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

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bush owns $5 million in worthless pieces of paper

We all know how ridiculous last month's little photo-op in West Virginia was, when the President peered into the filing cabinets housing the Social Security Trust Fund, and called them "worthless pieces of paper."

I have just come from the Bureau of Public Debt... I went there because I'm trying to make a point about the Social Security trust. You see, a lot of people in America think there's a trust, in this sense -- that we take your money through payroll taxes and then we hold it for you, and then when you retire, we give it back to you. But that's not the way it works.

There is no "trust fund," just IOUs that I saw firsthand, that future generations will pay... The office here in Parkersburg stores those IOUs. They're stacked in a filing cabinet. Imagine -- the retirement security for future generations is sitting in a filing cabinet.

Yeah, "IOUs" backed with the full faith and credit of the United States government... you know all the arguments.

What you might not know is that the President OWNS $5 million dollars worth of these pieces of paper. From the LA Times:

The disclosure, for instance, said Bush's 1,583-acre ranch was worth $1 million to $5 million. The president reported having at least $4.95 million in Treasury notes, $750,000 in certificates of deposits and $217,000 in checking and money market accounts. Bush owns the mineral rights valued at up to $15,000 on property in Reeves County, Texas. He also owns a tree farm, which is valued at about $600,000.

Just imagine. The President's retirement security is just sitting in a filing cabinet.

I guess the one good result if Bush makes good on his veiled threat to default on the Social Security Trust Fund is that he'd send himself to the poorhouse with the same stroke. Oh wait, he'd probably exempt his OWN Treasury bills. He'd just default on yours and mine.


Flushing Our Humanity Down the Toilet

There was a passing reference in this Newsweek article that mentions one of the prisoner abuses at Guantanamo Bay was to flush prisoner's copies of the Koran down the toilet.

Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.

The line was repeated on al Jazeera. The news reached the Muslim world.

Next thing you know, there are protests in practically every corner of the globe, including Afghanistan, where many have died in the protests. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai is visiting Europe while his country is in an uproar and unable to restore order. Indonesia, Pakistan, and other countries have held similar protests. All because somebody at Gitmo thought it was a good idea to attack prisoners at their weak points by desecrating their religion. Which is clearly beyond the pale, not only because no good can come of it (in terms of producing intelligence results) but because it can inflame exactly the kind of hatred we are trying to avoid among moderate Muslims. Once the die is cast in a clash of civilizations, it's not exactly easy to rewind the tape and start over. If you cast it in such stark terms, that we hate you for your religion and our mission is to destroy both you and it (which is precisely the message an incident like this sends), you are inexorably on the path to US v. Islam.

Don't you expect the rightie blogs (powerline, lgf) to go hard at "liberal media" Newsweek for writing the article and starting all the trouble? Of course they'll try to impugn the credibility and call the magazine to task for printing false stories, but the intent will be clear: they mean to censor what we're really doing at Gitmo and elsewhere, they mean to shield the public from this kind of insanity, they mean to make the real criminals not the perpetrators but THE ONES WHO LET PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT IT. It's the typical play for intimidation of a free and unfettered press.

Maybe if the US government policy wasn't to demean a religion shared by over a billion people globally, we wouldn't have these problems.


Friday, May 13, 2005


Twenty years ago today, I was home sick from school, a 6th-grader lying in bed. All day long there was this standoff in West Philadelphia (I'm from the suburbs of Philly) between the police and MOVE, the radical fringe group. What started as a domestic disturbance (the neighbors basically forced the city to get involved) turned into a shootout, played out live on Philly TV stations. Then a chopper dropped a bomb on the compound, hoping to take out a bunker situated on the roof. Nobody could believe that the Philadelphia Police Department would be that remiss, to bomb a row house. Sure enough, the entire block of Osage Avenue went up in flames, and 11 people were dead, 5 of them children, all of them stuck inside the MOVE house (the rest of the block was evacuated.

"Incedniary device" became a playground joke for about two weeks after that. I don't think I was really plugged in to what the whole thing meant, but even I had enough experience in Philly row houses (half my family lived in them) to know that if you drop a bomb on one, the rest of them are going to ignite. You don't need gasoline, like the cops accused MOVE of dousing their building with.

Amazingly, nobody in the Police or Fire Departments was ever indicted, or even accused of negligence, in the MOVE case, and Wilson Goode, the embattled mayor, ended up being re-elected. I couldn't believe what a national joke my city was at the time. Not to mention a source of tragedy.

MOVE was not content to play by the rules, but surely there was a better way to deal with them than to raze the entire city block to the ground.

Anyway, I thought it was important to remember that day on its 20th anniversary.


Another Bully Goes Down

Dr. W. David Hager, the FDA panel member who allegedly sodomized his wife while she was sleeping for many years, is quitting the FDA.
A controversial Lexington physician said yesterday he does not expect to be appointed to a third term on a federal Food and Drug Administration advisory committee on reproductive health.

"I will no longer be on the advisory committee after June 30," Hager said. He indicated the decision was made before the allegations surfaced.

In a story in The Nation magazine, Hager's former wife accused the doctor of sexually abusing her during their 32-year marriage. The couple divorced in 2002.

Yesterday, Hager, who was appointed by the Bush administration to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee, questioned the motives of his ex-wife and the liberal monthly. He said the article -- which includes graphic details about their sex life together -- was "not based on all of the facts."

"As I said before, the allegations as stated do not reveal all of the information and therefore they're incomplete and not true," the obstetrician-gynecologist said.

