Sunday, April 30, 2006

No Man Can Serve Two Masters...

...He will love the one, and hate the other, said Jesus Christ.

While Christ might have been talking about the opposing agendas of God and Mammon (worldly influence/prestige/money), the same can be said of serving Christ's flock, the Church, and serving the Communist Party of China, which wants nothing more of its populace than to be state-serving sheep.

BEIJING, April 29 -- China's state-sanctioned Roman Catholic Church will install a new bishop opposed by the Vatican on Sunday, potentially damaging efforts to restore official ties between the state and the church, a Vatican-linked news agency reported.

Hong Kong's Catholic diocese, which is under Vatican jurisdiction, protested the planned ordination Saturday.


I pray that Pope Benedict will stick to his guns on this matter, but also re-learn a lesson from the Lord as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Pope Benedict, watch your back. If and when you recognize Beijing's authoritarian regime and its power to restrict the worship God, you could well be feeding Christ's sheep to the wolves. "Feed my sheep, Peter," our Lord commanded the apostle your Church considers the first Pope. I pray that whatever decisions you make regarding Beijing that in the end, it's the sheep being fed, not the wolves.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sunday - Save Darfur

In case you don't already know this, the Save Darfur Coalition's Rally to Stop Genocide in Washington, DC is this Sunday, April 30th from 2:00pm to 4:30pm on the National Mall. If you can, please attend it. Everyone's support could make this the time that they finally listen to us.

How Dare You

Parents in Massachusetts are suing the school district that taught tolerance of homosexual families because it didn’t inform the parents about the upcoming lesson and thereby give them a chance to have their child stay home from school that day. My anger at this situation goes beyond the fact that the parents think it is their legal right to prevent their child from hearing discussions on tolerance and openness. I have a feeling parents said the same thing when schools tried to teach tolerance of interracial couples.

The problem I have is that some parents feel they should have the freedom to shelter their kids from any views that conflict with what they want to teach to their children. If we continue to allow this sort of behavior, we will slide down a slippery slope where kids never go to school. Liberal parents can have their kids stay home when their economics teacher gives a lesson on the benefits of supply-side economics. Conservative parents can keep their children away from lectures on welfare.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you cannot protect children from indoctrination. There will always be teachers who use their position to convince their gullible students about their own beliefs. If you are a good parent, you can counter that at home by teaching them your values.

In this case, the parents are alleging that teaching acceptance of homosexual couples infringes on their right to their own religion. Following that logic, anytime a school teaches anything that conflicts with any religion, it is violating someone’s civil rights. Hypothetically, a school that says murder is wrong might get sued because a family believes that killing yourself and innocent civilians is a sure way to heaven.

Tolerance of homosexuality is not a religion in itself, and therefore teaching it is not advocating for one religion, nor is it directly challenging any religion. Montgomery County Public Schools had to change their sexual education curriculum because it made a judgment on religions that were opposed to homosexuality. That is very different from what is happening here. Encouraging your students to accept homosexuality, and to treat children of gay couples with respect is not making a judgment of other religions, but instead advocating for a certain type of conduct among its students.

George Clooney: Not an Ass (For Now)

Hollywood actors, when it comes to politics, seem to have an innate ability to make huge asses out of themselves. George Clooney has usually been no exception to this rule, but I think his attempts to bring attention to Darfur have actually been fairly well-done and a good example of what celebrities who want to really actually make a difference and use their fame for good as opposed to idiocy can do. That he did an event at the National Press Club with super-conservative Brownback and liberal-incarnate Obama, and kept a non-partisan tone was almost Bonoesque, who is another great example of how a celebrity can engage both sides, keep their dignity, and generally get shit done. Perhaps Clooney has learned his lessons about standing on the soapbox, and that political commentary needs to be just as choreographed and thought-out as statements about how you're never going to get married, ever. He's come along way just from his Oscar speech a couple of months ago, and the infamous "I Did Not Blog" Clooneygate fiasco. Accepting the reality that there is a Republican part of the country and a Democratic part of the country to speak to, and that if you really want something done you need to speak to both halves in a respectful manner, is a big step.

That, and it's generally a good thing to help bring something back into the news that has had a lot of trouble getting the attention it deserves. I don't think it's a coincidence that ER has had a recurring Darfur-based subplot this season either.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thief!

I just finished reading a few articles on Slate regarding plagiarism. It seems that once or twice a year, a new story breaks of one writer “borrowing” from another writer. This time, it was sparked by a Harvard sophomore stealing from one of her favorite childhood writers. Whenever we look at this issue though, it is unavoidable to bring up past offenders.

The examples that have been found in the writings of Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin are examples of plagiarism using the strict definition of the word. Both authors, and many others like them, were sloppy with quotes and got caught. But in a column about Stephen Ambrose, David Plotz, while not letting Ambrose off the hook, acknowledges that it is difficult for any writer to honestly say they have never inadvertently stolen from another writer. One of the best pieces of advice any writer can get is to read profusely, and mimic writing styles that you like. In that process, it is inevitable that on occasion we borrow too much from one writer or another.

I think what I am saying is that this crime requires a more nuanced view than the zero-tolerance arguments we hear. Goodwin and Ambrose are guilty of trying to pass off quotes for a paraphrase. As far as I can tell, these examples are relatively limited compared to the size of their books. Therefore, most of their work appears to be original and should be thought of as such. Finding mistakes of laziness like these should not lead us to lump them in the same boat with writers who plagiarized everything with nothing original to claim (which is what might be the case with Kaavya Viswanathan).

The problem is that we need to learn from these mistakes, and to learn we need to acknowledge the error. Unfortunately, neither Goodwin nor Ambrose seem to be particularly bothered by what was discovered, and in their attitude they are setting a bad example for any writers that look up to them. Plagiarism, when tolerated and done repeatedly, is harmful to the art of writing. I read Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals and loved it – and I can only hope that she learned from her past experiences and was more careful with her paraphrasing.

Straight to the Point

With all the talk from a lot of sides now that the US must leave Iraq because it's creating instability, it's a failure, it's costing too much money, it's stemming anti-Americanism, etc. etc., there is a solution that Jonah Goldberg has stumbled onto. It's quite simple, quite ingenious, and would answer a lot of the critics in the most direct way possible: let the Iraqis vote on it.

An Iraqi referendum would counter all of that. A national debate in Iraq over the continued presence of American troops would force many Iraqis to stop taking our protection for granted. Not everyone there craves democracy, but very few of them relish the idea of a civil war. Politicians, now invested in the survival of the political system, would be forced to take the responsible position if they wanted to keep their jobs. Indeed, rhetoric and interests would converge nicely for the first time in a while. Some would undoubtedly campaign for American withdrawal, but this would probably marginalize them and show the whole world where the hearts of Iraqis really lie.

Obviously, if you know that a referendum on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq would not pass, my idea isn't so hot. But I think it would. The Kurds would overwhelmingly vote for it. As would, I think, a majority of the Shia. And the Sunnis have discovered that U.S. troops are the only thing keeping Shia militias from slitting their throats, so even the Sunnis might vote "yes" in big numbers. Some would surely vote out of fear, others hope. But they would all check the same box.

If Iraqis voted to keep American troops, everything would change. The "occupation" and "war for oil" rhetoric would be discredited overnight. America would have put its vital interest money where its principled mouth is. Iraq's anti-American factions would be further pulled into the process, even if they voted "no." The Iraqi people would "own" this project in their own right. Iraqi politicians would no longer have to worry about being called lapdogs to America — "the people have spoken," they could respond. Arab nations couldn't claim that the democratization of Iraq was inauthentic or imposed by "imperialists." Even the Europeans would be floored by the audacity of the gesture. And our own troops would have the idealism of their project reaffirmed.


