Friday, April 29, 2005

"Lord God, what a bird"

Lord God
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Friday ivory billed woodpecker blogging.

It's nice to know that in this faerie dust world of our wingnuts who see weird stains impersonating the Virgin Mary under overpasses, every now and then a legitimate miracle occurs.

The land of make-believe

We're apparently winning the Global War on Terror (GWOT) by rewarding the inmates at Guantanmo banana splits for telling us what we want to hear.

The U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence, a former Army translator who worked there claims in a new book scheduled for release Monday.

Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar said the military chose detainees for the mock interrogations who previously had been cooperative and instructed them to repeat what they had told interrogators in earlier sessions, according to an interview with the CBS television program "60 Minutes," which is slated to air Sunday night.

The military, of course, want to undermine the claims by intimating that wild claims help sell books, but the military's credibility is, shall we say, rather strained these days.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she was "initially impressed" by interrogations she saw on a tour of Guantanamo Bay in February 2004 with members of the Homeland Security Committee. The delegation watched through mirrored glass as interrogators spoke in conversational tones and rewarded cooperative detainees with ice cream. Now, she believes, "we were duped."

"The amount and depth of the torture that's been alleged and corroborated leaves no doubt in my mind that what we saw was a staged interrogation," Norton said.

Ice cream, Mandrake. Children's ice cream.

Bush proposes expanding the welfare state

As a now certified Blogger, the Vega understands that this brings great responsibility and certain sacrifices, such as watching the preznit's Survivor episode last night.

But the Vega preferred watching Kevin Brown pitch his first "quality start" of the season, albeit in a losing effort.

Apparently, I didn't miss much.

But a couple of points certainly struck me. First, from the Boy King:

First, millions of Americans depend on Social Security checks as a primary source of retirement income, so we must keep this promise to future retirees as well. As a matter of fairness, I propose that future generations receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today's seniors get.

Secondly, I believe a reformed system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most. So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.

By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty.

One of the reasons Social Security has proven to be the most popular and most endearing New Deal program is that it is not a welfare program. Middle class Americans also benefit from the program (especially its insurance aspect). On the other hand, many middle class Americans tend to be at least mildly hostile to welfare. What Bush proposed last night (and I'm sure, Dear Reader, this isn't the first place you've read this today on the internets) is to turn what's left of Social Security -- after he's gutted it -- into a welfare program for the poor. By doing so, it wouldn't take long for Congress to eliminate it altogether, in the next frenzy of "welfare reform."

I can hear the GOP argument now: "'Socialist insecurity' gives the elderly poor a 'disincentive' to take that minimum wage greeter job at Wal-mart."

As Bush has now certainly learned, going after Social Security remains the "third rail" of American politics. Going after a welfare program aimed entirely or primarily at benefiting the poor carries with it few, if any, political consequences (never mind what Bush's plan considers poor and middle class)

The Bush/Cheney/Rove ability to combine hypocrisy and deceit in one proposal is simply stunning.

The second thing that struck me is, has JimmyJeff been given a "daily press pass" again?

QUESTION: Mr. President, a majority of Americans disapprove of your handling of Social Security, rising gas prices and the economy. Are you frustrated by that and by the fact that you are having trouble getting attraction [sic] on your agenda in a Republican-controlled Congress?

"Are you frustrated?" What kind of a question is that?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Remember, the rich are manly men

Funny, why did Gen. JC Christian, patriot, come to mind while I was perusing this amusing tale of how some of the richest men in New York City engage in, um, sport?

Men swimming together in the nude dates back to before the fall of Rome and was commonplace just 50 years ago in New York City and its affluent suburbs. Yet today the practice survives at only a handful of exclusive clubs, where members hold onto it with a fierce devotion. It is for these men a peerless form of bonding, with nostalgic links to youthful activities like group showers at prep school and skinny-dips at summer camp.

"If you meet someone swimming naked in a pool, surely you're going to do much better in an interview with them," said a 24-year-old bond trader who swims as a guest at the Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue.

The Racquet Club (five recommendations needed for admission) was designed by McKim, Meade & White in the style of an Italian palazzo, its height exactly twice the width of Park Avenue to achieve an understated but unmistakable distance from the world below. It is as much of a time capsule of the Gilded Age as can be found in Manhattan, and members observe a strict code of silence about all that takes place behind its thick stone walls.

"It's a matter of the WASP ethic," said one investment banker in declining an interview about the club's swimming practices. "What goes on at the R.T.C. stays at the R.T.C. We don't want the general public having a peek at the last bastion of old-school pleasure, the last oasis."


On the street below taxis honked, and pedestrians shouted, but all sounds were muffled by the lapping of water. An elderly man with a Churchillian physique walked to my side of the pool. He began to swim his laps, and soon came perilously close to my area of treaded water. "You've got to watch out for a naked collision," warned my host, who detailed the worst injury sufferable in modern nude aquatics. "One guy wasn't looking when he was coming out of a lap and grabbed another guy. He felt something strange, but familiar."

The disturbing possibility of such a man-on-man collision perhaps explains why those who look most disapprovingly on nude swimming are often the wives and girlfriends of its practitioners. When asked what his spouse thought of his morning dip, a private equity investor in his early 30's was brutally honest: "She just laughs and says that it's very, very, very gay."

Beeeyitches! They simply don't understand the need for a Master of the Universe to unwind by letting his Little Hedge Fund Manager float in the warm amniotic bath, growing pleasingly stiff in anticipation of the occasional "accidental" reach around.

The article does not mention if they also wrestle in the manly old way of the Spartans. But it does explain the reason for the ease with which these themselves.

Inside the University is a soaring lobby of pink marble and gold leaf, from which a small staircase leads down to a changing room of white wood, where spotless windows look out onto the pool. At the far end of the small slip, fresh water flows from the mouth of a brass lion's head, and above it is a ceiling painted in gentle shades of blue, a trompe l'oeil sky.

There could be no more perfect refuge from the big and dirty city. "It's really meant to be a leisure pool," said one member of the University, a real estate investor in his late 20's, who explained why the idea of swimming alongside other men doesn't strike members of these clubs as particularly strange.

"At boarding school everyone showers in gang showers," he said. "It was like a social occasion. It's not a far leap to make a connection between showering at prep school and naked swimming in New York."

Hmmm. Wonder if our lovelorn preznit has heard about this.

That Rush Limbaugh, he cracks me up

The Editors at The Poor Man listen to Rush so we don't have to.

Still fighting the Vietnam War

For some reason, USA Today ("All the American Idol News That's Fit to Print") enlisted that leader of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, Jonah Goldberg, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

When last we checked in on him, Jonah was being smacked around by Juan Cole. So it comes as no surprise that he has had the inspired insight that Iraq is nothing like Vietnam.

In Iraq, meanwhile, it's nothing but insurgency now. But, unlike the Viet Cong, Iraq's insurgency is ideologically diverse. Some are terrorists seeking to impose a pan-Arab theocracy, some are looking to restore the secular bacchanalia of fear they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, and others are just gangsters. Vietnam was a jungle war that started against the French in the 1950s. Iraq was a desert war that permanently toppled Saddam's regime in a month. The technologies in play are incomparable. The terrain, the political will and ideologies behind the efforts, the cultures ? almost every single point of comparison doesn't add up ? save the common bravery of America's military. Perhaps most important: Casualty rates are vastly different.

Well, except that both were entered into on the basis of false intelligence in response to an unlikely threat, and support for both was ginned up by claiming that it's all about bringing democracy to a benighted people -- at the point of a gun. But let's put those comparisons aside, okay?

And Lucianne's spawn does have a point when he writes

Of course, there are some similarities between Iraq and Vietnam ? including the press' attitude toward both. But such similarities are inherent to all wars and national struggles in a republic such as ours. The Spanish-American War, for instance, would probably be a far more fruitful point of comparison for critics of the Bush administration, but that would require they read up on it first.

Indeed, the D.C. cocktail party circuit pundits did support the war in Vietnam initially because they knew that the press and Washington establishment knew what was best, as did their successors in 2001 and 2002. Both now as then, the press were complicit in cheerleading as war became more and more of an inevitability. It wasn't until things began to seriously unhinge that the press turned a more critical eye on the Pentagon's conduct in both conflicts.

