Friday, August 31, 2007

"The Tank"

I'll be thinking about this passage when Petraeus and the Pentagon brass bring their various and disparate "advice" to "The Decider" and "Congress" in September. It's from Jonathan Schell's New Yorker column of February 20, 1971, when the U.S. invasion of Laos became known and it was clear to Schell that Nixon had no intention of ending the war until it was "won."

But in reality to what extent has this war ever been under anyone’s control? To what extent has it been obedient to any American’s will or judgment? Have our Presidents been in control of the war? What has this war been if not the story of the breakdown of the government’s control to do anything but bring senseless destruction or leave? Doesn’t the record show that our Presidents and their advisers and our generals and all our other “leaders,” who have “run” this war have been trapped in isolation and ignorance of the war, their judgment destroyed by the flood of spurious “information” given them by overfinanced [sic] armed bureaucracies that had gone wild in a part of the world no bureaucracy understood? Now it appears that, in our weariness, the rest of us are in danger of succumbing to the hypnotic effect of the self-propagandizing machine that has put our leaders to sleep, one by one. Perhaps there are a few people in the White House or in the Pentagon who regard the opening of this new campaign, and the silence that has greeted it throughout the country, as a triumph for their point of view. What has happened, however, is not that the Administration has won something and its opponents lost something. What has happened is that a war that no one – not even the most belligerent hawks – ever wanted, or even imagined, has won a victory over America. This is not really a victory of one point of view over another, it is a victory of momentum over all points of view, a victory of violence over restraint, a victory of fatigue over vigilance and control.

I expect much the same next month when Petraeus and Crocker deliver their ghost-written report. There will be much talk of benchmarks not having been met and political reconciliation that is further from being achieved than it was before the "surge," but the surge will be said to be working, just a bit more time. "The Spring, yes, The Spring we'll be sure to report back on new pony ranches opening up all over a unified Iraq." And it will go on, senselessly. The motivations for our staying changes -- from Removing a Dangerous Threat, to Democracy Whiskey Sexy, to Flypaper, to providing security to form political consensus, to...well, I'm sure they'll come up with something on the fly for what comes next...but stay we will.

"Senseless destruction or leave."

In an hour and a half meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a secure Pentagon room dubbed ''the Tank,'' Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney heard from leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, who are worried about strains that are building on the forces -- and on troops' families -- as a result of lengthy and repeated tours in Iraq.

Bush did not speak in person after the meeting, but he issued a statement saying he is committed to giving the military ''all it needs to meet the challenges of this new century.'' He also asked lawmakers to reserve judgment about the best next move in Iraq until a report in two weeks from the U.S.'s top general and top diplomat there.

''The stakes in Iraq are too high and the consequences too grave for our security here at home to allow politics to harm the mission of our men and women in uniform,'' the president said in the statement. ''It is my hope that we can put partisanship and politics behind us and commit to a common vision that will provide our troops what they need to succeed and secure our vital national interests in Iraq and around the world.''

In a fresh sign of U.S. frustration with the Iraqi government in Baghdad, a senior U.S. commander said in an Associated Press interview that he is aggravated by the slow pace of action by Iraq's central government to ensure that its security forces are properly led, supplied and equipped on the battlefield.

''I have not seen any improvement really in the year I've been here in that regard,'' said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq. He said the Iraqi army is doing ''pretty well'' in fighting the insurgency alongside U.S. troops, but they are not getting sufficient support from Baghdad.

''Progress is slower than it should be inside the (Iraqi) army in particular'' with regard to proper support and direction from national leaders in Baghdad, Mixon said by telephone, adding that the problem lies in a combination of bureaucratic obstacles and sectarian-based decisions about army leadership appointments.

Two independent assessments of the situation in Iraq already have been previewed this week -- the latest finding that Iraq's national police are so corrupt and influenced by sectarianism that the corps should be scrapped and replaced with a smaller force.

And the same momentum that will demand -- and receive -- another Friedman Unit in a war that most Americans have quietly moved on from, is well on its way in the cycle that leads more surely every day to Iran.

The report released Thursday, a quarterly update of Iran’s nuclear activity, said the country was operating nearly 2,000 centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, at its vast underground plant at Natanz, an increase of several hundred from three months ago. More than 650 additional centrifuges are being tested or are under construction, the agency said.

That number is far short of Iran’s projection that by now it would have 3,000 centrifuges up and running. The I.A.E.A. also reported that uranium being processed by the working centrifuges at Natanz was “well below the expected quantity for a facility of this design.” In addition, the agency said that uranium was enriched to a lower level than the Iranians had claimed.

These results have raised questions among private experts and officials at the atomic agency about whether Iran is facing technical difficulties or has made a political decision to curtail its nuclear operations. Low enriched uranium can fuel power reactors, and highly enriched uranium can fuel a bomb.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear proliferation, said his own calculations, based on the report’s data, suggested that Iran was operating its centrifuges at as little as 10 percent of their potential. “That’s very low — and we don’t know why,” he said.

Dr. ElBaradei said he believed that the Iranian leadership had decided to operate Natanz at less than full capacity. “They could have expanded much faster,” he said. “Some say it’s for technical reasons. My gut feeling is that it’s primarily for political reasons.”

He said he “did not in any way give a blessing” to Iran’s decision to proceed with uranium enrichment, a program that Security Council resolutions demand must be frozen. But he has taken what he has called a realistic view that the world has to accept that Iran will never halt the program and that the goal now must be to prevent it from expanding to industrial-level production.

“It’s difficult technology, but it’s not rocket science,” he said. “Through a process of trial and error, you will have the knowledge.”

Some in the Bush administration have contended that Dr. ElBaradei, whose agency is part of the United Nations, is operating outside his mandate by independently striking the deal with Tehran. But he defended his move, saying: “My responsibility is to look at the big picture. If I see a situation deteriorating” and “it could lead to a war, I have to raise the alarm or give my advice.”

The evolving divide places Dr. ElBaradei in conflict with President Bush, and not for the first time. The White House bristled in 2003 when Dr. ElBaradei reported that there was no evidence to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. Later the administration tried to block Dr. ElBaradei’s nomination for a second term at the agency just months before he won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. But now the administration needs Dr. ElBaradei, an Egyptian diplomat, more than ever, because his agency’s findings have formed the core of its case against Iran.

Just as Nixon wanted to widen the Vietnam "conflict" to include most of Indo-China, it looks like Bush will do the same (if he shows any restraint at all it will be to rebuff the demands of the Neo-cons to invade Syria as well). And just as Nixon did at the time, when he was promising troop withdrawals, Bush will let his Air Force do most of the talking.

And the video of destroyed Iranian cities and bleeding people will play all across the region (though probably not here -- our eyes are too sensitive these days to see the destruction we cause), further endearing us to the people for whom we are fighting to get them "a more responsible government."

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"Chocolate Jesus"

And, because you've been so good to me, Dear Readers, a special treat (embedding disabled).

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Helping the little guy to save the fat cats?

Daniel Gross, referring to Bush's speech this morning, said, "Bush seems to have learned 'Trickle Up Economics."

“The recent disturbances in the subprime mortgage industry are modest — they’re modest in relation to the size of our economy,” Mr. Bush said this morning. “But if your family is — if your family’s one of those having trouble making the monthly payments, this problem doesn’t seem modest at all.”

The main objective of the package, one senior official said, is not to affect the stock markets but to help low-income homeowners, many of them concentrated in certain neighborhoods in several distressed areas of the country, such as Ohio and Michigan.

“The primary focus is to help individuals who have an opportunity to stay in their homes to stay in their homes,” this official said. “The subprime mortgage situation is having a crushing effect on a lot of communities right now.”

Administration officials, who asked not to be identified, briefed a handful of news organizations on the proposals on Thursday evening. Despite the assertion that affecting the markets is not the goal, one administration official said concern about Wall Street’s reaction did affect the timing of the briefing. He said there was a fear that if the White House announced in the morning that Mr. Bush would be making an announcement on housing, there could be confusion as buyers and sellers of mortgage securities guessed what the announcement would be.

