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Monday, April 30, 2007

It's the devil. He made me do it!

Somehow, this reminds me of the words of comedian Flip Wilson. "It's the devil. He made me do it."

Utah County Republicans ended their convention on Saturday by debating Satan's influence on illegal immigrants.

... Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants "hate American people" and "are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won't do."

Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said.

At the end of his speech, Larsen began to cry, saying illegal immigrants were trying to bring about the destruction of the U.S. "by self invasion."

Republican officials then allowed speakers to defend and refute the resolution. One speaker, who was identified as "Joe," said illegal immigrants were Marxist and under the influence of the devil. Another, who declined to give her name to the Daily Herald, said illegal immigrants should not be allowed because "they are not going to become Republicans and stop flying the flag upside down. ... If they want to be Americans, they should learn to speak English and fly their flag like we do."

By the way, does this story tell us something about Utah? Or, is it just telling us something about Republicans?

"Trial by jury" is disappearing in the U.S.

The New York Times has an interesting article today on the disappearance of trial by jury in the U.S.

Trials are on the verge of extinction. They have been replaced by settlements and plea deals, by mediations and arbitrations and by decisions from judges based only on lawyers’ written submissions.

Federal courts conducted about 3,600 trials in civil cases last year, down from 5,800 in 1962. That is not an enormous drop — until you consider that the number of cases has quintupled in the meantime.

In percentage terms, only 1.3 percent of federal civil cases ended in trials last year, down from 11.5 percent in 1962.

The trends in criminal cases and in the state courts are broadly similar, though not always quite as striking. But it is beyond dispute that even as the number of lawyers has grown twice as fast as the population and even as the number of lawsuits has exploded, actual trials have become quite rare.

Instead of hearing testimony, ruling on objections and instructing jurors on the law, judges spend most of their time supervising the exchange of information, deciding pretrial motions and dealing with settlements and plea bargains.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with settlements, at least when they are the product of reasoned and sensible compromise between evenly matched adversaries. But trials are not disappearing simply because more cases are being settled. Instead, they are increasingly being replaced by summary judgments, in which judges evaluate evidence submitted to them on paper.

“During the last years of the 20th century, summary judgment in the federal courts moved from a small fraction of dispositions by trial to a magnitude several times greater than the number of trials,” Marc Galanter, who teaches law at the University of Wisconsin and the London School of Economics and Political Science, wrote last year in The Journal of Dispute Resolution.

Professor Galanter elaborated in an interview. “Summary judgments are being asked for in about 17 percent of cases and granted in about 9 percent,” he said, citing recent data from the Federal Judicial Center. That is a big jump from 1960, when no more than 1.8 percent of federal civil cases ended in summary judgment, according to data from the administrative office of the federal courts analyzed in a 1961 law review article.

“We’ve moved in a way to a more European way of decision-making, by looking at the court file rather than through encounters with living witnesses whose testimony is tested by cross-examination,” Professor Galanter said.

In criminal cases, the vast majority of prosecutions end in plea bargains. In an article called “Vanishing Trials, Vanishing Juries, Vanishing Constitution” in the Suffolk University Law Review last year, a federal judge questioned the fairness of the choices confronting many criminal defendants.

Those who have the temerity to “request the jury trial guaranteed them under the U.S. Constitution,” wrote the judge, William G. Young of the Federal District Court in Boston, face “savage sentences” that can be five times as long as those meted out to defendants who plead guilty and cooperate with the government.

The movement away from jury trials is not just a societal reallocation of resources or a policy choice. Rather, as Judge Young put it, it represents a disavowal of “the most stunning and successful experiment in direct popular sovereignty in all history.”

I have participated in more than thirty trials (mostly civil) as an expert witness, some bench trials before a judge and some before a jury. Based on that experience, I have found that judges are wrong (in my vastly superior view of truth) just as frequently as juries. However, the judges often can be bought (or the near equivalent of that if there are political issues at hand or if they happen to play golf with and be members of the same club with one of the parties to a case), whereas it's very dangerous to try to buy a juror. So, unless I happen to know the judge personally and hob nob with him/her at the club, I think I'd throw my lot to the jury.

It's a crap shoot either way. That's why settlements have become so common.

Let no profit opportunity remain untapped

For a party that claims interest in preserving "states' rights," the Republican and Bush have done more force federal control on us than the Democrats ever did. I hadn't even heard about this until reading it in Robert Morgenthau's op-ed in today's NY Times, but the Bush-packed Supreme Court has ruled that states have no right to regulate their state-chartered banks if the state-chartered bank is a subsidiary of a national bank.

IN a ruling this month, the United States Supreme Court upheld an ill-advised regulation issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that exempted subsidiaries of national banks from regulation by state banking authorities. This regulation makes the comptroller the exclusive regulator of these banks, even though the office is financed almost entirely by the banks it oversees.

In the case, Watters v. Wachovia Bank, the court held that the National Bank Act barred Michigan’s bank regulator from overseeing the activities of the mortgage-lending subsidiary of Wachovia, a national bank, even though the subsidiary itself was a state-chartered institution. The court thus rejected the arguments of the attorneys general and bank regulators in all 50 states.

With the collapse of the subprime mortgage business front-page news, one might have hoped for more effective bank regulation. Instead, the hands of state banking regulators have been tied when it comes to predatory mortgage lending by national banks.

This ruling, which will no doubt have implications for state regulation of car loans and other areas of consumer finance, dealt a heavy blow to the system of dual federal and state authority over national banks that has served this country well for nearly 150 years. Banks now have an added incentive to opt out of state systems and put themselves under the protection of the comptroller.

I guess state regulations outlawing prepayment penalties on mortgages, for example, will now be unenforceable. Leave it to Bush and his cronies. Let no profit opportunity, no matter how shady, remain untapped.


We knew the "surge" would do one thing for certain -- put more U.S. troops at risk. Sure enough:

BAGHDAD - Five U.S. military personnel were killed over the weekend in Iraq, including three by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, the military said Monday, pushing the American death toll past 100 in the deadliest month so far this year.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

General Odom: Commander in Chief AWOL

I didn't hear the Democrats' Saturday morning radio response to the Shrub's radio address (I never listen to either), but yesterday's response was unusual in that it didn't come from a Democrat, but from retired Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army.

"Good morning, this is Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army, retired.

"I am not now nor have I ever been a Democrat or a Republican. Thus, I do not speak for the Democratic Party. I speak for myself, as a non-partisan retired military officer who is a former Director of the National Security Agency. I do so because Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, asked me.

"In principle, I do not favor Congressional involvement in the execution of U.S. foreign and military policy. I have seen its perverse effects in many cases. The conflict in Iraq is different. Over the past couple of years, the President has let it proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued.

"Thus, he lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money, and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies. The Congress is the only mechanism we have to fill this vacuum in command judgment.

"To put this in a simple army metaphor, the Commander-in-Chief seems to have gone AWOL, that is 'absent without leave.' He neither acts nor talks as though he is in charge. Rather, he engages in tit-for-tat games.

"Some in Congress on both sides of the aisle have responded with their own tits-for-tats. These kinds of games, however, are no longer helpful, much less amusing. They merely reflect the absence of effective leadership in a crisis. And we are in a crisis.

"Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the President's management of the conflict in Iraq. And they are right.

"The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place. The war could never have served American interests.

"But it has served Iran's interest by revenging Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in the 1980s and enhancing Iran's influence within Iraq. It has also served al Qaeda's interests, providing a much better training ground than did Afghanistan, allowing it to build its ranks far above the levels and competence that otherwise would have been possible.

"We cannot 'win' a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own. Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense. We can now see that it never did.

