Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

What follows are excerpts form tonight's State of the Union address (full transcript available here) followed by my snarky comments in italics.

To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of good will and respect for one another. And I will do my part.
Does that include not misrepresenting your opponent's stances?

In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country.
We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life.
We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity.
Apparently not.

Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror.
Democracies like Iran and Hamas in Palestine?

In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies in the world. Today there are 122.
Including Iran and Palestine?

And we are writing a new chapter in the story of self-government, with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan, and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink, and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom.

At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half -- in places like Syria and Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Iran -- because the demands of justice and the peace of this world require their freedom as well.
Exactly how are fixed elections in Iran better than the fixed elections in Egypt, or the US for that matter?

Their aim is to seize power in Iraq and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world.
Sure it's their aim, now.

BUSH: But they have miscalculated. We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it.
Even if it means surrenduring it to the government wiretaps.

There is no peace in retreat.

And there is no honor in retreat.
But, to paraphrase General MacArthur, perhaps we should advance in another direction?

We remain on the offensive against terror networks. We have killed or captured many of their leaders.
Just not the most important ones.

We're on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory.
And that would be?

First, we are helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased and the insurgency will be marginalized.
Or become part of the governing coalition.

Second, we are continuing reconstruction efforts (at least all the swimiing pool hardware is shiny)and helping the Iraqi government to fight corruption and build a modern economy (by stuffing millions in unmarked bills into file cabinets across the country), so all Iraqis can experience the benefits of Exxon/Mobile freedom.

Third, we are striking terrorist targets (with more new tqargets created every day) while we train Iraqi forces that are increasingly capable of defeating the enemy, (that we continue to create).

BUSH: Iraqis are showing their courage every day
By going out their front doors

Our work in Iraq is difficult, because our enemy is brutal. But that brutality has not stopped the dramatic progress of a new democracy. In less than three years, the nation has gone from dictatorship, to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections, (to civil war).

BUSH: The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home.
Though many will also come home in boxes in cargo holds as well.

As we make progress on the ground and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels. But those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.
What about by politicians in undisclosed locations?

In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure.
As well as incompetence that seems incapable of anything but failure.

Hindsight alone is not wisdom.
No, but neither is denial.

And second-guessing is not a strategy.
And niether is wishful thinking.

With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor.
OK, you first.

A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison, (or at least a retreat to their New York and Paris townhouses) would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country and show that a pledge from America means little.

Members of Congress, however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our nation has only one option: We must keep our word, defeat our enemies and stand behind the American military in its vital mission.
Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices and showing a sense of duty stronger than all fear.

BUSH: They know what it's like to fight house to house in a maze of streets, to wear heavy gear in the desert heat, to see a comrade killed by a roadside bomb.
(Insert tribute to a soldier far more honorable than Bush, Cheney and the rest of the draft-dodgiing chicken hawk Yellow Elephants here).

(Insert toothless calls for greater democracy in the mid-east here.) And by the way, what of the two biggest offenders of civil rights, Russia and China? Perhaps chickenhawk bush is showing the bright yellow stripe that runs down his back?

And, tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

To overcome dangers in our world, we must also take the offensive by encouraging economic progress and fighting disease and spreading hope in hopeless lands.
BUSH: Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies; it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need.
Not that we're doing nearly enough, but OK.

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us.
Be afraid and submissive, be very afraid.

(Insert specious justification for illegal domestic spying here)

Did I mention you should be afraid?

Our economy is healthy and vigorous, and growing faster than other major industrialized nations. In the last two-and-a-half years, America has created 4.6 million new (Mc)jobs -- more than Japan and the European Union combined.
BUSH: Even in the face of higher energy prices and natural disasters, (and despite my own incompetence) the American people have turned in an economic performance that is the envy of the world.

BUSH: We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy, even though this economy could not function without them.
All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction: toward a stagnant and second-rate economy. (The BushCorp plan?)

