October 01, 2005

Gotcha!

It's a small item, but it speaks to the treachery of Karl Rove's insidious disinformation machine - and besides, it was kind of satisying to see the words "Bush" and "Illegal" in the same headline!

The GAO, in what is termed a "blistering report", said yesterday...
...that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, (and that) the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.
Too bad the ruling has no real bite - there is no accompanying penalty, other than the requirement that a report be filed with the White House and Congress. But it is a further indication that maybe, just maybe, the house of cards constructed by Mr. Bush and his cronies is at last starting to fall.

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Those busy Californians

Essentially unnoticed during the hullabaloo of Michael Brown's testimony this past Tuesday was a bill introduced by Rep. Henry A. Waxman and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, designed to keep more Mike Browns from holding key government offices. The proposed bill is called the Anti-Cronyism and Public Safety Act, a name which pretty much speaks for itself. You can read more about it here, here, and here.

It's somehow sad and ironic that it may take a legislative act to force this and future Administrations to choose qualified individuals for top national positions. Guess that's what we've come to, though, in the age of George the Younger - and this bill deserves support regardless of political stripe.

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Paging James Lee Witt

As if we needed any more examples of the necessity for new FEMA management, here's a cautionary tale of 182 million pounds of ice, 100 million taxpayer dollars - and a meandering road to nowhere.

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God v. Darwin, Round 3

Catholic theologian, and Georgetown University theology professor, John F. Haught made some interesting observations yesterday, testifying as an expert witness in the Dover, PA Intelligent Design trial. My favorite:
"When we have a failure to distinguish science from religion, then confusion will follow... Science and religion cannot logically stand in a competitive relationship with each other."
Thanks, professor.

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September 30, 2005

Goodnight, Billy

A few final thoughts for the day on William Bennett...

The White House and Republicans finally reacted. Well, kind of. Mr. Bush's adorable mouthpiece, Scotty, said the President found Mr. Bennett's remarks "inappropriate". Um, OK. I thought "inappropriate" was putting your elbows on the table - for some reason, I believe speaking to 1.2 million radio listeners about aborting Black babies to reduce crime rates goes a little further, even if Billy was only trying to make a hypothetical point.

But that's just me.

GOP poster-boy Ken Mehlman echoed the word "inappropriate" in his comments (don't these guys have a thesaurus?), but then identified the real issue over which we should be indignant. According to the Washington Post,
Mehlman also lashed out at liberals whom he accused of engaging in racially divisive rhetoric when it suits their interests: "What's much worse is the hypocrisy . . . from the left."
Thanks for setting us straight, Ken.

Apparently, the Administration's wrist-slap of Bennett was, once again, too little, too late for the African-American community. Political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote that,
The reaction was swift and angry to former Reagan honcho William Bennett's oddball racist crack that aborting black babies could reduce crime. The problem, though, was that those who instantly denounced Bennett were all Democrats. Even as calls were made for an apology or for Bennett to be fired from his syndicated national radio show, neither President Bush nor any other top GOP leader said a mumbling word about Bennett.
I guess the thing that bothers me deep down about this whole tawdry affair (in addition, of course, to Bennett's original statement) is the automatic and predictable tendency of the Right to ignore the facts of a given situation, and to think of nothing other than circling the wagons. To deny. To spin. To stonewall. To obfuscate. To counter-attack.

Take a look at what our greatest source of carbon dioxide, Rush Limbaugh, had to say to his millions of gullible fans. Not a hint of regret, or admonition - or common sense, for that matter. Why do the Republicans not instinctively react to wrongdoing the way any levelheaded person would, automatically? Instead, they criticize their own only begrudgingly, after all other diversionary options seem to have failed.

Bill Bennett was wrong, no matter how you slice it, and deserves to spend the rest of his career in exile, handing out leaflets on an obscure city street corner. But our President and his minions were wrong, too. Seems the one thing they do know how to do is respond too late.

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And here I thought...

...that I was a bit disappointed in Karen Hughes. Check out this missive, fired off today by columnist Sidney Blumenthal.

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Preaching to the choir

I was especially mean to Karen Hughes the other day. Hey, according to the tenor of today's upbeat news evaluations of her visit, maybe she didn't do so badly on her maiden foray "over there". She had the connections (after all, she "traveled aboard a plane belonging to the D.C. Air National Guard, which often takes congressional delegations abroad."). She "listened." She "did the best" job she could. And she promised to talk to George, just as soon as she got home from work.

