Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Well, think again. It turns out that Mark Parkinson was until recently a Republican. OK, you say, Democratic governor in a Midwestern state looks to move to the center by finding a Republican--or former Republican--to run with. Only it turns out that Mark Parkinson was not just a Republican. He was the chairman of the state Republican party. Think about that--a Republican chairman becomes a Democrat, in KANSAS.
A sign of what's happening just below the surface? Stay tuned.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Barney Frank (D.Mass.), who happens to be the editor's congressman, said the following on the floor with respect to the FBI search of Cong. William Jefferson's office:
Madam Speaker, I disagree with the bipartisan House leadership criticism of the FBI's search of a Member's office. I know nothing specifically about the case, except that the uncontroverted public evidence did seem to justify the
issuance of a warrant.
What we now have is a Congressional leadership,
the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress.
I understand that the speech and debate clause is in the
Constitution. It is there because Queen Elizabeth I and King James I were disrespectful of Parliament. It ought to be, in my judgment, construed narrowly. It should not be in any way interpreted as meaning that we as Members of Congress have legal protections superior to those of the average citizen.
So I think it was a grave error to have criticized the FBI. I
think what they did, they ought to be able to do in every
case where they can get a warrant from a judge. I think, in particular, for the leadership of this House, which has stood idly by while this administration has ignored the rights of citizens, to then say we have special rights as Members of Congress is wholly inappropriate.
Thanks to talkingpointsmemo for pointing this statement out.
What's happening in Congress, as more and more citizens realize, is that Republicans are using the troubles of a Democrat to invoke the separation-of-powers doctrine in a groundless attempt to shield their many members who are under criminal investigation--including such luminaries as Jerry Lewis, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership is being aided by some Democrats in the leadership in making this sound like a constitutional issue.
As The New York Times pointed out in a recent editorial, it ill-behooves the Republicans--who have said nothing about the President's repeated arrogations of power to the executive branch--to raise these issues now, when it is so clear that all they have in mind is self-protection. Take is as another example of how debased and corrupt the system has become.
If there is a silver lining to this rodomontade, it is that Cong. Jefferson seems, so far, to have been shuttled to the background (restricting, at least for the moment, the ability of Republicans to paint corruption as bi-partisan), and that the transparency of the shock! shock! over the FBI search is serving mainly to remind Americans of the many criminal investigations underway, almost all against Republicans.(I have suggested to those who don't known Barney Frank that he is so popular in the Massachusetts 4th that he could run against God, and God would lose.)
Sunday, May 28, 2006
So, dear reader, spare a thought for the poor folks who died from Lexington Green to Iraq, from Midway to the Bulge, from Antietam to Chosin Reservoir. And take a moment to think of those left behind, who died a little when their loved one perished.
Perhaps one epitaph may stand for all. It's from the grave of a Marine sergeant killed on an until-then all-but-unknown South Pacific island called Guadalcanal:
And when he gets to Heaven,
St. Peter he will tell,
"Another Marine reporting, sir,
I've served my time in Hell."
Friday, May 26, 2006
I am referring to the skill of the Justice Department prosecutors, and the way that the Enron case shows that there is still something left of the independent civil service that made the United States the best-governed major nation in the world. Decades of relentless attacks on government have made a career in federal service unattractive, and the quality of those services has declined accordingly; the "conservative" attack on government has thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy, at the expense of the American people and the world.
It may seem hard to believe now, but for almost half a century, federal service was an honor, and many civil servants felt that they had a real mission. Even tasks that seem prosaic today, like bringing electricity to farms, preventing soil erosion, regulating the securities industry or setting standards for broadcasting were exciting. In the 1970's, your editor dealt with a large number of Internal Revenue Service employees (representing taxpayers, not on his own behalf!). Almost to a man (there were, regrettably, few women in the IRS then), these government workers were amazingly dedicated and professional. Those were the years that the right's attack on government was just gearing up, and I used to tell people that if the average American knew how dedicated and hardworking the people in the Revenue Service were, he would be amazed.
From all reports, the quality of the IRS--along with that of many other government agencies--has declined markedly. The story of FEMA's response to Katrina, the mess in Homeland Security generally, the developing scandal over the loss of millions of records from the Veterans' Administration, these are all symptomatic of the decline of the federal service.
