Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Videos

Romeo Void ("Never Say Never" - every time I feel a hint of nostalgia for the '80s, I listen to this song, and you can take that anyway you want)...

...Happy Birthday to Tracy Chapman ("Fast Car")...

...Happy Birthday also to Rupert Greenall of The Fixx ("One Thing Leads To Another" - how true, and strangely appropriate today in a way)...

...and finally, Happy Birthday to E.C. himself, performing Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" (sorry the audio is a little rough).

Forward Into The (Pundit) Past

Tom Friedman did something today that I thought was amazing, and I simply must tell you about it.

In his Times Select column, he decried the fact that there is a vacuum in the Middle East peace process (does such a "process" even exist at this point?). He said that "a new math seems to have taken over...subtraction by addition."

He wondered what the point was of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flying all over the place in that region trying to work something out when it seems that the Saudis are the only ones trying to broker anything (and between Hamas and Fatah, with barely even an acknowledgment of Israel).

Also, Friedman said that maybe the framework from that bad old Clinton era wasn't so horrible after all (You remember back that far, right? When all we had to worry about was what to do with our budget surplus, what new revelations Ken Starr was going to inflict on us from thoroughly examining Bill and Hillary's dirty laundry, and whether or not the entire planet would explode just in time for Y2K). Under Clinton, as Friedman recalls today, the framework called for a mix of land givebacks by the Israelis along with other regions of Israel remaining intact, as well as refugee status recognition and land swap compensation to the Palestinians.

I have to admit that Friedman is partly right to chastise Bushco for its relative inaction on this, but gee, there's something else in play here that our esteemed New York Times columnist appears to have forgotten. Now what could it possibly be? Let me think...

Oh, I remember now - it's the Iraq War! And Friedman once said "I think I get this war" as I recall.

Well, since he needs to jog his memory a bit, this link from Think Progress that I used earlier may do the trick.

President Photo-Op Disses The Troops

I see a photo like this, and all I can think of, barring impeachment, is this.

And I wonder if Dubya spoke with this brave soldier to find how he lost his hand and his forearm. Was it from a rocket launcher? Sniper fire? An IED made from munitions that Rumsfeld didn’t send over enough troops to secure after the war began?

When you’re done taking up space in the White House, Dubya, you’ll head back to your “ranch” in Crawford, Texas, presumably to imagine some memoirs that someone else will write for you (though it would look odd for you to do this unless your library has been approved at SMU or someplace else, though I suppose that would be appropriate for you).

This article in the Washington Post by Ann Scott Tyson brings us details that President Stupid Head is trying to gloss over, including these lowlights…

More than 25,000 service members have been wounded in the two wars -- nearly half seriously enough that they cannot return to duty within 72 hours.

More than 90 percent of the time, for example, the Army did not meet its 40-day time limit for completing physical evaluation boards, as the number of cases increased from 9,000 in 2001 to more than 15,000 in 2005, the report found. In 43 percent of cases, the Army did not meet its 30-day goal for processing medical evaluation boards.

The investigation (that discovered all this), ordered last April by then-Army Secretary Francis Harvey and completed March 6, involved interviews with 650 soldiers, civilians and leaders at 32 Army posts in the United States and overseas.

Seventy percent of the medical hold unit leaders reported that they did not have adequate personnel assigned, affecting their ability to "provide soldiers the level of attention and support they required to complete their medical care," the report said. More than half said their staffing was "inadequate for them to execute their mission."

Especially worrisome, the medical hold commanders reported, was the lack of behavioral-health specialists who could help identify soldiers with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or suicidal behavior.

The need for such specialists was underscored in a study published yesterday in the American Medical Association's Archives of Internal Medicine.

It said that 25 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seen at Veterans Affairs health-care facilities were found to have mental health problems, and an additional 6 percent had "psychosocial or behavioral problems." It was one of the largest studies to date of veterans from the wars.

The youngest veterans, ages 18 to 24 -- who also make up a large proportion of the total -- were at the greatest risk for mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, the study found.
And by the way, here is another example of a Repug (now happily gone from Congress, along with a few others) “supporting our troops.”

I’m really going to digress briefly and point out that I read a fine column by Leonard Pitts, Jr. the other day in the Inquirer where he was angered because he thought (correctly, I believe) that, through the utter shallowness and relentlessness of its lies, particularly pertaining to the U.S. Attorney firings (Pitts must have watched GSA Administrator Lurita Doan’s testimony before the Waxman House Committee in which she made an utter fool of herself), the message Bushco communicates to us over and over again is that it thinks we’re stupid.

And I thought to myself, you’re just realizing this now?

Update 4/5/07: Apparently, Doan did worse than that; we'll see.

That to me is the message communicated by this photo from Dubya. He probably stood with this soldier for all of about five seconds, long enough for him to frame the pose, allow the camera shutter to open and the flash to appear, and then move on.

He thinks we’re all idiots, ladies and gentlemen, just like him. The conclusion is inescapable.

And concerning Iraq, the fine folks at Think Progress bring us this to let us know how we have ended up in this mess, with "The Decider" leading us down the road to ruin (and here are the latest lies from Dubya on Iraq, “hot off the presses”).

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (3/30/07)

As reported in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, here is how Philadelphia-area members of Congress were recorded on major roll-call votes last week.


War funding, withdrawal. The House passed, 218-212, and sent to the Senate a bill (HR 1591) to appropriate an additional $100 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while requiring withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Iraq to begin by March 2008.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).

Voting no: Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), H. James Saxton (R., N.J.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).
This is what happens when the voters of this country decided to install the Democrats in charge of the House, as Patrick Murphy notes here (and count on the Repugs to do the wrong thing; to a man, they sold out our military and our country yet again).

Gulf Coast recovery. The House passed, 302-125, and sent to the Senate (HR 1227) a bill to ease federal housing rules and authorize funds to speed the Gulf Coast's slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina 19 months ago.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Castle, Dent, Fattah, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Murphy, Saxton, Schwartz, Sestak and Smith.

Voting no: Pitts.
For this particularly shameful no vote, I dedicate the following to Joe Pitts…


U.S. attorneys. Senators voted, 94-2, to repeal a USA Patriot Act provision used by the Bush administration to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. The vote on S 214, which now goes to the House, was to close a loophole central to the ongoing dispute over the administration's firing of U.S. attorneys.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Bob Casey Jr. (D., Pa.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Arlen Specter (R., Pa.).

Not voting: Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.).
As noted previously, Chuck Hagel and Kit Bond voted against this, thus incurring my wrath (for whatever that’s worth), though Hagel more than made up for it with his courageous vote on the Iraq Supplemental in the Senate.

Spending plan. The Senate passed, 52-47, a budget (S Con Res 21) calling for $2.9 trillion in federal spending in the 2008 fiscal year, which begins in October. Nonmilitary spending would increase by $18 billion under the plan, about a 4 percent increase that is much larger than passed in recent years by GOP-controlled Congresses.

A yes vote was to approve the budget.

Voting yes: Biden, Carper, Casey, Lautenberg, and Menendez.

Voting no: Specter.
This provides more information on the budget resolution.

I am absolutely at a loss to understand, by the way, why Specter would vote No here, especially since he won unanimous support for an amendment to this resolution that sets up a fund to help asbestos victims, as noted here (of course, the press release contains typically pejorative Repug BS about “an irrational tort system”).

Tobacco tax increase. Senators voted, 59-40, to raise the U.S. tax on a package of cigarettes from 39 cents to $1 and to dedicate the $20 billion-plus in new revenue over five years to a federal program that funds health insurance for poor children. The vote amended SCR 21 (above).

All Philadelphia-area senators voted to raise tobacco taxes.

Medicare drug premiums. The Senate defeated, 52-44, a proposal to require individuals with incomes over $80,000 and couples above $160,000 to pay higher premiums for the Medicare prescription-drug program. The vote occurred during debate on the federal budget (SCR 21, above).

