Saturday, May 20


Another tale of Bush administration incompetence and hubris in Iraq. It's a long story, with a cast of familiar characters including Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Bernie Kerik, and rife with poor planning, rejection of good advice, abysmal execution, lack of communication and, as usual, failure to alert Congress or the American people that there was a serious problem.

Like so much that has defined the course of the war, the realities on the ground in Iraq did not match the planning in Washington. An examination of the American effort to train a police force in Iraq, drawn from interviews with several dozen American and Iraqi officials, internal police reports and visits to Iraqi police stations and training camps, shows a cascading series of misjudgments by White House and Pentagon officials, who repeatedly underestimated the role the United States would need to play in rebuilding the police and generally maintaining order.

Before the war, the Bush administration dismissed as unnecessary a plan backed by the Justice Department to rebuild the police force by deploying thousands of American civilian trainers. Current and former administration officials said they were relying on a Central Intelligence Agency assessment that said the Iraqi police were well trained. The C.I.A. said its assessment conveyed nothing of the sort.
Mr. Bremer said he repeatedly complained in National Security Council meetings chaired by Ms. Rice and attended by cabinet secretaries that the quality of police training was poor and focused on producing high numbers.

"They were just pulling kids off the streets and handing them badges and AK-47's," Mr. Bremer said.

As 2003 came to a close, criminals running rampant in Baghdad diminished popular support for the American-led occupation, Mr. Bremer said.
By December 2004, there were also signs that the police were being drawn into the evolving sectarian battles. Senior officers in the police department in the southern city of Basra were implicated in the killings of 10 members of the Baath Party, and of a mother and daughter accused of prostitution, according to a State Department report.

By then there was a growing sense among American officials that the civilian training program was not working, and the United States military came up with its own plan. It was the Americans' third strategy for training the Iraqi police, and it would run into the worst problems of all. Basra was just the beginning.

Read the whole story. It's a doozy.

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Religious right opposes saving women from cervical cancer because they insist on punishment for "unlicensed" sex.

DEATHS from cervical cancer could jump fourfold to a million a year by 2050, mainly in developing countries. This could be prevented by soon-to-be-approved vaccines against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer - but there are signs that opposition to the vaccines might lead to many preventable deaths.

The trouble is that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is sexually transmitted. So to prevent infection, girls will have to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, which could be a problem in many countries.

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims...

So even if it could (and tests show it will) prevent the deaths of zillions of women, the right-wing Christianist Family Research Council thinks that the vaccine shouldn't be allowed ... because women who have sex (forget the men who engage in it with them!) should "bear the consequences" of their "sin."

Unreal. Talk about a sin tax!

And please, let's not be deceived by their fight against "premarital" or "extramarital" sex -- husbands can give their wives the virus just as easily. These people just plainly and simply regard sex whether within or without marriage as sin if isn't linked to procreation.

But just wait! Their next crusade will be against contraception ... even for married couples.

Remind anyone of the mad mother (Piper Laurie's role) in Carrie?

Hat tip to Kos.

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From WaPo:

AT THE SENATE intelligence committee hearing Thursday on Gen. Michael V. Hayden's nomination to head the CIA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked the nominee a simple question: Is "waterboarding" an acceptable interrogation technique? Gen. Hayden responded: "Let me defer that to closed session, and I would be happy to discuss it in some detail." That was the wrong answer. The right one would have been simple: No.

Second verse, same as the first.



I've been interested in all the fuss generated by the release of the film The DaVinci Code. As I was telling my son tonight, it's actually provided me with opportunities to talk about my faith with people who otherwise wouldn't be interested. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I did read the book when it first came out, and as my daughters had read it first, we had lots of great talks as they asked me about the different challenges to Christian doctrine and history the book raised.

