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


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

At the risk of sounding pretentious...

I love it when a story from the day's headlines gives me a chance to slip some literature into a post. In one of Shelley's plays, a murderous Count is addressing the system whereby he receives pardons from the Church in exchange for large sums of money. Just think of it as one of these two gents talking about BushCo and the idols in their church of authoritarianism:

Scumollini: More recently, U.S. attorney Carole Lam, who is best known for nailing corrupt Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and his partners in crime, was replaced on Feb. 15 by Karen P. Hewitt, who according to a Justice Department press release, "will serve on an interim basis until a United States Attorney is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate." According to an Op-Ed in Monday's New York Times, Hewitt has a résumé with "almost no criminal law experience" and is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

Dickarello: . . .mega GOP donor Sam Fox squirm[ed] during Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to consider Fox's nomination to be ambassador to Belgium.

Fox, a Bush "Ranger" whose generosity has likely helped him on his way to the Land of Beer and Chocolate, contributed $50,000 to help fund the infamous 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a "527" group that ran ads aimed at smearing Kerry's Vietnam record.

You see, Kerry's on the committee. Awkward. Now, on with the show!

No doubt Pope Clement,
And his most charitable nephews, pray
That the Apostle Peter and the saints
Will grant for their sake that I long enjoy
Strength, wealth, and pride, and lust, and length of days
Wherein to act the deeds which are the stewards
Of their revenue.

Snow: Military Preparedness "Unprecedented"

I know, I know, you've already guessed the punchline from the title because of the 21st century maxim 'whatever the GOP tells you, believe the opposite.'

Strike One: [R]etired Vice Adm. John McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a separate hearing that the Iraqi army sent to Baghdad only two of the three additional brigades that were to have been in place by Feb. 15. . . .

Maples, the military's top intelligence official, said that the strength of the Iraqi battalions that comprise the two brigades range from 43 percent to 82 percent.

But hey, Snow must have meant the US military, right? Not that whole 'we'll stand down when they stand up' stuff.

Strike Two: America's security, and the National Guard's ability to defend the home front, depends on changing course to a tough and smart strategy that will force Iraqis to take control of their own country, redeploy our troops, and refocus our efforts on battling the very real and growing threat of terrorism.

"We expect our Guard to be there for the unexpected, and they have always done so exceptionally well," Senator [Mark] Pryor [of Arkansas] said. "However, we can't expect for them to be in two places at once, or continually away from their families as they are called up for duty in Iraq and responding to natural disasters. . . .

"With extended deployments overseas, governors' emergency plans are compromised, in terms of troops and equipment," Governor [of Kansas Kathleen] Sebelius said. "As Commanders-in-Chief of our National Guard, we rely on these dedicated citizen soldiers to respond to natural disasters and other threats to public safety."

Well, you can't have it all, right? Duh. We can't have National Guardsmen serving here when they've been shipped to the Middle East. At least we know that back home, returning troops will be treated to the best available care.

Strike Three:

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training. . . .

The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant has been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said.

On the other hand, I shouldn't even be promoting better care for wounded veterans-- all that does is embolden the enemy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Note: taunts supplied by Mrs. Dooley's third-grade class

Also making the news today were documents from Mitt Romney's campaign team. In giving the candidate a political SWOT analysis, they really didn't pull any punches:

Here are some views of Mitt Romney causing concern inside his campaign: His hair looks too perfect, he's not a tough war time leader, and he has earned a reputation as "Slick Dancing Mitt" or "Flip-Flop Mitt."

Romney and his advisers have identified those perceptions as threats to his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, according to an exhaustive internal campaign document obtained by the Globe.

Hey, he's lucky he doesn't have Ted Haggard's problem, or people would just call him "Catcher Mitt." That took me about three seconds, so apparently I should be earning serious cash as a political operative.

But there's also new, unique analysis of how Republican voters, with all their nuance and subtlety, are to be won over by the pioneering vision and bold ideas of '08 hopefuls:

Enmity toward France, where Romney did his Mormon mission during college, is a recurring theme of the document. The European Union, it says at one point, wants to "drag America down to Europe's standards," adding: "That's where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France." The plan even envisions "First, not France" bumper stickers.

Maybe the campaign could offer free "I'm With Stupid" t-shirts in conservative strongholds. That should get the voters in. But as I'm sure his brilliant strategists would quickly realize, there's "some potentially troubling subtext in that message."


Uh-huh. With sixteen months to go before the actual election, the press continues to... be the press. And that means getting on the name Clinton like a 2x4 on a baby harp seal.

Over my bowl of cereal this morning, I saw a front page headline on The Washington Post: "CLINTONS' CHARITY NOT LISTED ON SENATE DISCLOSURE FORMS."

Upon reading this, my first, split-second thought was, "This has to be a John Solomon story." Indeed it is, along with a co-reporter. (If you don't know who John Solomon is, he's a reporter whose work has been critiqued--very persuasively, in my view--for hyperventilating over nonexistent scandals by Josh Marshall.)

My second thought, "OK, it's John Solomon, but there has to be more to this story than failing to list charitable contributions." So I read the story. And that's all there is! The scandal is that Clinton failed to disclose some of the money she donated to charity. Not money she earned, money she gave away.

Bring back the draft!

Fortunately, this is only about demanding service of one man: Al Gore. Given the current field of hopefuls, and considering what we have to face in the coming years, I'm a bigger fan of Gore than ever. Experience, intelligence, passion, connection to the issues, integrity-- isn't he just the dreamiest?

Sign on. Pass the link. Please.

Condi, Laura. Laura, Condi.

When Keith Olbermann launches one of his broadsides at a mendacious (or rock-stupid) member of this administration, it's always a thing of beauty. Journalists should be outraged when they witness people at the highest levels of our government doing this stuff. Instead of just passing it on to us unchallenged, that is.

That was the case with Condi Rice's appearance on Fox, but the O-Man's response-- even though it doesn't include any information a high school student shouldn't know-- sounds like an incredible act of bravery these days. But it still doesn't seem to make much of an impression on most people when the Secretary of State either doesn't know a thing about World War II, or is lying to the public.

On the Sunday Morning Interview Show of Broken-Record on Fox, Dr. Rice spoke a paragraph, which if it had been included in a remedial history paper at the weakest high school in the nation, would've gotten the writer an "F" - maybe an expulsion.

If Congress were now to revise the Iraq authorization, she said, out loud, with an adult present, "…It would be like saying that after Adolf Hitler was overthrown, we needed to change then, the resolution that allowed the United States to do that, so that we could deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after he was overthrown." . . .

Invoking the German dictator who subjugated Europe; who tried to exterminate the Jews; who sought to overtake the world — is not just in the poorest of taste but in its hyperbole, it insults not merely the victims of the Third Reich, but those in this country who fought it. And defeated it. . . .

We already have blissful ignorance by our Secretary of State about how this country got into the war against Hitler.

But then there's this part about changing "the resolution" about Iraq, that it would be as ridiculous in the Secretary's eyes, as saying that after Hitler was defeated, we needed to go back to Congress to "deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after he was overthrown."

Oh, good grief, Secretary Rice, that's exactly what we did do!

We went back to Congress to deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after Hitler was overthrown!

It was called the Marshall Plan.

Worth reading in its entirety. And watching the video-- all of which you'll find right here.

Then there's Laura Bush's Stepfordian assertion that Iraq is all just fine, except for those Nosey Nellies who make her husband look bad.

Tonight on Larry King Live, First Lady Laura Bush said she understands “how the American people feel” when they express frustration over Iraq, but insisted that “to leave now would be a serious mistake.” She said of Iraqis, “This is their opportunity to seize the moment, to build a really good and stable country.”

The reality? 185 attacks every day. As of last November.

