Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Meet the Blog Roll: Episode I

So. I'm developing a readership of more than four, it would seem.

Folks, allow me to introduce you to my theory of web-use: I call it, "My Practice." I think this gives it a nicely dignified tone--much moreso than "surfing," yet still more obfuscatory than "wasting time." To help you, dear reader, make better use of this site (now, no doubt, your go-to source for witty commentary and information on a wide variety of topics), I'm pleased to begin a new series called (wait for it):

"Meet the Blog Roll."

In this series, we will explore my blog roll, located (this week) on the right hand side of your screen and broken into two sections: "Friends of the Dummy" (that would be yrs. truly) and "Blogs and Websites I Like." Friends are, well, friends. Let me know if you reject the honor. Similarly, if you feel slighted by being on the "Like" list, take heart. I just don't know you personally yet.

First up: a newly re-united friend of mine: Pop Argot.
Fair Allegheny, yonder on the Hill
Through all the years, our hearts are turning still
In love to thee, and so they ever will
O Alma Mater, Beatissima!
Much to our joint dismay, Pop and I share a college. He found me through Facebook -- a newfangled web-based thing that actually seems to work occasionally. Pop authors Baby I've Been Thinking. Topic? Pop Music. Very well done commentary on his search for good pop, and close critiques of the gems he unearths. Here's a representative excerpt:
Alice Cooper found a clever little niche for himself in the mid-'70s when, having realized he could move seamlessly from the shock-horror to the Hollywood Squares crowds (OK, the Squares were their own kind of shock-horror), he applied the same cross-generational techniques to his music, resulting in stuff like "Welcome to My Nightmare" that was equally at home in a dank rathskeller or on The Muppet Show.
Unlike your correspondent, Pop has the wisdom to keep his posts in tight little packages for easy digestion. I suspect that's due to his day job, which gives additional outlet for writing that mine does not. Enjoy a visit to Baby I've Been Thinking when you tire of the trash Clear Channel is pawning off on you as pop music. Pick up a few leads that lead away from the dreck: go to the light.

Speaking of the light (and keep this post from becoming too much so), Lux et Veritas:

Balkinization is, as the subtitle states, "An unintended consequence of Jack Balkin." Jack is a Professor of Law at Yale Law School who apparently doesn't have enough to do. (I kid, I kid.) This is a great place to visit if you're at all interested in the legal matter of the moment, at least in part because it is much, much more than one man's ramblings (admittedly, a very learned man). Professor Balkin has attracted a panel of contributors that represent some of the finest legal scholars from around the country (though not yet my personal faves, Akhil Amar and David Williams).

Certainly, for the interested layman or practitioner Balkinization will provide ample food for thought on FISA, Habeas Corpus and detainees, internet neutrality, prosecutorial ethics, or DOJ packing. And that's just in the last 3 days. You should make it a stop every time a legal question hits the news cycle.

Given the state of the nation, every day would be a good start.

Tune in next time for another exciting episode of Meet the Blog Roll: improve your "practice."


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

There Has Been Blood

In an interview with Newsweek last fall, the former chief executive of Exxon, Lee Raymond, praised Iraq’s potential as an oil-producing country and added that Exxon was in a position to know. “There is an enormous amount of oil in Iraq,” Mr. Raymond said. “We were part of the consortium, the four companies that were there when Saddam Hussein threw us out, and we basically had the whole country.”
"...the whole country." Gentle reader, hear in that phrase the lacrimose longing of a dream deferred. "The Whole Country," when it comes to Iraq, represents perhaps the largest un-tapped oil reserves in the world. Untold black gold, lying beneath the sands -- wasted, if you happen to value it (word is, some do).

As conservative commentator Kevin Phillips has detailed,
From the 1930s to the 1960s, in the words of oil historian Anthony Sampson, the reorganized Middle East had "two kinds of maps: some showing the names and outlines of nations, most of them comparatively new; and others showing the region cut up into squares along the coast, marked with the initials -- IPC, KOC, ARAMCO, AOC -- representing the consortia of oil companies, nearly always including some of the Seven Sisters. To the companies, it was these squares which were the real geography: Saudi Arabia was Aramco-land; Iran meant all seven; Kuwait was Gulf and BP.

