Wednesday, February 01, 2006

State of the Union: Not Good



UPDATE: Video of the Democratic round of sarcastic applause

You know what? I was feeling pretty apprehensive when Sisk and I sat down last night to watch the State of the Union address. But I have to say -- I really think the president delivered an eloquent and substantive speech. He set forth sensible policy goals in lucid detail. He responded with convincing dignity to some of the charges against his administration -- which, come to think of it, probably are a bit much. On the whole, I believe the 2005 State of the Union is a turning point for the Bush presidency, and I am now sure he will do what's best for the country.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

Man, it was AWFUL! But before we get to the speech, let's consider what happened moments before the speech. Right there in the Capitol, a certain invited guest -- Cindy Sheehan -- was arrested by the Capitol Police.

Apparently Sheehan was in Washington as a protester, with no intention of attending the State of the Union address. But at an "alternative State of the Union" event given by CodePink, she was invited by Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-California). A few minutes before Bush's entrance, she entered the House gallery, presented her ticket, and was directed to her seat. She'd been sitting for less than a minute when she was removed. Reports vary; either "a plainclothes agent took her by the arm" and said "You've got to leave," or she was "lifted out of her seat by the Capitol Police." She was smiling, and didn't resist. Her crime, apparently, was her shirt, which said: "2,245 Dead -- How Many More?" She'd been wearing it all day.

She was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building; the charge was soon changed to unlawful conduct. From jail, she spoke with CodePink's Gael Murphy, who arranged for an attorney. By 11:00, there were two hundred protesters outside Capitol Police headquarters, chanting "Free Cindy Now!" Two or three dozen police, arms locked, pushed them to the other side of D Street. Members of World Can't Wait were kicked in the head -- which is really a kick in the head -- and arrested. By the time Sheehan was released, shortly after midnight, the morning shows were already fighting for an appearance. Upon her release, she told reporters she'd been "roughed up," and departed to rest up for The Today Show in the morning. (Details from Bob and Brad.)

While all of that was going on, nothing nearly so exciting was happening inside the Capitol. Bush opened with words of praise for the late Coretta Scott King. Sitting right behind him, of course, was Cheney, who as a congressman voted against the Martin Luther King holiday. Bush quickly moved on to the subject of Iraq, or rather of his fuzzy fantasy of Iraq, which bears little relation to actual events. It was the usual Bush babble. On the subject of foreign policy, he offered meaningless assertions ("We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it"), incoherent nonsense ("The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil"), and delusional cheerleading ("We are in this fight to win, and we are winning"). CBS had some great cutaway shots of Hillary Clinton laughing.

He proudly defended his illegal program of domestic spying, mischaracterizing it as "a terrorist surveillance program." In fact, of the thousands of warrantless wiretaps conducted under Bush's authority since 2001, "virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans" (New York Times, 1/17/06.) In another blatant falsehood, Bush said that the authority to conduct this surveillance was "given to me by the Constitution." Which Constitution is that, George? The alternative to unlawful spying on American citizens, Bush explained in his address, was to "sit back and wait to be hit again."

Like all Bush speeches, it was boring and without substance. It can be fun to hear him speak extemporaneously, but the prepared addresses are just excruciating. They're boring because Bush himself is bored. He stands there and looks back and forth, reading his lines very carefully, trying to remember which words he was instructed to emphasize. His mind drifts off; he stumbles over a few words; he gets back on task; he drifts off again. Sometimes he seems to have no idea what he's talking about. Sometimes nobody seems to know.

There were some bizarre moments. Before launching into an atypical endorsement of alternative energy, Bush rightly declared that "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world." Why, that's true, Mr. Resident -- and I believe that's why you're rich. He also delivered an appeal for "legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research," his list of which included "creating human-animal hybrids." As if embryonic stem cell research is the same thing as a guy in a lab saying, "I'm gonna make a goat woman!"

The best moment in the speech was when he noted, "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security." There was prolonged applause and hooting from the Democrats. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party's official response to the speech was not nearly so spirited; Virginia Governor Tim Kaine just sounded silly. He has a shifty smile, and his tiresome overuse of the refrain ("There's a better way!") was political convention-speak which fell completely flat in the rosy silence of the Virginia Governor's Mansion.

On the other hand, Kaine was about ten times better than the opening act.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A bite of blog succotash




I'm sorry. It's not laziness and it's not because I don't care. But I've been terrible about keeping up with my Tuesdays lately.

And I apologize twice since this one's going to be short, too. I have to finish this before the battery on my laptop runs out. So, here goes...

Here's a guy who might be running against Lieberman, Ned Lamont. His campaign is apparently generating quite a bit of buzz, according to The Daily Kos. The Connecticut Local Politics Blog has an interesting Q&A with him. From Connecticut? Tell me what you know about him.

Former female wrestler Juana Barraza, who once fought under the name "The Silent Lady" was arrested in Mexico this week. She is accused of being "Mataviejitas," or "Little Old Lady Killer," - a serial murderer who has been preying on little old mexican ladies and eluding arrest for years. Before her arrest, Barraza sold popcorn at the wrestling shows.

And today, Officials from six major oil companies have refused to testify this week at a Senate hearing looking into whether oil industry mergers in recent years have made gasoline more expensive at the pump.

My computer is dying and I am dying to cuddle up with this cute cat next to me. To the three of you reading, I'll be back next week. I promise.


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Monday, January 30, 2006

It's Us Against Alito

Let's Make Some Calls



6:00 pm UPDATE: The Senate voted for cloture, 72 to 25. I have audio of the final tally, if you can stand it.

Democratic Underground (Skinner): "It's true, the vote didn't go the way we wanted it to. But...I think it is fair to say that without the liberal blogosphere, there wouldn't have even been a fight." Democratic Underground (Ben Burch): "Eight days ago, there was no opposition to Alito whatsoever. No filibuster was planned, and even had one been started, there was not a chance in hell that anybody but the one Senator to propose it would vote against cloture...In that eight days, we worked a miracle; we got the man who was elected President in the last stolen election to declare that he was going to filibuster, and we got MANY (I don't have the final count) Democratic Senators to vote NAY on cloture." Kos: "We lost the cloture vote, but that was -- despite some of your best wishes -- a pre-ordained conclusion. But that doesn't mean we lost on the bigger picture...the outpouring of emails, letters, faxes, and phone calls was unprecedented for the netroots and particularly surprising given how weak our issue groups organized against Alito." Daily Kos (Maryscott OConnor): "What I want is a complete list of every scumsucking fuckstick Democratic asshole Senator who voted for Cloture. That's what I want." Bob Fertik: "18 Democrats betrayed all of us by voting with 55 goose-stepping Republicans to defeat the filibuster. We were betrayed by many Senators we worked very hard to elect. Call those Senators and share your anger (in a controlled way, of course) with their receptionists: Akaka (HI), Baucus (MT), Bingaman (NM), Byrd (WV), Cantwell (WA), Carper (DE), Dorgan (ND), Inouye (HI), Johnson (SD), Kohl (WI), Landrieu (LA), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Rockefeller (WV), Salazar (CO)."

4:15 pm UPDATE: Raw Story is reporting that there are now more than thirty votes to support a filibuster, which means fewer than ten more are needed. Bob Fertik's tally currently stands at 23. Watch C-SPAN 2 to follow the action on the floor (Frist's cloture vote should happen within the hour). I've posted some audio from John Kerry's statement, delivered a few minutes ago on the Senate floor.

Let me see if I can get this straight. The power-crazed Republicans who control Congress want to grant a lifetime Supreme Court appointment to a guy who wants to radically limit...the power of Congress. And Democrats are supposed to be the weaklings? I constantly hear witty critiques of Democrats, such as, "They have no balls!" But check out these Republicans: "Please, cut off my balls!" That's really who they are. They're the Please Cut Off My Balls party.

And another thing: I would be very happy if I never heard the obnoxious expression "up-or-down vote" again. People sound like idiots when they use this phrase. It's meaningless, other than its intended implication -- that there is some other kind of vote. Every vote is a yes or no vote. (There are actually very few up or down votes. "The space shuttle, Senator -- up or down?") But there are Fox News watchers out there who think that only the good, decent Republicans want there to be "up-or-down" votes on things -- as opposed to those slimy, balls-free Democrats and their sideways votin'! What "up-or-down vote" really means is "shut up."

