Friday, March 30, 2007

Thinking about that girl crushed by a tree made me think of my daughter's wedding

Whoa, Nelly. The "conservative view of culture:"

Personal Post Script: Smith’s article helped give me a context for much about these traditions that seemed both foreign and admirable, although sometimes silly and even deadly. My experiences weren’t unusual: one semester, a girl sat in the back of a class I was teaching (many are co-enrolled and the traditions of the “big” campus influence those of our little one). She was not “there” much of the semester, clearly traumatized. She and a girlfriend had taken cookies out to the cut; somehow something terrible had happened and a tree fell across the car - killing her friend in the passenger seat. The combination of youth, lack of sleep, power saws, huge timbers, and far too much alcohol hurt many and some died. But that something was lost when the bonfire was banned was something even non-Ags like me could sense and, caught in the midst of these discussions, Smith saw where it had gone awry and still viewed the tradition with respect. This is clearly the work of years of thought not only about the bonfire but where we are going as a society.
But he also helped put something else in context - or at least helped me understand why I’d said something that even I thought was weird at the time. My first daughter was planning her wedding when it happened, already living with her husband-to-be and trying to plan for his clan’s American visit that would coincide with their wedding. I’d been a hesitant about the ritual and traditions, about the responsibilities of a large, at-home wedding. But that fall, the importance of the symbolic, of the ritual was brought home to me. My mother had been married at home, so had I. We had this mini-tradition going.
Ah, tradition.

Via Roy. Where does he find this stuff?

Stay out of the way of the long-tongue liar

'Cause we could all use a good shepherd right about now.

Hey, Joe

He calls the Senate's Friedmans and raises two more.

But isn't 18 months — and that would be the timeline set out by the tougher House bill — isn't that enough time to force the parties in Iraq to find a political solution?

I must say that the more troubling of the timelines here is [that] the Senate provision really orders that the troops begin withdrawing within 120 days regardless of what's happening on the ground, regardless of the impact on our allies in the Middle East, regardless of the impact of withdrawing on our own national security and credibility. That just doesn't make any sense, particularly at a time when we have a new general, David Petraeus, commanding our troops in Iraq. We have new troops and we have a new plan. And from independent reports, it actually began — it seems to be showing some encouraging success. Why — why would you, at this moment, order a retreat?

So 18 months is okay? Unfortunately, he isn't asked. Instead he goes on to confuse "elections" with "public opinion polls."

"I make the bullets in the war on Democrats"

As I mentioned the other day, the interesting thing to look at in the Attorneygate scandal is not so much the firings as the hirings. Multimedia Josh has more on the "loyal Bushie" installed in Arkansas under the now rescinded provision of the Patriot Act that allowed the DOJ to appoint USAGs without Senate approval.

I know, I know, not as much fun as watching an Ann Althouse meltdown or experiencing the sheer numbing pity of observing the U. of Wisconsin law professor get sloshed while live-vlogging "American Idol."

Sorry. Stayed away as long as I could.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Knock me your lobes"

Masters of war

Both the House and the Senate have now passed resolutions calling for an end to the war, or, more precisely, an end to our involvement in Iraq's civil war.

President Bush has strongly protested the withdrawal language in both the House and Senate bills, along with $20 billion in emergency domestic spending in the Senate measure, and has repeatedly warned that he intends to veto the package if the offending provisions aren't dropped.

He reiterated the threat this morning. "We expect there to be no strings on our commanders, and that we expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people's money," Bush said after meeting with House Republicans at the White House.

"No strings" has been the rule for four years. That has to stop.

Yes, that's Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Probably the best back up band Dylan had had since The Hawks.

You mean, he's not Looouuuuuuu?

We are days -- mere days -- from the 2007 Major League Baseball season. Smell that? Smells like infield clay still damp from it's pregame hosing.

Anyway, Bronx Banter has just further polished the blog's gleaminess. Allen Berra has joined the list of illustrious guest bloggers on the site.

The Yankees...Wait, it just occurred to me, I'm not sure who's on the Yankees, Let me go check the roster and get back to you...

Okay, I'm back. Sorry, I forgot. Alex Rodriguez is on the Yankees. I just checked his stats. I'm telling you, this guy is very, very good. If you haven't paid much attention to him in the past, try focusing on him this season. This guy has averaged about 40 home runs, 120 RBIS, and about 20 stolen bases in each of his last three seasons – and yet, astonishingly, he gets almost no media overage at all. Hardly anybody knows who he is. I'm thinking that one day in a couple of years everyone is going to wake up collectively and say, "Hey, who is this Alex Rodriguez guy? Has he really been one of the best players in baseball over the last dozen seasons or so? And no one's noticed? Is this guy maybe a Hall of Famer? And we hardly paid him any attention?"

I think part of the problem is confusion – Yankees fans seem to think he's someone else. Every game I go to they react as if he's Lou Piniella. If I'm not mistaken, everyone yells out, "LOOOOOUUU! LOOOOOUUU!" Personally, I think Lou Piniella ought to clear up the situation by posing for a picture with A-Rod so everyone can see the difference.

What I wonder about Alex Rodriguez is this: Years from now, when Yankee fans think back on this time, will they remember that they had perhaps the greatest player in the game and didn't know how to appreciate him? Or will they think "I was at a game where he struck out in the ninth with two runners on base. And they pay him $20 million for that?"

And his insights on Philly and Sox fans are a pleasure (that is, if pain = pleasure is your thing).

But the best part of Bronx Banter is still the great reader comments.

Meanwhile, in Yankeeland, if you're not part of the family, you're not part of the family business.

Funny how some boats don't rise

For some, the tide's always going out.

Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows.

The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent.

The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

Seems to me, the bottom 150 million did not "enjoy" their income quite the way the top 300,000 did. Money may not buy happiness, but it comes in pretty handy in the "enjoyment" arena.

And it always gives me a warm feeling when we achieve income disparity levels not seen since the last years of the 1920s. We all know how that glorious era turned out.

Because the incomes of those at the top have grown so much more than those below them, their share of total income tax revenue has risen despite the reduced rates.

The analysis by the two professors showed that the top 10 percent of Americans collected 48.5 percent of all reported income in 2005.

That is an increase of more than 2 percentage points over the previous year and up from roughly 33 percent in the late 1970s. The peak for this group was 49.3 percent in 1928.

The top 1 percent received 21.8 percent of all reported income in 2005, up significantly from 19.8 percent the year before and more than double their share of income in 1980. The peak was in 1928, when the top 1 percent reported 23.9 percent of all income.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Forcing us to see

The Sacrifice
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Everyone, whether they supported the war or not, whether they feel a timetable for getting out of Iraq in an orderly fashion is vital or an invitation to insurgents to "wait us out," should see these photographs.

And at a military hospital in Germany, Mr. Nachtwey found Pvt. Andrew Bouwma in a coma, watched over by his stunned parents. His mother, Kandi, smiling in her University of Wisconsin sweatshirt, gently caresses his hair. His father, Jim, sunglasses perched on his head, rubs one eye and leans with his other hand on the railing of the bed for support. A chaplain’s hand, extending into the picture, touches Andrew’s shoulder. They’re praying. It’s frozen drama, like a Jeff Wall staging, but true. Breathing through a respirator, eyes shut, Private Bouwma looks heartbreakingly young.

Is this how these men would wish to be remembered? Are the pictures an invasion of privacy?

That was the Bush administration’s excuse for prohibiting photographs of returning coffins. But then there’s the argument made at the opening of the show at 401 by a ex-marine who lost his right arm in Iraq. (He was among a number of veterans who stopped by the gallery, a nonprofit space devoted to this sort of exceptional photographic projects, to pay tribute to Mr. Nachtwey.) The marine said he thought these pictures should be on billboards in Times Square so that everybody would know what’s really happening over there, and nobody could miss seeing them.

Wouldn’t that be something? Public art of real consequence and quality for a change, bringing home a war that the whole country is conducting but that only the small percentage of families in the volunteer military experience firsthand. There would be no chance to turn the page or flip the channel or skip the exhibition.

