Friday, November 30, 2007

screw the sex. . .

Sex sure does get a lot of attention, and, in this case, rightfully so, since, as others have so ably reported, Rudolph Giuliani tried to hide fiscal evidence of his tryst with Judi Nathan by billing his security detail and travel expenses to several obscure New York City agencies. We now also know that Giuliani assigned his mistress her own city car and driver at NYC taxpayer expense. All very improper, if not, as yet, proved to be specifically illegal.

But, if we all can take our eyes off of America’s little mayor for a minute, we might see something that is more overtly against the law. . . .

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mitt talks “funny”

In the contest between Republican frontrunners Rudy “I (heart) Judi” Giuliani and Mitt “Double Git” Romney to prove who is more innately xenophobic and racist, last night’s round goes to Mitt.

I know Giuliani thought he was going to win the day when he jabbed at Romney for allowing “Illegal immigrants” to mow his lawn, but Romney scored with a counterpunch that could have only originated deep down in his solar plexus:

Giuliani: There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed, not being turned into anybody or by anyone. And then when he deputized the police, he did it two weeks before he was going to leave office, and they never even seemed to catch the illegal immigrants that were working at his mansion. So I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city.

Romney: Mayor, you know better than that.


Giuliani: No ...

Romney: OK, then listen. All right? Then listen. First of all ...

Giuliani: You did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn't you?

Romney: No, I did not, so let's just talk about that. Are you suggesting, Mr. Mayor -- because I think it is really kind of offensive actually to suggest, to say look, you know what, if you are a homeowner and you hire a company to come provide a service at your home -- paint the home, put on the roof. If you hear someone that is working out there, not that you have employed, but that the company has.

If you hear someone with a funny accent, you, as a homeowner, are supposed to go out there and say, "I want to see your papers."

Is that what you're suggesting?

Funny accent? I gotta think that the Detroit-born son of a Mexican-born father probably sounded a little funny to his former constituents in South Boston, but if that’s how Mitt feels in his gut, give him big bigot points for letting it gurgle out.

It was a special moment.

While the Democratic debates have been a relative waste of time with the likes of Timmeh! and Wolfie spending half the time trying to provoke fights between Senators Clinton and Obama, I honestly think all of America should be exposed to some of these Republican tussles. Everyone should hear what passes for statesmanship, morality, and leadership in the bowls of the GOP. With the far more eclectic and ecumenical American electorate, it can only do Republicans harm—so it can only do America good.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

tuesday in the park with John

I’ll admit, practically every photo of this event—posted all over the place—is better than what I’ve got, but I’m going to give you my impressions, so, just to keep it real, you’ll have to suffer with my images, too.

Several hundred members of the WGA East, their union brethren, supporters, and fans gathered Tuesday afternoon in Washington Square Park. Yes, there were guild member/writers, yes, there were union leaders (UFT, SEIU, SAG, AFTRA), and, yes, their were, uh, you know, stars (Tim Robbins, Danny Glover. Joey Pants), but I want to talk first about the politicians.

I say politicians because, though you wouldn’t know it from the coverage, former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards was not the only one from that class to show up in support of the writers. There were US Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY), and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, to name a few. Senator/presidential hopefuls Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) also sent statements to be read at the rally.

I make this point not because I’m afraid the coverage was biased towards Edwards (hardly), but because I’d like to point out that it is just maybe possible that all of these folks support the WGA in their fight for a fair slice of future revenue from new media venues.

In fact, much has been made on some blogs about how Sen. Edwards had the audacity to campaign. . . wait, I’ve got it right here. . . Edwards's words went something like this:

This is all about fairness, it's about opportunity, it's about making sure those who create the work that generates revenue actually gets to share in that revenue. We have to show that we're gonna have economic fairness and economic justice in America again, and I promise you this: When I'm President of the United States, there will be economic fairness in the United States of America again!

He also said this:

This cause is about making sure that big media conglomerates don’t step on your rights.

Oh.My.God. Just over a month from the Iowa caucus, John Edwards makes an appearance in New York, and dares to mention that he wants to be president—and even kind of says why.

Shameless, I know.

Honestly, to my mind, he kind of wasn’t shameless enough. While it is clear that being at the rally (Edwards also appeared on the west coast picket lines ten days ago), standing with the union, makes the biggest statement, the Senator could have taken 30 seconds to connect his support for labor to some of the anti-poverty and pro-economic revitalization planks in his platform. You know, sell a little. Communicate the benefits (as we say in marketing) of an Edwards presidency. Not that the recent college grad who now does what passes for strike coverage in the New York Times would have necessarily noticed, but I think the writers would have. And, as the mingling crowd that lingered in the park for more than a half-hour after the rally ended made clear, these people like to network!

