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

Saturday, April 15, 2006

To be against censorship, you must be against ALL censorship

Two stories in my local paper today caught my eye. One echoes the drumbeat we've heard for a few days throughout the right side of the blogosphere about the censoring of South Park. I too am pretty ashamed at Comedy Central for refusing to air a fairly innocuous scene of the prophet Mohammed in an episode on Wednesday, especially since they've shown Mohammed in an episode five years prior. I'm against censorship in all its forms: as someone in media who's had to re-colorize the blood in video games green, who's had to cover up the word "suck" with a bleep, it angers me to see this abrogation of free speech, especially when its self-censorship practiced by nervous media conglomerates eager to deaden the edginess of their product to reach the broadest possible audience. (The worst, incidentally, is the local news, when somebody gives the finger to the camera, BLURS OUT THE FINGER, as if there's some other object in the middle of someone's hand. "Is that a tennis racket? A piece of earthenware?")

However, it's a logical impossibility to selectively decry censorship. So I wonder what the same figures on the right who are so frothy with rage about the Mohammed Cartoon Wars think about the other story I read today:

In a move that seems certain to force a showdown over what constitutes indecency on the airwaves, four TV broadcast networks and their affiliates announced Friday that they had united to challenge a Federal Communications Commission ruling that deemed language used in several of their shows indecent.

They are seeking to overturn a March 15 ruling that found some broadcasts of the CBS News program "The Early Show," "Billboard Music Awards" on Fox and ABC's drama "NYPD Blue" to be indecent because they contained variations on two obscenities: what people on both sides of the issue refer to as the "F-word" and the "S-word."

Of the offending incidents, which all aired between 2002 and 2004, those on CBS and Fox involved words that the networks said were blurted out spontaneously. Those on ABC were scripted.

You're either for censorship or against it. If you think the world has every right to see the prophet Mohammed shown, whether in an innocuous or a blasphemous way, then you can't at the same time be in agreement with the FCC when they fine CBS because Bono called his Grammy Award victory "fucking brilliant." You just can't.

But of course, take a wild guess where Brent Bozell and his minions at the Parents Television Council stand on this lawsuit:

But L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, which spearheaded an Internet campaign to petition the FCC about several programs, said such arguments — and the appeals filed this week — only prove that the heads of networks and TV stations "are even slimier than I thought."

"The broadcast networks are spitting in the faces of millions of Americans by saying they should be allowed to air the F-word and S-word on television," Bozell said. "The networks are showing the degree to which they are determined to go to pollute our airwaves."

Brent Bozell and Michelle Malkin, head mullah in the war against cartoon censorship, both write columns for the website Townhall. They frequently end up on the same side in most debates. Here's an article by Malkin from 2000 in which she vigorously defended Bozell and the PTC's right to call for the censhorship of WWF Smackdown:

Just what did Bozell's organization do to set the unitard-clad artisans of WWF off? The parents dared to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to protest the the WWF's foul-mouthed programming and ask advertisers to boycott the UPN network's family-hour airing of "Smackdown!" According to the parents' group, they persuaded advertisers to spurn the WWF not through "threats," but by disseminating transcripts and videotapes of the wrestling conglomerate's family-hour programming.

See for yourself the half-million other examples of Malkin and Bozell on the same side. Yet censorship by Comedy Central is worthy of scorn and rage, while censorship on practically all other counts is "protecting family values."

Excuse my language, which I couldn't say on network television in the family hour, but, bullshit.

Network media to this day has received no clear guidelines on language whatsoever; fines are leveled on a catch-as-catch-can basis. We know that approximately 99.8% of all the indecency complaints filed in 2003 were generated by Bozell's PTC. Nobody cares about this issue. And yet the PTC has successfully lobbied the FCC to take a hard and haphazard line on indecency, forcing media companies to risk losing their licenses over an errant word. You cannot defend Trey Parker and Matt Stone's right to show Mohammed without also defending their right to have Kyle say "fuck."

Censorship is an important issue to me, and this country has run rampant with it since the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of 2004. I refuse to let those on the right hijack this issue and narrowly define it to be about cartoon drawings of a religious figure. To be against censorship, you must be against ALL censorship. Let's not let them get away with this.


Friday, April 14, 2006

The Homer Simpson Defense

There's a sequence in "The Simpsons" that always cracks me up. Homer gets into an accident with both of the family's cars (don't ask), and an insurance agent comes out to give him his claim money.

Agent: Now, before I give you the check, one more question. This place "Moe's" you left just before the accident. This is a business of some kind?

Brain: Don't tell him you were at a bar! Gasp! But what else is open at night?

Homer: It's a pornography store. I was buying pornography.

Brain: Heh heh heh. I would'a never thought of that.

When I see the conundrums into which the Bush Administration always seems to get themselves, I can't help thinking of that quote. It happens over and over again: a revelation appears in the media, for which there can only be two explanations - Team Bush is either lying or incompetent. When pressed, they always go for incompetent.

-"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."

-"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

-"I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing,"

-and, in the most recent example, "You know, I saw some reporting talking about how this latest revelation — which is not something that is new; this is all old information that’s being rehashed — was an embarrassment for the White House. No, it’s an embarrassment for the media that is out there reporting this."

That last one is a new spin. When confronted with the fact that internal reports had concluded that the "mobile bioweapons labs" confiscated in early 2003 had nothing to do with the making of biological weapons, and questioning how the President could say "We found the weapons of mass destruction" two days later, and asked if the President was lying or incompetent (having not gotten the memo in time), McClellan says, "Not only were we incompetent, but you should be ashamed of yourself for telling everyone that we're incompetent!"

They're perpetually Homer Simpson with the insurance agent. Do I admit I was at the bar, and by default risk revealing that I was lying about being sober at the time of the accident, or do I simply claim that I'm an incompetent boob who was buying pornography late at night, in front of my wife and kids?

The mantra seems to be that the Bushites can never admit to a lie, because it would damage their reputation. And yet, this constant avowal of incompetence has a cumulative effect. Not only is Bush polling at historic (for him) lows on honesty and trustworthiness anyway, I have to assume that the overall approval rating slide has to be affected by these guys coming out day after day and saying "Don't listen to the media, we're not liars, we're incompetent!" The point is that people have gotten the incompetent message, both empirically and by listening to the Press Secretary announce it proudly, and they're still skeptical on the trustworthiness scale. It's as if they're thinking, "Can they possibly be THAT incompetent? They have to be lyig a little bit, right?"

Another instructive exchange between Homer Simpson and his brain is this one:

Administrator: And what are your reasons for wanting a Little Brother?

Brain: Don't say revenge! Don't say revenge!

