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

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Good Old Fashioned Thievery

In these days of back-room corruption, secret bargains of real estate-for-defense contracts, and war profiteering, it's refreshing to see someone in the Bush Administration sticking to the traditional values of robbing department stores:

There’s no quicker way to get a smirk in Washington than to leave a $161,000-a-year White House job, without having something new, and say you're doing it to spend more time with your family. That's what Claude A. Allen, President Bush’s domestic policy adviser, told his bosses before he resigned in February. And that's what the White House told the press when his departure was announced three days after Bush had released his new budget and Allen, one of the administration’s most senior African Americans, had told reporters, "The safety net is tight and strong." The White House threw him a farewell reception in the Roosevelt Room, with family and staff enjoying soft drinks and desserts. White House officials and reporters were abuzz about what might be "the real reason" for Allen's departure: Was he protesting something in the budget? Was he running for office?

It turns out that Allen, a 45-year-old father of three who is a nationally prominent conservative, knew that he was under investigation by police in suburban Montgomery County, Md., where he lives. He was arrested Thursday and charged with "theft" and "theft scheme" following a bizarre incident at a Target store that detectives allege was part of a year-long spree of fraudulent refunds at Target and Hecht’s stores that netted him more than $5,000 in credits to his credit cards. "He would buy items, take them out to his car, and return to the store with the receipt," a police statement said. "He would select the same items he had just purchased, and then return them for a refund." The police said that in 25 incidents during 2005, Allen "obtained refunds for items ranging from clothing, a Bose theater system, stereo equipment, and photo printer to items valued only at $2.50." [...]

The Montgomery County police said that the incident for which Allen was charged occurred on Jan. 2, at a Target in Gaithersburg, when the loss prevention manager spotted a suspicious man. "He was observed in the store with an empty Target bag in a shopping cart," the statement says. "The man was then seen selecting merchandise throughout the store and placing items in the Target bag. He put additional items in his cart. The man then went to guest services where he produced a receipt and received a refund for the items he had just selected from the store shelves. After receiving the refund he left the store without paying for the additional merchandise in the shopping cart. He was apprehended by the store employee."

That someone in the White House is a kleptomaniac is, sadly, not surprising. That he was stealing at the expense of Target rather than the American taxpayer is something we can all get behind. I see this as a way for the Administration to reverse those poll numbers. "We're not stealing from YOU anymore, we're only stealing printers!"

Allen is, for what it's worth, one of the most hardcore of social conservatives. You know, the kind of people who like to moralize about everyone else's lives, who want to legislate your private life? Yeah, one of them. He was the press secretary to Jesse Helms in the 1980s, where during a campaign he said the Democratic opponent was vulnerable because of his links to the "queers," and when questioned afterwards he said he just meant "odd, out of the ordinary, unusual."

Here's the part that will set the White House press corpse into a feeding frenzy: the Prez and his aides apparently knew about this for a month. Here's their amazing explanation, from the TIME article:

White House press secretary Scott McClellan immediately began giving reporters a detailed account of what Bush’s aides knew, and when. McClellan said that the night of the January 2 incident at Target, Allen called White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who told Allen to talk to White House Counsel Harriet Miers. "He assured them that it was a misunderstanding," McClellan told TIME. "The way he explained it to Harriet was that he was returning some merchandise and that there was confusion with his credit cards because he had moved a number of times." McClellan said Allen received the benefit of the doubt because "there was nothing in his prior history that we were aware of—he had been through a number of background checks."

McClellan said that a few days later, Allen came back to Card and Miers and "told them that he had been looking at leaving because of his family situation—he had been putting in long hours, he wanted to spend more time with his family and he thought the best thing to do would be to resign so that he could do that." Allen was working on some of the initiatives Bush would be talking about in his State of the Union address on Jan. 31, particularly the education element of the president's new competitiveness plan. "So he thought a good time to transition would be after the State of the Union," McClellan said. The going-away party was Feb. 16, and Allen's last day at the White House was Feb. 17. McClellan said Card told Bush about the planned departure in early February, when Allen had essentially given two weeks' notice. Card told the President about the Target incident at that time, McClellan said. Bush was in the White House residence when his aides started getting calls about the arrest Friday night, and the President was informed then.

"If the allegations are true," Bush said Saturday morning, "Claude Allen did not tell my Chief of Staff and legal counsel the truth, and that's deeply disappointing. ... And my first reaction was one of disappointment, deep disappointment that—if it's true—that we were not fully informed. But it was also one—shortly thereafter, I felt really sad for the Allen family."

As usual, you have to make a choice in looking at this situation: The White House is either lying or incompetent. Either they had no problem with a shaky excuse from a shoplifter caught red-handed, or they knew and tried to hush it up as fast as possible. Large groups of the American public have always chosen "lying," but increasingly, even conservatives are opting for "incompetent." Digby sums it up:

First male prostitutes in the white house press room and now shoplifters in the president's inner circle. The vice president shoots an old man in the face. To say nothing of the indicted and soon to be indicted perjurers and corrupt GOP congressmen and Senators.

These are the people who are asking the nation to trust them with unfettered executive power because they are protecting the country. OK.

Nobody's buying this shit anymore. On every issue, big and small, relevant or not, incompetence is the defining feature of this Presidency.

UPDATE: Speaking of Christian conservatives behaving badly, Thomas Kinkade, who makes those God-awful "paintings of light" that I've had the misfortune to see in many a hotel room, has been accused of defrauding his business partners and letting 'er rip on cartoon statues:

In sworn testimony and interviews with The Times, some ex-dealers have accused Kinkade — whose dreamily inspirational limited-edition prints are steeped in Christian-oriented themes of faith and family values — of ruining them financially while enriching himself and his business associates.

They and others also described incidents in which an allegedly drunken Kinkade heckled illusionists Siegfried and Roy; cursed a former employee's wife who came to his side when he fell off a barstool; fondled a startled woman's breasts at a signing party; and urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

Hey, at least he wasn't at some left-wing cappuccino-homo store, he was at Disneyland!

It's funny that conservatives got so upset in the 80s over Andres Serrano's Piss Christ and now the leading Christian values artist in the country creates Piss Pooh.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Fancy Ford, Darling?

So the tactic for defending a Republican majority against incompetence, scandal, and out-of-the-mainstream policies that harm the average American? How about calling your opponent a pimp?

