Pages

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"ADDICTED TO OIL"

Who knew Bush would use the State of the Union address to quote that pinko peacenik Kurt Vonnegut?

Or maybe he was quoting the guy who wrote the book that was the basis for that commie George Clooney movie Syriana?
TIM KAINE DEMOCRATIC REBUTTAL

Ah, "competence" -- that's the word that's really going to get voters' hearts racing. Just ask Mike Dukakis.

TBogg was right -- the Democrats should have gotten Bill Clinton to do the rebuttal.
SHORTER STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS: WE MUST ARGUE IN A CIVIL MANNER, BUT REMEMBER THAT THE DEMOCRATS WANT EVERYONE TO DIE IN A TERRORIST ATTACK

I can't believe people thought this speech was going to be all about medical savings accounts.

****

...Well, the second half is domestic -- and it sounds like a discarded partial draft (the laundry-list part) of an old Clinton State of the Union address (complete with a call for a line-item veto), with a few Bushie ideas (clean, safe nucular power!) thrown in.
Because much of the State of the Union address will almost certainly be devoted to September 11, domestic spying, and the Iraq War, you may want to prepare for the speech by boning up on the rules for acceptable discourse about these and related issues. Barbara O'Brien of the Mahablog will be your guide.

Here are the rules: Republicans own the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and all issues touched by the attacks. Therefore, when a Republican waves the bloody WTC tower, so to speak, to stir up emotional support for a GOP policy, that is not politicizing 9/11. Because they own 9/11, see. However, whenever a Democrat mentions 9/11 in any context, that is politicizing 9/11.

Further, wherever the GOP has used 9/11 as part of an emotional appeal for a GOP policy (which is not politicizing), Democrats may not criticize that policy. Because to do so "politicizes" the policy and is an insult to the memory of those who died on 9/11....


Read the whole thing here.
Dana Milbank in today's Washington Post:

Tasting Victory, Liberals Instead Have a Food Fight

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds congressional Democrats in the best position they've held in 14 years, besting President Bush and Republican lawmakers on Iraq, the economy, health care, immigration, ethics and more.

All of which can mean only one thing: It is time for the Democrats to eat their own....


Milbank goes on to find this cannibal meal taking place at a D.C. bookshop where Ramsey Clark and Cindy Sheehan are appearing. Clark and Sheehan call for Bush's impeachment and an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq. We're led to believe that this is not merely the zealots prodding the cautious insiders, but a sign that the Democrats' wheels are coming off, the result of massive damage being done by a bunch of unwashed radicals.

Hmmm. I seem to recall a food fight on the other side a few months back -- a fight in which one of the tossed cafeteria trays actually did permanent harm to a certain Harriet Miers, who was quietly eating a salad at the president's table.

So I searched this Milbank column about the Miers melee, and this one, and this one, and while Milbank occasionally pokes gentle fun, there's no suggestion that the Republican Party was headed off a cliff, or that the opponents of Miers had anything but the finest of breeding.

I think this is why I didn't bother to post about the "to filibuster or not to filibuster?" question. Here's the problem: Conventional wisdom always portrays Democrats as hapless, awkward, ungainly comic figures, while Republicans, even when they're screwing up or (as in the Miers affair) fighting one another, are always said to be smooth and, at worst, suffering a temporary setback. Some of this is Republicans' greater mastery of the appearance of dignity -- the phony sanctimoniousness I talked about in a post last night -- but some of it is just the fact that Democrats and Republicans are perceived through the lens of opposite stereotypes. If this were Shakespeare, Democrats would be the lower-class bumpkins speaking in prose, while Republicans would be the nobles uttering iambic pentameter.

If the Democrats had mounted a filibuster and made it stick, they would have been portrayed as boorish radicals. If they'd done nothing, they'd have been portrayed as miserable wimps. Mounting a doomed filibuster, Kerry and Kennedy were portrayed as ineffectual radical-wannabes. Dems just can't win.

Americans are probably inclined to believe that all politicians are bumptious, venal clowns. Right now, though, one party escapes that sort of skepticism. That will continue to be the case as long as the mainstream press continues to portray the GOP exactly the way the GOP portrays itself, and the Democrats exactly the way the GOP does.
Is that a bubble I hear popping?

Housing slowdown squeezes borrowers

Foreclosure cases hit 12-year high


The number of foreclosure notices filed against Massachusetts homeowners last year reached their highest level since the housing bust of the early 1990s, as homeowners fell behind on their mortgages and lenders began the process of taking back the properties.


It's happening, in part, because our national housing pyramid scheme, whereby we all agree that prices will go up forever and thus we can all buy whatever house we want, even if we can't afford it, knowing it will inevitably be worth more in the future, is starting to break down:

... Homeowners who stretched their finances to the limit to buy a home found it more difficult to make their payments on variable-rate mortgages as interest rates rose, but they were less able to refinance their loans at more attractive rates -- or sell and pay off their debts -- because the value of their homes fell or remained flat.

''When prices are skyrocketing, you have the option" of selling the house for a gain or refinancing, said Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

''In an economy where price appreciation is more modest or doesn't exist, what option do you have left?" he said. ''Sadly, one of those options is foreclosure." ...


This isn't some trivial increase -- there were 32% more foreclosure filings in 2005 than in 2004. And it's mostly happening right along the coast, i.e., in and around Boston, where the boom, presumably, was at its boomiest.

Is this coming to your neck of the woods next?

Monday, January 30, 2006

The New York Times just posted an article about the Alito battle called "Two Nominee Strategies. One Worked." It says what you'd expect -- the Democrats' failed to connect while jabbing at Alito about his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton and his decision not to recuse himself in a case involving Vanguard.

But there's also this:

...Democratic aides said their party had initially expected Judge Alito to live up to his reputation as "Scalito," suggesting a conservative firebrand in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia. Failing to adjust to his meekness, Democratic aides admit they searched too hard for scandal in Judge Alito's past....

Instead of a fearsome "Scalito" whom Democrats had initially expected, Judge Alito appeared timid and bland in the face of the Democratic questions, the aides said. "Instead of some brash, confrontational figure in the mold of Robert Bork, we got a quiet, studious guy you almost felt sorry for," [Jim] Manley [a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid] said.


What is Manley saying -- that Alito's personal style was unknowable? That it was impossible to find video of him, to meet with people who know him, to draw inferences from senators' own meetings with him? The Democrats thought he'd be snappish, but they were just guessing? Even after meeting him?

And why did they assume he'd be a Bork? Very few people are as unpleasant and arrogant as Bork, and it was a safe bet that even a nominee who's naturally unpleasant and arrogant would have the rough edges sanded off by Bush administration handlers before the hearings.

I find that, outside talk radio and the blogosphere, very few Republicans lash out. Some of them just aren't the type; the rest skillfully and cynically deploy soft-spokenness, phony somberness, a cornpone gee-whiz quality, or some combination of the three to convey the sense that they're Boy Scouts and their opponents are sewer rats. Think of Dick Cheney: He never raises his voice, and he deploys sanctimoniousness brilliantly -- he always seems to be deeply pained at the nature of the Democrats. He cares about you. He cares about how horribly you'd die if Democrats had power. Cheney's a thug who cynically plays a tough but folksy grandpa on TV. Like Spiro Agnew, he's the VP as attack dog, but most of America doesn't even seem to know he's an attack dog.

Republicans are good at this. We can't get them rattled, so we have to assume that the public will never see them, personally, as monsters. That's why we need to attack them on substance. And maybe we have to learn how to seem pained and self-righteous at all times, and how not to get rattled. In other words: We need to (a) seem nicer and (b) hit harder.
Well, they're still not requiring us to salaam and shield our eyes whenever Bush's motorcade passes by (I guess that will come after the midterm elections), but it looks as if the presidency might turn a bit more imperial soon, according to (yes, really) Fox News:

A new provision tucked into the Patriot Act bill now before Congress would allow authorities to haul demonstrators at any "special event of national significance" away to jail on felony charges if they are caught breaching a security perimeter.

Yup -- felony charges. And here's the kicker: The alleged felon doesn't even have to be anywhere near the alleged target:

Sen. Arlen Specter , R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored the measure, which would extend the authority of the Secret Service to allow agents to arrest people who willingly or knowingly enter a restricted area at an event, even if the president or other official normally protected by the Secret Service isn't in attendance at the time.

