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Friday, September 30, 2005
Brutal Simian Overlords, Here We Come

Suspended animation didn't work out too well for this guy.

I missed this story when it surfaced back in the spring. But the implications of it are pretty wild and I'm surprised it didn't get more play in the media. Get this:

Mice have been placed in a state of near suspended animation, raising the possibility that hibernation could one day be induced in humans.

If so, it might be possible to put astronauts into hibernation-like states for long-haul space flights - as often depicted in science fiction films[...]

In the latest study, Dr Roth and his colleagues found that the mice stopped moving and appeared to lose consciousness within minutes of breathing the air and H2S mixture.

The animals' breathing rates dropped from the normal 120 breaths per minute to less than 10 breaths per minute.

During exposure their metabolic rates dropped by an astonishing 90%, and their core body temperatures fell from 37C to as low as 11C.

After six hours' exposure to the mixture, the mice were given fresh air. Their metabolic rate and core body temperature returned to normal, and tests showed they had suffered no ill effects.

So it might be possible to travel to other planets -- or even other stars -- while in suspended animation. However, since H2S is Hydrogen Sulphide, your clothes might smell like rotten eggs for a few days afterward.

Next thing you know, someone's going to get the big idea of putting astronauts in suspended animation and sending them to an Earth-like planet -- a planet where apes rule and humans are mute.

Some people have to learn the hard way, you know.

Thursday, September 29, 2005
The Corner: Just Too Hip For You To Understand

Put down that femur, Chaka, and get me a cup of joe.

When the beautiful minds at The Corner aren't dropping pearls of right-wing wisdom for one another to admire, they attempt to demonstrate how hip they are by comparing notes on pop culture -- posting what they've recently downloaded from Itunes (apparently they think Smashing Pumpkins are still cool), or which new HBO series they liked, or how the Mets can improve their hitting next season. It's really kind of sad to watch -- what they're really arguing is that they have lives, that they're not wonkish social outcasts who spend Saturday nights doing their laundry.

The Corner has always had a sort of forced joviality to it, a studied lightness of tone. Katherine Lopez signs her missives as K-Lo (sooo 1998, Katharine), and Jonah Goldberg makes continual (and irritating) reference to his assistant Chaka (apparently this is a reference to -- I kid you not -- Land of the Lost. The participants often brag to one another that a newcomer to The Corner wouldn't understand what was going on; they'd be bowled over by all the witty zingers flying back and forth, and wouldn't get all the hip inside references. That, of course, is true of any club, and a club is exactly what The Corner is supposed to feel like.

But sometimes the mask of breezy jocularity falls away, and the discussions about pop culture become sour and decidedly paranoid. Check out this post about the heretofore innocuous Country Music Television channel:

I used to think CMT offered a popular alternative to the usual lefty cultural sensibility reigning on MTV and VH1. I don’t think that so much anymore. CMT has been running Neil Young’s new video “I’m Walkin’ to New Orleans.” It’s a remake of the old Fats Domino tune, with video that tries to pin blame on George Bush.[...]

This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s been clear for some months now that CMT’s cultural politics have been shifting to the left. They had a special, for example, featuring Jimmy Carter and his friendship with Willie Nelson. The program was fine, but I haven’t seen any comparable programing featuring Republican or conservative political figures. And CMT now runs an alternative music country program, “Wide Open Country.” It’s good at times, although a lot of the material is surprising weak and/or rock oriented. It would be nice to see a religious country program along side the alternative country show, but don’t expect that kind of diversity from CMT. Even if I can’t remember every example, I know I’ve seen a number of other signs of a cultural shift left on CMT lately...it’s beginning to look as though the cultural left has decided to use CMT to try to proselytize the South. They’re also trying to push the country audience closer to rock. Up to a point, I have no problem with the rock angle. I generally like the Crossroads series on CMT, which pairs country stars with rock stars. Even so CMT is getting pushed to the musical, cultural, and political left, as the Young video shows.

That's right, folks. The "cultural left" has decided to indoctrinate southerners to liberalism through country music videos.