(Senator Edwards did apparently do some of that communicating to reporters after the rally.)

Also almost completely absent from the coverage were the issues around which this strike revolves, or just how good the various union leaders that spoke were at articulating these issues. They’re great in a room (as we say in the biz), even if that room is outdoors. These people really know their audience, and inspired it—it was impressive.

. . .

(All of my pictures of Edwards make him look like he’s singing. . . )

(. . . or like Gilbert Gottfried.)
And, I’d be, like, a bad journalist if I didn’t also publish the photo that confirms the prejudices of the establishment media.

(h/t gem spa for the links to some of the other coverage)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the ultimate in procrastination: rally for writers!

Rather than spend several hours this morning writing about how smart Stephanie Coontz is, or how stupid Joe Klein is, or how greedy Trent Lott is, I am going to just pass this information along so that I can catch a few winks before I show my support for the WGA:

Labor Solidarity with Writers:
Rally on Tuesday, November 27 at Washington Square Park.

Solidarity Rally
Tuesday, November 27
Washington Square Park
12:00 - 1:30 p.m.

Join your fellow members of the Writers Guild of America, the labor community, and supporters and fans, as the WGA begins week four of its strike against the media conglomerates of the AMPTP.

Recently confirmed participants include:

Senator John Edwards, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Tim Robbins, Michael Emerson, Joe Pantoliano, Colin Quinn, Aasif Mandvi, Tony Goldwyn, Evan Handler, Gilbert Gottfried, Randi Weingarten (UFT), Gary Le Barbera and Ed Ott (Central Labor Council), Denis M. Hughes (NYS AFL-CIO), Sam Freed (SAG NY President), Richard Masur (former national president of SAG), WGAE leaders, and more.

We are expecting a huge showing of solidarity from other New York Unions. Joining the striking WGAE members at the rally will be leaders in the labor community, politicians, and exciting speakers from the entertainment community.

Meet us at Washington Square Park for a Solidarity Rally. We’re expecting a large attendance from the union community -- including SEIU, AFTRA, SAG, UNITE-HERE, AFT, NYS AFL-CIO, national AFL-CIO, and the New York City Central Labor Council among others -- as well as some exciting speakers, music and entertainment.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

they call it cyber monday. . .

. . . but Tuesday’s just as bad. . . as is Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and about nine other days.

Today is supposed to be the biggest online shopping day of the year—the “e”-quivalent of “Black Friday,” the purportedly biggest brick and mortar shopping day of the year—problem is, it’s not (the heaviest online shopping comes much closer to Christmas). So, why are we subjected to a half-week’s worth of news cycles telling us all about the big shopping day that isn’t?

This really isn’t a hard one to sleuth. As BusinessWeek reported two years ago, the term and the idea of “Cyber Monday” were both dreamed up by, a marketing group representing—surprise, surprise—online retailers.

I am not amazed nor particularly aghast that a marketing group would invent and disseminate such hokum—hell, that’s what marketing associations are for, after all. No, as is often the case with me, I am pissed at the establishment media for taking the bait.

It’s bad enough that local news is chockablock with VNRs, and that the “new” Nightline has become an almost completely PR-driven infotainment wasteland, but do I really have to read about where the hot e-deals are going to be in the pages (OK, e-pages) of the New York Times?

TWO years ago, Cyber Monday was a marketing gimmick in search of shoppers. This year, it seems to be a genuine trend that retailers have embraced.

While that lead sentence makes it seem like the story will be debunking or at least taking stock of the marketing-driven myth, it really doesn’t. It has the requisite quote toward the end that sneers at the “event,” but most of this article is end-on-end free advertising. . . just like all the local TV newscasts carried over the weekend.

So, score one for the marketers. Though it’s not a big victory—the lazy-ass media makes it so damn easy. Seriously, guys, gals, reporters, editors—is there nothing more important you could have gone with in place of this? Nothing? Seriously?

The other really surprising bit about this—to me—is that so many people buy into this buying. I did not shop for gifts on Friday, and I am not going to e-shop today. Why in god’s name would I? After a Thursday filled with turkey and cheer, what could be less appealing than getting up before dawn to wait in the cold for the right to get elbowed and kicked by hundreds of people worried that there won’t be enough flat panel TVs to go around?

