Monday, February 28, 2005

Coincidence, Maybe

AP writes a strange-sounding breaking story: Federal Judge Finds Two Bodies in Home:
CHICAGO - A federal judge discovered two bodies in her home Monday night, and authorities were investigating the deaths.

U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow found the bodies about 6 p.m., when she returned home from work, police spokesman Pat Camden said.

The judge was uninjured.

Authorities did not identify the bodies and did not disclose the cause of death.
That Judge's name sure sounds familiar.

Ah, remember the racist Matt Hale, and his racist World Church of the Creator? He's had some dealings with this judge:
Hale went so far as to solicit the murder of Judge Lefkow and attempt to influence her by force. He was arrested by federal agents in January 2003 and was convicted on the charges last spring. United States v. Hale....
I'm sure the authorities already know this.

[Update: How horrible: the dead were her husband and mother, apparently killed execution-style. And, predictably, the white supremacy angle is part of the investigation. See here .]

Reporting Redux

I hadn't previously seen this week-old Michael Kinsley Op-Ed in the Washington Post, but he succinctly puts his finger on what bothers me about the stance of Judith Miller and Matt Cooper regarding the Plame leak case:
"The leak wasn't merely connected to the crime. The leak was the crime. 'Outing' an intelligence agent is illegal."
Exactly. It's as if a reporter protested that she couldn't testify about a robbery she witnessed because the perpetrator had told her that he was robbing on deep background.

Of course, this fiasco also helps Miller get the "Ms. First Amendment" tee shirt rather than being continuallly pilloried for her heinous pre-war "reporting." That's a real travesty of justice.


Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer-prize winning writer for Newsday, has decided not to return to the paper after her leave of absence working at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Poynter Online posts here her goodbye essay/letter. And it's not only readers who are disgusted with journalism nowadays:
When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth. If they hadn't been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way.

Now the blue collar has been fully replaced by white ones in America's newsrooms, everybody has college degrees. The "His Girl Friday" romance of the newshound is gone. All too many journalists seem to mistake scandal mongering for tenacious investigation, and far too many aspire to make themselves the story. When I think back to the old fellows who were retiring when I first arrived at Newsday – guys (almost all of them were guys) who had cop brothers and fathers working union jobs – I suspect most of them would be disgusted by what passes today for journalism. Theirs was not a perfect world --- too white, too male, seen through a haze of cigarette smoke and Scotch – but it was an honest one rooted in mid-20th Century American working class values.

One of my kvetches with blogger triumphalism is the oft-noted fact that bloggers mainly link (at least eventually along the bloglink chain) to "mainstream media" stories. If it weren't for reporters actually doing journalism, the blogosphere would be more of a ciricle-jerk than it already is. (I include this blog as a little part of that circle-jerk, btw.)

I'm sure there was no golden age of journalism, or that whiskey had much to do with quality, but news really seems mostly pathetic nowadays. And don't get me started on local TV news.

I think Laurie Garrett was the only reporter (not columnist) at Newsday that I knew by name. Sorry to see her go.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


This paragraph, and some of the discussion in this Jonathan Yardley story, makes me want to read the book:
"'The massive moviegoing audience that had nurtured the [old] studio system simply no longer exists,' Epstein writes. 'In contrast to the 4.7 billion movie tickets sold in America in 1947, there were only 1.57 billion tickets sold in 2003. So, even though the population had almost doubled, movie theaters sold 3.1 billion fewer tickets than they had in 1947.'"
From The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood, By Edward Jay Epstein

How can an industry that's changed so radically still survive? Evidently, it's become an Intellectual Property generator, which then divvies up the money it makes -- less and less raked in at the box office and more and more coming in from ancillary products. Read the story (or the book) for more facts. I guess movies will survive even this, but it's not surprising there's so much drek in theaters -- it's surprising there are any good movies at all.

And I did see some good 2004 movies, hough I haven't seen all the Oscar nominees. Here are my favorites from those saw last year.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I knew Charlie Kauffman was a great writer before; this movie made me think he's brilliant. Don't go expecting a comedy -- it has Jim Carrey (who was fine in the role) and some funny concepts and bits, but actually it's dark and pretty disturbing look at relationships. It's a romantic comedy only if your genre-sorting machine is out of whack.
  • Sideways. Conversely, a dark comedy with emphasis on the comedy. Well written, acted, and directed.
  • The Incredibles. Pixar is making such damned smart animated movies. It's hard to resist this clever movie that's deeper in themes than a lot of live action features.
  • Shaun of the Dead. Hilarious zombie comedy from the makers of the even more brilliant TV show Spaced.
Also rans: Napoleon Dynamite (sweet idiotic comedy); Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (funny stoner comedy), Spiderman 2 (Raimi made it very good for what is it); Kill Bill Vol 2 (impressively stylish); Anchorman (stupid but funny); Collateral (better than expected).