In the last five years, the tax relief you passed has left $880 billion in the hands of huge multinational Corporations, the Paris Hilton set, American workers, investors, small businesses and families. And they have used it to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth.
Yet the windfall for the rich tax relief is set to expire in the next few years.

BUSH: Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars.
Vote Democrat!

This year my budget will cut it again and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities.
Indeed, all those programs for poor people must be obviously failing. People are still poor, see my point?

BUSH: I am pleased that the members of Congress are working on earmark reform, because the federal budget has too many special interest projects (proposed by Republicans). And we can tackle this problem together, if you give me the royal powers which are my birthrightpass the line-item veto.

BUSH: The retirement of the baby boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget. And that will present future Congresses with impossible choices: staggering tax increases, immense deficits or deep cuts in our outrageous militaryevery category of spending.

Keeping America competitive requires affordable health care.
Fat chance of that with Republicans in charge.

Our government has a responsibility to help provide health care for the poor and the elderly, and we are shirkingmeeting that responsibility.

(Insert proposed payoff to the medical insurance industry here)

BUSH: Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.
This is apparently news to Bush. A wee bit late to the party, but hey better late then never, right?

(insert proposed payoffs to energy industry here)

I'm paraphrasing here: Edjumacation is (they tell me) good. So is, though the jury's still out on evolution, science.

And the number of children born to teenage mothers has been falling for a dozen years in a row.
Except for poor mothers in red states with restrictive abortion regulations.

They are concerned about grand scale Republican corruptionunethical conduct by public officials and discouraged by activist courts that protect equal rights for gaystry to redefine marriage.

Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms; creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.
Human-animal hybrids?! Um, Mr. President? "The Island of Doctor Moreau" isn't a documentary.
Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.
Unless it for the military.

BUSH: So far, the federal government has committed $85 billion to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We are removing debris and repairing highways and rebuilding stronger levees. We're providing business loans and housing assistance.
To help make up for our incompetence before the disaster. Wasn't it a Republican who said that you can't solve problems by throwing money at them?

(insert laughable allusions comparing himself to Lincoln and Martin Luther King here)

BUSH: Before history is written down in books (I'm told), it is written in courage.

Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well.

We will lead freedom's advance.

We will compete and excel in the global economy.

We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land.

And so we move forward optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause and confident of the victories to come.

May God bless America.
And may God have mercy on your souls.

Monday, January 30, 2006


First the good news, the 72 miners trapped by fire in a potash mine have been rescued, and not only that, none even required hospitalization.

Miraculous one might say, especially in contrast with the two preceding coal mine disasters which left 14 dead, and one miner in grave condition.

Miraculous one might say, except that the real reason for the the different outcomes was geographical, the surviving miners were working in Canada, the dead ones in the United States.

And this is no mere co-incidence or simple anti-Bush snark, the reasons for the outcome in the Canadian mine are very easy to see:

The miners reported smoke and quickly headed for the refuge rooms, which can be as large as 50 feet by 150 feet and have an internal supply of oxygen that lasts up to 36 hours, along with food, water, chairs and beds.

The West Virginia miners had no such luxuries.
And why, pray tell is that?
Were the accidents unforseeable? No. In fact coal mining is appreciably more dangerous than potash mining.

The simple fact is that mine safety regulations in the US, under the Bush administration, where they haven't been gutted entirely, carry only the merest of penalties.

And so while their industry rakes in billions from their work, US mine workers operate under conditions that make them more vulnerable than need be, as the happy conclusion of the Canadian incident demonstrates.

Were I a family member of one of those West Virginia miners, I'd be angry indeed, that the government that is so willing to cancel our civil liberties in the name of security, is so unwilling to enforce very simple measures here at home that could have saved a loved one's life.

And I'd be angry as hell that instead of proper regulation, when it comes to disaster preparedness, our born-again administration prefers to wait on miracles.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The ghost of disasters future

New Orleans reconstruction not going that well? I'll try to control my shock.

