Friday, May 30, 2003

Another question that needs to be asked
I've wondered this for a while, but Daily Howler said it better than I could:
It’s time for a Missing Person Alert: Whatever happened to Candidate Bush, the fellow who ran for office in Campaign 2000? As a candidate, Bush endlessly swore that a $1.3 trillion tax cut was all we could possibly afford [I think he said $1.6 trillion - John]. More than that, the candidate said, and we’d have to start spending the Social Security surplus—something he just wouldn’t do. As a candidate, Bush swore that he’d take all future SS surpluses and use them for Social Security.
But that was then, and this is plunder. To all appearances, Candidate Bush has been replaced by a slick and dishonest impostor.

There's more and all of it good (it begins here and continues here).

The actual numbers get pretty mind-boggling: $1.25 trillion in 2001, some minor additions in 2002, another $350 billion this week, and they’re already ramping up for the next round. Add to this the fact that his original numbers were based on the optimistic surplus estimates at the peak of the boom, we’ve gone into a seemingly endless recession, the military budget is ballooning without limit, we have two wars (so far) to pay for, and the numbers for each cut were cooked to look much smaller than their real cost. If the big pie could only afford $1.6 trillion, how can the smaller pie afford over $3 trillion?

There is a simple explanation to the mystery of the unending tax cuts: the Republicans want to bankrupt the government. When stated that baldly, it sounds like a conspiracy theory or opposition hyperbole. It is neither; this has been a stated goal of certain parts of the Reagan right for twenty years now. For years Republican strategist Grover Norquist's best laugh line has been how he wants to cut government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

It's an easy and ugly strategy: rather than taking the politically dangerous action of curtailing popular programs, simply make the federal government unable to pay for them. After that a number of mechanisms finish off the programs. They can close them down with an insincere apology, “we’d love to keep it, but we can’t afford to.” They can cripple them by making oh-so-fair-looking across the board cuts. Large or well-funded programs can afford a ten percent cut better than little or over-worked programs. They can shift responsibility to the states.

This last strategy may backfire. Back in Reagan’s day Democrats controlled two-thirds of the state houses. This meant federal Republicans could make programs untenable and make state Democrats do the politically difficult work of either ending them or raising taxes to pay for them. Look at the situation of the states today; most would rather cut programs than raise taxes. However, Republicans now run the majority of the statehouses. The Republicans at the center are screwing the Republicans in the states. Wasn’t it an arrangement like that that caused the Democrats to loose the solid South for a generation?

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Not over yet
Yesterday Off the Kuff said he thinks the DeLay/Killer D's story might be about to peter out without developing into the full-blown scandal I was hoping for. At the time it looked like he might have been right. One of the four investigations of the brou-ha-ha appeared about to close without any interesting revelations, the other three had been quiet for a few days, and, despite Josh Marshall's best efforts (here and here), the press outside Texas was showing no interest in following up.

It's still too soon to give up. The very investigation that appeared to be closing without action is now reporting "significant" developments in the works. Once Texas state representative Kevin Bailey's committee investigation finally got the surveilance tapes they requested from the Texas Department of Public Safety, they failed to find the links between Tom DeLay and the investigation that they were looking for, but instead discovered republican governor Rick Perry and Assistant Attorney General Jay Kimbrough, the Texas Homeland Security Czar, visiting the investigators. Bailey will probably reveal the new developments tomorrow, though he hinted that it may involve the DPS no longer being willing to go along with the Republican's assertion that any wrong doing was the fault of over-zealous DPS staff and not the Republican leadership. Said Bailey: "I was told the DPS felt like they were puppets. That was their exact words. They felt they were being manipulated throughout."

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Return of the 18 minute gap
This seems too silly to be real, and yet...

Texas state Rep. Kevin Bailey, chairman of the House General Investigating Committee, is looking into how the Texas Department of Public Safety conducted its search for the Killer D's. Last week his committee wanted to know whether anyone associated with Tom DeLay's helped direct the search and why DPS officials ordered some records on the issue destroyed on May 14. They were particularly interested in finding out who visited the search command post on May 12. If you've been following this story, you will recall that the DPS command post was set up in the room next to House Speaker Tom Craddick's office. Craddick denies having any knowledge of what went on in that room. Bailey's committee wanted to know who went in and out of the command post, so they requested the security videotapes for the hallway outside the DPS post and Craddick's office.

Bailey's staff then sat down to spend their Memorial Day weekend watching a week's worth of surveillance tapes. When they got to the moment they most wanted, the afternoon of the twelfth, the tape stopped. Everything from 12:47 p.m. to 6 p.m. was missing. "It's odd that it was the day and time that we wanted," Bailey said. "It's fine all week, except for that one period."

The DPS spokesman, channeling for Rosemary Wood, said the gap was caused by a mistake in copying. The original of the tape is still intact and a new--complete--copy of the twelfth was made for the committee on Monday.

Monday, May 26, 2003

While I’m in the yard, go read Molly
I suppose it’s sort of stating the obvious to say Molly Ivins’s column is great and you should go read it, but I will anyway. Molly Ivins’s column is great and you should go read it.
Much as I hate to interrupt what is apparently a deeply felt triumphalism on the American right, now that it's over, does anyone see any reason for our having invaded Iraq?
I realize that's what we all kept trying to figure out before the invasion, but don't you think it should at least be visible in hindsight…
Perhaps we're well along the road to having everything work out magnificently, and I'm just missing it.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Neither right nor left
I consider myself an Alaskan, or, more accurately, an expat Alaskan. I wasn't born in Alaska and didn't move there till I was almost a teen-ager, but I lived there longer than I have anywhere else and it was in Alaska that I received my political education and formed my political identity. Even after living in the southeast for fifteen years (in a place you Americans call the Northwest), I still follow Alaskan Politics closer than I do the politics of my state of residence. It is for this reason that I find myself feeling pretty proud over the recent nearly unanimous votes of both houses of the Alaska legislature to mandate statewide noncooperation with the Patriot Act (the full text of the final bill is here). Although many cites have passed such bills, Alaska is only the second state to do so (Hawaii was the first).
House Joint Resolution 22 says the state supports the fight against terrorism that led to passage of the federal law in 2001. But it urges federal lawmakers to go back and fix parts of the law that infringe on civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

The measure also says state agencies may not participate in investigations unless there's reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

That prohibition includes recording and sharing information on a person's library records, bookstore records, medical records and other personal data even if authorized by the federal law....

