he calls this position "patently illogical." Imagine someone opposing a Congressional resolution to recognize the Holocaust on the grounds that a better course would be to promote reconciliation between Israel and Germany. Then there's the whole idea that a "forceful and passionate" debate would be inappropriate in the US Congress. It'll interesting to see how this all plays out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

ADL bows to pressure, acknowledges Armenian genocide

From the Boston Globe:

He has stood up to Mel Gibson, Jimmy Carter, Louis Farrakhan, and the president of Iran. But Abraham H. Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, backed down yesterday after a standoff with Armenian-Americans in Watertown drew the attention of some of the nation's most prominent Jewish leaders.

Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, reversed course and acknowledged that the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks was genocide. The change stunned those who have followed Foxman's 42-year career at the ADL, where he has rarely bowed to critics.
Finally. Now the question is, will Foxman reinstate Andrew Tarsy, the man he fired for stating that the Armenian genocide was actually a genocide?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

With Wiretapping Law, Democrats Gave Bush Even More Power Than He Asked For

Remember how quickly the Democratic leadership were spooked into approving Bush's new wiretapping law? They were afraid of being portrayed as weak on terror. Civil liberties be damned, they said; we have an election to think about! Now it emerges that, in their haste to approve the new law, the Democrats in Congress may have given the President even more power than he asked for. From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 — Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.
The dispute illustrates how lawmakers, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought.
Several legal experts said that by redefining the meaning of “electronic surveillance,” the new law narrows the types of communications covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, by indirectly giving the government the power to use intelligence collection methods far beyond wiretapping that previously required court approval if conducted inside the United States.

These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns.


“We did not cover ourselves in glory,” said one Democratic aide, referring to how the bill was compiled.

If the Democrats can't stand up to one of the most unpopular presidents in history, whom can they stand up to?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Anti-Defamation League Denies the Armenian Genocide, Fires its New England Director

A controversy has been growing in New England over the refusal of the Anti-Defamation League to admit that the Armenian genocide was really, well, a genocide. Things came to a head yesterday, according to this article in the Boston Globe:

The national Anti-Defamation League fired its New England regional director yesterday, one day after he broke ranks with national ADL leadership and said the human rights organization should acknowledge the Armenian genocide that began in 1915.

The firing of Andrew H. Tarsy, who had served as regional director for about two years and as civil rights counsel for about five years before that, prompted an immediate backlash among prominent local Jewish leaders against the ADL's national leadership and its national director, Abraham H. Foxman.


The national office's three-page response ... made clear just how far apart the two sides were on an issue with local, national, and international implications.

The letter, signed by Foxman and Glen S. Lewy, the ADL's national chairman, said "we have acknowledged the massacres of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire and called on Turkey to do more to confront its past and reconcile with Armenia. We will continue to press Turkey, publicly and privately . . ." But the letter also makes clear that the national ADL feels the safety of Israel, which considers Turkey a rare Muslim ally, is paramount.

I don't mean to diminish legitimate concerns about the safety of Jews in Israel. The Ant-Defamation League was founded in 1913 to protect Jews (and others) from discrimination. Denouncing genocides around the world isn't its main reason for existence. But still... does the ADL really believe that genocide should be denied when it is politically convenient to do so? Apparently. China and other nations have downplayed the genocide taking place in Darfur because they value their access to Sudanese oil. The ADL is downplaying the Armenian genocide because it values Israel's alliance with Turkey. In both cases, geopolitical concerns are trumping the moral issue of genocide. The Armenian genocide, unlike the crisis in Darfur, is long over, so obviously the ADL is not causing as much damage as those who deny a genocide occurring today. But this fact hardly makes the ADL's actions any less distasteful.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Fred Thompson speaks!

Just what is Fred Thompson saying these days? Let's look at some of the points he makes in this interview with CNN.

Likely Republican White House hopeful Fred Thompson told CNN Friday that he would work to overturn Roe v. Wade if elected president, and would push for a constitutional amendment that protects states from being forced to honor gay marriages performed in other states.

