Thursday, November 29, 2007

The YouTube GOP Debate

This was the "debate" that the Republicans almost cancelled several months ago after the Dems had too much fun with it. Questions from a snowman? Oh, they were too grown-up for that. But on Wednesday night, the slightly-winnowed field of Republicans fighting for a chance to lose to a Democrat sucked it up and showed up in Florida to take questions from real and imaginary video people – anything to get their face in front of voters as crunch-time collides with the holiday season.

Immigration – set up and planned as a wedge issue for the party this year – was the subject early on. The first question was to Giuliani about New York being an immigrant "sanctuary city". Rudy denied making NYC a sanctuary city ("Did, too/Did not" exchange with Romney). He actually made fairly sensible arguments for letting immigrant kids go to school, etc., all of which makes him less likely to be the nominee of the rabid GOP. As Romney tried to play tough guy on the issue, Giuliani dropped something I haven’t heard before – that Romney had undocumented workers working on his mansion in Massachusetts (apparently a year-old story in the Boston Globe). Mitt then asked, if you have a company working for you, are you supposed to go out and ask for everybody’s papers? Good question – for the rich, immigration status ignorance is bliss. Even for professionally-constructed tough guys like Romney.

More rabid immigration heavy-breathing questions -- will you allow amnesty? It goes to Fred Thompson, and the heat in the room when Romney and Giuliani were going at it was suddenly sucked out of the room, replaced by the tepid, slow-motion bleatings of a guy who looks like he just woke up. He agreed with the video guy and then made the remarkable admission that "we have all hired people that in retrospect was a bad decision." Really, Fred? Do tell! He doesn’t, of course. You really have to wonder why Thompson bothered getting into this thing. He looks like he wants to be home petting his dog.

John McCain finally got to contribute something 20 minutes into it, denying that his immigration bill was "amnesty" and making a strong statement about the demagogic tone of the immigration discussion. He even brought up border security as a failure like Katrina and Iraq, calling the undocumented "god’s children who need some protection under the law". It was quite a statement – the most human sentiment of the night.
Tancredo then soiled the room by applauding the demagogues. Then he made it worse when the told the next questioner, who needs a guest worker program for his seasonal workers, to go stick it. "I’m not going to aid any more immigration into this country." The equally irrelevant Duncan Hunter then checked in, so proud of his border fence efforts – sez he can do 854 miles in 6 months! Only 1,145 miles to go!

Hitting every immigration hot-button, Huckabee got a question about why he gave resident tuition to the children of the undocumented. Like Giuliani, he gives a good-government answer why those kids should be treated like the other kids who grew up in the state. Romney, for some reason, then gets to slab the red meat back on the grill, saying that his reasoning was "great", but liberals have great ideas, too. "But, Mike, that’s not your money." Ah, the punch-line. No doubt this guy was a great Mormon salesman – set ‘em up and knock ‘em down. Mr. Clean forgot he was up against a real preacher, though. "We are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did," says Huckabee, and Romney slinks back into his cave.

Q5: Now we’re talking – Ron Paul gets a question about Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission conspiracy theories! This is much more entertaining than Kucinich seeing a UFO! Paul surprised no one by actually signing on to the theories as an "ideological battle" between those who believe in "globalism" and those who believe in "national soverignty". He even talks about the reputed Super-Freeway between Mexico and Canada! Beautiful stuff. "Knowledge is out there if you look for it," sez Paul. Boo-yah, Trilateralist enablers! For some reason (wink), none of the other candidates are asked for their opinion on this important topic. CNN: In the Bag for the CFR!

Q6: National debt question to McCain. He attacks his usual spending targets, including S-CHIP, losing the credibility he built up on the immigration question. Next question on the same issue goes to Fred, who someone nudges and momentarily awakens to agree with everyone else and starts riffing on Social Security. OK, Fred – done? Fine, see you in 15 minutes.

Ron Paul finds a way in and says we can save all kinds of money if we just "bring our troops home", to boos and cheers. McCain takes his next opportunity, completely off-topic, to light into Paul for being an isolationist "which caused World War II". Lots of boos for his appeasement smear. Troops say "Let Us Win," says McCain to much applause (he liked that line so much, he repeated it a half-hour later). Paul asks, if that’s the case, why does he get most money from active duty servicemen – a pretty good question if true. He says McCain doesn’t know the difference between isolationism and opposing intervention. Which he probably does, but damned if he’s going to admit it while he’s running for president as the standard bearer of the Stupid War.

After a question on farm subsidies (Iowa suck-up Romney bends like corn in the wind), Anderson Cooper sandbagged Rudy with the breaking story about his billing the city in obscure ways to fund his trips to the Hamptons while he was cheating on his then-wife. Rudy says he had 24-hour security and didn’t have anything to do with the billing. Well, I guess that was good enough for Cooper, who then let it go, but we’ll see where the facts lead on that story.

