Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What's "déjà vu" in Dari?
Saudi-backed Afghan warlord calls for revolt

MSNBC is reporting that Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once the darling of the Saudis and a leader of the U.S.-supported mujahadeen forces that defeated the Soviets, has issued a videotaped threat, which NBC says it obtained as an exclusive, calling on Afghans to revolt against the U.S. occupation. Specifically targeted is U.S. Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, according to the MSNBC Web site. Although the video is posted here, it has not yet been translated from Dari, the Afghan Persian dialect in which Hekmatyar, a Pashtun, made his appeal.

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Body blows
New treasury chief packing cement shoes?

For those perplexed by the shuffle of the loyal John Snow out of the post of Treasury Secretary to make way for Hank Paulson, Glenn Kellis of Ob:Blog explains all:

A friend will help you move... but a real friend will help you move a body . That's the message that today's booting of Treasury Secretary John Snow revealed....Bush needs to move a body... It's a big, fat body and it will take the biggest guns of Wall street and a piano case to disguise it from the public until after the midterm elections.
This is a good one, mes cheris; check it out.

Whatever the outcome, it's a relief to finally have Snow's demise complete. It's been a George Raft death scene.

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Mum's the word
Supreme Court gags public employees

Honestly, mes amis, some mornings your blogstress just does not know what impels her to meet the light of day to examine the nation's news on behalf of her devotees. In the end, it may actually come from some overdeveloped sense of moral obligation. (Yes, bad girls can have morals.)

This morning the papers tell us of the first truly onerous decision to come out of the court of Chief Justice John Roberts -- a 5 to 4 verdict against whistleblower protections for public employees. If the Bush administration hadn't succeeded well enough in chilling speech in the government workplace, this decision should finish the deal. Thank you, Justices Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, Alito and Scalito.

From the indefatigable Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times:

Although several employee groups raised immediate alarms, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion in fact contained the counterintuitive implication that employees might fare better by speaking out as "citizens" and taking their complaints to the public rather than keeping them within the official chain of command.
Well, that would depend on what one means by "fare better." With union protections under assault in the federal government, the employee will most likely be left to "fare better" as an unemployed citizen.

At the Washington Post, Charles Lane explains:
By a vote of 5 to 4, the court ruled that the Los Angeles County district attorney's office did not violate prosecutor Richard Ceballos's freedom of speech by allegedly demoting him after he wrote to supervisors charging that a sheriff's deputy had lied to get a search warrant.
During her four years on the payroll of a public employee union, your Webwench witnessed a rash of retaliatory measures taken against federal employees who dared to rectify situations that either put the public at risk, or swindled their tax dollars. And, indeed, when two union members who are also federal workers took their concerns to the radio waves in an ad scripted by your écrivaine, they were investigated by the White House Office of Special Counsel -- which is officially charged with protecting the whistleblower rights of U.S. government employees.

(This is the same agency that, under Bush appointee Scott Bloch, purged itself of those who supported workplace protections for gays and lesbians, and began recruiting most of its interns from the ultra-right-wing Catholic law school of the Ave Maria College. Oh, yeah, and they involuntarily transferred -- to locations hundreds of miles from their homes -- a handful of career appointees who raised objections to some of Bloch's policies.)

New personnel systems in the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have been designed to disempower unions' ability to protect those who bring concerns through their agency's chain of command, while employees of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) have been virtually forbidden to organize at all. The Department of Homeland Security even attempted to require a secrecy pledge from all of its employees -- a Soviet-style measure that the unions were able to derail in the court of public opinion.

The more opaque our government becomes, the closer our nation veers to a dictatorship enforced by the political appointees who head the federal agencies. Sonnez les matines! Wake up!

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Afghan riots sound alarm
Is anybody listening?

This past weekend, Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul erupted in violence after a U.S. military convoy caused a major traffic collision that killed at least five people. More were killed in the violence that ensued, said by some to have encompassed some 2,000 rioters. Even though the U.S. military contends that troops shot only into the air, no explanation was offered for the dozens of people in a Kabul hospital suffering from gunshot wounds. Among the dead -- reports range from between 14 to 20 killings -- was a seven-year-old boy. Carlotta Gall of The New York Times reports:

Gunfire rang out as Afghan police officers and army soldiers tried to contain rioters who rampaged through the streets for about six hours, burning and looting a dozen offices, cars and police posts. By the end of the day at least 14 people were dead and more than 90 injured, hospital officials said. It was the bloodiest day in the capital since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
For an account from the region, your blogstress recommends The Frontier Post out of Peshawar, a center of commerce near the Khyber Pass.

Now, why, you may ask, would the Afghan people be so angry as to throw stones at armed troops while shouting "Death to America!"? Perhaps, thinks your Webwench, it could be the latest in a series of ostensibly anti-Taliban air strikes that appear to target regular townspeople in villages where the Taliban dwell. From Pam Constable and Javed Hamdard of the Washington Post:
The public mood has also been tense since a U.S. airstrike killed at least 16 civilians last week in a village in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heightened fighting this spring. Afghan and U.S. officials blamed Taliban insurgents who had taken shelter in village compounds and then fired at U.S.-led forces.
And that's just the latest, mes amis. Let us not forget the murderous interrogations by U.S. special forces of unlikely suspects (for one such example, listen to this remarkable account from "This American Life" by an Afghan-American who returned to his mother country during 2002) or that year's massacre of Afghan prisoners held in shipping containers under the aegis of the U.S. military? (Thanks to a dear one for bringing this to your cybertrix's attention.) Or could it be because the people are hungry and fed up?

A heck of a way to win hearts and minds, no?

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Spirit
Readers speak on church, gays and advertising

Over the course of the last several weeks, your blogstress has received a stream of e-mail in response to her May 5 essay at The American Prospect Online, which focused on a provocative advertisement about inclusion by the United Church of Christ that was rejected by the major television networks.

Drawing particular attention was a single paragraph in your écrivaine's piece -- an aside, a throwaway, really -- about her own experience of feeling rejected by her own church:

In the Roman Catholic Church -- the church to which I was born -- a similar rite forms the central element of the celebration of Mass. At the Methodist service, I was beckoned to partake: "All are welcome at Christ's table," said the minister. In my own church, I am banned from receiving communion for multiple reasons (divorce, fornication, lack of commitment to the heterosexual lifestyle). No one ever asked me for my papers as I stepped up to the Communion rail, but my church's stance is often stated from the pulpit, and there doesn't seem to be much point in stealthily taking a sacrament from an ostensible man of God who is sworn to refuse it to you.
Presented below are two heartfelt letters of opposing opinions.

Adele--

As I read your article, I became dismayed at the section of your [essay] reflecting on your Catholic tradition. I won’t dispute your unfortunate circumstances. I find it disheartening, as a practicing Catholic, to hear of your anguish, the sense that you feel rejected and unable to receive Communion. And I cannot deny you probably heard the message from a pulpit, or certainly within a variety of pronouncements.

I know, too, that what is often preached is also often ignored. However, as you indicated, why should one have to receive Communion by stealth.

--------------------------------------------------
I still find a depth to my Catholic roots that is supportive. But the blossoms are not as colorful or aromatic as they once were.

--Dave Murray

--------------------------------------------------

I am struggling with my own relationship with the church. At 56, a former novice in a religious order, a former youth minister, and one who still attends regularly, I am growing more and more disturbed by the sexual abuse scandal particularly the manipulations of the “authority” to protect their own. I also find it disconcerting to hear priests speak out of an antiquated theology that sounds like Republican apologetics. Our church is fragmented from within, and I fear the fragmentation is spreading. I still find a depth to my Catholic roots that is supportive. But the blossoms are not as colorful or aromatic as they once were.

Indeed, Jesus welcomed all. Wherever you may find his peace, solace and courage, there he is. A rabbi once urged that I have the courage of my conclusions. That infers I must trust the “kingdom” within; my spirit/soul/psyche. Sometimes, that seems quite lonely. Yet, it is not.

Godspeed in your sojourn, and trust you will find welcoming companions…of all kinds (yes, even Catholics!)… along the way.