The oil maps, in short, had long been the ones that mattered. For the US and British oil companies, losing these concessions to the nationalizations of the 1970s was infuriating. The irony with respect to Iraq was that for one reason or another, the 1970s were the only decade of heavy pumping and large oil revenues. Production had been kept low during the glutted thirties, and it then stagnated during WWII. ...Over the last decade or so this chronology of Iraq's surprisingly limited oil production had become relevant again for a simple reason: given that relatively little of Iraq's oil has been pumped, most of it is still in the ground. "American Theocracy, pp. 75-76
"The whole country." Rivers, oceans of oildollars, buried treasure in the sand, now obscured by the clamour of war. Yet fear not, o countryman, for the honor of our purpose. There's no chance whatsoever that we're there to get the oil. As Donald Rumsfeld has said:
if anyone looks at the history of the United States of America, they would know that we don’t want Iraqi oil. That oil belongs to the Iraqi people. ... Our interest is not the oil, and it will be clear that that is the case. The money and revenues from that oil belong to Iraqi people and they will have that.

Colin Powell
the one thing I can assure you of is that it will be held in trust for the Iraqi people, to benefit the Iraqi people. That is a legal obligation that the occupying power will have.
Rummy again:
The President has also requested funds ... to help with emergency fire fighting and repair of damage to oil facilities. It is important that we have these resources available.

But let me be clear: when it comes to reconstruction, before we turn to the American taxpayers, we will turn first to the resources of the Iraqi government itself and the international community. ...Once Saddam Hussein is gone, the U.S. will work with the Iraqi Interim Authority that will be established to tap Iraq’s oil revenues...
Paul Wolfowitz exercising strong message discipline:
the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. ... We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.

...time passes... 5 or 6 years...

June 19, 2008:
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.
That story also says:
The revenue would be used for reconstruction, although the Iraqi government has had trouble spending the oil revenues it now has, in part because of bureaucratic inefficiency.
See if you can find the missing phrase. Here's a hint: It goes between "reconstruction," and "although" and it goes like this: "after paying the contract fee to these western oil companies.

It could be argued that these contracts are simply the thanks of a grateful Iraqi nation. After all, these companies had been providing (free of charge!) "advice" to the Iraqi government (still peopled with American policy-makers) on how to develop the very fields for which they were awarded contracts. Well, at least for most of the fields for which they were awarded contracts:
In all cases but one, the same company that had provided free advice to the ministry for work on a specific field was offered the technical support contract for that field, one of the companies’ officials said.The exception is the West Qurna field in southern Iraq, outside Basra. There, the Russian company Lukoil, which claims a Hussein-era contract for the field, had been providing free training to Iraqi engineers, but a consortium of Chevron and Total, a French company, was offered the contract. A spokesman for Lukoil declined to comment.
Russian Go Home! Your charity will not be rewarded here!
These no-bid contracts are simply to help the Iraqis to extract the oil. They are not a license to the oil itself. But it is as plain as the sun that the "free advice" was never free--that it was, in fact, merely the nose of the camel. Soon, the entire dromedary, and its spit and its shit, will be inside the tent.
“The bigger prize everybody is waiting for is development of the giant new fields,” Leila Benali, an authority on Middle East oil at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said in a telephone interview from the firm’s Paris office. The current contracts, she said, are a “foothold” in Iraq for companies striving for these longer-term deals.
"Giant new fields." Actually, they're ancient. They're waiting for us -- well, some of us. Derrick Z. Jackson of the Boston Globe made many of these connections in his editorial of today, linked in the headline, and inspired me to dig up the old quotes from Phillips' book. I don't know why. I've written about this before, extensively. It's pretty clear that the camel has been inside the tent for some time now. I guess I'm still seduced by the crazy liberal notion that you can put 1,2 and 3 in order next to 5,6 and 7, and expect people to see that #4 is in the middle.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday is Clip Day

I fully expect the requisite French/Soccer/Footie jokes. Just watch the video before you pretend you're too cool to think this is really fun.