The measure also says state agencies may not use state resources to enforce federal immigration laws and may not collect information about political, religious or social views of individuals or groups unless that directly relates to a criminal investigation.

This really is quite remakable. Alaska is not a liberal paradise. Not long before I moved down here for grad school, my best friend, Rob Endicott, and I calculated that there were nine liberals in the entire state. Rob died of a failed kidney transplant and I married an old friend and never returned after school. That means there were only seven liberals in the state at the atart of the 90's. Even assuming a few more may have been born or emmigrated over the last decade, I don't think liberals have suddenly become a majority on the last frontier.

At one time the West was a bastion of liberalism. It elected such giants as Warren Magnusen, Mike Mansfield, and Frank Church, rather than such recent droolers as Don Young, Helen Chenowith, and "Undisclosed Location" Cheney (I know, I know. I owe an apology to anyone suffering from a condition that may lead to them drool for comparing them to Don Young. They can't help it; he can). The story of how the West changed is complicated.

The key to understanding such an action is to focus on the West's attachment to individual freedom and self-reliance (whether, in truth, this self-reliance is a myth or not is irrelevant to the power of the image). Alaska's politics resemble those of the intermountain West. Since statehood, Alaska has never voted for a Democratic president. The entire congressional delegation is Republican and has been since 1980.

Western politics are not so much conservative as libertarian and anti-liberal. In the late 60's and early 70's the Democratic Party gained a reputation as the party of big government (fairly or unfairly) and the Republicans gained a reputation as the party that resisted big government (again, fairly or unfairly). This message played well in the West and led to the Republicans forming a safe solid block of congressional and electoral votes in the West. This was part of the same redefinition of the Republican Paty that led to them capturing the South (a lot has been written about the Southern Strategy, far less about the Western Strategy). This redefinition swept Reagan into power and has been core to Republican strategy ever since. Like most things in life, the truth was not as simple as the popular image. As the Reagan budget deficits showed, Republicans are perfectly comfortable with big government as long as it is their big government.

Meanwhile, the Democratic obsession with rights appeared to the law-abiding, white middle class that dominate the West to be a sign that the Democrats were more interested in the interests of "others"--dusky, criminal, city dwellers on the coasts. If the Democrats didn't care about them, then the Westerners didn't care about the Democrats.

This perception can change. A concern with rights is not the exclusive property of right or left. Both ends of the spectrum and both parties have their pet rights to protect and their demonized rights to restrain (though they usually never call these rights; they call them privileges, abuses, or some other euphemism). Today, Republicans and conservatives are not the best allies of the libertarian West. It could be possible for Democrats to build on their history of rights protection and portray themselves as the defenders of key American values and rights.

Will they? I don't know. After 9/11 too many Democrats rolled over and played dead while the Bush administration used a moment of national insecurity to push through a reactionary wish-list called the USA PATRIOT Act. Lately, the candidates for president have been showing encouraging pluck in calling Bush a fraud and pointing out how little his administration has really improved our security. I doubt as if the Democrats can manage a permanent realignment of the libertarian West, but they may be able to forge a tactical alliance to remove Bush. To do so they need to portray him as a loose cannon and threat to core American values. No more playing nice for the sake of "the troops" or to present a unified face to "the enemy." The last election showed that Bush is not willing to return Democratic good will.

For now, bully for Alaska.

If I'm not busy in my yard all day tomorrow, I'll say more about possible fracture lines in the Republican coalition.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

More trouble for DeLay
Joshua Marshall reports that that Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta has started an internal review to see if rules were broken when Tom DeLay contacted the Federal Aviation Administration for help tracking down former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney and the Killer D's. DeLay's story of his involvement in the locating the Killer D's has gone through several revisions now. It has been necessary for him to make these revisions because his earlier stories contained what are technically referred to as "weasel-like evasions and bald-faced lies".

DeLay's original story was that he merely passed "along to the Justice Department [Texas House Speaker] Craddick's inquiry on whether federal law enforcement could assist in the manhunt." He specifically denied any contact between his office and Homeland Security or the FBI, but conveniently failed to mention pulling strings in any other federal agencies. Craddick is claiming amnesia for that day.

On Wednesday, Mineta was notified that DeLay had used the FAA to get information on the whereabouts of Laney's plane. Thursday DeLay revealed that he had used the FAA to track down Laney's private plane. This was his first admission to having any direct involvement in the hunt for the D's. On Friday Mineta ordered an internal investigation of the FAA to see if any rules were broken. The timing makes it clear that DeLay knew of the impending investigation and rushed to disarm the situation by getting his version out first.

Was Mineta the one who warned DeLay and gave him a full day headstart with the press? If so DeLay didn't use it very well. In his Tursday statement DeLay said he used "publicly available flight information that any member of Congress gets from FAA, or you can get it off the Internet." The FAA spokesman, Bill Shumann, explained that the public does not have access to flight tracking data; information generated by air traffic control centers is bundled and used by commercial companies. Some of them make the data available online. On Friday, DeLay had to issue a correction explaining that when he said "publicly available" he didn't mean it was available to the public.

