Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005: The Year of the Blog

Well, it's the end of the year. And while I spend my days pondering the
ramifications of my enormous (and typical) Christmas debt, I thought I'd
take a break and give a quick look at my first full year of blogging.

January: This month saw the first shots fired in Bush's war on Social
Security, as well as fights over the Gonzalez and Rice nominations. But my
favorite post from that month was prompted by a discussion I'd had at dailykos with a teacher and the deleterious
effects of No Child Left Behind.

February: As the battle to save Social Security continues I first note one
of the other major attack on the middle class safety net:, the new bankruptcy legislation, which, as predicted, is currently
making life even more difficult for people whose only wrong-doing was sheer
bad luck. Those most in the news are the survivors of hurricane Katrina who
are only now beginning to feel the pinch of this Credit Card company backed
legislation. However, those most likely to feel its bite (including you and
I) are those whose families have suffered a medical mishap.

March: This month came in like a lion with the very ugly Terry Schiavo
debacle stealing headlines from the height of the Soc Sec wars. More
importantly though, this is when I first publish my magnum opus on oil and the economy. Why I've yet to hear from the Nobel Prize
people is anybody's guess.

April: Big news month here with the death of John Paul II and the first
stirrings of the Abramoff, Delay et al. corruption scandal breaking. The
biggest move though is your CaliBlogger's move to a site and his
series of posts on boomers: Mortality and the whiniest generation, Boomers and healthcare, and Death and the whiniest generation, part 2. What? Not
a peep from the Pulitzer people either?

May: Deep Throat is finally revealed to a general reaction of: who's that? With the exception of former Nixon henchmen who were decrypted to lather on about what a great guy Tricky Dick was and how Mark Felt betrayed the Preznit's God given right to break any damn laws he pleases, we were at war damnit (sound familiar?)! Meanwhile the wingnuts suffered another pantytwist when an Amnesty International head called the US prisons in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo an "American Gulag". And given the recent revelations about black-op prisons scattered around the globe, the Gulag Archipelago reference has turned out to be all too true.

June: The final episode of Star Wars opens to a collective sigh of thank God that's over. More significantly your CaliBlogger his vision for an Iraqi withdrawal. Still no word from the Nobel Peace Prize people.

July: Bombs explode in London and Cairo (and Iraq of course, but then when don't they?). Your CaliBlogger posts twice urging Bush's impeachment in one month (double my usual number), and once outlining the Bush Doctrine

August: Your CaliBlogger celebrates his birthday. Oh yeah, and a hurricane levels a great American city. "Heckuva job Brownie" becomes destined to be stupid quote of the year.

September: The leaves turn color, kids return to school and Republican corruption charges begin to pile up like rush hour on the San Diego Freeway.

October: Tom Delay's woes continue and Scooter Libby is the first to be indicted in the Plamegate affair. But jillian has the call on the week's true scandal.

November: Randy "Duke" Cunningham's habit of wrapping himself isn't enough from being burned by federal bribery charges. Most amazing though, we witness the sudden growth of Spinus Democraticus.

December: All the Who's in Whoville are devastated when the secular "War on Christmas" is finally won.

Other stuff happened too.

Happy, healthy New Year to all!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Jack Abramoff

Remember this name: Jack Abramoff

Who is Jack Abramoff? From Wikipedia:

Jack A. Abramoff (born February 28, 1958) is a conservative American attorney and lobbyist.

Abramoff is a central figure in a series of high-profile political scandals linked mainly, but not exclusively, to Republican Party officials. He is under investigation:

* By federal grand juries for his involvement in the Abramoff-Reed Indian Gambling Scandal,[1].
* By a grand jury in Guam over a separate matter.
* He has also been indicted on August 11, 2005, by a third grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for bank fraud arising out of an unrelated business deal.

He is also linked to a scandal involving a troubled multibillion-dollar Homeland Security contract.[2] Further, he made multiple payments to Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and at least one other think tank expert to write opinion pieces favorable to his clients.[3]

The investigations and indictments of Abramoff have taken on significant national importance because of the lobbyist's close political connections with leading national Republicans. Congressman Tom DeLay, former Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, years ago called Abramoff one of his “closest and dearest friends.” Recent media reports indicate that Abramoff may be nearing a plea deal which would require Abramoff to disclose his complete knowledge of Congressional corruption.[4]

In January Casino Jack is due to stand trial in a fraud case to which his partner has already pled guilty. And the question is, will he start naming names in an effort to cut a deal with the Feds? This very possibility has the Republican establishment in Washington and elswhere dreaming of leg-irons rather than sugar-plums this Christmas season, for Abramoff's ties to the Republican are long and deep and none too squeaky-clean. According to Bullmoose blogger (and former John McCain advisor) Marshall Whitman:
The Abramoff corruption scheme was wide and deep. As we are learning, it touched upon every precinct in the Republican nation - from Members of Congress - to their staff - to the entire conservative political infrastructure. Old Jack may have even had his tentacles inside the White House.

According to press reports
, Jack may soon start spilling the beans, and it will become clear that the GOP is swamped by the culture of corruption. That is why Republican operatives are beginning to spread the message that Democrats were also the beneficiaries of Abramoff largesse. The righteous right will be playing the moral equivalence card.

No doubt some Democrats benefitted from Abramoff-directed donations. But, they only received a small pittance compared to the manifold riches that Jack showered on the GOP establishment. Take it from the Moose. He saw firsthand how Abramoff and the gang insinuated themselves into the conservative infrastructure in the mid-nineties. He was there to witness the presentations at the Wednesday Norquist meetings on behalf of the Marianas sweatshops.

Since the GOP seized power in '94, the rules of the road in the GOP were to give overwhelmingly to Republicans. A small contribution to a Democrat was allowed here and there. Casino Jack played by those rules and that is why he was the good buddy of Tommy D[elay] and the leadership. And the conservative movement was awash in Jack's generosity.

Mr. Abramoff may well become the poster-boy for the culture of corruption rampant within the erstwhile law and order ranks of the GOP. As demonstrated by Preznit Bush himself and his disdain for anti-domestic spying laws, the GOP no longer believes the rule of law applies to itself. In the 2006 mid-term elections we have an opportunity to show that honest Americans believe otherwise.

Friday, December 16, 2005

RIP West Wing's Leo McGarry

John Spencer 1946-2005

I was saddened when his character had a heart attack, but this?
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Veteran character actor John Spencer, Emmy-winning star of NBC television drama "The West Wing," died on Friday at a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a heart attack, his spokesman said.

Spencer, 58, portrayed vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on the widely watched series that portrays the inner workings of a fictional White House.

The McGarry character earned Spencer an Emmy, American television's highest honor, for best supporting actor in a drama in 2002. The show also earned Emmys for best TV drama and Screen Actors Guild awards for ensemble acting.

An agnostic's prayers go out for his family and friends.

[UPDATE: MSNBC has a good article including quotes from some of his cast mates]

Thursday, December 15, 2005

One for the good guys

You may recall my post from a few days ago about Ford pandering to the bigots at AFA.

Well good news, Ford has seen the light.

To wit:

1. Ford announced that it will continue to support gay organizations and gay events in the coming year and beyond.

2. Ford is going to run advertisements in the gay media NOT ONLY promoting the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, but the ads will promote ALL of Fords brands, by name, including Jaguar and Land Rover.

3. Ford states unequivocally that it will continue to tailor its ads for the specific audience it is trying to reach, and then goes one step further. Ford challenges us to keep an eye out on their upcoming ads in order to verify that they will in fact be tailored.

And, as I encouraged you to voice your displeasure in my previous post, it only seems fair to encourage you to express your sincere thanks here.

Congrats to John Aravosis at AmericaBlog who led the blogosphere charge on this one.