A slight change in tone from a few days earlier, when reports seemed to implicate Ms. Hughes' unpreparedness and tendency to stay "on message". Hmmmmm. Which slant to believe?

I'd like to think that our latest "good will ambassador" actually might succeed on her mission. God knows, our image abroad could use a serious facelift. And if Karen were out there mixing it up with the common citizens of the region (the ones, by the way, that are so easily motivated to strap on explosive belts and come'a'callin'), that whole "working mom" thing could actually be a plus, and I'd have a little faith that she possibly "opened the door to a conversation."

Except for one small thing.

For the major part of her visit, Ms. Hughes wasn't mingling with the masses. Instead, she apparently was chillin' with the usual gang of government representatives, when a great deal of our present image problem stems from the Administration's current relationship with those very government representatives. CBS News says,
This week she attracted the kind of attention usually accorded a secretary of state, not someone who holds the rank of ambassador... Because the relationship between Hughes and the president is so well known, it wasn't surprising she met with many officials above her rank - in Egypt, the prime minister; in Saudi Arabia, the king; and in Turkey, with the foreign minister.
Excuse me, but isn't "Rollin' up to the palace in a motorcade" precisely the visual that's made us so unpopular in these countries? If that's the face Karen has been assigned to show to the world, well... why bother? Why waste the considerable expense to just reiterate the ol' Party line, a line that the majority of Americans aren't buying any more? Why add fuel to the fire?

Statements like,
She said she plans to brief the president and Congress about her trip... She dismissed, however, any notion that there was a lack of perspective on the part of the administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, arguing that the president routinely heard the viewpoints of other leaders...
...show that Hughes is not necessarily listening as much as she claims to be. She's repeating those tried and true talking points, an approach which statistically doesn't reflect the attitude of most American citizens toward our Middle Eastern policy. She's selling an image of the U.S. that's not, by popular consensus, the one we want sold. And, based on the titles and bank accounts of those in her appointment book, she's essentially preaching to the choir.

Oh, I'm trying not to be mean to Karen. I know she's just a patriotic working mom, out there spreading the Gospel of Saint George. But from Macbeth to The Manchurian Candidate to any case file in the Department of Family Services, I've also come to know that some moms aren't what they seem to be. Some moms lie. Some moms facilitate. Some moms scheme and manipulate and do the wrong thing.

Not that I'd ever say that about you, Karen. But you've gotta do better. And until you do, I just ain't buyin' it.

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Reprehensible

If you haven't heard by now, former Reagan Administration Secretary of Education William Bennett made the following appalling statement on his nationally syndicated radio show Wednesday morning:
"I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."
Given Bennett's status, visibility, and close ties to the current bunch in the White House, there should be immediate condemnation of this egregious calumny by more than just the voices of the Left. Where is the moral outrage from our Compassionate Conservative brethren? Where are the cries for Bennett's public beheading from his old pals on Pennsylvania Avenue?

Bill Bennett has forfeited his right to any public venue whatsoever. Write the Salem Radio Network and demand the cancellation of his access to our airwaves. Write your Congressman, and write your Senator. Write your local paper, and your regional news station, and your lazy second-cousin for God's sake, but add your voice to the demand for Billy-boy's swift banishment from our consciousness.

And here I thought it was the 21st Century!

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September 29, 2005

Air turbulence

Here's another offbeat, wonderful read about the insanities of our species, courtesy of Snips of Reality.

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But, seriously...

John Roberts remains a bit of a mystery, not only to his opponents, but to the majority of his supporters as well. We do know that he's Conservative, arguably with a capital "C". We do know that King George likes him, as do the Congressional Republicans (who once again voted like the Borg Collective they've truly become) - and those are not necessarily good things.

We also know that in his brief career, Mr. Roberts seems to have been able to focus on the law itself with sufficient single-mindedness to be a part of some decidedly un-Conservative arguments. He seems to have had the capacity to put aside his personal politics in deference to the merits of a given case - in certain given cases - and that may turn out to be a surprisingly good thing.

So (pardon the pun), the jury's still out to a large extent on our new Chief Justice, and it may be too early to sound the death knell of civilization as we know it. It's one thing to aggressively criticize mistakes and abuses of power that have already occurred; it looks increasingly shrill to attack decisions Roberts might make some time in the future, as many of his opponents continue to do.

