Monday, March 26

Fucking a Popsicle, you just shrivel up

Some buddies and I have been arguing about Franklin Foer's 2005 article in TNR, Swimming With the Sharks, about how Republicans develop their ratfucking and election-stealing tricks when running for national office for the College Republicans. It's a fascinating story, and frightening, if you believe that democracy and the rule of law are the ways to run a nation. The College Republicans don't have much use for democracy and rule of law.

We've had quite a debate about this article via email, with one Republican virtually covering his ears and saying, "Shutupshutupshutup!" to our superior liberal firepower. I hope he strives to understand what's so dangerous about the Republican ruling junta. Here's what I would tell him if he would remove his hands from his eyes and ears and listen for a few minutes:

There's a difference between taking bribes and subverting democracy.

Most college students spend their spring breaks getting laid (Democrats), trying to get laid (Republicans) or working full-time instead of the usual part-time (working-class kids like me). The point of Foer's article is that members of the College Republican National Committee fashion their spring breaks as laboratories to develop their skills for ratfucking, dirty tricks, slander and vote-stealing. Later, in elections out in the real world, you end up with Republican candidates who benefit from ratfucking, dirty tricks, slander and vote-stealing. The corruption of the College Republicans' electoral process is a feature, not a bug. It's practice for local, state and national elections.

The College Democrats just don't operate that way. That's why there hasn't been a Democratic counterpart to the likes of Donald Segretti, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove.

Atwater died (thank god) of a painful brain cancer, but not before he repented for the evil he had done. Karl Rove is destined to expire of a coronary while having his rectum reamed by a pre-op tranny with a Marine flat-top, so any last confession will be mumbled into a saliva-drenched pillow and lost to posterity.

The national convention of the College Republican National Committee is a virtually all-male affair where the big prize goes to the guy who does the best job of dreaming up creative ways to fuck the other guys. Politically, I mean. Just as with the 9/11 hijackers who spent their last night in one another's cozy company in a hotel room with a cloth draped over a painting of a scantily clad woman, the Republicans' guiding motivation stems from repressed homoeroticism and general sexual frustration. Hence the marriages to Popsicles such as Pat, Nancy and Laura, or to hormonally imbalanced, bug-eyed bitches like Barbara. Dick, Ronnie, George and George should have got out more when they were younger, married someone who moves her hips a little when she fucks.

If there's good and bad in both parties, why have Democrats been the targets of more than 80 percent of the federal prosecutions for political corruption under the Bush administration, when under previous administrations, it was about 50 percent? Why was Carol Lam dusted the week after she targeted Dusty Foggo? Why was David Iglesias pushed out when he declined to indict Democrats before the 2006 election because he lacked evidence? Why was Rove acolyte Bud Cummins appointed in Little Rock? Why was there so much foot-dragging in the New Hampshire phone-jamming case, and was the prosecution's bungling an accident?

If you don't know what I'm talking about, find another channel besides Fox News.

Look, there's nothing wrong with being conservative, just as there's nothing wrong with having any other mental handicap. But if you're a conservative and you're truly a patriot, you'll do something to take your party back from scoundrels such as Rove. At the next election, knock on doors. Hand out flyers. Make phone calls. Hold signs at rallies. And demand that your fellow volunteers -- and everyone in the candidate's organization, all the way to the top political advisers -- conduct themselves in exemplary fashion, as benefits a democracy.

Saturday, March 17

Attack of the resume padders

Hullaballoo's Poputonian excerpts a Vermont wingnut's defense of the Bush administration. The wingnut, a lawyer, opines in an op-ed piece:

I spent more than 15 hours researching the specific allegations outlined to support the impeachment resolutions in order to determine their accuracy, because I concluded that if Democrats and Progressives are seeking such a profound change without an election, the facts which are the basis for the proposals must be serious and well documented.
I can picture her, grimly "concluding" that … er … what exactly did she "conclude?" It's hilarious to picture this lawyer marshaling facts to "conclude" whether or not, as the Declaration of Independence says, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Way to go, counselor! Good research there! And it gets better as she jumps to more and more "conclusions":
The conclusion of my research: Every single one of the "facts" upon which the resolutions are based is false and misleading.
First, the impeachment documents claim that the president or vice president "lied" in six specific instances about the magnitude of the threat from Iraq. Each one of those six claims is false.
That's the extent of the documentation of her "research" into Bush's and Cheney's lies about the supposed threat of Iraq.

