The Daily Sandwich

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

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Friday, October 26, 2007

BushCo and the Ol' Potemkin Village Routine

At least this WaPo story tells it like it is. Even if the ruling party hadn't been doing this for the last six years, this agit-prop tactic is so well-known from 20th century China and the Soviet Union that these imbeciles should've been laughed out of office long ago. But you can't have it all.

FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing.

Reporters were given only 15 minutes' notice of the briefing, making it unlikely many could show up at FEMA's Southwest D.C. offices. They were given an 800 number to call in, though it was a "listen only" line, the notice said -- no questions. Parts of the briefing were carried live on Fox News, MSNBC and other outlets.

Johnson stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before saying he would take a few questions. The first questions were about the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.

He was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case, he appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked an oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by the president. He once again explained smoothly. . . .

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.

But rest assured-- the new, highly competent head of FEMA made it clear that while it was made to look like an actual press conference even though it wasn't, there's no reason for the public to harbor an doubts about the integrity and openness of uhhhh.... FEMA.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

They're only tellin' you what they want you to know

Busy, busy day. And it's going to get worse next week. But I have one cool find-- Sidney Blumenthal's piece on the journalistic legacy of Walter Lippmann. My thinking recently has been that human history isn't so much a march of progress punctuated by disastrous periods of reactionary power as an endless march of authoritarianism punctuated by occasional outbreaks of reason and progressivism. Although I hate being that cynical. Anyway, here's some Lippmann for ya:

Just as the most poisonous form of disorder is the mob incited from high places, the most immoral act the immorality of a government, so the most destructive form of untruth is sophistry and propaganda by those whose profession it is to report the news. The news columns are common carriers. When those who control them arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable. Public opinion is blockaded. For when a people can no longer confidently repair "to the best foundations for their information," then anyone's guess and anyone's rumor, each man's hope and each man's whim becomes the basis of government. All that the sharpest critics of democracy have alleged is true, if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. Incompetence and aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, panic and ultimate disaster, must come to any people which is denied an assured access to the facts. No one can manage anything on pap. Neither can a people.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Ignore the man behind the Arkansas Project!"

If you're an informed progressive type, you know the name Richard Mellon Scaife. If you're already deciding which Republican to vote for in '08, you probably don't. Even though he's played a significant role in forming your whole Clinton-obsessed, anti-critical thought, political weltanschaung. Sad, really.

But let's cut to the sex, sin, and assholery, shall we? Here are some excerpts from this unsurprisingly sordid tale of a leading values voter and conservative icon who's actually a serial adulterer (a la Giuliani and Gingrich) and unapologetic reprobate (a la Bush and Cheney).

*Unfathomable but true, when Scaife (rhymes with safe) married his second wife, Margaret “Ritchie” Scaife, in 1991, he neglected to wall off a fortune that Forbes recently valued at $1.3 billion. This, to understate matters, is likely going to cost him, big time. As part of a temporary settlement, 60-year-old Ritchie Scaife is currently cashing an alimony check that at first glance will look like a typo: $725,000 a month. Or about $24,000 a day, seven days a week. . . . The numbers are just one of many we-kid-you-not dimensions to this tale. In late 2005, Ritchie Scaife peered through a window at one of her husband’s many homes and saw him with one Tammy Sue Vasco, a woman whose colorful criminal history includes an arrest for prostitution.

*Dickie, as he’s known to his handful of friends, acquired a mean streak at an early age, according to his now-deceased sister, Cordelia Scaife. (She once told The Washington Post that she and her brother hadn’t spoken for 25 years.) His trouble with alcohol started when he was at prep school, and he later was tossed out of Yale when he rolled a keg of beer down a flight of stairs and broke the legs of a fellow student. His father, a below-average businessman, died a year after Richard graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. His mother was “just a gutter drunk,” as Cordelia put it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pop Quiz: Know your neo-cons.

Via Kevin Drum, a quick quiz on neoconservative crackpots:

Can you match up the neocon with his description from the recently published journals of Arthur Schlesinger?

1. Marty Peretz 2. Norman Podhoretz 3. Charles Krauthammer

A)"Writes particularly obnoxious neo-conservative trash"

B)"Unprincipled egomaniac"

C)"Odious and despicable"

Follow the link up top for the answers. I'm actually a little disappointed that I got all three right.

Blackwater to "diversify operations"

Sometimes a story comes along that's so painfully obvious I kick myself for not having predicted it. I'll just leave it at that.

Blackwater is planning to build an 824-acre military-style training complex in Potrero, Calif., a rural hamlet 45 miles east of San Diego. The company's proposal, which was approved last December by the Potrero Community Planning Group and has drawn protest from within the Potrero community, will turn a former chicken ranch into "Blackwater West," the company's second-largest facility in the country. It will include a multitude of weapons firing ranges, a tactical driving track, a helipad, a 33,000-square-foot urban simulation training area, an armory for storing guns and ammunition, and dorms and classrooms. And it will be located in the heart one of the most active regions in the United States for illegal border crossings.

While some residents of Potrero have welcomed the plan, others have raised fears about encroachment on protected lands and what they see as an intimidating force of mercenaries coming into their backyard. The specter of Blackwater West and the rising interest in privatizing border security have also alarmed Democratic Rep. Bob Filner, whose congressional district includes Potrero. Filner says he believes it's a good possibility that Blackwater is positioning itself for border security contracts and is opposed to the new complex. "You have to be very wary of mercenary soldiers in a democracy, which is more fragile than people think," Rep. Filner told Salon. "You don't want armies around who will sell out to the highest bidder. We already have vigilantes on the border, the Minutemen, and this would just add to [the problem]," Filner said, referring to the Minuteman Project, a conservative group that has organized civilian posses to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in the past. Filner is backing legislation to block establishment of what he calls "mercenary training centers" anywhere in the U.S. outside of military bases. "The border is a sensitive area," he said, "and if Blackwater operates the way they do in Iraq -- shoot first and ask questions later -- my constituents are at risk."

Wasn't it Nero who said you aren't really 'rich' until you have your own army?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blackwater: "Let's get sissy!"

Now, Blackwater isn't a place for wussies. That goes without saying. But I still figure that it's a real wet-dream factory for GOP politicians-- with that whole Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson ethos of pretend military service. You can just imagine how turned on the idea of ordering around a bunch of super-secret commando types makes that bunch.

But all that vicarious studliness comes at a price much steeper than a home theater system and a 300 DVD. There's the embezzling, the murders, and the tax fraud (that one's brand new, folks!). But, ever the smooth covert types, the no-nonsense businessmen at Blackwater know that when things start to go sour, there's just one thing to do: go all Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth" and give those lily-livered whiners a harsh dose of reality!

No, wait. That's not it. When things go sour there's just one thing to do: hire a PR firm to give you a teddy-bear image and pretend the public unveiling is a complete coincidence.

[Blackwater's] well-armed men remain, but the company’s roughneck logo — a bear’s paw print in a red crosshairs, under lettering that looks to have been ripped from a fifth of Jim Beam — has undergone a publicity-conscious, corporate scrubbing.

The company said the decision to update its logo was made long before Sept. 16, the day a Blackwater team guarding a State Department convoy in Baghdad fatally shot 17 Iraqis near a bustling traffic circle. But the new logo did not appear on Blackwater’s Web site until after the incident, a Blackwater spokeswoman said. . . .

Blackwater also began the process of altering its name to Blackwater Worldwide.

The author doesn't come right out and say it, but the idea is pretty clearly "now that we're in the public eye, it's time to break out the camouflage." I would've gone with a unicorn on a rainbow, but that's why I'm not earning six figures as a business consultant.

While you were out

(Quick 2nd update: Mukasey's son is also proving what a stand-up guy he is by helping Giuliani misrepresent himself.)