"A wise commander in this situation normally revises his objectives and changes his strategy, not just marginally, but radically. Nothing less today will limit the death and destruction that the invasion of Iraq has unleashed.

"No effective new strategy can be devised for the United States until it begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq. Only that step will break the paralysis that now confronts us. Withdrawal is the pre-condition for winning support from countries in Europe that have stood aside and other major powers including India, China, Japan, Russia.

"It will also shock and change attitudes in Iran, Syria, and other countries on Iraq's borders, making them far more likely to take seriously new U.S. approaches, not just to Iraq, but to restoring regional stability and heading off the spreading chaos that our war has caused.

"The bill that Congress approved this week, with bipartisan support, setting schedules for withdrawal, provides the President an opportunity to begin this kind of strategic shift, one that defines regional stability as the measure of victory, not some impossible outcome.

"I hope the President seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill the Congress has sent him. I will respect him greatly for such a rare act of courage, and so too, I suspect, will most Americans.

"This is retired General Odom. Thank you for listening."

Beating plowshares into swords - a Cheney specialty

Nicholas Kristof [behind subscription wall] comes up with the actual proposal from Iran that the US snubbed:

In May 2003, Iran sent a secret proposal to the U.S. for settling our mutual disputes in a “grand bargain.”

It is an astonishing document, for it tries to address a range of U.S. concerns about nuclear weapons, terrorism and Iraq. I’ve placed it and related documents (including multiple drafts of it) on my blog,

Hard-liners in the Bush administration killed discussions of a deal, and interviews with key players suggest that was an appalling mistake. There was a real hope for peace; now there is a real danger of war.

Scattered reports of the Iranian proposal have emerged previously, but if you read the full documentary record you’ll see that what the hard-liners killed wasn’t just one faxed Iranian proposal but an entire peace process. The record indicates that officials from the repressive, duplicitous government of Iran pursued peace more energetically and diplomatically than senior Bush administration officials — which makes me ache for my country.

... Iran ... sent its own master text of the proposal to the State Department and, through an intermediary, to the White House. I’ve also posted that document, which Iran regards as the definitive one.

In the master document, Iran talks about ensuring “full transparency” and other measures to assure the U.S. that it will not develop nuclear weapons. Iran offers “active Iranian support for Iraqi stabilization.” Iran also contemplates an end to “any material support to Palestinian opposition groups” while pressuring Hamas “to stop violent actions against civilians within” Israel (though not the occupied territories). Iran would support the transition of Hezbollah to be a “mere political organization within Lebanon” and endorse the Saudi initiative calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iran also demanded a lot, including “mutual respect,” abolition of sanctions, access to peaceful nuclear technology and a U.S. statement that Iran did not belong in the “axis of evil.” Many crucial issues, including verification of Iran’s nuclear program, needed to be hammered out. It’s not clear to me that a grand bargain was reachable, but it was definitely worth pursuing — and still is today.

Instead, Bush administration hard-liners aborted the process. Another round of talks had been scheduled for Geneva, and Ambassador Zarif showed up — but not the U.S. side. That undermined Iranian moderates.

A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could have saved lives in Iraq, isolated Palestinian terrorists and encouraged civil society groups in Iran. But instead the U.S. hard-liners chose to hammer plowshares into swords.

Sex scandal

Well, now that we have a sex scandal engulfing the White House and the government, do you suppose the press will roll out of their hammocks and take an interest? No, I guess not. If it's not a Democrat, it can't be a sex scandal. The Times does cover it (sort of), but it's deep in the back pages.

Frank Rich gets shrill

From Frank Rich's column in today's NY Times [behind subscription wall]:

It’s the practice on these occasions [the White House correspondent's dinner] that the president do his own comic shtick, but this year Mr. Bush made a grand show of abstaining, saying that the killings at Virginia Tech precluded his being a “funny guy.” Any civilian watching on TV could formulate the question left hanging by this pronouncement: Why did the killings in Iraq not preclude his being a “funny guy” at other press banquets we’ve watched on C-Span? At the equivalent Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association gala three years ago, the president contributed an elaborate (and tasteless) comic sketch about his failed search for Saddam’s W.M.D.

But the revelers in the ballroom last Saturday could not raise that discrepancy and challenge Mr. Bush’s hypocrisy; they could only clap. And so they served as captive dress extras in a propaganda stunt, lending their credibility to the president’s sanctimonious exploitation of the Virginia Tech tragedy for his own political self-aggrandizement on national television. Meanwhile the war was kept as tightly under wraps as the troops’ coffins.

Successful projects don't work

There's really no surprise here. The Americans say they've successfully completed a rebuilding project in Iraq only to be told shortly thereafter that it's not a success.

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

Hell, Bush has been saying the war is a success to. Nobody believes that either.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Broder the Village Fool

If you continue to harbor some respect for David Broder as the “dean” of Washington journalists – there goes one of those oxymorons again – you will be severely challenged by this review of Broder’s work by Jamison Foser at Media Matters. Maybe his petulant and frivolous attack on Harry Reid as an embarrassment to the Democratic Party as much as Alberto Gonzales is to the GOP -- and the stinging rebuke signed by every single Democratic Senator -- will finally bring him down from the perch he never deserved in the first place. It's time for heads to roll in the DC media establishment, among the highly paid pundits as well as in the boardrooms and executive suites. They are the real traitors.

Here is a good sum-up by Atrios:

More Broder
We normally think of "High Broderism" as the worship of bipartisanship for its own sake, combined with a fake "pox on both their houses" attitude. But in reality this is just the cover Broder uses for his real agenda, the defense of what he perceives to be "the establishment" at all costs. The establishment is the permanent ruling class of Washington, our betters who know better. It is their rough agenda which is sold as "centrism" even when it has no actual relationship with the political center in a meaningful way. Democracy's messy, in Broder's world, and passionate voters are problematic. It is up to the Wise Old Men of Washington to implement the agenda, and the job of the voters to bless them for it. When the establishment fails, the most important issue is not their failure, but that the voters might begin to lose faith in and deference for their betters. Thus, people must always be allowed to save face, no matter what their transgressions, as long as they're a part of his permanent floating tea party.

While this basic attitude isn't unique to Broder, his apparent lack of interest in the actual details of policy makes him a more absurd figure than some. For him it's not about results, but about the right people being in the right places. It is terribly elitist in all the wrong ways. Arguments can be made for certain types of elitism - you do want a brain surgeon conducting brain surgery - but Broder's elites are simply aristocrats. It's their town.

Another Friedman -- or two or three or four ...

Back in January, the Administration was saying we'd know whether the "surge" was working by mid-April. Well, mid-April has come and gone. Petraeus came back to Washington to report to Bush that the surge is not working. So, of course, the administration is now saying it needs another Friedman. From today's NY Times:

WASHINGTON, April 27 — The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bush’s top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.

In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

Any idiot can see that this war is going to last forever if Bush stays around. It's utterly outrageous.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Smoking Gun

TPM Muckraker informs us that the Justice Department has provided Congress with a list of documents covered by the Congressional subpoenas regarding the US Attorney firings that the Justice Department has decided it will refuse to hand over. It's not clear just what grounds the DOJ thinks it has for refusing to hand over the documents.

Sounds to me like the smoking gun is there somewhere.