Congressman Harold Ford Jr. likes to live the good life... perhaps a little too much. Lavish hotel stays. Fine dining. Couture suits. Parties with Playboy Playmates... all on his campaign contributors' dime.

There's nothing wrong with criticizing your opponent for misuse of taxpayer funds. In fact, I don't think the Republicans want to have that kind of argument. What they're looking to do here is portray a black candidate in Tennessee as "fancy," driving big cars, partying with white women, and looking pimp'd out. The code words are terribly transparent.

This is repellent, and what's worse, it wasn't created by some fringe group but the National Republican Senatorial Committee, under the direction of Sen. Elizabeth Dole. I guess this garbage must play in her home (I mean adopted) state of North Carolina.


Would You Like Fries With Your Homeland Security?

TPM Muckraker, a new offering from Josh Marshall which goes deep into the weeds of the top stories, has dug up another example of White House cronyism at work:

The Bush administration continues its fight for the rights of the inexperienced by appointing them to important positions in DHS. The most recent example is Douglas Hoelscher, a 29-year-old former White House staffer with no management experience who was recently tapped to run the Homeland Security Advisory Council. AT HSAC, he'll be managing 20 different panels, comprised of senior industry officials and other mucky-mucks, which advise the administration on homeland security issues.

The author Justin Rood then finds his Friendster profile and does a good bit of gentle mockery. I don't think having a social networking site (I use MySpace plenty to promote my comedy appearances) automatically disqualifies you from public service. But you'd think that in the post-Brownie era, the Administration would value competence over cronyism. The entire DHS press release on Hoelscher lists exactly this on his credentials: "Hoelscher has served in the Administration since 2001.  He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1999, with honors, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science." Shane Harris, writing for the National Journal, adds that Hoelscher arranged Presidential travel while at the White House, and made about 30 grand a year. He also worked for the RNC and a couple state Republican parties.

Here's his entire background in Homeland Security:

In 2004, Hoelscher worked for the RNC. The following year he became Homeland Security's White House liaison, "obtaining information from the department," said Joanna Gonzalez, a department spokeswoman. During Katrina, he helped deploy volunteers from the department to the Gulf Coast, she said. The congressional report on Katrina noted that some of those employees had trouble making it to the region because of departmental miscommunications.

So his experience for the position of managing the Homeland Security Advisory Council is fucking up a homeland security emergency and working with Ken Mehlman once.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the White House. Maybe the reason they keep hiring inexperienced suck-ups with no management credentials for these positions is because there's nobody else around the White House to fill the job. When you demand loyalty to such an extreme level, that becomes the only bullet point on the resume that matters.



One of the last holdovers from the first-term cabinet is resigning.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton is resigning after five years in President Bush's Cabinet, The Associated Press has learned.

Norton, a former Colorado attorney general who guided the Bush administration's initiative to open Western government lands to more oil and gas drilling, planned to announce her decision Friday, a senior government official and another source familiar with her decision told the AP.

Norton told associates she wanted to return to private life in Colorado, the source said.

Norton was the most oil-and-gas-company-friendly Interior Secretary in many a decade. She crusaded for drilling in ANWR to no avail, but succeeded in obtaining drilling permits all over New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.

She also had Indian tribal lands under her purview, and so she has a passing familiarity with one Jack Abramoff, to the tune of $50,000 and a few pictures. Her top deputy Steven Griles is embroiled in the scandal pretty deeply:

Norton cleared her top deputy, former lobbyist J. Steven Griles, after her inspector general said his conduct showed that the department’s ethics system was “a train wreck waiting to happen.” Griles is now under investigation for allegations that he did the bidding of convicted Indian casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Norton is still supporting him.

So did Gale Norton head for the exits before Justice Department officials came knocking on her door asking about her Abramoff connections? Or was it because of something simpler, like, I don't know, the largest ever oil spill on Alaska's North Slope:

More than 200,000 gallons of crude leaked from a ruptured transit line onto the tundra in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, making the spill discovered earlier this month the largest ever on the North Slope, according to an official estimate released Friday.

The estimated spill size of 202,000 to 267,000 gallons far surpasses the 38,000 gallons spilled in 2001, officials said. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons when it ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989.

“I can confirm it’s the largest spill of crude oil on the North Slope that we have record of,” said Linda Giguere with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. She did not immediately know when the state began record keeping on spills, but said it was not in place when the trans-Alaska oil pipeline was built in the 1970s.

The estimate on the largest spill was based on a survey conducted this week at the site operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. where the leak was discovered March 2. Workers took measurements by probing the snow covering much of the crude that leaked from the 34-inch line.

The source of the spill was a quarter-inch hole apparently caused by internal corrosion in the three-mile line that leads to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

I actually saw the Trans-Alaska pipeline back in October. It's quite an amazing technological marvel, but I'm surprised stuff like this doesn't happen more often. It's so desolate, and in that harsh an environment holes could open up so easily without detection.

But an oil spill of that size is grave and dangerous. And maybe Norton doesn't want to be around for the fallout.


March of the Fundies

Andrew Sullivan finally catches up to the year-old story about the HPV, or human papillomavirus. This is a virus that causes cervical cancer, and there's a vaccine that could be administered in childhood that would wipe it out. The religious right is against giving the vaccine to children - CHILDREN - because it would "encourage... unacceptable sexual behavior."

"Religious conservatives are unapologetic; not only do they believe that mass use of an HPV vaccine or the availability of emergency contraception will encourage adolescents to engage in unacceptable sexual behavior; some have even stated that they would feel similarly about an H.I.V. vaccine, if one became available.  'We would have to look at that closely,' Reginald Finger, an evangelical Christian and a former medical adviser to the conservative political organization Focus on the Family, said.  'With any vaccine for H.I.V., disinhibition' - a medical term for the absence of fear - 'would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care.' Finger sits on the Centers for Disease Control's Immunization Committee, which makes those recommendations."

Anyone that reads that quote surely must know that what we're talking about in the debate over "life" is about regulating sexual behavior above anything else. Digby cites yesterday's Senate bill proposal by Wyoming's Michael Enzi that would allow insurance companies to refuse to include emergency contraception or even birth control in their prescription plans. As he notes, the fundies and theocons who've been pushing this for forty years mean business, and we need to do the same.

They really mean it. This is no bullshit. There is no downside to overturning Roe for them --- and if there is, they don't care. If they want to overturn Griswald, they'll do that too. They fought the gun control fight when people were freaking out over crime in the streets and political assassinations. Conservative absolutists don't give up just because liberals get up-in-arms. They certainly don't care if we think they are shrill.

