Thursday, August 31, 2006

Red State Blues

If the election were held today, Democrats would sweep the races for Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney-General in Arkansas.

What Moderation Gets You

A new poll shows that Lincoln Chafee is down by 17 points to his primary challenger, Steve Laffey, and this is among likely voters. Worse news for Chafee: the number of undecideds is smaller than the margin.

I don't know much about Laffey. He's the mayor of Cranston. WPRI, the Ocean State's major television outlet (and a Fox affiliate), reports that he apologized for writing anti-gay columns while a student at Bowdoin in the 1980's. In one of the columns, he wrote that he'd never seen a happy homosexual. (Maybe he didn't know a gay person when he saw one.)

At the same time, the Democratic candidate, Sheldon Whitehouse, leads Laffey by 32 points (that's not a misprint), while in a statistical tie with Chafee. So, that makes Laffey the logical choice for Republicans worried about holding on to the Senate, right?

They Never Learn

"I've seen numbers as high as 70 percent--maybe even more--in the African-American community, and I think that's just appalling." So said Republican congressman, and Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez about abortion rates in a broadcast interview on Monday. He later apologized.

Shades of Ronald Reagan's welfare queens. Apparently, Republicans still can't resist playing the race card.

(A poll released August 17th showed Beauprez 10 points down on Bill Ritter, his Democratic opponent.)

Milestones in Journalism

Every so often, a journalist shows what the profession is supposed to be all about. The other night, Keith Olbermann commented on Rumsfeld's speech to the American Legion. Olbermann quotes Murrow's commentary on Joe McCarthy, which is appropriate, because his remarks on Rumsfeld and the mindset that this speech represented are in the same spirit is Murrow's.

The cut is over 6 minutes long, but it's must-watching.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Truth Telling

I have paraphrased Mary McCarthy's remark on Lillian Hellman to apply to W: "Every word he speaks is a lie, and that includes 'and' and 'the'." But I am here to admit that I was wrong. Occasionally, the man tells the truth. In my defense, however, I would offer another idea that I have espoused frequently: that we tell the truth in our jests.

From Maureen Dowd's column today:

"Doing his stations of the Katrina cross, President Bush went for breakfast with Mayor Ray Nagin at Betsy's Pancake House.

"As Mr. Bush tried to squeeze past some tightly placed tables, a waitress, Joyce Labruzzo, teased him, saying, 'Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me?"

"'No ma'am,he replied, with a laugh and a pause for effect. 'Not again.'"

(I suspect that Ms. Labruzzo wasn't really teasing.)

Subsidized Fund-Raising

"Bankrolled almost entirely by taxpayers, President Bush is roaming far and wide on Air Force One to help Republicans retain control of Congress and capture statehouse contests in high-stakes midterm elections." Thus, the AP.

The piece goes on to note that W has raised a cool $166 million for 27 favored Republican candidates over the past 15 months (let's see, that's how much per vote?), and that we taxpayers--including those of us who think the guy should be thrown out of the Oval Office on his keister--have been footing most of the bill.

The explanation for this apparent boondoggle lies in the regulations of the Federal Election Commission, which require that a campaign reimburse the government for the cost of a first-class air ticket when a government official (W, Deadeye Dick) uses a government aircraft for a political event. So, when Air Force One flies to Hell-and-Gone Idaho for a fund-raiser for Sen. So-and-So, it costs the Republican National Committee a few thousand dollars to pay for W, the First Lady (she's included among those who must be paid for, apparently) and a couple of aides who cannot be classified as "official" travelers (for whom the government pays). To get the President's plane off the ground costs a great deal more than that, of course. Not to mention the salaries of the Secret Service detail and all the other people who work on even the briefest presidential trip.

There's a part of me that wants to tell the President--even a Democratic President--to fly commercial on political junkets, but I suppose that it's in the national interest to have him travel efficiently and safely, even when he's retailing his lies to the populace and raising bribes, err, campaign contributions in the process.

($166 million may seem like a lot of money, and it is. It could pay for a couple of days of the war in Iraq.)

The Politics of Oil, or the Oil of Politics?