All the king's horses and all the king's men

I agree with WallDon-- a fine piece by Josh Marshall today, reflecting on the brouhaha over Sen. Reid's "the war is lost" comment.
Frankly, the whole question is stupid. . . . We had a war. It was relatively brief and it took place in the spring of 2003. The critical event is what happened in the three to six months after the conventional war ended.
[snip] We're occupying Iraq because continuing to do so allows us to pretend that the initial plan wasn't completely misguided and a mistake. If we continue to run the place a bit longer, the reasoning goes, we'll root out this or that problem that is preventing our original predictions from coming to pass. And of course the longer the occupation continues we generate more and more embittered foes to frame this rationalization around, thus creating an perpetual feedback loop of calamity and self-justification.
I, too, had been thinking lately (and now wish I'd blogged it), that the talk of "winning" or "losing" in Iraq is misplaced, now that our military is in effect acting as an occupying force. The coalition forces have already "won", militarily speaking. But as Colin Powell (sigh) once said, "if you break it, you own it."

So it's humpty-dumpty time now. You can call what is happening "losing" (as in "losing the peace"), I suppose, but "systemic failure" or "morass" is more like it. Given the sectarian conflicts of Iraq, and the intrinsic problems of America's conflict of interests in the region, the post-war failure was most likely unavoidable. But the political and managerial incompetence of The Regime, which can't even address the aftermath of the Katrina disaster in one major US city, there was and is no chance that we could really put Iraq "back together again." [Update: on the military's share in this incompetence, see the comments of Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, reported in AmericaBlog.] Unfortunately the US military presence is itself now part of the problem, as Marshall points out: the boots and tanks keep breaking those eggshell fragments into smaller and smaller pieces.

To ruin the metaphor: please, enough eggs have been broken, trying to make this omelette. It's time to bring the military home.

Guantanamo lawyers are pissed

From the UK's Independent:

Lawyers representing some of the hundreds of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay have angrily condemned efforts by the Bush administration to make it more difficult for them to visit their clients. The lawyers say restrictions already in place make their jobs all but impossible.

The US Justice Department has requested that a federal court impose tighter restrictions on the lawyers, claiming their visits with prisoners have "caused intractable problems and threats to security at Guantánamo". In a brief to the court the department claims information passed from prisoners to their lawyers and then given to the media.

Lawyers representing some of the 385 prisoners still held at the US Naval base on Cuba yesterday reacted angrily to the accusations leveled by the department. They said what was really driving the request was the US government's desire to further diminish the already severely limited scrutiny that Guantanamo receives.

Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the UK-based group Reprieve which represents several dozen prisoners, said of the claims: "They say the lawyers have caused unrest, they say we have caused hunger strikes. This is monumental crap. They say we are inciting them. Of course, we have talked to them about their hunger strikes – that is our jobs. But the hunger strikes are done in reaction to their treatment. And any information we gather has to go through the censors."

He added: "This is being done to stop information coming out of Guantanamo. It's being done to stop any journalists finding out what they did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others."

It's (long past) time to impeach him. Impeach him now!

We're so sorry, Uncle Albert

A story from AP news yesterday (h/t Crooks & Liars)
Bush said sympathetic to Tillman family
President Bush hopes someone is held responsible for the U.S. military’s mishandling of information about the death of former football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, the White House said Wednesday.
Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, and it took more than a month for his family to learn the true story. According to deputy press secretary Dana Perino, Bush learned about the circumstances of the death after his memorial service on May 3, 2004: "It's not clear people don't remember if he (Bush) heard it from media reports, or if he heard it from the Pentagon, but it was sometime after the funeral."

There are a number of the what did he know and when did he know it questions out there, but it seems to me that the Commander-in-Chief''s three year silence since then says most of what we really need to know. Comments Michael at

That sound you hear is brains leaking out all over America. See, the Tillman case involves many high-ranking people in the Army — Colonels and Generals and perhaps even high-ranking civilian officials — engaged in a knowing and willful conspiracy to cover up and then lie to the public about the circumstances of Pat Tillman’s death. There is a chain of command here, and someone is a the top of it, either someone in a uniform or someone in a Pentagon. And either way, they report to one GW Bush.

Would somebody please tell me what exactly "responsible" means, as in take responsibility, or be held responsible? The one thing for sure with The Regime is that, as Michael entitles his posting, "The Buck Doesn't Even Stop By For Visits."

The divided Democrats

The main theme of the mainstream media is that the Democrats are always divided. Today's New York Times even tells us that in a front page headline. So, it's nice to see that every single member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate (that's all fifty, including Holy Joe), signed on to a letter to the Washington Post complaining about David Broder's hit piece on Harry Reid:

We, the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, contest the attack on Sen. Harry Reid's leadership by David S. Broder in his April 26 column, "The Democrats' Gonzales."

In contrast to Mr. Broder's insinuations, we believe Mr. Reid is an extraordinary leader who has effectively guided the new Democratic majority through these first few months with skill and aplomb.

The Democratic caucus is diverse, and Mr. Reid has worked tirelessly to make sure that the views of each member are heard and represented. No one ideology dominates the caucus, so that a consensus can be reached and unity achieved. It is hard to imagine a better model for leadership.

Because Mr. Reid has the support of members of the caucus, is a good listener and has an amazing ability to synthesize views and bring people together, the Senate has accomplished a great deal during his time as majority leader. Armed with his years of service in the Senate and with a mastery of procedure, Mr. Reid has led the chamber with a slim majority and a minority that is, at times, determined to stop legislation with which it disagrees.

In the first 100 days alone, we made great strides under his leadership on long-neglected legislation concerning stem cell research, the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations and the minimum wage, to name three. In addition, under Mr. Reid's leadership, we have fulfilled our obligation, left uncompleted by last year's Republican-led Senate, to fund the federal government. He has accomplished all of this in the face of stiff opposition and with a commitment to giving ideas full opportunity for debate.

Finally, in this age of scripted politicians speaking only to their base or claiming that they "don't recall" anything, the fact that Mr. Reid speaks his mind should be applauded, not derided. His brand of straight talk is honest, comes from the heart and speaks directly to the people.





This letter was signed by Sen. Reid's 50 colleagues in the caucus.

Why it's time to leave Iraq

Josh Marshall has perhaps the best explanation I've seen on why it's time to get out of Iraq now. (Actually, long overdue) It isn't easy to summarize, so go read the whole thing for yourself.

The Democrats Debate

I guess I'll weigh in with my impressions of the first Democratic debate last night before my brain gets polluted with the views of the pundits. First, it came way too early. Second, I thought the biggest loser last night was Bill Richardson. He has such a good resume, I expected a lot more from him and got a lot less. I was also disappointed, though not as much so, with Obama. I just didn't think he was especially convincing. Further, I tended to disagree with some of his message, particularly those hawkish aspects challenged by Gravel. Hillary and Edwards performed pretty well, about as I expected, but neither really stole the show. Surprisingly, I thought Joe Biden, a man for whom I have little love, did a pretty good job, particularly with his one word answer. Chris Dodd also turned in a reasonable performance. I was glad to see most of the vitriol focused on the Bushies and not on each other.

Unfortunately, I found a good many of the questions predictably trite and many of the "why don't you stop beating your wife" type -- typical products of cable news. Nobody got to really explain his/her position in detail on any subject.

Ah well, what do you expect? It's the American media circus.

On the comic relief side, Gravel was an utter delight. He's obviously not a serious contender, but as a thorn in the side of the others, he was great.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Let's really take the gloves off!

This is the kind of thing I'd like to see: in a perfectly legitimate and truthful way, turning their own language that may be temporarily effective with straddlers back against them:

Using the words “surrender” and “defeat” for a timetable ending our disastrous military occupation of Iraq is completely dishonest and manipulative – shabby, deceitful, unscrupulous, immoral tactics that are totally disrespectful of the American people and the troops trying their best to serve us. The bottom line is this: our soldiers cannot be expected to solve a civil war in a Muslim nation halfway around the world where we don’t understand the culture or the language. This is what George Bush and Dick Cheney keep trying to hide behind their phony toughness. What they really mean by “victory” is hanging on long enough until the horrendous problems they foisted on this country are dumped in the lap of the next President. How many soldiers are they willing to sacrifice because they don’t have the guts to face up to what they have done?

