Friday, November 18, 2005

Budget Bill, And Things That Just Annoy Me In General

The House passed spending cuts that will cut money from such unnecessary programs as food stamps, student loans, child support, and Medicaid. It won't cut anything from Medicare. This is perfectly logical, since it's far more important to take care of rich old people than poor kids. And nothing is more important than making sure the rich don't have to pay more taxes. Yes, there are kids that need their insulin and want to go to college, but Mr. Throckmorton has to afford that fourth house somehow.

Hell, if I had realized that drilling in ANWR would produce an extra $2.5 billion (according to the Senate provision) for programs aimed at poverty reduction... fuck the caribou. Honestly, why was there more of an outrage over ANWR drilling than over cuts in Medicaid? Where's the logic in that? About the only person even mildly steamed about the budget cuts was my rabbi, and he's not even eligible to vote yet (I don't think).

I'm feeling pretty dumb right now for writing a letter about torture and not about the budget bill. Granted, the Senate bill was not as bad as the House bill - far milder cuts in Medicaid, no cuts in food stamps, more cuts in farm subsidies - but it's still obnoxious. (And granted, my representative is one of the more liberal reps out there and voted against the bill. Writing a letter to him would be sort of like preaching to the choir.)

No one wants their taxes raised, but if we learned anything from the past four years in VA, it's that people will be okay with tax hikes if their money's going to a good cause. Medicaid, student loans, and food stamps are all undoubtedly good causes. And most Americans realize that we are in the middle of a war (whether we should be or not) and that wars generally mean sacrifice on our part. The House and Senate want the bulk of the sacrifice to be laid upon the poorest Americans - who, incidentally, send disproportionately more troops to war than their richer fellow citizens.

So that's my rant on that. There's still a conference committee to go through, another round of voting, and a signature before it becomes law.

A few words on an unrelated and far less important topic - the judiciary:

- Will somebody please talk about Alito's views on the war on terror? It's all abortion, all the time with this guy. I'm suffering from Roe burnout. Actually, I've been suffering from that for a few years now, come to think of it.

- The next person to say the following untrue phrases in a serious manner gets a "Shut Up, Moron" award from me:

"The Supreme Court banned school prayer."

"Liberals want to sanction flag burning."

"Liberals want to take God out of (insert institution here)."

"The ACLU is anti-religion."

Hmmm, let's look at some of the ACLU's recent cases on religion and government, shall we?

September 20, 2005: ACLU of New Jersey joins lawsuit supporting second-grader’s right to sing “Awesome God” at a talent show.

August 4, 2005: ACLU helps free a New Mexico street preacher from prison.

November 20, 2004: ACLU of Nevada supports free speech rights of evangelists to preach on the sidewalks of the strip in Las Vegas.

November 9, 2004: ACLU of Nevada defends a Mormon student who was suspended after wearing a T-shirt with a religious message to school.

Yup, seems anti-religious to me. They're definitely trying to keep religion out of public life with cases like these. Also, George Washington was anti-independence. And Frederick Douglass was pro-slavery. I encourage my readers to keep me up to date on who deserves these awards, because I will mail them.

Wow, I was in a sarcastic mood today. I'll shut up now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Your Daily Dose Of Coolness

This is the coolest thing ever.

Update: Torture and Detention

The Senate reached a compromise toning down the language of the Graham "Screw Human Rights" Amendment. Now, a detainee who has been tried before a military tribunal receives an automatic appeal to the D.C. Circuit if their sentence is greater than ten years, and detainees can petition the D.C. Circuit for an appeal if their sentence is less. The new language, authored by Carl Levin (D-MI), allows the D.C. Circuit to rule on the constitutionality of the process case-by-case should an appeal be brought. It's a significant improvement over the original GSHRA, but it still robs detainees of many of the rights that form the basis of our legal system. There is still no recourse for those detained who don't even get a military tribunal. And there is no transparency at all for the military tribunal process. (This baffles me - why can we give Nazis a public military trial with access to lawyers, the right to defend themselves, etc. and not do the same for al Qaeda?)

Graham and Levin are asking the Senate conferees to link the language of this bill to the McCain Amendment. That may sound trivial, but realize that the GSHRA is something that the Administration dearly wants - Senators want Bush to realize that if he wants to strip people of their access to courts, he'll have to deal with not torturing them.

You know, five years ago I never would have dreamed of typing that last sentence.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Boredom + A Quarter = Hilarity

Michael Newdow is back on the beat, continuing his glorious - ahem - crusade against government-sanctioned displays of religion. This time, he's after the "In God We Trust" motto on our money.

Newdow's got a point. The currency's reference to God establishes a religious belief and is therefore unconstitutional. But seriously, dude, do you have anything better to do with your time?