Homer: Uh, revenge?

Brain: That's it, I'm gettin' outta here. [footsteps, and a door slam]

I'd say the collective Bush brain, if not already out the door, is putting on its coat.


Quick Round-Up

-We're up to six generals calling for the head of Don Rumsfeld. Larry Johnson says this is the end of the road for Rummy, who will be asking rhetorical questions elsewhere. You know it's getting very near the end when Bush gives you a vote of confidence. Digby puts it in perspective:

It's obvious to me that this call for Rumsfeld's resignation by six generals is about stopping this operation in Iran first and foremost. It is not a coincidence that the first salvo came from Sy Hersh last Sunday.

He recalls that Sy Hersh called the Iran battle over a year ago. (But according to everyone on the right, he always gets it wrong! Who to believe?) He also described the importance of Rumsfeld in the second term, as he would be given basically all of the intelligence controls and given the authority to run whatever covert ops were at his whim. Then we get the report I mentioned about our using a terrorist group in operations inside Iran. It all fits together. This transcript from CNN today suggests very strongly that there's already a secret war in Iran.

- More bad news for Rummy, as a separate report details his personal involvement in authorizing the harsh interrogation tactics that led to Abu Ghraib, particularly one Al Qaeda detainee known as "the 20th hijacker." I'm getting images of Christopher Guest's character in "The Princess Bride."

-Here's some major bullshit. The Republicans are trying to claim, and have made Spanish-language radio ads to this effect, that the Democrats are to blame for the term "felony" appearing in the House bill. Here's what actually happened. Republican Sensenbrenner wrote the bill with clear language making illegal immigrants subject to felony charges. Once the fallout from Latino and immigrant rights groups started, they offered language changing it to a misdemeanor. Democrats in the House didn't support criminal penalties for immigrants or those who help them, so they voted it down. The bill then passed on a party-line vote with the "felony" language still in there. The GOP made their bed on immigration, and now they're trying to sneak their way out of it. Don't let them. This is classic GOP bamboozlement meant to muddy the waters. It's "Abramoff gave to both sides" all over again. Follow the action steps in the above link.


The Secret Room

A room at AT&T specifically designed for the NSA?

Last week, Wired broke the news of an affidavit filed by Mark Klein, a former AT&T employee. Klein describes a shady scenario in which the NSA came in to oversee a special hire.

“I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room,” Klein wrote. “The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room.”

He later observed that fiber optic cables wired to the “secret room” were piped into AT&T’s circuits.

While the president may or may not have the constitutional authority to demand domestic wiretaps, the involvement of a public corporation willingly cooperating without a warrant would seem to be a violation.

Of course, I personally think that domestic wiretaps completely violate the Constitution and federal statute. But this brings in a whole new element. I mean, this is downright scary. Big Brother come to life:

Even F. James Sensenbrenner is accusing the White House of stonewalling on the NSA program. If this is all true, I understand why they're stonewalling.


We've Got To Help The Terrorists

Well, this should put the final nail in that "we're spreading freedom and democracy" coffin:

The Pentagon is bypassing official US intelligence channels and turning to a dangerous and unruly cast of characters in order to create strife in Iran in preparation for any possible attack, former and current intelligence officials say.

One of the operational assets being used by the Defense Department is a right-wing terrorist organization known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), which is being “run” in two southern regional areas of Iran. They are Baluchistan, a Sunni stronghold, and Khuzestan, a Shia region where a series of recent attacks has left many dead and hundreds injured in the last three months.

“The MEK is run by a brother and sister who were given bases in northern Baghdad by Saddam,” the intelligence official told RAW STORY. “The US army secured a key MEK facility 60 miles northwest of Baghdad shortly after the 2003 invasion, but they did not secure the MEK and let them basically be because [then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz was thinking ahead to Iran.”

What a charmer that Wolfowitz is.

From what I've read the MEK is something of a cult, completely unstable and unloved within Iran, considering they're, you know, a terrorist group. It's like sending in ETA to liberate Spain.

“These guys are nuts,” this intelligence source said. “Cambone and those guys made MEK members swear an oath to Democracy and resign from the MEK and then our guys incorporated them into their unit and trained them.”

Stephen Cambone is the Undersecretary of Defense Intelligence. His office did not return calls for comment.

According to all three intelligence sources, military and intelligence officials alike were alarmed that instead of securing a known terrorist organization, which has been responsible for acts of terror against Iranian targets and individuals all over the world – including US civilian and military casualties – Rumsfeld under instructions from Cheney, began using the group on special ops missions into Iran to pave the way for a potential Iran strike.

“They are doing whatever they want, no oversight at all,” one intelligence source said.

This is a group Saddam used to murder and torture Shiites. I'm guessing they don't want it to get out around Baghdad that the group they're using in Iran used to routinely kill Iraqis. This has all the earmarks of an undeclared guerrilla war designed to brak away the oil-rich regions in Iran through a Sunni uprising. It's a familiar story, one that CIA and covert ops have been playing since the 1950s. All the while, we hear talk of diplomacy and downplaying the possibility of military action to the stateside audience.

We're now in league, literally, with terrorists. This is the legacy we all share.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

16 Days? Come on, guys...

At least make it sound a little plausible:

Remember when the Brits declared Saddam could launch a WMD attack in 45 minutes? Now the State Department is circulating the truthy claim that Iran could produce the enriched uranium it needs for a bomb in just over two weeks.

Sounds plenty scary. Just not true.

I may have even covered this below somewhere, but demystifying this bullshit is extremely important. As noted here, it's ten years at a minimum. Furthermore, I think we should all expect Iran to exaggerate their capability, since they've seen how the world works, and the closer you are to having the bomb, the safer you are.

But two weeks? Get real. At least say six months, give me something to debate...


Bugman Budget Man

Last night we learned that Tom DeLay might be one of the candidates to replace Josh Bolten as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Today, the hammer gets an endorsement, from The Blog of The Year:

No one knows more about the budget. And I'd like to see the administration show some support for DeLay.

DeLay is the guy who said this last September:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."

No more fat left to cut. Here's a fun fact: (via mcjoan:

In its monthly accounting of the government's books, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday that federal spending totaled $250 billion last month, up 13.7 percent from March 2005.

Government receipts also were up, rising 10.6 percent from a year ago, to $164.6 billion. That left a deficit for the month of $85.5 billion, a record imbalance for March.

Not to mention that the suggestion here is that a guy indicted for money laundering should be in charge of the federal budget. Well, at least it would eliminate the middle man!



