September 14, 2007

Now available: Metroplex Green Party candidate space

After Congressional Democrats’ relatively tepid response to the Petraeus PR flackery, I’m ready to offer space here to Metroplex-area Green candidates for Congress. (I’ll also include true antiwar Democrats challenging incumbents in the Democratic primary. Yes, that means somebody stepping up to EBJ, among other things.)

September 13, 2007

Kevin Drum not batting well on Iraq this week

After yesterday telling "second tier" Democratic presidential candidates to withdraw, Drum now says that without a cloture-proof 60, let alone a veto-proof 67 in the Senate, Democrats are hamstrung on Iraq action.

Once again, like, you're wrong, wrong, wrong on Iraq, Kevin.

The magic number in the Senate is 41; that prevents cloture and blocks any funding bill that doesn't defund Iraq.

You’re wrong, Kevin, and Harry Reid is wrong when he says the same thing. I believe more and more that Ted Rall is right about Congressional Democrats on Iraq.

If it takes government gridlock or a funding meltdown by invoking cloture against ANY budget bill that continues to fund Iraq, that’s what it takes.

Do it, dammit.

I read Kevin’s post right after hearing Reid make the same claim on All Things Considered, followed by Mitch (I’m the lying senator McConnell, not the lying intelligence director McConnell) McConnell.

And I was steamed.

Proof Lancaster ISD is becoming the new Wilmer-Hutchins

Read this; honor students who have trouble with standardized tests four years into Larry Lewis’ superintendent reign is pretty damning.

As Oliver Cromwell told the Rump Parliament in 1653: “Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

When will somebody tell Lewis this? When will somebody finally say they are tired of rhetoric falling far short of reality?

September 12, 2007

Good news for controlling auto CO2 emissions

Federal Judge William K. Sessions has ruled that California and 14 other, mainly New England, states have the right to regulate automotive carbon dioxide emissions. Couple that with the Supreme Court ruling this summer than the Environmental Protection Agency has CO2 pollution regulation powers, and I just don’t see automakers having a chance of winning this case on appeal — with one exception noted below.

The suit was in Vermont, which adopted a copy of California’s pioneering CO2 control law. California, by law, has the right to go beyond federal standards on pollution levels, with the granting of an EPA waiver. Other states have the right to adopt California laws when California goes beyond federal standards, but cannot go beyond federal standards on their own.

Here’s the proposed California law:
Under the California law, the emissions reductions for cars in the 2016 model year could be as much as 30 percent or more below current levels.

California regulators have required that by 2012 emissions from cars and light trucks be reduced by 25 percent from 2005 levels. For larger trucks and sport utility vehicles, 18 percent cuts were required.

Sessions specifically cited the SCOTUS ruling; he also rejected the idea that California, and the other states following it, are trying to just regulate gas mileage, which is purely a federal issue.

The one possible reason Sessions could be overturned? University of Vermont law professor Patrick Parenteau noted that California hasn’t gotten its EPA waiver yet (a ruling is planned before the end of this year) and thus Sessions could be overturned on grounds of jumping the gun.

I say that’s tortuous reasoning, as the automakers jumped the gun by bringing the suit in the first place.

Otherwise, Sessions sounds like he made himself well-informed on the technological feasibility of the California requirements; he reject auto industry arguments this could cost as many as 65,000 jobs.

Poppycock; people are going to buy new cars, period.

Green shame on both old and new Texas state reps, namely Helen Giddings and Lois Kolkhorst

Helen Giddings, state rep at my old newspaper company, and soon to be my new newspaper company, and Lois Kolkhorst, state rep at my current job, both didn’t score so well in Environment Texas’ biennial rankings of legislators on their environmental votes.

In the House, Giddings, a Democrat, theoretically, from DeSoto, only scored 50 percent this year and has a 61 percent lifetime rating. Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican, was bad at 33 percent, though that’s better than her lifetime rating of 24 percent.

Of course, I haven’t considered Giddings a real Democrat ever since she sold out to House Speaker Tom Craddick over Tom DeLay’s Congressional redistricting meddling.

On the Senate side, South Dallas Democrat Royce West was good but not great at 71 percent; south/east suburban Dallas Republican Bob Duell was OK at 57 percent. Down here in southeast Texas, Republican Steve Ogden was at 43 percent.

