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

Friday, October 14, 2005


Today was the nicest beach day in the three years I've lived in Santa Monica. I mean frigging unbelievable. The blog is important, but so's the sun and the sand. Sorry everyone.

Anyway, I was so worried about Karl Rove having to testify again that I sorely needed some relaxation. Keep a stiff upper lip, Bush's brain! We're with ya!


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Never Too Early

To pick your candidate for the next Presidential election.

Zod 2008

Kneel before me, worm! And I approved this message.



And I don't think it's such an outlier.

In what may turn out to be one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling, President Bush's job-approval rating among African Americans has dropped to 2 percent, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

The drop among blacks drove Bush's overall job approval ratings to an all-time low of 39 percent in this poll. By comparison, 45 percent of whites and 36 percent of Hispanics approve of the job Bush is doing.

His approval among African-Americans in similar polls is around 12%. There's quite a margin of error in that particular NBC/WSJ poll, as only 89 blacks were surveyed. Which likely means that 1 out of the 89 approved of the President. What I want to know is, how did Condi have the time to do the poll? Isn't she busy?


Of Loyalty, and also Loyalty.

It's well-recognized that this is an Administration that prizes loyalty. Those who stay on the reservation are rewarded; those who veer off (Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, Gen. Eric Shinseki, to name a few) are dismissed, disrespected, and slandered. We're seeing an interesting shift in loyalties as the White House is rocked by scandal and criticism. However, the first rule still applies: loyalty matters above all.

That's what many feel about the Harriet Miers nomination, that she received it simply as a reward for being a loyal ranch-hand of the President's for so many years. Turns out the nomination was so controversial that it even split up the normally tight-knit Whote House staff:

Veteran conservative columnist and pundit John Fund asserts in the Wall Street Journal today that the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tried to block the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, RAW STORY has learned.

"A last minute effort was made to block the choice of Ms. Miers, including the offices of Vice President Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales," Fund claims. "It fell on deaf ears."

"Indeed, even internal advice was shunned," Fund adds. White House Chief of Staff Andrew "Card is said to have shouted down objections to Ms. Miers at staff meetings. A senator attending the White House swearing-in of John Roberts four days before the Miers selection was announced was struck by how depressed White House staffers were during discussion of the next nominee. He says their reaction to him could have been characterized as, "Oh brother, you have no idea what's coming."

The trouble between Bush and Cheney may not stop there. Will Bunch spins some innuendo into speculation about their relationship, but it does have a ring of truth to it. After all, the key players in the CIA Leak investigation are Karl Rove (Bush's brain) and Scooter Libby (Cheney's brain). When the US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tightens the noose on the two of them and asks for someone to turn state's evidence, you could have an all-out war on your hands. And while he did trudge to the altar of Rush to defend the Miers selection, Cheney has been noticeably absent of late. I mean, it's like a time warp into the Garfield Administration. The Stalwarts versus the Half-Breeds.

In a dogfight between the centers of power in the White House (upon which I speculated here), those most loyal to the President will ultimately win out. That's the driving force behind this entire Presidency. Don't believe me? Are you aware that the National Park Service is administering loyalty oaths?

The National Park Service has started using a political loyalty test for picking all its top civil service positions, according to an agency directive released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the new order, all mid-level managers and above must also be approved by a Bush administration political appointee.

The October 11, 2005 order issued by NPS Director Fran Mainella requires that the selection criteria for all civil service management slots (Government Service grades or GS-13, 14 and 15) include the “ability to lead employees in achieving the …Secretary’s 4Cs and the President’s Management Agenda.” In addition, candidates must be screened by Park Service headquarters and “the Assistant Secretary [of Interior] for Fish, and Wildlife, and Parks,” the number three political appointee in the agency.

The order represents a complete centralization of Park Service promotion and hiring in what has traditionally been a decentralized agency. More strikingly, the order is an unprecedented political intrusion into what are supposed to be non-partisan, merit system personnel decisions.