He should be leaving the FDA and going to jail. What his ex-wife describes is rape. Forced entry while your partner is sleeping is rape. He should be up on charges.

Also, what the hell does "the allegations do not reveal all the information and therefore they're untrue" mean? That's the most non-denial denial I've ever heard. You mean you did MORE than just forced sodomy, is that it?

There's another reason why he's leaving the FDA, however; in fact, it's probably the only reason he would have to:

The Nation article, and a story in the Washington Post yesterday, also say that Hager, in an October sermon at Asbury College in Wilmore, took credit for helping to prevent the Plan B contraceptive from being approved for over-the-counter use.

Although the committee voted 23-4 to approve the pill, Hager said in the sermon that he sent a minority memo criticizing the decision, and the FDA ultimately rejected the panel's recommendation. According to the articles in The Nation and the Post, Hager told the Asbury crowd, "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."

In an interview yesterday, Hager downplayed his part in the FDA's decision.

"I don't know what my role was. I voted with the minority and I did send a letter with a minority opinion to the FDA," he said. Who asked him to send it? "I can't reveal that," he said.

I found it very telling that NPR today did a long story on Plan B and Hager's stall tactics without ONCE mentioning the ex-wife, the forced sodomy, or any of the personal issues. They even mentioned the Nation article without mentioning his personal life. Liberal media, indeed. But like I said, the issue of influencing a panel to prevent a drug from coming to market that had overwhelming support is probably more embarrassing to the Bush Administration. That is, if they're embarrassed by anything.


This post by georgia10 at her new blog akou might be the best post I've read all year. It totally turned me around on the infamous "Downing Street Memo" issue, from thinking that the report released during the British elections that American intelligence "was being fixed around the policy" in Iraq was something we all knew about to thinking that the time has come for Americans to take a stand against this kind of deception. This is a smoking gun that turns the notion that Bush wanted to invade Iraq no matter what from theory into practice.

So georgia10 and some others have created Downing Street Memo, a website dedicated to raising awareness about the memo, and asking the hard questions:

Regardless of politics, every American should ask themselves: Was I misled? Did President Bush tell me the truth when he said he would not take us to war unless absolutely necessary?

Please join us in demanding that we get to the bottom of this issue. For if we do not demand the truth from our government here, where the Downing Street Memo is so damning, then we may as well forever cease holding our government accountable.

There are action items, a history of the memo, and more. Please visit the site. It is terribly important that we restore a government that is for and by the people.


Hold Everything

Just when you thought the Bolton nomination was headed right to the floor, in comes my Senator, Barbara Boxer, has slammed on the brakes:

Later Thursday, however, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., placed a hold on the nomination, according to her spokesman, David Sandretti.

By placing the hold on the nomination, which is a privilege that any senator can invoke, Boxer can prevent it from going to the Senate floor for a vote. Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to overturn a "hold."

Republicans are crying "sore loser," but here's why she did it. Politically speaking, having Bolton in the news is good for Democrats whether he is confirmed or not. He's already been defined to the American people as something of a prick. I forget the post I read, but apparently a sportscaster on ESPN referred to combative Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen as "the John Bolton of Major League Baseball." So he's penetrated the cultural lexicon, and in a bad way. That can only be bad for the Bush Administration.

Furthermore, a hold is not a filibuster. It's the Congressional equivalent of a motion for continuance. Clearly Boxer and the Democrats want more time to force out those NSA intercepts from the State Department that the White House has been loath to give up. That gives this nomination more time to fester, and more pressure to let those intercepts free, the consequences of which could be very damaging to Bolton.

Finally, Boxer is speaking with her heart on this one, in my view. It's too easy to open oneself up to obstructionist charges with this move. Boxer must genuinely feel that the full facts on Bolton must come out.

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note is one-stop shopping for all the latest Bolton news.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

I don't want to get off on a rant here, but...

I used to love Dennis Miller. Loved him. In the 80s he was a big influence on my wanting to get into stand-up comedy. I figured if he could talk about politics and social issues, maybe I could do the same. Of course, I later found out that his brother was an agent and a club owner, so he didn't have any opportunity to fail. Also, according to this he sort of backed into the whole "political comedian" thing. In fact, Al Franken had a great story about a panel discussion he did with Miller.

Miller said, in reference to Clinton, "I can't believe the 41st President of the US" yadda yadda yadda...

Franken interrupts him, says, "Um, Dennis. Clinton was actually the 43rd President."

Miller goes, "Oh right, yeah I knew that babe, sorry. I can't believe the 43rd President" yadda yadda yadda...

"Dennis," Franken interrupts again. "I was lying, he's actually the 42nd President."

So Miller's like a lot of conservative "intellectuals," a mile wide but an inch deep.

And now, as a real political comedian, the news of his CNBC cancellation is oh-so-gratifying.

Miller tacked hard right like other September 11th conservatives, after being charmed by Bush (?) and deciding to let his most xenophobic thoughts out into the open. He became increasingly embittered, less funny, and more oblivious to the facts, instead trying to snarkily reference his way through them. The guy was an embarrassment to himself at the end, particularly a couple weeks ago, when he went on The Daily Show (which gets like 18 times the viewers as his dearly departed program) and tried to moderate his views, pleading with his audience that he was "just a libertarian." In fact Digby puts it best:

I knew it was over when Bush's fawning sycophant, Dennis Miller, tried to pass himself off as a libertarian on Jon Stewart's show a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I found that little moment quite uplifting. There is nobody more trendy, more "finger in the wind," more faddish than the Rant man himself. If he's climbing off the conservative bun-boy train, then the zeitgeist has definitely shifted.