And he is right about the Spanish-American War. That war too had it's "smoking gun will be a mushroom cloud" in the accidental explosion of the USS Maine, and it too freed a people under the merciless thumb of an autocratic government. A people who soon grew less grateful as they chafed under the thumb of the new occupier.

But Goldberg's larger point is that it's because of "the ego of aging baby-boomers," the "myth" of Vietnam is kept alive and is constantly being refought by liberals, who can't let go of their "glory days."

There's an enduring myth that Vietnam was a singular evil undone by America's idealistic youth, holding hands and singing songs in one voice for peace. This reflects the ego of baby-boomer liberals more than the facts. Not only did large numbers of young people support the war, but in the annals of unpopular wars, it wasn't that special. In 1968, Sol Tax of the University of Chicago cataloged anti-war activity from the Revolutionary War until the beginning of peace negotiations and found that Vietnam ranked as either the fourth or seventh least-popular war in American history.

I hate to point out to young Jonah that 1968 was a full seven years before the fall of Saigon. Hell, John Kerry hadn't even gotten those purple hearts which gnaw at people like Jonah so much. But no matter.

The irony of all of this is that it isn't liberals who pine to burn a draft card or two. It's the Right that simply can't let Vietnam go. They continue to blame the press for the loss of the war, or LBJ for not giving the Pentagon a free hand to exterminate the North Vietnamese, or Nixon for being such a bleeding-heart. And they continue to promote the canard that the troops returning home from Vietnam were spat upon by hippies at the airport.

Because all of that helps feed their victimization and allows them to lift up their noses and convince themselves that only they are loyal Americans, that only they will ever be on the right side of history.

The Catholic menace

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has now joined the movement "To Change the 200 Year Old Rules of the Senate Because We Must Win Every Time and At All Costs." Digby has a reaction to this that will raise the hair on the back of your neck.

Put a (bloody) sock in it, you idiot

So, you're a multimillion dollar MLB power pitcher who, in the postseason, had to have an ankle tendon tied into a monkey's paw, surgery to fix it in the off-season, and after a few disappointing starts, need to go on the 15-day disabled list because of pain in self-same ankle. You'd be nervously quiet, right? Certainly focused on your rehab, and not on some opposing team's manager.

Yes, you would. But you're not The Drama Queen.

On the WEEI program, Schilling said, "When you're playing a team with a manager who somehow forgot how the game is played, there's problems. This should have been over a little bit ago. Lou's trying to make his team be a bunch of tough guys, and the telling sign is when the players on that team are saying, `This is why we lose a hundred games a year, because this idiot makes us do stuff like this.' They were saying this on the field."

In response, Piniella said, "Go talk to the players. I don't think they'd say that. I know you wouldn't get one to say that."

Though only two players were hit by pitches in Sunday's game -- both by Boston's Bronson Arroyo -- the benches cleared twice, once when a pitch by Tampa Bay's Lance Carter went toward the head of David Ortiz. In the first two games of the series, Tampa Bay pitchers hit three batters and Boston pitchers two. "I can assure you that we're not throwing at anybody's head or anybody's ear," Piniella said last night. "We just want to play baseball, whether it's against Boston or any other team.

Um, Curt. I gotta tell you, the idea that a group of Tampa Bay players walked up to you in the middle of a brawl and confided that they think their manager is an idiot is, well, not very plausible.

And who knew Lou Piniella was such a sensitive old coot.

In his statement yesterday, he said: "Forget how the game is played? I have forgotten more baseball than this guy knows.

"On the idiot subject, I'm appalled he would actually say something like that. I had a meeting with my team and to a man they denied it. He's questioning my character and integrity, and that is wrong. He's never played for me, never really spoken to me, so he really doesn't know what I stand for."

Piniella also said in his statement: "If I were Curt, I would be really embarrassed at the cheap shot he took and get the story correct. I'll tell you I've always admired his pitching ability and competitiveness, but I can honestly tell you I've lost a lot of respect for him. I'm looking forward to talking to Curt myself and get this matter cleared up."

What I find so amusing in all of this is the idea that a Red Sox pitcher is crying foul when another team's pitchers plunks a couple of plate-crowding Sox hitters. Given the track record of his team, Schilling really ought to shut his proverbial pie hole.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Via T-Bogg, Firedoglake has a great post on the humanity of dogs and the inhuman things humans do to them.

In New York, I've noticed similar scenes to what he saw in L.A.

I don't think it's any surprise that liberal bloggers are pet freaks -- witness any given Friday when just about any given blogger pays tribute with photos of dubious focus and composition to their animal companions. I'm not saying lefties have the corner on pet love, but I think on the whole they tend to be people sensitive to the needs of others, and animals are the soul of compassion. I remember driving down Hollywood Boulevard one night and seeing this homeless guy curled up on the sidewalk with his dog, and I remember thinking -- what human would have that kind of compassion that they would lay down with the dirty, the crazy and the unloved and give comfort to them? It's Christ-like in a way that humans don't even seem to have the capacity to be.

Recently, I too saw a homeless person sleeping on a bench with his dog curled up alongside him. The dog was a striking shephard mix, and since Madame Cura and I are on the lookout for our next stray-find, I thought, "A dog like that could have a real nice life with a suburban family, what a shame." But as I continued to look at the dog, I realized that the dog seemed remarkably healthy; its coat was relatively clean and it looked pretty well fed, unlike his owner. And I also thought, "I'll bet that dog loves his homeless master totally, and obviously the feeling is mutual."

But did they hold hands?

I can't think of a more heartwarming scenario.

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- President Bush praised House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Tuesday and gave him an Air Force One ride back to Washington as the administration worked to cool grumbling about the embattled Texas congressman.

The White House denied that DeLay's appearance with Bush at a Social Security event here was a way for the president to give the House leader a political boost. But while the president has steadfastly backed DeLay, Tuesday's appearance took Bush's public show of support to a new level.

"I appreciate the leadership of Congressman Tom DeLay in working on important issues that matter to the country," Bush said before he began plugging for Social Security overhaul.


DeLay, who rode with the president in his limousine, on his Marine One helicopter and then on Air Force One for the return flight to Washington, has said he's willing to defend himself before the House ethics committee, but the panel is essentially shut down because of a deadlock over new rules imposed by Republicans.

Upon landing, and after a goodbye handshake at the bottom of the Air Force One steps, DeLay said the president's very public show of support for him Tuesday "felt very good."

Well, he didn't get the Abdullah treatment, so I guess they're still just friends.

But that's why I agree with Jonathon Alter when he says that DeLay must stay on the scene -- front and center -- for another 18 months.

So assuming he dodges indictment, DeLay should stay in his post for 18 months, until the 2006 midterm elections. Even if his legendary gerrymandering has made it unlikely that the Democrats will regain control of Congress, at least the voters—who now, finally, have heard of this guy—would have a clearer decision about where the country should go. His potential successors are all just as conservative as DeLay, but they seem colorless and would thus fuzz up the choice. The midterms should be a referendum on DeLay's America. Stay on the right fringe or move toward the center? Let the people decide.

Yes, and force Bush to have to fend off DeLay's rude advances again and again.

Tom DeLay has out-maneuvered the Boy Genius, Karl Rove. DeLay, perhaps more than Rove, comprehends the adage, "Live by the base, die by the base." By attaching himself to the right wing true believers, the Bug Man has made himself bullet-proof to establishment attempts to undermine his rule.

This should be a joy -- like a good romantic comedy -- to watch play out. Hastert's decision to let the House Ethics Committee conduct a probe (heh, heh) will will make things even more screwball, since Hastert has stacked the committee with loyal hacks beholden to DeLay's money machine. They won't do any more than admonish DeLay, and by their inaction remind voters that the GOP is the party of DeLay.

A-bomb, but is he still a bum?

I'm sure that's what NY sports talk radio will be saying today (if there weren't a bloody Mets day game being played instead) in response to Alex Rodriguez's performance last night when what I'm now calling The New York Yankees of The Bronx played The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A performance that had me repeatedly murmuring "Oh my $#@*ing God," while watching one prodigious blast after another scream over the center field fence, as A-Rod racked up nine RBIs by the end of the fourth inning (he added a tenth following a run-scoring single later in the game).

