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, June 30, 2006

House ends 25-year moratorium on offshore drilling

Forty Democrats sided with the GOP for what will undoubtedly be the perfect solution to America's energy problem. The measure is especially popular among Florida Republicans, undoubtedly keeping in mind the famously hardy and definitely not fragile ecosystem of their state.

The House voted Thursday to replace offshore drilling bans that have stood for 25 years with a system that gives states control out to 100 miles but allows unfettered oil and gas drilling after that.

The bill bars drilling within a military training zone that extends 234 miles west off Tampa Bay.

The 232-187 decision was a landmark shift in attitudes toward drilling bans that have covered most U.S. waters since 1982. With a majority of Florida's 25 House members voting for it -- 13 Republicans and Democrat Allen Boyd of Monticello -- the vote crystalized differences among Florida lawmakers who had posed a nearly united front against past efforts to allow drilling closer to their state.

One prominent Republican, however, emerged as a verbal critic of offshore drilling, saying the following:

What is involved is the use of our resources of the sea and of the land in a more effective way and with more concern for preserving the beauty and the natural resources that are so important to any kind of society that we want for the future.

That was Richard Nixon, addressing the 1969 drilling accident in Santa Barbara. A company with government permission to use substandard precautions caused a 100,000 barrel spill after two weeks of operation that required several weeks and millions of dollars to clean up. The incident prompted laws that banned offshore drilling.

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad hurricane

Three people who helped themselves to a carload of booze after Katrina hit have been handed fifteen years in prison by a judge who wanted recently-passed looting laws to "send a message" of zero tolerance.

Two subcontractors found guilty of bribing goverment officials for falsifying records on work they hadn't done in the cleanup effort were given a sentence of one year and a fine.

Now, using a state of emergency to fill your trunk with hooch is a bad thing. But I didn't realize it was fifteen times worse than using a state of emergency to defraud the government and taxpayers. So remember kids, if you're thinking of turning to a life of crime, always go white-collar.

At least now we have some insight into why there's been no action taken against contractors in Iraq who've stolen billions of dollars. If someone raided the bar at Harrah's over Baghdad, on the other hand....

More catty nonsense from TNR

Looks like it's going to be a slow news day, with the holiday weekend and all. And I'm pretty tired of writing about self-righteous posts from The New Republic that also happen to be poorly written and inaccurate.

However, in taking yet another swipe at the blogs Lee Siegel (On Culture!) uses more hyperbolic language and comes up with an absurd conclusion: "The Daily Show is destroying American democracy." But wait! Siegel didn't say that-- the Washington Post said it!

But the Post didn't say that. Neither did the study they were writing about. Siegel's assertion is that the article claimed that The Daily Show's effect has been to reduce young voter turnout. But the article only suggested that as a potential result of Daily Show viewing. And turnout among young voters was up in 2004 by about 10%.

The authors of the study were actually quite measured in assessing the implication of watching the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert:

Citizens who understand politics are more likely to participate than those who do not. Moreover, the increased cynicism associated with decreased external efficacy may contribute to an actively critical orientation toward politics. This may translate into better citizenship, because a little skepticism toward the political system could be considered healthy for democracy. However, decreased external efficacy may dampen participation among an already cynical audience (young adults) by contributing to a sense of alienation from the political process. And it has been demonstrated that lowered trust can perpetuate a more dysfunctional political system.

It's time for TNR's stable of writers to take a long, hard look at their insistence that the magazine is the only thing protecting the nation from fact-challenged, angry, "fascist" bloggers. Because they've proven to be masters of going off half-cocked and writing fact-challenged, angry posts on their own blog.

A small, good thing-- plus one bad thing

The House GOP's "American Values Agenda" package of proposed legislation isn't faring too well so far, which is good insofar as it suggests there's a limit in the lengths to which they'll go to amend the Constitution and undo checks and balances in the name of pandering to fundamentalists.

House Republicans failed Wednesday to advance a bill protecting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Only a day earlier, the GOP had placed the measure on its "American Values Agenda" in hopes of bolstering the party's prospects in the fall election.

But Republicans could not muster a simple majority on the issue in a committee where they outnumber Democrats by six.

The legislation tries to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over cases challenging the pledge. It responds to a federal appeals court ruling in 2002 that the pledge is unconstitutional because it contains the words "under God." A district court judge made a similar ruling last fall, citing the appeals court precedent.

But don't get too excited. The House also passed a non-binding resolution "condemning the disclosure and publication of classified information that impairs the international fight against terrorism and needlessly exposes Americans to the threat of further terror attacks by revealing a crucial method by which terrorists are traced through their finances."

The measure's sponsor, Ohio Republican Mike Oxley, spelled out the reasoning behind the resolution:

Just to make his point clear, Oxley explained to his colleagues that the intention of his resolution was to signal that the government "expects the cooperation of all news media."

Once again, the right's attack on the media is grounded in the idea that they should be under government control. The resolution passed 220-195 along party lines, with only one Republican rejecting it, and one Louisiana Democrat supporting it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

BP reportedly involved in price-fixing scheme

Oil executives are hitting the road on an exciting tour to defend themselves and their record profits, still denying that they have any control over energy costs. But BP is having an Enron moment, complete with recorded phone conversations and cooperative employees who claim that the corporation has been manipulating the market to drive up prices-- and use the proceeds to give themselves huge bonuses.

Government regulators on Wednesday accused traders at energy giant BP PLC of trying to corner the market for propane during the winter of 2004, in a scheme that temporarily drove prices higher for millions of rural Americans who use the gas to heat their homes.

In a lawsuit filed in Chicago federal court, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said the traders--"with the knowledge, advice and consent of senior management"--bought up enough contracts to give BP a dominant position in the American propane market. They then used that power to illegally manipulate prices. (. . .)

"The purpose of the conspiracy was to enrich BP by inflating the price of propane in February 2004 and . . . to enrich the [traders] through bonuses and other remuneration from BP," the Justice Department claimed.

Deconstructing Murtha (and TNR marches on)

There's been a new wave of scrutiny this week focused on Jack Murtha. He's become popular among progressives-- and a scourge of the right-- for promoting the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Early on, Ohio Congresswoman Jean Schmidt accused him of cowardice by proxy, and it's been continuing through today.

Two issues have emerged this week on Murtha. The first is that of contradictory claims in his reaction to newspapers breaking the story of administration tracking of financial records. Right-wing blogs initiallyare claimed he supported the papers, while others are claiming that he was against publishing it. Conservative pundits then argued that Murtha had, in fact, come out against the paper. The trouble is, there's no evidence for either argument. As Media Matters notes, Murtha has simply "been in contact" with The New York Times. Which proves nothing, although it's now become a nation-wide GOP talking point in support of the administration.

The other issue is a focus on Murtha's record as a Democrat. The New Republic got the ball rolling by suggesting progressive are suckers to embrace Murtha, because his overall record is pretty conservative for a Democrat. Unfortunately, I can't find the piece now for the life of me. But it's a strange criticism coming from a magazine that routinely excoriates the blogs for being exclusionary and only supporting politicians who agree with their narrow agenda. Go figure.

Speaking of the New Republic, they continue to dig themselves in deeper in the whole dust-up over credibility and journalistic integrity:

A couple days ago, Tapped contributor Ben Adler noticedthe contrast of a Marty Peretz post proclaiming his paper's strong, if occasionally heterodox, liberalism sitting atop a Lawrence Kaplan post sighing over "how deeply unserious" Democrats are about Iraq. As Adler noted, this is what liberals bristle against in TNR: not their willingness to "grapple" with conservative ideas, but their penchant for publishing ideological conservatives and other travelers -- Kaplan is some species of neo-conny quasi-liberal who voted for Bush and blasted liberals for, literally, hating America -- who evince a robust contempt of the left. Today, Kaplan struck back at Ben with a contemptuous post asserting his dislike for Bill Frist. Fair enough. Unfortunately, it sits atop another Kaplan post explaining that Kerry -- and those who support his withdrawal resolution -- are even less moderate on Iraq than, yes, the Iraqi insurgency.

The tone of most blogs I've seen is now utter weariness with TNR's outraged assertions of superiority and balance. I couldn't agree more.

SCOTUS: Bush plan illegal. Bush: I can get around it.

Scalia, Thomas and Alito were the justices who dissented in the decision, with Roberts not casting a vote due to his prior involvement in the case. He had previously sided with the administration in Hamdan v Rumsfeld.