I know that we have a grave and gathering threat now that Iran can make glowing Mickey Mouse watches, but I don't know why conservatives are so willing to take Iran on their word ON THIS POINT despite calling them liars on EVERY OTHER ONE. Some reporters are actually reporting this story, while their counterparts on the editorial page are ignoring the facts and parroting fearmongering spin.

And way outside the bubble, The Asia Times reported a few weeks ago what the real bounty in Iran might be to the war planners agitating for attack:

In the overdrive run-up to the attack on Iraq in 2003, the ultimate neo-conservative mantra was "Real men go to Khuzestan." Indeed, some of of these "real men" may already have been there. The Iranian government is convinced US, British and/or Israeli special ops have been conducted on Iran's western and southeastern borders, at least since early 2005.

Significantly, the new US budget calls for additional funds to special operations and psy-ops (psychological operations) in Iran, in addition to the US$75 million the administration of President George W Bush wants to spend to advance "regime change". For their part, the US marines have commissioned Hicks and Associates, a subsidiary of Science Applications International Corp, one of the biggest US defense contractors and heavily involved in the Iraq invasion, to carry out in-depth research into Iranian ethnic groups.

The ultimate prize is Khuzestan province, where 90% of Iran's oil is located and which provides the country with 80% of its funds from oil production. In January, Tehran announced it had evidence of British special ops and bombings in Khuzestan, starting last year. Two Iranian Arabs were hanged in public for bombing a bank in the provincial capital Ahvaz in January. Three others were executed in a local prison.

So we're either already at war or laying the groundwork for it in Khuzestan, an oil-rich province which is the planned site of Iran's second nuclear reactor. I don't put anything past the neocons who believe that if we're not projecting American power somewhere in the world, we're not doing our job. However, with the idea that "we'll be greeted as liberators" in Iraq shown to be ridiculous, I can almost not believe that they'd be willing to make the same guess about Khuzestan. The story goes that the Arabs in Khuzestan will welcome the opportunity to be folded into Iraq, will separate from Iran and drain them of their oil resources, and that all of this will happen without a fight. Here's what the author suggests is the reality of the situation:

The crucial fact remains that any US interventionist dream of the "real men go to Khuzestan" kind is doomed. It will generate even more passionate Iranian nationalism, not to mention a nationwide and potentially bloody backlash against Arab Iranians, who will then be inevitably regarded as traitors in collusion with the Anglo-Americans.

But yes, this could shockingly be the plan, as this Washington Times article lays the groundwork. The collective stupidity on Iran, after being struck in the face on Iraq, is mind-boggling. I agree with John at AmericaBlog. It's incredibly dangerous to let this bunch launch another bungling war based on these false premises about the outcome. They have no credibility, no proven acumen in dealing with threats of this type, and no idea how to wage a campaign successfully. It's absurd to think that Iran would turn out any different.


How about a little of this before retirement?

I know there are constraints on military men speaking freely. But just once I'd like to see a story like this attributed to a CURRENT general:

A fourth former US army general in less than a month today called on the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to resign over his handling of the war in Iraq.

Retired Major General John Batiste - who commanded the US 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2004 until last year - criticised Mr Rumsfeld's authoritarian style and called for a "fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon.

"We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork," Maj Gen Batiste said.

He told CNN he believed the Bush administration's handling of the war had violated fundamental military principles such as unity of command and unity of effort.

He said negative feelings among US generals he served with were widespread, and there was almost universal belief that Mr Rumsfeld did not treat military leaders and their opinions with respect.

He joins former Major Gen. Paul Eaton, former CentCom head Gen. Anthony Zinni, and Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, all of whom asked Rumsfeld to step down - after retiring. These are honorable men. I believe they would speak their minds if allowed. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace said there is freedom of speech in the armed forces:

On Tuesday, General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said generals had the chance to voice their concerns during the planning of the Iraq invasion.

"We had then and have now every opportunity to speak our minds, and if we do not, shame on us," he said at a Pentagon briefing.

I don't know how that squares with all these guys champing at the bit to criticize the war effort as soon as they leave.

Look, of course Rumnsfeld should go. Iraq has been a mismanaged effort from Day One, built on the belief of transformation rather than the reality on the ground. I don't know if it will help turn things around; it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle. But America is desperate for accountability for these mistakes. Actually I don't think anything would help this President more than firing Rumsfeld. Of course, I don't expect it.


We Be Jammin'

This could be completely innocuous. But I don't have a lot of trust anymore.

The AP reported the other day that James Tobin, a Republican operative and convicted felon who jammed Democratic phones in New Hampshire (from the firefighter's union) during a tight US Senate race (won by Republican John Sununu), frequently called the White House in the days leading up to the election. There's a prefectly good explanation for this: Tobin was running the New Hampshire race as regional director for the Republican National Committee, and the White House was obviously interested in one of the country's closest races. Tobin was calling a number at the White House political office, which in 2002 was run by none other than Ken Mehlman, current head of the RNC. On the day of the phone jamming, Tobin called 12 times. Mehlman denied discussing the phone jamming.

TPM Muckraker, all over this story, uncovers this:

The AP, in their story on calls to the White House, noted one call in particular, a 17 minute call from Jayne Millerick, then a GOP strategist working on the 2002 election. This was with the same number at the White House's Office of Political Affairs that James Tobin called so frequently.

The AP simply noted the call, and reported Millerick as saying that she "did not recall the subject" and that she hadn't learned of the plot until after the election.

But details from the phone records analyized by the Senate Majority Project suggest that Millerick was fully aware of the plot to jam the New Hampshire Democratic Party's phone lines and seriously concerned about its legality on the day of the jamming. If that's true, it suggests that the jamming was definitely on her mind when she phoned the White House on the afternoon of the crime. That call lasted from 2:59 PM to 3:16 PM.

Millerick made a run of calls on the day of the jamming that suggest that she was looking for legal advice:

At 10:32 AM on Election Day, for example, Millerick phoned the law firm of Nixon Peabody. It's been previously reported that former NH GOP chair John Dowd had ordered the jamming stopped after receiving legal advice from a lawyer named David Vicinanzo on Election Day morning. Nixon Peabody is Vicinanzo's firm.

Immediately following the call to that law firm, Jayne Millerick placed three calls to David Horan, a criminal defense attorney.

Oh yeah, and Jack Abramoff might be involved. So you know it's illegal (Abramoff gave at least $10,000 to the New Hampshire RSC that year, and there are further connections between Abramoff and the company that performed the phone jamming). And the RNC has been paying Tobin's legal bills for him.

I was skeptical, but now I'm staying with this story. There's a lot of smoke here.


