As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, April 29, 2005

Sudan: Committer of Genocide, Friend

I finally got around to seeing Hotel Rwanda last night, and I found it completely commendable, entertaining, thrilling, and horrifying all at once. The extras on the DVD< which included Paul Rusesabagina's first return to his homeland, and to a memorial site (at a former technical college on a hilltop) where 45,000 Tutsis were slaughtered, was even more horrifying. You could see the bodies, preserved in lyme and encased in white, and despite the fact that they are mere skeletons you can feel the despair, the hopelessness on their skulls. I'd been interested in the Rwanda story since I read the excellent "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" by Phillip Gourevitch, and it's always baffled me how the entire Western world could be so wilfully ignorant as to turn away from a genocide (or, as it was so humiliatingly parsed by Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers in 1994, "acts of genocide").

So you could imagine my shock and revulsion today when I picked up the morning paper to read that the latest African nation practicing this butchery on their own people is now our friend and ally:

KHARTOUM, Sudan — The Bush administration has forged a close intelligence partnership with the Islamic regime that once welcomed Osama bin Laden here, even though Sudan continues to come under harsh U.S. and international criticism for human rights violations.

The Sudanese government, an unlikely ally in the U.S. fight against terror, remains on the most recent U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the same time, however, it has been providing access to terrorism suspects and sharing intelligence data with the United States.

The United States can talk all it wants about strange bedfellows and doing what it must to protect American citizens; claiming to have the goal of spreading freedom and democracy throughout the Muslim world and then supporting a regime which kills its own people is INCOMPATIBLE. What we're really saying to the world is that as long as you play nice with the CIA, maybe give up a terrorist suspect or two every now and again, the US will stay off your case. You'll be free to rule by despotism, silence dissent, jail the opposition, engage in torture, commit genocide, whatever you basically wish.

Over 300,000 native Sudanese have died in the western province of Darfur, and millions more have been forced from their homes, fleeing the racist Arab militia known as the janjaweed. The only substantive difference between the janjaweed in Darfur and the machete-wielding interahamwe in Rwanda are the names. Both are engaged in ethnic cleansing, and both act with the tacit approval of the local government. In the Sudan that approval is not so tacit; frequently military air assaults precede janjaweed attacks, and the militia is armed by Khartoum. These are our friends in the war on terror; terrorists. Turning a blind eye to human suffering is bad enough, but actively partnering with the very people committing that suffering is far worse.

An illustration of the slippery slope we're headed down here is embodied in Sudanese intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh. Here's what the LA Times article has to say about him:

The paradox of a U.S.-Sudanese intelligence partnership is personified by Gosh.

Members of Congress accused him and other senior Sudanese officials of directing military attacks against civilians in Darfur. During the 1990s, the Mukhabarat assigned Gosh to be its Al Qaeda minder. In that role he had regular contacts with Bin Laden, a former Mukhabarat official confirmed.

Today, Gosh is keeping in contact with the office of CIA Director Porter J. Goss and senior agency officials.

But Samantha Power was able to uncover more in a piece for The New Yorker last year, including a display of how our moral relativism in this sphere will come back to bite us in the ass:

Sudanese officials like Salah Gosh have developed two methods for deflecting American criticism. First, they meet every charge with a reference to the quagmire in Iraq. In Khartoum, when I asked Gosh about the Sudanese attacks on civilians, he told me that armies are made up of individuals. “In Abu Ghraib, there are violations by the U.S. Army,” he said. “But the violations are not from the whole Army. The violations are from individuals. You cannot generalize.” When I asked why Sudan had not complied with American demands that it disarm the janjaweed, he said, “The United States is facing those terrorist people in Iraq. Is it possible for the United States to disarm those criminals? Is it possible for the United States, with all of its equipment—it is a superpower—to disarm these people in one month, two years? Danforth stands there in the United States and says, ‘The government of Sudan has just a few days to control the janjaweed and to stop those attacks.’ If it’s so easy, why don’t you do it in Iraq?”

When I broached the prospect of international intervention, he said, “It will make things worse. People in Sudan do not like foreigners to control them. They would love to fight them. The United States should take care of the information it is building its decisions on. We have lots of cases where the United States was fooled by bad information—the bombing of the Al Shifa factory, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq . . . We told the United States, ‘We have bin Laden in Sudan. We can monitor him and divert his efforts.’ They ignored our claim. We were told to send him out. What is the loss for the United States? How many people died?”

