Thursday, August 30, 2007

Beignets and Circuses?

Remember New Orleans? It was a city in Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Big port, lots of oil refineries, and they did a little bit of fishing, too. Used to be you could go just about anywhere there and run into colorful characters or interesting places. All that changed two years ago when a rather large hurricane hit the place.

You'd never know that to look on Google News today. I tried. There's not much there about how a major American city has been dying of neglect. Lynn Allen at Evergreen Politics seems to have noticed this, too. But hey, if Owen Wilson's feeling down who has time for trivia, right? Now, I'm not picking on Google News, mind you. It's just a good indicator of what's out there, and what people are reading.

Various blogs have been mired in the trivia, though.

Digby provided a well documented timeline of events on August 29, 2005, the day the hurricane came ashore. You'll note that President Bush had time to go to two separate venues to flog his dreadful Medicare plan, but didn't have time to answer Louisiana Governor Blanco's pleas for assistance. As Jane Hamsher points out, he did have time to slip Halliburton another sweetheart contract.

Back at EP, shoephone takes the tale from there:

On this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when guesses are percolating about which Bush crony or incompetent will be nominated for attorney general, I won't forget how Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security, told NPR's Robert Seigel, just hours after flooding wreaked havoc on New Orleans, that there were lots of rumors swirling and so he was totally unaware of 1200 people languishing inside the convention center without food or water! Chertoff's willful ignorance was like a dare. Too bad NPR sent John Burnett out to report on the facts -- confirming the numbers, the lack of food and water and adding that two people were also lying dead in their wheelchairs inside the convention center, now teeming with stench and desperation and mayhem.

2-Year Anniversary of Katrina: The President's Empty Promises

Yes, what a glorious time! Michael "Brownie" Brown swung into action, which is to say he got his suitcase out, picked an appropriate wardrobe, and headed south. To see the wheels of government spinning with such efficiency was a wonder to behold, wasn't it?

It hasn't gotten any better since then. Depression and use of psychiatric medication is rampant there. Anyone who has seen or read any of Chris Rose's essays on New Orleans since Katrina knows just how bad things can be for its residents:

I pulled into the Shell station on Magazine Street, my car running on fumes. I turned off the motor. And then I just sat there.

There were other people pumping gas at the island I had pulled into and I didn't want them to see me, didn't want to see them, didn't want to nod hello, didn't want to interact in any fashion.

Outside the window, they looked like characters in a movie. But not my movie.

I tried to wait them out, but others would follow, get out of their cars and pump and pay and drive off, always followed by more cars, more people. How can they do this, like everything is normal, I wondered. Where do they go? What do they do?

It was early August and two minutes in my car with the windows up and the air conditioner off was insufferable. I was trapped, in my car and in my head.

So I drove off with an empty tank rather than face strangers at a gas station.

Hell And Back

I bet you'll be hearing and reading a whole lot more about Owen Wilson's battles with depression than you'll hear about New Orleans'.

New Orleans is now a place where much of the city is still uninhabitable, where garbage isn't collected, and where the justice system is overwhelmed. Construction work there entails the sort of hazards normally associated with Third World countries. And some of those colorful folks I mentioned? Phoenix Woman explains that some of them are just a bit too colorful, if you know what I mean. Looks like we can add New Orleans to Baghdad and Basra as cities the Bush Administration have made much worse.

Yet, shoephone points out, precious little has been done since then. Less, in fact, than was promised. You won't be reading about that in the news any time soon, I'll bet.

UPDATE (Aug 31): Part of the reason the courts are overwhelmed in New Orleans is that crime is also increasing:

The number of permits issued to carry concealed weapons is running twice as high as it was before Katrina — this, in a city with only about half its pre-storm population of around 450,000. Attendance at firearms classes and hours logged at shooting ranges also are up, according to the gun industry.

Gun dealers who saw sales shoot up during the chaotic few months after Katrina say that sales are still brisk, and that the customers are a cross-section of the population — doctors, lawyers, bankers, artists, laborers, stay-at-home moms.


Citizens, the tourism industry, police and politicians officials have been alarmed by the wave of killings in New Orleans, with 162 in 2006. A Tulane University study put the city's 2006 homicide rate at 96 slayings per 100,000 people, the highest in the nation.

National Guardsmen and state police are patrolling the streets of New Orleans. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, which posted a record 66 homicides in 2006, the sheriff sent armored vehicles to protect high-crime neighborhoods.

(April, 2007) New Orleans residents arming themselves ...

No wonder no one wants to get out of their cars.

UPDATE 2 (Sep. 2): An updated version of this article is cross-posted at Taylor Marsh's site.

UPDATE 3 (Sep. 2): Good grief, I'm just noticing this now? Corrected the text describing Digby's post to the correct year. The weather on Aug. 29, 2007 was considerably more pleasant in New Orleans, I imagine.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Burn Bush For Darcy Burner and America, Too

image credit:

I don't do many endorsements, for many reasons. Not the least of them is that I'm not sure if an endorsement from a blog with a name like this one would be much help. Another is that right now I'm not feeling too positive about politicians of either major party. Right now, being a constant pain in their rib cage is what I aspire to. I'll leave pleasantries to those who can still manage them.

