Friday, December 31, 2004

U.S. responds to tsunami disaster

I spoke too soon. Colin Powell, along with Jeb Bush, will be going to Asia to survey damage and, one hopes, correlate U.S. aid.

The House adopts Relaxation Techniques

What I find so astonishing -- and, frankly, so dispiriting -- about the efforts on the part of the GOP in the House to completely indemnify themselves against any punishment resulting from their ethical "lapses," is just how transperent they are in doing so.

The proposed change would essentially negate a general rule of conduct that the ethics committee has often cited in admonishing lawmakers -- including Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- for bringing discredit on the House even if their behavior was not covered by a specific regulation. Backers of the rule, adopted three decades ago, say it is important because the House's conduct code cannot anticipate every instance of questionable behavior that might reflect poorly on the chamber.

Republicans, returning to the Capitol on Tuesday after increasing their House majority by three seats in the Nov. 2 election, also want to relax a restriction on relatives of lawmakers accepting foreign and domestic trips from groups interested in legislation before the House.

A third proposed rule change would allow either party to stop the House ethics committee from investigating a complaint against a member.

Currently, if the panel, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, is deadlocked on a complaint, the matter automatically goes to an investigative subcommittee after 45 days. The proposed change would drop any complaint that is not backed by a majority vote to move it forward.

Government watchdog groups called the proposals startling and unjustified. If the proposed rules are adopted next week as GOP leaders suggest, they would amount to "the biggest backtracking on House ethics rules that we have seen," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

Further, Dennis Hastert is mulling stripping Joel Hefley (R-Col.) of his ethics committee chair as punishment for letting ethical charges against Tom DeLay go forward earlier this year.

As I said, I find all this astonishing and dispiriting. Astonishing, because obviously the House GOP have absolutely no fear of public disapproval for their hubris and slavish circling of the wagons around the ethically-challenged Delay. Dispiriting because I fear their instincts are right and they have no reason to fear any public disapproval.

Power is all that matters to Republicans now. And they know that between the stark partisanship of the electorate and the greasing of the skids brought about by redistricting makes maintaining that power far more easy than it has been for decades.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

"He hath showed strength with his arm"

The sports press -- under the rule that it is better to be first than right -- have screwed these deals in the past: last year with the Boston deal for Alex Rodriguez, and earlier this year with the three-way deal involving the Yankees, Phoenix and L.A.

But this time, it could just be real.

From JS Bach's Canticle "Magnificat" (and props to the Vega's favorite mezzo-soprano for bringing this one to may attention):

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo, dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.

He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

Bush emerges from the White House Trailer Park

On Wednesday morning Mr. Bush, operating from a trailer just across the road from his ranch that has been converted into a secure communications center, called the leaders of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India to pledge his support.

"I assured those leaders this is only the beginning of our help," he said of the $35 million that the administration has pledged so far.

Mr. Bush's aides are aware that the depth of America's compassion will be compared to what other nations are spending, what Washington spends on lesser disasters at home, and what is now being spent in Iraq.

Spain has publicly committed about $68 million. Australia has pledged $27 million. American officials say those comparisons can be misleading because the United States is providing airlift and other services in an aid coalition with Japan, India and Australia.

Then there are the domestic comparisons. Congress has approved roughly $13 billion for aid related to the hurricanes that hit the country in the late summer. Most of that is going to Florida, where Mr. Bush loaded fresh water and dry goods into the trunks of cars.

Of course, that was home turf, and an election campaign was under way, and even Mr. Bush's critics do not expect spending on that scale for the far greater disaster in South Asia.

Of course we don't. Why would we expect this president to put as much money and effort into affecting perceptions of the U.S. in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, as he did in begging for votes in Fla'ida?

Well, at least he "emerged from the trailer" on the ranch to make a statement (too bad he had to, as usual, mix concern for the victims with his trademark bitchiness: "'I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed,' Mr. Bush replied, ticking off the magnitude of increases in American aid.")

Now perhaps he could also show his concern for this mounting tragedy by cutting short his vacation. Or perhaps Colin Powell could rejuggle his priorities by overseeing relief efforts in Asia instead of overseeing the ball drop in Times Square.

The last intellectual

I don't often find myself agreeing with Chris Hitchens, but his "funeral oration" for Susan Sontag is worth reading. He gets both her polymath brilliance and her sometime annoying self-assuredness.

I haven't read much of her work, but I always enjoyed watching her in debates on TV or listening on the radio. She was provocative, incredibly well read, and important. What she said on the matter, mattered. I can't think of another figure not affiliated with government or a think tank who has the kind of influence she had. A lot of that had to do with her bravery, whether directing "Waiting for Godot" in a besieged Sarajevo, or in pricking the sanctimoniousness of much of the mainstream media post Sept. 11. In fact, those latter comments -- discussed here in a Salon interview -- were used by the idiots on TV to try to marginalize and cow her. They failed.

And it is the rise of those idiots" that leads me to the conclusion that she may well be the last public intellectual. Public discourse seems to no longer permit restrained reason or to allow a public figure to change her mind with time or to take a stand that seems contrary to what is expected (her support of the war in Kosovo). Without that permission, "debate" becomes no more than taking positions and then humming "lalalala" while your "opponent" takes the opposite position.

A public intellectual, seems to me, is someone who after laying out her argument leaves you thinking, not just angry. It is someone who can accept the validity of the opposing viewpoint and still limn its failing (I don't think Chomsky meets either of those requirements because of his moral equivalency, fact bending, and condescension). I can't think of anyone else in the public sphere who is able to do that right now, and I don't think the format of public "debate" currently permits it. Leaving people angry -- whether anger in support or opposed to one's position -- seems the goal for most commentators these days.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Dems on Social Security: The silence of the lambs

The Boston Globe's Washington bureau chief understands Bush & Co.'s Iraqification of Social Security.

The expected Social Security shortfall has been a perennial domestic concern in much the same way that Hussein's intransigence with arms inspectors was a perennial foreign-policy concern: From the White House to Congress to think tanks, policy makers worried about it, but presidents (including Bush) felt no immediate need to deal with it.

Then Bush decided to focus on it, and suddenly a long-term concern became intense and immediate.

Much as the Iraq war was preceded by speeches designed to show Hussein in the most threatening light, the Bush economic summit seemed designed to dominate a slow news week with the idea that failing to deal with Social Security now will hurt the national economy.

"The time to start making sacrifices is now . . . so that the markets can have confidence that we're on a course that is going to avoid a train wreck," Bush said at the summit.

Still, the link between the current economy and a Social Security deficit that will begin to strike benefits in decades is every bit as speculative and theoretical as the link between Hussein and the war on terrorism in late 2002. But few people in the political mainstream would dismiss the idea out of hand, and arguing that Bush's predictions are a bit too dire seems unnecessary to most Democrats at this stage [my italics].

As Peter Canellos notes, Democrats are once again being lulled to sleep by an administration that knows the power of marketing policy and the effectiveness of fear mongering. Democrats' inability to effectively counter the rhetoric of Bush in his run up to the war in Iraq killed them at the polls in 2002 and made Kerry look flip-floppety in 2004.

And they are making the same mistake now.

The best way, in my humble opinion, for Democrats to take this on is not to simply argue that we should do nothing about Social Security. Instead, they should take a two-pronged approach. State clearly and frequently that Social Security is not about to collapse and provide a plan for reasonable changes that will guarantee the trust fund's health for decades to come (remember the "lock box?"). At the same time, employ a little fear mongering themselves. Point out that the real entitlement crisis is Medicare, a crisis exacerbated by Bush's ridiculous prescription drug plan (that few seniors like, anyway).

There are any number of ways to frame the debate, but if Democrats don't begin to do so soon, they will continue to appear to be irrelevant obstructionists, doomed to further losses in 2006.

They might also take a page from Republicans: Harry & Louise, anyone?

U.S. pledges more aid

I am heartened that we have now come to the conclusion that disaster relief is at least equal in importance to the inauguration.

But, seriously, no level of expenditure can equal the sheer overwhelmingness of this.

And, in contradiction to a post the other day, experts now say that predicting the effect of tsunamis is nigh on impossible.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Who really mattered

I find it pretty instructive that Time's "People Who Mattered 2004 (in the issue with the Catastrophic Success proclaimed as 'Cabbage of the Year,')" inludes our man in Baghdad, Iyad Allawi (in the photo, he's accompanied by two machine gun toting American 'civil contractors')," but the article does not include Ali Sistani.

Perhaps Time had a quota of only one Iraqi, but if not for the Ayatollah in Najaf "Mess o'Potamia" would be an even greater bloodbath than it already is. If not for Sistani, there would be no Allawi.

