Friday, September 30, 2005

The got Wells, but we got Wang

It's rumored that there will be some baseball played in the Fens this weekend.

Really, it couldn't have gone any other way.

UPDATE: For those interested, beginning today, Bronx Banter will be reliving the thrilling events of yesteryear, telling the stories of the only three times that the Yankees and Boston met in the last series of the year to decide who would win the pennant. Three times. Today it's 1904, the Highlanders versus the Pilgrims.

Stunned silence

Admit it, you thought you'd heard it all from Don Rumsfeld. Baghdad Don couldn't possibly surpass some of the stone cold crazy shit he's already uttered. But damn if he didn't just go ahead and do it.

Update 12:30 AM ET: Here's the Donald's response to a question about insurgent infiltration of the Iraqi security forces:

''It's a problem that's faced by police forces in every major city in our country, that criminals infiltrate and sign up to join the police force."

Isn't it time that he and the rest of this failed experiment in anarchy be sent back to Charenton?

Times to talk

I read the Times article this morning myself, but couldn't quite make out what the hell changed for Judy Miller to quit the "Martyr of Times Square" act. Jane Hamsher helps fill in the blanks...or at least has some inarestin' speculation.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A hoax sinking into the permafrost

Never let it be said that the Republicans in Washington don't look to the foremost experts on topics that are the subject of policy decisions.

But after considerable study of his own, leading to "State of Fear," Mr. Crichton has concluded that the science is mixed at best, and that lawmakers should take that into consideration when they decide what they might do about it.

His is an unpopular and contrary stance when measured against the judgment of groups like the National Academy of Sciences. But it was not those organizations that asked Mr. Crichton to Washington to counsel Congress on how to consider diverse scientific opinion when making policy. It was the committee chairman, Senator James M. Inhofe, a plainspoken Oklahoma Republican who has unabashedly pronounced global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

In Mr. Crichton, a Harvard medical school graduate who never practiced medicine, he had found a kindred spirit - and a star witness for his committee.

"I'm excited about this hearing," Mr. Inhofe said, nodding toward Mr. Crichton as the proceedings began. "I think I've read most of his books; I think I've read them all. I enjoyed most 'State of Fear' and made it required reading for this committee."

Over the next two hours, Mr. Crichton and four other witnesses offered their thoughts, Mr. Crichton hewing to his firm belief that lawmakers should examine more closely "whether the methodology of climate science is sufficiently rigorous to yield a reliable result."

God, I hate it when nature perpetrates these damned hoaxes.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Sinking villages perched on thawing permafrost, an explosion of timber-chewing insect populations, record wildfires and shrinking sea ice are among the most obvious and jarring signs that Alaska is getting warmer as the global climate changes, scientists say.

"Plainspoken" Inhofe is a fool. A dangerous fool.

The difference between the average ice area and the area that persisted this summer was about 500,000 square miles, an area about twice the size of Texas, the scientists said.

This summer was the fourth in a row with the ice cap areas sharply below the long-term average, said Mark C. Serreze, a senior scientist at the snow and ice center and a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Dr. Scambos said the consecutive reductions in the ice cap "make it pretty certain a long-term decline is under way."

A natural cycle in the polar atmosphere called the Arctic oscillation, which contributed to the reduction in Arctic ice in the past, did not appear to be a factor in the past several years, Dr. Serreze said.

He said the role of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions had become increasingly apparent with rising air and sea temperatures. Still, many scientists say it is not yet possible to determine what portion of Arctic change is being caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide and other emissions from human sources and how much is just climate's usual wiggles.

Dr. Serreze and other scientists said that more variability could lie ahead and that the area of sea ice could actually increase some years. But the scientists have found few hints that other factors, like more Arctic cloudiness in a warming world, will reverse the trend.

"With all that dark open water, you start to see an increase in Arctic Ocean heat storage," Dr. Serreze said. "Come autumn and winter that makes it a lot harder to grow ice, and the next spring you're left with less and thinner ice. And it's easier to lose even more the next year."

The result, he said, is that the Arctic is "becoming a profoundly different place than we grew up thinking about."

Other experts on Arctic ice and climate disagreed on details. For example, Ignatius G. Rigor at the University of Washington said the change was probably linked to a mix of factors, including influences of the atmospheric cycle.

But he agreed with Dr. Serreze that the influence from greenhouse gases had to be involved.

Realclimate wearily runs down the litany of the usual suspects in Crighton's (and others who testified) and destroys them.

Chief Justice

It has been confirmed that the Court will be moving hard to the right.

As a younger man, Roberts was an advocate for pinched notions of voting rights, affirmative action, women's rights, and civil rights. If Bush had permitted a peek at Roberts's record in his father's administration there would have been more evidence that his views continued into the 1990s. His testimony pledging fealty to the ''rule of law" applied to individual cases, and his statements respecting precedents and past decisions he has ''no quarrel" with were artful dodges to Kennedy. His analogy with a baseball umpire's task was inaccurate and fatuous.

Dave Dreier? Never heard of him

Seems sometime between the earliest announcement of DeLay's indictment and the evening news, Dave Dreier was, shall we say, retouched out of the picture.

Tom DeLay = moorings

The internets. There lies Madness.

Kee-rist, the Cornerdwellers further descend! Jonah Goldberg whips out his iTunes: "my #1 iTunes tune is Fee by Phish (181 plays), followed by Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel, Into My Arms by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and then several songs by the Pietasters and then The Kinks and The Who." Compare this collaboration between Goldberg and his youthful intern ("What're you listening to? I can hear 'em through your headphones. They're rilly good! What's their name?") with the last Norbizness joint and ask yourself: what was that South Park Republican thing about again? Then scroll up for John J. Miller ("'Zero,' by Smashing Pumpkins -- all me, dude") and ask yourself: if I shoot into this computer monitor, will I hit the guy who wrote this? And if not, what good is the internet?

If Alicublog didn't exist, we'd have to create it.

But then, again, with material like this, his posts write themselves!

I used to think CMT offered a popular alternative to the usual lefty cultural sensibility reigning on MTV and VH1. I don’t think that so much anymore. CMT has been running Neil Young’s new video “I’m Walkin’ to New Orleans.” It’s a remake of the old Fats Domino tune, with video that tries to pin blame on George Bush.

Now “I’m Walkin’ to New Orleans" isn’t a country song. And Neil Young sure as heck ain’t no country music star. The famous Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Sweet Home Alabama” hits back at Young for blaming George Wallace on the whole South (in Young’s “Southern Man”). But now CMT is using a Neil Young song for a blatant political attack on President Bush. Even CMT’s most hawkish war songs don’t level attacks against named dovish Democratic politicians. This is the most blatantly political video I’ve ever seen on CMT, and it’s by a non-country singer who’s famous for hating the South.

"...blaming George Wallace on the whole South..." Once you machete your way through the thicket of that insensible phrase, will you let me know, in the comments section, what that means? I'd do it, but I have to lie down now.

When can I expect my pony?

A pony!
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Tom DeLay indicted

Bill Frist under investigation

George Bush...well...George Bush

The Yankees win, Bronson Arroyo is shelled

Pinch me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Shtik fleysh mit oygn"

Who knew that for centuries there's been the perfect description of Jonah Goldberg in Yiddish?

Yiddish is the language par excellence of complaint. How could it be otherwise? It took root among Jews scattered across Western Europe during the Middle Ages and evolved over centuries of persecution and transience. It is, Mr. Wex writes, "the national language of nowhere," the medium of expression for a people without a home. "Judaism is defined by exile, and exile without complaint is tourism," as Mr. Wex neatly puts it.

To be Jewish, in other words, is to kvetch. If the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" had been translated into Yiddish, Mr. Wex writes, "it would have been called '(I Love to Keep Telling You That I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Because Telling You That I'm Not Satisfied Is All That Can Satisfy Me).' "

Mr. Wex finds a second source of Yiddish's prevailing tone in the Torah and its attached Talmudic commentary. The Jews who transmuted German into Yiddish were steeped in Jewish law, whose style and phraseology made their way into the developing language and put down deep roots. Yiddish thrives on argument, hairsplitting and arcane points of law and proper behavior. Half the time, Yiddish itself is the object of dispute, a language, Mr. Wex writes, "in which you can't open your mouth without finding out that, no matter what you're saying, you're saying it wrong."

