Friday, September 30, 2005

Barack Obama: Tone, Truth and the Democratic Party

Barack Obama's diary over at Kos is a must read:
There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don't believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position. I am convinced that, our mutual frustrations and strongly-held beliefs notwithstanding, the strategy driving much of Democratic advocacy, and the tone of much of our rhetoric, is an impediment to creating a workable progressive majority in this country.
Obama has the uncanny ability to weave practical politics and high purpose into a seamless narrative:

I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.
Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority. We won't be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate. Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard. They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice.
You can read theis thoughtful essay over at Obama's Senate blog as well.

Roy Blunt: "New boss, same as the old boss"

What does it say that House Republicans insisted that Roy Blunt replace Tom DeLay as majority leader?
Earlier this week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) this week released a report called Beyond DeLay: The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress featuring 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Roy Blunt is on the list:
“Rep. Blunt’s appointment is a case of ‘new boss, same as the old boss.’ While Rep. Blunt may be new to the job, he has long followed Rep. DeLay’s pattern of ignoring campaign finance laws and ethics rules,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said today. “Rep. Blunt’s favors for Phillip Morris and United Parcel Service, at a time when both companies were clients of his family members, and his funneling of campaign contributions to his son Matt’s campaign for Governor begs the question ‘with such an ethically-challenged record, is Rep. Blunt an appropriate choice for House Majority Leader’?”
Rep. Blunt also contributed the largest individual donation, $20,000, to Rep. DeLay’s Legal Defense Fund.
Additionally, according to the Associated Press, Rep. Roy Blunt’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, has paid roughly $88,000 in fees since 2003 to J.W. Ellis Co., a consulting firm run by Jim Ellis. Mr. Ellis, a long time ally of Rep. DeLay, has been indicted along with Rep. DeLay for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws. It is unclear what services Mr. Ellis performed for Rep. Blunt, who listed Mr. Ellis as a “consultant.”
(Photo: Office of Rep. Roy Blunt)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Long Cold Winter Ahead

The cost of keeping warm this winter is going up. As the News Journal warns, whether you heat your home with oil or gas, be prepared to pay more:
The price of natural gas, Delaware's main source of winter heat, could jump nearly 30 percent in the coming months, state regulators warned on Wednesday.
Next week, Delmarva Power and Chesapeake Utilities Corp., the state's two natural gas companies, are expected to apply for rate increases to cover spikes in wholesale prices related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Even before the hurricanes disrupted production of natural gas, heating oil and gasoline this month, both companies expected to raise their prices.
The state Public Service Commission said it expected increases of 20 percent to 30 percent based on national forecasts by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Delmarva estimated its rates could go up by about 26 percent, while Chesapeake put its figure at 28 percent.
As the NYT reports, this story is being repeated across the country:

Since the beginning of the summer, the price of natural gas has doubled. But unlike crude oil or gasoline, whose recent gains have been widely felt by most Americans, the surge in natural gas prices, the most popular form of energy for home heating, has so far gone largely unnoticed.
That is about to change as colder weather sets in. A hot summer, which pushed up natural gas consumption by electricity companies and depleted winter stocks, is expected to give way to a cold winter, which will push up residential consumption. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast, the nation's largest energy hub, has suffered devastating punches from two severe hurricanes.

While President Sluggo will be scrambling for ways to look like he's on top of things, I would not expect to hear how the recently passed energy bill is supposed to help, because it won't. One thing the energy bill will do is shovel more than $1 billion in taxpayer money to an industry-run consortium in Tom DeLay's district. Won't that look good when people start getting their heating bills this winter.

Meet Roy Blunt

Who is Roy Blunt? And what does his accession to the post of House majority leader tell us about our country's ruling party? The Washington Post describes how conservatives revolted against Dennis Hastert's selection of the more moderate David Dreier to replace Tom DeLay:
As the conservatives met to vent frustrations and plot options, Hastert was changing course in a separate meeting on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the majority whip, was making a personal appeal for the promotion. Hastert agreed, forestalling a possible revolt by conservatives, who regard Blunt as one of their own.
Blunt is one of the masters of the current kleptocratic regime on Capitol Hill:
As majority whip, Blunt, even more than DeLay before him, has created a formal alliance with K Street lobbyists, empowering corporate representatives and trade association executives to assist the House leadership in counting votes and negotiating amendments to bring holdouts into the fold.
Last year, when the House leadership faced apparently insurmountable odds in passing legislation eliminating a $50 billion export tax break, the lobbying community stepped in to add billions of new tax breaks for major corporations with facilities in nearly every district -- General Electric, Boeing, Caterpillar, United Technologies, Honeywell and Emerson. The support built up majority backing for the measure.
Blunt's best-known special-interest intervention was a 2003 late-night attempt -- unsuccessful, as it turned out -- to add an amendment sought by Philip Morris. Blunt's son then was a lobbyist for Philip Morris in Missouri; Blunt himself was dating a Philip Morris lobbyist whom he later married, and he had received more than $150,000 in contributions from the company and subsidiaries.
In the NYT, Blunt is described as low key and willing to listen, up to a point:
Moderates say that while Mr. Blunt has taken pains to listen to their concerns, they do not expect him to advance their agenda any more than Mr. DeLay.
"Roy would listen to me, and then he would beat me the next day anyway," said Representative Michael N. Castle, Republican of Delaware and an advocate for embryonic stem cell research. "These guys are all right out of the school of Tom DeLay."
For those who need an interpreter, Castle did not mean it as a compliment.
(Photo: Office of Rep. Roy Blunt)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Moral Compost

Bill Bennett: OK, abortion is murder, but...
But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.