But secondarily, this official said, helping homeowners keep their homes and refinance or renegotiate the terms of the mortgages could have a stabilizing effect on the financial institutions that have these mortgages in their portfolios, and help them write down the value of the mortgages or sell them off at a loss.

FDR would be proud.

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Senator Warner

Retires! Maybe Bush will send a few symbolic soldiers home for Christmas as a retirement present. Respectfully.

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"You're soaking in it"

This is all you really need to read from Bobo's column this morning.

Not that there is anything wrong with funnel cake. It is the only food left that hasn’t been captured by the Alice Waters/Whole Foods set.

Nobody is making organic, locally grown, zero-carbon-footprint funnel cake.

Make that vacation permanent, Davey.

Meanwhile, today's Krugmaniad (also Time$elect, but way more worth it):

Katrina All the Time

Two years ago today, Americans watched in horror as a great city drowned, and wondered what had happened to their country. Where was FEMA? Where was the National Guard? Why wasn’t the government of the world’s richest, most powerful nation coming to the aid of its own citizens?

What we mostly saw on TV was the nightmarish scene at the Superdome, but things were even worse at the New Orleans convention center, where thousands were stranded without food or water. The levees were breached Monday morning — but as late as Thursday evening, The Washington Post reported, the convention center “still had no visible government presence,” while “corpses lay out in the open among wailing babies and other refugees.”

Meanwhile, federal officials were oblivious. “We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy,” declared Michael Chertoff, the secretary for Homeland Security, on Wednesday. When asked the next day about the situation at the convention center, he dismissed the reports as “a rumor” or “someone’s anecdotal version.”

Today, much of the Gulf Coast remains in ruins. Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away.

On the other hand, generous investment tax breaks, supposedly designed to spur recovery in the disaster area, have been used to build luxury condominiums near the University of Alabama’s football stadium in Tuscaloosa, 200 miles inland.

But why should we be surprised by any of this? The Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina — the mixture of neglect of those in need, obliviousness to their plight, and self-congratulation in the face of abject failure — has become standard operating procedure. These days, it’s Katrina all the time.

Consider the White House reaction to new Census data on income, poverty and health insurance. By any normal standard, this week’s report was a devastating indictment of the administration’s policies. After all, last year the administration insisted that the economy was booming — and whined that it wasn’t getting enough credit. What the data show, however, is that 2006, while a good year for the wealthy, brought only a slight decline in the poverty rate and a modest rise in median income, with most Americans still considerably worse off than they were before President Bush took office.

Most disturbing of all, the number of Americans without health insurance jumped. At this point, there are 47 million uninsured people in this country, 8.5 million more than there were in 2000. Mr. Bush may think that being uninsured is no big deal — “you just go to an emergency room” — but the reality is that if you’re uninsured every illness is a catastrophe, your own private Katrina.

Yet the White House press release on the report declared that President Bush was “pleased” with the new numbers. Heckuva job, economy!

Mr. Bush’s only concession that something might be amiss was to say that “challenges remain in reducing the number of uninsured Americans” — a statement reminiscent of Emperor Hirohito’s famous admission, in his surrender broadcast, that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” And Mr. Bush’s solution — more tax cuts, of course — has about as much relevance to the real needs of the uninsured as subsidies for luxury condos in Tuscaloosa have to the needs of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward.

The question is whether any of this will change when Mr. Bush leaves office.

There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people in need, so it shouldn’t even try. “I don’t want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system,” says Mitt Romney, as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works.

And I’m not sure that faction is losing the argument. The thing about conservative governance is that it can succeed by failing: when conservative politicians mess up, they foster a cynicism about government that may actually help their cause.

Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point. The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way.

© 2007 The New York Times Company

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Get yer brooms out

The available supply of Rolaids just declined significantly up in Boston as the Yankees take all three of their home stand against the Red Sox. But the important thing is, the Yankees are now in sole possession of Wild Card lead.

A terrific three games. Even today's 5-0 win was a tense affair, with Chien-Ming Wang taking a no-hitter into the Seventh, and the score at 2-0 going into the Eight, when the Yankees blew it open against the previously god-like Okajima.

And it wouldn't be a Yankees/BoSox series without some weird occurrence. In the Seventh, Youkilis ran onto the infield grass to avoid a tag from A-Rod and the umpires had to have a conference to decide if he was automatically out for running out of the base path. In the ninth, Joba Chamberlain, after another terrific inning in the eighth, threw two high pitches to Youkilis and was immediately ejected by the home plate umpire. Said a very angry Joe Torre after the game, "The Ump] told me he wanted to 'send a message.' They should school these umpires. I'm not going to send a 21-year old kid out to throw at a batter's head."


It must be the bow tie

What else explains Tucker Carlson's attractiveness to the same sex?

And another thing...will the Senator “I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Comm... gay” Craig "predicament" now force the Tuckers and the "Hardball" hosts of the cable miasma to curtail their gushing enthusiasm for the Aqua Velva manliness of GOP authoritarian figures?

Probably not.

UPDATE: Oh. My. God. While the Big Daddy party metaphorically stones Craig to death for playing footsies with a cop, they are strangely silent on "Senator Shitter."

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Mr. Bush's War

The Decider will have to decide which of "the commanders" he'll listen to.

WASHINGTON — In a sign that top commanders are divided over what course to pursue in Iraq, the Pentagon said Wednesday that it won't make a single, unified recommendation to President Bush during next month's strategy assessment, but instead will allow top commanders to make individual presentations.

"Consensus is not the goal of the process," Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters. "If there are differences, the president will hear them."

Military analysts called the move unusual for an institution that ordinarily does not air its differences in public, especially while its troops are deployed in combat.

"The professional military guys are going to the non-professional military guys and saying 'Resolve this,'" said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "That's what it sounds like."

White said it suggests that the military commanders want to be able to distance themselves from Iraq strategy by making it clear that whatever course is followed is the president's decision, not what commanders agreed on.

Bush has said on several occasions that he will follow the recommendation of Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, but the Pentagon plan makes certain that other points of view are heard.

It sounds like the brass in the Pentagon are not only looking to pin this on Bush, but that they don't particularly trust Petraeus' leadership either.

Via Atrios.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

America the beautiful

Oh, how I love this great nation of ours.


Imperiling the civilized world

Glenn Greenwald sketches the machinery that is rolling out yet another "new product launch," as they like to call invading another country and unleashing chaos. Indeed, it's pretty hard not to recognize the most recent call to arms by the Bush/Cheney war propagandists.

Speaking here before the American Legion’s annual convention, Mr. Bush said competing brands of Islamic extremism — the Sunni model exemplified by Al Qaeda and a Shiite version that he said was abetted by Iran — were vying for dominance in Iraq.

That, he said, made it imperative for the United States not to fail in establishing a pro-American government there.

“I want our citizens to consider what would happen if these forces of radicalism are allowed to drive us out of the Middle East,” he said in a speech interrupted several times by applause. “The region would be dramatically transformed in a way that would imperil the civilized world.”

Mr. Bush has previously warned Iran about its involvement in Iraq and its nuclear programs, but his remarks on Tuesday were especially forceful, and suggested that he was blending the justification for staying in Iraq with fears held by members of both parties in Congress that Iran could emerge as a threat.

He reiterated accusations by officials and American military commanders that Iran was providing training and weaponry, including 240-millimeter rockets, to forces not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He said he had authorized the military to “confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”

Of course, Bush's logic is typically coherent.

“For all those who ask whether the fight is worth it, imagine an Iraq where militia groups backed by Iran control larger parts of the country,” he said.

One problem for Mr. Bush is that the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, an assessment released last week, suggested that that is already happening with the tacit consent of the Iraqi leaders Mr. Bush supports.