As he points out, this win also shows the very thin veneer of support for groups like the AFA: the AFA has been shown to have no clothes (other than a very rusty chastity belt).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A holiday for the rest of us

Now that secular humanists have finally turned the corner in the War on Christmas, what are the rest of us to do with all the leftover eggnog?

Yep, what we need is a holiday for the rest of us.

We need.....


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Have you driven a Ford lately?

Well, frankly, neither have I.

But rather than improve their crappy cars, the geniuses at Ford have come up with a better idea to shore up lagging sales: cater to wingnut bigots. From John Aravosis' Americablog:

"Ford Motor Co.'s decision to cease advertising in gay publications for its Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands is part of a truce between the auto maker and the American Family Assn. (AFA) Ford has agreed not to sponsor any future gay and lesbian events." - Wards Auto, 12/7/05

"When asked if the advertising was being discontinued because of the threatened AFA boycott, [Ford Spokesman Mike] Moran said, 'Ceasing advertising is an outgrowth of those meetings.'" - Metro Weekly, 12/8/05

"They are acting on our concerns." - AFA Chairman Donald Wildman, NYT, 12/5/06

John provides some useful information if you'd like to contact various Ford bigwigs and flacks to express how happy you are that an American flagship company is caving in to the most hateful ideologues on the right.

If you'd like to work more along "think globally, act locally lines, here are links to Ford dealerships in Pasadena and LA. I'm sure they'd enjoy hearing from you.

Major Win in the Secularist War on Christmas

And you thought it would never come to this. From The Onion:

Activist Judge Cancels Christmas

WASHINGTON, DC—In a sudden and unexpected blow to the Americans working to protect the holiday, liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled the private celebration of Christmas unconstitutional Monday.

"In accordance with my activist agenda to secularize the nation, this court finds Christmas to be unlawful," Judge Reinhardt said. "The celebration of the birth of the philosopher Jesus—be it in the form of gift-giving, the singing of carols, fanciful decorations, or general good cheer and warm feelings amongst families—is in violation of the First Amendment principles upon which this great nation was founded."

In addition to forbidding the celebration of Christmas in any form, Judge Reinhardt has made it illegal to say "Merry Christmas." Instead, he has ruled that Americans must say "Happy Holidays" or "Vacaciones Felices" if they wish to extend good tidings.

And a comment I overheard at the last gathering of the liberal, secularist, pro-science, illegal immigrant hugging, gay agenda promotional committee to destroy the values of the majority of God-fearing, white, Christian-Americans: "BWAHAHAHAHAHA"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Shameless, shameful

I've been light in my blogging lately due to a number of "real life" (ugh!) circumstances, all of which are still ongoing.

But I simply can not let today's news pass without comment.

If you can hark back to mid-November we heard this news:

Washington -- House Republicans, after weeks of negotiations, narrowly passed a budget bill early Friday to cut $50 billion from Medicaid, food stamps, student loans and other programs over the complaints of Democrats that Congress is squeezing students, the elderly and the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

The House approved the bill 217-215, after GOP leaders agreed to demands from moderate Republicans to jettison a measure to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and to slightly reduce proposed cuts to food stamps.

Still, the vote was so politically sensitive that House leaders didn't begin debate until 10 p.m. Thursday and didn't pass the measure until nearly 2 a.m. -- when most news reporters gone and only a few C-SPAN junkies could witness the fiery floor action. No Democrats voted for the bill, and 14 Republicans opposed it.

Gosh, a bill that takes food and healthcare away from poor children, why would that be "politically sensitive"? IFacing the massive budget deficits wrought by the disastrous war in Iraq, and the just plain disaster of hurricane Katrina, surely everyone, even poor, hungry children, needs to do their part, right?

Apparently, not quite everyone:
The House today passed a $56 billion tax cut bill that extends for two years a reduction in tax rates for capital gains and dividend income.

Nice, cut spending for poor children by $50 billion in November, then in December give $56 billion to the rich in December. That's a heckuva Thanksgiving kick in the crotch treat for the poor, and really one heckuva holiday Christmas gift to the rich.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Another reason to hate Ann Coulter

Like you needed another reason:

MSNBC picks up on Ann Coulter's pathetically infantile attack on BRAD BLOG Guest Blogger Lydia Cornell by naming Coulter in their "Worst Person in the World" segment Friday. She receives this dubious honor for "posting the personal phone number and email of a blogger who was critical of her" and for otherwise referring to to groups who disagree with her as "Nazi block watchers."
[Blogger Lydia]Cornell and her family continue to receive harassment and threats via her personal email and phone number which Coulter supplied to her millions of her uncompassionate attack dog sycophants who (predictably) refuse to condemn Coulter's indefensable lapse of simple "netiquette" and common decency.

Calls and emails fron Ann Coulter fans. Eeek!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Victory Milestones in Iraq

In yesterday's speech, President Bush was a little slim on setting specific milestones that would delineate the road to victory in Iraq.

Personally I believe that Bush is selling himself short, displaying the soft-spoken modesty so characteristic of Texans, even ones with MBAs from Yale and summer homes in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Let's take a look at some real Iraqi progress.

Politics dominated by conservative religious groups? Check

Rampant government corruption? Check, check

Propaganda posing as real news? Check, check, check

Yep, just what I thought, the Iraqis are definitely on the road to American style democracy. Doesn't it make you proud?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A sane voice on immigration

In today's Washington Post Princeton University professor Douglas S. Massey elevates the current discussion of US/Mexican immigration above its current xenophobic shrillness.

His main points: that such immigration is inevitable, and that our current efforts at limiting it are not only ineffective, they are actually exacerbating the problem.

After Canada, Mexico is our largest trading partner. We share a border of almost 2,000 miles with Mexico, and trade that totals $286 billion a year. The movement of goods and services is accompanied by the movement of people. In 2004 some 175,000 legal immigrants arrived from Mexico, along with 3.8 million visitors for pleasure, 433,000 business visitors, 118,000 temporary workers, 25,000 intra-company transferees, 29,000 students and exchange visitors, and 6,200 traders and investors. At the same time, 1 million Americans live in Mexico and 19 million travel there each year as visitors. U.S. foreign direct investment in Mexico totals $62 billion annually.

These massive cross-border flows occur by design, under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But at the heart of NAFTA lies a contradiction: Even as the United States moves to promote free movement of goods, services, capital and information, we as a nation somehow seek to prevent the movement of labor. We wish to create a North American economy that integrates all markets except one: that for labor. [Emphasis mine - SK]
Which in part illuminates the divisions within the Republican party's stance on immigration. The pro-business, free-trade Republicans that Labor is part and parcel of free trade, their holy grail, something the fear-mongering, xenophobe catering element of the party just can't seem to reconcile with their own paranoia.

And our current efforts to limit migration are worse than ineffective:
Heightened border enforcement has not deterred would-be immigrants from entering the United States, nor has it reduced the size of the annual inflow. What it has done is channel migrants away from traditional crossing points to remote areas where the physical risks are great but the likelihood of getting caught is small. As a result, the number of deaths has risen to around 460 people a year while the probability of apprehension has fallen from a historical average of around 33 percent to around 10 percent.

We are spending more tax dollars to catch fewer migrants and cause more deaths, and once they are deflected from traditional crossing points, Mexicans have moved on to new destinations. Whereas two-thirds of Mexicans who came to the United States during 1985-90 went to California, in the past five years only one-third have done so. Our misplaced border policies have transformed what was a limited regional movement affecting three states into a mass migration to 50 states.

U.S. policies have also pushed Mexican migrants away from seasonal movement toward permanent settlement. Raising the costs and risks of undocumented entry has not deterred would-be migrants from coming.

Paradoxically, it has discouraged them from going home once they are here. Having faced the hazards of border crossing, undocumented migrants are loath to do so again, and instead they hunker down for the long term. As migrants stay away from home longer, they increasingly send for spouses and children.