A hearty Amen to that one.


Forward Thinking

This is a great idea from the guys at People for the American Way. I just got this email:

We’re down to the wire—and we’re going to need IMMEDIATE response to stop Senator Frist when he attempts to trigger the “nuclear option” to shut down debate about judicial nominees.  So, we’re trying something new and groundbreaking—and we need you to be part of it.

It’s called Mass Immediate Response (MIR) and it allows thousands  of people to contact the Senate and make their voices heard all at the same time.

Here’s how it works: As soon as Senate Republicans trigger the “nuclear option,” we’ll send a text message to your cell phone. Embedded in that text message is a link to a Senate phone number based on your state.  With the push of a couple buttons, your call – along with thousands of others – goes right through to the corridors of power demanding preservation of the filibuster.  (Very simple instructions about how this will work on your phone model will be made available when you sign up.)

Join our massive immediate response!

They promise not to disclose your cell phone number, and I believe them. This is great: finally technology is being used for good, not eeee-villl! It's good to see progressives thking differently about activism and awareness in Washington.

And, with Frist's proposal going down in flames, I hope they never have occasion to text me.


More Kinky Republicans

Yesterday I was going on about the bizarre sex habits of Republicans (you know, mule-fucking and stuff). Democrats are the tolerant ones in the midst; I'm simply pointing out that these over-moralizers are unbelievably hypocritical when it comes to sex.

There's more to this story. John Bolton, who apparently is going to get his ass out of the Foreign Relations Committee without a recommendation (thanks to the good Senator from Ohio, Mr. Voinovich, who had enormous pressure to cave and sort of punted), has a bit of a past his own self:

Corroborated allegations that Mr. Bolton’s first wife, Christina Bolton, was forced to engage in group sex have not been refuted by the State Department despite inquires posed by Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt concerning the allegations. Mr. Flynt has obtained information from numerous sources that Mr. Bolton participated in paid visits to Plato’s Retreat, the popular swingers club that operated in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“The first Mrs. Bolton’s conduct raises the presumption that she fled out of fear for her safety or, at a minimum, it demonstrates that Mr. Bolton’s established inability to communicate or work respectfully with others extended to his intimate family relations,” said Mr. Flynt. “The court records alone provide sufficient basis for further investigation of nominee Bolton by the Senate.” These court records are enclosed here as an attachment. Mr. Flynt continued, “The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations must be free of any potential source of disrepute or blackmail.”

Larry Flynt is, well, Larry Flynt, but this woman left her husband during a trip to Vienna in two weeks in 1982 and never returned is telling. Then she took most of the furniture. That's not a partner in an amicable breakup. Something was making her leave, and fast.

Then there's the case of Bush FDA appointee Dr. David Hager (go read the whole article, it's heartbreaking):

According to (ex-wife Linda) Davis, Hager's public moralizing on sexual matters clashed with his deplorable treatment of her during their marriage. Davis alleges that between 1995 and their divorce in 2002, Hager repeatedly sodomized her without her consent. Several sources on and off the record confirmed that she had told them it was the sexual and emotional abuse within their marriage that eventually forced her out. "I probably wouldn't have objected so much, or felt it was so abusive if he had just wanted normal [vaginal] sex all the time," she explained to me. "But it was the painful, invasive, totally nonconsensual nature of the [anal] sex that was so horrible."

That's rape. It doesn't matter if it's with your wife. Nonconsensual forced sodomy is rape, and depending on the state, the sodomy itself is a crime (or at least was up until a couple years ago).

President Bush appointed a rapist to the FDA Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs.

There is so much repression in the Republican Party I wouldn't be surprised if there was a mass head explosion at the next Convention.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bullies Backing Down

When we stand together and speak out, we cannot be defeated. In two high-profile cases this week, that sentiment has proved correct.

First, in East Waynesville, NC, where the pastor of the East Waynesville Baptist Church, previously accused of excommunicating members of his congregation who voted for John Kerry, has resigned:

The Rev. Chan Chandler, 33, walked out of the East Waynesville Baptist Church, which he had led for three years, after delivering a brief statement of resignation Tuesday night.

In an interview with a church publication Tuesday, Chandler denied endorsing any candidate from the pulpit, as critics had charged.

But he acknowledged citing from the pulpit what he believes are the "unbiblical values" of some political hopefuls. "But those were negative endorsements never a positive endorsement" of any candidate, he said.

Chandler admitted in the interview that he cited Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's views on abortion and homosexuality in one sermon. He said he also mentioned two Republicans whose views he said were out of step with the Bible.

He was not more specific, and stressed that his sermons were issue-oriented and not based on party affiliation.
"This never has been about politics," Chandler said. "It's always been about whether the Bible applies to the entire life of a Christian."

Some church members had said that they were told to leave if they voted for Kerry.

We're left to ponder how a "negative endorsement" of one candidate is not a "positive endorsement" of the other, as I'm sure the IRS will when it looks into the church's tax-exempt status. But we can be happy that, as soon as we shined the light of the media on these sorry bullies, they were forced to back down, to resign, to cower in the face of their own intolerance.

Here's part two. An Army recruiter in Houston, Texas threatened to jail a potential recruit if he didn't enlist:

Sgt. Thomas Kelt left this message on that young man's cell phone: "Hey Chris, this is Sgt. Kelt with the Army man. I think we got disconnected. Okay, I know you were on your cell probably and just had a bad connection or something like that. I know you didn't hang up on me. Anyway, by federal law you got an appointment with me at 2 o'clock this afternoon at Greenspoint Mall, okay? That's the Greenspoint Mall Army Recruiting Station at 2 o'clock. You fail to appear and we'll have a warrant. Okay? So give me a call back."