A few I either want to or "should" see: Million Dollar Baby; Hotel Rwanda; Ray; Vera Drake; Der Untergang (US Title: Downfall -- Bruno Ganz is sure a helluvan actor); Bad Education; and probably a few more.

Two remakes that I thought could possibly have been good but which went wide of the mark: The Stepford Wives (a train wreck of mismatched tone and Rudnick's joke-generator) and Manchurian Candidate (too earnest and not as savvy as it thought it was).

I close by repeating one of the most often repeated phrases of the past few weeks: Paul Giamatti was robbed.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

FCC Fines In Context

Station Manager Ken at the invaluable WFMU blog gives us a little rundown of governmental fines. Guess what: "cultural pollution" fines are orders of magnitude greater than actual pollution with, say, actual radioactive waste that could actually kill actual people.

WFMU's Beware of the Blog: Cussing More Expensive Than Radioactive Waste.

Special bonus -- the post includes an MP3 download link to the Monty Python song "Sit on my face and tell me that you love me," which has no dirty words in it and still garnered a $25K fine from the old (pre-Janet Jackson's booby) FCC.

Not TV Blogging

Matthew Yglesias has been a persistent and thoughtful booster for the HBO series The Wire. I went out and bought Season One of the show based mainly on his raves. I've since seen every episode and can testify that Matt is right. The Wire is television of a rare and high order: a portrait of many layers of city life told largely through the reflexes of a police procedural.

It's powerful story-telling at the service of a rich story. An incredible series.

Before I was converted into a "The Wire"-phile, I had already succumed to the rarified pleasures of HBO's Deadwood. It's both more abstract and more earthy than The Wire, and I could be convinced it's the best western ever captured, and one of the best things ever to hit what is now paranoically called my "monitor."

The New Yorker recently featured a profile of the creator of Deadwood, David Milch. It's fascinating and only heightens my interest in the series. Milch is a complicated guy.

It's well worth the read. Too many interesting things to even excerpt, but I'll rip this Milch quote out to entice you:
"You know, people say that my writing is dark. And for me it's quite the opposite. It sees light in darkness and it doesn't try to distort darkness. The essential thing is that the seeing itself is joyful."
Deadwood is a real place, and many of the characters and places in the series were really there in 1876-1877 .

As for the swearing, Milch says it's necessary. I agree, though I tend to believe Geoffrey Nunberg when he says it's not quite the way they would have sworn back in the day. But if people on TV today were swearing as they actually were in the 1870s, we'd all be baffled or under-profaned. So the swearing has the impact of the past swearing without the actual words they used back then.

Still, don't get so sucked up totally by Deadwood fever that you ignore The Wire. It's a masterful series. Don't burn The Wire!

Of course, regular readers will know of my fondness for British comedy, so I will point you to BBC Radio and particularly to the "Knowing Me, Knowing You" radio series from 1992 featuring the incomparable Alan Partridge. His shallowness will make you feel oh so deep.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Coalition math

Adding to the saga of poor Toomas [below], now Ukraine is pulling troops out

Ukraine to pull out all its troops: "Ukraine said it would pull out its 1,650 troops from the war-torn country."

I saw that Estonia and France will send one soldier each, and Australia will send a few hundred more.

Still, things look bad for poor Toomas.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Pity the Poor Estonian Dude

Estonia wasn't going to send anyone, but then Toomas really ticked off the brass.
In a show of unity after bitter disputes, all 26 countries in NATO pledged money, equipment or personnel to train Iraqi security forces, though many of the pledges were modest.

Estonia said it would send one staff officer to Iraq, and $65,000.
$65,000, huh? By odd coincidence, Toomas lost $65,000 in savings in the past week, too.

Bad times for Toomas.

For no good reason other than the military tie-in, this reminds me of that great movie The Last Detail.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Quaint Old Concepts

Quite a few quaint old concepts seem to have lost their import, including family value [sic] and war profiteering

President Bush's uncle made more than $450,000 last month by selling stock in a defense contractor whose profits are growing because of the Iraq war, records show.

Papering the House

Der Spiegel reports:
During his trip to Germany on Wednesday, the main highlight of George W. Bush's trip was meant to be a "town hall"-style meeting with average Germans. But with the German government unwilling to permit a scripted event with questions approved in advance, the White House has quietly put the event on ice.
Germany outstrips America in spontaneity. The world is turned upside down.

We're constantly hearing how bouyant and confident Bush is after his re-election. So confident that he'll only take pre-screened questions? That's not very confident at all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Free the Iranian Bloggers

I'm not much for blogger triuphalism, but I have an even lower regard for imprisoning bloggers, as Iran has done in the cases of Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad

Some folks have deemed today Free Mojtaba and Arash day and I can get behind that.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Protest Too Much, Much?

