Monday, April 30, 2007

Ideological ratings

This is pretty interesting in that it shows Edwards the least "liberal" of the Dem candidates, despite his, um, actual positions on various issues. But I find it pretty amazing that the so-called "compassionate conservative" in the White House is considered significantly more ideologically conservative than Sam Brownback. Heckuva job, 43.

Fired for effectiveness

Behind "the surge" is the fallacy that the Maliki government is a legitimate, non-sectarian one.

BAGHDAD, April 29 -- A department of the Iraqi prime minister's office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias, according to U.S. military officials in Baghdad.

Since March 1, at least 16 army and national police commanders have been fired, detained or pressured to resign; at least nine of them are Sunnis, according to U.S. military documents shown to The Washington Post.

Although some of the officers appear to have been fired for legitimate reasons, such as poor performance or corruption, several were considered to be among the better Iraqi officers in the field. The dismissals have angered U.S. and Iraqi leaders who say the Shiite-led government is sabotaging the military to achieve sectarian goals.

"Their only crimes or offenses were they were successful" against the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia, said Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commanding general of the Iraq Assistance Group, which works with Iraqi security forces. "I'm tired of seeing good Iraqi officers having to look over their shoulders when they're trying to do the right thing."

The issue strikes at a central question about the fledgling government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: whether it can put sectarian differences aside to deliver justice fairly. During earlier security crackdowns in Baghdad, Maliki was criticized for failing to target Shiite militias, in particular the Mahdi Army, which is led by hard-line Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of Maliki's political supporters. Before the most recent Baghdad security plan was launched in February, Maliki repeatedly declared he would target militants regardless of their sect.

So, of course, when Condoleezza Rice says that Iraq War funding can't be based on "benchmarks," let alone on a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, you can understand her concern. Achieving "benchmarks" are unattainable in Iraq and "delay of game" is a penalty the Bush administration is desperate to avoid.

But I was struck by something else in this story about the Iraqi government purging commanders deemed too effective at combating the prime minister's allies. It sounds remarkably familiar.

The madness of our drug laws

Our government should be supplying medical marijuana, not spending resources to criminalize its users. More old women on the front line of the War on [Some] Drugs.

Blue Monday, Muddy Waters edition

Great band. Great performance. Dedicated, this morning, to Joe Torre.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The career of Ashleigh Banfield

I seem to recall the meteoric rise and fall of Ashleigh Banfield, but never thought to much of it. Digby reminds us of what telling the truth did for her career.

As a journalist I'm often ostracized just for saying these messages, just for going on television and saying, "Here's what the leaders of Hezbullah are telling me and here's what the Lebanese are telling me and here's what the Syrians have said about Hezbullah. Here's what they have to say about the Golan Heights." Like it or lump it, don't shoot the messenger, but invariably the messenger gets shot.

We hired somebody on MSNBC recently named Michael Savage. Some of you may know his name already from his radio program. He was so taken aback by my dare to speak with Al -Aqsa Martyrs Brigade about why they do what they do, why they're prepared to sacrifice themselves for what they call a freedom fight and we call terrorism. He was so taken aback that he chose to label me as a slut on the air. And that's not all, as a porn star. And that's not all, as an accomplice to the murder of Jewish children. So these are the ramifications for simply being the messenger in the Arab world.

How can you discuss, how can you solve anything when attacks from a mere radio flak is what America hears on a regular basis, let alone at the government level? I mean, if this kind of attitude is prevailing, forget discussion, forget diplomacy, diplomacy is becoming a bad word.

There's a lot more. I don't think I recall a real-life speech in which you can tell the giver of the speech knows it is going to derail a promising career.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"In Patterson, that's just the way things are"

Written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy.

And, because I like you:

Written by Eric von Schmidt.

A serious man

Not to be confused with another famously serious man, is Andy Pettitte all excited about this weekend's latest DO OR DIE series with the dubiously Red Socks? Um, not so much.

Andy Pettitte has been involved in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry for most of his 13-year pro career. So after returning to the Bronx this season following his three-year hiatus in Houston, and with the Yankees coming off a three-game sweep by Boston last weekend at Fenway Park, one would think Pettitte is simply champing at the bit for another shot at the Sox beginning tonight at the Stadium.

Or is he?

"I could care less," said Pettitte, who will pitch tonight's opener. "I'm serious, man. I feel bad talking about it because I know you all want a great story. But I don't care. When I go out and pitch, I keep my head down and I don't care who's in the batter's box. I don't care who I'm facing, I don't care who's at the plate. I'm just trying to make a quality pitch."

Pettitte (1-0, 1.78 ERA) who settled for a no-decision last Friday night at Fenway after Mariano Rivera's collapsed in the eighth, isn't concerned about last week's sweep. Nor is he worried about the Yankees' slow start. Instead he's more concerned about why the Bombers are struggling.

"The bottom line is, we don't need to do anything except pitch better," Pettitte said. "Nothing else needs to be done. We're not pitching as a staff. That's all there is to it. The reason we're struggling is because we're not pitching."

Yankee starters (not including Pettitte) have had trouble getting past the fifth inning this season. Overall, they've been pounded for 123 hits in 98-1/3 innings while yielding 16 homers, including four straight dingers by the Red Sox off Chase Wright Sunday night.

Pettitte thinks some of the younger Yankees hurlers are feeling the heat for the rotation's struggles. "There's no doubt guys have been trying too hard," Pettitte said. "Trying to do a little too much instead of relaxing and going out there and getting outs. But it's a long season. We're going to pitch better and we're going to win a lot of games."


"I don't really get too worked up anymore," Pettitte said. "I did a long time ago, but I don't get too worked up anymore. I'm not going to lie to you."
Regarding that reddish stain on the sock, in typically restrained fashion, the Drama Queen responds.

The lonesome death of Kathryn Johnston

The war on drugs and old women continues.

Gregg Junnier and another narcotics officer went inside the apartments around 2 p.m. while Jason Smith checked the woods. Smith found dozens of bags of marijuana — in baggies that were clear, blue or various other colors and packaged to sell. With no one connected to the pot, Smith stashed the bags in the trunk of the patrol car. A use was found for Smith's stash 90 minutes later: A phone tip led the three officers to a man in a "gold-colored jacket" who might be dealing. The man, identified as X in the documents but known as Fabian Sheats, spotted the cops and put something in his mouth. They found no drugs on Sheats, but came up with a use for the pot they found earlier.

They wanted information or they would arrest Sheats for dealing.

While Junnier called for a drug-sniffing dog, Smith planted some bags under a rock, which the K-9 unit found.

But if Sheats gave them something, he could walk.

Sheats pointed out 933 Neal St., the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston. That, he claimed, is where he spotted a kilogram of cocaine when he was there to buy crack from a man named "Sam."

They needed someone to go inside, but Sheats would not do for their purposes because he was not a certified confidential informant.

So about 5:05 p.m. they reached out by telephone to Alex White to make an undercover buy for them. They had experience with White and he had proved to be a reliable snitch.

But White had no transportation and could not help.

Still, Smith, Junnier and the other officer, Arthur Tesler, according to the state's case, ran with the information. They fabricated all the right answers to persuade a magistrate to give them a no-knock search warrant.

By 6 p.m., they had the legal document they needed to break into Kathryn Johnston's house, and within 40 minutes they were prying off the burglar bars and using a ram to burst through the elderly woman's front door. It took about two minutes to get inside, which gave Johnston time to retrieve her rusty .38 revolver.

Tesler was at the back door when Junnier, Smith and the other narcotics officers crashed through the front.

Johnston got off one shot, the bullet missing her target and hitting a porch roof. The three narcotics officers answered with 39 bullets.

Five or six bullets hit the terrified woman. Authorities never figured out who fired the fatal bullet, the one that hit Johnston in the chest. Some pieces of the other bullets — friendly fire — hit Junnier and two other cops.

The officers handcuffed the mortally wounded woman and searched the house.

There was no Sam.

There were no drugs.

There were no cameras that the officers had claimed was the reason for the no-knock warrant.

Just Johnston, handcuffed and bleeding on her living room floor.