Dave Murray
Cedarville, Michigan
May 10, 2006
The following response was sent to The American Prospect Online, which commissioned and ran the essay under discussion.
Dear Editors,

I find the most recent work by Adele Stan (Divine Denial) to be greatly disturbing-- not in the incident she is reporting, but with regards to one of her basic premises. Someone does not become a Christian simply by stating that he or she is a Christian. It is an idea supported by a vast number of Americans, but is nonetheless illogical and irrelevant. By definition, a Christian is one who professes the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is Christ and follows his teachings.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) Jesus addresses the issue of sin relating to lust, fornication, and adultery. Jesus Christ even states that, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." So, it seems to logically follow that a Christian would avoid fornication and realize that one is out of God’s will. A Christian understands when a church recommends one not partake in Communion due to continued unreconciled sin.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Expecting a Christian church to [accept those who engage in homosexual activity] is like expecting a Jew to eat pork in a synagogue during Passover.

--Patrick L. Hanks

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Adele Stan, Ron Buford [leader of the United Church of Christ's Stillspeaking Initiative], and many others seem to expect the Christian church to be welcoming with open arms “Christians” who engage in homosexual activity. It is absurd to think this, as writings in Romans (1:24-32) teach that homosexuality among believers is immoral behavior resulting from willing disobedience of God, and immoral sexual behavior should be cast out from the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Expecting a Christian church to do otherwise is like expecting a Jew to eat pork in a synagogue during Passover.

The long and short of all this is that one cannot have it both ways. One cannot be a Christian and disregard the teachings of Christ and his disciples. One cannot claim the Christian faith and then promote, excuse, or rationalize a homosexual lifestyle as being in God's will. They are diametrically opposed. One must presuppose the validity and observance of the word of God/Christ when one assumes the title "Christian." Adele Stan does not seem to understand this, and it undermines the reputation and credibility of your worthwhile forum when you allow such sophomoric mistakes to be published.

Patrick L. Hanks
Austin, Texas
May 9, 2006
In his reply to an e-mail from your net-tête, Mr. Hanks wrote:
Dear Adele Stan,

I am not suprised you disagree with me, but you must admit that it is illogical to expect the Church to go against the teachings of its Savior. That said, some churches do need to improve their practices with dealing with sensitive issues.

Sincerely,
Patrick Hanks
More to come...

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Justice Dept. out of control
Goes after lawmakers for NSA leaks

If you're not yet convinced, mes amis, that the executive branch has brought the reality of a police state to the federal level, consider this aside from Eggen's and VandeHei's piece on the tension between President Bush and House Speaker Hastert regarding the raid on Rep. Jefferson's offices:

Another potential entanglement with the FBI arose yesterday when the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported that federal agents are seeking to interview top House members from both parties as part of an investigation into leaks about the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program to the New York Times.
This is apparently part of the same probe that is targeting reporters for daring to publish or broadcast information about potential government lawbreaking passed to the journalists by sources.

If the FBI was doing its job, mes cheris, it would be investigating the NSA for violating federal law with its warrantless domestic wiretapping.

Of course, most of the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are unconcerned with that little problem, having just voted to confirm Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the architect of the National Security Agency's domestic spy program, to the post of CIA director.

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White House lawyer has Rep. Jefferson's files

So, with President Bush having arrived at his answer (as posted below) to the constitutional crisis now attending the FBI raid on the congressional offices of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), your blogstress humbly asks her devotees, "What's wrong with this picture?"

Bush's solution to his fracas with House Speaker Dennis Hastert over the Justice Department's transgression of the Constitution's separation of powers was to place the material seized from Jefferson's office under seal with U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement who, according to the president, is not involved in the Jefferson probe.

While that all may sound well and good, your cybertrix asks her readers to consider just what the solicitor general does (he argues the executive branch's cases before the Supreme Court) and to whom he reports (the attorney general of the United States, to whom the FBI director also reports). If you don't believe your Webwench (and why would you not?), do study, dear reader, this description of the solicitor's duties, straight from the Web site of the Office of Solicitor General:

The Solicitor General is of course an Executive Branch officer, reporting to the Attorney General, and ultimately to the President, in whom our Constitution vests all of the Executive power of the United States.
Add to this the fact that Clement has argued at least one case before the Supreme Court directly on behalf of the attorney general, Gonzales v. Raich, a medical marijuana case involving states' rights, and only an innocent would fail to question Mr. Clement's impartiality. Another of Clement's greatest hits? He also argued Rumsfeld v. Padilla, in which he defended the seizure and limitless detention -- without charge -- of a U.S. citizen in the purported "war on terror."

Thankfully, the justices threw that one out on a technicality, for if they had decided in Clement's favor, what little is left of the writ of habeas corpus would have gone out the window.

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One branch or three?
Constitutional crisis stems from FBI raid of Capitol

Your blogstress is the first to admit that she has never been much of a fan of House Speaker Dennis Hastert. But these days, he is looking to her like more of a -- well, if not a hero, then at least an erstwhile defender of the most fundamental aspect of our Constitution: the separation of powers.

It all began with the FBI's raid on the offices of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), who is alleged to have taken bribes from companies that were looking to do business in African nations where Jefferson had ties. While Jefferson is indeed looking like quite the bad egg, at issue is whether or not the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- an arm of the Department of Justice which is, in turn, part of the executive branch -- as the right to lay siege to the offices of the legislative branch, and remove materials from said offices. The Constitution pretty clearly implies, "uh-uh."

Hastert has been leaning on the Bush administration to step in and restrain its attorney general and apologist for the torture of prisoners, Alberto Gonzales, and address the constitutional crisis that has incurred as a result of the latter's unprecedented overstepping. Yesterday, the president issued an executive order that seals, temporarily, the materials seized from Jefferson's office.

From today's Washington Post story by Dan Eggen and Jim VandeHei:

In a six-paragraph statement, Bush cast the dispute in historic terms and said he issued the order to give Justice Department officials and lawmakers more time to negotiate a compromise. "Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," Bush said. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lay guilty on all counts

Unless his defense attorneys make a miracle happen on appeal, it looks as though Kenny Boy, as President Bush likes to call him, is going to be spending a long time in prison. The only better result would be if they would send him to a real prison -- not some Camp Cupcake.

Lay's co-conspirator, former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, has been spared of some seven or eight counts of insider trading, but he's been convicted of a dozen or so other felonious fraud counts. Now, will anybody look at the links between this massive fraud -- which cost thousand of people their retirement -- and the Bush presidential campaign.

With Lay as a major fundraiser, the Bush campaign basically received a high level of donations from people who were flying high at the cost of the jobs of the rank and file, and the retirement income of investors and employees alike. Never mind the losses incurred by the havoc wreaked by Enron on the portion of the power grid that serves California.

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Is Kenny Boy goin' down?

CNN is reporting that a verdict in the Enron trial will be announced momentarily. Will former Enron CEO president Ken Lay, George Bush's #1 campaign contributor, face serious jail time?

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Cheney to testify in Plame leak case?

After the ongoing expectation and subsequent daily disappointment of the unindicted status of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, your blogstress sees some glimmer of justice in yesterday's revelation by the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case that Vice President Richard V. Cheney (the "V" stands for Vader; his cosmic first name being Darth, not Dick -- though the latter seems to suit him at least as well) may be called to testify as a government witness. Reporting from David Johnston in today's New York Times:

On the issue of whether Mr. Cheney will testify, the brief said, "Contrary to defendant's assertion, the government has not represented that it does not intend to call the vice president as a witness at trial."
Delicieux, mes amis, non? Well, not so fast. The guys on NPR are saying that this element of the brief filed yesterday by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is more a posture that says "Just try me" than an indication of where the prosecutor intends to go.

Apparently Cheney's lawyers have told people that the vice president's name has been eliminated from the witness list, and this made the prosecutor really, really mad.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Dereliction of duty
Dems who support Hayden

Reading the news of the vote by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to move to the Senate floor the nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden to the post of director of central intelligence (DCI), your ordinarily serene blogstress is beside herself with emotion that veers from despair to fury. Vous et moi have been abandoned, mes amis, by the majority of Democrats on the intelligence committee who decided to support Hayden. They are: Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.V.).

