Friday, June 30, 2006

“reality” check

Appearing on PRI’s To The Point earlier today, columnist Byron York scolded the press for three instances where they had shed light on illegal programs by the Bush Administration (secret overseas prisons, warrantless electronic surveillance, and unauthorized probes of financial records). When pushed on what damage these revelations, or “leaks,” had caused, York said they had brought about “very real damage.”

What is “real” damage to York? The White House correspondent for the National Review cited the revelation of CIA prisons in Poland and Rumania triggering domestic strife for the Polish government, and EU condemnation of the two countries. In other words, what constitutes “real damage” to York is what most of us would call “political damage.”

Is it that York and his allies can’t actually find any actual “real” damage caused by the three above-referenced revelations— that would be damage to the United States’ ability to protect itself from international terrorism? (To my mind, this is sort of a rhetorical question.) Or, given that these programs are of dubious value to the “war on terror,” is it that “real damage,” to the right, is, at its core, political damage?

Answering "both" will be accepted.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

taco blogging

There is a fine, fun blog called The Great Taco Hunt that seeks to chronicle and rate the many, many taco huts, shacks, and trucks in the Los Angeles area. While I can’t even begin to approach that level of dedication, the ‘Hunt inspired me, while out here, to drive around a little, stray from my standard tried and tested taco path, and revel in the ridiculous number of taco spots that exist in this sprawling metropolis.

Tacos El Toro

I was actually on my way to another taco prospect when I saw this stand sitting almost (but not quite) inside an old, googie-ish car wash—I could not resist.

Mexico was playing Argentina in a World Cup elimination match, and, so, Tacos El Toro was packed with patrons staring up at a TV in the corner. Everyone in the place had big plates (yes, real plates) of food, but since they weren’t going anywhere for another 45 minutes plus extra time, I got my two tacos and a Mirinda to go.

I ate my carne asada and al pastor off the back of my rental car (I never understood the purpose of racing-style fish tails on the rears of midsize sedans, but now I know they are put there to rest your elbows on while you eat tacos off the trunk hood). The sun was bright and hot, but I didn’t mind—in fact, the bright heat seemed to enhance the Southern California-ness of the experience, and so, the flavor of the Tacos.

Living on the east coast, I just don’t eat enough tacos from enough places to effectively “rate” these tacos, so I’m not going to try. Instead, let me just say that I’m not sure these were the best tacos I’ve ever had, but they were good enough to make me think, “I don’t care.”

Super Tacos Michoacan

I finished my two tacos, snapped some photos, much to the amusement of some of the guys inside, and got back in the car. I was still a little hungry, but that was OK, I thought, I had errands to run and early dinner plans. I started back towards my part of the valley, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this runt of a building on a desolate stretch of Vineland, and I had to pull over. . . just had to.

I suppose, for science’s sake, I should have ordered another carne asada and another al pastor, but, instead, I decided to complete the classic meat trio (while still not ruining my appetite) and get just one carnitas taco. . . with everything (which just meant onions, cilantro, and salsa verde). . . and a Jarritos tamarindo, because, well, they had it.

It was about ten degrees warmer inside than the 90+ it was outside, so, in spite of the fact that Mexico and Argentina had just finished regulation tied, I got the taco to go, and returned to my very handy fish tail perch.

Now, I tend to like my carnitas with a little more piggy/salty flavor, but, again, given everything, it was hard to be too critical. Standing there in the bright sunshine, breeze provided by cars racing by, it was nice to just bite into a soft, warm, well-made taco, and let my mind drift from some of my problems, the miserable state of the nation, my recent sadness, and my pending oral surgery. Why get too worked up over a taco’s minor shortcomings. . . or anything, for that matter?

And it is happy, complacent moments like that one that make me very glad I don’t live in LA.

Friday, June 23, 2006

no sleep till. . .

