Tuesday, January 31, 2006

navel-gazing 101

You know, after a really good defeat, nothing satisfies like two-dozen postmortems. Blogger “A” thinks the failed Alito filibuster is an embarrassing disaster; blogger “B” thinks it’s an amazing victory. Newsweekly “C” thinks it’s all about 2008; newspaper “D” thinks it spells disaster for Democrats in 2006. Broadcast networks A, B, and C hardly think anything at all. . . .

Mmm, Mmm, toasty!

Actually, I effin hate postmortems. Not that I don’t believe in analysis and learning from your mistakes—I do—but they sure as hell don’t make me feel better. This is one way that politics is not like philosophy. . . or therapy.

No, we can’t hug this one out, and Pyrrhic victories will feel like defeats—over and over again—until real victories come along. But, here is something else I feel: If you believe something strongly going into a fight, that belief isn’t wrong just because you lost. There are numerous clichés about how long it takes to build Rome or how far you have to move your foot to begin a really long walk, but the central fact is that if you think principled losses feel bad, just try fighting when you don’t believe in anything but winning.

No doubt the ersatz Republicans over at the DLC will trot out their tired clique with their tired pronouncements about reconnecting with the “center.” And, no doubt those same DLC-ers will work behind the scenes to make sure nothing so embarrassing as 25 Democrats speaking up for their base ever happens again. In fact, they already have, accusing the no-cloture 25 of “pandering to the blogosphere.”

Well, as Digby points out in one of the better post-morts, being responsive to your constituents is not the same thing as pandering. Quoting from the book Politicians Don’t Pander, his post questions whether the term “pander” is just used to thwart any urge by elected representatives to cater to popular opinion.

Now, I don’t want to take this too far—you certainly won’t see me making a case for “poll driven” politics—but when you are elected to represent a group, and that group expresses a strong belief, is it pandering to work on behalf of that group? Surely, it has to look and feel better to respond to your constituents than to respond to political consultants, party hacks, media critics, or, most certainly, pressure from the opposing party. Yes, our representatives should always try to speak the truth, but the dialogue should be with the people whom they represent.

So, I don’t think those 25 Democrats that tried to stop Alito and the Bush agenda were pandering to the blogosphere or any other interest group. Did they, the Senators, hear them? I certainly hope so. And in hearing all the people who phoned, faxed, and/or blogged, I think those 25 did themselves proud (and not just because they agreed with me). Those Senators represented the Democratic voters who put them there, stood in opposition to a set of ideals that they have stated they oppose, and have helped define their party as distinct from the Republican hegemony.

No, if there was any pandering going on during this fight, it was committed by a group that has no business being poll-driven—let’s call them “the news media.”

Months ago, the so-not-liberal media decided that Alito was a shoe-in. Questions about the Judge’s ethics and prior rulings were marginalized as just so much Democratic casting for a wedge issue. The Judiciary Committee hearings (no matter how little we think of the Democrats’ performance there) ceased to be the top story after the requisite cliché swearing-in photo-op (oh, there was the crying wife blip). Most reports lead with the questioning being not much more than “partisan squabbles”—usually with “he said, he said” sound bites—and followed with the purported concession that Alito was “imminently qualified.”

When it came time to discuss a possible filibuster, it was instantly dismissed as being unlikely and doomed to fail. Let me reiterate, the reporting went beyond a whip count; most reports predicted that any move towards a filibuster flat out wouldn’t happen, and then basically described the “tactic” as foolhardy and obstructionist. Kerry’s call for a filibuster was openly derided on the front page of the New York Times. The White House talking point, that Kerry made the call from Davos, was echoed just about everywhere. Time has decided it was all about ’08—it had nothing to do with what Kerry might believe—end of story.

After Monday’s floor fight, not one of the nightly news broadcasts lead with the cloture vote. And, again, when they got to the story, it was summed up and dismissed with opposing sound bites.

Granted, Monday was big day for graphic misery in Iraq—but, you know what, every day is. Most likely, the Senate debate was deemed by news execs as “inside the beltway” or “politics as usual” (rather than a debate about the future direction of the country)—and even a passing glance at their audience data says “eighteen-to-thirty-fours” just don’t care.

But, here’s where being, in theory, “responsive” to your constituents—in this case viewers—is pandering. It actually isn’t up to a chosen demographic slice to decide what is newsworthy for an entire country. No, this is a place where there is something to be said for “elitism” (some might also call it “education”). Journalists are trained to ferret out a story. The fourth estate is supposed to “speak truth to power,” and do so within earshot of the rest of us. As Ted Koppel said Sunday, in his debut op-ed for the New York Times,

Most television news programs are designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalist who should be telling their viewers what is important, and not the other way around.

I’m with Ted on that point—and I don’t think I’m living in some mythical past (as Ted was accused of by Slate columnist Jack Shafer). In fact, there are pages already (and still to be) written about how print and broadcast media has evolved in the age of corporate consolidation, but I think I can say this today: pandering and responsiveness are not the same thing, not in the news business, and not in politics either.

Being responsive in news would be about spending time and energy on communicating what journalists understand to be the news. In other words, if a major story is not believed to be of interest to a core demographic, don’t jettison the story; instead, work on making the story interesting. Explain why it matters to everyone instead of trying to guess what might matter to a group that consultants tell you is your target. (And I say this as one of those evil consultants.)

Being responsive in politics is about having a discussion with your constituents. It’s about exchanging ideas—communicating where you stand, and understanding what your base wants. Pandering is trying to construct a public persona that is not an accurate representation of who you really are in an attempt to “win.” (This brings up a whole other thought: Bush doesn’t pander to his base, he serves them. They are in concord. Bush panders to the rest of us when he pretends not to be a rightwing ideologue.)

I don’t think the 25 Senators who tried to save America from an Alito-tipped Supreme Court were pandering to the blogosphere, or anyone else for that matter. I think they were responding to voters who represent the core of the Democratic Party. I do think that Democrats and Republicans who voted for cloture on Monday but will vote against Alito on Tuesday are pandering. If you were against Sam Alito, you needed to stop him the only way you could; any effort to explain the split vote is nothing more than an attempt maximize votes at the expense of any real beliefs.

And, when you straddle the fence like that and still lose—as Democrats have been doing ever since the DLC gained sway—that’s when it really feels bad. Let’s hope that the anti-Alito 25, and all the people that helped support them, have opened a door to feeling good. . . and maybe winning, too.