Rather than remaining a circular flow of temporary male workers, migration from Mexico to the United States has produced a settled population of permanent residents and families, driving up immigration's social and economic costs to American taxpayers.
[Emphasis mine - SK]


Instead of criminalizing behavior that, at its base, is simply an expression of the continuing interconnectedness of our economies, we need to accept that labor is an inevitable, perhaps even desirable part of the immense amount of trade between the US and Mexico.

And instead of forcing people desiring only to better their lives to die in the desert, we rather should guide them through regular entry ports were they can be fingerprinted, photographed and licensed. Heck, we can make them pay their own license fee, better the US treasury than the local coyote, right?

If the main anti-immigrant voices were Democratic I could understand the protectionist impulse. But Republicans are famous for deferring to the twin gods of capitalism: supply and demand. Why are they then so afraid of letting those same forces guide the labor market?

Future Kansas Board of Education member?

I've never watched the show, is this thing for real?

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the heads up.

Fox's Bill O'Reilly: at war with jews?

Well, that's what I heard.

New package, same old sh*t

Oh for the naive gentler time of...yesterday, when optimists guessed that President Bush, bowing to both reality on the ground in Iraq, as well as public sentiment in the US, would finally announce his end-game for the war. Yes certainly, in what was being billed as a "major speech", Bush would finally clue the rest of us in on his grand vision.

Such idyllic hours.

Sadly, as it seems with most of Bush's "major" speeches, the speech in Annapolis was simply a re-packaging of the same ol' same ol'. And when I say repackage I mean that literally by way of a document called Victory in Iraq. Some highlights from today's speech:

"Our strategy in Iraq has three elements.

On the political side, we know that free societies are peaceful societies. So we're helping the Iraqis build a free society, with inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all Iraqis.

We're working with the Iraqis to help them engage those who can be persuaded to join the new Iraq and to marginalize those who never will.

On the security side, coalition and Iraqi security forces are on the offensive against the enemy, cleaning out areas controlled by the terrorists and Saddam loyalists, leaving Iraqi forces to hold territory taken from the enemy, and following up with targeted reconstruction to help Iraqis rebuild their lives.

As we fight the terrorists, we're working to build capable and effective Iraqi security forces, so they can take the lead in the fight and eventually take responsibility for the safety and security of their citizens without major foreign assistance.
And on the economic side, we're helping the Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure, reform their economy and build the prosperity that will give all Iraqis a stake in a free and peaceful Iraq."

So there. Now go shopping.

Or not.

As Dan Froomkin points out this is mere PR and fails to address the issues now on the minds of so many Americans:
* It doesn't answer the most compelling question in contemporary American politics: When are the troops coming home?

* It doesn't even include any objective ways of measuring progress towards an eventual U.S. pullout.

* It is at heart a restatement, rather than a reappraisal, of a strategy that according to the polls the American public has overwhelmingly rejected.

* The White House did not address, not to mention refute, the argument that the continued presence of American troops is making things worse, rather than better.

And Bush's biggest problem:
* And nothing Bush said is likely to change the fact that he has a big credibility problem with most Americans.

That is, Bush faces the biggest problem faced by liars whose lies have become known. It doesn't matter WHAT he says, no-one (except his kool-ade slurping true believers on the right) is going to believe him.

Until some type of measurable progress is seen in Iraq all his PR will be seen as just a re-wording of the same old lies.

And his failure to even hint at what might be deemed measurable progress eliminates even this possibility.

[As a side note, please feel free to slap anyone who uses the term "artificial timetable" when discussing troop withdrawals. Timetables need not be artificial, and indeed are used constantly and helpfully in focusing one's energies and are used in everday life, as well as, I suspect, by the military.

As I noted in a comment over at The Moderate Voice:
Why must a timetable be necessarily "arbitrary"? Humans operate under deadlines constantly, why not in this case? Because the undertaking is daunting?

When JFK set a timetable for putting a man on the moon, necessarily requiring the use of technologies never imagined, let alone workable, was that somehow less daunting?

Timetables, deadlines, quotas, goals, can have a wonderfully focusing effect on the human psyche. Ask any salesman or journalist in the country (or better, ask his manager or editor) and you'll be told that deadlines work.

My position is that by allowing Iraq's leaders and potential leaders the luxury of knowing that our troops have got their backs, forever if need be, they'll continue their parochial disputes ad infinitum.

It's time we do the right thing and demand that Iraqis step up. A timetable will better enable them to do so.

Several months ago I blogged a version of events that, even as I re-read it, doesn't seem now as far-fetched as it did then.

If you'd like to read it you can do so here.

So there.]

Monday, November 28, 2005

Out with the old, in with the, er, nevermind

Take a look at this map (pdf file) of the 50th congressional district in California.

You might note that it contains towns with names like La Jolla, Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe as well as MCAS (the erstwhile NAS) Miramar.

It was also (until today) the district belonging to Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Duke, as you may have heard, is in a bit of a pickle, having been caught taking $2.4 million in bribes from (mostly) defense contractors. Oops.

So, yet another Rethug has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, must be a boon for Dems, yes?

Well, in fact, no.

May I refer you again to the above linked map of Duke's former district. If you're not familiar with the San Diego area you should also know that the 50th is one of the wealthiest and whitest congressional districts in San Diego, perhaps in California.

It is also a case in point as to why, without fair redistricting, Dems have virtually no chance of picking up the seat despite the rather egregious wrong-doing of its former Republican occupant.

It is also why I believe Dems who opposed the Gropenfuhrer's redistricting measure, flawed though it was, were doing themselves, the party, the state, and the country a disservice.

As voters grow increasingly unhappy with the level of corruption in government it will not be only GOPers who suffer. Lest they be tainted with the "pox on both your houses" curse, Dems must put forward an actual reform agenda and then behave as if it means something more than a mere campaign promise; a truly new vision well above and beyond politics as usual.

Redistricting, as well as public campaign financing should be integral parts of that vision. Certainly any "reform" that does not address these issues is truly no reform at all.

Dying of shame in Iraq

It occasionally happens that two stories will crop up, unrelated except in the conclusions one may draw from them.

From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — One hot, dusty day in June, Col. Ted Westhusing was found dead in a trailer at a military base near the Baghdad airport, a single gunshot wound to the head.

The Army would conclude that he committed suicide with his service pistol. At the time, he was the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

The Army closed its case. But the questions surrounding Westhusing's death continue.

Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one of the Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor.

So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible corruption by U.S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation.

In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military. [Emphasis mine-SK]

One of the more shameful aspects of an occupation that is rife with such, is the continued effort to privatize the war effort. In an effort to further enrich his Halliburton cronies Pres, er "Vice"-President Cheney has seen to it that an increasing number of functions once performed by the uniformed military, (and at substantially lower cost my conservative friends) are now performed by people and companies whose main motive is money, not duty or honor.

And this discrepancy in motivation (putting aside for the moment any tin foil hat type conspiracies) may well be what killed Col. Westhusing:

After a three-month inquiry, investigators declared Westhusing's death a suicide. A test showed gunpowder residue on his hands. A shell casing in the room bore markings indicating it had been fired from his service revolver.

Then there was the note.

Investigators found it lying on Westhusing's bed. The handwriting matched his.

The first part of the four-page letter lashes out at Petraeus and Fil. Both men later told investigators that they had not criticized Westhusing or heard negative comments from him. An Army review undertaken after Westhusing's death was complimentary of the command climate under the two men, a U.S. military official said.

Most of the letter is a wrenching account of a struggle for honor in a strange land.

"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," it says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

"Death before being dishonored any more."

A psychologist reviewed Westhusing's e-mails and interviewed colleagues. She concluded that the anonymous letter had been the "most difficult and probably most painful stressor."