Well, the media in Houston got a hold of this, and so did the bloggers, and so did the national media.

Well, guess what? Now that it got out in the open, more people are coming forward. This guy says a recruiter threatened his life:

Will Ammons, 20, signed up for delayed entry at the Lake Jackson Army recruiting station last year.

But soon afterwards, he fell in love and changed his mind before he ever shipped out.

That's when, he says, Army recruiters crossed the line and started harrassing him.

"He told me I pretty much had two options," Ammons said. "I'd go before a judge and get a sentence of 15 years but he had the option to double it. It was either that or they were going to put me in front of seven other people with rifles and shoot me."

And here's the upshot:

Because of the Defenders' investigation and other similar allegations, the Army will hold a nationwide stand down on recruiting on May 20.

Bra-fucking-vo, everyone. We actually don't need to be bullied, by the government, by the military, by the clergy, by anyone. This is a country with individual rights, and when we use them collectively, they're even stronger. The punch-the-bully-in-the-nose strategy is what the Republicans never planned for. It's going to get Democrats back in the seats of power. And what's more, Americans love when the underdog jumps up and punches the bully in the face, leaving him crying and defeated. Don't you watch 80s teen movies?


The Good Christian Right

This is from NewsHounds, without whom I would never know that a lot of conservative Southerners think your pet's lips are kinda purty:

Last night, anti-abortion extremist Neal Horsley was a guest on The Alan Colmes Show, a FOX News radio program. The topic was an interesting one - whether or not an internet service provider should allow Horsley to post the names of abortion doctors on his website. Horsley does that as a way of targeting them and one doctor has been killed. In the course of the interview, however, Colmes asked Horsley about his background, including a statement that he had admitted to engaging in homosexual and bestiality sex.

At first, Horsley laughed and said, "Just because it's printed in the media, people jump to believe it."

"Is it true?" Colmes asked.

"Hey, Alan, if you want to accuse me of having sex when I was a fool, I did everything that crossed my mind that looked like I..."

AC: "You had sex with animals?"

NH: "Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule."

AC: "I'm not so sure that that is so."

NH: "You didn't grow up on a farm in Georgia, did you?"

AC: "Are you suggesting that everybody who grows up on a farm in Georgia has a mule as a girlfriend?"

NH: It has historically been the case. You people are so far removed from the reality... Welcome to domestic life on the farm..."

Colmes said he thought there were a lot of people in the audience who grew up on farms, are living on farms now, raising kids on farms and "and I don't think they are dating Elsie right now. You know what I'm saying?"

Horsley said, "You experiment with anything that moves when you are growing up sexually. You're naive. You know better than that... If it's warm and it's damp and it vibrates you might in fact have sex with it."

Horsley's right, if having sex with farm animals is reality in Georgia, then I am happy to say I am far removed from it.

Between this, and the mayor of Spokane, WA being the latest antigay Republican to come out of the closet, it's clear that there's an element of self-loathing to all of this. Whether you hate yourself for having those urges and want to stamp it out in everyone else, or you hate yourself for raising a gay kid (like Alan Keyes, for example) and want to call homosexuals to task for giving in to deviant desires (thereby absolving yourself of responsibility), or you've banged a mule and want to be seen as the beholder of moral values, it's obviously some sort of lashing out at those perceived deficiencies which you have. If only these hypocrites would realize that such things like homosexuality AREN'T deficiencies, and learn to love themselves, maybe we can reach an understanding in this country.

The mule-sex, though, I don't see a middle ground there.


Marked Man

One day after a grenade is thrown at the President during a speech in the Republic of Georgia, the White House and the Capitol are evacuated. Because of a Cessna off-course, mind you, but evacuated, and I'm sure the Beltway reporters that had to breathlessly ¡run for their lives! will now report how Dear Leader protected them and kept them safe.

Only "Elvis" Bush had left the building:

President Bush was not in the White House at the time of the incident, officials said. They said he was out on a bicycle ride at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, Md. Vice President Cheney was in the White House and was evacuated in a motorcade, then returned after the all-clear was given.

It's the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. The President had been in Europe for the past several days.

He's on a friggin' bike ride?

Of course, the real story here is missing. What was he listening to on his iPod? I'm sure Elizabeth Bumiller will chime in with the story as soon as she stops crying and, through tears, thanking the Leader for his courage.


Progressive Indexing?

Let's lay off Bush's Social Security plan. As you know, he wants to index benefits to prices, not wages, for the vast majority (70%) of Americans, basically anyone who makes over $25,000 a year.

Well, judging from this Financial Times report, maybe the Prez just wants to give the middle- and upper-income classes MORE money:

Real wages in the US are falling at their fastest rate in 14 years, according to data surveyed by the Financial Times.

Inflation rose 3.1 per cent in the year to March but salaries climbed just 2.4 per cent, according to the Employment Cost Index. In the final three months of 2004, real wages fell by 0.9 per cent.

The last time salaries fell this steeply was at the start of 1991, when real wages declined by 1.1 per cent.

I'd rather have by benefits indexed to the one that's going UP, wouldn't you? Pity for the poor, though. Shouldn't somebody tell the President he's cutting poor people's benefits with his plan?

