Saturday, June 30, 2007

Conservatives Ho! Backward Into the Future


It was a helluva week for the down-on-its-knees conservative movement.

As Ed Morrissey writes at Captain’s Quarters:

"Winston Churchill once remarked that God takes care of drunks and the United States of America and so it seems to be as we approach the end of a remarkable week in which milestones of success for the conservative movement have come one after another.

"I must confess I didn't expect a week such as this. Between Bush's various expansions of Big Government, the GOP congressional majority throwing away of its position and the desperately blind opposition of the Washington Establishment to earmark and other common sense reforms, I was mulling a post asking if the time had come to declare the conservative enterprise a failure.

"We have just been blessed with three signal victories."
Those would be the Supreme Court decisions turning back a half century of progress in school desegregation and limiting political speech, the death of the immigration reform bill and a crushing blow to the Fairness Doctrine movement.

Coming from the other side of the political equation was Robert Stein, who writes at Connecting.the.Dots:

"It was never just about abortion. The struggle for America’s soul goes deeper, as the Supreme Court and Congress have been showing us this week.

"It was never as simple as faith vs. reason. Rational people can recognize a Higher Power, the religious can respect science and logic.

"What it has been about is the conflict between our hopes and fears, between the risks of freedom and the comfort of control, between our needs to feel decent and to feel safe."
As the Aussies say, that’s it in a bit.

For even a thoughtful and savvy conservative like the Captain who I daresay is not anywhere near as paranoid about the future as many fellow conservatives, "progress" is often represented by turning back the clock to seemingly safer and more predictable times.

For a thoughtful and savvy moderate-liberal like Robert, it is acknowledging the past but having the determination to march boldly ahead.

When Violence Begets Violence Begets . . .

The news this week that a Scottish review panel has granted a former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 permission for a second appeal should come as no surprise.
This is because the conviction probably was fraudulent because it's likely the bombing was carried out by Iran with an assist from Syria, but the U.S. didn't want to blame them because it was in retalation for the shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes.
Anyhow, Jonathan Schwartz has put together a terrific little essay on how violence begets violence with the catchy title How The USS Vincennes Killed My High School Biology Lab Partner.

Read it here.

People Poet: Great Work If You Can Get It

You can probably put all of the people who actually make a living being poets these days in a broom closet, and improbably one of them is Frank Messina.
I've known Frank for a while and have watched the upward arc of his career with a combination of awe and bemusement and, I suppose, a little envy.
Frank is the progenitor of "Spoken Motion," a band and concept that melds lyrical content with jazz and experimental rock music. He has received the prestigious Woolrich Prize and Playboy magazine called him "one of the most widely recognized young poets living in America today."
But now Frank has outdone himself in going where not even Walt Whitman or Ezra Pound had trod:

He has been designated the official poet of the New York Mets.
More here.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

German politicians have condemned a computer generated photo of Poland's leaders sucking the German Chancellor Angela Merkel's bare breasts.

The image appears on the cover of the Polish weekly Wprost, and is titled "Stepmother of Europe".

A Polish council overseeing ethics in the media said the montage overstepped "the limits of good taste".

Tension between the neighbouring countries has been building following last week's European Union summit.

The mocked up image shows Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, nuzzling at Ms Merkel's chest.

Germany's Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called the image "tasteless".

Social Democrat Markus Meckel, head of the German-Polish parliamentary group, said: "It is quite unbelievable. Poland has lost so many friends over the past weeks and months. It should really think hard in the future about how it hopes to win them back."

-- BBC

For everyone who is slavering with anticipation at the debut of the shiny new Apple iPhone, keep this in mind: If you buy one of those admittedly slick new devices, you’re essentially subsidizing efforts to violate your privacy and restrict your ability to use the Internet freely.


Science defines mutualism, one form of symbiosis, as “an interaction between two or more species, where both derive benefit.” Think bees and flowers.

In putting the relationship of Ann Coulter and John Edwards under the microscope, another example seems more apt: the birds that eat parasites off crocodiles and are in turn protected from predators by their hosts’ giant jaws.

The gnashing of Coulter’s mandibles against him have not only nourished her notoriety (and lecture fees) but served as a fund-raising boon for Edwards.

Yikes! Who knew that academic journals published this sort of thing? Tara C. Smith, over at Aetiology, tells of a forthcoming paper in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases that illustrates all too clearly the price some women pay for beauty.

Or for their conceptions of beauty — a hairless pubic area. Another blogger wonders about the appeal.

The woman described in this case report endured the agony of swelling and infections (both viral and bacterial) that could have killed her, following a bikini wax.


In a case of life imitating art, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) reported today that they had successfully reversed mental retardation in mice, just as scientists did in the classic 1966 novel Flowers for Algernon. In the book by Daniel Keyes, scientists use experimental surgery—first tested on a mouse named Algernon—to dramatically boost the intelligence of a mentally retarded janitor named Charlie Gordon. Now M.I.T. scientists report in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences USA that they ameliorated brain damage in mice caused by a genetic disorder known as fragile X syndrome by blocking an enzyme involved in cellular development.


Russian President Vladimir Putin is making an astonishing bid to grab a vast chunk of the Arctic - so he can tap its vast potential oil, gas and mineral wealth.

His scientists claim an underwater ridge near the North Pole is really part of Russia's continental shelf.