When you get it right, it can be a beautiful thing. Or a lethal weapon. Yiddish excels at the fine art of the insult and the curse, or klole, which Mr. Wex, in a chapter titled "You Should Grow Like an Onion," calls "the kvetch-militant." Americans generally stick to short, efficient four-letter words when doling out abuse. Yiddish has lots of those, too, and it abounds in terse put-downs like "shtik fleysh mit oygn." Applied to a stupid person, it means "a piece of meat with eyes." More often, though, Yiddish speakers, like the Elizabethans, like to exploit the full resources of the language when the occasion requires.

Yiddish is the perfect language for these great times we live in. Lakhn mit yashtsherkes, indeed.

If we conserve energy, then the weather has already won

Giblets is outraged. Regarding Dear Leader's demand that all federal workers wear cardigans and those Victorian-era gloves with the fingers cut off, Giblets says,

The fool! This kind of environmental appeasement is just what the weather wants! If America caves on its proud tradition of oil gluttony it will just encourage more hurricanes! Then what will the clouds come for next? Our proud tradition of belching smog? Our rich and diverse output of greenhouse gases? When will it end!

Racial wash-out

Katrina has uncovered for many Americans the reality of black poverty in this country, and hopefully our indifference won't again replace our outrage. But the flooding of New Orleans has also uncovered the fallacy of the "New South."
Here, 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, white residents have spoken up at public meetings to oppose vehemently the construction of temporary housing for the evacuees, most of whom are black. The tension could complicate tentative plans by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy land in the parish for trailer lots.

"The only thing we see about these people on the news is what happened in the Superdome," said Philip Devall, 42, a white resident of Greensburg, at a recent meeting of the parish government. "They're rapists and thugs and murderers. I'm telling you, half of them have criminal records. I've worked all my life to have what I have. I can't lose it, and I can't stand guard 24 hours a day."

About 2,000 evacuees have been staying with friends and family in the parish since Hurricane Katrina, and police officials here say that crime related to the newcomers has been virtually nonexistent. But many residents say that fear is the driving force behind their opposition.

"I want to know how many sex offenders they're going to move in next to me," said Marci Kent, 36, also a white resident of Greensburg, at the meeting. "And I got daughters, too."

When one white man expressed concern at the meeting over possibly losing his valuables to lawless evacuees, a black woman turned around and angrily pointed a finger at him. "We work hard for what we got, too," she said. "But these people need a place to stay."

Sex offenders -- or, as we refer to them, young black men -- are coming from N'orlins to ravage his women folk. Wonder where he got that idea?

The racial nastiness of the morons on The Corner, Drudge, Nooners, etc. didn't need to be uncovered. But when the same people who did the most to hype the "Lord of the Flies" atmosphere inside the Superdome meme have their noses rubbed into the bullshit, who could have guessed that they would respond by saying that if the violence they were not surprised to "see" happening in New Orleans didn't happen, then the "MSM" must have hyped the flooding itself?

So is it any wonder many of the displaced in New Orleans think there's more to the flooding than just a hurricane?

The best-known writer to come from the Ninth Ward is Kalamu ya Salaam. A poet, playwright, and civil-rights activist, Salaam used to go by the name of Val Ferdinand. When I told Salaam what I was hearing in New Iberia and Houston, he laughed, but not dismissively. He said, “The real question is why not?” He recalled that in 1927, in the midst of the worst flooding of the Mississippi River in recorded history, the white city fathers of New Orleans—the men of the Louisiana Club, the Boston Club, and the Pickwick Club—won permission from the federal government to dynamite the Caernarvon levee, downriver from the city, to keep their interests dry. But destroying the levee also insured that the surrounding poorer St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes would flood. Thousands of the trappers who lived there lost their homes and their livelihoods. The promise of compensation was never fulfilled. That, plus the persistent rumors of what may or may not have happened during Hurricane Betsy, Salaam said, has had a lingering effect. “So when I heard on TV that there was a breach at the Seventeenth Street levee, I figured they’d done it again,” he said. “Or, let’s just say, I didn’t automatically assume that it was accidental.”

Lolis Eric Elie, an African-American columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, told me he didn’t believe that the levees were blown deliberately—“and most black folks with some education or money don’t, either”—but he could “easily” understand why so many were suspicious. “Blacks, in a state of essential slavery, built those very levees that were blown up in 1927. When the ships came to rescue people, whites made damn sure not to rescue blacks in Mississippi because of their fear that the blacks wouldn’t return to work the farms. If black life is not valued—and isn’t that what you were seeing for days in New Orleans?—then the specifics of the explanations are irrelevant. You begin to say to yourself, ‘How do you aid tsunami victims instantly and only three or four days later get to New Orleans? What explanation other than race can there be?’ I believe the real explanation is manifold, but I can understand how people start believing these things.”

"The crystal meth driven life"

This, Dear Readers, is very funny.

Then she read to him from "The Purpose Driven Oh God I'm So Fuckin' Ripped You Wanna Go Get Slurpees Hey Turn It Up That Fucking Song Rocks I Haven't Slept In Two Days Life".

Contract killings

I was thinking the other day that, for all the sound and fury connected with the Ambramoff and DeLay scandals, they are just too byzantine to make much of a dent in the public's consciousness; I mean influence peddling? Conspiracy. Trips to St. Andrews? Whuuuh? What we need is a good ol' fashion congressional banking/post office scandal to get the public's knickers in a knot. I mean, kiting checks, free postage -- that's something your average Joe can understand and feel self-righteous enough to want to throw the bums out.

Until this sweet little story turned up. DeLay and Gotti. K Street meets Howard Beach.

Anticipation, or, Pope Curt

Really, Curt, we can't wait.

"Somebody on this team wants me to get booed to make them feel better, and that really bothers me a lot," he told the paper. "Those are the kinds of things that really make me look at this game and understand that when I'm done in the game, I'll be done with the game."

Nobody wanted to take command of the AL races last night as the Dirty Sox, Native Americans, Blood-stained Stockings, and damned Yankees all stumbled (the Yankees, it should be noted, did a little more than "stumble" -- at least Rivera got another day off). Four games left to play in this incredible season.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Five games left, not four.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mike Brown for commissioner

At least he can stand up to Senate panels, and his ability to blame others for problems he helped create are at least as good as Bud Selig's.

COMMISSIONER Bud Selig wants to make sure that Congress won't have him to kick around anymore. He's so intent on avoiding a repeat of his March 17 drubbing by grandstanding members of Congress that he won't accept the heck of a good compromise the baseball players union has proposed for stiffening steroids suspensions.

Probably the worst aspect of his refusal, which became public yesterday, is that by standing firm on his proposal of last April, he is playing a game of chicken with the union. If the players don't accept his three-strikes-and-you're-out proposal, let them face federal legislation that would impose even harsher penalties on steroids users.

Two days in advance of another Congressional hearing, this one before the Senate Commerce Committee scheduled for tomorrow, Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, wrote Selig a letter and made it public. Fehr's action was in line with Selig's strategy in April when he wrote to Fehr and publicized his 50-100-life proposal.

There is a difference, however. Selig made his letter public to put pressure on the players; his position might not have otherwise been public. Even if Fehr had not made his letter public, the union's position would have been revealed at tomorrow's hearing.

The union has not bought Selig's proposal entirely, but it has agreed to stiffen the penalties for positive steroids tests, and it has offered for the first time to allow players to be tested for amphetamines, another element of Selig's proposal.

"You stated that our agreement must cover amphetamines," Fehr wrote to Selig. "You proposed a structure for accomplishing that, and we have accepted the structure."

Amphetamines have been a baseball staple for decades. No one had ever proposed getting them out of the game. Players testified at the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985 that Willie Stargell dispensed greenies to his teammates if they wanted them. Willie Mays had red juice, according to testimony at the trials, the liquid form of greenies, a k a amphetamines.

But Peter Ueberroth, then the commissioner, said he didn't believe the testimony (though he said he believed other testimony that the same players offered under oath) and took no action. Selig is the third commissioner since Ueberroth. He was the acting commissioner and then the real commissioner for a dozen years, make that a dozen and a half, and did nothing about amphetamines, made no attempt to rid baseball of them.

Now amphetamines are suddenly so evil that the union has to agree to have players tested for them, or Congress will enact legislation. So the union does agree, and Selig is still not satisfied.

Data point: the Yankees on Sunday, their last regular season game at The Stadium, announced that attendance had surpassed four million for the first time ever. Clearly, fans are staying away in droves this year, disgusted by the rampant drug use of players. As Yogi once said, "No one goes there anymore, the place is too crowded."