My favorite is at 2:32, a very sweet outside instep shot.

Terrorist? Hmm...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

C's Clinch #17

"I was watching him hold that trophy, and I was thinking to myself, 'Paul Pierce was not just almost out the league. He was almost dead,'" [Coach Doc] Rivers said. "And now he is the Finals MVP. You tell me. Who else has had a turnaround like that?"
I was very pleased to see Pierce with that extra accolade after the win on Tuesday night. The win itself was tremendous. If you are any kind of a sports fan--even an incidental one--I must say you missed something very special if you missed this year's NBA finals.

Paul Pierce has played his entire 10 year career for the Boston Celtics, and in that time their play has ranged from poor (but with false promise) to unwatchable (a certified tank-job last year). The lone light of those teams was Pierce, a leader with a scoring knack so true, it earned him his knick-name:
Shaquille O'Neal, in the midst of his three-peat and a role as the most dominant force in the game, pulled a Boston reporter aside and offered the following: "Take this down. My name is Shaquille O'Neal, and Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. Quote me on that, and don't take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn't know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth."
Yet The Truth seemed to be that Paul Pierce would end his career as the kind of player bad owners use to slowly kill franchises. You could keep enough people in the seats to make money with a guy like Paul. You could squeeze the team for cash without putting anyone else in there to light a fire and work a winning season. When you'd emptied that ATM, you could sell it off and move on. Paul would carry the torch for you -- enough of the time -- simply out of pride and talent. Mostly pride.

On September 25, 2000, he was stabbed in the face, chest and back 7 times. He nearly died.

Enter Wyc Grousbeck. Wyc, a local guy and a Celtics fan, caught a bug from a man named Kraft: buy a team you love because you love it, and help it to win--not to make money, but because winning is fun and sports are fun and people should have fun watching them. Grousbeck assembled an ownership group of similarly minded guys and bought the C's in 2002. In the off season of 2007, the stars aligned. Former Celtic Danny Ainge, now C's GM, approached his owner and told him the time was right. Wyc pulled the trigger:

Number 5 is a looming presence. A tall, terrifyingly intense man. Kevin Garnett had played all 12 years of his career for the Minnesota Timberwolves. For 12 years, Kevin ripped a howling tear of intensity and electricity down the court with every turn: a rebounding machine, a defensive nightmare of huge dark wingspan, fierce countenance and unending energy who would hound you out of his paint, chase you up the court and scare you into giving up a basket, leaving you grateful you hadn't given up your life as well. For 12 years he tried to will a team of the under-talented or under-achieving to success. He is definitely the kind of player a bad owner could use to kill a franchise, and most years it seemed like that's precisely what would happen. And even though he collected every accolade, and even though he burned his soul on the court every night, his critics sadly shook their heads and noted that until he won a championship...

Life is full of promise, but rarely delivers. When Wyc and Danny brought Kevin Garnett to Boston, Paul Pierce knew that promise could be kept. The addition of Ray Allen (aka Jesus Shuttlesworth), the NBA's best pure shooter, seemed to seal the deal.

Garnett's intensity ruled the regular season. He brought the electric edge of the playoffs to every game, even those lonely mid-weekers in basketball-backwards towns with empty seats and nothing on the line. With these 3 stars selflessly giving their individual games over to a shared mission, the team coalesced. But to the casual observer, it seemed (all protest to the contrary) that the team was Garnett's. He set the tone. He made the plays. It was his intensity that whipped the younger players into game-mode on a nightly basis.

In the playoffs, though, something curious seemed to happen. Ray Allen lost his shot. Just gone -- like a light had been switched off. Garnett, still at full throttle, seemed to stand out less among other stars, now that they also were going full blast. He was truly eating himself from within, going 4 sleepless days during the series with Detroit, consumed with a chance he never thought he'd see.

The young guys were young.