In his radio address on Saturday, King Asshole declared, "The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to hold an up-or-down vote on Judge Alito's nomination." Now isn't he just the last person who should be wagging his finger about constitutional responsibilities? Just a few days ago, while speaking to the press, he had a classic Bush moment; a reporter asked him something about the Constitution, and Bush actually said, "I tell ya what -- fuck the Constitution."

That's just a joke, for you in the media.

If you think the previous sentence is glib and stupid and makes no sense, then you're absolutely right -- I plagiarized it from Ann Coulter. "That's just a joke, for you in the media." She said it right after she said, "We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee." Now, obviously, "We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee" is not a joke. Not only is it not a joke; it is nothing like a joke. It's slightly creepy that she followed it with "That's just a joke, for you in the media," and then CNN writes it up under the headline "Poison Justice Stevens, Coulter Jokes."

Ha ha ha ha ha! POISON JUSTICE STEVENS! Get it?

Yes, one of the many advantages of being on the left is that our humorists are actually funny. But the right certainly does have the funny senators. Fifty-five men and women who would vote themselves into legislative oblivion. Everyone's a Republican, so checks and balances are a drag, so let's just put all the power in one place and spare ourselves the burden of democracy. The new lack of accountability, which is due to a lack of oversight, is our government's epic thrust toward monarchy. How will the textbooks of tomorrow read? "There are three branches of government, each of which does what it can to make George W. Bush happy."

So this afternoon, Bill Frist intends to hold his vote for cloture -- or, as the Republicans would say, for up. This is the Republicans voting for an up-or-down vote. It's an up-or-down vote on whether there should be an up-or-down vote. The argument here is that no further debate is necessary, because those hearings were so substantive! "Judge Alito, do you agree with President Bush's remark, 'Fuck the Constitution?'" "No, Senator -- I like the Constitution."

All evidence, of course, is to the contrary. Kerry needs forty votes for a filibuster; the Fristians need sixty votes for cloture. Early this morning, Bob Fertik's tally shows a question too close to call, with too many of the "Alito 48" (the 48 senators identified by Fertik as possible votes for a filibuster) still not on the record. The problem is time. If we had a few more days, I think we would stop this nomination. Can we do it in a few more hours?

Cloture is not the done deal that most of the media reports suggest it is. The reality is that since Friday afternoon, a steady stream of senators has declared support for the filibuster, including some who had previously gone on record against it -- including Reid, Clinton, Feinstein, and Obama. That's right -- Obama. Major news outlets, and blogs on the left as well as the right, are shouting about how Obama criticized the filibuster tactic. Which he did. But he also said he would support one if it happened.

There are filibuster/cloture tallies official and unofficial, from insiders and outsiders, and predictably, no two match. The best news comes from Annatopia, who credits "a very reliable source" with the scoop that "we are only two votes shy of sustaining a filibuster!" That jibes well with Senator Dick Durbin's mysterious statement, an entire week ago, that he had thirty-seven votes to support a filibuster. "Massive progress has been made in the past 48 hours," says Annatopia, and she's right. So is Georgia10 at Daily Kos, who urges, "Don't give up on 'Yes' votes. Pressure from the blogosphere is working. We've seen that with Senator Feinstein changing her mind."

I don't do this very often, folks, but here we go. If you're reading this, and you have a couple of minutes to spare, and you like democracy, why don't you make a few calls? I am. I think the Democrats.com Alito 48 page is the easiest quick guide to see who's important to call. There are other good contact-your-people resources here and here and all over the web. We should do it because it seems to be working.

That story, of course, is not covered by CNN or the New York Times. But if "pressure from the blogosphere" (in other words, from the people) does keep a filibuster going -- even just for a little while -- they'll cover that. Their current tone is dour and dismissive. Hope Yen of the Associated Press is saying what we don't want to hear: "Alito's supporters must produce 60 votes to cut off a filibuster; an Associated Press tally shows at least 62." Bob Fertik says he doesn't believe Yen "actually verified her count with Senators this weekend," and he wrote to her requesting the list.

Friday morning, not a single senator openly supported a filibuster. Friday afternoon, two senators did. Friday night, there were twelve. Saturday, there were thirteen. Sunday morning, fourteen. Now there are fifteen.

Let's make some calls.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Fertik: We Can Stop Alito This Weekend



NERO FIDDLED 1/27/06: The Spine is Kerry's

Bob Fertik, Democrats.com:

The last two days have been amazing.

Early Thursday afternoon, we broke the news that Senator John Kerry would lead a filibuster against Judge Sam Alito if he could get 41 Senators to sustain the filibuster. Three hours later, CNN confirmed our story.

Naturally, the White House freaked out and told Senator Bill Frist to schedule a cloture vote as quickly as possible - Monday at 4:30 p.m. - to prevent Democrats from uniting behind Kerry.

Then the White House called its media whores at the NY Times (David Kirkpatrick), AP (Jesse Holland), Pentagon Post (Charles Babington), CNN (Miles O'Brien), and MSNBC (Chris Matthews) and told them to trash John Kerry for daring to challenge the will of Emperor Bush, and to repeat over and over that Democrats did not have enough votes to stop Alito.

But even as Karl Rove was doing his dirty work, progressive activists like you were calling your Senators urging them to support John Kerry's filibuster.

And one by one, Democratic Senators began to turn around.

http://democrats.com/alito-48


At the start of the day, only Dick Durbin and Debbie Stabenow supported Kerry and Kennedy. Just before noon, Hillary Clinton's office called to say she supported us. Then Harry Reid came on board, along with Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, Ron Wyden, Chris Dodd, and (I think) Chuck Schumer.

Most importantly, we even picked up Dianne Feinstein, who just yesterday said she opposed a filibuster.

That's 12 votes for a filibuster - and exactly 12 more votes than we had two days ago!

I believe we really can stop Alito by Monday at 4:30 p.m. - but here's what we must do.

1. Ignore the media whores. Karl Rove is feeding them lies as he always does, and they are swallowing those lies as they always do. The only media that matters is the media we are creating right here by calling each Senator and getting a YES or NO statement from them.

2. Keep calling the Senators who are undecided or opposed to a filibuster.
You can call their DC office all weekend and leave polite but firm voicemails urging the Senators to support Kerry's filibuster. When offices open on Monday 9 a.m. ET, make another round of calls. Let's shut down the Capitol switchboard on Monday!

http://democrats.com/alito-48

3. Call the DNC (202-863-8000) and the DSCC (202-224-2447)
and tell them your 2006 contributions will depend on the success of the Alito filibuster. Tell them they need to get every Democratic Senator on board.

4. Wake up the sleeping bloggers. Where are the biggest blogs, including DailyKos.com, TalkingPointsMemo.com, CrooksandLiars.com, and AmericaBlog.com? (Complaining about how Democrats played last week won't cut it -we're in the Super Bowl and we can win this damn game if we get Democrats to play their best game on Monday - and hopefully the rest of this coming week.) Thanks to Agonist, BobGeiger, BradBlog, BuzzFlash, CultureKitchen, The Democratic Daily, DemocraticUnderground, Eschaton, Firedoglake, Mahablog, MakeThemAccountable, Mark Crispin Miller, NewsDissector, PoliticalWire, RudePundit, Vichy Democrats and everyone else who's plugging this.

5. Lend a hand to real-world groups like NOW, People for the American Way, Feminist Majority, Backbone Campaign, Moveon, Planned Parenthood, Progressive Democrats of America, and Working Assets Long Distance, which have worked tirelessly for two months to Stop Alito.

6. Call talk shows like Air America, C-SPAN, etc. and talk about what we're doing on this blog and how we're killing ourselves to stop Alito - and how we can win if everyone who cares about the future of our Democracy joins us.

7. Keep hope alive - because American Democracy is worth it!!!

http://democrats.com/alito-48

Bob Fertik

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Friday, January 27, 2006

The Spine is Kerry's



The question of whether Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court will be confirmed has become sort of boring, because for so long the answer has been, "Yeah, probably." It's been depressing, because the assault is twofold. There's the prospect of Justice Alito, which is bad enough. There's also the frustration of another flaccid showing from our heroes the Democrats. It's just been agonizing. We tolerated their polite approval of John Roberts. They've refrained from protesting nominations, appointments, and travesties, and we've accepted their restraint as strategic. We respected their "Gang of Eight" promise to employ the filibuster only in extreme circumstances. And for two weeks we've been saying, OKAY! THIS IS IT! EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES!

