Quote of the Day #2

From Bob Enyart, spokesman for Colorado Right to Life, on the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller:

"If a Mafia hit man gets killed, people recognize it's an occupational hazard."

According to the LA Times, this was his way of explaining that "his group doesn't condone Tiller's slaying."

Obama and Democracy

Yesterday Michael Rubin complained that Obama never mentioned democracy in his Cairo speech.  Today he corrects the record: in fact, Obama dedicated an entire section of his speech to democracy.  Then he adds this:

But, I stand by the point of my post: Obama stepped back from demanding accountability at polls....Bush embraced democracy and transformative diplomacy. Many progressives and liberals turned on democratization because they didn’t want to be associated with Bush.  Now that Obama is victorious, it would be a real tragedy for progressivism, liberalism, and human rights if the progressive movement embraced cultural relativism and convinced itself that liberty really didn’t matter.

This is really one of the most annoying of all tropes from the Bush-defending right.  The plain facts here are pretty simple: George Bush talked a lot about democracy, but he was in favor of it only when it produced results he liked.  He was fine with democracy in Ukraine and he was fine with democracy in Lebanon.  He loved the purple fingers in Iraq — though only after the UN and al-Sistani pretty much forced elections on him.  Conversely, when Hamas won an election in Gaza, it was not so fine.  When Musharraf and Mubarak conducted obviously rigged elections in Pakistan and Egypt, his adminstration tut tutted a bit and then went about its business.  To the small extent that Bush was ever truly dedicated to democracy promotion in the first place — and it was never more than purely incidental to the Iraq war project — he had plainly given up on it completely by 2006 at the latest.

George Bush's main achievement in this arena wasn't to promote democracy, it was to completely cement Arab cynicism about America's obvious lack of concern for democracy.  Whether Obama is "stepping back" from this I couldn't say, but he certainly can't do any worse on the democracy promotion front than George Bush.

House Liberals Blocking Photo-Suppression Bill

Finally some good news on the torture photos: top liberal Democrats in the House, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)* are blocking the awful, Obama-supported Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009. The "records protection" law would allow the administration to unilaterally block the release of any photos of detainee treatment that it didn't want publicized, bypassing the Freedom of Information Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and the odious Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), passed the Senate by a voice vote earlier this week and was attached to the bill providing supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why do the House liberals have any leverage? Glenn Greenwald explains:

The votes of liberal House Democrats actually matter (for once) because most House Republicans are refusing to support the overall supplemental bill due to their objections to a provision for $5 billion in funding to increase the [International Monetary Fund's] lending capacity.  To pass the supplemental spending bill, House leaders need the votes of numerous House Democrats who are currently refusing to vote for anything that contains the photo suppression amendment.

The photo suppression bill is an abomination that is reminiscent of the worst Bush-era excesses. It gives the executive branch the power to withhold an entire category of information from public scrutiny without any review. This law is Example A of the theory of the Presidency that says citizens should just trust the benevolent executive to do the right thing. Even in you oppose releasing some of the photos, I don't see why you would want to give the White House the power to unilaterally decide what's best. It says a lot about the Congress that members are willing to give Obama this kind of power. It says a lot about Obama that he supports this bill. Thank God for Barney Frank.House liberals.

*Update/Correction: Ok, this requires some more explanation. Frank actually voted for the supplemental the second time it came up, but he told Jane Hamsher this: "I told them [the administration] that they have no chance of passing [the war supplemental authorization] if the pictures are in it. There are many Democrats who are very upset about that." It turns out he was right: the Lieberman-Graham bill was not attached to the final conference report. Sorry for the confusion.

The Bailout Swindle, Act II

Numerous are the ways the government’s multi-trillion-dollar bailout has scammed taxpayers. One estimate, from the Congressional Budget Office, says the taxpayer-funded TARP could subsidize bailout recipients by a whopping $356 billion by 2010. Now, eight months into the bailout and on the back of the Treasury's much hyped stress-test results, several of the largest recipients are itching to return their bailout billions. Early next week, the Federal Reserve will announce which banks can begin repaying their TARP stock investments using the Fed's updated criteria.

But to completely extract themselves from government control, the banks will also look to buy back their government-held warrants. Warrants are basically stock options to buy shares at a set price over a certain period of time. (In this case, that period is 10 years.) The government initially purchased banks' warrants as part of its plan to recapitalize them and bolster their financial health. Banks now want to buy those warrants back—and it’s here that taxpayers could lose big again.

Unemployment and the Stress Tests

This is, obviously, nothing new, but Felix Salmon is right to remind us that the "adverse" scenario for Tim Geithner's stress tests — that is, the worst case doomsday projection — used an unemployment rate of 8.9% for 2009.  The reality, though, is already much gloomier: we're only up to May and the actual unemployment rate is 9.4% and still heading north.

