Thursday, December 29, 2005

Playing by the rules

The Wall Street Journal had a story the other day about a conservative advocacy group known as Move America Forward which pretty much serves the same function on the right that does on the left.

That would be fine and all, except there is one big difference between the two organizations. While is a registered political action committee that must disclose its donors and their contributions for public scrutiny, Move America Forward pretends to be a non-partisan, non-profit group and thus gives its donors not only anonymity, but also the right to deduct their donations from their taxes. In other words, the rest of us taxpayers are being forced to subsidize the right-wing group, while the liberal group has to scrape along under the strict reporting requirements for PACs.

Needless to say, this is not fair. But it is also not surprising that the so-called “conservative” group would lie and cheat while the liberal group plays by the rules. They are just following the example set by the current Republican administration.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Limbo in limbo

Interesting story in the NYTimes today - Vatican Considers Consigning Limbo to Oblivion

Limbo, that netherworld of unbaptized babies, worthy pagans and even a few Muslims, is very much on the way out...
This month, 30 top theologians from around the world met at the Vatican to discuss, among other quandaries, the problem of what happens to babies who die without baptism.

Frankly, I think such a move is long overdue. It is nothing short of cruel for the church to tell a mother who just lost a baby that her infant is going anywhere other than to be with God. But I can also see why they have been hesitant to do so up until now.

How can you convince people that they have to be baptized without the fear of hellfire and damnation? If you make an exception for babies, how far does that exception go? At what age can they declare that a child has been consigned to hell for not being cleansed of its “original sin” ? Such a quandry!

The idea of sending innocent babies to hell has always been hard for most people to stomach. But sending them to limbo isn’t much better. So what will they do now? Admit that the church doesn’t have the official rulebook from God that says who does and doesn’t get into Heaven? That’ll be the day!

So I will be interested to see what these Vatican theologians come up with. My guess is that they will take the same stance as doctors dealing with terminal diseases. They will highly recommend baptism for babies, but won’t make any guarantees that it is the final arbiter of salvation.

Bring back Star Trek (and Buffy)

A survey of British TV viewers shows Star Trek as the most missed show on TV today.

It topped a poll of more than 1,000 viewers commissioned by UK interactive TV firm Home Media Networks. Here are the top 10 most missed programs from the survey:

1. Star Trek
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Friends
4. Fawlty Towers
5. Blake's 7
6. The X-Files
7. Babylon 5
8. Stargate
9. Seinfeld
10. The A-Team

Blockbuster consumption

Like lemmings we all tend to run with the crowd and watch essentially the same movies every year. In looking at the blockbuster movies of years past (films that earned more than $100 million in domestic gross reciepts), I’m struck by how many of them I have seen either in the theater, on video or on TV.
Since 1990, the year I more or less got out of college, there have been 264 blockbusters. Not counting this year, the total is 247. Of those, I have seen all but 59 for about a 75 percent rate of blockbuster consumption.

The films I have not seen, with a few notable exceptions, are ones that I am likely never going to watch because they have no particular appeal for me. Here is the list (* marks movies I still intend to watch someday).

1990 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Dick Tracy
1991 - Beauty and the Beast*
1993 - Indecent Proposal
1994 - The Flintstones
1996 - 101 Dalmations (live action); Scream
1997 - George of the Jungle; Scream 2
1998 - The Rugrats Movie
1999 - Big Daddy; The Blair Witch Project; American Beauty; Analyze This; The General’s Daughter; American Pie
2000 - The Perfect Storm; Meet the Parents; Scary Movie; Traffic; The Nutty Professor II; Big Momma’s House; Remember the Titans
2001 - Hannibal; American Pie 2; The Fast and the Furious; Black Hawk Down*
2002 - Austin Powers Goldmember; Scooby Doo; XXX; The Santa Clause 2; The Ring; Mr. Deeds; Road to Perdition*
2003 - Bruce Almighty; Elf; Cheaper By the Dozen; Bad Boys II; Anger Management; Bringing Down the House; 2 Fast, 2 Furious; Something’s Gotta Give; SWAT; Spy Kids 3-D; Scary Movie 3; American Wedding; Daddy Day Care; The Cat in the Hat; Charlie’s Angels 2
2004 - The Passion of the Christ*; Meet the Fockers; The Day After Tomorrow; The Polar Express*; Ocean’s Twelve; 50 First Dates; Dodge Ball; The Village; The Grudge; Million Dollar Baby*

As for the 2005 blockbusters so far, I can already say that I have little interest in seeing Wedding Crashers; Mr. and Mrs. Smith; The Longest Yard; The Pacifier and 40 Year Old Virgin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Box office blues

2005 has been a bad year for the movie industry. Lots of stories have been written on the topic, but I think this chart I compiled from the invaluable Box Office Mojo Web site helps make the point pretty clear. The figure on the right is the number of movies that broke the $100 million barrier in domestic box office revenues for that year (not counting foreign box office and video/DVD sales).

2005 - 17
2004 - 24
2003 - 29
2002 - 24
2001 - 20
2000 - 22
1999 - 21
1998 - 18
1997 - 16
1996 - 15
1995 - 10
1994 - 12
1993 - 8
1992 - 11
1991 - 8
1990 - 9

As you can see, 2003 was a peak year so far. But 2005 could be the worst peformer of the decade. In fact, you have to go back to 1997 to find a year that had fewer mega-blockbusters. Of course, the year is not over and there is a chance that a few more 2005 releases could cross the finish line at some future date (Walk the Line is a possibility). But there just aren’t that many more potential blockbusters on the movie industry’s bench this year.

I think one of the problems for Hollywood is that I have stopped going to movies these past few years. My movie watching for this year has been so limited that I don’t even need to update the list I made on Sept. 13 of 2005 films I’ve seen so far this year.

I didn’t realize until now how much Hollywood depends on me, but the evidence is clear. Since the birth of my first child in mid-2003, they have been on a precipitous slide downward. I’m not sure what to tell them. Perhaps if they put daycare centers at the cineplex’s it would lure more of us new parents back into the fold. But whatever they do, they need to do it quick. Now with the birth of my second child last month, I will likely be absent from the local matinees for several more years to come.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas commercialization

I was about to write a post about why I think the commercialization of Christmas is actually a good thing on the grounds that any publicity is good publicity. But then I found this article on the Web that pretty much says everything I was going to say.
So I will shamelessly copy this fellows article and reprint it here:

“You periodically hear Christians complain about how Christmas has become commercialized or secularized. It's not about Jesus Christ any more; it's about Santa Claus. It's not about God's love for us; it's about having fun with our friends. It's no longer celebrated at church; it's celebrated at the mall.

As a Christian, I can only look at this and say: Good thing.

Compare Christmas to other Christian holidays. Logically, our biggest holiday of the year should be Easter. After all, lots of people are born, but very few come back from the dead. There is very little secularization of Easter: A little playing around with Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies, but nothing like the secular stories and traditions built up around Christmas. I am hard-pressed to think of a single story or song about the Easter bunny; I can easily rattle off dozens about Santa Claus. Easter has largely remained a purely spiritual holiday, celebrated almost exclusively through songs and symbols that focus directly on what the holiday is all about -- the resurrection.

So why is it that Easter gets so much less attention than Christmas? Not just in the secular world, but even within the church? Perhaps your experience is different, but in churches I've attended, not only will the Sunday before Christmas be dedicated to the holiday, but at least several Sundays before we will be singing Christmas songs, lighting advent candles, etc. There is usually at least one special service scheduled to celebrate it, on Christmas or Christmas Eve or the Sunday evening before. Somewhere in there will be a big special program for Christmas, with planning and rehearsals begin months in advance.

Easter? The church may have a sunrise service, that is, the service starts earlier than usual that day. And that's about it.

I offer a simple theory: Christmas is a big holiday precisely because it is a mixture of the pious and the practical. The pious element gives the holiday reason and meaning. The practical element gives it action and vibrancy. The pious element makes it profound. The practical element makes it fun.

To the Christian, all the little rituals and traditions give him something to do to celebrate the holiday. Easter should be the most exciting day on the Christian calendar, but it is, to put it bluntly, boring. It is boring because there is nothing in particular to do about it. There is nothing to look forward to, nothing to plan, nothing to get excited about.

