Monday, July 31, 2006


The NY Times has been on a roll recently, tearing into the Emperor's regime with a vengeance. Today, the editorial page took on a different target, the House of Representatives.

The two bills passed by the House last Friday and Saturday reflect a single Republican electoral strategy. Representatives want to appear to have accomplished something when they face voters during their five-week summer break, which starts today, and at the same time keep campaign donations flowing from special-interest constituents who are well aware that a great deal was left to do.

One of the bills was a pension reform measure. The other was a grab bag that contains three main items: an extension of the expired tax credit for corporate research; a $2.10 an hour increase in the minimum wage, to be phased in over three years; and a multibillion-dollar estate-tax cut. That’s the deal House Republicans are really offering — a few more dollars for 6.6 million working Americans; billions more for some 8,000 of the wealthiest families.

...This is an attempt at extortion. There is no way to justify providing yet another enormous tax shelter to the nation’s wealthiest heirs in the face of huge budget deficits, growing income inequality and looming government obligations for Social Security and Medicare.

...The Senate has one week before its summer recess. As the senators struggle to produce decent legislation from the House’s sham bills, Americans will see the truth: their representatives in the House went on vacation without doing their job.
[Emphasis added]

I think the Times editorialist is being a bit optimistic if it is counting on the GOP controlled Senate to roll back the egregious bill misnomered the "minimum wage bill." Only a third of the Senate is up for re-election, and only a few incumbent Republicans are facing stiff competition in their races. While the Senate has voted down the inheritance tax bills it has considered to date, most Republicans like the idea of cutting taxes for the wealthy.

Still, if enough constituents scream about this egregious give-away, and the press keeps it in the public eye, it is possible that the Senate will let the measure die or at least will propose a bill of its own that raises the minimum wage, and another which deals with pension reform in a sensible way. Once again, it's up to the voters this year.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sunday Poetry: Marge Piercy

Another vicious week in the books. Take heart. Here's Marge Piercy's suggestion.

The Low Road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction.
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

(From "The Moon Is Always Female")

Three Card Monte

Those billions of dollars we're pouring into Iraq's reconstruction ("you break it, you own it") don't seem to be accomplishing much in terms of reconstructing Iraq. What is stunning in this breakdown is that the federal government seems to be complicit in the problem. From the NY Times:

The State Department agency in charge of $1.4 billion in reconstruction money in Iraq used an accounting shell game to hide ballooning cost overruns on its projects there and knowingly withheld information on schedule delays from Congress, a federal audit released late Friday has found.

The agency hid construction overruns by listing them as overhead or administrative costs, according to the audit, written by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office that reports to Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department.

...In another case cited in the report, a power station project in Musayyib, the direct construction cost cited by the development agency was $6.6 million, while the overhead cost was $27.6 million.

One result is that the project’s overhead, a figure that normally runs to a maximum of 30 percent, was a stunning 418 percent.

The figures were even adjusted in the opposite direction when that helped the agency balance its books, the inspector general found. On an electricity project at the Baghdad South power station, direct construction costs were reported by the agency as $164.3 million and indirect or overhead costs as $1.4 million.

That is just 0.8 percent overhead in a country where security costs are often staggering. A contracting officer told the inspector general that the agency adjusted the figures “to stay within the authorization for each project.”

I suppose it should come as no surprise that this administration is borrowing the creative accounting techniques of such business luminaries as Enron, but still...

In the mean time, children's hospitals are not being built, power generating plants are still not up to providing more than a few hours of electricity per day, and Iraq's economic base, oil, is still not back to pre-invasion levels.

Heckuva job, George.

How Nixonian

I find it reassuring that others have noticed the parallels between the Nixon administration and the current regime. The first time I mentioned the connections I had made, my listener laughed heartily and suggested that my tin foil hat was obviously too tight: it was impeding the blood flow to my brain. Now, however, people outside of the lefty blogosphere have begun to talk about the chilling similarity. I found an example of this phenomenon a couple of days ago in an op-ed piece by Rhonda Chriss Lokeman of the Kansas City Star published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

That President Bush knowingly imitates Nixon is bad enough. That Congress lets him is unconscionable. Defending America is more important than defending the presidency. Lawmakers must exercise constitutional authority and investigate and punish for any unlawful acts or high crimes and misdemeanors.

First there was the weapons-of-mass-destruction hoax that has led to the deaths of more than 2,500 troops in Iraq. Then there was the vengeful outing of a CIA agent, the wife of a vocal critic. Now the White House willfully obstructs justice.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told lawmakers that Bush personally impeded the inquiry into the president's authorization allowing the National Security Agency to intercept Americans' international calls and e-mails.

The secretive Bushvolk say they are protecting America from suspected enemies of America, such as terrorists. But what's to say that, like Nixon, they aren't also spying on individuals who personally offend them or vote against their issues?

If Bush's NSA directive sounds familiar, it should.

In several 1970 secret memos, Nixon's apparatchiks conceived a domestic scheme to:

• Have the NSA monitor "communications of U.S. citizens using international communications."

• Permit electronic surveillance "of individuals and groups in the United States who posed a major threat to the internal security."

• Intercept private mail.

• Engage in surreptitious and unlawful entry.

Nixon rationalized his actions with anti-communism. Bush uses the war on terror. Both men trampled the Bill of Rights, obstructed justice, and resisted judicial and legislative reviews.
[Emphasis added]

The main difference I see between the two administrations is that Mr. Bush's cadre are far better at their jobs than Mr. Nixon's staff. Perhaps the Karl Roves and the Dick Cheneys learned some lessons from the Watergate debacle. Whatever the reason, the country is entering an extremely dangerous phase where Constitutional principles such as the separation of powers and the Bill of Rights are ignored as quaint and irrelevant in a post 9/11 world.

I don't think my tin foil hat is that tight at all. Nor is Ms. Lokeman's.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Winning Hearts and Minds

Secretary of State Smashing Condaleeza Rice has been engaged in a dramatic world tour which started in the Middle East, then moved on to an Asian piano recital, and now apparently involves another visit to the Middle East. She has been a very busy woman. Effective? Well, no, but she does play a mean piano.

Her visit to Lebanon, which is currently being bombed by Israel, was not viewed as particularly helpful by the Lebanese, as this satirical op-ed piece in Lebanon's Al-Anwar shows.

The Cinderella of American Diplomacy has arrived on an urgent mission to find her lost slipper, upon which is marked, "the New Middle East." Would whoever finds it please call the White House? He or she will be generously rewarded with green dollars.

One of the lessons of this terrible war: Lebanon now knows that it cannot compete with Israel for America’s warm lap. Nevertheless, some people thought that America would shine at least a small portion of this warmth on Lebanon. Don't waste your efforts! Remove from your memory that cozy reception that the American president prepared for Lebanon’s prime minister. That hug, that arm over the shoulder and that friendly stroll through the Rose Garden of the White House.

Keep in mind that the heart only loves once, and such a love is destined only for one's first lover [Israel]. All the Arabs, both big and small, have courted America, hoping to be treated as more than a pageant's runner-up, but have been rebuffed.

...America can divest the Resistance of its weapons through justice, not force. When Lebanon regains control of its occupied lands, frees its people from Israeli prisons, and stops the abuse of its sovereignty on land, sea and air, what justification would the Resistance have for keeping their weapons?

But Israel with America behind her, will not take these steps, because if it did so in Lebanon, it would have to do the same in Palestine … and Israel would have to end its attacks!
[Emphasis added]

Sadly, Raouf Shhoury (the author of the piece) has nailed it. Justice is incompatible with the Emperor's view of the "new and improved" Middle East, and intentionally so.

Cynicism Roolz!

Yesterday, I posted on the House of Representatives' plans to vote on a minimum wage bill. While I suspected that the bill would include other provisions to make it hard for Democrats to vote for it, I didn't anticipate an outright poison pill. Boy, was I ever naive, if not downright wrong! From the Washington Post:

The House last night voted to boost the minimum wage for the first time in nearly a decade while also permanently slashing the estate tax, a coupling that GOP leaders calculated might garner enough Senate support to become law.

In the rush to bolster their party's accomplishments before leaving today on a five-week summer break, House Republican leaders effectively took a gamble. If the Senate follows the House and passes legislation shoring up the pension system, raising the minimum wage, permanently cutting the estate tax, and extending such measures as a research-and-development tax credit, Republicans can say they departed for the summer in a flourish of accomplishments.

But the maneuvering by House and Senate GOP leaders to package the measures over the objection of some Senate chairmen caused severely bruised feelings. Lawmakers from both parties said last night that the legislation could easily collapse in the Senate, underscoring Democratic contentions that Congress has become dysfunctional.