Plus, assuming you had a lot of purchases of this sort to make, assuming you were worried about getting a good deal, and assuming you had been listening to all this hype, then you’ve got to realize that these “black” days have got to be some of the worst days to shop. Not only do you have to worry about crowds, or bad service, or heavy traffic on the roads or on a website, the fact remains that retailers are all but saying outright that deals will get better as we get closer to Christmas (hell, sometimes they are just saying it outright). With no hot toy this season and no expected shortages in any of the hot categories, what is the rush?

Maybe more folks care about the “news” than I thought.

And, while we’re on the subject of online shopping, here’s another thing I don’t get:
Anybody want to explain this to me?

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Thursday, November 22, 2007


The holidays are upon us, which of course means catalogs, catalogs, and more catalogs. And since it is the season for giving and giving thanks, while you’re flipping through the catalogs, why not contemplate what you’re thankful for. Like. . .

Be thankful you’re not the guy who needs one of these. . . or the guy whose friends think you need one of these.

(PS This fulfills my annual obligation to my header’s promise of posts about mixed drinks.)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Katie writes a hit piece

I’m short on time, so I’m going to cut back on what could be a point by point refutation of many of the assertions published in today’s New York Times in a story by Kate Zernike about the relationship between John Kerry and John Edwards during the 2004 campaign—let me just say that the article is rife with unnamed sources, ignores the role of Bob Shrum in counseling Kerry not to disavow his vote to authorize the Iraqi incursion, and is filled with reductive statements that clearly represent opinion rather than a logical conclusion based on the evidence laid out in prior paragraphs.

In place of that tome, I’d like to make a couple of quick observations:

Almost every single line in Zernike’s story relates to 2004. It is highly critical of Edwards vis-à-vis his time on the campaign trail with John Kerry, but the article barely begins to explain what the three-and-a-half-year-old anecdotes have to do with today, here, now, in 2007. There are maybe three or four paragraphs, and one of them is mostly a quote that, if anything, reveals how little any of this story’s preoccupations matter today:

“There’s no question John Edwards is different now than he was in 2004,” said Peter Scher, whom Mr. Kerry recruited to run Mr. Edwards’s vice-presidential campaign. “There’s a great deal more confidence in his own instincts and his own judgment. You see much less reliance on consultants and pollsters and media advisers, and more of a willingness to say what he believes and let the chips fall where they may.”

Write this story for the Week in Review section in December of 2004, fine—interesting even—but what makes this even remotely worthy of front page coverage now? I can’t answer that question—if Kate could, she should have put it in print (though probably on the opinion pages).

However, even more importantly, as little as there is in this piece to tie it to the current campaign, what there is dwarfs the amount of reporting Zernike does on today’s issues. There is zero—not one line is devoted to what the 2008 election is, you know, about. Not a word about Edwards’s positions or proposals, not a word about his stump speech, not a word about his campaign today. There is nothing describing what Edwards proposes to do about healthcare, about poverty, about domestic security, about ending torture and rendition, about restoring the Constitution, about fixing the VA—nothing! Even when it comes to Iraq, the only discussion is about whether Kerry or Edwards renounced their 2002 votes first; Zernike has seemingly no interest in informing her readers about where Edwards stands today, or what he says he will do in 2009.

In fact, it appears that Kate Zernike and her Times editors have no interest in informing us readers about Edwards at all. I know I live in Clinton country here in New York, so maybe I shouldn’t expect better from the New York Times, but the Times is called “the paper of record,” and for the record, the only stories I’ve seen about Edwards this month have been about his campaign (how it’s in trouble), his fundraising (how it’s in trouble), and now, about how troubled his relationship was with Sen. Kerry back in 2004.

Isn’t it about time the Times got with the times? Isn’t about time they used today’s front page to inform us readers about today’s concerns? Isn’t it about time we got some campaign coverage that didn’t reduce everything to a cat fight, a horse race, a game show, a beauty pageant, or a coronation?

Maybe Zernike sees issues as nothing more than political footballs, and perhaps she is betting on Clinton to win this one by a couple of touchdowns, so the other campaigns are just the halftime show. But because the Times still claims to be a newspaper, isn’t it about time they really covered this year’s Edwards campaign, instead of just covering the spread?

(cross-posted on capitoilette, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

fighting for the fighters

Kay Steiger, over at Tapped, alerts me to a pledge by two wealthy alums to my alma mater, Wesleyan University. Frank Sica (’73) and Jonathan Soros (’92) have created a fund to provide scholarships for up to ten military veterans to attend the Middletown, CT, school.