Seriously, does a park ranger have to have a certain ideological agenda to do his job? That's ridiculous. But no more ridiculous that today's photo-op with soldiers in Iraq, which the President conducted safely ensconced in the White House in front of a giant screen. It was completely scripted so that nobody would go off message. It's another example of loyalty to the cause trumping a real discussion about Iraq, a real exchange of information. To make it worse, the White House Press Secretary then casually lied about the whole thing:

QUESTION: How were they selected, and are their comments to the president pre-screened, any questions or anything...


QUESTION: Not at all?

MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth.

Here's how the pool report (i.e., from the designated reporter on the scene) described what happened.

The soldiers, nine U.S. men and one U.S. woman, plus an Iraqi, had been tipped off in advance about the questions in the highly scripted event. Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, could be heard asking one soldier before the start of the event, "Who are we going to give that [question] to?"

McClellan is another loyal lapdog, parroting whatever spin is available for the day. The price of loyalty, of course, is that it can become so blinding that you fail to notice how hiring the head of the International Arabian Horse Association to run federal emergency management could end up being a problem. I'd rather a Presidency be run on competence and experience than gut instinct. So, I suspect, would the country.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Oh FEMA, you've done it again...

FEMA's still on the case:

More than 9,000 mobile homes and campers meant for the victims of Hurricane Katrina are sitting unused at government staging areas while displaced families continue to live out of tents and shelters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says the backlog was inevitable: The temporary housing is easier to acquire than distribute because of the limited number of accessible roads, cleared lots and trucks to haul housing to the storm-ravaged region.

But it's been six weeks, and the people left homeless by the hurricane say they are tired of waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise[...]

More than 22,000 storm victims are still living in shelters, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen said Wednesday. Long-term temporary housing is expected to be needed for at least 400,000.

To help, the government ordered 125,000 campers and mobile homes. About 6,700 campers are now occupied, but more than 2,500 mobile homes and 6,400 campers sit unused at staging sites in Selma, Ala.; Purvis, Miss.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Texarkana, Texas, said FEMA spokesman James McIntyre.

They ordered 125,000 and 6,700 are occupied 6 weeks later. That's a 5% success rate.

Heck of a job.

In some case, campers were sent to the region but no one came for them. In Alabama, 200 unoccupied travel trailers were sent back to staging areas by state parks because not enough people stopped in to claim them.

Officials at FEMA don't know how many people have signed up for the homes, McIntyre said. Hurricane victims can call a toll-free number, use the Web or go to a relief center to register.

You almost have to feel bad for the rank-and-file members of FEMA. Not the ones making the decisions, but the paper-pushers. They've got to be embarrassed as hell by this turn of events. Do you think they lie about their profession at cocktail parties? "FEMA, no, I don't work for FEMA, where did you hear that? I steal insulin! Yeah, I sell stolen insulin and baby seal pelts and ivory tusks, but I don't work for FEMA! Don't spread that around, I have a reputation to protect!"


Slavery in Iraq

This is a few days old, but I've seen very little commentary about it online, and I'm surprised it hasn't received more attention. This fascinating article from the LA Times describes how our beloved subcontractor overlords are engaging in human trafficking to staff their projects in Iraq. One can only describe this properly as slavery.

The story focuses on one teenager's story, but gives context to the wider policy.

Ramesh Khadka began the journey to his slaughter in this valley of rivers, where green rice terraces march up the mountains like stairs toward the heavens.

After passing among a series of shadowy, indifferent middlemen, he finished it a month later in a dusty ditch in western Iraq.

There, bound and helpless, the teenager was shot three times in the back of the head by insurgents, his execution and that of 11 of his countrymen captured on videotape.

The 19-year-old and his colleagues were on their way to jobs at a U.S. military base in Al Anbar province when they were kidnapped. The killings last year remain the worst case of violence against private contractors in the Iraq war.

The incident and its aftermath raise troubling questions about America's reliance on the world's poorest people to do the dirtiest jobs in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Contractors working for the United States, including KBR, a Houston-based subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., have brought tens of thousands of workers into Iraq from impoverished countries such as Nepal, the Philippines and Bangladesh to do menial jobs, from cooking and serving food to cleaning toilets.

In relying on a workforce of third-country nationals, however, the U.S. has embraced a system of labor migration rife with abuse, corruption and exploitation, according to dozens of contractors, migrant workers, labor officials and advocates interviewed in four countries.