I haven't put much effort into following the Mukasey confirmation hearing, and that makes me due for a mea culpa. But either in spite of or because of the deluge of incompetence and evil we see from the 21st century GOP, it's easy to forget that even a relatively non-controversial White House nominee for anything would have been considered completely unacceptable to either party just a few decades ago.

Andrew Sullivan, whose tone suggests the weariness I suspect millions of us feel, provides a reminder of why we have to keep paying attention. And fighting.

Matt [Kleiman] calls [Mukasey] "completely unacceptable." Having read the testimony, I'm afraid I have to abandon my early hopes and agree. An attorney general who believes a president has a permanent right to ignore the rule of law because peacetime is now wartime for ever, is an attorney general defending the rule of one man over the rule of law. If I were a Senator, (heh, indeed) I'd vote no. This is the faultline of our time. If we are redefining war as a permanent state of being, and redefining presidential authority to give him/her extra-legal and extra-constitutional power to what s/he wants anywhere in the world, including the United States and to its citizenry, then American liberty is in extreme peril. To approve an attorney general who does not dissent from this position is a terrible precedent.

Don't people see that this is what Cheney is doing? He is setting precedent after precedent for totalist, secret executive power. And with each precedent for unchecked, uncontrollable executive power - including the power to detain and torture within the United States - the America we have known is being surrendered. This is the other war - a constitutional war at home against American liberty and the Constitution - as dangerous in a different way as Islamism. One attacks our freedom from the outside; the other hollows out our freedom from within. The fight against both is the calling of the time.

UPDATE: Incredibly, I just came upon a post that looks as though it could've been written specifically to support Sullivan's case. A must-read.

According to Higazi, the investigators coerced him into confessing to a role in 9/11. Higazi first adamantly denied any involvement with 9/11 and could not believe what was happening to him. Then, he says, the investigator said his family would go through hell in Egypt, where they torture people like Saddam Hussein. Higazy then realized he had a choice: he could continue denying the radio was his and his family suffers ungodly torture in Egypt or he confesses and his family is spared. Of course, by confessing, Higazy's life is worth garbage at that point, but ... well, that's why coerced confessions are outlawed in the United States.

So Higazy "confesses" and he's processed by the criminal justice system. His future is quite bleak. Meanwhile, an airline pilot later shows up at the hotel and asks for his radio back. This is like something out of the movies. The radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazy, and Higazy was free to go, the victim of horrible timing. Higazi was innocent! He next sued the hotel and the FBI agent for coercing his confession. The bottom line in the Court of Appeals: Higazy has a case and may recover damages for this injustice.

As I read the opinion I realized it was a 44 page epic, too long for me to print out. I blogged about the opinion while I read it online and then posted the blog as I ate lunch. Then something strange happened: a few minutes after I posted the blog, the opinion vanished from the Court of Appeals website! I had never seen this before, and what made all the more strange was that it involved a coerced confession over 9/11.

That's only the beginning of the story, but it's a chilling account of why torture, the 'unitary executive' theory, government secrecy, and the erosion of our civil rights have really brought America to a perilous crossroads.

Red, White, and Business

Not exactly huge news, but funny. The debut of Fox's business channel has certainly meant one thing for cable television: more babe-age per square foot than you can shake a SWOT at.

Rupert Murdoch's new finance channel just launched its Website, and it lends a little insight into what the network will be offering up when it launches on October 15. Namely, foxy young broads!* Almost all of the on-air talent that's plugged on the site are skinny, youthful beauties like Shibani Joshi (a former model in India), Cheryl Casone (a former flight attendant), Jenna Lee (she played Division One softball in college), and Nicole Petillades (she loves slalom waterskiing!).

There are plenty of hunky guys, too, so Fox hasn't forgotten about you businesswomen and homosexuals out there! I know, it's tough to rip Fox for this-- that's just how broadcast journalism works. And there's so much other stuff to ridicule them for...

To talk up Fox Business News, Ailes must talk down its cable competition, CNBC, accusing it of harboring subversive strains of Krugmanism in its chromosomal makeup. Smoke chimneying from his ass like a papal decision, Ailes told Joe Nocera of The New York Times: "They’ve decided recently that America is not such a terrible place and capitalism isn't so bad"—another reaction, he seemed to be saying, to the prospect of some new pro-America competition. "They used to get really excited if a C.E.O. was going to jail and they got depressed if a company announced a profit. They are offended by rich people unless it’s them."

Wow. Those other cable business channels were actually commies all along! And, you know, if you want intelligent and truthful commentary, you want Fox:

But for sheer brazenness, what took the biscuit was a bit of mockery from Ailes over CNBC's weekend schedule: "On Monday, for instance, Bill Carter of The New York Times wrote an article in which Mr. Ailes mocked the infomercials that CNBC runs on weekends (for 'nose tweezers and pimple squeezers,' he said). . .

I'm guessing you see the punchline coming already.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Like I was sayin'...

Yes, and like we've all been saying.

They can't stop the war or override the president's veto on S-CHIP. Harry Reid is less popular in his home state of Nevada than the president is in the country, and, if you listen to the pollsters and the pundits, the Democrats are about to choose one of the most divisive political figures in the Republic’s history to be their 2008 presidential nominee.
Which begs the question: When should Democrats begin to panic?

The answer is "not yet." But the truth is that unless they can re-establish some of their 2006 momentum, Democrats may find themselves going into the next election tagged as the party that couldn't stop Bush when given a chance, or as the party that did not try hard enough.

Democrats should be particularly concerned by the storyline the White House is peddling this week, which claims, in effect, that the president has his “mojo” back and that the Congress is ineffective. After outlining a long list of things he thinks the Congress should be working on, the president on Tuesday declared, "It's little time left in the year, and Congress has little to show for all the time that has gone by."

Worth a look.

When politicians tell the truth!

Regarding the SCHIP veto and razor margin that upheld that veto, one Republican Congressman laments that the demise of the healthcare program could ruin lives. No, not the lives of sick and injured kids, you rube! The lives of Republican Congressmen!

But some Republicans, like Representative Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, who was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee when Mr. Bush ran for election in 2000, were furious with Mr. Bush for putting them in such a difficult spot on children’s health.

“He’s not going to get his way on this,” said Mr. Davis, who voted to override the veto and predicted that Mr. Bush would ultimately be forced to sign a measure similar to the one he rejected.

“And he’s jeopardizing people’s careers,” added Mr. Davis, who is contemplating a race for the Senate.

Does Philip K. Dick dream of electronic surveillance?

It hasn't been a good week for paranoiacs. First was the whole revelation that telecoms had handed over much more private user information to the administration than they'd previously admitted (actually, didn't they just deny it?), and that Congress is going to look the other way as they're given immunity from lawsuits relating to their, uhhh... illegal activity.

Now Comcast has reversed its public statement that it doesn't interfere with customers' private use on the Internet. A quick Internet search will reveal a whole slew of cases where people had their Comcast service cut off with no explanation. When they were told it was from excessive bandwidth usage (indicative of spammers, the company claimed), they naturally asked what the limit was so they could monitor it themselves. And were promptly told "the limit varies." In other words, Comcast reserves the right to A) monitor what you're doing (well, that's fairly reasonable), B) cut you off without notice if they don't like it (hey, every company does that), and C) provide no guidelines or explanation for their actions. Not good.

Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.

If widely applied by other ISPs, the technology Comcast is using would be a crippling blow to the BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella file-sharing networks. While these are mainly known as sources of copyright music, software and movies, BitTorrent in particular is emerging as a legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content.

Anyway, the whole thing is worth reading-- and I'd strongly encourage you to do a Google search for cases of Comcast cutting off people's connections without notice, then refusing to explain why the customers were in violation. Even as they admit that they frequently change what constitutes a violation. And many of those customers were apparently using significantly less bandwidth than they were promised in the first place.

The bottom line is that the already hugely profitable telecoms are perfectly willing to use their market share muscle (a monopoly in some parts of Boston) to keep charging more for providing less.