Nearly five months after Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, President Bush's lofty promises to rebuild the Gulf Coast have been frustrated by bureaucratic failures and competing priorities, a review of events since the hurricane shows.

While the administration can claim some clear progress, Bush's ringing call from New Orleans's Jackson Square on Sept. 15 to "do what it takes" to make the city rise from the waters has not been matched by action, critics at multiple levels of government say, resulting in a record that is largely incomplete as Bush heads into next week's State of the Union address.

This comes as a surprise to no-one, no-one, at least, who has been paying the least attention to BushCorp™'s phenomenal record of incompetence.
The problems include the slow federal cleanup of debris in Mississippi and Louisiana; a lack of authority for Bush's handpicked recovery coordinator, Donald E. Powell; the shortage and poor quality of housing for evacuees; and federal restrictions on reconstruction money and where coastal communities can rebuild.

With the onset of the hurricane season just four months away, there is no agreement on how to rebuild New Orleans, how to pay for that effort or even who is leading the cross-governmental partnership, according to elected leaders. While there is money to restore the city's flood defenses to protect against another Category 3 hurricane, it remains unclear whether merely reinforcing the levees will be enough to draw residents back.

I highly recommend the article for a full rundown of failures.

But it basically boils down to a failure to allocate sufficient resources, a lack of leadership, and a lack of organization.

In other words the typical BushCorp™ modus operandi.

And it light of Bush's pledge to "do what it takes" to rebuild New Orleans, we might well put a new interpretation on his very similar pledge to "stay the course" in Iraq.

My frequently recurring thought is, as always: is it any surprise that people who claim to hate government can't govern?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Democracy on the march

The recent landslide victory by the radical Islamic group Hamas might cause some to question the validity of our president's claim that democracy is the magic potion that will lead to global peace. I mean Hamas seems rather an unsavory group upon which to pin one's democratic hopes.

Hamas is closely related to the Muslim Brotherhood and its stated goal is to "remove Israel from the map", and to establish an Islamic theocracy in the area that is currently Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip. In pursuit of this, Hamas affirms a right to engage in military struggle.
Hamas is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union, Canada, the United States, and Israel, and its attacks targeting Israeli civilians and other human rights abuses have been condemned by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

But perhaps Hamas victory this week is a function of the peculiar history of the Palestinian people and is now way indicative of a democratic trend.

Just because the people of the Gaza strip have voted into office a religiously fundamentalist and warlike group doesn't mean that trend will happen in any other countries.

It certainly couldn't happen here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

American Ideas and Ideals

For those of us who fear that BushCorp is using the terror of 9/11 to destroy the values that make America worthy of saving, Jack Grant, writing at The Moderate Voice, has an excellent (though long) essay on the subject. Here's a taste, but really, you should read it all, isn't your freedom worth it?

There are few things in this world in which I firmly believe, and even fewer that I am willing to stand up for. The ideas of freedom and democracy are among those precious few.

There is a critical difference between ideals and ideas.

The ideal of America has been murdered in the past five years by the actions of the government of the United States, but the ideas underlying America have not yet been destroyed.

The ideas of freedom and democracy are what I believe in. What are the gravest threats to these ideas, an external threat of terrorist organizations who kill people to get headlines, or those who claim the world changed on September 11, 2001 and say that to protect our "freedom" we must push aside the ideas of civil liberties in order to provide safety against terrorist threats?

In other words, there are those who say that we must kill the patient in order to "cure" the disease. This is a solution that appeals to the simple-minded, but not to those who truly understand the fundamentals underlying our Constitution.

What is clear to me is that which is the true threat, and that threat is NOT the one commonly perceived.

It is often quoted, by me as much as by others, something that was written by one of my heroes, Benjamin Franklin, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Those who proclaim "the world changed on 9/11" as an argument towards undermining the freedoms we had against government surveillance of our lives understand neither the nature of the world before September 11, 2001, nor do they understand the foundations underlying our Constitution.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The best of GOP governance

In today's Washington Post Harold Meyerson observes that incompetence is BushCorp™'s defining feature:

Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it's hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president's defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things -- particularly when most of them were the president's own initiatives.