Robin Williams refused to apologize for jokes he made about priests and pedophiles that has the Catholic Church "up in arms."

He had made the jokes earlier this week on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, where he was appearing to promote his new movie, "License to Wed," in which he plays an Episcopal priest in Chicago who runs a unique marriage preparation course.

Williams pretended to be playing a shell game with a cup, and provided the running commentary: "Here we go. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Here you go right now. Move ‘em around, move ‘em around. Oh, you found the pedophile."


Friday, June 29, 2007

Gitmo Detainees & A Rash Prediction

The news today that the Supreme Court will review two Guantánamo Bay detainee-related appeals prompts me to make a statement that seems outrageous on its face considering the high court’s sprint to the right:
It will side with the detainees in their assertion that they cannot be indefinitely confined without trial.
Howcum? B
ecause this is more or less a replay of last year's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, which is possibly the court's most important of the young millennium, including yesterday's school deseg blockbuster.

In Hamdan, the court eviscerated the junk law (as opposed to junk science) on which the Bush administration based its original plan for trying detainees before military commissions, rejecting out of hand the specious claim that the 9/11 attacks had changed everything and the president could turn 230 years of American jurisprudence on its ear damned well do what he pleased where he pleased.

The court also rebuked Bush for attempting to suppress the habeas corpus provision of the Constitution (which was like telling it to go screw itself) and for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Geneva Conventions.

The high court ruled 5-3 against the administration in Hamdan with Chief Justice Roberts recusing himself because he had been involved in the case at a lower court level.

Given that the White House merely paid lip service to the ruling and then compelled a largely compliant Congress to again give it carte blanche in the form of a new but nearly identical law, I would anticipate that the Supremes will again slap the president -- even with Roberts participating.

The stakes could not be higher for an administration that remains drunk with power despite enormous setbacks, as well as a world standing at low ebb.
I am not suggesting that terror suspects be treated with kid gloves.

But having claimed the right to determine who are enemy combatants and detain them indefinitely without charges, the White House cannot retreat from that position without appearing to be weak, and appearances in the Age of Bush have been more important than realities, just as politics often trumps policy, or in this case tramples on the very foundations of American jurisprudence.

Iraq & The Eight-Foot Invisible Rabbit

Albert Camus wrote "The innocent is the person who explains nothing." This rather opaque observation describes the left’s increasing stridency when alluding to their guiltlessness in undermining the morale of the American people for carrying on the War in Iraq. In fact, liberals are employing a strategy that attempts to obscure their stated desire that the United States lose the war while at the same time, deflecting attention from a 4 year effort to convince the American people that trying to bring democracy to Iraq was a hopeless exercise in wishful thinking and that the war has been a lost cause from the start.

They deny it, of course. In fact, they get downright nasty if you even try and point it out. They will whine that their criticisms of the war effort have been misconstrued. They were simply trying to help win the war by pointing out the incompetence and wrongheadedness of the Bush Administration. They really had the US interests at heart all along.

Yes, I have an eight foot invisible rabbit as a friend too.

* * * * *
Rick Moran penned those words the other day at Rightwing Nuthouse, his excellent but inaptly named blog. Inapt because Moran is one of the least crazy bloggers out there of any persuasion. Besides which, anyone who knows what the hell Camus is talking about impresses me. If I have a peeve, it is his penchant for label commingling – as in lefties and liberals and righties and conservatives.

That duly noted, Moran is on to something that lefterals and liberists won't acknowledge.

There is the pungently unmistakable (unmistakably pungent?) odor of schadenfreunde lurking beneath the surface as they declaim against the war.

Well, I don’t think there’s a damned thing to gloat about: The crossroads of the Middle East in ruins. Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and millions of homeless refugees. Several thousand dead Americans, our nation’s world standing at low ebb. Just because this is the fault of George Bush and his neocon puppet masters doesn’t change a freaking thing.

Once we were in Iraq, we were in Iraq, okay? And while I was mightily pissed off about being lied to regarding the reasons for going to war and didn't and don't think it is winnable in the traditional (military) sense, I figured that since we were in the neighborhood, a little nation building wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

As it is, the Bush administration blew this, too, but to argue that it wasn't a worthy effort is pig ignorant. (Insert mention here of the Iraqis being their own worst enemy.)

* * * * *
Moran devotes much of his commentary to the origins of the "stab in the back" defense in anticipating that antiwar folks will be accused by right wing folks of using it against them when the orgy of national wound licking commences.

Moran engages in the inevitable discussion of the Mother of All Back Stabs -- the Yalta Conference near the end of World War II -- and does some nattering about Nazis that weakens his overall argument. But then as a longtime editor I would have trimmed out about a third of his piece and told Rick to go have a cold one at the local tappy if he was going to pout.

Look, I’m one of those folks who is really against the war but really supports the troops, so Moran's larger point is sustainable: Those lefterals and liberalists have seldom offered coherent arguments for being against the war that have any resonance, let alone separate the boots in Iraq from the boobs in Washington when fulminating about the whole misguided adventure.

Moran concludes that:

The left has predictably played their role as destroyer of the people’s will while the Bush Administration has obliged them by committing one mistake after another in trying to defeat them. The combination has been unbeatable – for the enemy.

