Sunday, April 30, 2006


Reuters, 3/3/03:

A top U.S. military official said on Monday a possible war in Iraq would be successful even without a northern front after the Turkish parliament blocked U.S. troops from deploying in Turkey....

The deployment would have been accompanied by a multibillion dollar U.S. aid package under a deal negotiated by the United States and the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul.... today:

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Sunday that his country refused a request from the United States to attack Iran from its Air Force base in Incirlik, despite the U.S. offer of a nuclear reactor, according to a report in Al Biyan....


Oh, and speaking of Turkey:

The Turkish armed forces have launched their first military operation along the Iraqi border where Turkish troops have concentrated for days.

The Northern Iraqi cities of Amedi and Zaho, sheltering Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) militants, were hit with mortar attacks in "Operation Crescent." ...

Along with the transfer of commandos, heavy construction equipment is also being brought to the border for use during a possible cross-border operation.

The Iranian military extended their operation 10 kilometers to maintain security along the border....


Baghdad yesterday accused Iranian forces of entering Iraqi territory and shelling Turkish-Kurdish PKK guerrilla positions, with the Kurds accusing Tehran of working with Ankara to attack their movement.

"Iranian forces hit a border area called Haj Umran and then entered five kilometres (three miles) into Iraqi territory and hit the area of Lollan with heavy artillery with 180 shells targeting PKK positions," an Iraqi defence ministry statement said.

The shelling was the second military attack on the Kurdish guerrillas by Iranian forces in ten days. The previous attack on April 20 left two guerrillas dead and another ten wounded....


Saturday, April 29, 2006

There seems to be something about Latin Americans singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" that gets up some Americans' noses:

The year was 1968....

Enter Jose Feliciano. The young, blind musician from Puerto Rico ... had been invited to sing the National Anthem at the fifth game of the World Series....

And then he sang the anthem like this: (MP3 link). No Spanish. Not even a particularly Latin rhythm. Just a stylized rendition with a R&B and gospel vocal influences. Not all that different from what Ray Charles did when he sang "America the Beautiful" years later, and everyone loved that, including conservatives. But this was 1968.

Veterans, reportedly, threw their shoes at the television as he sang. Others questioned his right to stay in the United States, suggesting he should be deported (to where, exactly, had never been mentioned as those from Puerto Rico are, of course, American citizens)!

I was nine years old. I remember all this. People really were pissed off.

Well, it's not just Americans who are sensitive about these things:

Christmas 1979: … [French pop star/provocateur Serge] Gainsbourg’s acapella version of "La Marseillaise" reverberates across a stunned silence at the now (in)famous Strasbourg "concert." It wasn’t much of a concert because as Gainsbourg finished his "Marseillaise," threats of violence charged the air anew. Some 100 supporters gathered around to protect Gainsbourg from the over 400 incensed paratroopers. What were they so incensed about?

What they were incensed about was that Gainsbourg was singing the French anthem to a reggae beat.

Generals, priests, journalists, and politicians denounced Gainsbourg in the media. Aspects of his career -- even his Jewishness -- were reexamined.

Reactionaries ultimately concluded that he’d defaced "La Marseillaise" expressly
because he was Jewish!

(I was in college at the time, at Columbia. I had a professor who thought he should be killed for this.)

In September, the crusty Paratroopers announced their intent to disrupt any Gainsbourg performance with violence. In Marseilles they threatened Gainsbourg's band, forcing him to cancel remaining concert dates.

...then came Strasbourg ...

One hour before the concert, a bomb threat at his reggae band's hotel spooked them so much that they refused to play.... Gainsbourg went on as scheduled -- alone. Pale and shaking, he faced the crowd: "right wing goons have tried to force a cancellation." He thanked fans for their support, then tried appeasing the paratroopers with a conciliatory gesture of embrace. "My band had to flee a bomb threat but I’m still going to sing 'La Marseillaise.'" ...

The paratroopers ... called for Gainsbourg's head. Serge turned to his uniformed taunters and...flipped them the bird! Some hell broke loose, chairs flew, skirmishes between pro- and anti-Gainsbourg factions were reported near the exits. And by the time people looked back up, Serge had disappeared into a halo of blinding stagelight.

His record sales skyrocketed, however. But there'd been death threats -- all because he'd changed the march tempo of the song to a reggae beat. People really care about these things.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Oy -- now Bush is pandering to the know-nothings:

The national anthem should be sung in English -- not Spanish -- President Bush declared Friday, amid growing restlessness over the millions of immigrants here illegally.

...When the president was asked at a Rose Garden question-and-answer session whether the anthem should be sung in Spanish, he replied: "I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."...

Yeah? So why does that preclude also singing it in Spanish?

I'd like to point out that Francis Haffkine Snow translated "The Star-Spangled Banner" into Spanish in 1919. The lyrics are here, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Click through the links at this page and you can read Snow's translation and three others that predate the new one that's got all the nativists' knickers in a twist.
It's good to be an oil company, but, even though the numbers aren't massive, it's also pretty swell to sell health insurance:

WellPoint profits show sizzle in first quarter

How long can WellPoint and other health insurers match the stellar profit growth of recent years? ...

WellPoint, the nation's largest health-benefits company, on Wednesday reported net income of $731.8 million, or $1.09 a share, for the first quarter ending March 31. That's up 20 percent from net income of $611.7 million, or 98 cents a share, from a year ago....

But some of WellPoint's profits appear to stem from this:

Two years ago, Riverside resident Dawn Foiles needed treatment for a ruptured disc in her neck.

Last spring, Rancho Cucamonga resident Estelia McDonald had to have treatment for kidney stones.

Both were insured by Blue Cross of California, which authorized the women's medical procedures.

According to lawsuits, the company, later, illegally rescinded coverage retroactively leaving the two with costly bills....

Similar actions against eight others prompted additional lawsuits against Blue Cross, Life & Health Insurance Co. -- which issued the policy -- and their parent company, Wellpoint Health Networks Inc....

When she filled the application, Foiles admitted to having back surgery in 1997. After disc problems flared in her lower back and neck in 2004, Blue Cross authorized payment of more than $100,000 in medical procedures and related services, she said.

But in April 2005, Foiles received notice that not only was she being dropped, but the company was not going to pay any outstanding bills. The cancellation was reportedly based on her pre-existing back surgery, despite the fact that she included it in her questionnaire, she said.

"It has destroyed us," said Foiles....

Got that? The company approved her for surgery. Then, 100 grand in medical bills later, it canceled her coverage retroactively.

The number of people who are now suing is up to 23. And it looks as if this is no oversight:

According to the lawsuits filed today, WellPoint and Blue Cross of California have created "retroaction review" departments whose sole purpose is to terminate policies for patients who had previously been given approval for medical treatments....

Under state law HMOs and insurers are prohibited from revoking coverage after claims have been filed ... unless they can show that patients intentionally withheld past medical conditions. According to [the] Los Angeles Times yesterday, in a previous case against the company, a Blue Cross employee admitted that the company routinely canceled policies of sick members after looking for inconsistencies -- not fraud as required by law -- in their applications.

I'm sure Republicans would describe these as "junk lawsuits," but what other leverage do these people have? Meanwhile, the insurance companies, like the oil companies, make great money off something we can't live without. Folks, it ain't a "free market" if the buyer and seller are in such vastly different power positions.

(Inspired by a story on last night's CBS News.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

OK, right-wingers: First you're upset because someone's translated "The Star-Spangled Banner" into Spanish. Then you're upset because Al-Jazeera's wants to broadcast its programming in English.

Come on! Make up your damn minds!
I see via Atrios that Michelle Malkin, nee Maglalang, is upset that "The Star-Spangled Banner" has been translated into Spanish. Singing our national anthem in a foreign tongue! The nerve!


Traditional Oktoberfest Songbook now out

...This booklet or hymnal of Oktoberfest Songs is designed to help those interested in the customs of Oktoberfest to renew the famous songs and customs.... The book includes the following essential classics: In Munchen steht ein Hofbrauhaus, Ein Prosit, Das Wandern ist des Mullers Lust, Du, du liegst mir im Herzen, Muss i denn, German National Anthem, Bier her, ... The Star Spangled Banner (in German!) ...