The court declared 5-3 that the trials for 10 foreign terror suspects violate U.S. law and the Geneva conventions.

The ruling raises major questions about the legal status of the approximately 450 men still being held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba and exactly how, when and where the administration might pursue the charges against them.

Bush's astounding response, which highlights his disregard for the decision and portrays the court's non-ideologues as pro-terrorist:

Bush said there might still be a way to work with Congress to sanction military tribunals for detainees and the American people should know the ruling "won't cause killers to be put out on the street."

'American Values Agenda' sums up GOP election strategy

The House has unveiled the updated version of their Contract With America in anticipation of the fall elections. And is it ever nutty.

Of the ten bills that are part of the package, one is for more tax cuts, two involve amendments to the Constitution, two are 'patriotism-related,' and no less than six are items pushed by fundamentalists.

I'm sure you can guess what isn't on the list-- health care, education, national security, etc.

But there is one item related to the effects of hurricanes: the nobly-titled Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act. It's purpose is to prevent the government "from using federal funds to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens during emergencies." I'm sure the specter of the cold, dead hands bumper sticker will please NRA members, but I don't recall hearing any reports of mass firearm confiscation in the wake of Katrina. Just reports on how the stories of rampant violence on the streets and in the Superdome were discredited.

Is this officially a "trend" now?

Within months of three administration officials being arrested on charges relating to child pornography, indecent exposure to minors, and related disturbing charges, a Texas GOP operative has been convicted of the same.

A political consultant whose company was behind a television ad accusing the Clinton-Gore administration of giving away nuclear technology was convicted of child molestation charges.

A jury deliberated almost two days before convicting Carey Lee Cramer, 44, of aggravated sexual assault of a child, two counts of indecency with a child by contact and one count of indecency with a child by exposure. He was cleared of nine other charges Tuesday.

At least he wasn't with Homeland Security or the Department of Defense.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Insanity, American Style

Focus on the Family's Jim Dobson wrote a commentary on gay marriage for CNN. And they posted it online. But, since Tim Grieve dissected it so ably in Salon's War Room blog, I'm linking to that piece instead of Dobson's wacked-out essay. It's highly recommended reading on a number of levels-- the anti-gay doomsaying relies on blatant falsehoods, shameless hyperbole and even a dose of (dishonest) Clinton bashing. It's fact free, demagogic, and a perfect example of the tactics the neo-fascists have been using to win elections. Grieve tears it to ribbons.

In fact, Grieve's article is so on-target, I'm having trouble finding any salient points to add. One thing that he only touches on briefly is the fact that it's a warning shot to Republicans from Dobson (and the fundies he represents). While there's no chance of his ilk casting ballots for Democrats after the decades spent demonizing them through groups like the Moral Majority, the theocrats' frustration with Republicans could wind up lowering their turnout at the polls. Especially in races where nervous Republicans are trying to keep their seats by rebuffing the most extreme elements of the party (read: James Dobson). It would certainly be sweet to see them hoist by their collective petards for courting these madmen in the first place.

Dobson says that a better measure of public opinion comes in the form of ballot initiatives that have outlawed gay marriage on a state-by-state basis -- but that "arrogant activist judges, most of them appointed by President Bill Clinton or President Jimmy Carter, will simply overturn the will of the electorate." Well, let's see. When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of marriage rights in 2003, its 4-3 decision was written by a justice appointed by two Republican governors, and two of the three judges who joined in the decision were appointed by Republicans, too.

I won't even mention the sheer rubber-room lunacy of Dobson's assertion that outlawing gay marriage is a more important cause now than ending slavery ever was-- you should enjoy that yourself.

Net Neutrality suffers committee defeat

In a near party-line vote on the senate Commerce Committee, potential legislation providing for Net Neutrality was defeated 11-11. Maine Republican Olympia Snow was the lone Republican to side with Democrats, and several of her fellow GOP committee members have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in telecom cash.

It's going to be a close vote if this heads to the floor, with both sides acknowledging that they don't have a clear majority.

The underlying telecommunications bill (S. 2686) would establish a consumer-centric Internet bill of rights and would include up to $500,000 in fines meted out by the Federal Communications Commission. But the bill would not allow the FCC to write net neutrality regulations to govern the actions of broadband access providers, an approach adopted in a House-passed bill (H.R. 5252).

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who is sponsoring the telecom bill, argued that net neutrality regulation would address a problem that did not exist.

"The regulatory approach is wrong," Stevens said, adding that discriminatory conduct has not been documented. "Right now, that's not the case."

The disingenuousness of Stevens' argument is astounding. The idea of Net Neutrality is to prevent regulation of the Internet by service providers, and what would amount to collusion between telecoms to charge for access to various sites.

MyDD has a list of the committee members and their votes. The question is how many Democrats will defect when it hits the floor. The telecoms have been spreading their cash pretty freely, but pressure to support Net Neutrality is on from the right and the left. It's going to be about spreading the word and, unfortunately, trying to get senators to side with principal instead of corporate cash.

UPDATE (6/29): A poster at Daily Kos wrote yesterday that Senator Ron Wyden "announced this afternoon that he has placed a "hold" on the telecommunciations legislation just passed by the Commerce Committee until clear language is included in the legislation that prevents discrimination in Internet access," which "is basically a signal of intent to filibuster." At least there's going to be a fight.

NYU Law report: lone hacker could change election

This is a long, fairly technical analysis of the issues facing electronic voting equipment. And it isn't very reassuring.

The good news: One person working to sway results from a single polling station probably wouldn't throw the race the other way, even if it was already tight.

The bad news: One person could throw the election anyway.

All three of the electronic systems they tested have "significant security and reliability vulnerabilities," but they found that "few jurisdictions have implemented any of the key countermeasures."

The really, really bad news: [I]t would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome.

House measure seeks to restrict what courts can hear

I guess the Pledge Protection Act was intended as a little brother to the flag desecration amendment. But it went a little further than legislating patriotism-- it would've undermined the authority of US courts to act as a co-equal branch of government.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today hailed the House Judiciary Committee’s defeat of a bill that would have stripped the federal courts of their ability to hear cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance.

The so-called “Pledge Protection Act” (H.R. 2389) failed on a 15-15 vote this morning. One Republican, U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, voted with 14 Democrats to scuttle the measure.

The bill was heavily backed by Religious Right groups, which seek to undercut the authority of the federal courts to rule on church-state issues.

As a CNN column from 2004 makes clear, this bill has been floating around the House since at least the last election cycle (big surprise there), and represents another attempt to rewrite the Constitution for the sake of maintaining the Republican stranglehold on government.

If we saw the same outrage this week toward a Congress that repeatedly attempts to pass blatantly unconstitutional laws as we do toward the free press over the bogus financial record monitoring story, the country could be in a much better place right now.

Globe: finance monitoring was part of public record

I've actually been a little surprised at how quickly the accusations against the New York Times (but none of the other press outlets that wrote about it simultaneously) have spread, and how violent they've become. Sure, the White House started the ball rolling with strong rhetoric, but the right rapidly moved from calling for an investigation, to demands that their White House press credentials be revoked, to calls for murder. Even Hardball featured a straight-faced debate on whether the New York Times staff was guilty of treason.

Aside from the fact that other papers, including the Wall Street Journal, reported the same information at the same time, (and ignoring the mind-bending fact that the conservatives ar essentially calling for a government-controlled media) there are strong indications that the program was no secret to begin with. Not least because even the administration has bragged about it in the past. Even an executive order by Fearless Leader, who called the Times' reporting "disgraceful," cites the plan to monitor financial records.

But a search of public records -- government documents posted on the Internet, congressional testimony, guidelines for bank examiners, and even an executive order President Bush signed in September 2001 -- describe how US authorities have openly sought new tools to track terrorist financing since 2001. That includes getting access to information about terrorist-linked wire transfers and other transactions, including those that travel through SWIFT. (. . .)

Indeed, a report that [Victor D. Comras , a former US diplomat who oversaw efforts at the United Nations to improve international measures to combat terror financing] co-authored in 2002 for the UN Security Council specifically mentioned SWIFT as a source of financial information that the United States had tapped into. The system, which handles trillions of dollars in worldwide transactions each day, serves as a main hub for banks and other financial institutions that move money around the world. (. . .)

Less than two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Bush signed an executive order calling for greater cooperation with foreign entities to monitor money that might be headed to terrorist groups. The executive order was posted on the White House website.

