Thursday, April 30, 2009

Laws Of Nature 1, Sarah Palin 0

Considering that Sarah Palin has descended into a name-calling contest with an 18-year-old high-school dropout, how would she handle a Vladimir Putin?

That question was asked not by a left-of-center snark like myself, but a former supporter of the Alaska governor, whose star seems to be descending almost as quickly as it rose. In fact, the free ride that she had been getting back home while being circled by snarks in the Lower 48 is co-co-coming to an end as the state legislature revolts, "Impeach Palin" signs appear and she seems unable to even have a tinkle without someone shouting that she's wasting toilet paper.

We've now had going on seven months to see the Killa From Wasilla in action it has become obvious that she can't control herself. Not exactly an attribute for someone whom a diminishing number of people think has the chops to succeed Barack Whatshisname.

And so the latest White Trash Chronicles update:

* Palin bloviated ad nauseam about how she was going to turn down most if not all of the $930 million in federal stimulus money due Alaska, including money earmarked for education, much of it for schools in poor communities like Wasilla with dropouts like daughter Bristol and for special-needs children like son Trig. But surprise of surprises, now that she has finished pandering to that almighty right-wing base in the Lower 48, she intends to accept virtually all of the dough.

* Her relationship with her own state legislature has deterioriated to the point where Republicans are joining with Democrats to oppose her wingnuttery, most recently when they jointly approved former Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan to fill a legislative seat. Palin then submitted three names of her own, throwing the entire process into turmoil.

The war of words between the Palin clan and Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol's son who was unceremoniously kicked out of the Palin manse after the election, has gone from plain ugly to butt ugly. Palin's father now claims Levi is not supporting baby Trip while Levi is making noises about going to court so that he can see the little critter.

* The lipstick seems to have worn off the pitbull as "Impeach Palin" signs crop up. As one Alaska pundit put it:
"For months, the wheels on the Straight Talk Express have been rattling, and now they are coming off. That may sound like a good thing to all the people who have been thrown under it, but for the state of Alaska, it's just dangerous. Whether we voted for the bus driver or not, we’re passengers, and the cliffs are steep."

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

'Mutant Varieties of Conservatism'

What possible reason would a conservative have to attack Cheney instead of Obama? -- WARNER TODD HUSTON
Daniel Larison takes to the bully pulpit and replies:
"Because only one of the two supported the commission of war crimes? That is one reason that comes to mind. Because only one actively pushed for an unnecessary and unjust war, and the other opposed it? There's another. There are two possible reasons, and I'm not even trying that hard. Reihan might have very different reasons. He might recognize that Cheney is a widely loathed and basically unlikeable public figure. Even if Reihan were concerned more with marketing and image than with policy substance, which is not the case, he could see that there is a disadvantage in having an irritable man doing a fair imitation of the Penguin as one of the major spokesmen for one's party and political cause.

"That said, we should not simply dismiss Huston out of hand. He and those like him are the political equivalent of Darwin's discoveries on the Galapagos: strange, unusual creatures cut off from the rest of the world that deserve to be studied and understood as the weird evolutionary offshoots that they are. It is rare to find people who seem genuinely unaware that Cheney is deeply unpopular and also implicated in atrocious crimes, and rarer still to find people who know this and still think it wise to have him making the rounds on television serving as a leading Republican spokesman. Some might say that Huston is simply a pitiable product of the conservative cocoon, but I say that he can offer us evidence for the strange mutant varieties of conservatism that have developed in isolation from reality."

Amen, brother. Amen

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

Another mile marker in the slow self-destruction of the Republican Party:

Jim DeMint asserts that the GOP hasn't become a Southern party but that Pennsylvania has gone blue, hence the Specter defection, because "some northern voters who have left the region and moved south hoping to avoid labor unions and forced unionization."

All this and more as the party of "No" becomes the party of "Oh, No" and gets back to hating Jews.

By the by, President Obama is not as popular as it might seem because so many blacks support him.

In Which There Lies A Tale

Even in the depths of the Great Depression, every member of Herbert Hoover's Cabinet found gainful employment. But after 18 months, Alberto Gonzalez still can't.

Ekaterina Maximova (1939-2009)


Baseball's Other Problem

Notice the empty VIP seats. Then read this.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Photomontage by Scott Mutter

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

(Updated) When Do The Locusts Arrive?

The call came about an hour after I had turned in. I fumbled for the phone and heard this message:

Four University of Delaware students have been identified with mild cases of influenza that meet the probable definitions for swine flu. UD students who are experiencing flu-like symptoms are advised to go to the Student Health Center.