Monday, January 30, 2006

You want values? I’ll give you values!

I have never been one to buy into the 2004 postmortem that got all wet and wild over “values” voters, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be played to the Democrat’s advantage. How cool would it be if Americans saw Democrats acting out of principle instead of self-interest?

Republicans look to use the Alito fight as another example of how Democrats are weak, unprincipled, and lacking conviction. It’s a narrative that extends beyond the fight over the future of the Supreme Court, and runs through Republican positioning on the Iraqi incursion and domestic security. So, as Armando has noted, the fight for a filibuster

. . . may look like a ragged strategy in some respects, but it is good for us to be seen doing things that have no obvious political advantage and for which we can legitimately claim to have taken the moral high ground. Yes, the tittering cognoscenti will flutter their fans and whisper that Democrats are witless and dull, but in this case we are talking directly to the people not to them.

I really think this is an important moment—and not just for the very obvious threats posed by an Alito/Roberts court. If the Democrats are going to seize control of their own brand, so to speak, then they have to start telling a unique story. As my marketing and communications experience taught me long ago, a “not” brand is bad brand. When VH1 was simply “not MTV” (or “MTV for older people”), their ratings were in the toilet. When they sought to define their own brand as independent and distinct from their sibling, VH1’s ratings improved.

The Democrats have spent too much of the Bush decade being reactive. They have thought that when voters saw the truth—that Bush & co. is bad news—they would naturally walk across the aisle. By being reactive, waiting for Republican proposals, and then labeling them, appropriately, horrible, Democrats have allowed Republicans, time and again, to frame the debate. The Democrats have been left to argue on Republican terms, and so, what are they, but “not” Republicans.

If the Democrats are to re-position their brand, claim their own space on the political landscape, and start racking up some serious electoral victories, then it is time for them to write their own story. It could be a story about their values—but it needs to be about Democratic values, and not some touchy-feely rehash of what Republicans call values.

The Democrats can start writing this story on Tuesday, by fighting cloture on the floor of the Senate. In doing so, they need to steer clear of some of the legal points which fell so flat during Alito’s confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee, and, instead, speak to what Democrats think America should be, and how that vision will benefit Americans from many walks of life. Only after they convey the benefits, the beliefs, the values, of a Democratic vision, should Democrats point out how Republican policies (as supported by Republican nominees) will prevent our citizenry from attaining those benefits.

It may sound like a tall order, but, truth be told, it really is not. Corporations reposition brands every day. Consumer products deliver the promise of a better life with each flick of the dial or click of the mouse—and those are mostly ethereal, aspirational benefits. The Democrats, should they choose stand for something, have the power to deliver palpable benefits, real value, the power to actually change lives. Be it with better access to medical care, financial security in old age, well-funded public schools, freedom from the tyranny of fear, or the guarantees of equal protection under law, the Democratic values can be expressed in a proactive, principled stance.

A stance that starts by filibustering the Alito nomination.

Democrats.com has a fantastic resource called “The Alito 48” to direct your phone calls so you get more value for your lobbying efforts—please make use of it.

Call now! Senators are waiting!

Friday, January 27, 2006

What Democrats can learn from Hamas

With what is by most accounts a surprising and overwhelming victory by Hamas in the Palestinian elections held earlier this week, I couldn’t help but think about all the hand-wringing being done by Democratic strategists as their party tries for what seems like the umpteenth time to find its voice. Now, let me state, straight out, that this is not a post about the Hamas Charter, or about their avowed belief in the destruction of Israel. No, instead, this is a post about a party that, with a grassroots strategy, won an electoral battle with an entrenched but corrupt governing party.

I have been reading up on the history and tactics of Hamas in an attempt to be as accurate as possible here, and, while there is much that is open to debate, something that comes up repeatedly (again, outside of their connections to suicide bombings in Israel) is that Hamas grew as an organization in large part through its connections with social services and institutions. Granted, Hamas has an ideology that appeals to many, as well, and it has benefited from the missteps of the ruling Fatah party, not to mention Israeli governments, but it has cemented its connection to its base with its presence in their everyday lives.

In a place where basic services were just not available to large numbers of its people, Hamas saw the obvious vacuum and stepped in, establishing schools and hospitals, funding civic charities and labor unions, and providing what amounted to welfare for the vast underclass. Hamas was also an alternative “police” presence to various and often corrupt Fatah militias. True, Hamas also became a presence in the mosques, but they tied their preached values to palpable social aid. Palestinians trusted Hamas in the mosque because they could count on them in the street.

Hamas also campaigned against the widespread corruption that has so weakened the Palestinian Authority—corruption that can be linked directly to the ruling Fatah party. That Fatah was ridiculously corrupt was an easy sell, that Hamas was a definitive alternative to that corruption came from years of delivering benefits to Palestinians that the mismanaged PA could not.

Now to the American Democratic Party: Much has been made by its leaders (such as Nancy Pelosi) of the Republican “culture of corruption” that has taken over the Capitol—and, indeed, there is much to be made of it—but it is not enough to just repeat a nice phrase. What does “culture of corruption” mean to voting Americans and their families? How have Abramoff, Scanlon, DeLay, Ney, Burns, Frist—the list is a mile long—made life harder? What changes for the worse can be tied to the Republicans and this corruption (Medicare, anyone? Bankruptcy? Energy prices?)

In addition, it is not enough to be against the corruption—you have to be for some beneficial alternative. Part of that might be proposing minor repairs like “lobbying reform,” but a bigger part of that needs to be something much more.

Lobbying reform is inside-the-beltway bullshit that just doesn’t really fire up anybody. As many have pointed out (like David Sirota), unless the fundraising is taken out of the electoral equation, with public campaign financing, no band-aid will really bust up the K Street Kops. US Representatives David Obey (D-WI) and Barney Frank (D-MA) have proposed legislation that would require all House races be financed only with public funds—and that’s an idea that not only provides a leverageable point of difference with Republicans, it separates Obey and Frank from several Democrats.

But even campaign finance reform seems, to me, to be a two-stage argument. No, if Democrats want to connect with voters in the fall, they need to connect directly to their lives right now. They can talk values, but values without benefits will fall, clunk, on the floor.

Rather than talking values, I’d like to see the Democrats regain their position as the party of big ideas. Social Security was a big idea. Medicare was a big idea. The Voting Rights Act was a big idea. All of these were Democratic-lead initiatives, and all had measurable effects on citizens’ lives.

