Here's some miscellaneous notes as I watch Senate Republicans try to say something other than the rubber-stamp talk they've been spitting out for years -- along with a count of how many times they use the same old cynical phrases.
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Desperate Buzzphrase Count:
I've always enjoyed the Fourth of July.
It's summer, it's a festive holiday about celebration -- not mourning or remembrance -- and, as a military Veteran, it has been a time to feel good about whatever miniscule role I've played in maintaining our country's strength and freedom.
But I'm going to skip the barbeques and just go to work today. I do this because the state of my country under the reign of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their entire cabal of crooks and non-patriots, leaves me with a feeling so hollow and barren that I simply cannot use drinking a beer, eating a hot dog or watching fireworks as a soothing balm.
With Bush's effective pardon of Scooter Libby on Monday, he has once again acted on behalf of the American people with no regard for what the people actually want. Poll after poll has shown that Americans still cling to a belief in equal justice under the law and that letting Libby off the hook on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the outing of a covert CIA agent is horribly wrong. But that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stop Bush from doing whatever he damn well pleases to help his cronies and appease his political benefactors.
The overwhelming majority of the country now also knows the truth of the Iraq occupation and made clear in the last election what is expected of our leaders in ending that disaster. The American people know that the White House cooked the intelligence books to make a bogus case for war against a country that posed no threat whatsoever to the United States and by far most Americans want us out of Iraq as soon as possible.
It is the same thing with the way most of us feel about the promise held in the science of stem cell research and the huge nationwide support for raising the federal minimum wage, which have both been fought tooth and nail by Bush and the Republican party.
No matter how we the people want to be governed or how we decide we want our country to look, Bush sticks stubbornly to what he wants, to what he mandates and what he decides in his delusional world of absolute power and authority over all he surveys.
For anyone remotely paying attention, the Republican party playbook was remarkably minimalist and straightforward for the three or four years after America was attacked on September 11, 2001. Whenever Congressional Republicans got into a jam on almost any issue or found themselves legislatively backed into a corner, they would grab a microphone and yell "9/11, 9/11, 9/11" over and over again. Screaming "terrorists" or "al-Qaeda" repeatedly also worked pretty well until last November when voters saw the emptiness in all of that and tossed them out on their asses.
But apparently the GOP believes their prevailing mind-game of keeping Americans in a constant state of fear and anxiety can also translate into other venues and they're proving it lately with the Employee Free Choice Act (S.1041), which will be front and center in the Senate today.
S.1041, which is cosponsored by 46 Senators, is really pretty simple. It amends the National Labor Relations Act to allow employees to unionize in a more streamlined way if they choose and establishes stronger penalties for violations of the rights of workers seeking to form unions or negotiate first contracts.
Sounds like a good deal, right? The bill would make it easier for workers to get a living wage and decent benefits and, hey, this is America and everything, so who in the world would have a problem with that?
You guessed it -- the same crew that worked like crazy to keep the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour for the rest of our lives or until a Democratic Congress came to town and got a raise passed.
But what's interesting -- or not, if you're accustomed to watching the Republican party's fear-and-smear approach -- is how much concern GOP Senators suddenly seem to have for workers and how afraid they are that employees will lose their right to unionize via secret ballots. And of course, Republicans love to raise the possibility that these poor workers will also be subject to intimidation by big bad union bosses, hell-bent on forcing them into higher wages and better benefits.
Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) announced on Wednesday that he will continue his efforts to bring American troops home from Iraq and that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will once again bring the Feingold-Reid bill to the Senate floor as an amendment to the upcoming Defense Department authorization legislation, which is expected to be considered by the end of June.
The Feingold-Reid measure, which received 29 votes when it was first raised last month, would require troops in Iraq to be redeployed by March 31, 2008, after which funding for ongoing military operations, with three narrow exceptions, would end.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Congress took a step backwards last month when it gave President Bush a blank check to continue his open-ended mission in Iraq,Ã¢â‚¬Â Feingold said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We need to keep the pressure on the President and supporters of his disastrous Iraq policy, and the way to do this is by voting on legislation that will end the mistake in Iraq."
"We should not wait until September to change course, as some have suggested, and we should not be satisfied with proposals that sound good but wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually end the war. The way to end this disastrous war is to pass the Feingold-Reid legislation to safely redeploy our troops. No more Americans should die unnecessarily for a war that has over-burdened our military and weakened our national security.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Lost in the coverage Monday of Senate Republicans blocking the no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was a silly little speech given by Kit Bond (R-MO) about the Iraq war, the Democratic response to the quagmire and, as the Congressional Record labeled it, "Media Bias" in reporting on the American occupation.
Bond covered all the usual Republican bases, saying that Congress should not oppose the war because "it is critical that we not fall into this trap set by al-Qaida" and that withdrawal resolutions tell "the Sunni terror cells and the Shia militias that America's political will is wavering."
Blah, blah, blah.
But this time, Bond, who recently returned from a trip to Iraq that I'm sure included John McCain-like protection and carefully-selected photo opportunities, said that what he's seen in Iraq compared to recent media coverage at home tells him that the horrible liberal press is once again doing its hate-America thing.
"We had the opportunity to meet with the commanding officers and troops on each location," said Bond of his trip. "On the floor of the Senate I spoke to you about witnessing firsthand some of the progress being made. Since I have seen so little coverage of that progress, I think progress bears repeating."
Bond then gave a glowing report of how well things are going on the ground in Iraq.
