Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lobbying Boondoggle

Yesterday the Senate passed an essentially toothless lobbying "reform" bill. If you doubt that it's a fraud, listen to this from Sen. Rick Sanctimonious, quoted in The New York Times: "Congress stepped up in a big way. This is a much tougher bill than anyone would have anticipated when we started this process." Well, maybe it's tougher than anyone with truly boundless cynicism would have expected. Let's face it, when you get Sen. Sanctimonious' enthusiastic support for political reform, you know it's a fake.

So who were the eight senators with the backbone to stand up against this boondoggle? An interesting group. You might have expected John McCain and Russell Feingold, who have consistently understood that it helps if the voters can have some faith that the public's business is actually being done. Barack Obama--whom some have accused of being too low-key since his breakthrough at the Democratic Convention in 2004--was out front on this issue. The only other Democrat to vote no was....surprise....John Kerry, of my home state of Massachusetts. Where was Ted Kennedy? one might ask. Where, indeed: voting for the measure. The other Republicans who voted "no" hailed from two states that have long been bastions of political probity, Oklahoma and South Carolina. That's right, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn (who really are to the right of Attila the Hun) of the Sooner State, along with Lindsay Graham (who's shown some spine from time to time) and James DeMint of South Carolina. Sen. Coburn may have voted as he did on practical grounds: according to The Times, he said that officeholders will suffer at the polls if they don't cut back on lobbyists' influence. Let's hope he's right. (And there's nothing wrong with practical politics, especially when it reaches the right result.)

Taking Responsibility, Take 2

Yesterday I posted a link to an AP story, reported on CBS, that related how the President blamed Saddam Hussein for ongoing violence in Iraq. I first found the AP story and marked it, but when I went back to that link, this is what I found. You'll notice that Bush's blaming of Saddam has migrated from the top to the last paragraph of the story.

Why the change? What do you think? We report; you decide.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Paying the Piper

So Jack Abramoff got a little less than six years in jail from a federal judge in Florida. (Sentencing for the offenses he pleaded to in Washington has been held off until he finishes singing.)

Let's face it, Abramoff got a slap on the wrist. The minimum under federal guidelines. His lawyers got hundreds of lawyers from respectable people who could be convinced to set aside knowledge of the crimes that Jack committed (which might have led to murder, although that was not in the indictment) to concentrate on "the man." As if his criminal conduct is not part of his character.

As Anatole France observed, the rich as well as the poor are forbidden to sleep under the bridges over the Seine. Things haven't changed.

Taking Responsibility

Over the past few decades, Republicans have been known as the party of personal responsibility. Taking responsibility for one's acts has been a mainstay of the party's theoretical framework. So it comes as no surprise to hear the party's leader on the situation in Iraq today:

(CBS/AP) President Bush said Wednesday that Saddam Hussein, not continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, is responsible for ongoing sectarian violence that is threatening the formation of a democratic government...

Yup, it's all Saddam's fault. Forget that the Iraqi army and the Iraqi state collapsed like a house of cards. Forget that we were welcomed into Baghdad by cheering crowds. Forget those scenes as Saddam's statue was pulled down. Forget that the guy was on the run for more than a year and has been in custody since we pulled him out of his "spider hole." Just forget history and keep repeating, "It's all his fault."

No wonder Iraq is in the state it is.

Dept. of Clear Thinking

"No question that the enemy has tried to spread sectarian violence. They use violence as a tool to do that." -- George W. Bush, March 22, 2006

(I know, the target is too easy. But sometimes I just can't resist.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

We Don't Comment, We Just Report

Well, this time, anyway:

NEW DELHI (AP) -- Village elders ordered a Muslim man in eastern India to leave his wife after he accidentally divorced her in his sleep, a news report said Tuesday.

Read the full story.

You can't make this stuff up.

(Thanks to reader HS for this one.)

Burns Toasted

Sen. Conrad Burns, R.Mont., who's running--perhaps stumbling--for re-election, is toast. It's now clear that was deep under the covers with Jack Abramoff (that's a metaphor, for all of you with dirty minds). As NPR's John Ydstie reported today (although it's been known for some time), in 2004, Burns slipped a last minute "earmark" into a Senate appropriations bill, directing $3 million to the Saginaw Chippewa tribe for a new school. Now, the Chippewa aren't from Montana, they're from Michigan. As a Montana state representative from the Blackfeet reservation said, "I thought Sen. Burns [forgot] where he came from." Oh, by the way, the Saginaw Chippewa, a tribe with a highly profitable casino, was represented by none other than Jack Abramoff.

Be sure to check out "Six Degrees of Jack Abramoff," a convenient interactive scorecard of everyone who's been burned (so far) by the Abramoff scandal. It's in the link above.

The only question is whether Burns will be indicted before election day.

It doesn't get much more fun than this!

