Friday, February 24, 2006

Thorazine Helps Too

I thought of this “tribute” as I read some of this column from George Will about how conservatives are supposed to be happier than liberals (what the @#!! are you talking about anyway!! - funny, but I thought that the divorce rate in red states was higher than in blue states, but what do I know?).

Giving up my freedom
Dubya hears my phone calls
Happiness is what I feel 'cos I'm a Repug

Dimmer than a match that's
Flick'ring in a windstorm
Is roughly like the workings of my mind
'Cos I believe intelligent design

Fighting in Iraq will never end
But trust our leaders despite this big “oops”
That’s how I “support our troops”

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows
George Will says the liberals are just looking for a “row”
Approve the Dubai Port Deal now!
Hmm, a Gore that the freepers may actually like, assuming she "swings" for Dubya – who could have imagined that:-)

More Port Perfidy

I guess, in keeping with the perverse, “Murphy’s Law” kind of quality to this whole story, this would have to be the primary item exported from the ports in question, wouldn’t it (as opposed to hula hoops or tennis balls).

The impression I get from reading this story, though, is that this port deal is really a “quid pro quo” for the UAE’s continued military support to us in the region, including the al-Dhafra Air Base. Of course, this won’t be a factor against Iran because neither we nor Israel will launch an attack on that country…right?

And there’s such transparency concerning any possible entanglements that could exist between UAE financial representatives and al Qaeda, as we know (and by the way, read "A Non-Show Of Hands" at the end to REALLY get a "comfort level" with this whole thing).

At least, for comic relief, Philadelphia’s City Council proves to us that they’re so knowledgeable in world geography that they can be abrasive, confrontational and generally obnoxious anywhere.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Questions For "Dubai Dubya"

I just had some thoughts as I read about the continued fallout from the D.P. World story:

- What can we do if freight that we receive at one of our ports doesn't match the vessel’s shipping records (including undocumented cargo or items inconsistent with paper records – i.e., containers that are supposed to contain panty hose according to the records but, upon inspection, contain fertilizer for a dirty bomb)?

- Since apparently
no records from Dubai Port World will be kept in this country, as well as the fact that no company representative would be available in the event of any accident at a D.P. World port (terms of the agreement, unbelievably enough, no doubt meant to shield D.P. World in the event of litigation in this country), does that mean that D.P. World is, in effect, automatically absolved from any liability in the event of an accident?

- In the event an accident occurs at a D.P. World port, how would EMT personnel or first responders on the scene know how to treat anyone who is injured or killed (who would they contact to find out what was contained in any damaged cargo according to the ship’s records)? This is important because emergency personnel would need to find out what chemicals caused an explosion, fire, or any kind of gaseous emission from the cargo (e.g., does white smoke emitted from the damaged cargo mean baking soda or anthrax?).
I have a feeling that some of these questions pertain to issues that are addressed as part of “standard operating procedure” at the port (I would hope so, anyway). I would also hope the other considerations I mentioned (and many others) were addressed as part of the review prior to approval of the D.P. World takeover, though considering the fact that Bush didn’t know about the agreement until after it was signed off by the White House somehow – and what does THAT tell you? – and Rumsfeld was apparently in the dark also, I definitely don’t feel “warm and fuzzy” about this deal.

In the Inquirer today, reporter Ken Dilanian filed this report which makes a case for letting the deal go through, though I was troubled by this excerpt (registration required):

"The government of the (United Arab Emirates) is about as pro-American as you can get" in the Middle East, noted the U.S.-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. "If the United States can't do business with the UAE, then the United States cannot do business anywhere in the Islamic world."

Predictably, this aspect of Dubai has not often been reported in news accounts about the ports controversy. Instead, the stories tend to mention that two of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were citizens of the UAE and that some of the money to fund the attacks was believed to have come through Dubai and its banking system.

All true. It's also true that three American citizens in Ohio were just accused of plotting terror, that several Britons blew up the London subway, and that terrorism money flows through Western banks.
Though the London subway attacks last year were horrific, I’m sorry, but somehow that pales in comparison to the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, as well as the plane crash in Pennsylvania. I think this is just an attempt to whitewash this story with arguments that don’t stand up considering the free hand D.P. World was given in this sale.