One number doesn't represent an entire economy.  But this one is pretty important, and Treasury's forecasters weren't even in the right ballpark.  It makes you wonder how realistic the rest of their assumptions were.

Quote of the Day

From JB Williams, a "no nonsense commentator on American politics, American history, and American philosophy":

Why does the Obama administration need or want the latitude and longitude coordinates for every home in America? Why the rush to GPS paint every home in the next 90 days? Why must the marker be within 40 ft of every front door? For what possible purpose does the Fed [i.e., the Census Bureau –ed.] need GPS coordinates for every home, and under what authority do they have the right?

I sure hope nobody ever tells this poor guy about the U.S. Postal Service and how they manage to deliver mail to your house every day.  He'd probably have a stroke.

Chart of the Day

Dana McCourt provides this handy chart showing just what the stakes are in the fight over late-term abortions.  If, like me, you think that viability outside the uterus is the best rough measure of whether a fetus is a human being that deserves legal protection, this chart is telling: the absolute lower limit for viability is around 22 weeks, and only about 1% of all abortions are performed that late.  Past 24 weeks, according to a footnote later in the post, only about 100 abortions are performed per year.  Post-viability abortions are very, very rare, and performed almost exclusively for serious medical reasons.

Needless to say, if you believe that life begins at conception and are unwilling to accept that personhood is a continuum with some inevitable grayness, this won't persuade you of anything.  For the rest of us, who believe that fetuses become human beings at some point during pregnancy but before birth, it's worth understanding just how few post-viability abortions there are.  And since that 22-week marker is due to fundamental developmental issues related to the brain and the skull, it's unlikely that scientific advances outside of full-blown artificial wombs will ever have much effect on this.

In any case, no matter how you feel about this, now you know.  Late term abortions are very rare things indeed.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Does Sotomayor Oppose The Death Penalty?

Republicans in Congress have all but given up trying to derail the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor for a Supreme Court seat. Even Manny Miranda, the controversial conservative leading the attacks on Sotomayor, has admitted he has no hope of winning a filibuster because the GOP just doesn't have the numbers. That stark fact apparently won't stop serious right-wingers from attempting to bloody Sotomayor anyway, this time over her stance on the death penalty.

Today, Wendy Long, counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee complaining that Sotomayor has failed to make public controversial materials from her 12-year membership in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, where she was once a board member. The documents purportedly show her opposing reinstatement of New York's death penalty back in 1981.  Long is shocked--shocked!--that Sotomayor signed on to a memo suggesting that "Capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society.”

Congressional Climate Change Games

A couple weeks back, the Center for Public Integrity reported on the massive lobbying effort targeting the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, which literally hundreds of businesses and interest groups are vying to influence. And—surprise, surprise—some congressional have responded by quietly tweaking the bill in industry friendly ways. Today, the Washington Post singles out a handful of interesting provisions slipped into the bill by Democrats on the House energy and commerce committee. Take this sly maneuver by Rep. Gene Green, the Texas Democrat:

During the final days of the drafting of a 946-page climate bill,  Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.) won support for an amendment that deleted a single word and inserted two others. The words could be worth millions of dollars to U.S. oil refiners.

The Green amendment deleted the word "sources" and inserted "emission points." In the arcane world of climate legislation, that tiny bit of editing might one day give petroleum refiners valuable rights to emit carbon dioxide when it otherwise might not have been allowed. Refiners could get the extra allowances in return for cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent at a single point of a vast refinery complex instead of slashing emissions by 50 percent for the entire facility.

Dems v. Dems

Chris Hayes:

It seems strange, almost surreal, to say this, but the Republican Party, and arguably the whole conservative movement, is not the left's biggest enemy at the moment. On keeping a public plan in healthcare reform; streamlining student lending; and passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), cap and trade, financial regulation and a host of other structural economic reforms progressives hope to enact, the GOP is more akin to the garbage men than the alderman. [Click the link for an explanation of what this analogy means. –ed.]

"Most Republicans aren't waking up every day thinking, How do we kill banking regulation?" says Goehl. "Most people who listen to Rush Limbaugh aren't waking up thinking about how do we kill banking regulation. But the people with the deep pockets who have power in DC are thinking that.

"I sometimes get frustrated because it seems like the left isn't focused on corporate power. We like to talk about the Sarah Palins and Rush Limbaughs, and meanwhile the American Bankers Association is one of the main entities running the country."

....While the Republican Party shrinks, corporate interests are deftly molting their old K Street Project skin and crawling en masse inside the big tent being pitched by the Democratic Party. These same corporate interests have always had a purchase on Democrats, of course. But for much of the last decade, business interests had the luxury of spending most of their resources aiding their allies in the GOP.

Chris is right: the biggest threat to the Democratic agenda these days isn't the Republican Party.  It's the Democratic Party.