Learning from, yes, Hamas, the Democrats need to work for better schools, better access to healthcare, better deals for workers, and better rights for all Americans. Democrats need to become virtually synonymous with the good that government can do, and by doing so, they can become responsible for rooting out the bad that government has done.

Maybe with that strategy, Democrats, too, can begin to win against an entrenched and corrupt governing party.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Somehow I keep blogging for choice

I am sitting here listening to Paul Begala on the radio pushing his book (written with James Carville), and everybody in the booth concurs that the “Bush Court” will overturn Roe v. Wade. Begala says that the day after that happens, support for Democrats among women will go “from 50% to 75%.” Quoting Joni Mitchell (and dating himself?), Begala sums up his theory this way: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

I think I agree more with Joni than Paul. While I do think it will be interesting in the long run to see what happens when the traditionally valueless traditional values types lose their favorite rallying point, I have a real tough time with “interesting in the long run” when it can so adversely affect so many in the short run.

Assuming that the system isn’t totally queered by the corruption, cronyism, and calumny of the current regime, it would be great to watch the pendulum swing leftward as a growing portion of America is forced to eat the Bush administration’s unjust desserts. But what happens before then, before the re-realignment? How many of our federal courts will be stocked with right-wing ideologues? How many of our public schools will be underfunded and left for dead? How many acres of our land and gallons of our water will be befouled by unregulated industry? How many citizens will be subject to chilling illegal searches and wiretaps? How many will rot in jail without access to lawyers or a speedy trial? How many of our elderly will be denied access to affordable healthcare or medication? How many of the nation’s poor will be condemned to a perpetual underclass? And how much will we perpetuate the suffering of the children of those poor?

And, since this is topic one right now, how many women will be denied access to a safe and legal abortion?

And, while those women are enduring unwanted pregnancies, giving birth to unwanted children, or risking harm from back-alley abortions, how much political hay can the left make, anyway? I say this because under the Rehnquist Court, abortion rights have been severely limited (as I detailed on Sunday), and yet, during that time, the Democrats have not reaped the rewards of a widening gender gap. There are many states where it is so difficult as to be virtually impossible to get an abortion, and yet most of these states were red or went red in the 1990’s, and stayed red in 2004.

Is it possible that abortion just isn’t the voting issue for women that some think, or is it possible that Democrats are incapable of framing the disappearance of reproductive rights in a way that effectively communicates the harm? I’m guessing it is more likely the latter (in fact, to take it a step further, not only could they not communicate the harm, they couldn’t sell the benefits that come from voting Democratic), but whatever the reason, experience shows us that, contrary to Paul Begala’s prediction, lack of access to abortion doesn’t automatically convert women from red to blue.

Now, unlike Begala, I am not 100% convinced this Supreme Court will completely overturn Roe. However, I am very certain it will permit more and more outlandish limits on abortion rights. Whether Democrats find a way to tactically win from such a civil rights loss in the long run, it seems, is an open question; whether women and their families will suffer in the short run, I’m afraid, is not.

Don’t it always seem to go. . . .

* * *

Today’s plea for action: Senate floor debate on the nomination of Samuel Alito for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court continues. While there are enough Republican votes to confirm him, there are more than enough Democrats in the Senate to sustain a filibuster—but they have to know that’s what we want! There is still time to call your Senators, but you’ve got to do it now. Call your two, and call Minority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Whip Dick Durbin, and tell them all you want to see the Democrats stand up for civil rights, stand up to Republican bullying, and stand against Judge Alito. Tell them the only way to say “No” to Alito is to say “Yes” to a filibuster!

You can phone the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or (888) 818-6641—an operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

And while you’re at it, forward this information to all your friends. Get everyone you know to make a call!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Guarding the henhouse

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade that affirmed a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion in all 50 states (five states had legalized abortion prior to the Roe decision).

It is also the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard, those sartorially splendid mercenaries responsible for guarding the Holy See (you know, the Pope, the Vatican, all that jazz).

It’s just a funny coincidence (it’s also the 22nd anniversary of the debut of the Mac and the 38th anniversary of the first episode of Laugh In, so, you see, too much can be made of these things. . . but I digress), but brings up an interesting point. At present, there are four Catholic members of the United States Supreme Court (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts); if Samuel Alito is confirmed, there will be five—the first time in US history that the Court will be majority Catholic.

Now, perhaps the biggest deal about this is that it is no big deal. (It was only 45 years ago that President Kennedy was actually asked by a reporter if he would be more loyal to the Pope than to the US.) But, it is troubling because at least four of these potential five Catholic justices have given signs of their hostility to the rights granted women 33 years ago.

This is not necessarily to say that they are opposed to abortion rights because they are Catholic, either—some very liberal justices (William Brennan, for instance) have been Catholics. But the “moral traditionalism” (as some Catholic scholars call it), exemplified by the likes of Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, is believed by court watchers to be the kind of common bond around which “opinion blocks” coalesce. And the opinion that seems to hang so much on the nature of this emerging block is Roe itself.

Whether Alito and Roberts will have the audacity (for lack of a better word) to overturn Roe outright is still in question, but it seems clear that with Alito replacing O’Connor, the fundamental right to abortion, whether or not it is affirmed in word, will be undermined in deed. With Alito confirmed, the Court, as legal scholar Lawrence Tribe testified at the Judiciary Committee hearings, “will cut back, step by step, not just affirming current restrictions on abortion, but limiting access to it until the fundamental underlying right to liberty is a hollow shell.”

While last week’s unanimous decision in Ayotte earned the praise of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, it is, in my opinion, a decision so narrowly drawn (classic O’Connor, by the way) that it does more to provide a roadmap for abortion rights foes than it does to uphold fair access to abortion. The Court might hold that Roe is “settled law” (something, it should be noted, Alito could not even bring himself to say at his confirmation hearings), but it might also allow for so many obstacles that, in many states, it will be all but impossible to choose to medically terminate a pregnancy.

Obstacles to abortion rights already affirmed through years of challenges include severe restrictions on public funding, mandatory waiting periods, parental notification, and graphic presentations designed to dissuade the woman from going through with the abortion. Further, harassment, terrorism (yes, blowing up a clinic or killing a doctor is terrorism), and the overly strict enforcement of various health and medical codes have caused medically licensed abortion facilities and doctors to completely disappear from large parts of the country. In addition, “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” fake clinics that, in fact, provide only a pregnancy test and intensive anti-abortion propaganda, have been allowed to spring up like mushrooms. There are already over 1,000 documented “crisis centers,” and, in many states, these centers far outnumber real abortion clinics.