Democrats were incensed that the GOP leadership would couple the minimum wage hike, the first increase since 1997, with an estate tax cut that would reduce federal revenue by $268 billion over the next decade, to the overwhelming benefit of the country's richest families.
[Emphasis added]

To be fair, there's enough in the bill to make conservatives in the Senate unhappy, but surely the temptation to put the Democrats in the position of having to vote against a hike in the minimum wage during an election campaign will overcome the objections of even the most rabid pro-business, anti-deficit hawks. The GOP is gloating. The Democrats have been had. Or at least that's what it looks like.

The Democrats do have a chance to turn this around. The word "extortion" should be added to all campaign rhetoric from this point on. In order to get the poor working class a long over-due raise, one that will help get them just barely over the poverty line, the government is giving another freebie to the richest one per cent of the nation at a cost of nearly $300 billion over ten years. It's another tax cut at a time when the deficit continues to rise, making the debt the rest of our children and their children will inherit almost insurmountable.

A cynical move by the GOP? I think it more akin to pure evil.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Turn on the damned air conditioner!

Quick! Look Busy

Silly season continues. Legislation which criminalizes those who aid young women cross state lines for an abortion has been passed. More dog and pony show "hearings" on immigration are planned for the congressional recess in the hopes that a compromise bill can be passed before November. Now the House indicates that it will be taking up a 'real' bit of legislation: raising the minimum wage. Apparently more moderate Republicans who are facing heat in their re-election campaigns finally convinced their colleagues that it was time to visit this issue. From the NY Times:

House Republicans were still assembling a proposal Thursday night. But the momentum had clearly shifted in favor of considering an increase of at least $2 in the $5.15 an hour minimum wage, despite strong resistance from conservative Republicans and the party’s allies in the business community.

...The willingness of the leadership to relent on a wage vote after months of reluctance illustrates Republican nervousness about the November elections, and a desire to break for the August recess on a politically positive note. Although many states now require higher wage levels, the federal minimum wage has remained at $5.15 an hour since 1997.

...Republican moderates used a closed party meeting on Thursday to make their case for a vote, saying it was crucial for helping to dispel the party’s antiworker image.

The moderates ran into opposition from conservatives who said the wage proposal could turn off campaign contributors with the elections looming and drive away the party’s business base. But some lawmakers said opponents also recognized the political necessity of giving moderates some political cover, a prospect more appealing than potentially losing their majority in the House.
[Emphasis added]

Democrats are concerned that the bill will also contain some provisions which will make it impossible to vote for, and with good reason. One provision being considered would give smaller employers a break on providing health insurance as a way to offset the wage increase. Still, the raise is long overdue, and even if it comes about as a bit of election year pandering, it will be welcome.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Seeing the Forest

Polls continue to show that a large number of Americans believe our country is on the wrong track.We're bogged down in what a majority believe is a costly and ill-conceived war being waged stupidly, gasoline now costs $3 a gallon across the country, wages are stagnant, and Congress seems too caught up in silly election politics to deal effectively with a host of national problems. Frustration and cynicism seem to be at all time highs, followed closely by anxiety.

The mood of the country is not unlike that of 1920's Germany, according to sociologist Brian E. Fogarty. The author of "War, Peace, and the Social Order", Fogarty has written an interesting op-ed column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In Germany of the 1920s, as now in 21st-century America, appeals to reason and prudence were no way to get votes in times of crisis. Much more effective were appeals to the anger and fear of the German people. A politician could attract more votes by criticizing the government than by praising it, and a vicious negative campaign was usually more effective than a clean one. One of the problems of democracy is that voters aren't always rational, and appeals like these could be very effective.

As usually happens in times of distress, the Germans became a people for whom resolve was valued more highly than prudence, daring more than caution, and righteousness more than discretion. In many ways, they were a people not so different from today's Americans.

What was needed, the Germans thought, was a strong leader -- someone who would put an end to politics as usual; most of all, someone who could unite all the divisions in Germany and dispel the clamor. They found that leader in Adolf Hitler, and for a time, most Germans were glad they did.

Of course, America is not 1920s Germany, and we are certainly not on the verge of a fascist state. But neither have we experienced the deep crises the Germans faced. The setbacks of the Iraq/Afghan war are a far cry from the devastating loss of the First World War; we are not considered the scourge of the international community, and we don't need wheelbarrows full of money to buy a loaf of bread. But even in these relatively secure times, we have shown an alarming willingness to choose headstrong leadership over thoughtful leadership, to value security over liberty; to accept compromises to constitutional principles, and to defy the opinion of the rest of the world.

...We Americans have had our flights from democracy -- the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, the Red Scare and the McCarthy era, Watergate -- but we have always pulled back from the brink and returned to normal.

The time is coming for us to pull back from the brink again. This must happen before the government gets so strong that it can completely demonize opposition, gain complete control of the media, and develop dossiers on all its citizens. By then it will be too late, and we'll have ourselves to blame.
[Emphasis added]

While I would argue that in fact the US is considered "the scourge of the international community," and that in fact we are "on the verge of a fascist state," I think Mr. Fogarty's analysis hits the mark with startling and timely clarity. Because it is clear that the current crop of politicians (on both sides of the aisle) don't quite 'get it,' it is up to the citizenry to right the ship. Hopefully someone will rise to the task and appeal to the better nature of the electorate. We've got until November.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The NY Times has obtained a copy of a draft proposal for legislation to be presented to Congress by the White House in response to the US Supreme Court Decision in Hamdan v US. From the sounds of it, the Emperor and his minions intend to further challenge the one branch of government which has not capitulated.

Rather than requiring a speedy trial for enemy combatants, the draft proposal says they “may be tried and punished at any time without limitations.” Defendants could be held until hostilities end, even if found not guilty by a commission.

Nor does the bill adhere to the military’s rules for the admissibility of evidence and witnesses because “the United States cannot safely require members of the armed forces to gather evidence on the battlefield as though they were police officers,” the proposal says.

The draft bill specifies that no matter how it is gathered, evidence “shall be admissible if the military judge” determines it has “probative value.” Hearsay statements, meaning something a witness has heard but does not know to be true, would be allowed “at the discretion of the judge unless the circumstances render it unreliable or lacking in probative value.”

The bill would also bar “statements obtained by the use of torture” from being introduced as evidence, but evidence obtained during interrogations where coercion was used would be admissible unless a military judge found it “unreliable.”

The provision allowing defendants to be excluded from a trial to prevent them from hearing classified evidence against them is likely to be among the more controversial aspects of the proposal. The bill notes that “members of Al Qaeda cannot be trusted with our nation’s secrets.” But the bill specifies that the “exclusion of the accused shall be no broader than necessary” and requires that a declassified summary of the information be given to defendants.

One of the most difficult issues the administration faces is whether a provision of the Geneva Conventions, known as Common Article Three, applies to detainees; the Supreme Court ruled that it did. The draft measure says explicitly that the Geneva Conventions “are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights,” meaning that in the future, terror suspects like Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni held at Guantánamo whose case resulted in the Supreme Court ruling, cannot file lawsuits saying their Geneva Convention rights were violated.
[Emphasis added]

While the White House proposal is still in the draft stage and still has to be reviewed the military lawyers who will be operating under the system, it is clear that the Emperor has no intention of changing the ground rules under which the military commissions were originally set up. It is also clear that the White House has read the Hamdan decision to require only a Congressional approval of those ground rules, not a revamping of the system itself to comply with Constitutional requirements.

Given the Congressional capitulation to the White House on each and every occasion the White House has shrieked "War on Terra," (vide the current legislation on FISA issues being pushed by Senator Specter) the assumption held by the White House that this proposal will emerge from Congress pretty much intact may be a safe one. And that means several years from now, the Supreme Court will once again have to deal with the issue, and that means several years from now prisoners will still be sitting in cells in Guantanamo Bay or other hell holes.

Once again, it appears that the November elections will be our last hope for a peaceable ending of this madness.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"I want to vote for somebody...

...who's good and brave and who should win."

That's from Molly Ivin's column for today. Here's some more from this whimsical lady with a stiletto sharp point to make:

AUSTIN, Texas -- Dear desperate Democrats,

Here's what we do. We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there.

The poor man who is currently our president has reached such a point of befuddlement that he thinks stem cell research is the same as taking human lives, but that 40,000 dead Iraqi civilians are progress toward democracy.

