December 17, 2005

Who says opposition to campaign reform isn’t bipartisan?

It sure looks like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is on the same page as President Bush in wanting to emasculate McCain-Feingold.

Quoth Reid:
He is “very pleased the president acted today upon my two recommendations for Commissioners on the Federal Election Commission,” Walther and (Robert D.) Lenhard (who was part of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Couldn’t be all of those Abramoff (I’m sorry, Abramoff-directed) campaign donations, could it now?

President Bush is a criminal; oops, he might have the NSA tracking my keystrokes

President Bush uses the National Security Agency to spy on Americans ( detailed here) — without warrants, no less — and is clearly a criminal.

Where’s this rubber hit the road with extra burnout for me?

Maybe I was the one being spied on.

I’m a skeptic about life in general and things like conspiracy theories in general, hence the name of my blog.

But this is different.

I participated in antiwar rallies in two cities in 2003 — Dallas, where I live, in February, and Los Angeles, in the week of the invasion, in March while on vacation.

There’s strike one against me.

I may (or may not) have e-mailed John Bolton in his position as Undersecretary of State, via an action alert by the ACLU or some other organization to which I belong. If I did, there’s strike two.

In 1991, after Lithuania declared its independence from the disnintegrating Soviet Union the year before, I wrote a strong letter to President George H.W. Bush, chiding him for the United States not being the first, or even the second, country to officially recognize Lithuania. In that letter, I even went so far as to call him a “son of a bitch.” (True, we had never officially recognized the 1940 Soviet takeover, but Bush still was quite tardy on officially recognizing the country’s de facto, not de jure, independence.)

Who knows what federal intelligence files copies of that letter may still occupy? If they’re still out there, that’s a possible strike three.

So, in other words, I may have been spied upon.

And I'm pissed off.

I agree with Steve Clemons. Make this information public.

On the “relax” side, I haven’t made any international phone calls other than to Parks Canada for information about Banff; ditto on international e-mails, and I haven’t received anything internationally except Nigerian 419 spam.

Small comfort.

Update:
There’s a bit of irony here, too.

I recently ordered, via interlibrary loan (oops, that damned Patriot Act) The Puzzle Palace, about the history and workings of the NSA, and it arrived at my library Thursday.

From the Amazon review:
Bamford backs his serious historical and technical material (this is a carefully researched work of nonfiction) with warnings about how easily the NSA's technology could work against the democracies of the world. Bamford quotes U.S. Senator Frank Church: "If this government ever became a tyranny ... the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government ... is within the reach of the government to know." This is scary stuff.

A poster on Kos reminded me of the rest of the Church quote:
“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency [NSA] and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

And you thought U.S. Indians had problems?

Two girls born for every boy —literally on a Chippewa reserve in Ontario, just across from Port Huron, Mich., is a problem.

It appears to be petrochemical contamination, but which petrochemical(s)?

It’s a reminder that, while both internally and abroad, our country can be and has been pretty shitty at times, we’re not the only ones.

No early trial for DeLay; say good-bye to Majority Leader spot

State judge Pat Priest will not separate the conspiracy charge, dismissed by him and on appeal by Ronnie Earle, from the actual money laundering charge.

I don’t see how Denny Hastert can push the new House GOP leadership elections into February, and even the most partisan hackery won’t let him push the reconvening of the House back that far.

The Germans DID know about el-Masri

In fact, they had their own file on him in Bavarian state intelligence.

As I blogged a couple of weeks ago, I expected something like this to be the case from the fact that Germany admitted it had sat on the U.S. informing them about el-Masri’s kidnapping for more than a year.

I don’t mean to say that all European governments are hypocritical on “do as I say, not as I do,” no more than all American liberals are. But, this doesn’t really surprise me, either.

Iraq: Another analogy besides Vietnam

How about Mexico, circa 1846? Or the Spanish-American War?

That’s the thesis of Harold Bloom in a thought-provoking interview in The Guardian.
One rightly expects Whitman to explain our Evening Land to us, because his imagination is America's. A Free-Soiler, he opposed the Mexican war, as Emerson did. Do not our two Iraq invasions increasingly resemble the Mexican and Spanish-American conflicts?