At this point I don't doubt that some deeply spiritual person will say, "How shallow! You've missed the point. You should be excited about the thought of the resurrection. You should be overjoyed at the knowledge that Christ has saved you." Etc.

I reply, Maybe we should, but we don't. Because all you are talking about is thinking. And I can think these thoughts at any time, there is nothing about Easter that makes them particularly special. I do not have to eagerly anticipate thinking about the resurrection like a child has to anticipate opening his presents at Christmas. To think about thinking something is to think it. And for many people -- myself included -- the fact that they can do these things whenever they want means that they rarely do them at all.

Why do you think stores advertise a sale as "one day only" or "while supplies last"? Presumably they are making money off this sale or they wouldn't be doing it. So why not do it all year long and make more money? Aren't they afraid that there are people who would like to come but won't be able to make it the day of the sale, and so won't bother to come at all? The answer, as any marketing person will tell you, is, sure, they might lose some sales because they made the sale too short. But by making it short, they get many people to think, Wow, if I want to get this, I'd better go right now. If the sale was on 365 days a year, there are many many people who would say, I'll go tomorrow, and the next day they'd again say, I'll go tomorrow, and they'd keep on saying that, and never get there.

Christmas is a special day because there are specific things we do that day that we do not do on other days. And so we plan, and prepare, and anticipate.

But more important, Christmas, as presently celebrated in America, serves as a bridge between the Church and the world outside. It is precisely because Christmas has been secularized that people with little interest in spiritual things celebrate it anyway. Christians created all sorts of fun activities to celebrate Christmas: giving presents, eating a fancy meal with friends and family, decorating the house, etc, etc. Non-Christians see that these things are fun and want to participate ... and they can't help but occassionally hear and think about what the holiday is really celebrating.

It is precisely because Christmas has been commercialized that stores and shops all over the country spend hundreds of millions of dollars talking about Christmas. At what other time of year do you see television commercials that make any reference, however indirect, to Jesus Christ?”

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas music

My list of favorite Christmas music hasn’t changed much from last year. The only significant addition to the rotation this year is The Chipmunks Christmas, one of my wife’s records from her youth that I burned onto CD. It is now highly popular with my son.

Today, Christmas music is a major industry. Every artist, it seems, is obligated to put out a Christmas album. But does anyone remember who started the whole thing?

Guess what the first commercially successful Christmas recording was.

White Christmas? No, that came later.

It was Silent Night, recorded by Bing Crosby in 1935. The record became Crosby’s biggest hit of the 1930s. But Crosby was uncomfortable with the idea of profiting from a popular Christmas carol, partly because of his devout religious faith, and opted to donate all the proceeds from the song to charity.
Silent Night was the top selling Christmas record until it was eclipsed by Crosby’s recording of White Christmas in 1942, which became the highest selling record of all time.

It’s a shame today that Crosby gets so little respect in our popular culture. To understand just how big a star Crosby was in his day, here is a synopsis
compiled from Gary Giddins’ book, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams – the Early Years 1903-1940,
published by Little, Brown in 2001.

• He made more studio recordings than any other singer in history.
• He made the most popular record ever, “White Christmas,” the only single to make American pop charts twenty times, every year but one between 1942 and 1962. 
• Between 1927 and 1962 he scored 368 charted records under his own name, plus twenty-eight as a vocalist with various bandleaders, for a total of 396.  No one else has come close; compare Paul Whiteman (220), Frank Sinatra (209), Elvis Presley (149), Glenn Miller (129), Nat “King” Cole (118), Louis Armstrong (85), the Beatles (68).
• He scored the most number one hits ever, 38, compared with 24 by the Beatles and 18 by Presley.
• In 1960 he received a platinum record as First Citizen of the Record Industry for having sold 200 million discs, a number that doubled by 1980.
• Between 1915 and 1980 he was the only motion-picture star to rank as the number one box-office attraction five times (1944-48).  Between 1934 and 1954 he scored in the top 10 fifteen times.
• He was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor three times and won for “Going My Way”.
• He was a major radio star longer than any other performer, from 1931 until 1954 on network, 1954 until 1962 in syndication.
• He financed and popularized the development of tape, revolutionizing the recording industry.
• He created the first and longest-running celebrity pro-am golf championship, playing host for thirty-five years, raising millions in charity, and was the central figure in the development of the Del Mar racetrack in California.
• He made the largest number of V-discs and army broadcasts of any American entertainer and raised $14.5 million in war bonds (a “Yank” magazine poll declared him the individual who had done more for GI morale during World War II).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Scrooge McCheney

Merry Christmas from Scrooge McCheney and the GOP!

The Scrooge cut short his Middle East tour to serve as the tiebreaker on a noxious budget bill that pretends to reduce the deficit by slashing programs for the poor and elderly.

The legislation would allow states to impose new fees on Medicaid recipients, cut federal child support enforcement funds, impose new work requirements on state welfare programs and squeeze student lenders.

Hey, but at least we are finally getting some fiscal discipline, right? Wrong.

According to budget experts, the bill would barely dent the federal deficit, cutting less than one-half of 1 percent from an estimated $14.3 trillion in federal spending over the next five years.

And what is worse is that the projected $40 billion in savings over five years has already been wiped out by the $56 billion worth of tax cuts that Republicans pushed through earlier this year.

Opponents of the bill, including all Democrats and five honest Republicans, said “the poor would bear the brunt of the cuts -- especially to Medicaid, child support enforcement and foster care -- whereas original targets for belt-tightening, such as pharmaceutical companies and private insurers, largely escaped sanction.”

Under the provision, student loan interest rates would be locked in at 6.8 percent and could not be refinanced as commercial rates fluctuate.
"They could give students a lower interest rate, but their choice is to keep interest rates high," said Luke Swarthout of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "They're asking students to pay for tax cuts."

Monday, December 19, 2005

History repeats

Richard Nixon - “I’m not a crook.”

George W. Bush - “I’m above the law and can do whatever I want.” (or words to that effect).

I think it is important to distinguish legal domestic spying by the NSA which goes on all the time and is indeed important in the war on terror, from the secretive, illegal spying that Bush has authorized.
Joshua Micah Marshall touches on that distinction seems the White House and some editors are taking to arguing that surveillance or domestic wiretapping is necessary for national security, that it saves lives.
Of course, it does. What a stupid thing to say, or for the White House, what a disingenuous thing to say.
Wiretaps are conducted around the country every day. The FISA Court alone approves something like a half a dozen a day in highly classified national security or espionage related cases.
The only issue here is why the president decided to go around the normal rules that govern such surveillance, why he chose to make himself above the law.

and Redhedd at firedoglake goes more in depth.

Suffice it to say that we already have provisions in place to allow for emergency spying when security issues are at stake. Why does the Bush administration still feel that it has to circumvent the law this many years after 9/11 and not allow the FISA court to oversee their spying operations?

Friday, December 16, 2005

I Spy

Why are we even bothering with a debate over the Patriot Act if President Bush is just going to do whatever the hell he wants to do anyway?

The National Security Agency has eavesdropped, without warrants, on as many 500 people inside the United States at any given time since 2002, The New York Times reported Friday.
That year, following the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush authorized the NSA to monitor the international phone calls and international e-mails of hundreds - perhaps thousands - of people inside the United States, the Times reported.


I have to agree with this poster at Daily Kos:

I think the last few days of revelations regarding multi-agency spying on American citizens comes as no surprise. In an administration that has authorized secret prisons, planted propaganda, fought restrictions on torture, and argued consistently for the right to detain whomever is deemed suspicious without recourse to trial, spying on American citizens seems both obvious and pedestrian....

...for true rank-and-file conservatives, this should bring on a crisis of conscience and self-examination. Distrust of the government and its motives runs deep in American conservatism; witness the recoil from relatively benign "nanny state" interventions such as social welfare programs and anti-smoking laws. How much more repugnant is wiretapping, surveillance and massive record-keeping by the feds?

So, are there any ‘true conservatives’ left in this country?

Maybe a few. Instapundit isn’t too happy about it.
And then there are a few Republican senators still willing to stand up for freedom, liberty and the rule of law in our own country:

"There is no doubt that this is inappropriate," said Specter, R-Pa., calling hearings early next year "a very, very high priority." He wasn't alone in reacting harshly to the report. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the story, first reported in Friday's New York Times, was troubling.

