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

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Company You Keep

So the news has arrived that Iran is renaming national foods:

Iranians love Danish pastries, but when they look for the flaky dessert at the bakery they now have to ask for "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad."

Bakeries across the capital were covering up their ads for Danish pastries Thursday after the confectioners' union ordered the name change in retaliation for caricatures of the Muslim prophet published in a Danish newspaper.

"Given the insults by Danish newspapers against the prophet, as of now the name of Danish pastries will give way to 'Rose of Muhammad' pastries," the union said in its order.

"This is a punishment for those who started misusing freedom of expression to insult the sanctities of Islam," said Ahmad Mahmoudi, a cake shop owner in northern Tehran.

How petulant, juvenile, and sad. What other country would do something so stupid?

Iran's Danish renaming wasn't the first time a food name has become a symbol of protest. A Republican congressman from North Carolina helped lead an effort to make sure Capitol Hill cafeterias changed their menus to advertise "freedom fries" instead of french fries after France opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Uh, never mind.

(Incidentally, that Congressman from North Carolina, Walter Jones, is now a leading Republican critic of the war, who supports a timetabled withdrawal. Go figure.)

There are actually more substantive ways Iranian policy mirrors its American counterpart. For example they both hate the gay:

At the same time the United States is having an internal debate about whether or not to bomb Iran (or take some type of military action) to stop their nuclear program the US is siding with Iran in a debate at the United Nations to "deny UN consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people," according to Human Rights Watch:

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a coalition of 40 organizations, led by the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called for an explanation of the vote which aligned the United States with governments that have long repressed the rights of sexual minorities.

"This vote is an aggressive assault by the U.S. government on the right of sexual minorities to be heard," said Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. "It is astonishing that the Bush administration would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran and Zimbabwe in a coalition of the homophobic."

Actually, is it all that astonishing? Nations so swayed by religious rhetoric are prone to denying human rights based on the interpretive word of its respective higher power. We've been engaged in stopping a theocracy from taking hold in Iraq while at the same time coming dangerously, precariously close to a theocracy here at home.


Dumbest Fucking Thing I've Ever Heard (Feb. 17, 2006 edition)

When you go buy a car you're able to shop and compare," says President Bush. "And yet in health care that's just not happening in America today."

Yes, that's the problem with health care. Nobody's walking in to different hospitals one by one asking how much it would be to perform cancer surgery. Because if they only did some haggling, then - THEN! - that tumor removal operation would be cheap enough to afford.

In the eyes of this Administration, the problem with health care is that there's too much insurance and not enough people are paying out of pocket. Because if only people would pay out of pocket, then the magic of the market would keep costs down. Because if the shoulder surgery were too expensive, the patient just WOULDN'T GET IT! Shoulders are overrated, anyway! You can get along perfectly well in life with one arm hanging like a dead stump! Before long the surgeon will knock on his door, hat in hand, practically BEGGING for the patient to please reconsider. "I'll even throw in the undercoating at no cost!"

Hey Democrats... wake up. This is a gift right down the heart of the plate. In the words of James Carville, "...and don't forget health care."


Selling Out Our Port Security

I'm worried that this is playing into some ridiculously hysterical anti-Muslim fears, but it's not like the United Arab Emirates has been a great ally in the war on terror. Why, then, this?

The Bush administration dismissed the security concerns of local officials yesterday and restated its approval of a deal that will give a company based in Dubai a major role in operating ports in and around New York City.

Representatives of the White House and the Treasury Department said they had given their approval for Dubai Ports World to do business in the United States after a rigorous review. The decision, they said, was final.

Dubai Ports World is buying the British company that currently operates the cruise-ship terminal on the West Side of Manhattan, one of the biggest cargo terminals in New York Harbor, and terminals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and other big ports.

Several lawmakers, including Representative Peter T. King of Long Island, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Senator Charles E. Schumer, have criticized the administration for its approval of the deal, saying it was done too quickly and without enough scrutiny of the ramifications for security at American ports.

"In the post-9/11 world, there should have been a presumption against this company," said Mr. King, a Republican. He added that people in the intelligence community had told him they had concerns about how the company operated the port of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates.

"I'm going to be pushing as hard as I can to slow this down." Mr. King said.

Mr. Schumer said that he was concerned that the company could be infiltrated by terrorists with designs on exploiting the vulnerability of American ports. He noted that the Sept. 11 attacks were financed in part by money that passed through banks in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai is a very interesting country. The New Yorker ran a long article (not online) on Dubai and their architechtural insanity (they're building a miniature version of the world out of man-made beaches in the middle of the Gulf, for example). Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, quoted in the NY Times article, appears on the Arab version of "The Apprentice" in the Donald Trump role. The country is the most ostentatious, the most visually schizophrenic, in the entire world. This is likely a pure business venture for them. They'll simply be a titular head and there is not expected to be a strong U.A.E. presence in the ports (heck, they don't even build anything in their own country; South Asians do all the manual labor).

However, being so in love with money leads to the kinds of things like becoming a financial base of operations for the September 11 attacks. And they're located in a part of the world where dealing with Islamist extremists is simply part of doing business. This is a country that has refused to cooperate with Treasury Department officials in tracking Osama bin Laden's bank accounts.

Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that another country should not have any kind of control over something so vital to our national security. If Dubai wanted to buy out our Border Patrol and run it as a for-profit company, would we let them? Of course not. But there is arguably a greater risk at our nation's ports than there are at the borders. Especially considering the fact that practically none of the containers are even checked.

In the end, this is a case of the rich getting far richer. Our government doesn't have a problem dealing with countries tied to terrorism as long as they get lots of money back in the deal. Instead of holding hands with extremist governments and those who fund them, this time, we're giving them the keys to the country. Be sure to lock up at night!



First we bring, for your reading plasure, death squads:

Iraq has launched an investigation into claims by the US military that an Iraqi interior ministry "death squad" has been targeting Sunni Arab Iraqis.