So devious! I really underestimated the cultural left. I guess we all did. Until it was too late.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005
An amusing bumper sticker, courtesy of Echidne:


Hammer Time!
Today's indictment of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay was no surprise to the media. It's been hinted at for the last several days. But within minutes of the actual announcement, it became clear that the indictment was no surprise to the Republican leadership in the House -- or at the White House, either.

Tom DeLay and two political associates were charged with conspiracy in a
campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to
temporarily relinquish his post.

DeLay attorney Steve Brittain said DeLay was accused of a
criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro,
former executive director of a Texas political action committee
formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's national
political committee.

"I have notified the speaker that I will temporarily step aside
from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House
Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County district
attorney today," DeLay said.

GOP congressional officials said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.,
will recommend that Rep. David Dreier of California step into those
duties. Some of the duties may go to the GOP whip, Rep. Roy Blunt
of Missouri. The Republican rank and file may meet as early as
Wednesday night to act on Hastert's recommendation.

The charge carries a potential two-year sentence, which forces
DeLay to step down under House Republican rules.

You'll remember that the House changed its rules in November to shield DeLay's leadership position if an indictment should be handed down. After enduring a brief but painful political firestorm, the rule was changed back in January. So now the Republicans have no choice but to pursue a two-pronged strategy: DeLay practically leaps from his position as Majority Whip, all the while proclaiming his innocence. The Flying Monkeys take wing, screeching that this proves that even the appearance of the appearance of impropriety will not be tolerated by the virtuous Republican party, and that Tom will soon be cleared of all charges. He is stepping aside only temporarily, you see, and for the good of the Republic.

Meanwhile, Karl Rove orders the Death Star to Austin with simple instructions: "Find Ronny Earle And Destroy Him"

UPDATE: Showboating my ignorance once again, I incorrectly identified Tom DeLay as Majority Whip. He is actually Majority Leader. Roy Blunt of Missouri is the Majority Whip.

I'd also like to apologize for the cheesy title to this post. In fact, I am so ashamed of "Justice, DeLayed" that I will open the floor to suggestions for a better, wittier title.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Thanks For Explaining It To Me, Ben
FBI agents haven't been hiding their irritation at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' sudden zeal for enforcing America's old-timey anti-obscenity laws. The rank-and-file at the Bureau want to catch terrorists and drug dealers and white-collar criminals; they didn't join the Feds in order to watch Ron Jeremy videos.

Cherub-faced wingnut Ben Shapiro can't believe the FBI's reluctance -- or his small, misshapen ears.

Of course, it is pure malarkey for FBI agents to complain that policing porn takes valuable resources from the war on terrorism. In the FBI context, every agent who polices public corruption or civil rights violation is an agent not working on terrorism...

Interesting. So pornography is as serious a crime as public corruption and civil rights violations? I just want to make sure we understand your position here, Ben.

[...]Plainly it is not governmental inefficiency these agents are worried about. They find the anti-pornography crowd disturbing because they believe that policing pornography violates fundamental rights.


This has become the dominant view in our society: As long as what I do doesn't harm you personally, I have the right to do it. It's a silly view and a view rejected by law enforcement policies all over the country. Were we to truly recognize such a philosophy, we would have to legalize prostitution, drugs and suicide -- as well as the murder of homeless drifters with no family or friends. After all, if someone kills a homeless drifter, how does that affect anyone else? Consent should make no difference here -- that's an imposition of your values. Just because a murderer offends your moral sensibilities doesn't give you an excuse to impose your subjective values on a society.

Wait a second, Ben, while I drive an 18-wheeler through the gaping hole in your argument! (HONK! HONK! EEEEEEEE-OWWWWWW!)

Doesn't the murder of a homeless drifter affect the homeless drifter?

I think your argument that the homeless drifter had "no family or friends" and therefore his murder "wouldn't affect anyone" says more about your moral values than it does about mine.

Monday, September 26, 2005
Evolve Or Die

Q: Are We Not Men?...A: We Are EVOLVE TV!

Evolve TV is a big idea, a lot of blue sky, a sapling in a forest of sequoias. It's an attempt by the lefty blogosphere to provide an alternative to the talking head pundits of CNN and Fox News. Luminaries of the blogosphere will debate the great issues of the day on video, it is promised, right from your computer screen.