Hayden, you'll recall, is the architect of the Bush administration's domestic spying program -- the one of which he assured the nation was only directed at suspected terrorists who make calls to people overseas. That turned out to be a lie, of course, proven by the big USA Today story that reported the extent of telecom companies' involvement in the scheme, which was revealed to involve the government's snooping on the telephone traffic of virtually every American on whose phone records it could set its prying eyes.

Your cybertrix does offer gratitude to Democratic Senators Evan Bayh (Ind.), Russell Feingold (Wis.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), who had the gumption to vote "nay" on the Hayden nomination. She remains quite perplexed, however, by the votes of the others -- especially Levin and Rockefeller, who had both eloquently raised concerns when the domestic espionage, conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) at the behest of President Bush, was revealed by The New York Times last December.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Administration wages war on reporters

The attorney general of the United States said, on ABC's Sunday talk show, "This Week," that reporters who publish classified information will be prosecuted. According to the Associated Press (AP), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declined to say whether or not the Justice Department would prosecute The New York Times for its December 2005 reporting that revealed the existence of a massive domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) at the behest of President Bush.

"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected."
Before rushing to the conclusion, mes amis, that Mr. Attorney General means only to protect your security and mine, your blogstress urges you to consider the fact that president has the power to classify, at will, any damn thing he wants -- which means, essentially, that if the president doesn't want it known, a journalist is vulnerable to prosecution for reporting it.

Cross-reference this bit of information, if you will, with the assertion of Brian Ross, the ABC News chief investigative correspondent, to your blogstress that the government has turned the tools granted the administration for pursing terrorists on the nation's journalists. Ross revealed last week that his phone records, as well as those of reporters at The New York Times and the Washington Post are being monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Make no mistake, dear readers: the permanent, secret government of unelected spymasters has completed its coup.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Do you know what it means
to diss New Orleans?

Photo: 2005 © A.M. Stan for AFGE



It's been a weekend of highs, lows and best-of-bad-choices for the good people of New Orleans -- including those in the Katrina diaspora.

Those who might like to see the city take on a whiter character were dealt a setback this week with the re-election of Mayor Ray Nagin. Yet, given the mayor's performance during Hurricane Katrina, any large celebration would be premature.

On a more distressing front, the city's congressman, Rep. William Jefferson, is being investigated for taking bribes, and the case against him looks pretty good. This couldn't come at a better time for those on the light side who would like to play the race card, since the bribes allegedly taken by Jefferson, an African-American, are said to have been for the securing of contracts between a Louisiana firm and African governments.

In fact, the releasing of a previously sealed affidavit by the FBI, and a very dramatic raid on Jefferson's offices conducted this weekend, smack of racial politics, especially given the outcome of the mayoral election.

Did Jefferson take the bribe? It looks that way. Is his case being handled in a more high-profile manner than most such cases? It looks that way.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Spirit
Freeing the Magdalene

If anything good is to come from the hype surround the movie version of the "Da Vinci Code," it is perhaps the mystery that surrounds the life of Mary of Magadala, who was arguably the most important disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Although the movie reduces the importance of the Magdalene to her role as a breeder, the movie's release has given others the opportunity to delve deeper.

In "An Inconvenient Woman," Newsweek's Jonathan Darman, together with collaborator Anne Underwood, offer, in this week's cover story, a succinct yet substantive history of the myth of Mary Magdalene, even as they explore possible historical truths.

"The Da Vinci Code" seems to think that the secret tradition of Mary Magdalene speaks to the carnal. In reality, it tells of something far more subversive: the intellectual equality of the sexes. The current Magdalene cult still focuses on her sexuality even though no early Christian writings speak of her sexuality at all. "Why do we feel the need to resexualize Mary?" wonders Karen King, author of "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala.""We've gotten rid of the myth of the prostitute. Now there's this move to see her as wife and mother. Why isn't it adequate to see her as disciple and perhaps apostle?"

[...]

Brown's mistake is understandable. Sex sells in our time, as it did in Gregory's, and probably Jesus', too. Mary remains a prisoner, a mistaken creature of sex. History may yet set her free. There are still undiscovered gospels sitting in unknown deserts or on unknown library shelves. Scholars say it is only a matter of time before some of them surface and upend our notions of Mary and Jesus once again.
Great work.

CHECK IT OUT: CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL NEWSWEEK STORY.

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Spirit
Religious left missing forest for trees

This week, the newly formed Network of Spiritual Progressives met in Washington, D.C., to share insights among members and to eke out something like an agenda, according to Neela Banerjee of The New York Times:

[A]t a session on ethical behavior, including sexual behavior, the 50 or so activists talked little about what to tell Congress about abortion or same-sex marriage. Instead, the Rev. Ama Zenya of First Congregational Church in Oakland, Calif., urged them to talk to one another about their spiritual values and "to practice fully our authentic being."

Kimberly Crichton, a Washington lawyer and Quaker, grew impatient. "I think we would be more effective if we focused on specific legislation," Ms. Crichton said. "Are we going to discuss specific policies?"

Ms. Zenya replied: "What we envisioned this time is saying we are a religious voice. More relationship-building, consciousness-raising."

The man in the pew in front of Ms. Crichton translated: "The answer is, no."
Your blogstress humbly suggests that what is missing from this equation is an organizing philosophy, one that would allow the participating members to assess each issue to arrive at a policy agenda. Your écrivaine herewith deigns to direct the attention of progressive people of faith to perhaps the most spiritually sound philosophical treatise to emerge in quite some time -- don't let its secularity fool you: Michael Tomasky's essay on where the Democrats need to go in order to find themselves and get a life. Tomasky has articulated a strong argument, urging Democrats to reorient their perspective and rhetoric to the notion of the common good.From The American Prospect:
The common good is common sense, and the historical time is right for it, for two reasons. First, what I’m trying to describe here is post-ideological in the best sense, a sense that could have broader appeal than what we normally think of as liberal ideology, because what’s at the core of this worldview isn’t ideology. It’s something more innately human: faith. Not religious faith. Faith in America and its potential to do good; faith that we can build a civic sphere in which engagement and deliberation lead to good and rational outcomes; and faith that citizens might once again reciprocally recognize, as they did in the era of Democratic dominance...
This makes sense on a number of levels, thinks your net-tête, not least of which is the fact that it is an ethically sublime way of assessing the work of politics. It's also shrewd electoral strategy, since many of the priorities long associated with Democrats -- a social safety net, for example -- are shared by rank-and-file conservative evangelicals, even if those who claim to speak for them would leave one to believe otherwise.

CLICK HERE TO READ TOMASKY'S ESSAY, "PARTY IN SEARCH OF A NOTION."

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

The general doth protest too much?

In an e-mail exchange with your blogstress, her good friend, Phillip Coons of The Delusional Duck, writes:

Forget what you read about the general and Rumsfeld being at odds or that special provisions will be written so that technically Hayden won't be in the DoD [Department of Defense] chain of command while serving as director.

For the folks at the CIA to ever trust him, he has to shed the uniform.
What do you think, mes amis?

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Friday, May 19, 2006

The Hayden nomination
Well, that was quick

Can anybody tell your blogstress how the nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden to the directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) went, in the course of a day, from being "troubled" to "on track"? At his nomination hearing, Hayden consistently stonewalled on significant questions: detainees, NSA domestic spying and his role in such. (Of course, toi et moi will never know what he told the senators on double super-secret background in the closed session.)

Your cybertrix believes that unless every Democrat on that committee votes "no" on moving this nomination to the floor, the idea of an opposition party is a cruel illusion.


CLICK HERE FOR A TRANSCRIPT OF THE HEARING FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

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Funny biz on Air Force contract

On a different subject, a visit to The Delusional Duck yielded this overlooked tidbit on the criminal investigation of Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley and his precessor, Gen. John Jumpers, for some funny business regarding a $49.9 million contract.