The system revolves around so-called labor brokers, whose numbers have exploded during the last decade in the Middle East and Asia. Such agencies take advantage of porous borders and rising global demand for cheap labor to move poor workers from one country to low-paying jobs in another.

Although millions of Iraqis are desperate for jobs, the U.S. military requires that contractors such as KBR hire foreigners to work at bases to avoid the possibility of insurgent infiltration.

Willing to work anywhere, the laborers often take out usurious loans to pay the agencies a finder's fee for the overseas jobs. Once abroad, the workers find themselves with few protections and uncertain legal status.

So the desperately poor in Bangladesh, Nepal and elsewhere are brought into Iraq to scrub toilets and such. Never mind that unemployment in Iraq is skyrocketing, these migrants come much cheaper to KBR and the like. The system for transporting them from their countries to Baghdad is no different than the system for sending girls from Malaysia and Eastern Europe into the international sex trade. Workers get paid pennies in Iraq, and must pay that money back to their job placement agencies at predatory lending rates. Once they get there, they are not benefited by any labor protections. Should they die in insurgent attacks (and at least 200 of them have so far), their surviving next of kin are not likely to receive the death benefit that all families of federal contractors deserve by law. In a place as dangerous as Iraq, that's arguably the greatest motivating factor for subcontractors to use migrants.

Here's the model for such a practice:

By 1620, the Virginia Company had organized an effective system that enabled poorer Englishmen to sail for America. These Englishmen, often skilled workers that were victims of England's widespread unemployment, considered America as the Land of Opportunity. Company agents, as well as private recruiters, impressed Brits with promises of land and other benefits for several years of servitude. According to agents, benefits included, travel, trade, and land. Typically, the Virginia Company sent servants over to Virginia to be "sold" to planters, who would reimburse the Company for the servants' passages. More often than not, the indentured servants were shocked by their new conditions. Rather than finding venues in which they could practice their profession, like gardens and orchards, overseers marched servants out to the fields. Many died, attempted to return, or ran away. In addition to mistreatment, many servants also encountered contract extension, a popular punishment of planters for rowdy indentures.

Taxpayers, you and I, are funding this 21st-century indentured servitude in the form of no-bid Congressional contracts funneled to the companies engaging in this practice. Our Representatives need to hear about this, and need to know that the American people don't want their money financing a slave trade. We're sending Third World indigents into Iraq like pigs to a slaughter, and if they are captured, beheaded, killed, we turn away and pretend they never existed. That's how we shamelessly spread freedom and democracy around the globe. This is a scandal that shouldn't be explained away by legal technicalities, as the Secretary of Defense has attempted to do:

More than a year later, the labor markets operate as usual in Iraq.

U.S. officials said they were about to include new regulations in all Defense Department contracts to prevent labor trafficking. The payment of labor broker fees is not considered trafficking, although exceptionally high fees or interest rates are illegal under U.S. trafficking laws.

Commanders "need to be vigilant to the terms and conditions of employment for individuals employed by DoD contractors," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote in a memo in September 2004. "Trafficking includes involuntary servitude and debt bondage. These trafficking practices will not be tolerated."

There is no material difference between broker fees that tie a worker to his job and forced slavery. The Defense Department can spin and parse all it wants.

Read the whole story, as the tale of Ramesh Khadka is absolutely heartbreaking. Then call your Representative. This is shocking.


Separation of Church and... Wha???

I suspect this is a tactic to keep the base in line, but read what the President said today:

PRESIDENT BUSH: People ask me why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background; they want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion. Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas. I remind people that Harriet Miers is one of the -- has been rated consistently one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States. She's eminently qualified for the job. And she has got a judicial philosophy that I appreciate; otherwise I wouldn't have named her to the bench, which is -- or nominated her to the bench -- which is that she will not legislate from the bench, but strictly interpret the Constitution.

This AP article about the comment picks and chooses the quote about religion, but I think with good reason. Bush suddenly mentioning her religion as a factor is completely out of place with the rest of what he's saying. That can very logically construed as a wink to the evangelical base; "Don't worry, she's one of us."