I'm not quite so sure that the vote would go in favor of US troops staying as Jonah is, but I for one would see withdrawal as acceptible if it was at the behest of an Iraqi referendum. And, as Jonah points out, should Iraqis vote for the American troop presence to remain, it would change the political dynamic entirely.

Bold New Precedent

I thought that after the ruling, we would be done with the Da Vinci Code copyright madness. I was wrong. It turns out that the judge in the case included a code of his own in the text of his 71 page decision.

I wonder if this will set a precedent. Will future judges include naked pictures of themselves in pornography trials? Or maybe during the next lawsuit alleging stolen music, the judge could sing the decision to the court.

This opens up a whole new exciting world for judicial decisions. Say goodbye to verbose and boring legal texts. Now, they must be metaphors for the case at hand!

Out with FEMA, In with NPRA?

The recommendations are out for fixing FEMA. Like any good bipartisan committee, they recommend increasing the size of the government. The committee, lead by Senators Lieberman and Collins recommended re-creating the agency from scratch and giving it a budget twice as big as it is now.

I don’t think their recommendations are terrible. A strong case can be made for a more active Federal role during natural disasters, especially after watching every level of government blame each other last fall. Also, with catastrophic global climate change right in front of us, we can expect more active hurricane seasons like last year’s.

On the other hand, the recommendations might be a little excessive. One big step FEMA could take would be to appoint people with real emergency management experience, instead of using the post as a place for political patronage. President Bush and future administrations after him need to realize the importance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This means taking its warnings seriously and staffing it with the best and the brightest.

Shots Fired


Daily Pundit had something wild to say regarding the incredible story from Porkbusters of Harry Reid actually fighting the Railroad to Nowhere while Bill Frist defended it. As the vote was defeated 49-48, that's kind of a big deal. Daily Pundit, mostly known as a righty, stated the following:

Okay, real conservatives, Republicans, and libertarians, stay home. Just...stay home in 2006. Or - what the hell - vote for a Democrat. We have to wake up the Stupid Party, before it completely merges itself into the Republicrat Statist Party.


This is big on several levels. First of all, it's yet another voice typically supportive calling explicitly for a stay home or protest votes, but, more importantly, he has thrown in the label "Republicrat Statist Party." I move the new name to be so adopted.

UPDATE: Seems this is pretty much how everyone feels. 22% approval for Congress. That's pretty damning, even though Congress is never and has never been all that popular.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Lasers

Nuff said. Send in the stormtroopers, bitches.

Extreme Shilling

Tony Snow is it. But what will Tony Snow start saying when the Press Pool starts quoting Tony Snow to Tony Snow and they want to know what Tony Snow has to say about what Tony Snow had to say? I love this coming from an Administration that won an election by calling the other guy a flip-flopper. Why not have one as your salesman! (Hat tip: Sullivan!)

Bush Softer Still on Immigration

Via Kaus, John O'Sullivan at NYP did some review on his own assertions and is correcting himself about the history of employer sanctions on immigration. He found that the Clinton administration was much tougher than Bush on employers of illegal immigration. This should surprise exactly zero people, considering Bush has shown he's not very serious about immigration enforcement from day one.

I recently suggested - wrongly - that there had been little or no enforcement of employer sanctions since the passage of the 1986 amnesty law; that, once an illegal reached a major city such as Los Angeles, Phoenix or Chicago, he was safe from official interest and could work unmolested. That was not quite accurate. The Clinton administration in fact managed some (albeit patchy) "internal" enforcement of employer sanctions. For instance, the period 1995-1997 saw 10,000 to 18,000 worksite arrests of illegals a year. Some 1,000 employers were served notices of fines for employing them.

Under the Bush administration, however, worksite arrests fell to 159 in 2004 - with the princely total of three notices of intent to fine served on employers. Thus, worksite arrests under President Bush have fallen from Clintonian levels by something like 97 per cent - even though 9/11 occurred in the meantime.

In this dramatic relaxation of internal enforcement is the explanation of the rapidly rising estimate of immigrants living and working illegally in the United States - up by more than a million in just the last year. For if people know that they are likely to be safe from enforcement once they escape the border area and reach L.A. or Chicago, then they'll keep trying even if they were caught and returned to their country of origin any number of times.

Porous borders are not only the cause of uncontrolled immigration; they are its result. You cannot control the borders, however many patrols you hire or fences you build, if you grant an effective pardon to anyone who gets a hundred miles inland. It's as simple as that.

Some supporters of the "Not an Amnesty" bill cite this history as a reason for the Congress to allow all or almost all of the estimated 12 million illegals to remain in the country. President Bush himself, having helped to make the problem much worse, said yesterday that we simply could not deport millions of people, since the U.S. has no stomach for workplace raids and mass deportations.


Normally I'm not one to care all that much about this issue. To me it just seems like illegal immigration is something a prosperous country is going to have to deal with, and you can tweak and pass laws, but inevitably it won't stop or significantly affect the problem. It's pretty much like Windows. Sure, you can patch it and update it, but it's never going to change the fact that for the most part if kinda blows.

But of course I'm going to post this, because I am a huge smartass it is yet more evidence that Clinton did a lot of little things when he was President that needed to be done that nobody seemed to notice, but didn't really go after big ideas (except for the failed national healthcare scheme). Bush is the opposite: he chases the big idea and leaves all the small things hanging. Strangely, Clinton was more of a day-to-day task-driven managerial President whereas Bush is more of a spacey idealist, though the two are never packaged and sold to the public as such. It's too complicated for talking points.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If it's not Starbucks, it's not a grande

Okay, I haven't been blogging lately in part because I'm such a cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy that I lack the acerbic, I-hate-the-world-so-fuck-you-all attitude that really makes a blog zing. But I figure I make up for that by hyphenating every other word.

Anyway, I have a minor gripe to share.

I work part time--for the extra cash, and for the soul-enriching experience*--at a coffeehouse. It's an independent coffeehouse, and as a long-time customer, as well as a current staffer, I must say, it's pretty cool.

So I find it slightly annoying when someone orders a "grande."

Look, guys, that's a Starbucks thing and so far as I can tell, ONLY a starbucks thing.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like Starbucks. I still patronize their establishments, and their coffee is okay (although for my money, and quality-wise, I'd just as well go with Dunkin Donuts or Einstein Bagels house coffee). But the "tall, grande, venti" thing is just laced with pretense when it's divorced from the proper context: ordering a drink at Starbucks.

At the College Perk Coffeehouse, it's small, medium, and large to-go drinks.

And yes, we can make your Vietnamese coffee to go, but I really don't see the point in doing so. What, you can wait 10 minutes for it to brew through into the Irish coffee mug but you can't stay 10 more minutes to enjoy it in-house?

And one more thing, when you give me a $20 and your tab is $19.92, would it kill you to leave at least eight cents in the tip jar? You look pretty damn cheap when you pocket it.

Other than that, come on down and try our Guatemalan lemonade and our fruit and cheese platter. Good stuff.


*as a heartless conservative bastard I need work developing mine, apparently.

Admit You Have a Problem

The New York Times has a very critical article about the rebuilding of a small section of a major oil pipeline in Iraq. In the article, it shows how poorly a Halliburton subsidiary blew through rebuilding money, ignoring warnings that the project could not be completed as planned. Stories like this bother me so much because if Iraq was done right, it could have been an amazing example of democracy for the rest of the Middle East.