Selig, who talks about the integrity of the game - even though fans have demonstrated in record numbers that they don't have a problem with the integrity of the game - would rather let Congress take over his sport than agree to a genuine compromise with players who have gone further than any group of players before.

Selig's strategy -- I call it the "He did it" plan -- is to play to the Congress' innate capacity to agree with themselves, and paint the Players' Union as the bad guys here. Funny. As Chass notes, Selig was patting himself on the back in March over the great success of last year's drug testing plan. Then he got bitch slapped by Congress and suddenly nothing short of lifetime bans and three strikes your out will do.

Selig should be siding with the players on this one. After all, having opened up their collective bargaining agreement -- an unprecedented action by the powerful union -- they will not take lightly to having this gesture batted away by Selig as being unsatisfactory. They'll remember when the agreement expires and the owners are demanding the next bunch of absurd concessions and threatening a lockout.

Republicans diagnose Bush: He's whipped!

Republicans are dismayed at the decline of the patented Bush swagger. The problem: Laura.

A top Republican close to the White House since the earliest days said the absence of a "reelection target" and pressure from first lady Laura Bush and others to soften his second-term tone conspired to temper Bush's swagger well before Katrina hit....Since the election, this official said, White House aides reported that Laura Bush was among those counseling Bush to change his cowboy image during the final four years.

Kevin Drum is offended by this, but we all know who wears the pants in the family.

100,000 Maoists march on Washington

Sure, Hitch, I get your point. Michael Moore is really fat.

Gawd, what a tool. Yes, it is a shame that the protest was organized, in part, by swine, but ignoring the great mass of people -- of families -- that attended in the fervent and sincere hope to end the freaking bloodshed that is going on under our country's occupation of Iraq is shameless and cowardly. As the Poorman writes, no, there were no "I hate jihadists" signs at the march, but certainly no "I wanna pony" signs that Hitchens keeps holding up, either.

"There's no success like failure..."

Well, whuddayaknow?

Speaking of Dylan lyrics, yes, yes, there was far too much Boomer-worship, too many shots of Kennedy, of protests, etc., but the Dylan documentery seems pretty damn good to me. Nobody can edit concert footage quite like Scorsese, and D.A. Pennebaker's footage from the 1966 European tour is out of this world -- man, Dylan left it all on stage in those shows. And Dylan, with his flat midwestern cadences is certainly disarming and engaging. No, he reveals no secrets and this is clearly an attempt to shape how his history will be recorded, but can you blame him? Besides, the scenes of Odetta performing are worth the price of admission (and who was that freak with the autoharp?).

Zero degrees of separation

The coincidences just keep piling up.

In a statement on Monday, the department said it was natural for the Bush administration to replace Mr. Black, whose assignment to run the United States attorney's office was never meant to be permanent, with a White House selection.

The department said the vetting process for Mr. Black's replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, the current United States attorney, was "well under way in November 2002," when the nomination was announced.

Colleagues said they recalled that Mr. Black was distressed when he was notified by the department in November 2002 that he was being replaced.

The announcement came only days after Mr. Black had notified the department's public integrity division in Washington, by telephone and e-mail communication, that he had opened a criminal investigation into Mr. Abramoff's lobbying activities for the Guam judges, the colleague said. The judges had sought Mr. Abramoff's help in blocking a bill in Congress to restructure the island's courts.

The colleagues said that Mr. Black was also surprised when his newly arrived bosses in Guam blocked him from involvement in public corruption cases in 2003. Justice Department officials said Mr. Black was asked instead to focus on terrorism investigations, which had taken on new emphasis after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Whatever the motivation in replacing Fred, his demotion meant that the investigation of Abramoff died," said a former colleague in Guam.

Monday, September 26, 2005

"Pump and Dump Drama Queen"

Mark Schmitt asks an excellent question that, alas, eluded the Vega.

Let's consider why it might generally be considered a conflict of interest for Frist to own so much HCA stock. The main concern would be that Frist might be in a position to use his public power to improve the financial condition of such hospitals; for example, he could push for some kind of increased coverage for the uninsured or even universal health care. He might have a public motive for doing so, but he might also have a private motive, since it would hugely benefit a hospital chain like HCA. That's the reason for putting all his stock in a blind trust, so that he won't know, and we know that he won't know, whether he would benefit privately.

But when the uninsured ratio goes up, and Frist actually knows that this will affect his own portfolio, paradoxically his reaction isn't what the normal conflict-of-interest analysis would assume. Rather than use his official power to reduce the number of uninsured, he takes a private action, and just dumps the stock. And not just any stock, this is his patrimony he's selling out. It's the stock of his own family's company. But he washes his hands of it. Leaves it to some bigger sucker.

As Schmitt notes, this is emblematic of "conservatism" in this country these days. Ignore an obvious solution that will actually help the very people they consider their constituents -- in this case business, large, medium, and small -- and instead pursue one that will be a very short term fix but put off a much bigger problem that will pose a disaster down the road. The point is to maintain power, rake in a quick buck, whatever.

This has helped answer a question I've been mulling for months now. The cost of having so many uninsured Americans, and the cost American businesses are paying to insure their employees now, are looming on the horizon a pair of category 5 hurricanes. So why, I asks myself, why are our corporate chieftains not banging their shoes in Senate hearing rooms demanding that we figure out some sort of Universal health care coverage, and take the onus off their shareholders?

I've been so naive. Of course they're not going to do that. It might have political consequences, as in pissing off DeLay. And it will have precious little reward for them since it won't affect this quarter's earnings.

Then they go ahead and help Republicans convince the rubes that the Medicare prescription bill is the answer to all their problems, and that universal health care is the road to Canada and socialism, where medicine is parceled out to people less deserving than they.

No longer battling KAOS

Don Adams, aka Maxwell Smart, is dead at 82.
I wonder if the show's on in syndication anywhere anymore. It's realistic portrayal of our current intelligence activity is stunning. Shoe phone? Check. Cone of Silence? Check. They even had their own version of Barbara Feldon until the Douchebag of Liberty ratted her out.

Karen Hughes, goodwill ambassador

Amazing examples of




"We have had a very fundamental change in American policy toward the Middle East," Ms. Hughes said, speaking of the Bush administration's recent pressure on countries to foster democracy and elections.

On Iraq, she implored her audience to recognize that after Sept. 11, the United States had to deal with the threat of lethal weapons falling into the wrong hands. Brushing aside a questioner's concerns that Iraq was heading toward civil war, she said this ignored the "terrific courage" it took for Iraqis to vote - Iraqi officials reported 8.5 million voters.

"The big stumbling block right now is the insurgency," she said, adding that "people of good conscience" should denounce the killing of innocents in Iraq and elsewhere.

Ms. Hughes also used her visit as a showcase for a $10 million United States aid program that has restored an ancient medieval gate and artifacts and artworks in old Cairo.

She said that Americans admired Egyptians and Egyptian civilization and that most Americans were "sickened" by reports of abuse against Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. She deplored reports in the world press that the American response to Hurricane Katrina was racist because most of the people left behind in the evacuation of New Orleans were black. "I want to assure you nothing could be further from the truth," she said.

So much that is strange and pathetic in these attempts to convince the residents of the Middle East that only peace and democracy will come at the end of U.S. weaponry. I'll only suggest that it isn't "Egyptian civilization" that the Cheney administration admires most about Egyptians.

The obvious choice, Scheuer said, was Egypt. The largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel, Egypt was a key strategic ally, and its secret police force, the Mukhabarat, had a reputation for brutality. Egypt had been frequently cited by the State Department for torture of prisoners. According to a 2002 report, detainees were “stripped and blindfolded; suspended from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beaten with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; subjected to electrical shocks; and doused with cold water [and] sexually assaulted.” Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s leader, who came to office in 1981, after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist extremists, was determined to crack down on terrorism. His prime political enemies were radical Islamists, hundreds of whom had fled the country and joined Al Qaeda. Among these was Ayman al-Zawahiri, a physician from Cairo, who went to Afghanistan and eventually became bin Laden’s deputy.

In 1995, Scheuer said, American agents proposed the rendition program to Egypt, making clear that it had the resources to track, capture, and transport terrorist suspects globally—including access to a small fleet of aircraft. Egypt embraced the idea. “What was clever was that some of the senior people in Al Qaeda were Egyptian,” Scheuer said. “It served American purposes to get these people arrested, and Egyptian purposes to get these people back, where they could be interrogated.” Technically, U.S. law requires the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from foreign governments that rendered suspects won’t be tortured. Scheuer told me that this was done, but he was “not sure” if any documents confirming the arrangement were signed.