On the contrary, all we hear is that this type of thing is bad for morale. I don't know anything about being a soldier in Iraq (or dying of AIDS and TB in Indonesia), but it seems to me that reality is bad for morale, not photographs or names of the dead.

But those who most need to be forced to see -- those who think that "they" are betrying the troops -- are those least likely to look.

Swift boats have consequences

Fox's Joementum.

WASHINGTON -- Joe Lieberman was beaming. "Sam Fox represents what America is all about," he said, "and that's why he will be, when confirmed, an extraordinary ambassador."

The scene was last week's [early March] Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Connecticut's junior senator was making a highly unusual appearance to lobby for Fox's nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

Um, not so much.

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Wednesday withdrew the ambassadorial nomination of businessman Sam Fox after Democrats denounced Fox for giving money to a controversial conservative group that undermined Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.

Kerry, D-Mass., had criticized Fox because of a $50,000 contribution that Fox made in 2004 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Many Democrats blame the group for sinking Kerry's presidential hopes that year after it aired a series of controversial ads that impugned Kerry's military record in the Vietnam War.

"Sam Fox had every opportunity to disavow the politics of personal destruction and to embrace the truth," Kerry said Wednesday. "He chose not to. The White House made the right decision to withdraw the nomination. I hope this signals a new day in political discourse."

Umpire for a day

SI's Tom Verducci writes about it.

I trained long (O.K., two days with Tschida and Culbreth) and hard (kicking back watching games in the Florida sun) for this gig. Ominously, the most important advice given to me by the umpires was to avoid utter disaster. My Umpire 101 syllabus looked like this:

1. Don’t blow out the knee of Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada by watching the flight of a pop-up near the third base line.

The fielder, who is also looking up, is likely to plow into the umpire, whose proper course of action is to first look for and avoid the fielders. “You getting hurt is one thing,” Culbreth says. “The player getting hurt? Now there’s a problem.”

2. Beware of balls that explode.

That’s umpire terminology for what happens when you try to track a ball as it ­passes directly over your head, causing you to lose sight of it.

3. Don’t chase down a batted or thrown ball; that’s the players’ job.

Don’t laugh; it’s happened. Former major leaguer Ron LeFlore flunked umpire school in 1988 for his instinctive reaction to play the ball like the outfielder he once was rather than getting into proper position.

4. Don’t get spun around by line drives hit directly at you; you’ll fall on your butt or, worse, get pegged there.

Culbreth recalls the time that no sooner had he remarked that he had never seen Jeromy Burnitz hit a line drive than Burnitz nailed first base umpire Terry Craft in the posterior. “It went up one side of his [butt] and down the other,” Culbreth says.

5. Make sure your fly is zipped.

Basically, the job comes down to this: If I can quit worrying long enough about wiping out Tejada, about baseballs that either explode, tempt me to field them or put me on my can, and about keeping my pants on properly, then all I need to do is nail every single call. Great.

It's a great piece. A reminder that Major League Baseball has no comparisons.

Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys

Friendly confines.

President Bush, in a speech Wednesday morning to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, will talk about the war on terror and the need for the Iraq security plan to get fully under way.

He will not, I'm sure, talk about this.

Men whose mothers ate a lot of beef during their pregnancy have a sperm count about 25% below normal and three times the normal risk of fertility problems, researchers reported Tuesday.

The problem may be due to anabolic steroids used in the United States to fatten the cattle, Dr. Shanna H. Swan of the University of Rochester Medical Center reported in the journal Human Reproduction. It could also be due to pesticides and other environmental contaminants, she added.

If the sperm deficit is related to the hormones in beef, Swan's findings may be "just the tip of the iceberg," wrote biologist Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri-Columbia in an editorial accompanying the paper.

Gore and the immorality of unwanted babies: The logic is unassailable

Well, he uses latin in his masthead so he must be really, really smart, but...

First it was Al Gore and his pompously self-righteous promoting the purchase of medieval indulgences - oh, sorry, "carbon offsets" - to forgive environmental sins. That way, Gorezilla can indulge in his unusual attraction to high-tension power lines and consume vast amounts of electricity while still pretending he's an environmentalist. Now Germany has taken a step back to the good, old middle ages as well. They are doing it with something called a "Baby-Klappe". This is similar to the arrangement most libraries and banks have for dropping off books or deposits. A slot to drop things through. In Germany, this means mothers can drop unwanted babies into these "night depositories" and walk away from them.

Good lord.

Someone who uses "Gaius" as his posting name should not be calling others "pompous." That said, the ongoing obsession with Gore has now achieved new depths in wingnutophobia. But I get it: Gore's environmentalism and Germany's preference to have unwanted babies (usually of women in sex slave rings, authoritative patriarchal societies, and others who simply can't bring the child "home") delivered to a safe place rather than a dumpster are all signals that we are on the verge of a return to the Dark Ages. Brilliant.

Nevermind the fantastic bit of projection going on when a conservative accuses Al Gore of wanting a return to the Middle Ages.

Iranian miscalculations

It is unclear to me what they expect to accomplish by entering into a dangerous dispute with the British.

Meanwhile, last night a rumor about Iran caused a $5 spike in oil prices within minutes.

Even as the Bush administration freezes and shows an uncharacteristic inability to rattle sabers, war with Iran seems more imminent then ever.

Lieberman comes clean

The "I-Conn" admits he's been lying about the situation in Iraq lo these past two years.

"It is clear that for the first time in a long time, there is reason for cautious optimism about Iraq."
What will we tell the children?

Meanwhile, in Neverland.

BAGHDAD, March 27 -- Twin truck bombings killed dozens of people in the northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar, in the deadliest of several attacks across the country on Tuesday, officials said.

At least 63 people were killed in Tall Afar, news services reported. The first blast in the Shiite-dominated city ripped through a parking lot after a bomber lured people to his truck by shouting that he had wheat for sale, said the mayor, Brig. Najim Abdullah. The second bomb exploded in a busy shopping district, crumbling nearby buildings.

Insurgents tried to block ambulances carrying victims to hospitals but fled when police opened fire, news services reported.

In Baghdad, a rocket attack on the heavily fortified Green Zone killed an American soldier and a U.S. government contractor, military and U.S. Embassy officials said. The blast also wounded one American soldier and at least four civilians, they said. The names of the victims were not released. Separately, a Marine was killed during combat in Iraq's western Anbar province.

West of Baghdad, an insurgent leader whose tribe has criticized the rival Sunni group al-Qaeda in Iraq was killed in a car bombing, police said. Harith Thahir al-Dari, a commander of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, was entering his home in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, when two nearby car bombs exploded, killing him and three family members, police said.


BAGHDAD -- Shiite militants and police enraged by massive truck bombings in the northwestern town of Tal Afar went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents there Wednesday, killing as many as 60 people, officials said.

The gunmen began roaming Sunni neighborhoods in the city, shooting at residents and homes, according to police and a local Sunni politician.

Ali al-Talafari, a Sunni member of the local Turkomen Front Party, said the Iraqi army had arrested 18 policemen accused of being involved after they were identified by the Sunni families targeted. But he said the attackers included Shiite militiamen.

He said more than 60 Sunnis had been killed, but a senior hospital official in Tal Afar put the death toll at 45, with four wounded.

The hospital official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, said the victims were men between the ages of 15 and 60, and they were killed with a shot to the back of the head.

Police said earlier dozens of Sunnis were killed or wounded, but they had no precise figures, and communications problems made it difficult to reach them for an update. The shooting continued for more than two hours, the officials said.

Speaking of Neverland.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tony Snow

Cancer is non-partisan. Here's to a full recovery and best wishes to his family.

Gherig's ghost

Wow. Looks like the Yankees may have to consider un-retiring #4.

Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and Doug Mientkiewicz later drove in two with a double. Mientkiewicz has hit safely in his last three games after starting the spring 2 for 29.
Mntkwcz is on a tear.

Bolton vs. Stewart

In case you missed it. See it before Viacom pulls it off.