The lowly Hawks took the Celtics to the full seven games. One-dimensional Cleveland did the same. The C's looked uneven. We reminded each other that, really, one season is a short time. Even the best need time to learn each other.

And yet, as the curtains drew back and the early series' stretched out long and the bloom seemed ready to drop from the lily, there was Paul Pierce.

He willed his way to the foul line. He made his own shots. Not known in past seasons as a defender, he turned in staggering defensive performances against some of the league's best scorers. He kept his cool. He kept his team floating.

And, slowly, things came together. They all leaned in toward each other and at the center of the circle was the the New Original Celtic: Paul Pierce. The furious free-radicals and lost boys that the C's had become slowly drew together around their captain. Ray penetrated and scrapped and his shot began to come back. Kevin slowly started to live into the moment. Bench players found unexpected sureness and confidence in themselves and in each other. By the end of the Lakers series, they were playing the very best basketball of the year -- by anyone.

Young Rajon Rondo, in only his second season as point guard, played an incandescent game: blasts of speed that only young men's ankles can handle, smart passing, and with finally the confidence to drive and shoot -- not just drive and pass. He was a thief, too, picking the great Kobe Bryant like a streetside cut-purse. Ray Allen, bearing up under his son's suddenly diagnosed diabetes--a diagnosis arrived at in a hospital emergency room the night before--rained down three-point baskets like the rim was 10 feet across, instead of 10 feet off the floor, tying an NBA finals record with 7. Kevin Garnett? He posted his 6th straight double-double: double digit points, double digit rebounds. A game after he seemed to disappear, he suddenly re-emerged, elevating himself one last time, a soul on fire consuming itself, in love with a game.

Even the bench were unstoppable. During one remarkable and telling stretch in the second quarter, Eddie House and James Posey combined for 11 unanswered points, including three 3-pointers, none of which so much as nicked the rim.

And then there was Paul. At half-time in Los Angeles, with his team down and getting battered by a determined Kobe Bryant, Paul had gone to Doc Rivers and requested a job: "Put me on him. I have fouls to give." That night he led his team to a record come-back victory.

In the final game of the season, at home in Boston, he put up 17 points and 10 assists. But more than that, harder to see in the numbers of the game, was the way he drew his team toward each other. A team of one mind.

It was so evident in their defense. Of all things, defense in basketball is talked about more than it is celebrated. But many times during the game, the C's moved together on defense like the balancing ratchets and springs of an old-fashioned watch. Without seeming to look at each other they responded, in unison yet uniquely, to the ball and to the offense: Each player reading in his man the movements of the other 9 bodies on the floor, as if he was reading a picture book. Each of them, all together.

So it was a lot of fun. I hope you watched it. Even if you didn't, it's worth reading that article about Paul Pierce. There aren't too many athletes who stay in the same city for their whole their career. Most players are gypsies, or mercenaries: Ronin. As Bill Simmons wrote, we're basically rooting for laundry.

But not this year. This year, we got Paul Pierce.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Four More Years! Four More Years!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many more words is a moving picture that talks worth? Priceless:

Brought to you by

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"I'm voting Republican."

This is partly by way of passing on the humor, partly to experiment with embedding a video in a post. Enjoy the snarkalicious goodness.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'm sorry that you feel hurt.

This little formulation is so common these days. It's a nice little non-apology, giving the first impression that the speaker is sorry, then knee-capping the sentiment by implying it's your fault for feeling hurt.
"Gee, I'm sorry if you feel hurt by my punch in your mouth."
This figure of speech is highly adaptable, allowing for all kinds of equivocation. Here's a perfect example: John Sidney McCain actively sought out the Reverend John Hagee, a noted evangelical, for his endorsement (J. Sidney has a small problem with the evangelical base of the GoP--they don't like him). Later, the world discovered that Hagee has been a rather vociferous critic of the Catholic Church, calling it "the apostate church" and "the great whore."

Whoops. J. Sidney needs those conservative Catholic voters. What to do? Under pressure, Hagee comes up with the perfecta: a double non-apology.
“I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful.” [Great whore and apostate, e.g.] “Neither of these phrases can be synonymous with the Catholic Church... .”
Skillful, eh? Remorseless remorse, non-retraction retraction. Nicely done: Doubleplus Good.