She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited,"
wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses." [Emphasis mine-SK

Yes, the poor fool, thinking that in war, things like honor, integrity, duty, discipline and sacrifice are more important than money.

In the second unrelated related story, here's a fine example of people who would never be so naïve.

From Crooks and Liars via Hunter:
"A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis."

Well, I guess there's one bright spot. This is just the sort of behavior that is so effectively uniting Iraqis… in their desire to get rid of us.

And though I don't suggest we should follow the Colonel's example and die of shame, should it not yet impel us to somewhat less drastic measures?

Hunter's Diary at Daily Kos.
Crooks and Liars has the video here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A steal at $1 trillion

Given the US' precarious debt situation, so terrible that taking food from the mouths pf poor children seems the only solution, WaPo editorialist Steven Pearlstein makes thae argument for a better solution, sell Alaska back to the Russians.

I know, it seems a bit extreme, but hr does have some good bottom line arguments that should appeal to the corporate megalords actually running this country:

The deal could be structured as a leveraged buyout with some seller mezzanine financing, to give us some upside if commodity prices continue to climb. And if you figure a price of $1 trillion, the investment banking fees alone should be enough to add several points to U.S. gross domestic product. And the profit we make off Seward's original $7.2 million investment would put even the Carlyle Group to shame.

With Alaska free from the political grip of environmentalists in Washington and Marin County, Alaskans would be able to drill and fish and clear-cut to their heart's content, unlocking value that could never be realized as long as they are in the United States. And politics here will finally be free of the endless fights over Tongass and ANWR, sea lions and caribou.

In terms of cash flow, there's no question that the deal would, to use Wall Street-speak, be immediately accretive. The Tax Foundation calculates that in 2003, Alaska got $1.89 back in federal contracts, subsidies and income support for every dollar its residents and companies pay to the U.S. Treasury. That's the second-best deal in the union, after New Mexico's $1.99.

But even better than the dollars, Alaska's reunion with Russia just makes good old-fashioned horse-sense:
And that's what I like most about the idea of selling Alaska back to the Russians -- the cultural fit, so important in any acquisition. Let's face it: Although it's been American territory for nearly 140 years, Alaska has more in common with post-Soviet Russia, where government remains at the center of the economy and political power is in the hands of a small, shadowy group of oligarchs, who use it to enrich friends and family. It's a milieu in which Alaska's reigning oligarch, Ted Stevens, should feel very much at home.

Here in Washington, Stevens has worked his magic behind closed doors. But occasionally the public gets a chance to connect the dots -- such as when Stevens slipped in an appropriation for the Air Force to overpay for land owned by a longtime supporter, or when he turned a $50,000 investment into a million-dollar payday by investing in a project with a developer who just happened to have benefited from another Air Force construction contract that had Stevens's fingerprints all over it.

Lately, attention has turned to Stevens's son Ben, who was appointed to an open seat in the Alaskan state Senate in 2001 after a truly stellar career as a fisherman and minor Washington lobbyist cashing in on his father's connections. The next year, Ben was reelected without opposition, paving the way for his election this year as Senate president.

Ben is a busy man. Besides his Senate duties, he's managed to earn a million dollars in corporate consulting fees over the past four years and serve as chairman of federally funded Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, another example of his father's legislative handiwork. Now he is embroiled in a legal battle in which it was revealed that he stands to make more than a million dollars from a special fishing-rights allotment that his father inserted into federal legislation. Dad said he was unaware of his son's business involvement.

Lately, all the attention brought on by his son's activities and the "bridges to nowhere" has generated unflattering coverage for the elder Stevens, prompting outbursts and threats to resign from the Senate. But I'm sure that once Alaska is reunited with the Russian empire and Commissar Stevens has settled into his new office at the Kremlin, those problems will magically disappear.

And once that's settled I can think of a nice fixer-upper along the Rio Grande that Mexico might want to take a look at.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

How government REALLY works

Do you recall the "How governmnet works" chapters from your high school civics course? You know, all those lovely charts and diagrams showing the intricacies of our tri-partite government.

I have a suggestion. We could save a lot of money on textbooks by simply having a brief chapter entitled: "How government REALLY works" followed by excerpst from this email exchange between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Republihack go-between Italia Federici (from the NYT):

"Hi Jack: I hate to bother you with this right now, but I was hoping to ask about a possible contribution for CREA," Ms. Federici wrote on Jan. 9, 2003. "As usual, we budgeted and spent all of our money from last year, on last year, and have started out the new year with practically nada."

Mr. Abramoff, who represented several wealthy Indian casino operators including the Coushattas of Louisiana, replied: "Absolutely. We'll get that moving asap. The Coushattas are coming to DC next Thursday so I'll hit them immediately."

He continued with a request that Ms. Federici contact her friend J. Steven Griles, then a senior official at the Interior Department, for help batting down a contract that had been recently signed by the Louisiana governor and would have helped a rival Indian tribe. "Can you make sure Steve knows about this and puts the kibosh on it?" Mr. Abramoff asked.

Mr. Griles, who was the deputy secretary in the Interior Department, resigned earlier this year. His close relationship with Ms. Federici has been a focal point for investigators, who are assessing a broad range of lucrative Indian casino work performed by Mr. Abramoff. The Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was an important business stop for Mr. Abramoff because of its control over many aspects of Indian governance.

See how simple it is? No boring lectures on checks and balances. No windy discussions of how a bill becomes a law. Nope, government is much simpler.

As long as the checks don't bounce.

More indications of the growth of Spinus Democraticus

The beginning of the trend?

Earlier this month Democrats showed some initial backbone when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid shut the Senate down in order to secure Republican agreement to investigate (as they had promised) the administration's culpablilty in the misuse/obfuscation of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war.

As I noted then:

My hope is that, as tempers cool, the Republican leadership will recognize the widom of this lesson. And combined with the certain knowledge that Bush's incredible shrinking poll numbers provide them with zero political leverage, they may find a way to back away from the far right precipice upon which they are currently perched.

And my hope is further, that ... Reid's action today will not be regarded as an anomally, but as the start of the rise of the fighting Democratic party.

Given the failure today of the Republican congress' latest attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, I was right on both counts.

Clearly Democrats are beginning to feel their oats:
The 224-209 vote against the $142.5 billion spending bill disrupted plans by Republican leaders to finish up work on this year's spending bills and cast doubt on whether they would have the votes to pass a major budget-cutting bill also on the day's agenda.

Democrats, unanimous in opposing the legislation, said it included the first cut in education funding in a decade and slashed spending for several health care programs. "It betrays our nation's values and its future," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "It is neither compassionate, conservative nor wise."

And moderate Republicans, seeing their political lives flash before their eyes, tipped the scale:
Twenty-two Republicans voted against the measure, many of them moderates who also are swing votes on the budget-cutting legislation.

Most amazing to me though, is that some Republicans, rather than admit that swindling the poor in order to give further tax breaks to the rich may not be the best political idea, instead blamed the bill's failure on, get this, its lack of pork. I kid you not:
Republicans said they may have lost votes because this year's bill, down $1.5 billion from last year, included no special projects or earmarks for lawmakers. "You take those out and you lose the incentive," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who voted for the bill. [Emphasis mine-CK]

Please note the term "earmark" is DC-speak for the pork barrel projects exemplified by the infamous "bridge to nowhere" so recently dropped from the legislation.

And think for a moment about what Congressman Davis' statement means.

I realize that he's trying to imply that Democrats would've supported this bill had it had contained enough pork.

But since the Dems have shown themselves untippable in their committment to continuing to feed the nation's most vulnerable, the real implication is that the swing votes from his own party could've been bought given the right "incentives".

It's fun when Republicans eat their own.

A note on the WaPo story

One gets the impression the the Republicans are mainly upset that now they'll have to work beyond Thanksgiving;
The defeat upset Republican plans to finish up nearly all the spending bills before leaving for the Thanksgiving recess.