“I don’t think that one state ought to be able to pass a law requiring gay marriage or allowing gay marriage and have another state be required to follow along,” Thompson told CNN’s John King in an interview Friday.
Now, obviously no state is going to pass a law "requiring" gay marriage. Heterosexual marriage isn't going to become illegal anytime soon! ("Sorry, Harry, you can't get married to Sally.... go find a man and try again.") You could interpret this phrasing as something sinister on his part, but it's probably just a misstatement. Surely, like most Republicans, Fred Thompson would never exploit the fear of gay marriage for political gains. As for Roe v. Wade, nothing new here-- what Republican wouldn't appoint "strict constructionist" judges willing to overturn Roe v. Wade?

Next, he deals with the obvious question: when is he going to get off his butt and officially enter the race?
“We are going to be getting in if we get in, and of course, we are in the testing the waters phase,” he said. “We’re going to be making a statement shortly that will cure all of that. But yeah, we’ll be in traditionally when people get in this race."
Come on, Fred, quit playing around! Jump in already. "We are going to be getting in if we get in"? Technically true, I suppose. One does get in when one gets in. On to Iraq:
Thompson refused to provide a timeline for how much longer US forces would remain in the country under his administration, but said, “We need to make every effort to make sure that we don’t get run out of there with our tail between our legs before we’ve done the job of securing that place.”
Good, because it would be terrible for the world to see the United States with its tail between its legs. Forget a shrewd reassessment of America's strategic interests. What kind of message does that send to our enemies? Far better to stick out every unwinnable situation we find ourselves in.

Finally, Thompson deals with the burning criticism that just won't go away:
Asked about critics who call him “too lazy” to put in the long hours necessary to run for president, Thompson said: “If I have critics in Washington it's not going to come as a surprise to me. I'll have more by the end of this campaign,” adding, “The proof’s in the pudding. I think that’s curable.”
We've dealt with this issue before. You go, Fred. Cure that laziness!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 = TASS

Remember the NFL's silly new rule prohibiting online news organizations from using more than 45 seconds of video a day? The one that is supposed to increase the value of and the team websites? The Boston Globe's editorial page asks:

Professional football wouldn't be a multibillion-dollar enterprise if the league didn't assiduously promote its own interests. But the sport could suffer if the league seeks to become the main source of information about itself. Will the official website cover the league's own doings in a straightforward way, or will it be the NFL equivalent of the Soviet-era news agency TASS?

Ouch! Does the NFL need some ice for that burn?? In all seriousness, though, the Globe has a point. There's no way that can or should become the main source for NFL news. It seems unlikely that you'd ever find, say, a hard-hitting report on human growth hormone use in the NFL there. If I'm wrong (yes,it happens), feel free to send me a link to an article published on that was critical of the league, and I'll eat my Corey Dillon poster. It's out of date anyway.

Monday, August 13, 2007

See You Later, Tommy Thompson

As Fz reported in the post below mine, the Iowa straw poll came out with results that were not surprising: Mitt Romney won because Fred Thompson and The Most Evil New Yorker Ever chose not to participate. Sadly, for one candidate, the Iowa straw poll spelled a clear end: Tommy Thompson dropped out of the race after placing sixth.

Thompson, who also served in the Bush Cabinet, did not meet the expectations he set for himself in the Ames Republican straw poll held Saturday.
Those "expectations" were finishing first or second in the poll. However, as stated before, this was not to be. Besides getting basically no support from Iowa republicans, Thompson wasn't able to raise a whole lot of money: according to the FEC, Thompson raised a lowly $890,000, which was ninth amongst all republican candidates.

Thompson had hoped to try to cater to voters that wanted somebody that was, you know, really conservative on money and social issues. That's all fine and dandy, but honestly, I think the fact he was at one time part of the Bush administration proved to be the ultimate kiss of death for his chances at becoming president.

Oh, and after leaving his position as the secretary for health services, he promoted Medicare reforms that would benefit the companies he was working for, but that's a whole other story.