The probe comes after a US general revealed the arrest of 22 policemen allegedly on a mission to kill a Sunni.

"We have found one of the death squads. They are part of the police force," US Maj Gen Joseph Peterson said.

These guys were part of the Badr Brigade. They were dressed up as highway patrolman. They were caught after 22 militia members picked up a Sunni, detained him, and said directly, "We're going to kill you." Four more unidentified Sunnis were found shot, handcuffed and blindfolded yesterday. This is routine.

Then we'll add, for more stimulating reading, this story on the latest Abu Ghraib photos:

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations has told the United States to release any remaining photos it has of prisoners being abused at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

New images of abuse have been broadcast around the world, sparking more anger over U.S. mistreatment of detainees.

The U.S. Defence Department suppressed many of the original photos because they might incite violence and could put U.S. soldiers in danger around the world. However, Ambassador Samir al-Sumidaie said it is in America's best interests that all the photos be published.

"It can be argued that the best policy in these circumstances is to ... come clean and be open and show everything that can be shown once and for all and get it over with, and deal with it publicly and make it clear to the world," he said.

This has become a much bigger story in the international press than in countries where the Vice President shoots a guy in the face. Here's why (eyewitness account):

Hajj Ali says he is one of the men in the pictures.

"Their torture methods were constantly renewed," he said. "They would come up with things that were unimaginable."

For years Ali was a respected community leader, known for caring for his people and for starting up a local youth soccer league. Now he spends most of his time in Jordan as full-time advocate for other ex-prisoners.

He said in the five months he spent at Abu Ghraib, he was whipped, had sewage poured on him, even made to bark like a dog, all in an effort to make him talk. Eventually he was released, innocent of insurgency accusations, but damaged for life. He said he is an insomniac with recurring anxiety and stomach pain.

Then, add to your joy with this missive about the shambles we have made of the Iraqi economy:

The Bush administration on Thursday conceded that key sectors of the Iraqi economy had fallen below pre-war levels because of the insurgency, but insisted it was making enough progress on the political and security fronts to press ahead with reductions in US forces.

Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, told the Senate budget committee that production of crude oil and electricity was down from three years ago. Attacks had also hit oil exports.

According to latest statistics – which Ms Rice did not mention – crude oil production this month is running at 1.7m barrels a day, down from a post-invasion peak of 2.5m in September 2004 that was close to prewar levels.

Ms Rice initially asserted that “many more Iraqis” were now getting potable water and sewerage services. However, under intense questioning from Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, she conceded that although “capacity” had increased, fewer Iraqis were actually receiving those services.

Senator Conrad, citing the special inspector general, said almost all economic indices showed Iraq was better off before the US had invaded. Republicans, too, are sceptical of administration claims of progress. Senator Chuck Hagel told Ms Rice on Wednesday he believed the situation was getting worse.

Then read this stunning reversal, wherein the Secretary of Defense, after years of saying we're in Iraq to rebuild and bring democracy to the country, promptly absolves himself of any responsibility:

“For the most part, the country is functioning,” he said. It was not “a pretty picture”, but not everything was horrible. “We’re not there to do nation-building. It’s going to be an Iraqi solution ultimately,” he said.

It's like we never even invaded in the first place. I guess all those smart bombs didn't cause an ounce of structural damage. There's not a dime for reconstruction in the latest "emergency" funding appropriation for Iraq (by the way, how is this funding an emergency? Did we suddenly realize that we'd be in Iraq this year? Why couldn't this have been written into the actual budget? Oh yeah, because it's a political play, so Republicans can run "X didn't support the troops" attack ads. I forgot).

Finally, read this little amuse bouche, where the Army has to be shamed into backing off from extorting from a disabled veteran:

Following up on Monday's editorial about Lt. Eddie Rebrook of Charleston, W.Va., the soldier billed for body armor lost when he was wounded in Iraq, it seems the Army will reimburse the trooper.

The editorial recounted Lt. Rebrook's story. The 25-year-old West Point graduate was seriously wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in January 2005. When he was being medically discharged from the Army last month, Lt. Rebrook was told he owed $700 for his body armor and other gear that had been lost when he was wounded.

Now, the Army has decided it will reimburse Lt. Rebrook for the body armor as well as for a canteen pouch that was attached to the Kevlar vest.

When it was time for Lt. Rebrook to be discharged last month, he was given a list of items, including the body armor, that he would have to pay for before he could leave the base. An investigation began when he refused to sign for the items, but rather than following procedures and waiting for the paperwork, according to the Army, Lt. Rebrook paid for the equipment.

Whether it was it a matter of being billed for equipment lost in combat or not wanting to go through red tape, it boils down to Lt. Rebrook having paid for his body armor before he could be discharged for medical reasons [...]

But it is interesting that as soon Lt. Rebrook's story started getting attention from the press, CNN, MSNBC, Internet bloggers and especially West Virginia's senators, there was a quick decision to reimburse him. It appears the Army can cut through that red tape when it wants to.

I think my outrage meter has peaked. Carry on.

(although you could make an afternoon of it and read this account of how Samarra is a fiery hell-pit)


10,000 Trailers

This is the visual embodiment of the federal government's failures to respond to desperate citizens in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as outlined in a Republican House committee report earlier this week. Ten thousand fully furnished mobile homes, stuck in a former Air Force base in Hope, Arkansas, sinking into the mud, warping, being fieldstripped by thieves, and unable to be of use to the thousands of New Orleanians, who are instead being kicked out of hotels and forced to live in their cars.

Though about 55,000 Louisiana families are still waiting for a manufactured housing unit, the mobile homes may never be used because FEMA regulations prohibit them from being installed in flood-prone coastal areas, federal officials said.

Members of a Senate committee investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina called the mobile home episode an appalling example of government stumbling.

"These trailers are going to take the place of those very expensive toilet seats that we remember from Pentagon days," said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut. "It's really absolutely unbelievable, and unacceptable."