That is a little tougher than I would have put it because he gives this crowd too much credit. They should be hard on the bad guys in three-piece suits with the PowerPoint presentations, but that doesn’t mean that they should be soft on the bad guys in the white bathrobes with the Kalashnikovs, and they have been.

In the end, simply being against the war has been enough for them. That’s too lazy for me by half, and dishonors our brothers and sisters who died fighting in what through no fault of their own was an unjust war.

But Won't Their Babies Be Purple?

Hat tip to Pandagon

Historic Photograph du Jour

Here's a final stunner from the Magnum Photo agency 60th anniversary slide show at Slate, a n Alex Majoli photographed of a dead U.S. soldier being evacuated during the Battle of Baghdad on April 8, 2003.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere


The five opinions that made up yesterday’s decision limiting the use of race in assigning students to public schools referred to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 school desegregation case, some 90 times. The justices went so far as to quote from the original briefs in the case and from the oral argument in 1952.

All of the justices on both sides of yesterday’s 5-to-4 decision claimed to be, in Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s phrase, "faithful to the heritage of Brown."

But lawyers who represented the black schoolchildren in the Brown case said yesterday that several justices in the majority had misinterpreted the positions they had taken in the litigation and had misunderstood the true meaning of Brown.


The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation’s schools to integrate. Yesterday, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality.


Let us now praise the Brown decision. Let us now bury the Brown decision.

With yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling ending the use of voluntary schemes to create racial balance among students, it is time to acknowledge that Brown’s time has passed. It is worthy of a send-off with fanfare for setting off the civil rights movement and inspiring social progress for women, gays and the poor. But the decision in Brown v. Board of Education that focused on outlawing segregated schools as unconstitutional is now out of step with American political and social realities.


I'll say. I've never been more disgusted, and that’s from a lifelong Republican and occasional activist who still voted for Clinton in 1992. Yes, I'm more disgusted than I even was then.

I never liked Trent Lott, and the fact that he was elected the Minority Leader in the Senate was a red flag. GWB has lost me completely on the immigration issue and his utter lack of leadership, right now, on just about anything. Not only that, but I am so disgusted that what I once willing to overlook for what I believed to be the Cause, I retroactively do not. The unbridled spending… the cronyism . . . the complete surrender of the message on the Iraq war and, yes, the failure to communicate effectively about just about anything, certainly since the 2004 election.

What a squandered, ugly moment for Republicans conservatives like me. What a shame for America.


The immigration bill is dead, yet again, after the Senate rejected cloture by fourteen votes. In the end, the compromise could not even gain a majority in support of what conceptually may have been a passable compromise, but in reality was a poorly constructed, poorly processed mass of contradictions and gaps. Many of us who may have supported a comprehensive approach to immigration found ourselves amazed and repulsed by both the product and the process of this attempt to solve the immigration problem.

So what should happen now? The problems of immigration did not disappear with the failure of the cloture vote a few moments ago. Congress needs to act to resolve them -- but they need to do so in a manner that respects the processes of representative democracy, and in a manner that builds the confidence of Americans rather than fuel their cynicism.


The Wall Street Journal editorial board warns that the immigration debate threatens to make the GOP a minority party. They're right. It splits the Republicans right down the middle, demoralizes the base in advance of 2008, and is prompting a conservative counter-mobilization that could make Latinos a Democratic constituency for years to come.

Ironically, the issue was not pushed to the top of the legislative agenda by Democrats. . . . Democrats haven't been able to push through any legislation that splits Republicans and forces a Bush veto (for now, at least, GOP party loyalty is too strong to overcome a filibuster).

Instead, Bush has been doing the Democrats' work for them.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav agreed to resign yesterday in a plea bargain that drops rape allegations and the threat of jail time in return for pleading guilty to lesser charges. The deal was a reversal by Attorney General Meni Mazuz, who had said in January that he planned to try Katsav on charges of rape and other sex crimes that could have sent him to prison for 20 years.


The Palestinian Maan news agency is reporting in the name of the Hebrew newspaper Maariv that Hamas terrorists discovered sexually explicit videotapes of high ranking Fatah terrorists when Fatah's headquarters in Gaza were captured.


More than a year after the United States renewed diplomatic ties with Libya, leader Moammar Gadhafi still has not completed settlement payments to the families of Pan Am 103 victims, and he recently delivered an incendiary speech during which he laughed off any financial impact of the settlement.


Even before a United States Congressional panel overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging Japan to apologize for its wartime sex slavery, the Japanese government said it would have no comment.

But the vote of 39 to 2 by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs has set the stage for an adoption by the full House of Representatives next month, at which point Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will face pressure to respond in some way or another.


The bald eagle, America's national symbol, is flying high after spending three decades in recovery. On Thursday, the government took the eagle off the Endangered Species Act's "threatened" list.


Photograph by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Supremes Break the Social Contract

I am barely old enough to have started public school (in Delaware, a so-called border state) when there still were separate white and black schools, the former invariably adequate if not luxe and the latter invariably ramshackle in bricks, mortar and educational opportunity.

It is therefore nothing short of shocking to read that a Supreme Court which in 1954 crafted the Brown v. Board of Education decision today broke faith with that landmark ruling outlawing segregation in schools in asserting that desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville viewed race in terms that were literally too black and white.