The best part was, the buzz all afternoon in the world of New York sports was that the Metropolitans had all the sizzle at Shea last night, what with Pedro Martinez locked into what was sure to be a dazzling pitchers duel with Atlanta's John Smoltz.


Rodriguez had homered in his first three at-bats to create the sort of buzz that usually accompanies a bid for a no-hitter. With a three-run home run in the first, a two-run homer in the third and a grand slam in the fourth - all off Angels starter Bartolo Colón - Rodriguez had nine runs batted in.

A few reporters bolted Shea Stadium, and the matchup between Pedro Martínez and John Smoltz, and drove the 11 miles to witness the Rodriguez show. With three swings, Rodriguez had pushed the Mets and the Braves aside.

But never fear, although all three home runs came with two outs, the brilliant minds calling ("long time listener, first time caller") from their car phones as they drive up and down the L.I.E. will still proclaim "he's not a real Yankee" and "he can't hit in the clutch."

"Trade and competition issues"

That's the cover Microsoft is taking to defend having Ralphie Reed's Century Strategies on the payroll.

What Ralph Reed knows about trade and competition in the software industry could probably fill a urine sample cup.

So, while I don't think Reed had anything to do with Microsoft's brave decision to reverse themselves on the Washington State anti-discrimination bill -- or any other social issues the company may be considering -- it is fun to hold Gates' and Ballmer's respective clay feet to the fire on this and make them deny, deny, deny.

Because as long as they try to peddle this "trade and competition" stuff, they should suffer the wrath of their employees and their customers (who must be alarmed that a company as powerful as Microsoft could cave to a local Elmer Gantry so easily).

The only reason Ralph Reed is employed by Microsoft is because of his personal relationships with George W. Bush and the rest of the crooks and liars running the Republican Party. That's why Grover Norquist and Haley Barbour have also been used as hired guns by those wonderful folks who give us the "Windows Operating System." In fact, someone might want to look back at Microsoft's claim that they've hired Reed "on occasion" going back "several years." Several years, eh? How much you wanna bet that "several years" coincides with a certain end to an anti-trust trial and the election of Bush II?

The K Street trough runneth over as they take their cut on the money being funneled to those moral absolutists who hold the keys to the Capitol building and the White House.

After six years, they've finally explained the "veto"

Or maybe not. I wondered about it myself last night, but didn't have the strength to post. Issuing a veto threat on a bill that passed 96-4 in the Senate is, um, a little odd. Unless of course, it's more Kabuki theater being played out between the preznit and the Republican majority.

But hey, guys like Inhofe can at least say they voted for the highway bill which is almost as good as actually passing one. And heck, even if they end up passing one, The Big Kahuna shows that he's a tough guy, which is almost as good as actually being one.

I dunno. Can this relationship be saved?

A World's Fair atop the ashes

I lived in the borough of Queens for a number of years, often visited the site of the '39 and '64 World's Fairs (once even finding a stray there), and have read The Great Gatsby a couple of times (and wondered about the allusions to the ashes), but I never knew this.

In debating what the Olympics might deliver to New York, it might be worth recalling the forgotten legacy of Fishhooks McCarthy.

The line connecting Mr. McCarthy with the Summer Games is crooked or, at best, circuitous. But it offers a timely reminder that well before the current debate over whether New York needs the Olympic Games or a new stadium to accommodate them, two ambitious World's Fairs were also touted as cost-effective vehicles to expand the city's parks and public works. The analogy is not precise, but the question it raises is instructive: Did those fairs deliver on their promise of civic improvement?

Both fairs were held in Flushing Meadows, Queens, a site immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald as the fiery "valley of ashes" through which Jay Gatsby commuted in the 1920's between Manhattan and Long Island's gold coast. The valley was manmade, flanked by mounds of ashes up to 90 feet high that John A. McCarthy's company, under a sweetheart deal with his fellow Democrats in Tammany Hall, removed from Brooklyn's coal-burning furnaces and dumped at the rate of 100 or so railroad carloads a day.

Legend has it that Mr. McCarthy's moniker was inspired by his habit of thrusting his fists immutably into his pockets at the first sighting of any due bill. But when the city finally bowed to reformers and canceled its contract with Mr. McCarthy's company, Brooklyn Ash Removal, in 1934, a door was opened to transform the befouled meadows into New York's second-largest park and Robert Moses bullied his way through.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

John Bolton is a dangerous man

Supporters of John Bolton's nomination to be UN Ambassador would prefer the recent dust up to be about his management style and argue that a tough guy is just what we need at the UN. What they would prefer the rest of us -- especially wavering Republican Senators -- ignore, is that Bolton bullied subordinates to twist and obscure intelligence that did not support his aggressive political positions. And we know just where that leads.

Robert Wright, writing today in The Times, explains an even greater reason why Bolton is not only wrong for the job, but a dangerous impediment to our national security. Giving him the UN job will make him even more dangerous. In addition to sending nuke talks with North Korea to the brink, and being asked off Libya negotiations by none other than Jack Straw, Bolton has consistently undercut proliferation treaties that could serve to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. In Bolton's view, American sovereignty is more important than treaties that would enhance American security.

Of course, Osama-era technologies are more menacing than McVeigh-era technologies. That's the point. What today's Internet is to shortwave radio and mailed videotapes, tomorrow's Internet will be to today's. As streaming video penetrates the most remote parts of the world, every Web-cam-equipped terro-vangelist will have global reach. And information technologies, like the advancing weapons technologies whose use they make more likely, are equal-opportunity empowerers: radical Islam, radical environmentalism, neo-Nazism, whatever.

Yet America's war on terror defines the threat more narrowly: out there in the "Muslim world" or the "Arab world," things need to change.

And of course they do. But that won't be enough. Suppose this approach succeeds wildly - that in 15 years, "Muslim rage" has evaporated. If we haven't addressed the generically growing part of the terrorist threat - the technology and its consequences - we still won't be secure. Whether the next unprecedented trauma comes from right or left, from abroad or at home, 9/11 will fade to sepia, as Oklahoma City did after 9/11.

Not everything about America's antiterrorism policy is Muslim-centric. The administration's homeland security policy pays attention to nuclear power plants and biotech labs. But leaving aside whether it does so adequately (short answer: no), you can't secure the homeland by focusing only on the homeland. As President Bush has stressed, we have to worry about weapons of mass destruction abroad, given how hard it is to detect every vial of germs, or even every suitcase nuke, that enters America. Yet his most salient approach to the problem - invade a country if we suspect it has such weapons - is too costly (in various senses) to apply universally.

UNLESS I've overlooked an option, there is ultimately no alternative to international arms control. It will have to be arms control of a creatively astringent, even visionary, sort. And achieving it will be a long haul - incremental, halting progress, over many years, through a series of flawed but improving agreements that are at first less than global in scope. But for now the details don't matter, because the Bush administration opposes the basic idea.

Why? Because John Bolton is not just the undersecretary for arms control, but the guiding spirit, so far, of the administration's arms control philosophy. To get other nations to endure intrusive monitoring, America would have to submit to such monitoring. People of Mr. Bolton's ideological persuasion insist that this amounts to a sacrifice of American sovereignty. And they're right; it's just a less objectionable sacrifice of sovereignty than letting terrorists blow up your cities.

I really don't care if John Bolton is a jerk, a "kiss up, kick down sort of a guy," or even if he stole Yosemite Sam's moustache. The guy is dangerous, and one hopes that Republicans in the Senate will show a spine, recognize a threat when they see one, and do something -- anything -- to put a speed bump in front of the Bush administration's rush to armageddon.

UPDATE: Thanks to an alert reader, and rather than start a war with our ally, post revised to indicate that nuke talks taken to the brink were with North Korea, not our ally south of the 38th parallel.

A very reasonable proposal

I,for one, am ready to line up for my special anti-terror optic shield today.

Private accounts DeLayed

Two peas in the proverbial pod.

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush is adding a helper to his Social Security road tour: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is facing allegations of ethical improprieties but is seen by the White House as crucial to pushing Bush's plans through Congress.

