The Talking Dog

February 28, 2006, Any storm in the port deal

Today's revelation comes from this story in the Jerusalem Post, observing that Dubai Ports World is a proud participant in the Arab world's boycott against goods and services originating in the State of Israel; participating in that boycott is, of course, against American law, and should, by itself, it is intimated at least by the story, be a sufficient basis to block the port deal under which the Emir of Dubai will secure operational control of 21 American ports (not just six) from Maine to Texas.

Given his inconceivably bad 34% approval rating, the worst of his presidency, Bush has picked a very opportune time to... leave town. In this case, his tour of South Asia, notably India, Pakistan, and maybe Afghanistan.

While conventional wisdom is that a foreign tour will be good for that approval rating, making him look all presidential and s***, the fact is, he'll be meeting swarthy foreign looking people... the same kind of people generically (Asian) who are going to be acquiring our ports if it were up to him; does Joe Limbaugh-Listener really care about the distinction between A-rabs, In-juns and Packerstonnees? I wouldn't think so. The people already aware of such distinctions hate Bush. That doesn't leave much room for an improvement. The one thing you can say is that maybe he can't f*** things up worse.

We'll see. As I said... there are starting to be openings in the GOP fortress walls. Could this all be intentional by Karl to help make Congressional Republicans look tough by comparison and distance themselves from an unpopular president-- dump on Bush to save him? Stick around...

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February 27, 2006, Port pourri

Apparently, the Coast Guard had issued a report questioning the homeland security implications of portions of the proposed Dubai Ports World's acquisition of the American operations of British Peninsular and Oriental, the current operator of some ports, after which DPW will operate six twenty-one American ports. While some Republican senators, like Susan Collins of Maine, appear gung ho on having hearings to inquire as to implications of the deal, it looks like Bill Frist has been brought back to the reservation, and he favors waiting the whole 45 days of the voluntary rubber stamp sweetheart non-Congressional review that DPW proposes "submitting" to.

Meanwhile, this piece from Fox News lays out a number of the legislative proposals floating around, including those of Senators Schumer and Collins to require Congress to approve or disapprove of the deal within 30 days after the executive branch rubber stamp review. Other bills are a ludicrous bill sponsored by the ludicrous Senators Clinton and Menendez (NJ's newest senator replacing Corzine who became governor) to ban foreign companies from operating American ports (good luck!) and yet another bill sponsored by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to beef up security measures at ports and other sensitive locations in general.

In the meantime, the White House seems hellbent on going forward with this. This from the BBC tells us that GOP Senator Lindsey Graham also wants to hold up the ports deal.

Have you figured it out yet? Exactly. Neither Frist nor Bush is running for anything this year, so they can be downright blahse about the criticism, and insist that bid'ness is bid'ness. The other senators-- both parties-- are not lame ducks, and realize that the years and years of cognitive dissonance the Bush Administration has been programming us all with (Arabs = Terrorists) is coming home to roost, here and now, with this [politically insane] maneuver.

We'll see how it goes. IMHO, the situation is radioactive. Not in the homeland security sense, as my read on this is that it probably really will make no difference one way or another in any practical sense whether this deal goes forward (and I live four blocks from a seaport, albeit not one subject to this deal)... but in the political sense... for years, Republican members of Congress have helped ensure that "the war President" made sure Democrats were unable to make a chink in the Republicans' "we're tough on national security" impregnable castle wall, only to see their beloved President now lower the drawbridge over the moat, open the castle gate and dismiss all of the guards for lunch... just as the GOP senators and Congress members prepare for the '06 mid-terms.

The castle guards, it would seem, are not the only ones out to lunch...

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February 26, 2006, One Step Forward, Two or Three Steps Back...

This just in... it looks like The Bush Administration actually plans on complying with a federal court order telling it what to do over an aspect of the War on Terror TM... in this case, a decision appears to have been made to comply with the order of Manhattan federal court judge Jed Rakoff to turn over the names of over 500 detainees at Guantanamo Bay pursuant to the Associated Press's Freedom of Information Act request.

This is stunning news, not insofar as the names will be all that "new;" probably most of the detainees' names are known insofar as hundreds of them have brought habeas corpus proceedings and other legal challenges to their detentions; indeed, regular readers know this is a peculiar interest of this blog, probably the only place in cyberspace, if not on Earth to have made it a practice to try to interview their attorneys on an ongoing basis (and yes, there are at least two more interviews currently in the works, and hopefully more after that.) No... it's stunning because it appears that the Bush Administration may actually (finally) be willing to have some aspect of its governance overseen by a coordinate branch of government, or at least, show respect to another branch. Or is it... Could this be just another tactic?

Alas, more news today is not so good. The Grey Lady gives us this troubling account that, in order to evade the (incredibly limited) federal court oversight of its operations at Gitmo, the interrogation and detention activities at Afghanistan's Bagram A.F.B. have been stepped up, and are peculiarly nasty. For one thing, both facilities now hold (or "holed"?) around 500 prisoners; Bagram was intended to hold far less. Some abuse at Bagram has resulted in prisoner deaths (though not yet at Gitmo, where things are better monitored and less "ad hoc".)

This is a tough one. Human rights lawyers don't want bad legal precedent before the Gitmo situation is sorted out which might screw up... the Gitmo situation. (Afghanistan, unlike Gitmo, is in the war zone itself, and anecdotally, there may be more direct combatants detained there than in Gitmo, which seems to be a mixed bag of persons picked up from the battlefield, turned in by the Northern Alliance, by Pakistani security, and from other places.) Plus, the Afghans themselves may well take over Bagram operations in a year or so, at which point, at least some due process under Afghan law might be afforded.
Further, according to the Times, some of those at Bagram may have been moved out of CIA "ghost prisons" or other black holes... presumably after their lack of intelligence value was established.

Besides Gitmo and Bagram, the ghost prisons remain, I understand we're holding people at Diego Garcia (our base on that Indian Ocean island), and of course, elsewhere, and there are friendly other countries like Egypt and Jordan and others holding (and, allegedly, torturing) people for us.

It's all not a pretty picture.

Let me just throw this one out there: if we as a nation behave no better than barbarians, what right do we really have to complain when others behave as barbarians toward us? Do we really want to create a civilized behavior race to the bottom? Do we? Just asking...

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February 25, 2006, Saturday talking dog blogging


The Loquacious Pup is a fan of at least one show that features a talking dog, notably Disney Channel's American Dragon Jake Long. Like all talking dog's, Fu dog is magical, in his case, over 600 years old as well as talking. He also fights dirty, as, like a certain other talking dog, Fu has spent an awful lot of time on the streets of Brooklyn.


LP's Daddy has his own favorite currently active talking dog, however, his second-favorite character on Cartoon Network's Family Guy, none other than Brian, a dog that, like Fu Dog, does a lot more than talk. (The TD's favorite character on Family Guy is Stewie, the megalomaniac baby.) Brian frequently drinks, drives (sometimes at the same time... don't try this yourself) and has a crush on Lois Griffin, the lady of the house in which he resides.

We'll see just how popular this new feature is... I mean, Friday cat-blogging is so... somewhere else. We'll keep working on some more Gitmo lawyer interviews, more ports perplexity, and hopefully, that big break in Fudd-gate that will win us that Pulitzer from that university we went to... and whatever else is happening!!!


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February 24, 2006, If Iran the Circus

An amazing confluence of events, all of which seems to benefit... whom? But for the first item, I'd have had another guess altogether. But the first event, the thwarted suicide attack on a major Saudi oil refinery (ably discussed here by Professor Cole) at Abqaiq, a Shiite area in Saudi Arabia, throws off virtually all prior analyses. I understand that Al Qaeda itself has claimed credit, but this is simply not its usual M.O. While A.Q.'s attacks in Saudi have, on occasion, involved the deaths of Saudi nationals, they are usually either incidental or collateral to a primary intent to attack and kill foreigners. The royal family is virtually never targeted (something about "don't s*** where you eat")... to attack a Saudi refinery in Saudi... is just not A.Q.'s m.o....

Just as Professor Cole (or at least some of his commenters... and me) believe that a good deal of the current unrest and instigations to possible civil war in Iraq have a "Made in Iran" sign on them, so too this latest incident.

Throw in some other crazy events going on, such as this nation's insanely mishandled relations with the Venezuelan government leading just today, for example, to things like a reduction in permission of American flights to Caracas, or serious bad-ass unrest in Nigeria (partly attributable to that cartoon flap, which Iran seems to have had a hand in stoking up IMHO)... that lead to pause. Why do I say that? Because, of course, OPEC members Venezuela and Nigeria are huge suppliers of oil to... the United States.

