Saturday, February 26


Darn that Blogger! I just lost a post about the fraud involved in the 700+ airings of "The Dean Scream." Well, here's the link that inspired it.


Anybody have any idea if a baseball signed by George W. Bush while he was "owner" of the Texas Rangers baseball club would be worth anything in dollars and cents?

We've had the darn thing hidden in a drawer for more than a decade --


The Sage has recently taken to calling pundits, "pun-twits."

I like it. Let's spread it around.


If only more conservative thought-leaders would take a page from Pat Buchanan's book:

A conservative knows not whether to laugh or weep, for Mr. Bush has just asserted a right to interfere in the internal affairs of every nation on earth. Why? Because the “survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” But this is utterly ahistorical. The world has always been afflicted with despots. Yet America has always been free. And we have remained free by following the counsel of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams and staying out of foreign quarrels and foreign wars.

Who is feeding the president this interventionist nonsense?
This is a prescription for endless war. Yet as Madison warned, “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Who and what converted a president who came to office with no knowledge of the world to the idea that only a global crusade for democracy could keep us secure? Answer: 9/11—and the neoconservatives.
The 9/11 killers were over here because we are over there. We were not attacked because of who we are but because of what we do. It is not our principles they hate. It is our policies. U.S. intervention in the Middle East was the cause of the 9/11 terror. Bush believes it is the cure. Has he learned nothing from Iraq?

In 2003, we invaded a nation that had not attacked us, did not threaten us, and did not want war with us to disarm it of weapons it did not have. Now, after plunging $200 billion and the lives of 1,400 of our best and bravest into this war and killing tens of thousands of Iraqis, we have reaped a harvest of hatred in the Arab world and, according to officials in our own government, have created a new nesting place and training ground for terrorists to replace the one we lately eradicated in Afghanistan.
America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” said John Quincy Adams, “She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Under the tutelage of Jacobins who call themselves idealists, Bush has repudiated this wise core doctrine of U.S. foreign policy to embrace Wilsonian interventionism in the internal affairs of every autocratic regime on earth. We are going to democratize the world and abolish tyranny.

Giddy with excitement, the neocons are falling all over one another to hail the president. They are not conservatives at all. They are anti-conservatives, and their crusade for democracy will end as did Wilson’s, in disillusionment for the president and tragedy for this country. 


Here is a most eloquent, summarily informative, thought-provoking and inspiring plea from Robert Kennedy, Jr. about the Bush attack on the environment. It's quite long, but I urge you to read the whole article. It relates the conservation argument, and Bush's policies, to fascism, campaign finance, and, most beautifully, to spirituality. It's a superb piece of writing, but more importantly, it goes to the heart of the dangers Bush's approach to policy poses to our nation, and our world. I've excerpted some of my favorite graphs, but to get real information about the impact of Bush's environmental policies on our economy, on jobs, on the health of our people, please read the entire piece.