God on a Microscope Slide?

Dana over at Delaware Watch gets to the heart of the matter of intelligent design in terms of what is and what is not knowable:
Of course, the damning reason against treating ID as a viable scientific theory is that whereas the “gaps” in evolutionary theory are in principle potentially discoverable by scientific means, discovering the Intelligent Designer is not. Besides, do spiritual persons really want to suggest that their Intelligent Designer could be discovered slithering on a slide beneath a microscope?

Tom DeLay Indicted

From the Austin American-Statesman:
A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on one count of criminal conspiracy, jeopardizing the Sugar Land Republican's leadership role as the second most powerful Texan in Washington, D.C.
The charge, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years incarceration, stems from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections.

Oil Companies Are more Progressive than Bush on Renewable Energy

President Sluggo, he of the jutting jaw and relentless swagger, had his Jimmy Carter moment on Monday when he called for reduced oil consumption. But as Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post cautions, "don't expect cardigans or thermostat-lowering in this White House." Left unsaid was how his recently passed energy bill extravaganza would actually do anything to ease the situation.
Reuters reports that
China is way ahead in promoting renewable energy:
"China is already big in renewables. In 5 years time we see them as a world leader in this department," Chistopher Flavin, president of the U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute, told Reuters on the sidelines of an energy conference in Johannesburg.
"Already, 35 million homes in China get their hot water from solar collectors. That is more than the rest of the world combined," he said.
The Worldwatch Institute's REN 21 project has issued a report on energy alternatives:
Through 26 case studies, the report cites biogas, small hydro, solar, wind, ethanol, and biodiesel, among other technologies, as viable options for poverty alleviation in developing countries.
How backwards is our government's energy policy? Oil companies like Shell are more imaginative when it comes to renewable energy sources:
"We believe that 25 to 30 percent of world energy needs will come from renewables by 2050," Jeremy Bentham, the Chief Executive Officer of Shell Hydrogen, told reporters on the sidelines of a global oil conference in Johannesburg.
"We are looking at taking a meaningful stake in that market," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has started a blog, Give Em' Hell Harry. In his first post, he urges the Republicans in Congress to take up the Democratic plan for energy independence.

Giant Squid Photographed

How can a creature this big be so elusive?
Scientists have been seeking to observe the giant squid in its habitat since the 19th Century.
Two Japanese researchers, Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori, have succeeded where others have failed by capturing the creature on film. Their results were published today in the Proceedings of of the Royal Society:
The giant squid, Architeuthis, is one of the most mysterious creatures in the deep-sea. This is the first-ever successful attempt to observe a live giant squid in the wild. Not only do we provide the first live images of Architeuthis, but we have also reported the only data on the depth and behaviour of this species. The observed giant squid was estimated about 8 m in total length, and hunting at 900 m depth during the day. It attacked prey from a horizontal orientation with a pair of long tentacles and enveloped the prey within a coiled tentacular ball.
(Photo: The Royal Society)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

100 Years of Energy/Mass Equivalence

"The mass of a body is a measure of its energy content."
So reads Albert Einstein's second paper on special relativity, which was received 100 year ago today by the
Annalen der Physik, when Einstein worked as a technical expert in the Swiss patent office. This was the pentultimate paper in Einstein's annus mirabilis, in which he produced six scientific papers of historic significance:
1. The paper on the light quantum and the photoelectric effect, for which he won the Nobel prize. Max Planck discovered in 1900 that blackbody radiation behaves as if it is made of discrete units. Einstein declared that light interacts with matter in discrete units, a hypothesis so completely at odds with Maxwell's wave picture of electromagnetic radiation that he called it the heuristic principle rather than try to offer a physical expanation. According to biographer Abraham Pais, "[F]rom 1905 to 1923, [Einstein] was apart in being the only one, or almost the only one, to take the light-quantum seriously."
2. His doctoral thesis, a new determination of molecular dimensions, which according to Pais is the paper most quoted in modern scientific literature.

3. The first paper on Brownian motion, which like its two preceding papers presents a third fundamental method for determining Avogadro's number or
4. The first paper on special relativity, Euclidian in its structure and exposition.

5. The second paper on special relativity, in which we find the most famous equation in science.

6. The second paper on Brownian motion, which present two more methods for determining
Four of the these papers (the photoelectric effect, molecular dimensions and Brownian motion) reflect Einstein's virtuoso use of statistical techniques to reach fundamental conclusions. His work on Brownian motion, as Pais puts it, "enables us to demonstrate the reality of those motions we call heat, simply by looking into a microscope."
The two papers on special relativity are constructed from two postulates: (1) the laws of physics are invariant in all inertial frames of reference and (2) the speed of light is invariant for observers in all intertial reference frames. With these two postulates, Einstein solved the problem of what Poincare and Lorentz called local time, by demonstrating that there is no absolute time, only time as measured in any given reference frame. As for the ether, believed to be the medium in which light is propagated, Einstein rendered it redundant.

With the exception of the light quantum, Einstein's astonishing output gained rapid acceptance. Max Planck was teaching special relativity to his students by the end of 1905.
Einstein's Annus Mirabilis 1905 is a good place to find material by and about Einstein.
The one essential Einstein biography is "Subtle is the Lord" by physicist Abraham Pais. While heavy going with tons of equations, it best presents the meaning and importance of Einstein's science.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Take my Governor. Please!

