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, March 31, 2006

The Republican Party v States' Rights: Act IV

Here's a shocker for you. Two months after the State of the Union address in which Bush boldly announced that the US is "addicted to oil," we're seeing an unprecedented Republican effort to wean the nation from the teat of Middle Eastern crude. The bold new initiative? A 5% improvement in fuel economy to go into effect in a couple of years. Whoopee! We're saved!

Some states have decided that's not really sufficient to address high fuel costs, pollution, or the brass ring of energy independence. As such, they've enacted their own more stringent standards for vehicle efficiency.

The Republican party, however, has decided once again that "big government" knows best and moved to block states from passing their own laws on the matter.

Most of the attention on the Bush Administration's proposed fuel economy standards for SUVs and light trucks has focused on the fact that they would do very little to reduce gas mileage and save consumers money at the gas pump.

Unfortunately, the proposal also included preamble language attempting to block states from implementing greenhouse gas reductions for cars and light trucks, claiming that such reductions would be equivalent to illegal backdoor CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) improvements.

According to law, only the federal government can implement a fuel economy standard for vehicles in the United States. However, states have the authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt California pollution standards that are more stringent than the federal government. California has already passed a bill and approved regulations cutting greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles by 22% by model year 2012 and 30% by model year 2016.

So in this year alone, the GOP has acted to overrule states' abilities to A) demand accuracy in food labeling, B) protect consumers from usurious lenders, C) require minimum healthcare standards from insurance providers, and D) reduce the production of greenhouse gasses. (There was also the January effort by right-wing justices Roberts, Thomas and Scalia to put Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law under federal control, but no dice. So far.)

In spite of all this, part of me feels bad every time I use the term neo-fascist to describe the 21st-century reign of the GOP. Maybe we liberals really are too nice for our own good. They're fascists, after all.

Which immigration plan is right for me?

Wonder no more-- Congress has been falling all over itself trying to grab the edge on this issue, and the PDF document linked to above will help make some sense of at least seven proposals. There's plenty of overlap, but it's still a devil's cocktail (I love that expression) of ideas that may work. Or may not.

I haven't written about the issue much because I'm just not very familiar with the history or policy of it. But it needs to be talked about, so here you go. 100% free of uninformed commentary on my part.

I do feel comfortable commenting on two proposals, however. I'm pretty sure 'Operation Gigantic Wall' would be a bust. And the idea that the Bush administration could track down, round up, and transport eleven million people anywhere is a joke (why, yes, I am thinking of Katrina). A very, very expensive and unfunny joke.

DeLay aide pleads guilty: faces five years, $350,000

This is the meatiest story on Tony Rudy's guilty plea I've come across, although the blogs are buzzing with smaller posts about the implications of the deal.

Former lobbyist Tony C. Rudy pleaded guilty to conspiring with Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and others to commit honest services fraud, mail and wire fraud, and a violation of conflict of interest post-employment restrictions, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division announced today.

Rudy, 39, entered his plea today in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia before Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. Under the terms of a plea agreement, Rudy faces up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, mandatory restitution estimated to be approximately $100,000 as well as supervised release following his incarceration. Rudy has agreed to cooperate with law enforcement officials in the ongoing investigation. Rudy's named co-conspirators, Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, previously pled guilty in this investigation, and are also cooperating with law enforcement officials.

There's plenty of info on Rudy in the story, but disappointingly little about his shady dealings with other Republican insiders. Nevertheless, this story bodes ill for Tom DeLay's desperate attempts to hang on to his Beltway influence. Judging from the number of his buddies who are admittedly guilty and working with authorities, he's primed for a massive fall.

I'll also recommend this TPM story, which links Rudy to Ed Buckham, who is linked to Randy Cunningham, who is linked to Katherine Harris. John Doolittle fits in there somewhere, too. And those are just the bigger names.

Finally, if you're looking for a seedy parable on the dangers of being a DeLay-style weasel rancher, check out this Wall Street Journal story. It's not only a well-written account of how one of DeLay's buddies went down, but a remarkable look at the unraveling of the massive Republican corruption scandal. One thread of it, anyway. Fascinating stuff, and highly recommended.

Censure hearings are go!

C-Span is covering the Judiciary Committe hearings live today, and everyone commenting on the story observes that there's no chance of censure happening even if a resolution hits the Senate floor.

But I still think it's good that this is happening. Concerned Democrats are afraid that Feingold's attack on the president's illegal wiretapping (and possibly search and seizure) will cause a backlash. I disagree-- Feingold is doing what the situation demands in asserting the system of checks and balances, and it isn't the sort of thing that American citizens are going to beat up on Democrats for.

Salon mentions this exchange, which indicates the GOP-approved defense of wiretapping. And it isn't a defense at all.

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold opened the hearing by claiming that the president's legal theory justifying the wiretaps could lead to an ever-greater executive power grab. "Under this theory, we no longer have a constitutional system consisting of three coequal branches of government," he said. "We have a monarchy."

A few minutes later, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch shot back: "Quit trying to score political points."

White House counsel to Richard Nixon, John Dean, testified that this is worse than Watergate.

John Dean, the White House counsel to President Nixon who went to jail for his Watergate crimes, testified before a Senate committee today that President Bush should be censured for approving domestic spying by the National Security Agency.

"No president that I can find in the history of our country has adapted a policy of expanding presidential power for the purpose of expanding presidential power," he said. "To me this is not really …a partisan question. I think it's a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress."

The real victory here will be raising public awareness of Bush's illegal activities and the Republicans' role as little more than a rubber stamp for the White House.

The Class of Stepford High

Earlier in the week, I read a story about a pre-teen suspended from school for getting a mohawk. I can see that, I guess. Not too big a deal, I can see the school wanting to avoid a big headache. Or at least not wanting to deal with dozens of calls from hysterical parents afraid there was a killer on the loose.

But the stories just keep on coming, and they're much more strange.

1. A jr. high student in Missouri was also suspended this week for her own radical 'do. See for yourself. It's about as threatening as an episode of 'Friends.'

2. Tom Tomorrow has several links to stories about Kansas schools using tasers(!) on 14 and 15 year-old students.

Three stories don't make a trend, but in our law and order age, it does make me a little nervous.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dogpile on Kaloogian! Or, Anatomy of a Dumbass

Feel free to substitute monkey pile, hog pile, or whatever variant suits your region. As Howard Kaloogian's campaign tries to come up with a satisfactory explanation of why a year-old photo of Istanbul appeared with a caption stating that it was a recent picture from Baghdad that demonstrated the stability and peacefulness of Iraq, other outlandish examples of his incompetence keep turning up.

To sum up several posts I've seen, Kaloogian's campaign has dealt with the story as follows:

1. The staff replaced the 9 month-old Istanbul photo with a 9-month-old picture of Baghdad-- and the exact same fiery rhetoric of traitorous reporters lying about the peace and stability of the city. This is the picture:

As you can see, the citizens of Baghdad are going about their business in an everyday fashion. And look at all the clean water and electrical power!

2. It was announced that Kaloogian would take no more calls and make no more comments about the story. The site, overwhelmed by curious visitors, featured a message that announced 'technical difficulties,' but pointed out that the donation page was unaffected. Heh. (He's the real victim here, so show your support.)

3. Bloggers had a field day (here and here) ridiculing Kalooogian's self-righteous indignance. And it was very, very funny, so you should follow the links.

4. The San Francisco Chronicle printed the (final?) official-- and most laughable-- response to the photo debacle: The candidate said he hadn't recognized the error because "the military asked us to use our discretion and put things on the Internet that were nondescriptive ... (because) if we posted something that was easily identifiable, it could be a target." You've got to love Kaloogian's straight-faced assertion that the top brass is concerned about what might happen if his hugely popular campagin site fell into (cue scary music)... the wrong hands.

5. Inquisitive blogger uncovers a brand new, and totally unrelated, example of the Kaloogian campaign attempting to bullshit the public. California State Senator Tom McClintock (R), in a statement issued today: "It has come to my attention that a campaign mailing on behalf of Howard Kaloogian includes a picture and quote from me that suggests that I have endorsed his candidacy for U. S. Congress. I have not."

