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The LiberalOasis Blog
January 7, 2005 PERMALINK
OK, Senate Dems. Here’s your chance for a little redemption.
Know that some in the liberal grassroots were greatly displeased (granted, not everyone) when you all distanced yourselves from Sen. Boxer’s gutsy challenge to the Ohio electors.
That is not something you should take lightly. You need those folks energized if you are to have a prayer in the low-turnout ‘06 elections.
But, you can very quickly make amends, and stand together against Alberto Gonzales.
In LiberalOasis’ view, you don’t necessarily need to filibuster, but you do need to do more than simply voting no.
You need to make a case to the public why Gonzales should not be confirmed, and make the GOP pay a political price for confirming a pro-torture Attorney General, whose very presence in the government will continue to damage our ability to spread freedom throughout the Arab/Muslim world.
And since Gonzales essentially gave you the rope to hang himself with, you will look very weak if you don’t take advantage.
As Slate wrote:
...for most of Thursday's nearly nine-hour hearing the committee's Democrats wanted an answer to just one question:
Does Gonzales think the president has the power to authorize torture by immunizing American personnel from prosecution for it?
During the hearing, [Sen. Pat] Leahy called this idea, which comes from the August 2002 document dubbed the "Bybee memo," "the commander-in-chief override."
And by hearing's end it was clear that Gonzales believed in it.
That refers to this extremely telling and disturbing exchange:
LEAHY: The Bybee memo concludes that a president has authority as commander in chief to override domestic and international law as prohibiting torture and can immunize from prosecution anyone -- anyone -- who commits torture under his act.
Whether legal or not, he can immunize them.
Now, as attorney general, would you believe the president has the authority to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?
GONZALES: First of all, sir, the president has said we're not going to engage in torture under any circumstances.
And so you're asking me to answer a hypothetical that is never going to occur.
This president has said we're not going to engage in torture under any circumstances.
And therefore, that portion of the opinion was unnecessary and was the reason that we asked that that portion be withdrawn.
LEAHY: But I'm trying to think what type of opinions you might give as attorney general. Do you agree with that conclusion?
GONZALES: Sir, again --
LEAHY: You're a lawyer, and you've held a position as a justice of the Texas Supreme Court, you've been the president's counsel, you've studied this issue deeply.
Do you agree with that conclusion?
GONZALES: Senator, I do believe there may come an occasion when the Congress might pass a statute that the president may view as unconstitutional.
And that is a position and a view not just of this president, but many, many presidents from both sides of the aisle.
Obviously, a decision as to whether or not to ignore a statute passed by Congress is a very, very serious one.
And it would be one that I would spend a great deal of time and attention before arriving at a conclusion that in fact a president had the authority under the Constitution to --
LEAHY: Mr. Gonzales, I'd almost think that you'd served in the Senate, you've learned how to filibuster so well, because I asked a specific question:
Does the president have the authority, in your judgment, to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?
GONZALES: With all due respect, Senator, the president has said we're not going to engage in torture.
That is a hypothetical question that would involve an analysis of a great number of factors.
That is an indisputably unacceptable response.
His evasiveness is unacceptable, and his implied answer -- that the president can give immunity to torturers -- is unacceptable.
For moral reasons. For pragmatic reasons.
Sen. Leahy, you gave Gonzales an approving pat on the back in November, which made it all the harder for opposition to pick up steam.
But you can make up for that.
Having publicly extracted his immoral views, you have the justification now to retract your assessment that Gonzales was not “a polarizing figure” and oppose his nomination.
Sen. Joe Biden, earlier this week on CNN you downgraded Gonzales’ chances from certain to “probably,” saying “he has some things he has to answer for.”
And at the hearing yesterday, you said:
...we're looking for candor, old buddy.
We're looking for you when we ask you a question to give us an answer, which you haven't done yet.
I love you, but you're not very candid so far.
He didn’t clear the bar you set for him.
Despite your apparent love for Gonzales, in order to “protect [your] son in the military,” you have the justification, if not the obligation, to vote no.