I thought Monica Yant Kinney made some excellent points along the lines of “why should Bush be surprised by the reaction?” in her column today (registration also required):

However, to get the “wealth” perspective on this, I need to present what Andrew Cassel wrote in the business section yesterday (and I love the pomposity in the title, by the way):

Clearheaded look at Dubai uproar

By Andrew Cassel
Inquirer Columnist

The sudden uproar over Dubai and American ports makes me want to drag out that old poster from the '70s - the one with the little hand-drawn flowers and the caption scrawled as if by a kindergartner's crayon.

You may remember a slightly different version. On mine, the message reads:
"War is not good for economies and other living things."

Are we at war? President Bush insists we are; that's why we're not supposed to object when legal rules or civil liberties are brushed aside.
Good point, though I have no idea why Cassel chose to introduce Bush’s illegal wire tapping scandal into this. Somehow I think Cassel really doesn’t either. And we’re fighting an enemy with financial ties to the entities in this deal.

Some in Congress evidently believe it, too. That's why Republicans and Democrats are climbing over each other this week to denounce a business deal involving contracts for some port services and a Persian Gulf-based multinational firm.
“Some port services,” huh? Try “control of six major ports in this country, including Newark,” which terrorism experts have dubbed the most dangerous two-mile stretch in this country.

The Persian Gulf? Isn't that where all those terrorists come from?

Yes, that's about the level of sophistication we're dealing with here. And on the basis of such in-depth talk-show analysis, legislators such as Bill Frist and Hillary Clinton say they'll go to the mattresses to block the deal.
That “level of sophistication” also enraged Ellen Saracini, Fiona Havlish, Grace Godshalk, and others who lost loved ones on 9/11, smart guy. Are you going to tell them that they’re stupid to be concerned about this?

Just as with the civil-liberties issue, however, some clearheaded discussion would be nice before we go tearing up the rule book.

Here's the situation: All U.S. maritime ports contract out for a variety of management services, from stevedoring to accounting.

A famous old outfit

At some of those ports, including Philadelphia's, some services are currently contracted to units of a British-based firm called the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

P&O, as it's called, is a famous old outfit dating back to Queen Victoria. But this year, its shareholders voted to sell out. There were two main bidders, one from Singapore and one from the Persian Gulf emirate Dubai. Dubai won, for $6.8 billion.

Because it involved foreign firms, the deal was reviewed by a government panel drawn from the federal Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Defense, and Homeland Security.
Oh right…that “government panel” whose members seem to either know nothing about this or, if they do, are choosing to remain silent.

The panel gave the deal the thumbs up. But Congress and several governors are outraged, contending it will leave the ports dangerously vulnerable to terrorism.

Perhaps they are right. Maybe the federal agencies that looked the deal over are corrupt or incompetent - although if that's true, our problems go way beyond the Dubai deal.

Don't misunderstand: I'm not dismissing concerns about port safety. It's obviously worth spending a huge amount of energy and money on, given the state of the world.

But critics have to explain why the port services that Britain-based P&O has been performing - apparently satisfactorily - will suddenly be put in jeopardy because of a corporate ownership change.

Which part is the issue?

Is it because the Dubai firm is partly owned by the United Arab Emirates' government? If so, which part of that is the issue? Ownership by a government, or ownership by Arabs?
Ownership by oligarchical entities that have a track record of intentionally or unintentionally bankrolling terrorists and laundering their money beyond the reach of our government. So the answer is both.

We need to be clear about this because the global economy is filled with national and multinational corporations, financed by public and private investors from all over.
None of whom have the link to 9/11 that the Saudis have.

Moreover, the United States has historically made a point of encouraging open investment across national borders. With relatively few exceptions, we let foreigners buy domestic securities, businesses and real estate - and we encourage other countries to do the same.
And they’d better keep doing it too to finance our debt, but that is a whole other rant.

If we're going to have a new policy, what will it be? No foreign money in our ports? No investment by governments? No Arabs allowed?
Without full disclosure, I would say “no Arabs allowed” works for me.