The Democrat in the race is Francine Busby, and she looks to do pretty well in the April 11th special election to fill Randy Cunningham's seat.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we definitely DON'T have a winner!

Apparently there's a contest that links 'The Apprentice' with the unveiling of Chevrolet's 2007 Tahoe. Make your own commercial! Win big prizes!

The entry featured above is technically adept, dramatic, and even funny. But it isn't going to earn any major prizes. Guaranteed.

Watch it quick before it vanishes forever.

House GOP kills ethics investigation

There's got to be a point where the majority's refusal to demand accountability from corrupt politicians disenchants the America public to such a degree that they're cowed into... honesty. But first we'll have to reach the point where people no longer buy the line that calls for ethics reform are just a "partisan stunt."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has introduced a Privileged Resolution requiring an ethics investigation of Members of Congress allegedly involved in improper conduct related to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

While reading the resolution, the House Clerk was interrupted while the House was called back into order.

After Republicans voted by voice to table the resolution, Pelosi requested a recorded vote. With just 6 Republicans breaking an otherwise party-line vote, House GOP successfully tabled the resolution, 216-193.

How much of a stunt was Pelosi's proposal? Here's the final passage:

RESOLVED, That the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct shall immediately initiate an investigation of the misconduct by Members of Congress and their staff implicated in the scandals associated with Mr. Jack Abramoff's criminal activity.

Wow! That's totally insane!

Good news from Iraq-- no, seriously!

I'm sure everyone knows this by now, but I'd hate to be accused of ignoring pleasant goings-on in Iraq in favor of sticking to the daily reports of bombings and group killings.

American reporter Jill Carroll was set free Thursday, nearly three months after she was kidnapped in a bloody ambush that killed her translator. She said she had been treated well.

Carroll, 28, was dropped off near offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party. She walked inside, and people there called American officials, Iraqi police said.

“I was treated well, but I don’t know why I was kidnapped,” Carroll said in a brief interview on Baghdad television.

This has been mentioned on every progressive blog I've seen today. But only one site seems to be grousing about Carroll's re-emergence. Which off-the-wall leftie American hater could do such a thing? John Podhoretz of The National Review. Go fig.

It’s wonderful that she’s free, but after watching someone who was a hostage for three months say on television she was well-treated because she wasn’t beaten or killed — while being dressed in the garb of a modest Muslim woman rather than the non-Muslim woman she actually is — I expect there will be some Stockholm Syndrome talk in the coming days.

It really wouldn't have occurred to me that her first move would be to rustle up a belly shirt and thong-baring jeans. I think three months in captivity might inspire me to adopt some camouflage as well. One kidnapping is plenty, thanks.

UPDATE: As you'll see from the Think Progress link above, several other right-wing bloggers have chimed in on the issue-- all focusing on her claim that she had been treated well. I didn't think twice about that statement, except maybe to be happy for her in not having been beaten, starved, or worse. I didn't realize it made her a terrorist sympathizer. How hopelessly naive of me...

Scalia: It's actually Italian for "I heart civil rights."

One thing's for sure-- Scalia is definitely a Bushie. It takes a special breed of man (not to mention jurist) to lie with such ease.

Smith was working as a freelance photographer for the Boston archdiocese’s weekly newspaper at a special Mass for lawyers Sunday when a Herald reporter asked the justice how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship.
“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.
The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”
Yesterday, Herald reporter Laurel J. Sweet agreed with Smith’s account, but said she did not hear Scalia utter the obscenity.
In his letter, Scalia denied his gesture was obscene and claimed he explained its meaning to Sweet, a point both she and Smith dispute.
Scalia went on to cite Luigi Barzini’s book, “The Italians,” which describes a seemingly different gesture - “the extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin” - and its meaning - “ ‘I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out.’ ”

To sum up, the photographer didn't see what he saw, the reporter didn't hear what she heard, and the photograph doesn't show what it shows. I sure wish I could've seen Scalia ordering his clerks to dig up a defense of his "don't publish that" gesture.

Bush: Saddam to blame for Iraq's instability

Live, from Bizarroworld! It's President Bush!

President Bush said Wednesday that Saddam Hussein, not continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, is responsible for ongoing sectarian violence that is threatening the formation of a democratic government.

In his third speech this month to bolster public support for the war, Bush worked to counter critics who say the U.S. presence in the wartorn nation is fueling the insurgency.

Bush said that Saddam was a tyrant and used violence to exacerbate sectarian divisions to keep himself in power, and that as a result, deep tensions persist to this day.

And here I thought it was pretty obvious that, like the former Yugoslavia, having a brutal autocrat in charge tended to quell religious violence. And, you know, a power vacuum at the top tended to unleash those forces.

McCain changes stance on marriage amendment

On Tuesday, I wrote about McCain signing up to deliver the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty Univeristy-- in spite of the fact that he had named Falwell as an "agent of intolerance" in the past.

Apparently, McCain's newfound love of the fundamentalist right is more than just a passing fancy. He's now changed one of his positions to suit them. In 2004, McCain described a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman as "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans."

This week the senator from Arizona decided that he's all for it: McCain “reconfirmed” to Falwell that he would support a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman if a federal court were to strike down state constitutional bans on gay marriage.

Now accepting reservations for the Double Talk Express.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Democrats take the offensive on security

This has been a big story all day, but I've held off because I haven't given it the attention it deserves. Yet. That's something I really wanted to do, considering the long-standing GOP line that Democrats don't have any ideas. But it's turned out to be a huge news day, and with or without smarty-pants commentary from me this is a big headline.

In a nutshell: "[L]eading Democrats in Congress are unveiling a broad attack this week on the administration's security policies at home and overseas along with a set of proposals intended to demonstrate that they have a credible alternative."

The Republican response, which was unified and actually preceded the proposals' release: "[R]epublicans, anticipating the Democratic attack, were already circulating their own counteroffensive on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, said he had just obtained a copy of the Democrats' plan and added, "It's taken them all this time to figure out what we've been doing for a long time."

Mr. Bond said that while Democrats sought to showcase their support of national security, they had tried to block renewal of the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act and the administration's program of wiretapping without warrants.

My initial reaction is that the Dems have a solid chance of snatching this issue from the GOP. They're defining themselves by identification with an executive who demands the massively unpopular (and extra-legal) rights to torture, to subject citizens to searches and detention without probable cause, and to do disregard the ancient legal standard of habeas corpus. Democrats have a steady record of attempting to enact valid security initiatives, only to have them voted down by the GOP and their corporate allies. It's all about how they play their hand.

Abramoff sentenced

Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday to five years, 10 months in prison by a federal judge for his role in a fraud scheme with a former partner during their purchase in 2000 of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.

Abramoff, 47, and ex-partner Adam Kidan, 41, received the same sentence, the minimum under federal guidelines. U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck also ordered them to pay restitution of more than $21 million.

Huck said they won't have to report to prison for at least 90 days so they can continue cooperating in a Washington corruption investigation and a probe into the killing of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos Boulis. Both deny roles in the killing.

They earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud for concocting a $23 million wire transfer to make it appear they were contributing a sizable stake of their own money to the $147.5 million SunCruz purchase. Based on the transfer, lenders Foothill Capital Corp. and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd. gave the pair $60 million in financing.

The minimum sentence? Can't you get about that much time for smokin' a few doobs? Without the $21 million fine, of course. Randy Cunningham got eight years and four months, after all, and he's not expected to live that long. But a strapping young crook like Abramoff only gets five years? I shouldn't be too hard on the guy, though. Abramoff has dealt with Florida, but still has to face some charges in DC.

It isn't good news from Iraq, but it's definitely good news from "Iraq."

Running for Congress in California this year is one Howard Kaloogian, head of Move America Forward-- the group that pressured theater owners to boycott Fahrenheit 9/11. In fact, he's trying to fill the seat vacated by convicted felon Randy Cunningham. And given the rightward tilt of the district, Kaloogian is campaigning strictly by the Rove Playbook-- from spouting the latest GOP talking points to playing the gutsy badass. Unfortunately for Kaloogian, the Rove Playbook is strictly for accomplished bullshit artists. And he isn't up to snuff.