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Air show

Tom Friedman's column today (Time$elect) is brilliant I say, just brilliant. The shorter version: let's arm the Sunnis so that as soon as they get rid of al Qaedi in Iraq (AQI), they'll be able to turn the guns against the current government. Solving the civil war by arming the combatants. We're just a Friedman Unit away from that oil-gushing ATM we always wanted. An excerpt:

I’ve just bounced between Baquba and Balad and a Sunni and Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad as an embedded reporter with the visiting Adm. William Fallon, head of the Central Command. I don’t know whether the surge is working — too early, too short a visit. But I did see something new here, which, if played right, could help to stabilize Iraq and better synchronize some of those watches.

It’s this: the willingness of the Sunni tribes, and key Sunni neighborhood leaders in Baghdad, to work side by side with the American soldiers they’ve been shooting at for four years in order to retake Sunni towns and districts from the Taliban-like, pro-Al Qaeda Iraqi Sunnis who took charge in 2006, when the undermanned United States forces pulled out of many areas and handed over security to unprepared Iraqi Army units.

Ironically, a key reason violence appears to be trending lower here is because Al Qaeda’s “surge” in 2006 so frightened Iraq’s more moderate, occasionally whisky-drinking Sunni tribal leaders — the backbone of the Sunni community here — that they became willing to work with the Americans just when the U.S. surge was taking off.

Warning! This important shift by the Sunni tribes could come unglued if the Shiite-led Iraqi government doesn’t start providing government services — water, fuel and electricity — to the Sunni areas the tribes have retaken.

It could also come apart because, well, this is Iraq. As one U.S. general said to me of the Sunni tribes, “They still hate us. They just hate Al Qaeda even more right now and they hate the Persians even more than them. But they could turn their guns back on us anytime.”

Exactly. They'll fight AQI, but they still hate us, and if the Shi'ite led government doesn't get basic services going (something all our billions poured into the place have yet to do), then "Warninng!" But building up the various warlords and tribal sheiks should "stabilize" the country.

Serious people.


BAGHDAD, Aug. 28 — A power struggle between rival Shiite groups erupted Tuesday during a religious festival in Karbala, as men with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades fought street battles amid crowds of pilgrims, killing 50 people and wounding 200, Iraqi officials said.

Witnesses said members of the Mahdi Army, the militia of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, traded fire with security forces loyal to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

During hours of fighting, several vehicles and a hotel for pilgrims were set ablaze, and terrified pilgrims who had been praying at two shrines were trapped inside as clashes erupted nearby. Witnesses said buses that had been used to bring pilgrims to Karbala were bullet-shattered and bloodstained.

The government forces in Karbala and other towns in southern Iraq are dominated by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its armed wing, the Badr Organization. Many Badr fighters are veterans trained by Iran when they lived there as exiles under Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Tensions between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization have simmered for months. Both are vying for control of the overwhelmingly Shiite regions of central and southern Iraq. Two provincial governors belonging to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council were assassinated in southern Iraq this month, although the Sadrists deny involvement.


The American military did not intervene directly in the fighting, a spokeswoman said, though it sent jets to fly over Karbala as a “show of force” at the request of the Iraqi authorities.

Because everyone loves the Blue Angels.


Are they sure they want to "probe" this?

The GOP-led Congress was awash in corruption, but it's Senator Craig's misconduct that moves them to demand "action!"

No word yet on when we can expect a Vitter "probe."

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Nice shoes!"

Oh, I know, too easy. But at least Senator Craig didn't claim he was "intimidated."

This is pretty sad. The guy clearly has a problem if, a month after he learns the local paper is investigating his behavior in public restrooms -- which he denies -- then starts rubbing shoes with a dude in a public restroom.

UPDATE: More here from Scott Lemieux.


The long-haired, pot-smoking senator from South Dakota

Geez, I learn today that the Dean of the Washington Punditocracy has been singing the same, out-of-tune song for nearly four decades. And it wasn't any more coherent then, when it was fresh, than it is today.

Over the last few years, a false, simplified picture of American politics has been superimposed on the political realities. The rigid formulas and clichés that make up this false picture are familiar – all too familiar – to everybody. We are speaking of that view which divides all Americans into two groups – the wild men who oppose government policies and the responsible people who support government policies. On the one hand, the young, long-haired, loud-mouthed, pot-smoking extremists, on the other hand, the old, short-haired, reserved, cigar-smoking Establishmentarians. Abby Hoffman versus Mayor Daley. One of the people who fit the clichés least well is Senator McGovern. Senator McGovern takes a strong position against the war, yet his manner and temperament -- or "style" as these things are called – are notable for their steadiness and calm. This combination of content and "style" throws many political observers into confusion, because, according to the accepted beliefs of the day, anyone who opposes the war as forcefully as Senator McGovern does is bound to be an inflammatory, somewhat hysterical figure. Many commentators have run headlong into the horns of this apparent dilemma. One of the most recent casualties was David S. Broder, of the Washington Post, who wrote an article called "The Aspirants' Style," in which he compared the "styles" of Senator Muskie and Senator McGovern. Mr. Broder wrote that "McGovern's instinct is to pounce on an issue, Muskie's is to ponder it. Muskie's judgments seem more impressive, in part because they come rumbling up in that throbbing bass of his, while McGovern delivers his opinions in the voice of a tenor choirboy. But McGovern's are a darn sight plainer. There are many who suspect that in the end clarity may be McGovern's undoing....[sic] The prevailing wisdom in the Democratic Party is that Muskie's big-daddy moderation is more in keeping with the mood of the country than McGovern's brash-sounding prairie radicalism." But just a few sentences after referring to Senator McGovern as "brash-sounding," Mr. Broder assures us that McGovern isn't "the soft, sweet, simple clergyman's son he appears." In fact, Mr. Broder goes on, "he has an instinct for the political jugular and a talent for finding an issue." In conclusion, Mr. Broder says, "Given Muskie's lumbering caution, maybe it's well he has a terrier-like McGovern at his heels." What we seem to have here is a head-on collision of two clichés. On the one hand, because of his views, McGovern's "style" is seen as "brash-sounding" and "terrier-like." On the other hand, because of his quiet behavior, it is seen as appearing "soft, sweet, simple." Put it all together and you've got the soft, terrier-like, sweet, brash-sounding, simple tenor choirboy who represents the radical prairie state of South Dakota.

-Jonathan Schell, The New Yorker, February 13, 1971
It's interesting to dig through the rubble of the political establishment to see what was then on the verge of collapsing and find that Broder's instincts, even then, were to place the "aspirants' style" over their content on the single greatest issue of the day -- whether to end a war that was destroying or displacing millions of Vietnamese and killing tens of thousands of U.S. troops. One should never voice opposition to the president too loudly, or else risk being labelled a Dirty Fucking Hippy. Things haven't changed with Broder, even though Abby Hoffman is dead.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Blue Monday, Otis Rush edition

I think I've used this one before (YouTube isn't infinite), but what the hell, it's a great performance and this one goes out to Alberto Gonzalez.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Nixon Years

I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They're drinking and dancing, wearing bright colored clothes
All the young men with their young women looking so good
Well, I'd trade places with any of them
In a minute, if I could

Walking into the Avalon used bookstore in Madison, WI (just like Berkeley, but without Telegraph Ave's urine smell) I had a vague sense of the type of book I was looking for, and I experienced the pleasure of finding exactly the book I didn't know I was looking for, Observing the Nixon Years, by Jonathan Schell. The book compiles a selection of Schell's "Notes and Comments" columns in The New Yorker, from 1969-1975.

The eerie sense of familiarity you get from reading Schell's contemporary observations on the breakdown of democracy, the attempted shredding of the Constitution by the Executive branch, the abetting of the Legislative and sometimes Judicial branches, and the bitterness of a shrinking base of support for the war and the president as the Vietnam War death spiraled and Watergate ensued is head-shakingly frightening. I had a sense of the similarities, but had no idea just how closely aligned these two eras are and just how precisely the Bush/Cheney administration is matched with their authoritarian forebears, Nixon/Agnew. I'll have lots of excerpts I'm sure, but as I read about the latter days of 1969 and early months of 1970 sitting in the sunny WU campus overlooking Lake Mendota, I was struck by how differently the two eras are in at least one respect.