The document called for "cooperation with, and sharing information by, United States and foreign financial institutions as an additional tool to enable the United States to combat the financing of terrorism."

If there was ever a time for journalists to stand up to their accusers on the right, this is it. Why, instead, are they airing demands for their own imprisonment by goofy right-wing radio hosts? Maybe it's just another tragic example of the new "objectivity" that calls for equal time to flat-earthers.

UPDATE: I mentioned yesterday how odd it is that there are none of the administration's usual calls to punish leakers in their own midst, and Kevin Drum has found another reason why that might be-- both the NY Times and the LA Times say their respective stories had more than a dozen government sources.

Flag-burning vote fails, but remains an election tool

Salon has a roundup of yesterday's Constitutional amendment on flag-burning, which was one vote away from passing and thereby wasting even more of lawmakers' time while the nation is at war.

Fourteen Democrats voted for the amendment, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, while three Republicans voted against it. And although the measure is a decades-old Republican strategy to fire up their base and win votes during an election year, there is still plenty of hope/concern that it's effective in that regard.

Even before the Senate took its designed-to-pander but destined-to-fail vote on a constitutional amendment on flag burning Tuesday, one Republican senator had already begun using the vote as a campaign issue for his 2006 reelection drive. As the Washington Post reports, Virginia Sen. George Allen issued a press release Tuesday in which he said his challenger's opposition to the flag-burning amendment put him "firmly on the side of John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Charles Schumer."

The irony of this pretty much sums up the breed of Republican that's taken control of our government. While Allen's opponent is a combat veteran who served as Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, Allen himself has a history of wearing and exhibiting the Confederate Flag from his high school days through his professional career.

Right-wing pundits pile on Murtha for something he didn't say

Matt Drudge, Bill O'Reilly and Tucker Carlson pounced on an article from a Florida paper that attributed to Congressman Jack Murtha the statement that the "American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran."

Ratcheting up the outrage, O'Reilly called Murtha extremist and dangerous, while Carlson said the career Marine is "intoxicated by publicity," and "in the thrall" of America's enemies. Even Newt Gingrich got in on the act, saying he should be censured for behavior that's "beyond acceptable."

But the paper has acknowledged that they made a mistake. Murtha was actually citing the results of an international poll. The conservative commentators promptly issued corrections and said they shouldn't have been so quick to level such strong charges against the Congressman based on a lone source that didn't even provide a direct quote. Ha! Just kidding.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

For the GOP, personal data collection is a way of life

This LA Times op-ed takes a look at the special election to fill the seat of "Duke" Cunningham, and shows what an organizational juggernaut the Republican party continues to be.

Four days before this month's special election in San Diego County to replace imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican strategists back in Washington were worried. In addition to voter discontent with GOP leadership and the looming shadow of scandal dominating the campaign, Democrats appeared to enjoy yet another advantage: More absentee ballots were being submitted by Democratic voters than by Republicans.

The advantage did not last long. Jolted to life, the GOP machinery revved into high gear as activists poured into the district. They scoured the party's computer database for sympathetic voters who had requested absentee ballots but had not yet submitted them, knocked on their doors and called them on the phone. Suddenly, thousands of additional votes had been secured, and by election day, the GOP had turned around a costly deficit — with 10,000 more Republicans than Democrats voting absentee. (. . .)

Some of the GOP advantages are recent developments, such as the database called Voter Vault, which was used to precision in the San Diego County special election. The program allows ground-level party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, geography — even by their favorite brands of toothpaste and soda and which gym they belong to.

Couple this with gerrymandering and a monetary adavantage, and it looks like the elections this fall are still going to be an uphill battle all the way.

Signing statements revisited

Although the press has done very little since the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage broke the story in April, there have been some articles appearing, such as this AP story dated today.

Bush come up with more than 750 of them, and although the practice has been around a long time, Fearless Leader has more signing statements to his discredit than all previous presidents combined, and has used them in very different ways. As the AP story notes, they are often administrative in nature-- dealing with how to put a law into effect. Bush, on the other hand, often uses them to state that he is free to disregard the law in question.

Dan Froomkin's piece looks at the scant coverage of the issue, questions the press and lawmakers should be demanding of the administration, and whether or not the signing statements truly represent an attempt by this administration to subvert the Constitution.

FDA safety enforcement down 54%

The FDA has been one of the many agencies facing accusations of cronyism, incompetence, and an anti-science agenda under the Bush administration. The White House has become well-known for a fox-in-the-henhouse approach to filling cabinet positions, as David Sirota pointed out yesterday in citing the EPA's attempt to cover up the potential health problems created by the 9/11 building collapses-- under the gaze of an appointee who represented asbestos manufacturers.

Now the pretty awesome Henry Waxman has produced evidence that Bush's FDA has been somewhat lax in enforcing safety standards over the last five years-- even when people are dying.

Food and Drug Administration enforcement actions targeting safety problems, quality lapses and misleading claims have fallen sharply even though violations have not, according to statistics released Monday by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

In 2005, FDA headquarters issued 535 warning letters to companies, a 54% decline from 1,154 such notices issued in 2000, according to a report by the House Government Reform Committee's Democratic staff.

But over the same period, the number of violations reported by FDA inspectors in the field barely budged, dipping just 1% — from 6,334 to 6,268. (. . .)

The report identified 138 cases in which headquarters did not take enforcement actions recommended by inspectors. Many involved medium-sized or small companies selling over-the-counter remedies, not pharmaceutical giants. "I can't explain why the FDA is taking a position where they are being passive," Wilkes said.

One of the cases Wilkes reviewed involved an over-the-counter asthma medication containing an ingredient that could prompt dangerous side effects, particularly in children. Another involved a hangover remedy that contained toxic levels of caffeine and had sent three people to the emergency room. In both cases, FDA headquarters did not send warning letters within specified timeframes.

In another case, the agency ultimately did not take enforcement action against an Ohio medical gas supplier after a nitrogen tank mislabeled as oxygen was connected to a nursing home's oxygen-delivery system. Four patients died as a result.

The shape of things to come

It's become clear that Bush's appointment of two Supreme Court justices has been sufficient to turn the court into a right-wing institution. The decision to overturn a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty makes that rather clear.

The 5-4 outcome was as much a debate about capital punishment as it was a ruling on a unique law in Kansas, which has just eight death row inmates and hasn't executed anyone in 40 years.

The law says that juries should sentence a defendant to die — rather than serve life in prison — when the evidence for and against imposing death is equal.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the conservative majority, said "our precedents establish that a state enjoys a range of discretion in imposing the death penalty."

But the conservatives' arguments seem to hinge on ideology, rather than legal analysis:

"Those ideologically driven to ferret out and proclaim a mistaken modern execution have not a single verifiable case to point to, whereas it is easy as pie to identify plainly guilty murderers who have been set free," [Scalia] said.

He also complained that there has been "sanctimonious criticism of America's death penalty" from people in other countries and that Monday's dissent "will be trumpteted abroad as vindication of these criticisms."

The former assertion is a frightening bit of sophistry-- Scalia ignores the number of death row inmates who've been exonerated with DNA testing in favor of saying no dead man has been found innocent. The latter piece of nationalism would be more at home on the pages of National Review. America should continue to execute people to spite the international community? Insert 'activist judge' comment here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rush Limbaugh: hardened criminal

I thought I'd get in early on what's certain to become the latest round of jokes at the expense of Limbaugh's unfortunate history with prescription meds.

Customs officials found in Limbaugh's luggage a prescription bottle labeled as Viagra, a prescription drug that treats erectile disfunction, Miller said.

"The problem was that on the bottle itself was not his name, but the name of two Florida doctors," Miller said.

The matter was turned over to the sheriff's office, whose investigators interviewed Limbaugh.

"He said he had the Viagra in his possession for his use and that he did obtain it from his doctors," Miller said.

Sheriff's investigators confiscated the drugs, and Limbaugh was released around 5:30 p.m. without being charged.

However, the sheriff's office plans to file a report with the state attorney's office.

"We believe there may be a second degree misdemeanor violation, which is possession of certain drugs without a prescription, because the bottle does not have his name on it," Miller said.

Does Limbaugh have a thing for Dominican prostitutes, or is he just an optimist?

UPDATE (6/27): Early opinions on the legal issues are suggesting that Limbaugh won't face any serious violation of probation issues-- even though it was a drug offense, he wasn't hoarding narcotics again. But I don't know how authoritative that is, and others suggest that it all depends on how cranky the judge is.