A woman shows up on a video, waving a lead-based Thomas the Tank Engine toy in front of her kids face. Ack! Thomas! The line of Sir Top-em Hats on the stage nodded knowingly and pledged to buy American.

An ad by the Thompson campaign is played (they all get one) that attacks Romney on abortion and Huckabee on taxes by playing footage of from their past. Although he said he was going to a break, Cooper sees the ad and wakes up Thompson. "What’s up with that," he asks. Stunned – I mean, they did tell him they were going to break – Fred summons up something about those being their own words. Romney "admits" that he used to respect women’s choices but says he was "wrong" back when he was right.

Gun control questions. Oh brother, here we go. Rudy declares an individual right to bear arms (the Supremes have that question now – we’ll see) but almost sanely says there can be reasonable restrictions. Cue boos from gun nuts in crowd. Thompson looks up from his lapel to say that Ruby never met a gun law he didn’t like and declared that "the 2nd Amendment is not a choice thing", one of the less articulate ways of discussing law I’ve heard from a lawyer. The next YouTuber asks all candidates what kinds of guns they own and what kind. Thompson, who last week said his trip to a gun store was like a "day in paradise" said he has a "couple of guns", but wouldn’t (or, more likely, couldn’t) describe them. Hunter got misty about his dad’s gun.

A woman asked what should a woman be charged with if abortion was made illegal? Ron Paul (Motto: Right on the War, Wrong on Everything Else), who says he was an OB doctor, pretty much says go ahead and lock her up. Another asked, if Roe v. Wade was overturned and Congress passed a national ban on abortion, would you sign it? Romney would "be delighted" to sign the bill – "terrific!" he shouts with a spooky smile on his face.

Huckabee, the preacher, excelled on a couple of religious questions, without beating everyone over the head with his beliefs. Asked "What Would Jesus Do?" with the death penalty, he got off the line of the night – "Jesus was too smart to run for public office". But he immediately lost some credibility as when he admitted snuffing several people as governor of Arkansas – after taking all the facts very seriously, of course. Asked in another video by a visibly disturbed young man waving around a bible if they "believe this book", Huckabee went preacher on everyone’s ass in a fairly delightful way, saying that we shouldn’t worry about the rest of the Bible until we get "love your neighbor" and "what you do to the least of us, you do to me" right.

Rudy actually came up with a funny clip, "claiming" he saved the city from King Kong and higher snowfalls. Later, he jokingly took responsibility for four World Series wins by the Yankees.

The best question of the night – booted by all the candidates – was by a Muslim woman, who asked what they would do to repair our image in the Muslim world after the Iraq invasion and the various other Bush foreign policy disasters. Rudy missed the point (on purpose) and said we should "remain on offense against Islamic terrorism" and managed to get in his first mention of 9/11. McCain would continue the surge and fight a date for withdrawal. Hunter would never apologize for what we’ve done. It couldn’t be clearer listening to these responses how wrong all of these men are to restore our image and stature in the world. They don’t think we’ve done anything wrong. They’d probably do it all over again.

As if to drive the nail further in our national-image coffin, Romney announced, proudly, that he would not agree not to waterboard or torture detainees. McCain showed Romney to be the cheap punk that he is, proclaiming that the U.S. should always take the high ground. Romney lamely named the bunch of wrong people he’s getting advice from. McCain said then we would have to withdraw from the Geneva conventions. "We will never allow torture," said McCain, as right about that as he is wrong about Iraq.

So, how long do we stay in Iraq, asked the next video. Fred! "As long as it takes!" "Iran is waiting to fill the vacuum!" Great stuff, isn’t it? Ron Paul said we should let them have their country back. McCain, who knows better, then claimed "American public opinion" made us lose the Vietnam war. This is nuts, but it's what passes for revisionist history on the right.

The biggest line of nonsense came from Duncan Hunter on a question about gays in military. Hunter made the wild claim that most recruits are "conservative" with "family values", and shouldn’t have to hang around a bunch of people who made them uncomfortable. Cooper quoted Romney back to himself when he said "I look forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve openly in the military". Romney seemed to be caught off-guard by that particular flip-flop – I mean, how could he be expected to keep them straight? "Now is not the time," he declared. Well, does he still "look forward to that day", asked Cooper. Apparently not, as Romney tried to disappear behind the podium.

And so on.

So what did we learn after over two hours with the GOP candidates:

1) Fred Thompson is ridiculous. Always looking down into his shirt, speaking in the most unattractively-slow Southern drawl you’ve ever heard. There is a reason Thompson has never played a leading role in a movie or on TV. He is a two-bit character actor, who producers call in when they need someone cranky to sit behind a desk and be a jerk. In real life – as real as these political games get, anyway – he’s bland as Velveeta. He might even be interesting if he were more cranky and more of a jerk. But he doesn’t have it in him.