I don't think that denying the reality of our government's policies is going to win us any more friends in the region. Just sayin'.

7 Days

I been good, I been good while I been waitin'
Maybe guilty of hesitatin', I just been holdin' on
Seven more days, all that'll be gone.

Seven days. Seven games. All tied up in the AL East. A half game behind the Native Americans, who finally lost a game.

It doesn't get more stomach churning than this.

But yesterday's fan serenade of Bernie Williams was, as Bernabe says, very cool.

At the plate, the important contributions were made by Gary Sheffield, who hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning, and Robinson Cano, who hit a two-run shot in the seventh, to help the Yankees in their come-from-behind 8-4 victory yesterday over the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

("Bernie Williams!" the fans chanted. "Bernie Williams!")

On the mound, the star of the afternoon was pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, a rookie like Cano, who worked seven innings, only one of them bad, to improve to 8-4.

("Thank you, Bernie!" the fans chanted. "Thank you, Bernie!")

And on paper, the important numbers showed that the Yankees' victory - their 12th in their past 14 games - matched Boston's victory at Baltimore to keep the Yankees tied with the Red Sox for first place in the American League East with one week remaining in the regular season as the ancient rivals battle for the divisional pennant and the wild-card playoff berth.

("One more year!" the fans chanted to Williams. "One more year!")


Along with the chanting was a sign hung from the mezzanine directed at George Steinbrenner: "Boss: Bring Bernie Back." The fans cheered Williams's every move, and the cheering intensified before the bottom of the eighth inning, when the scoreboard showed a video of Williams highlights.

Alex Rodriguez, leading off, stayed out of the batters box long enough for teammates to coax Williams from the dugout for a wave to the fans. "He didn't want to go out and take a little bow," Manager Joe Torre said. "He looked at me to see if it was O.K. I gave him a little nod."

Over the previous 10 seasons, Williams had helped the Yankees make the playoffs every year, four of them ending in World Series championships. With 2,213 hits in a career of excellence and elegance, he is one behind DiMaggio, who is fourth in team history behind Lou Gehrig (2,721), Babe Ruth (2,518) and Mantle (2,415).

Discussing what might have been his last home-field appearance at the Stadium, Williams called it "very emotional" and "a far cry from when I came for the first time here in '91. Chanting my name the whole game. It was very cool; it was very cool."

And in the midst of all of that, who needs this sickness?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Beatings for fun and intel

More bad apples.

In one incident, the Human Rights Watch report states, an off-duty cook broke a detainee's leg with a metal baseball bat. Detainees were also stacked, fully clothed, in human pyramids and forced to hold five-gallon water jugs with arms outstretched or do jumping jacks until they passed out, the report says. "We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, and pull them down, kick dirt on them," one sergeant told Human Rights Watch researchers during one of four interviews in July and August. "This happened every day."

The sergeant continued: "Some days we would just get bored, so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did it for amusement."

He said he had acted under orders from military intelligence personnel to soften up detainees, whom the unit called persons under control, or PUC's, to make them more cooperative during formal interviews.

"They wanted intel," said the sergeant, an infantry fire-team leader who served as a guard when no military police soldiers were available. "As long as no PUC's came up dead, it happened." He added, "We kept it to broken arms and legs."

But like so many things in the folly that is Iraq, amidst the squalor there's heroism.

Captain Fishback, who has served combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, gave Human Rights Watch and Senate aides his long account only after his efforts to report the abuses to his superiors were rebuffed or ignored over 17 months, according to Senate aides and John Sifton, one of the Human Rights Watch researchers who conducted the interviews. Moreover, Captain Fishback has expressed frustration at his civilian and military leaders for not providing clear guidelines for the proper treatment of prisoners.

In a Sept. 16 letter to the senators, Captain Fishback, wrote, "Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment."

Reached by telephone Friday night, Captain Fishback, who is currently in Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, N.C., referred all questions to an Army spokesman, adding only that, "I have a duty as an officer to do this through certain channels, and I've attempted to do that."

Haliburton Park

As Josh Marshall writes, it is truly impressive the amount of time, effort, and yes, money the administration puts in to screw the poor and displaced.

As President Bush tackles the monumental task of easing the social problems wrought by Katrina, he is proving deeply reluctant to use some of the big-government tools at his disposal, apparently out of fear of permanently enlarging programs that he opposes or has sought to cut.

Instead of depending on long-running programs for such services as housing and healthcare, the president has generally tried to create new, one-shot efforts that the administration apparently hopes will more easily disappear after the crisis passes. That has meant relying on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has run virtually all of the recovery effort.

"FEMA can help fill some immediate needs after a disaster, like giving grants to help people repair their roofs or pay for temporary housing," said John P. Sucich, a former senior FEMA official who oversaw the recovery from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. "But it is not the agency to turn to to ensure the kinds of continuing help that families need to begin putting their lives back together.

"That's what the rest of government is for," Sucich said.

At least in the case of housing, critics say that the president's unwillingness to rely on existing programs could raise costs. Instead of offering $10,000 vouchers, FEMA is paying an average of $16,000 for each trailer in the new parks it is contemplating. Even many Republicans wonder why the government would want to build trailer parks when many evacuees are now living in communities with plenty of vacant, privately owned apartments.

"The idea that -- in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society -- we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.

"If they do it," Gingrich said of administration officials, "they will look back on it six months from now as the greatest disaster of this administration."

And that, we know, is saying quite a bit.

Read, as they say, the whole thing. The piece goes on to quote HUD Director Keller saying that they had the resources to house the homeless of Katrina: FEMA trailors, of which they have 100,000 on order. Now, admittedly, I have absolutely no knowledge of the trailor construction industry, but even beyond the utter stupidity and unnecessary cruelty of sticking these people in trailors on remote military bases, won't it take months to build so many units?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Profile in courage: Douchebag of liberty edition

Robert Novak, speaking truth to power!

The Forstmann Little Aspen Weekend is made possible by the generosity of Theodore J. Forstmann, a doughty supporter of supply-side economics and longtime contributor to the Republican Party. Invited guests are drawn from government, diplomacy, politics, the arts, entertainment and journalism.

I was surprised that the program indicated the first panel, on stem cell research, consisted solely of scientists hostile to the Bush administration's position. In the absence of any disagreement, I took the floor to suggest there are scientists and bioethicists with dissenting views and that it was not productive to demean opposing views as based on "religious dogma." The response was peeved criticism of my intervention and certainly no support.

I do not see myself as a defender of the Bush presidency,and I am sure the White House does not regard me as such. But as a member of the second panel consisting of journalists, I felt constrained to argue against implications that Hurricane Katrina should cause the president to rediscover race and poverty. My comments again generated more criticism from the audience and obvious exasperation by Charlie Rose. Indeed, after the closing dinner Saturday night, the moderator made clear he was displeased by my conduct.

After the first two panels, I feared I was the odd man out in accepting Teddy Forstmann's invitation. But during a break, one of the president's closest friends -- who had remained silent -- thanked me profusely for my comments. That set a pattern. Throughout the next two days, men and women who were mute publicly thanked me privately for speaking up. When I said nothing during one panel discussion, some people asked me why I was silent. [emphasis, yeah]

Ah, the Silent Minority. Indeed. But I'm a little confused, was the conference an orgy of Bush hatred among the moneyed interests, or were the rich and powerful simply cowed into submission by the power of Charlie Rose's death ray eyes?

It is good to know, however, that Bob is not a defender of the Bush presidency nor seen as such.

"Good night, and good luck"

Cue the wingnuts.

SHOT in a black-and-white palette of cigarette smoke, hair tonic, dark suits and pale button-down shirts, "Good Night, and Good Luck" plunges into a half-forgotten world in which television was new, the cold war was at its peak, and the Surgeon General's report on the dangers of tobacco was still a decade in the future. Though it is a meticulously detailed reconstruction of an era, the film, directed by George Clooney from a script he wrote with Grant Heslov, is concerned with more than nostalgia.

Burnishing the legend of Edward R. Murrow, the CBS newsman who in the 1940's and 50's established a standard of journalistic integrity his profession has scrambled to live up to ever since, "Good Night, and Good Luck" is a passionate, thoughtful essay on power, truth-telling and responsibility. It opens the New York Film Festival tonight and will be released nationally on Oct. 7. The title evokes Murrow's trademark sign-off, and I can best sum up my own response by recalling the name of his flagship program: See it now.