But the whole country should probably be troubled that apparently, there is a litmus test for this President on judges. That litmus test is not only religion, but a particular type of religion. The Constitution stipulates that nobody should be excluded from public office because of their religious views. At the same time, no one should be chosen for public office specifically because of their religious views either, and doing so is an implicit violation of the establishment clause. This very nomination to the Supreme Court could conceivably be struck down by the Supreme Court under that standard.

That won't happen. But it's extremely disconcerting that saying "I picked her because of her religion" is being used as a defense of the pick, with a very specific purpose. It's not the basis of my opposition to Miers, however; I just don't believe that a President should use to pick lifetime nominees.

[UPDATE] Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Somebody might want to ask about that.



It's far too easy to get tunnel vision and caught up in the daily games of politics. I've neglected this vast human tragedy, which was initially reported in my newspaper as a small blurb on A-16, only to expand as its deadly effect came into focus. Living in an area where an earthquake could hit at any time (I've been in two, none of them serious but all of them scary for at least a moment), these stories are particularly salient.

The regularity of these natural disasters over the last several months can only be described as disturbing. Certainly some study needs to be done into why the frequency has risen so. We're about to run out of letters on this hurricane season and it's not near over (in which case, they go to Greek; Hurricane Alpha, anyone?). There's a Hurricane Vince headed for Europe. It'll likely be a tropical storm when it gets there, but think about that. A tropical storm in Europe.

I'll leave it to all of you to explain this rash of deadly environmental activity. It could be as simple as karma; when we're not nice to the environment, it's not nice to us.


The WHIG Party

There are indications that the latest line of inquiry in the Plame case has expanded as the prosecutor has learned how far back the attempts to discredit Joseph Wilson go. Wilson's wife may have been outed PRIOR to his writing an op-ed in the New York Times in July 2003. Here's a tantalizing news piece:

Earlier conversations are potentially significant, because that suggests the special prosecutor leading the investigation is exploring whether there was an effort within the administration at an early stage to develop and disseminate confidential information to the press that could undercut former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Central Intelligence Agency official Valerie Plame.

Mr. Fitzgerald's pursuit now suggests he might be investigating not a narrow case on the leaking of the agent's name, but perhaps a broader conspiracy [...]

Lawyers familiar with the investigation believe that at least part of the outcome likely hangs on the inner workings of what has been dubbed the White House Iraq Group. Formed in August 2002, the group, which included Messrs. Rove and Libby, worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion. The group likely would have played a significant role in responding to Mr. Wilson's claims.

The White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, was primarily a propaganda arm of the White House committed to selling the Iraq War to the American people through the media. It is not at all surprising that they would be at the forefront of the Plame case, particularly considering that the group counted as its members Libby and Rove. Discrediting opponents and making up news stories in favor of the war was all in a day's work:

The 56-page investigation was assembled by USAF Colonel (Ret.) Sam Gardiner. "Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II" identifies more than 50 stories about the Iraq war that were faked by government propaganda artists in a covert campaign to "market" the military invasion of Iraq.

Gardiner has credentials. He has taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College and was a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College.

According to Gardiner, "It was not bad intelligence" that lead to the quagmire in Iraq, "It was an orchestrated effort [that] began before the war" that was designed to mislead the public and the world. Gardiner's research lead him to conclude that the US and Britain had conspired at the highest levels to plant "stories of strategic influence" that were known to be false.

The multimillion-dollar propaganda campaign run out of the White House and Defense Department was, in Gardiner's final assessment "irresponsible in parts" and "might have been illegal."

"Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their democracies to come to the right decisions," Gardiner explains. Consequently, "Truth became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage." For the first time in US history, "we allowed strategic psychological operations to become part of public affairs... [W]hat has happened is that
information warfare, strategic influence, [and] strategic psychological operations pushed their way into the important process of informing the peoples of our two democracies."