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA ordered far too many mobile homes and too few travel trailers, which are smaller, less expensive and more portable, and can be placed on lots in the disaster zone. The federal government had expected that Louisiana officials would identify sites inland where the mobile homes could be placed. But so far, with just a few exceptions, they has not done so, officials said.

"If sites for those mobile homes are not approved in Louisiana, it is possible they will never be used for hurricane relief," said Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokesman.

It's par for the course for a government that is thoroughly unconcerned about governing. The purchase of power and the reaping of rewards mean far more than providing basic needs and emergency relief.

I'd say this rates as more important than a hunting accident. It's deeply disturbing that we're in the process of leaving an entire U.S. city behind.


I'm Sorry My Heart Got In the Way of Your Birdshot

He apologized?

And there'll be no investigation and nobody's pressing charges. Anyone that thinks this kind of thing doesn't go on for the rich and famous every day is kidding themselves.

But let's leave this where it stands. Because there are so many more things deserving of a feeding frenzy than a hunting accident. And I'm about to hit you, rapid-fire style, with a bunch of those.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Busy Day

I'll try to check in with a couple things tonight. In the meantime, your neighborhood blogroll should suffice.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Beer and Guns

What a combination!

I still don't think this is as big a story as, say, Congress abdicating its own responsibility and turning the Presidency into a monarchy, but it's certainly selling on a metaphoric level. And the press is buying into it because it has that whiff of tabloid sensationalism so attractive to the infotainment culture.

But clearly, we now have a story about a guy who drank while on medication, then a couple hours later went out in a field hunting without a license, shot a guy in the face, then tried to cover it up for 14 hours, even sending away a Sheriff's deputy after making an appointment to see him the next morning.

That's the kind of thing that would get your ass in jail if you weren't rich, famous, or both. Cheney's making Halle Berry look like an upstanding citizen.



This is so very very true and the Democratic Establishment STILL doesn't get it:

Republicans openly defied the polls when they impeached a president who had a 60 percent approval rating. (They had the help of the press, of course, but it never made any difference in public opinion.) They used the language of principle and "the rule of law" and paid no price for what they did beyond the loss of a few seats in 98. People do not hold it against politicians for standing up for principle even if they know there is political intent. They do hold it against politicans if they are seen as having no principles at all.

Folding on an illegal spying program, which the President has admitted to doing, which the public by a slight majority knows is illegal and wrong, which represents unchecked Presidential power run rampant, just sums up the entire national security problem that has been staring Democrats in the face for five years. They are willing to dissolve Congress all by themselves, without so much as a fight, just because Vice President Beer-Drinking McShootyerfriend glares in their direction and warns them not to investigate.

Digby also explains that this is a major problem for Republican moderates (or Eunuchs):

The Republicans are split on it, with the libertarian wing and the doctrinaire conservatives finding themselves having to swallow their disgust or break with the party. Democrats are in a much better position than they think to turn this into a positive and drive a wedge through the Republican coalition while they do it.

If the Democrats in congress simply stood together on principle instead of listening to overfed, out of touch strategists who have misdiagnosed the problem for years, they would begin to crawl out of this hole on national security. In order for the nation to trust them to defend the country the first thing they must do is stop believing that going along with the Republican Eunuch Caucus will ever improve their lot. People trust leaders who lead not followers who fall in line.

I should mention that every Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee voted to investigate this program (they even got one Republican to agree). Clearly it's the Senate, where the rights of the minority are at least nominally maintained, where the Dems could make headway. Instead they had one hearing, failed to even swear in the Attorney General, and now will sign on to the "IF the President Does It, It's Not Illegal" Act of 2006 and call it a day.

There are lots of things for Democrats to do here. You can raise the profile of this in speeches (as Sen. Byrd did today), you can block the legislation, and failing that you can make this a major campaign issue: restore checks and balances by voting Democratic. I believe the public would overwhelmingly support such a view; I may be wrong, but I don't think so. Standing up for principle, most of all, is about as important as it gets for political parties. Without core principles you won't get anywhere. By falling in line behind Republican abuses of power, you don't neutralize the issue, you highlight it. You're saying "they're right, they're better on this."

Arrgghh... when will they get it?


Liberal Media

I don't know, I think you could find a better headline for this story than "Senate Kills Fund for Asbestos Victims." That doesn't tell the story. It makes it sound like the callous and cruel Senate denied money to dying victims of environmental hazards. Quite the opposite, as the story makes somewhat clear:

The Senate rejected a new plan Tuesday to compensate asbestos victims, apparently dooming a proposed $140-billion fund that would have handled claims now battled out in court.

Under the legislation, asbestos makers and their insurers would have contributed to a trust fund to pay claims for illnesses in amounts from $25,000 to $1.1 million. But the measure faced attacks on several fronts.

Trial lawyers and their Democratic allies argued that efforts to take claims out of the courts threatened the ability of victims to obtain sufficient restitution.

Fiscal conservatives feared that the approach would set up a federal entitlement program, along the lines of "black lung" compensation, with insufficient limits on payments and a growing bill for taxpayers.

The final vote was 58 to 41, with advocates of the asbestos legislation failing to get the 60 votes needed to beat back a procedural challenge. Proponents of the bill, who initially had 59 votes, said they might try again, but they were sobered by a defeat that included votes of Democrats and Republicans.

Saying that the Senate "killed funds" is simply dishonest. It denied asbestos companies the ability to get off very easy for filling up their workers with toxins for decades. Setting up a trust would have limited the amounts victims could receive for their medical bills and their pain and suffering. I understand that companies could go bankrupt over this, and there's an economic interest in pooling together risk. But this would have allowed for too paltry a settlement, and if the money in the fund ran out, would leave them with nothing (that's compassionate conservatism for ya). To hear Bill Frist say something like "victims in need are not going to receive fair and just compensation" is touching, but a load of crap.