From Kaloogian's website: "We took this photo of dowtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."

There's just one problem with the photo: it was taken in Turkey.

Basta ya!

As far as I'm concerned, the story of Ben Domenech's ill-fated Washington Post blog is over. The ball is in the WaPo's court, and it remains to be seen if they're still committed to hiring a right-wing writer without granting a progressive writer the same honor. And if so, whether or not they'll hire someone who's actually a thoughtful and talented writer. You know, a voice of mainstream conservatism.

But The New Republic's stable of Beltway thinkers couldn't let it pass without posting an article that blames the Domenech debacle on... liberal bloggers. Sigh.

Domenech deserved to be let go; but in the course of celebrating his demise, liberals have missed the real lesson of this entire episode. Instead of hiring a conservative, the Post hired a caricature of one; Domenech's blog would have been less a product of red America and more a product of what blue America understands red America to be. More than anything else, the sad saga of Ben Domenech reveals just how simplistic blue-state elites have become in their understanding of American conservatism. (. . .)

What, exactly, did Brady see in Domenech? Certainly not a principled conservative journalist. Either Brady didn't read Domenech's blog posts, or he did, and they fit the ticket. If the former is true, well, shame on Brady. But the latter seems more likely. In other words, as far as Brady was concerned, Domenech--an angry, bigoted bloviator--was the face of true conservatism.

Brady isn't alone, of course. Ever since the 2004 election, liberals have been eager to confirm their stereotypes of conservatives as narrow-minded, self-righteous folk.

News flash: Domenech isn't a construct of the American left. He's the son of a connected GOP activist, a paid writer for the conservative magazine National Review, the self-proclaimed 'youngest appointee of the Bush administration,' an editor for the conservative publishing house Regnery, and a hero of the online right. They were thrilled to see Domenech and his rantings given the imprimatur of one of America's best-known papers.

Apparently the right-wing establishment views him as a plausible spokesman for American conservatism, and they're as aware of his bigotry, shoddy writing, and venomous rhetoric as anyone on the left. But it took liberal bloggers to address the poverty of his status as fledgling right-wing pundit. If the blogs weren't pointing out Domenech's unsuitability to serve as a representative conservative voice (particularly in the absence of any progressive voice), what were they doing?

Maybe the author of the piece, Rob Anderson, is a concerned conservative who wants to raise the level of today's American discourse. I don't know. But his real beef should be with a Republican party that uses its power and influence to promote hacks like Domenech, whose main contribution to political debate seems to be broad-brushing the American left as crazed elitists out to establish an autocracy. It's a shame that he's too busy propagating that myth to pay attention.

Stanislaw Lem, 1921 - 2006

Although probably of little interest to most readers here, I wanted to mention the passing of Stanislaw Lem. I've read several of his books, some of which have been published in new editions over the last decade. Although I'm not a big reader of science fiction, I'm glad to have been introduced to his work by Andrei Tarkovsky's film adaptation of Solaris, and tangentially by another Soviet-era production, Planet of Storms. Regrettably, many of the English translations of Lem's fiction are still difficult to come by.

Although Lem worked in a little-respected genre (and good-naturedly chided himself for it), he was a visionary with a remarkable range. From the complex philosophical issues raised by Solaris to the comical technology-run-amok vignettes in The Cyberiad, Lem is one of those gifted authors whose visions of the future still fascinate in the age of the Mars Rovers and global positioning systems. He also managed to publish a remarkable number of stories that cast a critical eye on the Cold War era in spite of the Soviet censors who had to approve his work for publication.

I consider Stanislaw Lem, along with Karel Capek and Alfred Bestor (to name just two), a literary figure unlikely to ever receive his due. In spite of the Wikipedia observation that his work has been "translated into 41 languages and sold over 27 million copies."

If you're looking for some thoughtful entertainment, consider The Cyberiad, Mortal Engines, or Tales of Pirx the Pilot. If you're up for something more challenging and bleak, try Solaris or one of his other stories of "first contact," Eden, Invincible or Fiasco.

Saint DeLay of Sugarland

Here's a stunning bit of news that should cause any Republican to rethink the role of fundamentalism in the party today.

There are those who would say Tom DeLay lost his job as House majority leader because he was indicted by a Texas grand jury for money laundering and conspiracy, or because of his extensive ties to lawbreaking lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But they would be wrong.

In fact, the Texas Republican fell from power because he is a Christian.

That, at least, is the view of Rick Scarborough, convener of a conference this week called "The War on Christians."

"I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ," Scarborough said, introducing DeLay on Tuesday. When DeLay finished, the host reminded the politician: "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion."

That's right. The man nicknamed 'The Hammer' is a gentle lamb, persecuted by... Satanists? Get Samuel Johnson on the phone-- I have a new 'last refuge of scoundrels' to propose.

Supreme Court hears arguments on detainees

NPR's Morning Edition had a pretty solid feature this morning featuring audio of the White House's solicitor general making his case before the justices yesterday, and it's well worth a listen.

Justice Souter is all over the apparent contradictions in the government's case, and gets especially riled up over the attempts to rework habeas corpus.

Highly recommended.

UPDATE: Truthout is hosting an English translation of a Le Monde article about the Supreme Court hearings. See it here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Infotainment? Pah!

For my second Salon video lift of the day, I'll turn to a Fox News affiliate offering a glowing media review of a Fox TV favorite: 24.

I know, stories about Rupert Murdoch's throbbing American media empire are pretty passe these days. But the clip is still highly recommended. And I can't help but stroke my invisible beard while watching it. Fox has just crossed an important psychological barrier by taking the wholesome 'American values' meme of Fox News with the 'lowest common denominator' battlecry of Fox TV and trying to turn them into a "unified [media] field theory." Comedians have been noting the obvious disparity between the two hands of Murdoch for a while now, but maybe we're about to enter a new age. That's why YOU should have the first crack at naming this new, hideous hybrid of somewhat-credible news, semi-plausible innuendo, vaguely-justified violence, and sweet, sweet boobies.

Allow me to get you started (I know you can do better) on the futuristic lingo of an impossible world in which news is one with titillation, entertainment, and comedy!

Crack Reporting (just the meaning will change)
Two Scoops (this will replace the term 'scoop')

See? I knew you could do better.

DeLay pins hopes on 'only outlaws will have guns' scenario

We all kinda like guns, right? Even if you don't feel a burning desire to walk down the street with one hand gripping that rocket in your pocket, you've gotta love Humphrey Bogart growling "Hey, Canino!" as he opens fire in The Big Sleep. Or the excruciating silence in the final scene of Bonnie and Clyde as guns are cocked in anticipation of the two crimimals' demise. And don't even get me started on Westerns. Charles Bronson facing down three hired killers in the opening scenes of Once Upon A Time in the West? Amazing.

Oh. Right. I forgot about Charles Bronson's natural heir, D.C. badass Tom DeLay.

Rep. Tom DeLay is fighting to regain his concealed handgun permit after it was suspended because of his indictment on felony charges.

A justice of the peace suspended DeLay’s license in January after the former majority leader was indicted last year. A judge dismissed a conspiracy charge, but DeLay still faces a felony charge of money laundering.

Under state law, the Texas Department of Public Safety can suspend a handgun license if its holder has been charged with certain misdemeanors or higher.

Here's my prediction: DeLay's desperate attempt to look like a blow-dried toughguy will play out as exactly what it is-- a chickenshit politician still trying to use his influence to avoid the laws that the rest of us live with every day. All in the name of picking up some votes.

Sam Peckinpah would've taken care of him in the first act.

Another day, another mass grave

Although I've noted the recent right-wing push (and that's putting it mildly) to demand that the media start writing about all of 'the good stuff' that's happening in Iraq, I haven't been posting stories about the daily discoveries of Iraqis assassinated in what is widely referred to as sectarian violence, since the same righties insist that the term civil war not be used.

