Saturday, February 25, 2006

Country for Sale

Sixteen years ago, Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett wrote a book titled City for Sale, a chronicle of how the oft-revered New York City Mayor Ed Koch was actually a corrupt wheeler-dealer whose door was always open to the influence peddlers. I was reminded of the book when I read a post over at Blue Meme that included this bit of Texas news:

HOUSTON -- A sheik from the United Arab Emirates contributed at least $1 million to the Bush Library Foundation, which established the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The UAE owns Dubai Ports World, which is taking operations from London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which operates six U.S. ports.
. . . .

The donations were made in the early 1990s for the library, which houses the papers of former President George Bush, the current president's father.

The list of donors names Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan and the people of the United Arab Emirates as one donor in the $1 million or more category.

Well, as I have noted, I abhor cliché, but the more I read up on the ports deal, the more I want to say, “Follow the money.”

While I am not denying the obviously scandalous approach the Bush Administrations has had toward port security, or the reprehensible disregard they have for open governance, the more I read, the more portgate turns out to be yet another lobbying scandal. In fact, it is starting to make Jack Abramoff look like little more than a guy who threatens to beat you up for your lunch money.

The octopus that is the DPW/P&O-UAE/USA deal seems to involve crony lobbying, influence peddling, palm greasing, backslapping, and log rolling of literally global proportions. Indian gambling? That’s like the $2 blackjack table compared to this international game of high-stakes baccarat.

Of course, the most amazing thing about all of this is that there is nothing amazing about it at all. This is how things are done in this White House. This is what stands in for policy.

Exiles from this administration have remarked that they have never seen a White House with less policy-making apparatus. Karl Rove manages the political strategy, but when it comes to “the vision thing,” Bush just looks for a place to farm it out. Security and infrastructure in Iraq, Medicare drug plans, Katrina reconstruction—all outsourced to private interests; interests almost exclusively with strong ties to the administration.

What makes this doubly scandalous is that when you outsource government, you outsource responsibility. (I have mentioned this in the past with reference to Medicare.) The Bush administration not only gets the benefits of enriching friends and buying political allies, they get to say “It’s not my fault” when the private contractors screw up.

Of course, this does circle back to the K Street Project and the “pay for play” culture that has taken over our government. Republicans have not only monopolized the lines of influence, they have indemnified themselves against accountability. Cronies are enriched, responsibility is shirked, and, in the end, campaign coffers are filled—Republican campaign coffers.

Yes, Abramoff looks more and more the poor player in this cast of millionaires, each strutting and fretting all the way to the bank. And, Ed Koch, interested mostly in enriching himself politically, was a bit player, too. Besides, he only had a city to sell; not an entire country.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Wouldn’t it be funny if the scandal that the administration says it wants to go away were actually the one it is content to let play, while the scandal White House strategists say they embrace is actually the one they desperately need to suppress?

Scottie McClellan has repeatedly used the phrase “Let’s move on” when fielding questions about Deadeye Dick Cheney’s drunken man-shoot, while everyone from the Kenedy County sheriff ABC “newsman” Terry Moran have said this case is settled. Meanwhile, Karl Rove continues to brag that a fight over White House-sponsored illegal domestic spying is a tussle that the Republican Party welcomes. But behavior seems to say something very different.

While just about every step by the administration, the VPOTUS, and, now, its freakish mouthpieces seems to fan the flames of the South Texas prairie fire for which we should probably be coining a “-gate” moniker already, just about every administration worker bee who wasn’t tied up with public testimony has been privately lobbying Congress to keep inquiries on NSA spying at bay.

Under the cover of his shoot-‘em-up scandal, the Dark Prince made an unheralded trip to Capitol Hill a week ago, where he put the hurt on Senate Republicans reportedly leaning towards a “yea” on West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller’s call for a Senate intelligence committee inquiry into the administration’s spying ways. But that wasn’t quite enough, it seems. As reported in today’s Washington Post, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) had a chit-chat with committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS), and they either expressed dissatisfaction with the Attorney General Abu Gonzalez’s assurances or, at least, a desperate need for political cover.

