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Saturday, April 29, 2006
Grokking The Meta-Message
Some sensible words from TPM's Josh Marshall:

[T]his is probably as good a time as any to address the question we hear more and more from Democrats: how do we prepare for whatever it is Karl Rove has cooked up this election season? How do Democrats or this or that Democratic candidate 'inoculate' themselves from this year's version of the Swift Boat scam?

With respect, this is loser talk. The 'how will we defend ourselves' conversation is an example of the malady itself masquerading as the cure to the disease.

On a battlefield there is a name for armies that spend all their time and energy planning and conditioning themselves to defend against their opponents' attacks. They're called defeated armies. You defend yourself when and where you must. But you do everything you can to maintain the initiative. And that pretty much always means bringing the attack to the other side.

This isn't just a good way to win political fights. It's also a window into the meta-message that often makes Republican attack politics so damaging for Democrats. If you think back to the Swift Boat debacle of 2004, the surface issue was John Kerry's honesty and bravery as a sailor in Vietnam. Far more powerful, however, was the meta-message: George Bush slaps John Kerry around and Kerry either can't or won't hit back. For voters concerned with security and the toughness of their leaders, that's a devastating message -- and one that has little or nothing to do with the truth of the surface charges.

I absolutely agree with this. Josh has grokked it.

For decades the Democrats have been playing a game that is ultimately self-defeating. Like General McClellan, they can't shake the notion that they are outmanned, outgunned, outsmarted at every turn. When they see an opportunity to attack they hesitate; on the rare occasions they choose to take action, they do so only after the advantage has slipped away.

The Republicans don't win elections on the strength of their ideas, or even because they fight dirty. They win because they fight with the expectation that they will win. And the Democrats don't.

It's really that simple.

Thursday, April 27, 2006
It's Official: They Just Can't Govern
Do you think we'd see this level of pandering if it weren't an election year?

Every American taxpayer would get a $100 rebate check to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.[...]The energy package, sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, will be offered as an amendment to an emergency spending measure now before the Senate funding the Iraq war and hurricane relief, according to a senior GOP leadership aide.

We are used to seeing politicians embarrass themselves, but this seems to be a new sort of low, even for the morally bankrupt and increasingly desperate GOP Congress. They can't be bothered to govern. But when things get tough, they try a bribe the voters under the guise of a "rebate check". Even if this was good policy -- which it isn't-- how do they figure a "rebate" is even possible, considering the current deficit the government is running?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Nyahhh, Where's Your Laissez-Faire Capitalist God Now?
Quick: what's the difference between taking oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and not putting more oil in?

The answer is: just enough difference to offer the Bush administration a political fig leaf.

You will remember that in the fall of 2000, President Clinton tapped the Reserve in order to bring down high gasoline prices. Republicans -- including then-Governor Bush -- scoffed.

CLEVELAND – George W. Bush called Al Gore's proposal Thursday to tap the nation's strategic petroleum reserve a campaign ploy to drive down oil prices. He blamed the Clinton-Gore administration for soaring energy prices.
The "bad public policy" would risk "long-term national security," Texas Gov. Bush said.

"The strategic reserve is an insurance policy meant for a sudden disruption of our energy supply or for war," Bush said while meeting with area high-tech workers from a start-up firm, Thermagon Inc.

"The strategic reserve should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election," said Bush, the GOP presidential nominee.

"It should not be used for short-tem political gain at the cost of long-term national security."

This morning the anarcho-capitalists over at The Corner woke up with a tummyache because the House and Senate leadership were calling for FTC investigations into oil-price gouging. One can only imagine how they feel now -- now that Dear Leader has not only agreed to investigations, but is using the Reserve to manipulate the market. That must sting!

Of course, laissez-faire capitalism is a bit like communism -- sounds great in theory, tends to quickly unravel outside the classroom. Herbert Hoover was the last President to put his faith and trust in the Holy Market, and the people promptly booted him out in favor of a guy who promised to actually do something about the problem. In the end -- after all the talk and posturing -- people want their government to actually govern. The free-market yahoos still haven't found a way around that.

Monday, April 24, 2006
Why, There Oughtta Be A Law!
Hoo boy.

You will want to read this letter, if for no other reason than its sheer entertainment value. It was sent to President Bush today by Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist -- those two tireless advocates for the downtrodden, the underprivileged, and the underfed:

Dear Mr. President:

In the wake of unprecedented increases in worldwide demand for gasoline, particularly in China and India, coupled with other factors, American consumers are facing record prices for gasoline at the pump. Anyone who is trying to take advantage of this situation while American families are forced into making tough choices over whether to fill up their cars or severely cut back their budgets should be investigated and prosecuted. Therefore, we believe that Federal law enforcement agencies and regulators should take every available step to ensure that all Federal laws protecting American consumers from price-fixing, collusion, gouging and other anti-competitive practices are vigorously enforced.