BAGHDAD police found the bodies of 14 men who had been shot, execution-style, in the head, a police source said.

Some were also blindfolded. The identities of the men found in the Hay al-Adil district in the mainly Sunni west of the Iraqi capital were unclear.

US and Iraqi officials say dozens of people are being killed daily in sectarian violence that has increased since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine a month ago in Samarra.

(That's the entirety of the article, by the way.)

As more than one blogger has pointed out, the demands of the neo-fascists fail one very basic test, which I'll refer to as "The Other Foot Test" (it shot to prominence with Bush v Gore). Just as a thought experiment, let's imagine that authorities were uncovering evidence of about fifteen murders a day in post-Katrina New Orleans. Now let's say that much of the media attention was focused on the rebuilding of homes and schools instead of the violence. Does anyone believe that the nation's reactionaries would be applauding journalists' high-minded coverage of 'the good stuff'? Of course not.

While I don't mention New Orleans to add a racial component, it is undeniably a suitable comparison in terms of a large-scale disaster-- or 'federal reconstruction effort,' if you prefer-- that's received criticism for the government's response. Why not just pick a random American city and ask yourself if the right would support headlines celebrating the opening of a new school on the same day that fourteen bodies had been discovered. And coverage of municipal elections the next day, when another fourteen bodies were discovered. It not only defies common sense, but makes political gain the only possible explanation.

Conducting War, Selling War: 1941 to 2003

Readers of the blog are undoubtedly familiar with OD1, a long-time contributor to the site who I'm always glad to hear from. And I'd like to introduce an essay he's written that puts our current military endeavors in a historical context.

Bush's White House loves to compare its phantasmagoric 'War on Terror' with World War II. Now there was a war people could really get behind-- two fascist empires actually attempting to dominate the globe. Sixty years after the fact, it stands as the defining event in 20th century American history. And talk about a war on terror. Between the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire, many nations witnessed terror on a previously unimaginable scale-- World War I set the bar on horrific ways to kill soldiers, but the second World War added civilians to the mix on a grand scale, from fire-bombing to genocide to the atomic bomb. Images of the war and its horrors continue to shock and fascinate us more than half a century later. Once we entered the war (Roosevelt was for it before much of the nation, but faced strong opposition from isolationists), Americans were signing up in droves to serve the cause. None of this is news. But it makes perfectly clear the administration's desire to to link the two in the minds of the public.

One major aspect of the Second World War that I suspect many Americans today are unaware of is the use of propaganda to further the war effort. And I don't just mean Nazi propaganda films designed to provoke hatred of Jews. America ran a massive propaganda campaign on the homefront, up to and including Hollywood, for which Frank Capra, Walt Disney and even Ronald Reagan worked to promote the war effort. (I'll recommend John Dower's 'War Without Mercy' for its examination of propaganda on both sides of the Pacific.)

But enough introduction from me. OhioDem1 has written a piece hosted by that looks at World War II and the War on Terror (or simply 'war on terror,' or short-lived 'War Against Global Extremism,' et al.) in terms of the American response to both, in military action and in propaganda.

(Note that the link is in PDF format.)

A few of my favorite things

Fox News is cable's highest-rated news station for a number of reasons. Angry, partisan hosts who shout down their opponents. Aggressive flag-waving and sloganeering. A monopoly on the 'missing white girl' market. And, perhaps most important of all: Friday the 13th journalism.

Salon has a Fox clip from The Daily Show in which we see an endless parade of jiggling teenage girl-flesh. Oh, and some police dude talks about something tangentially related. I think. I couldn't really concentrate.

Highly recommended. To horny adolescent boys.

Onward, Fundamentalist Soldier!

Back when John McCain was Mr. Straight Talk, he referred to Jerry Falwell as an "agent of intolerance." Times have changed, and McCain will be addressing the graduating class of Liberty University this year. Liberty University's Senior Founder and Chancellor? Jerry Falwell, Agent of Intolerance Number One.

American military hero and Arizona Sen. John McCain will deliver the Commencement message at Liberty University on May 13, at 9:30 a.m., in the Liberty University Vines Center. In addition, renowned Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer will speak during the University’s baccalaureate service on May 12, at 7:00 p.m., in the main sanctuary of the Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Sen. McCain is one of America’s most recognized Republican lawmakers. He began his political career in 1982, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Arizona’s first congressional district. Four years later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing the legendary Sen. Barry Goldwater.

UPDATE: One of the American Prospect's bloggers agrees with another of the site's bloggers that McCain might be opening a nasty can of worms-- for himself and us-- by wooing the theocrats this far in advance of 2008. But before I start thinking that I'm just as qualified as the salaried pundits who do this for a living, I'll freely admit that I've neglected one potentially significant issue on the whole McCain "Road To 2008 " campaign: he farts dust. Sorry. I hate that expression. And I wouldn't want any nice Democrats out there to carry signs saying terrible things like "I Depends on John McCain" in 2008. So don't do that.

Add to that one thing I haven't read a lot about, but which Democratic aides who work for likely '08 contenders increasingly bring up: McCain's age. He will turn 72 in '08, making him three years older than Ronald Reagan was in 1980, when he became the oldest man elected president.

The age issue is not just something raised by Democrats grasping at straws. Googling around I found Colorado-based Anthony Surace at the Christian conservative site The Templar Pundit sketching out an interesting view of McCain's chances with the hardcore conservative Republican base, in which he also pointed to general election risks, such as age and whether or not members of the press will turn against McCain out of a desire for divided government if Republicans retain Congress.

When Lobbyists Ruled the Earth!

Hot on the heels of the story about our failed port security comes this alarming tale of what the Republican leadership has done to secure the nation's "100 chemical plants that, if struck, would endanger more than one million lives." (I'm pretty sure Chait means that each of the one hundred plants-- because there are surely many more across the country-- would put more than one million people at risk. Not including overlap, of course.)

After the 9/11 attacks, both Republicans and Democrats reacted with horror at the prospect of a terrorist chemical attack. Then-Senator Jon Corzine sponsored a bill to require tough security measures at vulnerable chemical plants, and the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works passed it by a vote of 19 to 1. But lobbyists for the chemical industry went to work and persuaded Republicans to kill the bill, which they did.

The Republican position since then is that we can rely on voluntary action by the chemical industry. Newspaper exposés have shown that many plants have remained appallingly vulnerable. Domestic security experts have shouted from the rooftops that something has to be done. Nothing has.

Last week, finally, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appeared before the American Chemistry Council to gently nudge it out of its inaction. He expressed his desire for legislation but remained vague on the details. The closest Chertoff came to a rousing call for action was his observation that "we are four years after 9/11, and the time to wait on voluntariness [sic] as the sole solution, I think, has begun to pass." Well, let's not rush ourselves. You may wonder where all the so-called post-9/11 conservatives are on this issue. You know, the hawks who remind us every day that we're still at war and insist that September 11 "changed everything." I think the answer is that they're so wedded to the image of Bush as decisive war leader who prioritizes terrorism above all that they simply refuse to consider any evidence to the contrary.

The answer to Chertoff's sudden motivation seems pretty clear to me-- impending elections. It shouldn't surprise anyone at this point that the sole motivation Bush Republicans act on is fear of losing power.

Hack resigns; replaced by shill

White House chief of staff Andrew Card was the man who whispered in Bush's ear "America is under attack." We were then treated to the president looking frightened amid a group of 7 year-olds while Americans burned to death in the World Trade Center.

Now he's resigned. His replacement, budget director Josh Bolten, was a natural choice. He has been at the vanguard of spinning the GOP's supply-side economics, from 'the Bush tax cuts will pay for themselves' to 'Social Security privatization will pay for itself.' In short, he has the two qualifications the White House is looking for: the ability to bullshit the public with a straight face, and the willingness to do so.

UPDATE: Senator Chuck Schumer had a chuckle-inducing (if awkwardly worded) analysis of this story that appeared in the Guardian:

"The good news is the administration has finally realized it needs to change its ways, but the problems go far deeper than one staffer,'' said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "Simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic by replacing Andy Card with Josh Bolten without a dramatic change in policy will not right this ship.''