2) It's hard to watch John McCain. It’s a shame to have someone with his history come up with these brilliant, in-your-face moments on immigration and torture – and then completely blow it with his jingoistic Iraq shtick and his tired quacking about pork-barrel spending. The guy obviously has a sense of humor and a sense of decency. But he negates all his grace by talking up this Stupid War and lying about the last one. What a waste.

3) Rudy Giuliani is not a Republican. He has respect for the good things that government can do, has some idea of government’s limits in controlling personal behavior. He appears to have a good mind for public policy – the best in this field, anyway, but that’s not saying much. He decided to run for President, seeing the dearth of talent that is the Republican field. And he figured he’d run as some sort of tough-on-terror strongman, riding his 9/11/ coattails, and agreed to say "yes" to every goofy GOP proposal they put under his nose, some of which I’m sure he and Kerik used to have good laughs about when they got drunk and watched Pat Robertson talk about the same things on TV.

4) Mitt Romney is playing his role to the hilt. Built from the ground up as the Robo-Candidate, he looks the part, has most of his tough-guy lines down pat, and he’s willing to change even more, if it will get him there. If Republicans want to stay stupid and make the same empty-suit play they did with Bush, he should be the nominee. I'm hoping, anyway.

None of these men will be able to win against whoever the Democratic candidate is. They are all, to one degree or another, too locked in on the wrong side of the war, torture, immigration and the Bush legacy. The American people are looking for a change, and these guys ain’t it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sykes Bravely Fights Coexistence

Charlie Sykes was in high-whine victim mode last week after he was called to task by the Interfaith Council of Greater Milwaukee for re-posting a so-called "parody" of a popular bumper sticker by fellow nut-job Tom McMahon on his vanity blog. The week-long episode featured all of the usual wing-nut defense mechanisms – double standards, attacks on the innocent messenger, lies about those concerned, complaints of "political correctness", etc. In the end, Milwaukee’s Teflon Charlie moves on to the next outrage, with the full blessing of the cowardly Journal Company.

McMahon – a minor player in the kook-right cheddarsphere – took the religious icons that make the word "COEXIST" in the bumper sticker and stuck in a hammer-and-sickle for the "e" and a swastika in place of the Star of David. The idea by McMahon (who Sykes strangely calls "brilliant" in his re-post) is apparently that those who believe in coexistence among people of different faiths are silly and would also choose coexistence over confrontation with Communism and Naziism. This is what passes for humor on the right-wing lunatic fringe. Get it? Ha ha. Ha.

Sykes – who rarely writes more than a couple of sentences, filling up his vanity site with e-mails from his favorite Republicans, Scott Walker and David Clarke, and links to dreck like McMahon, Jessica McBride and the strangely omnipresent Owen Robinson – took most of the heat for McMahon’s juvenile production because of his high mainstream radio (MSR) profile and his corporate sponsor, Journal Communications. After the Interfaith Council wrote to his employer asking that the post be deleted, Sykes basically told the distinguished group of clergy to stick it. Journal Communications, which pretends to be a good corporate citizen, stuck up for their fair-haired wing-nut. "I stand by Charlie’s response," said Sykes’ chief enabler, station GM Jon Schweitzer, who has presided over the transition of TMJ into an all-right-wing-all-the-time GOP propaganda vehicle.

Sykes’ response to the Council was remarkable for its smug sense of pretended outrage and disrespect for the Interfaith Council’s usually uncontroversial membership of reverends, rabbis and priests. Playing the "I come from a Jewish family" card, Sykes waxes indignant about the letter’s accurate description of the parody and the Council’s more-than-legitimate complaint that putting a swastika in the place of a Star of David as particularly offensive. He repeatedly calls the Council members "ignorant", accuses them of "bullying" and even summons up a self-righteous "shame on you". As such recklessly offensive wing-nuts always do when they get caught, Sykes wants to pose for holy pictures on the subject of anti-Semitism. "I have consistently spoken out against anti-Semitism and have been a strong supporter of Israel," and blah blah blah. Well, when it’s convenient for him anyway. He also slings more than a little straw-man mud, calling the Council to task because they supposedly failed to protest "this particular tactic when it has been used by the left," without mentioning that such a thing has never happened.

But Sykes’ primary point in his written response and during the long woe-is-me blabbering on his radio show on Wednesday appears to be that his posting of offensive nonsense on his vanity blog is a "flagrant act of free speech" and he gets to do it and you can’t stop him and na-na-na-boo-boo. "It is free speech that provokes more free speech," he says from his imaginary moral mountaintop. Except when someone disagrees with him, of course. Sykes and his ilk are more than willing to use whatever bully tactics they can to shut down speech at a festival in San Francisco that dares to be held near a Catholic church or to demand that professors who get out of line be fired.