Monday, February 26, 2007

When Foxes Attack! Or, When Fox Attacks!

Salon has a couple of videos featuring Barack Obama. And Fox News. And a laugh track. They also mention the site Fox Attacks, brought to you by the man behind OutFoxed. With stories like the network's John Gibson claiming that people who want more news and less Anna-Nicole Smith from their news stations are elitist snobs. Yes, the strangulation of journalism by the hands of infotainment is part of a glorious struggle.

The canned laughter [of Fox's new "comedy" show The 1/2 Hour News Hour] worked so well for that program that one creative YouTuber opted to lay the fake audience over real footage of FNC's John Gibson hacking away at Barack Obama. The results: way funnier than The 1/2 Hour News Hour.


The Bizarroworld Ticket

At this point, I'm starting to feel sorry for John McCain. But not quite. It's like watching the nerdiest guy in class make embarrassing overtures to the prom queen-- "If I serenade her again, but with a string section, she'll finally see what a great guy I am!" There's the commencement speech at Liberty University, his endless retooling of his abortion stance, and now something that's par for the course, and every bit as pathetic.

Friday at noon in Seattle, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will speak at a luncheon event being co-presented by the Discovery Institute — the controversial organization that promotes intelligent design theory and combats Darwinism.

McCain is beng hammered by a liberal group for associating with the Discovery Institute, although the luncheon is being formally hosted by the CityClub of Seattle and the Seattle World Affairs Council, with the Discovery Institute is one of nine organizations "co-presenting" the event.

While this isn't as egregious as actually speaking at a DI event, McCain has already been using Bush's language on the topic of evolution:

In 2005, he told the Arizona Star, "I think that there has to be all points of view presented. But they've got to be thoroughly presented. So to say that you can only teach one line of thinking … or one belief on how people and the world was created I think there's nothing wrong with teaching different schools of thought."

This just happens to be the exact manner in which outfits like DI try to present fundamentalism as science. Maybe there should be a McCain-Lieberman ticket, which would be the most surreal since Perot and his admiral pal. The Republican Republicans hate and the Democrat Democrats hate-- not to mention two of the most deluded men in Washington. Speaking of which, there was Lieberman's op-ed today in (what else?) the WSJ:

Joe Lieberman has an op-ed
in today's Wall Street Journal. I found this passage particularly incredible:

Will we allow our actions to be driven by the changing conditions on the ground in Iraq--or by the unchanging political and ideological positions long ago staked out in Washington?

Unchanging political and ideological positions long ago staked out in Washington? Senator Lieberman, have you no self-awareness?

The next sentence in Lieberman's op-ed is almost as detached from reality: "What ultimately matters more to us: the real fight over there, or the political fight over here?"

Of course, this is annoying because it assumed that everyone who disagrees with Lieberman is driven by partisan concerns. Nowhere in his op-ed does Lieberman consider the possibility that people could actually have a different analysis of the situation in Iraq than he does.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Eenie Meanie, Chili Beanie, the Spirits are About to Speak....

Dick Cheney recently declared Britain's announced withdrawal from Iraq as a sign of continued progress, and the administration has always insisted that an increased body count proves how well we're doing, but this news should have right-wingers across the country proclaiming that victory is just a call to Mistress Cleo away:

Psychics were recruited by the Ministry of Defence to locate Osama Bin Laden's secret lair, it was claimed yesterday.

Newly declassified documents revealed that the MoD conducted an experiment to see if volunteers could 'see' objects hidden inside an envelope.

It is claimed the ministry hoped positive results would allow it to use psychics to 'remotely view' Bin Laden's base and also to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Although they use plenty of weasel words, the story states pretty clearly that there's documentation of the 2002 program's budget and mission. Maybe the Pentagon could just stencil "al Qaeda" on some guided missiles and let fly.

The same old face of the Republican party

Lessons learned from being thrashed in the November elections? Eerily similar to Bush's Iraq plan-- the exact same failed strategy, just more of it.

On January 10, freshman Republican Bill Sali got up to speak at the House debate on the minimum-wage increase. The measure was sure to pass, and the debate was so stultifying that even Alcee Hastings, languorously draped in the speaker's chair, looked bored. Gripping the podium, the burly Sali began with the customary boilerplate. Then he paused and, as a smile spread across his silver-goateed face, continued: "Mr. Speaker, I have asked my staff to draft a measure I call the Obesity Reduction and Health Promotion Act. Since Congress will apparently not be restrained by the laws and principles that naturally exist, I propose that the force of gravity--by the force of Congress--be reduced by 10 percent. . . .

Last April, in the midst of his primary campaign for the First District's open congressional seat, Sali made a speech in the Idaho state legislature that linked abortion to breast cancer in front of a colleague who'd battled breast cancer. The Republican speaker had to shut the session down, and he later railed to reporters that Sali was an "absolute idiot" who "doesn't have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body."

Sali was recently elected president of the Republican 'freshman class.' Recommended reading.

Caveat emptor goes global.

"Some Coats May Have Fur From Dogs." I have to admit that when I saw that headline, one word sprang to mind: China. And sure enough:

An animal advocacy group says its investigation has turned up coats some with designer labels, some at higher-end retailers with fur from man's best friend. Some retailers were set scrambling to pull the coats from shelves, take them off Web sites and even offer refunds to consumers.

The Humane Society of the United States said it purchased coats from reputable outlets, such as upscale Nordstrom, with designer labels Andrew Marc, Tommy Hilfiger, for example and found them trimmed with fur from domestic dogs, even though the fur was advertised as fake.

The appalling working conditions that mean big savings for giants like Nike or Tommy Hilfiger (which they don't pass on to you) occasionally cause a stir in the domestic press, a la Kathy Lee Gifford's line of clothes. But not enough to keep GOP stalwarts like Tom DeLay from lobbying for those conditions.

Maybe stories like this will make a difference-- this issue is tougher to forget when "out of sight, out of mind" becomes "on your mind, as in sitting on your head."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Putting out fire with gasoline

The latest grim development in Iraq is not only a horrible story in itself (aren't those soldiers supposed to be on our side?), but gave me the troubling impression that Maliki and his cronies are poised to create their own authoritarian regime. That sort of thing tends to happen in a power vacuum.

Four Iraqi soldiers have been charged with raping a Sunni Muslim woman in Talafar, northern Iraq, officials say.

Brig Gen Nijm Abdullah, who acts as mayor, said the men had confessed.

It is the second time this week that members of Iraq's security forces have been accused of serious sexual assault of Sunni women.

The first case prompted a row between senior Sunni figures backing the allegations, and the Shia-led government, which has denied them.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has said the accusations in the first case were fabricated by Sunni groups trying to undermine the Shia-dominated security forces. . . .

Gen Abdullah said the troops initially denied the charge but later confessed when the woman picked them out at an identity parade. . . .

The earlier rape was alleged to have taken place in the Amil district in Baghdad.

A 20-year-old woman said she was raped by three policemen in a police station where she was taken after a search of her house.

Mr Maliki published what he said was a US doctors' report saying no sexual had taken place, but the US military has not confirmed its authenticity.

The officers were cleared within a day, sparking claims of a cover up by Sunni politicians.

Mr Maliki sacked a Sunni official who demanded an international inquiry into the case.

This article isn't as complete as the report I caught on BBC radio, although new details might have emerged since then. Late last night the story was that the soldiers accused of the rape in Talifar were not only cleared within hours, but given commendations by Maliki. In addition to the on-the-spot firing of an official who demanded an investigation.

Do Not Attempt To Adjust Your Reality

ITEM! The most powerful man in the closet! I mean world!