Executive power, not abortion, behind Bush Supreme Court choices

Charlie Savage makes an excellent argument to this end.

He points out that John Roberts, for example, has defended both Cheney’s “unitary executive” idea and executive-branch secrecy. He has similar info on Alito, and even a little on would-have-been Justice Miers.

Anyway, give it a read; it’s good.

And, this definitely does NOT bode well for the illegal wiretapping lawsuits, when they get to SCOTUS.

Ted Rall calls out so-called “antiwar Democrats”

And, in doing so, not just one or two, but Congressional Democrats en masse, he again demonstrates again why he’s probably my favorite progressive columnist. He first notes:
In June Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's Extra! Magazine wrote: “If the Democrat-controlled Congress wanted to force the Bush administration to accept a bill with a withdrawal timeline, it didn't have to pass the bill over Bush's veto--it just had to make clear that no Iraq War spending bill without a timeline would be forthcoming.”

Democratic leaders know that. And here's how I know they know: days after taking control of Congress, on January 30, they invited five constitutional law experts to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask them how they could end the war. Four out of five of the experts swore that the Democrats could stop the Iraq War just...like...that.

After accusing the mainstream media of perpetuating the myth that Democrats really do want to end the war, but can’t get a bill past Bush, Rall then observes:
You'd think the Democrats would want to end the Iraq War before their likely retaking of the White House, but that's because you're a human being, not a politician. Politicians are happy to dispatch hundreds of young American men and women to certain death (along with thousands of Iraqis), if the bloodshed squeezes out an extra half percentage point at the polls. Reid and Pelosi prefer to run against a disastrous ongoing Republican war than point to a fragile Democratic-brokered peace.

I really don’t think any more commentary is needed.

I take that back, yes there is: vote Green as needed.

Why do conservative columnists dominate the newspaper op-ed pages in most the country?

Kevn Drum notes that they do, in a “dog bites man” blog post about an in-depth survey of newspaper commentary over at Media Matters.

I offer my observations from someone with a slice of life inside the industry, at least right now.

I’ve worked at one small daily, and a variety of non-dailies, for about 13 years. Aside from the “name” columnists at “name” syndicates, you have a variety of smaller syndicates putting out B-side/AAA minor league columnists.

These, even more than at the Major League level, tend to tilt small town/Chamber of Commerce/down on the farm right; a fair subset of them tilt religious right, also.

In other words, if you think the situation is skewed at your typical seven-day daily, you ain’t seen nothing.

Then, amongst freebie columnists, you have some conservative think tanks, plus state chapters of conservative organizations, floating their columns everywhere.

For instance, I, at a weekly paper of about 4,500-5,000 circulation, get columns every week from folks like the Conservative Values Coalition and Texas chapters of several national coalitions. I’d estimate I get six-seven a week like this.

Then, there are organizations that are officially apolitical, such as the Texas Medical Association, but that may take conservative positions on issues near and dear to their hearts, such as national healthcare, in this case.

Also, Senators and many Representatives send “their” columns out every week; of course, they’re all staff-written, not by the MCs themselves. But, my off-the-cuff guess is that conservative Congressmen reinforced conservative newspapers here in a sort of closed feedback loop.

The solutions? Well, given that liberals are generally more idealistic, and thus interested in editorial positions, speaking up on an op-ed page wherever possible is a start. Liberal public policy groups, etc. churning out more op-eds would also help. And professional groups that have a more liberal take on issues, like state trial lawyers’ groups on tort reform, have done some writing in the past, but need to be joined by others.

Take labor issues; if someone from the AFL-CIO would crank out some well-crafted op-eds on a variety of labor matters, and pitch them with a smaller-town angle, it would be water in the desert.

Given that smaller-town newspaper readership is not declining as much as at seven-day dailies, this is a fertile field.

Amen to Lynn Woolsey: Let’s have some Dems get anti-war primary challenges

That’s what California Democratic Congresswoman Woolsey says herself:
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) is encouraging anti-war activists to find challengers to centrist Democrats, with the aim of moving the party to the left and ramping up opposition to the war in Iraq, to the chagrin of top Democratic aides.

