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


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Porky's 4

I'm not a "parade them around the public square in chains" kinda guy, but in spite of the fact that you've already heard about it, I have to mention the Ted Stevens news. And I'm even going to quote Michelle Maglalang!

I said it a few weeks ago: Republicans can’t tell the Dems to clean their House, if they won’t come clean about the GOP’s own dirtbags. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is one of the biggest and dirtiest. Now, the feds have raided one of his homes. . . .

The wider probe has netted four former state lawmakers charged with bribery, along with a prison-industry lobbyist. According to the ADN, one of them, former Anchorage Rep. Tom Anderson, was convicted earlier this summer of bribery and other crimes for taking money from a lobbyist for a private prison company.

But don't think Malkin is just scrambling to distance herself from a sixth or seventh (but still highly anomalous) corrupt Republican-- Stevens first appears to have incurred her righteous indignation way back in November, 2006! Which is only what, fifteen months after he gained national attention for being the Napoleon of congressional pork? And openly boasted about it? A bold stance, that is.

Sale of the Century

The days of 21st century Republican rule have given rise to more implausible answers to the question "How stupid can they be?" than any other period in my life, and we've already got a pile big enough to make Mr. Whoopee seem OCD. (Does anyone even get that?) But here's another one anyway.

So it seems that the United States is going to send an additional $30.4 billion worth of military aid to Israel so that the Israelis stop complaining about the $20 billion in "advanced weaponry" that we're trying to sell Saudi Arabia, a country that seems to be offering considerable support to Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

Sweet! We get to have our cake and eat it, too! And it's only costing us taxpayers 10.4 billion dollars! Still, it would be nice to work for a defense contractor. Those lucky bastards get to divvy up another $50 billion. Man, the janitors at those places must be millionaires. I bet they even sweep with solid gold brooms...

Monday, July 30, 2007


Physicist Robert Parks had a little something to say about the esteem in which BushCo holds science in his newsletter last week. Not to mention their commitment to keeping America safe.

Last week the Bush administration delivered the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Strategy to Congress in the form of a document called Maintaining Deterrence in the 21st Century. It’s an urgent call to get back into the bomb-building business. Deterrence is a euphemism for retaliation - after all, nobody takes the Bush missile defense seriously. The White House acknowledges that there are no known problems with the thousands of warheads in our stockpile. None should be expected for 100 years according to a study by the JASON advisory group. To be absolutely certain, however, the White House says we will have to resume underground testing-- unless Congress funds the Reliable Replacement Warhead. This is a new wrinkle in nuclear blackmail-- the administration has elected to blackmail Congress. The result of testing would be a wave of tests around the world. Predictably, North Korea is angrily charging the U.S. with a double standard, just as diplomacy seemed to have made progress in getting them to shut down their plutonium production reactor.

Put another way, "BushCo to Congress: give billions to military-industrial complex for pointless weapons that may re-ignite global arms race or we'll or we'll pointlessly violate test ban treaties, further screw up the environment, and definitely re-ignite global arms race."

This Weekend By the Numbers

It was one of those weekends where reading the news made me wonder why I don't just create a sort of 'Mad Lib' template for the blog and save myself some time.

#1: "BushCo plan has opposite effect." In (year), (member of administration) promised to (high-minded goal). (Number) years and (number) of billions of dollars later, the result has been (catastrophic tragedy).

Here goes. In 2003, (Bush) promised to (restore water and electricity to Iraqi civilians after the country's infrastructure was demolished). (Four) years and (several hundreds) of billions of dollars later, the result has been (less access to these basic needs than at any time since before the war began).

#22: "New corruption allegations dog GOP." Recently discovered (form of communication) between (top GOP officials) and (unscrupulous partisans) indicate that Republican concerns about (political event) led to discussions of (illegal action) in (place name). The (Republican group) appears to have been concealing the (form of communication) detailing their (diabolical plan) in the hopes of (immoral action).

Recently discovered (documents and e-mails) between (the National Republican Party Headquarters) and (the Ohio State republican Party) indicate that Republican concerns about (recent elections) led to discussions of (vote suppression) in (Ohio and Florida). The (National Republican Party) appears to have been concealing the (e-mails) detailing their ("Voter Registration Fraud Strategy") in the hopes of (denying thousands of Americans the right to vote). With video. Highly recommended.

#3: "Republican ideology suspected in despicable anti-American act."

I don't think I have the patience to write up another template-- I've officially reached the 'boiling anger' point. Combine the video I posted last week of young Republicans trying to find a nice way to say that they think military service is beneath them with the recent allegations surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, and you've got the zeitgeist of the 00's: that exasperating, sickening 'It Can Happen Here' feeling.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

While you were sleeping...

This is two shocking stories in one. Let's start with the true horror: a July 17th Executive Order.

[A]ll property and interests in property of the following persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons, are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, . . .

(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. . .

(iii) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.

That's about as sweeping as a law can be, and although I'm not a lawyer it certainly sounds like the White House has just given itself the authority to seize the assets of... anyone who criticizes the war?

At least one staunch conservative and Reagan appointee is far from pleased about this:

Unless Congress immediately impeaches Bush and Cheney, a year from now the US could be a dictatorial police state at war with Iran.

Bush has put in place all the necessary measures for dictatorship in the form of "executive orders" that are triggered whenever Bush declares a national emergency.

I guess that concern for civil liberties puts him in the Bob Barr wing of the party. And as often as I disagree with Bob Barr, I appreciate that he's bucking the party on this issue. Especially because he's doing it in spite of the fact that it's made him persona non grata in most conservative circles.

Hardened Criminals

Selling dangerous products to an unsuspecting populace has a long, proud history in the United States and around the world. So I hope no one thinks I'm just singling out China, given the number of times I've written about them in the last month or two. Merck's drug Vioxx, which had the company downplaying their own evidence of the drug's dangers-- ultimately costing them something like a billion dollars in compensatory damages (too bad the GOP has been a little too occupied with criminal activity to deny people the right to fight against the companies in court).

As you can see, I'm mostly ticked off about the role of America's corporations and leading conservatives in fighting to maintain the deadly status quo. When I talk to a particular conservative relative about anything business-related, his standard position is that companies "just do what they're meant to" by pursuing profit and nothing else. Simplistic? Sure. Amoral? You bet. But so many treat the (still nonexistent) free market as a religion-- and misusing religion as so many do, use it as nothing more than a justification for their own misdeeds-- that the US is becoming a sort of 'global enabler' of human rights abuses, consumer fraud, and intentional income inequality.

Oh, and maybe giving a big boost to organized crime:

China's Cabinet is drafting measures for stronger supervision over food safety, the government said Wednesday, as authorities announced busts on criminal networks that exported phony Viagra, bird flu medicine and anti-malaria drugs.

In the investigation into counterfeit drugs, police in five cities and provinces arrested 19 suspects in May 2006, closed six factories and seized 40 tons of materials used to fake the flu treatment Tamiflu, which has also been used to combat bird flu. The raid followed a tip from the U.S. Customs office in Beijing, the statement said.

The suspects were selling the drug to customers in the United States and elsewhere via the Internet, it said.

Tamiflu, you may recall, has been in very short supply domestically (although it seems to be of dubious merit anyway), undoubtedly causing worried Americans to seek it out elsewhere. Add to this the stories of factories that are literally using slaves to manufacture goods, and yes-- definitely a strong argument against the evils of regulation and for the ultimate benevolence of (imaginary) free markets.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fun with Chickenhawks

I tried to find a clip I posted earlier of a liberal journalist asking die-hard Republicans sensible questions about their contradictory positions. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with the right keywords. I'll keep at it. UPDATE: Found it. Right here.

But Max Blumenthal spent an afternoon talking to college Republicans, who were more than happy to recite Bush's "fight 'em over there" speech-- quickly following it up with Rush Limbaugh's "I would've enlisted, but..."

One unconditionally non-gay young Republican goes so far as to say that he doesn't want to enlist because he could become an important Republican motivational speaker.

I'm also going to see if I can't figure out how to just embed these videos on the blog. It's way past time, really. Then maybe I'll tackle that blogroll thing.