Yesterday morning, under the subtle headline "Senators in Need of a Spine," a New York Times editorial acknowledged, "A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court." The Times editors stopped short of specifically reminding John Kerry of his 2003 campaign promise, "I am prepared to filibuster, if necessary, any Supreme Court nominee who would turn back the clock on a woman's right to choose or the constitutional right to privacy, on civil rights and individual liberties, and on the laws protecting workers and the environment."

But yesterday afternoon, the word came down from Switzerland that one Democratic senator would attempt to lead a filibuster of Alito, and that that one Democratic senator was John Kerry. Moments later, the word came up from Washington that one Asshole Majority Leader had scheduled a cloture vote for Monday afternoon, and that that Asshole was Bill Frist.

He has also scheduled a "huh huh, up or down, huh huh huh" vote on Alito's nomination for Tuesday morning. Frist, and many other leading Assholes, would like very much for Alito to be a Supreme Court Justice by the time King Asshole makes his speech Tuesday evening. It's the speech he once referred to as "my State of the -- my State of the Union -- or state -- my speech to the -- nation, whatever you wanna call it, speech to the nation."

In the twelve hours since the confirmation of the Kerry filibuster rumors, there's been a flurry of speculative political arithmetic. Kerry needs forty votes to keep a filibuster going. Frist needs sixty for cloture. (Democrats.com is keeping a useful running tally. Bob Fertik lays out the challenge: "We must convince 41 senators to either support a filibuster or stay away from the Senate on Monday.")

David D. Kirkpatrick, in this morning's Times, says with certainty that "more than 60 senators have already pledged to support" Alito, but the official scorecard, when the Senate adjourned at 8:00 last night, showed 55 votes for Alito and 32 against. Charles Babington, in the Washington Post, attributes to "Alito supporters" the prediction that "enough Democratic senators will join [the 55 Senate Republicans] to end debate and hold a vote next week with votes to spare."

Kirkpatrick's Times piece plays like a Karl Rove fundraising speech. "Democrats cringed and Republicans jeered at the awkwardness of [Kerry's] gesture," he writes, "which almost no one in the Senate expects to succeed." But the argument for a filibuster is not based on the belief that it's likely to prevent confirmation. As the editorial page of Kirkpatrick's paper explained yesterday: "It is hard to imagine a moment when it would be more appropriate for senators to fight for a principle. Even a losing battle would draw the public's attention to the import of this nomination."

He goes on to describe a private meeting of the Democratic caucus last Wednesday, at which Kerry "gave an impassioned plea that the party should try to stage a filibuster even if it failed." But "some senators" argued that "an unsuccessful filibuster would leave the party weakened for future battles." But this is a future battle. This is one of the future battles you were supposedly saving it up for -- MR. HARRY REID!

As the mastermind of the "Gang of Eight" compromise, Reid has a special responsibility to recognize extreme circumstances when they're punching him in the face. But he is not pro-choice, and his constituency is conservative. He came out against the filibuster on the floor last night, along with a succession of predictable blowhards from across the aisle (I caught Thune the Thick and the Thing Called Inhofe on C-SPAN). "No one can complain on this matter that there hasn't been sufficient time to talk about Judge Alito, pro and con," Reid said. "I hope that this matter will be resolved without too much more talking, but everyone has the right to talk."

Kirkpatrick tells us Reid "sounded almost apologetic about Mr. Kerry's statements." Babington in the Post adds that Democratic Whip Durbin will support a filibuster, though Durbin says, "Having made a count, I have come to the conclusion it is highly unlikely that a filibuster would succeed." Unconfirmed rumors suggest that Barak Obama will not support a filibuster; a self-proclaimed insider called The Majority Report last night and said that a female Republican senator would soon announce her opposition to Alito -- it would have to be Snowe or Collins. Another pro-choice Republican, Lincoln Chafee, remains undeclared.

For all the Republican whining about Democrats who "play politics," I find myself wishing the Democrats would play a little more. It is a disaster that Alito's confirmation seems so certain -- but is that a reason to shut and shrivel up? A better response to the imminent launch of the Bad Ship Alito would be to add a few more anchors, and make the Republicans weigh them one by one. At the very least, postpone the tragedy for one more day, and deny King Asshole the opportunity to trumpet a victory on Tuesday night.

Hey -- John Kerry for President. I just wanted to see how it would sound.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Santorum Supports Supporting Santorum



When you hear the words "Rick Santorum," perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is man-on-dog sex. Another person might hear "Rick Santorum" and think of the term's technical definition ("the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter which is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex"). Personally, when I hear the words "Rick Santorum," I am reminded of fetus fetishism.

But whatever Rick Santorum means to you, I think you have to agree that the Pennsylvania senator's recent fundraising speech to the Centre County Republican Party is, in its way, more disgusting than fetus-cuddling, fecal froth, and sex with a dog combined.

A gem like this comes along rarely, so let's savor it. Let's go through it piece by piece. There's just so much here to enjoy.

"The question to all of us is, how much are we willing to fight to maintain this great country?"

Here, Senator Santorum poses the important question at the center of this particular plea for campaign contributions. It is a question "to all of us." The people in the room, members of the Centre County Republican Party, have evidently been engaged in some sort of fight; its purpose ("maintain this great country") is ambiguous, but what Santorum wants to know is how much? The ensuing remarks, then, will probably suggest some means by which Santorum's audience might fight a great deal indeed to "maintain this great country" -- if they're willing.

"I always find it remarkable that the men and women who are serving in the armed services -- who're out there sacrificing tonight, and god bless them -- "

I don't know how we drifted around to this, but since Rick brought it up, it's worth noting that in Republican parlance, the word sacrifice has become a synonym for serve in the military. Those troops in Iraq, god bless 'em! They're out there sacrificing -- this very night! They wake up, and first thing in the morning -- sacrifice! "You know, my nephew's over in Iraq." "No kidding! He's a sacrificer?"

I'm sorry, Senator; you were saying?

"-- but they volunteer. They step forward. In a time of war, they step forward."

Santorum is apparently not referring to those soldiers who stepped forward in a time of peace, unaware that our once-great democracy would be overthrown by an idiot king hellbent on unjustified war.

"'Cause we have a culture right now that doesn't say, serve. It doesn't say, don't think about yourself."

Rick Santorum envisions a culture which says, in a clear and resounding voice of unmistakable moral superiority: "Don't think about yourself." He wakes up in the morning and thinks to himself, "I wish we had a culture that said, 'Don't think about yourself!'"

So what does our rotten, nasty little culture say, then, Senator?

"It says, me me me. It's a very self-absorbed, me-centered, excessive popular culture. And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward, because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country."

Which is truly inspiring, Rick, absolutely. Say, why don't you sacrifice your life for this great country? That would be wonderful -- and not at all me-centered or excessive. Or, if you're not willing to fall on your sword until after you lose your Senate seat in this year's election, how about if one of your seven children puts on a uniform? Since you've been such an ardent supporter of the Iraq war. Seriously -- why isn't there a little Santorum or two over there? Don't they know what's at stake? But of course it's not their fault; after all, they live in a culture which says, "Me me me."

But back to the speech. He's building to his main point. He has just spoken with reverence of the men and women of the American military, and their selfless willingness to risk their lives, and now:

"What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?"

Yes. Rick Santorum has just equated putting a Rick Santorum bumper sticker on your car with serving in the military. STEP UP, demands Good Citizen Santorum, AND SERVE YOUR COUNTRY! You can do this in one of two ways -- service in the armed forces, of course, or if that's not your cup of tea, there's always PUTTING MY NAME ON YOUR CAR. Supporting Santorum's re-election campaign is the same as being out there tonight in Iraq, sacrificing. Pardon me, Senator, but it sounds a little, how do you say, self-absorbed.

So is it too much to ask, Rick?

"To fight for what we believe in? To fight for the values that have made this country the greatest country?"

He's saying that his values have made the United States "the greatest country." Values like bigotry, homophobia, religious fanaticism, the repression of women, and the destruction of privacy. The United States is a great country, but its greatness derives largely from its success in overcoming that which Santorum values. You know how Karl Rove said that Democrats live in a pre-9/11 world, and Republicans in a post-9/11 world? Santorum lives in a pre-Englightenment world. Santorum lives in the seventeenth century.