Another Hand in the Cookie Jar--Update

Yesterday, we reported that another Republican Congressman seems to have had his hand in the Abramoff cookie jar. Here's an update. It looks like Cong. Jim Ryun (R.KS) got an even better deal than the earlier report showed. (Remember, getting an especially good deal on real estate was one of the things that sent "Duke" Cunningham to jail.) Cong. Ryun's office has refused to comment.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Immigration Mess

For the past few weeks, I've been avoiding the issue of illegal immigration (or undocumented migration, if you prefer). Like Paul Krugman in today's Times (another terrific article), I confess to ambivalence. Those huddled masses that the Statue of Liberty welcomed were my people. My grandparents emigrated to the United States from Lithuania and what is now Belarus; if my parents had somehow met and married in Eastern Europe, they would almost certainly have perished at the hands of the Nazis before I was born.

Yet immigration is a problem, and not just for the United States. Indeed, legal and illegal immigration together are a tremendous asset for the nation. (Krugman is honest enough to point out that unlawful immigration provides a very slight net benefit.) At the same time, the attraction of our nation pulls away many of the brightest people from other nations; our gain is their loss.

The presence of millions of undocumented workers provides American business with a permanent class of low-paid workers who will not--cannot--join unions or agitate for a higher minimum wage. They compete with Americans and drag wages down for citizens and lawful immigrants. Yet the illegals have a claim on our compassion. We attracted them with our high wages; we have been happy to have them to build our homes, take care of our lawns and bus our tables. We have made an implied promise of tolerance; for decades, we have looked the other way as they came across our borders, often bringing spouses and children.

To be frank, I have no pat answer for the immigration issue, although I tend to side with the President (a rare thing, as regular readers will know). I favor a system that would legalize the status of many unlawful entrants and give them a means to acquire permanent residence and citizenship (although their road should be significantly longer than that trod by legal immigrants).

One thing that is clear to me is that no one is talking about the only step that would really reduce illegal immigration: Improving conditions in other nations, so that their citizens have less incentive to come to the United States. Come to think of it, I'm not sure how much that I want that to happen; this nation still relies on a regular infusion of new blood in the form of immigration.

Another Hand in the Cookie Jar

Was "Duke" Cunningham the only congressman who got a sweetheart real estate deal? Or did another Republican representative profit with some help from Jack Abramoff and his former chief-of-staff/henchman Ed Buckham? Judge for yourself.

Grover Strikes Again

Regular readers may recall that high-powered lobbyist Grover Norquist is being swept into the Abramoff mess. Apparently that's no deterrent to the White House, which has picked Norquist, among others, to help with its campaign to restore Bush's credibility. Brilliant strategy, or another misstep by the gang that can't shoot straight? Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What If They Gave A Big-Name Fundraiser...

...and the candidate didn't show up?

Exactly that happened in New Jersey last week, when Deadeye Dick Cheney appeared at a fundraiser for Tom Kean, Jr., son of the former governor and GOP candidate for the Senate against Robert Menendez. Kean arrived two hours late, a convenient 15 minutes after the VP left the hall. The candidate asserted that he got caught in traffic, but at least one report on NPR suggested that traffic on the NJ Turnpike was not heavy at the time. (Some who drive on the Turnpike regularly might reject such a report out of hand.)

Avoiding the Vice-President says something for Mr. Kean's political acumen (as does Sen. Mike DeWine's (R.OH) decision to miss an appearance by the President in Cleveland). Bush and Cheney are rapidly developing the toxicity of political dirty bombs.

Having quoted Churchill's encomium for Stalin, this page will not chastise either Kean or DeWine for cynicism.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sanctimonious Hypocrisy

There are few things that annoy and disgust me more than hypocrisy, especially when's linked--as it so often is--to sanctimoniousness. Case in point: Sen. Rick Santorum, the personification of both hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness. For years, Santorum was the Senate point man on the "K St. Project," the scheme to marry Washington lobbyists and the Republican Party (a match made in ......) Then, after "Duke" Cunningham got caught with both hands in the cookie jar and Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty, the Senator was suddenly born again, this time as his party's designated advocate for lobbying reform--or what the GOP tried to pass off as reform. (Did I mention that, like so many in his party, the Senator has NO shame?)

Now the latest in a line of questionable tactics is reported by the Philadelphia Daily News: Seems that over the past three years, Sen. Sanctimonious earmarked a cool quarter of a million taxpayer dollars to a conservative Philadelphia tax exempt group called the Urban Family Council. Then, a group of four organizations including the Council sets up an organization called the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, which holds a "training session" for pastors to get out the vote. (Guess which vote they want to get out.) Who should be the only office-holder to speak to the pastors but Sen. Sanctimonious, who's in a very tough re-election fight. Looks like our tax dollars are going to support his attempt to stay in the Senate. (A public interest group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington [CREW], has complained to the IRS about this apparent connection between tax-exempt religious groups and politics.)

Thanks to Paul Kiel at the TPM Daily Muckraker for pointing this story out.

Above the Law

When George W. Bush signed the renewed "Patriot" Act, he praised it as ''a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But, as the Boston Globe reports, as soon as the public signing ceremony was over, the White House issued a statement in which the President said he was not required to comply with the law's requirement that the executive branch report to Congress on how the Act is being used.