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting no: Carper, Casey, Lautenberg, Menendez and Specter.

Not voting: Biden.
It’s called political survival (re: the Medicare vote).

Social Security surpluses. The Senate defeated, 52-45, an amendment to SCR 21 (above) to stop the practice of Social Security surpluses' being spent as part of the federal budget's general funds.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Specter.

Voting no: Carper, Casey, Lautenberg and Menendez.

Not voting: Biden.
This was Amendment 472 sponsored by John Ensign of Nevada and co-sponsored by Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Huckleberry Graham of South Carolina, all Repugs, and I have to admit that I’m not sure if I oppose this or not.

Of course, Al Gore once talked about a Social Security “lockbox” and was promptly ridiculed during the 2000 presidential campaign by Chimpy, so the Repugs should consider this as a bit of payback.

This week, the House considered the fiscal 2008-2012 budget resolution. The Senate took up an Iraq funding and troop-withdrawal measure.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The Philadelphia Inquirer gave the full front-page-banner-headline treatment this morning to the AP story of Alberto Gonzales being contradicted by Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ former chief of staff, about Gonzales’ role in the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys.

Reporting the story this way is a good thing, since that’s the treatment it deserves (and at this point, based on this CNN story, I hope Gonzales remains through the 2008 election as a reminder of just how far the Repugs will go to protect one of their own, dirty or not – I know that will likely compromise other investigations, but as long as Bushco will continue to ignore the majority of the people of this country, it might as well work to our benefit).

Well, since some journalistic instinct still resident in that paper alertly snapped to life, you KNEW they would find a way to try and negate it, and if you guessed that meant another appearance by Kevin Ferris, then you automatically go to the head of the class (this isn’t as extreme as Ferris’ last column, but it still requires a response).

(First, though, we are also treated on the editorial page to a column by Charmaine Yoest of the Family Research Council – and as always, the Inquirer identifies “liberal” advocacy groups as such but never conservative ones – where she chides Sen. Bob Casey in advance to make sure he doesn’t support a bill by Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware that would fund embryonic stem cell research. In the process, Yoest repeats the evergreen lie that Casey’s father wasn’t allowed to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention because he opposed abortion; for the millionth time, it was because he didn’t endorse Clinton for president – why do I bother at this point?).

But this of course is just a prelude to more Ferris nonsense (he cranks it out, I shoot it full of holes – the circle thus remains unbroken)…

With hearings on the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and an Iraqi withdrawal showdown in the Senate, this wouldn't seem like the time to extol the virtues of divided government.

Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has been doing just that in interviews this week, repeating what he has been saying since Republicans lost control of Congress in November:

"Divided government presents a unique opportunity to tackle some of the intractable issues with considerable political fallout."
I suppose it “presents a unique opportunity” because you guys couldn’t do your jobs on behalf of the majority of this country under “united” Repug government, but perhaps it’s impolite of me to point that out, though I admit that I am, after all, just a filthy, unkempt liberal blogger when you get down to it (so despised by Tim Russert, among others).

He points to the Social Security reforms passed in the '80s, when Republicans had the White House and Democrats controlled Congress, and the welfare reform of the 1990s, when Democrats had the presidency and the GOP had Capitol Hill.
Ferris has a bit of a point here – a bit – as noted here and here, but I don’t think anyone should be crowing about those two developments. The Social Security compromise in the ‘80s was a stopgap measure at best, and the “welfare reform” of the ‘90s succeeded in throwing more people off the roles to the point where about 50 percent of those eligible were able to obtain benefits as opposed to 80 or 90 percent previously (I have not been able to obtain data as to exactly how many people displaced were able to find job paying a non-poverty wage).

And when he says intractable issues, he's serious. McConnell says this is the "perfect time" to tackle immigration reform and fix Social Security.

"By the next election, the majority is going to want to say it accomplished some things," he said. "Immigration and Social Security need to be addressed. They involve considerable risk, and they can only be done by a divided government. . . .

"If they prove difficult politically, [Democrats] can do what they're accustomed to doing: Blame it on Bush."
Gee, that’s a conciliatory sentiment from someone so interested in working with “divided government, “ isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like Dubya and the Repugs have ever demonized Democrats, have they?

But more to the point, I’m not going to trot out more numbers stating that the majority of the people of this country support some path to citizenship for illegal/undocumented/whatever workers if these people do what they’re supposed to do. Republicans are typically dreaming if they hope to pass “immigration reform” without it. And Social Security should be tabled for the next president, and if that person isn’t serious about eliminating the $90,000 limit on earnings subject to withholding, then it should be tabled for the president after that.

McConnell's skills as a leader are drawing praise,
As witnessed by his previous remark, no doubt.

...and even across the aisle they're respected.

"He understands the rules very well," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). "He's a very fierce partisan and an effective advocate for the Republican position."
Again, somehow “fierce partisan” doesn’t equate with someone interested in conciliation to me.

Part of that effectiveness comes from respect within his own caucus. McConnell has been in the Senate since 1985. His predecessor as party leader, Bill Frist, was in only his second term when elected to lead the Republican senators. More important, McConnell "is not running for president or any other office," said Don Stewart, the senator's communications director. "His primary goal is helping his colleagues."

Effectiveness also comes from understanding his party's limits in the Senate ("they get to set the agenda, and we get to react to it") and its potential ("a minority of 49 is nowhere near irrelevant").

"With 41 of our 49, we can shape legislation," he says, "but if we think it's really bad, we can kill it."

The GOP "shaped" the minimum-wage increase the Senate passed last month by insisting on tax cuts for small businesses. The Democratic-controlled House, which had initially passed a minimum-wage increase without tax cuts, followed the Senate's lead.
Sadly true – the cost of not having a bigger Democratic majority in the Senate.

On McConnell's "kill" list is the Employee Free Choice Act, passed by the House earlier this month. The bill would allow for union certification once a majority of workers signed cards authorizing a union. No secret-ballot election would be needed.

"We've conceded for 200 years that it is essential to a free election to cast votes in private," McConnell says. "So my goal there is to simply say no."
This takes you to a post by Paul Pimentel of the Sheet Metal Workers Union, who blogged this while debate proceeded on the EFCA in the U.S. House prior to passage (including these excerpts)…

(Democratic Rep. George) Miller (of CA) takes a pre-emptive shot at the naysayers who are looking to continue the precedents set by our nation’s broken labor laws. He states there will be concerns about secret ballots and that it is an issue of significant disagreement - but that the record will show that there is no secret but long and negative history of coercion under the status quo. Under the present manner there is an extremely coercive environment and that the secret ballot concludes a system which is patently unfair.

(Republican Rep. Phil Kline) claims that nobody should know how you vote when you’re organizing, but does not cite any examples of how one on one meetings are used by union avoidance experts to determine this under duress.
Saying that the EFCA only denies the right to a secret ballot ignores the reality that the legislation is trying to correct and is ultimately nothing more than a Republican talking point.

However, he's hoping for more significant achievements.

McConnell won't give details but says Republican senators have been meeting "intensely" on a comprehensive immigration bill that covers "border security to guest workers to a sensible way to deal with the people already here that's not connected to some fast track to citizenship."
I’ll believe that when I see it.

Manley, Reid's spokesman, says immigration is a priority for Democrats as well, and expects a bill on the Senate floor in early May. However, he cautions that "the only way to get a bill done is if there's more leadership from the White House."

"The Senate passed a comprehensive bill last year, 55-45, and I'm sure we can pass one in a Democratic Senate," McConnell says.

Social Security will be tougher, and here McConnell wants to focus on process first. He would like to see a "structure" composed of members of Congress and the administration who design a fix that could be presented to the Senate for an up-or-down vote.