But at least ol' Rush looks like a chump. Again. And the Dominican Republic is high on the list of sex tourism destinations. Thrice-divorced fat man with a bottle of Viagra hits a notorious fleshpot? Naaaahhhh. He probably just went for the cigars.

Gaming the system for Jesus

From the mysterious Cipher comes a story of millennialist Christians preparing for the end of the world. When it's a group of people in purple sneakers waiting for the mothership, it's funny-yet-sad. When it's a multi-million dollar, international effort to actively promote the end of the world, it's 100% disturbing. Welcome to Republican America, where nervous fundamentalists see the Bush presidency as their best hope for establishing a theocracy-- or, failing that, bringing about Armageddon. It's the ultimate version of "if I can't have it, no one can."

For thousands of years, prophets have predicted the end of the world. Today, various religious groups, using the latest technology, are trying to hasten it.

Their endgame is to speed the promised arrival of a messiah.

For some Christians this means laying the groundwork for Armageddon.

With that goal in mind, mega-church pastors recently met in Inglewood to polish strategies for using global communications and aircraft to transport missionaries to fulfill the Great Commission: to make every person on Earth aware of Jesus' message. Doing so, they believe, will bring about the end, perhaps within two decades. (. . .)

Artisans have re-created priestly robes of white linen, gem-studded breastplates, silver trumpets and solid-gold menorahs to be used in the Holy Temple — along with two 6½-ton marble cornerstones for the building's foundation.

Then there is Clyde Lott, a Mississippi revivalist preacher and cattle rancher. He is trying to raise a unique herd of red heifers to satisfy an obscure injunction in the Book of Numbers: the sacrifice of a blemish-free red heifer for purification rituals needed to pave the way for the messiah.

So far, only one of his cows has been verified by rabbis as worthy, meaning they failed to turn up even three white or black hairs on the animal's body.

Linking these efforts is a belief that modern technologies and global communications have made it possible to induce completion of God's plan within this generation.

Pretty odd theology, considering that Jesus said of the Second Coming in the Gospel of Matthew (24:36) that “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” And that's right after pointing out that "there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." Maybe if the fundies weren't so busy with silver trumpets and red cows, they could ditch the Cliffs Notes and do some heavy reading. Like "Theology for Total Morons."

Trust only Big Brother

The story about government efforts to track financial transactions was reported at the end of last week by the New York Times, the LA Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Starting over the weekend and continuing today, the administration (including Cheney, Bush and press spokesmonkey Tony Snow) and their shills have gone on the attack-- against the New York Times. We've seen it before, with the same line of reasoning. Any reporting on the administration's policies-- even the illegal stuff-- is anti-American, pro-terrorist, and dangerous. New York Congressman Peter King accused the Times' reporters, editors and publisher of violating the Espionage Act.

Questions about the program itself aside, we're once again witnessing a Republican leadership that's more than happy to dip into the fascism playbook to maintain their power. Their ultimate argument is that a free press is dangerous, and should be under the control of government. Journalists are part of a secret cabal, and to be regarded with suspicion and fear. Only the Republican party is telling you the truth.

As Ed Schultz pointed out on his show today, the administration has ignored a very significant question-- how did these three major news outlets get the information in the first place? If they're concerned about sensitive intelligence being reported in the press, they need to find out who's giving them the intel in the first place, right? Instead, they've decided to make it pure politics and attack the press in the name of hanging on to their base in the runup to elections.

UPDATE (6/27): Raw Story has collected a sample of reactions to the administration's attacks at the site Free Republic, where readers accuse the paper of promoting a "socialist-homosexual utopia," and suggest that their staff should be jailed, hanged or beheaded.

Monday Funny: The Shadow Party

Some of the funniest moments on Air America have been clumsy attempts by right-wingers to pass themselves off as Democrats so shocked by liberal outrages that they've now become Republicans. Just last week this happened on Al Franken's show, as a "lifelong Democrat" was so traumatized to learn that the host would actually criticize the president that he would never, ever vote for a Democrat again. Priceless.

Tom Tomorrow has come up with a handy dramatization of what such a conversion would look like.

This Modern World By Tom Tomorrow

GOP firmly against redeployment... for the moment

The Democrats were thrashed last week for proposing legislation that would lead to troop withdrawals from Iraq, and it was defeated by Republicans largely along party lines. US generals have been calling for phased withdrawal, and the Iraq government has joined them. Media outlets reporting on calls for troops reduction failed to acknowledge the Republican insistence that any plan for withdrawal was tantamount to treason.

But the GOP is starting to talk troops withdrawal as well-- they just want to be sure they're the ones who propose it, and save it for a date closer to the elections.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), one of the two sponsors of the nonbinding resolution, which offered no pace or completion date for a withdrawal, said the report is another sign of what he termed one of the "worst-kept secrets in town" -- that the administration intends to pull out troops before the midterm elections in November.

"It shouldn't be a political decision, but it is going to be with this administration," Levin said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's as clear as your face, which is mighty clear, that before this election, this November, there's going to be troop reductions in Iraq, and the president will then claim some kind of progress or victory."

I wouldn't bet against Levin on that one. And when it happens, there's no doubt in my mind that the mainstream press will convenienly forget how the Republicans fought tooth and nail against it-- until it became an election tactic.

Book excerpt: the religious right's "abortion myth" and racist provenance

That the fundamentalist anti-abortion movement didn't appear until nearly two decades after Roe v Wade was news to me. That it was a convenient vehicle for mobilizing evangelical voters to support institutional racism was news, too.

The author, a professors of religion at Columbia University (uh-oh, must be a radical propagandist) looks at the rise of the movement under Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, et al.

The abortion myth serves as a convenient fiction because it suggests noble and altruistic motives behind the formation of the Religious Right. But it is highly disingenuous and renders absurd the argument of the leaders of Religious Right that, in defending the rights of the unborn, they are the "new abolitionists." The Religious Right arose as a political movement for the purpose, effectively, of defending racial discrimination at Bob Jones University and at other segregated schools. Whereas evangelical abolitionists of the nineteenth century sought freedom for African Americans, the Religious Right of the late twentieth century organized to perpetuate racial discrimination. Sadly, the Religious Right has no legitimate claim to the mantle of the abolitionist crusaders of the nineteenth century. (. . .)

Falwell and others who eventually became leaders of the Religious Right, in fact, explicitly condemned the civil rights movement. "Believing the Bible as I do," Falwell proclaimed in 1965, "I would find it impossible to stop preaching the pure saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and begin doing anything else—including fighting Communism, or participating in civil-rights reforms."

For Daily Kos, more news (coverage) is bad news

From the page header ("Can Daily Kos Control Democrats?") on, this Newsweek piece on Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is more a professional hit than a profile. It stems directly from last week's dust-up with The New Republic, and the language is as intemperate as that of the TNR writers and David Brooks writing in the Times: berzerk, rock-thrower, paranoia, faddish, fever pitch, belligerence.

It all fits right in with the pigeonholing of bloggers as wild extremists, and to make the point, the author goes to no less a moderate voice of reason than Newt Gingrich(!), who as Speaker of the House helped usher in the age of reactionary Republicans and faced multiple ethics charges.

Democrats, especially presidential hopefuls, have taken a huge amount of grief from the press from Whitewater on, and now it looks like Democratic supporters are in for the same treatment. Good thing the current Republican leadership has proven to be so wise and benevolent, or this country could really be in trouble.

UPDATE: Eric Boehlert writes about a second Newsweek article, one in which right-wing talking head and blogger Hugh Hewitt is referred to as sanguine and center-right(!), which is pretty clearly undermined by Hewitt's efforts, also noted in the piece, on behalf of Rick Santorum.

Even the photos accompanying the articles are laughably biased. The Kos feature sports a picture of anti-war protesters confronting policemen, while the Hewitt piece shows the blogger confidently posed in suit and tie.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mixed messages on Iraq troop levels

Greg Sargent notes a disturbing new move by mainstream press outlets: straight-faced reporting of the fact that the Iraqi government is calling for American forces to leave.

One of the most high-profile stories of the last week was the new GOP offensive to associate any plans for troops reductions or a timetable for withdrawal with the phrase "cut and run" and the usual accusations of cowardice, wimpiness, and anti-Americanism. So you'd think the media might point out that the Republican committment to staying the course is totally at odds with the wishes of Iraqis, while the Democrats' efforts reflect the Iraqi's opinion of what is best for their own country. And you'd be completely wrong.