In an illustration of the hazards of a Republican from a blue state hewing to the right on the national stage, the Washington Post published this profile of Mitt Romney's use of his home state as the butt of jokes:
BOSTON -- Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, exploring a possible presidential run in 2008, has a message for his fellow Republicans.
Take my state. Please!
"Being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts," he told a GOP audience in South Carolina, "is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."
Bada-bing. For months, this blue-state governor has been pitching himself to conservatives in a way that campaign experts say is highly unusual -- perhaps even historic. Instead of talking about his home state with the usual lip-quivering pride, Romney uses it like a vaudeville comic would use his mother-in-law: as a laugh line.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Subpoena: Hard to Spell, Harder to Spin

The word subpoena is harder to spin than it is to spell. The Washington Post reports on the investigation into Bill Frist's sale of his holdings in HCA:
A spokesman said Frist's office has been contacted by both the SEC and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan about his divestiture of the stock. HCA disclosed separately that it was subpoenaed by the same U.S. attorney's office for documents that were related to Frist's sale. Frist and HCA said they are cooperating.
Historians said they cannot recall any other congressional leaders who have faced federal inquiries into stock sales. Frist has denied any wrongdoing.
These investigations turn on details such as the timing of disclosures. Mistakes, inconsistencies and misstatements of facts tend to multiply in significance as investigators review the documents:
Separately, documents unearthed yesterday by the Associated Press showed that Frist was told about stock trades in his blind trust. In documents filed with the Senate, trustee M. Kirk Scobey Jr. told Frist in 2002 that HCA stock had been transferred to his trust. Scobey, reached by phone last night, declined to comment.
The AP said that the documents disclosed that HCA stock worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was placed into Frist's blind trusts several other times in 2002 as well. Frist maintained in a television interview in 2003 that he did not know how much HCA stock he owned, if any.
The Times reports on the question of what did he know he owned and when did he know he owned it:
Mr. Frist's decision to sell represented a departure from his previous position that his lack of control over the blind trusts that held his assets almost eliminated any conflict of interest. The Frist transaction also followed several months of heavy selling by many top executives inside the company as the stock reached its new peak, raising questions about whether Mr. Frist was following their lead.
"Right now, I don't know if I own HCA because it's a qualified blind trust," Mr. Frist told The National Journal two years ago.
How blind are these blind trusts?

Senate ethics rules and federal ethics laws allow members to own stocks and other assets directly, without putting them in trusts. Provisions in the ethics laws, however, allow government officials to create "qualified blind trusts." In such trusts, according to the rules, an appointed trustee manages the fund and communications with the official are strictly limited. Such arrangements are intended to minimize allegations of conflict of interest.
The law explicitly allows the official who created the trust to give "directions to the trustee to sell all of an asset initially placed in the trust" if the official determines that holding on to the asset creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to the Senate ethics manual. The rules also require the trustee to tell the official if all of one of the original assets is sold.
"Bill Frist has this all upside down," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democrats' campaign committee. "He thought Terri Schiavo could see and his trust was blind."

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Feds Subpoena HCA in Frist Stock Sale

The Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) issued this short release today:
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Sept. 23 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- HCA (NYSE: HCA) today announced that the company received a subpoena from the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York for the production of documents. The company believes the subpoena relates to the sale of HCA stock by Senator William H. Frist. The company intends to cooperate fully with the office of the U.S. Attorney in this matter.
This comes one day after the SEC contacted Dr. Frist's office regarding the stock sale.

"Degrees of conjugation" in Delaware

The indespensible Celia Cohen at Delaware Grapewine neatly sums up Delaware in describing a politically connected law firm:
No one who knows anything about Delaware ever talks about degrees of separation. What matters in this little state is degrees of conjugation -- how many ways people are connected to one another.

The SEC Calls on Senator Frist

The NYT reports that the SEC is on the case:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 - A spokesman for Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission had contacted Mr. Frist's office about the sale in June of his shares in HCA, the giant hospital company founded by his family.

Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff and Timothy E. Flanigan

I had never heard of Timothy E. Flanigan until today. Flanigan, who has been nominated to the position of deputy attorney general, is about to become much better known.
Who is he? The White House announced his nomination on May 24:
Mr. Flanigan currently serves as Senior Vice President and General Counsel - Corporate and International for Tyco International. He previously served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel at the White House. Prior to joining the Administration, Mr. Flanigan was a partner in the law firm of White & Case, LLP. Earlier in his career, he served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. Mr. Flanigan received his bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and his J.D. from the University of Virginia.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on his nomination on July 26.
Today's Washington Post reports that sleazebag lobbyist Jack Abramoff claimed ties to Karl Rove. How do we know? Flanigan told the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff bragged two years ago that he was in contact with White House political aide Karl Rove on behalf of a large, Bermuda-based corporation that wanted to avoid incurring some taxes and continue receiving federal contracts, according to a written statement by President Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general.
Timothy E. Flanigan, general counsel for conglomerate Tyco International Ltd., said in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that Abramoff's lobbying firm initially boasted that Abramoff could help Tyco fend off a special liability tax because he "had good relationships with members of Congress," including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
Abramoff later said "he had contact with Mr. Karl Rove" about the issue, according to the statement by Flanigan, who oversaw Tyco's dealings with Abramoff and his firm and received reports from Abramoff about progress in the lobbying campaign. Flanigan's statement is the latest indication that Abramoff promoted himself as having ready access to senior officials in the Bush administration.
Flanigan worked in the White House with Alberto Gonzales in 2001 and 2002. He went to work for Tyco in November, 2002, after former CEO and now convicted felon, Dennis Kozlowski had left the company. Flanigan hired Abramoff (now under indictment) to lobby the federal government to allow Tyco to compete for government contracts even though the company is domiciled in Bermuda to avoid paying taxes. And now he is President Sluggo's nominee to the post of deputy attorney general.
The Abramoff investigation involves not only Justice, but the IRS, the Interior Department and the General Services Administration. But don't worry:
Flanigan said he would recuse himself from any Abramoff investigation involving Tyco.
As I said, he is about to become much better known.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Russell Baker on our Can't-Do Government