The worst thing that can happen to the environment is if it becomes the province of a single political party. Most of the environmental leaders in our country agree with me. Five years ago, if you asked the leaders of the major environmental groups in America, What's the gravest threat to the global environment?, they would have given you a range of answers: overpopulation, habitat destruction, global warming. Today, they will all tell you one thing: it's George W. Bush. This is the worst environmental president that we have ever had. You simply cannot speak honestly about the environment in any context today without speaking critically about this president. If you go to the Natural Resources Defense Council's web site you will see over 400 major environmental rollbacks that have been promoted by this administration over the last three and half years. It is a concerted, deliberate attempt to eviscerate thirty years of environmental law. It is a stealth attack, one that's been hidden from the public.
Eighty-one percent in both parties want clean air, they want stronger environmental laws and they want them strictly enforced. Luntz said that to the president, and he said, if we do this we have to do a stealth attack. He recommended using Orwellian rhetoric to mask this radical agenda: They want to destroy the forest, they call it the Healthy Forest Act, they want to destroy the air they call it the Clear Skies Act. Most insidiously, they have installed the worst, most irresponsible polluters in America, and the lobbyists from those companies, as the heads of virtually all the agencies and sub-secretariats and even Cabinet positions that regulate or oversee our environment. The head of the Forest Service is a timber industry lobbyist who is probably the most rapacious timber industry lobbyist in American history. The head of public lands is a mining industry lobbyist who believes that public lands are unconstitutional. The head of the Air Division at the EPA is a utility lobbyist who has represented the worst polluters in America for twenty years. The head of Superfund is a woman whose former job was advising companies how to evade Superfund. The second in command of EPA is a Monsanto lobbyist - these are not exceptions, these are the rules across the agencies...These individuals did not enter government service for the purpose of promoting the public interest, but in each of these cases, rather to subvert the very laws that they are now charged with enforcing. We are seeing the impacts of this already.
We know that the principal source of ozone and particulates in our air is coming from 1,100 coal-burning power plants that are burning coal illegally. They were supposed to install controls over fifteen years ago. The Clinton administration was prosecuting 75 of the worst of those plants. But this industry gave $48 million to President Bush during the 2000 campaign, and they've contributed $58 million since. One of the first things that President Bush did when he came to office was to order the Justice Department to drop all 75 of those suits. The Justice Department lawyers were shocked. This has never happened in our history before, where somebody running as a presidential candidate accepts money from a criminal and then lets that criminal off the hook. Many of you remember what happened when President Clinton pardoned Mark Rich and how indignant the press and the public was at that action. But Mark Rich was one person, and he never killed anybody. According to EPA, these 75 plants, just the criminal exceedences from these plants, kill 5,500 Americans every year. After letting these criminals off the hook, the president then went and rewrote the Clean Air Act, illegally we believe. We're suing him, we'll win the suit, but it may take ten years, and in the meantime they'll discharge what they want.
We are living today in a science fiction nightmare, a world where, because somebody gave money to a politician, our children are brought into a world where the air is too poisonous for them to breathe.
If you ask the people in the White House who are promoting this legislation, Why are you doing this?, what they'll say is: We have to choose between economic prosperity and environmental protection - that is a false choice. In 100 percent of the situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy. We want to measure our economy based upon how it produces jobs and how it preserves the value of the assets of our community. If, on the other hand, we want to do what the Bush administration has been urging us to do, which is to treat the planet as if it were a business in liquidation, to convert our natural resources to cash as quickly as possible, to have a few years of pollution-based prosperity, we can generate an instantaneous cash flow and the illusion of a prosperous economy. But our children are going to pay for our joy ride. They are going to pay for it with denuded landscapes and poor health and huge cleanup costs that are going to amplify over time and that they are never going to be able to pay. Environmental injury is deficit spending. It's a way of loading the costs of our generation's prosperity onto the backs of our children.
...From the beginning of American history our greatest political leaders - Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams and Andrew Jackson - have warned America against allowing large corporations to dominate our political systems and our lives. Another Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, the most famous speech he made was warning America against the domination by the military-industrial complex. Franklin Roosevelt said that the domination of our nation by large corporations is the definition of fascism. I have an American Heritage Dictionary, and the definition, if you look up fascism, says, "the domination of government by large corporations driven by right-wing ideology and bellicose nationalism" - that's getting to look pretty familiar. The problem with letting large corporations dominate our government is that it erodes democracy, it erodes our capacity to participate in public life, our capacity for dignity, and it allows these entities to squander resources that belong to our children. But the thing that we've squandered worst of all is our natural heritage: the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the wildlife, the lands - all these things that make us proud to be American. This administration has taken the conserve out of conservatism. They claim to like the free market, but what they are really embracing is corporate welfare capitalism, socialism for the rich. They claim to love property rights, but only when it's the right of a polluter to use his property to destroy his neighbor's property or to destroy the public property. They claim to like law and order, but they are the first ones to let the large corporations and their corporate contributors violate the law at public expense. They claim to love local control and states' rights, but it's only in those instances when they're taking down the barriers to large corporations.