Steiger, however, questions the approach:

While it's admirable that the donors want to see that vets can afford to go to a school which costs roughly $47,000 a year, they might have better spent their resources lobbying for an expansion of the GI Bill. Many veterans benefits are having trouble keeping up with the demand -- an influx of new veterans puts a strain on a system that was intended to pay the way for a vet to go to pretty much any school he wanted. Instead, even with GI benefits, vets have to work jobs or take out loans to make up the difference. Additionally, most vets don't dream of going to schools like Wesleyan. They want to attend a nearby state school or community college.

I can certainly agree with Steiger’s ultimate goal, but I don’t see it to be at odds with the grant by Sica and Soros. While the gift to Wesleyan is substantial, it should not preclude these two wealthy gentlemen, and/or people like them, from also supporting a lobbying effort on behalf of the Bush-era vets.

Further, while I can’t directly contradict Steiger’s assertions, I also can’t blindly embrace them. While our all-volunteer force might draw disproportionately from social strata and locales not prominently represented in the Wesleyan student body, that is not to say that none from this group are without such aspirations. In fact, admissions structures such as they are at America’s elite universities—with alumni networks, feeder schools, and legacy benefits—actively discriminate against many that Steiger assumes would prefer the less competitive educational options.

I expect there are several now serving or recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan that would thrill to and benefit from the type of education I was fortunate enough to receive at Wesleyan. I know that Wesleyan would benefit from admitting the veterans.

However, to Kay Steiger’s important point—it is beyond obvious that we need a new GI Bill. Be it for higher education or vocational training, those that volunteered for service with thoughts of improving their lives have more than earned this level of assistance. But they also deserve more. They deserve access to competent psychiatric care, free of charge. They deserve medical care, funded through the government, for as long as they need—not just care for wounds sustained in battle, but full medical coverage, for themselves and their immediate families, whether or not they continue as active duty or reservists. And they deserve a VA health system that has fully repaired its Bush administered breakdowns.

Additionally, building on the old GI Bill model, current vets should have access to low interest home loans, and government protection from predatory lending practices.

Finally, it is not really up to any one or two rich college grads to promote this program—it is up to our elected representatives. In fact, even without a high-priced lobbying effort, this one should be a no-brainer for the Democrats in Congress. While Republicans wring their hands and rant about supporting the troops while they are doing the president’s bidding in Iraq, what could be a more palpable demonstration of support than passing a package that includes the programs and the money necessary for our veterans and their families to thrive here at home?

With the obvious benefits, the ready constituency, and the successful history of the WWII-era GI Bill, I challenge any Republican to oppose a contemporary version. And if they do, I would welcome the fight.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Barry, meet Scooter

. . . and I don’t mean Rizzuto.

Ex-San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball’s record-holder for career and single-season homeruns, was indicted Thursday on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to federal prosecutors investigating steroid use by professional athletes linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO).

Within hours of the indictment’s unsealing, President George W. Bush—who had earlier this summer congratulated Bonds on surpassing Hank Aaron as baseball’s all-time homerun king—rushed to jump on the Barry-be-bad bandwagon.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "The president is very disappointed to hear this. As this case is now in the criminal justice system, we will refrain from any further specific comments about it. But clearly this is a sad day for baseball."

Bush, who often likes to brag about having run the Texas Rangers (even though he was only a 5% owner), neglected to mention that during the time of his involvement with the Rangers, steroid use was understood to be rampant in baseball—a dirty little secret kept on the down-low by owners and players, alike, because all concerned liked what the juiced numbers were doing for the game’s bottom line.

But that’s not the height of the hypocrisy in the Bonds case—not anymore.

The President rushed to condemn Bonds for allegations that bare a remarkable resemblance to the charges on which Vice President Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby was convicted earlier this year (for the record, that would be four counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice). Libby’s conviction carried mandatory jail time—as would the charges against Bonds, should they be proven at trial. But Lewis I. Libby never went to prison—George Bush pardoned Scooter soon after his conviction. Can Barry Lamar Bonds expect equal leniency from the man who was in this case, as he was in Libby’s, at least peripherally involved?

A sidebar, Your Honor

Bush’s involvement with Major League Baseball isn’t the only thread that ties the President to the BALCO investigation and the Bonds indictment. On the same day that the charges were revealed, Bush named the man who will prosecute Barry Bonds should the case go to trial.

A bit of background: The BALCO investigation was begun back in 2003 by then US Attorney Kevin Ryan—a George W. Bush appointee. But Ryan stepped down early this year, forced out, as were several other US attorneys, by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales because of a perceived lack of loyalty to the Bush Administration.