Whatever we do will have consequences, of course. We can't slam our doors in foreigners' faces and expect them to open their own markets to U.S. firms in return.
Here it comes…

And as the great engine of globalization shuts down, we'll have to learn to cope with slower growth, lower incomes, and a no-longer-expanding economic pie.
I have news for you, genius boy; we’re ALREADY EXPERIENCING ALL OF THAT! I don’t know ANYONE in IT who is seeing an increase in income because of offshoring of jobs, which has flattened wages and severely decreased job prospects for professionals across the board. Of course, the class of privilege that is the true audience you’re writing for only cares about the almighty “return on investment,” even at the expense of an accident at one of our ports that may end up killing a hundred or so people…it’s all about “pearls for swine,” isn’t it?

In other words, we can let the politicians use our national-security worries to erect new walls of fear and nationalism. But we shouldn't be surprised when those walls also start to hem in our own prosperity.
YOUR “prosperity,” not mine…

No accountability, no hearings, no oversight, more "trust us" BS...what a farcical production from the same bunch that brought us the Katrina aftermath and the Iraq War (which is going so well, isn't it, by the way?).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Frozen Out

With the U.S. Men’s hockey team now eliminated from the medal round in the 2006 Olympics, maybe it’s a good time to look back to past glory days from 26 years ago (or maybe not…just a thought).

Didn't Take Long, Did It?

I would just like to point out some things related to the Supreme Court’s decision (with newly-joined “Strip Search Sammy” Alito onboard) to hear a case involving late-term abortions and the legality of the so-called “partial birth” abortion law, which was struck down a few days ago in courts in both New York and San Francisco (and, as Barbara Boxer pointed out, “partial birth abortion” is a political term and not a medical one…it’s an unfortunate testimony to the right-wing noise machine that that needs to be pointed out).

The first thing to point out as a reminder is that one of Alito’s “enablers,” Joe Lieberman, sold out his constituency on Alito the same way he is selling them out again by supporting Dubya on the D.P. World ports controversy. Click here for more "good news" for Joe related to this post.

The second thing to point out is that, while this analysis of Bush’s FY 2006 budget shows an increase in block grant funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (up $508 million, and I’m automatically leery of the fact that that money will be doled out by the states – hopefully – instead of the feds), the budget shows a cut in the Social Service Block Grant for services for disabled people, and Section 8 housing assistance for people with disabilities is cut in half (if you happen to meet someone from Northeast Philadelphia, by the way, don’t get them started on Section 8 housing…to say that that is a hot-button issue is about as much of a truism as saying that the Pope is German).

I’m pointing this second thing out because of the logical consequence of making it harder to perform the “late-term abortion” procedure, which isn’t likely to happen unless something has gone horribly wrong with either the fetus or the mother. That logical consequence is a large increase in the special needs population of this country. So what sense does it make to make it illegal to get this procedure and criminalize those responsible (and make no mistake…THAT is where all of this is going) and then fail to provide for what will likely be a huge increase in the special needs population of this country? If you’re going to “talk the talk,” then “walk the walk,” OK?

And here’s another thing: doesn’t it make sense to allow any couple who has the means and the proven, committed desire to raise a child to do so, particularly kids with special needs (as explained here)? What difference does sexual orientation make concerning this, especially because so many kids from traditional “hetero” marriages have problems that are at least comparable to kids raised in same-sex marriages?

All I’m asking is that the people who scream about “partial birth” abortion do a little “outside-the-box” thinking and consider what is best for the kids, particularly those with special needs, who arrive and require care and family support into adulthood. I realize that’s not something that can be captured in an easily digestible sound bite or headline, but isn’t that what we’re talking about when all is said and done? If not, then isn’t all of the screaming hypocritical and self-serving and nothing more?

The Inky Gets A T-Shirt

Boy, what great balance in the Inquirer’s “Blog Cabin” feature today, by the way. John Hinderaker of Power Line, warblogger Captain Ed, and someone called John C. Wohlstetter who proclaims that, in the Iraq war, “casualties are low by historical standards” (right, ultra-right, and F-you liberal scum…that surely puts a smile on the face of Knight Ridder’s shareholders).

At least I can’t find a column today on how screwed up the Dems are, for a change (from Dick Polman, who is better than that as far as I’m concerned, or anyone else). Of course, the only way that could happen is if Dubya lets an Arab country run our ports or Dick Cheney shoots a 78-year-old lawyer in the face (hey, I didn’t see either of those coming either!).

