Sunday, March 30, 2008

“Tennessean” Gets Astroturfed

Can you smell the propaganda? The Tennessean apparently can’t: our daily fishwrap just got astroturfed by GOP front group Veterans For Freedom. The Sunday local news section featured a story on the group’s visit to (where else?) a church in Williamson County. The headline says it all: "Veterans tell 'true story' of Iraq.” This part is priceless:
The good news, Hegseth said, is that since June, attacks in Iraq and sectarian violence have decreased 70 percent.

"We're combating the talking points of 2006, which was outright civil war in Iraq, and if folks haven't gotten the memo, civil war in Iraq is over," he said.

Uh, right. I guess Hegseth hasn’t gotten the memo about what’s happening with the Mahdi Army.

Anyway, it would have been nice if someone at the paper had done the most cursory check of Veterans For Freedom before filing this propaganda piece. If they had, then maybe they would have mentioned VFF's ties to the Bush Administration, the GOP, and partisan activities targeting anti-war Democrats. Sadly, The Tennessean's reporters and editors never bothered to check into VFF at all. They failed to do even the simplest Google search; heck, they probably didn't even spell check the thing.

Sad, but not surprising.

Typical of astroturfers, VFF presents itself as a non-partisan, grassroots organization. Instead, they are a GOP front group familiar to the netroots for their efforts to defeat anti-war Senate candidate Ned Lamont in 2006.

The group started out with the help of former White House spokesman Taylor Gross’ PR firm, the Herald Group. They tried to get newspapers to embed their Jeff Gannon-like mouthpieces in Iraq until they were busted by Buffalo News reporter Jerry Zremsk:

WASHINGTON - A former spokesman for President Bush recently offered to several newspapers supposedly objective freelance stories from Iraq by two combat veterans who lead a pro-war group with deep Republican ties.

Several months after revelations that a Pentagon contractor was paying Iraqi news outlets for favorable war coverage, former White House spokesman Taylor Gross approached at least four major newspapers, including The Buffalo News, with the offer.

Gross' pitch to The News said the two highly decorated veterans could serve as embedded correspondents and "offer balanced and credible viewpoints gained directly from those closest to and most affected by the Iraq War." One of the reporters, former Marine Lt. Wade Zirkle, helped run Republican Jerry Kilgore's 2005 campaign for governor of Virginia.

Zirkle and the other reporter, David Bellavia of Batavia, are top leaders of Vets for Freedom, a new group with a highly polished Web site hosted by a firm that previously worked for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Yes, that would be Campaign Solutions:

The group’s Website is hosted by Campaign Solutions, a high-profile political consultancy that does Republican-campaign Web work. Clients have included Bush-Cheney ’04 and the Swift Boat Vets. “Vets for Freedom are the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” of the ’06 cycle, says Stauber.

Zirkle no longer works for Vets For Freedom--he’s been replaced by Pete Hegseth, quoted in the Tennessean article--but Hegseth is a former policy specialist for the right-wing Manhattan Institute, a think tank started by William Casey, Ronald Reagan’s CIA director.

Dan Senor, who worked for the Bush Administration in Iraq as a Senior Advisor to Paul Bremer III , was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying he was advising the group. Nope, no partisanship there.

Perhaps the weirdest thing I found out about VFF is that one of their spokes-vets/anti-liberal agitators is a former gay porn star.

It doesn’t take any magical google-fu to find this stuff. But apparently even that is beyond the abilities of the crack stenographers at The Tennessean.

Behold, The Power Of Cheese!

At first I thought this was satire, but after reading the guy’s bio, I’m thinking not. Anyway, this is hilarious: what does the absence of two prominent cheesemakers from the 2008 International Cheese Technology Expo have to do with counter-terrorism?

Maybe nothing ... or maybe EVERYTHING!!!!

(cue scary music)

Maybe we can draw some scary conspiracy theory from the fact that this guy used to be Garth Brooks’ roommate.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Another Sign of Success?

Violence in Iraq continues, despite the glorious surge. And since the surge was supposed to secure Baghdad, this can’t be good news:
Curfew Extended in Baghdad

Mar 29th, 2008 | BAGHDAD -- Government television says Iraq's military command for Baghdad is extending a round-the-clock curfew in the capital until further notice.

The curfew was to have expired at sunrise Sunday. It was imposed Thursday night to curb violence in the capital.

Violence has been on the rise as part of a nationwide backlash by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr to the Iraqi government's attempt to crush Shiite militias and criminal gangs in Basra.

Regardless of what happens in Iraq, though, it’s still a success:

Pentagon says new Iraq fighting arises from surge's success

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Pentagon on Wednesday said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a "by-product of the success of the surge."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra.

Which is really weird since last fall the government attributed a drop in violence to the same glorious surge:

U.S. Cites Drop In Attacks Since Buildup in Iraq; Bombs Kill 20

BAGHDAD, Nov. 18 -- U.S. officials on Sunday declared a 55 percent drop in attacks since the launch of an offensive nine months ago, while bombs across Iraq killed at least 20 people, highlighting the country's continuing security threats.


Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a senior U.S. military spokesman, said violence in parts of Iraq had fallen to its lowest levels since summer 2005. Iraqi civilian casualties are down 60 percent since June, and they have dropped 75 percent in Baghdad, Smith said.

Am I the only one confused here?

It seems the success or failure of our Iraq War misadventure is never in question, despite what the circumstances in Iraq may be. So if that's the case, let's just call the whole thing a glorious success and bring the troops home. President Bush called the mission accomplished years ago, and the surge has been a success.

Game over.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Wal-Mart Behaving Badly

It’s pretty sad when the fine print of your health plan says your employer can recoup what they’ve paid out when you got sick or injured. Seriously, what’s the point of a health insurance plan then? If I’m going to pay for it myself anyway? This is a benefit?

That appears to be the raw deal offered by Wal-Mart’s glorious employee health plan:
Two years after the accident, Shank and her husband, Jim, were awarded about $1 million in a lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the crash. After legal fees were paid, $417,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Debbie Shank's long-term care.

Wal-Mart had paid out about $470,000 for Shank's medical expenses and later sued for the same amount. However, the court ruled it can only recoup what is left in the family's trust.

The Shanks didn't notice in the fine print of Wal-Mart's health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.

This makes no sense. The whole point of awarding damages in a lawsuit is to compensate the victim for their loss of earning potential and pay for their care. Debbie Shank is brain damaged, in a wheelchair, and lives in a nursing home. Her husband works two jobs and has prostate cancer; who is going to pay for her long-term care? That was the point of seeking damages in a lawsuit, after all: to collect from the one who did wrong, to compensate the injured party.

The Shanks lost their suit to Wal-Mart. Last summer, the couple appealed the ruling -- but also lost it. One week later, their son was killed in Iraq.

"They are quite within their rights. But I just wonder if they need it that bad," Jim Shank said.

In 2007, the retail giant reported net sales in the third quarter of $90 billion.

Conservatives piss and moan about the urgent need for “tort reform” and the need to cap the amount of awards received. But should employers be the ones to get that money? Long-term nursing home care ain’t cheap, and I wonder why Wal-Mart needs that money since their net income for the quarter ending Jan. 31 hit $4 billion.

$4 billion net income for just one quarter. Debbie Shank helped them earn their profits, in a small way, by working for them as a stocker. How nice of Wal-Mart to show their appreciation by taking the money awarded to pay for her nursing home care.

So much for "Save money. Live better."