Kevin Drum, of The Washington Monthly writes a really fine blog, as witness this observation:

"I can understand a reluctance to be associated with the fever swamps of oil-based conspiracy mongering, but the plain fact is that a great deal of American foreign policy is driven by concerns over the stability of our oil supply. The rest of the world is well aware of this, and our blithe pretense that we're not concerned with such grubby issues — it's all about democracy! — is one of the reasons so many non-Americans don't believe a word we say on other issues as well. They probably can't figure out if we're in genuine denial about our own motivations or just being mendacious about them, but does it matter?

"On our end, of course, most Americans just end up being perplexed. Why do foreigners think we're after everyone's oil? How can they believe such a thing about us? The answer is easy: they believe it because there's a lot of truth to it. But you'd hardly know it if you read nothing but the American press."


You will undoubtedly be shocked, shocked! to learn that yet another high official of the Bush administration has been caught cheating his employers, that is, you and me. As The New York Times reports:

"State Department investigators have found that the head of the agency overseeing most government broadcasts to foreign countries has used his office to run a 'horse racing operation' and that he improperly put a friend on the payroll, according to a summary of a report made public on Tuesday by a Democratic lawmaker."

That's right, a horse racing operation.

The individual involved is Kenneth Tomlinson, who was run out of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting after he was caught breaking the rules designed to insulate that operation from political influence. You might think that someone like that would be put out to pasture or at least given a low profile, but not in this administration. Instead, Tomlinson was given one of the most important posts in "public diplomacy" (a/k/a propaganda). This at a time when the United States' image and moral position in the world is more challenged than at any time since Vietnam, or perhaps ever. And what does he do during working hours? Apparently, running a stable of race horses and sending State Department employees on personal errands for him.

Tomlinson's cupidity was brought to light after a whistle-blower contacted three Democratic members of Congress, Sen. Chris Dodd (D.CT) and Reps. Howard Berman (D.CA) and Tom Lantos (D.CA).

My favorite line in the Times' story was this:

"In providing the report to the members of Congress, the State Department warned that making it public could violate federal law, people who have seen the report said."

Ah, yes. The public be damned, as one of the Vanderbilts so touchingly said.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Revealing Confession?

Hassan Nasrullah, the leader of Hezbollah, has confessed that he and his forces did not know what they were getting into when they entered Israel and captured (or kidnapped, if you prefer) two Israeli soldiers. "Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it," Nasrullah told a Lebanese television station.

It's hard to see why Nasrullah would make such a confession; Hezbollah has been celebrated across the Muslim world for standing up to the Israelis, yet its leader's words admit that Israel has succeeded in deterring a future strike, at least until Hezbollah feels it is a lot stronger.

In other words, while Israel did not destroy the enemy, as it hoped to, it did achieve at least one of its major goals--to keep Hezbollah from attacking in the future.

True, this success is limited: Hezbollah and its allies have not abandoned their intent to wipe Israel from the Earth. Still, Israel has bought itself some time. Time in which it may reform its military strategy and perhaps its military establishment. Time in which it may seek peace. Let's hope it does so.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The March of Ignorance, cont'd

The New York Times editorialized about what it called the administration's "fixation with secrecy." The editorial pointed particularly to a move to re-classify information about the United States' arsenal of ballistic missiles that was released in 1971 (no, that's not a typo) by then-Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. (For those who don't remember him, Mel Laird was a longtime Republican member of Congress who was appointed Secretary by Richard Nixon.)

This is not the first time that the administration's minions have attempted to reverse time by taking information that has been public knowledge for decades and declaring it secret. As of last spring, when the director of the National Archives objected to a program--itself secret--to erase history by re-classification, 55,000 pages had been taken from the public record.

It's easy to ridicule this fatuous and sure-to-be-futile attempt to obstruct knowledge and obscure the truth, but the mindset that embraces such nefarious escapades is frightening in its foolishness. The idea of spending government resources--human and monetary--on such monstrous stupidity when we are running mountainous deficits and failing to deal with huge challenges at home and abroad is mind-boggling.

This is the kind of wasteful and self-destructive activity that the Soviet Union embraced in its death-throes. Can we hold out hope that the United States will re-discover the values that made her the world's great inspirational leader when her government engages in such shenanigans? Not likely.

The March of Ignorance

The Guardian reports that Pope Benedict may be preparing to move the Catholic Church's position on evolution closer to intelligent design.

