Monday, October 31, 2005

The Other Shoe Drops

The wait is over, the jig is up, El Presidente has caved in to the radical right, and we have Samuel A. Alito nominated for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on The Supremes.

I just wrote a personal note to all of the Gang of Fourteen in the Senate, and threw in our own worthless lock-step Senators from North Carolina and Arlen Specter, too, who has to preside over the committee hearings on Alito. We urge all of you to write them, and we recommend this handy page for quickly getting to each senator's web-mail form (most of them make you fill out a form when writing, but it's pretty fast to do).

The Gang of Fourteen hold the balance of power RE a filibuster:


John McCain
Lindsey Graham
John Warner
Olympia Snowe
Susan Collins
Michael DeWine
Lincoln Chafee


Joe Lieberman
Robert Byrd
Ben Nelson
Mary Landrieu
Daniel Inouye
Mark Pryor
Ken Salazar

Throw in:

Arlen Specter (he's supposedly pro-choice)
Elizabeth Dole
Richard Burr

Even though those last two won't listen any more than Madame Foxx does, they need to hear from North Carolina people on this nomination.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Water Crisis

On October 25th, a joint meeting between the towns of Boone and Blowing Rock, ASU, and Watauga County discussed the feasibility of a "Water Partnership" among those entities. Almost all municipal and county elected officials were there -- for good reason. Boone and Blowing Rock have essentially run out of water, ASU's supply is weak, and the county has no water service.

Jeff Hughes, director of the UNC School of Government Environmental Finance Center, told the group of two options: The first would be a water system run by the town, by the county, or by both entities together. The second would be a separate water and sewer "authority," a new unit of government that could own assets, assume debt, and borrow money totally independent of the municipalities, the county, or the university. The governing board of a water "authority" could be elected or appointed or both

The water issue is complicated: dwindling resources, many entities seeking it, and any solution promising a huge price-tag for the necessary facilities and infrastructure to collect raw water, to guarantee its purity, and to distribute it to users. An additional important complication from a comprehensive planning perspective is that Watauga County government wants water on its main highway corridors but shows no noticeable inclination to enact land-use planning to control density, set-backs, buffers, etc. The chair of the County Commission said that the Town of Boone just needed to respect the fact that the county doesn't have zoning rules.

Fortunately, no decisions were made at this meeting. All agreed to talk within their various entities and come back together in a month or so.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN. An autonomous Water/Sewer Authority with an appointed board not directly accountable to the citizens, acquiring water at enormous cost to taxpayers, and running that water to traffic corridors wholly unregulated for growth is not a recipe that we'll want to taste the results of. Who does this benefit? Likewise, a partnership between town and county, where the county intends to enrich a limited number of landowners along our most-traveled corridors while refusing the town's restrictions on development, appears on the face of it to be a lopsided arrangement and not a solution aimed at protecting the welfare of all our citizens.

There exists strong opposition to any county water system. D. Greene and K. Carter are likely to be leaders of that opposition. Add to that the worries of the progressive community about uncontrolled growth, and you've got a most unlikely coalition poised to fight.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

All That Old Stuff

Yesterday's Watauga Democrat (front page) brought news that the Appalachian Cultural Museum is being forced out of University Hall by Chancellor Ken Peacock to put in his new nursing program. What Frank Ruggiero's article makes clear is that the Chancellor decided to kick the museum out of that space without having any new space for it to move in to.

"Administrators at the museum refused to comment..." Hmmm. But even at this distance we could see the cloud of steam coming out of their ears.