The Republicans in Congress who don’t recognize that are being played for suckers once again. How many scams by this Administration will they fall for? How many lives will the suckers and scam artists be willing to accept as collateral damage for protecting the President and the morally-corrupt right wing of a once-honorable Party?

Veto imminent

Now that Congress has passed the supplemental appropriations bill that Bush will veto, the real question is whether the Democrats have the guts to keep the pressure on. I think a few letters to your congressional reps might be in order. There's an easy way to contact them on the left side bar of this blog.

To Wall or not to wall, that is the question

There's been a lot of confusion over the wall in Iraq, so obviously someone had to resolve it. They did so by asking the Israelis whether a wall was a good idea. When the Israelis said, "yes," they decided to proceed with it:

The US military has said that it will continue building a concrete wall around Adhimiya, a mainly-Sunni district of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

Colonel Don Farris, of the US army, said that after briefly halting construction of the barrier, the Iraqi government had now ordered the building of the wall to continue.

"We were asked to stop placing the barriers," Farris said on Thursday.

"Since then, it has been communicated to me through the chain of command that the prime minister and Iraqi security officials have authorised work to continue."

Residents had protested against the wall.

Farris said that construction of the barrier would continue in the near future - although he did not specify an exact date.

"We will begin placing the barriers shortly, assisting the Iraqi security forces in placing the barrier along the Adhimiya," he said.

Civil rights prosecutions down 60%

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer tells us that prosecution of civil rights cases by the FBI is down 60+ % in the Bush administration:

The FBI touts civil rights enforcement as a top priority, but the number of investigations into such cases -- from hate crimes to the actions of rogue police officers -- has fallen sharply, raising concerns that victims are left with nowhere else to turn.

... The downward trend began in 1999 and accelerated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the analysis found.

Civil rights experts -- and even one of the Justice Department's top civil rights lawyers -- are troubled by the trend. They say hate-crime enforcement is too important to ignore, and there is a deterrent effect to federal review of police misconduct that is being muted.

"You're going to have officers getting away with, in some cases, literally, murder," said Jesselyn McCurdy of the American Civil Liberties Union's legislative office in Washington, D.C.

The P-I analysis found a major drop in police-abuse cases handled by the FBI -- down 66 percent from 2000 to 2005 nationwide, although figures for 2006 indicate a rebound in such investigations.

Federal authorities are investigating increasingly fewer hate crimes each year, with cases handled by the FBI plunging by 60 percent, records show.

[h/t to Americablog] It's great to be a WASP these days!

28 Percent and falling

Via DependableRenegade (h/t to Atrios), the latest Harris poll puts Bush's approval at 28%. That's Nixon territory, and it's about time.

Bill Moyers

If you didn't watch Bill Moyers on PBS last night, shame on you. Go see if you can find a rerun. The take down of all the mainstream media except Knight-Ridder/McClatchy was superb.

Tip of the Iceberg

Everytime something comes to light, like the Lurita Doan political briefing at the GSA, we learn that what we are looking at is the tip of the iceberg. This criminal act is simply one example of a regular policy for all government agencies under the Bush administration:

White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday.

The previously undisclosed briefings were part of what now appears to be a regular effort in which the White House sent senior political officials to brief top appointees in government agencies on which seats Republican candidates might win or lose, and how the election outcomes could affect the success of administration policies, the officials said.

Touching up the x-rays

I think I've used this old joke before, but I'll try it again.

The doctor tells his patient that the x-rays show he has lung cancer and will require surgery. The patient asks how much the procedure will cost, and the doctor says $20,000. The man blanches a bit and finally says, "How much would you charge to touch up the x-rays?"

Juan Cole has a perfect example of touching up the x-rays for us:

Since the Bush administration doesn't actually have any good news on Iraq, they are just making it up. It confirms your worst suspicions. They haven't been counting victims of car bombings when they say that violence is down in Iraq! Bush administration spokesmen and officials are just saying that fewer bodies are found in the streets, victims of death squads. But the number of victims of car bombing has actually increased in this period.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is withholding statistics on Iraqi casualties from the United Nations.

It is official: The real parts of the Iraq War are being treated as imaginary, and the imaginary parts are being treated as though they are real.

Another day, another outrage

Actually, more than one, but we'll start the day with those pesky lawyers at Guantanamo. We definitely need to get rid of them because they're stirring up discontent among the natives.

The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to impose tighter restrictions on the hundreds of lawyers who represent detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the request has become a central issue in a new legal battle over the administration’s detention policies.

Saying that visits by civilian lawyers and attorney-client mail have caused “intractable problems and threats to security at Guantánamo,” a Justice Department filing proposes new limits on the lawyers’ contact with their clients and access to evidence in their cases that would replace more expansive rules that have governed them since they began visiting Guantánamo detainees in large numbers in 2004.

The filing says the lawyers have caused unrest among the detainees and have improperly served as a conduit to the news media, assertions that have drawn angry responses from some of the lawyers.

Then, perhaps we'll move on to Condi Rice flashing Congress the bird:

OSLO, Norway - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she has already answered the questions she has been subpoenaed to answer before a congressional committee and suggested she is not inclined to comply with the order.

Rice said she would respond by mail to questions from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the Bush administration's prewar claims about
Saddam Hussein seeking weapons of mass destruction, but signaled she would not appear in person.

By the way, I would understand this better if it said she had said she would not appear in person. What I'm not quite clear on is how she signaled it. Was she waving those flags ships use to signal each other? Or, was she tapping something out in Morse code?

Then, of course, there's always the Bush-Reagan-Bush II-packed Supreme Court that's said preparing to say "free speech goes to the highest bidder."

WASHINGTON, April 25 — The Supreme Court put defenders of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law on the defensive on Wednesday in a spirited argument that suggested the court could soon open a significant loophole in the measure.

At issue is a major provision of the five-year-old law that bars corporations and labor unions from paying for advertisements that mention the name of a candidate for federal office and that are broadcast 60 days before an election or 30 days before a primary. By a 5-to-4 vote in December 2003, the court held that the provision, on its face, passed First Amendment muster.

But a new majority may view more expansively the Constitution’s protection of political messages as free speech, and invite a flood of advertising paid for by corporations and unions as the 2008 elections move into high gear.

And, my doctors wonder why I have high blood pressure!

Every generation has its share of nuts

Maybe the Virginia Tech events are far enough behind us now for me to make a comment. Everytime something like this happens both the press and many of the people seem to think it is somehow an event unique to our times, probably caused by our political beliefs (see Newt Gingrich on how the libruls caused the Virginia Tech tragedy) or our lifestyle or something that didn't exist in the supposed "good old days". I would simply remind those of you who were alive at the time to think back to 1966. From Wikipedia:

Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941August 1, 1966) was a student at the University of Texas at Austin who shot and killed 13 people and wounded 31 others from atop the University's 27-story tower on August 1, 1966. His rampage ended on the same afternoon after Austin police shot him dead. Whitman also murdered both his wife and his mother the night before. (Some accounts allege a total 16 or 17 victims, citing a later suicide stemming from the attacks, and a pregnant woman, Claire Wilson. The unborn child was delivered deceased by C-Section and found to have had its head crushed by the penetrating bullet.) An autopsy showed Whitman had a brain tumor, which has led some to speculate that it caused his actions; however, this can not be known for sure.[1]

Every generation has its share of nuts. I doubt there are any deep lessons to be learned from any of these events.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Q. Who runs the Justice Department? A. Karl Rove

John Farmer has a good column on the US Attorney purges in today's Newark Star Ledger. His conclusion: Gonzales was just taking orders from Rove.