In the CNN story there is no mention whatsoever of the fact that the primary message of the Republican Party over the past week, delivered by party leaders and elected officials alike in every media forum imaginable, was that anyone calling for a timetable for withdrawal was embracing "retreat" and "surrender."

And get this: The story doesn't even mention at all that the GOP's official position has been squarely against troop drawdowns, let alone mention that the Republicans relentlessly smeared anyone who was for them. The only hint of this comes at the very end of the story, where it vaguely notes that the "Senate" last week rejected calls for troop withdrawals, without specifying that this has overwhelmingly been the GOP's position. Meanwhile, the only mention that Dems have been demanding troop drawdowns comes in the second-to-last sentence.

Sargent specifically mentions the Times and CNN, but you can add Newsweek to the list for the story I linked to in my previous post. There's no mention of the contradiction between what the Iraqi government wants and what the GOP intends to do.

David Brooks agrees: Markos is Dr. Mabuse

By turning the feud between The New Republic* and progressive blogs into such a big deal, both sides managed to do one thing-- pave the way for more stereotyping of bloggers by the media. And the ever-hacky David Brooks has led the charge.

"The Keyboard Kingpin, aka Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, sits at his computer, fires up his Web site, Daily Kos, and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way," writes Brooks. "And in this way the Kingpin has made himself a mighty force in his own mind, and every knee shall bow."

It's nice to see that Brooks has adopted the same name-calling and snide tone that purportedly shows what extremists bloggers are. But what gives with these accusations of Kos as shadowy puppetmaster? I'm honestly not even sure how to address the sheer silliness of them. And comparing a blogger to the likes of actual criminals Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay? That's just sad.

One funny thing about the article is the mention of right-wing site Little Green Footballs, where readers were more than happy to swallow the Kos-as-Svengali line. My favorite example is this:

The Islamic terror suspects arrested yesterday in Miami intended to launch an attack “as good or greater than 9/11:” Indictment: Suspects wanted to 'kill all the devils we can.' The Kos Koordinating Kommittee has handed down the talking point to deal with this setback: Daily Kos: Beyond Iraq.

KKK. Brilliant. And the capture of terrorists is a 'setback' to the left. Uh-huh. Maybe the folks at LGF should spend less time trying to be funny and more time getting their facts straight-- the suspects don't even appear to be Muslim.

In that regard, Brooks is no better. On the NewsHour recently, he attacked Democrats by way of claiming that Iraqis don't want us to leave their country-- long after polling in Iraq showed that the vast majority of citizens (some 80%) want us out in the near future, and as members of Iraq's government began to call on the US to make plans for exiting the country.

*Another problem with Jason Zengerle's initial anti-blog posts at TNR's site is that he now appears to have based his attack on an e-mail provided by three unnamed sources. But the e-mail is apparently a fraud.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Questions cropping up around Florida "terrorists"

Raw Story has a BBC video that features a Miami Herald reporter talking about the case:

"They've been described to us by sources as 'wannabes' -- still to be determined is making the connection between talking about doing an attack and and being able to finance an attack. We've seen previous cases where the Federal government has announced with great hoopla breaking terrorist cells. And when you start deconstructing a case, you see that there's a lot of talk."

It was reported that the men were a Black Muslim group, but one of the men's sisters has a different take:

BLITZER: Was that temple a Muslim temple?

PHANOR: I'm not sure, but I know my brother is a Catholic.

BLITZER: Why did -- does the government say he is also known as Brother Sunni?

PHANOR: Well, no all call themselves brothers. Why, I don't know, but the whole little group call themselves brother.

BLITZER: Did you ever hear your brother being called Sunni?

PHANOR: Yes, that's his nickname. It's not Sunni, it's sunny, like, is it a sunny day. Yes, that's his name.

BLITZER: So, confusion is that he was called Sunny, not Sunni, because Sunni, as you know, is one of the religious groups in Islam.

PHANOR: No, I didn't know that, but now that I know, no, it's not for that. That's his nickname, and it's spelled, S-U-N-N-Y, as a sunny day. That's his nickname every since birth. But all of them call themselves brother. I don't know -- it's Brother Nas, Brother Dee (ph). I guess each of them abbreviate their -- beginning of their first name for that, but -- my brother, no, my brother ...

Director of Nat'l Intel behind Santorum's "discovery"?

Santorum's sorry attempt to make the news and become the hero of the GOP might be more problematic than simple stupidity. It's being reported that John Negroponte was in on the scam:

The newly declassified military intelligence report was released Wednesday by National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. Santorum and Hoekstra had urged him to release report this week during congressional debates on Iraq.

The senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee questioned the timing of the report's release. "What worries me is that the intelligence community — Ambassador Negroponte in particular — may be playing a partisan role in the 2006 election," California Rep. Jane Harman said.

As several bloggers have now noted, Santorum claimed to be exhibiting a classified document on (what else?) Fox News. Which would be illegal. If it had just been declassified, does that mean the White House was involved in pushing this story-- which they knew to be bogus? Imagine that, the Bushies selling phony intelligence as fact for political gain.

Same song, next verse with federal bank record collection

We heard it with the warrantless wiretapping-- as if it had never occurred to terrorists that someone might try to intercept their communications. And the White House insistence that it was perfectly legal and limited solely to terrorist suspects was also false. But once they've settled on a defense, they really like to stick with it. So when it was revealed that bank records were also being collected, what do we get?

Mr Cheney said: "These are good, solid sound programmes. They are conducted in accordance with the laws of the land."

He added: "What I find most disturbing is the fact that some in the media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programmes, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people."

The programme had earlier also been defended by Treasury Secretary John Snow.

He called it an "effective weapon in the larger war on terror."

The treasury says the programme is strictly confined to the records of suspected foreign terrorists.

Friday, June 23, 2006

After ejecting journalists, Gitmo reopens-- for Fox

Think Progress has really been at the top of their game this week. I'm impressed. In the wake of prisoner suicides, several journalists were flown back to the US from Gitmo, told that they no longer had clearance to be there. In what strikes me as something like asking your dorm's RA to "Uhmmmm, gimme five minutes before you come in," the prison has now opened its doors to Fox News, and guess what? Guantanamo Bay is a super-cool mega-awesome summer camp that any kid would love!

Why so great? In the words of the Fox reporter, because it's "gentle, almost child-like the way they treat the detainees."

Apparently the three suicides were killed with kindness. "All right, you asked for it Mahmoud! Let's see how you like.... the comfy chair!"

Bush Springsteen gets rather badass on CNN

It's another of those right-wing memes that's been wholly absorbed into the mainstream media: artists shouldn't touch politics. Unlike the bodybuilder/actor set, or Texan exterminators, they simply aren't qualified.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien decided to spring this one on Springsteen during an interview, but surprise, surprise-- a mere singer/songwriter had an intelligent response that showed just how arbitrary and ridiculous this piece of journalistic conventional wisdom is. After all, I don't recall any outrage from the press when Britney Spears said we should have faith in and support Bush in all of his decisions....

O’BRIEN: In 2004 you came out very strongly in support of John Kerry and performed with him - your fellow guitarist, I think is how you introduced him to the crowd. And some people gave you a lot of flack for being a musician who took a political stand. I remember…

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, they should let Ann Coulter do it instead.

O’BRIEN: There is a whole school of thought, as you well know, that says that musicians – I mean you see it with the Dixie Chicks - you know, go play your music and stop.

SPRINGSTEEN: Well, if you turn it on, present company included, the idiots rambling on on cable television on any given night of the week, and you’re saying that musicians shouldn’t speak up? It’s insane. It’s funny.

O’BRIEN: As a musician though, I’d be curious to know if there is a concern that you start talking about politics, you came out at one point and said, I think in USA Today listen, the country would be better off if George Bush were replaced as President. Is there a worry where you start getting political and you could alienate your audience?

SPRINGSTEEN: Well that’s called common sense. I don’t even see that as politics at this point. So I mean that’s, you know, you can get me started, I’ll be glad to go. […] You don’t take a country like the United States into a major war on circumstantial evidence. You lose your job for that. That’s my opinion, and I have no problem voicing it. And some people like it and some people boo ya, you know?

Think Progress also has the video.

Voodoo Economics, or How do you stop a zombie that never HAD a brain?

The latest editorial in The New Republic points out yet another bit of dishonest trickery from the right-wing's boosters: supply-side economics. In a year when many on the right are suddenly scrambling to reassure people that the problem with the party's elect is that they're not really being conservatives right now, and that's the only reason we haven't achieved a reactionary utopia. Yet.