You'll laugh, you'll cry

I'm not sure if it's just me, or if the media's sensible response to the kooky Graeme Frost smears have given me a false sense of hope. But winger blogs are starting to look a bit less irritating these days, and a little more silly. The right's responses to a given issue are so predictable at this point that they're finally striking me as laughable. Hopefully it isn't just me-- because the day that the Malkins and Dobsons of the nation become walking punchlines is the day that the reactionary stranglehold on our politics will have been loosened, and they will resume their rightful place at the lunatic fringe of society.

Here's another recent example: right before Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the online reactionary community was touting a British court case as definitive, irrefutable proof that the science behind An Inconvenient Truth was a pack of lies. Something seemed fishy right off the bat. After all, judges in the court system don't determine what's science and what isn't (creationism, anyone?). But it gets even sillier. In the rush to pillory Al Gore, no one bothered to mention what the case was all about.

Stewart Dimmock's high-profile fight to ban the film being shown in schools was depicted as a David and Goliath battle, with the Kent school governor taking on the state by arguing that the government was 'brainwashing' pupils. . . .

Dimmock credited the little-known New Party with supporting him in the test case but did not elaborate on its involvement. The obscure Scotland-based party calls itself 'centre right' and campaigns for lower taxes and expanding nuclear power.

Records filed at the Electoral Commission show the New Party has received nearly all of its money - almost £1m between 2004 and 2006 - from Cloburn Quarry Limited, based in Lanarkshire.

The company's owner and chairman of the New Party, Robert Durward, is a long-time critic of environmentalists.

And there you have it: the American right's shocking expose of the global warming conspiracy was based upon the impeccable scientific credentials of a right-wing, UK mining & petroleum magnate.

Now, since I'm already talking about Gore, I'd like to direct your attention to a recent article that pretty much sums up my state of mind. And is very well-written.

One of the consequences is that what actually ought to be gaffes -- statements that reveal something truly problematic about a candidate -- almost always get ignored. For instance, when John McCain said in the same debate, in response to a question about interest rates, "I wish interest rates were zero," one might have thought it would merit some notice. After all, the comment suggests an alarming ignorance of the most elementary economic principles (if interest rates were zero, no bank would lend any money), raising serious doubts about whether a person so uninformed should be in charge of the federal government. Or contrast what Romney got criticized for this week with a what he said back in May: "They want to bring down the West, in particular us. And they're coming together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent."

That someone who might actually be the president of the United States understands so little about the religious and political cleavages within the Muslim world is nothing short of terrifying. Does Mitt Romney actual think that Shia and Sunni are "coming together" to attack us? Does he believe that Hezbolla, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda even have similar goals, let alone are in some kind of alliance? If so, he isn't qualified to make photocopies in the Beirut embassy, let alone chart our nation's strategy to prevent terrorism. Yet that statement caused no flapping of gums on "Hardball," no wagging of fingers from the seasoned reporters like Dan Balz, no prodding from the pundits to get with the program already and act like a serious candidate.

Which brings us back to Al Gore. With the possible exception of Barry Goldwater thirty-six years before, no presidential candidate in the television age has been treated with the kind of naked contempt reporters heaped on Gore during his 2000 run. While they portrayed George W. Bush as an honest and genial fellow who was "comfortable in his own skin" if not the sharpest tool in the shed, Gore was ridiculed as a liar and a phony whose very desire to be president was disqualifying in and of itself.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

SCHIP veto upheld in House


You see, Democrats? This is why you should be fighting. Even thought SCHIP is a loss (for the time being), the GOP get to demonstrate that they're more interested in fanatical right-wingerness than helping Americans. They get to be the guys who are saying-- in the face of massive public opposition, "Sorry, kids, but if you get medical care then the communists will have won."

Mean, stupid, greedy, and possibly insane. Sure, since 2000 they've largely been getting a pass on all of these from Bush and Cheney on down, but isn't it nice to be on the side of justice and equality?

House Democrats on Thursday failed to override President Bush's veto of a children's health insurance bill that opponents said was too expensive.

By a vote of 273 to 156, the measure fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override. Forty-four Republicans voted for the override, and one Democrat cast a ballot against it.

Democrats, sensing earlier that they didn't have the votes, vowed to continue the fight, despite a defeat.

See what you do here, Democrats? You point out that the GOP is more than happy to spend $500 billion to kill Americans in Iraq-- but absolutely refuses to spend one seventh of that to save American lives at home.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein suggests that Pelosi will try to make this the Democrats' version of ANWR drilling. Which does seem smart-- the more times SCHIP is vetoed by Fearless Leader and dies in the House, the better Dems will look. Given the sheer fringiness (seriously, follow that link) of the GOP, that could be the only outcome that's even kinda positive.

Pelosi has pledged to reject anything that doesn't expand coverage to 10 million children, which means she'll bring a bill almost exactly like this one to the floor again and again. Bush can keep vetoing, and the Republicans can hold their line, and S-CHIP could expire, tossing millions of kids off the insurance rolls. Pelosi is betting that won't happen, and that congressional Republicans, already worried about their prospects in 2008, will fold rather quickly.

As Klein notes, we'll see. But either way, it could work to the Dems' favor. The bad news being that kids are the ones taking the fall.

He who never fights and runs away stays in office to not fight another day.

I'm officially at a total loss.

Senate Democrats and Republicans reached agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on the terms of new legislation to control the federal government's domestic surveillance program, which includes a highly controversial grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have assisted the program, according to congressional sources.

Disclosure of the deal followed a decision by House Democratic leaders to pull a competing version of the measure from the floor because they lacked the votes to prevail over Republican opponents and GOP parliamentary maneuvers.

The collapse marked the first time since Democrats took control of the chamber that a major bill was withdrawn from consideration before a scheduled vote. It was a victory for President Bush, whose aides lobbied heavily against the Democrats' bill, and an embarrassment for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had pushed for the measure's passage.

Okay. There have been times when I haven't minded seeing the Dems choose their battles. Like when they decide not to go all-out on a minor issue because something serious is pending. But one reason for that is the bullying and harassment they get from the MSM as well as every talking-head gasbag on TV. Another was that the American public wasn't galvanized in their opposition to the way the GOP had been running the show.

But the Democrats won majorities in both houses because the public wanted them to stop things just like this. And the MSM will continue to portray things in a negative light, and the foam-mouthed loons who still think the Bush years have been a golden age are going to call anyone who defends the Constitution a traitor. But there's a point where-- super-majority or no-- it's time to fight. When the government is systematically depriving citizens of their civil rights, and granting the same authority to corporations, that time has come.

The reason I'm at a loss is that the 'why' of it completely escapes me. A sea urchin could see by now that DLC-style capitulation has been a complete failure. The sea urchin's special needs cousin could see by now that no matter what the Dems do, they're going to be tarred as traitors by the extremists running the GOP circus. A fossilized sea urchin sitting on a dusty storage shelf in the basement of a museum in Utrecht could see by now that rolling over (and over) on every damn issue that comes up means Dems will also be labeled cowards. And it's painfully, shamefully apparent to 75% of the American public that the government actions of the last six years have been completely contrary to everything for which our nation purportedly stands. And that there's a world of difference between being called a cowardly traitor for doing the right thing and being called a cowardly traitor for refusing to take a stand against the subversion of democracy and the honor of a nation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hey! This sandwich is three years old!

I missed my own anniversary again. As of Sunday, the Daily Sandwich turned three. I'll have to at least mention this to some relatives, since I'm notorious for forgetting birthdays and holidays. So at least I'm an equal-opportunity inconsiderate creep.