(via Digby)

Those of us that have been paying attention already know this. We saw the White House link Iraq to 9/11; we saw them describe meetings between Iraqi agents and Mohammed Atta; we saw them discuss yellowcake shipments from Niger; we saw them promote a host of other falsehoods. While many of these stories have been officially discredited, the WHIG's existence has remained largely in the shadows. Josh Marshall explains the consequences of shoving it out into the open:

This group was the organizational team, the core group behind all the shameless crap that went down in the lead up to the Iraq war -- the lies about the cooked up Niger story, everything. If Fitzgerald has lassoed this operation into a criminal conspiracy, the veil of protective secrecy in which the whole operation is still shrouded will be pulled back. Depositions and sworn statements in on-going investigations have a way of doing that. Ask Bill Clinton. Every key person in the White House will be touched by it. And all sorts of ugly tales could spill out.

It is vital if we are to remain a democratic republic that the whole truth about the run-up to Iraq is exposed, so that such a calamity never happens again. Patrick Fitzgerald (a Republican I'd be proud to vote for, incidentally) has a toehold in ripping the whole thing asunder.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Constitution 2038 is gonna be perfect...

AP is reporting that the days and days of US negotiating on the Iraqi constitution has paid off.  Well, sort of.  Here's the deal:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi negotiators reached a breakthrough deal on the constitution Tuesday and at least one Sunni Arab party said it would now urge its followers to approve the charter in this weekend's referendum.

Under the deal, the two sides agreed that a commission would be set up to consider amendments to the charter that would then be put to a vote in parliament and then submitted to a new referendum next year.

So let me get this straight.  The deal on the Constitution is that they'll write another Constitution next year?

And that won't work, so they'll write ANOTHER Constitution that'll get voted on in '07, and then there's the 2008 Constitution, and the '09, and the 2010 (The Year We Make Constitution)...

This does nothing but prolong the inevitable; autonomous areas in the North and South, and a restive Sunni population in the middle.  Do you think for a second that, once given these powers, Shiites and Kurds will vote to have them TAKEN AWAY?  I don't think so.  But apparently that's good enough for some Sunni groups:

A top Sunni negotiator, Ayad al-Samarraie of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the measure would allow it to "stop the campaign rejecting the constitution and we will call on Sunni Arabs to vote yes." It was unclear if parliament would take a formal vote on the new deal with some lawmakers saying that measure may be read to the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The central addition allows the next parliament, which will be formed in Dec. 15 elections, to form the commission that will have four months to consider changes to the constitution. The changes would be approved by the entire parliament, then a referendum would be held two months later.

Sunni Arabs are hoping to have a stronger representation in the next parliament and want to make major amendments to the constitution, particularly to water down the provisions for federalism, which Shiites and Kurds strongly support.

The other additions include a statement stressing Iraqi unity and another states that the Arabic language should be used in the Kurdistan region, along with Kurdish -- issues important to the Sunni Arabs. The fourth underlines that former members of Saddam Hussein's ousted, Sunni-led Baath Party will only be prosecuted if they committed crimes.

Some moderate Sunni leaders once had positions in the Baath Party and fear being barred from politics by the De-Baathification process outlined in the constitution.

I'm not saying all of this is bad, but at this late date, it seems desperate.  These changes only suggest that there may be a way in the future to move Iraq away from a Shiite-dominated Islamic republic.  That doesn't pass the smell test.  These "promises" sound empty.  The Shiites could bottle changes up in committee, then plead that "we went through the democratic process and the changes were rejected."

I don't see how this is any different in real terms.  Of course, all that matters to the White House is that the referendum passes, so glowing speeches about Iraqi democracy and braving the insurgents and last throes may be spoke.



Last Thursday, the front-page headlines were Miers and Rove until the alert about the NYC subway system. That story was held for days until it was released, oddly on the same day that the President made a big speech about terror. DHS questioned the source of the information at the time, but surely the government knew that giving the alert to a NYC Mayor in the midst of an election campaign would force him to release it to the public.

Turns out it was bogus. I know, it's crazy, Iraqis and Afghanis with baby carriages sounded so real.

This whole case reveals something even more dangerous about the still-broken state of the US intelligence community. CIA and the Pentagon obtained this intel and pushed it upstairs, and DHS and the FBI openly questioned it. Sound like a turf war to you? It's amazing that this kind of crap is still going on 4 years after 9/11. And you never heard a peep from the supposed National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte, who is supposed to aggregate all of this information and make it so that these turf wars would not continue.

Seems to me we've had ample time to work out these kinks.

UPDATE: This is funny as shit.