Kos has been banging the drum on Evolve TV recently. And why not? He appears in a new Evolve TV segment, interviewing Juan Cole of Informed Comment. You can watch the interview here.

I've seen a few segments of the interview, and I must be honest.

Evolve TV sucks. It's a disaster.

I know, I know, Evolve TV is still embryonic, still in the experimental stages. But what is the point of the experiment? If it seeks to avoid the slick production values of cable access TV, mission accomplished.

In the video I saw, Markos Moulitsas and Juan Cole were perched on stools. Behind them was a hideous green drapery. What looked like a dining room light fixture loomed a few inches over their heads. Cole seemed relatively comfortable in the role of guest. But Markos was dismal -- slouching in an ill-fitting sportcoat, lurching from one topic to another, backing and filling his sentences, gesturing broadly, fidgeting, squirming in his chair.

Ah, you say, what difference does the superficial stuff make? Can't we look past the chintzy production values and focus on the content?

I will answer that question with a question: why should the brightest minds of the online community work so hard to ape the mid-twentieth-century conventions of television?

The TV chat show format is difficult to emulate, expensive to maintain and stultifyingly boring. Trying to shoehorn the message of the blogger into the medium of television is a fool's errand. Unfortunately, that fool's errand is the stated goal of Evolve TV. Which makes me think it's headed for an evolutionary dead end.

Saturday, September 24, 2005
Two Years In The Lost City
It was two years ago today that we began our little journey into The Lost City.

It has been an interesting expedition; I'm reminded of a possibly apocryphal quote from Einstein: "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine."

My thanks to Nemo for allowing me to put on a pith helmet and post dispatches back to the reality-based community. Nemo set the tone here, and I have attempted to be true to it; but I'm afraid I've botched it. I lack Nemo's wit, his keen eye for seemingly trivial details, and his slightly paranoid personality. Those are qualtiies shared by all the truly great bloggers.

It's my hope that Nemo will reappear soon to share his latest discoveries from the electronic beyond.

Thanks to each of you reading as well. There's no shortage of blogs out there, and that you've chosen to spend even a little time here is flattering.

Well, I promised myself I wouldn't cry. Too late now!

Thanks again.

Friday, September 23, 2005
Viral Marketing Knows No Politics
A few years ago Fox television aired some promos for a new Joss Whedon series called "Firefly". It was billed as a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi western.

The lovely Mrs. Uncle Mike had been a fan of both Buffy and Angel, so I'd gained an appreciation for Whedon's writing. Still, the promos didn't impress me (tongue-in-cheek sci-fi oaters not really being my thing) and I never watched the show. Nobody else did, either; it was cancelled less than halfway through the season.

But one evening Nemo and the irrepressible Sarita showed up at my house and demanded -- damanded! -- that I watch the pilot episode of the series, which had just come out on DVD. We watched a couple of other episodes as well, and before we'd watched the last of them -- I'm not sure exactly when it happened -- I became a Browncoat (if you're a Browncoat, you know what I'm talking about).

It's a Browncoat revolution, baby.

Now, consider this: all the expensive promos that Fox TV produced couldn't make me watch "Firefly". Someone had to show up at my door and demand -- demand! -- that I watch it.

That's viral marketing. And that's what changed "Firefly" from a dud on Fox to a hit on DVD.

Universal, which is marketing Serenity, the new film based on the series, has learned this lesson. The studio is offering free screenings to bloggers, hoping that they'll promote the movie on their sites.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw that both that island of flying monkeys known as Powerline, and the obsessively researched Talking Points Memo, are promoting free screenings of Serenity! What's next? Will cats in blue jackets dance with dogs in red hats? What will become of the mice and the rats?

Shameful as it is to admit, The Lost City was not offered this opportunity to promote Serenity. But here we are, doing it anyway. Just to prove a point.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall posted this follow-up on the Talking Points Memo site:

TPM has been up and running for just about five years. And over that time I've gotten very good and understanding and predicting the ebb and flow of traffic, what sort of response we'll get when we have contests or raise funds. But I didn't have much to go on in trying to figure out what the demand would be for tickets to a movie screening in one geographically confined, if also densely populated, area. By the time I plugged back in this afternoon we had about 800 requests for about 200 tickets....The movie looks like a lot of fun. And I look forward to seeing a lot of you on Wednesday night.