Aw, poor Charlie – for all of his sanctimonious posturing about what anyone else might say, he is so put out by anyone who would dare hold him (or his employer) responsible for his own stupid statements. He declares the Council’s request as an attempt at censorship, conveniently forgetting that only governments censor. There is nothing wrong with concerned citizens who are understandably offended by the in-your-face dancing wing-nuts to ask their employers to get a grip and to avoid unnecessary offense.

Although fully ensconced in his knowing sanctimony and his cozy corporate cocoon, Sykes showed a bit of defensiveness by calling out the usual gang of idiots to offer tactical and predictable support and made sure he summarized all of it in a long post on Thanksgiving Friday. Always-helpful right-wing Marquette professor John McAdams did the dirty work of attacking the Interfaith Council itself for its apparently offensive social agenda of feeding the poor, health care for all and other traditionally religious concerns and for not clearing its members with Nut-Right Inc. Talk about "politically incorrect". The attack-the-messenger-to-get-the-focus-off-the-message tactic is standard stuff for the win-at-all-costs wing-nuts when they can’t win on the underlying issue, which is always. Rick Esenberg likewise gets into his defense-of-the-indefensible mode. Jessica McBride hilariously claims Sykes was being "phony soldiered", meaning, in her usual pretend-world, that lefties were "victimizing" Sykes the same way they supposedly "victimized" Limbaugh when he called all anti-war soldiers "phony". The only thing similar between the two flare-ups is that Limbaugh really did say the offensive thing that we said he did and Sykes really did sign on to an offensive parody. Lefties and Democratic politicians get hammered by wing-nuts through their echo chamber all day, everyday for things they said and didn’t say. But try to parse something out of their stupid mouths and you get more victimhood-squealing than anything the left has ever put together. Note to Sykes: Read your own books, especially the parts about false victimhood, being offended at every little challenge to yourself and excessive whining.

The bottom line on this whole imbroglio is that Sykes, McMahon and all their various defenders are, shockingly, against coexistence. "...there are some things – evils -- that we cannot simply ‘coexist with.’ These would include Communism and Nazism," writes Sykes. Fine, and the COEXIST sticker implies nothing like that, but that’s not the point of the parody. The point of the parody was that McMahon’s "lefties in Madison" whose cars bear the COEXIST sticker (by the way, there are plenty of them around here) are a bunch of naive nincompoops who are silly to think that we should all at least try to get along – or "sing Kumbaya", as Sykes puts it. To these deluded few, Islam - the faith of billions that happens to include a small minority of violent nut-bags - is the enemy. They prefer permanent war to peace – and a holy war, at that. That's the real shame and the real scandal. Stomping your feet and holding your breath until you turn blue about "free speech" and "political correctness" doesn’t change the fact that you are just plain wrong.

P.S.: And what is so bad about Kumbaya, anyway? It happens to be a great summer camp sing-along, and a religious one at that (Someone’s praying Lord...). I’ll take that over Lee Greenwood’s pathetic "God Bless the USA" (I always wondered about this: "where at least I know I’m free." "At least"? It’s like he’s miserable but "at least..." The guy seems to have other issues, does he not?). I think one response to this should be that more people get the COEXIST sticker and put it on their car. I get my favorite bumper stickers here in Milwaukee at the Peace Action of Wisconsin office in Riverwest, at 1001 E. Keefe.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shepherd Express: The Lost Opportunity

It’s always uncomfortable to criticize local artists – that’s why virtually no one does it. You want your local singer-songwriter to succeed, so you forgive him the occasionally maudlin 12-string finger-picking whine about the last lost love. It’s the same with efforts to force an alternative or leftist perspective into the national or local conversation through various media; you let slide the single-issue tirade about free trade in Peru or whatever. After all they mean well, don’t they? There’s no use treating locals like some national target like Dave Matthews or Chris Matthews, nor should they necessarily be held to the same standards.

But, then there’s Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express.

The Shepherd Express – what passes for an alternative weekly in Milwaukee – is celebrating its 25th anniversary in this week’s issue. Its history is an interesting one, as are most of the spontaneous journalistic "happenings" that rose up across the country during the cultural revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s. After Milwaukee’s earlier attempts at weekly counter-cultural media capitalism and creativity – Kaleidoscope (1967-71) and the Bugle American (1970-78) – went the way of the love bead, it left Milwaukee without a place to advertise bong shops, record stores and youth-oriented bars.

