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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bolivia moves left; Malaysia moves...toward talibanism?

Truly worlds apart. In South America, Bolivia has elected the country's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, a left-leaning activist with goals far afield of Washington: some nationalization of the energy industry; and divorce from the US "War on Drugs". As the BBC notes,
An Aymara Indian and coca farmers' leader, Mr Morales is a close ideological ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Evo Morales is against US-backed coca eradication programmes and seeks some form of national control over Bolivia's huge gas reserves - the second largest in the region. However, analysts say he will face serious obstacles, as his programme is bound to provoke opposition from Washington and Bolivia's business sector.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the unthinkable all too thinkable is happening... a country is actually passing new laws that increase women's subjugation to men, rather than increasing equality under the law:
Row over Malaysian family laws (BBC, 12/22/05):

An Islamic family law, making it easier for men to have polygamous marriages and take more of wives' property, is expected to be passed in the Senate.

Women senators from the governing coalition, who hoped to oppose the bill, have been ordered to support it.

For the record, the CIA World Factbook lists Malaysia as a "constitutional monarchy" - same as it describes the UK.

I wonder if there will be any condemnation of the Malaysian government's antidemocratic behavior from anyone in the U.S. government? Or will our "leaders" be too busy figuring out how to stop Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales from spreading too much liberty for their liking in South America?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Stevens defeated on ANWR, Frist wins(?) on pharma immunity

Senators Kerry, Cantwell, and others kicked ass today in the Senate. I can't post in detail tonight, but the ANWR drilling provision was removed from the Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2863) conference report (note this was not an amendment, but a concurring resolution - listed on Thomas as "S. Con. Res. 74; A concurrent resolution correcting the enrollment of H.R. 2863.") Roll call vote here. Roll call for failed cloture vote here.

However I saw nothing about what this resolution did or did not do about the pharma immunity from lawsuit provision, or the LIHEAP provision (which I'm fuzzy on anyway as to what it did and why it was in this bill).

It doesn't seem to me that either pharma immunity or LIHEAP belong in the Defense Appropriations Bill; so even though I'm probably in favor of the LIHEAP provision, I wouldn't be upset if both (all) non-germane items had been dropped along with ANWR drilling. But I'm willing to bet Frist got his pharma immunity.

Repubs cut Medicaid, Medicare as Christmas present to America

This morning, the Senate gave (almost) final passage to the Budget Reconciliation bill, S.1932. The M$M (MSNBC and CNN for two) buy into the Republican spin and report the that the bill cuts about $40B in benefits over the next 5 years, from programs such as Medicare and Medicaid (side note - how much will this cost state governments?) - resulting, as they report, in a deficit reduction. MSNBC - Senate OKs bill to cut deficit with Cheney’s help; CNN (more accurate headline) - Senate cuts government benefits :
In the final clashes of a year of partisan conflict .... Republicans salvaged a $39.7 billion package of deficit cuts on Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.

But Senator Kent Conrad, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, tells us the real deal, with charts:
I would just like to make one final point, then we'd be happy to take your questions. As I indicated, there are three chapters to this reconciliation book. You have to read all three chapters before you can reach conclusion on what the book means. The first chapter cuts $40 billion of spending over five years. The second chapter cuts taxes $70 billion over the same period. So the combined effect of chapters one and two is to increase the deficit, not reduce it. The third chapter is really the chapter our Republican friends don't want the American people to read. The third chapter of this book increases the debt of our country in one fell swoop by $781 billion, one of the biggest increases in debt in the history of America. That is the package they have before our country. It's the wrong priorities. It does not represent the values of the American people.

I'm a little unclear on whether parts 2 and 3 are in the current bill, or Conrad's is just reading from the Repubs published plan. In any case, one might think that rescinding $40B of tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 % would be preferable to denying medical assistance to the poor and aged. But hey, it's Christmas, and what would Christmas be without someone playing the part of Scrtooge?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Shamelessly gaming the system, #237: ANWR drilling version

I guess I'm dense, because I don't see how adding a provision to allow drilling in ANWR is germane to the Defense Appropriations Bill. And then, when they try to slip it in to the conference report - when it was not part of the bill passed by either house of Congress prior to conference - just wtf do they think they're up to?

San Francisco Chronicle:
Face-off over Arctic drilling funds in defense spending bill: Opponents outraged over what they view as backdoor tactic

Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Washington -- Senate Republican leaders are setting up a final showdown next week over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by tying oil drilling in Alaska to a popular defense spending bill that would also pay for the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina relief.

