Monday, August 27, 2007

Summing Up The '00s Perfectly

First a little background story. Some people were using flour to mark a running course through an IKEA parking lot when they were arrested... for bioterrorism. Now, even though the city found out very quickly that it was flour on the ground, the markers are facing felony charges for "first degree breach of peace," whatever the hell that means. They also face a civil suit from the city of New Haven.

Now I don't know who John Cole is, but his reaction to the story could be the defining quote of the post-9/11 US...

It is absurd. You are safe. I am safe. This nation is safe. Quit being such a damned pussy. All of you.

Wiser words have never been said.

Baghdad Highway Robbery

Perhaps the most galling thing about the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq is the cushy treatment given to military contractors, brilliantly chronicled in this Rolling Stone article.

I don't buy the premise that widespread military contract fraud began on January 20, 2001. But this administration does seem particularly lax in its pursuing of restitution for such fraud, and its contract assignment techniques are uniquely suited to fraud. This ought to be embarrassing to an administration that calls itself "conservative" and that wraps itself in the flag to make political points. Isn't allowing massive wasteful overspending by the government essentially anti-conservative? And how is allowing shoddy work to be done by contractors hired to do vital security and maintenance jobs "supporting our troops"?

Seriously, anyone who still has any illusion that the Bush administration stands for any sort of fiscal restraint or that the administration actually cares about the welfare of our troops should disabuse themselves of that notion right now. I'm trying to think of motives for the administrations negligence and malfeasance in this regard - I'm drawing a blank after I get past "cronyism." I really want to give Bush credit for at least having some sort of ideology that failed miserably, but I don't know what that ideology could be.

Either way, whoever the next president is could cut the deficit significantly by eliminating contract cheating, or at least bringing it down to manageable levels. Seems like pretty good financial policy. Why none of the current candidates have made a big deal about this is beyond me.

I'm also not sure I understand why Democrats in Congress aren't making more of a public stink about this. If I were leading the majority party in Congress, I'd be making a huge deal about contract fraud and inappropriate contract assignment procedures - not only is this stealing from taxpayers, but this is also jeapordizing the welfare of our troops. It's the right thing to do, and it's a political winner all around - how often can you say those two things about the same action at the same time?

Also, it's my understanding that if a contractor goes way over budget on a project in the private sector, or performs incompetently, their reputation gets hurt and they have a hard time getting hired on subsequent projects. Why don't we do this for government contracts? Part of the solution to this whole malfeasance thing has to be a willingness to look beyond Bechtel, KBR, and Halliburton for solutions to our military contracting needs. They can't be the only contractors willing to do this sort of work, can they? We have to be able to threaten a contractor with the idea that, if they screw up, they may not get taxpayers' business again. Most of this is the Administration's department, but couldn't Congress pass a law forbidding KBR (given the evidence cited in the Rolling Stone article) from accepting new federal contracts indefinitely, with this status open for review based on the manner in which they complete current contracts (which can't really be broken, I guess)?

Hey, that's a good idea. I'm gonna go write David Price (my rep) about that.

Incidentally, does anyone know if this "cost-plus" contracting style is SOP when contractors deal with private sector customers?

And on the lighter side, this is why we Tar Heels make fun of our quaint southern neighbors.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

So Sue Me... You've Already Sued Everyone Else

South Carolina federal inmate Jonathan Lee Riches appears to be on a mission to sue everyone on the planet. His hairbrained - and hopefully facetious - lawsuits have been lodged against everyone from Larry King to Michael Vick. He has sued Adolf Hitler and the 13 (!) Tribes of Israel. He is currently suing I-35.

Check out this suit filed in New Hampshire against Larry King, the Mossad, and the CIA. Among the claims: "Larry King Live is a voodoo witch doctor who stole my identity on Feb 25th, 2003 and purchased lead paint, Chips Ahoy, Planters peanuts, and Ziploc bags under my identity. Distributed them to the CIA to microwave test my DNA."

Or feast your eyes on the truly awesome list of defendants for this civil rights lawsuit in Pennsylvania which includes the Virgin Mary and Chris Berman (of ESPN fame). I feel sorry for whoever had to type this into the docket.

Bullpen Blitz

Being an Orioles fan is a rather painful experience, all in all. But yesterday that got taken to new heights of despair.

Seriously, how the hell do you give up 30 runs? At home? To a team whose main offensive weapon is Michael Young? Perhaps the most hilarious part of this is that Young didn't even have an RBI (only Neifi Cruz also managed that feat for the Rangers - yes, the O's gave up 30 runs to a team that starts Neifi Cruz). Instead, seven runs apiece were driven in by someone called Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.218 average) and Ramon Vazquez (batting .240).