According to the history of the paper in the anniversary issue, the then-Crazy Shepherd was started in 1982 as an arty "free-expression" eight-pager featuring UW-Milwaukee students with things on their open minds and soon evolved to (try to) fill the void. Through the years, there were mergers, staff coups, rides to the financial rescue and the usual sorts of alternative intrigue. A former state legislator, Louis Fortis, is credited in the history as the latest savior and has run the paper for the past ten years.

The history in the current issue, I’m sure, has many past staffers pulling their hair out, as the vanquished always do, when history is defined by the victors. For instance, many of Milwaukee’s best journalists have passed through (and, always, out of) the Shepherd editorial doors, including Milwaukee Magazine editor Bruce Murphy. I wonder how Murphy feels about his exit as editor being described as follows: "...his desire to cover softer news didn’t mesh with the paper’s long history of serious political reporting." Murphy always being one of the city’s best political reporters and the SE containing no "serious" political reporting that I can see, that must come as a shock to him.

I have no knowledge or interest in any of the people or soap-operas that evolved the Shepherd and that always follow ground-up, grow-on-the-fly alternative (or, too often, formerly alternative) weeklies. My interest is as a consumer. I want a damn decent rag to pick up with my lunch every Wednesday or Thursday so I can get some perspective I can’t get elsewhere in the dead-tree universe. Being the ever-forgiving sort, I always open each new Shepherd Express with hope for a new day, for redemption, for anything – anything – substantial and worthwhile between its pages. I am always disappointed. In fact, it’s always depressing.

Sorry, but the Shepherd’s few redeeming qualities – Joel McNally’s column and fellow former-John Byrons bartender Owen "Casey" Dunne’s clever growing-up cartoon, You Damn Kid – don't quite make up for the stuff that usually makes up the rest of the paper.
  • The problems begin with each week's cover page, which often highlights the most ridiculous of stories – "Dude, Where’s My Vacation?"; "Are Gadgets an Addiction?", to name only a couple of the most recent -- with cheesy, amatuerish graphics.
  • Inside, the paper seems frozen in a bad ‘80s layout, with content plastered on the page in read-it-or-leave-it indifference. The SE experimented for a couple of years with handing over several of the middle-back pages to younger demographic Gen-Y’ers with a flippant indifference to the regular Shepherd layout, but, alas, still, with little to say.
  • The paper has always been hampered by personalities who were of historic significance or friends to the Shepherd staff, but had little to offer the rest of us. The most tedious of these was Dave Berkman, a UWM professor who wrote a ponderous media column for decades and was bounced a couple of years ago.
  • But Rip Tenor in his alter-ego as columnist Art Kumbalek also tries our patience on a regular basis – how many years has it been since "what the fock?" was funny? The sad state of the SE is exemplified by the fact that Tenor-as-Kumbalek regularly acts as the Shepherd's cuddly mascot in area bars.
  • Too often, the personal staff indulgences are just embarrassing. Take the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard annoyance of social butterflies Boris and Doris, who some misbegotten editor at the SE apparently thinks are interesting as they relate who went to what Eastside house party or benefit or whatever – complete with the revelers’ names bold-faced. I keep hoping it’s a parody, but it’s not.
  • The paper recently added a regular travel column that hardly expands our knowledge of the world ("Jamaica and Arizona are perfect winter destinations"! "Wisconsin Dells Dazzles"!).
  • The arts and entertainment pages suffer from inconsistency of what to cover and an apparent lack of writing talent to cover it. Sometimes, concerts will be reviewed after the fact, most times not. Reviews of CDs seem to be governed by the niche interests of whoever is writing the review (says the former Fine Arts writer who used to hog all the Costello and Springsteen reviews back at the Cardinal). There is a focus on local artists and under-covered areas like theater, dance and classical get their due, but the writers seldom are able to express anything but admiration for the effort.
  • I can’t remember the last time I was able to get through a Dave Luhrssen movie review.
  • I mean, most "alternative" papers are at least able to get the fine arts stuff right. The Shepherd arts coverage suffers badly in comparison to the Onion, which managed to produce top-flight movie and music reviews even before it went national. Even the Onion's local content is far better written and more interesting.
  • The "news" pages, such as they are, consist of a bits-and-pieces review of the previous week and whatever cover-feature story dominates the issue. The paper seems reluctant to take a firm stand on anything and hasn't broken a major news story in Milwaukee since, well, never. It offers oh-so-serious endorsements during election season, with no indication the rest of the year why we should care what the Shepherd thinks.
  • Every damn article in the non-A&E parts of the paper ends with a juvenile "what’s your take?" tag-line. It kind of takes the edge off of, say, a Joe Conason column (Conason’s OK, but he’s no Molly Ivins – R.I.P.). We all know we can write to the editor. Why mess with the flow of McNally's annual anti-deer-hunting column by having the editor barge in at the end asking for comment?
  • The new back-page classifieds is titled Bizarre Bazaar. Really. How bizarre is it, man? Is this the best we can do with ironic dissonance after 25 years?