The museum workers have every right to be furious. They've built one of the best regional museums anywhere in the country, dedicated to the history and culture(s) of a region that is the most stereotyped in the country, and yet this museum managed to avoid all the stereotypes, defy expectations, and offer a fresh, original, and invigorating gloss on life in these here mountains. Through donations and generous loans from area families, it managed to amass in short order a huge (and irreplaceable) collection of furniture, musical instruments, self portraits, textiles, tools, folkart, Junior Johnson's race cars ... only a fraction of which is on display in the museum's permanent galleries. The staff has worked tirelessly and effectively with willing volunteers to build a complex of offerings which include traveling and special exhibitions, demonstrations, and guided travel tours to other locales. The Appalachian Cultural Museum is one of our gems, a tremendous asset to the campus, the town, and the county, and it was built on starvation budgets through the sweat and dedication of its director.

Now look at it.

Chancellor Peacock wants that space and like the corporate CEOs he so admires and seeks to emulate, he has delivered a curt eviction notice. "You've got to be out by Christmas. We don't care where you go or how you get there, just GET OUT!" Not only that, the last we heard, he's offered no money for crating, boxing, and otherwise securing the integrity of thousands of priceless objects, nor has he guaranteed any monthly rent money to pay for a storage facility with the thousands of cubic space the collection is going to require.

Everyone on campus and many people in town (everyone except perhaps newspaper reporters) knows what's been going on, the high-handed and callous treatment of our collective cultural heritage by this new university administration, which appears from the Watauga Democrat article to have dropped the problem of finding space for the museum in the lap of community leaders and county officials. How did County Planner Joe Furman get in charge of the mess Ken Peacock created?

What seems likeliest -- and will suit the Chancellor and his henchmen just fine -- is that come December the stuff will get shoved into several tractor-trailers out behind the Broyhill Center, with no heat and humidity controls, not to mention no security, where it will inevitably deteriorate. At which point we sincerely hope that some of the families who graciously gave over family treasures for safe-keeping will sue for breach of contract.

We're sure that Chancellor Peacock's new "Institute for Health and Human Services" will be a fine addition to higher education. But personal empire-building is not so fine when it runs its cleats over something as fragile as our cultural heritage. "I need me an EMPIRE!" and so what if a small, undefended, indigenous population gets wiped out in the process?

The destruction of the Appalachian Cultural Museum is just shoddy practice in the service of personal ambition, and plain low-class.

Friday, October 28, 2005

More on Virginia Governor Race

According to Bloomberg News, Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist, says "Bush is a drag, even in Virginia." That, in reference to the fact that "political ineptitude" brought El Presidente to Virginia today for a stale speech (at least what I heard on CNN was a total carbon copy of the same speech he gave last week), even though the Republican candidate for governor, Jerry Kilgore, didn't want Mr. Bush anywhere near the Commonwealth this close to the election.

And a few months ago no one thought the Democratic candidate, Tim Kaine, the current Lieutenant Gov., had a ghost's chance of carrying a state that Bush won by 8 percentage points in 2004 and which hasn't voted Democratic in a presidential race since 1964.

But Kaine's hanging in there. One big asset is his wife Anne, who is the daughter of former Republican Governor Linwood Holton, who is backing Kaine. The biggest mark against him? A Harvard law degree.

Kaine was mayor of Richmond and has a spotty record of effectiveness. The lieutenant governor's job is basically being a cypher while trying not to drool in public, so Kaine has been relying on the popularity of Gov. Mark Warner, who can't succeed himself. My own EXTREMELY Republican in-laws up in Virginia say they would vote for Warner for another term, if he could run for another term, which conveniently he can't.

(I notice that when Republican relatives want to be extra nice to their heathen Democratic family members, they say stuff like that: "I'd vote for Warner if he could run again," or "I thought Harvey Gantt was such a nice man, and if he were running now I'd vote for him." Their conditional "ifs" are always chosen carefully; i.e., they're out of the realm of possibility.)

The Bloomberg report speculates that if Kaine actually wins the governorship, it would automatically boost Warner's cachet as a potential presidential candidate. We would like to believe that, since Lord knows we'd rather have a strong governor with a record of budget-balancing to head the national ticket rather than a ... U.S. Senator of either gender. One good governor outweighs the combined heft of 42 John Kerrys.