While an abortion might remain officially legal, it will effectively be legal only for wealthy, single, adult women who are lucky enough to live in a region of the country that still has doctors and clinics. If you are poor, strapped for time, a minor, or a resident of states like Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, or Mississippi, then it might well seem like the decision of 33 years ago was never handed down.

So, on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let us celebrate the great step forward made January 22, 1973, but let us also act to assure that it doesn’t end up seeming as if that day never happened. There are many things that need to be done to guarantee access to safe, legal abortions for any woman that needs one, but since we today focus on a Supreme Court decision, let us focus on the Supreme Court.

It is important to the future of so much we hold dear—abortion rights included—that Samuel Alito not be allowed to assume a seat on the Supreme Court. I have called for action before, and I will repeat myself now:

Call your Senators—both of them—and tell them that you not only oppose the confirmation of Judge Alito, you fully support a filibuster to make sure he never takes a seat on the High Court. You can phone the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121—an operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

Sign some petitions. Planned Parenthood has one here. Campus Progress has one here. (You can sign both.)

Stay active. Planned Parenthood has other things you can do to help protect choice here.

And, finally, stay vigilant. Thirty-three years is not enough time to take the rights guaranteed in Roe v. Wade for granted. The Holy See has known who would guard them the last 500 years. And, though 500 years is perhaps a little too far down the road for America to look, let us at least ask, “Who will guard abortion rights for the next 33 years?”

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bitter pill, bitterer donuts

With heads still shaking from the mismanagement of Katrina relief, the pork-barreling in the highway bill and the defense appropriations bill, and the ever-growing web of Abramoff entanglements, it’s easy to forget about what might be this year’s biggest domestic debacle.

Anyone who tried to go to a pharmacy the first week of this year no doubt saw at least some level of the Medicare “Part D” disaster. I witnessed a half-dozen furious seniors venting emotions that ranged from tearful despair to homicidal rage when they discovered that drugs they once were able to affordably access would now cost them unimaginable amounts. Pharmacists and their assistants frantically tried to call government help lines only to encounter busy signals or multi-hour waits on hold. It reminded me of the scene in A Clockwork Orange where the aged bums beat the crap out of Malcolm McDowell: “It was old age having a go at youth.”

Some pharmacists have advanced drugs or paid out of pocket. Some states have stepped in to bridge the horrendous gaps in drug coverage, saying that they would seek reimbursement from the federal government. But the feds, saddled themselves with a marked overrun in this program’s costs, have recently said in no uncertain terms that reimbursements would not be forthcoming (once again sticking it to the state governments—a persistent pattern under Bush). The private insurance companies assigned to handle this brave new world have been, for the most part, unresponsive to the problems of their new customers.

Bush and his mouthpieces have dismissed the suffering as the usual problems associated with starting up a new program: “growing pains,” “a few kinks,” “glitches,” “bugs.” Comparisons have been made to the start of Medicare itself, but Kevin Drum, quoting Jon Cohn, points out that may not be the best argument for the administration.

So what happened on the day that this complex program [Medicare] was implemented? Thousands of senior citizens simply went to the hospital and got the health care they needed. "There were no crises that I remember," says Yale University political scientist Theodore Marmor, who worked in the office overseeing Medicare implementation and went on to write The Politics of Medicare, the program's definitive history. Newspaper accounts from the '60s back him up. Under the headline "medicare takes over easily," a Post writer described the program's first day as "a smooth transition, undramatic as a bed change." Three weeks later, the Times affirmed that "medicare's start has been smooth."

In fact, just about every comparison you can make between a standing federal program and a Bush-era reform finds that things have been made worse. One has to ask, “Why give yourself the headache?” With the threat of international terrorism and the budgetary and emotional sinkhole commonly called the Iraq war, why take on the baggage of a Medicare overhaul?

Perhaps it is easy because this government is not taking it on at all. Mirroring its approach to just about every issue, the Bush administration has offloaded responsibility for both the execution and the repercussions. The buck stops anywhere but here. Privatization, be it in Medicare or the military, allows Bush & co. to stop thinking about it while heaping huge financial rewards on friends, cronies, and contributors to Republican campaigns.

And, in most of these cases, the ills of privatization are chronic. Mismanagement, corruption, and featherbedding plague private reconstruction projects and security initiatives in Iraq. . . and in the US Gulf States, as well. In the case of Medicare “reform,” as truly awful as the first few weeks have been, most seem to agree that the worst is yet to come. The “donut hole,” as it is called—a freakish proviso in the Medicare drug scheme that stops coverage between $2,251 and $5,100—should soon become what Michael Hiltzik calls “donut hell” as seniors’ drug costs mount.

The tiny silver-lining—and I am loathe to express any optimism that springs from the suffering of so many—the possible dividend that might be reaped by all of us as a result of the windfall profits reaped by all of them, is that the donut hole might start hitting Medicare-eligible Americans in the months just before the November elections.

If precedent holds, older Americans will vote in larger percentages than most. It is incumbent upon the Democrats running this fall to remind these voters that it was Bush, Hastert, DeLay, and most other Republicans that worked overtime to saddle them with this donut hole; maybe then, some Republicans will get their just desserts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A lie by any other name

Eric Lichtblau reports in today’s New York Times that a recently declassified State Department report debunked the administration’s infamous “16 words” nearly a year before Bush spoke them before Congress and the country.

Those words, you recall, detailed a uranium sale from Niger to Iraq that was supposed to be prime evidence of the smoking gun/mushroom cloud that necessitated the immediate military invasion of Iraq. But now it appears members of the Security Council were told in early 2002 that the sale was “’unlikely’ because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles.” For instance:

Among other problems that made such a sale improbable, the assessment by the State Department's intelligence analysts concluded, was that it would have required Niger to send “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers” filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border.

Now that seems like a pretty easy thing to verify, dontcha think?

Of course, the Bush bunch has admitted that the 16 words turned out to be garbage, but have stood by a “garbage in, garbage out” excuse, as in, they were just referencing “flawed intelligence.”