As rightwing posts go, this wingnut screed if full of ranty goodness.

The amount of heat and lack of light in this post from the Thune-associated South Dakota Politics blog makes me think there may be more to the Gannon story than previously suspected. It's a pretty astounding level of hyperventilation [warning: 350 kB Ivan Stang .wav file].

And the guy is evidently a history professor. Imagine that.

He tries to use some scattered lefty comments to smear the whole Democratic party as angry. Then he supports his argument with an un-disclaimered link to Little Green Footballs, which has long brimmed with hate and racism. Yowza, way to undermine your argument, professor.

He also makes this interesting claim: "Reporters have recently told me that the Daschle campaign had been sending them photos of Gannon for at least a year to discredit him. " So they knew he was a prostitute a year before most others new, and they kept quiet about it? I think there's a story or two in that alone.

I Wonder...

Has George W. Bush ever said he was committed to do something sizable (not just a small percentage of the budget, but something over a few billion dollars) but decided he couldn't do it because of the cost? What's the meaning of money to this Administration in areas it really cares about?

Why'd he pick Social Security to use that argument? Rather than, say, a multi-billion dollar missile defence program that doesn't work and won't protect us against terrorists? Or a pork-barrel drug-benefit program? Or ....

If only Social Security could be changed so it would help pharmaceutical companies... or defense contractors ... or Wall Street. Then it would be affordable.

In part because benefits for millions of American seniors would be cut.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hard Core Troubadors

Appearing at CPAC, The Right Brothers - Issue based, Conservative music.

Wow, what powerful words and music, like this from the song "Trickle Down:"
If the rich man didn't spend his cash
on cars and boats and planes
there'd be a lot of average joes
out of work today

His dollar helps America's
economy to thrive
The rich man keeps the workin man
working and alive.

Trickle down, trickle down
Let the money trickle down
It won't do anybody good
buried in the ground
Trickle down, trickle down
Let the money spread around
And one day it'll be my turn
And mine'll trickle down.

A song celebrating the rich and lower marginal tax rates on them! These guys are really going to bust the charts wide open.

Link from Unemployed Kerry Staffer.

Secret Logic

DoJ attorneys are now trying to deprive a person of liberty not only based on secret evidence, but on secret legal arguments:
ATTORNEYS FOR the Justice Department appeared before a federal judge in Washington this month and asked him to dismiss a lawsuit over the detention of a U.S. citizen, basing their request not merely on secret evidence but also on secret legal arguments. The government contends that the legal theory by which it would defend its behavior should be immune from debate in court.
This seems to exemplify the current administration's audacity: they're constanly pushing the bounds in whatever area not only beyond the seemly, but beyond what I would consider even conceivable to a reasonable person.

I guess that's what we're dealing with: unreason, and unreality. Scary times.

WH Press Corps

I've been studying the Jeff Gannon/ James Guckert fracas with some shadenfreude.

A few things to note:

1) Being a prostitute is not a private act. Posting pictures of yourself nude on the world-wide-web is even less private. Gannon/Guckert made his flesh public by putting it on the web. People who investigate your sex-for-money schemes are not "invading your privacy." They are looking into your business dealings.

2) This Gannon/Guckert person, a prostitute, was called on by President George W. Bush to ask a question in a nationally televised Press Conference. No modern president asks questions at random to specific persons in a crowd -- they are pointed to this "reporter" or that one.

How did that come about?

Beyond that, for now, let's point towards Keith Olbmermann, who even works on Sunday and makes several cogent points.

I'm sure no one would have to mention any of this if a Democrat were in the White House while a prostitute asked a Democrat a question. Real Media would be all over that. Since it's a Republican man-whore asking a Republican president a question, we should all be reverent.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Abstinence-Only Education Sites

For the girls: IRON HYMEN

For the boys: Sex is for Fags

Someone's been doing some strategic thinking.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Alayn Greenscum

Alan Greenspan has been taking some heat (not nearly enough) for his putrid double-dealing about Social Security.

But how could a hard-core Ayn Randian not hate Social Security? It'd be an article of faith.

I'm still surprised by the number of people who are not aware that Greenspan is a Randian. He was, in fact, a member of what could charitably be called her "salon," but seems awfully cultlike in fact.

Here's a good roundup by Bill Bradford of the Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand. Read it and you'll see why it's no wonder the guy's a dickhead, even with his small indiscretions against pure Randianism.