OK, here's the deal. We all know that Bush has some literacy issues, and an apparent hatred for diplomacy. And there could be some issues of translation here. And I wouldn't bring this up at all if El Chimpo had just said in his usual smirking way "I'm gonna screw him but good," or "I'm gonna fuck him up." But this anecdote is outright disturbing, in a high school wrestling team locker room sort of way:

Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"

Item! Cheney discovers new continent in Bizarroworld!

Violence continues unabated in Iraq! Most prominent member of the Coalition of the Willing throws in the towel! What does it all mean? SUCCESS!

In the [ABC News] interview, Cheney also said Britain's plans to withdraw about 1,600 troops from Iraq _ while the United States adds more troops _ was a positive step. "I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well," the vice president said.

ITEM! Capone crime wave sweeps city-- but Elliot Ness and his Untouchables fight back with PR campaign!

The Bad News: Globally there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks (28.3 attacks per year before and 199.8 after) and a 237 percent rise in the fatality rate (from 501 to 1,689 deaths per year). A large part of this rise occurred in Iraq, the scene of almost half the global total of jihadist terrorist attacks. But even excluding Iraq and Afghanistan—the other current jihadist hot spot—there has been a 35 percent rise in the number of attacks, with a 12 percent rise in fatalities.

The Worse News: Federal prosecutors counted immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug trafficking among anti-terror cases in the four years after 9/11 even though no evidence linked them to terror activity, a Justice Department audit said Tuesday.

Overall, nearly all of the terrorism-related statistics on investigations, referrals and cases examined by department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine were either diminished or inflated. Only two of 26 sets of department data reported between 2001 and 2005 were accurate, the audit found.

ITEM! Right-wing columnist dupes, uhhhh... fifth graders?

We've actually seen this before-- someone takes the number of non-combat military deaths (e.g., traffic accidents, illness) as proof that Iraq is a pretty sweet place to be. But this story gives it an even more disingenuous twist.

"The total military dead in the Iraq war between 2003 and this month stands at about 3,133. This is tragic, as are all deaths due to war, and we are facing a cowardly enemy unlike any other in our past that hides behind innocent citizens," Colon wrote. "Each death is blazoned in the headlines of newspapers and Internet sites. What is never compared is the number of military deaths during the Clinton administration: 1,245 in 1993; 1,109 in 1994; 1,055 in 1995; 1,008 in 1996. That's 4,417 deaths in peacetime but, of course, who's counting?"

What would happen if Alicia Colon added traffic fatalities et al. (not to mention Afghanistan) to her Iraq numbers? She'd probably just write a Clenis-themed column instead. It's all they've got.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Busy Day

Man, am I a hard-working guy. Staying late at work, de-icing the sidewalk, then some tidying up indoors. Not much fun, and I'm kinda tired. So I'll have to make up some blogtime tomorrow. For now, just another blogger's angle on that goofy story about a new Iraq poll that's being disingenuously in some quarters to keep selling the Iraq war (Yes! Some people still think we're just a patriotic country song away from total victory!).

In a dramatic finding, a new poll shows a solid majority of Americans still wants to win the war in Iraq -- and keep U.S. troops there until the Baghdad government can take over.

Strong majorities also say victory is vital to the War on Terror and that Americans should support President Bush even if they have concerns about the way the war is being handled, according to the survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies....

OK, stop right there.

Public Opinion Strategies? It's the well-established partisan Republican firm that brought you the "Harry and Louise" ads during the debate over the Clinton health care plan. Charges of push-polling dog Public Opinion Strategies -- in Texas in the mid-'90s, for example, and in Vermont and Pennsylvania and New York State this past year. POS also conducted a push poll on Net neutrality in 2006, for Verizon.

This is a push poll because so much of it is right-wing talking points turned into questions.

Examples follow. Apparently my utter scorn for the poll was way, way too generous.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Today in right-wing stupidity

I'm consistently baffled by some of the nonsense that appears on right-wing blogs. And it's shaping up to be a very "good" week for triumphalist announcements from reactionaries that are hopelessly inept. And I've always had a special hatred for those who exclaim "A-HA! Take that!" And smugly close their ears, certain that they've just dealt the death blow to the opposing side. Only they make no sense at all.

Item! National Review blog headline: But There Is No al Qaeda Connection in Iraq

"A family of 13 was killed on the road leading to Falluja, about 12 miles northwest of Baghdad, because its members were from a tribe known to oppose Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, witnesses said."

Take that, you naysaying lefties! The only problem is that absolutely everyone is fully aware that Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq. Criticism of the White House was for falsely claiming that they were there before we invaded. Which they weren't-- that was one of the lies they used to sell this disaster. So the author is an imbecile, or he's depending on the fact that National Review readers are. Or both.

Item! Harry Reid says Republicans are Nazis! Well, OK, he didn't. But he WILL! Probably soon, too!

Harry Reid has declared Iraq the "worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country." . . . The point here is that Democrat rhetoric has gone from "Iraq is Vietnam" to "Iraq is Vietnam times two!" So how long until hyperbole increases to the point that the war in Iraq becomes worse than the Holocaust?

Do the readers of these blogs just eat this crap up with a spoon? Without even addressing Reid's statement, the author is suddenly moving on to Holocaust rhetoric-- only he's putting it in the mouth of his foe. This is as pathetic as demagoguery gets. "You know what? Bush says he loves children. How long will it be before he's using his power to rape them at will? Or is it already too late?" Granted, his retarded argument is a bit more subtle than my example, but it's the same thing.

And while I wouldn't say Iraq is the worst (yet), it certainly stands to become the worst. Now that word is spreading about Bush's desire to invade a third country in spite of having utterly failed in the first two, we're looking at the very real possibility of a destabilized, militant and America-hating Middle East (and I mean the entire Middle East) to go along with the enmity of our long-standing allies. That will be both a first and a worst in US history.

Item! You just know you're going to be served a big crap sandwich at a site called 'Blogs for Bush.' I mean, not even Fox News puts an admission of total bias in their name.

Poll: 66% Think Victory in Iraq is Important
Wazzat? Huh? But, but, but...the American people have spoken and they voted to withdraw...which is why the Democrats are standing tall with....non-binding resolutions and slowly knifing the troops in the back. The poll is from Investors Business Daily and it asks the actual question: do you want to win?

Wazzat? Huh? The endless polls showing that 70% of Americans are against the current war plan are a big media conspiracy? They must be, because it's obvious to anyone that you can't both harbor a desire for victory and have no confidence in this administration to salvage it after five years of complete failure! Oh, wait. I guess you can. Which is why this effort to "blog for Bush" is utterly stupefying. As a matter of fact, even this liberal wants to see us win. And yet, back in 2002, I was expressing my grave concerns that the initial deployment figures for Iraq would mean an inability to control the country after we inevitably kicked the crap out of their "army." All this poll suggests is that the vast majority of Americans have reached that same conclusion.

And "knifing the troops in the back?" That's a seriously odd charge to lay against people trying to get our troops out of a war zone. And I'm sure the author of that particular post would have a slightly different opinion of what was good for the troops if he was in Baghdad right now working on "Blogs for Get Me The Hell Out Of Here."

Is he a dream? (Oooohhh!) Or a dud? (Awwww...)

Two stories on Antonin Scalia, the reactionary judge who made the news most recently for having a Cheney-esque "Go fuck yourself" moment with an inquisitive journalist.

Is he pulling the strings at the Supreme Court? Between now and late June, the court is set to hand down decisions in four areas of law — race, religion, abortion regulation and campaign finance — where Scalia's views may now represent the majority.

In each of those areas, the retirement of centrist Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her replacement with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. figure to tip the court to the right. That would give the 70-year-old Scalia the chance to play a part that has largely eluded him: speaking for the court in major rulings.

Scalia does not see shades of gray in most legal disputes; instead, he favors clear rules and broad decisions.

Or do we have nothing to worry about?

