The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Friday, December 30, 2005

Technical difficulties... please stand by.

It's been harder than I would've guessed to get myself seated in front of a computer with a decent connection while on the road. Maybe next time I'll bring along the laptop. To those checking in, I appreciate it and apologize for not posting more regularly this past week. Starting January 3rd, I'll be back in business as usual and catching up on the stories of the day.

Happy New Year, folks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Chalabi defeats Truman!

Chalabi has never been a sterling avatar of truth, justice or the American way, but he was the man the administration picked to head up the country after Saddam's regime fell. And he was still the man, in spite of his criminal record, purported ties to Iran, and so forth. However, the Iraqi people appear to have a different idea of who should lead their post-Saddam republic-- anyone but Chalabi. His entire party received less than one percent of the national vote. Not only did he lose, but his party failed to win a single seat in the National Assembly.

I thought this quote did a nice job of summing up why he fits in nicely with the Bush/Cheney crowd: "What I can say is Dr. Chalabi will have an important role, whether in the government or outside,'' said spokesman [for Chalabi's party] Haider Mousawi.

Great to hear such sentiments coming from this new beacon of freedom. Just like our own Fearless Leader, he wins even when he loses.

Another conservative jumps ship

It's a bittersweet feeling when I find someone who writes more succinctly-- and better-- than I do on a topic that's dear to me. That's the case with his nicely-done finale from Steve Chapman's Christmas day column in the Chicago Tribune.

What we have now is not a robust executive but a reckless one. At times like this, it's apparent that Cheney and Bush want more power not because they need it to protect the nation, but because they want more power. Another paradox: In their conduct of the war on terror, they expect our trust, but they can't be bothered to earn it.

I still think that the whole NSA wiretapping is just the sort of event that will tick off many Americans. Especially after seeing the American Experience bio of Reagan last night. The GOP has been fomenting fear and suspicion of the government for decades now-- and now they're being hoist by their own petard.

Science Tuesday: Another nail in the creationist coffin

Well, I think I've sufficiently recovered from my personal war on Christmas cookies to get back to blogging. The broadband helps, but access will be sporadic for the rest of this week. On the other hand, having a respite from the daily outrages of our GOP-controlled nation is really a relief. If only we didn't have so much fighting to do.

In last week's edition of his newsletter What's New, physicist Robert Parks tacks a nice epilogue onto the Dover, Pennsylvania, replay of the Scopes trial. I'll let him do the talking:

"Our conclusion today," wrote United States District Judge JohnE. Jones III, "is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as analternative to evolution in a public school classroom." You must read 137 pages to get to that line, but it's time well spent. Jones, a conservative Republican appointed by George W. Bush,reviews the "legal landscape" of church-state separation, andthen addresses the key question of whether ID is science orreligion. He does so, "in the hope that it may prevent theobvious waste of resources on subsequent trials." Science, heobserves, "rejects appeal to authority in favor of empiricalevidence," whereas, "ID is not supported by any peer-reviewedresearch, data or publications." Not only does he enjoin Doverschools from teaching ID, he says the parents who brought suitare entitled to damages. That may cool the ardor of other schoolboards thinking of hopping in bed with the Discovery Institute. In the Senate, Rick Santorum (R-PA), who had earlier praised the Dover School Board for "teaching the controversy," was so movedby the Jones decision that he severed his ties to the Thomas Moore Law Center, which had defended the Board.

The latest tactic, to frame teaching creationism as "fair," was awfully clever. But it's good to see that the courts are still upholding the law. Just three more years of nutty appointees to go.... And dig that last sentence (emphasis mine). Santorum is almost a year away from his re-election bid, and he's already floundering. As one of the most prominent panderers to the fundamentalist right, it's a good sign to see him having to disown them.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bush administration officially criminal-- so why aren't we hearing "The 'I' Word"?

Salon has a good article on what's taking place in the mainstream media in the days after it was revealed that Bush illegally authorized wiretaps on American citizens. The concensus is that federal law has been broken. Yet there doesn't seem to be much talk of impeachment. This is up there in must-read territory.

Assessing the controversy, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter wrote on Dec. 19, "This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974."

It was bracing to see impeachment mentioned as a possibility in the mainstream media. But experts say it's not unreasonable. According to Turley, there's little question Bush committed a federal crime by violating the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The act authorizes a secret court to issue warrants to eavesdrop on potential suspects, or anyone even remotely connected to them, inside the United States. The bar to obtain a FISA warrant is low; more than 15,000 have been granted, with only four requests denied since 1979. In emergency situations, the government can even apply for FISA warrants retroactively. Nevertheless, Bush chose not to comply with FISA's minimal requirements.

"The fact is, the federal law is perfectly clear," Turley says. "At the heart of this operation was a federal crime. The president has already conceded that he personally ordered that crime and renewed that order at least 30 times. This would clearly satisfy the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors for the purpose of an impeachment."

Turley is no Democratic partisan; he testified to Congress in favor of Bill Clinton's impeachment. "Many of my Republican friends joined in that hearing and insisted that this was a matter of defending the rule of law, and had nothing to do with political antagonism," he says. "I'm surprised that many of those same voices are silent. The crime in this case was a knowing and premeditated act. This operation violated not just the federal statute but the United States Constitution. For Republicans to suggest that this is not a legitimate question of federal crimes makes a mockery of their position during the Clinton period. For Republicans, this is the ultimate test of principle."

Of course, that may be exactly the problem. While noted experts -- including a few Republicans -- are saying Bush should be impeached, few think he will be. It's not clear that the political will exists to hold the president to account. "We have finally reached the constitutional Rubicon," Turley says. "If Congress cannot stand firm against the open violation of federal law by the president, then we have truly become an autocracy."

Gibson's 'war on Christmas' shoutfest

This is just the sort of good stuff I've been missing not having access to broadband for the last two days. The really, really weird-looking Fox anchor has a little rage-management problem while discussing (and I use the term loosely) the network's favorite winter taopic-- the still non-existent war on Christmas. It's a very special gift just for your non-sectarian winter celebration of choice.

Gibson, of course, is the man who literally wrote the book on the war on Christmas, and once again the representatives of the other side treat it just as they should-- with dismissive mockery. It's a great weapon against Fox-styles blowhards.

(11-meg download) It's well worth a look to see the only two weapons in the Fox arsenal on display-- the head-shaking/eye-rolling combo and the shoutdown. Rob Boston does a fine job of keeping his cool and giving it to these bozos right in the kisser.

Oh, and don't miss Gibson's priceless claim that his book is responsible for a sea change in American thought on religion and the state (with handy on-screen graphic of said book). Gibson is so intent on O'Reilly style posturing and tough talk that he even orders the rightie pundit to stop talking-- several times. Poor guy never even got to plug whatever he was selling. Final thought on Gibson: snap-on hair. The hallmark of the evil conservative.

Crooks and Liars also notes that Bill O'Reilly offered a correction for his false claims that a Texas school had banned red and green clothing. You can see that video here.

The "Armoury of Weapons for Authoritarian Movements"

On several occasions, I've posted links to articles detailing the "fourteen characteristics of fascism" (including the link above). Their eerie familiarity to anyone who follows the shenanigans of Bush Republicans is the stuff of nightmares. But let's go ahead and turn up the intellectual burner a bit

But last night, as I was revisiting a book by my favorite modern thinker, Sir Karl Popper, I came across another list of things common to all authoritarian regimes of his own device. Popper knows what he's talking about when it comes to fascist regimes. The physicist and philosopher was a tireless proponent of democracy and liberty, leaving his native Austria after its capitulation to the Nazi regime, never to return.

Here's a paraphrasing of Popper's list, from Chapter 12 of "The Open Society and its Enemies," first published in 1961. It chilled me to the bone to see that what Popper terms the "perennial revolt against freedom and reason" is now being fought in the United States.

1. Nationalism; the concept of a chosen nation destined for world domination.

2. The state's identity as fundamentally unlike other states-- emphasis on differences, and why they must be maintained to preserve the state.

