Friday, September 30, 2005

DeLay Gets Hammered

Every hammer carries within itself the means of its own undoing. The face drives the nails, but the claw can pry them back out. So it is with House Majority Leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, who was hit with a criminal indictment on Wednesday charging the Texas Republican with "conspiring with two political associates to use corporate donations to support Texas legislative candidates."

Obviously DeLay is innocent until proven guilty, but it looks like one of his strengths—the use of hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners campaign tactics—may ultimately become his downfall.

Like every hero laid low by the ravages of fate, Rep. DeLay has a tragic flaw. It's not his rampant homophobia or his open support for the radical religious right—or even his delusional belief that the Republican party has eliminated waste from the federal budget under his tutelage. No, I think his is a nomenclatural burden.

"Tom" is the name upon which we, as a society, dump our derision and our insecurities. There's Uncle Tom, Peeping Tom, Doubting Thomas, Clarence Thomas—and the list goes on (well, ok, the list pretty much ends there, but it's still pretty damning). With a name like that, DeLay was courting disaster, and now that he has fallen, his name can be added to the closet of our cultural shame.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Where's the Right-Wing Media Culpa?

As I mentioned below, the right-wing media are having a Grand Old time pointing out that many of the horror stories from the Katrina aftermath were exaggerations. Drudge has it as his lead story right now, complete with fancy-schmancy photo illustration and all.

The only problem is that while the Satan-spawn liberal media were bandwagoning on the anti-Bush blame game, the same gloating right-wingers who are currently affixing halos to their heads were using the exact same exaggerated information to justify their attacks on poor blacks and on the idea of liberalism itself.

Here's a link article I wrote about Rush on a typical rant about those bastard commies down in New Orleans. The right-wing NewsMax had a few gems as well, such as "Rescuers: Katrina Death Toll Boosted by Violence" and "The Real Racists," both of which rely heavily on information that is now under attack—by them.

Then we have the esteemed pre-Pre-Cambrian paleo-con Pat Buchanan in a Sept. 14 editorial entitled "Failure of an Idea — And a People":
At the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center, we saw the failure of 40 years of the Great Society. No sooner had Katrina passed by and the 17th Street levee broke than hundreds of young men who should have taken charge in helping the aged, the sick and the women with babies to safety took to the streets to shoot, loot and rape."
So, the question is, if the media got it all wrong and much of their Katrina reporting is now suspect, doesn't that invalidate the right's breathless proclamations as well? Where's their apology? Something tells me we'll be waiting for a long, long time.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Blame-Gaming the Blame Game

It took a bit longer than one might have expected, but the reflexive apologists for the Bush administration are starting to hit hard at the "exaggerations" of the commie-nazi mainstream press in their coverage of the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina. It seems that all the Sturm und Drang was nothing more than an elaborate attempt by the liberal, elitist media establishment to discredit the president and his blameless retinue of saint-bureaucrats.

Rumblings can be felt among the friendly folks over at FreeRepublic, and my man Rush is, as ever, on the case.

The gentlemen at PowerLine go so far as to recommend a Congressional investigation into the media's malfeasance (talk about fiscal conservatism and putting the taxpayers' money to good use).
It's time for some accountability here. The conventional wisdom is that no one performed particularly well in the aftermath of Katrina—not local, state or federal authorities, and not considerable numbers of private citizens. But it now appears clear that the worst performance of all was turned in by the mainstream media. Congress should promptly investigate...
What these defenders of American freedom forget, is that inaccuracies are an inevitable part of covering a mega-disaster in real time. The cause is not bias, but garden-variety confusion that naturally abounds in the thick of chaos. Perhaps these accusers remember the initial coverage of another American disaster in September, not so very many years ago:

Intelligenter Design

You, too, can be touched by the Noodly Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Take that, Kansas.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

All the Elitism Fit to Print

The New York Times is famous for being an elitist newspaper, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the back sections (although I'm sure it can be and has been inferred from the news sections as well).

It's one thing for the Arts & Lifestyles section to tend toward the high-falutin'—that's what it's there for. Where else are you supposed to read about the latest scandals in the opera world and "artists" who make collages out of crap they find in the trash? The most obnoxious and unwelcome elitism in the Times can be found in other sections that could appeal to more common (and attainable) tastes, if only that's what the Times wanted.

The Gray Lady is amongst the most advertiser-friendly newspapers in America. Its underlying mission is to promote the very lifestyle that corporations are trying to sell in the margins and on the glitzy full-page spreads that pepper the non-news sections. As such, the back pages of the newspaper do little more than celebrate acquisitiveness and foster the notion that materialism (no, not the Marxist kind) is the new, hip intellectualism.

In the SundayStyles section, we can read about the fashionable Manhattan dermatologist to the stars who sports $1,200 boots and matching $3,600 armbands. It's also where readers can catch up on the Greenwich and New Canaan wedding circuit and learn, for example, about the marriage of Ethel Walker Smith Bush, known as "Diddle" (that's Diddle Bush for those of you keeping score) to Malcolm Percy McAllister of Greenwich, Conn. If I had a dollar for every girl named Diddle that I knew when I was growing up, well, I'd be flat broke, and that's just not an economic state the New York Times seems to understand.