But for the most part it would seem that true conservatism is dead, or at least comatose, and has been replaced with a right-wing radicalism that likes to masquerade as conservatism.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Levee repair

Now that the horses are all gone, the Bush administration is finally getting around to fixing that barn door.

Maybe $3.1 billion is enough to do the job right, I don’t know. But I can’t help but point out that it is less than we spend each month on our never-ending mission to rebuild Iraq.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Redistricting fiasco revisited

Republicans should be very worried about the Supreme Court's decision to revisit the Texas redistricting fiasco. They have a much weaker case than many of them assume.

There have been a few significant developments since a three-judge panel (2 Republicans and 1 Democrat) approved Tom DeLay's dream map for keeping himself in power.
First, there is the little matter of Tom DeLay being indicted for the money laundering scheme that helped get his map into law in the first place. Second, and more significant, we now know that the judges were lied to when told that the Justice Department said the map did not violate the Voting Rights Act. The non-partisan experts in the Justice Department were unanimous in saying that the plan would dilute minority voting strength, as indeed it has.

The Washington Post looks at why that is...

The voting rights suits point to two districts in particular, Doggett's old 10th District, which covered one county and now stretches eastward to Houston, and Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla's 23rd District.

In 2001, the voting-age population of the 10th District was 55 percent non-Hispanic white, while Latinos and blacks made up 39 percent. Now, the white voting-age population is nearly 70 percent, while minorities are just over 25 percent. A district that gave Doggett 84 percent of its votes in 2002 gave Republican Michael T. McCaul 84 percent two years later.

The federal courts had deemed the 23rd District a Latino opportunity district, but Latino groups have said that white voters gave Bonilla his razor-thin margin of victory in 2002 over a Latino Democrat. That year, the voting-age population of his district was 63 percent Latino and 33 percent non-Hispanic white.

For Republicans in Austin, Bonilla's victory was too shaky. After redistricting, he cruised to victory with 69 percent of the vote. That time, the Latino population was 51 percent, while the white population had climbed to 45 percent.

"To dismantle a Latino-majority district for the explicit purpose of making sure they can't elect a candidate of their choice is a violation of the Voting Rights Act," said Nina Perales, southwestern regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Bolstering that case are the Justice lawyers. A December 2003 memo obtained this month by The Washington Post shows that six staff lawyers and two analysts from the voting section concluded that the Texas plan should be rejected because it would harm black and Hispanic voters. Senior Justice officials overruled that recommendation and issued an approval a week later.

People need to remember that the Voting Rights Act is concerned with the voters in the district and not with who they elect. A majority white district can elect a minority candidate, but that does not make it a minority district. My City Council District, for example, is overwhelmingly white, but nevertheless elected a black man, Art Hall, as our representative. But that doesn't mean you could count my district as a minority voting district.

Despite the election of one additional black following the re-redistricting process, the fact remains that in the end two minority voting districts were eliminated to help give Republicans their ultimate partisan advantage. Once the power of incumbency wears off as established members leave office, the full impact of the GOP scheme will become evident.
The Supreme Court will be hard-pressed not to knock this down when faced with the opinion of the Voting Rights experts at Justice who were muzzled by political hacks these past few years.

Very, very good news

Supreme Court to review Texas political map

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider the constitutionality of a Texas congressional map engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay that helped Republicans gain seats in Congress.

I’ll have more to say about this in a bit.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Redefining terms

So what is a "conservative" today?

This letter in the New York Times the other day makes a good point about how the definition of conservative has changed over time.

To the Editor:

Re "Running Out of Steam," by David Brooks (column, Dec. 8):

There's a simpler explanation as to why the conservative agenda has stalled. Conservatives are no longer conservatives.

Twenty years ago, I was a conservative and believed in balanced budgets, limited foreign intervention and limiting the government's encroachment upon individual liberties and freedom. Today, I believe in balanced budgets, limited foreign intervention and limiting the government's encroachment upon individual liberties and freedom, but now I'm called a liberal.

Conservatives of yesteryear respected state sovereignty and believed that torturing prisoners was only what the Communists did. Today's conservatives have no compunction about using their federal muscle to overrule state courts. It's repugnant that we are even debating the merits of torture.

Joel S. Peskoff
Baldwin, N.Y., Dec. 8, 2005

I think the answer is quite simple, really. The radical right has usurped the term for their own sake even though there is very little in their activist agenda that could truly be described as conservative.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Two good editorials

A pair of excellent editorials today, one in the NYTimes and one in the San Antonio Express-News.

The NYTimes explains why torture is bad aside from just being illegal and immoral. It has been demonstrated many times over that it produces bad information as well.

The Express-News editors get it right on the Texas redistricting scandal.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Tortured reasoning

Funny they didn't mention this earlier...

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 - The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.
The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.

The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.

Bad policies beget bad intelligence which begets bad justifications for a bad war....
But wait! Let's not say it's a "bad war." Rather, it is the wrong war fought at the wrong time and led by incompentent and corrupt officials who did not know what they were getting into and therefore planned poorly for it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ann Coulter IS smarter than you

I don't like Ann Coulter. I think she is arrogant, mean and contemptible. But I also think that is part of her shtick and she plays it up as part of her persona.

Nevertheless, I wish these student groups would just let the woman talk and quit giving her all the extra publicity.
By booing and shouting her down and not allowing her to speak at these campus events they are just making her more sympathetic and making themselves and their cause less so.

As for her reported statement that she is smarter than her audience, I would have to agree. At least at the time and place when she is speaking she can easily demonstrate that point by noting that she is being paid to be there and her audience is not. So who is smarter?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tom DeLay, meet Tom Foley

The Hammer is apparently being smashed flat in the latest opinion polls to come out of his Sugar Land district. He will most likely share the same fate as another former House Majority Leader - Thomas Foley of Washington - who was swept out of his seat in 1994. And Foley wasn't even involved in any significant scandals at the time!

Meanwhile, DeLay's hopes of making a quick return to his leadership post were dealt a serious blow the other day when the judge in the case refused to throw out the most serious charges against him. That means the case will go to trial and won't be completed until after House Republicans hold new elections for their leadership.

Failing grade for Bush administration

In what should have been the most important and most pressing measure by which to judge our nation's leadership these past three years, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress have recieved a big, fat F.

A final report from the former 9/11 Commission on Monday gave Congress and the White House a blistering review of their work to secure the nation, warning that terrorists will strike again and could cause catastrophic destruction with nuclear weapons.

Some of the sharpest criticism of this administration came from the Repubican members of the bi-partisan commission:

"The American people ought to demand answers," said James R. Thompson, a Republican commissioner and a former Illinois governor. "Why aren't our tax dollars being spent to protect our lives? What's the rationale? What's the excuse? There is no excuse."

Wow! Imagine if Al Gore had been president when 9/11 occurred and then three years later we still have no idea where Osama bin Laden is and a report like this comes out. Needless to say, Repubicans would be writing up articles of impeachment as we speak.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Abuse of power

Damn right there needs to be an investigation into this!
Why even bother to have staff attorneys at the Department of Justice who are experts in various fields if their opinions ultimately carry no weight?

What I want to know is what does it mean specifically under the 1965 Voting Rights Act for states to get Justice Department approval for redistricting maps? Does it mean that a political flunky can just rubberstamp any old plan that suits the partisan purposes of the party in power without regard to how it effects minority voting rights? I somehow don't think that was the intent of the law.

This is really sad if they can actually get away with this. For people who think our government system is screwed up today, here is a classic example of why.
And let's not forget that this is not an isolated case. There is a clear pattern of this abuse of power happening continuously with this administration:

In recent weeks, developments in the Justice Department and elsewhere in the government have involved instances in which political appointees countermanded the judgment of professional staff experts whose conclusions were not in line with the administration's philosophy.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department lawyer who has led the civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry for five years announced that she was retiring because of disagreements with supervisors.

"I didn't feel like I had the support at all times of the political team," the lawyer, Sharon Y. Eubanks, said.

Last month, the nonpartisan examiners at the Government Accountability Office said that the Food and Drug Administration had relied on politics and ideology rather than science in rejecting over-the-counter sales of the morning-after contraceptive Plan B.