Perhaps we'll arrange for all readers of The Lost City to attend a showing of Serenity!

Don't think we'll need 200 tickets, though.

Thursday, September 22, 2005
Everybody Knows How To Get Capone
David Mamet writes an interesting piece in the LA Times (registration required) about the bewildering and seemingly incurable timidity of the Dems. Not surprisingly, Mamet considers politics to be a game. Only makes sense, right? Mamet's thematic obsession has always been the idea that life's a game.

In poker, one must have courage: the courage to bet, to back one's convictions, one's intuitions, one's understanding. There can be no victory without courage....

For example, take a player who has never acted with initiative — he has never raised, merely called. Now, at the end of the evening, he is dealt a royal flush. The hand, per se, is unbeatable, but the passive player has never acted aggressively; his current bet (on the sure thing) will signal to the other players that his hand is unbeatable, and they will fold.

His patient, passive quest for certainty has won nothing....

Committed Democrats watched while Al Gore frittered away the sure-thing election of 2000....

The Republicans, like the perpetual raiser at the poker table, became increasingly bold as the Democrats signaled their absolute reluctance to seize the initiative.

John Kerry lost the 2004 election combating an indictment of his Vietnam War record. A decorated war hero muddled himself in merely "calling" the attacks of a man with, curiously, a vanishing record of military attendance.....

Control of the initiative is control of the battle. In the alley, at the poker table or in politics. One must raise. The American public chose Bush over Kerry in 2004. How, the undecided electorate rightly wondered, could one believe that Kerry would stand up for America when he could not stand up to Bush? A possible response to the Swift boat veterans would have been: "I served. He didn't. I didn't bring up the subject, but, if all George Bush has to show for his time in the Guard is a scrap of paper with some doodling on it, I say the man was a deserter."

This would have been a raise. Here the initiative has been seized, and the opponent must now fume and bluster and scream unfair. In combat, in politics, in poker, there is no certainty; there is only likelihood, and the likelihood is that aggression will prevail.

I've always felt that Mamet's rhetorical skills were better than his actual arguments. Is he right in this case? I don't know. Certainly Mamet isn't the first to point out that the Dems are timid. But Mamet's "he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue" speech might be what the Eliot Ness-esqe Democrats need to hear right now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
How's The Nightlife On Planet Mongo?
President Bush's desperate, tardy and ill-conceived plan to rebuild the Gulf Coast is landing with a thud in the halls of Congress. The plan itself isn't the problem (there is no plan, which suits House conservatives fine); the problem is the price tag. Bush wants to spend $200 billion dollars on no-bid contracts in order to demonstrate to the voters that he really, really is focusing on the problem.

But some House Republicans don't want to spend the money without spending cuts (note that we've been waging a war in Iraq for three years, and no budget offsets were ever suggested). And despite Tom DeLay's glib assertions to the contrary, they have a wish list of stuff to cut.

At the top of a partial list of the potential cuts being circulated on Tuesday were previously suggested ideas like delaying the start of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage for one year to save $31 billion and eliminating $25 billion in projects from the newly enacted transportation measure.

The list also proposed eliminating the Moon-Mars initiative that NASA announced on Monday, for $44 billion in savings; ending support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $4 billion; cutting taxpayer payments for the national political conventions and the presidential election campaign fund, $600 million; and charging federal employees for parking, $1.54 billion.

This proposal will go nowhere, despite the macho military-esque "Operation Offset" moniker they've slapped onto it.

The Medicare prescription drug coverage benefit was Bush's handiwork; Congress won't postpone its implementation by one day because Bush won't allow it. Similarly, the $104 billion Mars program will get away unscathed. Bush will never sacrifice it.

Someone once compared the Bush administration to a shark -- it can't go backwards, but it must keep moving forward or it will die. That seems exactly right to me. If Bush was proposing a trip to planet Mongo, at a cost a hundred times that of the Mars expedition, he would defend it to the death.

Not his death, of course, but somebody's death. You get the idea.

