Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Don't Look Now

But there could, just could, be an upset building in the Texas governor's race.

For months there has been a lot of talk about how Rick Perry (another of those Republicans notable mainly for his hair) was likely to win another term as governor, even though hardly anyone likes him. The problem is that instead of uniting behind one candidate the not-Perry camp fractured into four: Democrat Chris Bell, former Republican Carol Keeton Strayhorn, independent musician and detective novelist Kinky Friedman and Libertarian James Werner. Bell had a hard time starting off, Strayhorn couldn't get significantly over about a quarter of the vote, Friedman was in the teens and Werner in the low single digits; the net result was that it looked like Perry would be re-elected with less than 40 percent of the vote.

Well a new Zogby poll shows that Bell has pulled within 8 points of Perry; the governor's support has fallen slightly, but Bell has picked up 6 points in a short time. Perhaps more important, if this poll is right, Strayhorn's support has fallen to 15 percent and Friedman is just below her. All of which might mean that the Texas voters have decided that neither of them can win, and that some of them are moving toward Bell as a way to deny the governor another term. It's still a long shot, but if that is the case, Bell just might be able to catch Perry at the wire.

(A few notes of caution: My impression--I've never done a systematic study--is that Zogby's polls are not as reliable as others'. Also, a Zogby poll done six days ago showed Perry at 38 percent and Bell at just 22. Has the Democrat really picked up a point a day? Maybe, or maybe the change is a feature of that pesky "margin of error." Other polls from a few days ago don't show the race as close as Zogby's latest one does, either.)

Where's the Outrage?

A friend wrote:

"You know, I heard on the NPR that a number of weapons given to Iraqi troops in the form of rocket launchers, rifles and machine guns have gone missing. And worse yet, of $133 million spent on the weapons for Iraqi, almost NONE of them have been registered by their serial numbers so they can be tracked.

"Now you know what's really sad? Normally, I would be frigging outraged. But after almost 6 years of almost single-minded incompetence, my outrage tank is almost empty. This is how they win - I know. But if I have trouble staying outraged, imagine how the average American who is less informed gets the outrage level up when they hear this nonsense."

And imagine the chagrin of the blogger who didn't get a chance to post about this when it hit the news yesterday? So much to be outraged about, so little time!

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Magic Fades

Over at talkinpointsmemo, Josh Marshall has a very good, brief, take on the multitude of stories about Karl Rove's confidence that the GOP will maintain its hold on both houses of Congress. Asking the rhetorical question, what does Rove know that the Democrats, the pollsters and the professional political analysts know? Marshall answers, "Nothing." He suggests that Rove is posturing, because he knows that if he or W show doubt, the Republican GOTV effort goes down the drain.

I think Marshall is right, although not quite for the reasons he states.

If you think about it, people who become pre-eminent in their fields usually have a limited life. Very few politicians can kindle much enthusiasm after six or eight years. Look at the lives of superstar entertainers and you'll see that their careers usually show a few years at the very top, followed by many more years in which they were successful, but not at the same level. (Consider the films Denzel Washington is making today vs. those he made a few years ago.) Even great men like Einstein usually have a short period of intense originality, followed by years, even decades of testing, extending and developing the ideas that came to them during that burst of creativity. There are exceptions, of course, but they are just that, exceptions.

Rove's playbook is well-known by now, and a bit dog-eared, and it's clear that he hasn't come up with anything fundamentally new for 2006. Democrats know what to expect and they are better able to meet his tricks.

Finally, the world and the nation have changed from 2000 and 2004. This year--although they did not start out to do it--Democrats have taken a leaf from Rove's script and turned the Republicans' presumed strength on national security into a liability. Thanks to Republican folly, they have also gained the high ground on morality in politics and--a week before the voting--it seems pretty clear that the GOP lacks a Democratic poster boy (or girl) to compare with Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff. At this point, it would take Osama bin Laden on a plate to change things.

So let Karl Rove posture and pose. He's not going to pull this one out.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

George Allen Attacks Marine Corps

I'm sure you've heard that Sen. George Allen (R-VA)--who, according to Maureen Dowd, is now known in Washington as Macacawitz--has been attacking Jim Webb for certain passages in some of his novels. Turns out that one of them, Fields of Fire is required reading for Marine corporals and sergeants. The website of the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program calls the book, "The classic novel of the Vietnam War."

The book is also on the Commandant's official reading list.

Of course, Sen. Macacawitz, who is one of the great fakes of our time, wouldn't know anything about that, any more than he would know anything about what it is like to serve in a combat zone or, for that matter, in the military.

Oh, Sweet Irony

The feds are investigating a voting machine manufacturer that was taken over last year "by a small software company that has been linked to the leftist Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez."

Could there by anything more delicious? Well, yes, but this will do for now.

Might the administration recognize that the voting machine obeys the hand that feeds it--and that those hands may not always be Republican?

Ah for the principle of the gored ox!

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Tortuousness of Torture

Photo-Ops are designed to insulate politicians from questions--as the name implies they are opportunities for film and video, not interrogation. So it says something about the White House's sensitivities these days that the President used a photo op to declare that, "This country doesn't torture, we're not going to torture. We will interrogate people we pick up off the battlefield to determine whether or not they've got information that will be helpful to protect the country."

Mr. Bush was trying, of course, to undo Dick Cheney's uncharacteristic honesty, when he admitted to a conservative talk-show host in Fargo, North Dakota, that the United States has used water-boarding on al-Qaeda detainees. (Cheney may have been lulled into relaxing his guard by his interviewer's question, "Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Calling water-boarding a dunk in the water is like referring to being burnt at the stake as getting a hotfoot.)