3. Exemption from moral obligation; "historical success" as the sole judgment. The ends justify the means, up to and including propaganda and lies.

4. War as a moral imperative. War is not only inevitable, but sometimes a desirable way to strengthen the state. Military superiority is evidence of state superiority.

5. "The creative role of the Great Man," what Hegel called the "World Historical Personality," and Popper describes as the religion of glory. The "Great Man" despises public opinion in his desire to achieve something great-- indecision or moral obligations only spoil his chances of success.

6. The ideal of a heroic life. Life is not about rationality or reason, but action. The more sweeping and dramatic the action, the better one has lived.

Even this cursory listing sets off some warning bells. Especially in a week where Bush has been desperately arguing for the morality of the war even as he (sort of) acknowledges that the administration distorted the facts in making the case for war. Bush loves to portray himself as the man willing to do what he believes, regardless of popular opinion, and frequently insists that "history will be his judge."

I would highly recommend Popper's book, especially Volume II.

Senate strikes ANWR provision from bill

Ted Stevens, Alaska's Republican representative who earned infamy this year for his $200+ million 'bridge to nowhere' pork project, has lost the latest bid to grant big oil the rights to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. It's so nice to be able to write about something positive.

The article way overdoes the drama, but the good news is that ANWR is out. Again. And for the moment.

"The issue of drilling . . . is close, close to the heart, dear to the heart of the senator from Alaska," [West Virginia Senator Robert] Byrd said. "I admire his unyielding commitment to the people of his state. I honor him for that. I consider him a dear friend."

He was just warming up. "My remarks today do not reflect upon [Stevens] or upon his efforts in regard to the people he represents," Byrd continued, thunder clouds gathering in his voice. "I abhor, I abhor this idea. Shame. If such a scheme were carried into effect, it could seriously impair the Senate rules."

Stevens interjected, "Would the senator yield?"

He would not. "I came here and swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and I would die upholding that oath," Byrd vowed.

Traficking in disinformation

As you know, much has been made of the skill with which Republicans "frame" events and debates in the last few years. Democrats have been at a loss on the subject of how to convince Americans that it's a good idea to vote for people who are looking out for you. Often overlooked in that discussion is a simple observation: the neo-fascists have no trouble with lying. I remember Reagan's shocking stories of Chicago's "welfare queen," whose profession was cheating the government out of entitlement spending and drove a Cadillac. The "welfare queen" never existed.

Neither, apparently, does Bush's favorite example of how a free press is dangerous to our national security:

President Bush asserted this week that the news media published a U.S. government leak in 1998 about Osama bin Laden's use of a satellite phone, alerting the al Qaeda leader to government monitoring and prompting him to abandon the device.

The story of the vicious leak that destroyed a valuable intelligence operation was first reported by a best-selling book, validated by the Sept. 11 commission and then repeated by the president.

But it appears to be an urban myth.

The al Qaeda leader's communication to aides via satellite phone had already been reported in 1996 -- and the source of the information was another government, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time.

Abramoff could take down a dozen politicians

The word in this NYT piece is that Abramoff is going to sing like a canary to reduce his potential prison sentence. It should make for some extra holiday perspiration in Republican circles.

But after a lengthy bargaining phase, Mr. Abramoff's lawyers and prosecutors in the Florida case appear closer to resolving several of the central issues in the plea deal, in which the defendant would receive a reduced prison sentence - most likely in the range of five to seven years, though that is fluid - in exchange for pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against his former associates.
Mr. Abramoff was indicted in Florida on Aug. 11 on charges stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats in 2000. Prosecutors said Mr. Abramoff and a business partner, Adam Kidan, falsified documents and lied about their financing in order to complete the purchase. Mr. Kidan pleaded guilty last week, leaving Mr. Abramoff to face six criminal counts and up to 30 years in prison as case's sole defendant.
At the same time, prosecutors in Washington have been sifting through evidence of what they believe is a corruption scheme involving at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members, many of whom worked closely on legislation with Mr. Abramoff and accepted gifts and favors from him. Although Mr. Abramoff is also in negotiations in that case, it is unclear whether a settlement can be reached in time for both agreements to be announced at once.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I'll be home for [the war on] Christmas

Why haven't I been my usual blogging self these days? Because I'm back in rural Missouri on the homestead, and stuck with 20th century technology, like a dial-up connection. It's a nightmare.

When I'm able, I'll be savoring the use of a better connection, and I'll continue posting the news over the course of the holidays.

I'll also point out that we say "Happy Holidays" not so much out of sensitivity to another person's possible religious affiliation, but because there are several holidays going on, from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year's Day. It's a lot easier to combine them into one catch-all greeting. Take that, Bill O'Reilly. Oh, and yes, I'm already hearing some talk about the imaginary 'war on Christmas' now that I'm back in GOP country. On the other hand, when I was in the St. Louis airport I was stunned to see how many people stopped what they were doing and started watching the TVs when a story about Bush and the NSA wiretaps came on. the conventional wisdom from the mainstream media seemed to be that the story wouldn't register with Americans. I disagree. I think this is just the type of story that will really piss off all Americans, including so-called "red-staters." If there's one thing that both sides can agree on, it's that government shouldn't be spying on us.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What I didn't want to hear about Iraq's elections

In the least surprising event of the month, prominent Republicans had inked their fingers purple before the polls had closed in Iraq. Reactionary bloggers were trumpeting the dawn of a new era in Iraq, now that it had obviously made a successful transition to Jeffersonian democracy. And the White House was dusting off superlatives to assure America that the whole Iraq venture amounted to $250,000,000,000 and (at the very least) 35,000 lives well-spent.

The progressive blogs were far more measured in their response. There were expressions of gratitude that the elections hadn't been marred by massive violence. Expressions of hope that it was a good sign. That for once, we really had "turned a corner," after so many false claims of having done so by the right. But there was still an undercurrent of apprehension.

Naturally, that apprehension was immediately seized upon by the right-wing noise machine. Once again, they would wail and scream that liberals were anti-American. That we wanted the US to fail and Iraq to descend further into violence for the sole purpose of making the administration look even worse.

No, progressive bloggers knew that while the lack of violence was a very good thing, it didn't have anything to do with the election proper. This sort of news does, and it's what we dreaded:

Suspected polling violations on voting day last week far exceeded the number in Iraq's first election in January, local and international monitors said yesterday.

On the deadline for filing complaints, the number of alleged violations which could swing results in the 275-seat parliament was "well into double figures", an accredited international election observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

In January there were only five of these "red" complaints, the observer added. Red complaints are alleged breaches serious enough to potentially hand a seat to a party or election bloc unfairly. The election commission has declined to say how many such complaints it has received, but several parties handed in dossiers listing breaches allegedly seen by their monitors.

Secular Arab parties have accused the Shia religious bloc, which dominates the current government, of intimidating voters in Baghdad and many southern cities.

The Iraqi National List, headed by the former prime minister Ayad Allawi, filed more than 60 complaints yesterday. They alleged that at several polling stations policemen, national guard troops, or men from the major crimes unit were chanting for the Shia religious list, known as 555.

At the Sharqia high school in central Baghdad, which was used as a polling station, a senior election official was said to have asked voters if they were going to vote for 555. Unless they said yes, they were not given ballot papers.

A source close to Mr Allawi's campaign said that in one Baghdad polling station "around 600 men, some with walkie-talkies and purple ink on their fingers showing they had already voted, forced their way in. When the manager tried to stop them asking for ballot papers, they threatened to put him in a car boot and drive him away ... He let them in."

He declined to be identified, citing the fact that an Allawi candidate and five campaign workers were murdered before the poll. All complaints have to be signed by a witness, which created risks, he said.

So while the right-wing shills loudly shout that the means have been justified and all is well, the rest of us will sit and watch nervously, hoping that in spite of everything, Iraq really is taking a step forward. Not just a shift from one totalitarian regime to another.