But supply-side economics has been pushed by the right for two decades now, and led to massive federal debts. Reagan and Bush I at least had the decency to abandon a tax-cut uber alles plan when it became clear the first time that voodoo economics were a bust. Not the Boy King, though. And although the results for the American economy have been the exact opposite of fiscal conservatism, everyone's eager to start singing the White House's praises all over again. And as usual, it's all a big, fat lie.

William Kristol, editorializing in The Weekly Standard, exults the "wildly successful supply-side tax cuts." Wall Street Journal editorial page writer Stephen Moore gloats, "Tax collections for the past 12 months have exploded by 14.4%." It seems we have all died and gone to voodoo economic paradise. (. . .)

In 2004, the Bush administration released a suspiciously high deficit projection for 2004. Every other sentient budget analyst at the time said the number was inflated. (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for instance, wrote, "The Administration appears to have noticeably overstated the deficit for the current year, 2004.") Why would it inflate the number? So that when the real figure came in below its phony prediction, it could claim progress. The trick was utterly obvious at the time.

Yet now, the administration and its supporters are celebrating the deficit's fall from a number it never reached and that no honest person thought it would reach. National Review says this is "vindicatory of the central claim of supply-side theory." In fact, it's vindicatory of the theory that no number emanating from the Bush administration should be taken at face value.

Recommended reading. Even if a fourth TNR writer decided to take a gratuitous swipe at progressive blogs today. Give it a rest already, fellas.

Missile defense succeeds! "Terrorist cell" apprehended!

A successful futuristic missile defense system would be great. So would catching dangerous terrorists plotting to kill innocent Americans. But I have to admit to being skeptical of these new stories.

Alberto Gonzales hit the airwaves today to play up the arrest of seven men in Miami as dyed in the wool terrorists. Maybe they are. But the evidence being released is awfully flimsy-- especially when you consider the eagerness of the White House to portray every move as a stunning victory. At Salon, Richard Grieve takes stock: ". . . no apparent ties to al-Qaida or other foreign terrorist organizations . . . . no imminent threat to Miami or any other area. . . . never found evidence of a credible terrorism threat against Sears Tower that has gone beyond criminal discussions. . . ." Neighbors said the men caught in Thursday night's raid exercised at night and slept in a warehouse and sometimes had young children with them and invited couple of locals to join their karate class. Benjamin Williams, 17, said the men would "cover their faces. Sometimes they would wear things on their heads, like turbans."

If you recall the constantly fluctuating terror alert levels and dire warnings over summer of 2004-- the last election season, coincidentally-- when terrorists would reportedly be using remote-controlled planes, exploding pens and beach coolers to wreak havoc across the US (all of which was later revealed to have been pushed by the White House, not the intelligence community), this just seems unimaginative.

Also being reported (thanks to Mil Apodos for the link) is that after twenty years of unsuccessful tests of land- and air-based missile defense systems, we've suddenly perfected a sea-based interceptor-- and it's worked on seven of eight tries. And wonder of wonders, it's come during an election season and at a time when North Korea is proposing long-range missile tests. Even better, it was a joint operation with Japan (whose participation seems to have consisted of tracking a missile from a ship of their own), who not only have a historic concern over North Korea's missile tests, but recently announced their intent to leave Iraq. The reports of the successful tests are also strangely devoid of details. The last time a successful test was reported, it later emerged that the scenario was rigged to the point of absurdity.

It'd be great if these really were big successes. But after years of the White House crying wolf over imaginary terrorist threats and phony claims of SDI success, it's a little too much to ask that these latest stories be taken at face value. Not only is it election season, but their disapproval ratings are higher than ever-- and their only two campaign tactics are inciting fear and promising victory.

House Republicans deep six Voting Rights Act vote

Please keep in mind that any complaints of GOP efforts to tilt elections in favor of their party over the past six years are nothing more than the feverish ravings of conspiracy theorists.

House leaders abruptly canceled a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act yesterday after rank-and-file Republicans revolted over provisions that require bilingual ballots in many places and continued federal oversight of voting practices in Southern states.

The intensity of the complaints, raised in a closed meeting of GOP lawmakers, surprised Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his lieutenants, who thought the path was clear to renew the act's key provisions for 25 years. The act is widely considered a civil rights landmark that helped thousands of African Americans gain access to the ballot box. Its renewal seemed assured when House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders embraced it in a May 2 kickoff on the Capitol steps.

The House Rules Committee had agreed to let Georgia lawmakers offer two amendments that would make it easier for states to become exempt from the Voting Rights Act. House leaders had expressed confidence that the amendments would fail. But the committee rejected King's request for an amendment to end the multilingual requirements.

That was "a gigantic mistake," said Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.), a leading critic of the act's renewal. "What people are really upset about is bilingual ballots," he said. "The American people want this to be an English-speaking nation."

I'll bet the American people want this to be a nation where citizens have the right to vote, too.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

WAR! (explained)

It's war, all right. But just between some New Republic writers and the blogosphere. Anyone who's been reading the site for a while know my opinion of TNR. It used to be a favorite of mine, back in the 90s. But over the last few years, the quality has really been dropping. Apparently their circulation has, too. There are plenty of reasons I have for the change of heart, and I won't rehash them all here. But the New Republic's anti-blog sentiment has boiled over this week, and the blogs are striking back in a big way.

It started with an item on TNR's blog that suggested a scandal brewing among the big progressive blog players, Markos Moulitsas and-- more specifically-- Jerome Armstrong. I didn't know what to make of it, and didn't feel informed enough to comment on it.

The questions about Armstrong don't seem to have amounted to much, but a new controversy arose when a TNR writer revealed that he had seen an e-mail Markos sent to a group saying that the story should be ignored. As was the case recently with Ann Coulter's publicity tour, the growing concensus was that writing about her outrageous statements was just giving more airtime and free press to someone who didn't deserve it. Jason Zengerle's response in TNR's blog was to claim that Moulitsas was bullying others into silence through his financial clout.

The concensus on that development is that Zengerle's assertions were inaccurate, unfounded, and irresponsible. But Moulitsas responded with this post today, which I think was unwise in its scope and emotion. While Moulitsas correctly asserts that the magazine has taken a big step to the right during the Bush years, his overwrought writing stoops to meet the original attacks of TNR and gives them ammo to fight back.

Which Jonathan Chait immediately did on TNR's site, using the sort of haughty sarcasm and 'gotcha' debate tactics that characterized Zengerle's original posts. When I read it this morning, it struck me primarily as just plain childish. Chait goes on and on about Kos' predictions of the magazine's iminent demise, but never presents any evidence of the magazine's vigor (it's my understanding that their circulation actually has dropped from 100,000 to about 40,000 over the last few years).

Enter MyDD, home of Jerome Armstrong, with the latest salvo: "The New Republic is owned by wealthy right-wingers. One quit the DLC in 1996 because he thought Bill Clinton was too liberal (seriously). The other is the chairman of a right-wing think tank." This is clearly very true. But unfortunately, the author of the post repeats Markos' blanket assertion that everything TNR produces is therefore guaranteed to be right-wing crap. Granted, there's a lot more crap than there used to be. And the recent editorial shift seems to have made things worse instead of better, from what I've seen.

And there you have it. The story to date. It's just too bad it's such a farce.

UPDATE: Salon has a blog entry on the whole to-do, and how meaningless the whole thing is. There's more info on what Zengerle thought he'd dug up about the secret blog conspiracy, if anyone's interested, but the whole thing doesn't amount to much beyond the outrage flying around.

UPDATE (6/23): I thought we'd probably seen the worst in this story, and I was more than ready to wash my hands of it. Sadly, a third TNR writer has joined the fray and topped everyone involved for overblown, kooky rhetoric. Lee Siegel writes that "the blogosphere"-- yes, and every last blog writer-- is a place of "hard fascism" and "thuggishness," where bloggers attempt "to parlay street-fighting skills into fame and riches." Perhaps worst is Siegel's admission that, although he'd like to see Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman, he'd also like to see Lamont lose just because it would piss off progressive bloggers. Now that's the mark of a seasoned and mature professional journalist.

The latest sad media moment

Howard Kurtz has always been more of an apologist for the media than a critic. But his latest bit of pomposity is pretty creepy.