Men at Shirk

Busy day, I regret to say. But here's my recommendation: Salon's War Room. They've had three or four people contributi9ng on the stories of the day and doing an outstanding job.

Item! Bush mentions al Qaeda 95 times in 29-minute speech. But an intrepid journalist demonstrates that the non-delusional among us see the nightmarish, complicated... truth.

Item! House Judiciary Committee votes to serve Miers, Bolten with contempt citations.

Item! Administration cancels Katrina loans to 8,000-- without notice.

Item! FBI wants to give telecoms $5 million-- for your phone and Internet records!

....and much, much more

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The West is Red

I've found occasion to write about China several times in the last few weeks, but a new article in The New Republic made me want to revisit the issue of China, trade and big business. Obviously, most of the media coverage has been about China's exportation of dangerous-- even deadly-- products. I argued earlier that the Chinese system is invariably going to produce such goods for a number of reasons: A)the system is corrupt and exploitable by autocrats as well as individual farmers, millers, butchers, et al., B) the centralized, authoritarian government can't possibly monitor everyone even if they want to, and C) foreign investors have been tripping over themselves buying into the system, which propagates it.

Naturally, it gets worse. For years we've been seeing reports of concerned citizens exposing their ability to sneak weapons onto planes, send nuclear materials into American ports, and legally buy the materials for a 'dirty bomb.' Then there are the e-Coli outbreaks that appear every year or so, and the disturbing reports of conditions at meat-processing plants.

Which brings me to this story about why our trade with China makes me nervous:

The FDA is planning a decisive response to the recent worries about tainted foodstuffs: It's going to get rid of seven of the current thirteen FDA laboratories, including the only one that specializes in detecting radioactive elements in food. . . .

Even when products are flagged by the FDA, importers have learned to manipulate the system, investigators said. For example, the FDA relies on results obtained from private labs, but those labs produce results driven by financial rather than scientific concerns, investigators told the subcommittee.

Investigative counsel Kevin Barstow said he was told by an unnamed FDA deputy lab director that "none of the test results he's seen are completely accurate."

"The words he used were 'not good' and 'spooky,'" Barstow said.

Importers also can reduce the level of scrutiny by having their products test negative five consecutive times, according to the investigators. Since some large fish, including tuna, can be flagged for high mercury levels, importers will arrange to have five lots of smaller fish -- generally younger and with comparatively less mercury -- tested to obtain an all-clear from the FDA. Once the monitoring decreases, the importers can then resume bringing in larger fish that otherwise might not pass muster, the investigators said.

"You're saying the importers know how to maneuver around the FDA?" asked Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.

"Yes," said committee senior investigator David Nelson.

How else is prayer at the altar of the Almighty-Yet-Nonexistent Free Market helping things?

Americans might profess indifference to what happens to South Korea's economy, but it's hard to ignore what has happened in Mexico. As Schaeffer notes, Mexico lost nearly half a million manufacturing jobs to China in the in 1990s. From 2000 to 2003, it lost another 287,000 jobs to China. The loss of these jobs has increased the pressure for Mexican workers to emigrate to the United States.

The U.S. trade deficit with China is equivalent in lost jobs, primarily in manufacturing. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the United States lost almost two million manufacturing jobs to China in the last decade.

Just another example of red-staters getting screwed by robber barons and voting Republican anyway because they're told it's a sinister brown-person plot.

But the Mystical And Omnipotent (Yet Nonexistent) Free Market dictates that only through domestic layoffs and massive CEO bonuses, and the power of affordable Cheez-Its, can we bring freedom and liberty to China!

China's prosperity has depended upon the labor policies that the Communist Party has enforced and that foreign investors have happily accepted. These policies have kept wages low and prevented the formation of private (non-government) unions. . . .

The key lies in China's two-tier labor force. Its domestic industries rely primarily on migrant labor from the countryside that is exploited and abused--even enslaved, as in the recent case of kiln workers in Shanxi province. According to China Labor Watch, more than 60 percent of the migrant workers in Guangdong Province receive between the equivalent of $63 and $125 a month and work between 10 and 16 hours a day. There is a government minimum wage, but more than 85 percent of the workers that were surveyed were paid less.

Foreign investors, on the other hand, employ urban workers with residency permits. These workers make less than their counterparts in other countries--and their wages are constantly being eroded by inflation in China's scarce housing market--but they make more and enjoy greater job security and benefits than the migrant workers. This difference in wages between the migrant workers employed by domestic industries and the urban workers employed by foreign producers allows China's domestic industries to undersell foreign producers in its own market.

Now for the punchline:

China's economic strategy aims at increasing China's exports while limiting the growth of its imports. That entails growing inequality at home--China has gone from Maoist egalitarianism to the worst excesses of capitalist maldistribution.

To sum up:

*China's system encourages unfair trade, shoddy exports, and human rights abuses.
*America's system encourages businesses to support China's system to maximize profit.
*American workers watch as their jobs vanish, transformed into bigger paychecks for executives and politicians.
*Chinese workers watch as they're ruthlessly exploited for bigger paychecks for executives and politicians.
*Astonishingly, free marketeers focus on making markets and societies less free in favor of short-term, individual financial gain.

Something like that, anyway.

St. Jefferson, pray for us.

One of the scariest things about reactionaries and authoritarians, historically, is their willingness-- even eagerness to rewrite history in a manner that suits them, and more generally to have no problem whatsoever with lying "in service of the greater good." Sure, everyone does this to a degree, but it's the difference between telling yourself they're just jealous of your awesome dance moves and lying to the entire globe to start a war that kills tens of thousands.

Then there's the whole Christianist effort to portray the founders of the United States as fundamentalist theocrats. Ignoring the fact that 'republic' and 'theocracy' are mutually exclusive, there's the fact that today's Christianists would see most of the Founders as heretics doomed to roast in hell.

Now, an op-ed in the NYT has combined the two into a synergistic nightmare.

The war is hardly the only area where the Bush administration is trying to expand its powers beyond all legal justification. But the danger of an imperial presidency is particularly great when a president takes the nation to war, something the founders understood well. In the looming showdown, the founders and the Constitution are firmly on Congress’s side.

Given how intent the president is on expanding his authority, it is startling to recall how the Constitution’s framers viewed presidential power. They were revolutionaries who detested kings, and their great concern when they established the United States was that they not accidentally create a kingdom. To guard against it, they sharply limited presidential authority, which Edmund Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the first attorney general, called “the foetus of monarchy.”

The founders were particularly wary of giving the president power over war. They were haunted by Europe’s history of conflicts started by self-aggrandizing kings. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, noted in Federalist No. 4 that “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal.”

Recommended reading, in spite of the basic concepts being things we learned in junior high civics. That's what makes it so nightmarish, though: this administration is openly trashing the Constitution they are sworn to uphold and engaging in criminal acts. As you can learn from any social studies text. But Republican legislators and a third of the American public just don't care.

Newt-poleon... the Great?

Newt Gingrich has always been egomaniacal. He's right up there with Tom DeLay in his ability to promote himself as a truly great human being, the only man wise and virtuous enough to see the correct path, and-- as much as it pains him to deal with hoi polloi-- the only fit regent of the nation.

Which you'd expect a serial adulterer fined $300,000 for ethical lapses when he did hold office to rethink a little bit. Or at least tone down. Still, there's one thing the disgraced, consummate bullshit artist does well: repeat focus-tested talking points with an air of authority.

"If, in mid-October, it's quite clear that one or more of the current candidates is strong enough to be a serious alternative to a Clinton-Obama ticket, you don't need me to run," the former House Speaker said at a breakfast sponsored by the American Spectator. "If it becomes patently obvious, as the morning paper points out, that the Democrats have raised a hundred million more than the Republicans, and at some point people decide we are going to get Hillary unless there's a radical change, then there's space for a candidate," he added. "So you'll know by mid-October one of those two futures is real."

See that? It's still waaaaaaayyyyy too early to know who will get the nominaiton in either party, but ol' Newtie knows how he's going to work the crowds: woman and black man.

