Thursday, December 23, 2004

Well, I thought I'd get in a few more pearls of wisdom (or garble a few more facts), but it's Christmastime and you know how it is for us liberals -- always another church to burn, always another 24-hour all-Christmas radio station to bust up with a pickaxe.

I'm joking. I'M JOKING.

Seriously -- anyone hear of any churches being torched this month? Christmas decorations on houses trashed, followed by claims of responsibility by seculoterrorists? No? And why would that be? Could it be that liberals don't want to destroy Christianity in America? Could it be that, at most, we'd prefer a bit of separation of church and state?

OK, sorry, I'm ranting. And it's Christmas, and I'm here to tell you that I'm skipping town for a while.

But first, in the spirit of the season, I'll give you a link for which I'm going to hell (as will you if you click on it) -- it's a Jesus Action Figure TV ad. I will say in my defense that I'm 99% sure that there are some Christians who would find this as amusing as I do. There are, alas, no right-wing bloggers or syndicated columnists who would. All the more reason to click the link.

"A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)" by James Thurber, from the Christmas 1927 issue of The New Yorker, is funny too (on a somewhat more elevated plane).

I'm more of a softy than I seem to be, which is why I like Julia's take on the season.

And, even though it reminds me of things I haven't done in a long time, this is an amusing tree.

And with that, I gotta go. I'll be back after the holidays. Thanks for showing up all year.

(Hat tip to Bob Hayes for the Thurber and Kevin Hayden for the tree.)

Atrios, man, you're great, but -- do you really think Giuliani's political career is going to be hurt by the fact that he violated people's civil liberties and cost NYC a lot of money in lawsuits? Hell, that stuff didn't even hurt him in New York, even before 9/11, even in the ugliest depths of the Louima/Diallo/divorce period of his administration -- it was always just seen as part and parcel of what a Real Tough Guy had to do to keep liberals and troublemakers in their place and, of course, reduce crime (and Giuliani invented crime reduction -- didn't you know that?). Gun control and gay rights might sink Rudy, but this absolutely won't.
President Bush plans to renominate 20 candidates for federal judgeships who have been unable to win confirmation in the Senate, the White House said today, in a signal that the president is ready for a showdown early next year.

The Bush administration issued broad new rules Wednesday overhauling the guidelines for managing the nation's 155 national forests and making it easier for regional forest managers to decide whether to allow logging, drilling or off-road vehicles.

College students in virtually every state will be required to shoulder more of the cost of their education under new federal rules that govern most of the nation's financial aid.

Screw you. I won. Merry Christmas. And maybe I'll shaft you a few more times on Christmas Eve, when nobody will be paying attention.
Today's Daily News on Kerik:

He said he had no firm plans beyond exploring unspecified business opportunities, finishing his second book and getting back to the gym.

A second book? Is it for Judith Regan? I'd like to be a fly on the wall in those editing sessions.

No word on what the book's going to be about, but I hear the working title is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Mooks.

Hey, you saw this, right? The Social Security Administration will now recognize straight marriages conducted in New Paltz, New York, reversing the policy I talked about here. Massachusetts gay marriages are also recognized, by the way, and this actually isn't a reversal -- acceptance of the legality of Bay State gay marriages was always in section 4 of this SSA document, which leads me to believe that all this was just the SSA being legalistic rather than right-wing (the Massachusetts gay marriages are, after all, unambiguously legal in the state). Not that that helps gay couples in the other 49 states, of course....

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hey Bernie, do me a favor -- make yourself scarce. Oh, and another thing: merry frickin' Christmas.
In a new CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 44% of Americans surveyed said the trend toward "Happy Holidays" is a change for the better, and 43% said it wasn't. Only 11%, however, said they avoid saying "Merry Christmas" out of fear of offending someone.

--USA Today

How dare you, America? Well, we'll have none of that! You're being oppressed -- and no backtalk! Now go to your room!
I had a garbled post up this morning about Nicholas Kristof and Sam Brownback. It's gone now. Gotta work on that reading comprehension.


Teen sues school over Confederate dress

A teenager is suing her eastern Kentucky school district for barring her from the prom for wearing a red dress styled as a large Confederate flag.

School officials called Jacqueline Duty's homemade dress too controversial and kept her out of Russell High School's May 1 prom.

Duty's federal lawsuit claims the Russell Independent Board of Education violated her First Amendment right to free speech and her right to celebrate her heritage....

At a news conference in front of the federal courthouse in Lexington on Monday, Duty acknowledged that some might find the Confederate flag offensive.

"Everyone has their own opinion. But that's not mine. I'm proud of where I came from and my background," said the 19-year-old....

--AP/Cincinnati Enquirer

You know, this is a tough one. How would I feel if a kid were excluded from a prom for wearing something with an anti-war message? I'd lean toward free speech, I think -- although a dress code that bans controversial messages (of all kinds) in school and at school-sponsored events could be reasonable, in the interest of civility.

Still, I think I'd say controversial messages should be allowed. So I'd also have to say that Jacqueline Duty should have been allowed to attend her prom in this dress.

And then, ideally, she would have been shunned by all decent people.

Here's another story about her. It says she worked on the dress for four years. Good Lord. It also leads me to conclude that this dress wouldn't have led too many of her classmates to give her a wide berth:

Duty says she was surprised by the tough stance taken against her.

"We've all worn Confederate flags to school before," she told the paper.

Oh, and just in case you're thinking this is just an ordinary prom dress with the Stars 'n' Bars subtly woven in, here's a photo:

The mind reels.
Look who's driving Christ out of Christmas, according to World Net Daily:

...the White House website lacks even a single mention of Jesus, whose birth is celebrated by hundreds of millions worldwide Dec. 25.

The official White House site proclaims this as the "Season of Merriment and Melody" – not the birth of the Savior of the world....

Among the website's many photographs of secular decorations is a shot of a creche, or Nativity, displayed in the East Room, but the baby Jesus is virtually invisible....

The White House residence, the site proclaims is decorated with "delightful vignettes illustrating many of the best-loved songs of the season." ...

Not one of those songs is a traditional spiritual carol or hymn....

Must be the ACLU's fault!

(Here's that White House holiday page.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The president ... has at least general support from 53 percent of the public for the concept of letting people control some of their [Social Security] contributions to invest in the market.

It is on the specifics that Bush faces problems.... 62 percent said they would not participate in such a program if it meant their retirement income would go up or down depending on the performance of their stock picks -- which is the essence of Bush's plan.

--Washington Post

And in related news, 53 percent of the public supported the concept of letting children run with scissors, but 62 percent said they would not support letting children run with scissors if it meant they could actually get hurt.
I said in my last post that the singing of Christmas carols in the public square isn't something I spend a lot of time worrying about. Discrimination against people who don't meet a Christian litmus test -- that's another matter.

You may have read today's L.A. Times story (also linked by Atrios) about Marilou Braswell, the University of Georgia cheerleading coach who seems to have spent way too much time working Christianity into her coaching and was accused of discriminating against a Jewish cheerleader.

Will it surprise you to learn that she's also been accused of anti-gay discrimination?

Late Tuesday night, Georgia released ... more than 100 pages of documents under the Georgia Open Records Act ...

The documents ... contain e-mails from two other cheerleaders to Evans that allege bias based on religion and sexual preference. The names of both complainants are omitted.

According to one, "We supposedly have our best male and female cheerleaders cheer football. Well this past year our best male and female cheerleaders did not make football. The male is (name omitted) and he is homosexual. He and coach have had many problems because of this issue. The female is (name omitted) and she is Jewish. Her and coach have also had many problems."

A Christian blogger named Dana Huff quietly makes the case against Braswell here and here. She links to this TV news story, which (scroll down) quotes two former members of the cheerleading squad -- one a Christian -- who describe Braswell's proselytizing as inappropriate.

