Tuesday, January 31, 2006

SOTU perspective post #2

And Pandagonia's jedmunds is right, the Democratic response is surely going to be pathetic. How can one intelligently respond to a speech you haven't heard, and how can whoever the Democrat is come off as anything but whiny and powerless?

SOTU perspective

As you're watching preznit try, through soaring words of hope for the future and pride in past deeds, to put his annus horribilus of 2005 behind him (or, if like me, you have better things to do tonight and will simply read the boffo reviews in tomorrow's fish wrap), keep in mind that, unlike mutual funds, past results do indicate future returns.

Coretta Scott King

She died in her sleep last night, at 78.

It never ceases to amaze me that she was just shy of her 41st birthday when her husband was assassinated. They had both accomplished so much in so short a time, even though it often feels that King's work was only half-done when he was killed.

Her dignity throughout what must have often been a life of anguish will be sorely missed.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bitterness and impatience

Like Legal Fiction's Publius, I am growing unhinged.

I have never of course been a big fan of the White House or the GOP leadership. But for some reason, things are annoying me a lot more these days. It’s more than just disapproval of this or that policy. It’s a more general exasperation and dejection that’s been eating away at me. I look around and I honestly disagree with almost every aspect of the way our country is being run.

But it’s more than that – I’m also having a harder time these days (probably unfairly) having patience for those who continue to support the White House and the GOP leadership (i.e., a majority of the country – at least measured by the only poll that counts, the ballot box). I've always hated this quality in liberals, but now I'm starting to catch the fever too. And I don't like it, but there it is.

Sadly, I can do nothing to alleviate his distress or lower his fever.

"As you may know, the National Security Agency has been investigating people suspected of involvement with terrorism by secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails between some people in the United States and other countries, without first getting court approval to do so. Would you consider this wiretapping of telephone calls and e-mails without court approval as an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism?"

Acceptable: 56%
Unacceptable: 43%
Unsure: 1%

"After 9/11, President Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants, saying this was necessary in order to reduce the threat of terrorism. Do you approve or disapprove of the President doing this?"

Approve: 53%
Disapprove: 46%

"After 9/11, George W. Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants. Do you approve or disapprove of George W. Bush doing this?"

Approve: 46%
Disapprove: 50%

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, we live in a nation where more than half of the country is willing -- nay, eager -- to give up its freedoms in trade for some vague sense of security. We will end up with neither freedom nor security.

Karl Rove grasps this. We're in deep shit.


Join me, Dear Reader, as we go behind the iron curtain of Times$elect, for today's reading from the Kthrugmanicom.

"How does one report the facts," asked Rob Corddry on "The Daily Show," "when the facts themselves are biased?" He explained to Jon Stewart, who played straight man, that "facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda," and therefore can't be reported.

Mr. Corddry's parody of journalists who believe they must be "balanced" even when the truth isn't balanced continues, alas, to ring true. The most recent example is the peculiar determination of some news organizations to cast the scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff as "bipartisan."

Let's review who Mr. Abramoff is and what he did.

Here's how a 2004 Washington Post article described Mr. Abramoff's background: "Abramoff's conservative-movement credentials date back more than two decades to his days as a national leader of the College Republicans." In the 1990's, reports the article, he found his "niche" as a lobbyist "with entree to the conservatives who were taking control of Congress. He enjoys a close bond with [Tom] DeLay."

Mr. Abramoff hit the jackpot after Republicans took control of the White House as well as Congress. He persuaded several Indian tribes with gambling interests that they needed to pay vast sums for his services and those of Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay aide. From the same Washington Post article: "Under Abramoff's guidance, the four tribes ... have also become major political donors. They have loosened their traditional ties to the Democratic Party, giving Republicans two-thirds of the $2.9 million they have donated to federal candidates since 2001, records show."

So Mr. Abramoff is a movement conservative whose lobbying career was based on his connections with other movement conservatives. His big coup was persuading gullible Indian tribes to hire him as an adviser; his advice was to give less money to Democrats and more to Republicans. There's nothing bipartisan about this tale, which is all about the use and abuse of Republican connections.

Yet over the past few weeks a number of journalists, ranging from The Washington Post's ombudsman to the "Today" show's Katie Couric, have declared that Mr. Abramoff gave money to both parties. In each case the journalists or their news organization, when challenged, grudgingly conceded that Mr. Abramoff himself hasn't given a penny to Democrats. But in each case they claimed that this is only a technical point, because Mr. Abramoff's clients — those Indian tribes — gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans, money the news organizations say he "directed" to Democrats.

But the tribes were already giving money to Democrats before Mr. Abramoff entered the picture; he persuaded them to reduce those Democratic donations, while giving much more money to Republicans. A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes' donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled. So in any normal sense of the word "directed," Mr. Abramoff directed funds away from Democrats, not toward them.

True, some Democrats who received tribal donations before Mr. Abramoff's entrance continued to receive donations after his arrival. How, exactly, does this implicate them in Mr. Abramoff's machinations? Bear in mind that no Democrat has been indicted or is rumored to be facing indictment in the Abramoff scandal, nor has any Democrat been credibly accused of doing Mr. Abramoff questionable favors.

There have been both bipartisan and purely Democratic scandals in the past. Based on everything we know so far, however, the Abramoff affair is a purely Republican scandal.

Why does the insistence of some journalists on calling this one-party scandal bipartisan matter? For one thing, the public is led to believe that the Abramoff affair is just Washington business as usual, which it isn't. The scale of the scandals now coming to light, of which the Abramoff affair is just a part, dwarfs anything in living memory.

More important, this kind of misreporting makes the public feel helpless. Voters who are told, falsely, that both parties were drawn into Mr. Abramoff's web are likely to become passive and shrug their shoulders instead of demanding reform.

So the reluctance of some journalists to report facts that, in this case, happen to have an anti-Republican agenda is a serious matter. It's not a stretch to say that these journalists are acting as enablers for the rampant corruption that has emerged in Washington over the last decade.

© 2006 New York Times Co.

Releasing "existential threats" into the wilderness

More mysteries and conundrums from our national petri dish, Guantanamo Bay.

RABAT, Morocco -- For more than a decade, Osama bin Laden had few soldiers more devoted than Abdallah Tabarak. A former Moroccan transit worker, Tabarak served as a bodyguard for the al Qaeda leader, worked on his farm in Sudan and helped run a gemstone smuggling racket in Afghanistan, court records here show.

During the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when al Qaeda leaders were pinned down by U.S. forces, Tabarak sacrificed himself to engineer their escape. He headed toward the Pakistani border while making calls on Osama bin Laden's satellite phone as bin Laden and the others fled in the other direction.

Tabarak was captured and taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was classified as such a high-value prisoner that the Pentagon repeatedly denied requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross to see him. Then, after spending almost three years at the base, he was suddenly released.

Today, the al Qaeda loyalist known locally as the "emir" of Guantanamo walks the streets of his old neighborhood near Casablanca, more or less a free man. In a decision that neither the Pentagon nor Moroccan officials will explain publicly, Tabarak was transferred to Morocco in August 2004 and released from police custody four months later.

Tabarak's odyssey from Afghanistan to Guantanamo and back to his native land illustrates the grit and at times fanatical determination of one bin Laden recruit. Yet his story also shows how little is known publicly about al Qaeda figures who were captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Major gaps remain in his account, and terrorism experts and intelligence officials continue to debate whether he was a member of al Qaeda's inner circle or its rank and file.

His case also highlights mysteries of U.S. priorities in deciding who to keep and who to let go. As the Pentagon gears up to hold its first military tribunals at Guantanamo after four years of preparations, it has released a prisoner it called a key operative. At the same time, it retains under heavy guard men whose background and significance are never discussed.

Lucky thing for Tabarak that he's not a citizen of the United States. His fate would probably be very different.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Head hunting

From the start, the Cheney administration's main tactic in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) -- besides invading Iraq, that is -- has been to draw up a diagram of al Qaeda leadership as of Sept. 12, 2001, and tick off each name as the next "number-three" has been killed or disappeared.

I'm not sure it makes much sense, though, when in the course of an attempted assassination, we take out the rest of the neighborhood even as we sometimes miss the "high ranking member of al Qaeda."

The CIA's failed Jan. 13 attempt to assassinate Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Zawahiri in Pakistan was the latest strike in the "targeted killing" program, a highly classified initiative that officials say has broadened as the network splintered and fled Afghanistan.

