Wednesday, March 28, 2007

With friends like these...

Kindasleazy Rice is in the Middle East attempting to jump start the faux peace process plan for Israel and Palestine. But while she's doing that, the Saudis (the Bush family's most loyal friends in the region) have snubbed the White House over a State dinner. Note that later on in that article, Jordan is also snubbing the Bush administration. What's going on when your close allies and friends say, "Not tonight. I've got a headache?" It can't be good for this administration's diplomacy plans. I wonder if they're working with Iran on a plan for carving up Iraq and avoiding a worse civil war?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gonzales aid to invokes the Fifth

And we're not talking liquor. Monica M. Goodling, an aide to Alberto Gonzales and the Justice Department's liason to the White House, has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she plans on invoking her fifth amendment right against recrimination. Now, the cynical partisan in me would love nothing more than to jump on the bandwagon with my Democratic colleagues and imply that the reason Ms. Goodling is doing this is because she has something to hide. However, it should be noted that the fifth amendment protects the innocent as well as the guilty, an argument made by Ms. Goodling's lawyer yesterday. One need only look as far back as the McCarthy hearings on alleged Soviet spies to cite an example.

Over the years myself and many others have called the erosion of civil liberties the greatest casualty of the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, I have railed against both parties and the Bush administration for their eagerness to shred the basic tenets of this country while at the same time doing so in the name of protecting those tenets. In these crimes, Democrats AND Republicans share blame. Just look at the voting records on the so-called Patriot Act and the authorization for funding for the Iraq War. Look at the record for the "debates" (blood lust pornography orgies might better describe them) surrounding passage of those two as well as debates around Guantanamo. They disgust me and they should disgust any thinking person who actually considers the actions taken beyond the empty rhetoric shrouding them.

Given that disgust, should we not also regard an invocation of the fifth amendment with at least a modicum of respect for it's dual edged intent? Give Ms. Goodling the benefit of the doubt? Rather than just pile on and snide remarks about how this obviously points to her guilt, lets dig a little deeper, look at the strategy, and try to understand what's really going on here. It's easy to take the position that this is an admission of guilt, but it's also giving into the same tendencies which seek to erode hard fought liberties when the country experiences times of distress and turmoil.

My first, and also cynical, reaction when I read the news of Ms. Goodling this morning was that this is a strategy being floated by her superiors in order to prevent sworn testimony. The President has made it abundantly clear that he will invoke Executive Privilege in order to prevent his aides from testifying under oath. The problem with that position is that it's unseemly to an American public that prefers more transparency in government officials and it's not been tested judicially. If Bush were to pursue this position, then his poll numbers might fall even lower and, worse yet, he might lose the case thereby precluding future administrations for using this negotiation leverage. He had hoped Congressional leaders might back down for fear of losing their own case, but the comments this past weekend from Senators from his own party made it clear that this was not going to be a sure fire win. So, his handlers came up with the idea of invoking the fifth amendment. Offering a second prong to the strategy, one that seems defensible to the public, may prevent further poll sliding. (Note: I'm not certain that this second prong will prevent poll sliding. It depends upon how successful each side is at spinning the issue. The public isn't concerned about the facts, here, as it is generally lazy on such things, but rather how successful each side appears. Likely, the public will perceive both positions as strong, resulting in a wash stuck in the spin cycle, which is not good for the Shrub. He needs a win and without it the stain on his administration over this continues to grow).

However, if this is a second prong to the strategy to prevent sworn testimony, then there are bound to be records of it in the White House or in Justice. Congress should pursue emails and voice mails regarding this strategy for, if it is there to just prevent testimony, then it is not a proper invocation of the fifth amendment, but rather a cynical use of it that actually undermines the original intent of the amendment. There's irony for you and one we've come to expect from these crooks: the party that so often screams loudest about "original intent" when it comes to constitutional interpretations by the judiciary might actually be thwarting "original intent" of the fifth amendment in order to pursue it's own authoritarian ends. The Senate Judiciary Committee should be investigating if this is the case at the same time it is investigating perjury as regards to Congressional testimony in the firings of the federal prosecutors.