Rummy: "Ain't my war"

Bob Novak "explains" that Rumsfeld never really wanted the war with which he will forever be associated.

Rumsfeld is often bracketed with the neocons, but that is incorrect. In a long political career that dates back to his election to Congress in 1962, he has not even been associated with the traditional conservative movement. In the run-up to the attack on Iraq, he was not aggressively pressing intervention by force of arms, but instead was shaping a military response to fit President Bush's command.

My first prediction for 2005: Following the "election" in Iraq, Rumsfeld will declare victory and resign. My second prediction: His replacement -- which loyal Bush minion will take the job, I know not -- will applaud the military's stunning success in Iraq and begin pulling troops out.

If I'm right, years of chaos and further instability in the mideast. If I'm wrong, the butcher bill will become rather more difficult for Americans to stomach.

Critics of the war may use this analysis as one more piece of ammunition to attack the effort; some supporters may continue to refer to casualties as "light," noting that typically tens of thousands of Americans must die in war before domestic support crumbles. Both miss the point. The casualty statistics make clear that our nation is involved in a war whose intensity on the ground matches that of previous American wars. Indeed, the proportional burden on the infantryman is at its highest level since World War I. With next year's budget soon to be drafted, it is time for Washington to finally address their needs accordingly.

The real crisis: Lying about Social Security, ignoring Medicare

Everything's relative. Bush talked about Social Security's being a $10.4 trillion problem. That's how much you'd have to give Social Security today for it to continue paying benefits indefinitely under its current formula. But the shortfall in Bush's Medicare drug program is $17 trillion. In other words, the problem that Bush himself created a year ago is two thirds again as large as Social Security's problem. What's more, the drug plan starts costing taxpayers big bucks just a year from now, in 2006. We'll borrow it, of course. Social Security, for all its flaws, will take in more than enough cash to pay for itself for a dozen years even if nothing changes. So which is a "crisis"? A $17 trillion problem that starts next year, or a $10.4 trillion problem that starts in 2018? You don't need a math genius to answer that question.

Newsweek's Allan Sloan on the phony Social Security "crisis" that Bush & Co. are peddling.

Priorities, priorities

Amount of aid pledged to Asian tsunami victims: $15 million.
Cost of planned inauguration ceremonies/events: $30-40 million.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Now is not the time for debate

The outgoing chairman of the preznit's council of economic advisors sends Michael Kinsley a polite e-mail, explaining that "now is not the time for an on the record debate" regarding privatization.

These people are unbelievable.

As Josh Marshall notes, Bush & Co. intends to follow the model they used in the run up to the war in Iraq to sell the public on privatization. After all, the threat of a Social Security "crisis" is as imminent as that mushroon cloud eminating from the minarets of Baghdad.

Marshall points out that we're now in the fear mongering and lying phase. If we wait any longer for debate we'll end up in the "why do you hate America" phase, at which time debate will be impossible, with the press paying no attention and the right making the usual claims that we either have our heads in the sand or want to coddle dictators, in this case, the dictatorship of the bourgeoise that is Social Security.


Horrible. And, sadly, avoidable.

The tsunamis' impact in the hardest-hit countries occurred about two hours after the underwater earthquake: If authorities had had the opportunity to move people even a few hundred yards inland, many people would have been saved, Bernard said.

25 years ago today

Although it has gone largely unnoticed, today marks 25 years since Soviet troops captured Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and killed Hafizullah Amin, the prime minister.

Although Afghanistan had been in political turmoil in the years leading up to the Soviet invasion, it seems likely that it would have continued to play out through local warlords, and would not have elevated to a Cold War proxy if the Soviets hadn't overplayed their hand.

The ensuing USSR/Afghanistan war would lead to the U.S. arming of the Mujahideen resistance, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise to power of the Taliban, and the establishment of al Qaeda.

"The Americans want us to continue fighting but not to win, just to bleed the Russians."- Ismael Khan. Prominent Afghan Commander, who fought against the Russians in Herat.

The Russians aren't the only ones who've been bleeding ever since.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

What I want for Christmas

From a post-war Christmas gone by:

Kris Kringle: But Suzie, some children wish for things they can't possibly use, like real locomotives...or B-29s.

"No plan for Phase IV"

The official U.S. Army historian responsible for chronicling the war in Iraq concludes that the Pentagon and military brass called for the invasion of a country with absolutely no plan for the occupation, or "Phase IV."

"While there may have been 'plans' at the national level, and even within various agencies within the war zone, none of these 'plans' operationalized the problem beyond regime collapse" -- that is, laid out how U.S. forces would be moved and structured, Wilson writes in an essay that has been delivered at several academic conferences but not published. "There was no adequate operational plan for stability operations and support operations."


Army commanders still misunderstand the strategic problem they face and therefore are still pursuing a flawed approach, writes Wilson, who is scheduled to teach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next year. "Plainly stated, the 'western coalition' failed, and continues to fail, to see Operation Iraqi Freedom in its fullness," he asserts.

"Reluctance in even defining the situation . . . is perhaps the most telling indicator of a collective cognitive dissidence on part of the U.S. Army to recognize a war of rebellion, a people's war, even when they were fighting it," he comments.

Because of this failure, Wilson concludes, the U.S. military remains "perhaps in peril of losing the 'war,' even after supposedly winning it."

Hopefully, this will be kept in mind should Tommy Franks be awarded another "medal" or a job as head of Homeland Security.

Because the results of that inability to come to terms with "even defining the situation" have been horrific.

Sergeant Posner, who weighs about 260 pounds and is 6 feet 6 inches tall, said he felt as if he had been "launched" by the force of the blast.

"The next thing I knew I was wiggling around on the floor," he said. "I was hurt. It felt like something had hit me on the hip. It hurt like hell. I tried to crawl away."

The rest of his injuries are mapped out across his body, from the place on his head where a ball bearing was removed, down his thigh still implanted with shrapnel, and on to his fractured lower right leg, swathed in bandages.

On his stomach, his face to the floor, he wormed along, peering through the dim light, only to find himself awash in carnage. "It was pandemonium," he said. "It was gruesome. There were body parts everywhere.

"I remember crawling over some guy writhing in pain. He was screaming in pain. He was a civilian American. He was bleeding, calling out for help. I climbed over him and crawled underneath a broken table or chair, throwing it out of my way. But the place was destroyed. People everywhere were screaming. It was horrific inside there."

Dazed, he groped for a weapon and struggled to get out to a bunker, thinking it was a mortar attack and that more would follow. Many of the soldiers interviewed here thought the blast was from mortars or rockets. None said he had seen anything suspicious inside the mess hall. The authorities now believe a suicide bomber, dressed in an Iraqi uniform, set off the explosion.

Before the manger

Before the manger
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The plot to kill Christmas

A holiday massacre
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
In 1978 there was a plot to traumatize kids and turn Christmas into a season to fear and loathe: The Star Wars Holiday Special.

As a coal-like present to my Dear Readers, I give you "The Holy Grail of Crap."

Thanks to World o' Crap for the, well, crap.

Rumsfeld rules

The Moose observes that this must be a first for a Secretary of Defense to visit the troops on the front lines in order to boost his own spirits.

The Moose has no problem with Rummy making a surprise trip to Iraq as part of the SECDEF's "Keep my Job" tour. One wonders whether the Defense Department will issue satin jackets with the "Retain Rummy" official logo to commemorate this historic visit with the troops.


"When it looks bleak, when one worries about how it's going to come out, when one reads and hears the naysayers and the doubters who say it can't be done, and that we're in a quagmire here," one should recall that there have been such doubters ``throughout every conflict in the history of the world," he told about 200 soldiers of the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division at their commander's headquarters.

Mr. Rumsfeld made the 12-hour overnight flight to Iraq from Washington after aides went to unusual lengths to keep it secret. Only a few reporters and one television crew accompanied him. On the plane, Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters: "The purpose of the trip is to thank the troops and wish them a merry Christmas."

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The assault on Christmas -- Jack Benny version

Heard on satellite radio:

Female friend of Benny's: Rochester, are you going to play Santa?

Rochester: Yeah. Santa Anita.

As O'Reilly warns, you must be ever-vigilant over this kind of thing.

Cognitive dissonance

Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall try to make sense of the post-election collapse of support for the war in Iraq. Writes Marshall

The dead-even political polarization of America remains the defining fact of our politics. Close to 50% of Americans were dead set on voting for President Bush almost no matter what. Or they were dead set on voting against John Kerry. For our purposes, it's the same difference.

I think that many Bush supporters simply couldn't take stock of the full measure of the screw-up in Iraq during the election because doing so would have conflicted their support for President Bush. Iraq and the war on terror so defined this election that support for the war and the president who led us into it simply couldn't be pried apart.