Roe is but one rung on an ever-increasing ladder, and the religious right obviously thinks they have the votes (or will soon) on the Supreme Court to implement an agenda that outlaws birth control, mandates abstinence and punishes anyone that does different. This is of course against the perfectly natural sex drive that all species share as inimical to propagating themselves. Sex is a natural need hard-wired into our lizard brains and no amount of repression is going to change that. That these extremists would try to do otherwise may be why clergies seem to have a higher rate of sexual deviance than the general population and have for many decades.

I don't understand how these guys are so disconnected to the real world. The reason religion has flourished in America is precisely BECAUSE of the separation of church and state. Countries with official state religions, particularly those in Western Europe, have seen declining congregations for centuries. When all religions are welcomed and none are discriminated against, overall religion is enhanced. The extremists are doing nothing but sowing the seeds of their own decline.


Riot Watch 2006

Still waiting patiently for the riots that we were told would absolutely ensue in the Muslim world as a result of the US Congress scuttling the Dubai Ports World deal. We were told again today that this will be the result:

"I'm concerned about a broader message this issue could send to our friends and allies around the world, particularly in the Middle East," Mr. Bush told a conference of the National Newspaper Association. "In order to win the war on terror, we have got to strengthen our relationships and friendships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East."

Countries with royal families and no democracy, that recognize the Taliban and allow Al Qaeda money to go through their banks, that boycott Israel and are deeply involved in drug and human trafficking, are now "moderate." In case you were scoring at home.

By the way, if it'll hurt the war on terror to stop deals with "moderate" countries like this, why are they postponing free trade talks with the UAE?

The talks, which were supposed to begin Monday, were postponed because both sides need more time to prepare, according to an announcement from the office of U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

"In order to get an agreement that both sides can successfully implement, we need additional time to prepare for the next round of negotiations," USTR spokeswoman Neena Moorjani said in a statement.

She refused to say whether the postponement was related to the controversy over port security that engulfed the Bush administration after approval was given for a state-owned UAE company to run some port operations in the United States.

More time to prepare a cover story, I'll bet. I'm just concerned with the message we're sending to the Middle East when we can't start free trade talks on time.

Furthermore, if they were so concerned with the message, why did the White House ask the Dubai company to withdraw?

The White House asked Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, to give up its management stake in U.S. ports, to save President Bush from the politically difficult position of vetoing a key piece of legislation to protect America's ports, ABC News has learned.

"To save the President" should be the watchword of the entire Administration. Instead of having the courage of his convictions, in this case like in so many others, he maneuvered behind the scenes to avoid the fight. Since everything in this White House is political, a confrontation without a unified front is seen as a loss. It's the opposite of courageous; it's the height of cowardice.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone actually should be reserved for a guy like Vernon Robinson, a perennial candidate in North Carolina who refers to himself as "the black Jesse Helms." That's right, that's not a pejorative, he refers to HIMSELF that way.

He now has yet another "Twilight Zone" parody campaign ad out, and instead of the last one, which merely demonized immigrants, this one has something for everyone: hatred of gays, judges, "illegal aliens"... fun for the whole family, really. As evidenced by the Leave it to Beaver clip on the back end, as if to say, "Weren't things better in the monochromatic, dull 1950s?"

In just the last few years, Robinson has run for state GOP Chair, the 5th district congressional seat, 12th district seat, State Superintendent of Schools, and state Senate. He lost all of them. He was on the Winston-Salem City Council until he was defeated last November.

It's kind of like the Karate Kid... moves to California, everyone wants to kick his ass. Moves halfway across the world to Okinawa, everyone wants to kick his ass. RETURNS to California, having kicked ass in the past, everyone still wants to kick his ass. At some point, doesn't Daniel-san have to look in the mirror and say, "Is it me?"


Doing the Work

David Neiwert, in an extremely comprehensive (that means long, so set aside a few minutes) post on his blog Orcinus, details the dishonesty and self-serving tautologies of the warbloggers who simply can't imagine that bad execution or a flawed policy lost the war in Iraq. No, it has to be the liberals' fault - liberals like WIlliam F. Buckley, Brent Scowcroft and Bruce Bartlett - for opposing the war in the slightest. It's very good and very serious work - a compendium of what it was like to live in America and have this debate for the last four years. Newiert calls it an ideological conservative bubble, which protects them from having to shoulder any accountability or criticism. Here's a nice summation:

Perhaps, when considering whether Bush's critics "objectively hurt the war effort," it's useful to run a simple test of logic. Namely, tell us which has hurt us more:

-- An administration that ignored serious and well-founded concerns about the legitimacy of the invasion and the planning for postwar reconstruction, as well as an exit strategy, and proceeded to commit our troops to what has proven an inextricable disaster, worsened by its own outrageous incompetence.

-- The critics who raised all those concerns in the first place.

The favored tactic to "prove" that criticism has lost the war is by proclaiming that the critic simply "hates Bush" - then all can be dismissed. There's no such this in this worldview as reasonable debate, policy critique, or reality-based alternatives. If you're not 100% on board, you hate Bush. It stifles all debate on the topic, and allows the Cult of Conservatism to never have to come to terms with the disastrous policy wrought by this Administration. At some point, intellectual honesty has to take over if we're going to get back to any kind of rationality. I think the only way we'll get such wisdom in hindsight is if the Republicans get creamed this November. Until then, I'm not holding my breath.


The Burning Questions

Only on Fox... the nation's top cop answers the questions nobody else would dare put to him... because they're so completely irrelevant and stupid:

E.D. HILL: Ok. And finally, we were talking about this state pies. I don’t believe Texas has one. Florida is changing from key lime to pecan pie –

STEVE DOOCY: Yeah, maybe, it’s a big debate.

HILL: Now shouldn’t Texas lay claim to the pecan pie?

GONZALES: Oh, I’ll tell you, I’ve eaten some great — both key lime pie and pecan pie in Texas.

DOOCY: Are you a – if I can ask you a personal question – are you, sir, a pie a la mode man, do you prefer ice cream on the top or do you prefer whipped cream?

GONZALES: I’m not a whipped cream fan. I like good old blue bell vanilla ice cream from Texas.

HILL: The best. Ok, well, there’s an answer — thank you.

DOOCY: Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general of the United States and a confessed pie lover.

You won't see hard-hitting journalism like this anywhere else! Oh, wait, sadly, you will. All the time. Mm-hm.