And in the "tasty irony" department, NASCAR racer Kurt Busch was suspended from his racing team for driving recklessly around Phoenix. I'm not sure how he stood out from the rest of Phoenix's creative drivers, but I'm also not sure why his racing team was surprised when the guy they're paying to drive psychotically drives psychotically.

To sum: driving like a NASCAR driver in Phoenix gets you arrested. Driving like a NASCAR driver in downtown Raleigh gets you re-elected.

What A Beautiful View... That'll Be $1,000

Since New Hampshire has prevented itself from implementing a sales or income tax, they have decided to tax something they have plenty of: scenery. They could do that in North Carolina, but I'd only be paying about six cents.

Granted, this is supposed to be part of the property value, but... honestly. Why raise the property value $200,000 in one fell swoop based on a view? And what would happen if they tried this in, say, Montana?

I suppose this is somewhat of a setback for the Free Staters up there...

Also, the award for Losing A Game In The Most Absolutely Innovative And Heartbreaking Way goes to the Washington Redskins... I still can't tell whether Mike Alstott actually got the ball across the goal line on that two-point conversion.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Politician Admits Mistake

Former NC Senator John Edwards admits he was wrong in voting for the Iraq war in 2002. Also, my head just exploded.

In other news, Pat Robertson is an idiot. Not that this is news, per se. It's just funny.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Here is the e-mail letter I sent to Senator Burr regarding the Graham Screw Human Rights Amendment (link to Ben's blog). I would have sent it snail-mail, but there was no chance in hell it was going to get there by Monday. I sent a shorter version to Senator Dole, since her e-mail interface only accepts shorter letters. Chance that either will read it: scant. But it's worth a shot.

Senator Burr,

First, allow me to commend you for your support for the McCain Amendment. Your vote in this matter clearly demonstrates your concern for human rights and your desire to ensure that we conduct the war on terror in the most effective way possible. By voting for this amendment, you have made a statement that you do not wish us to sink to the moral levels of our opposition in the conduct of this global struggle.

I am dismayed, however, by your support for the Graham Amendment, which strips the federal courts of the jurisdiction to hear statutory habeas corpus pleas. This ensures that those detained in foreign countries and brought to Guantanamo Bay will not be able to challenge their detention in the courts.

I appreciate the importance of the aforementioned detentions in the conduct of the war on terror. However, suspending the habeas rights of these detainees weakens our ability to successfully struggle against terrorism by undermining our claim to moral superiority and by providing terrorist recruiters with another tool to stoke the fires of anti-American hatred within young Muslim men.

The right to challenge one's imprisonment is just as fundamental a human right as the right to be treated humanely while in detention, a right for which you expressed support when you voted for the McCain Amendment. There can be no claim of perfection here; therefore, though most of the detainees are terrorists, many of those imprisoned at Guantanamo were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. In order to ensure that we are detaining the right people, all those detained must be allowed to challenge their detention. To deny detainees these rights is tantamount to saying that the wrongful imprisonment of innocent people is acceptable.

Allowing detainees to challenge their status in court will not only ensure that we do not detain anyone wrongly, but will also ensure that our interrogations are only conducted upon those with actual information. Imagine the waste - not to mention the embarrassment - of interrogating someone who has never been a terrorist about supposed terrorist activities! If we institute a process by which the wrongfully detained are freed and the rightfully detained are held, we avoid much of this waste of resources. Furthermore, any information that comes out during the challenge can be utilized by intelligence agencies as well.

Finally, the specter of indefinite wrongful imprisonment looms large over the heads of those who may be subjected to it. Terrorist recruiters will almost certainly distort any unjust detentions into evidence that America is attacking the Muslim world and thus should be destroyed. In order to win the war on terror, we must not only destroy existing terrorists but prevent new terrorists from being recruited. Allowing detainees access to the courts will reassure those who fear that they may be next that justice will be served, and that if they avoid participating in terrorism, they will not be hurt.

It is apparent that the Graham Amendment undermines our claims to moral superiority and harms our ability to conduct the war on terror in an efficient and effective manner. I have heard that your colleague from New Mexico, Jeff Bingaman, is planning to offer an amendment on Monday that would reverse, at least in part, the Graham Amendment. For the sake of our consciences and for the sake of our struggle against violent extremists, I urge you to support Mr. Bingaman's efforts.

Thank you for your time,
Jeff Woodhead

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Election Day Retrospective

Yesterday was Election Day. Unless you lived in Virginia or New Jersey, you probably didn't notice. (And boy, did Virginians notice.) So here's the rundown:

Congratulations to Tim "Candy" Kaine, who continues Virginia's long march to purpleness with a victory in the race for governor. He succeeds the wildly successful and wildly popular Mark Warner, who managed to raise his profile for the '08 Democratic presidential nomination in the process.