What's more, during her last election attempt, the Darcy Burner I kept hearing about didn't resemble the one I saw on TV. What I heard was that she was her own woman, with strong, sensible opinions about the Iraq War, technology policy, and the power of government. What I saw on TV was another warmed-over DLC-bot. All that money from Rahm Emanuel apparently came at the price of Darcy Burner not being Darcy Burner. Since then, it looks like Ms. Burner has found her voice. Watch this video of Darcy discussing the recent FISA amendment and see if you don't agree. Of course, it's easy to talk about what you're going to do when you're not there doing it, but I'd sure like to see if she can back up what she says. If she can, we need about a hundred more of her in Congress.

Last weekend, various netroots websites, including Firedoglake, Down With Tyranny, and Eschaton sponsored a Burn Bush for Burner drive to contrast her with her Republican opponent, Dave Reichert. Reichert was the beneficiary of a $1000 a plate dinner hosted by President Bush tonight, which reportedly will raise $500,000. The goal is to raise $100,000 in small contributions to show that while they're rich, we are many. I think Jane Hamsher put it best today:

Groups like Emily’s List come in with a check for a hundred thousand dollars and can pretty much demand to control messaging on a Congressional campaign. Much of the blogosphere’s ability to get the attention of politicians when they go off the reservation is due not only to the fact that we raised quite a bit during the last election cycle for candidates we support, but also because we made Joe Lieberman raise $17 million to keep his seat.

Yes, a hundred thousand dollars — particularly at this point in the election cycle — does get people’s attention.

Turkee Make Them Lookie

We need their attention. Recent events have made it quite clear we don't have the attention of our representatives in Congress.

So if you can, please give, even if it's five dollars. Do without that grande mocha tomorrow, and help elect a better Democrat.

UPDATE (Aug. 30): Believe it or not, contributions are still trickling into the Burn Bush for Burner page. It's up to $87.7K. Not bad for a fundraiser for a candidate whose election is more than a year away. I'd say we have their attention.

I've mentioned this before, but the Internet has become a wonderful way of making your political contributions go to exactly the sort of people you want running our government. Making Democrats aware of just how much potential support is out there for good people ought to help make more available.

Abu Resigns

NPR is buzzing this morning with rumors that Attorney General Alberto "Abu" Gonzalez is resigning this morning. He is expected to announce this at a news conference at 10:30 AM Eastern Time.

I must say that this comes as a surprise. I figured the one person who'd be there at the end of the Bush Administration would be faithful old Abu, the man who always covers for the President. Unfortunately, it looks like the heat is just getting to be too much. That is to say, it's too much for his boss, not Abu. I think you can take it as a given that Abu's doing what he's told, and now he's been told to resign. The question is, why? My guess is that it has something to do with plans by the House and Senate judiciary committees to continue investigating the U.S. Attorney firings, along with the Justice Department's refusal to investigate the contempt of Congress complaint against Harriet Miers, the former White House Counsel who refused to appear before Congress after being subpoenaed.

Normally, I'd say good riddance, but this is the Bush Administration, where each appointee to a cabinet position is more heinous than the last one. Speculation seems to have centered on Michael Chertoff. As Christy Hardin Smith points out, this would be another appointment that fits that pattern:

It is worth a reminder on Mr. Chertoff that:

FEMA was unable to fully support the accuracy and completeness of certain unpaid obligations, and accounts payable, and the related effects on net position, if any, prior to the completion of DHS’s 2006 PAR. These unpaid obligations, as reported in the accompanying DHS balance sheet as of September 30, 2006, were $22.3 Billion or 46% of DHS consolidated unexpended appropriations at September 30, 2006. [emphasis mine]

To give some idea of proportionality, in fiscal year 2005 the entire Grants and Training (formerly know as State and Local Government Preparedness, a/k/a grants to get working radios for NYC firemen and protection for bridges, tunnels, chemical plants and nuclear facilities) was only $171 million.

So, follow me here, FEMA has lost and/or failed to account for a sum of money that is almost half of DHS’s entire budget and 130 times greater than the amount of money that the Department of Homeland Security is willing to spend to secure the homeland.

Close to half the budget for DHS, missing and unaccounted for — in any corporation, that would be a fraud investigation of massive proportions. In government, that’s sheer incompetence with your tax dollars. Certainly worth a lot of questions, isn’t it?

Alberto Gonzales Resigns As Attorney General

Nothing ever changes with these guys. It looks like Firedoglake will be covering this thing all morning. Stay tuned.