The new strategy could boost the chances of approving oil development in the Alaskan refuge by forcing lawmakers who oppose drilling to make a tough vote against a $453 billion bill that would pay for U.S. military operations for the coming year and aid to hurricane victims in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

The drilling measure appeared all but dead for the year this month, but the new tactic has raised the possibility that Congress could decide one of the most contentious environmental issues in a generation before they leave for the holiday recess.


Um, not so fast. From the same article:

But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Democrats were still gathering the votes they needed Friday to defeat the measure on a procedural vote. If not, he pledged he would lead a filibuster.

"We're busy counting heads and talking to people right now," Kerry said. "A lot of people are very, very upset by this procedure. My hope is we don't have to get to (a filibuster)."

And from a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article of Dec. 15, there's this:

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has threatened in the past to filibuster any ANWR drilling legislation.

"It's really appalling that some Senators are willing to hold our troops and hurricane victims hostage to their desperate attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic refuge," said Kerry's spokeswoman, April Boyd.

Defending ANWR is nothing new for John Kerry. Don't expect him to back down.

Go get 'em John.

"The Constitution In Tatters"

Good piece by Dick Bell at DCP. He goes a bit further than I would in suggesting that the immediate release of the "NSA spying on US citizens" bombshell would have changed the election, but it's a rant worth a thoughtful read.

The last flimsy fig leaf of respect for the Constitution was ripped away with today's reports that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency in 2002 to eavesdrop on US citizens and foreign nationals in the US.

The story ABOUT this story is equally horrifying. The New York Times knew about this NSA program and at the request of the government sat on the story for more than a year.
Could you have imagined, ten years ago, that our country was:

*operating an international network of secret prisons.

*running a Justice Dept. headed by an Attorney General whose craven memos purported to allow US Government officials to engage in torture, and who was confirmed by the Senate even though the Senators knew about the torture memos.

*allowing the President on his own whim to arrest and imprison people for the rest of their natural lives without access to an attorney or even a court.

I could go on, but the point is clear. We are now living under the gravest threat that our country has ever faced. The men and women who are running the executive branch are sytematically destroying the constitutional foundations of our country. And the men and women in the Congress who are empowered by the Constitution to provide a check on the executive branch have utterly failed to carry out their own constitutional duties.

Every day that passes under the leadership of these people is another knife blow to the ribs of liberty.

Updated to add: Why don't I think the release of this information before the 2004 election would've changed the outcome? Because there was PLENTY of information already there for those who bothered to open their eyes to see it. With all respect to Dick for his opinion, I personally think that for a person to say, "gee if I had only known about THIS, I would've changed my vote", is a total, lame, irresponsible cop-out. There was PLENTY of factual information out there, Mr. and Mrs. American Voter, about the characters and records of the two men you had to choose between - if you bothered to turn off American Idol and look past the campaigns' own marketing and the manipulations of the very-interested-in-the-outcome corporate media. If you're feeling hoodwinked now, maybe it's time to take a good look inside yourself at how you choose who you vote for.

(See, I can rant, too. :-) )

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Kerry urges loan relief for small biz hurt by hurricanes

Loan relief urged for hurricane-stricken small businesses

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in a press release urged Republican Congressional delegates to allow a vote on a bi-partisan small business hurricane relief package that is co-authored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter.

< snip >

According to Kerry's office, 75 percent of hurricane-related Small Business Administration disaster business loan applications have not even been processed, and only 7 percent of the approved business loans have been fully disbursed.

< snip >

The Small Business Hurricane Relief and Reconstruction Act, S. 1807, was first introduced in September and would allow the affected states to distribute $450 million in bridge loans to help businesses that are waiting for an SBA loan.

At a committee hearing last month, SBA Administrator Hector Barreto testified that the administration would not support that provision and instead unveiled the SBA's Gulf Opportunity Pilot Loan Program, the release says.

Only 10 of the SBA's new Gulf Opportunity loans had been distributed by last week.

< snip >

This news article is based on this press release from Dec. 12th.

Once again, we see how dedicated the Bush administration is to supporting small business - not much at all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Awesome does not even begin to describe.

Sunday, December 11, 2005 will go down in my personal history as one of the best days of my life.

I met the REAL President of the United States.

Well, the man who should be President, the man who would have been President if we had all worked just a little harder and been a little smarter and had our act together a little more. Or if average, busy, hard-working and otherwise wonderful Americans were just a little bit better at recognizing and rejecting media manipulation.

I met Senator John Kerry.