Incidentally, if you want an honest look at the ramifications of the President's boondoggle, I mean plan, take a look at this from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For those on the right still pushing the old canard that "Democrats are just playing defense because they don't have any ideas," the truth is we do have an idea. It's called Social Security, as insurance against retirement. Keeping it solvent would require tweaks like raising the cap on which payroll is taxed (so a corporate CEO isn't paying 0.56% of his income into the system when the rest of us are paying 6.2%). The above CBPP report shows that the President's plan gets us 30% of the way to solvency. That's actually worse than if you do nothing.

And here's another reason why Social Security must remain as insurance and not subject to market forces:

CHICAGO - United Airlines gained a significant financial victory with court approval Tuesday to dump its four pension plans, but the airline faces a tough challenge to win back the support of thousands of angry employees.

The pensions cover 120,000 current and retired United workers, including 62,000 active employees.

“Taxpayers had better buckle up because we will be in for a bumpy ride of bailout after bailout, as more and more corporations dump their pension plan obligations on the PBGC,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., referring to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. that already is operating at a more than $23 billion deficit.

The agreement approved by Judge Eugene Wedoff would give the PBGC $1.5 billion in notes and convertible stock in a reorganized UAL Corp., United’s holding company. The agency, which called the agreement a “matter of last resort,” must still formally sign off on the termination before it takes effect.

Wedoff approved the pension plan over the objections of several unions, noting that the federal pension system preserves the majority of benefits for employees at troubled companies. He called it “the least bad” of the available choices, since it gives unprofitable United the best chance to keep functioning.

"The majority of benefits" is a bare majority. Some people will lose up to 50% of their pensions. And they'll have nothing else to live on except their own personal retirement savings (if they have any) and Social Security. That's the safety net the President would like to roll up and take with him.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More proof that the world is populated by idiots

Monty Python star Terry Jones insists the BBC "hated" the surreal comedy series when it was first presented to them, and nearly scrapped the show altogether.

The 62-year-old comedy veteran embarrassed BBC executives who were also present at the event by explaining if he had not smuggled the tapes out of the BBC, they risked being trashed.

He says, "They put us on very reluctantly and always took us off air for something like Horse Of The Year Show.

"The head of comedy said it just wasn't that funny. The shows nearly got wiped."

You hear this about every brilliant work of art. I'm sure Shakespeare's producers wanted to cut 30 minutes out of "Hamlet". Or Picasso's exhibitor said Guernica "just wasn't that moving." It's amazing anything decent ever gets made.


Why are we paying the Secret Service again?

So the President had a grenade lobbed at him, within 100 feet apparently. It's a good thing that everyone's safe. But does this sentence scare you a little bit?

A Secret Service spokesman said the agency, which is charged with protecting US presidents, was only informed of the incident by Georgian officials after Bush had left the country.

It's not like the Secret Service has a whole lot else to do when they're on the road with the President. You're telling me the world's most important bodyguard agency had to learn about this from local cops in Tbilisi? Not to disparage the Republic of Georgia, but it's a relatively new democracy with a somewhat unstable past. Are you telling me that their Barney Fifes can outwit OUR Secret Service?

NBC News, citing the Secret Service, said a Georgian officer 'ran off' with the device after it was thrown and that it was 'rendered safe and did not go off on its own.'

Ran off? Can ANY part of this government be competent?  


Wake Up Call

I've seen a couple editorials that have left me hopeful today, for the first time in a while.

The first is from the right-leaning Chicago Tribune, of all places, from Bob Dole's old press secretary Douglas MacKinnon, of all people. But he's dead-on about taking cable news to task for the seemingly non-stop "missing pretty white woman" parade we've seen lately:

Note to the news media--with an emphasis on the cable networks: Enough is enough.

Your continual focus on, and reporting of, missing, young, attractive white women not only demeans your profession but is a televised slap in the face to minority mothers and parents the nation over who search for their own missing children with little or no assistance or notice from anyone.

The latest missing woman to dominate the airtime of the cable networks was Jennifer Wilbanks, from Duluth, Ga. Like Dru Sjodin, Chandra Levy and Elizabeth Smart all before her, Wilbanks is young, white and attractive. Wilbanks, as it turned out, ran away of her own volition from her impending marriage. As a Maryland police official told me after Wilbanks turned up in New Mexico, "the media's non-stop focus on the possible abduction of Wilbanks forced the local officials and police departments to spend thousands of dollars they would not otherwise have spent."

Define racism. One could certainly make the argument that the cable networks that continually focus on these missing white women, to the virtual exclusion of minority women, are practicing a form of racism. The racism in this case, however, while predicated on color, does not concern itself with the color of one's skin. Rather, it is based on the color of money, ratings points and competition. Would an African-American woman who went missing days before her wedding receive the same (or any) coverage as that of Wilbanks? Not likely.

Wow. Somebody had the balls to say it. The truth is that it's easy, cheap, sensationalistic television which generates ratings (which to the executives is the best kind, for many reasons). The other truth is that we've been subjected to this in the media long before cable news' prominence (anyone remember Baby Jessica? The Lindbergh baby?). But calling it what it is - shameless, demeaning, and racist - takes some guts.

It also takes guts to come out and speak truth to power about our forgotten election. You know, the one where the exit polls didn't match the final results? For the first time in history? It's sickening that practically the first figure in the mainstream media to raise a red flag about this is a sportscaster, Jim Lampley. And he did it on a blog, the brand-spanking-new Huffington Post:

At 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on Election Day, I checked the sportsbook odds in Las Vegas and via the offshore bookmakers to see the odds as of that moment on the Presidential election. John Kerry was a two-to-one favorite. You can look it up.