Back to the speech. At this point, he begins to paint a conflicting picture. Remember, Santorum is not happy at all with American culture right now -- it's self-absorbed, it says me me me, it doesn't say "Don't think about yourself," it's just terrible. But now he turns around and tells us how we "got here," apparently under the premise that we are somewhere good.

So how did we get here?

"We got here not because we were doing things really wrong, that our traditions and our morals were way out of whack."

Oh! See -- I thought we got here because we were doing things really wrong. Because our traditions and our morals were way out of whack. Like our tradition of making black people drink from separate water fountains.

"We got here because we were a good decent country."

He means back in the fabled good old days, before culture said me me me, before homosexuality began, in the late 1980s.

"A country guided by divine providence."

(At this point in the speech, if you listen closely to the video, you can hear a cuckoo clock going off in the room where Santorum is speaking.)

"We will only stay that great country if we continue that fight. I'm asking you to help me do that. God bless you. Thank you."

No, god bless you, Senator Santorum. You're one of the funniest people in the world. I can hardly even believe that you exist.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Audio



A NERO FIDDLED audio moment: Here's what I have to say to Karl Rove.

Also: Please call your senators today. If you're calling a Democratic senator, the message is FILIBUSTER ALITO. If you're calling a Republican, it's VOTE AGAINST ALITO.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Return of Nero Fiddled



I'M BACK!

Until now, there has not been a new article published on NERO FIDDLED in an entire week. As you know, I can usually be counted on -- Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and Tuesdays with Sisk. It's something you can rely on, like the sun rising, or Dick Cheney having a heart attack. First of all, I apologize, to anyone who's logged on in the last week, only to have his or her hopes of a new NERO FIDDLED article cruelly shattered. I've been sick. Sisk too. A lot of people, actually. It lasts about five days. I'm now coming out of the tunnel, my nose rubbed raw with tissues, ready to resume.

We'll attack the unprecedented wrath of the Bush regime in short order, but first I want to tell you that the next NERO FIDDLED theatrical event is in the works. It will hit the stage this spring, and there will be more information soon. It's a chamber piece, a transition between last year's Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical and its fall 2006 follow-up, which for lack of a title I am referring to, as often as possible, as Bush Harder. NERO's spring project comes to you under the auspices of the Immediate Theater Company, whose February production is 3 to a Session -- check it out, if you will.

Now. I've been out of it for a week, and so much has happened.

The White House is still vigorously denying that there is any significant connection between George W. Bush and convicted lobbyist slimeball Jack Abramoff. (Scott McClellan: "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him.") But Time claims to have seen five photographs of Abramoff and Bush which "suggest a level of contact between them that Bush's aides have downplayed."

Consider this image, for example:



Actually, Time's source declined to allow the magazine to publish the photos, but Time says "they are likely to see the light of day eventually because celebrity tabloids are on the prowl for them." It's quite something when the rather-conservative news weekly wonders out loud whether the one of the unseen images could become an "iconic image of direct presidential involvement in a burgeoning corruption scandal." So we'll keep our eyes open for that.

What else is going on?

It turns out that the wacky gang at Halliburton exposed U.S. troops and civilians to contaminated water at a military base in Ramadi, Iraq. Halliburton knew about it, didn't do anything about it, and didn't say anything about it. Except, of course, in internal company memos.

William Granger, writing on behalf of Halliburton's KBR subsidiary in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait, said in one such memo: "We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated...The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River." Apparently bottled water was provided for drinking, but the contaminated water was used for "virtually everything else, including handwashing, laundry, bathing, and making coffee," according to a water expert named Ben Carter.

Carter was called upon to perform tests on the water at the Ramadi base in March of last year, and he promptly reported, "It is my opinion that the water source is without question contaminated with numerous micro-organisms, including Coliform bacteria. There is little doubt that raw sewage is routinely dumped upstream of intake much less than the required 2 mile distance. Therefore, it is my conclusion that chlorination of our water tanks while certainly beneficial is not sufficient protection from parasitic exposure."

I think we can all understand, finally, how Dick Cheney's mind works. If you say that Saddam Hussein never purchased uranium from Niger, that undermines our troops. The patriotic thing to do is make them take a bath in raw sewage.

Ben Carter told the Associated Press that he pleaded with Halliburton personnel in Ramadi to notify the military of the contamination. "They told me it was none of my concern and to keep my mouth shut," he said. "They brushed it under the carpet. I told everyone, 'Don't take showers, use bottled water.'" In early April, after numerous troops and civilians at the camp began suffering from diarrhea and stomach cramps, Carter resigned in disgust. One of William Granger's memos included the estimate that the exposure had happened for "possibly a year." Granger wrote, "I am not sure if any attempt to notify the exposed population was ever made."

Democratic senators are holding a public inquiry on the matter today, chaired by Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

And finally -- after a week saturated with the throaty cries of right-wingers too simpleminded to perceive a difference between Osama bin Laden's latest dispatch and Michael Moore's last film -- Bush has given Pakistan a case of Osamamania.

One week ago, a U.S. airstrike devastated the Pakistani mountain town of Damadola. Bacha Khan, a flour mill worker whose house was destroyed, said, "We don't have anything to do with al Qaeda, and it was a cruel act of the Americans to attack my house without reason." One Zakir Ullah agreed: "This attack has increased our hatred for Americans because they are killing innocent women and children." According to the Associated Press, the area around Damadola remains flooded with "thousands of protesters" chanting "Long live Osama bin Laden!"

"We support jihad," said the awakened Zakir Ullah. "Jihad is the duty of every Muslim."

So it's nice to know that the Bush regime continues to do such a great job preventing the spread of terrorism and protecting the American people.

It's actually nice to know, I hope, that NERO FIDDLED is back from its unexpected coughing and sneezing hiatus. I'll be back on Wednesday, friends. Have a beautiful day.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

The Cats Were Scared




It started as an innocent obsession with the local news. I couldn't get enough - I would call Noah while he was at work and repeat lines the anchors and reporters had said, I'd scribble down hilarious teasers, making myself cry repeating them over and over. Then I started leaving the tv on and watching the entertainment shows or Seinfeld. And it got easier just to leave it on in the background. And now, for the past week, I have had the television on almost constantly.

I become addicted to things quickly and can become a fanatic overnight. So I've always avoided watching tv. I didn't have cable unless my roommate had it. I have no idea how to use the buttons on my parents' remote. I didn't have a tv for more than a year and it was only recently that Noah and I sprung for a set of rabbit ears. When I did watch tv, I became addicted to Joe Millionaire. And that’s just not how I want to live.

I don't think television is inherently bad and I'm not convinced it's the downfall of our culture. I’ve never been protesting anything by not watching it. I just didn’t want it to rule my life like I knew it would if I let it. I didn’t want to not be able to leave my house because I had to see a certain thing.

I think there have been some amazing shows on network television in my lifetime and I've been a fan of some. (I've been living for Wednesdays since I started watching Lost.) But the fact that I've watched about 40 hours of television this week is pretty amazing. I've seen that ghost show with Jennifer Love-Hewitt (how does she get her hair so shiny?), CSI or Law and Order or both, 24, lots of news and news magazine shows - and I've found that television scares the shit out of me. Really scares me. Like, have-to turn-on-all-the-lights scary.

This woman was on some show talking about how her perfect and wonderful husband suddenly started trying to kill her by leaving marbles on the stairs. That freaked me out so much I changed the channel and found a concerned anchor treating viewers to a detailed description of how that poor little girl in Brooklyn died. So I changed it again and it was apparently the beginning of some crime show because there was a dead, mutilated body in close up on the screen. It seems to me that most shows on television begin this way. Every hour started with a close up of a dead body. The cats (who were also scared) and I cuddled up closer and kept flipping through.

And every night I'd get more and more frightened and run around turning lights on and try not to imagine the dead body hanging in my shower or the creepy rape guy coming through the door. I frantically groped for the remote to avoid seeing "shocking" footage of the guys in Florida beating that homeless man and found myself staring at something equally disturbing, if not real, on the next channel.