And so I had to dodge a half dozen television satellite news trucks on my bike ride to campus this rainy morning as the Big News of the Moment hit awfully close to home.

The good news is that the four students have been treated and sent home, a joint university-state-CDC clinic has been opened at the Student Health Center, the campus emergency alert system worked as intended and . . . well, life goes on.
* * * * *
I have hesitated to big foot into the swine flu story because I well know from experience that stories like this go unexpected places.

Even at this relatively early date some of the outbreak vectors are weird, notably that an inordinate number of seemingly healthy adults are being affected as opposed to usual influenza victims -- the young, elderly and infirm. And of course many more people have the virus at this point than have been tested.

But I do know a couple, three things:

* It is not too early to start paying attention. Translation: Don't panic, but be sure to wash your hands.

* The state of public health in this country -- from awareness to training to funding -- is scandalous, and before this crisis runs its course we will once again be reminded of that. And do nothing about it.

* Trying to make Republicans somehow complicitous because they led the effort to strip the stimulus package of funding for flu pandemic preparedness research is ridiculous.

As well as a pungent example of why right-of-center bloggers do not have the franchise on writing stupid things.

Top photograph by Kathy Atkinson

It Seems More Like A Thousand Days

The Intertubes are thick with Obama-at-100-days musings. For those of you who missed it, I did mine at 80 days.
Cartoon by Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Darlin' Arlen Goes Over To The Dark Side

What does it all mean? And is the GOP small enough to drown in a bathtub yet?

Why Nobody Is Gonna Miss Pontiac

Exemplar of the Angry Kitchen Appliance school of design.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By fproject

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Torture Trail: Bipartisanship Is Possible

If I had my druthers, a bipartisan commission in the mold of the 9/11 Commission would be the way to go in thoroughly investigating the Bush torture regime and ascertaining what action should be taken regarding the regime's key players.

As noted yesterday, President Obama is not about to do any such thing and I expect little to happen until when and if his overall policy agenda has moved forward.

Nevertheless, the 9/11 Commission is a reminder that bipartisanship is possible, especially when you consider that the Bush administration actively opposed its formation and was uncooperative at many turns.

Another reminder, as well: Few of the commission's 41 recommendations were put into effect. Different time, different administration and different issue, but that should not be forgotten.


* Dahlia Lithwick explains in terms even a Bush sycophant might understand why Abu Ghraib destroyed the capacity of many Americans to be shocked over torture.

John McCain, the only member of Congress to have been tortured, says a mouthful when he compares Bush to Richard Nixon in the context of Gerald Ford's pardon of the disgraced president.

* A horrified but thoughtful Daniel Larison struggles to understand why the political right instinctively rushes to defend torture.

No, The President Was Not On Board

An aircraft looking an awful lot like Air Force One circles over the Hudson River and attracts the attention of fighter jets. People panic and office buildings are evacuated. Red-faced officials admit that the emergency notification system broke down . . . over what turned out to be a Pentagon photo op.

Photograph by Jim Brown

When The Right Wing Eats Its Own

As there is a war for the soul of the Republican Party, there was a kind of inevitability to the civil war now raging in the right-wing blogosphere. And a relief, albeit a temporary one, that the name calling is being directed inward and not the rest of us.

I'm having a little trouble ascertaining what this is all about, but I think it may have to do with penis size.

Meanwhile, the Party of Beavis and Butthead has suffered a defeat in New York's 20th Congressional District where Democrat Scott Murphy had expanded his lead over James Tedisco in a recount and the Republican had the good sense and grace to concede.

Note that the 20th was gerrymandered to give Republicans a 70,000 voter edge, but in a special election advertised as a referendum on Barack Obama's economic policies that wasn't enough for the Republican.

Image by Matt Mahurin

GM Finally Wakes Up -- Years Too Late

The actions announced yesterday by General Motors to get back on track, including killing the Pontiac brand, seem about right to me. It's just that they come years too late.

Solved: The Great Navel Lint Mystery

'Big Wheel Turn By The Grace Of God'

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
You can't let go and you can't hold on,
You can't go back and you can't stand still,
If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.

Won't you try just a little bit harder,
Couldn't you try just a little bit more?
Won't you try just a little bit harder,
Couldn't you try just a little bit more?

Round, round robin run round, got to get back to where you belong,
Little bit harder, just a little bit more,
A little bit further than you gone before.