Apparently, the Vatican has not learned from its experiences with Copernicus and Galileo.

What You Thought Is Wrong

This is NOT the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast.

September 11th will NOT be the five-year anniversary of the terror attack that brought down the World Trade Center.

This is the FIRST anniversary of Katrina, and Sept. 11th will be the FIFTH anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers.

Just to get things straight.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Oy Vey!

The Jewish Daily Forward reports that Sen. George "Macaca" Allen may really be Jewish!

You'll recall that Allen recently called a campaign worker for his opponent, James Webb, a "macaca." (It turned out that the Webb worker has lived in Virginia all his life, which is more than Allen can say.) Allen tried to laugh the whole thing off and said that he made up the word. The Forward, however, asserts that the word means monkey, and that Allen may have picked it up from his mother, Henriette Lumbroso Allen, who was originally from the French-speaking upper class in what was then the French protectorate of Tunisia. The Forward goes on to speculate that Sen. Allen's mother is likely to be Jewish, because Lumbroso was the name of a prominent family in the Sephardic (Spanish Jews) community in Tunisia. If Mrs. Allen was the child of two Jewish parents--which The Forward rates as probable given her age and background, then under traditional Jewish law her son George would also be a Jew.

Are the conservative Christians who form a large part of Sen. Allen's constituency ready to be represented by a Jew? Stand by.

(Of course, if Allen keeps inserting his foot into his overly-large mouth, it won't matter what religion he may be.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Aiding and A-betting

A Suffolk County New York bookkeeper is behind bars after admitting that she embezzled $2.3 million to buy lottery tickets. She faces jail and the home she shared with her husband and three kids will be sold to pay off a small part of what she owes her now former employer, a medical practice.

Clearly, this woman is ill. Less clearly, the society that sponsors the lottery that was her undoing is ill.

Don't tell me that if it weren't for the lottery, she would have found something else to waste money on--dogs, ponies, sports, whatever. And don't tell me that her crime expresses a deeper emptiness in her life. That's all true, and it's all irrelevant.

The fact is that the people of New York facilitated the destruction of this woman's life, the life of her family and, very likely, of her former employer. It is no excuse to say that she could have found some other way to facilitate her self-destruction, any more than it was an excuse to say that it didn't matter if a man was a guard at Treblinka, because if he hadn't taken the job, someone else would have.

Lotteries are, at best, a tax on the stupid, the desperate and the unhappy. Most of its victims are poor, but not all of them. I had a friend who was a lawyer (as far as I know, he still is, but I haven't spoken to him in a while). When his state's lottery had a multimillion dollar jackpot, he'd buy a couple of hundred dollars' worth of tickets. Was that a good investment? Of course not. Did he enjoy the hope of winning more than the loss of his money? I very much doubt it.

Do we have lotteries because people think it's fun to spend the time between buying a ticket and finding out that they lost dreaming about what they'll do with the money? In a pig's eye. We are addicted to state lotteries, because they are an easier way to finance government than instituting a fair and equitable tax system to bring in the revenue we need to run our states and cities in the manner we want. And that's sick. Cowardly, too.

If we are going to have state-sponsored lotteries, we should at least have the decency to limit the chances of abuse. The number of tickets sold to an individual by one outlet should be limited to four (or maybe $10 worth) in an hour (perhaps a day). If the compulsive player has to drive all over town to buy tickets, maybe he or she will buy fewer of them. Don't put flashy ads for lotteries in the media, and state clearly in all promotional materials--in type large enough to read (and on the screen long enough to be read in TV commercials) what the odds of winning are. Will we do this? What do you think?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What Voters Want

Do Democrats need "big ideas?" Do they have to show voters that they can govern? Do they need a well-articulated platform?

While it would be good to have all of those--and at least the last two will be necessary in 2008, for the current campaign, the answer is "no."

Democrats should make the issue the utter incompetence of this administration in everything from national security to the economy and protecting the environment. Then all they need do is to point out that W is going to be President for over two more years (sigh), and that he needs someone to keep him honest. That someone is going to have to be the Democrats, because it's clear as day that his own party won't do it.

Republicans have been backpedalling from Bush so fast that they are falling all over themselves, but can they answer the question "How will you ride herd on Bush?" I don't think so.