Needless to say, oil and gold prices are already edging upward. Saudi Arabia is the world's "swing" oil producer-- the only major exporter with capacity to add to output on short notice; Russia is trying to get there, but doesn't have the infrastructure up to speed (it should in a few years' time, though as its own economy develops, and as nearby China's and India's develop as well and draw a good deal of that Russian oil, it won't be nearly as helpful as we'd like it to be). Iraq would have been in a position to be a significant exporter as it once was (its second only to Saudi in proven reserves), but it too has a little... infrastructure problem. For reasons, kind of... too numerous to mention.

But another country-- third in proven reserves-- stands to benefit handily if, say, some really bad s*** were to happen to the Saudis. The same country poised to be in close alignment with its sudden new Shiite democratic theocracy of a neighbor geographically and alphabetically...

And none of this had to be this way. We could have followed up the good will we had shortly after 9-11 and united the world against Al Qaeda... including making common cause if not friendship with that now troublesome Farsi speaking country which but for the need to have them in the rhetorical "Axis of Evil" had been, and was at one time, downright helpful battling OBL, AQ and the Taliban. (via Unqualified Offerings.)

Instead, we made the "you're with us or against us" Manichean idiocy worldview of our infantile leader a reality, and made sure Iran was against us. And that's where we are.

I've quipped that I believe a big part of the Iraq Adventure was about assisting in Saudi oil export hegemony. Well, the Saudis are in no position to do that if their own oil infrastructure proves as vulnerable as Iraq's. It would seem that the forces of lunacy we have stirred up after our Iraq adventure have now blown-back on us and our friends, and threatened not merely Iraq, but Saudi itself (and, doubtless, the other non-Iran Gulf states have to be damned concerned.) The Saudis appear to have dodged a bullet today. More attacks will come, and its only a matter of time before some damage is done to Saudi infrastructure; for example, I understand that around half of all Saudi oil flows through one particular group of pipeline junctions. Not good, when some committed group has decided to target oil infrastructure. Not good at all.

Pay no attention to the lunatic Iranian President; as we know from the last one, Khatami the would be reformer, President there is about as influential as, say, Poet Laureate is here. It's a nice title, but the mullahs and ayatollahs are in charge. Those mullahs... they sure seem to know what they're doing. I damned well wish we did.

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February 24, 2006, Reality bites

It seems that the President is going to survive the port-sale fiasco after all. Everyone and their Dubaian uncle are rushing in to save him, including Dubai Ports World, which agreed voluntarily to belay its takeover of operations at six American ports for a delay of unstated duration.

At the same time, the New York Times reports that the Bush Administration itself is seeking a delay of the port deal, to "convince Congress" that their security concerns are... unwarranted.

Again, this is a logical result of having spent the last four and a half years of making reality the enemy... Pretend, shall we, that Bill Clinton, or Al Gore, or John Kerry were the President, and proposed the identical deal. We have no doubt whatsoever that Messrs. Frist, Hastert and the rest of the Republican Tabernacle Choir would have vociferously (and viciously) questioned security concerns and everything else from the Democrats' patriotism to their manhood. And so would, oh, people like George W. Bush.

Alas, Mr. Clinton, or Mr. Gore, or Mr. Kerry or Mr./Ms. Generic-Democrat would have to explain, slowly, and using big words, that security was still being ultimately overseen by the government and its agencies like the Coast Guard, these contracts are essentially administrative operations, that Dubai Ports World's management, for example, has a C.E.O. named Edward "Ted" Bilkey, and there are lots of other North Americans in its management structure. Our ports were already managed by foreigners. As foreign countries go, particularly in the Middle East, Dubai isn't so bad; yes, there are concerns about bad things flowing through its ports like Pakistani nukes and stolen cars heading to blow up Lebanese prime ministers and things... but nobody's perfect, right...
And of course, we're using the UAE for basing in the Excellent Iraq Adventure. And there are lots of perfectly valid business reasons, such as our need for free markets in goods and capital...

But again--all of this takes time to explain, and big syllable words: Bush and his minions have been conditioning Americans to be dumbed-down-- to demand the kind of juvenile, simplistic answers he offers to everything, preferably reduced to catchy sound-bites and primary school level talking points that even network anchors can recite and Tim Russert can't get wrong.

And so, ironically, a deal that in substance is probably not so bad as all that, can nonetheless be easily portrayed via soundbites as defining the President as weak on security (particularly if he really is stupid enough to veto a Congressional delay bill, which he is not), and worse even than weak on security, somehow coddling an Arab government (and ironically, not the one he usually coddles!)

In short... the deal sounds bad... and that, friends, is unforgivable.
Fortunately for the President, more intelligent heads appear to have prevailed on this one, for the moment, and overcome his fake-cowboy obstinacy, as set forth above.

So the President can take a breather over the ports issue, and start thinking about the nascent Iraqi civil war (that, by and large, he caused), massive unrest in nuclear-armed Pakistan (that, by and large, he caused)... and things like that.

I smell a trip to Crawford and some much needed brush-clearing...

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February 22, 2006, Going to Hell in a Jihadist Handbasket

Bad s*** coming out of Iraq. (Dogrun member) Professor Juan Cole is writing that the situation over in our Mess O'Potamia is lookin' pretty ominous... in particular, the recent guerrilla bombing of the gold domed Shiite Askariyah Shrine in Samarra, which in turn led to retaliation against Sunnis all over Iraq, with 75 Sunni mosques attacked, including 3 burned to the ground, 3 clerics and 6 people overall killed, on the same day that saw bombings all over Iraq that killed dozens more.

Bruce the Veep suggests that Iran (or, as I prefer to think of it, Iraqi elements closely aligned with Iran) may be responsible for this, just to keep the pot stirred up. Just as (I read somewhere that I can't find now) that Iran has been very, very instrumental in keeping the hoopla over the Danish cartoon fully stoked.

Let's just say that this is all very conveeeeenient for the Iranian regime, that is itself maneuvering to avoid likely U.N. sanctions coming soon for its own refusal to abide by international limitations on its nuclear power program (which, of course, is a weapons program...) It should be noted that Israeli and American intelligence estimates that Iran is probably between seven and fifteen years from developing nuclear weapons, but Iran needs to overstate its development for street creds and to deter an American attempt at Iraq-style "regime change", and the Bush Administration needs bogeymen, real or imagined. Meanwhile, Iran gets to (credibly, to the Middle Eastern "street") blame the United States, and to some extent, Israel, for the chaos...

None of this diminishes for one moment just how bad things are in Iraq right now. That sectarian civil war that some of us have been promising for nearly the three years since the American invasion just got a whole lot more likely.
Maybe this will work out in some way that isn't disastrous.

Maybe. But I'm not sure that's how you bet, right now.

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February 22, 2006, Fight the power with your talking dog

For those of you in the New York area, you might want to consider joining me and a few hundred of our friends at a Bill of Rights reading/protest of NSA internal spying etc. sponsored by Move-On.Org; tonight's protest is 6 pm, at Federal Hall on Wall Street, sight of President George Washington's first inauguration, on this, President Washington's natural birthday.

Be there. Aloha.

Update: Maybe around 200 people showed up for the 20-25 minute protest, mostly upscale looking, mostly older than me (and I ain't so young); Move-On was kind enough to provide many with signs ("Bush broke the law"; "Stop illegal wiretaps") candles and copies of the bill of rights, which were read in (attempted) synchronous chorus. (Your talking dog's own hand-made sign had two parts; the larger part said "Stop illegal wiretaps now," and the other side said "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue," a quote from one of my favorite left-wing nuts, the late Barry Goldwater.)

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February 21, 2006, As Fudd Fades, Popeye Hits Port

Apparently, the Vice-President's straight-shooting has thrown the White House off its game; it finds itself back on its heals for the second week in a row, this time trying to defend a recently announced deal permitting the acquisition of the British company that manages six American ports (New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans) to a company owned by the government of Dubai, U.A.E.

On its face, the sale may actually be pretty inocuous: the concession to operate the ports was already in foreign hands, albeit English hands. And, for a change, it is always possible that the Bush Administration's assurances that it had reviewed the acquisition and found that security won't be compromised may be accurate. Of course, since the Administration's maniacal penchant for secrecy is in place... it becomes impossible to verify.

But let's face it: the Speaker of the House Hastert and the Senate Majority Leader Frist, along with the Governors Pataki of New York and Ehrlich of Maryland, and Congressmen King and Fossella of New York, Republicans all have expressed opposition ranging from annoyance and uncertainty to outrage. This was obviously not cleared with them. We could very easily be seeing the makings of another Harriet Miers scenario whereby it is Congressional Republicans who, unlilke the President, have to run for reelection this year , who scotch this. Indeed, given the President's weak poll numbers, a veto threat is peculiarly hollow, as, if his own party bolts on him, no one has his back.