This led, as reported in the New York Times, to a frantic full-court press, this time from such WH habitués as Harriet Miers and Andy Card, which resulted in the Republicans on the intelligence committee voting to adjourn rather than letting Rockefeller’s motion come up for a vote. (Note to Snowe and Hagel—and Lincoln Chafe, for that matter—we are fed up with these fence-straddling votes; if you want to be a “renegade” or an “independent,” you have to stand for something—otherwise, you’re still a Republican hack.) The Post described Republican scrambling as “frenzied,” and designed to spare the administration “the outcome it most feared” Hardly the “bring it on” challenge issued by Kommander Karl.

No, the duck-and-cover that might have served Harry Whittington well is instead being practiced by key Republican lawmakers—and the prize for such artful dodging isn’t exactly mantelpiece quality. The Sunday Los Angeles Times ran an editorial that called the committee chaired by Pat Roberts “the Senate Coverup Committee.”

Although the committee is officially charged with overseeing the nation's intelligence-gathering operations, its real function in recent years has been to prevent the public from getting hold of any meaningful information about the Bush administration. Hence its never-ending delays of the probe into the bogus weapons intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. And its squelching, on Thursday, of an expected investigation into the administration's warrantless spying program.

And Roberts’s usually supportive hometown paper wasn’t impressed with the Senator’s Bush-coddling, either. As reported by Glenn Greenwald, the Wichita Eagle called it “troubling” that Roberts was “fast gaining the reputation in Washington, D.C., as a reliable partisan apologist for the Bush administration on intelligence and security controversies.” The editorial concluded:

What's bothering many, though, is that Roberts seems prepared to write the Bush team a series of blank checks to conduct the war on terror, even to the point of ignoring policy mistakes and possible violations of law.

That's not oversight—it's looking the other way.

Pat Roberts considers himself presidential material in 2008, but it is hard to imagine how much traction he can get as a Bush lapdog when the current President is now polling under 50% favorable in all but six states. The alternative would be to let questions (forget answers) about the Bush Administration’s extra-legal activities see the light of day and the pages of the Congressional Record. By Rove’s calculations, that’s the kind of publicity Roberts should welcome, but it seems that even though Pat doesn’t do his own thinking on intelligence issues, he still does his own math.

What’s missing from this equation, as Greenwald points out, is a vocal chorus of Democrats to keep pressing the point and rallying the opposition. I understand it might be hard to make civil rights as “sexy” as terror, but a lack of civil rights protections has demonstrable (and, I think, still unpopular) consequences, and breaking the law is still breaking the law (which, I think, also carries some weight).

Rather, occasional grumblings aside, Democrats have not mounted the kind of rival full-court press needed to break through the administration’s noise machine. Nor can Democrats seem to beat more than one scandal-drum at a time. No, I don’t think Cheney’s act of deconstructing Harry’s face is, in itself, as bad for America as a dozen other dark moments authored by the Veep, but I do think the metaphor of a reckless and secretive man who thinks himself above the law is a powerful one. And wouldn’t the lawlessness of a drunken hunting accident and its cover-up sound powerful bad for the country when coupled with the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in the name of national security. . . and all of the secrecy, obfuscation, threats, and recriminations that have come each time a crime is uncovered?

Instead, we are treated to a scandal of the week, or a personal cause célèbre for an individual Democrat, but rarely a sustained and coordinated attempt to demonstrate what the Dems stand for and will work together against. When it comes to the NSA’s domestic spying, it seems that while Republican’s know better than to embrace this issue, the Democrats are the ones that are listening Karl Rove and running the other way.

And, while running the other way is what anyone should do if they see Dick Cheney actually holding a shotgun, after the gun has been discharged and the cocktails are once again flowing (once again? as if they had stopped), isn’t it time to run that gauntlet, pick up that glove, and take seriously the challenge of punking the Republicans right out of power?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nightline running out of lipstick

I have long thought of Terry Moran as one the very worst that network news had to offer—a partisan hack who editorializes wildly, exaggerates, adds false narrative, and peppers his voiceovers with more clichés than a .28 caliber shotgun shell has pellets. He’s neither a gifted writer nor a skilled interviewer, and went so totally native while covering the 2,000 Bush campaign that he often did his stand-ups wearing an elephant mask and a coconut bikini (OK, maybe not the bikini). I dismissed him years ago.