To put it bluntly, the changes brought in by the Roberts-Alito duo might well prove neither "profound" nor "lasting." Not to sell either man short. They are both first-rate legal minds, talented and collegial men, and seemingly secure in their own intellectual directions--the very sort of people who tend to affect the Court in the long run. This is Greenburg's point. Instead of appointing people who would be changed by the institution of the Court and drift leftward, Bush chose people who had sufficiently well-developed judicial philosophies to remain true to judicial conservatism and move the Court toward themselves.

Yet the confirmation of every new justice provokes the earnest conviction that a new day has dawned. Genuine new days are few and far between. The Court's institutional conservatism--that is, its general slowness to change and the modesty of its shifts when it does move--is deep enough to make almost all such predictions look bad in retrospect. The judiciary is a very big ship, and one with nine pairs of hands on its wheel.

I'm leaning closer to the LAT's interpretation. While a long-term view can make you sound just too wise for words, it ignores the immediate impact of pending rulings. After all, there are now 4 reactionaries on the Court who are quite outspoken about their contempt for progressivism, their eagerness to decide constituional questions on their religious beliefs, and other things one generally doesn't associate with impartial jurists.

Another apology. Again, only sort of.

It all started with my suggestion that Newsweek's two recent cover stories on adolescent girls turning into delinquent, pill-popping tramps might be a tad overwrought, given the media's proclivity for billing recent topics of water-cooler chat into the next grave crisis threatening America. I would've gone with something like the destabilization of the entire Middle East, but apparently teen pop sensations going underpants-less and drinking themselves into a stupor is the real threat to America.

Well, while I was pooh-poohing the notion, serious news outlets were starting to cover the story, thanks to a release from the APA (here). Now even NPR and the BBC can feel comfortable running breathless stories on hot, sexy teens. Talk about a win-win situation for them.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm annoyed by the creepiness of marketing the likes of Lindsay Lohan to kids, especially after going from 'America's cuddlebug' to 'scary wino.' But it sells across the board. Kids tantalized by a grown-up story of debauchery, adults tantalized by a youngster's story of debauchery, hipsters who follow the story like everyone else, but only so they can ridicule it more efficiently. And don't forget the demographic who made Baywatch such a smash hit-- repressed fundamentalists who shake their heads sadly at the decay of morals, even as they enjoy that tingly feeling in their nether regions.

But the ABA study, while making a useful point, doesn't appear to have much in the way of hard facts. Consider this study, which sounds great at first but doesn't necessarily imply the results the APA draws:

While alone in a dressing room, college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater.While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The results revealed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters. No differences were found for young men. In other words, thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity. In the emotional domain, sexualization and objectification undermine confidence in and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust.

The conclusion they draw there is, while possibly correct, certainly difficult to ascertain. Here's a thought-- the girls who were given the swimsuit option started to wonder if they'd been duped into starring in fetish videos for math geeks. Or a room comfortable for wearing a sweater might mean it was unpleasantly chilly for a bikini.

Anyway, I think this has the potential to become the latest manufactured doomsday story that will make tons of money for the corporate media (don't forget, they'll be able to show lots of slinky photos and video during the stories), scare lots of Americans needlessly, and not amount to a whole lot.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bad Reporting Fridays!

BAGHDAD, Iraq Feb 16, 2007 (AP)— The number of Iraqi civilians killed in Baghdad's sectarian violence fell drastically overnight, an Iraqi military official said Friday, crediting the joint U.S.-Iraqi security operation that began in force just days ago.

Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, a spokesman for the Baghdad commander, said only 10 bodies had been reported by the morgue in the capital, compared to an average of 40 to 50 per day.

"This shows a big reduction in terror and killing operations in Baghdad," he said on Iraqi state television.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, also reported a reduction in violence, attributing it to both the increased U.S. and Iraqi security presence and an apparent decision by the militias and insurgents to lay low.

OK, so they had one day when casualties were significantly less than the usual 40 to 50 corpses that litter the streets. It doesn't take a head for numbers to realize that one day with a lower body is a good thing, but hardly a trend. Much less time to proclaim 'great success' for an operation that began "just days ago." This isn't news-- it's propaganda. Pitiful propaganda, in fact, but pure BushCo. And the sort of obedient stenography we've come to loathe the press for dishing out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mixed Signals

I've been meaning to write a post about the truly strange manner in which the debate over Iraq issue has played out in the Senate and the House. It's pretty clear that GOP incumbents are terrified of Iraq still being a disaster in November '08, but fully aware that it will be. Which has resulted not only in strange procedural maneuvering to dodge the issue, but some out-there verbal contortions from politicians trying very hard to find a way to say "I was against the war after I was for it" that is less likely to become an '08 albatross.

"This is a rather toothless 97 words," [Rep. Adam] Putnam began in his floor speech, calling the proposal "a narrow nonbinding resolution that misses the bigger picture." Minutes later, he changed his view. "The majority would have us consider a resolution that puts us one day closer to handing militant Islamists a safe haven the size of California."

So which one is it: toothless or catastrophic?

Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) wasn't sure. In his floor speech, he called the resolution "nonbinding" six times, labeling the resolution "a political charade lacking both the seriousness and the gravity of the issue that it's meant to represent." And yet, he also thought the resolution "is the first step toward abandoning Iraq by cutting off funding for our troops that are in harm's way."

Neither had Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) found harmony between the competing talking points. "This resolution just says enough not to say anything at all," he judged. In another breath, however, he called it a "first step to cutting off funding for the dangerous mission our troops face" and a debate that "bolsters those radical terrorists whose sole goal is to destroy America."

Unfortunately, some Democrats still see dithering as their best hope.

In the wake of a piece on Hillary Clinton's 2002 Iraq vote, we heard this morning from Roger Tilton, the New Hampshire resident who asked Clinton over the weekend whether she could say, "once and for, without nuance, ... that that war authorization vote was a mistake."

"I asked her what I thought was an easy, softball question that she could knock out of the park," Tilton writes in an e-mail message. "I spoke slowly and deliberately to get a quick answer, to put the issue behind her so I, and other primary voters like me, can support her. I agree with her on so many of the other issues."

Clinton responded to Tilton's question by saying: "Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it but I also -- and -- I mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decisions. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged."

Tilton says Clinton's response was "cold and calculated" and left him with the impression that she "is what the media often describes her as, too political and not authentic." "We are looking for authentic this time," he writes.

"The reason I drove all that way that morning was to see if in person she is like she is perceived on TV," he says. "Up to the point of my question, she wasn't. Then, suddenly, she was. We have a president who for six years has been unable to admit a mistake. We don't need another."

Clinton should probably hire this guy immediately. Instead, she seems determined to follow the same 'veer rightward' strategy that was such a disaster for Gore and Kerry-- but in their defeat made them much wiser men and tough political foes, if only too late.

And speaking of Gore, there's a rumor flying around that he could announce he's running sometime this fall. I, for one, would love to see it. The next president is going to have a damn hard job to do after all the messes created by these idiots, and we really need a candidate who is thoughtful about issues, intelligent (I still remember PJ O'Rourke talking about how 'stupid' Gore is-- but that was before the Madness of King George era), a seasoned veteran of getting things done in the White House and Congress, and big on projects that are utterly without glamour, but of paramount importance to America's long-term standing in the world. Sorry, I just really like the guy.

Thursday.... funny?

What's the big story today? Right-wing comedy! Fox has released some footage from the upcoming show 'The 1/2 Hour News Hour." Sure, the title is stolen. Sure, they're taking format cues from Saturday Night Live. Of course, Saturday Night Live hasn't been funny in at least a decade, and the new show threatens to squeeze a decade's worth of unfunniness into each 24-minute show.