The government in Khartoum has also attempted to hide the evidence of its ethnic-cleansing campaign. It has integrated the janjaweed into the regular Army and police forces, pretended to arrest and prosecute war criminals, and tried to break up large camps of displaced persons.

Sudanese officials say that some eight thousand new police officers are starting to patrol Darfur. But refugees told me that they recognize many of these policemen as former janjaweed. Around the town of Kas, in South Darfur, where forty thousand refugees had taken shelter inside and outside local schools, the new police were visible. But it was clear that they had not been trained. One policeman, riding a camel, was wearing the navy-blue trousers of the Sudanese police and the green camouflage top of the Sudanese Army. Others were loitering in the Kas market wearing crisp blue police uniforms, but their turbans, the rifles slung over their shoulders, and their flip-flops gave them away as former janjaweed. In the local parlance, they had been “re-hatted.”

When I met with Salah Gosh, on July 11th, he said that forty-six janjaweed had been arrested in Darfur. A week later, a government official upped the number to sixty-seven. The state-owned media reported that in Nyala, a town in South Darfur, ten janjaweed had been sentenced to amputation of their right hands and left feet for their role in recent assaults. To confirm this, I scheduled an appointment with Nyala’s top judge and got his permission to visit the jail on July 21st. He presented me with files on the recently arrested. Seventeen janjaweed had been convicted so far, he said, and nineteen were awaiting trial. “This isn’t just talk,” he said, handing me the indictments. “This is proof.” The documents were neatly filled out, and each listed the name of the prisoner and the section of the criminal code that had been violated. But when I looked more closely the papers seemed suspicious: every one of the nineteen new arrivals was said to have been processed on July 14th and was scheduled to begin trial on July 30th. I made my way into the prison courtyard, where sixty-three inmates were gathered. The men who had already been convicted were sitting cross-legged on the right side, wearing mud-brown prison uniforms, and those awaiting trial sat on the left, dressed in grimy white djellabahs. The prison director urged me to question them. I asked how many had been arrested in 2004. Only four men raised their hands. Who had been accused of rape? None. Had any of them arrived at the jail on July 14th? No. Had any of them even been arrested in the past three months? No. The Sudanese government was attempting to pass off criminals arrested several years ago as janjaweed but hadn’t informed the prisoners of the ploy.

Playing patty-cake with thugs like this has "blowback" written all over it. But forget that: millions of people are suffering or dying right now at the hands of the very people we call friends.

p.s. I was interested in the Rwanda case in the use of hate radio to whip the populace up into a frenzy, particularly the station RTLM which by the end of the conflict was going so far as to single out names for killing and directions for where to find them. It's an example of what so many totalitarians knew, that controlling communications and controlling the public are not that far off. In our increasingly consolidated media landscape in the US it's a valuable lesson.


How to Lose a Governorship in 10 Days

I almost feel like Ahnold is working on a rags-to-riches-to-rags script at Paramount rather than running the state of California. In the face of sagging approval ratings and "reform" policies in absolute tatters, Schwarzenegger has decided that the way to plot his political comeback is through... anti-immigrant race-baiting? Has he ever heard of a guy named "Pete Wilson"? You might want to call him, Arnie. He's one of your advisers, I think. Ask him how well treating Mexican immigrants like dirt plays in California.

First, in response to a question at a meeting of newspaper editors about how to stop illegal immigration, he says "close the borders." He then took back the statement, claiming that he's "not very good with the language." Hasn't he been in this country over 25 years? What's the statute of limitations on that excuse?

Then, today's LA Times reports that the Governor thinks the Minuteman Project is a good idea. He tried to peddle the right-wing spin that the vigilante border patrols have been effective (I guess "effective" in this context means "has moved the illegals from coming in at one point to coming in at another.") He ignored the fact that the US Border Patrol considers them a nuisance, the Mexican border has stepped up their efforts to head off an international incident, they are dangerous to the rule of law, and there are at least rumors and at most documented cases of "standoffs" where "people got killed".

Wasn't there a time when Arnold Schwarzenegger himself walked off a plane and into this country as an immigrant? He ought to know that the very Minutemen he's supporting know would have spat at him for taking their job back then.

Then there's this bit of lunacy.

In the same radio interview, the governor also asked a Spanish-language Los Angeles television station, KRCA-TV Channel 62, to remove a billboard it erected with the words "Los Angeles, Mexico." The governor said such sentiments — implying that Los Angeles was now part of Mexico — would encourage illegal immigration.