But to give credit where it's due, the man makes an excellent point in describing the way debates are conducted:

Gingrich ridiculed "the idea of 10 or 11 people standing passively at microphones," and said he refused to "shrink to the level of 40-second answers, standing like a trained seal, waiting for someone to throw me a fish."

He added: "These are not debates, these are auditions. By definition, the psychology of an audition reduces the person auditioning and raises the status, for example, of Chris Matthews."

Can't argue with that. It fits rather nicely with a recent reminder of debates gone by:

You can forgive [Ted Koppel] for experimenting with a couple of questions about the horse race. But when the experiment failed and he persisted, that's on him. When he asked inside-baseball questions and got substantive answers instead, he chided the candidates for failing to stoop to his level. First he asked John Kerry why Howard Dean couldn't beat President Bush. Kerry talked instead about why he would make the best president. Koppel then turned to Dick Gephardt and said, "I'm not really asking you -- at least, I wasn't then -- whether you think you're the better candidate. I was simply asking you whether you thought that Howard Dean could beat George W. Bush." Later, Koppel asked Carol Moseley Braun whether Al Gore's endorsement of Dean would make blacks loyal to Dean. Braun talked instead about what Democrats should stand for. Koppel then said, "Sen. Edwards, what I was trying to get to with Ambassador Braun was whether loyalty can, in any way, be transferred by an endorsement." Edwards wisely ignored the question as well.

Are our blow-dried teleprompter readers really doing anything more than angling for a 'gotcha' moment? Koppel conveniently gets to play hard-nosed journalist even though he's dong nothing more than setting up the candidates with a totally irrelevant question.

It's John Edwards Day!

I haven't made it a secret that I'm a big fan of Al Gore. And I'm pretty keen on John Edwards and his commitment to finally burning the corpse of supply-side economics and scattering the ashes. I've probably even mentioned how much I enjoyed one blogger's suggestion that the ideal ticket would be "the best of the two previous presidential candidates and the best of the vice-presidential candidates." At any rate, Edwards is running a more substantive, issues-driven campaign than anyone else in the race.

*That means, naturally, that he's being picked on as much as any other candidate, but he's also getting more of the MSM's lazy one-liners than any other candidate. Which sucks. But his campaign has found an awfully shrewd way to combat what looks like the 'invented the Internet' quip of 2008:

What they seem to be doing is working to make the haircut story bigger, not smaller. They want it to be an issue. They're trying to change what people think about when they think about John Edwards' hair. Instead of "What a phony," they want people to think, "God, that press corps is so ridiculous, why can't they talk about something that matters? Why do they have it in for John Edwards? Just what about him scares them so much?"

Check out the video, if you didn't see it last night.

*Something else that has bothered me about the treatment Edwards is getting is how eerily dismissive a lot of respectable liberal writers and pundits are of his mission. I've seen them make smarmy haircut jokes as if we aren't all totally aware that every politician has to spend a lot of time and money looking good since the legendary Nixon-Kennedy debate. I've seen them fret over the question of whether a self-made millionaire can be a genuine foe of poverty, as if a millionaire who holds the non-wealthy in contempt (a la the entire GOP field) is the "authentic" and desirable candidate. Then there's that FDR character-- an American blue-blood if there ever was one who did more than anyone to help the nation's poor. In short, it's idiotic, disingenuous, and a sad way to treat the only candidate who's talking about it.

So I was really pleased to see commentors at the Prospect take a stand when they perceived the bloggers there to be treating him dismissively. It caused quite a bit of backpedaling among the bloggers (aside from one irritating contributor who strenuously avoids self-examination), and was the first time I've seen such a strong pro-Edwards pushback.

Friday, July 20, 2007

GOP lies; press too busy slamming Dems to notice.

Yes, again. Not too long ago, I brought up Fearless Leader's 2000 campaign claims to have expanded Texas children's access to health care. That's after he tried to scuttle it and had his veto overridden by Republicans.

And one of the rarely-acknowledged tragedies of the Iraq war has been the GOP's constant efforts to deny our troops a decent wage, decent medical care, or decent opportunities when they return. All the while claiming that anyone critical of their immoral actions was a terrorist sympathizer, of course.

In his Rose Garden address this morning, President Bush criticized the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to pull the Defense Authorization bill from consideration, saying the move would deny a pay raise to soldiers serving in Iraq. “Congress has failed to act on” a bill that would “provide funds to upgrade our equipment, for our troops in Iraq and provides a pay raise for our military,” said Bush. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl made a similar argument on Wednesday.

“Even members of Congress who no longer support our effort in Iraq should at least be able to provide an increase in pay for our troops fighting there,” Bush added. . . .

In May, he threatened to veto a House defense spending bill over the exact same 3.5 percent pay increase that he is now touting:

Bush budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases “unnecessary.”

Democratic leaders in the House wrote to Bush at the time urging him to reconsider his veto threat.

Who knows? Maybe the press will rise to the occasion for the third or fourth time in a decade. Or not:

Philip Elliott and the headline writers at the Associated Press have done a real job on Barack Obama with this story, headlined "Obama: Don't Stay in Iraq Over Genocide." The article claims that Obama says that genocide isn't a "good enough reason," when in fact he simply makes the observation that we don't make military decisions on that basis or we would currently be in the Congo, Sudan and Darfur. Not quite the same thing.

But the truly puzzling assertion in the article is this one: "Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, said it's likely there would be increased bloodshed if U.S. forces left Iraq." That would not be a particularly shocking assessment unless it had been preceded by the inaccurate headline and lead that imply Obama doesn't give a damn about genocidal bloodshed. But it's just plain misleading when you see what Obama actually said:

"Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis," Obama said between stops on the first of two days scheduled on the New Hampshire campaign trail.

"There's no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there."

The greater risk is staying in Iraq, Obama said.

I'm almost tempted to see how many winger blogs put that headline in blaring headlines with lots of added exclamation points. Morbid curiosity.

The Perfect Ordure.... I mean 'Order.'

Here's the thing with education: you don't want right-wingers writing your textbooks. The 'American Taliban' has been trying for the better part of a century to prevent youngsters from learning science because it leads to moral degradation. Japanese nationalists have managed to keep most references to WWII atrocities out of textbooks because it would make kids ashamed of their country. Soviet leaders presented Oliver Twist as a realistic depiction of kids' lives in Europe and America because they had to make their own crappy reality look good.

Now Russia is back at it, complete with old-school doublespeak. 'Sovereign democracy'?!?

The principal author of the history manual -- "The Newest History of Russia, 1945-2006" -- is Alexander Fillipov, deputy head of the National Laboratory of Foreign Policy, a research institute affiliated with the Kremlin. . . .

"Sovereign Democracy" is the title of one of the history manual's chapters. The term was coined by Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov, who attended the launch of the two books at a teachers' conference in Moscow last month. Supporters of the president use the phrase to describe the centralization of power under Putin as essential to the building of a stable Russian state, free from outside interference. . . .

Other events, such as the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, in which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians overturned the official results of a presidential election they believed to be fraudulent, are explained as largely American-inspired plots. . . .

It's a must-read, and another reminder of just how simple it is for authoritarianism to rise from its grave, stronger than ever-- by popular demand. Let's just be thankful that BushCo isn't into writing textbooks. Because you just know that it would tell us how they saved New Orleans, created a vibrant democracy in Iraq, fostered a booming economy, and ended the scourge of sex outside of marriage.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My fellow Americans...

A couple of articles here. First up, the Washington Monthly cover story that has a former aide to JFK writing the acceptance speech he would like to hear at the Democratic convention. Some great lines, some platitudes, but hopefully the folks running are starting to take to heart the lesson that it's time to fight and fight hard instead of trying to be all things to all people.

The challenge is enormous, the obstacles are many. Our nation is emerging from eight years of misrule, a dark and difficult period in which our national honor and pride have been bruised and battered. But we are neither beaten nor broken. We are not helpless or afraid; because in this country the people rule, and the people want change.