Now, I'll admit it - I'm a pussy. I'm a scaredy-cat. I don't like roller-coasters, I don't like haunted houses, I don't like being freaked out. After I watch a scary movie, I'll wake Noah up so he can make sure I get to the bathroom without incident (in our one room apartment). The Blair Witch Project destroyed me. With all that being said, I cannot imagine someone watching television as much as I did and not feeling frightened by it.

I talked to two of my co-workers about it today. One of them mentioned that she can still remember a horrifying scene from the French Connection and how much it scared her when she was younger, but that now she rarely finds herself disturbed by anything that's on television or in a movie.

Dead people, dead people, dead people. Mean people, evil people and vindictive people doing mean, evil and vindictive things to people so that kind, upright and flawed people can do justice to the bad guys and mourn the sad fate of the innocent. And lots of dead people.

So what do I think now that I've returned from my tele-immersion?

1. The stories on television are scary and people aren't scared of them. Am I more of a wuss than I thought or are people who watch tv just not afraid of anything anymore?

2. Local news is a ridiculous bullshit sandwich.

3. More than half the people on television are dead.
Now I have to get back to the Golden Globes.
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Boom...Boom...Boom...



Impeachment of an American president begins in the House of Representatives, which has the power to pass "articles of impeachment." These are the formal charges, of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," according to the Constitution. Articles of impeachment can be passed by a simple majority in the House. With that, the president has been impeached. Impeachment doesn't automatically mean removal from office. Once the House has impeached a president, he is then tried by the Senate, which can remove him from office by a two-thirds majority.

No president of the United States has ever been removed from office as a consequence of impeachment. The two presidents who have been impeached -- Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998) -- were both subsequently acquitted in the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned from office (1974) rather than face impeachment; he's the only American president to resign.

A new Zogby poll finds that a majority of Americans, by a margin of 52% - 43%, believe Congress should consider impeaching Bush if he "wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge." By a nearly identical margin of 53% - 42%, a Zogby poll in November 2005 found that a majority of Americans favor impeachment if Bush "did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war in Iraq." The impeachment of George W. Bush already enjoys more public support than that of Bill Clinton, whose impeachment was never supported by a majority of the American people.

George Stephanopoulos asked Senator Arlen Specter, "If the president did break the law or circumvent the law, what's the remedy?" Specter, cautiously establishing that he was "not suggesting remotely that there's any basis," concluded that "impeachment is a remedy. After impeachment, you could have a criminal prosecution."

In December, Congressman John Conyers introduced resolutions in the House calling for the censure of Bush and Cheney, along with official consideration of their impeachment. ("We recommend that Congress establish a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush Administration with regard to the Iraq war detailed in this Report and report to the Committee on the Judiciary on possible impeachable offenses.")

Congressman John Lewis, commenting on the Bush regime's warrantless wiretapping, called for "further inquiry in the House and Senate on these matters." Lewis said, "We must gather the facts and determine once and for all whether the law was violated. There is no question that the U.S. Congress has impeached presidents for lesser offenses."

Senator John Kerry told a Christmas gathering of his 2004 campaign staff that a Democratic congressional majority would have "a solid case" for bringing "articles of impeachment" against Bush.

Former Nixon aide John Dean, who served time in connection with Watergate, told Keith Olbermann, "I don't think there's any question [Bush] has violated the law. He's admitted to violating the law." On another occasion, Dean pointed out that Bush "is the first president to ever willingly admit to an impeachable offense."

Senator Russ Feingold said, "If there was a legal violation there needs to be accountability. You can't put the cart before the horse, but I would not rule out any form of accountability."

In a beautiful article in the current issue of The Nation, former Representative Elizabeth Holtzman -- a key figure in the Watergate prosecution -- writes, "A President, any President, who maintains that he is above the law -- and repeatedly violates the law -- thereby commits high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard for impeachment and removal of office."

The drumbeat grows louder.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Ups and Downs



I'm back, folks -- hope you enjoyed Bush on Alito (a short film from NERO FIDDLED). I've spent the last several days doing my civic duty as a juror. Actually, I was an alternate juror, so I had the privilege of sitting through the trial but not the privilege of deliberating, or contributing to the decision. It's a small price to pay for the right to vote, but as I said to the defending attorney when he asked how I felt about being an alternate: "It's a drag, but the whole thing is kind of a drag." Since I spent so much of the week in Lower Manhattan's municipal district, I was sure to stroll by Columbus Park and stand at the mythic intersection which was once the confluence of the notorious Five Points. (See my illustrated maps of the Five Points then and now.)

On the subject of Alito, as you are aware, it looks bleak. I would like to read one news report on the matter which does not use the words "coasting," "cruising," or "his wife in tears." To paraphrase Randi Rhodes, maybe she was crying because her husband is such an asshole. The numbers are bad, though: None of the Senate's 55 Republicans appears likely to vote against confirmation -- even the pro-choice Republican triumverate of Chaffee, Snowe, and Collins. The Note is saying that even the remaining 45 senators may not vote unanimously against Alito. Republicans are pushing for a vote by January 20; some Democrats have suggested it will take longer. Some, notably Senator Schumer, have said that a filibuster is not out of the question. Even if that happened, though, it could be crushed with 60 votes, so it couldn't successfully stop Alito's confirmation without total or near-total support among Democratic senators. But we'll see.

I want to talk about Al Gore instead.

Raw Story is reporting that on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day -- Monday -- at noon, Gore "will deliver a scathing speech...in which he will declare America is faced with a constitutional crisis." He "will be introduced by onetime Georgia Republican congressman Bob Barr," and the event will take place "at Constitution Hall in Washington -- just blocks from the White House."

Raw Story's source is a Gore aide, whose comments made clear that Gore would be focusing on "a president acting above the law." John Byrne is careful to emphasize in his article that these are not Gore's words; this is his unnamed aide giving us a general sense of what Gore will talk about. ("The source noted," Byrne writes, "that Gore prepares the final editions of his speeches just before he delivers them.")

So here's what the aide told Byrne Gore's speech would be like:

“We are at a point of constitutional crisis...The president who has violated the law is acting above the law. It's a wakeup call for Congress, the American people and the courts. If we continue down this road we will have a different constitution.

"Nixon's quote about if the president does it it is legal, it's kind of like Bush saying, if it's about national security, it's legal. This is going to be called transpartisan; it's not about who your party is, it's about what America stands for.

"...You can't defend freedom while abandoning it at home...The founders thought about this. They didn't want a king, that's why they didn't set up a system to anoint a king. We have checks and balances in this country and we cannot abandon them."

The co-sponsors of Gore's address are the Liberty Coalition, which "brings together ideologically diverse organizations across the political spectrum, including liberal and conservative groups, to preserve the Bill of Rights, personal autonomy and individual privacy;" and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a progressive legal organization. Their press release describes the theme of Gore's "major address" as "the threat posed by policies of the Bush Administration to the Constitution and the checks and balances it created."

"The speech will specifically point to domestic wiretapping and torture as examples of the administration's efforts to extend executive power beyond Congressional direction and judicial review.

"The Vice President will make the case that the country -- including the legislative and judicial branches and all Americans -- must act now to defend the systems put into place by the country's founders to curb executive power or risk permanent and irreversible damage to the Constitution."

The press release also points out that "the extent of bipartisan concern over these issues" is evidenced in part by Barr's introduction, and by "the organizations cosponsoring the speech." So I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully, the Alito story has not deflated the media's "woes of the Bush regime" storyline sufficiently to have them ignore it. In the Inevitable Questions department, there's still no indication that Gore will reverse his stated decision not to run for president in 2008.

But he did just buy a condo in San Francisco. One of the city's luxury rental specialists, Damion Matthews, says, "Al might prefer to have a view from the Oval Office, but the stunning sights he gets from his new condo must be a good consolation. From his vantage point, he can even see his new television studios across town." That's nice, but I wish he'd try one more time for the Oval Office view. I don't think it's likely, but the thought of a Gore presidency is just so soothing. It is, after all, what the American people clearly voted for, before democracy was overthrown in favor of the sniveling, braindead monster we were given.

By a Supreme Court to the left of the one we'll have if Alito is confirmed.

But listen -- I'm delirious with civic pride after my experience as an alternate juror, and I want to end this on an up note. So keep in mind that at least we know some things for absolute certain:

We know that the midterm elections later this year will yield a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, all of a sudden, will be chaired by Patrick Leahy! And the House Judiciary Committee, miraculously, will be chaired by John Conyers, who is obviously the best person in the world.