If DeLay, as a Congressman, was allowed access to information and service that is not provided to other members of the public he was misusing his office. It's that simple.

The Department of Transportation review is not the only investigation into abuses of authority that may have occurred during the search for the Killer D's. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge may launch a criminal investigation into the Texas Department of Public Safety's use of DHS anti-terrorism surveillance facilities to locate Laney's plane. A grand jury in Travis County and the Texas House General Investigating Committee are both investigating whether the DPS broke state laws searching for the Democrats and in destroying records and photos from the search. Texas Democrats have received a restraining order to stop DPS from destroying any remaining records.

It might seem odd that I'm so caught up in this story. I'm not Texan, I've never even been to Texas, and I usually only have bad things to say about things Texan (except Molly Ivins, Austin City Limits, and, lately, the Dixie Chicks). Two things keep me interested. One, it's the most enjoyable political theater we've had in a long time. It's nice to approach the news again in cheerful expectation, rather than dread. Second, and the source of some of that cheer, is that I'm hoping this will turn into a first-rate scandal. There's more to this than mere schadenfreude from a yellow-dog Democrat (although, can anything as intimidatingly named as schadenfreude ever be "mere"?).

I mentioned earlier the potential for a good scandal to damage Bush’s reelection chances. This is not that scandal, but it is the next best thing. This scandal highlights the hubris and bullying of the right in power. DeLay tried to institutionalize a temporary advantage through his redistricting. While that in itself is not a crime, it is a grotesque violation of the accepted norms of the political game. This behavior is not limited to DeLay or the Republicans in the Texas legislature. Look at some of the ways the Republicans have tried to change the rules to their favor. After thirty years of accepting Democratic defectors, the loss of Jim Jeffords led some Republicans to try and outlaw changing parties between elections. After eight years of using filibuster and parliamentary maneuvers to block Clinton’s judicial nominees and legislation, they suddenly want to disarm the rules of filibuster so a narrow majority will always eventually get its way. The White House has nominated an unusually large number of strident reactionaries to the highest benches so their revolution will continue long after they are out of office. And, of course, Texas isn’t the only state where newly ascendant Republicans are redistricting out of turn to increase their advantage.

Not only does this scandal need to be made very noisy and public, it needs to be portrayed as representative of the bad behavior of the radicalized Republican Party in general. DeLay isn’t one Republican running amok; he is a typical Republican who happened to get caught. So far, the national press is doing a terrible job of covering the story (if only we could find a Laci Peterson or American Idol angle). The Texas press, however, is doing a great job in following it. They’re keeping the story alive and adding new and bigger revelations every day. We, in Left Blogistan, need to keep the story alive outside Texas. By all rights, this should become much bigger than Trent Lott.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Another resignation
Christine Whitman resigned today as head of the EPA. This comes as no surprise to anybody. Practically since day one, she has been a joke in the administration. When she pledged the administration's support for reductions of carbon emissions as a method to fight the greenhouse effect, her boss cut the ground out from under her by repudiating his support for reductions and throwing his lot in with the greenhouse skeptics. Neither she, nor her agency, has recovered from that public humiliation. The only surprise in her resignation is that she waited so long.

The surprise is in the text of her letter of resignation. No one would have blamed her if the resignation had ended with the words “…and here’s one for the horse you rode in on.” No; the letter is polite--even gushing—in its enthusiasm for Bush’s environmental record.

It has been a singular honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead the EPA in its effort to leave America's air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than it was when this Administration took office. Our work has been guided by the strong belief that environmental protection and economic prosperity can and must go hand-in-hand, that the true measure of the value of any environmental policy is in the environmental results it produces. I am pleased that the EPA has built an enviable record of success that will result in significant improvements to the state of our Nation's treasured environment.

It goes on like this for eight paragraphs. What gives?

I am reminded of Bukharin at the Moscow show trials. Nikolai Bukharin was one of the youngest and best liked of the Old Bolsheviks, the original group that carried out the October Revolution in 1917. Beginning in 1935, Stalin accused one group after another of the Old Bolsheviks of treason and counter-revolutionary sabotage. Each group was brought before a public trial in Moscow with the world’s press in attendance, where they dutifully confessed, implicated the next group, and was shot. Bukharin was in the final, and therefore guiltiest, group. He confessed to having been a fascist spy since 1918 (which is a year before fascists existed), to sabotage of the economy, to plotting assassination of his comrades, and planning to detach the Ukraine and other western territories to give them to Hitler. Bukharin even confessed to new crimes of which he had not been accused.

Leftist groups outside the Soviet Union were thrown into crisis by the trials. No one could understand how he or she could have so misjudged these men. If guilty, how could the Left have been so bamboozled for so long? If not guilty, how to explain the confessions? Surely they knew they would be shot? Many left the party. Others blindly shut down their critical facilities and decided Stalin knew best. They were perfectly suited to follow Stalin through the policy reversals of the wartime years. But Milovan Djilas, himself a former Stalinist, member of the Yugoslav politburo, and subject of something resembling a show trial, may have had the best explanation of Bukharin’s confession; he was being sarcastic.

This brings me back to Christine Whitman. Her letter of resignation is so absurdly effusive that I can only think of one way to explain it. She’s kidding.
The aftermath of the Killer D's is looking as sleazy as the initial adventure was entertaining. Today's Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Texas Department of Public Safety destroyed all records and photos gathered in the search for the truant Democrats.

A one-sentence order sent by e-mail on the morning of May 14 was apparently carried out, a DPS spokesman said Tuesday. The revelation comes as federal authorities are investigating how a division of the federal Homeland Security Department was dragged into the hunt for the missing Democrats -- at the request of the state police agency.

Addressed to "Captains," the order said: "Any notes, correspondence, photos, etc. that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept..."