Having been caught, we're now committed to homeland security

How do you suppose the Republicans will use their "pre/post - 9/11" talking point now that they've had more than four years to work on these issues-- and done nothing?

In the article, Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman (a reliable Bushie) does just that. But it's pretty half-assed, considering that the Republican-controlled Congress holds the pursestrings for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Here's my guess: the GOP claims they've been withholding funds from national security agencies with a pre-9/11 mentality-- in the name of efficiency, of course.

Installing radiation detectors at U.S. entry points is taking too long and costing too much, says a congressional watchdog agency whose undercover investigators breached security by slipping nuclear material into the United States.

In a test last year, the small amounts of cesium-137, which is used in industrial gauges, triggered radiation alarms in Texas and Washington state. The material was enough to make two small "dirty bombs," officials said, yet U.S. customs agents permitted the investigators to enter the United States because they were tricked with counterfeit documents.

The Bush administration says that within 45 days it will give U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents the tools they need to verify such documents in the future.

Senators were to grill administration officials on security problems identified during the Government Accounting Office's undercover operation during a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

In a series of reports, the GAO, which is the investigative arm of Congress, found that the Homeland Security Department's goal of installing 3,034 radiation detectors by September 2009 across the United States — at border crossings, seaports, airports and mail facilities — was "unlikely."

Are you listening, Democrats? File this one under 'C,' for campaign issue.

Another I-had-my-fingers-crossed moment: "No president wants to go to war."

That was a response Bush gave to a member of the White House press corps when asked about the 'inevitability' of war with Iraq last week (I can still almost hear his dim-witted faux outrage even now). But now, the NY Times has confirmed a story that appeared last month-- Bush and Blair had an official policy of goading Saddam Hussein into action that would justify an attack.

In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States andBritain pressed for a secondUnited Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum toSaddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime MinisterTony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides. (. . .)

Without much elaboration, the memo also says the president raised three possible ways of provoking a confrontation. Since they were first reported last month, neither the White House nor the British government has discussed them.

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein. The memo does not indicate how Mr. Blair responded to the idea.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Snap-On Hair Connection

I've had my misgivings about Republican politicians with snap-on hair for quite a while. And every new story about a GOP congressman in trouble for corruption seems to support my theorem. Of course, this deal is peanuts compared to the likes of Randy Cunningham's schemes. Think of it as just one more Republican to watch for potential corruption charges.

One thread of the USFN story was the townhouse it bought near Capitol Hill. Called the "Safe House" by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's aides, it was the headquarters for DeLay's ARMPAC, Buckham's lobby shop, Alexander Strategy Group, and of course it even had a little office for the USFN itself.

By 2000 the FEC was starting to look into the USFN, and the USFN's Capitol Hill neighbors had begun to complain that it was a business operating in a residential area in violation of local zoning laws. In their big piece on the U.S. Family Network yesterday, the Washington Post reported that when Buckham's USFN had to part with the beloved "Safe House" in late 2000 it took a $19,000 loss.

Now, that got us to wondering. A loss of that scale is far from Duke Cunningham territory. But the DC housing market was pretty hot back then and the USFN held the property for just about 2 years.

So who got such a good deal?

The buyer was Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS).

D.C. property records show that the townhouse was sold to Ryun for $410,000 on December 15, 2000. According to the Post, the USFN purchased the townhouse for $429,000; the deed was signed January 12, 1999.

Now that I think about it, I only regard a $20,000 deal as peanuts because I've grown used to huge payoffs in this crowd.

Seriously, though. The DOJ might save some major cash if it just started investigating every Congressman whose hair looks like it should have a chinstrap.

The power of the free market

It's the rallying cry of the corporatists in government and their reliable shills. Even in an apologia for disgraced, former WaPo blogger Ben Domenech, a friend of his claimed that Saint Benny was in fact a tireless freedom fighter, trying to protect the Bush administration from those who would overthrow our free market and try to erect a Marxist state. Hopelessly stupid in and of itself, as you're not going to find any political figure in the country touting the joys of Marxism, but what about the free market politics of the current crop of Republicans?

FEMA has broken its promise to reopen four multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts for Hurricane Katrina work, including three that federal auditors say wasted significant amounts of money.

Officials said they awarded the four contracts last October to speed recovery efforts that might have been slowed by competitive bidding. Some critics, however, suggested they were rewards for politically connected firms.

Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison pledged last fall to rebid the contracts, which were awarded to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. Later, the agency acknowledged the rebidding wouldn’t happen until February. (. . .)

An additional $1.5 billion in work promised to small businesses also has yet to be awarded.

A review by the Government Accountability Office of 13 major contracts said last week the government had wasted millions of dollars, due mostly to poor planning by FEMA. Among the 13 were three of the four no-bid contracts for temporary housing, worth up to $500 million each, that went to three major firms with extensive government ties.

Yes, the GOP establishment has chosen bureaucratic inefficiency over the hard-working little guy. Just as they did in Iraq, where billions have vanished and water/electricity access are still below pre-war levels. I guess a centralized, federally-controlled market is the price you pay for fighting communism, though, right boys? (Take your time, warriors of the right-- I'll give you a few months to let that sink in.)

Antonin Scalia: Class Act

Justice Scalia attracted some attention for his statements on Guantanamo detainees deserving no civil rights, which came as the Supreme Court is set to hear a case on that very issue. Of course, Scalia has already recused himself from a case on the Pledge of Alliegance for this sort of thing, and refused to recuse himself for going hunting with Dick Cheney before hearing a case involving Cheney. But he's no activist judge. In an effort to demonstrate his impartiality and professionalism, the bellicose duck-hunter chose the Gitmo issue to prove his point:

"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," Scalia said in the talk at the University of Freiburg, according to Newsweek. "Give me a break." (. . .)

"If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son, and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy," he said. Scalia's son Matthew served with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

Note that he's careful not to say captured in Iraq/Afghanistan, or that some detainees have been released without charge after being held for several years. Which is a convenient way to ignore the fact that some detainees are US citizens. Who he believes should be deprived of their Constitutional rights and subjected to torture for being suspected of a crime.

But Scalia didn't stop there:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia startled reporters in Boston just minutes after attending a mass, by flipping a middle finger to his critics.

A Boston Herald reporter asked the 70-year-old conservative Roman Catholic if he faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state.

"You know what I say to those people?" Scalia replied, making the obscene gesture and explaining "That's Sicilian."

The 20-year veteran of the high court was caught making the gesture by a photographer with The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper.

"Don't publish that," Scalia told the photographer, the Herald said.

I guess we know how he feels about a free press, too. I was raised Catholic, and I remember the final words of the mass often being "let us go in peace." Apparently it doesn't 'take' with everyone.

UPDATE (3/28): The Seattle Times reports that Antonin Scalia didn't feel like recusing himself from a case in which he's announced his judgment prior to hearing arguments. Congratulations to the American right for further equating prejudice with leadership and resolve.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Houston: City of Brotherly Antipathy

In a classic example of attacking the symptom instead of the problem, Houston has decided that the best way to handle the completely bungled Katrina rebuilding effort is more prisons.

The preliminary results of Klineberg's annual survey, which is expected to be finalized later this month, suggest that a sizable fraction of area residents have tired of their guests from New Orleans.

"These results reflect what I'm hearing from my constituents," said U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. "I think the percentage of people unhappy with the deadbeats from New Orleans would be larger but for the big hearts of Houstonians who want these folks to get back on their feet, as I do."

Houston Mayor Bill White, who along with Harris County Judge Robert Eckels led efforts to welcome and shelter evacuees, acknowledged the increased strains on city services, notably crime and traffic management.

"People are of two minds on this issue," White said. "They are proud of the competence that Houston showed in responding to Americans in need. But they are also aware that it's not a disaster for nothing. There's a big job that the evacuees and the host community have in getting people on their feet, employed and looking to the future."