People who have lived in the sports world as I have, bettors in particular, have a feel for what I am about to say about this: these people are extremely scientific in their assessments. These people understand which information to trust and which indicators to consult in determining where to place a dividing line to influence bets, and they are not in the business of being completely wrong. Oddsmakers consulted exit polling and knew what it meant and acknowledged in their oddsmaking at that moment that John Kerry was winning the election.

And he most certainly was, at least if the votes had been fairly and legally counted. What happened instead was the biggest crime in the history of the nation, and the collective media silence which has followed is the greatest fourth-estate failure ever on our soil.

Go read the whole thing.

I know we veterans of the blogosphere aren't supposed to like the Huffington Post, because it smacks of elitism, where a bunch of old-media types and celebrities come in and show the new-media types who's boss. But if people like Lampley are going to feel this unconstrained to speak their minds, I'm all for it.


Give 'Em Hell Harry

Out of the desert, out of tiny Searchlight. Nevada, in to save the Democratic Party, ladies and gentlemen I give you
Harry Reid. This is a long excerpt, but you have to read it all to get a sense of how awesome this guy is:

I still consider this (judicial nominee) confrontation entirely unnecessary and irresponsible. The White House manufactured this crisis. Since Bush took office, the Senate confirmed 208 of his judicial nominations and turned back only 10, a 95% confirmation rate.  Instead of accepting that success and avoiding further divisiveness and partisanship in Washington, the President chose to pick fights instead of judges by resubmitting the names of the rejected nominees.

This fight is not about seven radical nominees; it's about clearing the way for a Supreme Court nominee who only needs 51 votes, instead of 60 votes. They want a Clarence Thomas, not a Sandra Day O'Connor or Anthony Kennedy or David Souter.  George Bush wants to turn the Senate into a second House of Representatives, a rubberstamp for his right wing agenda and radical judges.   That's not how America works.

I believe there are two options for avoiding the nuclear showdown, which so many of us believe is bad for the Senate, and bad for America.

But I want to be clear: we are prepared for a vote on the nuclear option.  Democrats will join responsible Republicans in a vote to uphold the constitutional principle of checks and balances.

If it does come to a vote, I asked Senator Frist to allow his Republican colleagues to follow their consciences. Senator Specter recently said that Senators should be bound by Senate loyalty rather than party loyalty on a question of this magnitude.  But right wing activists are threatening primary challenges against Republicans who vote against the nuclear option.   Senators should not face this or any other form of retribution based on their support for the Constitution.  In return, I pledge that I will place no such pressure on Democratic Senators and I urge Senator Frist to refrain from placing such pressure on Republican Senators.  

I also suggest two reasonable ways to avert this constitutional crisis.  

First, allow up or down votes on additional nominees, as I addressed in my proposal to Frist two weeks ago.   If this is about getting judges on the courts, let's get them on the courts.

Second, allow the Senate to consider changing the rules without breaking the rules.   Every one of us knows that there is a right way and a wrong way to change the rules of the Senate; the nuclear option is the wrong way.  Senator Dodd will go to the floor this afternoon to expand on the way the Senate changes its rules.

I suggest that Senator Frist introduce his proposal as a resolution.  If he does, we commit to moving it through the Rules Committee expeditiously and allow for a vote on the floor.  It takes 67 votes to change the rules.  If Senator Frist can't achieve 67 votes, then clearly the nuclear option is not in the best interest of the Senate or the nation.

Either of these options offers a path away from the precipice of the nuclear option.  But if neither of these options is acceptable to you, let's vote.

Reid is calling the bet. Frist probably just crapped his pants.

In fact, we know he did, because the showdown, previously scheduled definitely for this week, has been postponed, according to ABC News:

WASHINGTON May 10, 2005 — A long-threatened showdown over changing Senate rules to stop Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominations could come as early as next week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday.

Frist, in his weekly news conference with reporters, said he hopes the Senate finishes a highway bill and an emergency spending package to fund military operations overseas this week. "And then we need to turn to 100 United States senators and move to the issue surrounding judges," he said.

My ass. The operative words there are "long-threatened". Frist knows he doesn't have the votes, and Reid knows he does. Reid has bent over backwards to be reasonable, even offering to bring Thomas Griffith to an immediate floor vote, and Frist said no. Get that? Frist demurred at CONFIRMING one of these supposedly "unconfirmable" judges. Frist has nowhere to go, because his supporters are absolutists, and for them, this is a zero-sum game. So he looks like the extremist maniac, while our boy Harry looks like the crafty, wise, honest public servant that he is.

Reid v. Frist is about as lopsided as the Harlem Globetrotters v. the Washington Generals.

In fact, I propose that be Frist's new nickname: The Washington General.  Or Red Klotz.

By the way, Reid getting the important point about the nuclear option requiring a change to the rules of the Senate, as well as bluntly stating that this is all a smokescreen to get extreme judges on the SCOTUS, was brilliant.


Monday, May 09, 2005

High-Level Temp Captured in the War on Terror

You may have noticed in-between runaway bride updates that the Bush Administration was touting a "major capture" of the #3 in the al-Qaeda leadership last week. They're not talking much about it as the week begins. Probably because it was one of those wacky "Three's Company" misunderstandings:

THE capture of a supposed Al-Qaeda kingpin by Pakistani agents last week was hailed by President George W Bush as “a critical victory in the war on terror”. According to European intelligence experts, however, Abu Faraj al-Libbi was not the terrorists’ third in command, as claimed, but a middle-ranker derided by one source as “among the flotsam and jetsam” of the organisation...