UPDATE (Aug. 28): Taylor Marsh has compiled a set of links showing why Bush's defense of Abu, particularly his assertion that the criticism of Gonzalez is politically motivated, is absurd.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

More Bread And Circuses on The Home Front

image credit: Dept. Of Labor

Caption reads: Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Dave Lauriski visited the General Chemical Trona mine near Green River, Wyoming, as well as two other Wyoming mines, to inspect safety procedures and to discuss the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s goals to increase safety at mines throughout the United States. (DOL Photo/Rich Kulczewski)

Our "news" services continue to cover up for what happened at the Crandall Canyon mine. Karen Zaleski writes:

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips treated [mine owner Robert] Murray like a hero on Wednesday, the same day the Salt Lake Tribune reported on documents that prove Murray had pushed for risky mining methods at Crandall Canyon. Risky mining methods Murray has strenuously denied employing, but which may have contributed to turning his mine into a death scene for three rescuers and six miners.

CNN Nails Mine Owner Murray... With a Big Wet Kiss

It seems strange that the Salt Lake Tribune, one of the few news organizations that might be counted on to shill for a local mine owner and potential advertiser, is actually one of the few that have shown any real interest in the affair. Here's what Robert Gehrke has to say about the cause of this disaster:

The Crandall Canyon mine was nearing the end of its life and mine owners were trying to extract the last deposits by cutting out the coal pillars that were holding up the massive amount of rock above the main tunnels.

Huge sections on each side of the main tunnels had already been mined with longwall machines. Once that coal was gone, the sections collapsed, leaving behind piles of rubble called "gob." That essentially meant that the thick coal pillars that protected the tunnels were the only support for the mountain that rises as much as 2,200 feet above.

"Everyone understands that in the West you have tremendous pressure on those coal pillars from the overburden and they are subject to bursting or bursting of the ribs," [former senior MSHA advisor Tony] Oppegard said. "In either case, that can be deadly for coal miners."

In the Crandall Canyon mine, miners have for the past several months been cutting those pillars away, removing the last of the coal and allowing the roof to fall in.

Critics blast feds' approval of controversial 'retreat' mining at Crandall Canyon

They've also displayed a rare interest in the victims of this disaster, which is to say they've done something beyond filming them crying or asking them how they feel:

Anger and frustration at Crandall Canyon mine co-owner Robert Murray has boiled over among some families who are clinging to hope that six trapped miners might still be alive.

Murray has been asked not to brief families anymore on efforts to try to reach the trapped miners after a confrontation with two families at a briefing this week, one of the families said Wednesday night.

Jackie Taylor told reporters that family members also are angry that Murray and federal officials are saying that any bodies likely will be left in the mine and not recovered.

Angry relatives of Crandall Canyon Six tell mine owner to stay away

Another news organization that has shown some curiosity is the New York Times:

[MSHA Director Richard] Stickler has been faulted for letting Mr. Murray claim center stage in news conferences and act as a go-between with the trapped miners’ families. He also allowed Mr. Murray to take reporters deep into the unstable mine days after the collapse. Most disastrously, he helped oversee a doomed rescue effort, in which two miners and a federal mine safety worker were killed and six people injured in a cave-in on Aug. 16.

Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah

Unfortunately, that curiosity is tempered with the knowledge of where their bread is buttered. The Times tries to explain Stickler's failures away by saying that Stickler is a bookish sort of fellow, but as Arianna Huffington points out:

Stickler is a former coal company manager with such a lousy safety record at the companies he'd run that his nomination as head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration was twice rejected by senators from both parties, forcing Bush to sneak him in the back door with a recess appointment.

The Utah Mine Disaster: A Teachable Moment About Workplace Safety

The Times finally gets around to mentioning this on page two of the article:

In trying to block his appointment, critics highlighted Mr. Stickler’s tenure as director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Deep Mine Safety and questioned his management at the Beth Energy mines in Pennsylvania, where the mine workers’ union said mines he supervised had an accident rate higher than the national average, in some cases double it.

Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah

Who writes this stuff, the MSHA's press secretary? Even when they actually take Stickler to task for his lousy safety record as head of the country's mine safety agency, they do it in muted tones on the second page (below the fold, no doubt, in the dead tree edition) of an article. Even the article's title "Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah" is an understatement of titanic proportion. The guy has spent much of his career ignoring mine safety in pursuit of profit for his employers. A better title would be "Mine Safety Leader Loses Last Shred of Conscience Down a Mineshaft In Utah". Can't anyone besides a blogger point this out?

Not to be outdone, Bob Murray posted this comment to Google:

August 22, 2007 - We are totally focused on the recovery of these miners and in administering to the welfare of their families.

The trauma from this natural disaster has been great for many, but we will not be deterred, and we will not leave this mountain until we achieve a resolution to this tragedy.

Google News: Comment by Robert E. Murray, Chairman & CEO, Murray Energy Corporation

I wish I had half this guy's chutzpah. To continue to maintain that this was a natural disaster, when both mining safety experts and seismologists from the USGS and two universities have quite clearly explained that it wasn't is a new low in this department. If we had a few more honest journalists in this country, it might actually be considered unnatural, or at least doomed to failure. As it is, he's just working the system. Apparently, he's working it pretty well, too. Here's Richard Stickler, as quoted by the NY Times:

As for the deadly rescue effort, he said: “We felt confident we were putting in the maximum support and protection, and that there was no immediate danger. These mountain bumps are something you can’t predict.”

