Saturday, July 28, 2007

Workin' in a data mine, goin' down down down

More information trickling out in the New York Times about the NSA domestic spying program that isn't “the program the president has confirmed,” that Alberto Gonzales' circumlocutions (no, that's too dignified a term) have danced around in sworn testimony.
A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

[. . .]

A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used.

Nor would they explain what modifications to the surveillance program President Bush authorized to head off the threatened resignations by Justice Department officials.

An agency spokesman declined to comment on the data mining issue but referred a reporter to a statement issued earlier that Mr. Gonzales had testified truthfully.
Lord I am so tired. How long can this go on?

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Better Way Forward

Sen. John Kerry's holding a contest, asking activists to submit radio ads targeting what the talking points call "Roadblock Republicans."
I think we need to run radio ads in the states of the Roadblock Republicans, making it crystal clear that they don’t deserve to be reelected because of their continued support for the Bush Doctrine of escalation without end. We need to turn up the heat even higher.
The problem is, that's the wrong way to do it. Kerry's call is for ads telling voters why they shouldn't vote for Republicans.
You can make the spot sad, or satirical, or hard-hitting. Whatever you want to do. You can make it a personal story from your life (maybe you know someone in Iraq or have a family member there or maybe you are one of the many veterans in this community), or you can make a factual case on why voters should consider someone else because of this issue, or anything else you’d like. (emphasis mine)
Okay, it's not quite Nixon on Laugh-In saying, "Sock it to me?" But if Kerry and crack DNC consultants think YouTube debates or gimmicks like this are the way to win in 2008, they're displaying again just how little they understand progressives and the mood of the country. They've got the basics of good idea here, but in Biblical terms, they're trying to put new wine into old wineskins. The progressive grassroots isn't about tearing down the Republicans. It's about building up the Democratic Party. Democrats need to be engaging voters and telling them why they should vote for Democrats.

Voters told Republicans last November who it is they no longer believe. What they want now is someone to believe in.

Consider Bush's Hard Corps, the unshakable something-percent. They'd rather believe lies and kowtow to scoundrels than abandon their soft-focused vision of Team Decider. Like Special Agent Fox Mulder, they want to believe. So do the rest of us. Democrats who want to win need to give voters something better to believe in than just "someone else."

Progressives need to look into themselves for the answer, not at the GOP.

What is it about Republican policies that strikes you as wrong? Contrast that with what you know is right. Ground it in American ideals and speak it simply and clearly. What is it that's been lost that you miss most? How do you feel about the atmosphere of mistrust being bred by the fear mongering and character assassination? How alone and uneasy are you feeling about your future?

Odds are, you're not alone at all. Voters will respond to hearing that Democrats understand their problems and anxieties and have ideas for addressing them. They have lost much. Give them hope. Give them something to believe in.

As if to drive home the point, Bob Shrum was on The Colbert Report as I typed this, blaming butterfly ballots, the Supreme Court and Diebold voting machines for the last six years of George W. Bush. Always fighting the last war.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Praise the Lord and pass the Coronas

The Bush administration threatens to veto the farm bill if Democrats insist on closing a tax loophole for tax-dodging campaign donors.
Farm-state Republicans had been lining up with Democrats to defend the bipartisan bill but changed course when notified that a proposed increase in nutrition programs would be funded partly by tightening the rules on U.S.-based foreign companies that avoid U.S. taxes by using offshore havens.

Republicans quickly picked up on a White House statement branding the funding plan as an unacceptable tax increase. Rep. Robert W. Good- latte (Va.), the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said that all GOP lawmakers on the panel as well as GOP leaders would oppose the bill if the funding proposal stays in.

Democrats said the tax proposal would merely close a loophole that the Bush administration itself has decried in the past. "Who is surprised that the administration takes the side of CEOs who hold beachside board meetings at the expense of programs to feed the least fortunate here at home?" asked Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee.
Not me. You?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

NC in the spotlight

MyDD and The Nation look at how the Democrats' Fifty-State Strategy is making headway in North Carolina.