While the ruling does not end school desegregation per se, it breaks perhaps the most important social contract of my lifetime. The implications of that are nothing short of shocking -- and profound.

George Bush promised his core constituents a Supreme Court that would return America to the bad old days. With this and other rulings this week, he finally has delivered on a promise.

More here. And a media and blog reaction roundup here.

Iraq I: All Al Qaeda All the Time

The Bush administration’s campaign to blow smoke up the collective American backside by calling all insurgents Al Qaeda is vexsome enough, but that label has now been applied to 11 men killed in a helicopter attack who may have been Iraqi civilians guarding against the very people the U.S. had targeted.

The incident occurred on June 22 in the remote village of Al-Khalis, north of Baquba, during the opening days of Arrowhead Ripper, an operation to capture and kill Al Qaeda leaders and foot soldiers.
The U.S. command declared that attack helicopters armed with missiles had engaged and killed 17 “Al Qaeda gunmen” whom it said had been trying to infiltrate the village.

But the BBC’s Jim Muir, in a dispatch that has been ignored by the U.S. media, says that villagers are bitterly disputing that account and say the men were civilian guards trying to protect the village from exactly the kind of attack the U.S. military asserted it had foiled.
The villagers say that of 16 guards, 11 were killed and five others wounded when rockets were fired at them and then they were strafed with heavy machine gun fire.

Reported Muir:

"Minutes before the attack, they had been co-operating with an Iraqi police unit raiding a suspected insurgent hideout, the villagers said.

"They added that the guards, lightly armed with the AK47 assault rifles that are a feature of practically every home in Iraq, were essentially a local neighbourhood watch paid by the village to monitor the dangerous insurgent-ridden area to the immediate south-west at Arab Shawkeh and Hibhib, where the al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed a year ago."

Who to believe?

Verifying an account such of this in a remote area is tough with a finite number of reporters, many of them holed up in the Green Zone in Baghdad. As it is, an Iraqi journalist was killed in a bomb blast in Al-Khalis on June 11.

The Al-Khalis area has been a hotbed of insurgent activity, and two days before the attack the Iraqi army claimed that it had killed 11 insurgents when a checkpoint was attacked near the village.

There is no indication that the U.S. command is going to back down on its claim regarding the helicopter attack, especially in the face of the limited success of Arrowhead Ripper and the White House's "All Al Qaeda All The Time" mantra.
Sorry, but this incident smells like an error, albeit a bloody one, possibly based on miscommunication between the police unit and the attack force.
Photograph © Michael Yon

Iraq II: The Power of Propaganda

The greatest weapon of the Iraqi insurgency is not the roadside bomb or rocket launcher. It is propaganda.
Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups are responsible for the majority of U.S. combat deaths. But in going online to preach to the so-called Arab street and hurl verbal fire and brimstone at the American occupier, they have proven to be adept at turning on its ear the old adage that "Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me."
Now comes a book-length report on the insurgent media machine titled "Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War Of Images And Ideas" by analysts Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo.

The authors contend that the popularity of the insurgent media is that it reflects a real demand for their message in the Arab world. To which I add that the U.S.'s pushback in the form of the Al Hurra satellite TV station has been a joke, albeit a well intentioned one.

But the insurgent message goes only so far. As is noted in a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report:

"Kimmage and Ridolfo argue that the loss of coordination and message control that results from decentralization has revealed fundamental disagreements about Iraq's present and future between nationalist and global jihadist groups in Iraq and that these disagreements are ripe for exploitation by those interested in a liberal and democratic Iraq.

"The report also finds that anti-Shi'ite hate speech is an increasingly prominent part of the insurgent message. With sectarian killings on the rise in Iraq, the tenor of invective points to the possibility of even greater bloodshed. A wealth of evidence shows that hate speech paved the way for genocide in Rwanda in 1994, for example."

Click here for more, as well as links to the report.

Hat tip to Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark

Update on the Rape of the Poconos

Series of arson fires are among region's pressing problems
Not surprisingly, my post yesterday – The Poconos: From Paradise to Sweatshops – rattled some cages.

Typical was a message that I received from Bob Uguccioni, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. Mr. Uguccioni wailed:

Why don.t [sic] you like us..???????????

Bob Uguccioni

This is my response:

Dear Mr. Uguccioni:

I think that my article speaks for itself. But if it does not, please try this . . .

Perhaps you work behind the scenes to help right many of the Poconos' problems, but your public face is one of a smug factotum who is part of the problem and not part of the solution.

To you the Poconos is a pristine destination where never is heard a discouraging word. To me the Poconos is a once beautiful place that has been ravaged by overbuilding that has been aided and abetted by public officials and community leaders like yourself who are far more interested in feathering your own nests than trying to deal with a host of vexsome problems -- and publically urging others to join you in that effort.

It is not a matter of liking or not liking you, Mr. Uguccioni. I have no feelings on that. It is a matter of your attitude.

Best, Shaun Mullen

To which Mr. Uguccioni then graciously replied:
You are right .. Perhaps we always take a positive spin on issues .. But we are very much involved in the issues you describe .. No one always fights there battles in the Press………You should know more about our goals plans etc etc……Bob Uguccioni

Photograph Courtesy of The Pocono Record

My Vote Is For Seamus Romney

I will briefly and but temporarily diverge from my well-seasoned antipathy over the coverage of every jot and tittle of the presidential campaigns to share the following story, which contains no references to religious underwear, cruelty to animals or the ability to manage a crisis.