In Galveston, Texas, on Tuesday, Bush was discussing his proposal to add private investment accounts to Social Security. DeLay was scheduled to attend the event with the president and, along with a few other Republican members of Congress from Texas, fly back to Washington with him on Air Force One.

Polls show a decline in public support for Bush's plan to divert Social Security taxes into private investments. A Washington Post-ABC News poll out Tuesday found that only 45 percent of those surveyed favored the idea, compared with 56 percent who had supported it in a March poll.

An ethically-challenged congressman in the pocket of assorted lobbyists joins a fiscally reckless preznit to talk about "saving social security." That should spike those approval ratings. I mean, who better to trust your retirement safety net than those two?

Un-bambozzled on NPR

Heard this morning from NPR's David Welna (I'm paraphrasing):

...which Republican Trent Lott coined "the nuclear option." Republicans no longer use that term because they don't find it very flattering.

Meanwhile, I'm inclined to agree with Josh Marshall, it seems to me that Harry Reid has Bill Frist more or less where he wants him in offering his latest "compromise:" let a few of the seven contentious nominees go to a vote on condition that Bush withdraws the nomination of the three most egregious nominees and Frist takes "the nuclear option" off the table once and for all.

The devil's in the details, but it seems to me that Reid has a lot to gain by appearing to look reasonable, maintaining Democrats' power to stop Bush from packing the courts with wingnuts like Priscilla Owen, and forcing Frist to make a choice between his new radical cleric friends and Senate comity.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Numbers

I love this stuff.

The basic structure of the games has been the same for generations. A player picks a number, usually three digits, and bets anywhere from a fistful of coins to $30 that the number will hit, meaning that it will be chosen as a winning number of the day.

The chances of winning with a three-digit number are 1,000 to 1, and the payoff is usually 600 to 1, sometimes less. New York Numbers, the state-sponsored game, pays 500 to 1.

Methods for determining the winning numbers in the street game vary. Court and other records show that the Brooklyn Handle game gets its winning number from the total sum of money - the handle - bet during the day on all the races at a given horse track, with the last three digits of the handle being the hit. The game known as the 3-5-7 Old Way gets its first digit from the last digit of the total paid by the track on $2 bets to win, place and show for the day's first three races, its second digit from repeating the formula using the first five races and the last digit using the first seven races.

The day's track is chosen by a service run by Italian organized crime families, whose first involvement in numbers rackets decades ago involved protection money, said Detective Terrence Donnelly of Vice Enforcement. "If it was snowing, they might pick a track in Florida, or run dogs," he said. "They determine where the number's coming from, so they're pretty important."

I forget the context, but I recall back in the early 1980s researching the resiliency of Numbers in the face of legalized lotteries. The numbers games stayed popular because the cost to play was light and although the winning number resulted in a much smaller take than in the state lotteries, the chance of winning was much higher. Players figured that winning a night on the town is better than the improbable chance of winning a million. Furthermore, the mob-run numbers rackets were trusted more than the state government, since they knew their numbers runner. Not to mention that winning the Numbers is tax-free.

Power corrupts

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, looks at how the Okland A's -- in Moneyball fashion -- choose players out of college with the highest On Base Percentage, the most valuable statistic with which to rate hitters.

Then they take these young hitters who have a proven knack for getting on base and try to turn them into sluggers.

Usually it doesn't work. The piece follows the relative career arcs of two players. One's a tiny guy who slaps the ball "where they ain't." But he's told that despite his initial success in A and Double A he won't make it to The Show because those flares and bloops will be outs against the better defense of a major league team. He tries to adjust by learning to pull the ball and hit homers and he fails utterly. His failure at Triple A just reinforce the doubters that he's not big enough to play in the big leagues.

The other guy is also a hitter adept at taking pitches outside and hitting them to the opposite field, the secret (along with plate discipline to take bad pitches) to high OBP. But this kid is 6-3, 220 lbs so it's assumed that he is capable of hitting bombs. And he learns to just ignore the minor league instructors who tell him to start pulling the ball. He continues to use his whacky swing and get on base, and eventually finds himself traded to the Royals in last year's Beltran's transaction. And once he finds himself on a major league roster team officials stop trying to change him.

It's a fascinating look at how even if your organization is run by Billy Beane, the guys in the minor leagues still follow stale old ideas that power is the best predictor for major league success.

Well, if the steroid scandal has any positive effect on the game we can only hope that it brings an end to the reliance of power and a new obsession with just getting on base.

Blinded with science

This is simply whacked. Children Ministries has a magazine devoted to showing Christian kids some basic experiments to get them excited about science. And God.

For instance, they describe the classic egg in a bottle trick, but then don't provide the answer as to how you get the egg in there. The implication is, isn't God cool?

Whoa. As noted in Uncertain Principles, this isn't science, it's parlor tricks.

Via Kevin Drum.

Remember Iraq?

That's right. Events keep happening. .

BAGHDAD, April 24 -- Iraq's prime minister-designate, Ibrahim Jafari, increased efforts to form a new government Sunday, as insurgents pressed their campaign of violence with two lethal bombing operations, including one in Baghdad, that left at least 21 Iraqis dead and scores more injured.

Late Sunday afternoon, a car bomb exploded outside an ice cream shop in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of al-Shoulah, a poor and predominantly Shiite Muslim district. As people rushed to assist victims in the crowded market area, a second bomb detonated, killing at least 15 people and injuring 40, according to police and television reports.

Despite efforts to turn it off.

The vast amount of suffering and death endured by civilians as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has, for the most part, been carefully kept out of the consciousness of the average American. I can't think of anything the Bush administration would like to talk about less. You can't put a positive spin on dead children.

As for the press, it has better things to cover than the suffering of civilians in war. The aversion to this topic is at the opposite extreme from the ecstatic journalistic embrace of the death of one pope and the election of another, and the media's manic obsession with the comings and goings of Martha, Jacko, et al.

There's been hardly any media interest in the unrelieved agony of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq. It's an ugly subject, and the idea has taken hold that Americans need to be protected from stories or images of the war that might be disturbing. As a nation we can wage war, but we don't want the public to be too upset by it.

So the public doesn't even hear about the American bombs that fall mistakenly on the homes of innocent civilians, wiping out entire families. We hear very little about the frequent instances of jittery soldiers opening fire indiscriminately, killing and wounding men, women and children who were never a threat in the first place. We don't hear much about the many children who, for one reason or another, are shot, burned or blown to eternity by our forces in the name of peace and freedom.

Out of sight, out of mind.

This stunning lack of interest in the toll the war has taken on civilians is one of the reasons Ms. Ruzicka, who was just 28 when she died, felt compelled to try to personally document as much of the suffering as she could. At times she would go from door to door in the most dangerous areas, taking down information about civilians who had been killed or wounded. She believed fiercely that Americans needed to know about the terrible pain the war was inflicting, and that we had an obligation to do everything possible to mitigate it.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration tries to be puppet master over the chaos.

The White House pressure, reported by Iraqi officials in Baghdad and an American official in Washington on Sunday, was a change in the administration's hands-off approach to Iraqi politics. The change was disclosed as insurgents unleashed a devastating technique, with twin double bombings at a police academy in Tikrit and an ice cream parlor in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad that killed 21 and wounded scores more.

And punish those who are the victims of their incompetent planning.

Lt. Sean J. Schickel remembers Captain Royer asking a high-ranking Marine Corps visitor whether the company would be getting more factory-armored Humvees. The official said they had not been requested and that there were production constraints, Lieutenant Schickel said.

Recalls Captain Royer: "I'm thinking we have our most precious resource engaged in combat, and certainly the wealth of our nation can provide young, selfless men with what they need to accomplish their mission. That's an erudite way of putting it. I have a much more guttural response that I won't give you."

Captain Royer was later relieved of command. General Mattis and Colonel Kennedy declined to discuss the matter. His first fitness report, issued on May 31, 2004, after the company's deadliest firefights, concluded, "He has single-handedly reshaped a company in sore need of a leader; succeeded in forming a cohesive fighting force that is battle-tested and worthy."