I don’t mean to be so hard on the Shepherd Express. I always assume that – except for the inclusion of Boris and Doris – they are trying to do their best. But holding the mantle of the alternative weekly in a major city carries with it some responsibility. The internet now allows us to get some alternative perspective into play, but it’s nothing like the power of a well-distributed newspaper with a full-time staff.

If Madison can produce a quality product like Isthmus (its hard-news section led, not coincidentally, by Shepherd veteran Bill Lueders), Milwaukee should be able to pull together something that at least is not a laughing stock – or vulnerable to rear-guard attacks like the Journal Company’s frivolous but youth-demographic-targeted MKE. As it is, the Shepherd Express exists as a placeholder in the market, like an upscale Weekly Shopper. It could and should be so much more.

Ahem. What's your take?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mukasey and the Rack

In Washington Wednesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey took the helm of the criminally-damaged Justice Department. President Bush was there to put his stamp of approval on his latest hire, as were John Ashcroft and Dick Thornberg, but, strangely, no Alberto Gonzalez. Muskasey, the federal judge who rubber-stamped every abuse of the Constitution imagined by the Bushies, now is in charge of the lame-duck administration’s last-ditch assaults on the Constitution, and appears up to the job. The only question is how much more of a mess the Democrats will have to clean up in ‘09, when they take charge and clean the dirty floors and files of a Justice Department as off-the-rails as the rest of the administration, if not more so.

The big issue in Mukasey’s confirmation hearings was "waterboarding", that time-honored torture technique that has regained favor in Bush and Cheney’s anything-goes war on humanity. Mukasey was more than slippery on the issue, pretending that he didn’t know enough about the ungodly procedure to make a judgement call on its appropriate use. You could see Dick Cheney nodding with pride in his office as the pliant former judge morphed into the pliant AG. You see, if it’s good enough for the Spanish Inquisition and the Khmer Rouge, it should be good enough for us. I mean, if we act like respectable humans, the terrorists win, right?

I always wondered why all this focus on pussy-footed techniques used by our wayward 21st-century interrogators, like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the cold cell. The answer appears to be that your government favors torture that does not leave visible scars. But, if it’s really a matter of national security and the safety of millions of Americans, as torture advocates claim, why not let it all hang out? Hell, someone has information about the nuking of New York City? Why not thumb screws? The Iron Maiden? The Rack? What are we fooling around for? Let ‘em have it!

These are the questions that should have been asked of our latest Bush AG. Mr. Mukasey, how do you feel about the Rack? Do you think we should be allowed to use it? After all, the fate of millions hangs in the balance. Come on, judge. What about the Rack?

Chances are, Mukasey wouldn’t have answered that question either. "The Rack? Gee, I don’t know whether that is torture or not." He might quote Saint Giuliani: "It depends on how it’s done and who’s doing it." Any answer other than equivocation is considered weak or, at least limiting. You could imagine Cheney storming into the green room if Mukasey vacillated, his face red with rage. "Why the hell did you say that about the Rack?!!" he would mutter in twisted rage.

Well, with Mukasey now ensconced in the Gonzalez Memorial chair at the Justice Department, he doesn’t have to answer all those damn questions any more. As with all the Bush appointees, his ability to get away with outrages is limited only by the occasionally annoying squealing of those underlings with a conscience, of which there are fewer in Washington everyday. In his limited time in office, Mukasey’s charge will be to help Bush further stack the federal judiciary with weak sycophants (like Mukasey himself) and to fill the Justice Department civil service with more recruits from nut-right universities and "think"-tanks.

In Mukasey, Bush and Cheney have obviously found a kindred spirit. In discussing the "difficulty" of prosecuting accused terrorists, Mukasey wrote in the Bush-friendly pages of the Wall Street Journal "...the rules that apply to routine criminals who pursue finite goals are skewed, and properly so, to assure that only the highest level of proof will result in a conviction. But those rules do not protect a society that must gather information about, and at least incapacitate, people who have cosmic goals that they are intent on achieving by cataclysmic means."

Translation: We should not have to prove guilt in the most serious of cases like it’s some damn retail theft. I’ve wondered about the logic of these over-heated meatheads who insist that regular Constitutional protections are just too much when it comes to terrorism suspects. Alright, you say the guy’s a terrorist. Why? What’s your proof? Just prove it and you can do whatever you want to him. What’s so wrong with making you prove it? Putting all these people in this we-can’t-even-tell-you-why-we-think-you’re-bad Kafkaesque limbo is a large part of why the rest of the world has become alienated from us during the glorious Bush years. We have gone from one of the most legally fair countries in the world to a international legal pariah overnight.