… You'll remember he [Alberto Gonzales] first claimed he had only a minor role in the beheadings. He knew little about them or even about the reasons the eight were canned. He had taken the recommendations of subordinates. He hadn't a clue what was going on, and therefore was clean as a hound's tooth.

Be honest, now: Who'd believe that line of horse hockey? The heat was on, and Gonzales was ducking responsibility. Members of both parties resolved to call him before the Senate and drag the truth out of him.

What they got left senators on both sides of the aisle still searching for the truth.

… The man was a virtual amnesia victim.

… Leahy and Specter swore they'd get to "the bottom" of this. It shouldn't be hard: Actually, the truth is right before their eyes.

Remember when Gonzales first said he didn't know diddly about the firings and no one believed him? Well, that's when he was telling the truth. He was fibbing when he tried take the heat before the committee. He didn't know about the firings because no one told him. He was irrelevant, a dummy. The decision was made elsewhere.

But look at the fix that put Gonzales in. He couldn't tell the Senate outright that he was in the dark, because that would have raised the $64,000 question, the one the White House dreaded: "If you didn't fire them, who did?"

Which brings us to Karl (The Consigliere) Rove.

Rove's DNA is all over both the appointment of U.S. attorneys and now their political firings. He had the U.S. attorney in Arkansas sacked to make room for a crony. He assured Allen Weh, chairman of the New Mexico GOP, who complained about the delay in firing U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, that Iglesias "was gone."

And Rove was instrumental in getting the U.S. attorney's post in New Jersey for a fundraiser with no criminal trial experience, Chris Christie, who reciprocated by launching an investigation into Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in the middle of a tough election campaign. (Christie's debt to Rove is presumably marked paid-in-full.)

This is dirty pool even by today's standards. But it's totally in keeping with Rove's career and character.

As a 19-year-old, he broke into the offices of a Democratic candidate for state treasurer in Illinois, stole campaign stationery and printed invitations to the candidate's office promising "free food, free beer, girls and a good time."

He was a prodigy of Donald Segretti, the "dirty tricks" guru of the Nixon 1972 campaign, who wound up in prison. Later, Rove latched onto the late Lee Atwater, the elder Bush's attack dog consultant, and wound up staging a seminar for young Republicans on using dirty tricks.

Rove's masterpiece of malevolence was his demonization of John McCain, a genuine hero, in the 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina. Rove's minions painted McCain, who was tortured, as an informer while prisoner in Hanoi, and depicted McCain's adopted Vietnamese daughter as the product of an illicit liaison with a black woman. Rove, it should be noted, never spent a day in the armed services or saw a shot fired in anger, even by Dick Cheney.

And what about Gonzales? He's no dummy. He's a bright and talented man and a great American story, up from poverty to Harvard and the pinnacle of the justice system. Which makes him worse than a dummy. He's been willing to sacrifice all that to act the role of a dummy, a poster boy for incompetence, to serve an undeserving administration and an incompetent president.

Rice subpoenaed

Will she still refuse to appear?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic lawmakers voted on Wednesday to subpoena Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about administration justifications for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

On a party-line vote of 21-10, the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee directed Rice to appear before the panel next month.


You pull a bit on the thread and the whole sweater unravels.

WASHINGTON -- As midterm elections approached last November, federal investigators in Arizona faced unexpected obstacles in getting needed Justice Department approvals to advance a corruption investigation of Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, people close to the case said.

The delays, which postponed key approvals in the case until after the election, raise new questions about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or other officials may have weighed political issues in some investigations. The Arizona U.S. attorney then overseeing the case, Paul Charlton, was told he was being fired in December, one of eight federal prosecutors dismissed in the past year. The dismissals have triggered a wave of criticism and calls from Congress for Mr. Gonzales to resign.

Investigators pursuing the Renzi case had been seeking clearance from senior Justice Department officials on search warrants, subpoenas and other legal tools for a year before the election, people close to the case said.

The whole thing seems to be unravelling in front of our eyes. I'm even beginning to doubt that the Gonzales team was smart enough to cover their tracks. We may see a whole bunch of people at the Justice Department end up in the slammer by the time the dust has settled on this.

One step closer to locking up DeLay

Every day now, the noose tightens around Tom DeLay's neck:

WASHINGTON — The federal probe into corruption related to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff could be inching closer to former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land as investigators focus on a former DeLay chief of staff who later employed the Republican leader's wife.

DeLay has not been charged with any crime in the Abramoff case. And his lawyer, Richard Cullen, said federal investigators have given DeLay no indication that he is a target of the ongoing grand jury probe, such as subpoenaing documents.

But prosecutors could decide within weeks whether to bring charges against former DeLay staff chief Edwin Buckham, according to sources close to the investigation who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. The decision should give a clear signal on whether DeLay remains in legal jeopardy, the sources said.

[Hat tip to TPM Muckraker]

Heads we win, tails you lose

This is totally perfect from Jon Stewart:

Basically, first-term president Bush, you invaded to remove the threat of Saddam Hussein. And you, current president Bush, are there to battle the threat created by the lack of Saddam Hussein.

Absolutely correct. Funny that it’s taken several years to get there, and it had to be a comedian who nailed it. Another victory for the vigilant press.

Enough already with approval ratings!

Democrats and progressive bloggers are becoming way, way too enamored of citing approval ratings and other poll results. Generally speaking, they should not be used in political argument at all. It’s not that Cheney has a 9% approval rating, as Reid emphasized as a reason not to engage in name-calling in his counter-attack, but the fact that Cheney is always wrong and most Americans are catching on to that.

It reminds me of people who say a 7-game series is “over” because a team is up 2-0. It also feeds into the meme that Democrats have no principles, and develop their policies by polls. It says, I’m right because more Americans agree with me than not. That’s a crappy argument. I guess Bush was really a fantastic President when his approval rating was 90%.


Glenn Greenwald does his most incisive takedown yet of what has pretended to be news reporting in the past few years, in "The Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch frauds" today.

"Fantastic" is one of those words we use in way that is generally pretty much detached from its basic meaning. But in the case of the military's PR machine, as is being confirmed in current Congressional hearings, that basic relation to fantasy holds. It what sense did Tony Snow mean it, one wonders? (See the end of Greenwald's column.)

Monica Goodling gets immunity and will be forced to testify

TPM Muckraker reports that the House Judiciary Committee has authorized a subpoena for Monica Goodling together with an offer of immunity. Now, that she can't take the fifth anymore, what excuses do you suppose she'll come up with for refusing to testify?

This could be very interesting, as Arte Johnson used to say in his German accent on Laugh In.

Whenever there's a fact to be withheld, a Bush will be there to withhold it

If the facts are inconvenient, just cover them up:

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi government withheld recent casualty figures from the United Nations, fearing they would be used to present a grim picture of Iraq that would undermine the coalition's security efforts, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

You can bet that if the facts had shown a dramatic abating of the violence, the Iraqi government would have been delighted to release them. So, we can be certain they don't. You can also bet that the Bush administration played a major role in the decision to withhold the facts. Whenever there's a fact to be withheld, a Bush will be there to withhold it.

Food & Drug malAdministration


WASHINGTON -- Thousands of hogs in at least five states and poultry at a Missouri farm ate salvage pet food that had been laced with an industrial chemical, the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday, opening potential avenues for the contaminant to enter the human food supply.
So starts a Boston Globe article today (h/t AmericaBlog; a related post here). So, it's not just my pets that they have endangered. And better yet,
The ease with which an imported ingredient laced with industrial chemicals penetrated the pet food supply paints a "frighteningly easy" road map for would-be terrorists to strike America's food supply, said US Representative Janice D. Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois. Schakowsky's comments came during sweeping and emotional testimony that linked faulty federal oversight to nationwide recalls of tainted peanut butter , suspect spinach, and lethal pet food.
Nothing new, I suppose. Maybe Homeland Security needs to take over the FDA. Or would that be worse still?