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
You can't let go and you can't hold on,
You can't go back and you can't stand still,
If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod,
Big wheel turn by the grace of God,
Every time that wheel turn 'round,
Bound to cover just a little more ground.

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
You can't let go and you can't hold on,
You can't go back and you can't stand still,
If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.

Won't you try just a little bit harder,
Couldn't you try just a little bit more?
Won't you try just a little bit harder,
Couldn't you try just a little bit more?

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Tiny moon Epimetheus and giant moon Titan are framed by Saturn's A and F rings in this stunning image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Torture: Why It's Best To Go Slow On 'The Past That Is Haunting The Future'

As someone who has banged the drum relentlessly about the Bush administration's torture regime, there is a certain satisfaction to be felt in the events of the past week.

This includes the knowledge that so long as America is a functioning democracy with a semblance of an independent news media and a vibrant blogosphere, a fuller account of what happened was bound to begin to emerge. And with it macabre story lines such as the White House's obsession with using torture as a political instrument by unsuccessfully trying to waterboard nonexistent information out of detainees that would justify the Iraq war by linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda.

All good, but what happens next?

That is difficult to answer given the many tentacles -- moral, judicial and especially political -- emanating from the entire torture issue and what, if anything, to do about Bush administration enablers.

Difficult yes, and made much more so because President Obama is determined to not play a leadership role, at least not at this juncture.

Remember, as most people do not, that Obama was compelled to release the CIA torture memos. Recall also that an administration that has displayed extraordinary message discipline has been all over the lot on the question of what should happen next, although the White House and Democratic Party leadership seemed to have coalesced around a go-real-slow approach.

That means ruling out naming a special prosecutor or establishing an independent commission for the time being because it will detract from an ambitious policy agenda that is determinedly forward looking and not backward looking. (That's the job of the exerable Dick Cheney.)

Anyhow, in looking ahead, national myopia is not an option, which is what the usually sage Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan is counseling. Neither is waiting a few months until cooler heads prevail because many of the heads are self righteous and if the Republicans are good at anything at this point, it's retaliating. Although the scenario is a bit far fetched, scuttling health-care reform in the service of congressional action on torture is an unacceptable trade-off.

So what to do in, say, the next 60 days?

My answer is a bit of a cop out as someone who believes in his head and heart that certain administration perpetrators need to be held accountable, and perhaps some Democrats, as well. But we're bound to learn more -- perhaps a lot more about the torture regime -- within this time frame, most importantly a fuller accounting of what those perps did.

This will include the court-ordered release of more photographs from Abu Ghraib and a report from Justice's Department of Professional Responsibility that was initiated before Bush left office. It will show that with torture as in so many other things, notably the run-up to Iraq war, the White House was utterly disinterested in dissenting voices. The views of officials opposed to torture on legal and moral grounds were dismissed out of hand and the officials sometimes dismissed, as well.

Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the Sunday evening that Abu Ghraib exploded into the American consciousness and we were shocked to learn through "60 Minutes" that our government had turned Saddam's torture chamber into one of its own.

The torture saga is freighted with ironies, but none is larger than the fact that while the Bush administration used torture to try to defeat Al Qaeda, a task that was a miserable failure except in Iraq, torture became the biggest recruiting tool for the terrorist group.

It has taken the intervening years to begin to untangle this web of grotesqueries, most importantly understanding that what happened at Abu Ghraib, the CIA black sites,
Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan was not the work of rogue interrogators but was initiated at the highest levels of government.

Too many pundits are focusing on torture more as a test for the new administration than an abject moral failure of the old one. Obama was elected to fix what Bush broke and not to outfit some of his aides with frog suits, although both are in their own ways of equal import. Nevertheless, living a few more weeks with "the past that is haunting the present," as the Washington Post put it, before determining how to move forward is the right course.

* * * * *
Who did what and when is one of the problems in finding one's way through the torture swamp. Here's the first decent timeline that I've seen.

Photo illustration for Vanity Fair by Chris Mueller of Douglas
Feith, David, Addington, Alberto Gonzalez, George Bush and
Dick Cheney. Photos (top to bottom) of Donald Rumsfeld,
Steven Bradbury, Jay Bybee and John Yoo.

'O Beautiful For Spacious Skies'

'For Amber Waves Of Grain'

'For Purple Mountain Majesties'

'Above The Fruited Plain!'

'America! America!'

'God Shed His Grace On Thee'

'And Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood'

'From Sea To Shining Sea!'