GOP links Arctic drilling to anti-torture, Katrina aid, and defense bill

If you're wondering what to get that congressional Republican on your Christmas list, why not consider a sense of shame? Outcry from Democrats (all the way from Pelosi to Lieberman) and even Senator McCain may not be enough to prevent the passage of a defense bill that includes another (the fourth? Fifth?) attempt by the GOP to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to big oil. Oh, boy!

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it's an insult for Republican leaders to exploit the Pentagon bill that way.

"Just when you think you have seen it all, they've taken drilling in the ANWR off the budget bill and now they want to put it on the Department of Defense bill," she said. "Nothing is sacred to them."

Her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid, called it "outrageous" that Republican leaders "would abuse their power by holding our troops hostage at a time of war."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., called it a "desperate scheme" and said it is "not right by our fighting men and women." (. . .)

The bill funds the military, which is hard for any lawmaker to oppose, especially with troops fighting overseas. The legislation will be extra appealing this year because it will contain money for the states damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and for fighting avian flu. It will also have a rider Sen. John McCain has demanded that aims to ban U.S. troops from torturing foreign detainees.

Alaskan Representative Ted Stevens has already scored hundreds of millions in pork-barrel projects this year for his home state, but demonstrates that the GOP isn't in the game for the betternment of the country-- they're just in it to win at an cost.

Why W's wiretaps are illegal

Just in case you want to see some legal-ese on the the appropriate laws:

"In the absence of a judicial order approving such electronic surveillance, the surveillance shall terminate when the information sought is obtained, when the application for the order is denied, or after the expiration of 72 hours from the time of authorization by the Attorney General, whichever is earliest. In the event that such application for approval is denied, or in any other case where the electronic surveillance is terminated and no order is issued approving the surveillance, no information obtained or evidence derived from such surveillance shall be received in evidence or otherwise disclosed in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, office, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the United States, a State, or political subdivision thereof."

That's just part of it. Highly recommended reading.

White House praises group responsible for anti-Semitic articles

This post from Seeing the Forest points out the lengths to which the administration is going these days to shore up its faltering support. As you might expect, it isn't by changing domestic or foreign policy. No, it's by playing footsie with bigots.

The Heritage Foundation's sister site,, has lately been suggesting that it is actually a Jewish conspiracy (there's a new one for ya) to "remove Christ from Christmas." Now, the White House has been kicked around a bit for saying 'holidays' instead of Christmas in the White House Christmas card, calling its tree a 'holiday tree,' etc. But this administration isn't exactly headed up by Jewish folks or "secularists," right?

That didn't stop the White House from sending Condi Rice to honor the Heritage Foundation this week, where she said: The organization, the Heritage Foundation, is a true bedrock of our democratic principles, our freedom, our way of life and a vehicle by which free men and women can debate their future. Thank you very much for the great work of this organization.

Simply put, the adminstration is sending top officials to praise a right-wing think tank that uses its resources to print attacks on a religious minority. Yet another bullet for the Dems to use during the elections next year.

W's payoffs to big business

Hopefully the Dems will play this up during the next election cycle-- if we ever needed campaign reform to get hundreds of millions of corporate dollars out of the process that decides our national policy, it's now. Highly recommended reading.

And the Toledo Blade continues to overshadow the reporting of the nation's giant newspapers-- somebody get the Pulitzers ready.

President Bush's corporate champions see the spoils of his administration in coal. And timber. And credit-card payments, Afghan electric lines, Japanese bank transfers and fake crab.

America's business leaders supplied more than $75 million to return Mr. Bush to the White House last year -- and he has paid dividends.

Bush administration policies, grand and obscure, have financially benefited companies or lobbying clients tied to at least 200 of the president's largest campaign fund-raisers, a Toledo Blade investigation has found. Dozens more stand to gain from Bush-backed initiatives that recently passed or await congressional approval. (. . .)

The beneficiaries span industries and the nation. Examples include:

Timber barons who pay lower tax rates on logging sales and face fewer barriers to harvesting trees in national forests because of administrative changes and laws Mr. Bush signed.

Energy producers who dodged potential legal fees and cleanup costs after federal officials revised clean-air standards.

Heads of stock brokerages and other multinational firms, which, under a special tax incentive in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, are bringing hundreds of millions of dollars they earned or stored abroad back into the United States this year at reduced rates.

Executives of defense contractors United Technologies and The Washington Group, which won contracts potentially totaling more than $6 billion to supply American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and rebuild both countries' infrastructure. The same contractors won far less government work under President Bill Clinton.

Mining executives who tapped new veins of coal, thanks to administrative rule changes that opened swaths of hills and forests to their backhoes and left once-protected streams vulnerable to pollution.

Dangerous, un-American, and certainly not democratic. But nothing's going to change until we win back the House and Senate.

NSA wiretaps began before Bush's approval

Just who is running the country? Apparently Bush's statement yesterday that the taps were at his behest, constitutional, and not a violation of any citizen's civil rights probably isn't true-- whether he knew it or not.

The National Security Agency first began to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mail messages between the United States and Afghanistan months before President Bush officially authorized a broader version of the agency's special domestic collection program, according to current and former government officials.

The security agency surveillance of telecommunications between the United States and Afghanistan began in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the officials said.

The agency operation included eavesdropping on communications between Americans and other individuals in the United States and people in Afghanistan without the court-approved search warrants that are normally required for such domestic intelligence activities.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Irony Saturday: Please Tread on Me!

Item One: Bush derides critics of his secret plan to allow the NSA to put American citizens under surveillance without any legal process as "helping the enemy." Presumably he means the enemies of freedom, as he so loves to repeat.

The president used his weekly Saturday morning address to the country to talk about the growing furor over the NSA secret eavesdropping program. In a sign of the interest in the speech, instead of the usual taped radio speech, the president spoke live this morning and it was carried on television. The speech ran about seven minutes, slightly longer than his usual radio addresses.

He chastised the news accounts, saying, "The existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."

Bush said that he authorized the program "using constitutional authority vested in me as commander-in-chief." He argued that the program is consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, and used "to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."

"The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time," Bush said. "And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad."

What sort of fiendish terrorist activities are being prevented by the curtailing of civil liberties? Term papers... of DOOM!

Item Two: Hey, I realize that right-wing ideologues are convinced that our nation's educational facailities are secretly radical brainwashing compounds, but there's something distinctly Orwellian about kids studying fascism being detained and questioned by the government of the land of the free.

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Growing up at the end of the Soviet era, I remember the gasps of my fell0w students as we learned of life under a totalitarian regime. People weren't able to speak openly of politics under suspicion of treason. The press was seen as an enemy of the state to be controlled and manipulated. And educated people were anathema. Fortunately, it can only happen here under executive order.

UPDATE: (Jan. 5) It's come to my attention that the story about the Dartmouth student visited by federal agents might just be phony. An item in a recent newsletter by physicist Robert Parks alerted me to this, and I wanted to be sure to post it in the interest of honesty. If I see any more information about the story I'll post another update.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Abramoff scandal hits the conservative think-tanks.

And here we've just been examining his hold on corrupt politicians. Now it's gradually becoming clear that the entire right-wing movement is being fronted by people whose ideals extend exclusively to money and influence. But what will it take for their rabid followers to realize that they've been hoodwinked from day one?

A senior fellow at the Cato Institute resigned from the libertarian think tank on Dec. 15 after admitting that he had accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients. Doug Bandow, who writes a syndicated column for Copley News Service, told BusinessWeek Online that he had accepted money from Abramoff for writing between 12 and 24 articles over a period of years, beginning in the mid '90s.

And Bandow wasn't the only one, according to the article. Nor was Cato the only right-wing outfit to go along with the deal.