Take care, Tommy. Now I won't get confused whenever somebody refers to the Thompson that is running for president.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On the Iowa Straw Poll

Our old pal Mitt won. By a lot. But, I don't know if he should throw a high-octane Mormon fiesta just yet. After all, Giuliani, Thompson (the one who actually has a chance, that is), and McCain weren't participating. Plus, the straw poll doesn't really show who has the most support in Iowa, but rather who can buy the most support in Iowa. And we know that Mitt is by far the most free-spending candidate out there. So, he won a money competition. Wow. Congrats there Mitty.

I think the true winner of the straw poll was the man who came in second place, Mike Huckabee. He and his chief rival for the coveted second place, Sam Brownback, were very close, with Huckabee getting 18 percent and Brownback getting 15. But, there should be an important asterisk here. Brownback spent more money and exerted more effort here than Huckabee. So, in theory, Brownback should have taken second place.

Of course, coming in second place in a rather meaningless and completely undemocratic poll in which three of the main competitors chose not to participate may not seem like a big accomplishment. And it really isn't. But, I think it may be a bit of foreshadowing. We know that conservative Republicans are displeased with Giuliani, McCain, and Romney (and they will be even more displeased once primary season really heats up and the airwaves are filled with negative ads showing how liberal these guys are). They're sort of holding out hope that Thompson will be their man, but I have the feeling he will flop pretty quickly. So, what then? Who will be the conservative standard bearer? Huckabee or Brownback. Of course, I'm not saying that the nomination will ultimately go to either of those two (I don't think it will), but I do think one of them will be a bigger part of the campaign than they currently are. And I think this straw poll shows that Huckabee may be that guy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Three Cheers for Eliot Spitzer

I'm a Democrat, but I often have problems with the party's positions on economic issues, particularly with regards to the labor market. Thus, I salute Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York:

Chiding lawmakers for ignoring "the realities of the marketplace," Governor Spitzer stunned fellow Democrats yesterday by vetoing a bill that would have reordered the priorities of welfare offices by forcing caseworkers to steer female welfare recipients to higher-wage jobs in male-dominated fields.


The legislation would have mandated that state welfare offices encourage recipients to seek training for "sustainable wage jobs" and promote employment in "nontraditional" fields. The bill defines "sustainable" as 185% of the poverty level, or $37,000 for a family of four. "Nontraditional" is defined as an industry in which one gender makes up more than 75% of the work force. The bill's official memo highlights as "nontraditional" jobs for women such occupations as furniture movers, taxi drivers, carpenters, chemists, firefighters, and aerospace engineers.


Mr. Spitzer, in his veto message, took issue with the bill on three major points. Saying that only one-third of parents receiving welfare have a high school diploma, Mr. Spitzer wrote that low-wage jobs, combined with education and training, offer many recipients a better "opportunity" for employment. Lawmakers, he wrote, failed to appreciate the importance of "securing employment even at a low wage and building an employment history over time."

"Moreover," he continued, "providing public assistance recipients with training that emphasizes positions that pay 185% above the poverty level ignores the realities of the marketplace, which has many fewer 'sustainable wage' positions available."

Here, here for Spitzer. Lest you think I am being cold hearted, consider the fact that simply telling poor welfare recipients to get high-paying jobs (and even training them) will not necessarily result in them getting those jobs. As Mickey Kaus points out:
Unless his veto is overridden, embattled New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer has seemingly saved his state's welfare reform from the Good Jobs Fallacy--the idea that it makes sense to tell welfare recipients to hold out for high-paying jobs ("aerospace engineers" and "chemists" are two of the professions mentioned)--before they have to go to work. Keeping recipients on the dole while they "train" for jobs they never get is a time-tested way of ... well, keeping recipients on the dole.
They have a better chance of climbing up the income ladder if, as Spitzer says, they build an employment history at a low-wage job first. There is empirical evidence that welfare reform in the 1990s, which placed an emphasis on getting people off welfare rolls into any job, even a low-paying one, actually did seem to reduce poverty:

During the Pataki administration, welfare rolls fell by about 1 million people. Between 1995 and 2005, the poverty rate for families of single mothers in New York City fell to 49% from 56.3%, according to a report published by the Community Service Society of New York.