SundayStyles is also where you can read the "Modern Love" column, which reinforces the fact that normal people are boring prudes, and you can run across little gems like this (registration required, suckas!), from today's "The Age of Dissonance" column:
"The first thing I learned as an entertainment lawyer," said Ben Feldman, who is also a playwright, "is don't criticize people's work, even when they ask for it. If you aren't optimistic, it's like telling them they're child is too dumb to get into Brown."
I'm sure we can all relate.

Ok, maybe SundayStyles is just a modern-day Social Register. But the elitism of the Times permeates even sections where, by all rights, it shouldn't be. The Travel section is a perfect example. This Sunday's cover story is about Istanbul, a city where I lived for the better part of a year. Istanbul is one of the most affordable big cities in the world, but you'd never know it from reading the New York Times.

Rick Lyman, a shallow Times reporter who used to helm the paper's Hollywood bureau, takes us on a tour of Istanbul that screams out, "Hey, you can travel around the world and feel like you never left Manhattan!" The only worthwhile person Lyman talks to is novelist Orhan Pamuk, and even then he gives about equal time to the delicious bonito that the world-famous novelist is eating. Otherwise, Lyman interviews a famous socialite and a business tycoon—that in a huge, cosmopolitan city known for its rich diversity and striking juxtapositions of rich and poor.

Lyman eschews the city's many normal hotels in favor of the brand-new Four Seasons (rooms start at only $340!). A much better bet for an intellectually curious traveler willing to drop over $100 per night on a room would be the Pera Palas Hotel, famed way-station for European travelers on the Orient Express. This beautiful monument to European Turkey has been visited by Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway and a rich assortment of dignitaries (each room bears a plaque noting its most famous guest). Nary a mention of this treasure from our tour guide.

Lyman seems most transfixed by the new 360 club which sounds indistinguishable from any ritzy night spot anywhere else in the world, which, unfortunately, is the point. The club is also his top pick for Istanbul restaurants, which is fine because it features such classics of Turkish cuisine as Vietnamese beef tartar and Cajun veal.

Lyman's grasp of Istanbul's spirit is something short of solid. He steers the "savvy" traveler to the most expensive Turkish baths in the city rather than to the gorgeous (but more "common") baths built by famed Ottoman architect Sinan in the 16th Century. He extols the virtues of a restaurant (which is actually good) called Yesil Ev which we are told is "known as the Green House." I'm going out on a limb here, but that could be because "Yesil" is Turkish for "green" and "ev" means "house." Not exactly a sign that we're getting expert advice.

The problem is that for the Times, it doesn't matter. There not interested in the intellectually curious traveler (or shopper, for that matter). The Travel section is nothing more than a Styles section with a more exotic backdrop—it promotes a world where clubbing and cavorting is more important than learning about and experiencing other cultures.

This causal elitism is quickly becoming the defining feature of the Times. The paper has just inaugurated their new TimesSelect service that will make parts of the paper, including their stable of highly-influential op-ed columnists, available only to paid subscribers. Sure, it means that these writers will lose a lot of influence in the blogosphere and elsewhere, but that's not what matters to the New York Times. After all, they're the ones so aggressively pushing a "you gotta pay to play" attitude, so this is merely putting their editorial stance into practice.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Soldiers: Officers Ordered Abuse

A large-scale hunger strike that began in early August at Guantanamo and has, at one time or another, included more than a quarter of the over 500 detainees, continues despite U.S efforts to put an end to it. Prisoners are complaining, in an all-too-familiar scene, of abuse and continued desecration of the Koran.

Given the source, these kinds of complaints are always suspect. As Andrew Sullivan rightly says, it means one of three things: "This is more Qaeda-based propaganda. Koran-abuse is still going on. Or both." Unfortunately, I've seen nothing to convince me that it's the first option alone, and it doesn't help that the military seems all too eager to sweep these kinds of allegations under the rug. Provided it's not a prayer rug, that is.

Much more convincing is a new report from Human Rights Watch that based on the statements of three American soldiers (two sergeants and a captain) who claim to have been directly involved. According to the soldiers, who were stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury near Fallujah from September 2003 through April 2004, prisoner abuse was not only widespread, it was condoned and even ordered by superior officers.
The report says that in many cases the abuses were specifically ordered by military intelligence before interrogations, and that it was widely known by superior officers both inside and outside of military intelligence.

According to the report, the captain made persistent efforts to raise his concern about the abuse with his chain of command but was ignored and told to consider his career.

He said when he made an appointment to meet with Senate staffers, his commanding officer denied him permission to leave his base.