"In my view," he says, "that's the only way to have a chance to fix Social Security. If we don't have the process right, we won't get the substance."
As I noted above, you guys don’t deserve a chance to do either at this point (not blaming the Dems, but it’s pointless to try anything on this without an advocate for working people in the White House…God willing we’ll see that day again).

Until those battles are joined, and despite his vehement disagreement with his Democratic colleagues on some issues - he called this week's Iraq withdrawal vote "a prolonged and costly notice of surrender" - McConnell is clear about his mission:

"I'm hoping to achieve enough unity within the GOP most of the time to make us a positive force here in the Senate and for the country. So far, I think it's pretty clear we've been able to do that."
Oh yeah, the war…

The single most important issue facing this country at the moment, and all it rates is a casual mention at the end of Ferris’ column (oh, right – he already smeared the protestors on this last week, so I guess mentioning it again serves no useful purpose for him).

And as for McConnell, I don’t know what else I’m supposed to say or do to point out the sickening hypocrisy of people who bray “Support Our Troops” and wear their yellow bumper stickers and magnets on their luxury automobiles and do NOTHING to help them in any tangible way.

And do you know what’s at least as ridiculous? The fact that the timeline in the Senate bill for withdrawal was non-binding, and McConnell and the Repugs are still complaining!

And by the way, speaking of Iraq, here's another sound voice of reason and experience ignored by Bushco.

Tell some of the people noted here that the Iraq supplemental funding passed by the House and Senate with the withdrawal timelines constituted “a prolonged and costly notice of surrender” if you dare, you two chickenhawks!

Update 4/8/07: By the way, speaking of Mitch McConnell...

Do The Right Thing, Arlen

The latest from Working America…

The time has come for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to step up.

Today, the Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in the Senate. It is the single most important legislation in 70 years to ensure we have the freedom to form unions and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. The bill is similar to the one that was passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. House a few weeks ago.

With your help, the Senate can continue the work the House began. More co-sponsors are needed to help push the bill through the Senate. Tell Sen. Specter to support the Employee Free Choice Act.


Earlier this week, several experts appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to tell senators why the Employee Free Choice Act is so crucial.

Watch video highlights from the hearing

Cynthia Estlund, a law professor at the New York University School of Law, points out that the bill would fix current labor law’s “wholly inadequate response to employers’ fiercely aggressive and often illegal response to union organizing drives.”

Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute testified on the larger benefits for workers:

By reducing the opportunity for employers to intimidate and discourage workers from unionizing after they have reached a collective decision to do so, the Employee Free Choice Act can help restore and spread the benefits that unions bring to workers and the economy.

It's not just the experts who understand the importance of this bill. The stories of workers like Ivo Camilo and Bill Lawhorn show that some businesses will continue to intimidate workers who want to form unions unless the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law.

Tell Sen. Specter to support the Employee Free Choice Act. Click
here to take action:

The Employee Free Choice Act will restore a level playing field for workers and employers. It will strengthen penalties against companies that block workers' freedom to choose for ourselves whether to form unions and bargain. It will bring in mediation and arbitration when employees and employers cannot reach a first contract. And it will allow working people to form unions when a majority signs authorization cards—without the conflict, disruption and intimidation employers routinely inflict on us now.

Thank you for supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.

Working America

P.S. Learn more about the Employee Free Choice Act and see videos of workers like Ivo Camilo, Nikkia Parish and Bill Lawhorn at the AFL-CIO’s Employee Free Choice Act website
It sounds like Bob Casey is definitely on board with the EFCA, but to contact him anyway on this and other matters, click here.

Spring Must Have Sprung

Geez, first we have Karl Rove pretending to be a rapper (I think I read once about rats trapped in mazes exhibiting similar delusional behavior when facing their imminent demise), then Flush Limbore says that 72 percent of the people of this country are "blithering idiots" for holding Abu Gonzales accountable in the U.S. Attorney firings (would have to include some of his audience then – tee hee…), and now we have this from Ann Coulter (this appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times this morning)…

President Bush has appointed a commission to investigate the disturbing conditions at Walter Reed Hospital. Let’s hope he listens better than he did to the 9/11 or the Baker commissions.

The president should realize that these men and women wouldn’t be in the circumstances they’re in if it weren’t for he lies and arrogance that led us to war.

We owe our heroes more than bumper stickers and lip service. We owe them mortgage-free homes and college educations for their children. But then that would be a giveaway and the conservatives of our country wouldn’t like that.

We just spend our billions on wars and then rebuild the country. Giving to out people would make you a liberal.

Thank God for us liberals.
And as always, that would be Ann Coulter of Bensalem, Pa and not you-know-who.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thursday Videos

Good Charlotte ("The River")...

...and Happy Birthday to Monty Python's Eric Idle (an uneven compilation of TV and movie moments, but it definitely includes funny stuff).

Caution: Lefty Wingnuttia Ahead

(The pic is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but not the rest of this post.)

Of all the writers I thought I’d ever have to give “the treatment” to here, I never expected Paul Campos to be one of them. However, it is necessary, alas; this appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times today.

Al Gore told a Senate committee last week that we're facing a planetary crisis because we're putting too much carbon into the atmosphere. Sen. James Inhofe responded by inviting Gore to pledge to use no more energy than the average American.
Why exactly would Gore think Inhofe is doing anything except trying to set him up here (to be fair, Campos acknowledges this)? And what the hell does Inhofe know about how “the average American” lives?

It's been reported the Gore family mansion uses more electricity in a month than the typical American family uses in a year. Furthermore, Gore often flies in a private jet, which any serious environmentalist must concede is one of the most inefficient uses of energy imaginable.
Gee, I suppose Gore flies in a private jet because he has a busy schedule promoting the movie and other speaking engagements.

With this criticism in mind, here are Gore’s affiliations and activities (from this Wikipedia article), and somehow I have a feeling that this list is incomplete…

Today, Gore is president of the American television channel Current TV, chairman of Generation Investment Management, a director on the board of Apple Inc., and an unofficial adviser to Google's senior management. He lectures widely on the topic of global warming, which he calls "the climate crisis."[2] In 2006, he starred in the Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, discussing global warming and the environment.[3] Gore has a contract to write a new book, The Assault on Reason, to be published May 22, 2007. While he has stated that he has no intention of running for President again, it is frequently speculated that he is a potential candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
(Regarding the last item, I sincerely hope Gore decides not to run again. It’s not that I don’t think he would be great, especially considering the life forms currently residing in the White House, but in addition to making it harder for John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both are fine candidates, and we don’t need Al “riding in on a white horse” diluting the field even more and making it easier for Rudy and the Repugs.)

I would imagine that Gore would be hard-pressed to keep up a schedule like this flying commercial all the time, and the message he’s communicating is one that I don’t think should be constrained by a requirement such as the one advocated by Campos (yes, it’s a bit of an inconsistency, but if flying commercial means that Gore has to cut back on speaking engagements and promotions to alert everyone to this issue, who wins in that scenario?).

And another thing…I’m tired of reading these stories about the sizes of the homes of Al Gore and John Edwards. They assume that our other past and current elected officials live like paupers. I can’t think of a word to describe that kind of delusional thinking.

Well then, do you know what I want to see? A report on the sizes of the homes of all of our elected politicians, both Dem and Repug, as well as anyone running for public office or anyone appointed to government or serving in the Bush Administration. I have a feeling that THAT would be an eye-opener, and it would shut up all of those people screaming about Gore and Edwards’ living accommodations right quick.

Gore refused Inhofe's invitation, and pointed out that he and his wife live what he calls a "carbon-neutral" lifestyle, by "purchasing verifiable reductions in CO2 elsewhere."

That Inhofe is an aggressively ignorant demagogue (he claims global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people") who was trying to embarrass Gore with a cheap publicity stunt shouldn't obscure the fact that the distinguished gentleman from Oklahoma has a point.