Read the rest of this interview for a fascinating insight from American and British literature, primarily poetic, by Bloom into a declining empire, or, as he calls it, a “parody” of Rome.

December 16, 2005

Abramoff donations vs. Abramoff-directed ones

I’ve seen a number of opinionators, including one linked on Raw Story and a number of Kos diarists, try to parse this difference as proof that the Abramoff scandal is all about Republicans.

Actually, I have a different idea, which says this conventional “Democratic talking point” version of the distinction between Abramoff and Abramoff-directed client donations is all wet.

Instead, the difference between the two is that of Abramoff playing two political games at the same time.

On his personal donations, by giving only to Republicans, Abramoff was playing to the hilt his role as good boy K Street Project lobbyist. Nothing should surprise anyone there, given that the man is a former Tom DeLay aide. (But, see a partial exception to this in the next paragraph.)

But, in directing his Indian tribal clients, and others, to donate to both parties (and allowing his personal skybox to be used by members of both parties in Congress, or members of their staff, Abramoff was playing pre-1994, pre-K power politics.

In other words, this system of Abramoff distinguishing between his own donations and directed donations was his attempt to have his cake and eat it, too.

I don’t know why North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan gave back his Abramoff-connected money. (Remember, he also used the Abramoff skybox, so for the last time, let’s have “Democrats are always right and never even ethically challenged” folks shut up.)

I suspect this is behind Harry Reid both taking a healthy chunk of Abramoff-connected money, and now rejecting repeated appeals to give it back. Nevada’s not known for its political niceness, and despite his Mormon heritage, Reid is not a total choir boy either.

Now, by the letter of the law, Abramoff money may have a taint that Abramoff-directed money doesn’t.

But in the sphere of public opinion, such niceties aren’t parsed.

And to the degree that the sometimes sordid world of high-dollar gaming is involved, maybe such niceties shouldn’t be parsed.

As I’ve said before, bottom line in this issue for me, in one sense, is not Jack Abramoff, criminal convictions, or anything of the sort.

As the lawsuit against the Department of Interior by a number of American Indian tribes for a century-plus of fiduciary mismanagement points out on a parallel front, this issue is ultimately about Indian rights and agreements.

And to the degree that Democrats as well as Republicans have failed on that, they are ethically challenged.

Sadly, too, many tribes see gaming as a quick fix. In small tribes of just a few hundred enrolled members, I wonder whether it won’t instead be a breeding ground for vicious long-term jealousies.

December 15, 2005

Hottest Northern Hemisphere ever

And the second hottest year on record. 1998 was hotter only because of a strong El Niño.

That’s the word from British climatologists.
Their data show that the average temperature during 2005 in the northern hemisphere is 0.65 Celsius above the average for 1961-1990, a conventional baseline against which scientists compare temperatures.

I’ll do the conversion to Fahrenheit for you.

That’s 1.17 degrees above the 1961-90 average.

I’m offering what I consider a moderate to conservative guesstimate.

With increasing industrialization of China and India at a rapid rate, plus Western nations probably doing no better than late 1990s, not early 1990s, emissions levels of CO2 in the future, that we will increase our temperature by the same amount by 2020.

Think about it. As it warms up more in boreal regions, more methane and other greenhouse gases get released from permafrost. Then, warmer air can hold more water vapor. Water vapor, like methane, is a more efficient greenhouse gas than CO2.

And, as more northerly portions of the Northern Hemisphere heat up even faster, I’m willing to bet mid-latitude United States areas like, say, Ohio, have a good chance of increasing a full 2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2020.

Will we go past a tipping point? Will my prediction above be too conservative? I wouldn’t totally bet against it.

If I don’t convince you, perhaps this graph will.

Argentine president tells IMF to go fuck itself

And about time, too.
(Argentine) President Nestor Kirchner, who at rallies and speeches this year has called IMF officials “rude” and demanding, said at a press conference in Buenos Aires the government will make the payment after three years of economic growth bolstered foreign currency reserves. The economy grew 9.2 percent in the third quarter on a surge in public spending, the government said today.

Kirchner, 55, vowed to take the decision on several occasions this year to ensure the administration isn't dependent on policies endorsed by the Washington-based lender, including spending caps and higher utility rates. The announcement comes two days after neighboring Brazil said it would repay its $15.5 billion IMF debt.