Recognizing of course, that the effect of Vietnam on U.S. society, with as many as half a million U.S. troops serving there at any one time and a far higher percent of GDP than our fiasco in Iraq occupies, must necessarily be larger than what we experience today (for us -- I'm sure the impact is nearly the same for Iraqis as it was for the Vietnamese). But still, on a university campus that was a hotbed of protest in the 1960s, there was no sign of the war, let alone dissent amongst the bright shiny things today. The lack of a draft can't entirely explain it. The coeds, I'm sure, are just as dairyland cute as they were back then -- the fact that I only read 25 pages in two hours had something to do with that, -- and there's still a few dirty fucking hippies around (but they're in their sixties now). But the atmosphere I'm guessing is much different that it was 42 years ago. There was no indication that these kids and their parents were even aware that we're embroiled in a conflagration half war around the world that is sapping our strength and our reputation, or that we're led by a government hell-bent on expanding the disaster into Iran.

Just like the rain that finally stopped here in the midwest, those of us enjoying the sunny day seem to have moved past the war as well.


Disappearing acts

While Bush "pleads for patience" on his Saturday morning cartoon radio address, an alert reader points us to a slideshow of "Bush's disappearing alliance.

Proof, if nothing else, that Latvians are hot.


The Roaring '20s

Once insurgents, now the Neighborhood Watch

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. forces have rebranded one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and now use the term "concerned local nationals" to refer to a group that once claimed responsibility for killing scores of Americans.

The updated vocabulary for referring to the 1920 Revolution Brigade, described by a U.S. commander on Saturday, is a sign of the abrupt change in tactics that has seen U.S. forces cooperate with former Sunni Arab enemies.

The 1920 Revolution Brigade was one of the main anti-American Sunni Arab insurgent groups in Iraq in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has claimed responsibility for killing scores of U.S. troops in ambushes and bomb attacks.

But for the past several months its members have cooperated with U.S. forces to help drive the strict al Qaeda Islamists out of Sunni Arab areas, part of a new U.S. tactic of cooperating with former Sunni Arab foes against al Qaeda.

Colonel David Sutherland, the U.S. commander in Diyala Province, said his men prefer not to call the group by its name.

"The 1920s as they're called, we call them 'the Baquba Guardians', we call them the 'concerned local nationals'," he said. Baquba is the provincial capital.

"These are patriots who have come forward and have joined the security process. They are working with my soldiers and they are working with the Iraqi security forces," he said.

When they are battling the American invasion, they're insurgents. When they're fighting the Saudi invasion, they're patriots.



Friday, August 24, 2007

Revisionist history

I was young, but I was there. The "liberals" stabbed the troops in the back and forced a withdrawl from Vietnam just when we were "winning" is utter bullshit. I distinctly remember my father -- no dirty fucking hippy he -- proudly pointing out when the Paris Peace Accords were signed that, "See, George McGovern couldn't have ended the war that soon after the election."


Philadelphia, Miss

Today's Krugmaniad (Time$elect):

Seeking Willie Horton

So now Mitt Romney is trying to Willie Hortonize Rudy Giuliani. And thereby hangs a tale — the tale, in fact, of American politics past and future, and the ultimate reason Karl Rove’s vision of a permanent Republican majority was a foolish fantasy.

Willie Horton, for those who don’t remember the 1988 election, was a convict from Massachusetts who committed armed robbery and rape after being released from prison on a weekend furlough program. He was made famous by an attack ad, featuring a menacing mugshot, that played into racial fears. Many believe that the ad played an important role in George H.W. Bush’s victory over Michael Dukakis.

Now some Republicans are trying to make similar use of the recent murder of three college students in Newark, a crime in which two of the suspects are Hispanic illegal immigrants. Tom Tancredo flew into Newark to accuse the city’s leaders of inviting the crime by failing to enforce immigration laws, while Newt Gingrich declared that the “war here at home” against illegal immigrants is “even more deadly than the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

And Mr. Romney, who pretends to be whatever he thinks the G.O.P. base wants him to be, is running a radio ad denouncing New York as a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants, an implicit attack on Mr. Giuliani.

Strangely, nobody seems to be trying to make a national political issue out of other horrifying crimes, like the Connecticut home invasion in which two paroled convicts, both white, are accused of killing a mother and her two daughters. Oh, and by the way: over all, Hispanic immigrants appear to commit relatively few crimes — in fact, their incarceration rate is actually lower than that of native-born non-Hispanic whites.

To appreciate what’s going on here you need to understand the difference between the goals of the modern Republican Party and the strategy it uses to win elections.

The people who run the G.O.P. are concerned, above all, with making America safe for the rich. Their ultimate goal, as Grover Norquist once put it, is to get America back to the way it was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over,” getting rid of “the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”

But right-wing economic ideology has never been a vote-winner. Instead, the party’s electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity.

Ronald Reagan didn’t become governor of California by preaching the wonders of free enterprise; he did it by attacking the state’s fair housing law, denouncing welfare cheats and associating liberals with urban riots. Reagan didn’t begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on supply-side economics, he began it — at the urging of a young Trent Lott — with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

And if you look at the political successes of the G.O.P. since it was taken over by movement conservatives, they had very little to do with public opposition to taxes, moral values, perceived strength on national security, or any of the other explanations usually offered. To an almost embarrassing extent, they all come down to just five words: southern whites starting voting Republican.

In fact, I suspect that the underlying importance of race to the Republican base is the reason Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination, despite his serial adultery and his past record as a social liberal. Never mind moral values: what really matters to the base is that Mr. Giuliani comes across as an authoritarian, willing in particular to crack down on you-know-who.

But Republicans have a problem: demographic changes are making their race-based electoral strategy decreasingly effective. Quite simply, America is becoming less white, mainly because of immigration. Hispanic and Asian voters were only 4 percent of the electorate in 1980, but they were 11 percent of voters in 2004 — and that number will keep rising for the foreseeable future.

Those numbers are the reason Karl Rove was so eager to reach out to Hispanic voters. But the whites the G.O.P. has counted on to vote their color, not their economic interests, are having none of it. From their point of view, it’s us versus them — and everyone who looks different is one of them.

So now we have the spectacle of Republicans competing over who can be most convincingly anti-Hispanic. I know, officially they’re not hostile to Hispanics in general, only to illegal immigrants, but that’s a distinction neither the G.O.P. base nor Hispanic voters takes seriously.

Today’s G.O.P., in short, is trapped by its history of cynicism. For decades it has exploited racial animosity to win over white voters — and now, when Republican politicians need to reach out to an increasingly diverse country, the base won’t let them.

© 2007 The New York Times Company


Liberty U

Sitting in O'Hare wondering if the storm clouds are leaving or coming, I overheard a conversation with a member of the U.S. Army and a young blonde. The soldier was teasing her mercilessly because she told him she was attending Liberty University.

Fun fact: before he died last spring, Falwell would invite graduating senior to sit on his lap for a picture; "just like Santa," the girl said.


Maliki's quagmire


Blaming the prime minister of Iraq, rather than the president of the United States, for the spectacular failure of American policy, is cynical politics, pure and simple. It is neither fair nor helpful in figuring out how to end America’s biggest foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been catastrophic for Iraq ever since he took over from the equally disastrous Ibrahim al-Jaafari more than a year ago. America helped engineer Mr. Jaafari’s removal, only to get Mr. Maliki. That tells you something important about whether this is more than a matter of personalities. Mr. Jaafari, as it happens, was Iraq’s first democratically chosen leader under the American-sponsored constitution.

Continuing in the Jaafari tradition, Mr. Maliki’s government has fashioned Iraqi security forces into an instrument of Shiite domination and revenge, trying to steer American troops away from Shiite militia strongholds and leaving Sunni Arab civilians unprotected from sectarian terrorism. His government’s deep sectarian urges have also been evident in the continuing failure to enact legislation to fairly share oil revenues and the persistence of rules that bar much of the Sunni middle class from professional employment.

Sectarian fracturing even extends to the electricity grid, where armed groups have seized control of key switching stations and refused to share power with Baghdad and other provinces.