Bye, bye Miss American Pie

More mortgage woes in the paper this morning.

The nation's largest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial, reports more borrowers - including those with good credit - falling behind in their payments, the New York Times says this morning.
Countrywide said its customers who are falling behind on payments appear to have lost jobs, had a divorce or fallen ill. Many are living in homes that are no longer worth what they were when the loan was made and cannot refinance because lenders have become stricter.
Moral? Don't lose a job, get divorced or get sick, ya here?

Foreclosures are up in California, according to the Los Angeles Times, reporting an 799% increase over his period last year. Foreclosures are moving beyond the predatory loans (read: sub-prime) common among low-income borrowers, and are beginning to hit the middle class:
"The economy will bend further under the weight of the mounting housing and mortgage problems, but it will not break," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's

That's what passes for optimism these days. Others are more downbeat.

"All the artificial stimulus housing gave the economy is going to go away," said Rich Toscano, a financial advisor with Pacific Capital Associates in San Diego who runs the popular real estate website. "There will be individual pain for people who made the wrong decisions. We all may end up in a recession."

The good news, as seen by Toscano: "I don't envision a 'Grapes of Wrath' scenario where we all have to pile in the family car and look for harvesting work."
Whew, that makes me feel better.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beyond the new "Dust Bowl"

This week at the Campaign for America's Future, Rick Perlstein concluded The Foreclosing of America, his four-part series on the crisis in foreclosures caused not just by the burst of the housing bubble, but by the explosion in NINJA - a "No Income, No Job, No Assets" - home loans.

Perlstein examines how lack of oversight and cronyism in the finance services industry led to working people taking out a glut of risky loans and, since the housing bubble burst, the consequent explosion in foreclosures.
But you can't believe you're one of them. And, having internalized Republican ideology (personal responsibility!), you presume it must be your own fault.

Like most things Republicans believe, that's wrong. You've been defrauded, and under the cover of law. The ownership society has, as the kids say, owned you. It's owned us. The crisis is systemic. In this wealthiest of countries, one presently graced by rates of economic growth Republicans are pleased to all "healthy," foreclosure rates in the first three months of 2007 were at their highest since 1979 - a year when the economy was at its un-healthiest since the Great Depression.
"This could well become Dust Bowl stuff," Perlstein worries, describing neighborhoods already filled with boarded-up and unsold homes. It's a crisis that goes well beyond those who have lost their homes - the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with it effects everyone.
And I mean everyone—and not just if a housing securities collapse tanks the financial system. What FDR so wisely grasped—that preserving the value of a family's home is a collective good—is radically more true 85 years later. Our schools are primarily funded by property taxes, which are levied based on the assessed value of homes. Is America prepared to reckon with the damage to school districts across the nation as home values collapse?

Collapsing home values leave every child behind—a vicious circle, hurting everyone.
The way forward for progressives, Perlstein believes, is a "new progressive politics of homeownership" that refocuses our government's resources in the way FDR did in declaring the "inequitable enforced liquidation at a time of general distress is a proper concern of the government." Because despite the happy talk surrounding the surging stock market, a generalized anxiety persists. While "the economy" is doing well, the people are worried.

It's addressing that anxiety - the uncertainty - that Jacob Hacker speaks of in "The Great Risk Shift" that will restore the country you and I grew up in.
What would a new progressive politics of homeownership do for them? One that deployed collective resources to keep people in their homes, keep neighborhood home values up, deployed a federal rainy day fun for municipalities to keep up school funding in the event of a property-tax drought, one that (if this is truly what Americans decided they wanted) could keep the homeownership rate at 69 percent or higher by offering a NINJA loan's inexpensive and accessible terms without NINJAs' lottery-like risks, which eliminated vulture-lenders with extreme prejudice and perhaps even put some of the worst offenders in jail (or, at least, not in charge of banking regulatory agencies)?

It would rescue millions of Americans from everyday anxiety in a way not seen since the passage of Medicare in 1965.
It's something people are hungry for. Democrats need to promote this as an alternative to the "every man for himself" ethos of the conservative project, as I have written before.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I'm the Decider! Oh, marvelous me!