Gore's response is, in a word, lame. If humanity faces a genuine crisis because we're emitting too much carbon, this is largely because people in developed economies use enormous amounts of energy (the average American uses 18 times as much energy as the average Indian).
That statement completely ignores the reality that India, and especially China, are both trying to consolidate oil reserves all over the world to ensure their continued economic success, as described in this article.

And if the average American's energy use is extraordinarily high by cross-cultural standards, rich Americans live a lifestyle that is off the charts in terms of environmentally destructive self-indulgence. Buying "carbon offsets," as Gore does, is equivalent to paying a poor kid to take your place in the military when your nation faces a troop shortage in time of war.
There is more than an element of truth in that statement, I’ll admit.

This Wikipedia article provides background on purchasing carbon offsets, and to me it sounds similar to these so-called “cap and trade” schemes by companies trying to purchase “credits” from other companies that use energy efficiently so they can continue to use energy badly (kind of like the lazy kid who doesn’t study cheating off the science whiz when it comes time to take the test).

Carbon offsets are literally better than nothing and a step in the right direction, which is one reason why they’re being pursued by the John Edwards campaign, by the way.

And this is a bit of an aside, but I want to mention it because it does pertain to efficient energy use; about a year or so ago, Sir Ian McKellen appeared on “Real Time With Bill Maher” and he mentioned that he’d installed solar panels on the roof of a home he owned in London and used it to generate power that he sold back to his utility company, and I always wondered why more people in this country (like me) are unable to do stuff like that.

And by the way, Campos is about to make a hell of a “U-turn.”

Speaking of which, the parallels between Inhofe's criticism of Gore and the "chicken hawk" argument made by opponents of the Iraq war are striking. Consider the hypothetical case of an Iraq war supporter who we'll call "Jonah." Jonah posts lots of things on the Internet in which he argues that the Iraq war is the central front in the war on terror, and that the war on terror is a fight for America's survival.

When critics point out that our military has had to lower admission standards in order to meet recruiting quotas, and that Jonah himself is a healthy man of military age, Jonah replies that he's contributing to the global war on terror in his own fashion, by posting pro-war arguments on the Internet, attaching a yellow ribbon magnet to his car, and so forth.

This response is just as lame as Gore's, and in exactly the same way. If you claim we're facing a huge crisis that requires great personal sacrifice on everyone's part, but refuse to make any real sacrifice yourself, then your attempts to obscure the latter fact through empty symbolic gestures deserve to be mocked.
How can Campos seriously suggest that Gore has not made some kind of a personal sacrifice on this? He’s doing everything he can possibly do to alert us to the fact that we have to do something about global warming, but instead of resulting in action, his fine work inevitably results in an attack from some so-called expert or hack “columnist” representing one foundation or another with ties to General Motors, Exxon Mobil or other conservative interests in which he has to prove the same arguments over and over and over and over and over…

If it appears that Gore isn’t making a sacrifice (though he is), that may be the reason why (and though I certainly don’t consider Campos a hack columnist, he’s doing absolutely nothing to help with this issue by trying to "kill the messenger").

And by the way, I wonder how Campos came up with the name of “Jonah”?

It's obvious what Al and Jonah should each do, given their respective beliefs: Al should radically simplify his lifestyle, and Jonah should join the military.

Yet each of them could also do something that would, in its own way, be almost as impressive: simply confess his hypocrisy and weakness, and implore others to behave differently.

Imagine if Gore were to say, "Yes, I live in a deeply self-indulgent, utterly wasteful fashion. People like me are a very big part of the problem. I'd like to change, but I'm weak. For the sake of our planet, you need to be a stronger person than I've been."

Imagine if Jonah were to say, "Yes, I'm a hypocritical coward, who values his own skin more than America's survival. And our nation won't survive if it's made up of people like me. For everyone's sake, you need to be more courageous than I've been."

Now those would be inconvenient truths.
And I wonder how much energy Campos himself used to slime Gore like this instead of explaining what we all could do to combat the climate crisis?

And by the way, Happy 59th on Saturday, Al!

How We Got Here (3/29/07)

I started this earlier this month, and to follow up, here's more from Bob Woodward’s “State Of Denial,” the third book in his "Bush At War" series (the first post in the series I started is here, the second is here, the third one is here, and the most recent fourth one is here; I'll consolidate these into a list the first chance I get).

(pp. 166-169)

(early April 2003)

Without mentioning it to (Jay) Garner, Rumsfeld was working on a plan to replace him with a new presidential envoy to Iraq, a significant upgrade over Garner’s position…

(Rumsfeld aide Ryan) Henry’s list of possible envoys included 100 names. It included former Tennessee Senator and Reagan White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, former Secretaries of Defense James Schlesinger and Harold Brown, former California Governor Pete Wilson, for Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. There were some Brits on the list – former U.K. Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington was one – as well as a couple of Democrats – Clinton Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.

(Steve) Herbits knew the Democrats were not serious options. Absent from the list were the people who had experience in postwar stabilization operations, such as Richard Holbrooke, the former Clinton U.N. ambassador who had negotiated a peace agreement among warring factions in Bosnia in 1996, and James Dobbins, Mr. Postwar, the former State Department official who had the most experience in post-conflict situations. They were not considered because of their association with Clinton nation building.

(Herbits) wrote that the best candidate was former Secretary of State George Shultz, who had once headed Bechtel Corporation, a major government contractor. Shultz, 83, had stature as one of the world’s most respected statesmen. Herbits called him “an international adult.” Upsides included, “Capable of holding ground against all comers in press and in negotiations,” and “Prevents DOD from being blamed for acts committed or omitted.”

The downsides included: “Not known for taking direction…Older – may falter if stressed too long…may be more tolerant of State’s viewpoints than DOD person…May be accused of taking on the duties in order to further Bechtel’s interests.”

But Herbits had a dark-horse candidate for the job. In his view the perfect person to run Iraq was Paul Wolfowitz. He composed a separate four-page memo that would eventually be sent to President Bush and find its way into the hands of Vice President Cheney.

Under the heading, “Benchmarks to Measure Success,” Herbits wrote, “In the months after the shooting stops, it is essential that there be no civil war. Civil wars, rightly or wrongly, hearken back to Vietnam. The president’s strategy will die in the embrace of such a comparison.

Because he was already the deputy defense secretary (Herbits wrote), Wolfowitz “has all of the necessary authority in his current position.

But perhaps the most important (reason) and exclusive to Paul personally, Herbits wrote, are the facts that he enjoys the widest support among Iraqis.” In this context, of course, “Iraqis” meant “Iraqi exiles,” especially (Ahmed) Chalabi.

Then Herbits added, “His being Jewish is a plus: It is a reminder that this is not a war against religion, it is a clear signal that the position is temporary, that the former ambassador to the world’s largest Muslim nation for three years” – Wolfowitz had been ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989 – “has experience in being culturally sensitive.”
Woodward then goes on to describe how this proposal was routed to Bush via a private fax after Rumsfeld took Herbits’ name off of it, though there is no indication given whether or not Dubya ever read it (Woodward does say that Dubya opposed this supposedly because he thought Wolfowitz didn’t have “a strong reputation as a manager”). However, Cheney did read it and mentioned it to Rumsfeld, with Woodward reporting that Cheney said, “Good paper” to Rumsfeld “with one of Cheney’s half smiles.”

This proposal did find its way to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who endorsed it, but Wolfowitz was eventually removed from consideration. When asked why by Woodward, Wolfowitz assumed that it was because he is a Jew.

This is yet another example (and there are sooo many in this book) of totally bogus non-communicating between key individuals and decisions made for reasons pertaining to political turf warfare at the expense of all else (especially the fact that the person selected had to be sympathetic to Rumsfeld and the Defense Department, and the more antagonistic to Colin Powell, Richard Armitage and the State Department, the better – that person eventually turned out to be Paul Bremer, who “greased the skids” to accelerate our present misery in his own infamous ways).