Off-year elections are supposed to be a referendum on the party in power. It's high time to make 2006 just that.

Lincoln Was Right

You can't fool all of the people all of the time.

A New York Times/CBS poll shows that more than half of Americans distinguish the Iraq escapade from the War on Terror. Even better news is that more people think that too much emphasis has been placed on Iraq (46 percent) than on fighting terrorism (42 percent). Not too long ago, a pollster might have risked a lynching if he/she suggested that there was a distinction.

The poll backs up those of us who say that Democrats should make national security the focus of the fall campaign. Forty-six percent of responders list terrorism or the Iraq war as the most important issue--while the economy garners only 20 percent. Democrats have to show that they can deal with the issues that are most on people's minds, and that is especially true where they have been faulted for years.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Conservative Government

Back when Democrats controlled the White House and liberalism seemed to have won the battle of history, a lot of us thought that conservatives were running against the 20th Century. As Paul Krugman points out today, in one of those columns that remind me why he, not I, teaches at Princeton and writes a column for The New York Times , W & Co. have been running a government that is like something out of the middle ages.

To summarize Krugman's points (don't rely on my precis--go and read the piece):

*The IRS has announced that it's going to outsource some tax collection to private debt collectors, a practice reminiscent of Bourbon France, where taxes were collected by "tax farmers," who got rich by extracting money from the common people and taking a cut. (Privatizing will cost a lot more than having the Revenue Service collect--something that it can be very good at, if properly funded.)

*Medieval kings used mercenaries rather than professional or citizen soldiers, a practice that was almost as hard on their own nations as on the ones that they invaded. The Bush administration has outsourced torture, mayhem and a great deal of what should be public security functions to contractors like Blackwater USA; those contractors even act as bodyguards to senior American civilian and military officials in Iraq--something that should be one of the most basic functions of government. Krugman quotes one officer as saying of these American mercenaries, "They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath.”

*Monarchs, lacking a civil service, appointed viceroys to govern fiefs granted to them. We have such instrumentalities as the Coalition Provisional Authority, which more or less acted as the governing body of occupied Iraq. Last week, a judge ruled that the authority, which was created without congressional action, was not an instrumentality of the United States government. This is reminiscent of the Congo which, for the first decades of its rule by Belgium, was the personal property of the Belgian king.

Krugman concludes by suggesting that the foregoing demonstrate that people who run against government can't do a good job of governing--a point Democrats should take every opportunity to make.

I guess my bumper sticker, which says "One King George Was Enough / Impeach Bush," was truer than I thought.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

There Are No hereditary Kings in America

From the decision declaring the NSA spying program both unlawful and unconstitutional:

"We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no power not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent power' must derive from that Constitution."

Sometimes--all too rarely in my experience--a judge cuts through the fog of legalism and states a proposition with searchlight clarity. It's all too likely that an appellate court will find a way to reverse Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision, but those words will live, in the same way that the words of Andrew Hamilton (arguing for John Peter Zenger), James Otis (arguing against general search warrants) and John Adams (defending the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre) ring down through history. Those are the kind of phrases that make me proud to be a lawyer, and proud to be an American.

The Mystery Continues

British police claim to have uncovered a suitcase containing "everything you would need to make an improvised device," which presumably means a bomb. They have not, however, said what exactly is in the suitcase.

According to AP, the suitcase was found in woodland near the home of one of the suspects; CBS reported this evening that it was found in the home of a suspect.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum, of The Washington Monthly has been all over the story, and he linked to this piece by Thomas C. Greene, at The Register. I won't spoil what Greene has to say by summarizing it. Suffice to say, using liquid explosive to blow up an airliner is not quite as simple as it sounds in news reports.

As Kevin Drum says: "The good news is that it will make you feel a little more confident about the safety of flying overseas. The bad news is that it will make you feel a little less confident about the terror announcements of our national governments. Caveat emptor."


From an AP report on the investigation into the alleged UK liquid-bomb plot. (More and more, it appears necessary to be sure to include the word "alleged" when referring to this caper.)

"Home Secretary John Reid, Britain's chief law-and-order official, acknowledged that some of the suspects would likely not be charged with major criminal offenses, but said there was mounting evidence of a substantial nature to back the allegations."