In the process, blue America's border moved from the Potomac to the Occoquan. Congratulations to Chuck Caputo especially, who defeated gay-basher and immigrant-basher extraordinaire Chris Craddock in his southwestern Fairfax County race. (Craddock ousted incumbent Gary Reese in the primary, in part by linking him to an decade-old endorsement from a gay-friendly publication and by questioning his sexuality. Reese, a moderate Republican who often sided with Warner, likely would have held the seat. This reinforces the notion that primary voters are often fools.)

The Post describes the election as a "backlash" against Republicans in the suburbs. I doubt that. The fact that Kaine (the lieutenant governor) came so close to losing is testimony to how Republican Virginia still is - he was barely able to ride Warner's 80% approval rating (!) to victory. However, a lot of Republicans thought Warner's ambitious budget-balancing tax hike would play out badly, but Virginians realize that the state budget was in a hole after Gilmore, and Warner's tax plan helped the state as a whole. My point: people aren't as anti-tax as we might want to believe, even in the South.

I'll add this as well. Kaine's opponent, Jerry Kilgore, ran for the most part on the death penalty (to which Kaine is opposed) and abortion (Kaine is mildly pro-choice). He lost. Since most Virginians like the death penalty and don't like abortion, this means that a significant chunk of Kaine's votes came from so-called social conservatives. This just goes to show that a plurality of voters care about much more than just social issues, and it's time the pundits recognized that.

I'll go out on this limb while I'm at it - Bush's social conservatism had nothing to do with his 2004 victory. Discuss.

Of course, when the ballot is a social issue, the demagogues will often have their way. So it is in Texas, where voters approved a constitutional amendment denying gays the right to marry. At least sanity still rules in Maine, where voters rejected an effort to repeal their new gay-rights law. Will somebody please tell me why allowing gays to claim the legal rights associated with marriage threatens anyone? MA voters discovered this for themselves: gays were allowed to marry, and heterosexual marriage didn't implode.

Attempts in California and Ohio to take the power of drawing congressional districts away from state legislatures both failed. We can all look forward to more geographically improbable districts and uncompetitive races from those two states. Ironically, Democrats supported the Ohio measure and opposed the California measure; Republicans supported the CA measure and didn't like the OH one. Guess who holds the congressional majority in each state. Personally, I supported both, so it's a disappointment for me. I think it's somewhat important in our democracy to have the capacity for high turnover in the House. We won't have that unless we make the redistricting process non-partisan, or at least bi-partisan.

Corzine wins in N.J., to absolutely nobody's surprise.

Non-election fun:

This is my hometown, y'all. I'm glad there are people with enough time on their hands to harrass illegal immigrants who are looking for work so they (and their families back home) can eat. You want to curtail illegal immigration? Tackle our broken immigration system that forces people to immigrate illegally. You want to engage in a self-aggrandizing stunt that accomplishes nothing but intimidating people looking to better their lives? Do what these people do.

Congress is investigating the CIA's secret prisons. Oh, wait, no. They're investigating who told the press about the CIA's secret prisons. Apparently the fact that the CIA is keeping secret prisons - a tactic usually reserved for the Saddam Husseins of the world - doesn't faze Republican Congressional leaders at all. Focus, people. Focus.

Of course, the non-secret military prisons appear quite porous. Anyone else think that this wouldn't have happened if they'd been in San Quentin instead of somewhere in Afghanistan? Would your average Californian give shelter to four people in orange prison jump suits? And they probably couldn't read English, so finding John Walker Lindh's house in the phone book is out of the question.

(Thanks to Leah for those three stories.)

I was watching The Daily Show yesterday. John McCain was the guest. Jon Stewart asked McCain if VP Cheney, who wants to maintain the government's right to torture, was insane. McCain had to think about it for a little while. I was amused.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fun With Surveillance

So far, this report from a left-leaning blog is unsubstantiated by a second source. If it's true, however, that the White House is using the Patriot Act and National Security Letters to gather information on people for no reason other than the fact that they're Bush's political enemies, then this administration truly has crossed the fine line between clueless and evil. I'll reserve judgment on this until I find another source - you're encouraged to help too.

This reminds me, however, of an excellent Post article about national security letters and their impact on the war on terror and our right to privacy. It's very balanced and well-written, but sadly, I can't get to the Post's site right now so I can't give you a link. Boo.

We Don't, Do We?

Bush is on the record this weekend as having said "we do not torture." Oh? If we don't, then why are we maintaining secret prisons in other countries? And why are we so opposed to the McCain Amendment outlawing "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees?

