Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bush's Faith-Based Initiative

Ansohn of contextual criticism has a long post that provides an overview of Bush's faith-based initiative after four years. It's not a pretty picture. Here's the introduction:
“Faith-based initiative” is one of those Orwellian terms that tries to make something sound better than or less like what it really is. A more descriptive term would be “Tax Money Given to Religious Institutions.” That tells it like it is. Bush’s “faith-based initiative” is the gifting of religious institutions with federal money.

The idea is not new. Bill Moyer has reported on PBS that “The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, signed by President Clinton, enabled some houses of worship to receive tax dollars for delivery of social services, due to an amendment sponsored by then Senator...John Ashcroft. Prior to that year, government funds could go to religious groups for social services, but the institutions were required to have separate, secular nonprofit entities to administer the programs.”

As reported by the Associated Press, “Bush sidestepped Congress by issuing executive orders to create the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and similar centers in 10 federal agencies during his first term.”
Ansohn details some of the abuses of the faith-based initiative. The full post is worth reading.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

When the Shoe Is on the Other Foot

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly noticed this article in The Los Angeles Times about Trent Lott and Hurricane Katrina:
The longtime Washington foe of "frivolous" lawsuits was no less critical of insurance companies that balked at paying claims to Mississippi homeowners. And he didn't hesitate to file suit against a company he once defended, State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.

"Funny how frivolous lawsuits stop being frivolous when it's you," said Lott's brother-in-law, Richard Scruggs, who is representing the senator. Scruggs lost his home not far from Lott's house — and he, along with thousands of other Mississippi home owners, also has a claim against State Farm.
Sure wish right wing Republicans had longer memories. Or more empathy for others.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Karl Rove and 9/11

Karl Rove understands fear and is shameless about using it for politics. He claims Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world but as we know Bush's view of the world neither makes us more secure nor economically strong. Citizen's Rent has a post in answer to Karl Rove. Here's the first part:
So Karl Rove says that Democrats have a "pre-9/11" view of the world. (WaPo article) He says that likes it's a bad thing. But there's something to recommend in a pre-9/11 mindset.
• Pre-9/11, we hadn't invaded a country that didn't have WMD on the basis of inaccurate intelligence and hyped threats.
• Pre-9/11, countries that represent real threats - Iran and N. Korea - were afraid of our military might.
• Pre-9/11, we were the legitimate champions of human rights and the role model to the world on how to treat those detained in the course of war - we thought the Geneva Conventions mattered.
• Pre-9/11, we had robust alliances with nations across the world, who cooperated with us on international issues that threatened us all.
• Pre-9/11, we had an executive branch that seemed to believe it was subject to the law and not above it.
• Pre-9/11, civil liberties mattered and fear wasn't sufficient reason to undermine the foundational principles of our country.
• Pre-9/11, Americans trusted that the checks and balances built into our democratic system would protect them from on over-reaching executive branch.
• Pre-9/11, we could criticize the government without being called treasonous or unpatriotic.
• Pre-9/11, we could meet peacefully to discuss how to fight the policies of the government without being spied upon and labeled a credible threat to the security of the United States.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The 42 Page NSA White Paper

I remember the Watergate era vividly as if it were yesterday. I remember my reaction to some of the initial allegations against members of the Nixon administration and my initial assumption that the problems were restricted to lower level officials. It became apparent in time that the problems went all the way to the Oval Office and then some. I was disgusted that some Republicans tried to defend Nixon by saying that Johnson and Kennedy had done the same thing while only weeks earlier those same Republicans were espousing Nixon's innocence. We're hearing the same echoes today.

Nixon's defense for a long time was that he had no knowledge of these activities and that he was proceeding with an internal investigation. The truth was the opposite. I clearly remember Nixon's son-in-law, David Eisenhower, giving the word that Nixon's defense had crumbled when the tapes came out and there it was, just days after the Watergate break-in: Nixon knew everything and was clearly obstructing justice with a cover-up, etc., etc.; already at that point, other misdeeds were coming to light.

I mention this because I can't avoid my reaction to George W. Bush. All my instincts tell me the smell of Nixon is on the 43rd president. Smelling something, of course, isn't the same as proving it in a court of law. Most of what I know of the law can be said simply: if it smells wrong, it probably is. I know the law as it is practiced in our country doesn't always work that way, and I know that different people have different views about what smells wrong, but most of the time it's still a reasonably good principle for personal conduct. And it's a principle that doesn't seem to operate in the White House. Again, I'm no lawyer, but my evidence for the ethical breakdown of the White House is the avalanche of clever memos and convoluted explanations for administration behavior.