But the real problem is that having failed to cut back spending on programs for the poor, Republicans will have to even further stretch the incredulity of their claims to fiscal sanity if they are going to continue their vaunted Paris Hilton wealth protection plan.

A bridge not so far

Signalling the ever increasing heat being felt by Republican congresscritters, the infamous "Bridge to nowhere" has been dropped from the budget:

The "Bridge to Nowhere," a pork-barrel project that has attracted a lot of unfavorable attention, may not be going anywhere for a while.

The $223 million span linking the small town of Ketchikan to sparsely populated Gravina Island and a second Alaskan bridge project have been stripped of their funding by congressional negotiators as they race to wrap up legislative business.

As the Post notes, dropping this item from the budget will have no monetary effect:
As part of the deal, Alaska will get to keep the $454 million that Congress set aside for the two bridges, and technically the state can use the transportation funds for any project it chooses -- including the bridges.

And what the heck, when faced with a $300+ billion deficit, what's a half billion here or there anyway?

On the other hand, there is one way cutting this bit of federal chicharron could have more than a merely symbolic effect:
The Senate tried unsuccessfully last month to redirect a portion of the Alaska bridge funds to fix a heavily traveled interstate bridge outside New Orleans that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. That effort drew furious words and a resignation threat from veteran Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), former chairman of the Appropriations Committee. [Emphasis mine-CK]

If only would get Mr. Stevens to keep his word, now THAT would be accomplishing something.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

US military admits using white phosphorous as a weapon in Iraq

So, faced by published accounts which contradicted its earlier denials, the US military has admitted that it uses white phosphorous (WP) as a weapon:

The admission contradicted a statement this week from the new and clearly under-briefed US ambassador in London Robert Holmes Tuttle that US forces "do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons".

The official line to that point had been that WP, or Willie Pete to use its old name from Vietnam, was used only to illuminate the battlefield and to provide smoke for camouflage.

This line however crumbled when bloggers (whose influence must not be under-estimated these days) ferreted out an article published by the US Army's Field Artillery Magazine in its issue of March/April this year.

The article, written by a captain, a first lieutenant and a sergeant, was a review of the attack on Falluja in November 2004 and in particular of the use of indirect fire, mainly mortars.

It makes quite clear that WP was used as a weapon not just as illumination or camouflage.

That story was cited here and s well as generally across the progressive blogosphere last week, and let us permit ourselves a brief pat on the back for forcing the military to fess up.

Now, in typical damage control mode the DoD is parsing its words carefully:
'It's part of our conventional weapons inventory. We use it like we use any other conventional weapon,' said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

Whitman said he had no knowledge of any civilian victims of attacks with white phosphorus.

'We don't target any civilians with any of our weapons, and to suggest US forces were targeting civilians with these weapons would be wrong,' he said. [Emphasis mine-CK]

Oh goody, our military doesn't intentionally target civilians, wow how evolved is that?

Note the misdirection involved in this statement. To my knowledge no-one ever accused our troops of "targeting" civilians, our complaint that when such an insidious chemical used used in a weaponized manner, any civilian bystanders suffer even more horribly than usual.

So the denial fails to actually address the complaint.

Don't you love watching BushCorp™ spin in action?

For those of you keeping score at home here's the timeline:
1) Military flatly denies the use of WP as a weapon.
2) This lie is exposed on the blogoshphere as are photos of children who've been [Warning graphic image] melted by its use.
3) Military issues non-denial admitting the use of weaponized WP, but fails to address the question of incidental civilian deaths and injuries.

So what's next in the DoD spin cycle? I can't be sure sure, but I anticipate the phrase "unavoidable and unfortunate collateral damage" will be involved.

[UPDATE- The BBC has published a handy white phosphorous fact sheet available here.]

Saturday, November 12, 2005

WaPo Exposes BushCorp™ Lies

The MSM has been justly villified for failing to hold BushCorp™'s claims up to the light of reality.

But today's Washington Post, in a fine example of objective reporting, gives the lie to Bush's claims that congress made the decision to attack Iraq based on the same set of evidence.

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

Neither assertion is wholly accurate.

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

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

Bush, in Pennsylvania yesterday, was more precise, but he still implied that it had been proved that the administration did not manipulate intelligence, saying that those who suggest the administration "manipulated the intelligence" are "fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments."

In the same speech, Bush asserted that "more than 100 Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power." Giving a preview of Bush's speech, Hadley had said that "we all looked at the same intelligence."

But Bush does not share his most sensitive intelligence, such as the President's Daily Brief, with lawmakers. Also, the National Intelligence Estimate summarizing the intelligence community's views about the threat from Iraq was given to Congress just days before the vote to authorize the use of force in that country.

In addition, there were doubts within the intelligence community not included in the NIE. And even the doubts expressed in the NIE could not be used publicly by members of Congress because the classified information had not been cleared for release. For example, the NIE view that Hussein would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or turn them over to terrorists unless backed into a corner was cleared for public use only a day before the Senate vote.[Emphases mine=CK]

There's more and its worth a read.

And though the WaPo draws the line at actually naming BushCorp™'s lie for just that, still its refreshing to see the MSM not just follow Bush's lies whole.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Political Compass

I'm far from convinced that this test has any more relevance than your typical Cosmo quiz, but I find it somehow gratifying to find myself in the company of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama as a left/libertarian (-5.38; -6.26).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Baby he was born to run

With the shine definitely off of Schwarzenegger's star here in California, much talk now centers on potential Democratic opponents for the 2006 gubernatorial race.

The currently announced candidates, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly, while decently credentialed have yet to exactly catch fire with the Democratic grass roots, little less the general voting public.

If California's senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein, could be lured away from DC, common wisdom is that she'd be a shoe-in, but that's a big if.

The names generating the most buzz, pro and con, seem to be hollywood vets Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner. Don't get me wrong, both seem to be good men, and Beatty has been especially successful as the anti-Schwarzenegger celeb during the recent initiative campaign. Still, in a state the size and complexity of California, I'm not entirely convinced that replacing one celeb novice governor with another is the wisest course of action.

But enough about California. The most intriguing celebrity pol possibility isn't here in the Golden State, but in our alliterative east coast sister, the Garden State, New Jersey, where the recent election of Democrat John Corzine to the NJ governor's house, leaves his Senate seat up for grabs.

And clearly, if you're looking for a celeb to represent New Jersey, could there possibly be a better candidate than...wait for it...the Boss, Bruce Springsteen:

The Democrats need to hold New Jersey in 2006 to have any chance of regaining control of the Senate in 2007, and without that, there's not much hope for cleaning up the fiasco of the last six years in Washington. But we feel strongly that their only hope against Kean Jr. is to turn to someone from outside the the bland political arena.

New Jersey's new senator should be a person who has demonstrated over a lifetime a commitment to social causes, of not just paying lip service to helping those in need but taking action.

Corzine should chose a person who is fearless about advocating causes that are unpopular but just -- willing to speak out in favor of the Dixie Chicks and free speech on the eve of the Iraq war, and willing to criticize police brutality even when it alienates some longtime supporters.

In January, Corzine will have the option of chosing someone whose compassion for the victims and survivors of 9/11 is unparalleled, yet who realized the insanity of the Iraq war from Day One, and was not afraid to risk his considerable reputation in opposing it.

It's OK if the next senator is a millionaire -- that seems to be some kind of requirement in New Jersey, for some reason -- but he should be a self-made one, someone who can speak to blue-collar voters and can relate to minorities, in spite of his own personal success.

The Democrats need someone with a name even more magical to New Jersey voters than Kean, who would draw thousands of normally disaffected and alienated voters out to the polls. An outsider who would shake up a corrupt and contented New Jersey Democratic Party and shake up folks on Capital Hill, as well.