It seems like the more we read about Iraq, the more it becomes apparent that the Bush administration was uniquely ill-suited for what they would face. The administration didn’t plan at all for how to react if we weren’t welcomed as liberators, and then continued to tell the public to stay the course when a change of course was needed. What is worse is that there is so much to be learned from our experience in Iraq, if only the administration would admit that some of this might actually be their fault. I wonder if a 30% approval rating is enough to humble the President and get him to start listening.

Ground Zero

The redevelopment of the World Trade Center site appears to be moving forward once again. The plans had been stalled for a few months because Larry Silverstein has the rights to develop on the sight, but government officials feel he lacks the money to complete all of the planned projects. You can read about the details here, but the most important part of the deal is that the Port Authority will be responsible for building Freedom Tower instead of Silverstein.

Mmmm... Medical Marijuana

After reading this post at Slate, I was ready to write a post of my own about how the Bush administration is once again ignoring science in favor of religion or politics. The post argues that a new inter-agency advisory at the FDA definitively claims that marijuana has no medicinal value and has a high potential for abuse. The author then goes on to say that a 288 page report said that neither of these issues are settled, and in fact, marijuana's addictive nature may be overstated.

After reading the advisory though, I don't think it is claiming that marijuana is definitely harmful. Instead, it is saying the opposite, that there isn't enough evidence that marijuana is safe or necessary for medicinal use. The way I read it, the advisory is saying that more research would need to be done before approving the drug for medicinal use (although that research will not be conducted). It also goes on to say that the FDA should be the only agency that makes the decision. In effect, they are saying that state legislatures or voter referenda should not be substituted for the professional judgment of their organization.

While the memo isn't particularly shocking, the Bush administration and the FDA should realize that unless they actually conduct objective research on marijuana (instead of blocking it) and report on its safety and effectiveness for medical use, citizens will take matters into their own hands, basing their decision on their own anecdotal evidence. If they truly believe that marijuana is dangerous, they need to show conclusively that it is to prevent the type of legislation that is getting passed. Something tells me though that they realize they are exaggerating the potential for abuse.

End Supplementals

Is anyone surprised?

Tucked inside an emergency spending bill that the Senate will take up this week are provisions far afield from the legislation's main purpose of paying for the war in Iraq and hurricane recovery. There are farm-program provisions totaling $4 billion, for instance, along with $700 million to relocate a rail line in Mississippi and $1.1 billion for fishery projects, including a $15 million "seafood promotion strategy."

Video Report: 'Emergency' Spending While each program has supporters who can make a case for its urgency, together they have helped to increase the "supplemental" bill's price tag to $106 billion, $14 billion more than President Bush requested and nearly $15 billion more than the House has approved. And they have focused new attention on what many fiscal conservatives and watchdog groups consider a growing problem: the use of emergency spending bills for initiatives that critics say should be considered through the regular budget process.


AEI, as is tending to be the case more and more lately, is the sane conservative voice to the rescue:

Veronique de Rugy, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said supplemental bills amounted to "budget tricks" to evade spending limits.

"We have been using supplementals to finance the war, and it might actually make sense the first year," she said. "But three or four years into the war, no war spending should be going through supplementals. It's not as if it's sudden, urgent and unforeseen, or temporary."


These supplementals need to stop. They provide an obvious bonanza for Congress to stuff in more pork and treats to themselves. Wait, scratch that. They just provide another opportunity for Congress to stuff in pork, as they've turned every piece of legislation in front of them into a bonanza so far. Right now in my Department we're dealing with an Avian flu supplemental that has thrown a lot of the Department's regular business into chaos because we suddenly have to spend a whole lot of money in a really short time period. In case you're wondering, I'll spell out the obvious. It ain't being spent in a way that makes any sort of sense. The Department of Health and Human Services is about to buy a TV NETWORK and a whole army of documentary filmmakers with the Avian Flu supplemental. Such a wise use of taxpayer dollars. Of course since the final price tag on that is barely 10 million dollars over the next five years that'll hardly make news considering the higher-price tag items above that make even less sense. And that's actually one of the more sensical projects, if you can even believe it.

The above-linked NYT piece also goes on and on about Trent Lott's 700 million railroad relocation and using billions to buy yet more Pentagon hardware the Pentagon itself has been trying to phase out for years. But, of course, you have to protect those jobs in your home district! Supplementals represent the worst of budget politics. "Emergencies" like the War in Iraq that should have long ago become a mainstay of the annual Pentagon budget are being exploited in the worst way, with a few nods to Katrina relief thrown in as an extra disguise. No Congressman who thinks about re-election would work to have a supplemental like this defeated for the stigma of starving Hurricane victims or denying the soldiers in Iraq necessary supplies. If it was regular budget talk there would theoretically be more discipline on this sort of thing and the votes wouldn't be so politicized (I say theoretically because the regular budget really hasn't been much better). AEI is right that these are little more than budget tricks, and it's time it came to an end. I call again: vote against all incumbents in 2006. I'm going to.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Plug the Leaks?

The recent firing of the CIA employee who leaked classified information to the Washington Post regarding secret detention centers is a tough issue for some to take a stance on, and therefore some people are supporting both sides*. On the one hand, respecting the confidentiality of government information to ensure the security of our country is very important. No employee should feel free to divulge classified information whenever they disagree with a policy. In that respect, the employee’s firing appears justified.

At the same time though, I am outraged that our President feels he can flaunt international law, along with moral laws most in this country support. I am glad that the United States public, and the world along with us, found out about this abhorrent policy so that pressure might convince the President to give up this practice.

In the end, I think my desire to know information like this outweighs my support for the ultimate protection of classified information. I want to know when my President is doing something that is illegal and not supported by the public; and I don’t want him to ever feel that he can get away with these things because government workers are sworn to secrecy.


*Senator Kerry continues his strategy to straddle the issues and confuse anyone who cares. The President has the ultimate authority to classify and declassify information, something a low-level CIA staffer does not have. This isn't a double-standard as Kerry asserts, but the nature of how power is granted in our government.

Update: The CIA employee that was fired last week is now claiming she didn't leak the information about the secret detention facilities.

Mildly Delusional

I find it sad when community leaders don’t realize they are irrelevant or, worse, detrimental to their cause. In a news story out of New York City, the head of the Transit Union, Roger Toussaint, will lead a march as he shows up for his 10 day jail sentence. At the same time, Rev. Al Sharpton has called the sentence (which also includes a $1,000 fine) an attempt to intimidate workers. He promised to hold a vigil for the first night Toussaint spends in jail.

How Toussaint still doesn’t realize his call for a strike hurt the union more than it helped shows he is just delusional. As a result of the strike, the union faces a $2.5 million fine and binding arbitration over the new contract. If the contract doesn’t result in an increase of at least $2.5 million dollars (which seems unlikely) to its members, then the actions were surely a mistake.

Sharpton on the other hand, continues to show that he just doesn’t get it. The law to prevent strikes in certain areas is not meant to intimidate workers but to protect workers from selfish actions of essential government employees. Other groups that are not allowed to strike include police officers, fire-fighters, and teachers; these are all personnel that the community depends on. The really maddening thing about this is that a strike by the Transit Union hurts low-income workers the most because they are the least able to afford other means of transportation.

Exporting Darfur Some More

The tragedy of Darfur may continue, but in large part it's over because they ran everyone out of the country or killed almost everyone there. Now comes Sudan and its proxy militias next stage, moving the massacres and the fight against the survivors to neighboring Chad. All signs point to Sudan's hand in wanting a friendly and controlled fellow-mass-murderer regime in charge of Chad, and they're backing and sponsoring groups to bring that about. More evidence that Sudan has to be stopped. If the War on Terror was even somehow successful and defeated Al Qaeda and its affiliates, things like this situation in Sudan of arming all sorts of Islamist groups to ethnically cleanse the African countryside is only going to incubate the next one.