And this guy is supposed to be a moderate? That's nutty. Billboards promoting the evening news now encourage illegal immigration? Is that why you think illegals come here - because some of the evening news stations are in Spanish? "Yeah, I need to work 60 hours a week in the migrant fields to support my family... but never mind that, I'm going to California for the HealthWatch report at 6!" Furthermore, it's a goddamn advertisement! As The Poor Man expertly (and hilariously) notes, we have had the Boston Celtics in this country for 70 years. Did that encourage the Irish to illegally tramp over from Dublin? It's just dumb, benighted thinking that plays to the most jingoistic and xenophobic among us.

As a California Democrat supporting the candidacy of Phil Angelides in 2006, my advice to Arnold would be "Don't stop. Keep doing exactly what you're doing. Latinos aren't a viable or organized constituency, anyway. Keep playing to the whitest, most hate-bred elements of the electorate. That's the way to California's heart."


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bamboozlepalooza Hits Prime Time

Tonight's press conference had little new information, but the dribs and drabs that did come out about the President's Social Security plan aren't going to make a lot of people happy once they unspin it and determine what he really said. He basically put forth a plan that includes 20% or more benefit cuts for 70% of the population. Note: 70% of the population now means "rich people." If you make $30,000 a year you're a rich person. And you deserve to have your Social Security benefit paid.

Since actual rich people only have around $90,000 subject to Social Security taxation, this really isn't the same kind of benefit cut for anyone who makes more than that. They don't pay at the same rate of their income. So the percentage cuts for the rich are protected by that ceiling, while the middle class continues to get squeezed. That's the way it usually goes in this country; The Republicans champion the rich, the Democrats champion the poor, and they compromise by screwing the middle class. Shouldn't work that way but it does.

That tactic is apparently what CBS News calls "nodding at the little guy." It apparently was "smiling" at the little guy before it was changed. I guess they realized a huge benefit cut for the entire middle (and I would add lower-middle) class constituted nodding over smiling.

The Orwellian speak was coming so fast it was hard to document it all. The notion that "everybody will get at least the same amount of dollars in their benefit check when they retire as they do today" is so bogus. If I was getting the same amount of dollars in my paycheck since 1960, I don't think it would stretch so much. And Josh Marshall noticed the same thing I did: that the President offered the opportunity that private accounts could be made up of Treasury Bonds, which would be "backed up by the full faith and credit of the United States." Of course, that doesn't apply to the Treasury notes in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are just worthless IOU's.

This "new" plan for Social Security is nothing new at all. It's the same phase-out proposal Bush has been pushing all year, and will "until the last day of my Presidency," according to Charlie Rangel from earlier in the week. It calls the huge benefit cuts needed to pay for private accounts "making the system solvent." Just a change in language. One could reasonably ask "If the benefit cuts make the system solvent, how are you going to pay for setting up the private accounts?" But that would require a journalist in the audience.


Not Ready For Prime Time President

In a few hours the President will deliver only the fourth primetime news conference of his two terms. He's given so few in large part because he's so indisputably bad at them (in addition, this Administration feels uniquely unaccountable to the American people, but that's another story). That's why I agree with Matthew Yglesias in being completely baffled by his motives. If Bush's idea is to sell Social Security piratization to the American people in primetime, considering the poll numbers get worse every time he opens his mouth, I'd say sell away. If the idea is to do some damage control on the low approval ratings and general assault on second-term priorities, I'd say that Bush actually speaking himself rather than through surrogates has never worked before, so why would it now?

Yglesias notes that the gang at the Corner of "Dear Leader" St. and "Our Fearless Infallible One" Blvd. think Bush is going to announce the capture of Osama. It's based on nothing but pure speculation.

Still, given that Bush is terrible at press conferences, scheduling a press conference to stop the bleeding seems like a peculiarly up-is-down thing to do. In other words, exactly what we have come to expect.


Compromising Positions

When is a compromise not a compromise? When Bill Frist delivers it. In his mind, "compromise" means "give me everything I want, only a little bit slower than usual."

He continues to lie about the "unprecedented" nature of judicial filibusters, and he continues to fly in the face of overwhelming public support against changing Senate rules.