The Opening Ceremonies

Our guest speaker will be Mr. Warren Perrin, President of CODOFIL. Mr. Perrin was chosen President of CODOFIL by Governor Mike Foster because of Warren’s desire to foster the French language in Louisiana. Entertainment will be provided by Nedia (Mrs. Mason Hebert) of Bridge City, Texas. Mrs. Hebert will sing the Star Spangled Banner in French....

(CODOFIL is the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.)

Er, here, from Detroit, is "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Polish.

O, mow widac ze wczesnym rozbrzasku zorz, Sztandar, co powiewal, kiedy zmrok zapadal juz? Pasow rzad i rog gwiazd, co ponad szancow mur, w krwawa noc widnialy na tle dymow i chmur. A kartaczow blaski i rozblyski dzial w noc oswietlaly sztandar, co dumnie trawl. O czyz gwiazdzisty sztandar powiewa mimo wichr i grom, Ponad kraj wolnosci, ponad szielnych ludzi dom.

Oh, and this one's particularly apropos:

Yesterday I went to the 40th anniversary party of Philippine News, held at the SF War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.....

I have been a fan of Joey Ayala for many years now, since my high school days.... So he comes up on stage with a guitar, and tells the audience that he's a songwriter from the Philippines, and that he's written 150 songs, but the song he was going to sing today was not he had written -- in fact, he said, "I learned it from you." This is your song, not my song, he said, introducing it as "an English folk song from the 1800s" which he just learned here in the U.S. And then he promptly launches into a stunning version of the Star-Spangled Banner -- in Tagalog.

Tagalog, Michelle. Tagalog. And an audience in America enjoyed it! Outrageous!!!!

From The Scotsman:

AMERICANS spend as much on "plastic Santa Clauses and tinsel" and other Christmas decorations as they do on their military, the United States Army's top general said yesterday.

Lamenting at complaints by some about high defence spending, Gen Peter Schoomaker, the chief of staff, told reporters: "I don't understand. What's the problem?"

Gen Schoomaker said the defence budget the Bush administration requested this year -- nearly $440 billion (£246 billion), not including the costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was just over 3 per cent of the nation's economy.

"What do you think we spent on plastic Santa Clauses and tinsel and all this stuff for Christmas last year?" he asked reporters. "The answer is $438.5 billion, roughly equivalent to the defence budget...."

In fact, Americans spend only about $8 billion a year on Christmas and Hanukkah decorations.

And as for the the cost of the wars:

The cost of the war in Iraq will reach $320 billion after the expected passage next month of an emergency spending bill currently before the Senate, and that total is likely to more than double before the war ends, the Congressional Research Service estimated this week....

Once the war spending bill is passed, military and diplomatic costs will have reached $101.8 billion this fiscal year, up from $87.3 billion in 2005, $77.3 billion in 2004 and $51 billion in 2003, the year of the invasion, congressional analysts said. Even if a gradual troop withdrawal begins this year, war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to rise by an additional $371 billion during the phaseout, the report said, citing a Congressional Budget Office study. When factoring in costs of the war in Afghanistan, the $811 billion total for both wars would have far exceeded the inflation-adjusted $549 billion cost of the Vietnam War.

That's a lot of tinsel.


(If he's talking about all spending at Christmas, the number he's looking for is $439 billion. But that appears to be all retail spending during the holiday season, which would include laundry detergent you buy at Target in December while Christmas shopping.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Do we really care about the fact that Bill Clinton's new portrait depicts him as not wearing a wedding ring?

All I know is that during the 1992 presidential debates, the real-life Clinton wore a wedding ring but Bush and Perot didn't. Did anyone ask them why not?

(Bush, of course, was dealing with infidelity rumors at the time, just like Clinton. You'd think he might have wanted to wear a ring.)
Chances are you've already read Digby's post about bloodthirsty right-wing novelty items (e.g., the shirt that says, "Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required"). Outside the Beltway counters with some snarky lefty merchandise (but "Vote Republicans Off the Island" isn't even in the same league). Oh, and all this is discussed at the Mahablog, where Barbara reminds us that hate-as-humor is nothing new in America.

All I have to add is what I said in Digby's comments -- that there's really quite a lot of righty hate for sale. Here are just a few examples I found last year, nearly all still on offer ("Split Liberals, Not Wood," "Save the Rainforest -- Burn a Liberal," etc.). Oh, and check out this item and this one at the Aaron's Case store at Cafe Press. Charming.
Gee, I can't understand why Bush doesn't get more credit for our rip-roaring economy:

The percentage of working-age Americans with moderate to middle incomes who lacked health insurance for at least part of the year rose to 41 percent in 2005, a dramatic increase from the 28 percent in 2001 without coverage, a study released on Wednesday found.

Moreover, more than half of the uninsured adults said they were having problems paying their medical bills or had incurred debt to cover their expenses, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based private, health care policy foundation.

...The study also found that 59 percent of uninsured with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes either skipped a dose of their medicine or went without it because it was too expensive. One-third of them

One-third of those in that group visited an emergency room or stayed in a hospital overnight or did both, compared to 15 percent of their insured counterparts.

[Sara] Collins [of the Commonwealth Fund] said those statistics are significant because giving up medicines typically leads to more expensive health problems later. Treating people in expensive settings such emergency rooms places a financial burden on the health care system, she added....

And, in fact:

HCA Inc. hoisted a red flag on Tuesday, when the the nation's largest for-profit hospital operator said its earnings fell 8.5 percent in the first quarter after an increase in the uninsured admissions cut into revenue gains. Uninsured admissions rose 13 percent during the quarter, and the company said its provision for "doubtful accounts" rose to $852 million from $683 million a year earlier.

Ah, a victim Republicans can actually relate to! A big company! Maybe now it can be considered a real problem?

(And, of course, HCA is Senator Frist's family's company.)
Here's one of the cushy tax provisions affecting oil companies that GOP congressional leaders don't want to change, according to The Washington Post:

Currently, oil companies are allowed to calculate the taxable value of their inventories based on the value of the oldest stocks, when oil may have been worth $30 a barrel. But much of the inventory may have been pumped from the ground when oil was selling for more than double that. Critics say that understates the value of the companies' oil supplies purely to lower their tax payments.

You know what? I want a provision like that applied to my taxes.

"Mr. IRS Man? Yes, I make reasonably good money now, but in 1980, in my first job out of college, I made $165 a week -- and I really, really think some of that first paycheck is still in my bank account. Therefore, I think every paycheck I get should be taxed as if I'm only making $165 a week now."

That's reasonable, isn't it?
Oh. My. God.

It's the "Mary McCarthy Matrix."

These people are nuts.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stories like this (from The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia) just make me proud to be an American:

A group of Christian conservatives is urging Gov. Joe Manchin to reject a federally mandated digitized driver's license law, comparing the bar-coded national ID program to the "mark of the beast."

...Pastor Ervin "Butch" Paugh, a 57-year-old Nicholas County preacher who heads the group, said last week that the new driver's licenses are unconstitutional, invade people's privacy and conflict with Christian beliefs. He said the federal government is trying to create a "police state" with the new ID law.

"This is a total takeover by the beast system and a plan to ID everyone on the planet," said Paugh, who has a nationally syndicated radio show called "Call to Decision." ...

Hmmmm. I know people think the Mark of the Beast is in the bar code, but this is a new one on me. But let's continue:

Paugh predicts that the federal government will require that digitized thumbprints, facial and eye scans, and DNA information be included on driver's licenses. He believes hundreds of thousands of Americans will refuse the new standardized driver's licenses.

"I don't want the information about my personal life put in a public record for anybody to get a hold of who can hack into a computer," Paugh said. "If I give my uniqueness to a beast system, I can never get it back. The beast system will eventually kill all those who follow it."

Well, I have credit cards, so basically anyone on the planet who wants to know where my wife and I had dinner last Saturday night can undoubtedly obtain that information from a small-time Russian mobster with Internet access. But enough about me. Let's learn more about our complainant:

Paugh's group includes conservative Christians from Nicholas, Kanawha, Harrison, Randolph counties, and Canada. They meet Saturdays at a member's house and Sundays at a motel room.