Democracy Promotion Personified

I caught briefly that Secretary of State Rice gave a rebuke and a warning to Iran yesterday. Naturally the cable channels didn't mention that when she gave the remarks she was standing next to the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. He's one of the worst dictators on the globe in a country with the poorest citizens. Here's a greatest hits reel, from Rice's State Department:

-- In September [2005] [Amnesty International] reported that torture was widespread in the country's places of detention and during the course of trials.

-- In 2004 senior government officials told foreign diplomats that human rights did not apply to criminals and that torture of known criminals was not a human rights abuse.

-- Unlike [2004], there were no reports that prisoners died from torture; however, there were reports that officials tortured political opposition activists and other persons during the year.

-- An independent or privately owned press was nearly nonexistent ... Foreign celebrity and sports publications were available for sale at foreign-owned grocery stores, but no newspapers; there were no bookstores or newsstands in the country.

-- The law authorizes government censorship of all publications. During the year the Ministry of Information sometimes required publishers to submit a copy for approval prior to publication.

-- The president's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private radio station, Radio Asonga.

Did I mention that Equatorial Guinea struck oil in 1996?

This kind of hypocrisy is not harmless. As Liberal Oasis notes, the rhetoric of "spreading democracy and freedom" loses its bite when you're standing next to an unelected dictator while you're doing it. I guess because he's an unaligned old-school African despot and not an Islamofascist, that makes it OK.

This Iran business is very scary, but its even scarier when dealing with an Administration this unaware of their own hypocrisy.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Satire Is Dead, Part MCMLXXVII

Stephen Colbert (check him at Colbert Nation) has been satirically lampooning the whole "War on Christmas" thing lately by making up claims about a "War on Easter." He's shown catalogs with Easter bears in it to "prove" that the secular forces of doom are pushing out the Easter Bunny.

The Colbert Report is a work of satire.

It's mainly satirizing The O'Reilly Factor.

O'Reilly's started talking about the War on Easter.

O’REILLY: Although some left-wingers in the media deny it, we have documented a number of cases where Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter have been attacked by secular interests. Lawsuits and corporate policies have proved this point over and over again.

Make your plans for the satire funeral. For it's dead, oh yes, it's dead, and it will not be revived.

(hat tip Think Progress)


Today's Bullshit

Concerns the mobile labs.

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.

Howard Dean is asking for the report. It's another case of "What did the President know and when did he know it?" If he knew about the secret report before he made the "We found the weapons of mass destruction" pronouncement... well, then just throw another lie on the fire.

In this incredible moment of deja vu, a time when the statements about Iran are curiously reminiscent of those about Iraq, when just today there's a claim that Iran can build a bomb in 16 days made by the same guy who pushed the 16 words on Iraq and uranium and Niger into the State of the Union address, I hope somebody is making a catalog all of this stuff. These guys have no credibility on Iran. None. They squandered it by continually misleading on Iraq.


Mini Kiss v. Tiny Kiss

The battle of the ages.

Joey Fatale, the 4-foot, 4-inch New Yorker who heads the all-dwarf KISS tribute band MiniKiss, is denying published reports that he tried to sneak past security last month at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to confront a rival band leader, 4-foot "Little" Tim Loomis of Tiny Kiss, for allegedly ripping off his idea for such a group.

Loomis, a former drummer for MiniKiss, was performing with Tiny Kiss, which includes three little people and a 350-pound woman, on St. Patrick's Day at Beacher's Madhouse, a Las Vegas variety show, when the incident occurred.

Show host Jeff Beacher told The Times on Monday that Fatale "tried to sneak in saying he was Tiny Kiss" and had to be escorted from the premises. According to the New York Post, Fatale's lawyers sent a legal cease-and-desist letter to the show trying to shut down the act.

I think they had the same problem with two groups calling themselves "Led Munchkin."

Can we just put this on the air NOW? Could anyone resist watching this Battle of the Bands? Why don't I run VH1? If I did, this would warrant 24-hour wall-to-wall coverage. If the cable news nets can get three months out of Natalee Holloway, I can get a solid week out of Tiny Kiss v. Mini Kiss.


The strange case of Vernon, CA

I've been following this oddball story in Vernon, California, an industrial city a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles. I think it's instructive for those of us who want to crash the gate, to an extent. The difference is that there aren't really any good guys in this story. It's a tale of entrenched city government desperate to hold on to power, and possibly corrupt outsiders who want to take over. And at the end of the rainbow is a giant pot of gold.

Maybe 40,000 people work in the factories of Vernon conveniently located close to the rail yards, but the town has only 91 official residents. Pretty much all of them are on the city payroll. For decades, the city fathers have controlled who is and who isn't an official resident. Some of the city council members have held their post for over 50 years. In fact, they haven't held an election for 25 years, as nobody had challenged the mayor, Leonis Malburg (grandson of the city's founder, who may or may not live in Vernon); the mayor pro tem, Thomas A. Ybarra; and Councilman W. Michael McCormick.

Nobody challenged them until this year, when 8 people moved into a converted commercial building, and 3 of them suddenly filed petitions to run for the City Council. Within days, these three were followed by private investigators, had their power shut off by the city, and eventually, were evicted on the grounds that the building didn't pass inspection. The incumbents then promptly voted themselves back into office.

(Incidentally, the last time there was an election challenge in Vernon, in 1980, the city pitched that guy out of his home as well.)

The three would-be council members didn't give up, however, pitching tents in front of their former home and filing lawsuits to force Vernon to hold the election. Officials accused the three of being tools for a plan by Albert Robles, a convicted felon who ran a similar scheme in the nearby city of South Gate. The woman who found these city council candidates housing, a disbarred attorney named Cris Summers, is a friend of Robles'.

A Superior Court judge forced the election to go on, accusing Vernon of illegally evicting the challengers. Suddenly, voter registration shot up (50% in the last several weeks), and both sides accused the other of bringing in "election ringers." Of course, practically everyone in the town is in city-owned and subsidized housing (which they might lose if they don't vote for the right people), so I'd say the challengers have the better of this argument.

Why is it so important to either side to control Vernon? Well, despite its small size, the city holds about $100 MILLION DOLLARS in investments and cash.

(the background of this is mostly here. There's also a longer article from February that you can't get access too without paying.)

The election was yesterday. Of course, we don't know how it turned out, because there are still lawsuits flying back and forth, and the City Clerk decided to impound the uncounted ballots until the court challenges were completed. By the way, this is the same City Clerk that cancelled the challengers' voter registration. He also did this:

Absentee ballots sent to voters state that they must be returned in prepaid-postage envelopes. But the envelopes the city sent require stamps, prompting fears that some ballots might get lost in the mail [...]

The challengers' lawyer, Albert Robles, said there was evidence that the election will be fraudulent and said it could not be fair as long as Vernon City Clerk Bruce Malkenhorst Jr. counted the ballots.