In exchange for ensuring that all of Bush's court nominees get an up-or-down vote, Frist offers: 1) an unenforceable promise that nominees will not be blocked in the Judiciary Committee; 2) 100 hours of debate set aside for each nominee. Now, I'm fuzzy on my parliamentary procedure, but I'm assuming those 100 hours would get parceled out equally (or even proportionally) to Republicans and Democrats, which means the minority party would be able to hold up a nomination through debate for less than half of that time. And more and more, Senate debate just feels like pissing in the wind.

Tony Perkins and the Familoy Research Council has already praised the offer. Harry Reid said this:

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, called the proposal a "big wet kiss to the far right," which has pushed to ban judicial filibusters and get more conservatives on the bench.

Good for him.

Democrats have no reason to cave just yet on this. The negotiating process is important. Both sides will have to give up something (like maybe Frist assuring Reid's bold Democratic agenda gets to the floor).

Should be interesting.


Literature Roasting On An Open Fire

It's not Christmas, but that's the tune I have in my head after reading this story:

Republican Alabama lawmaker Gerald Allen says homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle. As CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, under his bill, public school libraries could no longer buy new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters.

"I don't look at it as censorship," says State Representative Gerald Allen. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children."

Books by any gay author would have to go: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" has lesbian characters.

Allen originally wanted to ban even some Shakespeare. After criticism, he narrowed his bill to exempt the classics, although he still can't define what a classic is. Also exempted now are Alabama's public and college libraries.

Banning books in Alabama... I don't think that's... whaddya call... necessary. Doesn't seem like something you need to do.

I mean, if you really want to stop the "homosexual agenda" from seeping into our children's brains through works of literature, ban the Cliff's Notes. Then they'll never find out how The Great Gatsby ends.

Back when I worked in publishing, I learned that the state of Alabama, population 4.5 million, has only 625 bookstores. That's one bookstore for every 7,200 people. However, if you break it down further, it is also one bookstore for each reader. When it says "Jim's Bookstore" in Alabama, that's for Jim. It's his store. "This mus' be where I git my coloring books."

(These are jokes, by the way, people. Don't get all libruls-hate-the-South on me.)


Back in Black (Goo)

It took three months, but Iraq finally has a government. And it seems they've internalized the Bush Administration concept of No Accountability:

BAGHDAD, April 28 (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament approved a cabinet of ministers on Thursday, forming Iraq's first democratically elected government in more than 50 years.

By an overwhelming majority, the 275-seat National Assembly approved the list of names put forward by Shi'ite Islamist Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

However, several of the 36 ministries will be occupied by acting ministers until final names are decided. Jaafari will be acting defence minister and Ahmad Chalabi will be acting oil minister, the parliamentary speaker said.

I prefer to call him Ahmad Rasputin. Because when you lie about intelligence, whip up the US government into an unncessary frenzy about WMD, practically single-handedly start a war on false pretences, all the while spying for Iran and revealing US secrets to them, and you wind up with the oil ministry job... well, you just can't be defeated. Forget training Iraqis, just send Ahmad Chalabi out against the insurgents. All their car bombs would stop working. The guy's indestructible.

And for those who thought the neocons would have to eat crow after Iraq turned out so poorly, well, think again. Crow is never served in the Bush White House. Their darling Chalabi will now mete out the oil to private companies or have his buddy Wolfowitz' World Bank hold it as collateral on all their debts. That oil money that was to pay for reconstruction will instead pay for extra "summer yachts" for Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil executives. AS David Sirota notes, the oil companies now have more money than they know what to do with, thanks to rising oil prices. Nearly all of the big oil companies are posting record profits at a time when gas for ordinary Americans is at an all-time high. This is profiteering run amok. And with Ahmad Rasputin in charge in Baghdad, the profiteering will just get profiteerier. thing I forgot to mention: Sirota points us to a Fortune magazine articel that mentions how Exxon's biggest problem these days is that it has TOO MUCH cash:

Exxon's "soon-to-retire CEO suddenly has a new anxiety: how to spend the windfall wrought by $55-a-barrel oil. By the end of April, Exxon will have a cash hoard of more than $ 25 billion. And if crude prices stay where they are, this geometrically growing bonanza could soon give Exxon more cash on hand than any other U.S. company...the cash is building at a remarkable rate. Each dollar jump in the price of a barrel of oil adds another half billion in earnings. Based on current prices, Exxon is accumulating more than $1 billion a month - even after allocating for dividends, share repurchases, and capital spending. If oil simply stays where it is now, Exxon's cash could approach $40 billion in 12 months. By then [Exxon's CEO] is expected to have handed off the top job--and the headache of what to do with all that cash."