"The new plan, the counterinsurgency plan, is showing initial signs of progress. Violence in al-Qaim, Haditha, Hit, Ramadi, and Fallujah has dramatically decreased due to local leaders now siding with coalition forces pursuing al-Qaida in Iraq," declared Bond. "In Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi security forces are clearing and holding some of the most dangerous areas, and sectarian violence has decreased."
So I decided to go to one of the prime sources of liberal media bias, the place where I'm sure we'll see a real slant against how peachy things are going in Iraq -- Stars and Stripes military newspaper.
I want to tell you a story about the shifty way that things sometimes work in the United States Senate and how much slips under the radar of a corporate media far more interested in Paris Hilton's jail-induced crying jag than informing Americans on how their government actually operates.
We saw a tsunami of amendments to the immigration-reform bill that died in the Senate last week -- when Democrats were unable to overcome a Republican blockade of the measure -- and one bill that many casual observers missed was offered by James "Ice-Age" Inhofe (R-OK) who once again wasted Senate time by pushing a bill to make English the "officially language" of the United States.
First things first: Inhofe is a true waste of oxygen in the Senate. When he's not denying the existence of climate change and stopping just short of wearing a sandwich-board decrying global warming as a liberal plot, he's looking for new and improved ways to divide the country over whatever nonsensical issue his short attention span has momentarily hooked into. So the fact that he offered S.Amdt 1151 to "declare English as the national language of the Government of the United States" should not shock anyone -- in fact, he's offered the same measure in the past.
And it probably wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t surprise some of you to find that offsetting legislation -- where one bill can immediately negate another -- is sometimes brought to a vote on the Senate floor. It happens a lot when one party offers a bill and the other proposes one of their own to kill it or neutralize the effect the opposition's legislation would have.
That's what happened last week, when Inhofe brought forward his cracker-barrel bill that would make it difficult for people for whom English is a second language to understand critical government forms like court documents and Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) proposed his own measure that would totally neuter the English-only bill if it should pass.
Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D-CT) had a great column on the Huffington Post Thursday, in which he discussed his Restoring the Constitution Act (RCA) and the need to revive America's moral authority in the world, while beginning the process of repairing a U.S. Constitution torn to shreds by the Bush administration.
"One of the saddest days in my 26-year career in the Senate occurred last fall when the Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), allowing evidence obtained through torture to be admitted into evidence, denying individuals the right to counsel, the right to invoke the Geneva Conventions," wrote Dodd. "What is at stake is whether America stands for what is right or what is wrong - whether we stand for justice that secures America or vengeance that weakens us. What is at stake is the rule of law, America's moral authority and their vital connection to America's security."
Dodd's legislation would fully repeal the MCA by, among other things, restoring the writ of habeas corpus for individuals held in U.S. custody -- which means that nobody can be held in prison indefinitely without charges based on the discretion of the Bush administration -- and sharpening the definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" to include only individuals who directly participate in active combat against the United States, and those actively involved in the attacks against us on September 11.
It also mandates that the U.S. go back to adhering to Geneva Convention obligations because, as Dodd wrote "Ã¢â‚¬Â¦America has always stood for something more and our ability to lead reflected it. Based on our moral leadership, we were able to forge alliances and respect around the world, that in turn helped to secure the nation."
When Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 25, 2003 to discuss preparations for a possible invasion of Iraq, he was asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to estimate the size of a successful occupation force after victory.
"Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably a figure that would be required," said Shinseki, a highly-decorated officer with almost four decades of service, including extensive combat duty in Vietnam. "We're talking about a post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems."
"It takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is disturbed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this."
Shinseki was immediately jumped by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Rumsfeld said publicly that Shinseki was "far off the mark" in his prediction, while Wolfowitz called his views "wildly off the mark" and said, "I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down."
The Village Voice even reported that a "senior administration official" said that Shinseki's estimate was "bullshit from a Clintonite enamored of using the army for peacekeeping and not winning wars".
General Shinseki "retired" shortly thereafter, in June 2003, and it is widely speculated that he was forced out for contradicting Bush's take on what would be required by the Army in Iraq. Shinseki has confirmed only that he was indeed forced into retirement, while withholding comment about any specifics.
Which makes the report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee before the Memorial Day holiday even more interesting because Prewar Intelligence Assessments About Postwar Iraq (PDF) shows not only that Shinseki was right about troop levels, but also -- as if more evidence is needed -- that the Bush administration ignored critical pre-war intelligence in their rush to invade Iraq.
Please go to BobGeiger.com to read the rest of this story.
It's always been kind of sad for me that, ever since my discharge from the military in the mid 70s, the best thing I've been able to say about the American Legion is that their restaurant makes the best damn steak I can get in my tiny Nebraska hometown. Other than that small bit of merit, the organization has done nothing but embarrass me with their rote, pro-war positions and, over the last few years, how they seem to care far more about people burning the American flag than they do about troops being used as cannon fodder and Veterans being neglected in V.A. hospitals.
I thought I hit peak disgust with their twisted brand of patriotism in 2005 when the group's last national commander, Thomas Cadmus, gave a speech at the Legion's national convention in which he called for an end to all "public protests" and "media events" against the Iraq war. The convention delegates then voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."
"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Cadmus told convention delegates.
I know when I was sworn into the U.S. Navy, I made a pledge "to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America" and it was apparent to me in 2005 that the American Legion had forgotten that the oath we all took was intended to protect exactly the rights they threatened to destroy with un-American stances like that.
And it looks like they haven't changed a bit in two years.
Now they're after Senator John Edwards and his presidential campaign for creating a web site in which Edwards submits that the best way to observe the upcoming Memorial Day, might be to take a stand designed to limit the number of newly-dead Americans we mourn at 2008's observance.