John F. Kennedy famously quoted from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (the oldest governing document in the world) that we have a government of laws and not of men. Mr. Bush seems to think otherwise. It's time--past time--to let him know that he's wrong.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Breaching the Castle Wall

In an earlier version of this post, I discussed an article in the The Detroit Free Press about a proposed Treasury regulation that would permit the sale of information in tax returns, perhaps even of the entire return. CBS News put the story in more perspective tonight, pointing out that for decades taxpayers have been permitted to sign authorizations for others to obtain copies of returns or other tax information. If you've applied for a mortgage (as I did a few months ago--I shouldn't have got the wind up so quickly at the Free Press's article), you've signed one of those.

According to CBS, the proposed regulation is really designed to tighten the taxpayer's privacy protection by including a mandatory warning that, once released, neither you or the IRS has any control over what happens to the information.

Therein lies the problem. Tax information has always been sacrosanct. Not only is it among the most personal data that most individuals have, it is information that was gathered to comply with the law. While we may allow some businesses to obtain the figures on a return--or even a copy of the return itself--(we don't want people obtaining mortgages that they won't be able to repay), that should not be a license for the recipient to retail what is learned. The collection of information should be strictly limited; we might provide that the recipient cannot copy the actual document; if a return is to be downloaded, the file should be time-limited and the time should be short--perhaps hours or a day. Copying should be precluded. We ought to set strict limits on the information that may be abstracted from tax documents, preventing, for instance, listing of income or deductions, and permitting only notation of a range or grade, or a conclusion as to whether the taxpayer qualifies for a certain amount of financing. And persons who obtain tax information should be forbidden to reveal it, particularly in exchange for money or goods.

A person's home may still be his or her castle, but we need to be extra vigilant against the onslaught of creatures that would burrow through the walls to expose our private affairs.

Plan For Victory

In his campaign to build support for the war in Iraq, the President has been going around the country, appearing in front of backdrops that say, "PLAN FOR VICTORY." What the White House doesn't seem to notice is that most Americans wish that Mr. Bush had one.

(The President's effort hasn't been helped by the people who go in to set up the stage for him. They're wearing roadie jackets emblazoned, "Snake Oil 2006--National Tour."

Bush's problem is one that Harold Hill (of The Music Man) could have told him about: you can only sell snake oil for so long before the rubes wake up. Once they do, you're dead.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Will Rogers Was Right

A common theme of today's punditry is that Democrats need to go beyond "We're not Republicans," or "We're better than they are," if the party of Jefferson is to win back one or both houses of Congress. Maybe, but I wonder.

Easy for commentators to say that Democrats should stand for something--that is, that they should agree on what they stand for. Harder to put into practice. (At the recent Gridiron Club dinner, Sen. Barack Obama commented that people who say Democrats don't stand for anything are wrong. "We stand for everything.") Democrats have never been highly organized. They have always been a party of coalitions. That used to be the norm for both parties, which is why there were conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. In the past few decades, Republicans have found party discipline and have looked like a unified party. Sen. Gary Hart says that the Republicans are a "corporate" party, not in the sense that they represent the interests of corporations, but in the party's structure. Democrats are very different. (The Republican Party is still a party of coalitions, which are beginning to fracture, but that's for another day.)

I'll agree that it would be nice if Democrats could agree on two or three planks to which they all adhere, but who is going to decide which ones those are, and are Democrats going to read anyone out of the party if he or she doesn't agree with one or two of them? Not likely.

It's not as if it would be a good idea for all Democrats to campaign on the same issues or to approach them in the same way. If I were Francine Busby, campaigning for the seat vacated by the disgraced and imprisoned "Duke" Cunningham (it's in San Diego), I wouldn't campaign hard against the Iraq war--I'd tell people that integrity is the most important quality in a congressman. And that's what Ms. Busby is doing. Now if I were advising Tammy Duckworth in her race for the seat of retiring Rep. Henry Hyde, public integrity would not be the issue I would hit first, Even though Illinois Republicans have had numerous problems in that area, Hyde has been pretty much untouched. (As I understand it, although Ms. Duckworth had had a lot of publicity as a double-amputee veteran of the Iraq war running as a Democrat, she is steering toward pocket-book issues--a smart move in a district that has been Republican, especially because her status as a wounded veteran is already known to all.)

Democrats running in the Northwest and Northeast would do well to emphasize their environmental credentials. A Democrat campaigning in Nebraska, say, or parts of the South, might do better to emphasize how the Republicans have become pawns of big business--there's still a lot of hostility toward corporate dominance in those parts of the nation.

I heard Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York on NPR today (he recently announced his retirement, so there's a seat around Utica up for grabs). He repeated the cliche that the November election for the House is really 435 elections. It's a cliche, because it's true. There will be some people who are going to vote for the Democratic candidate for House or Senate because he or she is a Democrat, and some who will vote for the Republican for a like reason, but the people who will decide the heavily contested races are going to be voting first for the candidate and second--if at all--for the party. To the extent that those swing voters do think about party, not being Republicans may be the best thing that Democrats could say for themselves.

We can wait for the presidential campaign to define the Democratic Party, but let's not be too precise, even then. Will Rogers was right, after all.

(For those who don't recall, Will Rogers said, "I belong to no organized political party. I am a Democrat.")