That reads like an Onion article.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Friends in High Places

If you look at the latest reports over the past week, it's clear that before his fall from grace, Jeff Gannon/JD Guckert was getting some big-time help from some big-time people. In return for what? That's anybody's guess. But here's what we do know:

- The Raw Story reported that the FOIA request pursued by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) yielded some strange results. Gannon made more than two dozen White House visits on days where there was NO press briefing scheduled. On 14 occasions, his entry or exit time is missing (that could be due to a different point of entry or exit, but I don't think the Secret Service is or should be that sloppy). 12 times he's listed as checking in but not out; twice he's listed as checking out BUT NOT IN (what, did the guy stay overnight in the Lincolm Bedroom?).

- The dogged pursuers at Kos looked at the data and realized that on four occasions, there is tape of Gannon at White House press briefings without having ever checked into or out of the White House on those days.

- A separate Kos diarist (I'll track down the link shortly) notes that on one of the days when Gannon was at the White House when there was no press briefing, he exited one hour later only to report on a major revelation in the CBS/TANG case. He called Hannity and gave him the scoop, and he wrote about it on Free Republic and on his own website.

- This truly amazing article by Michael Dietz combines all of the pre-Talon News Gannon tales into one handy-dandy resource. The most curious bits here include the fact that" none of his friends ever remember Guckert/Gannon uttering a political opinion in his life before 2003; he was still doing work for his infamous gay escort site even while writing editorials for GOPUSA; his sole professional credential was a $50 course at Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute.

Now, put this all together and it's mighty fishy. Why is Gannon showing up at the White House on days without a White House press briefing? Why is he able to slip in and out of the White House undetected? Why did he seemingly come from nowhere, completely reinventing himself into a political "journalist" after being an office manager for most of his adult life? Who's pulling the strings here? How did Gannon swing this kind of access (and "swing" may be the operative word)? What did he give up in exchange (and "give up" and "exchange" are the operative words)?

You don't have to be a detective to figure out where this may be headed. The innocent explanation is that the White House decided to buy a bunch of journalists and pay them off in access and exposure. The not-so-innocent one involves rough trade and a ball gag. Either way, this is a string that all of us should continue to pull. It may just unravel in spectacularly unexpected fashion.


Hey, it's not any better, but at least it's not any WORSE

This is what passes for optimism in Iraq now; Gen. Myers is forced to say that the insurgency there is "about where it was a year ago." I'm sure he would have liked to say we were in better shape, but with the series of attacks in the past week, including today's slaying of a member of Parliament, that wouldn't have passed the smell test.

Gen. Myers is basically saying that the last full year in Iraq, fully half the time spent there, has yielded no discernible results in terms of stopping the insurgency, training Iraqi troops, or bringing US soldiers any closer to home.

Does this bother anybody else?


I'm President, you're not, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah

At the very end of this New York Times article about the opening salvos in the Social Security debate on the Hill, I noticed this paragraph revealing the sophisticated level of political discourse in which our President engages. It's kind of like what you would experience on a playground if somebody wanted to use the monkey bars instead of you:

Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he met with the president last week and urged him to take private accounts off the table so the two parties could work on solvency.

Mr. Rangel said Mr. Bush replied: "Congressman, I am the president. And private accounts are not coming off the table even if it's the last day I spend in the presidency."

Aside from the attempt at bullying and humiliation implicit there, I was struck by this fact; I thought the President has said over and over again that he hasn't presented a plan for Social Security. How could he ensure that private accounts are not coming off the table if he's never put anything ON the table?

I think that's Mr. Bush's slip showing there.



This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.


Avalanche Warning

Boy, one more cave-in by the Republicans and we'll have to alert the National Forestry Service:

House Republican leaders, acknowledging that ethics disputes are taking a heavy toll on the party's image, decided yesterday to rescind a controversial rule change that led to the three-month shutdown of the ethics committee, according to officials who participated in the talks.

Republicans touched off a political uproar in January by changing a rule that had required the ethics committee to continue considering a complaint against a House member if there was a deadlock between the committee's five Republicans and five Democrats. The January change reversed this, calling for automatic dismissal of an ethics complaint when a deadlock occurs.