And be prepared to pay attention. "Good Night, and Good Luck" is not the kind of historical picture that dumbs down its material, or walks you carefully through events that may be unfamiliar. Instead, it unfolds, cinéma-vérité style, in the fast, sometimes frantic present tense, following Murrow and his colleagues as they deal with the petty annoyances and larger anxieties of news gathering at a moment of political turmoil. The story flashes back from a famous, cautionary speech that Murrow gave at an industry convention in 1958 to one of the most notable episodes in his career - his war of words and images with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

I am eagerly anticipating the reaction from Coulter and her ilk to yet another "hatchet job" on poor Senator McCarthy.

Fine tuning

Satellite radio
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
As we travel the highways and biways of this great land, Djuna is ever alert to the frequencies eminating from beyond.


Enter Sandman
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Cy Young? Hell, Mariano Rivera has been the Yankee's MVP for the past 10 seasons.

The third question about the Cy Young award was floated to Mariano Rivera, and he decided it was time to talk about the broomsticks. To explain his polite indifference to winning the personal pitching award, Rivera had to discuss what role broomsticks played in his life and his career.

While Rivera was growing up in Puerto Caimito, Panama, he did not have any baseball equipment. Rivera said he used cardboard for a glove and ragged clothes wrapped in tape as a ball. But finding a decent bat was difficult. Sometimes, he and his friends hacked off tree branches and used those to hit.

For Rivera, securing a broomstick was the equivalent of a teenager today getting a shiny aluminum bat. If Rivera had a broomstick, he could play baseball for hours with something that would usually not splinter.

"That was trouble for us," he said. "We had to get somebody's broom. Somebody's home would have to suffer for us to play. Some kid that was playing would have to go take the broom from his house. That's trouble."

More than 20 years and $53 million in contracts later, Rivera, 35, still respects the importance a broom has in the homes of the fishing village where he was raised. Rivera said his upbringing taught him to be humble, so he tries to deflect questions about the possibility of his winning the Cy Young.


For a closer to win the award these days, he usually has to be almost perfect and it has to be a lean year for starters. Rollie Fingers, who won the Most Valuable Player award and the Cy Young with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981, said that modern-day closers simply did not pitch enough to win those awards. Fingers tossed 78 innings in 1981, a strike year in which 38 percent of the schedule was lost.

"Sportswriters aren't stupid," Fingers said. "It's tough to give a guy who pitched 50 innings a Cy Young."

Jorge Posada, the Yankees' catcher, dismissed that argument. "You go for the best pitcher," he said. "He's been the best pitcher."

Eckersley agreed with Posada. "There was more pressure on him than anybody," Eckersley said. "Every game he pitched, they needed. The guy is ice."

If it weren't for Rivera this season, the Yankees would not be in first place in the American League East -- now a full game up on Boston -- with 10 games left to play. Period.

Blind luck

Funny how these things work. Frist has been under fire throughout his entire career in the Senate for continuing to hold on to the stock of HCA, his family's company. The conflict of interest suddently became a concern to him just as the stock was hitting an all-time high and insiders were dumping the stock at an all-time rate.

On June 13, Frist asked his trustees to sell his HCA holdings, as well as those of his wife and children. Letters from his trustees on July 1 and July 8 confirmed the sales, said Frist spokeswoman Amy Call.

The value of his stock at the time of the sale was not disclosed. Earlier this year, he reported holding blind trusts valued at $7 million to $35 million.

Frist, R-Tenn., widely considered a potential presidential candidate in 2008, ordered the stock sold to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Call said. The senator declined to comment Thursday.

For years, Frist, a heart surgeon, was criticized for holding stock in the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain while directing legislation on Medicare reform and patient issues. HCA was founded by his father, the late Thomas Frist Sr.; and his brother, Thomas Jr., is a director and leading stockholder.

His office has consistently deflected criticism by noting that his assets were in a blind trust and not under his active control.

A blind trust, not under his active control, in which he directed the stock to be sold? Am I missing something here?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Man, I don't even remember Woodstock

From today's Progress Report.

Those who remember the hurricane strike of Galveston in 1900 will heed the warnings.

They didn't quote anyone with such memories.

The elephant in the room

Throughout the Cheney regime, there's been a strange reticence by even shrill and rabid Bush haters such as this humble blogger to utter the "F-word." No, not that "F-word," I'm talking about fascism.

But that elephant has been in the room since September 12, 2001, and what started out as a cute baby elephant has now grown to immense size, eating everything in sight and trampling the kids, the vegetable garden, pie, you name it.

Iraq is our Ethiopia. Except that the fascists in Ethiopia actually succeeded in subdoing their "other."

Leading conservative asks, "Will Neocon fanaticism destroy America"

An alert reader sends along the following, which he found at the conservative Newsmax site (though it's popping up all over).

Will Neocon Fanaticism Destroy America?

Paul Craig Roberts
Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005

The "cakewalk war" is now two and a half years old. U.S. casualties (dead and wounded) number 20,000. As 20,000 is the number of Iraqi insurgents according to U.S. military commanders, each insurgent is responsible for one U.S. casualty.

U.S. troops in Iraq number about 150,000. Obviously, U.S. troops have not inflicted 150,000 casualties on the Iraqi insurgents. U.S. troops have perhaps inflicted 150,000 casualties on the Iraqi civilian population, primarily women and children, who are the "collateral damage" of the "righteous" and "virtuous" U.S. invasion that is spreading civilian deaths all over Mesopotamia in the name of democracy

What could the United States have possibly done to give America a worse name than to invade Iraq and murder its citizens?

According to the Sept. 1 Manufacturing & Technology News, the Government Accountability Office has reported that over the course of the cakewalk war, the U.S. military's use of small caliber ammunition has risen to 1.8 billion rounds. Think about that number. If there are 20,000 insurgents, it means U.S. troops have fired 90,000 rounds at each insurgent.

Very few have been hit. We don't know how many. To avoid the analogy with Vietnam, until last week the U.S. military studiously avoided body counts. If 2,000 insurgents have been killed, each death required 900,000 rounds of ammunition.

The combination of U.S. government-owned ammo plants and those of U.S. commercial producers together cannot make bullets as fast as U.S. troops are firing them. The Bush administration has had to turn to foreign producers such as Israel Military Industries. Think about that. Hollowed-out U.S. industry cannot produce enough ammunition to defeat a 20,000-man insurgency.

U.S. military analysts are beginning to wonder if the United States has been defeated by the insurgency. Increasingly, Bush administration spokesmen sound like "Baghdad Bob." On Sept. 19, The Washington Post reported that U.S. military spinmeister Maj. Gen. Rich Lynch declared "great success" against the insurgency that had just inflicted the worst casualties of the war, including a three-day mortar attack on the "safe" Green Zone.

Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., says: "We can't secure the airport road, can't stop the incoming (mortar rounds) into the Green Zone, can't stop the killings and kidnappings." The insurgency controls most of Baghdad and the Sunni provinces.

With its judgment lost to frustration, the U.S. military has 40,000 Iraqis in detention -- twice the number of estimated insurgents. Who are these detainees? According to The Washington Post, "Many of the men detained in Tall Afar last week were rounded up on the advice of local teenagers who had stepped forward as informants, at times for what American soldiers said they suspected amounted to no more than settling local scores."

Obviously, the United States, not knowing who or where the insurgents are, is just striking blindly, creating a larger insurgency.

The Iraq government, despite being backed by the U.S. military, is unable to control movements across the Iraqi-Syrian border. So the Bush administration has passed the buck to Syria. Puny Syria is declared guilty of not doing what the U.S. military cannot do.

Adam Ereli, the demented U.S. State Department spokesperson, denounced the Syrian government for "permitting" insurgents to cross the border. The U.S. government cannot prevent a steady stream of 1 million Mexicans from illegally crossing its border each year, but Syria is supposed to be able to stop a couple hundred foreign fighters from sneaking across its border.

Ereli misrepresents Syria's inability to be "an unwillingness," which indicates that Syria is consorting with terrorists, not only in Iraq but also in Lebanon and Palestine. Does this sound like Syria being set up for invasion?

According to news reports, at Ted Forstmann's annual meeting of movers and shakers last weekend, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad predicted that U.S. troops will soon enter into Syria. Simultaneously, the Bush administration is desperately trying to orchestrate a case that it can use to attack Iran.

Stalemated in Iraq, the White House moron intends to attack two more countries.

At the Human Rights Conference on Sept. 9, the former prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, described Americans as "people with blood-soaked hands."

"Who are the terrorists," asked Mahathir, the Iraqis or the Americans?

The entire world is asking this question.