But what I really want to talk about is what she does later in the op-ed. She does something dishonest in a way that many Americans don't even recognize anymore as dishonesty. I call it resume padding. Perhaps there's a better term for this phenomenon, because resume padding almost never involves resumes. "Bullshitting" doesn't quite cover the concept, although bullshitting is an important part of resume padding.

The Vermont lawyer is guilty of two counts of resume padding in the following assertions:

A second claim that senior military officials condoned the abuses at Abu Ghraib has no factual support whatsoever. Indeed, the abuses were discovered and prosecuted by the military, and strongly condemned by the president.
The claim that the president engaged in illegal wiretapping in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court's requirements is unsupported by any factual evidence. … Moreover, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act law provides for both criminal and civil remedies for illegal wiretapping. There has not been one civil case filed on behalf of any specific victim of alleged illegal wiretapping, and there have been no criminal prosecutions of violations by the Bush administration of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act law.
First, she says that you can't blame the torture at Abu Ghraib on senior officers (or, she neglects to say, on the president and senior civilian Pentagon officials such as Donald Rumsfeld) because low-level enlisted people were prosecuted, and the torture was "strongly condemned by the president."
Call the first one the Inspector Renault defense: The president, secretary of defense and top generals were shocked, shocked by the torture at Abu Ghraib. Then she says that the president couldn't have engaged in illegal wiretapping because no one has sued the government or prosecuted anyone within the government.

Pay close attention, because this is what resume padders do. It's how they justify the evil that they do.

They elevate words far above actions when defending themselves. But when attacking you, actions suddenly are more important than words, as they should always be.

She says the president didn't condone torture because after it was discovered, he condemned it. The victims of illegal wiretapping haven't sued, so it's not illegal and no one minded.

You've been on the receiving end of resume padding. It happened when you were a recipient of poor service at a store. When you objected, the manager told you, "No one has ever complained about this before."

The word -- lack of complaints in the past -- takes precedence over action -- the poor customer service in the present.

The Rude Pundit correctly recognizes resume padding as evil. He writes about a pseudonymous friend, Jasper, who, back in the Big Eighties, worked at a nursing home.
Jasper pointed out a few of the nurses and attendants on visits there. One or two of them sometimes slapped patients, Jasper said, although nothing was done when they were reported because there was no evidence and the old lady with dementia wasn't going to talk. The rest, they were fuck-ups, who wouldn't do their jobs right, leaving patients unwiped, unturned, unmedicated, only kicking into high gear when supervisors were there or when an inspection was imminent. Jasper could excuse them, saying they were untrained, they weren't trying to hurt anyone, they just wanted to keep their jobs.
There was no evidence. The old lady with dementia wouldn't talk. Without the words, the actions just disappeared. This is an insidious way of looking at the world, and it is spreading.
The Rude Pundit didn't buy it. Sure, maybe if they were working the fryer at Buger King. But not here. See, he told Jasper, if you can't do the work that you're supposed to do where lives are at stake and you keep fucking it up, then at some point you cross a line from being a functioning idiot to simply being cruel. Whether you like it or not. And if you're the one doing it, you don't get to fucking judge it. In other words, Nurse X might say she didn't mean to let someone's bedsores get infected with bacteria from shit, but if her neglect, both passive and active, allows it to happen again and again, then she isn't just stupid, but mean, working only to maintain whatever power and money the job gives her.
The Rude Pundit is getting at something vitally important. To Nurse X, the most important thing was her intention -- her words. Her actions were secondary. A person like Nurse X will defend herself vehemently and self-righteously, telling you to judge her by her words, her intentions, not by her actions or the harm she causes.

