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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Democratic Rebuttal

The Democrats actually scored a run against the Republicans this time around. To rebut the President's State of the Union speech, the Democrats chose newly elected Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. This was a smart choice because Kaine is not a nationally known figure. He is not someone who will immediately polarize the viewers. He has just won in a state normally considered a red state, and he is now governor of what is considered the best run state in the country. Kaine gave a very effective, non offensive speech. The tone was upbeat, one that proposes another way (even though Democrats have not articulated any such thing). His catch beat phrase "there's a better way" was delivered not as a separate sentence, but as an addition to the previous sentence, giving it an intonation that in itself sounded hopeful. He came across as very likeable, not offensively critical, but firm in his critiques. Reaction to his critiques of the Bush Administration probably were received better than if they would have been delivered by Hillary Clinton. All in all, he was a good choice to deliver the Democrats a run in the second inning of a nine inning game ending in the November Congressional elections. But remember, Democrats know how to lose games that anybody else would have won.

State of the Union? What State is That?

Tonight the President gave his annual State of the Union speech. Unlike his previous speeches, this one was noticeably tamer in its tone and the President did not overreach as he did last year with Social Security. President Bush sought to reassure the public on Iraq and definitely remind Americans of the neverending fear of terrorism (they will never let that one escape). In fact, this time he did something he had not done before, he mentioned Osama Bin Laden's name twice. President Bush stuck to his strong points, national security and the War on Terror. He vigorously defended the NSA wiretapping controversy, something widely expected. That issue will be reviewed by Congress beginning on Monday, so the President may very well be in hot water. The White House stuck to its guns, the few they have left anyway. The speech in itself was nothing remarkable, and was mostly aimed at his base. The most noticeable reaction was when he mentioned the victory over naming Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito, and having them successfully confirmed. When it came to addressing entitlements, this time around he suggested forming a bipartisan Commission to examine the issue. Previous Presidents have attempted this proposal and it has generally been viewed as a weak approach to fixing problematic third rail issues such as Social Security and Medicare. President Bush was badly humiliated last year when he attempted to reform Social Security. He was wise in not going to far this time around. He mentioned getting rid of our addiction to foreign oil, but he has done that everytime, yet nothing is really being done about it. Hopefully this time he means it. In general, the speech was upbeat, not as optimistic as his previous ones though. I think the White House has learned that the overreaching optimism they have presented in the past is continually being shot down by the facts on the ground, be it Iraq, jobs, healthcare, gas, Katrina, etc. The public has gotten tired and turned against the President, if you believe the polls. The White House realizes now that they will lose more support if they do not face the facts and keep presenting a rosy picture. That is good. At least they will level with us (a little bit more anyway). In essence, semi-quoting a CNN analyst, President Bush has learned, or been forced to play small-ball and take it one step at a time. The speech as I said was aimed at his Republican base. It will do little to help in the polls. It can only help, but the discontent is such with the public, that it will take a lot more than a toned down and cautiously optimistic speech to change the minds of an angry public. But it could be a start.

P.S. It should be no surprise that the House Chamber was bitterly divided. Republicans cheering the President's policies, while the Democrats sat on their hands. All that made very visible and embarrassing by the fact that the House is divided right down the middle: Democrats to the left, Republicans to the right. The only time Democrats stood up to cheer were when the issue of security for our troops and nation were brought up, and more noticeably when they jeered as the President spoke about his failed Social Security reform plan (this time Republicans were the ones sitting down). How sad. Both parties are an embarrassment to the honor and integrity of this country.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

White House Warned About Katrina, Then Stalls Investigation

What has to be done to get someone's attention regarding an urgent matter? I mean, what more warning can you give someone than to write a memo detailing the scenario that almost exactly took place?

The White House is given a memo describing the devastation that might result from a hurricane like the one approaching New Orleans the day before it hits, and they still get it that wrong? Then they stall senate investigations claiming White House counsel confidentiality? Do they know that 1000 people died, thousands are homeless, and New Orleans is destroyed? And they impede an investigation into their failures claiming confidentiality? What does that look like to you?