... why run him? Think, imagine, if seven or eight other Democratic candidates, all beautifully coiffed and triangulated and carefully coached to say nothing that will offend anyone, stand on stage with Bill Moyers in front of cameras for a national debate … what would happen? Bill Moyers would win, would walk away with it, just because he doesn't triangulate or calculate or trim or try to straddle the issues. Bill Moyers doesn't have to endorse a constitutional amendment against flag burning or whatever wedge issue du jour Republicans have come up with. He is not afraid of being called "unpatriotic." And besides, he is a wise and a kind man who knows how to talk on TV.

... One time in the Johnson years, LBJ called on Moyers to say the blessing at a dinner. "SPEAK UP, Bill," Lyndon roared. "I can't hear you." Moyers replied, "I wasn't speaking to you, sir." That's the point of a run by Moyers: He doesn't change to whom he is speaking just because some president is yelling at him.

Go read the rest of it. Then email it to those on our side of the aisle with presidential aspirations.

Welcome to the White House, Tony

Tony Snow, the White Palace Press Secretary, has just learned a valuable lesson: how to fall on one's sword for the Leader. As we draw nearer to the November elections, I suspect he will become quite adroit at this maneuver because he will have plenty of chances to perfect the technique. This time it was over the Emperor's veto of the Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill. From the Washington Post:

President Bush does not consider stem cell research using human embryos to be murder, the White House said yesterday, reversing its description of his position just days after he vetoed legislation to lift federal funding restrictions on the hotly disputed area of study.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday that he "overstated the president's position" during a briefing last week but said Bush rejected the bill because "he does have objections with spending federal money on something that is morally objectionable to many Americans."

The shifting terminology underscored the sensitivity of the issue, especially heading into midterm elections. Many antiabortion conservatives strongly oppose stem cell research involving the destruction of embryos, viewing it as killing human beings. But polls show that most Americans see such research as a potential key to treating Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and other afflictions.

Apparently the roughing up Josh Bolten got on Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" over the issue surprised and worried Karl Rove and his boss, which is understandable. Mr. Russert doesn't usually play hardball when the interviewee is a member of the current regime. The miscalculation resulted in Mr. Snow's back pedal yesterday. What is ironic is that Mr. Snow didn't get it all that wrong. The use of the word "murder" was pretty heavy-handed, but the Emperor implied that usage in his veto statement.

Snow described Bush's position last Tuesday, the day before the veto. "The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He's one of them," Snow said from the White House. "The simple answer is he thinks murder's wrong."

The president did not use that term the next day at the veto ceremony, but he did say he objected to the legislation because it "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others."
[Emphasis added]

A distinction without a difference.

This would be comical if the consequences weren't so tragic. Those of us who hope desparately for the medical advances possible under stem cell research will have to wait a year or longer.For many people, that extra year lost will result in the loss of innocent life.

But, hey! It's an election year. You've got to break a few eggs for that quiche, you know?

Yeah. Right.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Fair and Balanced

One of my biggest gripes is what I perceive as unbalanced news reporting. Articles which are supposed to be news, the reporting of facts, seem to be the exact opposite. For example, talking points "leaked" to the reporter by the regime are stenographically reproduced and never challenged and in fact is touted as the truth. A similar issue arises when what is perceived as truth (evolution as a viable, scientifically supported description of reality) is offset by Intelligent Design presented as if it was an equally viable, scientifically supported description of reality.

It turns out that partisan stances enter into the assessment of fair and balanced reporting. Big surprise, that, eh? From today's Washington Post:

If someone says several nice things about you and one derogatory thing, what sticks in your mind? People who are deeply invested in one side are quicker to spot and remember aspects of the news that hurt than they are to see aspects that help, said Richard Perloff, a Cleveland State University political communication researcher.

Perloff elicited the same clashing perceptions of bias from pro-Israeli and pro-Arab audiences when he showed them news clips with equal amounts of violence.

Ross and Perloff both found that what partisans worry about the most is the impact of the news on neutral observers. But the data suggest such worry is misplaced. Neutral observers are better than partisans at seeing flaws and virtues on both sides. Partisans, it turns out, are particularly susceptible to the general human belief that other people are susceptible to propaganda.

While the studies described in the article are interesting, especially as to the "hostile media effect," the big question is what kind of impact such studies have on the actual reporting of the news. Do media outlets take their consumer complaints seriously? Or do they just take the existence of complaints from both sides as evidence that the article was balanced?

Apparently at least one newspaper does take its readers complaints seriously enough to take a hard second look at coverage of controversial issues. Kate Parry, the Reader's Representative (ombudsman) for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, detailed one such instance of coverage, reader response, and editorial review in a recent column.

When Hamas and Hezbollah, groups considered terrorists by the U.S. government, slipped into Israel to kill and kidnap soldiers, it was the kind of poke in the eye intended to provoke a response.

It was no surprise Israel moved quickly to defend itself and demanded the return of the soldiers, launching a campaign of bombs and missiles against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah sent missiles raining back on northern Israel from Lebanon.

Caught in the crossfire were civilians. Wire service photographers recorded the carnage. Soon hundreds of images arrived daily in computers of Star Tribune photo editors.

Photo director Peter Koeleman and his staff looked for more than just arresting images. They were looking for a complete visual story. Koeleman is keenly aware of past reader criticism that Israel is sometimes portrayed as the aggressor when it's actually responding to acts of terror against its citizens. A few readers called last week objecting to particular images or to different sizes and placement of photos on a specific day.

...His goal since the Israeli soldiers were kidnapped has been to provide "balance overall," meaning that there may be daily variations in which side is visually dominant, but over time the whole visual story is told.

Sometimes in the past that was hard to do because access for photographers to one side or the other varied. "Hezbollah and Hamas make a point of showing bodies. We've been manipulated by that," Koeleman acknowledged. But this time access has been "strikingly similar," Koeleman said.
[Emphasis added]

This seems to me to be a reasonable and honest approach to the visual aspect of the news. Access is indeed a problem if one side of the story does not want the full story reported. One need only recall the ban on pictures of flag draped coffins returning to the US from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to appreciate the difficulty news gatherers face. Still, journalists have to keep pushing back and if even that fails, they need to report the basis for the failure, which is also part of the story.

We haven't seen too much of that lately. Hopefully the STrib can show their big sisters the way to do it.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday Poetry: James Dickey

OK, another week in the books, and a lousy one at that. Today's poem is a break from all that, plus a nice corrective to my perspective.

Bums on Waking

Bums, on waking,
Do not always find themselves
In gutters with water running over their legs
And the pillow of the curbstone
Turning hard as sleep drains from it.
Mostly, they do not know

But hope for where they shall come to.
The opening of the eye is precious,

And the shape of the body also,
Lying as it has fallen,
Disdainfully crumpling earthward
Out of alcohol.
Drunken under their eyelids
Like children sleeping toward Christmas,

They wait for the light to shine
Wherever it may decide.

Often it brings them staring
Through glass in the rich part of town,
Where the forms of humanized wax
Are arrested in midstride
With their heads turned, and dressed
By force. This is ordinary, and has come

To be disappointing.
They expect and hope for

Something totally other:
That while they staggered last night
For hours, they got clear,
Somehow, of the city; that they
Burst through a hedge, and are lying
In a trampled rose garden,
Pillowed on a bulldog's side,
A watchdog's, whose breathing

Is like the earth's, unforced --
Or that they may, once a year
(Any dawn now), awaken
In church, not on the coffin boards
Of a back pew, or on furnace-room rags,
But on the steps of the altar

Where candles are opening their eyes
With all-seeing light

And the green stained-glass of the windows
Falls on them like sanctified leaves.
Who else has quite the same
Commitment to not being sure
What he shall behold, come from sleep --
A child, a policeman, an effigy?

Who else has died and thus risen?
Never knowing how they have got there,

They might just as well have walked
On water, through walls, out of graves,
Through potter's fields and through barns,
Through slums where their stony pillows
Refused to harden, because of
Their hope for this morning's first light,

With water moving over their legs
More like living cover than it is.

James Dickey

Watching Bolton

The other day I posted on John Bolton's re-nomination as US Ambassador to the UN here. Today's NY Times took a brief look at Bolton's work at the UN since his recess appointment. Apparently his colleagues are exasperated with him, which is hardly a surprise.

The Bush administration is not popular at the United Nations, where it is often perceived as disdainful of diplomacy, and its policies as heedless of the effects on others and single-minded in the willful assertion of American interests. By extension, then, many diplomats say they see Mr. Bolton as a stand-in for the arrogance of the administration itself.

But diplomats focus particularly on an area with less evidence of instructions from Washington and more of Mr. Bolton’s personal touch, the mission that he has described as his priority: overhauling the institution’s discredited management. Envoys say he has in fact endangered that effort by alienating traditional allies. They say he combatively asserts American leadership, contests procedures at the mannerly, rules-bound United Nations and then shrugs off the organization when it does not follow his lead.