Most peculiar, in that the simple sound-bite of "The President is selling our ports to an Arab government" could undermine years of drum-beat mind control lying that "this President is protecting us from terrrrrrrrorists." Given the President's actual policies, such as rounding up thousands of Middle Easterners on minor or made-up immigration charges and other excuses, the maintenance of detention facilities (and some allege torture chambers) at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Diego Garcia (thought I forgot that one, huh?) and the CIA ghost prisons of Arabs, and of course, the conflation of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden to justify the Iraq war... well, let's just say that Bush has some 'splaining to do on this one. (Hilariously, I read in this Dave Johnson post that Rush Limbaugh accuses the Democrats of "racism" in opposing this deal... man, Rush, you are so hilarious, that once in a while, I forget that you are a God damned drug abusing criminal who should be in jail for 10-20 years.)

And that's just it. This is a double disaster for the President. He is weakening his one and only selling point, i.e. "security". Just, pray tell, how is "selling our ports to an Arab government"-- indeed, an Arab government whose own port management may have played a role in the Pakistani nuclear arms bazaar that may have resulted in proliferation to North Korea and Iran, if not others-- consistent with the "tough on security" message? It might be-- as I said-- in the great scheme of things, there may be nothing wrong with this deal. But now Bush actually has to rely on nuance and explanations that will take more than, say, a bullying sound-bite... and you know he never does those well. He speaks as if to primary school students-- sometimes to pre-K. The need for the international flow of capital and goods and services and being an open, business friendly nation may pale in comparison to The President is selling our ports to a terrorist Arab government.

You see what I'm saying? We make a mistake if we try to seek explanations, such as the obvious cronyism. I'm saying don't go there. MAKE Bush defend and explain this one. Congress will likely pass some kind of moratorium and hold hearings (he won't veto it; he's yet to veto anything.)

As I said-- easy sound-bite: The President is deliberately selling our ports to a terrorist Arab government with direct ties to Al Qaeda.

You see where this is going: make Bush justify it. He wants this for some reason. Let's see why. Maybe it's a good deal after all. Prove it. And in the meantime, let's keep that sound-bite of "the President is selling out OUR PORTS AND OUR PEOPLE TO AL QAEDA," and let's see him beat that with "nuance."

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February 21, 2006, Anti-bigotry bigotry... or swatting gnats with howitzers

Let me join in the chorus of outrage over the conviction of Holocaust-Denier and All-Around-Prick David Irving, convicted by an Austrian court of the crime of Holocaust denial, and sentenced to three years in prison.

For one thing, the timing is wonderfully outrageous: while Europeans insist that their honorary first-class citizens, the Jews, are worthy of sufficient respect so as to criminalize the kind of speech that understates suffering at the hands of the Third Reich, Europeans insist that their new second-class citizens, their Moslem immigrant population, just grin and bear speech (or cartoons, anyway) that they find mortally offensive. Let's just say that if one wants to stoke resentment among yon second-class citizens, the message won't be lost...

Hopefully, an Austrian appeals court will have the good sense to strike down this nonsense, and if not, maybe Irving will take his case to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

Here's the thing: if Irving were hit by a bus, I'd probably snicker. But human rights and constitutional rights are something that we have to pay our dues for. They have to be there for David Irving, or Jose Padilla, or, Rush Limbaugh... or Saddam Hussein... or Dick Cheney (that would be THE SAME rights as the rest of us, and not MORE, of course.) That means "bad people", be they accused criminals, killers, drug abusers... or Holocaust deniers... have to be afforded rights. Even if it might feel better to punish them. Because, otherwise, if one of us finds ourselves in the dock, we may as well be in Soviet Moscow or Communist Beijing.

This is why we have constitutional principles broader than what "the people would vote for," such as the current elected dictator model the Bush Administration believes the government is. Because David Irving would doubtless be convicted by majority vote just about anywhere... for one, he pleaded guilty to "the crime". Of course, having done so, one wonders if his appeals still lie... we'll see.

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February 20, 2006, Perspective is everything...

Let's continue our beating a dead quail to death in... Fudd-fest...

We'll move on to comparing accounts of how everyone's favorite right-wing-operative-married-to-a-left-wing-operative, i.e. Mary Matalin, has presented herself about the whole Fudd-gate fiasco (thanks to Bruce the Veep for the term.)

We'll start with Mary's allies at Right Voices, who believe Mary kicked ass in her dealings with Tim Russert and Maureen Dowd on the Sunday talk show that digby calls "Press the Meat." Notably, Mary quickly scored points by attacking human "left wing clay pigeon" Maureen Dowd, invoking among other things, Hillary Clinton and the Vince Foster fiasco. I'll say this: Press the Meat is not exactly designed to be a fair fight where the truth (unless it coincidentally comports with the latest right wing talking point) is likely to emerge. Notice that the carefully selected little snippet failed to address the issue: the vice-president of the United States evaded possible criminal charges for shooting while drinking (no such charge exists of course; the actual charge would be reckless endangerment)
by belaying his date with the local constabulary... in other words, behaving in his personal life in exactly the same way he does in his public life-- as if he is above the law. Maureen's tepid attempt to tie the two was... unsurprisingly pathetic (of course).

Speaking of digby, he gives us a different perception on Ms. Matalin's performance in this aptly titled post "The Beltway's Madwoman of Chaillot". Yes, its mostly about Paul Gigot, but it ties in beautifully with what I was saying above: having made private conduct in office to be the relevant standard (say what you will about Bill Clinton's "private affairs"... they were not his "public affairs")... well, Dick Cheney has opened himself up, eh? Rhetorical question warning: of course he has!!! It'th Dick theathon, boyth and girlth! Heh heh heh heh! Digby's point, well-taken as always, is that Mary f***'ed this one up big time. The questions that are out there... including my own... could have easily been handled through better public relations. Hell, make up some story about Dick's own medical condition that prevented him from speaking to the police... something... instead of just "blame the victim". But we digress...

Anyway, on the broader subject at hand, which is "media madness," Julia reminds us of our old friend Mr. Daniel Okrent, former "public editor" (or ombudsman, hired after the Jayson Blair fiasco) of the New York Times. He's back... speaking in public that is- he's attached to Harvard, rather than the Times. Anyway, he would have us believe, of course, that there was no pressure at all on any reporter or other employee of the Times vis a vis their war coverage (or what burns my ass to this day, their non-coverage of the biggest anti-war protest in the streets of New York in decades in February 2003, a protest I was at) in order for the paper to get to sit at the tough guys' table. As if Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger would stand for that!!!

Okrent laments the loss of newspaper credibility and prestige-- a void that may be filled by bloggers. Indeed, he laments that the American press's falling down on the job in the run up to the Iraq war that constituted a loss of prestige that helped grease the skids for that war, and was a huge loss of prestige, that may ultimately lead to the fall of newspapers and rise of blogs, etc.

A loss that he helped legitimate with his very job and his performance therein...

Go figure...

Update: Julia writes in to clarify a point I seem to have muddied: back when Dan-O was bookin' as the Times' public editor he insisted that there was no pressure from the editorial Central Committee on how reporters should cover things "Iraq war" related. Now, of course, safely removed from the Grey Lady's payroll, he tells us that yes, indeed, the Times' reporters were under great pressure in how they worked, as the Central Committee was, in fact, playing dress-up and orchestrating coverage...

Which ties in even better to the Madwoman Matalin point raised above: in her Press the Meat appearance, Mary harped on and on about how Vice-President Fudd did not blame the victim... how, while "in person" he apologized to Harry and didn't make a public contrition (and say a hail Mary Matalin!) for four days did not result in the public "blame the victim" game when, of course, that's precisely what it did.

You see, the Bush Administration, as Michael Berube recently reminded me, as reported by Fafblog, is capable of bending time and space (I believe to protect us from terrorists), and therefore, events must have occurred exactly the way Mary Matalin said they did. And we can count on CNN and the New York Times to report it that way in any event.

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February 19, 2006, Meet the Cast of "When Harry met Birdshot"

Those of you who were expecting me to "get over it"... can... get over it. Because if there is anything at all to be squeezed out of the "shot heard round the ranch," gosh darn it, I'm going to squeeze it.

We'll start with this from the Houston Chronicle, trying to lay out the still unanswered questions which will probably never be answered to the satisfaction of anyone but right-wing partisans (and let's face it, immense Kenedy County with just a few hundred people and a tiny sheriff's department would be the perfect place to get away with just about anything.) We meet some new people-- a "guide"-- Bo Hubert, and two "outriders"-- Jerry and Oscar Medellin (Medellin... where have I heard that name before...) We learn that, just to make it even less sporting than having farm-raised game-birds who are born and bred to jump up and be shot, ranch employees ride around on horseback beating the bushes (as it were) to make the little birdies jump up some more...