Anyone who thinks Congress will strip $25 billion from the transportation bill is smoking crack. "Pork" is money spent in somebody else's congressional district. But in your own district it's sensible infrastructure, and if you're a member of Congress, you damn well better come through with the money.

I can't imagine them successfully pulling off any of the other cuts either. De-fund public broadcasting? Members of Congress tried that once; they'd rather keep their jobs. Cut government subsidies for political conventions? There's too many well-connected Republicans eating at that trough. Eliminate free parking for government employees? Listen, my dad was a fed. Believe me, there's probably a weighted budget formula for charging the government for each parking space in the lot, even if the government owns the building. You won't save $1.5 billion with this proposal -- in fact, implementing it will probably cost $1.5 billion.

But hey, we can always charge for parking on Planet Mongo. The money'll pour in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Intelligent Design: Finally Some Proof
Finally, it's all coming together. It's all making sense. The universe has been centrally planned, and there's a lid for every pot. Look at these two headlines and try to pass it off as a coincidence:

Hinckley Wants Girlfriend, Psychologist Says in Court (WP)

Aniston says she's ready to date (CNN)

Thursday, September 15, 2005
Kos Loses His Marbles

Don't sue MnSpeak.com, or they'll create another idiotic T-shirt

The other day, a right-wing blog called MnSpeak.com got handed a cease-and-desist order by Garrison Keillor's lawyers. The reason? MnSpeak was selling T-shirts bearing the words "A Prairie Ho Companion", in a typeface suspiciously similar to that used by Keillor's show.

MnSpeak pulled the shirts, but is whining bitterly about it and threatening to lawyer up and whoop Keillor's ass. Now Kos weighs in on MnSpeak's side:

Who is Garrison Keillor and why is he such an idiot?

Using lawyers to try and intimidate bloggers will become increasingly common. I have trained as a lawyer and taught a class on media law at Boston University, so I have an advantage over most non-lawyer bloggers on the sorts of things I can and can't do, and what is established law and what are the gray areas.

Get over yourself, Kos. No one is going to kick down your front door and take your server away. This isn't about "intimidating bloggers". This isn't about bloggers at all.

Rex isn't getting threatened with a lawsuit because he runs a blog or because he's a tasteless, right-wing kook, or because he doesn't like Keillor; he's getting threatened because he's trying to cash in on somebody else's service mark.

A Prairie Home Companion makes a lot of money in merchandising. A lot of money. Their service marks are worth a fortune and believe me, these guys do not fuck around. They will crush MnSpeak in court over this. If Rex is smart he'll back away.

As for you, Kos -- go lay down.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Here's Your Head, Mayor Kelly
You may remember that Saint Paul mayor Randy Kelly garnered national headlines last fall when he endorsed President Bush for re-election and traveled around the state of Minnesota stumping for the guy.

Kelly, who keeps claiming (against all evidence) that he is a Democrat, seemed shocked and hurt when local Dems took offense. And he seemed even more shocked and hurt last night, when he got trounced in the city's primary election:

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly could be in for the fight of his political life after receiving barely half as many votes as former City Council Member Chris Coleman in Tuesday's primary....Coleman outdistanced Kelly by 52 percent to 27 percent, with Kelly coming perilously close to dropping behind Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson, who received 19 percent.

Coleman and Kelly will face off in November....Kelly faced voters for the first time Tuesday since endorsing Republican President Bush in 2004. His campaign for weeks had downplayed expectations for the primary, saying he expected to lose.

I don't think he expected to get his head handed to him. When you consider a) that Chris Coleman was splitting the liberal vote with the Green Party candidate, b) that Saint Paul is an overwhelmingly Democratic town, and c) that the Republicans didn't even field a candidate, you start to see how much trouble Kelly is in. There are a lot of Democrats in the city who are hungry for payback, and they might just get it in November.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Imperfect Contrition
From the quiet villages and sun-dappled fields of the mainstream media, to the savage, rocky landscape known as the blogosphere, pundits everywhere are aghast and agape. President Bush, for the first time in his presidency and perhaps his entire life, has admitted that -- gasp! -- he might be responsible for something.

