Thursday, September 17, 2009

Last Call

Two U.S. Senate pieces on tonight's Last Call to discuss, first, good news on the President Odubya front: A group of Democratic Senators are rallying to remove the retroactive immunity for telecom companies on illegal wiretapping granted in last year's FISA bill.
The bill aims to “fix problems with surveillance laws that threaten the rights and liberties of American citizens” without crippling the government’s ability to track suspected terrorists, the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

The legislation would affect the way the US government can search Americans’ personal records, conduct wiretapping, and otherwise collect and use information on US citizens.

Among the provisions sure to grab attention, it revisits a secret program launched by former president George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks that collected sensitive information for years without a court order.

Lawmakers, including then-senator Barack Obama, voted last year to grant telecommunications firms that took part in the program immunity from lawsuits by Americans alleging illegal breaches of privacy rights.

Democratic Senator Russell Feingold, long a critic of government spy powers on Americans, was a chief author of the legislation presented Thursday.

The others included the number two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, as wells as Democratic Senators Jon Tester, Tom Udall, Jeff Bingaman, Daniel Akaka, Ron Wyden, and Robert Menendez, as well as Independent Senator Bernie Sanders.

While the legislation is a stand-alone bill, supporters of key provisions could also strive to include them when the Congress reauthorizes key sections of a sweeping intelligence bill called the PATRIOT Act later this year.

Either way, this is something that absolutely must pass.

The question is, will Obama sign it? Putting in the PATRIOT Act will force him to do so, and put Republicans on the spot for filibustering the legislation for renewal too. It's a solid plan, but not without its risks: the Village will cry foul and the Republicans will play the "Democrats are trying to kill Americans" card until they get a permanent expansion of PATRIOT Act powers.

The second item: the Massachusetts House has approved a measure giving Gov. Deval Patrick the right to appoint a replacement for Ted Kennedy.

The passage of bill, by a 95-58 vote, was a crucial step toward filling the seat left vacant by Kennedy’s death last month, and it could carry major implications as Congress debates an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.

‘‘This bill will give us full representation today and the people of Massachusetts will have their second voice in the US Senate,’’ said state Representative Michael Moran, a Democrat from Boston and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. ‘‘My overriding concern is making sure the people of Massachusetts are fully represented in the US Congress.’’

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where top lawmakers believe they have enough votes for it to pass, presuming some supporters do not get cold feet. Republicans, who are vastly outnumbered by Democrats in the Legislature, vowed to use parliamentary maneuvers to stall final passage for as long as possible.

Of course they will, and if the shoe were on the other foot, the Democrats would be doing the same thing, let's not pretend this is anything more than political expediency here.

Having said that, it's the difference between 59 Democratic votes in the Senate and 60 going into the home stretch on Obamacare, the difference between a chance at a solid block of sixty Dems beating back the Party of No and passing a real health care reform bill.

In this case, raw partisanship is being matched and countered by raw partisanship. It is necessary here.

We'll see how this works out.

Your Daily Dose Of Doct...HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THAT

...the blog has been interrupted by kitties in cardboard 'Mechs.


Clan Death Kitty is coming for you Inner Sphere stravags. And you will be purged in fire. (Via Geekologie).

Student Loan Arranger Rides Again

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to remove private lenders from the student loan industry.
The House voted 253-171 for the bill that, if also passed by the Senate and signed into law, would effectively end the role of private lenders in making student loans. Instead, the government would become the sole direct lender for student loans.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would save more than $80 billion over 10 years by halting the subsidies to private lenders.

The House bill includes increased spending for Pell Grants for low- and middle-income students, as well as more money for community colleges, early-learning programs, school renovations, and colleges and universities that historically serve minorities.

Party line vote of course, with 4 Democrats against the measure and 6 Republicans for (including Joseph Cao of Louisiana, who's turning out to be a better Democrat than some of the Democrats at this point.) Republicans it seems are more interested in protecting the financial industry's right to profit off of student loans and for the government to waste billions to pay the banks to make these loans than to make college affordable, or saving taxpayers money. Saving $80 billion over ten years? The GOP is simply not interested in fiscal responsibility, you see.