At least Faye Flam, the paper's "carnal knowledge" correspondent, is on top of (so to speak) the issues that really matter (I hope you can register for this). I mean, I sometimes wondered about my "chances" in the afterlife also, but I didn't have the guts to write about it (if one of the cartoons that inflamed the Muslims has to do with running out of virgins, then suddenly I realize why they’re so POed:-).

"Real Time" Highlights

(I use a bad word a couple of times later on, just to let you know.)

The show started with a really funny commercial parody of Dick Cheney as some kind of gangsta rap star (“First Tupac, Then Biggie, And Now…Cheney!”) with lots of ‘bling and supermodels on each arm, with Cheney decked out appropriately.

Bill Maher led right into the shooting, of course, and noted that Harry Whittington “was in good condition…a little gamey, but still moist.” Cheney, Maher noted, had said that he felt terrible about shooting the 78-year-old attorney, “but at least now, he had some new ideas about fixing Social Security.” Also, with Whittington’s apology, Maher said, “That’s one loyal Republican. He even referred to the buckshot in his face as ‘a thousand points of light’.”

Maher also commented on a particularly unctuous, scripted pseudo-campaign event that Dubya attended where everyone in attendance fawned over him, and said “At least when Clinton got blown, it was behind closed doors.” Also, “Britney Spears is going to Mardi Gras. She can’t wait to strap her baby on the front of a float.”

The first guest to appear via remote was Russ Feingold, and when Maher asked him why he decided not to sign The Patriot Act and filibuster it instead, Feingold said, “because I read it,” though he noted that “a lot of provisions were reasonable, but library records can still be checked, but we couldn’t do anything about it” (my note: as always, thank you red state voters!). Regarding the NSA wiretaps, Feingold said he thought “it was one of the biggest scams that has ever occurred. I don’t think there’s proof at all (that they’ve worked). Bush should be accountable and apologize.”

Regarding the issue of selling control of six of our ports to Dubai Port World (including Philadelphia), Feingold said,

“Literally, this is the gang that can’t shoot straight, as we saw this week (snark). Here’s a group in this White House that couldn’t catch bin Laden, that can’t get al Zarqawi, for the second time the people that blew up the U.S.S. Cole have escaped in Yemen…they’re focusing on Iraq to the exclusion of 59 other countries where al Qaeda is attacking, and now they want to have countries with questionable contacts in charge of port security. We (the Democrats) are the party to fight this terrorism fight correctly. It’s Bush that has messed it up.”
When asked if the McCain-Feingold legislation did any good, Feingold said yes, stating that a single individual could make huge a campaign donation the next day to someone running for office, and you can’t do that now. Feingold said that they’re working on trying to close the tax loopholes with the 527s (good luck there), but ideally he’d like to see all political campaigns publicly financed. Feingold also said (in response to a Maher question about the environment) that the Democrats “have to be good on all of the issues” and that we have to find a way to undercut the ability of the Republicans to intimidate them (I admire Feingold’s honesty, but it was still pathetic to hear that).

The panelists were Dan Senor (conservative apologist), Helen Thomas (legendary White House correspondent) and Eddie Griffin (comedian/actor). Thomas said that Cheney “should show some remorse…and more feeling about sending people to war,” and though I agree with that sentiment (which we will never see from him, of course), it was a shot right out of the gate, so to speak. Senor said that Cheney “should have come out earlier on this issue also,” and then quickly blamed the White House press corps for asking 140 (?) questions on this but only one on Iran and one on Darfur the day the Cheney story broke (Thomas quickly replied that the Cheney shooting “was news,” which is correct…see, the “theme” topics for the White House that day were Iran and Darfur, and Senor was peeved because the press didn’t play along, much like the way they didn't play along when Clinton sat with heads of state and the press kept asking him about Ken Starr and Monica Whatsername). Maher said that this probably was a good week for something like this to happen with Cheney and dominate the news coverage, since the Congressional inquiry looking into the fallout from Katrina released its report, which definitely put the Bush Administration in a bad light, to say the least. Eddie Griffin made the comment that he wanted to see more “follow up” on stories, which, though a good point, wasn’t really relevant at that moment.