Senate rejects Patriot Act extension, torture over W's objections

One the torture issue, at least, the White House is now making like they were with McCain all along-- even though Bush threatened to veto the measure and Cheney openly lobbied against it, hoping to get approval for the CIAs use of torture. It'll be more difficult for Bush to pretend that he didn't want the Patriot Act extension-- it's been a centerpiece of his 'War on Terror.' But enough Republicans are balking at the undermining of civil liberties that it isn't going to wash. Even the NRA criticized the bill recently.

The U.S. Senate, in a rebuff to its Republican leaders and President George W. Bush, refused to clear the way for renewal of the anti-terror USA Patriot Act.

The Senate fell seven votes short of shutting off a filibuster that threatens to block an extension of much of the law, including expanded power for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Bush has called for approval of the measure, saying it is vital in preventing terrorist attacks.

The vote was the second legislative setback for Bush in as many days. Yesterday, Bush reversed course and accepted a ban on torture crafted by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

Today's development left in doubt the immediate future of the Patriot Act, which was first enacted soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist insisted he wasn't giving up and repeated his opposition to a three-month extension of the act.

Good to see Frist back to playing White House lapdog on the issue. Every time a reactionary fundamentalist's run for the presidency goes ka-blooey, an angel gets its wings.

NYT: Bush authorized gov't. eavesdropping on US citizens

This is a lenghty story that exposes yet another move by the administration to circumvent civil liberties in the 'War on Terror.' Just add it to the list: torture, rendition, infiltration of peaceful activist groups, detention without charges, denial of legal counsel-- all the sorts of rights we're taught make America great and free. And what the president's defenders are saying is that he's above the law. Isn't that sorta un-American, too?

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."

Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.


At thirteen pages, I'll freely admit that I didn't put a whole lot of time into the article itself before starting on this post. But having read The New Republic (for better and worse) for the last seven years, I know that they've printed some excellent articles on the abuses of power that have taken place under Republican leadership over the last decade.

And it goes without saying that the GOPs current and well-deserved image is that of a corrupt group of thugs willing to sell their influence to the highest bidder while selling out their constituencies.

This is probably highly recommended reading, worthy of printing out and hanging on to. I'll read more and update as necessary.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lyra Potter and the Golden Wardrobe of Fire

After posting on the fabrication of 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' controversy recently, and how the Christian themes of the series are pretty irrelevant next to the Hollywood campaign to sell, sell, sell its most promising new franchise (to the credit of some Christian blogs, they're uncomfortable with aggressive Hollywood marketing in churches) , I'm beginning to realize just how significant this movie has become for America's fundamentalists.

After taking a look at some recent posts on the issue, it appears as though the fundies have swallowed the 'Culture War' meme hook, line, and sinker. And sadly, we're going to have another media feeding frenzy (by which I mean ratings war) that will last for years and produce countless "sizzling media exposes" a la Geraldo.

Why? For one reason, there's another series of children's literature that's undergoing the move from the page to the big screen-- Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. As works of literature, they blow the doors off of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter books. As for religious content, Pullman created an incredibly complex and thoughtful examination of religion and non-religion that also blows the doors off of any other attempt ostensibly aimed at a youthful audience. Simply put, they're phenomenal examples of literate writing for adults that also appeal to young readers-- and they deserve every last bit of their critical and popular success. (I regard Harry Potter and Narnia books as the opposite-- children's literature with some appeal to adults.)

But I was surprised to see that the battle lines have been drawn by the fundamentalists a full two years before the first novel in Pullman's trilogy "The Golden Compass," (or "The Northern Lights" depending on your country of origin) is even set to hit theaters. And some are even writing articles pitting its theology against the second projected Narnia installment, "Prince Caspian."

Incredibly, ugly, and taking place before our very eyes. To quote an entirely unrelated author of fantasy novels: "Winter is coming."

[Your gay cowboy movie title here]

A while back, I did a post all about how a certain friend of mine and I like to riff on stuff (Now I see the comments have vanished! What gives?!?). You know, just take an idea and toss some quips back and forth. Today seems like a good time to dust off one of the fairly recent exchanges, which was all about Brokeback Mountain. AND to open it to the public. The last time I did a Name That Caption post, I wound up being totally out-funnied by the mysterious Cipher (These comments are gone, too! What the..!?!). It's time for a re-match.

Odds are you know just as much about this film as I do-- namely that it's probably the only gay cowboy movie that features the performers wearing more than just hats and boots.

On to the comedy. Along with Mil Apodos and the Notorious F.L.A.P.J.A.C.K., I came up with some alternate titles and taglines for Brokeback Mountain. Because let's face it, the concept of gay cowboys is inherently funny, like the alpenhorn or pirate accents.

Swordfight at the OK Corral
Little House and the Fairy
The CoMANcheros
Flaming Saddles
The Mantastic Seven
Jeremiah's Johnson
How the West Was Hung

And some taglines:

Sometimes being a cowboy is a real drag.
A story of MANifest Destiny...
Destined to fill every seat in the theater...
The only thing from Wyoming is steers and queers, and I don't see any... oh, uhhh... never mind.

I noticed that the Air America show did the same thing last week, and one of their writers even came up with one of my titles, "Jeremiah's Johnson." And I knew that we had some professional-grade comedy on our hands.

Thank you, and good night.

Thursday Funny: Rep. Dingell mocks war on Christmas

And he does a pretty good job of it. The GOP-controlled House is doing its best to sustain the Fox-inspired myth that the 5 0r 6 percent of the American public who are atheists are on the verge of banning religion from the country. (But you can certainly see how they could manage an end-run around such lackadaisical Christian groups as the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family.)

The idea was that they would pass a Resolution that would 'preserve' and 'protect' Christmas symbols from some unnamed enemy who has a grudge against stockings and snowmen, and the Michigan Congressman treated it like the farce that it is. Good stuff. Way to go, Dingell-Bells. And Merry Christmas.... if that's okay.

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House
No bills were passed ‘bout which Fox News could grouse;

Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;

Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds,
While visions of school and home danced in their heads;

In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan,
Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell;
Americans feared we were on a fast track to…well…

Wait--- we need a distraction--- something divisive and wily;
A fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly

We can pretend that Christmas is under attack
Hold a vote to save it--- then pat ourselves on the back;

There's more at the Congressman's site. Check it out. I've mentioned before that I think more Democratic officials should hire comedy writers. With the GOP pulling clownish horseshit like this "Preserving Christmas" resolution, they don't merit anything more than derisive dismissal. Not to mention the things that happen when you pit a comedian against the likes of a Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter-- they're completely out of their rhetorical league, and the subsequent attempt to shout down the opposition looks all the more ridiculous. And I'm for hire, you Democrats out there.

Journalistic sneak attack of the day

The right has put plenty of effort into portraying Howard Dean as a radical lunatic, and the mainstream media has largely gone along with it uncritically. All a bit odd, considering that he was actually pretty centrist as a governor and has shown himself to be a very articulate and reasonable spokesman for the Democratic party. Also odd considering that he doesn't hold elected office, is running for any office, and doesn't have any known intention of running for office.

But the attacks go on, and in classic right-wing style:

In response to this post taking Joe Klein to task for his latest Time magazine column -- in which he said Howard Dean was “gleeful” and “rooting for defeat” in saying the U.S. can’t win in Iraq -- a reader writes in to point out something very interesting. It turns out Klein trimmed Dean’s quote, removing a word that would have undercut his fundamental point about Dean’s alleged glee at America’s failure.

Klein, quoting Dean, wrote the following:

The party chairman, Howard Dean, was not inaccurate when he said, "The idea that we are going to win this war ... is just plain wrong." If Dean had added the word militarily, most generals would agree with him. The trouble is, Dean—as always—seemed downright gleeful about the bad news. He seemed to be rooting for defeat."
Here’s what Dean actually said:
The idea that we’re gonna win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong.
Note the word "unfortunately." Clearly, those ellipses are awfully useful. After all, how can you be “gleeful” about something when you’re saying it’s unfortunate?

I realize that columnists aren't journalists, but how is it that they can get away with quote manipulation on the pages of some of the country's most widely-read publications?