But there are several things that strike me about the current discourse. I'll only address one in this post, the claim that the movie could "hurt the faith" of some Christians. If that's true, then their faith was more likely hope than faith. I'm just now, or maybe afresh, realizing how many so-called Christians are lazy disciples, relatively unfamiliar with the Bible and its historical context. For some, Biblically-inspired movies such as Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, and The Passion of the Christ and books like the Left Behind series have become the basis of their faith rather than the Word of God. Perhaps that's why there are so many fearful "Christians" -- they aren't red-letterists -- in other words, unfamiliar with Christ's actual words and teachings. For mature Christians, there is nothing that could persuade us that Our Lord is not divine. And on a personal note, a careful and respectful attention to Jesus' teachings has also formed my political orientation -- e.g., Jesus was clearly more concerned with the poor and disadvantaged than he was with one's sexual behavior.

Jesus said he came to reveal the Father (God). My all-time favorite bumper sticker was one that read, "God is Dad -- Hallelujah!" And that's the essence of God that Jesus conveyed -- God the Father, the perfect parent, loving, forgiving, not discriminating among his children but willing that none should perish. His commandment to Christians that we should tell the world the Good News of Christ and his resurrection is a message of reconciliation and peace, not hatred or fear. Christ's definition of religion was "to care for the widows and orphans." Now is that, I ask you, reflective of the right-wing Christianist agenda?

Yet those same RW Christianists who fear and disparage a stupid high-profile movie have embraced and exulted in the best-selling, violently apocalyptic AND FICTIONAL Left Behind series and its video game offshoot with pistol-packing angels.

Look, I don't particularly appreciate attacks on my faith, but I don't fear them. They roll off my back, because "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day." From my readings of the Bible (and yes, I've read the whole thing so many times that I've actually highlighted in 16 different colors my own code; e.g, dark blue=passages on faith, green=passages on prayer, yellow=passages on God's promises), I'm convinced that God is liberating, AND LIBERAL. "The Lord is my shepherd, in whom shall I fear?" Fear, as the Bible says, is the opposite of faith. Would that Christianists would recognize that, and stop their attacks on their fellow humans. If, as Gandhi suggested, Christians would only show evidence that they actually believe Jesus, the world would be such a better place, and the Rethuglican tactics of fear and smear would be a total failure instead of the political success they have been for so many decades.

Public Christian addresses the subject nicely:

I’ve read a lot of history in my life. My sense of history (and of the Bible as history) says he was almost certainly not married. There is very little reliable evidence in that direction, and much in the other. Unfortunately the Roman church’s hang-ups about sexuality and marriage over a millenium and a half have greatly clouded that issue and warped its significance for Western cultures.

You know what’s the issue with Jesus? It’s not whether he was married, or rich, or bald, or fat, or a rabbi, or a Pharisee, or a Zealot.

The problem with Jesus is that he is still asking, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?"

Why indeed? Why do we not even put much effort into hearing what he said? What he said shows us what he cared about. He talked VERY little about the metaphysics of “the godhead” or pre-existence or eternality or the structure of “the church”. He talked very MUCH about greed and violence, hypocrisy, manipulation of religion, economics, and love of neighbors. I hope that Christians who go watch this, or read the book, will be devoted to hearing and doing what he said rather than to picking fights about whether he was married or not.

Then he references Jim Evans at Ethics Daily:

Leaders in the Christian community fear that as people read the book or watch the movie they will not be able to sort out the fact from the fiction …

What’s ironic, however, is how quickly this same segment of anxious Christianity has embraced another work of fiction as if it were Gospel truth. The Left Behind series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold nearly 60 million copies. These books offer a fictional account of the end of time. Following what is known as the pre-millennial interpretation of the last days, LaHaye and Jenkins offer up graphic descriptions of the rapture of the church, the rise of the anti-Christ, and the triumphant appearance of Jesus at the second coming.
Amazingly, even though the story line is a fictional rendering of a particular biblical interpretation, the Left Behind series has taken on an almost canonical status.