Mine Safety Leader Loses Some Respect for Actions in Utah

Yep. Those little bumps just can't be predicted, can they? Except by people who understand physics and geology, of course - things you'd expect someone who is running the Mine Safety and Health Administration to comprehend. For that matter, anyone who has seen termites undermine the structure of a house could probably comprehend this situation. Yet the press largely refuse to call bullshit on either Stickler or Murray on this issue.

Has anyone besides Arianna Huffington and the Salt Lake Tribune called him out on this one? Doesn't look like it. In stark contrast to the reporting of the "local" newspaper, the national news seems to not miss a chance to shill for the owner of the mine and his protector in the MSHA.

All in all, the press in this country have shown themselves to be the same sort of people who caused this disaster - people more interested in their own profits than they are in doing the jobs they're supposed to be doing.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

War As They Saw It

image credit: U.S. Army

[Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division conduct operations in Al Haymer, Aug. 6, 2007]

Via Juan Cole, I read an interesting article today in the New York Times by seven American enlisted men from the 82nd Airborne Division. It mentions many of the problems that critics of the war have noted. Juan Cole wrote that when he read this article, it sounded like the Iraq he'd come to know through Arabic-language newspapers and broadcasts. For my part, it sounds like the Iraq I've come to know from reading Cole, Patrick Lang, and other realists, and from the statistics I've seen on the civilian deaths and displacements. I especially appreciated this reference to the grandstanding nonsense of John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and others:

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

The War As We Saw It

That's the idiocy of this thing in a nutshell. The news organizations in this country seldom look at things from the perspective of the Iraqis. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that if they did Americans would realize just how ridiculous our efforts there have become. What we're doing now is counterproductive both for Iraq's interests and our own. The longer we're there, the more the killing will go on, and the more they'll hate us for it.

Give the article a read. It's an antidote to all the nonsense spouted by the Administration and their numerous shills and apologists in the news. One of the soldiers, Jeremy Murphy, was wounded before the article was published and was being flown to the United States as the article was being finished. These guys are seeing the results of our policy closeup, and they're living with the consequences.

In recent discussions of the draft, I've seen many implications that the people who are in the Army are somehow less well-educated than average. I've stated, here and elsewhere, that this is not the case, based on both my own experience and studies conducted by various organizations. The soldiers who wrote this article are clearly smarter than the people who are running this country, and most of the folks who shill for them or support them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bread And Circuses: The Home Game

image credit: CDC

The caption reads:Retreat mining pillar line roof fall fatality site, Mingo County, West Virginia

A while back I mentioned that the principle strategy of the Bush Administration was probably to rely on the news, and broadcast news in particular, to deliver bread and circuses to the crowds so they won't start asking uncomfortable questions about how Iraq is doing these days. I thought about this subject last weekend, as I was coming home from a business trip, and whenever the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster was on the news, all we saw was that blowhard president of the mining company, Robert Murray, on the news channels. Where were the seismologists and mine engineers, I wondered? Apparently, Ariana Huffington's been wondering, too:

What if, instead of giving endless airtime to Bob Murray, they had brought on some of the experts we saw last night and asked them questions about the chances of another collapse occurring? What if they had given us Professor Larry Grayson, who was interviewed last night by Dan Abrams on MSNBC, and other experts who could have contradicted once and for all Murray's assertion that the company had not been doing retreat mining where the original collapse had occurred? What if they had gotten Stickler on the record on this, and had him definitely say whether or not Murray was lying when he repeatedly denied the dangerous technique was being used in the Crandall Canyon Mine?

It Shouldn't Have Taken the Deaths of Three Miners to Get the Media to Focus on Mine Safety

Yet my guess is that at this point there are still lots of folks out there who think these things are a matter of debate - did the mine collapse due to two coincidental earthquakes in two weeks? Were they really doing retreat mining? The New York Times elaborates:

But there is little doubt, mine experts said, that retreat mining at extreme depth in Utah, where mine-produced tremors are common, creates a tapestry of forces that adds to mining’s inherent hazards.

First, the six men were working at a depth of more than 1,800 feet, which engineers say is where coal approaches its structural load-bearing maximum. Second, the coal itself, carved into large pillars within the mine, was essentially what held up the weight of the mountain above Crandall Canyon, near Huntington. Third, retreat mining involves removing or reducing the size of those pillars to extract as much coal as possible. Seismic jolts — called bumps or bounces in the language of miners — are often caused by compression of coal pillars and are most common in the deepest mines, like Crandall, where the pillars hold the most weight.

Facing the Multiple Risks of Newer, Deeper Mines

In fact, there should be no debate on the first point, either. Seismologists from the University of Utah, the US Geological Service, and the University of California at Berkeley have all determined that the first seismic event they detected was the result of the mine's collapse, not the cause. On a question like this, I'll believe the guys who make a living figuring out what earthquakes are like over the guy who's trying to avoid a lawsuit or jail time.