Now that we've met a couple of chorus girls, let's move on to the principal players, as set forth in this International Herald Tribune article, the only place I have seen the names of the ten members of the moving charnel house party...

So let's see how we get to ten. We start with (1) the Vice-President and (2) our hostess, Katharine of Aragon Armstrong.

The other guests were [3] [Pamela] Willeford, the ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and [4] her husband, George, a physician in Austin; [5] Ben Love, a West Texas rancher whom Armstrong called her "beau"; [6] her sister, Sarita Hixon, a Houston museum chairwoman, and her husband, [7] Bob, an insurance executive; [8] Nancy Negley, an art philanthropist whose family once controlled Brown & Root, now a part of Halliburton [no, I'm not making this up]; and [9] Whittington, a 78-year-old Austin lawyer, Republican stalwart and presiding officer of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, and his wife, [10] Mercedes [she's also--according to the linked account-- the sister of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.].

Speaking of James Baker, it seems our hostess made a few bucks as a lobbyist working for Jim's law firm, Baker & Botts. Small world, right?

We're not counting Anne Armstrong, our hostess's mother (a/k/a "Miss Ellie"), the former Ambassador to St. James Court, but she might not have gone out-a-killin' with the rest of the guests.

The I.H.T. time-line fills in some details we were (or at least, I was) missing...

All the guests were there by 6 p.m. Friday, Armstrong said. The others drove, but Cheney flew in with his Secret Service entourage; his wife, Lynne, had also been expected but could not come at the last minute, Armstrong said. Quartered in adjoining ranch houses, the group dined together Friday night and retired by about 10.

They were up before 8 Saturday and headed out in two groups, with outriders on horseback to flush the birds and about a dozen American pointers and Labrador retrievers.

They broke at 1 p.m. for a picnic lunch Cheney said he had had one beer but "nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence" then returned to the house to freshen up before heading out again with different partners. Armstrong drove an old Jeep with Cheney, Mrs. Hixon, Willeford and Whittington.

So far, so good... the pointers and Labradors, btw, weren't talking... draw your own conclusions about what "old Jeep" means...

By close to 5:30 p.m., she said, each group had bagged perhaps 40 quail for the day, well below the limit of 15 per person, and they were following their last covey, or flock. At that point, Armstrong said, they figured they had 10 to 15 minutes of good light, and it would have taken 40 minutes or so to find another covey, so this was to be their last shooting of the day. They had taken turns shooting, and now Armstrong was in the Jeep with her sister. About 100 yards away, Cheney, Whittington and Willeford were walking in a line in a low spot on gently sloping ground. After Whittington bagged his birds he dropped out of sight along with one of Armstrong's bird dogs, Gertie, Willeford recalled.
That was Harry's first mistake... don't trust those damned bird dogs...
Then, suddenly, he was in a dip about 30 yards away against the sun just as Cheney fired a blast from his Italian-made 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun. Whittington caught the spray of birdshot on the right side of his face, neck and chest. "I said, 'Harry, I had no idea you were there,' " Cheney recalled, adding: "He didn't respond." Armstrong initially faulted Whittington. "You tell your companions you're there, and he failed to do that," she said.

When you're a Texas Republican... don't trust your friends either...

Armstrong used her cellphone to call Love, who was in the other hunting party, with Mrs. Whittington. "Until we know how Harry is, it's best not to say anything to Merce," Love said she had told him. [Or the press. Or the sheriff.]

An ambulance one always accompanies Cheney arrived in about 30 minutes.

Armstrong called Love back. "He looks O.K.," she said. "He's responsive, he's talking." Love agreed to tell Mrs. Whittington. "She sat upright and asked, 'How bad?' " Love recalled.

O.K. Let's stop right there, shall we. Cheney has an ambulance with him, and presumably paramedics; how could they possibly have allowed it to be 30-minutes away, unless they screwed around before calling it. Second, why is she calling Ben Love, the rancher, when one of her guests is Dr. George Willeford. You see what I mean? I don't want the rancher giving me advice on a gunshot victim when a doctor is available... do I?
Back to our story...

They saw the ambulance, bearing Whittington, speeding toward them and tried to flag it down for his wife, but it sped away, Love said. He and Mrs. Whittington, Dr. Willeford and Hixon then made their own way about an hour and 20 minutes north to the Christus Spohn hospital in Kingsville. Whittington's injuries were deemed serious enough to require treatment at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi, at least another hour's drive away, and he was flown there by helicopter. When they reached the hospital in Corpus Christi, Dr. Willeford and Hixon called the others at the ranch to report on Whittington's condition, which Armstrong described as non-life-threatening. "He was O.K., he checked out fine," she said.

Poor Cheney. He was so worried that he might get in really big trouble for actually killing a man... instead of merely "peppering him..." Anyway...

The Secret Service, which put the time of the shooting at 5:50 p.m., said it had notified Sheriff Ramon Salinas III of Kenedy County by 7 p.m. Sheriff Salinas said he had dispatched a deputy, and he later issued a news release suggesting that the officer had been turned away at the ranch. The Washington Post on Wednesday quoted Sheriff Salinas as saying that he first learned of the shooting from one of his captains, who had been summoned to escort the ambulance, but that he arrived after the ambulance left and that the Border Patrol agent guarding the gate during Cheney's visit knew nothing of any shooting. Sheriff Salinas did not return repeated calls, and a reporter seeking to resolve the discrepancies was turned away Wednesday by the sheriff's office in Sarita, which said he was "unavailable." Armstrong said she knew nothing of any attempted visit by a deputy on Saturday night.

For those of you keeping score, this is the story. I assure you that if you or I had a man shot on our property, the sheriff or other local constable would not have settled for being "turned away"; he or she would have radio'd for a search warrant to enter the property... which would have been granted on the spot. Let's just say that it's good to be the king (or the Vice-President, or of course, Lady Kathariine, as the case may be). Back to the story...

The Secret Service appears also to have gotten word to the White House. Between 8 and 9 p.m., Armstrong recalled, Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff, called her "to check on Harry," who she said was "an old friend of Karl's." [WTF?] She said there was no discussion of what President Bush had been told of the shooting and whether he knew that Cheney had fired the shots. Armstrong and her guests insisted that the focus Saturday was solely on Whittington and that no one talked about whether or how to put out the news of the incident. "I'm telling you, there was no discussion at all, there wasn't," she said. Love agreed. "We were all quite shaken," he said, adding that Cheney was "just crushed." That night, Armstrong said, Cheney and the others ate a somber roast beef dinner, overshadowed by concern for Whittington. Dr. Willeford and Hixon returned from the hospital in Corpus Christi to brief them further. They went to bed around 10, she said.

Damn. Harry's getting in the way of Dick's shot ruined his dinner... btw, no point in eating any of those quail you've gunned down... Anyway, no wonder Harry apologized to Dick. He ruined Dick's evening, if not his whole weekend. Anyway, Lady Katharine continues...

She said she was up Sunday by 6 a.m. and the other guests drifted in to breakfast around 7:30. It was then, she said, that they first started discussing how the news of the shooting was to be released. "Mother and I decided we had to get that out of the way," Armstrong said, adding that she then proposed calling a reporter she knew at The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Cheney, she said, agreed. "What the vice president was doing was so respectful," she said, suggesting he was concerned that a news report might reach Whittington's daughters before the family could notify them. Armstrong also said Cheney deferred to his hosts as the ones to handle any announcement.

And to complete the whitewash:

Sheriff Salinas and a deputy came by around 8 a.m. to take a statement from Cheney, she said.

Armstrong said she began calling the reporter, Jaime Powell who had covered the death of her father, Tobin Armstrong, last October about 8:30 a.m. Sunday but failed to reach her. Armstrong then started calling the Caller-Times newsroom and reached another reporter, Kathryn Garcia, about 9 a.m.

The Caller-Times, after confirming the story with Cheney's office, posted an article on its Web site at 1:48 p.m. Sunday.

The guests stayed around the ranch house until lunch Sunday, Armstrong said. Cheney and Anne Armstrong drove to Corpus Christi to visit Whittington in the hospital.

Katharine Armstrong said she talked to Whittington by phone for 20 minutes

Monday. "He was in very high spirits and funny," she said.

But on Tuesday Whittington was back in the intensive care unit. He had suffered what doctors called a minor heart attack with a pellet of birdshot lodged in his heart.

And there you have it: our cast of characters and our plot synopsis. It might strike you that people more concerned with the welfare and physical condition of the victim (as opposed to possible implications of criminally negligent homicide...) might have gotten the doctor who was already on the ranch to the victim, and gotten the nearby ambulance a tad sooner... and, as noted above, contacted the doctor for prompt advice as opposed to, say, the rancher...