The strike against Zawahiri reportedly killed as many as 18 civilians, many of them women and children, and triggered protests in Pakistan. Similar U.S. attacks using unmanned Predator aircraft equipped with Hellfire missiles have angered citizens and political leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.

Little is known about the targeted-killing program. The Bush administration has refused to discuss how many strikes it has made, how many people have died, or how it chooses targets. No U.S. officials were willing to speak about it on the record because the program is classified.

Several U.S. officials confirmed at least 19 occasions since Sept. 11 on which Predators successfully fired Hellfire missiles on terrorist suspects overseas, including 10 in Iraq in one month last year. The Predator strikes have killed at least four senior Al Qaeda leaders, but also many civilians, and it is not known how many times they missed their targets.

Critics of the program dispute its legality under U.S. and international law, and say it is administered by the CIA with little oversight. U.S. intelligence officials insist it is one of their most tightly regulated, carefully vetted programs.

I don't dispute that this program may be essential in disrupting al Qaeda's financial and tactical networks when key leadership is operating outside the reach of any legitimate law enforcement. But is it worth it to kill one "mastermind" when in the process we're creating a new generation of "masterminds" radicalized by watching a missile from a low flying predator drone kill a family of 18?

And how soon before the Cheney administration decides that they have the legal right to broaden this program to target political leaders that don't serve "United States interests? Pat Robertson may be a more accurate reader of the administration tea leaves than anyone's given him credit for.

Committed to democracy

George W. Bush's commitment to "God's gift" of democracy around the world would have more credibility if his administration wasn't even more committed to the ideologies of the worst aspects of the Reagan and Bush I administrations. The New York Times has a very long article on the coup against Haitian president Aristide, and the Bush administration's role in taking down the (popularly elected) priest turned politician.

Today, the capital, Port-au-Prince, is virtually paralyzed by kidnappings, spreading panic among rich and poor alike. Corrupt police officers in uniform have assassinated people on the streets in the light of day. The chaos is so extreme and the interim government so dysfunctional that voting to elect a new one has already been delayed four times. The latest date is Feb. 7.

Yet even as Haiti prepares to pick its first elected president since the rebellion two years ago, questions linger about the circumstances of Mr. Aristide's ouster — and especially why the Bush administration, which has made building democracy a centerpiece of its foreign policy in Iraq and around the world, did not do more to preserve it so close to its shores.

The Bush administration has said that while Mr. Aristide was deeply flawed, its policy was always to work with him as Haiti's democratically elected leader.

But the administration's actions in Haiti did not always match its words. Interviews and a review of government documents show that a democracy-building group close to the White House, and financed by American taxpayers, undercut the official United States policy and the ambassador assigned to carry it out.

As a result, the United States spoke with two sometimes contradictory voices in a country where its words carry enormous weight. That mixed message, the former American ambassador said, made efforts to foster political peace "immeasurably more difficult." Without a political agreement, a weak government was destabilized further, leaving it vulnerable to the rebels.

And when we pull back the cover to learn who may be behind the undermining of the ambassador's efforts to work out a conciliation process with Aristide and his rivals, we find some of the same fellows who made South America such a peaceful place in the 1980s.

Mr. Curran sent his cables to the Bush administration's Latin American policy team, records show. In addition to Mr. Reich, then assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, that group included Elliott L. Abrams, a special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy and human rights, and Daniel W. Fisk, a deputy to Mr. Reich.

These men were veteran fighters against the spread of leftist political ideology in Latin America, beginning with Fidel Castro and Cuba. Mr. Fisk's former boss, Jesse Helms, then a Republican senator from North Carolina, had once called Mr. Aristide a "psychopath," based on a C.I.A. report about his mental condition that turned out to be false.

In the 1980's, Mr. Reich and Mr. Abrams had become ensnared in investigations of Reagan administration activities opposing the socialist government of Nicaragua. The comptroller general determined in 1987 that a public diplomacy office run by the Cuban-born Mr. Reich had "engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities." In 1991, Mr. Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress in connection with the Iran-contra affair. He was pardoned by the first President Bush.

Now, with the advent of the second Bush administration, Mr. Reich, Mr. Abrams and their colleagues were back in power. The Clinton era, they felt, had been a bad one for United States interests in Latin America.

It's unfortunate when guys like Otto Reich and Elliot Abrams are involved, "United States interests" seem to require so many victims from outside the United States.

And what I find remarkable -- and terrifying -- time and time again, is how an admnistration that is so often characterized as a disciplined one, is so willing to inflict violent chaos on others in support of their Reagan-interruptus ideological obsessions.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

It's the hot studio lights...

...melting the brains of Katie, Mattie, and Timmy. That's my theory. The Editors have, I guess, a better one.

Frivolous lawsuits

Seems they ain't so frivolous when it's your home and your insurance company won't pay up.

The longtime Washington foe of "frivolous" lawsuits was no less critical of insurance companies that balked at paying claims to Mississippi homeowners. And he didn't hesitate to file suit against a company he once defended, State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.

"Funny how frivolous lawsuits stop being frivolous when it's you," said Lott's brother-in-law, Richard Scruggs, who is representing the senator. Scruggs lost his home not far from Lott's house — and he, along with thousands of other Mississippi home owners, also has a claim against State Farm.

He just better hope he doesn't get a taste of the new bankruptcy law he and his party championed.

Now guest blogging: Laurence Sterne

Why, I find this unfathomable.

"Tristram Shandy" also includes, even by 18th-century standards, a plenteous store of bedroom and bathroom jokes and a good deal of slapstick, not to mention sly little digs at everything from contemporary styles of sermonizing (Sterne was a clergyman) to Locke's theory of association. Many critics thought the book vulgar, and Samuel Johnson predicted that it was far too "odd" to catch on.

In the short term he couldn't have been more wrong. "Tristram Shandy" became a huge best seller on both sides of the Atlantic and was one of the favorite books, for example, of John Adams. But in the long run Johnson was right. Though "Tristram Shandy" still turns up occasionally on great-book lists, it has become a cult object, more talked about than read. The best way for an 18th-century novel to keep its currency, of course, is for it to be made into a movie - like "Tom Jones," "Joseph Andrews," "Moll Flanders" or even Samuel Richardson's suitcase-size "Clarissa." But until now, no sane filmmaker would touch "Tristram Shandy," on the sensible presumption that it was unfilmable.

"More talked about than read?" Oh well, looks the cult's been unmasked. But we'll have to see if the film really catches what is truly one of the funniest -- greatest -- books ever written in the English language.

“Trust me, Yorick. When to gratify a private appetite, it is once resolved upon, that an innocent and an helpless creature shall be sacrificed, ‘tis an easy matter to pick up sticks enew from any thicket where it has strayed, to make a fire to offer it up with.”

– Vol. I

He was four years totally confined, – part of it to his bed, and all of it to his room; and in the course of his cure, which was all that time in hand, suffered unspeakable miseries, – owing to a succession of exfoliations from the os pubis, and the outward edge of that part of the coxendix called the os illium, – both of which bones were dismally crushed, as much by the irregularity of the stone, which I told you was broke off the parapet, – as by its size, – (though it was pretty large) which inclined the surgeon all along to think, that the great injury which it done my Uncle Toby’s groin, was more owing to the gravity of the stone itself, than to the projectile force of it, – which he would often tell him was a great happiness.

– Vol. I

… wit and judgment in this world never go together; inasmuch as they are two operations differing from each other as wide as east is from west. – So, says Lock, – so are farting and hickupping, says I. But in answer to this, Didius, the great church lawyer, in his code de fartandi et illustrandi fallaciis [“concerning the deceptions of farting and explaining] doth maintain and make fully appear, that an illustration is no argument.

– Vol. III, “The Author’s Preface”

It is a singular blessing, that nature has formed the mind of man with the same happy backwardness and renitency against conviction, which is observed in old dogs, – ‘of not learning new tricks.’

– Vol. III

“Heat is in proportion to the want of true knowledge.”

– Vol. IV, “Slawkengargius’s Tale”

… there is no prohibition in nature, though there is in the Levitical law – but that a man may beget a child upon his grandmother… But whoever thought, cried Kysarcius, of laying with his grandmother? – The young gentlemen, replied Yorick, whom Seldon speaks of – who not only thought of it, but justified his intention to his father by the argument drawn from the law of retaliation – ’You laid, Sir, with my mother,’ said the lad – ‘why may not I lay with yours?’…

– Vol. IV

Shall we for ever make new books, apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another?