Robles pulled out a ballot envelope and alleged that the way it was sent, and the way the city was asking for it to be mailed, made it likely that balloting would not be secret.

The envelope in which the ballot was sent had a window in the back that showed the ballot number ascribed to each resident voter. There were no instructions to tear out the stub with the identifying ballot number before mailing it back.

I don't know if there are any lessons to be gained here, other than the fact that it's a great political story. But certainly, the idea that power corrupts is well on display here. And it shows how tough it is to toss out power once it becomes entrenched. Some people here like to despair about the apparent futility of overturning the Republicans, but getting through to our own party. We have to understand that this is a long fight that won't be easy. I hope it doesn't come to pitching tents outside our evicted homes and suing to get our voter registration back. But you have to start pushing back or the status quo will become more and more set in stone. Maybe for 50 years.


We Need A Winner

Yesterday Francine Busby captured 44% of the vote in a special election in California's 50th Congressional District to replace the disgraced Randy "Duke" Cunningham. This is pretty much what John Kerry scored in this district in 2004, although the turnout was far less yesterday than back then. Despite beating her nearest competitor by nearly three to one, Busby did not get the 50% + 1 required to make it out of a runoff. So she'll likely face former Rep. Brian Bilbray, the Republican with the most votes, on June 6, which is primary day in California.

This analysis suggests that Busby is in the driver's seat. I'm not so sure. If any district in the country was ready to hear an anti-corruption message, it would be the home of the Duke-Stir, who pleaded guilty to accepting over two million dollars in bribes from defense contractors and is currently serving time in federal prison. And yet Busby could not outpoll Kerry (OK, she did by about 0.6%). And though turnout in special elections like this is historically low, for some reason the Busby campaign was unable to raise any enthusiasm among the Democratic base (which is pretty small in this district, but still). Kos agrees that the turnout situation is disappointing.

The Democratic leadership thinks that the GOP implosion will ipso facto translate to Democratic victories in November. But the electorate is universally disenchanted with politics.

The GOP has proven, time and time again, that it is incapable of governing. But Democrats have not shown they are any different. They do not paint any bright lines between them and us. And they do nothing to motivate the Democratic base to turn out and vote.

My sense of pessimism for November's elections only gets deeper the more elections show lower and lower turnout. Our supporters have stopped giving a shit. They were burned three elections in a row, and seeing nothing different come from the leadership, it has become easier for them to tune out.

I really want to be encouraged, and while Busby did fine, a win yesterday would have been great, not only because we'd have flipped a seat, but the narrative of "Republicans in trouble" would have gotten a full airing in the media.

I'm still cautiously optimistic for November, more because of the quality of opponents we have on our side. Also, this is a partisan red district where the RNC dumped about $300,000 at the end of the race. Forcing them to spend money on safe seats spreads them thin.

But we need a winner. We need a little hope out here.


You Don't Get To Choose Your Own Nickname

Grover Norquist must be upset that the Democrats are being so mean to him and his attempts to make lobbying a Republican-only enterprise. Instead of stopping the rampant corruption that's turned Waashington into a pay-to-play operation, he wants to copyright the name of that corruption:

Conservative activist Grover Norquist is seeking a trademark on “K Street Project,” saying Democrats and Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) have wrongfully acquired the term to describe unethical practices that have nothing to do with his organization.

Far from running away from the term, as most other Republicans have since January, when lobbyist Jack Abramoff agreed to plead guilty to corruption charges, Norquist is embracing it.

His project is a branch of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), which he heads. He says the project is an innocuous list of job openings for Washington lobbyists and a database of lobbyists’ political ties and federal campaign contributions.

The lists are circulated among high-level conservatives, with critics calling the efforts an improper “whitelisting” and “blacklisting” of potential hires [...]

“Some people say Kleenex when they mean tissue,” Norquist said. “We will jealously guard the real phrasing the way Kleenex and Coca-Cola do. We will sue anyone who says it wrong and make lots of money.”

It's interesting that Norquist singles out Boehner, who while caught in his own ethical web, at least ran on restoring some ethical balance to the Republican Party. This sounds like a desperate act by someone (Norquist) who's getting the door slammed shut on him for the first time in his life. After all, his good buddies Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed (and I'm not making that up, they all came up together in the College Republicans) are headed to jail. Norquist sees the whole party distancing themselves from him, and he can't understand why.

Poor baby. Time to lie in the bed you've made. The K Street Project was a Republican attempt to put partisans in lobbying positions, and it continues to this day. Nobody's distorting the meaning of the project by putting it in those terms. If the phrase suddenly has a negative connotation because it's seen as negative by most of the voting public, well, tough.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Distribute this video far and wide, and tell all your friends about it. The video, where the producer ingeniously cut snippets of George Bush reciting the words of John Lennon's "Imagine," overlayed with familiar images of the last five years, makes a devastating, visceral point.

This is must-see TV.


Cali politics

Tom McClintock and his too-close-together eyes weighs in on the CA minimum wage debate with a dishonest article that claims that millions of Californians wouldn't be hired at the entry level. As if all restaurant and service-industry jobs would just vanish in the state. Yep, that extra buck an hour is enough to shut down McDonald's!

This "raising the wage will cause mass employment" canard has been proven false. Here's a good op-ed on the subject by the president of Georgia's AFL-CIO.

I'm also going to have to applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for doing the right thing and endorsing a plan to curb global warming. He's not waiting for the federal government to get their act together and show leadership on this important issue. Of course, Angelides and Westly would be very likely to support the exact same policies, so I don't think this will have any effect on the race in November. But he deserves kudos.


Buy Precious Metals

Unlike this guy I'm not a classically-trained economist. But when I see gold at a 25-year high, headed above $600/ounce; copper up 80% in the last year; zinc up 100% over the same time; nickel reaching 20-year highs; and aluminum and silver up, I get worried. Precious metals are what you buy when you feel everything else will lose its value. Buying gold ingots is historically seen as a recession-proof move by those rich enough to hold through bad times.

We may be hitting peaks on all of these natural resources, too, which is contributing to spiking prices. In this way the copper and zinc and gold markets are not that different from the oil market. But I think that precious metals are seen more as the safe bet:

William Chan, a gold dealer at Delta Asia Financial Group in Hong Kong, said volatility across all commodities markets has driven investors to gold.

'Gold is being bought as a hedge against rising oil and commodity prices,' Chan told Agence France-Presse.

'Problems with Iran and the effect that is likely to have on oil supplies from the Middle East is the main culprit,' he added.