Since the official sandwich of the Daily Sandwich was determined to be the delicious reuben, I'd suggest enjoying one this week. For you vegetarians, there's a place in Cambridge that also serves a mean portabello reuben. So you might want to try your hand at cooking up a delicious bisporus fungus sandwich in the comfort of your own home.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The day in shamelessness


Get a load of this headline:

Bush Raps Democrats on Spending

While it isn't news, the first sentence appears to be what I hope becomes standard journalistic practice:

President Bush never picked a spending fight when his party ran Congress, but with Democrats now in charge of the budget, he's dug in for a challenge. . .

Overall, Democrats are pressing to spend about $22 billion more on domestic programs than Bush wants. Education, health research and low-income housing grants are among the issues on which Bush and Democratic leaders disagree.

Given the budget's scope, a difference in the range of $20 billion is "trivial in economic terms," said Sidney Weintraub, an expert on trade and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Sure, there's something sick and twisted about the GOP's sudden dedication to spending cuts when it's for things like education and medical care. But what really gets me is what this says about Fearless Leader and his opinion of Republican voters. A) He's insane and actually believes what he's saying, B) he knows it's nonsense but doesn't care as long as people buy it, or C) counts on Republicans to be either rock-stupid or zealots. Whatever the case, 25-30% of Americans are still buying it, and that's sad.

In other news of the shameless, Larry Craig desperately needs to stop publicly embarrassing himself. Seriously.

UPDATE: The spending story could involve more shamelessness than I first thought. The link I included still reads the way it did when I wrote this post. But there's another, newly-edited version of it on the wires now. What's different about it? Well, most of the stuff I quoted is gone. Here's what's left:

Bush never vetoed a spending bill when his party ran Congress, but he's dug in for a challenge now.

And it isn't the opening sentence any more-- it's been demoted to make way for three classic Bush tough-guy quotes.

What's gone from the story?

*Comment that Bush's first spending veto in six years is to stop education, health and housing.
*The only quote that gives the spending any broader economic context.

Yet another US contractor defrauding the nation

Here's an item from last week that slipped past my radar like a nuke past SDI. To think, Friday could've been about two of my most-hated topics: the zillion-dollar pretend missile defense we've "deployed," and American companies' treasonous behavior in Iraq.

A mom-and-pop Texas company that provides security in Afghanistan is accused of overbilling the U.S. government by charging for nonexistent employees and vehicles, an American security official with close ties to the company told The Associated Press.

Houston-based U.S. Protection and Investigations, which does security work for the U.S. State Department arm USAID, is the latest firm to face scrutiny since private guards allegedly killed 17 Iraqi civilians.

The overbilling by USPI could add up to millions of dollars, the American security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in Kabul. . . .

In a 2004 interview with the Houston Chronicle, Barbara Spier said helping the United States meet its goals in Afghanistan was worth the sacrifice of working in such a dangerous country.

"I come back here and all I hear is bad, bad, bad," she told the newspaper. "But over there, the people are wonderful. They don't want us to leave. They are afraid the Taliban will take over again."

The company employs more than 3,600 people in the war-torn country, nearly all of whom are Ministry of Interior supplementary troops, its Web site says. . . .

USPI's hiring practices in Afghanistan have drawn criticism from the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank that works to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

In a 2005 report on disarmament in Afghanistan, the group said a majority of the men on USPI's payroll are associated with private militias and have not gone through formal channels.

Later that year, the firm drew attention again when an Afghan official said an American supervisor for USPI allegedly shot to death his Afghan interpreter and was flown out of the country the next day. USPI officials have declined to comment on the incident.

The American security official said agents from the private security firm Blackwater USA raided USPI's Kabul office last month and seized computers and office files.

Ignoring the general bizarre-ness of this story (what the hell is that final line all about?), we have yet another example of a US firm not only robbing the government during a time of war, but abusing their position in such a way as to incite violent action against American forces. That's traitorous on a a couple of levels, yet nothing has been done at the national level to stop it. And I can't get over that quote from one of the founders: "I come back here and all I hear is bad, bad, bad," she told the newspaper. "But over there, the people are wonderful. They don't want us to leave."

Friday, October 12, 2007

At least it was a nice day for Gore.

SDI, aka missile defense, aka Star Wars, is in the headlines today. I thought it was a great idea back when I was ten years old or so. Now that I'm an adult, I see it for the counterproductive, money-wasting pipe dream that it is. The same can't be said for the nation's leaders, but that's to be expected from people whose credo of governance is "Fail. Double the budget. Repeat."

Top U.S. and Russian officials ended a day of talks here Friday with sharp disagreements over the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, how to deal with Iran and other strategic issues.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are in Russia to resolve some of the differences that have pushed relations between Russia and the United States toward a post-Cold War low.

One of the sharpest disagreements centered on a U.S.-proposed missile-defense network in Central Europe, which is designed mostly to defend against an Iranian attack. The Russians have objected to a plan to place 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar tracking installation in the Czech Republic.

The most striking thing about all of this is that missile defense doesn't work. It's unlikely to work for decades (if then), and its already cost the US more money than the development of any other military technology-- I assume that includes the original Manhattan Project and the stealth bomber, which famously cost more than its weight in gold-- in history. But top-level officials are actually re-igniting Cold War tensions over it.

Also in recent months, Russia has announced successful testing of a multi-warhead ICBM that would foil a missile defense system (if one existed), as well as a conventional explosive more powerful than the bombs dropped over Japan. Which might also fool the imaginary SDI. decoys and countermeasures were already around.

What all of this means is that missile technology has already advanced far beyond the proposed capability of missile defense technology that's already cost more than $100 billion and functions successfully only when test conditions ignore every factor one would see in a real-life situation. In that sense, it's like the spam wars. Spam messages will always have the edge, because it's so cheap and simple to tweak existing methods-- anti-spam efforts are invariably a step behind by the time they introduce a new technology.

Anyway, that's the end of my rant (but don't you doubt for a minute that I could go on and on), but it serves as a nice intro to an article I completely missed last month from Rolling Stone. It's all about the insanity that is SDI. Read the whole thing if you want your weekend to be ruined by another textbook example of the "small-government conservatism" that's led us to expanded government, unfettered spending, endless layers of bureaucratic nonsense, and high-tech innovation that would be super awesome if it actually functioned.

Before Rumsfeld came along, missile defense had been stuck for years in research and development. But in 2002, when Bush issued a presidential order to shift from research to deployment, the rules changed overnight. "When Bush announced plans to deploy hardware, the programs were rushed out of R&D, ready or not," says Joseph Cirincione, a national-security expert at the Center for American Progress. "They devoted themselves to deployments instead of making it work."

To justify the deployment of untested technologies, officials at the Missile Defense Agency changed the fundamental epistemology of weapons procurement. In bureaucratic-speak, they ceased following a "knowledge-based" system and relied instead upon what they called a "capability-based" standard. In simple terms, it's the difference between knowing that something works because you've tested it, and believing that something works because all the parts, when put together, should be capable of working. It's the difference between test-driving a car before mass-producing it, and building one from a schematic but deciding not to turn the key for the first time until there's an emergency. It's the difference between the old carpenter's advice of "measure twice, cut once," and the new, Rumsfeldian directive: "Cut already."

In the old knowledge-based days, procurement was based more or less on common sense: Contractors developed a weapons system that showed promise, gradually trying it out in more and more realistic situations. Once progress warranted it, the Pentagon took over and performed "realistic operational testing" under conditions that simulated battle -- rain, heat, sandstorms. But now, under Rumsfeld's "capability-based" standard, entire weapons systems can be built without bothering to see if they will work in the real world.

Today's lesson in small-government conservatism has been brought to you by Joseph Heller.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Something Good


Here's something we don't see every day, but should. And it could be convincingly argued that the lack of journalism of this sort was the catalyst behind progressive blogs. The author ditches the equation he said + she said = objectivity and lays out some cold, hard facts.