There is a story making the rounds regarding a trip Republican presidential wannabe Mitt Romney and his family took from Boston to Ontario in its Chevy station wagon, date uncertain.

Before beginning the 12-hour trip, Romney put Seamus, the family's Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He had built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

Romney’s oldest son, Tagg, sat in the back of the station wagon to try to keep an eye on the dog.

According to one account:

"Keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window . . . he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. 'Dad!' he yelled. 'Gross!' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

"As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway."

It will be fascinating to see how Hugh Hewitt spins this one.

More here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

John W. McDermott (2000)

Hat tip to Wood's Lot

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Quotes From Around Yon Cheneysphere

In the end, President Bush regularly is unable to explain or defend the policies of his own administration, and that is because the heavy intellectual labor has been performed in the office of the vice president. Cheney is impeachable for his overweening power and his sneering contempt of the Constitution and the rule of law.


The hot-off-the-presses announcement that the Senate Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed testimony about the Bush warrantless wiretapping program, and asked for a massive document dump, isn’t just significant for its surface reasons. In my view, it’s the latest signal that the reign of Dick Cheney as shadow president is coming to an end.


Did you know that Dick Cheney is so hardcore about secrecy and security that he won't let the White House officials in charge of security into the West Wing? No that's not a Daily Show joke. It's actually true. Maybe that's why he's already had one (now convicted) spy caught working out of his office. And, no, I'm not talking about Scooter Libby.

Dick Cheney seems determined to do more damage to himself than the latest Washington Post profiles could ever do. While that series has revealed Cheney's influence, it hasn't even come close to demonstrating any wrongdoing on his part. Unfortunately, his latest response on the OVP's refusal to comply with an executive order on the handling of classified material will provide more material for Cheney's critics -- and for no obvious benefit.


Vice President Cheney’s office will not pursue the argument that he is separate from the executive branch, senior administration officials tell The Politico. The decision follows a threat by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the No. 3 House Democrat, to try to cut off the office’s $4.8 million in executive-branch funding.


Taxes bother me. Last April I had to eat at home more often because my tax guy told me that I didn’t withhold enough on my state returns. I’m a pretty crappy cook which means that for like a month I had to eat burnt pasta and occasionally defrost a shepherd’s pie which was actually pretty good but not as good as a restaurant burger. Sure you can chart a bunch of crapola about public safety and maintaining the roads, but where on the chart does it cover how taxes piss me off? Please abolish them.

Maybe you think that the above argument wouldn’t make it past Paris Hilton’s GED tutor. You’re right of course. I could make a more persuasive case by grunting, or if I asked David Addington to write a brief. Yet somehow the genius Washington Post op-ed page let it through more or less verbatim.

-- TIM F

In my own cynical opinion Dick Cheney had three goals when he came into office. He wanted to pump oil in Iraq, Iran, and Libya and he didn't want no fussy human rights activists telling him why he couldn't. He got Kaddafi to give up a non-existent WMD program and grant the West huge oil concessions. Sanctions gone. He invaded Iraq. Sanctions gone. He keeps agitating for the third piece of the puzzle. Iran? Gone.


There's the rub of democratic government. Sure, the act of building consensus often requires sacrificing on your most preferred policies. But such consensus-building actually persuades the public, the bureaucracy and legislators of the necessity to act and reduces the chances they'll turn their back on the whole effort. The Cheney method instead creates a blowback that hobbles your efforts in the long run far more than compromise does.


One thing the GOP may not have considered when re-electing both a vice-president and a president who will not run again: what if Bush and Cheney don't really care what they do to the Republican future in their final years? What if neither really cares what anyone else thinks? Look at the Cheney legacy on the environment detailed in yesterday's WaPo and tell me it doesn't read like an Oliver Stone caricature of an evil Republican? Ever wonder why the next generation is lost? And check out Bush's determination to pass an immigration bill that will almost certainly destroy his own coalition for the foreseeable future. Many of us saw that this duo was out of control and unaccountable a while back. I have a feeling many loyal Republicans are beginning to find out as well.


Where I thought, mistakenly, that it would be a great advantage to Bush to have a White House partner without political succession in mind, it has turned out to be altogether too liberating an environment for a political entrepreneur of surpassing skill operating under an exceptional cloak of secrecy.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What's The Greatest Nation on Earth to Do?

Lost in the miasma of debate over the Iraq war is a key question: What was the U.S.’s obligation to the Iraqi people once the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled?

The Bush administration believed that it had a responsibility to nurture a new government, new constitution and national elections. All eventually did come to pass despite a post-invasion occupation so ill planned and so wretchedly executed that in one fell swoop the U.S. squandered the modicum of good will Iraqis accorded it and tore open ancient fault lines between Shiites and Sunnis, triggering a refugee crisis and civil war that has become a one-stop shopping dream for Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

Regrettably, my question answers itself because of the diabolical shape that Iraq is in: The U.S.’s obligation has become substantially greater because of the mess made by hubristic stage managers in Washington who always have been more interested in politics over policy and image over reality.

A cascade of developments in recent days further begs the question:

* True to form, George Bush and two key players, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, have intimated that Judgment Day, or in this case Judgment Month, has been pushed back. Again. September was when Petraeus was to report on the progress of the last gasp-surge strategy as Congress got down to the business of funding the war for another year. Now they say that’s much too early to judge anything.

