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

Friday, September 30, 2005

Friday night Boston Terrier blogging

She had knee surgery about a month ago. Allow me to rant for a moment about the atrocity that is Veterinary Pet Insurance.

So she had this thing called a luxating patella, where the knee goes out of its socket intermittently. I shop around, and the surgery she'd need costs about three grand (welcome to Southern California, where everything costs twice as much!). I've had this pet insurance for about 2 years now, never used it. Finally, I figured I'd get something out of this thing for which I pay a little over $30/month.

No siree. It's "a congenital or hereditary condition," so they don't cover it. Now, I have bad eyesight. My father has bad eyesight. Would my insurance provider turn me down for glasses because my bad eyesight is hereditary?

What a bunch of B.S. The field of pet insurance is so new that they can get away with murder. I advise everyone against VPI until they get their act together.

p.s. The dog's doing fine, she's walking again (albeit tentaively).


Judy's Out Of Jail

...and has testified in the Plame case. It's remarkable that anybody in the press can continue to carry water for this lady, who said time and again she wouldn't testify. The supposed change here was that she got an "un-coerced" waiver to speak from her source, widely thought to be Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby:

At the behest of Fitzgerald, Libby and others in the administration had earlier provided a general written waiver releasing journalists from their pledge of confidentiality and allowing them to discuss their conversations. Many journalists in the case, including Miller, regarded those blanket waivers as overly impersonal and meaningless.

Libby has shown a willingness in the past to offer more personal assurances when asked, freeing journalists to talk. Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who barely avoided jail at the same time Miller was sentenced last summer, testified about Libby after approaching the White House aide for a waiver.

Sources close to the case said that Libby talked directly with Miller about 10 days ago, releasing her from any pledge of confidentiality.

But Libby has repeatedly said that this year-old waiver was coming directly from him and not at all coerced by the prosecutor:

But Joseph Tate, an attorney for Libby, said yesterday that he told Miller attorney Floyd Abrams a year ago that Libby's waiver was voluntary and that Miller was free to testify. He said last night that he was contacted by Bennett several weeks ago, and was surprised to learn that Miller had not accepted that representation as authorization to speak with prosecutors.

"We told her lawyers it was not coerced," Tate said. "We are surprised to learn we had anything to do with her incarceration."

Could Libby be lying? Sure. But it's clear to me that the negotiations over Miller's testimony had nothing to do with making sure Libby was OK with being outed as a source; it was because Miller was frightened that the prosecutor would push her futher on things outside the Plame case (like her Iraq stories leading up to the war), and being under oath she would have no chance to wiggle her way out of anything.

What this all really means is that the outcome is very near. Fitzgerald has reportedly maintained that Miller was the last piece of the puzzle in his investigation. We could expect indictments, or the lack thereof, in the next week. And if there are indictments, in the wake of the DeLay indictment (I wonder if Rove et al. would call the Republican US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald a "rogue partisan"?), then we're seeing the whole GOP house of cards folding before our eyes. It's hard to write off investigations, indictments, and arrests of the Vice President's Chief of Staff, the main political operative in the White House, the old House Majority Leader, the NEW House Majority Leader, the Senate Majority Leader, the head of the White House procurement office, a top Pentagon official, a Congressman, and the biggest lobbyist in DC as "coincidental." As Jonathan Chait writes in today's LA Times,

It's hard to imagine how DeLay could function without at least coming very close to breaking the law. His indictment is an indictment of the whole way the Republican Party operates. The central theme of DeLay's tenure has been to break down barriers to greater corporate influence in American politics.

Some of these barriers are mere social norms. It once was considered completely beyond the pale to, say, threaten political retribution against corporations that give donations and lobbying jobs to the other party. DeLay and his "K Street Project" made this a regular practice.

Some of these barriers are formal rules that lack the force of law. The House of Representatives forbids its members from accepting trips from lobbyists. DeLay regularly accepted such trips, financed through transparent front groups.

And some of these barriers are actual laws. Texas law forbids the use of corporate money in elections. DeLay allegedly masterminded a scheme whereby corporations would donate money earmarked for Texas races to the Republican National Committee, which would then pour the money into the Texas races.

The central vision of DeLayism is of a political system whereby business gains almost total control over the Republican agenda, and in return the GOP gains unlimited financial influence over the electoral process.

Since many of the formal and informal rules of American politics are designed to prevent this sort of corrupt plutocracy from coming to fruition, scandal follows DeLayism like night follows day.