I wonder how this will fare in the Senate. I'm betting the Republicans will filibuster it.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

TIME's David Von Drehle asks:
Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?
Asked and answered, your honor.
Glenn Beck: the pudgy, buzz-cut, weeping phenomenon of radio, TV and books. Our hot summer of political combat is turning toward an autumn of showdowns over some of the biggest public-policy initiatives in decades. The creamy notions of postpartisan cooperation — poured abundantly over Obama's presidential campaign a year ago — have curdled into suspicion and feelings of helplessness. Trust is a toxic asset, sitting valueless on the national books. Good faith is trading at pennies on the dollar. The old American mind-set that Richard Hofstadter famously called "the paranoid style" — the sense that Masons or the railroads or the Pope or the guys in black helicopters are in league to destroy the country — is aflame again, fanned from both right and left. Between the liberal fantasies about Brownshirts at town halls and the conservative concoctions of brainwashed children goose-stepping to school, you'd think the Palm in Washington had been replaced with a Munich beer hall.
It doesn't matter if Glennsanity is nuts, because liberals are just as crackpot. Totally equivalent. Oh, and it gets better. Glenn, you see, is crazy like a fox.
No one has a better feeling for this mood, and no one exploits it as well, as Beck. He is the hottest thing in the political-rant racket, left or right. A gifted entrepreneur of angst in a white-hot market. A man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one's listening all converge.
Glenn Beck's not crazy. He's just like you. Liberals on the other hand?
We're in a flood stage, and who's to blame? The answer is like the estimates of the size of the crowd in Washington: Whom do you trust? Either the corrupt, communist-loving traitors on the left are causing this, or it's the racist, greedy warmongers on the right, or maybe the dishonest, incompetent, conniving media, which refuse to tell the truth about whomever you personally happen to despise.
It's just a matter of perspective when Glenn says the President hates white people and goes on to exploit that fear. You say po-tay-to, he says race war. It's all good!

Epic Ride The Monofail Fail

GOP Rep. Kevin Brady: drivin' the Monofail.
You may have heard that GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, staunch tea partier, is protesting that the taxpayer-funded D.C. Metro didn’t adequately prepare for the anti-government 9/12 rally. He’s even suggesting Metro’s failure to transport tea partiers may have hurt turnout.

A Democrat, however, points out to me that Brady voted against Federal funding for the very same Metro he’s blaming for offering the tea partiers substandard service.

Soon after the 9/12 march, Brady released a letter he sent to D.C. Metro griping that it had failed to transport tea partiers to the protest. Brady said they “were frustrated and disappointed that our nation’s capitol” failed to “provide a basic level of transit for them.”

Brady’s office complained about a train shortage. “METRO did not prepare for Tea Party March!” he tweeted. “People couldn’t get on, missed start of march. I will demand answers.”

But earlier this year, Brady voted against the stimulus package. It provided millions upon millions of dollars for all manner of improvements to … the D.C. Metro.

Seems Kevin Brady here surely didn't think the D.C. Metro was worthy of additional federal money before when it was carrying the residents of Washington D.C. But a bunch of touristy types show up, suddenly mass transit in the country is just terribly underfunded and it's all Obama's fault.



And To Hear The Lamentation Of The Wingers

By Crom, the Obama administration's plans to scrap the European missile defense shield program has set off the cries of the end of the Republic from the usual useless whiners.

Robert Farley at LGM sums up the cacaphony of stupidity:
That keening you hear is the sound of a million wailing wingnuts. The Poles and Czechs will be disappointed, but they'll live; there are other ways of conveying a long term commitment to Eastern European security if we so choose. Indeed, some of these ways might actually have something to do with Eastern European security, rather than with a set of expensive techno-fantasies jury-rigged to a manufactured geo-strategic threat. Nevertheless, the screech of "EMP!!!" is one that you can get used to hearing in the near future; no President actually born in the United States would be so dismissive of ineffectually (but expensively!) protecting America from non-existent boogeymen.