Also, it’s beyond belief to me that the names of people considered to replace Garner (and why Garner even needed to be replaced at all is definitely something to discuss) do not include a single Arab American or Arab national. And of course the people most qualified for the job were automatically removed because of their association with the Clinton Administration, as Woodward notes.

The fact that this proposal from Herbits got anywhere at all beyond a circular file is astonishing to me. I think putting a Jew in charge of Iraq makes about as much sense as putting an Arabian horses commissioner in charge of FEMA, don’t you?

Smoke And Mirrors From Jay Carney

I bring you the following from one of Time Magazine’s political analysts (particularly this excerpt)…

Democrats also may have a residual disadvantage going into 2008 — a long-standing disposition among voters to view Republicans as stronger on issues involving national security. Without question, Bush has done serious damage to the Republican brand in this arena. But, with the nation waging two wars and terrorism still a threat, that underlying sentiment might be one of the reasons GOP candidates appear competitive at all.
Here is Eric Kleefeld’s report at TPM Cafe, which notes the following…

A new poll finds that Democrats are more trusted than Republicans to handle the generic issue of "national security" — suggesting that the Iraq War has wiped out the Republican Party's edge in this area. The new Rasmussen poll asked respondents: "Which political party do you trust more to handle national security?" Forty-six percent of respondents chose the Democrats, while only 44% picked the Republicans. This isn't a single outlier, either: Rasmussen has repeatedly put the Democrats with an advantage on the issue since the Fall elections.
It’s way too early to take these numbers seriously, I know, but, to quote Atrios again, “zombie lies never die,” so we must be ever vigilant.

And speaking of Giuliani, this column appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday from Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in political science from Yale (good stuff actually does appear from time to time)...

The deluge of commentary on Rudolph Giuliani's presidential prospects has forced me finally to break my long silence about the man. Somebody's got to say it: He shouldn't be president, not because he's too "liberal" or "conservative," or because his positions on social issues have been heterodox, or because he seems tone-deaf on race, or because his family life has been messy, or because he's sometimes been as crass an opportunist as almost every other politician of note.

Rudy Giuliani shouldn't be president for reasons more profoundly troubling. His methods and motives suggest he couldn't carry his skills and experience to the White House without damaging this country. Two problems run deeper than current "horse-race" liabilities, such as his social views and family history.

The first serious problem is structural and political: A man who fought the inherent limits of his mayoral office as fanatically as Giuliani would construe presidential prerogatives so broadly he'd make George Bush's notions of "unitary" executive power seem soft. Even in the 1980s, as an assistant attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department and U.S. attorney in New York, Giuliani was imperious and overreaching. He perp-walked Wall Streeters right out of their offices in dramatic prosecutions that failed. He made the troubled daughter of a state judge, Hortense Gabel, testify against her mother and former Miss America Bess Meyerson in a failed prosecution charging, among other things, that Meyerson had hired the judge's daughter to bribe her into helping "expedite" a messy divorce case. The jury was so put off by Giuliani's tactics that it acquitted all concerned.

At least, as U.S. attorney, Giuliani served at the pleasure of the president and had to defer to federal judges. Were he president, U.S. attorneys would serve at his pleasure - a dangerous arrangement in the wrong hands, we've learned.

As mayor, Giuliani fielded his closest aides like a fast and sometimes brutal hockey team, micromanaging and bludgeoning city agencies and even bodies that weren't under his control, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Board of Education. They deserved it richly enough to make his bravado thrilling to many of us, but it wasn't very productive. And while this Savonarola disdained even would-be allies in other branches of government, he wasn't above cutting indefensible deals with crony contractors and pandering to some Hispanics, neoconservative and Orthodox Jews, and other favored constituencies.

Ironically, his most heroic moments as mayor spotlighted his deepest presidential liability. Giuliani's 9/11 performance was sublime for the unnerving reason that he'd been rehearsing for it all his adult life and remained trapped in that stage role.

What really drove many of his actions as mayor was a zealot's graceless division of everyone into friend or foe and his snarling, sometimes histrionic, vilifications of the foes. Those are operatic emotions, beneath the civic dignity of a great city and its chief magistrate.

I know a few New Yorkers who deserve the Rudy treatment, but only on 9/11 did the whole city become as operatic as the inside of Rudy's mind. For once, New York rearranged itself into a stage fit for, say, Rossini's Le Siege de Corinth or some dark, nationalist epic by Verdi or Puccini.

It's wrong to call New York's 9/11 agonies "operatic," but it was Giuliani who called the Metropolitan Opera only a few days after 9/11 and insisted its performances resume. At the start of one of them, the orchestra struck up a few familiar chords as the curtain rose on the entire Met cast, stagehands, administrators, secretaries and custodians - and Rudolph Giuliani, bringing the capacity audience to its feet to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" with unprecedented ardor. All gave the mayor "an ovation worthy of Caruso," as the New Yorker's Alex Ross put it.

A few days later, Giuliani proposed that his term be extended on an "emergency" basis beyond its lawful end on Jan. 1, 2002. (It wasn't, and the city did as well as it could have, anyway.)

Should this country suffer another devastating attack before the 2008 primaries are over, Giuliani's presidential prospects may soar beyond recalling. But the very constitutional notion of recall could soar away with them. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Giuliani was right for his time on a stage with built-in limits. But we shouldn't have to make him the next president to learn why even a grateful Britain dumped Churchill in its first major election after V-E day.
Oh, and here's more on Rudy, by the way.

Supreme Bastards

I dedicate the title of this post to the six utterly heartless individuals on the U.S. Supreme Court who recently ruled that 81-year-old James Stone, a retired engineer who once worked at Rockwell International’s Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, may not collect a penny of a $4.2 million judgment against the company for fraud connected to environmental cleanup.

Here is the summary from the web site of the False Claims Act Legal Center (the act under which Stone filed suit)…

Jim Stone and the U.S. Government won a $4.2 million FCA jury verdict against Rockwell International in 1999. In 2002, Rockwell appealed and lost. Rockwell asked for a rehearing and lost for a third time. Now, almost 20 years after first blowing the whistle, the Supreme Court has now decided (PDF) that Jim Stone is not an original source (never mind what the U.S. Department of Justice says) and is not eligible for a relator's share in the case.

Jim Moorman, President of Taxpayers Against Fraud, notes that the effect of the Court's decision will be to "Make an already difficult thing -- blowing the whistle -- even harder."
The Supremes ruled against Stone because, according to their timeline, Stone had already retired before Rockwell (now part of Boeing) started filing false reports concerning the supposed cleanup, and thus in the eyes of Scalia (and you KNEW he would speak for the majority in this), Stone lacked "direct and independent knowledge of the information upon which his allegations were based."

Well, Stone had to know something, or else he never would have come forward, right?

There’s no question about whether or not Rockwell was guilty in the case – they were. The only question is whether or not Stone was entitled to any of the damages Rockwell must pay. And the only two Supremes of the eight who decided in this case who seemed to get this right (Stephen Breyer did not rule) are John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who supported Stone because, though he had apparently retired before the false reports were issued, his claim led to a judgment against his former company.

As for the other six, I expected Scalia, Alito, Hangin’ Judge J.R. and Silent Clarence Thomas to go along for this ride, but I honestly thought Souter and especially Kennedy knew better (more fool me, I guess).

As the Inquirer notes in this account…

The outcome was cheered by business groups that wanted the court to limit whistle-blowers in false-claims lawsuits. Since Congress reinvigorated the Civil War-era law in 1986, those suits have returned $11 billion to the government. Recent high-profile cases include settlements with leading pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a leading congressional supporter of whistle-blower claims, said lawmakers should consider changes to the False Claims Act to make sure people are rewarded when they uncover wrongdoing.