President Limbaugh! And you'll never believe who the veep is! Wotta scream! Those two aren't afraid to aver their Christian piety, either, so you know there'll be no sacred cows on this daring foray to the cutting edge of comedy. Oh, and El Rusho even uses 'Democrat party' instead of Democratic-- take that, lefties!

Barack Obama! He admitted to using cocaine! Like Marion Barry, who was also black! And besides having a middle name synonymous with Islamo-fascism, his first and last initials are BO! As in (snicker) body odor!

The thing about satire is that everything is a target. Including the satirists. That's what makes it funny. It's out to reduce sacred cows to roadkill, the more arrogant and pompous the better.

But no one is surprised that Fox's show is propaganda with a laugh track. Or that the affable hosts appear visibly uncomfortable as they read the cue cards. Or that it isn't funny in the least. Criticism is coming not only from the left, but the right as well. I'm sure there are rave reviews out there, too, but I'm not sure the curiosity (a la car wreck rubbernecking) of seeing right-wing bloggers try to polish that turd is powerful enough to counteract that unpleasant feeling that comes with seeing delusional zealots.

Nope. Fox's attempt at comedy, as predicted, borders dangerously on self-parody. Like opening the montage that accompanies the Obama story with two shots showing cheering all-black crowds-- who may or may not be at Obama events. Or in America, for that matter. The crowds actually with Obama are cheering whites. Then there was Limbaugh's STRONG EMPHASIS on his GOD BLESS AMERICA line. It's just kinda sad.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bizarroworld Dispatch: Slushstorm Edition

It isn't a pleasant day to be in Boston, so I'm going to call a snow day. More like a slush day. And I have a bad feeling that tomorrow will be a big day for ice and treacherous commutes. Still, after arriving home soaking wet and icy cold, nothing can get me hot under the collar like Fearless Leader's stupefying ramblings. But he's been throwing the public a bit of a curve ball lately (see previous post). Given his complete divorce from the reality of Iraq and Afghanistan, asking the question "lying or incompetent" doesn't cut it any more. Now it's all about "lying, incompetent, or couldn't care less."

Item! The only man in America who's forgotten Operation: Rubber Turkey!

George W. Bush, answering a question from ABC's Martha Raddatz about whether there's a civil war in Iraq: "It's hard for me, living in this beautiful White House, to give you a firsthand assessment. I haven't been there. You have. I haven't." The president has visited Iraq at least twice since the war began, most recently in June, 2006.

Item! On the march with Operation: Deja Voodoo!

CNN's Ed Henry asked the president of the United States a question that struck us as pretty reasonable: With contradictory claims now being made about Iranian involvement in Iraq, "What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time will be accurate?" . . .

"Ed, we know [that Iranian-supplied weapons are] there, we know they're provided by the Quds force. We know the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. I don't think we know who picked up the phone and said to the Quds force, 'Go do this,' but we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government.

"What matters is, is that we're responding. The idea that somehow we're manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous."

Lying, incompetent, and/or just doesn't care? I wish I knew. If only we could see an outbreak of conscience in the GOP to counteract their collective case of 'if no one finds out, it isn't illegal.' Heck, I'd settle for Bush scrawling "Stop me before I kill again!" in lipstick on the windows of Air Force One.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I am a very busy, very busy, very busy man.

That title is officially my very first Captain Kangaroo reference. And while I have the utmost respect for Bob Keeshan, responsible for entertaining three decades of American children, I don't have any respect for G-Dub. His best-known work in the field is cutting their access to healthcare and education. Unfortunately, this post is about the latter. And all the important, presidential stuff he has to do.

The House of Representatives begins three days of debate today on the Iraq war, but don't count on George W. Bush to spend much time watching. "You know, I've got a full day," he says in an inteview with C-SPAN. "I mean, it's not as if the world stops when the Congress does their duty."

The president's schedule today? According to the White House, he and the first lady will "celebrate the fifth anniversary of USA Freedom Corps (USAFC) with a briefing on volunteerism," and then he'll visit the Anthony Bowen YMCA in Washington.

Man, I liked Captain Kangaroo.

An apology. Sort of. OK, not really.

Just days ago, I posted a story recollecting the heady days of the 1980s, when everyone from 20/20 to the 700 Club was talking about the grave threat to America posed by... Dungeons & Dragons. I was still in elementary school when that all happened, but it seemed awfully stupid even then to suggest that those 8-sided dice were producing a generation of devil-worshiping killers. But that was before heavy metal. And video games more sophisticated than Dig-Dug. (Wow, another D&D! I'm beginning to see cause for alarm...)

Well, I'd like to apologize for being 'soft on Dungeons & Dragons' twenty years ago. I would've thought that a lot fewer people were breaking out the pointy dice these days, what with Netflix, the Internets, cable TV, video games a bit more sophisticated than Dig-Dug, and all the other goodies that have provided us with so many other ways to be a nerd. Not to mention old standbys like an interest in the opposite sex or a driver's license.
But I had it wrong from the beginning, as this interview shows:

Drugs have made a huge impact on the street culture. Portland is a very meth-affected city. And meth is well documented for inducing psychosis. Some street kids have become heavy methamphetamine users. Many of them deal methamphetamine as well as other drugs. It has made them a lot more violent, a lot more criminal. And it's also the kind of a drug that will facilitate a lot of their paranoia and fantasy games.

Can you explain that a bit more? You talk a great deal about the influence that fantasy-gaming culture has had on street families.

Over the past decade, through "Dungeons & Dragons" and computer fantasy play and gaming, it's becoming increasingly acceptable for people in their 20s to spend hours a day engaged in adopting mythical characters or pretending they are part of a medieval society.

But this suggests that I've had the wrong idea about those "harmless" Renaissance Festivals, too! It's no excuse, but I'd like to blame the prevalence of stories like this for my ignorance:

We’re trained every year on the language that we use, RenSpeak. It’s basically a British accent peppered with words and phrases that were commonly used in 1530s England. It takes a while to get back in the habit of speaking that way, and it’s just as difficult to break it when the season is over. . . The best [patrons we've had were] the three or four fully costumed Klingons. I went up to them and said, ‘Qapla.’ They completely loved the fact that Henry VIII spoke Klingon. It’s the only Klingon word I could remember. It seemed to work, because they got real animated, and I had my pictures taken with them: Henry and the Klingons.

Either those turkey legs are filled with enough triptophan to turn you into a maniacal killer, or this gal's trail-blazing research isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The Age of 'The Enemy of My Enemy'

That could be a big theme for Republicans over the next two years. First there's the presidential reace, with each of the presidential hopefuls having some issue (real or imaginary) that makes them mighty unappealing to a key voting bloc:

McCain: Too liberal? Adulterer?
Giuliani: Adulterer? Too liberal? And Catholic-- evangelicals hate that.
Gingrich: Serial adulterer? Ethically challenged? The man behind the failed revolution?
Romney: Mormon. Evangelicals hate that.

But there have already been hand-wringing articles from the right on the importance of holding you nose, and pulling that lever for the nominee, because it isn't so much about voting for the neo-fascist, as voting against the moderate Democrat. Oops-- I meant crypto-Stalinist pinko commie gay-loving obscenity-peddling Hollywood Democrat.

Then there's Iran, where we're already seeing a disturbing repeat of the Iraq "debate." You expect Fox News to run unsourced, unsubstantiated stories that agree with Bush's latest talking points-- and war is no exception. But guess which well-known paper is taking another trip to the well after admitting they completely botched their Iraq reporting? Yes, it's the New York Times. Again. (The LAT and WaPo seem to be doing all right for the moment.)