He follows with a nice rundown on the administration's multitudinous failures. And just in case you're not familiar with the latest:
It's the president's prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D), though, that is his most mind-boggling failure. As was not the case in Iraq or with Katrina, it hasn't had to overcome the opposition of man or nature. Pharmacists are not resisting the program; seniors are not planting car bombs to impede it (not yet, anyway). But in what must be an unforeseen development, people are trying to get their medications covered under the program. Apparently, this is a contingency for which the administration was not prepared, as it has been singularly unable to get its own program up and running.

Initially, Part D's biggest glitch seemed to be the difficulty that seniors encountered in selecting a plan. But since Part D took effect on Jan. 1, the most acute problem has been the plan's failure to cover the 6.2 million low-income seniors whose medications had been covered by Medicaid. On New Year's Day, the new law shifted these people's coverage to private insurers. And all hell broke loose.

Read the whole article, but let me suggest a further conclusion. Bush's failures are not sole the result of incompetence. They are the result of the inherent Republican belief that government is the problem, not the solution, to quote GOP Saint Reagan.

And I must ask my fellow citizens, what sense does it make to put government in the charge of those who hold such a belief?

In many ways then, this is the best GOP government we'll ever have. Think about that.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The cost of war

The reasons against the war in Iraq sometimes seem as numerous as stars in the desert sky, and, at least to some, as compelling. The cost in American and Iraqi lives, those of the dead as well as those of the maimed, could well move one to tears.

In political terms, the costs could be, conceivably, even worse. The loss of US goodwill and crediblity with the international community is something that may take decades to repair, if it is even possible to do so. The costs of this loss, as well as the weakening of our armed forces, seem to be playing out in the showdown with Iran over nuclear weapons, and seem to be part of our continuing difficultie with North Korea as well.

It strikes me as incredibly ironic that the US' ill-advised attack on Iraq, designed by the neocons to bulk up US credibility, has instead managed to degrade it.

But since GOPers seem immune to any number of arguments against the war in Iraq, I thought it would be helpful to put it in terms the typical Republican can identify with: money.

According to a new analysis by Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes, the actual economic costs of the Iraqi war vastly overshadow both the administration's current requests, as well as their laughable pre-war estimates. Writing in the LA Times:

LAST WEEK, at the annual meeting of the American Economic Assn., we presented a new estimate for the likely cost of the war in Iraq. We suggested that the final bill will be much higher than previously reckoned — between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, depending primarily on how much longer our troops stay. Putting that into perspective, the highest-grossing movie of all time, "Titanic," earned $1.8 billion worldwide — about half the cost the U.S. incurs in Iraq every week.

Like the iceberg that hit the Titanic, the full costs of the war are still largely hidden below the surface. Our calculations include not just the money for combat operations but also the costs the government will have to pay for years to come. These include lifetime healthcare and disability benefits for returning veterans and special round-the-clock medical attention for many of the 16,300 Americans who already have been seriously wounded. We also count the increased cost of replacing military hardware because the war is using up equipment at three to five times the peacetime rate. In addition, the military must pay large reenlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to reenlist reluctant soldiers. On top of this, because we finance the war by borrowing more money (mostly from abroad), there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt.

Our study also goes beyond the budget of the federal government to estimate the war's cost to the economy and our society. It includes, for instance, the true economic costs of injury and death. For example, if an individual is killed in an auto or work-related accident, his family will typically receive compensation for lost earnings. Standard government estimates of the lifetime economic cost of a death are about $6 million. But the military pays out far less — about $500,000. Another cost to the economy comes from the fact that 40% of our troops are taken from the National Guard and Reserve units. These troops often earn lower wages than in their civilian jobs. Finally, there are macro-economic costs such as the effect of higher oil prices — partly a result of the instability in Iraq.