There wasn't "evidence of a substantial nature" before they arrested these people?

The article also reports:

"Two top Pakistani intelligence agents said Wednesday that the would-be bombers wanted to carry out an al-Qaida-style attack to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 strikes, but were too 'inexperienced' to carry out the plot.

"The two senior agents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if the terror cell members arrested in Pakistan and Britain had appropriate weapons and explosives training, they could have emulated massive attacks like those five years ago in New York and Washington as well as the July 7, 2005, London bombings."

And if my bubbe* had roller skates, she'd be a trolley car.

And then there's this note:

"The detainees in Britain and Pakistan had not attended terror-training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan and had relied on information gleaned from text books on how to make bombs, the officials said."

Books? No experiments? No drills? Were these people plotters or just talkers?

Remember that Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security said last week that, "Certainly in terms of the complexity, the sophistication, the international dimension and the number of people involved, this plot has the hallmarks of an al-Qaida-type plot." whether or not the plot was serious--or existed at all--Chertoff's conclusion appears more and more dubious.

It's still too early to tell, but this thing is beginning to look like yet another instance of crying wolf.

* "Bubbe:" Yiddish for grandmother. The expression used is the bowdlerized version of a common, if slightly coarse, saying, but in this case I like the sanitized one better. Both say essentially what FDR meant when he said "'If' is the biggest word in the English language."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fooled Again?

Craig Murray was the British ambassador to our great ally, Uzbekistan. He wrote an internal memo about the outsourcing of torture and the cruelties of the Uzbek government. The memo hit the press and that was the end of Murray's career. Now he's commenting on Western policy in Central Asia and flogging a book.

On his website, he analyzes what has come out about the alleged plot to blow up airliners with liquid explosives. He has a number of interesting observations, for instance:

"None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time."

Now, before you jump to conclusions, read the whole post. You'll notice that Murray does not source his information, and he clearly has a very big axe to grind against the Blair government. But he does raise provocative questions.

A prediction: if the case against the alleged plotters does collapse, it will drive Blair from office and make Bush's current polling numbers look like the good old days.

Sen. Sanctimonious, Caught Again

Bob Casey's campaign web site has the goods on Rick Sanctimonious' convenient--and deceptive--change of course on social security. See the evidence here.

Good Question

"Is there anyone in the country who can say honestly, in their heart of hearts, that when that moment of fear hit them after the recent reports out of London, they said to themselves, 'God, I'm glad we're in Iraq'?"

Josh Marshal on

Down, Down, Down

Go Bush's ratings. A new Zogby poll has his popularity at 34 percent--close to the lowest he's ever registered. Perhaps more significant, only 62 percent of Republicans now give him a positive rating for performance.

If the old saw that off-year elections are a referendum on the party in power is true, this is just more bad news for the GOP.

Is Bush an Idiot?

It's not me asking, it's Joe Scarborough of MSNBC. See the video.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Democrats Waking Up

The New York Times reports that Democrats have awakened to the potential power of using national security as their issue, rather than ceding it to Republicans. It's about time.

As you no doubt noticed, immediately after Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman last week, Republicans started painting him, and Democrats generally as virtual allies of al-Qaeda. (Lieberman, who still professes to be a Democrat, gleefully joined in.) There's no sign that this got much attention beyond the chattering classes (most voters are on vacation, at least from politics), but a Newsweek poll does show Bush's national-security rating up sharply from May--before the latest war in Lebanon and the alleged liquid-bomb plot in the UK.

Democrats should take a leaf from Karl Rove's playbook and make national-security not just an issue, but THE issue for the fall campaign. One advantage of doing so is that, because the presidency is not at stake, Democrats need only promise to ride herd on the administration (after all, they are a bunch of cowboys) and make it toe the line.

Democratic candidates might lead with questions like these:






and many, many more.

Paging Dr. Scholl

Now that the Transportation Security Administration is making all air passengers remove their shoes before going through security, AP cites a report that X-rays don't detect explosives.

A TSA spokeswoman said, "We do not have a specific threat regarding shoes. In an abundance of caution we require all shoes to be removed and X-rayed to mitigate a variety of threats," including weapons (remember the spring-loaded dagger concealed in Lotte Lenya's espadrille in From Russia With Love?). One might think that the inner structure of an explosive-packed shoe would look different from one intended to transport the wearer to somewhere this side of Paradise, but one might also wonder if TSA screeners are trained to spot the difference.