What I can’t dismiss is how quickly and brutally Terry, his co-anchors, and his producers have massacred Nightline, the show Moran now co-hosts with Cynthia McFadden and Martin Bashir. McFadden and Bashir certainly share in the ruination, but I want to talk about the first segment of the February 15 show, hosted by Terry Moran.

Moran talks us through Wednesday’s damage control appearance on FOX by Vice President Cheney because it is important we see the clips through Terry’s eyes. Moran keeps referencing the emotion—“a clearly emotional Vice President,” “a side of Dick Cheney we’ve never seen”—but I am watching, and I’m not seeing any of that. Cheney is recounting his shooting of Harry Whittington in deadpan, constantly looking away from interviewer Brit Hume—he even affects one of his patented sneers. It was clear to me that Dick was without real emotion, and it was very possible, I think, that he was exhibiting the posture and habits of someone who was lying.

But Terry would have none of that audience participation, and he wasn’t going to have us take his word for it, either. No, Moran summoned longtime Republican heavy Ed Rollins to repeat that Cheney was (I’m rough-quoting from what I just saw) “as emotional as I’ve ever seen him,” and “clearly repentant.” Again, I saw the interview (and you can, too, over at C&L), and Cheney wasn’t any of those things.

But wait, Moran proves who his friends, I mean, cronies, really are. Still afraid this story might live past the Veep’s forced confession, Moran starts in on the true villains here. . . those annoying White House reporters. . . who actually—get this—have questions. We are shown a montage from Monday’s gaggle with Scottie McClellan—little clips of reporters looking frustrated, demanding, even, as they start to ask questions. But the Nightline editors never allow them to finish the questions, so we don’t know what they’re asking, we only perceive that they are demanding. Moran even sells out his own ABC colleague, Martha Radatz, showing her looking especially dissatisfied, but again, not actually playing her whole question. (Does Radatz or any of the real newsies at ABC know about this?)

No, instead, Terry lets his real friends do the talking. First it’s Rawlins again, stating that this Cheney appearance will put an end this issue. (It just will, got it?) And, so we can get a diversity of. . . gender (thought I was going to say “opinion,” didn’t you?), Nightline then shows a clip of Torie Clarke—former Pentagon communications chief under Rumsfeld, former aid to Senator McCain, and author of a new book, Lipstick on a Pig—basically warning the press to back off, and stating outright that the Democrats will lose credibility if they politicize this.

So, Moran and Nightline (which, by the way, completely ignored this story on Monday) don’t report here—they predict, in fact, state that this is over, and if you don’t agree with them, then, woe unto you, you are politicizing it.

Tonight’s show contained no reference to any of today’s revelations about drinking (Cheney admitted drinking a beer during a barbeque lunch, and doctors treating Whittington abruptly ended a press briefing when asked about whether a blood test was done—there is a bunch on this at firedoglake), no discussion of Cheney’s ducking questions about “declassifying” the NIE for Scooter Libby, and no clips of Democrats on the Hill raising questions about the Vice President’s secrecy. No, there was no one even resembling a countervailing point of view anywhere to be seen. There were no other journalists, no Democratic advisors, not even a semi-centrist pundit type, just Moran and staunch Bush/Cheney allies Rawlins and Clarke. Shameless. Embarrassing, really.

I’ve read—and friends in the biz tell me—that the real plan all along has been to sabotage Nightline and give ABC the freedom to replace it with a late-night variety show like Jimmy Kimmel Live, the show that follows Nightline in most markets. Well, I gotta tell you, I believe in having a hard news alternative after the local news, but for this entire week, the harder-edged reporting on the Cheney gunplay has been from Jimmy Kimmel. I am completely serious. For instance, Kimmel thought the Veep seemed robotic during Wednesday’s interview, and he had the best piece of commentary I saw on broadcast TV all day: “Bold choice, Cheney sitting down with FOX news—it’s like Mrs. Butterworth sitting down with the pancake channel.”

Friday, February 10, 2006


Y’know, if you’re going to try to bullshit your country about some four-year-old terrorist “plot” and follow Herr Karl’s plan to seize “breaking the law” and make it your own, at least know what you’re lying about!