* Speaking of the surge, it has played out precisely as I and many other observers predicted: Some Baghdad neighborhoods are indeed safer, but most are not. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual out in the hustings where U.S. troops, with minor assistance from the pathetic Iraqi army, continue to play Whack a Mole with the insurgency. U.S. casualties are up and Iraqi civilian casualties are only slightly down. The bottom line is that there were never the troops to do the job right.

* Arrowhead Ripper, a component of the surge, came a cropper as the much vaunted operation to capture or kill Al Qaeda leaders and foot soldiers in Baquba whimpered to an unsatisfactory conclusion. As I and many other observers predicted, most of the bad guys had melted away before the first Stryker units hit the city limits.

* Senator Richard Lugar, one of the president’s staunchest supporters, broke ranks with the diminishing pro-war congressional minority and screwed up the courage to state the obvious: The war is a disaster militarily and diplomatically and has seriously compromised the U.S.’s national security interests in the Middle East and beyond.

Public opinion polls show that a large majority of Americans no longer believe the war can be won in the traditional (which is to say military) sense and want troop withdrawals to commence ASAP. And while they’re unhappy with the President and Planet Cheney, they have damned little good to say about the Democratic congressional majority.

As Colin Powell famously remarked, having broken Iraq the U.S. now owns it. But the political clock has overtaken the military clock and plucking victory from the jaws of defeat is no longer possible.

What’s the greatest nation on earth to do?
Photograph by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The Poconos: From Paradise to Sweatshops

Two faces of the Poconos: A waterfall and a sweatshop
Think of the Poconos of Northeastern Pennsylvania and you probably visualize forests thick with hemlock, spruce and deer, ski slopes, golf courses and honeymoon hotels with heart-shaped bathtubs. To which you can now add sweatshops where illegal immigrants toil.

The arrest of 81 alleged illegals in an early-morning raid by federal immigration agents at Iridium Industries in East Stroudsburg on June 19 has led to revelations that not only was it widely known that the company was well aware that most of its workers were illegals, but as many as 30 other area companies are now under investigation for doing the same thing.
This, I believe, is what is known as an open secret.

And further evidence that the Poconos, which is near and dear to my heart, has become just another place with runaway development, staggering numbers of home foreclosures, grinding poverty, soaring crime, failing schools, a stressed out infrastructure and a magnet for businesses that know they can get away with pretty much anything.
While we’re heaping on the scorn, let’s reserve a large dollop for the public officials who have aided and abetted in the decline of the Poconos while feathering their own nests. These officials not only must have known about the sweatshops, but in the case of Iridium Industries ponied up $9 million in taxpayer funded grants and loans to underwrite its growth on the promise that it would hire local residents, presumably legal.

And four special dollops of scorn:

A dollop for State Representative Mario Scavello, who sang the praises of Iridium but was uncurious about how that $9 million was being put to use. Scavello has now called for a "full state investigation" of a scandal that he aided and abetted.
I have an idea: When that probe is completed, let's investigate who has been financing Mister Mario's political campaigns.
A dollop each for Donna Asure and Bob Nothstein, two
Monroe County commissioners who are reliably AWOL whenever leadership is needed to deal with the Poconos' myriad problems.

Asure’s anything but assuring response to the sweatshop revelations was to put her head where the sun don’t shine and say that she was going to "wait and see" if the allegations are true. The reliably snarky Nothstein, who has morphed from being a semi-idealistic young lawyer to a cynical operator without peer in local politics, has the temerity to say the scandal is none of the commissioners' busyness. (An update: Read the message in the comments section below this article from the third commissioner, who says she warned Asure and Northstein of what was really going on at Iridium.)
I have an idea: How about a recall campaign to throw these leadership-averse bums out of office?
And another dollop for that unctuous preserver of the Poconos’ false front -- Bob Uguccioni, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau – who in a panic sent an email to its members warning of the expanding probe but has not uttered a word in public, to my knowledge, to condemn the sweatshop operators.
I have an idea: Let's throw a party for Big Bob. A retirement party. And then find a replacement who has the Poconos' best interests in mind, not his own and those of his pals.
And while we're at it, a large dollop of praise for the Pocono Record, the region’s only newspaper of consequence. The paper, called the Wretched by long suffering readers, has been a deserving target of scorn at this blog in the past, but has aggressively covered the sweatshop scandal and other recent UAIs (Uguccioni Averse Issues) that once wouldn't have gotten a peep.
I have an idea: If you're a reader, let Jim Maxwell and Bill Watson know how much you appreciate the job they're doing in turning around this fusty old gal. You can call give them a ringie dingie at 570-421-3000.
Finally, there is the tragic case of one of the thousands of people who move to the Poconos each year because they see it as a place to get ahead.

Francisco Antonio Romero Cancino
was crushed by a huge slab of granite at All Granite and Marble in Stroudsburg last December 6.

The company was fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for several safety violations, including not requiring its workers to wear hard hats and not properly training them.
As in punch the time clock and get to work, Gringo, because you're expendable.
Cancino hoped to better support his children —the youngest is one year old — back in Puebla, Mexico, and perhaps save enough money to buy land to build a retirement home.
But Cancino found not the American Dream but the Poconos Reality.