Perhaps it wasn't so internalized. During the slugfest of the campaign supporting Bush just meant supporting the war and this is what people told pollsters when they were asked, because one question was almost a proxy for the other.

You can even do a thought experiment by imagining how many conservatives during election season would have been so staunch in their support for the war if it were being fought under a President Gore or a President Clinton. The question all but answers itself.

In any case, I think what has happened is that the end of the campaign season has departisanized the war -- at least to a measurable extent -- and folks who were emotionally and intellectually committed to reelecting the president (just as there were people on the other side with similar commitments) are now freer to see the situation in Iraq a bit more on its own terms.

I think that's probably right. But I'd go further -- and simpler. Much of what has happened since the war ended is that the Bush administration has experimented -- as MoDo puts it -- in truth telling. The Catastrophic Success himself has begun admitting that freedom is not really on the march these days, and Rumsfeld's new bout of "Message: I Care" is signalling in very clear terms that the administration itself doesn't believe they are winning the war. And even Americans with those ribbons festooning the backs of their SUVs will take the hint and agree that a losing war is not a good war to support, and Dear Leader is giving them more and more permission to admit it.

But that "departisanship" of opinions about the war infuriates me and makes me want to make sure that a political price is paid. I'm speaking primarily of the press's darling, John McCain. Now, I don't expect a Republican Senator to have actively campaigned for John Kerry, no matter how much that was to be fervently wished. But for him to have been out there hustling for George Bush and then, mere weeks after the election, to say that he has no confidence in the conduct of Bush's DefSec is galling. McCain knows well -- knew well in the weeks running up to Nov. 2 -- that Rumsfeld's conduct of the war is predicated on Bush's conduct of the war. I don't recall Chuck Hagel noisily rooting for Bush's reelection. For McCain to have done so -- lending Bush some much needed credibility -- now appears an excercise in rank cynicism.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Remember the budget surplus?

And the force for good it could have provided?

Cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and launching the invasion and occupation of Iraq are finally taking their toll: on the world's poorest and hungriest.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - In one of the first signs of the effects of the ever tightening federal budget, in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty.

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

"We have between five and seven million people who have been affected by these cuts," said Lisa Kuennen, a food aid expert at Catholic Relief Services. "We had approval for all of these programs, often a year in advance. We hired staff, signed agreements with governments and with local partners, and now we have had to delay everything."

Ah, this explains why the Bush administration is yelling "crisis," when it comes to Social Security and the "IOUs" they keep worrying over. Must be because the Bush administration really doesn't believe in "honor[ing] some earlier promises."

One administration official involved in food aid voiced concern that putting such a high priority on emergency help might be short-sighted. The best way to avoid future famines is to help poor countries become self-sufficient with cash and food aid now, said the official, who asked not to be identified because of the continuing debate on the issue. "The fact is, the development programs are being shortchanged, and I'm not sure the administration is going to make up the money," the official said.

Sigh. An administration official has to speak anonymously when stating the obvious.

When war bloggers attack

The Fighting 101st Keyboardists are at it again, accusing the AP photographer of staging the execution of election workers in Baghdad the other day.

How else, they ask, could a combat photographer actually capture a scene of violence? In a war zone? I mean, they sit around in their pajamas all day, typing furiously, and nothing ever happens except when mom calls upstairs to say their lunch is ready.

No, it had to be the left wing agenda of the Associated Press. Although the logic is somewhat unclear (Discredit election workers? For dying?). There can be no other explanation for the increasingly desperate bloggerum belli. As Mark Follman writes,

This is hardly the first time that pundits on the political right have sought to portray a left-wing media insurgency bent on capturing grim images in U.S.-occupied Iraq in order to undermine the Bush administration. Last April, the editors of the New York Post blared accusations of the AP cutting a deal with Fallujah's mutilators and helping to maximize the carnage of the four American military contractors murdered there.

Reporting from the most perilous sectors of a war zone is a complicated business, both in terms of access and safety. The kind of flimsy commentary-with-an-agenda bouncing around the conservative blogosphere right now regarding an AP insurgency against the war effort is not only a disservice to the public but a dishonor to the many journalists who have been injured or killed carrying out their dangerous mission in Iraq.

Fight on, brave members of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists. Your nation needs you. To shut up.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The King joins the War on Drugs

The King and I
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
24 years ago today.

UPDATE: Check that. 34 years. Thanks to alert reader DK for the arithmetical skills I lack.

Man o' da year

Originally uploaded by vegacura.
I'm sitting here somewhere in between Castro's godless Cuba and the god-sated Alabama of Judge Roy Moore, looking for solace in the wake of DePodesta's shameful lies and deceit. Fortunately, there's the annual worship ritual of the preznit to look forward to. Damn you, Paul DePodesta!

I find that solace knowing that others share my sense that we are mistaken in our unwavering belief in the reality-based, and instead have grown to appreciate that we are led by green vegetables. Fafblog presents the Man of the Year, as chosen by Fafnir, Giblets and the Medium Lobster. Yes, cabbagey-goodness.

After all, according to the latest polls, the majority of Americans don't approve of the job being done by the guy they elected less than two months ago. Perhaps they have him confused with a leafy head.


Kos is right, the election took place a couple of weeks too early (I'd argue a month, but why quibble?).

President Bush heads into his second term amid deep and growing public skepticism about the Iraq war, with a solid majority saying for the first time that the war was a mistake and most people believing that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should lose his job, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

While a slight majority believe the Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties. This led 56 percent to conclude that, given the cost, the conflict there was "not worth fighting" -- an eight-point increase from when the same question was asked this summer, and the first time a decisive majority of people have reached this conclusion.

President Bush heads into his second term amid deep and growing public skepticism about the Iraq war, with a solid majority saying for the first time that the war was a mistake and most people believing that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should lose his job, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

While a slight majority believe the Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties. This led 56 percent to conclude that, given the cost, the conflict there was "not worth fighting" -- an eight-point increase from when the same question was asked this summer, and the first time a decisive majority of people have reached this conclusion.

Make no mistake, Bush's response to the question about Rumsfeld in yesterdays "press conference," was illuminating. He prefers imagery to action. Perhaps a majority of Americans are catching on. A little too late though.

The poll -- or at least the story -- doesn't mention his approval ratings on domestic affairs, but given that he's done virtually nothing in that area (saying, yesterday, that him perscription drug benefit was the solution to the real crisis that is Medicare was classic), I'd suspect the public isn't too high on the preznit there either.

That's why making Social Security dismantling a purely Bush/GOP initiative is vital. First step should be to fight off Bush's characterization of the situation as a "crisis." He's going to tour the country in the coming weeks, with fawning display of his firm leadership. But unfortunately, I think Garance Franke-Ruta is correct in saying that it is too late to try to argue that SS is not in crisis. Dems have to make sure they counter his framing of the issue in a way that makes sense, and to show some party discipline for a change.

Dear reader, postings may be light in the days to come. I am traveling to Florida to fight for the rights of ugly tomatoes, but I'll do my best to stay abreast of things and report back.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Doing the laundry

Elephants in Oakland points out that we "root for laundry." We don't root for players, we root for the guys wearing our team's jersey (and don't give me that nonsense that the game used to be different, it's always been this way; the only difference that free agency brought is that now the players get to make some decisions about where they play, not just the front office). That's true. But in this case, I think EIO may be over-compensating and in denial over the trade of Mulder and Hudson. The Elephants have to know that the Oakland staff had a magical run there and their dismantling marks the end of an era. Believe me, the Yankees are still wandering in the desert since losing Pettite, Clemens, and Wells.

That's what makes the "Waiting for the Mullet" so agonizing.

Bumiller is hacktastic!

Elisabeth Bumiller sinks to new depths in her work to bolster the Commander in Chief[TM]'s cult of personality.

But Mr. Bush's love of up-by-the-bootstraps stories is far more complex than that, friends and analysts say, and offers a window into the psychology of the president.

First, Mr. Bush's choices reflect the sentiments of a man who was incubated in the world of the East Coast elite but has a spent a rebellious lifetime trying to make his own way. Mr. Bush's cabinet is notably light on Ivy League graduates, and only one of his past and present choices, John Ashcroft, the departing attorney general, attended the president's undergraduate alma mater, Yale.


Second, Mr. Bush seems to identify with the hardscrabble stories, as difficult as that may be to believe about a man who was born into one of the most privileged families in the United States. As Jim Hightower, the former Texas agriculture commissioner, memorably cracked about Mr. Bush's father in comments since applied to the 43rd president: "He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

Stanley A. Renshon, a psychoanalyst and political scientist at the City University of New York, argues that there is in fact something to the remark, and that Mr. Bush, who said last spring that he had to "knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man's footsteps," truly believes that he had to overcome hurdles on his way to the White House.