The Republican candidate, Jerry Kilgore, the current attorney general of Virginia, comes from the strong-arm political world of southwest Virginia. His own mother, Willie Mae Kilgore, an elections official in Scott County, has been mentioned in a vote-buying scandal. So we don't look for Kaine to carry a lot of Virginia's mountain counties, if you get our drift.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Thank Gawd We've Got an Oil Man for President!

Earlier this morning, according to Reuters, Exxon-Mobile posted the largest quarterly profits in U.S. history ... $9.9 billion.

"Analysts have warned that record profits for Big Oil, at a time when consumers are paying sky-high prices for gasoline, could add to calls for a windfall profits tax or other penalties on oil companies."

To wit: Congressman Dennis Kucinich is calling for a windfall profits tax on Big Oil. Lottsa luck, Dennis!

Bush Will Reinstate Davis-Bacon; Foxx Is Frowning

El Presidente slipped it out quietly yesterday, sending forth his Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to announce that the Davis-Bacon Act would be reinstated November 8th ... to pay "prevailing wages" to workers in the hurricane reconstruction zone.

Madame Virginia Foxx ain't happy 'bout that!

But this was apparently El Presidente's trade-off in trying to win "moderate" Republicans to vote for the slash-and-burn budget the House conservatives are cooking up, very much with Foxx's help. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on which Foxx sits, has worked up $18.1 billion (BILLION) in cuts to student aid, something the good Madame hasn't believed in since approximately the time she swept up the schoolhouse as a super-poor high school student. And what are the conservative Republicans (Foxx & Friends) calling this evisceration? "A Plan to Strengthen Higher Education," of course! The plan to strengthen higher education apparently includes, for Foxx & Friends, making it harder to low- and moderate-income families to send their kids to college.

The most conservative Republicans in the House (Foxx & Friends) are working busily on finding $50 billion they can cut from social programs like student aid and food stamps, combined with (you guessed it!) additional tax cuts for the very wealthy. And El Presidente himself (of the failure-to-ever-veto-a-single-spending-bill Bushes) was telling these mean cats to "push the envelope" on cuts.

"I have never felt that a budget going through the Congress of the United States is more disconnected from reality than this budget," said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the senior Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


n. A male sheep, usually castrated, with a bell hung from its neck, that is followed by a flock of sheep.

El Presidente is coming to Norfolk, Va., this Friday, 11 days prior to the Virginia gubernatorial election, and the Republican candidate for governor, Jerry Kilgore, is not following. Kilgore is not planning to appear anywhere in the president's general vicinity.

"I think it's highly likely that the Kilgore campaign folks just don't see Bush as an asset," said Mark J. Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University. That's even considering that Bush polls better in Virginia currently than nationwide. But still.

It's not as though Kilgore can't use the boost. He's been running some of the nastiest TV ads against his Democrat opponent, without moving up in the polls. If the Democrats win in Virginia, reddest of the red, it truly will be a sign.

The Wal-Mart Leak

Someone inside the higher levels of the Wal-Mart corporation leaked a draft copy of a secret memo sent to the company's Board of Directors recommending how to squeeze employees even further while simultaneously protecting a poor public image (exploiter of wage labor and a burden to public health care). Wal-Mart Watch, a nonprofit group allied with labor unions, received the memo in the mail, which then got into the hands of the NYTimes. Here are some low points:

1. Last year, Wal-Mart earned $10.5 billion profit on gross sales of $285 billion.

2. Full-time Wal-Mart employees earn on average around $17,500 a year.

3. 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's 1.33 million United States employees are uninsured or on Medicaid.

4. The memo recommends that employees be forced to pay more for their spouses' health insurance.

5. Also recommends that the company cut 401(k) contributions to 3 percent of wages from 4 percent and also cut company-paid life insurance policies to $12,000 from the current level, which is equal to an employee's annual earnings. (Life insurance, the memo asserted, is "a high-satisfaction, low-importance benefit, which suggests an opportunity to trim the offering without substantial impact on [worker] satisfaction.")