They claim to embrace Christianity while violating the manifold mandates of Christianity: that we are stewards of the land, and that we are meant to care for nature. They have embraced this Christian heresy of dominion theology, which James Watt was the first to enunciate when he told the Senate, I don't think that there is any point in protecting the public lands because we don't how long the world is going to last before the Lord returns. The woman he mentored for twenty years, Gale Norton, is running the Department of the Interior.

The reason that we protect nature is because it enriches us. It enriches us economically, yes, the base of our economy, and we ignore that at our peril. But it also enriches us aesthetically and recreationally, culturally and historically, and spiritually. Human beings have other appetites besides money, and if we don't feed them we're not going to become the kind of beings that our Creator intended. When we destroy nature we impoverish ourselves, we diminish ourselves and we impoverish our children. We're not protecting those ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest, as Rush Limbaugh loves to say, for the sake of a spotted owl. We are protecting those forests because we believe that the trees have more value to humanity standing than they would have if we cut them down.
We know our Creator best by studying Creation, which all of the religious texts mandate us to do. If you look at all of the great, central epiphany in every religious tradition in mankind's history, the revelation always occurs in the wilderness. Buddha had to go into the wilderness to experience self-realization. Mohamed had to go to the wilderness of Mount Hira in 629 and wrestle an angel in the middle of the night to have the Koran squeezed out of him. Moses had to go onto the wilderness of Mount Sinai to get the Commandments. The Jews had to spend 40 years in the wilderness to purge themselves of the 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Christ had to spend 40 days in the wilderness to discover his divinity. His mentor was John the Baptist, a man of the wilderness who lived in a cave in the Jordan Valley and dressed in the skins of wild animals. All of Christ's parables are taken from nature: I am the vine; you are the branch; The Mustard Seed; the little swallows the scattering, the seeds on fallow ground. He called himself a fisherman, a farmer, a vineyard keeper, a shepherd. That's how he stayed in touch with the people. He was saying things to them that contradicted everything that they had heard from the literate, sophisticated people of their time. They would have dismissed him as a quack but they were able to confirm the wisdom of his parables about the fishes and the birds through their own observations of the natural world. They were able to say: He's not telling us something new, he's simply illuminating something that's very, very old.

When we destroy these things, we're cutting ourselves off from the very things that make us human, that give us a spiritual life. And for these people on Capitol Hill to be saying that they are following the mandate of Christ by liquidating our public assets, what they are really doing is a moral affront to the next generation. That's why we preserve nature. Not for our sake, but for the sake of the future. That obligation is expressed by the term sustainability. All that word means is that God wants us to use the things we've been given, to enrich ourselves, to improve our quality of life, to serve others - but we can't use them up. We can't sell the farm piece by piece in order to pay for the groceries; we can't drain the pond to catch the fish. We can't cut down the mountain to get at the coal. We can live off the interest; we can't go into the capital that belongs to our children.


An excellent brief on the Resident's European trip:

Lest you be spun by the spin, note that he comes home with only one tangible result – an agreement by NATO to assist in training Iraqi forces, and a tepid assist it will be. Two of the NATO countries have agreed to supply one man each. Nearly all of the training will take place in Europe.

Well, such as it is, it's a good thing, as our own efforts to train Iraqis don't seem to be going so well.

Nevertheless, Bush cannot resist acting as if God appointed him schoolmaster of the world. He lectured everybody in sight. You, Europeans, should not lift the arms embargo against China (they are anyway), and you should stop being so soft on Iran. You should forget all my past insults and get on the Iraqi bandwagon.

They won't forget, and they won't get on a bandwagon that is stuck in the mire.

Hey, you Russians, listen up. You should be more democratic, and you should stop taking up for Iran. You, Iranians, you stop your nuclear-power program. You, Syrians, get out of Lebanon.