The problem is not Mr. Maliki’s narrow-mindedness or incompetence. He is the logical product of the system the United States created, one that deliberately empowered the long-persecuted Shiite majority and deliberately marginalized the long-dominant Sunni Arab minority. It was all but sure to produce someone very like Mr. Maliki, a sectarian Shiite far more interested in settling scores than in reconciling all Iraqis to share power in a unified and peaceful democracy.

That distinction is enormously significant, since President Bush’s current troop buildup is supposed to buy, at the cost of American lives, a period of relative calm for Iraqi politicians to bring about national reconciliation. How much calm it has brought is the subject of debate. But just about everyone in Washington now agrees that Mr. Maliki has made little effort to advance national unity.

The most recent intelligence report on Iraq, released yesterday, concludes that Mr. Maliki’s government is unable to govern and will become “more precarious” over the next six months to a year.

That is why there can be no serious argument for buying still more time at the cost of still more American lives and an even greater cost for Iraqis. A report by an Iraqi correspondent for The Times earlier this week described the deadly sectarian hatreds that have torn apart life in his home province, Diyala, which is almost equally divided between Sunnis and Shiites.

The same day, an Op-Ed article by seven American soldiers serving in Iraq underscored the extent to which American troops have worn out their welcome among Iraqis as social and economic conditions have deteriorated and rampant lawlessness has destroyed the most basic sense of personal security.

When it comes to fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, Washington and Baghdad are often at cross-purposes. In the western province of Al Anbar, the American military has registered some gains by enlisting local Iraqi Sunnis to fight against foreign-led Al Qaeda formations. That strategy depends on the sense of Iraqi nationhood among local Sunnis. But the Maliki government prefers to concentrate on fortifying Shiite political power and exploiting the immense oil reserves of southeast Iraq. It is hard to imagine any Shiite government acting very differently.

Washington’s failure to face these unpleasant realities opens the door to strange and dangerous fantasies, like Mr. Bush’s surreal take on the Vietnam war.

That's why Senator Levin's remarks upon his return from the latest parade of ponies he was shown in Iraq are so unhelpful. Claiming that the the surge is "working," and that the only problem is Maliki's government damages the needed debate on withdrawing U.S. forces. Of course the surge is "working." Put enough U.S. troops anywhere in Iraq and insurgents will stop blowing up other Iraqis there and either start blowing up U.S. troops (hence the large number of U.S. casualties since the surge began) or they will fade away and go blow up Iraqis somewhere else in the country. The point of the surge wasn't to drive the crack dealers from 145th and Lex, it was to provide security so that political settlements can be achieved. The fact that that goal was ridiculous on its face never mattered to those supporting the surge.



Ah, modern travel. Would it kill the airlines to put in a few more electrical outlets. Should have learned from those benighted bloggers at YearlyKos and bought a back-up battery.


Happiness staggering on down the street


Thursday, August 23, 2007


From a coal industry news release the New York Times:

The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law.

The Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department drafted the rule, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period and could be revised, although officials indicated that it was not likely to be changed substantially.

The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies to dig more coal to meet growing energy demands and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Er, what? I know they can make bio-diesel outta old french fry grease, but coal? Hadn't hear that one. Nice of the Times to take these claims and run with them.

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The curse of Deutsche Bank

The Deutsche Bank building in lower Manhattan has been covered in a shroud since Sept. 11, 2001 and it's been a depressing blight ever since -- actually worse than the gaping hole itself. And it continues to haunt us. It's really amazing.


Ignorance = bliss + a nice paycheck from CBS

Wow. Just wow.

My disinterest in baseball as a kid has lasted all my life. I'm still not interested in the game. I don't watch it on television or follow it in the newspaper. I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but today's baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me.

The only good thing to arise from Rooney's exorable column is the fine comments thread over at Baseball Think Factory.

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You gotta put a stake through his heart

Holy shit, David Broder is making sense.

Nonetheless, it would be a mistake for Democrats -- or other Republicans -- to think that "Rovism" has run its course and that the last chapter in this story has been written.

The error would be to assume that Rove's goal is bounded by the career of George W. Bush. It has been -- and remains -- larger and longer-lasting, the domination of America by a certain type of Republicanism.

Even before his partnership with Bush began back in Austin, Rove had drunk deeply of the magic potion dispensed by Lee Atwater, the South Carolina whiz who had absorbed the anger and frustration of the white Southern blue-collar families with whom he was raised. Atwater was Rove's first boss at the Republican National Committee, and my first conversations with Rove were dominated by his encyclopedic knowledge of the shifting political allegiance of Dixie precincts as their residents reacted to the civil rights revolution and the changed positions of the national parties by migrating from Democrats to Dixiecrats and Wallace-ites to Republicans.

That's why those who don't believe the United States should stand for invading other countries for political advantage, torture, no-bid contracts, tax breaks for the wealthiest, hatred for those who are different, and laissez-faire corporate governance cannot let our guard down. Atwater and Rove -- learning at the knee of Uncle Dick -- changed the way the game is played. We must continue to change with it.

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Graham Greene?

I can't find a confirmation yet, but did Bush really invoke The Quiet American to bolster his case for staying forevah in Iraq?

When I first heard the news that George W. Bush was forming "an exploratory committee" way back in 1999 I thought, he would make a stupendously awful preznit.

Every day he exceeds my worst fears.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

You can't look away

The wounded.

One of the more shocking photographs to emerge from the current Iraq war was taken last year in a rural farm town in the American Midwest. It’s a studio portrait by the New York photographer Nina Berman of a young Illinois couple on their wedding day.

The bride, Renee Kline, 21, is dressed in a traditional white gown and holds a bouquet of scarlet flowers. The groom, Ty Ziegel, 24, a former Marine sergeant, wears his dress uniform, decorated with combat medals, including a Purple Heart. Her expression is unsmiling, maybe grave. His, as he looks toward her, is hard to read: his dead-white face is all but featureless, with no nose and no chin, as blank as a pullover mask.

Two years earlier, while in Iraq as a Marine Corps reservist, Mr. Ziegel had been trapped in a burning truck after a suicide bomber’s attack. The heat melted the flesh from his face. At Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas he underwent 19 rounds of surgery. His shattered skull was replaced by a plastic dome, and a face was constructed more or less from scratch with salvaged tissue, holes left where his ears and nose had been.

Ms. Berman took this picture, which is in the solo show at Jen Bekman Gallery, on assignment for People magazine. It was meant to accompany an article that documented Mr. Ziegel’s recovery, culminating in his marriage to his childhood sweetheart. But the published portrait was a convivial shot of the whole wedding party. Maybe the image of the couple alone was judged to be too stark, the emotional interchange too ambiguous. Maybe they looked, separately and together, too alone.

“Marine Wedding,” the portrait’s title, was not Ms. Berman’s first encounter with wounded Iraq war veterans. She photographed several others beginning in 2003, and 20 of her portraits were published as a book, “Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq” (Trolley Books, 2004), with an introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times. These pictures, accompanied by printed interviews with the sitters, have been traveling the country, and 10 are now at Bekman.

Here's the slide show. It is their aloneness that rips at you. We will never know what they felt and what they feel, never know who they were before and who they are now. They will keep paying for Iraq long after it's over. Long after we've not only stopped paying, but (as most of us already have it seems) stopped caring as well.

They know that.


Everything you need to know about the Vietnam War

We won Tet.

No, really.

Doghouse Riley gives Victor Davis "300" Hanson a history lesson. I would put a quote in here, but it's all too good, too scathing, too important.

Ah, but there was passage penned by Hanson himself that I am drawn to like moth to flame:

Ultimately, public opinion follows the ups and downs—including the perception of the ups and downs—of the battlefield, since victory excites the most ardent pacifist and defeat silences the most zealous zealot
I wish.