Let's be clear; this is a huge victory for common sense over fantasy, and for responsible defense budgeting. This project had no function other than to serve the pecuniary interest of the missile defense industry, and to sate the ideological lust of conservatives infatuated with St. Reagan. No convincing strategic logic could ever be provided for the program; advocates careened wildly between arguments, desperately trying to see if they could make anything stick. Protecting Europe from Iranian missiles? Nobody in Europe was particularly concerned, or, outside of Poland and the Czech Republic, really wanted the defense. Protecting from the Russians? By the admission of advocates, the shield could not have served as a deterrent to Russian attacks. Necessary to demonstrate our commitment to the Poles? Meh; I'd rather get them something they could actually use.
I love how "Conservatives" could give a aerial quantum of fecal matter about tens of millions of uninsured Americans here in the homeland and declare we can't afford to save those lives, but go into conniptions should their multi-trillion dollar unproven technology of using missiles to shoot down other missiles that the bad guys don't have be touched.

It's like they care more about Poland than Peoria. Here's something to keep in mind, Republicans...the folks in Poland don't get to vote here.

[UPDATE 1:48 PM] What this? A reasonable and logical argument in Obama's favor from Tom Nichols at the National Review Online?
Despite the outcry that President Obama has sold out the Europeans and caved to the Russians by cancelling missile defenses in Europe, it was the right thing to do. Those defenses were not going to work (or work well enough or soon enough to matter in any major crisis with Iran), and the diplomatic price we were paying for them was far out of proportion to any small gains we might have made by annoying the Russians or reassuring the Czechs and the Poles. (The stated reason for the cancellation — that we’re more worried about medium-range missile threats — is technically accurate, but only for the moment, and sounds more like a rationalization than a reason.)
Sure, the rest of the post is the usual "But now we have to go make faces at Iran and THE RUSSIAN BEAR to let them know how scary we are!" but the opening paragraph is precisely why the missile defense shield was a huge pile of crap.

Civics Class Is In Session

With Professor BooMan.
So far in this Congress, the Republicans have rarely provided a significant number of votes for anything. But, when it comes time to spend money, the Republican members of the subcommittee in charge of allocating those funds were willing to support the legislation.

The reason for this is that they must support the legislation if they want the Democrats on the subcommittee to continue to involve them in the process of crafting appropriations. Ordinarily, these same dynamics would apply to other legislation like the bills on health care reform, cap and trade, and the Employee Free Choice Act. A loyal minority would still legislate and participate constructively in the mark-up of bills. This is what Max Baucus was attempting to do with the health care bill.

It's highly unusual for a minority party to choose to obstruct across the board. But that is what the Republicans have chosen to do with the single exception of the appropriations bills. They're willing to give up their influence in everything except the allocation of federal dollars to their states.

The lesson for Baucus is that he must make the Republicans pay for their bad faith. All future bills in this Congress that pass through his Finance Committee should not seek to include Republican input.

One interesting thing to keep in mind is the career of Teddy Kennedy. Kennedy was in the minority from 1981-1987 and again from 1995-2001 and 2003-2007. Despite that, he left a legacy of accomplishment during those years that exceeds that of anyone who was in the majority. He managed to do that because he understood what the job of a senator is, and that is to legislate, not merely to represent a unified opposition to the majority. There are currently 40 Republican members of the Senate, and no more than one or two of them is worth a damn as a member of the minority because they have no interest in their job.

And the funny part is that the GOP's growing raft of tenther Governors like SC's Mark Sanford, Texas's Rick Perry and increasingly MN's Tim Pawlenty turn around and say that Congress has no legal Constitutional jurisdiction over this federal spending that the Republicans in Congress are fighting for anyway. Congressional Republicans refuse to have a constructive say over anything but allocating money for their states and districts, and increasingly the base back in those home states are coming out and fighting against that, too.

What's a GOP Congresscritter supposed to do, other than squirm uselessly inside a trap of their own design?

Not So Immaculate Conception

Turns out teenage birth rates are higher in Southern red states with a high percentage of religious backgrounds than other areas of the country, and by statistically significant numbers.
Mississippi topped the list for conservative religious beliefs and teen birth rates, according to the study results, which will be detailed in a forthcoming issue of the journal Reproductive Health. (See chart below.)
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However, the results don't say anything about cause and effect, though study researcher Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh offers a speculation of the most probable explanation: "We conjecture that religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."