The eerily prescient Russell Baker wrote in 1982:
Can you imagine any Government of the present age getting itself in shape to win the Battle of Midway six months after Pearl Harbor and to land an army of invasion in North Africa five months later?
I can't. Nowadays, I suspect, we'd need at least a year just to decide how big a tax break to give corporations for converting to ship and tank construction, and another five years to find out why the ships and tanks weren't quite ready for battle.
I don't think you'd really have to offer the enlisted men tax incentives for agreeing to take part in the Battle of Midway, but there'd be a lot of pressure for it on the home front, and everything would probably be slowed down while Presidential candidates tested public sentiment in the next New Hampshire primary.
Meanwhile the Government would be scolding the public for impatience, and reminding it that Rome wasn't built in a day, and telling it to remain hard-nosed toward the enemy, and show plenty of will, and be prepared for great tests of endurance.
I think the Japanese would have set up shop in Detroit forty years ahead of schedule.*
As previously noted, the U.S. won WW II in less than four years after Pearl Harbor. It has now been four years and eleven days since al Qaeda attacked us. Four years and eleven days after Pearl Harbor, our soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators were on their way home to start making babies, go back to school on the G.I. Bill, setting up homes in the suburbs and designing cars with tailfins.
*"Getting on with It" from There's a Country in my Cellar, p. 104

"Good fortune, isn't it?"

So said John Coffee, a professor of securities law at Columbia, about Bill Frist's sale of his large block of shares in HCA. Professor Coffee was quoted in the New York Times today:
Professor Coffee said such well-timed sales in the families of top executives were a red flag of possible insider trading and often drew regulatory inquiries, although just a small fraction of such instances lead to formal investigations.
The question, Professor Coffee said, is whether Mr. Frist received private information about the company performance from his brother or other insiders.
"There is no prohibition against a family member's dumping his stock in a company, unless it can be shown that the family member was tipped as to material nonpublic information," he said. "That seems to be the missing link."

The Legendary Boubacar Traore Plays in Arden

Mali guitar legend Boubacar Traore played to an enthusiastic audience tonight in Arden.
He easily won the gathering over with his gentle smile, expressive voice and sinuous playing. When he was not singing, he would do a little two-step or sway to the music like a tree in the evening breeze.
Keep an eye out for upcoming concerts from the Arden Concert Gild: Nordic folk-rockers Hoven Droven, swing/blues legends Roomful of Blues and the great blues singer/player/songwriter Chris Smither.
You can see more photos of Boubacar over at tommywonk photos.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wes Clark Keeps Winning Straw Polls at Kos and MyDD

Wes Clark continues to outpace the field in straw polls at Kos and MyDD. What's up with that? Why is he so popular among the netroots? I can offer three thoughts:
First, while some leading Democrats have been
hedging their bets, Clark has been consistently outspoken in his critique of Bush's foreign policy, particularly in Iraq.
Second, the netroots care more about standing up to Bush than about ideology. See
Howard Fineman's piece last week in Newsweek quoting New Democratic Network leader Simon Rosenberg: “It’s not a fight between liberals and conservatives,” Rosenberg told me the other day. “It’s between our ‘governing class’ here and activists everywhere else.”
Third, Clark understands what it takes to contest the Republicans across the country in a time when more and more activists are calling for a 50-state strategy, which is why he supported Paul Hackett in OH-02 and is backing former protege Eric Massa in NY-29.
Putting aside the question of the '08 nomination, there is something about Clark's standing among activists that commands our attention.

Boubacar Traore in Arden Wednesday Night

The Arden Concert Gild is putting on another cool concert Wednesday night with Mali guitar legend Boubacar Traore. Boubacar has a compelling life story to go with his mesmerizing blues playing.
The Arden Concert Gild has a great lineup this season, with Nordic folk-rockers Hoven Droven, swing/blues legends Roomful of Blues and the great blues singer/player/songwriter Chris Smither coming in the next three months.

Talk to Tommywonk Today on WDEL 1150 AM

This morning, you can talk to Tommywonk live!
I'm filling the morning talk radio slot on WDEL 1150 AM today from 9:00 to noon. We'll be talking about Bush, Katrina, Dennis Kozlowski and more. Please join me by listening and calling in at 302 478 9335.
Let the world know that talk radio is not the exclusive province of delerious wingnuts. If you are out of range of WDEL's signal, you can listen via

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tommywonk on WDEL 1150 AM, Tuesday 9 to Noon!