"For I am the ruler of all that I see!" - Dr. Seuss

The unitary executive displays its privilege stacking prowess in this morning's Washington Post.
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
"Turtles! More turtles!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Keep it complicated, stupid

Digby commented yesterday on the "Three Stooges Strategery" behind the Republicans' obstruction in Congress.
It is so rich listening to these Republicans decry the tyranny of the majority and stand up for the inalienable right to filibuster after their tiresome "up-or-down vote!" mantra of the last six years. Nobody ever accused them of being intellectually consistent. But this takes real chutzpah.

[. . .]

I don't think the Democrats have fully internalized what is going on yet. As I wrote the other day, we are dealing with a political party that is employing a strategy of anarchy in which incoherence is used to flummox the opposition and confuse the media. They are confident (and likely right to be so) that this will never catch up to them because the media has ADD and today's political atrocity is forgotten by the next news cycle. By running circles around the Dems with obnoxious disregard for the congress and gleefully flouting their own precedents and rhetoric, the president and the Republican minority are almost daring the Democrats to try and stop them. Which is the point. They are going for the big narrative, which is the old stand-by that the Democrats are too soft to run the country: "If they can't stop Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham, how can we trust them to stop Osama bin Laden?"
They appear to have the media flummoxed too. Crooks and Liars notes how the media is getting the filibuster story backwards, focusing on Hary Reid's Iraq all-nighter, but neglecting the obstructions thrown up by Republicans.

The "strategery" Digby mentions reveals two faces of Republican strategy.

Face 1: When selling their own policies, the GOP strategy is "keep it simple, stupid." Lather, rinse, repeat simple: lower taxes, smaller government, etc. - easily digested by busy people without time to follow complex details. Repeated ad nauseum, like the "no underlying crime" mantra in the Scooter Libby case. (Now there's a valid argument based on legal principle. Never mind. The Bush base will parrot it without thinking if they're told to. That's the whole idea.)

Face 2: When it's time for some serious bamboozlement, Digby's observations suggest that the GOP approach is to go for a complete reversal: "keep it complicated, stupid." A strategy to keep the same busy public from understanding what in heaven's name is going down. If the public can't understand, the public won't blame the GOP for it. Better than a cloak of invisibility.

And so far, the Democratic leadership is still off balance. I'm still waiting for Democrats to get the GOP's full attention by giving them a good, swift kick in their executive privileges.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Playing Catch-Up

Finally got around to reading Matt Taibbi's "Spanking the Donkey." At dinner I read his 2004 commentary on the ineffectiveness of sixties-style street protests decades after their time had passed:
We are raising a group of people whose only idea about protest and opposition come from televised images of forty years ago, when large public demonstrations could shake the foundations of society. There has been no organized effort of any kind to recognize that we now live in a completely different era, operating according to a completely different political dynamic. What worked then not only does not work now, but it also doesn't even make any superficial sense now.

Let's just start with a simple, seemingly inconsequential facet of the protests: appearance. If you read the bulletins by United for Peace and Justice ahead of the protests, you knew that the marchers were encouraged to "show their creativity" and dress outlandishly. The marchers complied, turning Seventh Avenue into a lake of midriffs, billabong, bandannas, and "Buck Fush" T-shirts. There were facial studs and funny hair and man-sandals and papier-mâché masks and plenty of chicks in their skivvies all jousting to be the next young Heather Taylor inspiring the next Jimi Hendrix to write the next "Foxy Lady."
Such display after an age of conformity scared the hell out of people in the 60s. But not now. Taibbi's criticisms echo one of my pieces published in the Asheville Citizen-Times a year later - September 24, 2005 - on the weekend of a large protest in Washington. I think we're on the same page:

Friends I describe as all-natural, vegetarian chain smokers have attended protest rallies since college. It’s a kind of hobby. They are probably in Washington right now, marching against the war in Iraq. Sometimes they would invite me along to protest [your favorite liberal cause here], promising it would be fun.