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The War at Home

Some FBI agents don't have email. The FBI's top agent in New York says it's a matter of money. Which leads me to ask, Wouldn't we be more secure if they saved the money they've wasted listening in on warrentless wiretaps of American citizens and used it so that FBI agents can communicate?

Along the same line, the White House finally figured out that it might be a good idea to have federal standards for safeguarding chemical plants--five and a half years after 9/11. (You may recall that 60 Minutes did a scathing expose of the laughable state of securing chemical plants a couple of years ago.) But even this turns out to be just another charade: According to AP, the proposed regulations "would largely let the industry decide how stiff the protections should be and leave inspections to private auditors."

I used to think that the administration was shamelessly arrogant. I still think they're shameless, but clearly they're incompetent, too.


Back in the 70's and 80's, the term "linkage" was popular. First it was used to refer to requirements that a developer connect his mega-project with something that would benefit the little people--affordable housing or shops for small businesses. Later the word migrated to foreign affairs, as the United States tried to link favored foreign policy ideas (permitting Jews to emigrate freely, for instance) to deals with the Soviet Union.

We don't hear much about linkage anymore, but we hear a great deal about "links." Government officials and agencies tell us about groups or individuals that have "links to terrorists." This morning I heard a report on NPR about Iraqi militias with "links" to politicians and political groups.

What are these "links?" That is never explained. If someone knows a guy who knows a guy who's an Iraqi insurgent, does the first person have a "link" to terrorists? How far do the links go before the chain snaps and one person or group is no longer "linked" to another? Does the link exist only in the verbiage of the person doing the linking?
These "links" remind me of the 1940's and '50's, when people were smeared by being labeled as "fellow travelers" with communism. "Fellow traveler" was fuzzy enough to protect the person doing the smearing, and few took the time or energy to question the term. Was FDR a fellow-traveler, because of his alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union to fight the Nazis? Some people thought he was. What about Churchill--a very conservative politician who backed military action against the Bolsheviks, but who was actually photographed with Stalin on several occasions, sometimes with an amiable expression on his face.

The absurdity of "fellow-traveling" is perhaps best thrown into relief by Churchill's remark that "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."

(A personal note: I went to school with a young man named Winston Coard, who haled from a Caribbean Island . Twenty years later, I learned that my friend--who had been as conservative as they come, wearing a jacket and and tie to class at Brandeis in the '60's--was Bernard Winston Coard, one of the leaders of the junta that the United States overthrew when we invaded Granada. Some might say that I was "linked" to those radical desperadoes.)

Next time you hear about "links," ask yourself what those links are. If you get a chance, ask the person who's using the word.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Three Years

As I'm sure you have heard over and over, this is the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (or, as some outlets phrase it, "the US-led" invasion). By now, even the Administration's apologists admit that critical assumptions underlying the attack and assumptions about the outcome were grievously wrong. This morning, I saw video of Rumsfeld, in the days after the toppling of Saddam's statue, talking about rounding up a few "bitter-enders." The arrogance and obtuseness of the remark reminds me of Churchill's tale of the French generals who said in 1940, "In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." Churchill replied, "Some chicken; some neck."

Seeing Rumsfeld now, or watching Bush in his borrowed flight suit pronouncing that, "Major combat operations are over," would be burlesque if it were not tragic.

Before the invasion, I noted the uncomfortable fact that the people of Iraq--apart from the Kurdish minority--were unwilling to overthrow Saddam. Perhaps we should not condemn a nation to barbarism simply because its citizens cannot remove a brutal dictatorship (such hard-and-fast policy would reward the efficient tyrant), but the presence of at least an organized resistance seems a good place to start when assessing whether to risk American lives, treasure and influence by committing the nation to war.

One can debate the morality of the war, but I have felt since before it began that if nothing else the war was dumb. It was an unnecessary conflict against a dictator who, loathsome as he was, posed no serious threat to the United States or our chief Middle East allies, Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

The history of the past three years has, I think, shown that--for once--my thinking was right. Look at the cost of the war: More than 2300 American dead, including many of our best officers and NCOs, more than 17,000 more wounded, many of them seriously. Add to that tens of thousands of thousands of veterans who are and will suffer from serious psychological after-effects. Then there are the Iraqis, to whom our media give much less coverage, but who have suffered much more: Conservative estimates say that more than 30,000 Iraqis have died; some say the figure is several times that number. I have seen no estimate of the wounded.

Those are just the direct effects of the war. The less obvious effects are even worse. Soon, we will have spent $300 billion, at a time when the government's finances are hemorrhaging money; our children and grandchildren will pay off that debt, plus interest, to bankers in other countries. Iraq has taken time and energy away from urgent problems at home--not least being to truly secure the country from those who would destroy it. Were it not for the war, New Orleans might conceivably have been prepared for a major hurricane. We have also given North Korea and Iran a free run to obtain and/or expand nuclear arsenals. We have shredded our credibility in the Middle East and in most of the Muslim world--not to mention our standing with old allies in Europe. The Iraq war has made it easier for the Sudanese government to foment and continue genocide, first in Darfur and now in the neighboring nation of Chad.