Lest you think this infatuation with Objectivism was a youthful indiscretion, read to the bottom of the Bradford piece linked above.
And, as his friend Joan Mitchell Blumenthal has observed, “Alan is very devoted to Ayn. He still thinks of her most kindly

Journalist Michael Lewis recently wrote that Greenspan “has preserved a hard core of fanaticism, encas- ing it in a shell of pragmatism. No more waiting for everyone to realize that extreme laissez-faire capitalism is the best system: He’s taking control of the process himself, ever so quietly.”
What would you expect from someone devoted to the writer of the following loathsome prose:
The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the 'competition' between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of 'exploitation' for which you have damned the strong.

-- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
It's no wonder Greenspan wants Social Security killed. He's smarter than the people who need it to live on in their old age.

Camel's Nose?

Finally, after many weeks of pressuring, George W. Bush said that, in the luminous fog of his Social Security "reform" plan, he's not ruled out raising the ceiling on FICA taxes. He's almost soundling like he could remotely be serious about shoring up the relatively minor problems in Social Security. But, he's still pushing private accounts, which makes one think he's not really serious about that.

The day after he says that maybe raising the FICA ceiling is ok, the AP puts out the folllowing story:

Social Security Tax May Mean More Money
Increasing Social Security taxes for the wealthiest Americans could raise more than $100 billion a year — enough to shore up the retirement system's finances for 75 years, pay for President Bush's plan for private accounts, or part of each

So now I see another way that Bush could gut Social Security in years to come. It could go something like this. Bush and his wealthy partisans willl say something like:

"Bush bent on increasing the FICA ceiling. That'll give us enough money to not only plug holes in Social Security for decades, but gives us enough revenue to take funds out of the trust and put it in private accounts."

"See, Bush paid for private -- I mean personal -- accounts! Let's do it!"

Of course, the road to private accounts will gut Social Security in the long run, and will still cost the government in fees, paying out benefits, disability and survivor benefits, paying out ersatz benefits from people whose "private accounts" fail. And, Bush will still have to cut benefits.

But it's a linguistic road to make all this lunacy seem reasonable.

Keep your eyes on the "FICA dividend." It will be rhetorically leveraged into all sorts of things it cannot economically support.

Still, it's a pig in a poke, just a poke a bit more gossamer than it was two days ago.

EDIT: I see that DeLay and Hastert are saying they'd consider a raise in the FICA ceiling a tax increase. That, of course, would be paying bills with actual money instead of fairy farts, so any increase is against Republican dogma.

And Kevin Drum has a few words that play off my thoughts.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Eyes on the Sleaze

This is a bit of an old story in blogosphere terms, but I wanted to explicitly tie two different threads together, so bear with me -- if you wish.

Eyes on the Prize was (I use the past tense advisedly) a landmark documentary telling the story of the Civil Rights struggles in the fifties and sixties. Widely lauded, it encapsulated the era of struggle and success.

What's happened to this documentary appears to encapsulate more recent eras in American history: rampant greed, abuse of copyright laws, lack of a social conscience, toadying to corporations, and shameless self-promotion.

"Eyes on the Prize" is a natural for viewing in Black History Month. But you probably won't see it this year unless you break (or bend) copyright laws. A Virginia school, which had bought a legal VHS copy of the documantary back when it was still available, received a threatening legal letter demanding that they not show the documentary.

They did not show the film in that school.

A group called Downhill Battle has tried to distribute the movie via BitTorrent. Since legally purchased copies cannot be shown even in a school, this seems to be a sympathetic form of civil disobedience. Of course, the real problem is that copyright and the threat of legal action is being used to silence this highly praised version of the story of civil rights.

Reports of this travesty of copyright abuse don't explain who is demanding licensure payment for what part of the documentary. But my bets are on a group that appears to have totally perverted Martin Luther King's message -- the family of Dr. King and their related businesses.

Some of the things they've done to sully their family name are truly stunning.
  • Letting the King Center in Atlanta fall into wretched disrepair while several Kings are taking six-figure salaries.

  • Plans for a memorial to Dr. King on the Mall in Washington, D.C. were halted when the King family demanded a fee to use his image.

  • They have sought to license King's words and image to corporations (Alcatel, Cingular, Time-Warner) while threatening legal action or demanding exorbitant payment from scholars who seek to reproduce King's speeches or other writings.

  • The King estate wrote a threatening letter to Henry Hampton, the maker of "Eyes on the Prize," for using King's image in the movie without giving them enough money or control. Eventually the production company sued the King estate to to license the use of King in the documentary.

  • The head of the MLK foundation, Dr. King's son Dexter, seems to see his father's legacy as a means to enrich himself monetarily while neglecting his father's meaning to the US and the world.
It just goes on and on, and it's horribly sordid.

To return to the current fracas about forcing the school to not show the documentary, the lawyer who wrote the school referred only to issues at the "licensee level." What are the chances that most, if not all, of that pressure, comes from the relatives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself?