"The Supreme Court has made it even more difficult to get to the bottom of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money," Grassley said.

The Bush administration sided with Stone, arguing that it was in the government's interest to encourage whistle-blowers, even though the government keeps more money now that Stone has lost.

Hartley Alley, a Colorado-based lawyer who represented Stone, said the decision failed to recognize the importance of Stone's actions at Rocky Flats, now a Superfund cleanup site.

The company pleaded guilty in 1992 to violating federal environmental laws.
How ridiculous is it, by the way, that the most business-friendly presidential administration we’ve ever seen (and government in total when the Repugs owned Congress) now is acting like it gives a fig about the rights of you and me after it has spent all of this time giving its benefactors everything they could possibly want?

So now, James Stone is retired, trying to live on a pension and savings that have probably long since been exhausted due to court costs, and he may die broke. Further, as Grassley and Moorman noted, you KNOW this judgment will discourage others from coming forward.

What country am I living in again?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

O.J. Coulda Done "Weekend Update" Too

It seems that former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and ESPN football analyst Ron Jaworski is going to replace Joe Theismann on the "Monday Night Football" telecasts this year (Jaws is a motor mouth too, but at least has a sense of humor about it).

With this in mind, the Inquirer conducted a readers' poll of their most favorite Monday Night Football analysts (I guess the requirement is that this person cannot be active; that's the only way John Madden would be omitted and not winning in a rout, actually), and as you might expect, Howard Cosell won by a large margin, which I guess is fair.

The only reason why I care about this, though, is to point out that conservative shill Dennis Miller, who once took up space in that role, came in dead last in the polling, as you can see below...

This really isn't too much of a surprise I know when you consider that he was the only MNF analyst to whom ESPN devoted a space at its web site on Tuesday mornings to explain what Miller was talking about the night before since it went over everyone's heads or was so vague as to defy understanding.

Also, Miller accomplished the extraordinary feat of coming in behind O.J. Simpson, who of course was convicted in the civil trial of the wrongful death of former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Though Simpson was one of the NFL's great running backs, his gridiron heroics have been overshadowed by the personal tragedy surrounding him that quite probably constitutes two counts convictions on charges of first-degree murder (but for some monumentally stupid jurors in South Central Los Angeles...and Miller still lost out to him).

So congratulations Dennis, and to commemorate the occasion, I present these golden moments courtesy of Media Matters for America.

Northeast Philly Comes To NoLA

As reported in another New York Times editorial this morning, the U.S. House passed a bill authorizing the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Alphonso Jackson to issue tens of thousands of new housing vouchers under the Section 8 program for low-income housing to the residents who lost their homes in the Katrina catastrophe.

And if you live or have lived in Northeast Philadelphia (and other communities, I’m sure), I don’t have to tell you anything about Section 8 housing (named after the section in the U.S. Housing Code that enforces it).

“Section 8 Housing” is a war cry emanating from politicians (primarily Repugs) who try to frighten voters into supporting them by conjuring up visions of low-income residents moving into their neighborhoods and threatening their property values. And where I grew up, this was definitely used with racist overtones, with the fear being that African Americans will move in everywhere and our neighborhoods will become riddled with crime, blight, and rampant drug use.

And though there is plenty of blight in Philadelphia neighborhoods with predominantly an African-American population (as well as other populations), it should be noted that the arrival of “big-box retail” accomplished much of what the politicians brayed about in Northeast Philadelphia concerning Section 8; as a result, we endured depressed property values and a subsequent increase in crime, blight, and rampant drug use (as well as environmental harm, since trees and grasslands all over the place were paved over), proving that, while Section 8 housing is not as “business friendly” as commercial real estate development, the end result can be the same.

But the areas hardest hit by Katrina bear no resemblance to Northeast Philadelphia, I know, and the residents in these places would benefit the most from an expanded voucher program such as the one just passed by the House.

Especially since it’s hard to get a clear picture of what is being accomplished in the blighted areas of NoLA from this “list of accomplishments” from HUD. I see a lot of community development block grant mitigation plan approvals and grant money freed up and distributed, but not much else (and months after the fact as well – and though this ThinkProgress link is over a year old, I honestly cannot imagine that much has changed, especially if we are still at a stage where the displaced Katrina residents still have to qualify for funding to move into a home).

But what is emblematic of the entire lack of coordination and mishandling in the Katrina mess (not exclusively by Bushco, though) is this: as stated in the Times editorial, thousands of families hardest hit by Katrina could lose their temporary aid by September, yet FEMA misallocated some aid money by buying too many trailers that they now have to ditch at “fire sale” prices (and couldn't MSNBC have used an expression other than "flood the market"?).

(I can just picture Messrs. Brown and Chertoff on late-night satellite T.V. hawking these things along with the $99 paint job from Earl Scheib and a Tom Carvel Ice Cream “Cookie Puss,” just before the “Star-Spangled Banner” plays and the test pattern appears…oy).

Update 3/30/07: And speaking of NoLA...

Meet Dave “Outraged By The Outrage” Zeeck

This story from Editor and Publisher’s Joe Strupp notes that the outgoing president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Dave Zeeck, reacted strongly to claims from bloggers and others from either side of the ideological spectrum in this country that newspapers “are biased, lazy and out to bring down the country,” as Strupp puts it.

Here is how Zeeck responded…

“For a generation or more, we’ve let others define us. Spiro Agnew comes to mind. Rush Limbaugh and the rest of talk radio, both right and left,” he said. “Bloggers who assail us as the MSM, the mainstream media, as if that is a badge that should shame us. You know what they say; we’re the liberal media. We’re elitists. We’re only interested in bad news. We tear people down just to sell newspapers. We have a political agenda. We’re unpatriotic.”

He then added, “How can I put this delicately? If you’ll pardon a literary aside. I’ll just mention the subject of a recent bestseller: Bullshit!
Oooh, what a potty mouth! As Atrios would say, it sounds like time for another blogger ethics panel.

Zeeck continues as follows…

“We may know that such criticism is untrue, but what is our public response? Mostly silence,” he said. “We are uncomfortable about advocating for ourselves. We are losing our case in the court of public opinion. The gas bags are winning.”

One way for editors to fire back, he said, is to use their best weapon, great reporting. “We’re still the source of most news in this country and it is an advantage we will have for a long time,” Zeeck stressed. “Who is the Yahoo reporter at my city hall? Where is that Google reporter risking his life in Iraq?”
On the one hand, I think Zeeck is engaging in one big “pity party” here and he ought to confine his remarks to particular episodes of which he speaks and try to address root causes. On the other hand, it’s good to see that he has a pulse and cares enough about his craft to defend it.

Right wingers criticize “mainstream” corporate media to create a distraction in an effort to make sure their voice is heard above all others. Period. They don’t care about dissenting points of view, much like their president, and they never will. And newspapers and other media outlets suck up to those people in an effort to get them to pay for what they’re selling, and in the process, their quality plummets (and the readership is smart enough to figure this out without having people like your humble narrator pointing it out for them).

And speaking of people like me, as I see it, our job first and foremost is to call the wingers on their nonsense. Yes, I try to do other stuff that I think is interesting and people may or may not care about (such as the car texting thing I got into earlier), but the fact of the matter is that if newspapers like the Inquirer would police themselves so that, for example, people like Kevin Ferris wouldn’t be allowed to have his column published unless he could prove that protestors of the Iraq war had spray painted graffiti on the Capitol steps instead of merely quoting some speculative hearsay that may be nothing more than this week’s RNC talking point, then people like me would shut up about it.

The bottom line is that if reporters, writers and editors were policing themselves properly, trying to ascertain real factual stories and provide context the way they were once trained to do, and not worrying about how successful a “cost center” they’ve become, then the only people shouting would be the freepers. And they will never stop shouting anyway; there is absolutely no way to please them other than to give them every single, stinking thing they want regardless of the consequences.