– Vol. V

Quad id diligentius in liberis procreandis cavendum,” sayeth Cardan.
[“How much more careful we should be in begetting children.”]

– Vol. VI

– But this is nothing at all to the world: only ‘tis a cursed thing to be in debt; and there seems to be a fatality in the exchequers of some poor princes, particularly those of our house, which no Economy can bind down in irons: For my own part, I’m persuaded there is not any one prince, prelate, pope, or potentate, great or small upon earth, more desirous in his heart of keeping straight with the world than I am – or who takes more likely means for it… and for the six months I’m in the country, I’m upon so small a scale, that with all the good temper in the world, I outdo Russeau, a bar length – for I keep neither man or boy, or horse, or cow, or dog, or cat, or anything that can eat or drink, except a poor thin piece of a Vestal (to keep my fire in) and who has generally as bad an appetite as myself – but if you think this makes a philosopher of me – I would not, my good people! give a rush for your judgments.

– Vol. IX

We live in a world beset on all sides with mysteries and riddles – and so ‘tis no matter – else it seems strange, that Nature, Who makes everything so well to answer its destination, and seldom or never errs, unless, for pastime, in giving such forms and aptitudes to whatever passes through her hands, that whether she designs for the plough, the caravan, the cart – or whatever other creature she models, be it but an ass’s foal, you are sure to have the thing you wanted; and yet at the same time should so eternally bungle it as she does, in making so simple a thing as a married man.

– Vol. IX

I think he's the patron saint of blogging.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The siege of Leningrad

The 900 day German siege of Leningrad was finally broken on this day in 1944.

A growth industry

Sheesh. Now even ESPN has an ombudsman?

Deregulation and the death of the Murrow doctrine

Nicholas Lemann provides many details of Edward R. Murrow's career that are new to me, but mostly he reminds us that, for all the Rightwing outrage over Dan Rather and Bill Moyers, broadcast news figures were pronounced in voicing their opinions to a far greater degree than any news anchor would dare today.

It is impossible to imagine the McCarthy broadcasts happening today. Although there is some dispute over whether Paley asked Murrow not to do the first show, everybody agrees that Murrow and his exuberant producer, Fred Friendly, decided to go ahead on their own, without asking anyone’s permission, and informed only Paley himself in advance, the day before it aired. But no problem: they got half an hour of prime time on a Tuesday night. The program ended with Murrow looking straight into the camera and saying, “The actions of the Junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies.” He responded to McCarthy by saying that the American public would have to decide “who has served his country better, Senator McCarthy, or I.” (Newsweek ran a cover story not on McCarthy but on whether journalists should editorialize.) It was great television, because it was a showdown between a journalist and a politician, but the days when a major figure on network television can pick that kind of fight, and openly state political opinions on prime time, are long gone. Today, famous broadcast journalists are far more likely to battle each other than Washington officials. Murrow’s McCarthy shows make an absurdity of the modern-day conservative accusation that, say, Dan Rather represents the introduction of a heretofore unknown ideological strain into broadcast journalism. The Murrow broadcasts were far more nakedly political than anything on network television today, and came from a source with a much bigger share of—and more adoration from—the audience than anybody has now.

Lemann's larger point is that while broadcasters lament over the difficulty of finding "the next" Murrow or "our" Murrow, it is the very freedom the networks have today compared with the 50s and 60s that stifles or, at least, doesn't reward intelligent, opinionated newscasting. Government regulation of the airwaves forced the broadcast networks to pay more than lip service to programming "for the public good." Deregulation killed that quaint notion and it's been logically replaced by fake news and shout fests whose only goal is the almighty dollar.

The better way to insure good results, in any realm of society, is to set up a structure that encourages them; we can’t rely on heroes coming along to rescue journalism. The structure that encouraged Murrow, uncomfortable as it may be to admit, was federal regulation of broadcasting. CBS, in Murrow’s heyday, felt that its prosperity, even its survival, depended on demonstrating to Washington its deep commitment to public affairs. The price of not doing so could be regulation, breakup, the loss of a part of the spectrum, or license revocation. Those dire possibilities would cause a corporation to err on the side of too much “See It Now” and “CBS Reports.” In parts of the speech which aren’t in the movie, Murrow made it clear that the main pressure on broadcasting to do what he considered the right thing came from the F.C.C. The idea that, in taking on McCarthy, Murrow was “standing up to government” greatly oversimplifies the issue. He was able to stand up to a Senate committee chairman because a federal regulatory agency had pushed CBS and other broadcasters to organize themselves so that Murrow’s doing so was possible.

It isn’t possible anymore—not because timid people have risen to power in journalism but because the government, in steady increments over the past generation, has deregulated broadcasting. The Fairness Doctrine no longer exists. Regulation, license revocation, or reallocation of the spectrum are no longer meaningful possibilities. The advent of cable television brought a new round of debates over government-mandated public-affairs programming, with the result that private companies were granted valuable monopoly franchises in local markets; in return, they were required only to provide channels for public affairs, not to create programming. That’s why cable is home to super-low-cost varieties of broadcast news, such as C-SPAN, local publicaccess channels, and national cable-news shout-fests, rather than to reincarnations of the elaborately reported Murrow shows from the fifties. The rise of public broadcasting has freed the networks to be even more commercial.

And it is certainly not lost upon us that just as FCC regulations gave Murrow a platform from which he could take on the far right wing of the Republican party, de-regulation has given rise to programming and, of course, entire networks devoted to broadcasting the Republican party line.

Let's just bring back the Whig party

Really. I'm serious.

Because this is ridiculous.

Several prominent Democratic senators called for a filibuster of Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s Supreme Court nomination yesterday, exposing a deep divide in the party even as they delighted the party's liberal base.

Deep divide, eh? What could possibly be dividing the Democrats? A judge who will support George W. Bush's extra-constitutional forays into illegal wiretaps [and yes, that's a cached page]? A judge who will likely be the decisive vote in overturning Roe v. Wade? A judge who believes police have absolute discretion in deciding who and what a warrant covers when they enter your home?

What could possibly be divisive about that? Oh, it's not so much about law, the constitution, or even an individual's right to privacy. It's all about making Mrs. Alito cry.

Judge Alito's confirmation was looking increasingly certain Thursday. Two more Democrats, Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, said they would break party ranks to vote for confirmation.

Mr. Byrd said his constituents had told him they were "appalled" by the harsh questioning Judge Alito received from the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearings, calling them "an outrage and a disgrace."


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Did Digby just call me a Jew?

Why, I think he did.

And I agree wholeheartedly.

Evil geniuses? Or, not giving a gnat's ass?

The five years of the Bush II reign has, for keen observers like ourselves, had one overriding question hanging over it: Are they complete fuck ups, or, to misquote some ol' playwright, "though this be madness, there be method in't"?

I was thinking about that the other evening while watching yet another episode of the Scottie McClellan/Perils of Pauline show. McClellan appears unbearably unsuited for his job. He lacks the polished assurance of the late, great Ari Fleischer, who could lie about the color of the sky and, looking out upon his reportorial charges with a look of patient dismissiveness, only smirk as one after another tried unsuccessfully to get him to admit that it is, in fact, blue. McClellan can neither lie convincingly nor tell the truth. He obviously does not have the confidence of his employers, who would have us believe that they've long forgotten that he even conducts daily press briefings. And he has no credibility among reporters. He cannot love his job, unless he has a penchant for serial dissembling accompanied by self-mutilation. And yet, there he is each day.

Is it because Bush & Co. find his ability to stonewall effective, or is it because they just don't care what he has to say or what White House correspondents report?

In that he is a perfect icon for this administration and, indeed, for the modern Republican party. McClellan provides the semblance of engaging in a ritual of governing -- the press briefing -- while making sure that the ritual is perceived as hollow, immaterial, and irrelevant to the powers that be.

McClellan is only the most visible face of an administration rife with people who, to the most casual observer, don't quite seem up to the task. It boggles the mind. How can this administration find its way to the bathroom each day? Why doesn't it simply crumble under the weight of its own failure? Or is there something else going on here? It has indeed gotten to the point where we no long know whether what we perceive as unbelievable screw-ups are, in fact, all part of a plan; an evil, scorched earth plan, but a plan nevertheless.