That is why it is especially heartening to see the Justice Department going after people like Ken ("Kenny Boy" to George W) Lay and Jeff Skilling, and doing it the way that prosecutors did: no one accusd the prosecution of phoning it in. There are actually several examples of professionalism in the Justice Department over the past few months, in the investigations that have led to convictions in the congressional corruption and lobbying scandals, not to mention special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the Plame-gate leaks.
This is important, because if we are to rebuild the federal government as an example of what civic institutions can be, we shall need at least a cadre of dedicated, career civil servants to show the way.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
OK, so now we know that ABC's report was accurate--the FBI is looking at Hastert in connection with congressional corruption. And Hastert is either thin-skinned--not his reputation--or worried. (Note that we haven't seen reports of Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House, being under investigation.)
Apparently, at least one focus of inquiry on Hastert centers on a 2003 letter to the Secretary of the Interior, opposing an Indian casino that would have competed with casinos operated by other tribes who happened to be Abramoff clients. ABC also reports that the letter was written a few days after a fundraiser for Hastert at the posh DC restaurant that Abramoff owned; more than $25,000 was raised at the event.
It's important to remember that even if ABC is right and the Speaker is under investigation, that's a long, long way from an indictment, much less a conviction. Most people that the FBI investigates are cleared or, at the least, never charged. And it may be that Hastert's opposition to the particular casino was not the result of that fundraiser or any other undue influence; one of greatest obstacles to cleaning up our political system is the difficulty in distinguishing between campaign contributions that are meant to thank a politician for his support on an issue and contributions meant to buy that support. Which is why we should have publicly-funded campaigns at all major levels of government. But that's for another posting.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if this story has legs, and whether it damps down Republican efforts to play up Cong. William Jefferson's legal troubles as evidence that Washington corruption is bi-partisan. ("Vote for us, because we're all corrupt!" seems to be the motto.)
The tide laps higher and higher.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Lockheed Martin (the military-industrial complex is about jobs!)
Walgreens (no, not Wal-Mart)
Deloitte & Touche
Ernst & Young
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (so much for big government)
So, of the top 10 employers of recent college graduates four are accounting firms and two are rent-a-car companies, only one is a manufacturer and one is an industrial service company. We've come a long, long way from the days when the U.S. economy was based on companies that actually make things.
There are some other interesting tid-bits in the listing. For instance, the US Customs and Border Protection Agency comes in 11th on the list. The military services are a bit further down; surprisingly (at least to me), the Marines lead the services in employing new graduates, although the Leathernecks typically have only about a third as many people serving as the Navy, Air Force or Army.
(If you were wondering, Microsoft is 24th on the list, Boeing 11th and Intel 19th.)
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Monday, May 22, 2006
Now, the administration and its apologists have gone to great pains to argue that the economy is in great shape. Could it be that the immigration debate is a way for hard-pressed Americans to dissent from that line? We might also ask whether the sudden, sharp decline of the stock market is a recognition that--not for the first time--the people know more than the experts.
Is it a coincidence that a Georgia Republican would attempt to make points by suggesting that native-born should not equal citizenship? Maybe, but consider this: the 14th Amendment's citizenship clause was written to assure that newly-freed slaves would have the rights of citizenship. As such, it was a vital part of the post-Civil War effort--soon abandoned--to make black Americans equal to whites.
Fortunately, it is difficult to believe that an attempt to weaken the 14th Amendment could get anywhere; it would be too freighted with racial overtones to attract support even from many Republicans, and Democrats could be counted on to oppose it with virtual unanimity. And it is also true that congressmen often talk the most outrageous bunk.