It was signed by the commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service, L.C. "Tony" Marshall.

At this point it's not clear whether they actually broke Texas law in doing this. As with the call that brought Homeland Secuity into the search, it's also not clear whether Marshall was acting on his own or on orders from higher up the food chain. Meanwhile, Homeland Security is refusing to release tapes or transcripts of the conversation between DPS and the federal interdiction center. Josh Marshall catalogs how Tom DeLay's story of his involvement changed during the week the Texas Dems were on the run.

Whether or not any crimes were technically committed, there is enough appearance of impropriety and cover-up that Texas DPS, Homeland Security, and Tom DeLay all need to be fully investigated. And, while the jury is still out, Democrats--Texas and national--need to make as much noise as possible over this. This kind of abuse of influence is what Republicans do when they have enough power to throw around. This should be a campaign issue for someone.

Monday, May 19, 2003

We won't have Ari Fleisher to kick around any more
... and I, for one, am disappointed. Don't get me wrong; I hate the guy. Few public figures are as guaranteed to evoke from me that inarticulate cry that means "how do they get away with this? Why don't people SEE?!?" (This is the eternal battle cry of the opposition.) It is this very cry that makes me sad to see him go. Fleisher was such a rude and condescending, bald-faced liar that people were starting to see.

We could argue that I really don't know Ari Fleisher, that these traits I hated were merely him faithfully communicating his boss's attitudes. That's valid, but it's also irrelevant to why I wanted him to stay. I had great hope that Fleisher would provoke a revolt among the White House press corps and that a hostile press corps would be a major element in the failure of Bush's election plans. Now I have to count on the Democrats to win this alone. Pooh.

Oh well. All we can do is hope they appoint an equally obnoxious boob in his place.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Good Reading
The Washington Post has a nice long article by Barton Gellman on the tribulations of one of the WMD inspection teams. The article portrays eager professionals, frustrated by bad intelligence and a lack of Arabic interpreters, reduced to, in their words, "busy work."

Daily Kos is especially good lately. Look at the piece on how the Bush administration's tax cuts actually raise taxes for most of and why voters should hold them responsible. This is the sort of topic Democrats should be making a major strategic issue of for the next election.

Friday, May 16, 2003

More Killer D's
A few new facts are available on the use of Homeland Security to track down the Killer D's. Unfortunately, those facts are buried in the often contradictory stories told by Tom DeLay and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick.

The actual request for federal help came from Lt. Will Crais, a "veteran fugitive-hunter" at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Lt. Crais apparently tricked Homeland Security into helping by claiming the House Minority Leader's private plane was missing and might have crashed. Lt. Crais has not said who authorized him to federalize the search.

Craddick's office says they asked the Department of Public Safety to look for the truant Democrats but didn't say how to do it and never suggested federal help. Craddick says he had no idea how the hunt was conducted, but Lt. Crais ran the search out of a conference room next to Craddick's office

DeLay's office says there was no contact between his office and Homeland Security or the FBI, but a DeLay aide told the Washington Post that the Majority Leader "did pass along to the Justice Department Craddick's inquiry on whether federal law enforcement could assist in the manhunt."

Meanwhile, several more members of congress have joined Joe Lieberman in demanding an investigation. Joshua Marshall, Off the Kuff, and Burnt Orange have numerous detailed posts on this story.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Go get ‘em, Joe
Joe Lieberman has picked up on the possibility of major abuses by the Texas Republicans trying to end a walkout by Democratic members of the state house (see previous post). He is responding to reports that the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center (AMICC), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, may have been instrumental in finding the truant Democrats. He has sent a formal request to Tom Ridge for an investigation. From Lieberman’s press release:

“If this report is accurate, I am outraged that Homeland Security resources are being used to help settle partisan political scores,” Lieberman said. “It is inconceivable that anyone would waste scarce department resources for such an indefensible purpose at a time when police and firefighters around the country are being laid off because of tight state budgets and insufficient federal aid.

Lieberman asked Secretary Ridge for a full investigation of the incident.

“I want to hear from whoever it was who thought the department’s mission includes assisting the Republican party of Texas in a party dispute. How involved were department personnel and what steps will be taken to ensure that something like this never happens again?”

This is serious stuff. For the most part, the story of the runaway Texas Democrats (the Killer D’s) has been first-rate political theater, but little else. However, the possibility that the Texas Republicans misused federal anti-terrorism resources to deal with a local parliamentary procedure problem makes this a national issue.

Lieberman’s letter to Ridge asks the basic questions: who asked for what, who did what, how does this fit into Homeland Security’s mission, and what will Ridge do to see that this doesn’t happen again. These are honest, practical questions. The unstated political questions are: is the administration too incompetent to handle Homeland Security (either as a department or in the sense of genuinely protecting us) and are the Republicans running amuck with unrestrained power. The key to how this shakes out politically will be how much muck the muckrakers can stick on Tom DeLay.

For those of you who just tuned in, Tom DeLay is the House Majority Leader and a well-known bully and right-wing nut. He is also from Texas. Soon after the Republicans took control of the state house last fall, DeLay showed up with a new redistricting plan that would take five house districts from the Democrats and give them to the Republicans. This was despite the fact that Texas had just completed a court-ordered redistricting. It was to stop this plan that the Democrats ran away to Oklahoma last Monday, depriving the Texas house of a quorum and closing down all new business (even as I write this, the deadline for new business in the Texas legislature is passing, so the Democrats have succeeded). On Tuesday DeLay Tuesday consulted with an attorney in his office to determine whether FBI agents or US Marshals could be used to find and arrest the Democrats. If he is shown to be involved in this, it could be a career buster for DeLay (like Lott, his constituents will probably reelect him, but he will loose all influence in congress).