To a liberal like myself, these numbers raise thoughts about how much of the US' badly degraded social safety net could've been shorn up by that money. How many improvements in healthcare and education could've been fully funded. How many lives could've been improved.

But for my Republican friends, in terms you can understand, just think of how many tax-cuts and faith-based programs might've been funded, how many fences raised along the border with Mexico, how many more FBI agents to analyze the President's illegal wiretaps.

You'd think it'd be enough to make Rush Limbaugh cry.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Time to upturn the pigtrough

I don't frequently agree, as one might guess, with conservative pundit George Will.

Mr. Will however, is at least the sort of conservative who has, to date, largely shunned the BushCorp™, power for power's sake kool-aid. And like many an honest (or at least sincere) conservative, he seems truly disheartened by the level of corruption in the Republican party.

Now one may ask why, just now, is this long time DC insider so interested in cleaning up congress. Couldn't be a belated effort to save the GOP's elephantine ass on the Abramoff corruption scandal or anything? Nah.

But be that as it may, Mr. Will has recently shown that even political hacks can come to wisdom.

And on what subject does your CaliBlogger agree with the wiley Mr. Will?


As I wrote last week:

As has been shown over and over again, efforts to reduce the flow of money, either directly on indirectly into politicians' pockets have proven futile. If corporations and wealthy individuals have both money to spend and an expectation it'll buy them a favor, they'll find a way. What campaign finance laws and such really do is serve as full employment insurance for millions of very clever lawyers looking for the (inevitable it seems) loophole.

No, rather than throw down a rather porous gauntlet for interest groups and their battalions of lawyers, better to enforce a very simple rule for a few hundred congresscritters: No more earmarks.

If lobbyists can no longer count on getting a specific bit of legislation into the books simply by getting Congressman X seats for the Superbowl, they'll be much less inclined to even try. These are businessmen after all, and like any good businessman, a lobbyist will want to get the most bang for the buck. So if no bang is there to be had, neither will be the bucks.

No doubt having read an advanced copy of my LTE to the Pasadena Star-News (read it here), Mr. Will, in an effort, no doubt to avoid getting "scooped" on the idea, rushed into yesterday's Washington Post:
Forbid appropriations to private entities. Government money should flow directly to government agencies -- federal, state or local. And those agencies should be required to formally testify that local projects receiving national funding serve essential national needs. Appropriations that are, in effect, cash flows from individual representatives to private entities are invitations to corruption. Federal money directed to private entities was what ex-representative Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) was bribed to deliver.

So, end "earmarks." They write into law a representative's or senator's edict that a particular sum be spent on a particular project in his or her state or district.

And while such suggestions may be mere CYA attempts by conservatives in the face of the GOP's Abramoff corruption scandal, still, I believe suggestions like those made by Arizona Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake have merit:
Flake proposes legislation that would prohibit federal agencies from funding any earmark not contained in a bill's actual legislative language. And the bill would allow a point of order to prevent the waiving of House rules against including non-germane spending -- earmarks not included in either House or Senate spending bills -- in conference reports.

I strongly doubt that the GOP as a whole would even consider endangering the support they receive from their corporate masters, support based on the many little billion dollar favors a Congressman can give.

Which presents an opportunity for Democrats to stand up for real reform, and stand up against earmarks.

And I would certainly support any candidate who can honestly answer yes to the following question: Do you support the complete elimination of Congressional earmarks?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A blogosphere breakthrough

We interrupt our usual programming to announce a blogosphere exclusive, Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has the hookup to: THE BEST BLONDE JOKE EVER.


Truthiness, justice and the American way

If you're not a fan of the Colbert Report...well why not?

But anyway, mock pundit (in the way Jon Stewart is a mock newsman), Stephen Colbert is already impacting the American lexicon, even if he's not getting credit for it.

Adam Green has the call:

Harkening back to October 17, 2005, the night the Colbert Report debuted on Comedy Central, Colbert replayed his first Word of the Day: Truthiness.