Still, a proposal like Deal's should make us stop and think how much of the current immigration debate is not really a debate about all who come into the country, but about Hispanic immigrants. Is race an issue? You bet it is.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
For those asking why this hasn't happened--one reason is that al Qaida and its disciples are, frankly, lousy terrorists. As Stalin said, the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. Bin Laden and his people prefer big, showy events, and those are necessarily widely spaced. The result: anger rather than terror. How long were Americans terrorized after 9/11? The answer will vary with the individual, but I suspect that a large majority of the people in the US passed from fear to anger in a week or two. The Quebec separatists, who used to put bombs in mailboxes, were much better at creating actual terror than al Qaida, because their attacks were frequent and random. Even in Iraq, where car bombs and suicide bombers are daily occurrences, they don't seem to have changed minds--except perhaps to make the Shi'ites more intransigent against their former Sunni overlords--nor prevent life from being something like normal for many, probably most, Iraqis. Of course, the truth is that terrorism NEVER wins unless it is aided and abetted by the authority against which it is directed. The greatest failure of the Bush administration--and there are so many, many to choose from--may well be its obtuse ignorance of that fact.
So, to get back to our struggle against those who want to hurt us, it's been clear for years that the Bush administration is as incompetent in this area as in most others. Chemical plants remain tempting targets. Cargo containers are still not effectively screened, and the NY Times reported yesterday that the Coast Guard is giving a head's up to some shipping lines before their ships are searched--a notice that could give bad actors the chance to cover their tracks. Josh Marshall of talkingpointsmemo pointed to the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act. Take a look--it seems like at least a good beginning.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
As an aside--although perhaps a telling one--the phrase "guest worker" is an oxymoron, like "guest host" on the old Tonight Show. If someone is a guest, you don't make him work. If he's a worker, he's not your guest--he is, or at least should be, paid.
Temporary work permits (which is what "guest workers" really have) create a permanent underclass that is all the more destructive because its members constantly shift as people come and go across the border. Immigrants who have temporary worker status depress wages for other employees. They are always vulnerable to exploitation, because if they stand up for their rights they will lose their rights and be deported. Even if temporary workers have a right to legal redress for abuse, it will almost certainly come too late, because they will long since have been forced to return to their home countries. (If you doubt that, consider this: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals recently concluded that Smithfield Packing engaged in unfair labor practices in opposing a unionization drive, nine years after the fact.)
Anyone admitted to the United States (other than tourists, students and other temporary entrants who have no intention of staying) should have a way to become permanent residents and, ultimately, citizens. If we want such people to be assets to the nation's civic culture, rather than wage-serfs, we need to give them an incentive to become part of American society, rather than condemning them to years in the shadows.
Monday, May 15, 2006
ABC's Brian Ross reports that the FBI (and perhaps other federal agencies) are looking into reporters' phone records as part of leak investigations.
According to Ross, an unnamed "senior federal official," said, "It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration."
Apparently, the feds are using "national security letters," administrative subpoenas authorized by the "Patriot Act." The recipient of such a letter (a phone company, say) must comply and may not tell the subject of the letter of its receipt. In other words, the government can get your communications and you not only cannot challenge it, you won't even know it happened.
Check out Josh Marshall's very trenchant comment on this at talkingpointsmemo.com.
*Horst Wessel was a Nazi thug who was killed in the political warfare endemic in Weimar Germany. The Horst Wessel Song became the Nazi anthem.To hearar the tune, click here.
Hallmarks of totalitarian regimes have always included an excessive reliance on secrecy, the deliberate stoking of fear in the general population, a preference for military rather than diplomatic solutions in foreign policy, the promotion of blind patriotism, the denial of human rights, the curtailment of the rule of law, hostility to a free press and the systematic invasion of the privacy of ordinary people.
Sound like any country you know?
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Do we really want the holder of such a high intelligence post to be someone who shows such insensitivity to the political winds?
It's not as if the General had to wear his uniform. The Duke of Wellington never wore a general's tunic in battle, preferring a fox-hunting coat (blue, not the red of the British Army uniform). Traditionally, officers of the US Army shed uniforms as soon as they were off duty. A close friend of my family was a high-ranking naval JAG officer. We visited him at the Pentagon two or three times. He always wore a suit, as did most high naval officers walking around the building. Gen. Hayden, who serves in a civilian post as deputy to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, could easily wear civvies. His choice to go around the Senate offices flashing his stars says a lot for his cast of mind--none of it good.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Perhaps I am alone in this, but I detect flop sweat in the Republicans' latest $70 billion tax relief measure for the rich, which passed the Senate tonight. Is this really an attempt to get some momentum back by returning to Bush's central principle? Or is it a desperate move by a party that sees it has little time to reward its friends before the apocalypse ?