True, some of us have been sleeping for these eight long years, while our nation’s values have been traduced, our liberties reduced, and our moral authority around the world trampled and shattered by a nightmare of ideological incompetence. But now we are awakening and taking our country back. Now people all across America are starting to believe in America again. We are coming back, back to the heights of greatness, back to America’s proud role as a temple of justice and a champion of peace.

Also, Glenn Greenwald chimes in here with some worthwhile criticism, and mostly he's talking about this recent article from the Globe:

When Kennedy rose to deliver the speech, on July 2, 1957, he began with a ringing statement. "The most powerful single force in the world today," he said, "is neither communism nor capitalism, neither the H-bomb nor the guided missile -- it is man's eternal desire to be free and independent." Hardly anyone would disagree with that. But he continued with a provocative thought -- that "imperialism" was the chief foe of freedom, and that the Western form of imperialism was very nearly as bad as the Soviet version. By emphasizing America's desire to spread freedom in the Middle East, he couldn't have sounded more like today's neoconservative architects of the Iraq war. By stressing the impossibility of spreading freedom through force, he couldn't have sounded more different.

Thanks to Vigil-Auntie for the tip. All the articles are well worth a look.

A Study in Varlet

(Updated below)

My understanding of the Abu Omar al-Baghdadi timeline:

1. Reported as leader of "one the most notorious insurgent groups in Iraq."

2. Reported as captured.

3. Reported as killed.

4. Reported as fictional.

As always, I would actually like to hear some good news from Iraq. But the administration's desperation to report anything as a huge success, and wildly exaggerate it in the process, doesn't inspire confidence. The troubling thing about all of this is that once again, we might've played right into the hands of the people we're fighting.

American wingers might be too stupid to understand it, but it seems very few of our opponents are: criticizing the conduct of the war doesn't demoralize our troops and 'embolden the enemy,' but to be told everything is perfect only to have the rug repeatedly yanked out from under you does both.

UPDATE: Silly me. I forgot the part of this that makes the administration look as stupid as usual. From the War Room:

The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin addresses the question that has had many of us scratching our heads. What's up with this new spokesman in Baghdad?

Not long after New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt scolded his own paper for not confronting President Bush on the issue, Times reporters Michael R. Gordon and Jim Rutenberg wrote in a front-page story that Bush's assertions "have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership."

And the coverage of Tuesday's intelligence report (see yesterday's column) was full of skepticism over the White House's attempted conflation.

So what a stroke of luck it was for the White House when, just a day later, the chief military spokesman in Iraq revealed a dramatic story that would appear to support the president's new favorite talking point: Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner chose yesterday to announce the arrest -- two weeks ago -- of a man he called a leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, who he said had told interrogators about a close operational relationship between his group and Osama bin Laden's inner circle.

Was the timing coincidental? And is Bergner credible? Until recently he was a member of the White House's national security staff, holding the title of senior director for Iraq. Since taking up his new post in May, Bergner has made a series of politically charged allegations against both al-Qaida and Iran, many of which have been basically unverifiable.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Learn your 123s with Mr. Sandwich!

When the Dems first tried to get a resolution passed on a redeployment timetable last month,it was reported by pretty much the entire American press that the Democrats were at fault for giving up, caving in, and wussing out. At the time, I noted that the only report I heard that gave an accurate account of the actual events came from the BBC, who summed it up like this: "It's clear to the Democrats that they won't have the votes to beat a veto, so they're moving on to other issues."

Last night's attempt also wound up falling short, with a 52-47 vote that blocked the withdrawal amendment (4 Repubs siding with Dems, and Joe Lieberman being a a douche). I think it's pretty obvious that the Democratic leadership did this to show the nation "Look, we're trying to do what you want us to. The GOP is doing everything it can to thwart the public will."

And in a country with a responsible press, it would have been reported that way. But not here.

During the July 17 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, co-anchor Diane Sawyer falsely claimed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) "vows to filibuster, talking all night to close out all topics besides a vote on Iraqi troop withdrawals." Sawyer was referring to Reid's plan to hold an all-night Senate debate prior to the July 18 cloture vote on a Democratic proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq. However, by planning to extend the Senate session throughout the night, Reid is not "vow[ing] to filibuster," as Sawyer reported. Rather, he is highlighting the Republicans' blocking of an up-or-down vote on the proposal; in other words, it is the Republicans who are filibustering the withdrawal proposal by requiring that 60 senators vote for the amendment in order for it to pass.

Additionally, on the July 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes asserted that Reid is "filibustering his own bill."

Bonus hackery: David Shuster was on "Hardball" earlier interviewing some of the MoveOn folks who are coming out to the Capitol to protest Republican obstructionism and support Harry Reid's all-nighter. And what was the first thing out of Chris Matthews' mouth? "Well it's certainly a wholesome-looking crowd for an antiwar bunch."

I know that wingers are still frighteningly obsessed with what hippies and students were doing 30+ years ago, but this is staggering. No, I take that back. When all available evidence indicates that some 70% of Americans are against this war, I would fully expect Matthews to interpret it as meaning that 3% of Americans-- every one a hippie-dippie teenager-- are against the war.

Learn your ABCs with Mr. Sandwich!

It isn't much fun greeting an MSM story like it's the cure for the common old when it's nothing more than responsible journalism, but that's the way is these days.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has been able to deflect criticism of his counterterrorism policy by repeatedly noting the absence of any new domestic attacks and by citing the continuing threat that terrorists in Iraq pose to U.S. interests.

But this line of defense seemed to unravel a bit yesterday with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that al-Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. The report also notes that al-Qaeda has been able "to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks," by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary.

This whole "Bush is a success because we haven't been attacked again" line has been a standard GOP line since Afghanistan and Iraq started going downhill a couple of years ago. Now, if you're over the age of eleven and neither a winger nor a highly-paid journalist, it's obvious that this argument should be dismissed out of hand. If you're in one of the other demographics, here's a simple illustration:

A: "My miraculous invention is guaranteed to rid the entire city of killer lizard people."
B: "That's ridiculous."
A: "Have you seen any lizard people?"

At least the under-11 set will get it now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Riddle me this, Boy Blunder!

I know, I know, we're all pretty convinced that Fearless Leader blew out his logic circuits on booze and cocaine years ago, that he was never an intelligent person to begin with, and that his sole "virtue" is stick-to-it-iveness in the face of all logic, reason and morality. Although he could also be a ventriloquist's dummy. Or stark, raving mad. Or some combination of these.

But it's still hard to grasp the notion that anyone could come to this conclusion:

With even more Americans uninsured than in the '90s, Congress seems inclined to expand [the S-CHIP program] so that it can cover more people. Under a new bipartisan proposal in the Senate, s-chip funding would increase by $35 billion over the next five years, allowing it to reach many of the children who still lack insurance.

But Bush, backed by some of his more conservative allies, wants no part of this. He's willing to reauthorize the program, but he also wants to restrict it--by, among other things, limiting eligibility to only those people who are below 200 percent of the poverty level. Under his counterproposal, at least 17 states would actually lose s-chip funding, meaning that more kids and families in desperate need of medical insurance would go without.

Why the resistance? Money, for one thing. . . But the fight is also philosophical. Bush and his allies object that, for every ten people who gain insurance through s-chip expansions, between two and five fewer will get private insurance--since employers, particularly those with low-income workers, will be less likely to offer coverage once the public alternative is available.

How does this break down?

A) Massive spending ($500 billion and counting) and 'more government' is forgivable if it's for a vanity war that kills tens of thousands.

B) Much less massive spending ($35 billion) and 'more government' is unforgivable if it provides basic health care to American citizens.

Forget G-Dub being judged a great man by history-- he'll be the luckiest man in history if he isn't judged a drooling idiot, a vicious misanthrope, or both.

"The Italian Connection," or "World Historical Leaders I Have Known"

The Bush years have seen lots of comparisons to the really bad Caesars of ancient Rome. I've made them myself. While BushCo makes it abominably easy to draw parallels (e.g. Condoleezza
shopping for designer shows and enjoying a Broadway musical during Katrina), the more apt comparison is to fascist Italy. It's unfortunate that comparisons to Hitler and the Third Reich are so common these days, because it's turned a powerful indictment into more of a mark against the person making the accusation. That's a shame in several ways-- that it's used so casually and that it's contributed to the sort of complacency that permits totalitarianism to stage a comeback.