... Representative Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on an international relations subcommittee that focuses on the United Nations, said that in a visit here last month he had encountered “frustration and resentment over the U.S. performance at the U.N.”

And outside experts also expressed concerns.

“I actually agree with Bolton on what has to be done at the U.N., but his confrontational tactics have been very dysfunctional for the U.S. purpose,” said Edward C. Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia who has followed the United Nations for three decades. “To be successful at the U.N., you have to build coalitions, and if you take unilateral action the way Bolton has, you’re isolated, and if you’re isolated, you can’t achieve much.”

... An envoy of a country close to the United States complained that Mr. Bolton often stayed away from meetings, leaving ambassadors in the dark about American positions, then produced 11th-hour amendments and demands for reopening points that had been painfully muscled into consensus.

“We are all like cooks, and the U.S. is sitting on the sidewalk and when we have this platter cooked, the U.S. comes in and says it was the wrong dish, you were cooking chicken and we wanted meat,” said an envoy from a country close to the United States.
[Emphasis added]

Given Mr. Bolton's rather colorful history with the State Department before the appointment to his current post, this certainly doesn't come as news. His behavior all along has reflected bullying aggressiveness and boorish manners. His appointment gave the regime the double benefit of showing the world just what it thought of the United Nations and getting Mr. Bolton out of State, where he was causing problems.

After reading the NY Times article, I wondered over to Bolton Watch at tpm cafe to see what Michael Roston had up. Once again, Mr. Roston has posted an excellent bit of analysis, based on a Foreign Policy magazine article.

Barbara Crossette, the long time UN correspondent for the New York Times and now a consulting editor at the UN Association of the United States of America, had already written a "memo to the Secretary of State" for Foreign Policy magazine highlighting the Bolton problem in advance of any confirmed word of his renomination.

Most of the article is behind Foreign Policy's subscriber wall, but I thought I'd share a few key details for you of the problems Crossette sees in Bolton's tenure. Her arguments and the way she prepares them are instructive examples of the message that should be sounded by Bolton critics. Over the next week, as we gear up for Thursday's renomination hearing, Crossette's wise and calm analysis of how Bolton's tactics have concretely slowed UN reform should be modeled.

Some particular problems in Bolton's past year have included:

* Too much involvement in US foreign policy-making - instead of implementing State Department directives and reporting back to Washington on what states are doing at the UN, Bolton is spending too much time in DC. When there, he is keeping up independent relationships with the White House to enable him to effectively run a mini-State Department of his own in New York - in spite of Dr. Rice's assurances to the world last year that he'd be working for her.
* Micro-managing important international matters - no one around Turtle Bay has forgotten Bolton's severe and numerous modifications to the text of the declaration issued by the UN's World Summit last year. President Bush ultimately had to step in and offer remarks during his address to the Summit to show that Bolton's positions on UN reform were not necessarily America's.
* Picking big fights over small issues - Crossette details a dispute over a cultural convention at UNESCO which severely angered a number of key UN countries. The objectives achieved by this move were little understood by anyone but Bolton.

Like it or not, the US needs to work with the United Nations on several matters: Iran, Darfur, Somalia, the Israel-Lebanon violence. At some point, assistance from the international community for Iraq will also be required. It would be nice if we had someone who understood how diplomacy worked attending to duties at the UN. John Bolton is clearly not that someone.

Hearings on his re-nomination commence this week, probably on Tuesday. The Democrats had better be ready this time.

Silly Season in Congress

Rather than consider needed and desired legislation, members of the House of Representatives have chosen instead to put on a dog and pony show for the folks back home. It doesn't matter that most of the measures being debated and voted on are irrelevant, unconstitutional, or both: what matters is that there is an election coming up, and polls show the majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the current members have performed. Even the Washington Post was appalled at the grandstanding.

IT WAS BAD enough a few weeks ago when the Senate -- on the heels of debating a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage -- took up the not-so-burning issue of changing the Constitution to prohibit flag burning. Now the House is managing to make the other body look like a model of industrious, responsible legislating. With just this week left before it takes the rest of the summer off, the House has hunkered down to work hard -- on scoring cheap political points.

On Tuesday it took up the gay-marriage amendment. This was a meaningless exercise, except in terms of amassing political ammunition: The Senate had already defeated the amendment. Nonetheless, some members had no trouble explaining the value of the dead-end debate. "This is probably the best message we can give to the Middle East in regards to the trouble we are having over there right now," said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.).
[Emphasis added]


The Middle East was holding its breath over the possibility that gay Americans might be afforded the protections and comforts of matrimony? I hope Mr. Gingrey's constituents understood that explanation, because I sure didn't.

I wonder what explanations Mr. Gingrey and his colleagues have for some of the other pressing issues which were considered: the bill to strip the Federal Courts from hearing challenges to the "Under God" section of the Pledge of Allegiance; the one to require doctors who perform late term abortions to tell their patients that fetuses feel pain; the one to shield local officials from having to pay damages or attorney's fees in suits challenging religious displays; and the ones to gut the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers.

The WaPo editorial concludes:

...None of these measures stand much chance of being enacted, but then again, that isn't the point. The goal is to motivate voters, and perhaps this stunt legislating will do the trick. Or maybe voters who have more pressing concerns will watch the antics in Washington and decide to hire some representatives who would make better use of their time.

In our dreams...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Oppossum


It's easier when the rope is taut.

What Some of Our Friends Think

The current US foreign policy with respect to the Middle East is apparently "Let's You and Him Fight." As Israel rolls its tanks and troops into southern Lebanon, the Secretary of State Smashing still hasn't gotten around to announcing just what the US plans to do about the current Middle East War. I'm not even sure at this point she has left the US for her Middle East trip. A week and a half and hundreds of deaths later, she doesn't want to rush into anything, including pressuring Israel into a cease fire. This looks and smells like a collusion between the US and Israel to do more than ensure Israel's security. Lots of people are beginning to agree.

First, an editorial from Egypt's Al-Ahram:

Israel wants to turn the Lebanese public against the resistance. It wants Lebanon to aid and abet American hegemony in the region. Some parties in Lebanon have been of two minds about the resistance, and Israel wants them to do Washington's bidding. Israel is bombing, shelling and settling accounts, and in its attempts to eliminate the Lebanese resistance is being aided by Arab silence, global indifference and American backing. Israel is seeking to avenge its humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and wants to remove Hezbullah from the equation, thereby weakening Arab and Islamic resolve. It seeks to undermine any confidence Arabs may have gained when American schemes in Afghanistan and Iraq came crashing down on the heads of the U.S. administration. [Emphasis added]

OK, that was an easy one. Egypt is an Arab state. But what are some of our traditional allies saying about this? Here's a column from the Australian Sydney Morning Herald:

George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and, for that matter, John Howard, can bleat forever about Israel's right to defend itself, but we are witnessing an obscenity. On all sides. The targeted Israeli air strike which murders children in a Beirut suburb is as much a crime against humanity as an indiscriminate Hezbollah rocket crashing into downtown Haifa. There are no gradations of immorality. It is total.

Bush's buffoonery in St Petersburg - manhandling Merkel, dropping the "shit" word - were funny or offensive, depending on your take on these things. But there is no humour in the fact that American policy in the Middle East now lies in ruins. The neo-conservative fantasy of a swift war in Iraq magically spreading peace and democracy throughout the region has brought nothing but catastrophe.

Sooner or later, when Hezbollah has killed enough Israeli civilians, and the Israelis have killed enough Lebanese, some sort of ceasefire will happen. But new hatreds will pile upon the old. The seeds are sown. Next, the whirlwind.
[Emphasis added]

You're doin' a heckuva job, George.

Voting Machinations

There's an election coming up this November, an important one. Both parties are busy campaigning, working hard to find the right message that will fire up the voters enough to get them to actually stand up and, well, vote. That, of course, has been a problem in this country lately. Less than half of all eligible voters actually vote, and far less than half vote during off year elections. Candidates for office have to work hard on that issue.

Getting out the vote, however, is not the end of the problem, not by a longshot. What isn't being discussed and then dealt with is just as serious: securing the integrity of the vote. From an AP report earlier this week:

If this fall's elections abound with voting problems, members of Congress cannot say they were not warned.

Experts told members of two House committees on Wednesday that security for electronic voting machines is inadequate, lab testing of this machinery is insufficient and a paper record of voting is essential to protect election integrity.

The lawmakers also heard reassurances that potential problems are being addressed.

"The federal standards are not sufficient to prove that election systems are able to guarantee federally approved voting systems can adequately protect the integrity of our elections against unintentional failures or against tampering," said David Wagner, a specialist in computer science from the University of California-Berkeley.