Mr. Bush has gotten Teddy Roosevelt's dictum exactly upside down. He shouts loudly and carries a small stick.

Let me put into perspective just how small a stick he carries. The European Union, in all but military power, is itself a superpower. It has more people than we do, and it has a larger gross domestic product. Its currency, the Euro, is very strong, and our currency, the dollar, is very weak.

Russia remains a military superpower, and its economy is growing faster than ours. It has recently undertaken an effort to modernize its nuclear strategic forces and even today has more than enough to blow us away. Furthermore, it recently signed a strategic defense agreement with China.

As to that part of the world, China and India, both with more than a billion people each, have rapidly growing economies. China, in particular, has undertaken a military buildup, and, of course, all three – Russia, India and China – are nuclear powers. If Bush ever looked past his immediate political goals, he might foresee a future tripartite alliance that would mean big trouble for America.

In short, we are not the world's only remaining superpower, as the Washington cliché says, and if Bush could see past his ego, he would recognize that. Our economy is shaky. Federal, corporate and private debt is in the trillions, and Japan and China could wreck our economy just by dumping the debt paper they hold on the market.

One should remember what Osama bin Laden said. He did not say he would conquer us and convert us all to Islam. He said he would bankrupt us. If Bush gets us further mired in the Middle East by attacking Iran and Syria, as he seems likely to do, bin Laden might very well succeed. War is always a drain on the economy. War always produces death, destruction, debt and taxes.

In short, real-world circumstances require careful, skillful and quiet diplomacy – not bombast. I fear, however, that we have put in place the wrong administration at the wrong time. Science, economic smarts, diplomatic skills and military experience are woefully in short supply in the Bush administration, which is filled with academics, spinners and ideologues.

The rise or fall of empires in the final days always depends on the right or wrong decisions made by the leadership. As American peons, there is nothing we can do but pray that God will intervene and make Bush give up hubris like he once did whiskey.


The Washington Post maintains that both Republicans and Democrats are stretching the truth in their arguments about Social Security. But as so often, though their "experts" conclude that the "stretch" is much greater for Repugs than Dems, you'd never know it from the lead: "As the two political parties would have it, Social Security is either careening toward catastrophe or is on as solid financial footing as it has ever been. Both sides have marshaled -- or twisted -- facts and figures to back up those seemingly irreconcilable views."

[Ed. note: I put "experts" in quotes because the SSA is quoted repeatedly, and said SSA has recently been demonstrated to be exhibiting bias and acting as a tool for the Resident's agenda.]

Here are the most pertinent graphs of the article:

On the stump, the president says Social Security will be bankrupt -- or, in more colorful moments, "flat bust" -- by 2042. The truth depends on the definition of "bankrupt."
As long as there are workers paying taxes, there will be money flowing into the Social Security system to pay benefits. Moreover, all of those numbers are in dispute. The Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill's nonpartisan official scorekeeper, says the date of trust fund exhaustion is 2052, and at that point, the system still will be able to pay 80 percent of promised benefits.

So what IS the definition of "bankrupt?"

a. Having been legally declared financially insolvent.
b. Financially ruined; impoverished.

If the system continues as at present, says the more reliable CBO, benefits will still be paid. So the term "bankrupt" is patently incorrect.
If people are allowed to divert a portion of their payroll taxes from the system to their own accounts, there will be less money coming into the government to cover those current benefits, which Bush has promised to pay in full.

Bush says the accounts would cost about $754 billion over the next 10 years. This might be true, but only because it is based on the program starting in 2009 and being fully implemented in 2011. The costs skyrocket when the new accounts are open to all. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says that it will cost $4.9 trillion over a 20-year period, starting in 2009.

Vice President Cheney recently said the accounts would cost "trillions of dollars," which is probably the most honest, if vague, estimate, budget experts said.