Oh, and I guess this isn't Braswell's fault, but here's one of her defenders -- an overt racist and anti-Semite who looks at the accusation against her and says, "a little whining can take a Jew far." (Here's his main page, Jerry's Aryan Battle Page.)
Here are the opening sentences of Mark Steyn's latest column -- the 6,738th right-wing article published this month (give or take a couple thousand) on the subject of the alleged liberal anti-Christmas jihad:

One December a few years back, I was in Santa Claus, Indiana, and went to the Post Office - a popular destination thanks to its seasonal postmark.

"Merry Christmas!" I said provocatively.

But Postmistress Sandy Colyon was ready for me. "A week ago," she said, "I'd have had to say 'Happy Holidays', but we've been given a special dispensation from the Postmaster-General allowing us to say 'Merry Christmas'. So Merry Christmas!" That's "Christmas" at the dawn of the third millennium - a word you have to get a special memo from head office authorising the use thereof....

That was "a few years back" -- Steyn doesn't say when, but it's clear that Christianity was hanging by a thread in America. Odd, then, that in 2000 -- during the dark reign of William Jefferson Satan -- AP reported this about the town of Santa Claus:

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. -- Nonbelievers, beware: That whole Santa-Claus-is-a-myth theory doesn't fly in this town where elves have answered Christmas letters for nearly a century.

Dozens of town scribes, from the veterans of the American Legion to the women of the garden club, pen replies in red ink to believers young and old. Bilingual monks and nuns from local monasteries answer letters from foreign lands.

The letter writers, who see themselves as Santa's elves, follow two rules: "We never promise anything to kids and we keep the spiritual part of Christmas in it," says the head elf, Patricia Koch.

Emphasis mine. (The article also points out that the postmistress's surname is spelled "Collignon," as does a 2004 article you'll find here if you scroll down -- Steyn, I gather, believes in faith-based fact-checking. But I digress.)

Please note that the letters continue to get answered -- with religious messages. Both articles mention that letters in foreign languages go to monks. Note that Collignon hasn't been sent to a reeducation camp, nor have the Legionnaires, nor have the monks. Nor, by the way, have the folks at Abbey Press, who, apparently on their own, will send you a letter postmarked in Santa Claus that includes this text:

Dear [Personalized],

Ho, Ho, Hello from the North Pole!

Christmas is coming -- and you know what that means! It means colored lights and shiny ornaments, Christmas carols and cookies with sprinkles, secret surprises and lots of excitement. But do you know what Christmas really means?

Christmas is Jesus' birthday! Remember the story of how Baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem? God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, from heaven to show how much He loved us. Jesus was the very first Christmas Gift! When Jesus grew up, He taught everyone how to love each other and live in peace....

And I imagine quite a few letters with a Santa Claus postmark bear this stamp.

Liberals aren't objecting to these letters -- and liberals won't. The letter-writers all seem to be volunteers. Nobody's trying to stop anyone from engaging in purely voluntary religious acts.

The stamps are cool, too, because the Postal Service commemorates all kinds of holidays. (Get yourself a USPS Kwanzaa pen.)

But shouldn't a true lefty object to the rest of what goes on in Santa Claus -- the Christmas in Santa Claus Parade, the live nativity scene, the town name itself?

The fact is, this isn't a big fight on the left. Go read some of the stories about Christmas carols being de-Christed and town squares being de-nativitied: In most cases, no liberal is actually demanding the changes -- they're just happening, in anticipation of what the good burghers of the town think we're demanding.

Go to Google News and search christmas aclu -- you'll see a lot of articles about what people think the ACLU demands, and virtually nothing about actual anti-Christmas activity by the actual ACLU. Christmas doesn't even make the title screen at, or the religious liberty page, or even the government-funded religion page or religion in schools page.

Of course, when we're attacked as the bringers of evil pluralism, we get our backs up. We rally around the secularizing towns. But we've got too many other things to worry about, from torture to Social Security privatization to creationism -- nativity scenes are not that high on our agenda.

In my ideal America, public Christmas celebrations would be under the aegis of private organizations. There could easily be as many as there are now; they could be in the town square, more or less like street fairs here in New York City, and there could even be a hell of a lot of overlap between the leadership of the private organizations and civic officialdom, but there'd be some separation. And there'd have to be equal opportunity for all faiths, and no faith, in such a system.

But this isn't my top priority, and it's not the top priority of most people on the left.
The point of this New York Times article is that Wall Street firms aren't fighting to get private accounts into the Social Security system -- no, really, they aren't. They think it's bad PR to lobby for privatization and they don't think they'll make much money from it anyway, so they're just not even bothering to fight.

Really. Not one bit.

Oh, except for this:

... while its members are reluctant to speak out publicly on the topic, the [Investment Company Institute] recently hired as its communications director F. Gregory Ahern, a former executive at State Street Corporation in Boston who was involved in that firm's aggressive lobbying effort for private accounts during the late 1990's.

Behind the scenes, the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, a business coalition advocating private accounts, has begun meeting with Congressional and White House staff members, pushing the idea that private accounts are not only good for the country but also good for business.

In November, Derrick A. Max, the alliance's executive director, met with Charles P. Blahous, a special assistant to the president who has been at the forefront in the White House on Social Security. They have a strong connection, because Mr. Blahous preceded Mr. Max at the alliance.

At the meeting were representatives from the Securities Industry Association, Charles Schwab & Company, and the United States Chamber of Commerce, all members of the alliance.

The Club for Growth, a group financed largely by conservative business leaders that supports like-minded Congressional candidates, has also been active in the drive for privately held Social Security accounts. Members include Richard Gilder of Gilder Gagnon Howe & Company, a private investment firm, and Charles H. Brunie, the founder of Oppenheimer Capital.

The club, which is run by Stephen Moore, who once served as economic adviser to the former House Republican Leader Dick Armey, recently sent out a memorandum to its backers proposing a $15 million public relations and grassroots campaign in favor of private accounts.

This increase in activity is occurring against the backdrop of a long-running campaign by the Cato Institute, a Washington policy research and lobbying organization with libertarian leanings that has received financial support from, among others, American Express and the American International Group, the large insurance company. State Street also provided funds in the past to support the institute's efforts to persuade Congress of the merits of personal accounts.

But apart from that, nothing!
Once again, this technique, and all of those used in these scenarios, was approved by the Dep Sec Def [Deputy Secretary of Defense].

--newly released memo on prisoner abuse, dated 1/21/04

Please note that the abuse of prisoners described in the newly released documents is the work of military interrogators, operating under the Pentagon's rules -- if this fish stinks from the head, the head is Rumsfeld, that "caring fellow."

So do you think now maybe Charlie Rangel can get more than four co-sponsors for his House bill calling for Rumsfeld's impeachment? Or more than 29 co-sponsors for his bill calling for Rummy's resignation (a step that majority support in the latest Gallup poll and the latest ABC/Washington Post poll)?

(I recommend the New York Times story on the memos if you're still a bit confused as to what's been revealed.)

Monday, December 20, 2004

FBI E-Mail Refers to Presidential Order Authorizing Inhumane Interrogation Techniques

Newly Obtained FBI Records Call Defense Department’s Methods "Torture," Express Concerns Over "Cover-Up" That May Leave FBI "Holding the Bag" for Abuses

NEW YORK -- A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as "torture" and a June 2004 "Urgent Report" to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up....