I’m not an economist, so I don’t know if a weaker dollar has anything to do with how quickly Argentina was able to do this. But, the feelings about the IMF are surely coupled with further anger about the Bush Administration’s ham-handedness toward-left leaning governments in Latin America, which pretty much covers, or could cover after Bolivia’s presidential election, everything south of Columbia. Here’s more from Kirchner:
Kirchner said today the IMF advice and loans in the 1990s helped lead to the country to “failure” and said the fund has neglected to help since the default when they most need the help. He said the IMF’s demands acted as constraints that impeded the economic recovery, and he criticized the fund for not providing financing for the government's debt restructuring this year.

No, but I bet it was more than willing to provide funding for private American and European companies to try to privatize government services there.

And, Kirchner and fellow Argentinians aren’t alone in their anger. Or in their resolve to be free from the vampirism of the IMF.
Kirchner, 55, vowed to take the decision on several occasions this year to ensure the administration isn't dependent on policies endorsed by the Washington-based lender, including spending caps and higher utility rates. The announcement comes two days after neighboring Brazil said it would repay its $15.5 billion IMF debt.

Western-oriented economists claim Argentina is only making things worse:
For Argentina, whose default on $95 billion of bonds in 2001 sent the economy into its deepest recession on record, repaying the IMF will only increase its financing costs, said Claudio Loser, a former director of the Western Hemisphere Department for the International Monetary Fund who now works as an economic consultant in Washington. …

Argentina's dollar-denominated bonds yield on average 5 percentage points more than comparable maturity U.S. Treasuries, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“It's going to end up costing Argentina a lot more money because they will have to seek other forms of financing that are more expensive,” Loser said.

Uhh, Mr. Loser, they’ve already got other, non-IMF help:
Kirchner also thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his assistance, prompting applause from government officials listening to the speech at the presidential palace. Venezuela this year has purchased almost $1 billion of Argentine bonds.

Let’s see. Chavez can do this because he’s flush with oil money. He’s flush with oil money because, in part, our invasion of Iraq has actually driven down Iraqi oil production, thus driving up world oil prices. Our failure to have a national energy policy based on conservation and development of alternate sources has contributed to this.

Just another bit of stellar work by Bush, Cheney and the rest of the oil-wise CEOs.

December 13, 2005

News radio sells out

A Madison, Wis., radio station, is selling corporate radio rights to its newsroom.

First, I’m soooo shocked (NOT) that this is a ClearChannel station. My shock is made somewhat real that a station in Madison, a theoretical bastion of progressivism, is doing this.

Second, if this is simply the first station to implement a corporate-wide policy, just how fast will people run away from this in terms of listenership? We can only hope.

Dorgan does the right thing

Sen. Byron Dorgan, perhaps a bit tardily, is doing the right thing and returning $67,000 in Jack Abramoff campaign contributions.


(Dorgan, D-ND) said Tuesday that while he never met Abramoff and didn't take any actions at the lobbyist's behest, he nonetheless wants to return the money to avoid any appearance that tribal money was directed to him by the controversial lobbyist.

Just to refresh our memory, here was Dorgan’s connection to Abramoff:

AP reported in three stories over the last month that Dorgan did not disclose during the probe that he took actions favorable to Abramoff's tribal clients, often around the time he collected donations from Abramoff's firm or clients.

For instance, Dorgan:

— Used Abramoff's arena skybox in March 2001 to raise money, letting one of Abramoff's tribes foot the bill. The senator says he didn't know at the time that Abramoff leased the box. He recently reimbursed that money.

— Persuaded Congress in the fall 2003 to press government regulators to decide, after decades of delay, whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts deserved federal recognition. Dorgan met with the tribe's representatives and collected at least $11,500 in political donations from the Abramoff partner representing the Mashpee around the time of the help.

— Collected $20,000 from Abramoff's firm and tribes about the time he wrote a letter in 2002 urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund a school construction program that Abramoff's clients and other tribes wanted. The letter mentioned one of Abramoff's tribes.