Certainly if you two Senators take the lead, most of your party will follow.
And we will regain a bit of our party’s soul.
January 6, 2005 PERMALINK
The Bush Administration appears to be tacitly admitting a mistake in its initial approach to tsunami relief.
From the Financial Times:
The "core group" of nations announced by US President George W. Bush to channel aid to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami will be dissolved today after just eight days as the United Nations takes control of the relief effort, delegates to a donors summit said yesterday.
There is an attempt to portray this as a non-event by claiming the “core group” has already “served its purpose [so] it is time to dissolve it”.
But that doesn’t square with Bush’s statement announcing the group’s formation: “I'm confident more nations will join this core group in short order.”
The plan was to expand the core group, not terminate it.
The fact that the Administration had to effectively acknowledge that the UN is better suited to lead an international relief effort is no small matter.
And it is important to call attention to this.
Because it’s important to re-establish the necessity of the UN so we can avoid any debilitating squabbling the next time a massive disaster strikes.
We don’t know for a fact that there was significant, detrimental squabbling during the past several days.
But certainly Bush ran the risk of it by not even mentioning the role of the UN when he first announced the core group.
Granted, Britain’s Clare Short was ill-advised to so quickly criticize Bush’s move, saying it “sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN,” as that could have sparked even more squabbling.
But just because Powell and Annan wisely put on good faces for the sake of the relief effort doesn’t mean the “core group” maneuver didn’t cause problems.
Yesterday’s dissolving indicates that it did.
(One apparent problem was that India, a core group member, had “uneasiness over US’ attempts to play a greater role in the region.” That’s the kind of obstacle that is less likely to happen with a global body.)
In the future, we shouldn’t be having debates over who should lead disaster relief efforts.
We should immediately acknowledge the UN’s lead role, and simply offer to help in any way that we can.
January 5, 2005 PERMALINK
The aggressive liberal approach to fighting privatization of Social Security is working.
While Bush’s attempts to frame the issue are faltering.
The biggest worry that liberals had was that accommodationist Dems would give Bush bipartisan cover and marginalize the arguments of Social Security’s defenders.
But, yesterday the LA Times reported that the two main accommodationist organizations, the familiar DLC and the upstart Third Way, both plan to oppose Bush’s proposals.
That would not be happening at this early a juncture if there wasn’t so much pressure from the liberal grassroots and the Dem leadership to hang together.
As the Dem are clicking, Bush is struggling.
Yesterday’s W. Post story that Bush is planning on benefit cuts of “nearly a third in the coming decades” spun out badly, with wire headlines like “Young Workers Could Receive Lower Benefits” and “White House Won't Confirm or Deny Report of Plan to Cut Retiree Benefits”.
Now, the W. Post story may amount to a trial balloon, designed to make the eventual proposal not look as bad as the original reports.
But it’s less risky to float trial balloons when faced with a weak, flailing opposition.
When the opposition just recklessly grasps at any negative press report, without any larger strategy, it’s easy to jerk your opposition around and make them look silly.
But that’s not the current situtation.
The Dems are not weak and flailing on Social Security.
They have laid down their principles and defined the GOP motivations. In short, they have their act together.
That’s why this trial balloon (if that is what this is) only feeds the Dem strategy to shape public perception that the GOP is ginning up a fake crisis in order to destroy Social Security.
And if perceptions get well-shaped, it won’t do much for Bush to try to scale back these numbers and pretend the trial balloon was errant reporting. The damage will be done.
In The “I Told You So” Dept...
From the so-called FactCheck.org, on 10/18/04:
A Kerry ad claims "Bush has a plan to cut Social Security benefits by 30 to 45 percent." That's false.
From yesterday’s W. Post:
The Bush administration has signaled that it will propose changing the formula that sets initial Social Security benefit levels, cutting promised benefits by nearly a third in the coming decades...
...White House aides have told lawmakers and aides that Bush will propose the change in the benefits formula...
...According to the Social Security Administration's chief actuary, a middle-class worker retiring in 2022 would see guaranteed benefits cut by 9.9 percent.