Below is a link and a few paragraphs of an analysis of the NSA White Paper by The Anonymous Liberal who apparently is a graduate of Columbia Law School. I don't know The Anonymous Liberal and I offer the usual caveats but I believe the analysis is worth reading:
Yesterday the Department of Justice released a 42 page white paper entitled "Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described by the President." I've now read the paper in its entirety (something I don't recommend unless you're having trouble sleeping). The paper doesn't really offer anything new. It is essentially a long-winded version of the letter the DoJ released a few weeks ago. [I see Glenn Greenwald agrees]. While there is some effort to cast aspersions on the constitutionality of FISA, you can tell that the lawyers at the DoJ don't really believe in that argument (probably because it is so radical and extreme). So the vast majority of the paper focuses on the significance of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The DoJ's argument, in a nutshell, can be stated as follows:

The expansive language of the AUMF provided statutory authorization for the president to conduct warrantless wiretapping outside of the framework provided for by FISA.

This is, of course, the very argument that the Congressional Research Service report convincingly rebuffed just last week. It is a position besieged by a number inconvenient facts, the most damning of which is that the AUMF says nothing whatsoever about electronic surveillance or FISA and no one in Congress appears to have thought they were giving the president the authority to operate outside of FISA. Indeed, there is evidence that the White House sought to have language added to the AUMF that would have strengthened this argument, but were specifically rebuffed. The white paper, not surprisingly, glosses over these difficult facts.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Speaking of Osama bin Laden

Bob Schieffer and Chris Matthews have compared liberals to Osama bin Laden in ways that seem bizarre at best. American Pundit offers a cartoon from Lukovich that puts things in another perspective.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Danger of 24/7 Spin

I listened to David Brooks make light of the NSA spying scandal as if to say it's a minor spat that can be resolved with some minor compromise between Bush and Congress. The truth that isn't being told in the MSM is that the more spin, excuses and lies that are told for Bush, the weaker this country gets and the greater the danger that our democracy is withering on the vine. Lies embolden people who are incompetent and the result is that more blunders are made.

The Carpetbagger Report has this to say:
Equating dissent and terrorism
Posted 3:04 pm | Printer Friendly

Depending on one's perspective, the release of the latest video from Osama bin Laden could have been yet another embarrassment for the White House. The man the president vowed to get "dead or alive" is still alive, threatening the United States, and mocking our efforts. Security measures that were supposed to be in place years ago are still waiting to be put in place. For some, the video is a reminder of a war on terror that's been poorly executed for far too long.

Or, perhaps you're a conservative with a slightly different perspective.

* MSNBC's Chris Matthews told his national television audience that the terrorist responsible for 9/11 "sounds like an over the top Michael Moore here, if not a Michael Moore."

* The far-right New York Post editorial board wrote, "Who writes [bin Laden's] stuff — Howard Dean? John Murtha? Sure sounds like it."
The Carpetbagger Report has more. All over the blogosphere today there is more. Many news organizations are no longer the watchdogs for Americans. We've known that for some time but with all these Republican scandals, you would think the media would finally show some backbone. And yes, some are showing some backbone. But too many are not.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Larry Wilkerson's Motivations

Larry Wilkerson left the Bush Administration in early 2005 after working for four years for Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Wilkerson has been critical of Cheney and Rumsfeld and what he perceives to be various shortcomings of the national security apparatus under Bush. Laura Rozen quotes a Washington Post article that mentions a motivation that ought to show up more often in Washington:

Departing from government after Bush's second inauguration, Wilkerson had to decide: Would he speak his conscience or remain the quiet man like Powell?

"My wife said to me: 'You have two choices, my man. You can think more about him or you can think more about your country. I suggest you do the latter.' "

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Al Gore Defends Democracy Against Fear

It wasn't all that long ago that our nation's punditocracy had more respect for former presidents, senators, representatives and even vice presidents. Throughout our history we have sometimes asked advice from the wise men (and women now) who could help us in troubled times. I don't know if Al Gore qualifies as a wise man simply because he's still a viable candidate for president but his speech offers some wise counsel that we now need.

The right wing media is spending considerable energy dismissing Al Gore as a crank and that is a strange way to treat the majority of Americans whose votes were cast for the vice president in 2000. Here's a video of the speech from Americablog. And a transcript of the speech from Raw Story. I'm putting up a permanent link on the sidebar for Gore's speech. This is the battle cry for the year 2006.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Brief History of Liberalism

Twenty-five years of right-wing propaganda has made a lot of people forget what liberals have accomplished over the years. Elastic Heart reprises A Day in the Life of Joe Republican which apparently was written by Michael Moore (if anyone knows better, feel free to correct me) and circulated widely on the internet almost a year and a half ago:

Joe gets up at 6:00am to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to ensure their safety and work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employers medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower reaching for his shampoo; His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

Its noon time, Joe needs to make a Bank Deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae underwritten Mortgage and his below market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his life-time.

Joe is home from work, he plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dads; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electric until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification. (Those rural Republican’s would still be sitting in the dark)

He is happy to see his dad who is now retired. His dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to. After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home.