Then there is the moral corruption that the war has worked on this country. Think of Abu Ghraib and the cover-up of command responsibility. (Today's New York Times has a major story about another instance of American abuse of prisoners in Iraq.) Iraq has given political cover to the administration's violations of humane standards, international treaties and international law at Guantanamo Bay, and to warrantless surveillance of Americans at home.

All this for what? Mr. Bush says that we are establishing democracy in Iraq. That country is a "nation" that was the artificial construct of imperial interests less than a century ago (as the war threatened, I wrote to Tom Friedman, one of the liberal defenders of the war, and told him that Iraq is not a nation but a geographic expression; once again I regret to observe that I seem to have been right). Iraqis have little common national history, centuries of hostility toward one another and no experience of democracy, or even responsive or representative government. If you think that the Iraqis could develop a democratic system in a few years, consider this: the time that passed between the first English settlement in what is now the US and the Declaration of Independence was roughly the same number of years that elapsed between the signing of the Declaration and WWII. All that time, the colonies were developing, refining and debating the system that became the American republic. Even with that experience, our system was hardly a perfect democracy; indeed, its imperfections are still matters for debate today. What chance, then, would the Iraqis have even if they were as cohesive a nation as we were in 1789?

Iraq may not be the greatest mistake that the United States makes in the 21st Century, but if something worse comes along, I fear for the republic.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Mea Culpa

Last week, I wrote about on Ali Shalal Qaissi, said by The New York Times, to have been the subject of the infamous photo from Abu Ghraib showing a man in a hood with his fingers attached to wires. The Times has now stated that Mr. Qaissi admits that he was not the man in the photos. Unless and until we can see the person who was under that hood, he will remain an icon like the unknown man stopping a column of Chinese tanks in Tienamen Square--a symbol of freedom and dignity without a name or an identity, and perhaps a stronger image for that.

Although I relied on The Times and its sources, I regret the error.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Claude Allen

A few days ago, I wrote about Claude Allen, the former Bush policy advisor who has been charged with multiple counts of fraud for allegedly attempting to scam DC-area merchants. Slate draws a moral lesson from Allen's story.

Constitution? We don't need no stinkin' Constitution!

The redoubtable New York Times reports that internal memos from the NYPD show that the police used "proactive arrests," covert surveillance and psychological-warfare tactics against demonstrators in 2002.
Among the most effective strategies, one police captain wrote, was the seizure
of demonstrators on Fifth Avenue who were described as "obviously potential
These are the people who are supposed to be upholding the law and the Constitution.

Are you afraid yet?

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Maybe we know why Wayne Allard and other Republicans have come down so hard on Sen. Russ Feingold for introducing a resolution to censure the President. According to the American Research Group more Americans favor censure than oppose it! Among all adults, the figures are 46 percent in favor of censure, 44 percent opposed; among voters the divide is a bit wider: 48 percent to 43 percent. [Thanks to Taegan Goddard and Kevin Drum for pointing the poll out.]

Frankly, I find this result astounding (hence the title of this post). Most reports show the nation about evenly divided over domestic spying, and I would expect a large number of those who think it a bad idea to say that censure is a bit further than they are willing to go. When Sen. Feingold introduced his resolution, many Democrats backed away (Tom Harkin of Iowa finally joined as a co-sponsor yesterday, and he was the first senator with the fortitude to do so) and Republicans ridiculed the idea, and the press gave them a lot of coverage.

Obviously, Americans are ahead of their elected officials. Let's hope that it's true that when the people will lead, the leaders will follow.


One of the best experiences of my life was working in Sen. Fred Harris' underfunded and all-too-brief presidential campaign in 1975-76. (This page isn't called the The Old New Englander for nothing.) It was a heady time of working for and with a man who preached a "New Populism" that would unite people across racial and economic divides. Fred was a great speaker; I used to say that everyone who actually heard him supported him--the problem was that we never got the money or exposure to get enough people to hear him.

In 1975, Newsweek, for one, had pegged Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington (sometimes known as The Senator From Boeing) as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Jackson's campaign, despite having lots of money, name recognition, endorsements, etc., went through a curve approximating what happens when you throw a rock. For most of the time that Fred Harris was in the race, we in viewed Mo Udall as our chief competition. He lasted a bit longer than Fred, who ran out of money and energy well before the California primary in June 1976. As you may recall, it was a former one-term former governor of Georgia who sneaked through on the inside and took the prize.

In 1972, the odds-on frontrunner was said to be Ed Muskie, a tremendously decent man who might have given Nixon a real tussle. Muskie's campaign self-destructed; that result was aided, but not caused by Nixonian dirty tricks. I can give an example, because I'm old enough to have worked in that campaign, too. Muskie's greatest asset was the tremendous personal credibility he gained as Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee in 1968. One day, I walked into the local campaign headquarters to find a carton of bumper stickers that said "Trust Muskie." I suggested we push them into the closet and cover them up so no one would see them. The Muskie campaign forgot the old saying that Fred Harris would sometimes quote, "When a man tells you how honest he is, keep your hand on your billfold." That wasn't the only error we made, but it told a lot.