Besides, the remaining Supreme Court vacancy is really the one with frightening implications, and it would be wise to save some of our "political capital" for that round. There's a definite possibility that Mr. Roberts will prove to be as much of a disappointment to the Far Right as was Ms. O'Connor - and at this point, we have little realistic choice but to keep the faith.

Of course, I have always been an optimist.

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Freudian slip?

Interesting that during Mr. Roberts' remarks after his swearing in, he included a somewhat homey passage about the three separate branches of government. But when he mentioned them by name, he referred to Congress as the "executive branch", after describing the White House with precisely the same phrase.

Oops.

Oh, c'mon! No lectures, please. I know he just innocently stumbled as any one of us might have, giving a nationally-televised speech.

Or did he?

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The Austin DA

Guess that answers my question... More information on Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle.

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Streamlining

Another good reason for a quick note to the boys and girls in Washington is the cleverly named Streamlined Procedures Act (S.1088 and H.R.3035). According to an editorial in today's Washington Post,
"...this bill is beyond rehabilitation. If it passes, the chances that innocent people will be executed will go way up."
In an age when we have the improved scientific and investigative means at our disposal to virtually eliminate the chances of executing an innocent man or woman, why would we possibly do something legislatively that might increase the frequency of mistakes?

More comments here and here.

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Make a noise!

In just three days, the Violence Against Women Act will expire. Enhanced versions of the existing bill, (S.1197, H.R.2876, and H.R.3171) are on the calendars of the Senate and House now, and will be voted on soon.

These bills guarantee the continued existence of essential programs that benefit victims of domestic and sexual abuse. It's important that they pass - and bipartisan support right now is, shall we say, underwhelming.

Take a moment and actually drop a line to your elected officials. Write a note to somebody else's elected official who's not supporting this legislation. Make a noise! And read more here, here, and here.

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God v. Darwin, Round 2

And so it continues...

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September 28, 2005

Hell (finally) freezes over

I'd be remiss, I suppose, if I let the day go by without chiming in on The Hammer's indictment. Of course my gut reaction is (how shall I put this in a dignified manner?), "F#%kin' A, bubba!" Mr. DeLay has been a brutal, swaggering, dangerous influence on the direction of this country for far too long, and is well known for pushing the boundaries of "ethical" behavior to the limit and beyond. And let's face it - one look at his expression and demeanor during today's press conference was enough to confirm that whatever the charge, he did it!

At the same time, however, I do want to know more about Austin DA Ronnie Earle before jumping into the jacuzzi with a bottle of Cristal and the divorcée down the street. The outcome of this seemingly joyous event hinges by and large on how well the Texas prosecutor's reputation withstands the inevitable GOP smear campaign to come. I've found a lot on the web, both favorable and dismissive, most of which boils down to the " 'Did NOT.' 'Did SO.' " rhetoric of Sunday morning talk shows.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't really care what motivates Mr. Earle, because Tom-boy is definitely someone who deserves severe scrutiny. Even if the Austin DA's action today is fueled purely by a desire to push Republicans like Mr. DeLay out of office, I can only say, "Hey - why not?" After all, that's the same partisan mantra that has shaped Conservative policy since 1994. What's good for the goose...

It's just that, because we know The Hammer's best public defense is already shaping up as a typically huge, loud, self-righteous series of ad hominem attacks on Mr. Earle's character, I want to know for sure that this champion of our cause is above reproach. I tend to believe that Ronnie's our guy - precisely because of Mr. Delay's verbal assault - but if you have additional, objective analysis of the man, please pass it on.

'Til then, I think I'll wait a little while to dance naked around the bonfire. It'll be harder than we think to finally nail Teflon Tom for good - and I'm crossing my fingers that Mr. Earle is the right man for the job.

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And the hits just keep on comin'

More interesting news about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, courtesy of David Corn. Watch soon for Big Bird warbling that perennial Ashcroft favorite, "Let The Eagle Soar".

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It ain't over 'til it's over...

You know, as tempting as it may be, I’m not going to beat up on Michael Brown. There are so many others already doing such a superb job, I just wouldn’t know what to add.

My only fear is that, given the pizzazz and admittedly bipartisan vehemence of Tuesday’s spectacle, the real issue of unforgivable cronyism throughout our bureaucracy will just sort of… well, fade away. After all, we’ve got our sacrificial lamb, served up fat and warm, interrogated with appropriate purple-faced rage not only by those damn partisan liberals, but by good God-fearing officials bearing the letter “R” as well.