I know I'm not the first in the blogosphere to raise these questions, but indulge me as I conduct a small thought experiment.

Bin Laden: A devastating failure to capture the leader of a terrorist group responsible for killing more than 3,000 innocents on American soil? Or is he an effective instrument for keeping the populace terrified of further attacks while his timely communiques (warrentless-wiretapping "kerfuffle" = Bin Laden video) gives Bush a platform to do his steely-eyed rocket man routine?

Okay. That one's an iffy proposition. But here's some more obvious connundrums.

Iraq: A quagmire that is drawing down resources, crippling the armed services and making a career in the military about as desirable as do-it-yourself gall bladder surgery? Or is the devastating occupation an effective way to accomplish Rumsfeld's goals of "transforming the military" into a leaner organization, operationally incapable of performing the distasteful role of "nation-building" that so many in previous administrations have asked it do?

Iran: A low boil that would have been relatively easy to contain had this administration had the cognitive facilities to simultaneously chew gum and cross the street? Or has ignoring this for so long merely been a means of creating a full-blown international crisis for which the rest of the world -- fearing a madman with a real nuclear warhead -- would be forced to act, while also creating another campaign issue just in time for the midterm elections during a lame duck president's second term?

North Korea: See above, "Iran," but this time just in time for the Cheney '08 ("He ain't dead yet") campaign.

Medicare drug benefits: A politically disastrous failure that satisfied constituents in the Pharma and HMO industries at the expense of the nation's seniors? Or a calculated strategy for convincing the nation's most reliable bloc of voters that, see, Big Guvmint can't get nothin' right, Republicans were right all along?

Katrina: A disaster that illustrated why putting politically well-connected, but ultimately incompetent people in charge of vital response services is a bad idea? Or, like the drug benefit, an opportunity to show that government should not be in the disaster response business, and, as a special bonus, clear out the population of a stronghold of the Democratic party at the local, state, and federal level?

There are many, many other examples where the incompetence and complete disinterest in even feigning a semblance of good governance and policy making defies belief. Can they really be this bad? The alternative explanation can only force us to don our well-worn tinfoil hats and begin jabbering about a conspiracy of lunatics bent on "destroying America in order to save it."

UPDATED: For coherence.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Vulgar accusations

Via Atrios, here's today's WaPo op-ed on Jack Abramoff's possible influence in the White House:

Wednesday, January 25, 2006; A18

HERE ARE SOME things we know about Jack Abramoff and the White House: The disgraced lobbyist raised at least $100,000 for President Bush's reelection campaign. He had long-standing ties to Karl Rove, a key presidential adviser. He had extensive dealings with executive branch officials and departments -- one of whom, former procurement chief David H. Safavian, has been charged by federal prosecutors with lying to investigators about his involvement with Mr. Abramoff.

We also know that Mr. Abramoff is an admitted crook who was willing to bribe members of Congress and their staffs to get what he (or his clients) wanted. In addition to attending a few White House Hanukkah parties and other events at which he had his picture snapped with the president, Mr. Abramoff had, according to the White House, "a few staff-level meetings" with White House aides.

Here is what we don't know about Jack Abramoff and the White House: whom he met with and what was discussed. Nor, if the White House sticks to its current position, will we learn that anytime soon. Press secretary Scott McClellan told the White House press corps: "If you've got some specific issue that you need to bring to my attention, fine. But what we're not going to do is engage in a fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the investigation."

This is not a tenable position. It's undisputed that Mr. Abramoff tried to use his influence, and his restaurant and his skyboxes and his chartered jets, to sway lawmakers and their staffs. Information uncovered by Mr. Bush's own Justice Department shows that Mr. Abramoff tried to do the same inside the executive branch.

Here's the Post's ombudsman -- in a column for which a correction has not been printed -- just 10 days ago:

In the fall of 2003, a lobbyist called to tip Schmidt that Abramoff was raking in millions of dollars from Indian tribes to lobby on gambling casinos. Schmidt started checking Federal Election Commission records for Abramoff's campaign contributions. Lobbyists also file forms with Congress that give information on clients and fees.

Schmidt quickly found that Abramoff was getting 10 to 20 times as much from Indian tribes as they had paid other lobbyists. And he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties. [emphasis added]

A week later she wrote,

Nothing in my 50-year career prepared me for the thousands of flaming e-mails I got last week over my last column, e-mails so abusive and many so obscene that part of The Post's Web site was shut down.

That column praised The Post for breaking the story on lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings, for which he has pleaded guilty to several felony counts. The column clearly pointed out that Abramoff is a Republican and dealt mainly with Republicans, most prominently former House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

I wrote that he gave campaign money to both parties and their members of Congress. He didn't. I should have said he directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.

My mistake set off a firestorm. I heard that I was lying, that Democrats never got a penny of Abramoff-tainted money, that I was trying to say it was a bipartisan scandal, as some Republicans claim. I didn't say that. It's not a bipartisan scandal; it's a Republican scandal, and that's why the Republicans are scurrying around trying to enact lobbying reforms.

But there is no doubt about the campaign contributions that were directed to lawmakers of both parties. Records from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Public Integrity show that Abramoff's Indian clients contributed money to 195 Republicans and 88 Democrats between 1999 and 2004. The Post also has copies of lists sent to tribes by Abramoff with his personal directions on which members were to receive what amounts.


The Howell fragment indicates that Abramoff asked the Coushatta to give $2,000 each to two Democrats, then-Senators Jean Carnahan and Max Cleland, as well as an amount, illegible on the graphic, to Tom Daschle, at the time still Senate Majority Leader.

The full list of contributions from Abramoff and his clients is available from the Center for Responsive Politics here. This list makes no attempt to determine wehter [sic] the contributions were "directed" by Abramoff or reflected longstanding loyalties to legislators who, like Daschle or Byron Dorgan, "have been supporting the tribes for longer than Jack Abramoff has been bilking them."

Comparing this list to the Howell fragment, one finds that neither the Coushatta nor any other Abramoff client actually gave money to Jean Carnahan, although Abramoff himself and his clients gave $3,000 to her Republican opponent, Jim Talent. The Coushatta did give to Cleland, not $2,000 but $500, while Abramoff and his tribal clients gave eleven times as much to Cleland"s opponent, now-Senator Saxby Chambliss. Daschle, based on the CRP list, got nothing from the Coushatta, although other tribes did support him, while Abramoff himself and other clients backed his opponent, Sen. John Thune.

In short, rather than $4000 to Democrats, the Howell fragment together with contribution data shows only $500 in contributions directed and actually given, and even that one, given the $5,500 to Chambliss"s shameful campaign, is kind of like pulling a guy up off the mat so you can give him another punch in the gut.

It"s possible that the Center for Responsive Politics analysis didn"t capture everything, if, for example, a Coushatta contribution was made in the name of an individual who did not list the tribe as an employer. (There are no other contributions from the tribe"s zip code.) It"s also possible that the tribes received Abramoff"s recommendations and ignored them, which could be a defense by Abramoff. Or, it may be that the Howell fragment wasn"t Abramoff"s final recommendation to the Coushatta.

But the bottom line is that this fragment of a list is no evidence of actual contributions to Democrats made at Abramoff"s direction.

So, by all means, lets have another panel on "Internet ethics."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Saving the Democratic Party is hard, hard work

And now that James Carville has decided to focus his prodigious energies on a sports show with Even Li'l-er Russ, it's up to the Medium Lobster to guide the way back from complete political irrelevance. We liburols are grateful, Medium Lobster, for taking pity on us and sharing your wisdom on what is nearly an impossible task.

Perhaps this daunting task would be easier if the president were politically vulnerable. But Democrats must contend with George W. Bush, the Hercules of New Haven, who stands as a Jovian colossus astride a 40% approval rating. Indeed, by cleverly reducing his own domestic support to increasingly tepid levels, the president has reaffirmed himself as a bold unilateralist who needs no allies to charge ahead with powerful ideas like torture and illegal wiretaps. To attack Bush now would only isolate him further - and thus strengthen his reputation as a unique visionary unencumbered by "focus groups," "civil law" or "democracy."