At the time he had joked, "Now I'm sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster's, are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word.'" But on Monday, Colbert swollowed (sic) his pride - he admitted he was wrong. Because it turns out, this week the American Dialect Society voted "truthiness" the 2005 word of the year. Colbert commented:

Press article announcing this prestigious award - written by one Heather Clark - had a glaring omission: Me. I'm not mentioned, despite the fact that truthiness is a word I pulled right out of my keyster.

Instead of coming to me, here's where Ms. Clark got the definition. "Michael Adams, a professor at North Carolina State university who specializes in lexicology, said 'truthiness' means 'truthy, not facty.'"

First of all, I looked him up. He's not a professor, he's a vising associate professor. And second, it means a lot more than that, Michael.

I don't know what you're getting taught over there in English 201 and 324 over at Tompkins Hall, Wolfpack. But it isn't truthiness.

In fact, the AP article misses the entire satirical point, that truthiness is the kind of mindset that makes people believe Saddam was involved in 9/11 and al Qaeda and that eolution is "just" a theory.

And though I suspect that the real culprit is some editor, the object of Stephen's wrath is the woman with the byline on the article, Heather Clark.

The truth is clear from American Dialect Society's website

And if you'd like to politely suggest a correction I'd suggest contacting Ms. Clark.

And, as Mr. Green suggests:
And if you're on the fence about whether to contact her, don't just do it for Colbert. Do it in the name...of truthiness.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Congress: Reform thyself

As DC Republicans nervously wait for the scandals to hit the fan in the Abramoff bribery debacle, they are also devoting a lot of energy (hot air mainly) to something called "lobbying reform".

You have, or will soon see, a plethora of news articles like this one from the Washington Post:

Hill Weighs Curbs on Lobbying:
More Disclosure, Ban on Sponsored Trips Under Consideration

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006; Page A04

Congress is poised to pass measures early this year that would clamp down on lobbying activity and possibly end some lawmaker travel.

Lawmakers are moving quickly to devise lobbying legislation and to approve it soon after Congress returns later this month. The rush has been caused by recent lobbying scandals, including the guilty plea last week of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is cooperating with prosecutors in a corruption investigation of Congress.

But while I think that more disclosure is great and that bans on exorbitant gifts and trips are long overdue, if the goal is to eliminate much of the outright quid pro quo horse-trading that passes for government these days, at least one of two other things must happen.

Congresscritters must be forbidden from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists and their surrogates and/or they must give up the ability to place earmarks in legislation.

And of the two, I believe that eliminating the earmark would be far the most effective anit-corruption tactic, and thus the most dificult to enact.

As I've earlier remarked while blogging on governmental malfeasance in both the preparation for disasters like Katrina, as well as FEMA's inadequate response (a state of affairs that continues today by the way, though in Texas and Oklahoma):
Currently the administration and congress are seeking to divert attention from their corrupt and irresponsible behavior by focusing their wrath on the admittedly woefully inadequate disaster response. But as heads cool, and minds take over, it is past time to hold the President, and especialy Congress responsible for the pork-laden earmark process and the feckless use of our nation's resources.

As we can see from the potentially avoidable tragedy of New Orlean's burst levees, such negligence borders on the criminal, if not the treasonous.

The Congressional earmark process must be severly curtailed, if not eliminated entirely, and in the 2006 mid-terms I expect a promise to that effect from any Congresscritter with the barest hope of being elected.

As has been shown over and over again, efforts to reduce the flow of money, either directly on indirectly into politicians' pockets have proven futile. If corporations and wealthy individuals have both money to spend and an expectation it'll buy them a favor, they'll find a way. What campaign finance laws and such really do is serve as full employment insurance for millions of very clever lawyers looking for the (inevitable it seems) loophole.

No, rather than throw down a rather porous gauntlet for interest groups and their battalions of lawyers, better to enforce a very simple rule for a few hundred congresscritters: No more earmarks.