Unfortunately, this happens even when people are allegedly of good will. Take today's Bangor Daily News, for example, and its editorial entitled "The Highest Glass Ceiling."

The editorial seems to want to celebrate the fact that Hillary's sex wasn't raised as a bar to her candidacy, at least by Democrats:
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy raised a lot of questions, renewed some old criticisms and stirred plenty of new debate, but her fitness for the job, based on her gender, was never seriously questioned. That’s a milestone worth noting.
Yay! you might say. We're making progress! We focused on substance, not gender!

But then, bang:
Not everyone who would question a woman’s suitability as commander-in-chief should be dismissed as sexist. Sen. Clinton invited such questions when she teared-up during a campaign stop in New Hampshire; would a woman president get weepy about military threats, inhibiting her ability to respond firmly?

Clearly, men and women have different emotional responses in different situations. One might argue that men are better able, generally speaking, to set aside emotions and act. But the counter argument is that women are less prone to macho posturing, a response that could easily escalate into war.
Ouch! What? Wait! What was that? It's like a drive-by mugging! They came out of nowhere! Where'd they go?

Why, they went off to hide, over here:
The world has had enough examples of strong, decisive national leaders who happen to be women to disprove the stereotypes: Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher of England, Indira Gandhi of India, and Golda Meir of Israel. It’s not hard to imagine a President Hillary Clinton with a tough-as-nails response to a Hurricane Katrina or Sept. 11. And as Sen. Clinton said Saturday, that threshold having been cleared, the next woman who seeks the White House will have a slightly easier journey. For that, every woman — and every man — should be grateful.
I'm sorry if you feel hurt by what I said. Disingenuous in the extreme.

Let's roll back the tape:
Not everyone who would question a woman’s suitability as commander-in-chief should be dismissed as sexist. Sen. Clinton invited such questions when she teared-up during a campaign stop in New Hampshire...
A tear in the eye invites me to question a woman's suitability as commander-in-chief. That's not being sexist. If you tear up, you're probably not tough enough. You invited me to make that criticism. "She's so hot she's making me sexist?" Same thing.* "She was asking for it." Same thing.
One might argue that men are better able, generally speaking, to set aside emotions and act.
Oh. Really? "One might?"

"Some say the Bangor Daily News is an unreliable rag that fabricates the news, lies about its sources and sacrifices virgins in service to a Pagan god."


"Oh, you know. Some."
Clearly, men and women have different emotional responses in different situations.
No. People have different responses in different situations. You completely shatter whatever point you think you might be making when you give in to this kind of simplistic thinking. False, wrong, stupid. If you allow yourself to apply a wide brush to a specific individual, or to make a judgment about a specific instance based on a wide range of probabilities, you've wandered into perilous territory. That's one possibility.

Another possibility is that you charged over that line on purpose, and cloaked your intentions in a brace of fluff:

"I don't hate blacks; I just don't like niggers. There's a difference, you know."

Ever hear that? Bet you have.

"I think a woman could be President. As long as she wasn't one of those weak, emotional ones. You know, hysterical. 'Course, there's always 'that time of the month.' They all have that. But I love my mom!"

Here's my letter to the editor:
In re: The Highest Glass Ceiling

Wow. You started off so promisingly, but then crashed and burned extravagantly. Whoever soberly makes the hypothetical arguments you posit should have their head examined and their keys taken away. A woman shows emotion through tears and her grip on rational thought is legitimately up for questioning? Would you say the same for Robert Byrd, famously weeping in the well of the Senate? Of course not. John McCain is famous for his fits of rage. I don't read this column questioning his suitability as the C-in-C of the most deadly arsenal in the history of humanity.

One's emotional temper is an individual question. The ability to act rationally and soberly while in the grip of intense feeling is best judged on a person by person basis – not subjected to tired cliches. McCain may be able to see through the red curtain of his rage and not actually pull the trigger. Hillary may well be able to slyly calculate even with tears in her eyes (indeed, the balance of her campaign all but proved that). By endorsing these weak, sex-based arguments as credible – even while trying to put them to rest – you provide cover for the unreconstructed.