The problem with the belligerence toward Iran (aside from it being another of Fearless Leader's 'brilliant ideas') is that it doesn't make much sense unless you accept that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' as Iran's entire rationale-- even if the enemy and the enemy of the enemy are both Iran's enemies. Which they are. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni. Sunnis are a minority in Iraq. The Sunnis figure their best chance to retain power-- or maybe jut avoid becoming a persecuted minority-- is to get America to leave, then fight their way back to an authoritarian state. So they're killing Americans. Iran may appreciate that fact, but Iran is a Shia-controlled state. And while they have an interest in seeing Americans and Sunnis blow each other to bits, they also want to see the Shia majority take power, whether by 'coalition government' or force. So while they might want to supply arms to Iraqi Shiites, it would be for use against Sunnis in the event of a complete civil war. But the problem is that all of these 'unnamed US officials' and 'anonymous sources' (even to the reporters(!) in some cases) are claiming that Shiites are the ones killing Americans. Which, as Juan Cole has noted, isn't the case.

So there you have it-- the GOP using "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" to make the case for their two biggest concerns of the day. The ironic part of it is that it's an Arabic proverb. And no one seems to have pointed out that they accused Democrats of the same thing with voting for Kerry in 2004.

The unironic part of it is that when it comes to war, the GOP can take this rationalization (arming Osama bin Laden against the Soviets) or leave it (toppling Iran's sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein). At least those both worked out so beautifully.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Monday Funny: Docile Press Edition

I would've sworn I saw a story recently that mentioned someone in the vice president's office having a code for 'send Cheney on Russert's show,' as it was seen as a good first stop for spin or damage control. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it now. If only I'd written about it when it first appeared. It was on my list and everything. But this is funny enough anyway, right?

Thanks to the Rampaging Cow for the link.

Steamin' mad at (Chinese) dirt

A pretty unpleasant story from Der Spiegel was translated for publication on Salon, and man, is it bleak. Just the sort of thing I like to share. It's long, but highly recommended. Just try not to think of the eight years we've wasted in addressing problems like this courtesy of BushCo and their big oil pals. A few not-so-fun facts:

*Scientists have determined that clouds of pollutants hovering over the West Coast and much of Europe originate in China. Rivers shared with China spread toxic chemicals into Russia and Thailand (to name two). Tsinghua University Liu Deshun had an answer: "We are a developing country," he says. "We aren't yet in the position to take on international obligations."

*"Some 69 percent of all Chinese power plants are run on coal. China used 2.1 billion tons of it in 2004 -- more than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. Even if the Chinese economy continues to grow only 7 percent annually, its coal usage would double to 4 [b]illion tons within 10 years."

*"The country is home to 16 of the world's 20 dirtiest cities. The inhabitants of every third metropolis are forced to breathe polluted air, causing the death of an estimated 400,000 Chinese each year. Half of China's 696 cities and counties suffer from acid rain. Two-thirds of its major rivers and lakes are cesspools, and more than 340 million people do not have access to clean drinking water."

No wonder Republicans are doing everything they can to assure their own fortunes. You may not be able to take it with you, but it's nice to have as long as you're around.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Deja Voodoo

I can't resist cribbing this War Room piece in its entirety. 'Breathtaking' sums it up nicely.

Here we go again

Consecutive headlines from ABC News' Daily Investigative Report:

"Report Says Pentagon Manipulated Intel"

"Pentagon Says Pre-War Intel Not Illegal"

"Gates: U.S. Can Prove Iran's Iraq Role"

Fact and Fiction

A lot of people laugh when I say that I think 'Starship Troopers' is one of the greatest anti-war films ever made. Unfortunately, critics dismissed it as a gory, brain-dead genre flick while fans of the genre were apparently underwhelmed by its lack of brain-dead goriness. (The director-- who was a child in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands-- and screenwriter discuss at length their frustration that everyone totally missed the point in the excellent commentary track.) The irony is that the movie preceded the 'Bush Era' by just a couple of years-- just when we most needed a reminder of how appealing fascism can be in the right package. I could go on, but I learned years ago that it's a lost cause.

But I thought that would serve as an apt introduction for a pair of stories on war. First is "24-Mania," which is filling some people's heads with visions, but not of sugarplums.

Finnegan told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told me that he had similar arguments with his students. He said that, under both U.S. and international law, “Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted.” Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer’s: “Whatever it takes.” His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn’t talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, “I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill.”

Time for an unpleasant dose of reality: a man who served in Iraq as an interrogator tells his story. A must-read.

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.

You can't deny the appeal of a super-tough anti-hero like Jack Bauer, and Mr. Fair's story isn't the stuff of hit TV shows, but it's a basic lesson in courage and strength of character that has been lost on countless generations of mankind.

The Case of the Missing US Attorneys

Under the radar? Yup. Contrary to the principles on which our country was founded? Roger. Ripe stench of corruption? Checkarooney. Joe Conason takes a look at the story-- which has been receiving sporadic attention on the blogs (including this one) for at least a month now, but the best we can probably do is add it to the long list of things they should have been thrown out of office for, but weren't.

Under any circumstances, the Bush administration's sudden, explicitly political dismissal and replacement of United States attorneys in judicial districts across the country would be very troubling -- both as a violation of American law enforcement traditions and as a triumph of patronage over competence.

But as the story behind these strange decisions unfolds, a familiar theme is emerging. Again, the White House and the Justice Department have been exposed in a secretive attempt to expand executive power for partisan purposes. And again, their scheming is tainted with a nasty whiff of authoritarianism.

Awwww, c'mon, Joe. Just say 'putrid blast of fascism.' You know you want to. This is a must-read.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

GOP to pull the plug on PBS. Yes, again.

Well, it's a new year, and that means it's time once again to try and stop drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, block the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare, and save Public Broadcasting from the chopping block. Again.

MoveOn has a petition to sign (link above), and it's worked once before. You might recall the rather impressive appearance of Big Bird in DC with reams and reams of paper containing the signatures of more than a million people, if memory serves. But you can't shame the shameless, and the neo-fascists just waited 'till they thought it was safe to try it again.

On the positive side, we only have to do this for one more year. I hope. Sign up, pass it on, and let's see if we can't make it another million signatures. I'm doing my part.

Walking the Plank

TNR has put up some mighty interesting posts on their blog this week, and if you put them all together you get a lovely little narrative.

The Surge Against Drugs, a Tale of Fiscal Responsibility:

Here's an earlier Slate piece by Ryan Grim on the federal government's ad campaign against marijuana use, which began in 1998 and has cost over $1.4 billion so far. A study by the government on the campaign's effectiveness, finished in early 2005, found that "greater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others use marijuana."

So the ads were actually encouraging some teens to use drugs. The White House, however, suppressed the report for a year and a half while continuing to spend an additional $220 million on those very same ads. Now they want even more money--a 31 percent increase in funding.

Forget the war, I just spotted a Clinton!

The lead editorial in [The Washington Post] is titled "Sen. Clinton's Bundles: Who are the big-money fundraisers underwriting her campaign?" It begins by describing a recent large-donor event and asking "What are the candidate's plans to release the names of her big bundlers? ... So far--though we've been putting this question to the Clinton campaign since last Friday by telephone and by email--we haven't gotten an answer."

A fair enough question. . . . [But!] According to the editorial, of the six candidates they've asked about bundlers, three have declined to respond and one has basically said that he's not planning to release the names. Yet the headline, subhed, and entire first half of the editorial focus exclusively on Clinton.

Covering Politics Objectively: A Primer

The weirdest emerging theme, as seen in the lede of this AP story, is the implication that having money and a fancy house somehow exists in tension with Edwards's concentration on poverty in America. To the contrary, I say. If only every millionaire with a mansion in the Hamptons or Malibu gave more of a damn about poverty, and less about tax cuts or the availability of a good helicopter pilot, we might make some progress towards eliminating the American underclass. . . . On a related note, as I've mentioned before: George W. Bush owns more than $13,000 worth of mountain bikes.