Paul Craig Roberts, it should be noted, has extremely strong conservative credentials. Though he seems lately to have become a bit shrill when it comes to the Cheney administration.

That said, Roberts has opposed the war since the drums only began to beat. Though I warn readers, he is a crank.

But even a crank can be right sometimes.

And when a Republican administration leads a former treasury official from the Reagan administration, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and a denizen of the Olin Institute into the arms the antiwar left, one can only marvel.

Bush: Hurricanes the new 9-11

It's Karl Rove's world, we're just living in it, and everything is all about the terrah.

Mr. Bush said he had been "thinking a lot" about the comparisons between the response to the attacks in New York and Washington, and the storm devastation. "We look at the destruction caused by Katrina, and our hearts break," he said. Turning the subject to terrorists, he said: "They're the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish they had caused it. We're in a war against these people."

In weaving the themes, Mr. Bush said that just as the United States would not let an act of nature blow the nation off course, it would not let the acts of terrorsts drive it out of Iraq. "No matter how many car bombs there are, these terrorists cannot stop the march of freedom in Iraq," he told the luncheon crowd, which include current and former members of his administration and some of his larger campaign donors.

Freedom. Marching.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fareed Zakaria is shrill

He writes, "Phlig erkkny spoint."

Whatever his other accomplishments, Bush will go down in history as the most fiscally irresponsible chief executive in American history. Since 2001, government spending has gone up from $1.86 trillion to $2.48 trillion, a 33 percent rise in four years! Defense and Homeland Security are not the only culprits. Domestic spending is actually up 36 percent in the same period. These figures come from the libertarian Cato Institute's excellent report "The Grand Old Spending Party," which explains that "throughout the past 40 years, most presidents have cut or restrained lower-priority spending to make room for higher-priority spending. What is driving George W. Bush's budget bloat is a reversal of that trend." To govern is to choose. And Bush has decided not to choose. He wants guns and butter and tax cuts.


Bush is not the only one to blame. Congressional spending is now completely out of control. The federal coffers are being looted for congressional patronage, and it is being done openly and without any guilt. The highway bill of 1982 had 10 "earmarked" projects—the code word for pork. The 2005 one has 6,371. The bill, written by the House transportation committee, is called the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or TEA-LU (in honor of chairman Don Young's wife, Lu). This use of public office for private whims would seem more appropriate in Saudi Arabia than America. Perhaps next year's bill will include a necklace for Mrs. Young.

The U.S. Congress is a national embarrasment, except that no one is embarrassed. There are a few men of conscience left, like John McCain, but McCain's pleas against pork seem to have absolutely no effect. They are beginning to have the feel of a quaint hobby, like collecting exotic stamps.

Today's Republicans believe in pork, but they don't believe in government. So we have the largest government in history but one that is weak and dysfunctional. Public spending is a cynical game of buying votes or campaign contributions, an utterly corrupt process run by lobbyists and special interests with no concern for the national interest. So we shovel out billions on "Homeland Security" to stave off nonexistent threats to Wisconsin, Wyoming and Montana while New York and Los Angeles remain unprotected. We mismanage crises with a crazy-quilt patchwork of federal, local and state authorities—and sing paeans to federalism to explain our incompetence. We denounce sensible leadership and pragmatism because they mean compromise and loss of ideological purity. Better to be right than to get Iraq right.

What "other accomplishments?"

Not so juiced. A victim of an earlier baseball witchhunt speaks out

Seems Bob Tufts is not unfamiliar with witch hunts. A relative was tried and convicted of being a witch in the 1680s. And then, three hundred years later...

Tufts pitched in 16 games for the Kansas City Royals in 1982 and 1983, and after the '83 season, four of his teammates went to prison. Willie Wilson, Vida Blue, Willie Aikens and Jerry Martin pleaded guilty to cocaine charges. Tufts, a left-handed reliever, had nothing to do with cocaine, but he says he was a victim of it nonetheless.

When he sought a job after the '83 season, Tufts said, "the response was underwhelming," although it should be noted that he pitched poorly for Kansas City in 1983, giving up 16 hits in six and two-thirds innings and ending up with an earned run average of 8.10. Still, Tufts had reason to be suspicious because he was a left-handed reliever, a coveted commodity. Left-handers are often employed as long as they are breathing. But not in this instance.

"The San Diego Padres wouldn't even take me for Double-A," he said. "The Royals wouldn't take me back for free. I tried to get a minor league deal with the Angels."

He said the Angels eventually informed him they were looking at younger players, only to turn around and offer a contract to Jim Kaat, "who was and always will be 15 years older than me."

So I guess he can be forgiven for taking a dim views of players who throw around accusations of other players like so many balls in the outfield during BP. And an even dimmer view of politicians who are using this non-scandal as a launching pad for their own blovermetrics.

When people like David Wells, the esteemed author, and Curt Schilling and many of these players, Canseco, say X percent of players use drugs, it drives me up a wall," Tufts said at lunch recently.

Nor does Tufts think much of congressmen and other critics of baseball's steroids-testing policy.

"You can't have it two ways," he said. "You can't say home runs are down this year because they're testing for steroids, and then say the steroids policy isn't working. Which is it?"

A strong believer in players' rights, Tufts says he does not see the need for the union to agree repeatedly to strengthen the current testing policy. The union agreed to one change in January, opening the collective bargaining agreement in midterm for the first time, and is now considering Commissioner Bud Selig's "three strikes and you're out" proposal.

"Players shouldn't worry about being loved by the public and therefore give up their rights," Tufts said. "They have to maintain their rights and do their job."

Murray Chass is one of the few sportswriters who have had the nerve to buck conventional wisdom and call bullshit on congressmen's own use of steroids to bulk up their reputations. It must cause him no end of pain to have to share the sports page with that Diva of the Pointless, Selena Roberts. In a front of the sports page editorial, she writhes in agony in the knowledge that Barry a...wait for it...jerk.


But wait, Selena baby is a member of The Mighty Times Elite Forces of Punditry. Sorry, Dear Reader. If you're not willing to pay for her blandishments of the banal, you can't read them. But, since her printed words burn a little spot on my lawn each morning, I'll give you a taste.

Bonds is often suspected of steroid chicanery. Even his recent promise to lose 30 pounds in the off-season sounds like a pre-emptive strike at those who will see him as another curiously shrinking slugger.

Or, more likely, a pre-emptive strike at those who think he's beginning to look like Babe Ruth as he leaps towards the Big Guy's record.

To be fair, though, Bonds has never been finger-printed.

Never trust someone who begins, "To be fair," because what comes next most certainly won't be. Finger-printed?

And this fact has driven feds, drug officials and pols into despair.

And more importantly, this Judy Miller of the sports page, too.

Sucking up

Meet Bush's pick to "investigate the federal government's response to the Katrina disaster.

Townsend is a former prosecutor who toiled for both Rudy Guiliani and Janet Reno. The Post points out that her husband, referred to in the piece only as "John," was "a classmate of Bush's at Andover and Yale." It adds that her position was occupied previously by "four-star generals who brought decades of experience to the fight," but that her greatest asset is "the president's ear" -- not to mention a contribution of the maximum $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in March 2004, an unusual move from a National Security Council staffer, and generally regarded, as U.S. News and World Report put it, as "a pledge of loyalty."

But there are more questions worthy of exploration than just those about Townsend's connections. The office she headed while at the Justice Department has also been mired in post-9/11 controversy. Apparently, pre-9/11, it was Townsend who had the power to decide when wiretaps could be authorized. She had to make a distinction between those intended for collecting intelligence, which was more acceptable, and those necessary to pursue criminal investigations, which demanded a higher bar. As U.S. News & World Report noted in its December 2004 profile, "many prosecutors felt that Townsend was less than helpful in making sure the FBI shared wiretap data with lawyers at Main Justice when there was evidence of criminal activity." Townsend says she was following proper procedure. But US News mentions that "others suspect an ulterior motive. Some Justice Department prosecutors felt Townsend wanted to keep the wall up because it kept prosecutors out of national security investigations, leaving more authority in the hands of Townsend and friendly [FBI] agents."

"Whatever the case, there were serious consequences," writes U.S. News. "Both the Government Accountability Office and the 9/11 commission have blamed [Townsend's office] in part for the government's intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks. Sources say that [Townsend's office's] narrow interpretation of [the wiretap law] led to misunderstandings and overly cautious behavior by the FBI. As a result, in July and August of 2001, FBI intelligence analysts prohibited their own criminal-case agents from searching for two men on the government's terrorist watch list who they knew had entered the United States. The men later proved to be two of the 19 hijackers."