The turnover at the Northern California prosecutor’s office disrupted the ongoing BALCO investigation, likely causing a delay in the handing up of indictments. For the last eight months, the Bonds case was handled by interim US Attorney Scott Schools, a veteran DoJ lawyer.

With the confirmation and swearing in of new Attorney General Michael Mukasey, President Bush set about filling the vacancies created by the previous AG’s White House-directed purge. Joseph Russoniello, who served as US Attorney for ten years in the same district under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has been nominated by his former boss’s son to take over the office now tasked with prosecuting Bonds.

And, one more thing, if this case doesn’t seem muddied enough by the behavior of the President and his appointees, defense attorney Mike Rains, representing Bonds in this matter, is accusing the feds of “unethical misconduct,” stating:

Every American should worry about a Justice Department that doesn't know if waterboarding is torture and can't tell the difference between prosecution on the one hand and persecution on the other.

I’m not ready to grant him that Bonds is simply being persecuted here, but as for his other observation, yeah, it—like this entire tangled web—has to get you thinking. . . .


Questions about the timing of the Bonds indictment and its relationship to recent DoJ turmoil are asked in Saturday’s New York Times:

Why now? A defense lawyer for Barry Bonds and two outside legal experts raised questions yesterday about the timing of the perjury indictment against Bonds, saying they did not understand why it came this week and not months or even years ago.

But the United States attorney’s office in San Francisco declined to answer questions about the case against Bonds. . . .

The 10-page indictment issued by a grand jury Thursday consisted mostly of quotations from Bonds’s 2003 grand jury testimony, in which he repeatedly denied taking steroids or human growth hormone.

A government official involved with the case said the Department of Justice in Washington did not sign off on the decision to indict Bonds, which is not unusual. The official, who talked on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who was officially sworn in Nov. 9, only learned of the indictment after Scott Schools, the acting United States attorney in the Northern District of California, called the office an hour before the indictment was announced.

The lead defense lawyer for Bonds, Michael L. Rains, said the indictment did not appear to contain much new information. “Nothing has changed in four years,” Rains said. . . .

Two former federal prosecutors, Tony West and Walt Brown, speculated that Schools might have wanted to issue the indictment before he was replaced by someone unfamiliar with the case.

Less than four hours after the indictment was announced Thursday, the White House nominated Joseph Russoniello to replace Schools, a career prosecutor who has served as interim head of the office since Kevin Ryan was fired in January.

The White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said the timing of the announcement was “completely coincidental.” . . .

West, a defense attorney in San Francisco and a former federal prosecutor there, said, “It’s a logical way to think about it, that you don’t have to get another U.S. attorney up to speed on it.” West said he was otherwise perplexed why Bonds would have been indicted Thursday on evidence the government seemed to have collected months ago.

Assistant United States attorneys in the office pushed to indict Bonds in the summer of 2006, but Ryan wanted to get testimony from Greg Anderson, Bonds’s trainer.

Anderson was jailed for contempt for refusing to testify for the last year, and he has been steadfast in his refusal to appear before the grand jury — another reason the government may have decided not to wait any longer, West said.

Anderson was released from jail shortly after the indictment against Bonds was announced. . . .

Brown, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and now a defense lawyer in San Francisco, also said the coming change in United States attorneys might have been a factor. “You can’t help but notice the timing,” he said.

But Brown said the prosecutors might have also waited to charge Bonds until after the baseball season to avoid complaints that they had interfered with Bonds’s pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record.

So, either the indictment was rushed because the White House was about to replace the lead attorney (who was himself a replacement after the USA-gate purge), or the indictment was delayed so as not to interfere with the baseball season and Bonds’s pursuit of Aaron’s record—is that what counts as jurisprudence and due process these days?

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Clinton condemns dead license proposal; shows us her idea of leadership

In what can only be called a miracle of multitasking, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) managed to grandstand, close the barn doors after the horses escaped, then still beat a dead horse, and kick a man while he’s down, all while trying to catch the train after it had already left the station.

Caught last week with not one, not two, but really three hard to discern positions on New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s proposal to provide state driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, Clinton caught a break when the National Democratic Party, taking the rather wrongheaded and cynical advice of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (via J-Ro), failed to provide much support at all for Spitzer’s simple step forward toward a rational immigration policy. After meeting with the New York congressional delegation (a meeting that Clinton skipped), Spitzer announced that while he still thought his original proposal was a good idea, this was clearly not the time to press ahead.