Sure. I can think of lots of things more fun than protesting foreign wars and abuses of power. Or listening to impassioned speeches with rhetoric so threadbare that you can close your eyes and imagine yourself at any street rally since 1966.

This weekend major U.S. cities will see protests against the conflict in Iraq. The usual cast of characters will be massing in Washington: squads of pall bearers with mock coffins, Grim Reapers, pets in drag, and clowns for peace.

Friends, would you please consider doing something effective for a change? If you like playing dress-up, there's the Society for Creative Anachronism. For fun, rent a Jackie Chan film. We've watched you get arrested earning your merit badges in civil disobedience long enough to figure out that what's really arrested is your political development.

It's not that your issues aren't worthwhile. Most are. And sure, protesting can be cathartic and promote a sense of solidarity with your tribe. You go home feeling better about the issues. But wouldn’t you rather go home having done something with half a chance of resolving them? If you want to effect change, you have to influence political leaders and win the hearts and minds of American voters.

Face it, America is not swayed by mass die-ins dramatizing the loss of life caused by war. Or by coeds dressed as "corporate whores" to satirize conglomerates prostituting after Defense Department dollars. Or by indoctrinating children through activist puppet dramas with all the subtlety of temperance plays.

How do I know? Because you've been staging these sideshows for decades and the red states keep getting redder. These are time-tested wastes of your energies and talents, public curiosities, local color on the news at six. I'd rather go bowling.

Meanwhile, the other guys have been planning, organizing, raising money and building a movement. Talking points from their thinks tanks appear in the e-mail and fax machines of sympathetic radio and television pundits, and within hours their base is on message. You’re not even sure what your message is.

It’s past time to stop playing dress-up and start playing catch-up. So here’s some unsolicited advice.

Call forth the best in yourselves and you will call it forth in others.

Voters are not stupid. Think they are and you’re just spitting into the wind.

Listen to people outside your clan. Find out what they want. Try visiting flea markets and listening to coworkers. Read widely, including "The National Review and "The Weekly Standard" online. Avoid best-selling screeds.

Speak with people, not at them.

Think bigger. You get whipped because you are a loose coalition of narrow interests without a big picture. Center for American Progress founder, John Podesta, heard from one businessman, "All you guys do is show individual products. You never show a brand." Your opponents have spent thirty years and billions of dollars crafting and marketing their "brand."

Work better with others. You’ll need allies. The sun doesn't rise and set over your pet issue. If you take your ball and go home when your issue isn’t on top of the agenda, you still lose. Don’t let the little stuff get in the way of the big stuff. (James Carville puts it more colorfully.)

"Never just oppose, always propose," he suggests. Give people something positive to vote for: community, justice, fairness, corporate and personal responsibility, clean air and water, and tolerance. Don't cede these to interests who view every human interaction as a market transaction. And walk the walk on tolerance. How many times must we wince at antiwar students shouting down speakers with opposing views?

Don’t get angry; get involved. Volunteer for and donate to local campaigns. Donate to strategic planning groups. Nag your representatives.

Hurricane Katrina cast things in stark relief. If you expect to keep America from becoming even more of a haves and have-nots nation, playtime is over. Put away the costumes, roll up your sleeves and get down to work.

But Taibbi goes me one better. The powers that hold sway no longer fear outrageous sartorial displays, they're eager to supply them. They fear only one thing, Taibbi says: organization.
That's why the one thing that would have really shaken Middle America last week wasn't "creativity." It was something else: uniforms. Three hundred thousand people banging bongos and dressed like extras in an Oliver Stone movie scare no one in America. But 300,000 people in slacks and white button-down shirts, marching mute and angry in the direction of Your Town, would have instantly necessitated a new cabinet-level domestic security agency.

Why? Because 300,000 people who are capable of showing the unity and discipline to dress alike are also capable of doing more than just march. Which is important, because marching, as we have seen in the last few years, has been rendered basically useless.

[. . .]