Debtor Nation

President Bush touted his economic stimulus plan this week:
One of the most decisive actions a government can take is to give people their money back so they can spend it, and that's exactly what we've done. In the second week of May, a lot of folks are going to be getting a sizable check. And I'm looking forward to that day, and I know they are as well.

President Bush and his economic advisers assume that people will rush off to WalMart to load up on more cheap Chinese-made crap they don’t need as soon as the check arrives. Some may, but a recent Roper poll suggests most will not:

About half of Americans don't have spending in mind, with 26 percent saying they'll pay off some debt, and 24 percent planning to save it.

Another 36 percent say they plan to spend the money, but most of those say it will go toward necessities such as groceries or utilities -- money that likely would have been spent anyway.

Just one in 10 (11 percent) say they will spend on discretionary items such as clothing, vacations or restaurants. 

Of course, in a poll like this I suspect people feel pressured to give the virtuous, responsible answer. Once they have check in hand, who’s to say they won’t do the fiscally irresponsible thing?

What I don’t understand is why our entire national economy is based on people spending money. I get the short-term logic, but long-term, shouldn’t we be telling people to save? Isn’t that what leads to long-term stability? And doesn’t constantly lowering the interest rate discourage households from saving?

Since 9/11 I’ve been aware of a “shopping is patriotic” message coming from the powers that be, but when consumers carry this much debt, shopping strikes me as the least patriotic thing one could do.

In the UK, where household savings is at a 50-year low, economists fear this signals a period of slow growth and “belt-tightening,” as British households put more money aside into savings.

This is interesting to me. Apparently the British aren’t comfortable being a nation of debtors like we Americans are. Apparently the British aren’t accustomed to carrying huge credit card debt, mortgage debt, car loans, student loans, etc. etc. Living on the economic edge isn’t a sign of a strong economy across the pond, it signals disaster waiting to happen--as well it should.

Yesterday a friend lamented that a prescription ointment he bought two years ago for $65 is now $130. He couldn’t believe it. Here are some other sobering statistics: Rice prices have jumped 30%, food inflation for household staples like eggs, bread and milk is in the double digits, and of course we all know what’s happened to the price of gasoline. Meanwhile, today brings news of static consumer spending in February. People aren’t buying cheap Chinese-made WalMart crap because they’re spending more money on gasoline, prescriptions and food.

All of this will take some of the wind out of those “economic stimulus rebate checks” that start rolling out in May. Maybe if we’d been saving, instead of living in debt, this all wouldn’t hurt so much. Maybe if we hadn’t been told to go shopping--whether we could afford it or not--and instead been saving, we’d have some cushion for this inflationary period.

Maybe if we didn’t act like a bunch of children, but instead behaved like grown-ups, we’d be capable of weathering these storms.

That requires leadership, though. And I don’t think the guy who lowered taxes while waging a two-front war is the one to do it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

We're All Terrorists

Alarming is the only way to describe the story of Briana Waters in today's Salon. Waters is a Berkeley, CA mother and violin teacher who made a documentary on some environmental activists a few years ago. Now she's a convicted of terrorist, awaiting sentencing for at the most holding a walkie-talkie, and at the least for associating with her documentary subjects.

It's all very bizarre, and doesn't look entirely legit, but it seems the government needed to broaden its definition of "terrorism" so the American public could feel safe to go shopping:
In the wake of 9/11, federal prosecutors had some new legal tools at their disposal. Historically, the crime of terrorism has required civilian deaths. In fact, the State Department defined terrorism as "premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatants." But the USA Patriot Act created a new category of domestic terrorism, which is defined as an offense "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government" or "to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Under this broad definition, eco-saboteurs become terrorists if their crime seeks to change government policy or action.

Really? Seeking to change government policy is the same as loading a rental truck with explosives and taking down a Federal building full of people?

I guess that makes me a terrorist. I want to change government policy, and when the President and Vice President cavalierly say "so what" to the will of the people, one has to shout a little louder. I don't advocate violence, but I can see how this kind of loose definition of "terrorism" can be used as a weapon to intimidate non-violent groups. Indeed:

Nonviolent protesters have already felt the heat. Documents obtained in 2005 by the ACLU reveal that the FBI has been surveying animal rights and environmental groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace, sending undercover agents to activist conferences and cultivating inside informants. Some of the documents suggest that the bureau was also attempting to link those groups with the ELF and ALF. The National Lawyers Guild reports that it receives calls regularly from environmental and animal-rights activists all over the country who had been contacted by the FBI after attending political events. "It has a chilling effect on free speech," says Guild director Boghosian, "and that's where the real damage to the Constitution is happening."

Groups that destroy property to make their statement are criminals, don't get me wrong. But prosecute them for their crimes, not their ideas.

We're way too quick to scream "terrorists!" these days. Anyone remember when a bunch of luxury homes in Maryland were burned down? I do:

More than 100 firefighters, along with agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, swarmed the Hightowers' burning paradise. Arson investigators speculated that the culprits were radical environmentalists concerned that the housing development would destroy valuable wetlands.

Yes, environmentalists are always the first ones with the book of matches and canister of gasoline on hand. Or maybe not:

Initially, investigators thought environmentalists who had opposed construction of the subdivision, fearing it would disrupt the ecology of a nearby bog, were behind the fires. Instead, when Mr. Speed was arrested and the identities of the other suspects began to spill out, an entirely different and much more puzzling scenario emerged.

Investigators said two of the suspects made racial comments during their interrogations, leading the authorities to suspect that this might be, in part, a hate crime - many of the families moving into the subdivision are black, and all the suspects are white. But searches have thus far turned up no evidence of racist or white supremacist literature. Revenge is a second possible motive.

Prosecutors said the suspects referred to the incident as Operation Payback, although not all of those accused of taking part have a clear complaint against Hunters Brooke.

Prosecutors said Mr. Speed was upset that his bosses had not been sufficiently sympathetic when his infant son died in April. Mr. Parady was said to be angry that he had been turned down for a job with the company building the subdivision.

So, guess what crime these malcontents were convicted of committing? Was it terrorism? There appears to be a racial component to their motive, after all.

Nope. Guess again!

It was arson. Not terror. Arson.

Funny how that works.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hell Week

I'm baaack.

It's been nearly one week since Julius dumped a glass of water on my laptop, frying my hard drive and plunging me into the depths of cyber-withdrawal. I'm finally back on line with a brand-new computer. This one is faster, better, shinier, with more wing-dings and all the latest blabbedy-blahs. I liked my old computer just fine, but it will be fun figuring this new one out.

One thing I noticed in the past week is how much the computer has become like television: a nefarious sucker-upper of time. In the six days I've been offline I've paid bills, cleaned house, organized my underwear drawer (seriously, I really did), cleaned out the refrigerator, tried out some new recipes on my unsuspecting spouse, cleared the clutter off our coffee table, caught up on laundry, and got about one-third of the way through reading a new novel.

All of this would be very well and good if I aspired to a life of leisure and simple housewifely duties. I don't. A big part of my world collapsed in the past week: deadlines were missed, I's weren't dotted, T's were left uncrossed. My poor little blog was left to fend for itself, with only Bugs Bunny for companionship, and I have nothing to submit for my Saturday writer's group meeting.

It's been an interesting week, to say the least. For one thing, I learned that the mainstream media is absolutely useless as an information source. Every time I turned on the television I got the same lame stories: Hillary Clinton said something stupid, Barack Obama still has a scary black pastor. Apparently the Democratic primary and stories about the weather are the only things that capture the attention of the mainstream media right now.