(Summaries of documents and links to PDFs of documents here. Christmas card via Digby.)
I guess this is my day for mea culpas: I've heard via e-mail from Professor Lee Ellis, whose research suggests that women who take diet pills during pregnancy are more likely to have gay children. (See this story from the Telegraph.) I speculated about his views without knowing much about them; he wrote to tell me,

I am not a biological determinist, but I do think biological variables are very important for just about every behavioral trait we humans exhibit. For a trait like sexual orientation, my guess is that most of the variation is due to an interaction of genetic factors and perinatal environmental factors. I've seen little evidence that social environmental factors during childhood or later in life are significant except in terms of the degree to which one expresses his/her sexual orientation.

I also looked at an earlier study and, finding some of his wording confusing, concluded that he might believe biology leads gay people to reject Christianity. He writes:

As I recall my thinking at the time, it was that gay children are more likely to reject Christianity because Christian teachings are in general opposition to their sexual behavior. I can imagine other possibilities, but such an explanation seems most reasonable to me currently.

So I stand corrected.
In The New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller points out something I've been noticing -- that Bush is really making a habit of choosing rags-to-riches nominees. In this year's round of Cabinet picks we have Alberto Gonzales ("the son of Mexican migrant farm workers who never finished grade school"), Jim Nicholson ("grew up in a house without plumbing on a tenant farm in Iowa and sometimes went to bed hungry"), Carlos Gutierrez ("learned English from a bellhop in a Miami hotel and got his start as a truck driver delivering Frosted Flakes in Mexico City"), Mike Johanns ("grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa"), Condi Rice ("grew up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., and was friends with one of the girls killed in the church bombing there in 1963") ... and, of course, Bernie Kerik ("a high school dropout and the son of a prostitute who may have been murdered by her pimp").

Is this noblesse oblige? That would be understandable -- but we're told it's something else:

... Mr. Bush seems to identify with the hardscrabble stories, as difficult as that may be to believe about a man who was born into one of the most privileged families in the United States....

Stanley A. Renshon, a psychoanalyst and political scientist at the City University of New York, argues ... that Mr. Bush, who said last spring that he had to "knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man's footsteps," truly believes that he had to overcome hurdles on his way to the White House.

"He was born into a family where there were enormous expectations for the kids, and he literally spent a lifetime not measuring up," said Mr. Renshon, whose recent book, "In his Father's Shadow: The Transformations of George W. Bush," is a psychological study of the president.

"In Bush's case," Mr. Renshon added, "he follows in his father's footsteps, he doesn't make it for decades, but he keeps on plugging, and he succeeds. But I think it was very complex for him because he often didn't know where his parents' and family help ended and his own contribution picked up. He had to carve out his own sphere in a very big shadow."

Can you believe that? Can you believe Bush picks people who came from nowhere because he thinks they're like him? Bush spent years trying to figure out how to turn the least possible effort into success; could he really equate his own "struggle" with pulling yourself up by the bootstraps?

Yeah, I think so.
NewsMax gets the story wrong: NYC congress Charles Rangel didn't say yesterday on local TV "that he's introducing legislation to impeach Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld" -- he introduced such legislation last spring, and good for him. The text of the bill is here; too bad it has only four co-sponsors.

(UPDATE: Bill text link fixed.)

Today, Lucianne Goldberg notes this story:

Bush is first president to choose yule card with a Scripture

About 2 million friends and supporters of President Bush found something in their mailboxes this month that no other president has offered: A holiday card with a Bible verse.
This card has a line from Psalms, 95:2: "Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song."
Presidents have been sending season's greetings since Calvin Coolidge wrote "Merry Christmas" on White House stationery in 1927....
But this administration is the first to include Scripture in the annual card....
First lady Laura Bush supervises the card selection. She picked cards with Bible verses when her husband was governor and has continued to do so in the White House....

The Right always says that the liberal jihad against Christian decency began in the 1960s -- but it turns out that our Christ-hating operatives were in the White House from 1927 on! Wow! Who knew?

Think what this means. It doesn't just mean that those commies Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton sent cards without Bible verses -- it meant Ronald Reagan did, too! Saint Ronald! The president whose spiritual life of strong and quiet faith we've heard so much about from conservative authors in recent years (even though, oddly, we never seemed to hear about it when he was actually president).

And what about Bush himself? Laura "picked cards with Bible verses when her husband was governor and has continued to do so in the White House," the article tells us -- and yet, if this is the first White House card with a Bible verse ever, that means she didn't "continue to do so in the White House." (In fact, according to The Washington Post, the message in the Bushes' first White House Christmas card was "Your kindness adds to our holiday enjoyment. May the New Year bring health and happiness to you and those you love." "Holiday"! It said "holiday"! Not "Christmas"! And this was in 2001, mere months after 9/11! Jesus wept!)

The Bushes sent three non-biblical holiday cards in their first term. You don't suppose it's significant that they changed course just after they failed to increase their share of the Jewish vote significantly, do you?

(Sorry, this wasn't my best job of fact-checking: Here's the '01 Bush card, and here's the text of the '03 card. There are Bible verses in both, and I assume '02 was the same. My bad. But both do use the dread liberal Christ-hater word "holiday" rather than "Christmas" -- as, in fact, does the '04 card. What will we tell the children?)

Of course, wearing Christianity on your sleeve is all the rage on the right this season, as Slate notes:

The new gauntlet-throwing catch phrase from the right is "Merry Christmas" (can't you just see Eastwood saying it from behind the barrel of a gun?). Apparently, uttered in the right context—like on Fox News—those four syllables no longer convey simply holiday cheer, but a red-state/blue-state, my-god-is-better-than-yours challenge: I've got your "happy holidays" right here, buddy.

Which leads me to a story flagged this morning by Matt Drudge: It seems that people working for a country singer named Chely Wright have been calling up radio stations pretending to be members of soldiers' families in order to promote Wright's pro-military song "The Bumper of My SUV." Here are some of the lyrics:

I've got a bright red sticker on the back of my car Says United States Marines And yesterday a lady in a mini-van held up a middle finger at me Does she think she knows what I stand for Or the things that I believe Just by looking at a sticker for the US Marines On The Bumper Of My SUV

See, my brother, Chris, he's been in for more than 14 years now Our dad was in the Navy during Vietnam Did his duty then he got out And my grandpa earned his purple heart On the beach of Normandy That's why I've got a sticker for the US Marines On The Bumper Of My SUV...

What's the connection? Well, it occurs to me that just about every singer and songwriter in Nashville is going to try to rule the charts next December with a defiant, in-your-face, Christmas-is-Christ's-birthday-and-don't-try-to-cross-me-by-saying-it's-not-'cause-I'm-one-angry-country-boy song.

At least one of those songs is going to become a hit -- a big hit. It'll be regarded as a country classic, like "God Bless the USA" or "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)."

After that, I expect to see the singer of this song at a defiantly devout Christmas gathering in 2007, just outside the state house in Tallahassee, signaling to America that Jeb Bush is God's choice for president.

(Slate link via the Mahablog -- Barbara has a lot to say about Christ and Christmas.)

Sunday, December 19, 2004


In case you missed the Kerik news this weekend, the New York Post revealed that in the mid-'90s, when Kerik was corrections commissioner, Jeanette Pinero, his longtime girlfriend (pre- and post-marriage, post-9/11), was one of many Corrections Department employees to fill out a W-4 with 99 exemptions; many department employees were caught, but only some were disciplined (or even arrested) -- and Pinero wasn't one of them. And the Daily News said that Kerik reportedly sent an e-mail message to Lawrence Ray with inside information on the city's investigation into whether Ray and his company were linked to the mob; it seems likely that Kerik also gave inside information on city contracts to Frank DiTomasso, Ray's boss, in violation of city policy. On and on....

(Via Steve Gilliard.)

UPDATE: And there's also this, from Newsday: Taxpayer Dollars May Have Paid Kerik's Wedding Security. (Via Democratic Underground.)
This, I guess, is acceptable discourse on the right:

...When it comes to pushing the multicultural, anti-Christian agenda, you find Jewish judges, Jewish journalists, and the American Civil Liberties Union, at the forefront....