6. "...our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance."

7. Too many Wal-Mart workers stay around too long: "...the cost of an associate with seven years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with one year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity." Give a gal a job, and she thinks she can stay forever! Sheesh.

8. Too many Wal-Mart workers are too fat or too sick or both: workers "are getting sicker than the national population, particularly in obesity-related diseases," including diabetes and coronary artery disease. "The least healthy, least productive associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart. The memo proposed incorporating physical activity in all jobs to "dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart."

And This Week's Hypocrisy in Action Award Goes To: Wal-Mart. As soon as the company knew this memo was going public, it rushed on Monday of this week to announce a new health insurance plan for some workers, allowing them to buy in for $11 a month. The company also announced "a sweeping plan to conserve energy" and (my favorite part) said it supported raising the minimum wage.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Highlander Center

News of the death of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks contained deep in it this sentence: "At the urging of an employer, Virginia Durr, Mrs. Parks had attended an interracial leadership conference at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., in the summer of 1955." She learned at Highlander the concept of non-violent resistance. She learned it from Myles Horton and his wife Zilphia, who ran the Highlander School.

(As a kid in West Texas I remember billboards, both the "IMPEACH EARL WARREN" screamers and the ones showing a photograph of Martin Luther King "at a Communist training school." The so-called Communist training school was in fact Highlander. The sure-fire way to shut up opposition in the 1950s was to brand it "Communist." They use different labels now, but with the same intent.)

When I first got to Highlander, it was no longer located on the Cumberland Plateau and Myles Horton was no longer in charge. I did meet him eventually, and eventually it was my honor to publish the interview Bill Moyers did with Myles Horton, "The Adventures of a Radical Hillbilly."

I went to Highlander the first time in 1977, hard on the heels of massive flooding in the Appalachians but particularly destructive floods in southern West Virginia, made all the worse by strip mining. I met there with a whole new generation of mountain young people who were becoming radicalized by the strip-mining issue and the whole notion that Appalachia was treated like a resource "colony" by the rest of the nation. I met Gurney Norman for the first time. Pauletta Hansel was there. And arriving fresh from the floods in southern West Virginia, full of righteous fury, were Jim Webb and Bob Henry Baber.

These guys and many others who were at Highlander, and a whole host of foot soldiers who weren't there, were turning the tide of public opinion against rich coal corporations that robbed the mineral, reduced the landscape to a barren moonscape of scars, and left the people destitute. Soon after, the Carter administration passed and signed the Strip Mine Reclamation Act.

But as we've learned the hard way, federal regs are only as good as the administration running the government. Following Carter, we got 12 years of Republican predatory policies (ah, "Reaganomics"!), succeeded by some amelioration during eight years of Bill Clinton. With the Second Bush, mountaintop removal has been unleashed with a renewed fury.

Highlander endures as the Highlander Research & Education Center at New Market, Tennessee, still dedicated to helping local activists teach themselves the tools they need to organize local people into movements for positive change.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The New North Carolina Democratic Activists

Interesting long article in this a.m.'s N&O about the new Democratic Party activists at work in North Carolina. The character profiled in Wake County -- Jesse Goslen -- multiply him by 100, and you'll begin to approach what's happening in virtually every county in this state. They're sick and tired, and they're not going to take it any more!

The article reopens the old wounds, natch! between The Guv and the take-over of the party by progressives earlier this year: "But the transition has not always been smooth. Democratic Gov. Mike Easley has practically divorced himself from his own party organization." Practically? Did you say practically?

But we're glad to see new State Party Chair Jerry Meek getting good marks. No thanks to The Guv.

Big Brother Is a Bully

At a time when Congress provides very little oversight of the executive branch, and at a time when torture has become the (wink wink) semi-official policy of that same executive branch, the article in this a.m.'s WashPost about unsupervised "clandestine surveillance" of U.S. residents by the FBI and other federal agencies just makes a true-blue American heart sing, doesn't it?