It's unsaid who these "experts" are, but they clearly favor the Democratic estimate; "trillions" being a plural, even $2.0 trillion is far closer to the $4.9 trillion projected by Dems than the $754 billion by Bush.
"Young workers who elect personal accounts can expect to receive a far higher rate of return on their money than the current system could ever afford to pay them," Cheney told an audience at Catholic University last month.
That calculation is based, however, on the premise that taxes paid into Social Security somehow have a fixed rate of return correlated to Treasury bond interest rates.

Instead, the rate of return in the current system is the product of complex formulas based on years worked, wages earned, the rate of wage increases over a worker's lifetime and inflation rates during retirement. Social Security offers low-wage workers a higher benefit relative to their tax payments than higher-wage earners get.
For virtually everyone, those future rates of return would fall below the 4.6 percent gains the government actuary anticipates for money that would be invested in personal accounts under Social Security. But under the administration proposal, anyone investing in the accounts would lose 3 percent of their gains to help finance the new system. So beating the current system is not a sure thing.

According to the "experts'" explanation, "Young workers" could only refer to "young high-wage earners" and maintain a modicum of truth to Cheney's assertion. But note the caveat in the last graph.

It's those "young workers" Bush is trying to woo support from. For everyone old enough to have lived through various market slumps and dives, trusting their principal, or only, source of retirement income in the financial markets is a scary prospect.

I guess you could say that The Sage and I are middle-American baby boomers. Our principal savings are tied up in our 401(k)'s. We've watched them fluctuate over the past years and held our breath during some especially bad times. With five kids to support and educate, we've never been able to save much beyond that. If we couldn't depend upon Social Security, we'd never be able to retire -- our 401(k)'s will never be big enough to support us in our golden years. And as a matter of fact, we've invested more of our wages in Social Security than in our 401(k)'s. If the government hadn't forced us to do that, we probably would have spent the money one way or another, so I'm grateful that we were forced to save despite ourselves. I figure that if we live and work for another 10 years and then either of us died and the other lived for 15 years after our retirement, our S.S. benefits would amount to around $400,000. Our 401(k)'s would render us about $350,000. So "my money" has been just as well invested in S.S. as in Wall Street.

But that's only if the financial markets continue to perform well over the next 10 years. With the Bush deficits, anything can happen. I could lose all or most of my 401(k). With no Social Security, then where would I be?

That's the scenario all but the wealthier Americans should contemplate before they throw their hat into the Bush ring.


It's been simultaneously amusing and bewildering to watch the debate going on between the National Review On-line's Ramesh Ponnuru- Jonah Goldberg and Ryan Sager and other conservative pundits over their respective tolerance of "big government conservatism" for the sake of George W. Bush.

Ramesh Ponnuru:

I think it's not quite fair for Sager to say that I'm happy to live with "big government conservatism" "so long as it keeps Republicans in power. "I wrote a cover story for NR criticizing big-government conservatism and big-government conservatives. Nor is it fair to associate big-government-conservatism-for-Bush's-sake with NR generally. The magazine opposed Bush's education bill, his steel tariffs, his expansion of national service programs, his regulation of campaign finance, his agriculture bill, and probably a few other initiatives that I'm not thinking of at this moment. It even opposed his federalization of airport security. (And I agreed with all of these positions.)

Perhaps more to the point--and I'm responding here to Andrew Sullivan, too--for seven years I've been arguing that a strategy of expanding the new investor class is conservatives' best bet for creating a constituency for limited government--and thus strengthening some needed libertarian elements within the conservative coalition while also strengthening the coalition overall. This strategy is certainly open to criticism. But it seems a more intelligent way to go about shrinking the federal government than wishing away political realities.

Two thoughts here. First, in his first paragraph Ramesh opposes nearly all Bush's domestic policies save Social Security. We're left with nothing save S.S. and the war on terra. Next, in the second paragraph, he advocates expansion of the "investor class" as a means to creating a permanent conservative coalition. How, exactly, does he think middle Americans will be able to afford "investments" when Bush's policies are depressing wage growth yet costing them much more of their personal income for educating their children and healthcare, and creating historic deficits that threaten higher interest rates and discourage investing by depressing financial markets?