Guys, next time, if you could throw in a question about how the Attorney General appeared to suggest there are other eavesdropping programs in his written answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, that'd be great. Of course, I don't want to step on the ongoing pie debate. But if you could get one question in there, I'd appreciate it.


Support the Troops, Send Them To Congress

This is the slogan of IAVA PAC, a new political action committee representing the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. I've been talking about the Fighting Dems for a while, the growing number of men and women who've come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and decided to run... as Democrats... in elections for the House and Senate. This group took a major (and undeserved) setback when Paul Hackett was cut off at the knees by the Beltway Establishment and forced out of the race ("We know best, just look at our track record!"). Well, Hackett's turned up in IAVA PAC as a member of their advisory board, along with Wesley Clark and Bob Kerrey (read the press release here). They have a blog as well.

Despite the Hackett imbroglio, I really do think that the Democrats have an excellent chance at winning back Congress in spite of themselves. These veterans have a message on Iraq, a battle-tested and educated one based on service in the field. Republicans are going to have little ammunition for debate in these races outside of flat-out smear tactics. And I don't think the voters, who are desperate for competence instead of politics as usual, will be receptive. The RNC party line so far on the Fighting Dems has been basically to ignore it, which they do at their peril.

Speaking of veterans, another one officially entered the fray yesterday, with Reagan-era bona fides and a strong voice:

Former Navy Secretary James Webb formally declared his Democratic candidacy for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, characterizing incumbent George Allen as a cog in an extremist national Republican Party.

"The Republican Party of George W. Bush is not the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan," Webb said during a news conference in the General Assembly Building. A Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, Webb criticized the GOP for moving to the "extreme" on social issues and espousing a foreign policy that is "an attempt to export our ideology at the point of a gun."

Webb, then a Republican, served as Reagan's Navy secretary in 1987 and 1988. He said he voted for Allen and George W. Bush in 2000.

Webb, 60, said he switched to the Democratic Party several years ago when he was writing a history book and was impressed with the Democratic Party's working-class traditions.

"I was trying to find the answers, and I think the Democratic Party is the place where answers were found," he said.

It's quite a coup to get a former Reagan Navy secretary into our big-tent party. And in Virginia, a purple state with two straight popular Democratic governors, his message could resonate. Sen. Allen is widely seen by insiders as a 2008 Presidential front-runner. Beating him in November would be a major victory on multiple levels. From what I've heard of Webb, I think he has the stuff to do it.


Dubai-bye (sort of)

Well, the port deal appears to be dead, although what US entity is going to be able to manage the ports is unclear (Halliburton, come back from the Middle East, we need you!) I would suggest that the US entity be the US government, and we actually start to roll back the constant privatization of our national security hotspots. But that's just me. The other question is whether or not the UAE will still profit from the port management, i.e. set up a subsidiary corporation based in the US, and have money funneled back to them through it. It looks increasingly like that's what will happen.

From a political standpoint, when the House Appropriations Committee votes 62-2 to block the deal, you know it's done. I suppose the Administration could have used the fact that one Democrat and one Republican voted against blockage to suggest that the deal has "bipartisan support," but that would've lasted only a couple days, right?

Of course, this will be seen as a victory for Congressional Republicans, since the Democrats brought it up and hammered it long before they came on board.

Like the good White House lickspittle that he is, CNN correspondent John King tells us that sadly, "the facts" were overwhelmed on this one:

The passions in this debate are overwhelming what some say are the facts. And many say the facts support going forward with this deal. But I'll tell you, Miles, in politics, as you well know, sometimes the passions and the emotions can overwhelm any factual discussion. And that may be what we have here.

That there was demagoguing on both sides of the issue is no doubt. But to use the "many say" Fox News-patented canard to suggest that there's no concerns whatsoever about this deal is ridiculous. The Coast Guard had problems with it. DHS had problems with it. The guy who approved the deal didn't even take a vote (read this whole thing for a primer on that dude).

Many say that John King is a serial child molester who feasts on baby flesh. Many think that is true. That may be what we have here. (but I didn't say definitely, you you can't prove I think it)


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wednesday Night Boston Terrier blogging

Stella, at the park. I'm guessing what's all over her face is dirt.


War on the Ports Deal

The problem with things like this is that the House is structured to disallow pretty much any opposition party bill from reaching the floor. So inevitably, any bold legislation has to come from the Republican side. They opportunistically jumped on the ports deal, and in the aftermath I'm sure they'll say "we blocked it." You also can't help but be disturbed with the rhetoric about "Democrats trying to get to the right of Bush" with regard to scuttling this deal, as if protecting America is solely a conservative value. If Republicans were trying to "get to the left" of Democrats, what would that involve, in the eyes of this media narrative? Welcoming terrorists with flowers? It's not only insulting, it is ignorant of the real lapses in national security under the oversight of this Administration.

At least in the Senate, the Democrats took the lead:

Also Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, introduced an amendment that would bar a company from operating in a U.S. port if the company is owned by a country that recognized the Taliban's regime in Afghanistan. The UAE is one of those countries.

After Schumer introduced his amendment, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, asked for a quorum call, which essentially gnarled proceedings.

Uhh... "Paging the Oval Office... what do we do???"

Then there's a subcontracting option put forth by Susan Collins (R-Maine), where DP World still gets the profits, but a US company does the management. Guess what company?

Some unconfirmed reports this weekend suggested Halliburton could be in the running, but the Bush administration could never be that...(Never mind..)

None of these options end up looking good for the President and his judgment. There's still 5 weeks left in the investigative review of the deal, which means 5 more weeks of bad headlines. As Harry Reid said, "This issue is going to go away like the sun's not going to come up in the morning."


How Dare You

President George W. Bush accused Congress on Wednesday of shortchanging New Orleans of about $1.5 billion in funds to rebuild levees that were breached by flood waters when Hurricane Katrina struck.

"Congress heard our message about improving the levees but they shortchanged the process by about $1.5 billion dollars," Bush said in a rare attack on members of his own party as he toured the devastated city.

"And so in order to help fulfill our promise on the levees, Congress needs to restore the $1.5 billion to make this a real commitment to inspire the good folks down here that they'll have a levee system that will encourage development and reconstruction," Bush added.

This is one of those situations where the public announcement was much bigger, but in private the White House got just what they wanted:

Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that although the White House had announced in a news conference it wanted the full $3.1 billion to go to New Orleans, the official request was never sent to Congress.