Documents Show Govt Forewarned on Katrina

Many in Congress Hawkish on Iran
What are you going to do? Invade? With what army? Are you going to call in to active duty disabled vets? Maybe resurrect already dead veterans? Idiots.

Two Sides to the NSA Spying Program, Pick One

The last few weeks two sides to an argument developed regarding the NSA spying program. The White House, as of late, has tried to play psych games with the public by trying to change the name of the program to Terrorist Surveillance Program. It is a smart strategy, if it works, because it changes the tone of the program from an invasion of privacy to protection of national security. The White House is taking the position that the program is necessary to protect the American people and that it is completely legal and within the scope of presidential powers and authority given by Congress when it authorized the Iraq War and also supported by article 2 in the U.S. constitution. Yet, every legal, UNBIASED expert disagrees with this assessment, and even some Republicans.

The Democrats are taking the side of civil rights violations and an abuse of presidential powers. Essentially, they are accusing the President of breaking the law, though not in such an articulate manner. God forbid a Democrat grew some brass ones and spoke his mind. But as always, they seem to be hesitating where they should be in a winning position. They are coming off as weak when the White House, clearly in a weaker and less legally certain position is moving into an offensive mode. Leave it to the Democrats to always seem weak, even when they really are not.

Ok. One party supports the transgression blindly (at least House Republicans do), while the other condemns it. But no one, even the more emboldened media seems to express the fact that while nobody likes the idea of being spied upon, almost everyone would agree that there are likely Al-Qaeda operatives inside the United States and they must be identified. The disagreement comes in the approach to it. There is no logical argument to be made as to why the Bush Administration has circumvented the process by authorizing warrantless and paperless wiretaps. The argument that speed is of the essence is null since the warrants can be obtained up to 2 weeks after the act has taken place. Another argument is that maybe there were so many wiretaps (it would have to be thousands for the load to be unmanageable) that the FISA court would not be able to handle it. But are we really to believe that if there are thousands of wiretaps, all of them deal with Al-Qaeda people? There probably are not even that many known, I emphasize known, Al-Qaeda operatives in the world. Can we honestly believe then that all those wiretaps are warranted? How can it ever be proven that someone was wiretapped and his civil rights violated when there is no paperwork or anything that can prove the wiretap even existed? The spying program is being run without any accountability, and unaccountability inevitably leads to abuse. The only logical argument for this spying program is that the White House does not want a paper trail because it does not want it known who is being spied on. And a warrantless paperless wiretap does not leave a paper trail. Does that make any sense to you? It does to me. Then again this is just a possibility based on logic. Let's wait until Congress investigates (hopefully thoroughly enough) to make any such assertions.

Another misconception, and this is where Democrats need to be forceful in their argument, is the idea that because Democrats want there to be a legal process to obtain warrants they are weak on terrorism. That is just a flat out LIE. No Democrat has suggested that the NSA should not intercept suspicious phone calls and email. All they have done is demand that a record of it be kept, AS IS MANDATED BY THE LAW, in order to protect the American public from inherent abuses. To me that is not unreasonable, in fact I believe that is the way it should be. The process does not interfere with any activity performed by the NSA. And if, because technology has changed radically since 1978, the FISA court rejects certain petitions such as monitoring of disposable cell phones and such, then go to Congress and request a revision and update of the court's requirements etc. This entire issue has never been about national security as the White House wants it framed, this issue is about protecting the public from the abuses certain to occur when a government agency as powerful as the NSA is given extraordinary powers without any accountability. But, alas, leave it to the Democrats to look like a bunch of wimps when they should hold the upper hand. When the congressional hearings into this issue commence in two weeks, the outcome will be determined more by the pressure applied by an angry public, and a few moderate Republicans worried about re-election, than by a perpetually ineffective Democratic minority.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Finally Lobbying Reform! But Why Now Suddenly?

I'm back, and back for good.