The last few days have brought several stories that make the point, particularly when compared against Karl Popper's list of the elements of authoritarianism, which I first posted a year and a half ago (but still gives me the creeps).

*Joe Lieberman makes the stupefying case that history will vindicate Bush.

* Bill Kristol makes the stupefying case that history will history will prove Bush "a winner." With lies.

Excellent use of the non-falsifiable hypothesis by these clowns. Sure, this administration has wasted trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives, alienated allies and strengthened enemies, upended the rule of law and denied American citizens their constitutional rights-- but in 200 years, everyone will realize how brilliant it all was. Though clearly retarded, it can't be disproven. But it's all too familiar. Here are two of Popper's elements of authoritarianism:

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

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

So we should just be calling this 'The Hegel Administration.' But even a Grade-A egomaniacal nutjob needs enablers, and BushCo has plenty:

Senator Kent Conrad, July 13: "I had a Republican colleague tell me it is the Republican strategy to try to prevent any accomplishment of the Democratic Congress. That is set in their caucus openly and directly that they don’t intend to allow Democrats to have any legislative successes, and they intend to do it by repeated filibuster."

Maybe the GOP could just rename themselves the Hegelian party. The elections last fall represented the majority of Americans telling Congress and the White House 'we disapprove of your policies and we want want them stopped.' The neo-fascists are responding with contempt for public opinion, civic duty, and moral obligation. Because they just don't care.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Oops! Film broke!

I'm having all sorts of trouble getting connected today, so I'm taking this brief window of opportunity to say check back Monday. Same Matt time! Same Matt channel!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Profiteering: not just for contractors anymore

A Baghdad bank has been robbed of 282 million US dollars (not that Iraqi wampum buck, or whatever it is). By the guards.

In an astonishing heist, guards at a bank here made off with more than a quarter-billion dollars on Wednesday, according to an official at the Interior Ministry.

The robbery, of $282 million from the Dar Es Salaam bank, a private financial institution, raised more questions than it answered, and officials were tight-lipped about the crime. The local police said two guards engineered the robbery, but an official at the Interior Ministry said three guards were involved.

Both confirmed that the stolen money was in American dollars, not Iraqi dinars. It was unclear why the bank had that much money on hand in dollars, or how the robbers managed to move such a large amount without being detected.

Several officials speculated that the robbers had connections to the militias, because it would be difficult for them to move without being searched through many checkpoints in Baghdad.

I find the militia hypothesis disturbingly plausible. Why?

A) US currency shipped to Iraq was on shrink-wrapped pallets of $100 note bundles. ($8.8 billion of that money has vanished.)

B) If the $282 million was in $100 notes, it would weigh 6,211 kg, or 6.8 tons.

C) Moving that much weight would take 3 men quite some time, especially since they'd have to make multiple trips even if they had a top-of-the-line armored vehicle (unlikely).

The idea that militias and terrorist groups are using US dollars to by weapons for killing Americans isn't new (that how bin Laden got his start in the Reagan years), but it would be an unwelcome and tragic irony from the flag-wavin' nimrods who've had four years to not screw up something.

Still profiteering after all these years

Anyone who's been reading for a while has undoubtedly come across one of my bitter, angry posts about the billions of dollars that have been squandered by contractors in Iraq. The American public has known for years that we're being ripped off. The House and Senate are certainly aware. The White House is responsible for a lot of it, of course, with their devotion to free-market principles like open competition and bidding. But it continues-- just one more crime courtesy of BushCo. And this one kills our troops.

The Defense Department put U.S. troops in Iraq at risk by awarding contracts for badly needed armored vehicles to companies that failed to deliver them on schedule, according to a review by the Pentagon's inspector general.

The June 27 report, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, examined 15 contracts worth $2.2 billion dollars awarded since 2000 to Force Protection, Inc., and Armor Holdings, Inc.

The auditors found several contracts issued by the Marine Corps on a sole-source basis to Force Protection even though it knew there were other manufacturers that might have supplied the vehicles in a more timely fashion.

That's just two companies, but the article mentions several more (and not even Halliburton of contaminated water, employee Super Bowl party, and imported gasoline infamy). This would be a swell time to bring up Truman's pursuit of war profiteers or Eisenhower's warnings of the military-industrial complex, but instead of that why don't we all just marvel at the fact that while the GOP has known it all along, they just don't care.

Lieberman is burning Faramir alive!

Lieberman on Iraq, July 10: "We are winning."

Republicans who think the 'surge' is a success, July 11: 38%

So Lieberman isn't just thumbing his nose at Democrats-- he holds a view so extremist that even today's reactionary GOP shies away.

Lieberman, July 11: "[W]e’ve got the enemy, Al Qaeda, on the run. . . . All of this is possible because of the surge."

CNN Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware, July 11: "So, unfortunately, I’m afraid that Senator Lieberman has taken an excursion into fantasy."

NOTE: I think this is by far the nerdiest title I've come up with in more than two and a half years of blogging.

You suck! You're not funny!

At this morning's ribbon-cutting for the newly renovated White House Briefing Room, President Bush dropped in just long enough to rub reporters' noses in his cheerful refusal to take them seriously.

There would be no answering questions about the war, or Bush's recent assertions of executive privilege, or his role in the CIA leak case. Instead, the president was in full frat-boy mode, clowning around during introductory remarks by C-SPAN's Steve Scully. Despite Scully's effusive "thank you" from the press corps -- for letting them return to their West Wing space after a year of renovations -- Bush apparently felt Scully went on too long. "I like a good, short introduction," Bush jeered as soon as Scully gave up the podium.

If only he were the dumbass, boozy heckler who annoys everyone at the Funny Bone instead of "The Special Needs President." But way down at the very bottom is this quote from Fearless Leader on Tuesday:

"The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America," he said. "After all, you just go to an emergency room."

This is about as detached from reality as you can get. Stupefying in its ignorance. And, as always, it reeks of sneering hypocrisy and contempt for those who weren't born millionaires.

From the Prospect: Except that emergency rooms are not conveniently located in neighborhoods all over the country, emergency rooms are not well suited for the provision of primary care and tend to charge rather heftily for those services, emergency room care fails to provide the kind of continuous care that is really needed and the real intended customers of emergency care (people with emergencies) will have longer waiting times than necessary if the same places are also used for primary care.

And the Washington Monthly: [A]s long as we're on the subject, it's worth noting that emergency rooms have only been required to treat all patients regardless of ability to pay since the 1986 passage of the EMTALA Act. The Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, unsurprisingly, did little to enforce it. Bill Clinton tried to step up enforcement in 1994, but in 2003, after Bush Jr. became president, he approved new rules that loosened EMTALA regulations.

Great stuff, huh? Forcing people to depend on emergency rooms while making them less reliable, less accessible, and more expensive. Now that's supply-side economics in action.

Dangerous chinese eats: not just for export anymore

I've been picking on China enough lately, but this story has too much of that car wreck you can't look away from to risk anyone not seeing it. Especially because I love these things.

Chopped cardboard, softened in an industrial chemical and made tasty with pork flavoring, is a main ingredient in batches of steamed buns sold in a Beijing neighborhood, state television said.

The report, aired late Wednesday on China Central Television, highlights the country's perennial problems with food safety despite continuing government efforts to improve the situation.

Countless small, often illegally run operations exist across China and make money cutting corners by using inexpensive ingredients or unsavory substitutes. They are almost impossible to regulate. [. . .]

"What's in the recipe?" the reporter asks. "Six to four," the man says.

"You mean 60 percent cardboard? What is the other 40 percent?" asks the reporter. "Fatty meat," the man replies.

The bun maker and his assistants then give a demonstration on how the product is made.

Squares of cardboard picked from the ground are first soaked to a pulp in a plastic basin of caustic soda — a chemical base commonly used in manufacturing paper and soap — then chopped into tiny morsels with a cleaver. Fatty pork and powdered seasoning are stirred in.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Science Wednesday: Hot, wet, and ready to be probed!