Most members have refused to obtain West Virginia driver's licenses.

Instead, they drive with licenses from the "Republic of Anodyne," a fictitious country run out of a Florida apartment building with an "embassy" in Tampa. The organization issues driver's licenses and passports for $40 each, no questions asked.

Paugh said West Virginia State Police and local law enforcement agencies accept Republic of Anodyne licenses.

However, Sgt. M.F. Johns of the South Charleston detachment of the State Police, said the agency accepts only government-issued licenses.

"I have never heard of that," he said. "Unless it comes from an official state government or another country, we wouldn't accept it."

This is no joke. Here's the Republic of Anodyne Web site, and, yes, you can apply for a driver's license, citizenship, a passport, a press pass, a concealed-carry permit, and, for good measure, a master's degree or doctorate from Anodyne International University. (The doctorate costs $1,475; bargain-hunters will want to spring for the master's, which is only $950.)

Paugh's web site,, displays an upside-down American flag flanked by a colonial American flag and a Confederate flag.

This is true.

The group believes the United States would have been better off if the South had won the Civil War, although they don't believe slavery should still exist....

Well, that's a relief.

Pastor Butch -- that's what he calls himself -- does, however, believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories -- and also weather-modification conspiracy theories. Interestingly, he's no fan of Bush: he believes the war on terror is "Elite Mind Control 'Controlled Chaos.'" Oh, and he likes a chuckle now and again.

I have no grand, overarching conclusion to draw from all this. I guess I'm just amused that people like Pastor Butch still exist.

(And relieved that they don't live anywhere near me.)


(And no, I'm not saying you're a wacko if you object to Real ID -- I know that there are sensible-sounding objections from non-wackos as well.)

Look out below....

RealtyTrac(TM) (, the leading online marketplace for foreclosure properties, today released its 2006 Q1 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report, which showed that 323,102 properties nationwide entered some stage of foreclosure in the first quarter of 2006, a 38 percent increase from the previous quarter and a 72 percent year-over-year increase from the first quarter of 2005. The nation's quarterly foreclosure rate of one new foreclosure for every 358 U.S. households was higher than in any quarter of last year....

"The sharp increase in foreclosures in Q1 continues a steady upward trend that we've observed since the beginning of last year," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. "Foreclosures have now increased in four consecutive quarters and are on track to go above 1.2 million in 2006, which would push the nation's annual foreclosure rate to more than 1 percent of U.S. households." ...

Yeah, I think Bush really needs to boast about the economy more, don't you?
You never want to underestimate the ability of right-wingers to knuckle down and work together seamlessly to smite the enemy (us), but right now it really is starting to look as if a conservative crack-up is taking place.

First we have Bill O'Reilly shifting into populist mode to complain about the price of gas. In response to this, along comes Mac Johnson at Human Events Online to compare him to an anti-Semite conspiracy theorist:

...The most popular conspiracy theories all involve a confluence of politics and money: the trilateral commission, the Jews, the freemasons, corporate evildoers. These are the motive forces of history to simple minds -- or to those wanting to manipulate such simple minds.

I’ll let you decide which category Bill O'Reilly falls into, but as his latest column demonstrates he is a big proponent of the idea that high gas prices -- which are a violation of your inalienable right to be insulated from market forces -- are the result of a "cabal" of "Big Oil" "fat cats." I believe Hugo Chavez holds a similar belief.

... Mr. O'Reilly, a graduate of Harvard, thinks that the "paper price" [of crude oil] is some sort of new-fangled hocus pocus created by speculators: "These speculators operate in the so-called commodities markets. They gamble on where the price of oil and other tangible assets will be months from now. These Vegas-type people sit in front of their computers and bid on 'futures' contracts."

What are these fancy "commodities markets" of which he speaks? Are the Zionists involved? ...

Meanwhile, a few GOP politicians are trying to seem like the champions of the little guy Republicans always claim they are, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page accuses them of being Nancy Pelosi clones (which, on the right, is probably worse than being an anti-Semite conspiracy theorist):

...Oil prices hit $75 a barrel last week, while gas has reached a national average of about $2.85 a gallon. The Republican response has been to put on Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi fright wigs and shout about corporate greed and market manipulation. House Speaker Denny Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist fired off a letter to President Bush yesterday demanding the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department investigate "price fixing" and "gouging." Senator Arlen Specter wants to go further and impose stricter "antitrust" laws for oil companies, as well as a "windfall profits" tax. Mr. Hastert also delighted the class warriors in the press corps by lambasting recently retired Exxon CEO Lee Raymond's pay "unconscionable."

The nerve!

And I love this:

If blaming private industry for Congress's own energy mistakes is the best the GOP can do, no wonder its voters may sit out the November election.

This is how the view looks from the penthouse suite -- the WSJ editorial page thinks Joe Sixpack is going to stay home on Election Day if his congressman complains about high gas prices and energy executives' lavish pay too much.

Please -- keep fighting this way, guys. I'll get the popcorn.

Monday, April 24, 2006

After reading in a Newsweek online story that Mary McCarthy is denying she's the person who leaked information to Dana Priest, I find myself thinking about this recent Molly Ivins column:

...[Karl] Rove, as all the world knows, has been a longtime Republican political operative in Texas prior to heading to Washington with Bush. During that time, Texas Democrats noticed a pattern that they eventually became somewhat paranoid about: In election years, there always seemed to be an FBI investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press.

After the election was over, the allegations often vanished....

Ivins goes on to note that one particular FBI agent seemed to be Rove's go-to guy back in Texas. Now, though, Rove has the whole federal government to play with -- he doesn't need just one pal.

Now, Rove's job changed a bit rather recently -- we're told he's now expected "to focus more on politics ... and big-picture thinking with the approach of the November congressional elections." Well, for Rove, traditionally "politics" in an election year means getting somebody in legal trouble, as Ivins notes. That's "big-picture thinking" for him. So his job changes -- and the next thing you know, a CIA agent who gave money to John Kerry's campaign is threatened with legal action. Coincidence?
President Bush ... said Monday that those who are calling for massive deportation of the estimated 11 million foreigners living illegally in the United States are not being realistic.

"Massive deportation of the people here is not going to work," Bush said as a Congress divided over immigration returned from a two-week recess. "It's just not going to work." ...


This is not going over well in Freeptopia.

Bush must be living in an alternate universe where those who break laws are praised and rewarded.


I don't care if it takes 25 years. Start sending them back now.


Time to deport those who believe this b.s. back to the private sector.


Deport 'em as you catch 'em. No need for some kind of dragnet. Of course, that would be a lot like enforcing the laws we already have. Can't have that.


Bush: Massive Deportation Not Desirable for my Business Buddies.

One Freeper posts this. It's from the archives of the wingnut site Sacred Cow Burgers.

Do you know what Sacred Cow Burgers is? It's a site where Bush is generally depicted like this. On immigration, however, he's depicted like this. If you're emphasizing an issue that infuriates your base that much a few months before your party faces a tough election, you're asking for trouble.

A core principle of the Bush/Rove approach has always been "no enemies on the right" -- but on this issue that's been superseded by (a) a desire to please business interests, (b) Rove's belief that he can reach his Grail -- an all-GOP federal government with a veto-proof Senate -- by tipping just enough Hispanics into the Republican column, and (c) Bush's infantile insistence that he has political capital and he's going to spend it, dammit.

The latter really is Bush's Achilles heel. He won by 3 percentage points, his polls are plummeting, and yet he still thinks he can give the finger to the last group of people who are on his side. His base isn't going to accept anything less than mercilessness on immigration. His base has Immigration Derangement Syndrome. Yet he's determined to ignore this, determined to ignore the fact that rage junkies brought him this far and will not be mollified on this issue.

Here are results of an online poll at Free Republic:

If the White House and GOP controlled congress does not act immediately to seal the borders, penalize employers who hire illegals and deport illegals when caught, how will it affect your vote in November?