They discuss how public opinion among Bush supporters is increasingly out of touch with empirical reality, and cite to a public opinion scholar who argues that "this echoes Leon Festinger's research on the psychology of 'cognitive dissonance' in millenarian sects that believed more strongly in the impending end of the world after their prophecies had failed." [Italics mine.] [The authors] suggest that it is likely on the balance of the evidence that elite driven ideology is leading Republicans to become "so ideological in their view of foreign affairs that they are impervious to information."

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Everybody must get stoned

I love it when old operatives of the Nixon administration raise their exquisitely groomed heads.

Mr. Stone, a seasoned practitioner of hard-edged politics who worked for Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan and for George W. Bush in the 2000 recount battle, adamantly denied the allegation in an interview, calling it “the ultimate dirty trick.” He asserted that allies of Governor Spitzer may have gained access to a phone in his Manhattan apartment to make the threatening call.

The message, left at Bernard Spitzer’s Manhattan office just before 10 p.m. on Aug. 6, says that Mr. Spitzer, 83, a wealthy real estate developer, would be “compelled by the Senate sergeant at arms” to testify about “shady campaign loans” he made to his son during Eliot Spitzer’s unsuccessful campaign for attorney general in 1994.

Mr. Winner’s committee has been holding hearings into a scheme by some of Governor Spitzer’s top aides to use the State Police to embarrass the Senate Republican leader, Joseph L. Bruno. Senate Republicans have said they were considering reviewing Bernard Spitzer’s 1994 loans to his son.

“If you resist this subpoena, you will be arrested and brought to Albany,” the message says, according to a transcript. The message also calls Governor Spitzer a “phony” and a “psycho.”

Bernard Spitzer’s lawyers hired Kroll Associates, the private investigative firm, to trace the message, and their report was included with the letter to Mr. Winner. The firm traced the number that appeared on Mr. Spitzer’s caller identification system, linking it to listings under the name of Mr. Stone’s wife, Nydia.

“The review of publicly available records,” the report says, “strongly suggests that the number is controlled by Roger Stone.”

Digital recordings were also sent to Mr. Winner, including the audio of the voice mail message and “a sample of Roger Stone’s voice from a broadcast interview” to allow for comparison. The Times was given a copy of both recordings, but was unable to draw any conclusions about whether Mr. Stone’s voice was on Mr. Spitzer’s phone message.

In the message, the caller says, referring to a potential subpoena: “There is not a goddamn thing your phony, psycho, piece-of-shit son can do about it. Bernie, your phony loans are about to catch up with you. You will be forced to tell the truth and the fact that your son’s a pathological liar will be known to all.”

Mr. Stone, 55, said the number from which the call was alleged to have been made was indeed his, and that it was also shared by a Florida law firm for which he does public relations work, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. But he denied that he made the call or that it was his voice on the message.

He said his apartment building on Central Park South is owned by H. Dale Hemmerdinger, a fund-raiser for Mr. Spitzer who is the governor’s nominee to be chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and suggested that allies of the governor might have given access to his apartment to someone who made the threatening call. An official at Mr. Hemmerdinger’s company said she was not prepared to comment.

Mr. Stone said: “They have unfettered access to my apartment. I am on television constantly. As Gore Vidal said, never pass up the chance to have sex or be on television. Putting together a voice tape that sounds like me wouldn’t be hard to do.”

Interesting choice of words.

Stone always seems to be at the right place at the right time.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wisconsin death trip

Apologies for the paucity of posts -- the day job has been bloody, tooth and claw of late, and Djuna's been recovering from another bout of "peripheral vestibular syndrome makes the world go 'round, the world go 'round. I'll just lie here." And things are only going to get worse, as I travel west to help my God-fearin', but aging parents pick out their ice floe...just kidding...attending a family reunion at the ol' homestead of my forebears.


Today's "Worst Person" award

It goes to Tom Tancredo.

NEWARK, Aug. 20 — Federal officials said on Monday that a second man among the suspects in the schoolyard slayings of three young friends was in the United States illegally, and a conservative presidential candidate flew into town to denounce the city’s leaders as complicit in the murders because they had declared Newark a “sanctuary” for immigrants.

“If the suspects are found guilty, Newark and its political leadership share a degree of responsibility,” Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, said on the steps of the gold-domed City Hall, surrounded by a dozen supporters and slightly more protesters who rallied against him. “I encourage the family of the victims to pursue a lawsuit against the city.”

Mr. Tancredo, whose bid for the Republican nomination is based largely on an aggressive stance against illegal immigration, is among the many conservatives nationwide who seized on the killings after it was reported that one of the suspects, Jose Lachira Carranza, 28, was an illegal immigrant from Peru.

Before the killings, Mr. Carranza had been arrested three times on felony charges but had been released on bail, in part because the authorities never checked his immigration status. Doing so would likely have triggered a federal “detainer” that would have kept Mr. Carranza in custody to await deportation proceedings.

Well, if Tancredo's gonna come all the way out east for a visit, he might as well pick some apples instead of shamelessly pandering to the anti-immigration crowd on the backs of a senseless murder and horrific tragedy. Because if he's too crazy for his own Party, he ought to provide a useful service.


33 and 4

According to my calculations and best guesses, it will probably take 93 wins to grab the AL Wild Card this year. That means, after last night's brutal loss, the Yankees will need to win 33 of their next 37 games. The Mariners, on the other, hand, have 40 games left to play, so they have seven games to lose to still get to 93.

The Yanks' post-season chances are not out of reach yet, but grow more unlikely every time Mike Mussina pitches, as he does tonight.


Friday night lights

I reckon there have been approximately 312 Friday nights over the last six years of the Bush/Cheney administration, give or take a leap year or two. Here's the latest.

The administration’s new policy is explained in a letter that was sent about 7:30 p.m. on Friday to state health officials from Dennis G. Smith, the director of the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations. The policy would continue indefinitely, though Democrats in Congress could try to override it.

Bush's new testament is different than the one I used to read. Mine said "suffer little children," his edition is apparently translated as, "make their parents suffer."


Our "ownership society"

Duncan doesn't talk much, but when he does, he's often right.

I'm not sure if Dean Baker's idea is a good one (it certainly might be), but he's at least thinking along the right lines. We've got a situation where lots of people are losing their homes and especially given the fact that their mortgages have been packaged together and repurchased so there's no one for them to negotiate with, there really just aren't mechanisms in place to help them try to keep their homes.

Months ago I suggested Dems get in front of this stuff. Given the glacial pace of our vacationing Congress, except when Bush demands FISA law changes, the likelihood of presidential veto of anything sensible, and the likely shitty execution by the executive branch even if something sensible does get passed, one can't be optimistic that there will be anything done in a timely fashion.

More importantly, it shouldn't take "emergencies" for such things to happen. Anything which is good policy in situation like this is likely to be good policy all of the time. The fact that more people are finding themselves in trouble, or that this nebulous abstract called "the economy" might be having wider problems, doesn't so much call for new policies as force us to think about policies we should have had all along.

I'm not optimistic. Lots of Democrats thought the Bankruptcy Bill was a heavenly slice of awesomeness. There's an allergy to anything which reeks of "social safety net" in our political class, even for things which are common sense.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Bats left, throws right

Aw, just go peruse Doghouse Riley's latest rants. They are sublime.

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Deader, faster

It seems only fitting that perhaps the most incompetent attorney in the land will now be responsible for deciding if those sentenced to death have been adequately represented (Time$elect).

Death penalty cases can take a long time. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales wants to move things along.

Under an odd provision in last year’s reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the antiterrorism law, the attorney general is to take on a role that has for more than a decade belonged to the courts. After the Justice Department finishes writing the regulations, Mr. Gonzales will get the job of deciding whether states are providing condemned inmates with decent lawyers.

If the answer is yes, federal litigation in capital cases from those states — one of the main reasons for the lengthy appeals — will move to a fast track. Inmates will have to file habeas corpus challenges in six months rather than a year, and judges will be subject to strict deadlines. Appeals courts, for instance, will get 120 days to decide cases.

The trade-offs themselves are not new, and they are not necessarily a problem. If states can be encouraged to provide able defense lawyers to death row inmates in state proceedings, the federal courts may indeed have less to worry about.