In broadcasting, the inspector general of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting found that its former chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had repeatedly crossed boundaries in the law intended to protect public television and radio from political interference.

And to think we have three more years of this garbage to contend with. I just hope people get good and sick of it by then.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bush cronies overruled Justice Department

Wow! Bombshell story in the Washington Post today.

What this memo says essentially is that the U.S. Justice Department had overwhelmingly rejected Tom DeLay's mid-term re-redistricting scheme in 2003 but they were overruled by Bush appointees.

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections...

The 73-page memo, dated Dec. 12, 2003, has been kept under tight wraps for two years. Lawyers who worked on the case were subjected to an unusual gag rule.

This is truly disgusting. I really don't know what more there is to be said about it except that this has to be the most corrupt bunch of yahoos to ever hold political office in our nation's history.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Keeping track of the corruption

With so many Republican scandals happening all at once it is getting difficult to keep track of which Republican politicians have been indicted, which have pled guilty and which are still under investigation. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to take advantage of the confusion by claiming falsely that this tsunami of corruption is evenly spread between Republicans and Democrats.
So to help things out a bit I’ve started a list of politicians who have been convicted, indicted or are reportedly under investigation for various crimes in just this past year.

Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.
Michael Scanlon, former aide to Tom DeLay
Former Gov. John Rowland, R-Conn.
Gov. Bob Taft, R-Ohio

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, former House Majority Leader
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney
David Safavian, a former Rove business partner serving as the top White House procurement official
Jack Abramoff, GOP lobbyist

Under Investigation
Karl Rove, top aide to President Bush
Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas (again)
Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio
Rep. John T. Doolittle, R-Calif.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Senate Majority Leader
Rep. William Jefferson, D-La.
Kenneth Tomlinson, former Republican Chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

And there are many more who have been linked to various scandals but are not yet under investigation (as far as we know) including a few Democrats. But as this list should make absolutely clear, the vast, overwhelming majority of the corruption is confined to Republicans and members of the GOP (Greedy Old Party).

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bait and switch

As anyone can tell from his well-researched op-ed in the local paper, my friend Bill Crawford is deeply committed to supporting the war in Iraq. He devotes the bulk of his blog to highlighting the good things that the U.S. military accomplishes in Iraq everyday.
I don’t take issue with the facts that Bill lays out in the article. I will grant that good things are indeed happening in Iraq. And I will acknowledge that they do not always get as prominent of play in the national media as the negative events such as kidnappings and suicide bombings (although not for the reasons that Bill espouses).
Who could be upset by our efforts to “repair the Iraqi education system” and provide textbooks to underprivileged Iraqi schoolchildren? What kind of Scrooge would denounce our work at reparing that nation’s electrical grid, roads, bridges, health system, water system and oil infrastructure?
Surely, these are all good things that are being done. So what is the problem?

The problem is that this whole Iraqi invasion has been one giant bait and switch from the very beginning.
All of these wonderful things that Bill likes to point out each day (while ignoring all the bad things that are happening) are completely superfluous to the reason we invaded Iraq in the first place.
We did not go into Iraq to carry out a massive humanitarian mission and nation building project. If that had been the stated reason, most Republicans I know of would have been opposed to it - including George W. Bush who ridiculed Al Gore during the 2000 campaign over the notion of “nation building” projects. Republicans and conservatives have never been big on foreign aid spending and that is what this misadventure in Iraq amounts to today - a massive foreign aid program.
Imagine if President Clinton or President Gore had proposed sending our troops into some blighted region of the world to help overturn a repressive government and give assistance to the disadvantaged people living there. Republicans would have gone absolutely nuts opposing such an operation. This is the U.S. military, not the Peace Corps, they would say.

We invaded Iraq because the Bush administration insisted that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to U.S. security and the only way to prevent an impending attack was to go in and strike first. I, along with many other Americans, suspected this was a lot of B.S. at the time, but we did not have access to the same intelligence reports that the President did. So many folks, including a lot of Democrats in Congress, felt pressured to give him the benefit of the doubt and support a resolution authorizing military force as a last option. Now we know that a military invasion was the first option for the Bush team almost from day one.
Since then, we have learned that Bush relied on faulty intelligence reports when making his case for launching an unprecedented pre-emptive invasion. Not only were the reports flawed, but other intelligence reports that countered or questioned the ones the Bush administration was touting were either ignored or covered up. We now know that Hussein was a delusional old man who had never fully recovered from the whooping he received during the first Gulf War. Most of the crimes Hussein was accused of were actually committed prior to Gulf War I while he was being supported by the Reagan and Bush I administrations. The U.N. sanctions had been effective in limiting and degrading Iraq’s military structure to the point that Hussein was actually less of a threat to the U.S. by 2003 than he was immediately following the end of Gulf War I.

There was no need to invade Iraq in 2003. I don’t care how many new schools or hospitals we build, it was not worth the cost in blood or dollars that the American people have been forced to make. President Bush should have declared victory and brought our troops home a long time ago. The fact that he is still running around the country making speeches and trying to bone up support for the war three years later is a sure sign that the wheels have fallen off this cart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Moral equivalence

In his Nov. 25 column, Mark Harden takes great exception with a Nov. 18 column by Mansour El-Kikhia. Mark is incensed by what he sees as “anti-Western vitriol” in El-Kikhia’s writing. In particular he cites El Kikhia’s reference of a reported case of canabalism during the Crusades of the 11th Century as being offensive to non-Muslims. He also accuses El-Kikhia of trivializing the Holocaust by comparing it to the Crusades.
While I think Professor El-Kikhia fails to make his point by using these two examples, I do not believe that he intended them as an “insult to the Jewish people” and I think Mark goes way over the line in equating him with Holocaust denier David Irving. El Kikhia’s point is to try and equate the suffering of the Arabs with the Jews and show that they both view themselves today as victims of past wrongs.

What I find most objectionable in El-Kikhia’s column, however, is his assertion that Western societies have forfeited their moral standing in the world due to the past actions of people 50 and 1,000 years ago. If I were to critique El-Kikhia’s column, I would start with this statement:

“ is strange for Western society to claim to uphold lofty social, religious and political values when its history is replete with valueless adventures that brought misery and injustices to many in the globe.”

So we are not allowed to uphold lofty values today because we still bear the sins of our fathers some 1,000 years later? What kind of nonsense is that? Does he expect me to walk around all day long with my head held in shame because one of my ancestors may have participated in some ancient atrocity? And if that is the case, which nation or culture could possibly live up to that standard with a blemish-free past?

As far as comparing the Holocaust with the Crusades, I think it is a silly and useless excercise. Does the fact that fewer people may have been killed during the Crusades make them any less heinous? Do we consider a mass murderer who butchered 10 people to be 10-times more righteouss and upstanding than someone who killed 100 people? Of course not!
Furthermore, the actual body counts have more to do with the times when these atrocities occurred and not with the moral rectitude of the people responsible for the crimes. You can be sure that fewer people would have died if the Holocaust had occurred in 1096 if for no other reason than fewer people were around back then. Likewise, if the Crusades had occurred in 1944 there would have been far more casualties because of the technological advancements in moving armies great distances and in creating weapons of mass destruction.

I think that El-Kikhia is trying to make a good point by saying that Muslims need to get past their feelings of victimization and “rely on their own power, hard work and intellectual sweat.”
But I also think that he is undermining his own point by focusing on things that happened 1,000 years ago and expecting to draw meaningful corelations from ancient history. I mean, what reaction did he expect to get by raising the specter of canabalism?
I also think he is being unfair to Western societies by expecting them to be totally free of discrimination as waves of immigrants continue to pour into their countries looking for a better life. Certainly, there is room for criticism in the treatment of these immigrants in many cases. But does El-Kikhia really believe that Arab nations would be any better if the situations were reversed? If, for instance, the European nations were poor and the Arab nations were prosperous we would expect to see a flood of European immigrants going in the opposite direction. Would the Arab nations be more accepting of these non-Muslim immigrants and do more to integrate them into their societies? Does El-Kikhia seriously believe there would be no backlash against these immigrants from right-wing nationalists in those countries?