Insta has more commentary and especially on the Osama Bin Laden reaction and connection to this, as believe it or not he thinks that any intervention in the Darfur situation would be an attack on Muslims. But you can always count on Bin Laden to tell you which side is evil. This thing has had Islamist roots from the beginning. It was always about fundamentalist militias wiping out the predominantly non-Muslim population of Darfur. Sanctions are coming up for a vote, but that's unlikely to stop Sudan's new multi-national killing spree. The regime there is as bad as they get, and as far as sheer amount of blood on its hands may be worse than the Taliban. But will we do anything about it? Sadly, probably not with an overextended military in Iraq and too many other madmen with their fingers on triggers.

Oh Ye of Little Integrity

McCain's cuddling of people he used to bad-mouth and get on the wrong side of continues. I suppose it would be one thing if he was just becoming establishment, but let's remember what was stirring about McCain in the first place was his rejection of such an establishment. The appeal McCain had to moderates and others was that he didn't come with a lot of strings attached. Well, he's doing his best to rectify that and tie himself in as many nots as a Presidential nominee has to.

Cheating the System

The Freakonomics authors have written another good piece for The New York Times - this time about the IRS and underreporting of taxes. The article makes a pretty good case that compliance with tax laws mostly comes from the fear of enforcement. Also, the estimate for unpaid taxes is pretty staggering.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Little Three

Is there a connection between the three scandals of K-Street, Hollywood Wiretap, and Page Six? Jacob Weisberg thinks so, at least in a conceptual sense. Weisberg argues that three scandalous figures, Abramoff, Pellicano, and Stern, represent caricatures of business-as-usual in their respective, rotten milieus. That although they were not really powerful people and were not really doing anything against the culture they were embedded in, their crime was being too blatant and obvious more than it was violating the ethics and mores of their "community."

All three men were third-tier players in their respective worlds. In Washington, the principals are the politicians. In L.A., they are the movie stars. In New York, they are the media executives. The real powers-that-be can dismiss the likes of Abramoff, Pellicano, and Stern as greed-addled parasites, which they indeed were. But if all are caricatures, each man also holds up a mirror to the culture in which for a time he flourished, where not just the outrageous but the ordinary carries a whiff of rottenness.


Good food for thought, and good for a digest of the three scandals if you're not familiar. One haunting thought upon reading this is the real futility in hoping the worlds of lobbying, movies, and gossip will ever truly be reformable. In the end, are they inherently crooked activities? Is the culture itself corrupt and unfixable by its very nature? In every case there was a currency involved beyond simple cash, and as long as that is true, people will always be greedy for it. And they will always find a way to cheat.

BONUS: While you're at Slate, make sure to check out Tyler Cowen's New Orleans Adventure. Cowen doesn't get nearly enough credit, but he's always been using economics and thinking that way in unorthodox ways, way before this book made it cool.

Bainbridge's Final Exam

Don't you just goddamn love the way lawprofs write blogs? I'm answering this because it's brainfood and because it'll be my little way of expressing empathy with all those poor college and law school kids out there getting ready for finals. Professor Bainbridge has a post about Rubinomics, and whether or not those assorted policies could actually be the key to a Democratic victory in 2008. Bainbridge I think correctly names Rubinomics as consisting principally of:

1) Vigorous Deficit Reduction

2) Free Global Markets

3) Investments in Training, Education, and the Environment.

He asks two questions. One:

So I propound a question to the class for debate; namely, the economic policies of Rubinomics, based on vigorous deficit reduction, free global markets, and investments in education, training, and the environment, were principally responsible for Bill Clinton's reelection in 1996 and the principal achievement of the Clinton administration. True or False. Explain.

This is sort of a two-part question. The first bit relates to the 1996 re-election. In that election, Rubinomics definitely didn't hurt Clinton. However, the key to how he won that re-election, I think, related a lot more to his opponent. Clinton received a gift with Bob Dole as a challenger in the same way Bush got the PR godsend with Kerry. Not that Dole isn't a decent guy. Instead, Dole's problem consisted of his preachinous and high-horse tactics trying to attack Clinton's character. In the end, he came off as unlikable, similar to how Kerry's obsessions with nuance looked and smacked of elitism. A better challenger might have given Clinton a run for his money, but Dole certainly did not campaign well and chose tactics poorly. Rubinomics did give Clinton a solid economic platform to stand on, and that certainly helped him when re-election time arrived, but it did not really constitute the decisive factor. In an election where character issues received way too much attention and the substantive issues got virtually ignored, one would have to make a real stretch to assume people voted based on sound economic policies. So, the notion that it was responsible for his re-election is probably false, as the election itself failed to get that substantive.

However, he also tags to that question asking whether or not Rubinomics might go down in history as Clinton's principal achievement. That is more likely true. Rubinomics did help sustain the 1990s boom (setting conspiracy theory arguments about what started and ended it aside) and on that ground it can be called the principal achievement of Clinton. Specifically, if Rubinomics has global free trade as a characteristic, Clinton's adoption of NAFTA and other bilateral agreements with Central America and China certainly represent major accomplishments and watersheds in global trade. The record Rubinomics produced is more than enough for Clinton to hang his hat on and accomplished a lot for transforming the US economy into one more sustainable for the future.

Next, Bainbridge asks:

Extra credit question: A Democrat who (a) truly espoused and was credibly committed to reinstating Rubinomics, (b) can be trusted with national security, and (c) is credibly committed to actually doing something to make sure that abortion is not just "safe" and "legal," but also "rare," instead of just mouthing the formula the way Clinton did, would be a gosh darn attractive option in 2008. True or False. Explain.

This would no doubt be true. This is pretty much the moderate wish-list for Republicans and Democrats. The fact that Bainbridge immediately credits that a Democrat could be trusted with national security is like cheating. The public already has lost faith in Republicans on a host of domestic issues, and a Democrat that backs a) and c) is likely to snatch a lot of cynics and disillusioned people. And, as National Security is a given in this formulation and is the primary weakness of Democrats in the public eye (though that is turning around), chances are such a Democrat would clean up electorally. They would have everything working for them and, in effect, bring together what the public has responded to in elections on both the domestic and foreign issues. The public craves such a candidate, whether Democrat or Republican, and a candidate that possessed all these strengths would likely take a glut of votes from both parties no matter what label they had.

Bainbridge asks to name such a Democrat. I've got one idea.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Man Bites Dog




Larry Klayman is famous for one thing. Suing. Whereas Republicans are the first ones to beat their chests and holler about "frivolous lawsuits", Klayman is perhaps the King of them. He helped found an organization called Judicial Watch, whose prime purpose is to use the non-democratic means of the legal system to wage political battles. Here are some of Judicial Watch's greatest hits, from wikipedia, of course:

-Suing the town of Herndon, Virginia to stop a "day laborer" program on the grounds that it may provide employment for illegal aliens.
-Suing the U.S. Senate to disallow the filibuster in their debates over confirmation of judicial nominees, coinciding with proposed efforts by Republican Senate leaders to internally do the same thing.
-Criticizing the Bush administration for their "guest worker" program, obtaining evidence of a spike in illegal immigration denied by the administration.
-Criticizing the U.S. Navy for securing a public relations firm to encourage Puerto Ricans to vote to close a Naval testing range at Vieques, Puerto Rico.
-Rejecting the adjudicated innocence of David Rosen, who served as campaign finance director for Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign for the U.S. Senate and had been indicted for filing false reports.
-Condemning as "murder" the death of Terri Schiavo, who lived for 15 years in a diagnosed persistent vegetative state and whose husband wished to allow to die. Her parents wished that she be kept on life support, and were joined in their pursuits by prominent Republicans.
-Calling for Republican Tom DeLay to step down as House Majority Leader calling his actions on Medicare "inappropriate" and "unacceptable".
-Filing a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton for alleged fraudulent accounting practices.


