Slacker presidents who weren't elected.  On this date in 1881, Chester Alan Arthur was sworn in as the 21st president of the United States, succeeding the assassinated James Garfield.  The Chicago Tribune wrote of Arthur: "It requires a great deal for him to get to his desk and begin the dispatch of business.  Great questions of public policy bore him.  No President was ever so much given to procrastination as he is."  Sound like someone you know?  (Hint: "HehHehHeh...") The Underprotector.  Five years ago today, Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania was nominated to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security.  We've been at terror alert Yellow---with occasional forays into Orange but no time spent at Green or Blue---for 1,647 days.  Nice legacy. The two most-eagerly-anticipated words on TV.  When Countdown host Keith Olbermann announces that he'll be making a "Special Comment", you can count on two things: a strong (not to mention eloquent) dose of truth-to-power, and a sizable bump in his ratings.  Take your vitamins, kid...you're a rare bird. But they're our terrorists...  Special rights for (certain Christian) terrorists (in Indonesia). Trouble in Bangkok blogs the Thai coup d'etat. Family values  Parents (with the awkwardly appropriate surname 'Kampf') kidnap their daughter and take her across state lines for an abortion after they discover the baby's father is black.The Kampfs are white. 19 year old Katelyn Kampf escaped from her parents car in Salem, New Hampshire and called the police. Cheers to President Bush.  For saying these brave words Monday: "You can't realize the blessings of liberty if you can't read a ballot."  Amen, brothe...  What?  You mean he wasn't speaking to a Diebold electronic voting machine?  [sigh]  Never mind.

Disaster management a la Bush.  Is anyone surprised that the Iraq reconstruction crew operated under the same crony-based principles as FEMA?  From the Washington Post:

 

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans---restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

We're going to war with Iran -- bet the mortgage on it  Quite a bit has come out in the last week or so pointing to the conclusion that the Bush administration is making serious preparations for a major military strike on Iran. The tea leaves are always difficult to analyze because you have to weigh the fact that a strike is totally irrational against the fact that the administration is led by folks whose irrationality has been demonstrated again and again. The one piece of data that makes me think they're really going to try it, however, is the news that Don Rumsfeld has apparently put Abram Shulsky (head of what was once the 'Office of Special Plans' (OSP)) in charge of a new DOD outfit, modeled on the OSP, to stovepipe bogus Iran intel from the likes of Manucher Ghorbanifar straight to administration leaders.  That tells me that fundamentally Condi Rice is just window-dressing, like her predecessor Colin Powell, that the Cheney-Rumsfeld Axis remains in place and in charge and that we'll probably be at war with Iran before too long unless someone can stop them.

 

Rooting out the cockroaches. On Monday Dem. Senator Byron Dorgan and filmmaker Robert Greenwald (Iraq: For Sale) got together to call for a Truman-style investigation of war profiteering in Iraq.  The Republican leadership promised to look into the issue immediately.  >>>Blink!<<<  All done.  (what, you expected hearings or something?)

Dead chimp bounce.  Yeah, people are wettin' their pants over the USA Today/Gallup poll showing Bush at 44% approval.  But Rasmussen shows a post-9/11 drop of 7 points, and Harris has him pegged at 38%.  The three-poll average: a measly 40 percent.  If he didn't have weights in his shoes he'd just float away. What liberal media?  Our team is getting shafted in the coverage of the rebellion against Bush's plan to codify torture.  A reminder for the Grandpa media: 40 Democratic Senators oppose rewriting the Geneva Conventions...only 3 Republicans oppose it.  Maybe you could, I dunno, maybe mention us every now and ag'in? Now THAT's torture!  Our four-word solution for making terrorists really talk?  Replay.  Lieberman.  Campaign.  Speeches. Bush folds The Bush administration “has dropped its insistence” on redefining the obligations of the U.S. under the Geneva Conventions, congressional aides say, suggesting the White House “blinked first” in its standoff with senators over detainee policy. Traditional values?  Janet Hook and Richard Simon write today about the political price John McCain may be paying for his stance on torture and coercive interrogation, and it contains this remarkable paragraph: "'This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical community,'" said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, one of several conservative activists who support Bush's proposal on interrogation techniques. Apparently an unrestricted right for the CIA to abuse prisoners is now a traditional value. Crikey. So what's going to happen? As much as I appreciate McCain's stand on this issue, I suspect that he'll agree to watered-down language, as he did with last year's torture bill, and that this will be further watered down by a presidential signing statement that McCain knows full well will accompany the bill. So the end result will probably be: not much. But I hope he proves me wrong.