Not that it really matters what the President says; Americans are finally wise to him. The most charitable interpretation of Mr. Bush's veracity would be to use Churchill's description of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin: "Baldwin occasionally stumbles over the truth, but he picks himself up, dusts himself off and hurries on as though nothing had happened."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Police Blotter

From the party that brought you family values:.

As we reported, Congressman Jim Gibbons (R-NV), Republican candidate for governor of Nevada, has been accused by a 33-year old woman of accosting and propositioning her.

Now the woman asserts that "she was threatened, pressured, and even offered money, to drop her allegations and change her story." We make no judgment as to who is telling the truth in this affair--or would-be affair. (W.e report--you decide) . But it can't be good news for Gibbons that the story is still on the front burner. Democrats, on the other hand, are chortling.

Fearless Forecast

With less than two weeks before election day, it's time for some fearless forecasting.

If you've read past posts, you know my views on some contests, and I'm not going to give a laundry list here. Scroll down or scan the archives if you're interested.

I am going to predict that we're going to see some surprises. (fearless, or what?) I see Democrats picking up 25-30 seats in the House, maybe more. In the Senate I'm less certain, in part because there are fewer seats up for grabs and also, truth to tell, because the race in New Jersey seems to be closing again (the latest NY Times poll has Menendez one point ahead and fully 37 percent of respondents said they could change their mind by election day!) nonetheless, I'm going out on a ledge and saying that Democrats will have a majority in the upper chamber.

One reason for my predictions is that I believe that one or two races that were not supposed to be all that close will turn into upsets. For instance, in Arizona, a new poll has Democrat Jim Pederson within six points of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who leads 47-41 percent. There's a libertarian candidate who garnered support from 3 percent of those polled--leaving 9 percent undecided. Nine percent doesn't sound like a lot when you need to pick up six points, but remember that people undecided this late in a campaign don't break predominantly for the incumbent--if they support the person who's in, they usually make that pick early. And there is still time for the race to shift; given the string of bad news for the Bush administration, changes are most likely to favor the Democrat.

Similar results may occur in some House races, meaning that Democrats could gain more seats than anyone (TONE included) is willing to predict. If it happens, watch this space as I proclaim my prowess in prognostication.

Now, some of you are thinking that I'm forgetting the GOP edge in cash (although Pederson is personally wealthy) and its vaunted get-out-the-vote operation. Well, I may be whistling past the graveyard, but I suspect that the Republican GOTV effort is going to prove a lot less effective than is commonly thought, if only because so many people have been so turned off that a phone call or offer of a ride to the polls is not going to bring them back to the party.

I also believe that there are so many seats in House and Senate up for grabs, and that negative ads have been so widely circulated and so broadly condemned that a late surge in Republican advertising will have little effect.

No doubt about it, what I predict is what I'd like to see. I may well be wrong; the smart money has to see Democratic control of the Senate as a long shot. So maybe I look like a genius on November 8th.

[ Caveat: I have not considered the effect that problems with voting might have in a number of close races, especially in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Call me a fool, but I'm going to assume that the Republicans will not try to steal enough races to make a difference.)

No Brainer

Surprising that this hasn't made front pages across America (and the world): Dick Cheney has admitted that the United States has subjected captured al-Qaeda operatives to water-boarding. To the Vice-President of the World's only superpower, "It's a no-brainer for me."

According to Vice, water-boarding, which induces the sensation that the subject is on the verge of drowning is not torture. Maybe we should try it on his wife and daughters and see if that changes his opinion.

(The link contains an illustration of water-boarding. The form shown is actually a rather "benign" form of this practice--I have read accounts of water-boarding that is much more brutal and carries a substantial risk of actually drowning the victim.)

For some perspective, back around 1960 I recall reading--it seems to have been in a Time-Life publication--of how Dostoevsky was arrested by the Czar's police, then taken from his cell, blindfolded, tied to a stake and made to listen to the preparations of the firing squad, following which he was made to wait for the fatal fusillade. After some time (maybe 20-30 minutes), he was untied and returned to his cell. The article left no doubt that such treatment constituted torture.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Surprising? Perhaps not

I suppose that we shouldn't be surprised that the party that brought you the Iraq war would also be the party of physical violence, but still...


*Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA) had a five-year affair with a woman thirty years younger than he, which ended when he reportedly tried to strangle her. Sherwood admits the affair (moral values, anyone?), but denies the strangling. Nonetheless, he apparently paid the woman more than $5 million to settle her charges. (Where did he get $5 million plus? If you know anything about the Congressman's finances, please post a comment to illumine the rest of us.)

*A 32-year old single mother made no fewer than 3 calls to Las Vegas police to report that a man who turned out to be Congressman Jim Gibbons (R-NV), who is also the Republican candidate for governor of the Silver State, tried to force himself on her in a parking garage. (A parking garage???) When the woman found out who her assailant was, she dropped the charges, "because of who he is. I just don't want to go up against that," she said.

*Wyoming's only House seat is held by Barbara Cubin (R). After a debate among the candidates had ended last night, she walked over the Libertarian candidate, Thomas Rankin, and told him, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face." Mr. Rankin, who has multiple sclerosis, uses an electric wheelchair. One of his aides confirmed Cubin's comment and her campaign did not deny it. (If you'd like to tell the Congresswoman what you think of threatening to beat up a man in a wheelchair, send an email to cubin4congress@wercs.com.)

And Republicans seem surprised at reports that "values voters" plan to sit this one out--or even vote for Democrats.

Loathsome, or Merely Desperate?