"I don't think the blame can be put on Congress," she said.

It's pretty disgusting to blame Congress for not appropriating enough money when you're in New Orleans, but quietly offering exactly what Congress approved when you're back in DC. This is classic Bush Administration: long on rhetoric, short on results, secretive and shadowy behind the scenes.

But then again, what's an unpopular President who doesn't accept responsibility to do but blame somebody else?


The Sequel

I don't know about anybody else, but the last couple of days, I've been getting a severe sense of deja vu. This feels like early 2002 all over again, with the saem voices rattling sabers for war with an enemy in the Middle East.

Today Israel weighed in:

If the U.N. Security Council is incapable of taking action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself, Israel's defense minister said on Wednesday.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was asked whether Israel was ready to use military action if the Security Council proved unable to act against what Israel and the West believe is a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

"My answer to this question is that the state of Israel has the right give all the security that is needed to the people in Israel. We have to defend ourselves," Mofaz told Reuters after a meeting with his German counterpart Franz Josef Jung.

This comes on the heels of Dick Cheney taking time off from hunting to say that Iran must not have nuclear weapons (No comment on whether or not North Korea is allowed, probably because they already have them, obtaining them on President Cheney's watch).

It's really back to the future (not Brokeback to the Future) because we've got vague, unconvincing evidence on the way:

It will rely mainly on circumstantial evidence, much of it from documents found on a laptop purportedly purloined from an Iranian nuclear engineer and obtained by the CIA in 2004. U.S. officials insist the material is strong but concede they have no smoking gun.

They do, however, have diagrams that they believe show components of a nuclear bomb. According to a Western diplomat familiar with the U.S. intel brief, a Farsi-language PowerPoint presentation on the laptop has "catchy graphics," including diagrams of a hollow metallic sphere 2 ft. in diameter and weighing about 440 lbs. Other documents show a sphere-shaped array of tiny detonators. No file specifically refers to a nuclear bomb, but U.S. officials say the design of the sphere--an outer shell studded with small chemical- explosive charges meant to detonate inward, which would squeeze an inner core of material into a critical mass--is akin to that of classic devices like Fat Man, the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II.

We cannot let Iran have catchy graphics! Please, this is stuff you can find on the Internet.

Here are my thoughts on Iran: anyone who thinks Ahmadinejad actually has any power is crazy. If the elected President was the leader of the country you would have seen major reforms during the 8-year Khatami era. The mullahs are in power, and Ahmadinejad, if anything, gives them a convenient cover for the international community to rail against while they continue to suppress dissent and control the society from the ground up. We should have been agitiating for change in Iran when we had the foothold of Khatami in power, rather than now when the reform movement in the country is desiccated. The mullahs have "reformed" Iran by allowing the young elite classes to have cell phones and lipstick; in other words, bread and circuses.

As far as Iran going nuclear, of course we don't want that. That's why direct engagement is so crucial; there was no way the European Union was going to be able to pull it off without an American presence. The Russian enrichment solution, which every major power has signed onto for the time being, deserves to be given a chance with full-throated rather than tacit US support.

I wouldn't be surprised to see some bombings; they don't take manpower (which we don't have) or much public support (you just go ahead and do it and justify it later). But maybe we shouldn't have been so cavalier in Iraq if we didn't want the end result of a stronger Iran, which we got. The potential for blowback and unexpected consequences again loom large, and I don't have any expectation that this government will in any way prepare themselves for them.



This is rich. Jack Abramoff's talking to Vanity Fair, and he doesn't like being dissed. The whole long article is in .pdf format, and therefore hard to excerpt without transcribing in full, but suffice to say that Abramoff openly laughs at this notion that all these Washington insiders didn't know him. "For a guy who did all these evil things that have been so widely reported, it's pretty amazing, considering I didn't know anyone," says Abramoff, and then he (along with the authors and investigators) detail connections to Rove, Mehlman, Gingrich, Norquist, Bush, Boehner, DeLay, the whole lot of them.

I'm a bit surprised that Abramoff is acting the martyr here. Surely he knows that Republicans cut their felons loose the moment they give them any trouble. It's practically a sport in DC. Any time anyone criticizes the Party, the line is "well, he's not a real conservative" or "he wasn't a major player." The list of luminaries for whom the President has selective amnesia is long and illustrious (Lay, Chalabi, I could go on and on and on). Surely Jack knew that this would happen. It's like Henry Hill in GoodFellas, when he goes to jail and his wife wonders if she could ask mob boss Paulie for some money. "Karen, no! We're on our own now. Nobody's going to help us while I'm in here."

The article is certainly a fun and juicy read, and it portends the real scandal to come, as an angry Abramoff is an Abramoff who will name names.


Tough to Stay Optimistic

Well, we didn't get all the way there in TX-28. Henry Cuellar successfully beat back the primary challenge from Ciro Rodriguez. Chris Bowers has some great analysis here and here.

The good news, I guess, it that the result was harmless. The most important vote Henry Cuellar will make is for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Of course, this is provided he doesn't jump ship and change parties, but I think Rodriguez' showing (47% in a primary challenge to an incumbent is not too shabby) pretty much means that by doing so he'd sign his political death warrant.

Bowers mentions that we do have to challenge everywhere:

So, it looks like a repeat of 2004, where our GOTV operations only focused on heavily blue areas of swing states. As a result, like in 2004, we got great turnout in the areas that we targeted, but lost the popular vote because of poor performance in all non-swing states. When will we learn the lesson that it is not just where people live, but how they live, that matters? We can't just target our safe areas and hope that will be enough. While where someone lived was probably the primary motivation for most voters in this election, it certainly was not the only motivation. We could have done better.

I would argue that by challenging Cuellar at all in South Texas, we were beginning to challenge everywhere. But Rodriguez did appear to target his home county, hoping that driving up turnout there would put him over the top.

The other thing about this race, aside from the unusually large number of 100 year-olds voting in one particular county, is that Texas' primaries are open, allowing members of any political party to participate in them. Um, why are they called primaries, then? As far as I'm concerned, Cuellar won a general election yesterday. I think the open primary process as its administered in Texas is really silly. Open primaries like Louisiana, where everyone competes and the top two go to a runoff if nobody reaches 50%, has its problems, but in general that's fine. Open primaries like this, when a block of Republicans can cross over and put a preferred Democratic candidate over the top (remember Cuellar was endorsed by the far-right Club for Growth), or vice-versa, subverts the primary process. You might as well just make it completely open if you're going to do that.