He turns on a radio talk show, the host’s keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. (He doesn’t tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day) Joe agrees, “We don’t need those big government liberals ruining our lives; after all, I’m a self made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have”.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bush's Panic Button

Whenever Bush gets into political trouble, it seems the terrorists alerts go up a notch, more money is poured into the White House p.r. machine and Bush's critics at home are declared unpatriotic by Bush's legions. S.W. Anderson of Oh!pinion:

But, as Olbermann alludes, you don’t have to look very hard to detect a pattern here. Whenever Bush & Co. is in especially big trouble, news of some mysterious, nebulous new terrorist threat or danger surfaces. Happens every time.

To make the current scare story especially suspect on these grounds comes follow-up news — local to Texas because we’re sure not seeing it from the rest of the major media — that the big phone purchase from a Midland, Texas, Wal-Mart has been investigated and found to have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorists or terrorism.

Will Americans ever catch on to the lying, distortions and distractions being used by the right-wing Republicans in power to manipulate their impressions and opinions?

Americans only begin to pay attention when Bush's nonsense hits close to home. His Social Security debacle is one example. And Hurricane Katrina is another. There are signs that a number of economic issues aren't being addressed. If the economy begins to buckle, Americans may finally take the blinders off.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Samuel Alito Confirmation Hearings

The Senate judiciary committee is saying the words but it's not certain it's fulfilling its obligation to offer the president advice and consent in real terms. I noticed this at Always Question:
Today he is saying that, as a judge, he doesn't "give heed" to his "personal views," but that he just interprets the law. Given that he will probably win the Senate's consent and sit on the Court I would really like to believe that. I would. Really. I would like to believe that a guy who came up representing the Iran-Contra administration could sit on the highest court in the country and give a fair hearing to arguments against... domestic spying?... civil rights of "suspected" terrorists?... malfeasance and fiscal improprieties by members of Congress and lobbyists?... and interpret the law fairly. I would also like to believe in Santa Claus.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Terrific Orcinus Post on Political Discourse

In a long post very much much worth reading, Orcinus points out the excesses on both sides of the political spectrum but I particularly appreciate the part where he argues the media tends to balance 2 + 2 = 4 versus 2 + 2 = 6 by saying 2 + 2 = 5. Here's just one section:
Indeed, one has to wonder where Young was during most of the 1990s, when the right was frothing over with hatred of Bill Clinton and the mainstream left. Much of the eliminationist right-wing rhetoric that flourishes today, as well as the utter lack of civility and decorum on both sides, originated in those years.

For the bulk of my journalistic career, I probably saw the world in terms similar to Young's: the left and right, both for their virtues and their flaws, tended to balance each other out. For every bit of ugliness on the right, you could often find a counterpart on the left. This leaves those of us in the middle to balance things out. I think this view dominated in most of the newsrooms where I worked as well.

But I also studied logic and ethics back in the day (philosophy was a second major) and after awhile came to see that what many of us were doing in "balancing" our stories was in fact the antithesis of seeking out the truth, which is what journalism is supposed to be about. Specifically, many of us -- not just journalists -- were indulging in a classic logical fallacy, namely, the "false middle," or the argumentum ad temperantiam: "If two groups are locked in argument, one maintaining that 2+2=4, and the other claiming that 2+2=6, sure enough, an Englishman will walk in and settle on 2+2=5, denouncing both groups as extremists."

I don't know if the balance that I used to see ever existed. But in the 1990s, when it became clear that a lot of people on the right were declaring that 2+2=6, and a lot of people in the media were reporting their claims without batting an eye, any balance I had seen before began to vanish -- and it has not returned.
I'm old enough to remember a long period of time when most liberals and most conservatives often agreed on the facts. They just didn't agree on the interpretation of the facts or on what ought to be done about them. It's a different era we're in and it's dangerous.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Some Words on Cold Flute

I've promised to save my best efforts for use over at Donkey Path but in talking with Craig, who is doing a great job of posting almost daily over there, it occurred to us that there are too many fine blogs getting overlooked outside the top-rated sites. So I intend to browse the blogosphere at my own idiosyncratic pace and catch some of the better blogs and posts I find. In the last month alone, I have surveyed over 500 lesser known blogs and have bookmarked dozens that I intend to visit again.

I have no intention of ranking blogs here. What I find is what I find and I will be adding links rather freely with no serious attempts to compare blogs. Readers are on their own when it comes to verifying the contents of posts and so forth; the reality is that it can take a year to fully trust the judgement and credibility of a blog by which time a blogger can throw in the towel from a lack of traffic and respect. Even some of the best blogs have their weaknesses at times but you learn when to ignore those weaknesses while concentrating on the strengths.

I'll try to catch the best whenever I can but there will be days when I post excerpts from fine blogs who don't necessarily have the best post of the day and I'll post on blogs that have a particularly good post that day that is well beyond what that blog usually puts out. On occassion, I may put on a catcher's mask, padding and knee guards and offer some advice.

I'll have more to say on this another time.