Taking a week off from politics was refreshing, though. I really don't care that Barack Obama is distantly related to Brad Pitt while Hillary Clinton can claim a tenuous kinship to Angelina Jolie. Seriously, this is news to you people? I'm more concerned about the uprising in Tibet, the 4,000th American soldier killed in Iraq (and how many contractors have been killed? Does anyone keep count?), or the faltering U.S. economy. I didn't get much of this information on the television and I feel like a week without the internet has left me a little less informed.

So I'll be back to blogging, as soon as I figure out the wing-dings and blabbedy-blahs. And as soon as I catch up on all the news that CNN and MSNBC missed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Culprit

This is Julius. Last night while I was blogging he jumped on a table and knocked a large, newly-filled glass of ice water into my lap--and fried my laptop in the process.

Needless to say, blogging will be light until further notice. I am borrowing the Mister's laptop at the moment, while my trusty Mac undergoes some repair. The Mister uses a PC. I do not understand this "right click-left click" thing at all. What have you people been thinking all this time?

Happy Easter, all.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's Happening Again

Who says they don't write good protest songs anymore? This one is from Ohio singer/songwriter Griffin House:

Memory Hole, IOKIYAR Edition

We didn’t even have to dig too deep to find this one, either. While the mainstream media continues to attack Rev. Wright and even Michelle Obama for statements viewed as unpatriotic, last September a conservative church choir appearing at the “Values Voter Debate” rewrote the words to “God Bless America.” In the new version, the song condemns America:
Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back
On everything that made her what she is.

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sin and heal our land

The courts ruled prayer out of our schools
In June of ‘62
Told the children “you are your own God now
So you can make the rules”
O say can you see what that choice
Has cost us to this day
America, one nation under God, has gone astray

Why should god bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

In ‘73 the Courts said we
Could take the unborn lives
The choice is yours don’t worry now
It’s not a wrong, it’s your right

But just because they made it law
Does not change God’s command
The most that we can hope for is
God’s mercy on our land

Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is
Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

Where was the outrage? What talking heads, columnists, pundits, newscasters have mentioned this as the Obama-Rev. Wright issue has hit the headlines?


This divide is a perfect example of what Atrios posted last week: that conservatives and the religious right have a distorted vision of the American past, which they believe has been corrupted by all things liberal. Liberals and the liberal church believe America's past contains deep flaws and injustrices, but the country can still be great in the future. This failure to agree on the American experience drives the competing narratives of right and left.

What I don’t get is the hostility toward one message and not the other. Why is it that liberals are called the “blame America first” crowd for pointing out the flaws of our history, while conservatives blame contemporary America for everything from natural disasters to acts of terrorism and they get a pass?

(h/t, Digby)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Unhappy Anniversary

Five years into their failed Iraq misadventure, President Bush and Vice President Cheney pass around a batch of fresh Kool-Aid, along with a set of rose-colored glasses to help the medicine go down:
Bush to hail prospect of Iraq "strategic victory"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush will acknowledge on Wednesday the Iraq war has been fought at a high cost but will insist a U.S. troop buildup has opened the door to a "major strategic victory" against Islamic militants.

"The successes we are seeing in Iraq are undeniable," Bush will say in an upbeat assessment of the U.S.-led campaign in a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the war, according to excerpts released on Tuesday.


Bush will be touting security gains from a troop increase or "surge" that he ordered early last year, as he appeals to Americans for patience in a war entering its sixth year since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around -- it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror," Bush will say.

But the “surge” has done none of the things it was intended to do. It was supposed to provide “breathing room” for political reconciliation, but where are these political gains? The only thing the “surge” did was correct Donald Rumsfeld’s fatal error of not providing enough troops for an occupation to begin with. All those fantasies about chocolates and rose petals, remember?

Juan Cole runs down the litany Iraq War lies in today’s Salon. Let’s start with the “surge”:

Hundreds of thousands of Baghdad residents were ethnically cleansed in the course of 2007, during the surge, and some two-thirds of the more than 1.2 million Iraqi refugees who ended up in Syria were Sunni Arabs. Baghdad, a symbol of past Arab glory and of the Iraqi nation, became at least 75 percent Shiite, perhaps more.

That outcome has set the stage for further Sunni-Shiite conflict to come. Much of the reduction in the civilian death toll is explained by this simple equation: A formerly mixed neighborhood like Shaab, east of the capital, now has no Sunnis to speak of, and so therefore there are no longer Sunni bodies in the street each morning.

But the troop escalation has failed to stop bombings in Baghdad, and the frequency and deadliness of attacks increased in February and March, after falling in January. In the first 10 days of March, official figures showed 39 deaths a day from political violence, up from 29 a day in February, and 20 in January. Assassinations, attacks on police, and bombings continue in Sunni Arab cities such as Baquba, Samarra and Mosul, as well as in Kirkuk and its hinterlands in the north. On Monday, a horrific bombing in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala killed 52 and wounded 75, ruining the timing of Vice President Cheney's and Sen. McCain's visit to Iraq to further declare victory.

Moreover, Turkey made a major incursion into Iraq to punish the guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party from eastern Anatolia, who have in the past seven months killed dozens of Turkish troops. The U.S. media was speaking of "calm" and "a lull" in Iraq violence even while destructive bombs were going off in Baghdad, and Turkey's incursion was resulting in over a hundred deaths. The surge was "succeeding," according to the administration, and therefore no mere attacks by a third country, or bombings by insurgents, could challenge the White House story line.

Meanwhile, for anyone made uncomfortable by all this bloodshed, Cheney is in Iraq to make more bogus links between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks:

[...]Cheney, who spent the night at a sprawling U.S. base in the northern town of Balad, told soldiers they were defending future generations of Americans from a global terror threat.

"This long-term struggle became urgent on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. That day we clearly saw that dangers can gather far from our own shores and find us right there at home," said Cheney, who was accompanied by his wife, Lynne, and their daughter, Elizabeth.

"So the United States made a decision: to hunt down the evil of terrorism and kill it where it grows, to hold the supporters of terror to account and to confront regimes that harbor terrorists and threaten the peace," Cheney said.

I’ve heard some broken records but this is ridiculous. The vice president has become a robotic self-parody, repeating the same tired lies as if someone pushed “play.”


This month, an exhaustive Pentagon-sponsored review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents captured during the 2003 U.S. invasion found no evidence that Saddam's regime had any operational links with the al Qaida terrorist network.

Today we’ll get more fairy tales and misinformation from the Bush Administration about what we’re doing in Iraq, how we’re doing in Iraq, why we’re in Iraq. The media will repeat these lies, and my conservative regulars will come over here with stories straight from Fox News and PowerLine about all the schools we’re building and the glorious new democracy that’s taking root in Iraq.

And a month from now, we’ll still get the same news reports of bombings, more than 4,000 soldiers will have come home in body bags, we’ll invest billions of dollars a month in Iraq instead of our infrastructure at home and making sure our food and drug supply are safe.

Clap louder, people. All hail the great budding democracy in Iraq. But what about the democracy at home?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Was Anyone Listening?

I watched Barack Obama’s speech on race today and came away very moved. He eloquently explained the context of some of Rev. Wright’s so-called controversial sermons, the context which still informs much of the African American experience today. And he showed he understands the anger and frustrations of white Americans, too, the millions of working class people who “don’t feel privileged by their race”:
Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

(I hope everyone reads the whole speech--that’s what these links are for, after all.)

These aren’t bumper-sticker plattitudes or political slogans; this is a plate of cold, hard reality. That Barack Obama understands this tells me he is a candidate who listens to people, not just lobbyists and corporate cronies. That doesn’t mean to say he never engages with the power elite, but I sense a fundamental understanding about the average American's experience that I don’t get from GOP elites like President "working three jobs is uniquely American” Bush.