"He was born into a family where there were enormous expectations for the kids, and he literally spent a lifetime not measuring up," said Mr. Renshon, whose recent book, "In his Father's Shadow: The Transformations of George W. Bush," is a psychological study of the president.

"In Bush's case," Mr. Renshon added, "he follows in his father's footsteps, he doesn't make it for decades, but he keeps on plugging, and he succeeds. But I think it was very complex for him because he often didn't know where his parents' and family help ended and his own contribution picked up. He had to carve out his own sphere in a very big shadow."

Plugging away. It's hard, hard work.

But, anyway, thanks Elisabeth. I guess a good hardscrabble story trumps credentials anytime. The entire piece works to throw a smoke screen up in the face of Bush's Cabinet of Mediocrity. Kerik was the worst, using bluster and bullshit to hide his incapacity to do the job he's given through his above-average opportunism, but he is not alone in the Bush administration, starting right at the top.

Alberto Gonzales's paper trail

Get a look at our next Attorney General's legal reasoning.

Yet memos reviewed by NEWSWEEK and interviews with key principals show that Gonzales's advice to the president reflected the bold views laid out in the Aug. 1 memo and other documents. Sources close to the Senate Judiciary Committee say a chief focus of the hearings will be Gonzales's role in the so-called "torture memo," as well as his legal judgment in urging Bush to sidestep the Geneva Conventions. In a Jan. 25, 2002, memo to Bush, Gonzales said the new war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners." Some State Department lawyers charge that Gonzales misrepresented so many legal considerations and facts (including hard conclusions by State's Southeast Asia bureau about the nature of the Taliban) that one lawyer considers the memo to be "an ethical breach." In response, a senior White House official says Gonzales's memo was only a "draft" and just one part of an extensive decision-making process in which all views were aired.

By several accounts, Gonzales and his team were constantly looking to push legal limits, to widen and maximize Bush's powers. Just two weeks after September 11, an earlier secret memo drafted by Yoo had landed on Gonzales's desk, arguing there were effectively "no limits" on Bush's powers to respond to the attacks. Startlingly, the memo said the president could deploy military force "pre-emptively" against terror groups or entire countries that harbored them, "whether or not they can be linked to the specific terror incidents of Sept. 11." The president's decisions "are for him alone and are unreviewable," the memo said. Never before disclosed, the Sept. 25, 2001, memo was quietly posted on an obscure government Web site late last week. The 15-page memo is the earliest known statement of Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.

Last June, Gonzales indicated he no longer held some of the extreme views of the president's "unlimited" powers first laid out in this memo. Amid the furor over the Abu Ghraib Prison photos that depicted Iraqis being abused and humiliated by U.S. soldiers, Gonzales insisted to reporters that the "torture" memo of Aug. 1 and other documents then making headlines were little more than "irrelevant" legal theorizing. It is not surprising why Gonzales was distancing himself: the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility recently launched an investigation into the origins of the Aug. 1 memo. The probe will look into whether the lawyers were irresponsible in pushing beyond the normal boundaries of advocacy. In a tense meeting last June, Jack Goldsmith, then head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, told Gonzales he was withdrawing the Aug. 1 memo. Goldsmith then resigned—at least partly due to his discomfort about the memo. It was only then that Gonzales decided to distance himself from it. (Goldsmith declined to comment.) [emphasis added].

Gonzalez has a real commitment to human and civil rights, effective police techniques, and, oh, yes, accountability. Just the traits this administration looks for in a nominee for Attorney General.

Anthony Lake revisits Rwanda

After reading John Darnton's report of watching the new film, Hotel Rwanda, with Anthony Lake, I was struck by how a former Clinton advisor discusses past decisions with how Bush advisors do. For the latter, admitting a mistake or a failure is failure while Lake, at least, can look at, understand, and admit the crucial mistakes he was party to during the Rwandan genocide.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - In a pivotal scene in "Hotel Rwanda," which opens Wednesday, the colonel in charge of a beleaguered United Nations peace-keeping force rushes to talk with the commanding officer of a fresh and heavily armed United Nations contingent that has just arrived at a hotel packed with refugees from the bloody genocide outside its walls. The colonel, played by Nick Nolte, suddenly throws his blue beret on the ground in anger. The eyes of the hotel manager, played by Don Cheadle, slowly register concern, then fear. The awful truth becomes clear: the new soldiers are there to evacuate the mostly white foreigners, leaving the black Rwandans to their fate.

"That gets to you - they were counting on the U.N. and they were abandoned," whispered Anthony Lake, as he watched the scene in an otherwise empty theater here. Mr. Lake, the national security adviser in the Clinton administration, played a role in determining United States policy in Rwanda a decade ago, and he had agreed to attend the screening of a movie that, even before its release, is provoking uncomfortable memories of the collective failure by Western powers to confront an atrocity.


Mr. Lake visited Rwanda in the fall of 1994, after the slaughter had stopped. His throat tightens as he describes a visit to a churchyard where the mutilated bodies of women and children were scattered on the ground and stacked inside sheds. "We couldn't get out without stepping on them," he said, his voice breaking. It was "shameful," he added, that his administration refused to employ the term "genocide" for a period of six weeks.

"It was based on the belief that if you used the word, then you're required to take action," he said. "They didn't go the sophistry route - using the word and finding a way to weasel out of it. Now in Sudan, we've used it and we're wriggling out of its meaning. Which is more unattractive? I don't know."

It's an interesting article.

Meanwhile, Darfur goes on.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

MLB and DC -- a cautionary tale

Once again, I say props to the DC city council who, when shown the back of Major League Baseball's hand decided they weren't going to take it.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp asked Major League Baseball to make concessions on a stadium agreement signed in September. Baseball officials agreed. The list of deal-sweeteners delivered to Cropp on Tuesday ranged from self-serving to substantial, such as allowing the District to seek some private financing for the new stadium.

Then the council came to focus on Item 7: If the city failed to build a ballpark for the former Montreal Expos by March 2008, it would have to pay the team as much as $19 million a year to cover lost profits.

From Major League Baseball's perspective, that was a big concession to the city. The stadium agreement places no limit on the city's liability if the ballpark isn't ready by 2008.

To certain council members, however, Item 7 looked like a hoax -- a big, fat thumb in the eye of an unsuspecting city. If baseball were offering to cap lost profits at $19 million, the members said, then $19 million must be exactly what baseball expected to receive all along. Besides, why should there be a late fee of any kind? The city's paying for the whole stadium.

Item 7 wasn't a concession, it was an insult, they contended. Cropp agreed and plunged the deal to bring baseball back to the nation's capital into crisis.

Bud Selig isn't used to be so ill used, shall we say, by a bunch of powerless city council hacks. He bargains with the mayor, not these lesser beings.

Of course, these hacks were elected by District residents in large part because of the sweetheart deal the city gave MLB in the first place (a deal, literally, MLB could not refuse).

This is a classic case of MLB behaving with its usual arrogance, showing no real or feigned concern for the cities they force concessions upon. This time they butted heads with a city council with a collective chip on its shoulder.

The tragedy is that a team in DC, with a waterfront stadium (something the city council opposes as too expensive) might actually succeed, and give people a reason to go to the Discrict in the evening. But now MLB arrogantly strides away and will now suck even greater concessions from the lucky city who gets the booby prize, either Portland or Las Vegas, I suppose. Those are two cities where it would be a miracle for a team to succeed. Portland is remote, like Seattle, but with a smaller population base and more expensive real estate. And Vegas. Please. The new Diamondbacks. And let's not even get started with the irony of a major league team playing in a city founded by "known gamblers."

So DC and MLB are both losers in this contretemp.

Shorter Tom Friedman

Karl Rove should run the Ba'ath Party campaign?

A sophisticated U.S. approach that uses both sticks and carrots with Syria, Iran and America's Arab allies could still shape a decent election in Iraq, but we have to get in gear right now, and be smart. Does this administration have anyone who knows how to play this game? Attention: Iraq is having an election. Elections are rare in this part of the world, so when they happen, everyone in the neighborhood tries to vote. We need to make sure our friends do as well.

Or, better yet, send the Republican Party of Ohio over there.

Oh, and what friends are those?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Intelligent design at the Pentagon

This war is becoming a quagmire.

Iraq? No the turf war between the CIA and the Pentagon.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 - The Pentagon is drawing up a plan that would give the military a more prominent role in intelligence-collection operations that have traditionally been the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, including missions aimed at terrorist groups and those involved in weapons proliferation, Defense Department officials say.

The proposal is being described by some intelligence officials as an effort by the Pentagon to expand its role in intelligence gathering at a time when legislation signed by President Bush on Friday sets in motion sweeping changes in the intelligence community, including the creation of a national intelligence director. The main purpose of that overhaul is to improve coordination among the country's 15 intelligence agencies, including those controlled by the Pentagon.