The red-herring "non-story" is the disclosure of the story... plenty of time for that. The main-stream press is nothing if not self-absorbed, of course. Anyhow, stay tuned, boys and girls. Yee ha.

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February 18, 2006, The "Obstruction of Justice" that dare not speak its name

It should surprise no one that I of all people refuse to give up on the Dick Cheney story.

We'll start with this "round-up Guide to Quail-gate". We'll move right on to "Cheney's Chappaquiddick".

Some strange details emerge. For one thing, the shooting seems very endemic to Dick Cheney: he shot an endangered species (i.e., the last progressive Republican in the great state of Texas).
For another, he seems to have surrounded himself with the typical trappings of royalty. We'll start with our esteemed hostess, Katharine of Aragon Armstrong... daughter of a major rancher and her Mom was Ambassadress to St. James Court... and owner of a 50,000 acre ranch in a county larger than Rhode Island with fewer people than my block in Brooklyn (less than 400 or so).

We'll proceed past Colonel Mustard and go to... another Lady Ambassador, in this case, Miss Pamela Willeford, Ambassador of the United States of America to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. And Lady Armstrong's sister, Sara Storey Armstrong Hixon, who, evidently in conjunction with Lady Armstrong and Ambassador Anne Armstrong, decided (with no input from the vice-president... maybe...) to call the local media.

I don't know about you, and having never fired a shot in anger or at any other time, I couldn't tell you... but I thought hunting was a "guy thing". Seems to be an awful lotta ladies in this story, not one of whom is married to either Dick or Harry (where's Tom?)...

As I said in another post, maybe this isn't really about hunting. Or even drinking... No, no... couldn't be....

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February 17, 2006, Taking One for the Team

The vice-president believes he dodged a bullet (even if his good friend Harry still got peppered) as Harry Whittington left the hospital, and, showing what a good loyal GOP team player he is, apologized to Dick Cheney for all the trouble he caused by getting in the way of Dick's gun. Is that a friend? Ladies-- see if this man is single... He's not only loaded... he's ready to go when his friends are locked and loaded.

We all (when I say "we", I'm referring to the 70-80% of the American people who actually believe that Republicans are capable of committing crimes) immediately jumped to the conclusion that Dick Cheney and his people arranged for time to pass (and the cover of a post-accident cocktail) in order to let the probably crippling-to-a-normal-human-being-level-of-blood-alcohol leave his system to confound a possible breathylizer test...

When I was trying to remember another obnoxious rich White person who committed a heinous act while loaded (blaming the "white trash" victims for good measure!), it took the brilliance of Jim Capozzola to instantly bring it all into perspective: it was none other than Lizzie Grubman, a figure so notorious (albeit in the ancient historical past, a month or two before 9-11 changed everything) that she managed to be the subject of one of this blog's "talking dog points". Let's just say that "Two DUI Dick" was well aware of the precedent for avoiding... trouble. Certainly, with Harry having pulled through (for now), it looks like this will now blow over (it won't Dick... I'm up to six posts in a row on you... other than a "blog-burst" for some primary or something, I don't recall ever giving anyone or anything that treatment in 4 1/2 years of doing this damned blog).

But what if poor Harry kicked off... or, what if he doesn't live at least a year and a day and his death can be attributed to the gun-shot "accident"... then Dick's strategy will pay immense dividends, lest some cracker rural Texas sheriff thinks about "negligent homicide" or something like that... now that the veep's been cleared and s**t. Ha! Gotcha White man... no breathylizer! Suck on this, cracker! Ha!

Anyway, take a look at Harry's statement and ask yourself if it wasn't written by Elvis Costello... (Accidents will happen, We only hit and run,
I don't want to hear it, 'Cause I know what I've done...)

Next week, Dick Cheney tries an air rifle... pump it up, baby...

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February 16, 2006, President declares Cheney cover-up "satisfactory"

The President, as usual, expressed full confidence in his vice-president and the President stated he was satisfied with Dick Cheney's explanation and his conduct of how he trickled out information regarding it to the press in derogation of the usual White House press channels and how he successfully avoided investigation of his probable inebriation at the time of the shooting.

Except, of course, that this won't do. This won't do at all. There are lots and lots and lots of non-stories out there, that there's no point in us talking about, like the scathing UN report demanding that Gitmo be shut down ; or the rapid increase in melting of the Greenland ice sheets (which is certainly not being caused by global warming or anything man-- especially in the United States-- might be doing); or how our government "accidentally" turned over incredibly sensitive classified data to attorneys representing an Islamic charity believed linked to terrorists; or of course, more revelations on Iraq's death squads and still more Abu Ghraib abuse, torture and murder (no other word for it) photos.

The fact is, there might be, oh, a glimmer of hope for the republic, if there was widespread interest in any of those things, or things like the senate's sudden abandonment of the NSA domestic spying scandal probe (note that a federal judge has ordered the disclosure of all details of "the program" within twenty days; the joy of our system is that, rather than just ignore the order and be in contempt, the Administration can file endless appeals and can allow years while, as noted by Bruce the Veep, the Bush Administration will likely have long shredded anything too embarrassing... or better yet, be out of office altogether.) But there isn't.

My point is simply this: since none of those arguably important stories will get any shrift whatsoever beyond their early mention (even the Greenland story, what with its, you know, profound implications for human life on the planet and all)... we may as well get to play out the seemingly more frivolous tabloid type story-- that would be all Dick "I can de-classify anything I want" Cheney-- all the time. (Like you see on this blog; I'm not sure I've ever done five posts in a row on the same topic before...)

And so we shall. Dick has given the press (and blogtopia, yiksctt) what it wants: a tawdry tale of human weakness and intrigue and mystery... as I've said, it was the Vice-President's own fault by not insisting on proper procedure-- prompt notification to the White House, immediate securing of the scene and evidence and witness statements by the Secret Service, FBI, and the Kenedy County Sheriff (note the last one is better late than never, as that office now says "it's a huntin' ax-i-dent... nothing to see here folks, move along...")

Well... nyuh uh! Dick Cheney has brought this on himself, baby, and God damn it, the rest of us are going to get our money's worth. Our republic-- hell, our f***ing planet-- and I mean the ability to live on it as humans-- all goes to hell in a handbasket, and nobody seems to give a s***. So if the only thing we get to harp on is Dick "Two DUI Convictions" Cheney andhis drinking while carrying fire-arms and on heart medication... well, then, we'll just have to take that.

And if the President won't let us have that, then I say he can go f*** himself. Not to worry. He'll come around. He'll see the "bread and circuses" value of letting old Dick twist in the wind some more... Because he's our savior... protecting us from Al Qaeda. And ennui.

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February 15, 2006, Deadeye Dick Career Death-watch (and contest!)?

The Vice-President broke his half-week long silence today by giving a statement in the friendly confines of Fox News to Brit Hume... Cheney admitted that it was his own damned fault that he shot his good friend Harry Whittington, and Cheney noted that he had "a beer with lunch". This is the clearest confirmation possible that there indeed was at least some level of alcohol involved, and hence, there was significance in the fact that local law enforcement officials were kept at bay until the following morning. "One beer" of course could be a 12 ounce can, a pint glass, a quart bottle, a keg... unfortunately, the veep wasn't more forthcoming on that little pint point.

Obviously, the Administration has some uses for the Cheney fiasco, such as covering up for the fact that the Senate GOP majority may be tiring of any kind of inquiry into possible abuses and the certain illegality associated with the NSA domestic eavesdropping "program". Or, the shorter version, "Olympia Snowe has been threatened with a primary challenge and doesn't think she can win both it and the general election, so if tyranny is the way it is, well it's better than being voted out of office."

Notwithstanding that, the Vice-President did a number of really dumb things with this. For one thing, he showed us that he engages in incredibly reckless activities. The fact of the matter is, it could well have been Harry blasting him full of metal pellets, and no Secret Service agent is likely fast enough to intervene when the veep has arranged a private party in a remote area involving elderly participants, fire-arms... and alcohol...

Then he screws around with letting anyone know about this, in such a manner as sure making it look like interfering with a local investigation (can you say "obstruction of justice"?) Then, politically, his silence allowed some really stupid activity, like JEB and McLellan mocking the victim, even as he was having a heart attack as a result of having been shot in the chest. Worst of all, Mr. Scaife and his minions have turned "the press" from being about "the public's right to know" into "the public's right to be entertained"... i.e., Dick has just handed the press the Bush Administration's Monica-gate story and Chappaquiddick rolled into one. For no God damned reason, other than he was embarassed about having a beer (albeit possibly a rather large one). There is no law against hunting while sloshed in Texas that anyone knows of, so... it's more about embarassment (and possible negligent homicide had poor Harry not pulled through, though it looks like he will...)

Coming off a week when it was disclosed that Scooter revealed that Dick ordered him to leak damaging classified information to try to burn both Plame and Wilson, let's just say... Dick's stock hasn't exactly been soaring ...