We respectfully request that you direct the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate any potential collusion, price-fixing or gouging in the sale or distribution of gasoline, petroleum distillates or ethanol in wholesale and retail markets. We further request that scrutiny be directed to refining, the transportation of fuel by pipelines, marine vessels and trucks, storage and marketing activities and retail practices to determine if there is any unlawful manipulation of the price of gasoline. Sweeps of retail distribution centers should be undertaken to ensure that retail price movements are in response to a change in market conditions and not price gouging. Finally, we recommend that the Federal Trade Commission examine whether spot shortages of gasoline are the result of illegal efforts to manipulate prices.

Given the severity of the current situation regarding gas prices, we believe that the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission should devote all necessary resources to expedited review of complaints of price gouging against wholesalers or retailers of gasoline and other distillates.

Additionally, we request that you direct the Chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to bring heightened scrutiny to the trading of energy futures and derivatives to determine whether spikes in prices of oil, gasoline and other petroleum distillates are a result of improper market manipulation by traders or by energy firms.

We believe that protecting American consumers in these unprecedented market conditions is of paramount importance. We know that you share these goals. Consistent with our constitutional authority, we will ask the committees of jurisdiction to conduct oversight of these important questions.


The Honorable Dennis Hastert The Honorable Bill Frist

Speaker Majority Leader

My God! I had no idea that Congress had no investigative powers of its own! If it had such powers, certainly Mssrs. Hastert and Frist would be launching Congressional investigations into an issue as serious as "potential collusion, price-fixing or gouging in the sale or distribution of gasoline, petroleum distillates or ethanol in wholesale or retail markets".

It's an outrage, I tell ya!

Great Society-In-Reverse
When the Reagan administration set up shop in D.C. in January 1981, most people didn't understand how ambitious its agenda really was. Most folks seemed to think that what we were seeing was the usual give-and-take of American politics: one party might be up, one party might be down, but no state of affairs was permanant and both parties agreed on the basics, even if they disagreed on the details.

But the Reaganauts quickly revealed a radical agenda that eschewed debate and compromise, and that was openly contemptuous of "good government". Reagan's acolytes dreamed noisily of a day when America would be a one-party state, controlled jointly by corporate and religious interests with Republicans as the policy gatekeepers; it seemed a thoroughly crazy sort of dream to carry around inside your head.

That was a long time ago now. But it is important to remember that the impulse to dismantle good policy for the sake of politics is much stronger in the Bush II administration than it ever was in the Reagan administration. And E.J. Dionne's latest column in the Post is a good reminder of that. I think his theory about Rove's portfolio shift is the most compelling I have read.

What's intriguing about the shift in the direction of Rove's energies is that it marks a turn from the high politics of a partisan realignment driven by ideas and policies to the more mundane politics of eking out votes, seat by seat and state by state. Most of Rove's grander dreams have died as the president's poll numbers have come crashing down.

It's forgotten that the president's proposal to privatize part of Social Security was not primarily about creating solvency in the system, since the creation of private accounts would have aggravated deficits for a significant period. It was part of a larger effort to reorganize government and bring the New Deal era to a definitive close.

The president's "ownership society" was a political project designed to increase Americans' reliance on private markets for their retirements and, over the longer run, on their own resources for health coverage. The idea was that broadening the "investor class," a totemic phrase among tax-cutting conservatives, would change the economic basis of politics -- and create more Republicans.

This, I think, is exactly right. Politics has always driven policy in this administration, and every policy goal, short-term and long-term, has always been in the service of long term strategic objectives:

The collapse of the Social Security initiative was thus more than a policy failure. It was a decisive political defeat that left Bush and Rove with no fallback ideas around which to organize domestic policy. And just as the growing unpopularity of the war in Vietnam after 1966 forced Lyndon Johnson to abandon his Great Society programs -- partly because of large GOP gains in Congress during that year's midterm elections -- opposition to the Iraq war is undercutting Bush's effort to create a kind of Great Society-in-reverse.

Typical of this crowd: "good policy" means "whatever is good for the GOP".

Thursday, April 13, 2006
Just Don't Ask Me To Clean The Litterbox

Failure is not an option.

I would have been very skeptical of this story, if it hadn't come from America's Most Trusted News Source:

HOUSTON, Tex. -- NASA officials were embarrassed this week to announce the Space Station is infested with mice.