“You folks should go after the Democrats,” Woolsey said in response to a suggestion from an activist during a conference call last month organized by the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

“I’d hate to lose the majority, but I’m telling you, if we don’t stand up to our responsibility, maybe that’s the lesson to be learned.”

Democratic leaders have yet to punish Woolsey for her stance, but their aides were irked by and dismissive of Woolsey’s remarks.

“The political reality is that the real targets of the outside groups should be Republicans who have so far refused to join the overwhelming majority of Democrats in voting for a change of course in Iraq,” a top aide said.

Ahh, the current Democratic Congressional leadership: shoot the message as well as the messenger.

Oh, let’s take Ms. Woolsey’s call one step further.

Let’s have more liberal bloggers beating the drum for Green Party or socialist candidates for the general election, too. I intend to do so.
That’s what California Democratic Congresswoman Woolsey says herself:
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) is encouraging anti-war activists to find challengers to centrist Democrats, with the aim of moving the party to the left and ramping up opposition to the war in Iraq, to the chagrin of top Democratic aides.

“You folks should go after the Democrats,” Woolsey said in response to a suggestion from an activist during a conference call last month organized by the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

“I’d hate to lose the majority, but I’m telling you, if we don’t stand up to our responsibility, maybe that’s the lesson to be learned.”

Democratic leaders have yet to punish Woolsey for her stance, but their aides were irked by and dismissive of Woolsey’s remarks.

“The political reality is that the real targets of the outside groups should be Republicans who have so far refused to join the overwhelming majority of Democrats in voting for a change of course in Iraq,” a top aide said.

Ahh, the current Democratic Congressional leadership: shoot the message as well as the messenger.

Oh, let’s take Ms. Woolsey’s call one step further.

Let’s have more liberal bloggers beating the drum for Green Party or socialist candidates for the general election, too. I intend to do so.

September 11, 2007

Just when you think there’s nothing new under the sun of bigotry

You get this:
TEL AVIV, Israel - Eight Israelis accused of belonging to a neo-Nazi cell that attacked religious Jews and painted swastikas in synagogues were charged on Tuesday on counts including aggravated assault and weapon possession. …

All eight are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. A police spokesman said they won Israeli citizenship because they each have at least one Jewish grandparent, though most of them are not considered Jewish under rabbinical law.

Just as blacks and other minorities can be bigoted, so too can Jews, sadly.

The “Petraeus report”: my take

First, it isn’t a report on conditions in Iraq nearly as much as it is PR flak. Independent studies have shown that violence in Iraq in general is up — well up if you adjust for the summertime slack-off in 120-degree heat.

The Government Accounting Office has said this. But, not just the GAO.
Our own, Bush-sized embassy in Baghdad has said this. So has the Congressional Research Service. And, so has an independent private-world think tank

From the Congressional Research Service study, as reported by the New York Daily News:
“My assessment is that because of the number and breadth of parties boycotting the (Iraqi) cabinet, the Iraqi government is in essential collapse,” said Kenneth Katzman, the author of the report. “That argues against any real prospects for political reconciliation.”

Without that political infrastructure, Katzman said any military progress would be short-lived.

That is, if there actually is any military progress, which Katzman doubts.

“I would even question the military progress,” he said.

Because of the political instability, and the lack of military success, Katzman said he agreed with many senior State Department officials in Iraq that a political solution to the war is now “hopeless.”

And, Stephen Biddle, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of Petraeus’ advisory panel, said (expressing his personal view) that the strategy in Iraq would require the presence of roughly 100,000 American troops for 20 years — and event then would be a “long-shot gamble.”

Twenty years? Talking about Vietnam comparisons, that’s twice as long!

But, President Bush is apparently determined to have a successful report, whether it’s reality-based or PR-based. And Gen. Petraeus, from what I’ve read, has been willing to salute whatever his commander-in-chief ran up the flagpole from the time Petraeus was named ground commander in Iraq.

Especially as Petraeus isn’t even putting anything in writing himself for Congress, we should more accurately call it the Bush report anyway.