The child poverty rate in New York State fell to about 21% in 2005 from about 26% in 1996, the year before Mr. Pataki approved new welfare policies to bring New York into compliance with stricter federal welfare guidelines, which included a five-year time limit for benefits and passed under President Clinton.

During the same period, work rates for never-married single mothers between 18 and 64 increased to 70% from about 52%.

And how absurd is the requirement that welfare case workers steer women to jobs in male-dominated fields? Not that there's anything wrong with women working as furniture movers or taxi drivers-- if they want to, that's great! But requiring it smacks of misguided social engineering. The case workers should concentrate on helping the women get a job, period, without regard as to whether that job is "male" or "female."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Bush Barks, Democratic Leadership Quakes, Congress Passes Warrantless Eavesdropping Bill

You might think an administration as wildly unpopular as George W. Bush's would be unable to bully Congressional Democrats into rubber-stamping yet another bill that tramples on our civil liberties. Wrong! You can read the AP report for the gory details, or just check out Fred Hiatt's editorial in the Washington Post:

THE DEMOCRATIC-led Congress, more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens, left town early yesterday after caving in to administration demands that it allow warrantless surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, with scant judicial supervision and no reporting to Congress about how many communications are being intercepted. To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions.
Because if there is one problem in America it is that the Bush administration is too constrained by laws. What's so frustrating about the Democrats' capitulation was how completely unnecessary it was. Now, if the Democrats really did need to pass every civil liberties-trampling law proposed by our Fearless Leader, or risk being thrown out of office, then their stance, though gutless, would at least be understandable. But the truth is that there is no reason for the Democrats to have gone against their principles on this issue. As Glenn Greenwald points out:

Karl Rove's election strategy prior to the 2006 election was to force the Democrats to vote against the Military Commissions Act and warrantless eavesdropping so that he could run around the country accusing them of being "soft" and "weak" on Terrorism. While Senate Democrats chose not to filibuster the MCA and thus allowed it to pass, Congressional Democrats did overwhelmingly vote against it. And most House Democrats voted against warrantless eavesdropping (the Senate never ended up voting).

As a result, Rove repeatedly boasted that Democrats were sure to lose because Americans would punish them for their refusal to be "tough" on the Terrorists...

Rove made national security -- specifically the Democrats' opposition to coercive interrogation, lawless detention and warrantless eavesdropping -- the centerpiece of the GOP 2006 midterm campaign....

How did that big, bad, scary "Soft-on-Terrorism" strategy work out? The Democrats crushed the Republicans in an historic election, re-taking control of both houses of Congress, protecting every single one of their incumbents, and vastly increasing their hold over governorships and states houses. Democrats won in every region of the country outside of the Deep South. Karl Rove's strategy of accusing Democrats of being "soft on terror" due to their opposition to warrantless eavesdropping, lawless detention and torture was a complete failure on every level....

We do not need to wonder or speculate about what might happen if Democrats obstruct warrantless eavesdropping legislation and Republicans are then able to make an issue of it politically. That already happened in 2006. That was Rove's whole strategy. It failed miserably, across the board. And yet the Democratic leadership just permitted, and many Democrats supported, a wild expansion of George Bush's warrantless eavesdropping powers based on a jittery fear of this already-failed tactic, if not based on actual support for these increased eavesdropping powers.
Against all logic, the Democratic Leadership is still terrified at thought that the big, bad Republicans might accuse them of being soft on terror. (As if voting for this bill will prevent that.) What a disgrace. Thank goodness that the legislation expires in six months. Maybe that will be enough time for the Democrats to grow a spine.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Judith Giuliani Fights Back, Ineffectively

Rudy Giuliani's wife, Judith, has received overwhelmingly negative press coverage thus far in the campaign, like this Vanity Fair article. The reasons range from her strained relations with campaign staffers to the fact that she had an affair with Giuliani while he was still married to Donnna Hanover. So Judith has recently set out to turn her image around. From her interview in the New York Times:

A daughter of small-town Pennsylvania, a former nurse and working mother who struggled to raise a child on her own, she cuts a figure that Mr. Giuliani’s aides say will appeal to Republican voters. Husband and wife agree that Laura Bush is a model for Mrs. Giuliani.