Shouldn’t we be afraid of that? Yes. I think we should. The Davinci Code can leave people with a certain calmness and hopefulness - if also with a lot of unanswered questions. The Left Behind books promote a geat deal of paranoia, judgmentalism, and a certain disconnection from our neighbors all around the world. And judgmentalism is often a de facto form of self-righteousness and hate. It produces the “anxious Christians” Evans mentioned, not the peaceful, neighbor-loving culture that helped the early church be so attactive. I’m afraid the Left Behind phenomenon is warping the spirituality and theolgoy of far more people than will ever be damaged by the Davinci Code.

And Jesus is still stubbornly asking the same meddlesome questions: "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?"


Friday, May 19


I read with interest this response to the Harvard study about teenage virginity pledges.

At the same time, I've been listening to the outrage about The Da Vinci Code's assertion that Jesus was married and impregnated his "wife," Mary Magdalene.

(I'll briefly go on record here, as a devout Christian, that I don't for one minute believe Christ was married. I don't believe this because I WANT to, I believe it because the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are more credible, since they were witnesses to the events they describe and were written decades, even centuries, before the gnostic "gospels" and thus less apt to be colored by gossip and cynicism, and there is no evidence in them, or any other accepted historical documents, that Jesus married.)

But what I'm interested in, and what links the two stories for me, is the notion that sex is a most heinous sin, and that if Jesus had married, that would prove he wasn't divine.

It's patently obvious to me that many people, even "religious" people, link sex, even marital sex, with sin. Since Jesus was, we Christians believe, without sin, the proposition that he might have married is for some evidence that he was not without sin, and thus not divine.

The apostle Paul, though he never exercised it, appealed to Jesus' brothers for a dispensation to marry. If Jesus had been married, why would that have been necessary? Yet Paul, who was an ascetic, recognized that sex is a human imperative. "It is better to marry than to burn," he said. Paul recognized that the sexual instinct is ingrained in humanity and difficult to deny.

I believe that just as Lauren Winner seems to me to indicate, that many Christians really still attach a stigma of sin to sex, even if blessed by the Church. Why else would the Catholic Church forbid sexual activity, even if blessed by marriage, to their priests? And forbid birth control, as if only procreation is a valid excuse for the (distasteful, otherwise-sinful) act of intercourse?

How ironic that they think so. After all, Christ's first miracle was performed at a wedding ... and most theologians interpret that as a sign of God's special blessings upon marriage. And I've never understood how they could reject the obvious sexual content of the Song of Solomon -- Solomon, who was blessed by God.

Are we back to the Dark Ages, when even marital sex was considered sin and an indication of lack of faith and discipline?

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Ouch and amen. Jerome Doolittle on "Mission Almost Accomplished."

Hint: It's a Greek tragedy.


Michael Kinsley hits the nail on the head about John McCain.

The only thing I ever particularly liked about John McCain was his refusal to diss John Kerry in the '04 elections. But that was at least offset by his embrace of George W. Bush. I'm not especially fond of people who sponsor noble legislation in public and then allow it to be gutted and made meaningless in the shadows.


Thursday, May 18


I had the distinct displeasure of listening to Darrell Ankarlo on the radio driving to work this morning calling Congressman John Murtha the "pukemeister" for remarks he made yesterday about the killing of Iraqi civilians, including women and children, by U.S. Marines.

"Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," said Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and is among the most influential Democratic voices on military matters. "This is going to be a very, very bad thing for the United States."
Last month, the Marine Corps relieved of command three officers who oversaw the military unit responsible for the Iraqi deaths at Haditha -- Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

Ankarlo played a clip of Murtha over and over, shouting that it was "the voice of Satan, a demon." U.S. Marines don't DO THAT, you see (that's what they said about Calley and Medina. And Darrell is an expert on everything about Iraq and Marines because his Marine son Adam served in country. Adam appears to be a fine young man, but his dad has used his service to assert an expertise about all things military and a license to demonize all critics of the war and its execution. This morning he disparaged Murtha's own service in the Corps ("Well, I guess he at least got through boot camp"), neglecting to mention that Murtha VOLUNTEERED for duty in Vietnam, for which he received the Bronze Star with Combat "V" for valor, two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He also received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. He's a favorite among career generals for his unstinting support for the military throughout his career in Congress.