This should be fun: I'm filling the morning talk radio slot on WDEL 1150 AM tomorrow, Tuesday from 9:00 to noon. Call in and show your support for WDEL, which has reacted deftly and decisively to Clear Channel's buyout of the once excellent WILM.
When Clear Channel moved Rush Limbaugh to WILM, WDEL responded by shifting local conservative Rick Jensen to the noon to 3:00 slot, giving
News Journal columnist Al Mascitti the regular morning slot and hiring the incomparable Allan Loudell away from WILM.
A big shout out to Dana at Delaware Watch for his reporting on the recent comings and goings in Delaware radio.

Not so Careful Stagecraft in New Orleans

With all of the meticulous staging of President Sluggo's speech last Thursday night, someone forgot to check his shirt buttons. Here's the photo analysis from Kate/A/blog:I checked around to make sure it wasn't a Photoshop trick, which is what I thought his can-I-go-to-the-bathroom note to Condi Rice was when I first saw it. I guess I haven't entirely lost my capacity for wonder.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bono and Bush

U2's lead singer Bono has been in the spotlight in the last few days, including this profile in the NYT Magazine:
He's a kind of one-man state who fills his treasury with the global currency of fame. He is also, of course, an emanation of the celebrity culture. But it is Bono's willingness to invest his fame, and to do so with a steady sense of purpose and a tolerance for detail, that has made him the most politically effective figure in the recent history of popular culture.
Bono took part in the Clinton Initiative summit this last weekend. Surrounded by the likes of economist Jeffrey Sachs and neocon Paul Wolfowitz, he pointed out the importance of transparency among third world governments in order to reassure people in the U.S. that funds donated to developing nations were in fact reaching those in need. This comment illustrated Bono's depth of understanding of the issues, which is light years beyond the usual naive celebrity appeal for donations, and has a great deal to do with Bono's remarkable effectiveness on the world stage.
Last night I watched a recording of U2's stirring performance at the 2002 Super Bowl (at the New Orleans Superdome) where Bono sang, "I want to dance in the Louisiana rain" during the band's performance of "Where the Streets Have no Name." It was a moment of hope, of reaching for something more universal than military retaliation, a moment before our president plunged us into a war of choice with a country that had not attacked us.
Christian activist Jim Wallis wrote in The Soul of Politics, "We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground." With his famous gesture showing the U.S. flag inside his jacket, Bono showed that it is possible to demonstrate solidarity with our country's pain and pride while reaching for higher ground.
Our president chose the lowest common denominator when he showed that he was willing to divide our country and alienate our allies in order to push for the invasion of Iraq. Who will be judged as being more naive: Bono or Bush?
(Photo: unbekannt)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Dispatch from the Flat World

Thomas Friedman on Singapore:
Message to America: They are not racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Four Years and One Department of Homeland Security Later...

There's a reliable principle in political communications that, if you don't acknowledge what your audience is thinking, they won't hear what you have to say. President Sluggo neglected this principle, according to one critic of his speech last night:
"He was giving a speech as if the nation were disheartened and worried and had lost its spirit, but that's not what people were thinking," said Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. "They were thinking, why did the government screw up?"
Dan Balz in the Washington Post is hardly alone in pointing out that these are the people who said they would keep us safe:
Hurricane Katrina struck at the core of Bush's presidency by undermining the central assertion of his reelection campaign, that he was a strong and decisive leader who could keep the country safe in a crisis.
Four years after 9/11 and one Department of Homeland Security later, our leader wants to review emergency planning in our cities:
"In a time of terror threats and weapons of mass destruction, the danger to our citizens reaches much wider than a fault line or a flood plain. I consider detailed emergency planning to be a national security priority. And therefore, I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to undertake an immediate review, in cooperation with local counterparts, of emergency plans in every major city in America. I also want to know all the facts about the government response to Hurricane Katrina."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Biden: "Hope and stubbornness do not constitute a strategy."

Joe Biden, in an oped in the Washington Post, warns of dire consequences if Bush simply stays the course:
The Bush administration's mishandling of Iraq has brought us to the brink of a national security debacle. To salvage the situation, the administration must fundamentally change course inside Iraq, in the region and at the international level.
As bad as things are, Biden worries that they could get worse if the draft constitution is adopted, leaving Sunnis on the outside looking in:
Sectarian violence might escalate into a full-blown civil war, drawing in Syria, Iran and Turkey and turning Iraq into a new Lebanon. Even worse, Iraqi Sunnis could forge stronger alliances with foreign jihadists, turning a swath of Iraq into a pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan for a new generation of terrorists.
Stranded in the middle of this mayhem would be brave American soldiers, their lives on the line for a failing policy set by others.
The Bush administration's hope seems to be that Sunnis and Iraqi women will "get over it." But hope and stubbornness do not constitute a strategy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Senate Fails to Defeat Mercury Regulation

The NYT reports that the Senate challenge to the controversial EPA regulation on mercury emissions was defeated:
The vote was 51 to 47, largely along party lines. The resolution was brought up for a vote through a rarely used and rarely successful procedure, the Congressional Review Act. It allows lawmakers to challenge regulatory decisions.
Even if the Senate had passed the resolution, it had little chance to go further. Such challenges require approval of the House, which was unlikely to act, as well as the president's signature.
The regulation allows utilities to trade mercury emission allowances. If you live close to a power plant that chooses to buy allowances rather than reduce its own emissions, you're out of luck.