"Balanced" reporting and editorializing does not mean giving equal air time to mindless piffle. If one side asserts the sky is blue, and another stridently argues its greenness, giving equal play to the green-sky lobby is not balance. It's absurdity. This otherwise promising editorial is totally hamstrung by spineless temporizing.
Here's the part I left out when I sent it:
I suggest the following: The next time you feel a tingling in the basal ganglia at the back of your skull, and it threatens to overtake the higher functions of your fore-brain, slowly back away from your keyboard. Grab your coat and walk across the street to Hollywood Slots casino and pump some quarters into the one-armed bandit. Once the immutable rules of probability have slapped some sense back into your head, feel free to come back and finish the column.
It's hard to fake sincerity. Really hard. But scary people try to do it all the time, so does the media, so do sports stars and so do politicians. Be aware, be watchful.

"Some say that I'm sorry if you are hurt by what I said. [But I'm not.]"

Coming for YOU, BDN editorial board!

* Except when it's Bret in Flight of the Concords. Then it's funny. Seriously.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

You can lead the Donkey to Water...

Let me get this out of the way first: I am a backer of Obama for President. I don't think he's the second coming (of Bill thank goodness), or the next JFK (better than that, I hope). His candidacy is historic, his policy positions are sound (if fairly pedestrian in most cases). He's highly charismatic. I'm not inclined to praise his every move, however.

That said, one of the first things he did after securing the Democratic nomination made my heart leap. He extended his campaign's ban on money from political action committees (PACs) and lobbyists to the Democratic National Committee. Now, there are nits to pick, but that's what they are: nits. This is a huge, huge step toward the kind of comprehensive campaign reform that we so desperately need in our democracy. It's a step toward returning the process to individuals and taking it out of the hands of special interest groups, industry, corporate America (fill in all the standard Progressive bogey-men).

More should follow if he's elected (I say that as an admonition, not a prediction); more needs to happen. But if the reaction of "some Democrats"--the ones you'd expect, actually--is anything to go by, this pill will be bitterly resisted. By lobbyists for example.

CBS (affectionately known around these parts as the "Conservative Broadcasting System") says, "Obama's Donation Ban Irks Some Dems."

Ah, there's that lovely phrase, the call of the douche: "Some _____ ." Some? Which some? Who some? How many some? Ah, my friend, ask not. Know only that there is a silent current of dissent. "Some." You know who "they" are. Right under CBS's title, it says, "Politico: Many Congressional Candidates Feel They Can't Turn Their Backs On Money From Lobbyists And PACs." Many, eh? Yet none of them made it into the story, somehow.

It turns out that only one congressional staffer was willing to comment on this. And they have a good point: Obama is raking in the dough. He can afford to forgoe the largesse of the lobbyist and the PAC. Important to point out (which even NPR failed to do) is that receiving the endorsement of a PAC is very different from receiving money from a PAC. They also neglect to point out that Obama made this pledge long before it looked smart, or even financially possible. *

PACs and lobbyists always will be. It's how you choose to deal with that circumstance that makes the difference between representative democracy -- which we don't have -- and a government employed by corporations -- which we do.

Nevertheless, it's hard for the DCCC and the DSCC to go cold turkey. You can do it--cut off 60% of your campaign revenue stream--but only if the other side is going to do it, too. The GoP is pretty far from even beginning to entertain the possibility of remotely considering that. Even though this looks to be an "up" year for Democrats, going cold turkey is a lot to ask of them. For now.