Project Manager Terry Duckworth told Weekly World News, "The female mice escaped from one of our onboard experiments and the male mice came up on a Russian supply ship, hidden in the cargo hold. Now we have a big predicament -- what we call UMP, or Unauthorized Mice Pairing.

Perhaps it's working with the Russians that has given NASA a very pragmatic, low-tech approach to solving the problem.

He may look like an ordinary housecat, but Charlie carries the fate of the multibillion dollar project on his tiny shoulders. "Charlie is my Aunt Ethel's cat and he's a great mouser," said Duckworth.

NASA has developed and manufactured a specially designed space cat suit for Charlie's imminent launch. He will be hoisted spaceward as soon as the shuttle returns to service.

We will keep a close eye on Charlie's outer-space adventures.

Godspeed, little fella.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006
You Gotta Keep An Eye On These Jokers
Hoo boy, did Josh Marshall knock one out of the park today. Apparently every White House reporter missed it, but Marshall picked it up from the transcript.

Seems that during this morning's White House gaggle, Scott McClellan defended the President's May 29, 2003 statement that "We have found the weapons of mass destruction". This in spite of the fact (reported in this morning's Post) that the alleged "mobile weapons labs" had been thoroughly debunked in a report sent to Washington two days before Bush's public statement.

Here's McClellan's explanation of why Bush didn't reveal this new information to the public:

"It's a complex intelligence white paper and it's ... one derived from highly classified information that takes a substantial amount of time to coordinate and to run through a declassification process."


How can the White House maintain that declassification is a long, complex process -- and simultaneously argue that the President can declassify anything, anytime he likes?

Leggo My MEGO
During the Cold War, policymakers often had to sit through long contingency planning sessions about nuclear warfare. They would hear endless statistics of potential numbers of dead, numbers of injured, numbers of homeless, all running into the tens of millions. After awhile the statistics began to seem unreal and hopelessly abstract. The human mind simply couldn't grasp the enormity of the potential disaster. The psychologists' term for this was MEGO -- an acronym standing for My Eyes Glaze Over.

Bush administration mendacity is so ubiquitous it's hard to be shocked by it anymore. It leads to a sort of MEGO effect; you end up being numb and dazed when confronted by it. But I admit that I was shocked by this story in today's Post:

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

This administration must long ago have broken some sort of lies-per-hour record. These clowns haven't just been saying dumb things, or foolish things, or reckless things. They have been just making all kinds of crazy shit up, even when they've had concrete evidence to the contrary. This crowd was so arrogant that they never believed that they would get caught; and they thought that even if by some chance they were caught, no one would care.

So really, it comes down to this: does lying through your teeth to the American people constitute an impeachable offense?

No? Then, should anyone in this administration be held accountable for this debacle? Anyone at all?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Tiger Trap
For elected officials of a conservative bent, the immigration debate has become the political equivalent of a Malay tiger trap. It is clear that there is no way for them to get out alive. The redneck Republican base sees any sort of guest-worker program as flat-out amnesty and they will crucify any politician who dares to go along with it. It makes no difference to the wingers if such a program is accompanied by a campaign of increased border enforcement, even draconian enforcement. The mere presence of any guest-workers is seen as treason. The wingnuts don't want public policy, they just want a fence.

The problem is, border enforcement without a guest-worker program will drive hispanic voters into the arms of the Democrats. And the Republicans know that without a sizeable chunk of the growing hispanic vote, their dreams of a permanant national majority are finished.

This dilemma is made worse by the fact that small-business owners throughout the sun belt depend on illegal immigrants for cheap labor. Deport all the illegals in America and you risk alienating another core Republican constituency, and risk driving up inflation as the cost of everything from food to textiles to services increase dramatically.

But fear not, Republican party! Rich Lowry has a plan to make this issue a win-win! Here's his suggestion for President Bush:

Accept an enforcement-only immigration bill. This is a no-brainer. Bush can say, “Look, I love immigrants and we should welcome them, but the only consensus that exists at the moment is for enforcement. That's why I'm signing a tough enforcement bill, which will enhance our security at a time we face a dire terrorist threat. But I have also extracted a blood-oath commitment from the GOP leadership in the House and the Senate that a proposal for a guest-worker program and bringing illegals out of shadows will be a priority in the new Congress. Once we have better control of our borders, I am confident we can pass sensible, comprehensive, compassionate legislation on this issue,” etc., etc.

That's the spirit, Rich. Start off by talking about 9/11. That never fails. Then build a big fence now. The government would just screw that up, so we better turn the job over to private contractors.

Then tell the hispanic voters you'll work on a guest-worker provision after the election. I'm sure they'll buy it.