President Bush said today he takes responsibility for any government failures in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and said the disaster exposed "serious problems" in the country's ability to respond to calamities such as a terrorist attack.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," Bush said at a joint White House news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

Claiming responsibility for things is usually done by terrorists; it's rarely done by politicians. Normally it's only done when there is no possibility that the person taking responsibility will actually be held to account. Unlike Japan -- where taking responsibility means you resign in shame --it's purely symbolic here.

I'm not sure, but I think the American people are now expected to weep with joy at the return of the Prodigal Son, then run out the door to slaughter the fatted calf. Bush has tried every other tactic -- denial, evasion, blame-shifting, weirdly inappropriate jocularity, and the inevitable resolute we-can't-let-the-hurricanes-win speech -- to work his way out of this mess. None of it has worked. His poll numbers have continued to slide.

Bush's handlers seem to be hoping that the American people will see this imperfect act of contrition as a sign of backbone. But they appear to want more: specifically, they are hoping that Bush's claim of responsibility will head off any push for an independent investigation of the mishandling of the crisis. I think that is much more important to them right now.

And the more important it becomes to them, the more the Democrats should push for an independent investigation. If Bush really wants to take responsibility, let's put it all out in the open. Let's find out just what he's taking responsibility for.

Monday, September 12, 2005
The Very Last, This Is It, The Final Powerline-Bashing Post
First of all: I'm sorry. Really. I keep bashing Powerline and I shouldn't. I'm like an addict, I need help. I need compassion. I need just one last fix.

These guys are just such easy targets, they're like big slow-moving fish in a very shallow barrel. So indulge me, okay? Just let me share one more: Powerline's reaction to the Mike Brown resignation:

Michael Brown has resigned as head of FEMA. Apparently the administration offered no details. I think Brown's padding of his resume constitutes sufficient reason for him to resign or be removed.

That's the whole post. That's all Powerline had to say about it.

Of course, Brownie was doing "a heckava job" at disaster relief, so it couldn't be that. Or could it?

No, no, he was doing a great job as the head of FEMA.

It couldn't be that.

Dress For Warm Weather, Hinderaker
I believe that there is a God, that he is just, and that he is preparing a special place in Hell for people who lie as much as Hinderaker does over at Powerline:(via Pharyngula)

Here's my point: whatever you think of the mechanics of a particular poll, the direction of President Bush's poll numbers is clear. And it seems clear that Hurricane Katrina, and the outrageous attacks that the Democrats have pursued over the past week, have dealt him, and the Republican Party, another blow. I see no evidence that the Democrats are paying a price for their dishonorable tactics. And they won't pay a price, unless the Republicans start defending themselves and attacking the Democrats the way they deserve to be attacked. The "turn the other cheek" approach that the administration has followed for years--don't respond to attacks, no matter how unfair, just try to ride out the news cycle and move on--has resulted in one needless wound after another, and cumulatively they have now damaged President Bush's standing with the public, likely beyond repair. [emphasis mine]

My God, is this the Bush administration Hinderaker's talking about? It seems to be. Does Hinderaker really believe this?

He can't really believe this, can he?

Woof Woof, Sez The Goldfish
In very matter-of-fact, Time Magazine-ish prose, Team Bush's plan to exalt politics over policy is once again thrown into stark relief:

The White House has sent delegates to meetings in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans to blame the Democrats and state and local officials. In the meantime, it has no plans to push for a full-scale inquiry like the 9/11 commission, which Bush bitterly opposed until the pressure from Congress and surviving families made resistance futile. Congressional Democrats have said they are unwilling to settle for anything less than an outside panel, but White House officials said they do not intend to give in, and will portray Democrats as politicking if they do not accept a bipartisan panel proposed by Republican congressional leaders. Ken Mehlman, the party's chairman and Bush's campaign manager last year, told TIME that viewers at home will think it's "kind of ghoulish, the extent to which you've got political leaders saying not 'Let's help the people in need' but making snide comments about vacations."

This is just wishful thinking on the part of the administration.

The president is standing at 38% in the polls; he simply doesn't have the political capital to withstand a public demand for an independent commission, especially if congressional Dems get up on their hind legs and fight for one. The Republicans are girding to fight the last war. But this is not September of 2001 -- no matter how much the administration tries to tie Hurricane Katrina to 9/11. The administration simply cannot win this fight -- unless Congressional Dems get skeered and immediately surrender, which is always a strong possibility.