Others say gold is a hedge against inflation or a weak dollar. Whatever the reason, I'm a little unnerved by so many people going into metal and pushing the price so high. This can't have too many positive real-world consequences for the US economy.

Can it?


Know Your History

You know who needs the civics lesson? Not the immigrants required to take one to gain citizenship. We do. Those of us born and raised here. Because we fail to remember how we've always had illegal border crossings:

Operation Wetback

In 1949 the Border Patrol seized nearly 280,000 illegal immigrants. By 1953, the numbers had grown to more than 865,000, and the U.S. government felt pressured to do something about the onslaught of immigration. What resulted was Operation Wetback, devised in 1954 under the supervision of new commissioner of the Immigration and Nationalization Service, Gen. Joseph Swing.

Swing oversaw the Border patrol, and organized state and local officials along with the police. The object of his intense border enforcement were "illegal aliens," but common practice of Operation Wetback focused on Mexicans in general. The police swarmed through Mexican American barrios throughout the southeastern states. Some Mexicans, fearful of the potential violence of this militarization, fled back south across the border. In 1954, the agents discovered over 1 million illegal immigrants.

In some cases, illegal immigrants were deported along with their American-born children, who were by law U.S. citizens. The agents used a wide brush in their criteria for interrogating potential aliens. They adopted the practice of stopping "Mexican-looking" citizens on the street and asking for identification. This practice incited and angered many U.S. citizens who were of Mexican American descent. Opponents in both the United States and Mexico complained of "police-state" methods, and Operation Wetback was abandoned.

This is the reason you're seeing people in the streets.

I'm ashamed to say I couldn't even find the rally in downtown Los Angeles yesterday. It apparently was very small (I guess they shot their load with the half-million a couple weeks ago). But driving through downtown, maybe the fifth time I've been there in 4 years, and seeing lives whose paths I'm destined never to cross, I felt disgusted. I felt like Bush looking out his airplane window at New Orleans right after Katrina. We should all be ashamed of our insularity, ashamed that non-citizens apparently know how to mass and protest and raise public awareness better than we do. We can talk a good game for peace and justice, but we can learn something from those how actually risk their livelihoods to do something about it.


Your Howls of Anger Give me Life-Sustaining Fluids!

I think Cheney gets off on being the most hated man in America. This doesn't affect him one bit. He loves being the Spectre of Death. It's better to be feared than loved and all that. Anyway, he's not running for anything ever again. He's the man behind the curtain and nobody voted for John Kerry because they preferred John Edwards.

That plastered smile on his face says it all. "Scream all you want, philistines! I have a nuclear weapon and I know how to use it!"



It was close, but Romano Prodi won the Italian election, and this talk of "irregularities" by Berlusconi smacks me as petulant and silly. It was extremely close, but a loss nonetheless, and I don't seem to remember Berlusconi calling for any kind of grand coalition the last two times, when his opponent reflected at least 45% of the people:

"Anyone with good sense should consider a government... which contains the representatives of all the Italians," he told reporters.

Isn't that touching? When he loses, all Italians should be represented. When he wins... well, forget it.

This joker calls this "a dark day for Europe" and that now "The failure of the Berlusconi government to win a ringing endorsement may leave Italy bereft of the courageous leadership that has seen Italian troops standing alongside their NATO allies in Iraq for three long years, in the teeth of public opinion."

Um, Silvio was pulling out of Iraq anyway, bud. That was not a factor in these elections. In fact, you say that later as PROOF that this major defeat for conservatism won't affect the United States. The reason Berlusconi lost is that there was no economic growth and the people were suffering, and maybe they saw the richest man in the country smiling as their leader every day on the television stations he owns and they said "enough is enough!"

I don't believe in international cycles, although it is fun to see the rightists that do clam up today. Countries are different and so are their elections. The idea that there's a conservative or liberal wave spreading over the globe isn't realistic. But it never hurts to see a little victory coming from our side.



Well of course Ahmadinejad is going to say "we've joined the nuclear club." That's what's saved North Korea's bacon. They understand how the world works. If you say you don't have nukes, you get invaded. If you say you have them, you get diplomacy.

This is all talk right now, and it's all about leverage. I wouldn't expect Iran to say anything else but this.

It is kind of interesting that the first Iranian public official to comment on this was Rafsanjani, the man who lost the bid for the Presidency to Ahmadinejad. He was placed on a council with oversight responsibilities, and as nothing happens in Iranian politics without the consent of the mullahs, I assume they sent him out to undercut the President. Another example of who wields the real power in that country.

El Baradei of the IAEA is meeting with Iranian officials this week. He's got the thankless task of trying to maintain calm amidst all this saber rattling. We are going down a very dangerous path, and I'm just unable to take the President at his word when he dismisses attack plans as "wild speculation." I hope the American people don't get fooled again.


Primer for Iran

When you hear the President call reports of attacks on Iran "wild speculation," we should remember this:

'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency."

And this:

On September 12th, I left the Video Conferencing Center and there, wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference roomLook," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all...but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way..."

I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this."

"I know, I know, but...see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred..." ...

"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty stared after him with her mouth hanging open.

And this:

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," says O'Neill, who adds that >b>going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

"From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime," says Suskind. one, these things were laid and sealed."

As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying `Go find me a way to do this,'" says O'Neill. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap."

I remember every one of these quotes, but you'd really have to dig to find them ever reported. You'd have to go to alternative media like Counterpunch,, and the like. I was surprised that the Paul O'Neill allegations dissipated so quickly. Same with Richard Clarke's. Those stories were successfully buried, covered with dirt, and topped with an American flag.

We've been on war footing for well over 5 years now. That's the truth.

(hat tip Zwoof)


Monday, April 10, 2006

She Looks Like She Could Take A Punch...

I guess a female writer can get away with a line like this, in an LA Times interview with Gretchen Mol, star of the upcoming "The Notorious Bettie Page":

Mol is, obviously, very pretty, with white, even teeth and skin of the sort you would imagine bruises easily.

A man would be fired for writing that, and it really doesn't look any better with a female author's pen. How "skin that bruises easily" is an obvious sign of attractiveness is beyond me. I've never seen that come up on a Cosmo survey. There are about a hundred better ways to say that, starting with "smooth, alabaster skin" and working your way down. "Skin of the sort you would imagine bruises easily" ranks just below "She has eyes that a sex offender would find compelling."

It's a little, unimportant point, but this is coming from the beloved traditional media with all of its fact-checkers and levels of editors. How'd that slip through?


2000 Replay in Italy

Romano Prodi, the candidate of the center-left coalition, has declared victory. Incumbent Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the center-right leader, disputes the claim and is calling for a "scrupulous check of election ballots."