Curious George made an appearance in Los Angeles in order to prop up his anemic poll numbers and blabbed all kinds of “details” about something the rest of us all knew about a long time ago. . . and when I say, “details,” I mean the sketchy crap that passes for intelligence these days. . . and when I say, “the rest of us,” I mean everybody but President Bush.

Watching Bush deliver his speech makes it very clear: this 2002 story is something he’s just learning. How do I know this? Watch the President’s face (oh I wish this blog had video capabilities) as he talks of the plot to crash an airliner into LA’s “Liberty Tower.” He looks up and says “Liberty Tower” with complete conviction. . . and when I say, “complete conviction,” I mean complete false conviction, because THERE IS NO SUCH FUCKING BUILDING IN LOS ANGELES!

The building is commonly called “Library Tower” (even though it’s officially US Bank Tower—catchy, huh?), and I’d guess that’s what was written out for the President. And, I’m guessing that Bush just misread “Library” (not recognizing the word, never having been to such a place) as “Liberty.” But the fact is that he didn’t catch himself, recognize his mistake, and correct it—and from the tape, it's clear why: he thinks the building is called “Liberty Tower.”

If this was as big a deal as the White House now makes it out to be, then the President would have been briefed over and over about the Library Tower plot, both back in 2002, and again now, when the “information” was declassified. (btw, Scott McClellan admitted Thursday the administration didn’t seek to declassify this story until about three weeks ago. . . hmmmm.) But, either this wasn’t a big deal—then or now—or Bush was kept completely out of the loop, because it was clear that HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT. The fact that the Prez tried to “sell” it just makes that all the more obvious.

Many parts of this story have raised eyebrows. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he wasn’t given any advanced notice of this speech. The ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Jane Harman, says that she was not briefed to her satisfaction on this “event.” The White House won’t say why it wouldn’t comment on the story last fall, but feels free to gab about it now. The very recent declassification hasn’t been explained. The logic of using shoe bombs to hijack the plane has been questioned. Intelligence officials ranked and still rank the Library Tower very low on its list of targets—even in LA alone. However, what should be also raising eyebrows, and apparently isn’t, is first, whether this was really a threat at all (is it so hard to believe that the administration is making all of this up, or cherry-picking intelligence?), and second, that Bush was so obviously full of shit.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Russ Feingold, guest blogger

OK, not exactly. I am swamped this week, and, so, not able to generate any of my longer, connect-the-dots pieces for capitoilette. I am still shooting off some quick hits over at guy2k, but until I have a big chunk of time for this page, I (metaphorically) turn the reins over to Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) (not to be confused with DWI), who provided the text of this floor speech to Raw Story:

Mr. President, last week the President of the United States gave his State of the Union address, where he spoke of America’s leadership in the world, and called on all of us to “lead this world toward freedom.” Again and again, he invoked the principle of freedom, and how it can transform nations, and empower people around the world.

But, almost in the same breath, the President openly acknowledged that he has ordered the government to spy on Americans, on American soil, without the warrants required by law.

The President issued a call to spread freedom throughout the world, and then he admitted that he has deprived Americans of one of their most basic freedoms under the Fourth Amendment -- to be free from unjustified government intrusion.

The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA’s domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.

The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.

How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law? In that moment at the State of the Union, I felt ashamed.

Congress has lost its way if we don’t hold this President accountable for his actions.

Wouldn’t it be great if like, um, three other sitting Senators felt as strongly—and said so! Well, pretend while you read the rest of the speech.

Monday, February 06, 2006

On Scooping the Times

I should be proud that I scooped the New York Times re: the contract given to Halliburton subsidiary KBR to build detention centers for an “emergency influx of immigrants”—by a week—but instead, I’m just pissed (and a little bit distressed).

Now, truth be told, the Houston Chronicle (where I found the reference) also scooped the Times by a week, but, back then, I searched high and low for another reference, and I found none. . . no others. . . nada. It was not until this last Friday and Saturday that other big-ass news establishments started to pick up the story. . . which I just find ridiculous.

Not that this is the biggest story in the world—apparently there have been similar contracts issued in past years on a contingency basis—but seeing as, this time around, the contracts actually tie-in with pressing current events, you’d think th
e big boys would pay closer attention.