Meanwhile, until Democrats are able to devise this year's "Strategy for Abject Capitulation," they would do well to study Sen. Obama's response to Li'l Russ's "this Abramoff stuff...bipartisan, right?" line of questioning. To wit,

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think the problem of money in politics is bipartisan. I think that all of us who are involved in the political process have to be concerned about the enormous sums of money that have to raised in order to run campaigns, how that money's raised, and at least the appearance of impropriety and the potential access that's given to those who are contributing. That's a general problem with our politics. The specific problem of inviting lobbyists in who have bundled huge sums of money to write legislation, having the oil and gas company companies come in to write energy legislation, having drug companies come in and write the Medicare prescription drug bill -- which we now see is not working for our seniors -- those are very particular problems of this administration and this Congress. And I think Jack Abramoff and the Case Freak Project, that whole thing is a very particular Republican sin.

MR. RUSSERT: No sin for the Democrats?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, with respect to how Tom DeLay consolidated power in the House of Representatives, invited lobbyists like Abramoff in to help write legislation, leveraging those lobbyists and telling them that they can only hire Republicans, manipulating the rules of the House and the Senate in order to move forward legislation that was helpful to special interests. There is a qualitative difference to what's been happening in Washington over the last several years that has real consequences. It means a prescription drug bill that doesn't work for our seniors. It means an energy policy that does nothing to help relieve high gas prices at the pump. These aren't just abstractions, these are problems that have very real consequences to the American people. And my hope is is that, on a bipartisan basis, we can come up with a solution that returns some semblance of responsiveness to Washington.

No, they aren't just abstractions. It's up to the Democratic Party to make sure the American people understand who the source is of the very real consequences of Republican corruption and incompetence.

But I realize, as does Mark Schmitt, that that's a tough, complicated story to get across. So, perhaps more feasibly, they can take M.L's advice and try that "impersonating Republicans" tactic again. It hasn't worked so well in the past, but, ya know, practice and a $15 dollar cab ride will get you to Carnegie Hall.

Hard-wired to blog

At long last, the scientific basis for the political blogosphere.

Using M.R.I. scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected.

"Everything we know about cognition suggests that, when faced with a contradiction, we use the rational regions of our brain to think about it, but that was not the case here," said Dr. Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory and lead author of the study, to be presented Saturday at meetings of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Palm Springs, Calif.

The results are the latest from brain imaging studies that provide a neural explanation for internal states, like infatuation or ambivalence, and a graphic trace of the brain's activity.

In 2004, the researchers recruited 30 adult men who described themselves as committed Republicans or Democrats. The men, half of them supporters of President Bush and the other half backers of Senator John Kerry, earned $50 to sit in an M.R.I. machine and consider several statements in quick succession.

The first was a quote attributed to one of the two candidates: either a remark by Mr. Bush in support of Kenneth L. Lay, the former Enron chief, before he was indicted, or a statement by Mr. Kerry that Social Security should be overhauled. Moments later, the participants read a remark that showed the candidate reversing his position. The quotes were doctored for maximum effect but presented as factual.

The Republicans in the study judged Mr. Kerry as harshly as the Democrats judged Mr. Bush. But each group let its own candidate off the hook.

After the participants read the contradictory comment, the researchers measured increased activity in several areas of the brain. They included a region involved in regulating negative emotions and another called the cingulate, which activates when the brain makes judgments about forgiveness, among other things. Also, a spike appeared in several areas known to be active when people feel relieved or rewarded. The "cold reasoning" regions of the cortex were relatively quiet.

It's all about keeping activity flaring in the pleasure center, baby!

As a follow-up study, researchers will look at the areas of the brain affected most strongly by snark.

The president's discomfort

One thing is clear: Dear Leader is more comfortable talking about his administration's blatant disregard for the Fourth Amenedment of the Constitution than he is talking about an award-winning movie about two gay sheep herdin' cowboys.

For the record, the Vega and the wise and captivating Madame Cura have not yet seen the film because of time as well as mixed feelings about Ang Lee movies. Not concerns over "steers and queers," as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman might have put it.

One party rule

Even the Washington Post is beginning to catch on. As in the long lost days of the Soviet Union, it is not so much the People's Deputies, er, Congress that passes laws, it's the Comm...Republican Party that calls the shots. Predictably, hilarity ensues.

House and Senate GOP negotiators, meeting behind closed doors last month to complete a major budget-cutting bill, agreed on a change to Senate-passed Medicare legislation that would save the health insurance industry $22 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Senate version would have targeted private HMOs participating in Medicare by changing the formula that governs their reimbursement, lowering payments $26 billion over the next decade. But after lobbying by the health insurance industry, the final version made a critical change that had the effect of eliminating all but $4 billion of the projected savings, according to CBO and other health policy experts.

That change was made in mid-December during private negotiations involving House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the staffs of those committees as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. House and Senate Democrats were excluded from the meeting. The Senate gave final approval to the budget-cutting measure on Dec. 21, but the House must give it final consideration early next month.

The change in the Medicare provision underscores a practice that growing numbers of lawmakers from both parties want addressed. More than ever, Republican congressional lawmakers and leaders are making vital decisions, involving far-reaching policies and billions of dollars, without the public -- or even congressional Democrats -- present.

The corruption scandal involving Republican former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the bribery plea of former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) have prompted calls for a restructuring of lobbying rules and congressional practices that make lobbying easier.

A prime target for changes are the closed-door negotiations known as conference committees, where members of the House and Senate hash out their differences over competing versions of legislation. House and Senate Democrats last week proposed that all such conference committees meet in the open and that any changes be made by a vote of all conferees.

"It happens in the dead of night when lobbyists get a [Republican lawmaker] in the corner and say, 'We've got to have this,' " said Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (Calif.), the Democrats' point man on Medicare issues. "It's a pattern that just goes on and on, and at some point the public's going to rise up."

If this is addressed -- and, frankly, I doubt it will be unless there's an unlikely change in which party controls Congress -- than Randy and Jack will not have been indicted in vain.

Corruption and incompetence is now openly rewarded, and in what has to be the official Republican response to all charges that they have simply stopped giving a damn about good governing, Grassley called the criticism "ridiculous." Meanwhile, even the lobbyists are shocked.

Grassley disputed the CBO's interpretation of the change as "ridiculous," dismissing what appears to be a major insurance industry victory as merely a mistake in CBO calculations, not a substantive policy change. He said he accepted the policy change because he "didn't see a big difference from the Senate position and the conference position."

But other lobbyists and aides said too much important work is being done in these closed-door conclaves. That is especially true with the budget-cutting bill containing the change in the Medicare reimbursement formula that is nearing final passage.

"I have worked many [budget] bills, and this was the most closed that I've ever seen," said one prominent Republican health care lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing his access to Congress.

Another health care lobbyist, not involved with the issue, said the result was a major victory for health insurers: "That's a $22 billion difference; $22 billion is a lot of money."

As they say on the internets, Heh, indeed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A moment of clarity from ClownHall

Imagine my stunned reaction to this:

Canada crumbling
by Jeff Kuhner - Jan 19, 2006
Canada, one of the most stable democracies in the world, is about to enter a period of political uncertainty that threatens the country’s national unity.

Sadly, yes!*

TORONTO – Canada's Conservatives have captured the momentum as the country nears its Jan. 23 election date, with polls showing a majority of Canadians would be happy to see the Liberal Party's 13-year winning streak come to an end.

Perhaps the most dramatic campaign story has unfolded in Quebec, where Conservatives failed to win a single seat in the last election. According to a recent poll, the Conservatives' leader, Stephen Harper, is more popular in Quebec than he is in his home province of Alberta, the most conservative region in the country.

*Props, as I understand the cool kids are sometimes heard to say.

Rebut and reload

I agree with Greg Sargent. When Karl Rove stops squeeling like a pig for the amusement of Dick Cheney, gives a talk to Republican operates, and says this,

Let me be as clear as I can be. President Bush believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why. Some important Democrats clearly disagree.

Democrats need to call bullshit on him, and fast. Democrats need to get their talking points together and respond, forcefully, that Rove -- as a surrogate for Bush -- is lying. No one opposes wire taps in the effort to ensnare suspected terrorists. It's doing so without oversight of a judge -- a warrant, as we like to say in the blogosphere -- that is, um, troubling. President Bush broke the law -- and continues to do so. How do we know that? Because when the story broke, the flaks for the Cheney administration were crying "treason," not, "what's the big deal; we're fighting terra, here." It wasn't until they realized that the "treason" theme wasn't having much of an effect on either the citizens or the senators, and that the idea that warrantless wiretapping story was working like a stone on Bush's already subterranean poll numbers, that they started singing that it was legal all along.