That is when the officers took it to another level. Three baggies of marijuana were retrieved from the trunk of the car and planted in Johnston's basement. The rest of the pot from the trunk was dropped down a sewage drain and disappeared.

The three began getting their stories straight.

Two of the cops, Junnier and Smith, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter yesterday.

Atlanta's police commissioner claimed afterwards, that "justice was served."

Only as far as the two cops' blatant misconduct and brutality goes. It does not address the climate in which the law feels justified in condoning no-knock searches based on the coerced assertions of an informant. It does not begin to address a crusade in which this type of behavior is condoned when someone less obviously innocent that a 92-year old woman dies.

Asked how widespread such practices might be, Mr. Nahmias said investigators were looking at narcotics officers, officers who had once served in the narcotics unit and “officers that had never been in that unit but may have adopted that practice.”

The investigation has already led to scrutiny of criminal cases involving the indicted officers and others who may have used similar tactics. Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney, said his office was reviewing at least 100 cases involving the three officers, including 10 in which defendants were in jail.

If they continue to cooperate, Mr. Junnier, who retired after the shooting, faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and Mr. Smith, who resigned Thursday, faces 12 years.

The third officer, Arthur Tesler, declined a plea deal. He was indicted on charges of violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process.

Mr. Tesler’s lawyer, John Garland, said his client was following his training when he put false claims in an affidavit.

Mr. Nahmias took a moment to dwell on what he said was the unusual nature of the officers’ offenses.

“The officers charged today were not corrupt in the sense that we have seen before,” he said. “They are not accused of seeking payoffs or trying to rob drug dealers or trying to protect gang members. Their goal was to arrest drug dealers and seize illegal drugs, and that’s what we want our police officers to do for our community.

“But these officers pursued that goal by corrupting the justice system, because when it was hard to do their job the way the Constitution requires, they let the ends justify their means.”

Mr. Nahmias said the statement in the plea agreement that officers cut corners in order to “be considered productive officers and to meet A.P.D.’s performance targets” reflected their perception of the department’s expectations.


Mstislav Rostropovich

1927-2007. May he rest in peace.

Tall, heavyset and bald but for a halo of white hair, Mr. Rostropovich was a commanding presence both on and off the stage. But he was also gregarious in an extroverted, Russian way: at the end of an orchestral performance, he often hopped off the podium and kissed and hugged every musician within reach.

He also had a sense of humor that often cut through the sobriety of the concert atmosphere. He sometimes surprised his accompanists by pasting centerfolds from adult magazines into the scores from which they would be performing. At a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Symphony, he dressed as Haydn, in a wig and livery, to conduct the “Toy” Symphony. And at the San Francisco Symphony’s 70th birthday tribute to Isaac Stern, he played “The Swan” movement from Saint-Sam0ens’s “Carnival of the Animals” attired in white tights, a ballet tutu, a swan-like headdress and red lipstick.

Mr. Rostropovich, who was widely known by his diminutive, Slava (which means glory in Russian), was also an accomplished pianist. He was often the accompanist at recitals by his wife, the Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, whom he married in 1955, and who survives him, as do two daughters, Olga and Elena.

But Mr. Rostropovich became famous well beyond musical circles, as a symbol of artistic conscience and his defiance of the Soviet regime. When the writer Aleksander Solzhenitsyn came increasingly under attack by Soviet authorities in the late 1960’s, Mr. Rostropovich and Miss Vishnevskaya allowed him to stay in their dacha at Zhukovka, outside Moscow. He was their guest for four years, and Mr. Rostropovich tried to intercede on his behalf, personally taking the manuscript of “August 1914” to the Ministry of Culture and arguing that there was nothing threatening to the Soviet system in it. His efforts were rebuffed.

His own troubles began in 1970 when, out of frustration with the suppression of Mr. Solzhenitsyn and other writers, artists and musicians, he sent an open letter to Pravda, which did not publish it, and Western newspapers, which did.

“Explain to me, please, why in our literature and art so often people absolutely incompetent in this field have the final word,” he asked in the letter. “Every man must have the right fearlessly to think independently and express his opinion about what he knows, what he has personally thought about and experienced, and not merely to express with slightly different variations the opinion which has been inculcated in him.”

Gravel pit

Mike Gravel, former senator and current candidate for the democratic nomination, shares an interesting observation.

As with any such long-shot candidate, Mr. Gravel faces recurring questions about why he is here, and whether he is serious about winning the Democratic presidential nomination nearly a quarter-century after Alaskans voted him out of the Senate . Mr. Williams asked him as much, recalling that Mr. Gravel recently said it did not matter if he was elected president or not.

Mr. Gravel said he had made that statement before he had the chance to stand with the other candidates a few times. “It’s like going into the Senate,” he said. “You know the first time you get there you’re all excited — ‘My God, how did I ever get here?’ And then, about six months later, you say, ‘How the hell did the rest of them get here?’ ”

UPDATE on Mike Gravel: I did not know this.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

One day, something incomprehensible showed up...

What would Ward Churchill do

I was thinking about this myself. Who will the wingnutosphere work themselves into an insane frenzy over now that O'Donnell's gone from "The View?" And, anyway, now that we're asking these questions, why are so many HETEROSEXUAL men obsessed with "The View?"

Meanwhile, there's Malkin's latest role-play. Um, ick.

Something for us all to rally around

Thank God, another distracting celebrity murder trial is about to get underway!

I am disturbed, nevertheless, that our 911 dispatchers are not properly trained to know who Phil Specter is.

Stop me before I mismanage more.

Shorter Paul Wolfowitz: Now that my management of the World Bank has led to widespread employee dissatisfaction, evidence of cronyism, and a collapse in the bank's credibility, appoint a commission to show me how to run the place.

Mr. Wolfowitz, increasingly isolated at the bank and facing a board seemingly determined to force his resignation, sent a letter to the head of a board panel dealing with issues affecting his leadership, asking to appear before the board next week in the interest of “fairness to me” and “good governance” at the bank.

The letter was described by people who had seen it.

Bank officials described many on the 24-member board as having been taken aback by the tough tone of the letter but said the board appeared likely to grant Mr. Wolfowitz at least some of his request, perhaps by allowing him to appear next week, though not necessarily with his newly hired lawyer, Robert S. Bennett.

Before Wednesday, the board had seemed to be moving toward some sort of vote as early as this week on Mr. Wolfowitz’s ability to continue as president. The board met late Wednesday, but officials said it appeared unlikely to reach any quick conclusions and could put off the response to Mr. Wolfowitz until next week.

Compounding the problems for Mr. Wolfowitz, the bank’s vice presidents have rebuffed his request for them to set up a committee to advise him on improving his management style. The vice presidents did not want to be co-opted into helping his campaign to stay in office, bank officials said.

Although he appears to be more and more beleaguered, Mr. Wolfowitz attended a White House meeting on Wednesday on malaria eradication, and got a new gesture of support from President Bush.

"Heckuva job, Wolfie."

Really, though, the title of Wolfowitz's next book should be "The Audacity of Arrogance."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's a long, hot summer

If it weren't for Alex Rodriguez, Yankee fans would be suffering through a 6-13 start instead of an 8-11 one, since A-Rod has blasted two walk-off home runs this year already (probably worse, since he's been the biggest contributor to a potent offense that, even in losing five straight, hasn't fallen by more than two runs).

In any case, Jay Jaffe puts his torrid start in some perspective.

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"It's oh so quiet"

Bjork and Spike Jonze.

Maureen Dowd is concerned

Christ, she's a tool.

Besides referring to "others" who "worry" that Michelle Obama is "emasculating" her husband -- this from the Queen of the Heathers, who has made a living portraying Democratic candidates as weak and narcissistic -- she gets to wrap the specter of a dubious land deal on the candidate...a double bonus for the former Pulitzer winner!

Michelle conveys the appealing idea that she will tell her husband when he’s puffed up or out of line. She aims high — she ordered her husband to stop puffing on cigarettes as he started campaigning. But then, why didn’t she see the red flags on the Rezko deal?