Protests can now be ignored because our media have learned how to dismiss them, because our police know how to contain them, and because our leaders know that once a protest is peacefully held and concluded, the protestors simply go home and sit on their asses until the next protest or the next election.
Got to rush out and buy some black slacks. A protest with 300,000 liberals marching in slacks and white shirts? It would send Bill-O to the dressing room for fresh tighty-whities.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Half now, half later

(This piece first appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on July 15, 2007.)

No party hats. No confetti. Mostly relief among neoconservatives, their pundits and Republicans presidential candidates after President Bush commuted “Scooter” Libby’s perjury and obstruction of justice sentence in the CIA leak case. Former federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani echoed Libby supporters who complained that “ultimately, there was no underlying crime involved.”

Martha Stewart served her time. Washington’s clubbish elite, however, couldn’t stomach seeing Libby in prison after conviction by a jury of commoners.

The former White House aide was sentenced to 30 months — 30 being roughly the number of friends who raised $5 million for his legal defense before the commutation on July 2. Libby drafted a check for his $250,400 fine that afternoon.

It was just 1998 when Republicans warned that not holding President Bill Clinton accountable for alleged perjury and obstruction of justice threatened our very republic. In impeachment proceedings, chief prosecutor Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., spoke passionately of bedrock principles, invoking Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill. GOP lawmakers stampeded the podium to proclaim that no man is above the law.

Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.

By January 2001, conservative insiders looked forward to George W. Bush appointing like-minded Supreme Court judges and restoring the rule of law, as they understand it. At a mock funeral eulogizing the Clinton years, columnist Cal Thomas toasted to “the end of moral corruption … and the return of a controlling moral authority in the White House.” Former Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork chimed in: “In a sound country, Clinton would long ago have been hung upside down in a dungeon.”

Moral authority

Their moral authority installed dungeons at Guantanamo Bay and other exotic locations, adding modern amenities like “enhanced interrogation techniques” and tribunals featuring coerced testimony. Besides a handful of terrorists, the authorities imprisoned hundreds of others for years before releasing them from Guantanamo without charge or apology — thousands more from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most common underlying crime was being in the wrong faith at the wrong time.

Libby’s impending imprisonment, however, drew swift action. Displaying uncharacteristic leniency, the president declared Libby’s punishment “excessive,” drawing on sentencing complaints which were “routinely and strenuously opposed by his own Justice Department,” the New York Times reported.

In a nearly identical case decided weeks earlier, the Justice Department argued for upholding the sentence of Victor A. Rita’s 33-month sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice. His two decades of service in the armed services, commendations, awards and medals should have no bearing, they said, calling Rita’s sentence reasonable. In an 8-to-1 decision the Supreme Court agreed.

In Libby’s case, however, the president intervened even as the White House promoted a bill to reinstate mandatory sentencing rules struck down by a 2005 Supreme Court decision. Judges should have little discretion in sentencing, the administration argues, saying that leads to disparities in punishments for similar crimes.

“This is opening up a can of worms about federal sentencing” said Ellen S. Podgor of Stetson University.

“I anticipate that we’re going to get a new motion called ‘the Libby motion,’” the law professor told the New York Times. “It will basically say, ‘My client should have got what Libby got, and here’s why.’ ”

The political heat over the decision had to be anticipated. Commutations are rare, and generally not granted until a prisoner has begun serving his sentence, or while the conviction or sentence is under appeal. Why the rush?

Was it because the administration’s fall guy might reveal incriminating details of the CIA leak once behind bars? (Commutation leaves Libby’s conviction intact for now, along with his right to invoke the 5th Amendment under oath.) Like something out of film noir, commutation could be seen as an inducement to remain silent until the president leaves office, when a full pardon will be issued. Half now, and the other half when the job is done.

Before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six former Reagan administration officials — including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, still facing trial. It effectively quashed further inquiry into the Iran-Contra cover-up and any role Bush pere played in it.

For Washington’s elite, it’s often not what you know, but who you know. But for senior officials like Libby, it helps if what you know might be incriminating.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What else do THEY know?