Ryan Sager:

You simply can’t expect a new investor class -- many of whom, presumably, will be suburban and urban professionals -- to become loyal voters for a party that doesn’t speak to them at all on social issues. Here, I’m looking at the party as a brand (to which one forms an emotional connection) not as a platform, with which people might agree or disagree.

Well, I feel as though I’ve rambled at this point. So let me sum up (i.e. ramble more). I don’t think the Republican Party can gain much from going further to the right on social issues; it’s pretty much drained that well, and it seems to me that it may have to tack back left a bit if the Democrats neutralize the terror issue.

As for economic issues, the party could probably become a permanent majority by wedding big-government economic liberalism to blue-collar social conservatism. It’s a winning political strategy, but a terrible idea. I don’t think National Review wants this, but I think Karl Rove does -- and I’m not sure what NRers would do to turn it around.

So Sager thinks it would be a "winning strategy" to wed big-government economic liberalism (long scorned by conservatives and Republicans as the way of the tax-and-spend Democrats) and blue-collar social conservatism (read: racism and homophobia)?? Sounds like the pre-WWII Democratic Party to me.

Andy Sullivan:

But try this counter-factual: If Al Gore, say, had, turned a surplus into years of mounting debt, if he'd added a huge new federal entitlement to Medicare, if he'd over-ridden the rights of states to set their own laws with regard, say, to education, if he'd put tariffs on steel, if he'd increased government spending faster than anyone since LBJ, if he'd said that government's job was to heal hurt wherever it exists, if he'd ramped up agricultural subsidies, poured money into the Labour and Education Departments, thrown public dollars at corporate America, spent gobs of money on helping individuals in bad marriages, used the Constitution as an instrument of social policy, given government the right to detain people without trial and subject them to torture, and on and on, I don't think National Review would have been content merely to nitpick. Do you? I think they would have mounted a ferocious attempt to remove the guy from office. The duplicitous, budget-busting Medicare entitlement alone should have caused an insurrection. It didn't. I think that tells you a lot about where some conservative thinkers are really coming from.

Now finally, we go to the heart of the question of how conservatives like the NR, Weekly Standard, wingnut talk radio and individuals across America can back Bush so fanatically when his policies are anathema to them. I could suggest a lust for power and access, and I think that's certainly a major element in all this, particularly among the conservative elite and media outlets, as well as short-sighted corporate greed. But among ordinary Americans, the true believers? For them, the answer has to be George W. Bush and the personality cult:

Combine the good ol' boy demeanor with religion, and you've got yourself a ticket to red-state glory. Bush overcame a nasty drinking problem when he found religion. This became his new addiction, his new obsession, his new escape from reality.

In July of 2004, Bush told an Amish group in Pennsylvania that "God speaks through me." He believes that God wanted him to be president, and that God is working through him, even as tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children die in a war based on lies. It's God's war. We're the good guys. We're fighting the evildoers over there so that we won't have to fight them over here. This is truly an ingenious way to win the trusting hearts of Middle America, who have been programmed to fear the evil Muslim barbarians who want to kill us because they "hate our freedom." It's easier than thinking. So they follow him like sheep.

There is no disagreement allowed. "You're either with us or against us." If you're against us, you're also against God. And you're a terrorist and an evildoer. Easy choice.

Another factor is consistency. Some people thrive on consistency. There were many in Russia who said that communism was better than democracy and capitalism because it was predictable. George W. Bush is consistent. He sticks to his guns, no matter how mountainous the evidence is that he is wrong. And he never admits to a mistake. Many view this as "strong," rather than stubborn, arrogant, or immature. It's easier than engaging in critical thought.

Paul Krugman:

By my count, this year's budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River.

It was not ever thus. Bill Clinton's budgets were illustrated with tables and charts, not with worshipful photos of the president being presidential.