The study comes with other significant caveats, too:

The same link might not be found for other types of religious beliefs that are perhaps more liberal, researchers say. And while the study reveals information about states as a whole, it doesn't shed light on whether an individual teen who is more religious will also be more likely to have a child.

"You can't talk about individuals, because you don't know what's producing the [teen birth] rate," said Amy Adamczyk, a sociologist at the City University of New York, who was not involved in the current study. "Are there just a couple of really precocious religious teenagers who are running around and getting pregnant and having all of these babies, but that's not the norm?"

Strayhorn agrees and says the study aimed to look at communities (or states) as a whole.

"It is possible that an anti-contraception attitude could be caused by religious cultures and that could exert its effect mainly on the non-religious individuals in the culture," Strayhorn told LiveScience. But, he added, "We don't know."

Bible states
Strayhorn compiled data from various data sets. The religiosity information came from a sample of nearly 36,000 participants who were part of the U.S. Religious Landscapes Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted in 2007, while the teen birth and abortion statistics came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For religiosity, the researchers averaged the percentage of respondents who agreed with conservative responses to eight statements, including: ''There is only one way to interpret the teachings of my religion," and ''Scripture should be taken literally, word for word."

They found a strong correlation between statewide conservative religiousness and statewide teen birth rate even when they accounted for income and abortion rates.

Keep in mind these are the same states where there is a predominance of abstinence-only sex-ed, too. Not only does abstinence-only education not convince teens that sex is bad, but since it includes nothing about contraception, these kids end up having children as teenagers.

Ignorance as a mission statement kinda doesn't work, dig?

If It's Thursday...

Jobless claims still at 545K, continuing claims up to 6.23 million. Still bad news for any chance of serious recovery. Also, new housing starts down 32% from this time last year.

Bad news all the way around.

Catapulting The Propaganda

The Wingers just aren't giving up on the Millions Of Invisible Teabaggers from last weekend, despite having any credibility on crowd size estimates smashed to flinders by pretending 60-70k was really two million people and using a photo of another rally from twelve years ago as "proof". Still, the newest barbaric yawp out of that side of the fence is yet another photo and some tortured math to arrive at just ten times the official estimate rather than 30 as Pajamas Media's Charlie Martin does some "detective work" to accompany a "panoramic photo" of the crowd.

What can we take away from this exercise? Here are the main points:

  • The estimate widely used in the legacy media is not from an authoritative source, and it isn’t even consistent with itself: “full back to 3rd Street” is around 250,000 by Park Sevice methods, not a quarter of that.
  • Many estimates, using different assumptions and different methods, arrived at numbers well into the hundreds of thousands.
  • This is clearly consistent with the panoramic photo that we can source reliably.
  • With everything above, and with several more estimates, I don’t think there is a plausible argument for any total attendance figure much less that 500,000 to 600,000. That is, nearly ten times the reported attendance.

How much does this matter? It’s hard to say. It might be that a precise number isn’t needed, and at any rate it may not be possible to get a good one. What we can say is that the number being reported is wildly wrong. Wildly too small.In any case, the number that will really matter is the count at the polls in 2010 and 2012. Given this, I’d say that any politicians who hope to retain their jobs better look very carefully at that panoramic photo — and remember.

I hope they do remember: How the Democrats actually won in 2006 and 2008, and why they won was because they opposed pathologically lying nutjob wackos like the ones screaming that Obama is the anti-Christ. The Democrats also won because they were elected on an agenda that voters want: health-care reform, environmental legislation, education reform and immigration reform. Democrats definitely need to look at that photo and remember the kind of people who will never vote for them anyway, and will never do anything other than scream at them, call them socialist traitors, and attack everything they try to do.

They need to remember that there's no reason to cave to them. Hang that photo on the wall, Dems. Every time you feel compelled to spinelessly urinate on yourselves because people like the ones represented in that photo call you names, remember you're doing the right thing, and the silent majority in this case will thank you for it.

[UPDATE 7:41 AM] And let's remember this photo came from Freedomworks, the same astroturf outfit that flat out lied about the crowd estimate last weekend. If there's any group involved in this that has no basis for any credibility whatsoever, it's Freedomworks.


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