Domestic spying, secret courts, the unseen and unknowable hand of government twisting the fabric of our freedoms into an unrecognizable wad.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The American Fear of Enlightenment

We've enjoyed reading Fawn Brodie's old book on Thomas Jefferson, "An Intimate History" (published in 1974). We've especially enjoyed the discovery of certain parallels between Jefferson's presidential campaign in 1800 and our own sad times. Jefferson was well known as a critic of organized religion, particularly the stranglehold that the Anglican Church had on Virginia state politics. "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," Jefferson wrote, confirming that indeed he was a critic of "the church" in America. Brodie writes that "Clergymen told their parishioners that a vote for Jefferson was a vote against Christianity, and warned that if he won they would have to hide their Bibles in their wells."

Remind anyone of the fear-mongering and bigotry practiced against John Kerry last year?

Things We Didn't Have to Wait Long For

1. The stench of corruption arising from the North Carolina lottery. Education funding is going to still drag its sorry butt through the North Carolina budget, Democratic legislators are going down, and poor people are going to pay their money into the sinkhole of graft.

2. Karen Hughes, who is the newly minted undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, has made a shambles of public diplomacy, especially among the world's Moslems. Perhaps she should go back to holding El Presidente's head over the toilet bowl. We hear there might be some openings at the White House soon.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Dangerous Cabal

On Wednesday of this week Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department for four years and a military man with three decades of experience, delivered a speech about the Bush administration that has gotten SOME but not a lot of coverage in the press I've been reading. I found a raw transcript of same here and recommend it as a kind of Halloween adjunct (we KNOW what scares you!). Here are some sample excerpts:

"I kind of believe that I have an obligation to say some of these things, and I believe furthermore that the people's representatives over on the Hill in that other branch of government have truly abandoned their oversight responsibilities in this regard and have let things atrophy to the point that if we don't do something about it, it's going to get -- it's going to get even more dangerous than it already is."

"Decisions that send men and women to die, decisions that have the potential to send men and women to die, decisions that confront situations like natural disasters and cause needless death or cause people to suffer misery that they shouldn't have to suffer ... domestic and international decisions should not be made in a secret way. That's a very, very provocative statement, I think. All my life I've been taught to guard the nation's secrets. All my life I have followed the rules. I've gone through my special background investigations and all the other things that you need to do, and I understand that the nation's secrets need guarding, but fundamental decisions about foreign policy should not be made in secret."

"And I would say that we have courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran. Generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita -- and I could go on back -- we haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time. And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence .... what the founders say .... about the necessity of the people to throw off tyranny or to throw off ineptitude or to throw off that which is not doing what the people want it to do."

"...the case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."

"So you've got this collegiality there between the secretary of Defense and the vice president, and you've got a president who is not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either. And so it's not too difficult to make decisions in this what I call 'Oval Office cabal,' and decisions often that are the opposite of what you'd thought were made in the formal process."

"...this administration ... for four years .... made decisions in secret, and now I think it is paying the consequences of having made those decisions in secret. But far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences. You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences, whether it is a response to Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or whether it is the situation in Iraq, which still goes unexplained."

"...the detainee abuse issue is just such a concrete example of what I've just described to you, that 10 years from now or so when it's really, really put to the acid test, ironed out and people have looked at it from every angle, we are going to be ashamed of what we allowed to happen."