On the second question, like Ms. Huffington, I'd like to see serious investigation begin. Unfortunately, as several articles have noted, Richard E. Stickler, who is the director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, is a former coal mining executive, and if he's a typical Bush appointee, not in the least interested in investigating the industry he's supposed to be regulating. According to the Washington Post, MSHA approved Murray's retreat mining plan. This approval came in spite of some indications that the mine was so deep it was a dangerous practice. Read the WaPo article for some added information on that subject.

And thanks to a none-too inquisitive broadcast news, the odds are he'll get away with that lack of curiosity.

UPDATE (Aug. 18): The search for the original missing miners has now been called off thanks to the second cave-in that killed three rescuers.

Tula Connell wrote a wonderful, and some might say prescient, article for FDL after the first cave-in. She pointed to this AP article that mentioned that pointed out that federal inspectors had issued 325 citations against the mine, 116 of which were serious enough that they could cause injuries. I don't know how high that is as mines go, but it sounds pretty high. It's also eerily similar to what was found about the Sago mine after it collapsed.

Connell also mentions that while MSHA director Strickler was an executive there, Massey Coal Co. had an accident rate nearly double that of the industry average. This is the guy the Bush Administration nominated after the Sago disaster to make mines safer.

All this makes you wonder why they don't nominate Osama Bin Laden to be our Secretary of Homeland Security. Oh, that's right, they can't find him.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How's This For Irony?

Two articles caught my eye at Media Matters this morning. The first was this:

During the August 14 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann named Fox News' John Gibson the "winner" of his nightly "Worst Person in the World" segment for, as Media Matters for America documented, mocking comedian and Daily Show host Jon Stewart's expression of grief in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Olbermann stated that Gibson "played a tape of comedian Jon Stewart's heartfelt anguish from September 20th, 2001, as a New Yorker who lived near the Trade Center, and Gibson and his producer mocked it. He called it Jon Stewart sobbing. That idiot sidekick called Stewart a, quote, 'phony.' " Olbermann added: "Secondly, Gibby: Jon Stewart's expression of pain after 9-11 and yours, Gibby, and mine -- that was the unity. And no matter what kind of administration propagandist I think you are and how I'll mock you for it, I would never doubt the sincerity of your pain. You've got a lot of damn nerve doubting the sincerity of anybody else's."

Olbermann named Fox's Gibson "Worst Person" for mocking Stewart's "heartfelt anguish" after 9-11

I remember that Daily Show broadcast. After the days of no commercial flights, various scares, and watching the aftermath of the three crashes, it was a welcome return to normality. I know Stewart's tears were real, because we all felt that way. And many of us, me included, welcomed the return to normality that the show's return represented. To mock such a thing now shows the total schism with reality that Fox "News" now represents.

The second article, positioned next to the first in what I suspect was a deliberate showcasing of the irony, was this:

Summary: On his August 14 radio show, Fox News' John Gibson stated that he and his show's executive producer, "Angry Rich," are "being attacked on a liberal website" -- Media Matters for America -- because "[w]e played some audio of Jon Stewart crying after 9-11." Gibson also said that Media Matters "attacked me and 'Angry Rich' for an unfortunate turn of the phrase last week," referring to the comment "Angry Rich" made that John Edwards "whored his wife's cancer as a fundraising gimmick."

Gibson: "The war on Gibson is real" and "it's pursued every day"

A guy who makes a career, it would seem, out of mocking the tragedies experienced by others because he can't possibly believe that his opponents can have genuine feelings thinks that Media Matters is at war with him. To say this is hubris is like saying that the Pacific Ocean is a body of water. Contrast Gibson's statements on the Stewart affair with Olbermann's. Did KO assume that Gibson's feelings were phony? He gives Gibson credit for being a human being. That's class, which is something Gibson probably hasn't possessed since he started shaving, or maybe even earlier. Gibson's problem isn't that he's a persecuted teller of uncomfortable truths. John Gibson's problem is that he's a thoughtless asshole.

I have some news for you, Mr. Gibson. No one makes war on dung. We just scrape it off our shoes. That pressure you're feeling is the stick.

UPDATE: As is so often the case, John Stewart got the last word yesterday in an interview with Stephen Hayes:

STEWART: Let me say this. I -- I think that there's a real feeling in this country that your patriotism has been questioned by, by people in, in very high-level positions. Not fringe people. You know, I myself had some idiot from Fox playing the tape of me after September 11th -- very upset. And them calling me a phony --

HAYES: Right.

STEWART: -- because, apparently, my grief didn't mean acquiescence.

Jon Stewart: "[S]ome idiot from Fox ... call[ed] me a phony"

A longer transcript of that conversation is available at the link. Stewart nailed these phonies, IMHO. I haven't seen one of them who can go for more than thirty seconds (or its rough equivalent, 100 words), without belittling someone or attempting to beg a ridiculous question with the sort of look that says "You wouldn't dare question my intelligence, would you?". If you haven't yet, I'd recommend doing so. It can be quite amusing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bush's Brain Goes Bye-Bye

I certainly wasn't expecting this. Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist, has resigned effective August 31. Here's what the Wall Street Journal has to say:

In an interview with Wall Street Journal editorial page Editor Paul Gigot, Mr. Rove says he thinks "it's just time," that he's "got to do this for the sake of my family," and that he would have left earlier but didn't want to depart on the sour note of last fall's Republican rout by Democrats in the midterm elections. So effective Aug. 31, Mr. Rove says, he will relinquish the job of White House deputy chief of staff and longtime role of political overseer for the career of President Bush.