I got the hug, the gentle squeeze of the hand, the eye twinkle. But more importantly to this infogeek, I had the immense honor of sitting practically toe to toe with one of the smartest and most genuinely decent human beings on the planet while he casually and candidly chatted with our group about matters of both import and trivia, matters of media and reality, matters of values and heart. I won't go into detail of what was said, but suffice to say that John Kerry proved to me in person that he really does know what the heck is going on and what needs to be done about it. He groks the blogosphere and the role of new media even though he is necessarily distant from the gory details. In his approach to every turn of the discussion, it was evident that he is a public servant to the core, looking for the best way to get the right thing done, and to do it in the right way. The tidbit from our discussion that I would most like to tell, I cannot, because telling it would defeat the reason that it would even need to be told; because the right way in this case is the quiet way. Let me just say that it exemplified to me that the Senator lives by values that many today just give lip service to, even when it might be more personally advantageous to do the common and expected thing.

For those just dying for the technical details of how this great event occurred, here goes. But first – what I am about to tell is only part of the story, the self-centered, “my meeting with the great Senator Kerry” part of the story. There is so much more I should tell, about how great Mrs. Heinz was to make this happen, how each and every blogger in the group did something that made this trip totally awesome for me and everyone else, how some of the Senator’s and Mrs. Heinz’ staffers played their roles and helped to make it happen and make it wonderful; about our walks to Beacon Hill and our trip to Faneuil Hall…and the great chats together at the hotel, and the endless high fives after the event. So much to tell, I can only take it a bit at a time, and since it started out being all about the Senator’s birthday party, this is where I’ll start.

A few weeks ago our friend Rox posted at DU about a party being held to celebrate the great Senator's 62nd birthday. Well a few of us out-of-towners were lucky enough to have both the inclination and the means to participate (many, many more had the inclination, but sadly, for one reason or another, not the means); and an event for the ages was conceived. We had fourteen ultimately attending, six local or semi-local, and eight flying in. Even better: previously, in response to a separate, wonderfully incredible idea, we had been mailing two birthday cards around the country collecting signatures (one for the East and one for the West). The cards had been custom designed and printed by one of the DU bloggers. Now we saw that we could present the signed cards in person.

At some point Teresa Heinz got wind of our group's plans. Evidently she was impressed, and touched that so many of us would take the time and expense to come from out of town for this event, as well as by our continuing efforts since last year to support and defend her husband in the blogosphere. She wanted to recognize us and "present" us to the Senator, I guess to demonstrate how much love and support he still inspires across the country, and perhaps to let him see, if he was unaware, that he already has a cadre of bloggers fighting the good fight against the media manipulation problem that bedevils all Democrats, and especially great Democrats, in our society today. Teresa had her staff communicate with one of our members and make all the necessary arrangements to create of our group a nice "surprise" for the Senator at his party.

So on the great day we all assembled at the appointed place, the Georgian Room of the Boston Park Plaza. We were positioned in a particular spot where Teresa could acknowledge us individually by name in her introductory remarks. I'm unfortunately too short to have been able to fully see the Senator's expression, but it seemed that he was duly impressed and thrilled about his "present". When he got up to give his own speech, he called us all up on stage to stand behind him as he spoke. We weren't expecting that and were perhaps a little stage tense, but I was ultimately ecstatic – I ended up standing about three feet from my favorite living politician while he gave an absolutely phenomenal speech. In his speech, Senator Kerry spoke briefly to issue after issue of importance to me, and convinced me yet again how much we are on the same page on the issues that count.

Later (still at the main event) we each had an opportunity to be photographed with the Senator, and we presented him the birthday cards. I told him that I found his continuing efforts since the election very inspirational. Okay, I have no idea what my exact words were because I was totally awestruck at that point, and it was difficult enough to get to him through the mob (I am NOT a skilled cocktail party honoree interceptor). The good Senator seemed to understand and appreciate my message, though, and responded with words to the effect that "it's so important to keep fighting", while delivering one incredible hug.

Eventually the scheduled event cleared out and we all headed off to bask in the glow. But at some point on the way to our planned mundane basking, we got the message that we were invited to a local pub to enjoy a few suds on the tab of the REAL First Lady. Wow. I'm a rare drinker these days but I wasn't about to pass up a Guinness at an Irish pub in Boston, after an event like this.

After some of the folks changed – I couldn't because I didn't splurge for the room at the Plaza, and hadn't brought any after party duds over from my hotel – we all met up for the after-event get together. Of course there was a wonderful young fellow from the Senator's staff there, to make sure we were all well taken care of. He treated us to some innocuous talk of the Senator, relevant events past and present, ourselves and to some extent our own ambitions (such as how the college students in our group should go about applying for internships).