Jon Corzine needs to appoint Bruce Springsteen to the United States Senate.

Crazy? Not any crazier than a violent action-flick actor from Austria with steroid use and groping allegations who can't even properly pronounce the name of his home state getting elected as its governor (a job with a lot more responsibility than a senator, by the way). Or not any crazier than electing a retired pro wrestler to the statehouse. And not any crazier than another rock star from across the pond coming within an eyelash of the Nobel Peace Prize.

We've already war-gamed it all out, and we just don't see too much downside risk should Sen. Springsteen (don't you love it?) seek a full term a year from now. We do have a difficult time imagining him in a jacket and tie. And it's not a slam dunk -- there would certainly be a sizable minority who would recoil at the idea of sending a rock star to the Senate, but we believe they'd be outnumbered by first-time voters coming out in support of the Boss.

Dirt in his past? Less than most politicians, let alone rock stars. In fact, arguably there's none. In fact, Sprngsteen claims to have not used drugs, and if he did experiment, that would place him in the company of George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al Gore, John Edwards, etc., etc., etc. His big "mistake" in life was realizing he'd married the wrong woman, divorcing amicably, and raising a family, as a devoted dad, with the true love of his life. Not really much of a mistake.

We should note here that this is not a completely novel idea. In 1992, a group of Ross Perot accolytes urged Springsteen to run for the Senate as an outsider. The Boss laughed it off -- but a lot has changed in the last 13 years. Back then, Springsteen was a musical artist wary of being co-opted by any politician.

But in 2004, he was one of handful of folks who -- realizing the threat posed by four more years of Bush to the country he loves -- stepped up to the plate, or, as he might say, tried to make it on a stand. And now, at age 56, with his musical legacy established and his own kids growing up, he might be convinced to stake out a new direction, for the good of the U.S.A. (He'd certainly be set for rope-line music!)

Notice we've kept the cheesy song lyric puns to a minimum here. That's because we're very serious about this -- frankly, we'd support Joe Piscopo if we thought it would take the Senate out of GOP clutches, but we think America would be proud of U.S. Sen. Bruce Springsteen (D-N.J.)

C'mon Bruce, this is our last chance.

Don't let the screen door slam.

And with Springsteen, we'll have a vastly superior store of lyrical material than was ever possible with the Governator.

Now if only Neil Young wasn't Canadian...

{Thanks to Kos for the heads up on this story]

But there is yet hope in this world

A wonderful story of civil rejuvenation at Past Peak.

White Phosphorus

This is ugly, very ugly.

ROME (Reuters) - U.S. forces in Iraq have used incendiary white phosphorus against civilians and a firebomb similar to napalm against military targets, Italian state-run broadcaster RAI reported on Tuesday.

A RAI documentary showed images of bodies recovered after a November 2004 offensive by U.S. troops on the town of Falluja, which it said proved the use of white phosphorus against men, women and children who were burned to the bone.

"I do know that white phosphorus was used," said Jeff Englehart in the RAI documentary, which identified him as a former soldier in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Iraq.

The U.S. military says white phosphorus is a conventional weapon and says it does not use any chemical arms.

"Burned bodies. Burned children and burned women," said Englehart, who RAI said had taken part in the Falluja offensive. "White phosphorus kills indiscriminately."

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said he did not recall white phosphorus being used in Falluja. "I do not recall the use of white phosphorus during the offensive operations in Falluja in the fall of 2004," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan said.

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
"Suggestions that U.S. forces targeted civilians with these weapons are simply wrong," U.S. Marine Major Tim Keefe said in an e-mail to Reuters. "Had the producers of the documentary bothered to ask us for comment, we would have certainly told them that the premise of the programme was erroneous."

He said U.S. forces do not use any chemical weapons in Iraq.

Oh good, I'd feel terrible if my country was using weapons that melt the skin off children.
I feel much better, what's that you say?
That's right. Not from Al Jazheera, or Al Arabiya, but the US fucking Army, in their very own publication, from the (WARNING: pdf file) March edition of Field Artillery Magazine in an article entitled "The Fight for Fallujah":
"WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

In other words the claim by the US Government that White Phosphorus was used only for illumination at Fallujah had been pre-emptively debunked by the Army. Indeed, the article goes on to make clear that soldiers would have liked to have saved more WP rounds to use for "lethal missions."

Some days I'm proud to be an American.

Other days not so much.

But the latter feeling will pass only when we finally bring the criminal gang currently running this country to justice.

But it's late, I'm tired. And perhaps this will all turn out to be a silly mistake by the time I wake up tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The face of a hero

The off-year election cycle which ended yesterday with so many Democratic victories gives hope to those who would see an end to wingnut domination of this nation's institutions.

But electing 2 Democratic governors and giving the Gropinator a well deserved slap in the face do not a winning mid-term strategy make.

Here in California, in an effort to defeat Arnie's anti-union propositions, the California Teacher's Association put forward an unlikely hero, schoolteacher Liane Cismowski.

From the LAT:

Sandra Jackson, the union's deputy communications chief, began calling around the state. She asked about a healthcare teacher in Concord, an East Bay suburb of San Francisco. But that woman had a scheduling conflict. A colleague mentioned Cismowski, a 2004 Contra Costa County teacher of the year. The two had worked together as mentors, and he admired her plain-spoken sincerity.

Jackson reached Cismowski in her classroom. After a brief talk, Cismowski overcame her qualms and agreed to fly to Los Angeles to appear on camera. "I'm always telling my students that each of them matters," she remembers thinking. "That everyone can make a difference."

Saying no would have made her feel like a hypocrite.
Cismowski was born in Tacoma, Wash., and raised on Air Force bases around the country. She became a teacher 16 years ago in Merced after a stint as an investment banker. One reason was the hours, which gave her time with her two children. In 1998, the family moved the Bay Area, when Cismowski's husband, a minister, took over the congregation at Concord's First Presbyterian Church.

By the spring of 2004, she had won all sorts of honors for her classroom work. Still, Cismowski wasn't satisfied. She figured the worst students are the ones who need the best teachers. She thought of the parable about the final judgment in Matthew 25: "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." So she asked to be transferred to Olympic High School. "I'm just trying to walk the walk," she says. Friends called her crazy.

The campus is located in a scruffy neighborhood across the tracks from Concord's gentrifying downtown. The student body consists of castoffs: foster children and students with drug, alcohol and disciplinary problems. Some wear ankle monitors to class. Cismowski thrived, loving the challenge, loving her kids.

She was never particularly political. She registered as a Republican years ago, but votes for whomever seems best for education. She was aware of the union's spat with Schwarzenegger, but figured she and the other teachers would just dig deeper into their wallets to pay for supplies.

Boarding a 6 a.m. flight to Los Angeles on Feb. 16 may have been the most political act of her life.

At the age of 47, it was the first time she had ever visited the city. She remembers marveling at the palm trees and gawking at the Hollywood sign. On the set, at the United Teachers of Los Angeles building on Wilshire Boulevard, she asked a lot of questions about the lights, the cameras and the TelePrompTer.

She read through the script — "Keeping your word. It's a cherished principle we teach our students. So how can Gov. Schwarzenegger break his promise?" — nailing her lines right away. A cameraman asked: Are you an actress?

The answer to that last question is, of course, no.

And that's the point.

The Democratic party represents people with an amazing spectrum of views on any given political issue. Democrats can disagree on abortion rights. Democrats can disagree on what differentiates free trade and fair trade. Democrats disagree on how best to deal with Iraq. But the one thing that I believe anyone who calls themselves a Democrat can agree on: we support the rights of those individuals who work for a living, we support real people.

And that, of course, was the strength of the ad campaign which featured Ms. Cismowski.

I further find that the fact that Ms. Cismowski was a registered, though generally apolitical Republican, instructive, rather than ironic.