I will continue to vote GOP 41.3%
I will vote third party 31.4%
I will stay home 21.5%
I will vote for the Democrat 5.9%

Ignore the third-party number (most of these people aren't going to have a nativist party to vote for) and the Democrat number (the hell they'll vote Democrat); the salient point is that if Bush and the GOP Congress pass anything with even the slightest whiff of "amnesty," the majority of these wingnut zealots say they won't show up to vote GOP in November. If even a third of them make good on that, that's huge -- and Bush, because he's determined to prove he still has "capital," may actually make it happen.
Mike Allen, in a story posted last night on Time's Web site:

Friends and colleagues of Bolten told TIME about an informal, five-point "recovery plan" for Bush....

Bolten's plan ... calls for more happy talk about the economy. With gas prices a heavy drain on Bush's popularity, his aides want to trumpet the lofty stock market and stable inflation and interest rates.

And what do you know? I see that Ben Stein has already received the memo and is happily doing his propaganda bit. Here are the opening paragraphs of Stein's latest column for the business section of The New York Times (emphasis mine):

FOR my sins, I travel constantly. I enjoy it most of the time, except for going through security lines, which is always hell. But I have come to notice a few new travel horrors that I feel duty-bound to share.

First, because of the spread of mass prosperity or the accumulation of frequent-flier miles, more and more families with small children are flying in first class. (Don't bother writing to tell me that I am a bad person because I like to fly in first class. I have done my time in coach.) These small children often cry, to their parents' indifference, or, if the children are a bit older, have to be read to and played with at loud volume for five or six hours at a time. Nicht gut.

Second, and again because of the mass prosperity of Bush America (and don't bother telling me I am a creep because I like President Bush and think he's done a great job with the economy -- we do have a great economy, after all), there seem to be renovations in progress at every hotel where I stay.

Oh, and did he forget to mention that this is a really, really, really great economy?

(By the way, this is shoehorned into a column that's about an entirely unrelated subject, hedge funds.)

Gee, maybe Stein could take Scott McClellan's job if Tony Snow turns it down. Or replace John Snow at Treasury. You know, stunt casting.

(Naaah. Bush thinks of himself as a real comedian -- notice all the jokes he's been trying to tell atr his recent "informal" public appearances. He'd never let anyone into his administration who might actually be funnier than he thinks he is.)
According to a page 1 story in today's Washington Post, the U.S. hasn't followed through on Joint Chiefs chairman General Peter Pace's pledge last November to remove all detainees in Iraqi prisons who are found to have been abused.

Instead, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, only a handful of the most severely abused detainees at a single site were removed for medical treatment. Prisoners at two other sites were removed to alleviate overcrowding. U.S. and Iraqi authorities left the rest where they were.

We're not talking about naked pyramids here:

... Lt. Col. Kevin Curry, spokesman for U.S. detention operations, [said] in a statement: "At one of the sites, thirteen detainees showed signs of abuse that required immediate medical care. The signs of abuse included broken bones, indications that they had been beaten with hoses and wires, signs that they had been hung from the ceiling, and cigarette burns....

"There were several cases of physical abuse at one other inspection site. These included evidence of scars, missing toenails, dislocated shoulders, severe bruising, and cigarette burns...."

Longtime readers of this blog will recognize some old friends in this story:

Two sources involved with the inspections, one Iraqi official and one U.S. official, said abuse of prisoners was found at all the sites visited through February....

The two sources said that at three ... sites, prisoners were being held by the Wolf Brigade, one of the Interior Ministry commando forces most feared by Sunnis.

Yeah, you remember the Wolf Brigade -- back in December, somebody who's paid with your tax dollars clearly spoon-fed a story to ABC News anchorwoman Elizabeth Vargas about how the Wolfies are just tough old ninjas who put choke holds on people but would never, ever torture anyone.

Meanwhile there's this in today's Baltimore Sun:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq has ordered sweeping changes for privatized military support operations after confirming violations of laws against human-trafficking and other abuses by contractors involving possibly thousands of foreign workers on American bases....

Gen. George W. Casey Jr. ordered that contractors be required by May 1 to return passports that have been illegally confiscated from laborers on U.S. bases after determining that such practices violated U.S. laws against trafficking for forced or coerced labor....

Two memos ... say the military also confirmed a host of other abuses during an inspection of contracting activities supporting the U.S. military in Iraq. They include deceptive hiring practices; excessive fees charged by overseas job brokers who lure workers into Iraq; substandard living conditions once laborers arrive; violations of Iraqi immigration laws; and a lack of mandatory "awareness training" on U.S. bases concerning human trafficking.

Gee, I wonder if a certain corporation's name is going to show up in this story.... Ah, here it is!

Although other firms also have contracts supporting the military in Iraq, the U.S. has outsourced vital support operations to Halliburton subsidiary KBR at an unprecedented scale, at a cost to the United States of more than $12 billion as of late last year.

KBR, in turn, has outsourced much of that work to more than 200 subcontractors, many of them based in Middle Eastern nations condemned by the United States for failing to stem human trafficking into their own borders or for perpetrating other human rights abuses against foreign workers.

Think of all this as the Rumsfeld Corollary to the Pottery Barn Rule regarding Iraq: We break out, we outsouce the fixing of it. Then we demand that the fixers fix the way they're fixing it. Then we make the same demand again, in a much louder voice. Meanwhile, we outsource the fixing of everything else that got broken by the fixers. Repeat, ad infinitum....

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Even before the bombs started falling in Afghanistan, right-wingers were saying that perhaps 9/11 had been a good thing, at least to some extent, because America seemed to be embracing a new era of respect for manly men -- firefighters and so on.

Well, now it appears that there might have been some truth to all this -- as today's New York Times Style section notes, young men are paying good money to embrace their inner warrior.

Sort of:

We've just been overrun!" Reggie Bennett, a burly 41-year-old in full-body camouflage, shouted to the four young men behind him on a sunny day in the middle of March. "Our plane is down. We're going to our hole-up site!" One by one they followed his signal to move forward, crouching behind trees, carefully navigating through the brush, quickening their pace as they heard threats screamed behind them: "I see you, G.I.! You think you crafty, G.I., but I gonna put you in a cage so you can't get out!" They paused in a dried-up creek bed, Mr. Bennett bringing up the rear. "Keep quiet. There are land mines, B-52's and burnt craters all around us," he warned. "This is what a war zone looks -- "

He was interrupted by a ringing cellphone. "You're going to my voice mail," he said, as he checked the incoming number. "I'm evading now!"

Ah, war is hell, isn't it?

Reggie Bennett runs the Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School in Amherst, Virginia. People (mostly male, mostly young) pay him a lot of money so that they can learn manliness and survival techniques. Now, they could do that for free -- by joining the military -- but they want to be (sort of) military without being in the military. In fact, they want to be (sort of) military without it even seeming like the military:

"They want to pretend they're on 'Lost,' " said Mr. Bennett, referring to the hit drama on ABC about a group of plane crash survivors trying to hack it on a remote island. "They watch those shows and think, 'Hey, that looks pretty cool.'" ...

These kids really do learn to be tough, of course:

"First assess your medical problems -- take care of massive bleeding," Mr. Bennett commanded his troops, who nodded earnestly, even though none appeared to have a scratch. "Now we restore fluids and apply camouflage."

"This is awesome!" exclaimed 23-year-old Garrett Foster, an engineering student.

The survival training gets them to drill down past superficialities to what's really essential:

The men down in Amherst were ... posing for a few last pictures as they rolled up the camouflage ponchos they had been using as shelters. "Wait, my camo's all smudged," Mr. Hightower said. "I look like a goober!" He fixed his makeup and Mr. Brush clicked a few shots before Mr. Bennett came to give them their final instructions.

And we're told this can have real-world applications:

A few years ago, [Tom Brown Jr., who runs Tom Brown Jr.'s Tracker School in Waretown, New Jersey] said, a couple who took another one of his classes used the skills they learned to bust a drug deal in their New Jersey neighborhood. "All they did was camouflage up and hide behind some garbage bins and take pictures," he said, "which they anonymously gave to the police."

(What do they say in the news business about stories that are "too good to check"? I love the idea that you would successfully conceal yourself in New Jersey, in some area where drug dealers were operating, by skulking around looking like this.)