And the headline writer (not to be confused with the actual writer) bought it.


We're Fucked


The list of potential terror suspects and people that aid them kept by the federal government's National Counterterrorism Center now contains approximately 325,000 names. The number of people on the list has quadrupled since the fall of 2003 according to counterterrorism officials.

According to the NCTC, the actual number of people on the list is probably closer to 200,000 since many terrorists use numerous false identities and aliases.

According to a report in the 'Washington Post,' a Bush administration official claimed that 'only a very, very small fraction' of the people on the list are American citizens. 'The vast majority are non-U.S. persons and do not live in the U.S.,' he said. It was not announced what country or countries the majority of people on the list came from.

That number just seems incredibly off to me. If there were 325,000 people conducting active terror plots we'd have more than there are now. Mind you, terror attacks have increased globally. But this is a huge number. I guess it all depends on the meaning of "people that aid them." If you take that to mean "those that provide aid and comfort to the enemy" it would, by Karl Rove's logic, include every Democrat in the House and Senate and everyone that voted for John Kerry.

So maybe I should be surprised it's that low.

But taking it at face value, what has happened since the fall of 2003 to quadruple the number of terrorists worldwide? Did Clinton return to office? Was it the cartoons?

It wouldn't be that the fall of 2003 was right around the beginning of the Iraqi insurgency, would it?



The Mole, Continued

I've been following the attempts in the blogosphere to raise awareness of the TX-28 primary (just three weeks away) between actual Democrat Ciro Rodriguez (contribute here) and Republican mole Henry Cuellar. Cuellar votes against his party more than virtually any Democrat in Congress in a lean-Democratic district. The Republican Party isn't running anybody in this district, so the winner of this primary really will win the race. This is a clean shot to take out a Democrat who is endorsed by the far-right Club for Growth.

And then there's this: (via MyDD)

U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar -- a so-called Democrat from Laredo, Texas -- wants to give $100 million dollars to the Minutemen, the racist, gun-toting vigilante group.

Last October, Representative Cuellar sponsored a bill called the "Border Law Enforcement Act of 2005" that would essentially deputize members of the Minutemen militia by giving them new titles, badges and guns.

There is a saying in Spanish,"dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres," which basically means that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. Representative Cuellar sponsored the "Border Law Enforcement Act" with none other than the "Grand Dragon" of the anti-immigrant legislators - Rep. Tom Tancredo, Republican from Colorado. Cuellar's bill is also part of the draconian House-passed immigration reform bill HR 4437, which, among other wrong headed ideas, would further militarize the US/Mexico border, build a Berlin-style wall all along the border, and criminalize millions of immigrants and good Samaritans.

Cuellar is running in a heavily Latino district, and he's aligning himself with a vigilante group that gains support from neo-Nazi organizations. I'll bet the voters in this district had no idea what their representative was doing.

This is the ultimate in "send a message" races. Donate at the Act Blue link if you can. I plan to as well.


Dean Gets It

Democratic party chair Howard Dean says he's not happy that Iraqi war veteran Paul Hackett is dropping out of the race for U-S Senate in Ohio.

Dean told a student audience in Miami that "some skulduggery in Washington" improperly led to Hackett's decision to end his bid. And he said Democrats will have a tough time winning if similar things happen to others.

Hackett was vying with Ohio congressman Sherrod Brown for the Democratic nomination. He said that Hackett was a "great candidate," and that a primary in Ohio wouldn't have hurt the party. Hackett says he's ending his eleven-month political career.

The same forces that torpedoed Dean in 2004 did in Hackett here. Dean understands this. He understands that primaries don't hurt the party, either.

This was not a battle between the "far left" and the moderate wing. If it was, Hackett would be in the race, and the far more liberal Brown would be out. This was a battle between those inside the tent and those outside the tent. Dean is inside, but knows all too well what it's like to be outside. That's why I'm hopeful. That's one of the only reasons right now.


The Real Hunting Party

In between shooting 78 year-old men in the face, the Vice President has been busily shooting down any calls for a Congressional investigation into the NSA illegal spying program. Indeed, now he's got the "moderates" (I hasten to use the word) on the Intelligence Committee begging to sanction lawbreaking:

Senate intelligence committee member Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) said in an interview that he supports the NSA program and would oppose a congressional investigation. He said he is drafting legislation that would "specifically authorize this program" by excluding it from the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established a secret court to consider government requests for wiretap warrants in anti-terrorist investigations.

The administration would be required to brief regularly a small, bipartisan panel drawn from the House and Senate intelligence committees, DeWine said, and the surveillance program would require congressional reauthorization after five years to remain in place.

Snowe said she is inclined to support DeWine's plan. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who also signed the Dec. 20 letter seeking an inquiry, said yesterday that the FISA law should be amended to include the NSA program and to provide for congressional oversight.

As for Rockefeller's bid, Hagel said: "If some kind of inquiry would be beneficial to getting a resolution to this issue, then sure, we should look at it. But if the inquiry is just some kind of a punitive inquiry that really is not focused on finding a way out of this, then I'm not so sure that I would support that."

I initially called for this mess to be fixed through legislation, but there's a huge difference between fixing and simply allowing warrantless wiretapping to occue as long as "you tell us about it once in a blue moon." That's simply abdicating responsibility. This dismisses judicial review and seemingly puts no check on the power of the President, unless Congress figures out what the word "oversight" means sometime in the next decade. So, for you future Presidents out there, here's how it goes: you do whatever the hell you want to do, then if you get caught, you say "Yeah, I did it, and I'll keep doing it," and then Congress will pass a law for you saying you can keep doing it, as long as you keep them in the loop.

Isn't that easy?

And spearheading this effort is none other than Deadeye Dick:

They attributed the shift to last week's closed briefings given by top administration officials to the full House and Senate intelligence committees, and to private appeals to wavering GOP senators by officials, including Vice President Cheney. "It's been a full-court press," said a top Senate Republican aide who asked to speak only on background -- as did several others for this story -- because of the classified nature of the intelligence committees' work [...]