Rove Prepares His Political Exit

Needless to say, there's nothing terribly enlightening in the article concerning Rove's real motivation for leaving. Does anyone believe the "for the sake of his family" line anymore?

The Reuters Canada article is a bit more enlightening:

Democrats in Congress have had Rove in their sights as they look into why nine U.S. prosecutors were fired. The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed him over the issue, but Bush cited executive privilege to reject it.

Karl Rove to quit this month

Now, that's our Karl - scurrying for cover when the heat is on. Wonder if he'll still be claiming executive privilege when he's gone? Don't. Of course he will:

Rove acknowledged Democrats may argue he was leaving to avoid scrutiny, but told the Journal: "I'm not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob."

Karl Rove to quit this month

He must not be referring to the mob in the White House, because they'll certainly be pleased. With Rove out of the spotlight, less attention will be focused on them, or so they're bound to be thinking. I doubt you would have found many people who would predict Rove leaving the White House before the end of the Bush Administration. The International Herald Tribune notes:

Rove's continued presence in the White House had become a source of fascination in Washington as others, like [former Rove aide Dan] Bartlett, left, and as Democrats homed in on his role in the firings of several federal prosecutors.

Yet it was nonetheless widely believed both inside and outside the White House that he would walk out the door behind Bush at the end of his term in January 2009 and would help the president solidify his legacy before his exit.

Karl Rove, top Bush aide, to step down

I don't know what did it, but it was more than family issues that pried Rove's fat, greasy fingers from the levers of power. I suspect we'll be finding out what that is in the weeks and months ahead.

UPDATE: I should have realized Marcy Wheeler would be all over this already. She's come up with a whole list of possible reasons why Rove is resigning. In brief, they are, in reverse order of likelihood as she puts it:

  1. To spend time with his family.

  2. The Republicans have figured out he's a loser (I tend to discount this as much as the previous).

  3. Rove disagrees with much of the Republican party about immigration policy. This is at least plausible, in that the nativist strain of most Republican rhetoric on this subject isn't conducive to recruiting Latino voters.

  4. The Abramoff investigation (now, that's more like it).

  5. The Office Of Special Counsel (OSC) investigation into the politicization of the operation of government. There's lots of material there, that's for sure.

  6. The Iglesias investigation - where Rove replaced a U.S. Attorney with a good record with a political crony.

UPDATE 2: Christy Hardin Smith live blogged the Presidential press conference announcing Rove's departure.

UPDATE 3: CHS and Firedoglake readers came up with the most likely explanation - greed. As one reader put it, if he's going to peddle influence, he needs to do it while he still has influence to peddle.

UPDATE 4: In the comments, shoephone contributed this link to an article on Rove by Larry Johnson. LJ believes this may have more to do with Abramoff than other scandals, but that mainly seems to be because he has some visibility into what's going on there. The other possibility he mentions is Plamegate. Plamegate's certainly a PR disaster, but I suppose if there's any relationship there it's in the fact that Rove lost some of his responsibilities due to that evolving scandal.

Monday, August 6, 2007

What About The Other Guys?

This screenshot is from the Stargate SG-1 episode The Other Guys. It's a story about a group of scientists and engineers about whom the military folks have very low expectations. It seems an apt metaphor today.

We've been discussing the the Democrats' performance regarding the recent changes to FISA the Congress passed this weekend. Nothing I'm about to write in any way excuses their performance, which was shameful, craven, and downright stupid. It showed a shocking lack of respect for the country they're supposed to lead, and a distressing lack of leadership in both houses.

But they're not the only major party in Congress. The other guys disgraced themselves, too. Only two Republicans in the House voted against this measure. Hopefully, at least those two did it out of a genuine sense of how a democracy should work, and didn't just hit the wrong button on their voting machines. I don't know how many Senate Republicans voted against it, but I suspect that it wasn't any more than two.

Maybe the saddest thing about this is that the other party doesn't seem to respect democracy at all, and that we don't expect any better of them.

UPDATE: As of 1:25 PM PDT Aug. 6, the Senate website still hasn't posted the roll call of the vote on this bill. I don't know where folks get the information about who did or didn't vote for the bill, but it's not from there.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Ray Of Hope Regarding FISA

(This is a sunrise as seen from the Master’s Lodge at the top of Napier Hill in New Zealand. Image credit: New Zealand Escapes Travel.)

Firedoglake commenter Bob in Hi pointed out this letter that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent to Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-14) who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX-16) who's the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Its contents:

August 4, 2007

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Silvestre Reyes
Chairman, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
H-405 The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Conyers and Chairman Reyes:

Thank you for your leadership on matters affecting the security of the American people and the protection of the liberties that define our country.