Oh, and of course Harvey Mansfield, author of Manliness, is brought on to tell us What This All Means (if I ever write a book, I want his publicist):

Young men sign up for extreme survival courses, [Mansfield] said, because "they are as embarrassed about patriotism as they are about manliness, and to go into the military may seem too conventional."

Oh yeah -- I'm sure that's it. I'm sure they're just embarrassed. It has nothing to do with, y'know, fear of actually getting hurt.

(And if they're embarrassed about patriotism, doesn't that mean it's not conventional? And therefore they'd want to do it?)

This is machismo in the Bush era -- completely ersatz, completely selfish, a simulacrum of a simulacrum.

Come to think of it, that's probably not very different from how Bush sees the real war.
I'm pleased that some young U.S. military officers are disgusted with Donald Rumsfeld, but some of the ones quoted in the New York Times story "Young Officers Join the Debate Over Rumsfeld" are a bit naive:

An Army major who is an intelligence specialist said: "The history I will take away from this is that the current crop of generals failed to stand up and say, 'We cannot do this mission.' They confused the cultural can-do attitude with their responsibilities as leaders to delay the start of the war until we had an adequate force...."

The idealism is admirable, but really now -- how do you think the world works, young man (or young lady)? Even in my line of the work, when the people at the top get a cockamamie notion that they can have a huge, sudden success by imposing unreasonable demands on every underling in the building, no one can say no -- "no" is not an option. Maybe you can tinker at the margins of the cockamamie scheme, but you can't stop it -- that's how people who get to the top are. Maybe not in the military, but certainly in civilian life. And I'm talking about more or less psychologically normal civilians, not monomaniac sociopath civilians like Cheney and Rumsfeld. (I'll leave out the Boy King, who just lives in a fantasy world and can't imagine a negative outcome when "good men" do battle with people who are "evil.")

But this is interesting (emphasis mine):

Many officers said a crisis of leadership extended to serious questions about top generals' commitment to sustain a seasoned officer corps that was being deployed on repeated tours to the long-term counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest of the government did not appear to be on the same wartime footing.

"We are forced to develop innovative ways to convince, coerce and cajole officers to stay in to support a war effort of national-level importance that is being done without a defensewide, governmentwide or nationwide commitment of resources," said one Army colonel with experience in Iraq.

I've said this before: Donald Rumsfeld has all but admitted that this war isn't his #1 priority, which is outrageous and is reason enough for his firing. The war was supposed to be over quickly and not interfere with his plans for Pentagon "transformation." (Of course, it wasn't over quickly in large part because of his utterly unrealistic theories about how it should be fought.) I've been against this war from the start, but we're fighting it now, and in the worst possible way: Rumsfeld made sure the war plan would fail, Bush insists that we can never withdraw, and so it will go on this way forever, or at least until January 20, 2009. I'll gladly join hands with war supporters who'll agree on this; let them say he screwed up a good war, I'll say he screwed up a bad war, but let's agree he screwed up.
The Telegraph on Friday:

The British National Party is on course to make significant gains in the local elections in England in two weeks time, according to a YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph today.

It shows that seven per cent of voters are ready to back the far-Right party and that 24 per cent have considered voting BNP in the past or are thinking of doing so now.

...the BNP ... displaced the National Front as Britain's main far-Right party in 1982....

The New York Times today:

France's far-right political party, the National Front, has emerged stronger than ever from the civil unrest that has plagued the country in the past six months, a new survey shows, suggesting that the party could play a major role in the presidential election next year.

The National Front's outspoken and vehemently anti-immigration leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has had occasional bursts of support before: four years ago, he made it to the runoff for president, losing to President Jacques Chirac.

But after riots by second-generation immigrant youth last fall, Mr. Le Pen's approval rating in polls surged five percentage points, to 21 percent, according to a survey by IFOP, a French polling institute, published Friday. That is not far behind the approval rating of Mr. Chirac's would-be successor, Dominique de Villepin, the embattled prime minister, whose score slumped to 29 percent this month....

"In such a context, the far right is certain to influence the next national elections," the IFOP study concluded.

I don't know how great the risk is, but I'd be more worried about classic fascism arising in Europe than in the United States -- however racist we've been throughout our history, we have a population that's far more able than most European nations to separate national pride from ethnicity.

I mean that. I actually think Americans accept the notion that anyone can be an American. The dark side of that is that they looked with suspicion on "outsiders" who still speak a foreign language (even if they also speak English) or reject American dress and Christianity and other cultural manifestations, or are in any way "pushy" (i.e., seen to be asking for "special rights" or "handouts"). Still, there's at least a theoretical acceptance of the notion that blood is no barrier to being fully American. (In much of the country, of course, it helps if you're a Republican.)

I don't know when Europeans will begin to psychologically dissociate the notions of ethnicity and full citizenship, if ever; that's what worries me.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Our real estate pyramid scheme seems to be coming to an ugly end, at least in the D.C. area:

Investors who sought quick profits buying and selling real estate in the Washington region are in full retreat, dampening demand for homes, most notably for condos.

What is becoming apparent, market watchers say, is how big a part speculators played in the region's real estate boom of the past few years.... They helped send prices soaring at unprecedented rates. And now many are trying to sell, or rent at a loss. Some may eventually dump properties at low prices to get rid of them. That could weigh down values for everyone.

Sales of new condos fell 43 percent in the first quarter of the year, compared with the first quarter of 2005....

Shed no tears for the speculators. They were playing at the high-stakes table, and they had a dandy run:

David Bath, a retired dentist in Reston [Virginia], rode the boom up. A condo he bought in Vienna [Virginia] for $97,000 sold for $250,000 in a single day. He was able to sell another condo in Herndon for an even bigger profit.

Now he wants out. He has had no luck finding buyers for two investment houses and a four-unit apartment building he owns in Florida. He has been stuck making mortgage payments on vacant houses that took a lot of time and money to repair.

"It's a lot of work and I don't see the returns anymore," he said. "I'm going to the table to cash my chips in."

Oh, my heart bleeds.

And who gets screwed by this?

Mike Pugh, a real estate agent with Re/Max Allegiance in Arlington, is trying to sell a condo at the Halstead for a woman he says bought it for her retirement home, then became ill and went to live with family. Pugh said his client, who he believes was one of the few purely owner-occupants in the complex, is likely to lose money she had saved over a lifetime.

How did Woody Guthrie put it?

Oh the gambling man is rich and the working man is poor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

When a lot of people get rich in this country all at once, it's always "gambling men" (and women). Maybe now that's coming to an end.
"The Washington Prowler" writes at The American Spectator's blog:

There are rumors floating about DC today that former Sen. Phil Gramm is about to be named Treasury Secretary to replace Secretary John Snow.

There were rumors earlier this week that Gramm was being offered a job as "senior counselor" to the President to oversee Congressional relations, among other things.

Good Christ. If this happens, let's just change the name of the country to the Republic of Texas and be done with it.

The Prowler does add:

Gramm's name have been floated a number of times over the past 18 months and nothing much has come of it.

(Wikipedia confirms that "rumors were rampant" of a Gramm appointment to Treasury at the outset of the second Bush term.)

I can think of at least one reason why appointing Gramm might not be a politic move:

... Enron Corp. used its vast web of political connections to win December 2000 passage of commodities trading legislation that helped the company shield its energy trading activities from government scrutiny....

The legislation reducing government oversight of energy trading was muscled through Congress -- without a Senate committee hearing -- with the aid of U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Gramm was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which had jurisdiction over the legislation he co-sponsored, but he chose to bypass his committee, and the bill was quietly tacked onto a "must-pass" appropriations bill late in the session. Gramm's wife, Wendy Gramm, also aided Enron's rise to power. As chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, she pushed through a key regulatory exemption on Jan. 14, 1993, just as she was about to leave office. Five weeks later, she joined Enron's board of directors....

There's more Gramm sleaze here.

In a rational world, reasonable people would know that a Gramm appointment was out of the question -- but our political establishment has concluded that questions about anything in a Republican's past short of premeditated murder at point-blank range should be written off as a "kerfuffle," so I'm not sure we should discount the Gramm rumors altogether.

