Polar bears are drowning.
In an interview today with Fox News’ Brit Hume, President Bush offered praise for Donald Rumsfeld that’s usually reserved for utterly incompetent disaster management officials:
HUME: Is he here to stay as far as you are concerned?
BUSH: Yes. End of my term is a long time, but I tell you, he is doing a heckuva good job. I have no intention of changing him.
Bush was trying to brush aside speculation that Rumsfeld was on his way out. Of course, the last official Bush praised for doing a “heckuva job” was gone a week later.
[Our guest blogger, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), is the House Minority Whip.]
As Congress focuses on leaving town to enjoy the holidays, I stood in the cold before the Capitol Christmas Tree with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) today to call on Congress to act on the true meaning of Christmas – hope, generosity and good will toward others – and raise the minimum wage.
As a new report we released today with the Center for Economic and Policy Research details, families living on the minimum wage scrape and struggle each month to afford life’s most basic necessities. It is simply not possible for them to enjoy the holidays like the rest of us. No dozens of presents piled under the Christmas tree. No lavish meals on Christmas Eve and Day. It would take almost their entire December paycheck to afford the more than $700 that the average American spends celebrating Christmas.
Congress has the power to brighten the holiday for the almost 8 million Americans living on the minimum wage by increasing their paycheck.
Yet, this is the eighth year in a row that Congress has failed to enact even a small increase in the minimum wage. By freezing it at an inadequate $5.15 and ignoring the effects of inflation, Congress has essentially given a pay cut to these workers. In fact, if the minimum wage in 2005 was worth what it was worth in 1968 (its peak value), it would be $8.88 an hour. Read more
In a last ditch effort to salvage the WTO meeting in Hong Kong, rich countries are trying to buy their way to a face-saving deal.
This round of trade negotiations is called the Doha Development Round for a reason – because it is supposed to be about alleviating poverty in the developing world. But instead of trying to create a real agreement that would be true to this name – rich countries have failed to bring anything meaningful to the table.
So now, with the meeting on the verge of collapse, trade negotiators spent most of the day madly scrambling to cobble together what they are calling a “development package.”
In the proposed “development package” ministers from rich countries pledged to increase so-called “aid for trade” grants. While these commitments are welcome, they are simply an effort by rich countries – the U.S., EU, Japan – to prevent the round from completely falling apart. Speaker after speaker from developing countries warned the conference (and expressed their frustration in private conversations) that aid-for-trade was a supplement, and not a substitute, for meaningful reform of the dysfunctional global trading system. Read more
In October 2003, President Bush gave Condoleezza Rice the authority to manage postwar Iraq. USA Today, 10/6/03:
President Bush is giving his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the authority to manage postwar Iraq and the rebuilding of Afghanistan…
Rice will head the Iraq Stabilization Group, which will have coordinating committees on counterterrorism, economic development, political affairs and media messages.
It didn’t work out so well. Washington Post, 5/18/04:
With all the chaos and uncertainty in Iraq, this would be a good time to call on the White House’s Iraq Stabilization Group. At least it would have been a good time to call on the Stabilization Group if the group itself had not become, er, unstable…
But seven months later, the four original leaders of the Stabilization Group have taken on new roles, and only one remains concerned primarily with Iraq. A search of the White House Web site indicates the phrase “Iraq Stabilization Group” has not been mentioned publicly since October.
…[S]ome within the White House, said the destabilized Stabilization Group is a metaphor for an Iraq policy that is adrift as U.S. ambitions in the country are thwarted by an insurgency and a prisoner-abuse scandal.
Today, it was deja vu all over again:
The White House formally gave Condoleezza Rice authority on Wednesday to take the lead in planning and reconstruction efforts in conflict areas such as Iraq.
Her first task, I assume, will be to clean up the mess the Iraq stabilization group left.
to immediately investigate DeLay. The Hill: “The House ethics committee may not launch an immediate investigation into the activities of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) once it becomes fully operational after New Year’s, according to its chairman Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA). In April, Hastings pledged to launch an immediate probe of DeLay if Democrats agreed to cooperate with him and allow him to organize the Standards of Official Conduct Committee, as it is officially known.”
On Friday, Bill O’Reilly took to the airwaves to share the latest “War on Christmas” outrage:
In Dodgeville, Wisconsin, the Ridgewood Elementary School has changed the song Silent Night to Cold in the Night and forced the kids to sing the lyrics, “Cold in the night, No one in sight, Winter winds whirl and bite,” to the tune of the original Silent Night.
O’Reilly was by no means the only conservative to repeat this story. During a Dec. 10 appearance on Fox News, Mathew Staver of the Liberty Counsel said the presentation at Ridgewood Elementary had “no balance here. They have no Christian Christmas carols.” He even threatened to sue the school:
People are outraged. We sent a demand letter asking them to immediately change the song and allow the actual lyrics of “Silent Night,” and if they do not, if they insist on this ridiculous course of action, we’ll file a federal lawsuit.
As it turns out, the entire story is a fraud.
Ridgewood Elementary didn’t change the lyrics to “Silent Night.” What they did was perform a 1988 copyrighted play called “The Little Tree’s Christmas Gift.”
That play actually contains numerous songs about Christmas, including the grand finale, an audience-led group singing of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The play’s creator, Dwight Elrich, happens to lead the New Covenant Singers of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.
In fact, “The Little Tree’s Christmas Gift” has been performed in several churches, including the Oakwood Forest Christian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee, the St. Anthony Parish School in Des Moines, Iowa, and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church of Abeline, Texas.
So why are the Silent Night lyrics changed in “Little Tree’s Christmas”? Because the play is about a small, lonely Christmas tree that is told it is “too scraggly, it will never sell.” That character sings the revised lyrics — “Cold in the night, No one in sight, Winter winds whirl and bite” — in a scene lamenting his sad state. The rewording has absolutely nothing to do with “secularizing” the song.
Sorry, Virginia, there is no “War on Christmas.”
Last night on Fox News, Brit Hume argued that waterboarding – an interrogation technique dating back to the Inquisition in which the prisoner “has water poured over him to make him think he is about to drown” – does not constitute torture:
Torture has an actual definition, and it means extreme physical pain, it also means the kind of thing associated with the failure of your organs. Now waterboarding is hair-raising and frightening, terrifying as it obviously is, would not appear to fit that category.
The Justice Department has explicitly rejected Hume’s “definition” of torture. In a 2002 memo, then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales argued that to be defined as torture, punishments “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel later revised this definition, but Hume apparently never got the memo.
Also, former torture victim Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) disagrees:
For instance, there has been considerable press attention to a tactic called “waterboarding” “¦ In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.
To send a signal to Hume and right-wingers that this kind of “exquisite torture” should stop, take action.
Eric Ueland, “berated” and “bullied” AP reporter Jonathan Katz for asking whether it was true that Bill Frist had “no idea” how much HCA stock he owned before he sold it. Bill Frist claimed this weekend that he had “no earthly idea” how much HCA stock he owned for the last 10-11 years. An extensive paper trail contradicts his story.