Question for the Day: The Economic Freedom Fund, which they've been reporting on over at TPMmuckraker, is the 527 group funded by Swift Boat funder, Bob Perry. They appear to be targetting only Democratic incumbents, at least so far, presumably to force the Democrats to divert funds from Democratic challengers to potentially endangered incumbents.  So here's the question: Where's the Dem-leaning 527 returning fire in these districts where EFF is already on the ground? Anybody know the answer?

 

For the meeting before they were against it.  Minnesota Republicans are bashing a Muslim House candidate for taking political contributions from a Muslim leader who President Bush met with and praised.

 

Corruption watch Burns, First, Santorum top CREW's new bipartisan list of most corrupt members of Congress.

 

I don't have anything to add to this, other than to say that the line between evangelism and child abuse is rather thin. Pay particular attention to the picture of the kids literally worshiping a picture of Bush. Transcript of the video after the jump. Read more »»

 

Will Rice and Hughes get the same treatment?  Roll Call executive editor and Fox News host Mort Kondrake included this tidbit in his most recent syndicated column:  "In a controversial move within the administration, [Undersecretary of State Karen] Hughes and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem to have persuaded Bush — temporarily, at least — to drop the label 'Islamic fascism' from his speeches; diplomats say that Muslims hear it as an attack on their religion, thereby validating the extremists’ false charge that the United States is at war with Islam."  The move is a blow to conservatives, who celebrated last month when President Bush used the term several times in his speeches on terrorism. The phrase is a favorite of right-wing commentators like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity; the AP called it “the new buzzword” for conservatives “in an election season dominated by an unpopular war in Iraq.” Critics of the phrase, including numerous Muslim-American groups and Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and former Marine Army Ranger Jack Reed (D-RI), were lambasted by the right. The Weekly Standard Stephen Schwartz said people who took offense to the term were mere “primitive Muslims.”

 

Roasting 'em before the go to Hell  Halliburton’s latest TV ad,  as created by “Iraq for Sale” director Robert Greenwald. Take a look. 

 

Good idea:  Truman Commission on Contracting Fraud  Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid gave a speech on the Senate floor continuing his call for a Truman Commission to help cut waste and contracting fraud in Iraq. An excerpt from Reid’s speech:

If the Iraq was has taught us anything, it’s that Congress must take seriously its responsibility to hold the executive branch accountable, and it hasn’t happened. For two years Democrats have offered constructive solutions to change course in Iraq, give our troops and the Iraqi people a chance for some type of stability and success. We have said there must be a redeployment of forces this year to transition the mission, to change the mission. We’ve said we must resolve the sectarian difference through a political settlement. That’s called diplomacy. They need to mend their constitutions. We’ve said they must regionalize the conflict with a contract group or a conference to bring in those countries who have said they will help, to help. We need to revitalize, and we can do that by, as I’ve indicated, getting the countries who have said they will help to come in and help. There needs to be a regional solution. We need to rebuild our badly strained United States military. There is not a single undeployed army unit today that is battle ready. That says it all. And numbers of generals have witnessed this administration’s flawed Iraq policy firsthand.