There's more to it than that. Republicans under Tom DeLay also packed the Ethics Committee with ideologues, all of whom have either received money from his PAC or given money to his legal defense fund. This virtually assured a deadlock in cases involving DeLay. So when Republican flacks tried to innocently say "DeLay is offering an investigation, but the Democrats don't want it," you know where you can shove that.

The GOP didn't get to where they are by being stupid. They know (at least some of them do) how big a drag DeLay is on their hopes to cling to power. The sooner he's off the front page, the better, as far as they're concerned. Of course Democrats don't want that, but as members of the reality-based community, we do hope for a fair system of ethics oversight for Congressmen. So an investigation into DeLay will certainly plow forward once the ethics rules are restored.

With all of these political sinking ships, from Social Security to the nuclear option to this, for the first time in a long while, it's actually a good time to be a Democrat. But the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, as they say, and we must continue to push back against this shortsighted agenda for our country.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Slash and Burn

I was listening to The Majority Report tonight with Sam Seder (who I did a movie with about 11 years ago) as he discussed a hidden agenda buried deep within the 2005 budget (which is not, as yet, reconciled between the House and the Senate, and may never be). It's interesting how things like drilling in ANWR, which the Administration knows it couldn't get passed in the full Senate, end up as these little line items in the budget. Well here's another one that should scare the bejeezus out of you:

The proposal, spelled out in three short sentences, would give the president the power to appoint an eight-member panel called the "Sunset Commission," which would systematically review federal programs every ten years and decide whether they should be eliminated. Any programs that are not "producing results," in the eyes of the commission, would "automatically terminate unless the Congress took action to continue them."

The administration portrays the commission as a well-intentioned effort to make sure that federal agencies are actually doing their job. "We just think it makes sense," says Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, which crafted the provision. "The goal isn't to get rid of a program -- it's to make it work better."

In practice, however, the commission would enable the Bush administration to achieve what Ronald Reagan only dreamed of: the end of government regulation as we know it. With a simple vote of five commissioners -- many of them likely to be lobbyists and executives from major corporations currently subject to federal oversight -- the president could terminate any program or agency he dislikes. No more Environmental Protection Agency. No more Food and Drug Administration. No more Securities and Exchange Commission.

Government needs to regulate. That's my opinion. That's what separates me from the proponents of unrestrained capitalism, many of whom are about to be in jail cells soon. Without government oversight, corporations are beholden only to themselves; and their only concern is profit.

This got me thinking. While the fight over judicial nominees has been painted as a battle over faith, the plutocrats have something to gain from hard-right judges on the federal bench as well, particularly in the Supreme Court. If something like the Sunset Commission passes, it will inevitably wind its way down to the highest court in the land. That's because it explicitly violates the Constitution, as my representative in Congress explains:

The commission not only threatens the environment and public health -- it would also violate the constitutional separation of power between Congress and the executive branch, enabling the president to dismantle programs created by lawmakers. "Under the administration's proposal, Congress would relinquish its constitutional power to legislate," says Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California who has been the commission's most vocal opponent. "Power would be consolidated in the executive branch, and the legislative role would be emasculated."

The only chance of the Supreme Court siding with the Bushies on this one rests in the hands of a change in the ideological makeup of the Court. Ideologues would vote to uphold the Sunset Commission. And then that pesky Food and Drug Administration, and those nasty folks over at the Environmental Protection Agency, to say nothing of the jerks at the Securities and Exchange Commission, all of them would be a memory.

How do we get more ideological judges packed onto the Supreme Court? Doing away with the Democratic capacity to filibuster would be nice. Perhaps Bill Frist is not only getting pressure from the fundamentalist theocrats, but the Bush crew wanting to hand out favors to their corporate buddies.

By the way, that Clay Johnson who's mentioned in the earlier article excerpt? He's a piece of work:

The man behind the sunset commission is Clay Johnson, the most influential member of Bush's inner circle whom you've never heard of. The two Texans have been close friends since 1961, when they met as fifteen-year-olds at Andover prep school and later roomed together for four years at Yale. When Bush was elected governor of Texas in 1994, he put the buddy he calls "Big Man" -- Johnson is six feet four -- in charge of all state appointments. Johnson, a former executive at Neiman Marcus and Frito-Lay, refers to Americans as "customers" and is partial to Chamber of Commerce bromides such as "We're in the results business." He is also partial to giving corporate lobbyists a direct role in gutting regulatory protections. One of his first acts in Texas was to remove all three members of the state environmental-protection commission and replace them with a former Monsanto executive, an official with the Texas Beef Council and a lawyer for the oil industry. Overnight, a commission widely respected for its impartiality became a "revolving door between the industry lobby and government," says Jim Marston, the senior attorney in Texas for the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense.