...the new provision would allow ... arrests even after those VIPs have left the premises of any designated "special event of national significance." The provision would increase the maximum penalty for such an infraction from six months to one year in jail.

..."You are talking about giving the executive branch broader authority to create these exclusion zones which could cover broad areas and last for days [during an event ]," David Kopel, a constitutional expert with the Cato Institute, told FOXNews.com....


The story goes on to cite "White House sources" who "say the measure was not instigated by the administration," but this stinks of Karl Rove (whose goal is to protect the securtity perimeter of every presidential photo op for the length of the news cycle during which it takes place). It also stinks of Dick Cheney, whose purchase of a house in Maryland has led to a permanent ban on overflights ("The no-flight zone, imposed last month, is in effect even when Cheney is not there") and a requirement that neighbors remain "barricaded in their homes while [his] motorcade passes by."

Can't wait to see what's next....
Our pals, the Pakistanis:

Prevarication by the Pakistani government cost America the chance to kill Osama bin Laden in an airstrike near the Afghan border two years ago, the Sunday Telegraph has been told.

A CIA lead that the al-Qaeda leader was hiding in a remote province was squandered because the Pakistani government delayed giving permission for the attack on its soil, according to a senior Western diplomat.
 
By the time US officials got the go-ahead, bin Laden had left the suspected hideout in Zhob, in the Baluchistan province of south-west Pakistan....

The reason for the delay is not clear. While Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has vowed to eliminate terrorists operating within his country, elements within Pakistan's ISI intelligence service may have sought to protect bin Laden....


Really? You think?

You're either with us or with the terrorists -- or, I suppose, both. You know, whatever.
Condoleezza Rice tells us once again that she was caught completely flatfooted:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Sunday that the United States had failed to understand the depth of hostility among Palestinians toward their longtime leaders. The hostility led to an election victory by the militant group Hamas that has reduced to tatters crucial assumptions underlying American policies and hopes in the Middle East.

"I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."...

Ms. Rice pointed out that the election results surprised just about everyone. "I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing," she said ....


Yeah, it was totally unexpected:

European Union to curb aid if Hamas wins big in Palestinian elections

Monday, December 19, 2005

The European Union joined the U.S. House of Representatives on Sunday in threatening to curb aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas wins next month's parliamentary election....


Nobody saw it coming:

Israel: Hamas win would be disastrous

Saturday 17 December 2005, 14:31 Makka Time, 11:31 GMT  

Israel has said that a victory for Hamas in Palestinian parliamentary elections would set the region back 50 years....

Foreign Ministry officials said on Friday that if Hamas were to become a dominant force in the Palestinian leadership, it would mean an end to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians....


Yes, a complete shock to everyone:

May 10, 2005

Israeli defense minister says pullout will occur, even if Hamas wins vote

Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will not be called off under any circumstances, the defense minister said Tuesday, rebuffing suggestions by the foreign minister that the pullout should be canceled if the Hamas militant group wins Palestinian parliamentary elections...


Oh, yes, we should definitely elect this woman president. Don't we all want a third Bush term -- four more years of "The dog ate my al-Qaeda briefing, so I had no idea they wanted to fly planes into towers"?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I wish I'd said what Julia says here about Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Oh, please, please -- make my day, George:

President George W. Bush is expected on Tuesday to try and retake the initiative in the Washington political debate, in a speech that is expected to be long on optimism....

Mr Bush is expected to deliver an upbeat message on the war in Iraq in his annual yState of the Union address, pointing to progress being made in the country....

He is also expected to make optimistic comments on the US economy....


He's going to make "optimistic comments on the US economy"? Oh, I want him to do that every day -- I want him to tell people who are facing stagnating wages, rising health care costs, and high energy prices that we should all crack open the champagne because GDP growth is just great. If he thinks that will fly with average Americans, he's nuts.

And -- apologies for my cynicism -- he's going to try to sell an upbeat message on the war at a time when a real live TV star has been seriously injured by a bomb in Iraq. Celebrity matters in America; insisting that there's a significant number of Iraqi troops who are kinda-sorta-almost ready to stand up so we can stand down is not going to trump this incident.

(Via DU.)

****

But I should add that I think what we'll probably remember from this speech is the "support Republicans rather than Democrats or you're all going to die" part -- which I think will be the extended climax of the speech, and a much more important part than you've been led to believe by all the "Bush to Emphasize Medical Savings Accounts" stories you've been reading. Expect to be manipulated yet again into thinking about bodies falling from the Towers. Expect to be told that some Democrats don't want there to be any surveillance of al-Qaeda. Remember, the Patriot Act is up for renewal again this week -- I find it hard to believe that there's going to be more about medical savings accounts than about that and the NSA.

****

UPDATE: The happy talk on Iraq is going to be even harder to sell when there are new videos of Zawahiri taunting Bush* and Jill Carroll weeping.

*(Damn, now I'm doing it -- conflating al-Qaeda and Iraq. Well, Bush will conflate them, so I still think the point is valid.)
MASTER IS GREAT, EVEN WHEN HE BEATS US!

Shorter Matt Bai in The New York Times Magazine:

The inadequacy of Bush's health-care policies shows that he's a true visionary -- just not enough of one.

Yeah, Bai's article is a real critique. He tells us Bush's policies aren't good enough, but, heck, Bush still has gumption, dammit:

Unlike most of his Democratic detractors, Bush has shown the vision to rethink time-honored orthodoxy, even at his own political peril; no matter what his critics may say, it took no small amount of courage to ask if Social Security could be stronger than it is or if the tax code could be simpler and less punitive. He recognizes that government should be more flexible and more consumer-oriented.

Oh, is that what led to Bush's Social Security scheme and talk about overhauling the tax code? "Courage"? And here I thought it was hubris born of a misreading of the rather close '04 election as a "mandate," combined with a cynical belief that he could take advantage of most Americans' inability to understand complex financial matters in order to use Social Security and the tax code to line the pockets of the rich. Guess I was wrong, hunh?

And I love the last part. Yes, a Medicare prescription drug benefit with a bewildering array of plans, all of which include different formularies of covered and non-covered drugs, with some patients assigned to plans at random whether or not those plans cover expensive drugs they're already taking, while all patients are left at the mercy of inadequately staffed insurance-company and government phone lines when they don't know what the hell's going on regarding their benefits -- oh, that's really "consumer-oriented," isn't it?

And, of course, no Democrat who's ever proposed universal coverage for Americans is "rethink[ing] time-honored orthodoxy" -- only the Mighty Bush gets credit for that.

Matt, I think there's still some shoe polish on your tongue.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Busy day. See you tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2006

What a jerk Scott McClellan is:

Q Can I also ask you, on Senator Kerry's comments, what is your reaction to the filibuster call by Senator Kerry, on Judge Alito?

MR. McCLELLAN: On his call yesterday? It was a pretty historic day. This was the first time ever that a Senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland. I think even for a Senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps. (Laughter.)

Q But you know he's not there skiing.

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I didn't ask you to yodel. I can hear you. (Laughter.)


Gee, what was Karl Rove saying to Hugh Hewitt on the radio this week? Oh, yeah:

I mean, this president treats the opposition with dignity and respect.

Of course he does. He leaves the nasty stuff to the help.

****

And by the way, I notice that Davos wasn't such a big joke to these smart-asses when Dick Cheney made a speech there two years ago.
ROVE: "POST-7/4"

Larry Stevens has a suggestion:

Rove has framed the current political debate in terms of "pre-9/11 mentality" and "post-9/11 mentality"....

To respond to Rove's "pre-9/11" and "post-9/11" language, we should speak of "pre-7/4" and "post-7/4" mentalities....


Interesting idea. Here's what he means:

"7/4" refers to July 4, of course. Specifically, July 4, 1776. Bush and Rove have a pre-7/4 mentality, which means they believe in the divine right of kings....

The administration's critics, including their foes among the ranks of the Democratic Party, have a post-7/4 mentality, a paradigm that includes such notions as the consent of the governed, inalienable rights and all the other revolutionary ideas advanced by America's founding fathers and enshrined in our founding documents....