By 2042, average monthly benefits for middle- and high-income workers would fall by more than a quarter.
A retiree in 2075 would receive 54 percent of the benefit now promised.
January 4, 2005 PERMALINK
Momentum against the Alberto Gonzales nomination for Attorney General is building.
In fact, yesterday’s AP headline was "Gonzales Torture Memo Controversy Builds".
Today, the W. Post reports on the harsh criticism Gonzales is getting from several high-ranking retired military officers.
And the Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board is calling for tough questioning of Gonzales during his confirmation hearings this week.
All that would be heartening, if Senate Dems hadn’t sucked the oxygen out of the Gonzales story back in November by essentially predicting his confirmation.
Sen. Pat Leahy told reporters that Bush “did not” select “a polarizing figure”, that Gonzales “has a far better chance of confirmation with substantial votes from both sides of the aisle than a more divisive figure would have”.
Sen. Chuck Schumer also chimed in, “There's certainly a feeling that he will be confirmed”.
By doing that, Dems have tipped their hand. The GOP and (more importantly) the media know Dems won’t go to the mat to stop Gonzales.
And if the media knows that, they have less reason to raise the profile of any skirmishes.
From the media’s perspective, it not as newsworthy if there’s no chance of the nomination being killed.
Now, LiberalOasis understands that filibustering Gonzales is not the highest priority (it’s not like Bush’s second pick would be much better, he or she would just have less of a paper trail.)
But there’s nothing to be gained in effectively taking the filibuster threat off the table so early in the process.
The threat is often more powerful than the act itself.
The Dems do seem to understand the value of holding Gonzales and the rest of the Administration accountable for the torture that happened on their watch.
But by removing the filibuster threat -- downgrading the story in the media’s eyes -- the grilling will likely be on the back pages.
In turn, it will likely leave no lasting impression on the public, and hold no one accountable.
So in the future, lay off the gratuitous prognosticating and keep them guessing.
January 3, 2005 PERMALINK
It may seem juvenile to discuss the politics surrounding a massive natural disaster.
But since it was schoolyard-style politics that has sparked desperately needed increases in global aid and assistance, we may as well.
This exchange on ABC’s This Week between UN Sec. Gen. Kofi Annan and George Stephanopoulos, about Annan’s emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland, pretty much says it all:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Egeland described himself as the “bad conscience” of the world.
Is that how you see your job now?
ANNAN: To some extent, we both have that job...
...it's often both of us speaking out for the poor, the voiceless, and the weak, trying to get assistance to them, [so] you tend to become conscience of others...
...nobody wants you to be their conscience. And sometimes it can be irritating for them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But yet that irritation at least seems to have had an effect this week.
ANNAN: [a pause, then a hint of a smile] It sometimes helps.
And with that sly wink, Kofi and Jan completed their successful shaming of wealthy nations.
It was Jan who, earlier last week at a press conference, threw an elbow at unnamed “rich countries” for being “stingy” about foreign assistance in general.
He was expressing concern that “donor countries” would just allocate money set aside for disasters in their ‘05 budgets, leaving nothing left for crises later in the year:
EGELAND: ...I think an unprecedented disaster like this one should lead to unprecedented generosity from countries that should be new and additional funds.
Because I wouldn't want to see many of our friends, the donor countries, depleting their natural disaster coffers the first two weeks of January and have nothing more when we come to other disasters.
Some others have the same sum for all disasters in the world.
And I'm afraid for the coming year, because there are several donors who are actually less generous than before in a growing world economy.
Q: When you were talking about donor countries that in a growing economy were giving less, are you prepared to name them?
EGELAND: No. Well, I would rather say that it is remarkable that we have no country up to the 1 percent line [of its gross national income for] foreign assistance in general...
...We were more generous when we were less rich...And it is beyond me why are we so stingy, really...
...if actually the foreign assistance of many countries now is 0.1 or 0.2 percent of their gross national income, I think that is stingy really.
I don't think that is very generous.