Maher mentioned the “money grabs” going on regarding the Katrina and Iraq reconstruction, mentioning that Halliburton “has lost $9 billion…stacks of $100 bills in wheelbarrows – how does this go on?,” and Senor pointed out that he had been over in Iraq for 15 months (weeks? Have to check), and he said something to the effect that the goal was to get the money into the hands of the Iraqis as quickly as possible, blaming Saddam Hussein’s “third-world accounting methods.”

As I listened to this crap, I thought to myself, “I don’t care what type of accounting methods were used! All of this is MY MONEY AS A TAXPAYER, AND I WANT ALL OF IT ACCOUNTED FOR!! I’M SICK OF HEARING THESE LAME ASS EXCUSES FOR ALL OF THE FRAUD GOING ON!!” And of course, Senor (who was actually decent for a Repug in this show…he was a lot more obnoxious when I saw him on a satellite feed last year on one show, with Helen Thomas jumping down his throat more often than he did with her) immediately backpedaled and said, “I’m not making excuses for the fraud, but just trying to explain the situation” (riiiiight).

Eddie Griffin then said, “Can I make a simple suggestion? Let’s let the Iraqis fix their own country, and we can just go get bin Laden.” (amen…and by the way, isn’t it interesting that we don’t hear from this guy for months, but suddenly he’s all over the place in an election year? Just wondering…). The crowd definitely responded to that, and Senor got a look on his face like he’d just eaten a bug (Senor was trying to joke with Griffin most of the night, which is progress of a sort I guess). Senor responded to Griffin saying, “If we leave before the Iraqis are ready, we’ll feel the pain in this country,” to which I thought, “Bullshit! We’re feeling pain ALREADY, and HAVE BEEN FOR AWHILE!”

Maher pointed out that “our defense budget is bigger than 18 other countries. Should we be tapped out so early? When the president says invading Iran is ‘on the table,’ no one should be snickering,” and there was a lot of back-and-forth chatter that I couldn’t quite get. Maher also said, “Isn’t it racist to assume that India and Pakistan will automatically blow themselves up if they get the bomb, even though we lived with the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction with the Russians for years?,” and Thomas agreed and said, “They’re going to get the bomb. India, Pakistan and Israel should all sign the non-proliferation treaty, and we should allow inspections also.” Maher then made comments about the military loosening recruitment standards that led into a comedy bit with new recruiting posters which was a little amusing, but actually had some stuff that made me wince a bit.

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard appeared next via satellite, and I really don’t understand why Maher let him show up and hawk his new book, which apparently is some kind of wet dream gushing all over the place about how great Barnes thinks Dubya is. Aside from putting on some weight and acquiring some grayish/white hair, I could see quickly that Barnes remained the same odious, pugnacious sycophant that he was when I would stupidly subject myself to his act on “Dr. McLaughlin’s Gong Show” many years ago, when Barnes made a living out of trying to hoot down Jack Germond, Eleanor Clift, Morton Kondracke, Clarence Page, the late, great Bob Maynard, and other journalists who were better than Barnes would ever be, all under John McLaughlin’s approving, glazed-over and slightly deranged countenance.

Maher started by asking Barnes, “Who is Bush rebelling against” (see, the cover of the book shows Bush standing in his flight suit looking like a faux military leader, like the faux president that he generally is anyway, photographed to make Bush look like his towering over something…toe fungus, perhaps…and the title has something to do with Bush rebelling against something – common sense, I suppose). Barnes replied:

"Rebelling against Washington. Rebelling against the conventional wisdom in politics. Rebelling against the foreign policy community. Rebelling against the political community in Washington. And rebelling against traditional conservatism. All those things."
To which Maher replied with a decidedly unconvinced, “Uh huh.” Maher then lists all of the humongous budgets that Bush has approved and then asked Barnes if he though this was typical for a conservative, and Barnes replied, “He’s not a small-government conservative,” which made me remember how truly well Barnes can tap dance with the best of them, having spent, as I alluded to earlier, more Sundays than I care to remember listening to Barnes and Pat Buchanan screaming about Clinton and “big government.” Maher then asked Barnes “Bush’s claim that he can do anything…doesn’t that typically go against conservatism? (meaning the wiretapping in particular)” and Barnes replied, “He’s a president in wartime, and the Constitution says it’s OK for him to wiretap” (maybe it says that in the Iraqi constitution, I thought to myself). Maher then asked Barnes something about Bush’s supposed “spiritual life” (though again, Dubya practices no brand of “spirituality” I’m familiar with), and Barnes said “it’s influenced Bush’s crusade for Democracy around the world,” an extremely poor choice of words on Barnes’ part that made me cringe (and didn’t bring any hoots from the audience, amazingly enough – none that I heard anyway). Maher concluded by asking “Doesn’t it go against conservative philosophy to proclaim about God?” and by this time, I’m thinking “Bill, give it up. Barnes isn’t going to bite on any of this,” and Barnes said something to the effect that Clinton talked about God more than Bush, which I highly dispute as more Barnes bullshit, aside from the fact that it didn’t answer Maher’s question anyway.