Newsday (from the AP) reported this week that the noise caused by New York City’s construction boom is driving those of us who live and work here absolutely, positively, fucking crazy.

You’re telling me.

I just flew 3,000 miles so that I could get a good night’s sleep. (Over the last three months, the Tunnel Garage, a beautiful 1922 building that once graced my block, has been noisily jackhammered and backhoed out of existence.)

The problem with the story is that it doesn’t seem to question the idea that all of this construction is some sort of necessary evil, and that when it’s all over with, things are going to be all flowers and sausages. While I know things like the Deutsche Bank building have to come down, for the most part, I seriously wonder whom all this construction is really going to benefit.

Outside of the developers and the politicians that know them as patrons, I have a hard time believing a bunch of super-luxury high-rises and super-block entertainment and shopping complexes are going to do much for any of the City’s current residents.

(t.o.t.h. to Gawker and LZ)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

mayor Mike goes to Washington

Washington says, “Thank you, NEXT!”

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

dividers, not uniters

I know, you think I’m talking about Bush & co. with that headline. . . but I am actually referring to the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post, who, along with many other news organizations, are having a grand time talking up the fact that there is debate within the Democratic caucus about how specific a timeline to offer in a plan for withdrawal and redeployment of US troops currently in Iraq. Meanwhile, the establishment media is neglecting to report on the fact that the Democrats are actually debating a plan (not an aphorism), and are rather unified about the main focus of that plan.

The establishment media is neglecting it, but I sure don’t.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

wasting our time, but not theirs

As time goes by, it becomes more and more apparent to me that the Bush Administration’s illegal domestic data-mining operation is one lousy terrorist-catching program—but it is a windfall for the folks that do opposition research and/or flat out want to intimidate folks (like reporters and their sources).

I really suspected it almost immediately, when various experts dismissed the intelligence value of a massive data dragnet, and then, when ABC reporters were basically told, “we know who you called,” it seemed pretty clear I was on the right track. Now, TPMmuckraker has pointed me toward a story buried inside Monday’s Washington Post that provides more grist for my ever-turning mill.

In a piece titled “Data Mining Still Needs a Clue to Be Effective,” Guy Gugliotta reports that the mountains of data collected by the NSA program are of little help without a “useful lead.” By “useful lead,” experts in this case basically mean a name.

Details of the NSA's activities remain unclear, but data mining experts say they are puzzled about how the information might be used. It would work best, they say, when investigators can trace telephone numbers of known suspects and build a web of contacts, in much the same way police use phone records to track drug traffickers.

But to discern suspicious call patterns from lists of dialed numbers, they will have to dig past the raw data into callers' identities, and, in the vast majority of cases, will find they have simply tapped into networks of law-abiding people involved in daily routines. This approach, several experts said, raises privacy questions even as it wastes time.

(emphasis added)

Given that this program requires a starting place, a lead, a “target” for it to be at all effective, and given that (as the same WaPo article points out) Gen. Michael Hayden admitted during his DCI confirmation hearings that the NSA had a target file, and given that if you want to collect wire data on a target or suspect, you can do that by either obtaining a standard wiretap warrant or a FISA warrant, and given that, once again, experts have shown the mass mining of data to be inefficient, ineffective, and illegal, I ask again, why does the administration need this program?

Could it be that they in the White House need to gather data in cases where the target would never meet the standard required for a public court order or the already overly permissive, super secret FISA warrant? Who could those targets be? Surely not suspected terrorists.

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos under the nom de blog “Red Wind”)

Thursday, June 15, 2006


During yesterday’s Rose Garden presser, President Bush said, “The challenges that remain are serious, and they will require more sacrifice and patience.”

I guess this is what he meant:

The number of US Soldiers killed in Bush’s Iraqi folly reached 2,500 today with the death of a yet to be named marine.

The number of Iraqi dead likely tops 40,000.

All of which leads us to the question, just what have you sacrificed, Mr. President?