But giving the power to decide when a fast track is warranted to an interested party like Mr. Gonzales is a curious way to run a justice system.

“A first-year law student could spot this conflict of interest a mile away,” said Elisabeth Semel, the director of the death penalty clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, and an opponent of the death penalty.

The move can only represent Congressional dissatisfaction with the decisions of the dozens of federal judges who have considered the adequacy of state systems to provide death row inmates with qualified defense teams over the last decade.

With one partial exception, they have found that the states are not yet where they should be. (The exception is Arizona, which a federal appeals court said had an adequate system on paper, at least as of 1998, though the court also ruled that the system had not been followed in the case before it.)

Opponents of the death penalty say Congress wants Mr. Gonzales to speak power to truth.

“After the courts had repeatedly found that the states were not providing competent defense representation in capital cases, Congress decided to solve the problem by the simple device of having the attorney general announce that it did not exist,” said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra who submitted testimony opposing a version of the new law for the American Bar Association in 2005.

“The attorney general can certify that the moon is made of green cheese, but that will neither make it so nor advance scientific knowledge,” Professor Freedman said. “The way to fix capital defense systems is not to deny that they need fixing, but rather to dedicate the needed resources to improving them.”

Adam Liptak concludes,

It is true that the capital justice system is not efficient. But efficiency cannot be the only goal. Accuracy must matter, too.

“The notion that the federal government wants to accelerate executions in the face of known mistakes, and wants to do so just as DNA is becoming available in more and more cases, is mind-boggling,” Professor Dow said. “It will increase the risk that some state executes a person we later find to be innocent.”

I don't know what the fuss is about. After all, Abu Gonzalez has a long history of defending people heading to the gallows.

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Blue Monday, That Same Thing edition

The Holy Trinity of Chicago blues, Muddy, Buddy, and Junior.

Not well sync'd, but what the hell.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lincoln, NE's new favorite son

We got to see this kid pitch at The Stadium Friday night. He electrified the place. And his story is pretty amazing, too.

Two fields stood across the street from Joba Chamberlain's house in Lincoln, Neb., one grass, one gravel, and on summer evenings, kids from across the whole neighborhood in the northeast part of town would gather outside to play baseball. The Chamberlains kept enough gloves and bats for everyone and Joba's father, Harlan, would umpire games from his wheelchair, offering coaching tips between calls.

When there wasn't a game, Chamberlain and his father still played catch in the yard, even during the winter. "If it wasn't blowin' or a million degrees below zero, we were out there," Harlan Chamberlain says.

The aluminum siding on the house had hundreds of dents. The father would urge the boy to dive for grounders. The boy would get dirty. The father never yelled.

Harlan couldn't use his left hand, so he would catch the ball with his right, take off the worn Wilson glove he'd bought back in 1972, and throw the ball back to his son. The boy threw his hardest until he was 8 years old. That's when the father said his hand couldn't take the sting anymore.

"It was always all about baseball," Joba Chamberlain says now, smiling. Both men say those memories are among the fondest of their lives.

Now the boy plays at Yankee Stadium, the thunderous roar of fans who have taken to him like a son of Nebraska takes to Cornhusker red pounding in his ears. A blistering, 99-mile-per-hour fastball and a biting breaking pitch have made him a cult hero in the Bronx. The 55-year-old father, back in Lincoln, watches the games on a computer, his nurse nearby, a Yankee cap on his head, his heart swelling.

Read, as they say about far less consequential and moving stories, the whole thing.

And now Joba's just been brought in to pitch the seventh in a game Wang and the Yankees are leading the Tigers, 4-3. 55,000 in the stands. The Yankees need this game to win the four game series.

Throws a breaking strike to Sheffield who then pops up a 99mph fastball.

0-2 count on league-leading Ordonez. Strikes him out swinging on a slider.

0-2 count Guillen. 97mph fastball, slider, then strikes him out on another slider.

He is pretty good, Harlan, but you knew that.

UPDATE: Yankees score two more in the bottom of the seventh, with big two-out hits by Bettamit and Phillips. Then a Scranton call-up, Edwar Ramirez (go ahead, I dare, you, click on it), comes in and strikes out the side, contrasting his 75mph breaking pitches with Joba's high-90s fastball. Great fun.

UPDATE #2: The Yankees blow it open in the bottom of the eigth. Edwar Ramirez pitches a 1-2-3 ninth and the Yankees win 9-3. Afterwards, Suzyn Waldman reports that in the clubhouse Ramirez walked up to Chamberlain, threw his arms around him, and said, "I'm never going back to the minor leagues."

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Reading skills

"Congress scrambles to get their momento from a shredded Constitution," could have been the headline of today's important story by Risen and Licthbau.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 — Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns from Democrats in Congress recently, and that there was a continuing debate over the meaning of the legislative language. But they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation.

They also emphasized that there would be strict rules in place to minimize the extent to which Americans would be caught up in the surveillance.

The dispute illustrates how lawmakers, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought.

Not, really that it matters what Congress does.

Though many Democratic leaders opposed the final version of the legislation, they did not work forcefully to block its passage, largely out of fear that they would be criticized by President Bush and Republican leaders during the August recess as being soft on terrorism.

Yet Bush administration officials have already signaled that, in their view, the president retains his constitutional authority to do whatever it takes to protect the country, regardless of any action Congress takes. At a tense meeting last week with lawyers from a range of private groups active in the wiretapping issue, senior Justice Department officials refused to commit the administration to adhering to the limits laid out in the new legislation and left open the possibility that the president could once again use what they have said in other instances is his constitutional authority to act outside the regulations set by Congress.

At the meeting, Bruce Fein, a Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration, along with other critics of the legislation, pressed Justice Department officials repeatedly for an assurance that the administration considered itself bound by the restrictions imposed by Congress. The Justice Department, led by Ken Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, refused to do so, according to three participants in the meeting. That stance angered Mr. Fein and others. It sent the message, Mr. Fein said in an interview, that the new legislation, though it is already broadly worded, “is just advisory. The president can still do whatever he wants to do. They have not changed their position that the president’s Article II powers trump any ability by Congress to regulate the collection of foreign intelligence.”

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday quote of the day

Fred Thompson looks at the performance of the Bush administration's so-called "governin'" and learns a valuable lesson.

[Thompson's] speech touched on the war in Iraq, the economy and federalism, and on a more general theme: “When you look at governmental functions, you see for the first time in our history this clearly: that the government can’t do some basic things that the government is supposed to do.” He mentioned the response to Hurricane Katrina.


The Bush administration puts crony hacks in charge of important government functions and when they prove to be utter failures Thompson takes from that government can't do basic things. I know we saw this coming -- the Bush administration has been a lesson in how Republicans destroy government institutions in order to prove that government institutions don't work -- but, still, it's stunning to see it articulated.

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What it's all about

Geez, the scales fall from our eyes.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 — The White House plans to use a report next month assessing progress in Iraq to outline a plan for gradual troop reductions beginning next year that would fall far short of the drawdown demanded by Congressional opponents of the war, according to administration and military officials.

One administration official made it clear that the goal of the planned announcement was to counter public pressure for a more rapid reduction and to try to win support for a plan that could keep American involvement in Iraq on “a sustainable footing” at least through the end of the Bush presidency.

Full speed ahead and pass the baton.

Oh, and that troop reduction -- all the way down to "pre-surge" levels.

General Odierno said the five additional brigades added this year under the president’s troop increase were likely to be withdrawn on a timeline parallel to their arrival in Iraq. Under this timeline, which is not yet the official plan, the troop increase would end by April with the five brigades leaving Iraq one each month, with American force levels returning to the troop levels existing before the increase by next August, he said.

That, by the way, is 140,000 American troops.

Is that "Victory" I smell?


Friday, August 17, 2007

Rudolph Giuliani is a deeply stupid man

Profoundly so. Fred Kaplan grades Rudy!'s essay for Foreign Affairs.

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Max Roach

Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Max Roach. Three of the most innovative jazz drummers of the 20th century. Max died yesterday. He was 83.