If lobbyists can no longer count on getting a specific bit of legislation into the books simply by getting Congressman X seats for the Superbowl, they'll be much less inclined to even try. These are businessmen after all, and like any good businessman, a lobbyist will want to get the most bang for the buck. So if no bang is there to be had, neither will be the bucks.

Until congress takes this simple step, any "reform" will be just so much windowdressing.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The REPUBLICAN Corruption Scandal

Despite what you'll be hearing from GOPer liars spinmeisters, Democrats have never taken ANY bribes from Casino Jack Abramoff. DNC chairman Howard Dean smacks down Wolf Blitzer. The transcript is from Kos:

BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to bribery charges, among other charges, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, should the Democrat who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?

DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true.

BLITZER: But through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either. There is no evidence...

BLITZER: What about Senator Byron Dorgan?

DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.

BLITZER: Unfortunately Mr. Chairman, we got to leave it right there.

Crooks and liars has the video.

You dirty rat...

Ah for the good old days of Jimmy Cagney gangster flicks, when you could tell the good guys from the bad.

In news that further re-inforces the Republican corruption as a bad gangster flick image (see fedora Jack Abramoff here) Time is reporting that Duke Cunningham wore a wire while co-operating with the feds.

Washington's power players have always bragged about being well-wired, but for disgraced former congressman Duke Cunningham, "wired" wasn't just a figure of speech. In a week when legislators are focused on the question of who else might be brought down by ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s cooperation with prosecutors as he seeks lenient sentencing over his two federal guilty pleas this week, sources tell TIME that in a separate investigation, ex-Rep. Cunningham wore a wire to help investigators gather evidence against others just before copping his own plea.

Many before me have suggested the idea of the Bush crime family and I've already resisted the tendancy. But doesn't this stuff begin to remind you of an old episode of Law and Order?

Washington DC, where the government is corrupt and the Republicans are nervous.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Saturday Column: Whither now the governator?

If, as a noted English writer once said the past is prologue, then we can perhaps guess the future course of Schwarzenegger's newest initiatives.

In Thursday's State of the State address, the Republican governor outlined a series of proposals that would make any self-respecting Democrat weep with joy, including proposals to limit tuition fees for the state's universities, raise the minimum wage, and most ambitiously, to float a massive public works bond to shore up Califonia's woefully inadequate transportation systems.

I'll, no doubt, have more to say on all of these proposals as they near either fruition or failure in the coming year, but at the moment I wanted to look at their political implications.

Let's look at the Governator's record.

In the 2003 recall election which saw Arnold's ascent to the pinnacle of California politics featured promises of bi-partisanship and an end of the pay to play mindset so devastating to Gray Davis' career. And while the promise not to accept money from special inteests proved as specious as anyone paying attention to modern American politics would expect it to be, Arnold held largely to his pledge of bipartisan co-operation regarding the most important of his then proposals, the bond issue restructuring California's debt situation.

Well and good.

Then something funny happened.

Around the time of the 2004 Republican National Convention, someone (contributors no doubt) reminded Arnold that he is a Republican. His glowing support for Bush at the convention was inevitable if he was going to garner a a coveted primetime speaking spot, as was, no doubt, his support in the ensuing presidential campaign. But going further, he infuriated California Democrats by actively campaigning against them, including some who had bought Schwarzenegger's "spirit of bi-partisanship" rhetoric and supported his proposals.

Then in 2005 the other shoe, inevitably, dropped. The governator's State of the state message was a shot across the bow of Democrats and their supporters, as well as manna from heavan (to mix metaphors) for the very right wing California Republican party. Why this shift to the right?

To me, anyway, the answer is not entirely clear. Were Schwarzenegger's proposals to strike at a major Democratic constituency, unions, merely a reflection of Schwarzenegger's own pro-business tendancies (as well as his chamber of commerce type supporters)? Or was it a cynical ploy to shore up his Republican base (and build an enormous campaign war chest), anticipating this year's election year swing back to the center?

In the end I suppose it doesn't really matter, as we've now enough information to make an educated guess as to what Schwarzenegger's next year and his new administration (if re-elected) will look like.