A Rising Tide

It's back to "a rising tide lifts all boats" for the Republicans in Washington:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Republicans said on Wednesday they were still committed to extending tax cuts signed by President Bush two years ago, saying they had not abandoned the effort, despite Hurricane Katrina.
It's hard to imagine these tax cuts benefitting the people of New Orleans left with no home, no job, no nothing:
But House Speaker Dennis Hastert, speaking at the same news conference with McCrery, suggested Hurricane Katrina's devastation actually posed a new reason for pursuing tax relief -- as an economic stimulus.
"We believe we need to stimulate this economy," Hastert said, noting that Congress had passed stimulative measures after the shock of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
At least Hastert didn't refer to a "trickle down" effect for New Orleans. But Cato Institute fellow Alan Reynolds, writing in the Washington Times, showed just how tone deaf he is by actually using the rising tide metaphor three days ago:
Some critics cite poverty rates to suggest President Kennedy was wrong when he said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." But economic growth alone could never help those who either cannot or will not get into a boat and grab an oar.
(Photo: REUTERS/Pool/David J. Phillip)

The Weakest Were Left to Die

The body count may turn out to be lower than feared, but the stories are no less gruesome. Reuters reports that the owners of a nursing home where 34 elderly patients are said to have drowned have been charged with homicide:
The owners, Mable and Salvador Mangano, turned down an offer from local officials to take the patients out by bus, and did not bother to call in an ambulance service with which they had a contract, he said. They were each released on $50,000 bonds on Wednesday.
The bodies of 44 patients were found at the Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans:
In another development, the owners of a New Orleans hospital where 44 bodies were found said they were those of critically ill patients who died in stifling heat after power was cut to the flooded building but before it could be evacuated.
Tenet Healthcare Corp. said no one still alive was left behind at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans when help finally came.
"During more than four days with poor sanitation, without power, air-conditioning and running water, and with temperatures in the building approaching 110 degrees (43 C), some patients simply did not survive despite the heroic efforts of our physicians and nurses. We believe that most were very sick adult patients," the company said in a statement.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Joe Biden: "Our great civic Bible"

Joe Biden, in his opening statement of the Roberts hearings, made the case for a living Constitution:
At every step, we've had to struggle against those who saw the Constitution as frozen in time. But time and again, we have overcome, and the Constitution has remained relevant and dynamic thanks to a proper interpretation of the ennobling phrases purposefully placed in our great "civic Bible."
He directly challenged the original intent school of Constitutional jurisprudence:
Once again, our journey of progress is under attack from the Right.
There are judges, scholars, and opinion leaders -- good and honorable people -- who believe the Constitution provides no protection against government intrusions into our highly personal decisions -- decisions about birth, marriage, family, death, and religion. There are those who would slash the power of our national government, fragmenting it among the states. Incredibly, some have even argued that the Constitution eliminates the federal government's ability to respond to disasters like Katrina.
In my view, the proponents of original intent are perpetuating a kind of legal fundamentalism that claims to be the "old time religion," forgetting that we can never relive or recreate the past. Just as religious fundamentalism is based on nostalgia for the past rather than an actual reliving of the past, those who proclaim allegiance to the original intent of the framers express a political nostalgia for a time to which we cannot return.
Biden continued with his view of our evolving Constitution:
Our constitutional journey did not stop with women barred from being lawyers, with 10-year-olds working in coal mines, or with black kids forced into different schools than white kids just because the Constitution nowhere mentions "sex discrimination," "child labor," or "segregated education."
Our constitutional journey did not stop then, and it must not stop now. For we will be faced with equally consequential decisions in the 21st Century: can microscopic tags be implanted in a person's body to track his every movement; can patents be issued for the creation of human life; can brain scans be used to determine whether a person is inclined toward criminal or violent behavior?
Judge, I need to know whether you will be a Justice who believes that the constitutional journey must continue to speak to these consequential decisions -- or that we've gone far enough in protecting against government intrusion into the most personal decisions we make.
Biden put the burden on Roberts to make the case that he can be a Chief Justice for the 21st Century, not the 19th Century:
Judge, if I looked only at what you've said and written in the past, I'd feel compelled to vote NO. You dismissed the Constitution's protection of privacy as a "so-called right," you derided agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission that combat corporate misconduct as "constitutional anomalies," and you dismissed "gender discrimination" as merely a, and I quote, "perceived problem."
Dana Garrett has posted the entire text of Biden's statement over at Delaware Watch. It's worth a read in its entirety.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Michael Brown Catches a Clue

Ten days ago, President Sluggo told him, "Brownie, you're doing a great job." Today he resigned as head of FEMA.
But here's my question: If the feds didn't screw up, why did Brown have to go?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Koizumi Wins Big

When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's proposal to reform Japan's postal service failed, he dissolved Parliament and called for new elections. The NYT reports that his gamble has paid off:
Immediately after polls closed at 8 p.m. across the country, television networks predicted that the Liberal Democratic Party had won enough seats in the lower house of Parliament to allow it to govern without a junior coalition partner for the first time in 15 years.
Such a big victory was likely to hand Mr. Koizumi the popular mandate to push through a recalcitrant Parliament his bills to reform Japan's postal services, which with $3 trillion in assets is the world's largest financial institution.
In recent days, as polls showed strong support for Mr. Koizumi, members who had opposed the bills in the upper house of Parliament publicly announced that they would change their position in a future vote.

September 11, 2005: Are We Safer?