An election official from Minnesota, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, said paper records are critical. At least half the states will keep a "paper trail" of voting this year.

An official with the federal agency created to ensure successful elections tried to assure lawmakers that all steps are being taken to train elections officials and workers and make certain equipment is up to standards.

"We're looking at every aspect of elections," said Donetta Davidson, a member of the Election Assistance Commission. "We haven't found any problems with equipment. The problems we find are human error. The more elections officials train their people, the fewer problems we will have."
[Emphasis added]

The debacle in Florida in the 2000 election (the one that allowed the Supreme Court to crown the Emperor) resulted in the end of the hanging chad problem, but replaced it with a new one. At least in 2000, there were ballots that could be physically examined and counted by hand. Under most of the electronic voting machine systems, there are no 'ballots' that can be examined and counted. Checking the configuration of electrons on a hard disc is just not the same. We learned that in 2004 in Ohio, where even now there are private investigations and fulminations on the very real possibility that the electronic voting machines were hacked and votes hijacked.

Concerns about the security of the new voting system remain two years later, yet nothing of substance has been done about it. I am sure the problems with the machines are human in nature, but I also believe that it's not just a matter of human error.

Unless and until better security is established with the new systems, and the integrity of the election re-established, voter turnout will continue to be depressed. After all, why bother to vote if your vote is going to be compromised and not counted.

But then, perhaps that's the whole point, isn't it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

It's too hot to move.

Another Round of Bolton

Senator Voinovich has changed his mind. He now thinks UN Ambassador Bolton has done a heckuva job and should be renominated for the post and the Senate should confirm him. Bolton's original nomination ran into trouble the first time around when Mr. Voinovich made it clear he would not vote for him. The Emperor waited for the first Congressional break and then made a recess appointment which runs out at the end of the year. The NY Times fills in a little of the detail:

Now a former Republican critic of Mr. Bolton has changed his mind, giving the White House impetus to try again to get the Senate’s endorsement. Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, urged the Senate on Thursday to approve Mr. Bolton’s nomination, saying the United States needs a fully sanctioned United Nations representative in the tumultuous world climate.

...Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Mr. Lugar, whose committee would oversee the nomination, said the White House had already filed paperwork for Mr. Bolton’s nomination months ago and it was now up to the Senate to push it through. Mr. Fisher said that Mr. Lugar could have hearings on Mr. Bolton’s nomination by the start of the Congressional August recess — though, he said, nothing was officially set yet.
[Emphasis added]

Why the change of heart, and, more importantly, why the rush? Look to the calendar for the answer: it's an election year, and November is only four months away. Michael Roston of tpm cafe's Bolton Watch posted a pretty sound analysis of what the Republicans have in mind and what the Democrats should do about it this time around.

As a nervous Republican power base in the US Senate looks to November, they see a new round of Bolton hearings as an opportunity to take the Democrats to the cleaners, painting them as best buddies of the appeasers of tyrants and enablers of corruption at the United Nations. Voinovich, with his talk of sending the wrong message to the terrorists, is just the tip of the spear. The Senate Republican leadership clearly sees this circus as an opportunity for some of their weaker co-conspirators to run over Democrat challengers on national security when Election Day rolls around back home.

If the Democrats are going to keep the Bolton re-nomination from being a boondoggle, they need to run on something smarter than the strategy we saw in the spring and summer of 2005. They must concentrate on Bolton’s record as a diplomat over the past year. ...

In the area of UN diplomacy, Democrats should ask why Sudan's allies have checkmated us on almost every move related to the genocide in Darfur? Additionally why are we so incapable of getting the UN Security Council to take strong positions against the missile and nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran? Moreover, has Bolton succeed[ed] in keeping states that complicate American interests off of key bodies like the Security Council?

When it comes to UN reform, it is not clear that Bolton has succeeded either. What ever happened to Bolton’s proposal to change the formula used to determine which states pay for most UN activities? Are we any closer to the priorities for UN reform outlined by Senators and Representatives in the past year? Why did the US proposal for an improved human rights body at the UN fail? And, will the US get a candidate for Secretary-General that it can work with?
[Emphasis added]

These are all excellent questions which the Democrats must ask during the committe hearings, and they must push for answers rather than engage in long meandering soliloquies. Without Mr. Voinovich's vote on the committee, the chances are Bolton will head to the Senate floor with a recommendation for approval if the Democrats don't do their homework. Just as bad, without a strong showing of concern on the issue of international security and its impact on our national security, the Democrats will once again played into the GOP hands.

Get with the program, ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Little Relief

It's been a rough week, and it's not quite over. It started with the Emperor's embarrassing behavior at the G-8 meeting, continued with his veto of the Embryonic Stem Cell Research, and culminated with his "playful slap" of an African American Congressman at the NAACP convention. He managed to do all this and managed to do nothing about the Israeli "police action" in Lebanon. Quite a string for the man, eh?

Well, I needed some relief, some solace. I needed something to take the edge off, and I found it where I usually can: a Molly Ivins column.

...Meanwhile, the nation needs to take a break from FOX and get a grip -- the 24/7 drumbeat for war is silly.

Back to politics for comic relief. The most luckless candidate so far this year is Katherine Harris, now 30 points behind Democrat Bill Nelson in the Florida Senate race. Three campaign managers have quit on Ms. Harris, not to mention a dozen or so other staffers. The latest defector, Glenn Hodas, said her "tantrums were uncontrollable." Another former campaign manager, Jamie Miller, said no one from Florida would work for her: "It's a nuclear wasteland in there. Anyone who goes in is going to be tainted."

Some of them are upset by the fact that she's involved with a corrupt defense contractor who showed up in the Duke Cunningham scandal. Ms. Harris also loaned her own campaign $3 million, but then took back $100,000 so she could refurbish her house in Washington, D.C.

Also providing comic relief these days is Holy Joe Lieberman, senator from Connecticut, Al Gore's 2000 running mate, and the most annoyingly sanctimonious person in politics. Lieberman has more than miffed Connecticut Democrats by backing the war in Iraq and other Bush policies, setting off a big primary fight. Lieberman now threatens to run as an independent if he loses the primary, thus opening the seat to a Republican and further alienating Democrats.

Brother Ralph Reed, alas, tanked in Georgia. Do you think he knows Baptists don't approve of gambling? Meanwhile, in Texas, we're all excited about the possibility of having Tom DeLay back on the ballot in his old district. You must admit the Republicans have lost their moral compass since DeLay quit. Now, if we could just have a free press and free religion like Iraq!

Ah...that's better.

Thank you, Ms. Ivins. Thank you very much.

And This Is Surprising, Why?

You would think that Congress had figured out the modus operandi of the Emperor by now, but, alas, apparently it hasn't. Mr. Bush has made it clear by his actions that he has no intention of being limited or subjected to oversight by anybody: not Congress, not the courts. He is the unitary executive with limitless powers to do as he wishes. Even if he deigns to send his Attorney Generalissimo, Betito Gonzales, to Congress to talk about such things as the illegality of the the administration's behavior, Mr. Gonzales will talk only on subjects he chooses, regardless of the questions. From an editorial in today's NY Times:

This is how President Bush keeps his promise to deal with Congress in good faith on issues of national security and the balance of powers: He sends the attorney general to the Senate Judiciary Committee to stonewall, obfuscate and spin fairy tales.

Testifying on Tuesday after months of refusing to show up, Alberto Gonzales dodged questions about President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping operation. He refused to say whether it was the only time that Mr. Bush had chosen to ignore the 1978 law on electronic eavesdropping. In particular, he would not say whether it was true that the government had accumulated large amounts of data on Americans’ routine telephone calls. “The programs and activities you ask about, to the extent that they exist, would be highly classified,” Mr. Gonzales intoned.
[Emphasis added]

Ah, those super-duper double secret programs! If they exist, we can't know about them because they are super-duper double secret. We are not entitled. The Emperor has spoken. All hail the all powerful Emperor. And lest Congress and the American people fail to completely appreciate that, Mr. Gonzales makes it clear:

Mr. Gonzales did answer when he was asked who had derailed a Justice Department investigation, requested by Congress, into Mr. Bush’s decision to authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mail without a warrant. Mr. Gonzales said that Mr. Bush himself did it, by refusing to grant the needed security clearances to the lawyers involved.

Now can we impeach the bastard?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Not This Year

Polls show that 70% of the American public is in favor of embryonic stem cell research.I suspect that at least that many Americans know people that the promising research could help: people with diabetes, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, and a host of other serious conditions. I'm one of them, although for me it is more directly personal. My father and my brother died of Alzheimer's, so I panic when I can't remember where I put my keys. I look at my nephews and niece and at their babies and my heart hurts. Yesterday was not a good day for me. I don't think today will be any better.