Because more important for her than party was her belief in education. I believe there are many more people like her out there. People who know, deep in their gut, what's best for themselves, their children, their country.

We now have an opportunity, now that the veil of BushCorp lies has been lifted from the eyes of so many hardworking, reasonable people, we now have the opportunity to show them a better way.

We have the opportunity and the obligation.

[x-posted at]

Arnie's right turn: wrong

Yesterday's elections may or may not prove to be the indicators of Democratic ascension that the most hopeful among us may wish them to be.

The governorships of New Jersey and Virginia merely stayed in Democratic hands, and its no news that they hate gays in Texas, and don't in Maine.

To my mind, though, the slate of Schwarzenegger backed propositions resoundingly defeated should serve as a wake up call to moderate Republicans, as well as anyone that thinks business as usual is good enough.

Wapo columnist and SoCal native Harold Meyerson has the call:

LOS ANGELES -- Arnold Schwarzenegger's nine mad months of governing Democratic California as a partisan Republican came to the most predictable of unhappy endings here on Tuesday. Each of the four ballot measures he inflicted on voters in his special election lost decisively -- his spending-limit proposal tanking by 24 percent, and his measure to curb the clout of public-sector unions (Proposition 75) by 7 percent. The mystery of this election is what on earth Schwarzenegger could have been thinking: No comparable elected official in recent memory has picked a fight so gratuitously and come out of it so beat up.

Back in January Schwarzenegger's approval rating stood at 62 percent in the Public Policy Institute of California's poll. Then, in short order, he called for axing the pensions of the state's public employees, which would have eliminated the survivor benefits for widows and orphans of police officers and firefighters. He tried to stall the implementation of a law mandating a nurse-to-patient ratio in hospitals and attacked the nurses' union as a special interest. He reneged on a commitment to restore funding for the state's schools. He went after the public employees unions by backing Proposition 75. And the sky fell on him.

California's unions produced a torrent of advertising that featured cops, nurses, teachers and firefighters condemning the governor. They revved up the most effective Democratic voter mobilization operation in the nation. When they were done, not only did the governor's propositions fail but his approval rating in the most recent PPIC poll collapsed to a Bushian 35 percent.

"Arnold's mistake was to try to leverage his popularity to advance the Republican platform, which doesn't have much support in California," the state's Democratic Assembly speaker, Fabian Nez, remarked a few days before the vote. "The Republicans see him as a vehicle to move their agenda, and he's done that rather than try to enlarge their agenda."

My belief is that all the national recognition Arnold received during the 2004 election cycle, coupled with a megastar/politician's ego served only to betray him.

From his primetime speech at the GOP convention to his last minute pro-Bush campaign stop in Ohio, to all those rumblings about amending the constitution to allow a foreign-born citizen from, say, Austria for example, to run for president, the GOP spinmeisters were putting Arnold out there as the popular, moderate face of a party whose core beliefs make them neither.

Arnold fell into the novice politician's trap, he began to believe his own party's propaganda,

And so it was, that after a year of successful moderation, a year of reaching across the aisle to alleviate California's budget crisis and shore up its sinking disability insurance system, the Governator began harboring national ambitions.

When that happens in the modern GOP (a truly oxymoronic phrasing indeed) a moderate must turn hard right.

And so Arnold started calling Democratic legislators "girly-men", and threatened to kick nurses' butts (a truly tin-eared thing for the "Gropinator" to say).

As it turns out though, even Arnold's legendary personal charm was not sufficient to overcome the despicable nature of his right-wing agenda, not with the moderate Californians who were largely responsible for his election.

Thus Arnold represents the dilemma currently facing any moderate Republican who would seek a national leadership position: by appeasing the party's wingnut base they will alienate the moderate masses who remain the key to longterm electoral strength in this country.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A quick thought on stats and stupidity

With the Monkey Trial, part 2 wrapping up, chances are good you'll occasionally stumble upon a graf like this:

According to a CBS News poll last month, 51 percent of Americans reject the theory of evolution, saying that God created humans in their present form. And reflecting a longstanding sentiment, 38 percent of Americans believe that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, according to an August poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington.
If you're anything like me this kind of thing drives you crazy. It's 2005 and over half our countrymen don't believe the theory of evolution?!

But tonight I had a thought that makes stats like this less scary, for me anyway.

The average score on an IQ test is 100. What that means is that half our countrymen, by definition, have IQs less than 100.

It explains a lot.

Dick Cheney and the virtue of torture

Your CaliBlogger wonders if Dick Cheney's intransigence earns him grudging respect in some quarters. Certainly he demonstrates an unwavering single-mindedness that clearly gives the lie to his boss's notorious (though illusory) implacability.

Sure W talks a good game, "bring 'em on" and all that, but if you can be sent home weeping to mommy by the likes of George Will, just how tough can you be?

Nope, Cheney is the real deal. No matter how much he's opposed by reason, by facts, by members of his own party, of his own administration, no matter that he is opposed by the consensus of all men and women of good will the world over, by all that is right and holy, no matter what, if Cheney sinks his teeth into an idea, he will never, ever let go.

The war in Iraq may be the centerpiece of Cheney's pitbull remorselessness, no-one within the administration, it's becoming more and more evident, beat the drums of war more loudly than did Vice and his bullyboys. Yep Cheney and Rummy and their Feith-based intelligence operation managed to terrorize us into a fight with the one arab nation that almost certainly had nothing to do with 9/11.

But still not satisfied that his legacy is complete, Darth Cheney has hold of an issue that he, and perhaps only he could love: torture.

He's in favor of course.

Over the past year, Vice President Cheney has waged an intense and largely unpublicized campaign to stop Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department from imposing more restrictive rules on the handling of terrorist suspects, according to defense, state, intelligence and congressional officials.

Last winter, when Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, began pushing to have the full committee briefed on the CIA's interrogation practices, Cheney called him to the White House to urge that he drop the matter, said three U.S. officials.

In recent months, Cheney has been the force against adding safeguards to the Defense Department's rules on treatment of military prisoners, putting him at odds with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England. On a trip to Canada last month, Rice interrupted a packed itinerary to hold a secure video-teleconference with Cheney on detainee policy to make sure no decisions were made without her input.

Just last week, Cheney showed up at a Republican senatorial luncheon to lobby lawmakers for a CIA exemption to an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would ban torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The exemption would cover the CIA's covert "black sites" in several Eastern European democracies and other countries where key al Qaeda captives are being kept.

Sure torture is against both US and international law, as well as being simply offensive to the eyes of God and humankind. And sure any US back-sliding on stern opposition to torture damages our reputation, credilility and effectiveness worldwide. And sure it puts those on our frontlines everywhere at greater risk. And sure the leaders of his own party (lameduck W doesn't even get a vote anymore) don't want to touch this with a ten foot pole.

No matter, not to dead-eye Dick.

I can almost hear the voice of Barry Goldwater's ghost rattling around in Vice's skull: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

One thing is clear, Cheney clearly suffers from no superabundance of moderation. And more and more clearly it seems extremism is his only virtue.

Perhaps Cheney is Bush's anti-impeachment insurance: Sure Bush is incompetent and corrupt, but just get a glimpse at what, I mean who, is waiting in the wings.

And I see the point, it's almost enough to make an avowed agnostic kneel in prayer for W's continued good health.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

So much corruption, so little time

Though your Caliblogger was a supporter, many in the blosphere were sceptical regarding the launch of Arianna Huffington's blog,

Happily, but not unexpectedly (by me at least) Arianna's folly is proving its value.

With new reports of Republican corruption and general endemic malfeasance coming in, seemingly, by the minute, it's just more than a lone blogger can keep up with.

But Arianna has come to the rescue with a nice little roundup on the latest:

White House Orders Ethics “Refresher” Courses For Staff...