Just got a love note in the mail from my credit card company regarding my account ending in ####:
We noticed that you have recently experienced difficulty using your Bank of America card at an ATM, so we're taking the opportunity to remind you of your Personal Identification Number (PIN).
Huh? OMG. Last Saturday I went down to a local brew pub to watch Live Earth, to mingle with Drinking Liberally friends and area environmental activists. Went to buy a beer and ... only $5 in the wallet. Enough for one beer, but ...

Walked next door to an off-brand ATM to get some cash. I put in my PIN, but couldn't make the thing cough up the dough, so I left. I realize now it was because I'd put in my credit card, not my bank card -- different PIN.

But the Powers knew about it. Bank of America knew where I was, when I was, and how much I wanted to withdraw.

So now, if Bank of America knows that, what else do THEY know?

Where did I put that tin foil hat?

Friday, July 13, 2007

I'll take Libertarianism for $100

At heart really is the knee-jerk ... reaction against government infringement on some nebulous concept of "liberty."
Atrios comments on a marvelous essay by Atlantic magazine's Matthew Yglesias over at Cato's blog (the libertarian think tank, not the Roman statesman). Yglesias points out the practical limits reality places on the libertarian pursuit of freedom from government regulation.

Contrasting the "freedom" of Kansas with the more regulated "freedom" required to build and sustain New York City, Yglesias notes that one is not necessarily preferable to the other. Politics that produced a society more tolerant of women and minorities, that use government to reduce people's exposure to risk expand freedom of action by providing security, Yglesias observes. It's just not freedom in the way libertarians normally view it:
Kansas has fewer business regulations, but New York is more conducive to cosmopolitan individualism. This turn is, as far as I'm concerned, all to the good – cosmopolitanism is an excellent thing, as is individualism, whereas libertarianism is a bit silly.
Atrios puts in more plainly:
Drop me in the middle of the desert and I am truly free, though it's not really the kind of freedom I am interested in.
The Double Jeopardy category is Authoritarianism. What would you like to wager?

Beyond Glass Houses

E.J. Dionne argues for returning to an age in which the wall between church and state mirrored one between the pubic and the private. His jumping off point is the problems Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana faced this week when his phone number appeared on the client list of "the D.C. Madam."
... a big part of me is rooting for Vitter to survive because I so want to return to a time when we -- that "we" includes the media -- chose to pay little attention to the extracurricular sexual activities of our politicians. The magnitude of our public problems does not afford us the luxury of indulging in crusades about politicians' private lives, even those involving a high degree of hypocrisy.

[. . .]

In turn, the rest of us might agree to keep the public conversation focused on the larger questions -- how to proceed in Iraq, how to fix the health-care system -- about which elected officials can actually do something. As voters, wouldn't we forgive a politician many private sins if he or she handled those two issues successfully?

Typically, we make fun of public figures who seek our sympathy by admitting to "sin." But maybe a politician who admits to sin gains a certain degree of humility in the process. Let's grant Vitter our collective absolution and move on.
Nothing to see here, folks. Bigger fish to fry elsewhere. Move along.

Keep your powder dry.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Something more direct

Digby marvels at the GOP's grade-school, "extreme politics" that has Democrats "flummoxed." They keep changing the rules so fast, Democrats get caught flat-footed with their mouths agape.
Right now, for example, we have the Republicans filibustering everything in sight and calling the Democrats a do-nothing congress. We have the president spending twelve billion dollars a month on a war the country hates and saying the Democrats are overspending. And oversight is being met with incoherence that better resembles a three stooges routine than cooperation. They are not behaving as normal politicians behave, they are behaving like reckless, emotionally deranged teen-agers daring someone to stop them. And like the nice, nurturing parents they are, the Democrats try to be reasonable and "talk" while the miscreant kids steal the money out of their wallet and take the family car --- screaming "suckers" as they peel out of the driveway.

[. . .]