Culberson said the sentiment is much stronger, at least in his district (which includes west Houston, the Texas Medical Center and much of western and northwestern Harris County). He said his constituents are concerned about rising crime and no longer want to house New Orleanians who choose to rely on social services.

"If they can work, but won't work, ship 'em back," he said. "If they cause problems in the schools, if they commit crime, there ought to be a one-strike rule — ship 'em back."

Although Culberson said he has been trying to attach such a provision to pending legislation, it's unclear how such an idea could be implemented.

You've gotta love a group of city officials who don't see the problem as our government still finding dead bodies in the streets of New Orleans six months after the hurricane, contractors who refused to hire New Orleans residents to work on the cleanup (remember the attempt to suspend a minimum wage rule for workers there? the reports that they were hiring illegal immigrants?), and the fact that there's been only a minimal rebuilding effort. No, the problem is that the 'deadbeats' lost everything they had in the world haven't made American success stories of themselves yet.

500,000 march in LA

The White House's recent efforts to remind the public that we need to be frightened and can only trust the Bushies to protect us from terrorists have largely overshadowed that other reliable election-year tactic: xenophobia. But not for everyone.

Thousands of immigration advocates marched through downtown Los Angeles in one of the largest demonstrations for any cause in recent U.S. history.

More than 500,000 protesters — demanding that Congress abandon attempts to make illegal immigration a felony and to build more walls along the border — surprised police who estimated the crowd size using aerial photographs and other techniques, police Cmdr. Louis Gray Jr. said.

Wearing white T-shirts to symbolize peace, the demonstrators chanted "Mexico!" "USA!" and "Si se puede," an old Mexican-American civil rights shout that means "Yes, we can."

In Denver, more than 50,000 people protested downtown Saturday, according to police who had expected only a few thousand. Phoenix was similarly surprised Friday when an estimated 20,000 people gathered for one of the biggest demonstrations in city history, and more than 10,000 marched in Milwaukee on Thursday.

There's a very good reason for Milwaukee to be on the list-- the proposed legislation that sparked the rallies "would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of people they help, and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border." And the driving force behind it is Wisconsin's Jim "Babyman" Sensenbrenner, a committed Bush Republican and the author the bill.

Katherine Harris is ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille

TPM has links to two articles from this weekend on the latest developments in Harris' ill-starred senatorial campaign. Earlier this week, Harris went on Hannity & Colmes to breathlessly announce that she was committed to spending every penny of her $10 million estate to win this contest. She later 'qualified' her statement by saying she would do no such thing.

Yesterday, it was reported that several of her must trusted campaign advisors were about to call it quits and that Harris was ready to pin her hopes on the fundamentalist vote:

As Katherine Harris' rocky Senate campaign takes an increasingly evangelical Christian bent, her remaining top campaign staffers are preparing to jump ship.

Colleagues say Harris' closest confidante lately appears to be spiritual adviser Dale Burroughs, founder of the Biblical Heritage Institute in Bradenton. (. . .)

Burroughs has been advising Harris for years, but lately has had a more prominent role as Harris stopped listening to other campaign advisers. Burroughs said she has little role in the campaign beyond helping reach out to religious voters and is merely a Bible study partner and close friend.

An article appearing today has Harris denying the allegations, yet apparently unsure which advisors are still working for her:

Appearing at a gun show in Orlando, Harris said that Adam Goodman, her longtime media consultant, had told the St. Petersburg Times that he and chief strategist Ed Rollins were leaving the campaign.

The story, Harris said, was wrong.

"Ed is not leaving my campaign," the Longboat Key Republican said. "Ed Rollins is very committed to my campaign."

The two-term congresswoman, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, then accused Goodman of spreading the story.

"That article basically came from Adam," Harris said, "and it was not accurate."

Asked whether Goodman was still with the campaign, she said: "He is, is, uh . . . heh . . . no comment."

Maybe Harris just needs an advisor who will have a stabilizing effect on her life. Like Courtney Love.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I've got my eye on you, Nana, so you just mind your p's and q's.

The War on Terror is heating up. And there's still no reason for you to suspect that warrantless surveillance is being used in anything less than a responsible, thoughtful manner.

Monica Zucker and three other members of Seattle's Raging Grannies, a peace group of older women who dress in outrageous hats and sing protest songs, lifted up their voices in response Tuesday to recent Seattle P-I disclosures that they were in federal anti-terrorism files.

"Oh, we're a gaggle of grannies, urging you off of your fannies," they sang at a news conference in the downtown Seattle offices of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

Acting on behalf of the Raging Grannies and 10 other peace groups across the state, the ACLU of Washington is demanding to know whether and why federal government anti-terrorism units are spending time and money spying on peace organizations.

I'm no highly-trained federal agent, but I'm going to guess that 'Raging Grannies' is meant in an ironic manner. Like 'Rampaging Sloth.'

Hillary Clinton: Illuminatus

Trying to find a Republican candidate with the ability to pose a serious threat to Clinton in New York has been an uphill battle. There was Jean Piro, whose disastrous "do you have page 9" speech and revelations of a husband with a rap sheet for fraud led to a pretty hasty exit.

Clinton's latest opponent, Kathleen McFarland, also appears to have torpedoed her own campaign. But instead of a Homer-esque "D'oh!" with accompanying forehead slap, McFarland's big moment demands that once-popular indicator of total insanity-- strum lips with index finger while making funny sounds.

Former Reagan-era Pentagon official Kathleen "KT" McFarland stunned a crowd of Suffolk County Republicans on Thursday by saying:

"Hillary Clinton is really worried about me, and is so worried, in fact, that she had helicopters flying over my house in Southampton today taking pictures," according to a prominent GOP activist who was at the event.

"She wasn't joking, she was very, very serious, and she also claimed that Clinton's people were taking pictures across the street from her house in Manhattan, taking pictures from an apartment across the street from her bedroom," added the eyewitness, who is not involved in the Senate race.

Maybe they could get someone with a little more gravitas than Piro or MacFarland to run against Hillary. Is Eddie Deezen available?

That Other War

It's probably going to be easier for the White House to use Afghanistan as a military success story than Iraq. You don't hear unsettling stories of chaos and violence from Afghanistan these days, right? I guess those left-wing fearmongers in the media can't find negative stories in spite of themselves. Serves 'em right, eh Dick?

Just before Christmas I had the chance to visit Afghanistan and Iraq, and to meet with some of our folks deployed to those countries. I thanked them for their service, and for all they've done to bring freedom, stability, and peace to a troubled part of the world. Afghanistan a little over four years ago was in the grip of a violent, merciless regime that harbored terrorists who plotted murder for export. There is still tough fighting going on in that country, some of it in very rough terrain, high in the mountains and along the border areas. But our people are getting the job done, together with coalition partners and an increasingly strong and professional Afghan military. And Afghanistan is a rising nation -- with a democratically-elected government, a market economy, and millions of children going to school for the very first time. It's impossible to overstate all that our coalition has achieved in Afghanistan -- and when our forces return home from that part of the world, they can be proud of their service for the rest of their lives.

Just makes you feel all warm inside, doesn't it? Yessiree. Wait a minute-- what's this? A story by someone on the ground in Afghanistan? Let's see here...

Only ninety-eight US troops died in Afghanistan last year; but the ratio of US casualties to overall troop levels makes Afghanistan as dangerous as Iraq. While Iraq's violent disintegration dominates the headlines, Bush touts Afghanistan as a success. During his recent visit, the President told Afghans that their country was "inspiring demand their freedom."

But many features of the political landscape here are not so inspiring--for example, the deteriorating security situation. Taliban attacks are up; their tactics have become more aggressive and nihilistic. They have detonated at least twenty-three suicide bombs in the past six months, killing foreign and Afghan troops, a Canadian diplomat, local police and in some cases crowds of civilians. Kidnapping is on the rise. American contractors are being targeted. Some 200 schools have been burned or closed down. And Lieut. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the senior American military officer here, expects the violence to get worse over the spring and summer.

Even in the once relatively stable northern and western regions of the country, foreign military bases and patrols are coming under sporadic attack, while civilian traffic faces a sharp rise in violent banditry. One security monitoring organization said they had seen a fourfold increase in such crimes over the past year.