So this "blood-oath commitment" is to be a "priority in the new Congress", eh? Is that anything like the blood-oath commitment the Republican Congress made to pass a balanced-budget amendment? The blood-oath commitment they made to enact term limits? Or the blood-oath commitment they made to reform congressional ethics?

Monday, April 10, 2006
A Churning, Frenzy-ish Sort Of Thing

From The Guardian, August 28, 2002:

President Bush was wryly amused at the questions he was being asked when he met his military advisers down at his country home in Texas. They all seemed to be about Iraq. "I know there is this kind of intense speculation that seems to be going on," he told the press at the Prairie Chapel ranch. "It's kind of a churning."

The president groped for another word and his defence secretary supplied it: "A frenzy," Donald Rumsfeld suggested, to the evident approval of his boss, who adopted the word, thereby ensuring it would appear in the headlines the next day.

Reinforcing the message, Ari Fleischer, the White House chider-in-chief, chided the press for imagining that last week's national security talks might touch on the possible invasion of Iraq.

And now:

From the Washington Post, April 10, 2006:

President Bush said Monday that force is not necessarily required to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon, and he dismissed reports of plans for a military attack against Tehran as "wild speculation."

Bush said his goal is to keep the Iranians from having the capability or the knowledge to have a nuclear weapon.....

Bush dismissed unspecified "articles in the newspapers this weekend" as "just wild speculation." He was apparently referring to reports in The Washington Post and the New Yorker magazine about the possibility of attacking Iran to destroy its nuclear sites. "What you're reading is wild speculation, which is kind of a, you know....

Hmmm. A "frenzy", maybe?

-- happens quite frequently here in the nation's capital," Bush said.

Yeah, the media just dreams this stuff up.

Thursday, April 06, 2006
A Nightmare Scenario

Yes, you might survive. But you'll never be the same.

According to the New York Daily News, Alec Baldwin was recently offered this nightmarish dilemma during an interview with Elle magazine: Who would you rather have sex with, Dianne Feinstein or Ann Coulter?

Ugh. Talk about a Sophie's Choice. But Baldwin not only imagined both scenarios, he actually expressed a preference -- which proves he has a stronger stomach than I do.

"I gotta go with Feinstein," Kim Basinger's ex answers. "With Coulter, we'd have sex and I'd have to jump out the window. I wouldn't even get dressed."

Yesterday, Coulter told Lowdown: "That's the only reason I can think of for wanting to have sex with Alec Baldwin."

Or with anyone else, I imagine.

Feinstein isn't exactly attractive, but she isn't hideous either, which I suppose works in her favor. But the idea of any sort of personal interaction with Coulter makes my skin crawl.

I'm trying to imagine a scenario under which I might be compelled to couple with the acerbic Queen of the Damned, but it is straining the limits of my imagination. My family held hostage and threatened with death? An impending nuclear strike against the east coast? An insane volcano-god that must be sated in order to save a village?

A difficult choice, a difficult choice.

And what would my life be like after the ghastly service had been rendered? I would probably never be the same. I would probably suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder -- nightmares, cold sweats, violent bursts of anger, depression, anxiety, paranoia. And I would probably start watching a lot of TV. The Game Show Channel and TV Land and Toon Disney. Simple shows that didn't make me think. Or remember.

I would never talk about it, except once a month, at the group therapy session at the Center for the Victims of Torture.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200
Interesting. It's been 12 hours since Tom Delay made the announcement that he's quitting the House of Representatives. That's an eternity in the blogosphere. Yet so far there has been only one post on the subject from the post-crazy kids over at The Corner, and it comes from an unusually terse Jonah Goldberg:

I've never been much invested in the Tom Delay beat, but I figure someone around here has got to say something. So let me just say it's good news. Next?

Nice try, Jonah.

Remember, up until now the GOP line has been that there was nothing at all to the Delay charges. It was all a partisan witch hunt. Ronny Earle was painted as a mad dog prosecuter, a partisan hack who was out of control. So it's understandable that the wingers are a little uncertain about how to spin this now.

They know Delay was becoming a political liability, but they have never publicly admitted it.

With the guilty plea of Tony Rudy, Delay's former deputy chief of staff, the jig was up. The partisan-witch-hunt line wasn't selling anymore.

With Delay out of the race, it's more likely the Republicans will retain his seat. But I don't think the Republicans are celebrating. Delay's resignation was a tacit admission of guilt; he knew that Rudy wouldn't have plead guilty unless he had cut a deal with prosecutors to hand Delay over.

Delay has simply cemented the theme of a corrupt House leadership, rife with guys who are one step ahead of the warden. And the pay-for-play political machine he built is still chugging away, still being tended by the GOP leadership.

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