Duck drew on the work of ABC's indefatigable Brian Ross for the goods. You'll recall that your blogstress had a conversation with Mr. Ross earlier this week for FishbowlDC in which Mr. Ross alleged that the government had turned anti-terrorism tools on reporters, including him.

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The Hayden nomination
Back to civvies?

Your blogstress's good friend, Phillip Coons of The Delusional Duck writes:

Addie, I feel this is an important point!

From Navy Times: Asked whether he is considering retiring from the military to take the CIA post, Hayden, dressed in his Air Force uniform bearing a host of medals, told the panel: “The fact that I have to decide what tie to put on in the morning doesn’t change who I am.”

He said a more important issue was whether he could “bond” with those at the CIA. If the uniform “gets in the way of that, I’ll make the right decision.”


CLICK HERE FOR A TRANSCRIPT OF THE HEARING FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hayden nomination hearing
Your blogstress shall return

Although your blogstress would like to spend the rest of her day lolling about in her négligée, eating bon-bons and watching C-SPAN, other duties call -- and these blow-hards were supposed to have been in closed session by now.

Your Webwench does, however, assure her devotees that she shall return later for a display of her customary wit as she dissects the remains of today's proceedings.


CLICK HERE FOR A TRANSCRIPT OF THE HEARING FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

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Hayden nomination hearing
Yes, they're still hearing...

The Senate intelligence committee return from its lunchbreak not long ago, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) did one of those obnoxious, solicitous rounds of questioning for which he is famous. Here's your Webwench's paraphrase: General, did you approve this program because you wanted to pry in to the private lives of ordinary Americans?

What's the guy gonna say. Indeed I did, Senator!


CLICK HERE FOR A PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF THE HEARING FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

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Hayden nomination hearing
Can Hayden call a woman "Senator"?

Your blogstress could be wrong, but it seems to her that Gen. Hayden addressed neither Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) by their rightful titles. While the men who questioned the general were often addressed as "Senator," the only honorific he had for the women as "Ma'am."

Looks like somebody needs a kick in the pants by a stiletto-heeled pump.


CLICK HERE FOR A TRANSCRIPT OF THE PROCEEDINGS SO FAR FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

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Hayden nomination hearing
"He didn't answer any of them"

After being stonewalled by Gen. Hayden -- who declined to answer most of her questions in open session -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), apparently thinking she was off-mike, said, "He didn't answer any of them."

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Hayden nomination hearing
"Reasonable just changed"

Under a grilling by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about the NSA's adherence (or not) to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, Hayden refuted the notion that searches may be conducted only by warrant. According to the amendment, Hayden said, and according to "relatives of mine who are in law school," (emphasis added by blogstress) the comma that comes between the clause between the protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures" and the one defining the terms of warrants means that a warrant is not necessary for a search that is deemed "reasonable" by the NSA.

So let's get this right: Hayden is saying that he gets to decide what constitutes a reasonable search based on the judgment of law school students to whom he is related. Your Webwench is no constitutional scholar, but she suspects and absence of checks and balances in this scheme.

Later, in trying to explain himself further to Sen. Feinstein, Gen. Hayden described the standard for reasonableness as something rather elastic. Once a new technology comes along, said Hayden, "reasonableness has just changed."

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Hayden nomination hearing
Wyden throws real punches

"Values are about following the law and doing what you say you are going to do....General, in evaluating your words, I now have trouble accepting your credibility..."

--Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

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Hayden nomination hearing
Detainee treatment

Hayden seems to have just told Levin that the guidelines for prisoner treatment outlined by the Army Field Manual do not apply to the CIA.

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Hayden nomination hearing
Hayden denies lawyers expressed concern

In answer to a question from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Gen. Hayden disputed reporting in Sunday's New York Times that NSA lawyers had questioned the legality of the domestic spying the agency undertook under Hayden's leadership.

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Hayden nomination hearing
Hayden stonewalls on scope of NSA program

Levin could not get an answer from Gen. Hayden as to whether or not the news reports on domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) represent the whole of the program. He'll only say so in closed session, he says. Note that Levin wasn't asking what the program entails, just whether or not the full scope of the program has been revealed.

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Hayden nomination hearing
Nominee disses intelligent design

Gen. Hayden just told Sen. Kit Bond (R) that there is "easily documented evidence" that the the revelation of the NSA's domestic spying "has impacted the enemy." The general went on to say that the revelation means that now the U.S. will be catching mostly "dumb terrorists" because the smart ones have been tipped off. "It's Dawinian," he said.

Does anybody really believe that before that revelation, the smart terrorists assumed nobody was listening?

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Hayden nomination hearing
Watch it on C-SPAN Online

To watch the Hayden nomination hearing in Real Player, click here.

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Hayden nomination hearing
A few questions

Chairman Roberts to nominee Michael Hayden:

ROBERTS: General, do you agree to appear before the committee here or in other venues when invited?

HAYDEN: Yes, sir.

ROBERTS: Do you agree to send Central Intelligence Agency officials to appear before the committee and designated staff when invited?

HAYDEN: Absolutely, yes, sir.

ROBERTS: Do you agree to provide documents or any material requested by the committee in order for it to carry out its oversight and its legislative responsibilities?

HAYDEN: Yes, sir.

ROBERTS: Will you ensure that the Central Intelligence Agency provide such material to the committee when requested?

HAYDEN: Yes, sir.

ROBERTS: Do you renounce Satan and all his works?

HAYDEN: Yes, sir -- well, except for those that protect the lives of Americans in the War on Terror.
All right, all right; your blogstress made that last part up.

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Hayden nomination hearing
Backgrounder - National Press Club speech

Throughout today's hearing on the nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to the post of director of central intelligence, your blogstress's devotees will hear references to a speech that Hayden delivered at the National Press Club in January, after The New York Times broke the news of NSA's domestic spying.

Click here for the transcript of Hayden's National Press Club speech.

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Hayden nomination hearing
CIA as newsmaker

In his opening statement, Hayden said, "The CIA has got to get out of the news."

Instead of blaming the CIA's celebrated problem-child status in the national news on internal leaks, Hayden might considering stopping the CIA from engaging in illegal activities like the U.S. of offshore, secret prisons where detainees are said to be tortured.

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Hayden nomination hearing
Porter who?

Your blogstress was intrigued by Gen. Hayden's paean, in his opening statement at his nomination hearing, to the man given the heave-ho whom the general was chosen to replace. Trying to appease Goss's pals on the Hill, perhaps?

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Hayden nomination hearing
Levin highlights administration lies

Thank goodness for Michigan Senator Carl Levin who, in the Hayden hearing, is standing in for Jay Rockefeller, the committee's ranking Democratic member. Levin just essentially called the nation's attention to the lies the administration -- Hayden included -- has promulgated about the National Security Agency's widespread spying on Americans.

While the administration has responded to last week's USA Today article on the massive database that, at the direction of Hayden, the NSA has created on the telephone traffic of virtually every American by saying, well, that's different from eavesdropping -- which the administration contends it is not doing on Jane and Joe Average.

Not accepting the administration's framing of the issue, Levin argued not the merits of whether or not the American people mind their phone traffic being documented, but whether or not the American people have any reason to believe that that's all the administration is up to.

Making his case, Levin reminded the committee that Bush, Cheney and Hayden himself had all assured the American people last December that the NSA was surveilling only phone traffic between foreign targets and U.S. phone users.

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Hayden nomination hearing
Life and death

Here's Chairman Roberts's idea of American values: "You have no civil liberties if you're dead."

Of course, this nation was founded on Patrick Henry's cry, "Give me liberty or give me death."

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Hayden nomination hearing
Roberts derides NSA critics for the ignorance that he promotes

At the Hayden nomination hearing before the Senate intelligence committee, committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Ks.) opened by deriding critics of the NSA domestic spying program for "decrying a program about which they know nothing."

Yeah, well, isn't that the point here? The administration, until yesterday, wouldn't even brief the congressional intelligence committees about this program so that they could administer the oversight with which the Congress is charged in the U.S. Constitution. Herewith the Roberts take: "...ignorance is no impediment for some critics."