This story has many of the elements of a regime ending scandal. One of the top members of the Republican power structure is involved. We have little guys defying the powerful. The Democrats have an opportunity to show the Republicans mismanaging national security. So far there’s no sex, but a special prosecutor with a dirty enough mind could find some somewhere. This could be a God-given opportunity for the Democrats. Already, the Killer D’s have provided a much needed morale boost for Democrats across the country. The folkloric image of defying an overbearing and arrogant authority can play very well with voters and may inspire Democrats at all levels to resist and obstruct the more extremist and revolutionary aspects of the Republican agenda.

This could be the beginning the end for the Bush regime. Or it could be a three-day wonder that is forgotten before school lets out. It all depends on whether Democrats and a hungry press follow up and pound unrelentingly on the theme Republican abuses of power. The abuses are there

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

What's wrong with these people?
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports today that federal aircraft tracking facilities in California, which are part of the Department of Homeland Security, were instrumental in tracking down the truant Texas Democrats. The Star-Telegram mentions this fact in an article about the various means used by the Republican leadership of the Texas house to force the Democrats to return and vote on a gerrymandering bill that would cause them to loose a half dozen congressional seats. The tone of the article is similar to a humorous human interest piece. Comments from annoyed family members and offended taxpayers fill out the article.

While it showed an extreme lack of class on the part of the Republican leadership, most of the harassment of family members and staff was not especially bad. However, the use of federal anti-terrorism resources is a complete abuse of authority. Glenn W. Smith at Common Dreams nails the significance of this abuse:

It was no doubt a ham-fisted, incautious and bungled attempt (like the Watergate burglary) by Republicans to use all the law enforcement they could find to overcome the Democrats' temporary advantage.

But the use of the Homeland Security Department for partisan political purposes should alarm all Americans. It deserves a full, complete and independent investigation.

The warnings of civil libertarians appear to have been justified. Even if it turns out that some half-crazed Republican staffer or independent investigator called the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, it raises disturbing questions about the operations of Homeland Security and the lengths Republicans will go enforce their will.

I would have expected conservatives from Texas to have more sensitivity to charges of big-brotherism. Of course I should have known better considering the conservative from Texas currently squatting in the White House.

PS If you haven't been following the adventures of the Killer D's, go read the last three days of posts at Off the Kuff. This is the best political theater we've had in years.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

By now you've all heard that the team of specialists sent to locate Iraq's missing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) announced this weekend that they are winding down operations and coming home. They have already completed inspections of 80 percent of their top priority targets and two thirds of their secondary targets. Their commanders expressed frustration that the intelligence they have been given has yielded nothing. Meanwhile, the leader of the free world, at his aircraft carrier photo op, assured the American people that we have just begun to look and will find lots of WMDs.

I'm actually surprised that they haven't found something by now. I never thought the huge stockpile Powell told us about at the UN would materialize. Still, knowing that projects to build these weapons once existed (before 1990), I thought they would find something to wave in front of the cameras. I also though Saddam would have cheated a little. Even without massive stockpiles, I expected them to find a few bottles of Sarin (and use these to confuse the public into thinking they had told the truth.

This looks like a good time to sum up the significance of the WMD issue. It seems to me that there are three possible conclusions that can be drawn from the lack of WMDs. All of them look bad:

  1. The Bush camarilla lied to us from the very start. They always knew there was nothing to find. The war was fought for other reasons--reasons which they did not think they could sell to the American public. You can insert your own reason here. In this case they are conscienceless liars who killed 140 Americans (and a still uncounted number of Iraqis) for crass political advantage. They counted on Americans forgetting the lies in the momentary pride over a quick victory. Criminal charges should be brought against the whole lot.
  2. The administration really believed the weapons were there. In this case we have a massive intelligence (in both senses of the word) failure combined with willful blindness. They would have had to reject all evidence to the contrary, believed documents that were already proven forgeries, and always chosen the worst possible interpretation of any ambiguous evidence. They are too stupid to hold office and should not be allowed in public without protective headgear and a nanny.
  3. The weapons were there, but we lost them. In this case we have a massive intelligence failure followed by a massive planning failure. If we knew they were there, why didn't we block their getaway? The weapons must still be out there. We are much less safe than we were last fall. Again they are too stupid to hold office, though in this case a lot of military careers will be destroyed along with those in the administration and intelligence communities.

Obviously, I lean toward the first explanation and the "they wanted a war, any war" theory for their motive. Oil and redeeming the Bush family cojones were fringe benefits. The demonstration of the will and means to pursue a preventative war was their real objective.

To a certain extent, they gambled and won. Although their polling numbers are coming down, a shockingly high number of Americans no longer care about the WMDs. Saddam was bad. Now he's gone. We're number one. Democrats can't let this go if they want to win anything next year. The issue is not whether Saddam was bad; the issue is that the administration lied. This should be a no-brainer for the Democrats. Whichever of the above explanations the administration uses, they look bad. But they only look bad if the issue is kept alive and they are forced to explain themselves.
Bush is a liar (well, duh)
Bob Somerby at Daily Howler has begun a week-long series on the culture of lies that the surrounds the leader of the free world. This is information that everyone who wants regime change here at home should have at their fingertips as we go into the election cycle. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series (part one is here, part two is here).

Somerby appears to be at the head of the pack making this one of the big stories this week. So far, E. J. Dionne and Harold Meyerson (both of the Washington Post) also have columns on Bush's lies this week, and, of course, Bob Graham is calling the suppression of the 9/11`report a "cover-up." The granddaddy of all dissectors of the Bush lie machine is Paul Krugman, a first rate economist who has been taking apart Bush's tax cut claims since the campaign and manages to explain it in terms even I can understand (I was a history major; business and grown-up economics remain a mystery to me).