It is now clear, if not from the claims of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, the conclusion of Italian intelligence officials, or last year’s Robb-Silberman report on intelligence “failures,” then certainly from this declassified State Department intel, that the Iraq-Niger connection was hyped not because of flawed intelligence, but because of flawed morals. The Bush administration knowingly manipulated intelligence to “sell” the Iraqi incursion.

By the way, “manipulated intelligence” is just a polite way of saying “LIED.”

But we all know Bush lied; why does this still matter?

Well, beyond the thousands of Americans and Iraqis that continue to be injured and killed every day because of this lie, there is

  • Lying to Congress—as Bush did in the 2003 State of the Union—which is an impeachable offence.
  • Intelligence “reform”—deemed necessary because of the so-called “intelligence failures”—which continues to be used as cover by Bush & co. for a variety directives that impinge on our civil rights.
  • Plame-gate”—the now famous attempt by high-ranking administration officials (like, the highest ranking ones) to smear Joseph Wilson and his wife because they dared to oppose the administration and expose the lie. The lie, the smear, and the cover-up are still part of an on-going investigation.
  • The continued lying to us. Even though various admin mouthpieces have “admitted” that the yellowcake story is crap, claims continue to be made by the likes of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. (In a related lie, Cheney and Bush continue to assert a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda.)

Oh, and, I should note one more issue: The declassified intelligence report referred to in the Times article—that’s a State Department report. It was OK’d, read, and signed by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell—the same Colin Powell who sat in the well of the House and applauded those 16 words, the same Colin Powell who made the case for war in Iraq before the United Nations, and the same Colin Powell who remained silent about all he knew throughout 2003 and 2004.

And, it’s the same Colin Powell, former soldier, former head of the Joint Chiefs, who sat quietly by as non-veterans Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice put his fellow military men and women in harm’s way without a real cause or a realistic battle plan, and the same Powell who watched as this cabal destroyed the US Army, the organization that propelled him to national prominence.

(I know some of you think I have it out for Colin. Well, I do. As I said/quoted on MLK day, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”)

And, it is now the same Bush administration that continues to lie to us—and to Congress, for that matter—about a host of activities, from warrantless domestic spying to illegal detentions, from “extraordinary rendition” to sanctioned torture, from grants for African AIDS victims to hurricane relief for displaced Americans. . . . This is an administration—a president—that continues to lie from sun-up to sundown, from sea to shining sea. Today’s revelations are just another documented example.

Monday, January 16, 2006

“A time comes when silence is betrayal.”

Michiko Kakutani reviewed Paul Bremer’s anyone-but-mea culpa in the New York Times late last week. . . that’s not news in and of itself. However, David Sirota called attention to this paragraph:

Mr. Bremer quotes a September 2003 memo in which Mr. Rumsfeld declared that “our goal should be to ramp up the Iraqi numbers, try to get some additional international forces” and “reduce the U.S. role.” And he writes that Colin L. Powell said this push was related to concerns that the president might have to mobilize more National Guard units, including ones from crucial states in an election year.

So, according to Powell, fundamental military decisions—decisions that directly affected the stability of Iraq and the security of those who serve there—were made for political reasons—specifically, US electoral concerns. They were not made to gain a tactical or strategic advantage in the Iraqi theater; they were made to influence the 2004 United States presidential election.

Now, I would guess we all kind of knew shit like this was happening, but to see it spelled out and sourced is still sick-making. And, to find yet another instance where Secretary Powell knew something that he must have understood to be dubious and dangerous (if not out-and-out corrupt), only to find that, once again, he kept it to himself. . . well, since it is MLK day, let’s use a King quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

And, speaking of silence, in a relative fashion, Sirota expresses outrage that this news was buried in a book review in the Arts & Leisure section. My outrage is slightly different. It is fine and fair to assign Bremer’s book to a reviewer and then publish a book review in the typical place. It is not acceptable, however, that the news division of the Times (or any other media outlet, for that matter) did not pick up on Bremer’s revelation, follow up with Powell, Rumsfeld, and others, and then run a news story right up front where everyone would notice.

I should point out that they could still do this—anyone could—for this news is still newsworthy. And, the silence, alas, is still noteworthy.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Life is cheap in the Orient—I mean, Northern Pakistan

It is popular to think of John McCain as the Republican we can like because he is occasionally a vocal critic of the Bush administration, or because he is apparently a hoot on a long road trip, but it would be good to remember that, in America, the enemy of my enemy isn’t always my friend—even if he listens to the Beatles.

“This war on terror has no boundaries. We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out.” Those are the words of Senator McCain, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation to defend Friday’s US attack on a Pakistani village. The attack was meant to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant” (AP’s words, not mine), but instead killed one or two dozen people of yet unconfirmed nationality or affiliation. . . though it seems to be the general consensus that al-Zawahiri is not among the dead.

It’s easy to think of McCain as better than Bush because the Senator, for the most part, is a rationalist (as opposed to the leader of the American Taliban). During the 2000 campaign, reporters occasionally mentioned how much more fun it was to cover McCain than any of the other candidates because he was saucy, racy, funny, and/or more “real.” But McCain has a reputation for a nasty temper that extends back to his early days in Washington, and his politics were considered to be right wing until Bush came along.

And, being a racy rationalist does not excuse the madness of opinions like those expressed this morning. The idea that the benefits of “taking out” one Al Qaeda “lieutenant” are greater than the negative repercussions of unleashing the dogs of war on countless innocents all over the Arab world is not just a tad irrational, it is butt stupid. The manifold enmity engendered by the sadness and mayhem so outweighs the “tactical advantage” (read, “domestic PR victory”) of killing-off one familiar name, it makes one wonder what McCain is really thinking.

Contrast McCain’s Sunday proclamations with his recent arguments supporting the so-called anti-torture amendment. Last month, McCain pointed out, intelligently, I think, that a US policy that condones torture puts American troops at risk should they fall captive to the enemy. What then, I would ask the Senator, are the rewards of a US policy that condones the indiscriminate use of excessive force? (One answer: here.)

Why is it that the Senator is so ardent about the safety of US troops and so dismissive of Pakistani lives? McCain’s feelings about torture are no doubt vividly colored by his experience in a Vietnam POW camp, but it seems, at first, illogical that his opinions about America’s scorched earth policy in the so-called “War on Terror” aren’t influenced by General William “life is cheap in the Orient” Westmorland’s ultimate failure in the Vietnam War. Could it be that McCain, like Bush, is more interested in domestic opinion than global stability? Could it be that Pakistani lives are less valuable to McCain than those of US soldiers? Could it be that he is making the rational calculation that Pakistani lives are also less valuable to us?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Will somebody please mess with Texas?