UPDATE: the hits just keep on comin'! Here's to the Occupational Health and Safety malAdministration. In the NYT today (h/t AmericaBlog again):

Since George W. Bush became president, OSHA has issued the fewest significant standards in its history, public health experts say. It has imposed only one major safety rule. The only significant health standard it issued was ordered by a federal court.

The agency has killed dozens of existing and proposed regulations and delayed adopting others. [snip] “The people at OSHA have no interest in running a regulatory agency,” said Dr. David Michaels, an occupational health expert at George Washington University who has written extensively about workplace safety. “If they ever knew how to issue regulations, they’ve forgotten. The concern about protecting workers has gone out the window.”

Lots of things out the window, huh?

Another UPDATE (from an AP story, on FoxNews[!]; h/t Crooks & Liars]:
FEMA acknowledged earlier this month that it would not have a federal plan ready for responding to emergencies before the approaching hurricane season, which begins June 1.
The Federal Emergency misManagement malAdministration: at least they can keep their acronym.

Harry should give 'em hell

Readers are surely aware of the VP's recent scathing comments directed personally at Sen. Harry Reid, to wit:
What’s most troubling about Senator Reid’s comments yesterday is his defeatism. . . . And the timetable legislation that he is now pursuing would guarantee defeat. Maybe it is a political calculation.
While the good senator was not without a response--
“The president sends out his attack dog often” and “I’m not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating."
-- I must admit I have been wishing he were even more direct about The Regime's deceits, militarism and political gamesmanship. [See another good response from Reid's spokesperson here.] At any rate, today at Crooks & Liars, I read of someone who called Reid's office to praise his stances, and
His office told her that of the calls they've received, few have been positive. . . . Let's let Harry Reid know we appreciate him speaking the truth. You can email his office or call (202) 224-3542.
So, I did write him.

[snip] I would like to thank you for being as direct, honest, and active as you and your congressional colleagues have been in trying to end our military adventurism. I encourage you to persevere in your efforts to bring the troops home from Iraq and to focus what efforts our nation can on bringing genuine peace to that people.

Next time, the VP or somebody else directs personal abuse at you, feel free to call them on their lies that led to popular support for the war, on their abysmal political and military failures in the aftermath of the invasion, and on their (Cheney's) likely war-profiteering. They have betrayed this nation's security and interests, its military, its international reputation, its Constitutional democracy, and its very soul. Impeachment is too kind a fate.

Give 'em hell, Harry.

(The Revd. Dr.) [ChiTom]

The World's Largest Dog

Photo e-mailed to me, courtesy of a friend. The dog weighs 282 lbs and has a 38 inch neck.

I'm trying to figure out what a pooper-scooper suitable for this dog would look like.

'Devastating' Moyers Probe of Press and Iraq Coming

A must see for our readers on the media's sellout to the GOP from By Greg Mitchell /Associated Press.
Published: April 19, 2007 9:00 PM ET

NEW YORK The most powerful indictment of the news media for falling down in its duties in the run-up to the war in Iraq will appear next Wednesday, a 90-minute PBS broadcast called "Buying the War," which marks the return of "Bill Moyers Journal." E&P was sent a preview DVD and a draft transcript for the program this week.While much of the evidence of the media's role as cheerleaders for the war presented here is not new, it is skillfully assembled, with many fresh quotes from interviews (with the likes of Tim Russert and Walter Pincus) along with numerous embarrassing examples of past statements by journalists and pundits that proved grossly misleading or wrong. Several prominent media figures, prodded by Moyers, admit the media failed miserably, though few take personal responsibility. The war continues today, now in its fifth year, with the death toll for Americans and Iraqis rising again -- yet Moyers points out, "the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush Administration to go to war on false pretenses."Among the few heroes of this devastating film are reporters with the Knight Ridder/McClatchy bureau in D.C. Tragically late, Walter Isaacson, who headed CNN, observes, "The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, you know, that the intelligence is not very good. We should've all been doing that."At the close, Moyers mentions some of the chief proponents of the war who refused to speak to him for this program, including Thomas Friedman, Bill Kristol, Roger Ailes, Charles Krauthammer, Judith Miller, and William Safire.But Dan Rather, the former CBS anchor, admits, "I don't think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war…We didn't dig enough. And we shouldn't have been fooled in this way." Bob Simon, who had strong doubts about evidence for war, was asked by Moyers if he pushed any of the top brass at CBS to "dig deeper," and he replies, "No, in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas….nope, I don't think we followed up on this." Instead he covered the marketing of the war in a "softer" way, explaining to Moyers: "I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it, in a way, almost light – if that doesn't seem ridiculous."Moyers replies: "Going to war, almost light."Walter Isaacson is pushed hard by Moyers and finally admits, "We didn't question our sources enough." But why? Isaacson notes there was "almost a patriotism police" after 9/11 and when the network showed civilian casualties it would get phone calls from advertisers and the administration and "big people in corporations were calling up and saying, 'You're being anti-American here.'" Moyers then mentions that Isaacson had sent a memo to staff, leaked to the Washington Post, in which he declared, "It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan" and ordered them to balance any such images with reminders of 9/11. Moyers also asserts that editors at the Panama City (Fla.) News-Herald received an order from above, "Do not use photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties. Our sister paper has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening emails."Walter Pincus of the Washington Post explains that even at his paper reporters "do worry about sort of getting out ahead of something." But Moyers gives credit to Charles J. Hanley of The Associated Press for trying, in vain, to draw more attention to United Nations inspectors failing to find WMD in early 2003. The disgraceful press reaction to Colin Powell's presentation at the United Nations seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student's thesis, downloaded from the Web -- with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with "plagiarism."Phil Donahue recalls that he was told he could not feature war dissenters alone on his MSNBC talk show and always had to have "two conservatives for every liberal." Moyers resurrects a leaked NBC memo about Donahue's firing that claimed he "presents a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. At the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."Moyers also throws some stats around: In the year before the invasion William Safire (who predicted a "quick war" with Iraqis cheering their liberators) wrote "a total of 27 opinion pieces fanning the sparks of war." The Washington Post carried at least 140 front-page stories in that same period making the administration's case for attack. In the six months leading to the invasion the Post would "editorialize in favor of the war at least 27 times." Of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news in the six months before the war, almost all could be traced back to sources solely in the White House, Pentagon or State Dept., Moyers tells Russert, who offers no coherent reply. The program closes on a sad note, with Moyers pointing out that "so many of the advocates and apologists for the war are still flourishing in the media." He then runs a pre-war clip of President Bush declaring, "We cannot wait for the final proof: the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Then he explains: "The man who came up with it was Michael Gerson, President Bush's top speechwriter."He has left the White House and has been hired by the Washington Post as a columnist."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

George McGovern speaks

George McGovern in today's LA Times:

VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney recently attacked my 1972 presidential platform and contended that today's Democratic Party has reverted to the views I advocated in 1972. In a sense, this is a compliment, both to me and the Democratic Party. Cheney intended no such compliment. Instead, he twisted my views and those of my party beyond recognition. The city where the vice president spoke, Chicago, is sometimes dubbed "the Windy City." Cheney converted the chilly wind of Chicago into hot air.

Cheney said that today's Democrats have adopted my platform from the 1972 presidential race and that, in doing so, they will raise taxes. But my platform offered a balanced budget. I proposed nothing new without a carefully defined way of paying for it. By contrast, Cheney and his team have run the national debt to an all-time high.