And all of Dave Zeeck’s cursing will never change that.

Trying To Legislate Common Sense

I regularly dump on the Philadelphia Inquirer for well-deserved reasons, and I have a feeling I’ll be doing it again shortly. However, I’m taking issue with them reluctantly over an editorial today, because they’re trying to do the right thing.

I posted about a month ago on a story in the Inquirer where these teenaged girls from the western PA suburbs were just oh so happy with themselves because they sent text messages while they were driving, and I was actually shocked by the dangerous stupidity behind doing that sort of thing. Well, as noted here, the Inquirer is calling for a law to ban texting while driving (trying and failing in typical fashion to be “cute” by using texting terminology in the editorial).

I’m sorry to point this out, but that is absolutely an effort in futility.

As I’ve mentioned, I drive in New Jersey a lot, and that’s state’s ban on hand-held cell phones is the most ignored law that I’ve ever seen. And that is concerning a practice which can be visible to a police officer who happens to drive by an offending individual (i.e., driving while a cell phone looks like it’s stuck on someone’s face).

If someone is texting while driving, it’s going to be harder for a police officer to make a visual identification of an offending driver than it would be if that driver were speaking on a hand-held phone (unless one of the passengers in the vehicle dimes out the driver). More often than not, a police officer would identify a texting device in the company of a driver after an accident had already occurred (though someone would probably hide it in a car console, purse, or glove box in that event to avoid notice and thus incur an additional penalty).

I can’t think of any other way to fight this than to demonstrate in driver’s education how stoo-pid it is to “text” while driving for both those awaiting their licenses and anyone who has to reenroll in driver’s training pursuant to vehicle offenses.

Let's Get Small

(Dated ‘70s reference – sorry…).

So Lawrence Small resigned last week as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as noted here by the New York Times. Also, a Times editorial today on Small notes the following…

…No one disputes that (the Smithsonian) is an unwieldy institution — an amorphous amalgam of arts and sciences, research and entertainment. Because it receives most of its money from taxpayers, the Smithsonian needs a leader who can be an advocate to the public and to Congress. Mr. Small has been ineffective in both roles.

The Smithsonian needs a leader who understands and can balance the needs of its many separate museums and entities. As Mr. Small leaves, a new report says the Smithsonian’s eight art museums are drastically underfinanced in comparison with its history and science museums.
As noted here, Small was appointed in September 1999 by the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, which, as today’s Times editorial notes, is overweighted with honorary positions (including Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Chief Justice Hangin’ Judge J.R.), breaking a 150-year tradition of hiring a scientist or someone rooted in academia (Small came from Fannie Mae, which has its own set of issues to be sure).

What really was huge in the Small case, though (sorry: -), were the expenses he incurred on the job, as well as his exorbitant compensation, as noted here, including these items…

According to a spokesperson of Smithsonian, Small had a taxable income of $915,768 this year. According to news reports, he allegedly drew $885,000 and an alleged additional $2 million in expenses in 2006. The expenses are said to include $160,000 for office renovations, $273,000 for housekeeping and $12,000 to maintain his swimming pool. He is also reported to have chartered a plane to take him to San Antonio, costing $14,509, which, if true would not have had authorization.
And it’s not as if Small hadn’t run into trouble before. He pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 2005 (as noted here, halfway down the right column – not sure how much blame lies with Small versus the agent who sold him and his wife the artifacts, though).

Also, Small entered into a 30-year (!) agreement with the Showtime cable TV network without seeking Congressional approval, as noted here. There’s a lot to this story I’ll admit, and I know that fundraising in general is a thankless task, which probably made Small go for this deal when he shouldn’t have, but at the very least, he should have let Congress know what was going on first.

In addition to making the excellent observation that the Smithsonian Board of Regents should not automatically assume that a person from the corporate world would be better to serve as secretary than someone established in a non-profit setting, today’s Times editorial provides two other recommendations for hiring Small’s successor.

I would add a fourth recommendation, given Small’s actions; in addition to approval from the Board of Regents, the Smithsonian’s next Secretary should be confirmed by an up-and-down vote of the U.S. House of Representatives. It will drag out the process longer, but it would not leave the care of this precious national resource in the hands of someone appointed exclusively by the Board of Regents, a mix of both earnest individuals and political hacks taking up space.

Hmmm, This Crow Tastes Good

How dare Chuck Hagel do the right thing with his Senate vote to keep the withdrawal deadlines in the Iraq supplemental funding bill?

He still has a ways to go to clean up his voting record, but he came through big time on this yesterday (especially with Darth Cheney all poised to cast what would have been a tiebreaking vote to kill the deadlines).

Live and learn...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tuesday Videos

Alice In Chains ("Them Bones")...

...Shinedown ("Save Me," acoustic)...

...U2 ("Gloria")...

...and legendary jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan would have been 83 today ("The Nearness Of You," recorded in 1951).

Get Well So We Can Beat You Up

Tony Snow is completely antithetical to everything I believe, advocate for and try to practice as best as I can. He is nothing but a hired gun paid to tow the foul Bushco line at the expense of us all.

Still, I should point out that I'm sorry to read that his cancer has returned, especially in this fashion. I hope he is able to recover and his treatment progresses well, and I extend my best to him in this regard as well as his family and friends.

And since Katie Couric questioned why John Edwards continues his campaign despite Elizabeth's cancer (though Couric worked through her deceased husband's similar illness, as pointed out by others), I'm sure she'll ask Snow why he continues to work also.

Update 3/29/07: Excellent point...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Monday Videos

Congratulations to OK Go, winner of a YouTube video award; didn't know there was such a thing ("Here It Goes Again" - clever stuff on the treadmills, guys, though just a tad bit geeky)...

...Happy Birthday to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith ("Train Kept A' Rollin,'" from 1974)...

...Happy Birthday also to Diana Ross of the Supremes ("Reflections," performed on the "Tennessee" Ernie Ford Show back in 1967; I probably could have gotten to host a variety show of my own back then, there were so damn many of them - looks like Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong singing backup)...

...and as long as I've already "set the wayback" for the Dippity-Do era, here's happy birthday wishes to Leonard Nimoy, presenting possibly the stupidest moment of his life (the "Bilbo Baggins" hobbit song).

A Net Neutrality No-No

(Posting for tomorrow is a big question mark, by the way.)

On the Net Neutrality front, this item on Yahoo News tells us that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has announced a “notice of inquiry” to “provide a convenient forum for various providers, including network and content providers, to tell us what is happening in the market and about their concerns."

However, FCC member Michael Copps and commissioner Jonathan Adelstein don’t think that’s necessary.

"We're being left behind in broadband globally, the country is paying a steep cost, and we face the stark challenge to decide if we are going to do something about it or not," (Copps) warned. "We're talking here about the greatest small 'd' democratic technology platform that has ever existed. Taking another year or two to decide if we want to keep it that way shortchanges the technology, shortchanges consumers and shortchanges our future."
And Adelstein said…

"Providers may be on their best behavior for now with the spotlight turned on net neutrality. But decisions being made today about the architecture of the Internet could affect its character for years to come, so it is important that we make our expectations clear."
Have I mentioned, by the way, that both these guys were appointed during those supposedly scandal-ridden days of the Clinton Administration?

This takes you to the latest on Net Neutrality, and it tells you how to help get this thing moving in our favor once and for all.

To be honest, I haven’t completely made up my mind on Kevin Martin (Eric Alterman has some background here). The fact that he’s not former chairman Michael Powell is an improvement, but Martin still has the same wingnut pedigree, which automatically makes me suspicious of him at all times.

Update 3/27: And by the way, Happy Netroots Freedom Day!

Bang Bang, George - You Missed!

This appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times last week, and it absolutely screams for a response.