By contributing to this bastard "intellectual" aberration, Mukasey fits right in. But I still want to know if he supports the Rack.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pervez and Neil -- No Brother Left Behind

In Pakistan, the oppressed have taken to the streets to fight the imposition of martial law by G.W. Bush’s self-described friend, Pervez Musharraf. They are being rounded up by the hundreds, and still more take their place. Their leader, placed under house arrest by the power-mad leader, has called for them to continue their struggle. Video has shown pitched battles in the streets of Islamabad, with the protesters being beaten by Musharraf’s goons. And what group is leading the charge against the suspension of the constitution and the clampdown in this supposed U.S. partner?


Yes, lawyers. "The lawyers have been the only force in the country to mount protests since Saturday night," reported the New York Times. The well-dressed revolt was spurred on by the chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was deposed by Musharraf hours before the court was about to rule that he could not run in the next election and must step down as Pakistan’s leader. "Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice," urged Chaudry. "The constitution has been ripped to shreds...Don't be afraid." The photos and videos of protesters in suits and ties were as strange as they were heartening. "How do you function as a lawyer when the law is what the general says it is?" said one Pakistani barrister.

How, indeed? It almost makes one wonder why lawyers in the United States haven’t ditched their briefcases for protest signs, given the assault on the rule of law by the Bush Administration. Bush doesn’t have to fire the Supreme Court that put him in office in the first place and that has been so friendly to his program of indefinite detention, the practical elimination of habeas corpus and unprecedented executive secrecy, so there is less of a crisis atmosphere. It does sort of make you wonder what Cheney would have tried to pull with a less politicized and pliant judiciary. If Bush and Co. were really bold, it could be said that Musharraf’s recent antics are just a trial run for the American junta in 2008 – the bloodless coup by those who just won’t leave. Don’t think they haven’t thought about it.

Musharraf uses the excuse of his phony "war" on "extremists" and the resulting need for "security" to excuse his self-preserving crackdown. Sound "familiar"? That’s why Bush shrugs his shoulders and says to the clever slug who sucked $10 billion out of our gulible presdient and delivered nothing: "You ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform." That’s tellin’ him, tough guy. So much for Junior’s democracy agenda – a phony conceit to begin with, especially if it proves to be inconvenient.


Speaking of inconvenient, Neil Bush is back in the news. The president’s younger brother held the title of black sheep of the family before Junior got him off the hook by being the worst president in U.S. history. He embarrassed his father when he was president by getting caught up in the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s, barely avoiding indictment (but didn’t they all?). The details of his divorce from his wife featured tales of Asian prostitutes and his soon-to-be ex stealing hair from his head for either drug tests or voodoo experiments, depending on which version you believe. A delightful review of Neil's history of bufoonery is here.

Now, Neil Bush appears to be benefitting from his brotherly connections by creating a sham product that magically gets money from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fiasco and, believe it or not, Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. Using a company that started up – no surprise here – with money from his ever-protective mom and dad, Neil’s job these days is to promote something called Curriculum on Wheels (COW). Various school districts across the country including, naturally, Texas and Florida have spent NCLB money on COW.

The problem is that the program has been determined to be educationally worthless by those stuffy educational types that demand that public money be spent on worthwhile things. Jay Spuck, a former curriculum director for the Houston school district that spent $300,000 on the overpriced junk, said "It’s not helping kids at all. It’s not helping teachers. The only way Neil has gotten in is by his name." Better yet, "the Katy Independent School District west of Houston used $250,000 in state and federal Hurricane Katrina relief money last year to buy the Curriculum on Wheels," according to the New York Times. And Babs Bush herself gave eight of the useless COW units to other schools with large numbers of Katrina evacuees.

Supposedly, the Department of Education is looking into all this and we breathlessly await their whitewashed report. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that another Bush is bungling up another business and getting bailed out by the usual suspects. The last time one of the Bush boys was looking for something to do, you know what happened. Let’s hope Neil is able to keep his job so we don’t have to go through that again.

Neil Bush’s antics, though, do raise an interesting point about the difference between what the right-wing is willing to do with information and what the left is unwilling and unable to do. If Neil Bush was even a second cousin Clinton or Rodham, I wouldn’t have to explain his history here – everyone would know because those expert in the politics of personal destruction would have made sure every detail got out into the MSM through daily repetition of the foibles of this damaged family member in the right-wing echo chamber.

But lefties can’t or won’t do that. I think it’s because we play fairer – we can’t bring ourselves to harp on the frailties of others, unless it effects public actions. That spoiled greedheads like Neil Bush would take advantage of government funds made available by his brother’s government privatization campaign comes as no surprise. We mention it here or there and move on. Even if we wanted to make him a national laughing stock – as deserving as his is – we don’t have the platforms to make it happen.