Another Libyan is on the FBI list — Anas al-Liby, who is wanted over the 1998 East African embassy bombings — and some believe the Americans may have initially confused the two. When The Sunday Times contacted a senior FBI counter-terrorism official for information about the importance of the detained man, he sent material on al-Liby, the wrong man.

You know, maybe we should give George 'n' the gang some slack on this one. After all, "Libbi" and "Liby" almost sound the same, if there were any Arabic translators left in the CIA to pronounce it.

So who was the al-Libbi that we got, anyway?

No European or American intelligence expert contacted last week had heard of al-Libbi until a Pakistani intelligence report last year claimed he had taken over as head of operations after Khalid Shaikh Mohammad’s arrest. A former close associate of Bin Laden now living in London laughed: “What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying.”

Now that'll show bin Laden who's boss. Now he'll have to do the photocopying HIMSELF! He'll have to figure out the coffee machine ON HIS OWN! This is a major blow for the forces of liberty against the forces that now have to understand that it takes 2 tablespoons of the Kenyan roast blend per cup of filtered water.

Finally, here's my vote for the "Dumbest Cover-Your-Ass Comment of the Year" Award:

One American official tried to explain the absence of al-Libbi’s name on the (terrorist most) wanted list by saying: “We did not want him to know he was wanted.”

I got nothing for that one. Make your own jokes.

...UPDATE: Will Bunch has the money insight:

Of course, all the KYWs of the world, the places where Joe Average American Voter gets his news, headlined the arrest for a couple of days. Not many of them pick up reports from the Times of London, so we doubt this will be ever corrected. Sad.


Detente in the Senate?

Looks like Billy Frist got outflanked.

Harry Reid went to the Senate floor today and offered to bring the nomination of judicial nominee Thomas Griffith to a floor vote.

"Let's take a step away from the precipice," Reid said. "Let's try cooperation, rather than confrontation, which seems to be the hallmark of what we've been doing here lately."

Democrats are hoping Reid's offer will help convince a number of undecided Republicans that they can be reasonable and that the GOP should not support Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's call to ban judicial filibusters.

"We know the difference between opposing nominees and blocking nominees. We will oppose bad nominees, but we will only block unacceptable nominees," Reid said.

At the same time, there is a growing insurrection from within:

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is discussing a possible agreement to avert a showdown over President George W. Bush's judicial nominees, said Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins.

"Attempts are under way'' to try to avert a showdown, Collins said in an interview. "I have had discussions with colleagues in the Senate about the possibility of that. I haven't signed off on anything.''

Collins didn't discuss the details of the discussions. Roll Call, a publication about Congress that is distributed on Capitol Hill and electronically, reported that six Republicans offered to oppose the rule change to eliminate judicial filibusters if Democrats agreed to allow votes on four of the seven disputed judges.

Six senators is the key number there. With 6 on either side agreeing to these rules, the Republicans would not win a majority vote, and the Democrats would be unable to filibuster. It's amusing to see that the former Majority Leader is leading this charge behind the scenes:

Roll Call reported that Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, a former party leader who was succeeded by Frist in 2003, and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson were close to brokering the agreement among six Republicans and six Democrats.

"Senator Lott has not agreed to this deal reported today,'' Lott spokeswoman Susan Irby said in a statement.

"For some time now'' Lott and Nelson "have been trying to see if there is common ground that could forge a resolution,'' her statement said.

Lott almost definitely wants his job back, and embarrassing the current Majority Leader is a tactic to make that happen.

Frist comes out of this utterly defeated. He was unable to get what he wanted for his Christian Opportunist friends like Dr. Dobson and the Family Research Council. Because they're absolutists, they'll blame Frist. And he'll leave the Senate in 2006 without a prayer of getting the Republican nomination. If he can't handle something so easy as getting a majority vote when he has 55 of the 100 members of the Senate on his side, forget it.

The Democrats win a victory for the Constitution and the restoration of Constitutional principles. Their only tangible giveaway consists of a few circuit court judges. The others will have to go away, and the Supreme Court fight will continue unaltered. There is an unenforceable promise of not filibustering unless there are "extreme circumstances." That's very malleable. There are enough Americans on the Democrats' side of the equation (that is, in favor of the filibuster as a genuine part of the Constitutional process) to use this when necessary.

We win, a few judges go through, Bush loses, Frist loses big. I'll take that.


CAFTA will enshrine anti-worker provisions

Thanks to everyone who read my diary about unions yesterday. I noticed in the comments that a number of people talked about the need for cross-border union solidarity, and for recognized global labor standards.

These standards already exist, actually, under an aegis called the ILO (International Labor Organization). They include:

·      freedom of association and collective bargaining,
·      elimination of forced labor,
·      effective abolition of child labor, and
·      elimination of discrimination.

And if DR-CAFTA (the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement) is passed, none of these will ever reach Central America.

Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI), after much difficulty, finally received a suppressed report from the US Labor Department that shows how labor laws in Central America are openly hostile to workers:

The Labor Department commissioned ILRF to evaluate labor laws as part of negotiations for CAFTA. The trade agreement, if approved by Congress in an up-or-down vote, would provide more money for enforcement, but would not require any changes in current labor laws.

The ILRF disagreed with the U.S. Trade Representative’s assessment that labor standards in CAFTA nations are up to international standards, citing examples of workplace discrimination and systematically quashed worker organization.
Levin asked for the study, but said he was rebuffed by the Labor Department for eleven months (emphasis mine), until he threatened congressional action to force the documents into the public domain.