We'll see. This whole overreaction to a little huntin' accident... I mean, come on, Dick. Do you really think Al Qaeda wants to see your sensitive side? (The line of the day is from Vermont Senator Pat Leahy, who suggested that given that Cheney told him to go f*** himself, "I guess I got off easy.")
Anyway... before Fitzgerald maybe indicts or something, this might be an excellent time to consider stepping aside "for health reasons". "Family reasons" will certainly do, as will "personal reasons." For those who guess closest to Dick's last day in office, a special prize is in order (lunch at some 4-star restaurant in NYC, my treat, or in "your town" assuming I ever get there? How 'bout that one...); bonus points for guessing the reason Dick gives. Of course, sitting where I do, I'll take "January 20, 2009" as the safest bet...

But that dream scenario (for some) of having Condi step up to the vice-presidency, where she would be the automatic frontrunner for the GOP's candidate for president in 2008, might have just started in motion... We'll see... take your best guess...

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February 14, 2006, Heart Attack Harry

While the post-title reminds one of the old Dana Carvey SNL character Massive Headwound Harry, we are speaking of course, of hapless Harry, specifically Harry Whittington, the Austin, Texas based attorney who Dick Cheney accidentally shot full of pellets intended for farm-raised quail. More specifically, Mr. Whittington had a "mild" heart attack as a result of one or more of the pellets lodged in or near his heart bringing about a "fibrilation".

While the recriminations will fly over the apparent breaches of protocol and procedure associated with the nearly day-long delay in announcing news of this unfortunate accident to the press, and more importantly, in permitting the local constabulary to do their "routine investigation", let's face it: had this been anyone but the Vice-President, one man's "agreement between the vice-president's office and the local sheriff not to bother the poor man till morning" might quickly become another man's "obstruction of justice."

For good measure, the first doctor Mr. Whittington saw, Dr. Raj Subnani in Kingsland, Texas, concluded that "oh he's fine; if he wasn't shot by the Vice-President, he'd have gone home with anti-biotics-- no royal treatment..."
Needless to say, this doctor might lead one to conclude that there is but one standard of medicine in rural Texas: awful. Not one standard for everyone except people shot by the vice-president... just one standard...

Now... the fact is (my pregnant hypotheses about, oh, substance abuse, aside) there is no reason to believe that what transpired was not simply a tragic accident-- maybe one or more participants were negligent, but this is certainly foreseeable as an accident. Ah, but... it's never the crime-- it's always about the cover-up.

And therein lies the story. The fact is, there was probably a preferred procedure, of running the press on this through the White House, and allowing local law enforcement, the FBI and Secret Service, to do an appropriate canvassing (witness statements, securing the accident scene, securing the weapons, etc.) so that, frankly, people like me (and the roughly 70-80% of the American people who believe that Republicans such as Dick Cheney are capable of committing crimes) would not be in a position to speculate about sinister things transpiring that, I'm sure, didn't happen at all.

Unless they did, of course.

But by making up procedure as they went along, the Cheney party has now managed to cast suspicion on the vice-president that he did something wrong-- suspicion not helped, of course, by early attempts to blame, and then mock, the victim... blaming and mocking that is more fun when it looks like you probably haven't actually killed the man.

And so there you have it. It all reminds me of a story whereby a bear has been terrorizing a town, and a local hunter promises to take his trusty shotgun and deal with the bear; he returns to town, after having not only failed to kill the bear, but evidently having been sodomized by it. The hunter contends his shotgun wasn't powerful enough, so he heads out with an uzi at nightfall. Again, by morning, he returns to town, after having not only failed to kill the bear, but evidently having been sodomized by it. The hunter contends his uzi wasn't powerful enough, so he heads out with a bazooka at nightfall. Sure enough, he encounters the bear again. The bear looks at him, and says "This isn't about hunting, is it?"

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February 13, 2006, Help for the lazy blogger

Thankfully, help comes from Gary Farber and the Amygdala blog... most of the links can be found in comments to my posts below (thank you, Gary!), but I'd like to point out, in particular, this post on Administration lies associated with Guantanamo. Consider that our friends at the UN have issued a rather scathing report of their own about Gitmo. Of course, you discerning reader, know all this, because you've been getting it straight from the mouths of the horses who have been telling it... to the dog... who vouchsafes it on to you.

Gary has lots of other posts on matters NSA, and a great one on the aftermath and inconsistencies associated with the Affaire Cheney and UnWhittington... My guess is that this was as much a wild turkey hunt as it was a pre-screened-loyalist-farm-raised-so-rich-white-people-could-execute-them-quail shoot... the long delay before notifying the universe as to what happened (including not letting the police in to talk to the Veep until the morning...) was, IMHO, mostly about letting the Veep's blood-content of something come down to, shall we say... acceptable levels...

Ah well. The image of competent malevolence that we attach to the Vice-President... seems to be... shot. A malevolent Elmer Fudd is just not a formidable image. No, no. I mean, do we really want Al Qaeda to thhee our thhenthhtive thhide? I athhk you!

Dick thheathon! HARRY thheathon!'re dethhpicable.

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February 12, 2006, Accidents will happen...

Cross-posted to Sisyphus Shrugged, while Julia continues hiatusing.

While sitting here amidst New York's second largest snow fall ever of 22.8 inches, and pondering going back out to shovel, I was suddenly alerted to the fact that the Vice-President of the United States shot a man.

My dreams of reading about Dick Cheney having challenged Senator Pat Leahy to a duel a la Burr and Hamilton were dashed, when I saw that, in fact, it was a hapless 78 year old political crony and campaign giver, Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, who was, in fact, shot while hunting with Dick Cheney. We always suspected that activity was probably really dangerous in any event...

Thankfully for all, Whittington is apparently o.k. He was hit with bird shot while hunting quail (another vice-presidential reference sneaks in here!) Cheney was most apologetic, what with Whittington being a loyal friend, hunting buddy, Republican and campaign contributor and all...

Obviously, Cheney was too shaken up by the whole incident (one wonders how his ticker will take this kind of excitement) to figure out a way to express that Democrats were actually responsible for it.

Of course, the day is young...

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February 11, 2006, Flexible bedrock foreign policy principles...

Could things be changing in the Taiwan Straits? Well, our overdue visit to our comrades from Eurasia over at Pravda gives us this examination of that question. The piece notes that in a somewhat unusual move, the United States has rather vociferously taken sides, this time with Beijing, to tell the "independence minded" in Taiwan to... shut up.

Basically, the official fiction is that China and Taiwan are, were, and always will be, one country, with Taiwan in effect "a renegade province". This is why Taiwan was kicked out of the U.N. (the KMT government of Chiang Kai-Shek, based on Taiwan, had held China's seat-- and Security Council veto-- until the 1970's), must march in the Olympics as "Chinese Taipei," and otherwise has a sort of unique non-country country diplomatic status. Of course, the pragmatists among us would say that if Taiwan is, de facto, a free, prosperous, independent democracy, who really cares about nonsense like "international standing"? (Ask Israel the same question!)

Taking a quick look at our comrades over in Eastasia, the Beijing House Organ People's Daily gives us this analysis of where the PRC feels Sino-American relations should be going... note words like "maturity" and "pragmatism".

What does this mean? The fact is, we are working with China and Russia, both of whom have U.N.S.C. vetoes, nuclear weapons, and great influence in the world, over our seemingly (and probably actually) intractable problems of North Korea, and more relevant immediately, Iran. As Jim Henley sometimes notes, we have been hellbent on showing the world that the aura of American invincibility can be undermined by irregular guerrillas and home-made roadside explosives. The reality is, our Iraqi adventure has sapped us financially and strategically. We simply do not have the means to project force in a credible manner.
It's that bugaboo again: we actually have to depend on the kindness of strangers, or "our allies" simply because we don't have the money or the raw power to impose our will on either North Korea or Iran.

While some may believe in American unilateralism, its effectiveness has been shown to be... of limited value. We are still a superpower in the third and fourth worlds, but that's about the best we'll do, and uppity countries there (see Korea, Democratic People's Republic of and Iran, Islamic Republic of) give us a run for our money.

Oh... did we mention that our Defense Department spends hundreds of billions of dollars developing yesterday's conventional weapons for the hypothetical wars of tomorrow with... China? At the same time that China is our fastest growing international creditor, and the country to whom we have the largest trade deficit? And, of course, we need Chinese and Russian cooperation to deal with North Korea and Iran. Got all that?

Let's just say that all things told, it's a darned good thing for the Taiwanese that they can defend themselves, if they have to.

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February 11, 2006, A Broken Record

Cross-posted at Sisyphus Shrugged.