The bottom line is that, even when faced with scandals like Abu Ghraib, the U.S. military has never really responded to prisoner abuse and they don't seem to be doing anything to stop it. One reason could be that the abuses are simply spontaneous, sadistic actions of a few bad apples. Another reason could be that systematic torture and abuse, as has been shown elsewhere, is the U.S. policy when it comes to detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. The evidence for the latter continues to mount and the military is going to have to face it honestly sooner or later. As much as the 'Club Gitmo' numskulls would like to believe it, there's nothing patriotic about sinking to the level of our enemy. In fact, it kind of defeats the purpose of what we're supposed to be fighting for.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

FBI Kicks Against the Pricks

The FBI is looking for a few good men to join in the noble fight against one of the greatest menaces facing our country. I am talking, of course, about porn. Not kiddie porn, mind you, but good, old-fashioned American porn, made by—and for—consenting adults.

The War on Porn was described as "one of the top priorities" for Attorney General Alberto "You Can Call Me Meese" Gonzales and the FBI Director Robert Mueller. In order to combat the threat adult pornography allegedly poses to families and children, this porno posse will gather evidence to prosecute manufacturers of smut using anti-obscenity laws. Too bad Deep Throat no longer works for the Bureau. I bet he really knew obscenity when he saw it.

Upon learning of this recruitment drive, the right-wing "think" tank Family Research Council—once critics of the (in their view) insufficiently draconian Gonzales—waxed poetic about their "growing sense of confidence in our new attorney general."

I also welcomed this news with relief. After all, if the FBI can afford to sic their P-Men on Jenna Jameson, et. al., that must mean that the problems of terrorism, violent crime, drugs, the mafia, cyber-crime and jaywalking have all been licked, if you will.

One FBI agent told the Washington Post, "I guess this means we've won the war on terror.... We must not need any more resources for espionage."

Hallelujah! Details on exactly how the War on Porn will be waged aren't fully fleshed out, but one thing's for sure: this is one war that's bound to have a happy ending.

Bush Nears Tipping Point

There is a lot of hand wringing going on over in the GOP about President Bush's abysmal poll numbers, which are at the lowest point in his entire presidency. So, why are they so low?

There is, as with any president, an entrenched group that despises Bush and will never look favorably on anything he does. The problem for the president is that there is increasing disquiet among middle-of-the-road voters and among people who would usually be predisposed to favor Bush.

These are the people who (naively or not) took President Bush at his word when he ran on a platform of compassionate conservatism and fiscal responsibility. They take the war in Iraq and the problem of terrorism seriously. Unfortunately for them, the Bush administration doesn't seem to take much of anything seriously.

This is the administration, after all, that failed to adequately plan for a post-war Iraq and refused to provide enough troops to do the job. With each passing month, the shadow cast by that failure looms larger and is harder to ignore.

Some fiscal conservatives balked at the President's plan to go ahead with massive tax cuts even after the economic climate that made those cuts possible was obliterated by the post-9/11 recession. It turns out that these tax cuts were only a hint of the profligacy that was to come. Now that the budget deficit is enormous and cash is literally hemorrhaging out of the national coffers because of Iraq and Katrina (and, soon, Rita), the conservative establishment in this country is finally waking up to the disaster that the Bush administration has been for their ideals. Some brave conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan, have been sounding the alarm all along. Maybe now people will listen.

There's no question that Hurricane Katrina has a lot to do with the changing perceptions of President Bush. Budget wonks are freaking out about where the $200-odd-billion in disaster relief money is going to come from. It's getting so bad the there are Republicans in Congress actually willing to stand up and vote against legislation that Bush supports. It may sound pathetically inconsequential, but it wouldn't have happened a few months ago.

Beyond that, Katrina provided yet another opportunity to see how out of touch the president is. The lackadaisical federal response to the disaster made the Bush administration look impotent (or worse) and the subsequent scandal over the appointment of the utterly unqualified Michael Brown to head FEMA made it look incompetent if not callous.

After all of this controversy, one would think that the Bush administration would have learned their lesson, but it's business as usual at the White House. In his speeches, Bush always hits hard on the importance of taking threats to American security seriously. When it comes time to put that rhetoric into action, however, the president reveals how little he actually cares. At issue right now is his nomination of Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

Myers, a 36-year-old lawyer with little immigration or customs experience, has been tapped to head an agency with more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion that is charged with stopping drug and weapons smuggling, human trafficking and illegal exports. The ICE is also America's primary defense against terrorists who have managed to sneak into the U.S. illegally. Bush is offering all of this to a woman who barely meets the legal requirements to hold the job and has never helmed a major bureaucracy before.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: "Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married [Department of Homeland Security Director Michael] Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday."

To their credit, many right-wing pundits have flipped out over this latest example of Bush's untimely cronyism. Michelle Malkin wrote a withering piece about it on her blog, calling the nomination a "monumental political and policy blunder" and a "bad joke." The editors of the National Review have written an editorial calling on Bush to withdraw the nomination.