Darrell Ankarlo, on the other hand, is a radio talk show host.

Murtha, Ankarlo, Murtha, Ankarlo -- hmm. I think the scale weighs in Murtha's favor.

Wednesday, May 17


Cool. Ezra Klein is starting a Gore watch.

Run, Al, run! Give America another chance.

The media is rife with speculation, and Fox News is on the attack.

Kathleen Sullivan, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Gore looks better each day Bush is president.

"For some people, it took six years of George Bush to wake up and realize that Al Gore was the real deal," Sullivan said.

And Big Oil is running scared.

As Arianna wrote this week:

Whether Al Gore ends up running in 2008 or not, he is modeling the way our public figures, and especially our would-be presidents, should be operating -- from the heart and true to themselves. Standing for something more important than just winning, and more powerful than the fear of losing.

Candidates -- and especially Democratic ones -- need to stop fooling themselves that the road to victory is paved with pandering.

I supported Gore's presidential aspirations in 1988, and I would love to see him, twenty years later, succeeding in them. For reasons why, click on the link at the upper left of this blog.



Believe it or not, it's being dubbed the "Tax Increase Prevention Act."

On a vote of 54 to 44, the Senate approved the sixth tax cut in the past six years, handing the White House a much needed victory and the embattled Republican Party an achievement that members believe they can use to pull themselves out of a political hole.

How exactly do Rethugs think this will pull them "out of a political hole"? Just how many millionaires ARE there in the U.S.? In 1999, it was only 205,000. That's not a lot of votes in a nation of 280 million.

But with interest rates rising, the dollar falling and the budget deficit stuck at around $300 billion, tax experts warn that the tax code Bush has transformed may not survive to its Dec. 31, 2010, expiration date and that Congress may have to step in again because tax revenue will not meet all of the government's needs. "We have a train wreck waiting to happen," said C. Clint Stretch, director of tax policy at the accounting giant Deloitte & Touche.


Tuesday, May 16


The new Washington Post-ABC poll is less cause for rejoicing than notable for its sharp warnings to Democrats:

The second warning for Democrats is that their improved prospects for November appear driven primarily by dissatisfaction with Republicans rather than by positive impressions of their own party. Congressional Democrats are rating only slightly more favorably than congressional Republicans, and 52 percent of those surveyed said the Democrats have not offered a sharp contrast to Bush and the Republicans.


The survey suggests that dissatisfaction with Congress extends to members of both parties. Only 39 percent approve of the job Democrats in Congress are doing, while 58 percent disapprove -- slightly higher than the level of disapproval registered before the 1994 midterm elections, when Republicans evicted Democrats from power on Capitol Hill.

What have we progressives been saying all along? American voters don't want GOP-lite, they want a real live OPPOSITION PARTY. Take note, Hillary and the DLC ...

And somebody PLEASE point out that John McCain is a Bush-and-Jerry-Falwell-hugger -- he offers no real alternative to Dubya, either.

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Jack Cafferty just reported it on CNN.

Why did it take all three companies named in the USA Today story four days to deny it? The day after the story, Verizon said they couldn't confirm or deny it, but now they're saying they didn't provide any data, weren't asked for any data, and have no "agreement" with the government.

USA Today stands by their reporting but won't dismiss out of hand the companies' claims; they're "looking closely" into it.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has several posts parsing the statements of the Telcos and suggesting that they smell of non-denial denials. I agree, the stench wafts high and broadly.

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"I believe Hispanics believe in the rule of law. If there's a law, then it has to be respected and obeyed." -- Alberto Gonzales, speaking to Wolf Blitzer just now.

For everybody except George W. Bush, that is.

Gonzales says it's unclear whether or not his three grandparents who came to Texas from Mexico were legally documented or not.

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Great, just great. So-called liberal Democrat (cough, cough) Joe Klein just said we have to give the president credit, that he went up against his base in his immigration speech last night because of a matter of conscience. It took Lou Dobbs, conservative Republican, to counter this outrageous statement by saying from HIS perspective, the president is carrying the water for his corporate masters.