The hairs on MY nape are standing up ... especially at what Col. Wilkerson says about the policy of torture, what it's done and continues to do to the morale of the military.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Republican Family Values

Incumbent Republican Durham city councilman John Best Jr. was sentenced last December to 48 hours in jail and two years' probation for failing to make timely alimony payments to his ex-wife. The court also garnisheed his City Council salary and wages from his bartending job at the Bennett Pointe Grill. (N&O background here)

Last Tuesday, Mr. Best trailed badly in the Durham city council primary but eked out just enough votes to make it onto the November 8th ballot. When asked via telephone to comment on the fact that some voters said they couldn't support a alimony scofflaw (not to mention jailbird) for city council, Best reportedly lashed out at the "liberal media":

"A part-time bartender, Best issued a lengthy verbal tirade that displayed an impressive and varied command of curse words for an elected official. He then laid down a fiery challenge reminiscent of former Sen. Zell Miller's on-air invitation of NBC's Chris Matthews to a duel. 'I'll meet you anywhere, anytime, you [expletives deleted],' the councilman screamed before hanging up."

Friday, October 14, 2005

How to Get Ahead in the Republican Party

Don't miss the profile of Congressman Patrick McHenry, from our neighboring 10th District, in the Washington Monthly (he replaced Cass Ballenger in Congress in the same election that sent Virginia Foxx to Washington).

It's a stunning look at the ethics of young Republicans as molded by the Rove/DeLay era, with lots of details about how young McHenry rose through the ranks of College Republicans to beat Sheriff David Huffman in the same primary last year when Foxx was beating nut-hatch Vernon Robinson. Adjectives spring to mind to describe these young Republican males: unscrupulous, sleazy, amoral.

In at least one way McHenry resembles our own non-male Virginia Foxx ... his Catholic religion. Plus the way he manipulated Baptists:

"McHenry, a Catholic in an overwhelmingly Protestant district, also started attending Baptist youth groups. 'I knew he was against abortion and against the homosexual agenda,' Pastor Ruffin Snow, a Baptist minister from Hickory who is considered a major power broker in McHenry's district, explained.... 'But with him being Catholic, the most important thing was I asked him, actually, the same question I'm fixin' to ask you.... I asked him, Patrick, if God were to call you today and ask you whether you deserved to go to heaven, would you be able in your heart to tell him you did? Because,' the pastor added with a sly hint of the deep and dark, 'everyone spends eternity someplace.' Pastor Snow let that sink in and continued: 'And Patrick said to me, "yes, because even though I'm Catholic I'm also born-again, I've accepted Christ into my heart." And that was good enough for me.' "

Foxx has played that same game with the Baptists in the 5th District. Doesn't it make your skin crawl?

ADDENDUM: Fake it, that's how you get ahead in the Republican Party, because if you happen to be a Republican and piously say "Jesus Christ," religious conservatives go into an acquiescent swoon. David Batstone of the Southern Baptist Sojourners magazine writes:

"I find it more than a bit disturbing that Christians who back Rove, DeLay, and Frist in their political efforts express so little concern about the possibility of corruption at the highest ranks of government. Worse still, many Christians express blind allegiance to these men. Is this what we have come to, when we sell our birthright for a pot of political porridge?"

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Virginia Foxx and the Big Lie

We didn't need the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll to tell us that the Republican regime is in trouble -- though that poll IS appreciated. We knew they were in trouble just watching Madame Virginia Foxx. Surely you've noticed that she's begun to campaign against her own party, disavowing in the process her own voting history.

Last week in the Jefferson Post she said she was shocked -- SHOCKED! -- at the fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer's money in the Katrina relief effort. "This bill was rushed through Congress so quickly," Madame Foxx wrote, "that hardly anyone noticed it was the Republican power structure doing the rushing." (Okay, okay. She didn't actually say the second half of that sentence, for good reason.)

Where does she get off? Don't answer that.

But give her this: the woman has balls. She votes with Big Spender Tom DeLay 96% of the time and then campaigns against the big spending.

She's in the Winston-Salem Journal this a.m. saying she would like to cut arts in education, community technology centers, education programs for jailed youth, and financing for the Women's Educational Equity Act, among many others, to make up the Katrina aid. In this woman's universe, everyone's going to suffer, not just hurricane victims.