That was just the beginning of what turned into a Category 5 hurricane on the blogosphere. Typical of the tone was what Mark Steyn wrote on National Review Online: "Bad things happen to good people, and they cause financial problems and tough choices. But, if this is the face of the 'needy' in America, then no one is not needy." Nameless commenters to conservative blogs were even harsher. "Let 'em twist in the wind and be eaten by ravens," wrote one one on, who was quoted in the Baltimore Sun. "Then maybe the bunch of socialist patsies will think twice."

It turns out, however, that not everything about the Frosts' life pops up on a Google search. While Graeme does attend a private school, he does so on scholarship. Halsey Frost is a self-employed woodworker; he and his wife say they earn between $45,000 and $50,000 a year to provide for their family of six. Their 1936 rowhouse was purchased in 1990 for $55,000. It was vacant and in a run-down neighborhood that has improved since then, in part because of people like themselves who took a chance. It is now assessed at $263,140, though under state law the value of that asset is not taken into account in determining their eligibility for SCHIP. And while they are still uninsured, they claim it is most certainly not by choice. Bonnie Frost says the last time she priced health coverage, she learned it would cost them $1,200 a month.

In short, just as the radio spot claimed, the Frosts are precisely the kind of people that the SCHIP program was intended to help.

Nicely done, and highly recommended. Although we really shouldn't find ourselves immensely grateful to journalists and magazines like Time for simply sharing the facts.

The Carpetbagger adds another insightful bit of info on a high-profile conservative who eagerly jumped into the fray:

As for one of the leading members of the right-wing mob, Michelle Malkin whined the other day that too few of us on the left fail to recognize a “good-faith argument.”

When Ezra Klein offered a debate on SCHIP, Malkin responded in good faith:

"'Debate' Ezra Klein? What a perverse distraction and a laughable waste of time that would be. And that’s what they really want, isn’t it? To distract and waste time so they can foist their agenda on the country unimpeded."

Man, talk about the Bush era axiom 'If they accuse you of it, they're doing it themselves.' Social security privatization, any one? And to demonstrate that her argument has nothing to do with SCHIP and everything to do with hypocritical demagoguery, here's the punchline. Malkin's own words from 2004:

After my husband quit his job earlier this year (to become a full-time stay-at-home dad), we had a choice. We could either buy health insurance from his former employer through a program called COBRA at a cost of more than $1,000 per month(!) or we could go it alone in Maryland’s individual market. Given our financial circumstances, that “choice” wasn’t much of a choice at all. We had to go on our own.

We discovered that the most generous plans in Maryland’s individual market cost $700 per month yet provide no more than $1,500 per year of prescription drug coverage–a drop in the bucket if someone in our family were to be diagnosed with a serious illness.

With health insurance choices like that, no wonder so many people opt to go uninsured.

Contortionist Michelle Malkin, ladies and gentlemen. She'll no doubt be baffling audiences and duping the gullible for years to come. Thank you, and don't forget to not tip your server-- that leads to Bolshevism.

UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn has a long, long piece up at TNR on the same thing. And it's the place to go for all the details on SCHIP you could want. Nice rhetorical flourish at the end, too, if a bit soft on all the reactionary shitheads out there:

[I]t's not just the most destitute Americans who need assistance getting health insurance. It's people who have jobs, make a decent living, and own their homes. And when medical crisis hits, they're forced to take drastic steps--like selling their homes, depleting life savings, declaring bankruptcy, or simply going without the care they and their loved ones need. Unless, of course, the government provides them with insurance at affordable rates.

Maybe that's why polls show large majorities of Americans supporting S-CHIP expansion and, increasingly, the creation of a universal health care system guaranteeing coverage as a birthright.

And maybe that is why the right is getting so desperate. They know they are defending a hopelessly dysfunctional system--a system in which even the middle class can struggle.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"By which I mean, of course, we're all dangerously inept and must be stopped."

So I was a little slow on the draw reporting on the White House's leaking of the Osama bin Laden tape. Here's a quick rundown for anyone who missed it:

U.S. intelligence officials will investigate allegations that the government improperly leaked a secretly obtained Osama bin Laden video, alerting al-Qaeda to a security gap in the terrorist group's internal communications network that it was able to shut, an intelligence spokesman said yesterday. (. . .)

Soon afterward, the video was downloaded by dozens of computers registered to government agencies. Within hours, SITE's copy of the video was leaked to television news networks and broadcast worldwide.

I should add that "administration to be investigated for damaging terrorist surveillance program" strikes me as a story that should rate higher than A-13 in the Post, but that's the press for you.

Dan Froomkin adds a detail that was apparently seen as mere coincidence by story's editors, and therefore omitted from the already-buried story:

[J]ust five hours after a private intelligence company sent confidential links to the video to White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding and the No. 2 official at the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, the video showed up on the Fox News Web site.

Yeah, probably just a coincidence. It's not like the White House Spokesmonkey is a Fox News flunky or anything. Not since Dana Perino stepped into the position full time, that is. So what does she have to say?

First [Perino] said the administration got the video and "immediately turned it over to the National Center for Counterterrorism." Then she changed her story at least twice, suggesting SITE gave the video directly to the NCC, and wound up promising to get back to reporters. "I don't know who else they might have called with it in our government. Possibly the [director of national intelligence] counsel's office, but I'm not positive," she told reporters. "I can check." She described the leak scandal as merely a "process problem." On MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" Tuesday night, Dana Milbank compared Perino to former press secretary Scott McClellan: "You could play certain tapes of Scott McClellan using the same words to exonerate Karl Rove or Scooter Libby."

BONUS FACT! "[L]egislation sponsored by Senators Jon Kyl and Joe Lieberman declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization" on September 26. Editorial comment: Joe Lieberman is batshit crazy and doing everything he can to open a third front in the war that's already failing on two.

The Yech Files

Among the many things that mystify me about the reactionaries in charge of the GOP these days are the battles they choose to fight. Global warming denial is a good example. Unless you're on the payroll of an oil company, what stake do you have in claiming that 98% of the world's scientists can and are wrong about it? Another is the viciousness of the opposition to the SCHIP program the preznit vetoed and any form of universal health care. The idea that giving kids their booster shots will herald the age of Marxism in America is every bit as silly as claims that introducing flouride into drinking water would the age of Marxism in America. "Sure, it may cheaply prevent a million or so cavities, but what good are teeth in a gulag, Mr. Stalin?!?" These days, anyone who suggested that we ditch that plan in the name of freedom would rightly be considered a raving lunatic. And a stupid one at that.

But here's something equally mystifying about these folks: kinky sex. Peccadilloes are one thing. Amusing fetishes are kinda funny. But then there's over-the-top, flipped-out stuff that hurts others. Like the rash of conservative pedophiles the last few years have witnessed, or the horrors of the BTK killer. Or the closet cases who wreck their families because they can't own up to their actions. Or that other category: freaky ministers.

Aldridge, 51, was found dead inside his home about 10 a.m. June 24. He had served as pastor of Thorington Road Baptist Church since 1991.

Forensic results indicate Aldridge was alone at the time of his death, the police release states. A report by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences states the final pathological diagnoses for Aldridge’s death as “accidental mechanical asphyxia,” according to the release.

Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks had sealed the Aldridge case after an initial autopsy conducted by Dr. Stephen Boudreaux, a medical examiner, was sent to Forensic Sciences on July 13. Boudreaux’s report stated Aldridge died of asphyxiation and there were no injuries to his body.

That's the family-friendly account. You can follow the link for the salacious details, you perverts.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More deja vu with Fred Thompson

Lord help us, it's 2000 all over again. Again.

The biggest story out of today's Wall Street Journal/CNBC/MSNBC sponsored Republican forum, which airs at 4 pm on CNBC and focuses primarily on economic issues, is the debate debut of former Sen. Fred Thompson. Thompson has been widely criticized for being unprepared to handle questions on the campaign trail – he appeared unaware there was oil drilling in the Florida Everglades and refused to share an opinion on the Terri Schiavo case, stating that he doesn't "remember the details of it." . . .