And Something Sweet to Wash It Down:

On Time's new blog, Swampland, D.C. Bureau Chief Jay Carney posted a pre-assessment of the State of the Union address comparing President Bush's political position to Bill Clinton's in January of 1995. Like Bush, "President Clinton was in free fall. ... His approval ratings were mired in the 30's, and seemed unlikely to rise."

Moments later, a writer identifying himself as "TomT" pointed out an error in Carney's "nut graf" that would have earned a failing grade for a first-year journalism major: "Clinton's approval rating in January [of 1995] was 47 percent. It was not mired in the 30s." At 9:12, the blogger Atrios, also known as Duncan Black, alerted his readers to the gaffe, and they descended on the Time blog like locusts--and, to mix the Biblical metaphor, served Jay Carney's head up on a charger.

And there you have it. The Republican leadership is still incompetent, the press is still hostile to Democrats and especially Clintons, but maybe the blogs will continue to grow in relevance and influence. Considering how much ink TNR has spilled ridiculing blogs and bloggers (like the hubristic and cringe-inducing 'blogofascist' piece from just last August), this is overdue-- and recommended reading.

Conning the nation is easy, once you know the secret.

You've got to wonder when the scales will fall from the collective eyes of GOP boosters (not to mention the press), when we keep seeing them played for fools with the same ol' routine-- let's call this one "The Overzealous Staffer." Send out an overwrought and baseless accusation against an opponent, complete with easy-to-remember nicknames and "factual quotes" from "respected news outlets." Sit back and let the press handle the market saturation. When the story is shown to be false, just trot out your top kid to act surprise and decry such irresponsible actions by what must have been... Overzealous Staffer.

As long as the obliging press and overzealous reactionaries take the bait, you can't lose! You've smeared an opponent and presented yourself as a class act. Repeat as necessary. Or better yet, ceaselessly. Note: some restrictions (for Democrats) may apply.

In recent reports on the use of a military aircraft to fly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to and from her district, The Washington Times, Roll Call, and The Washington Post did not challenge assertions made by former and current aides to former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and the Republican leadership regarding Hastert's use of military aircraft when he was speaker. These anonymous aides claimed Hastert's staff and family only irregularly, "occasionally," "sometimes," or "at times" accompanied him on flights and did not address whether or not members of Hastert's state delegation ever flew with him.

What's the big deal? As Salon notes, the trap was sprung by Tony Snow today:

Reporter: You called the Pelosi plane issue a silly story this morning, and shortly thereafter, the RNC put out a statement saying -- calling it "Pelosi's Power Trip" and that she's -- you know, "Non-stop Nancy Seeks Flight of Fancy." Are you --

Snow: Well, I'll reiterate our position. The question -- the RNC has put out a statement on Speaker Pelosi and travel arrangements. And I'll just repeat our position, which is as speaker of the House, she is entitled to military transport and that the arrangements -- the proper arrangements are being made between the Sergeant of Arms Office in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Department of Defense. We think it's appropriate, and so I -- again, I think this is much ado about not a whole lot. It is important for the speaker to have this kind of protection and travel. It was certainly appropriate for Speaker Hastert. And so we trust that all sides will get this worked out.

And House Republicans are already laying the groundwork for this story to resurface in 2008-- expect to hear much. much, much more about it next year.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dumberer and Dumbererer

I didn't mention the Super Bowl, which was a lackluster game with pitiful ads. The funniest moment by miles was the Letterman/Oprah bit, which took all of fifteen seconds. The most surreal were the three based on the premise of men kissing, then being all horrified. It's generated its share of predictable criticism ("Out-of-control liberal political correctness!" "Demonization of gays!"), but it really was weird that three (THREE!) separate sponsors went with this comedic angle, considering how carefully planned and focus-grouped they must have been. Not to mention the expense, when one of the sponsors (whoever makes Snickers) has already cancelled the whole campaign because of the outcry. I thought it was just lame comedy. But I need to move on to the actual issue-- infotainment!

It was actually on the car trip to a Super Bowl party that the conversation turned to media-fueled scare stories of the last few decades. Road rage (haven't heard that term in a while), backwards masking on rock albums, Dungeons & Dragons leading to ritual killings, the "long-suppressed" "memories" of people forced to attend satanic black masses as children, the nationwide accusations of child molestation at day care centers (run at best by homosexuals, and at worst black mass-attending ritual killers).

Probably the worst ad I saw during the game was Katie Couric's ads for the CBS Evening News. Her repeated assurances-- during the third most-watched show in American history-- that "the news" would become more of a platform for uplifting human-interest stories, and less about the news were... what? I've posted a couple of stories on the vapidity she's brought the once-revered show (starting with the 'what will she wear on her first appearance' fervor), but I figured it was a case of 'miscasting' rather than the blatant Today Show-ification of journalism. Maybe my concerns are unfounded, and it'll be a ninety million viewer bait 'n switch.

But that isn't a case of media-fueled hysteria. Just corporatism. The hysteria came today, with what is Newsweek's second big story in five weeks about the most recent threat to Western civilization: young floozies. While Hilton, Spears, and Lohan are undeniably skanky imbeciles, I'd say they're about as likely to turn adolescent girls into alcoholic orgy-goers as Dungeons & Dragons was to incite murder sprees. Stories are already cropping up citing Newsweek's dubious 'statistics' and convenient disregard for reality, but frightening suburban mothers has proven quite profitable in recent decades.

The Many Faces of the New York Times

I was pretty enthusiastic when the mainstream press showed signs of standing up to this administration-- or at least not refusing to stand up to them. But a glance at some current articles from the 'paper of record' show what a mixed journalistic bag we're still dealing with.

There's the good: In a story that's getting very little attention in the news or on the blogs, the Times looks at Bush's budget proposal and finds what looks an awful lot like a stealth attempt to kill Medicare. Budget documents show that Mr. Bush will propose a similar surcharge on premiums for Medicare’s new prescription drug benefit. In addition, the president will ask Congress to “eliminate annual indexing of income thresholds,” so that more people would eventually have to pay the higher premiums. Hey, with the economically disadvantaged fighting the wars, why shouldn't they pay for them, too? For a more detailed analysis, check this article. (The same site argues that the same budget will deny even more children coverage.)

The schizophrenic: How do you even explain this one? First line: Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry. Second paragraph: Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection. Is this all the Times learned from their policy of defending the invasion, facts be damned? This story supports Bush's most recent fear-mongering on Iran, at the same time, and only cites "investigators," for what or whom we aren't told. And the paper even admits there's no evidence! It's better than what we saw a few months ago, but not by a hell of a lot.

The derisive: "Edwards Details His Healthcare Proposal," and so does journalist of highly dubious merit David Broder. The piece, which isn't an editorial, includes such detailed descriptions as "expensive," "a pastiche," "tax. . .taxes. . .taxpayers'. . .tax. . .job-killing tax," and references to both "Bill Clinton's failed 1994 health care plan," and "Mrs. Clinton's 1994 plan." Maybe much of the press still pines for the days when all they had to do was spread rumors about the former president and papers would fly off the shelves.

And the same-old same-old: Borrowing Bush's standard "some people say..." tactic, this professional, just-the-facts reporter asserts that Democrats are looking for "a package to finance future Social Security benefits, possibly combined with a curb on some benefits." SocSec's alleged insolvency is a standard right-wing talking point for demolishing (or, to use their term, "saving") the program. The CBO has made no secret of the fact that the program will pay for itself at current benefit levels for several decades-- and, conveniently enough, not one Democrat who holds the author's alleged view is cited, much less any evidence that Democrats as a whole share it. Pitiful.