John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the Senate intelligence committee's vice chairman, has drafted a motion calling for a wide-ranging inquiry into the surveillance program, according to congressional sources who have seen it. Rockefeller declined to be interviewed yesterday.

Sources close to Rockefeller say he is frustrated by what he sees as heavy-handed White House efforts to dissuade Republicans from supporting his measure. They noted that Cheney conducted a Republicans-only meeting on intelligence matters in the Capitol yesterday.

Hope nobody in that room was wearing an orange tie.

Meanwhile the Justice Department, never more an official law enforcement arm of the White House than now under the direction of Abu Gonzales, is going after the bastards who let America know that their President was ignoring statute and the Constitution.

So go ahead, get upset about a hunting accident, guys. I mean, it's great for the late-night talk-show circuit and all, and I'll laugh and even write jokes about it for the rest of my natural born life, but under the radar there's some very dangerous shit going down. Our Congress is turning in its badge as a co-equal branch of government. And the whole country should be up in arms.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

They Need that Cash to Light their Cigars!

Record subsidies to the oil and gas industry:

The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.

Based on the administration figures, the government will give up more than $7 billion in payments between now and 2011. The companies are expected to get the largess, known as royalty relief, even though the administration assumes that oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period.

If ANY business can afford to pay royalties to the US government it's the oil and gas guys. There's absolutely no need for corporate welfare in this case (or any case, really, if you want to level the playing field in this country). How in the world can you justify giving $7 billion dollars away over 10 years to companies who literally make more than that every quarter?

Well, you can't. So you bury it in the back of the Interior Department budget.

Let's see if (hah) the Republican Congress (hah hah) gets right to work (oh stop, you're killing me) on making sure oilmen pay their fair share (stop it, stop it, I can't take it anymore!) to this country.


Meanwhile, Inside the Party

Howard Dean said that the DNC doesn't take a position on primary contests and I believe him; this sounds like a DSCC-DCCC inside job. I'm strongly critical of the Establishment's efforts to dump Paul Hackett; that doesn't mean that the national party doesn't deserve a measure of praise for what they've been able to do.

This is roughly the one-year anniversary of Dean's ascension to the Party chairmanship, and oddly enough, the Party is still standing. Nay, flourishing. They raised far more in an off-year in 2005 that Terry McAuliffe ever did, narrowing the traditional funding gap between the parties from 3:1 to 2:1. More important is what they've done with that money. Dean released this study highlighting the bright spots. Here's an excerpt from one of the bullet points, Show Up Everywhere:

Show Up Everywhere

Wins in Virginia and New Jersey: A seven million dollar investment in these two crucial contests produced two new Democratic governors. Governors Tim Kaine and Jon Corzine will continue to benefit from the long-term investments made in these states, and their wins signal that Democrats can and will win elections everywhere. In a signal of things to come, Democrats also picked up two seats in the Virginia legislature in post-November special elections -- seats that had been held by Republicans.

Wins at Every Level of Office: In addition to these high-profile Democratic victories, historic down-ballot victories in Arizona, Minnesota, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Alabama are another early indication that Gov. Dean’s plan to reinvigorate state parties with organizers will provide Democratic victories up and down the ballot in 2006, 2008 and beyond. In Tucson, Arizona, Democrats took back the city council by defeating two Republican incumbents. In Minnesota, two Democrats won seats in the state Senate elections that Republicans had held for over a decade. We also elected mayors in West Virginia and Alabama, including the first African-American mayor of Mobile, and won seven of eight special elections for the New Hampshire state legislature.

These are tangible results, and what's more important is how money is being funneled to the state parties and the grassroots. This is the beginning of a long project, but Dean has very quietly put a lot of infrastructure in place that will help in this election year. I can't tell you how many Republicans I've heard say "Thanks for putting Dean in charge of the party, it'll just mean more wins for us," but the truth of the matter is that he's changing the structure from within. Now, at this point that's not enough to change the institutional culture of Washington, which seeks to silence new voices and stage manage primaries.

But that's subject to change. As the new leaders of tomorrow, helped by this new structure, bubble up to the surface, the Democratic caucus will have to change or be shuffled off the stage.

We're finally getting some of the ammo to win elections again. In this postmodern age, organizing and infrastructure isn't just going to happen spontaneously. It took 40 years for the other side to get to where they are today. But we're planting seeds that will soon sprout.


Whittington Has A Heart Attack

Doesn't sound like something that a guy who was merely peppered by a pellet gun: (yes, ABC called it a pellet gun, making the Italian-made Perezzi the most expensive pellet gun in the world)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The man shot by Vice President Dick Cheney suffered a minor heart attack after birdshot moved into his heart, hospital officials said Tuesday, and was moved back to the intensive care unit for further treatment.

The guy's 78, so this can't be good.


More on Hackett

His withdrawal statement here.

Apparently Hackett was polling poorly against Rep. Sherrod Brown, and he had a fundraising disadvantage. That being said, why go to such great lengths to cut off his funding? If he was going to lose badly, why bother with strong-arming him out of the race?

I completely disagree with the prevailing opinion that primaries are bad for the parties involved. On the contrary, they can raise name recognition and throw a spotlight on specific issues that may help in the general election. In 2004 there were several Senate primaries. Here were the results.

Illinois: Barack Obama won as an underfunded underdog in a hotly contested primary. He went on to take the general by something like 80%.

Pennsylvania: Arlen Specter barely survived a bruising primary against a Club for Growth candidate, then went out and soundly defeated Joe Hoeffel to secure re-election.

Oklahoma: Tom Coburn got locked into a tough primary with Kirk Humphries (the Establishment candidate), beat him, and won the general.

Georgia: Johnny Isaacson made it through a tough primary and won the general with ease.