The second, on Sept. 1, 2004, gave him opposite marks for leadership. "He has been described on numerous occasions as 'dictatorial,' " it said. "There is no morale or motivation in his marines." His defenders say he drove his troops as hard as he drove himself, but was wrongly blamed for problems like armor. "Captain Royer was a decent man that was used for a dirty job and thrown away by his chain of command," Sergeant Sheldon said.

The Iraqi elections in January did more than any flight-suit-wearing preznit to permit the U.S. people to declare victory and forget about the on-going misery over there.

History will not be kind. The ultimate damage has yet to be estimated.

Over-zealous Republican staffer

While I think of something more substantive, go follow his crazy adventures.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Mighty Microsoft

This is a bit harsh, but Microsoft's caving to a local evangelical minister's demand that the company withdraw support for a Washington state bill banning discrimination against gays and lesbians is mighty pathetic. I was under the impression that Microsoft was the most powerful organization on the planet. But lo, the mighty fall before Reverand Hutcherson.

Does Ballmer really think this is the end of it? Now that they've caved to a Redmond megachurch minister, do they really think that the religious right won't build on this by demanding the company itself stop offering benefits to same sex couples?

I say, Ballmer, call their bluff. Say the radical clerics mount a successful boycott of Windows, where else do they go? Something tells me Apple also offers progressive benefits to their employees. And Linux? Well, they're Scandinavian, aren't they? 'Nuff said. So let them boycott. Stop using computers altogether. The religious right want to take us back to the 19th century socially. Let's applaud their decision to go back there technologically as well.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Passing the torch

Frank Rich, in Sunday's Times.

Senator Frist had hoped to deflect criticism of his cameo on "Justice Sunday" by confining his appearance to video. Though he belittled the disease-prevention value of condoms in that same "This Week" interview, he apparently now believes that videotape is just the prophylactic to shield him from the charge that he is breaching the wall separating church and state. His other defense: John Kerry spoke at churches during the presidential campaign. Well, every politician speaks at churches. Not every political leader speaks at nationally televised political rallies that invoke God to declare war on courts of law.

Perhaps the closest historical antecedent of tonight's crusade was that staged in the 1950's and 60's by a George Wallace ally, the televangelist Billy James Hargis. At its peak, his so-called Christian Crusade was carried by 500 radio stations and more than 200 television stations. In the "Impeach Earl Warren" era, Hargis would preach of the "collapse of moral values" engineered by a "powerfully entrenched, anti-God Liberal Establishment." He also decried any sex education that talked about homosexuality or even sexual intercourse. Or so he did until his career was ended by accusations that he had had sex with female students at the Christian college he founded as well as with boys in the school's All-American Kids choir.

Hargis died in obscurity the week before Dr. Frist's "This Week" appearance. But no less effectively than the cardinals in Rome, he has passed the torch.

The difference between then and now is, while Hargis may have had George Wallace as an ally he certainly did not have the Majority Leader of the United States Senate.

Funny. Frist was tapped as Majority Leader because his fellow Republicans saw him as an antidote to that old segregationist Trent Lott. Now it seems Frist is trying to show he's got bigger bigot chops than the late, lamented Strom Thurmond.

Working the refs

Or, rather, the press. And we know easily our nation's newshounds can be gamed.

Now, let's be frank. There's no intrinsic reason why banning filibusters for judicial nominations should be called the 'nuclear option'. And if Republicans want to start referring to it as the 'judicial act of love' they can do that. But one side in a debate shouldn't be able to order the refs in the game to rewrite the lexicon just because people don't like what's happening. And yet that's just what's happening. Republicans are now making a concerted push at a whole slew of news organizations, trying to convince them to stop using the term in their coverage, on the argument that it's an attack phrase concocted by the Democrats. And it would seem the editors and producers are either too ignorant or too lily-livered not to let them have their way.

Perhaps we can just call ending filibusters 'privatization'.

You'd have thought that the GOP would have learned, after failing to change the terms of the debate over Social Security by changing the term from "privatization" to "personal accounts."

They get so gosh darned silly when they're desperate.

And one of TPM's readers has a great idea. Dems should start referring to "the nuclear option" as "the cry-baby option."

Friday, April 22, 2005

The wind of freedom, blowing across the dunes

Um, not so much.

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - As Saudis watched the winds of free speech and democracy gust through Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt in recent months, the first elections here in 60 years ended Thursday with barely a stir.

Small numbers of Saudi men turned out to cast their ballots Thursday in the third and final elections for 179 municipal councils nationwide. Women were not allowed to participate in this cautious experiment in political reform by the world's largest oil exporter.

Apart from minority Shiites in the Eastern Province, and Islamist supporters of popular conservative clerics, the majority of the country's eligible voters showed little interest in the elections that began in February and were carried out in stages.


President Bush, who will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in his ranch in Crawford, Texas, April 25, has been pushing for Saudi Arabia to democratize since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Most of the hijackers were Saudi. The Bush administration has said that the lack of political participation has led to religious extremism in the region. [italics added]

Would that that last bit were true.

Bush’s first-term judicial confirmation rate was the highest in recent history. With even fewer Democrats in the Senate and every expectation of continued confirmation success under the current, legitimate Senate rules, why would Bush and Frist detonate the “nuclear option”?

It’s certainly not something most Republicans are clamoring for, as Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell has reportedly acknowledged in private. But it’s the top priority for religious right leaders like James Dobson and Pat Robertson who are demanding payback for Bush’s re-election in the form of radical judicial nominees. They are intent on overturning the legal precedents that underpin progressive governance and society.

So one day we can live just like the Saudis!

We are truly living in an Over Under Sideways Down world. "When will it end, when will it end," indeed.

Gaia's revenge

Aw shucks. I was gonna do a post on it, but I see Skippy the Bush Kangaroo has beaten me to the "Publish" button.

You gotta be quick in this blog game. Publish first and ask questions later.

Insane? Oh, yeah, she's insane alright

Yes, yes, all of the blogosphere is afire with rage over the "treatment" of Miss Coulter in this week's Time, while all of blogostan is burning with incendiary rage at the cover photo, which shows her to be...well...sick.

Blah, blah, blah, skankity skanky skank, blah, we've heard it all before regarding the New Canaan Harpy. But while Time should be excoriated for giving her publicity and pooh-poohing her critics' attacks on her vicious rhetoric, there was one passage from the story that elicited the greatest gasp and horror from the Vega:

COULTER GOT ON THE HONOR ROLL AS A KID, FENCED AND played lacrosse, went to Ramones and Grateful Dead shows (dozens of Dead shows -- drug free, she claims) [emphasis, like vengeance, is mine].

Dozens? Drug free? The Vega is a longtime admirer of the band that used to be The Warlocks, having seen dozens of shows itself. But drug free? The mind recoils at the thought.

Judicial activism watch, or, Why is David Brooks such a tool?

Whenever I read Michael Bérubé I find myself relieved that I did not pursue an advanced degree in Lit., as I had once planned. Because when compared with the wit, wisdom, and all-around brilliance of Monsieur Bérubé, I realize that any academic post I might have gained would likely have been teaching remedial English at Chico State or its equivalent.


Justice Earl Warren did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Brown v. Board decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.

When Warren wrote the Brown decision, it took the segregation issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that’s always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn’t have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.

Instead, Warren and his colleagues invented a right to integration, overturning more than a half-century of established precedent, and imposed a solution more extreme than the policies of just about any other comparable nation.

Southern voters became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

The fact is, the entire country is trapped. Earl Warren and his colleagues suppressed that democratic “integration” debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can’t stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Brown v. Board is overturned, politics will never get better.

Hey, can I have David Brooks’ op-ed slot when he goes on vacation?

UPDATE: Please please give me Brooks’ column for a couple of weeks! I can churn this stuff out with machinelike efficiency! Watch:

Justice Earl Warren did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Loving v. Virginia decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.

When Warren wrote the Loving decision, it took the miscegenation issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that’s always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn’t have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.

Instead, Warren and his colleagues invented a right to miscegenation that existed nowhere in the Constitution, and imposed a solution more extreme than the policies of just about any other comparable nation.

Southern voters became understandably alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

The fact is, the entire country is trapped. Earl Warren and his colleagues suppressed that democratic miscegenation debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can’t stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Loving v. Virginia is overturned, politics will never get better.