I wouldn't give George W. Bush credit for anything -- he's running the entire country on it, and our kids and grandkids are going to pay the bill.

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Chuck Dupree of Bad Attitudes perfectly articulates my own suspicions about the purpose of Bush's "track-everybody" illegal spy programs.

I find it difficult to believe that the Cheney administration will get any significant benefit from the database regarding the search for terrorists. Data mining seems to me to be best suited for data that’s scattered because it’s disorganized. But if the subjects of the search are aware they’re being searched for, and are working to frustrate the search, I don’t think data mining is going to be nearly as effective.

To put it bluntly, I doubt that fighting terrorism is the point of collecting all this data; it is at most the excuse.

I’m much more ready to believe that a government in which Rove still has a great deal of influence would subvert the democratic process and avoid legislative and judicial oversight to screw its political enemies. For one thing, this is Rove’s signature. For another, there are several Nixon- and Reagan-era dirty tricksters in the administration (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, Negroponte); and if anyone knew how to cheat the public out of its Constitutionally guaranteed control of the government, it was the unitary-executive types who supported Nixon and Reagan.

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Whoever thought that I would agree with David Frum?

Of course, there's a caveat: the latter parts of his diary, where he speculates that Bush actually wants a Democratic majority in Congress, are just plain crazy.

When the Bush administration fitfully attempts to enforce the immigration laws, it looks for measures that meet four criteria:

They must be 1) spectacular; 2) expensive; 3) unsustainable; and 4) ineffective.

The proposal to deploy the National Guard to the border meets all four!

This plan won't work, and it is not seriously meant to work. It's supposed to look dramatic and buy the president some respite from negative polls - and then it is supposed to fail, strengthening the administration's case for its truly preferred approach: amnesty + guestworkers.

If there is one truth about immigration that should have been learned since the last amnesty it is: The immigration laws cannot be enforced at the border. They have to be enforced in the interior space of the country. Create an accessible, reliable system for employers to confirm the legal status of their employees; require employers to use it; check compliance; and punish cheaters - that's what you have to do to enforce the law. If don't do that, you can send the National Guard to occupy Mexico City or dig a moat along the Rio Grande and fill it with man-eating alligators, and it won't matter: Your enforcement will fail.

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This is choice:

America must send its overtaxed troops to the border right now, they say, so a swarm of ruthless, visa-less workers cannot bury our way of life under a relentless onslaught of hard work.


Mr. Bush gave lip service to aspects of comprehensive reform, but that part of his message was, as usual, delivered with a mumbling lack of conviction.
It is still possible that a good bill will emerge this year, but only if Democrats and moderate Republicans hold firm to protect the fragile flame of good sense against the deter-and-deport crowd. This means sticking together to defeat destructive amendments on the Senate floor. It means overcoming this latest contribution from the ever-unhelpful president, who could have pointed the nation toward serious immigration reform last night, but instead struck a pose as Minuteman in chief.

I myself kept listening for a forceful argument for harsh penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants and thus themselves sponsor the very heart of the illegal immigration problem. But characteristically Bush buried any harsh words for the real culprits since they are, of course, "his base." It is, after all, his responsibility and his pleasure to provide a pool of cheap labor for his business cronies.

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National Journal's cover story "Can Republicans Get Their Groove Back?" is an interesting summary of GOP problems in the midterm elections. Bottom line is, there's nothing much they can do about national issues, and their best bet is to return to their districts and get local.

But here's the quote I liked best, and the issue we should hammer at every opportunity:

"Ostensibly, the Republicans' problems are that people don't like Iraq, they are mad as hell at gasoline prices, and they've never gotten over the response to Hurricane Katrina," says Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who is based in California. "But really, it's more basic than that. They control everything in the federal government. That means that every failure of government -- hell, every crisis in the world -- is theirs to deal with."