George W. Bush will be impeached. Impeached, pal. How do you like that? Cheney too. Especially Cheney!

Some of the more cautious liberals are saying, "Oh, don't talk too much about impeachment right now; are you mad? Don't you see? YOU'LL MAKE THE 2006 ELECTIONS A REFERENDUM ON WHETHER BUSH SHOULD BE IMPEACHED!" And I say, let's go.

A majority of Americans support impeachment if Bush lied about Iraq. In other words, if the Pope is Catholic, a majority of Americans support impeachment.

And George W. Bush shits in the woods.

At least we know that much. No matter what, have a beautiful weekend.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Armor You Don't Have



It's been a while since Donald Rumsfeld helpfully explained, "You have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you want." At the time, he was addressing concerns about the lack of protective plating on army Humvees. Further boosting the troops' morale, Rumsfeld added, "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and it can be blown up."

Well, that's got to be true. Imagine it for a moment -- you take all the armor in the world, and you put it on a single tank. That's a lot of armor, but Rumsfeld is right -- modern weaponry is powerful enough to blow it up anyway. Apparently the Bush regime's logic, when it comes to armor, follows from this point. If all the armor in the world can't make a tank indestructible, they seem to have decided, then we might as well send troops into combat with entire regions of their bodies unprotected.

Of course it's bad form to quote oneself, but I'm reminded of this exchange between Bush (Brian Louis Hoffman) and Rumsfeld (yours truly) in Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical:

BUSH: Do the troops have enough armor?

RUMSFELD: Well, you go to war with the armor you have. Obviously, if you don't have it, you can't use it.

BUSH: But what if they don't have enough?

RUMSFELD: Then they're gonna get shot!

On Friday, the New York Times reported on "a secret Pentagon study" which has found that "at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor." That armor, according to the Times, has been available since 2003.

"The ceramic plates in vests currently worn by the majority of military personnel in Iraq cover only some of the chest and back. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds that were analyzed in the Pentagon study of marines from March 2003 through June 2005, bullets and shrapnel struck the marines' shoulders, sides or areas of the torso where the plates do not reach.

"Thirty-one of the deadly wounds struck the chest or back so close to the plates that simply enlarging the existing shields 'would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome,' according to the study, which was obtained by The New York Times.

"For the first time, the study by the military's medical examiner shows the cost in lost lives from inadequate armor, even as the Pentagon continues to publicly defend its protection of the troops. Officials have said they are shipping the best armor to Iraq as quickly as possible. At the same time, they have maintained that it is impossible to shield forces from the increasingly powerful improvised explosive devices used by insurgents. Yet the Pentagon's own study reveals the equally lethal threat of bullets.

"The vulnerability of the military's body armor has been known since the start of the war, and is part of a series of problems that have surrounded the protection of American troops. Still, the Marine Corps did not begin buying additional plates to cover the sides of their troops until this September, when it ordered 28,800 sets, Marine Corps officials acknowledge.

"Additional forensic studies by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's unit that were obtained by The Times indicate that about 340 American troops have died solely from torso wounds.

"...'Our preliminary research suggests that as many as 42 percent of the Marine casualties who died from isolated torso injuries could have been prevented with improved protection in the areas surrounding the plated areas of the vest,' the study concludes. Another 23 percent might have been saved with side plates that extend below the arms, while 15 percent more could have benefited from shoulder plates, the report says. In all, 526 marines have been killed in combat in Iraq.

"...The findings and other research by military pathologists suggests that an analysis of all combat deaths in Iraq, including those of Army personnel, would show that 300 or more lives might have been saved with improved body armor."

Even so, the Chicago Sun-Times tells us that there are at least a few U.S. soldiers who don't want any more armor. One Second Lieutenant Josh Suthoff, 23, of Jefferson City, Mississippi, said, "You can slap body armor on all you want, but it's not going to help anything." With all due respect, Lieutenant, this study from the Pentagon itself says that it would have helped a great deal. "When it's your time, it's your time," said Suthoff. Yeah. And if you're going into the world's deadliest combat zone with nothing protecting your "shoulders, sides or areas of the torso," then it's probably "your time."

"I'd go out with less body armor if I could," Suthoff said. He ought to talk to someone. I'm sure Rumsfeld would be happy to send him out there even more vulnerable than he is already. And perhaps one of Suthoff's colleagues has a keener sense of self-preservation, and could use Suthoff's unwanted plating to shield the regions of his torso which the Bush regime doesn't see fit to protect.

But a marine named James Brower doesn't need it. He's one of those soldiers who would actually like to survive combat, and whose family realized that if they wanted him to have body armor, they had to take care of it themselves. His mother, Elaine Brower, charged $3,000 worth of armor to her debit card last month, to send her son a Christmas present he really needed.

"I said to him, 'I don't understand why they don't give you this stuff,'" Ms. Brower told the New York Daily News. I don't understand it either. I also don't understand why the Pentagon still has not reimbursed a single one of the hundreds of military parents who have purchased body armor for their sons and daughters in Iraq, for the simple reason that it was the only way they'd have it.

It's easy to say you support the troops, and it's easy for Bush to say he cares. But it's impossible to believe that it's true.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Red Carpet to the Back Door



In their infinite wisdom, the framers of the Constitution granted the President the power to appoint "Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States" with "the Advice and Consent of the Senate." (Article 2 Section II.) Congress was granted the authority to "vest the Appointment of sucmh inferior Officers, as they think proper." Presumably, the framers did not anticipate that future administrations would stretch the definition of the word inferior beyond all previous limits; otherwise, they might not have established presidential authority to "fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session."

The whole idea of recess appointments is a strange one. You can picture the issue coming up at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Says one framer to another, "The President's appointments must have the approval of the Senate!" Says the second framer, "Yes -- but what if the Senate is out of town?"

George W. Bush, of course, has relied on the recess appointment to skirt confirmation of nominees who were clearly not going to get it. There was former Alabama attorney general Bill Pryor, filibustered by Senate Democrats in 2003; Bush named him to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a recess appointment in February of 2004. And most notoriously, there was the dastardly John Bolton, who became Ambassador to the United Nations against the Senate's wishes.

And now, Bush has taken advantage of the Senate's absence to push through "a raft of controversial recess appointments," according to the Washington Post.

Julie L. Myers has been given leadership of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. Myers served as an associate under independent counsel Kenneth Starr, assisting Starr in his valiant efforts to investigate Bill Clinton's penis. Myers, formerly the Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce, has a background which makes her roughly twice as qualified as an Arabian horse expert. But she has connections. Her uncle is General Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then she served as chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, back when he worked in the criminal division of the Justice Department. And few months ago, she married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood. Her most recent D.C. gig was as a special assistant to Bush, handling personnel issues. And we all know how well that's been going.

In September, when senators of both parties expressed concern over her inexperience with matters of immigration, Myers, 36, cheekily testified, "I realize that I'm not 80 years old. I have a few gray hairs, more coming, but I will seek to work with those who are knowledgeable in this area, who know more than I do." And the Senate essentially said, "Well, maybe one of those people ought to head Immigration and Customs."

At least she realizes that she's not 80 years old. The problem isn't just that Myers doesn't know anything about immigration; there is also nothing in her background or testimony to suggest that she is capable of managing a vast bureaucracy. The Post pointed out in September that she offered Congress a written account of "her year-long job as assistant secretary for export enforcement at Commerce, where she said she supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget," while ICE "has more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion." Charles Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council, observed that Myers had "a tremendous amount of experience in money laundering, in banking and the financial areas. My question is: Who the hell is going to enforce the immigration laws?"

Myers' nomination was seen as particularly ill-advised in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina -- a tragic object lesson in the dangers of cronyism. Perhaps because of this, opposition to Myers in September was notably bipartisan. Her hearing took place three days after Michael Brown's resignation. The toughest questions came from Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who announced, "I'd really like to have [Chertoff] spend some time with us, telling us personally why he thinks you're qualified for the job, because based on the résumé, I don't think you are."