I am disappointed that Spitzer felt the need to first waffle, and then back down. I am disappointed that the Democrats opted for bowing to the conventional political wisdom rather than standing tall behind a forward-thinking idea. But, needless to say, I am most disappointed in the putative Democratic presidential “frontrunner” (ironic title, really) for exhibiting what I find to be the very antithesis of leadership:

[Clinton] issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in which she expressed support for Mr. Spitzer’s decision [to withdraw his proposal] and stated that licenses for illegal immigrants would not be on her own future agenda.

“As president, I will not support drivers’ licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Well, gosh, that sounds, well, almost, um, clear. It completely lacks any specific proposals for how she will “press” or what she means by “comprehensive immigration reform,” but hey, she has finally expressed her unequivocal opposition to the Spitzer proposal NOW THAT IT IS NO LONGER ON THE TABLE.

America is at a turning point. The damage done by two terms of Bush Administration and over a decade of Republican congressional rule has left this nation in a very bad position on so many fronts—domestic, fiscal, global, and moral. The next president is going to have to get out in front of this mess, make big, bold proposals, and risk a little political capital to elect Democrats down ticket, and then convince them and their constituencies to join her or him in restoring America’s values and standing. Leading from behind ain’t gonna get it done. Triangulating isn’t going to motivate an electorate. Incrementalism does not make for a stimulating platform or an inspirational rallying cry.

Hillary Clinton’s sad attempt to appear “Presidential” on this issue has provided another window on what that job means to the junior Senator. Or, more accurately, how little it means outside of simply getting elected president.

(cross-posted on capitoilette, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

speaking of torture. . .

I heard the head of the New York Bar on the radio speaking in support of Pakistani lawyers because, he said, the Musharraf government had tortured some of them. Well, the American government is torturing people, probably every day, probably for some six years now—do they have to torture lawyers to get you to stage protests of your own government’s behavior?

Too harsh? Read my longer argument over at capitoilette.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

all you need is $1.2 trillion and a dream

Of course, if your dream is as dishonest, unrealistic, and craptastic as the neocon/Bush/Cheney “democracy on the march,” free-market Petrie dish, “oh, hell, let’s just score some political points and make some bucks” plan for Iraq, then even $1.2 trillion ain’t gonna get it done.

In fact, you’re probably better off buying a lotto ticket.

With the House set to vote later today on $50 billion of the President’s requested $196 billion Iraq supplemental, wouldn’t it be nice if a few of our leaders reminded us of what we could be doing with all this money?

I’d like to make a suggestion: Along with the $50 billion that Congress will allocate (with stipulations to end the American occupation by the end of 2008), the House should take another vote to allocate $30 billion of the remaining request to specifically fix all of the healthcare problems encountered by the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Assuming the Senate follows suit, I have no doubt that Bush will veto the quarter-allocation, arguing that it is less than he wants and less than the troops need in theater; I would like to hear the President’s rationale for then vetoing a smaller allotment for something America’s fighting men and women need so desperately here at home.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Friday, November 09, 2007

the company he keeps

As Rudy Giuliani’s one-time police commissioner, one-time business partner, and oft-time chauffer/spy/enforcer Bernard Kerik is brought before a federal magistrate this morning for arraignment on a number of tax evasion and corruption charges, I thought it would be nice to have a little photographic memento of the relationship that presidential candidate Giuliani was, um, embracing as recently as Monday. As you (once again) evaluate Giuliani’s judgment, let's take a look at just a sampling of the behavior of the man that Rudy thought should be the head of the federal Department of Homeland Security:

— Allegedly traded $165,000 worth of renovations on his house from a contractor who wanted a license from the city.

– Quit his post training a new Iraqi police force in 2003 after just four months on the job, telling reporters “he needed a vacation.” [Washington Post]

– Used the apartment donated for weary Ground Zero rescue workers into his own personal love nest to use with his mistress. [NY Times]

– Was named in a civil suit in 1999 as “the architect of a system to force prison guards to work for Republicans in their off-hours.” [Newsweek]

– Had mob ties that include the best man in his wedding, Lawrence Ray, who was indicted in 2000 along with other organized crime figures in a scheme to manipulate the stock market. [Washington Post]

– Is now being sued for stiffing the law firm that kept him out of jail for more than $200,000. [NY Daily News]

Almost overnight, Giuliani has gone from flat-out defending Kerik to copping an “ends justify the means” excuse for his relationship to his BFF Bernie. (A heavy lift, considering that there wasn’t much good in the way of “ends,” and the “means” seem all about helping Bernie and Rudy at the expense of public coffers and the rule of law.)