Come to think of it, why is anyone against that amendment? Admittedly, I live in a somewhat liberal bubble, but I read Will and Krauthammer and Hoagland on the Post's site when I get the chance, and occasionally happen across a World Net Daily story or two. I haven't seen one argument against the McCain Amendment. Not one.

So I pose to you, my readers, this task. Find me a published column/piece/something opposing the McCain Amendment. You will earn my thanks, as well as a blog shout-out.

Also, if you're at a loss for where to find actual news, Leah's latest blogosphere contribution is a good place to go. She's pretty thorough.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Frank Lautenberg: Smart-ass

Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced an amendment that would rename the Republicans' cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs for the poor the "Moral Disaster of Monumental Proportions Reconciliation Act." Which, if it passes, gives Senate Republicans the opportunity to say that they passed a moral disaster of monumental proportions.

As long as we're using this naming convention, the Senate will probably be voting on the "Line The Pockets Of Our Campaign Donors Act" and the "Let The CIA Do Whatever The Hell It Wants To Whoever It Wants, Damn The Geneva Convention Act" fairly soon. And the "Protect Your Poor Congresspeople From Pesky Challengers Act" will almost certainly make it through state legislatures across the country.

The Post's Chris Cillizza writes about it here.

It Can't Happen There

If I have any Muslim readers, Eid Mubarak to you.

The CIA has been hiding and torturing detainees in secret prisons located in other countries. While this comes as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows the history of the CIA, Dana Priest's report on the issue makes our suspicions more concrete - and more chilling.

It is unthinkable that our country should be responsible for the "disappearance" of anybody, even of 100 undeniably evil creeps. This is immoral, un-American, and downright scary. It is the American way to give everyone a fair trial. Terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols received that courtesy. Hell, even Goebbels and Goering got their day in court. Do people lose their right to a fair trial when their names become harder to pronounce?

I understand that the intelligence being extracted from these detainees is probably very valuable - or at least was. I don't know how much useful intel is being produced three years after their capture, but I'll give the intel people the benefit of the doubt on that one. Why, though, do we need to keep them in a secret location without at least the rights a prisoner of war deserves? Is there something inherently more productive about interrogating them in secret?

Congratulations to the 90 Senators (including my own Senators Burr and Dole) who voted for the McCain Amendment mandating humane treatment for all people in U.S. custody. As the Senate version stands, the regulation would apply to those in CIA custody as well. But the amendment is being threatened in conference committee by Cheney operatives who want to exempt the CIA from the regulations. I don't understand why Cheney wants to keep people in secret prisons and torture them - seems superfluous at best and counterproductive at worst.

In other news, Denver legalized the possession of an ounce of marijuana. It's a toothless law, since state and federal anti-possession laws still exist, but it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. Toke up, Broncos fans.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It Can't Happen Here

Leah draws my attention to a really scary news item that occurred a little too close to home. As Leah points out, this is the kind of thing that happens when dictators are in power. No one should be harrassed for dissent ever, and certainly not 200 miles from my front door. I wonder what would happen if Wal-Mart found this blog, and I posted something like this:


The timer now starts on how long it takes the Secret Service to show up at my door. I'll keep you - heh - posted.

Senator Sheehan?

Laugh. Cry. Cringe. Cheer. Whatever. The Village Voice has been the first to mull over a possible Cindy Sheehan challenge to Senator Hillary Clinton. It's worth noting that Sheehan herself hasn't weighed in on the possibility of running, but if you think she wouldn't do it, you've got another thing coming. Her branch of the anti-war movement seems to have morphed into a Sheehan-based cult of personality, and it's hard to say that this isn't what she had in mind ever since leaving Camp Casey. She might have some trouble given some of the vehemently anti-Israel statements she made at Camp Casey (especially in New York), though she could probably write those off as the ravings of a grieving mother if she wanted to. (Thanks to Andy for the tip.)

Elsewhere, Mike writes about a story I was going to write about yesterday before my post got too long: the United Methodist Church's defrocking of a lesbian minister. I wonder what reason the UMC will come up with for her dismissal since lesbianism is not outlawed in the Bible (the verse states that "man shall not lie with man as man lies with woman" - not the other way around).

And chalk another one up to Lighthorse Harry, who pulled a massive parliamentary rabbit out of his hat in order to speed along the investigation into the use of faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war. (For those of you who don't know, Reid sent the Senate briefly into a closed session to protest the slow movement of the investigation.) And Bill Frist's whining about being slapped in the face rings hollow - after all, who is it that's been threatening to use parliamentary theatrics of his own in order to get a judge confirmed? Oh yeah, that's right. Shut up, Billy. Ben reports on this one.