Two distressing stories crossed paths in the news on Wednesday, and both have more than a passing acquaintance with the (cough) great (cough) State of Texas.

First, up on Capitol Hill, where hearings continue on the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito for Justice of the Supreme Court, questions on the concept of “one person, one vote” can’t help but return to the Lone Star State. The 2003 Texas redistricting plan engineered by recently deposed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his hell-spawn in the Texas State Assembly has produced seven separate lawsuits percolating up through the federal courts. Four of those suits are scheduled for arguments before the United States Supreme Court in March.

As several Democratic Senators tried to get Squirrelly Sam to say something—anything—definitive on the question of Roe v. Wade and whether it was “settled law,” Alito repeatedly prevaricated, claiming that he couldn’t comment on issues that might soon come before the court. Why then, asked New York Senator Charles Schumer (or was it Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, I suddenly can’t remember—where’s my fact-checking department?), do you reaffirm your belief in one person, one vote? The judge argued that it was because o.p.o.v. was settled, and not likely to come before him, were he to be confirmed.

Schumer (or was it Leahy?) called bullshit. There were, indeed, cases not just likely, but certain to come before the court this year. And then the Senator ticked off the four cases: LULAC v. Perry, Travis County v. Perry, Jackson v. Perry, and G.I. Forum of Texas v. Perry. The “Perry” named as the defendant in each case is Governor Rick Perry of, yes, Texas.

Important to all these cases is the concept of “one person, one vote.” And, the “person” in Texas that is being denied his or her Constitutional right, as guaranteed under the XIV Amendment, is, in most instances, African American. (Because African Americans still vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, Texas Republicans aggressively gerrymandered districts to prevent African Americans from being a strong voting block in virtually any of them.)

The second story is from the Austin American-Statesman (it was published there last week, but was picked up by the national wires on Wednesday), and it is headlined: African-American children overrepresented in Texas child welfare system. The opening sentence of the story pretty much says it all:

African American children stay in Texas foster care significantly longer, are less likely to be returned to their families and wait longer for adoption than white or Hispanic children, according to a new state report.

The article points out that “African American children are no more likely than white children to be removed from their homes by state caseworkers,” which makes the statistics even more alarming. (It also makes the study’s conclusion that poverty and not racism was the major reason for the imbalance somewhat less credible, but the statistical analysis of this would be too long-winded, even for me. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure poverty is a factor, it’s just that, as reported, it can’t be the main reason African American children are overrepresented.)

Are these stories related, you know, beyond the fact that both involve African Americans who have the misfortune of living in Texas? Alas, the sad and frightening answer is, “yes.”

If African Americans are underrepresented in the Texas electorate, then so is their influence. Under such circumstances, it is impossible to imagine that they will ever get their fair share of social services, or education money, or any of a myriad of civic programs that most of us take for granted.

If Samuel Alito is elevated to the Supreme Court, he will likely be on the bench by the time the four Texas voters’ rights cases are heard. Will Alito stay true to his confirmation hearings pledge to uphold the sanctity of the XIV Amendment and the supremacy of the concept of “one person, one vote?” Or, will he find it hard to resist the pull of his own personal history (he is hardly a champion of civil rights) and the interests of his patron, self-anointed son of Texas, President George W. Bush?

And those, I’m afraid, are the easy questions. If the Supreme Court does not rule in favor of the plaintiffs in the four pending cases, do African Americans have to wait until after the 2010 census to have any hope of gaining appropriate representation in Texas—and a fair allocation of State and Federal resources? Even then, will it be possible, since Republicans are in control of the Texas State House and, more and more, of the Judiciary?

And, beyond that, even harder still: Is there a deeply entrenched racism in Texas—both institutional and attitudinal—that makes it impossible for African Americans to make any kinds of social or economic gains? Is it purely shortsighted partisan politics that had DeLay and his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), target African American voters for gerrymandering, rather than, say, promoting a slate of candidates and policies that might woo African American voters? Is Texas the new American poster-child for white revanchism? Is Texas the new Mississippi?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Toobin turns hedgehog and fox at same time

The blogosphere is all a-twitter about how oft-lovable legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin could have been so very wrong. . . twice in two days. Playing Mr. Punditpants for CNN’s coverage of the Alito confirmation hearings, Toobin claimed on Monday that a majority of Americans support the Bush administration’s stance on warrantless domestic spying (they don’t—56% oppose). Then, on Tuesday, Toobin went into detail about how Alito voted with the majority in a case involving the strip search of a ten-year-old girl (he was the lone dissenter).

Toobin’s “gaffs” quickly reminded me of a study I’d recently heard about. In Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?, Berkeley psychologist Philip Tetlock not only shows that those who appear as experts in the media get it right no more often than do non-experts, he also details why some get it so very wrong. . . and then get asked back to get it wrong again.

As summarized last month in The New Yorker, Tetlock uses Isaiah Berlin’s metaphor of “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” (Before this, I always thought it was Woody Allen’s metaphor from Husband’s and Wives. You learn something new every day.) Hedgehogs know one big thing, and they try to apply that thing to every situation; foxes know many little things, and stitch together diverse bits of information to draw a conclusion. Hedgehogs are confident of their expertise and get touchy when others don’t “get it.” Foxes are more reserved about their proclamations and their prowess.

In Tetlock’s analysis, foxes get it right more often, but hedgehogs make better pundits, if by “better” we mean that they make bold assessments boldly (which makes for a more lively soundbite). And, the more often a pundit gets asked back, the more sure of him or herself he or she gets, which, in turn, gets the pundit asked back to comment on a broader and broader array of subjects.

When a hedgehog falters, it is soon forgotten or quickly explained away (it just hasn’t happened yet), but when a hedgehog gets it right, it seems very right, since it is often a broad claim.

Is it possible that Toobin has been promoted into hedgehogery? Is he out of his depth or just bad at thinking on his feet? Or, does he just love being on TV, and, so, acts in a way that will keep him there?