They say power corrupts. Power's pursuit is what really corrupts, that ceaseless power grab that will stop at nothing. All
of these instances are evidence of that.

Incidentally, the Penatgon case (of Larry Franklin, who copped a guilty plea in the case of giving classified secrets about US policy in the Middle East to members of AIPAC and the Israeli embassy) is an interesting parallel to the Plame case. While Franklin didn't identify a domestic spy, he did reveal undercover secrets, and as such was charged with violations of the Espionage Act. Everyone had been talking about how hard it would be to bust Rove with the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which sets a very high burden of proof. But the Espionage Act does not require that, and it clearly is being used in our nation's courts. Just another reason for the White House to squirm.


Suicide Pact

It almost seems like the loudest of the loudmouths on the right, whether in the political arena or talk radio, are in a race to the bottom to shed whatever's left of their credibility. I'm not sure how the author of "The Book of Virtue," who would rent out private rooms in Vegas to play SLOT MACHINES, and lost millions doing so, had any credibility to begin with. But now even the President is distancing himself from this latest bit of wingnuttery:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House on Friday criticized former Education Secretary William Bennett for remarks linking the crime rate and the abortion of black babies.

"The president believes the comments were not appropriate," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Bennett, on his radio show, "Morning in America," was answering a caller's question when he took issue with the hypothesis put forth in a recent book that one reason crime is down is that abortion is up.

"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," said Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues."

He went on to call that "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

Bennett's trying to spin this that he was misquoted, but the fact that he regards as a simple truth that aborting black babies would lower the crime rate plays into what I was talking about yesterday. The problem with race in this country has never left the main stage; it was just poorly hidden behind the scenery.

What's almost as crazy is the caller Bennett was repsonding to. He reiterated a piece of far-right insanity that I've previously talked about here, that abortion is to blame for the shortfall in Social Security, because it reduces the work force (and therefore the tax base). I'm sure abortion has also contributed to the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, since less carbon dioxide producers are subsequently located in the Western Hemisphere. The notion actually is that babies are nothing more than worker bees, whose sweat equity is the key to making us all fat and happy in our retirement. Can anyone say "Soylent Green"? Maybe abortion is to blame for world famines!

Conservative rhetoric appears to be reaching its reductio ad absurdum, as America is starting to see the man behind the curtain.


Nice Goin'

This morning, I received an email stating that Liberal Blogs for Hurricane Relief raised a little over $180,000 for the American Red Cross. I'm happy to have been a part of it.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

My Prop. 75 focus group

(This happened about a week ago, but I thought I'd post it here, as I am looking to make the Special Election my focus for the next month.)

Last night I got paid $85 to watch a bunch of ads about Prop. 75, the so-called "Paycheck Protection" act that would require public employees unions to get written permission from their members before using their union dues for political purposes.  Initially I thought this focus group was sponsored by Schwarzenegger and the Repubs (I lied about not having a family member in a union (Mom's a teacher) and soft-pedaled my liberal status quite a bit in the pre-screening in order to infiltrate), but it became clear that it was sponsored by the unions.

And if this is the best they can do, we're in trouble.

We watched about 6 or 7 ads, 2 of them for "Yes on 75" and the rest for "No."  Everyone in the room was a registered Democrat, and all of them opposed the measure.  But the "No on 75" ads were mealy-mouthed and vague, and in the view of most of us, ineffective.

The "Yes" ads were far more direct, regardless of what you think about the measure.  It states that union members deserve "Freedom of Choice" to determine where their money goes.  Now, they wrap themselves in the flag (vote Yes or the terrorists will have already won), and they do an expert job of bamboozling (making a false assumption that all union money from members goes to political advocacy, which is ludicrous), but the casual observer might see them and think they make sense.

The "No" ads never actually say what the measure is.  They use ominous buzzwords like "hidden agenda," and do nothing but try to link Arnold's past actions against public employee unions to this initiative.  They never even use the word "union" in any of the spots, clearly afraid of the impression they think unions have (which completely buys into GOP spin that unions are evil and greedy).  The spots show tesimonials from teachers, firefighters, and nurses.  Yes, this has been successful to bash Arnold's agenda in the past, but the messaging on those were much better.  These are pretty empty, consisting of nothing more than "Vote NO on this, because I'm a teacher and a good person."

These were all clearly shot before Arnold endorsed Prop. 75, so even the connection to him in the ads is indirect (always saying "Arnold's friends").  This has to change right away.  Here are my other suggestions:

The ads have to say WHY we should vote no on 75.  They have to explain that the entire point of collective bargaining is that a collective voice has more power than an individual's.  This is UNION-BUSTING, and the ads should not be afraid to come out and say that.