In perhaps one of the greatest comedic moments, Klayman is now suing Judicial Watch itself. The Plank is labeling the legal action Klayman Ad Absurdum. But again, I can't imagine a better fate for both Klayman and Judicial Watch. Is there a way they can both lose the court case and both be sentenced to time in a stockade or pillory? Because if that happened, I might actually believe in justice. For a little while.

Who Should Really Leave

The big story in Washington right now is the shake-up in the Bush White House. Andrew Card and Scott McClellan are both out, and Rove had his portfolio cut to focus more on politics and less on policy. I have to say that I am happy McClellan can take a new job and get less abuse than he got as Bush's press secretary. But besides that, the current changes aren't too earth-shattering.

To me though, the bigger story is about Donald Rumsfeld. I do understand that Bush should have complete control over his administration - or as Bush says, he is the "decider". In recent a editorial in the Wall Street Journal, and in remarks by Rumsfeld himself, the attacks by retired Generals are framed as responses to changes Rumsfeld wanted to make, and people hate change. While I can see how certain of his decisions might have lead to some unreasonable animosity, anyone should easily recognize that this isn't about reorganization in the Army's combat units. The calls for Rumsfeld to resign are about how he has handled the Iraq War.

Some of the blame in Iraq can surely fall on Bremmer and his decisions during the first year of occupation, as well as on Bush himself, but what has caused the greatest harm is that we tried to fight with too few troops. We have never had enough strength to maintain order and prevent / stop an insurgency. Rumsfeld has long believed that modern warfare requires a smaller, more agile military. Most of the recent conflicts though have revolved around peace-keeping missions and occupations. These require troop strength more than Special Forces. The complaints against Rumsfeld are not just partisan attacks, but are borne of serious concerns about the direction Rumsfeld is taking our military.

Unborn Rights

While pro-life advocates love to pontificate about the rights of the unborn, I have often asked myself "what would things be like if we were to consider the unborn to actually have rights?" Parents have so many rights over what they do to their kids (short of abuse) so does granting a child, even an unborn child, some form of rights make this relationship more egalitarian. Or not? Is a child a person or not a person, and is a fetus a person or not a person? And if both child and fetus are full legal people, then does that mean they should have more rights in family affairs? Or should they be able to vote? This is the kind of messy picture that emerges when you import rights-talk (which is generally counterproductive in almost any situation) into complicated questions like the legal status of children or fetuses. And then there's the biggest question: what does Tom Cruise tell us about whether the unborn or children should have rights? Walter Kirn (guestblogging) thinks it tells us a lot.

Against Feminism

A pretty funny critique, and the great phrase "double standard equal rights." I think that about sums it up.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Same Old, Same Old?

A recent suicide bombing in Israel will give us some interesting insights into the new relationship between Israel and a Palestinian legislature headed by Hamas. The bombing was apparently carried out by Islamic Jihad, and the Hamas leadership has said that it is a natural reaction to Israeli policies. At first glance, it looks like the new government in Palestine is no different from the old governments, except that Hamas isn’t condemning the attacks (that might seem like a big deal, but since no Palestinian government ever really tried to stop the attacks, condemnations carry very little meaning).

The next step will probably be for Israel to respond in kind against Hamas, holding them responsible. This very well could start another long cycle of violence. My hope from the beginning was that at the very least, Hamas would lose support if their policies failed to improve the lives of most Palestinians. I thought that if Hamas continued to support violence, Israel would respond against them, and find new ways of making life bad for Palestine. Although Israel probably will do this, I no longer think this will harm Hamas’ popularity very much. Israel and the West will still be blamed for this.

According to a very good article in The New York Review of Books*, Hamas didn’t expect to win in recent elections, and had planned only to work as a minority party as a check on Fatah’s power. They wanted to play a role in the government and have the freedom to take credit for positive developments and avoid blame for failures. Since they are the party in power, they don’t have this option.

Before this latest suicide bombing, there was reason for hope. Some of the articles I have read gave the impression that Hamas has already shown a capacity for moderation and the ability to work with Israel. Some of the best case scenerios predicted that Israel and Hamas would work out long-term cease fires whereby Israel would continue to close down settlements and Hamas would work on reforming Palestinian government. Only after this would the two groups try to work out a long-term peace agreement.

While that scenerio is still possible, it is unlikely that Israel or the international community will be patient in the face of new suicide bombings. Hamas will have trouble focusing on anything other than Israel if it doesn't halt suicide bombings. What happens next will have a huge impact on the relationship between the two groups.


*There is a more recent article in the Review that talks about how Hamas isn’t that extreme and only asks for Israel to revert to the pre-1967 borders. This article is a little more biased (anti-Israel) than the one I linked to above.

Big Government Says No Whoppers For You!

To all those who celebrated outrageously with the government's vicious takedowns on the tobacco industry in the form of lawsuits and the latest round of smoking bans, here's something else you can now hitch your crusader aims to. Practically everyone cried that there would be no sliding scale in the war on tobacco, that after they got done demonizing smokers and exiling them from every public place they could think of, that would be it. Even when an outdoor smoking ban took effect, many shrugged it off or celebrated it. Well, the sliding scale is sliding again, and this time it's come to food. As Saletan reports:

So, we've found a new enemy: obesity. Two years ago, the government discovered that the targets of previous crusades—booze, sex, guns, and cigarettes—were killing a smaller percentage of Americans than they used to. The one thing you're not allowed to do in a culture war is win it, so we searched the mortality data for the next big menace. The answer was as plain as the other chin on your face. Obesity, federal officials told us, would soon surpass tobacco as the chief cause of preventable death. They compared it to the Black Death and the Asian tsunami. They sent a team of "disease detectives" to West Virginia to investigate an obesity outbreak. Last month, the surgeon general called obesity "the terror within" and said it would "dwarf 9-11."

How do we fight it? Everyone agrees on exercising and eating responsibly. The debate is over what the government should do. Health advocates want to restrict junk-food sales, regulate advertising, require more explicit labels, and ban trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils), which are often put into crackers, cookies, and other products to prolong shelf life. They marshal the kind of evidence that won the war on smoking: correlations between soda, junk food, obesity, disease, and death. Lawyers who made their fortunes suing tobacco companies are preparing suits against soda companies. Two months ago, when President Bush gave a health-care speech at the headquarters of Wendy's, activists compared the hamburger chain to Philip Morris. They see themselves as waging the same brave struggle, this time against "the food industry."


Many would laugh and poo-poo at such a notion, but Saletan gives numerous examples about how the fight is already underway. He also articulates what the strategy will likely be: "First, we should protect kids. Second, fat people are burdening the rest of us. Third, junk food isn't really food." Sound familiar to anyone? While I have always been in favor of heavily regulating tobacco, it worries me as the anti-smoking legislation continues to pile up. As Big Government starts to intervene in our lives to fix our lifestyle choices and protect us, where will it stop? I'm probably not the only person who scared shitless by John Kerry's call for a "Department of Wellness." I'm no libertarian. For one I think government should force the food industry and any industry to disclose honest facts about the wares they are selling to people. Informational regulation is effective (nutritional labels being the obvious one) and helps consumers make informed choices and hold those who smuggle undesirable elements into food accountable at the marketplace. But this? This is too far.