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Assassination Of Lincoln: Plotters Strike With Decidedly Mixed Results

Shortly after 10 on the evening of April 14, 1865, the simultaneous assassinations of the president of the United States and two possible successors as plotted by John Wilkes Booth were to be carried out, throwing the government into disarray and giving hope to a Confederacy on its last legs.

Booth was to murder Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant at the theater, while George Atzerodt was to murder Vice President Andrew Johnson at his hotel, while Lewis Powell, with help from David Herold, was to murder Secretary of State William Seward at his residence. They then were to meet up at the Navy Yard Bridge over the Potomac and escape to Virginia and the welcoming embrace of the South.

* * * * *
As it turned out, Grant and his wife turned down the Lincolns' invitation to join them at Ford's Theater on 10th Street Northwest for a performance of Our American Cousin. Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris accepted in their stead.

Booth, who was a familiar face at Ford's, knew the play well and waited for the moment when actor Harry Hawk would be onstage alone. There would be laughter to muffle the sound of a gunshot as Hawk declared, "Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal; you sockdologizing old man-trap!"

The assassin entered the narrow hallway between Lincoln's box and the balcony, barricaded the door from the inside, rushed forward and shot the president in the back of the head. Lincoln slumped over in his rocking chair, unconscious. Rathbone jumped from his seat and tried to prevent Booth from escaping, but Booth stabbed the major in the arm with a knife.

Rathbone tried to grab Booth as he was preparing to jump from the sill of the box. Booth again stabbed at Rathbone, and then attempted to vault over the rail and down onto the stage. His riding spur caught on the Treasury flag decorating the box, and Booth landed awkwardly on his left foot, fracturing his left fibula just above the ankle, which would prove to be a factor in his undoing.

Booth raised himself up and holding the knife over his head yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis," the Virginia state motto meaning "Thus always to tyrants."

He then ran across the stage, and went out the stage door to the horse he had left waiting. Some of the men in the audience chased after him, but failed to catch him.

* * * * *
Seward would seem to have been easy prey.

The secretary of state was bedridden at his home in Lafayette Park near the White House because of an accident on April 5 in which he was thrown from his carriage, suffering a concussion, a broken jaw and broken right arm.

Powell, armed with a heavy Whitney revolver and a silver-handled bowie knife, was guided to Seward's house by Herold. He knocked at the front door and William Bell, Seward's butler, answered. Powell told Bell that he had medicine for Seward from a doctor and that he was to personally deliver and show Seward how to take it.

The butler admitted Powell, who made his way up the stairs to Seward's third floor bedroom, but he was approached by Seward's son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick Seward. Powell told him the same story but the son became suspicious and told him that his father was asleep.

Hearing voices in the hall, Seward's daughter Fanny opened the door to Seward's room and said, "Fred, father is awake now," revealing to Powell where Seward was located.

Powell started down the stairs when he suddenly turned around and drew his revolver, pointing it at Frederick's forehead. He pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. Panicking, Powell smashed the gun over Frederick's head continuously until Frederick collapsed. Powell ran to Seward's bed and stabbed him repeatedly in the face and neck. The third blow sliced open Seward's cheek, but a neck brace that he was wearing because of his broken jaw prevented the blade from penetrating his jugular.

Herold, hearing Fanny's screaming, became frightened and abandoned Powell. Meanwhile, Seward had rolled off the bed and onto the floor because of the force of the blows and could not be reached by Powell.

Sergeant George Robinson, an attending nurse, and Seward's son Augustus were awakened and tried to drive Powell away. He stabbed them and an arriving messenger as well as he fled the house, exclaiming "I'm mad! I'm mad!" He untied his horse from the tree where Herold left it and galloped off alone.

Seward's wounds were ugly, but he survived the attacks and continued as secretary of state.

* * * * *
Atzerodt was to go to the Vice President Johnson's room at the Kirkwood House Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue at 12th Street and kill him.

Atzerodt arrived at the hotel armed with a gun and knife but first went to the bar. He soon got drunk and wandered out onto the street. Nervous, he tossed his knife away, made his way to the Pennsylvania House Hotel where he checked into a room and fell asleep.

In a footnote, Booth had stopped by the Pennsylvania House earlier in the day and left a note for Johnson that read "I don't wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth."

This message has been interpreted in different ways throughout the years, the most likely being that Booth had anticipated that Atzerodt would get cold feet and tried to use the message to implicate Johnson in the conspiracy.