Mr. Roach’s death closes a chapter in American musical history. He was the last surviving member of a small circle of adventurous musicians — among them Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and a handful of others — whose innovations brought about wholesale changes in jazz during World War II and immediately afterward.

Their music, which came to be known as bebop, had its roots in the jazz tradition, but it was different enough to scandalize many listeners and even many of their fellow musicians. Its rhythms were more jagged and unpredictable; its harmonies were more advanced, at times dissonant; its technical demands could be daunting. Despite the skepticism and hostility they initially inspired, the beboppers established the template for how jazz was played for decades to come.

Mr. Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was an important architect of this musical revolution. He remained adventurous, and modern, to the end.

Mr. Roach challenged both his audiences and himself by working not just with standard jazz instrumentation but in contexts well beyond the confines of jazz as it is generally understood.

He led a “double quartet,” consisting of his working group of trumpet, saxophone, bass and drums plus a string quartet. He led an ensemble consisting entirely of percussionists. He played duets with avant-gardists like the pianist Cecil Taylor and the saxophonist Anthony Braxton. He performed unaccompanied. He wrote music for plays by Sam Shepard and dance pieces by Alvin Ailey. He collaborated with video artists, gospel choirs and hip-hop performers.

Mr. Roach explained his philosophy to The New York Times in 1990: “You can’t write the same book twice. Though I’ve been in historic musical situations, I can’t go back and do that again. And though I run into artistic crises, they keep my life interesting.”

Couldn't find any video of his short-lived but brilliant collaboration with Clifford Brown, in what would be called "hard bop." But here he is with his quartet in 1977.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Useless idiots

Kevin Drum is shrill.

On a related subject, more here on the Shia takeover of the Iraqi army. It's not exactly news or anything, just further confirmation of the obvious: the eventual fate of Iraq (outside the Kurdish north) is the establishment of a Shia theocracy closely aligned with Iran. As far as I can tell, no one has even a colorable argument that things are moving in any other direction, and equally, no colorable argument that there's anything we can do to stop it. Maliki is using the U.S. military brass as useful idiots to fight his battles for him, and George Bush is his Useful Idiot in Chief.

And don't forget: every single major Republican candidate for president wants to continue our useful idiot role. They're practically duelling each other to see who can be the most fatuously naive about foreign policy. Quite a spectacle, no?

Speaking of making a spectacle of himself, David Broder inhales some of the rich, manly morning breath of Fred Thompson and starts seeing stars.

When Fred Thompson makes his long-delayed entrance into the Republican presidential race, he will not tiptoe quietly. Instead, he will try to shake up the establishment candidates of both parties by depicting a nation in peril from fiscal and security threats -- and prescribing tough cures that he says others shrink from offering.

In a two-hour conversation over coffee at a restaurant near his Virginia headquarters, the former senator from Tennessee said that when he joins the battle next month, he "will take some risks that others are not willing to take, in terms of forcing a dialogue on our entitlement situation, our military situation and what it's going to cost" to ensure the nation's future.

Well, do tell.

After spending most of the past few years on TV's "Law and Order," and starting a new family, with two children under 4, the 65-year-old lawyer says he finds himself motivated for the first time to seek the White House.

I can imagine the campaign looks pretty good to a 65-year old former lobbyist with two kids under four who are constantly getting into his humidor.

"There's no reason for me to run just to be president," he said. "I don't desire the emoluments of the office. I don't want to live a lie and clever my way to the nomination or election. But if you can put your ideas out there -- different, more far-reaching ideas -- that is worth doing."

Emoluments? He better watch those five dollar words when he's campaigning next month in South Carolina. Oh, and Fred, I'm pretty sure you ain't gonna "clever your way" anywhere...unless you mean getting the rubes to fall for the red pick up again. And by "rubes," I mean the Washington press corps.

But lets, Dear Reader, listen to the "far-reaching ideas" The Dean so gushes on about. But first, it wouldn't be a Broder column if there wasn't a "pox on both your houses," moment.

Thompson, like many of the others running, has caught a strong whiff of the public disillusionment with both parties in Washington -- and the partisanship that has infected Congress, helping to speed his own departure from the Senate.

But he says he thinks the public is looking for a different kind of leadership. "I think a president could go to the American people and say, 'Here's what we need to be doing. And I'm willing to go halfway. Now you have to make them [the opposition] go halfway.' "

Ah, yes, Thompson has such a long, detailed history of forming consensus on legislation he crafted in the Senate. What's that, he never crafted any? Whatevah.

The approach Thompson says he's contemplating is one that will step on many sensitive political toes. When he says "we're getting a free ride" fighting a necessary war in Iraq with an undersized military establishment, "wearing out our people and equipment," it sounds like a criticism of the president and the Pentagon.

"A free ride?" And no, it doesn't sound like criticism of the president and the Pentagon, it sounds like a guy who wants to double-down on Iraq. He sounds like all of the GOP candidates (except Ron Paul...Microsoft should create a shortcut for that phrase) in wanting to increase defense spending and continuing to fight Bush's War.

When he says he would have opposed adding the prescription drug benefit to Medicare, "a $17 trillion add-on to a program that's going bankrupt," he is fighting the bipartisan judgment of the last Congress.

"Bipartisan judgment of the last Congress?"

When he says the FBI is perhaps incapable of morphing itself into the smart domestic security agency the country needs, he is attacking another sacred cow.

Um, David, J. Edgar Hoover's been dead a long while. The agency's not quite so fearsome to politicians as it once was.

Thompson repeatedly cites two texts as fueling his concern about the country's future. One is "Government at the Brink," a two-volume report he issued as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at the start of the Bush administration in 2001 and handed to the new president's budget director as a checklist of urgent management problems.

The difficulties outlined in federal procurement, personnel, finances and information technology remain, Thompson said, and increasingly "threaten national security."

His second sourcebook contains the scary reports from Comptroller General David Walker, the head of the Government Accountability Office, on the long-term fiscal crisis spawned by the aging of the American population and the runaway costs of health care. Walker labels the current patterns of federal spending "unsustainable" and warns that unless action is taken soon to improve both sides of the government's fiscal ledger -- spending and revenue -- the next generation will suffer.

I can buy that. What's Thompson's "far-reaching idea here?" Health care plan, anyone?

"Nobody in Congress or on either side in the presidential race wants to deal with it," Thompson said. "So we just rock along and try to maintain the status quo. Republicans say keep the tax cuts; Democrats say keep the entitlements. And we become a less unified country in the process, with a tax code that has become an unholy mess, and all we do is tinker around the edges."

Thompson readily concedes that he does not know "where all those chips are going to fall" when he starts challenging members of various interest groups to look beyond their individual agendas and weigh the sacrifices that could ensure a better future for their children.

There, he said it: the children. I don't see a whole lot of sacrifices in repairing Social Security and universal health care. Unless he means sacrificing some of that defense spending we'd otherwise use to invade Iran and to fight that "necessary war" in Iraq. And sacrificing some of the insurance companies' marketing budgets (and paying all those people to deny coverage).

But these issues -- national security and the fiscal crisis of an aging society with runaway heath-care costs -- "are worth a portion of a man's life. If I can't get elected talking that way, I probably don't deserve to be elected."

Thompson says he feels "free to do it" his own way, and that freedom may just be enough to shake up the presidential race.

And with that, Broder was forced to call the Post's IT department.

Let's review the far-reaching ideas:

  • Iraq: More, more, more.
  • Defense spending: More, more, more.
  • Medicare: Entitlements are the problem, not our defense spending that is already nearly double what the rest of the world spends, combined.
  • Domestic security: You've seen 24, haven't you? It's not like that stodgy old FBI. On the show, they have flat screen monitors.
  • Fiscal responsibility: Let's show some.
  • Aging population: Yikes.
  • Interest groups: He was a lobbyist, so he's uniquely qualified to tell them to shut the fuck up.
  • On campaigning: If I can get elected by talking to David Broder over a couple of Whiskey Sours, then, hell yes!
Next week, Broder sups with Mitt Romney and declares him a Methodist.

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