Lobbying Reform? What is lobbying reform? What is lobbying? If you really want to be blunt, it is paying lawmakers (though not directly) to forward your interests in Congress. But do not ask lawmakers to admit to that. Ever since Ulysses S. Grant named those he met in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. lobbyists, Republicans and Democrats alike have all pandered to the benefits and extravagances that these folks have offered for over 130 years. In 1994 it was the Democrats that had their troubles with corruption. They were voted out overwhelminngly. Now, it is the Republicans with sleazebag of the year lobbyist Jack Abramoff that are in trouble. Make no mistake, this a REPUBLICAN problem. They have been trying to claim that Abramoff tainted both parties. Let's be clear, 66% or more of Abramoff's campaign donations and favors (paid by his clients) went to Republicans. Every personal donation made by him went to Republicans exclusively. So yes, this is a Republican problem. Maybe if the Democrats were in control of Congress it would have been them in hot water, but they are not so that argument is dead in the water.

Republicans played their hand yesterday and tried to one up the Democrats again. They presented their lobbying reform plan a day before Democrats revealed theirs. Essentially getting to the plate before the other team does. It is clearly a stunt, but in all honesty, it just shows how disorganized the Democratic party is that they cannot even hit a homerun in a short field. Both lobbying reform plans are very similar. Republican's plan bans all travel paid for by lobbyists, it reduces the amount of gifts allowed from $50 to $20, it doubles the amount of time a lawmaker or aide has to wait before going to work for lobbyists, and it bans any former lawmaker from setting foot on the House floor. The Democratic plan is very similar but it has certain provision not addressed in the Republican plan:

The Democratic proposal would stop special interest provisions slipped into legislation in the final moments before passage. Hastert commented he would be willing to discuss earmarks in unison with the Senate.

The Democratic measure also favors stopping "pay-to-play" activities like the "K Street Project" where Republicans pressure lobbying groups to hire Republicans and direct money to the GOP agenda.

Hastert admitted that not all Republicans favored a total ban on privately funded trips.

If you notice, Republicans are more hesitant to let go of some of the perks lobbyists have to offer. But faced with such a large scandal in the horizon, one that could possibly change power in Congress, they do not have much of a choice. I suspect that Democrats will eventually win this round, and a big round it is. If Republicans put up too much resistance to curbing lobbyist influence, they will look guiltier than they already look. It would seem as if both parties have moved decisively to undertake lobbying reform, but let me make a very important point. Lobbying has been around for over a century. Everyone with an open eye knows this. It is also common knowledege that Congress prostitutes itself for lobbyists that have the goods to offer. Nothing knew here. What is new is that the Republican party is addressing the issue they largely helped get out of control. And it is of essence to point out that, with the exception of John McCain who tried to introduce lobbying reform and was denied, Republican lawmakers did not want lobbying reform. Point to fact is that Several House Democrats have introduced legislation to reform lobbying in the last few years (and very similar to what Republicans introduced yesterday), only to be rebuffed by House Republicans and Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is leading the House effort to reform lobbying. Let's recognize that the only reason the Republican Congress is introducing reform is because they have to, or they face losing all that power in November. And let's face it, all that power is too intoxicating to let go.

Democrats Seek Political High Ground
Frist Weighs Ban on Lobbyist Gifts, Travel

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Tom Delay Will Not Reseek Majority Post

In what has been obvious to everyone watching, and probably to even himself (although he would not admit it), former House Majaority leader Tom Delay anounced today that he would renounce and not reeseek his leadership post. Delay has been in legal jeopardy for a while and Republicans have tried their best, even going as far as beginning this year's House session the latest since the 1930s, to protect him and allow time for him to reclaim the post. Although it was very doubtful that he would reclaim his post, some still held out hope. That hope was shattered this week when crooked lobbyist jack Abramoff struck a deal with prosecutors in an attempt to save his own skin a bit at least. Abramoff is widely known to have been on the in with Delay and his camp and it is widely expected that Delay will be dealt an almost career ending blow with the upcoming investigation's findings. Yesterday evening, a petition was circulated in the House of Representatives requesting signatures to hold elections for a new majority leader. Delay, faced with a party mutiny, could have opted to keep on fighting for his post and suffer the humiliation of his defeat and oust, or in a wiser move, renounce his post as quiet as possible, claiming that even though he would be exonerated, it was best that the party not be burdened with distractions caused by baseless accusations. In fact, that is exactly what he did. Once again blaiming others for his misdeeds. We will all have the opportunity to judge wether Delay has been telling the truth or not, but it looks very like he is in a lot of trouble, and could possibly end up in the slammer. What a sad and humiliating way for "the hammer" to fall from the halls of power.