This tagline refers to both the yawning national trade deficit with the rest of the world of over $700 billion more goods and services imported over exported, and of course, what I sound like repeating the mantra that this presents "some kind of a problem." The fact is, Americans' view of things is always "so what's the problem?" As long as one's credit card has enough of a credit limit to cover anticipated forward spending until past the next billing cycle... what's the problem, right? Why worry about the fact that we'll be broke in a month, or six months, or a year or whatever... that's then, right?

Some blame global trade, but this is nonsense: we don't help our own people, on net, by denying them the opportunity to buy goods and services cheaper than if said goods or services were strictly manufactured here. Yes, we appear to help some people, but in the end, we would do so at a far greater cost than if we simply subsidized them for the loss.

Fact is, in the 2005 yawning credit gap, the official culprits are very high oil prices and imports from China; an awful lot of Chinese, Japanese and Korean money has been flowing in here to finance our humongous federal budget deficit (while not quite as high as the trade deficit, not very far from it). Our federal budget deficits keep interest rates higher than they would be otherwise (federal borrowing competes with private borrowing for a vast but finite pool of capital) which attracts furriners to lend our nation money. The higher interest rates should lower the value of the dollar against other currencies, which would slow imports... of course, it would also slow our economy, which is why interventions are constantly taken to limit that... which keeps... the yawning trade deficit so... yawning. It's just that we are approaching the point where this is unsustainable, and the shock of disrupting the process will be... very painful, with much economic disruption.

Well, there's our big picture. Not to worry. Because it's complicated, Americans can safely ignore it until it goes away.

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February 10, 2006, The Brown Derby

This post is cross-posted over at Sisyphus Shrugged... Evidently the reluctant-designated-Katrina-fall-guy former FEMA chief Michael Brown testified before a senate committee... and disabused the nation of much of what the White House had been spinning with respect to the President's professed ignorance about just how bad things were in New Orleans.

Brown noted that he spoke to a Deputy White House Chief of Staff, advising of the situation in New Orleans; he called claims that the White House and top Homeland Security Department officials that they didn't know there were levee breaches in New Orleans "baloney".

Brown fenced with members of the committee, particularly Republican Senator Norm "Genius" Coleman from Minnesota, asking the senator "What do you want from me? I already said I'm sorry."

Earlier in the week, Brown apparently had inquired as to whether the White House wanted to assert executive privilege on the grounds of "It might embarrass the Bush Administration." The answer, apparently, is no...

Coming juxtaposed with the President's bogus attempt to divert attention from his illegal (and frankly, impeachable) ordering of warrantless surveillance against his domestic political opponents through announcement of a bogus plot associated with an airliner crashing into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a story that Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified that Vice President Cheney directed him to leak classified information to the press as part of an ongoing campaign to discredit political enemy Joseph Wilson... let's just say, Karl doesn't seem to be on top of his game.

Ask not what Brown can do for you... just don't ask...

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February 9, 2006, Gitmo Getdown (as in get down food and water through a tube...)

This post is cross-posted over at Sisyphus Shrugged, where I am but a bit player on a very, very deep bench filling in for Julia... Anyway, let's bring you the latest from the international all star assembly of the-worst-jihadists-that-the-Northern-Alliance-and-Pakistani-security-forces-could-sell-us... Camps X-Ray, Delta, Echo, etc. at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Our pals at the NY Times give us this article discussing the new and improved means of force-feeding our guests at Gitmo...

I've recently posted an interview of Josh Colangelo Bryan, one of whose clients is evidently participating in the hunger strike. In the next few days, I should be putting up another interview with still more Gitmo lawyers, whose clients are also participating in a hunger strike.

Many don't know this, because Gitmo is so damned top secret, but there was a hunger strike a year or two ago over conditions of confinement (basically, the prisoners wanted treatment more or less consistent with the Geneva Conventions, the right to select representatives, better food, and so forth). To break the strike, the Government agreed to the conditions... and then, of course... reneged.

So my understanding of the current strike is that for many of the prisoners, it's "to the death"... they know their jailers are not to be trusted. Also, they believe they have no hope of release or resolution, so they seek the resolution of death. Most ironic, of course, that the political embarassment of having one or more prisoners die seems to be more pressing to the Bush Administration than its insistence that many of these people-- the vast majority of whom the Bush Administration never intends to charge, even at its kangaroo court military tribunals-- should face the death penalty! So we must keep them alive long enough to execute!

One might think that the ultimate basic human right is to refuse food. Well, since our government insists that the Gitmo prisoners have no rights-- that these individuals, not one of whom has had a trial to prove anything against them-- are "the worst of the worst" and therefore, are to be denied all rights.

The United States of America, ladies and gentlemen. This is what we stand for now. This is what we have come to. As Dostoevsky once suggested, the health of a society can be viewed in its prisons. Take a good look at the one our country is running, if you please.

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February 8, 2006, Deny. Attack. Condemn. Obfuscate. Stonewall. Grudgingly Appear to Concede...

Those are six of the standard steps in the White House six step response to just about everything from the 9-11 Commission to creating a Homeland Security Department to crafting virtually all legislation (except for tax cuts for the super-rich, on which the White House never, ever concedes, grudgingly or otherwise) to the current NSA surveillance scandal.

As WaPo reports, the White House has grudgingly appeared to concede to Congressional oversight, by agreeing to brief the House and Senate intelligence committees on details of "the program". Of course, everything these committees does is... a secret... and they are stacked by partisan control of the respective Houses anyway (the intelligence committee in the senate less so, but GOP Chairman Pat Roberts holds more cards than he should... while still not necessarily playing with a full deck.)

So, needless to say... I'm not satisfied. (But I wouldn't be, of course.) The fact is, Al Qaeda knows bloody well that the United States Governement is trying to monitor its letters and telephone calls, financial transactions, e-mails, smoke signals, sign language and carrier pigeon traffic.

We'd all love to believe that the President limited "the program" to monitoring of calls from Al Qaeda members itself... but we know (for sure) that "the program" was bigger than this, and involved American citizens most of whom had nothing whatever to do with Al Qaeda. And all of it... without a warrant request (even ex post facto, expressly allowed by law!) The "problem" is that there was an iddy bitty law set up after Watergate-- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act-- deliberate violation of which is evidently... against the law (and I understand, might be some kind of crime.) That said... the President and especially the Vice-President seem to be hellbent on telling us they have committed a violation of the law... maybe a crime... as Senator Russell Feingold recently told the Senate... hardly something to applaud (this means you, Lieberman). (Links via the great Talkleft blog.)

So... I don't really think a Congressional briefing is good enough, thanks.

I think a Special Prosecutor is called for. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is in this up to his smarmy little neck, having been an integral player in developing the (clearly and unquestionably) illegal policy (the Bush Administration actually makes me think fondly of John Ashcroft... and for that I, hope its remaining members rot in a special place in hell) . Don't get me wrong; FISA wasn't the law before 1978. It may well be a stupid law. It may well be a counterproductive law. But it's the God damned law of the United States of America, and when the chief law enforcement officers of the United States of America think they can violate the God damned law of the United States, they should be investigated, and if in fact guilty, impeached, tried, convicted, removed from office, and incarcerated.


I'm sure this post will make me very popular with our new NSA minders, insofar as the new Governmental data-mining offensive is to troll... blogs. (again, via Talkleft.)

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February 6, 2006, Oaf of Office

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to give the current whitewash version of the President's massive program to spy on his (domestic) political enemies under the catch-all of "protecting us from dark skinned terrrrrrrrorists."

Let's not mince words: there is now no doubt that the President and his minions have decided to spy on a massive number of Americans in a program that is almost designed to be ineffective at intercepting actual terrrorists, certainly when viewed in the context of this WaPo report noting that of an estimated 5,000 Americans spied on, "the program" yielded less than ten suspects; for you sticklers, that's around 2/10 of one per cent, a return that would fail the definition of "probable cause."

Indeed, given this kind of a "success" ratio, given the man-hours of law enforcement personnel to run down false "leads" generated by such an intrusive, yet ineffective, "program," inefficiency alone is a reason to shut it down (its kind of like our invasion of Iraq; yes, a formerly contained irritant, Saddam Hussein is gone, but we are less well able to deal with other threats, such as a possibly nuclear armed Iran and North Korea... not to mention, we have destabilized Iraq itself... but there you go...), even if it did not constitute a massive incursion in the privacy and general civil rights of American citizens.
But hey, that's just me.

Anyway, Gonzales, who bizarrely was not sworn in, essentially gave the Committee nothing of value, and reiterated as a mantra that the President has intrinsic authority handed to him by God Himself to override the rest of the Constitution in "wartime," which God Himself also gave the President the power to declare that we are in. Forever.