In a sidebar — Sen. Dorgan, if it’s legal, rather than giving the money back to Abramoff, why not do some real good with it and give it the the Sioux and other Indian tribes in your state?

And, to show people like Josh Marshall that, just because I say that the Abramoff scandal, at least as far as continuing to feed false impressions, isn’t just about Republicans, let’s take a look at the other side of the aisle in the Senate:

The office of Sen. Conrad Burns R-Mont., another lawmaker named in the AP stories, said Tuesday he has no plans to return the $150,000 he got from Abramoff sources because he already has spent the money.

I’m sure Burns has more than $150,000 on hand; this is just bullshit.

Indeed, Open Secrets reports Burns has $3 million in the bank.

And, on the Democratic side, now that Dorgan has seen the light, will Harry Reid also do the right thing?

Ronnie Earle DOES have a lump of coal for Tom DeLay

It's a little bonus subpoena of the campaign contribution records of Bret Wilkes, the bagman of resigned-in-disgrace, about-to-be-sentenced, and playing-state’s-evidence California GOP Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

Here’s a complete list of Wilkes Corp/ADCS recipients, almost entirely Republicans; DeLay ranks No. 3.

In addition to the campaign contributions, DeLay was one of a number of Congressmen taking free rides on Wilkes’ time-shared private plane.

If you’ve followed much of this story, you may remember that Cunningham agreed to roll over for the feds as part of his plea. Now, of course, Earle’s case is state-level, but investigations like this often pursue parallel paths, with information, the need for information, and prosecutorial back-scratching coming to the fore.

With Earle appealing the district court decision to throw out the conspiracy count against DeLay, we have a full month, surely, for more financial links between DeLay and various shady lobbyists to start popping up.

So, despite Denny Hastert’s plan to keep the House out of session until the end of January, to postpone a leadership vote as long as possible, this can be nothing but bad news for the Hammer.

Now, the next big question is — do the House GOP long knives finally start coming out? Perhaps not so fast.

Roy Blunt Jr., who might be expected to be most likely to shiv DeLay, got money both from Wilkes and the MZM PAC. A complete list shows MZM PAC recipients are almost all Republicans.

NB: This should show people like Josh Marshall and Kos diarists that I’m not ignorant, that I don’t appreciate the seriousness of some of these financial shakedowns and slush funds, and that, in cases where Republicans are just about entirely at fault, that I won’t hesitate to point that out.

See this Daily Kos diary for a bigger overview on how Wilkes got to be who he is.

But, remember, this is the Wilkes case. Not the Abramoff case. The two are intertwining more and more, but the Indian gaming part of the Abramoff schtick is still a separate, and sadly, at least somewhat bipartisan, issue.

Exxon claims moon is made of green cheese, too

Jamie Spellings, head of ExxonMobil’s corporate planning division, was honest about demand but not supply on a webcast today. Spelling projected world energy demand would go up 60 percent by 2025, but claimed that OPEC members would be able to boost production by 40 percent. Spellings said technology and efficiency savings are already factored in the demand projections.

Do people at Exxon really believe OPEC can ramp it up 40 percent? Are they smoking crack at the same table as the House of Saud?

Blogs and blogrolls

If you want one with a good sampling of top-hit and underrecognized political blogs, with a healthy, heavy dose of science blogs, here’s Bora’s. Or P.Z. Myers’.

As for me, I have just a few blogs linked — P.Z.’s among them. Why?

At one time, early in this game, I used to lust after blogging connections, getting hits, being recognized, etc. Now, I first of all recognize that this is just another case of me being a day late and a dollar short.

More importantly, I see it as what the Tao Te Ching or the Book of Ecclesiastes, in their separate and inimitable ways, would point out as a lack of detachment.

Beyond that, the blogs that I do list are convenient portals to top news stories that I may not immediately catch, and am not going to cram my e-mail with RSS feeds to try to catch.

If I disagree with any of the political blogs enough, I can replace its link with something like Raw Story.

Abramoff - not just a Republican thing

Of course, I'm in the definite minority of independent-minded, gadfly-like independent progressives to point that out.

But this nice Washington Post graphic presents my case very well.

It makes a number of points.

First, note that Democrats got 35 percent of the Abramoff pie. Throw out the big spike in 2002, and it’s nearly 38 percent for other years.