Party of Ideas

I'm been very vocal that Democrats need to regain the mantle of ideas, rather than succumbing to the GOP spin that they are fresh out. Well, it looks like they've finally gotten the message. Rahm Emanuel gave a preview of this on Meet the Press a couple weeks ago, and now there's this from Roll Call (via Kos):

Seeing an opening to reach voters while Republicans are beset by turmoil, House Democrats are privately planning to accelerate the timing of the release of their platform and the major policies they will promote on the campaign trail next year.

Key Democratic sources say Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House leaders are putting the finishing touches on what arguably will be Democrats most detailed "positive" election-year agenda since the party lost power more than a decade ago. Pelosi has been coordinating with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), key Democratic strategists, advisers and outside interest groups on the policy platform as well as the party's broader 2006 message.

The move comes as many in the party have argued that Democrats need to do more than just complain of Republican excesses and the "culture of corruption" they charge the GOP with fostering.

An early draft of the agenda outlines the specific initiatives House Democrats will pledge to enact if given control of the House. Leaders have been working on the document for months, and have already started encouraging Members to unify around it and stick to its themes.

Among the proposals are: "real security" for America through stronger investments in U.S. armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq; affordable health insurance for all Americans; energy independence in 10 years; an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as funding for the No Child Left Behind act.

Democrats will also promise to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions, increase assistance to Katrina disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers, save Social Security from privatization and tighten pension laws.

This list is very interesting, because it offers a melange of progressive, fiscally conservative, and even movement conservative ideas (housing vouchers is right out of the Gingrich playbook). I think these are the kinds of things Americans value. They want to know their kids will be able to have a better life than them. They want to know that, if they work hard, they can afford to live in this country (and more important, they can afford to be sick). They want to know that the government is doing a good job spending their hard-earned money. They want to know that, if you ever experience the worst kinds of disasters, that the government will be able to help you get back on your feet. They want to know that they will not be reduced to being lost, forgotten and desperate in their old age. They want to know that their leaders are looking out for their interests, not the Saudi royals'. They want to know that their sons and daughters, should they be sent to fight for the country, have the protections they need.

This new Contract With America is nothing more than an appeal to common sense and good government. I'd like to see the specific policies in the coming weeks and months. But this is an excellent beginning. This draws a clear distinction and gives people a focused choice about the kind of government they'd like to see. You could do far worse than that.


Good vs. Bad Government

This piece in the New York Times shows how the initial hope of a real discussion on poverty in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has subsided, in favor of a series of the same old Republican policies, which include cutting workers' wages and making sure people don't have health insurance. Go read it and tell me how compassionate and conservative belong in the same sentence.

It's still amazing that this group can hold on to the idea that tax cuts are ALWAYS GOOD for the economy, and vice-versa. All I know is that in the Clinton years, marginal tax rates on the highest earners were raised, and the economy went through 7 straight years of unprecedented growth, and poverty went down every year. Recently, it's been almost the opposite, particularly for those on the lowest end of the scale. The number of citizens below the poverty line continues to grow (1 million more in the past year alone).

The choice between big government (thought to be liberal) and small government (thought to be conservative) is a false choice. The fact that the government under George Bush has undergone the largest government expansion in history is a testament to that. The real choice is between bad government and good government. Good government is not wasteful, is not corrupt, and uses its efficiencies to create policies that make a difference in people's lives. Good government is actually possible. Republicans don't think so. Therefore, when in power they don't take government seriously, because they think nothing good can come fron it. Therefore, they get bad government, which naturally expands as hangers-on and gladhanders take their piece of the action. This serves to PROVE THEIR POINT that all government is bad. The real base of the Republican Party, the rich corporate benefactors, are not served by government in any meaningful way. They don't get food stamps, they don't need Medicare, they view Social Security as just another check in the mail. They're not affected by the ravages of bad government. I'm not saying Republicans sabotage government purposefully, but certainly they have no stake in making it work well. They perceive no political risk in damaging government. Their only political risk is raising taxes.