Banning certain types of food, creating special classes, suing people over advertising or for making them fat? The legal system should not be involved in these questions and issues and neither should the government. But if this latest round of lefty activists has their way those issues will be the least of our worries as they open up a thousand new assaults on what Americans are allowed to eat. If anyone thinks this isn't possible, just imagine what someone 20 years ago might have thought of the anti-tobacco lobby's chances of success.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Webb's Web

I've been talking about George Allen's presumptive Senatorial opponent in 2006, Jim Webb, a lot. Webb, for those that don't remember me mentioning this, is the former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, a Republican defector, and an extremely decorated Veteran of multiple wars. I've posted on how his campaign has started to gel very effectively very quickly, and it's only getting better. Many think dethroning Allen in 2006 might be an impossible task, but I think Webb has found Allen's Achilles Heel: Allen's presumptive run for President. While Allen has been out touring in Iowa, New Hampshire, and such places Webb has basically taken to bashing him for ignoring Virginia. This may be an effective campaign, and already the talking points about how Allen is REALLY running for only a two-year term in the Senate and how Virginia isn't his priority have started to float around. Well, enter this effective little bit of agitprop. This shows that Webb's allies are pretty web savvy, and have a sense of humor that is likely to prove very effective for connecting and communicating. Webb's campaign so far has had very powerful grassroots support emerge from nowhere, and combining that with web savvy could prove a lethal combination. I think this race is going to be really close, and is likely to distract Allen from running for President big-time.

More on France

There is an excellent Op-Ed in the New York Times that talks about the recent uprisings in France (both the labor protests and the November riots). It is brief but powerful. I highly recommend everyone read it.

(Also, on a completely unrelated note, if you have NY Times Select, read David Brooks latest column. It argues both sides of whether or not we can really change Iraq, looking at Iraqi history and the Book of Exodus.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Deception

I don't really buy into the liberal talking points that the Bush administration lied or was misleading about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction before the invasion. There was considerable evidence (although most of it was circumstantial) at the time that Saddam was hiding a weapons program. But I think it is becoming more apparent that they were purposefully deceptive after the invasion.

The so-called mobile labs that Colin Powell talked about in front of the UN before going to Iraq, were found soon after the invasion. This Washington Post article suggests that when these mobile labs were found, President Bush, despite contrary evidence from the field, said that they presented proof that Saddam had a biological weapons program (the administration is disputing the timing).

I usually watch the news during my lunch break, and I have had the fortune of watching the White House Press Briefings - also known as the Daily Beat-downs on Scott McClellan. As stories like the Vice President's hunting accident, the CIA leak investigation, and the mobile weapons labs reach the press, the press take out their anger with the administration on McClellan. While the administration might not be lying, they obviously don't care enough about the truth to wait for it to come out. Instead, they report whatever might sound good long before it can be confirmed - or denied (Harry Frankfurt calls this bullshitting). Whatever it is, bullshitting or lying, this administration keeps getting caught and it is really hurting their public support.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Je Sais

I hope the youth of France enjoy unemployment, because there is going to be a lot more of it in their future. The French government has decided to drop the labor law because of the protests. This of course makes sense because you definitely don't want to make it easy for employers to fire workers that stall the nation's business and turn violent anytime progressive legislation is passed (the removal of the legislation probably hurts the "immigrant" youth the worst - those that sparked the really violent protests last fall). The youth might feel empowered by this victory, but I think all they have done is proven that they are petulant, rash and uniformed. I can only hope this sort of foolish, widescale job protection never spreads to the US. Maybe "freedom toast" and "freedom fries" were not such a bad idea.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday Revolver



Michelle Malkin catalogues the dysfunctions of the Homeland Security leadership, and the rampant LACK of qualifications.

IMAO brings you Iranian Missile Command!

Tigerhawk has a vicious critique of the FDA that also applies to our society as a whole and how it will usually harm most people to spare a tiny few from intense suffering.

Dean's World delves into a report on AIDS numbers in Africa, and whether the health bureacracy is exaggerating things and destorting the debate with scare tactics.

The Talking Dog checks the latest Plame/Fitzgerald developments.

Just One Minute does as well, with typical scary amounts of depth as Tom Maguire is practically a one-man team of experts on this case by now.

(Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Thank God

I was definitely nervous that the courts were going to decide to rule against Dan Brown in a copywright violation law suit. It turns out that the judge thought the suit just as ridiculous as I did.

“It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (Da Vinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright,” [High Court judge Peter] Smith said in his 71-page ruling.

[edit]

A victory by Baigent and Leigh would have challenged the concept that copyright protects the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself.

“A victory for Leigh and Baigent would make it very difficult for novelists, particularly historical novelists,” Fiona Crawley, a copyright expert with law firm Bryan Cave LLP, said before the ruling.

“They go to source books to research the history to incorporate into their novel. It would call into question how they can research a historical novel without being accused of copyright infringement by the historian who has written the key work on that incident in history.”


Although my first thought was that the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail were just after some of the money Brown made from his book, the lawsuit might have actually been a decent publicity stunt. According to the article, their book is now selling 6,000 copies per week compared to a few hundred before the trial. Then again, if they are forced to pay legal costs, their increased sales might mean nothing.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Immigration Dance

Mickey Kaus has whipped out his crystal ball and has probably called the future once again.

On immigration, the stage is set for a classic Washington stalemate in which all the actors--at least the Republican actors--get to position themselves as advocating their desired brand of bold action, and nothing gets done. In this scenario, 1) the Senate passes a relatively liberal compromise offering full "earned" amnesty/citizenship for 7 million illegals, legalized status for another 3 million and continued illegality for the 1 million most recent arrivals. That lets national Republicans argue that they haven't been anti-Latino, or at least muddle the issue. ... Meanwhile, 2) the House has already passed its seemingly extra-tough enforcement-only measure, allowing House Republicans to mobilize a still-angry conservative base in their races and maybe retain control of that chamber. ... Finally, 3) the House and Senate fail to agree on a compromise bill, allowing the status quo to remain for another year, which doesn't displease American businesses addicted to cheap illegal immigrant labor, who continue to write checks to fund GOP campaigns. ... As Charles Peters has written, in Washington, "Make Believe = Survival."


I think Kaus is a powerful warlock who uses the souls of kittens to power his dark mysticism. If I had my way, Kaus, doctors, and other witches and wizards would be forbidden.

The Worst of Both Worlds

Campaign Finance Reform continues to be the biggest rape of common sense and free speech the world over. The McCain-Feingold bill, which McCain still does and forever should eat crow for, originally eschewed party "soft money" in the name of creating the abominations of the 527s. For those of you who don't know what "soft money" is, it's basically blanket contributions to a political party (DNC or RNC), that then can be spent on whoever the party sees fit or needs it. The allleged problem with this was that too many rich bazillionaires and evil corporate overlords were hording humongous amounts of cash to the parties directly and buying influence at the top. McCain-Feingold tried to "fix" (read: fuck up) this by limiting the soft money and instead empowering the 527s, which had previously existed but were not very important given the status of soft money. The 527s could receive unlimited funds and could do whatever they wanted so long as they didn't coordinate campaigns.

I could now start a long tirade of how this is a violation of so many first amendment rights. Chiefly speech and the freedom of association are affected because it regulates or outright halts people's abilities to use their money, time, and resources to coordinate efforts at influencing people. This clearly is the government telling you how, when, where, why, and the quantities thereof you are allowed to participate in politics, and how much you are allowed to talk to certain people. If that's not violating the first amendment, I don't know what is. But I know there are a bunch of naive people that will never see this because to them campaign finance is all about stopping evil corporate overlords, the Constitution be damned! So I will spare that incredibly obvious moral argument for now. Let's skip to the newest chapter. House Republicans are now trying to reign in the 527s and bring back soft money, in effect suspending whatever "good" parts of McCain-Feingold there were while keeping the "bad" parts. I use quotation marks because it's all bad, it's just a question of relativity. Here's a synopsis from El Wapo:

The House approved campaign finance legislation last night that would benefit Republicans by placing strict caps on contributions to nonprofit committees that spent heavily in the last election while removing limits on political parties' spending coordinated with candidates.