It appears to be a classic chance for beating low expectations. The bar for judging his performance is as low as he’ll find from here on out. Even a marginally competent job in discussing the broad parameters of his economic policy this afternoon should result in some good pundit reviews for the newest candidate in the race.

Yes, I still remember those innocent days when Bush thought "the Taliban" was a rock group.

That's how they choose their nominees in these here parts...

I've always been a little annoyed by the insistence that America is all about anti-intellectualism. Which isn't to say that the whole argument is nonsense, but you know-- it makes sense that Europeans would traditionally be much more aware of current events in neighboring countries than we would. Then there's our cultural dominance of the last century or so. Sure, I think it would be great if the culture as a whole put more of a premium on smartiness. But it isn't all that bad.

Then there's the GOP. If you remember the fawning endorsements he was getting from American conservatives as a whole back in '99, you also remember why some of us have had such a hard time with the whole business. His only "asset" had absolutely nothing to do with job competency (and, of course, he's never handled a job competently). In fact, goofy affability is something we usually associate with teenage stoners, not successful leaders. But that was what Reagan had lots of, along with his actor's delivery of lines. And in the later years of his presidency, there was open speculation that he was senile. Bush's main asset was supposed to be goofy affability-- or in the words of pundits and what passes for journalists these days, "folksy charm"-- and he's managed to out-fiasco Reagan on every front.

In spite of all this evidence that folksy charm doesn't automatically make you Ben Franklin, it's already underway again with pretend veteran, pretend 'common man,' and consummate bullshitter best known for having everything in life handed to him.

Fred Thompson has made much of his role 30 years ago as a young Senate lawyer helping to lead the investigation of the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon.

But a much different, less valiant picture of Thompson emerges from listening to the White House audiotapes made at the time, as President Nixon plotted strategy with his aides in the Oval Office.

Thompson's job on the Watergate committee was to lead the Republican side of the investigation. He was appointed by his mentor, Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee, who is now co-chair of Thompson's 2008 presidential bid. . . .

In this May 1973 recording, he shared his concern with then-chief of staff Alexander Haig.

"He's talking to Fred Thompson. I said you're not --," Haig begins.

"Oh sh--, he's dumb as hell. Fred Thompson," Nixon interjects. "Who is he? He won't say anything."

In another conversation some weeks later, Nixon and his advisers were still describing Thompson as not very smart but at least beginning to play ball.

"Our approach is now, we've got a pretty good rapport with Fred Thompson. He came through fine for us this morning," White House counsel Fred Buzhardt says on a tape from June 6.

"He isn't very smart, is he?" Nixon asks.

"Not extremely so, but --," Buzhardt says, interrupted by the president.

"But he's friendly," Nixon says.

"But he's, he's friendly," Buzhardt echoes.


And I suspect that's the GOP pundit class is all about with this crop of idiots-- in true Machiavellian style, just looking out for the next useful idiot.

Are you there Democrats? It's me, Matt Sandwich.

When the Democrats won in November in what pundits were calling an "electoral tidal wave," (as far as that goes when incumbents win 90% of elections) I didn't expect much to change. Small majorities in both houses still gave the GOP plenty of opportunities to work their voodoo through procedural shenanigans and simple demagoguery. Best possible outcome? The Dems could prevent the neo-fascists from enacting their most sweeping, immoral and harmful legislation until the current administration left office in shame. Well, our shame as a nation-- not so much theirs.

That's what I hoped would happen. But at least I know why my 6-figure consulting fee hasn't come through yet.

The New York Times reports that Democrats in Congress seem ready to make permanent some of the surveillance powers they said they were granting the administration on a temporary basis this summer.

"As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats," the Times says. "Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence."

Memo to Democrats: You'd still be called "soft on terrorism" if you took it upon yourself to suit up in camouflage, fly to Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden with your bare hands.

Democrats? Has it occurred to you that the reason your approval ratings are sinking to Republican levels is that you're doing the same things that took them there in the first place? You know, just a thought.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Warning: Reality Crossing

Although I never really come right out and say it, it's probably pretty obvious. I'm incredibly frustrated at how few conservatives I know have anything bad to say about their own political party. Even now, after the complete failure that's resulted from six years of their policies. So I'm always thrilled to see statements from people who'll just own up to reality. As one of the commenters on the post refers to it, I guess you could call it "conversion porn." Still, it made my day. A must-read.

The author starts by taking down the loathsome David Brooks for his recent argument that if a Republican appears to have screwed up, then it can't actually be a Republican (you know, not a "real conservative"). That probably wouldn't pass muster in a high school debate, but there it is in the New York Times. Not to mention that we didn't hear a peep from Brooks' ilk until everything went bad.

Next is an excerpt from an article that demonstrates the real danger the current GOP poses to the nation:

Yesterday, in response to a question from a reporter suspicious of why he wasn’t wearing an American flag pin on his lapel, Barack Obama explained his belief that for some, the pins became a substitute for “true patriotism.” The senator said he would instead “try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”

I didn’t expect leading conservative voices to understand, but I was a little surprised at th ferocity of the response. Jonah Goldberg described Obama’s perspective as “staggeringly stupid,” and “the single dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of him doing.”

I'll skip commenting on the obvious stupidity of that response. And from the post itself:

For starters, people got tired of being associated with these drooling retards. Then, when they realized that these drooling retards had ideological allies running the show in the Bush administration and then began to experience their idiotic policies, they moved from disgusted to outright hostile.

Like me. It had nothing to do with Burke, and everything to do with what the party had become. A bunch of bedwetting, loudmouth, corrupt, hypocritical, and incompetent boobs with a mean streak a mile long and no sense of fair play or proportion.

Seriously- what does the current Republican party stand for? Permanent war, fear, the nanny state, big spending, torture, execution on demand, complete paranoia regarding the media, control over your body, denial of evolution and outright rejection of science[.]

Like I said, a must-read.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Fundraising, hyperbole, and Orwell '08

Romney's campaign couldn't be happier with the $18 they've managed to raise in the third quarter, as their site proudly proclaims:

FAST FACTS About Romney For President's Over $18 Million Third Quarter Total:

- Amount Expected To Report In Primary Contributions In The Third Quarter: $10 Million
- In The Third Quarter, Governor Romney Loaned $8.5 Million To Romney For President.
- Total Amount Raised In Primary Contributions For The Year: Approximately $45 Million
- Total Amount Of Revenue For The Year: $62 Million
- Cash On Hand: $9 Million
- Total Number Of Donors So Far This Year: More Than 100,000 (23,000 New Donors In The Third Quarter)
- Contributions Received From All 50 States And Washington, D.C.
- NO General Election Money Collected (General Funds Cannot Be Spent During The Primary Election)

Huh. So, it was actually $10 million in contributions for the quarter. And third-quarter "loans" from the candidate himself account were $8 million-- more than 10% of his total 2007 revenue. In the the second quarter, Mitt loaned himself $6.5 million. That's 20% of the total. In the first quarter, Mitt only hit Mitt up for $2.35 million. Final tally? More than 27% of the campaign's cash is coming from Romney himself. And he's loaned his own campaign more than the combined net worth of most second-tier candidates. Maybe that's common practice (for those who have the dough, anyway), but his increasing Mitt-to-Mitt loans and dipping contributions are noteworthy.

McCain continues to embarrass himself. Man, how different his political legacy would've been if he'd called it quits six years ago. In spite of his recent and extraordinarily shameless pandering to the Christianists, his third-quarter revenue was $6. Which is a serious decline. Maybe McCain's fans are trying to save him from himself.

Giuliani's campaign reports third-quarter revenue of $11 million. His campaign site is a bit less forthright about how that breaks down, but if he's loaning his own campaign money, it can't be more than half a million. So he's raising about the same amount as Romney.