The Rethuglicans have controlled the ball for six seasons and fumbled badly, repeatedly. We desperately need a new coach but he has an iron-clad contract for another two and a half years. The only thing left is to buy a new team. (Can you tell I'm longing for the football season to start?)


So the boy who would be king is prepared to militarize the U.S. southern border.

How can Bush/Cheney and their fellow Rethuglicans turn the U.S. into a Soviet-like system? Let me count the ways.

(1) Build a wall along our border.
(2) Have it guarded by the military.
(3) Monitor the phone records of millions of ordinary Americans.
(4) Suppress dissent and control the media.
(5) Impose its will on other sovereign nations.
(6) Build a system of secret prisons to house and torture suspects without legal recourse.
(7) Use the power of government to harass those who oppose their policies.
(8) Sponsor staged photo ops to demonstrate the administration's "popularity" with "ordinary Americans."

And the list goes on ...

But the Washington Post persists in calling Bush/Cheney policies the middle ground. What, the middle ground between fascism and totalitarianism?




Here's your antidote just in case someone mentions to you they've found traces of highly enriched uranium in Iran's nuclear program. And if Bush's approval numbers go any lower in the polls, expect the Dick and Karl Show to go spouting off about it to any media willing to give them a platform.

Kevin Drum has a pretty good synopsis of Bush doublespeak in his immigration speech last night:

Nickel version: Beef up the borders with troops and high tech wizardry but insist that it's not "militarization"; start up a guest worker program that's not called a guest worker program; introduce an amnesty program but insist that it's not an amnesty program (it's not, it's not, it's not!); and crack down on employers who employ illegal immigrants while pretending that they're actually victims of highly sophisticated fraud rather than willing coconspirators aided and abetted by the business wing of the Republican Party.

And here's Karl Rove saying that polls show the majority of Americans like Bush, they really like him!

Why anyone believes anything these guys say anymore, I don't know, but for those who do ...

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Lord save us from wingnut Christianists. A violent videogame for "Christians"? The message these people send to the world about Christ must surely break our Lord's heart.

Their belief in the imminent end of days is so exciting. Human history, to them, really is a video game with a wildly action-packed third act and the happiest ending imaginable. It's a beautiful thought, even when you're shooting nurses and blowing up U.N. peacekeeping helicopters.

More here and here.

I can't think of a more appropriate use of the "Left Behind" novels and genre than in the form of a fictional game. Since the entire premise of the books, the millenialistic distortion of our Lord's second coming, is itself a fiction.

Will they rate this "M" due to the horribly graphic nature of the speculations? Or will it receive a new rating of "FD" for "False Doctrine" or "WOTAM" for "Waste of Time and Money"?


It's terrorists carrying a dirty bomb over the border that they worry about.

I heard their spokesman on the Greg Knapp Experience (Dallas KLIF radio talk show) today, and he stated that they oppose a wall (Texas border sheriffs say that Texas landowners won't tolerate it); and that they question what the National Guard's purpose will be, and oppose their presence if they're not going to be performing law enforcement duties. He said they've repeatedly asked Congress for funds to hire more deputies to tackle the real problems of drug traffickers, gangs and terror suspects, but have gotten nada for their trouble.

Knapp wasn't pleased with his assertions that jailing ordinary illegal immigrants isn't working, and pointed out that 20% of the inmates of U.S. jails are illegal immigrants. But the sheriff insisted that's bogus, that most jailed illegals are pretty quickly returned to Mexico.

But what do the border sheriffs know compared to the excellently informed wingnuts? Especially when the sheriff speaks with a noticeable Spanish accent?

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Mavs make it 3-1! 123-118 in overtime.

These close games are killing me.

Monday, May 15


My favorite commentary yet on Bush's immigration speech:

1) What precisely is it that the military can do that the Border Patrol cannot do to protect the border?

2) It has been five years since 9/11--why doesn't the Border Patrol have the capability to do it?

Actually, the President's speech demonstrates the perfection of Sir Humphrey Appleby's syllgism on political crisis decision-making:

1) We must do something.
2) This is something.
3) Therefore, we must do this."