So I worry a little bit that after the big (and well-deserved) crucifixion, we’ll be lulled into forgetting what examples like today’s testimony say about the competence of the guy who hired him in the first place. I'm concerned that the blood-lust of the press will be satisfied, and they’ll abstain on the Chertoffs and Hugheses and God knows how many other “Browns” are out there. I'm apprehensive that we’ll end up buying into the upcoming Conservative mantra of “Granger and Shays”, and concede that, heck, maybe we don’t need that silly old independent investigation anyway.

It’s already happening. Heard the word “Plamegate” lately?

And I worry more than a little bit that we won’t have the will as a culture to keep pushing the dominoes forward ‘til the last one falls, like a different generation of citizens and investigative journalists did 32 years ago. Hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully, we'll continue to press for a non-partisan commission. Hopefully, we'll now start clearing a little brush of our own. Hopefully, we’ll all remember that Mr. Brown is just the first in a long and shameful chain of inept, unqualified, and heretofore unaccountable public officials who’ve earned their turn on the chopping block.

Besides – deep down we’re just humanitarians, you know. And we don’t want to see Mikey out in the cold all by himself.

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September 27, 2005

In the papers

A good read about Mr. Bush's call for conservation, expanding military options on American soil, and other White House diversionary tactics.

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Forcing the issue

More developments with Iran, and the rush to the Security Council. Are the US and UK trying to force Ahmadinejad into a position not of his choosing, that can then be used to justify military action? Let's be clear - Iran MUST agree and adhere to reasonable, independent verification of its peaceful intentions. But as I've said before, what reason do we have to trust that our guys have it right, given their track record? And why the hurry?

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God v. Darwin, Round 1

And so it begins...

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Viceroys and vassals

The first of the month is right around the corner, and that means one thing in this house. Bills. Mortgage bills, tuition bills, car and phone and electric and estimated tax bills. Reassessing for the umpteenth time this year whether we really need to remodel the basement right now, or if we should look ahead to those December orthodontist and heating costs. You know what I mean - it's no different out there for most of us.

Just gotta do what we can with what we've got...

Which is why I'm consistently agitated these days (well, OK, for the last five years) by the financial hijinks of the majority Party in Washington. I can't help but feel that momentum is building within the Republican mind for a final "land rush" of sorts, a "let's grab as much as we can and pass it along to all our friends while we have the chance" dynamic that's partly fueled, ironically, by the realization that those poll numbers really are headed south, and time's a-runnin' short.

Despite the withering criticism hurled at our "ruling class" over the past month, this Administration (and its chums and cronies) are apparently getting back to business as usual with renewed fervor. The same questionable awarding of contracts. The same deplorable fiscal plans. Even Mike Brown is still on FEMA's payroll, as a consultant on the Katrina response! And not a plan in sight to trim a little pork or roll back some of those subsidies for the struggling souls of Beverly Hills.

Money obviously talks with this crowd. But it's our money, dammit, that's paying the ever-mounting tab, and I, for one, am tired of throwing so much into the hands of such unreliable and irresponsible shoppers. I've already got that problem at home (in the guise of a thirteen-year-old daughter), and the ATM she believes lives in my wallet is now closed for maintenance! Do I have to treat my government like an eighth-grade girl? Is it time for all of us to cut off Uncle Sam's allowance?

Unfortunately, I think that might be a big "Yes."

Examples are set at the top, and if our government wants its citizens to act each day with fiscal responsibility (or suffer the severe consequences meted out by its own agencies), then it has a basic responsibility to do the same. If it demands that each of us function solely within our finite means, then it has an obligation to demonstrate similar restraint. If our leaders insist that we sacrifice our pet projects when those "luxuries" threaten the size of the evening meal, then they damn well better close the national cookie jar.

In both legislative and personal examples galore, we are witnessing a return to the age of viceroys and vassals; a time of separate ethics for the rich and the not-so-rich; a blatant, in-your-face, flip-the-bird double standard of behavior that is so arrogant, so insulting, so dangerous it leaves me sputtering with disbelief.

Best not sputter too long, though. I've got to get back to work - so I can manage to pay that gas bill on time.

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September 26, 2005

No experience? No problem.