This seems like valid information to include when introducing the women who will lead the investigation into the federal government's response to one of the nation's worst natural disasters. The Post and U.S. News profiles are good places to start. They both paint the picture of an extremely ambitious and well-connected player, who has achieved a high-level position at the age of 43, and somehow, in the process managed to gain the confidence of high officials in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Not an easy task. As a former Bush administration official said anonymously (and a bit maliciously) about her in the U.S. News piece, "She's a trip; she's one of the most ambitious people I've met. She's always sucking up."

It just never ends. The cronyism, the mediocrity, the lack of accountability that lies at the heart of just about (and by "just about," I mean, "all") the administration's actions.

The Chang dynasty

More evidence that the ruling family is bat-shit crazy.

After more than an hour of solemn ceremony naming Rep. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, as the 2007-08 House speaker, Gov. Jeb Bush stepped to the podium in the House chamber last week and told a short story about "unleashing Chang," his "mystical warrior" friend.

Here are Bush's words, spoken before hundreds of lawmakers and politicians:
''Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society.

''I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.''

Bush then unsheathed a golden sword and gave it to Rubio as a gift.

''I'm going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior," he said, as the crowd roard.

Wonkette wonders about the porn angle.

The soft bigotry of low expectations

One can only look on, astonished.

"Now, with Bush's approval rating at 40%, with more than 50% disapproving of his handling of Iraq, the Security Moms and NASCAR Dads for Bush are silent. Even the Swift Boat Vets can't save Bush from drowning in his own ineptitude."

Nor can they save the Beltway media from drowning in their own oil-slick idiocy. On Chris Matthews syndicated show this week, MSNBC's Lisa Daniels said that the low death toll from New Orleans would provide a boost to Bush because that's what he's great at, playing off expectations. To paraphrase Orwell, it takes a pundit to be that dumb.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Summer of Excitement™ -- Bubba Crosby edition

Who'd a thunk back when this wild season began that on a warm, humid night in September, Chien-Ming Wang and Bubba Crosby would be pinstriped heroes?

"I've never hit a walk-off ever, in my whole life, even in Little League. To do it here at Yankee Stadium, at this time of the year, when it counts, is an unbelievable feeling. ... There's not much more I can say."

Strange game. Nine assists for pitcher Wang, with weak bouncing balls hit back to the mound over and over again. The result: The Yankees are tied with a literally queazy Boston in the loss column.

"The last thing you're thinking there is a home run," Alex Rodriguez said. "Nothing against Bubba, but you're really hoping for a walk, a hit-by-pitch, base hit, bunt single. He hits the ball like Darryl Strawberry, and you're going, 'holy (crap).' That's pretty cool. ... I'm happy for Bubba and I'm happy for us."

Oh, man.

Okay. That's over. Now it's time to think only about winning tonight.

How do they get any sleep...

...when the bed's this crowded?

The F.B.I. affidavit, which was dated Friday and made public on Monday, said that Mr. Safavian had provided extensive, secret assistance to Mr. Abramoff in 2002, when the lobbyist wanted help on behalf of a client to arrange a lease on favorable terms for the Old Post Office Building, which was controlled by the General Services Administration. The affidavit said the client was one of several Indian tribes that Mr. Abramoff has represented.

The court papers said Mr. Abramoff had also sought Mr. Safavian's help in buying 40 acres at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington to be the new home of a Jewish children's school that Mr. Abramoff had founded. That property was also under the control of the General Services Administration.

Local real estate records suggest that neither property was acquired by Mr. Abramoff or his clients, despite his repeated requests for help in e-mail messages sent to a private account maintained by Mr. Safavian.

The Justice Department affidavit said that even as Mr. Safavian was trying to help Mr. Abramoff in acquiring the government property in 2002, he was eagerly planning his summer golf trip with the lobbyist to Scotland. The F.B.I. affidavit also suggested Mr. Abramoff's motivation in inviting Mr. Safavian was clear. In an e-mail message, a lobbyist colleagues asked: "Why dave? I like him but didn't know u did as much. Business angle?"

According to the court papers, Mr. Abramoff replied with another e-mail message: "Total business angle. He is new COS of GSA."

Like Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Safavian, a former Congressional aide, has extensive ties to prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill, throughout the executive branch and among the city's lobbying firms.

He helped start Janus-Merritt Strategies, a consulting firm, with Grover G. Norquist, the head of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and a close political ally of the Bush administration.

Mr. Safavian worked with Mr. Abramoff in the Washington lobbying offices of Preston Gates & Ellis, a Seattle-based firm. According to lobbying records, Mr. Safavian shared at least one client with Mr. Abramoff, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and also represented Microsoft, the Port of Seattle and the Dredging Contractors of America.

His wife, Jennifer Safavian, is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee, which is responsible for overseeing government procurement and is, among other things, expected to conduct the Congressional investigation into missteps after Hurricane Katrina.

What's amazing is not just the level of corruption that is now the norm in GOP-controlled Washington, it's just how oblivious these morons are to the chance of getting caught. Of course, when your wife is "chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee," most people would be hesitant to, ya know, give the appearance that there's cash and golf tees coming out of your over-stuffed pockets. But when you're part of the current sleaze-athon rampant along the Beltway these days, and the person overseeing your condunct is your wife, you may be feeling like you just got your corruption probe flu shot.

Of course, the best part of all this is the email/blackberry records which make these ward healers' correspondence sound like the IM-ing of so many mean girls.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Of looters and rapists

I guess because his piece relates to the media, David Carr's important report on the media's hyping of so many urban myths relating to Katrina's aftermath is unfortunately stuck in the Business Section. It should be on the front page.

First, anyone with any knowledge of the events in New Orleans knows that terrible things with non-natural causes occurred: there were assaults, shots fired at a rescue helicopter and, given the state of the city's police department, many other crimes that probably went unreported.

But many instances in the lurid libretto of widespread murder, carjacking, rape, and assaults that filled the airwaves and newspapers have yet to be established or proved, as far as anyone can determine. And many of the urban legends that sprang up - the systematic rape of children, the slitting of a 7-year-old's throat - so far seem to be just that. The fact that some of these rumors were repeated by overwhelmed local officials does not completely get the news media off the hook. A survey of news reports in the LexisNexis database shows that on Sept. 1, the news media's narrative of the hurricane shifted.

The Fox News anchor, John Gibson, helped set the scene: "All kinds of reports of looting, fires and violence. Thugs shooting at rescue crews. Thousands of police and National Guard troops are on the scene trying to get the situation under control. Thousands more on the way. So heads up, looters." A reporter, David Lee Miller, responded: "Hi, John. As you so rightly point out, there are so many murders taking place. There are rapes, other violent crimes taking place in New Orleans." After the interview, Mr. Gibson did acknowledge that "we have yet to confirm a lot of that."

Later that night on MSNBC, Tucker Carlson grabbed the flaming baton and ran with it. "People are being raped," he said in a conversation with the Rev. Al Sharpton. "People are being murdered. People are being shot. Police officers being shot."

For all the talk of preznit's lack of empathy for the poor and, specifically, black Americans, the media need to be taken to task as well. Just as "wilding" became a watchword for young black men gone crazy in New York 15 years ago, the urban myths out of New Orleans gained so much currency among the Gibsons, O'Reilly's, Carlsons because the stories matched up so well with their perceptions of what young black men are like when not under the steady gaze of armed police.

And I've yet to hear any corrections.

But Carr does confirm one of the most incredible stories coming out of the rubble of the storm:

And yes, true story, a Louisiana congressman under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation hitched a ride on a National Guard truck to his flood-damaged home to pick up, among other things, a box of documents. A rescue helicopter was diverted from picking up survivors after the truck became stuck.

Even now, the real, actual events in New Orleans in the past three weeks surpass the imagination. Who needs urban myths when the reality was so brutal?

Ah, but Carr's being unfair. Those probably weren't just any documents.


That's now the not-so-magic number for the Yankees in both the AL East and the Wild Card.

A question for my Boston readers: Is Alan Embree still playing for the Red Sox, despite the appearance of pinstripes on his home uniform?

A message to Joe Torre: With a left handed batter at the plate, a mediocre left handed pitcher is not a better option than a superior right hander.

A quick trip around the majors with two weeks left to play:

The Red Sox finally have to play some games away from the happy confines of Fenway Park this week.