It is the ACLU, which is overwhelmingly Jewish in terms of membership and funding, that is leading the attack against Christianity in America....

These passages come from a World Net Daily article called "The Jewish Grinch Who Stole Christmas."

It should be noted that the author, Burt Prelutsky, identifies himself as Jewish, so when I first read the article, I thought I might be able to apply the rule that says you have leeway to make fun of your own group in a way outsiders can't. Then I realized that that rule doesn't say you have leeway to accuse your own group, in all seriousness, of trying to destroy another group's culture, in words that echo the pronouncements of the other group's most dangerous genocidal hatemongers.

Oh, sorry -- according to Prelutsky, it's Jews who are the genocidal hatemongers, or at least genocidal hatemongers in embryo:

I happen to despise bullies and bigots. I hate them when they represent the majority, but no less when, like Jews in America, they represent an infinitesimal minority. I am getting the idea that too many Jews won't be happy until they pull off their own version of the Spanish Inquisition, forcing Christians to either deny their faith and convert to agnosticism or suffer the consequences.

This isn't a joke, even though Prelutsky has worked as a TV comedy writer. So has Daniel O'Keefe -- he's the Seinfeld writer who gave the world Festivus, the bizarre winter holiday celebrated by George Costanza's father every December 23, with a bare aluminum pole instead of a tree, wrestling matches, and a ritual airing of grievances. When it comes to Christmas, Prelutsky wants Jews, atheists, and the mellower Christians to do exactly what Christian conservatives prescribe; O'Keefe and his real-life father, Dan, who actually made up Festivus and introduced little Daniel to it a few decades ago, are perfectly comfortable if Festivus celebrants deviate from tradition, according to today's New York Times:

Interpretations of the holiday's rules differ among Festivus fundamentalists. Take the pole. On the show Frank Costanza says it must be aluminum and "it requires no decoration." But he does not specify what should hold it up nor its exact height....

Mike Osiecki, 26, a financial analyst in Atlanta, scheduled his Festivus gathering for friends and colleagues for Friday. He said his pole, which he bought for $10 at Home Depot, is suspended by fishing line on his porch, so "people can stare at it or dance around it if they want to."...

Scott McLemee, a writer, and his wife, Rita Tehan, had no pole at all at their party in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in Washington. They are two of the Festivus faithful who held their parties early in December before friends headed home for more traditional affairs.

Both Dan O'Keefe and his son bless the variations.

Festivus seems to be thriving, even though all Festivus celebrations seem to be entirely voluntary and are financed exclusively by the participants, rather than by, say, school taxes. Is there a lesson here?

The Times notes that Daniel O'Keefe is still writing comedy -- he's currently working on the sitcom Listen Up. Mr. Prelutsky now focuses on drama -- I guess he's too much of a scold these days to get work writing TV comedy, something he hasn't done since 1982. The closest he's come to tickling funnybones recently is, it seems, a book with the wince-inducing title Conservatives Are from Mars (Liberals Are from San Francisco), which comes recommended by the King of Comedy himself, Ward Connerly.
If you've been reading blogs today, you've probably seen this AP story in some form or another:

44% in poll OK limits on rights of Muslims

Nearly half of all Americans surveyed said they think the US government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious....

You can get the survey results here (that's a PDF; it's the first link on this page).

For your convenience, I've broken out the results on party affiliation and religiosity. As the survey notes, "high religiosity" is high Christian religiosity, American style:

Religiosity is measured only for Christian, Atheist, or Agnostic respondents; together these comprise eighty-seven percent of the sample (625 respondents). Adherents to other faiths are excluded from analyses involving religion. The measure is a standardized additive index of four separate questions: self-reported church attendance, literal interpretation of the Bible, self-identification as an “evangelical,” and whether the respondent believes Israel is a fulfillment of the biblical prophesy about the second coming of Jesus. Using the overall measure, respondents were split into thirds and categorized as exhibiting low, moderate, or high religiosity.

Now, the results of key questions -- on Muslims and life during wartime in general.

1) Government should have greater power in monitoring Internet activities such as email and online transactions.
Independents: 34%; Democrats: 40%; Republicans: 64%
low religiosity: 35%; moderate religiosity: 52%; high religiosity 61%

2) Law enforcement officials should be able to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists.
Independents: 55%; Democrats: 54%; Republicans: 76%
low religiosity: 50%; moderate religiosity: 65%; high religiosity 79%

3) We need to outlaw some un-American actions, even if they're Constitutionally protected.
Independents: 30%; Democrats: 34%; Republicans: 42%
low religiosity: 28%; moderate religiosity: 39%; high religiosity 43%

4) Government officials sometimes need to lie to the press about military operations.
Independents: 42%; Democrats: 36%; Republicans: 62%
low religiosity: 48%; moderate religiosity: 51%; high religiosity 49%

5) In a time of crisis or war, the media should NOT cover anti-war protests.
Independents: 26%; Democrats: 24%; Republicans: 48%
low religiosity: 24%; moderate religiosity: 28%; high religiosity 46%

6) In a time of crisis or war, the media should NOT report comments of individuals who criticize the government.
Independents: 25%; Democrats: 22%; Republicans: 45%
low religiosity: 20%; moderate religiosity: 29%; high religiosity 44%

7) In a time of war or crisis, individuals should be allowed to stage public protests against the government or its policies.
Independents: 63%; Democrats: 71%; Republicans: 50%
low religiosity: 69%; moderate religiosity: 56%; high religiosity 51%

8) In a time of war or crisis, individuals should be allowed to criticize publicly the government, or its policies.
Independents: 65%; Democrats: 75%; Republicans: 51%
low religiosity: 72%; moderate religiosity: 58%; high religiosity 54%


All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government.
Independents: 17%; Democrats: 24%; Republicans: 40%
low religiosity: 15%; moderate religiosity: 30%; high religiosity 42%

Mosques should be closely monitored and surveilled by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Independents: 24%; Democrats: 22%; Republicans: 34%
low religiosity: 13%; moderate religiosity: 33%; high religiosity 34%

U.S. government agencies should profile citizens as potential threats based on being Muslim or having Middle Eastern heritage.
Independents: 15%; Democrats: 17%; Republicans: 34%
low religiosity: 16%; moderate religiosity: 24%; high religiosity 29%

Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising.
Independents: 27%; Democrats: 21%; Republicans: 41%
low religiosity: 19%; moderate religiosity: 33%; high religiosity 40%

Draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A follow-up on this post: Here, from the Social Security Administration's own Web site, is U.S. government policy declaring that gay marriage in New Paltz and elsewhere makes all marriages that took place at the same time in those jurisdictions invalid for SSA's purposes -- and in New Paltz, invalid status applies to marriages that have taken place ever since. (Scroll down to section G.)

2. Marriage Documents Issued by Other Jurisdictions

Do not accept any marriage documents as evidence of identity issued by the following jurisdictions during the respective timeframes, as follows:

Sandoval County, New Mexico, on 02/20/04;

New Paltz, New York, on or after 02/27/04;

Multnomah County, Oregon, on 03/03/04 through 04/20/04;

Asbury Park, New Jersey, on 03/08/04 through 03/10/04....

Here's the result (from the New Paltz Times):

This past December 3, New Paltz newlywed Susie Kilpatrick took her New York State marriage license to the SSA office in Kingston as proof of her recent union with Jeremy Wilkening so that she could get her name officially changed on her Social Security card.

"I'm a bit traditional and wanted to take my husband's name," she said. "I thought the first place to start was with the Social Security Administration."