This coverage of the administration's lies is good. I doubt as if we can get the popular wisdom about Bush to completely change from "man of character" to "wouldn't know the truth if it bit him," but we might be seeing a little tarnish applied to his image. At the very least, I hope we are looking at the beginning of a revolt against Ari Fleisher’s insulting and contemptuous treatment of the White House press corps and, by extension, the public. Even the old Nixonian “no comment” and “I do not recall at this point in time” were preferable to Fleisher’s bald faced lies.

Friday, May 09, 2003

File under “Who knew?”
According to Science supplement in this Tuesday’s New York Times, orchids in all their wonderful variety are actually a species of asparagus. This brings up the obvious question, has anybody tried steaming that giant poop scented orchid and serving it with hollandaise sauce? I thought not.

Monday, May 05, 2003

My favorite bigot
Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff points to Gary Farber at Amygdala who points to Robert Ito at Los Angeles Magazine who has a profile on one of my all time favorite reactionary bigots, the amazing Jack T. Chick.

Chick publishes evangelical conic books from a strip mall in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He may be the most widely published writer on earth. His 142 titles have generated a half billion copies in over a hundred languages. Several countries have banned his comics. You probably know his work. Most of the comics are about seven inches wide and three inches tall, printed in black and white, and can be found in phone booths, tucked into the cushions of bus seats, slipped into the covers of dangerous library books, and under the winshield wipers of parked cars.

I think I was about fifteen when I discovered my first Chick tract. It was an anti-evolution piece called Big Daddy and I found it inside a paperback book in the downtown Book Cache in Anchorage, Alaska. Later I found out that Big Daddy is one of his most famous pieces.

Big Daddy? ©2000 by Jack T. Chick LLC

Chick wants to save your soul. His world is an extremely perilous place. Catholics, Freemasons, teachers, the Illuminati, hippies, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Wiccans, intellectuals, and rock musician all work for Satan (either directly or as unwitting dupes) and constantly set traps to snare your soul. Chick’s preaching style is classic hellfire and brimstone and his art resembles 1950’s EC horror comics. The bad guys leer and bellow. Their eyes pop, tendons stand out in their necks, and hands curl like talons. Sweat and spittle explode off their faces with every word. Meanwhile, the clean-cut conservatively dressed good guys maintain a divine—but somewhat smug—calm. These elements have made him a camp icon.

While some of his work is genuinely entertaining and perhaps inspiring to some, much of it has a decidedly nasty edge. His version the grand Satanic conspiracy leans heavily and uncritically on the work of Nesta Webster, an English anti-Semite who did much to create the modern narrative of the Jewish-Masonic-Catholic-Illuminati conspiracy. His brand of anti-Catholicism is the classic American “the Pope is the anti-Christ and the Vatican is the source of all evil” variety (did you know the Vatican invented Islam and Communism? Me neither). He is a strong subscriber to the myth of Christians as a powerless and persecuted minority in the evil modern world.

Jack Chick is the perfect poster child for the danger of extremism. He is apparently a nice man, shy, and polite to his neighbors and is work is so out there that it is easy to ridicule and dismiss. Yet, he speaks for at least some part of the worldview of a lot of Americans. And whether or not his readers buy into his full theological worldview, he familiarizes them with the major elements of far right conspiracy thought. It is possible to entertaining and very dangerous at the same time.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Scandal and media consolidation
Friday I listed some possible disruptions that could occur during Bush’s cakewalk to reelection (or election if you prefer). My personal favorite on the list is a nice juicy scandal. This combines the practical effect of getting these dangerous clowns out of office with the emotional satisfaction of humiliating them.

At the time I wrote this I thought we might have a pretty good chance of getting a scandal to stick in the next 18 months. After all, it’s not like there is any shortage of candidates.

  • Cheney is probably most vulnerable to scandal due to his close ties to the energy and resource extraction industries, the blatant cronyism shown in giving Hallibuton no-bid contracts in Iraq, the probable shenanigans involved in the secret energy committee, and the still untold story of the administration’s inaction in the California energy crisis.
  • The whole administration is vulnerable on their incompetence before 9/11 and their attempt to block any investigation of it.
  • Redirecting an aircraft carrier for a campaign photo op is sleazy, but pretty small potatoes unless it is portrayed as part of a pattern of misuse of power.

The third point is instructive. A proper scandal doesn’t need to be anything actually illegal. It only needs to offend the middle class or generate enough noise to create a “where there’s smoke there must be fire” conventional wisdom. How many people could explain the details of Watergate, Iran-Contra, or Whitewater while they went on?

In writing about the possibility of scandal, I took a quick shot at the elements needed to convert quiet misdeeds into public scandal. I had three: hungry reporters, hungry politicians, and a venue. Allow me to be pedantic about this.

The first two elements are probably obvious. Hungry reporters pursue rumors and turn them into a narrative of sleaziness for public consumption. Hungry politicians call hearings, empower special investigators, and endow the narrative of sleaziness with political significance. But reporters don’t go directly to the politicians. Reporters need a powerful venue—a platform—to publicize their researches. Politicians are inherently cautious; they generally will not pursue a course until they are sure at least some of the public is already headed in that direction. The venue is the tool by which a reporter gets part of the public riled about the story.

There are really only two venues suitable for damaging an administration. The first is the national news media: the top half-dozen newspapers, the television networks, the cable news channels, a couple weekly magazines, and possibly public radio. The other is a sugar daddy with bottomless pockets. The national news media is the easiest to understand. Once one outlet has committed itself to a story, the others will jump on it to avoid being left out. At this point the original hungry reporters become hundreds of reporters and the story takes on a life of its own. Watergate is the textbook example of persistent reporters with a good venue turning an obscure story into a presidential crisis. The sugar daddy method is less common. The initial reporters find an obsessed source of cash that will buy space in magazines, hire think tanks, and contract instant books until they force the story into the public’s and the news media’s attentions. In Blinded by the Right, Brock tells how Richard Scaife and the Arkansas Project used this method to snowball Whitewater into an impeachment.