Of course, "Tribute to the King" has multiple meanings. Too bad the King family has lost sight of all those meanings that don't include coughing up ducats.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Pig In A Poke

George W. Bush on open and full debate in a democracy about changing the most popular domestic program in history:
Even when pressed, the president refused to say whether he would favor an increase in the cap as part of an overall solution.
“The tendency in Washington is, ‘OK, Mr. President, you play your cards now and we’ll decide if we’re going to play ours,’ ” Bush said. “I’m not going to do that. I’m keeping them close to the vest.”
In short, he's trying to sell us a pig in a poke.

Hey Mr. President, it's your grand idea to change this program. It's up to you to put your cards on the table. It's your plan Congress will be voting on.

After all, I don't want you playing poker with my retirement money, no matter how much fun you may have doing it.

Play poker with your own money, not mine.

Monday, February 14, 2005

War on Ira*

Lots of interesting stuff in this AP Article titled "Iraq's Shiite leaders grilled by U.S. on nature of Iran ties." But this paragraph jumped out at me:
In recent talks, U.S. diplomats have bluntly asked the leaders how a Shiite-dominated government would react if Iran came under attack by an outside power because of its suspected nuclear weapons program, according to a high-ranking member of one Shiite party.

That sure sounds like war with Iran is almost a done deal.

The article's focus on how close the Shiite government will be to Iran is very insteresting, too. I wonder how many Iraqi politicians who will be killed in the coming months and years will die not at the hands of the insurgency?

Will Righties Call Them Ragheads Again?

Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision (

When the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq two years ago, it envisioned a quick handover to handpicked allies in a secular government that would be the antithesis of Iran's theocracy -- potentially even a foil to Tehran's regional ambitions.

But, in one of the greatest ironies of the U.S. intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base -- and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door. It is the last thing the administration expected from its costly Iraq policy -- $300 billion and counting, U.S. and regional analysts say.

Ouch, those people who won seem to be wearing headgear very similar to the Ayatollahs in Iran. Boy, that's a funny coincidence, isn't it?

Yesterday, the White House heralded the election and credited the U.S. role. In a statement, President Bush praised Iraqis "for defying terrorist threats and setting their country on the path of democracy and freedom. And I congratulate every candidate who stood for election and those who will take office once the results are certified."

Bush congratulated the Iran-lovers, and even the Communists, who got three seats, even more than about a dozen other parties.

Bush congratulating Communists for winning seats in an election. Boy, that hurts. Should Bush be congratulating Communists? Too late, he already did it. Scott McLellan should backpedal from that tomorrow.

Iran is a winner, and Israel is a loser (see here: " But at all the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution rallies and Friday prayers services, crowds chant "Death to Israel!"' Remember when the neocon fantasy included an Iraqi government that was pro-Israeli? Yet another fantasy down the drain.

And, "Since the United Iraq Alliance received nearly half of the votes over-all, then 205,000 or so of the votes would be awarded to it after the fact, or 2.4 percent. Presto, the religious Shiites have 51 percent."

The Iranian Ayatollahs should be very happy today. I'm not.

Mathematically Impossible

Michael Kinsley finds what he calls The Meathead Proposition (, whcih logically and irrefutably demonstrates that:
Like the argument I have been hawking (see, this one doesn't merely suggest that Bush is making bad policy. It demonstrates with near-mathematical certainty that the idea he endorses can't work. Period.
But, of course, logic doesn't mean much anymore:

Bush might as well be proposing legislation that two plus two is five. And if that happened, there would be no shortage of Republicans prepared to endorse this view, experts on arithmetic to declare that it is a very difficult question, research to indicate that the answer may lie anywhere between 2.3 and 7.09, moderate Washington sages to urge caution, media to report both sides of the question, and media critics to accuse the media of a subtle bias in favor of two plus two is four.
Then Kinsley goes on to demonstrate yet another thing about the Bush plan that demonstrates a particularly vapor-headed approach to policy by the right wing.

As policy, it is yet another vapor-headed way of fudging numbers.

As politics, we have to make this mistake really hurt the Republicans for years, since it makes their intent obvious.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Three Guesses Why

Poll: Seniors Key to Slip in Bush Rating
The public's confidence in President Bush's job performance and the nation's direction has slipped in the opening weeks of his second term, particularly among people 50 and older, according to an Associated Press poll.

Adults were evenly divided on Bush's job performance in January, but now 54 percent disapprove and 45 percent approve. The number who think the country is headed down the wrong track increased from 51 percent to 58 percent in the past month.
Wow, that seems like a precipitous drop. Back to the AP:
The survey wasn't all bad for the Bush administration: People are slightly more optimistic about the possibility of a stable, democratic Iraq.