In the AL Central, the White Sox are staring in the face of the worse collapse in decades*. Will they be able to stop the Native Americans? As a Yankee fan, you almost have to hope that one team sweeps the other.

In the AL West, Oakland finished a tough road trip and is still in the thick of it, two games behind the LAAofAs.

In the National League...who cares? Okay, just this: How can San Francisco be in second place? And will anyone outside of Baghdad by the Bay even notice when Bonds passes Ruth's HR total for second all-time?

*UPDATE: My bad...worst collapse ever.


Maybe Bush's lackadaisical response to disaster, followed by an attempt to "salve the wounds" by taking huge bags of cash and, as they noted on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" over the weekend, dumping them in the levee breach, may be depressing the poll numbers even among Republicans.

And the erosion appears to have been primarily among Republicans -- 63% of whom gave Shrub a grade of good or excellent, down from 71% before the speech. While about half of those polled (including 66% of the liberals) favored Bush's spend-whatever-it-takes-and-more approach, conservatives are divided: 43% approve, only slightly higher than the 37% who oppose.

I'm willing to be a little more generous than Billmon and say that this isn't simply because the heart of a Republican is connected directly to his/her wallet, but rather that conservatives are beginning to exit the cave and, blinking, beginning to make out the fiscal train wreck that the Cheney administration is creating. It has to now be clear to at least the dwindling grown-up wing of the GOP that Republicans in power are not serious about fiscal discipline. After a while, unless they are completely hypocritical, it has to have an effect on how the perceive their elected leadership.

Democrats should not be fearful that they will look hardhearted if they question how Katrina relief, on top of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is going to be paid for. They should stand up every day in Congress and demand that the President and/or House and Senate leadership name one program they would cut that would level a dent on the yawning deficit. They should rail, daily, against the four tax cuts for the richest 1% that the GOP now want to make permanent. That's not hardhearted, it's prudent. And the opposition party has very little left to offer voters than the party's fiscal prudence.

And it's also about time that the Big Dog begin to say as much.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me; the problems of race that were tied to poverty here, and I know you don't think there's any conscious racism at play in the response, but we saw one more time blacks and whites looked at this event through very different eyes. What can President Bush do about that, and looking back, do you think there was anything more you could have done as President?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think we did a good job of disaster management.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But the racial divide.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think we did a good job of that. For example, we had the lowest African-American unemployment, the lowest African-American poverty rate ever recorded. We had the highest homeownership, highest business ownership, and we moved 100 times as many people out of poverty in eight years as had been moved out in the previous 12 years.

This is a matter of public policy, and whether it's race-based or not, if you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up, and it disproportionately affects black and brown people, that's a consequence of the action made. That's what they did in the eighties; that's what they've done in this decade.

In the middle, we had a different policy. We concentrated tax cuts on lower income working people and benefits to low-income people that helped them move from welfare to work, and we moved 100 times as many people out of poverty. We know what works, and we had a program that was drastically reducing poverty, and they got rid of it. And they don't believe in it.

And I don't think that it's race-based, but it has a class impact. And in Louisiana, if what you do affects poor people disproportionately, then, it will disproportionately affect black people. Now, there were a lot of poor people in St. Bernard Parish who were white who were also hurt.

Finally. It may make the invitations to Kennebunkport fewer and farther between, but that's the message that Democrats have to start delivering, and forcefully.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The post-Katrina relief for the few act

Compassionate conservatism.

The President suspended wage standards for workers on the Gulf Coast before he declared a national emergency. That means he was so focused on cutting the wages of people who'd be returning to the Gulf Coast to rebuild their lives and their communities that, in order to hasten the suspension, he failed to follow the law. And at the same time the White House was cutting workers' wages, it was busy awarding no-bid contracts. The President has proven once again that he's more interested in governing for the few than in governing for all of us.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Coming out to see the umpire

Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Inarestin coincidence.

WASHINGTON — Judge John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's choice for chief justice of the United States, said Monday that he aspired to a humble and limited role as leader of the Supreme Court, more akin to an umpire who calls the balls and strikes rather than the star player who is the center of attention.

"Justices and judges are servants of the law, not the other way around," Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire."

I guess Fieldin Culbreth didn't get that memo.

"I called a pitch on Wells and had the ball rather inside, and Randy questioned the pitch and was looking at me and yelling a bit," Culbreth, a 13-year umpire, told reporters. "At that point, he was told that was enough, because he was starting to get pretty animated."

Wells hit a three-run homer, and when Johnson faced Frank Menechino in the second inning, he became irate at Culbreth for calling a ball on a 2-2 pitch inside. Culbreth ripped off his mask and took a few steps toward the mound. Johnson took a few steps toward him. As Flaherty tried to intercede, Culbreth threw out Johnson.

"Randy immediately came off the mound and had some choice words to say," Culbreth said. "I told him to knock it off and get back on the mound. He screamed again, an expletive, and 'just call it a strike,' and at that point he also screamed out, 'and the pitch on Wells was an expletive strike as well.' And at that point, I ejected him."

As Johnson stalked off the mound, tossing the ball behind him, Manager Joe Torre argued with Culbreth, telling him he should have explicitly warned Johnson before ejecting him. Torre made a point of calling Culbreth a fair umpire, but he said he thought Culbreth and Johnson overreacted.

"I just think we have to pay more attention to the time of year it is and the emotions and stuff that goes on this time of year," Torre said. "Randy yelled at him, didn't curse him, but Fieldin just felt enough was enough."

Culbreth said he had simply taken all the abuse he could take from Johnson. Culbreth, who angered Johnson in June by refusing to call strikes on two check-swings by Tampa Bay's Eduardo Perez, said Johnson knew it was risky to confront him Friday.

"I would think that he knows that when he came off the mound and was saying the things he was saying, that he had to be putting himself in a position to be ejected," Culbreth said.

Red Sox win as do the Indians. What a wild September.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Potemkin, LA

Just a show, or is Bush genuinely afraid of the dark?

A Soviet client...or ours

David Gelertner chews up history and spits it out today on the outspread pages of the LA Times.

Ponder our attack on Hussein and you'll see that 9/11 was a trigger, but our real motivation was the end of the Cold War. True, the Iraqi tyrant was a logical target post-9/11. He was a cheerleader for international terrorism and its billionaire bankroller, a famed preacher of anti-American hatred, a confirmed warmonger and mass murderer. But if the Sept. 11 attacks had happened before the Soviet collapse, we wouldn't have touched him. At least not directly. He was a favorite Soviet client. An attack would have risked world war. Once the Cold War was over, we were free to respond to 9/11 by ridding the world of Hussein. [emphasis added]

Well, if he's saying 9-11 had nothing to do with our invasion of Iraq, I won't disagree. But let's shed a little light of historical perspective. You know, real history, not the historical fantasies of neocons like Gelertner.

F'rinstance, I seem to recall that Hussein was a favorite client of another superpower. I also have a hazy recollection of a war in which we took sides.

To prevent an Iraqi collapse, the Reagan administration supplied battlefield intelligence on Iranian troop buildups to the Iraqis, sometimes through third parties such as Saudi Arabia. The U.S. tilt toward Iraq was enshrined in National Security Decision Directive 114 of Nov. 26, 1983, one of the few important Reagan era foreign policy decisions that still remains classified. According to former U.S. officials, the directive stated that the United States would do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran.

Look, the socialist Ba'athists of Saddam Hussein were natural allies of the Soviet Union, just as the Shah we placed on the throne in Iran was a natural ally of ours. But to deny our relationship with Hussein following the fall of the Soviet Union is intellectually dishonest and just more hand fakes.

And let's not forget, September 11, 2001 was more directly connected to the Cold War than our invasion of Iraq.

In March 1985, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166,...[which] authorize[d] stepped-up covert military aid to the mujahideen, and it made clear that the secret Afghan war had a new goal: to defeat Soviet troops in Afghanistan through covert action and encourage a Soviet withdrawal. The new covert U.S. assistance began with a dramatic increase in arms supplies -- a steady rise to 65,000 tons annually by 1987, ... as well as a "ceaseless stream" of CIA and Pentagon specialists who traveled to the secret headquarters of Pakistan's ISI on the main road near Rawalpindi, Pakistan. There the CIA specialists met with Pakistani intelligence officers to help plan operations for the Afghan rebels.

So, now that we've cleared that up, I ask Gelertner: Why did Ronald Reagan hate America so?

But, as I read the whole Gelertner op-ed, I realize that he may just have penned an elaborate practical joke, and is simply putting us on:

I'd rather have a superb doer than talker in the White House. Bush is a superb doer.

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