“Essentially, what CAFTA says to Central American countries is, ‘Your laws fall so short of international standards – just enforce your own laws,’” Levin said. “That means, of course, the laws can become even worse.”

Basically, CAFTA's labor provisions really only target enforcement of existing labor laws in its respective countries. If the laws in those countries are below international standards, nothing can be done. Therefore, a government can maintain their shoddy labor laws, and even WEAKEN them to get an unfair trade advantage, without endangering the advantages of market access in the CAFTA agreement. And even the so-called "enforcement" is toothless and does nothing to protect workers. In fact, according to this AFL-CIO report:

As long as the violating country continues to pay itself a fine, even if the fine does nothing to remedy workers’ rights abuses, its trading partners are barred from withdrawing trade benefits under CAFTA.

And those fines are miniscule enough to be outweighed by the benefits for management and government.

This report from Human Rights Watch has more.

In response to analyses such as the above, supporters of D.R.-CAFTA have asserted that labor laws in Central America and the Dominican Republic already meet international standards.  As a result, they argue, the failure of D.R.-CAFTA to require the laws to comply with international norms is inconsequential.  To substantiate their claims, they frequently and incorrectly cite ILO studies of the region’s labor laws completed in 2003 and 2004...

Central American and Dominican labor laws, however, do not meet international standards.  In fact, the 2003 and 2004 ILO studies also find no fewer than twenty-seven areas in which the laws fall short.  In addition, in arriving at the twenty-seven areas, the ILO studies excluded from their analysis Salvadoran laws governing freedom of association and collective bargaining, as El Salvador has not ratified the two principle ILO conventions governing these rights:  ILO Convention 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (ILO Convention 87) and ILO Convention 98 concerning the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (ILO Convention 98).

It is crucially important for workers at home and abroad that we stop CAFTA in its tracks. Trying to get corporations to adhere to global labor and environmental standards is like playing a game of Wack-A-Mole; as soon as you conform to the laws in one place, the corporation packs up and moves to another. Only by broadening support in ever greater numbers can we ensure that labor rights have any meaning beyond a dreamworld scenario.

This Thursday, President Bush is scheduled to meet with the presidents from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to discuss DR-CAFTA. While the above link from Bloomberg notes that the measure has little traction currently in Congress, there will be enormous pressure to get this passed. There will undoubtedly be a vote, at the very least in the Senate Finance Committee, before the July 4 recess. The stop CAFTA campaign is a good resource for those interested in fighting this issue.


Sunday, May 08, 2005

It's the Unions, Stupid

I've given this a lot of thought, and I've come to the conclusion that the return of the Democratic Party to prominence and the rise of the labor movement from the ashes of deregulation and union-bashing will be inextricably linked. I made this realization when I signed my first union card.

People don't realize that the reason the Hollywood "Left" has such a Democratic leaning is because we have such strong labor unions. I work here, in television, on a series of nonfiction shows. I guess the genre could charitably be called "reality," though at a very low level (basically if there's a channel on the highest part of the digital cable dial, the chances are good that I've worked for it).

Yes, a lot of reality television is slipshod, exploitative and dumbed-down. But people don't understand that the rank-and-file who work in it are often being as exploited as the contestants. Reality is big because of its low costs, mainly because, unlike scripted shows, it is not unionized. This has become a bargaining chip for the networks in their dealings with the Writer's Guild, Director's Guild, and others: take our crappy contract, or we'll just make more reality shows.

Reality show workers make less than their counterparts in scripted TV. They work largely on weekly salaries, usually for no overtime, yet during stressful parts of production 16-hour days and weekend work are all too typical. Their credits are so amorphous that they bear no relation to the actual job worked. If a reality show is sold to another network for use in reruns, none of the workers see any residual fees. They have no employer-paid health care or pensions, and as freelancers on short-term assignments, they have little or no job security. 1 out of every 3 TV and film industry professionals are out of work on any given day in Hollywood (just go to a coffee shop at 2:30 on a Wednesday for proof).

This probably sounds whiny to many, and actually, it should. Most of these people are well-paid for the work that they do. Of course, that's mainly because of the power of collective bargaining. The sundry labor unions have forced Hollywood to share its profits with its employees, with very few exceptions. But while reality television workers do benefit from that to a degree, they are the crack in the dike that allows the networks to cash in.

Well, the Writer's Guild is doing something about it. I and about 600 reality writers and editors attended a presentation yesterday with the purpose of organizing across the board in affiliation with the Writer's Guild of America. Fiction writers and producers are aligning themselves with this effort because they know that unity breeds management concessions. At the end of the meeting I gave a written commitment allowing the WGA to negotiate on my behalf.

A few decades ago 1 in 3 households had a union member. Today it's 1 in 10, and that's reflected in the current Congressional breakdown, in my opinion. It's a lot easier to make the case that the Republican middle class votes against their economic interests when, in their daily lives, they are organized and can see how their economic interests are increased by that power. Whether in reality television or at Wal-Mart, no matter if the job pays a lot or a little, we should be supporting the labor movement at every opportunity. Labor gives so much material support during election seasons, in volunteers and resources. They allow their workers to viscerally understand core economic issues, and apply them to the political arena.

Republicans know this and have gutted the labor movement over the last 50 years. Democrats, particularly the ones in the pocket of corporate interests, have been all too willing to help them. Reclaiming the labor mantle (and applying it globally, in solidarity with the working poor not only in America but in the other countries that affect our job security and economy) is crucial to reclaiming power in Washington.