Kilpatrick was told by the clerk that the SSA would not accept marriage licenses from New Paltz. The young bride then demanded that he check with his supervisor, who concurred that the SSA had passed a policy in which no marriage documents issued in New Paltz could be accepted as valid proof of identity.

"The federal government will not recognize that I'm married," said Kilpatrick. "And the clerk there told me he has turned down several other women from New Paltz who wanted to take their husband's name. I was flabbergasted and in the end outraged. Clearly this is an issue of state's rights, and how dare the federal government deny me and attempt to take away my rights as a spouse?"

Here you go, Christian jihadis. Here are the "enemies of traditional marriage" you're punishing:

Remember, she's "a bit traditional and want[s] to take [her] husband's name." It's your president, God's president, who's stopping her.

Town supervisor Wilen said that he would like to get a list of all 123 people married from February 27 to date so that he can write them a letter informing them of the situation. "It is one of the most outrageous things I've heard," he said. "God forbid something happens to one of them and the other is not recognized as a legitimate spouse. Or when they go to file their income taxes or collect on the Social Security ten years down the road...."

(The same thing could be said, of course, about all the gay couples who were married in New Paltz and elsewhere, but I don't expect the jihadis to ever understand that.)

(Thanks to Dan and Elizabeth for the story.)

(Courtesy of Skimble.)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Is the Social Security Administration actually refusing to recognize any marriage performed in New Paltz, New York, even a plain old heterosexual one, because earlier in the year the mayor married gay couples? That's what it says here.


(Story via Sisyphus Shrugged and The Talking Dog.)
Oh, OK -- you want more Kerik?

Here you go...

Kerik tied to lawyer indicted in mob gaming

Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik dated an attorney in the early 1990s who was indicted in a multimillion-dollar, mob-run gambling ring.

Kerik, a Paterson native, and Hackensack attorney Linda George split shortly before George and her estranged husband were indicted by a Passaic County grand jury on allegations they owned a Paterson cafe used from 1988 until 1993 as a video gaming den.

Prosecutors described the storefront as part of a $26 million-a-year organized-crime gambling ring. Kerik and George lived together in an East Rutherford town house bought by Kerik in 1994 after the pair had dated for several years, according to people familiar with the situation.

Neither George nor her estranged husband, Marcello Ferreira, was convicted in the politically tinged case, as prosecutors permitted their corporation to plead guilty to the charges and pay a fine.

Indicted with George in the case were several prominent reputed organized-crime figures, including Fortunato "Frank" Inzone, a felon who served time in federal prison for conspiring to import heroin in the famed New York City "Pizza Connection" case. Inzone received 18 months' probation in the gambling case....

So: you got illegal gambling under the aegis of a corporation co-owned by Linda George. You got Kerik dating Linda George at the same time. And, oh, at the same time, Kerik's an NYC cop. Nice.

And remember Kerik's Jersey condo? The one that led to his arrest warrant? That was the town house mentioned in this story; according to Kerik's spokesman, he and Linda George retained ownership after the breakup and she agreed to pay the fees; the warrant was issued when she stopped paying.

That clears that up. I guess.

Linda George emerged from all this surprisingly unscathed:

George remains a Hackensack defense attorney.

Like Kerik, George withdrew her name from a nomination in recent days. George, a former Democratic aide in the state Senate and a friend of former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, had been nominated to the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission.

And look who some of Torricelli's benefactors have been:

In response to the growing investigations of Torricelli campaign financiers, Torricelli founded in 2000 a separate Legal Defense Fund.... According to FEC documents, waste management contractors Frank and Peter DiTommaso ... contributed $10,000 to this fund....

The Federal investigation of the DiTommaso brothers concerned their purchase of a Staten Island waste station controlled by Edward Garafola. who is married to the sister of former Gambino Family Underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Garafola was indicted in March 2000 along with Lawrence Ray, an executive of the DiTommaso brothers’ Interstate Industrial Corporation...

Lawrence Ray, of course, is the guy Kerik recommended to the DiTommasos to help improve their company's reputation, around the time Ray bankrolled Kerik's wedding.

On and on it goes....

(Story here. If that desn't work, try this Google search or this Free Republic thread.)
Did John McCain really think his embrace of Bush during the campaign would inoculate him against gutter attacks from the right? Well, a couple of days ago he uttered harsh words about Donald Rumsfeld, and here's a little retaliation:

Iraq Vet: McCain Snubbed the Troops

An Iraq war veteran who was part of the original invasion force went public yesterday with allegations that Sen. John McCain snubbed the troops when he visited the front lines during the early days of the occupation - while noting that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld routinely met with GIs during repeated visits to the war zone.

Identified only by his first name, Iraq GI Dan described the McCain visit during an unsolicited call to Sean Hannity's ABC Radio Network broadcast - saying he was upset that the Arizona Republican was accusing Rumsfeld of being oblivious to the concerns of troops on the ground.

"I had to let you know about this because I really don't think too many people know," the GI caller told Hannity. "McCain comes over and we do this whole big reception thing. It's 140-something degrees out. Soldiers are standing at attention outside, waiting for this guy to come."

The Iraq vet said that when McCain finally arrived, he "[didn't] say a single word to any of the soldiers."

Instead, said GI Dan, McCain spent "about five minutes at our safehouse there. And then he leaves - he didn't talk to a single soldier that was actually there. ... He didn't ask a single one of us anything."

The Iraq GI said it's much different when Rumsfeld visits Iraq.

"Every time [he] has gone over there - whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq, wherever - he's always made a point of talking to as many soldiers as he can; from a private, a low-ranking soldier, all the way up [the chain of command]."...

Oh, sure, this is just NewsMax and talk radio. It's not a big story -- except, surely, to the harcore Republican base, which pays a lot of attention to these sources (especially Hannity, the Fox News star), and which will decide who survives the '08 primary season. "GI Dan" could be nothing more than a pink-cheeked GOP intern whose principal exposure to war has been on a PlayStation -- but I'm sure he has more credibility with the Republican base as a war hero than a guy who spent nearly ten percent of his life in the Hanoi Hilton.

From Stars & Stripes we learn that, until now, Rummy couldn't be bothered to sign every letter to a dead soldier's family himself:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will begin personally signing condolence letters sent to families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, after receiving criticism over his use of mechanical signatures....

“I have directed that in the future I sign each letter,” he said in [a] statement....

In a separate statement, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said, “In the interest of ensuring timely contact with grieving family members, he has not individually signed each letter.”...

Rummy's been Mr. Tough Talk, which for a while made Beltway journalists swoon, but it seems this change of heart happened because someone had the nerve to talk tough right back at him:

Retired Army Col. David Hackworth, an author and frequent critic of the Department of Defense, publicly criticized Rumsfeld in a syndicated column earlier this month for not reviewing each KIA letter personally.

He called the fake signatures “like having it signed by a monkey.”

“Using those machines is pretty common, but it shouldn’t be in cases of those who have died in action,” he said. “How can [DOD officials] feel the emotional impact of that loss if they’re not even looking at the letters?”

Meanwhile, it appears that Rummy isn't the only one who sees this as bureaucratic tedium that's best avoided:

Family members had expressed similar concerns to Stripes about President Bush’s signature on his condolence letters, but Allen Abney, spokesman for the president, said that Bush does personally sign the letters sent from the White House.

The families were right about Rummy's phony signatures. Do you think it's likely that they're wrong about Bush's? But Bush can't fess up and change his policy, because that would involve admitting he made a mistake in judgment, and anything, even insulting the troops and their families, is better in Bush's eyes than admitting a mistake.
Giuliani let Kerik become police commissioner even though he didn't fill out the required background form?

No big surprise, really. As Leonard Leavitt pointed out in Newsday two weeks ago,

Kerik's selection came despite the fact that he lacked a college degree - a requirement established in 1985 by then-Commissioner Ben Ward for anyone promoted above captain.