It's been widely reported that Republicans have just about given up hope of keeping senatorial seats in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Montana. Bob Menendez seems to have opened up a small lead over young Keane in New Jersey; if it holds the Democrats should not lose a single seat in the Senate this year--a remarkable achievement for any party in any election year. (Or, perhaps, a remarkable failure by the GOP.)

To keep control of the Senate, Republicans have been thrown back upon their Bavarian Redoubt: Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri. Lose two of those seats and Democrats control the Upper House (as long as Joe Lieberman keeps his promise to caucus with them).

The Republican National Committee has started running a new ad in Tennessee, targeting Harold Ford. It features a series of comments from fake men-in-the-street types, and from a woman one of my friends described as a trailer-park bimbo. Take a look at the ad here.

The ad is pretty standard low-humor negative advertising, distorting Ford's record on things like gun control. But, as Josh Marshall perceptively catches, the real point of the ad race, and it's raised by that bimbo. While the other actors talk about issues, she simpers, "I met Harold [Ford] at the Playboy Club." Now, in case you didn't know, Ford is African-American. If he's elected, he'll be the first black senator from the old Confederacy since reconstruction. This ad is directed at his race, and at ancient fears of black men having sex with white women. It's semi-subtle, but it's there.

A new low, even for this political season.

Pets and Theology

The photo above shows our felines, Natasha and Shay-Shay. You may notice that Mr. Shay seems a bit ill-at-ease. That's probably because, although he has the upper hand--or at least the upper position--in this picture, his sister bullies him. (Those who know cats will understand the silly anthropomorphism of saying that they are "our" felines; it would be more accurate to say that we are their humans.)

As I write this, Shay-Shay is in the Angell Memorial Hospital in Boston, battling a kidney infection. (He's supposed to come home today.) He has chronic kidney disease and has just been diagnosed with heart disease as well. His sister, who is about a year older, has diabetes and a thyroid condition. All of which has sparked a good deal of thinking about the mortality of our cats and their place in our lives. That, in turn, has reminded me of something I first realized some years ago.

We live in an age of revived religious enthusiasm that might be compared to the Great Awakening in colonial America during the mid-18th Century or, less favorably, to the religious struggles that consumed Europe 200 years earlier. Religion is on the march, for good or ill. But it seems to me that one great obstacle to conventional theology--at least in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic tradition--lies in pets. Yes, pets.

Ask a clergyperson and he or she is almost certain to tell you that animals--not being made in the image of the almighty--have no souls. Take that a step further and one must conclude that, if there is a heaven, pets can't enter, because they have no soul to be--in the Christian sense--saved. (Jews don't have a highly articulated or formalized view of an afterlife, although traditional Judaism envisions a time when the Messiah will come and the dead will rise from their graves, presumably freed from their burial shrouds and the effects of decay, but you can see the parallels.)

Would it be heaven without pets? For many people, no. For myself, I think I probably don't deserve to go to Heaven, but Shay-Shay and Natasha do. And if religion can't accommodate them, there has to be something wrong with religion. I suspect that many people, if they thought about it, would feel the same way.

Are you listening, secular humanists?

Monday, October 23, 2006

21st Century Bourbons

Talleyrand is said to have remarked that the Bourbons of France had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. George W is looking more and more like one of them.

Consider that, even as Sen. Lindsay Graham says that Iraq is descending into chaos, but "the Bush administration said Monday there are no plans for dramatic shifts in policy or for ultimatums to Baghdad to force progress." It's not as if Republicans are united in this; instead, just about every day another member of the GOP finds a way to declare that the present policy is a disaster.

Meanwhile, W has named Richard Strickler, a former coal industry official, to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Strickler's nomination was twice rejected by the Senate, so Bush made another of his recess appointments, which allow an appointee to serve, without approval from the Upper House, until the end of the next congressional session. Remember that this comes not only as Bush's popularity is lower than a hard-rock mine, but also following the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia focused attention on the degree to which mine safety has been sacrificed to the interests of the coal operators.

Like the man said, learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

Will that change when the GOP takes a pounding in two weeks, and W becomes a very lame duck? My prediction is that his isolation and arrogance will only increase.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Triple Play

Investigators from the California Attorney-General's office are looking at the Republican challenger to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) as the source of a letter to Hispanic immigrants threatening them with prosecution and possible deportation if they tried to vote. Apparently, the campaign of Republican Tan D. Nguyen wasn't very subtle: investigators found a mailing company in Huntington Beach whose owner admitted printing and sending the flyers. The owner, who said he does not understand Spanish, told the Orange County Register that he didn't know the flyer broke any laws. He is the one who seems to have pointed the finger at Nguyen's campaign.

You will not be surprised to learn that Republicans are lining up to express shock and outrage at the letter.

Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating the campaign of Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO), who is running for Governor of Colorado (and, according to the polls, trailing badly). It seems that Beauprez has been running an attack ad against his Democratic opponent, Bill Ritter, a former prosecutor, that contained information from a confidential federal data base.

And another Republican loser, Kerry Healey, Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts, has been pretty well tagged with being behind the anonymous letter that revealed--contrary to Massachusetts law--that the sister of Democrat Deval Patrick had been raped by her husband. The offense took place over a dozen years ago, when the couple lived in California. They have since reconciled and live in the Bay State. Joan Venocchi, of The Boston Globe, explains why it's clear that Healey's people were behind the smear. You should read the whole column, but if you have any doubt about what was going on, take a gander at the disclaimer that Healey's campaign released when Patrick accused them of responsibility: "We had absolutely nothing to do with the Herald's description of this information." Shades of Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Mitchell.