60 painful minutes

Haven't had a chance to post about the fairly ugly performance America's sweetheart turned in during her interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards. I mean, was it me, or was imprisoned Dennis Kozlowski treated more sensitively by Morley Safer later in the program?

Digby. Who links to Kevin Drum and Taylor Marsh for their takes. While John Amato has the definitive post on what was really going on during Couric's relentlessly judgmental repetitive stress syndrome of an interview.

And then there's Jane.

"It bears watching"

Ah, and so it begins.

This tendency to manipulate facts may bear watching in Obama. (After all, we hardly know him.) But while his book is a warning flag, it is also an astounding display of a supple, first-class mind -- not merely a bright fellow, but an insightful one, and the single best piece of writing by a politician since John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."

Shades of the early days of the Gore and Kerry campaigns. Glenn Greenwald has, as always, more.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Al Gore is, apparently, fat

It is amazing how, for the Right, the entire issue of climate change and industrialization's effect on it comes down to their hatred for Al Gore.

Have you seen this Rasmussen poll? Only 24 percent of Americans consider Al Gore an expert on global warming, 47 percent say he isnt.

Hmm. Is the famous Gore effect about to kick in? Youll recall that, as soon as Al decided that Howard Dean was an unstoppable force and announced he was endorsing him, Dean imploded, went berserk in Iowa, and that was that. Could it be that Gore is about to do toclimate change what he did to the Dean campaign? Another week or two of Als proselytizing and that polar bear on the ice floe will be like Mad How in the New Hampshire primary adrift and heading south and howling incoherently.
Of course, Al Gore is not an "expert on global warming," he's an extremely interested citizen who's done a lot of investigation into it. He's not, however, a climatologist. But never mind. That sure is a funny image, about the polar bear, though.

What Steyn doesn't mention is that if the public is deeply uncertain about global warming it is because Al Gore has been competing with industry bank-rolled campaigns to blur distinctions, aided by a press that must give voice to all opinions on the subject, regardless of the scientific consensus.

But Steyn is emblematic of the current conservative campaign to fight the proof of global warming with everything at their disposal.

How did it get this way? The easy answer is that Republicans are just tools of the energy industry. It's certainly true that many of them are. Leading global warming skeptic Representative Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), for instance, was the subject of a fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago. The bottom line is that his relationship to the energy industry is as puppet relates to hand.

But the financial relationship doesn't quite explain the entirety of GOP skepticism on global warming. For one thing, the energy industry has dramatically softened its opposition to global warming over the last year, even as Republicans have stiffened theirs.

The truth is more complicated--and more depressing: A small number of hard-core ideologues (some, but not all, industry shills) have led the thinking for the whole conservative movement.

Your typical conservative has little interest in the issue. Of course, neither does the average nonconservative. But we nonconservatives tend to defer to mainstream scientific wisdom. Conservatives defer to a tiny handful of renegade scientists who reject the overwhelming professional consensus.

National Review magazine, with its popular website, is a perfect example. It has a blog dedicated to casting doubt on global warming, or solutions to global warming, or anybody who advocates a solution. Its title is "Planet Gore." The psychology at work here is pretty clear: Your average conservative may not know anything about climate science, but conservatives do know they hate Al Gore. So, hold up Gore as a hate figure and conservatives will let that dictate their thinking on the issue.

Meanwhile, Republicans who do believe in global warming get shunted aside. Nicole Gaudiano of Gannett News Service recently reported that Representative Wayne Gilchrest asked to be on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio refused to allow it unless Gilchrest would say that humans have not contributed to global warming. The Maryland Republican refused and was denied a seat.

Representatives Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), both research scientists, also were denied seats on the committee. Normally, relevant expertise would be considered an advantage. In this case, it was a disqualification; if the GOP allowed Republican researchers who accept the scientific consensus to sit on a global warming panel, it would kill the party's strategy of making global warming seem to be the pet obsession of Democrats and Hollywood lefties.

Steyn's post is clear -- there's no point in engaging Gore on the issue; they have no interest in doing so. But trying to make Gore look ridiculous, now that comes as natural to them as breathing.

Now, I don't know who the "Mad How of New Hampshire" is, but I do know something about Howls...


So, let me get this straight. Our media elite in Washington don't want Democrats making resolutions calling for a timetable to leave Iraq. And they don't want nasty investigations into the firing of U.S. attorneys, whether the Attorney General lied about his role in it, and what, precisely was Karl Rove's role. Instead, they want Democrats to focus on "serious issues?"

Here are several of our media elites from our nation's most influential journalistic outlets -- including from Time, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, and NBC News -- all sitting around on the Chris Matthews Show giggling for three and a half minutes straight about the silly U.S. attorneys scandal. The whole thing is just a fun game for them, and it's absurd to them that anyone could take things like this seriously.

And what is most notable is that they express outrage at one part, and one part only, of this whole story -- namely, they are furious over the fact that the foolish, unfair Democrats would even dare to try to force Karl Rove to testify. Why, firing U.S. attorneys and lying to Congress and the country about it is all fair game, but that -- trying to get Rove to answer questions -- is really beyond the pale. Just watch how the people who have done so much damage to our country think and behave:

My God. These people are depraved. And pretty clueless. Do they really believe that voters turned out last Congress so that we could get more hearings on satellite radio?

There once was a time when journalists would be falling all over themselves to get at this story, which reaches to the freakin' Oval Office. A scandal in which the White House, hearkening back to the days of Richard Nixon, is accused of using the full weight and power of the law to affect political races. But to these arbiters of what's news, this is just so much blah, blah, blah, forced down America's threat by smelly bloggers.

The overriding goal of most of our national media elites is to preserve the prevailing Republican power system that rules Washington because of how beneficial that system is to them. As a result, they admire and want to protect those who rule that system, and thus reflexively view scandals which entail accusations of true corruption by our political leaders -- and especially unpleasant formal investigations and threats of criminal prosecution -- as frivolous and inherently false and unfair.

They will always lash out at those who prosecute the scandal but defend as unfair victims those who are accused of the wrongdoing. Look at how angry Time's Richard Stengel is about the Democrats' desire to make Rove testify: "I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove because it is so bad for them" (emphasis in original). What if Rove really engaged in serious wrongdoing? Stengel, like virtually all of his Beltway media colleagues, really couldn't care less.

I am so uninterested in what Richard Stengel has to say about what Democrats in Congress should, or should not do.

UPDATED to fix some balky syntax.

Grand Ol' Police blotter -- David Stockman edition

Well, as Reagan's budget director it could be argued that hes already perpetuated a far bigger fraud, but, this will have to do.

The indictment said the crimes occurred as Stockman served on the board of directors of Collins & Aikman from 2000 through May 2005. He was chairman of the board from August 2003 until May 2005. Stepp was vice chairman of the board of directors. Cosgrove and Barnaba also were employed by C&A.

According to court papers, Stockman responded to a financial crisis at the company in 2005 by directing it to delay paying its bills as long as possible.

Meanwhile, Stockman allowed the company's employees to mislead creditors about the company's revenues and the ability of Collins & Aikman to pay its bills, prosecutors said.

The government said Stockman personally decided which of the company's suppliers and creditors would get paid and personally managed all of C&A's liquidity during the crisis.

The indictment also accused Stockman of misleading investors, saying he wanted to hide his own and other senior management's involvement in a fraudulent scheme to skew the company's accounting to hide its troubles.

Southfield, Mich.-based Collins & Aikman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2005. Its products included interiors, carpets, acoustics, fabrics and convertible tops.

It's the hirings

And not the firings we should be focusing on, according to Dan Froomkin's White House Watch.

Eric Lipton writes in the New York Times: "The ousted United States attorney in western Michigan said Thursday that she was told last November that she was being forced out to make way for another lawyer the Bush administration wanted to groom, not because of management problems.

"The federal prosecutor, Margaret M. Chiara, 63, speaking publicly for the first time since leaving office last Friday, said in an interview that a senior Justice Department official had told her that her resignation was necessary to create a slot for 'an individual they wanted to advance.' The identity of the likely replacement was not disclosed, she said.