Fred Clark's blog, Slacktivist, dwells a lot on the resume-padding phenomenon, although he has never used that phrase as far as I know. Witness his recent post about people who believe that disagreements are all about attitude (words), and not about facts (actions). Or his post before that, in which he points out that, for evangelical Christians, the crucial thing is to identify oneself as Christian, and it's not important to do anything Christian, such as helping the oppressed. Or the post before that, one of his deconstructions of the anti-Christian Left Behind books, in which he points out that conservative evangelicals preach "justification by faith, rather than by works."

Too many of us stress faith over works. We would rather tell people that we are good, rather than do good.

Tuesday, March 13

Time line of the U.S. attorneys firing scandal

The Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys isn't easy to understand. The elevator-pitch version goes like this: Using the Global War on Terror™ as an excuse, the administration pushed through a change in the law that allows the president to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. The White House recited an endless litany of baseless complaints of Democratic vote fraud during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. Under cover of these complaints, Bush's closest lieutenants pushed out eight U.S. attorneys -- most of them for not indicting Democrats on trumped-up vote fraud charges, or for at least not leaking information about investigations of Democrats in time to tamper with elections. One of Bush's lieutenants was Harriet Miers, who he briefly nominated to be a justice on the Supreme Court.

Shorter elevator pitch: George Bush politicized the Justice Department to persecute Democrats.

This time line will be a continuing project. It is incomplete and needs items such as the date of Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

February 2005: Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, suggests to D. Kyle Sampson, Alberto Gonzales's chief of staff, that all 93 U.S. attorneys be dismissed and replaced.

February 2005: Alberto Gonzales approves the idea of firing "a smaller group of U.S. attorneys."

March 2005: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff for Alberto Gonzales, emails Harriet Miers, the White House chief counsel, that ranks all 93 U.S. attorneys. According to the Washington Post: "Strong performers 'exhibited loyalty' to the administration; low performers were 'weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.' A third group merited no opinion. At least a dozen prosecutors were on a 'target list' to be fired at one time or another, the e-mails show."

Oct. 3, 2005: Bush nominates Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor.

Oct. 27, 2005: Bush withdraws the Miers nomination, based mostly on opposition from conservatives and Senate requests for documents relating to Miers's work for the White House. Bush later nominates Samuel Alito to replace O'Connor.

January 2006: D. Kyle Sampson writes to Harriet Miers: "I recommend that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys. … [a] limited number of U.S. attorneys could be targeted for removal and replacement, mitigating the shock to the system that would result from an across the board firing."

January 2006: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff for Alberto Gonzales, sends the White House a list of seven candidates for dismissal. Four of them are gone by year's end: Margaret Chiara of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Bud Cummins of Little Rock; Carol Lam of San Diego, and Kevin Ryan in San Francisco.

March 2006: The USA Patriot Act is renewed. It allows the attorney general to name interim replacements for U.S. attorneys, without Senate confirmation.

Sept. 17, 2006: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, sends the White House a list of nine U.S. attorneys to be fired. He says one, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, is "in the process of being pushed out." Cummins and four others on the list are fired by year's end. He adds that the administration should eschew Senate confirmation of the replacements because "we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House."

October 2006: D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, adds David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, to the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired, based on complaints from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) that Iglesias wasn't prosecuting enough vote fraud cases.

October 2006: In a conversation with Alberto Gonzales, Bush mentions complaints about vote fraud investigations.

Dec. 7, 2006: Seven U.S. attorneys are fired. William Kelley, deputy to White House counsel Harriet Miers, writes that Domenici's chief of staff "is happy as a clam" about the firing of Iglesias.

Dec. 14, 2006: Sampson writes in an email that "Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias's body to cool)."