But Judith carries some distinctly un-Laura baggage. Like her husband, she has been married twice before. They also had a secret affair for a year before Mr. Giuliani announced it to the world — and to his second wife, Donna Hanover — at a news conference.

Her relations with Mr. Giuliani’s children by Ms. Hanover are by all accounts deeply strained, despite her efforts at rapprochement. And his son and daughter, ages 21 and 17, have said they do not plan to campaign for their father.

Sharply critical articles, most recently in Vanity Fair, have described Mrs. Giuliani as an imperious striver who shops extravagantly, demands a separate seat on the campaign plane for her Louis Vuitton handbag and has compiled a hit list of campaign aides she wants fired.

Now, with his wife’s public role scaled back, at least temporarily, strategists are asking dueling questions: Can he win over socially conservative voters if his wife is not by his side? Can he win them over if she is?

Maybe, maybe not. The Giuliani strategy is to send out Rudy and Judith to speak candidly about the details of their romance and the problems their marriage has caused on the campaign trail. The goal: to humanize them. I don't know it that will help, though. Check it out:

Until now, the Giulianis have declined to discuss the matter, calling it “a romantic secret.” But in the interviews, the couple provided their version of their introduction, saying that they met at Club Macanudo, a cigar bar on East 63rd Street, in May 1999. They said they were introduced by Dr. Burt Meyers, a specialist in infectious diseases at Mount Sinai Hospital who was there with Mrs. Nathan and had met Mr. Giuliani when his mother was a patient there.

After chatting for an hour, mostly about her work in the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Giuliani asked for her phone number, they said. “She gave me a piece of paper to write it on,” he recalled. “One of our other romantic little secrets is I’ve kept it all these years in my wallet.”

After they began dating, Mrs. Giuliani had plans to fly to Hawaii on a vacation awarded to leading sales managers by her employer.

“He said, ‘Please don’t go,’ ” she recalled. “ ‘You’ve already become too important to me.’ ”

Personally, I don't find this little story endearing at all. I just can't sympathize with Giuliani when he's cheating on his wife. Now, I don't think his personal life is particularly relevant to the job Giuliani would do as president. (There are other reasons why he would be bad at that.) If I wanted to vote for him as president, this wouldn't stop me. However, it remains to be seen if Republican primary voters will be so forgiving.

The Lighter Side of Lobbying

I was watching the Democratic candidates debate at the YearlyKos Convention (I wasn't there; it was streamed online), and of course, the question about lobbyist contributions came up. I was pleased with Hillary Clinton's response, because she was *gasp* honest! She said that yes, she would continue to accept contributions from lobbyists, because as some Democrats seem to forget, there are lobbyists for all sorts of causes, not just oil and military contractors.

She also said that she wouldn't promise to visit all 50 states in her campaign. While this isn't really anything to be proud of or to rally behind, it's refreshingly honest. For all the political calculation that Hillary has been accused of, she has not given the answers that Democrats want to hear; she has given honest answers. She'll take lobbyist money, she won't promise to visit all 50 states, she won't promise to meet with the leaders of Cuba, Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc.

I'm still an Obama supporter, but I've been extremely impressed with Hillary lately. She isn't making empty promises just to get applause from a liberal crowd. I can really appreciate that.

Talk About Counterproductive (NFL Edition)

The Boston Globe reports (free registration required) :

In a high-stakes struggle for control of NFL news in cyberspace, the league has prohibited news organizations from airing more than a total of 45 seconds per day of online audio or video of team personnel from its stadiums. The action could foreshadow other major sports leagues imposing similar restrictions.

The NFL wants to prevent news organizations from diminishing the potential value of its online properties: and all 32 team websites.