I am beginning to wonder if Bérubé has any connection to that other national treasure on the internets.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Head in the Cloud

John Cloud, the author of the recent love note to Ann Coulter in Time, has given an interview on CJR to respond to his critics who say he's a pretty crummy journalist who tried to give the imprimatur of "heartfelt" and "funny" to Coulter's viscious diatribes.

Well, the interview shows him to be a great deal more than a crummy journalist. He's thin-skinned and bitchy too! Oh, and a dweebish punk, as well. Good for him!

I'll spare you, Dear Reader, the more absurd aspects of his rejoinders to his "liberal" critics, here's the money quote for me.

BM: We're obviously in a very different world journalism-wise than we were even five years ago, because you've got all these people with the instant analysis on the Internet, and some of it is pretty vitriolic. I'm just curious if it's bothering you.

JC: What I'll say is that I think Eric Alterman and Ann Coulter engage in the same kind of debate. They don't often make actual arguments. Instead, they throw names around. This is the point of my article. This is the way politics is engaged in debate now. And I think that his response to my article proves our point that this kind of dialogue, which is the Ann Coulter kind of dialogue, now holds sway.

What an ass. First of all, Eric Alterman does not engage in the same kind of "debate" as Coulter. Eric Alterman may be a self-absorbed jerk with a strange obsession with "The Boss," but he does not call people who's politics he disagrees with, "traitors." He does not express disappointment that Timothy McVeigh didn't blow up the Times building, then later clarify the quote by saying he meant that McVeigh should only kill the editors and reporters. Alterman doesn't simply make up things to support outrageous arguments. But beyond that, if Ann Coulter kind of dialogue now holds sway it is because Entertainment mean Time magazine and Cloud, with his Little Junior Reporter Kit, are providing legitimacy for her and her violent rhetoric.

And in the reader comments following the interview he explains why he's attracted to wheezing drag queens like Coulter.

For the definitive take down of Cloud, Somberby has dedicated an entire series to this.

Discarding Alan Greenspan

The Delphic Oracle returns to testify before the Senate and complains that Democatic Senators are using his previous testimony, in 2001, in which he said that he favored Bush's tax cuts as a means to lower the budget surplus, to unfairly discredit him. They are, he says, "discarding" the second part of his advice, in which tax cuts should have a "trigger mechanism" to avoid deficit spending.

"I think its frankly unfair" for critics to blame him for the fact that Congress chose to "read half my testimony and discard the rest," Greenspan said, venting his frustration on the issue publicly for the first time, in response to a question from Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.).

Sarbanes chided the Fed chief that he is well aware of how Congress works, and he should have known lawmakers might not heed all his cautions.

"I plead guilty to that," Greenspan said. "I did not intend it that way."

Plead guilty he should. At the time of his testimony on the tax cuts, he had a chance to tell Congress in no uncertain terms that any budget surplus should be used to shore up Medicare and Social Security. Instead he threw his full-throated support behind Bush's disastrous tax cuts, which Republicans now want to make permanent. And note: "permanent" also means no "trigger mechanism, Mr. Greenspan.

The Ayn Rand devotee used his "trigger mechanism" nonsense as an umbrella. He surely knew, as Sarbines said, that the Republicans were going to take the permission slip he'd just given them and run with it like kids with a pair of scissors. And now he's unfurled that umbrella to cover himself against the economic storm of stagflation that he has helped create. It won't work. The "Maestro's" carefully coifed image as a deft manipulator of the economic harp strings isn't going to survive him when the aging crank is finally wheeled out of the Fed. His use of the blunt instrument of rate cuts and hikes no longer works -- if it ever really did during our collective turn o' the century boomtown national grabfest. And his soothing, mysterious words that once swayed the markets are going to be soon unveiled as prattling bullshit to cover the fact that he really didn't have any idea what was going on with the U.S. economy.

Bush I and Clinton learned pretty quickly that Greenspan's real power was not in moving rates a half a point in either direction. Rather it was the threat of moving those rates as a way to force, particularly Clinton, to hew to Greenspan's line of fiscal discipline. When he went on Capitol Hill on that fateful day in 2001 and said "Let the good times roll" to the Republican Senate he voided his threat card. With Greenspan in their well greased pocket, Bush/Cheney had then cleared the last hurdle they faced in their plan to reward their donors, invite the Republican congress to the feeding trough, and bust the federal budget.

Bravo, Meistro. Bravo.

Thursday cat blogging

As in catty scholars.

An article about new books on Robert Oppenheimer quotes the following zinger:

“American Prometheus” does capture the world in which Oppenheimer established his credentials: thick with future Nobelists, bristling with innovation, cattily competitive. (As one of his fellow scholars remarked about another: “So young and already so unknown.”)

That one’s up there with “This book fills a needed gap in the literature.”

Popity Popey Popishness

Except for a snarky post upon his election, the Vega ain't had much to say about the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict the XVI. His past, including a stint as a member of the Hitler Youth wasn't of great concern since, after all, American Bandstand hadn't been invented yet, so what's a youth to do? And his role as John Paul II's enforcer raised barely a blip on my consciousness since every Pope relies on a small group of cardinals who have a fanatical devotion to his Eminence.

But the Vega must now speak out. Enough! Enough with the "All Pope All the Time" news channels. Enough with the constant analysis of what the election of this Pope will mean to American Catholics, such as this drivel that appears on the front page of the Times today.

WASHINGTON, April 20 - The election of an unstintingly conservative pope could inject a powerful new force into the intense conflicts in American politics over abortion and other social issues, which put many Catholic elected officials at odds with their church.

Pope Benedict XVI ascends to power at a tumultuous time for his church in American politics: Catholic voters, long overwhelmingly Democratic, have become a critical swing vote. Republicans have become increasingly successful at winning the support of more traditional Catholics by appealing to what President Bush calls the "culture of life" issues, including abortion, euthanasia and research on embryonic stem cells. Mr. Bush carried 56 percent of the white Catholic vote in 2004, up from 51 percent in 2000 - a formidable part of his conservative coalition.

Um. I'd like to point out that Pope Benedict XVI didn't succeed Barbara Boxer as Pope. He succeeded the most conservative Pope in our lifetimes. And consider the logic of those two paragraphs: Catholic elected officials are often at odds with their church and yet they went ahead and told their congregations to vote for Bush at the urging of a German cardinal?

The press seem to have amnesia when it comes to recent polls regarding Catholics' view of Church hierarchy in recent years.

Despite the Nooner's crazy talk ("inner adult"?), it would seem that Benedict was elected more because of his age than despite it, and because the Italian block seems to have split their vote.

To The New York Times, the Post, CNN, etc., etc., the new leader of the free world wasn't elected in Rome the other day. The world is not waiting breathlessly to hear his next pronouncement. I mean, an assignment in Rome is pretty cool, the vestements are camera friendly, and Latin, but enough already. Let's give this one a rest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Reverand Frist, M.D.

The blogosphere hath no fury like a centrist scorned. Tom Watson pulls together a veritable Yellow Pages worth of posts by moderate Republicans and "progressives of faith" who are outraged, genuinely outraged by the Reverand Bill and others on the Right accusing those on the Left of being anti-Christian.

Frist has really screwed himself into a light socket on this one. If he goes ahead and serves as headliner at the "Rev. Dobson's Revival Meetin' and Medicine Show" on Sunday night he will rightly be perceived by members of his own party as using religion as a cynical ploy to capture the evangelic vote. If he looks at his poll numbers and reads his mail and backs out, he will still be reviled by moderates, but he can add evangelicals to the posse, who will accuse him of being spineless. Which he is. In either case, he's due for a major political electrocution.

And I, for one, look forward to toasting marshmellows over his smoldering political career. He, of course, can look forward to a lucrative job running the family HMO, but that's another story.

I am not one to let myself suppose that the Social Security debacle, the Schiavo mishandling, the DeLay "I'm melting" press conferences, and the Holy Rolling of the Majority Leader are signs that the Right has jumped the shark. 2004 was just too great a shock to my system. Events in both October and November have warned me off hopefulness for the forseeable future.

But something is happenin' here. And it is going to be interesting to watch.