Now, Egeland wasn’t directly saying that Bush’s pledge of $15M was stingy, nor was he directly criticizing any nation’s tsunami-related pledge (despite how the right-wing media characterized his comments).
But he clearly wanted to give the “donor nations” a collective kick in the ass, so he could secure the needed pledges now and turn more attention to crucial logistical matters.
And it worked.
Not only did the US jack up its pledge to $350M, Britain went from $2M to $96M.
And Japan, a country with about half the population as the US, pledged $500M, the most of all so far.
The Right, of course, doesn't want Egeland and the UN to get any credit for their ass-kicking.
Bush tried to disparage Egeland as “misguided and ill-informed.”
The W. Times tried to diminish Egeland by characterizing some later praise for US efforts as backtracking.
But Egeland did what he set out to do.
For an encore yesterday, he went into the belly of the anti-UN beast, Fox News Sunday.
Host Chris Wallace tried to grill Egeland, reading off of White House talking points that the US shouldn’t be called stingy if government aid is low because private giving is high.
And Egeland calmly, if inelegantly, shredded that argument:
WALLACE: ...there are also studies that show that the average American private contribution is seven or eight times what the average contribution is among...German citizens or French citizens.
So if people decide...that they would rather give money privately, and in fact there are some indications that it's more efficient to give it privately, what's the difference?
EGELAND: It's the very same thing to give privately or to give through the governments.
I have [for] most of my life been in private organizations and administering private charity. I've seen in the Red Cross how effective that is.
However, it's very important also to have the public, especially, the public sector contributing...for the neglected and forgotten emergencies that never get attention.
In eastern Congo, 1,000 people die every day because of us not having enough resources to feed, to reach the populations. The Congo doesn't get attention.
We therefore also need the public sector...
Yes, Americans will respond when tragedy makes the headlines.
But they can’t respond to tragedies they don’t hear about.
And impulse donations do not exactly provide steady, reliable revenue over the long-term.
But active, well-financed governments can provide such funding, so we can handle the disasters that don’t attract TV cameras.
Colin Powell toured the Sunday shows, whoring for Bush one more time, trying to claim that the millions in private giving was a successful Administration initiative.
“We have energized the private sector,” he said on NBC’s Meet The Press.
But it is the UN -- with just one little subtly-crafted, well-timed schoolyard taunt -- that “energized” the public sector.
Good thing too.
The Blog Wire
The SEA-EAT Blog has information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts for victims of the SE Asian tsunami
Nathan Newman: "There is no reason immigration should undermine wage standards ... as long as immigrants have all the rights that native workers have ... The toxic combination that we have ... right now is that we have a whole population of undocumented immigrants who have few labor rights"
Sidney Blumenthal: "Bush has unceremoniously and without public acknowledgement dumped Brent Scowcroft ... as chairman of the foreign intelligence advisory board ... [Scowcroft was] the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration. At the same time the vice president, Dick Cheney, has imposed his authority over secretary of state designate Condoleezza Rice ... "
Informed Comment: "Bush fears the tsunami ... If the US government really stepped up to the plate, Bush would not be able to argue for making his tax cuts for the rich permanent ... So he has to fall back on silly arguments from meaningless absolute numbers and on vague hopes for private giving."
David Cobb: "The recount of Ohio's presidential vote was conducted in clear violation of both the spirit and the letter of the law. We can have no faith in the results when both the initial election and the recount were conducted in a haphazard and clearly illegitimate manner."
The Mahablog: "Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate among all states ... I mention this because Mississippi is proud of another accomplishment -- it is the most populous of a handful of states with only one abortion clinic"
Just World News: " the Bush administration has announced it will contribute just $15 million worth of aid to the relief effort. A tragically small amount ... while it continues to spend more than $250 million each day on waging the war in Iraq. It's obscene."
MSNBC's Bloggermann: "the [OH] recount has been butchered, badly enough that even an editorial in Sunday's Toledo Blade noted 'the miserable performance of much of the American electoral system'"
Roger Ailes watches Meet The Press this Sunday so LiberalOasis doesn't have to
Real Climate shreds George Will and Michael Crichton on climate change
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