A shot in the arm for the GOP

By striking down the District of Columbia's extraordinarily strict gun control law, which essentially bans guns, a federal appeals court may have revived gun control as a political issue. It has been mostly dormant since autumn 2000, when Al Gore decided he was less interested in it than in carrying states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania: "Gore Tables Gun Issue as He Courts Midwest" [New York Times, Sept. 20, 2000]. The appeals court ruling appalls advocates of gun control laws and should alarm the Democratic Party.

The court ruled 2 to 1 that the D.C. law, which allows only current and retired police officers to have handguns in their homes, violates the Constitution's Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
And since Chickenhawk George did not provide these details (though preoccupied with Al Gore before he gave the reader the full background for some bizarre reason, Will being the “journalist” that he is), I’ll do so now (noted by Paul Helmke of Handgun Control in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution here – the case in question is Parker v. District of Columbia)…

For the first time in American history (a U.S. Court of Appeals) declared a gun law unconstitutional based on the second amendment – (in the process), that ruling does the following:

• Ignores binding Supreme Court precedent. In the 1939 case of Miller v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that there was no Second Amendment right independent of "some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia." The Second Amendment "must be interpreted and applied" in such a way as to support the "obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces," the court held.

The judges writing for the majority in the Parker ruling don't even mention the Miller case until halfway into their decision, and then ignore its holding. As the dissenting judge in Parker made clear, Miller "succinctly — but unambiguously — set down its understanding of the Second Amendment" and this court did not follow. If this Appellate Court can treat precedent of nearly 70 years so cavalierly, what other changes might we see in the coming years?

• Discounts the express language of the Second Amendment. While the Second Amendment has only 27 words (and three commas), many try to ignore its opening clauses: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State." To the District of Columbia circuit judges, this "prefatory" language defines a "salutary civic purpose" only, but does not mean anything in the way of limiting "an individual right to keep and bear arms."
And of course, the Repugs wasted no time trying to capitalize in typical fashion, as noted by the New York Times here…

In a sleazy political stroke, Republicans played the gun lobby’s card (3/22) as the House was on the verge of redressing one of the longest-running injustices of American democracy: the denial of a Congressional vote to the taxpayers of the District of Columbia. The historic proposal for full representation in the House was derailed by a G.O.P. motion to attach a ban on Washington’s legitimate attempts to outlaw firearms in the city limits. Democratic leaders had to retract the bill and promise to prevail later without such a poison pill.
Now that we have some much-needed context, back to Will…

This ruling probably will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, which 68 years ago seemed to hold that the amendment's first 13 words circumscribe the force of the rest. That is, there is a constitutionally protected right to "keep and bear" guns only insofar as the keeping and bearing are pertinent to service in state-run militias.
Which, as noted above by Helmke, is the true intention of the second amendment (why do I have a feeling that we’ll be arguing about this forever, though?).

In 2000, advocates of stringent gun control thought they had won their argument with historical evidence when an Emory University historian, Michael Bellesiles, published "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture." This book, which was awarded the Bancroft Prize, the most coveted honor for American history scholarship, argued that when the Second Amendment was written, guns were not widely owned or reliable enough to be important. Therefore the amendment was written to protect only the rights of states, not of individuals.

Before long, however, other scholars argued that much of Bellesiles's "research" consisted of meretricious uses of, fabrication of, or disregard of evidence, and the Bancroft Prize was rescinded. And in 1989, Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas Law School had written in a Yale Law Journal article, "The Embarrassing Second Amendment," that the amendment's language, properly read, is an embarrassment to those who favor whittling away the amendment's protection of the individual's right to own guns.
I can’t imagine the kind of breathtaking arrogance required for someone to write a document with a title of “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” but I will only say (based in part on this Wikipedia article) that the language is vague and subject to interpretation because, at the time the amendment was written, James Madison and many of our founders envisioned a conflict between state and federal militias, and the language represents a compromise of sorts. I will never believe that the author of the second amendment wrote it to override common sense gun laws.

However, I freely admit that I am not a scholar on this matter; I just know what makes sense and what doesn’t.

He noted that if James Madison, the foremost shaper of the Constitution, and his colleagues in the First Congress intended the Second Amendment to protect only the states' rights to maintain militias, the amendment could have simply said: "Congress shall have no power to prohibit state militias." Or as Virginia's George Mason, who opposed ratification of the Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights, said, "Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people."
Of course, Will is purposely derailing the issue of incidents of gun crime that have occurred in D.C. while the ban has been enforced (and it still will be enforced, pending appeal - I guess those residents aren't part of Will's "whole people") versus gun crime in cities with comparable populations where no ban exists, or other trends to determine the ban’s effectiveness. I can’t provide that information at the moment either, though I’ll keep checking (but of course, Mr. Hot Shot Corporate Media Columnist here would do that if he were really interested in telling the story straight).

When Madison and others fashioned the Bill of Rights, they did not merely constitutionalize — make fundamental — the right to bear arms. They made the Second Amendment second only to the First, which protects the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and worship. They did that because individual dignity and self-respect, which are essential to self-government, are related to a readiness for self-defense — the public's involvement in public safety. Indeed, 150 years ago this month, in the Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney said that one proof that blacks could not be citizens was the fact that the Founders did not envision them having the same rights that whites have, including the right to "keep and carry arms."
I am absolutely mystified as to why Will would use the logic of one of the Supreme Court’s most infamous moments (re., the Dred Scott decision) to reinforce a U.S. Appeals Court ruling which, as Paul Helmke noted previously, ignores prior case law as well as the intent of the District of Columbia circuit court judges that defines gun ownership for “a salutary civic purpose only.”

Increasingly, however, some constitutional scholars and judicial rulings argue that several restraints the Bill of Rights puts on government can be disregarded if the worthiness — as academics or judges assess that — of government's purposes justifies ignoring those restraints. Erwin Chemerinsky, professor of law and political science at Duke University, argued in The Post last week that even if the Second Amendment is construed as creating an individual right to gun ownership, the D.C. law should still be constitutional because the city had a defensible intent (reducing violence) when it annihilated that right.

Sound familiar? Defenders of the McCain-Feingold law, which restricts the amount, timing and content of political campaign speech, say: Yes, yes, the First Amendment says there shall be "no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." But that proscription can be disregarded because the legislators' (professed) intent — to prevent the "appearance" of corruption and to elevate political discourse — is admirable.
So…Will seems to be saying that there is a contradiction between people who support McCain-Feingold because the bill impacts the first amendment right of free speech (and I don’t agree with that premise) and people who disagree with this decision because it impacts the second amendment “right to bear arms.”

So much stupidity, so little time…

In this argument, Will completely ignores the expressed wishes of the District of Columbia, which was responsible for instituting the ban to begin with. Also, McCain-Feingold, being congressional legislation, is something that can be modified more easily than settled law (in the case of Parker).

Finally, by altering McCain-Feingold, a result could be that more “soft” money would find its way directly into political campaigns directly from wealthy donors once more, as opposed to being filtered through “527” groups. As a result of altering the D.C. handgun ban (as Parker has done), people could die.

So I’m sorry – I see no equivalency here as imagined by Will.

If the Supreme Court reverses the appeals court's ruling and upholds the D.C. gun law, states and localities will be empowered to treat the Second Amendment as the D.C. law does: as a nullity. This will bring the gun control issue — and millions of gun owners — back to a roiling boil. That is not in the interest of the Democratic Party, which is supported by most ardent supporters of gun control.
That’s absolutely ridiculous. However the Supreme Court rules on this (assuming they hear the appeal), it will not result in any sweeping national trend one way or the other. States, cities, and other municipalities throughout this country will continue to wage the battle over the interpretation of the second amendment regardless. And as much as I decry the status quo on this, it is preferable to bad case law as represented by the Parker decision.

And by the way, Atrios brings us these golden moments with today’s propagandist (via Eric Alterman’s book; sounds like Will’s personal life is as tangled as his attempts at logic).