It is tough to stay optimistic, but I do. I think that the strategy of competing everywhere and standing up for progressive values will eventually break through. We'll lose a lot more than we win sometimes, but the principle will remain the same. It's the only way to break the ossified Democratic leadership and get a viable two-party system back.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Silence of the Harris

I don't think you can run a successful campaign challenging an incumbent by avoiding the media:

Already trying to avoid the media, Longboat Key Republican Katherine Harris is now canceling campaign stops in Southwest Florida as questions swirl about her ties to a Washington, D.C., defense contractor at the center of an ongoing national bribery scandal.

Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate, abruptly canceled a stop in Charlotte County on Saturday, and four other events planned for Lee and Collier counties were removed from her campaign Web site.

It's another sign that Harris' struggling campaign is now in full crisis mode. Political consultants say that shying away from the public right now is also a bad strategy.

"She can't hide and expect this to go away," said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. "It looks like her campaign is circling the wagons."

She's circling those wagons because she's completely caught up in the Duke Cunningham scandal. In fact, now that the Dukestir has been safely put away for eight years, Harris is arguably the investigation's biggest target. Mitchell Wade, the defense contractor who pleaded guilty to bribing Cunningham, has also conceded that he funneled illegal campaign contributions to Harris and Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia. Look at how Cruella is trying to soft-pedal this:

Harris organized a conference call on Friday with her most loyal supporters in which she downplayed her connections to MZM Inc., saying, "There is nothing to it except for the press trying to be negative."

The company's owner admitted in federal court that he gave $32,000 in illegal campaign donations to Harris.

Continuing with the conference call, Harris described a campaign on a roll and gaining momentum daily. She said prominent national politicians, like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, RTenn., hosted a fundraising event for her in Washington last week, proof that all is well.

"Now there is a buzz in Washington," Harris said on the call.

In the Justice Department, maybe.

Wade and Harris had substantial contacts:

Over a private dinner in Washington, D.C., Wade and Harris talked about "obtaining funding and approval" for a Navy counterintelligence program that Wade wanted to open in Sarasota, Justice Department records show.

After that dinner meeting, Harris put in a $10 million budget request to the Defense Appropriations subcommittee to fund the project. Days later, an employee in Harris' congressional office went to work for Wade at MZM.

The funding for the project never was approved.

That's an important note, and this could all just be perfectly legal business as usual. Innocent until proven guilty and all that. But by cancelling all media events and basically hiding for a week, Harris is bringing this speculation upon herself. She could bowq out of the Senate race any day now.

And this is supposed to be a "top-tier" Senate race for the Republicans. What does a bad one look like?


Coverup Congress At It Again

This time they decide not to investigate the NSA spying program, but instead to write illegality into law:

Several moderate Senate Republicans are coalescing around legislation that would give President Bush's much-discussed domestic surveillance program the force of law, more than four years after the program was secretly initiated.

The prospects for the draft legislation are far from certain. But Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, has support from at least three moderate Republicans who have helped shaped the debate on intelligence issues: Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina [...]

DeWine's bill would exempt the president's surveillance program from a 1978 law aimed at governing electronic intelligence collection inside the United States.

A draft proposal, now being circulated on Capitol Hill, would allow the government to monitor suspected terrorists for up to 45 days without first seeking approval in a secretive federal intelligence court. Like the president's program, the bill covers only communications where one party is overseas and one is inside the United States.

This is despite Arlen Specter's repeated warnings at Judiciary to cut off NSA funding if he doesn't get more information about the program. But one Republican senator spitting into the wind won't make a whole lot of difference.

And get this, the legislation actually WIDENS the net:

If passed, DeWine's legislation would write into law exactly what that new subcommittee would do. It would also give the president the authority to create a list of terror organizations to be monitored.

His bill does not require that the terror groups must be foreign. Nor does it rely on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, which is often used in government as a reference about which organizations are considered most dangerous.

When asked last week why he didn't use the State Department's list, DeWine said he wanted to give the president flexibility, particularly so he did not have to come to Congress to update the organizations that could be monitored.

"You might have a terrorist group come up in six months that would be equally as bad as al-Qaida," DeWine said.

Like the Quakers, for example.

We all need to stop being surprised and stop being shocked. The official response to this from the Democrats needs to be "we can expect nothing less from this coverup Congress. They've been covering for the White House for the last 6 years. The elections in November will be a referendum on that."

The Congress is practically begging to be tied to Bush in November. We must oblige.

UPDATE: Sen. Rockefeller listens to me!

"This committee is basically under control of the White House,'' Rockefeller told reporters after the two-hour meeting today in Washington. "It's an unprecedented bout of political pressure from the White House.''


Don't Forget Health Care

As we head into the 2006 elections, I hope that the facts about our crumbling health care system are articulated more than once by Democrats. This is an issue that affects every American, and it's important to counter the conventional wisdom. I just came across this year-old series by Ezra Klein that points out the good and bad about universal health care systems in other Western nations, and I was struck by this paragraph:

What really leapt out at me during this series was how normal government provided health care is.  Other nations have doctor choice, hospital choice -- in France, they don't even have limits on specialist choice.  Americans have somehow fooled themselves -- or been fooled -- into believing that government-run health care is somehow different from what they enjoy now.  I genuinely believe they carry some sort of dystopian vision around with them, of gray waiting rooms and faceless bureaucrats and bread lines with stethoscopes, rather than grain, at the front.  In order to keep that prophecy whole, they've had to mentally classify Medicare as some weird, third sort of category -- government paying for private health care.

And Ezra goes on to explain that this is exactly what Medicare is. The Part D prescription drug plan has been a disaster because a) it was written drug companies to ensure their profit margins, and b) it was implemented by Republicans who don't really want government-run programs of any kind to succeed. If Democrats were only aggressive they could put the GOP in a box on this. We should continue to hammer how pathetically this has been implemented, intimating that this is almost a Trojan horse to torpedo government involvement in health care delivery. And if they whine "The media's focusing on the bad stuff, but the prescription drug plan's doing wonderfully," we could say "Then why not expand Medicare to cover the uninsured? If it's working for seniors and their drug plans, wouldn't it work just as well for them?"

Even with these structural budget deficits, we could easily have universal coverage in this country and all it would take is some political will. It would have been easier 5 years ago when we actually had a surplus, but all it would take now is a shifting of priorities. Big business will almost certainly come asking for universal coverage so they can start competing internationally; a labor/management alliance is more than sufficient to get this done.