But to me the money quote came at the end. Obama attacked the politics of division at its source: the punditocracy, the media, the talking heads and talk radio blowhards:

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. [...] This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This is a message that resonates with me. It resonated with me when John Edwards spoke a similar message, and it resonates with me now. It's a social justice message, and that will always appeal to me because as a bleeding heart liberal I believe that is the best and highest function of government.

But was anyone listening? All of the talking heads I saw after the speech were focused on Obama’s “repudiation” of Rev. Wright. No one touched on the heart and soul of his speech -- that we’re all facing the same problems regardless of race, and they can only be solved if we work together.

Instead, everyone discussed this speech in purely political terms; CNN’s Heidi Collins even asked: “Will they see politics here? Or sincerity of the heart?” Yeesh. Is it habit or just stupidity? Always the horse race. No one dares even touch the content, save the safe angles related to politics, campaigning, and controversy.

These are the people driving our public narrative. Were they even listening?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Unwavering Commitments

It’s five years into President Bush’s romantic Iraq misdaventure, and we have very little to show for it.

John McCain tried to make a repeat visit to Baghdad’s Shorja market, the place he visited last year as proof positive that one could “walk freely” in parts of Baghdad. Today it’s controlled by Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi army, and deemed too unsafe for Americans:
We got close to that marketplace today, Jim, but our own security advisers here in Iraq did not want us to go there. They didn’t believe it was safe for an American to be in that area. We were in a thriving marketplace nearby.

Meanwhile, VP Dick Cheney is in Baghdad today to prep his team for next month’s progress report to Congress. Cheney brought his rose-colored glassess with him:

In his discussions, Cheney said he was given evidence of “dramatic improvements in the security situation.'' The purpose of his visit was to reaffirm “the unwavering commitment'' of the U.S. to help Iraq build a democracy, he said.

Shortly after the vice president's arrival, two explosions rocked Baghdad, Agence France-Presse said. A U.S. military officer confirmed one of the explosions. One was caused by a mortar attack on the Green Zone, AFP said. Details of the second blast weren't available.

We were told going in that Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for reconstruction, but no one bothered to wonder if oil revenues would pay for an insurgency, too. Well, guess what:

Iraq’s Insurgency Runs on Stolen Oil Profits

BAIJI, Iraq — The Baiji refinery, with its distillation towers rising against the Hamrin Mountains, may be the most important industrial site in the Sunni Arab-dominated regions of Iraq. On a good day, 500 tanker trucks will leave the refinery filled with fuel with a street value of $10 million.

The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation, then make it prosper. But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq’s largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to American military officials. Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated — and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.

“It’s the money pit of the insurgency,” said Capt. Joe Da Silva, who commands several platoons stationed at the refinery.

Five years after the war in Iraq began, the insurgency remains a lethal force. The steady flow of cash is one reason, even as the American troop buildup and the recruitment of former insurgents to American-backed militias have helped push the number of attacks down to 2005 levels.

In fact, money, far more than jihadist ideology, is a crucial motivation for a majority of Sunni insurgents, according to American officers in some Sunni provinces and other military officials in Iraq who have reviewed detainee surveys and other intelligence on the insurgency.

No one could have anticipated this!

This is truly a war without end, because the world’s oil addiction is fueling it--in more ways than one. It won’t stop, until we either decide we don’t want the oil or we don’t want the war.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Who Will Rid Me Of This Troublesome Priest?

I find the media free-for-all unleashed on Rev. Jeremiah Wright alarming, to say the least. Liberals have long maintained that separation of church and state protects both government and church. And I think the attacks on Rev. Wright are a perfect example of why this is so important.

Wright is being attacked for his sermons. Not for things he said on Meet The Press or a column he wrote in the New York Times, or a book he recently published--not even for his appearances at a political event, a la “Justice Sunday” or “Renew America.” No, clips of Rev. Wright’s sermons have been removed from their religious, social and cultural context and trotted out for public critique by people with a political agenda.

I have a big problem with this; I think all people of faith should.

Preachers deliver sermons based on what they discern God has placed in their hearts to say. That such messages sometimes challenge the political and cultural establishment is as old as religion itself. Anyone remember a famous Jewish rabbi who was hung from a cross for defying the establishment of his day?

But this was inevitable, once we put a chink in that wall of separation between church and state. Recent decades have seen religious leaders engage in the business of government and politics at unprecedented levels. Religious leaders now freely endorse political candidates. They have access to the seats of power via weekly conference calls with the White House. Some even use the pulpit to push one political party over another. Religious groups get government funding, religious organizations perform social functions that government once did.

Religion has become a political tool used by the powerful and the want-to-be-powerful. And all was very well and good, as long as religious leaders supported the government and its agenda.

But now we have a pastor speaking out against the government. He has called on his congregation to question those actions the government has taken in their name. And all hell breaks loose. An election could be changed. A candidate must denounce his pastor’s words. And religious leaders all across the country are no doubt wondering if their words will be picked apart in the same way. Will there be consequences for speaking out about an injustice they see?

As a churchgoer I wonder: will we get to a place where pastors only preach the “safe” message? Will the integrity of the pulpit be breached?

This is what happens when you make religion a political pawn. We’ve entered a treacherous place in American politics, people. America: tread gently. We are about to cross a line, and we may not like where it takes us.

Friday, March 14, 2008

You Have Got To Be Kidding Me

Sirius Satellite Radio has launched a 24/7 channel devoted to the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal. Meet Client 9 Radio:.
Client 9 Radio will begin at 5pm and run through midnight on Monday on Sirius Channel 126. The station will serve as a forum for converation on this topic Sirius said in a news release. Listeners can call in with questions and programming will look at various aspects of the situation.

Our discourse has become so stupid. Have we really dumbed down this much? Did Sirius launch a 24/7 channel when New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey resigned after announcing he’s gay? Or when Illinois Senator Jack Ryan was embroiled in a sex club scandal?

What the hell?

Sen. Doug Jackson: Difference Maker

Just when I thought we'd redeemed ourselves from the infamous “road kill” bill, Tennessee is once again a national laughingstock, thanks to State Sen. Doug Jackson's hairbrained harebrained idea to allow concealed handguns in bars. Jackson was lampooned on "The Colbert Report" last night; the only question I have is why the Report failed to identify Jackson as a Democrat.

Watch the video here:

Jackson doesn't get a complete wag of the finger from me, since he's done some sensible things during his time in the state legislature. But I agree with Nashville Palace owner Steve Smith when he says alcohol, firearms and rednecks don't mix too well inside bars.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bill O’Reilly, Maverick!

Bill O’Reilly is conservative by anyone’s standards, save his own.

Creators Syndicate, which syndicates such opinion columnists as O’Reilly, Joe Conason and Pat Buchanan, has begun labeling its columnists by political ideology. The move to label pundits conservative, liberal, libertarian, or unaffiliated was requested by the sales staff, which thought the labeling would make Creators more “editor-friendly.”

So what political affiliation did right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly choose for himself?
Labeled unaffiliated from the start was Bill O'Reilly, who most people would consider conservative. "He made it clear from the first time Creators was involved with him that he didn't want to be pigeonholed," said Fryrear.

Well, Bill-O, if you don’t want to be pigeonholed, you’re going to have to work a little bit harder. Because for the last few years we've heard nothing but hard-boiled, calcified, wingnuttery.