"'Only after Justice Department officials attributed her firing to poor performance as a manager -- even though her 2005 evaluation praised her management skills -- did she decide to speak out, Ms. Chiara said.'"

Revolving Door Watch

Jennifer Talhelm writes for the Associated Press: "Two of the major players in the ouster of federal prosecutors last year were themselves considered for U.S. attorney jobs, according to documents and interviews.

"Kyle Sampson, who helped orchestrate the firing of eight prosecutors as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, was the Bush administration's pick to fill Utah's vacant U.S. attorney post last spring.

"Pat Rogers, an Albuquerque, N.M., attorney who has represented the state Republican Party and party officials for several years, raised his concerns about his state's U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, with high-level Justice Department officials, among others.

"After Iglesias was fired late last year, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., recommended Rogers for the job, along with three others, in January. . . .

"Rogers said he didn't ask to be nominated for U.S. attorney, and he took himself out of the running after the Justice Department contacted him to set up an interview earlier this winter. . . .

"Sampson was the Bush administration's choice for Warner's replacement. But Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett backed former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer Brett Tolman.

"The contest resulted in a standoff of sorts. Bush ultimately picked Tolman last summer."

And who is Brett Tolman? None other than the staffer for Senator Arlen Specter who snuck that provision into the Patriot Act that allows Bush to appoint interim U.S. attorneys indefinitely -- thereby allowing him to circumvent the traditional process that calls for approval by home-state senators and requires Senate confirmation.

Shocking, no?

"Let us be true to our traditions"

Zbigniew Brzezinski on our culture of fear.

The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

To justify the "war on terror," the administration has lately crafted a false historical narrative that could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By claiming that its war is similar to earlier U.S. struggles against Nazism and then Stalinism (while ignoring the fact that both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were first-rate military powers, a status al-Qaeda neither has nor can achieve), the administration could be preparing the case for war with Iran. Such war would then plunge America into a protracted conflict spanning Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and perhaps also Pakistan.

Read, as they say, the whole thing. He asks, where is the political leader who will ask, "Enough is enough?"

Blue Monday, Otis Rush edition

Cat could give a Master's Class on cool.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The indestructable man

Chien Ming Wang is on the DL with a "grade one hamstring strain, out the month of April. Andy Petitte's back is spasming. And Mike Mussina, who likes to pitch every five days, is next scheduled to start this coming Thursday. That means Carl Pavano (who showed great bravery in the face of Yankee-hating swarms of bees the other day), is the logical starter for the game scheduled a week from Monday.

Otherwise known as Opening Day. At home. In Yankee Stadium.


Last of the Breed

I was going to write about how Madame Cura and I spent last Thursday evening, but I'm glad I didn't, because Ben Ratliff gets it right.

Song after song, with endless differences in the shadings and rhythms of his vocal phrasing, and with modest, clear-minded guitar solos, Mr. Haggard made copyright a dead issue. He used his restlessness to melt down his hits, to undo them and turn them back into process and possibility. He worked within the changing spaces of a flexible band; he sang the first verse of “Sing Me Back Home” by himself. He smuggled the line “Honey, don’t worry about what George Bush does” into the lyrics of “That’s the Way Love Goes”; he ordered solos in “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”; he engaged Mickey Raphael, the harmonica player from Mr. Nelson’s band, who played short solos and obbligatos as if he were another guitarist.

Mr. Nelson arrived, smiley but wearing a similar inscrutability, and together the two continued the weird work that Mr. Haggard had begun.

“Pancho and Lefty” was served in a businesslike way. But then came “Ramblin’ Fever,” with a slashing solo from Mr. Nelson’s heavily distressed guitar, and the demonstration of both singers’ lethal, discussion-ending baritone voices. Cleaning off the table before dessert, Freddie Powers, an excellent soft-tenor Texas singer who has worked with both Mr. Nelson and Mr. Haggard, sang “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

Mr. Price reappeared for a few songs from the record, including two from the great ark of Wills (“Roly Poly” and “Please Don’t Leave Me Any More Darlin’ ”) and a rising-to-the-occasion version of “Night Life,” in which he and the band slowly surged to a thundering final chorus. This was a more orderly part of the show: elegant, old school, moving.

Ray Price, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson -- in Radio City Music Hall of all places -- it doesn't get much better than that.

But maybe the best part was early in the show, when Ray Price led off the night with his band. At the end of the first song the house lights went up and Ray, who looked fragile and elegant, gazed out upon the worshipful audience standing amidst the gold plush kitch and grandeur of Radio City and said, "I think I've been in the wilderness too long."

One thing that I hadn't realized is just how good a guitar player Willie Nelson is. His solos were intense things, made all the more impressive because he mentioned a hiatus he had to take because of carpal tunnel.

Gagging democracy

"Fly paper" and other wingnut arguments aside, the invasion of Iraq was the ultimate victory that Osama bin Laden sought -- drawing the United States into an unwinnable and long-lasting war in the Middle East. The initial success of Rumsfeld's quick strke in Afghanistan made it appear that bin Laden had seriously miscalculated, but then George W. Bush and his neoconservative visionaries launched us into an occupation of a huge, unstable, and hostile Arab country, and bin Laden's dream has come true...probably beyond his wildest dreams.

But in the long run, al Qaeda's first and most significant victory -- the one that will have the most impact on our nation for many years to come -- came true long before we invaded either Afghanistan or Iraq. It was -- and is -- called The Patriot Act (via TPM).

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

And in a "Of course," blow to the head realization: The prosecutor purge and the insertion of a little-noticed of a new provision in The Patriot Act went hand-in-hand.

We'll eventually cut our losses in Iraq and leave. I suspect, in fact, that what outrages Bush and Rove most about the House emergency appropriations bill that insists on a date for a pull-out, is that the date is the same one they had planned on to declare victory and start pulling out -- that is, just about in time for it to make a difference in November 2008. And Afghanistan we gave up on years ago. Our reputation in the world has suffered, but it can be fixed. But The Patriot Act is here to stay.

The country asks: How should the Edwards live their lives?

Duncan is rightly outraged by the junky's pronouncement that the Edwards turned to politics instead of "God." Interestingly, though, I had a similar reaction to this morning's "analysis" of what Americans think of the Edwards decision to Go. On. With. Their. Lives.

Is Mr. Edwards now the presidential race’s real embodiment of hope in all its audacity, or a symbol of blind ambition? A new profile in courage or a standard-bearer for callous disregard?

Many Democrats, including local party leaders in states like Iowa and Ohio where early primaries and caucuses could help set the stage for the nomination, said their opinion of Mr. Edwards went up, but probably even more said that about Mrs. Edwards.

Some voters among dozens questioned around the nation said they thought Mr. Edwards’s candidacy would be weakened, either by the distractions of disease or the fear that he could be a distracted president with an ill — and perhaps dying — wife in the White House. Others predicted a surge as people rallied around their fight.


Julie Perry, who was visiting Denver on Friday from North Carolina, disagreed with the decision to carry on the campaign. She described it as “childish” and “an act of total denial.” But her husband, Charlie, said he thought it was courageous.

The couple are in post-retirement second careers, but have not lived in North Carolina long enough to have voted or not for Mr. Edwards, who served as senator from 1999 to 2005.

“The cancer is calling on them to do something different than what they’re doing,” said Ms. Perry, who described herself as an artist and an undecided Democrat. “For her to carry on and keep on in the face of it — I don’t find an act of courage at all.”

To be fair, I think most people are responding to the emotion of it, and the article does indicate that people's responses to it seemed to be affected by their own experience of living with terminal illness, or their loved one's experience. And even Ms. Perry probably does not have fecal matter in the brain cavity as Rush Limbaugh clearly does. But the tendency to put this into the context of the horse race that is the primaries is disturbing and that's ultimately where the article is going. Inevitable (to be honest, I thought about it following the Edwards' news conference, so I don't hold myself out as any paragon of virtue), but still disturbing. I'm sure a national poll on Edwards' chances in light of Elizabeth's health is in the offing.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The barbarism of baseball

It's always amazing to me that the United States is constantly accused of cultural hegemony and criticized equally for lacking interest in accepting British/South Asian cultural hegemony.