Read Larry's full post here.
Worse and worse:

The new Medicare drug program is denying supplies that seriously ill patients need to administer intravenous antibiotics and other medications at home. As a result, some patients are being referred to nursing homes, and others have had to go into hospitals.

Although no national estimates are available, the number of patients affected -- including some with life-threatening diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis -- could run into the thousands. One Anaheim pharmacy says 200 of its patients are having trouble....

Essentially, the prescription program allows coverage of the drugs but does not pay for the medical supplies and nursing help needed for the home infusion treatments to be safe and effective -- a policy that effectively shuts down such treatment for some patients, even though it is substantially cheaper than the alternatives....


Earliy in this story we're told, "Medicare officials say they are aggressively addressing the problem" -- but later on we have some of those same officials getting testy and defensive as they say it's out of their hands:

... Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency lacked specific legal authority to broaden the coverage policy, in effect, handing the problem back to Congress.

"If we could pay for it, we would," said Dr. Jeff Kelman, chief medical officer for the division of Medicare that handles the drug benefit. "Read the act yourself .... It's a drug benefit, not a medical benefit."


You know what? Maybe you should have read the damn act before you made it the centerpiece ofg the administration's domestic agenda.
THANK YOU FOR THE TASTY CRUMBS!

Until Americans stop falling for this crap, Republicans are just going to keep doing it -- especially Republicans named Bush:

Gov. Jeb Bush is expected next week to propose the biggest tax-cut package in state history, including a property-tax reduction that would save most homeowners less than $100 a year but mean millions of dollars to large landowners....

The cuts are meant to cap Bush's final year as the state's chief executive and boost his Republican Party's standing in a pivotal election year.

Central to Bush's plan is about $500 million in a property-tax reduction that could save the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 about $80 a year.

The cut, however, could save Orange County's biggest landowner, Walt Disney World, about $1.6 million annually; Universal Orlando more than $400,000; and the Marriott hotel chain about $200,000 in the Orlando area alone....


I love the assertion that this is supposed to help the party in an election year. Obviously, the gratitude of wealthy beneficiaries will help fill the party's coffers. But will this also be a popular move with ordinary voters? Yeah, probably. We're Americans, and Jeb is uttering the phrase that reliably zombifies us every time -- "TAX CUT!!!"

Oh, by the way:

The state's outstanding debt is $22.5 billion, more than double what it was 10 years ago. Class-size requirements and meeting the goals of growth-management legislation approved last spring also demand billions of dollars in state revenue, critics said.

But pay no attention to that. The tax cut is affordable because

Florida's property-tax roll has mushroomed to $1.6 trillion this year, a stunning 19 percent increase from 2005.

Which, we're told, means that Florida can afford to enact a tax cut that will stay on the books forever (unless a future governor and legislature decide to commit political suicide by altering it). But that shouldn't be a problem, right? After all, housing booms last forever, don't they?

(Via DU.)
I guess our health-care system wasn't inefficient enough. I guess the money being siphoned off as drug- and insurance-company profits wasn't making the system sufficiently expensive. I guess we just had to take even more of that money and use it to help another rich industry get even richer:

... Banks, credit unions and money management firms are now quietly positioning themselves to become central players in the business of health care, offering 401(k)-type accounts to cover future medical expenses.

Bank of America, J. P. Morgan Chase, Fidelity Investments and hundreds of others are hoping to capitalize on the latest wrinkle in medical care paid by consumers: health savings accounts, which have been around since 2003 but are moving to the fore of the national agenda in anticipation of the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

These supercharged checking accounts, which must be linked to a high-deductible health insurance plan, allow consumers to invest their own money for current and future medical expenses and have it grow tax-free.

... Banks and others are drawn by the promise of lucrative fees they can generate by offering consumers mutual funds and other investment vehicles as their account balances grow. Most also charge $50 to $75 to set up a health savings account, and they collect perhaps $40 or more each year in maintenance charges and service fees.

Not since the creation of the individual retirement account in the mid-1970's has such a potentially huge mountain of money landed in the lap of the financial services industry.

"Billions of dollars that used to be written in the form of checks with insurance companies' names on them would instead go to credit unions, banks, and long-term investment houses," said Dan Perrin, the publisher of H.S.A. Insider and executive director of the H.S.A. Coalition, a lobbying group backed by 70 small-business and medical industry groups as well as the American Bankers Association. "You know America: you see a financial opportunity and it sets off a gold rush." ...


Lovely. And the point of these accounts, of course, is to discourage workers from obtaining medical care we don't need (allegedly all that "unnecessary" health care we're said to seek out with regularity, but in reality, I suppose, preventive care like dental checkups and mammograms) by making us pay for our care out of pocket up to a very high dollar amount every year:

...In essence, health savings plans are high-deductible insurance policies that people can obtain through their employers or buy independently from insurance companies. In exchange for paying at least the first $1,050 of their medical expenses each year (or for families, a deductible of the first $2,100, consumers are supposed to benefit in two ways: lower monthly premiums and the ability to put pretax dollars into a savings account that grows tax-free....

But in many cases, people have evidently signed up not because they are eager to direct their own medical spending but because the plan looked cheap or they had no other insurance option. And at least half of those enrolled have not put money in their health savings accounts. So there will be no money building up for next year's out-of-pocket expenses....


If you had an account like this, there are a lot of reasons you might not be able to build up reserves. Obviously, the less money you make, the less you can afford to contribute. Just as obviously, if you have excessive out-of-pocket medical expenses one year -- say, if you have a child with a serious chronic condition -- you won't be able to contribute much (or anything) for future medical expenses. So, in that way at least, these accounts would seem to do less for you the more you need them. Which is kind of the opposite of what you and I think the word "insurance" means.

Is there going to be a massive transition to these accounts over the next few years? Are a lot of us going to go through what they're going through at Banta Corporation in Pennsylvania?

Stacy Ryan, the benefits manager at Banta, said the company saw the plan as "the new wave of health care." Banta added health savings accounts and eliminated company-subsidized health benefits for its 4,000 nonunion workers this year.

I imagine the answer is yes. It's certainly what Bush wants. And he thinks you'll like it.

****

UPDATE: Ezra Klein points out that health savings accounts are even worse than you think -- i.e., even more of a scheme to transfer money from struggling people to banks:

Here's how it works: About half of HSA holders don't put any money in their accounts. Many of the others sock away only paltry funds.... So when health emergencies hit, HSA users, faced with massive deductibles and no stored wealth to combat it, charge them. Hospitals, ERs, and doctors now take credit cards, allowing health care costs to become interest-gathering debt. Indeed, in an effort to take maximum advantage of the trend, banks and health care companies are offering health credit cards with interest rates of up to 23 percent. So, for many, health costs won't merely be the original expense, but the years of accumulated interest payments afterwards....

For the lower middle class, to say nothing of the genuinely poor, that's what HSAs will look like: periods of financial calm interrupted by medical catastrophe that rapidly transforms itself into crushing, long-term debt.


Awful.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media has a really, really clever idea. He thinks he's so clever for coming up with this idea that he's written about it twice, once in December and again today:

Brian R. Hill, the founder/ Executive Director of the Oral Cancer Foundation, Inc., ... says a celebrity is needed to discuss the link between oral sex and cancer. Will Bill Clinton step forward? He should do so. He did more than anyone else to make oral sex into a household topic for young people and adults alike. And he told the nation under oath that it really wasn't sex, making it seem attractive or harmless. The disgraced former president can be contacted through his Clinton Foundation at scheduling@owjc.org If he won't step forward to take on this campaign, perhaps he can ask Monica Lewinsky to fill in for him.

I agree that it is a risk for Clinton.... But that's why the media, if they had any integrity, would challenge him. They can ask him about giving up junk food. Why not ask him about immoral, unhealthy and compulsive sexual behavior?

It's a matter of life and death.


Isn't that just incredibly clever?

And isn't it comforting to know that our entire federal government is run by people who would think that was the funniest thing they'd ever read?

I think my favorite part of it is Kincaid's assertion that Bill statements about oral sex had the effect of "making it seem attractive or harmless." Oh, right -- oral sex didn't seem attractive or harmless to anyone before 1998, did it?