Talking Points Memo readers also have something to say regarding this issue. Laura Rozen also reports on some background on Ms. Goodling.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Retail relations, part 2

It's a Saturday night. A couple of guys walk in with a lady - all in their early 20s. One of the guys is clearly trying to impress the others. He's got a cockiness and confidence to his mannerisms. His voice is louder than normal and boisterous. Myself and a co-worker are amused. We're watching the room, waiting for customers to approach us with a purchase. We've already asked several if they need any help, including the party of three described above. Finally, Mr. Impressive and his friends decide on a couple of bottles.

As he approaches the counters, Mr. Impressive has a bottle in each hand. He grabs the bottles near the bases and shakes the necks first in my direction, then in the direction of my co-worker. He's also doing a Groucho Marx duck walk while he's doing this, though he probably wouldn't understand the reference. "Who wants it?" he says to me first, shaking the bottles in my direction. Turning to my co-worker he does the same thing. "Who wants it?" She smirks and is mildly amused at his antics, as am I. He does this twice more: once to me and once to my co-worker.

After this, I turn to the man and say, "Well, that depends. Are you man enough to give it to me?"

He immediately goes to my co-worker's counter. She's laughing so hard that she's wiping a tear from her eye. His friends are in stitches and teasing him. He tells me that was funny and is laughing along, but his whole body language has change. The confidence has been humbled, the cockiness has been replaced by good natured friendliness.

Obviously, I enjoyed that. Not so much that I took him down a notch, but because I came up with the comment at all and said it. I'm grateful that he took it so well. I thought that he might, but sometimes you can be wrong about such things. It was a good laugh at the end of the night after a long day (11 hours) for me waiting on customers.

Retail relations

Two nights ago, a guy and a lady walked into the store together. They spent about 10 or 15 minutes looking around the place and eventually got into line with 2 bottles of liquor. As I'm waiting on the customer in front of them, I begin to look them over to decide whether or not to ask for their IDs. They are over 21, but not yet 30 which, according to law enforcement, requires me to ask for their IDs. The guy sees me eyeing them. As I'm ready to ring them up he informs me that he left his ID in the car. I set the bottles aside and tell them that I'll have them waiting for him and go on to the next customer in line.

The guy walks in as I'm finishing up with that customer. It seems that he's left his wallet at home. He's apparently seen the big button on my vest that says "No ID, No Service, No Way" and says he'll be back. "No problem," I reply, "I'll have your merchandise waiting for you here when you come back." At this point, to my knowledge, we don't have an issue.

The guy must live near by because he's back in less than 10 minutes. He's got an attitude that could be spotted from the moon. He literally throws his license at me like a person pitching cards. It bounces off of my chest and onto the counter. I look at it, notice that he is indeed 28. "Have we got a problem here?" I ask.

"You've got the problem. I'm obviously over 21."

"Actually, I'm required to ask for ID until your 30. You're 28. Most people take it as a compliment when I think that they are under 30."

"Whatever. Let's get this over with."

"You've got a problem. I suggest you lose the attitude. Buying liquor in this state is a privilege; not a right. If for any reason I think a customer might be a danger to me or the community - drunk or not - I have an obligation not to sell the liquor."


"That's right. Now, lose the attitude and we can continue with this."

I scan his bottles. In the meantime, he is angrily swiping his debit card in the reader. I ask him to confirm that it's a debit card. He ignores me. I hit debit on the register (it won't read the card unless I do so). He swipes it a third time. I tell him to press the blue button first (confirming the price he's paying) before swiping the card. He swipes it a forth time and a fifth time - each time I tell him to press the blue button first.

Initially, I was shocked and angry at this treatment. By now, I'm calm and amused, though still bewildered. How am I responsible for this man leaving his wallet and ID at home? I'm not. I'm just a focal point for his anger. He finally gets the sale right. Receipt in one hand, bag holding liquor in the other, I present it to him. Without looking in my eyes, he angrily takes the bag from my hand and stomps out of the store. Once outside, he flips me the bird. I laugh.