If you bend one rule for a buddy, why not bend 'em all?


A thought I had last night: Tom Ridge resigned after the election. George Tenet resigned during the campaign.

If Ridge had resigned during the summer, do you realize that John Kerry would be measuring the drapes in the White House right now?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The people who are complaining about the secularization of Christmas in contemporary America probably shouldn't step into the Wayback Machine...

...looking into the past will not yield up any meaning of the Christmas holiday that most of us will recognize. The December date on the festive calendar two centuries ago was an occasion for public brawling by wandering crowds of inebriates.

Until Christmas was transformed in the 1830’s and 40’s, it was not unlike Mardi Gras. Men dressed as women and vice versa; off-key, discordant, squeaky, tub-thumping bands marched through the streets; liquored-up groups of revelers would force their way into the households of honest burghers to demand money, food and drink. When they managed to get what they came for, it wasn’t Christmas alms or charity, but something close to extortion.... These bands of not-so-merry makers would stand in front of homes and wassail those inside with such songs as this:

We’ve come here to claim our right ...
And if you don’t open your door
We will lay you flat upon the floor.

That's Nicholas von Hoffman in The New York Observer (his source is The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday by Stephen Nissenbaum).

Elsewhere in the Observer, Tom Scocca notes the recent column in which Bill O'Reilly warned that the exclusion of Christ from holiday celebrations could turn this country Canadian (gay marriage, national health care, rampant secularism). Scocca writes:

Has our snowy neighbor really repudiated Christmas? It seems like a waste of frosted evergreens.

"We’re certainly not abolishing Christmas," said Amber Authier, an events supervisor for the city of Toronto.

In fact, the putatively Grinchy people of Toronto can celebrate their gay marriages around an official municipal Christmas tree, sponsored by the Toronto
Star. At its lighting, the Saint Michael’s Choir School sang a medley of seasonal music --including the "religious music" that Mr. O’Reilly described as an endangered medium....

So hey, Bill, grab a Molson and lighten the hell up.

Isn't this nice? You can go to a Web site and send an e-birthday card to Jesus. And not just any card -- a card that tells Jesus that a lot of people hate his guts. Yeah, that's what I like to be told when I get a birthday card -- that people hate me. Especially when the people telling me that are lying:

...Still, some reject -- despise your name
With such intensity;
In spite, they celebrate instead
Their Secularity....

Excuse me: I'm an atheist, and I don't despise Jesus or his name. You? In fact, I don't know anyone who despises Jesus. All I want is the privatization of worship. Not its abolition. Not even its curtailment.

Please -- have huge Christmas celebrations. Sing carols and hymns till you're hoarse. Read the Bible till you see double. Don't let me stop you.

Just do it on your own dime.

(Me, I'll celebrate a perfectly American Christmas -- family, food, presents, tree, festive intoxicating beverages, more food. Does that meet with your approval?)
Good news:

Treasury Department Responds to Lawsuit by Changing Its Regulations to Permit the Publication of Books and Journals from Authors in Sanctioned Countries

In September 2004, publishers' and authors' organizations filed suit in federal court to strike down regulations of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control that effectively bar U.S. publishers from publishing books and journal articles originating in countries such as Iran, Cuba and Sudan that are subject to U.S. trade embargoes. Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian author and human rights activist, filed a related suit in late October. In response to the suits, OFAC issued new regulations today which explicitly permit Americans to engage in "all transactions necessary and ordinarily incident to the publishing and marketing of manuscripts, books, journals, and newspapers in paper or electronic format." This includes substantive editing and marketing of written materials, collaborations between authors, and the payment of advances and royalties....

The new regulations are here. This was an absurd application of the Trading with the Enemy Act -- as the notice quoted above goes on to say, "Even works written by Iranian and Cuban dissidents could not be published in the United States under the prior regulations." Not to mention such threats to the Republic as Cornell University's Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba.

Get ready for the phony TV commercials backing Bush's Social Security plan:

Anticipating intense opposition from many quarters - including the huge lobbying group for retired people, AARP - administration officials are enlisting support from a wide array of outside groups.

The outside organizations include research groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute and several new groups, some financed by business groups, with names like the "Alliance for Worker Retirement Security" and "Women for Social Security Choice."

--New York Times

"Alliance for Worker Retirement Security." Yeah, that sound you just heard was a rolling sound, and I believe it came from the general direction of Orwell's grave.
Josh Marshall and Steve Gilliard are still pursuing every Kerik story there is, and they're doing a great job -- but I think I'm going to lighten up on my Kerik obsession.

However, I'll add that Josh M.'s skepticism about the nanny story seems absolutely right to me -- he's wondered for days whether there ever was a nanny, and, as he noted last night, a story in today's New York Times echoes his suspicions. Kerik's lawyer doesn't know the nanny's name and didn't have any involvement when Kerik reportedly filed papers for her last fall; only one neighbor of Kerik's claims to have ever seen the nanny (and is vague on the details); many neighbors are sure they never saw a nanny; the neighbors say Mrs. K. cares seems to do the child care herself.

Did the Bushies concoct a lie when the nomination blew up in their faces, in the hope that the lie would be the story and the other matters they knew the press was investigating would all blow over? I think it's quite reasonable to suspect that that's the case. ("[T]he reason he withdrew his name is for the reason he stated Friday," Scott McClellan insisted at a subsequent press gaggle. Why was it so important for McClellan to stress that?)

It's hard to believe that the nanny couldn't be found. New York has the Times and (including Long Island's Newsday) three tabloids (although one of them is Murdoch's Post). The nanny would have worked in New Jersey, so the Jersey papers would want to look for her as well. Time Warner Cable in New York City has a 24-hour news channel, NY1, and six other TV stations in New York do local news (although Murdoch owns two of those). Believe me, these stations are quite willing to spend the money to put a reporter on a plane for a tabloid story that has a local angle. They'd all be thrilled if they could lead the late-evening news with "THE NANNY SPEAKS."


(I've added Steve Gilliard to the links, which I should have done a long time ago.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Although it pleases me that Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons -- the novel David Brooks apparently considers the year's finest moral tract -- is the winner of England's Bad Sex award, I have to admit that it might not have deserved the win. Read the sex scenes from Simmons and all the other nominated books and see what you think -- it really was quite a year for cringe-inducing sexual prose.

SullyWatch thinks that Wolfe's book

is little more than an envious and increasingly dirty old man’s fantasy of being reincarnated as a horny and voluptuous coed (doesn’t the title tell you that?)...

Well, perhaps -- but I think it's Wolfe's attempt to write a modern version of Samuel Richardson's Pamela, an eighteenth-century epistolary novel that was much admired in its time (and also much mocked, notably by Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones, in Shamela and Joseph Andrews). Pamela also championed virtue -- like Wolfe's novel, it centered on a young lower-class woman's attempt to retain her virginity. (I read these books a long time ago. I much preferred Fielding.)
If you want to know why conservatives win as often as they do, examine how quickly they've gotten into formation on the subject of "Christmas under siege" -- all of a sudden there's denunciation after denunciation after denunciation after denunciation of evil Christian-hating liberals whose preference for pluralism and objection to publicly financed sectarianism are signs that they (we) want to scrub every trace of faith from America, with jackboots on. And also note that conservatives have been pushing the "Christmas under siege" line for years; it didn't catch on in 2003 or 2002 or 2001, but they didn't give up.

I worry that conservatives are going to dominate U.S. politics until liberals learn to launch precision assaults like this. Now I'm not sure I want to live in a country dominated by two political wings that do nothing but generate line-of-the-day two-minute hates, but I worry that it may have to come to that, or the Right will just continue to win.