Ignorance Is Bliss

First I read this:
Public Is Less Aware of Iraq Casualties, Study Finds

Twenty-eight percent of the public is aware that nearly 4,000 U.S. personnel have died in Iraq over the past five years, while nearly half thinks the death tally is 3,000 or fewer and 23 percent think it is higher, according to an opinion survey released yesterday.

The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that public awareness of developments in the Iraq war has dropped precipitously since last summer, as the news media have paid less attention to the conflict. In earlier surveys, about half of those asked about the death tally responded correctly.

Related Pew surveys have found that the number of news stories devoted to the war has sharply declined this year, along with professed public interest. "Coverage of the war has been virtually absent," said Pew survey research director Scott Keeter, totaling about 1 percent of the news hole between Feb. 17 and 23.

And then I read this:

Support for war effort highest since 2006

American public support for the military effort in Iraq has reached a high point unseen since the summer of 2006, a development that promises to reshape the political landscape.

According to late February polling conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 53 percent of Americans — a slim majority — now believe “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq. That figure is up from 42 percent in September 2007.

Amazingly, I was able to draw a parallel.

Thank you, liberal media. Now, would you please get your nose out of Ashley Alexandra Dupre’s crotch and start covering something important? Because, you know, people are dying over there.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Have A Question

Excuse me but can someone please tell me what "a stable relationship" has to do with the safety and efficacy of birth control?
Candidates for Mirena have had a child, are in a stable relationship, and have no risk or history of ectopic pregnancy or pelvic inflammatory disease.

I honestly can’t think how that’s relevant, but then, I’m not a doctor so what do I know.

Maybe they’re subtly telling tramps and trollops to use condoms?

Just wondering.

A Different Kind Of Prostitution

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this:
WASHINGTON — Former Attorney General John Ashcroft responded angrily on Tuesday to Congressional Democrats who suggested that a no-bid private contract awarded to him by the Justice Department last year amounted to a “backroom, sweetheart deal” that would earn his consulting firm tens of millions of dollars.

“There is not a conflict, there is not an appearance of a conflict,” Mr. Ashcroft said at a hearing of a House Judiciary subcommittee called to explore the circumstances of the contract.


Ms. Sanchez opened the hearing by suggesting that the department’s decision last year to award a monitoring contract worth between $28 million to $52 million to Mr. Ashcroft’s firm, as part of an out-of-court settlement with a medical supply company under criminal investigation, presented the appearance of a conflict, since it was made by officials who had been Mr. Ashcroft’s subordinates.

“You don’t believe that it may be a conflict of interest in a former employee hiring the former boss, or suggesting that he be hired, for a very lucrative contract?” she asked.

The 18-month monitoring contract requires Mr. Ashcroft to make sure that the Indiana company, Zimmer Holdings, complies with the terms of its settlement of kickback allegations. She described it as a “sweetheart deal” in which “Mr. Ashcroft was selected with no public notice and no bidding.”

Zimmer is one of four manufacturers of replacement hips and knees that got into trouble for making kickbacks to doctors. As part of the settlement deal, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie awarded his former boss this multimillion-dollar, no-bid contract. And Mr. Ashcroft is shocked, shocked, I tell you, that there is any appearance of impropriety. How dare those godless Democrats question his integrity.

Republicans in the House agreed, predictably, that Ashcroft is a swell Christian dude and no one should question anything he does now that he’s a super-honest lobbyist--“the anti-Abramaoff,” as the New York Times described in its fawning March 2006 profile.

Representative Tom Feeney, a Florida Republican, said it was “fundamentally wrong” to question the credentials of Mr. Ashcroft, who is “perhaps the most qualified individual in the country” on the sorts of issues faced by a corporate monitor in the health care industry, because of his record at the Justice Department in prosecuting large health-care companies.

Oh really? Which ones would that be? Like the Don Siegelman case, for instance?

Anyway, even though there was nothing wrong with the way the no-bid monitoring contract was awarded, the Dept. of Justice decided to make some new guidelines on the awarding of future such deals. Just because:

On Monday, the Justice Department announced internal guidelines for the selection of monitors in out-of-court settlements with large companies. The new guidelines are intended in part to avoid the sort of conflict-of-interest accusations that followed the disclosure of Mr. Ashcroft’s contract.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, suggested at the hearing that the new guidelines may not go far enough, and that Congress may consider legislation to impose new rules for the selection of monitors.

“We must assure the public that the Department of Justice is not rewarding political allies in a forum where prosecutorial independence is absolutely necessary,” he said.

Well, that would be a refreshing change.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Sanctity Of Marriage

In Montana, you don’t even have to bother showing up at your own wedding to legally tie the knot:
“Ceremony No. 1,” says the judge, Heidi Ulbricht. That would be the marriage between two members of the Air Force far, far removed from this room in the Flathead County Courthouse. The real groom is 7,300 miles away, in Qatar, while the real bride is merely 1,700 miles away, in Kentucky.

“We are gathered here today in the presence of these witnesses to join in holy matrimony this man and this woman, who have applied for and received a marriage license from the state,” the judge says.

Turning to Sarah Knapton, 22, college student and professional proxy bride, she asks: “Will you have this man by proxy to be your lawful wedded husband, and with him to live together in holy matrimony pursuant to the laws of God and this state?”

“I do,” answers Ms. Knapton, elbow on table, chin in hand.

“Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him both in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others keep you only unto him, so long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Ms. Knapton intones again.

The judge now asks these life-altering questions of Kyle Kirkland, 22, mason and professional proxy groom, who is signing various marriage documents. He says, “I do,” twice without looking up once.

By the virtue of the authority vested in her, Judge Ulbricht pronounces an absent military couple husband and wife, all in a Montana minute.

Wow, how strange. Apparently this law allowing a “double proxy” marriage has been on the books for decades; even stranger, only last year did the legislature pass the requirement that either bride or groom be a Montana resident, or else be on active duty in the military.

I guess it’s nice that there’s a state that will marry people who are unable to be together because of their military deployment. But I also think it sucks that there are thousands of people who would like to get married, and will happily show up at their own wedding, but they can’t because of some outdated views on marriage. Yet we’ve got a system in place to legally marry couples who don’t even occupy the same time zone.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Dumb Politicians

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was caught doing something incredibly stupid:
Citing a Spitzer administration official, The Times reported on Monday afternoon that Gov. Eliot Spitzer had informed his most senior administration officials that he had been involved in a prostitution ring. Shortly after 3 p.m., the governor issued a brief statement to the news media and took no questions.

According to an update to the original article, Mr. Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a person briefed on the federal investigation.

I’m wondering if there was a warrant for that wiretap. But regardless, a person in Eliot Spitzer’s position should have shown a little more discretion than this. A leading Democrat, Spitzer could have gone far. All I can say is, I’m glad we found this out now instead of, say, in the middle of a presidential race where his name is on the ticket.

I hate it when politicians do such stupid things. When you're in the fish bowl, keep it zipped. Duh.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

“But My Name Really IS Heywood Jablome!”

Kentucky Rep. Tim Couch (R-Hyden) wants to bring personal responsibility to the internets:
Kentucky Representative Tim Couch filed a bill this week to make anonymous posting online illegal.

The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site.

Their full name would be used anytime a comment is posted. If the bill becomes law, the website operator would have to pay if someone was allowed to post anonymously on their site. The fine would be five-hundred dollars for a first offense and one-thousand dollars for each offense after that.

Representative Couch says he filed the bill in hopes of cutting down on online bullying. He says that has especially been a problem in his Eastern Kentucky district.