The details of the plan remain secret and are evolving, but indications of its scope and significance have begun to emerge in recent weeks. One part of the overall proposal is being drafted by a team led by Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, a deputy under secretary of defense.

Among the ideas cited by Defense Department officials is the idea of "fighting for intelligence," or commencing combat operations chiefly to obtain intelligence [emphasis added].

Hmmm. That sounds ominous. In fact, it sounds like preemption taken to an entirely new level. Come to think about it, I think Iraq was the rehearsal for this plan. Despite their public confidance, the Pentagon and the White House assumed Iraq was bristling with WMD, but they coldn't be positive, obviously. So they went in and "fought for intelligence." Now, having secured the safety of the world by learning, once and for all, that Iraq was WMD-free, we have proof-positive of the effectiveness of the Pentagon's intelligence-gathering.

And it turns out that Boykin reports to Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense.

General Boykin and Stephen Cambone? These people are still employed?

This shake up in the intelligence community took place quietly in early 2003, beneath the din of the impending invasion of Iraq. Cambone's confirmation hearing on February 27h was a cursory affair that attracted virtually no media attention – the New York Times didn't mention Cambone in his new capacity for over a month.

Nevertheless, people inside the Pentagon who knew Stephen Cambone immediately saw this nomination for what it was: the culmination of Rumsfeld's efforts to politicize intelligence gathering and analysis.

Cambone certainly was an "unconventional choice," according to former Army Secretary Tom White, "seeing as [he] had no previous experience in the intelligence community." Moreover, Cambone is despised by many within the Pentagon for his attempts to steamroll all opposition to Rumsfeld's military transformation projects, and is widely perceived as a pompous ideologue who cannot be trusted to bring the requisite objectivity to intelligence matters.

Cambone's role in the prisoner abuse scandals has yet to be told (he's responsible for intelligence gathering at Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq). Boykin's a lunatic fundy.

Stop making sense!

Nick Confessore's right, this is the funniest article on economic policy to be found in print this year!

Throughout a two-day conference on the economy, President Bush and his allies extolled the virtues of his tax cuts and "pro-growth" policies, which they said have lifted the nation from recession and propelled it well above its international economic competitors. If Washington adheres to the path of fiscal restraint while following the president's tax prescriptions, it was suggested, policymakers could secure powerful economic growth far into the future.

Yet when the subject turned to the nation's legal or Social Security systems, the picture grew suddenly dark. Frivolous lawsuits have hobbled America's businesses and have put them at the mercy of their enlightened overseas competition, administration officials said. As for federal entitlements, a rising tide of retiring baby boomers will inevitably slow economic growth and bankrupt Social Security.

"The crisis is now," Bush warned in his closing speech.

Such contradictions emerged repeatedly, pointing up the delicate balancing act that Bush faces as he tries to sell his economic proposals. On tax changes, the president must convince constituents that four years of tax cutting has worked so well in promoting economic growth that his tax policies should be not just continued but enhanced. The cuts of his first term should be made permanent, the president says, while the broader tax code must be changed further to cut taxes on savings and investment.

But Bush must also convince lawmakers that no matter what they do to spur growth through tax changes, the future will remain dire for the U.S. legal and Social Security systems.

"I'm frankly somewhat skeptical of this vision that we all have" of an aging work force cutting economic growth, James Glassman, J.P. Morgan Chase's senior U.S. economist, told the president in one of the few discordant notes of the conference. "If you think about it, we've been growing 3.5 percent to 4 percent per year since the Civil War. If we can match that performance in the next 50 years -- and I don't see why that's so hard to do -- then I think the fiscal challenge that we see in our mind's eye will be a lot less daunting than is commonly understood."

Here's my favorite.

"The economy is in good shape. Employment is rising. Inflation is low. Our growth rate is nearly 4 percent, twice the rates of Europe and Japan," Harvard University economist Martin Feldstein said to open the conference Wednesday.

"The cost of litigation in America makes it more difficult for us to compete with nations in Europe," Bush said four hours later.

What a clown show. The whole article is worth reading.

Look, I have no trouble with debating the merits of a program created in the 1930s -- whether to leave it alone, make minor changes, or overhaul it completely. But how can we even have that debate if 1.) opponents of Social Security refuse to admit they want to do away with it, and 2.) refuse to admit to an honest appraisal of the program's health, 3.) refuse to say how they'll pay for benefits when $2 trillion is sucked out of the program to create private accounts, and 4.) refuse to say what they're plan even is?

I know, I know, it's asking a lot for Bush and his Ekonomik Klown Posse to engage in honest debate, but until they do, we don't have any choice but to match Bush's threats of "Crisis" with equally vivid portrayals of seniors trying to survive when they're forced to retire in the midst of a bear market.

Abe Lincoln was a RINO

In the on-going cause of restoring respect for the institution of slavery, Jesus' General outs him.

Lincoln was a RINO, a Republican in name only. He abandoned his conservative values, and by extension his God, the moment he signed the Emancipation Proclamation and ended the biblically ordained institution of slavery.

The good General also asks that we join him and the NRA in storming Seattle to stop the recount of the governor's race there.

Nothing like a good ol' fashioned ammo and cammo party!


I'm a couple of days late, but the Battle of the Bulge began on Dec. 16, 1944. Here's to the surviving veterans.

The Battle of the Bulge was the war's largest land battle involving U.S. forces. It drew in more than a million troops — 600,000 Germans, 500,000 Americans and 55,000 Britons — who fought in bitter cold from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945.

Some 81,000 Americans and 100,000 Germans were killed or wounded in the fighting, Nazi Germany's last offensive.

"No American knows where to find Belgium on the map, but they all know about Bastogne," the daily De Standaard said in Saturday's edition.

The battle began when Germany's panzer divisions broke through the thinly held American front in the Belgian Ardennes sector, catching the Allies by surprise and driving the front westward in a "bulge" that ran deep into Belgian territory.

There was so much destruction that it was impossible to know exactly how many were killed in action, how many went missing and how many were wounded.

The Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge in Arlington, Va., says 19,000 American troops died, making the battle the deadliest in U.S. history.

UPDATED to correct the date

Friday, December 17, 2004

DC city council smacks down MLB

After Washington DC mayor had basically given Major League Baseball first refusal rights to the first-born of every DC resident,the city council had other ideas, demanding that the stadium deal be at least partially financed privately.

Without her amendment, Cropp said, "I was prepared to vote no" on the stadium legislation Tuesday night." Instead, she said, "I decided to try to work out a process where we could keep baseball and reduce the cost and risk to the District of Columbia." She said she had submitted "an optimistic amendment," since she is convinced that 50 percent private financing can be achieved.

"I want baseball here, but not at any cost," Cropp said, and not by giving "a blank check" to Major League Baseball.

Good for her. Baseball's demand that the city pick up the tab is anachronistic. After San Francisco's success with financing PacBell Park, no city should give in to Jerry Reinsdorf's and Bud Selig's strong-arm tactics.

It seems to me that it makes a lot more sense for MLB to make the sale of the team be contingent on the new owners providing a plan for financing a stadium. But that would rely on the MLB owners to actually care about baseball and the health of the cities in which it is played. They do not. I also wonder why they haven't found owners for the Nationals. I gotta believe there are plenty of suitors out there. Why haven't we heard of them? Could it be that the owners like the idea of continuing to milk a franchise, as they have the Expos for the past few years?

They wanna throw granny out on the ice flow, dammit

The normally reasoned, rational Publius gets downright SHRILL.

Agreeing with Digby that the fight for Social Security will hinge on emotion, not reason, Publius writes,
That is absolutely right. While I normally try to be rational, as a matter of political strategy, there's a very simple strategy that the Democrats should adopt - DEMAGOGUE THE HOLY SHIT OUT OF THIS PROPOSAL. Scream. Accuse. Attack. Crush them with it. Do as you have had done unto you. Maybe you might win something.

Many a Republican has suffered political death attacking the foundation of the New Deal. It could happen to the modern GOP too. The Democrats can't let up. This the best opportunity they will have to win back something (anything) in 2006.

And one more thing - if the national Democrats sell us out and abandon the safety net that our seniors have enjoyed for 75 years (and the values underlying that safety net), I'm through with them. I will renounce my membership in this party. I'll go with Dean if he leaves the party, or with someone else if he doesn't. I watched this party roll over for the war, and it almost caused me to leave. Social Security would be the last straw. I would be outta here - and I'm pretty sure I'd have some company. Better to lose for ten years while building something new than continue support cowardice and patheticness.