(Links via the Mahablog and Pandagon.)
Joe Lieberman has rejected two job offers from the Bush administration (Homeland Security secretary and U.N. ambassador), according to CNN. To tell you the truth, I think he really sees himself as a Democrat and sincerely believes in at least some of the Democratic agenda (see the examples I listed yesterday). Maybe he really doesn't want to be the useful idiot the Bushies want him to be in their quest to grab one more Senate seat for the GOP.

And Zell Miller's going to make appearances on Fox News. Oddly, I bet we don't see much of him. My guess is that Miller is a straightforward guy who says nice things (about, say, his grandkids) in a nice voice and nasty things in a nasty voice. That's not the secret to success in this TV format. Fox's stars, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, are far phonier, and thus far more effective as TV attack dogs -- sure, they can spew hate and viciousness, but they serve up a lot of their vitriol in the low registers (O'Reilly in particular delivers many of his nastiest barbs in his softest, most mellifluous tones). In other words, much of the time they're "cool" rather than "hot," to use McLuhan's terms, even when they're on the attack. If Miller can do what they do, he'll be a star; otherwise, he'll never be more than a substitute host, like Ollie North (who's not "cool" at all).
Ayad Allawi assures us that war crimes trials will begin in Iraq next week, but that may be just bluster. Michael Scharf, an American law professor who's trained Iraqi lawyers in the tribunal process, says he's been assured the trials won't begin until next year. Scroll down here for audio of the NPR story, and note Steve Inskeep's genuine surprise when Scharf told him this at the outset of the interview. More on Scharf here.
I really, really have to stop putting up posts about Bernie Kerik -- though, as James Wolcott put it a couple of days ago, "The juicy stories keep popping out of the NY tabloids and the blogs like clowns from a clown car."

Now we hear from Judith Regan, via the New York Post. She fell for the big lug, knowing he was married; when she broke it off, she says he stalked her:

"She did the math," said a pal. "She said she wanted to break it off, and Kerik did not want to and he got crazy.

"She didn't take his calls and he showed up at her apartment in person, ranting and raving. Coming home from a night out, he'd be there unexpectedly."

Worse, she said he threatened to poison her relationship with her two children, over whom Regan had waged, and won, an epic custody battle....

Sweet guy, if this is true. Just the guy you want in a sensitive government position.

Andrea Peyser, the writer of the Post story, assures us that he's made a nice recovery, however:

Lately, Kerik seemed to have rebounded. Earlier this year, I spotted him having dinner at Fresco's with another, fatter man and a pair of blond twentysomethings in skin-tight jeans and fur coats.

Two guys, two young broads. Family values! Ba-da-bing!

OK -- I'm just gossiping here.

You want policy implications? I really think there are policy implications (besides the fact that Giuliani's bid to become president in '08 is now on life support -- he's brought shame and dishonor on the GOP "family," as I'm sure Bush, his padrone, has told him in no uncertain terms).

You remember the New York Times story I talked about on Monday, the one that said Bush didn't understand how a guy like Giuliani could let his personal life become the stuff of tabloids? Well, now it's happening to Kerik. You want to know what Bush thinks the problem is?

I think Bush thinks the problem is us. I think he thinks the problem is coastal, blue-state culture. We carry on, then we prattle on about carrying on. We sin -- and, yeah, people sin in the red states, but nobody talks about it, so in effect it really doesn't happen.

I think, as a result of this Kerik mess, Bush is going to decide he was right all along -- that we're really screwed up in the blue states and we deserve the back of his hand. We don't deserve more homeland security money. We don't deserve to continue deducting state and local taxes on our federal tax forms, a deduction that we benefit from more than red-staters.


One last thought: Here are some details about Judith Regan, from the Post story:

Regan [is] as volatile, driven and foul-mouthed as any man....

The Kerik-Regan pairing may look unlikely — she's Vassar-bred, he's a high-school dropout. But two friends used almost identical terms to describe the duo. "They are male and female versions of the same people," they said of the "power-addicted" couple....

Oddly, she's also concerned about Kerik.

"I don't want to see him pulled apart," she said.

Her friend replied, "Why the hell is she protecting him after all this?"

Power-addicted? Tart-tongued? Well-educated? Concerned about the welfare of a man who betrayed her?

That's how the right-wingers describe Hillary. So why is the Hillary the Antichrist, but Judith Regan isn't? Why does she get to be a Murdoch-funded Clinton-basher?
Last night I wrote this about new Kerik revelations in The New York Times, but I can't believe I overlooked the other new detail the Times uncovered -- that Kerik's love nest was an apartment

originally donated for the use of weary police and rescue workers who were helping at ground zero. bedroom faced the pit of ground zero....

Yeah -- that would put you right in the mood, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The point of this story from tomorrow's New York Times is that White House vetters didn't know as much about Bernard Kerik as they would have liked. Why? Besides the fact that the nomination was announced before the background check was completed, there's this:

Mr. Kerik, as New York City's police commissioner on Sept. 11, 2001, had been offered a high security clearance by federal officials so he could receive classified intelligence about the city's security, a law enforcement official said. But he failed to return a questionnaire needed for the F.B.I. to conduct a background check, and he never received that clearance, the law enforcement official said....

Mr. Kerik also failed to complete a required federal financial disclosure form in May 2003, when he left the country to spend three and a half months in Iraq trying to train Iraqi police officers, a law enforcement official said. The disclosure form, law enforcement officials said, might have turned up some of the financial problems that surfaced this month in connection with a condominium he owned in New Jersey.

Think about that: Several of the 9/11 hijackers were here on expired visas. And the guy we want to hire to prevent another 9/11 is a guy who didn't even fill out the required paperwork when he applied for a government job?

They knew he just blew that requirement off a year and a half ago, and they still picked him -- sorry, Bush still picked him.

(Based on misinformation!)

Emboldened by their Election Day successes, some Christian conservatives around the country are trying to put more Christ into Christmas this season....

In California, a group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas is boycotting Macy's and its corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, accusing them of replacing "Merry Christmas" signs with ones wishing shoppers "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." The organization cites "the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans."

(Federated, for its part, says that is has no ban on such greetings and that its store divisions can advertise as they see fit and store clerks are free to wish any customer "Merry Christmas." Macy's says its ads commonly use the phrase.)...


So I guess the 206 items that come up when you search for "christmas" at don't impress these people.

Nor does the message at the bottom of the results page: MACY'S WISHES YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

And I guess the big double-page ad in today's New York Times advertising "THE LAST ONE DAY SALE BEFORE CHRISTMAS!" doesn't count either.

And the fact that residents of New York City, home of Macy's flagship store, come from at least 186 different countries, many of them non-Christian, probably doesn't mean much to these people, nor does the fact that one out of every eight city residents is Jewish.
Is Joe Lieberman Bush's choice for Homeland Security secretary? Jesse Taylor at Pandagon thinks so, citing this New Haven Register story, and Lieberman's name is certainly coming up a lot in the press in connection with the job. If he takes the job, of course, Connecticut's GOP governor will replace him in the Senate with a Republican.

In Jesse's comments section, Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged argues that that's no great loss:

it's not as if the Republicans didn't already have his vote on anything the Democrats could have filibustered....

But that's a misconception. In 2002, Lieberman filibustered ANWR drilling; in 2003, the pro-Bush Center for Individual Freedom condemned Lieberman, listing sixteen votes that would have ended filibusters of Bush judicial nominees and noting that Lieberman never once voted to bring those filibusters to an end. And Lieberman got a 0 rating in 2003 from the American Conservative Union because, among other things, he opposed repeal of the estate tax, affirmed Roe v. Wade, and voted against development of battlefield nuclear weapons.