Another patented BushCo. success story! (Thanks to Mil Apodos, master of the rubber turkey, for the Cheney link.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Breaking: Ben Domenech resigns from Washington Post

I just heard this on Al Franken's show. I can't wait to hear the WaPo's explanation for how Domenech was hired in the first place, considering how little time it took for the blogs to expose their newest hire as a complete fraud.

UPDATE: The link above is to the response by the website's Executive Editor.

When we hired Domenech, we were not aware of any allegations that he had plagiarized any of his past writings. In any cases where allegations such as these are made, we will continue to investigate those charges thoroughly in order to maintain our journalistic integrity.

Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious offense that a writer can commit or be accused of. will do everything in its power to verify that its news and opinion content is sourced completely and accurately at all times.

We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the the practice of journalism.

Strange, considering the WaPo's blistering attacks on blogs just a couple of months ago when bloggers pointed out some dubious statements by the staff, which resulted in the site doing away with reader comments. Not to mention a committment to accuracy that was shown up within hours by amateurs armed only with a keyboard.

Salon responds to blogger's plagiarism

In two stories, here and here, Salon discusses the WaPo's hiring of reactionary blogger Ben Domenech. In his weekly column, Joe Conason also discusses the issue here. More specifically, the revelation since then that the had a habit of lifting paragraphs from Salon's articles as a writer for his college paper (now posting disclaimers on his work for them), and for swiping the work of others and apparently fabricating a quote while working for National Review and on his former blog.

When Jayson Blair was nailed for making stuff up at the New York Times, young Domenech was outraged: "I do feel that no quarter should be given to his vile lies." But when it comes to his own falsehoods, Domenech claims that he's the real victim here-- of at least one unscrupulous editor. Considering that the questionable work also appeared in National Review and New York Press, it must be quite a conspiracy.

On the positive side, some right-wing talking heads are going on the record saying Domenech should go. Even Michelle Malkin, who has worked with him in the past and isn't exactly known for her committment to the facts. But it's all about self-preservation, and the longer Domenech stays with the WaPo, the worse the Malkins of the world look.

P.S.- This law doesn't apply to me

While the Dems decided not to attempt to block the renewal of the Patriot Act, they did insist on some provisions for oversight and assurances against abuse of power. Bush has decided to ignore those parts. Just one more reminder for Dems in favor of appeasement.

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.

The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates.

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it ''a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

Bush wrote: ''The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information . . . "

Thursday, March 23, 2006

We'd be hearing more good news from Iraq if it weren't so damn dangerous.

It's been a long day-- long week, actually-- in terms of inexplicable reporting. But Crooks and Liars has posted a video clip that might just take the cake. Howard Kurtz has been annoying pretty much everyone with his self-appointed media watchdog stance (and to a lesser degree, his snap-on hair) for years. Today he showed us just why on Wolf Blitzer's 'Situation Room.' (And I really struggled to avoid writing "simpering puffball Wolf Blitzer's 'Situation Room'" just then.)

Kurtz: Wolf, as I know you know, is that it's very dangerous for journalists in Baghdad. We've seen that with some of the deaths and injuries of journalists there. Most recently ABC's Bob Woodruff. And so journalists are frustrated that they can't tell more of the story of ordinary Iraqis and what they think about the U.S. presence there because they have to curtail their travels or travel with security details.

So when you add that to the natural tendency to play up violence, the dramatic pictures that television, of course, loves, I do think we are seeing more negative coverage now. And, obviously, it's in the political self-interest of George Bush and Dick Cheney to highlight that because they are trying to make the case that things are not as bad as they seem in Iraq and the media are a handy target.

Stunning, no? The reason we aren't hearing more heartwarming human interest stories from Iraq is because you stand a good chance of being murdered just for walking down the street. Man, if only it weren't for that niggling detail....

Crusty Journalist Number One, Jack Cafferty, appears on the scene to point out the sheer stupidity of Kurtz's assertion. Which is what makes the video clip worthwhile. As Cafferty points out, it isn't the fault of "The Media" that dead bodies are turning up in the streets of Baghdad every day.

Highly recommended viewing.

Through A Glass Stupidly

Kevin Drum has earned his share of criticism from the blogosphere, but also a measure of praise. Although I know I've linked to his blog in the past, I don't think I've ever openly criticized him. But after catching this post today, I felt more than a little irritated.

Yesterday I was up at USC as part of a panel aboutblogs and newspapers, and Ana Marie Cox mentioned that ever since she stopped reading dozens of blogs a day in order to write Wonkette she feels much better informed. Everyone laughed.

But there might be a good reason for that. After she made that comment I asked the audience how many of them had ever heard of Ben Domenech. Two people out of a hundred raised their hands. And yet, for the past couple of days the single biggest topic of conversation in the left blogosphere has been Ben Domenech. "The reason you feel better informed," I suggested, "is that you're no longer wasting neurons on subjects like whether or not the Washington Post should have hired Ben Domenech to write a blog for their online site."

Everyone laughed at that too. But maybe Ezra is right. Might it have been better to let Domenech toil away in well-deserved obscurity instead of making him yet another high-profile symbol of conservative martyrdom?

Whew. Self-congratulatory, and topped off with an ex cathedra pearl of wisdom. The WaPo story wasn't invented by the blogs. You can decide that the blogs are over-reacting, and that's fine. But it doesn't change the fact that a respected newspaper has decided to put an Ann Coulter clone on the payroll and literally defend it as 'informed discourse.' And that actually is a story of note, in addition to being a disservice to the public. And contrary to Drum's postulation, a blogger who refers to a gay man as simply "in need of a woman" isn't likely to win converts from a little online controversy-- his readership is a foregone conclusion. The idea is that non-ideologues become aware of a troubling issue and are free to act as they see fit.

But what really concerns me about the rise of the blogs is the emerging impact of celebrity on bloggers. I'm certainly in no danger of being elevated to the Sunday morning slugfests or becoming a best-selling author, but we're beginning to see a disturbing, if not at all surprising, aspect of the blogger phenomenon. Straight out of any number of cynical teen movies, it's the story of those who go from outsider to in-crowd-- only to become the very thing they profess to hate. In this case, it's the smarmy attitude of those Beltway insiders who sneeringly dismiss stories that they deem unworthy of attention, confident that the public should be satisfied with their judgment and genuinely shocked when some express interest. Sorta like how big ticket sales could possibly mean that your movie is not a work of art, but one more Disney fartfest. I'm not talking about Drum specifically (although I am on the record as being a non-fan of the Wonkette site's Hollywood gossip-style politics), it's just something that's been on my mind of late.

At home with Al Gore

Many regular readers will already know that I'm a longtime fan of Al Gore (and several have admitted to the same when I've written about him). So I had to pass along this 2000 campaign video that was never used by the Gore campaign. But probably should have. Except that it would've just invited more of the fashionable accusations of his phoniness.

It was filmed by Spike Jonze (of music videos then movies), and is a thirteen-minute look at the veep taking a breather with his family prior to the convention and the subsequent non-stop electioneering 'till election day. And it actually feels like hanging out at home with a politician who's just being himself. Gore clearly dislikes the process of campaigning in the age of celebrity, and when asked why he got into politics demonstrates the sort of idealism that is worth a wistful sigh or two.

Good stuff. And those smart cookies at Seeing the Forest run a fine, fine blog. Complete with a world-class blogroll. (Don't make me spell it out, folks, please! Look under D!)

That new WaPo blogger? Plagiarist.

When the Washington Post announced that they were proudly bringing a new site blogger on board, the progressive blogs erupted. Initially, it was because the new blogger was-- quite demonstrably-- a total hack with the journalistic integrity and intellectual heft of Ann Coulter. Who also happened to be the son of a rather connected GOP activist. Oh, and the Post doesn't have any progressive bloggers.

