Friday, May 27, 2005

Good Ol' Southern Politics

Yesterday was a pretty big day in the state of Tennessee...or so I thought.

I would have thought that a day that began with the FBI briefing the governor at 6 a.m., and saw a few state legislators standing handcuffed in front of a federal judge, some legislators' offices raided, and a midday press conference from the governor was big news. Apparently not. A quick glance at the websites of the national news media organizations shows a collective yawn for the story. The New York Times and the Washington Post had brief stories. Most of the other news organizations have the story in one form or another, but it's not a top story. You have to dig past the stories of holiday travel woes (imagine that - there's going to be travel woes on a holiday weekend - who'da thunk it?), the runaway bride being charged, and the latest on Michael Jackson and the guy on the crane.

Anyway, here's what happened. The FBI has had a sting operation called Tennessee Waltz going on for a couple of years. They set up a dummy company called E-Cycle Management Inc. and starting shopping around for Tennessee lawmakers that might be willing to do a little business for them. E-Cycle was billed as a computer recycling firm that would buy old computers, refurbish them and resell them. The ostensible goal of the sting was to get the lawmakers to pass a law allowing the state to sell the company their old computers. The bill, which has been winding its way around the legislature for most of the year, had seven sponsors. Some of these lawmakers supported the bill because it makes sense to recycle old computers instead of throwing them in a landfill. Others supported the bill because they got their palms greased a little (allegedly).

Yesterday, the FBI sprang into action with indictments and search warrants. Three Democratic state senators and one Republican state representative were charged with conspiracy, extortion and bribery. Most of the names will probably be unfamiliar to you - Ward Crutchfield, Kathryn Bowers, and Chris Dixon. The other lawmaker is more well-known not for who he is, but because he's a member of the famous Memphis, Tennessee Ford family. John Ford is the brother of former longtime U.S. Congressman Harold Ford Sr. and the uncle of current U.S. Congressman Harold Ford Jr. Harold Jr. recently announced that he will be running for the U.S. senate seat that Bill Frist is planning to vacate in 2006.

John Ford is the black sheep of the Ford family. He's been in trouble with the law since 1980, when he was stopped by a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer for topping 100 mph. Since then, he's had several brushes with the law. Once, he was accused of pointing a gun at a fellow motorist during a little road rage incident. After denying that he owned a gun, a search warrant turned one up. Once he was was accused of threatening some utility workers who were blocking his driveway with a shotgun. There was also a little scandal involving Ford and his two families, one with his wife, another with his girlfriend. There have also been several brushes with the Tennessee Senate Ethics Committee (such as it is) with some of his shady business and political deals. In the indictments handed down yesterday, Ford was charged with accepting the most money in the sting, $55,000, and was also charged with three counts of attempting to threaten or intimidate witnesses. He allegedly threatened to kill anyone who was an FBI agent or who set him up.

A former state senator, Roscoe Dixon, and two others, Charles Love and Barry Myers, were also nabbed in the sting. Dixon allegedly took some money while he was still a Tennessee legislator. Love, a lobbyist and a member of the Hamilton County School Board, and Myers, a Memphis community activist, allegedly served as bagmen and go-betweens who shopped the company around to willing lawmakers. The FBI says that the investigation is still on-going and there may be more arrests.

Well, maybe it's not as newsworthy as the traffic woes or the guy on the crane (is he still up there?), but it was still a mighty exciting day around my neck of the woods. If you're interested, the Nashville newspaper the Tennessean probably has the best coverage of the events that doesn't require site registration or subscription.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bush Catapults the Propaganda

"As you -- as I mentioned to you earlier, we're going to redesign the current system. If you've retired, you don't have anything to worry about -- third time I've said that. I'll probably say it three more times. See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."

-- President George W. Bush at a Bamboozlepalooza Tour event in Greece, New York, May 24, 2005

Blogger Fingers His Own Killer

A lot has been written about the power of the blog, but this is a new one. File this one under "strange, but true" -- a blogger has used his blog to solve his own murder and the murder of his sister.