This is a very short-sighted decision. The NFL is making a mistake by treating independent media outlets like the Boston Globe as competitors. One of the reasons that football is so popular is the media coverage, which builds excitement for the games themselves. Shouldn't the NFL want video clips of its product distributed as widely as possible? When I see a video of Lawrence Maroney blowing by tacklers, it fires me up for the next Patriots game. Then there's this:

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the 45-second rule reflects the league's attempt to balance the needs of news outlets with the league's need to protect its media assets. The policy also requires news sites to remove NFL audio and video from their websites after 24 hours of usage.

In addition, news websites that use audio or video from NFL facilities must provide links to and that team's Web page. News sites also are barred from running advertisements alongside the NFL content.

The bigwigs in the NFL apparently believe that the media should cover football for free. Somehow, I suspect that this will lead to less coverage. Good work, NFL! I won't be visiting any time soon.

On Mitt's Fear of Youtube

Oh, Mitt. Why are you afraid of Youtube?

Recently, after the Democrats participated in a CNN debate in which all of the questions were actually Youtube videos, our old pal Mitt Romney had a rather unpleasant reaction. He said, "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman," referring to this video:

The original title and theme of this post was going to be "On Mitt's Arrogance," because he thinks that the presidency is so elitist that it should be shielded from "silly" questions (although, the question was quite serious; it was simply asked in a silly way) from those least knowledgeable of people - voters. Indeed, composing questions ought to be left up to those hacks at CNN, right?

However, I think it goes deeper than that. Mitt isn't simply upset that presidential candidates are being asked questions by snowmen. He is upset that their being asked real, and quite possibly uncomfortable, questions. The Republican party is in shambles, and as we know, Youtube is a liberal haven:

So, those crazy liberals at Youtube and CNN are sure to be meaner to the Republicans. Indeed, conservative blogger Hugh Hewitt says, "
If the G.O.P. candidates agree to this format, expect a series of cheap shots about all of the top-tier candidates." This may be true, Youtubers may very well send in loaded questions, but does this speak more to the bias of Youtube/CNN or the quality of the GOP's top-tier candidates? Let's face it, the Republican Party is weaker than it has been in many years, and the top-tier candidates all have numerable problems. Is pointing out these weaknesses a symptom of some sort of media bias? Or is it a symptom of a sickly Republican party, which needs to put forward candidates who can respond to these criticisms if it wants any chance at winning in '08?

I think it is the latter.

So, Mitt's annoyance at Youtube is really annoyance at his own party. He expects that the Youtube public will see the problems that his party and he have and will submit questions trying to make him explain those problems and how he or the party more broadly can deal with them. So, Mitt isn't anti-Youtube just because he is an elitist douche bag (but, to be fair, he is an elitist douche bag), he is anti-Youtube because he is afraid of answering unscripted questions from an angry public. He is afraid of doing the job of a presidential candidate: responding to the public about things that actually matter.

For shame, Mitt. For shame.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mom of the Year?

Apologies to stray off the political talk slightly, but I think this story from good ol' Fox News is an example of the problems within the foster care system:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida woman accused of using aliases to adopt 11 New York children received as much as $2 million in child welfare payments even as she starved, bound and abused them, police said Tuesday.

Investigators initially believed Judith Leekin, 62, had adopted nine children, but authorities in New York said Tuesday that Leekin adopted 11 children in all from New York City's foster care system between 1993 and 1996.

Authorities believe Leekin held the adopted children like prisoners in her Port St. Lucie home, often handcuffing them together and forcing them to soil themselves because they weren't allowed to use the bathroom.

Leekin made about two million dollars total (which is about $55 a day of state funds) to abuse children. I'm going out on a limb to say nobody checked up on her. Oh, and what tipped off authorities that this lady was running the foster home from hell?

The case came to light July 4 when an 18-year-old woman was found wandering in a grocery store in St. Petersburg, about 200 miles away from Leekin's home. The woman told police Leekin had adopted her 13 years ago and abandoned her at the store that day.
What a class act.