Read Ezra's whole series. He really drills down to the nitty gritty of other countries' health services, and shows a vision of a world where everybody can get medical care, everyone has choice, costs are cheaper than they are today, and performance is actually better. No plan is going to be perfect, but can any possibly be worse than what we're stuck with right now?

Democrats should be loud and proud about these goals, since they will be able to talk about them virtually unopposed. It's time to turn these ideas into plans, and run on a vision of universal access and comforting the sick.


Showdown in the Lone Star State

Today will be an early indicator of how things might go for the Democrats in November. It's Texas primary day, and two races are worth following. I've talked at length about the TX-28 race against Democratic Rep. Henry "The Mole" Cuellar and former Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. Whether the netroots can raise enough awareness (and money) of a local Congressional race to push the Republican in Democrat's clothing out and the actual Democrat in is at stake.

Then there's TX-22, where Tom DeLay actually has three challengers for the Republican primary and thinks himself so toxic that he's spending the day in DC rather than campaigning. The more you see of the Hammer, the less inclined you are to vote for him, I guess.

Results will start to filter in aorund 8 PM EST.


Monday, March 06, 2006

The Blog of War

(Wow, allow me to look in self-regard at that title... if I ever change the name of this blog, it'd be to that... damn, someone beat me to it!)

So here's some one-stop shopping on our adventures abroad. First of all, remember the Coalition of the Willing? It's slowly becoming the Coalition of the One:

Britain plans to pull out nearly all its soldiers from Iraq by the summer of 2008, with the first withdrawals within weeks, a top military commander said in an interview published on Tuesday.

Lieutenant General Nick Houghton, Britain's most senior officer in Iraq, outlined a phased two-year withdrawal plan in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"There is a fine line between staying too long and leaving too soon," he was quoted as saying. "A military transition over two years has a reasonable chance of avoiding the pitfalls of overstaying our welcome but gives us the best opportunity of consolidating the Iraqi security forces."

Houghton went on to say that it's conditional, based on the forming of a unity government and a stabilizing of sectarian strife. So I guess that means they'll be there forever:

The president of Iraq and the country's leading coalition of Sunni Arab parties added their voices Saturday to a growing chorus of top politicians and political parties urging the ruling alliance of Shiite parties to reconsider its nominee for prime minister in favor of someone who would attract broader support.

The Shiite coalition, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, "has the right of nominating, not the right of appointing" the prime minister, President Jalal Talabani said at a news conference.

Talabani, a Kurd, stopped short of opposing the Shiites' candidate, Ibrahim al-Jafari, who has served for nearly a year as interim prime minister. Jafari was nominated almost three weeks ago by the alliance to continue in his post in the next government. But Talabani made clear that he favored someone different, saying: "We want a national unity government, which means not imposing someone. . . . This does not mean intervention in their affairs, but it is a suggestion."

IMO, there's no way the Shiites will back down here because they don't need to and see the prime minister question as already decided. This will only further strain the sectarian forces working to pull the country apart, as the violence continues. Iraq had various strongmen in power for 300-odd years for a reason; it was how this poorly devised country could hope to stay together.

Meanwhile, that talk about the Iraqi Parliament convening on Sunday? Um, maybe not:

Iraq's parliament is unlikely to open on Sunday as Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi -- a Shiite -- had not yet signed the presidential council order to convene the new assembly, a top government official said Tuesday.

"All three members of the presidential council have to sign the order announcing the start of the parliament and Mr. Mahdi has not yet signed for reasons best known to him," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Due to this there is a possibility that the parliament may not convene on March 12 as there is also a strong demand from the Shiite leaders to postpone it," the official said.

The presidential council consists of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Mahdi and Vice President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni.

The political deadlock springs from a dispute over the forming of the next coalition government after the Kurds, Sunnis and some secular groups called on the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance to chose another candidate to lead the cabinet rather than outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

"I'll be summoning today the leaders of parliamentary factions to inform them of the inaugural meeting of parliament to be held on March 12," Talabani said Monday after meeting the new premier of the northern Kurdish region Nichirvan Barzani.

But sources close to him say that a number of Shiite leaders met him later in the evening asking to postpone the start of the assembly until the dispute over Jaafari is resolved.

By the way our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs thinks Iraq is "going very well" while the top commander of the Iraqi army thinks... oh wait he was killed in an ambush.

Of course, this is all about the LAST war! Don't you want to know about the next one?

The good news is, we won't have to change many letters on the network graphics:

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has told British MPs that military action could bring Iran's nuclear programme to a halt if all diplomatic efforts fail. The warning came ahead of a meeting today of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which will forward a report on Iran's nuclear activities to the UN security council.

Yesterday Mr Bolton reiterated his hardline stance. In a speech to the annual convention of the American-Israel public affairs committee, the leading pro-Israel US lobbyists, he said: "The longer we wait to confront the threat Iran poses, the harder and more intractable it will become to solve ... we must be prepared to rely on comprehensive solutions and use all the tools at our disposal to stop the threat that the Iranian regime poses."

This comes on the heels of Condi Rice not even definitively saying there ought to be SANCTIONS, so there's a good cop/bad cop thing going on here. The saber rattling seems bold considering that the framework of a deal has been reached whereby Russia would enrich uranium for Iran to use for civil energy purposes. The IAEA will certainly press this in the coming week.

Meanwhile the seeming hypocrisy of giving a deal to India for their nuclear program, by saying that they'll only use it for civilian energy looms large. Even more so considering our "ally" Pakistan was denied:

PRESIDENT George Bush has made it clear that Pakistan should not expect a civilian nuclear agreement like the one with India soon. At the same time, he has bluntly told the subcontinent rivals that they cannot be compared to each other.

Visiting Pakistan, Mr Bush said he and President Pervez Musharraf had discussed a civilian nuclear program for Pakistan during talks on Saturday.

"I explained that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories," Mr Bush said at a news conference with General Musharraf. "Our strategy will take in … those well-known differences."

For an Administration so worried about the Dubai Ports World deal based on how rejecting them will make us look to the Muslim world, how do you think THIS sits with them?

That's it for The Blog of War this week, folks! (wow, I may have my first copyrighted feature)


Oscar Wrap... Allow me to revise and extend my remarks.