Presidential campaigns are some sort of simulacrum for governing; if a candidate can't run a campaign, he or she probably can't be a very good president. And for all that some may disparage the voters' acuity, they seem to get that point. (George W and Reagan are exhibits A and B for proving that running a campaign well is no guaranty that you won't be a terrible President. But the campaign is something, and--together with the candidate's record and manner of presenting him- or herself--is pretty much all that voters have to go on.)

Now Matt Bai, in The New York Times Magazine, has anointed Hillary Clinton as the prohibitive favorite to be the Democratic candidate in 2008. Huh? Hillary Clinton is a figure of great divisiveness in the party--divisions that do not run solely across ideological lines. Even among women, she is polarizing. Many of those who like her politics--or at least are not put off by her frequent pandering--nonetheless say that she probably cannot win. It's also twenty-two months before the Iowa caucuses. Neither Sen. Clinton or anyone else has shown whether she or he has the organizing and political skills to manage a long campaign. At this point, being named the front-runner is more like being set up to be shot down.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Tragedy

Whatever your politics, it's hard to see the arrest of former Bush domestic policy aide Claude Allen as anything but a tragedy. While I think that someone of his background who takes up the "conservative"cause has forgotten where he came from--the man came to Washington as an aide to Jesse Helms, for heaven's sake--there should be no satisfaction in Allen's transformation from high-ranking Presidential aide to accused felon.

If Allen did what he's accused of (a scheme to falsely claim refunds from stores in the DC metropolitan area), the question is why? A number of psychological explanations come to mind, but the answer might be simpler: greed, or to put it in a more genteel fashion, financial pressure. In a report recounting how Allen observed the State of Union as the First Lady's guest even after an arrest on January 2nd (which he insisted was due to a credit care mixup), AP notes that he and his wife recently moved into a million-dollar home in Northern Virginia. She home-schools their four children. His White House salary was $161,000. A million-dollar home on that kind of income? Hard to support without some outside income.

Thick as Thieves

Grover Norquist, until recently squeaky-clean, if repulsive, is getting swept into the Abramoff whirlpool. It couldn't happen to a more deserving guy, unless you count Ralph Reed. Apparently, Norquist and his outfit, Americans for Tax Reform (a name that is itself a fraud), were used to launder money that went from Abramoff clients to groups fighting gambling interests that would compete with those clients. OK, that kind of thing's pretty nasty--enough to take away ATR's tax-exemption. But wait, as they say on TV, you get much more:

Grover wasn't just doing Jack a favor. He was taking a commission on the laundering. TPM Muckraker, another great site, has the dope. Apparently even Abramoff was shocked! shocked! at Grover's cupidity. When Norquist took a second helping for himself, Jack noted in an email, "Grover kept another 25k!"

It's all too, too delicious. Could it be that these guys will actually get what they deserve?

Loathsome Behavior

I got an email from Howard Dean today. Naturally, he was seeking money for the Democratic Party. (I get about one a day from him or Sen. Kerry; sometimes I hear from both of them in the same day.) But I digress....

Dean points out that Sen. Wayne Allard has been attacking his colleague, Sen. Russell Feinberg, by alleging that Feinberg has been siding with terrorists. Even for Republicans, that's pretty low, especially for one senator to say about another. Indeed, I was moved to send Sen. Allard an email telling him how I felt. I suggest that you do the same. It's easy: just go to and enter Allard's name or just look for Senators from Colorado. It takes just a minute or two, and it's a great way to relieve some tension or anger!

You will also be striking a blow for civility in public discourse. If we want a return to some level of respect for others and a retreat from demogoguery, we should take every opportunity to speak up for civility.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Cornerstone of Liberty, cont'd

You heard it here first: The Moussaoui trial will go on.

The Cornerstone of Liberty

I've long maintained that incompetent prosecution is the cornerstone of our liberties. New proof of that comes in the Moussaoui trial, where the government lawyer who was caught coaching witnesses has refused to testify after Judge Leonie M. Brinkema warned that she might face criminal charges. (More details here.)

In fairness to the prosecution, reports indicate that it was Justice Department prosecutors who brought the forbidden coaching to the court's attention. It's nice to know that professionalism persists in the federal civil service.

We give life tenure to judges to insulate them from public and political pressure, but Judge Brinkema must know that she would face a firestorm if she were to end the trial and sentence Moussaoui to only life in prison without possibility of parole. There seems little chance that anyone else will be tried for the 9/11 attack, so all desire for revenge is focused on this one very disturbed man. My guess is that the judge will simply exclude the coached witnesses, which could cripple but would not throw out the government's case.

That being said, one of my law partners asked a cogent question: How could Moussaoui be punished for not revealing his participation in a crime, when he had a Fifth Amendment right to maintain silence? That is, of course, the same right being exercised by the government lawyer who coached the prosecution witnesses in his case.

Monday, March 13, 2006

More Evidence

of Bush administration incompetence in the Middle East. The New York Times reports that as Syria's influence in Lebanon has fallen--following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri--Iran's has grown. Iran has long had ties to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite faction often credited with driving Israel from the southern part of the country. And hostility over the US role in Iraq doesn't help. Nor does increased American hostility toward Iran, which motivates the Iranians to step up activities that can isolate and embarrass the US in the region.