NC Congressman dogged by corruption, KGB ties

Granted, the title is a little gratuitous. But what would a week be like if it didn't feature the corrupt money-grubbing of a Republican Congressman? This time we're off to North Carolina for a story so absurd it almost matches "Duke" Cunningham's misdeeds.

NC 11th district Congressman Charles Taylor, famed for his disappearing vote against CAFTA, has won a Golden Galaxy Award from theAmerican-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry for furthering economic relations between the two countries.

No mention of the award at Taylor's website. Maybe that's because many North Carolinians are not impressed by Taylor's business dealings in Russia, where his partner is a former KGB officer.

According to the News & Observer (8/22/2000), "Taylor's closest associate in Russia - the man who has introduced him to business partners there - is Boris Bolshakov, a former Soviet KGB colonel.

"Bolshakov later worked as a senior officer in a bank that has been identified by US authorities as a participant in an alleged international multibillion-dollar money-laundering scheme."

Last year (8/29/04) the Charlotte Observer reported on ethical questions facing Taylor, including unpaid taxes and a staffer's sweet lobbying deal -- and also the wealthy Congressman's Russian connections. "Eyebrows were also raised when Taylor's bank acquired a bank in Russia in September 2003.

"A U.S. congressman with his own bank in the former Soviet Union?"

In August of this year, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Taylor "has spent $25,0000 in taxpayer money since the end of 1999 visiting Russia seven times."

Follow the hyperlink for the original piece, with plenty of links of its own. Congratulations, red-state voters. Republicans sell you "guns, gays and God," but neglect to add that they'll pocket the "goods."

Another loss for fundamentalist strong-arm tactics

First Microsoft, now Ford. Both companies were pressured by the American Family Association to disassociate their advertising dollars from publications catering to the gay community. Then the progressive blogs stepped in with their own letter-writing campaigns. And the companies made the right decision-- not to discriminate against consumers. Those of us who think it's absurd to deny people civil rights because of their sexual orientation far outnumber the Leviticus fans. The trick is to keep organized, because we rarely are until it's too late, but zealots are always ready to do the bidding of their leaders.

DETROIT, Dec. 14 - Less than two weeks after the Ford Motor Company said it would all but eliminate its advertising in publications that cater to gays, the company reversed itself Wednesday.

The decision followed a wave of criticism from gay rights groups, who had accused Ford of bowing to the threat of a boycott from the American Family Association.

Ford's announcement, which gay advocates immediately praised, also included other steps to broaden the automaker's relations with gay consumers and repair damage from the initial decision to stop advertising.

In a letter Wednesday to gay advocacy groups, Ford said that in addition to its current advertising campaigns in gay media, it would expand the ads to encompass all eight Ford brands. Previously, only Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo ran ads in gay publications. Now, the company has said it will advertise its Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda and Aston Martin brands in the gay press.

A spokeswoman for the American Family Association said the group had no comment. A Ford spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company's letter.

Ford's letter did not repudiate its relationship with the association, which it met with after the group's boycott was announced in May. But Mr. Laymon wrote, "We expect to be measured not by the meetings we conduct but by our conduct itself."

Ford now hopes to end an embarrassing public relations problem that left many puzzled. Ford has long sponsored gay rights groups and provided the same health care benefits to homosexual couples as it does to heterosexuals.

One thing, though. Ford definitely shouldn't be selling Aston Martins to gay guys. It would break James Bond's heart.

Globe demands Romney resignation

Not of tremendous interest on a national level, but a good story nonetheless. Romney's status as the right-wing Mormon governor of Massachusetts isn't so much a great Republican coup as a piece of good luck and opportunism by Romney.

I had just moved to Massachusetts as the gubernatorial election was heating up. And it was immediately clear that the election was a referendum on a very unpopular Democratic incumbent. Mitt had a pretty solid shot at winning just by keeping his mouth shut. It also didn't hurt that he used the now shopworn Republican tactic of talking like a centrist to conceal far-right political stances. It became obvious soon after the election that Romney saw the governorship of Massachusetts as nothing more than a stepping stone to national politics. He was immediately surrounded by rumors of a presidential run, and did nothing to convince people otherwise.

To that end, Romney hitched his wagon to Bush and started to portray himself as just the sort of guy the fundamentalist right would approve of. As other would-be fundamentalist presidents began to learn over the course of 2005, that tactic was a double-edged sword. The public has turned against the administration, and the fundamentalist agenda is viewed with increasing distrust by the American public.

Too bad for Mitt. At this point, he seems to have shot himself in the foot by alienating the constituency here (he's already announced he won't run again) and gambled incorrectly on his national chances. Good riddance, I say.

The Boston Globe does a good job here of calling it like it is:

By thumbing his nose at Massachusetts after less than three-quarters of one term as its chief executive, Mitt Romney, yesterday surrendered his clout and squandered his legitimacy. If, as it appears, his heart and mind are no longer in Massachusetts, he should resign.

Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is inexperienced. But the state would be far better off in the hands of someone focused on state problems, rather than someone touring the country ridiculing the people he was elected to serve. Romney has joked in several states that, as a Republican here, he feels like ''a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."

Romney's decision was no surprise, as he admits to presidential aspirations and has increasingly taken conservative positions that would appeal far more to GOP activists in the South and West than to Massachusetts voters. Romney said he would keep his commitment to finish his term, but there is no reason to. He might as well follow Paul Cellucci, who went to Ottawa, and Bill Weld, who left for Mexico City (though he never arrived).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Fundamentalist: A Story That Never Was

After seeing a disappointing segment on Keith Olbermann's Countdown yesterday, I thought I'd add my two cents. The story itself presented LWW (I really don't want to keep re-typing the whole title) as a "Christian movie." That's what set me off.

I read the series as a kid, and I enjoyed some and was bored by others. Like many, many others, it wasn't until much later that I learned of C.S. Lewis' interest in writing Christian parables for young people. But so what? That doesn't take away from the enjoyment (or lack thereof) I experienced at the time.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was pretty excited. It looked great, and I took it as a good sign that the director obviously wanted to recreate the thrills of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings series-- same special effects company, same gorgeous locations. It looked like Hollywood had finally realized something that I'd resented about children's movies and literature since I was a tot-- it's really annoying when they're sanitized and condescending.

But here's the rub. Tolkien was a friend of Lewis', and also deeply religious. In many ways, the Lord of the Rings was a Christian parable. But not a soul called them "Christian movies." Harry Potter is condemned by the fundamentalists as golorifying witchcraft-- but what if Rowling made a statement that they were actually intended as Christian morality plays?

The answer is that she'd make millions more dollars as the gullible pawns of Falwell, Dobson, Robertson, et al., tripped over themselves trying to snap up every book and movie.

The simple fact of the matter is that the fundamentalists are being taught a basic lesson in marketing by the masters of their own Babylon: Hollywood, USA. The lesson is this: give your mark what he wants, and he'll pay the price. Hollywood isn't promoting Christianity with LWW any more than it promoted withcraft with the Harry Potter movies. Hollywood is just pleased to have found another group of dupes willing to empty their pockets into studio coffers. Not to mention a group willing to keep shelling out no matter how poor the product becomes. Think of it as "faith-crack." They'll keep believin' just as long as you can keep the product movin'.

This is all so self-evident that you might be wondering at this point why I even bothered to write about it. That's because it shows another example of the mainstream press-- or rather their corporate producers-- grabbing on to a harmless item of popular culture and whipping it into a towering, rabid bugbear in the 'Culture Wars.'

There's no 'War on Christmas.' No cabal of Wiccans out to brainwash Harry Potter readers into a life of Satanism. There's no sinister group of gays and lesbians who hang out near schools and somehow try to convince kids that they're attracted to members of the same sex when they aren't. And there's no group of studio executives who've undergone a transformation and dedicated their lives to Christian filmmaking.