January 2007: Harriet Miers resigns as White House counsel.

March 12, 2007: Alberto Gonzales's chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, resigns "after acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress."

Sunday, March 11

Onward, Christian liar

I once met a guy who was an astronomer at a science museum. One of his main duties was speaking to groups of schoolchildren. Occasionally, groups of Christian homeschoolers visited. The parents would pull my acquaintance aside, and whisper: "Can you please leave out the stuff about the universe being billions of years old? We're believers in the Bible, and the Bible teaches us that the universe is 6,000 years old. That's what we're teaching our children."

Reminds me of a comedy routine -- maybe it was Steve Martin -- where the comedian brainstormed a diabolical idea: teach your kid that brown is called "red," and that red is called "green," and so on. Then have fun when the kid goes to kindergarten and makes a fool of himself.

All parents lie to their children, whether it's about the tooth fairy or why Spot disappeared. Many of these lies are harmless. But right-wing Christianists specialize in telling the most hurtful lies -- and not only to their children. They also enjoy taking advantage of vulnerable, pregnant girls and women. Our tax dollars go to pay for the distribution of these harmful lies.

Emily Minor reports in the Palm Beach Post that "faith-based pregnancy centers," where "counselors" are paid to lie to pregnant women so they won't get abortions, outnumber legitimate counseling centers and abortion clinics:

Abortion opponents are running thousands of centers, called crisis pregnancy centers — dispensing everything from baby clothes to free ultrasound pictures to prayer. There are as many as 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. and about 130 in Florida.
By comparison, about 1,800 centers in the U.S. provide abortions.

Florida contributes $2 million a year to pay for billboards, radio ads and training for these Christianist "counselors," and the state pays some crisis pregnancy centers $50 for each hour of face time that a "counselor" spends with a pregnant client. The state gives these Christianist pregnancy centers $4 for each phone call they receive.

The thing is, these "counselors" lie. They're so crooked they need corkscrews to put their clothes on in the morning. Minor writes:
The responsibilities of single parenting might be oversimplified. Counselors often connect abortion and breast cancer, even though today's leading medical researchers do not. Some activists tell women there's a good chance they'll miscarry after an abortion, and perhaps never have a baby at all.

And they push the rhythm method of birth control.

An abortion clinic in West Palm Beach asked clients if they had been to a crisis pregnancy center, and if so, what they were told. Only four women have filled out reports so far. One wrote: "(They) told me I could die from an abortion, that I would never have kids, preached religion, told me I should have the baby and put it up for adoption, told me I had a formed baby and how it was a sin."

Most of these places tell women that they'll get breast cancer if they get abortions, contrary to establish medical belief.

Right-wing Christians have a curious aversion to the truth. They know they lie, but they believe lying is the Christian thing to do. What would Jesus do? He would lie his head off, all day, every day, according to Christianists. Age of the universe? 6,000 years, according to the Christianists.. Global warming a problem? A bunch of nonsense, according to the Christianists.. Evolutionary biology is the most believable and useful theory of the development of life? All bullshit, according to the Christianists.

Right-wing Christians are not merely filling their children's heads with nonsense, setting up the poor youngsters for ridicule and dissillusionment when they get older. Christianists are filling up our discourse with lies. They do all of us harm. And taxpayers are paying them to do it.

Stop snitching

Police in minority neighborhoods are confronting "the spread of the gangland code of silence, or omerta, from organized crime to the population at large," according to Jeremy Khan in the April issue of The Atlantic.

This code of silence is summed up by the motto "stop snitching," seen on caps and T-shirts and heard in songs. "The metastasis of this culture of silence in minority communities has been facilitated by a gradual breakdown of trust in the police and the government," Khan writes. He traces it to the use of informants against groups such as the Black Panthers, as well as against low-level drug dealers in the War on Drugs.

Khan adds: "The growing culture of silence helps to legitimize witness intimidation."