I should clarify a couple things about the Oscar post:

I think it's worthy to have passionate beliefs in art, and when that's well told, fantastic. I certainly think several films nominated this year did that. But you also need to keep yourself in perspective, a hard thing to do out here where people will greet you with their resume. "Hi, how are you?" "Great, I've had two meetings, my agent's got me booked on something..." I also think these the movie that tackles issues and succeeds without being clumsy is a rare achievement indeed. It simply works better in documentary form.

The good thing about LA is that the pretentiousness is all completely up front, making it easier to avoid. I rarely need to experience it because I know where the lemmings go.

Crash also won because it was supposedly about LA ("our city, our struggle!"). It's amusing to hear people defend it by saying that "Yes, it's exaggerated, because the characters aren't meant to be realistic, they're saying what's in their heads," and then saying how it reveals human truths. What? That's like saying a movie about unicorns reveals the truth about horses. If the characters aren't meant to be realistic, how can I take anything away from how they interact? There's a difference between allegory and simply portraying something that doesn't ever happen. I'm not saying that racism doesn't happen, but it's simply not 100% overt, not always informed by an equal and opposite reaction (Matt Dillon's character only hates blacks because they gave his father's janitor job away through affirmative action, see!), and not occurring by every person of every race at every waking moment. There's a story to be told about the racial divide in America: doing it as a fantasy doesn't do justice to the tale.

It's also, in the end, just movies. The ones they're making now won't be out until 2009. The nature of the business informs how impossible it is for them to have their pulse on America. That and the fact that the lowest common denominator mentality has turned every Hollywood movie into a blockbuster event with "something for everyone!" I'm glad the Academy at least tried to honor achievement last night, with the nominations. I've given up on the blockbuster over the last several years.

Now... let's get back to politics!

P.S. But before that... I do urge you to see "Junebug," a movie out of Hollywood that respects the South and its traditions, gives every character a humanity and says a lot about who we are and how we communicate. You never hear critics on the right (who never see the movies they accuse of liberal bias, but KNOOOWWW it's in there) dare to champion a film like this.


Time to Change the Rules

Tomorrow, as promised, the Senate Intelligence Committee will meet and vote on ranking Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller's motion to investigate the NSA's illegal spying program. It appears fairly certain the committee will vote to investigate, though some extra pressure would obviously help things.

What's amazing is that once again, when the rules go against the Republicans, they seek to change the rules. How else to explain Majority Leader Bill Frist's threat to change the way the Intelligence Committee is structured, presumably to block the investigation from going forward, despite the fact that a majority of Senators on the Committee want to see that dont. I'm sure he'll characterize it as necessary to "protect the rights of the majority," my favorite new phrase I've heard lately.

Frist specifically threatened that if the Committee holds NSA hearings, he will fundamentally change the 30-year-old structure and operation of the Senate Intelligence Committee so as to make it like every other Committee, i.e., controlled and dominated by Republicans to advance and rubber-stamp the White House’s agenda rather than exercise meaningful and nonpartisan oversight.

Yet again, Republicans are threatening to radically change long-standing rules for how our government operates all because they cannot manipulate the result they want.

This attempt from all branches of government to make it a "to the victor goes the spoils" zero-sum game is really troubling. Are Republicans that convinced of their own brilliance that they expect never to suffer the consequences of being in the minority again? Or do they know something about Diebold Systems that we don't? I've never seen a political party be so brazen at consolidating power and protecting its own. Amusing that it's from the party of limited government.


Another GOP Congressman Exits Through the Revolving Door

The Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is out:

Representative Bill Thomas, a conservative Republican from California's Central Valley who has been a strong backer of President Bush's policies, announced today that he will not seek re-election this fall.

Mr. Thomas has been the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee since 2001 and would have had to give up the chairmanship in the next Congress because of term limits on leadership positions. He said he had weighed retirement for several weeks.

This isn't about term limiting his chairmanship. We're going to see a lot of this. I think in 1994 you had a lot of Dems retiring once they saw which way the wind was blowing. These Reps who've been in the majority for the last 12 years want no part of being in the minority. They sense the impending doom.

What I don't hope is that if we sweep into Congress, we suddenly start administering payback for years of Republican dirty dealing. I don't think we should fight fire with fire. Playing by the rules and getting into conference committees will infuriate the no-quarter Repubs enough.


Oscar Wrap

I'm not surprised that Jon Stewart didn't exactly go over that well in the room at last night's Academy Awards. Hollywood famously has no sense of humor about themselves. It's all laughs and giggles when Stewart does his Bush impression, but when the guns are turned on the pretentiousness of another group of ruling elite, the executives and producers seem to have a tin ear. Not surprising: this is a group of people who thought that the intellectually insulting mess of predictable stereotypes and ridiculous coincidences known as Crash was not only a searing statement on race relations in Los Angeles, but the best picture of the year. (my friend at Midnight in the Garden of Goodman and Evil thinks it's because they sent out DVD screeners to everybody, but I think it's because half of Hollywood was either in, or married to someone who was in, or knew somoene who was in that movie. Ensemble pieces always do well because they have a wide base constituency).

It's incredible that after so many years, people don't seem to get what Stewart's show is about. He is not really focused on policy debate or putting one set of issues above another; Stewart is proudly outside the tent, seizing on the bullshit in the media, satirizing not politics but how they are presented. Similarly, last night he seized on much of the bullshit in official Hollywood, which is as conformist as your average megachurch (I don't care if they're on the "right" side, it's too much of an unthinking fealty), pricking it's overblown sense of self-importance. The line of the night came after yet another montage on the movies' treatment of social issues, leaving Stewart to quip, "And none of them were ever a problem again." It's one thing to make a movie about change and quite another to be the change you want to see. Sure, many of the films this year (Good Night and Good Luck and Capote stand out) tackled important issues while still remaining well-told human stories. I appreciate Digby's statement about the movie business being courageous to speak through their art, but the business has always taken more credit than they probably deserve. Wasn't the Halle Berry "Jackie Robinson" moment like 4 years ago? Isn't that a little late to be self-congratulatory about letting a black woman win Best Actress? Don't only 7% of all movies have a woman director? To an extent, George Clooney's speech about being out of touch being a good thing is laudatory, but it also smacks of a serious regard for oneself. Why would you expect less from an industry that chooses its stars based on looks?

I find myself less and less interested in talking about politics here in Los Angeles with anyone who agrees with me. Maybe that's why I frequently seek out those who don't. People here don't really like to have their assumptions challenged, in their careers or their politics.