No mention, however, of cutting federal price supports for sugar growers. Perhaps because Madame Foxx is receiving very big bucks from the American Crystal Sugar Company Political Action Committee. Thousands.

And don't forget those other thousands from Tom DeLay's ARMPAC. She's taking his money, doing his bidding, and now pretending that she's an opponent of all he represents.

ADDENDUM: During El Presidente's five years in office, real discretionary spending has increased by 35.2%, a rate considerably higher than LBJ's. Go take a look at the figures. So during all that boot-licking of the president practiced by Madame Foxx, her tongue has been kept securely in her cheek?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I'm So Macho I Could Cry

We recall reading a column by Molly Ivins (we think) in the last couple of years that maintained that all of El Presidente's cowboy swagger is just an act, that he was and is just a momma's boy carrying a huge load of insecurity and guilt over being an under-achiever ... that all the macho posturing is a scaffold built by Karl Rove. (Don't ask me to supply a link to the Ivins archives. I'm not taking the time to look it up.)

We knew Ivins was right. His body language screams indecision and weakness -- outright fear of his surroundings. Consider Dana Milbank's description of his appearance yesterday a.m. on the "Today" show: "Does it worry you," NBC's Matt Lauer ask[ed] him at a construction-site interview in Louisiana, that prosecutors "seem to have such an interest in Mr. Rove?" "Bush blinks twice. He touches his tongue to his lips. He blinks twice more. He starts to answer, but he stops himself. 'I'm not going to talk about the case,' Bush finally says after a three-second pause that, in television time, feels like a commercial break."

Milbank goes on: "The president was a blur of blinks, taps, jiggles, pivots and shifts. Bush has always been an active man, but standing with Lauer and the serene, steady first lady, he had the body language of a man wishing urgently to be elsewhere. The fidgeting clearly corresponded to the questioning. When Lauer asked if Bush, after a slow response to Katrina, was 'trying to get a second chance to make a good first impression,' Bush blinked 24 times in his answer. When asked why Gulf Coast residents would have to pay back funds but Iraqis would not, Bush blinked 23 times and hitched his trousers up by the belt. When the questioning turned to Miers, Bush blinked 37 times in a single answer -- along with a lick of the lips, three weight shifts and some serious foot jiggling. Laura Bush, by contrast, delivered only three blinks and stood still through her entire answer about encouraging volunteerism."

I'm beginning to wish I'd seen this for myself (and there's bound to be a QuickTime version of it up on the 'net somewhere. There is: see below). Milbank continues: "As Lauer went through his introduction, the presidential eyes zoomed left, then right, then left and right again, then center, down and up at the interviewer. The presidential fidgeting spiked when Lauer mentioned the Democratic accusation that Bush was performing a 'photo op.' Bush pushed out his lower front lip, then licked the right corner of his mouth. Lauer's query about whether conservatives 'are feeling let down by you' appeared to provoke furious jiggling of the right leg. Bush joked about his state of mind when Lauer asked Laura Bush about the strain on her husband. 'He can barely stand!' the president said, interrupting. 'He's about to drop on the spot.' But the first lady had a calming influence on the presidential wiggles. When Laura Bush spoke about her husband's 'broad shoulders,' the president put his arm around her -- and the swaying and shifting subsided."

Milbank points out that the Bush handlers have not been allowing the press close to him through recent crises. The "Today" show appearance was a rare exception, and even while that filming was going on, print reporters were kept at a distance. Milbank notes: "ABC News noted cheekily of its rival network's exclusive: "He [Bush] did allow himself to be shown hammering purposefully, with a jejune combination of cowboy swagger and yuppie self-consciousness."

A jejune combination of cowboy swagger and yuppie self-consciousness.

Karl Rove isn't maintaining the scaffolding.

(Crooks & Liars has several different video loops, but the QuickTime version I viewed is of such low resolution -- and truncated -- as to be useless. I didn't try all the others.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Kool-Aid Acid Test

"Beware of leaders who drink their own Kool-Aid." --Frank Rich, NYTimes, and here's your link to get around the annoying "Times Select" pay-to-play stumbling block.