Tom DeLay Steps Down As House Leader

Friday, January 06, 2006

Republican Woes, Crazy People, and War Violence

On to other news. Where do we start. It seems that everytime I have to go out of town, or when I do not have the time to write, things explode.

Ubercrooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty on Tuesday to a number of felonies after striking a plea deal with the prosecution. Even so, Abramoff faces up to 30 years in prison. If there is one thing you can count on, it is that Abramoff is going to sing like a bird. This development has Republican congressmen (and a few Democrats) shaking in their boots (although they will deny it to death, i.e. Bob Ney of Ohio -R, who is atop the hit list and the most likely to be implicated). It is estimated that as many as 20 representatives and their aides will be implicated, possibly even more. More than 70 lawmakers are returning donations from Abramoff and his clients, over $700,000. Some are not giving back such as Rep. Patrick Kennedy - D, Sen. Carl Levi - D, Rep. John Doolittle - R, Sen Harry Reid - D, just to name a few.

Pat Robertson is an idiot again (like that is a surprise). Robertson said on his show that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, who is lying in the hospital after a severe stroke, was being punished by God for "dividing God's land". The White House has condemned the comments, and rightly so. I have an even better idea, why not lock him up in a looney bin? Is it about time that we shut these worthless idiots up (this crowd includes Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, on occasion Jesse Jackson, and on ocassion Howard Dean (although Dean doesn't say stupid things, he is just honest, blunt and unafraid to take on Republicans, something his gutless Democrats lack. So I'll spare Dean) and some I do not crae to remember. But the others need to go, specially Robertson.

Violence in Iraq has surged again, to some of the highest levels since the war began. Was the White House the last to realize that these drops in the amount of violence before and after major political events are only temporary? It has been like that sine the war started? What has really changed on the ground to make the situation better? I'm not saying that progress is nonexistent. In the political arena there have been elections (although they were not the way the White House wanted, but that is democracy), the adopting of a constitution, people actually wanting for the violence to cease, among other things. And that is good, that helps. But the most important factor in determining the outcome of the war, and most importantly the stability of a democratic (some say theocratic, and i lean towards their view) Iraq, is the security on the ground. And that is a battle that I don't any end in sight to. So, the question will be how much more death and financial sacrifice are the people of the United States willing to take?

Tom Delay's woes got bigger with Abramoff's plea. He now seems assured of not being able to regain his majority leader post. In fact, at least two dozen members of his own party in the house called for majority leader elections. Only 50 signatures are needed to hold an election.
Delay is most assured going to be heavily implicated in Abramoff's scandal. After Abramoff got into trouble, Delay ran away from the lobbyist faster than you can see. Can we all remember when Delay publicly called Abramoff "one of dearest friends"? Where is the support for his dear friend now? Oh, I forgot, he might be going to jail too! Does anyone really believe the rhetoric coming from his spokesperson about the political vendetta by the prosecutor, or that Delay is the victim of character assassination, or that poor little Tom still has the support of his party? Please!

I'll be back with some more comments tomorrow!

Republicans calling for elections to replace DeLay
Abramoff Pleads Guilty, Will Cooperate
Bush, Lawmakers Drop Cash Tied to Abramoff
White House Criticizes Pat Robertson

Texas Longhorns #1

My Texas Longhorns are National Champs! In the most exciting game I have ever seen (and argueably the best ever played), Texas beat USC 41 - 38. I was at the Rose Bowl for the game, and I have to say that it is among the 3 top experiences of my life. For anyone who ever gets a chance to go see their team play for the championship: GO!!! I doubt that another game will have the hype or all the situations that developed for the matchup, such as: playing in the most famous of all bowls, top three Heisman Trophy finalists, last two Heisman winners, top 2 offenses, top two quaterbacks, yada yada yada... The Game surpassed the hype, and the tailgate was the tailegate of the century. I am proud to say that our spot was about 75 yards in front of the main gate and about the only Longhorn camp amid a sea of Maroon. AND WE ROCKED THE HOUSE! Hook'em Horns!

Out of town until Monday January 9... gone to the Rose Bowl.

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