Incidentally, Kincaid specifically cites the HPV-16 virus as the culprit in all this tragedy. Well, we seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough in developing a vaccine that will prevent cervical cancers caused by HPV-16 and HPV-18. It's quite possible that such a vaccine will be effective against oral cancer as well. I eagerly await Kincaid's denunciation of his allies in the Religious Right when they try to limit distribution of this vaccine.
So I was listening to an NPR story this morning that ticked off the administration's now-familiar arguments in defense of the warrantless domestic spying program, and I realized that many of these arguments -- as is often the case with the Right -- are lies of a very specific kind, one that doesn't have a name and desperately needs one.

I'll give you an example: You and I know that administration critics would not be angry if these wiretaps took place under warrants from the FISA court -- yet a key administration talking point is that we simply don't want the government to eavesdrop on al-Qaeda terrorists. This is, obviously, a lie -- but it sounds like the truth. In fact, it is the truth -- but with a few key details (the key details) distorted, muddied, and/or excised. We are angry about these wiretaps. But we're not angry about wiretaps aimed at preventing terrorism per se, and we'd trust the FISA court's judgments. This distortion of the truth is close enough to the truth, unfortunately, to pass muster with much of the public and a lot of the press.

The process of concocting lies of this kind -- lies in which the truth is tweaked, so the difference is almost invisible to casual listeners -- needs a name. I'm not much of a namer, but I'll give you a placeholder until there's something better. I call the process "truth creep."

Truth creep is critical to right-wing argumentation. Example: John Kerry tells an interviewer that we'll never completely eliminate terrorism, but we can hope to reduce it to a "nuisance." Right-wingers immediately pounce, asserting that Kerry's position is that "terrorism is a nuisance." That's close enough to the truth to sound like the truth, but it's an out-and-out lie. That's truth creep.

It's easier to condemn an vile or sleazy political practice when it has a name. That applies to everything from "Astroturf" and "push-polling" to "pork" and even "McCarthyism." We need a name for a lie that can slither by as the truth, and that name needs to enter the political lexicon. If you don't like my name, all suggestions are welcome.

****

Yeah, "truthiness" is a clever word, though I'm not sure it quite captures the specific technique I'm describing.
I should have noted yesterday that the federal government has looked at the Medicare law and discovered that, golly, it can legally reimburse states for costs that should have been covered by the Medicare prescription drug plan:

For weeks, federal officials said they did not have authority to reimburse states. On Tuesday, they said they had discovered that they could reimburse the states by conducting a demonstration project under Section 402 of the Social Security Amendments of 1967.

But this is only temporary:

Through Feb. 15, states will be reimbursed for prescription drugs provided to low-income Medicare beneficiaries. The reimbursement program would end Feb. 15 because problems with the new drug program will be corrected by then, federal officials said.

Oh, yeah, I'm sure.

And apparently the plan still requires the states to do the heavy bureaucratic lifting before they get their money back:

Officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services yesterday outlined a plan that calls for states to first seek reimbursement from the private insurance plans contracted by Medicare to provide drug coverage. Medicare then will help pay for any difference, said Mark McClellan, the CMS director.

And the feds seem to be suggesting that states allow seniors to go without drugs if the kinks aren't worked out by the deadline:

Mark McClellan, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, ... called on the states "to work with us" and stop paying for the drugs by Feb. 15, although certain states may be able to get an extension.

Just certain states?

All heart, the Bushies.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

WILL THE POWER TO AUTHORIZE WARRANTLESS SEARCHES BE SPREAD AROUND?

I saw this exchange on CBS News tonight, at the end of a report by White House correspondent John Roberts about NSA wiretapping. The transcript's mine. Bob Schieffer seemed genuinely nonplussed:

JOHN ROBERTS: ...In fact, one Republican senator told CBS News tonight she might consider loosening the standards for approving the wiretap and allowing more officials at the Justice Department, not just the attorney general, to authorize eavesdropping, so that it could begin just as soon as the NSA needed it. Bob?

BOB SCHIEFFER: Now, just a second, John. Are you telling me there's a feeling amongst Republicans up in the Congress that they're going to give more people in the government the authority to eavesdop without warrants? Is that what you're saying here?

ROBERTS: That's what one Republican senator is suggesting, that instead of making all eavesdropping or wiretapping requests go through the attorney general, that some lower-level officials might be available and able to be able
[sic] to authorize these wiretaps. It would spread it out among dozens of people instead of just a single one at the top.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what do you think the mood is up there? Do you think anything like that could pass?

ROBERTS: It's certainly being considered by Republicans. They've got the majority in the Senate and in the House. If they want it, they'll probably get it.


Who the hell are we talking about? Some little-known zealot a few levels down on the DoJ organizational chart? Some future John Yoo? What unelected, unaccountable person do they want to have this power?
...Earlier [today], the chief White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, rejected various critical descriptions of the program.

He said the effort was well-grounded legally and constitutionally and that it should be referred to as "surveillance" rather than spying....


--New York Times

Oh, good Lord. Is that the next stunt the White House and its gang are going to pull -- they're going to accuse reporters and Democratic legislators of liberal bias if they refer to this as "spying" instead of "surveillance"? Last year, of course, they said you were a naked lefty partisan if you talked about "private" accounts rather than "personal" accounts in Social Security, or about the "nuclear option" rather than the "constitutional option" for ending filibusters in the Senate. I guess we're seeing this year's model.
From the Boston Herald Web site:

Terror threat sparks Newton librarian/FBI standoff

...Police rushed to the Newton Free Library after tracing a terrorist threat e-mailed to Brandeis University to a computer at the library.

But requests to examine computers Jan. 18 were rebuffed by Newton library Director Kathy Glick-Weil and Mayor David Cohen on the grounds that they did not have a warrant.

Cohen, defending the library's actions, called the legal standoff one of Newton's "finest hours."...

It took U.S. attorneys several hours to finally secure a warrant, Glick-Weil said, and they took the computer from the library at about 11:30 that night, after the library had closed.   

...[But] a law enforcement official close to the investigation said in an e-mail the confrontation was a "nightmare." ...


Hmmm, let's see: Glick-Weil has denounced provisions of the Patriot Act pertaining to libraries and has shredded documents in protest of those provisions. The Newton Board of Aldermen has also unanimously adopted a resolution questions aspects of the law.

And now -- just at the moment when the Bush administration is passionately defending its warrantless spying program and awaiting renewal of the Patriot Act -- someone picks Newton's library to e-mail a terrorist threat?

If this becomes a right-wing outrage du jour, I smell a rat -- a rat with the initials K.R.
New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni recently moonlighted as a waiter for a week and found out that real work is hard -- especially if you never really absorb the information you need to know to do your job:

... I need to redeem myself with the two diners at [table] X-9, who quizzed me about what the restaurant had on tap and received a blank stare in response. I'm supposed to remember the beers? Along with everything about the monkfish, these oddly coded table references, more than 10 wines by the glass and the provenance of the house oysters?

I had no idea....

****

...Pinging from table to table, I repeatedly forget to ask diners whether they want their tuna rare or medium and whether they want their margaritas up or on the rocks. I occasionally forget to put all the relevant information -- prices, special requests, time of submission -- on my ordering tickets....

****

...By 7:30, all of these tables are occupied, and all have different needs at the same time. One man wants to know his tequila choices. I just learned the beers that afternoon....


I bet he was missing the nice, cushy job he has six years ago, the one where he served only one customer, a guy who treated him royally and didn't require him to know anything:

...Bruni, the most influential Bush correspondent [during the 2000 campaign] by virtue of his employer [The New York Times], was so assiduously courted by the Republican nominee that his book should have been called The Seduction of Frank Bruni. It is a case study of Bush's vaunted charm offensive. Bush constantly flirted with Bruni. He would playfully grab the reporter by the neck or pinch his cheeks or put his fingers in Bruni's ears. During press conferences he would wink and nod Bruni's way. And when Bruni mentions that he's taking a break from the campaign trail to celebrate his dad's birthday, Bush whips out a card and signs it for him. So perhaps it shouldn't surprise that Bruni becomes smitten, dishing to readers that Bush was far more charming in off-the-record gab sessions than his guarded public persona would suggest. When Bruni suspected the campaign was angry with him, Bush defused tensions by turning to him during a political event and announcing, "I love you, man." He may not have been kidding.