It only stands to reason that Bush would value connections over qualifications when it comes to advancement in his administration because that's the only life he's ever known. Every job Bush has ever held—including his current one—has been given to him because of who he knows and he therefore understands nothing about earning a position through hard work and experience. Perhaps the conservative backlash will finally break him out of this protective bubble. It might be interesting to see what, if anything, is inside.

Of course, it bears mentioning that the conservative outcry against Bush is too little, too late. The abandonment of his supposed core principles has been obvious since the very beginning, but people in the GOP are only emboldened to criticize the president once he no longer has to stand for election. There's more than a whiff of political expediency in the air as politicians distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular president, hoping to minimize whatever damage there might be to their own political futures.

But the fact remains that the once-monolithic Republican party is starting to crack under the pressure of its leader's incompetence and the rest of the county is catching on fast. Maybe the right question isn't why Bush's poll numbers are so low, but why they're so high.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Rebuilding Trent Lott's Porch

On Tuesday, Congress agreed on a package of tax breaks aimed at helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Sounds like a swell idea: compassionate conservatism at its finest, right?

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, however, these tax breaks bear a curious similarity to all the other tax legislation passed during the Bush presidency: they will primarily benefit the rich. The rich, in case you didn't know, are the people most likely to have had comprehensive insurance coverage and would therefore need government assistance the least.

I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the poorer residents of the Gulf coast will not be taking full advantage of the stipulation in the new plan that waives the penalties for tapping into 401(k) retirement accounts before retirement. Alas.

At least Trent Lott will be able to get to work on rebuilding that eminently sittable front porch of his content in the knowledge that Uncle Sam's going to pitch in and do his share. Isn't that really what America's all about?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

No Moore, Ms. Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan has lost it completely. Not content with her Crawford, Tex., vigil, the bereaved mother has made a trip down to New Orleans to check up on yet another of President Bush's failures. In a long, rambling essay on Michael Moore's website, Sheehan seems to take leave of her senses entirely:
George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans and Iraq, and excuse his self [sic] from power.
Occupied New Orleans? She's got to be kidding, right? Read it for yourselves, though. She's not cracking a smile at all.

It looks like that "absolute" moral authority that Maureen Dowd made so much of has lost a bit of its veneer. I never did understand how losing a loved one could give anyone moral authority. Emotional authority, perhaps, but that has nothing to do with morality. This is exactly why the victim's family doesn't sit on the killer's jury and, without begrudging her the grief she feels, why Cindy Sheehan should not and will not have influence over the American Iraq war policy.

Lot's of people—especially on the right—are shocked and appalled at Sheehan and the things she says. I, for one, am not. She has the right to her opinion and certainly to her grief and outrage. What appalls me is the fact that there are plenty of people out there like Michael Moore who are only too happy to give Sheehan a platform and a megaphone. These people obviously have no qualms with exploiting a broken woman just so they can score a few points against Bush and maybe sell a few more books. They're really the ones who ought to be ashamed.

Bush Works Budget Magic

President Bush has announced bold plans to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief without raising taxes. Ok, he doesn't have a plan, actually, but he does have a dream. It's a good start, no?
"You bet it's going to cost money. But I'm confident we can handle it and I'm confident we can handle our other priorities," he said during a news conference... "It's going to cost whatever it costs."

* * * * *

Bush, who declined to try to put a price tag on the costs, expressed no worry.

The question here is whether that preternatural nonchalance is born out of extreme confidence, or if it's just the pathological steadiness of a 3-card monty hustler.

When pressed for a more concrete plan, the president could only say this:"[i]t means we're going to have to make sure we cut unnecessary spending.... It's going to mean that we maintain economic growth and we should not raise taxes."

We know that the president doesn't read newspapers, so it's certainly possible that he just hasn't heard that Lord Volde—er, Tom DeLay, declared victory in the battle against unnecessary spending just this past Tuesday, announcing that there was no fat left to cut from the federal budget.

If that's truly the case (and when has DeLay ever been known to lie?), then Bush has his work cut out for him. This year's budget shortfall comes to $333 billion, and that's before adding in any of the costs of Katrina. $62 billion has already been spend on the disaster, and there's a lot more spending on the way.

So, where is the money going to come from? There's no official word, but whispers in Washington hint that the president has called in assistance from the nation's leading alchemists and the National Brotherhood of Magicians.

Just remember, Mr. President, there's a fine line between a magician and a pickpocket, although something tells me you already know that.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Woebegone Blogger Weathers Attack

Garrison Keillor already speaks as if he can barely expel the air in his lungs under the crushing weight of his wisdom and ennui. The lethargic raconteur and long-time host of A Prairie Home Companion on Minnesota Public Radio exhibits that special kind of love for common people that comes only with an advanced degree. If Keillor gets any more insincerely folksy, a fully-formed Cracker Barrel gift shop is going to explode out of his forehead (well, his forehead if we're lucky).