Lesson: This person is not going to be served by me again. It's likely that he won't ever come back into this store and if he does while I'm there, he'll go to another register. However, if he comes back in and gets into my line and presents me with an attitude, we're not going through with the sale. Unlike other retail outlets, I don't have to take the abuse of the customer and the state backs me up on that. I don't enjoy playing the heavy and being an asshole, but I will also not be treated as a punching bag. There are a number of examples daily where members of the public treat us with disrespect, but it's only in very rare cases such as this one where I feel I need to protect myself and the public and that mandate looms large. No one likes an angry drunk. So, be nice to the clerks behind the counter. And not just at liquor stores - at all outlets. For every nice person, there's someone who's a jerk just two customers away and the nice person makes it easier to get over the person who is, say, too busy on their cell phone to acknowledge that you're not an ATM.

Democrats eating their own

Hey, politics is a rough and tumble field. I understand that. I also understand the cynicism associated with politics. For the record, I'm one of the more cynical people that I know (no, it's not a pissing match). The staff and friends of Clinton and Obama have been having at each other for just a few weeks and I'm already tired of their antics.

Democrats and Republicans eating their own before the main election is nothing new. Ask Howard Dean about how he was treated after his pep rally speech. Or ask John McCain about the North Carolina primary after Bush's people stoked the racist card by suggesting McCain fathered a "colored" girl (Strom Thurmond even turned over in his grave!).

But when does this level of rough politics cross the line? I'd argue that in Dean's case it doesn't, but in McCain's case it does. Obviously, in both cases it worked for the candidate that stoked the fires. However, Dan Savage's treatment yesterday of John Edwards did cross the line and I seriously doubt that it did anything for Dan's favored candidate.

Savage, for the record, is a huge cheerleader for Al Gore. That's just fine. Gore's a likable candidate and there are a number of reasons to think that he's a great candidate and would trounce any challenger. I understand why Savage is so enthusiastic about the man. Still, is that any reason to suggest the following about John Edwards' wife's announcement yesterday that she still has cancer? And that it's uncurable? Here's Dan's admittedly cynical statement from The Slog:
If Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer returned, and John Edwards was going to press on with his campaign, all stoical and stuff, why clear his schedule and call a press conference? Why not just, you know, keep on keeping on? The drama of the last 24 hours—the rushing home, the announcement of a press conference, the clearing of Edwards’ schedule, and, hey, was that a leak about dropping out of the race?—strikes me as a bit manipulative. Even exploitative. If the Edwards’ campaign intended to take the return of his wife’s cancer in stride, well, then why didn’t the Edwards’ campaign do just that?
Yea, Dan. Unlike Al Gore, who never, ever mentioned his dead son during his campaign. I'm not slamming Gore here, but pointing out Savage's ability to overlook the acts of the person he triumphs while slamming a possible challenger. It's called hypocrisy. Well, in politics it's called "over sight".

In any case, it apparently never occurred to cheerleader Savage that Edward's wife, as with most spouses, is a huge part of the candidate's campaign. She makes appearances with and without her husband at all sorts of locations to get the word out. This is crucial to a campaign these days. Especially a campaign that has such a compacted primary schedule (25 states will be decided by next February). Candidates cannot be everywhere at once and video links are not as good as in person contact. So, emissaries must be used and there is no better than a candidate's family. Elizabeth Edwards is not only the candidate's closest adviser, she is also his leading proponent. To top it off, she's smart and one helluva speaker.

So, can you imagine what would happen in the media if Elizabeth Edwards began canceling appearances without good excuses? No matter how the Edwards campaign tried to keep it in house, the truth would leak. They would appear to have covered this up and, while many people might understand that, it would appear as if John Edwards were so power hungry that he shushed his wife's illness in order to deceive voters. Then the real cynical knives would be drawn. It's better to control the media spin early and manage it appropriately than to let them steal the headline, tabloid style, and tear away at the family and campaign.