My prognostication.

2006 will see Schwarzenegger making furious efforts to pass his proposed initiatives, his success to be determined largely by the political calculations made by the Democrat controlled legislature. Sacramento Democrats face a choice. Do they support the governor's proposals in an effort to show themselves as working in that much vaunted bi-partisan spirit? Do they kill the governor's proposals by either blocking them outright (unlikely) or by tacking on provisions (e.g. pro-union) that will prove impossible for Arnold to swallow?

My guess is that, after an enormous amount of horse-trading, relatively bi-partisan proposals will either be passed by Sacramento, or make it successfully to the ballot as initiatives.

I (for now) make no guesses as to the success of such ballot initiatives, but should he be re-elected one thing seems clear, expect Schwarzenegger to make another hard right turn. In 2007/8 he'll be looking to shore up (yet again) the Republican faithful and repay his campaign debts and prep himself (yet again) for the national spotlight of the 2008 Republican convention where the support of of a "moderate" Republican governor will (yet again) be coveted as a mask for the Republican party's wingnut true inner self.

California Democrats and independents are faced then with this choice: are the benefits of supporting Arnold's current proposals for a tuition freeze, increased minimum wage, and urgently needed infrastructure support worth the wingnut causes he'll no doubt espouse once re-elected?

And California Republicans face a similar choice, can they bite their tongues long enough to help Schwarzenegger get re-elected, counting on getting their due in 2007/8?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Jon Stewart to host Oscars

Too cool:

Jon Stewart, the Emmy-winning host and co-writer of Comedy Central's mock newscast "The Daily Show," today will be named host of the 78th Annual Academy Awards, three sources familiar with the selection process said Wednesday, ending months of speculation about the show's next emcee.

Academy officials and longtime Oscar producer Gil Cates have settled on Stewart, 43, who hosted the Grammy Awards in 2001 and 2002, the sources said.

One wonders what our favorite anti-BS (fake) newsguy will do with all the self-serving sincerity that is tinseltown, but it takes no crystal ball to note that BushCorp™ and friends seem hell bent on providing plenty of material.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Abramoff strikes deal with feds

As I expected, Casino Jack Abramoff today struck a deal with federal prosecuters to serve a lesser sentence for his various and sundry crimes in return for his co-operation in the ongoing investigations of his congresscritter clientele.

Super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea Tuesday to three felony counts sets the stage for the biggest congressional scandal perhaps in decades, certainly since the Republicans took over Congress 10 years ago, pledging clean government.

In exchange for his guilty pleas, in both the Washington case and a separate Florida case in which he was indicted last year, Mr. Abramoff will cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating members of Congress, Capitol Hill aides, and other lobbyists. Political players with ties to Abramoff and his network, who knew the lobbyist was preparing to cut a deal, have been sweating for months. Now they're sweating harder.

Though members of both parties are involved, analysts expect Republicans - who control both houses of Congress - to bear the brunt of the political fallout. Abramoff, who has close ties to former House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas, allegedly funneled campaign donations to lawmakers, who were treated to lavish trips and meals, in exchange for official acts.

"It could end some careers," says Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the non- partisan Cook Political report.

Ah yes, one can hope.

But further, I hope the Abramoff scandal not only brings down those who've vioalted the current law, but also exposes the extent of entirely legal corruption now permeating Washington.

For to a large degree it seems that Abramoff's greatest problem is that his dealings with congressmen simply went a little too far beyond the usual wink-wink, nudge-nudge of pay to play politics as usual. Abramoff's quid pro quos were simply too blatent.

And until such a time as election campaigns no longer cost millions per politician, lobbyists will continue to creep along the fine line of what's leagal and what's not. And some, like Abramoff, will occasionally cross over.

[Think Progress has a truly comprehensive breakdown of Abramoff's house of cards]

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Resolution

To do everything my small voice allows me, to see that George W. Bush, for once in his life, actually faces the consequences of his actions.