On May 12, Simon Ng posted a brief entry in his weblog. Part of the entry reads...
"Anyway today has been weird, at 3 some guy ringed the bell. I went down and recognized it was my sister's former boyfriend. He told me he wants to get his fishing poles back. I told him to wait downstair while I get them for him. While I was searching them, he is already in the house. He is still here right now, smoking, walking all around the house with his shoes on which btw I just washed the floor 2 days ago! Hopefully he will leave soon..."

When police investigated the murders of Ng and his sister, the former boyfriend, Jin Lin, was quickly identified as a possible suspect. He denied being there, but his alibi crumbled when he was confronted with the blog entry.

The New York Daily News has all of the details.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Filibuster and the Compromise

I don't know why it's taken me so long to write something about the filibuster. There's really nothing more fascinating than the arcane inner workings of the Senate. The filibuster, literally "blowhole," is the adult equivalent of holding your breath until you turn blue, but, rather than ignore you, everyone else is obliged to wait and see if you do really take a breath or if you pass out and fall flat on your face. No one even knew there was such a thing until James Cagney popularized the filbuster in a stirring scene in Casablanca. Since then, the rules have been changed somewhat. Now you don't actually have to hold your breath. You just have to threaten to do it if someone brings up a subject you don't want to talk about. It's now evolved into the adult version of sticking your fingers in your ears and going, "LALALALALALALALA. I can't hear you!"

Of course, the current controversy all started because the Repubs had a good year last year. Dear Leader was elected by a mandate of one state. He called this "political capital," but instead of paying down his personal deficit, decided to spend some more. In a move that made sore winners everywhere proud, he nominated a few religious wingnuts and a corporate stooge or two to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. In the spirit of opposing judicial activism, he nominated the right kind of judicial activists. James Dobson and the other moderate voices in the Republican Party applauded this bold initiative. Of course, it helped that the people of the United States, in their "infinite wisdom," also elected a few more Repub wingnuts to the Senate and the House to ease us through this difficult transition. The Dems reasonably responded that they've confirmed most of Dear Leader's nominations, but the Repubs, sore winners all, responded, "We want them all confirmed, damn it!" The Dems responded with the only options left at their disposal, the filibuster and shooting spitwads at Senator Frist.

The Repubs, all reading from the same script, are the voice of reasonableness and All-American values. What, they say, could be fairer than a straight up or down vote. (There's a good drinking game. Take a sip of some really hard liquor everytime you hear a Repub say "straight up or down vote." Then call the paramedics and tell them you're suffering from alcohol poisoning.) And, of course, the Repubs have always felt this way about the "straight up or down vote." All the way back through the misty mists of time. All the way back to the last presidency. A "straight up or down vote" was not exactly all the rage when President Bill "Blow Hole" Clinton was the one doing the nominating. But all the Repubs had political epiphanies, sort of a "Road to Damascus" experience around 2001 or so. And the Dems, the former "straight up or down vote" party became the "LALALALALALA" party. The Repubs threatened to invoke what they were calling the "nuclear option" (until they found out that the term wasn't polling all that well - sort of like "privatization.") The Dems threatened to grind the work of the Senate to a halt (as if anyone could tell.) The people, suffering from a little buyers' remorse, and not really recognizing a good blowhole when they see one, have nonetheless decided that maybe it's not really a good idea to give Dear Leader everything he asks for.

So now we have a compromise, sort of a Crittenden Compromise for our time, proving that Jim Hightower was right when he observed that "there's nothing in the middle of the road except yellow stripes and dead armadillos." The wingnuts on the right aren't happy. They're suddenly Al Pacino in Driving Mrs. Daisy: "We coulda been contenders. We coulda had it all." The Dems aren't happy either. They promise not to filibuster the wingnut, the corporate stooge, and the doofus. In return, the filibuster is saved for use in "special circumstances," such as when Dear Leader nominates Rush Limbaugh to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court or James Dobson to be the poet laureate or John Bolton to be the ambassador to the United Nations.