I’m not sure what’s happening in eastern Kentucky that isn’t happening everywhere else in the world, but guess what: the internet can be a tough place. People can and will be jerks. Welcome to the world.

I think this kind of legislation is just stupid. It’s the kind of thing Democrats are always accused of doing--"nanny legislating” and “big government”--but which Republicans have no problem doing when it suits them (Good Samaritan bill, anyone?).

Put aside the whole problematic issue of enforcing such a law for a moment, let’s take a look at the issue itself: I’m sure Rep. Couch is correct in assuming that people will be more polite if they didn’t have an online pseudonym to hide behind. But who says the internet has to be polite? I happen to like the raw, Wild West style of commentary one finds online. Yes, people can be offensive, but anonymity also helps foster the free exchange of ideas. Yes, it can get heated, offensive and vulgar, but so does communication at a bar or sporting event. Have you been to a Predators game when 18,000 people are shouting "You suck!" at the opposing team's goalie?

Yes, I’m aware of the Megan Meier case. This was tragic, to be sure, but it was also a very bizarre incident which I don’t think reflects the norm for online communication. And I hope most parents know by now to closely monitor their youngsters’ online chats. I know: “good luck,” I get it. Still, parents have an obligation to teach their kids about internet safety, and that doesn't just mean telling them to not meet the perv in the chat room. It means making them understand that the internet is not always reality.

I have friends who proudly post their real names online. I choose to use a pseudonym. Big deal. Quite a few people out there in the blogosphere know who I am, it’s not a big secret, but I don’t advertise it, either. I just feel safer that way. That may sound hyper-dramatic to some folks, but I’ve also had my very own personal stalker: a bi-polar Iranian who threatened the last President Bush and was picked up by the Secret Service on his way to Nashville, I guess to pay me a personal visit. So, excuse me for not taking any chances. There are too many crazies in the world.

Other people have their own reasons for being anonymous on the internet. They may fear retaliation for their comments on a blog, or they may be trying to manipulate the dialog, or they're just turning to the internet for a place to vent.

I don’t think that should be illegal. And I think folks like Tim Couch need to find a better way of dealing with the issues their districts face than by enacting silly laws like this.

What A Legacy

Bush vetoes anti-torture bill. Wow, what a headline.

There are things I just don’t understand, and this is one of them:
Bush’s Veto of Bill on C.I.A. Tactics Affirms His Legacy

Published: March 9, 2008

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency’s latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.

Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using interrogation methods like waterboarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning and that has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad. Many such techniques are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.

First, boo-hiss to the New York Times for using the polite euphamism, “harsh interrogation techniques.” It’s torture. No need to polite here, let’s call things what they are.

Secondly, Bush’s legacy will not be “strong executive powers” but supporting the use of torture. Own it, folks. This will be Bush’s legacy, and what a sick one it is. It will be the legacy of the Republican Party, including John McCain, himself a victim of torture, who voted to allow the CIA to use these techniques.

That is something else I just don’t understand.

Torture is one of those things that didn’t seem real to me until I did this post on rendition back in December:

... a University of Glasgow pathology report shows one man “died of immersion in boiling liquid” after being seized by the authorities. Post-mortem photos of an 18-year-old Samarkand resident reveal similar marks: “The right hand looked like cooked chicken.” In addition, Murray writes, “one technique was widespread throughout the country — they would strap on a gas mask and then block the filters. I presume that the advantage of this was that it would suffocate without bruising.”

This is torture, Uzbekistan-style, which is relevant because Uzbekistan is reportedly one of the destination countries for our CIA rendition program. To America’s credit, we have routinely criticized Uzbekistan’s human rights record. Well, sorta:

President Bush welcomed Uzbek President Islam Karimov to the White House, and the United States has given Uzbekistan more than $500 million for border control and other security measures.

Add that to the Bush legacy while you’re at it.

This is insane, Upside-Down Day stuff. What president wants fear, torture, violence and war as his legacy?

It is generally known that the information one gets from torture is unreliable. A person being tortured will say anything to get the torture to stop. So, what does work? We don't know. We haven't studied it, not since the 1970s (with good reason, too: the studies we did were barbaric and horrific).

Right-wingers agree with the President that

[...] information from the C.I.A.’s interrogations had averted terrorist attacks, including plots to attack a Marine camp in Djibouti; the American Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; Library Tower in Los Angeles; and passenger planes from Britain.

but there’s no evidence that this is true. None. Just Bush’s word, which we all know is as good as $3 bill. For instance, it’s not the “Library Tower” in Los Angeles -- it’s the U.S. Bank Building. Secondly, there was no “plot,” it was debunked long ago. Bush likes to bring it up, though, along with a host of other phony terror plots, because the government wants you scared.

What better way to keep people scared than to keep reminding us that they need “tools” like torture, warrantless wiretaps and telecom immunity. Whether they actually use these new powers is beside the point: they are telling us that they need them -- just in case. It’s another way of saying “Boo!”

Keep the people scared, which is another Bush legacy. It’s the oldest trick in the book:

"This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs: when he first appears, he is a protector." -- PLATO, The Republic

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Snow Day!!

Yes, it was 70 degrees last week. And today there's half a foot of snow on the ground. You gotta love Nashville!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Bad Blogger Bad, No, No!


Back in October right-wing bloggers raked me over the coals for this post about the attack on Air America’s Randi Rhodes. Even though I said “such speculation is premature” and “I really hope thoughts like this are an over-reaction,” I did quote radio host Jon Elliot when he wondered if Rhodes’ mugging was politically motivated. They still write about it. Oh, the outrage, the unmitigated gall! The irresponsible speculation! Bad blogger, bad!

Fast forward five months and we have conservative blogger John Hinderaker of Power Line, with two suspects in mind for the explosion at a Times Square military recruiting station:

Those groups appear to be the most likely suspects in a bombing in Times Square early this morning. Someone set off an "improvised explosive device" in front of the military recruiting station there; the bomb blew a hole in the building's door. No one was hurt.

Thank you, John Hinedraker! And how does he know that “Islamic extremists or Code Pinkers” are the most likely suspects responsible for this act? Is there some evidence, a quote from law enforcement, something, anything?

Well, of course not. It’s purely a figment of his imagination.

Where’s the outrage from the right about this irresponsible speculation?

* crickets * crickets * crickets *


(h/t, dirk gently)

Open Spigots

Remember when having a president with ties to the Saudi Royal Family was supposed to be a good thing? Remember this?
Gov. George W. Bush of Texas said today that if he was president, he would bring down gasoline prices through sheer force of personality, by creating enough political good will with oil-producing nations that they would increase their supply of crude.

''I would work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply,'' Mr. Bush, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, told reporters here today. ''Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot.''

How’s that working for y’all? How's Mr. Personality doing keeping gas prices low? Not so good, huh? Seven years and two wars later:

OPEC on Wednesday rebuffed calls from President Bush to increase oil output, instead citing “mismanagement” of the American economy as a major factor driving prices up.

Record prices are suddenly creating the sharpest tensions in years between the oil cartel and the United States, the world’s largest oil consumer. Two days after the president called for more oil on the global market, OPEC members, meeting in Vienna, chose to leave their production levels unchanged, declaring that the market has plenty of oil already.

The cartel’s president blamed financial speculators and American economic problems, which have helped lower the value of the dollar, for the high oil prices. After the meeting, oil prices settled above $104 a barrel, a record.

While it’s true that everything President Bush touches turns to shit, I don’t entirely blame him for this one. It’s entirely possible that OPEC can’t raise production because they’re already operating at peak capacity. OPEC admitted as much in December 2006. We’re talking blood and turnips here, people.