But getting back to Digby, he recently took us back to the thrilling days of yesteryear, with a story of how the GOP strangled the Clinton Healthcare plan in its crib. It is a pretty good template for how the Dems need to battle Bush's stealth plan to kill off Social Security.

That said, Bush has gotten a running start, taking advantage of the Congressional recess and a Democratic party that still seems unable to call a spade a freaking shovel. They should be out there, everyday, shouting that Bush doesn't want to "fix" SS, he wants to kill it and replace it with a plan designed to allow the wealthiest Americans to reduce further the taxes they pay (those pikers who still pay wage taxes, anyway), and to eliminate the very vestige of a safety net in this country. And he wants to do it without telling the American people how he's going to pay current benefits while we wait for the wonders of the Market to catch up.

They should also remind Americans that SS is not a 401k, nor is it intended to be. It is not a retirement plan. It is there for you if you get sick or injured and can't work any longer, not just when you hit 65. Nowhere have I seen how Bush's "plan" addresses that.

Bush thinks SS is no longer the "third rail" of politics. But he hasn't yet tried to cross the tracks.

I know it's astroturf, but see how grass-like it looks

You coulda knocked me off a chair. Is the New York Times googling, finally, the supposed "grassroots" groups Bush is so fond of citing?

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 - Introduced as a "single mom" from Iowa, Sandra Jaques was cool and confident as she praised President Bush's plan to partly replace Social Security with private savings accounts.

"I have a daughter at home. Her name is Wynter," said Ms. Jaques, sitting a few feet from President Bush at the White House economic conference on Thursday. "I want to make sure that she has Social Security when she retires as well."

Mr. Bush chimed in a moment later. "One of my visions of personal savings accounts is that Sandy will be able to pass her account on to Wynter as part of Wynter's capacity to retire as well."

The exchange was an example of how Mr. Bush promotes his agenda with testimonials from "regular folks," in the words of Joshua B. Bolten, the White House budget director, who introduced Ms. Jaques.

But Ms. Jaques is not any random single mother. She is the Iowa state director of a conservative advocacy group, FreedomWorks, whose founders are Jack F. Kemp, the former vice-presidential nominee, and Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader.

Ms. Jaques also spent much of the past two years as a spokeswoman in Iowa for a group called For Our Grandchildren, which is mounting a nationwide campaign for private savings accounts.

Her path to the stage was engineered by another advocate for private accounts, Leanne Abdnor, who previously organized a business coalition in Washington called the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security.

"Sandy is the perfect person to explain the benefits of this for women," said Ms. Abdnor, who has founded another group, Women for a Social Security Choice.

Ms. Abdnor said she had raised start-up money from friends, whom she would not identify. She said the group would wage a publicity campaign to counter groups that oppose private accounts.

This is a particularly illuminating passage:

The Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, started by Ms. Abdnor in the late 1990's at the behest of the National Association of Manufacturers, now includes powerful industry lobbying groups. The alliance has close ties to the White House. Ms. Abdnor was succeeded at the alliance by Charles Blauhaus, now an architect of Social Security policy on Mr. Bush's National Economic Council. "The power of our group rests on its Washington cache," said Derrick Max, the alliance's executive director.

Ah, remember that when some GOP stooge says that it's "Inside the Beltway types" who are stopping the "reform" of Social Security.

For more on SS, Krugman reminds us of the great success Chile had in privatization.

And Kevin Drum notes that the panelists on Bush's economic forum this week seemed to share a common theme: Deficits are bad, health care is the real crisis, SS privatization will be enormously expensive...but SS privatization is the right thing to do now.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Firefox. Good.

I downloaded Firefox 1.0 this evening and have been browsing bloggedy goodness with it. It is as advertised, faster, better, at least so far. And if you use Blogger and Mac OS X, you must download it. Now.

War, sacrifice, and the Texas Tuxedo and Boots Ball

I am so glad we have a preznit so well versed in I-R-O-N-Y.

WASHINGTON - At the height of World War II in 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt opted for a low-key inauguration to mark the start of his fourth term, with a simple swearing-in ceremony, a brief speech from the South Portico of the White House to a small crowd and a modest luncheon. He was the exception.

No other president-elect taking office during wartime — from Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War to Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Korean conflict to Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War — has scaled back his inaugural events as Roosevelt did.

Neither will President Bush (news - web sites).

In January, as war continues in Iraq (news - web sites) and Afghanistan (news - web sites), Bush's second inauguration will heavily emphasize the ongoing conflicts and sacrifices by U.S. forces with the theme, "Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service." But the festivities will rival those held during peacetime.

On tap are nine official balls, a youth concert, a parade, a fireworks display and, of course, Bush's second swearing-in ceremony and speech at noon on Jan. 20. Planners put the cost at $30 million to $40 million, excluding expenses for security for the first post-Sept. 11 inauguration.

The Bull Moose has an idea or two about this.

GOP-controlled Congress: A modern-day Tammany Hall

There are so many strands and details to keep straight, the brewing Indian casino scandal is tough to wrap the mind around. Sam Rosenfeld at TAPPED has a very good primer on all the shenanigans.

Rosenfeld quotes the following passage from Lou Dubose, that pretty much sums up what's going on in Washington these days.

Norquist’s discreet approach to the Indian tribal leaders provides rare insight into the elaborate lobbying and fund-raising machine that American Enterprise Institute congressional scholar Norm Ornstein describes as a modern-day Tammany Hall: a pay-to-play operation that moves congressional Republicans into high-paying lobby jobs and then requires them to contribute to the party and its various ancillary groups. While Abramoff and Scanlon enriched themselves, they never forgot who provided them their opportunity to plunder. Both men gave lavishly to Republican PACs and candidates. Abramoff, for example, was a Bush Pioneer, raising $100,000 for the 2004 presidential campaign while giving $40,000 to DeLay’s PACs. Before he was run off the reservation, Abramoff was ranked 93rd nationally among Republican Party donors. Scanlon, only a few years after he finished paying off his college loans, contributed $500,000 to the Republican Governors’ Association -- the single largest donation it received in 2002. The influence the two men wielded in Republican circles was further leveraged by the money they persuaded their Indian clients to contribute.

Now, when the Dems were in power, they were no strangers to greasy deals with lobbyists, but the K Street project, which Dubose is describing, is unprecedented in its efficiency and effectiveness (see, Republicans can manage one aspect of government).

In fact, as the Ragin' Cajun illustrates today, we can see the results of this efficiency nearly every day.

And pitching for the Dodgers...

Attaturk gets to the heart of the matter.

I'm not sure what category the Vega would fall under. I don't think there's a category such as "Most persistent whine of a blog."

Kerik's costly

Isn't it time New York City stopped covering Kerik's ample rear end?

Last week, before the collapse of Bernard B. Kerik's nomination for director of homeland security, the City Law Department obtained an order from a magistrate judge that sealed Mr. Kerik's answers to questions in a federal discrimination lawsuit that could have proved embarrassing to him.

Now, after Mr. Kerik has withdrawn from consideration, and his personal and professional life has attracted news coverage, the Law Department denies that it had anything to do with sealing the records last week, and said the magistrate had taken the initiative to do so. The judge said he was responding to the city's request.

The lawsuit was brought by Eric H. DeRavin III, a former assistant deputy warden for the city's Department of Correction, who claims that while Mr. Kerik was the correction commissioner, he refused to promote Mr. DeRavin because he had disciplined Jeanette Pinero, a correction officer who was romantically involved with Mr. Kerik.

The city settled a similar lawsuit with another correction official last year for $250,000. That lawsuit involved a claim that a promotion had been denied to the official because he had taken disciplinary action against a correction officer who was close to Mr. Kerik's girlfriend.


The magistrate judge, Kevin N. Fox, said he did not want the parties to discuss what had happened in the depositions until he had a chance to review the transcripts. Judge Fox said he was acting in response to a request by city lawyers. "Their basic premise was that it was embarrassing," said Gregory Lisi, a lawyer for Mr. DeRavin.

A lawyer for the city, Georgia Pestana, said the city had tried to seal the deposition before Mr. Kerik was nominated for President Bush's cabinet, but maintained that the decision to seal the records last week was a result of "improper questions" asked by Mr. Lisi.

"Given the personal questions that they were being asked at the depositions, the federal magistrate - on his own initiative - ordered the transcripts of both Pinero and Kerik's deposition sealed," Ms. Pestana said.

And wouldn't it be interesting to find out how much Kerik ultimately cost the city, on top of his salary? I mean there's the lawsuits, the questionable dealings with contractors, the love for exhausted workers at the WTC, and on and on.

Curiously, Giuliani knew as little about all of this as Barry Bonds knew what his trainer was telling him to swallow.

But the best part of all of this is that it turns out there may never have been a nanny, the original excuse for Kerik's withdrawal. I guess it was the most palatable lie available.