Four years ago today, Osama bin Laden attacked the United States. Using fuel-laden commercial airliners as weapons, a well-drilled band of al Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth airplane crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside.
The U.S. responded by attacking al Qaeda and the Talliban government in Afghanistan. But bin Laden escaped and remains at large.
President Bush, using the now-discredited claim that Saddam Hussein actively supported al Qaeda, launched an invasion of Iraq 555 days after 9/11. (Former Secretary of State Colin Powell last week called his speech to the United Nations in which he made the case for war against Iraq
a "painful blot" on his record.)
President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 to declare "an end to major combat operations" under a banner that read "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED."
Today we know that the mission has not been accomplished. Al Qaeda has attacked Madrid and London. American soldiers continue to die in Iraq. The Hurricane Katrina debacle has made it clear that our national government is not prepared to keep us safe in a large scale disaster.
The United States fought and won World War II in less than four years. The most notorious Nazi leaders were standing trial in Nuremberg on the fourth anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
One reader, in response to this post, wrote that he does not think that it's fair to compare WWII and TWoT, noting that Osama bin Laden is not a fixed target. If so, why then were we led into a war that has made our troops a fixed target while al Qaeda continues to launch attacks on our allies from who knows where?
Yes we have been in a war, but our Commander-in-Chief picked the wrong battlefield.
Yes it is a good thing that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, but the Iraq war has not strengthened our strategic position in the region and the world. Yes our leader has shown resolve, but the diversion of National Guard troops and materiel has weakened out ability to protect us at home.
George Bush and Dick Cheney made keeping us safe the rationale for returning them to power in last year's election. Have they lived up to their promise? Not according to Keith Olbermann:
It [the administration] promised protection — or at least amelioration — against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.
It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.
Four years after being attacked by an elusive and still lethal enemy, the time has come for our leaders to accept accountability for their performance.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Bush Benches Brown

President Sluggo, September 2:
"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, September 9:
"Therefore I have directed Mike Brown to return to administering FEMA nationally and I have appointed Vice Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard as the principal federal official overseeing the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery effort in the field."

Worst Katrina Excuse I've Heard

A group of senators want to challenge the proposed EPA regulation on mercury emissions that would set up a system of tradable allowances on emissions of the toxic metal. Unless Congress votes to send the rule back to EPA for reconsideration, the regulation will take effect.
The emission trading approach, which can work for greenhouse gasses that affect large regions, makes little sense for a heavy metal which, when released into the air, tends to accumulate near its source.
The Times reports that one utility industry spokesman cited the toll from Katrina as a reason to allow the regulation to take effect:
Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a trade group, accused the senators of misusing the review act and taking up valuable Senate time when more pressing issues were facing the country.
"Frankly, we are quite surprised that the Senate may make time to even consider this petition," Mr. Segal said, alluding to the mounting problems caused by Hurricane Katrina. "We can hardly think of a worse time to be doing so."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Delawareans to Open Homes to Refugee Families

The News Journal reports that the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and Delaware Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster are working on plans to welcome families displaced by Katrina:

West End Neighborhood House, a Wilmington social services agency that runs a community center and a nonprofit housing group, could accept 20 families for as long as 18 months, Executive Director Paul J. Calistro Jr. said.
Calistro said he offered to help because his agency has helped find new, permanent housing for area residents left homeless by fires, explosions and floods.
"These people need to get out of shelters as soon as possible," he said. "There's no control of your life in a shelter, and without that control, it's very difficult to move on mentally, emotionally, economically."
New Castle County has committed to taking in at least 25 families.
In Rehoboth Beach, merchants and real estate agents are asking condominium owners to donate their seasonal rental properties to evacuees until April 15.

As the Waters Recede

In the NYT today, an eloquent dispatch from the streets of New Orleans:
Night came, then this morning, then noon, and another sun beat down on a dead son of the Crescent City.
That a corpse lies on Union Street may not shock; in the wake of last week's hurricane, there are surely hundreds, probably thousands. What is remarkable is that on a downtown street in a major American city, a corpse can decompose for days, like carrion, and that is acceptable.
Welcome to New Orleans in the post-apocalypse, half baked and half deluged: pestilent, eerie, unnaturally quiet.
(Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"So much better at inflicting pain than feeling it"

Will we soon be hearing the refrain that Katrina changed everything? As the flood water recede, Thomas Freidman writes of a sea change in the fortunes of President Sluggo:

Well, if 9/11 is one bookend of the Bush administration, Katrina may be the other. If 9/11 put the wind at President Bush's back, Katrina's put the wind in his face. If the Bush-Cheney team seemed to be the right guys to deal with Osama, they seem exactly the wrong guys to deal with Katrina - and all the rot and misplaced priorities it's exposed here at home.
These are people so much better at inflicting pain than feeling it, so much better at taking things apart than putting them together, so much better at defending "intelligent design" as a theology than practicing it as a policy.

Freidman and countless other media voices aren't just slamming the response to the hurricane. They're bringing the entire rationale of the Bush presidency into sharp and unflattering relief. Maureen Dowd writes:
Reality has come flooding in. Since 9/11, the Bush administration has been remarkably successful at blowing off "the reality-based community," as it derisively calls the press.
But now, when W., Mr. Cheney, Laura, Rummy, Gen. Richard Myers, Michael Chertoff and the rest of the gang tell us everything's under control, our cities are safe, stay the course - who believes them?
This time we can actually see the bodies.