The bill passed 218 to 209 in a virtual party-line vote.

Lifting party spending limits would aid Republican candidates because the GOP has consistently raised far more money than the Democratic Party. Similarly, barring "527" committees from accepting large unregulated contributions known as "soft money" would disadvantage Democrats, whose candidates received a disproportionate share of the $424 million spent by nonprofit committees in 2003-2004.


Now, for the life of me I don't understand why Republicans want to do this. The Democratic 527s, ACT and the Media Fund, just about won the election for C-Plus Augustus with their shrill and laughably ridiculous attempts to attack him. The 527s are so cartoonish and amateur-hour they somehow make the parties look good. And that should be impossible. This measure would reduce them in power. I like that, but I don't see why Republicans would. Especially when considering the masterstroke of the Swift Boat Vets, also a 527. The House bill basically puts limits on contributions to these shrill mouthpieces of the politically unbalanced, but it also brings back soft money. As El Wapo stated, in terms of pure fundraising, it benefits the Republicans as they could potentially raise much more soft money than the Democrats, who are over-reliant on 527s. While it probably won't pass in the Senate, I think it's a foolish move by the Republicans anyway. 527s allow those on the right to launch horrible character assassinations on people that the Republican Party itself is allowed to distance itself from. After all, 527s legally can't coordinate with Ken Mehlman, so there's now way he can control what they're doing! The attacks on people's patriotism or claiming they are like Hitler or Osama bin Laden are clearly outside of Mehlman and the Republican party's control, so you can't hold them responsible (wink, wink.)

Bullshit, but true in a sense. This optical illusion will no longer be as easy if they hobble 527s, and they would have to answer for their own ad buys and message. Democrats, if anything, could actually benefit because they won't have 527s out there contradicting everything candidates try to say and ratcheting up the negative rhetoric. I think the absence of 527s is part of the reason Democrats still do well and are competitive at the state level. It allows extra focus. So, getting to the point, why do I think this House Bill is terrible? Well, it basically creates a hybrid by still giving the 527s some influence (or more than they had before McCain-Feingold) and it resurrects the power-centralizing soft money. The whole misguided point of campaign finance reform is to regulate people's political actions in order to remove a pollution of money and influence-buying from the system. This bill just increases money pollution by reinstituting the cash cow of soft money (which at least the McCain-Feingold bill had going for it on some level was reducing that) but it still leaves the half-assed machinations of 527s in place, although slightly diminished.

If you wanted to know what ,my take is, I think 527s are fine, but that they should be allowed to coordinate with candidates and campaigns. Get rid of soft money, perhaps, but keep the 527s and actually make them the conduits for soft money that can become players in a campaign for real and be offshoots of the party apparati. Why? Because that's their freedom of association and expression, and it would at least hurt the ability of people to distance themselves from the attacks 527s do on their behalf. If a 527 does something particularly nasty, it would always look like it could have been coordinated by the candidate and their campaign even if it wasn't, which would make everybody behave a little more like adults. Such dynamics would force candidates to actually denounce messages that go over the line by their 527 allies, instead of an all-too-simple dismissal because they're not allowed to "coordinate." If they were allowed to coordinate, the excuse evaporates. Even if a candidate would benefit from a disgusting smear campaign on her opponent, she wouldn't want to be associated with it.

This bill is clearly the campaigns having their cake and eating it too. And it's being labeled as "reform." Please. If the return of soft money occurs while leaving the worst parts of McCain-Feingold intact is thought of as "lobbying reform", then I don't want "lobbying reform." I'd rather have more Jack Abramoff than this foolishness.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

So the Red, White and Blue Are Now Gang Colors

See link in title bar.

I would say "Now I've seen it all," but the more I live, the more I'm convinced I still haven't seen it all.

Wednesday Revolver

Matt Yglesias thinks the Democrats' "Real Security" ideal contrasts Bush's current foreign policy . . . in flaws.

Just One Minute thinks solving the revenue problem may have to involve beefing up the IRS, as bad as it sounds it may be the most politically-palatable option.

The Debate Link thinks Fareed Zakaria is right on immigration, and that what Republicans are really trying to do is Un-American, or, worse, downright "European."

Protein Wisdom seizes on what will probably be the next wave of obesity litigation, and it is scary what they are going to try.

Dr. Sanity stalks the latest leads about Sandy Berger's criminal activities.

Shakespeare's Sister digs up another perverted DHS employee, who was strangely a sex predator while being in charge of catching sex predators. Think about that!

The Rape-Over

Here's how the GOP will hold Congress in 2006 with barely any losses, or maybe even gains. Kevin Drum has the whisper campaign leaking out of British and US militaries. And he has this bit of wisdom:

There's no question that the administration is already preparing the ground for an air strike on Iran, but it's likely that the real push won't come until late summer when it can be used as a cudgel in the midterm elections. Same song, new verse.

And once more: If Democrats don't start thinking about how they're going to respond to this, they're idiots. We don't always get to pick the issues to run on. Sometimes they're picked for us.


Bingo. And "Real Security" isn't going to cut the mustard. I can only manage what laugh tracks are going to be produced by a Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi/Howard Dean reaction to bombing Iran. That'll swiftly have everyone going "Jack Who?" by then after the public has collectively forgotten about any corruption scandal.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

National Championship and Riots, What More Could You Want

A hearty congratulations to the Maryland Women's B-ball team. You went to the big dance and did yourselves, your school, and alumni like me who don't really follow women's sports at his own school, proud.

And some jackasses set a few fires on Route One. That didn't happen when the Maryland men won the soccer championship.

... One Giant Leap Backwards For Woman Kind

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin analyzed the speeches of presidential candidates and their running mates in the 2004 election. One of the things their computer program measured was the femininity of the speech loosely described as the "use of words and speech patterns favored by women" in this Post article. Edwards came out sounding the most "girly" with Bush in close second; Cheney, apparently, "sounded most like a man's man." Obviously, Cheney counter-balanced Bush's effeminate tendencies (gag me now!).

(sidenote: I wonder what words the study defined as "words favored by women"? The stereotypical feel? Understand? Love? And what did Bush say... I feel we should go to Iraq without any real proof of WMDs? I understand that most Americans do not support me, but I love the fact that they can't do anything about it!)

I am pissed off that femininity of word choice was something defined and used by the creators of this study. I'll bet you anything that the said variable (as defined by the researchers) in the study's regression analyses was inversely proportional to the candidate's likelihood of winning a political race. Just a guess.

And what does that say about this country? That they judge public leadership ability by how masculine (whatever that means anymore -- in case of Cheney, grunting at the press?) the candidate appears? That, if there indeed exists (if!) a natural linguistic difference between men and women, female candidates are pretty much screwed?

And if so, how can this be changed? How can "feminine" voices be heard as loudly as "masculine"?

How can ideas and, in case of the 2004 election, common sense and decency triumph over warmongering and deceit shrouded in "masculine speak"?

One Small Step For Woman...

Ok, so maybe not so small a step.

Katie Couric is slated to leave NBC's Today Show, and move over to anchor the CBS evening news (personally, I am a bigger fan of Ann Curry, but I'll live with CBS's hiring decision, somehow).