But is that how Democrats respond to Rove's lies, which are lapped up by the press? No.

Karl Rove only has a White House job and a security clearance because President Bush has refused to keep his promise to fire anyone involved in revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative. Rove's political standing gets him an invitation to address Republicans in Washington, DC today, but it doesn't give him the credibility to question Democrats' commitment to national security. The truth is, Karl Rove breached our national security for partisan gain and that is both unpatriotic and wrong.

That's a fine argument to make with those of us who already despise Karl Rove, but that's not very effective in convincing those who are not quite sure what to make of the president's actions...or of Democrats' commitment to national security and constitutional protections.

Republican ideals

Brad DeLong opens the TimesSelect archive and comes across an expose of Jack Abramoff, written by recently murdered Times reporter David Rosenbaum, nearly four years ago [-]*

Mr. Abramoff's recent success and importance in Republican circles is a reminder that even as much of official Washington has been focused on the war in Afghanistan, efforts to beef up national security after Sept. 11 and the crisis in the Middle East, the business of lobbying has been humming along quite nicely, more out of the spotlight than usual but more profitable than ever for those with the right connections. Unlike many lobbyists who take almost any client who is willing to pay their fee, Mr. Abramoff says he represents only those who stand for conservative principles. They include three Indian tribes with big casinos and, until recently, the Northern Mariana Islands.

''All of my political work,'' he said, ''is driven by philosophical interests, not by a desire to gain wealth.'' Mr. Abramoff argues that Indian reservations and the island territory, which is exempt from United States labor laws, are ''just what conservatives have always wanted, which is enterprise zones -- tax-free, regulation-free zones where with the right motivation, great industry could take place and spill out into the general communities.'' His success in making this case to Republicans in the House has paid off handsomely. At the beginning of last year, Mr. Abramoff left Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, the law firm where he had worked since he became a lobbyist in 1995, and joined the Washington office of Greenberg Traurig, a firm based in Miami. Mostly as a consequence, Greenberg Traurig, which received only $1.7 million in lobbying fees during the first half of 2000, had $8.7 million in the first half of 2001, fifth most of any firm in Washington, according to rankings by National Journal. Preston Gates, which had been ranked fifth, saw its lobbying fees cut in half and fell out of the magazine's top 10.

And we're still waiting for a correction from Post ombudsman Deborah Howell.

*If anyone has an idea how to use the permalinks for Professor DeLong's posts, please fill me in, 'cause I can't figure it out. Clicking on the permalink button only brings up the main URL in the address line, and trying to type out the "delong.typepad" address that appears when you scroll over the "permalink" button doesn't seem to work either. Argh.

UPDATE: Thanks to a commentor suspiciously named "Brad," links have been fixed and future links to the good professor will work perfectly.

Wife swapping

The Mets' era of Anna Benson has officially come to an end.

Anna, sadly, saw her dreams of being a full-fledged New York celebrity turn to ashes.

What a maroon. And she still thinks that the possibility that she'd pose nude was the reason the Mets soured on her. She doesn't seem to understand that a player's wife isn't supposed to verbally attack his teammate. Call it an unwritten law of the clubhouse, maybe. Especially when the husband isn't Cy Young.

The Vega hopes she'll be happy with the Schmucks in Baltimore, and that Kris will continue to be the mediocre pitcher he's always been.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Another dead end

It's no longer all that shocking that a network would get cold feet about airing a program that reflects a normal homosexual couple with children and the neighbors who come to accept them. After all, there are FCC rules against showing any teh gays who aren't fabulous. But ABC's parent, Disney, has begun taking on the characteristics of a battered wife. When the radical clerics raise their voices, Disney instinctively falls into the fetal position (even so, the fact that they won't even sell the finished reality series to another outlet is something the company's stock holders may want to think about).

But most of all, I was struck by a couple of quotes deep into the article.

In a recent interview, Richard Land, an official with the Southern Baptist Convention involved in the negotiations with Disney last year to end the group's boycott of the company, said he did not recall any mention of "Neighborhood." He added, however, that had the show been broadcast - particularly with an ending that showed Christians literally embracing their gay neighbors - it could have scuttled the Southern Baptists' support for "Narnia."

"I would have considered it a retrograde step," Mr. Land said of the network's plans to broadcast the reality series. "Aside from any moral considerations, it would have been a pretty stupid marketing move."

The spiritual concern for the bottom line is touching. But okay, fine. The trillions of fundies who would refuse to go see Narnia because of a TV show's lesson of tolerance and acceptance would certainly be a scary prospect for Disney, a company already in the cross hairs for cartoons that seem to make a case for evolution.

But, then I read this.

Paul McCusker, a vice president of Focus on the Family, which had supported the Southern Baptist boycott and reaches millions of evangelical listeners through the daily radio broadcasts of Dr. James Dobson, expressed similar views.

"It would have been a huge misstep for Disney to aggressively do things that would disenfranchise the very people they wanted to go see 'Narnia,' " he said.

Whaaaa? Disenfranchise? As in "deprived of voting rights? It's that kind of language that so effectively creates the sense -- at least for themselves and their always-angry followers -- that they are always under fire, one cultural slight away from martyrdom. It's not a homosexual couple, or the neighbors who felt that the show was a positive way for them to confront their own prejudices, who have been screwed. It's the small group who, despite having the option to not watch the show, are the offended ones.


Can't they just beat up gays at an egg roll, or something?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Baseball follies, January 2006 edition

The U.S. Treasury Dept., locked in a staring contest with Peurto Rico -- or something -- blinks.

And the Red Sox front office is beginning to make the Yankees' a symbol of efficient decision making.

Epstein's exact role and title had not been completely determined as of last night. Nor had it been decided exactly how co-GMs Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington would be recast. The club, in a release, indicated only that Epstein would be rejoining the Sox in a ''full-time baseball operations capacity, details of which will be announced next week." However, expectations within the organization point to Epstein returning as the lead decision-maker within baseball operations, with Hoyer and Cherington working under him.

Neither Hoyer nor Cherington would directly address the job description awaiting Epstein, and how they will be affected, but both spoke of maintaining continuity in Epstein's absence, suggesting they will work for him, rather than Epstein working for them.

Got that?

And will the real Dan Shaughnessy please stand up?

"My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white"

I understand the Scots are in the forefront for getting certain stains out.

Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?

But some stains are impossible to remove. From today's WSJ (can't link to a printed newspaper...odd):

K STREET HELPS Blunt and Boehner in race to succeed DeLay.

Allies of the ex-majority leader, including lobbyist Susan Hirschmann, support Blunt of Missouri. Energy lobbyist Drew Maloney also backs Blunt, who gets help from Baby Bell phone companies, FedEx and the airline industry.

Boehner of Ohio, who received a lobbying-industry award for building "strong business-government relations" in 2005, gets help from tax and pension lobbyist Bruce Gates and Citigroup Inc. lobbyist Bob Shelhas. Boehner splits tobacco support with Blunt, whose wife has lobbied for the industry

And if you can say "Boehner of Ohio" without laughing than you are a more mature person than I, Dear Reader.

Chris Matthews, paid sycophant for the GOP

The Vega writes a letter:

To: Hardball@msnbc.com

Subject: Chris Matthews sounds like Osama bin Laden

With all the revelations that columnists are being paid to write GOP talking points, it makes this viewer suspicious that Chris Matthews may be on the take as well.

To rectify the situation I suggest Chris Matthews apologize -- NOW -- for comparing Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden. That the comparison is stupid is obvious since last I heard, Moore wasn't in on the plan to kill more than 3,000 innocent people. It is, however, the constant character assassination by Matthews of anyone who disagrees with the president, or the conduct of the war, that is troubling. Chris Matthews is supposed to be a member of the skeptical press, not a surrogate for Scott McClellan.

More here, here, and, for real creepy fun, here.

Lobbyists writing scripts

Paul Krugman must have read the Vega last night and, after grabbing a few, ya know, facts off of Lexis/Nexis, quickly dashed off this morning's column.