In the biggest story of the week that sounds dirty but isn't...

A scorching-hot gas planet beyond our solar system is steaming up with water vapor, according to new observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. . . .

welters as it zips closely around its star every two days or so. Astronomers had predicted that planets of this class, termed "hot Jupiters," would contain water vapor in their atmospheres. Yet finding solid evidence for this has been slippery. These latest data are the most convincing yet that hot Jupiters are "wet." . . .

"Finding water on this planet implies that other planets in the universe, possibly even rocky ones, could also have water," said co-author [of a paper to appear in today's Nature] Sean Carey of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

You know what water means. A possibility of life-- and Klingons!

It depends on what the definition of abuse is... is.

If I had a nickel for every time I'd heard a conservative respond to debate on any given political debate with a smarmy reference to "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" and "I did not have sex with that woman," I'd have a pretty nice wad of bills by now-- and undoubtedly keep receiving payments for years to come.

But the aggravation of hearing those two phrases used as an "argument" against everything from domestic spending to a couple of botched wars just reached a new plateau today. The WaPo has the story:

[Two senior DOJ] officials spoke in a telephone call arranged by press officials at the Justice Department after The Washington Post disclosed yesterday that the FBI sent reports to Gonzales of legal and procedural violations shortly before he told senators in April 2005: "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" after 2001. [. . .]

But [one of them] defended the 2005 statement by Gonzales that he was unaware of civil liberties abuses related to the government's counterterrorism effort. Wainstein cited what he described as a dictionary definition of "abuse" in defending Gonzales's remark. [. . .]

[He] said Gonzales was saying only that there had been no intentional acts of misconduct, rather than the sorts of mistakes the FBI was self-disclosing. "That is why I cited the definition of 'abuse,' which in Webster's . . . implies some sort of intentional conduct. And I think that is sort of the common understanding of the word 'abuse,' " Wainstein said.

The War Room points out that aside from the blatant lawyerly sleaze of this tactic, it just plain doesn't hold up: (which draws its definitions from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary) lists six definitions of the word abuse as a noun, only one of which -- labeled "obsolete" -- includes a reference to intention. also labels the one definition of abuse that refers to deceit as "obsolete."

So instead of being 'the common understanding' of the word abuse, language specialists clearly single it out as the least common understanding of the word. But still the most useful for evading justice.

'Deputy assistant to the president' fails jr. high civics

White House Political Director Sara Taylor is currently sitting before the Judiciary Committee, trying to walk a line between answering the senators' questions and invoking executive privilege.

[N]ear the start of her testimony Taylor declined to answer three questions from Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the committee because of the president's assertion of executive privilege in regards to her testimony. But the committee has just returned from a recess, and when Leahy began questioning her again, things went more than a little differently.

Before the recess, in responding to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Taylor had said that she "was a deputy assistant to the president... a commissioned officer," and because of that position, she said, "I took an oath. And I take that oath to the president very seriously."

But, in fact, as Leahy pointed out after the recess, the oath that Taylor took was to the Constitution, not the president, and Taylor conceded that she had been wrong. At that point, Leahy repeated his earlier questions, and this time Taylor answered.

Those 'answers' a duds, not bombshells, but potentially incriminating in two of three cases that fail to incorporate familiar weasel words.

The politicization of existence.

Yesterday, the administration's first Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, testified before Congress. For the most part is was "business as usual" BushCo nonsense. Which is to say that his role was to protect corporate interests:

Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

as well as prop up the myth of Fearless Leader:

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

It's bad enough that the top dog in public health was fully expected to be an apparatchik first and guardian of the public second. But other revelations demonstrated how pathological the Republican party has become in their partisan zeal.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to a “prominent family” that he refused to name.

“I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said.

The Special Olympics is one of the nation’s premier charitable organizations to benefit disabled people, and the Kennedys have long been deeply involved in it.

Yep. We must only involve ourselves with right charities, comrade, so that we encourage right thoughts.

Coming up tomorrow-- confirmation hearings for anti-science winger James W. Holsinger get underway. You can check out his background and decades-long obsession with gay men here. The primary defense of Holsinger is from evangelicals, claiming once again that white male Christians are being persecuted for their faith. I mean, would we ever deny a Christian Scientist the position of Surgeon General of the United States because of his religious beliefs? Of course we would, and for reasons a preschooler could understand. That doesn't make it a war on religion, just a desire to choose as 'public health czar' someone who isn't openly hostile to his own job. But that, too, is pure 21st-century GOP.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Have you considered the violin?

Things aren't going well for BushCo now that the long-ignored evidence of their crimes is getting the attention it deserves. You'd expect a list to follow that, from wiretapping to WMD claims, to the politicization of the DOJ, FDA and NASA. But I'll leave it at just those five. Funny, isn't it, how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remains so untainted by scandal? Not really-- all you've got to do is keep on fiddlin'.

It started with a few lessons in Washington, blossoming into a love affair. Now we didn't know about this because Rice chooses to play out of the public eye with friends, like on the three golf courses at Andrews Air Force Base. She even carries her clubs on diplomatic trips to Asia so that she can get in a few holes during long layovers in Hawaii. . .

"She would very much like to do what she can to raise awareness of golf as a sport," says her aide.

Now that's a noble goal worthy of a Bush crony. It's high time someone addressed the public's flawed perception of golf as a Mediterranean salad.

I just hope the tabloid prose and talk of 'Condi-for-prez' is meant sarcastically, because the last thing we need is another president known primarily for failing upward.

Yikes. China executes former Food & Drug Chief

I wrote last week that China appeared to be taking their problems with dangerous exports very seriously-- at least in theory. The vastness of China pretty much guarantees that central oversight will be impossible, and American companies working within China have largely been content to turn a blind eye.

Zheng was sentenced to death in May for accepting cash and gifts worth more than $830,000 from pharmaceutical companies. Xinhua said his appeal was rejected because of the immense damage he had caused to public health and safety.

During his time as chief, the administration approved many medicines that did not meet standards, including six fake drugs. Zheng was the highest level official to be executed in seven years.

Five other drug supervision officials have also received sentences for corruption ranging from 13 years to life in prison.

I suspect that corruption in China is probably as bad as the old Soviet system-- or worse, since there's more of a profit incentive. So China is probably doing all it can by making examples of a few high-level people in order to prevent an international reaction and the subsequent economic hit they would take.

Execution, though, is a terrible thing to do. Even though these people made a conscious decision to allow the deaths of others for some money. On the other hand, the United States' own "Duke" Cunningham was convicted of taking some $2.5 million in bribes (among other crimes) and received eight years. And there's that whole Abu Ghraib thing, which resulted in the punishment of enlisted men and the female officer who didn't like what was happening. So while I hope the Chinese officials weren't just handy fall guys, there's something to be said for accountability and maybe even the "deterrent effect" conservatives love so much about harsh, mandatory sentences for everyone but themselves.

Damned when he thinks, damned when he don't.

This story is a sad one, and since I caught it on the Prospect, I'm linking to their post (above). But the article under discussion (here) is yet another disturbing record of Cheney's crimes, and highly recommended.

Cheney, Gellman and Becker report, drew up and vetted a list of five appellate judges from which Bush drew his Supreme Court appointments. After naming John Roberts to the Court and then to the Chief Justice’s chair, the President, for once, rebelled: without getting permission from down the hall, he nominated his old retainer Harriet Miers for the second opening. (“Didn’t have the nerve to tell me himself,” Cheney muttered to an associate, according to the Post.) But when Cheney’s right-wing allies upended Miers, Bush obediently went back to Cheney’s list and picked Samuel Alito.

The implications are astounding. First, that the POTUS is quite literally a puppet-- with Cheney's hand up his ass. Second, that the POTUS is such an imbecile his occasional attempts to think for himself embarrass the entire nation. Or, as Lemieux writes:

The Miers nomination really was remarkable; even when trying to show independence Bush is so incompetent and so dedicated to ludicrously unqualified cronies that it didn't matter. This story also reminds us, however, that virtually every bad thing that Cheney has done is 100% the responsibility of Bush as well. The Vice President has virtually no formal authority within the administration, and in any power struggle the President is determined to win the President will win. Cheney has enormous influence and power because Bush has given it to him, and either supports what Cheney is doing or doesn't care enough to stop him.