There's a nugget in one of the ads where a firefighter says "This says up one set of rules for firefighters and public employees, and another set for big corporations."  But he doesn't explain why.  That should be an entire ad.  "Flex Magazine didn't ask permission from all their employees and shareholders when they gave millions to Gov. Schwarzenegger to  veto anti-steroid legislation.  Tell the Governor to stop trying to unlevel the playing field."  Democrats never go for the jugular on this.  We can easily make "corporation" as dirty a word as we perceive "union" is. In fact, I think that feeling is already out there.

If you can't even mention the word "union" in pro-union spots, in my view you've already lost.  There's an opportunity to educate the public as to why unions are so vitally important, and why big business and Republican political interests want to get rid of them.  "Unions helped create the 8-hour workday, helped ban child labor, helped provide living wages and health insurance to millions of Californians for 80 years.  Now the governor wants to wipe them out.  Unions pool money from their members to advocate for them.  That's how they leverage their power.  The governor wants to weaken them, to sow discord, to make them fight amongst themselves so they can't fight his agenda."

CA voters already voted down the exact same initiative in 1998.  Recently, in deciding to veto gay marriage legislation, Arnold cited Prop. 22 from 2000, saying "the people have spoken on this issue."  People have spoken on Paycheck Protection too.

I understand why the "No on 75" people are messaging the way they are.  They're trying to link Arnold's past actions to this one.  The guy's at 32% approval, so this could work (one guy at the focus group, who didn't know a thing about Prop. 75 going in, explained his no vote simply by saying "I don't trust him).  And teacher, nurse, and first responder testimonials have worked very well in the past.  But to not explain the initiative at all, to never dare mention the word "union," is IMO a dangerous way to try to win, especially since Yes is ahead in the polls.  You have to be more straightforward, you have to explain what this measure really does, you have to defend and celebrate the role of unions in American life.

California has always been an initiative laboratory.  This is coming to your state, whether it wins or not.  But it's far more likely that you'll see it if it wins, and it's crucial that we get the messaging down here before it gets exported to other states.


Extreme Makeover

The right blogosphere has been fully erect the past couple of days because they've been allowed to engage in their favorite sport: bashing the "MSM". But this is such a 360 that it's laughable.

See, in the early days of the mess of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, folks like Michelle "In Praise of Internment" Malkin, Peggy Noonan and plenty of others breathlessly reported horror stories from the streets, tales of snipers, mass looting, murders and rapes. It appears that these were all overhyped bullshit. Conditions in the Superdome and the Convention Center were horrible from a humanitarian perspective (no food, no water, stifling heat), but there don't appear to have been any major gangs of armed thugs. There weren't mass killings:

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice. State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been killed inside.

At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies were recovered, despites reports of corpses piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been slain, said health and law enforcement officials.


"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."

We know, then, that the press did rely on eyewitnesses, who were playing a giant game of telephone, where rumor and innuendo build up and build up until the situation sounds far more chaotic that it actually was. I'm not going to defend them for their lack of skepticism, though in a chaotic situation eyewitnesses probably seemed like as good a source as any.

But there's a larger issue at play here, which is why posts across the left and the right have actually agreed on this issue, including the indispensable Digby, who was writing about how these reports seemed false very early on, and the implications.

It was one of the major excuses given for the slow rescue effort.  "We're trying to evacuate the people, but they're firing shots at us."  No one bothered to wonder that if these reports were so obviously false, the groups on the ground that were shot at wouldn't have turned tail and ran.  This turns into a vicious cycle.  There's a slow response, which is blamed on violence, which leads to a slower response, for which the people get more desperate and there actually might BE a little violence, which can then be used as evidence of the violence that causes the slow repsonse.

The point is that most everyone in the country found the reports of extreme violence PLAUSIBLE.  Somewhere in our collective lizard brains we're scared to death of a mass of angry black people, and we're therefore willing to wholeheartedly believe (and on the progressive side, possibly even make excuses for) the worst kind of human behavior.  I believe they call it the soft bigotry of low expectations.  Race has been considered as a factor in the repsonse, but it's never brought up in this fashion.  It's not "If this was Connecticut, the feds would've been there faster," it's "If this was Connecticut, nobody would have believed that kids were being raped and snipers were all over the place."  But that comes from the same place.  