Possible new Allen campaign slogan: "He's here, he's white, get used to it!"  Allen said in his recent debate that "Macaca" was something he just made up on the spot (odds of such a "made-up" word being both a racial slur and directed at a person of color: hard to say, our calculator keeps displaying hahahahaha) But on the question of his mother:  Doth he protest too much? From Sen. Allen's statement on his campaign website:  "Yesterday, I found it especially reprehensible that a reporter would impugn the attitudes of my mother, as Ms. Peggy Fox did in her first question at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce Senate debate. My mother and father both taught me to abhor bigotry, and Ms. Fox’s suggestion to the contrary was deeply offensive."  Here's the question Fox asked: "It has been reported ... your grandfather Felix, whom you were given your middle name for, was Jewish. Could you please tell us whether your forebears include Jews and, if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended?" Is that reprehensible? Is she impugning the mom's "attitudes"? She's asking him whether some of his parentage/ancestry is Jewish. Here's the video of Allen's reaction to the question from Fox at the forum.  A friend of mine speculates that since Fox opened her questions with a reference to the Macaca imbroglio that Allen might have gotten all charged up for a pre-canned 'enough Macaca we've all got to come together speech' only to see her question had nothing to do with that. I think he may be on to something because Allen's reaction, in addition to I think revealing a rather intense distaste for possible Jewish ancestry, the answer's just weird. Kos rightly asks why, if Allen's parents taught him to abhor bigotry, he's out there getting his picture taken with the leaders of white supremacist groups.

Was it fair for the reporter to bring up Allen's mother? Let's not forget one thing: Allen's campaign started its downward spiral when he called one of Jim Webb's Indian-American campaign workers "Macaca". In Colonial-era North Africa, particularly the Francophone areas, 'Macaca' is a rough equivalent of 'N-ger'. That's a seemingly distant connection, except when you consider that Allen's mother happens to be from the then-French colony of Tunisia, a fact that in itself pretty much puts the lie to Allen's clumsy fib. This whole brouhaha, including the question that set Allen off, got rolling because of Allen's preposterous claim and the reporter's question about whether he'd learned the word from his mother. It may not be pretty. But it's all the fruit of Allen's lies.

 

Finding a needle in a haystack.  Great story: a brother and sister were reunited last Friday after being separated during the Holocaust---65 years ago.  As soon as they met, 81 year-old Simon Glasberg pulled 75 year-old Hilda Schlick's hair and stuffed a frog in her pants.  "Ja, that's him," she said nostalgically, just before bringing Simon to his knees with her trademark purple nurple.  Who says time can't stand still?

 

A soldier speaks  Failures Of Diplomacy - Or What Price Lies? is a great rant by SGT MAJOR MEYERS on the cost of the Iraq War from a soldier's perspective.

 

Is Bush an Idiot?  Part II  Scarborough aired the second part of his interview with Bill Maher last night (part 1 is here). Video - WMV   Video - QT In this clip, the two discuss the segment Joe did back in August asking the seemingly forbidden question, Is Bush an Idiot? As Bill says, "the jury’s in on this one." I couldn’t agree more, Bill.

 

Traitors exposed  Filmmaker Robert Greenwald joined Keith tonight to talk about his new movie Iraq for Sale and the egregious war profiteering of Halliburton and subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root in Iraq. Keith starts the segment off by reporting on the story of Ray Stannard — the Halliburton employee wounded in a convoy attack in Iraq who was offered the Defense of Freedom Medal on the condition that sign away his right to sue Halliburton. Video-WMP Video-QT  Of course, Halliburton misled Stannard by saying that the document was a medical disclosure form when, in fact, it frees them from all legal liabilities. (Read the rest of this story…)

 

The Conservative Soul In the mail: The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back by Andrew Sullivan. It's yet another devastating indictment of the Bush administration by a conservative. From the book jacket: "The contradictions keep mounting. Today's conservatives support the idea of limited government, but they have increased government's size, power, and reach to new heights. They believe in balanced budgets, but they have boosted government spending, debt, and pork to record levels. They believe in individual liberty and the rule of law, but they have condoned torture, ignored laws passed by Congress, and been indicted for bribery. They have substituted religion for politics, and damaged both."