An eventual conference with Chertoff apparently changed Voinovich's mind. But the right wing noise machine maintained its opposition to Myers. Under the headline "Withdraw Myers," the National Review said that "the president's supporters can look forward to serving in his administration, but certain key jobs ought to be reserved for candidates whose personal connections don’t outweigh their professional qualifications." And conservative harpy Michelle Malkin was moved to comment, "Oh, give me a *&%$# break and a half!" See, that's an asterisk, an ampersand, a percent sign, a dollar sign, and a number sign. When Michelle Malkin uses that much profanity, you know something's wrong. Even Michelle Malkin wishes the Bush administration would give her a star and percent dollar number break.

Bush also appointed Tracy A. Henke to be the executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. In this role, Henke will be responsible for helping to "develop the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, assist crime victims and improve the criminal and juvenile justice systems" (in the poetic words of the DOJ).

Henke was once Senior Policy Advisor to Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Missouri). In her most recent position, as a Bush appointee to the Justice Department, she established herself as one of the administration's leading racists. The New York Times reported in August on Henke's role in the editing of a report indicating greater instances of police brutality toward blacks and Hispanics than whites. (Henke was then the acting assistant attorney general, overseeing statistics.) The pertinent items in the report had been crossed out by hand, and a marginal notation asked, "Do we need this?" An attached note -- "Make the changes" -- was signed, "Tracy." Henke told the Times that she "did not recall the episode," but when Bureau of Justice Statistics head Lawrence A. Greenfield refused to delete the data, Bush promptly fired him.

But of course Myers and Henke aren't the only atrocious recess appointments Bush made this week. He also named Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission.

In a 2004 New Yorker article, Jeffrey Toobin called von Spakovsky "the Bush administration's chief operative on voting rights," which is kind of like being Larry Flynt's chief operative on family entertainment. His background includes private law practice, the Fulton County, Georgia Registration and Election Board, and the Federalist Society. He played a key role in the Texas congressional redistricting plan, which violated state law and turned five districts over to the Republicans.

In 1997, he argued for the infamous purge of felons from election rolls, and worked with the State of Florida in its supposed felons purge -- which "led, notoriously," in Toobin's words, "to the mistaken disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, most of them Democratic, before the 2000 election." I believe Toobin is being too generous, using the word "mistaken." Those people may not have been felons, but their disenfranchisement was no accident, and von Spakovsky knows it. During the aborted 2000 Florida recount, von Spakovsky joined John Bolton and other Bush pals as a volunteer, fighting vigorously to prevent American citizens' votes from being counted.

And this is the guy Bush just appointed to the Federal Election Commission! The Senate would never go for it, so he had to do it when their backs were turned. How does this feel to the nominee? The red carpet leads up to the back door.

"People who do the political dirty work of this administration get promoted," Rolando Rios of the League of United Latin American Citizens said to the San Diego Union Tribune. "We're very concerned when you appoint somebody to the FEC who has absolutely no sensitivity to the voting rights of minorities." The White House said, "The president believes that [von Spakovsky] will take a fair and accurate view of the federal regulations and also the role that the agency plays in rule making." Oh. Thank you very much, White House. That really allays our concerns.

These recess appointments are good (bad) for the next year; they will expire in January of 2007, along with the current congressional session. And hopefully, when Myers, Henke, and Spakovsky are finished, it'll be a whole different ballgame.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Don't Even Talk About It



I finally figured it out. When people from the Bush administration say that those who oppose illegal domestic wiretapping are partisans, they mean partisans on both sides.

There's nothing the right wing does better than making clean words dirty, and the shrill cry of partisan! has lately been the administration's most constant refrain. As though it's a terrible thing to be on one side or the other. "You partisan! Why, you're just feeling the way people who feel the way you feel feel!"

But "partisan politics" is actually the Great National Conversation. The exchange of ideas, and the back-and-forth path toward compromise, is how our democracy works. That which enjoys bipartisan support, of course, is special -- little conversation is needed. Because the issue is so clear. Take illegal domestic wiretapping, for example.

Neither George W. Bush nor the Voice From Scott McClellan's Ass can address this issue without cutting straight to the main point -- that anyone who has a problem with illegal domestic wiretapping is a partisan! Thanks, fellas, that really clears up our concerns about illegal domestic wiretapping. Not only are the anti-spying freaks partisan, the regime says -- they're also deliberately helping terrorists through a savage and devious campaign of talking.

At yesterday's press briefing, the issue came up, and McClellan got so nervous I thought he was about to start fanning himself. "In terms of discussions about this," he stammered, "the President talked about this at his end-of-the-year news conference. We shouldn't be talking about intelligence activities, particularly in a time of war, in a public way." So, Scott, is the government spying on American citizens without a warrant? Oh my god! Be quiet! We shouldn't be talking about this! At least not during the war! Can this question wait till after the war?

"You don't see al Qaeda talking about their tactics and activities in public," McClellan said a few minutes later. So let me get this straight -- now we're actually using al Qaeda as an example? You don't see al Qaeda talking about their activities in public because al Qaeda is a terrorist organization. The United States, supposedly, is a democratic republic.

It's all perfectly logical. Members of al Qaeda might be watching McClellan's briefing on C-SPAN, and if they hear that American citizens suspected of being their affiliates could be spied on by the American government without a warrant, then they might encourage their affiliates to sue! Who knows -- an activist judge might rule in favor of al Qaeda, and partisans could further endanger our lives by talking about the trial. Al Qaeda loves the partisans.

But it is Senator Arlen Specter -- a Republican -- who is vowing to hold congressional hearings on the wiretapping issue. He says he'd like to begin these hearings in February, after Alito is confirmed or not confirmed. In an effort to pacify Specter, the White House sent Alberto Gonzales to talk with him. Asked about their conversation, Specter said, "I would summarize it by saying I have grave doubts about his legal conclusion."

The subject of Specter's intended hearings came up during the press briefing yesterday. McClellan gave the senator from Pennsylvania reason to have more grave doubts -- about whether the White House will cooperate. McClellan was asked, "Will you cooperate with a congressional hearing?" McClellan explained that Gonzales had been speaking with "additional members of Congress" about the wiretapping "authorization" (lack thereof), in an effort to help them "understand" why this "tool" -- wiretapping American citizens without a warrant -- is "so vital in our efforts to prevail in the global war on terrorism."

Then came the follow-up: "But will you cooperate with a hearing?"

"Well," said McClellan, "I'm not going to get into talking about ruling things in or out from this podium. We'll talk with members of Congress and make sure that they're briefed and kept informed, as we have been." But apparently you won't do anything you haven't been doing, such as obtaining a warrant before listening in on an American citizen's phone calls. (Or, for that matter, obtaining a warrant up to seventy-two hours after listening in.)

A reporter asked whether Bush had signed any other orders which "affect the daily lives of Americans, intruding on their privacy, and so forth, that are still secret?" And this is how it played out:

McCLELLAN: The President believes we must act in a way that protects our liberties and save lives, and that's what we are committed to doing.

Q: Does he believe in following the law?

McCLELLAN: The Patriot Act is a law that meets both those commitments and it is --

Q: Has he signed any other executive orders that intrude on the lives of Americans?

McCLELLAN: Well, if you're asking me talk about classified programs, I can't do that; you know that I'm prohibited from doing that. But --

Q: But not yet leaked.

McCLELLAN: No, the President will do everything within his lawful power to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. And that's what we're doing under this NSA authorization.

Q: Within the law?

McCLELLAN: Absolutely.

Really? From now on? Promise? Of course not.

Arlen Specter has high hopes for the impending hearings. "There may be legislation which will come out of it," he told the Associated Press, "to restrict the president's power."

"Hey!" shouted Scott McClellan. "You don't see al Qaeda restricting the president's power!"

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Judicial Bypass Surgery



In early December, the US Supreme Court, headed by newly appointed chief justice John Roberts, heard arguments in its first abortion case since Justice Roberts took his place on the highest court in the land. The dispute involved in Ayotte v Planned Parenthood of New Hampshire is very simple, but, as usual, in some circles, the facts are playing second fiddle to the rhetoric.

The law being contested in the case says that a minor in New Hampshire must have parental consent in order to undergo abortion, unless the minor successfully gains a judicial bypass by showing a judge that she is mature enough to make the decision on her own, or because other circumstances make parental notification dangerous or impossible (in cases of pregnancy by incest or rape, for example). This part of the law is not being challenged. What is being challenged is that there is no exception contained for situations in which a minor's health depends upon an emergency abortion.