Oh, and Jonah Goldberg wrote a couple of days ago at The Corner,


For Phil Gramm to decide to run in '08.

Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Thanks for the heads-up, Jonah.

Friday, April 21, 2006


While I'm amused to see (via Atrios) that someone is mocking the president's war-lust for Iran to the tune of the Beach Boys, it makes me somewhat sad. See, I'm old enough to remember the same damn joke from 1980, except the lyrics of that parody expressed giddiness at the prospect of bombing Iran ("Ol' Uncle Sam's gettin' pretty hot. / Time to turn Iran into a parking lot. Bomb Iran..."). It sure would be nice to break this cycle of threats and counterthreats with the people who sell us the oil we crave. In twenty or thirty years, is there going to be a market for a "Bomb Iran" song again?

That 1980 song was by Vince Vance and the Valiants, who, by the way, are still gigging. Out of a sense of the perverse, I bought (and still own) a copy of the 45 back then; if you want to hear that version, you could buy the CD, but you might just want to listen to the MP3 here. (Or avoid it altogether.)
The Director of National Intelligence says our next war target isn't an immediate threat -- and that's not news? That gets buried in paragraphs 9 and 10 of an 11-paragraph Washington Post story? On page 7?

In contrast to some other administration officials, [John] Negroponte gave a low-key description of the threat caused by Iran's recent statements about having begun nuclear enrichment, which could be a major step toward building a bomb. Negroponte used the word "troublesome," saying there is additional concern because of statements made by Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Overall, however, he said that Tehran is "a number of years off . . . probably the next decade" before it will have enough fissile material for a bomb, and "we need to keep this in perspective."

Ah, but maybe we're not supposed to pay any attention to him. Maybe we're supposed to pay attention to a real expert:

John Negroponte, the new U.S. intelligence czar, just weighed in and said that Iran is years away from having enough nuclear fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. That settled the issue.

... If John Negroponte says Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon, you can go to Las Vegas with the bet that Iran will be there by 2007.

Ladies and gentlemen, who are you going to believe -- the head of U.S. intelligence? Or Jerome Corsi, who "received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in political science in 1972 and has written many books and articles, including co-authoring with John O'Neill the No. 1 New York Times best-seller, "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," and who wrote the passage above for WorldNetDaily?
Bush's approval rating versus the price of gas, as graphed by Professor Pollkatz.

So what happens to Bush's numbers when he bombs Iran and crude goes to $100 a barrel?
Harriet Miers might be replaced as President Bush's counsel? WOW!!! What a White House shakeup this is! Josh Bolten must really be cleaning house! Until now, it was inconceivable that Bush's very, very close friend Harriet would EVER leave that job!!

...whoops, never mind.

I almost feel sorry for Bolten. The operating principle of the Bush administration is that Bushism is inerrant -- yet Bolten's been tasked with making changes. How do you change something that's perfect? And believe me, on a policy level the Bushies really do think it's perfect.

This administration clearly thinks its biggest problem is that the rest of us -- Congress, the press, the public -- don't understand that Bushism is perfect. So Karl Rove loses part of his portfolio because, we're told, he "had trouble driving forward" the agenda, because "the effort to sell" it is struggling, because "he's not done well on advocating policy in a governance setting." See? The Bushies' plans for this country are brilliant; the problem is getting a sense of that obvious rightness through everyone else's thick skulls.

As for Miers, we're told that Bolten thinks she's "indecisive, a weak manager and slow in moving vital paperwork through the system." Harriet! You're mismanaging our brilliance!

Bush could go to single digits in the polls and this White House would still think the problem is poor communication of an excellent agenda. Self-doubt? That's for whiners and liberals. That's why Bush still seems jolly so much of the time, and why he always will.

So there's a huge limit placed on what can be changed. (As it is, we're told Bush might insist that Miers has to stay.) All right, then, Josh, grab a few deckchairs -- and no, not those deckchairs....

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Although I'm very pleased at the results of the new Fox News poll (Bush's approval: 33%), I want to see results, dammit. I want this discontent to lead to a change in the makeup of the federal government.

And I still don't think that's going to happen. That's because, in addition to the Fox poll, I've been poring over the results of this Pew poll, which was also released today.

Now, any other Bush-basher who read this Pew poll would be saying, "More great news!" And it's true -- the poll seems like one happy stat for Democrats after another.

* Bush's favorability is at an all-time low in the poll, and his job approval is at 35%.

* Democrats are up by 10 points on the "generic ballot" question.

* Independents prefer Democrats to Republicans in '06 by 20 points.

* Democrats lead Republicans among groups they've lost in previous elections, such as white non-Hispanic Catholics.

* The South is a statistical dead heat (!!), and Dems have double-digit leads in the East, Midwest, and West.

So why am I gloomy? Because of the third stat here:

"Like to see your member reelected": 57% yes.

The typical voter wants incumbents out but doesn't want his or her own incumbent out. Notice that voters didn't want incumbents reelected in October 1994 -- the pro-incumbent number was 49%. Now it's in the high 50s.

That number has to go lower or we're going to see the damn Republicans hold both houses of Congress again.

(A Washington Post poll from earlier this month had a similar result: Asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way the U.S. Congress is doing its job?," 35% approved and 62% disapproved -- but asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way your own representative to the U.S. House of Representatives in Congress is handling his or her job?," 59% approved and only 34% disapproved.)

I know it's early, but the Democrats have to start nationalizing this election -- and I have no faith in their ability to figure out how to do that.

If the GOP retains Congress, Bush can go to 15% approval and it will be utterly meaningless. Nothing will change. So, no, I'm still not satisfied.


ALSO: I think this is a bad sign for the Democrats:

Overall public opinion about the war remains relatively stable. Roughly half of Americans (47%) believe the war was the right decision and the same number (47%) believes that the military effort is going very well (13%) or fairly well (34%). Attitudes on both of these measures have changed little since the start of the year.

There just seems to be a limit to the number of people who'll ever turn against this war altogether -- it's half the country and no more. I think the rest of America just can't separate the war and the country -- they think criticizing the war is criticizing America. I'm afraid all these people will come home to the GOP in November.

Time reports that the Bush administration's ham-fisted "diplomacy" has been part of the problem in getting an Iraq government formed, not part of the solution:

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari announced Thursday that he would refer his nomination for a second term back to the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shi'ite bloc in the new legislature. That opens the way for the Alliance to select a new candidate and break the deadlock created by the refusal of the Kurdish, Sunni and secular blocs, backed by the U.S., to accept a second Jaafari term.

If anything, the very public U.S. intervention against Jaafari slowed rather than expedited his ouster. Washington's pressure, especially Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Baghdad, appeared to only have hardened Jaafari's resolve to remain in power.

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani had to intervene, fearing more bloodshed.

We just don't get it -- we can't yell "Democracy!" all the time and then tell people how to run their countries. Americans may react to macho red-state swagger by deferring to whoever's swaggering, but the rest of the world doesn't.

Oh, and there's another juicy bit in the Time story:

Sistani may have also been spurred to intervene by ominous talk in Baghdad that a group of secular, once-exiled politicians previously favored by the U.S. were planning to seize power and seek U.S. backing. Former U.S.-appointed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi suggested on Iraqi TV last weekend that Iraqi political leaders, despite being marginalized by the Iraqi electorate, might have to create an extra-constitutional "emergency government." One of his key allies, acting speaker of parliament Adnan Pachachi, told reporters that such a government would not be based either on the constitution or on the election results -- results, he claimed, which didn't necessarily reflect the true will of the Iraqi people . Such a move would likely provoke a violent Shi'ite reaction, if not full-scale civil war, which the moderate Sistani would be anxious to avoid.

So we prolonged the crisis and the crisis almost led to a coup. Freedom! Democracy!

(And even though he's often fought with both men, I wonder if our old pal Ahmed Chalabi would have wormed his way into that Allawi/Pachachi government.)
We're not talking about immigration very much this week in Left Blogistan. I'm thinking about immigration, though, because I worry that it's the issue that could save the GOP Congress for Bush -- despite the fact that many congressional Republicans strongly disagree with the Bush approach. Or maybe because they disagree.