 

What's in your ballot box?  Jack begs the questions and gives us some disturbing news: an experienced computer technician could tamper with these machines and ‘flip’ the vote in a matter of minutes. Video - WMV   Video - QT If the recent disaster in Maryland taught us anything, its that we should be very concerned about this considering that more than 80% of the midterm votes will be tallied on these sketchy machines. What’s more, many states will be using these machines for the first time. Isn’t this election a little too important to risk it?

 

Come on down to Crazy McCain's!  There are so many legitimate, substantive reasons to criticize John McCain's policy agenda that it bothers me when the far-right drags out the "he's crazy" line. Conservative activists used it in South Carolina in 2000, and if last night was any indication, the argument may make a comeback.

Last night on the O'Reilly Factor, former New York Senator Al D'Amato (R) and Bill O'Reilly debated Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) insistence that the U.S. follow the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of all detainees. D'Amato said McCain should receive "a pass on this" because he was "so traumatized by the events that took place" during his captivity in the Vietnam War.  The trauma, D'Amato argued, put McCain in such a mental state that he was not in "a position to consider the impact of what his restrictions would do."

Right. Poor crazy McCain couldn't possibly speak intelligently on the issue of detainee abuse because he lost his mind in Vietnam. That's basically D'Amato's argument. It's hardly surprising, but such a tack is low, even by D'Amato's standards. What's more, it's likely a sign of things to come. As much as I strongly disagree with McCain on most policy issues, I hate to see this kind of treatment of any veteran.

 

Just in time for Halloween  War and Piece: Terry Gross’s interview with an End Times fundie is extraordinary…go listen!

 

Funny guy (great line about Bush)  During last Friday’s episode of Real Time, Bill Maher told his panel that CBS restricted him to a list of "approved topics" for his upcoming appearance on the Evening News’ "free speech" segment after he initially wanted to talk about religion. CBS denied Maher’s version of the events saying: "Bill Maher was never told that he couldn’t discuss religion in a ‘freeSpeech’ segment. In fact, ‘freeSpeech’ has already addressed religion and we expect others will in the future." Video - WMV   Video - QT Maher joined Joe Scarborough last night to talk about the whole ordeal and had some choice words for President Bush and the "neocon sentimentalists" who’ve completely botched the Iraq invasion/occupation: "And by the way, when people like me ask questions about; Does it still make sense to have these troops under fire? That’s supporting the troops. Asking for a plan is supporting the troops. Sitting around and parsing the meaning of civil war…that’s not supporting the troops…that’s supporting the President, and hes not a troop, he just plays one on TV."

 

"MEET THE NEW BOSS"....Bill Frist is leaving the Senate after the 2006 election in order to spend full time on his run for the presidency. So who will replace him? It turns out it's literally no contest: if Republicans hold onto the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky already has the votes sewn up to be the next Majority Leader of the Senate.

If you're a fan of bipartisan comity, this is bad news. As Zack Roth and Cliff Schecter report in the current issue of the Monthly, McConnell is to the Senate what Tom DeLay was to the House:

McConnell’s political persona — with its focus on bare-knuckled partisanship and support for a money-driven legislative system — embodies the very qualities that have helped reverse Republican political fortunes so dramatically over the last year and a half, and have led directly to a series of government scandals and slipups. In uniting around Mitch McConnell, Republicans are, in effect, doubling down on the governing style that got them, and us, into this mess in the first place.

....If Republicans do hold onto the Senate—and they might not — McConnell will likely have a smaller majority than Frist has enjoyed. A leader hoping to get legislation passed would probably respond by being more conciliatory toward the minority — but Republicans didn’t pick McConnell because of his talent for conciliation. “I think he’ll be more likely to pick a fight,” says the Heritage Foundation’s Darling. With a confrontational Republican leader, a narrow Senate majority, and an unpopular, lame duck president, the next two years don’t figure to see much landmark legislation passed. Instead, if the past is any guide, Majority Leader McConnell will focus only on measures that support Republican power or drive a wedge between Democrats, and will do everything possible to keep campaign dollars flowing to the GOP. But if and when that happens, don’t blame McConnell. He’ll only be doing what he was elected to do.

Read the whole thing if you want to know what we're all in for if the GOP retains control of the Senate this year. It ain't pretty.