Just a Thought

This morning on NPR I heard a correspondent, or maybe it was a commentator (i.e., someone who stays home and bloviates) mention South Korea's "sunshine policy" toward the north--which is, clearly, in tatters.

Apparently, North Korea's Kim Jong Il--who never has a good hair day--drinks a bottle or three of fancy French cognac every day.

Maybe the South Koreans have been going about it the wrong way. Maybe they need a moonshine policy.

Most Fascinating Headline of the Day

(I'm learning not to over-sell these things. See here.)

According to The AP: "Happy, confident students do worse in math."B

As I recall I was neither particularly happy nor confident in high school, and I was still a lousy math student.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Secret Plan

If you're old enough to remember the Vietnam War, you'll probably remember that Richard Nixon was said to have a "secret plan" to end the conflict. I believe that Tricky Dick never actually said that he had such a plan, but that once the story started to make the rounds there was no way to stop it.

Now Conrad Burns, the soon-to-be retiring senator from Montana, asserts that Mr. Bush has such a plan for Iraq. Or maybe it's for Afghanistan. Or Iran. It's hard to tell--after all the plan is secret.

Pressed by Democratic Challenger Jon Tester, Senator Lamebrain said, "He [Tester] wants us to pull out. He wants everyone to know our plan. That’s not smart. He says our president don’t have a plan. I think he’s got one. He’s not going to tell everyone in the world.”

So there you have it. If not from the horse's mouth, then from some part of its anatomy.
(If you've noticed uneven posting over the past week or so, it's due in part to getting a new computer up and running. I'm happy to say that the worst appears to be over. Of course, I'm still typing with my fingers crossed, which slows things down a bit.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Just What You Were Waiting For

...with baited breath, I'm sure:

A list of AMERICA'S DUMBEST CONGRESSMEN (subhead: Radar ranks the 10 biggest fools on the hill)

No, I'm not going to give you the list. Click the link and see for yourself. I will give you this hint though: You'll nod when you see No. 1.

I would actually quarrel with a couple of the selections (whatever her linguistic gaffes, I think Barbara Boxer is a damn good senator, but I'm not in California, so what do I know?). But still...

Oh, and the graphics in the piece are mind-boggling.

It's Started Again

Efforts to suppress votes are starting already, three weeks before the election.

The AP reports that the California attorney-general is investigating a letter telling Hispanic voters in Southern California that it is illegal for immigrants to vote and that they could be jailed or deported if they try.

Who is behind this? No one seems to know, or at least won't say. But John Kerry received approximately two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2004, and past Republican efforts to suppress the vote of ethnic minorities have been well-documented.

Why so confident?

Over at TPMcafe, Josh Marshall has been hosting a string discussing why W and Karl Rove are so confident that Republicans will hold their edge in Congress (Rove said the party will lose only 6-8 seats). Some of the participants are saying that the President and his Rasputin are over-confident or too insulated from reality. One respondent, however, had this chilling post:

On October 17, 2006 - 11:55am Catbeller said:
I'm a programmer. The fix is in, and this is why.
1. Exit polls did not fit election results in 2004. This is flat out impossible to believe; those same exit poll operations were in danger of being shut down in the 90's because they were *too* accurate, and the western states were complaining that the preditions were so spot on that voters might be staying home instead of voting in an already decided race. Statistics don't stop working, suddenly, in contested areas only. One side doesn't just start lying to the pollsters. It can't happen.
2. Election results didn't match pre-election telephone polls in 2004. Again, impossible.
3. Documented case of media being shut out of an electronic recount in Ohio because of a "threat received from Homeland Security" that was never issued. Results in that recount swung wildly for the Republicans and Bush.
4. I'm a programmer, and I state categorically that there is no way to secure a computer system against intentional manipulation. And it seems that these machines are set up for manipulation; they weren't even trying to hide.
5. At least two attacks, one sanctioned and one independent with a machine somehow obtained from the field, showed that the machines can be manipulated so many ways, without detection, that my fingers would fall off trying to list them.
6. A very small number of people are needed to change the results. No actual human intervention at the machine or the agregator is needed. They can phone the changes in.
7. Exit polls have been discontinued because they are "inaccurate". Garbage. They are no longer being done because the exit polls will not match the coming election results. This isn't a prediction, this is a flat out statement of fact.
8. I'm guessing that someone in the Republican party is well aware of the fix, even if Bush and others are intentionally left out of the loop, and this explains why Rove is so very, very confident.
9. The Republicans will hold on to both houses, impossibly, by slim margins in the most constested areas. Recounts will be useless, as they simply feed the same doctored tabulations through the aggregators again.
10. The only evidence of the coming theft will be the results of the phone polls conducted prior to the election. Another prediction: the news outlets will discover that telephone polls don't work anymore, either.

Another Sad Day

The President will sign the Torture Approval and Repeal of Due Process Act of 2006 (it's official name is the Military Commissions Act or something like that, but we believe in truth in advertising). You may recall--it was just a bit more than two weeks ago--that Congress rushed to pass this atrocity before adjourning for the elections. From all the hoopla, you might have thought that there was immediate need for it. So, why has Mr. Bush waited to sign it? In a word, PageGate. The White House wanted to avoid embarrassing questions. That's right, national security--at least the administration's version of it--came second to politics. Shocked?

Seven Up?

Paul Krugman shows why he has quickly risen to the top rank of political commentators. After noting that party affiliation is much the most important factor in assessing any congressional candidate this year, he asks, "O.K., what about the Senate race in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont is the Democratic nominee, and Mr. Lieberman, who lost the Democratic primary, is running as an independent but promising to caucus with the Democrats if he wins? Is this a case where the man, not the party, is what matters?"