My initial thought was that the Republican control of both houses of Congress is the biggest obstruction we face in turning any one of the potential Bush scandals into a real crisis. A tame and friendly congressional leadership is unlikely to call hearings or sic special investigator on the White House.

I might be wrong about that. The biggest obstacle might be media consolidation. Media consolidation threatens investigative journalism by homogenizing opinions into a single market tested voice. Diversity is weeded out, risks are minimized, and news becomes entertainment. We all know this story, but that’s not the only risk in consolidation. When the news medium was made up of scores of individual players, the biggest threats to following a story were prickly advertisers and the political preferences of owners and publishers. When news becomes just one branch of a large diversified corporation (or a sub-branch of its entertainment division), the freedom to pursue stories becomes hostage to the interests of the whole corporation. For example, NBC is owned by GE, a company that makes jet engines for fighter aircraft that the Department of Defense buys. Whether or not the corporate mother is in bed with the administration or even likes the administration, it is in the interests of a diverse corporation to stay on the good side of a government that controls regulatory agencies and massive purchasing power. It’s just prudent business.

Even if there weren’t already enough good reasons to oppose media consolidation, the fact that it weakens the watchdog role of the fourth estate should be reason enough to stop the process.

Is a good scandal still a real possibility? Yes. The sugar daddy model shows how a story can become so big that the mainstream media can’t ignore it. It’s also not necessary that a story start at the center with national media and federal investigations. Many of Clinton’s problems began in Arkansas and moved to Washington. Imagine California investigating Cheney’s ties to their energy problems. Imagine New York City going after 9/11 information. Heck, they might be doing that right now. Imagine a persistent blogger bringing down a big-mouthed Senate Majority Leader.
Fan mail
Okay, maybe not a fan, but it is the first letter I've received from someone who didn't already know me. I think that's pretty cool. Mary Ratcliff of Lake Oswego, OR wrote to say how important it is to start working for the electoral defeat of the Hole in the Head gang now. Mary is involved in environmental issues and has an article on the Luntz memo in VoxPopuli Nebraska. Anyone not familiar with this particularly cynical and blatant piece of double speak should read her article. Anyone who is familiar, but wants to know more, should also read it because she links to more detailed sources.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

The party of painful hypocricy
Kevin Drum at CalPundit has been good enough to actually read the 2000 Republican Party platform (he deserves some kind of award for saving us the horror of doing it ourselves). As we all suspected, the Balanced Budget Amendment was still there. They haven’t managed to destroy all evidence that they once stood for this quaint idea. As he says, “they ought to have whiplash making a U-turn that fast.”
I’m scared, too
Jill Nelson of MSNBC has put into words the feelings that everyone left of—oh, say, Hermann Goering—is feeling these days.
I do not feel safer now than I did six, or 12, or 24 months ago. In fact, I feel far more vulnerable and frightened than I ever have in my 50 years on the planet. It is the United States government I am afraid of. In less than two years the Bush administration has used the attacks of 9/11 to manipulate our fear of terrorism and desire for revenge into a blank check to blatantly pursue imperialist objectives internationally and to begin the rollback of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and most of the advances of the 20th century.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Thinking about the election
Part 2 - Not necessarily doomed

The war is over and the election has begun. Bush's little trip to California is typical of what we can expect for the next year and a half: photo ops with military hardware (The USS Abraham Lincoln) and friendly military crowds, avoiding any possibility of being protested (San Francisco), hobnobbing with world leaders who supported his war and snubbing those who did not (John Howard of Australia and Jean Chretien of Canada, respectively), and limiting economic talk to someplace that will prosper from a military build-up (United Defense Industries of Santa Clara, developer of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle). That is: easy crowds, no air time for critics, petty carrot and stick behavior, and the constant presence of images military might and security.

You can't blame him for playing to his strengths (well, actually I do blame him, but that's the subject of a different essay). And he has lots of strengths coming into the election season. However, there are eighteen months between now and the election. Lots can happen. Wednesday I went over some of his advantages. Today I'll go over some of the things that could happen to his disadvantage. Later I'll suggest some ways the opposition--both the Democratic Party and others--might help those things happen.

Bush might self destruct - The press and the left love to point out that Bush Jr's poll numbers are lower than Bush Sr's were after his war in Iraq. Dad also had a less bad economy and he still lost. The wishful thinking subtext in constantly repeating this narrative is that we can just sit back and wait for history to repeat itself ("subtext" "narrative" my social science background is showing, isn't it).

The problem is that the Bush camarilla knows this story. They know they must do something between now and the election. Even if they don't help the economy they must at least look busy. And if that fails they'll start another foreign adventure, ratchet the security alarm to orange, and announce that they've made us safe from brown terrorists again.

So, where's the hope in this? Simple, the more they rush around trying to look busy, the greater chance there is that they will do something stupid. Last fall's election and the war have pushed administration's hubris to unbelievable heights. There is a very real possibility that they will push their luck too far and either offend a large portion of the public or just make fools of themselves. Either way, the magic aura of leadership gets tarnished.

The press might revolt - In 2000 the press hated Gore and took every opportunity to paint him as corrupt and insincere. While they sometimes portrayed Bush as a fool, they portrayed him as a sincere, moderate fool. Even his foolishness was sometimes spun as a sign of his just-folks simplicity. Anti-intellectualism always sells in America and in the Bush-Gore race this element was spun entirely to Bush's favor by the press.