He also said that the McGovern way is to surrender in Iraq and leave the U.S. exposed to new dangers. The truth is that I oppose the Iraq war, just as I opposed the Vietnam War, because these two conflicts have weakened the U.S. and diminished our standing in the world and our national security.

In the war of my youth, World War II, I volunteered for military service at the age of 19 and flew 35 combat missions, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross as the pilot of a B-24 bomber. By contrast, in the war of his youth, the Vietnam War, Cheney got five deferments and has never seen a day of combat — a record matched by President Bush.

The Social Security saga, 2007 edition

The Social Security Trustees just issued the 2007 annual report, and the key facts are that nothing much has changed from before. We still do not have much of a clue what’s going to happen to the Social Security system over 30 years from now. The year when we are going to have to start dipping into the surplus created to fund the baby boom generation’s retirements stayed the same, 2017. That means that we are one year closer to that event – really, that non-event, since it was specifically set up to be used that way and was originally expected to be necessary several years before 2017. Now it’s 10 years away, last year it was 11 years away. That’s not quite so far into the future, so we should be closer to reality in that prediction.

Doomsday continues to be held at bay

The year that everyone treats as the predicted Doomsday Year, the year when the Baby Boom surplus is finally used up and we have to revert to funding benefits from current revenues, moved back from 2040 to 2041 this year. In other words, under the assumptions that are used – a midpoint between best case and worst case assumptions, it remains 34 years in the future, and the projected revenues 34 years into the future are only 75% of the projected benefits that would be due 34 years from now.

Dicey stuff, indeed. It was supposed to be only 33 years into the future in 1996 – that is, 11 years ago, the experts applying the same set of presumably reasonable assumptions predicted the surplus would be used up in 2029. Now it’s 2041. If the predictions were decent ones, it should still be 2029, now only 22 years away. Instead, year after year after year, the “crisis” stays just about exactly the same period into a fairly distant future.

That is not anybody’s reasonable definition of a “crisis,” and here is all you need to know that demonstrates why there is not a Social Security crisis – why you should not even listen to the Democrats who either say or imply there is one even when their solutions are a few tweaks instead of privatization.

A little history: Greenspan was not an idiot who needed Tim Russert to explain it all to him

Alan Greenspan, usually considered by conservatives to be a pretty smart guy (and a tad bit more knowledgeable than Mr. Tim “Chalkboard-Two-Worker-for-One-Retiree” Russert), had a flash insight: someday, all those Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1965 or so were going to retire. He said to his Social Security Fix-It Commission, which Ronald Reagan thought was a good idea, “We have to do something about that. We need to plan for the future. We need to build a surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund for when that day comes. Think of it like a college fund, built up and then sitting there to be used when the Baby Boomers start to retire (beginning about 2010), and then used up someday when they have died off. (By about 2030, they will start dropping like flies, which means the demand for benefits will begin to moderate then.) Let’s call it the Baby Boom Social Security Surplus.”

After that Greenspan Commission set about building up the Baby Boom Surplus, the Social Security Trustees began on a consistent basis predicting “Key Dates,” including the year the surplus would stop building – i.e., the year we would have to start using it, which we will call the Start Date – and the year the surplus would finally be used up, or the End Date. After the End Date, we would have to go back to the original pay-as-you go system that worked for about 50 years before this bulge of Baby Boomers mucked it up (like, according to compact between The Greatest Generation and Generation X, they do to everything else). Back in 1994, for example, the Social Security actuaries fed in their economic and demographic assumptions, and voila, they predicted the Start Date (for the combined retirement and disability funds) would be in 19 years, 2013, and the End Date would be 35 years in the future, or 2029.

It’s like waiting for the Cubs to win it all: next year never comes

Now if this were a perfect science, those dates would have stayed the same, and each year the Doomsday scenarios would have kept getting closer and closer – with the clock ticking louder and louder each year. In fact, for awhile they did just that, and in 1998 the Start Date was still 2013, so it would now be only 15 years until we would have to start dipping into that surplus. The End Date was actually moved up a year during that period, to the point where it looked to be only 32 years in the future.

But guess what. The Baby Boom Surplus went into a Super-Groundhog Day time warp. It was Back-to-the-Future and then some as each year both the Start Date and the End Date moved further and further away. Time actually moved backwards, and by 2003 the Start Date was not expected until 2018, still 15 years into the future, and the End Date had been moved all the way out to 2042, or 39 years into the future. For a period of about six years, in other words, the problem kept getting better and better – much better and better – simply by doing nothing.

Since 2003, in years that happen to coincide with (a) Bush having appointed the majority of the Trustees, (b) Bush deciding he wanted to promote his privatization plan in earnest, (c) knowledge of the right wing that privatization talking points would be improved if the Doomsday Clock started back in the right direction, and (d) an unexplained change in the way the critical productivity growth assumptions for the future are made, the Trustees’ projections have, in fact, come back down: to 11 years in 2006 for the Start Date (2017, which, however, remains several years further out than was expected just 10 years ago, and, as a special bonus, several years after the retirements of Baby Boomers will have begun), and 34 years for the End Date. In 2007, as we have seen, the Start Date is still 2017 – now only 10 years away as it should be – and the End Date moved out a year to 2041.

It is important to realize that the Trustees actually have used three different sets of assumptions, optimistic, pessimistic, and a higher probability scenario in the middle. All the confident predictions about what “will” happen to Social Security somewhere close to the middle of the 21st century are based on that in-between set of assumptions. Lazy journalists appreciate that: isn’t the truth always “somewhere in the middle”? So if it’s somewhere in the middle, it must be the truth. But it’s not.

Zeroing in on the real problem

Now if you think about it, the real problem predicted is not that the Baby Boom Surplus is inadequate. We will not need to even start tapping into it until about 6-7 years after the retirement bulge has begun, and it should last about a full decade after the retirement rate has begun settling back closer to normal ratios. The real issue is whether the working generations will generate enough revenue to support the steady-state retirement ratio after that.

The moderate scenario (and, of course, the pessimistic one) says probably not, the optimistic version says yes, no problem. The optimistic version has been closer to reality over the last couple of decades than the supposedly more prudent one. Will that continue to be the case? Who knows? -- and that is the whole point. The experts have barely any more of a clue than you and I do as to what will happen with many of the critical assumptions in 30 or 40 years. They haven’t even been able to get the Start Date consistently right, much less the End Date about 25 years later.

The issue is not whether we have a potential problem with Social Security. Yes, we have a potential problem because the methodology chosen as a prudent one suggests that one will occur. The sole issue is whether we have a “crisis” that requires action at this time. Because we do not know whether we have a problem, we can hardly have a crisis. We do know that, despite the models Social Security has chosen to use as an exercise in prudence, actual experience provides significant evidence that we do not have a real problem looming in the future. What this means is that, while it is correct that the system is not in perpetual actuarial balance under the projection models adopted, the actual, empirical evidence suggests – very strongly – that the actuarial balance intended is not a valid one. Without a clearer picture, that is reason enough to merely keep watching, as the Social Security Administration does, and to recognize that changing the formulas right now – and taking money from people to solve a problem that from actual experience probably does not exist -- would be irresponsible.

Beyond that, if the Social Security fish are still in the freezer, we have a whole load of fish that have thawed and need to be fried before they start to spoil. As Reed Hundt at TPM Café said last year, “Social Security faces a lack of funds to pay its commitments some years after the ice caps will, under current trends, have melted, flooding Florida; after oil hits several hundred dollars a barrel; after income inequality turns America into France of 1788; after rising Asian competition eliminates the American Dream -- see my book "In China's Shadow." So let's get our priorities right.”