The answer sent a chill down my spine. "Only if you believe that Mr. Lieberman’s promise not to switch parties is 100 percent credible."

Do you? The conventional wisdom has been that Democrats need to gain six seats to have a majority in the Senate. Krugman rightly calls that into question. Do you really believe that Lieberman (who said " I haven’t thought about that enough to give an answer,” when asked if the country would be better off with a Democratic majority in the House) will stay with the Democrats if switching parties could give Republicans an effective majority--i.e., if there were 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and Joe, so that his switch would give Republicans the power (with Dick Cheney) to organize the chamber?

If the Democrats (and Joe) gain 7 seats, Lieberman will stay with the party, because there would be no profit in switching. If he could swing the Senate, he'll face very powerful blandishments (if not outright bribes), and I, for one, am by no means certain he'll resist them successfully.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Scorecard! Scorecard!

You can't tell the crooks without a scorecard!

Here's the latest lineup:

*Newly discovered emails strongly suggest that Ken Mehlman, liar-in-chief, excuse me, chairman of the Republican National Committee, did Jack Abramoff's bidding to get a State Department employee fired soon after Bush came to the White House. According to the LA Times, Abramoff wanted to get rid of Allan Stayman, whose work was interfering with the super-lobbyist's efforts on behalf of the interests controlling the Northern Marianas Islands, a semi-independent island group in the Pacific. According to one of Abramoff's henchmen, "Mehlman said he would get him fired." At the time, Mehlman was the White House Political Director.

*Former Food and Drug Administrator Lester Crawford (you could be pardoned for missing his tenure--he resigned after two months) has been charged with making false statements about his investments, and will plead guilty tomorrow. He joins a growing list of Bush appointees and Republican politicos in the dock.

*Homes of Rep. Curt Weldon's (R-PA) daughter and a friend were searched by the FBI today. The agents are investigating whether Weldon improperly aided them in obtaining government contracts. Weldon, who had denied that he was under investigation, promptly charged that the whole thing was politically-motivated. As he is a Republican, it is not clear who he thinks is out to get him, although a liberal clique in the FBI is, apparently, not beyond the realm of his imaginings. Weldon is in a tight race against Democrat Joe Sestak, a retired Navy Admiral.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Kerry in New Hampshire

I heard most of John Kerry's speech at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in New Hampshire. It was a very, very good speech. If you get a chance to see it re-played on C-span, take the time to watch. Kerry is saying the things that all Democrats should be saying--both in his attacks on the Republicans and in espousing ideas that Democrats should speak up for.

Don't Do Me Any Favors

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Why are these men smiling? Actually, only one of them is smiling. Denny Hastert, for the moment still Speaker of the House, is grimacing, and no wonder. According to a story from The AP, the President went to Chicago "offering a powerful boost in his moment of need" to Hastert. The New York Times said, "President Bush came to the home turf of the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert, on Thursday to give him a resounding pledge of support."

Sheesh! Denny must be in even more trouble than I thought, if he needs a boost from a president whose popularity rises above 40 percent only on his good days.

Bush's appearance was at a fundraiser for a couple of Republican candidates for Congress; one of them, Peter Roskam, recently accused his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, of wanting to "cut and run" in Iraq, a particularly infelicitous word choice as she lost both legs while serving as an Army pilot when her helicopter was shot down outside Baghdad. Perhaps I'm being to nice to Roskam; coming as he does from the party that criticized Max Clelland's patriotism (he's the now-former Senator from Georgia who lost three limbs in Vietnam), shameless would probably be a better word for his performance.

Bush's appearance at the fundraiser was ironic, for it brought together two of the leading figures in PageGate, a subject that Bush clearly wants to avoid. Joining Hastert and the President was Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), who's on the hotseat as the chair of the House Page Board--he's one of the Republican leaders who knew about Mark Foley's fondness for teenage boys and did nothing--or at least nothing effective--to stop it. And the appearance came on the same day that former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham was telling the House Ethics Committee that he did, indeed, warn Hastert's office about Foley many months earlier than the Speaker has admitted.

Here's a copy of the invitation to that fundraiser:

If all this has made you a little queasy, and you'd like to contribute to Tammy Duckworth's campaign, you can do so here. If' you'd like to contribute more generally, go to the Democratic congressional Campaign Committee or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The Republicans may have run out of credibility, but not out of cash.

Most Fascinating Sub-Headline of the Week

(Of course, that judgment will depend on what fascinates you.)

From the Front Page of today's New York Times (print edition):

China Drafts Law to Empower Unions and End Labor Abuse

with this sub-head:

Opposition Voiced by U.S. and Other Corporations (emphasis supplied)

I knew that we're heading toward the corporate state, but I didn't realize that we had got there quite yet.

Seriously, wouldn't you think that American companies would be happy to have China take steps that will make the United States more competitive, if only by raising the cost of Chinese goods? It is a sign of globalization--or perhaps mere shortshightedness--that US companies think first of the cost of getting all the things we import even as our manufacturing sector diminishes.

Another interesting comment in the article was this, "The proposed law is being debated after Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s biggest retailer, was forced to accept unions in its Chinese outlets."
Unions for Wal-Mart in China, but not in the US. What does that tell you. (Yes, I realize that Chinese unions--government-controlled--are hardly the AFL-CIO, but still.)

America's 100 Funniest Election Bloopers

Well, no, that's false advertising; we only have one blooper to bring you, but it's a doozie.