What's actually out there is marketing. A group of Fox executives who realize that having Bill O'Reilly make phony claims about attempts to ban Christmas will keep you watching, and thereby fatten their own pocketbooks with increased ad revenue. Mega-church owners who keep their Cadillacs gassed-up by keeping you scared of non-existent monsters under the bed. A corrupt admistration that tries to bolster faltering support by keeping the populace in fear of threats that never materialized, and by dressing up sheep in wolves' clothing as they count their billions.

I'm still going to see the movie, for the same reasons that I was going to see it all along-- it looks like a well-done epic adaptation of a famous children's story (made by a group of entertainers and executives who realized they could make some money from it).

Too bad the press is doing everything it can to convince us that it's actually the latest battlefront over the soul of America. I kinda feel bad for C.S. Lewis, too.

Attention all seditious hippies! Oh, and Quakers.

Demonstrating that what was good enough for Nixon is good enough for Bush, 'The Man' is apparently taking us back to the good ol' days of spying on peaceful, law-abiding citizens. This is the sort of information that makes love-it-or-leave-it reactionaries cheer, and causes my conservative friends and family members to go all quiet and take a sudden interest in the ceiling.

A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period.

“This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible,” says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project.

“This is incredible,” adds group member Rich Hersh. “It's an example of paranoia by our government,” he says. “We're not doing anything illegal.”

The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.

You've gotta feel some sympathy for those Quakers. They can't seem to catch a break in this country, from the Puritans to the Bushies. Highly recommended reading and viewing.

Oh, yeah--- and NINE-ELEVEN!!!!!

Today Bush gave what will hopefully be his last recitation of the phony-baloney rationale for invading Iraq. And in addition to summoning the specter of 9/11, which of course had nothing to do with Iraq, he tried to re-float a talking point we haven't heard in a while (but oh, yes, we've heard it before).

This time it was the bogus line that it was all the fault of intelligence gathering. From 'Curveball,' to reliance on convicted swindler and suspected Iranian double-agent Achmed Chalabi, anyone who pays attention to actual news knows that the administration continually chose to present highly questionable intel as incontrovertible fact. When warned by the CIA that intelligence that apparently bolstered the case for war was actually untrustworthy and shouldn't be relied upon, the administration ran with it anyway.

Fearless Leader, speaking today: When we made the decision to go into Iraq, many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of governments who did not support my decision to remove Saddam. And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq _ and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that. At the same time, we must remember that an investigation after the war by chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer found that Saddam was using the U.N. oil-for-food program to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions, with the intent of restarting his weapons programs once the sanctions collapsed and the world looked the other way. Given Saddam's history and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat _ and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power. We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator; it is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in its place.

I won't be holding my breath for the mainsstream press to actually point out that this is a pack of lies. Why start now?

Corrupt Cunningham to keep gov't. pension

Um, is there some way I can take $2.4 million in bribes and then collect $40,000 a year for it? I'm even willing to skip the bribes! Anybody?

Republican House members disturbed that their former GOP colleague Randy "Duke" Cunningham will get to keep his pension despite pleading guilty to bribery want to pass a law to strip federal pensions from white-collar criminals.

Under federal law, only a conviction for a crime against the United States, such as treason or espionage, can cause a member of Congress or other federal employee to lose his or her government pension.

That means Cunningham, a California Republican, will keep his pension despite admitting taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and others in exchange for government contracts.

Cunningham's congressional pension would be around $40,000 per year, according to an Office of Personnel Management formula. He resigned last month and faces 10 years in prison when he's sentenced in February.

Oh,well. That's the government for ya.

I heard a rumor....

It's everywhere today, but it doesn't really add up to anything significant. But since it's making such waves, I'll pass it on.

1. Byron York writes in the National Review that Rove's allies are getting nervous about a coming indictment.

2. Bob Novak claims that Bush knows the full story of the Plame leak.

It isn't just because of the sources that I brush aside the story. It's that Fitzgerald's remarkably leak-proof investigation still doesn't seem to be producing any plausible sources. There's just no reason to buy any of this yet.

That said, would anyone be surprised to learn that the whole White House was in on this too-typical example of arrogant abuse of power?

At last! Real Christians take on the Dobson brigade

This should have happened a long time ago. The fundamentalist-backed "Culture of Life" has largely been an abstraction. It favors the death penalty and spending taxpayer dollars to keep brain-dead husks that were once individuals hooked to machines while ignoring the rising number of Americans living in poverty and squalor. Now non-reactionary Christian groups are saying "Enough." More power to them.

"It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important," said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's influential, Colorado-based Christian organization. "But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."

Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest, was not buying it. Such conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," he said. "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."

At issue is a House-passed budget-cutting measure that would save $50 billion over five years by trimming food stamp rolls, imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting child-support enforcement funds and paring agriculture programs. House negotiators are trying to reach accord with senators who passed a more modest $35 billion bill that largely spares programs for the poor.

Classic right-wing theology. They'll go to jail and commit murder to make sure a child is born, but once it's out there in the world, come poverty, abuse or disease, you're on your own.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Nice family ya got there, Canada... Be a shame if somethin' happened to 'em.

In the latest round of 'how can Bush appointees embarrass us further,' US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins gives the nation a stern warning: Canadian political candidates better watch what they say about this administration.

OTTAWA/SURREY, British Columbia (Reuters) - The United States made an unprecedented foray into Canada's election campaign on Tuesday, warning politicians not to bash Washington in their bid to win the January 23 election.

But an unapologetic Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin responded immediately by saying "c'est la vie" -- that's life -- if the United States did not like his remarks, and he would not accept anyone telling him he cannot defend his country.

In a hard-hitting speech in Ottawa, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins lamented what he called relentless and incessant criticism of his country, which he speculated might begin to sow doubt about the strength of the binational relationship.

"Canada never has to tear the United States down to build itself up," Wilkins said.

"It may be smart election politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner. But it's a slippery slope and all of us should hope it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship."

I'm no expert on international relations, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that our reputation with Canada isn't going to be improved by veiled threats. It's like the time the principal in my high school decided to get involved in the student body elections by pointing out what dopes two of the candidates were. If she had kept her mouth shut, the students would have made a sensible choice. Instead, the dopes won in a landslide.

Thanks to Mil Apodos for the link.

Patriot Act Primer

With lawmakers scurrying to get legislation passed before they go on vacation, it's a perfect opportunity for them to sneak through unpopular measures in all the confusion. One of those measures is the Patriot Act, which doesn't appear to have done much of anything in terms of protecting the nation even as it undermines the civil rights of American citizens.

This WaPo link, provided by someone I'll mention only as The Notorious F.L.A.P.J.A.C.K., has all the info you could want on the various provisions of the Patriot Act.

Read it and weep.

More DLC nonsense

I've had a bone to pick with the DLC for several years, and as time goes on it gets worse. The White House and right-wing pundits are actually crowing about a poll in which the president's approval rating emerged (briefly) over the 40% line. It's apparently back down to 38%, and he continues to lose support even among fundamentalists-- apparently the bogus war on Christmas tactic isn't keeping them frightened enough.

So the GOP is continually losing ground and showing America that they're the party of corruption, with new indictments emerging almost weekly. Americans are against the war, against Republican social policies, and against the philosophy of tax cuts uber alles.

But the Democratic Leadership Council continues to cling tenaciously to the only idea they have: Democrats need to take a big step to the right and climb on board the GOP policy bandwagon.

Less than two weeks ago, the Democratic Leadership Council said that people like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Vietnam War Hero Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) were "offering surrender" by supporting an exit strategy from Iraq. This followed on the DLC's long record of slamming anyone who it disagrees with (for more, just see the DLC's treatment of Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential primary). Now, the DLC is desperately attacking those likeSen. Harry Reid (D-NY) who have been critical of Sen. Joe Lieberman's (D-CT) support for the Iraq War, and in the process, actually claimingthe DLC has always been for "inclusion" in the Democratic Party and against "polarized politics."