Billy Tauzin's revolving door

That paragon of principal, Billy Tauzin, has joined Big Pharma just months after authoring the big prescription drug bill. I am shocked.

"This industry understands that it's got a problem," Mr. Tauzin, a Louisiana lawmaker who is retiring from Congress, said in an interview. "It has to earn the trust and confidence of consumers again."

Billy, who decided to change parties after Republicans gained control Congress, is just the guy to help them do it, I'm sure. And he's a bargain at only $2 million a year. That will buy a lot of gumbo.

Drug makers said that the job was not a reward for Mr. Tauzin's work on the Medicare bill, which followed the industry's specifications in many respects. The law was signed by President Bush on Dec. 8, 2003, a few weeks before a lawyer for Mr. Tauzin began talks with the drug trade group.

It's good to see Pete Stark and Henry Waxman make waves over this. It's another opportunity -- like the DeLay waiver -- for Dems to act like a Reform Party. Unfortunately, life is long and outrage is short, and most Dems probably are hoping for similar opportunities should they take back the House.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Liberal balance on FoxNews

It's a credit to FoxNews that they permit Juan Williams, News Director of NPR, to join the fun on Brit Humes's show.

On FoxNews Sunday, conservative commentators were attempting to deflect attention away from Rumsfeld's performance before the troops last week, by focusing on the fact that the question regarding the lack of armor was prompted by a reporter. Remarkably, Brit was having none of that.

CHRIS WALLACE (12/12/04): Brit, a journalistic felony or just a misdemeanor?

HUME: I don't think it was either. I don't think there's anything wrong with a reporter doing that. I mean, if you can't ask the question yourself and you can get somebody else to ask it, good for him.We could have probably done without his opinions about whether the lack of armor was appalling or something else, but that was said in a private e-mail, not in his reporting.So my sense about this is -- one thing, first of all, that that it was a pretty resourceful job to get the question asked. And the validity of the question, as far as the troops were concerned, was confirmed by the applause that the question got.So, I think good for him, good for the soldier, good for the country, even good for the secretary.

But Wan Williams, that standard bearer of the So-Called-Liberal-Media, finds this a breach of ethics and was afraid the Donnie's feelings may have been hurt.

WILLIAMS (continuing directly): I would say he should have told his readers. He should have said in the story, you know, "I helped to arrange for this question to be asked." I mean, that's a matter of journalistic ethics, I suppose. And you could imagine that Secretary Rumsfeld thinks that he got sandbagged a little bit by this, because he thinks maybe it wasn't a genuine question coming from the soldiers.


Reality is an enemy combatant

When the facts desert you like a weak kneed Spaniard, when reality arrays its forces against you like John Kerry in a debate on foreign policy, than you must declare war on facts and imprison reality.

A lesser nation would consider changing its more hideous policies to win over the rest of the world, but the Pentagon realizes that the better response is to simply lie to it. The Bush Administration has successfully used this policy on America for the last four years, and the country, the Medium Lobster is told, is safer than ever.

Passing notes in class

Deep insights into Dick Cheney'

Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein, participating in a panel on current economic conditions, said he believes the country has emerged from the 2001 recession and the prolonged period of weak job growth.

"I'm pleased to say the economy is now in very good shape," Feldstein said. "National income is growing, growing at an above-trend pace, employment is rising, inflation is low. So by all of the key measures, we're in good shape."

"These favorable conditions reflect good policies and also sound economic structure," said Feldstein, a Republican who is a candidate to succeed Federal Reserve (news - web sites) Chairman Alan Greenspan (news - web sites).

"The weakness of the economy we worried about a few years ago is now essentially all gone thanks to supportive, stimulative Fed policy and the combination of personal tax cuts and the tax incentives for business," he said.

He plugged Bush's top domestic priority: reforming Social Security and including a private retirement account option.

As he spoke, Cheney sipped from a coffee mug and took notes.

"And then he said, like, we totally rule. OMG, we are so totally aceing this test."

Homeland Security Facade Director

The Bernie Kerik story just gets better and better (and the Times is finally getting off its proverbial behind, having spent the weekend getting scooped by Newsweek, Newsday and the NY Daily News).

This passage from Elisabeth Bumiller's piece isn't getting a lot of play, but I find it fascinating.

A major problem, law enforcement officials said, was that the White House did not have the benefit of any F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Kerik's past. Mr. Kerik, as New York City's police commissioner on Sept. 11, 2001, had been offered a high security clearance by federal officials so he could receive classified intelligence about the city's security, a law enforcement official said. But he failed to return a questionnaire needed for the F.B.I. to conduct a background check, and he never received that clearance, the law enforcement official said.

Mr. Kerik said on Tuesday night through his spokesman, Christopher Rising, that he could not remember receiving the questionnaire. Mr. Kerik still received classified information from the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. regarding security issues in New York, the law enforcement official said, although the police commissioner was not given the most sensitive intelligence about the sources of the data. He served as police commissioner through the end of 2001.

One of the major complaints mayors and police commissioners have leveled at the Federal Government in the wake of September 11, 2001,was the lack of intelligence they were being given. And here's the Commiss in New York City, where the largest terrorist attack in U.S. history has just occurred, and he can't be bothered to fill out the requisite form to receive his security clearance.

Yep, he's the guy Bush had such a crush on, he couldn't wait to announce his nomination.

But never mind, as his spokesman said the other day, "He's a patriot."


An apartment in Battery Park City that former Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik secured for his personal use after Sept. 11 was originally donated for the use of weary police and rescue workers who were helping at ground zero, according to a real estate executive who has been briefed about the apartment.

After the cleanup had settled into a routine that fall, the executive said, Mr. Kerik, who was still police commissioner, asked to rent the two-bedroom apartment for his own use. During his use of the apartment, Mr. Kerik and Judith Regan engaged in an extramarital affair there, according to someone who spoke to Mr. Kerik about the relationship. Ms. Regan published his best-selling autobiography in 2001.

It makes me wonder if these people used the view of the still smoking rubble of the World Trade Center as an "intimacy aid."

If anything good comes out of this, perhaps this will begin to wash the veneer of saintly herodom off of "America's Mayor (TM)," unmasking his hypocrisy which was the model for Kerik's.

Medal of Freedom recipients -- profiles in accountability

Let's see here, we have a CIA director on whose watch we failed to "connect the dots" of the Sept. 11 plot, and who said that Iraq's possession of WMD was a "slam dunk;" a general who accepted the SecDef's mission knowing he didn't have enough troops to keep the peace in Iraq and who didn't issue orders to stop full-scale looting; and a director of the Coalition Provision Authority who ordered the Iraqi army disbanded and turned a marginal cleric into a leader of the Iraqi opposition by trying to silence him; in other words, the architects of what we now lovingly refer to as Mess-o-Potomia. These are the luminaries who received the Medal of Freedom yesterday.

But there is precedent here. After all, Johnson awarded the Medal of Freedom to McGeorge Bundy, so there is a history of the award being equated with SNAFU.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

What time is Father Coughlin's show on tonight?

Father Coughlin
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Of course it's no longer Jewish bankers that we must rail against. These days the source of all of our problems is Jewllywood.

Rabbi, let me start with you.

What does the smashing success of "The Passion" tell you about America, and do you think Hollywood will swallow, if you full, and nominate it for the Oscar it deserves as best picture?

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, AUTHOR, "FACE YOUR FEAR": Well, firstly, let me just say that I hope that Michael Moore actually wins so we can finally confirm what Hollywood is. Hollywood has become an America-hating bastion that always portrays people in uniform in some sinister role. It's always the CIA killing President Kennedy.

And so when I see Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and he portrays our soldiers as a bunch of cutthroats who play Metallica while killing Iraqi civilians, let's confirm what Hollywood is by giving him this Oscar.

But I've got to tell you, Pat, the fact that Christians around the country be offended if Mel Gibson's "The Passion" doesn't win best Oscar is shocking to me. First of all, "The Passion of the Christ" was an domination for Christianity. It really should win the World Wrestling Federation Oscar for best movie. It's a guy for two hours being kicked, beaten, his blood gushing everywhere. It's just a diabolical, criminal, violent mess.


BOTEACH: It really is like Mohammed al-Zarqawi's movies on the Internet where a guy gets his head chopped off. It's gory. It's ugly and it's not inspiring.

BUCHANAN: Well, since about tens of millions of Americans saw it, loved it, appreciated it, and honored it, that tells us, Rabbi, I think, what you think of the intelligence and sensitivity of millions of Americans.

Bill Donahue, what do you think about "The Passion of the Christ" And as a practical matter, even if Hollywood hated the film, it seems to me as an artistic work of art, a smashing triumph, a film of great controversy and interest, it ought to at least be nominated for best picture. It pulled in more money than any other picture all year.

WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: I spoke to Mel a couple of weeks ago about this. And I don't think it really matters a whole lot to him. It certainly doesn't matter to me. We've already won.

Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah.

Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost.

You have got secular Jews. You have got embittered ex-Catholics, including a lot of ex-Catholic priests who hate the Catholic Church, wacko Protestants in the same group, and these people are in the margins. Frankly, Michael Moore represents a cult movie. Mel Gibson represents the mainstream of America.


BOTEACH: I'm amazed that we've made this a discussion about secular Jews. I have got to tell you that Bill Donahue, who I otherwise love and so respect, ought to be ashamed of himself, the way he's spoken about secular Jews hating Christians. That is a bunch of crap, OK?

DONAHUE: Who's making the movies? Who's making the movies?

BOTEACH: That is a bunch of crap.


BOTEACH: Stop the anti-Semitic garbage, OK?


DONAHUE: Who's making the movies? The Irishmen?


BOTEACH: Michael Moore is certainly not a Jew. Let me speak here,


BUCHANAN: Go ahead, Rabbi.

BOTEACH: The fact is that Jewish people are incredibly charitable, good, decent family people.

DONAHUE: I didn't question that.

BOTEACH: Hollywood has become a cesspit because it's secular, period.

Don't this us don't tell us that it's secular Jews.

DONAHUE: So the Catholics are running Hollywood, huh?


Via a nervous Eric Alterman.

I may be wrong about this, but wouldn't what Donahue is saying on American TV be illegal if he said it on German TV? Need to brush up on my German anti-semitism laws.

Meanwhile, back in the good ol' USA, Father Coughlin would be proud.

UPDATED to fix weird MSNBC Web coding

Leavitt takes over Health & Human Services -- cutting programs, making profits

Thank goodness he doesn't have a nanny...or sex*...otherwise this might hinder his nomination.

Before becoming governor, he was chief operating officer of the Leavitt Group, a family insurance firm in which he maintains an investment worth between $5 million and $25 million, according to a financial disclosure report he filed in 2003.

The company owns 100 independent insurance agencies that sell supplemental Medicare policies, among other insurance products, according to company literature.

The Medigap policies account for less than 1 percent of company revenues, said Dane Leavitt, the president and CEO. He is Michael Leavitt's brother.

"I have never had a discussion with him on any of those topics and I don't anticipate having one," Dane Leavitt said.

Michael Leavitt also has small stakes in pharmaceutical makers Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co., and in medical equipment maker Medtronic Inc. Each investment was worth less than $15,000, according to the 2003 disclosure.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said, "We're confident that Gov. Leavitt will take the necessary steps to avoid any conflicts of interest."

Right. Any day now. After all, looks like there might be an upsurge in demand for supplemental insurance.

If Congress undertakes serious budget cutting next year, Medicare and Medicaid would be unlikely to escape, senior Republican congressional aides said last week.

Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumer group Families USA and an administration critic, said the costs of Bush's second-term agenda coupled with his opposition to tax increases "points to Medicaid potentially taking a very large hit."

*The Cura denies any firsthand knowledge of the Leavitt's household staff situation, or sexual activity, and is merely being iron-ic.

Musta been the sex

Yep, it must have been reports of Kerik keeping two mistresses downtown with a wife upton. Or maybe it was the polygamy. It sure couldn't have been this.

The White House seemed to shrug off stories of Kerik's financial dealings a little too easily, like the $6 million he made—without investing a penny—by cashing in his stock options in a company that made stun guns sold to the government.

Of course they shrugged that off. Why would George Bush be troubled by sweetheart deals that involve big payoffs with virtually no risk?

Science, standards, and the corruption of the press

Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) writes a love letter to the WaPo.

Juliet Eilperin's Dec. 2 news story on climate change, "Humans May Double the Risk of Heat Waves," is the latest example of the media's "he said, she said" treatment of what reputable scientists say is one of the greatest threats to the human race. Even worse, the article countered the findings of the world's top climate scientists by quoting an oil industry-funded economist. Such reporting is not credible, nor does it illuminate a subject of significant importance.
The article began by citing a peer-reviewed study published in the revered scientific journal Nature, which reported that the risk has more than doubled for the type of lethal heat wave responsible for 35,000 deaths in Europe last year. But the last half of the article is squandered on the views of Myron Ebell, an economist -- not a climate scientist -- whose "studies" at the American Enterprise Institute are funded by Exxon Mobil. The article fails to mention this shameless conflict of interest.

The problem with this type of reporting was highlighted at a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing. Robert Correll, senior fellow at the American Meteorological Society, warned, "The trouble with a debate of this nature is you put 2,600 [scientists] against two or three or four [scientists who disagree]." Ebell is not in the same league as the qualified climate scientists who report that the climate is changing before our eyes; only the intensity and the speed of those changes are unknown. Your newspaper does an injustice to its readers by giving Ebell's caterwauling equal weight with the widely accepted views of reputable and unbiased scientists.

This, regrettably, sets the Poor Man into a fine rage. And I do mean fine.

"News analysis" -- White House selling snake oil

Wow. The Times' Edmund Andrews actually looks under the Social Security privatizaion rug the White House has laid, to uncover the open trap door underneath.

"The creation of private accounts for Social Security will not deal with the solvency and sustainability of the Social Security fund," that official, David M. Walker, comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, said in a speech on Monday.

Or, as Thomas Saving, a Republican-appointed trustee to the Social Security trust fund put it last week: "Fundamentally, if you don't reduce the benefits, you don't reduce the debt."

Some of the Republican proposals would raise the age when people can start to receive benefits. Others would reduce payments to beneficiaries to account for longer life expectancies. Still others would reduce payments to married couples and scale back the annual increases that are made to keep pace with inflation.

But the biggest single idea is included in the plan the White House most often points to, abandoning the practice of setting benefits as a share of people's pre-retirement earnings.

Analysts affiliated with both political parties say that that one change could save more than $10 trillion over the next 75 years, more than enough to wipe out Social Security's projected shortfall. People retiring today or even in the next 10 years would feel almost no impact.

But in decades to come, analysts say, many people would see sharper drops in their incomes when they retired. And because benefits would not keep up with wages, many retirees could feel steadily poorer compared with neighbors who still work.

Mr. Bush, who is likely to step up his call for private accounts when he acts as host of a two-day conference on the economy this week, has steadfastly avoided any reference to cutting future benefits. Instead, he has repeated a two-part message, that Social Security faces a financial crisis, and that people should be allowed to put some of their payroll taxes into private accounts and earn higher returns by investing in stocks.

And while there are still some members of the Republican Congress that belong to the Reality-based Community, like Lindsay Graham, others are proposing ways to privatize, end the deficit, and guarantee Viagra for all male retirees, all in one fell swoop.

Democratic lawmakers say the problems in Social Security can be fixed with modest changes that would be phased in slowly. Lifting the ceiling on payroll taxes, which are capped when a person earns more than $87,900, would fill much of the gap. Pushing back the normal retirement age, which is already set to shift from 65 to 67, would reduce the deficit even more.

"If the president pulled all sides into a room and put everything on the table, we could solve this problem very quickly," said Representative Robert T. Matsui, Democrat of California.

Mr. Bush's own advisory commission in 2001 made it clear that personal accounts would make little dent in the underlying shortfall.

If the government kept Social Security benefits as they are now, and let people set up private accounts as well, the government would still face a shortfall of more than $4 trillion over the next 75 years.

Some Republicans suggest that a free lunch may indeed be possible. Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire have proposed a bill they say would eliminate the projected shortfall without reducing future benefits or imposing new taxes.

In contrast to most other proposals, which would not allow people to divert more than about $1,000 in taxes a year to personal accounts, Mr. Sununu and Mr. Ryan would let people divert almost all their Social Security taxes to private accounts.

"What we learned was that with these large accounts you produce such large surpluses that you don't need to cut back on benefits," Mr. Ryan said.

But many analysts are skeptical. The key to the plan is a premise that total government spending on all programs would grow by 3.6 percent a year for the next eight years.

That would be extremely difficult. More than two-thirds of the federal budget is locked up in mandatory entitlement programs, mainly Social Security and Medicare. Any cuts there would violate Mr. Bush's pledge to protect people who are at or near retirement.

An additional 20 percent of the budget goes to domestic security and the military, which have ballooned under Mr. Bush, and with no end in sight to the war in Iraq, are expected to keep climbing.

This is a hopeful sign. Perhaps the New York Times is fulfilling its duty to do more than act as scribes at White House press gaggles. However, I think they could be more forceful than saying things like "analysists are skeptical." Truth is, the Sununu plan would be the end of Social Security. That's not something Republicans want to say, but that's their plan.
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