Friedman gets downright personal about Grover Norquist:
Mr. Norquist is the only person about whom I would say this: I hope he owns property around the New Orleans levee that was never properly finished because of a lack of tax dollars. I hope his basement got flooded. And I hope that he was busy drowning government in his bathtub when the levee broke and that he had to wait for a U.S. Army helicopter to get out of town.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

My Pear Tree Is Gone

Life for me just got sunnier.
Demonstrating that (at least in response to the sound of chainsaws at close range) I will get up from my chair and go to the window to bring you a breaking story, I am sorry to report that the pear tree outside my apartment is now gone.
The villians started their chainsaws promptly at 8:00 this morning, and were gone (along with the tree and the chirping birds) by noon.

"A biological weapon called standing water"

No one in television news delivers invective with as much verve and style as Keith Olbermann. Last night he lit into President Sluggo and company:
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said it all, starting his news briefing Saturday afternoon: "Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater..."
Well there's your problem right there.
If ever a slip-of-the-tongue defined a government's response to a crisis, this was it.
Olbermann points out, none too gently, that keeping us safe from harm is the reason these people gave us for keeping them in power:
But, nationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans — even though the government had heard all the "chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
And most chillingly of all, this is the Law and Order and Terror government. It promised protection — or at least amelioration — against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.
It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.
Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, "we are not satisfied," with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the administration, although we still don't know where some of them are. Anybody seen the Vice President lately? The man whose message this time last year was, 'I'll Protect You, The Other Guy Will Let You Die'?
And as for the the excuses offered for the government's failure to act decisively:
Instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have foreseen," had he only remembered Winston Churchill's quote from the 1930's. "The responsibility," of government, Churchill told the British Parliament "for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence."
You can read the whole thing at Bloggermann and watch the video at CanOFun Political Videos.

Monday, September 05, 2005

It's OK, Mr. Bill! President Sluggo Has a Plan!

President Sluggo has a plan! That’s right, Mr. Bill! After his tour of the Gulf Coast on Friday, President Sluggo returned to Washington to set a new response plan in motion. And the NYT reports he put — who else — Karl Rove in charge:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 - Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.
As if the failure to respond to the urgent calls for assistance weren't embarrassing enough, officials are now offering excuses for the president’s public relations failure:
In interviews, these Republicans said that the normally nimble White House political operation had fallen short in part because the president and his aides were scattered outside Washington on vacation, leaving no one obviously in charge at a time of great disruption. Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush were in Texas, while Vice President Dick Cheney was at his Wyoming ranch.
Even Times White House fluff reporter Elisabeth Bumiller has captured the seriousness of the situation with this headline:
On the Gulf Coast, a Chance to Inspire Is Slipping Away
Bumiller turns to Doris Kearns Goodwin for perspective:
"These are the kinds of moments when a president gives voice to the country," said Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential biographer. "They're remembered forever, if it's done right."
This time, Ms. Goodwin said, "he may be able to say something good in the weeks ahead, but at least as it appears right now, that moment that calls for the president has passed."
Reality seems to be sinking in for DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff:
"I think we need to prepare the country for what's coming," Chertoff says. "What's going to happen when we de-water and remove the water from New Orleans is, we are going to uncover people who have died, maybe hiding in houses, got caught by the flood, people whose remains are going to be found in the streets. There is going to be pollution. It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine."
Would that he had been prepared a week ago.
(Photo: James Nielsen/Reuters)

Bush Names Roberts to Replace Rehnquist

This just in:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 - President Bush nominated Judge John G. Roberts Jr. today to replace Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, whose death late Saturday opened a second vacancy on the Supreme Court and a new front in the ideological battle over the judiciary.
Sandra Day O'Connor, who has said that she will serve until her replacement is confirmed, will likely still be in her seat when the Court's term begins on October 3.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

FEMA Could Ask the Post Office Where Everybody Went

If Chertoff and Brown are having trouble keeping track of the refugees, WPMI (via PSoTD) reports they could always ask the Post Office. That's right, the United States Postal Service is delivering mail to the Astrodome:
People who believe they may have family members at the Houston Astrodome can address their mail to the named individual at "General Delivery Houston, Texas 77230." Similar arrangements are being made for major shelters set up for people evacuated to other areas of the U.S.
The district manager for the U.S. Postal Service in Houston says the agency's headquarters staff began putting the plan together before Hurricane Katrina hit last weekend. [Emphasis added.]

Oh No! Mr. Bill! Nobody Anticipated the Breach of the Levees!

President Sluggo, in this interview on ABC's Good Morning America, said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
Here's someone who did: the hapless Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live, seen here in a public service announcement on the danger to New Orleans from hurricanes. You can find that, along with a 45 minute documentary on New Orleans' unstable geology, at

Washington and New Orleans: Two Very Different Perspectives

A front page story in the Washington Post describes what went wrong with FEMA:
Others who went out of their way to offer help were turned down, such as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who told reporters his city had offered emergency, medical and technical help as early as last Sunday to FEMA but was turned down. Only a single tank truck was requested, Daley said. Red tape kept the American Ambulance Association from sending 300 emergency vehicles from Florida to the flood zone, according to former senator John Breaux (D-La.) They were told to get permission from the General Services Administration. "GSA said they had to have FEMA ask for it," Breaux told CNN. "As a result they weren't sent."
In a related piece, the Post takes a look at how, after his visit on Friday, Bush promptly put a crack team of government lawyers on the case:
Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.
A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.
Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said. [
Note: Governor Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26, two days before the storm hit.]
"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."
We're happy to help. Just sign here.
Post also reports on why some weren't able to leave New Orleans:
"I don't own a car. Me and my wife, we travel by bus, public transportation. The most money I ever have on me is $400. And that goes to pay the rent. And that $400 is between me and my wife."
(Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)