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Stay tuned to AddieStan for
Real-time blogging on Hayden nomination

At 9:30 EDT, the Senate will commence the nomination hearing of Gen. Michael C. Hayden to the post of Director of Central Intelligence. Stay tuned for priceless commentary from your blogstress.

(For alerts to new AddieStan posts, subscribe to AddieStan's feed, and view through your favorite newsreader.)

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More Than 50 Die in Afghan Battles

Just in from the Associated Press:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- American and Afghan forces fought several battles with hundreds of Taliban militants in restive southern Afghanistan, and at least 57 insurgents, a dozen police officers and a Canadian soldier were killed, officials said Thursday.
Are we paying attention yet?

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Stock sell-off ringing alarm bells

As your blogtress writes this, the New York Stock Exchange composite (click on the "Indexes" tab in the box on the right) is down by 193 points and dropping. The sell-off is attributed to scary inflation numbers released earlier today, which show an increase of 0.6 percent, and an unexpected 0.3 percent for the ridiculous core inflation rate which, as explained by Glenn Kellis of Ob:Blog, excludes energy and food from its calculation.

Your cybertrix prays that her readers have stashed something useful under the mattress.

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Turnabout on double super-secret background
NSA briefs full committees

Even as your blogstress writes, members of the House and Senate intelligence committees are being briefed by officials of the National Security Agency (NSA) about the administration's domestic spying programs. The NSA briefers are addressing the full committees, a development that represents a change from the leadership-only policy the administration had so adamantly adhered to for years.

Today's move is widely seen as an attempt to save the nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden, architect of the NSA's program of spying on Americans, to the post of director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), whose nomination hearing begins tomorrow before the Senate committee.

Your Webwench will dilligently cover the hearings for her devotees, so stay tuned to AddieStan.com.

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Addie talks to Brian Ross for FishbowlDC

Check out your blogstress's tête-à-tête with ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross at FishbowlDC. It was Ross, you'll recall, who broke the story, earlier this week, of the government's spying on journalists.

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Stengel to take over Time mag

Remember that limb on which your blogstress perched herself, overlooking the speculative media landscape? Well, down just came blogstress, Spandex and all.

Your cybertrix had put her money on People magazine managing editor Martha Nelson to be the fixer of Time. She based this on an obviously poorly educated guess, since the buzz around the impending appointment was that the new leader of the venerable newsweekly would be a surprise, and would come from outside the magazine. Your écrivaine took this to mean that the new top Time ed would come from outside the magazine but within the ranks of Time Inc., since the Time Inc. corporate culture is famously insidey. Looking around up in the corner offices of the Time+Life Building, your blogstress found Ms. Nelson to be a likely choice, being the brilliant magazine editor that she is. (Not that your net-tête is sucking up, or anything.)

"Outside the magazine" turned out to be a bit of a ruse, since the enigmatic Richard Stengel, who won Time's top edit spot, spent a number of years on the magazine's staff before leaving to lead a Philadelphia think tank. Your blogstress remembers Stengel from her New York days as the enigmatic and very elegant writer of January Sun. (Not that your Webwench is sucking up, or anything.)

Herewith, via Romenesko, the memo from Time Inc. honcho John Huey announcing Stengel's appointment.

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The Horn of Africa: Now it makes sense

Devotees of your blogstress will recall her puzzlement over President Bush's reference, in a commencement address last week at the Gulf Coast Community College in Biloxi, to a soldier who was killed "fighting terrorism" over "the Horn of Africa."

Today comes word, thanks to the work of Emily Wax and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post Foreign Service, that the U.S. is backing warlords in Somalia's civil war, ostensibly to prevent al Qaeda from taking root there:

Africa researchers said they were concerned that while the Bush administration was focused on the potential terrorist threat, little was being done to support economic development initiatives that could provide alternative livelihoods to picking up a gun or following extremist ideologies in Somalia. Somalia watchers and Somalis themselves said there has not been enough substantial backing for building a new government after 15 years of collapsed statehood.

"If the real problem is Somalia, then what have we done to change the situation inside Somalia? Are we funding schools, health care or helping establish an effective government?" [Ted] Dagne [the leading Africa analyst for the Congressional Research Service] said. "We have a generation of Somali kids growing up without education and only knowing violence and poverty. Unless there is a change, these could become the next warlords out of necessity for survival. That's perhaps the greatest threat we have yet to address."
Lost on the Bushies is the lesson of Afghanistan, and how al Qaeda came to take root there: the U.S. backed warlords in the Afghans' fight against the Soviet Union. Then the land of the free did nothing to help feed or educate the Afghans, who were left hungry amid a pile of rubble, with only U.S. weapons to sustain them.

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FBI investigates NYPD

From The New York Times comes continuing coverage of the violations of the rights of protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention. This is a story getting short shrift by the rest of the national media, but vitally important as the nation grapples with recent revelations about spying on Americans and the reporters who serve their interests. From today's Times:

F.B.I. Is Seeking to Interview Jailed Activists

By AL BAKER
Published: May 17, 2006


As part of a continuing criminal civil rights investigation of the New York Police Department, the F.B.I. is seeking to interview protesters who were arrested in 2004 during the Republican National Convention and then had the charges against them dimissed. Investigators are specifically seeking one protester whose case prompted the federal inquiry.
Question is, will protesters whose rights have already been violated in their attempt to exercise their constitutional rights trust the FBI -- the agency currently busying itself violating the 4th amendment rights of news reporters? Your blogstress, in the position of said protesters, would be most wary.

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Turner Questions Hayden Nomination

Admiral Stansfield Turner (ret.), in a surprising commentary on NPR's Morning Edition, today urged the Senate not to confirm the appointment of General Michael Hayden to the post of CIA director -- if Hayden maintains his previously stated contention that it is legal for the government to eavesdrop on the phone calls of Americans without a warrant. Turner served in CIA's top spot under President Jimmy Carter.

NPR will post audio of the commentary at 10:00 AM.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blogging Snow
TV debut of WH press sec'y

One reporter, whom your blogstress could not identify, asked the president's new press secretary something like this: Why won't you address the USA Today story on the NSA's use of the phone records of ordinary Americans?

Snow's reply? "Because it's inappropriate."

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BellSouth denies complicity with NSA

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting BellSouth's assertion that it did not turn over records to the NSA, and that the company "has no evidence," in the AP's words, of a contract with the super-secret spy agency:


The regional Bell, which offers telecommunication services in nine Southeastern states, said Monday it had conducted a ''thorough review'' and established that it had not given the National Security Agency customer call records.
On Thursday, USA Today expanded on earlier reports by other news agencies of a massive database of the nation's phone call and e-mail traffic being amassed by the National Security Agency. The USA Today piece claimed that Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T had all turned over phone records to the NSA, but that Qwest Communications had refused.

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Dragon rising

Amid all the intrigue about the FBI monitoring the calls of reporters, the NSA monitoring the calls of the rest of us, and the vice president's handwritten talking points that apparently led to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, your blogstress has found it difficult to concentrate on bigger things, like what the heck is going on with the global economy?

Oh, mes amis, do not groan. Your loving Webwench promises to make this painless, and perhaps even amusing. But she asks your forbearance as she begins with a rather dry report in yesterday's New York Times:

Under U.S. Pressure, China Allows Yuan to Gain

By KEITH BRADSHER
Published: May 15, 2006


HONG KONG, May 15 — China allowed its currency to strengthen today past the psychologically significant level of 8 to the dollar for the first time since 1994, in a concession to political pressures from Washington and the dollar's own weakness.

The actual rise in the currency, known as the yuan or renminbi, was tiny: not quite a tenth of a percent from Friday's level. But the yuan's breaching of 8 to the dollar was nonetheless an important event that rattled currency markets already shaken by the dollar's recent weakness and a slide in United States share prices on Friday.