I don't pretend to have the answers. These guys are almost as good at advancing their heinous goals from the minority as they are from their majority. They enjoy this sort of guerilla warfare where they are able to toy with the foolish nerds who are trying to actually do the people's work. It suits their temperament. It's also quite effective.
People keep asking me, why don't Democrats stand up to Bush and the GOP? Grow a set of testicles?

Better something much more direct. "That's the Chicago way!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

That's Spanish for "resolute," heh, heh.

Eugene Robinson examines how The Decider's fantasies of being "a latter-day Churchill" will keep him from seeing the mess he's made of Iraq.
I know he's read a book or two about his hero, so I can't help wondering: Hasn't Bush gotten to the part about how Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell created Iraq at the fateful Cairo Conference of 1921? And how the object was to get British forces out of Mesopotamia, leave the fractious locals to their own devices and wish them the best?

[. . .]

I don't see how anyone can realistically expect Bush to change course at this late date. It wouldn't be "resolute," in his understanding of the word, to acknowledge that he made a terrible mistake. What he can do instead is play for time and hope for some sort of deus ex machina that miraculously saves the day.
Thank you. That's just the term we've needed to describe Bush's "plan" for getting out of Iraq. It's all he ever had. And he can't even pronounce it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

From the crack reporters at

... Focus on the Family. Digby passes along a catch from Pastordan in which the AP rehashes a press release from Dobson's group which trashes Mitt Romney Something about cable TV pornography in Marriott hotels (?) while he was on their board. Pastordan says
... it's remarkable that the AP's Johnson gives the criticism so much ink. I actually had to stop at the end of the article and remind myself that this wasn't a press release from Focus on the Family. Except it was - pieces of it, anyway. Other portions seem to be a rewrite of a post by David Brody.
No one is done a service by this kind of hatchet job and Digby says so for all of us:
I'm happy to see Mitt Romney being kicked to the curb by the religious right, but not so happy to see the AP regurgitating articles from Focus On The Family, no matter who it's about. This is exactly the kind of thing that drives me crazy about these journalistic conventions. Sure the "facts" presented may be true. But after reading it, I have no idea what the truth is. It's maddening.
For some, Digby, that's "Mission Accomplished."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Qaeda, Qaeda everywhere so no one stops to think

(updated below)

The New York Times flags the sudden proliferation of the words al Qaeda (or just Qaeda) in military press releases:
Bush mentioned the terrorist group 27 times in a recent speech on Iraq at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. In West Virginia on the Fourth of July, he declared, “We must defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda.

Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.
Its ship of the desert hobbled, the administration has tried to prop up support for its failure by invoking the perps of 9/11 at every opportunity. At least somebody noticed.

Public Editor Clark Hoyt looks at the Times' coverage and believes that on the whole it has provided the proper perspective, there is room for improvement. On the increasing attribution of violence in Iraq to al Qaeda, foreign editor Susan Chira acknowledges, “We’ve been sloppy.”

They have just issued new guidelines "on how to distinguish Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia from bin Laden’s Al Qaeda."

Hoyt concludes: "Military experts will tell you that failing to understand your enemy is a prescription for broader failure."

So what did you mean by that?

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald today contrasts sloppy stenography by the Times with some solid analysis by the WaPo:
While the Post article reports on developments which fall into the "good news" category --"the administration will report that Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province are turning against the group al-Qaeda in Iraq in growing numbers"; "sectarian killings were down in June"; "The portrait officials paint of the Iraqi military is somewhat brighter" -- those reports are balanced by facts that are critical for putting those developments into the proper perspective:
* Those achievements are markedly different from the benchmarks Bush set when he announced his decision to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq;

* The Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy;
And so on. Just as a precaution, perhaps we should remove fourth estate from the wagon carrying the corpses of other once-thriving democratic institutions and place it in the "not dead yet" stack.

New refineries? It's the profits, stupid.

A recent guest column in our paper suggested environmentalists and regulatory roadblocks prevented new U.S. refineries from opening since 1976, contributing to gas shortages and higher prices. It's a widely circulated and misleading talking point. Cranky humans don’t know what’s best for them. The columnist wrote “the people who risk their own money in an uncertain world” (corporations) do? And they do what?