In order to get a bigger yard for their new house on Chicago’s South Side in 2005, the Obamas got into what the senator now confesses was a “boneheaded” real estate arrangement with a sleazy political dealmaker named Tony Rezko, who has been indicted on influence-peddling charges.

On Monday, The Chicago Sun-Times reported more shady Rezko news: “Obama, who has worked as a lawyer and a legislator to improve living conditions for the poor, took campaign donations from Rezko even as Rezko’s low-income housing empire was collapsing, leaving many African-American families in buildings riddled with problems,” from a lack of heat to no lack of drug dealers and squatters.

Mr. Obama riposted that “it wasn’t brought to my attention.” But isn’t that where a dazzling, tough, smart and connected wife could help a guy out?

Now, that's the kind of important stuff we need to know in this presidential campaign. Nevermind that it's a non-story, and the Sun-Times has been trying to blow this Rezko thing into the next non-story Whitewater for months now, with no success. But it's just the ticket for Dowd syndrome. And to really wrap it up, blame it on Obama's too-powerful, too-rich, emasculating wife. A veritable trifecta.

"Come Home, America"

McGovern '72 (and '84). Powerful reminders.

And yesterday in the LA Times former Senator McGovern threw one high and inside to the junta leader.

George McGovern: Cheney is wrong about me, wrong about war
The 1972 presidential nominee strikes back at the vice president for comparing today's Democrats to the McGovern platform.

By George S. McGovern, GEORGE S. MCGOVERN, a former U.S. senator from South Dakota, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972.
April 24, 2007

VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney recently attacked my 1972 presidential platform and contended that today's Democratic Party has reverted to the views I advocated in 1972. In a sense, this is a compliment, both to me and the Democratic Party. Cheney intended no such compliment. Instead, he twisted my views and those of my party beyond recognition. The city where the vice president spoke, Chicago, is sometimes dubbed "the Windy City." Cheney converted the chilly wind of Chicago into hot air.

Cheney said that today's Democrats have adopted my platform from the 1972 presidential race and that, in doing so, they will raise taxes. But my platform offered a balanced budget. I proposed nothing new without a carefully defined way of paying for it. By contrast, Cheney and his team have run the national debt to an all-time high.

He also said that the McGovern way is to surrender in Iraq and leave the U.S. exposed to new dangers. The truth is that I oppose the Iraq war, just as I opposed the Vietnam War, because these two conflicts have weakened the U.S. and diminished our standing in the world and our national security.

In the war of my youth, World War II, I volunteered for military service at the age of 19 and flew 35 combat missions, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross as the pilot of a B-24 bomber. By contrast, in the war of his youth, the Vietnam War, Cheney got five deferments and has never seen a day of combat — a record matched by President Bush.

Cheney charged that today's Democrats don't appreciate the terrorist danger when they move to end U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. The fact is that Bush and Cheney misled the public when they implied that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks. That was the work of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda team. Cheney and Bush blew the effort to trap Bin Laden in Afghanistan by their sluggish and inept response after the 9/11 attacks.

They then foolishly sent U.S. forces into Iraq against the advice and experience of such knowledgeable men as former President George H.W. Bush, his secretary of State, James A. Baker III, and his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft.

Just as the Bush administration mistakenly asserted Iraq's involvement in the 9/11 attacks, it also falsely contended that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When former Ambassador Joseph Wilson exploded the myth that Iraq attempted to obtain nuclear materials from Niger, Cheney's top aide and other Bush officials leaked to the media that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent (knowingly revealing the identity of a covert agent is illegal).

In attacking my positions in 1972 as representative of "that old party of the early 1970s," Cheney seems oblivious to the realities of that time. Does he remember that the Democratic Party, with me in the lead, reformed the presidential nomination process to ensure that women, young people and minorities would be represented fairly? The so-called McGovern reform rules are still in effect and, indeed, have been largely copied by the Republicans.

The Democrats' 1972 platform was also in the forefront in pushing for affordable healthcare, full employment with better wages, a stronger environmental and energy effort, support for education at every level and a foreign policy with less confrontation and belligerence and more cooperation and conciliation.

Cheney also still has his eyes closed to the folly of the Vietnam War, in which 58,000 young Americans and more than 2 million Vietnamese died. Vietnam was no threat to the United States.

On one point I do agree with Cheney: Today's Democrats are taking positions on the Iraq war similar to the views I held toward the Vietnam War. But that is all to the good.

The war in Iraq has greatly increased the terrorist danger. There was little or no terrorism, insurgency or civil war in Iraq before Bush and Cheney took us into war there five years ago. Now Iraq has become a breeding ground of terrorism, a bloody insurgency against our troops and a civil war.

Beyond the deaths of more than 3,100 young Americans and an estimated 600,000 Iraqis, we have spent nearly $500 billion on the war, which has dragged on longer than World War II.

The Democrats are right. Let's bring our troops home from this hopeless war.

There is one more point about 1972 for Cheney's consideration. After winning 11 state primaries in a field of 16 contenders, I won the Democratic presidential nomination. I then lost the general election to President Nixon. Indeed, the entrenched incumbent president, with a campaign budget 10 times the size of mine, the power of the White House behind him and a highly negative and unethical campaign, defeated me overwhelmingly. But lest Cheney has forgotten, a few months after the election, investigations by the Senate and an impeachment proceeding in the House forced Nixon to become the only president in American history to resign the presidency in disgrace.

Who was the real loser of '72?

THE VICE PRESIDENT spoke with contempt of my '72 campaign, but he might do well to recall that I began that effort with these words: "I make one pledge above all others — to seek and speak the truth." We made some costly tactical errors after winning the nomination, but I never broke my pledge to speak the truth. That is why I have never felt like a loser since 1972. In contrast, Cheney and Bush have repeatedly lied to the American people.

It is my firm belief that the Cheney-Bush team has committed offenses that are worse than those that drove Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew and Atty. Gen. John Mitchell from office after 1972. Indeed, as their repeated violations of the Constitution and federal statutes, as well as their repudiation of international law, come under increased consideration, I expect to see Cheney and Bush forced to resign their offices before 2008 is over.

Aside from a growing list of impeachable offenses, the vice president has demonstrated his ignorance of foreign policy by attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for visiting Syria. Apparently he thinks it is wrong to visit important Middle East states that sometimes disagree with us. Isn't it generally agreed that Nixon's greatest achievement was talking to the Chinese Communist leaders, which opened the door to that nation? And wasn't President Reagan's greatest achievement talking with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev until the two men worked out an end to the Cold War? Does Cheney believe that it's better to go to war rather than talk with countries with which we have differences?

We, of course, already know that when Cheney endorses a war, he exempts himself from participation. On second thought, maybe it's wise to keep Cheney off the battlefield — he might end up shooting his comrades rather than the enemy.

On a more serious note, instead of listening to the foolishness of the neoconservative ideologues, the Cheney-Bush team might better heed the words of a real conservative, Edmund Burke: "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood."

The man Robert Kennedy called "the only decent man in the U.S. Senate", can sure gore the vice president's ass.

Sweet, sweet music.

As Harry Reid replied when asked about Cheney's latest anti-democracy attack on Congressional leadership (I paraphrase), "I don't respond to criticism from someone with a nine percent approval rating," McGovern's clever and nasty rant pretty much sums up, I'd say, what 91 percent of the country would like to articulate if they could. Cheney is running a criminal enterprise. He's a lover of war who puts others in harms way never having risked his own life in the wars he's advocated. He and his theoretical boss have no interest in the long term health of this country. They should be impeached, blood clot or no blood clot.

"Unexpected obstacles"

Life should continue to be uncomfortable for the nation's top lawman.

Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that investigators had begun asking senior Justice Department officials to approve search warrants, subpoenas and the like in the Renzi case more than a year ago. A wiretap request was approved just before the November elections, but then somebody leaked its existence, thereby rendering the wiretap itself completely useless. As for other requests? The investigators faced "unexpected obstacles" in getting the search warrants and subpoenas, the Journal says, until after the 2006 elections were over.