The fact is, former A.G. Ashcroft believed there were limits to executive power that stop at some point before "dictatorship" (not necessarily far from it, but before it). Gonzales has no such belief. It's my own fault, really. I once suggested that it would be damned near impossible for Bush to find someone for A.G. who was worse than John Ashcroft.

When talking about the Bush Administration, one must simply not make statements like that. Ever.

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February 6, 2006, Guns and Gutter

The President's budget, weighing in at an absurd two and three quarter trillion dollars, was released, and as predicted, features more war spending, less social spending (sort of) and more tax cuts (yee ha!)

Nothing terribly unexpected: the President is running to his base, who, by and large, don't like social programs that benefit anyone earning less than $200,000 per year, like defense spending, and love tax cuts... so that's what it is. With bogus deficit projections, contending that the deficit is somehow less than the unbelievable half a trillion dollars per annum that it actually is.

As I constantly do, I will reiterate my thumbnail "federal budget" lesson. The federal government budget is roughly divided into five more or less equal slices of around half a trillion dollars each (you read that correctly). These five components are: (1) interest on the national debt (legally inviolate), (2) defense/homeland security and (3) social security transfer payments to the elderly and disabled (politically inviolate), (4) Medicare/Medicaid, and (5) everything else, from Agriculture to Zimbabwean aid (if we gave any!)

So... a half trillion dollar deficit means that roughly 20% of the government is not being paid for out of current tax revenues; which means that interest next year will go up, because it has to. Which means that next year, either taxes must go up, other spending must go down, or the following year's interest must go up again. Nothing really magic about it, and contrary to what the Administration says, its tax cuts haven't been particularly stimulative (certainly not in the sense of job creation or enhanced national saving and investment)... they have simply been redistributional, as they are designed to be.

As it is now, our deficits consume something like 87% of the world's cumulative savings (a lot of which is in China and Japan). Which means that the only actual way ultimately to control the deficit in any kind of predictable way is... taxation... or spending cuts (or put another way, the entire planet is actually running out of the surplus capital needed to support our deficit.). Of course, spending cuts to social security will be... politically bad. I can solve the social security future actuarial problem by mandating that the minimum wage and "cap out" on contributions be indexed to cost of living adjustments in social security transfer payments but... that would be too easy and too painless to actually pull off. So just forget that. Also-- cuts to social security will probably lead to much penury among the elderly and disabled. Medicare/Medicaid cuts will... result in sick people... likely dying in the streets (at great social cost; naturally, these and general spending cuts are the cuts that are coming). Cuts in interest are illegal and will cause a default, ending the game. Cuts in general spending are plausible, but its only 20%-- so, even much vaunted "5% across the board cuts in discretionary spending" would only reduce the actual budget a mere 1% and the deficit by only... 5% (that's right-- the deficit alone represents almost as much as a single entire slice of the federal government-- interest, discretionary spending, Medicaid/Medicare, Social Security transfer payments, or defense/homeland security.)

Cuts in "defense" spending make the most economic sense, of course: they put the least back into the economy, and we outspend the rest of the world on defense at a time when we have no real enemies. Ah, but you say, the terrorists are everywhere preparing and plotting to murder all of our children the second we vote Democratic. Yes, yes... except it's not true, and it ultimately undermines our national security if we can't pay for anything and have to throw ourselves on the tender mercies of China, a country, ironically, that we spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year-- and yes, it's that much-- preparing to fight a hypothetical war against. We could probably cut defense spending by, oh, half, and barely notice it. Seriously. Why is it that it is always liberals who are accused of trying to solve all problems by throwing money at them? The fact is, it hasn't been shown that the answer to effectively combatting terrorism is the sort of super high tech big ticket items (aircraft carriers, stealth bombers, anti-ballistic missle systems, etc.) that we are told we need to fight terrorism. We could use, for example, people who can read and understand Arabic for example... by comparison, much cheaper. Of course, we tend not to concern ourselves with the human element (too inexpensive; and no kickbacks-- which, after all, is the real purpose of a $500 billion annual defense budget in a world where we have no real enemies to speak of.) Hence, the "defense" component is a big shell game, of course, and as politically inconceivable as cutting social security (maybe more so-- as Democrats would never consent to cut defense, lest they be perceived as soft on terror, whereas the Alito fillibuster fiasco teaches us that Dems may well roll on anything else).

Since none of the spending is either politically viable to cut, or will matter much at the levels that can be cut, the only other part of the equation that matters is taxation. Of course, the country did swimmingly at tax levels under Clinton that would more or less end the deficit immediately, and probably pay down a lot of the folly of the last 5 years... but those are doctrinally unacceptable to the Party of LeGree and Warbucks.

And so... I give you... the federal budget. You can keep it...

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February 4, 2006, Under New Management

The House of Representatives Republican Caucus (a/k/a Caucus Nostra) got together to select their new Majority Leader... and the future indictment goes to... Congressman John Boehner (R-OH). As Julia reminds us here... the new face of the Republican Party leadership of the House bears a striking resemblance to... the old face...

Let's just say that the great service that folks like Jack Abramoff and his clients have come to expect from the House GOP leadership will continue as before, unabated, with no slowdowns, and no apologies, and seemingly no other repercussions (save Bugs DeLay having to do his fighting in the back benches of Congress and the defendants' bench of an Austin courtroom.)

And shifting from the faces of actual monsters to the face of t.v. monsters, we take this opportunity to note how much we are saddened by the loss of an American original, Roosevelt Island's own Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis, who passed away at the ripe young age of 95... Not too long ago, Al ran as New York's Green Party candidate for Governor (despite being in his late 80's), garnering over 50,000 votes... as well as being a restauranteur, a basketball scout, a well-traveled actor... and of course, a camp staple as a Middle American vampire... While the House on Capitol Hill goes on, the house at 1313 Mockingbird Lane looms emptier...

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February 3, 2006, While you were sleeping

The President used the occasion of a Friday afternoon just before the Super Bowl to announce that he was asking Congress for an additional $90 billion, of which $70 billion will be for additional war funding (mostly in Iraq) and $20 billion or so for additional Katrina funding. Naturally, no discussion whatsoever of reversing tax cuts or anything in the nature of paying for any of this was, or will be, forthcoming.

They say a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. As recently as my last post, I noted the passage of budget cuts which will impact the lives of poorer and younger Americans, with cuts to Medicaid, child support and child welfare and student loan funding that will reduce the budget deficit by a pathetic $40 billion over 5 years, or less than 10% of the President's stealth announcement.

As usual, any questioning of any of this (such as "why won't you spread the sacrifice over all Americans, including and especially those who can afford higher taxes, rather than dumping deficits on those of us who plan to be around in 5 or 10 years"?) will be duly greeted as "not supporting the troops," "giving comfort to our enemy," or otherwise being simply traitorous or at best unpatriotic, if not "objectively pro Al Qaeda". Isn't tautology wonderful?

Frankly, if I were giving the nation fiscal advice, it would be something like "Bet the Air Force One budget, Take the Steelers and give the points," but I'm sure the national bookie could never lay off that kind of bet in time, and would refuse the action anyway... quite simply, George W. Bush simply isn't good to own up to the bet if he lost it.

As usual.

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February 1, 2006, The party of small (as in its responsiveness) government

The Republican controlled House did what you'd think it would when it came time to try to make a half-assed and meaningless attempt to control the insanely out of control federal deficit: it imposed a meaningless-in-the-big-picture $40 billion cut over five years piled on the backs of the poorest Americans. The TLB Act (TLB stands for "tough love... bitches") passed 216-214; around a dozen Republicans were permitted to vote against the measure to save face (presumably in tough races from blue states). The rest had to join in reducing federal expenditures to student loan programs (investing in the future), welfare and child support enforcement programs (who told you to have kids anyway?), Medicaid for the elderly (who told you to get sick)... and you get the idea. Tax cuts remain sacrosanct. We won't talk about them, of course. The same House Republicans, of course, balked at lobbying reform; when something works, why fix it? I mean, the junkets and dinners keep coming, right? So... what's the problem?

Meanwhile, the responsiveness of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina was praised severely criticized in a report by (my former employer) the G.A.O. (now "Government Accountability Office"), noting that no one in the federal government took appropriate charge, despite clear warnings from the government's own National Hurricane Center that "Katrina was the Big One." Of course, in fairness, the President was trapped by that super-villain, Cindy Sheehan... won't she leave the poor President alone?

Anyway, the President is learning his lesson about over-promising... as we all know, presidenting is very hard work... so the President's proposed agenda is mostly not very ambitious... which, given this President's ability to actually deliver anything (except deficits and chaos) is... well, let's just say that lowering the bar is a good thing with this President (lower expectations mean fewer disappointments!)

The party of small (in its responsiveness) government, ladies and gentlemen. It'll be here all week, and will be held over for at least 11 months... maybe longer...

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