Florida: Mel Martinez had a difficult primary fight; he made it through and beat Betty Castor in the general. To be fair, Castor had to go through a primary as well.

There was a primary in the race to challenge Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, but Feingold was pretty popular. The only parallel I can see is the Pete Coors primary race in Colorado, which damaged him (and he eventually lost to Ken Salazar).

I just don't buy it.

Furthermore, there are a couple primaries on the Democratic side in this cycle. There's Morrison v. Tester in Montana, Whitehouse v. Matt Brown in Rhode Island, and Webb v. Miller in Virginia. Does it make sense to say that a Hackett-Brown primary would be bad for the Party, but these other ones WON'T be?

I'm sorry, but this conventional wisdom about primary races has to stop. I'm not in favor of party bosses determining my candidates for me.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Daily Show Knocks It Out of The Park

Home run.

And whem you're done laughing, read this link-heavy, well-argued piece about Deadeye Dick from There Is No Blog. It's the serious counterpoint to Jon Stewart & Co. In fact, they make a lot of the same points. There Is No Blog is basically saying this Cheney shooting incident-as-metaphor is pretty devastating for the White House in general and Dick Cheney is particular; he'll be forever known as the Veep who shot a man in the face. Which is exactly what the Daily Show goes on to say, in a comic sense.

These kinds of things do tend to linger in the national imagination. From Dukakis in a tank to Carter fighting the killer rabbit to Ford stunbling off the plane, these events tend to define politicians as much as their accomplishments. Republicans are very skillful at using such definitions: witness the Gore "invented the Internet" meme (which he did lead in helping to fund, but don't get me started) and the Kerry windsurfing ad. Any time you can relentlessly make fun of a politician he ceases to become credible. This is why Karl Rove was on the phone with the ranch owner within 90 minutes of the accident. He knows exactly what this can do.

P.S. Going to a heavily stocked, caged-in facility where the quail can't get away and shooting at them isn't hunting. It's like Magic and Jordan playing a basketball game against two midgets.


Clueless Democrats

This is about the dumbest thing you could do:

Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran and popular Democratic candidate in Ohio's closely watched Senate contest, said yesterday that he was dropping out of the race and leaving politics altogether as a result of pressure from party leaders.

Mr. Hackett said Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Harry Reid of Nevada, the same party leaders who he said persuaded him last August to enter the Senate race, had pushed him to step aside so that Representative Sherrod Brown, a longtime member of Congress, could take on Senator Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent.

Mr. Hackett staged a surprisingly strong Congressional run last year in an overwhelmingly Republican district and gained national prominence for his scathing criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War. It was his performance in the Congressional race that led party leaders to recruit him for the Senate race.

But for the last two weeks, he said, state and national Democratic Party leaders have urged him to drop his Senate campaign and again run for Congress.

"This is an extremely disappointing decision that I feel has been forced on me," said Mr. Hackett, whose announcement comes two days before the state's filing deadline for candidates. He said he was outraged to learn that party leaders were calling his donors and asking them to stop giving and said he would not enter the Second District Congressional race.

"For me, this is a second betrayal," Mr. Hackett said. "First, my government misused and mismanaged the military in Iraq, and now my own party is afraid to support candidates like me."

I'm tempted to say that this NEEDS to bite the Dems in the ass, to get them out of this clubby inner sactum "we don't want primaries" notion. It's stupid. Primaries battle-test candidates, particularly ones who haven't run statewide before. They allow the candidates to highlight Democratic issues and give them name recognition. You could talk up and down about how tough battles in primaries hurt candidates, and I'd like someone to show me any proof of that. The toughest primary I can think of in 2004 was Specter, and he won handily. Why in God's name are Democrats afraid of Democrats?

Worse, this happened to Hackett, a hero in the netroots and the first high-profile Iraq war veteran to run for Congress. There are now 56- 56!- war veterans running this cycle as Democrats, many of whom have explicitly said they were inspired by Hackett's race in 2005.

I was all set to write a diary about how the Dems will win big this November in spite of themselves, because the Fighting Dems phenomenon will give them a message that the establishment fears. But I guess the Establishment refuses to win without putting up a fight.

I'm depressed and I'm not about to get over it soon.

Listen to this complete moron:

"It boils down to who we think can pull the most votes in November against DeWine," said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. "And in Ohio, Brown's name is golden. It's just that simple."

No it isn't, a-hole, it boils down to who THE VOTERS think can pull the most votes. This institutional "Father Knows Best" syndrome by the ossified Democratic Establishment has led us to a loss of Congress for the better part of 12 years, the Senate off and on for the same number, and multiple Presidential elections. I'm not so sure you know best about ANYTHING!!!



MENSA candidate

So Digby writes a pretty funny - and ominous for its parallels - response to the Deadeye Dick Cheney shooting incident:

OK, folks, I think I got enough information here to tell you about the contents of this fax that I got. Brace yourselves. This fax contains information that I have just been told will appear in a newsletter to Morgan Stanley sales personnel this afternoon... What it is is a bit of news which says... there's a Washington consulting firm that has scheduled the release of a report that will appear, it will be published, that claims that this shooting took place in an apartment owned by Lynn Cheney, and the body was then taken to the ranch.

This needs to be looked into. And if it's determined to be an accident it needs to be looked into again. And again.

The link right at the beginning of the paragraph would reveal that this is a parody of something Rush Limbaugh said about the suicide of Clinton lawyer Vince Foster, which he thought was a murder committed by Hillary, a subject which he spent years on his radio show talking about. Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings added to the fun:

I'm not a rumor-monger. And I know that a lot of commenters -- some disguised as pediatricians from Memphis -- will write in objecting to what I have to say. I know about them; they've been given their marching orders. They'll say that there's no evidence that this was anything but a hunting accident. But what would you expect? These people are very good at hiding or destroying evidence. But anyone who thinks this was just an ordinary hunting accident, when the only people who have investigated it are law enforcement officers -- and we know how thoroughly they have been politicized -- probably thinks that you could blast your way into an airline cockpit with a pair of exploding sneakers.