Still, it’s a little ridiculous that our Administration has failed to anticipate this turn of events. And for this, I blame the Republican Party.

Democrats saw this coming 30 years ago. Jimmy Carter saw it coming, Read his brilliant speech from July 15, 1979:

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

[ ... ]

To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun.

I propose the creation of an energy security corporation to lead this effort to replace 2-1/2 million barrels of imported oil per day by 1990. The corporation I will issue up to $5 billion in energy bonds, and I especially want them to be in small denominations so that average Americans can invest directly in America's energy security.

Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.

Sigh. Read the whole thing. It’s really sad that Ronald Reagan dismantled this vision. He removed the solar panels from the White House roof and decided this country didn’t need energy independence, that conservation was for sissies. The Reagan Revolution chose the path of self-interest, the path of constant conflict and narrow interests. They chose the certain route to failure.

And here we are, 30 years later, with gas prices hitting a new record, beating the last record from 1981.

I guess no one -- or rather, almost no one -- could have anticipated this.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

It’s Wine Time!

Come on, Tennessee. Get out of the dark ages. Crawl out from under the tyranny of the liquor lobby. Tell Tom Hensley to take a hike -- who elected him, anyway? Nobody. It’s time to upend the power structure and tell the good ol’ boys to get on the bus because the people have spoken!

Yes, I’m talking about selling wine at grocery stores. It’s way past time for this. And now, the push to bring wine sales to Tennessee groceries has officially begun. If you haven’t done so already, check out Red, White & Food, the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Assn.’s wine campaign website.

Maybe retail wine sales would even lure a Trader Joe’s here. Maybe?

This week at Whole Foods I saw, for the first time in my life, emu eggs. For sale. (I was too stunned to notice how much they cost but it was Whole Foods so assume arm + leg.) They are bright green and huge. I had to check to see if they were fake.

Now, what does one do with an emu egg besides make a big-assed omelette? I have no clue. But I can’t believe I live in a city where I can buy a freaking emu egg in the grocery store, but I can’t get a bottle of chardonnay.

That’s just so wrong, on so many levels.

1-2-3-4, What Are We Fighting For?

Karl Rove finally admitted it last weekend.

TBS bleeped out one of the lyrics in the final verse, to save our sensitive ears. The real obscenity isn't in the words of a rock song, though, which I why I'm reprinting the entire verse here. Somehow seems appropriate, in light of this move from the Bush Administration:

You got the farms in Argentina
Making fuel from sugar cane
You got the bastards in Washington
Afraid of popping that greed vein
'Cause the money's in the pipeline
And the pipeline's running dry
And we'll be the last to recognize
Where there's shit there's always flies

Thank you, Sheryl Crow, for pointing out what has been obvious to us all from the beginning. Iraq forever, y'all.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

“No Spray” Fray

Local groups in Nashville are up in arms over a proposal that would prohibit residents from opting out of the city’s mosquito spray program--no exceptions. Activist group No Spray Nashville has the goods.

Apparently the city issued a new mosquito control policy back in February, and we’re in the middle of a public comment period. Heh. Guess I need to pay more attention to local news.

I have mosquitoes, because an open storm water drain runs behind my house. I know that’s the source of my mosquito problem because the drain is constantly damp, and anyone walking by it in the summer is instantly swarmed. No other part of our yard has that issue.

So I’d love to have our yard sprayed. But we also have a waterfall and koi pond. Our dogs and cats go outside (some of them, at least), and there's a playground across the street. And no, the koi pond is not the source of our mosquitoes. You’ll have to trust me on this one.

I’ve also read some disturbing things about the mosquito control product Metro uses, Anvil 2+2. These things usually involve scary words like “mutagens” and “endocrine disruptors” and “genotoxic compounds.”

So if it’s all the same to Metro, I’d just as soon retain the right to opt out, please.

I understand why Metro is so concerned about mosquitoes, what with all of the “West Nile Virus” fear-mongering we get every summer. But if that’s the case, then shouldn’t we not put open stormwater sewers through people’s backyards? Shouldn’t we not keep building gigantic detention ponds in front of every new housing development? When it rains these things become humongous mosquito incubators.

How about less spraying and smarter planning, development and stormwater engineering? Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Speaking of Manchurian Candidates ...

I’ve been following the goings-on of notorious right-wing cult leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon for several years now. Moon, founder of the Unification Church, has long and deep ties to the Bush Administration, the Bush family, and the GOP, as well as top leaders of the Christian right such as Tim LaHaye and the late Jerry Falwell.

He’s a creepy guy to the say least; if you think Scientology is weird, check out Moon, who calls himself Messiah and has his fingers in a dizzying array of global businesses (not all of which are legal, say Moon watchers). For instance, did you know that Moon supplies nearly all of the country’s sushi restuarants with fish? If you eat sushi, chances are you're supporting this creepy cult leader (I know, I eat sushi anyway, too).

About a year ago we heard rumors that the Bush family had bought thousands of acres of land in Paraguay adjacent to Unification Church land there. Some speculated that because there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Paraguay, this was Bush’s exit strategy. This struck me as a little silly and anyway, we do indeed have extradition treaties with Paraguay, so the argument was wrong.

But there’s clearly something going on, beause the land deal is real, and First Brother Neil Bush has been traveling with Moon in South America, as did George Bush Sr. back in the 1990s. Last week, Neil Bush was in Paraguay to meet with President Nicanor Duarte along with a group of Moon associates.


I don’t know what’s going on, but some tin-foil hat types have wondered if the Bush family isn't a key player in Moon's stated plans to take over the world. That also strikes me as silly, but no one has yet explained to me what was up with that "coronation" of Moon and his wife at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in 2004. Understandably, those involved in this bizarre event, including former Rep. Curt Weldon and Sen. Lindsey Graham, have been too embarassed to talk about it and have hoped the whole thing would fade from memory. As if.

I also think it’s interesting that several “Moonies” were given prominent positions in the Bush Administration: for example, David Caprara, one of Moon’s top political players, was director of the Office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives. His previous gig with Moon was as head of the American Freedom Coalition, which the Los Angeles Times described as an organization "dedicated to repairing Moon's tattered persona in the United States" (Caprara is now with the Brookings Institution, BTW).

All of which is food for thought. I'm not saying I buy into the conspiracy theories but I do think it's disturbing that a destructive cult leader and ex-felon would have access to those holding the reins of power in America. I'm blogging about this today because I think it's fascinating, and Ken Layne’s column yesterday offers a good run-down on the Bush-Moon connection. Folks might get a kick out of reading it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

60 Minutes Shills For Pentagon

Watching 60 Minutes National Security Correspondent David Martin introduce the Pentagon’s “Active Denial System” as the best life-saving advancement since the invention of Kevlar was nothing short of surreal. I actually had to watch the segment twice because I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears the first time.

You can read the transcript, or watch the video here:

The “Active Denial System” is a non-lethal “ray gun” which zaps its target with super high-frequency radio waves. In other words, it’s a crowd control device. Gee, now I wonder how the government would use something like that?

Perhaps we have a little clue in the Pentagon’s demonstration video, which they aired as part of last night’s segment. The clip shows a group of people carrying signs that read “Love For All,” “End The War” and “World Peace.”

Now check the transcript of Martin’s voice-over describing this scene:
The targets at the base are people, military volunteers creating a scenario soldiers might encounter in Iraq, like angry protestors advancing on American troops, who have to choose between backing down or opening fire. Off in the distance, half a mile away, the operator of the ray gun has the crowd in his sights.