Bruni was no better at absorbing important information back then than he was in his recent stint as a waiter:

... If [Bruni] recognized significant differences between Bush and Gore---how they would spend the surplus or respond to the terrorist attacks---he doesn't share them....What remains [in Bruni's campaign memoir] is only the most rudimentary explanation of what Bush actually stood for: a tax cut plan for economic conservatives, a faith-based initiative for religious conservatives, and an education plan for moderates. Policies, Bruni implies, tell us nothing about Bush as a person, which is his real interest here.

Fortunately, his job back then was informing the readers of America's most influential newspaper about the candidates for the most important job in the world, at what would turn out to be a critical point in national and global history -- so if he didn't know what the hell he was doing, it was no big deal, right? After all, it didn't really matter how the election turned out, did it?
The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response....

--New York Times today

WASHINGTON, JUNE 14, 2006 -- The Bush administration completed work late last night on the conversion of the entire federal government to a password-protected, subscription-only entity.

Under the plan, photo ops and speeches on terrorism will continue to be released to the general public. Access to all other information will be made available only to members of WhiteHouseSelect, a newly created portal restricted to subscribers.

The cost of a subscription to WhiteHouseSelect will be $250,000 in bundled contributions to the Republican Party and/or one or more of its candidates. Discount subscriptions will be made available to right-wing bloggers.

WhiteHouseSelect subscribers will have access to a number of site exclusives. These include face time with President Bush at his Crawford ranch and the opportunity to rewrite legislation.

Asked to comment on the completion of the transition, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he is, henceforth, not available for comment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006



Right-wingers may harrumph ("It's so cheap and so lame," tut-tuts Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online), but at least Kanye West's handlers would admit that the Jesus effect is a carefully crafted bit of image-mongering, which is more than I can say for



a certain other person with a messiah complex and a huge publicity machine that works hard to control how the public sees him.
When Republican presidents phone in remarks to the annual anti-abortion march in Washington, they address those remarks to Nellie Gray, the president of the March for Life Fund. President Bush did so yesterday:

...By changing laws we can change our culture. And your persistence and prayers, Nellie, and the folks there with you, are making a real difference. We, of course, seek common ground where possible; we're working to persuade more of our fellow Americans of the rightness of our cause. And this is a cause that appeals to the conscience of our citizens, and is rooted in America's deepest principles -- and history tells us that with such a cause, we will prevail.

Again, Nellie, thank you for letting me come to speak to you....


Similarly, Ronald Reagan chatted with her in 1988.

I want to point out that this is not just someone who thinks abortion should be illegal. This is someone who thinks we should someday respond to abortion with Nuremberg trials:

Nellie Gray, the president of March for Life, the group that organized the rally, said reversing Roe was this year's theme. Speaking to the crowd in fiery tones, Ms. Gray predicted that the United States would hold the equivalent of Nuremburg trials for "feminist abortionists," calling support for a woman's right to choose "crimes against humanity."

"Roe v. Wade has brutalized our country," she said. "The feminist abortionists, look at the evil they are doing. From that will come an accountability."


That's from The New York Times -- but lest you think the Times is misinterpreting what Ms. Gray believes, here's a quote from her own press release on the 2004 march:

Roe vs. Wade did unleash on our beloved country the feminists/abortionists' evil agenda of 'choice' to kill preborn humans, and did begin the slippery slope to decriminalize infanticide, euthanasia, assisted suicide, fetal research, and more evil. History records the Nazi experience of slippery slope from the so-called 1935 Nuremberg laws, through years of 'final solution' horrors, to reality of judgments at the Nuremberg Trials.

Every time we on the left attend an anti-war rally in which participants include International A.N.S.W.E.R. and United for Peace and Justice, we're told that we're endorsing the extremism of those groups on issues such as support for the Taliban and North Korea's Kim Jong-il. OK, so what about Nellie Gray? When he calls her up, is President Bush endorsing her extremism? Is he endorsing Nuremberg trials for abortion?
Although the bill is stalled in the Senate, last year the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation raising the top fine for a single incident of broadcast indecency. Top fine under the House bill? $500,000 for a broadcast company and $500,000 for an entertainer involved in the indecency.

Right now, the Bush administration is proposing to raising the top fine for an "egregious" mine safety violation. How high?

$220,000. Less than half what you'd pay if you offered a peek of nipple at a Super Bowl halftime show.

Nice to know we've gor our priorities straight.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Of course Hillary Clinton's recent claim that Republicans run the House of Representatives like a "plantation" was old-fashioned political and racial pandering. After all, she uttered this remark at what certainly would have been a prime venue for her husband: a largely black audience on Martin Luther King Day. So, clearly, she was looking to connect with this most loyal Democratic constituency. But Mrs. Clinton is possessed of a tin ear precisely where her husband is all deftness and charm. Black audiences are beyond her. The room of black faces that brings her husband alive, freezes her in overbearing rectitude.

--Shelby Steele on the Wall Street Journal editorial page today

"When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about," Clinton (D-N.Y.) told an audience at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ during an event sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network.

"It has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard," she added to thunderous applause.


--Newsday, January 17, 2006

(Emphasis mine.)
Speaking of Rove, am I the only person who thinks the recent stories about photos of Bush and Jack Abramoff are actually the work of the White House, engaging in some Rovian political jiujitsu?

First we were told a couple of weeks ago (in Time) that

Bush aides are ... trying to identify all the photos that may exist of the two men together

Now reporters at The Washingtonian and (again) Time are saying that an anonymous source has shown them a small number of photos of the two men together. (The source, we're told, wouldn't allow them to be published, although Time says the tabloids are probably going to pay for the photos and publish them eventually.)

If this is the work of the White House, orchestrating a phony embarrassing leak, it's brilliant. With regard to Abramoff, we've been wondering what the Bushies might be trying to hide, and now we supposedly know the answer: What they're trying to hide is this series of photos. So now, instead of trying to get to the bottom of the story of the relationship between the two men, we'll all fixate on the photos -- they must be really bad if the White House doesn't want them to leak.

In fact, it sounds as if they're just suggestive enough to (the White House hopes) get Democrats and us lefty noisemakers howling, yet innocuous enough to make us sound as if we're wildly overreacting:

In one shot that TIME saw, Bush appears with Abramoff, several unidentified people and Raul Garza Sr., a Texan Abramoff represented who was then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians, which owned a casino in southern Texas.... Another photo shows Bush shaking hands with Abramoff in front of a window and a blue drape. The shot bears Bush's signature, perhaps made by a machine. Three other photos are of Bush, Abramoff and, in each view, one of the lobbyist's sons (three of his five children are boys). A sixth picture shows several Abramoff children with Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert...

Most of the pictures have the formal look of photos taken at presidential receptions. The images of Bush, Abramoff and one of his sons appear to be the rapid-fire shots -- known in White House parlance as clicks -- that the President snaps with top supporters before taking the podium at fund-raising receptions. Over five years, Bush has posed for tens of thousands of such shots -- many with people he does not know. Last month 9,500 people attended holiday receptions at the White House, and most went two by two through a line for a photo with the President and the First Lady. The White House is generous about providing copies -- in some cases, signed by the President -- that become centerpieces for "walls of fame" throughout status-conscious Washington.


If I'm right about this, the White House has now deftly framed the Bush-Abramoff question: instead of "How cozy was W. with Jack?," the question has become "What exactly was going on in and around those pictures?" It's a question I'm sure the White House is more than ready to answer -- and once those answers emerge, all speculation about the relationship between the two men will cease in the mainstream press.
After months of staying out of the limelight amid scrutiny in the CIA leak investigation, Rove is back and circulating...