Dan Savage, however, jumped in early with his cynical take. He took the media spin and tried to spin a web of his own complete with National Enquirer intrigue and News of the World hypocrisy. Commenters to Savage's post generally ripped at his take on this. To Savage's credit, he offered this mea culpa:
Okay, I am a shit. As more news comes out, it’s clear that Elizabeth Edwards medical news appeared to be worse yesterday, when schedules were cleared and press conferences called. Further tests indicated that things, while terribly serious, weren’t as dire as first thought. EE’s cancer is treatable, and so the campaign continues. Is anyone working on gene therapy to treat congenital cynicism?
Fair enough, Dan. Except Elizabeth Edwards' condition being better than originally thought doesn't exonerate the initial spin you ran with. You're so blinded by your partisanship for Gore that you don't even acknowledge how crucial Elizabeth is to the campaign and how this would have been a bad mark had it not been dealt with forthrightly. You're still spinning cynicism as if to say, "Well, OK, they thought she was dying so that makes all the theatrics alright." That's not very savvy politics.

Worse than this, though, is the fact that Democrats are so ready to apply such cynicism at their own. Save the snarky remarks for your enemies. Let Republicans eat their own with their vicious remarks about Guilianni's marriages and Romney's religion. Present ideas and a positive vision for the country. Be, dare I say it, Clinton-esque (or, hell, Reagan-esque, if you prefer - both men shared this trait).

If I may let my own cynicism shine through for the moment: this won't happen. It's a pipe dream. Partisans like Savage will continue to pile on a fever pitch that will grow ever more shrill as next February comes around. Of course, most of America won't tune in as they never do until the September before the election. No, this shrill whine is strictly for those who watch and care about national politics. Who amongst us is going to say enough is enough? Well, I am, obviously, but my voice is not loud enough to be heard by the leaders of Democratic party. People who lean towards that party need to be united and clear that we expect to hear more ideas and positive visions and less backstabbing, tabloid cynicism.

For the record, I'm not backing any candidate at this point. I admit that I like a lot of what Edwards says and that I think he has the charisma to do well, but he's vulnerable to attacks about his lack of service. As noted many times before, I don't think Senators make good candidates because the public doesn't see their leadership style in action. Governors make better candidates for precisely that reason. Clinton and Obama suffer from the same issues Edwards does and they benefit from the charisma factor. Richardson, being a governor, a former UN ambassador, and a cabinet secretary has the qualifications, but may not be charismatic enough and Democrats may not be ready for a Hispanic candidate (yea, they are ready for the black man, but not the Hispanic - it's an old "All In The Family" episode). The Republican field is even in worse shape with the only likable candidate as far as his views goes is the Libertarian, Ron Paul, whose views would appall many a Democrat as well, but he'd be a welcome relief to the double edged sword of expanded government that we've seen twisted by Republicans.

My mind remains open, but my ears are tired.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It may be nothing or...

it may be blood in the water for Democrats and for the news media. The Washington Post reports on an unseemly coincidence between the decision to fire one of the U.S. attorneys and her announcement one day earlier to dig deeper into associates of Duke Cunningham:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a television appearance yesterday that Lam "sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants" in a criminal investigation of defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who had just quit as the CIA's top administrator amid questions about his ties to disgraced former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

The next day, May 11, D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, sent an e-mail message to William Kelley in the White House counsel's office saying that Lam should be removed as quickly as possible, according to documents turned over to Congress last week.