In the Bush Administration's first giant step toward repairing Islamic perceptions of the U.S., our new "good will ambassador", Karen Hughes, met yesterday in Cairo with five high-school kids who had previously lived in America for a year, and a handful of college students who were "all recipients of scholarships from a U.S.-funded program".

Attagirl, Karen!

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that once again, the White House has unapologetically chosen the wrong person for an important job, rewarding political loyalty instead of demanding qualifications and experience from those holding the nation's top positions. I find it terribly disturbing to read phrases like "carefully vetted settings", and "asked to leave", and "steer clear of meeting with representatives of Egypt's largest opposition group" in a description of someone whose stated task is to examine the root causes of Islamic anger at the ol' Red, White and Blue.

Sounds suspiciously like one of those carefully orchestrated Town Hall meetings that were a hallmark of the Bush reelection campaign. These guys just don't like to hear opinions that differ from their own, do they...

Oh, I'm sure Karen is a nice enough person, and she sure looks like the quintessential "mom next door". But are we really supposed to believe that there was no one in the nation better qualified to boost America's image in the Arab world? No one who could speak the language, or knew something of the culture, or had actually been to some of these places? The Post writes,
Hughes betrayed some nervousness in her first diplomatic foray, which will also take her to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This is her first visit to any of the countries, and as she spoke to reporters she clutched briefing papers that appeared to be the diplomatic equivalent of Cliffs Notes. Turkey was a "democratic state," and Egypt was the "most populous" country in the region, the document said.
Cliffs Notes? Are you f#%king kidding me?!

Of course none of this comes as any real surprise. The blatant, unprecedented cronyism of the Bush Administration has been a danger to us all since the word "Go". From Homeland Security to FEMA, from Safavian in Procurement to Gottlieb of the FDA, Mr. Bush has continually mismanaged the nation, filling top government positions with individuals cast in his own mold. Unqualified. Uneducated. Unbearable. Unaccountable. A new Time Magazine exposé asks the question, "How Many More Mike Browns Are Out There?" Shamefully, the short answer is "Too many".

Ms. Hughes described the goals of her mission in these lofty terms:
"Many of the differences and many of the concerns are deep-seated, and I'm probably not going to change many minds... But if I make a connection with a person or two who I can keep following up with after I leave here on my trip, I would consider it a success."
Thanks, Karen. And, thanks George. Bold plan. At that rate, our problems in the Middle East should be solved by the time John Roberts retires.

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September 25, 2005

Just the facts, ma'am.

And speaking of the anti-war march, why the huge discrepancies in attendance figures? Even if you consult major news outlets, it's impossible to tell if the crowd in D.C. numbered this or this or this or... Seems to me that, when gauging the strength and popularity of anti-war sentiment in the nation, size does matter.

If we can count the number of hairs in al Zarqawi's beard from a satellite travelling over 400 miles per minute, 10,000 miles from the surface, why can't we rely on an accurate crowd total here on good ol' planet Earth? "We report, you decide" only works if we can base those decisions on unbiased facts. Sad that we can't seem to find out what those basic facts are.

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Shhhhhhh! It's a secret.

Believe it or not, there were two big stories this weekend.

Both were about catastrophic scenarios involving devastating force. Both were about our concern with saving thousands of American lives. Both had organizers and observers and volunteers and dedicated participants. Both had roll calls of the fallen, one of which already holds over 1,900 names.

One of these events didn't live up to expectations. One appears to have swelled beyond what was initially anticipated. And only one dominated the airwaves. Care to guess which?

Of course, the storm in our Gulf was an extremely important bit of news, especially in light of what we witnessed just three weeks ago. But the huge outpouring of opposition to the storm in that other Gulf should certainly have rated equal attention from network and cable news departments.

There were two big stories this weekend, but only one of them involved much more than our fragile ability to survive the weather. The one that was relegated to an occasional ticker-tape crawl at the bottom of your screen was really about the very character of our nation; the daily slaughter of our children; our standing in the world community; and, quite possibly, the future of global peace and stability.

The groundswell of protest that filled the streets of Washington Saturday deserved maximum exposure, given its importance to all Americans (whether they realize it yet, or not). But for most of our fellow countrymen, who caught sight of an occasional news headline throughout the day, it was almost as if nothing of note happened East of the Texas/Louisiana border. Or, as I came to think of it, "All Rita, All The Time".

There were two big stories this weekend. Too bad one of them's kind of a secret.

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