Second, look at the lower left bar graph. Of Abramoff’s giving to national political committees, the Democrats got nearly 42 percent of the total.

Third, look at the horizontal bar graph, bottom center. The second-largest recipient, three of the top 10 and six of the top 15 are Democrats.

Fourth, lobbyists buy access. Remember that during the entire time frame of timeline, the Republicans controlled the House. Except for a little more than a year after Jim Jeffords’ defection out of the Republican party. You buy access with the majority party.

I don’t know if the same would have happened with a Democratic majority, even given Abramoff’s connection to Tom DeLay. Is it possible, though? Certainly.

At the least, if the minority — especially in the Senate — were as weak as it claims, Abramoff’s sharing the wealth would have been less bipartisan.

The House and Senate rankings of his chief recipients from both parties underscore the fact that Abramoff was buying access.

Fifth, look at the top timeline, the one that has Abramoff’s contributors beneath the peak. Look just below the peak in the timeline of Abramoff’s tribal donors. Besides Abramoff’s well-known connections with Louisiana’s Coushattas and the Texas Tiguas he was bending over, you have two New Mexico pueblos with gaming.

I’m not a prude on gambling, but I think this does show some of its corrosive power, especially when handled like it is in America. Frankly, if we would legalize it everywhere, it would probably lose some of its allure. At the same time, a lot of Indian tribes who have succumbed to that allure would find themselves financially high and dry. That still might be better than pitting tribe against tribe, bribing politicians with executive branch connections or needy pockets to muscle the Department of the Interior and worse.

And, you would eliminate the temptation to this corruption.

At the same time, contra Josh Marshall, posters on Kos, and such, I’m not claiming that Democrats are equally guilty as Republicans. But to partisans who have trouble not seeing multiple offenders, who can’t see beyond polarities, dualities or blacks and whites, I am saying that Democrats appear to have their share of guilt.

December 11, 2005

In memoriam: Pryor, McCarthy

I’m not quite old enough to have heard Richard Pryor on his first, early 1970s comedy albums. I first became familiar with him in the 1976 movie Silver Streak. But, after that, I was hooked.

With Pryor, whether talking about “niggers,” or using other “seven-letter word” language, he wasn’t talking blue, or at least, he wasn’t talking blue just to go blue. He had a legitimate reason for everything. And he was good.

His influence extended beyond just black comedians, too. As The Dallas Morning News noted in its editorial, Robin Williams must be seen as tracing his comedy bloodline back to Pryor. And, through him, perhaps Jim Carrey.

While his blackness was an essential element of much of his comedy, much else in his routine went outside of racial issues — or outside of sexual issues, for that matter. While Pryor was a black comedian, he should also be seen as a comedian who happened to be black.

As an atheist, I can’t say that he’s “in a better place” now. He’s gone; rent a movie or comedy routine of his and remember.

===========

“Clean Gene.” A nickname with quaint reekings of a bygone era.

As an Iraq war proponent from the time the Bush Administration started proposing it in 2002, McCarthy is an intellectual and political hero of mine.

But, what good did Eugene McCarthy really do? It took more than seven years from his “Children’s Crusade” knocking LBJ off the ballot for us to finally get our last troops out of Vietnam. If LBJ had been, somehow, re-elected himself, he probably would have said, “The hell with being called soft on Communism, I know this isn’t right,” and gotten the best deal we could and in quicker time. I don’t doubt that Lyndon never would have expanded the war to Cambodia, either.

So, arguably, McCarthy may have made things worse. (But, it’s not so likely that LBJ could have beaten Nixon. On the other hand, that campaign would have been a paranoia-fest for the ages.)

However, idealism isn’t necessarily about making things better or worse. It’s about being right or wrong.

Unfortunately, McCarthy spoiled his image in later years. Whether it was being the Harold Stassen of the last third of the 20th century, or endorsing Reagan in 1980, he seemed to move beyond idiosyncratic, past contrarian, and into full-blown obstrepiousness.

Nonetheless, his inner light — and perhaps his inner demon, or daimon — guided him on.

===========

And, has it really been 25 years since John Lennon was killed? Wow. I was a senior in high school.