Those would be the elections in which Renzi held off his Democratic opponent, 51 percent to 44 percent; the elections in which George W. Bush visited Scottsdale, Ariz., for a fundraiser on Renzi's behalf. (Coincidentally, Bush held an event for Doolittle on the same Western swing.) "About the same time" as the Bush-Renzi fundraiser, the Journal notes, Gonzales' then chief of staff sent then White House counsel Harriet Miers an e-mail message in which he suggested that Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney overseeing the Renzi case, should be added to the list of prosecutors to be ousted.

Charlton was told to resign a month after the November elections. In an e-mail message sent then to a senior Justice Department official, Charlton noted that reporters were asking whether the Renzi case had been a factor in his ouster. So far as anyone can tell, he never got a response.

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"I will resign repeat resign and I mean it repeat mean it."

Dexter Filkins writes about the effect that David Halberstam, along with Malcom Browne and Neil Sheehan, had on the coverage of the war in Vietnam. Their skepticism and reporting on the reality on the ground versus the government's happy talk helped end the war and, ultimately, the Nixon administration. And inspired reporters covering Iraq these past four years.

Mr. Halberstam, then working for The New York Times, went on to demonstrate through a series of forceful dispatches that the chaotic reality unfolding on the ground in Vietnam bore little resemblance to the upbeat accounts offered by American presidents and generals who were prosecuting the war. Journalism and, more broadly, the relationship between the American people and their elected servants in Washington, was never the same again. Mr. Halberstam, who died Monday in a car accident, set a standard for skepticism of official war-time pronouncements that carries on to this day.

During four years of war in Iraq, American reporters on the ground in Baghdad have often found themselves coming under criticism remarkably similar to that which Mr. Halberstam endured: those journalists in Baghdad, so said the Bush administration and its supporters, only reported the bad news. They were dupes of the insurgents. They were cowardly and unpatriotic. Indeed, reporters who filed dispatches pointing out the pitfalls experienced by American troops sometimes found it difficult to secure an embed with an American military unit. Other reporters — including this one — were sometimes excluded from official briefings inside the Green Zone.

“Frankly, part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors,” Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense, said in 2004.

Mr. Halberstam and his colleagues in Vietnam, like Neil Sheehan of United Press International and Malcolm W. Browne of The Associated Press, both later of The Times, had it a lot tougher than reporters in Iraq do today, if only because they were the first. Few journalists with major American newspapers or television networks had dared to publicly question the veracity of America’s military leaders — or an American president — in wartime, least of all a 29-year-old reporter not that long out of college.

By his own account, Mr. Halberstam had gone to Vietnam a believer in the American project, but found himself increasingly disillusioned by events he was witnessing up close. The public representations made by American leaders — of numbers of Vietcong killed, of South Vietnamese soldiers trained — seemed so at odds with what Mr. Halberstam and the other reporters were seeing that they came to regard the official briefings as little more than acts of comedy.

That skepticism, in the American press, was new. “The press at the time, and by that I mean the editors, were living in the shadow of World War II,” Mr. Sheehan said in an interview. “The senior military and the senior diplomats had enormous credibility with the news media. If General Patton gave you a briefing on what he was going to do to the Germans — and he always brought the press with him, because he thought it was important — you could expect a pretty straightforward account.”

Mr. Halberstam, an intense, sometimes intimidating man, came into direct conflict with President Kennedy — who pressed to have him pulled from Saigon — and with his own editors at The Times, who sometimes questioned the divergence between his and the official accounts.

In one incident, recounted in Mr. Sheehan’s book, “A Bright Shining Lie,” Mr. Halberstam exploded at his editors in New York, who had asked him about an article filed by a competitor that more closely tracked the official version. “If you mention that woman’s name to me one more time I will resign repeat resign and I mean it repeat mean it,” Mr. Halberstam wrote in a cable.

In another incident in 1963, Mr. Halberstam filed an article about a series of arrests staged by the Saigon government that was flatly contradicted by the State Department in Washington. After much debate, editors at The Times decided to run two articles on its front page — one from Washington, based on the State Department’s version, and the other from Mr. Halberstam. “Three days later,” Mr. Sheehan wrote, “other events forced the State Department to admit that the official version had been wrong.”

Similar clashes between the Bush administration and the press have unfolded during the war in Iraq, particularly in its early phases. In late 2003 and early 2004, as security around Iraq was deteriorating, reporters in Iraq were sometimes mystified by the rosy briefings they were given inside the Green Zone. In the streets where they lived and worked, they witnessed car bombings and assassinations, while the spokesmen for the Bush administration talked mostly about smiling Iraqis and freshly painted schools.

“There were two realities — one inside the Green Zone, and the reality every day, talking to people in the street,” said Anthony Shadid, a Washington Post correspondent whose Iraq dispatches won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004. “They never did intersect.”


Dick Cheney's job

Instead of spending his time undermining our democracy and calling the American people a bunch of defeatists, shouldn't the vice-president be attending state funerals?

"Worm dirt"

Fratricide, no big deal for Christianist, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich.

According to the Army officer who directed the first official inquiry, the Army might have more of a clue about the shooter's identity than it has let on. Asked whether ballistics work was done to identify who fired the fatal shots, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich told, "I think, yeah, they did. And I think they know [who fired]. But I never found out."


"You know what? I don't think it really matters," Kauzlarich said. "And the reason I say that — you got to look at the overall situation here that these guys were fighting in. And somebody hit him. So would you hold that guy [who] hit him responsible for hitting him, when everybody was shooting in that direction, given the situation? We'll see how the [Defense Department Inspector General's] investigation comes out. But I had no issue on not finding a specific person responsible for doing it."

Kauzlarich said he is confident the current probe will not result in criminal charges against the shooter or shooters. He said investigators would not still be examining the incident at all if it were not for Tillman's NFL celebrity — he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals when he enlisted — and the pressure brought to bear by Tillman's family on a number of Washington politicos.

"His parents continue to ask for it to be looked at," Kauzlarich said. "And that is really their prerogative. And if they have the right backing, the right powerful people in our government to continue to let it happen, then that is the case.

"But there [have] been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide, and the parents have basically said, 'OK, it was an unfortunate accident.' And they let it go. So this is — I don't know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs."

In a transcript of his interview with Brig. Gen. Gary Jones during a November 2004 investigation, Kauzlarich said he'd learned Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother's body was returned to the United States.

Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.

In an interview with, Kauzlarich said: "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

Asked by whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

Asked what might finally placate the family, Kauzlarich said, "You know what? I don't think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don't know. Maybe they want to see somebody's head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can't bring their son back."

Kauzlarich, now 40, was the Ranger regiment executive officer in Afghanistan, who played a role in writing the recommendation for Tillman's posthumous Silver Star. And finally, with his fingerprints already all over many of the hot-button issues, including the question of who ordered the platoon to be split as it dragged a disabled Humvee through the mountains, Kauzlarich conducted the first official Army investigation into Tillman's death.

That investigation is among the inquiries that didn't satisfy the Tillman family.

"Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we're not Christians, and the reason that we can't put Pat to rest is because we're not Christians," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, said in an interview with Mary Tillman casts the family as spiritual, though she said it does not believe in many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion.

"Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady," she said sarcastically, "But it is because we are not Christians."

After a pause, her voice full with emotion, she added, "Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn't lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything those [people] are, he wasn't."

Is it me, or is there a growing gap between the ideals held by many officers in our military and the ideals they're supposed to be defending?

Pat Tillman and his brother are the closest this country produced that can be called heroes in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 massacre. His family has never wanted anything more than an honest investigation into what happened and why it was initially covered up. For the officer responsible for the initial inquiry into Tillman's death to claim they won't be placated because they don't believe Pat's plucking a harp in heaven exhibits a shocking lack of responsibility and accountability. Well, it would have been shocking before another Christianist became our 43rd president.

Via Atrios, Crooks & Liars, etc.

UPDATE: Not all of our military commanders are assholes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tuesday dog blogging


In humans, the muscles on the right side of the face tend to reflect happiness (left brain) whereas muscles on the left side of the face reflect unhappiness (right brain).

Dog tails are interesting, Dr. Davidson said, because they are in the midline of the dog’s body, neither left nor right. So do they show emotional asymmetry, or not?