(TONE has it on some authority that problems in TSA are a lot more pervasive than whether X-raying shoes will actually reveal plastique.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Plot Uncovered

The story of British authorities arresting at least 20 people in an alleged plot to blow up airliners on their way to the United States is still breaking. At this early hour, it sounds like this one may have been real.

A first result of the apparent uncovering of the plot has been a new restriction barring passengers from bringing liquids or lotions in hand baggage--authorities say that they believe the alleged plotters were planning to use liquid explosives of some kind.

All very well and good, but are we confident that security measures now in place would stop a bomber from putting explosives and a detonator in checked baggage, as long as he or she was willing to go down with the plane?

Have you noticed how much of what passes for security is really the appearance of security? Do you really think that having to show your driver's license at the entrance to an office tower is a deterrent to someone who wants to blow the building up? What's to stop the would-be terrorist from calling, say, a law firm in the building, announcing himself as a new client, making an appointment to see Mr. Jones, carrying a bomb in his briefcase up to the "security" desk in the lobby, checking in to for his--real--appointment and then leaving the bomb in an elevator or men's room, or just triggering it in a convenient place? Next to nothing is the answer to all of those questions.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Has Anyone Noticed?

As far as I can tell, hardly anyone has noticed that re-deploying American troops to deal with the chaos of Baghdad represents a major shift in US policy. Even as a debate was growing about whether Iraq was slipping into civil war, for months American policy maintained that our forces were battling the "insurgency," although that term has never been defined and those engaged in it remain shadowy. (How can you defeat your enemy when you can't even name him?)

In sending new forces into into Baghdad, however, we have plunked American troops square in the middle of a vicious religions and cultural maelstrom. No longer can we pretend that they are fighting Saddam loyalists or al Qaeda militants (although some of those are undoubtedly trying to make hay from the chaos in the capital). Now we will be protecting Sunnites from Shi'ites and vice versa. Our main enemy may well be the Mahdi Army, the grandiloquently-named militia of the Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is likely to replace the late Zarkawi as America's enemy No. 1 in Iraq.

True, US forces battled al-Sadr's people a couple of years ago, but that was seen as a diversion from their main mission. Now, suppressing al-Sadr and other sectarian forces is fast becoming our main preoccupation. As al-Sadr and many other Shi'ites are seen to be allied to Iran, this may be seen as a second front in the war with Iran--the first being in southern Lebanon.

Are you frightened?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shoot First

The New York Times reports that fourteen states have joined Florida in passing laws allowing people to use deadly force to defend themselves, even if they could have retreated safely. Those nice folks at the NRA are lobbying for similar laws in other states.

This dovetails nicely with the Supreme Court's decision this past spring that expanded the police right to enter a dwelling without knocking.

What's going to happen when the police barge into some home in a good-faith but mistaken no-knock entry and the homeowner blows some cop away with a 12-gauge?

Too Much Government

Conservatives are always talking about too much government. At least they used to be. Far be it from The Old New Englander to ally with conservatives, but here's an example of just what they were talking about: The Agriculture Department has ordered the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, in Key West, to cage the 46 cats (6-toed descendants of a feline that lived with Papa) on the property.

Don't they have enough to do trying to prevent avian flu and mad cow disease? Oh, I forgot, they're mainly holding their collective breath and crossing their fingers about those.

Monday, August 07, 2006

News from Texas

A 3-judge federal court re-drew the boundary lines between congressional districts in Texas--following the Supreme Court's decision that part of the Tom DeLay-inspired gerrymandering violated the Voting Rights Act--in a way that may make it harder for Rep. Henry Bonilla (R.Tex) to win re-election and gives Lloyd Doggett (D.Tex) a better shot at retaining his seat.

The re-districting has already cost DeLay his seat in Congress--although the Court of Appeals has affirmed the federal District Court decision forcing his name to stay on the ballot. Now it may cost Republicans at least one more seat. Not complete justice, but something.

Another One Bites The Dust

You heard it here, first.

Bob Ney has finally seen the writing on the wall--the wall of his upcoming cell, perhaps--and decided to drop out of the race for the House.