Merchant of Death?

According to The Independent, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has made $5 million in capital gains by selling stock in the company that manufactures Tamiflu, the only leading drug to combat avian influenza. The government is buying huge quantities of Tamiflu in anticipation of a possible epidemic if the disease mutates and begins spreading from human to human.

A few interesting points: a) It doesn't help the credibility of government when high officials make a profit on any stocks--the deal always raises suspicion that something's going on--but it's especially questionable when it the company involved has a large government contract; b) in this case, it's certainly no secret that the government is buying as much Tamiflu as it can get; d) apparently, Rumsfeld was on the board of the small firm that developed Tamiflu, now made by Roche, one of the giant pharmaceutical companies; from that it seems likely that he came by his shares without some inside knowledge--although we would have to know exactly when he bought his stock to be sure; e) questions have been raised about whether Tamiflu will really be effective against a human variant of avian flu. Does the Secretary know something we don't? Is that why he's selling now, before there is any widespread infection?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Different Level of Outrage

As those of you who've been reading this page know, outrage is our specialty; indeed, I'm thinking of having a feature called The Daily Outrage. But anger-provoking as the policies of the present administration are, they pale beside what has been going on for years in Darfur and now in the neighboring nation of Chad.

Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times had been a magnificent voice for the people of that tragic region, writing column after column and returning for one visit after another. On the paper's website, he has video clips from his current trip. They offer a shattering look at what is happening while the world largely looks the other way.

To give the devil his due, Mr. Bush has spoken out about Darfur on a number of occasions, and has taken some steps to push the Sudanese government toward ending the depredations of the Janjaweed, the local "militia" (really an arm of the government) that has been responsible for the rapes and massacres that have turned Darfur into another in that depressing parade of synonyms for genocide that the world has permitted to occur. Still, there is much more that the US government could do; just now, it could encourage France, which has a military agreement with Chad, to send forces to the Chad/Sudan border to at least insure the security of that nation.

For those of you who do not have TimesSelect (tm), I want to pass along some links from Kristoff's piece today, to two organizations that permit you to do something about Darfur. They are: , where you can send a postcard to the President with a few clicks, and, which has a list of ten things you can do about Darfur.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Face of Torture

As reported in The New York Times, Ali Shalal Qaissi seems almost
certain to be the man under the black hood in the most iconic photo of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Other than seeming older than his years (he is 43), Mr. Qaissi looks unremarkable. Nor is his story so different from that of others caught up in the shadowy web of detention, abuse and torture. He was a low-level official in Saddam's Iraq, who says he was picked up after complaining about garbage being dumped on a local soccer field. That led to six months of confinement and abuse. Ironically, the incident in the famous photograph, where he was made to stand, hooded, on a box with wires attached to his hands, seems to have been the only incident of real torture that he suffered; not that that excuses the treatment he received. (Mr. Qaissi says that he was given five shocks, enough so that he bit his tongue. An American soldier, Sabrina Harman, was accused of threatening to shock a hooded inmate, but not of actually doing so; she was convicted for her role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.)

To view this photo is to expeience what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil; a concomitant of the ordinariness of iniquity is the difficulty that so many of us have in identifying evil that does not resemble the Satan or monsters of childhood picture books. Take a look at a photo of Hitler and try to put aside what you know about him. Apart from his comic moustache, he looks like a small businessman, perhaps, or a minor civil servant. Do the same with a photo of Stalin and you can see why, during the Second World War, some people called him Uncle Joe.

At the same time, seeing the face of Ali Shalal Qaissi reminds us that there was a real person under that hood. We need to remember that. Icons and symbols cannot feel pain. Humans can and, all to often, do.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Standing Up

Five Vermont towns, Newfane, Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney, have endorsed measures calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush.

The Old New Englander has filed a petition from citizens of Brookline, Massachusetts, that will put an article before that community's May town meeting calling for impeachment.

As a friend pointed out, this is how the American Revolution began--town by town.

Down, Down Down

Bush's popularity has sunk to a new low, 37 percent, according to AP-Ipsos. 70 percent of the pollees think the nation is on the wrong track, up six points in a month. "The poll suggests that most Americans wonder whether Bush is up to the job." Duh. And this: "Personally, far fewer Americans consider Bush likeable, honest, strong and dependable than they did just after his re-election campaign." I guess some of us were ahead of the curve.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Goodbye Dubai?

So it looks like the Dubai Ports deal has sunk. (Maybe; see below.) A good thing, because it was becoming a distraction.

The uproar was always suspect; as people who know something about port security said, the real problem is not so much who owns the company that manages the port, but the Bush administration's unwillingness to spend the time, money and energy necessary to provide real security. (I admit that critics who pointed out that the management of the company that runs the port would have access to information that could aid potential miscreants have a point. But I suspect that most of that information could be gleaned in other ways, and without much trouble.)

Now maybe we can focus attention on the issue that should be front-and-center: the Republican attempt to cover up for the President's totally illegal wiretapping program, and even to facilitate it's unwarranted (in both senses) extension into the future. If you're not worried about that, you should be, and if you know people who aren't worried about it, tell them why they should get their heads out of the sand (or some other deep dark place) and stand up to be counted.