This is how pathetic and corrupt it has gotten in Washington. The nation's capital has become a place where corporate-funded institutions like the DLC can one day viciously stab courageous progressives, and then the next day turn around and claim they are actually for "inclusion" - all without batting an eye, or thinking twice about how dishonest and hypocritical such behavior really is. What an insult to the public's intelligence.

Apparently to the DLC, "inclusion" is defined as being in lockstep with their far-out-of-the-mainstream views, and the only thing important to them is preserving their status on the D.C. cocktail party circuit by issuing press releases touting their "friendship" with those who undermine the Democratic Party.

This nicely illustrates the DLC's ersatz "Big Idea." The GOP has managed to keep all their Congressmen in line by talking inclusion and savaging any party members who don't follow the policy dictated to them by the Karl Roves and Tom DeLays of the party. Screw you, DLC. Your day is over.

More Tuesday funny: Fox continues its war on Christmas

Funny. This webpage for the 'Fox Fan Mag' has lots of stories about you-know-what. But apparently, they aren't willing to take a principled stand and call "the holiday that dare not speak its name" what their anchors insist. No, the conservative network has opted to go with the word 'holiday' instead of 'Christmas.' In a whopping ten stories.

Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity should take a stand and refuse to work for a network that lacks the balls to use the word 'Christmas.' It's not as though they need any more money.

Tuesday funny: Talking tough about the war on Christmas

Crooks and Liars has the video, but here's Salon's play-by-play of Sam Seder's appearance with Stone Phillips and some fundamentalist blowhard:

Sam Seder: Listen, as far as the war on Christmas goes, I feel like we should be waging a war on Christmas. I mean, I believe that Christmas, it's almost proven that Christmas has nuclear weapons, can be an imminent threat to this country, that they have operative ties with terrorists and I believe that we should sacrifice thousands of American lives in pursuit of this war on Christmas. And hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Phillips: Is it a war on Christmas, a war on Christians, a war on over-political correctness or just a lot of people with way too much time on their hands?

Seder: I would say probably, if I was to be serious about it, too much time on their hands, but I'd like to get back to the operational ties between Santa Claus and al-Qaida ... We have intelligence, we have intelligence.

Phillips: You have intel. Where exactly does your intel come from?

Seder: Well, we have tortured an elf and it's actually how we got the same information from al-Libi. It's exactly the same way the Bush administration got this info about the operational ties between al-Qaida and Saddam.

At which point, Bob Knight from Concerned Women of America's Culture and Family Institute cut in in an effort to get serious about his cause. He said Seder's routine would be funny if "a lot of people" weren't seeing "their faith cleansed from the public square systematically." Seder asked Knight to name one person in America who isn't allowed to celebrate Christmas. Knight couldn't do that, of course, ultimately sputtering instead into the obligatory discussion of how the Nazis banned Christmas, too. Happy holidays.

Man, the fundies love their Nazi talk, don't they? You'd think there was some sort of widespread conspiracy to deprive 80% of Americans of their ability to celebrate Christmas. We must protect the oppressed 80%!

After cutting 30,000 US jobs, GM moves to India

It was obvious years ago that American auto manufacturers were pursuing a very dangerous policy by continuing to produce gas-guzzling SUVs and ignoring the future of hybrid vehicles. Now American workers are going to pay the price.

BANGALORE, India - General Motors Corp. said Tuesday it plans to nearly triple the number of cars it produces in India to meet growing demand in the South Asian country.

The announcement came just weeks after the company said it would slash 30,000 jobs and scale back production in the United States.

GM previously had announced plans to increase production in India from more than double the 25,000 cars a year it currently produces in the country. Lawrence Burns, vice president for research and development, said Tuesday that the number of vehicles made in India would eventually reach 80,000. (. . .)

GM said in November that declining sales and rising health care costs would force it to close 12 North American manufacturing facilities by 2008 and cut 30,000 jobs, which represent 17 percent of GM's North American hourly and salaried work force of 173,000.

The plan will cut the number of vehicles GM is able to build in North America by about 1 million a year by the end of 2008. GM will be able to build about 4.2 million vehicles a year in North America, down 30 percent from 2002.

Diebold CEO resigns under shadow of corruption

Another Bush ally, another corrupt businessman.

The chief executive officer of electronic voting company Diebold who once famously declared that he would "deliver" Ohio for President Bush has resigned effective immediately, Raw Story has learned.

"The board of directors and Wally [O'Dell] mutually agreed that his decision to resign at this time for personal reasons was in the best interest of all parties," the company's new chairman said in a statement.

O'Dell's resignation comes just days after reports from that the company was facing imminent securities fraud litigation surrounding charges of insider trading. It also comes on the heels of a Raw Story interview with a Diebold insider, who raised new allegations of technical woes inside the company, as well as concerns that Diebold may have mishandled elections in Georgia and Ohio.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Very Stilted Christmas

Watch if you dare. The White House's most recent holiday-- excuse me, Christmas-themed video highlighting the carefully-edited shenanigans of Bush's pups Barney Miss Beazley is a real treat. It's filled with focus-group approved joviality that wouldn't offend a single member of the Christian Coalition, and even features cameos by ersatz journalists whoring themselves out for the administration that hates them. Complete with shit-eating grins!

Ahhhh, the holiday season. Sorry. Christmas season. It's a time when even evil shills like White House Chief of Staff Andy Card seem like great big, huggable Santas.

Regrettably, unlike last year's Barney video, we won't be seeing the First Dog converse with Karl Rove, Scott McClellan, or Ari Fleischer. They're ostensibly too evil for an appearance in this holiday-- dammit, there I go again-- Christmas tribute to America's favorite armadillo-chaser.

I got through about three and a half minutes before the Prozac-induced merriment and dizzying waste of taxpayer dollars got the better of me. How long can you last?

Fallen American troops: now with free shipping!

It's bad enough that the government has enforced a policy of shipping casualties out of Iraq under cover of night to avoid any possibility of the dead and wounded being seen and reported on. But now they seem to have found a new way to bring our military home:

There's controversy over how the military is transporting the bodies of service members killed overseas, 10News reported.

A local family said fallen soldiers and Marines deserve better and that one would think our war heroes are being transported with dignity, care and respect. It said one would think upon arrival in their hometowns they are greeted with honor. But unfortunately, the family said that is just not the case.

Dead heroes are supposed to come home with their coffins draped with the American flag -- greeted by a color guard.

But in reality, many are arriving as freight on commercial airliners -- stuffed in the belly of a plane with suitcases and other cargo.

John Holley and his wife, Stacey, were stunned when they found out the body of their only child, Matthew John Holley, who died in Iraq last month, would be arriving at Lindbergh Field as freight.

We appreciate your family's sacrifice, and ask that you appear at Baggage Carousel C to pick up your son at 9:07 p.m. We recommend calling first in case of flight delays.

Dept. of Justice okays gerrymandering

How did I miss this? We all learn in junior high history that gerrymandering is a shameful and corrupt means of creating a political machine. From the Bush administration, we're learning that power is everything. From TPM:

A week ago it was reported that Justice Department lawyers had concluded at the time that the DeLay redistricting plan of 2003 violated the Voting Right Act, but that senior DOJ officials overruled that finding and okayed DeLay's plan anyway.

Justice Department officials have now instituted a policy to assure this never happens again. They have, as reported in today's Post, "barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics."

Note that the policy instituted isn't to prevent the politicization of redistricting, but to ensure that people like DeLay are free to redraw the electoral map to favor their own party.

Naturally, the only hope for justice rests with the courts. The Supreme Court is going to take up the case. Which is why the Bushies are determined to stack the courts with loyal ideologues instead of ethical jurists. Checks and balances. I seem to remember something about that from junior high, too.

A look at progress in New Orleans (Updated)

Or lack of same. UK's Observer takes a look at what's happening with various homes and businesses around the city. And it's a bleak picture indeed. The way things are going, it looks like New New Orleans may well look like the conservative post-Katrina vision of the city. A glorified strip mall with the city's black population drastically reduced. Bring the whole family, listen to some Kenny G, and enjoy the new Bayou Burger at Friday's.