The poll, conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs, was taken after the president's State of the Union address and the elections in Iraq and at the start of a heated debate over creating personal Social Security accounts.
I know things move fast, but I expected the good feelings from the Iraqi election to last a bit longer (even though subsequent events soured me pretty quickly afterwards).

Let's hope these poll results are something that Dems can build on.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


250 MP3 versions of House of the Rising Sun.

That's two hundred and fifty. And that's House of the Rising Sun.

It's not perfect, however. I was surprised to learn that Hank Williams had recorded a version of the song. He didn't: the MP3 is Hank Williams, Jr. Massive difference. I'd also bet that the "Doc and Richard Watson" entry (number 58) Is actually Doc and Merle Watson. But the site is slow, so I may never know.

Iran!!!!! Not North Korea.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

This will be all over the place in a few hours (at least it should be), but it's illustrative of the fecklessness of the Bush Administration's foreign policy:

MSNBC - N. Korea acknowledges it has nuclear arms

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea publicly admitted Thursday for the first time that it has nuclear weapons, and said it wouldn’t return to six-nation talks aimed at getting it to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Iran is Condi's and Bush's focus, and it's not surprising. They've totally dropped the ball on North Korea's nukes.

Seems like they'd be more concerned about actual US security than scoring petty political points. It would seem that way if we hadn't lived through the past four years.

Nicholas Kristof is sometimes pretty dumb, but even he understands this.

Private Accounts, Personal Accountability

The Securities and Exchange Commission has some helpful information about diving into the world of private accounts.

Wait, the government won't let me use my private or personal accounts any way I want?

If I don't even have a chance of getting rich in my dotage, what's the point of Bush's Social Security plunder?


I haven't seen much mention of this, but it's curious:

U.S. general says he believes British plane was downed by hostile act, not accident

WASHINGTON (AP) A senior U.S. general said Wednesday he believes the British C-130 aircraft that crashed in Iraq on Jan. 30, killing all 10 people aboard, was downed by hostile action rather than by a mechanical problem. The British government has not said whether it was shot down.

''I personally believe there may have been either hostile action or something that happened inside the aircraft, but I doubt that it was mechanical in nature, if you know what I mean,'' Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters.


Smith said there have been reports that ground fire was seen in the area at the time of the crash, and this is being investigated by the British government.

He expressed doubt that a shoulder-fired missile brought down the C-130, but he left open the possibility that it could have been a radar-guided surface-to-air missile or small arms fire.

''I don't believe that airplane went down from a missile,'' he said, noting later that he was referring specifically to what the military calls a man-portable air defense weapon, or Manpad.

''There are other likely scenarios, whether it's small arms fire that hit something in the rear, or a lucky shot from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade),'' he said. ''There are just so many scenarios, the one that seems least likely to me because it would have been seen is the Manpad one.''

This would be a troubling development if it pans out -- and it's not just a one-off instance of the guerillas getting lucky (in their eyes).

Until we know more, there's no obvious way to defend against it. But it it indicates any growing sophistication in the insurgency, it's bad news. Particularly since roads are so dangerous that flying is the safest transport available for Americans and Brits in Iraq.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Paris Hilton Age

Just hearing a bit about Bush's budget, we're back into the Paris Hilton age.

No inheritance tax? That helps Paris Hilton and no middle class people.

Cutting capital gains taxes? Helps Paris Hilton and a lot of children of the rich and maybe -- maybe -- a handful of middle class people.

Cutting Social Security benefits and allowing the government to default on the Social Security Trust fund? Help Paris Hilton, really hurts middle and lower class people.

Cutting taxes for the rich and cutting programs for the middle class and poor? That's the Bush Budget. Helps Paris Hilton and her friends. Hurts everyone else.

Finally, of the people dying in Iraq (and in the military in general around the world) how many does Paris Hilton know? But they die to help her be fabulous.

We're back in the Paris Hilton age.

I hope the Paris Hilton age ends soon. People who aren't Hiltons can't afford to subsidize Paris Hilton forever.

It's not funny anymore.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

War of Ideas

Obsidian Wings pointed to this Christian Science Monitor piece: Koranic duels ease terror

When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."

The prisoners eagerly agreed.

Now, two years later, not only have those prisoners been released, but a relative peace reigns in Yemen. And the same Western experts who doubted this experiment are courting Hitar, eager to hear how his "theological dialogues" with captured Islamic militants have helped pacify this wild and mountainous country, previously seen by the US as a failed state, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two things: As Sebastian said, this really is a good story about moderate (well, at least not extremist) Muslims fighting terror.

But secondly, I really hope it's true that "Western experts" are looking at this fellow and others with simiilar intentions throughout the Muslim world. It seems like we've really let the ball drop on the war of ideas.