Returning to the panel discussion, Dan Senor asked Helen Thomas (in response to some back-and-forth), “Aren’t the Iraqi elections a good thing” (the Repugs will be falling back to this talking point forever, even as the whole country descends into Muslim fundamentalism), and Thomas said, “Not at the price of our invasion,” with Maher noting that “the Shiite militias are winning…nobody’s waving any flags.” Turning to the story about the NASA scientist whose findings were censored by some zombie fundamentalist Bush quisling, Maher said, “We criticize Muslims for a cartoon, but aren’t we medieval also when we try to hush up NASA scientists on global warming?” Helen Thomas said, “I’m not for censorship,” trying to get Senor to respond on that, though Senor didn’t take the bait and replied, correctly I think, that “the Iranians and Syrians are stoking the fires.” At that point, Eddie Griffin – who, basically, had been going off on tangents the whole show and coming up with these little monologues of his which were a little amusing but also a little odd – actually came up with (I thought) the best comment of the night:

“There’s a difference in cultures (U.S. vs. the Middle East), a difference in process, a difference in beliefs…If we want peace in the Middle East, we have to go where they’re at, not where we’re at.”
There were also some remarks about the Olympics that I didn’t care about (I think Bryant Gumbel said something stupid again) before Maher led into “New Rules”.

(gee, I’m glad I only summarized everything…)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"Have Mores" vs. "Have Nones"

This column from Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation provides background on why we need a commission to investigate profiteering from the Iraq War.

This takes you to a link that allows you to add your information to Congressperson Louise Slaughter’s petition that would accomplish that goal.

And this takes you to a story in USA Today about those paying the price on the home front and the effort by Maj. General Mike Collings at Robins AFB in Georgia to help the people under his charge.

Crackpot History

(The subtitle is “And The Right To Lie”…anyone who guessed the title of this ‘80s Adam Ant song gets a free pair of ray-bans and some form-fitting Lycra workout pants.)

This is the only link I can find to this story that doesn’t require registration, either for Salon or The Philadelphia Inquirer. However, it links to Comcast, which is really funny about this sort of thing. You may have to click through a couple of windows to get to the story (it shows a photo of Bill Clinton in the left column).

The story comes from the AP and reporter Elizabeth Dunbar, and it appeared over the holiday weekend (timed for President’s Day, of course). It has to do with what are, supposedly, the worst blunders in presidential history according to a survey of presidential historians. As you may have guessed, I wouldn’t be saying anything about this unless I had some problems with this list, which I do (I don’t have any kind of advanced degree or anything, but I know what I know).

Just to make sure of my facts, I watched some episodes of the series “The American President” that ran a few years ago on PBS, which featured interviews with scholar Richard E. Neustadt and interviews and commentary by Hugh Sidey, who wrote extensively about the presidency for Time Magazine for years (when it was still a serious publication).