Voinovich in the cross-hairs

After Senator Voinovich's astounding decision to "listen to [his] conscience" and demand further hearings into Bolton's ineptitude, abuse, and undermining of his bosses at State, it sure didn't take long for the Right-wing attack machine to swing into action. The Center for American Progress points us to those wonderful folks who brought us the Gray Davis recall and the effort to derail the Reagan miniseries. They already have an ad created to attack Voinovich's loyalty to the Republican party.

I guess Fred Kaplan's musings yesterday have been answered.

So, President Bush must choose between his two most trusted advisers, Cheney and Rice. Cheney is a fairly cold-blooded politico. Maybe even he will realize that the cause is no longer worth saving. Bolton has caused a mess, and it can only get messier. The Democrats might beat him in the Senate, and once they win one contest they will only get more aggressive on other, more important contests to come. "It's not personal, John, it's business," Cheney might say, as he stretches the cord and wraps it around Bolton's neck (metaphorically, of course).

It's a good guess that one of two things is going to happen in the coming days and weeks: Either Bolton goes down—or we start learning a lot of unpleasant things about Sen. George Voinovich.

Should be interesting to see if Bush permits the GOP to eat one of its own on behalf of a creep like Bolton.

Yet another legacy of the Bush reign


WASHINGTON — Consumer prices jumped 0.6 percent in March, the biggest inflation surge in five months, as the costs of energy, clothing and airline fares all rose sharply.

The Labor Department said last month's increase in the Consumer Price Index, the most closely watched inflation gauge, followed a 0.4 percent rise in February and left consumer inflation rising at an annual rate of 4.3 percent in the first three months of this year. That was a full percentage point above the 3.3 percent rise in prices for all of 2004.

The new report showed that even outside of food and energy, there were significant price pressures last month. The so-called core rate of inflation rose by a worrisome 0.4 percent in March, the largest jump in 2 1/2 years and double what economists had expected. It reflected higher prices for clothing, hotel rooms, airline tickets and medical care.


The higher inflation pressures are coming at a time when a number of reports in recent weeks have shown economic weakness, from a disappointing employment rise in March to lower-than-expected retail sales.

"We are getting slower growth and higher inflation numbers. The Fed is caught," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York. "The Fed would like to keep interest rates low to keep the economy moving but on the other hand they have to fight against inflation."

If this trend continues, as I understand it (the Vega is no economist), the Fed may very well be powerless to do anything.

Question: Has George W. Bush presided over two economic downturns, or was it just one punctuated by a brief, illusory uptick?

"Jesus is my co-pilot"

Surely, Dear Reader, you've heard that the United States Air Force Academy has been officially turned over to Christ.

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told that the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus. Another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.

The 4,300-student school recently started requiring staff members and cadets to take a 50-minute religious-tolerance class.

''There are things that have happened that have been inappropriate. And they have been addressed and resolved," said Colonel Michael Whittington, the academy's chief chaplain.

More than 90 percent of the cadets identify themselves as Christian. A cadet survey in 2003 found that half had heard religious slurs and jokes, and that many non-Christians believed Christians get special treatment.

''There were people walking up to someone and basically they would get in a conversation and it would end with, 'If you don't believe what I believe you are going to hell,' " Colonel Debra Gray, vice commandant, said.

Critics of the academy say the sometimes-public endorsement of Christianity by high-ranking staff members has contributed to a climate of fear and violates the constitutional separation of church and state at a taxpayer-supported school whose mission is to produce Air Force leaders.

Apparently, this is so entrenched that adademy leadership doesn't feel they can do much of anything about it. I don't think religious tolerance classes are going to have much of an impact. Particularly if those same academy leaders are trying to minimize the story so that it doesn't blow up in their faces like the rape scandal that enveloped it a year or two ago.

The superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, conceded there was a problem during a recent meeting of the Board of Visitors, the civilian group that oversees the academy.

''The problem is people have been across the line for so many years when you try and come back in bounds, people get offended,'' he said.

The board chairman, former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, warned Rosa that changing things could prove complicated. He said evangelical Christians ''do not check their religion at the door.''

Not only do they not check their religion at the door, but they cry "anti-Christian bigotry" when asked to tone it down a little.

Two of the nation's most influential evangelical Christian groups, Focus on the Family and New Life Church, are headquartered in nearby Colorado Springs. Tom Minnery, an official at Focus on the Family, disputed claims that evangelical Christians are pushing an agenda at the academy, and complained that ''there is an anti-Christian bigotry developing'' at the school.

Who was it that said, "Reason must now wear a veil when she goes out in public"?

The judge and the internets

Research? On the Internet? Outrageous!

Mr. DeLay, who described the federal courts on Tuesday as the "left's last legislative body," has intensified his criticism of the judiciary since federal judges refused to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo. He said he could not predict whether Congress might try to remove any federal judges as a result of the committee's review.

"What we're going to do is we're going to look at this issue and look at the Constitution, try to educate the American people as to what the checks and balances are, and who knows where that will lead us," Mr. DeLay said.

He singled out Justice Kennedy, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan but has been criticized by conservatives for citing international law in a recent ruling barring the execution of juveniles.

"That's just outrageous," Mr. DeLay said in the Fox interview. "And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous." [yeah, yeah, emphasis added]

I've often heard even enemies of Tom DeLay say, "Tom DeLay isn't stupid." Well, yes, yes he is. Incredibly so.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

No shame, no shame whatsoever

Digby laments the work of the sad hacks at Time who have elevated Ann Coulter to Man of the Year, or something. And he also shines a light under the sewer cover that is the Free Republic to show us how these pieces of human waste react when a humanitarian is killed by the same insane violence that continues to kill U.S. troops and other Iraqis in that country.

Liberals, progressives, hell, moderate Republicans for that matter, should really think about arming ourselves. Thugs like Ann Manhands Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and their greasy little acolytes and modern-day Vidkun Quislings such as the Freepers want us dead. They really do. And they enjoy broadcasting their fascist hatred.

And Time magazine finds that amusing.

Why does the Right hate the troops?

First it was "America's Mayor"™ blaming the soldiers for not finding Saddam's weapons depots. Now, disregarding the fact that it was Rumsfeld's and Frank's plan to outsource the battle in Tora Bora that allowed bin Laden to escape to Pakistan, those brilliant strategists at NewsMax claim that he escaped because of the Army's use of...female soldiers.

For those on Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and at the White House who think that women in land combat is a ho-hum non-issue, there is strong evidence the U.S. lost the opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden because of politically correct Pentagon policies to have more female warriors.

The article is pretty much incoherent, so I'm a little unclear as to how the fairer sex tied our troops' virtual hand behind their backs. Perhaps Amanda Marcotte is correct, in thinking they lack that special terrorist radar penile implant. But in any case the NewsMax author's conclusion is clear:

Donnelly concludes that the recent remarks by Army Chief of Staff Peter Shoomaker tacitly endorsing a new breed of women warriors is more than an object for moral reflection on the weaker sex's role in the fighting and dying, but a tactical mistake that can have the highest costs to the nation's security.

Ah, the 101st Fighting Keyboardists. Bravely pointing out the inadequacy of the weaker sex who are, in fact, fighting and dying in Iraq while these chubby punks stroke their Little Generals back home and wonder why they're suffering from repetitive stress syndrome in their right wrist.

Time: A laddie mag for the penny loafer set

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

Well, well. The Cardinals have elected a Pope who makes John Paul II look like John XXIII

VATICAN CITY - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the church's leading hard-liner, was elected the new pope Tuesday evening in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI and called himself "a simple, humble worker."


On Monday, Ratzinger, who was the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals, used his homily at the Mass dedicated to electing the next pope to warn the faithful about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects, ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism — the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," he said, speaking in Italian. "Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards. [sic]

Ratzinger served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he has disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms. He turned 78 on Saturday.

According to "Vatican watchers," Ratzinger had the "buzz" going into the conclave. But I certainly didn't expect the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise....
Our two weapons are fear and surprise... and ruthless efficiency....
Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...
and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope....
Our four... no...
Amongst our weapons... Amongst our weaponry...
are such elements as fear, surprise...
I'll come in again.