Friday, September 09, 2005
Are You There God? It's Me, Uncle Mike
Here's an excerpt from an interesting email that Andrew Sullivan received and posted on his site:

The excuses about being too focused on responding to terrorism don't cut it, because obviously you need the cavalry after a terror attack, too. That's the scary-as-hell part of all this. The cronyism at FEMA (FEMA, for God's sake) is a sick joke. And frankly, I'm stunned that not a single prominent Democrat has called for Bush's resignation. Apparently, the Democrats are just too cowed by their electoral losses, but it's still stunning. Not that Bush would actually resign, of course, but calling for his resignation would force Republicans up and down the line into the unenviable position of defending this indefensible incompetence. How long do you suppose the GOP would have waited to call for President Kerry's resignation?

That just might be why the GOP is in power, do you suppose? And al-Qaida is taking notes, no doubt. God help us.

Well, I don't know about you, but I've been saying "God help us" a lot over the last four-and-a-half years. I have no doubt that if Kerry were in the White House, Republicans would already be drawing up impeachment papers. But ain't we supposed to be the grown-ups?

Life Inside The Potemkin Village
Saying the Republican party has been successful at government-bashing is kind of like saying the Rolling Stones have been successful in the music business.

We all knew that once Republicans were in charge of both the White House and Congress, responsible governance would take a back seat to political patronage. Still, one of the most remarkable things about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is the look of flat-footed, drop-jawed amazement on the faces of Brown and Chertoff whenever it's suggested that they were responsible for disaster response. It's pretty clear that these guys never imagined that a disaster would happen on their watch, or, if one did happen, that they might be held accountable for the response.

Over the last week a lot of the liberal bloggers have been hyperventilating about the administration's attempts to blame state and local officials for the botched relief efforts. But really, there's no point in feigning shock or outrage. These are old tactics for the Bush team; the Death Star had to destroy something, right? And as today's New York Times editorial points out, what choice did they really have?

It's not really all that surprising that the officials who run FEMA are stressing that all-important emergency response function: the public relations campaign. As it turns out, that's all they really have experience at doing.

Michael Brown was made the director after he was asked to resign from the International Arabian Horse Association, and the other top officials at FEMA don't exactly have impressive résumés in emergency management either. The Chicago Tribune reported on Wednesday that neither the acting deputy director, Patrick Rhode, nor the acting deputy chief of staff, Brooks Altshuler, came to FEMA with any previous experience in disaster management. Ditto for Scott Morris, the third in command until May.

Mr. Altshuler and Mr. Rhode had worked in the White House's Office of National Advance Operations. Those are the people who decide where the president will stand on stage and which loyal supporters will be permitted into the audience - and how many firefighters will be diverted from rescue duty to surround the president as he patrols the New Orleans airport trying to look busy. Mr. Morris was a press handler with the Bush presidential campaign. Previously, he worked for the company that produced Bush campaign commercials.

So when Mr. Brown finally got around to asking Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for extra people for Katrina, it wasn't much of a departure for Mr. Brown to say that one of the things he wanted them to do was to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public." We'd like them to stay focused on conveying food, water and medical help to victims....President Bush chose to make FEMA a dumping ground for unqualified cronies - a sure sign that he wanted to hasten the degradation of an agency that conservative Republicans have long considered an evil of big government.

It is democratic dogma that Potemkin villages can't be successfully erected in free societies. But a society is only as free as its citizens wish it to be. And in a democracy, citizens don't always get good government -- but they always get the government they deserve.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Spinning Out Of Control
"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"

--Groucho Marx

Through much of last week, Americans were treated to a gilt-plated example of Bush administration mendacity. While Chertoff, Brown and a dozen other Bush-appointed toadies, shills and fuck-ups told the public how great things were going in the disaster-relief department, Americans discovered they didn't need the official line. They could see the lies just by turning on their television sets. Thanks to the 24-hour news channels and the amazing invention known as split-screen, people could watch fatuous public officials congratulate each other on what a great job they were doing, while at the same moment starving mobs begged the cameras for help, and bodies floated around the surface of a lake that was once the city of New Orleans.