There were an awful lot of black helicopters flying over southern Texas yesterday. There's a Masonic Temple in Corpus Christi. Sex offenders roam free there. And only a few hundred miles away, hundreds of women have been killed and abducted, and no one knows why. Coincidence? I don't think so.

But you won't find this anywhere in the mainstream press. You just don't do this. You don't call out Dick Cheney. You don't call out the Vice President like this. Not, not when you're supposedly on his side.

Mark my words, though: the Harry Whittington hunting accident was not a hunting accident. Sure, it will never be "proved". What would you expect? If Patrick Fitzgerald or James Comey or anyone else tries to do anything about it, someone will just take them aside and ask them one little question: "Do the words 'the Armstrong Ranch' mean anything to you?" And simple as that, their investigations will just disappear. That's the way these guys operate, folks. Welcome to their world.

Again, links are liberally sprayed about to explain the satire.

Wasn't enough for this guy:

I dont’ know why this is such a big story though. It’s an accident, not an incident. There are no political angles here. But that won’t stop both sides of the aisle from making it into one (mostly the Left side making fun of Cheney for it, and then the Right coming to Cheney’s defense and reacting to the idiocy from the Left).

For instance, the tinfoil hat brigade on the left is already charging that the shooting actually occurred at Lynn Cheney’s apartment, and the body of Whittington was then taken to the ranch as a “cover up”.

This nut claims that there were “an awful lot of black helicopters flying over southern Texas yesterday.”

Oh dear. Someone's got a sarcasm imbalance. I think Pfizer's got a pill.

It gets all the funnier when you scroll down to the comments, where Hilzoy and others start setting the guy straight and he STILL doesn't get it.

Was he lampooning that incidident? Because that wan’t clear.

After reading all the links — was he making fun of Digby?

And no, I’m not familiar with Hilzoy’s blogging style — is he a satirist like IowaHawk? A quick read of all the post on the main page didn’t seem to reflect that.

When I read, “Mark my words, though: the Harry Whittington hunting accident was not a hunting accident. Sure, it will never be “proved”. What would you expect?” I took him at his word — if he was being sarcastic, satirical, or just being glib, I didn’t pick it up.
Could I be wrong about Hilzoy? Perhaps. But his own words and my opinion of them stands. Nothing embarrassing about that at all. Even if I am wrong — there’s nothing embarrassing about that either.

Left by Robbie on February 13th, 2006


If you still haven’t gotten the joke then irony is truly dead. Long live irony.

Here’s an example of one of Hilzoy’s links. Denounce him for not being funny, but if you go after him for partisan sniping then
you’re throwing a boomerang.

Left by Tim F on February 13th, 2006


Looks like someone’s going to have to say the VF word for Robbie to get it.

Oh, btw, hilzoy’s a she.

Left by Swoof on February 13th, 2006


To show you how much I didn’t get it (and — perhaps sadly — still don’t), Im not sure what “VF” word you’re referring to. Very Funny? Voter Fraud? Variable Frequency? Something in Latin, perhaps?

Tim, I respect and enjoy your writing quite bit, and you and others are obviously more versed in Hilzoy’s writings and style than I am — so if you say that I’m misguided on calling her a partisan hack (your words, not mine, but I clearly alluded to such), there’s a good chance I am wrong.

Yeah, I vaguely get the piece now. If it was intended as “funny”, my humor meter must be off. I’ll make an appointment and get it checked out shortly.

My point that this entire accident is being overly played and dramatized still stands — perhaps that’s what Hilzoy was doing too?

Wow. Piercing that skull with reality took another SEVERAL comments before he corrected himself.

I've had trolling commenters on this site who've completely misunderstood obviously satirical posts of mine, thinking I was writing literally, and then, when I called them on it, claimed that satire IS NOT SATIRE if they don't get it. Everybody thinks they have great taste in clothes and a great sense of humor, and when you burst that bubble, they'll do anything to refuse to admit their mistake. The sad truth about this side-splitting escapade is that it's all too familiar.


Blowing Katrina

The governmental response to Katrina, while not as prominent in the news as as importance would indicate (we're talking about the loss of a major US city and port here), has been shown to be even worse than thought in the past few days. First the New York Times reported that, contrary to White House accounts, they knew about the irreparable damage to the levees in New Orleans on the same day that the hurricane struck:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.

"FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires."

Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to.

This puts to rest all the revisionist history that DHS thought they had "dodged the bullet" and weren't able to redouble their efforts until Tuesday. Unlike Iraq, they had the intelligence on the ground. Like Iraq, they managed to bungle it. The "dodged the bullet" meme was always a cover for the slow and disorganized repsonse.

The House Committee report on Katrina was just as unsparing:

Hurricane Katrina exposed the U.S. government's failure to learn the lessons of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as leaders from President Bush down disregarded ample warnings of the threat to New Orleans and did not execute emergency plans or share information that would have saved lives, according to a blistering report by House investigators.

A draft of the report, to be released publicly Wednesday, includes 90 findings of failures at all levels of government, according to a senior investigation staffer who requested anonymity because the document is not final. Titled "A Failure of Initiative," it is one of three separate reviews by the House, Senate and White House that will in coming weeks dissect the response to the nation's costliest natural disaster.

Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, who somehow still has his job, gets the greatest amount of scrutiny in the report:

The 600-plus-page report lays primary fault with the passive reaction and misjudgments of top Bush aides, singling out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Operations Center and the White House Homeland Security Council, according to a 60-page summary of the document obtained by The Washington Post. Regarding Bush, the report found that "earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response" because he alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance.

The report portrays Chertoff, who took the helm of the department six months before the storm, as detached from events. It contends he switched on the government's emergency response systems "late, ineffectively or not at all," delaying the flow of federal troops and materiel by as much as three days.