Lobbyists as regulators? Self-policing? Oversight as a thing of the past? Welcome to Bush's world, and what may be the real reason for the nuclear option.


That War On Terra just keeps gettin' bigger an' bigger...

Maybe this is why Condi Rice wanted to bury that State Department report on global terrorism:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. count of major world terrorist attacks more than tripled in 2004, a rise that may revive debate on whether the Bush administration is winning the war on terrorism, congressional aides said on Tuesday.

The number of "significant" international terrorist attacks rose to about 650 last year from about 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides briefed on the numbers by State Department and intelligence officials on Monday.

I read somewhere on the Internets that on May 21 of this year, the spread of time between September 11, 2001 and that date will be exactly the same as the spread between Pearl Harbor and the end of World War II. So in practically the same amount of time it took "the greatest generation" to destroy Germany, Italy and Japan, we've turned Afghanistan into an opium farm, made Iraq a terrorist haven which is growing more violent by the day, and allowed terrorist attacks globally to increase three fold.

We are so not good at this running the world thing. Can we pass the baton to someone else for a few years?


Frist blinked

Knowing that the moral absolutists in the fundamentalist corner have no conception of the word compromise, Frist has rejected the only thing standing between the Senate and the nuclear option.

Now Reid can say we tried to work it out, but Republicans are simply the party of "no." This will only make things worse for Frist and the GOP. Although, it's not entirely clear whether it can get any worse than the anemic 26% approval rating for the nuclear option as cited in a Washington Post opinion poll.

By the way, it IS the nuclear option, the Republicans coined it, despite their attempts to back off from the words.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Justice Sunday becomes Compromise Monday?

ABC News is reporting that Reid and Frist are trying to broker a deal on judicial nominees and the filibuster:

WASHINGTON Apr 25, 2005 — In private talks with Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate's top Democrat has indicated a willingness to allow confirmation of at least two of President Bush's seven controversial appeals court nominees, but only as part of a broader compromise requiring Republicans to abandon threats to ban judicial filibusters, officials said Monday.

At the same time he offers to clear two nominees to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for approval, officials said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants a third appointee to be replaced by an alternative who is preferred by Michigan's two Democratic senators.

The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity, citing the confidential nature of the conversations between the two leaders.

Reid ought to know better than anyone whether or not he has the votes. In a poker game between Nevada Harry and "I lost all my money in the stock market" Bill, I take our guy any day of the week.

It's true that the problem on the face here is that the "promise" of not overturning the filibuster is unenforceable, just like the President's promise to make no more recess appointments is unenforceable. But here's the thing: the Theocrats of "Justice Sunday" are absolutists. ANY compromise short of total victory will leave them pissed off and blaming Frist, further fracturing the now-tenuous binds of the GOP and moving us ever closer to a Radical candidate (Judge Roy Moore?) in 2008, especially if McCain or Giuliani get the nomination.

They won't be happy with a compromise. The DEFINITION of compromise is a solution in which both sides are not fully happy. But the Theocrats have no ability to see that. And THAT is what will get reported: their fury at the GOP.

We members of the reality-based community know that the circuit court justices Reid will give up are a pittance sum compared to the real issue of a SCOTUS appointment. Also, the two that he'll give in on are probably the ones being held up based on Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow's not being consulted. Plus we can say that we forced the Republicans to back down off their threat. That's big. We come out looking like the tough guys. And I trust that Reid will have the smarts to get something tangible in return for all this.

Not to mention the fact that we save the filibuster, we save the Constitution from the tyranny of the majority, and we get to go back to our constituents and say that we sat the bullies in the GOP down, threatened them, and forced them into submission.

Of course, the best option would be to force a roll-call vote on the filibuster and have it lose. But that's risky; you could have 6 GOP Senators in your corner, and then Bush could twist someone's arm at the last minute. I think ALL of our options are sparkling (even shutting down Senate business, because of the outrage and rift that would open on the right), but Harry Reid vs. Bill Frist in a compromise battle? That's a no-brainer.


New Job Started Today it's kept me out of the blogger loop (I have to act productive for at least a couple of days before I spend all my time online, right?). Also, unlike my last job I have no TV to pipe in CNN in the background all day long. I never thought I'd miss Wolf Blitzer and the gang!