Ottawa County, Michigan, spent $40,000 to reprint ballots after it was discovered that the "l" in "public" had been omitted in a referendum question. According to the county clerk, about half-a-dozen people proofread the ballot without catching the error.

Don't you hate when that happens?

(Less funny is that the proposal in question would ban affirmative action.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Class Tells

Christopher Shays, one of the leading "moderate" Republicans, has been hit hard by the Foley scandal (PageGate). And he's in a tough race for reelection. Apparently, the pressure is getting to him. Attempting to defend Speaker Dennis Hastert after attacks by Ted Kennedy who was campaigning for Shays' opponent, Diane Farrell, the Congressman came up with this one, according to The Hartford Courant.

"I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day."

Classy guy.

And remember, he's one of the BETTER Republicans. Imagine what the real yahoos would say.

Bush Knows Better

George W picked a great day for a press conference, with the PageGate scandal still reverberating (more of that in a moment), the North Korean nuclear weapons test (yes, I know, some people say it wasn't a nuclear blast, or was a dud, but that's not the story the voters have been hearing) and a new report that civilian casualties in Iraq could exceed 600,000.

When asked about the casualty figures, the President dismissed them. Now, the report came from The Wall Street Journal, the study it was reporting is to appear in The Lancet, the world-renowned British Medical journal, and it was carried out by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The statistics in the report might turn out to be wrong, but they come from highly reputable sources--the kind that serious people should give serious consideration to. But not our President because, as we are by now well aware, if it doesn't fit the pre-conceived story, it can't be true.

(As for what "truth" means to Bush, that's for a posting that I have been meaning to write for some time. Soon, I promise.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Back to the Past

Gen. David Roberts, the British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan has predicted that 70 percent of Afghans will switch allegiance to the Taliban, if the government and its supporting western forces cannot improve the security situation markedly in the next six months.

And how are we to do this with United States forces--not to mention energy and money--absorbed by Iraq?

The tale of bungling that allowed the Taliban and Osama bin-Laden to escape the noose that American and Afghan forces had fashioned for them in late 2001 has been too-often told. Unfortunately, the scope of the disaster is only now becoming apparent.

Let's be clear that final victory in Afghanistan was never a mere matter of more troops or keeping large forces there for a longer period of time. Afghans, a proud people, have always resented and opposed foreign forces, and they have always prevailed. Thus, any military commitment to the country had to be limited in time. This is not a truth that the Bush administration ever gave a sign of acknowledging; the reduction of American forces was a coincidental result of the ramping up for Iraq. What has been even more important than the draining of forces before the battle was truly won has been the diversion of American attention (and non-military resources) that, with care, could have given a moderate government a real chance of success.

The situation is not beyond hope, yet. But there is no indication that the administration has the will, initiative or creativity to take the steps necessary to seize victory from the encroaching jaws of defeat.


Lt. Cdr. Charles Swift is a true American hero. He's the Navy JAG who represented Salim Hamdan, in the case that led the Supreme Court to declare the administration's plan for military tribunals unconstitutional. So, what has his courage and ability got him? Forced retirement from the Navy, that's what.

Swift has been passed over for promotion to Commander, and under the Navy's up-or-out system, that means he must retire next spring.

Does Swift's representation of Osama bin-Laden's driver (for that's what Hamdan is accused of having been) have anything to do with ending his Navy career after 20 years? Perhaps not. And the Moon might be made of green cheese.

I suppose we should not be surprised at this development, and I suspect that Swift is not. Still, I had harbored--perhaps naively--hope that the Navy would accept that the Lieutenant Commander was only doing his duty (and acting in the best tradition of the bar) in zealously representing the client to whom he had been assigned. Instead, we have yet another example of how corrupt our system of government has become.

A Lincoln Fan?

Sen. George "Macaca Man" Allen (R-VA), known as the only current member of the Senate to have had a Confederate flag in his office (his law office), emerges as, apparently, a student of our sixteenth President--at least so far as Lincoln's famous quotation about being able to fool all of the people some of the time.

The AP reports that for five years, Allen has failed to disclose stock options granted to him while a director of several high-tech companies, at least one of which has done business with the government. According to AP, Allen also neglected to inform the SEC of insider stock transactions, as required by law.

It's not as if Allen forgot about the options--he did disclose them once, in a late amendment to his 2000 ethics report.

Allen's excuse is that the options were not worth anything, but Senate rules require disclosure without respect to the value of the holding. Given Allen's past behavior, we may expect that inconvenient fact to be conveniently ignored as the Senator tries to play down this latest disclosure, coming as it does just a month before election day.

One of the option-granting companies was Commonwealth Biotechnologies, which normally requires departing directors to exercise options within 90 days. For Allen, however, the company extended the exercise period to 2009, because he was leaving the board to enter government service. Was this a gesture of appreciation for an individual's willingness to serve the public? Judge for yourself. The company's chairman said at the time, "We, of course, wish him much success in Washington and look forward to his pro-business agenda reaping benefits for CBI, the commonwealth and the nation." Even in this day and age, such a frank admission of quid expected for quo is rare.

According to the story, Allen has done his dutiful best to help the companies he got the options from in their attempts to obtain government business.

There's much more in The AP's story. Read the whole thing.

Will this have an effect on Allen's campaign against Jim Webb, whom most polls have running a few points behind even after the "macaca" controversy? Although the issues are a bit complex, the average voter should have no trouble discerning that Allen has concealed transactions intended to benefit him, and has helped favored companies to feed at the public trough. Will that fuel outrage in these jaded days? Time--just over four weeks, to be precise--will tell.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Inside the Beltway

Heard from Roxanne Roberts on NPR today:

How do you separate the men from the boys?
The mid-term election.