David Martin and 60 Minutes Producer Mary Walsh must be either incredibly stupid or on the Pentagon’s payroll. “End The War” and “World Peace” placards are a scene from Iraq? Really? This looks less like a scene from Iraq than a scene from America.

This certainly tells us everything we need to know about who the Pentagon views as the enemy. And it speaks volumes about the incurious stenography offered by 60 Minutes reporter David Martin and producer Mary Walsh.

Martin and Walsh seem particularly clueless about any moral or ethical issues which a crowd control device of this type presents. They spin this story as a tale of government bureaucracy holding up a really wonderful life saving device. It’s the culture of the Pentagon, see, that just doesn’t understand something like this:

Pentagon officials call it a major breakthrough which could change the rules of war and save huge numbers of lives in Iraq. But it's still not there. That because in the middle of a war, the military just can't bring itself to trust a weapon that doesn't kill.

That’s nice spin. I guess we DFH anti-war hippies are supposed to embrace a weapon that doesn’t kill, seeing as how we love everybody. But here’s a clue to Martin, Walsh and the rest of the idiots at 60 Minutes who never looked deeper than the Pentagon’s press release before runnig this story: we just saw a clip of that weapon targeting people carrying signs that read “Love For All” and “World Peace.” So excuse me if we DFH anti-war hippies aren’t going to run to our Congress Critters and demand this weapon be deployed immediately in Iraq. Because it’s quite obvious this weapon is not designed for Iraq. It’s designed for America.

Thanks, 60 Minutes, for not digging any deeper than what “Pentagon officials” told you.

ADS was designed for America. It was designed for countries like Bolivia, where American corporation Bechtel tried to privatize the water supply, sparking massive revolts that sent Bechtel scurrying home with its tail tucked between its legs.

It was designed to quell popular uprisings, foreign and domestic. It’s to control the people. This is not a weapon to be used on insurgents in Iraq. It’s to be used on protestors at home and everywhere else where it’s awkward and inconvenient for masses of people to take to the streets and demand change:

One of the ray gun's biggest advantages is that it can stay out of harm’s way and still control a crowd.

That’s an “advantage” all right--for some folks, at least.

The Active Denial System might be useful in a situation like this:

And when it does, we can thank the idiots at 60 Minutes and in particular reporter David Martin for not asking any hard questions about who and what this device was designed for.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

More FISA Fun

Over at Hullabaloo, dday gets to the meat of this FISA madness:
That's all this is about. The telecoms don't want the amnesty. The overriding goal is to shut down these lawsuits and, most important, eliminate the discovery phase so that the full extent of Administration lawbreaking is permanently hidden. This is about burying the evidence, as every single action by the White House since the Democratic takeover of Congress has been. Bush may have a soft spot in his heart for his corporate buddies, but he's really not interested in indemnifying them. He's interested in immunity for himself.

I read that and instantly knew he’s right.

As dday notes, the telecoms aren’t showering the Republicans with campaign contributions, despite the GOPs Herculean efforts on their behalf. A lot of us assumed this FISA battle over telecom immunity was another case of the GOP sucking up to their corporate cronies, but if the telecoms aren't showing them any love, why bother?

Meanwhile President Bush told some whoppers at his Thursday press conference:

[...]Bush said that, "Allowing these lawsuits (against telecom companies) to proceed could make it harder to track the terrorists because private companies besieged by and fearful of lawsuits would be less willing to help us quickly get the information we need." This, from the administration that had a report titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" in it hands Aug. 6, 2001, and did either nothing or not enough. Regardless, according to the AP, telecoms would have to cooperate with the government if provided with a FISA court order.

Of course they would. Saying telecom immunity is needed to protect Americans from scary terrorists is just a bald-faced lie.

But did the President let a kernel of truth slip into his presser? Quoting Glenn Greenwald, dday thinks yes:

"Allowing the lawsuits to proceed could aid our enemies, because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance."

Ahh .. indeed. Not just how, but who.

Most of us on the left have long believed that these warrantless wiretaps on American citizens have had little to do with terrorism, and everything to do with politics, power and an abuse of presidential authority of Nixonian proportions.

Since our news media has gone from being intrepid investigators to neutered stenographers, we can’t count on any revelations from the Fourth Estate. Instead, we’ll have to count on the discovery phase of these lawsuits to shed some light on what this Administration has been doing. Granting the telecoms immunity for their wrongdoing will quash these lawsuits and elimninate any chance of learning about Administration malfeasance in a court of law.

If the Democratics blow this out of fear of “looking weak” or, even worse, a fear of blowing the November election, they will have blown a much bigger chance to cut out a cancer that took over our government in 2000.

You might drop Speaker Nancy Pelosi a line and let her know what you think.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Your Tax Dollars At Work

America, we’ve been ripped off. We’ve been robbed by the Iraq War. Private companies are getting rich off of building contracts, and what are we getting for our money? Nothing good:
WASHINGTON — None of the 26 buildings in the new $740 million U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad is ready to be occupied. Fire alarms intended to safeguard more than 1,000 U.S. government employees aren't working. Kitchens in some of the buildings are fire hazards.

A senior State Department official in December certified that embassy construction was "substantially complete," but department inspectors found "major deficiencies" at the unoccupied embassy, according to their inspection report, which Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., released Friday.

[ ... ]

The documents Waxman released Friday cited a number of specific problems:

• Fire alarms in three of six apartment buildings that will house U.S. diplomats didn't operate properly during tests.
• There are problems with a diesel engine fire pump that sends water to fire hydrants and sprinklers.
• The fire alarm network, which alerts firefighters and security personnel to a fire, doesn't operate properly.

You can read Waxman’s letter to Secretary Rice here .

The company making money off of the U.S. taxpayers here is First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co. How’d they get this lucrative contract? Funny you should ask:

The State Department's Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) then waived a law that requires open and competitive bidding. It awarded a sole-source contract for the unclassified portions of the new embassy complex to a Kuwait-based firm, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co.

The waiver described First Kuwaiti as "capable of completing the design and construction in accordance with the required schedule, budget and performance parameters."

Instead, the embassy construction has missed several deadlines; numerous problems have emerged, including faulty firefighting and electrical systems; and the project is the subject of a criminal investigation.

Criminal investigation, you say? It seems First Kuwaiti has been accused of gross human rights abuses:

First Kuwaiti's labor practices are under investigation by the Justice Department, which is looking into allegations that foreign employees were brought into Iraq under false pretenses and were unable to leave because the company had confiscated their passports.


The contract for the U.S. embassy “was political,” said one competitor. Why political? Because Kuwait was the only country bordering Iraq that was willing to allow the staging of land troops for the 2003 invasion, whisper other disgruntled contractors. The State Department intervened before on behalf of other Kuwaiti firms. After the invasion, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, Richard Jones, pressured Halliburton to buy overpriced fuel from the unknown Kuwaiti firm Altanmia Commercial Marketing Company, according to official documents. That fuel, intended for domestic use in Iraq, resulted in ongoing disputes about overcharges of possibly several hundred million dollars. Jones then returned to Washington to serve as the senior adviser and coordinator for Iraq at the State Department. He was in that position when First Kuwaiti was awarded the embassy contract.

Anything to make sure we got our war. Forced slavery of foreign workesr? No problem. Raiding America's treasury? Sure! The richest nation in the world is also acting like the stupidest.

Okay, America: are you proud of what we’ve bought with our $740 million? (And by the way: the cost was originally supposed to be $592 million.) Are we happy with these priorities?

It’s time people woke up and paid attention to these important stories, not trivialities about flag pins or partisan name-calling.