Yesterday the Senate passed a decent embryonic stem cell bill, but not with a veto proof majority. The roll call vote can be seen here. We were four votes shy of overcoming the promised veto. I suppose that really didn't matter because we were 50 votes shy in the House vote from late last year, but if the Senate had come though, I was hopeful that this election year might make it possible to bring pressure on enough Republicans in the House to accomplish the override.

The Emperor continues to say that he will veto the bill, and this is one of those rare times when I think he's telling the truth. It will be the first veto of his tenure. The Washington Post weighed in on the issue with one of its more bizarre editorials (comparing Mr. Bush to Thomas Jefferson in any way is, you must admit, pretty bizarre). Here are the concluding paragraphs of that editorial:

We understand that people can in good faith disagree on this question. But we don't understand the logic of Mr. Bush's position. If using discarded embryos to extract stem cells is murder, how can he permit it to proceed with private funding? If this is murder, isn't it also immoral to allow federal research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells, as the current administration policy permits, though they are the fruit of a homicidal act?

For years, society has allowed excess embryos to be deliberately created, and unused embryos to be discarded, by fertility clinics. The question before Mr. Bush is whether some of those days-old clusters of cells, rather than being discarded, could be used for research that has the potential to save untold numbers of lives and improve the quality of untold more. He offered in his first term what seemed like a reasonable compromise, but in practice his compromise has not worked. We hope he will consider compromise again.

What the editorialist is trying to do (it really isn't all that clear) is point out the faulty logic the President is using. Such an argument assumes that Mr. Bush is acting in good faith. I do not believe that is a sustainable assumption. If it were, there would have been no Iraq Invasion, there would have been fewer victims of Hurricane Katrina, and there would have been instant pressure brought to bear on Israel in the current Middle East crisis.

No, once again, this is about politics, about throwing some red meat to the Religious Reich in the hopes of getting them to the polls come November.

And so, I will continue to worry about my misplaced keys and the futures of my nephews and neice and their families.

There is this, however: that veto will ensure that I make it to the polls in November. Hopefully it has the same effect on the rest of the 70% who agree with me.

Maybe next year.

UPDATE: The Emperor followed through on his promise to veto the bill. StemPac has issued a call to continue the battle by faxing members of Congress urging them to override the veto. You can do so here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Big Dawg Speaks

Whatever your view of Former President William Jefferson Clinton, the man was and is brilliantly articulate. Here are excerpts from a speech he gave at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado recently, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

I don't know how long they can make this old dog hunt. Ever since 2000, the 2002 and 2004 elections were about, "No matter how bad you think we are, you can't vote for them, because you can't trust them to defend the country. And oh, by the way, forget about global warming; let's talk about flag burning and gay marriage." I mean, I just don't know how long you can milk that old cow without its milk running dry. ...

My advice is that we should have a national campaign which basically reiterates what we believe the differences are between -- not just Republicans and Democrats, but the relatively discrete section of the Republican Party that is totally controlling national government. ...

Karl Rove said that he was going to say we lived in a pre-9/11 world and Republicans lived in a post-9/11 world. You tell me. Example one: The White House and the House Republicans opposed spending $648 million a year to put in very high-technology, sophisticated scanning equipment that would at least give us a screen on all the cargo containers coming into all the ports and airports in America. They said, "We can't do that. It's too expensive. ..."

What was their first priority this year? Repealing the estate tax. What does it cost? About $250 billion over 10 years! For less than 1 percent of the American people. ... So he's willing to spend more than 20 times what it would cost to put in this safe-port material. The Republican Party in the Congress are willing to spend more than 20 times what it would cost to make 300 million Americans safer to help less than 1 percent of us. That tells you all you need to know about the differences. ...

I think Democrats tend to believe that the source of the country's economic strength and national greatness is in ordinary, middle-class citizens. And therefore we believe we ought to have a country of equal opportunity and shared responsibility. Republicans believe the source of the country's greatness and economic strength is in the economic and political elite that agree with the conservatives that are running things. And therefore they believe we should concentrate wealth and power to a maximum extent.

The Democrats believe in a government that's open and accountable and concentrates on empowering people. The Republicans that run Washington believe in a government that's secret and unaccountable and concentrates on helping their crowd.

We believe, we Democrats -- it makes us look weak sometimes -- that we're not right all the time. And therefore we believe policy should be made on the basis of evidence and perfected through argument. They believe policy should be made on the basis of ideology and rammed through by attack.

Are you listening Democrats?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Targeting the Targets

It's clear the NY Times still has not learned its lesson. Another editorial today takes a bead on another facet of the federal government, this time the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of Homeland Security never really makes us feel all that safe.

A government list of potential terrorist targets that came to light recently is only comforting if the roundup is intended, by its very absurdity, to confound the enemy into total inaction. Among other theoretically threatened places included in the federal antiterrorism database are a provincial petting zoo, an Amish popcorn factory and such backwater assets as a tackle shop, a check casher, a doughnut maker, a flea market and, in the case of one community, a “Beach at End of a Street.”

One’s first instinct is to guffaw at this odd collection of assets whose “criticality,’’ in the words of the department’s own inspector general, “is not readily apparent.”

But it is far from laughable when one realizes that the database is used by the agency as a factor in divvying the hundreds of millions in grants to localities — including the program that dealt 40 percent cuts to two proven targets, the national capital and New York City. The agency promises clearer guidelines soon so that the states themselves can produce a more credible list.

I suspect that part of the problem is that there were some deals made between influential senators and house members and the Department's money givers. How else can you explain why an Indiana doughnut maker is considered more of a target than any number of sites in New York City. I suspect another part of the problem is that no rational guidelines were provided to the states with respect to likely targets. I mean, how else would mortuaries make it onto the list?

As to the latter, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what would make tempting targets to those who wish to harm and humiliate this nation. It seems to me that there are several classes which should be addressed. First would be those targets with symbolic importance: various buildings in Washington, DC (e.g., the Capitol and White House), the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq buildings, the Sears Tower in Chicago and the TransAmerica building in San Francisco.

The next class would be those sites where large crowds of people gather, either for a one time visit (the Super Bowl and World Series), or on a regular basis (major amusement parks, major airports, rail and bus stations, subway stations and the subways themselves, key bridges).

Another obvious class would be comprised of those places key to our national infrastructure: conventional and nuclear powerplants, oil terminals and refineries, chemical factories.

My list is hardly exhaustive (and readers are invited to add to it in the comments section) but I only spent the last ten minutes considering this. How difficult would it be for someone at the Department to compile a more complete list, with guidelines? Of course, that would assume that the Department really cares about Homeland Security when it doles out federal funds, which is certainly not a safe assumption with the current regime.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sunday Poetry

It's been hot the past week for just about everybody I know. Here's something from Adrienne Rich that might take the edge off.

Miracle Ice Cream

Miracle's truck comes down the little avenue,

Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,

and, yes, you can feel happy

with one piece of your heart.

Take what's still given: in a room's rich shadow

a woman's breasts swinging lightly as she bends.

Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.

Late, you sit weighing the evening news,

fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions,

the rest of your heart.

Now The NY Times Has Really Done It

Today's editorial in the NY Times (scroll down to "And There Was Light"), is bound to increase the flaming from the Emperor and his minions. The "lawn order" faction is having a field day fantasizing on what to do to the treasonous press, especially the Times. While the Emperor huffs and puffs to Vladimir Putin about the free press in Iraq, he and his party are trying desparately to put the clamps on the press here in the US. Don't think the rest of the world hasn't noticed, and hasn't noticed with a great deal of glee. From Turkey's Zaman:

The Bush Administration is at loggerheads with The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times!

The two influential U.S. newspapers disclosed that the government has examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans after 9/11 and suddenly they are being labeled "traitors" by Republicans …

Their editors have been threatened with death; some politicians even state that its time to gag these newspapers …

But the Republicans still don't seem contented; they remain hopping mad.

It's hard to believe, but commentator Ann Coulter, a right-wing pundit, said that The New York Times building should be bombed!

"Such a bombing would have been appropriate only if Times' reporters and editors were inside," the "attached" commentator added!

Many maintained Coulter made a witty remark …

However, Coulter, as a guest on Fox network TV program, said, "I stand by my comment. The New York Times has betrayed the nation!"

But how? The Times was among the fervent supporters of the Bush Administration before the Iraqi War ...

It was among the planners of the war ...

Fabricated articles, all bylined by Judith Miller that Iraq possessed weapon of mass destruction, were published in The New York Times!