Since then, that same press has had to put up with the administration's compulsive secretiveness, Ari Fleisher's contempt and rudeness, and the knowledge that they were used in the election. While many will no doubt continue with the "bold and decisive man for our times" storyline, there is a good chance that many will construct a new story, one that Bush may not like. The same events that have been spun as the man rising to the moment can also be spun as a tale of shameless opportunism and cynicism.

The right might split - The Republican Party and the right in general are no more of a monolith that the Democrats or the left (OK, maybe a little more, but stick with me for the sake of my argument). Not all of the right are happy with the extremist course the administration is taking. In particular, the fiscal conservatives and libertarians have good reason to be unhappy. They can only stay in denial about endless deficits and eroding civil rights for so long.

I can think of a number of ways disgruntled rightists might revolt. Top among the ways are: field a moderate Republican candidate in the primaries, vote for a third party, vote Democratic, or stay home on election day. Any of these would drastically alter the election calculus. Less likely, but intriguing, is the possibility that attempts to discipline moderate Republicans in the Senate might drive them from the party. The party seems to have forgotten the lesson of Jim Jeffords. If Senators Snowe, Voinovich, and Chaffee joined Jeffords to form a third block in the Senate, they would hold the balance of power on any close vote. What this means to the election is less clear to me.

The public might come to its senses - I suppose “why don’t they see how bad he is?” is always the cry of the opposition. In some ways our frustration is just politics as usual, but in very real ways, the public is cutting Bush an amazing amount of slack. A lot of that slack is based on the rally-around-the-flag and follow-the-guy-who-looks-like-he-knows-what-he’s-doing that people fall back on in emergencies. The administration has taken full advantage of this. However, the administration has gotten away with a lot under cover of crises that they would not have gotten away with in less stressed times.

Any of the previous three situations could result in the public becoming disillusioned with Bush. War weariness could set in if he overplayed his hand by starting a third or fourth war. People might finally notice that they have been talking about a permanent state of emergency and a decade-long war against terrorism. If the press changes its story, the public will follow (if only because the new story will be carefully tested and what the public wants to hear). A mutiny in his party could tear large portions of the public away from their passive support.

We might have a nice scandal - This is a favorite fantasy among those of us who not only want to see the administration defeated, but want to see them humiliated and held up to scorn in history books for generations to come. There's lots of candidates for this one, and some don't even involve Cheney. This too requires support from the press. There is enough corruption and cronyism in this administration to have brought down a half-dozen Clintons. All we really need is the right combination of hungry politicians, reporters, and venues to pick the scandal and run with it. The biggest obstruction to scandal swallowing them now is the fact that they control both houses of Congress, preventing the sort of endless investigations Clinton faced (though an angry state or city government cold stand in for Congress).

The Democrats might do something right - Stop laughing. I’m serious. It could happen. The Democrats are angry. Many feel Bush stole the 2000 election. Many feel he broke a promise to govern as a bipartisan moderate. Many feel he has been cynical and unprincipled in using the 9/11 aftermath to push through a radical agenda. Many feel that he has been deceptive and dishonest in his actions, and he has gotten away with it, and that cheeses us to no end.
If the Democrats get mad enough, they just might get their act together. The Democrats need to give up their passive ways. The party need pick their issues and attack first. Don’t let Karl Rove define the issues. The presidential candidates need to agree that Bush is the enemy and not waste their energy fighting each other. Democrats in congress need to define a set of core issues and be uncompromising on them. Democratic office-holders in states and municipalities need to howl like banshees over White House betrayals on finances and especially security. Finally, anyone who’s not a Bush family member or card carrying dittohead needs to get out and vote.

Next year is going to be a mean ugly election. Bush has huge advantages going in to it, but it is by no means a done deal

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Friday is bring your cat to blog day...
...or so I have learned from reading CalPundit. This is what our girls looked like soon after they came to live with us.

Miss Parker...

...and Mehitabel.
An anniversary of sorts
I've survived my self-imposed probationary period of blogging for over a month. As a reward I upgraded my service and now have pictures and no ads. Please turn your attention to the attractive George Herriman rendering of my patron cockroach now ensconsed as part of my logo. I'm trying to find out the copyright status of the Herriman art. If it looks favorable, I'll show a few more as time goes by.
I'm almost speechless
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. will cut 6,000 airport screening jobs -- 11 percent of workers who clear passengers and luggage through security checks -- over the next five months to comply with congressional demands to limit staffing and save money, the Transportation Security Administration said on Wednesday.

They're putting our lives on the line to give more tax "relief" to the rich.
What are they hiding?
According to Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek:
Even as White House political aides plot a 2004 campaign plan designed to capitalize on the emotions and issues raised by the September 11 terror attacks, administration officials are waging a behind-the-scenes battle to restrict public disclosure of key events relating to the attacks.

At the center of the dispute is a more-than-800-page secret report prepared by a joint congressional inquiry detailing the intelligence and law-enforcement failures that preceded the attacks--including provocative, if unheeded warnings, given President Bush and his top advisers during the summer of 2001.

The report was completed last December; only a bare-bones list of "findings" with virtually no details was made public. But nearly six months later, a "working group" of Bush administration intelligence officials assigned to review the document has taken a hard line against further public disclosure.

Is there something in this report that could embarass the administration, even damage their reelction prospects? Possibly. But staffers from the original investigation are puzzled about some of the things that have been classified. Some of the classified parts are already well known to the public, like the "Phoenix Memo." So what's going on here?
[C]ongressional staffers close to the process say it is unclear whether the administration’s resistance to public disclosure reflects fear of political damage or simply an ingrained "culture of secrecy" that permeates the intelligence community—and has strong proponents at the highest levels of the White House.

Naturally I'm hoping it's something jucy and embarassing to the White House, but if it is just their knee-jerk "none of your business" habit, that in itself should be made into an issue. It shows an ugly contempt for the American people and denys us the information we need to function as a democracy.