Save this table and use it when the pooh-bahs start pontificating. If you followed this, you will see it’s not rocket science – certainly not to anyone who ever set up a college fund or even a vacation fund. You build it up, you use it, and then you go on without it. That’s all that’s happening here. The other thing is that the experts have been wrong almost every year. That’s another way it’s not rocket science, because rocket science is a lot more predictable.

Year of Trustees Report / Years into future Baby Boom Surplus stops growing /
Years into future Baby Boom Surplus is exhausted
1994 19 35
1995 18 35
1996 16 33
1997 16 32
1998 15 34
1999 15 35
2000 15 37
2001 15 37
2002 15 39
2003 15 39
2004 14 38
2005 12 36
2006 11 34
2007 10 34

Housing bubble continues to deflate

The housing bubble continues its slow deflation (burst isn't quite the right word for this bubble).

WASHINGTON - Sales of existing homes plunged in March by the largest amount in nearly two decades, reflecting bad weather and increasing problems in the subprime mortgage market, a real estate trade group reported Tuesday.

I very much doubt we've seen the worst of this yet. So far, home prices have only fallen slightly. My guess is that has to change before we get over this. How much? I'm guessing 20% - 25% or so.

I approved this ad

Bill Richardson has a political ad out that concludes, "I approved this ad because being stubborn isn't a foreign policy."

Senate no-confidence vote

The Democrats in the Senate are considering holding a no-confidence vote about Gonzales:

A breaking report at Roll Call says the Senate may soon give Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a vote of no confidence.

A source told Roll Call the matter was discussed at today's Senate Democratic luncheon, but had few additional details.

"The vote would be nonbinding and have no substantive impact, but it would force all Republican Senators into the politically uncomfortable position of saying publicly whether they continue to support Gonzales in the wake of the scandal surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys," wrote the paper's Erin Billings.

Good. I say, "go for it!" Make the Thuglicans squirm in their seats for awhile.

Bush's Fantasyland

Courtesy of Bill in Portland Maine contributing to Daily Kos, here is a rundown John Stewart made of George Bush telling us how we are moving right along quite nicely in Iraq:

Jon Stewart goes by the book:
George W. Bush, January 2006: "There's progress. And it's important progress and it's an important part of our strategy to win in Iraq."
Bush, November 2005: "Iraq is making incredible political progress."
Bush, October 2005: "Iraqis are making inspiring progress."
Bush, September 2005: "Iraq has made incredible political progress."
Bush, April 2005: "I believe we're making good progress in Iraq."
Bush, March 2005: "We're making progress."
Bush, September 2004: "We're making steady progress."
Bush, July 2003: "We're making progress. It's slowly but surely making progress."
Actually, y'know what I think the president's problem is? Perhaps his definition of the word "progress." I have the reference book he uses when he doesn’t know what a word means: Mistaken P. Wrongingston's Diktionary of English. Let's see...ah, here we are. "Progress: Chaos caused by one's own incompetence that's portrayed as the result of others' malfeasance."
---The Daily Show

Notice how sometime between April and September of 2005, “we” stopped being the ones making progress and it became “Iraq” or “Iraqis” who were making the progress. More recently, in January 2006, it was somewhere in-between: “There’s progress.”

Too much to keep up with

I've been working in the garden today, so not much blogging. A quick review of today's outrages suggests, however, that there's just too much to keep up with. First, the stench from the Justice Department grows ever more odious. Talking Points Memo is a constant source of the ever widening network of corruption there. Then, there are the Tillman hearings today. Atrios has some of those details.

Neither last nor least, but still prominent among the events of the day, Tom DeLay, of all people, accuses Pelosi and Reid of treading close to or over the treason line. Hopefully that creep will be rotting in a dark, damp, dismal cell soon. If the dungeon where they held the Count of Monte Cristo still exists, I propose it as DeLay's final resting place.

Just another day in Bushland.

A panoply of lies

The mind boggles at the scope of this administration's deceptions:

WASHINGTON - An Army Ranger who was with Pat Tillman when he died by friendly fire said Tuesday he was told by a higher-up to conceal that information from Tillman's family.

"I was ordered not to tell them," U.S. Army Specialist Bryan O'Neal told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

He said he was given the order by then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon.

Pat Tillman's brother Kevin was in a convoy behind his brother when the incident happened, but didn't see it. O'Neal said Bailey told him specifically not to tell Kevin Tillman that the death was friendly fire rather than heroic engagement with the enemy.

A tale of two conspiracies

In the right corner, wearing red trunks, Billy O'Reilly! (See original item Bill from Portland at DKos and this post with video at Crook & Liars.)
  • According to the investigative reporting of O'Reilly and his guests, the radical, uber-wealthy George Soros is out to "buy the next election", by funding a host of far left groups like and Media Matters for America. Through the latter, Soros can "smear" anyone he likes through radical leftists like Bill Moyers, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and, of course, the estimable Rosie O'Donnell! Through, all sorts of left-wing politicians, like John Edwards, take his orders.

In the left corner, the theft of the 2004 Ohio presidential election! (See original item at AlterNet, and this post at Crooks & Liars.)

  • A consortium of GOP uber-techies and technology firms, including the company that hosts those infamous RNC email servers, were responsible for counting and reporting ballots, under the direction of the Ohio's (Republican) Secretary of State, who was also co-chair of the state's Bush campaign. Suspicious events, returns and statistics abound.
Is either of these stories true, or both? Am I now playing the MSM game of "balance": one claim from Mr. "Smear" himself, over against a case documented by a university professor and lawyer, who is party to a lawsuit about the election? Maybe so.

So let's get to the truth:

  • Soros, Media Matters, and MoveOn could sponsor and fund a public, certifiable accounting of the money trail. (Media Matters denies receiving money from Soros; O'Reilly claims it is funneled through channels.)
  • And Congress should continue its investigations, with the full cooperation of the White House (hah!) and the DOJ that is so concerned with vote fraud, to get to the bottom of the Ohio case.

Not likely? Welcome to Nigeria, folks.


Really, I thing the NRA nutcases are really going certifiably insane when they argue that every college student should come to classes armed with a gun to prevent the rare nutcase that goes on a killing binge. I sure wouldn't want to be handing back graded exams to a class of goons armed with guns.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Flags at half staff for Virginia Tech but not for troops

Of course, we know the answer to this question:

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Army sergeant complained in a rare opinion article that the U.S. flag flew at half-staff last week at the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan for those killed at Virginia Tech but the same honor is not given to fallen U.S. troops here and in Iraq.
The reason is that Bush wants to pretend nobody is being hurt in his wars. Maybe he even believes it himself.

Impeach him. Impeach him now!

The President who claims to be keeping us safe is actually engaged in systematic leaking of the country's secrets:

Current and former employees of the White House Security Office have reported to Chairman Waxman that there was a systemic failure at the White House to follow procedures for protecting classified information. According to the security officers, the White House regularly ignored security breaches, prevented security inspections of the West Wing, and condoned mismanagement of the White House Security Office.

Just one more reason why the man should be impeached and convicted immediately. One more day of this creep is too long. (Cheney too)

With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?

I guess this happened while I was away, because I didn't hear about it till today, but it looks like enough to me to take Barak Obama off my presidential wish list and relegate him to Hillaryville. As I understand it, he came out in favor of sending Bush a "clean" supplemental spending bill with no timetables after Bush vetos the current bill.

What in the hell is wrong with these people? Don't they understand that the public is sick and tired of this war? They're just going to perpetuate the image that Democrats are weak wussies who can't be trusted to handle the reins of state.

Bill Moyers returns to PBS

Welcome back to PBS. Bill Moyer's Journal will air Fridays at 9pm on many PBS stations.