And, contrary to a popular straw man, red herring, or whatever, no, the terrorists are not going to follow us home if we leave Iraq. Nor is al-Qaeda going to then topple Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Many people have compared this war to Vietnam. One of the closest comparisons is these two statements closely track the “domino theory” about South Vietnam, how if it fell to the North, Laos, then Cambodia, then Thailand, then all of southeast Asia would go Communist. Eventually, the theory went, we could be fighting them in America, a statement no doubt used to justify CIA domestic spying and a host of other evils.

Well, Vietnam was as much, if not more, a nationalist war than a Communist plot. And, nobody “followed us here.” So, too, is Iraq a nationalist revolt more than a religious one. Plus, given the almost mythical al Qaeda in Iraq accounts for less than 10 percent of violence there — probably less than 5 percent — nobody there is in a position to “follow us here.” Besides, with the degree of factionalism there, that country is likely to enter something like the Thirty Years War when we leave.

So, let’s leave, already. The notion that we can actually change anything — change for the long term, certainly — in Iraq would be laughable if not already tragic. As for the claim the “surge” has rediced Iraqi civilian casualties, the independent studies paint a different story. And, since the Pentagon won’t even declassify how it determines causes of different casualties, its methodology has to be considered suspect because it lacks transparency. (To put it bluntly, from where I sit, the Pentagon is cooking the books, and for political reasons. Does anybody remember the inflated body counts of Vietnam, and for similar reasons?)

Beyond all of the above, there’s too great a danger that too much of the general populace will take the Bush-ghostwritten Petraeus report at face value. That, in turn, could lead to knee-weakening of too many Democratic Members of Congress.

September 10, 2007

Your Monday financial news roundup

Top thrift company may have more losses on books

WaMu has the latest bad housing industry news:
Washington Mutual Inc., the largest U.S. thrift, said that conditions in the housing market are creating a `near-perfect storm' and may force the company to set aside more money to cover bad loans.

Chief Executive Officer Kerry Killinger told the Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. financial services conference today the bank may have to increase its loan-loss provision by $500 million. Previously the bank forecast provisions of $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion for the full year.

Killinger also indicated he expects problems to last a while.

Readers Digest-ville has sexy housing fallout

A Pleasantville, N.Y., mortgage broker couple, after watching their $750,000 asking price on a house fall below $600K, allegedly turned it into a brothel.

Mortgage-related job losses may almost double

Firings, etc. may break 100,000:
As many as 20 percent of the nation's real estate loan officers and mortgage brokers will be fired, according to Josh Rosner, managing director at the New York investment research firm Graham Fisher & Co. That's in addition to the 10 percent reduction from December to July that thinned their ranks to 450,000 as investors stopped buying mortgages and lenders curtailed financing to avoid rising subprime defaults.

Remember, that’s only direct job losses, not any “ripple” losses from how this affects the broader economy. Semi-directly, that could include mortgage appraisers, title-company clerks and settlement attorneys. Indirectly, we’re talking about people without jobs not buying things.

More support offered for a two-year slump

Financial ratings company Moody’s expects the current housing slump to last until 2009. (Nowhere in the story does Moody’s except its share of the blame in all this for its blank check puff rating of collateralized debt obligations in the last few years.

Cry me yet another river, Larry Craig

Yet another GOPer shows that the river of personal responsibility, like that of capitalism, flows only one way. Now Craig is blaming the media for his pleading guilty to solicitation of gay sex. His lawyer, Billy Martin, is saying Craig did not “knowingly and intelligently enter a guilty plea.”

Sure, sure. Some first-time homeowner buys a house, or someone with bad credit gets a predatory-terms credit card, and “capitalists” are willing to stick it to them over “personal responsibility.”

But a U.S. Senator, who first tries to buy his way out of an arrest by flashing his Senate ID, gets arrested, gets read the charge against him by a judge, including terms of the agreement, and signs it? Well, now, that’s not “knowingly and intelligently.”

Bullshit.

Then, you have Martin claiming this isn’t a crime.

Wrong.

Now, whether it should be a crime is a matter entirely different. But, it’s anti-gay GOPers like Craig, including anti-gay, but actually gay or bisexual, GOPers who lock themselves in their own sexual closets, who have made this a crime anyway.

Going by what Martin appeared to have meant, Craig’s “wide stance” against gay rights again leaves him nobody to blame but himself.

Hey, Larry, get down off the cross, we need the wood. And stop crying for yourself; we’re under a flash flood watch as it is.