But a day after a Post spokesman defended the choice by citing the young lad's gravitas, talent, and wordcraft, the blogs have struck again. And made the Post's editors look like total suckers in the process. Several instances of the new guy's writing are lifted directly from a professional writer at Salon (see link above for two examples), and Daily Kos has another example of him cribbing P.J. O'Rourke while in college. Yes, the WaPo's new enfant terrible is worse than a hack. He's also a fraud. And I don't think the 'young and careless' rule applies-- even colleges will throw your teenaged ass out for plagiarism.

I'm not gloating at the incompetence of the WaPo in doing this. because it's simply an embarrassment to the news industry at a time when they're under fire from all sides. But I'd love to know how in the world something this colossally stupid (and antithetical to the entire profession) transpires at such a famous paper.

Deborah Howell, the ombudsman for the Washington Post has apparently settled the dust-up to her satisfaction by pointing out that the paper and the website are under different management. So he might be writing under the Washington Post rubric-- but it's not Washington Post, it's just 'Washington Post.' So what's the big deal? Sad, sad.

UPDATE: Just a few hours later, and the (stolen) hits keep coming. There are now no fewer than five examples floating around out there. You'd have to be quite the dumbass to try and get away with this as a professional writer in the Age of Internets.

UPDATE: Another instance of young master Domenech's immense writing skill is from the now-defunct site spinsanity, which found him manufacturing a quote to make his point on his former blog. To paraphrase Dead Kennedys, "Don't worry about it, son. We were that way when we were young. You've got all the skills to make a damn good... right-wing pundit."

The ol' "bad cop, worse cop" routine

Salon's War Room is usually a good place to look for the funny and infuriating stories of the day. This one falls squarely in the latter category, although it's something we've been seeing since the Cold War.

I'll start my piece off the way they start theirs-- with a quote from RNC chair Ken Mehlman:

"Democrat leaders' talk of censure and impeachment isn't about the law or the president doing anything wrong. It's about the fact that Democrat leaders don't want America to fight the War on Terror with every tool in our arsenal."

This is scary/funny in several ways. Mehlman is THE reliable talking point regurgitation machine, so you can always assume he's delivering the official line. And this says a lot.

First, just because it's something that irritates me to no end, I'll point out his repetition of the neo-fascist schoolyard tactic of refusing to correctly say 'Democratic' in reference to the Democratic party. I've written about it before, but it continues to be a shining example of a childish-yet-inspired maneuver they've been using for decades-- and it's caught on.

Second, the sheer aburdity of the (why yes, it IS a straw man!) argument that Democrats are running on a "soft on terrorism" platform.

Third, as the Salon piece explains, it suggests that this week's presidential speechifying is part of a new White House tactic that makes, if anything, too much sense in an election year. To sum it up: "Forget bin Laden-- the terrorists are here, and they're running against me."

But Newsweek's Howard Fineman suggests that there's something else going on here, too. With the "educator in chief" business not working -- at some point, even Bush's advisors have to realize that the problem with Iraq isn't that the president hasn't explained it enough -- the White House is making a pivot to Plan B: Forget the Global War on Terror; now it's time for the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland. And as part of the usual "with us or with the terrorists" theme, the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland also means the War Against the Traitor Media and those Spineless, Security-Hating Democrats, Too.

As Fineman explains it, the White House and the GOP are fixing to set up Bush as some sort of tough-guy cop fighting against the "wussie lovers of legalistic niceties that get in the way of investigations and MSM news organizations that focus obsessively on explosions and mayhem in Iraq, even as they print or broadcast classified information and ask nasty, argumentative questions at hastily called press conferences." The underlying strategy: Move away from all the Iraq talk and get back to the question of homeland security.

Cunning? Check. Dishonest? Check. Carfeully designed to exploit partisan hatred? Check. Gentlemen, I think we've found our strategy.

Operation: Double Dubya

Stories about John McCain courting the religious right and the dwindling ranks of Bush fanatics have become more and more common in blogs and progressive journals in the last few months. The latest is also one of the most creepy, and there's a new twist.

As I wrote recently, McCain just hired a Bush campaign worker with loads o' ties to DeLay and Rove. In fact, McCain's new pal Terry Nelson is named in DeLay's indictment as one of the participants in a money-laundering scheme.

McCain was on a call-in show and had the misfortune of dealing with an informed caller:

McCAIN: None of those charges are true.

CALLER: You don't believe what was actually written in the indictment from Texas?


Given that the caller's statements were 100% factual, the question I most associate with Bush's White House is now squarely on McCain's shoulders: lying, or just incompetent?

Disturbing bonus nugget: I can't even recall where I read it, but the idea was that Lieberman was angling for the second spot on McCain's presidential bid. That would explain two things-- why he's so eager to trash his own party on Fox News (i.e., courting the opposition's base), and why he's so clearly outraged at facing a Democratic challenger in this year's Senate race.

Bummer, man. How 'bout some of that GOOD news?

Right-wing talkers are getting all aggressive again about how the media is to blame for people turning against the Iraq war. Maybe it's because stories like this aren't titled "Iraqi government projects big savings on future healthcare costs." Or maybe "US not target of latest wave of Iraqi violence."

At least 56 Iraqis died Thursday in violence, including a car bombing that killed 25 people in the third major attack on a police lockup in three days

A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance to the Interior Ministry Major Crimes unit in Baghdad's central Karradah district, killing 10 civilians and 15 policemen employed there, authorities said.

The Interior Ministry is a predominantly Shiite organization and heavily infiltrated by members of various Shiite militias. The unit targeted Thursday investigates large-scale crimes and has about 20 suspected insurgents in custody, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammadawi said.

One of the most appalling instances of righties defending Fearless Leader during his propaganda tour was Laura Ingraham appearing on the Today Show talking about lazy reporters phoning in with whatever doom and gloom they happened to catch wind of-- from their hotel balconies. Regrettably, the host didn't remind her that more journalists have died in Iraq than in Vietnam.

Dick does decaf.

Here's a mildly interesting story: a copy of Dick Cheney's 'green room' demands has turned up. The good news is that he's not a Jennifer Lopez or Martin Lawrence. And he doesn't go hunting all jumped up on espresso.

But he likes getting presents as much as anyone else.

That's right, below you'll find a copy of Vice President Dick Cheney's standard "tour" rider. The document is provided to hotels where Cheney will be bunking and lists how the Republican pol's "Downtime Suite" needs to be outfitted. While the vice president's requests are pretty modest (no extract-the-brown-M&M demands here), Cheney does like his suite at a comfy 68 degrees. And, of course, all the televisions need to be preset to the Fox News Channel (what, you thought he was a Lifetime devotee?). Decaf coffee should be ready upon his arrival along with four cans of caffeine-free Diet Sprite. And when Cheney is traveling with his wife Lynne, the second family's suite needs an additional two bottles of sparkling water. Mrs. Cheney's H2O should be either Calistoga or, curiously, Perrier, a favored beverage of French terrorism appeasers.

Love, GOP Style: It's A Family Affair Edition

If this story doesn't make you throw up in your mouth a little bit, there's something very, very wrong with you.

Here's the set-up: Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. . .

Here's the pitch: "Mrs. Bush wanted to do something specifically for education and specifically for the thousands of students flooding into the Houston schools," said Jean Becker, former President Bush's chief of staff. "She knew that HISD was using this software program, and she's very excited about this program, so she wanted to make it possible for them to expand the use of this program."

Perhaps you're thinking "Matt Sandwich, you bastard! At a time when dead bodies are still being recovered in the streets of New Orleans, a nice old lady donates to recovery efforts and you're upset?!?"

Well, here's the punch to the kidneys: Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund with specific instructions that the money be spent with an educational software company owned by her son Neil.

Nice old lady? Try flaming bitch. This is the same woman who commented on what an improvement life on a cot in the Superdome was for Katrina victims.

P.S.- Did I mention that the donation to her son's business is tax-deductible?

UPDATE: TPM has a few links to stories about what a sham Neal's business is in the first place. It pretty much amounts to Neal-- the Bush family's other incompetent son-- traveling the globe asking for handouts from family-friendly tycoons and officials. "Buy me a pony and I'll tell Georgie you're a nice man."