Consider this: Senate Republicans are talking about bringing no fewer than 20 judicial nominations to the floor in the next few months--knowing that if they lose control of the upper chamber, Democrats are going to sharpen their knives on any nomination that W sends up.
So far in this Congress, Democrats have shown more cohesiveness in opposing the administration's slash-and-burn policies than they have in a long time. Will it continue? Will they tie the GOP agenda up in knots? Do congressional Democrats realize that their chances of retaking at least one house have been immensely aided by their ability to deny Bush legislative success? You'd think the lesson would be obvious. Let's hope so.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
You may recall that when the domestic-wiretapping scandal broke, a Justice Department investigation was commenced--a means of trying to head off probes that might not buckle to political pressure. So, what has happened? The DOJ investigation has been killed. Why? Because the White House, citing national security concerns, refused to cooperate. I don't know about you, but I am shocked, shocked! to hear this.
You may also have noticed that the office of the Special Inspector General in Iraq--headed by a Bush buddy named Stuart Bowen--has actually been going after fraud, theft and mismanagement in the US aid program to that war-torn country. So, what do Republicans do? As reported by The Carpetbagger, they make sure that the money now being allocated to Iraq reconstruction is routed through a different program where it will be audited not by Bowen's office, but by an undermanned State Department unit. Here I truly am shocked--this time at the brazenness of it all. (I know--by now nothing should shock me, except perhaps honesty and competence.)
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
In any event, the aforesaid secretary of HUD has been caught making a clearly political--and clearly unlawful--move to deny a contract to a company headed by an individual who is insufficiently reverential about George W. Bush. What's amazing about this story is that Jackson himself brought it up. As the Dallas Business Journal reported:
"After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor.
'He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,' Jackson said of the prospective contractor. 'He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, "I have a problem with your president."
'I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I don't like President Bush." I thought to myself, "Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary."
'"He didn't get the contract,' Jackson continued. 'Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe.'"
Well, Mr. Secretary, perhaps the applicant should have got the contract because his company was the best among applicants--as your department decided. HUD is, after all, supposed to be doing the public's business, not the President's. Then, too, there is the little matter of the law. As thinkprogress.com noted, federal regulations--specifically 48 C.F.R. 3.101-1 requires that "Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach and, except as authorized by statute or regulation, with complete impartiality."
Unfortunately, apart from the fact that Secretary Jackson is a little more open (or a lot less smart) than most people in positions of power in the present administration, the secretary's anecdote is not all that surprising. It is a sign of just how deeply corrupt and degraded our politics has become that this tale evinces little more than a shake of the head.
Keep your eye on Alphonso Jackson. If he keeps his job for more than a week, you'll know--if you don't already--that reform of our federal system is long, long overdue.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Now, there have actually been a few good things that have happened on Bush's watch. Knocking the Taliban out of Afghanistan (for as long as that lasted) was one. The peace agreement that settled the war in the southern Sudan, was another. And the recent preliminary peace agreement between warring factions over Darfur--if it holds. But the President picks catching a fish as the best thing that's happened to him since taking office.
Makes you realize just how long it will be until January 20, 2009, doesn't it?
PS, MSNBC conducted a "live poll" about the President's assessment of his time in office. As of 9:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, this is how things stood:
Do you agree with President Bush that his catching a 7.5-pound perch is the high point of his presidency so far? * 11877 responses
Yes, everything else he's done pales in comparison. 47%
No, be serious -- the man has accomplished great things. 11%
Ummm, I think something got lost in translation. 8.3%
Yes, but that's nothing compared to shooting a lawyer in the face. 22%
I don't know -- this administration keeps everything so secret that it's hard to make comparisons. 12%
(Point of clarification, it wasn't W, but Deadeye Dick who shot the lawyer.)
Could it be that fear of just this kind of move motivated Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, to oppose Hayden even before he was nominated?
More and more, the Bush administration reminds one of the classic description of the Bourbon monarchs of France: "They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing."
Will this be the end of it? Or will Dusty be called before a grand jury? Stay tuned.