Population of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina: 500,000

Present population: 60-70,000

Black population pre-Katrina: 65 per cent; post-Katrina it is predicted by the US Secretary for Housing and Urban Development to be 35-40 per cent

Concentration of poverty pre-Katrina: 18.4 per cent, making it the second highest concentration in a US metropolitan area. For African-Americans, the rate pre-Katrina was 35 per cent

UPDATE: An op-ed in Sunday's NY Times provides further evidence that the GOP simply doeesn't give a shit about New Orleans.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.

Pat Robertson: Lieberman's new best friend?

I pity the fine folks at Media Matters who have to wade through the dreck that is right-wing broadcasting. But they're doing great work.

One recent find is Pat Robertson stating that the criticism of Iraq policy heard from some Democrats recently is treasonous. I can't imagine anyone being too stupid to realize that outlawing criticism of government is a hallmark of totalitarianism. But there are plenty of them out there, it seems.

On the December 7 edition of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, host Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America, said Democratic criticism of the Iraq war "amounts to treason" and that "carping criticism ... just doesn't cut it."

This sounds fairly similar (thought more extreme) to Joe Lieberman's recent statement that criticism of the president is merely perilous. But maybe they should get together. Have lunch sometime, and talk about their views of the future of Israel. On second thought, that wouldn't be a smart topic....

Saturday, December 10, 2005

America's fighting middle-aged moms

There's a nice post at Eschaton that shows the cavalcade of right-wing hypocrisy over the war and national service even as it suggests that we really aren't making the sort of progress the White House loves to claim.

Item 1: The single mother from Medford has been unexpectedly pulled from the inactive Army reserve and ordered to report for active duty by Feb. 5.

As Christmas nears, Arndt, 43, is trying to sell the Medford home she says she will not be able to keep on an Army salary of approximately $60,000 a year, and is searching for someone to care for her 13-year-old son, Shane. She expects to train for an 18-month tour of duty that could take her to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Item 2: (By National Review right-winger and pro-war hawk Jonah Goldberg)
As for why my sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice.

I'm amazed at my own capacity to be astonished by the sort of cowardice and hypocrisy that serves as the foundation for Bush Republicans. Or maybe it's the shock I feel that with sort of thing occurring on a daily basis that we haven't turned the entire Republican party out of power. Yet.

Senator Jack Reed talks tough on Iraq

There's been plenty of talk about Lieberman this week, with Bush, Cheney and even Rummy mentioning his name in various appearances. There was also some buzz about John Kerry's response to Bush's new wave of Iraq speeches-- namely that Harry Reid intended Jack Reed to make the statement, only to have Kerry muscle in and steal the show. (As I wrote earlier, I thought Kerry did a good job, so I wasn't too concerned.) Now Reed has come out swinging, and says all the right things, showing that the Dems aren't going to clam up because Lieberman shot his mouth off again. Reed isn't a high-profile Senator, but having yet another Dem with a solid military background speaking up is always a good thing.

President Bush has failed to outline an effective strategy for winning the war in Iraq, Sen. Jack Reed said Saturday in the Democratic Party's weekly radio address.

''The American people are eager to hear the president's plan for success in Iraq, rebuilding the country and bringing our troops home,'' Reed said. ''Instead, the president continues to offer vague generalities and rhetoric with no specifics about what needs to be done.''

The Rhode Island senator, saying the current course in Iraq is a mistake, called on Bush to offer a more candid appraisal of how the war-ravaged nation can be stabilized and put on a surer path to democracy.

''If the president has any hope of regaining the nation's support for operations in Iraq and justifying the growing cost in lives and taxpayer dollars ... he must be candid and honest about the current situation.''

Reed, a former Army Ranger who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused the Bush Administration of assailing the patriotism of Iraq war critics.

''I have found it disturbing that the Bush administration has attacked the patriotism of those who question the administration's policies in Iraq,'' Reed charged. ''Baseless partisan attacks won't help us win the war, won't help the troops and won't protect our nation from our enemies.''

Reed, unlike some Democrats, does not support an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. His criticism comes in the wake of two major speeches on Iraq by Bush in the past two weeks aimed at rallying slumping public support for his war policies.

It's crucial that Dems keep pointing out that while they might not be in lockstep over how to deal with the problems in Iraq, the only position that really matters is the president's-- and he doesn't seem to have any plan at all.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Science Friday: Those left behind and global warming

Every now and then I post a few nuggets from physicist Bob Parks' newletter 'What's New,' often about the disturbing collision of science and politics. (For those keeping score, science usually loses these days.) Here are two creepy items from today:

On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a report on science standards for K-12 set by 49 states, "The State of State Science Standards." Iowa, which doesn't set standards for any subject, was left out. The report was authored by Paul Gross with help from a panel of distinguished science educators. Predictably, evolution got particular attention. A year ago, with Barbara Forrest, Gross examined the "intelligent design"
movement in Creationism's Trojan Horse (Oxford, 2004). Only seven states got an A, and almost half flunked. Kansas achieved special distinction with the only F-. Ironically, the report suggests the No Child Left Behind law contributed to the low science scores by requiring testing only in reading and math.

There are, however, Eskimos in Washington, DC this week, where on Wednesday, they filed a petition against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Eskimo culture is dependent on sea ice, which is shrinking. Perhaps they will subpoena 4 senators (3 Republican) who visited Barrow, AK last year. According to a NY Times story from the Montreal Climate Change Conference, the Bush Administration remains steadfastly opposed, not only to new goals for reduction of greenhouse emissions, but also to any informal discussions that might even touch on the subject. The Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, singled out the U.S. for failing to join in the world effort to limit CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) has a bill to spend $10M to study weather modification. Someone should explain that we're modifying the weather right now.

I highly recommend a subscription to the free newsletter. Follow the link above. Lesson learned this week: Not only is the Bush White House underfunding education, but they're redefining education to include non-education.

Reality Deficit Disorder: Iraq, Al Qaeda, and the White House

Lead story in the NY Times today (link above):

The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.

The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.

Now let's head over to Bush's appearance at a fundraiser today in Minnesota:

President Bush, in Minnesota to raise money for a GOP Senate hopeful, has again linked the war in Iraq with terrorist attacks on the United States.

Bush told the Minneapolis crowd the country's short-term objective is "to stay on the hunt and bring the killers to justice before they hurt us again." Bush said he'd rather be defeating terrorists in Iraq than face them at home.

The event was a thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraiser for Congressman Mark Kennedy, the presumptive Republican nominee for the state's open Senate seat.


Say it with me now! CORRUPTION!

The link to Ipsos doesn't seem to be working, so I'm linking to the MyDD post about it. I think that "culture of corruption" is a lame catchphrase. Too wonky. Punch it up a little bit, Democrats. How about words like rotten or phony? Maybe something menacing like "web of corruption" would work.

This poll shows that the issue of political corruption is resonating with the public, and without a doubt, it's fueled by the common wisdom that corruption is endemic in politics anyway. But the trouble in the GOP isn't just garden-variety gladhanding-- and the public is taking notice.

Take a look:

How serious a problem is political corruption in the United States today? Would you say

Very serious -- 51
Somewhat serious -- 37
Not too serious -- 8
Not at all serious -- 3
Not sure -- 1

The problem is that the Dems don't seem to be benefiting yet:

In general, which elected officials would you say are more ETHICAL?

Democrats -- 36
Republicans -- 33
Both equally -- 10
Neither is ethical -- 15
Not sure -- 6

The Dems need to start saying it loud, and saying it often. Give people the list-- "a top White House advisor, four Congressmen, and Republican lobbyists." "From the special interest lobbies to the White House." The Democrats can use this, and they should. It isn't just playing politics-- it's a genuine problem that we have to fix.

The MyDD poster has another excellent suggestion-- the Dems should start sponsoring legislation to clean up Washington. The GOP will shoot it down, and the Dems have fuel for the campaign trail.