However, eventually, everything turned topsy-turvy …

Many lies have been told and the psychological operations have intensified ever since: So now, there are some who want The New York Times to be bombed.

Vice President Cheney condemned The Times, saying, "Some in the press have made the job of securing national security more difficult," adding that the newspaper "undermines counter-terrorism efforts …"

In addition, Cheney expressed outrage and said it was a scandal that The New York Times won a Pulitzer for its reporting on "the government's tracking of bank records."

Bush said it was "disgraceful" that the American news media had made such disclosures.

This is the issue and there is only one thing the Bush Administration can do: It should immediately announce to the American people that according to certain intelligence information, there are weapons of mass destruction in the cellar of The New York Times building!

And then The Times building should be bombed!


Clearly, but like all good snark it has more than a small kernel of truth in it.

And There Was Light...

Someone at the NY Times has finally turned on the lights. After five years of stenographically reproducing whatever the Emperor wanted printed, the "paper of record" has decided that what the Emperor wanted printed did not bear any relationship to truth or reality. In today's longish editorial, the Times finally sets forth what is actually going on in this country.

It is only now, nearly five years after Sept. 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power.

Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints. Even when the only challenge was to get required approval from an ever-cooperative Congress, the president and his staff preferred to go it alone. While no one questions the determination of the White House to fight terrorism, the methods this administration has used to do it have been shaped by another, perverse determination: never to consult, never to ask and always to fight against any constraint on the executive branch.

...To a disturbing degree, the horror of 9/11 became an excuse to take up this cause behind the shield of Americans’ deep insecurity. The results have been devastating. Americans’ civil liberties have been trampled. The nation’s image as a champion of human rights has been gravely harmed. Prisoners have been abused, tortured and even killed at the prisons we know about, while other prisons operate in secret. American agents “disappear” people, some entirely innocent, and send them off to torture chambers in distant lands. Hundreds of innocent men have been jailed at Guantánamo Bay without charges or rudimentary rights. And Congress has shirked its duty to correct this out of fear of being painted as pro-terrorist at election time.
[Emphasis added]

I do have one dispute with the editorial, and it is no mere quibble. I do in fact question " the determination of the White House to fight terrorism." One need only look at the bizarre formulae for allocating homeland defense funds in this country, or realize that the CIA group charged with finding and capturing the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack has just been disbanded, or consider the debacle of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath to come to the only conclusion possible: the regime has never been bent on thwarting terrorism. Terrorism has been a convenient excuse for the ravaging of the US Constitution. None of this administration's policies and actions have been about fighting terrorism, only the usurpation of power.

That's how tyrants operate.

And those are grounds for impeachment.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Wallaby!


"I'm tellin' ya, Wally, that Lamont dude has a real shot."

Well, Well: Someone Is Paying Attention...

...unfortunately it's not the US press or Congress.

The polls show that the Emperor continues to be disfavored by at least 60% of the population of this country. Most believe he lied us into a disasterous and illegal war. Most believe that he has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution with his unlawful warrantless phone tapping and data gathering. Yet he continues in office. Congressional Democrats, who now appear capable of taking over Congress if they don't deliberately go out and lose the November elections, however, get tongue-tied when the issue of impeachment comes up.

Not everyone is so reticent, however. Unfortunately, we only get to hear about it in the foreign press. From London's The Economist:

AS THE mid-term elections creep nearer, few congressmen want to talk about impeaching George Bush. But a growing number of cities and citizens' groups are demanding it. Several reliably pinko city councils across the country, including Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Marlboro, Vermont, and San Francisco have passed resolutions urging impeachment, and state legislatures in Vermont, California and Illinois have resolutions pending. On November 7th the “People's Republic” of Berkeley, California—71,000 voters, roughly 5% of whom are registered Republicans—will decide by ballot whether they want the president out, and presumably say yes.

Berkeley's move has caused much ridicule on conservative TV channels, yet a grassroots movement of sorts is developing. Last year the Centre for Constitutional Rights laid out its legal case against the president: spying on American citizens, lying to them about the Iraq war, seizing undue executive power and sending people to be tortured overseas. Now the centre and a dozen other organisations have teamed up for a “National Teach-In”, starting on July 19th. Meetings will feature a short film called “How to Impeach a President”.

A few Democrats in Congress are talking of censure and investigations, and popular momentum, if it gets going, could make them bolder. Moreover, state resolutions may have bite. The House Rules and Manual states that one method of setting an impeachment in motion is by charges “transmitted from the legislature of a state or territory”.
[Emphasis added]

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know that impeachment could be set in motion by a resolution "transmitted from the legislature of a state." I guess that rule is one of those secrets Congress Critters like to keep to themselves. It's a handy thing to know right now.

Maybe if we started pushing the issue in some of the safely blue states like California, we could actually force Congress to do something.

Time for some patriots to start hitting the bricks.

Business As Usual

So much for ethics reform in the House of Representatives. The man chosen to replace Tom Delay as House Majority Leader, John A. Boehner, got the job after promising reform. Unfortunately for Americans, however, his idea of reform is better record keeping when it comes to accepting the largesse of lobbyists and their clients. From today's NY Times:

Representative John A. Boehner won the job of House majority leader amid a post-Abramoff clamor for an overhaul of lobbying and ethics rules. But nearly six months later, the changes are still tied up in Congress.

And far from trying to put the brakes on lobbyists and the money they channel into Republican coffers, Mr. Boehner, who has portrayed his ties to Washington lobbyists as something to be proud of, has stepped on the gas.

He has been holding fund-raisers at lobbyists’ offices, flying to political events on corporate planes and staying at a golf resort with a business group that has a direct stake in issues before Congress.

...None of these activities is illegal or violates ethics rules, and they are not unique to Mr. Boehner.

Aides to Mr. Boehner have said he is sincere about clamping down on abuses that lead to illegal or unethical behavior by lawmakers and interest groups.

Kevin Madden, his communications director, said Mr. Boehner’s approach was reflected in House proposals that focused on greater disclosure of information rather than on limits to what members of Congress and lobbyists can do. Mr. Boehner, Mr. Madden said, has seen no need to change his own practices in dealing with lobbyists, taking trips or raising money since becoming majority leader, believing that transparency is the key to restoring public trust.
[Emphasis added]

Apparently Mr. Boehner's approach is that if the citizens know who is buying their representatives' votes, that should be enough. The fact that the votes are being bought shouldn't be troubling to anyone.

While knowing that votes are being purchased by lobbyists is helpful, and certainly not surprising after a year of investigations, it is definitely not enough. Unless and until voters in this country make that clear by voting such clowns out of office, we will be stuck with the do-nothing, treason-enabling, graft-ridden Congress we currently have. And we will deserve it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Critter Blogging

Sure, there's room for one more.

Negotiating Away the Bill of Rights

There are some lines that should never be crossed. There are some principles that should never be compromised. Never. Our rights under the Constitution are not up for bargaining, and never, ever should be. Those rights are the bedrock of this democracy. This is basic fourth grade civics, folks. Apparently Arlen Specter was absent that day, because he is proposing to do just that. From the NY Times:

After months of resistance, the White House agreed Thursday to allow a secret intelligence court to review the legality of the National Security Agency’s program to conduct wiretaps without warrants on Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists.

If approved by Congress, the deal would put the court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in the unusual position of deciding whether the wiretapping program is a legitimate use of the president’s power to fight terrorism. The aim of the plan, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told reporters, would be to “test the constitutionality” of the program.

The plan, brokered over the last three weeks in negotiations between Senator Arlen Specter and senior White House officials, including President Bush himself, would apparently leave the secretive intelligence court free to consider the case in closed proceedings, without the kind of briefs and oral arguments that are usually part of federal court consideration of constitutional issues. The court’s ruling in the matter could also remain secret.

The court would be able to determine whether the program is “reasonably designed” to focus on the communications of actual terrorism suspects and people in the United States who communicate with them. That determination is now left entirely in the hands of the security agency under an internal checklist.

If the court were to rule the program unconstitutional, the attorney general could refine and resubmit it or, conversely, appeal the decision to the FISA appellate court and ultimately perhaps the Supreme Court, officials said.

...Some critics of the program saw the White House’s reversal on that issue as a significant concession. But Representative Heather A. Wilson, Republican of New Mexico, who leads the intelligence subcommittee that oversees the National Security Agency, said Thursday in an interview that she found the idea of the court ruling on the legality of the entire program “a little odd.”

“That to me is not what the FISA court is set up to do,” she said. “The judges approve warrants — they’re not there to rule on matters of constitutionality.”