And to top it all off, it was the first game of a doubleheader - the O's lost the back end, 9-7. For those of you keeping track at home, that's 39 runs in one day...


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I Am An Endangered Species

According to some scientists, redheads could be extinct in a hundred years. If that's not a scary thought, I don't know what is.

On the other hand, I wonder if I could get on the federal endangered species list...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stop the Vick Madness

All those of you calling for Michael Vick's head, answer me this: which is worse, killing a few dogs or standing by while your friends kill two people? As such, why should Vick be given a punishment more severe than that which Ray Lewis received (a small fine and no suspension)? Or why should Vick's punishment be near that which Pacman Jones received for damn near killing a woman in Vegas?

Yes, Vick's actions were horrific. But I'd just as soon see the NFL send the message that violence towards people is far worse than violence towards dogs. So until it feels like the media and the NFL understand that people like Pacman Jones are far lower on the moral ladder than Vick, this is the last I'll care about the matter.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mike Huckabee: History Buff

So I'm currently watching the Colbert Report, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (fresh off his campaign-rejuvenating performance at the Iowa straw poll) was chatting with Colbert at the beginning of the show. At the end of the appearance, Colbert asked Huckabee the facetious question he asks a lot of his guests - "George W. Bush: great president, or the greatest president?" Huckabee's response: once history is settled, he'll be up there with McKinley and Harding.

Really? McKinley and Harding? Neither of those are on anyone's list of the best presidents in history, and Harding - owing to the fact that he presided over the most scandal-ridden administration in recent memory - is often listed as one of the worst.

Huckabee doesn't take himself too seriously on the Report - he did offer Colbert the vice-presidency - so this probably shouldn't be looked at that seriously. But why the hell would Huckabee drag Warren Harding out of the slime at the bottom of the historical barrel and compare George W. Bush to him? Or McKinley, who started the Spanish-American War and was otherwise just kinda there? Why not pick someone that the average American has actually heard of? I mean, if he'd wanted to give Bush a compliment, wouldn't he have referenced Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Eisenhower, or something?

Is this just Huckabee's way of delivering a thinly veiled insult to the Prez? "Congratulations, you're almost McKinley, and you're up there with Harding! You're mediocre to crappy and in a century you'll be relatively anonymous!" Or is he trying to show off his historical knowledge so people don't think he's an anti-intellectual like Bush? Maybe McKinley and Harding are the presidents that Huckabee really views as good examples of Presidential leadership, in which case I'm kinda worried for him. Is this what Huckabee said as a kid - "Mom, I wanna be President, just like Warren Harding?"

Or was Huckabee strategizing here? Maybe his consultants told him that comparisons were dangerous because someone will be offended - invoke Lincoln and piss off Stars-and-Bars-waving Southerners, invoke Reagan and piss off anyone who was poor during the '80s, etc. As such, he just decided, "fuck it, I'll pick two completely anonymous presidents so that anyone who has a reaction stronger than 'who?' will just write me off as having been on a comedy show?"

I don't get it. I really don't. And I'm fully expecting someone to whip out a Zachary Taylor comparison here soon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rove To Spend More Time With Family

Farewell, Karl Rove: you will not be missed.

Rove, probably the only person to have attended both my mother's and my father's alma maters, was one of the most influential political minds of the last seven years. His "50 percent plus one" style practically defined modern politics. Think of the mythical red state/blue state divide, the rise of the hot-button issue that can make or break a candidate - mostly initiated by Karl Rove.

Compare Rove with James Carville, the other wildly successful political adviser of the modern era. They have similar resumes, but their styles are much, much different. Carville always had an eye towards the center - he sought to pull votes from Republican-leaning independents who would sympathize with Democrats on certain issues. As a result, Bill Clinton's victories in 1992 and 1996 were relatively convincing. Rove, by contrast, saw the country as irreparably divided on the important issues, and saw that victory would come by getting reliably Republican voters to the polls and keeping independents and Democrats home. Whereas Carville motivated with issues important to the center - health care, economy, etc. - Rove trotted out the specters of gay marriage and abortion. Think of Rove's tactics on issues important to everyone - could you imagine the Clinton/Carville team implying that Republicans are unpatriotic and sympathize with the terrorists? And when that failed, Rove borrowed the politics of personal destruction from his old mentor Lee Atwater - think Swift Boat and John McCain's black baby.

Rove's strategy was successful, but only barely so - Bush's margin of victory in 2004 was one of the smallest in history, and the 2000 election fell within the margin of error. But Rove's style has stuck, and has even been adopted by the Democrats to some extent. Rove and Rove-style tactics created a political base that expects to have red meat (red tofu for you vegetarians) thrown its way - as such, Rove's lasting legacy will be a political conversation where everyone is "playing to the base" first and thinking about consensus solutions second.