Indeed, on the Tuesday following the storm, Chertoff went to Atlanta for a briefing on the avian flu. Chertoff's defense was of the "blame the Brownie" variety:

Chertoff spokesman Russ Knocke said, "every ounce of authority" and "100 percent of everything that could be pre-staged was pre-staged" by the federal government before landfall once the president signed emergency disaster declarations on Aug. 27. Brown had "all authority" to make decisions and requests, and his "willful insubordination . . . was a significant problem" for Chertoff, Knocke said.

That's a bunch of garbage. Brown was Chertoff's employee. If an employee isn't cutting it, if he's practicing willful insubordination, and human lives are at stake, you fire the guy and take over. The cool reserve with which Chertoff spent the days after Katrina was damning. Tim Russert asked if he was contemplating resignation immediately. Why hasn't this drumbeat continued?

And remember, these are the findings of a Republican-only investigation that most Democrats boycotted. If this is what came out on partisan grounds, can you imagine what an independent commission would find?

I urge you to read the whole article. Blanco and Nagin are not spared criticism at the state and local levels, but the brunt of the critique goes to the feds. They were the ones with the National Repsonse Plan, they were the ones who could order the hurricane "an incident of national significance," they were the ones in the position to marshal a variety of resources to the cause. They didn't.


The Republican Revolution

Glenn Greenwald has two extensive posts up that reach the heart of the result of 12 years of reflexive politics-as-professional-wrestling. I'm not going to excerpt them, but they are an important read, the thesis of which being that many Bush followers have now defined "liberalism" as saying anything counter to the policies of George W. Bush. It doesn't matter if you have been committed to conservative principles for decades, if you so much as mildly criticize the Bush Administration, you are a hateful liberal and are hereby cast out of the tent of conservatism.

This is not to say that there are no Republicans willing to criticize the Administration. Indeed, those voices are becoming more strident of late. Chuck Hagel has criticized war policy. John McCain has castigated the White House on torture. Several conservatives, from Hagel to Arlen Specter to Mike DeWine to Heather Wilson of New Mexico, are dismayed by the illegal warrantless wiretapping program, as are movement conservatives like Grover Norquist and Bob Barr. It is not that there are no conservatives willing to speak up. It's that they are consistently met with cries of disloyalty. Read this excerpt from a report on Bob Barr's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

Barr answered in the affirmative. "Do we truly remain a society that believes that . . . every president must abide by the law of this country?" he posed. "I, as a conservative, say yes. I hope you as conservatives say yes."

But nobody said anything in the deathly quiet audience. Barr merited only polite applause when he finished, and one man, Richard Sorcinelli, booed him loudly. "I can't believe I'm in a conservative hall listening to him say [Bush] is off course trying to defend the United States," Sorcinelli fumed.

Conservatism is not a jersey you wear to root for your favorite football team (nor is liberalism). It's a coherent ideology rooted in a series of core beliefs. We have gone from the early 1990s, when "conservatism" meant a belief in limited government, a distrust of federal bureacracy, and fiscal discipline in reining in spending, to today, when government spending has exploded, when domestic spying without judicial review is deemed OK, when the expansive powers of a unitary executive are seen as proper. This is completely incoherent.

Bushism has become a cult of personality, where the movement and the man are one. This is extremely dangerous for the country, and is rightly being met with derision and a collapse in support. As Bush fades into irrelevance as his Presidency draws to a close, it will be interesting to see how the rah-rah cheerleaders manage the about-face necessary to return to the conservative fold. As they have no shame, I doubt they'll linger much on how they compromised their principles during the Bush years. They'll simply port their cheerleading over to the next empty suit.

I'd be thrilled to have an honest debate over policy and ideology with true conservatives who stick to their beliefs and are not beset with internal contradictions. Sadly, they're a dying breed. And the cult of Bushism, which casts these true conservatives to the winds and muzzles their dissent, has only accelerated their decline.


Your Tax Dollars At Work

I've written about how ridiculous it is to put riders into popular spending or appropriations bills that have nothing to do with that bill in the first place. Earmark reform is fine, but there shouldn't be education items in a highway bill, or antiabortion language in a UN funding bill (a "greatest hits" GOP play from the late 90s).

Or Big Pharma protections in a defense bill, for example. Especially when practically nobody in Congress knew about it:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert engineered a backroom legislative maneuver to protect pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits, say witnesses to the pre-Christmas power play.

The language was tucked into a Defense Department appropriations bill at the last minute without the approval of members of a House-Senate conference committee, say several witnesses, including a top Republican staff member.


"It is a travesty of the legislative process," said Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"It vests enormous power in the hands of congressional leaders and private interests, minimizes transparency and denies legitimate opportunities for all interested parties, in Congress and outside, to weigh in on important policy questions."

And I don't think reducing the amount of trips paid for by lobbyists is going to change this culture of corruption, either. Only a new generation of lawmakers committed to decency will do it. It's "throw the bums out" time.


Hey Man, Nice Shot

I mean, when Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson's Vice President, he would shoot to kill. He didn't just WOUND Alexander Hamilton, he put him in the ground!

Our current officeholder can't even get that right.

Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a companion during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, spraying the fellow hunter in the face and chest with shotgun pellets.

Harry Whittington, a millionaire attorney from Austin, was "alert and doing fine" in a Corpus Christi hospital Sunday after he was shot by Cheney on a ranch in south Texas, said Katharine Armstrong, the property's owner.

He was in stable condition Sunday, said Yvonne Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Christus Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi.

A competent Vice President would've killed him, that's all I'm saying.

I'm pretty sure that I've told a joke onstage before about how the White House will try to spin anything. You know, there could be a picture of Bush sodomizing a goat and the official party line would be "That goat was acting seductively!" And know Cheney shoots a guy, and the White House covers it up for 18 hours, and then tries to insinuate that the victim was to blame because he didn't announce himself when he came up behind Cheney.

Satire is dead.