The dollar dropped to a two-year low against the euro and approached an 8-month-low against the Japanese yen before recovering considerable ground late in the Asian trading day.
.
What this means, if your cybertrix has this right, is that as the U.S. struggles with its own inflation woes, it wishes to foist some inflationary pressure on our bankers, the Chinese (who buy vast amounts of U.S. currency, the better to help us finance our national debt). In pushing the Chinese to pay more for a dollar, it would appear that the U.S. is seeking a better deal in the debt-finance department.(Forgive your écrivaine's confusion; the Chinese are being made to pay less for a dollar.)

At present, this Faustian bargain has held because China needs the insatiable U.S. consumer to keep buying its goods. But what happens on the day when the credit comes due for the consumer, the day when housing defaults on all those hyperleveraged mortgages cut into the collection of all measure of consumer debt? If our markets no longer serve the Chinese interest, would they such sell off our currency and leave us to drown in economic and psychic depression?

Frank G. of Beltway Sewer sees it this way:
The beeg picture being missed here is that American government has totally abdicated its responsibility to the electorate, and has adopted the values of a corporation.

Republicans run around decrying government spending, but spending is exactly what the government is both empowered and required to do. The government is supposed to be the guiding conscience that impels petty, parochial, local interests to pay attention to each other's needs. Roads. Medicine. Food. Housing. Energy. Communication.

Although I personally feel the clock is ticking toward the day in less than 13 years when the Chinese march in and take what they will, by that time, own, lock, stock, and barrel, it still makes me wonder why the American populus is so unbelievably stupid that they allow this process of asset liquidation to continue unfettered.

How can it be that a true revolution has not materialized where the corporations are told to stop and government is held accountable to its citizens for its actions? Dubai ports deals, Halliburton contracts, ad nauseum, are only the symptomatic tips of a huge iceberg of apathy, despair, greed, and fantasy that have overtaken the American collective psyche and rendered it (according to plan) completely irrelevant and powerless.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Yo granddaddy


Screen capture from Crooks and Liars

Here he goes...he wants us to know that he's met people like us...people whose parents or grandparents came over from the old country. Of course, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to exploit the story of a man, a Latino, a non-citizen and U.S. Marine, who was wounded in the Iraq conflict (which the president convinced the country to accept based on a pack of lies.)

Your blogstress, though of immigrant stock, knew only the U.S.-born generations of her family. But of his grandfather, who fled to America to escape conscription in the tzar's army, le père de la blogstresse, discussing the current debate over immigrants, said, "When my grandfather wanted to come over, all he had to do was get on the boat."

Of course, that's when the nation was desperate for factory workers, and before unions won a minimum wage and an eight-hour day for workers. Today, an employer would have to give a documented worker overtime after eight hours, and a minimum wage (though that is laughably low). Today's undocumented worker, vulnerable to deportation, can be made to work 13-hour shifts and otherwise exploited. And so it is the undocumented who are built into our economy, in much the same way that famine-plagued Irish or draft-dodgers from Poland were in the 19th century.

So, let's stop kidding ourselves: we're just blaming the victims for the problem. If we didn't keep all the goodies up here above the border, these folks would have no interest in leaving their homes and families. If your family was hungry, wouldn't you do what you had to do to feed them?

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Who gets out?

What with the soldiers, the drones, the satellite cameras, the motion detectors, the biometric devices, your blogstress wonders, are they trying to keep the Mexicans out, or preparing the infrastructure for keeping the rest of us in?

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Technology

It will be technology, the president implies, that will really solve the illegal immigration program. We'll use drones, aerial photography and motion sensors. Yesterday, on "Meet the Press," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for a worker program authenticated by biometric means, such as retinal scans.

Sounds like a boon for the nation's defense contractors, no? (Hey, isn't that the sector where the Bahrainis finally got a contract?)

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If the border isn't militarized, then what is the military doing there?

The president is insisting that the National Guard will not be used in a law enforcement capacity at the Southern Border. So, then, what will they be doing? Building the fence? Filling out paperwork? What?

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A nation of laws; a nation of immigrants
Bush speaks from the Oval

For decades now, says the president, America has failed to take full control of its border. And guess what? adds your blogstress. We never will.

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The buzz on Time

While the wags wag away about the future of Time magazine, they have fixated on word from the honchos that the successor to Time editor Jim Kelly, who is said to be on his way out, will "come from the outside." And so the inevitable names of Tina Brown and Adam Moss are being bandied about.

Your blogstress, however, speculates that while the magazine's new editor may well come from outside the magazine, this person may very well be lurking amid the upper ranks of Time Inc. And it will be a surprise -- no one will have seen this one coming.

Of course, your cybertrix is way out on a limb here, but she suspects that Time is on her side. Need a hint: Tell Barbra Streisand to tune up her pipes and start warbling her theme song.

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Cheney unfit for office?


Cheney asks Libby, on a copy of Wilson's op-ed piece, if Wilson was sent "on a junket by his wife," CIA operative Valerie Plame. The notated newspaper clipping was entered into evidence on Friday by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.





It was Vice President Richard V. Cheney, we learned yesterday, who pushed the National Intelligence Agency (NSA) into its data-mining venture on the phone calls of virtually every American, according to The New York Times. According to the Times's Scott Shane and Eric Lichtblau, only too happy to do the vice president's bidding was Gen. Michael Hayden, the president's nominee for CIA director -- despite the reticence of the NSA's attorneys. From Shane and Lichtblau:

For his part, Mr. Cheney helped justify the program with an expansive theory of presidential power, which he explained to traveling reporters a few days after The Times first reported on the program last December.

Mr. Cheney traced his views to his service as chief of staff to President Gerald R. Ford in the 1970's, when post-Watergate changes, which included the FISA law, "served to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in a national security area."
The FISA law of which Cheney spoke is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which defined the terms by which the NSA could spy on U.S. citizens, and set up a secret court for the issuance of search warrants to the agency.

Photo humor by Frank G. of BeltwaySewer.com

If the thought of Dick Cheney deciding single-handedly to override the will of Congress -- not to mention the U.S. Constitution -- in order to violate your Fourth Amendment rights, consider the evidence being gathered that puts him closer to the leak of the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson to the media. In the photocopy shown above, Cheney's handwritten notes appear on a clipped copy of the op-ed piece published in The New York Times by Joseph Wilson IV, the former ambassador to Niger and husband of Valerie Plame. Wilson's piece focuses on the journey to Niger he undertook at the behest of the CIA in order to research the administration's claim that Sadaam Hussein had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from that country. As everyone knows, Wilson upset a lot of people at the White House with his contention that it never happened. The newspaper clipping with Cheney's marks was entered into evidence on Friday by the prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation.

Cheney's notes read: "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an ambassador to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"

In fact, wherever one finds trouble in this administration, one more often than not finds Cheney. It has gotten so bad, apparently, that, according to Watergate veteran Carl Bernstein, former Secretary of State Colin Powell (who famously took up the cause of the purported Niger/Iraq collusion before the United Nations as part of the administration's case for war) "has, in private, made statements interpreted by many important figures in Washington as seemingly questioning Cheney's emotional stability..."

Bernstein urges the Senate to open hearings right away on the apparently criminal enterprises of the Bush administration, and sees Cheney as something of a kingpin. He compares the leaking of Plame's name to the Watergate burglary -- a small transgression when compared to the larger conspiracy of illegal spying and whatnot, but the one with the potential to expose the whole lot. Could Powell be the John Dean to Cheney's Haldeman?

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My friend, Moammar

Well, whattaya know? Moammar Qaddafi is our friend. That's right, mes amis, Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice has announced that the United States of America is normalizing its relations with oil-rich Libya, the North African land of the nomadic Bedouin tribes, once known to Americans primarily as a haven for terrorists. Most notably, Libya was implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed everybody on board. MSNBC quotes Secretary Rice as follows:

“We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya's continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
Wonder who's getting the contract to build the new embassy the U.S. plans to erect in Tripoli. (Halliburton? Bechtel?)

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Blogging the speech tonight

Visit the breakaway republic this evening during the president's speech for your blogstress's real-time commentary. Advance word is that he will call for militarizing the U.S. border.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Spirit
Beware grand solutions

From Tim Caggiano, your blogstress's comrade in creative chaos, comes this missive, written in response to last Sunday's Spirit feature, which focused on Curtis White's genius piece in the April issue of Harper's, titled "The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance."