He also mentions timing: Arrest and conviction rates for violent crimes have fallen since the late 1990s. "At the same time, crime has spiked," he writes. "Murder rates have risen more or less steadily since 2000."

To sum up, three things have happened since 2000: The culture of "stop snitching" has spread, witness intimidation has become the norm, and violent crime has skyrocketed.

Now, why could that be?

Let's go back to Nov. 2, 2000 -- five days before the presidential election. WPXT, a Fox station in Portland, Maine, reported that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunken driving in Kennebunkport in 1976. CNN reported: "Bush said the timing of the initial news report, just days before Americans elect a new president, was 'interesting.' When asked where the story may have originated, he said, 'I've got my suspicions.'"

His suspicions. You have "suspicions" about wrongdoing. No one says they have "suspicions" that someone did something laudatory.

Message from the president-to-be: Stop snitching.

Seventeen days later, a few dozen angry Republican operatives flew from D.C. to Miami and engaged in the infamous Brooks Brothers Riot. They chanted "Stop the fraud!" and "Let us in!" when vote counters at Miami-Dade County election headquarters tried to move from one room to another. The vote counters were so scared that they stopped the hand count, with 10,750 ballots to go.

The riot "dealt a devastating blow to Al Gore's presidential campaign," John Lantigua wrote a few days later in, while the election result was still in doubt. "The vice president's attorneys are arguing that intimidation influenced the canvassing board's decision to stop the hand recount and that it should be resumed."


Shortly into Bush's term, a Houston Chronicle reporter named Bennett Roth asked Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, about the Bush twins' substance abuse after they were caught sneaking into a bar while underage. Fleischer called Roth to tell him that his question had been "noted in the building."

More intimidation.

Whenever word gets out about the latest illegality or wrongdoing, the Bush administration dons its "Stop snitching" cap.

  • Joe Wilson writes a New York Times op-ed explaining how Bush lied in his State of the Union speech when he said Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Africa. Cheney or Bush orders Wilson's wife outed as a covert CIA employee.

    Message: Stop snitching. Another message: You'd better watch out if you're a witness to the Bush Administration's crimes.

  • "Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials," begins the New York Times's blockbuster story about illegal surveillance, published in December 2005. The Bush administration reacts by speculating whether to prosecute the reporters.

    Intimidation. "Stop snitching."

  • Climate-change scientists working for the federal government are told to keep their mouths shut about global warming.

    Stop snitching.

  • Dick Cheney shoots a man in the face. His aides tell him to get the story out. He refuses. Finally, 21 hours after the incident, the owner of the ranch where the shooting took place calls a reporter for the local paper.

    Stop snitching.

    You probably can think of other examples. This White House is rife with the "stop snitching" culture. It isn't just a ghetto thing.

    So when Khan writes in The Atlantic that the culture of "stop snitching" afflicts mainly minority communities, he's missing the big picture. When he blames hip-hop singers and a professional basketball player (!) for showing "that threatening snitches has become mainstream," he's acting like he hasn't noticed any news coming out of the White House in the past six years.

    The president and vice president are role models of the worst kind, spreading word that it's OK to retaliate against "snitches" and to intimidate witnesses. If the White House culture of "stop snitching" takes hold elsewhere, and people get hurt and killed because of it, well, they're merely collateral damage.
  • Sunday, March 4

    Citi gets religion

    If you're late on your car payment or student loan payment or mortgage payment, your credit card company can jack up your interest rate, even if you've never been late with a credit card payment. It's a credit policy called "universal default."

    Unfair? You bet. But since when do credit card companies factor fairness into their bottom lines?

    Democratic control of both houses of Congress has made an impression on credit card companies. They're reluctant to do what's right, but they surely want to do what's smart. And it's smart not to rile Congress with outrageous credit policies.

    Citigroup is eliminating universal default from all Citi-branded credit cards.

    "Credit card issuers are announcing unilateral changes in their practices that have been criticized because they are now fearful that Congress will legislate in this area and they don't want that to happen," says Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America.