Now, here's the crucially important point. In my view, the right wingers were the FIRST to report on stories of looting, of rapes, of murders, of snipers.  Remember Steve Sailer from VDARE's comment?

What you won’t hear, except from me, is that "Let the good times roll" is an especially risky message for African-Americans. The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.

Here's the turn that the Right is making, however. They're using the "MSM" failure to report adequately on the violence in New Orleans as proof that NOTHING WENT WRONG THERE. Apparently, CNN made up the whole thing. There was no flood, no evacuees waiting desperately for help, no five days' worth of people pleading for medical attention. This is where the whitewash begins. Just because this belief that blacks were out of control and raging on the streets has been exposed, that doesn't mean that everything was hunky-dory down there. In fact, because you pushed the "Lord of the Flies" angle so hard (just google it and you'll see what I mean), it actually CONTRIBUTED to the slow and cautious response, making things even MORE fucked up.

We still have a major problem with race in this country, and that's what this revelation about Katrina's aftermath revealed. It in no way exonerates anyone at any level of government. Something really shameful still went down there. In fact, in the wake of these reports we should be doubly ashamed.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Word (Or Two) On Corruption

CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) has put out a report called "Beyond DeLay" which lists 13 members of Congress with serious ethics issues, people who are either under investigation or under suspicion. Two of them are Democrats and they should be booted right out of Congress if the allegations are true. I have no sympathy for corruption, no matter what side of the aisle it's situated. To me there is no difference between a Congressman selling his house at a ridiculous profit as an in-kind campaign contribution from a defense contractor, and a Congressman who commandeers a rescue boat and goes into his flooded New Orleans-area house to remove potentially damaging documents.

I will say this, however, and this may be a hyperbolic statement, but I do think that corruption in Washington has a salutary effect on the Republican agenda. Republicans argue for limited government. Every allegation of bloated bureaucracy, graft in the Beltway, and federal mismanagement only serves to further that narrative. I'm not saying this is intentional, necessarily, but clearly the reaction to bad government by many is that good government is impossible, and we must continue to shrink it. That's absurd, IMO, and an easy way to explain away the sins of the party that currently controls those levers of government.

DeLay just let loose on the "rogue district attorney" Ronnie Earle, calling this a partisan attack. I knew human cloning was dangerous, but I didn't realize they cloned Ronnie Earle as an entire grand jury. I don't think the attempt to play politics with this is going to work. If a guy used the RNC as a slush fund to funnel money to candidates for the state legislature, and they have proof, the criminal justice system will work itself out.

It is hard for me to see the House Republicans jettisoning this guy. Tom DeLay has given more money to his colleagues than anyone, perhaps in the history of the Congress. He's not going to go without a fight, and the idea that he beats this rap (which is entirely possible) must have the rank and file GOP Congressmen shaking in their boots. There would be retribution like you wouldn't believe. They're not even going to hire a new majority leader on anything but an interim basis, even though this process is likely to take a year or more.

At a time when the GOP is fracturing on issues of fiscal responsibility, immigration, and how to rebuild the Gulf Coast, the last thing they need is to have "The Hammer," the glue that holds this fractious group together, to lose his leadership role. He'll probably still keep power behind the scenes, but it'll be even harder for him to hold off the imminent GOP civil war.


My Good Luck

Wow, I come back to the blogosphere for five minutes, and whaddya know?

A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on one count of criminal conspiracy, jeopardizing the Sugar Land Republican's leadership role as the second most powerful Texan in Washington, D.C.

The charge, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years incarceration, stems from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections.

I believe that, under House Republican rules, he has to give up his leadership position now. They tried to rewrite that law earlier this year, but after public outcry they rescinded it. In fact, MSNBC is reporting that David Dreier is replacing him.

This is a sea change. I'm sure the Bug Man will still be in a de facto position to strongarm votes, but this is a major blow to the GOP. Between DeLay, the Plame case, and this latest deal with Bill "Insider Trading" Frist, every branch of the GOP leadership in Washington, from the House to the Senate to the White House, is either under indictment or investigation.



I had "other priorities" for a couple weeks. OK, I performed Dick Cheney's surgery. (By the way, he's using a cane now. The transformation to Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life is almost complete.)

I guess I just didn't feel this was worth doing unless I was willing to give the time. Otherwise, there are plenty of other blogs out there that do a great job, and I end up not so much a blogger as a pointer.

But a few things have roused me to contribute to the discourse, which I'll do in the coming days.

There's no one here, I have no idea why I'm blogging a disclaimer.

I'm talking to myself.