Denny, We Hardly Knew You

Uh, oh.

Seems like one of Denny Hastert's aides has been telling tales out of school. According to The Washington Post, Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, confronted Foley about his conduct toward pages long before the Speaker has admitted.

If this attempt at intervention had gone anywhere, you can bet that Republicans would have trumpeted it. So, what it comes down to is that when the chairman of the House Page Board, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), confronted Foley in November 2005, the Republican leadership had known about the Florida congressman for a long time--perhaps as long as two years. And yet, Foley was permitted to remain in Congress, and permitted to stay as co-chair of the Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. Obviously, the Republican leadership was more intent on covering up for Foley than in defending the values that the party claims to represent, not to mention the capitol pages themselves.

This new account also undercuts Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, who denied that a meeting such as that described by former Foley Chief of Staff and staff member for Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY) (chief of the Republican congressional campaign committee), Kirk Fordham. When he resigned earlier in the week, Fordham claimed to have told Hastert's staff about Foley three years ago.

So, there it is: the cover-up continues, and continues to unravel. Analysts have been saying that the Foley scandal will soon fade from the public consciousness, to be replaced by.... But if the Republicans continue to bungle, we may be hearing about this sordid affair right up to November 7th.

Can Palmer or even Denny hang on until after the elections? I wouldn't put down a dime on either of them.

Friday, October 06, 2006

He's at it Again

The President, in another one of those signing statements he uses to subvert the Constitution, claims the right to override a congressional enactment limiting the power to edit Homeland Security's required annual report on how the departments activities have affected privacy. In other words, W has again declared his intention to defy the law and burrow into the private lives of citizens.

What will it take to stop this guy?

Impeachment is one answer.

In a bit of comic relief, the signing statement also expressed Bush's intent to ignore a requirement that nominees for FEMA director have five years' experience and "demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security." According to the signing statement, that provision "rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office." Like Brownie.

Can they keep a straight face while they put out this bilge?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cost of Scandal

Is Foleygate affecting the campaign? You bet it is.

Fox News reports that "House Republican candidates will suffer massive losses if House Speaker Dennis Hastert remains speaker until Election Day, according to internal polling data from a prominent GOP pollster."

Tom Reynolds (R-NY), chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, is now behind his Democratic challenger, Jack Davis, according to a Survey USA poll. As recently as September 29th, Reynolds was ahead. A few interesting things here: The district has 18 percent more Republicans than Democrats. The undecideds in the new poll are no larger than the difference between the candidates. Finally, the Green Party candidate, who had 8 percent in the September poll, was thrown off the ballot in the interim.

Two-thirds of Americans who are aware of the scandal (i.e., everyone who is not a hermit) believe that Republicans tried to cover it up.

As if that weren't bad enough, a new Battleground USA report from George Washington University--research for which was conducted from September 24-27th (Foley resigned on the 29th)--shows that 49 percent of respondents would vote for the Democrat if the election were today (or, rather, the day they were polled), versus 41 percent for the Republican candidate, with only 10 percent undecided. Those polled felt that things in the nation are going in the wrong direction by a margin of 62 to 31 percent. Only 24 percent of respondents were optimistic or satisfied about the nation's direction. Forty-six percent of respondents said that Democrats in Congress would be better at solving the nation's problems, as against 38 percent who said Republicans--what's significant here is that the margin has hardly changed since February, reflecting deep and lasting doubt about the GOP. And remember, that was before the latest scandal.

Why the Foley Scandal Matters

I don't think it requires deep thought to figure this one out, but it's worth mentioning, because it's easy to conclude that this is just another example of the public's fascination with sex, especially gay sex. And, although the Republicans are doing a terrible job of framing the story that way, they'd love to have the media and the thinking public (i.e., the portion that's not fascinated with sex, especially gay sex) believe that sex is what it's all about. Fortunately, the public seems, at least so far, to be beyond that.

Still, let's take a moment to remember that what's significant here is that the House Republican leadership knew about Foley's antics for a considerable time--as long as three years, according to Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff and until a couple of days ago, a top aide to the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, Thomas Reynolds (R. NY). Yet the leadership did nothing except--maybe-- tell Foley (ineffectively) to back off. One thing that GOP leaders did not do was to make the story public (which would have burned one of the leaders of their "pro-family" agenda) or tell Democrats on the Page Board or the Ethics Committee. In other words, they covered up.

So, the American people are entitled to ask the Republican leaders: What other things do you know about that I would want to know (and ought to know), and why are you covering them up? Voters should also ask how they can be expected to trust Republican leaders who have failed so miserably in handling one of their own members.

Obvious? Yes. But also easy to forget in the welter of hyperventilation that is only beginning.

I Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

So I'm not even going to try.

From Josh Marshall at talkingpointsmemo.com:

One of the many funny things about Denny Hastert's silly lies about Democrats being responsible for his scandal is this: is this really their position? If the Democrats would have just focused on the real issues instead of blowing the whistle on our caucus pedophilia, we could have gone back to the real business of passing laws and molesting teenagers! Let's focus on the people's business! Oh, and also our funny business. If it weren't for George Soros I could be cranking out a few good IMs right now!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Question

About the House Republican leadership:

Denny ("Who, me?") Hastert
John ("Throw Denny from the train") Boehner
Tom ("I washed my hands") Reynolds


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Another Quagmire

Americablog reports, with apparent authority, that the chief of staff for Cong. Thomas Reynolds (R. NY) tried to broker a deal with ABC whereby the network would cover-up the most lurid part of the Foleygate scandal--the transcript of a lengthy instant-message chat between the now-former congressman and what the blog describes as "a child."