The issue here goes beyond using the Government Printing Office to publish campaign brochures. In this budget, as in almost everything it does, the Bush administration tries to blur the line between reverence for the office of president and reverence for the person who currently holds that office.

Bush's manipulation and intimidation of the media, and their complicity, has robbed ordinary Americans of their only means of independent information. What we are left with are a choice between the cynical masters of cognitive dissonance such as Coulter and Limbaugh and those who honestly promote a cult-like faith that somehow, someway, things will be okay just because our lord George is in charge.

Weird. I was just half-listening to Rosemary's Baby while blogging when I noticed for the first time that Tony Curtis is the voice of Donald Baumgartner, the actor who is blinded by the coven so that Rosemary's husband Guy can assume his part in a play. At first I thought it was Robert Loggia, one of my favorite character actors, but by the end of the conversation I was convinced it was Curtis and confirmed it via the Internet Movie Database (

Remember how you used to be haunted by bits of trivia you couldn't remember? Wow, those neat Internets have sure solved that problem.


Barbara at Mahablog on the courage of Arlen Specter.

Friday, February 25


Now this is bizarre. Though under investigation for oil price gouging and criticized by military auditors for overcharges and inefficient and uncompleted work in Iraq, the U.S. Army has awarded Halliburton nearly $10 million in performance-based bonuses for its work in Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Halliburton's cozy non-competitive cost-plus-2% deal with the government and contractual provisions forbidding any penalties for fraud on the part of the contractor is highly unusual, and the company has little accountability to taxpayers. And now, despite their hugely profitable arrangement and public questions about their performance, they're winning BONUSES?

More here.

Has ANYONE profited from this war other than Republican politicians (principally George W. Bush) and their cronies, government contractors, arms dealers and the oil industry?


The MSM is underplaying the Wead tapes as demonstrating that the Resident is "the same man in private as he is in public." They're largely right. Bush distinctly reveals an appreciation of his privilege and power and eagerness to use it. He also shows his hypocrisy.

Joe Conason addresses the drugs issue. Bush keeps dodging as addicts rot in prison:

Prisons and jails across the country are crowded with nonviolent drug offenders whose lives have been ruined -- and whose families have been damaged or destroyed -- by the same punitive legal system that never touched young "Georgie," except to issue him a drunk-driving summons.

The poor and the black are incarcerated for using pot and coke, while the rich and the white lie to their kids (and occasionally to the voters) about those same transgressions.

Certainly that was how the justice system worked when Mr. Bush and Mr. Wead had their candid chats. The Texas politician couldn't reassure his friend that he hadn't used cocaine, let alone marijuana, but as governor he was imprisoning young men and women unlucky enough to be arrested in possession of those narcotics, often for draconian mandatory-minimum sentences. He always cherished his image as a tough, swaggering, law-and-order politician who didn't hesitate to imprison teenagers.

But that isn't what happens to people from good families. His niece Noelle Bush went through a drug-rehabilitation program and was released two years ago. His friend Rush Limbaugh went through rehab and has returned to berating the less fortunate on the radio, without doing one day of time.
No reporter ever asked the Texas governor why all those other people deserved to serve five or 10 or 20 years in prison, when their crimes were no different from what everyone knew he had done, whether he admitted it or not. No reporter will ask the President that question today, either, although it is just as pertinent in light of his revealing conversations with Mr. Wead (who incidentally claims to possess many more tapes that he will "never" release).
On those telltale tapes, Mr. Bush can be heard telling Mr. Wead how he'd learned a couple of "really good lines" from James Robison, an evangelical minister and hard-line conservative. "What you need to say time and time again is not talk about the details of your transgressions, but talk about what I have learned," he said. "I've sinned and I've learned."

It is hard to tell what Mr. Bush learned in his recovery from sin, except that other people got caught and he didn't. That would be enough to make anybody smirk.


A mystery witness in the Michael Jackson case will testify in depositions this weekend that the accuser's mother lied, and coached her son to lie, in a 2001 lawsuit against J.C. Penney.