(No. I mean, besides your "political capital.")

this land is our land

A cocky President Bush appeared in the Rose Garden on Wednesday to perform the final act of his week-long media circus. Bush bragged about his need to look the new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the eyes to see if he was “committed to freedom.” (I think I just swallowed some of my own vomit.)

Bush’s famous judge of character aside (remember Putin?), I think what Bush saw in al-Maliki’s eyes was anger. As has been reported, the Prime Minister was only told that the US President was in Iraq to meet with him in person minutes before Bush walked into the room. Dexter Filkins and John Burns noted in the New York Times that al-Maliki appeared “uneasy” and “somber,” but in radio interviews, Filkins said that the Prime Minister was visibly miffed.

The Times article points out that Bush’s surprise visit represented a double-edged sword for the PM, on the one hand showing US support, but also showing al-Maliki to be for many Iraqis just another American-backed stooge. But I think al-Maliki’s consternation might stem from something slightly less nuanced.

If you are the elected leader of a supposedly sovereign nation, isn’t it up to you to decide who gets to drop in for a visit? How much power do you appear to have if some other country’s leader gets to show up unannounced and use you and your cabinet for a photo op? How large and in charge do you look to your own population if the occupying forces don’t trust you enough to give you an official heads-up?

To the Iraqi on the street—and to Iraqi leaders, for that matter—Bush’s stunt says nothing much about our commitment to freedom, but it says volumes about how we see the Iraqi people and their country. It says, “your land is our land,” and we can do what we want, when we want. It says that the US President views all of you, even your leaders, through the same lens—you are all potential terrorists and none of you can be trusted. It says you are little more than dogs and ponies in America’s big top, and George Bush is still the guy in the tall hat cracking the whip.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

the politics of cheesesteak

It’s amazing how much political relevance you can wrap into a mess of fried meat “whiz wit.” I mean, it’s kind of football shaped, but who knew it could actually serve as a political football?

First, there was the incident back during the ’04 campaign where President Bush actually lied about how he takes his cheesesteak, and now there is the blowhard jingoism that could only come from a man who makes his living pouring Cheez Whiz over cheap beef.

Down in Philly, where just about everyone will tell you Geno’s is better than Pat’s—unless they tell you Pat’s is better than Geno’s—the owner of Geno’s Steaks is requiring that all food be ordered in English. Joey Vento has posted a sign in his steak shack that reads:

This is America. When Ordering Please Speak English.

Let’s forget for a minute that such English-only requirements violate Philly’s human relations law, and let’s try to ignore that the guy who insists you speak in English can’t actually write in English (the sign, at best, is missing a comma), and let’s just focus on Mr. Vento’s need to humiliate the growing number of Latinos that have moved into the neighborhood around his shop. You see, Geno’s staff is not allowed to “understand” Spanish, and instead has to coach customers on how to order in English.

Of course, the problem isn’t so much the language. As you can tell from the words of Vento and all of his supporters who have been interviewed on the subject, what really pisses them off (or scares the shit out of them) is that South Philly is no longer an Italian-American (read “White”) neighborhood, and has become the proverbial American melting pot. (Gosh, this sort of sounds like some national debate we’ve been having or something.)

“It’s just like that big vat of Cheez Whiz,” said one diner. . . no, not really. I just made that up.

Anyway, I think anyone within shouting distance of Philadelphia should head on over to Geno’s and walk on up to the window and order, in their very best American accent, “Un bistec con queso, por favor.”

Then head on over to Pat’s (where they have no silly language policy) because, well, youse always knew they was better, didn’t youse?

Update: I like that Jill Porter at (the online personae of the Philadelphia Daily News) had the same idea about staging a bistec rebellion at Geno’s. I also like Porter’s conclusion that Geno’s Owner Joey Vento had taken a page from Ann Coulter’s book of amoral self-promotion: say something so bankrupt that it can’t help but offend half the country, then sit back and profit from the publicity.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

so this is Fitzmas. . . .