In the midst of this banter and fellowship, our staffer friend received a call on his Blackberry. I had achieved a rare (for me) networking coup by managing to sit next to the staffer, so I knew immediately the call was from the Senator, and I succeeded in rapping my end of the table (the noisy end) to relative quiet. The staffer then held up the phone and told us to say "hi" to the Senator…which we did, quite loudly and impressively. Or maybe it was "Happy Birthday, Senator Kerry"…subsequent events kind of overwrote the details of that one in my memory.

More banter and fellowship, and one or two Blackberry calls later. After one of those that I suspected to be from the Senator, either I or Diane asked, "so…is he coming over?" (at some point that had been emphatically requested by several of those assembled). But someone else jumped in with an innocuous question, that the staffer promptly pounced on, smoothly avoiding the first question. Of course I refused to take the hint (yes I did recognize it) and needled him, "you sure avoided that one nicely" to which he responded with a smile, something like, "yes, I did, didn't I?" At that point my hopes were starting to rise, but not too high…

My roommate was suggesting it was time to head back to the hotel, but I was having the time of my life and basically said, hell no. In fact I was thinking that there was a slim possibility that someone very special might join us, so there was no way I was leaving. But I didn't want to look stupid if I was mistaken, so I just said something like, hey, we just had a phenomenal experience, and also, this is my first time ever to celebrate in downtown Boston, we may feel dead tomorrow but who cares? My point was taken, for which she was very grateful later.

So, just a little more banter and fellowship later, and guess who strolls into the pub. After a roughly unisonic chorus of "oh my god HE'S HERE!" gasps and a brief pause to retrieve jaws from the floor, I'm not sure if a cheer went up or what... it was something like that but again, the record's a bit scratched in that spot.…

Fast forward past general welcomes, a few happy photo shots, the inevitable schmoozing by the fearless younger set, and our great Senator found his way to a protected but accessible spot in a chair backed to a wall, and we all gathered around as best we could respectfully. Somehow, and this time through absolutely no planning or machinations of my own, I ended up in the catbird seat – on a short stool directly across from the Senator, and no table between, either – with my feet close enough to his that I even edged mine back slightly lest an involuntary twitch scuff a really nice shoe (and I don't mean my own).

Since I wasn't taking notes, I won't repeat anything of the conversation, lest I misstate or misconstrue something the Senator said. That would truly be improper. The upshot was everything I said at the beginning of this post. Although I knew enough about John Kerry before this weekend to want to attend this event in the first place, I don't have the words to describe the comfort of assurance I have attained by this personal encounter, that the wonderful things I have only believed about him before, now I know to be absolutely true: he is indeed warm, personable, charismatic, and incredibly smart, informed and on top of the situation. He was casual and comfortable with us and I know we all felt like we were chatting with a friend. Now answer this - how many U.S. Senators do you think you could you say that about, after a first meeting?

When it was time for him to leave, he of course wanted to give each of us a hug. Thanks to my lucky seating draw, I was first in line to be on the receiving end of one of the world's greatest hugs. Then as goodbyes were said, I somehow ended up on the other end of the group, toward the door – I didn’t plan this, honest – and that put me in the spot for one last touch of the arm and squeeze of the hand as he left our group. In truth I certainly could not say what he was thinking, but the words I felt in that last squeeze of the hand were “don’t worry – it will be okay.” And you know, I do feel more hope now that somehow, it really will be okay.

To sum up, what an incredible guy, our friend, Senator, and to us the REAL President, John Kerry.

NOW I'm back.

First off, my apologies to any loyal readers I have remaining. Without wasting your time with a lot of b.s. excuses, let me just say, I am so happy it's OVER. Grad school, that is. For a little while, anyway.

Yes, soon I will be getting a pretty piece of paper in the mail that represents beaucoup dollars and hours and sweat and tears (luckily no blood, at least not that I can remember, unless you count paper cuts).

The last course almost did me in. Well, to be fair, I've been distracted a bit lately, and found it hard to stay focused. It really wasn't the professor's fault. Regardless, I apparently learned what I was supposed to, and now I can start spending more time doing serious blogging and not just the hit and run posts I've been doing at other blogs and forums for the last couple months.

Besides the massive relief of no more term papers and final projects, I just experienced another big event that was incredibly motivating. More on that in the next post. Which will be coming by the end of today, I promise.

Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration's public statements on Iraq
The Bush Administration's
public statements on Iraq
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