So, yeah, he's a sanctimonious SOB, but sometimes he's a sanctimonious SOB who's on our side. Losing his seat to a Republican would absolutely be a setback. (Remember: Even the GOP moderates vote in lockstep on, say, judicial nominees.)
People need to remember: Six months prior to my arrival, the stock market started to go down. And it was one of the largest declines in our history. And then we had a recession and we got attacked, which cost us 1 million jobs.

--George W. Bush, third presidential debate, October 13, 2004

Yeah, it's no wonder people are still struggling economically -- we had some hard times.

Or at least some of us did....

The wealth held by millionaires world-wide rose to $28.8 trillion as of the end of 2003, according to a ... Capgemini-Merrill study, up 11% from $26 trillion in 2001.... Those at the very top appear to be doing especially well recently. The wealth controlled by individuals in North America with more than $30 million in financial assets -- such as stocks and bonds, but not including real estate -- jumped 45% to $3.04 trillion in 2003 from $2.1 trillion in 2002, according to Capgemini-Merrill.

A generally rising stock market over the past decade, soaring executive compensation, higher real-estate values and lower taxes on the wealthy are all cited as explanations for the rising wealth....

That's from an article in today's Wall Street Journal -- it's available to subscribers only, but Skimble has generous excerpts. (You'll enjoy the part about supersized yachts.)
From yesterday's USA Today:

In a reversal of trends from past wars, part-time soldiers in the Army National Guard are about one-third more likely to be killed in Iraq than full-time active-duty soldiers serving there, a USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon statistics shows.

According to figures furnished by the military branches, the active Army has sent about 250,000 soldiers to Iraq, and 622 have been killed. That works out to one death for every 402 soldiers who have deployed. About 37,000 Army Guard soldiers have been sent to Iraq since the war began and 140 have died there — one fatality for every 264 soldiers who have served, or about a 35% higher death rate....

Today's update:

The Army National Guard said Monday it had given USA TODAY an inaccurate count of the total number of Guard troops in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003, but still could not provide a precise count....

The Guard said last week that 37,000 Guard troops had set foot in Iraq since the start of the war. On Monday, Guard spokesman Scott Woodham said 90,972 Guard troops had been ordered to Iraq, but he could not say how many had actually gotten there, and how many were in mobilization stations or on their way.

Woodham gave two explanations for the error. In a telephone interview with USA TODAY mid-afternoon Monday, Woodham said the National Guard Bureau made "an internal mistake" in compiling the numbers. He said that personnel at Guard headquarters had misread a series of numbers on a spreadsheet and that accounted for the lower figure.

In a second conversation about two hours later, Woodham said he "misunderstood the question" when asked how many Army Guard troops had deployed to Iraq since the beginning of the war....

Anyone else find this a tad suspicious?

Recall that Spc. Thomas Wilson wasn't the only soldier to ask Donald Rumsfeld a tough question in that recent meeting with the troops:

During the question-and-answer session, another soldier complained that active-duty Army units seem to get priority over National Guard and Reserve units for the best equipment used in Iraq.

Also recall that back in the fall of '03 there were complaints that members of the Guard and Reserve received second-class medical treatment at military facilities.

I think someone told an inconvenient truth to USA Today -- and now it needs to be un-told.

This, however, can't be fudged or explained away:

Battle deaths for part-time troops from the Army Guard and the Army Reserve — who typically drill just a weekend a month and two weeks in the summer unless there is a war — are still significantly higher than for part-time troops in past conflicts, Woodham said. Throughout the 12-year Vietnam War, for example, fewer than 100 Guard troops were killed, compared with the 145 who have died in less than two years in Iraq.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Follow-ups to previous posts: As you may already know, China has agreed to impose tariffs on some textile exports. That, presumably, will stave off the overnight disaster for the U.S. textile industry I wrote about in this post -- at least for a year. And EPA chief Mike Leavitt will replace Tommy Thompson at the Department of Health and Human Services (not Mark McClellan or, heaven help us, Newt Gingrich.)
One last comment about the Kerik mess -- and what it tells us about Bush.

First, here's The New York Times today on Bush's early response to Giuliani:

...Republicans say that Mr. Bush felt little affection for Mr. Giuliani, and that he was particularly perplexed as the mayor allowed his personal life to unravel publicly in the spring of 2000.

"There aren't a lot of people close to the president who have those kind of experiences," said the Republican close to the administration, referring to Mr. Giuliani's admissions of infidelity with the woman who became his third wife and to his bitter split from his second wife, Donna Hanover.

"It's an issue of not understanding it. I've had discussions with him where he's asked, 'What's this guy all about?'"

By contrast, Newsweek says that Bush was quite taken with Kerik when he got to know him, citing Kerik's "willingness to get things done, and damn the naysayers" as "[t]he very qualities that appealed to President Bush," and going on to note that Bush

liked the idea of Kerik -- the self-made tough guy -- and he dismissed as gossip or press carping newspaper stories about Kerik's bending the rules.

So Bush didn't get either one of them.

In 2000, he looked at Rudy and saw a guy whose marriage was crumbling, who was openly engaged in adultery, and who was being mocked in the press for it all. Yet Rudy had a reputation as a tough guy. How was that possible? In the eyes of a Bush, a man with personal problems, especially personal problems he can't keep secret, is weak; how can a weak man also be a tough guy?

Kerik, by contrast, clearly was a tough guy when Bush got to know him. A tough guy can't possibly be weak, can he?


I don't think conservatives are stupid. But I do think conservatives tend to see the world as black and white, good and evil. (I think most conservatives would admit that, and cite it as a virtue.)

A tough man is a steadfast man is a man of virtue. That's the myth of the cowboy; it's the myth of Bush in the eyes of his conservative base; and it really might be what Bush himself thinks. If so, no wonder he couldn't believe Kerik had any serious scandals in his life -- how could an ex-narc who's done buy-and-busts be anything but virtuous?

In England, it seems that someone just committed an act of moral-values hooliganism, acting on the premise that wax figures of a pop singer and her soccer-star husband can be instruments of Satan:

The controversial waxwork Nativity scene depicting David and Victoria Beckham as Joseph and Mary has been wrecked in an attack.

Wax models of the stars, worth £50,000 each, suffered "extensive damage" when a young man attacked the display at Madame Tussauds....

The scene, which also featured Tony Blair, the Duke of Edinburgh and President George Bush as the three wise men, was condemned by church leaders when unveiled last Thursday....

(Go to the link and click on "Gallery" for pictures. It's funny.)


Is there something in the water in the U.K. these days? A couple of weeks ago there was this:

The provocative sexuality of an ancient pagan symbol finally proved too much for one disgruntled visitor to a small church in rural Sussex.

1,000 years of history were destroyed when someone took a hammer to the lewd pagan carving in Buncton Church near Wiston, smashing it to smithereens.

The vandal's actions have horrified archaeologists who say it was the only example of a rare sheela-na-gig carving in Sussex. The overtly erotic pagan symbols have been described as medieval morality figures and are believed to have once served as warnings against lust....

(Before and after pictures here; more information about sheela-na-gigs here. And yes, there's the PJ Harvey song.)

Gee, I'm glad my wife and I took that hike to the Cerne Abbas Giant back in the '90s. It's probably next.

Oh well, at least no one's done any harm to this thirteenth-century penis-tree fresco. (Probably because it's in Tuscany.)

(Sheela-na-gig links via Tlatchga. Nativity story via Drudge.)


...State Representative Cynthia Davis of Missouri prefiled two bills for the next session of the Legislature that she said "reflect what people want." One would remove the state's requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools, leaving the focus on abstinence. Another would require publishers that sell biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter with alternative theories to evolution.

"These are common-sense, grass-roots ideas from the people I represent, and I'd be very surprised if a majority of legislators didn't feel they were the right solutions to these problems," Ms. Davis said.

"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she added. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."

--New York Times