I know that your committees have been working diligently on a proposal by the Administration to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). I also understand that your work has been hindered by the Administration’s refusal to provide all of the documents you believe are relevant to your consideration of the proposal.

Tonight, the House passed S. 1927, a bill approved by the Senate yesterday, which is an interim response to the Administration’s request for changes in FISA, and which was sought to fill an intelligence gap which is asserted to exist. Many provisions of this legislation are unacceptable, and, although the bill has a six month sunset clause, I do not believe the American people will want to wait that long before corrective action is taken.

Accordingly, I request that your committees send to the House, as soon as possible after Congress reconvenes, legislation which responds comprehensively to the Administration’s proposal while addressing the many deficiencies in S. 1927.

Thank you for your attention to this request and for your service to our country.

best regards,

Nancy Pelosi

The Gavel: Amend FISA As Soon As Possible

Of course, this is the 110th Congress we're talking about here, so I don't hold out much hope that anything will actually be done. I suspect the only way that's likely to happen is if people let their Congressmen know how they feel.

It's The Weakness That Makes You Look Weak

There's a cruel old joke that goes something like this - a wife asks her husband if a dress makes her look fat. "No", the husband replies, "it's the fat that makes you look fat".

The Democrats in Congress, according to this article in the New York Times, are still obsessed with the idea that fighting the excesses of this Presidential administration makes them look weak.

But with the Senate already in recess, Democrats confronted the choice of allowing the administration’s bill to reach the floor and be approved mainly by Republicans or letting it die.

If it had stalled, that would have left Democratic lawmakers, long anxious about appearing weak on national security issues, facing an August spent fending off charges from Republicans that they had left Americans exposed to threats.

House Passes Changes in Eavesdropping Program

In short, roll over and give a corrupt, mendacious, and criminal President everything he asks for as long as he couches it in terms of "protecting us" from terrorism, and the Democrats will look strong. Apparently, there's a trend in Washington these days that says if you stand up to people who have no power, your constituents, and cave to the people who do have power, you're strong.

Personally, I can't think of a sillier notion about image, except maybe that the clothes are what make you look fat. Apparently, someone at the ACLU caught on to this idea:
Democrats "have a Pavlovian reaction: Whenever the president says the word 'terrorism,' they roll over and play dead," said Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Senate Votes To Expand Warrantless Surveillance

Christy Hardin Smith wrote this morning:

Democrats have got to stop trying to fit into the Mean Girl clique. The GOP is never, ever going to start playing by the rules.

Stop…Just Stop

Unfortunately, no one seems to have the patience to read things these days, particularly Congressmen. Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate what's wrong with the Democrats' view of what it means to look strong is with pictures. So here's my attempt at explaining the obvious.

See the dog in the first picture? Does that look strong to you? I don't think so.

Here's what strength looks like to me.

See the difference? Standing your ground - strong. Rolling over for a pat on the belly - not strong.

Now, let me illustrate with inanimate objects, just to make it clear this isn't an idea that works in specific cases but not generally. Standing up and moving ahead - strong.

Rolling over - not strong.

Most of us, at least those of us who have any real thoughts in our heads, respect people who are willing to act according to their beliefs. They also respect people who give real thought to what they do, and who are willing to stand by what they've done. We recognize that as real strength, even when we disagree with the action. Very little of either quality has been on display in Congress lately.

UPDATE: Via FDL, one Democratic Congressional candidate who understands.

UPDATE 2 (Aug 6): It appears that scarecrow agrees with my assessment.

UPDATE 3: Behind the wall at Salon, Glenn Greenwald gets it, too. Here's part of a question he asked Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT):

GG: But the reality was -- and this is what I find just so baffling about what just happened with the FISA vote -- most Democrats in the Senate did end up voting against the Military Commissions Act, and yet Karl Rove did make it a key issue in the 2006 election anyway.

What happens is -- you don't filibuster it and let it get enacted because you don't want it to be used against you, but it ends up being used against you anyway, so by not making the case for it, by not taking a principled stand -- while 34 Democrats did vote against it, most of them did not even announce their vote until the day before the vote was held because they had been hiding behind John McCain and John Warner and Lindsey Graham -- so the debate was never engaged by Democrats.

And that is what is so frustrating -- to see this same mindset over and over and over again -- where Democrats say they have to capitulate or else it will be used against them, and then it's used against them anyway, but it's even more effective because Democrats haven't fought or made the case for their position.

Chris Dodd on FISA, habeas corpus and Democratic capitulation

As Greenwald points out in his article, even Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post gets it on FISA. I just wonder when the Democrats are going to wake up and smell the coffee.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Thought For The Day

Babylon 5's Marcus Cole on the idea of a just universe:

I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

Wikiquotes: Babylon 5

While maybe as a country we deserve what happened today, I prefer to think of it as a chance for improvement.

Maybe by tomorrow I'll actually have come around to that point of view.

UPDATE: It appears that the FISA-gutting bill will come up for a vote soon in the House. If you haven't let your representative know how you feel, now would be an excellent time to do so.