Confronting the "liberal media"

While I was out, two of my blogging buddies and political sparring partners had back-to-back op-ed pieces published in the local newspaper. Congratulations to both Mark Harden and Bill Crawford for their tenacity in getting their views published. Despite their misgivings about the “liberal media,” both have been willing to work through this medium in a pragmatic way in an effort to affect changes that they deem necessary.
While I may not agree with them about the changes they want to make, I think it is highly commendable that they have chosen a proactive approach rather than withdrawing in disgust like so many other people do - canceling subscriptions and refusing to read newspapers or other media apart from right-wing radio shows.

I will be posting my own thoughts and reactions to Mark’s and Bill’s op-ed pieces later today.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I love a parade

I recorded NBC’s coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York while I watched the coverage on CBS (ABC did not bother to cover the parade at all).
That was fortunate because as it turned out, CBS gave about the same amount of coverage to the parade as ABC did. Instead, they used the parade as a backdrop for their endless promotions of CBS sitcoms and interviews with various celebrities. Throughout the three hours of their parade broadcast I would guess you might have seen about 10 minutes of actual parade coverage, and that was mostly the brief snippets as they were fading to or coming back from a commercial.
NBC did slightly better in their coverage, although it was mostly confined to watching actors dance and lip-synch to current Broadway show tunes. The only way to get the TV cameras to pay attention to any of the floats was to have some current pop star onboard ready to lip-synch on cue to their latest “hit.” Funny how I had never heard any of these songs before and they all sounded the same. I guess that means I’m getting old.

I always loved watching the Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day parades when I was growing up so it is really upsetting to see them get such short shrift today. I don’t particularly like big crowds, so the thought of actually going to a big parade is not high on my list of things I want to do, but it looks like that is what I may have to do if I want my children to ever see a real parade.

Here is what I would like to see a network do with its parade coverage: Set up a camera in one spot and show the floats and bands and balloons as they pass by. That’s it. If the announcers don’t have anything interesting to say about the particular float or band that is on camera at that moment, then have them put a sock in it because I could really care less about whatever it is they were gaggling about the other day.

Isn’t She Lovely

When the nurse handed me my daughter just moments after her birth last week the radio in the operating room was playing “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder .
I really can’t think of a more appropriate song for the occasion.
I remember about two years ago in that same room when they handed me my son for the first time the radio was playing “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police. That just happens to be one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands and one that I included on a tape of music that I recorded for my wife when we first started dating.
She is lovely, indeed. And everything about the birth of my son and daughter has been magic.

I did not intend to be absent from blogging for this long but with the combination of a new baby in the house, lots of friends and family coming by and the Thanksgiving holidays upon us, the time just kept slipping by. And then my computer crashed.
Last night we reformatted the computer and after long struggles with uncooperative software it seems to be stable once again. I have much that I would like to blog about during the next few days as I can get to it.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Happy Birthday!

My wife woke me up at 4 a.m. on Thursday because she was starting to have contractions. Fortunately, we were planning to go to the hospital at 5 a.m. anyway for her scheduled c-section, so we just went in an hour early.
Everything went fine with the delivery and mother and baby are doing well.

Isabel Grace Thomas was born at 7:30 a.m. weighing 7 lbs. and 2.7 oz. and was 19 3/4 inches long.

Blogging will be light for the next few days as we adjust to the new addition to our family.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More bad news for Bush

I bet the Bush administration just hates getting out of bed these days. Everyday it seems they get hit with a flood of more bad news for Bush and his team.
The latest polling has Bush at an all-time low of 37 percent approval rating. The remarkable thing about that is that they can still find that many people who say that Bush is doing a good job.

Yesterday the Senate rebuffed the administration over its Iraq policy by demanding more oversight and passing a resolution saying that there should be a drastic reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq in 2006. It is clear that the Republicans have lost control of their agenda in the Congress and are now being forced to put up watered-down Democratic proposals to try and make it look like they are still in charge of things.

The New York Times is reporting a new torture scandal in Iraq.

173 detainees American troops discovered over the weekend in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in a Baghdad suburb had been tortured by their Iraqi captors. A senior Iraqi official who visited the detainees said two appeared paralyzed and others had some of the skin peeled off their bodies by their abusers.

Hopefully, the new Iraqi government will deal with this promptly and decisively rather than trying to cover it up and stonewalling it like their political benefactors are apt to do.

But the big news today is in the Washington Post where we finally get hard evidence about which oil companies met with Vice President Cheney’s secret task force that devised our current energy policies. Apparently, oil company executives were still lying to Congress about those meetings as recently as last week.
Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, may have been privvy to that deception because he conveniently (over Democratic objections) refused to put the oil execs under oath when they testified before his committee and swore they were not involved in any secret task force meetings. That effectively shielded them from any perjury charges, but it is still supposed to be a crime to lie to Congress anyway.

And finally, the Washington Post has the bombshell story about Bob Woodward of Watergate fame testifying to the grand jury investigating the CIA Leak scandal. It turns out that someone in the Bush administration had blabbed about Valerie Plame to Woodward more than two months before her identity was exposed to the world in Bob Novak’s column. What does this mean?
It means that Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation is alive and well and continuing to overturn more rocks in this seedy look at the underbelly of power politics in Washington.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Manipulation by omission

Kevin Drum has compiled a list of misleading claims made by the Bush administration prior to the invasion of Iraq along with details of the dissenting opinions in the intelligence community that were kept hidden from the public. Click through to the original post to access all the links to the supporting material.

1. The Claim: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner captured in 2001, was the source of intelligence that Saddam Hussein had trained al-Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons. This information was used extensively by Colin Powell in his February 2003 speech to the UN.

What We Know Now: As early as February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency circulated a report, labeled DITSUM No. 044-02, saying that it was "likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers." Link. This assessment was hidden from the public until after the war.

2. The Claim: An Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" was the source of reporting that Saddam Hussein had built a fleet of mobile biowarfare labs. Curveball's claims of mobile bio labs were repeated by many administration figures during the runup to war.

What We Know Now: The only American agent to actually meet with Curveball before the war warned that he appeared to be an alcoholic and was unreliable. However, his superior in the CIA told him it was best to keep quiet about this: "Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about." Link. This dissent was not made public until 2004, in a response to the SSCI report that was written by Senator Dianne Feinstein. Link.

3. The Claim: Iraq had purchased thousands of aluminum tubes to act as centrifuges for the creation of bomb grade uranium. Dick Cheney said they were "irrefutable evidence" of an Iraqi nuclear program and George Bush cited them in his 2003 State of the Union address.

What We Know Now: Centrifuge experts at the Oak Ridge Office of the Department of Energy had concluded long before the war that the tubes were unsuitable for centrifuge work and were probably meant for use in artillery rockets. The State Department concurred. Link. Both of these dissents were omitted from the CIA's declassified National Intelligence Estimate, released on October 4, 2002. Link. They were subsequently made public after the war, on July 18, 2003. Link.

4. The Claim: Saddam Hussein attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from Africa as part of his attempt to reconstitute his nuclear program. President Bush cited this publicly in his 2003 State of the Union address.

What We Know Now: The primary piece of evidence for this claim was a document showing that Iraq had signed a contract to buy yellowcake from Niger. However, the CIA specifically told the White House in October 2002 that the "reporting was weak" and that they disagreed with the British about the reliability of this intelligence. Link. At the same time, the State Department wrote that the documents were "completely implausible." Link.

Three months later, in January 2003, Alan Foley, head of the CIA's counterproliferation effort, tried to persuade the White House not to include the claim in the SOTU because the information wasn't solid enough, but was overruled. Link. Five weeks later, the documents were conclusively shown to be forgeries. Link. In July 2003, after the war had ended, CIA Director George Tenet admitted publicly that that the claim should never have been made. Link.

5. The Claim: Saddam Hussein was developing long range aerial drones capable of attacking the continental United States with chemical or biological weapons. President Bush made this claim in a speech in October 2002 and Colin Powell repeated it during his speech to the UN in February 2003.

What We Know Now: The Iraqi drones had nowhere near the range to reach the United States, and Air Force experts also doubted that they were designed to deliver WMD. However, their dissent was left out of the October 2002 NIE and wasn't made public until July 2003. Link.

As Kevin notes today in a follow-up post, this was a clear abuse of power by the Bush administration for which they should rightfully be held accountable.