Patriot's Day

On the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Boston Globe has a somewhat mystifying piece on the decline of militias in this country.

Ten years after Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb that killed 168 people at the Oklahoma City federal building, the antigovernment militias that attracted intense police scrutiny after the bombing have all but disappeared, according to analysts who track the groups.

''There really are no groups out there now doing paramilitary training," said Mark Potok, who monitors the militias for the Southern Poverty Law Center. From a high of 858 militias and other antigovernment groups in 1996, the number withered to 152 in 2004, Potok said.

The deaths of innocent civilians -- including 19 children -- in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building a decade ago today began the steep decline in the membership of grass-roots militias that had multiplied after deadly sieges by federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993.

What I find mystifying is that Timothy McVeigh, as far as anyone has ever learned, was not a member of a militia, nor was he trained by a militia group. The man responsible for the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil prior to September 11, 2001 was the proverbial "lone wolf" who was trained by the U.S. military.

While I am sure it was no pleasure to live near any of the militia compounds that sprang up in the 1980s and early 90s, the whack jobs who were militia members have never posed the kind of threat a Timothy McVeigh or an Eric Rudolph posed. The militia groups are easily monitored and, because they often rely on criminal pursuits to fund themselves.

The bigger threat, it seems to me, are single individuals with an agenda. They may take their overall direction from a larger group, but operate on their own. They keep their nose clean until the time comes to act. Again, Eric Rudolph does not appear to have been part of a larger anti-abortion group (though, we'll never really know, since the plea deal he cut did not require him to name any associates). His "guilty plea" may very well have been, as David Neiwert and others suggest, a coded transmission, but it was unlikely that Rudolph had any specific individual in mind to receive it.

Moreover, as the Globe piece continues, militias have now been replaced by "hate groups" that are really online communities, rather than physical associations. These web sites have become alternate media sources for racists who are then urged on by the sites to become "activists," though without any membership requirement.

Now that's frightening. A lot scarier than a bunch of guys playing war in a field in Montana.

So-called liberal media, vol. 972

On this morning's "Morning Edition" on NPR, prefacing a lengthy piece on the "courage" of Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee, the Northeastern moderate/centrist Republican was repeatedly referred to as a "liberal Republican."

Argh. Witness another lurch to the right.

Moreover, the piece was premised on the notion that the nomination of Bolton to UN ambassador was hinging on Chafee's vote. Not so, and NPR surely knows better. Chafee has said from the start of this latest molatov cocktail toss from the White House that he will vote to send Bolton's name to the full Senate for approval. It is Chuck Hagel -- no "liberal Republican" he -- upon whom Bolton's career advancement depends.

No mention of Hagel in the NPR piece, which clearly had a thesis -- it's tough to be a centrist in these partisan times -- they were going to go with, facts be damned.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"Communists for Kerry"

How stupid are the photo editors at Time magazine?

This stupid.

"Enough is enough"

General Steinbrenner speaks:

Enough is enough. I am bitterly disappointed as I'm sure all Yankee fans are by the lack of performance by our team. It is unbelievable to me that the highest-paid team in baseball would start the season in such a deep funk. They are not playing like true Yankees. They have the talent to win and they are not winning. I expect Joe Torre, his complete coaching staff and the team to turn this around.

Cue the "Patton" theme.

"Complete coaching staff," eh? Uh oh.


Just because he looks like a traumatized altar boy, the recurrent theme that Ralph Reed's "image" has been tainted by the Indian casino scandal that is enveloping Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and Ralphie-boy is a bit silly. Ralph "body bag" Reed has never let his professed faith get in the way of his truncheon-wielding political style.

Nevertheless, it is fun to find that the fundies are actually beginning to wonder if he is putting the affairs of this world ahead of more spiritual quests.

In Washington, federal investigations of Mr. Abramoff, a close ally of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, have revealed that Mr. Abramoff paid Mr. Reed's consulting firm more than $4 million to help organize Christian opposition to Indian casinos in Texas and Louisiana - money that came from other Indians with rival casinos.

Mr. Reed declined to comment for this article; he has said publicly that he did not know that casino owners were paying for his services and that he has never deviated from his moral opposition to gambling. But the episode is a new blemish on the boyish face that once personified the rise of evangelical Christians to political power in America.

And for Pat Robertson to weigh in, accusing Reed of worshipping "Mammon," it is deeply, deeply hilarious.

Some of Mr. Reed's past patrons - including the Rev. Pat Robertson, the Christian broadcaster who set Mr. Reed on the national stage by hiring him to run the Christian Coalition - say his work with Mr. Abramoff's Indian casino clients raises questions about how he has balanced his personal ambitions with his Christian principles.

"You know that song about the Rhinestone Cowboy, 'There's been a load of compromising on the road to my horizon,' " Mr. Robertson said. "The Bible says you can't serve God and Mammon."

Hmmm. I thought serving both was Robertson's stock and trade.

A yearlong investigation of televangelist Pat Robertson's activities in Africa is now over, but state officials are sitting on the final report pending a review by attorneys, reports the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. The probe focused on possible inappropriate activities involving Robertson's Operation Blessing outreach, and a private corporation he operated known as the African Development Co. Based in Zaire, the firm was established by Robertson during the rule of the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The two men established close ties, and Mobutu wined and dined Robertson during one visit to the country; ADC also received vast forestry and mineral concessions, but the diamond mining operation eventually went bankrupt. Mobutu, after a quarter-century of iron fisted rule, died last year in exile from cancer. He left Zaire bankrupt and impoverished, and since 1994 had even been considered persona non grata in the United States.

In April, 1997 two pilots who worked for Operation Blessing charged that planes linked to Robertson and his ministry flew mostly to haul equipment for ADC's private diamond operation. Robert Hinkle, the chief pilot told reporter Bill Sizemore that of about 40 flights within Zaire during the half-year period he was there, "Only one or at most two" were related to the humanitarian mission of Operation Blessing. The rest were "mining-related."

"We got over there and we had 'Operation Blessing' painted on the tails of the airplanes, Hinkle told the Virginian-Pilot, "but we were doing no humanitarian relief at all. We were just supplying the miners and flying the dredges from Kinshasa out to Tdshikapa."

The New York Times article would be a whole lot more interesting if it dared to report on what is behind Pat Robertson's kneecapping of Reed. Political falling-out? A battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of the Christian Coalition?

Maybe not the convergence, but surely a passing acquaintance

Kos, still giddy after his triumph in getting elected, has a new venture that is close to the Vega's heart.

Athletics Nation ( is the flagship property of SportsBlogs, a series of sports Web sites that is the brainchild of Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of the left-leaning political blog Daily Kos ( Daily Kos, which Mr. Moulitsas began in 2002, has succeeded in part because the site allows readers not only to respond to postings but also to start their own interactive diaries.

After achieving enough success with Kos that he says he is able to live in costly Berkeley, Calif., entirely off its ad revenue, Mr. Moulitsas, 33, began to think about how the structure of the site could easily extend beyond politics.

"I realized that blogs were really effective for partisan audiences. One of them is sports. Sports is huge - where you've got your Red Sox and Yankees situation - and religion is another," said Mr. Moulitsas. "But in religion, people kill each other, so I decided I'd rather stay away from religion."

The cat has a nose for making money via blogs. This should prove even more profitable than partisan politics.

Support for Bolton

It is disturbing when a cabinet official proclaims public support for someone up for a big job, but privately exhibits no confidence in that same person.

Bolton's time at the State Department under Rice has been brief. But authoritative officials said Bolton let her go on her first European trip without knowing about the growing opposition there to Bolton's campaign to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear agency. "She went off without knowing the details of what everybody else was saying about how they were not going to join the campaign," according to a senior official. Bolton has been trying to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is perceived by some within the Bush administration as too soft on Iran.

Publicly, Rice has staunchly defended Bolton's credentials and urged the Senate to quickly confirm him. But privately, officials said, she has kept him out of key discussions on Iran since taking over in January.

It's increasingly clear that Bolton was viewed within the State Department as a loose cannon, a serial abuser of staff members, and, most relevant to the job he's up for now, an obvious impediment to U.S. national interests. Why, oh why, was he ever nominated for this job let alone defended by the very same people who he has repeatedly undermined?
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