No, it’s not a case of ethnic discrimination. Call it willful ignorance. Americans have about as much use for cricket as Lapps have for beachwear. The fact that elsewhere in the civilized world grown men dress up like poor relations of Gatsby and venture hopefully into the drizzle clutching their bats invariably mystifies my American friends. And the notion that anyone would watch a game that, in its highest form, could take five days and still end in a draw provokes widespread disbelief among results-oriented Americans.

In a concession to the pace of life in our increasingly Americanized world, one-day international cricket matches were born in the 1970s, and the World Cup features one-day games (which take about seven hours, rather than 30 as in the five-day “test matches”). But that hasn’t made it any more popular here. A billion people might be on tenterhooks around the world for the results of each match, but most American newspapers don’t even adequately report the scores.

Ever since the development of baseball, the ubiquitous and simplified version of the sport, Americans have been lost to the more demanding challenges — and pleasures — of cricket. Because baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus — the basic moves may be similar, but the former is easier, quicker, more straightforward than the latter, and requires a much shorter attention span. And so baseball has captured the American imagination in a way that leaves no room for its adult cousin.

Yes, I'm embarrassed that baseball is so "simple."

KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 22 — The Jamaican police said Thursday that the coach of Pakistan’s cricket team, who was found dead in his hotel room on Sunday after his team lost a critical match in the sport’s World Cup here, had been strangled.

The final pathology report on the coach, Bob Woolmer, 58, blamed “asphyxia as a result of manual strangulation” for his death.

The announcement cast a pall over the games here, and speculation on the motive was rife. One former player with the Pakistani team suggested this week that Mr. Woolmer might have been killed for preparing to report corruption in the game.

The police interviewed and fingerprinted Pakistani players and team officials throughout the day but said they had no suspects and were not investigating anybody in particular.

Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields said there had been no signs of struggle inside the room, indicating that Mr. Woolmer might have known his attacker. He also said that because Mr. Woolmer was a big man, it might have taken more than one person to subdue him.

“It is our belief that those associated with or having access to Mr. Woolmer may have vital information that would assist this inquiry,” Police Commissioner Lucius Thomas said in a statement read by his spokesman, Karl Angell.

Mr. Woolmer, a British citizen who was born in India, was a former batsman for England. He later turned to coaching and was regarded as one of the best.

He was killed after his team lost two straight matches and was eliminated from the tournament, which is being held in the Caribbean for the first time.

World Cup officials said matches would continue in the coming weeks as an honor to Mr. Woolmer, despite the shock that everyone involved in the tournament was feeling. “It’s a challenge for the game, to be resolute and to be strong, to finish the tournament in good spirit,” said Malcolm W. Speed, executive director of the International Cricket Council.

Geez, LaRussa is (rightly so) being excoriated for falling asleep in his car the other night. That pales...

A clock is right twice a day...unless it's stopped

Shorter Fred Hiatt: "Although I was wrong four years ago, the lesson I have learned is that the elite mocking of and the rest of the unwashed majority of this country is always the right play. "

Rep. Obey corrects him.

A recall to ARMS

As we ponder the tragedy for so many that is the meltdown of the sub-prime lending market, let us ponder the words of the maestro from just a few years ago.

Calculations by market analysts of the "option-adjusted spread" on mortgages suggest that the cost of these benefits conferred by fixed-rate mortgages can range from 0.5 percent to 1.2 percent, raising homeowners' annual after-tax mortgage payments by several thousand dollars. Indeed, recent research within the Federal Reserve suggests that many homeowners might have saved tens of thousands of dollars had they held adjustable-rate mortgages rather than fixed-rate mortgages during the past decade, though this would not have been the case, of course, had interest rates trended sharply upward.

Well, seems like some of our poorest fellow citizens took Greenspan's sage advice, which would have been brilliant had he suggested it at the start of, say, the Clinton administration, but which in 2004, when it was clear to many that the housing bubble was about to burst and interest rates poised to rise. And now, because our financial watchdogs decided to go with Greenspan and ignore the potential for a shake down in "exotic" mortgage and refinancing offerings, we're faced with empty houses, blighted neighborhoods.

Here in Ohio, there are more than 200 vacant houses in Euclid, a suburb of Cleveland north of here. In the last two years more than 600 houses in Euclid have gone through foreclosure or started the process, many of them the homes of elderly people who refinanced with low two-year teaser rates, then saw their payments grow by 50 percent or more.

Euclid has installed alarm systems in some vacant houses to keep out people hoping to steal lights and other fixtures, drug users and squatters. The city has hired three new building inspectors, bringing the total to nine, to deal with troubled properties and is getting a $1 million loan from the county to cover the costs of rehabilitation, demolition and lawn care at the foreclosed houses. (When the properties are sold, such direct maintenance costs will be recovered through tax assessments.)

The Euclid mayor, Bill Cervenik, said the city, with a population of 53,000, was losing $750,000 a year in property taxes from the empty houses.

At greatest risk in Cleveland’s suburbs are the low- and moderate-income neighborhoods where subprime lending has soared. The practice involves lenders issuing mortgages at high interest rates for people with lower incomes or poor credit ratings, usually involving adjustable rates and sometimes no down payment and no investigation of the borrower’s circumstances.

“What makes the subprime mortgages so devastating from a community perspective is that they’re so concentrated geographically,” said Dan Immergluck, a professor of city planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Rosa Hutchinson Yates, 62, had kept up payments on her tidy two-story house on Chagrin Boulevard in Shaker Heights for 30 years. Now, she may well lose the house because of a disastrous refinancing deal in 2003 that brought her $24,000 in cash but bills she could not pay.

Ms. Yates, who has worked as a beautician and a cocktail waitress, was emotional and confused as she tried to explain what happened. Though she signed the closing documents, she said she did not realize that she was getting an adjustable rate mortgage that did not include taxes and insurance.

In 2006, broke and bewildered, she stopped making payments and the lender started foreclosure proceedings. A Shaker Heights city attorney said it appeared that illegally high fees might have been charged and that the broker had overstated Ms. Yates’s income, raising the possibility of a legal challenge.

Ms. Yates, preparing for the worst, has learned that she can move into a subsidized apartment for retirees. But the thought is devastating.

“When folks pay for a home, they expect to die in it,” she said, breaking into tears.

In a report for Shaker Heights, Mark Duda and William C. Apgar of Harvard University found that expensive refinancing deals had been aggressively “push-marketed” in the city’s less affluent west and south sides, bordering Cleveland. They said that “the rising number of foreclosures threatens to undermine the stability” of those areas.

“The moral outrage,” Ms. Rawson, the mayor, said, “is that subprime lenders have targeted our seniors and African-Americans, people who saved all their lives to get a step up.”

Curiously, we haven't heard much from President "Ownership Society" Bush on this issue.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The pool boy

Well, we could all see this coming from a mile away. Surprised it took so long.

Elizabeth Edwards

We really wish the lovely Elizabeth Edwards all the best, but it sounds like more tough luck for the Edwards family.

If ever there were a couple who would make the perfect president and vice-president ticket it would be John and Elizabeth Edwards. In fact, collectively, they would probably be the smartest ticket the country's seen since the 18th century. More to the point though, if Edwards is pulling out of the campaign, we will lose an important voice in the primary, one who reminds us of why we call ourselves "democrats" in the first place.

It's a shame. A crying shame.

UPDATE: Just heard the press conference. Relatively encouraging (relative -- it's treatable, but she'll never be cancer-free, according John), and the Edwards campaign continues. Our thoughts are with her and her family.

It's hard work

There's no 18-day "gap." It's an 18-day holiday.

From Nov. 16 to Dec. 7, there are only a handful of e-mail messages, a fact that Talking Points Memo, a Web site that has been following the furor with microscopic attention, pointed out Wednesday morning.

“Shades of Rose Mary Woods? An 18-day gap?” said a posting by the blog’s owner, Joshua Micah Marshall, referring to President Richard M. Nixon’s secretary, who found herself on the spot after the discovery that 18 1/2 minutes of crucial White House tapes had been erased.

