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Daily Journal: Tuesday, February 6, 2007

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Senate Folds on War

Three cowards: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

You knew something like this could, indeed would, happen. You just didn’t expect it to happen so pitifully. Senate Republicans easily managed to block debate on a plan to oppose the Bush junta’s Iraq surge. The measure needed 60 votes to enable debate. Democrats didn’t even manage to get their own ranks in order. They tallied up 49 votes, with 47 voting against. (See the vote here.) Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, voted against it (the only Democrat to do so), although that’s a procedural matter. Every Republican voted against it except John McCain and Florida’s own Bush clone, Mel Martinez. One Republican joined the Democrats: Susan Collins of Maine. “This afternoon’s result,” Carl Hulse wrote for the Times, “cast doubt on whether the Senate would move toward a vote on what lawmakers of both parties described as the paramount issue of the day. Now it appears certain that more negotiations will take place on what war-related measure, if any, will be voted upon.” What a pathetic show of non-binding force. What a cowardly act. What an expected surrender. On the most important issue of the day. They won’t even debate it. Won’t look at it in the face. That’s what the Iraq war has come to, back-alley grab for cannon fodder, all in the name of an elusive thing called “American prestige,” lost so long ago that Senators don’t even know it. Makes you think the entire thing was staged. Give the Democrats a chance to look tough and live up to their campaign pledges all the while knowing that the Republican minority would do them this little favor and stand in the way. In any case the escalation is well on its way in Iraq. The troops are on the ground, some of them already six feet beneath it. The Bush junta will take this as a victory, the way Osama once touted a minor skirmish in the “jihad” against the Soviets as a victory, and rode it all the way to his mythmaker’s bank; Osama never was the fighter or the victorious insurgent he’s portrayed himself to be, in the war against the Soviets in 1980s Afghanistan. He was ridiculed by Afghans and, often enough, by his own ragtag army of Arab mujahideens. The similarities with Bush keep growing, scraggly beard-like. Osama must be smiling again in his tent. Or cave. Or on the French Riviera where, for all we know, he’s been shacking up with six whores, three bankers and an accountant since 2003, when he figured out that Bush could be left to shooting himself in the foot many times over. But the fact remains: this is the best the Democrats could muster, after all this time, and on a day when the Bush junta revealed its military budget to bust all budgets.

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Sixth Amendment Thug
A Lousy Pentagon Lawyer Resigns

Never heard of the Sixth Amendment

Lost in the shuffle of the last weekend’s bombs in Baghdad and twisters in Florida and fabricators in Washington was one bit of welcome news, in so far as the Bush junta is concerned. You remember Charles Stimson. He’s the deputy assistant secretary of defense, “for detainee affairs,” who, speaking in October, said that 300 Guantanamo prisoners might be there for life. Then on on January 11 on Federal News Radio, he said Guantanamo prisoners should not be represented by lawyers, and those lawyers who do represent them should be publicly disgraced. This, specifically, is what Stimson said: “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms.” So he named twelve firms whose lawyers are representing Guantanamo prisoners. There was some outrage, namely from the legal and liberal communities, but not much. I can imagine that to most Americans what Stimson said rang true in that “fuck yeah” sort of way. Most Americans, like Stimson, automatically assume that those prisoners are terrorists whether or not the facts say otherwise, as the facts regarding most of them indeed do say otherwise. Most Americans probably wouldn’t mind if Gideon v. Wainright was overturned, let alone know what it entails — the principle of every criminal defendant’s right to counsel at taxpayer’s expense, if necessary. In the event, the principle doesn’t apply in the case of prisoners in our little concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. But the Bush junta’s beliefs aside, the prisoners are still entitled to a defense: without those lawyers (who are providing their services pro bono), their cases would not have been heard so that many could be released, and so that those cases could make their way through the federal court system and onto the Supreme Court’s docket, which last June ruled various means of denying the prisoners representation illegal. But the court didn’t declare the junta’s “enemy combatant” designation null, as it should (assuming we still have due process), so the junta finds new ways to deny the prisoners habeas corpus. With Congressional approval. Still, the lawyers persisted. How best to get them out of the way than to publicly brand them as traitors? That’s what Stimson did. The Pentagon “disavowed” what he said. But there’s an enormous distance between disavowing and firing. Stimson stayed on. Until Last week. He resigned. Nobody made him do it. In other words: what he said is condoned by the Pentagon and the Bush junta, only he made the mistake of saying it publicly. He’ll have a plum assignment before long. In corporate America, of course.

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Homophobic Lip-Lock
Those Superbowl Ads Again

Is one of those nuts gay?

A couple of postscripts on the Superbowl. First, it’s time the word the press no longer split the word. It’s not Super Bowl. It’s Superbowl. Splitting the word may be technically correct. It’s popularly ridiculous, like the prohibition on splitting infinitives and dangling participles. I’m not sure what participles are (as an English-as-a-third-language learner I never learned my grammar rules and definitions). But I like the idea of dangling them. And splitting infinitives is to me foreplay with words. Nice tension-creator. Second, those Superbowl ads. The Snickers ad about the two idiots devouring a Snickers and ending up in a brief, scurrilous kiss did seem at first like an attempt at humor. Homophobia is pathetic. But it’s not as if I would jump up and down and twirl in giddy joy all over the place if by some wild odd concurrence of circumstances and gravitational freakery I ended up in an inadvertent kiss with a man, any man. Would it disgust me? Well, there’s no reason to be childish about it. But it wouldn’t strike me as the most luscious thing in the world. I like my kisses wet, girlish and free of all facial hair not my own. So I could understand the initial reaction of the two cave men under the hood, finding their lips locked to the browns of a Snickers bar. The reaction though was childish. It was intended to be so: that was the joke. But at that point we can decide if the joke was in good taste or not (not quite), and if it was handled with the kind of subtlety that could override the homophobic message. It wasn’t. Adding a tight end’s snickers and other football players’ idiotic reactions didn’t help. Sprint’s connectivity dysfunction spot was a much better example of an old cliché turned out for a good laugh. Beyond the sophomoric, Stuart Elliott in Monday’s Times picked up on a necessary observation, one ultimately more relevant and interesting (for discussion’s sake) than Snickers’ molten moment:

No commercial that appeared last night during Super Bowl XLI directly addressed Iraq, unlike a patriotic spot for Budweiser beer that ran during the game two years ago. But the ongoing war seemed to linger just below the surface of many of this year’s commercials. More than a dozen spots celebrated violence in an exaggerated, cartoonlike vein that was intended to be humorous, but often came across as cruel or callous. [The full piece…]

Rewrite that sentence: More than a dozen policies celebrated violence in an exaggerated, neo-con vein that was intended to be democratic, but often came across as cruel or callous. But if that’s the best we can get of an “undercurrent of Iraq” in our commercials, then the war really has become even more of a distant afterthought. Something repressed that only surfaces in these briefly brutal ways only to be snuffed out again the moment whatever program is on TV resumes. That’s what the Iraq war adds up to: Quick, get me the remote. And how many meanings could that word remote be given….

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Full-Metal Folly, Cont'd.
A $725 billion Military

I realize I allude to this in the Tuesday column, but only in passing. The details are staggering. From the UK Times: “President Bush asked Congress to approve a total of $725 billion in military spending today while cutting nearly $80 billion ($41 billion) from health and education programmes. Presenting a $2.9 trillion budget for the fiscal year of 2008, Mr Bush said a mixture of increased defence spending and domestic belt-tightening "reflects the priorities of our country at this moment in its history" but there were immediate signs that the White House faces months of dissent from the Democratic-controlled Congress. Although wary of cutting funding for American forces serving abroad, Democratic lawmakers are thought to be unlikely to agree to a range of cuts to health and education services, many of which are designed to serve the country's elderly and working poor. “The President’s budget is filled with debt and deception, disconnected from reality, and continues to move America in the wrong direction,” said Kent Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, which haggle with the White House's spending proposals over the coming weeks. [...] Over the next five years $66 billion would be effectively shaved off Medicare, health insurance for America's elderly, and $12 billion from Medicaid, the health programme for those on low incomes. Mr Bush also seeks to cut a further $12 billion by eliminating 141 federal spending schemes — cuts which have been proposed before but always rejected. [...] According to White House forecasts, whose methodology is disputed by the Democrats, the tightening of domestic spending would help set the Government on the road to a surplus — albeit in 2012, three years after Mr Bush leaves office. [...] The proposed increase will take the total cost of Mr Bush’s wars since September 11, 2001, to almost $750 billion which — even when prices are adjusted for inflation — exceeds that spent by the US in Vietnam over a much longer period. Before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, officials promised that war costs would be limited to $100 billion.” The full story...

From the Times: "As staggering as the Pentagon figures are, they are topped by the proposed spending for the Department of Health and Human Services — some $700 billion — and for the Social Security Administration, about $656 billion."

Bankruptcy by the numbers

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating if overly optimistic story about why war costs haven't ruined the economy (yet). The opening line seems to me inaccurate: Defense spending in 2000, the year Bush was elected, was $295 billion. He's pushing it to well over $600 billion in the coming year. That's more than a 100 percent increase, not 50 percent. But the Journal writes:

Since President Bush took office, he's boosted annual defense spending by 50% -- including $500 billion over five years for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and doubled spending on homeland security. At the same time, he's cut taxes, expanded Medicare to cover prescription drugs, approved $100 billion to clean up after Gulf Coast hurricanes, and signed bills that spend a little more each year on domestic programs. For years, critics said it couldn't last, backed by some historical precedent: President Johnson is blamed by many for triggering inflation in the 1970s by spending on both guns and butter. But this time, it's been nearly painless. Inflation is in check. The federal budget deficit is down from its 2004 peak, and rests near its historical average of 2% of gross domestic product, a measure of the nation's total output. Long-term interest rates are relatively low. What's Mr. Bush's secret? Ingredient one: strong revenue growth driven by an economy distinguished by surging profits and rising incomes at the top, which are taxed more heavily than incomes at the bottom. Ingredient two: tax cuts and spending increases, which arrived when the U.S. economy needed a boost. Ingredient three, and perhaps the most significant: the willingness of foreigners to lend to the U.S., which finances the budget deficit without pushing up interest rates at a time when Americans don't save very much. "This situation is what you'd call an exorbitant privilege," says Menzie Chinn, a University of Wisconsin economist. "We've gotten a pretty good deal so far." No one knows when this bonanza might end, although end it must. For the coming year, Mr. Bush is expected to shave costs from programs and agencies unconnected to defense. In the future, the flow of cash from foreign lenders could dry up. Health care and Social Security could swamp the federal budget. In the shorter term, the combination of military spending and tax cuts could collide with spending priorities outlined by the capital's newly empowered Democrats. For now, the budget the president will offer today essentially counts on continued good luck. The full story...

Isn't that what he counted on in Iraq? In Afghanistan? In New Orleans? Prepare for the flood. It'll be one for Gilgamesh.

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What CBS Won't Show on Couric's Show
Battle for Haifa Street
CBS News posted this Lara Logan report on its web site, but didn't broadcast it. See this from Alternet for background.


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Photographer of the Day
Brian Ulrich
See Ulrich's web site, Not If But When, here


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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

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