UN officials--and others--fear that the administration's restrictive view of torture will still obtain, and that the announcement will turn out to be just another propaganda ploy. Still, there are some good signs. For instance, the Army is about to release a manual on interrogation that--among other steps--makes it clear that waterboarding (the process by which a prisoner is strapped to a board with a tube down his throat into which water is poured, imitating [and sometimes causing] drowning) will be banned. Still, the United States engages in double-talk (or is it double-speak?) about what techniques American intelligence agents are empowered to use. And, of course, the use of coercive techniques, i.e., torture, becomes a problem only if it is revealed. So, has the United States really renounced torture? Let's hope so. But don't be surprised if it turns out that the administration has merely ordered that secret interrogations be buried more deeply. That would fit what we've seen of this administration's style.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
It turns out that opposition to a Hayden nomination has surfaced from an unexpected quarter: congressional Republicans, who assert that his military rank and career make him unsuitable to head the nation's premier civilian intelligence agency. Those expressing this view include Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. (You may remember him as the man who got to the Senate by questioning Max Cleland's patriotism.) As it happens, these members of the President's own party have a good point; it's about time that the separation of military from civilian agencies was re-emphasized, especially so in the wake of the Iraq debacle, in which the Department of Defense (with the connivance of W and Deadeye Dick) ran roughshod over the people at the CIA and State Department who--mirabile dictu!--turned out to be the ones who knew something about what was going on in Iraq, and what wasn't (WMD).
If Hayden's nomination is headed off or crippled by this opposition, we shall be faced--as this space predicted--either with an unqualified successor to the minimally-qualified Porter Goss, or a caretaker acting-director. Either would be another disaster from this most bumbling of administrations.
Friday, May 05, 2006
- Most Americans (51 percent) want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress. Only 34 percent want to keep the GOP in charge.
- 65 percent of conservatives disapprove of the Republican-controlled Congress.
- 73 percent (that is not a misprint) of those polled say the nation is on the wrong track.
- Just before the 2004 election, 27 percent of voters called themselves strong Republicans. The figure today is 15 percent.
True, one president in the past fifty years has had a lower approval rating than Bush at a corresponding point in his administration. But that was Richard Nixon in May 1974, which doesn't bode well for the present incumbent or his party.
HAD ENOUGH? VOTE DEMOCRATIC!
Goss was CIA director for less than two years. His appointment was rightly criticized for putting a political partisan in what was then the nation's most powerful intelligence position (since eclipsed by the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte). When he arrived at Langley, Goss brought along a bunch of political operatives from the Republican congressional staff--a bad sign at an agency that, more than any other, should be apolitical. Then Goss and his people started pushing Agency veterans out, causing morale to sink like a holed submarine. All this at a time when we are struggling with the diffusion of threats in the "War on Terror."
Having done a great deal of damage, Goss is leaving before he could demonstrate whether he was able to put the pieces back together. Now the nation will face either (a) a prolonged period of time when our premier intelligence-analysis agency (the NSA gathers much more information) is headed by a caretaker or (b) a rushed appointment to fill the post, making it even less likely than usual with this administration that the nominee will be a person of real skill and acumen.
Making matters worse, Goss' number 3, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo (no, I'm not making that name up) has been implicated in the widening waves from the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal. As has been widely reported, for years Cunningham pal Brent Wilkes (who, surprisingly, has not yet been indicted) held parties at which congressional aides and congressmen were treated to liquor, poker and even hookers. Some sources have claimed that Goss himself was a guest. He denied it, angrily. Foggo, however, has admitted his presence, although he has denied seeing any prostitutes at the festivities. Maybe he closed his eyes.
As Oliver Hardy would say, "This is a fine mess you've gotten us into."
Thursday, May 04, 2006
In any event, the Senator knew whereof he was speaking. Two days before speaking up for the integrity of the political process, he rode a BellSouth plane to fundraising events in the Carolinas. Along for the ride was BellSouth's chief lobbyist.
HAD ENOUGH? VOTE DEMOCRATIC!
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Did you notice how quickly the GOP gas-tax rebate proposal died? Less than a week from unveiling to public interment. While it's true that some editorialized against it, including this space, there wasn't enough time for the chattering class to mold public opinion. The truth is, from the first moment the people saw through this tissue-thin proposal. Could it be a sign that the people have awakened from their long sleep? Let's hope so.