(Legalistic note: as the age of consent in virtually all parts of the country is 16, there is a good deal of doubt whether any of the pages and former pages involved in the scandal are "children." But I digress.)

The COS in question, Kirk Fordham, was a Foley staffer at one time.

Oh, and his present boss, Reynolds? He's the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, the agency that passes out the cash to elect Republicans to the House. Yes, another Republican leader's role in the scandal is coming to light.

Reynolds was already in a tough fight for reelection. This isn't going to make it any easier.


Last night I commented on the incredible tale that Condi told: that she just couldn't recall a briefing in which then-CIA director George Tenet told her that an al-Qaida attack could come at any time. Well, the story just gets more delicious.

Today, a State Department spokesman admitted that, yes, Condi did meet with Tenet on July 10, 2005, and that yes, he did tell her that an attack was imminent, but that the meeting did not present any new information. According to Sean McCormack, of State, "the information presented in this meeting was not new, rather it was a good summary from the threat reporting from previous weeks."

However, according to The New York Times, "Officials now agree that on July 10, 2001, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism deputy, J. Cofer Black, were so alarmed about intelligence pointing to an impending attack by Al Qaida that they demanded an emergency meeting at the White House with Ms. Rice and her National Security Council staff."

So, which is it? Was the briefing a serving of warmed-over mush, or was the CIA genuinely concerned that intelligence pointed to a possible imminent attack in the US? Or could there be elements of truth in both sides of the story: Could it be that the July 10th report was not the first time that the CIA had warned of an al-Qaida threat inside the US? Could it be that Condi, W and the rest of the gang had known the danger even earlier, and decided to ignore the evidence?

At the least, we now know that the administration was warned of possible al-Qaida intentions at least TWO MONTHS before 9/11.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not point you to Richard Clarke's superb piece in Sunday's Times. While I urge you to read the whole article, the heart of it is this: "All the finger-pointing and hunting for scapegoats last week won't rectify those failures, or help us avoid future ones. Fortunately, unlike too many of our political leaders and pundits, most Americans are far more concerned about what we are doing now in the name of fighting terrorism than about petty partisan bickering about the past."

Still, the Bush administration's unwillingness to admit the past (in marked contrast to Bill Clinton's confession of failure in his slugfest with Chris Wallace), indeed it's continued attempt to re-write history (not to mention the ham-fisted way it does so), bode ill for a policy that will really safeguard our national security.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Condi says she doesn't remember the warning that Bob Woodward says she got from George Tenet in July 2001, telling her and the administration that an al-Qaeda attack on the US was impending. The "non-denial denial" of Watergate raises its ugly head again. (For more of it, see the scandal over now-former Rep. Mark Foley.)

Having trouble believing the Secretary of State? I mean, even she admits that the briefing Woodward describes would have got her attention. (Ya think?)

Now the McClatchy Newspapers report that the 9/11 Commission was given the same "scary" (boy, is that an understatement) briefing, but chose not to include it in its report.

A couple of points: 1) In light of this latest revelation, it's even harder to believe Secretary Rice--or the administration she fronts for--than it was before. 2) We need to know why the bi-partisan Commission did not include word of this briefing in its report. Certainly news of such a briefing a month before the daily intelligence report that told W, "Al-Qaeda determined to attack US" would have been important to the American public before the 2004 election--or even after.

What makes the Commission's omission especially strange is that the Commission member briefed by Tenet (along with the Commission's general counsel) was Richard Ben-Veniste, straight arrow Democrat and Watergate prosecutor.

What gives?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Worse than Immoral

"C'est plus q'immorale, c'est une faute." ("It's worse than immoral, it's a mistake.")

So said Joseph Fouche after Napoleon had the royalist Duc D'Enghien shot. Some Republicans might be saying the same about the revelation that House Republican leaders were award of now-former Rep. Mark Foley's interest in teenage House pages in late 2005, but kept the matter hidden and allowed Foley to remain as chair of the Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. (Scripps-Howard reports that Foley's proclivities were an open secret for years.)

Once again, the cover-up looks worse than the crime, if there is a crime. (A lot of people, including the White House, are calling for a criminal investigation.)

According to The New York Times, in late 2005, the clerk of the House and the chair of the committee that oversees pages spoke with Foley about the first batch of emails that have come to light--messages that the by-then former page and his family thought over-friendly. They did nothing more, however, and obviously Foley did not get the message.

What makes it worse for the Republicans is that House leaders have begun to fall out. Speaker Dennis Hastert denied that he had heard about the early batch of emails, but chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, Thomas Reynolds (R. NY) says that he discussed them with Hastert in 2005. Reynolds himself is under attack for not having done enough to protect the pages.

The resignation of the formerly-popular Foley came on Friday, when it might have been buried over the weekend as the nation concentrates on football and gets ready for the Major League Baseball playoffs. But the story has spread like wildfire. Today, all the Sunday programs gave it air time. (Of course, as The Times noted. having the words, "sexually explicit" (as in the emails and instant messages that sealed Foley's fate), "male" and "page" in the ledes of the stories about Foley's resignation helped give the story legs.)

This may be the wishful thinking of an old cynic, but I wonder if the huge play this story is getting is a sign that we have reached a tipping point, that the American public may finally recognize the national Republican Party for the cesspool that it has become. Or perhaps it is Congress or government itself that is viewed as a cesspool. The outcome of the coming elections could be powerfully affected by which view predominates.