    Harvard prof Elizabeth Warren notes that Citigroup's alteration of its credit card policy comes a week after Sen. Chris Dodd held hearings on credit card practices.

    "The Citigroup shift is an important reminder of the power of the Congressional hearing," Warren writes. "So long as the folks in charge of Congress didn't want to upset the credit card companies, the companies kept on adding new tricks and traps. But now direction has changed."

    She's correct, and lenders aren't the only entities that are getting the message. In early January, the Senate held hearings on mortgage lending. This week, federal regulators suggested tighter guidelines for underwriting subprime mortgages. Coincidence? No. Word on the street in D.C. is that the feds fast-tracked these proposed guidelines in just a few weeks -- the weeks following the Senate hearings. The regulators now say that companies shouldn't lend money to people who will have a lot of trouble repaying the loans.

    Gee, I sure do miss Michael Bérubé

    So funny. So incisive.

    Saturday, March 3

    Broken gaydar

    Ann Coulter needs to go into rehab.

    She says so herself. Friday, in a speech at the right wing's big annual bash, the conference for the American Conservative Union's PAC, she called John Edwards a faggot.

    "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, " Coulter said, "but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so …" she paused as the audience's collective gasp turned into laughter and applause, then she continued: "so I'm kind of at an impasse."

    Ann has anger issues as well as sexual identity issues.

    I won't psychoanalyze her weird fixation on sexuality. Her fellow conservatives, many of whom are obsessed with the sexuality of others, might be a better choice for explaining Coulter's homophobia and her malfunctioning gaydar. (John Edwards? I mean, I can see someone calling out Lindsey Graham. But Edwards?)

    As far as Ann's anger, we liberal bloggers bear some responsibility for it. Who among us has not called her Mann Coulter? Which of us has not noted that she has a horse face? Raise your hand if you have not commented, online or in person, upon Coulter's own dubious sexuality? Called her Coultergeist? Remarked upon her prominent Adam's apple?

    We've been mean to her, folks, and so she struck at the best-looking presidential candidate she could find. Maybe she has a man-crush on Edwards. Hard to tell what's going on in Ann's mind. She makes her patented outrageous statements with so little conviction that it makes you wonder who the joke is on -- her supposed targets, or her conservative audience.

    By the way, she endorsed Mitt Romney.

    I find it odd that this hasn't gotten much coverage by the mainstream press. Atrios notes that "there's nothing a conservative can say which would cause the 'liberal media' to decide that she wasn't an appropriate person to promote." Over at Tapped, Ben Adler notes: "Charming. When the right lets out its hate-mongering id, it's a really pretty sight."

    I met Ann Coulter last summer in a greenroom, when I was waiting to do a brief interview on Fox News out of a dingy studio in West Palm Beach. She walked in, doffed her chiffon cape and threw it on a couch, and made a beeline for the makeup chair. She told the makeup artist, Christine, that she had awakened with a red eye. Christine had Visine. I was relieved that Ann apparently didn't notice me, because I felt like the manly, Queequegish thing to do would be to say something nasty to her. But since I didn't exist in her world, I didn't have to discharge my responsibility.

    I thought, what the heck, I'm not going to be an asshole unless she's an asshole to me.

    After my interview, I walked out of the studio and into the greenroom. Ann was sitting on the couch, waiting for her time before the camera. She was wearing blue jeans (it was 90 degrees outside and humid) with a big hole ripped in the right knee. I smiled wimpily and mumbled hello as I lifted her chiffon cape to see if I had left anything on the couch.

    Her car was parked next to mine. Empty. Engine running, air conditioning turned on full blast.

    I asked myself if I had done the moral thing by not saying something belittling to her. My friends, I admit that I was afraid of confrontation. I sense that she's muy smart and she could have eviscerated me with a nasty comeback.

    But perhaps the best she could have done would have been to call me a faggot.