 

EUROPE WORKS. Whatever the European social policy you may be advocating for, the almost inevitable, and usually instant, response from ill-disposed interlocutors is to bring up Europe's apparent unemployment problem and wonder if that's the future you're securing for the United States. Well, let them. The latest round of OECD employment data shows (PDF) that Europe has almost entirely closed the employment gap with the United States: The difference is now 1.1 percent, attributable entirely to low female workforce participation among women in Italy and Spain. Indeed, if you factor out the disadvantage conferred by our massive incarceration rate, they may well be ahead. Notice here that we're talking about employment rates: The United States often has lower unemployment rates for the simple reason that we cease counting people when we consider them no longer looking. But if you look at the more telling side of the coin -- the actual percentage of the population employed in gainful labor -- we're basically tied. And yet they all have health care...

 

I know what you made last summer  Pro sports players, Hollywood starlets, and law-firm associates have long been among the few professionals whose salaries are publicly known, discussed, and compared. Now the same fun is coming to Capitol Hill.  Voila, Legistorm, a new database of congressional staff salaries. As the site notes: "Who is employed by Congress, and how much they are paid, is often a source of fascination for the politically aware. Prior to this site's creation, members of the public needed to visit the document rooms of the House and the Senate in Washington, DC to discover who was being paid what. Now, all this information is available on the web — for residents of Alaska or Zanzibar — at the click of a mouse."

 

Sam Harris:  dumbass and behind the times   Sam Harris is no friend of religion, and in particular no friend of Islam. Today in the LA Times he takes his fellow liberals to task for not taking the threat of Islam seriously enough:

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

....Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

Is this true? Harris gives the game away elsewhere in his piece, where he cites polls showing that 16% of the public believes in conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. He's pretty sure this is evidence of liberal denial, but the same poll shows that 16% of the public also believes the government is withholding proof of the existence of intelligent life from others planets. Face it: there's a fringe group of Americans prone to believing conspiracy theories of all kinds, and the questions in the poll make it clear that active belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories is actually less widespread than plenty of others.

That kind of cherry picking makes Harris's essay deeply unserious. But Harris's second version of cherry picking is, perhaps, even worse: his belief that "liberals" continue to believe terrorism is caused solely by "economic despair, lack of education and American militarism." His evidence? It's hard to say, but apparently it's based on the letters he received after writing a polemic against religion called The End of Faith. But it should hardly come as a news flash that if you write a polemic you're going to hear polemics in return. The response to his book probably has no relevance at all to what "liberals" in general think.

In fact, it's sort of ironic that Harris chooses this particular time to make this point, because the conversation has moved on. Granted, I don't spend a lot of time hanging out with A.N.S.W.E.R. activists or participating in peace marches, but in the liberal circles I do participate in, virtually no one subscribes to the "economic despair" argument anymore. What we do believe is that the terrorists themselves — usually middle class and decently educated — are small in number and limited in capability unless they have broad support among the rest of the population. Without that support the creed of militant jihadism withers and dies.

It's that broad support that we need to target, and that's why we should focus our efforts on things like public diplomacy, economic engagement, and working seriously with multilateral institutions. It's not because liberals don't understand the threat, it's because liberals seem to be the only ones who do understand the threat these days — namely that public opinion in the Muslim world is our biggest problem, and conventional military action only makes this problem worse. Harris has some catching up to do if he wants to join the conversation.

 

A STARTLING ADMISSION. From President Bush's address to the United Nations: "Freedom by its nature cannot be imposed. It must be chosen." That he thinks so is news to me, although I couldn't agree more.

 

Some might call it self-serving indoctrination  Wal-Mart to launch voter education/registration campaign  this fall “targeted at its 1.3 million employees in an effort to combat growing criticism from Democrats and labor unions.” The program “could be among the biggest in the country.”

 

Air Corruption.  “Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican in a tight re-election race, flew on a private plane chartered by Vonage Holdings Corp. just days after he pushed legislation that the company has advocated for more than a year.” 

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