Yesterday in this post I noted that the Washington Post had literally reprinted from a GOP press release bashing Dems on Iraq. The paper said:

"GOP leaders took obvious pleasure in the Democrats' disarray, issuing a stream of press releases with headlines such as, "Democrats Divided On The Meaning Of Their Own Amendments.""

Dems weren't given a chance to respond to the release.

Today, Kurtz quoted my post from yesterday, noted its criticism of the Post's reproduction of the release, then asked:

"Um, is citing the propaganda that one side is putting out the same as embracing that propaganda?"

Um, is printing what you yourself call propaganda considered journalism? As a commenter points out, the paper wasn't "citing" propaganda, they were printing it as fact. While the author of the post, Greg Sargent, never claimed the Post was "embracing" propaganda, they're very clearly endorsing it.

The right is all over Santorum's WMDs

No sooner had Santorum and Hoekstra made their announcement that they'd discovered WMDs in Iraq than the right-wing bloggers went nuts. The war is justified, war critics are discredited, and Bush is the greatest president ever.

This in spite of the fact that their claim runs contrary to the White House, the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, etc. How do you get around that? Easy. By concocting a conspiracy theory that's got more holes than swiss cheese. I mean, LIBERTY cheese.

Fox News Mililtary Analyst Thomas McInerney has a secret plot involving the UN Security Council (including France, which is really handy) that explains it all, and even incorporates the right-wing position adopted after no weapons were discovered: they were transported en masse to Syria. Somewhere. At some point. By somebody. Without us noticing, even though we controlled Iraqi airspace and had them under constant surveillance.

MCINERNEY: Well, if you want, my personal opinion is, I think the fact is that the Russians moved large stocks out in the fall of 2002. You heard what General Sada said. They went into three locations into Syria and one location in the Bekka Valley.

And if you get in there and if you found those weapons and found the precursors, the fingerprints would go back to Russia, China and France. Now, those are the three countries that had the most conventional weapon sales to Saddam Hussein. We’ve done an inventory on that, so that’s public. And I believe they were complicit, so I don’t think the administration wants to trash three of the five members of this Security Council.

Anyone wanna guess how quickly this admitted "personal opinion" will be adopted as hard fact by the right?

And how about McInerney? He's a retired Lt. General who has spent the last decade as a defense contractor and lobbyist and "advocates military-led regime change in Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Syria."

Second 2006 increase for Army active duty age

The U.S. Army, aiming to make its recruiting goals amid the Iraq war, raised its maximum enlistment age by another two years on Wednesday, while the Army Reserve predicted it will miss its recruiting target for a second straight year.

People can now volunteer to serve in the active-duty Army or the part-time Army Reserve and National Guard up to their 42nd birthday after the move aimed at increasing the number of people eligible to sign up, officials said.

It marked the second time this year the Army has boosted the maximum age for new volunteers, raising the ceiling from age 35 to 40 in January before now adding two more years.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sandwich Singalong: "Rick Santorum was a desperate little man"

As Santorum sinks lower and lower in the polls, his election strategy gets more and more desperate. Not long after accusing his opponent of sending 'operatives' to spy on his wife and children in a house where they don't even live, he's decided to jump on the presidential bandwagon of rewriting history in the invasion of Iraq. "And Fox News is there!"

Santorum today: Congressman Hoekstra and I are here today to say that we have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons. … Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.

You've gotta admire the way he pretends he was there in the dunes, pith helmet on and flashlight in hand.

The administration begs to differ, though. Here's what their own Iraq Survey Group had to say after a year and a half of scouring the country: While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.

This is just a repeat of all the breathless right-wing stories that emerged prior to the '04 election, where every empty and rusted-- but very suspicious-- canister that was discovered was incontrovertible proof (PROOF, damn you!) that Saddam was armed to the teeth and ready to nuke the US.

As Think Progress notes, Fox's John "The Man With the Golden Pompadour" Gibson has already hit the airwaves to say "In fact, WMDs were found in Iraq." Expect the rest of the righties to follow suit.

UPDATE: Looks like Santorum and Hoekstra's fleeting moment of bogus triumph has already been shattered. On Fox News, no less. While appearing on Hannity & Colmes, it was revealed to them that the Department of Defense has already commented on their story:

COMBS: Congressman, Senator, it’s Alan Colmes. Senator, the Iraq Survey Group — let me go to the Duelfer Report — says that Iraq did not have the weapons our intelligence believed were there. And Jim Angle reported this for Fox News quotes a defense official who says these were pre-1991 weapons that could not have been fired as designed because they already been degraded. And the official went on to say these are not the WMD’s this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had and not the WMD’s for which this country went to war.

Hilariously, having been confronted with official word from the administration and the Defense Department, Santorum says he'll "wait and see" what the administration and DOD have to say about it. Yes, really. He's completely lost it. Poor guy thought this would be his big, shining moment, but he falls on his face right out of the gate. Or maybe it's more like having the gate open and being caught trying to rub one out in anticipation of how sweet victory would be.

Hagel blasts GOP's catchphrase war policy

It's always a welcome sight-- the Republican senator from Nebraska has called for serious debate on Iraq policy after the slimefest that was last week's disgraceful show on the House floor.

This debate should transcend cynical attempts to turn public frustration with the war in Iraq into an electoral advantage. It should be taken more seriously than to simply retreat into focus-group tested buzz words and phrases like “cut and run,” catchy political slogans that debase the seriousness of war. War’s not a partisan issue, Mr. President. It should not be held hostage to political agendas. War should not be drug down into the political muck. America deserves better. Our men and women fighting and dying deserve better.

Unfortunately, the phrase "cut and run" is already a solid part of right-wing talk shows and blogging. They're losing the war, but darn it if they can't come up with snappy three-word appeals to the nationalism and bellicosity of the stupid. And as long as that keeps winning elections for them, why bother with leadership?

US activates non-working missile defense system in response to PRK.

GOP leadership must've been thrilled to announce that they'd have an excuse to tout the longtime pet project SDI. Right-wing bloggers dutifully wrote pieces about the heroic vision of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" plan and the Republicans' stick-to-itiveness in funding it. But it all makes for a parable that's as good as any in highlighting the utter incompetence of the party and the cultlike behavior of their loyalists: the "visionary" missile defense system has cost tens of billions of dollars, and has never worked. It was officially put in place by Bush in spite of the fact that it failed even the rigged tests it was given.

As the Bush administration warns North Korea not to test a long-range missile, the U.S. missile-defense system remains a patchy and unproven shield, government studies and outside experts say.

President Bush ordered the Pentagon to start fielding prototype anti-missile rockets in 2004 to have at least some chance of destroying an intercontinental missile heading for the USA. Although there are 10 of those interceptors on bases in Alaska and California, their hurried deployment prevented complete testing and contributed to technical glitches and manufacturing problems, congressional investigators reported this year.

As the article notes, the system costs some $8 billion dollars a year but has never been given a test that approximates-- you guessed it-- reality.

Criminologist says Scalia misstated his study

The Supreme Court decision that grants police a "no-knock" right when entering a house without a warrant doesn't seem to be going down well with law enforcement, although I've heard arguments on both sides. But the professor Scalia cited to state his opinion in the case says that it was used to make the exact opposite point.

"Scalia turned my research completely on its head. My point was that these reforms came about because the courts, specifically the Warren Court, forced the police to institute better procedures with judicial oversight. Scalia now wants to take that oversight away."

[Professor Sam] Walker says poltical leadership, internal procedures, media oversight and public pressure are all necessary to ensure civil liberties, but that judicial oversight is extremely important too, and that Scalia misused his scholarship to imply that Walker supports a diminishing role for the courts.

New plan to axe estate tax already in the works

Just weeks after a Republican measure was defeated, a new one is emerging. The good news is that they're taking a "compromise" angle. And that means the GOP is worried about this one, because that isn't something they do unless it's a last resort.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., introduced the bill after Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee asked House GOP leaders for help reducing the estate tax before this fall's midterm elections.

Frist lost a bid this month to push forward legislation repealing the tax, unable to overcome opposition from most Democrats and a pair of Republicans.

Although the bill doesn't call for a permanent repeal the Paris Hilton tax after 2010, it would dramatically reduce the number of estates taxed and reduce the rate. Just in time to deal with issues like retiring baby boomers going on Social Security, the national debt, and so one. Luckily, as the GOP has taught all of us, when you cut Paris Hilton's taxes, she'll create a massive number of new jobs.