Asked Wednesday about the apparent gap in the documents, Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, referred the question to the Justice Department.

Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said, “The department has provided or made available to Congress all the documents responsive to Congress’s requests over the time period in question.” He added, “To the extent there was a lull in communications concerning the U.S. attorney issues, it reflects the fact that we have found no responsive documents from that time period, which included the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Congratulations to Josh, by the way.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Unknown soldier

Still timely. Unfortunately.

FNB Politics

Rick Perlstein shows us how -- and how effectively -- conservatives smear Democrats.

Along similar lines, Rush Limbaugh calls the insufficiently martial Iraq Study Group "James Baker's Fruit Salad." To those with good memories who pay very close attention, this is a reference to the former secretary of state's preference that the report be considered in its entirety rather than picked over like a fruit salad. But, to right-wingers who've forgotten that (the lion's share, no doubt), the nickname made just as much sense. The report recommended diplomacy. Isn't that kind of ... fruity? And, in a nod to Ailes, Limbaugh has taken to calling Fox News's chief competitor "PMSNBC."

The only Democratic leaders who aren't feminized, of course, are the women. With them, it's just the opposite. Limbaugh has a phrase he uses to explain why, supposedly, Hillary Clinton is never questioned aggressively: She produces a "testicle lockbox" into which male reporters must deposit their manhood. Nancy Pelosi, in Rush-speak, is "Bella Pelosi," a nice two-for-the-price-of-one slur: For Dittoheads nostalgic for the 1970s, it suggests the mannishness of the loudmouthed New York liberal congresswoman Bella Abzug; for the rest, the homophonology is to Bella Lugosi--the Democratic leader is Dracula.

It's effectiveness lies in its seeming unseriousness. If the smears are responded to, the victims often look like they can't take a joke, "We were only joking. Ha. Ha. Another example of humorless liberals." It's why Ann Coulter won't go away and why the Edwards "faggot" flap will only encourage her to continue on with her stand up schtick. The GOP candidates may feign a fainting spell when they hear her, but they know she's good. Real good. And they need her, because these previously pro-choice, multiple marriage conservatives don't have anything else to offer the meat eaters of their party.

Nine out of 10 dentists approve

Long overdue, I've updated the "grist for the mill" and the baseball blogroll; added a few, killed off the defunct ones, etc. Still missing a few of my favorites, but I'll get to those one of these days as well.

Fafblog, though long dormant, remains as lesson to us all.

Rose Mary Woods?

An 18 minute gap? Nah, 18 days.

Cheney's a mole

Nicolas Kristoff comes to that conclusion.

Nicholas D. Kristof writes in his New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "Is Dick Cheney an Iranian mole?"

"Consider that the Bush administration's first major military intervention was to overthrow Afghanistan's Taliban regime, Iran's bitter foe to the east. Then the administration toppled Iran's even worse enemy to the west, the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq."

Kristof is joking, of course. "Mr. Cheney isn't an Iranian mole. Nor is he a North Korean mole, though his we-don't-negotiate-with-evil policy toward North Korea has resulted in that country's quadrupling its nuclear arsenal. It's also unlikely that he is an Al Qaeda mole, even though Al Qaeda now has an important new base of support in Iraq.

"Like Kennedy and Johnson wading into Vietnam, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney harmed American interests not out of malice but out of ineptitude. I concede that they honestly wanted the best for America, but we still ended up getting the worst."

I'm not sure I agree with that last paragraph, at least not as he posits the conclusion that "they wanted the best for America." I think their motives are far more complicated than that, involving a desire for a political reordering in which Republicans become a permanent majority, a renewal of executive branch dominance, messianic visions, Oedipal urges, and a belief in "unfettering" corporate interests, particularly in the oil and military industrial complexes. But I'm glad that Kristoff is coming around to something I pointed out more than a year ago.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's always about teh sex with these people

Bejeebus. Via Digby.

On March 15, Rove heatedly declared before a group of journalism students at Alabama's Troy University that Charlton was fired because of his refusal to seek the death penalty. Rove's claim ostensibly referred to a case review of an August 2006 prosecution by Charlton of a man whose alleged victim's body could not be found, whose murder weapon was never produced, and who was convicted solely on the basis of evidence gleaned from drug addicts and dealers. Charlton protested pursuing the death penalty against the defendant, but was overruled by Justice Department officials.

Yet Rove's complaint against Charlton was not supported anywhere in the e-mails released by the White House to Congress. In fact, only two of those e-mails mention Charlton in a negative light. One of them, written by a Justice Department aide, noted that then Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert's criticism of Charlton's policy on prosecuting marijuana cases. The aide went on to defend Charlton, asserting that limited resources hampered border state prosecutors like him.

The other e-mail contained a weirder charge: that Charlton refused to prosecute obscenity cases. Written by Ward to Sampson on September 20, 2006, the e-mail leveled the same allegation against Dan Bogden, the US Attorney for Nevada, who was also dismissed in the prosecutor purge, despite positive performance reviews. "We have two US Attorneys who are unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them. They are Paul Charlton in Phoenix (this is urgent) and Dan Bogden in Las Vegas," wrote Ward. "In light of the AG's [Attorney General's] 'kick butt and take names,' what do you suggest I do?"

But the Justice Department did not explain which "good cases" Charlton had refused to prosecute, why he'd refused to prosecute them, or whether he'd even refused the cases.

"The date of the e-mail is subsequent to the date when they asked for [Charlton's] resignation, so it's gratuitous," a former Justice Department source intimately familiar with Charlton's disputed obscenity case told me. "It looks like the White House put this out just to dirty the waters."

According to the source, Ward's accusation against Charlton stems from a case he filed in June 2006. That month, Ward ordered Charlton to prosecute Five Star Video, an adult video store that registered on Ward's radar when it mailed copies of the DVD's Gag Factor 18, Filthy Things 6, Gag Factor 15, and American Bukkake 13 to customers across state lines. Charlton agreed to take the case, but as the source told me, Ward implored him to attach an additional US Attorney to it. Concerned about wasting the already limited resources at his disposal on a case of dubious value, Charlton hesitated. Despite his misgivings, he assigned the additional prosecutor--a key fact missing from the White House e-mails.

Ward's endless stream of mandates, the source revealed, were a source of frustration to many US Attorneys. "There were countless child obscenity cases crying out to be prosecuted," the source told me, "but [Brent] Ward wanted to focus on cases involving consenting adults. That's just not a good way of dedicating resources. When you have so many children being harmed, why not allocate your resources towards that?"

Ward's heedless prosecutions of legally available pornography reflected more than his ideology; they also defined his power within the Justice Department. Once Bush began his second term in the White House, Gonzales declared the prosecution of pornography portraying sex acts between consenting adults "one of the top priorities" of his department. He signed off on an FBI headquarters memo that recruited agents for an anti-porn task force. That memo stated that prosecutions would focus particularly on material depicting "bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior." These acts, according to the memo, were most likely to offend local juries.

I'll skip the usual thoughtful, nuanced, legal discussion normally found on this "web" "log" and get right to it: Fucked. Up.

Haven't seen American Bukkake 13, but if it's anything like AB 12... Wonder if Netflix has it.

But I mostly wonder how the recruiting for that task force is...

wait for it...



Anyway read the whole thing. Bush is right in one thing: chronicling the sheer scale of stupidity, mendacity, politicization of the law, incompetence, cronyism, and just basic insanity of this crew of "Mayberry Machiavellis" is a task historians won't be able to complete before we're all stone cold dead.

It IS the vernal equinox

Bérubé's back. This is the best news since the Yankees traded Jose Contreras for Estéban Loaiza.

Oh, wait.

Joe Hill's will

And other amazing documents turn up in the archives of the U.S. Communist Party. The entire cache is about to be donated to New York University.