He's an oily, fundamentalist senator. She's a DC madam. They're cops!

The WaPo reports that Republican senator David Vitter of Louisiana copped to using the services of prostitutes while spending time in the nation's capitol. He offered the standard GOP fundamentalist pseudo-apology:

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," Vitter, 46, said in a statement, which his spokesman, Joel DiGrado, confirmed to the Associated Press.

"Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling," Vitter continued. "Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."

From Swaggart to Haggard to Cunningham and Gingrich, there's no more handy escape than to assure America that God is totally cool with your adultery/corruption/drug addiction. After all, that makes anyone who does criticize you anti-God, right?

Swaggart? Haggard? Gingrich? Yep, he's part of the same illustrious crowd. With all that implies. A 2004 Salon article written on the eve of his victory has a few troubling phrases describing Vitter's neo-fascist credentials:

*"A family-values far-right conservative" (it's all downhill from here, of course)

*"sharp-edged and uncompromising, but enormously talented at self-promotion"

*"campaigns with under-the-radar help from white supremacist David Duke"

*"many Republican politicians and operatives see Vitter as duplicitous, and many African-American leaders call him racist"

*"known for sneakily calling solo press conferences -- sometimes just hours before his fellow Republicans had planned to make a joint announcement -- in order to take credit for group initiatives that he would pass off as his own"

And Vitter's favorite issue is opposing gay marriage-- because, clearly, he's all about the sanctity of marriage. Like Swaggart, Haggard, Gingrich, etc. Interestingly enough, the Republican Vitter replaced in the House of Represenatives in 1999 resigned because of his own extramarital affairs. Something Vitter frequently used as ammunition in his own bid.

UPDATE: Vitter's other qualification for being a leading 20th century Republican? He was having another affair during the height of the Clinton impeachment mess. And while you might find this hard to believe (I'm kidding, of course), Vitter called for Clinton's resignation at the time.

If they're the Augean stables, then call me Alpheus!

I can't believe I missed this last week, but just in case you happened to miss it, too, here's a Denver Post op-ed by a justice department attorney on the crimes of the Bush administration.

In the course of its tenure since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has turned the entire government (and the DOJ in particular) into a veritable Augean stable on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, international law and basic human rights, as well as criminal prosecution and federal employment and contracting practices. It has systematically undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountability by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongering, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor "politics as usual," but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate - which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.

Spend some time savoring the comments, too. There are a few goofballs on there, but a surprisingly small number of Bush defenders-- and those that there are offer up only feeble rebuttals.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Depressing thought of the day

And no, it has nothing to do with the White House claiming that there was so obviously nothing
wrong about replacing US attorneys with partisan hacks that White House employees and aides have to be kept from testifying about the non-criminal activities. That would be better suited to a 'least surprising' story.

No, this is just another observation that should outrage the nation, but won't. Complete with dire implications about the fragility of American democracy. Yawn.

[T]here's one political factor to consider [regarding impeachment of Bush/Cheney]: much as their epic incompetence at running the government has discredited the very idea of government, making new government solutions substantially harder to get past a skeptical public, Republicans' impeachment of President Clinton in 1998 discredited the very idea of impeachment.

Say the word now, and many people think of "a partisan effort to drag the country through a ridiculously disingenuous show trial, trumping up phony claims of 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' for no reason other than revenge on your political enemies." It almost doesn't matter anymore what the president does; anyone who proposes impeachment is going to be greeted by many people with nothing but eye-rolling. Given that, short of killing a man on national television for looking at him funny, the president can do pretty much what he wants without worrying that he'll lose his job. It may take decades before impeachment is viewed as the product of principled and justified outrage at a president's unacceptable behavior in office.

Yet I still find myself completely stunned with the matter-of-fact way the GOP has eroded the foundations of democracy. For all their endless whining about the Clintons, the Republican party may well have simply brought about a new political climate which simply enables the occupants of the White House to commit crimes with impunity-- as has been the case for the last six years. BushCo's crimes dwarf those of the Nixon White House, but does anyone actually think they'll pay for those crimes?

NOTE: The comments to the post are much less pessimistic, in case you need a little lift.)

Thompson vows to continue presidential irony policy

I completely missed this on Friday, but it's pretty funny. Funny, that is, until we have another administration in which lying your socks off is considered de rigueur.

Fred D. Thompson, who is campaigning for president as an antiabortion Republican, accepted an assignment from a family-planning group to lobby the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction, according to a 1991 document and several people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for the former Tennessee senator denied that Thompson did the lobbying work. But the minutes of a 1991 board meeting of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn. say that the group hired Thompson that year. . .

On the other hand...

Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo adamantly denied that Thompson worked for the family planning group. "Fred Thompson did not lobby for this group, period," he said in an e-mail.

In a telephone interview, he added: "There's no documents to prove it, there's no billing records, and Thompson says he has no recollection of it, says it didn't happen."

I have to say that "you can't prove a thing" is not exactly an encouraging rebuttal.

GOP set to "blame the troops"?

Robert Novak shares some gossip, Ramesh Ponnuru comments on it, and TNR passes it on. Now that GOP senators are getting very, very anxious about how Iraq will affect their electoral standing-- to the point that some are even saying they aren't 100% behind BushCo!-- they need to find a patsy.

In the process, [Senator Stephen Hadley] planted seeds of concern. Some senators were left with the impression that the White House still does not recognize the scope of the Iraq dilemma. Worse yet, they see the president running out the clock until April, when a depleted U.S. military will be blamed for the fiasco. ...

Based on what Hadley said, one senator concluded "they just do not recognize the depth of the difficulty they are in." That difficulty entails running out of troops in nine months. Hadley increased latent fears of the U.S. military being made the fall guy--a concern shared by many retired and some active senior officers, including a current infantry division commander.

I should have anticipated this long ago. It's another one of those GOP maxims: if they accuse you of it, they're doing it themselves. I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about how treasonous Democrats "cost us the war," in spite of giving the White House a blank check for four years, but blaming the military should be a handy backup plan:

And would the White House really try to blame the military for the failure of the surge, seeing as how any third grader could see through this dodge? (As Ponnuru says, "If the military's 'depleted,' isn't that the administration's fault?") Granted, that's never stopped them before...

This all raises a third possibility, I think. The GOP will go for the White House's jugular and run on a platform of: "Can you believe what those guys did? Boy, they sure tricked us, didn't they? When I voted with them 98% of the time, I had no idea!"

What the Libby case teaches us

1. Bill Kristol is an asshole.

"Here's why the president acted the way he did. He knew Bill Clinton was joining Hillary in Iowa on July 4th," Kristol said [on Fox News Sunday]. "...So on July 2d, Ed Gillespie, who's a very canny Republican operator, said, Let's pardon Libby. Clinton will rise to the bait, and we could spend the last half of the week debating the unbelievable Clinton pardons against the defensible Bush pardon.

"So I regard this as an extremely clever Machiavellian move by the president. It cheers me up. It cheers me up about the Bush White House, and I'm really heartened."

Nothing makes me say 'attaboy' faster than manipulation of the justice system for political ends.

2. Fearless leader can express interest in legal matters.

Quite a shift from his days in Texas, when he (along with Gonzales) was openly mocking death row inmates and denying stays of execution to prisoners who had inept-- and even alcoholic-- defense lawyers. Then he assured us there was no doubt that every single one of them was guilty. Now? Not so much.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff offers up an account, from White House insiders, of Bush's deliberations on the commutation and why he ultimately decided to go the way he did. Notably, Isikoff paints a picture of Bush as focused on the details of the case; that's quite different from how Bush has acted in the past when questions of clemency came before him, and Isikoff himself calls it uncharacteristic. Isikoff offers one possible reason for Bush's dilligence: "he was especially keen to know," Isikoff says, "if there was compelling evidence that might contradict the jury's verdict that Libby had lied to a federal grand jury about when -- and from whom -- he learned the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, wife of Iraq War critic Joe Wilson."