Nevertheless, as a public service to both you, Dear Reader, and Paul Krugman, who deserves a wider audience than TimesSelect provides, here's the text of this morning's gospel:

The new prescription drug benefit is off to a catastrophic start. Tens of thousands of older Americans have arrived at pharmacies to discover that their old drug benefits have been canceled, but that they aren't on the list for the new program. More than two dozen states have taken emergency action.

At first, federal officials were oblivious. "This is going very well," a Medicare spokesman declared a few days into the disaster. Then officials started making excuses. Some conservatives even insist that the debacle vindicates their ideology: see, government can't do anything right.

But government works when it's run by people who take public policy seriously. As Jonathan Cohn points out in The New Republic, when Medicare began 40 years ago, things went remarkably smoothly from the start. But this time the people putting together a new federal program had one foot out the revolving door: this was a drug bill written by and for lobbyists.

Consider the career trajectories of the two men who played the most important role in putting together the Medicare legislation.

Thomas Scully was a hospital industry lobbyist before President Bush appointed him to run Medicare. In that job, Mr. Scully famously threatened to fire his chief actuary if he told Congress the truth about cost projections for the Medicare drug program.

Mr. Scully had good reasons not to let anything stand in the way of the drug bill. He had received a special ethics waiver from his superiors allowing him to negotiate for future jobs with lobbying and investment firms - firms that had a strong financial stake in the form of the bill - while still in public office. He left public service, if that's what it was, almost as soon as the bill was passed, and is once again a lobbyist, now for drug companies.

Meanwhile, Representative Billy Tauzin, the bill's point man on Capitol Hill, quickly left Congress once the bill was passed to become president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the powerful drug industry lobby.

Surely both men's decisions while in office were influenced by the desire to please their potential future employers. And that undue influence explains why the drug legislation is such a mess.

The most important problem with the drug bill is that it doesn't offer direct coverage from Medicare. Instead, people must sign up with private plans offered by insurance companies.

This has three bad effects. First, the elderly face wildly confusing choices. Second, costs are high, because the bill creates an extra, unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. Finally, the fragmentation into private plans prevents Medicare from using bulk purchasing to reduce drug prices.

It's all bad, from the public's point of view. But it's good for insurance companies, which get extra business even though they serve no useful function, and it's even better for drug companies, which are able to charge premium prices. So whose interests do you think Mr. Scully and Mr. Tauzin represented?

Which brings us to the larger question of cronyism and corruption.

Thanks to Jack Abramoff, the K Street project orchestrated by Tom DeLay is finally getting some serious attention in the news media. Mr. DeLay and his allies have sought, with great success, to ensure that lobbying firms hire only Republicans. But most reports on the project still miss the main point by emphasizing the effect on campaign contributions.

The more important effect of the K Street project is that it allows the party machine to offer lavish personal rewards to the faithful. For a congressman, toeing the line on legislation brought free meals in Jack Abramoff's restaurant, invitations to his sky box, golf trips to Scotland, cushy jobs for family members and a lavish salary after leaving office. The same kinds of rewards are there for loyal members of the administration, especially given the Bush administration's practice of appointing lobbyists to key positions.

I don't want to overstate Mr. Abramoff's role: although he was an important player in this system, he wasn't the only one. In particular, he doesn't seem to have been involved in the Medicare drug deal. It's interesting, though, that Scott McClellan has announced that the White House, contrary to earlier promises, won't provide any specific information about contacts between Mr. Abramoff and staff members.

So I have a question for my colleagues in the news media: Why isn't the decision by the White House to stonewall on the largest corruption scandal since Warren Harding considered major news?

© 2006 New York Times Co.

Fair use, NY Times lawyers. Fair use, I say.

Making it up as they go along

Dahlia Lithwicke explains why having Sam Alito on the Supreme Court would be a really bad idea.

And, also at Slate, Michael Kinsley wonders why we should take at face value Alito's claims that he was just angling for a job promotion when he wrote in 1985 that Roe should be overturned, when he's making those claims, 20 years later, while angling for yet another job promotion.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wicked Pickett

Things hadn't gone so well for him recently, and not so great for some who found themselves in his path, but, damn, this is too young.

Ain't no rock 'n roll without talents like his.

I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour
That’s when my love comes tumbling down
I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour
When there’ no one else around

I’m gonna take you girl and hold you
Do all things I told you in the midnight hour
I’m gonna wait till the stars come out
See them twinkle in your eyes

I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour
That’s when my love begins to shine
You’re the only girl I know
Really love you so in the midnight hour

"A sick culture"

Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institute, and Norman Ornstein, of none other than the American Enterprise Institute, take a look at the Republican-controlled Congress and, through the prism of more than 30 years in Washington for both, see a festering, puss-filled boil.

This pretty much sums it up.

The problem starts not with lobbyists but inside Congress. Over the past five years, the rules and norms that govern Congressional deliberation, debate and voting - what legislative aficionados call "the regular order" - have routinely been violated, especially in the House of Representatives, and in ways that mark a dramatic break from custom.

Roll call votes on the House floor, which are supposed to take 15 minutes, are frequently stretched to one, two or three hours. Rules forbidding any amendments to bills on the floor have proliferated, stifling dissent and quashing legitimate debate. Omnibus bills, sometimes thousands of pages long, are brought to the floor with no notice, let alone the 72 hours the rules require. Conference committees exclude minority members and cut deals in private, sometimes even adding major provisions after the conference has closed. Majority leaders still pressure members who object to the chicanery to vote yea in the legislation's one up-or-down vote.

To be sure, bills have been passed under this regime, on party-line votes with slender majorities. But the results have not always been true to party objectives or conservative ideals. Democrats aren't the only ones undermined by a process whose methods, like the cynical use of earmarks for pet projects, serve to bloat government bureaucracies.

Some of the abuses are straightforward breaches of the rules. The majority Republicans bypass normal procedures and ignore objections that parliamentary rules have been violated. They then reframe substantive issues as procedural matters that demand party discipline. Other abuses do not violate the rules, but they do transgress longstanding practice. For example, House rules don't set a maximum period of 15 minutes for most roll call votes. But since the advent of electronic voting in 1973, 15 minutes has been the norm.

In 1987, when the majority Democrats once - and only once - stretched a budget vote to 30 minutes because they found themselves unexpectedly down by one vote when time was supposed to expire, the minority Republicans loudly protested, with their whip, Dick Cheney, saying it was the worst abuse of power he had ever seen in Congress. Now it is routine to bring up a bill and troll for enough votes to pass it, even when a clear majority of the House - 218 members - has voted nay.

What has all this got to do with corruption? If you can play fast and loose with the rules of the game in lawmaking, it becomes easier to consider playing fast and loose with everything else, including relations with lobbyists, acceptance of favors, the use of official resources and the discharge of governmental power.

We saw similar abuses leading to similar patterns of corruption during the Democrats' majority reign. But they were neither as widespread nor as audacious as those we have seen in the past few years. The arrogance of power that was evident in Democratic lawmakers like Jack Brooks of Texas - the 21-term Democrat who was famed for twisting the rules to get pork for his district - is now evident in a much wider range of members and leaders, who all seem to share the attitude that because they are in charge, no one can hold them accountable.

Indeed, Mr. Hastert showed open contempt for the House ethics process last year when he fired the Republican chairman of the ethics committee and ousted two Republican members after they did their duty and reprimanded Tom DeLay for three violations of standards. Mr. Hastert then appointed two members to the committee who had given large sums to the DeLay legal defense fund - when the main matter pending before the committee involved Representative DeLay.

The same attitude produced the K Street Project, in which the new Republican majority, led by Mr. DeLay, used its governmental power to demand that trade associations and lobbying groups fire Democratic lobbyists and hire designated Republicans, who could then be expected to show their gratitude by contributing generously to party candidates and committees. Jack Abramoff was one of the progenitors of that initiative.

Exactly. Despite the protestations of House Republicans, clutching at their pearls and gasping, "It's those awful lobbyinsts, they walk into our offices and we don't know them from Adam." It is not. Out of power for so long, Republicans have worked tirelessly to make sure they're not out of it again. Not surprisingly, that's led them to ignore rules that constrain them on the floor. It's only a short hop to ignoring rules that govern their conduct off the floor.

And what Democrats need to remind voters, again and again, it is the very corruption of this Republican Congress that is leading to legislation that not only has absolutely no connection to the public good, but is rife with incompetence. Need evidence: I give you the Medicare prescription drug bill, written by lobbyists for the Big Pharma, voted on with a Roll Call that stretched well into the night, and endorsed by preznit.