Robert Minor, a cartoonist and radical who covered the Russian civil war, has a clear-eyed and lyrical account of an interview with Vladimir Lenin in Moscow, dated December 1918. Lenin was fascinated by America, calling it a “great country in some respects,” and shot question after question at Minor: “ ‘How soon will the revolution come in America?’ He did not ask me if it would come, but when it would come.” Minor, who had not yet joined the party, found Lenin a bewitching figure. “When he thunders his dogma, one sees the fighting Lenin. He is iron. He is political Calvin,” Minor says in his typewritten notes. “And yet, Calvin has his other side. During all the discussion he had been hitching his chair toward me,” he writes. “I felt myself queerly submerged by his personality. He filled the room.”

As he leaves the Kremlin, Minor notices two men drive up in limousines. “A few months ago they were ‘bloodthirsty minions of predatory capital,’ ” he writes, “But now they are ‘people’s commissaries’ and ride in the fine automobiles as before, live in the fine mansions.” They rule “under red silk flags to protect them from all disorders. They have learned the rose smells as sweetly under another name.”

That description is “very important,” said John P. Diggins, a historian at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. He said he expected a lot of new dissertations and books to result from the new archives. Historians have spent too much time arguing about the party’s subservience to Moscow, he said, neglecting Communists’ work in organizing labor and fighting racism, and their philosophical take on Marxism.

Every box offers up a different morsel of history. One contains a 1940 newsletter from students at City College in New York criticizing Britain for betraying the Jews in Palestine; another has a 1964 flyer from the Metropolitan Council on Housing urging rent strikes “to oppose the decontrol of over-$250 apartments.” There are the handwritten lyrics to Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!”; a letter from W. E. B Du Bois in 1939 denying he took money from Japan for propagandizing on its behalf; and detailed complaints of police brutality against African-Americans.

Bong hits 4 Jesus

Dahlia Lithwick on what Ken Starr seems to think is the defining issue of our day (after terrorism, of course...and Bill Clinton's cigars).

Starr insists that "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" promotes drugs. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asks whether a sign that said "Bong Stinks for Jesus" would be more permissible. Souter asks whether a simple sign reading "Change the Marijuana Laws" would also be "disruptive." Starr says that interpreting the meaning of the sign must be left to the "frontline message interpreter," in this case, the principal. Then Starr says schools are charged with inculcating "habits and manners of civility" and "values of citizenship." Yes, sir. In the first six minutes of oral argument Starr has posited, without irony, a world in which students may not peaceably advocate for changes in the law, because they must be inculcated with the values of good citizenship.

Chief Justice John Roberts wonders why students should be allowed to set the classroom agenda when teachers are trying to teach Shakespeare and Pythagoras. Starr says that in the Vietnam protest case, the school tried to "cast a pall of orthodoxy" by banning student protest. Whereas, he suggests—again without a whiff of irony—that students should be able to offer no dissenting opinions here because drugs, alcohol, and tobacco are bad.

Breyer (who seems to be having one of those "my hand looks sooooo big" trips) thinks maybe a better rule is one that bans any and all 15-foot banners on field trips.

I love Dahlia Lithwick. She concludes.

It's hard to imagine that the students of America will be better served by giving their educators the ultimate gateway drug: the apparently limitless power to define their "educational mission" in any way they please in order to suppress any and all student speech that doesn't conform. That kind of power strikes me as more addictive, and even more dangerous, than any drug.
It's amazing the fear that marijuana still strikes in certain people. Now, I realize Ken Starr may be the prissiest person in America, but the fact that his over-the-top descriptions of what a meaningless phrase such as "bong hits 4 Jesus" might do to the moral fabric of our nation are not met with blank stares and giggling, means that attitudes haven't changed much since "Reefer Madness" first appeared in theaters.

Richard Cohen tells it like it ain't

This is a remarkable series of paragraphs from the dainty scribe, Richard Cohen:

Back when I was in the National Guard and fearing a call-up for the war in Vietnam, I went to England on vacation. So it may be only natural, I suppose, that the thing I most starkly recall from that trip was England's majestic cathedrals -- not for the Gothic wonder of them all, but for the tombs of fallen soldiers. They died -- always valiantly -- often in conflicts of little account and no memory. The word "wasted" came to mind.

That word has made something of a comeback. It was used by both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama -- and the context was the present war in Iraq. McCain used the "W" word when he announced on the David Letterman show that he would run for president. "Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be," he said. "We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives." Precisely so.

The Democratic National Committee, ever poised for the cheap shot, accused McCain of "insulting our brave troops" and demanded an apology. Others joined in, and McCain obliged, saying he should have used the word "sacrificed." Among the sacrifices being made, of course, is McCain's integrity.

Earlier, Obama had also been caught uttering the truth. Soon after he announced for the presidency, the senator concluded a criticism of the war with the "W" word -- "over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted." Obama quickly apologized, confessing to a "slip of the tongue." He then reformulated his statement using the word "sacrifices." For some reason, the Democratic National Committee held its tongue.

Right. As usual, when Obama made his "slip of the tongue," the RNC, ever the paragon of reasoned political discourse, "held it's tongue."

Obama Dismissed The Sacrifice Of America's Military, Saying The Lives Of Those Who Had Died In Iraq Had Been "Wasted." Obama: "We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged -- and to which we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted." (Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz, "Obama Questions Rivals On Iraq," The Washington Post, 2/12/07)

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And this in an opinion piece in which Cohen agrees with the use of the word by both senators. Nevertheless, it is the DNC that is "ever poised for a cheap shot" against poor, defenseless John McCain, while the RNC's response to Obama's remarks go unmentioned.

Richard Cohen, thy name is "Wanker."

Anyhoo, read Glenn Greenwald on why this stuff, which shouldn't be so hard, is important.

Yesterday, all our troubles seemed so far away

"It's kind of the icing on the cake"

In a document that apparently wasn't part of the bazillion emails dumped on the Senate Judiciary committee yesterday, was a March '05 email indicating that Pat Fitzgerald just wasn't cutting it...just as he was leading the investigation into Irving Lewis Libby's and Karl Rove's role in the outing of a covert CIA agent. I wonder why the DoJ didn't want us to know that?

The March 2005 chart ranking Fitzgerald and other prosecutors was drawn up by Gonzales aide D. Kyle Sampson and sent to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. The reference to Fitzgerald is in a portion of the memo that Justice has refused to turn over to Congress, officials told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Fitzgerald's ranking has not been made public.

At the time, Fitzgerald was leading the independent probe into the leak of the identity of a CIA operative, which led this month to the perjury conviction of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, had also recently brought a corruption indictment in Illinois against former Republican governor George H. Ryan.

A Justice Department official yesterday sought to play down the importance of Fitzgerald's ranking, saying the chart was "put together by Sampson and is not an official department position on these U.S. attorneys."

Sampson resigned as Gonzales's chief of staff last week, and his attorney declined to comment yesterday.

Mary Jo White, who supervised Fitzgerald when she served as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan and who has criticized the firings, said ranking him as a middling prosecutor "lacks total credibility across the board."

"He is probably the best prosecutor in the nation -- certainly one of them," said White, who worked in the Clinton and Bush administrations. "It casts total doubt on the whole process. It's kind of the icing on the cake."

Fitzgerald has been widely recognized for his pursuit of criminal cases against al-Qaeda's terrorist network before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and he drew up the official U.S. indictment against Osama bin Laden. He was named as special counsel in the CIA leak case in December 2003 by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who had recused himself.

Fitzgerald also won the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in 2002 under Ashcroft.

Justice spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said yesterday that "Pat Fitzgerald has a distinguished record as one of the most experienced and well-respected prosecutors at the Justice Department. His track record speaks for itself."

But Fitzgerald also came under sharp criticism from many Republicans and press advocates for his aggressive pursuit of the Libby case.

The March 2, 2005, memo from Sampson came in response to a proposal floated by Miers to remove all U.S. attorneys during Bush's second term. Fitzgerald was placed in a middle category among his peers: "No recommendation; have not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively."

Although the ranking meant Sampson was not recommending those prosecutors for removal at the time, two U.S. attorneys who received the same ranking were fired last Dec. 7: Daniel G. Bogden of Nevada and Paul K. Charlton of Arizona.