And all these protestations noting that Democrats shared Republican concerns about the threat posed by Hussein’s regime completely miss the point that the argument was about how to respond to that threat, not whether or not the threat existed. I don’t blame Bush because there were no WMDs in Iraq. I blame him for blowing that threat all out of proportion and making it the overriding concern of our military when we should have been more concerned with tracking and countering al-Qaeda operations.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Liar, Liar

The WaPo today pokes holes in Bush's speech that tries to refute his critics over the Iraq war.

President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence.

Neither assertion is wholly accurate.

In other words, LIARS!!!!

The administration's overarching point is true: Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and very few members of Congress from either party were skeptical about this belief before the war began in 2003. Indeed, top lawmakers in both parties were emphatic and certain in their public statements.

But Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material. And the commissions cited by officials, though concluding that the administration did not pressure intelligence analysts to change their conclusions, were not authorized to determine whether the administration exaggerated or distorted those conclusions.

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, briefing reporters Thursday, countered "the notion that somehow this administration manipulated the intelligence." He said that "those people who have looked at that issue, some committees on the Hill in Congress, and also the Silberman-Robb Commission, have concluded it did not happen."

But the only committee investigating the matter in Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has not yet done its inquiry into whether officials mischaracterized intelligence by omitting caveats and dissenting opinions. And Judge Laurence H. Silberman, chairman of Bush's commission on weapons of mass destruction, said in releasing his report on March 31, 2005: "Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry."

How convenient. Set up several investigative committees and tell them they are not authorized to look into how the administration used the intelligence, and then claim afterwards that those same investigations have exonerated you.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Inept Republicans giving up on budget bill

Wow! The Republicans are really starting to miss The Hammer up on the Hill.

WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders scuttled a vote Thursday on a $51 billion budget-cut package in the face of a revolt by lawmakers over scaling back Medicaid, food stamp and student loan programs.

The development was a major setback for the GOP on Capitol Hill and for President Bush, who has made cuts to benefit programs a central pillar in his budget plan.

What a mess. Hopefully, by this time next year we will be able to see things set right again after the gavel is passed to Speaker Pelosi.

Frist’s values

This is really shameful.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he is more concerned about the leak of information regarding secret CIA detention centers than activity in the prisons themselves.

No wonder Republicans are losing support all over the country. By embracing torture and secret prisons they have essentially abandoned the basic principles that underlie the U.S. system of justice. In other words, they don’t share our values.

The New York Times in today’s editorial gets it about right on the hypocricy of the GOP leadership suddenly demanding a new leak investigation.

In the last couple of days, the Republican leaders of Congress have been piously demanding a full investigation into the sources of a Washington Post article about the Central Intelligence Agency's chain of secret prison camps. These same leaders have spent 18 months crushing any serious look at the actual abuse of prisoners at those camps, and at camps run by the American military. And for more than two years, they have expressed no interest in whether the White House leaked the name of a covert C.I.A. operative to punish a critic of the Iraq war.

More happy news

The Alaskan Wildlife Refuge gets a last-minute reprieve.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House leaders late Wednesday abandoned an attempt to push through a hotly contested plan to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil drilling, fearing it would jeopardize approval of a sweeping budget bill Thursday.

They also dropped from the budget document plans to allow states to authorize oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts -- regions currently under a drilling moratorium.

The actions were a stunning setback for those who have tried for years to open a coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil development, and a victory for environmentalists, who have lobbied hard against the drilling provisions.

President Bush has made drilling in the Alaska refuge one of his top energy priorities.

Bush’s unpopularity is starting to drag down his right-wing political agenda, just like it drug down Republicans in yesterday’s election.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Happy election news

The Democrats took home most all of the electoral prizes the other day including the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey.

President Bush proved to be so unpopular that a Democratic Mayor in St. Paul, Minnesota was soundly defeated (by another Democrat) because he had crossed party lines to endorse Bush in the last election.

And out in California, Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger was rebuffed on every one of his political initiatives and now it looks like the one-time GOP rising star’s political fortunes may be taking a dive. Some folks have already taken to calling him the One-Term-inator.

Republicans really had very little to cheer about Tuesday unless you count Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election in New York City. Of course, anywhere outside of New York City and Bloomberg would be mistaken for a Democrat anyway.

Here in Texas, there are some GOPers who will no doubt try to console themselves with the lopsided approval of Prop. 2, the anti-gay marriage amendment. But this was in reality a strategic mistake by the right-wing. Prop. 2 is absolutely meaningless. Gay marriage is already illegal in Texas and the only way it would ever become legal here is if it is handed down through a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which would overrule the Texas Constitution anyway.
The only reason for these anti-gay amendments is to rally the religious right and get them out to the polls. But it is a one-shot deal and they used it here in Texas during an off-year election when there were no big races that could be affected by it. So next year, when we have a governor’s race they will not be able to use it and that is just as well.

The main reason I ventured to the polls yesterday was to support the Alamo Community College District (ACCD) bond initiative and I was happy to see that it passed this time.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Leaky Republicans

You just can’t trust those Republicans with classified information.

Earlier today, Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leaker Bill Frist announced plans to probe an alleged leak of classified information that resulted in a Washington Post story about secret CIA-operated prisons where terrorism suspects are disappeared to.

But now it looks like they may have spoke too soon.

Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) told CNN's Ed Henry Tuesday afternoon that he believed it was a Republican senator who gave information about secret CIA jails abroad to the Washington Post, RAW STORY can report.
Lott said that much of the information contained in the Post report -- which stated that the U.S. was holding terrorist suspects in secret CIA jails overseas -- was discussed at a meeting of Republican senators last Tuesday.

So by all means let’s get this investigation going!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hoist on his own petard

One of Josh Marshall's readers makes an excellent point about Tom DeLay's efforts to have his trial moved out of "liberal" Travis County.

Ronnie Earle should simply ask the judge, "If Travis County is too liberal for DeLay to get a fair trial, then why is it that 2 of 3 U.S. Representatives representing Travis County are Republicans? Why are both state school board members representing Travis County Republicans? If you lump in State Senators and State Reps, too, you get a total of 7 Republicans and 6 Democrats." I'd say it looks more than fair to Republicans.
Hoist him on his own petard, perhaps...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Gurwitz flails and falls flat

Jonathan Gurwitz is really flailing around wildly in his latest column as he desperately tries to dismiss the ever escalating CIA Leak scandal that has landed squarely on the back of the Bush administration.

Gurwitz is usually pretty good about sticking to the facts when trying to make his case, but this time he falls flat and makes some blatantly false assertions in his column. For instance, take this passage:

The saga begins more than two years ago when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson mounted a public relations campaign against the Bush administration and its rationale to go to war in Iraq. Wilson also happened to be an adviser to presidential candidate John Kerry.

Reading this, one would assume that Wilson was working for the Kerry campaign when he "mounted his public relations campaign against the Bush administration" which consisted of writing one op-ed piece for the New York Times. But as you can see
here, Wilson did not sign on with the Kerry campaign until long after he authored the NYTimes article. In fact, you could say it was probably the Bush administration's vicious attacks on Wilson (that resulted in exposing his wife's role as a covert CIA agent) that drove him to join the Kerry campaign.

Gurwitz compounds this error later in the article stating:

That includes Wilson's own report from 2002, which — contrary to his later statements in the service of the Kerry campaign — tended to support the existence of uranium dealings.

No, Mr. Gurwitz. Wilson was not "in the service of the Kerry campaign" at the time that he first made those statements. Futhermore, only a warped reading of Wilson's report would lead anyone to conclude that it was supporting Iraqi uranium dealings with Niger.

I will compliment Gurwitz in that at least when he quotes from the section of additional comments by three Republican senators on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee he does not make the mistake of attributing it to the final report as so many other right-wing pundits have done. But that Republican slander against Joseph Wilson has nothing to do with the crime of exposing a covert CIA operation.

Neither does this ballyhoo the GOP has made that Valerie Wilson "proffered her husband for the Niger assignment."
There was absolutely nothing wrong with that! Nothing!! The CIA did not have to accept her suggestion if they did not want to. And, unlike Michael Brown, Harriet Miers, and half the flunkies populating the Bush administration, Joseph Wilson was extremely qualified for the assignment having served as ambassador to Iraq and having extensive contacts in Africa and Niger. Jeez!! What a ridiculous red herring this is! But the right-wingers keep bringing it up over and over again as if it were some kind of scandal. Are they just stupid? Or are they trying to intentionally throw up a smokescreen to distract people from the real crime that was committed here?