I understand why the Democrats are running against the "culture of corruption" in 2006, but I wish they'd include the "culture of incompetence." To say nothing of the policies themselves, it does make a difference who runs them, who streamlines their offices, who is smart with the people's money. Republicans simply have no compelling reason to do so; in fact, if they don't it plays into their narrative. Grover Norquist, the field marshal of movement conservatism, once said that he'd like to see "government shrunk to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." The purpose is to eliminate government. The purpose is to give ordinary citizens a raw deal. The purpose is to give 99% of America no return on their investment in America. I don't want big government. I want good government.


This is Cracked

"You are the best governor ever - deserving of great respect," Harriet E. Miers wrote to George W. Bush days after his 51st birthday in July 1997. She also found him "cool," said he and his wife, Laura, were "the greatest!" and told him: "Keep up the great work. Texas is blessed."

You're the best governor ever?? You're cool??? I don't object to a show of sentiment, but the language... is Harriet Miers wearing a "distinguished old lady" costume? Did the president actually nominate one of the twins? Which one? Jenna or Not-Jenna?

I'll reiterate that someone this close to the President has no business serving in the judicial branch of government during that President's term. Democrats have been very slow to criticize this pick, playing their usual game of sitting on the sidelines and hoping the Republicans implode. I think it's a mistake. They need to show their principles (show they have principles, at least) by rejecting cronyism rather than reasoning that Miers is the best they can get. It looks bad for the party.


Monday, October 10, 2005

What Does He Know?

I don't appreciate unelected citizens receiving more information on Supreme Court nominees than the elected officials who are duty-bound to offer advice and consent.

By day's end, Mr. (James of Focus on the Family) Dobson, one of the most influential evangelical conservatives, welcomed the nomination. "Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about," he said in an interview, explaining his decision to speak out in support of Ms. Miers. He declined to discuss his conversations with the White House.

A religious leader is given information by the government about a judicial nominee that the Senate will never get, inclining him to support the nominee, which is seen as an important step in the nomination. Judges getting vetted by private citizens, by religious mullahs. That sounds like Iran to me.

The heads of the Judiciary Committee certainly want to know what Dobson knows:

Specter and Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the committee's ranking Democrat, said they intend to follow up on a comment by Focus on the Family founder and chairman James C. Dobson that, based on conversations with White House adviser Karl Rove, he believes she opposes abortion and would be a good justice.

"This is a lifetime appointment," Specter said. "If there are backroom assurances and there are backroom deals, and if there is something which bears upon a precondition as to how a nominee is going to vote, I think that's a matter that ought to be known by the Judiciary Committee and the American people."

I think, after watching the events of the past few months, the entire SCOTUS nomination and confirmation process needs to be radically overhauled. It does a disservice to the nation's highest court. The fact that either side must get a permission slip from its radical wings is ridiculous (of course, the only observable behavior on this front is the Republican side; we can only speculate whether or not Ralph Neas would say "I have been assured, and some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about" regarding a Pres. Kerry nomination). The notion that a nominee can't be asked questions about particular cases is similarly absurd. Do we seriously not know how the current Justices would decide on, say, Roe v. Wade, for example? Well then, do they all need to recuse themselves from any similar case, because their views are well-known? Of course not.

The end result is that these nominations and their attendant hearings play out like a carnival sideshow, just an attraction with bright colors that has no basis in reality. It's time to stop it.

I do hope someone asks Harriet Miers how many cases pending before the Supreme Court she has personally worked on as chief White House counsel, and whether or not she planned to recuse herself from all those cases. That, I believe, is the real reason she was nominated, to be the President's voice on the inside of the Court. Nobody should want someone that close to the executive branch to serve on the judiciary, whether it's LBJ's personal lawyer Abe Fortas, or Miers. Conservative John Fund lays this out nicely (I'm quoting John Fund?)

It was Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who went so far as to paint Ms. Miers as virtually a tool of the man who has been her client for the past decade. "In Texas, we have two important values, courage and loyalty," he told a conference call of conservative leaders last Thursday. "If Harriet Miers didn't rule the way George W. Bush thought she would, he would see that as an act of betrayal and so would she." That is an argument in her favor. It sounds more like a blood oath than a dignified nomination process aimed at finding the most qualified individual possible.

That sounds, er, really really wrong. I don't know that under this sham of a confirmation process, however, whether that will matter one bit.