On the extreme right we have the fear-mongering people of the word -- the church, the legal dogmatists and fundamentalists avec/sans head wrap. Take B-16 [Pope Benedict XVI],who early in his reign took troubles to denounce situationalists or anyone else with a little intellectual imagination.

On the liberal left we have rationalist, humanist, big-D Democrats with utopian sugarplums a-dance in their heads. Some good ideas -- but, oh, those pesky unforseen circumstances.

What's a mother to do? Well why not dredge the Bible, starting from jump. Adam and Eve get the boot from Eden for being too big for their intellectual britches. Trying to play God, for God's sake. Would that our presumptive leaders would digest that morsel of humility when they foist upon us (pass on the tab, to boot) for grand schemae. Democracy for Iraq? Peace talks for pathological squabblers...

There are scads of great principles to be mined in the sacred texts of religion, even the great ranters, from Jefferson to Marx (Karl, not Zeppo.) Accumulated wisdom is a powerful vane to the wind of thought. And Imagination bermed with common sense can lead to swell solutions. Beware grand solutions, drawn from precedent or cut from whole cloth.

--T.C.

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Spirit
Colbert duels Albright on Bible

Earlier this week, the Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert brought a tear to your blogstress's eye as he finished a New Testament quotation begun by his guest, former Secretary of State Madeliene Albright. If you've managed to escape seeing Albright interviewed this week, you are surely not watching political TV, mon ami, and are probably doing something quaint like reading a newspaper or watching Spike. As you may have guessed, Albright is promoting her new book, The Mighty and the Almighty, a tome about religion and the state.

In this role, Albright has proven herself to be as charming as she is quick on her feet, and her dance with Stephen Colbert on last Thursday's Colbert report was one of the most entertaining bits of television your cybertrix has seen in some time. Your Webwench invites you to watch the video on the Comedy Central site.

Herewith, your net-tête's very own transcription of her favorite bit from the interview (what your écrivaine won't do for her devotees...), wherein Colbert and Albright spar over the meaning of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13:

COLBERT: But don't you think that the United States has a long history of embracing -- at least using our common religious language in order to convey American ideas; the ideas of manifest destiny, the idea of God bless that from sea to shining sea? That language is part of the American experience.

ALBRIGHT: You're absolutely right. And when I started writing this book, I thought that George Bush was an anomoly. that he really was different than all of American history. But when I went back and looked at it all again -- you're right. This country was started by religious people who wanted to escape persecution They then -- the whole manifest destiny, take over this continent -- forgetting, kind of , that there were some other people here before. And President McKinley actually said that we had a duty to Christianize the Phillipines. So, what President Bush talks about is not totally out of the character of the United States. The problem, however, is that he is so certain that everything he believes is right. And the problem with that , when it's translated into policy, means that if Plan A fails, you don't have Plan B.

COLBERT: But if God's giving you a Plan A, do you need a Plan B?

ALBRIGHT: Well, but we also know that, when on this earth, we don't everything. there are some people who may think so, but we do not know everything. As the apostle Paul said, "I see through a glass darkly," which means that you don't see it all. But if you believe--

COLBERT: -- "But then I shall see clearly; I shall know as I am known" -- after I'm elected.

ALBRIGHT: No -- in the next world. Then God reveals it. But I think that if you're so sure, as President Bush is, that you know everything, then you don't listen to alternative plans. That may explain why we're in such a mess in Iraq. That's a diplomatic term of art.

COLBERT: Well I see Iraq, I see Iraq -- I don't think I'm alone here -- I think President Bush might share my feeling on this -- I see President Bush as Jesus, and Iraq is Jesus's 40 days in the desert -- only it might be 40 years.
In truth, though he stuck with his schtick as a parody of a right-wing nut, Colbert truly engaged with Albright, and provoked a superb interview with her -- far better than your blogstress has ever seen a "legitimate" journalist get from Albright.

And is was truly touching to see him finish her verse from St. Paul. It was a revealing moment, a moment when his viewers caught a glimpse of the real person inside the character -- a man, it turns out, who knows his scripture, and one of the most brilliant artists to ever hit the little screen.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Foggo of War
FBI searches home of Goss CIA aide

In a day as filled with spying and intrigue as this, your blogstress finds herself loosening her stays so as to avert a case of the vapors. The Washington Post is reporting that the FBI conducted, this morning, a search of the home of Dusty Foggo, the CIA big caught up in the defense contract bribery (with a side of hookers and tobacco) scandal.

If Patrick FitzGerald wants to get some TV glory for his said-to-be-impending indictment of Karl Rove, he'd best wait until next week, n'est-ce pas?

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Dormez-vous, America?
New poll finds most approve of NSA mining

Most disturbing, thinks your blogstress, is today's news from the Washington Post that a majority of Americans appear to be down with the NSA's snooping of their phone traffic.

In writing his piece on the poll, reporter Richard Morin is careful to note the results as an initial reaction from the public. However, still to be determined is whether the poll would have a different result if the public was aware that the snooping is being done without court warrants in apparent violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In earlier polls on the program -- before yesterday's revelation of the full scope of the spying on regular Americans -- respondents said they approved of the NSA's domestic spying. But when asked if they were okay with it being done without the required warrants, the public said it was not.

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Bringing home the bacon
(and the cigars and the hookers)

Your blogstress's pretty head is spinning, what with the torrent of revelations of executive-branch intrigue and corruption filling the front pages of the nation's newspapers today.

So vast is the conspiracy landscape that what would have been, on another day, an A-list story -- the tale of the CIA's former No. 3 involved in what appears to be a bribery scandal involving prostitutes and cigars (did they learn nothing from Bill Clinton about the dangerous combination of sex and cigars?) -- has been pushed down on the list by the story of the Bush administration's spying on virtually every American.

However, a brilliant bit of writing on the Goss scandal legacy in today's New York Times should not be missed. Herewith the opening graf of the article, from reporter Mark Mazzetti, Career C.I.A. Figure Is at Eye of Scandal:

In a scandal featuring a cast of characters with nicknames like Nine Fingers and Duke, a former C.I.A. undercover operative called Dusty has become a center of attention.
"Dusty," of course, is Dusty Foggo, a former undercover operative who was elevated by recently "resigned" CIA Director Porter Goss to the agency's third-from-the-top spot.

Midway into Mr. Mazetti's article, the tale veers from the merely seamy to the absurd. Herewith, the money graf:
The man Mr. Goss first selected to become the C.I.A.'s executive director, Michael V. Kostiw, had to turn down the job when it surfaced in the news media that he had resigned from the agency in the 1980's after being caught shoplifting bacon (emphasis added by Webwench).
No, mes amis, this is not from The Onion or Tom Burka's brilliant Opinions You Should Have; this sentence has been sanctioned by the Grey Lady herself.

From this informative piece, the reader gleans all manner of fascinating tidbits about the key players in this unfolding story:
But Charlie Wilson — the former Texas congressman who helped engineer the C.I.A. mission to arm Afghan rebels in the 1980's — said he attended two of Mr. Wilkes's poker parties, in 1994 and 1999, and that they usually ended by midnight and that he never saw prostitutes at the parties.
Your cybertrix had forgotten the former congressman's role in arming the Afghan mujahadeen; just as she had forgotten his role in seeing to the rebuilding of Afghanistan that the Americans did in order to repay the Afghans for winning the Cold War for us. Oh, wait, your écrivaine apparently did not forget that part -- because, shamefully, it never happened. And that's how the Taliban came to power.

READ MARK MAZZETTI'S ARTICLE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hayden stonewalls;
Bush reveals new front in terror war

Gen. Hayden just uttered his first public words since news broke in USA Today of the NSA's spying on virtually every American whose phone records it could access -- phone records that now comprise what is described as the largest database in the world.

Emerging from a meeting with Sen. Mitch McConnell, Hayden was asked by an offscreen reporter to speak to "the legality of the measures taken by the NSA" in its domestic spy program. Hayden abruptly shut the reporter down, saying that everything the NSA does is legal -- perhaps, following the Nixon adage, because the president says it is.