But I feel no sympathy for the puling of the the lobbyist herd:
Another Democratic lobbyist said Obama’s ban effectively tars everyone who can’t live up to it. “Now you’re implying that the House and Senate Democrats - and Republicans - are scumbags that take lobbyist money,” the lobbyist fumed.
Oh, wah. And, yes, lobbyist money is inherently tainted. Here's why:

A lobbyist is a hired gun. He or she gets paid to forward the positions of their clients by getting the attention of elected representatives and providing said rep with data and argumentation in the hope of wooing the rep to side of the lobbyist's client. When a lobbyist donates big cookies to a politician, it raises that lobbyists profile in the eyes of even the most upright of congressmen. It gives them a bigger radar blip. They have essentially purchased more input with that representative then an average constituent. They count more than a voter. Because they paid for it. And that's when the system is working correctly.

But our system is quite compromised. The barest scratch has been made in the reams of files generated by the Jack Abramoff scandal, and already indictments are being handed down. "This town has become very corrupt, there's no doubt about it." That was John Sidney McCain speaking in 2005. When the man responsible for keeping the vast majority of the proof out of the public eye is saying that, you ought to believe him.
“There’s nothing wrong with lobbyist and PAC money, because the government can’t be bought,” said Nicholas Allard, co-chairman of the public policy department at lobbying firm Patton Boggs and a veteran of many Democratic campaigns, including former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 White House bid.
Whew. That's either breaktakingly naive or nauseatingly disingenuous. You can take your pick, but I'm going with the latter. The Abramoff scandal is the very picture of pay-to-play politics. Certainly there were illegalities and outright corruption. Bob Ney (R-OH) actually had a menu, listing what he cost for various favors. It just goes to show you: McCain was right about something. That town is corrupt (J. Sidney not excepted). Just ask Democrat William Jefferson. (Jefferson, of course, is significant not because he was indicted and convicted, but because he was a Democrat and therefore stands out from the flood.)

The saying in Washington, of course, is "The real scandal isn't what's illegal; the real scandal is what's legal!" (That exclamation point is meant to signify the glee the speaker feels at finding your gold in his pocket.) As Hendrick Hertzberg put it:
The attractions of a K Street job are actually more perilous to the souls of Democrats, who are supposed to be tribunes of “working families.” Still, many of them succumbed to its lure when their party was in power. (Some still do, in the unlikely event that they can get hired.) But hypocrisy tinges their prosperity with shame. No such guilt need trouble those whose ideology glorifies Moloch as a matter of course. And a legislator who identifies wealth with virtue, but is condemned, for the time being, to live on the salary of a public servant, may come to see the lobbyist’s skybox as his natural habitat.

This is the beginning of exfoliating for the Democratic Party, I hope. Slough off the dead skin, cut out the cancer. Triangulation was, it is now obvious, a short term strategy. When you don't stand for anything in particular, you can be moved by your own best interest. Perhaps Mr. Allard is a harmless example of that. Perhaps Joe Lieberman is a sad example of that. It just goes to show you: You can lead the Donkey to water, but you can't make it drink. But you can make it into glue.

I understand lobbyists are particularly sticky.

* Super tip of the hat to my candidate, John Edwards, who made this a centerpiece of his whole campaign.

Today in Sports...

I just wanted to pass along this link at Shutdown Corner, a football site, on the demise of the single bar facemask. Mine is the last generation of gridiron fans who will be able to remember these guys -- punters, mostly -- who took the field with a but single bar to protect their radio-ready visages.

Scott Player (upper left) is the last of the breed. Apparently he brought his 'mask with him from team to team, as equipment companies stopped making them. Even that has now been outlawed.
Every once and a while I get tweaked by friends who favor European sports or Aussie rules or some such about all the equipment our boys wear. Now, don't get me wrong: I love rugby. But think of it this way: Imagine legendary All-Black Jonah Lomu or Wales' blindside flanker Colin Charvis.(Or just check out these helpful photos.) Now, imagine a couple of important rules changes: You don't need to wrap up. You don't need to play the ball. You don't need to return the player safely to the pitch. You may (and in fact are often encouraged to) leave your feet to make the hit. Finally, give every player on the pitch an eight-pound (or 128 ounces, or 3.6 kg) weapon to wear on his head.
Anyway, here's the money quote from Shutdown Corner:
If Nick Lowery was still in the league, he'd never stand for this. He'd march right into Roger Goodell's office, slam his single-barred helmet down on his desk, point to his full and lustrous moustache, and he'd scream, "THIS IS MY SECOND BAR, YOU PANSY." And that would be that.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ex President Quote of the Day