Giuliani claims that he “made a mistake in not checking [Kerik] out more carefully” before appointing him to top cop. That in itself is a telling (and disturbing) revelation about the way Rudy rules, but even more problematic is that Giuliani is lying. Reports already show that Giuliani knew about Kerik’s mob ties and unethical behavior well before he pushed him for head of DHS, and Rudy knew about the very problems in today’s indictment even before he appointed Bernie to head the NYPD.

While Kerik was neither very ethical nor very good at his job, he was very loyal to Rudy Giuliani. Hmm, a possible president that values loyalty over expertise or ethics. . . sound like anyone you know?

(Funny enough, it turns out that I used the same headline almost exactly a year ago while talking about the current president. . . what a coincidence.)

(cross-postedf to The Seminal)

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

your tax dollars hard at work. . .

. . . once again lining Bush family pockets.

President George W. Bush’s brother, Neil, is in the news again. You remember Neil: Neil, whose Silverado Savings and Loan cost US taxpayers over $1 Billion in bailout baksheesh. Neil, who drew $300,000 in salary from a company called Apex Energy that never found any energy to sell, and went belly up, defaulting on its federally backed SBA loans. Neil, who used family connections to start Ignite! Learning, a company that makes the Curriculum on Wheels (known as “the Cow”—I swear!), which is basically a modern-day AV cart that plays a dumbed-down version of social studies to middle school students.

The Cow teaches the Seminole Wars as a football game between “the Jacksons” and “the Seminoles” (witty, I know!), and recounts the Continental Congress in rap form:

It was 55 delegates from 12 states
Took one hot Philadelphia summer to create
A perfect document for their imperfect times
Franklin, Madison, Washington -- a lot of the cats
Who used to be in the Continental Congress way back.

(I promise you, I did not make that up.)

Ignite! got a big boost last year when Neil’s mother, Barbara, donated six of the $3,800 Cows to Texas schools that were populated primarily with children that had to flee the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Shortly after accepting the gifts Cows, the schools got an e-mail from Neil, informing them that they would have to pay an annual $1,000 “maintenance charge” if they wanted to keep using their “gifts.”

No problem! The New York Times is reporting that the Katy School District west of Houston has used a quarter-million dollars of state and federal Katrina relief money to buy more Cows from Ignite! (!)

But that’s not what got Neil back in the news. As the Times reveals:

The inspector general of the Department of Education has said he will examine whether federal money was inappropriately used by three states to buy educational products from a company owned by Neil Bush, the president’s brother.

John P. Higgins Jr., the inspector general, said he would review the matter after a group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, detailed at least $1 million in spending from the No Child Left Behind program by school districts in Texas, Florida and Nevada to buy products made by Mr. Bush’s company. . . .

(I suppose this would be a good point to make some joke about Cows milking us.)

Of course, it’s not just that Neil has exploited his connections to once again suck on the federal teat (no more cow jokes, I promise), his educational products also just plain suck:

Jay Spuck, a former curriculum director for the [Houston Independent School] district, has criticized spending on the Ignite product, saying: “It’s not helping kids at all. It’s not helping teachers. The only way Neil has gotten in is by his name.”

But, perhaps I am being a bit shortsighted, criticizing the Bush clan just because money for No Child Left Behind isn’t going to American children. It is quite possible that Neil’s share is helping kids abroad, like the young Thai and Chinese girls that apparently just show up at Neil’s door whenever he travels to their countries. . . .

Like I said up top: your tax dollars hard at work.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

how can a man without a gallbladder exhibit so much gall?

The New York Times gave a large chunk of their op-ed page over to what amounted to an unpaid advertisement for telecom immunity penned by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. I have some thoughts. . . .

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bush admin protects the people that matter. . . to them

The latest from the Department of Featherbedding and Crony Protection Homeland Security: New! Lower standards!

DHS chose the traditional late Friday news dump cycle to unveil significantly weakened rules governing the security of the nation’s chemical stockpiles and hazardous chemical producers. (That would be weakened from the draft rules proposed in April; before that, the Bush Administration and its rubberstamp Republican Congress dragged their feet for five-and-a-half years on what to do about post-9/11 chemical security. It took the election of a Democratic Congress and the threat of new legislation to motivate this “action.”)

DHS in April proposed a list of 344 chemicals that businesses would have to track and disclose to the department through an online reporting system. But under heavy criticism from industry, it released a less stringent version yesterday, reducing the number of targeted chemicals to about 300 and raising the reporting threshold of many chemicals of highest security concern.

For instance, DHS increased the reporting trigger for stored chlorine from 1,875 pounds to 2,500 pounds, exempting a standard one-ton shipping cylinder used by industry. Insurgents in Iraq have used bombs to disperse liquid chlorine into toxic gas clouds.