Poor Kyle Sampson. He's set up to take the fall only a week after his pretend resignation. They were going to reassign him until this whole thing blew over. A lesson to political operatives: the rise can be nosebleedingly giddy; the fall is a bitch. And a lesson to the Bush/Cheney White House: things don't blow over the way they used to.

Monday, March 19, 2007

If you lie with the DEA, you're sure as hell gonna get fleas

And probably jail time.

Proving once again that the Drug Enforcement Agency will stop at nothing to do...what...I'm not sure.

Many people accused of crimes come up with unusual defenses and alibis, but one sad-faced man now imprisoned at Rikers Island has offered a novel one. He says he was working as an undercover operative and committed a home-invasion robbery in 2004 with the full knowledge and approval of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency.

The suspect, Juan Medina, currently on trial in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, was arrested after first waiting for the police to arrive. They found a .38-caliber revolver, two .38-caliber bullets and three stolen cellphones in his jacket pocket.

The D.E.A. has acknowledged that Mr. Medina, 24, was under contract as an informant. But the agency has not come to his aid, and is, in fact, helping prosecute him on charges of burglary, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon stemming from the robbery at a Bronx apartment. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Last week, Joseph Mercurio, a D.E.A. special agent, testified that neither he nor anyone else at the agency knew that Mr. Medina and the drug gang he was trying to infiltrate had been preparing to commit a crime.

Mr. Medina has said that he had spoken to either Mr. Mercurio — whom he knew only as “Joe,” or to Mr. Mercurio’s partner, Detective Therone Eugene, a k a “T.J.” — a few hours before the bungled crime, telling them that the gang was casing an apartment.

“I always told them what I was going to do,” Mr. Medina said during an interview at Rikers Island before his trial started. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Mr. Medina, who had no previous criminal record, said he became involved with the D.E.A. in the fall of 2004, a few months after his father was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on drug conspiracy charges. He said he was told that if he helped the agency, his father might win an early release. (He asked that his father not be identified.)

“One of the agents who arrested my father said, ‘If you know one of his friends who he used to be with, you could help us,’ ” he said. “They said, ‘You could get paid and you could also get your father less time.’ ”

Mr. Medina said he signed a contract even though he told agents he knew little about his father’s criminal associates. Mr. Medina said one of the agents told him, “Don’t worry, we’re going to take care of your father.”Mr. Medina said he interpreted that to mean that his father would get a reduced prison sentence.

During questioning at the trial, Mr. Mercurio corroborated Mr. Medina’s account of how he had come to work with the agency, but he was not asked about any promises made concerning Mr. Medina’s father. Mr. Mercurio did not respond to requests for an interview.

Mr. Medina’s attorney, Marty Goldberg, said the relationship was tainted from the beginning. “They took advantage of this guy who doesn’t have a lot of sophistication or education, who got involved with them to try to help his father,” he said. “Essentially, they’re sending this guy out as an undercover, except he’s not trained.”

Mr. Mercurio said Mr. Medina signed a Confidential Source Agreement dated Sept. 29, 2004, that detailed 23 provisions regarding the terms of Mr. Medina’s employment, including permission for “the controlled purchase of controlled substances in an undercover capacity under the direction and control of D.E.A. controlling investigators” and “the infiltration of a drug-trafficking organization.”

Apart from that, the agreement prohibited Mr. Medina from taking part in illegal activity.

Well, of course, the distinction is so brightly drawn. Go ahead and purchase controlled substances, but don't ever, ever break the law. The DEA agents lied to this guy, misrepresenting that he could help get his father out of jail, and when he no longer proved useful to them, they dropped him like the president drops his "Gs." I suppose he was supposed to say to the drug gang he'd infiltrated on DEA's behalf, "Sorry guys, I'm all in on the 'controlled purchase of controlled substances' thing, but I gotta draw the line on breaking into some dealer's crib. So if you'll excuse me, I have to make a phone call." I'm sure that would have gone over well. There's a reason why he didn't want his father identified in the story.

The more I read about this, the angrier I get (and I'm already pretty angry). This guy lives with his kid and his mom, has no previous convictions, was put into as dangerous a situation as you can get into, and because he couldn't think quite straight in a stressful situation for which he was not trained, they want to put him in jail for 25 years. And the DEA is helping with the conviction. Mother fuckers.

All hail our other wasteful, deadly war built on lies, government overreach, and the rewards -- for both sides -- in making it never ending. Tough luck for the victims who get in the middle.

"Lazy Ramadi"

Living with war

Roger and out.

Trippin' down that ol'hippie highway
Got to thinkin' abvout you again
Wonderin' how it really was for you
And how it happened in the end
But I guess I'll never know the truth
If you were really all alone

We were just a couple of kids then
Livin' each and every day
When we both went down to register
We were laughing all the way
That's when we named it the hippie highway
I still call it that today

Roger and out good buddy
I still call it that today
Two Cameros racing down the road
Feels just like yesterday
Roger and out good buddy
I feel you in the air today
I know you gave for your country
I feel you in the air today

Roger and out good buddy

Feels just like yesterday.

Let's impeach the president.

How do you pay for war
And leave us dyin'?
When you could do so much more
You're not even tryin'

Blue Monday, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells edition

Montreux, 1974

Two things I do not know:
1. Why is the picture quality from videos made in the 70s so poor in comparison with those from the 60s and even the 50s?
2. Why didn't Buddy Guy become one of the most famous guitar players of all time? 'Cause he should be.

"Mistakes were made"

My Monday morning prediction is that this is going to be a very bad week for the Bush administration, what with Rice urging "patience" and new revelations in the fired prosecutor's scandal emerging with every news cycle.

The U.S. attorney in San Diego notified the Justice Department of search warrants in a Republican bribery scandal last May 10, one day before the attorney general's chief of staff warned the White House of a "real problem" with her, a Democratic senator said yesterday.

The prosecutor, Carol S. Lam, was dismissed seven months later as part of an effort by the Justice Department and the White House to fire eight U.S. attorneys.

A Justice spokesman said there was no connection between Lam's firing and her public corruption investigations, and pointed to criticisms of Lam for her record on prosecuting immigration cases.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a television appearance yesterday that Lam "sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants" in a criminal investigation of defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who had just quit as the CIA's top administrator amid questions about his ties to disgraced former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

The next day, May 11, D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, sent an e-mail message to William Kelley in the White House counsel's office saying that Lam should be removed as quickly as possible, according to documents turned over to Congress last week.

"Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following," Sampson wrote, referring to "[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."

The FBI raided Foggo's home and former CIA office on May 12. He was indicted along with Wilkes on fraud and money-laundering charges on Feb. 13 -- two days before Lam left as U.S. attorney.

The revelation that Lam took a major step in the Foggo probe one day before Sampson's e-mail message was sent to the White House raises further questions about the decision to fire her, Feinstein suggested.

...A Justice spokesman yesterday referred questions about the meaning of the "real problem" e-mail to Sampson's attorney, Bradford Berenson, who declined to comment.

"We have stated numerous times that no U.S. attorney was removed to retaliate against or inappropriately interfere with any public corruption investigation or prosecution," Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement. "This remains the case, and there is no evidence that indicates otherwise."

In recent weeks, Justice officials have repeatedly criticized Lam's record on immigration enforcement, although they had defended her record in a letter to Feinstein last year. Sampson had targeted Lam for firing since the process began in early 2005, documents show.

Condi, Albert, who knows who else in the administration will invoke the tense that Kyrie O'Connor of The Houston Chronicle called, "the past exonerative?"

But I digress. As Dan Froomkin wrote last week, keep your eye on Rove, but also, when will Senators ask a related and equally intriguing question: what about the 85 prosecutors who weren't fired? Are they carrying proper water for the Bush administration?

UPDATE: Today's must read.

One of the more remarkable aspects of this story, indeed, is the fact that the Justice Department chose a small group of the most distinguished U.S. attorneys in the country and then tried to portray them as incompetent. As you can see, it's been a losing effort. And in every case where the cover story has been blown, it's revealed political motivations for the firing.
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