“While profit margins improved dramatically last year, most refiners still don't believe that the returns on investment — historically about 5 percent a year — justify plunking down $2 billion or so to build a facility,” The Houston Chronicle reported in 2005.

Shareholders like quick profits. Oil executives cannot stomach decade-long, low-return investments in new refineries when “debottlenecking” (increasing output) or expanding existing facilities pays off faster. ExxonMobil, Valero, Marathon, Motiva and Citgo invest billions doing that. Calls for conservation and alternative fuels make new refineries less attractive than boosting earnings per share with billions in stock buybacks. That’s capitalism. Is there a problem?

“While a new U.S. refinery has not opened since 1976, industry officials say they've added the equivalent of 10 refineries over the last decade with expansions at existing facilities,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported June 17.

“No new refineries” is a long-dead red herring that stinks.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Heat is On

A reader at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo says what a lot of us are thinking:
It seems pretty clear to me that Bush would not be taking nearly as much heat if he'd waited for Libby to do some time in prison. So why the hurry? Was the hurry because Bush wanted to take no chance that Libby would start talking? I think it is likely it was. And that is the approach the Dems should take in keeping this story in the news: What is Bush so determined to keep hidden? The Dems can sound compassionate and reasonable by suggesting a commutation after some time in prison would not have been unreasonable. That there must be some good reason why Bush is willing to take so much political heat.
Meanwhile, is anyone remaking the famous Bush I "Revolving Door" campaign ad? It could be the beginning of Scooter's new career.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Spoof or Consequences

After spoofing K-Street lobbying firms into bidding to give the "ugly, neo-Stalinist" government of Turkmenistan a P.R. makeover, former LA Times staffer and Washington editor of Harper's Magazine, Ken Silverstein, drew flak from some in the journalism community for going undercover and misrepresenting himself to get the story. It wasn't unexpected.

The aggrieved lobbying firms attacked Harper's, saying that it was "unethical" of Silverstein to misrepresent himself as an agent for a Turkmenistan-connected energy firm. Presumably, they were more embarrassed that he'd publicize tactics they use for skirting lobbying restrictions or for getting a client knocked out of the top ten on Parade magazine's list of the world's worst dictators.

In Saturday's LA Times, Silverstein fired back:
Based on the number of interview requests I've had, and the steady stream of positive e-mails I've received, I'd wager that the general public is decidedly more supportive of undercover reporting than the Washington media establishment. One person who heard me talking about the story in a TV interview wrote to urge that I never apologize for "misrepresenting yourself to a pack of thugs … especially when misrepresentation is their own stock in trade!"

I'm willing to debate the merits of my piece, but the carping from the Washington press corps is hard to stomach. This is the group that attended the White House correspondents dinner and clapped for a rapping Karl Rove. As a class, they honor politeness over honesty and believe that being "balanced" means giving the same weight to a lie as you give to the truth.
Give 'em hell, Ken.

What Would Winston Do?

No joy in Dubyaville this morning as a Churchill scholar rains on the neocons' Churchillian pretensions in the Washington Post's lead editorial:
Like Bush and unlike Churchill, Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders. Nonetheless, he was convinced that he alone could bring Hitler and Benito Mussolini to heel. He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise.

In the months leading up to World War II, Chamberlain and his men saw little need to build up a strong coalition of European allies with which to confront Nazi Germany -- ignoring appeals from Churchill and others to fashion a "Grand Alliance" of nations to thwart the threat that Hitler posed to the continent.

Unlike Bush and Chamberlain, Churchill was never in favor of his country going it alone. Throughout the 1930s, while urging Britain to rearm, he also strongly supported using the newborn League of Nations -- the forerunner to today's United Nations -- to provide one-for-all-and-all-for-one security to smaller countries. After the League failed to stop fascism's march, Churchill was adamant that, to beat Hitler, Britain must form a true partnership with France and even reach agreement with the despised Soviet Union, neither of which Chamberlain was willing to do.
It goes on at length. Read the full article here.