--Holly Bailey in this week's Newsweek

Cokie Roberts said pretty much the same thing this morning on NPR (audio here). So I guess this well-publicized speech in November didn't count as a comeback? (Headline at MSNBC.com at the time: "Rove re-emerges at conservative lawyers' group.") In other words, the Beltway press is so lazy that when Rove's handlers decide to say he's coming out of hiding after months in seclusion, that just goes right into the story, regardless of the facts? He gets to declare that a page has been turned as many times as he wants to, and the press just meekly goes along?
I know -- this blog has seemed a bit off recently. I don't seem to be able to say anything interesting about anything significant, and the posts I do put up don't seem to have much of point. Not to make excuses, but I've been fighting some sort of cold or flu literally all month, and keeping up with my blogly duties has seemed like a struggle. I hope things will be back to normal when I feel better.

****

Meanwhile, go read Frank Rich for free.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I haven't paid much attention to Norah Vincent in a while. Years ago she used to write a column for a New York weekly in which she regularly bitched about noise on her block on weekend nights -- a reasonable complaint, except for the fact that she lived on St. Mark's Place between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, a strip of bars, restaurants, and T-shirt and CD stores that was (and is) the East Village's 42nd Street. Living there and complaining about noise is like living on the tarmac at JFK and complaining about the smell of jet fuel; I got tired of yelling at the paper every week, "Go look for another apartment, you dumbass!," so I stopped reading her.

She was evolving into a Camille Paglia wannabe -- a lesbian right-winger whose gender consciousness somehow led her to the conclusion that the highest form of human existence is the macho man. (Vincent on 9/11: "Western masculinity is in remarkably good shape at present. Part of the reason is, of course, that physical bravery, one of the cardinal masculine virtues of old, is popular again after Sept. 11 -- more popular, one could argue, than it has been since the sexual revolution of the 1970s. Suddenly everybody understands why it's not such a bad idea to have a few stolid, burly guys in uniform around when the enemy attacks.")

Well, now she's written a book about her experience posing as a man, and it just got a rave on the cover of The New York Times Book Review.

And here's the problem: In at least one part of it, I don't believe she's telling the truth.

Or let's say I'm suspicious. Let's say I'd like The Smoking Gun to do a sort of James Frey investigation of this:

Norah-as-Ned commits to [a bowling league] for eight months, becoming the weak link on a four-man team of working-class white men. (Vincent has changed the names of the characters and obscured the locations to protect the identities of her subjects.) The resultant chapter is as tender and unpatronizing a portrait of America's "white trash" underclass as I've ever read. "They took people at face value," writes Vincent of Ned's teammates, a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker. "If you did your job or held up your end, and treated them with the passing respect they accorded you, you were all right." Neither dumb lugs nor proletarian saints, Ned's bowling buddies are wont to make homophobic cracks and pay an occasional visit to a strip club, but they surprise Vincent with their lack of rage and racism, their unflagging efforts to improve Ned's atrocious bowling technique and "the absolute reverence with which they spoke about their wives," one of whom is wasting away from cancer.

OK -- on the right here is a picture of Vincent as a man. Note the nerd-chic square glasses. Note the salon-fresh hairdo. Think that guy could join a bowling league with a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker and just be accepted as a boon companion with no questions asked, even though he can't really bowl? Think no one would find him hoity-toity (at least)? Think they'd just shrug off his ineptitude and good-naturedly engage in "unflagging attempts to improve [his] atrocious bowling technique"?

Oh, and this is the kicker -- think they'd speak about their wives with "absolute reverence"? Maybe the guy whose wife has cancer -- maybe. But the rest of them? Remember, these are straight guys. These are guy guys. Guy guys don't talk about feelings.

Well, maybe the plumber talked about the construction worker's wife with "absolute reverence." Or certain parts of her, at least. Yeah, that I'd believe.
Never mind the airstrike -- according to two stories out today, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are winning on the Afghan-Pakistan border. First, from Carlotta Gall and Mohammad Khan of The New York Times:

Two years after the Pakistani Army began operations in border tribal areas to root out members of Al Qaeda and other foreign militants, Pakistani officials who know the area say the military campaign is bogged down, the local political administration is powerless and the militants are stronger than ever.

... the Pakistani officials, and former residents who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution, said the militants -- who call themselves Taliban -- now dispensed their own justice, ran their own jails, robbed banks, shelled military and civilian government compounds and attacked convoys at will. They are recruiting men from the local tribes and have gained a hold over the population through a mix of fear and religion, the officials and former residents said....


Gall and Khan say bin Laden and Zawahiri are in this region along with "possibly hundreds of foreign militants from Arab countries, Central Asia and the Caucasus."

Then there's this AP story, which suggests what's really meant by the assertion in the Times story that "the military campaign is bogged down":

...Pakistan authorities have said they are looking for militants who might have survived [the January 13 airstrike], but security forces have not visibly stepped up maneuvers in border regions where anger runs high among the 3.2 million residents.

The military still mans ubiquitous checkpoints in the area, but analysts say Pakistan is taking a low-profile approach so as not to enrage local people with large-scale offensives that may cause more civilian casualties.

The military has about 70,000 soldiers in the area, although an Associated Press reporter who has visited Damadola three times since the attack has not seen a single uniformed soldier in town....


So Pakistanis walk on eggshells in this region, while American troops can't legally go there.

I'm so happy that Bush decided to shoot the moon in Iraq while impotently shaking his fist at the real 9/11 killers.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

So I wasn't aware until now that Brian Rohrbough, the father of one of the dead kids at Columbine, is blaming the massacre on legalized abortion. What's more, he's made a radio commercial to that effect.

An MP3 of Rohrbough's ad is here. This is the text:

Do you remember the picture of my son? It won a Pulitzer Prize -- the picture of him lying dead on the sidewalk at Columbine High School. His name is Daniel. My name is Brian Rohrbough. Did you know that the roots of the Columbine murders started back in 1967, when our Colorado lawmakers passed a law that allowed a baby to be put to death because her father was a criminal? In one evil law, they changed our country from a culture of life to a culture of death. Since that day, fifty million babies in this country have been killed through abortion. Will you stand with me? Will you stand in the place of just one of these victims? Join me as Colorado Right to Life presents the annual March for Life at the state capitol, Saturday, January 21st, at 1:30 P.M. I will share with you a story that few know. Join me, because abortion is always wrong.

Yeah, we really had a culture of life in this country before 1967, didn't we?

Back in '67, Time ran a brief story on the first two beneficiaries of that original abortion law. Both were raped. The second one was twelve years old.

(If you have some desire to read and hear more on this and related subjects, go to the Web site of right-wing radio station KGOV.)

And the right mocks Cindy Sheehan. At least she's actually denouncing the very thing that killed her son.
At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security," Rove said. "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

--Washington Post story on Rove's speech to the Republican National Committee

Look, it's simple: When is a Democrat going to have the guys to say this in a speech? "Karl Rove says his party has a 9/11 mentality and some in our party have a pre-9/11 mentality. Well, when it comes to terrorism, Mr. Rove has a first-Tuesday-in-November mentality. He looks at terrorist attacks and thinks, 'How can I exploit this for votes?'"

Friday, January 20, 2006

THE PATTERN BECOMES FAMILIAR

First the scary words from overseas, then the scary words from the Bush administration:

The nation's top law enforcement officials warned today that al Qaeda may have plotters already inside the United States.

"We have to assume that there are persons out there that want to attack us," said FBI director Robert Mueller.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said police chiefs have been told to review all the intelligence the federal government has given them in the last two years about al Qaeda tactics.

Chertoff told ABC News: "We've seen them attack in London, for example. We've seen them attack in Spain. We've seen them attack elsewhere, so I think we have to operate on the assumption that they do have some capability and they certainly have the intent." ...


But they're not raising the alert level -- yet. Let's see: the Patriot Act is set to expire on February 3. The State of the Union address will be January 31. I'm betting we go to orange on January 30.
A small victory for human decency:

The secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections says he has directed his staff to end the use of restraints on pregnant inmates during labor, delivery and recovery.

"I believe that we can have a policy that protects safety and security but still allows for a woman offender to have a baby without having restraints on," Matt Frank told The Post-Crescent newspaper Wednesday after it reported on the practice earlier this week....


Well, good for him -- but he can just forget about getting a job with the Bush administration.

Here's that Post-Crescent story, by the way. In it, we were assured the old way was very humane:

Inmates ... have the option of wearing plastic ties in lieu of the heavy shackles...

Oh, that makes me feel much better.