It seems to me that some congressional Republicans are practicing a sort of triangulation. That may not be the right word -- they're not exactly doing what Clinton did, which was to present himself as the guy in the "sensible center" between Republican crazies and the allegedly too-liberal Democrats in Congress and interest groups.

No, this is triangulation wingnut style. It's a sharply angled triangle, with Democrats said to be appeasers on immigration, Bush also said to be amenable to "amnesty," and certain GOP legislators on the far right tip of the triangle. They want to seal the borders. They want aliens arrested as felons. They want a real crackdown, dammit.

If they can hold the line against their own president's bill -- cf. Harriet Miers and Dubai -- they can create a generalized sense that Republicans in Congress are the guys who'll stand up to the damn illegals. This could work nationwide, bringing out red-meat Republicans wherever they're needed to win tight races (though only if nothing that could even remotely be called "amnesty" gets passed).

So these Republicans hold their seats by defying the president. And then, on most issues, they revert to being Bush's minions.

Yes, I know -- voters favor a mixed approach to immigration. But voters in November aren't going to be racing to the polls, thrilled at the chance to vote for the people who gave them a middle-ground response to the problem -- even if that response is what they said they wanted. It's going to be a midterm election; turnout is going to be determined by passions. Also, don't imagine that right-wing zealotry will turn off centrist voters; it certainly didn't in 2004, and for a generation it certainly hasn't been a liability for the most extreme of abortion and gun-control critics.

Yes, I'm also aware of the argument that the big demonstrations showed the clout of Hispanics, many of whom are citizens and can vote. But I don't think that matters much.

We've been here before. In 2004 we were told it was young people who were going to change their low-turnout ways and vote the Republicans out. This year it's Hispanics. Sorry: if we're betting that our newly pumped-up angry voters will outnumber their pumped-up angry voters, we're going to lose that battle. We always do.

Right-wingers live on rage. The only question is whether they'll stay angry enough and Republican enough to turn out in an off-year election.

One pollster thinks so:

"The size and magnitude of the demonstrations had some kind of backfire effect," said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who said he was working for 26 House members and seven senators seeking re-election. "The Republicans that are tough on immigration are doing well right now."

Sure, he's not exactly impartial. But things like this lead me to the conclusion that he may be right:

Letters to the editor [on immigration] ... have ... spiked [in Colorado]. Cohen Peart, the letters editor at the Denver Post, said it's rare for a single topic to get more than about a 20% share of the letters submitted, but immigration fills two-thirds of his inbox. Some 90% are anti-immigration. Mr. Peart's counterpart at the Rocky Mountain News, Steve Oelrich, said the flood "seems to be continuing pretty unabated."

Also this:

Angry over illegal immigration they say depresses wages and displaces American workers, hundreds of people called for stricter border enforcement during a rally Monday evening at Mill Creek Park [in Kansas City].

The rally came in response to two recent Kansas City rallies at which thousands of people called for undocumented immigrants to be given a path to citizenship.

“The open border crowd says they don’t want a 700-mile wall” built on the U.S.-Mexico border, law professor Kris Kobach told the crowd of at least 700. “I don’t want that either. I want a 2,000-mile wall.”

The crowd erupted in cheers, whistles and applause.

(It was a small demo -- but right-wingers hardly ever demonstrate, except for the anti-abortionists.)

You can mock Michelle Malkin's promotion of a campaign to send bricks to Congress --

-- but, as she notes, a couple of L.A. radio clowns are asking listeners to send toilet brushes to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, because at a rally for immigrants he said, "Today we say to America: We've come here to work: We clean your toilets. We clean your hotels. We build your houses. We take care of your children." These guys have the top-rated show in the L.A. radio market in their time slot; I think they know what will go over well in their market.

This is a huge issue for a lot of people. If anger at immigrants can be branded Republican, it could be a winner for the GOP at the polls. But the zealots have to stop the president. I think they could do it.
Yesterday at Think Progress, John Podesta asked, "Has Rove’s Security Clearance Been Revoked?" Podesta notes that "disclosure of an undercover agent is grounds for, at a minimum, losing access to classified information," under the terms of a 1995 presidential executive order, and he quotes a November issue of Newsweek: "Having his security clearance yanked would not require Rove to resign as deputy chief of staff to President Bush. But it would prevent him from taking part in policymaking that relates to national-security issues, which would mean a much-reduced role in the Bush White House.”

Interesting. However, this is predicated on the assumption that the Bushies would actually abide by the law.

In the areas of secrecy and national security, if a law doesn't suit the Bushies purposes, they simply ignore it. So I have to reject this theory.


(By the way, Elisabeth Bumiller tells us in today's New York Times that Scott McClellan "told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday morning that Mr. Rove would continue to have his security clearance.")
So I'm reading Peggy Noonan this morning, and Good Lord -- it's as if someone corrected Mr. Magoo's eyeglass prescription:

...We all like a president who says "The buck stops here." Mr. Bush never ducks the buck. But he puts severe limits on the number and kind of people who can hand it to him. He picks them, receives their passionate and by definition limited recommendations, makes his decision, and sticks. All very Trumanesque, except Truman could tolerate argument and dissent....

Bruce Bartlett has written of how, as a conservative economist, he was treated with courtesy by the Clinton White House, which occasionally sought out his views. But once he'd offered mild criticisms of the Bush White House he was shut out, and rudely, by Bush staffers. Why would they be like that? Because they believe that as a conservative, Mr. Bartlett owes his loyalty to the president. He thought his loyalty was to principles.

There are many stories like this, from many others. It leaves friends on the outside having to self-censor or accept designation as The Enemy. It leaves a distinguished former government official and prominent Republican saying, in conversation, "Those people aren't drinking the Kool-Aid, they're sucking it from a spigot!"

Wait, there's more:

It's as if Bush doesn't understand the concept of danger. He understands sin, redemption, practicalities (every man has to make his living, life is competition, etc.). But danger? Does he understand how dangerous life is? It's not cowardly to know this, and factor it in. It is in fact strange not to.

... Lately I think the president could have used a time in his life when his father couldn't pay the rent. Such experiences tend to leave you unwilling to count on good luck coming, or staying.

Hey, welcome aboard on that last point, Peggy. Sorry you missed it when we first brought it up, oh, around December 1999.

Ah, but here's a line I genuinely like:

... The president has taken, those around him say, great comfort in biographies of previous presidents.... This is all very moving, but: Message to all biography-reading presidents, past present and future: Just because they call you a jackass doesn't mean you're Lincoln.

I know, I know: She's upset not because he's failing but because he seems to be failing. She's upset not because the war is a disaster and the next war will be even worse, but because he's spending too much money on Grandma's blood-pressure medicine. Still, for now I think Bush has really, really lost Noonan.

She writes today:

George W. Bush ... does not tolerate dissent, argument, bitter internal battles. He is the decider. He decides, and the White House carries through....

If this White House is all George Bush, nothing changes or shifts, nothing hits refresh unless he does. He is a tough and stubborn man, a brave one too, and he leads with his heart....

The odd thing is sometimes the bravest thing is to question yourself, question the wisdom around you, reach out, tolerate a hellacious argument, or series of arguments.... This isn't weak--it's humble. It's not breaking, it's bending, tacking, steadying yourself in a wind.

Recall what she wrote just after the 2004 election:

About a year ago I was visiting West Point, and I was talking to a big officer, a general or colonel. But he had the medals and ribbons and the stature, and he asked me what I thought of President Bush. I tried to explain what most impressed me about Mr. Bush, and I kept falling back on words like "courage" and "guts." I wasn't capturing the special quality Mr. Bush has of making a tough decision and then staying with it if he thinks it's right and paying the price even when the price is high and--

I stopped speaking for a moment. There was silence. And then the general said, "You mean he's got two of 'em." And I laughed and said yes, that's exactly what I mean.

You know, in my single days I was, occasionally, the "nice guy" who listened to the romantic woes of women. I'm surprised and pleased at what Noonan's writing today, but it won't last. They always go back to the bad boys. He'll drop a few bunker-buster nukes on Natanz and it will be as if James Dean had pulled up in front of her house on a Harley. But I'll enjoy this while it lasts.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

You want civil war? This is civil war:

Iraq's Kurds Aim for Own Oil Ministry

Leaders of Iraq's Kurdish north have unveiled a controversial plan to consolidate their hold on the region's future petroleum resources, raising concerns about how the ethnically divided nation will share its oil revenue.