To find out, Dr. Vallortigara and his colleagues recruited 30 family pets of mixed breed that were enrolled in an agility training program. The dogs were placed in a cage equipped with cameras that precisely tracked the angles of their tail wags. Then they were shown four stimuli through a slat in the front of the cage: their owner; an unfamiliar human; a cat; and an unfamiliar, dominant dog.

In each instance the test dog saw a person or animal for one minute, rested for 90 seconds and saw another view. Testing lasted 25 days with 10 sessions per day.

When the dogs saw their owners, their tails all wagged vigorously with a bias to the right side of their bodies, Dr. Vallortigara said. Their tails wagged moderately, again more to the right, when faced with an unfamiliar human. Looking at the cat, a four-year-old male whose owners volunteered him for the experiment, the dogs’ tails again wagged more to the right but in a lower amplitude.

When the dogs looked at an aggressive, unfamiliar dog — a large Belgian shepherd Malinois — their tails all wagged with a bias to the left side of their bodies.

Thus when dogs were attracted to something, including a benign, approachable cat, their tails wagged right, and when they were fearful, their tails went left, Dr. Vallortigara said. It suggests that the muscles in the right side of the tail reflect positive emotions while the muscles in the left side express negative ones.

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More surge

Bush's war without end continues.

Monday's deaths bring to at least 56 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Diyala since November. The province has become the third-deadliest for Americans this year, following Baghdad and Anbar provinces. The attack also injured an Iraqi civilian, the U.S. military said.

Bombings in different parts of the country Monday killed at least another 44 people and wounded more than 100, police said. Twin car bombings killed at least 19 outside Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, and a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a restaurant near Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, killing seven and injuring 14.

A U.S. military effort to curb violence by building walls around some Baghdad neighborhoods generated continued controversy Monday, as residents protested barriers now surrounding a Sunni enclave and Iraq's government pledged to find alternatives to the strategy.

David Halberstam would be amused

Or maybe not, but it is ironic that on the same day we learn of his untimely death in a car accident, we also read this in the newspaper.

WASHINGTON, April 23 — When the Bush administration has sought to explain its strategy for fighting terrorism, it has often said the United States is involved in a “long war” against Islamic extremists.

The phrase was coined by Gen. John P. Abizaid before he retired as head of the Central Command. It was intended to signal to the American public that the country was involved in a lengthy struggle that went well beyond the war in Iraq and was political as well as military.

It would be a test of wills against “Islamofascism,” as President Bush once put it. It would also be a historic challenge that spanned generations much like the battles against Communism.

As it turned out, however, the long war turned out to be surprisingly short-lived, at least at the command that pioneered the term. After taking over last month as the head of Central Command, Adm. William J. Fallon quietly retired the phrase.

Military officials said that cultural advisers at the command had become concerned that the concept of a long war alienated Middle East audiences by suggesting that the United States would keep a large number of forces in the region indefinitely.

Admiral Fallon was also said to have been unenthusiastic about the phrase. He has stressed the importance of focusing on the difficult situation in Iraq and in achieving results as soon as possible. The notion of a long war, in contrast, seemed to connote an extended conflict in which Iraq was but a chapter.

The change “is a product of our ongoing effort to use language that describes the conflict for our Western audience while understanding the cultural implications of how that language is construed in the Middle East,” Lt. Col. Matthew McLaughlin, a spokesman for the command, said in an e-mail message. “The idea that we are going to be involved in a ‘Long War,’ at the current level of operations, is not likely and unhelpful.”

“We remain committed to our friends and allies in the region and to countering Al Qaeda-inspired extremism where it manifests itself, but one of our goals is to lessen our presence over time. We didn’t feel that the term ‘Long War’ captured this nuance,” he added.

The command’s decision to drop the “long war” terminology was reported by The Tampa Tribune last week.

It is far from clear whether the White House and Pentagon will eventually follow Admiral Fallon’s lead. Mr. Bush used the phrase “long war” in his 2006 State of the Union address, and the White House drew on the terminology in announcing its strategy for combating terrorism. The phrase also featured prominently in a major review that the Pentagon did last year on military strategy, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has used it in Congressional testimony.

“This is a generational war, and we are going to be in it a long time,” said a White House official, who declined to be identified. “Nobody I have heard around here is talking about dropping it.”

Curious that the Pentagon spokesman is willing to be identified, but the clueless White House official "declined to be identified."

"An A-bomb from A-Rod"

Clearly, that over-paid, non-clutch Rodriguez is the reason the Yankees are 8-10 so far this season.

We gotta make a trade!

Monday, April 23, 2007

The soft bigotry of low expectations

The Bush administration in miniature:

George W. Bush, April 23, 2007: "The attorney general went up [to Capitol Hill] and gave a very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer, in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job. One of the things that's important for the American people to understand is that the attorney general has a right to recommend to me to replace U.S. attorneys. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. We have named them, and I have the right to replace them with somebody else. And as the investigation and the hearings went forward, it was clear that the attorney general broke no law, did no wrongdoing. Some senators didn't like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could. This is an honest and honorable man in whom I have confidence."
I like that in an attorney general.

Launching pad

Four HRs in the course of nine pitches thrown to four batters. Pretty much says all you need to know about the weekend in Boston.


Blue Monday, J. B. Lenoir edition

Slow down.

The Iraq hostage crisis

Today's Krugmaniad (Time$elect):

A Hostage Situation

There are two ways to describe the confrontation between Congress and the Bush administration over funding for the Iraq surge. You can pretend that it’s a normal political dispute. Or you can see it for what it really is: a hostage situation, in which a beleaguered President Bush, barricaded in the White House, is threatening dire consequences for innocent bystanders — the troops — if his demands aren’t met.

If this were a normal political dispute, Democrats in Congress would clearly hold the upper hand: by a huge margin, Americans say they want a timetable for withdrawal, and by a large margin they also say they trust Congress, not Mr. Bush, to do a better job handling the situation in Iraq.

But this isn’t a normal political dispute. Mr. Bush isn’t really trying to win the argument on the merits. He’s just betting that the people outside the barricade care more than he does about the fate of those innocent bystanders.

What’s at stake right now is the latest Iraq “supplemental.” Since the beginning, the administration has refused to put funding for the war in its regular budgets. Instead, it keeps saying, in effect: “Whoops! Whaddya know, we’re running out of money. Give us another $87 billion.”

At one level, this is like the behavior of an irresponsible adolescent who repeatedly runs through his allowance, each time calling his parents to tell them he’s broke and needs extra cash.

What I haven’t seen sufficiently emphasized, however, is the disdain this practice shows for the welfare of the troops, whom the administration puts in harm’s way without first ensuring that they’ll have the necessary resources.

As long as a G.O.P.-controlled Congress could be counted on to rubber-stamp the administration’s requests, you could say that this wasn’t a real problem, that the administration’s refusal to put Iraq funding in the regular budget was just part of its usual reliance on fiscal smoke and mirrors. But this time Mr. Bush decided to surge additional troops into Iraq after an election in which the public overwhelmingly rejected his war — and then dared Congress to deny him the necessary funds. As I said, it’s an act of hostage-taking.

Actually, it’s even worse than that. According to reports, the final version of the funding bill Congress will send won’t even set a hard deadline for withdrawal. It will include only an “advisory,” nonbinding date. Yet Mr. Bush plans to veto the bill all the same — and will then accuse Congress of failing to support the troops.

The whole situation brings to mind what Abraham Lincoln said, in his great Cooper Union speech in 1860, about secessionists who blamed the critics of slavery for the looming civil war: “A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!’ ”

So how should Congress respond to Mr. Bush’s threats?

Everyone talks about the political risks of confrontation, recalling the backlash when Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in 1995. But there’s a big difference between trying to force a fairly popular president to accept deep cuts in Medicare — which is what the 1995 confrontation was about — and trying to get a deeply unpopular, distrusted president to set some limits on an immensely unpopular war.

Meanwhile, there are big political risks on the other side. If Congress responds to a presidential veto by offering an even weaker bill, voters may well react with disgust, concluding that the whole debate over the war was nothing but political theater.