DHS also increased the disclosure threshold for ammonium nitrate from 7,500 pounds to 10,000 pounds. That substance was a component in fertilizer-based bombs used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

"There are 10 widely recognized ultra-hazardous chemicals. . . . To a chemical, their thresholds increased," said Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace Toxics Campaign. "When push comes to shove, Homeland Security here folded like a sheet to industry pressure. . . . It's clear for whom these laws and loopholes were written."

There is little more to say about yet another example of Bush/Cheney favoring private interest over public security. . . except this:

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate's homeland security panel, called the new rules "good news." The American Chemistry Council, which represents the nation's largest chemical companies, including Dow Chemical, DuPont and BASF, also said it "strongly supports" DHS's approach.

I will never forgive the Democratic leadership for not throwing out that little creep when they had the chance.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Jay lies


It was apt that West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller chose Halloween to publish an op-ed in the Washington Post that once again tried to justify warrantless surveillance of US citizens by invoking the specter of 9/11.

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the Bush administration had a choice: Aggressively pursue potential terrorists using existing laws or devise new, secret intelligence programs in uncharted legal waters.

. . . .

Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president. These companies were assured that their cooperation was not only legal but also necessary because of their unique technical capabilities. They were also told it was their patriotic duty to help protect the country after the devastating attacks on our homeland.

Though I for one am not scared by the regurgitated talking points of the cowardly and oft-bunkered Vice President Dick-in-a-Box, I am terrified that a purportedly fully briefed Senator—a Democrat, no less—thinks that any of us should be satisfied with his contorted explanations for illegal spying and retroactive immunity.

Glenn Greenwald does a fine job of debunking the circular logic used by Jell-O Jay as he tries to distract us from his cozy relationship with the people and companies that he’s indemnifying, but he misses what is to me the most glaring fabrication.

In case you missed it, let me reprise a select sentence:

Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president.

Well, I’m tired of niceties on this one, so I’m just going to state it plain; THIS. IS. A. LIE.

As has been noted in books, newspapers (and here), magazines (and here, and here), wire services, and blogs (and here, and here, and here, and here, to link to but a handfull) repeatedly over the last two years, the Bush Administration, directly from the White House or through the NSA, approached telecommunications companies about eavesdropping and data-mining on US citizens within the United States over six months before the attacks of 9/11/01. This assessment has now been confirmed by documents unsealed in the case of former Qwest head Joseph Nacchio.

Since we believe that J-Rock, as a then ranking member of the SSCI, was briefed on some or all of these warrantless spy programs early on, and since he now assures us that he’s seen all appropriate documents concerning telco involvement, unless by “within weeks of the 2001 attacks” Rocky means within 27 weeks before the attacks, Senator Rockefeller is lying. He is not only invoking 9/11 to once again scare Americans into accepting unfettered violations of their privacy, he is using the terrorist acts of 2001 to directly deceive us about the nature and intent of the illegal surveillance programs.

I perhaps am not overwhelmingly shocked that another senator has been compromised by administrations bullying and corporate cash, but I am a little dismayed that critics of Rockefeller, the new Senate FISA re-write, and the Bush Administration’s domestic spying programs in general, still often fail to cite this very disturbing and revealing truth.

It is not simply a matter of scheduling; it goes to the root of all arguments both for and against the surveillance programs. Since the telecommunications companies were approached by the administration in February of 2001, then none of this is a response to the attacks of 9/11. And, since the spying is not a response to those events, then what were the NSA and the White House looking for?

If they were looking for terrorist conversations, then the September ‘01 attacks prove that the program was a flop. In fact, it is possible to go so far as to say that the giant dragnets cast by the intel/telco partnership flooded the NSA with so much data that it actually overwhelmed the system and buried much more valuable and readily apparent terrorist signal intelligence.

As I struggle to remain up to speed on illegal surveillance issues, I know all too well that there is a heck of a lot to read out there, but I think it essential that on this key point, all off us, the SSCI, the establishment media, and the blogosphere, need to be on the same page. Warrantless domestic surveillance of US citizens by the Bush Administration started long before the 2001 hijackings. Bush, Cheney, their attorneys, their intelligence bureaucracy, and the telecom industry may all have their reasons for collecting signal intelligence on Americans without a court order, but, back when the spying started, 9/11 wasn’t one of them.

. . .
(NB: I know this is light on links. I have many links for you, but no time right now. I promise I will come back later in the day to link up all the supporting documents.) Plenty of documentation now added!

(crossposted to capitoilette, The Seminal, and Dialy Kos)

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