He took a step away from this potential disaster, after the precarious near miss of this summer's Rhubarb Tour of Midwestern state fairs, by threatening legal action against a Minnesota blogger who deigned to make a half-way clever joke at Keillor's expense. An attorney for the radio personality sent a cease and desist letter to Rex Sorgatz, who writes MNSpeak.com, demanding that he stop selling the following t-shirt:



Now I've listened to A Prairie Home Companion a few times and I think Keillor is supposed to have a sense of humor (at least that's what the yuppie-boomer audience thinks). Not so, it seems, when it comes to parody garments. The attorney wrote that the "use of these words creates a likelihood that the public will be confused as to the sponsorship of the T-shirt and our client's services and products."

In a telephone conversation that is recounted on MNSpeak.com, Sorgatz told the attorney, "this is going to make your client look extremely out of touch. I'll even write the headline for you: 'Liberal Comedian Sues Blogger.' Do you really want that?" After some consideration, the answer came back: "Yes."

At this point, Sorgatz might just choose to buckle under the onslaught of the laconic Lutheran of the lake. He is, however, entertaining offers from "sparky" First Amendment lawyers looking for a pro-bono case.

And I guess Garrison Keillor will return to his fabulous pile of money up at fabled Lake Woebegone, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are desperately ashamed of their parents.

Oh, crap! Don't sue me for that.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Slack-Jawed Baby!

Brandine and Cletus, once known as Britney and Kevin, are the proud parents of a baby boy. They haven't decided on a name yet. Might I suggest Bit-Bit? Or maybe Brit, as in Brit Hume Federline. That has a nice, apocalyptic ring to it.

What with Cletus' other brood and Brandine's apparent fecundity, here's an artist's rendering of what might lie in the future for the trashy happy couple:



Experts predict the child will have a happy and normal life right up until the point where he is capable of feeling shame. The rest of us aren't so lucky.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Miscellanea

Up the Creek...

Q: What is President Bush's stance on Roe vs. Wade?
A: He doesn't really care how people get out of New Orleans.

Most Risible Comment of the Day

Tom DeLay declaring "victory" over profligate spending: "There is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget."

Take it away, Andrew Sullivan:
Er, Mr DeLay, you have presided over the biggest explosion in pork and government spending in living memory. You and your president, in an astonishingly swift five years, have managed to add $2 trillion to the debt we and the next generation will have to pay back in taxes or inflation. "No fat left to cut?" This is what conservatism has now come to mean: the worst aspects of big government liberalism with the worst aspects of meddling in the moral decisions of people's private lives. And the people who have done this seem oblivious to it. I will remind you, Tom DeLay equated a balanced budget with fiscal sanity in the Clinton years. But now it's his budget, and his constituents and interest groups who get to feed at the trough, and the sky is the limit.
A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

A lifeguard's comments on Michael Jackson's visit to a Dubai water park: "He looked even stranger than usual. His body is very skinny and lycra does him no favours."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush Eyes Nucular Option

The other day, Jon Stewart's guest on The Daily Show was Marc Siegel, the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear. After Siegel had debunked a few common fears, Stewart asked the author what we should fear. "These leaders," was Siegel's quick reply, an easy applause line if there ever was one (for Stewart's audience, at least). Who knew he was right?

According to recent reports, the Bush administration has asked the Pentagon to revise their nuclear strike plan to include the use of nukes as both a deterrent and as a preemptive tool—against terrorists. Now, we all know the the president has a wee bit of difficulty pronouncing the word "nuclear," so it's easily within the realm of possibility that no one at the Pentagon or in his inner circle has bothered to tell him how the weapons work, either.

Nuclear weapons tend to make a very big bang, indeed. The idea that they would be useful against a terrorist group is patently absurd—unless the U.S. government has no qualms with vaporizing everyone else within a 50-mile radius of the target, that is. Last time I checked, we were still trying to be better than the terrorists. Sending lethal clouds of fallout over Pakistan and making all of Waziristan uninhabitable for next thousand or so years just to squash Osama would kind of put a damper on that angle. Insofar as the intention is to scare off states that might be interested in sponsoring terrorist attacks, this new strike plan has nothing new. It has always been the policy of the United States government to use its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against rogue states.

As this excerpt from the MSNBC article demonstrates, the revised nuclear strike plan exposes a dark irony in American anti-terrorism policy:
To deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, the Pentagon paper says preparations must be made to use nuclear weapons and show determination to use them "if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use." (emphasis added)
Joseph Heller would be proud. Threatening to use weapons of mass destruction as part of our fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction doesn't exactly help us keep the moral upper hand, to put it mildly.

The Bush administration's nuclear brinkmanship, coming at a time when the world's nuclear balance is precarious at best, is the height of irresponsibility. It shows just how stuck in the past this administration is. Under that slick, neo-con surface beats the heart of a true Cold Warrior.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Living the Dream

It is every little boy's dream to one day grace the pages of the Wall Street Journal editorial section. I'm living proof that dreams do come true (sort of).