The story also tells us that, as of 2001, twenty-one U.S. states followed this practice.
RIGHT-WING WEIRDNESS

Shortly after Samuel Alito's wife had her tear-stained moment, an obscure right-wing blog posted a link to a story that appeared on the Washington Post Web site, but added a detail that wasn't in the Post story at all:

While out of the room, Alito’s wife received a call of encouragement from Gwen Kopechne. Mrs. Kopechne told Bomgardner (Mrs. Alito) that while she understood the emotions that caused her to leave the room, she should be thankful her family member being abused by Sen. Edward Kennedy was still in the room, and not in the back of a Buick at the bottom of a pond.

The altered story was later picked up here.

And now today we have this at Free Republic:

I have an interesting tidbit of information to share.

My old college roommate's mother is friends with Judge Alito's mother. They go to the same church in Roseland, New Jersey.

Well, the judge's mother shared something with her that hasn't been in the papers and may bring a different perspective to those tears Alito's wife shed in the hearing.

It seems Judge Alito's wife (the former Martha-Ann Bomgardner) has had personal reasons to dislike Senator Kennedy since long before Splash's shameful treatment of her husband.

Long ago, the Senator was also less than kind to girl whose family was friends with the Bombgardner family. A girl that Martha-Ann knew fairly well before her untimely demise.

A girl named Mary Jo Kopechne.


It's a failed meme so far -- even the Freepers are skeptical about it. (One read the fake Post story and replied, "Color me skeptical. In the blog it says 'in the back end of a Buick.' Anybody remotely familiar with the story knows it was an Oldsmobile.") Still, ten years from now, when an aging Ted Kennedy is denouncing Justice Alito's majority opinion upholding President Lynne Cheney's suspension of habeas corpus nationwide, I guarantee you'll hear someone tell you this was the absolute truth.
For what it's worth, at least one voice-authentication expert interviewed this morning on NPR seemed to think the CIA was awfully quick to declare the bin Laden tape genuine -- the declaration came much faster than the one for the last tape. (Although he did say that maybe it was just because the CIA has some fancy-schmancy technology and/or techniques he might not be aware of.)

****

MORE: Bruce Lawrence, a Duke professor who's the editor of this recent collection of bin Laden statements, has told a reporter that he's not sure the tape is genuine:

...He thinks bin Laden is dead and has doubts about the tape. Lawrence recently analyzed more than 20 complete speeches and interviews of the al Qaida leader for his book. He says the new message is missing several key elements.

"There's nothing in this from the Koran. He's, by his own standards, a faithful Muslim," Lawrence said. "He quotes scripture in defense of his actions. There's no quotation from the Koran in the excerpts we got, no reference to specific events, no reference to past atrocities."

...Lawrence believes faulty Pakistani intelligence led to the strike and the civilian deaths, and the tape was leaked by Pakistani authorities to divert attention from their mistake....


Believers in a Bush-based conspiracy theory regarding the tape will take heart from the words of CNN's Jack Cafferty:

"The last time we got a tape from Osama bin Laden was right before the 2004 presidential election. Now here we are, four days away from hearings starting in Washington into the wiretapping of America's telephones without bothering to get a court order or a warrant, and up pops another tape from Osama bin Laden. Coincidence? Who knows."

(Cafferty's wrong, though, that the last bin Laden tape was the one right befor the '04 election -- there was another one in December '04).
THE ENEMY OF OUR ENEMY IS ...

I suspect a lot of right-wingers will pick up on this BBC story, which notes that many Arab broadcasters have ignored the new bin Laden tape, as well as recent tapes by Zawahiri and Zarqawi, and that other Arab media outlets have recently been quite critical of al-Qaeda.

Those right-wingers, however, will probably skip this part:

One columnist, Nahid Hattar, in the Jordanian paper, al-Arab al-Yawm, portrayed the al-Qaeda number two as a parasite.

"American imperialism in Iraq is certainly on the verge of defeat," the columnist said.

"But the credit for that goes to the sacrifice of the Iraqi people... It will never go to al-Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appeared in his televised message to be thirsty, like a leech, for the blood of Iraqis, as well as haughty, stupid and lacking any connection to reality, just like George Bush junior." ...

In Egypt, a commentary in al-Akhbar said that the "continued threats" by "al-Zawahiri and the other leaders of terrorism is in the end providing an acceptable justification" for the Americans to "occupy Iraq, Afghanistan and other places".

Little if any of this criticism is directed at what's widely seen in the Arab and Muslim world as a legitimate resistance movement in Iraq, but is instead aimed at al-Qaeda for trying to take credit for it....


The enemy of our enemy is our enemy.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

BUSH IS RIGHT

Even though inflation-adjusted earnings for the average American worker fell 0.5% in 2005 (after falling 0.7% in 2004), I think President Bush is absolutely right when he says the economy is in great shape -- this proves it!

MBAs are hot, again.

Salaries and signing bonuses of fresh graduates took a double-digit jump in 2005 to a record average $106,000....

The $106,000 salary and signing bonus was up 13.5% from 2004, according to a GMAC survey of 5,829 2005 grads. Salary alone increased to $88,600, surpassing the previous high of $85,400 set in 2001....

The average bonus paid to a 2005 MBA graduate by investment banks was $40,000....


A small group of elitists is making money while ordinary schmucks are falling behind! I BELIEVE!!!
Are you a pundit or average Joe who's simply appalled at Hillary Clinton's "plantation" remark? Congratulations -- you're on the same side as Free Republic's Mia T.

Keep scrolling through all the links and illustrations.
OUR M.B.A. PRESIDENT

From Bush's gung-ho speech on the economy today:

American families have benefited from the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. Let me repeat that. American families all across this country have benefitted from the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. (Applause.) Half of American households -- that's more than 50 million households -- now have some investment in the stock market, either by owning shares in individual companies, or through owning mutual funds....

I'll never forget going to an automobile manufacturing plant in Mississippi. It was a very diverse group of workers. I said, how many of you own your own 401K? In other words, how many of you have a stock portfolio. Nearly 90 percent held their hands up. When you cut taxes on capital gains, and you cut taxes on dividends, you're helping the line workers in the automobile plant.


Does the M.B.A. president of the United States actually not understand that earnings on 401(k)s are tax-deferred, which means that those of us whose only stocks are in 401(k)s get absolutely no benefit from these tax cuts?
This is pathetic:

Divided Democrats Aren't Capitalizing on Republican Scandals

Congressional Democrats, divided over changes to lobbying and ethics rules, have been slow to take advantage of the corruption scandals that have engulfed Republicans.

Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, said many members of his party oppose tightening lobbying rules at a time when Democrats have a chance to regain a majority in Congress in the November elections.

"I've had a number of people who said, 'Geez, you really want to do this, after the way Republicans have treated us?''' Obey said. "Why would we guarantee them this stuff if we take control?'' ...

Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said he saw little need to change the rules because Republicans, not lax regulations, were to blame for the ethics scandals. "It is not the rules that are the issue, it's the character of the players that is the issue here,'' Hoyer said in an interview. "That is what I want to focus on, the culture of corruption.'' ...


THE ABRAMOFF GUILTY PLEA WAS TWO WEEKS AGO AND YOU PEOPLE ARE STILL ARGUING ABOUT THIS?

Schmucks.

And thanks a lot, David Obey, for telling a reporter flat out, "Hey, a lot of us want to be sleazy when we take power." Nice job of undercutting the message contained in the Democrats' one (failed) attempt to get a catchphrase into the political lexicon, "Republican culture of corruption." Of course, if you continue to have no clear message, on this or anything else, you'll never actually take power, so it's all kind of moot, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

So now Neal Boortz is calling Hillary Clinton's "plantation" remark racist?

Neal "Arnie will commute Tookie's death sentence because otherwise blacks will riot" Boortz?

I guess now we've heard from pretty much everyone except David Duke.

I'm still waiting for a Republican to explain to me why the word "plantation" was OK when it was in the 1992 GOP platform.
Bush to states: Thanks for helping us out of a jam, suckers....

The federal government won't repay states that are making emergency purchases for hundreds of thousands of poor, sick people whose new Medicare drug coverage isn't yet working, Medicare officials say.