Ms. Wilson plans to announce a legislative proposal of her own on Friday that will seek to toughen Congressional oversight of the program and “modernize” electronic surveillance tools.

In a separate interview, Representative Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said she saw the Specter-White House agreement as an “end run” around the FISA law requiring the approval of individual wiretapping warrants.

“I have great respect for this guy,” she said of Mr. Specter, “but he hasn’t been briefed on this program, and he’s giving away in this legislation a core Fourth Amendment protection by basically saying that the FISA court has permission to bless the entire program, which will abandon as best I can tell the requirement of individualized warrants.”
[Emphasis added]

Secret court proceedings and secret findings have no place in this country, and they certainly have no place in this country when dealing with our most basic and sacred rights. Certain evidence may have to be viewed in camera, but the arguments and especially the holdings require the light of day. We (as in "We, the People") are entitled to know what our government is doing.


Smart Politics...

...can translate into smart policy.

Now here's a breath of fresh air: political maneuvering to pass important legislation. The legislation involved was the Voting Rights Act, portions of which expire shortly. From the Washington Post:

The House yesterday easily approved an extension of key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act, after GOP leaders quelled a rebellion within the party's Southern ranks that threatened to become a political embarrassment.

Before the 390 to 33 vote to extend the measure for a quarter-century, the House defeated four amendments that would have diluted two expiring provisions and possibly derailed final passage before the November congressional elections. With the House hurdle now cleared, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he hoped to bring the extension to the Senate floor before the August recess.

"Today, Republicans and Democrats have united in a historic vote to preserve and protect one of America's most important fundamental rights -- the right to vote," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Yesterday's votes put a dent in Hastert's principle of moving major legislation only with a "majority of the majority" -- that is, with most of the chamber's 231 Republicans supporting it. Overwhelming Democratic support was crucial to defeating three of the potentially killer amendments introduced by dissident Republicans and opposed by Hastert.
[Emphasis added]

The Democrats could easily have refused to cooperate with Speaker Hastert in the process, leaving the Republicans with a highly embarrassing result leading up to the elections, but chose instead to assist him in beating down the ridiculous proposals of some Southern Republicans who were clearly grandstanding for their home districts. This time, the Democrats did the right thing: the Voting Rights Act is too important a piece of legislation to play partisan politics with.

Besides, those 33 Republicans can now be clearly identified for what they are and what they did. That's enough for me. This time.

Update: Here is the roll call vote on HR 9.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Disappearing the Middle Class...

...and all roads to it.

The economy, we are assured by the Emperor and his minions, is healthy and growing. The problem as I see it is that the economy may be healthy, but the only people who are benefitting from that health are those whose annual incomes exceed six figures. Wages for the rest of the country are fairly stagnant, while the cost of such essentials as food, housing, medical care, fuel and transportation costs are skyrocketing. Congress, of course, hasn't noticed. They, of course, have annual incomes that exceed six figures, and they've just given themselves another pay raise. They had neither the time nor the inclination to give the rest of us a raise in the form of a hike in the minimum pay scale. Molly Ivins noticed the same thing. From her July 11 column.

I don't get it. What's the percentage in keeping the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour? After nine years? This is such an unnecessary and nasty Republican move. Congress has voted seven times to raise its own wages since last the minimum wage budged. Of course, Congress always raises its own salary in the dark of night, hoping no one will notice. But now it does the same with the minimum wage, quietly killing it.

... According to the current issue of Mother Jones:

-- One in four U.S. jobs pays less than a poverty-level income.

-- Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has risen steadily. Now, 13 percent -- 37 million Americans -- are officially poor.

-- Bush's tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those making $1 million are saved $42,700.

-- In 2002, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, compared those who point out such statistics as the one above to Adolph Hitler (surely he meant Stalin?).

-- Bush has diverted $750 million to "healthy marriages" by shifting funds from social services, mostly childcare.

-- Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50 percent.

A series of related stats -- starting with the news that two out of three new jobs are in the suburbs -- shows how the poor are further disadvantaged in the job hunt by lack of public or private transportation.

Compassionate conservatism?

Ain't no such animal on this planet.

I Can't Wait For This Signing Statement

Congress has begun hearings as a start to drafting legislation on the handling and trial of detained terrorist suspects. As I anticipated, the regime has already started pushing for something quite like the present system, figuring that if the passive Congress gives its imprimatur, the Supreme Court will back down from its stern holding in the Ramdan case. At least this time, the press is watching. From an editorial in today's Washington Post:

IT'S GOOD THAT the Bush administration says it will apply Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to al-Qaeda detainees in the war on terrorism. How good depends on precisely what the administration means, which isn't clear. And even more important is not whether the administration acknowledges Geneva in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling requiring as much but how it engages with Congress in response to that ruling.

Does it work with the legislature to create fair trials, authorized by law, or does it try to muscle Congress into rubber-stamping the flawed system it created on its own? Does it seek legislation to undo the court's holding that Geneva applies, or does it work with the legislature in good faith to make sure that American forces have clear rules that honor both this country's values and its international treaty obligations?
[Emphasis added]

That's a pretty good list of questions for Congress to consider. However, after reading and listening to/about some of the testimony given to Congress yesterday and comments made by Pentagon and White House officials since the Hamdan decision, it's clear that the Emperor and his minions are hoping that not much will change.

Apparently the regime is sticking to its original plan for tribunals that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the American concepts of justice. The regime wants Congress to set up a special class of defendants, one that is peopled by those who are not entitled to view all the evidence being brought against them, who are not entitled to counsel right from the start, and who are not entitled to be present during proceedings. In other words, the charge being brought against members of this class, that of being "terrorists," is already presumed to be true, thus depriving the members of the class of any rights to a fair trial in which to dispute the charge. This is a truly elegant example of Catch-22, but I don't think this is what the Supreme Court had in mind.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ouch! That's Gotta Leave a Mark

I generally wait until the weekend to peruse and then post on some of the foreign press reports, but I couldn't wait on this opinion piece written by Angel Guerra Cabrera for Mexico's La Jornado. You remember Mexico, don't you? That's the country to the south of us in which hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets to protest a stolen election recently, and filed an eight-hundred-plus page complaint with their election commission. This article isn't about that, however, it's about the US.

The media has been saturated with the second report issued by the so-called Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, created by the government of Bush II for the purpose of imposing a barbarous colonial and neoliberal regime on the island. In addition to a mysterious secret addendum for "reasons of national security and effective implementation," there is an increase in the slice for their mercenaries in Cuba, but the report says little that is new.

The draconian measures Bush has adopted in his undeclared war against Cuba are such that the only thing he's left out of his plans to overthrow the Revolution is the unaffordable but never quite discarded idea of direct military attack. And it is for the use of force alone that the sinister recommendations of this Commission are made.

...Reading the dense and repetitive text of the report calls attention Washington's animalistic hatred Washington holds for the Venezuelan-Cuban alliance. How it irritates the hierarchs in Washington to see this unprecedented first scent of Latin American unity, inspired by Caracas and Havana!

But there is one constant throughout the document about which it is worth taking note, and it is the brazenness with which the government of the United States presents itself as the paragon of human rights and democracy in the world. Because it is of fundamental importance to crush this myth, in which many people around the world continue to believe. The great majority of humanity is outraged at the tortures at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, at the secret CIA flights conducted with the complicity of European governments, and at the demolition of Iraq and Afghanistan. Nonetheless, some still hold that these outrages are anomalies of the United States system, doubting that they reveal the very essence of it.

How can a system call itself the champion of liberty when it didn't hesitate to incinerate Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Or when it murdered millions of Vietnamese? How can a regime consider itself respectful of democracy and human rights when, after Hurricane Katrina passed through New Orleans, it was shown that the poor and predominantly African-American population of that city continues to live in conditions not much better than those suffered by the slaves on Southern plantations? Would the ruthless occupation of Palestine by Israel be possible if the Israelis were not counting on the White House's unconditional support? Aren't the U.S. policies of plunder and pillage in Latin America, Africa and Asia tantamount to new and daily consummations of silent Hiroshimas and Nagasakis? Is democracy compatible with the policies of the "free market economy" so relentlessly prescribed to Cuba by the Bush Commission?

The most powerful evidence that these policies are incompatible with democracy is the uprising of entire peoples, like the Argentines, the Bolivians, the Venezuelans and the Ecuadorians, against the criminal social effects of neoliberal policies. The Bush Government, which arose as the result of two scandalous election frauds, lacks the moral authority to even mention the word "democracy." We must proclaim to the four winds: today, democracy - government for the people, such as exists in Cuba - and the triumph of human rights, can only be based on the struggle of the majority against imperialist domination.
[Emphasis added]

Sing it, brother!