How does "hanging chads" translate in Italian?

By the way, if you want to know what a national election is like in Italy think about all the ads you saw for George Bush in 2004, and now take all the John Kerry ads off the air, and give Bush 3-5 hours a day of free television coverage on the news. And have Bush own all the television stations. Such is the case in Italy, where Berlusconi is a media mogul, and his party was fined for violating equal-time laws (although a fine means little to Italy's richest man). For Prodi to win in that environment, if he indeed pulls it off, means either he's a skillful under-the-radar campaigner or the Italian economy really is in the shitter.

This one could take months to sort out.


Shorter President Bush

I don't know anything about the military and how it works, but I'm the commander-in-chief and you should trust my judgment.

You gotta watch that video. What an empty vessel.


You Have to Have a Villain

It's the first rule of any action movie. And of war:

The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The documents state that the U.S. campaign aims to turn Iraqis against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, by playing on their perceived dislike of foreigners. U.S. authorities claim some success with that effort, noting that some tribal Iraqi insurgents have attacked Zarqawi loyalists.

For the past two years, U.S. military leaders have been using Iraqi media and other outlets in Baghdad to publicize Zarqawi's role in the insurgency. The documents explicitly list the "U.S. Home Audience" as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign.

Some senior intelligence officers believe Zarqawi's role may have been overemphasized by the propaganda campaign, which has included leaflets, radio and television broadcasts, Internet postings and at least one leak to an American journalist. Although Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have conducted deadly bombing attacks, they remain "a very small part of the actual numbers," Col. Derek Harvey, who served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq and then was one of the top officers handling Iraq intelligence issues on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an Army meeting at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., last summer.

In a transcript of the meeting, Harvey said, "Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will -- made him more important than he really is, in some ways."

This is not unprecedented at all. We know that the toppling of the Saddam statue, still lauded as a great moment by conservative bloggers, was a psy-ops stunt orchestrated by the US. The Army admitted it.

And now we find out that Zarqawi wasn't as central to the fight in Iraq as we've been told. Well, we've known that too. Jihadi fighters are a miniscule portion of the insurgency. In a way this psy-ops campaign has probably paid off, if the stories of protests against Zarqawi and internal fights amongst the insurgency are to be believed.

But this of course undermines the quality of the news of success in this fight. Zarqawi is largely irrelevant right now. John Kerry is right in saying we're fighting the third war in Iraq now: not one against Saddam, not one against Al Qaeda, but a protracted, undeclared civil war, where we stand on the sidelines while Shiites and Sunnis charge at each other's throats. It's completely irresponsible for the Pentagon to be amping up the significance of Zarqawi, because it provides cover for the real problems in Iraq.

Apparently the Pentagon gave a New York Times reporter a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi to Ayman al-Zawahiri, when a letter which is now widely seen as a fake:

One slide in the same briefing, for example, noted that a "selective leak" about Zarqawi was made to Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter based in Baghdad. Filkins's resulting article, about a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the Times front page on Feb. 9, 2004.

Leaks to reporters from U.S. officials in Iraq are common, but official evidence of a propaganda operation using an American reporter is rare.

Filkins, reached by e-mail, said that he was not told at the time that there was a psychological operations campaign aimed at Zarqawi, but said he assumed that the military was releasing the letter "because it had decided it was in its best interest to have it publicized." No special conditions were placed upon him in being briefed on its contents, he said. He said he was skeptical about the document's authenticity then, and remains so now, and so at the time tried to confirm its authenticity with officials outside the U.S. military.

"There was no attempt to manipulate the press," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military's chief spokesman when the propaganda campaign began in 2004, said in an interview Friday. "We trusted Dexter to write an accurate story, and we gave him a good scoop."

With the group currently in charge, not only can't you trust what they're saying about our enemies, you can't trust that the enemies are even actually the enemies. George Orwell was a prophet.


If I Were A Winger

I'd be very upset that the President is denying all of these Iran reports. What did Hersh's article really say? That there are battle plans for Iran. There are battle plans for probably 120 countries sitting around at the Pentagon. Why not just say that yes, we have plans to attack Iran if they fail to comply with the international community's wishes?

President George W. Bush on Monday ruled out any bilateral negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme but dismissed as "wild speculation" reports that the US was preparing for military action, including a nuclear strike, if diplomatic efforts failed [...]

On the question of military action against Iran, Mr Bush was responding to an article published at the weekend by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine, which said the administration was stepping up planning for military strikes on Iran, including the possible use of nuclear weapons to destroy underground targets.

The Washington Post also reported the administration was considering two possible options: a limited air strike against nuclear facilities, and a more prolonged air campaign that would include non-nuclear-related targets.

The FT reported in February that the intelligence wing of the US marines was examining the extent of grievances against Tehran in an attempt to determine whether Iran would be prone to a violent ethnic fragmentation similar to that occurring in Iraq.

Mr Bush on Monday emphasised the diplomatic efforts, even trying to redefine the concept of "pre-emption" of emerging threats that was first laid out in the White House's 2002 national security strategy prior to the war with Iraq. He said the doctrine of prevention was "to work together to prevent the Iranians from having a nuclear weapon".

He said it "doesn't mean force, necessarily. In this case it means diplomacy."

I know many on the right have criticized the President for not having the will to "do what it takes" in Iraq. Now he won't even admit to planning to "do what it takes" in Iran! Were I of the "clash of civilizations" view I would find this deeply disappointing.

Of course, those who wish we'd just out-and-out nuke the Middle East and be done with it have a point (though that's not it). Clearly the President doesn't have the will to "do what it takes": he never calls for shared sacrifice in the war effort from those of us at home, and he deliberately put far less troops in Iraq that what was necessary to finish the job. It made the whole thing seem like "this thing we're doing on the side, pay no attention to it, we'll go in with a few troops and have 'em home by Easter." That failure to level with the American people is damaging.


Blame the Democrats First, Again

Marc Cooper, the self-loathing progressive, does yet another hit piece on Democrats, this time for not getting the immigration compromise bill through the Senate (all 44 of them).

Marc, have you been living in this country for the last 12 years? Have you seen the conference committee reports on nearly every bill, which drop out any Democratic idea and foreground every Republican one? Remember the conference report on the Partiot Act? Quick reminder: it completely discarded the Senate civil liberties protections and went essentially with the House bill. And just recently Frist and Hastert slipped protections for pharmaceutical companies against big lawsuits into a defense spending bill. Why would this immigration bill be any different, especially if it was larded up with amendments that corresponded to the bill already passed on the House side? My belief is that the entire guest worker/earned legalization program would have been thrown out in committee unless the bill from the Senate was clean.