Instead, those states must recoup the money from the private plans that began providing drug coverage Jan. 1 on behalf of Medicare.

Medicare administrator Mark McClellan said the new Medicare legislation was clear: "Under this program, we don't have the authority to pay states directly. People are in Medicare drug plans and it's the Medicare plans that are supposed to pay for the medications." ...


Oh, so in this case the Bush administration says its hands are tied by the exact text of a law. Funny how that doesn't seem to matter to these guys at other times.

Now, let's review: This plan is a disaster so far, but the people who are supposed to make sure that the mess is cleaned up aren't the people at the federal government (which created the plan) or at the private companies (which sell and profit from the actual drug coverage), but in the states, which had all this foisted on them.

Ah, but the feds aren't being completely selfish:

Medicare will, however, help states deal with the drug plans. "If they're not paying for the claim they should have, we can make sure they do," [Medicare spokesman Gary] Karr said.

States can send Medicare batch files of all the people they've bought drugs for and then match those names with the drug plans the patients belong to.

"We can tell (plan A) 'Hey, here's 10 claims you should have paid. You have these people. Double-check that you've got these people and then pay these claims because they're clearly legit,'" Karr said.


Yeah, the feds are doing such a great job already -- I'm sure they'll effortly process, say, a 34,000-claim batch file from California.

(First link via Democratic Underground.)
The right-wing Boston Herald reaches into the gutter:

Mag: Ted K's secret love child a secret no more

The National Enquirer splashes this week with a shocking story about Sen. Ted Kennedy's secret love child with a Cape Cod woman whom the mag says he dated during his days as a swinging single.

According to the tabloid's source, the boy, named Christopher, just celebrated his 21st birthday and is "mature enough to make his own choices about his background and biological father."

A Kennedy family confidante told the Enquirer, "This is one of the biggest secrets in the Kennedy family and known to only a few people including Ted's ex-wife, Joan."

As for the senator, his spokesgal Melissa Wagoner last night called the tabloid tale "irresponsible fiction."...


Curious that the story should surface at this exact moment, don't you think?
James Webb graduated from Annapolis and went to Vietnam as a Marine. He went on to attend Georgetown Law School at the height of the antiwar movement in the early 1970s; Robert Timberg's book The Nightingale's Song recounts some of his experiences there as the only Vietnam veteran in his class:

[Webb] had a number of storied clashes with the school's sizable antiwar clique, which included professors as well as students.

...The professor [of a criminal law class Webb took during his first year] was Heathcote Wales.... Wales, part of the antiwar set, often dreamed up vignettes to explain points of law, at times giving characters the names of his students. The initial question on the first-term final was about search and seizure. It involved a Marine seregeant named Webb who attempts to ship home pieces of jade in the dead bodies of two Marines from his platoon. Webb would later say that he felt like he had been shot as he read the question. "All those broken bodies and nights in the rain, for what? To be laughed at?" he said. Immobilized for a full fifteen minutes, he thought about walking out of the exam, but stayed and finished it.

That night, he went through some of the bleakest hours of his life, repeatedly bursting into tears as he tried to study for other finals. Two days later, he confronted Wales in his office. "I just want you to know it wasn't funny," he told the professor. "I went over to Vietnam with sixty-seven lieutenants, twenty-two died, and it wasn't funny."

However painful, something valuable came of that experience. "I decided then and there never to take any shit on that again," he said, meaning his Vietnam service.


Webb later became Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. Not exactly a guy you'd expect to be sympathizing with opponents of a Republican administration in the midst of a war.

And yet here he is on the op-ed page of The New York Times, lambasting the Bush administration and its surrogates for trashing the reputations of fellow veterans:

IT should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.

After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves....


As admirers of the administration scrounge for scraps of evidence that opponents of the Iraq War are doing harm to the troops in the field, it appears that James Webb has arrived at a very different conclusion: that denigration of military service is coming from the right this time. It's Bush operatives who are reminding him of Heathcote Wales.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

LES WINGNUTS

These people are sick:

FAR-right groups in France are distributing ham sandwiches and pork soup to homeless people in an attempt to discriminate against Muslims and Jews, forbidden to eat pork products.

Food hand-outs, which have already taken place in Paris, Nice and Nantes, and in Brussels and Charleroi in Belgium, have now spread to the eastern French city of Strasboug.

At the weekend, Strasbourg's prefect banned the extreme right association Solidarite Alsacienne from distributing its soupe au cochon (pig soup) to poor and homeless people in the city centre.

On Saturday, police intervened to close the soup kitchen after Solidarite Alsacienne defied the ban and began distributing food in one of Strasbourg's main squares....


The president of Solidarite Alsacienne is married to a former MP for Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front Party; the group

is close to Le Bloc Identitaire, an extreme-right umbrella group led by Fabrice Robert, a former leader of Unite Radicale, a neo-Nazi cell which broke up in 2002 after one its members attempted to assassinate the president, Jacques Chirac.

It's not exactly the same, but when I read about this practice of, in effect, waving food in front of hungry people that they can't eat, I'm reminded of the way Alabama prison guards reportedly taunt prisoners they've tied to hitching posts in the hot sun:

The plaintiff in this case, Larry Hope, charged that he had been handcuffed to a hitching post twice, one time for seven hours, during which he was shirtless "while the sun burned his skin... At one point, a guard taunted Hope about his thirst. According to Hope's affidavit: '[The guard] first gave water to some dogs, then brought the water cooler closer to me, removed its lid, and kicked the cooler over, spilling the water onto the ground.'"


That practice was defended as not cruel and unusual by William Pryor, then Alabama's attorney general and now a federal judge. Do I even need to tell you that the French food distribution is being defended by American right-wingers?
DUH.

Roll Call reports that Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Pelosi (D-Cal.) plan to unveil a [congressional ethics] package on Wednesday....

--Paul Kiel at TPM Cafe last Thursday

Yeah, that's just brilliant: give the Republicans nearly a week's notice, so they can beat you to the punch by a day:

House Republicans moved to seize the initiative for ethics reform Tuesday with a comprehensive package of changes, including the banning of privately sponsored travel like that arranged by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The package also includes a virtual ban on gifts, except for inconsequential items like baseball caps, and a provision that will affect few people: elimination of congressional pensions for anyone convicted of a felony related to official duties....

Democrats, who have adopted a "culture of corruption" theme in a drive to oust Republicans from control of Congress, intend to unveil this week a proposed ban on lobbyists' gifts to lawmakers....


Caught flatfooted. Again. Are the Democrats actually trying to ensure that they get as little political advantage from this scandal as possible?
Yet another story about immigrant laborers getting shafted while working on the Katrina cleanup -- this one's from The Dallas Morning News (if the link doesn't work, try this):

Melvin Diaz ... and scores of other workers said they toil in an effective suspension of labor rights and employment rules. Some don't get paid. Others aren't given safety equipment. Housing is so short that many sleep in trucks or live in tents in the city's largest park....

"I've worked at companies that don't pay, or those that give checks that can't be cashed. Some have given me bad food, and I had to go to the hospital," said Mr. Diaz, who's on his fourth job after arriving here three months ago as part of a crew to clear debris at a hotel....

Other workers say some employers fail to take safety precautions or provide protective masks, suits and gloves.

Salvador Calderon, a 42-year-old from southern Mexico who last lived in Houston, has a nasty rash over his torso. He can't find a doctor or free clinic and has no transportation.

Mr. Calderon isn't certain if his rash comes from the mold and debris he's handled cleaning houses, where there have been snakes, rats and spoiled food that's made other workers vomit....

His workmate, who goes only by Jose, defends his friend: "They promised us vaccines, and we never got them. We are not so stupid; many of us have made it to the ninth grade." ...


You know what I'm wondering? How come the Minuteman Project isn't here, or some similar group? I'm not saying that the preferred solution of the Minutemen would be the same as mine; I'm just surprised at their absence. You'd think this would be a perfect high-profile location where they could get their message across. Yet I don't see them there. I do see groups protesting undocumented workers in places like Rockland County, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut -- but New Orleans? No sign of them.

Could it be these groups aren't really concerned with keeping illegal immigrants out of America? Could it be that they just want to keep those immigrants out of white suburbs?