The WSJ used a quote from my Blogcritics.org review of The Office to actually take a pot shot at a Bush appointee (good for them!). Here's the text:
"Rainn Wilson plays Dwight Schrute (Gareth in the UK version), a geeky and obnoxious office brown-noser who constantly has to be reminded by Scott that he is not the Assistant Regional Manager, but Assistant to the Regional Manager." —Blogcritics.org review of "The Office" TV series DVD, Aug. 26

"Bush administration documents have credited [Michael] Brown with overseeing emergency services while working for the city of Edmond, Okla., in the mid-1970s. Brown's official biography on the FEMA Web site says he served as 'an assistant city manager.' But a former mayor of Edmond, Randel Shadid, told AP on Friday that Brown had been an assistant to the city manager—never assistant city manager." —Associated Press, Sept. 9

You can't see it, but I'm blushing.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Peace and Insecurity in Our Time

Four years have passed since America's rude awakening to the threat of terrorism. Since that time, billions have been spent on recovery and then protection. We have seen a massive expansion of the federal government with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The USA PATRIOT Act, which gives law enforcement agencies unparalleled access into our personal lives, has been passed and renewed. Armed U.S. Marshals guard our planes, and no sneaker, however foul, goes unchecked by airport security. But one salient fact remains: We are not prepared.

That is the lesson Mother Nature has taught us. All our planning, all our training, all our spending has been for naught. Hurricane Katrina has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government is utterly unprepared to follow through on its most sacred duty: to ensure the safety of the American public. The ineptitude of our officials—local, state and federal alike—is nothing less than an invitation to al Qaeda and anyone else who would do us harm.

Despite the furious denials and spin, responsibility rests at the top. We have had five years of tough talk, homespun folksiness and missions accomplished. How much better off are we for all of it?

Perhaps it's time to get someone in the White House who's serious in his (or her?) concern for America and Americans. Talking a good game means nothing if it's not backed up by action. We need someone with the wisdom to formulate a coherent vision for the future and the humility to accept responsibility for failures to achieve this vision. We need a president, once again, who says "the buck stops here," and means it.

Step forward, wherever you are. Peace with insecurity cannot last. Either the insecurity goes, or else the peace. It's up to us.

Friday, September 09, 2005

'Brownie' Sent Packing

Apparently, doing a "heck of a job" isn't quite good enough. FEMA director Michael Brown has been relieved of his duties as head of the Katrina relief effort.

But remember, the federal government is not to blame for the disastrous hurricane aftermath. Perhaps Brown had to head back to Washington to collect his Presidential Medal of Freedom.

'Blame-Gaming' the Feds

One thing we can all agree on is that there's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the inadequate preparation for, and response to, Hurricane Katrina. Or can we?

The Bush administration and some prominent Republicans are having a little trouble grasping that the federal government might have some responsibility for reacting to the worst natural disaster in the country in generations. A defensive and bedraggled Scott McClellan even invented a new word to describe what the awful Democrats are doing: 'blame-gaming'.

It's not that the Republicans are averse to 'blame-gaming', per se. The just don't like it when the finger is pointing at them. When it comes to the new and improved GOP, the best defense is a good offense and they know from experience that blame, just like that other stuff, runs downhill.

That's why we've seen the White House and influential Republicans blaming local and state officials, not to mention the victims themselves. On Tuesday, everyone's favorite ethics role-model, Tom DeLay, sought to deflect criticism from federal government by claiming that the "emergency response system was set up to work from the bottom up."

This is, of course, an extremely weak argument. Everybody—presumably even the vacationing President Bush—saw a category 5 hurricane heading straight for a city that is mostly below sea level and has levees designed to withstand only a category 3 hurricane. If I knew that this storm was going to be a catastrophe, god knows the federal government should have known.

But, as Tom DeLay would have us believe, the feds stood by watching this slow-motion apocalypse and genuinely expected the mayor of New Orleans to single-handedly mount one of the biggest peace-time civilian evacuations in history. Is that really the plan we have in effect? Do we really want the safety and well-being of American citizens left to city councils and aldermen?

Isn't it the federal government's job to take the lead when part of the U.S. is hit by a disaster that is well beyond the scope of any municipality, or even state, to handle? Or does the massive expansion of federal powers shepherded in by the Bush administration stop short of public safety? Do we hold the Manhattan Borough President responsible for 9/11 or for the ongoing defense of New York City? Of course not. The massive influx of federal dollars into the Homeland Security budgets of major American cities like New York, Washington and Chicago is clear evidence that the federal government acknowledges its responsibility to public safety—even within local jurisdictions.

Maybe someone should inform George Bush about this, but we have a federal government for a reason. If everything was supposed to be left to the local authorities, then why have a constitution or a president or a congress—or FEMA, for that matter?

I'll be the first to admit that the woeful response to Hurricane Katrina could never have happened if not for the combined failures of local, state and federal officials and agencies. But many in the Republican party are only interested in 'blame-gaming' when discussing the first two (and when it comes to state officials, the Democratic governor of Louisiana seems to have done a much worse job than the governors of Mississippi and Alabama, who, as chance would have it, happen to be Republicans).