(war is so not over)

I guess we could also call this piece “schadenfreude takes a holiday.” Needless to say, after three years of investigation, it is disappointing to see that Fitzgerald could go not get any further up the org chart than Scooter Libby, but at least Fitz is meticulous and careful with his emanations. Would that it were so for the New York Times.

Within this morning’s recap, David Johnston writes:

Ms. Wilson is married to Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador who wrote in an Op-Ed column in the New York Times on July 6, 2003 that White House officials, including Mr. Bush, had exaggerated assertions that Iraq had sought to purchase nuclear fuel from Africa. Mr. Wilson wrote that such claims were "highly dubious."

He said his conclusions were based on a trip he had made in early 2002 to Niger, a fact-finding mission that he said had been "instigated" by Mr. Cheney's office.

It is now known that the column upset Mr. Cheney and that within his office it was viewed as an attack on the Vice President's credibility, according to legal briefs filed in the Libby case by Mr. Fitzgerald. In his filings, Mr. Fitzgerald depicts Mr. Cheney as actively engaged in an effort with Mr. Libby to rebut Mr. Wilson's assertions.

Mr. Cheney was actively engaged with Mr. Libby, all right, but it was not in an effort to “rebut” Mr. Wilson’s claims—the Vice President and his chief of staff were actively engaged in an effort to smear, intimidate, and punish Joseph Wilson by exposing his wife as a CIA agent.

No information in the Times piece does anything to “rebut” Wilson’s Op-Ed, in fact, everything Johnston writes pretty much backs up what Wilson wrote and says that Fitzgerald documented a vice-presidential plan to discredit Wilson—not Wilson’s claims.

Rove is likely guilty of perjury, but it is just too hard to prove. Cheney is certainly guilty of treason and abuse of power, but none of us really thought Fitzgerald would or could go there. Johnston and the New York Times are guilty of perpetuating the White House cover story, even in an article that details what a thin cover it was.

Friday, June 09, 2006

bid it up

(OK, blogger is finally back up after fucking with me all day, so I’m just going to offer this short post with a question that I’m sure will enliven the conversation at your weekend barbecue or cocktail party.)

Is it just me, or does this photo of a freshly killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi look like art?

I know, everything is art, but I mean art intentionally created as art. Just look at it—it looks like Cézanne meets Serrano. Hell, the Army even took the time to frame it, ferchrissake!

I know I’m being morbidly goofy, but I’m kind of serious. I would proudly sign my name to that thing and send it to the next Biennial.

(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

cliché alert

With the reported death, by US bomb, of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, let me be the first to say that this is a turning point in the war on terror and a milestone for the Iraqi people.

Actually, I think it’s neither.

I just wanted say it before President Bush did (and I’ve got a crisp Jackson that says he will before the week is done).

Lisa, 1964 - 2006

There is so much and so little to say when someone dies abnormally young. I can start with the facts: Lisa was my sister. She would have turned 42 in three weeks. She had been in poor health for years, but her rather sudden death was unexpected.

Lisa’s adult life was a series of peaks and valleys, but, in the end, as the valleys grew deeper, the synergistic effects of health and personal problems made it increasingly difficult to climb back up to level ground. Lisa was not particularly good at taking care of herself, but what I am left with is how the state of the US healthcare system made it so hard for others to take care of her.

Many tried—most notably and nobly, our mother—to get Lisa the help she needed, but because my sister had multiple problems, she had to deal with multiple specialists in multiple places. Sometimes those doctors coordinated their approach, but many times they didn’t. Lisa would likely only have benefited from an approach that tackled most of her problems comprehensively and at the same time, but no such program existed for her. Instead, a program that could deal with one problem would only take her if she got another one under control first, and so on down the line. Finding one doctor to manage all of Lisa’s care, or one place that would keep her as an inpatient until she was back on her feet, proved virtually impossible.