Personally, I believe compromises are for wimps. (Don't believe me? Look at the gang of miscreants who came up with this one.) I was really hoping this brouhaha, literally "big blowhole," would play itself out. I was hoping the Repubs would do away with the filibuster and the Dems would close down the Senate for a few reasons. First, like the bull and bear markets and the rise and fall of the New York Yankees, what goes around, comes around, especially in politics. Sooner or later (and probably a lot sooner than most right-wingers think), the people, in their "infinite wisdom," will vote this group of nimrods out and replace them with a whole new group of dimwits. Second, as I said before, if they shut down the Senate would anyone notice? Third, would anyone care? It's not like people would stop getting their checks or be unable to tour the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth National Memorial Park. And if the Bankruptcy Bill, Social Security "Reform," Medicare and Medicaid cuts, and the Energy Bill (otherwise known as the Oil Company Handout Reorganization Act) is the best they can do, I say, "Close that sucker down." Nebraska's done fine with a unicameral legislature for quite a while. Of course, they don't have Tom DeLay or Denny Hastert.

But cooler (and wimpier) heads have prevailed. A "straight up or down vote" on the corporate stooge will happen soon. Life goes on, the wheels of justice grind slowly, all good things come to those who wait, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The work of the Senate (such as it is) continues...until the next blowhole comes along.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

They Can't Be Serious

(Via Dave Barry's Blog) Leave it to the British press to come up with a headline like this one.

The Bush administration spokesman did not help the situation...
“He has been briefed. He wants to get to the bottom of it.”

Winning Hearts and Minds

From Friday's New York Times...

"Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

"The story of Mr. Dilawar's brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

"Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.

"In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both."

Update: More on the story in Sunday's New York Times...

"Despite autopsy findings of homicide and statements by soldiers that two prisoners died after being struck by guards at an American military detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, Army investigators initially recommended closing the case without bringing any criminal charges, documents and interviews show...

"The investigators' move to close the case was among a series of apparent missteps in an Army inquiry that ultimately took almost two years to complete and has so far resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers. Early on, the documents show, crucial witnesses were not interviewed, documents disappeared, and at least a few pieces of evidence were mishandled.

"While senior military intelligence officers at Bagram quickly heard reports of abuse by several interrogators, documents show they also failed to file reports that are mandatory when any intelligence personnel are suspected of misconduct, including mistreatment of detainees. Those reports would have alerted military intelligence officials in the United States to a problem in the unit, military officials said.

"Those interrogators and others from Bagram were later sent to Iraq and were assigned to Abu Ghraib prison. A high-level military inquiry last year found that the captain who led interrogation operations at Bagram, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, applied many of the same harsh methods in Iraq that she had overseen in Afghanistan."

Note: If needed, you can use the BugMeNot logon, yoink/forty to access the stories.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

This Date in History

On this date in 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, declaring that segregated educational facilities "are inherently unequal."

Damned activist judges!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Lemony Frist's Series of Unfortunate Events

It's always a little fun to laugh at other people's misfortunes, isn't it?
Senator Bill Frist got more than he bargained for when he went out for a little shopping spree to buy some new shoes on Friday the 13th. He inadvertantly picked a shoe store in the same mall as the offices of Americans United to Protect Social Security. Staffers recognized the senator and leapt into action, quickly putting together a little impromptu protest rally. To Frist's credit, he did come out and address the group. Then he paid over $500 for two pairs of shoes and left - only to find a ticket on his SUV which was illegally parked.

The Smoking Gun

"Shiver and say the words
Of every lie you’ve heard"
-- Echo and the Bunnymen, "Bring on the Dancing Horses"

Other than a few hardcore Kool-Aid drinkers, is there anyone left who honestly believes that we had to have this war in Iraq? There's been plenty of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, and even some hard evidence for those that cared to look, that President Bush planned this little Iraqi misadventure far in advance and that diplomacy was never much of an option. Now we have the smoking gun from across the pond in the form of the Downing Street Memo. Where's the outrage? Why aren't there calls for impeachment? Why aren't we burning this group of malefactors in effigy?