Compromise bills like this routinely limit amendments, I mean the Republican have done this like 40 times in the past decade. NOW it's heresy to get a clean bill through the Senate? Ask Orrin Hatch about that one:

"The Democrats know the amendments would pass," Hatch said in an interview. "They lost in [the Judiciary] committee, but they would pass on the floor."

That's not the spirit of the compromise, to agree to things and then have them overturned on the floor. Frist couldn't rein in the hard-right Senators in his party, so Reid couldn't keep with the deal like a chump and then get a bill that doesn't resemble the compromise.

And do you really think it's a good compromise to split up earned legalization by how many years illegal immigrants have been in the country? There's a reason they're called undocumented workers: nobody time-stamps their passport when they come across the Rio Grande River. This would be another bill (and that's if the earned legalization compromise even stayed in the bill) that would be completely unenforceable.

This is a difficult and emotional debate and it might require discussion for more than a couple weeks. And it definitely requires less finger-pointing from those who simply have a hard-on for criticizing Democrats.


Wolf in Democrat's Clothing

Let me shock you by saying that I'm fairly agnostic on Ned Lamont's campaign to challenge Joe Lieberman in a Connecticut primary for US Senate. Lieberman is wrong on the war and is all too willing to bash other Democrats in the public square, and Lamont has every right to challenge him. I think primaries are generally pretty good because they keep incumbents honest and highlight major issues important to the electorate. Heck, if I was a Connecticut voter I'd probably go with Lamont. But I'd also support whoever comes out of the primary, as getting back the Senate is simply too important.

But my support for whoever wins the primary is not shared, apparently, by Joe Lieberman himself:

I hope there's not a primary. I'm confident if there is one, I'll win it, but I'm not gonna rule out any other option for now....

I don't know how you can call yourself a Democrat and then say that if you lose the Democratic primary, OR EVEN IF THERE IS ONE, you'd still run. That's a complete lack of respect for the voters in your own party. Also, as The Swing State Project points out, it's a virtual impossibility:

Submission to town clerk or Secretary of the State.
(a) Each page of a nominating petition proposing a candidate for an office to be filled at a regular election shall be submitted to the appropriate town clerk or to the Secretary of the State not later than four o'clock p.m. on the ninetieth day preceding the day of the regular election.

This means that independent candidates have to submit petitions by August 9th, 2006. It just so happens that the Connecticut primary is on August 8th. In other words, if Joe loses the primary, in order to run as an independent in the general, he'd have to file petitions the very next day.

This is all but a literal impossibility. Joe would have to collect petitions while still running in the Dem primary. Can you imagine such a spectacle? It would be beyond unheard of for a sitting senator to do such a thing. The only real way Lieberman could run as an indie would be if he abandoned the Democratic Party (save your jokes) well in advance of the primary. Otherwise, he's just talking smack. If he loses the primary, he's done, finished, tostada del dia.

Unless he drops out of the race before the primary. If he looks at the polls and sees a tight race, I could see this happening. And that possibility, which is the height of arrogance, makes me want to support Lamont in a race I was perfectly content to let play out.


Who's Attacking Stephen Colbert Now?

Some bark-chewing, enviro-Nazi, femi-stapo America-hater has started Colbert Watch, where he claims he's going to present the "facts" to rebut the wisdom of our man Stephen Colbert.

Speaking as one of the heroes, let me just say that we're on to you, buddy, and it won't be long until you're either "on notice" or "dead to me."

And if you start messing with "Stephen Colbert's Alpha Squad 7: Lady Nocturne, A Tek Jansen Adventure," so help me there will be hell to pay.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Nuclear Option

Now that I've finished blathering on about comments and put that situation to rest, I want to talk about this Sy Hersh article from The New Yorker suggesting that we want to hit Iran, and we're not ruling out tactical nuclear weapons as a means to that end. I've no doubt as to its authenticity; the Pentagon is in the business of making war plans, and when you're dealing with the massive underground tunnels under 65 feet of rock like you have in Iran, nukes are pretty much the only way to ensure you've hit your target. What Hersh made clear in the article and on CNN's Late Edition today is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented this as an option, but when they tried to walk it back, senior officials in the White House refused to take it off the table.

The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”

If anything, this article makes it clear to a large section of American liberals that the government is dead serious about doing something in Iran. I think too many people had an "Attack Iran? You and what Army?" attitude, which simply doesn't take into account the players in this debate. This government has shown that saber-rattling in order to reach a diplomatic solution is not how they operate; as one military planner says in the article, “You have to really show a threat in order to get Ahmadinejad to back down.” Saying that assumes that Ahmadinejad wields more than just figurehead power in the country. The mullahs have always been in charge, and they've even sought to rein him in. It's clear that focusing on Ahmadinejad serves a public relations strategy of defining the enemy in the vein of Saddam Hussein. This guy is not a dictator, and while he's a bit mad, he doesn't control the country.

Using tactical nuclear weapons as a means to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons makes my head spin. To think that you'd be able to get away with blowing up a nuclear bomb in the Middle East without starting World War III is terribly naive. But then again, these are the same people who said the Iraq war would last 6 weeks without making a plan for the postwar environment.

To divorce this decision from the political realities in the US would be irresponsible. It's how they've always worked. The President is unpopular, the generic Congressional ballot shows double-digit leads for the Democrats, and events on the ground in Iraq aren't going to magically transform and vindicate the policy overnight. I truly believe that the Bush Administration thinks they can rally the public to their cause by taking strong action against Iran. There's an element of the Republican base that considers Bush "isn't willing to do what it takes" to fight the war on terror (see this bit of fantasy if you don't believe me). This would be a stinging rebuke to that, and allow Rove's minions to frame the midterm elections as a referendum on fighting the war on terror. "Do you want to win or lose" would be the message, and I don't know if it wouldn't be successful.

My personal view is that Iran is years and years away from a nuclear capability, that the whole world community is on our side in the main on this, and further diplomacy to simultaneously isolate Iran and come up with a workable solution would undoubtedly bear fruit. We're willing to negotiate with Iran to help bring stability to Iraq. We can certainly find common ground on this. I support efforts to bolster the reformists in Iran (something we should have been doing during the entire Khatami Presidency, when reformists actually had a foothold in the government). It's completely nuts (as Jack Straw said this morning) to consider tactical nuclear weapons in a bubble, without considering the repercussions.

Finally, this is funny:

In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat. A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who did not take part in the meetings but has discussed their content with his colleagues, told me that there had been “no formal briefings,” because “they’re reluctant to brief the minority. They’re doing the Senate, somewhat selectively.”

Ten bucks that the Democrat's name rhymes with Schmeiberman.