There is a dangerous assumption taking hold in certain corners of Washington and springing up all over the blogosphere, that because there are people other than Bush who deserve some blame, the president therefore merits none at all.

I say it's "dangerous" because this attitude is terrible for America and will do nothing to help our country get prepared for another catastrophe, whether it's man-made or an act of God. Back in the infancy of this country, we had a president who said, "I cannot tell a lie." Now we have a president whose mantra seems to be, "I cannot make a mistake."

The idea that certain prominent figures on the right would rule out any culpability on the part of the current administration is tantamount to saying, "I don't care about America." There really do seem to be people who believe that protecting the president from criticism is more important than getting to the bottom of what happened and why things turned out the way they did. The last thing the administration should do right now is give the impression that no one is minding the store when it comes to federal preparedness for a disaster. Unfortunately for Bush and his minions, pawning all the responsibility off on the lower officials does exactly this.

The task over the next months will be to try to understand what went wrong so that it will never happen again. To close off one avenue of inquiry from the start would only cripple this progress. The truth is out there. We just need the courage to actually find it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

An Open Letter to MTV

September is a cursed month. Twice in the past five years—once in 2001 and again in 2005—your gala Video Music Awards have been overshadowed by unspeakable national tragedies. And each time the tendrils of doom grasp at the throat of America, we look back at the VMAs in disbelief at the worthless nonsense that occupied our thoughts in times of relative innocence.

Do you really want Puff Daddy—er, sorry, Diddy—to be the national symbol of shallow hubris? Perhaps it's time to consider moving the award ceremonies to the beginning of August. Nothing ever happens in August. Cindy Sheehan doesn't count.

That way, In Touch and US Weekly would have a whole month to obsess over how nice Gwen Stefani looked, or how hideous Jessica Simpson looked before disaster strikes. We'll have enough time to properly reflect on the grand questions stirred up by the VMAs: Why do people take Green Day so seriously? Don't they suck? What the hell is wrong with R. Kelly?

As a nation, we need time to digest between atrocities. So, move the VMAs. Think about it, MTV.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bush to Lead Search for 'Real Killer'

Rejecting calls for an independent investigation into possible failures and inadequacies in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush instead pledged to head the probe himself.

That's right, President Bush is on the case so we can all relax.

There has been no word on why Bush wants to waste precious time and money on an inquiry that will be widely perceived as the equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rafael Palmiero co-chairing an investigation into the the use of steroids in pro sports, or O.J. Simpson's tireless search for the 'real killer'.

Let us not forget, President Bush is a man with a congenital defect that makes it impossible for him to be even slightly critical of his aides and appointees. Karl Rove got a free pass for blowing the cover of a CIA agent, John Bolton is likely hurling furniture down the hallways of the UN building right now thanks to Bush's indifference, and former CIA chief George Tenet—the man whose agency was singled out for harsh criticism by the 9/11 Commission but who, according to Bush, has "done a superb job on behalf of the American people"—was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And don't expect the buck to stop anywhere near George Bush's desk, either. He's not too keen on accepting personal responsibility for anything negative—ever. There was that amazing moment back in April, 2004 when, in response to a reporter's question, Bush could not think of a single mistake he'd made in his first term in office. Instead, he got that faraway look in his eyes and started yammering on about mustard gas hidden on Iraqi turkey farms.

I could sure think of some mistakes he's made, not the least of which is attempting to speak extemporaneously, and that's just off the top of my head. I suppose we can just be thankful that he didn't get up on the 17th Street levee last Wednesday and declare "Mission Accomplished."

The silver lining for Bush is that he'll never be left speechless when asked about past mistakes again. He'll always be able to tell that one about the time he assumed the American people would buy the conclusions of an investigation headed by the very man who stands accused of the crime in question.

Afterword: George W. isn't the only Bush who suffers from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease. George's mother, Barbara, should also refrain from extemporaneous comments. Here's what she had to say about Katrina victims today: "So many of the people here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Yikes.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Rush Blames Katrina Victims for Plight

On September 1, Rush Limbaugh went on a sickening diatribe against the victims of Katrina, blaming them for their own dire situation. According to Rush, it's not race but ideology that explains what we're watching in stunned silence on our TV screens.

Ever the 'contradictarian', Rush begins his monologue on how this is not racism by making a distinction that is purely race-based:
The non-black population was just as devastated, but apparently they were able to get out, and the black population wasn't able to get out. Maybe New Orleans has a half decent mass transit people and some of these people don't need cars.
After that grotesque attempt at a joke, Rush raises the possibility that perhaps many in the black population didn't have cars in which to flee for economic reasons.
Well, why is that? Why can't they afford them? What is it about New Orleans that doesn't pay? It's a 67% black population. They have lots of black-run businesses. Why is this they don't pay well down there?
Gee, Rush, I guess those black business owners are just glorified slave-drivers. Is that what you're getting at?