At least Gurwitz grudgingly acknowledges that the charges against Scooter Libby are serious.

..members of the intelligence community must know that the law will protect them when or if political functionaries do not.

I agree wholeheartedly.

But then Gurwitz goes off on an unrelated tangent against the media for first supporting NYTimes lier, I mean reporter, Judith Miller for her efforts to cover up for the lying Libby.

Then he tops it off with this outrageously slanderous statement:

For partisan purposes, liberals who don't care a whit for the CIA, its people, its front companies or its mission are now duplicitously arguing for an outrageously broad interpretation of statutes that protect its clandestine operations.

Excuse me!?!? I happen to care more than just a whit for the people who risk their lives everyday to keep our nation secure. I am outraged because it was the Bush administration, for partisan purposes, that ruined the career of one of those agents, exposed a covert operation and a CIA front company and may have done untold damage to our ability to gather vital intelligence information in the future.
Outrageously broad interpretation?? How about an interpretation that simply does what it is supposed to do and protects our covert agents by punishing officials who are trusted with classified information and then cavalierly misuse that information?

This was a truly sad column coming from Mr. Gurwitz. I usually expect better of him. I would have to say that the quote he borrowed from the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee would best summarize this particular column:

"(He) gave the American people and, for that matter, the world a version of events that was inaccurate, unsubstantiated and misleading."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bush's Free Trade failure

The South American summit was clearly
a disaster for the United States. There is no hope of getting the Free Trade Area of the Americas plan approved.

"A two-day summit meeting of leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations in Argentina, attended by President Bush, broke up Saturday without a clear agreement on when and how to resume stalled talks aimed at achieving a hemispherewide free trade agreement.
Mr. Bush had hoped to persuade his counterparts from Latin America and the Caribbean to deliver a resounding endorsement of the plan, the Free Trade Area of the Americas. But suspicions of American intentions prevailed in the end, and by late Saturday no final communiqué had been issued.
The White House, smarting from the failure of the talks, sought to play down the importance of an agreement."

The only message to come out of the summit was the one that protesters made as they angrily denounced the U.S. in general and President Bush in particular.
It's a real shame because the free trade agreement is something the U.S. has been working on for a long time, but now that Bush has turned the U.S. into and international pariah it is unlikely to ever happen.

Oh, but wait, you say! 29 of the countries are on board in supporting the U.S. plan and only five countries are opposed.
That sounds promising until you look at a map of South America and see that those five unhappy countries - Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela - make up the vast majority of the South American continent.

George W. is without a doubt one of the worst presidents we have ever had when it comes to diplomacy. I have no doubt that Daddy Bush could have pushed this deal through with no problem, (same with Clinton) but then Daddy Bush was a 10-times better diplomat than Junior even when he was throwing up all over the Japanese prime minister.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Another missed opportunity

I remember before the war there were reports that Saddam had completely caved on all the U.S. demands and was willling to allow U.S. troops to come in and inspect any suspected weapons sites they chose. Now it turns out that Saddam was even working on a deal to go into exile.

Days before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein agreed in principle to accept an offer of exile from the United Arab Emirates, but the deal fell through, a UAE government senior official told CNN.

Wow! So a little more prodding by the U.S. might have swayed the deal the other way and we could have achieved regime change in Iraq while avoiding this whole debacle of the never-ending invasion that has cost the lives of 2,000-plus U.S. troops and left U.S. taxpayers with a rapidly expanding $200 billion tab.

Unfortunately, Bush and Cheney were much too impatient to get their war going. After all, they knew it was going to be a slam-dunk victory that would be all wrapped up in a matter of months with a huge political payoff in the end.

Oh, here is the payoff, by the way: Bush's job approval falls to 35 percent

Watch your back, Karl

Well informed sources at the White House are telling the Washington Post that Karl Rove’s future in the Bush administration may be in doubt whether or not he is eventually indicted for his role in the CIA Leak case.

Top White House aides are privately discussing the future of Karl Rove, with some expressing doubt that President Bush can move beyond the damaging CIA leak case as long as his closest political strategist remains in the administration...
he may at a minimum have to issue a formal apology for misleading colleagues and the public about his role in conversations that led to the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame...

Oooh! Look out, Karl! It looks like someone is getting ready to stick a shiv in your back and shove you out the door.
Meanwhile, the Post reports that the Plame investigation is continuing to move forward with Rove in its crosshairs.

...there are new indications that he remains in legal jeopardy from Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's criminal investigation of the Plame leak... Fitzgerald is considering charging Rove with making false statements in the course of the 22-month probe...

But even if he escapes indictment, there may be efforts to jettison Rove from the administration.

But some top Republicans said yesterday that Rove's problems may not end there. Bush's top advisers are considering whether it is tenable for Rove to remain on the staff, given that Fitzgerald has already documented something that Rove and White House official spokesmen once emphatically denied -- that he played a central role in discussions with journalists about Plame's role at the CIA...

Getting it Right on Valerie Plame

Look here! A conservative who actually takes the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA cover seriously!

William F. Buckley Jr., the godfather of the far-right, thinks that exposing covert CIA agents is not a good thing. His sensitivity to this topic is no doubt influenced by the fact that he was himself once a covert CIA operative in the early 1950s.

...the root cause of the disturbance... had to do with revealing that Valerie Plame Wilson was secretly in the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency, using a cover employer to disguise her affiliation.

The revelation of a covert affiliation can have terminal consequences, as the interrupted career of Colonel Penkovsky (1919-1963) bloodily illustrates....

We have noticed that Valerie Plame Wilson has lived in Washington since 1997. Where she was before that is not disclosed by research facilities at my disposal. But even if she was safe in Washington when the identity of her employer was given out, it does not mean that her outing was without consequence. We do not know what dealings she might have been engaging in which are now interrupted or even made impossible. We do not know whether the countries in which she worked before 1997 could accost her, if she were to visit any of them, confronting her with signed papers that gave untruthful reasons for her previous stay — that she was there only as tourist, or working for a fictitious U.S. company....

The importance of the law against revealing the true professional identity of an agent is advertised by the draconian punishment, under the federal code, for violating it. In the swirl of the Libby affair, one loses sight of the real offense, and it becomes almost inapprehensible what it is that Cheney/Libby/Rove got themselves into. But the sacredness of the law against betraying a clandestine soldier of the republic cannot be slighted.

Thank you, Mr. Buckley, for illustrating that even broken clocks can be right twice a day.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Methodist mistakes

I was really saddened to see this news about the Methodist Church taking a hardline stand against gays the other day.

In a series of rulings handed down Monday, the nine-member Judicial Council, the ultimate court of the Methodist Church, removed a practicing lesbian minister from her Philadelphia church, voided a decree by Methodists in the Pacific Northwest that there was a "difference of opinion among faithful Christians regarding sexual orientation and practice," and reinstated a Virginia minister who had not allowed a gay man to join his congregation.

I’ve been a Methodist all of my life and I’m not about to change because some intolerant right-wingers have apparently hijacked the church’s governing body at the national level.
I was heartened to see the church I currently call home coming out against these misguided rulings.
Homosexuality, as I’ve argued many times before, is not a sin. It is a biological condition over which people have little to no control.
When a spokesman for the church says “It's not the orientation, but the practice” that they oppose, it is like telling someone who was born left-handed that they are only allowed to use their right hand to be in the church.

There is no excuse for this kind of blatant bigotry based on ignorance and superstition. It is no different than this stupid, stupid Proposition 2 that is on the November ballot. I’ll never understand why some people think that the sanctity and happiness of their marriages is somehow dependent on making other people miserable and unhappy by not allowing them to marry.

They started it

Kevin Drum at Political Animal points to this excellent post at The Carpetbagger Report that helps clarify exactly where the blame should lie for the recent bit of unpleasantness in the Senate chambers the other day.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Give ‘em hell, Harry!

Democratic Leader Harry Reid forced the Senate into a rare closed session today in an aggresive move to highlight the failure of Republicans to clean house and provide oversight on the Bush administration.