Those of us who have been rending our garments and gnashing our teeth about this sort of thing for years are not at all surprised. But I think it's safe to say that many Americans were surprised last week. And I suspect the Bush administration spinmeisters were surprised too.

It's better to be lucky than good, and up until now Bush has been very, very lucky. Inevitably, the people writing his press releases really began to believe their own hype about being Masters of Destiny who bend reality itself to their mighty will. But really, what they do is nothing new at all: it's old-fashioned spin-doctoring, and it works up until the day the mainstream media stops parroting their line. Then -- and only then -- they bring out Karl Rove's Horrible Superweapon.

Conspiracy theories and Daily Kos-fueled histrionics aside, Karl Rove has built the most effective tool for political destruction in American history, a sort of right-wing rhetorical Mechagodzilla. Nemo calls it something like the Gigantic Whirling Right-Wing Wurlitzer of Death. I think of it as a sort of political Death Star: as soon as the moon you're on comes out from behind the planet, you're toast. SKEEOW!! Take that, John Kerry!

But Karl Rove's Death Star is an exceedingly clumsy weapon. For one thing, the laser only has one setting: DESTROY! Works well against John Kerry in a campaign, doesn't work so well against Michael Schiavo or Cindy Sheehan. And it also doesn't work well against the unlucky inhabitants of New Orleans, who briefly came under the baleful cyclopean gaze of Karl Rove's terrible weapon.

Already the campaign against Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco has started in earnest. Bush set the ball in motion himself by declaring for the first time that he was "not satisfied" with the relief efforts so far. Many journalists and pundits assumed that he meant that he wasn't satisfied with his own adminstration's response to the crisis; some even gave him kudos for finally owning up to a mistake.

But Bush didn't say with whom he was dissatisfied. And as
Josh Marshall and others have been documenting, the White House -- through unnamed "senior administration officials" -- has been claiming that Gov. Blanco never declared a state of emergency (in fact, she declared a state of emergency Sunday, August 28 -- the day before Katrina made landfall). It's Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin who will get skeeowed next by the Death Star. And the congressional committees set to investigate the dismal response to this disaster will be sure to focus on them -- not on old Brownie -- whom Bush is still claiming did a "heckava job" responding to Hurricane Katrina.

Thursday, September 01, 2005
Believe It Or Not
How poorly is this administration responding to the crisis in New Orleans?

This poorly:

...[M]odern democracy demands that an elected representative involve himself in the great events of the day. At a bare minimum, he must appear informed and active, lest the perception of leaderlessness engender its own reality.
President Bush is failing to meet this minimum.

The President's lackluster afternoon address yesterday was followed by a truly disastrous Good Morning America interview this morning....In it, the President went from making the usual minor errors -- stating that the number of "missing" was unknown, when he probably meant the dead -- to making a truly stupefying one: stating that the breaching of the levees was an unforeseen event. This is simply false (see any of the usual left wing sites for copious sourcing), and it's such a basic error in this case as to suggest a real detachment from the situation at hand. New Orleans has been on borrowed times, behind insufficient levees, for decades; it's incredible that the President either does not know or will not acknowledge this.

What does this have to do with the relief and recovery effort per se? Very little. What does it have to do with the President's political fate? A great deal. Fairly or not, his perceived engagement with the de facto loss of a major American city is now the single most important issue affecting his second term agenda. It won't take long for many to make the connection that it's just this sort of de facto loss -- albeit to terrorism rather than natural disaster -- that his Administration has purportedly been preparing to handle since 9/11. That he seems disengaged, and that at the moment those purported preparations seem ephemeral indeed, together may well represent a ripping-away of the facade of the President-as-protector that won him reelection.

It's too early to know, of course. But for the sake of his agenda -- and really, for the sake of our refugee fellow-citizens -- the President needs to get on the ball.

Believe it or not, that post, my friends, was from the conservative blog redstate.org.

Don't Tell My Wife...
...but I'm in love with a minor Greek goddess named Echidne of the Snakes.

Watch as she makes mincemeat of Dear Leader's idiotic statement that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

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