In case this link stops working, I’ll reprint the list here (not many keywords that news aggregators will find I know, but I think this stuff is important):

1. James Buchanan's failure to avert the Civil War.
2. Andrew Johnson's pro-white policies after the Civil War.
3. Lyndon B. Johnson's expansion of the Vietnam War.
4. Woodrow Wilson's refusal to compromise on the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.
5. Richard M. Nixon's involvement in the Watergate cover-up.
6. James Madison's failure to keep the United States out of the War of 1812.
7. Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807, a prohibition on trade with Europe.
8. John F. Kennedy's allowing the Bay of Pigs Invasion that led to the Cuban missile crisis.
9. Ronald Reagan's Iran-contra affair, the effort to sell arms to Iran and use the money to finance an insurgency in Nicaragua.
10. Bill Clinton's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
1) I think listing James Buchanan as the worst presidential offender of all time is stupid, though it is not the worst item on this list. I say that because the run-up to The Civil War occurred not just during Buchanan’s term (the only bachelor president and the only one from PA), but also during the term of Buchanan’s White House predecessor, Franklin Pierce. Both are generally acknowledged to have been bad presidents, but as far as I’m concerned, Pierce was worse because he allowed the territories acquired during his term, Kansas and Nebraska, to decide the slavery question for themselves instead of trying to mandate the states as “free” (though it’s possible either decision would have created a bloody outcome), thus allowing the problem to fester (and make no mistake…the Civil War was a fight to hold onto slavery as a big part of the antebellum traditions of the South – to say it was over “states rights,” though true in part, is a gross oversimplification).

Pierce was actually a traitor, writing to his former Secretary of War Jefferson Davis after Davis became president of the Confederacy that “the sooner we are apart, the better,” meaning that the union should be dissolved. Buchanan, though a politician more than a statesman, attempted to leave the slavery question alone, which infuriated the Northern abolitionists. Despite the fact that both Pierce and Buchanan catered to the South, secession nevertheless began when South Carolina left the union under Buchanan in 1860.

If Buchanan can be “blamed” for anything, it can be his refusal to support Stephen Douglas, the nominee of the Democratic party (Buchanan being a Democrat also) for president in 1860. This led to the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln, and that event had more to do with kick-starting The Civil War than anything. However, there is a large body of evidence to support the claim that the war would have started regardless of who was president, and Lincoln was one of the finest we’ve ever had.

2) Andrew Johnson was essentially a white supremacist, but as a senator from Tennessee before the declaration of The Civil War, he took a stand against secession and supported emancipation (which earned him the spot of V.P. on the ticket with Lincoln in 1864, a move Lincoln and others would regret). Johnson did veto a bill granting full citizenship to former slaves after the war, though Congress overrode his veto as part of the escalating tensions between Johnson and Congress that led to Johnson’s impeachment; he was saved from removal from office by a single vote. Because of his struggles with Congress, Johnson was ineffectual to the point where I don’t believe he could be blamed for having an impact one way or the other, though he was a bad president to be sure. The pain reconstruction inflicted on the South, as far as I’m concerned, was more the fault of Congress at that time. Johnson also remains the only president elected to the U.S. Senate (from Tennessee) after his term in the White House ended.

(By the way, if you want a laugh, try reading this version of Johnson’s life from the White House web site…unbelievable.)

3) LBJ can be blamed for expanding the war in Vietnam, but I think Nixon should earn a dishonorable mention at the least for escalating the war into Cambodia in 1970…it got China’s attention, but at a terrible cost).

4) This is probably the worst item on this list as far as I’m concerned.

The punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, terms which were meant to humiliate Germany and subsequently gave birth to the nationalism exploited by Hitler to start World War II, were vehemently opposed by Wilson. The fault for those terms lies with the other three participants: Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and David Lloyd-George of Great Britain (particularly Clemenceau). One area where Wilson did refuse to compromise regarded Wilson’s proposed League of Nations, the precursor to the U.N. Wilson demanded that the Senate ratify the treaty with the League included, and this didn’t happen. Another important factor to consider, though, is that Wilson had suffered a debilitating stroke prior to the time that the treaty was being considered in the Senate, and his judgment had become seriously impaired as a result.

As far as I’m concerned, Wilson’s refusal to compromise was correct. He was in large part a visionary president; the only “mistake” he made was not to present his plan for the League 20 years later when this country was more prepared to accept it.

5) No argument here

6) I think this is the second worst item on this list. The run-up to the War of 1812 had been going on for at least five years, with Great Britain trying desperately to regain a foothold in North America below Canada and avert further U.S. expansion, even to the point where the British were siding with the Indians against us (particularly the warrior Tecumseh…and I know the question of genocide on the part of settlers against Native Americans remains heavily disputed and is a separate issue as far as I’m concerned). President James Madison inherited this situation which began under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (7), but as a result of our eventual victory in this war (or, at least, a stalemate that forced England out for good, since they were basically spent after fighting both us and Napoleon at the same time), the U.S. was able to move forward with expansion free from British influence. Also, war fervor helped elect Madison to a second term, with war breaking out soon after his re-election. The bottom line is that I think this is another conflict besides the Civil War that no one person would have been able to prevent.