Friday, August 3, 2007

More Surveillance. No, Don't Stop To Think ...

Moe and Larry want to tap your phone without a warrant.

I've been so busy with other matters that I haven't paid much attention to the news for a day or two. Apparently, in the meantime a matter of vital security interest has cropped up just before Congress' summer break. President Bush needs emergency powers to spy on Americans or the terrorists will swarm over the hills. There's even a selective leak to prove it:

When three soldiers were abducted in Iraq in mid-May, U.S. government lawyers began drafting emergency warrants to try to monitor communications that could lead to the suspected captors.

The Bush administration and its allies, The Associated Press has learned, have argued that the legal work ate up precious hours because of an odd twist to a U.S. surveillance law. One of the soldiers was later found dead in the Euphrates River, and an al-Qaida offshoot has said the others are dead as well.

US: Soldiers Case Shows Law Needs Fixing

Of course, all they really proved in that leak is that they don't understand the law they helped rewrite. They already have the right to monitor communications without a warrant, even if they involved a U.S. citizen, for up to 72 hours without a warrant. Oh, wait, it's because of a super double-secret court ruling we can't read:

Normally, warrants wouldn't be needed to eavesdrop on foreigners in Iraq or elsewhere. However, since a secret federal court ruling was issued earlier this year, the Bush administration believes the government must obtain legal approval to listen in on foreign suspects when their conversations cross into the extensive U.S. communications network.

US: Soldiers Case Shows Law Needs Fixing

According to a secret court decision that we can't read, the Bush Administration feels that they need warrants now. How many times do you get to say that the dog ate your homework in Washington? He's threatening to keep Congress in session until they give him what he needs. Congress appears ready to go along with this. For me, this brings to mind a simple question.

Has everyone in Washington gone crazy?

Well, maybe not everyone:

"In a situation like that, everyone wishes you would have had the information instantaneously," said Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., also an intelligence committee member. "In that situation, I think you would find that they would have had the information at a very early time, but for the process that was set up."

Tierney thinks the problem is with the bureaucracy, not the law.

US: Soldiers Case Shows Law Needs Fixing

Gee, ya think? Wired has an excellent article on the ramifications of the proposed changes.

Did [AP reporter Laurie] Kellman read the proposed bill? The bill (.pdf) that would change the nation's surveillance laws so that that the government would be free to spy on the contents of an Americans' phone or emails so long as the government "reasonably believes" the person is not in the country.

"Provided, that nothing in this definition shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States."

How does Kellman characterize the proposed changes?

The new plan, offered late last week by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, would change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow surveillance without a warrant of terror suspects who are overseas.

Yes, true. But it would also allow surveillance of all Americans who are not terrorism suspects who are overseas. The government has never needed a warrant to listen to non-Americans outside the country, so long as the interception happens outside the United States.

Government Presses to Turn Internet into Giant Spy Machine; AP Reports Citizen's Rights Being Protected

The President and the Department of Justice have all the powers they could possibly need under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

If the Attorney General authorizes such emergency employment of electronic surveillance, he shall require that the minimization procedures required by this subchapter for the issuance of a judicial order be followed. In the absence of a judicial order approving such electronic surveillance, the surveillance shall terminate when the information sought is obtained, when the application for the order is denied, or after the expiration of 72 hours from the time of authorization by the Attorney General, whichever is earliest.

TITLE 50 > CHAPTER 36 > SUBCHAPTER I 7gt; § 1805 (FISA)

What they appear to want is much worse, the right to spy on anybody as long as they can lie afterward that they didn't think those folks were in the country. As the Wired article notes, much of the terrestrial communications in the world pass through the United States.

President Bush's lame attempt to put their intelligence failures down to terrorists using throw-away cellphones are so transparent that a ten year old child could see through them. The President, and this President in particular, has all the powers he needs. If he doesn't, he can certainly wait until after the summer to get them.

If Congress wants to make good use of its time while they're in session, I'd say more investigation of the President's illegal conduct might be just the thing to pass the time.

Would you trust this man with your Constitutional rights?

UPDATE (Aug. 4): You'll be happy to know that Congress didn't stop to think:

The Senate bowed to White House pressure last night and passed a Republican plan for overhauling the federal government's terrorist surveillance laws, approving changes that would temporarily give U.S. spy agencies expanded power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without a court order.

Senate Votes To Expand Warrantless Surveillance

That headline should read "Senate Votes To End Democracy In America". I sure am glad we worked so hard to create a Democratic majority, aren't you? Talking Points Memo's Steve Benen quotes:

As Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said, "If this bill becomes law, Americans who communicate with a person abroad can count on one thing: The NSA may be listening."

By Steve Benen 08.04.07 -- 9:17AM

The cowards don't even have the roll call vote posted on the Senate site. They did this to us, and then adjourned and ran for home.

UPDATE 2: Not to be outdone, the House also put its brains in a jar and then gave the President what he wanted - 227 to 183. They at least had the integrity to post the roll call before they departed.