Anyway, never mind the political calculations. Confronting Mr. Bush on Iraq has become a patriotic duty.

The fact is that Mr. Bush’s refusal to face up to the failure of his Iraq adventure, his apparent determination to spend the rest of his term in denial, has become a clear and present danger to national security. Thanks to the demands of the Iraq war, we’re already a superpower without a strategic reserve, unable to respond to crises that might erupt elsewhere in the world. And more and more military experts warn that repeated deployments in Iraq — now extended to 15 months — are breaking the back of our volunteer military.

If nothing is done to wind down this war during the 21 months — 21 months! — Mr. Bush has left, the damage may be irreparable.

© 2007 The New York Times Company.

It's worse than you think

"Voter fraud:" The big picture.

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Every moment is a teachable one

I've been hearing a lot about "teachable moments" lately. Not a phrase I was familiar with until recently.

I was thinking about it when I heard the latest conservative -- actually, the wingnuttiest of the wingnuts -- use the tragedy of the Virginia Tech shootings as one more opportunity to blame, yes, liberals.

GINGRICH: Well, who has created a situation ethics, essentially, zone of not being willing to talk about any of these things. Let me carry another example. I strongly supported Imus being dismissed, but I also think the very thing he was dismissed for, which is the use of language which is stunningly degrading of women — the fact, for example, that one of the Halloween costumes this last year was being able to be either a prostitute or a pimp at 10, 11, 12 years of age, buying a costume, and we don't have any discussion about what's happened to our culture because while we're restricting political free speech under McCain-Feingold, we say it's impossible to restrict vulgar and vicious and anti-human speech.


Oh, I get it. Guns don't kill people. Liberals kill people, because Imus....halloween costumes, McCain-Feingold....can't process...shlepmtfudkcherick!

Really. It has been striking to observe the difference in the left and right side of the commentariat in the wake of the murders. When we see a horrible event that results in the death of more than 30 kids at the hands of a deranged guy looking to use them for his 15 minutes, most of us are speechless. Shocked at the horror, at the sadness, at the pointlessness of it all.

Not so the right. No, whether it's Krauthammer's mad psychoanalytical skillz, or Gingrich's incoherent screech about our "culture," or the various defenses of our right to carry concealed weapons, or their insistence that this must, somehow, be related to Islamofaschitlers, they've got plenty to say about it.

It's sad, really.

But Gingrich's idiotic comments -- in fact, his entire idiotic career -- is proof that the right is happiest when they're on the sidelines. Having political power doesn't really work for them, as the last 16 years have shown. They can't govern because they don't really have anything beyond ideology. So they're happiest when their entire responsibility is merely to throw feces at the rest of us.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Happy birthday, Fenway Park

Opened 95 years ago today. Opponent? The New York Highlanders (the Sox won in 11). And guess who's playing the first of 18 meetings with the Sox there tonight?

Fun fact: the day the park on the fens opened was also the day the sinking of the Titanic hit the papers.

Karl Rove speaks truth to power

At long last, the man behind the curtain admits that we're doing Osama bin Laden's bidding.

The mind reels.

Theme time to return

Bob Dylan's dreams, schemes, and themes will return in September.

Tobacco Road

A seriously underrated band: Eric Burdon and The Animals

And it's nice to see Dylan finally give them props in their home town.

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He's crazy and potentially dangerous

Imagine if Ahmadinejad was caught on video making "jokes" like this. I'm pretty sure we'd demand that anyone who can make jokes like that shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a nuclear arsenal.

Something about A-Rod consumating their marriage?

Mandating a moral code

What is so disturbing about Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in the late-term abortion case isn't simply that the Supreme Court now believes itself capable of making medical decisions. After all, we've seen plenty of that in their decisions regarding medical marijuana, finding that federal law trumps a doctor's duty to treat his or her patient. No, more disturbing still is that conservative talking points of dubious, if not laughable, scientific accuracy are finding their way into Supreme Court decisions.

Justice Kennedy conceded that “we find no reliable data” on whether abortion in general, or the procedure prohibited by the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, causes women emotional harm. But he said it was nonetheless “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who choose to terminate their pregnancies suffer “regret,” “severe depression,” “loss of esteem” and other ills.

Consequently, he said, the government has a legitimate interest in banning a particularly problematic abortion procedure to prevent women from casually or ill-advisedly making “so grave a choice.”

If “a necessary effect of the regulation and the knowledge it conveys will be to encourage some women to carry the infant to full term,” Justice Kennedy continued, that outcome will advance “the state’s interest in respect for life.”

The shift in the court’s discourse was “enormous,” said Prof. Reva B. Siegel of Yale Law School. It was, she said, “beyond Alice in Wonderland: criminalize abortion to protect women.”

In an article to be published shortly in The University of Illinois Law Review, Professor Siegel traces the migration of the notion of abortion’s harm to women from internal strategy sessions of the anti-abortion movement in the 1990s to the formation of legal arguments and public policy.

The South Dakota abortion ban that the state’s voters repudiated in November was a prime example of that strategy coming at least temporarily to fruition. Entitled “South Dakota Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Act,” the ban included as an official legislative purpose the protection of “the mother’s fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child.”

This will be a text book case on how what would have been considered not long ago as far gone wingnuttery enters into mainstream discourse.

For more on a mother's even more intrinsic right to her health, Brian Leher discussed the decision with an impassioned Dr. Steven Goldstein, professor of obstetrics and gynecology (or, as Justice Kennedy would condescendingly and abusively put it, "an abortion provider") at NYU medical center.

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Silence is golden

Shorter Charles Krauthammer:
Everyone should be respectfully silent about the Virginia Tech massacre. Everyone, that is, except me.



Abu Gonzalez's heartfelt commitment to protecting minority voting rights.

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Annie Hall

Opened 30 years ago today.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

800 River Ave.

Postings will be light today as I'll be spending the afternoon here.

UPDATE: Is that the sun I see trying to sneak into the sky?

UPDATE: Oh my, that was enjoyable.

Do not disturb

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Then you'd see what a hero I am, and won't you be sorry you called me a chickenhawk

I know that occasions of horrific tragedy are simply opportunities to unleash ideological rants, particularly if they regard the second amendment. And, personally, as a bored child I used to fantasize saving my fellow congregates from the gun-toting fanatics who'd forced their way into church during the sermon.

But then I grew the fuck up.

Remarkably, Publius has video of the heroics in question.

Covering what the W.H. does, not what it says

On Charlie Savage's Pulitzer:

Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting yesterday, "for his revelations that President Bush often used 'signing statements' to assert his controversial right to bypass provisions of new laws."

The stories that won Savage his prize are certainly familiar to White House Watch readers -- and yet worth rereading.

And here's a question White House correspondents should be asking themselves today: How did an investigative reporter at a regional newspaper end up winning an award on their beat?

According to Globe Editor Martin Baron, the answer is: "What Charlie does and the reason he won this richly deserved Pulitzer is because he covered what the White House does, not just what it says."

Another thing to keep in mind: For entirely too long, Savage was a one-man band on this important national story.

As Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "Savage said that although his reports spurred wide debate among opinion writers, other publications were slow in 'legitimizing it' with news coverage. 'There were some months there when it was kind of lonely,' he said."

Readers of this column know I was a big fan of Savage's reporting and frequently expressed dismay that other news outlets weren't pursuing the story. I summed up my dismay in a long story for NiemanWatchdog in June.

And in my August 2 column, I contrasted the lack of coverage by Washington's biggest newsrooms with the "outpouring of editorials at small- and medium-sized newspapers across the country," which I wrote indicated that "there may be something about violating the Constitution that riles up Americans no matter where they live or where they stand on the political spectrum."

Why didn't other newsrooms -- and the White Hous press corps -- take up the signing statement story and run with it? I still don't know. Maybe Savage's Pulitzer will be a wake-up call of sorts.