7) This is absolutely correct. Thomas Jefferson was probably one of the greatest intellects who ever lived, and he wanted to be seen as “the people’s president,” acting strictly within constitutional authority and doing away with ceremony and protocol (and also the Internal Revenue Service for a time). His first term was almost a storybook, with balancing our budget and eliminating our debt as probably his most noteworthy accomplishments. However, his second term went in the complete opposite direction. When British ships engaged in war with France attacked U.S. commercial ships at sea, Jefferson signed The Embargo Act which closed all U.S. ports and crippled the economy, nearly leading the New England’s secession from the Union (believe it or not). This was the beginning of the escalating conflict with Great Britain that led to the War of 1812 under Madison.

8) I know JFK signed off on the Bay of Pigs, but all I will say is that everything else related to the invasion was conceived during Eisenhower’s presidency, and probably the main reason this didn’t happen under Ike was because of the fallout from the U-2 spy plane incident with Francis Gary Powers (something else that should have made this list as far as I’m concerned).

9) The first domino to fall, so to speak, that led to this was the bombing of our military base in Beirut in 1983, which led to our response of bombing in Lebanon, which led to the taking of our people as hostages, which led to this item. This definitely should be somewhere on this list, though.

10) Yeah, I guess you have to keep the freepers happy with this one.

I would argue that other items that should be included on this list would be the Alien and Sedition Acts passed under John Adams’ presidency (though he wisely didn’t enforce them), the “Gilded Age,” Tammany Hall corruption under Ulysses S. Grant, our bloody incursion into the Philippines under William McKinley, and the Iranian hostage crisis under Jimmy Carter (who should have at least had some idea that that could happen if we decided to aid the deposed Shah of Iran…fair is fair, after all).

And by the way, for anyone who thinks I’m taking it easy on Clinton, here are four things that he can be blamed for, as far as I’m concerned: 1) The “Blackhawk Down” incident in Mogadishu, 2) NAFTA (we continue to live with the effects), 3) Granting Most Favored Nation trade status to China in 1994 (ditto), and 4) The Microsoft trial in the 90s (if someone can explain the importance, I’m “all ears”).

I don’t know if the intent here was to create some kind of easily digestible list that could be regurgitated one day in a game of trivial pursuit or something, but I would have expected something far better from a group of people who profess to know what they’re talking about.

And none of this considers the biggest presidential blunders of all, as far as I’m concerned, and that would be Dubya’s failure to ignore the report on August 6th, 2001 notifying him that al Qaeda was determined to strike in this country, as well as the second Iraq War which we are currently fighting and likely will be for some time.

Achtung, Baby!

I guess this is what the well-dressed right-wing hammerhead will be wearing on the beach this summer (saw this ad at The Huffington Post when reading David Sirota’s column about some of the unfortunate nastiness going on from the people in Paul Hackett’s disbanded campaign towards Sherrod Brown…bad stuff all around, people; please knock it the hell off because I get tired of reading the daily column from someone in the Inquirer about how screwed up the Democrats are, and this doesn’t do anything to help).

Anyway, I thought I’d alert you to what, apparently, is a cutting-edge fashion trend for all of the “march in lockstep or die” types out there (as I noted somewhere else, J.D. Mullane of the Bucks County Courier Times saves his “hippie” insults, which are almost nostalgic really, for the people in his columns whom he genuinely despises).

It’s a shame the shirts come in blue instead of brown, because the latter is a much more appropriate color.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Good Holiday Reading

From Chris Satullo of the Inquirer (this appeared yesterday) and Leonard Pitts, Jr. (today), both about "Deadeye Dick"...

...and also John Grogan (about Lynn Swann).

Registration is required for everything - sorry.

(Speaking of Cheney, you MUST watch "Real Time" this week if you have HBO just to see the hilarious opening about "the Notorious V.I.P"...I'll get to the highlights as soon as I can.)