I say “virtually” only because with unlimited funds, so much is possible in our healthcare system—but our family’s funds were far from unlimited. For every day spent seeking treatment, it seemed two or three were spent seeking ways to pay for it, and that isn’t so much sad as it is shameful.

Contrary to the propaganda of the insurance industry, selfish Libertarians, and greedy Republicans, Americans have actually favored national, universal healthcare since the 1980’s. On Wednesday, the day after my sister’s death, yet another study confirmed this. The Citizens Healthcare Working Group, a panel that came into being as part of the miserable Medicare drug bill, reported that it was now a national consensus that the federal government should guarantee all Americans access to basic health insurance.

I’m sure it will require several more panels and studies before we can determine that the fed’s guarantee should be backed up with a federally administered program, and a regime change in Washington before we can actually get laws that bring about such a program. Until that time, it is hard to imagine or count how many people will fall through the cracks of our current, fractured system. But I needn’t imagine, and I can start that count at one.

This remembrance has been cross-posted at Daily Kos, where my nom de blog is "Red Wind."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

06 . 06 . 06

His day will come.

Oh, wait, I bet you wanted real news analysis.

Friday, June 02, 2006

flipping over a flop of a flip-flop

Several folks on both sides of the political divide are a bit excited this week about the reported (or under-reported, depending on how you see it) flip-flop of President George W. Bush regarding direct talks with the government of Iran. As is generally reported, after five years of pursuing a policy of isolation, the Bush Administration has now suddenly opted for engagement.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, one of them is, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but before I get to that, let’s talk about what a “flip-flop” really is. To my mind, there are two very different things that can be called flip-flops, one good and one bad, and neither are well served by the term.

On the good side, is it not possible that some people just learn new things and change their minds? Being curious, adapting, taking new information into account, growing—are these not desirable traits all? Being smart enough to learn and strong enough to grow while under public scrutiny are, I would argue, two of the most important qualities for sound leadership. Flip-flop’s negative connotations not only do these qualities a great disservice, the accusation of “flip-flopping” usually overshadows any debate on the actual issues and opinions that got flipped.

On the other hand, saying one thing and then doing another, which is often called a flip-flop, is, quite plainly, nothing short of lying. Stating “A” and doing the opposite of “A” isn’t a change of heart, it’s deception. Calling this a flip-flop is letting the flip-flopper—or, rather, the liar—off much too easily.

So, where does this leave us when it comes to Bush’s supposed shift on talks with Iran? I think you know where I’m going with this, but I’ll make it explicit in my next post.

Update: Well, my “next post” grew a bit over the weekend, so you can find the rest of my thoughts on the flip that flopped over at capitoilette.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

wrong question

Think Progress asks “Could The New York Times have prevented 9/11?” and links to Greg Sargent’s piece at American Prospect about Judy Miller and her editor, Steven Engleberg’s decision to sit on a lead about a possible al Qaeda attack inside the United States that Ms. Run Amok received from a high-ranking counter-terrorism source months before 9/11/01. Apparently, neither Miller nor Engleberg told then Times’ Managing Editor Bill Keller about the lead (Keller recently confirmed this).

The story is developing rather slowly, maybe because Miller has managed to marginalize herself so severely in the half-decade since all of this went down, but, if Judy had been tipped-off by a government CT expert before the 9/11 attacks, the question isn’t really about whether the NYT should have gone to press with an uncorroborated leak.

Instead, here are the questions I find myself asking:

  • If a high-ranking counter-terrorism expert spoke with Judy Miller before 9/11 about imminent al Qaeda attacks within the United States, then doesn’t that mean that at least someone, somewhere within the Federal Government, and, it then stands to reason, within the Bush Administration, had information that could have been used to disrupt or prevent the attacks?


  • Did this high-ranking CT source feel the need to leak this information because he or she was getting no response or action from the Bush White House?