I think Froomkin gives the White House press corps too much credit for being "wakeable." They didn't wake up when WMD claims proved to have been hyped; they didn't wake up when they thought that preznit's aggressive campaign to privatize Social Security would put Dems between a rock and a hard place, but instead was met with fear and loathing by the American people; they still haven't woken up in response to the political firings of eight federal attorneys, instead finding it "boring." And they still sleepily assert that Democrats are miscalculating in demanding a timetable for withdrawal as a prerequisite for further funding of the war. No doubt they're angry a Boston Globe reporter poached on their hunting grounds, but I'm sure they'll remain drowsy.

Speaking of Bush's aggressive Social Security campaign...

How it works

Street meat.

Every morning, Tammy Haddad, executive producer of MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews," hears from more than 100 aspiring commentators. They each explain why they'd be the perfect guest to spout off on the issues of the day. "We call them 'street meat,' " says Ms. Haddad. "They're always available, walking the streets, waiting for your call on their cellphones."

They are the minor-league pundits -- political consultants, professors, activists, actors, journalists, bloggers and opinionated civilians -- and they're using 21st-century stunts to troll for airtime. Some try to break out of the blogs by repeating particular phrases in their written rants, designed to pop their sites up when TV bookers search for keywords online. Others are buying air time on AM and Internet radio stations to practice their punditry. And many are turning to media advisers or partisan training programs, where they learn new rules of engagement, such as how to use food to bribe producers. The ploys can work, as networks like CNN regularly survey the field, looking for new contributors.

Debbie Schlussel, 37 years old, supports her pundit habit by practicing commercial law in suburban Detroit. She is among the most proactive B-list pundits. Almost daily, she emails her appearance schedule, availability or sharp-elbowed conservative commentaries to 5,000 people in media and politics.

Now I really don't understand why they bothered to "clean up" Times Square. The prostitutes now just use email.

Speaking of Debbie Schulussel...

Take a gander at Debbie Schlussel to get an idea of truly disgusting politicization of this tragic event. On the "huge assumptions made to further getting her Muslim hate on" spectrum, Schlussel (here's the link, but remember, you'd be giving her hits she doesn't deserve plus you're probably going to want to take a shower afterward), decides–absent any reporting that would indicate as such–that the shooter HAD to be a "Paki." When commenters tell her that's an offensive slur, Debbie doesn't take it so well. Neither does the news that it's a Chinese student on a legal visa (note: later reporting identified him as S.Korean Cho Seung-Hui, who has lived in the US since 1992). Because you know, we shouldn't take in so many foreign students AND the students should be able to carry guns on campus to protect themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you conservative thinking at its finest.

And the cable news producers still take her calls.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fuzzy math

Ari Fleischer returns with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. As Jonathan Chait puts it, "the most dishonest flack meets the most dishonest Forum."

Of course, the central conceit of Fleischer's op-ed--that 40 percent of Americans pay no taxes--isn't true, either. Fleischer very carefully uses the phrase "income taxes," in order to mislead the reader into thinking that there are no other taxes. But he also proceeds from his discussion of "income taxes" into generalized observations about the tax code (i.e., "Our tax system comes up short in a lot of areas.").

But income taxes are just one part of the tax system. For most Americans, the biggest tax is the payroll tax, which is regressive. State taxes in most states are even more regressive. Any computation will show that the bottom 40 percent of taxpayers do pay federal taxes. Here's a link from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) showing that the lowest-earning fifth pays 4.6 percent of its income in federal taxes, and the next-lowest quintile pays 9.8 percent.

If you add in state and local taxes, you get a more complete picture of the tax burden. As it happens, conservative economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute addressed this topic in yesterday's Washington Post. Hassett found that, in 2003, the average family of four earning $50,000 a year paid 31 percent of its income in taxes. The average family of four earning $150,000 paid 30 percent. (Note to Fleischer: 31 is greater than 30. I can explain this to you in more detail if you'd like.) These figures came from 2003, the last year for which data was available. They don't take into account the 2003 Bush tax cuts, which made the tax code even more regressive.

The rest of Fleischer's op-ed is filled with complaints about the freeloading poor and the overburdened rich, primarily assertions ("the tax code is highly progressive") that, as Hassett (or anybody who has seen the data) can show you, simply aren't true.

Fleischer waxes indignant about how the top 1 percent is paying a higher share of the tax burden than it was 25 years ago. The reason this is true, of course, is that the top 1 percent is earning a far higher share of the national income. Fleischer insists it's because they're paying higher tax rates. He cites a study last year by CBO which, he says, shows that since 1979, the "[The top 1 percent] share of the nation's income has risen, but their tax burden has risen even faster."

I found that study, and it shows just the opposite of what Fleischer says. In 1979, the highest-earning 1 percent of taxpayers paid an effective federal tax rate of 37 percent. In 2004, they paid an effective federal tax rate of 31.1 percent.

Ari Fleischer, still talkin' like it's 1999.

Ornette Coleman

Congratulations on winning a Pulitzer and still challenging us.

Intro'd by Uncle Miltie! Apparently this is from SNL. I don't know if this was the case in 1979, but I understand the SNL host gets to pick the musical talent, which makes this a most intriguing pairing.

Anyway, Ornette on winning the Pulitzer.

Elastic and bracing, with two acoustic basses and much collective improvisation, the music harks back to the 1960s records that made him famous. “I’m tearing and I’m surprised and happy — and I’m glad I’m an American,” he said. “And I’m glad to be a human being who’s a part of making American qualities more eternal.”

I'm glad to be a human being who gets a chance to listen to Ornette Coleman's music.

I want to commend you on your talent for taking your pound of flesh

Tommy Thompson slips up in his kiss up.

WASHINGTON - Former Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential hopeful Tommy Thompson told Jewish activists Monday that making money is "part of the Jewish tradition," and something that he applauded.

Speaking to an audience at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington D.C., Thompson said that, "I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money. You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."

When you dig yourself into a hole, stop digging.

Thompson later apologized for the comments that had caused a stir in the audience, saying that he had meant it as a compliment, and had only wanted to highlight the "accomplishments" of the Jewish religion.

"I just want to clarify something because I didn't [by] any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things," he said.

"What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pat Buckley

Condolences to the Buckley family.

“There have been weeks along New York’s charity circuit when it looked as if Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr. was chairman of everything,” Charlotte Curtis once wrote in The New York Times.

Her fund-raising ability left her peers in awe. In addition to her work for the Metropolitan Museum, she raised large sums over the years for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at New York University Medical Center and the Hospital for Special Surgery, as well as AIDS causes and Vietnam veterans.

“Get Pat on a committee, and everybody will come” was a familiar refrain in benefit circles.


She was admired for her sense of humor, which was caustic and irreverent, and she didn’t always easily conform. She refused to give up cigarettes and puffed away even in nonsmoking areas of her favorite restaurants — when they still had them — an illicit privilege the proprietors allowed.

“Life is very difficult and everything kills you,” she once said. “The only thing you can do nowadays is sit fully clothed in the woods and eat fruit.”

She used to tend her garden in Connecticut wearing a bikini, without regard to ultraviolet rays and “those loathsome Lyme ticks.” Her husband — who, she said, “covers himself up as if he were going on a safari” — contracted Lyme disease anyway.

Whitman had a brain tumor

A sad record was obliterated today. But two hours between the first reports of a shooting and the next phase of the rampage?


OMG. Alyssa Milano writes a baseball blog.

Not political at all

Even if our elite pundits are bored by it, it seems that the majority of Americans do find the firings of federal prosecutors by the Bush administration to be political and unsavory.

Two thirds of Americans, including a narrow majority of Republicans, see political motivations behind last year's firings of eight chief federal prosecutors. But the nation is deeply divided along partisan lines about whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should lose his job over the scandal.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that Gonzales faces a broadly critical public as well as congressional scrutiny about the firings of the U.S. attorneys.

Gonzales wrote a column in the Outlook section of The Washington Post yesterday describing his role in the matter; he testifies tomorrow before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the poll, 67 percent said they believed the prosecutors were fired by the Justice Department for political reasons, not on the basis of their performance. About eight in 10 Democrats and two-thirds of independents said they saw political motivations behind the firings of the U.S. attorneys, an attitude shared by 53 percent of all Republicans surveyed.

Could tales such as
this factor into their conclusions?