Thompson wasn't mentioned in the piece, and I'm afraid to see how that particular fraud is doing.

It took a while, but here it is. Maybe.

At last, some good news. I'm especially pleased because I've been grousing about this for years. Literally.

The House passed a bill on Wednesday that would make all private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. It was the first major legislation of its kind to pass since a deadly shootout last month involving Blackwater employees.

Democrats called the 389-30 vote an indictment in connection with a shooting incident there that left 11 Iraqis dead. Senate Democratic leaders said they planned to follow suit with similar legislation and send a bill to President Bush as soon as possible.

The article describes the move strictly in terms of Blackwater and other military ops, but hopefully this will open the door to prosecuting the corporations that have been awarded massive contracts in exchange for shortchanging our military personnel and failing to complete infrastructure projects. Which, as I've noted many times before, means more Iraqis without electricity or water. Which means more pissed off Iraqis. Which means more anti-Americanism. Which means more dead troops.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming support for the bill among House Republicans makes me wonder why they'd suddenly show an interest in putting a stop to war profiteering. A possible clue:

The White House and congressional Republicans said they support the intent of the bill, but thought it was drafted poorly and could have unintended consequences.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the White House said the bill would have "unintended and intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations." The statement did not explain further or give examples on how the bill would affect national security. (. . .)

Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., accused Democrats of rushing the bill through Congress in a partisan bid to criticize the Bush administration's handling of the war.

My guess is that-- like the SCHIP vote-- they're confident of either a veto, a stalemate in the senate, or a presidential signing statement that would completely de-fang the bill.

Mistakes were made, but fingers were crossed.

If anyone wonders about the fragility of American democracy, here's a story that should convince them (thought at this point, I can't imagine what it would take).

When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

While I'm sure few need to be reminded of the administration's record of bringing terrorists to justice-- as opposed to just locking up non-terrorists and abusing them for a few years, or creating terrorists policies like this-- I'm genuinely baffled at the fact that one in three or four Americans still thinks that the GOP has been doing a splendid job over the last six years.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lessons unlearned

"DLC" isn't something you hear much these days. That could be because its most high-profile banner carrier, Joe Lieberman, has hopped a train to Cuckooville. And that efforts to adopt their "we must move to the right" mantra has contributed to years of Democratic capitulation in the face of the most extremist and incompetent administration in pretty much forever.

But it's looking like the inertia of those delightful days still has the Dems wrapped in its coils. They've taken issues with tremendous public support-- like reining in the disastrous Iraq war, or protecting the FISA laws-- and managed to do nothing, and sometimes even give the admin everything they want.

It's this simple: when the GOP attacks you unjustly, you can either sit there and take it or stand up for yourselves. But no matter which one you choose, the result will be another unjust attack.

Exhibit 27,243: The recent MoveOn/Limbaugh nonsense. How many Democratic senators voted to wag their fingers at MoveOn? 22. How many Republicans went along with Harry Reid's proposal to wag a finger at Rush Limbaugh for slandering decorated vets? Zero.

Here's my assessment: The Republican party will continue to portray every last Democrat as a left-wing crackpot anyway. But on top of that, they'll point out that chickenshit Democrats can't even hang on to their milkmoney. So Democrats? Stop it.

But I'm just an angry, irrational, leftist blogger. It's not like I have Beltway insight, years of experience, or a prominent position at an eminent think tank. Let's see what a highly-paid professional who does this sort of thing for a living has to say:

Explains NRCC spokesman Ken Spain: "Not only has the MoveOn debacle confirmed the American public's suspicion that Democrats ... remain beholden to the far-left fringe of their party's base, but it also speaks to the more current problem that Democrats face, which is their inability to act decisively on any measure."

Please contact me at the e-mail address on this site for information on where to send my six-figure consulting fee. I've got big plans for it-- things like a movie ticket, or even a professional haircut.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An Object Lesson, Part II

All right, so the GOP is headed up by small-government proponents who expand the government and make it less efficient, and free-market proponents who manipulate markets and make them less efficient. At least they're still about honor, integrity and honest political debate (emphasis mine-- take note for the punchline):

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well if - but then if she has the best chance of getting the nomination, you're not running now, but how do you recommend that the Republican nominee takes on Senator Clinton?

GINGRICH: I think it's very simple. The left is fundamentally wrong from the standpoint of most Americans on issue after issue. Let me give you an example. A substantial plurality of Americans would abolish the capital gains tax. The Democrats would raise it. The substantial majority of Americans, like 70%, would actually provide a tax break for corporations that kept their corporate headquarters in the US the Democrats couldn't think of something like this. You go down a list of these things. Yeah, 91% of the American people want to keep the Pledge of Allegiance saying "one nation under God" and are actually very deeply offended by the current court system's attitudes. And so you go through all these things. If a Republican candidate slows the election down, does what Reagan did to Carter in '80, slows the election down, finds the three to five things - English is the official language of governments in 85% issue. Senator Clinton is opposed to it. I mean, don't get into this, you know, 2004 swift boat veterans -

STEPHANOPOULOS: So not a personal case, an ideological case?

GINGRICH: I think trying to beat Senator Clinton personally is just insane. Everybody in America who's ever going to vote against Senator Clinton knows everything that anyone's going to tell them. And everybody in America who's going to vote for her knows everything you can possibly tell them.

Sure, I could be way off base here, but here's my interpretation of the above exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thoughts on GOP strategy if Clinton is the nominee?

GINGRICH: Cut taxes for the rich. Shift the cost to the working class. Fabricate moral issues to divide the public. Encourage racial tension.

STEPHANOPOLOUS: So, not a personal smear campaign, but cheap demagoguery?

GINGRICH: After fifteen years, the smear campaign hasn't destroyed the Clinton family. It's time to focus on the other cheap shots at our disposal.

As author Paul Waldman observes, Gingrich is even disingenuous when describing how the Republican nominee should be disingenuous (that bold text I mentioned):

Not, as John Kerry proposed four years ago, penalizing corporations that move overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, but taking tax money from ordinary people and giving it to corporations who don't move overseas, as a kind of blackmail payoff.

Yep. Still Bizarroworld.

An Object Lesson

After pointing out the story on today's "small government conservatives" both expanding government and doing so ineptly, this seemed like a suitable follow-up. A classic example of how today's "free-market conservatives" would-- in a truly competitive market-- be putting their business acumen to use squeegeeing windshields for change instead of making important decisions.

My reference in last Friday’s column, “Hired Gun Fetish,” apparently puzzled many people. My bad – I forgot that not everyone follows Bush-era privatization stories as obsessively as I do.

Anyway, it was a reference to a David Cay Johnston story from last year, “I.R.S. Enlists Help in Collecting Delinquent Taxes,” on how the IRS is turning to private collection agencies to collect taxes, even though they will keep more than 20 percent of the proceeds (compared with 3 percent overhead costs if the work was done by the I.R.S.). It’s both a stark example of privatization gone mad, and a throwback to the days of the Ancien Regime.

'Hired Gun Fetish' is also a smart description of all the Blackwater stuff that's going down this week. I really should start talking about that, although the writing was on the wall years ago. "Wanted: Mercenaries. Stellar pay, no rules/oversight, free guns. Apply to GOP." That would be the same GOP spending $400,000+ a year for each mercenary while sending actual troops into the field under-equipped, and bringing them home to inadequate health care. Wow! Brilliant businessmen and patriots!

Slapstick that Kills

I actually looked at this article because I've done some work researching pandemics in the not-too-distant past.

U.S. labs mishandling deadly germs

American laboratories handling the world's deadliest germs and toxins have experienced more than 100 accidents and missing shipments since 2003, and the number is increasing steadily as more labs across the country are approved to do the work. . . .

The number of accidents has risen steadily. Through August, the most recent period covered in the reports obtained by the AP, labs reported 36 accidents and lost shipments during 2007 — nearly double the number reported during all of 2004.