But Rove's big failure was in not realizing that, eventually, you're going to have to work with the people you just spent the last election trashing. And if you lose an election, your agenda can get into some serious trouble. Clinton was able to recover from a 1994 electoral disaster and get some meaningful policy ideas through, mainly due to the fact that he and Carville weren't that harsh towards conservatives. Not so with Bush, who had so thoroughly disgusted Democrats with his and Rove's scorched-earth politics that the 2006 Republican electoral collapse, for all intents and purposes, doomed his presidency.

What's next for Rove? He could follow in Carville's footsteps and run a prime ministerial campaign in Israel. He'll probably be involved in the 2008 race in some way, though probably not as a chief adviser to anyone. Most likely, he'll just ride the lecture circuit, write books, and try to get the conservative base excited - just like he always did.

Speaking of hot-button issues, this guy is hilariously crazy.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

In Which the Democrats Forget Who Is In Power

Anyone out there remember how the Bush Administration was listening in on international communications without a warrant, in flagrant violation of the 1977 FISA regulations that require a warrant within 72 hours of the beginning of wiretapping activities? Well, the Democratic-controlled Senate, in a move that I'm sure will go down in the annals of overwhelming courage and visionary leadership, said "yeah, okay, that's cool with us." The House is expected to follow suit today.

Good job, kids. You've just taken a blatantly illegal Administration policy and, instead of upbraiding the Administration for it, made it legal. What a concept. If the president breaks the laws, just change the laws so he doesn't have to break the laws to do whatever the hell he wants. Everybody's happy, right?

I've said it before and I've said it again - what's so hard about getting a warrant for surveilling terror suspects? I think the conversation would go something like this:

Administration official: We've been listening to this guy for a couple of days and we need a warrant.

Judge: Okay, why's that?

Official: He's been hanging out with terrorists and he's talking about blowing shit up.

Judge: Right. (hands over warrant) Here you go.

Painless! And it's conducted entirely in secret so no one has to know! What's so hard about this process? Why do you need to avoid the checks and balances? If the Administration is surveilling someone when they think a judge wouldn't approve of it, frankly, that frightens me. That tells me they're not just looking at terror suspects - it'd be fairly easy to get that warrant.

Anyway, isn't part of the reason the Democrats were elected is because people wanted a Congressional leadership that would stand up to executive overreaches, and not just let the Republicans roll them when such overreaches occur? I would think that most Americans would rather see Congress calling hearings on this issue rather than on the attorney-firing issue. It seems more important.

People wanted oversight. Simply watching as previously illegal programs are rubber-stamped by Congress without any sort of debate or challenge is not oversight. It's a travesty.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mass Murder, Page 6

This is a fascinating Post article about Peter Bergson, the Lithuanian Jew who escaped the Holocaust and became an advocate for Europe's Jews in America. It's fascinating because I didn't realize how little the general American populace knew during the war about the genocide taking place in Europe. The fact that a traveling show in 1943 could be the first time anyone had really heard about the mass murders is quite a shock. Not to mention the fact that Bergson finally succeeded in getting Congress to support efforts to end the genocide... in 1944.

Bergson used some fairly familiar awareness-raising tactics:
He enlisted celebrities, including writers Ben Hecht and Moss Hart and actors Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. They created a dramatic pageant called "We Will Never Die," with music by Kurt Weill and readings praising the achievements of Jews throughout history, as well as describing the horrific plight of victims of the Nazis.

Or how about this: the Washington Post didn't learn about the murder of Jews until November 1942, and then they buried the news on page 6 (link leads to PDF of article). You would think a headline titled "Half Of Jews Ordered Slain, Poles Report" would make a fairly sensational Page 1 headline. What the hell was on the front page on November 25, 1942 that would push that story back to page 6? Read the full story - it's about as gruesome as a matter-of-fact news article can be.

So when we bitch about Darfur or Rwanda massacres being pushed to the back of the national consciousness, or about our government's slow response to said massacres, remember: nothing new there. In fact, we've probably gotten better about it - would a newspaper learn about a gruesome genocide and not give it a little front-page time?

It also points to the importance of public advocacy against such horrific acts. We lampoon our celebrities for holding "save Darfur" concerts/publishing CDs to "raise awareness," but without them, how soon would such atrocities fall out of our national conscience? This was the most appalling genocide in modern history, and yet it took two and a half years (from the January 20, 1942 Wannsee Conference at which the Final Solution was hatched) and some pretty grand gestures to get Americans worked up enough for Congress to act. Think about that next time you rip Bono or Brad Pitt for their issue advocacy.