The Kurdish parliament will be asked to vote on the creation of a Ministry of Natural Resources that would regulate potentially lucrative energy projects in newly discovered oil and natural gas fields within the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan.

..."They have the right to make a decision in their territory, but it is dangerous," said Mohammed Aboudi, a divisional director-general of the national Oil Ministry and a government advisor. "They are starting to search for oil without any consultation with the central government. What if Basra does the same, or any other province?"

... "There are people who haven't faced the reality of what has gone on in Iraq," [Peter] Galbraith [a former U.S. diplomat who has advised the Kurds] said. "They still think that the old central state is going to be put back together again. It's not going to happen in Kurdistan. It's not going to happen in the south. It's not going to happen in Baghdad."...

This takers place against a backdrop of ethnic cleansing in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, which Kurds consider their own:

The oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq has been the scene of ongoing displacement and rising ethnic tensions in the past six months, according to local officials.

...Ahmed Mashhdanny, a senior Kirkuk governorate official, said that more than 200,000 Kirkuk residents have been displaced since 2003 and more than 300 have been killed in ethnic fighting over land.

... "Thousands of displaced people from different ethnic groups -- mainly Arabs -- can now be seen in improvised camps on the outskirts of Kirkuk, as well as in abandoned government buildings and schools,” he said. “Kurds, Arabs and Turcomans are suffering because measures haven’t been taken to secure their rights.” ...

Also see "Kurdish Officials Sanction Abductions in Kirkuk" (Washington Post, June 15, 2005).

Fun fact: Christopher Hitchens often wears a Kurdish flag in his lapel.

(First article also available here.)
Scott McClellan has resigned as White House spokesman.... Could Fox's Tony Snow be his replacement? Sure -- he has the right(-wing) politics but he used to be on NPR, plus he's a cancer survivor. The puff piece in the Washington Post Style section practically writes itself.

On the other hand -- speaking of the Post -- is it just a coincidence that McClellan's resignation comes the same day the Post Style section is running a glowing profile of Brit Hume? I'm sure Hume would be Cheney's choice -- as he was for the veep's lone post-shooting-a-guy-in-the-face interview.
Really, this is the worst of both worlds: Not only is it obvious that Donald Rumsfeld won't be leaving, but right now, while the administration continues to fight a fight to save him that it's already won, we have to endure not only Rumsfeld's continued service but all his drama.

Do we need this? Before the generals called for his resignation he was still destroying everything he touched, but at least he'd lowered his profile. Now, though, it's like 2003 all over again -- we have to listen to endless rounds of those cornpone-psycho-Zen koans, which sound like Paul Harvey ghostwriting for Richard Ramirez, all delivered with harrumphs that sound both testosterone-poisoned and simpering, as if Margaret Dumont from the Marx Brothers movies were undergoing male hormone therapy.

Please, spare us, Donald. If we can't get rid of you, just screw up quietly.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A couple of days ago I said that George W. Bush might conceivably let Donald Rumsfeld go. That's obviously not going to happen, though I'm not embarrassed that I guessed wrong.

It could have gone the other way, after all. The way these things work is that, after being attacked, the Bushies immediately go on offense; if they don't score, well, it's a loss, a la Harriet Miers or Dubai.

This time they scored. They hit one out of the ballpark. Actually, I'd say they hit back-to-back homers: both "we need civilian control of the military" and "only a small number of generals are critical" went yard. The press lapped both lines up.

In fact, the press loves the Bush counteroffensive. My favorite sign of the press's fondness for the Bush spin is what Cokie Roberts said yesterday morning on NPR. She played a soundbite from former Joint Chiefs head Richard Myers on the need for civilian control of the military, then she said this:

Now, General Myers .. was making a point that is the fundamental point in the United States republic, which is this separation of the civilian and military when it comes to policy decisions about use of the military. They are made by civilians, and it is significant that one of the few pictures that is up in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol is that of George Washington resigning his commission as general of the Revolutionary War, and that was seen as something that was necessary to do before a civilian government could be formed and the new republic put into place -- it could not be led by a military man, is the symbol of that portrait.

What's wrong with bringing up the Washington portrait in this context? Oh, just this: The retired generals who have come out in favor of Rumsfeld's resignation have also left the military -- just like George Washington. They're retired generals. That means they're not in the military anymore. They're civilians now. Just like Washington after he resigned his commission.

They were generals, tested under fire, so we feel attention must be paid. We felt the same way about Washington. But now they're ... what, class? That's right: civilians.

Did Cokie, the daughter of two members of Congress, think of the painting on her own? Maybe. Or maybe someone in the administration fed Cokie the spin point. In which case, she swallowed it without even bothering to chew it.
I see that Joe Klein's bestest pal, Newt Gingrich, is endorsing Ken Blackwell in the Ohio governor's race:

...Ken is facing a tough primary.  Election Day is in just two weeks.  I am asking you to help a great friend and a great American by donating to Ken’s campaign today.

Ken is a true Reagan Republican.  A man who believes in strong conservative principles like the Defense of Marriage, the right to life, lower taxes, less government and the right of every citizen to a superb education.

With Ken as Governor, Ohio can be great....


Newt Gingrich

Remember, this isn't s case of Newt loyally endorsing a fellow Republican in a race against a Democrat. He's making an endorsement for the Republican primary. There's another Republican running for governor, an entrepreneur who says he wants to cut taxes and shrink government. Just the kind of guy you'd think Klein's "non-ideological idea man" Gingrich would endorse? Nawww -- Gingrich is endorsing the proud candidate and ally of angry theocrats

Hudson Institute's Center for Latin American Studies will host John Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and President Bush's "Drug Czar," on Wednesday, Aug. 31, at 10 a.m. Walters will discuss the success of Plan Colombia.

Over the past three years there has been a dramatic reduction in cocaine production.... The tide has turned in a 40 year subversion of the rule of law in Colombia....

--press release, August 29, 2005

U.S.-supported counternarcotics programs and policies in Colombia and the Andean region have enjoyed "historic success" and an opportunity exists to sustain these gains and permanently disrupt the efforts of drug traffickers in Colombia and the region, according to the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) John Walters.

...He noted that cocaine production in the Andes has declined by 29 percent since 2001 and pointed out that the region has witnessed three successive years of declining cocaine and heroin production....

"We are heading in the right direction and we are winning," he said.

--U.S. State Department news release, May 11, 2005


In a blow to the United States' anti-drug campaign here, which cost more than $4 billion, new White House estimates indicate that Colombia's coca crop expanded by nearly 21 percent last year.

Figures released late Friday by the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicate Colombian farmers last year grew 355,680 acres of coca, the raw material for cocaine. That represents a jump of nearly 74,000 acres from 2004 even though U.S. funded crop-dusters destroyed record amounts of coca plants in 2005.

Washington has provided the Bogota government with more than $4 billion, mostly in anti-drug aid since 2000 for a program known as Plan Colombia -- which was supposed to cut coca cultivation by half within six years.

Yet according to the new figures, more coca is now being grown here than when Plan Colombia started...

--Houston Chronicle, April 16, 2006

(Via Skimble.)
As Congress debates immigration reforms, some experts say the most extreme proposal -- deporting millions of illegal immigrants -- would be a huge legal and logistical morass, and ruinously expensive, too.

...the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, has put the cost at $215 billion over five years.

...Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., author of a get-tough immigration bill, said the government has no intention of trying to deport 12 million people.

"Nobody is seriously proposing that, because that will require a massive infiltration of law enforcement officials and will disrupt the economy," said Sensenbrenner told CBS' "Face the Nation" this week.

--AP, April 7

[Republican congressman J. D.] Hayworth [of Arizona] recently published a book, "Whatever It Takes" (Regnery Publishing, 2006), in which he advocates enlisting agencies like the Internal Revenue Service to find illegal immigrants; arresting and deporting them all; deploying military troops on the southern border; and temporarily suspending legal immigration from Mexico.

--New York Times, April 17