Now, I don’t have a problem with Jeffrey liking being on TV, but I do have a problem with us liking it. Or, rather, I have a problem with how much we all like hedgehogs—on television, in the papers, even in the blogosphere—for hedgehogs encourage certitude and discourage nuance. Hedgehogs ask us to pick a side rather than ask a question. Allegiance rather than analysis.

In the end, what makes for a good opinion-maker makes for bad opinion making.

As for Mr. Toobin turning fox, I suppose I should capitalize.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Watergate, the remake

Several pundits, across the political spectrum, have theorized that the scandal stemming from the NSA’s illegal domestic wiretapping will turn out to be bigger than Watergate. But, what with the odd exchange between NBC’s Andrea Miller and New York Times reporter James Risen (first noted by John Aravosis and now picked up by Frank Rich in his Sunday NYT column)—in which Miller asked the oddly specific question about whether the NSA had listened in to the conversations of CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour—I am now wondering not so much if this is bigger or smaller than Watergate, I’m wondering if this is Watergate.

Remember that Amanpour is married to Jamie Rubin. Rubin was a top advisor to the 2004 Kerry campaign. The Bush-sanctioned wiretaps were very much alive and kicking during that campaign. Is it possible that the administration happened upon or directly sought out such conversations, and that Bush/Cheney ’04 benefited from eavesdropping on conversations with Kerry advisors?

Risen makes no such claim, and, in fact, denied any knowledge of anything specifically concerning Amanpour, but I can’t help but wonder. Given what we now know about this administration’s disrespect for the law, and their willingness to use the tools of government to serve their own selfish ends, is this scenario so hard to fathom?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Bush to Congress: Drop Dead

What do the McCain torture ban amendment, the NSA domestic spying scandal, recess appointments, and Judge Samuel Alito have in common? Yes, yes, I know, lots. But I’m thinking of something specific. . . and specifically outrageous.

When GWB signed the Defense Appropriations bill that included the “torture ban” into law just before the New Year, he also issued a “signing statement.” Now, don’t feel too ashamed if you’ve never heard of such a thing as a signing statement before, I hadn’t, either. But, what a signing statement does, as explained by Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe, is lay out a presidential interpretation of the law he is signing. In this case, the signing statement included the following:

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

Or, as explained in the Globe:

This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said. . . . A senior administration official, who spoke to a Globe reporter about the statement on condition of anonymity because he is not an official spokesman, said the president intended to reserve the right to use harsher methods in special situations involving national security.

David Golove, an NYU law professor puts it even more bluntly:

The signing statement is saying "I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it's important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me." They don't want to come out and say it directly because it doesn't sound very nice, but it's unmistakable to anyone who has been following what's going on.

Yes, I think it is. Taken in context with Alberto Gonzalez’s previous proclamations on the wiggle room available under the Geneva Convention, the flouting of the courts’ authority in cases like Padilla, the refusal to get warrants for all kinds of domestic spying (the NSA case is just the most obvious), the recess appointment of John Bolton as Ambassador to the UN, and more recently of 20 others to important agencies like the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Election Commission (outrageous not just because they were recess appointments, but because they were illegitimate recess appointments), the old flap about Cheney’s energy task force (remember that?). . . oh, god, the list goes on and on. . . taken in context with all of these unilateral decisions on the part of the administration, the signing statement issued with the torture ban makes it clear that this White House has decided that its authority trumps any decisions by other branches of government.

(There is actually even more to the Defense Appropriations signing statement. Bush claims the right to ignore several provisions that require reporting to Congress and dictate how the allocated funds can be spent.)

“But what about Sam Alito,” you ask. Well, a quick look at the history of the presidential signing statement tells us that although they date back to Andrew Jackson, they are quite rare until the second term of the Reagan administration. It was then that an energetic young lawyer working under Attorney General Edwin Meese saw a great opportunity to grab back the presidential authority that had ebbed towards Congress in the previous decade. . . and maybe a lot more. In fact, Mark Schmitt and Sanford Levinson state plainly that one Sam Alito conjured up the modern interpretation of the signing statement out of whole cloth.

Most judges (Justice Scalia is an outspoken exception) believe that the intent of Congress in passing a bill, as expressed in committee reports, floor statements by supporters, colloquies, etc., can be an important tool in interpreting the law. Why not let the President spin the law his own way?, Alito asked.

"Since the president's approval is just as important as that of the House or Senate, it seems to follow that the president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress," Alito wrote. He later added that "by forcing some rethinking by courts, scholars, and litigants, it may help to curb some of the prevalent abuses of legislative history."

What is wrong with this? Well, Congress is a deliberative body. It is also—in theory—a representative one. When Congress crafts a law (and I know this might seem a bit Pollyanna-ish given the current Republican reign and the K Street controversy), it has open hearings, it debates, it negotiates; when the President supercedes the parts of the law he doesn’t like with a signing statement, he is ruling by decree. (He is also directing his justice department to ignore the intent of Congress, also appalling, but a bit more complex.)

This administration’s contempt for Congress, for the rule of law, really, is something many have witnessed and remarked upon over the last five years, but it is something that is now made so very flesh in the person of Samuel Alito.

As confirmation hearings for Judge Alito begin, one would hope that many actual members of the legislative branch would take note of this nominee’s detailed disregard for their authority. And, one would hope that Senators would take the opportunity not only to politely ask the judge whether he “stands by” his previous assertions of executive supremacy (he will, no doubt, obfuscate about all of his paper trail), but to take the opportunity to assert, themselves, that no such supremacy rightfully, legally, exists.

For, one certainly cannot expect the Bush administration, feeling the weight of mounting public dis-ease with their authoritarian stance, to suddenly see the light and reverse five years of scheming. Indeed, I fear, it is up to our elected representatives in Congress to constantly and stridently reassert their primacy in the drafting of law—to go back time and again, if necessary, to assure that their will (and the people’s will, theoretically) is respected. If GWB had said to John McCain in the recent negotiations that yes, he’ll agree in public to sign-on to the torture ban, but he reserves the right—in writing—to ignore it, one can only wonder if the Senator would have told the President “no deal.” As political scientist Andy Rudalevige notes, “You can’t have an imperial presidency without an invisible congress.”

I know it is a scary proposition to place the public’s proxy in the hands of this Congress, but it is a scarier proposition to cede it to any White House.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Smile for the camera

David Sanger of the New York Times reports that yesterday’s White House reunion of former Secretaries of Defense and State was attended by the current place holders (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice) for only five or ten minutes.