She will become the first solo female evening network news anchor in the history of television.

First thought: kudos, Katie.

Second thought: IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME, TV NETWORKS!!!

Seriously.

Sad, Sad Democrats

I finally reviewed the Democrat's Real Security plan. While I wasn't expecting much, I held out some hope that there would be something of value in it. It turns out though that it is pretty much useless. It demonstrates the common wisdom of our party. We are weak on defense because we lack the understanding and vision to form realistic and original policy.

The proposal focuses on things like building a 21st Century Military, a statement that is vague enough to sound tough while offering little difference betweeen the Bush administration's policy. They also advocate for finding Bin Laden, a proposal that probably sounded like it would come off as a slap in the face to the Bush administration, but again shows they lack clear understanding of reality.

Their stance on Iraq is more geared to appeal to voters than it is to enable stability. It is absurd to think that all the Iraqis need is a little prodding from us to form a consensus government and then everything else will fall into place.
Few of these ideas are different from what the current administration is doing, and those that are will have no significant impact. Democrats need to stop polling and actually think about what needs to be done. Maybe the party needs to invest some money to create (or improve if the already exist) some liberal think tanks devoted to national security. Without them we cannot hope to compete with Republicans.

Tuesday Revolver: Special DeLay Edition



Apparently no one on any side of the political spectrum really misses "THE HAMMER!(Tm)"

DCeiver says it's good news for angels.

Kevin Drum thinks more is to come. (It rhymes because I am a rap god from beyond the moon).

Captain Ed said DeLay had lost him long ago, and had turned his influence too much to business as usual.

Rudepundit has special advice for a post-DeLay DC.

Balloon Juice says good riddance.

Andrew Sullivan rings the chimes.

Hammered

So much for Mr. Felonious Monk.

Succumbing to scandal, former Majority Leader Tom Delay told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that he will not seek re-election to Congress, closing out a career that blended unflinching conservatism with a bare-knuckled political style.

Rep. DeLay was expected to announce the plans Tuesday, reported Matthews, host of MSNBC's “Hardball.”

Republican officials told The Associated Press Monday night they expect the Texan to quit his seat later this spring. He was first elected in 1984, and conceded he faced a difficult race for re-election.

Matthews reported that DeLay told him in an interview that “the polling on him in the 22nd District was going down,” as a result of his part in a campaign contribution controversy.

“He (DeLay) expected to take a beating all summer on this,” Matthews reported. “I guess he felt the beating was going to continue.”


But what's more, OF COURSE he has to move to Virginia. Maybe I'll run into him when I'm doing political canvassing! Ashcroft's neighborhood was one of my regular stops for awhile.

In a separate interview with Time Magazine, DeLay says he plans to make his Virginia condominium his primary residence, a step that will disqualify him from the ballot in Texas and permit GOP officials there to field a replacement candidate.


While I wouldn't get too excited about this, I think it is a major development. DeLay, after years of fighting, is probably battle-fatigued, and it would take every ounce of his pull and power to stay competitive with the scandals surrounding him (Abramoff, and now one of his aides) multiplying. Even if he could make it past 2006, he would be much weakened, and who knows what his future would hold having to run again in 2008. I'm sure Republican leaders, given the stink he's produced lately, won't miss him all that much. Let's not forget one of DeLay's greatest accomplishments, the Medicare drug prescription program, that he threw his supposedly "conservative" muscle behind and that will probably bankrupt the country in 10 years or so. I think we could all do with a little less "achievements" like that disaster.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It Isn't Safe to Go Out

There is a really interesting article in the New York Review of Books about the media in Iraq. The article describes how, because of the intense and unpredictable violence, reporters are mostly confined to their bureaus and are required to make intense preparations for any movement off-site. In the highly dangerous environment, reporters are unable to go out and investigate and talk to sources, they have no contacts in insurgent groups, and must be back to their bureaus before dark. To adapt to their constraints, media outlets are using Iraqis to investigate and report, while the journalists compile and write the stories. The article also contrasts these constraints to the period shortly after Saddam fell when the environment was safer and there were far fewer insurgent attacks (there never seems to be a shortage of information suggesting that the administration bungled the war effort by trying to fight it with too few troops while ignoring a growing insurgency).

With the exception of the last couple paragraphs, which say with confidence that Iraq is heading to civil war, it is a really interesting and unbiased piece.

I Wanted To Believe

It wasn't too long ago when I was telling everyone that I was going to volunteer for McCain in the primaries. I loved his independence and character even though I certainly didn't agree with all of his positions. I saw him as one of the few Senators who had a real clue as to what was going in - especially in the war on terrorism.

But lately, McCain has been moving so far the right that I seriously doubt his independence. I liked him as much as I did because he was willing to say things that were unpopular. He had no problem saying we need more troops in Iraq, and he used to have no problem criticizing Jerry Falwell.

But things have changed. I didn't want to believe it at first, but I can't ignore it now. In his quest for the Presidency, McCain is standing steadfastly behind Bush, and cozying up to Falwell($) and the religious right (he will be giving the commencement speech at Liberty University - founded by Falwell). While I understand that Christians as a group should be an important part of the Republican Party (and the Democratic Party if we could reach them), there are those on the Christian Right that should not be supported, specifically anyone who claims that 9/11 was brought on because of homosexuality and feminism.

Senator McCain is playing smart politics. He understands that he might not be able to win the Republican nomination as a moderate, so like every other candidate, he will move to the right for the nomination, and then move back to the middle during the general election. But when it was his resolve not to play politics that made him so popular, his decision to take that route will cost him some devoted followers.

Fatality

Does anyone remember that move in the old Mortal Kombat video game where Johnny Cage did the splits and punched people right in the crotch? (Which was always part of the speculation about the character being gay) Well, this is reminding me of that.

In remarks Sunday on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who once led the United States Central Command and retired from the Marines in 2000, said Mr. Rumsfeld, among others, should be held accountable for tactical mistakes in Iraq.

When asked who should resign, General Zinni said, "Secretary of Defense, to begin with," adding that resignations should also come from others responsible for planning the war efforts and from military officials who sat by without pointing out potential problems.


Video of the remarks for anyone interested. It's a brutal takedown. He basically said it was the Pentagon's appointees that tossed all of the previous analysis and planning out because it didn't fit their model of what the war was to be. More evidence of Rumsfeld's fantasy of faster wars with less people being forced onto reality, and reality bucking it straight into the mud.

Money Money Money Money . . . MONEY!

It was a big deal when Bush was approaching LBJ levels of increasing government spending, but the man obviously has no patience being anything but number 1. He's creeping up on Roosevelt. That's right. Roosevelt. Who fought World War II and basically created the concept of big government.

The federal government is currently spending 20.8 cents of every $1 the economy generates, up from 18.5 cents in 2001, White House budget documents show. That's the most rapid growth during one administration since Franklin Roosevelt.

There are no signs that the trend is about to turn around. The House Budget Committee last week rejected a proposal that would require spending hikes to be offset by cuts in other spending or by tax increases.

This week, the House is scheduled to debate the $2.8 trillion budget for 2007, which projects an additional $3 trillion of debt in the next five years.

The Sept. 11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Gulf Coast hurricanes account for only part of the increased spending.

Other factors: the biggest military buildup in decades, domestic spending, and the rise of benefits for the elderly, poor and disabled.

"You take anything, and we've grown it big," says Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a leading critic of the spending spurt. "When you're in control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, there's just no stop on it. There's no brake."


So LBJ's Great Society has been left in the lurch. But can Bush outdo WWII and the New Deal in spending? I think that's the grand question for our age. And, to make Monday morning easy on the eyes, here's even more from USA Today.