I realize that Bush says "freedom" a lot, but I'm afraid that doesn't convince me that we're even playing the idea game seriously. And even if I did believe it, I certainly wouldn't believe that serially occupying Islamic countries would win that war.

So let's hope we're pursuing other seemingly good ideas like this one.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Kinsley's Parable

Michael Kinsley, speaking on Al Franken's show on Air America moments ago, told this parable about how Bush's private accounts will make any problems with Social Security worse. (This is neccesarily a paraphrase -- I wasn't transcribing when listening).
It's like if you're in the desert and thirsty. You'd like some water. Bush comes up and says "How would you like lemonade? It's way better than water." "Ok," you say.

Whereupon, Bush gives you a package of dry lemonade mix and says "There you go. Just add water!"

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Purple Means ... Sharia?

Looks like there's a great chance that some form of Sharia will be enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution. We have yet to see if it's to be a soft form, where women will be only moderately less equal than men and Sharia will only determine parts of the law, or a harder form where Shiite "legal authorities" will determine most or all laws.
The leading Shiite clerics say they have no intention of taking executive office and following the Iranian model of wilayat al-faqih, or direct governance by religious scholars. But the clerics also say the Shiite politicians ultimately answer to them, and that the top religious leaders, collectively known as the marjaiya, will shape the constitution through the politicians.

Some effects are already being felt locally. In Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq, where one of Ayatollah Sistani's closest aides has enormous influence, Shiite religious parties have been transforming the city into an Islamic fief since the toppling of Mr. Hussein. Militias have driven alcohol sellers off the streets. Women are harassed if they walk the streets in anything less than head-to-head black. Conservative judges are invoking Shariah in some courts.

For those who don't know, all majority Muslim nations aren't equal regarding freedom of women. Afghanistan under the Taliban was on the extreme in the repression of women, and Saudi Arabia is somewhere close to them (Women can't buy an airline ticket without a male relative's written permission, and can't go out unaccompanied by a man, for instance). Iraq actually was pretty good for women's rights: there were many women Ph.D.s under Hussein, and women in government and civil society. The veil was not required clothing.

Of course, if you spoke out against Hussein, all bets were off. But there are quite a few countries in the region -- some of whom the US supports (We don't hear Bush yelling about Saudi Arabia or Egypt, for instance) -- where speaking against the leadership is not good for your health.

It seems likely that one consequence of the invasion of Iraq will be reducing freedom for women in the country.

I somehow think we'll not hear a lot about that.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Maybe "Not On the Agenda Table?"

MSNBC - Rice: Attack on Iran 'simply not on the agenda'

[Concerning military action against Iran] “The question is simply not on the agenda at this point,” Rice said at a news conference"


"As I've said repeatedly, I have no plans on my desk at this point in time." [Bush about war in Iraq.]

He used variants of "no plans on my desk" several times in 2002 and 2003. From NewsHour

GWEN IFILL: Up until literally weeks before the first bombs fell, the president used a certain formulation with foreign leaders, with members of Congress, with members of the press. He said, "I have no war plans on my desk." Was that literally true?

BOB WOODWARD: I've seen his desk a number of times and there's nothing on it, so I guess literally that's true. But, as I write in the book, it was not full disclosure, and he had used some formulations earlier when he said, "I'm going to keep my options close to my vest."

And that probably would have been the proper response. At the same time, there were leaks about the war plans. There was this kind of war fever, march to war, building in the country, particularly in the summer of 2002. And I think it was his way of calming things down.
Woodward usually paints Bush with the best possible brush. When we're further wrecking our military, I'm sure Woodward will point out that Bush is good to puppies. If they're not in a country he's ordered attacked.

But sure people shouldn't give away war plans. However, the phrasing is similar enough so that I'm pretty sure plans for war (probably with Iran, possibly other countries) are working their way up to somewhere very near -- but not exactly upon -- Bush's desk.

Social Security Flim-Flam: Class Warfare

As Warren Buffett said: "If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning."

If you want to see how well the richest do under Bush's plan to (apparently) default on Social Security Trust Fund bonds, look at this report from 2001 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Some findings:
  • 95 percent of households would be net losers if the Federal government defaults on its debt to Social Security.

  • if the default takes place in 2002, it would lead to a net transfer of nearly $370 billion from households in the bottom 95 percent of the income distribution to the households in the top 5 percent.