As Uguccioni’s website boasts, "The Pocono Mountains offer four seasons of endless fun and a tremendous variety of diversions."

Sadly, that's no longer the half of it.
Bottom photo by David Kidwell/Pocono Record via AP

The U.K.: End of an Error . . . Er, Era

A protester bids Tony Blair an unfond adieu. More here.

Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Historic Photograph du Jour

As I've noted, the legendary Magnum Photo agency is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Slate has a terrific slide show of the finest of Magnum's finest, including this Thomas Hoepker photograph of people lounging on the New Jersey shore after the September 11, 20001, attack on the World Trade Center.

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere


On Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002, I stood at the gate of my rented house in Karachi, watching my friend Danny Pearl juggle a notebook, cellphone and earpiece as he bounded over to a taxicab idling in the street. He was off to try to find the alleged al-Qaeda handler of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in Pakistan. "Good luck, dude," I called, waving cheerfully as he strode off, a lopsided grin on his face. His pregnant wife, Mariane, stood smiling and waving beside me as the taxi pulled away. A gaggle of parrots swooped through the trees above, squawking in the late afternoon sun.

That was the last image I had of Danny until late last month, when a PR executive for Paramount Vantage pulled up to my house in Morgantown, W.Va., in a black Lincoln Town Car. She was carrying a DVD of "A Mighty Heart," the just-released movie, based on the book by Mariane Pearl, about the staggering events that unfolded after that innocuous moment in Pakistan: Danny's kidnapping and eventual beheading.

With my parents and a friend beside me, I pressed "play" on my DVD player and settled in to watch. Slowly, as the scenes ticked by, my heart sank. I could live with having been reduced from a colleague of Danny's to a "charming assistant" to Mariane, as one review put it, and even with having been cut out of the scene in front of my house in Pakistan. That's the creative license Hollywood takes. What I couldn't accept was that Danny himself had been cut from his own story.


About 43.6 million people in the United States, or 14.8 percent of the population, had no health insurance in 2006, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The finding, based on a survey of 100,000 people, is lower than previous federal estimates of 46 million.


As the reputed architect of the war in Iraq, Cheney is viewed as toxic, and as the administration’s leading proponent of an attack on Iran, he is seen as dangerous. As long as he remains vice president, according to this thinking, he has the potential to drag down every member of the party — including the presidential nominee — in next year’s elections.

Removing a sitting vice president is not easy, but this may be the moment. I remember Barry Goldwater sitting in my parents’ living room in 1973, in the last days of Watergate, debating whether to lead a group of senior Republicans to the White House to tell President Nixon he had to go. His hesitation was that he felt loyalty to the president and the party. But in the end he felt a greater loyalty to his country, and he went to the White House.


Well, it appears that all the political science textbooks got it wrong. It appears that the U.S. Constitution got it wrong. It appears that even the Founding Fathers got it wrong. For several centuries now, we’ve all assumed that the vice-president has been part of the executive branch of government – but now Dick Cheney has set us all straight:

From his secret undisclosed location, he has decreed that, in fact, the vice-president is not part of the executive branch of government. It is tempting to contend that Cheney must be in the last throes of sanity, but maybe he is right and everybody else is wrong, which means that there needs to be a massive attitude adjustment in this country. Maybe he really does have the right to defy the rule of law and operate as he sees fit.


Federal officials have told a small New Jersey importer to recall 450,000 radial tires for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans after the company disclosed that its Chinese manufacturer had stopped including a safety feature that prevented the tires from separating.


As usual, when scientists tell you something, you can usually find the truth if you look in the opposite direction. What scientists label "positive," the protons, actually - by their own theories- huddle in the center of the atom, slothful and lazy, sheltering the morally timid neutrons. The ones who go about, energizing things and spreading the Gospel, are the electrons. This leads me to believe that electrons are actually the positive moral force here, not the lazy, good-for-nothing neutrons and certainly not the vile, wicked, electron-counteracting, equivocation-enabling protons.

Electrons are the positive force in the atomic world. They are God’s servants. What, then, could they be, if not angels? Doesn’t this explain how the Lord is at work in every piece of technology we currently operate? Electrons power them all; ergo, the Lord, through the direct intercession of His servants, the angels, powers it all. It also explains smiting; thousands of angels come down from the Heavens and enter the skulls of the evildoers.


It's not just that she's a private person. There are plenty of public servants who are zealous about guarding their personal lives and equally zealous about keeping their public lives - and public policies - transparent. But, like Bush and Cheney, [Hillary] Clinton seems devoted to secrecy for its own sake.


[Salman] Rushdie’s new honor raises the same question now that his work raised when Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwah against him in 1989. Do we choose to live in a world that honors writers or in a world that kills them?


Does a naturalistic philosophy exclude true religious feeling? Most certainly not. The monotheistic personal deity of some world religions, for all protestations to the contrary, is merely an intellectually spiffed-up version of Zeus. Once we get beyond the idolatrous notion of a personal, interventionist God, then we can begin to open our minds and hearts to the inexhaustible and inexpressible hidden God of creation.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Christie Whitman: Hypocrite & Prevaricator

On September 11, 2001, two hijacked jet aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, killing 2,600 people and destroying the twin towers. But there has been a second catastrophe, as well: Extremely high rates of deadly respiratory disease among rescue workers and others who toiled in clouds of toxic dust at Ground Zero that officials claimed was not dangerous to breathe.