We will miss his hair, however.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How Low Can They Go?

Carl Romanelli is running for the Senate. You've probably never heard of him, even in Pennsylvania, which is where he's running. You probably won't hear about him, either, at least not about his platform or what he would do in office. His role is not to win, it is to drain votes from Bob Casey, the Democratic nominee, who currently holds double-digit leads over the incumbent, Sen. Rick Sanctimonious, in the polls.

Romanelli got on the ballot in the usual way, by presenting signatures. His campaign to get those signatures cost more than $66,000. Where did he get the money? From Republicans, of course. What, that's not what you expected? Well, it's true. Of $66,000 that the Luzerne County Green Party (the vehicle for the signature gathering) raised in July, all but $30 came from Republican donors. That's not a misprint--exactly $30, from Romanelli himself, is the entire scope of money raised from donors (or in this case, a donor) who are not Republicans.

Clearly, Republicans hope to drain votes from the Democratic candidate in their desperate struggle to keep Sen. Sanctimonious in office.

Now there's nothing illegal in this. But it's not exactly the democracy they teach in civics class, is it? In fact, it's a pretty loathsome, cynical practice.

Then again, what else would you expect from the Republicans?

(It will be interesting to see if the good people of Pennsylvania find out about this tactic and, if they do, whether it will help or hurt Sanctimonious' campaign.)

Freedom Takes (Another) Hit

The House cafeteria has returned to serving French fries and French toast. No more Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast.

Did people make too many cracks about freedom being toast? More likely, the apparently imminent indictment of Bob Ney (R.OH), sponsor of the name change in the wake of French criticism of the Iraq war, was to blame.

What People Think

A poll on CNN asks respondents "Do you expect Iraqi troops to take over security in all 18 provinces by 2007?"

The result of this unscientific poll, as of this posting:

Not at all: 31%
Unlikely: 39%
Possibly: 22%
Definitely: 7%

This is an unscientific poll, but is not generally populated by raving liberals.

Denial is not a River in Egypt

I cut out the headline from this article and pasted it in a prominent place:

Most obese claim to eat healthy.

("Most," in the context of the article, refers to a majority, not to the heaviest.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dog Bites Man

A Senate report says that tax cheating by the rich and super rich is "out of control."

What a surprise--after decades in which taxes have been derided and the IRS vilified at every turn, with Republican's frothing at the mouth to cut every kind of tax, even as the charge to our children and grandchildren--otherwise known as the national debt--skyrockets. What else would you expect in such times--increased fidelity to the principle of self-reporting that is the basis of our tax system?

I don't mean to say that Republicans approve of cheating on taxes--they prefer to chop them down so no one (at least no rich person) has to cheat.

According to the report, the federal government loses $70 billion a year from cheating--which would make a pretty good dent in the deficit. The main author (or at least the front-man) is Sen. Carl Levin (D.MI), who is quoted as saying, "I get incensed by people who use tax havens to not pay their taxes while the average guy has to pay his taxes because they are taken out of his pay before he gets it." Without commenting on his grammar, I like the sentiment. When I used to defend the occasional tax cheat--excuse me, alleged tax cheat--I remember being bemused by the widely-held attitude that people who evaded taxes hadn't done anything seriously wrong. I figured they were stealing from me and everyone else in America. (Admission--that didn't stop me from liking some of them personally.)

One surprise: Sen. Norm Coleman, Democraticic turncoat is who is chair of the subcommittee involved, adopted the minority report for the entirsubcommitteeee. A rare instance of bipartisanship these days.

The committee report calls for stripping away the protections given to transactions involving tax havens like the Cayman Islands. Maybe--just maybe--something will be done when Democrats re-take Congress.

Not as Bad as We Thought?

Unless you've had your head under the waves (or live away from the East Coast), you must have felt the past months' outpouring of reports on how bad the Atlantic hurricane season is going to be. The season, which is two months old as of today (it runs until the end of November) has so far seen only three tropical storms and no hurricanes. (The third storm, Chris, has only just formed in the past 24 hours.)

Well, now comes a report that the season may not be as bad as was previously predicted.

So, can all of us along the coast breathe easier? No, because these long-range forecasts have hardly anything to do with what will happen in your neck of the woods. And any--or all--of them could be wrong.