* * * * *
Meanwhile, pandemonium had broken out at Ford's Theatre as the audience realized that President Lincoln had been shot.

Charles Leale,
a young Army surgeon who was in the audience, rush to the president's box to find Rathbone bleeding profusely from a deep gash that ran the length of his upper left arm. Nonetheless, he passed Rathbone by and stepped forward to find Lincoln slumped forward in his rocking chair and being held up by Mary Todd Lincoln.

Lincoln had no pulse and Leale believed him to be dead, although that was not yet the case. He lowered the president to the floor while a second doctor in the audience, Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted from the stage over the railing and into the box. The doctors cut away Lincoln's blood-stained collar and opened his shirt. Leale, feeling around by hand, discovered the bullet hole in the back of the head by the left ear. The doctor removed a clot of blood in the wound and Lincoln's breathing became noticeable.

But Leale knew that this respite was temporary, remarking "His wound is mortal. It is impossible for him to recover."

Leale, Taft, and Albert King, a third doctor from the audience, quickly consulted and decided that while the president must be moved, a bumpy carriage ride across town to the White House was out of the question. With the help of several soldiers, they carried Lincoln across the street to find a house and, encouraged by Henry Safford, a resident of William Petersen's boarding house, carried him into a first-floor bedroom where they laid him diagonally on the bed because he was too tall to lie straight.

As Lincoln's wife sat weeping in the front parlor, the three physicians were soon joined by several notables, including Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes, Robert K. Stone, Lincoln's personal physician, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Lincoln's sons Robert and Tad.

Stanton set up an office in the rear parlor where he effectively ran the government for several hours, sending and receiving telegrams, taking reports from witnesses and issuing orders for the pursuit of Booth.

Nothing more could be done for the president.

At 7:22 a.m. on April 15, Lincoln died, aged 56 years, 2 months and 3 days. The crowd around the bed knelt for a prayer, and when they were finished, Stanton said "Now he belongs to the ages."

IMAGES (From top to bottom): The scene of Lincoln's death, although in reality the room was smaller; Alexander Gardener's "Cracked Plate Lincoln," famous because the bullet that killed him followed the path of the crack in the plate of a photo taken two months before his assassination; John Wilkes Booth; Seward's son stops Lewis Powell; Powell; George Atzerodt; The house where Lincoln died; Lincoln death mask.

Old Abe Lincoln Grows A Beard

16th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
Formidable problems faced the President-elect. At the news of his election, disunion erupted in the South. On November 10 [1860] the South Carolina legislature unanimously authorized the election of a state convention on December 6, to consider future relations between the state and the Union. Eight days later Georgia followed suit. Within a month every state of the lower South had taken the initial steps toward secession. Northerners were divided over how to deal with the crisis. Some few thought the dissatisfied states should be allowed -- even encouraged -- to go in peace. A much larger number favored a new agreement in the spirit of the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 that would keep the Southern states in the Union. At least as many others opposed any concessions to the South.

The United States government had no policy to deal with this crisis. President James Buchanan was torn between his belief that secession was unconstitutional and his conviction that nothing could be done to prevent it. The lame-duck Congress was controlled by the recently formed Republican party, a still imperfect fusion of former Whigs, former Democrats, and former members of the American party. With experience only as an opposition party, Republicans had never before been called on to offer constructive leadership.

All eyes now turned to Springfield, where an inexperienced leader with a limited personal acquaintance among members of his own party groped his way, on the basis on inadequate information, to formulate a policy for his new administration. . . .

Visitors did not know what to make of the President-elect. He surprised even his old friends by growing a beard. During the campaign some New York "true Republicans." worried that Lincoln's unflattering photographs would cost the party votes, suggested that he "would be much improved in appearance, provided you would cultivate whiskers, and wear standing collars." A letter from an eleven-year-old girl in Westfield, New York, named Grace Bedell promised to get her brothers to vote for Lincoln if he let his beard grow.

. . . by the end of November he was supporting a half beard, which he initially kept closely cropped. No one knew just what to make of the change. Perhaps it suggested he was hiding his face because he knew he was not ready to be President. Or maybe it demonstrated the supreme confidence of a man who was willing to risk the inevitable ridicule and unavoidable puns like "Old Abe is . . . puttin' on (h)airs." or possibly it hinted that the President-elect wanted to present a new face to the public, a more authoritative and elderly bearded visage. Or maybe the beard signified nothing more than that the President-elect was bored during the long months of inaction between his nomination and his inauguration.