3. Intellectual honesty is a dish best served... to someone else.

Turns out, though -- sorry, Libby supporters -- that the conclusion of White House Counsel Fred Fielding was that "the jury had reached a reasonable verdict: the evidence was strong that Libby testified falsely about his role in the leak."

4. Fearless Leader is, in fact, afraid.

"The president was conflicted. He hated the idea that a loyal aide would serve time," Isikoff writes. "Hanging over his deliberations was [Vice President Dick Cheney, for whom Libby served as chief of staff], who had said he was 'very disappointed' with the jury's verdict. Cheney did not directly weigh in with Fielding, but nobody involved had any doubt where he stood. 'I'm not sure Bush had a choice,' says one of the advisers. 'If he didn't act, it would have caused a fracture with the vice president.'"

That's really saying something, isn't it? The president 'had no choice' because the veep wanted it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dr. Evil

Sorry about the lack of posts today, but this one is worth your time. It's from Robert Greenwald, who you probably know from Outfoxed or Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices. It's a snappy little 3 minute video on impeaching Dick Cheney.

The music is overkill. Some of the graphics have a little too much 1960s leftism about them, but it excels at what I wish Democratic candidates would start doing in spades-- use footage of wingers contradicting themselves in stark, dramatic ways.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Is that a thumb you're sucking, or are you just a Republican?

This is sort of a funny article-- the Prospect looks at conservatives' weird obsession with the hunkiness of their presidential candidates. Especially conservative men. And the author has no trouble whatsoever finding talking heads who swoon over their dreamboat of choice.

Well, no matter what your answer, several political commentators have decided that their impressions on these issues are important. Take Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's Hardball. Matthews has asked whether Giuliani would win a late-night street fight in Queens against the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and has shared with us that Giuliani's personality makes him remember the ominous sentence: "Just wait until Daddy comes home".

Fred Thompson makes Matthews even more giddy. On a recent episode of Hardball, he wanted to know if his female guest found Thompson sexually attractive. This must be the case, given that Thompson looks "seasoned and in charge of himself" and smells of English Leather, Aqua Velva or cigar smoke.

Even Mitt Romney gets nods of approval from Matthews, who thinks he has a perfect chin and perfect hair, both apparently attributes of importance for a president.

And Chris Matthews isn't the only pundit who's apparently enamored of these three Republican candidates. Roger Simon, The Politico's chief columnist, has written that Mitt Romney is "strong, clear and gives good soundbite, and has shoulders you could land a 737 on." Earlier Simon was enraptured by Romney's "chiseled-out-of-granite features, a full dark head of hair going a distinguished gray at the temples, and a barrel chest." Bill O'Reilly of Fox News agreed, announcing that Romney appears "presidential," a sentiment that was echoed by NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. An article in Newsweek described Romney as "buff and handsome in middle age."

A New York Times profile called Rudy Giuliani "a commanding daddy of a candidate," Mark Halperin of Time praised Fred Thompson's "magnetism". And on and on.

Any of these statements would undoubtedly be a big laugh-getter from the obligatory flamboyant gay character on a typical sitcom, or a groan if the speaker was a vapid, high-school cheerleader type. But Chris Matthews asking women if Fred "Droopy Dog" Thompson gets them all hot 'n bothered. Or if everyone had noticed Mitt's toooooooo sweet shoulders and that fabulous hair. And I'm going to guess that more than one gay personal ad has featured the words "commanding daddy," Mr. Halperin.

What's the point? I don't really have one, but I should probably start working on a stand-up routine. This is comedy gold.

SCOTUS upholds Libby sentence!

It's just a shame that Scooter wasn't there.

With respect to the disgraceful Libby commutation, Laura of 11D provides some interesting data about how likely a petitioner not connected with the Bush administration is to get a pardon or commutation by historical standards. On an individual level, a recent Supreme Court case provides another example. In Rita v. U.S., the Supreme Court recently held that sentences that fall within the (now merely advisory) federal sentencing guidelines can be presumed to be reasonable on appeal without violating the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The man whose appeal failed, Victor Rita, is a man (unlike, say, Scooter Libby) with a genuinely distinguished record of public service: "lengthy military service, including over 25 years of service, both on active duty and in the Reserve [with] 35 medals, awards, and nominations." The sentence that was upheld? 33 months for perjury, making false statements, and obstructing justice. Anyone think he's getting a commutation or pardon from Bush?

Same Bushit, Different Prey.

If you're like me (and I know I am), when you started hearing about Fred Thompson's obscure but increasingly noteworthy campaign, you may well have said "Who?" As I started hearing more about him, it became clear why the conservative intelligentsia, so to speak, was rallying behind his presidential bid: he's Bush all over again.

1. For most people, he's a cypher. (Easier to craft your own narrative that way.)
2. He's a big fan of the "when I bite into the apple, the worm better watch out for itself" theory of economics.
3. He has no shame, as evidenced by his career as a highly-paid lobbyist, willingness to deny human evolution, and openly lie about his own past.

Remember G-Dub's boasts of 'signing into law' education reform in Texas that increased access to education among the state's poorest kids? Remember how nobody reported that he was such a complete asshole that he had vetoed the legislation, only to have it overridden and find himself compelled to sign? That's Thompson, right there.

Fred Thompson's political resume is a little on the thin side. He was a senator who developed a reputation for avoiding hard work; he was a high-priced corporate lobbyist; and in 1973, he was minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee.

That last one is apparently a point of some pride for the actor/lobbyist/lawyer. On his exploratory website, Thompson boasts that he "gained national attention" as the "hard-charging counsel" who took the "lead" in revealing the audio-taping system in Nixon's Oval Office.

It all sounds quite impressive -- just so long as you overlook the fact that Thompson was actually relentlessly partisan and anxious to protect Nixon during the Watergate investigation.

And as the Boston Globe notes:

Thompson tipped off the White House that the committee knew about the taping system and would be making the information public. In his all-but-forgotten Watergate memoir, "At That Point in Time," Thompson said he acted with "no authority" in divulging the committee's knowledge of the tapes, which provided the evidence that led to Nixon's resignation. It was one of many Thompson leaks to the Nixon team, according to a former investigator for Democrats on the committee, Scott Armstrong , who remains upset at Thompson's actions.

"Thompson was a mole for the White House," Armstrong said in an interview. "Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was."

No wonder he's the darling of the right-- IOIYAR is a way of life for him, too.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

To Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea!

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Now get out there and play irresponsibly with fireworks!

Right after you read this Cato Institute(!) piece with which I heartily agree(!!!):

Whether Scooter Libby was an appropriate recipient of a commutation is subject to much debate.

But there are plenty of other people who deserve presidential pardons or commutations. Families Against Mandatory Minimums has highlighted a number of good cases here:

Mandy Martinson — 15 years for helping her boyfriend count his drug-dealing money.

DeJarion Echols — 20 years for selling a small amount of crack and owning a gun, causing Reagan-appointed federal judge Walter S. Smith, Jr. to say, “This is one of those situations where I’d like to see a congressman sitting before me.”

Weldon Angelos — 55 years for minor marijuana and gun charges, causing the George W. Bush-appointed judge Paul Cassell, previously best known for pressing the courts to overturn the Miranda decision, to call the mandatory sentence in this case “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.”

Anthea Harris — 15 years when members of her husband’s drug ring received sentence reductions to testify against her, although she had not been directly involved in the business.

A compassionate conservative should also use the pardon power to head off the DEA’s war against doctors who help patients alleviate pain. He could start by pardoning Dr. Ronald McIver, sentenced to 30 years for prescribing Oxycontin and other drugs to patients in severe pain. Or Dr. William Hurwitz of Virginia, sentenced to 25 years but then granted a retrial, convicted again, and awaiting sentencing, which could still be 10 years.

And to all my Republican friends and relatives who dismissed my certainty back in 2000 that this administration would be the most corrupt and lawless in history: get bent.

Awwww, I'm just kiddin'. I can't stay mad at you.

You'll probably also want to check out Keith Olbermann's take on the latest BushCo outrage. It's pretty spectacular.