GOP on thin ice in Kentucky

It's the story of our Republican century. A few choice paragraphs:

Most of [Governor Ernie Fletcher's] former backers, including his mentor, Senator Mitch McConnell, have distanced themselves from him, and Democrats point to the case as another example of Republican corruption and overreach. Mr. Fletcher was indicted on three misdemeanor charges; while on vacation in Florida in early June, he had his lawyer enter a plea of not guilty.

The accusations have threatened to reverse a tide that Republicans in the state have worked for more than a decade to turn in their favor. With the party controlling the State Senate and just shy of a majority in the House, many Republicans viewed Mr. Fletcher's easy victory in 2003 as the dawning of a new political era for the Bluegrass State. (. . .)

The charges against Mr. Fletcher — conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination — were brought on May 11. The 14 other members of his administration who have been indicted are charged with a total of 23 felonies and 60 misdemeanors for, among other things, criminal conspiracy and evidence tampering. In August 2005, Mr. Fletcher issued a blanket pardon protecting everyone in his administration but himself from prosecution. (. . .)

An ordained minister, a family physician and a former fighter pilot, Mr. Fletcher, who was elected in 2003 by a 10-percentage-point margin, has spent much of his tenure trying to keep his administration in one piece. Of the nine cabinet members who started with him two years ago, only three remain in office. In early June, Mr. Fletcher fired Brett Hall, his fifth press secretary, after Mr. Hall accused leaders of the state Republican Party of scheming to undermine the governor.

Run as pious Christian, rule through corruption, go down as martyr. We've seen it on every level.

UPDATE: Also in the news today was the story that Kentucky state officials have moved to block access to progressive blogs on state computers. The propietor of Bluegrass Update says that his site and national sites have been blocked-- but not partisan conservative blogs.

AT&T: your data is ours to share

In an attempt to head lawsuits off at the pass, AT&T is changing their policy to state that customers are agreeing to have their personal habits and info tracked-- and shared with the government.

AT&T has issued an updated privacy policy that takes effect Friday. The changes are significant because they appear to give the telecom giant more latitude when it comes to sharing customers' personal data with government officials.

The new policy says that AT&T -- not customers -- owns customers' confidential info and can use it "to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."

The policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers of its new video service -- something that cable and satellite providers are prohibited from doing.

Moreover, AT&T (formerly known as SBC) is requiring customers to agree to its updated privacy policy as a condition for service -- a new move that legal experts say will reduce customers' recourse for any future data sharing with government authorities or others.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The war on terror might just be "the war on terror"

The WaPo has a disturbing review of Ron Suskind's new book. Really disturbing. It seems to indicate that everything you suspected and feared about the administration's policy-making is true: the president as a moronic puppet, policies designed only to increase their power, and a total lack of interest in success.

The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: "All right. You've covered your ass, now." Three months later, with bin Laden holed up in the Afghan mountain redoubt of Tora Bora, the CIA official managing the Afghanistan campaign, Henry A. Crumpton (now the State Department's counterterrorism chief), brought a detailed map to Bush and Cheney. White House accounts have long insisted that Bush had every reason to believe that Pakistan's army and pro-U.S. Afghan militias had bin Laden cornered and that there was no reason to commit large numbers of U.S. troops to get him. But Crumpton's message in the Oval Office, as told through Suskind, was blunt: The surrogate forces were "definitely not" up to the job, and "we're going to lose our prey if we're not careful."

Plenty more creepy revelations at the link.

UPDATE: More from Suskind-- on Wolf Blitzer's 'Situtation Room,' he states that we intentionally bombed Al Jazeera in Afghanistan, and that (duh) bin Laden wanted Bush to win in 2004. With video.

The latest probably-illegal domestic spying program

Numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies have bypassed subpoenas and warrants designed to protect civil liberties and gathered Americans' personal telephone records from private-sector data brokers.

These brokers, many of whom advertise aggressively on the Internet, have gotten into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information and even acknowledged that their practices violate laws, according to documents gathered by congressional investigators and provided to The Associated Press.

The law enforcement agencies include offices in the Homeland Security Department and Justice Department — including the FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service — and municipal police departments in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Utah. Experts believe hundreds of other departments frequently use such services. (. . .)

Congressional investigators estimated the U.S. government spent $30 million last year buying personal data from private brokers. But that number likely understates the breadth of transactions, since brokers said they rarely charge law enforcement agencies any price.

Japan to leave Iraq

The latest news on the Coalition of the I'm Outta Here.

Japan has decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced on Tuesday, ending the Japanese military's riskiest and most ambitious overseas mission since World War Two.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday his forces would take over security from July in the southern province of Muthanna, where the British oversee a multinational contingent that includes Japanese troops.

Japan's troop despatch -- a symbol of Tokyo's willingness to put "boots on the ground" for its close ally, the United States, and to take a bigger global security role -- won praise from Washington. But it was opposed by many at home including critics who said the despatch violated Japan's pacifist constitution.

The decision to withdraw comes ahead of Koizumi's visit to Washington for talks with President George W. Bush in late June and the end of his term as ruling party president, and hence as prime minister, in September.

Congress got a pay hike-- how about the working poor?

The last minimum wage increase was close to a decade ago, and nationally workers' salaries haven't been keeping up with price increases. The GOP loves to argue that this would wreck the economy, mean lost jobs, and lead to a slippery slope where lazy, poor people are suddenly earning ten-- then twenty!-- dollars an hour. Not that there's any evidence for this commie victimization of America's executives.

The question that has received the most scrutiny is whether increases in the minimum wage lead employers to lay workers off. You probably don't want to hear the results from me, but here's how Nobel laureate in economics, Robert Solow, put it: "The main thing about this research is that the evidence of job loss is weak. And the fact that the evidence is weak suggests that the impact on jobs is small."

A great example comes from the last Federal minimum wage increase, back in 1996-97. The usual suspects predicted massive job losses among those affected by the increase from $4.25 to the current level of $5.15. Instead, low-wage workers experienced the strongest job market in 30 years. Poverty fell to historic lows, particularly for the most disadvantaged workers, such as less-skilled minorities and single-mothers.

On the other hand, there no such body of evidence supporting your claims that cutting taxes for the rich actually accomplishes anything beyond distributing wealth up to the scale. Did I mention that profits as a share of national income are at a 39-year high?

UPDATE: Wouldn't you know it? The GOP is countering the minimum wage increase bill with a minimum wage increase bill of their own-- that would, naturally, lower wages for millions.

Safavian convicted

Bush administration official and Abramoff pal David Safavian has been found guilty in what was the first trial related to Abramoff's crooked dealings with the Republican party.

A jury found former Bush administration official David Safavian guilty Tuesday of covering up his dealings with Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff.

Safavian was convicted on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction. He resigned from his White House post last year as the federal government's chief procurement officer. No date was immediately set for sentencing.

The trial consumed eight days of testimony about Safavian's assistance to Abramoff regarding government-owned real estate and a weeklong golfing excursion the lobbyist organized to the famed St. Andrews golf course in Scotland and London. Safavian went on the trans-Atlantic trip while he was chief of staff at the General Services Administration, and other participants were Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, two Ney aides and Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed. (. . .)

The jury found Safavian guilty of obstructing the work of the GSA inspector general and of lying to a GSA ethics official. It also convicted him of lying to the GSA's Office of Inspector General and of making a false statement to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He was acquitted of a charge of obstructing the committee's investigation.

Bodies of "kidnapped" soldiers found in Iraq

Although Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the killings, it's uncertain who exactly is responsible for taking the soldiers and, now, torturing and killing them. The official word is that they haven't been positively identified yet, ostensibly because the two had been tortured and mutilated.

The bodies of two U.S. soldiers reported captured last week have been recovered, and an Iraqi defense ministry official said Tuesday the men were "killed in a barbaric way." The U.S. military said the remains were believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said U.S. forces - part of a search involving some 8,000 American and Iraqi troops - found the bodies late Monday near Youssifiyah, where they disappeared Friday. The bodies were recovered early Tuesday.

Caldwell said the cause of death was "undeterminable at this point," and that the bodies would be taken back to the United States for DNA tests to confirm the identities.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to slain terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had "slaughtered" them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men had been beheaded.

UPDATE: It hasn't taken long for right-wing bloggers to start attacking the family of one of the murdered troops. One of the men's uncles made a television appearance criticizing the war, which mean he's "sick" and has "no shame." In the wake of Ann Coulter's assertion that 9/11 widows were happy their husbands had died, America's neo-fascists march on.