Meanwhile, as your blogstress toils over her iBook, President Bush is addressing the graduating class of Biloxi's Gulf Coast Community College. During the course of his speech, Mr. Bush lauded a mother-and-son team who are both graduating today, and who lost a respective son and brother "while fighting terrorists over the Horn of Africa."

Your cybertrix had missed the U.S. war on the Horn of Africa.

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Investing in Qwest

Your blogstress agrees with Matt Stoller that Qwest Communications deserves to be rewarded for its lonely position as the one telecom that refused to provide the National Security Agency (NSA) with the customer information the agency was demanding for the domestic spying program it conducts for the White House.

Qwest is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Here's its latest earnings report. (Do be aware, dear readers that the company is not entirely pristine. The last CEO left after admitting that he had misrepresented earnings.)

Depending on where you live, you may also be able to procure your long-distance service from Qwest, or use them as an ISP.

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Telecoms gave your phone records to NSA

At Americablog, John Aravosis calls our attention to the revelation, unveiled last night by USA Today, that the White House domestic spy program, conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), is worse than most have feared, and its scope stands in direct contradiction to President Bush's assertion that only calls and e-mails that involved one overseas party were targeted.

Non, mes amis, non! Qui est le target de ce programme? Vous, mes amis, vous!

That's right, darlings, there's not an American who's not in the NSA's sights. And it's all been done with the cooperation of telephone service providers -- with one notable exception: Qwest, the Colorado-based telecom. However, if your service is provided by AT&T, Verizon or BellSouth, you're totally screwed.

As part of his post, Mr. Aravosis provides handy links to instructions for encrypting your e-mail. It's really come to that.

Can't wait to find out what Gen. Michael Hayden, who oversaw this transgression of the Bill of Rights while he was NSA chief, has in store for us when he ascends to the helm of the CIA. Will Americans be "disappeared" to Guantanamo? Oh, wait -- I forgot that that's already happened.

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Connecting the dots
Rove implicated in Abramoff, Safavian scandals

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting on some juicy e-mails between the convicted felon Jack Abramoff, once the GOP's uberlobbyist, and the indicted former White House aide David Safavian.

The unprecedented removal of Safavian, by then administrator of federal procurement policy at White House Office of Management and Budget, from his office in handcuffs has received scant attention compared to the sexier Rove and Abramoff stories, but this week the media seem to be connecting the dots to find the three all tied together.

According to the AP, on the very day that the Washington Post broke the Abramoff story, Safavian reached out to the black-hatted-Jack with offers of help:

'Let me know if there is anything I can do to help with damage control,'' David Safavian, who is now under indictment, messaged Abramoff on Feb. 22, 2004.

At the time, Safavian was working at the White House Office of Management and Budget. He later became administrator of federal procurement policy at OMB.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting that Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, met with Abramoff regarding the potential hiring of two Abramoff picks at the Department of Interior -- the agency that houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs. You'll recall, mes amis, that Abramoff got snagged in his fraudulent dealings ostensibly on behalf several American Indian tribes. You'll also note that Gail Norton, who headed the agency at the time, left to spend more time with her family just as the feds homed in on Abramoff. From the article, Abramoff Visits in White House Logs Are Linked to Rove and a Budget Aide , by Philip Shenon:
[An administration] official said the visitor logs also referred to a 2004 meeting in which Mr. Abramoff talked with an official at the Office of Management and Budget to discuss his hopes of buying the Old Post Office building in Washington from the federal government.

The proposed purchase, which never occurred, is a focus of criminal charges brought against another former White House budget official, David F. Safavian. Mr. Safavian faces trial this month on charges of lying about his relationship to Mr. Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to charges of seeking to corrupt public officials.

The administration official's comments came several hours after the Secret Service made the visitor logs public in a settlement of a freedom-of-information lawsuit filed by a private legal group.
Now, can anybody tell your blogstress what happened with Gail Norton?

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's the key interest rate!

Just posted at The New York Times online edition:

Fed Raises Key Rate to Highest Level in 5 Years

By VIKAS BAJAJ

Published: May 10, 2006

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rates to 5 percent today, from 4.75 percent, and said that it may need to raise borrowing costs further in the coming months to contain inflation.

[...]

The Fed, whose chairman Ben S. Bernanke recently told Congress that policy makers might take a break in an effort so it can gather and analyze more economic data, was more equivocal today about its inclinations but tried to leave its options open.
To understand exactly what that means, your blogstress suggests you check out this post from the Mogambo -- the favorite writer of your cybertrix's foxy friend, Glenn Kellis of Ob:Blog. Mogambo on today's move by the Fed:

The Federal Reserve is still increasing Total Fed Credit, which increases credit in the banks, which increases loans, which increases the money supply, which increases prices, which increases my wailing and crying about how we are all freaking doomed by inflation...

Probably because of the huge amounts of credit and money being created by the world's central banks, I seem to notice more and more people referring to this massive and irresponsible "printing" of money as the beginning of a new Weimar era, which is itself a reference to the massive printing of money by post-WWI Germany and the utter economic devastation that resulted.

But this not about whether the rulers of the old Weimar Germany were buttheads (they were) or whether the rulers of America's economy are buttheads (they are) but about the horrible economic price that a nation pays for such irresponsible stupidity. And don't look to me for a solution, as there isn't one, because if there was a painless solution to this insane system of a fiat currency created by debt, then at least one other person in all of history would have thought of it already.
Speaking of Mr. Kellis, you can find the backstory on how the economy got so crazy in his piece at Ob:Blog, What the Bling Said, or The Gold Whisperer. In this essay, Kellis makes a compelling argument for laying the madness of our credit-based economy at the feet of those who cut our currency loose from the gold standard. (Thank you, Mr. Nixon!) When our money was tied to the gold standard, a paper dollar was essentially a voucher for a dollar's worth of gold. All that money floating around in the economy was essentially backed up by the stuff stashed in Fort Knox (and elsewhere). Now when money gets tight, we just print more. And its value is no longer tied to a precious commodity (though the contrived scarcity of petroleum is effectively pushing down the dollar's value). Anyway, Kellis explains this in a much more elegant and decipherable manner than does your Webwench, probably because he actually understands it:
And gold can speak to you. Not in some mystical or magical way, nor literally, but gold tells its story. Quietly, subtly, and only if you are listening closely.

The shiny metal doesn't boast or talk about itself much, no, it's too modest, too humble; but it speaks in soft tones about many other things. Gold has confidence because it has always been the standard by which all other money or currencies have been measured. Gold is, er... the gold standard.

US dollars, Euros, and all the world's other currencies are poor excuses for storing value because they can just be printed up by the billions on fifty year old printing presses. Nothing special. Paper money and metal coins (not worth their face value) issued by the world's governments are a fantastic resource for these free spending, empire building governments because they can create all they want for practically no cost. That, is its strength, and also its weakness. Like Paris Hilton, they have no limits, no understanding of value and no morals. Gold just sits back and quietly watches from the back of the room, biding its time to be noticed again.

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Change trumps bigotry in Newark

In Newark, New Jersey, the largest city in your blogstress's home state -- and the nation's second poorest, according to The New York Times -- change has trumped prejudice with the election of Corey Booker as mayor, withstanding homophobic, anti-semitic and anti-intellectual goading from Newark's longtime mayor and godfather, Sharpe James. In an attempt to exploit against Baker, a Rhodes scholar, prejudices he presumed to be common among the city's denizens, Newark's 20-year leader had accused the Baptist, African-American and apparently heterosexual Baker of being Jewish, gay and not black enough.

Kudos to the good people of Newark for not buying into this basest of appeals.

The 37-year-old Booker, whose record of political accomplishment is thin, has quite a job ahead of him in a city blighted by poverty, corruption and a 40-percent high-school drop-out rate. But Newark is truly one of the nation's great cities -- full of beautiful buildings, active churches and a history rich in jazz. If Booker can do that legacy justice, he could be the Democratic Party's next big star.

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