According to Michael Dorf, "The omission of the health emergency exception was not an oversight: Such an exception was proposed but voted down in the legislature by the law's supporters. Although they must have recognized that omitting the health emergency exception would jeopardize the law's validity, they worried, as many pro-life activists worry, that a health exception would undermine the law -- effectively resulting in abortion on demand for minors, because of what they regard as the indeterminacy of the term 'health.'"

Attorney General Ayotte countered this by saying the judicial bypass itself could serve as an exception in health-threatening cases. In other words, if a young woman is sitting in a doctor's office or clinic in severe pain with her kidneys failing and the threat of long-term damage is imminent, she could call a judge and ask for a bypass then. You'd think that even the most staunch pro-life advocate must realize that this solution is not ideal for the patient or for the doctor who, afraid of being sued under the statute, must sit by and wait until a judge tells him or her when it's the appropriate time to operate.

But, of course, that's just not true. According to the Christian Examiner's recap of 2005, "the law was challenged by Planned Parenthood because it does not include the so-called 'health exception,' which is generally interpreted broadly to include such things as depression, a tactic which effectively guts laws designed to restrict abortion." And the Christian Examiner looks eagerly forward to the rulings on the cases which "could make a significant difference to the pro-life movement — and validate Christian activism on the political process." I don't think I'm stretching here to say that to the Christian Examiner, the case is not about a woman's health or even the parental consent clause. It's about prohibiting women from having abortion altogether. And about validating "Christian activism on the political process." I'm not really even sure what that means, but the idea of it scares the shit out of me. "Christian activism" and "political process" shouldn't ever be spoken in the same sentence, as far as I'm concerned.

But the religious right doesn't take much stock in what I have to say and they insert themselves into political process whenever and wherever they can. Flip Benham, head of Operation Save America (which used to be called Operation Rescue, a group now run by Troy Newman that has nothing officially to do with Operation Save America according to an OSA spokesperson) certainly does. In fact, he's calling on all of us to join them Monday morning, January 23, 2006, and “'give ‘em heaven' at your local abortion mill that morning..." Flip's objective is to "bring the theology of the church house into the streets of our cities and allow it to become biography as we give a voice to voiceless children."

Mr. Benham has also provided a nice visual on his site, a map of the United States of America "indicating the number of states that would have their populations totally wiped out if war were to come to our shores and 47 million people were killed." This number indicates the same number of "innocent pre-born children" who have been "murdered" since 1973. Mr. Benham's point is, in his own words, to "shock" us and to make us "rethink who the real 'terrorists' are."

Forty-seven million is also the number of children living in poverty. And that is too many. Way too many. I wonder why that isn't as much of an outrage to Mr. Benham?

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Monday, January 02, 2006

A Long Hard Look



George W. Bush, who is what public school administrators call "a special needs child," was hoping to start the new year in a position of renewed strength. Whatever happened in the dusk of 2005, the administration was hopeful that January would bring a clean slate on which to scrawl claims of victory in Iraq, a smooth confirmation process for Alito, and a substantive State of the Union address. The administration will have no such luck. As Bush kicks off the sixth year of his fake presidency, he's still playing defense, which is exactly what he should be doing. Of course, he should be doing it in prison, not in the White House. But for him, the White House is presumably feeling more and more like prison.

Unfortunately, so is the country in general. This is why, as Bush gallops back to Washington from another extended Crawford respite, he's whining about how he can do anything he wants. "The alarming argument," writes Jonathan Schell in The Nation, "is that as Commander in Chief he possesses 'inherent' authority to suspend laws in wartime." Wartime, as the regime has made clear, is now an essentially permanent state. If Bush can suspend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act "at his whim and in secret," Schell asks, "then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example, to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be secretly exceeded by the President?"

One anonymous administration adviser told Karen Tumulty and Mike Allen of Time that the official White House strategy, regarding the wiretapping scandal, is to "overwhelm the skeptics, not back off, not change anything about the program and really home in very strongly on the fact that this is a legitimate part of presidential warmaking power." Ah, but it's not. Grover Norquist, traditionally a supporter -- he's from the George Will / Bill Kristol right wing, as opposed to the Jerry Falwell / Rick Santorum right wing -- told the magazine, "The country will let you get away with this in the wake of 9/11, but that doesn't make it right."

Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is one Republican who has frequently broken with the Bush regime; moments after the 2004 election was stolen, he warned that Bush better not try to stack the Supreme Court with judges who'd overturn Roe v. Wade. At the time, the Bush machine and its friends in the media flew into a snit, making it sound as though Specter -- Arlen Specter, for crissake! -- was a flaming liberal loon so loony that he would have to leave the Senate. Today, of course, Specter is secure in his job, and promises congressional hearings on wiretapping early this year. Specter calls Bush's justification for surveillance without warrant "a stretch."

The Alito nomination, too, is now colored by the administration's latest violation of the Constitution. His confirmation hearings, which begin next week, were going to center on the issue of abortion and reproductive rights; now it's all about privacy. Patrick Leahy, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed to ask Alito "a lot of questions about checks and balances."

Tumulty and Allen:

"Alito's record could give his critics plenty of ammunition. The Third Circuit judge has long been an advocate of the unitary-executive concept, a constitutional interpretation that is a favorite of Bush's and Vice President Dick Cheney's, which argues that the President should have nearly total control of Executive Branch agencies and resist any incursion on that power by Congress. And in a 1984 memo recently released by the National Archives, Alito -- at the time a lawyer with the Reagan Administration Justice Department -- argued that government officials who order illegal domestic wiretaps can be immune from lawsuits."

Steve Schmidt, a White House aide burdened with the task of "helping shepherd Alito through the confirmation process," argued that Alito's 1984 wiretap argument bears "no nexus, no connection, no link" with the current situation. There's no connection, folks. As a Justice Department shark twenty-two years ago, Alito asserted that officials guilty of illegal spying should be "immune from lawsuits." The current argument, by contrast, says that Bush and Cheney should be immune from law itself.

As for Bush himself, the continued fairy tale is that he must have unlimited power, or everyone will die. Quoted in yesterday's Washington Post, he offered a slight variation on what he's been saying for the last three weeks: "The fact that somebody leaked this program causes great harm to the United States." Interesting take; actually, it is the seizure of unchecked authority by a single branch of government which causes great harm to the United States. Bush has some nerve. The problem isn't that we're spying on American citizens, he's saying -- the problem is that you know about it. "There's an enemy out there," he told reporters before leaving Crawford, referring to himself in the third person. "It seems logical to me that if we know there's a phone number associated with al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate and they're making phone calls, it makes sense to find out why. They attacked us before, they'll attack us again."

Let that be a warning to you, but consider the convincing argument -- advanced by Think Progress -- that Bush's illegal wiretapping program makes America less safe:

"If we know that U.S. persons are communicating with al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates, the surveillance would be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Remember, doing so would not slow the process down because you can obtain the approval up to 72 hours after the surveillance has begun.) Evidence obtained with a warrant from the FISA court, in most cases, can be used to charge and prosecute a suspect. In fact, Section 218 of the Patriot Act amended FISA to make it easier to introduce evidence obtained with a FISA warrant to prosecute people.

"Every conversation monitored under Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance program is a missed opportunity to get someone who is talking with terrorists off the streets and behind bars.

"Why? Because evidence obtained by Bush's warrantless domestic spying program is probably not admissible in court. Convictions obtained with evidence from this program may be overturned. Suspected terrorists are already pursuing appeals.

"Conversation between U.S. persons and a known terrorists should be monitored. But those conversations should be monitored in a way maximizes the security of the American people. Bush's secret program doesn't do it. We'd be much safer if he would cancel it and start following the law."

The questions really start to snowball. If you're only spying on known al Qaeda operatives -- or, as White House spokesman Trent Duffy put it last week, on "very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches" -- then why couldn't you just get a warrant retroactively? It's worth debating whether the Bush administration has broken the law, but it's irrefutably true that they have asserted their alleged right to break the law. In doing so, they've also stated their intention to break the law. When a president breaks the law, there are special recourses available to Congress -- censure and impeachment being the prettiest.

With Bush frantically treading water, and an agitated Congress anxiously awaiting this year's midterm elections, we may be looking at the grand turning point. Today being the second day of 2006, it's a bit soon to know for sure. But it seems likely that this will be, as Richard LaCayo predicts, "the year when we take a long, hard look."

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