Now I know that our so-called liberal media has already done such a superb job of relating the facts, but let's rehash. A recently leaked memo, minutes of a meeting with Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street, was recently published in the Times of London and reveals some pretty stark and startling assessments. The memo is dated 23 July 2002, long before U.N. Resolution 1441 (Nov. 2002) and the beginning of the war (March 2003).


From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send thePrime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)

(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)

I was going to emphasize some salient points, but it was getting to the point where close to the whole memo was being emphasized. But there it is. "Military action was now seen as inevitable" before any diplomatic efforts, before any weapons inspectors, long before President Bush addressed the nation and told us that military action was far from inevitable. "Intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" was already pretty evidence. Several commissions have already concluded that it's all the fault of the intelligence community for giving them intelligence and facts that they could fix; the fixers aren't to blame.

As far as the media coverage of the memo, Joe Conason asks a couple of questions in Salon that deserve answers. "Are Americans so jaded about the deceptions perpetrated by our own government to lead us into war in Iraq that we are no longer interested in fresh and damning evidence of those lies? Or are the editors and producers who oversee the American news industry simply too timid to report that proof on the evening broadcasts and front pages?"

If this smoking gun bothers you as much as it does me, I'd advise going to the Downing Street Memo website, clicking the link that says "Take Action," and pursuing some of the actions they recommend.

Now He Tells Us

"This requires patience...This is a thinking and adapting adversary ... I wouldn't look for results tomorrow. One thing we know about insurgencies, that they last from three, four years to nine years."

-- Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are...a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nov. 8, 1954, via Sirotablog

With Friends Like That...

"Secretary Bolton’s actions were not always exemplary. On several occasions, he made incorrect assumptions about the behavior and motivations of subordinates. At other times, he failed to use proper managerial channels or unnecessarily personalized internal disputes. The picture is one of an aggressive policymaker who pressed his missions at every opportunity and argued vociferously for his point of view. In the process, his blunt style alienated some colleagues. But there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct."

-- Sen. Richard (Dick) Lugar (R-IN)

He hasn't broken any laws, so I guess that makes him the man for the job.

And then there was Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH):

"John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be...He is an ideologue and fosters an atmosphere of intimidation. He does not tolerate disagreement, does not tolerate dissent...John Bolton would have been fired - fired - had he worked for a major corporation."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a straight party-line vote, voted 10-8 to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate "without recommendation."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Darth Tater

And the award for Funniest Star Wars Movie Merchandise Tie-In goes to Hasbro...


Luke...I am your father!

Friday, May 06, 2005

How About Some New Parties?

I've often lamented that the Repubs and Dems have the political process locked up here in the U.S. and third parties don't ever get anywhere here. For instance, why don't we have an Official Monster Raving Loony Party like they do in the U.K....or at least a Lemon Party like Canada?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

This Date in History

"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio."

May 4, 1970

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

World on Fire

According to Sarah McLachlan's new video for the song "World on Fire," instead of spending the normal $150,000 or more, they made the video for $15. It probably cost a little more than that, but check out where most of the money went. (Quicktime required)

Hearts are worn in these dark ages
You're not alone in this story's pages
Night has fallen amongst the living and the dying
And I try to hold it in, yeah I try to hold it in

The world's on fire
It's more than I can handle
I'll tap into the water
I try to bring my ship
I try to bring more
More than I can handle
Bring it to the table
Bring what I am able

I watch the heavens and I find a calling
Something I can do to change this moment
Stay close to me while the sky is falling
Don't wanna be left alone, don't wanna be alone


Hearts break, hearts mend
Love still hurts
Visions clash, planes crash
Still there's talk of Saving souls, still the cold
Is closing in on us

We part the veil on our killer sun
Stray from the straight line on this short run
The more we take, the less we become
A fortune of one that means less for some

[Chorus X2]