I'll try to post something tonight, I have some additional thoughts on this filibuster business.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

While You Were Sleeping

The US Army cleared themselves of responsibility in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. They let the top officers off the hook as instrumental in the abuses. This despite the fact that the very same or similar abuses occurred all around the world, in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, elsewhere in Iraq. This despite the fact that practically all of the convicted low-level officers in the case fingered their superiors as giving specific orders to "soften up" the detainees. This despite the fact that internal Justice Department and Pentagon memos discussed how to get around the Geneva Conventions. This despite Gen. Ricardo Sanchez' own memos that issued policies on "acceptable interrogation" which were illegal under international agreements signed by the US.

I guess the higher up the chain of command you go, the less acountable you are. How quaint.


Happy Justice Sunday!

What are you going to wear tonight? Where are you going for "Justice Sunday" feast?

I know where the business community will be, at least if this LA Times article is true; they'll be in the vomitorium:

The country's leading business lobbying associations, close GOP allies in recent legislative efforts and political campaigns, have told senior Republicans that they would not back the Frist initiative to force votes on President Bush's judicial nominees.

Business leaders say they fear the move would lead to a shutdown of Senate action on long-awaited priorities — as Democrats have threatened if Frist moves ahead with a rule change that they say would drastically alter the traditions of a body designed to respect the rights of the minority party.

"If we do that, then all else is going to stop," Thomas J. Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said during a meeting with reporters Friday.

By the way, the Theocrats trying to turn back the clock on society about 1000 years don't really seem to care about these concerns:

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, the group sponsoring "Justice Sunday," drew applause during a recent private meeting of activists by mentioning the potential for a Senate shutdown.

"That might be the best thing," said Perkins, according to an audio recording of the March meeting provided by the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"As I've sat in this city, been here in this city, you know, gridlock is not a bad thing," he said. "Rarely do they do things for us. Usually it's against us."

Their dismissal is probably because the recent alliance between Theocrats and GOP business elites is anything but traditional. The business community is only now waking up the the monster they've created by allowing people like James Dobson and Tony Perkins to consolidate their power.  Before long these two constituencies will recognize just how much they are at odds: that the sex the business community uses to sell practically everything is abhorrent to the theocrats; that the personal morality on which the theocrats supposedly base their existence is a persona non grata in the business world.  Business is about one market under God; Theocracy is about one nation under (the thumb of) God.  Once the business elements of the GOP recognize how damaging the theocrats can be to their agenda, they'll realize (too late) that their tenuous alliance is at once impossible to keep together (too much conflict) and impossible to break apart (loss of the majority).

By the way, the world's most inartful Senate Majority Leader is always trying to blame his yet-to-be-acted-upon actions on the Democrats, despite all evidence to the contrary:

Frist and his staff are already assigning blame to the Democrats for threatening to shut down Senate business, predicting it is Democrats who will suffer. "A vote to shut down the Senate in fit of pique would be irresponsible, and the American people, I believe, would let the Democrats know that in no small voice," said Frist's spokesman, Robert Stevenson.

Despite the confident and aggressive statements from the majority leader's office, Republicans were confronted with new polling data showing that their plans were not popular.

Internal GOP polling compiled by the Winston Group and presented late last week to Senate staffers showed that 51% of registered voters opposed the idea of changing the rules — compared with 37% who backed it. Even among voters who identify themselves as conservative Republicans, opinion is divided enough to pose concerns for party leaders, with more than a quarter in that category opposed to the rule change and two-thirds supportive.

And this telling quote shows how Republicans look at politics as the ability to reward their friends:

A former Frist aide, Manuel Miranda, was less sympathetic, arguing that Congress has already rewarded business for its support by passing the class action and bankruptcy measures.

"You already got your payback," he said, framing the argument he and others will make to business leaders. Besides, he said, business ultimately "won't be affected much at all" by Democratic threats to shut down Senate actions.

This split between business conservatives and evangelical fundamentalists is only going to get worse and worse. THe fundies believe in absolute morality and absolute truth, and they won't likely cotton to perceived "stabs in the back" like this. If the nuclear option fails, or especially if Frist loses his cajones and doesn't go through with it, I can definitely see a third-party Theocrat candidate for President in 2008 (Brownback, Robertson, hell, even James Dobson) that will deliver the Presidency to the Democrats.  I didn't think that at the beginning of the year.  But now I think it's inevitable.