?Here is the full text of Reid’s speech made prior to the closed session.

"This past weekend, we witnessed the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, the Vice President's Chief of Staff and a senior Advisor to President Bush. Libby is the first sitting White House staffer to be indicted in 135 years. This indictment raises very serious charges.  It asserts this Administration engaged in actions that both harmed our national security and are morally repugnant.  

"The decision to place U.S. soldiers in harm's way is the most significant responsibility the Constitution invests in the Congress.  

"The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really about:  how the Administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions.

"As a result of its improper conduct, a cloud now hangs over this Administration.  This cloud is further darkened by the Administration's mistakes in prisoner abuse scandal, Hurricane Katrina, and the cronyism and corruption in numerous agencies.

"And, unfortunately, it must be said that a cloud also hangs over this Republican-controlled Congress for its unwillingness to hold this Republican Administration accountable for its misdeeds on all of these issues.

"Let's take a look back at how we got here with respect to Iraq Mr. President.  The record will show that within hours of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, senior officials in this Administration recognized these attacks could be used as a pretext to invade Iraq.  

"The record will also show that in the months and years after 9/11, the Administration engaged in a pattern of manipulation of the facts and retribution against anyone who got in its way as it made the case for attacking Iraq.

"There are numerous examples of how the Administration misstated and manipulated the facts as it made the case for war.  Administration statements on Saddam's alleged nuclear weapons capabilities and ties with Al Qaeda represent the best examples of how it consistently and repeatedly manipulated the facts.

"The American people were warned time and again by the President, the Vice President, and the current Secretary of State about Saddam's nuclear weapons capabilities.  The Vice President said Iraq "has reconstituted its nuclear weapons." Playing upon the fears of Americans after September 11, these officials and others raised the specter that, left unchecked, Saddam could soon attack America with nuclear weapons.

"Obviously we know now their nuclear claims were wholly inaccurate.  But more troubling is the fact that a lot of intelligence experts were telling the Administration then that its claims about Saddam's nuclear capabilities were false.  

"The situation was very similar with respect to Saddam's links to Al Qaeda.  The Vice President told the American people, "We know he's out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons and we know he has a longstanding relationship with various terrorist groups including the Al Qaeda organization."

"The Administration's assertions on this score have been totally discredited.  But again, the Administration went ahead with these assertions in spite of the fact that the government's top experts did not agree with these claims.  

"What has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress to the Administration's manipulation of intelligence that led to this protracted war in Iraq?  Basically nothing.   Did the Republican-controlled Congress carry out its constitutional obligations to conduct oversight?  No.  Did it support our troops and their families by providing them the answers to many important questions?  No.  Did it even attempt to force this Administration to answer the most basic questions about its behavior?  No.

"Unfortunately the unwillingness of the Republican-controlled Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities is not limited to just Iraq.  We see it with respect to the prisoner abuse scandal.  We see it with respect to Katrina.  And we see it with respect to the cronyism and corruption that permeates this Administration.

"Time and time again, this Republican-controlled Congress has consistently chosen to put its political interests ahead of our national security.  They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican Administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why.  

"There is also another disturbing pattern here, namely about how the Administration responded to those who challenged its assertions.  Time and again this Administration has actively sought to attack and undercut those who dared to raise questions about its preferred course.

"For example, when General Shinseki indicated several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq, his military career came to an end.  When then OMB Director Larry Lindsay suggested the cost of this war would approach $200 billion, his career in the Administration came to an end.  When U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix challenged conclusions about Saddam's WMD capabilities, the Administration pulled out his inspectors.  When Nobel Prize winner and IAEA head Mohammed el-Baridei raised questions about the Administration's claims of Saddam's nuclear capabilities, the Administration attempted to remove him from his post.  When Joe Wilson stated that there was no attempt by Saddam to acquire uranium from Niger, the Administration launched a vicious and coordinated campaign to demean and discredit him, going so far as to expose the fact that his wife worked as a CIA agent.

"Given this Administration's pattern of squashing those who challenge its misstatements, what has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress?  Again, absolutely nothing.  And with their inactions, they provide political cover for this Administration at the same time they keep the truth from our troops who continue to make large sacrifices in Iraq.  

"This behavior is unacceptable.  The toll in Iraq is as staggering as it is solemn.  More than 2,000 Americans have lost their lives.  Over 90 Americans have paid the ultimate sacrifice this month alone - the fourth deadliest month since the war began.  More than 15,000 have been wounded.  More than 150,000 remain in harm's way.  Enormous sacrifices have been and continue to be made.  

"The troops and the American people have a right to expect answers and accountability worthy of that sacrifice.  For example, 40 Senate Democrats wrote a substantive and detailed letter to the President asking four basic questions about the Administration's Iraq policy and received a four sentence answer in response.  These Senators and the American people deserve better.    

"They also deserve a searching and comprehensive investigation about how the Bush Administration brought this country to war.  Key questions that need to be answered include:

How did the Bush Administration assemble its case for war against Iraq?
Who did Bush Administration officials listen to and who did they ignore?
How did senior Administration officials manipulate or manufacture intelligence presented to the Congress and the American people?
What was the role of the White House Iraq Group or WHIG, a group of senior White House officials tasked with marketing the war and taking down its critics?
How did the Administration coordinate its efforts to attack individuals who dared to challenge the Administration's assertions?
Why has the Administration failed to provide Congress with the documents that will shed light on their misconduct and misstatements?

"Unfortunately the Senate committee that should be taking the lead in providing these answers is not.  Despite the fact that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly committed to examine many of these questions more than 1 and ? years ago, he has chosen not to keep this commitment.  Despite the fact that he restated that commitment earlier this year on national television, he has still done nothing.  

"At this point, we can only conclude he will continue to put politics ahead of our national security.  If he does anything at this point, I suspect he will play political games by producing an analysis that fails to answer any of these important questions.  Instead, if history is any guide, this analysis will attempt to disperse and deflect blame away from the Administration.  

"We demand that the Intelligence Committee and other committees in this body with jurisdiction over these matters carry out a full and complete investigation immediately as called for by Democrats in the committee's annual intelligence authorization report.  Our troops and the American people have sacrificed too much.  It is time this Republican-controlled Congress put the interests of the American people ahead of their own political interests."

Monday, October 31, 2005

Bush declares war, again

Man the battle stations!! Sound the alarms!!! George W. Bush has just launched a pre-emptive attack on the American people by tapping a totally unhinged, far-right wingnut for the Supreme Court. (Photo illustration courtesy of Whiskey Bar.)

I think it is appropriate that Bush would choose Halloween as the day to nominate the scariest Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork. Booooooo!!! Judge Samuel Alito is a treat for the far-righties and a nasty trick for the rest of the country.
But it is a shame too, because as Sen Harry Reid made clear the other day, Bush owes us an explanation about his administration’s complicity in the Valerie Plame CIA leak scandal.
Rather than give us that explanation, however, Bush would rather change the subject and thus he rushes out another Supreme Court nominee within days of throwing Harriet Miers overboard.

Far from being a stealth nominee, Alito (or Scalito, as he is known is some circles) has a long and loopy track record of demented decisions.
There is no doubt that he would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade and would support any and all restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. I’ve always assumed that as a given with anyone who would be nominated by President Bush. But that is just the beginning of Alito’s extremism on judicial issues.

Most disturbing to me is Alito’s opposition to the popular Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA which guarantees workers will not lose their jobs if they are forced to miss work to take care of a newborn or an ill family member. This strikes home especially hard with me since my wife is due to give birth to our second child next month and I am planning to take a couple of weeks off. God forbid that I would have to stay home longer than that, but if I did I might not have a job to come back to if Alito had his way. Ironically, it was the late-William Rehnquist who slapped Alito around for that bizarre opinion.

There is no question that Democrats are going to have to fight this nomination - filibusters and all. They will most likely lose the battle, but as long as they put up a good fight they will make significant progress in the war. Just like Bush is tapping Alito to satisfy his wingnut base, Democrats will have to oppose it to hold up their moderate-to-liberal base. There is not much else that can be done at this point other than prepare to take back the reins of government from these dangerously incompentent and corrupt people in 2006 and 2008.