(DPW's statement backing away from the deal said that it would "transfer" ownership of American assets to an American "entity." Which could mean that it intends to set up a wholly-owned subsidiary organized in the US and, therefore, legally an American company. Would this pass muster? Hard to tell, but at least it would buy enough time for W to get the bill for the war and Katrina relief, to which critics were going to attach the anti-foreign-ownership bill, passed and signed. Of course, it may be that DPW simply intends to sell its new American assets, a process that would take months at best. If that's the case, my money's on Halliburton.)

Churchill Was Right...

....Democracy is the worst form of government except for every other form. Exhibit A is Senator Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Senate's best current example of the north end of a south-bound horse.

Sen. Sanctimonious, you may recall, is the guy who suggested that it wasn't surprising that the clergy sex-abuse scandal broke in liberal Massachusetts; apparently it all had something to do with the hedonistic lifestyle in the Bay State.

The senator is perfectly prepared to lecture the rest of us on how we should live our lives. And, like a lot of politicians who make bold to demonstrate their moral superiority, the truth doesn't match up with the carefully cultivated image. The American Prospect has published an expose of the senator's Good Neighbor Initiative, formed for the ostensible purpose of supporting faith-based and other organizations fighting poverty. It turns out that Sen. Sanctimonious believes in the adage that charity begins, if not at home, at least with one's friends. As the Prospect reports, only a little over 1/3 of contributions to the initiative has found its way to charitable recipients. The rest has gone to expenses, including payments for services rendered paid to a number of people like the treasurer of his leadership PAC (the Prospect has also exposed that organization, which is notable for how little it gives to the other candidates that it was ostensibly formed to support). The senator's finance director serves as executive director of the initiative to the tune of $50,000 in salaries, and a fund-raiser for Sanctimonious' political efforts collected more than $118,000 in "fund-raising fees." Doing well by doing good, as they say.

The senator is up for re-election this fall, so the people of the Keystone State have the chance to rescue their state's reputation. Let's hope they take it.

By the way, the American Prospect is a publication that deserves your support.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Reason Why

If you've seen todays New York Times, you'll realize that the proposed "accord" over the administration's unlawful (and unconstitutional) wiretapping is much worse than it appeared to me in my last post.

As described in the Times, the legislation would permit wiretaps without the government ever having to obtain a warrant. The attorney-general would merely have to certify to a special subcommittee that the warrantless search is needed to protect the country. That certification would have to be repeated every 45 days. I haven't seen the legislation--I'm not sure it's even been written yet--but I'd bet a lot that there will be no provision permitting Congress or the courts to find out whether the attorney-general's certification has any basis in fact.

You might ask why "respectable" senators such as Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel, who have spent time and considerable political capital cultivating a certain distance from the Bush White House, would sign on to such an obvious cover-up. I can't speak from detailed knowledge, but I'd say it's this: They know, or at least have substantial reason to suspect, that if the true extent and nature of the surveillance done to date were to come to light, it would ignite a scandal that will make Watergate look like a tea party. In other words, these "moderate" Republicans are afraid for their own skins.

Consider this: Under FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), the government can wiretap for 72 hours without a warrant. Any prosecutor who can't get to a judge in 72 hours just isn't trying, and the Administration has never asserted that it has actually had any problem in obtaining a warrant. Moreover, the court has been quite compliant, approving all but a handful (in fact, W could count them on the fingers of one hand) of applications for warrants. Why, then, does the Administration insist that it can ignore the law--a position that any first-year law student who's been paying attention knows to be frivolous?

My suspicion is this: They want to avoid even the star chamber FISA court, because they've been carrying out surveillance that has nothing to do with national security, eavesdropping that would horrify even Americans who still believe that the government won't do bad things to them. For years, in their matchless arrogance, those at the top of what is supposed to be our government assumed that the truth would never be known. Now they are scared out of their wits, and they've terrified even those Republicans whom we might have expected to know better.

Will any Republicans (John McCain?) break ranks to defend the Constitution? Will enough Democrats show the spine to block this, even at the risk of being slimed on national security?

The Constitution is at great risk. I shudder at the possibilities.

Latest Outrage

Led by the oh-so-vulnerable Mike DeWine, a group of "moderate" GOP senators has proposed legislation that would legalize the President's domestic spying program, four years after it was secretly--and unlawfully--created.

I have long maintained that the unarticulated major premise of the Republican Party is that the American people are stupid. If further proof is needed, this latest outrage will stand as Exhibit A. Do these people really think that they can pretend that four years of illegal conduct can be swept under the rug and forgotten? More to the point, have they no respect for our Constitution and the system of government--remember those checks-and-balances you learned in grade school?--that it created? Have they no pride in being members of Congress, elected by their constituents for some purpose other than being wined and dined by lobbyists? Have they, in the end, no self-resepect? And, perhaps most important for a politician who must always be concerned with his/her survival, do they really think they can get away with this, in an election year, with a president who's polls are in the bunker (down there with Dick Cheney), and avoid public ridicule?

As I said, they think we're stupid.