My interest in the story is over the debate on the benefits of collaborative research vs. the risks of shipping incredibly dangerous stuff across the country and around the world. But a paragraph further down really made me wonder:

Research labs have worked for years to find cures and treatments for diseases. However, the expansion of the lab network has been dramatic since President Bush announced an upgrade of the nation's bio-warfare defense program five years ago. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funds much of the lab research and construction, was spending spent about $41 million on bio-defense labs in 2001. By last year, the spending had risen to $1.6 billion.

Two things: 1) isn't this sadly typical? And 2) why have I not heard anything about this before?

1. In about the zillionth example of the failure of modern conservatism, we once again see "small government" defined as bigger government with increased regulations. In this case, a dramatic expansion of a government program without a concomitant increase in things like safety and oversight. And it doesn't take a CEO to realize that when you ask for more and more output from the same resources, things begin to go wrong. Like Lucy and Viv in the chocolate factory, but with anthrax.

2. For an administration and GOP that defines nuclear safety as spending billions on pointless next-gen nuclear weapons, what does "bio-warfare defense" mean, exactly? It could just mean researching antidotes for existing toxins. But that isn't the neo-con way. No, I suspect it's closer to "let's create the deadliest agent the world has ever seen and make sure only we have the cure." Distressingly plausible from this bunch, but whatever the case, there's the same prosaic explanation:

Accidents aren't the only concern. While medical experts consider it unlikely that a lab employee will become sick and infect others, these labs have strict rules to prevent anyone from stealing organisms or toxins and using them for bioterrorism.

The reports were so sensitive the Bush administration refused to release them under the Freedom of Information Act, citing an anti-bioterrorism law aimed at preventing terrorists from locating stockpiles of poisons and learning who handles them.

Which makes sense to a point, but not when the result is to increase danger to the public by covering up more unfunny screw-ups from the Jerry Lewis of presidents.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Make Mine Martyrdom!

In my continuing struggle to understand the various and sundry contradictions with which today's Republicans live quite comfortably-- by all appearances at least-- it's time to take a look at some brand new examples.

Tim Grieve observes Clarence Thomas' thoughtful public record of equating himself with black martyrs of American fiction, saying of his confirmation hearings that they thrust him "back into Bigger Thomas' world, a dark, cramped hell devoid of hope." Wow. In another flash of literary smartitude, Thomas notes that "in the Deep South you didn't need a strong case to send a black man to the gallows, and it is already clear that Tom will be convicted when Atticus goes before the jury to make his closing argument." His philosophical musings on America's history of racial discord must be why he believes that "[i]f a deprivation of liberty can be justified by the need to protect a town, the protection of the Nation, a fortiori, justifies it." And why, as Grieve writes, Thomas "was one of just three justices [in 2006' House v Bell] who said that a death row inmate should not be allowed to proceed with federal habeas corpus proceedings despite DNA evidence that called his guilt into serious question."

But that could be nothing more than basic arrogance and egotism. You know, "I didn't make it because of patronage, coincidence, or external factors-- mine is a stirring tale of incredible adversity overcome through exceptional courage and skill." This line seems especially appealing to those who got where they are through patronage, chance, or external factors.

Also in Salon, Glenn Greenwald looks at the right's extraordinary capacity to cry bloody murder-- no, "cry bloody martyr" would probably be more apt-- when it comes to dreaded and sadly overused comparisons to Hitler and the Nazi regime. The MoveOn story of 2004 is a classic example, in which the group didn't call Republicans Nazis, and didn't let contestants in a video contest do it, either. But were pilloried for doing quite the opposite by opportunistic wingers. Now, claiming victimhood at the hands of shameless people who toss around such epithets with reckless abandon, sensitive wingers are naturally doing everything they can to.... uhmmm, toss around such epithets with reckless abandon.

On his talk radio show last night, Mark Levin labelled MoveOn and Media Matters as "brownshirts." Michelle Malkin this morning excitedly touted Levin's attack, cheering the "no-holds-barred Mark Levin" for labelling both groups as the "brownshirts of the Clinton crime family."

So that could just be opportunism. And with nimrods like Malkin, Limbaugh, Coulter and O'Reilly still immensely popular on the right, would-be conservative intellectuals can simply shake their heads at the coarsening of our political discourse and lament that "entertainers" of this sort aren't a little more careful with their "humor." The final result? References to the Holocaust become just another bit of political static, lose their ability to horrify, and put us that much closer to repeating history. But at least you score some political points, right?

There are other examples, but this is starting to wear me out. And I still don't feel any closer to an insight on the whole winger hypocrisy thing. I know, I know, when will I learn?

The Court Jester

Ahhh, the New Republic. They disappoint me so much these days, but it's hard to let go. A couple of recent posts there remind me why.

First, this account of the dangerous politicization of the Supreme Court in the age of ideological purists. But as a myriad other inconsistencies plague today's GOP, Chief Justice Roberts has called for a new age of unity while presiding over the most ideologically-driven court in decades. Except when the GOP could suffer as a result.

The numbers are stark. In Roberts' first term, according to the Harvard Law Review, the justices disposed of 36 of their 81 cases unanimously and divided 5-to-4 in only nine of them. That 44 percent rate of unanimity--defined as a single opinion with no concurrences or dissents--was the highest in the nearly four decades that the law review has published this particular statistic. What's more, not since the 1987 term had the court split 5-to-4 in a smaller percentage of cases. These data somewhat overstate the love that broke out that year. Because Justice Samuel Alito did not arrive until midway through the term, the justices split 5-to-3 in a few cases that probably would have garnered 5-to-4 splits had the court been fully staffed. And it is marginally easier to reach unanimity with only eight justices than it is with nine. Still, with a new chief and a pending nomination, the court that year put on a display of unity unprecedented in its recent history.

Last term, with the heat of the nomination process turned off, was an entirely different story. The justices managed unanimity (according to the Harvard Law Review's definition) in only 13 of their 73 decisions, a mere eighteen percent. In 23 cases -- or 32 percent of the caseload -- they split 5-to-4. You have to go back to 1980 to find a year in which the court decided a lesser percentage of its cases unanimously, and and not since the Harvard Law Review began tracking 5-4 decisions in 1981 has the rate of such splits exceeded last term's. The court, in other words, lurched from a moment of unusual unity to a particularly dramatic polarization.

That's pretty much been the MO of the Republican party for the last decade: extremism when no one is looking, and ersatz bipartisanship when the public starts catching on. What's annoying is the way the magazine presents it more as a lamentable aspect of politics today rather than the inevitable result of politics by dirty trickery.

Which brings me to article 2, the week's editorial.

In his rush to improve his legacy, Bush seems eager to avoid joining Monroe as the two-term president with the least used veto pen. How else to explain his threat to veto nine of the twelve spending bills just passed by the House and currently under consideration by the Senate?

Bush has sent seven budgets to Capitol Hill. The six times those budgets were received by a Republican- controlled Congress, legislators occasionally sent back spending bills that slightly exceeded his requests. Until now, this was never considered a grave threat to the fiscal health of the Republic--certainly not serious enough to merit a presidential veto. The current bills are no worse. They envision spending a total of $22 billion more than Bush asked for. This amounts to less than 1 percent of the federal budget and is dwarfed by the more than $100 billion per year spent on the war in Iraq.

Now, this is exactly the sort of thing that motivated me (and many others) to start blogging. We were fed up with a party who found it so easy to use rank hypocrisy as a political tool and a press that refused to acknowledge that fact in the name of being "objective," although it was anything but. TNR, of course, fanned the flames by heaping scorn on angry, fascistic bloggers for doing this while uncritically doing foolish things like pushing for war with Iraq. So, while this is a worthwhile piece, it's along the lines of "I coulda told you that six years ago and I don't even get paid for this."