Like I said, it may be coincidence, but it looks horrible. Either way, I think Gonzales is gone. There are plenty of sycophants to take his place, if for no other reason than to pad a resume. This bit in the article is really a laugher considering just how much credibility the White House has:
"We have stated numerous times that no U.S. attorney was removed to retaliate against or inappropriately interfere with any public corruption investigation or prosecution," Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement. "This remains the case, and there is no evidence that indicates otherwise."
Yet. There was also no evidence of any reasons other than performance for firing the attorneys in the first place. Actually, I'm not terribly bothered by the firing of the attorneys or the mess the White House has made of it. What concerns me more is why they were fired. If it was because they were pursuing cases of corruption by Republicans that the White House didn't want pursued, then that would be wrong. There's plenty of evidence, though, that attorneys tended to pursue more cases against Democrats than Republicans. If it was because they weren't pursuing cases that the White House wants pursued such as drug use, pornography, and internet gambling (basically, victimless acts deemed criminal by a nanny state), then that is a troubling commentary on White House priorities (which, by the way, this does seem to be the case in the firing of the attorney from Arizona). And then, of course, comes the greater question tied to both scenarios: what did the remaining attorneys do that appeased their masters and should they still be in office?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Holly O'Reilly

Ladies and Gents, Miss Holly O'Reilly has a new album out, Gifts and Burdens. Her record release party is Tuesday night at The Triple Door in Seattle. Here's a video for the title track.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

McCan't has misplaced his opinion

A Washington Post blog has this insight into John McCain's campaign:

The bus had been rolling for a half-hour and McCain was holding court on everything from Iraq to college basketball. ("Who woulda thought? VCU," he exclaimed upon boarding.) And then someone asked about public funding for contraception in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS.

"I'm sure I've taken a position on it in the past," he stammered as he looked to his communications director. "I'm sure I'm opposed to government funding."

Sensing a vulnerable moment, reporters kept the questions coming. What about sex education in the schools? Should it mention contraceptives? Or only abstinence, like President Bush wants?

"I think I support the president's present policy," he said, tentatively.

More questions: Do condoms stop sexually transmitted disease?

A long pause.

A stern look.

"I've never gotten into these issues or thought much about them," he said, almost crying uncle. "Obviously, we all want to stop the spread of AIDS. Everybody wants to do that. What's the most viable way of doing that?"

Well? The reporters asked?

In a last ditch attempt to rescue himself, McCain told an aide to go get a briefing paper prepared by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a doctor, who he said has been advising him on "these issues." But the aide couldn't find the briefing paper. "We've lost it," McCain mumbled.

"Whether I support government funding for them or not, I don't know," McCain said about contraceptives. He then said he'd look into it for the reporters, who finally let him off the hook and moved onto other subjects again.

So, McCain doesn't know jack about contraceptives and their use in preventing AIDS? So much for the straight talk express (an idea that died in 2001, when some things changed on 9/11). He doesn't even know if condoms prevent sexually transmitted diseases? And he's consulting doctor/Senator Tom Coburn (R - Clueless) on health issues? Let's look at some of Coburn's choice quotes:
You know, the moral rationalization is if you make a mistake there's no consequences. I've seen the consequences. Condoms and teenagers work about 50% of the time, if you count all the studies up. - referring to condoms and pregnancies.
(Actually, Tom, according to studies condoms are effective 97% of the time). More:
And I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicone breast implants. If you have them, you're healthier than if you don't. In fact, there's no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier.
(No science, Tom? McCain's getting some top notch advice from a qualified associate! I'll just let these last few stand without commentary, though emphasis is mine)

Lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?

I believe all life has value, from conception to natural death. And I believe the intentional taking of human life, except to save lives, should be a capital offense, as it is in most states in America today.
The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power... That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda.
I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life.

Our man in Pakistan

Allowing Bin Laden a safe haven and promoting democratic principles around the world:

In Islamabad yesterday hundreds of police fought protesters outside the Supreme Court. And as the protests continued, riot police stormed the Geo private television station, which was broadcasting pictures of the protests, tear-gassed the staff and smashed up the studio.

Several high-profile figures were arrested for taking part in demonstrations around the country, including a former president and the leader of one of the main opposition parties. An MP claimed he had been beaten by police at the demonstrations.