Those current events? Well, first off, is the ever-and-always-ongoing issue of the disproportionate amount of US dollars going to the company formerly run by Vice President Cankles. You know all about that, I know—it’s so outrageous, it ceases to be news. But there are other implications to think about, too. This is from the Saturday Times piece:

KBR would build the centers for the Homeland Security Department for an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space. . . .

The last, first. Those new programs? We already know about administration promises to roundup, detain, and deport larger numbers of illegal immigrants; given the lack of respect for civil rights exhibited by the folks now in charge, that alone is reason to look closer. But, there are other possible reasons for mass detention that are, unfortunately, not that hard for me to imagine. (We have the mass registrations and deportations of men of Arab extraction that happened after the 9/11 attacks as a very real example of a sweeping mass detention.)

Natural disaster brings two other possibilities to my mind, and I can’t help but wonder if something similar has come up in the hallowed halls (do they have hallowed halls yet?) of DHS, too. First, and bear with me here, is bird flu. I know, I know, I really don’t want to get all black helicopter on you, but I remember when this was the “news item of the week” last year that Bush himself made some comment about preparing for the contingency that the free movement of populations might need to be constrained. (I’m going to have to leave that an unfinished thought until I can find the exact quote.)

The other obvious natural disaster is, specifically, some thing like a Katrina-sized event somewhere nearby, but, on a more general plane, could be many costal events caused by that pesky “theory” of global warming.

I know that the administration actively dismisses the threat of global warming publicly, but the extent of their zeal makes me think they have other thoughts on the matter privately.

So, you see, I can blog on, ad infinitum (sorry), from just a few words in a story I saw over a week ago. Is that the product of an overactive imagination, or just a healthy curiosity? I have to say, I think asking questions is healthy, so, I wonder, why can’t the guys and gals who get paid to ask questions ask a few—now?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bait and Switch Grass

Normally, a President might be a tad peeved to find that the day after his State of the Union speech, rather than discussing the accomplishments of the past year and all the new high-minded proposals, everyone in the country was talking about underbrush. . . but that would assume there were any accomplishments or high-minded proposals to talk about.

No, what there is to say, vis-à-vis the last year, is all about the lack of achievements, the scandals, the failures, and the fuck-ups, and as for high-minded proposals, well, um, er. . . yeah.

So, how excited do you think the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were today when they discovered that just about every news organization had let up on the daily drumbeat of Iraq, Iran, Abramoff, domestic spying, Medicare drugs, and leaks investigations so as to spend time answering this musical question: “What the hell is ‘switch grass?’”

Yes, on Tuesday night, even I had no idea wtf was up with switch grass—but, lawdy, if I don’t know way too much about it today!

You probably do, too. Switch grass was proposed in the SOTU as a new bio-fuel alternative (along with wood chips and kitchen scraps. . . oh, no, not the kitchen scraps; those are still for the cows) in order to cure our “addiction” to oil. It turns out it’s just the keenest stuff! It grows like, uh, grass, eats CO2 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, doesn’t need petroleum fertilizer, and converts into enough gasohol to make it, acre for acre, the most valuable cash crop in the country.

Bet you didn’t know Dubya knew so much about grass. . . switch grass. Well, he didn’t, either. It turns out switch grass was an eleventh-hour addition to the speech. It seems Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, had a talk just last Friday with White House economic advisor Al Hubbard—about switch grass!

How do I know this? Well, speaking on NPR yesterday, David Barnsby, a professor of energy crops (yes, professor of energy crops) at Auburn University, discussed his study of the benefits of the grass—needless to say, he’s high on it—and he relayed a little game of telephone that went Barnsby-Sessions-Hubbard. . . Bush.

Oh, Auburn University, for those of you that don’t know, would be in Alabama. Uh huh.

So, in a week where members of Congress will continue to decry “earmarks” in their attempt to get out ahead of the Abramoff influence-peddling scandals, the President of the United States stands before both houses and gives a shout-out to one great big effin’ earmark!

But, no one noticed that because we just wanted to know what the heck it was he was talking about. And, for a day, at least, no one paid much attention to much else in the Bush “agenda” (if you can still call it that). And, no one talked much about Iraq, Iran, Abramoff, spying, or Medicare, either. And no one seemed to pay much heed to all the other shit that went down. . . .

For the Bush administration, any day you waste talking about grass is a good day.