The witness is a paralegal who worked for the attorney representing the accuser's mother in the Penney's case.


Congratulations to all the winners of The Koufax Awards. I am particularly happy to see that Susie of Suburban Guerrilla won in the category of "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition." Kudoes to Wampum for this enormous undertaking, which gives us a priceless opportunity to explore more quality lefty blogs.

Also, I want to say thank you to those of you who voted for our "Rumsfeld Rag" as "Most Humorous Post," enough to make it it a semi-finalist. I'm still kind of surprised, since it wasn't really meant to be humorous and we don't come even close to the readership levels of most of the nominees. I regularly write (as part of my real job in business) dozens of jingles, song parodies and other special-event poetic efforts each year, but none give me as much satisfaction as the few political whimsies I turned out in 2004. I just wish I had time to do more of them. If interested, check out the column "Whimsies" to the right.


Sidney Blumenthal's take on Bush's attempt to charm Europeans post-election: Lost in Europe.

President Bush has reached a dead end in his foreign policy, but he has failed to recognise his quandary. His belief that the polite reception he received in Europe is a vindication of his previous adventures is a vestige of fantasy.
As the strains of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, filled the Concert Noble in Brussels, Bush behaved as though the mood music itself was a dramatic new phase in the transatlantic relationship. He gives no indication that he grasps the exhaustion of his policy. His reductio ad absurdum was reached with his statement on Iran: "This notion that the US is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table." Including, presumably, the "simply ridiculous".

Bush is scrambling to cobble together policies across the board. At the last minute he rescued his summit with Vladimir Putin, who refuses to soften his authoritarian measures, with a step toward safeguarding Russian plutonium that could be used for nuclear weapons production. This programme was negotiated by Bill Clinton and neglected by Bush until two weeks ago.
Ceasing the finger-pointing is the basis for European consensus on its new, if not publicly articulated, policy: containment of Bush. Naturally, Bush misses the nuances and ambiguities.

Of course, he has already contained himself, or at least his pre-emption doctrine, which seems to have been good for one-time use only. None of the allies is willing to repeat the experience. Bush can't manage another such military show anyway, as his army is pinned down in Iraq.

Instead of addressing cheering crowds in Berling, as did John Kennedy forty years ago, Bush chose to speak to a small and pre-selected group of young German "leaders":

The guest list for the Wednesday afternoon gathering has been handpicked by several US organizations with offices in Germany. In recent days, the Aspen Institute and the German Marshall Fund have sent lists of possible guests to the German Foreign Ministry. The requirement was that all of the nominees had to be in their twenties or thirties and they must already have been in a leadership position at a young age. In other words: there won't be any butchers or handymen on the elite guest list, but rather young co-workers from blue chip companies like automaker DaimlerChrysler, Deutsche Bank or the consultancy McKinsey. The fact that two American organizations are the ones managing the guest list suggests that the chat won't be overly critical of Bush.

Why not? It's his modus operandi in the U.S., after all, and it's a very effective smoke screen that the mainstream press is sure to ignore. On Fox, naturally, he'll be depicted as "youth-friendly" and comments will no doubt abound about Bush's popularity with young European "leaders."

Wonder why The Big Dog felt no need to isolate himself from "real people" in Germany in order to create great press?

And contrast Bush's reception in Ireland with that of Clinton.

And I got a kick out of a Russian reporter's questions to Bush about freedom of the press in the U.S.

The two became the most animated when a Russian journalist asked Mr. Bush why he did not talk about restrictions to press freedom in his own country and "about the fact that some journalists have been fired?"

Mr. Bush responded that "I don't know what journalists you're referring to," and then turned to the White House press corps and said, "Any of you all still have your jobs?"

Mr. Putin, jumping to answer the question, said, "I'm not the minister of propaganda."

Considering that the author of the article was Elisabeth Bumiller, I suspect that was the mildest of the exchange.