Monday, February 05, 2007

McCain's new theology explored

It isn't recent news that John McCain hired one of the most aggressively partisan smear-artists out there to helm the "Straight Talk Express" for him, but it's nice to see someone take a long, hard look at McCain's newfound eagerness to show that he can be as much of a 21st-century Republican as Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, or even the Big Chimp himself. It's especially nice to see when that someone is TNR, known for their McCain boosterism. Some of the battered-wife DLC types there still assert that he's just pretending to go all right-wing, but I remember plenty of people in 2000 who also refused to believe that Bush would be just flat-out lying about his populist rhetoric, no matter how much evidence there was. And lying or not, McCain has certainly shown himself to be nothing more than an oily politico with a taste for power.

McCain made no secret of his motives: "It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me," he fumed in an August interview, referring to the 2000 South Carolina primary, when Bush supporters had spread a notorious rumor that McCain had fathered a black child. McCain had lost the state, and his 2000 candidacy lost its momentum.

But, these days, McCain seems to have achieved a Zen-like peace with the past. After all, last March his presidential exploratory committee hired Terry Nelson. As national political director for George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, where he managed the much-admired (and muchenvied) get-out-the-vote effort, Nelson is a certifiable catch. But he also regularly produces--right down to the racial undertones--the kind of campaign hatchetry that used to make McCain, by his own admission, "really angry." Nelson hasn't exactly given up his old tactics since boarding the Straight Talk Express, either: In September, The Washington Post reported that the Republican National Committee (RNC) had enlisted Nelson to run an ad campaign that would present the "best of the worst" in opposition research. He didn't disappoint. A few weeks later, Nelson's operation produced a now-infamous ad targeting Tennessee senatorial candidate Harold Ford Jr. The spot featured a scantily clad white woman reporting that she met Ford, who is black, at "the Playboy party" and urging him to give her a call. The fallout was bad enough that no less an ethical paragon than Wal-Mart, which also had a contract with Nelson, cut its ties with the consultant soon after the ad's release.

Terry Nelson: too sleazy for Wal-Mart, just what McCain is looking for.

What if Cheney really IS an evil genius?

Last week, in trying to break the lock on who actually works in the OVP--which the Vice President refuses to reveal--the guys at Muckraker stumbled across this entry from a government directory known as the "Plum Book":

The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).

It appears that Cheney's office submitted this entry in lieu of a list of its employees, as federal agencies must do. It sounds like something Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington, might have written. Cheney and Addington have been the among the most powerful proponents of the theory of a "unitary executive," but there are indications that they have also advanced, though less publicly, a theory of a constitutionally distinct and independent vice presidency.

I think it's pretty apparent that there's more going on than just a couple of the Mayberry Machiavellis rigging the rules. The White House obviously has a whole gaggle of Federalist Society-type lawyers crafting their signing statements, a lot of greedy corporate donors, and the goofy right-wing noise machine busily propagandizing whatever crock the reactionaries in charge serve up. Oh, and until quite recently a totally docile American press. If there were actually some diabolical mastermind behind all of this, the White House (and by extension the Republican Congress) would have done something right in the last six years. Anything. Just one thing that might have prevented them from going down as one the most corrupt, incompetent and unpopular political machines in American history. Would that be so hard for a genius to accomplish?

Campaign Finance Reform: Cheap and Easy

Two professors of law proposed a system to take the corporate influence out of politics a few years ago, and it didn't get much attention (this is certainly the first I've heard of it). But it sounds great, is easy to "frame," and could be a cheaper solution than simple public financing of elections. The only glaring problem is the same with all possible solutions-- Congress probably won't like it. But that's true of any proposal that actually has teeth. Recommended reading.

Imagine that you are a politically connected Hollywood producer, and Hillary Clinton calls you up and asks you for $50,000. What do you do? In truth, you'd rather give to Barack Obama whom you consider more electable, but you don't want Clinton to know that. After all, what if she wins? Then you'll never see the inside of the Lincoln Bedroom. So you tell Clinton that you're definitely on her side. Fortunately, under the Ackerman-Ayres plan, you'll make your check out to the Federal Election Commission, not Clinton. The FEC will wait five days before adding your money to Clinton's account. In those five days, you could contact the FEC and redirect the money to Obama if you chose. And regardless of which candidate ultimately gets the money, its origin will be masked. The FEC will distribute the cash to the candidate's account anonymously, in pieces, over several days, using a secret algorithm to vary the pattern by which it deposits the money. So even though you promised the New York senator your support, she'll have no way of knowing whether you really went through with it. You could send your money to Obama and Clinton would have no way of knowing whose side you were actually on.

Requiring contributions to be anonymous would probably do quite a bit to curb corporate influence in that regard, but the piece has some other attractive reasons to back this approach.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Video Friday

How did I miss this last week? It's another parody of the SOTU, featuring the same guy's uncanny imitation of Fearless Leader, and the same other guy giving his mouth a workout holding Cheney's sneer for 7 minutes. This year, of course, a 'Nancy Pelosi' is also in the frame, replacing the guy who did Dennis Hastert. I thought the scene with Hastert's double enjoying a TV dinner and a bag of Twizzlers was the highlight of last year's video. It almost made me sorry to see him gone.

On the other hand, there's a new addition to the Bush impression-- the frustrated grasping for words as he tries to explain whatever the hell he's talking about. The Cheney as Darth Vader bit? Weak.

BONUS VIDEO! I've pulled some video links from Salon before, sure. But mostly because I'm too lazy to go to the page they took it from and post that. But I'm willing to confess my laziness. There is one irregular feature that I think is Video Dog's own, and I always look forward to it: Hen and Bunny Theatre. It's a little snotty and elitist (that's what we liberals are all about, right?), but it's also hilarious. This installment lampoons some show on NBC. It's good.

Shmekel of the Week

Missouri's Roy "Always a Bridesmaid But Never a Bride" Blunt was hoping, as Tom DeLay's bagman, to be the next speaker. Alas, being closely identified with DeLay and his philosophy of ethics, the GOP decided they should go with the less-corrupt John Boehner (way to go, guys).

Aside from being mighty close to big tobacco-- Blunt divorced his first wife to marry a tobacco lobbyist, then scored a lucrative tobacco lobbying gig for his son-- his influence and fund-raising ability landed his inept son in the Missouri governor's seat. Where he went on to become one of the least-popular governors in the nation. Bottom five or so.

But Blunt is a caring man, no question about it. He's always looking out for others, because he's caring and connected. And I know of at least 200 Americans who are glad to have him fighting for their rights.

Backers of raising the minimum wage are blocking the annual congressional pay raise until 13 million working Americans also receive a raise. Blunt is objecting, saying the raise is “crucial for members of Congress who are not independently wealthy and must operate two households.” Members of Congress currently receive an annual salary of $165,200. The minimum wage is stuck at $5.15/hour.

In addition to that fat salary, in 2004 Blunt "reported assets worth between $319,000 and $680,000." Obviously he isn't independently wealthy (just 'wealthy'), but about 25% of Congressmen are millionaires. As opposed to 0% of minimum wage workers.

Wishing economic anxiety into the cornfield

Two stories emerged this week that were quite the opposite of the self-proclaimed CEO President's asinine assessment of why people are nervous about the wicked awesome economy.

Personal savings are at their lowest level since the Great Depression.

Job growth is at its lowest level since-- surprise!-- the Great Depression.

Here's my pitch: this time call it the Mega Funtime, because 'The Great Depression' sounds sooooo negative. That way everyone wins. Republicans finally get a return to the good ol' days, the prez can giggle and clap his hands every time he hears the name of his brilliant policy ("I brung everybody funtime! Yaaaayyy!"), and everyone gets a fun time. "Mega Funtime: It's better than fun-- it's the law."

And one final irony regarding the CEO President: Bush: Tie CEO Pay to Performance