Chief among those officials was Christie Todd Whitman, a former New Jersey governor and a rising national Republican star until she was cast out of the GOP temple by the conservative priests.

As administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Whitman asserted in a September 18, 2001, press release, one of many altered by the White House to present a more upbeat picture, that:

"We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances. Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C. that their air is safe to breath and their water is safe to drink."
As official lies go, this was a whopper because the White House, Whitman and other environmental and health officials suspected and later were made well aware that there were an array of toxins at Ground Zero and in the surrounding area from the impact of the jetliners and collapse of the towers. These included minute shards of glass and asbestos, PCBs and other poisons.

The findings of a study that involved extensive medical and psychological examinations of 20,000 Ground Zero responders and clean-up workers released last September by Mount Sinai Hospital provides a stunning backdrop to Whitman’s duplicity:

* Among the responders who had no symptoms before 9/11, 61 percent developed respiratory symptoms while working at the WTC site.

* One-third of Ground Zero workers showed diminished lung capacity. Among nonsmokers, 28 percent had some breathing impairment, more than double the rate for nonsmokers in the general population.

* Many respiratory ailments such as sinusitis, asthma and related gastrointestinal problems have persisted or grown worse in the years since 9/11.

* Most of the workers who said they experienced respiratory problems at Ground Zero were still having those problems up to two and a half years later, an indication that the illnesses were becoming chronic.

* Workers were found to have a number of different ailments caused by their work, including upper respiratory illnesses (87 percent) such as sinusitis, laryngitis, and vocal cord dysfunction, lower respiratory disorders (47 percent) such as asthma and a condition known as World Trade Center cough, psychological disorders (37 percent) such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression, and musculoskeletal problems (31 percent) often from injuries that occurred while working at Ground Zero.

One worker has died from respiratory problems and many more, perhaps thousands, are expected to have significantly shorter lifespans.

* * * * *
Whitman, who was forced out of her EPA job because she was too moderate for the anti-environment Bush administration, initially refused to testify before a House judiciary subcommittee about her post-9/11 statements before finally agreeing to appear yesterday.

At no time during her tenure as the nation's top environmental watchdog did she ever question the White House's stage management of her.
Whitman has been named in at least three pending lawsuits brought against the EPA by New York City residents and Ground Zero workers. The controversy over the health issues has led to questions about presidential wannabe Rudy Giuliani’s handling of worker safety as New York City mayor, notably his failure to require workers at the clean-up site to wear respirators.
The House hearing room was packed with clean-up workers and Manhattan residents who said they had waited years for Whitman to answer questions about environmental and health issues.
Whitman’s response was clever -- and deeply offensive.
She claimed that the September 18 press release and other declarations that everything was copescetic were directed at residents of the neighborhood around the WTC, not the workers. And she tried to shift blame by stating that she was only acting on information from experts:

"I fully appreciate that the events of 9/11 touched raw emotions, but I am disappointed at the misinformation, innuendo and outright falsehoods that have characterized the public discussion. . . .

"It's utterly false then for EPA critics to assert that I or others at the agency set about to mislead New Yorkers and rescue workers. Every statement I made was based on what experts, who had a great deal of experience in these things, conveyed to me."
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the subcommittee chairman and a Manhattan Democrat whose district includes Ground Zero, was having none of that:
"Our government has knowingly exposed thousands of American citizens unnecessarily to deadly hazardous materials. And because it has never admitted the truth, Americans remain at grave risk to this day."
The cover-up of Ground Zero hazards extended well beyond the EPA and included New York state and city health agencies.

Then, in 2003 the EPA’s own inspector general concluded that Whitman did not have sufficient scientific information to state that the air was safe to breath and noted that the White House had altered her press releases.
In a September 13, 2001 press release, the EPA declared that air quality near the still-burning rubble at Ground Zero was "unlikely to cause significant health effects."

In a September 16, 2003, press release, the EPA declared that asbestos levels "cause us no concern."

In one EPA draft, a reference to asbestos levels in some areas being three times higher than national standards was changed to "slightly above the 1 percent trigger for defining asbestos material."
Said Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a New York Democrat:
"Those quotes were unambiguous; they were reassuring and they were dead wrong. They were literally dead wrong."
Whitman's Republican compadres on the subcommittee were for the most part silent.

In response to sharp questioning, Whitman claimed that she was aware of only one instance in which important information was removed from one of her public statements by the President’s inaptly named Council on Environmental Quality, which edited all of her pronouncements in the aftermath of the attack.

The New York Times said that:

"In one draft release in September (2001), Mrs. Whitman urged Lower Manhattan residents whose apartments had been contaminated to consider having them professionally cleaned. After the statement was sent to the White House for review, the phrase about professional cleaning was removed."
She explained that early on a decision had been made by the White House that all public statements be coordinated so that the federal government could be seen as speaking with one voice.

This assertion that drew an angry response from Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat:

"One voice — give me a break."

* * * * *
Click here for Christine Whitman and The Truth, an alternative and considerably more positive take on Whitman and her testimony by my coblogging associate Pete Abel at The Moderate Voice, where my article was crossposted.

Bottom Photograph by Getty Images