We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
--Dwight David Eisenhower
I think it beyond dispute that the present administration has run in exactly the opposite direction that Ike warned against--into the arms of the military-industrial complex itself. Indeed, it is often hard to tell where the government of the United States leaves off and the board-rooms and directorships of leading armaments, strategic supply corporations and energy speculators begins. The revolving door opens on K Street, Capitol Hill, Wall Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We have, in fact, become precisely what Ike feared: a nation whose economic solvency and international relevancy has been pegged to more or less perpetual warfare.

Interestingly, this administration seems to have tightly clasped to its breast the very next warning in Ike's speech -- one less remembered. As with much that smacks of subtlety (or simply comprehension), the NeoCons have hewed to the letter and mistaken the meaning:
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.
Well, we all know how scared we're supposed to be of the (very narrowly defined) elite. In rejecting almost all science, however, these last 7.5 years of Republican rule have set a new standard for willful ignorance. But more than that, this administration has actively sought out the good science in government service and snuffed or silenced it. It's remarkable, really.

There are so-called banana republics who survived less looted by dictatorships than our public trust has been despoiled by villains we willfully chose.

Race is No Longer an Issue

At least in Delray Beach, Florida. You see, they've finally agreed to integrate their Little League! Hey, congratulations for taking the big step, Delray. Let us know how it works out for you.

The history of Delray little league is so perfectly disingenuous it'd be funny if it wasn't so sad. You've likely heard of district "gerrymandering." Theoretically, gerrymandering can be used to increase the representation of minority groups. In practice, however, it is typically used to ensure power remains in the hands of the majority, whether that majority be white or, say, Republican (and usually both). Tom Delay (R-Texas) earned his pitchfork in part by his elaborate and corrupt efforts to redistrict the state of Texas and create a permanent Republican majority with an added bonus of nearly comprehensive black disenfranchisement. *

As grim as this is on the national stage, it's just sad and small when it plays out over something like Little League. Little League International will not grant charters to organizations that discriminate. So the Delray (rhymes with "DeLay") Little League established in 1953 was gerrymandered to exclude those neighborhoods that were primarily black. Perfect.

Fifty-five years later, they're finally doing something about it.
"I was very skeptical at first," said Shelly Ann Brewster, whose son, Lamar, plays for the Sand Gnats. "I didn't know where my kid was going to have to go and who he was going to have to play with."
Well, gosh, Shelley Ann. That would be little black kids Lamar will have to play with. He might even have to go to their neighborhoods to do it, from time to time.
Tim Stebbins, a director of Delray National, described it this way: "One builds up all these fears, and then you get to the thing and say, 'Why didn't we do this two centuries ago?'"
What can I say? Res Ipsa Loquitor.

* This bit of political theater actually has some fascinating footnotes (hence this footnote). On the eve of the vote, 52 Democratic members of the Texas House secretly boarded buses for Ardmore, Oklahoma. Powerless to stop Delay's plan and fighting for time, the Dems knew that their only recourse was to deny the Republicans a "quorum" for the vote. They also knew they'd be compelled to attend if they were in town. So, as a group, the "Killer-Ds," as the media dubbed them, lit out for the territory in the middle of the night. Undeterred, Delay used your federal tax dollars to track them down and attempt to force them back to Austin. Pulling the strings from D.C., Delay was hell-bent on building an impervious Texas fortress GOP. The corruption and misappropriations of government funds ultimately found him out. Today is the last day Tom Delay will go to work in the United States Congress. For more information, especially regarding the misuse of the State power to police, see here. Typical of GOP Hubris and stupidity, Delay and his cronies were so confident of success that they never imagined what might happen if Democrats ever regained control: the same desert island to which he tried to banish them would be reserved for him.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ex President Quote of the Day

America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way around. Human rights invented America.

Jimmy Carter

Monday, June 2, 2008