  • the richest 1 percent households would have a net gain of more than $270 billion

  • the net loss from default to households in the bottom four quintiles would be equal to approximately 10 percent of a year’s income

  • the gains to the richest 1 percent would average more than $300,000 per household
It sure looks like Bush's plan is another battle in an ongoing class war. Sung to the tune of "What's good for Paris Hilton is good for the American Working class."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

2001: Bush Raided Social Security Trust Fund

Bush was beginning his destruction of Social Security in 2001. And this is from August before 9/11, so he didn't even have that excuse:

From USA Today, 08/16/2001 : U.S. taps Social Security reserves

WASHINGTON — Despite their ardent pledges to place surplus Social Security funds in a "lock box," President Bush and Congress are already picking the lock, congressional sources from both parties say.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to release a revised budget-surplus estimate on Aug. 28 that indicates Social Security reserves will be tapped for other government spending during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The White House budget office soon will produce its own estimate that shows the Social Security surplus untouched — but only because of a change in long-standing accounting methods that the administration says make surplus data more accurate. "The president's budget fully protects Social Security," Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said Wednesday

Now we know one thing the Administration was doing pre-9/11: changing longstanding accounting rules. They were raiding Social Security from Day One. And they started lying about it at the same time.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

SOTU Past, Present, and Evermore

Here's a relatively small thing that really grates on my about Bush's delivery of prepared speeches.

  • Eyes on the left Teleprompter, head begins to turn to the center TelePrompter.

  • Eyes snap to the center TelePrompter, head begins to turn to the right Teleprompter.

  • Eyes snap to the right Teleprompter, head begins to turn to center Teleprompter.

Repeat ad lib (sometimes move eyes before head, or have the eye-move to head-move time gap stretch eerily long, which looks like physical dyslexia).

That's one reason I don't like to watch the guy. When giving speeches he looks positively Animatronic.

As for the substance, I'm sure it's about as balanced, sober, and accurate as his SOTU from 2003. Take the time to read it again, especially the parts about Iraq. It's like a used car salesman's schpiel.

Try this with that 2003 speech: print it out and, with a highlighter, mark all the places where he talks about or hints darkly about Iraqi WMD Them mark all the places he talks about Iraqi democracy or elections with another color highlighter. You may as well use a dried up highlighter for the latter, because he is silent on it. If you want to highlight "freedom" as relating to Iraq, that'll take you a tiny little bit more.

You better pick your favorite color for the WMD highlighting because you'll be seeing a whole lot of that color. Much like the CIA has.

Mitigated Excitement

This short post from I Love Radio .org is swirling with so many hitherto (to me) unexplored facets of our universe that I'm yet more slack-jawed than usual.

Bob Edwards got a super-cheap going-away jacket from NPR? And it didn't fit? And he gave away the going-away jacket? And the recipient is auctioning it? And giving the proceeds to American Public Radio, NPR's bloody fanged arch-nemesis?

Well, okay, those things really aren't that befuddling. However, as an inhabitant of the non- Canadian English-speaking part of North America, I'm stunned to consider that there is radio coverage of curling!

Maybe radio coverage of baseball could be considered dull. But in comparision to curling, it has to be super-gut-gripping.
And the stone has left the hand straight down the center line. There's a miniscule anti-clockwise rotation to the slowly moving discoid. Rooney and Looney are scrubbing the ice feverishly [Seven seconds of silence. Dull "tap."] Looks like another good throw for the Creston Codswallopers.
Yes I realize I'm showing my philistinism. But if you can't be philistine about curling, what is left?

This, however, is otherwise perfectly comprehensible:
"On a related note, I have a beige leather tie which I wore once covering a curling tournament in 1991 in Creston B.C. First $150 gets it."
The guy does have a sense of humor.

Not Lose, For Once?

There's been significant -- and justified -- pleasure among Democrats due to this Congressional Quarterly snippet excerpted by Joshua Micah Marshall:
Not a single Senate Democrat will support President Bush’s proposal to divert a portion of the Social Security payroll tax to personal investment accounts, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday.

If he is right, Bush’s plan will be dead on arrival in the Senate, where a supermajority of 60 votes will be needed to overcome a filibuster by opponents. Republicans have 55 seats.


“We want to make sure that the American people understand that we’re not for benefit cuts and we’re not for privatization,” Reid said. “There’s no crisis in Soc>ial Security.”

I uttered a "Whew" when I read this.

A few caveats:

  1. "Democrat" is from the Greek for "failing when success is assured." Vigilance is a must.
  2. I am still curious for the real reason for trying to diminish Social Security. As Kevin Drum asked "But here's the funny thing: surely Karl Rove knows this [riffle: that this SS ploy is a loser]? Unless I'm missing something, it seems like a no brainer. So what's the point?" So I'm waiting for the third shoe to drop. Yes, they're true believers, but look at the approach to abortion and gay rights -- it's not a full court press to change the laws in those (admittedly social, not economic) areas. So, still, what gives? It kinda gives me the willies.
  3. If this holds, it should be good for the Democrats, but they have to extend this and not be blindsided on other issues. Good luck to us all on that score.

Web Analytics