Read more here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Flickr: Anti-Bush protest pictures

From Brazil, some great pictures of protests against Bush during his visit to that country. Here (photo from right) and here.

Update: More photos on Flickr here, here, here, here, here, here, and this amazing photo. I find it to be an interesting coincidence that the Bush protests come at the same time that Brazil is celebrating International Women's Day. Funny that we never celebrate that in the U.S., but given this administration's attacks on reproduction rights, it's probably well that we keep the hypocrisy to a minimum. After all, we already have the Iraq war hypocrisy to deal with.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Victimhood part 2

Following up on the previous post, our tale continues a second day. Not wanting to let the point drop, the white, male with moderate to conservative points of view (I erroneously wrote that he was moderate to liberal before and have since found out that he's a card carrying member of the Republican party with a small libertarian streak in him) decided to bring up the issue of holidays. Seeing as the time of this conversation was shortly before President's Day, he used that occassion to sneak in his rant about race, or in particular, black history month.

Him (to a customer, no less, but with me standing near by): "Yea, I don't know why we're closed on President's Day. I'd much rather have it at a different time of year like, say, June or July when I could enjoy the weather."

He says goodbye to the customer, then turns to me: "I don't know why we have President's Day or Martin Luther King Day off, anyhow. I don't think we should. What do you think?"

Me: "I think we should have more days off during the year, including more 3 day weekends. In fact, I think we should have 1 three day weekend per month. If I had my druthers, I'd add those and then for every month that already had a three day weekend, like May, I'd add an extra one. Three day weekends are good for workers and they are good for families. As Martin Luther King Day has so aptly demonstrated a three day weekend will not bring the business world or it's efficiencies to it's knees. In fact, most of the world celebrates more holidays than the U.S. and does quite well."

Him: "Well, I agree with that."

Me: "If you agree with adding more holidays, then why do you care about which ones are celebrated? Why do you care about Martin Luther King Day or President's Day? I don't celebrate the Presidents on their holiday. I just go out and enjoy the time off in what ever manner I please. Similarly, I don't celebrate the baby Jesus on Easter or Christmas because I'm not a Christian, but I'm still appreciative of the time off. Nor do I honor the veterans on Memorial Day or Veteran's Day when I think veterans should generally be honored by providing them with the benefits that they deserve year round. I don't read the Constitution or the Declaration on Independence Day, though I have been known to pick up Thomas Paine's Common Sense on that day. Nor do I honor the pilgrims and their native comrades on Thanksgiving or Labor in September. For me, it doesn't matter what we pretend to celebrate because I don't think most people care. It's just nice to have a respite to enjoy with family and friends. It even can help retail businesses that decide to remain open. So, do you celebrate each and every one of the holidays that mean something more to you? Do you go to worship or attend parades or visit hospitals or graves on these holidays or do you do something for yourself?"

Him: "I'm more likely to do something for myself or with family."

Me: "Exactly. So why does Martin Luther King or President's Day bother you so much?"

Him, stammering a little: "Like I said, I just wish it was at a better time of year."

Me: "Like I said, why take away those days? Why not just add more? I don't really care what days you add either. You can add Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush day and it would just be like the others to me in that I'd have another day off. Besides, winter is a time of grave depression for a lot of people. Cloudy skies, snow, rain - it can become seasonal affective disorder. So, those people probably appreciate a little time off. Why harm them? Finally, I don't know about you, but I can find plenty to enjoy - indoors and out - when I have a day off no matter what time of year."

With that the conversation ended. He walked away from me and has not raised the issue since. What is it about some people that they disdain the simple pleasures of a little time off and would therefore deny it to others? He, as I, gets paid for the time off, so it's certainly not a failing of the pocketbook. In reality the President's Day issue was a red herring devised to introduce his real issue which was Martin Luther King Day. He's one of those people that despise celebrating this great American. Whether or not one believes King's legacy was somehow enhanced by his death, it is certainly a legacy worth celebrating and honoring. For some reason that bothers some people to no end and the only reason that I can conclude for that is that it comes down to race.