Besides, with Junior still in office, we’ve already laughed ourselves sick. It’s not funny anymore.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Blogger-Block Beaten Back

I know, I know...I haven’t blogged for a while. But I meant to. I really did.

For instance, I was going to write something about the high-pitched whining emanating from every corner of the cheddar rightersphere about the compromises necessary to achieve a state budget in Wisconsin.

It wasn’t enough that the wing-nuts used their large, obnoxious megaphones to save their pliant puppet Republican Assembly the petty and significant indignities of having to answer for their obstructionist program that delayed what was basically the same budget for an embarrassing – not to mention expensive – three months. Any other (i.e.: Democratic) legislature that pulled such a vacant stunt would have been impaled on the spear of public opinion at the first hint of higher property taxes because of last year’s numbers on anything.

Nope, helping their lackeys escape unscathed after showboating over the budget wasn’t enough – then they had to screech for weeks after the fact because the compromise did not meet their exacting standards. The self-appointed pure get to squawk on the sidelines while half of their confused followers do the impure thing by moving on with Wisconsin government. November 2008 can’t come soon enough, both locally and nationally. The only question is how many of the Republicans in the Assembly will quit before they are fired by the electorate.

Last week, I tried to cure my blogger-block by watching the Democratic presidential debate. As expected, John Edwards and Tim Russert did their best to take Hillary Clinton down a few notches, and might have managed to do so, with the still-lofty Barack Obama picking up the spare change.

For the most part, the debate featured more of the same tedious stagecraft that has dominated joint appearances like this since Reagan avoided sure defeat by "quipping" about not taking advantage of Mondale’s youth when Mondale had him on the ropes after their first debate in 1984. The whole circus makes one yearn for the days when they woke up Nixon just in time for his debate with JFK. Kennedy was also just getting out of bed, but that’s a different story.

Still, when watching the Dems debate, you might actually learn something – which is never a danger with the Republicans. Where Republicans dig deeper holes for themselves in the general election by naked base-pandering, the Democrats are more thinking beings with their own intact, personal and more legitimate world views, if they are not always best able or prepared to make it all evident to the general public. Clinton’s strength is that she is almost as much of a policy geek as her husband (I said almost). Hillary and Bill have spent their entire adult lives – together – trying to figure out how to make people’s lives better through government and it shows.

The command of the issues that has vaulted and kept her in the lead is complete, even if her expression of them is often over-consulted and reserved. Clinton walks the earth with the front-runner’s curse; damned if she is careful, measured and option-preserving and damned if she would cast aside those damn consultants and let it fly. She’ll be able to draw stark enough contracts with the GOP candidate in the general and with all of those clowns pretty much just promising to stay the disastrous Bush course in Iraq and elsewhere, that should be more than enough.

Any of the other contending Democrats would be fine, but their limitations are magnified in these appearances. For all of his "baby boomers, get over yourselves" new-generation rhetoric, Obama is too Kumbaya to play with the big boys – at least this year. His heart and his head definitely and permanently in the right place, he has yet to find his true voice as a leader. John Edwards pulled out his best trial lawyer shtick in this debate, hitting Clinton’s easiest targets without adding much for himself. Edwards is so effective at this kind of stuff, he may end up helping the Republicans – a whole bunch of the lesser wing-nut bloggers have linked to his YouTube ad picking apart Clinton’s hemming-and-hawing. As much as I can appreciate a good lawyer kicking ass, that kind of skill only goes so far.

As for "the others" (as they used to call them on Gilligan’s Island), I have always liked Joe Biden, who has played the Angry Establishment Man as well as anybody over the last several years. His performances on Sunday talk shows and in these debates are always entertaining; his biting analysis of Bush’s legendary shortcomings – especially in foreign policy – are tinged with delightful sarcasm and a dark sense of humor.

At the Dem debate last Tuesday, Biden proved to be the most prescient of the candidates on one of the most vital issues. While Clinton walks in unfortunate stride on the outer fringes of the Iran War caucus, Biden got it more right than he could have imagined: "What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out of control Pakistan? It's not close." With martial law coming to Islamabad this weekend, it puts much of the real Middle East in perspective – who our "friends" are, or should be.

Finally, speaking of lesser wing-nut bloggers, I also missed the opportunity to comment on the minor flare-up caused by an anonymous lefty blogger calling Jessica McBride a bad name. In doing so, that guy broke a couple of common sense rules: 1) it is decidedly sexist and un-feminist to call anyone gender-specific derogatory names, and 2) never, ever put McBride in the position of being a martyr – she wears it too well. However, conservatives shouldn’t get too huffy about using gender-specific derogatory terms – you won’t have to look too deep on FreeRepublic and other nut-right sites to find all kinds of nasty, sexist names thrown at a certain future president.