"All the news that fits"

Headline above the fold on the front page of in this morning's New York Times:

Inquiry on Clinton Official Ends With Accusations of Cover-Up

$21 million dollars. A ten year investigation (going a full six years after the Independent Counsel statute had been allowed to expire). This is the best he can come up with? Can't prove anything in court, but Barrett delivers a 768 page report complaining that he wasn't given wide enough latitude by Clinton administration officials to pursue the case.

Well done, sir.

And the Times deems that a front page story and writes a headline and lede that makes one believe Barrett had evidence of a cover-up. Um, not so much.

Mr. Barrett said I.R.S. officials in Washington took over a district-level inquiry in Texas into Mr. Cisneros's taxes and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to go ahead with a criminal investigation. But in a 1997 memorandum protesting the decision, an I.R.S. investigator in Texas said there was evidence that Mr. Cisneros had diverted substantial parts of his speaking fees in the early 1990's to the former mistress, without the knowledge of co-workers.

But other I.R.S. and Justice Department officials said that a fairly complete listing of Mr. Cisneros's income from various sources was available to his accountants, whom he relied on to prepare his tax returns. That would have made it impossible to sustain a prosecution, they said.

Another Pulitzer-worthy story deemed appropriate for the front page this morning:

As Smoke Clears, Tobacco Maker Opens Lounge

Meanwhile, buried on page A19 (and listed under "All Headlines" on nytimes.com's Washington section):

Report Questions Legality of Briefings on Surveillance

Apparently, the Paper of Record did not find this story to have much merit.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 - A legal analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concludes that the Bush administration's limited briefings for Congress on the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping without warrants are "inconsistent with the law."

There you have it, Sheeple, it's breaking news that Clinton administration officials, worn out by a never-ending parade of special counsels, each on his own fishing-expedition-cum-jeremiad, were not exacly rushing to help yet another Ahab obsessed with the pursuit of a guy trying to hide evidence of his mistress. On the other hand, it's rather ho hum when a nonpartisan congressional analysis finds that the current administration BROKE THE LAW.

Damn liberal media.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Small glimmers of hope for the world

First there was Germany.

Then Chile

Followed by Liberia.

And, coming soon perhaps, France.

"Segolene Royal is someone I've respected for a long time," he said in response to a journalist's question.

"Saying that has got me into trouble with some of my friends. She's a good candidate, and I find it odd that people question a woman's abilities when they wouldn't do the same for a male candidate. If I ever became a candidate for the presidency one day, I would be very happy to debate with her. From my point of view she's every bit as attractive a Socialist candidate as Henri Emmanuelli."

Cue laughter from the gathered media: the clear implication was that Mr Emmanuelli was nowhere near as photogenic as the attractive Ms Royal.

These are interesting developments, because if more women come to power, then schadenfreude as political policy may soon be dead.

However, it must be pointed out that while it seems natural France should boast the most beautiful news anchor in the world, it is entirely unfair that they should then turn around and elect the world's most beautiful president. And a socialist to boot. This is all just too much! If only Congressman "Freedom Fries" were alive today.

"And now Iran"

Members of the "Reality-based community" can arch their eyebrows and reply, "You and what army?" all they want, but the neo-cons are now officially hell-bent (and, yes, I mean that literally).

Doves profess concern about Iran's nuclear program and endorse various diplomatic responses to it. But they don't want even to contemplate the threat of military action. Perhaps military action won't ultimately be necessary. But the only way diplomatic, political, and economic pressure has a chance to work over the next months is if the military option--or various military options--are kept on the table.

Meanwhile, some hawks, defenders of the Iraq war, would prefer to deal with one challenge at a time. They hope we can kick the can down the road a while longer, or that a deus ex machine--a Jewish one!--will appear to do our job for us. But great powers don't get to avoid their urgent responsibilities because they'd prefer to deal with only one problem at a time, or to slough those responsibilities off onto others. To be clear: We support diplomatic, political, and economic efforts to halt the nuclear program of the Iranian regime. We support multilateral efforts through the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, and the assembling of coalitions of the willing, if necessary, to support sanctions and other forms of pressure. We support serious efforts to help democrats and dissidents in Iran, in the hope that regime change can be achieved without military action from the outside. We support strengthening our covert and intelligence capabilities. And we support holding open the possibility of, and beginning to prepare for, various forms of military action.

You can be sure, Kristol knows that when he espouses "preparing for various forms of military military action" he is, in fact, espousing military action, and just as soon as those landing strips in Azerbaijan can be lengthened for the B-52s, and the Big Red One has been amassed on Iraq's western boarder. You want an exit-stategy in Iraq, he might as well ask. Well, I'll give you one. Let's leave Iraq by invading Iran!

If I thought there was any level of competence and foresight within the current administration or the Pentagon, I might even cynically assume that Iraq was in fact a pretext for invading Iran. Knowing that without better intelligence indicating Iran's nuclear sites air strikes alone won't cut it, what better way to move 150,000 troops into the Mullahs' backyard without them smoking it out? Of course, there is no competence in those institutions, so this is all just some kind of happy coincidence.

We are now heading down the path of war in Iran. And, like Iraq, the neocons and their enablers in the White House and Pentagon are once again making elaborate plans for "regime change." And once again, like Iraq, they are making plans without ever taking into account the fact that "the enemy" consists of sentient beings. Just as one commander in Iraq pointed out a year or so ago, that the insurgency wasn't part of the pre-Iraq war games, so too those leading the cheers (though never the charge) for war in Iran are assuming that the regime there will simply comply with our plans.

G ardiner remained at the podium to answer questions as the CentCom commander, and the discussion began. The panelists skipped immediately to the regime-change option, and about it there was unanimity: the plan had been modeled carefully on the real assault on Iraq, and all five advisers were appalled by it.

"You need to take this back to Tampa," David Kay said, to open the discussion. Tampa, of course, is the headquarters for CentCom units operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Or put it someplace else I'd suggest, but we're in public." What was remarkable about the briefing, he said, was all the charts that were not there. "What were the countermoves?" he asked. "The military countermoves—not the political ones you offloaded to my Secretaries of State but the obvious military countermoves that the Iranians have? A very easy military counter is to raise the cost of your military operation inside Iraq. Are you prepared to do that?"

Hell, even our diplomatic options are limited, and even there the administration seems unable to grasp that Iran has options as well. Right now, it is in their interest that Iraq not ignite into total chaos. That could well change if they feel that we're putting too much pressure on them or that we're going to act unilaterally against them.

The Bush administration failed to deal with Iran for five years. Five years in which Iran was "governed," at least nominally, by a moderate. Now, we have to deal with a populist demagogue who uses language only the most shameless of neo-con mystery writers could come up with.

I've often wondered if Dick Cheney were an agent of Iran, given how successful Iran's regime has been in having our military attack their rival and grant power to their Shi'ite allies. Now I wonder if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn't, in turn, an agent of the neocons.

Never let a Purple Heart ruin their purple finger fantasies

James Webb, secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, fairly oozes contempt from the pages of the paper this morning (it would be morning, except the Northeast seems to be in the throes of the End Times, with wind gusts bringing down stately oaks on to the decrepit tracks of our even more decrepit mass transit system...but I digress).

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves.

This, I have to say, is especially piquant.

And now comes Jack Murtha. The administration tried a number of times to derail the congressman's criticism of the Iraq war, including a largely ineffective effort to get senior military officials to publicly rebuke him (Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was the only one to do the administration's bidding there).

While I certainly do not disagree with Mr. Webb's assessment, but with regard to the current crop of politicians who have just finished serving in the armed forces and have to decided to run for office as Democrats, I am guessing that it is not so much the words of the Cheney administration's proxies that rankle them, but the actions of the Cheney administrion. Or lack thereof.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Vega's book club

Rebel without clothes
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
How can you resist a tome that Andrew Sullivan described as "fallatial?"

Unsafe to serve

E.J. Dionne on the Swiftboating of John Murtha.

The lesson from the acolytes of the Cheney administration could not be more clear. If you served in the Armed Forces, or if your son or daughter does (or did, and died doing it), you have thereby given up your right to dissent.

They really are cheap pieces of shit, aren't they? There's just no other way to say it. Oh, wait, there is another way to say it: fascists.
Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com Site Meter