What Rush is actually getting at is easy to discern, because it's what he's always getting at. He suffers from a particular failure of the political imagination that makes it impossible for him to assimilate any new information. All he can do is regurgitate the same hackneyed theories that he's rehearsed so many times before.

His condition springs from the same source as the mentality that holds that two diametrically opposed situations—a huge budget surplus and a huge budget deficit, for example—require the same course of action: massive tax cuts for the rich. It's also the mentality that allows government officials to slap each other on the back for the great job they're doing in the relief effort at the same time that people are perishing in the streets of New Orleans due to the indifference and negligence of those same officials.

Anyone who listens to Rush for even five minutes knows that his golden rule is this: liberals can and should be blamed for every bad thing that ever happens in the world. So it is with New Orleans. Who's to blame for the suffering in the Big Easy? Why, it's the victims themselves, and it's all because they're a bunch of filthy commies.
Socialism to one degree or another has failed everywhere it's been tried. New Orleans has been run by liberal Democrat governments, people, for as long as I can remember, and there's an entitlement mentality there. You are never going to have a thriving city relying on handouts, or on welfare payments, whatever you want to call them. It's just not going to happen.
So, according to our latter-day McCarthy, socialism has taught the people of New Orleans to expect a hand-up from the government and that's why the deserve to die like dogs in the street now. Well, Rush, your happy day has come. It looks like none of these people will ever expect assistance from the government again. Good for them. Good for America, right?

Throughout his rant, Rush sticks to his contention that what were seeing is not racism in action but a failed liberal ideology. By noticing the race of those affected, Rush opines, we're not seeing human suffering, we're seeing black suffering. Ah, yes. It is the media elites and the liberals who are the real racists. Rush is color-blind. He only sees human beings.

Of course Limbaugh ends up getting hoisted by his own re-tard, if you will. If the problem with New Orleans is really one of ideology and not class and race, how does he explain the fact that—as he himself mentioned—many of the white residents managed to flee while many of the black residents stayed behind? If New Orleans' woes are caused by the culture of the city, are the white residents somehow immune to the taint of that culture? Are they not a part of the city? Or is there something else going on?

By jumping through this many hoops just to "prove" that racism is not a factor, Rush proves just how race-conscious he really is. The fact that this man is the most popular talk radio host in America chills me to the bone.

Days of Shame

There is absolutely nothing in my political or social memory that fills me with more shame for my country than the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.

Not Monica-gate or Iran-Contra; not Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo; not Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua or Guatemala; not Waco or the USS Vincennes; not Dan Quayle, Jerry Falwell or Michael Moore; not Rodney King or the L.A. riots; not the Chinese embassy in Belgrade or indifference to Rwanda—nothing brings the hot red flush of shame to my face more than watching the poor, bedraggled citizens of New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta Gulf coast left to rot thanks to the combined failures of local, state and federal authorities.

Watching this mixture of incompetence and utter indifference—a "perfect storm" of man's devising—is like taking a long, dark look into our nation's soul. Is it true? Are we still a country where the value of a life is determined by race and class? Are our communities really so weak that its most vulnerable members are left to fend for themselves—or worse—when disaster strikes? Are our leaders really such incompetent navel-gazers that they can congratulate themselves on a job well-done while people die in the streets because of their callous indifference? Could it be possible that we've learned nothing from our failures; from the blood, sweat and tears of centuries? I shudder to think.

In the wake of this tragedy, it has become uncomfortably clear how much of the last several decades has been devoted to spreading a thin veneer over our country's cracks and blemishes. But nothing is fixed—all you have to do is turn on the TV to see that. American politicians are devoted to the appearance of progress, but American citizens cannot subsist on the appearance of justice, safety and security. What we gained from the upheavals of the 60s and 70s, apparently, is not a more profound sense of national identity and community, but a more finely tuned ability to ignore, avoid and deny reality.

For years now, the media have been partners in selling Washington's fantasy of the prosperous, secure, color-blind society. But in the aftermath of Katrina, when even FOX News' Shepard Smith is taking pot shots at the federal response to this storm, that partnership appears to be off.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, reporters are actually asking vital questions. How could the government fail its citizens so profoundly in such a basic responsibility? How can we even pretend to be prepared for a terror attack when we're incapable of protecting citizens from a foreseeable event for which there was advanced warning? Would the response have been the same if this happened in Beverly Hills? How can Washington justify playing politics with people's lives?

This disaster goes beyond the culpability of the Bush administration, although it is great, and strikes directly at the trust citizens have in their society. This is a breach of trust that, unlike the levees of New Orleans, cannot be patched with sandbags—this breech may never be repaired.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Free Tibet*

Get Marching, Saints

Now more than ever, the good people of New Orleans and the entire Mississippi delta Gulf coast need your help. Consider making a tax-deductible donation at the relief fund set up over at Blogcritics.org. 100% of proceeds go to the American Red Cross 2005 Hurricane Relief Fund. Be a saint.
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