After everyone got their coffee, the group was subjected to 40 minutes of standard issue White House dog-and-pony presented by Gen. George Casey and (by video link) Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. The message: everything’s coming up roses.

Then, GWB stopped by to exchange chitchat with McNamara, Laird, and Schlesinger (probably just to see if they were still alive). Colin Powell (surprise, surprise) said nothing. It was up to the only woman in the room to whip out a pair of big brassy ones: Madeleine Albright (you remember her from the go-go ‘90’s), reportedly “a bit stirred up” from having sunshine blown up her ass for most of an hour, actually told the President that Iraq was “taking up all of the energy” of his cronies and yes-men, and that the rest of his foreign policy also blew chunks. (I wasn’t in the room, but that sounds like Maddy, doesn’t it?)

Bush was thrilled that someone presented a differing opinion. . .


Bush shot back, and not in a nice way. He claimed he could “walk and chew gum at the same time.” (That is a quote. . . from Sanger on Washington Week.)

Believe it or not, all that excitement actually sparked a smattering of discussion, which must have sounded like nails on a chalkboard to the President because he quickly suggested they all go to the Oval for a “family picture.” (Yup, he said that.) W was all sweetness and light in front of the cameras, but after the revealing photo was snapped, the very expensive focus group returned to the Roosevelt Room to find that the President had disappeared. So had Dick, Rummy, and Condi. Thank you very much, and little Stevie Hadley has some lovely parting gifts for you.

Why do I waste so much time on this ridiculous non-event? Well, because it is clear that the administration’s PR strategy (again, not a military strategy, not a diplomatic strategy—it has nothing to do with foreign policy and everything to do with domestic opinion) is to pretend that Bush listens to advice from all sides and that there is a consensus that, no matter what we all thought before, we now know we have to “stay the course.”

It is important to show that there is no consensus. It is important to show that the much-touted “strategy for victory” is nothing more than a strategy to raise the President’s approval ratings. This administration has no true strategy for Iraq, or for any other point on the globe, for that matter. And, while they continue to spin, people continue to die, and the ability of America to affect positive change in the world continues to wane.

And Bush continues to smile.

You know you're in trouble when. . .

. . . you’re looking for help with your own military debacle, and you turn to Robert S. McNamara for advice.

When twelve less-than-angry men and one woman sat around the Roosevelt room shooting the bull for the benefit of the President’s media strategy (screw any help with his military strategy), you knew absolutely nothing of consequence would come of it. The problem is, by showing up for the nostalgic taste of White House coffee, the former Secretaries of State and Defense not only provided GWB with a five-star photo-op, they provided more cover for the administration’s fallacious contention that there is some kind of informed consensus (not to mention informed consent) on our Iraq policy.

In fact, it was even a bit worse than I feared. Almost every news story I saw lead with this BushBite:

“Not everybody around this table agrees with my decision to go into Iraq. I fully understand that,” Bush told reporters during a photo session at the end of the meeting. “But these are good, solid Americans who understand that we've got to succeed now that we're there.”

It is, of course, a bit of a lie, even in the context of that absurd gang. Former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen, hardly a peacenik, said afterwards, “I don't think anyone walked in there believing this would be a real opportunity to effect changes in policy.”

In that case, one wonders why he or any of the others went, or if they ever even opened their mouths once there. . . unless, in both cases, it was for that coffee.

With friends like these. . . .

I guess defiling the Holy Land is superior to distributing little bits of it people who actually live there.

Far be it for me to defend Ariel Sharon (I won’t, I think he’s war criminal), but if I had to choose one dinner guest with whom to spend eternity in hell, I’ll take Arik over his “friend” Pat Robertson any day.

Robertson let it be known today on his television show, The 700 Club (which airs, btw, on the ABC-owned Family network. . . and ABC is owned by Disney, which puts me in mind of theme parks. . . hmmm. . . .) that god personally intervened to strike down Sharon.
"He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America.’ God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone.'"

OK, but that’s not the wacky part.

I expect (almost look forward to?) moronic crap like that from Robertson, but what makes this an item to me is the reaction from Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon:
"He is a great friend of Israel and a great friend of Prime Minister Sharon himself, so I am very surprised."

I’m sorry, but even if you were stupid enough to think that about a classic anti-Semite like Robertson before he opened his festering gob and pronounced your comatose boss a sinner, wouldn’t you put a Dead Sea’s worth of distance between you and him now?

Maybe Ayalon was promised a lifetime pass for the flume ride.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Miner’s blood on Bush’s hands?

Oh, why do I even bother with the question mark? (It makes me feel so cheap, as if I were a cable news network, or worse, the new Nightline.) You know, even I, who have nothing but contempt for this administration, find it tiresome (sometimes) when my brothers and sisters on the lefty left just default to blaming GWB for every horrid and horrible thing that happens these days, but goshdarnit if they just don’t make it so easy! There is no question mark needed; the newly-minted widows of Sago, WV, can thank George W. Bush for their death and disability checks.

I had forgotten, but this all happened before. As David Sirota points out, there was another nation-gripping mining accident in 2002. In that case, nine miners were trapped for 77 hours in a Western Pennsylvania coal mine. In what was called a “miracle,” all nine were rescued, and President Bush rushed to the town for a feel good photo-op.

At that time, Democrats in Congress challenged the administration to explain proposed FY 2002 cuts in mine safety programs. The response? A six-percent cut in FY 2003 mine safety funding.

Oh, but there’s more. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has been downsized by 170 since 2001, and the Republican Congress has cut MSHA’s funding by another $4.9 million for 2006. Many of those that are left at MSHA are Bush appointees with close ties to the mining industry. And, they’ve been busy, rolling back numerous safety regulations over the last five years.

MSHA and OSHA enforcement is also way down. Just to take the Sago Mine as an example, though inspectors cited this mine for 200 violations in 2005—96 of which were deemed “significant and substantial”—the International Coal Group (ICG), owner of the mine, was fined
only a few thousand dollars. ICG grossed $136 million in 2004.

I’m sure “investigative” hearings will be held at some level, but thanks to the tragic rumormongering that passed for reporting after rescue teams reached the West Virginia miners, we have a built-in distraction from the real issue at hand. That issue? That the greedy and cynical policies of the Bush Administration—and its congressional henchmen—have once again resulted in death and misery for hard-working, tax-paying Americans.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

yes, I did take it

You didn't think I could just leave it out there for some other blogger, did you?