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which heard Ms. Thompson’s case this month, did not discuss whether her prosecution was political — but it did make clear that it was wrong. And in an extraordinary move, it ordered her released immediately, without waiting to write a decision. “Your evidence is beyond thin,” Judge Diane Wood told the prosecutor. “I’m not sure what your actual theory in this case is.”

Members of Congress should ask whether it was by coincidence or design that Steven Biskupic, the United States attorney in Milwaukee, turned a flimsy case into a campaign issue that nearly helped Republicans win a pivotal governor’s race.

There was good reason for the appeals court to be shocked. Ms. Thompson, a 56-year-old single woman, seems to have lost her home and spent four months in prison simply for doing her job. Ms. Thompson, who spent years in the travel industry before becoming a state employee, was responsible for putting the state’s travel account up for competitive bid. Mr. Biskupic claimed that she awarded the contract to an agency called Adelman Travel because its C.E.O. contributed to Mr. Doyle’s campaign.

To charge her, Mr. Biskupic had to look past a mountain of evidence of innocence. Ms. Thompson was not a Doyle partisan. She was a civil servant, hired by a Republican governor, with no identifiable interest in politics. She was only one member of a seven-person committee that evaluated the bidders. She was not even aware of the Adelman campaign contributions. She also had a good explanation for her choice: of the 10 travel agencies that competed, Adelman submitted the lowest-cost bid.

While Ms. Thompson did her job conscientiously, that is less clear of Mr. Biskupic. The decision to award the contract — the supposed crime — occurred in Madison, in the jurisdiction of Wisconsin’s other United States attorney. But for reasons that are hard to understand, the Milwaukee-based Mr. Biskupic swept in and took the case.

While he was investigating, in the fall of 2005, Mr. Biskupic informed the media. Justice Department guidelines say federal prosecutors can publicly discuss investigations before an indictment only under extraordinary circumstances. This case hardly met that test.

The prosecution proceeded on a schedule that worked out perfectly for the Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Biskupic announced Ms. Thompson’s indictment in January 2006. She went to trial that summer, and was sentenced in late September, weeks before the election. Mr. Biskupic insisted in July, as he vowed to continue the investigation, that “the review is not going to be tied to the political calendar.”

But the Thompson case was “the No. 1 issue” in the governor’s race, says the Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman, Joe Wineke. In a barrage of commercials, Mr. Doyle’s opponents created an organizational chart that linked Ms. Thompson — misleadingly called a “Doyle aide” — to the governor. Ms. Thompson appeared in an unflattering picture, stamped “guilty,” and in another ad, her name was put on a graphic of jail-cell doors slamming shut.

Most of the eight dismissed prosecutors came from swing states, and Democrats suspect they may have been purged to make room for prosecutors who would help Republicans win close elections. If so, it might also mean that United States attorneys in all swing states were under unusual pressure.

Wisconsin may be the closest swing state of all. President Bush lost it in 2004 by about 12,000 votes, and in 2000, by about half that. According to some Wisconsin politicians, Karl Rove said that their state was his highest priority among governor’s races in 2006, because he believed a Republican governor could help the party win Wisconsin in the 2008 presidential election.

Willing to look past mountains of evidence to put an innocent woman in jail for doing her job competently in order to gain political advantage.

It would be shrill to call for impeachment now, wouldn't it?


General Sheehan on why he turned down the job of "war czar" or whatever they're calling it.

The day-to-day work of the White House implementation manager overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan would require a great deal of emotional and intellectual energy resolving critical resource issues in a bureaucracy that, to date, has not functioned well. Activities such as the current surge operations should fit into an overall strategic framework. There has to be linkage between short-term operations and strategic objectives that represent long-term U.S. and regional interests, such as assured access to energy resources and support for stable, Western-oriented countries. These interests will require a serious dialogue and partnership with countries that live in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood. We cannot "shorthand" this issue with concepts such as the "democratization of the region" or the constant refrain by a small but powerful group that we are going to "win," even as "victory" is not defined or is frequently redefined.

It would have been a great honor to serve this nation again. But after thoughtful discussions with people both in and outside of this administration, I concluded that the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to a broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically. We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan -- and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq. For these reasons, I asked not to be considered for this important White House position. These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff. They need to be addressed before an implementation manager is brought on board.

Blue Monday, "The Sky is Crying" edition

The sky is crying,
Look at the tears rolling down the streets.
The sky is crying,
Look at the tears rolling down the streets.
I looked out my window,
The rain was falling down in sheets.


Too cautious by half

The last twenty years or so have been incredibly successful ones for GOP propagandists -- so much so that Democrats are terrified of being smeared for "stabbing the troops in the back" or supporting "socialized medicine," even when the majority of Americans are well ahead of them in calling for an end to the war in Iraq and universal health care.

Today's Krugmaniad

Normally, politicians face a difficult tradeoff between taking positions that satisfy their party’s base and appealing to the broader public. You can see that happening right now to the Republicans: to have a chance of winning the party’s nomination, Republican presidential hopefuls have to take far-right positions on Iraq and social issues that will cost them a lot of votes in the general election.

But a funny thing has happened on the Democratic side: the party’s base seems to be more in touch with the mood of the country than many of the party’s leaders. And the result is peculiar: on key issues, reluctant Democratic politicians are being dragged by their base into taking highly popular positions.

Iraq is the most dramatic example. Strange as it may seem, Democratic strategists were initially reluctant to make Iraq a central issue in the midterm election. Even after their stunning victory, which demonstrated that the G.O.P.’s smear-and-fear tactics have stopped working, they were afraid that any attempt to rein in the Bush administration’s expansion of the war would be successfully portrayed as a betrayal of the troops and/or a treasonous undermining of the commander in chief.

Beltway insiders, who still don’t seem to realize how overwhelmingly the public has turned against President Bush, fed that fear. For example, as Democrats began, nervously, to confront the administration over Iraq war funding, David Broder declared that Mr. Bush was “poised for a political comeback.”

It took an angry base to push the Democrats into taking a tough line in the midterm election. And it took further prodding from that base — which was infuriated when Barack Obama seemed to say that he would support a funding bill without a timeline — to push them into confronting Mr. Bush over war funding. (Mr. Obama says that he didn’t mean to suggest that the president be given “carte blanche.”)

But the public hates this war, no longer has any trust in Mr. Bush’s leadership and doesn’t believe anything the administration says. Iraq was a big factor in the Democrats’ midterm victory. And far from being a risky political move, the confrontation over funding has overwhelming popular support: according to a new CBS News poll, only 29 percent of voters believe Congress should allow war funding without a time limit, while 67 percent either want to cut off funding or impose a time limit.

Health care is another example of the base being more in touch with what the country wants than the politicians. Except for John Edwards, who has explicitly called for a universal health insurance system financed with a rollback of high-income tax cuts, most leading Democratic politicians, still intimidated by the failure of the Clinton health care plan, have been cautious and cagey about presenting plans to cover the uninsured.

But the Democratic presidential candidates — Mr. Obama in particular — have been facing a lot of pressure from the base to get specific about what they’re proposing. And the base is doing them a favor.

The fact is that a long time has passed since the defeat of the Clinton plan, and the public is now demanding that something be done. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed overwhelming support for a government guarantee of health insurance for all, even if that guarantee required higher taxes. Even self-identified Republicans were almost evenly split on the question!

If all this sounds like a setting in which Democrats could win big victories in the years ahead, that’s because it is.

Republicans will, for a while at least, be trapped in unpopular positions by a base that’s living in the past. Rudy Giuliani’s surge into front-runner status for the Republican nomination says more about the party than about the candidate. As The Onion put it with deadly accuracy, Mr. Giuliani is running for “President of 9/11.”

Democrats don’t have the same problem. There’s no conflict between catering to the Democratic base and staking out positions that can win in the 2008 election, because the things the base wants — an end to the Iraq war, a guarantee of health insurance for all — are also things that the country as a whole supports. The only risk the party now faces is excessive caution on the part of its politicians. Or, to coin a phrase, the only thing Democrats have to fear is fear itself.

© 2007 The New York Times Company
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