NY Times Developing: Adm. Knowingly Cited False Statements As “Credible” In Selling Iraq/al Qaeda Conenction…

Wilkerson: Prisoner Abuse Came From Cheney’s Office…

Cheney Privately Asked GOP Senators For CIA Exemption To Proposed Torture Ban…

Fmr. Pres. Counsel: Fitzgerald Wants Cheney… “I Will Be Stunned If No One Else Is Indicted”…

And the latest:

House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert Caught In Lobbyist Abramoff's Scandal?...

There's even more, but I'm exhausted just from copy/pasting the links.


American Gulag Revisited

Back in May of this year, Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan set off a mini-brouhaha by calling the US detainment facilities at such places as Guantanamo Bay the "Gulag of our times".

Following the usual firestorm of vitriol on both the left and right, Ms. Khan's comments were generally pooh-poohed as hysterical hyperbole.

Perhaps one of the most condescending criticisms was published by the Washington Post editorial department:

IT'S ALWAYS SAD when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings and joins in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse. It's particularly sad when the institution is Amnesty International, which for more than 40 years has been a tough, single-minded defender of political prisoners around the world and a scourge of left- and right-wing dictators alike."

In retrospect though, it seems IA's greatest failure was in being a bit premature in their assessment. For though the assertions are, for now, officially speculative, does anyone who has not partaken of BushCorp™ Kool-Aid seriously question the recent reports of secret CIA prisons spread about the globe?

As Dana Priest reports in that self-same, self-satisfied Washington Post:
The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

No wonder BushCorp™ and their abettors on the right and in the media were so desperate to bat down Ms. Khan's earlier assertions of American lawlessness. Such an aspersion is infuriating if it's a lie.

But it's even worse if it's true.

[Note: I swear I didn't read this LA Time piece until after I'd written this blog-CK]

Friday, November 04, 2005

So what's the spanish word for "uniter"?

Nice to see that W has jumped from the fryingpan of DC investigations and indictments into the fire of Latin American displeasure with his policies.

Thousands Protest Bush's Policies at Trade Summit
By Edwin Chen and Patrick McDonnell, Times Staff Writers

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina -- A hemispheric summit meant to help create jobs and spread democracy throughout the region opened today with large-scale anti-U.S. demonstrations and deep divisions among participating nations about the Bush administration's expanded free-trade agenda.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched the streets of this seaside resort calling for Bush to be expelled from the country and later cheered when Venezuela President Hugo Chavez labeled Washington's free-trade program dead and buried.

Yep, the great uniter strikes again. Not only are Latin Americans united in their hatred of Bush, more and more they are also united with their yankee bretheren:
Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President George W. Bush's approval rating dropped to its lowest level ever, according to an Associated Press/Ipsos poll conducted after a key White house aide was indicted and another withdrew as Supreme Court nominee.

Only 37 percent of Americans surveyed Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 said they approved of the way Bush is handling his job as president, according to a summary of results published on the Ipsos Web site. That's down from 39 percent at the beginning of October and the lowest since the AP/Ipsos poll was first taken in Dec. 2003.

Kinda makes you proud to be an American don't it?

No on 78; Yes on 79

The fact that I feel compelled to write about these two propositions concurrently is exactly the reason for Proposition 78's existence: to confuse the issue.

Both propositions purport to offer the possibility of reduced drug prices to Californians, the key differences are these:

Prop 78 would offer lower cost drugs to fewer Californians and would be entirely voluntary on the part of pharmaceutical companies.

Prop 79 would offer lower cost drugs to more Californians and would, in effect, be mandatory.

But those are just words, the real differences between the two propositions are very clear when you look at their sponsors:

Prop 78: The Governator, Pharmaceutical industry

Prop 79: AARP, California Consumers union, League of Women Voters, labor unions.

You should also know that big pharma is spending $80 million to confuse you into either a) support prop 78 and oppose 79; or (even better) oppose both as too confusing to sort out.

Scare tactics aside, big pharma knows that the California market (5th or 6th largest economy in the world, depending on how its measured) is too big for them to opt out of, even if they have to provide deep discounts to do so. They are therefore terrified of prop 79 which threatens to (gasp) slightly trim their profit margins!

My take is that while prop 79 only addresses a part of the health care price crisis facing the stae as well as the nation, it's definitely a step in the right direction. Why, for heaven's sake, should Californians not use our state's enormous buying power to cut a better deal?



Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Big win today for Dems, country

During the past five years it's been a rare thing for the Republican controlled government to be forced into any action it didn't want to take, any action beyond its own narrow political self-interest.

Of late that's been changing, at least for individuals, as Republican after Republican, Frist, DeLay, Libby, Safahvian, Noe, Abramoff, et al. etc. are being increasingly scrutinized, investigated, indicted, arrested, fo a variety of reasons that fit under the wide umbrella term: corruption. (Talk about your "Big Tent" party, though I've never seen one that needed prison bars before).

But today, Lighthorse Harry Reid, Senate minority leader served the Republican Senate as a whole by effectively shutting down business until the GOPers agreed to review the long overdue status of the Senate investigation into BushCorp™'s misleading drumbeat for the war in Iraq.

A nice recap of today's events here.

Joe Gandelman over at The Moderate Voice has a typically evenhanded and clear-eyed view of some of the political ramifications, read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

They say it's wise to pick and choose your battles, and amid news reports suggesting that Democrats are increasingly hesitant to use the filibuster against conservative Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Minority Leader Harry Reid gave the GOP a sucker punch that reminded everyone that a minority party can still pack a political wallop.

Seldom has a political leader pulled off such a well-timed and well-executed maneuver.

And seldom has any political leader looked as genuinely outraged — and utterly hapless — as Majority Leader Bill Frist, who may be a few hairs away from facing a rebellion in GOP ranks over his less-than-iron-fisted Senate leadership. (Why is Trent Lott smiling these days?)

Harry Reid looked sincerely stern and outraged, Frist looked flummoxed (this'll make nice anti-Frist footage someday, in the event that Frist's Presidential ambitions aren't entirely destroyed by the ongoing SEC investigation).

And sure it was a political move. What, in Washington isn't? Indeed it served to put BushCorp™'s pre-war lies back into the spotlight where they belong. If you're not a Freeper that's good news.

And more importantly Reid's move force Republican Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts to pull his thumb out of his ass, where it's been resting warmly for a year and a half, and finally report on the administration's mis-use of what's been proven to be faulty data.

A progress report is NOW due November 14th. It could've been done LAST November 14th.

My main quibble is as to why elected Democrats haven't take such forceful steps before. My guess is that today saw a perfect storm of need and opportunity.

-Polls suggest the American public has finally caught on to BushCorp™'s failures of intelligence, honesty, and integrity.
-Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby made clear what a prosecuter can and can not do. His press comments on Friday fairly begged for a political investigation to supplement his criminal one.
-Bush's nomination of the hard-right conservative judge Samuel Alito had two affects on the timing on Reid's move.
1) The need to re-capture the news cycle (and like it or not that has to be a real consideration nowadays) and;
2) To fire a shot across Senate Republicans' bow: threats, counter-threats, and counter-counter-threats of Democratic filibuster, followed by Republican "Nuclear" option, followed by a grinding halt to all non-essential Senate business (i.e. MOST Senate business), all such are very real possibilities. It's important Republicans understand just how miserable even outnumbered Democrats can make their lives.

My hope is that, as tempers cool, the Republican leadership will recognize the widom of this lesson. And combined with the certain knowledge that Bush's incredible shrinking poll numbers provide them with zero political leverage, they may find a way to back away from the far right precipice upon which they are currently perched.

And my hope is further, that should Republicans, as seems to me more likely, fail to see the wisdom of increased moderation, Reid's action today will not be regarded as an anomally, but as the start of the rise of the fighting Democratic party.