The Definition of Irony

From this a.m.'s NYTimes, a little-noticed fact:

"In 1993, President Bill Clinton raised taxes on upper-income families, the economy boomed and poverty fell for the next seven years. In 2001, President Bush cut taxes deeply, but even with economic growth, the poverty rate has risen every year since."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Better Off With Miers

When you know some of the things that I know -- that I probably shouldn't know -- you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice. (Okay, hat tip to Rev. James Dobson for that phrasing.)

Actually, I got the final word last night from Sen. Arnold Vinick, a Republican who would like to be president. He also happens to be pro-choice. He told me that Republicans will sometimes lie to the Religious Right in order to get elected, with no intention of doing the mullahs' bidding. In fact, he himself has lied to "the reverends," as he calls them. He told their leader (not James Dobson, incidentally) he would allow them to pick and/or approve judge appointments.

Seems like we've already reached that point in the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free. That's what it looks like right now -- that a deal has been struck between "the reverends" and El Presidente. So much so that the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Specter, says he'll possibly subpoena Rev. Dobson, since the Rev. apparently knows more about Harriet Miers than any U.S. Senator. Dobson says he knows a secret that proves Miers will vote the "right way" on abortion rights.

Yesterday on "Meet the Press," Pat Buchanan told Russert, "Tim, on abortion, I am not sure the president the United States wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned. His wife does not, his mother does not. He refuses to say whether he wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned. There are a number of Republicans, moderate Republicans, who say, 'Well this would be a political disaster.' I'm not sure the president of the United States wants the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade."

I have a lot of respect for Pat Buchanan. I agree with him on precious little. But he's an honest man, sometimes an astute political analyst, and he absolutely does not spin. I believe he may be onto something.

All the scrambling by the White House after the Miers nomination to promote her as "born again" may be just another Arnold Vinick moment. And Pat Buchanan sees through it. (Rev. Dobson doesn't, but then his degree is in childhood development, not political science.)

If Ole Pat is correct, that makes all the wink-wink code speech coming out of Miers-supporting conservatives just an exercise in transparent equivocation. Rev. Richand Land, the big-faced Southern Baptist of iVoteValues fame, who was on "Meet the Press" yesterday with Buchanan as a supporter of Bush's trustworthiness, spoke a classic equivocator's line: "...he [Bush] knows that she [Miers] will vote the way he would want her to vote."

I had to laugh at that. It reminded me so much of the equivocation I've used in writing recommendations for C-minus students: "When you get to know ______ as I've gotten to know him, I'm sure you'll think of him as I do."

Presidential equivocation -- the making of statements that are deliberately ambiguous and misleading -- would help explain the supremely odd thing Bush said about Miers on camera last Tuesday at his news conference: "I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today .... I don't want to put somebody on the bench who is this way today, and changes. That's not what I'm interested in."

It was very strange of Bush to saddle Miers in that way (as Tony Mauro has written). But not so strange if he was merely equivocating: "I know she's not going to suddenly join a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court to end federal abortion rights and thereby plunge this country into another bloody awful 50-year struggle, set women back, which would end for the foreseeable future the dominance of the Republican Party."

'Course, if Pat Buchanan is wrong, and if El Presidente really wants to go against the most important women in his life and overturn Roe v. Wade, then we're no worse off than if he'd appointed Michael Luttig or Priscilla Owens in the first place. And that's become precisely my worry. If Harriet Miers is voted down, who comes next?

I'll go with Miers and the possibility that Arnold Vinick is right. Sometimes it's necessary -- and even salutary -- for presidents to lie. The fact that the reverends Dobson and Land don't think El Presidente is capable of lying is their particular problem.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Virginia Foxx ... "Party Crasher"

Madame Virginia Foxx has a well known history of showing up at grand openings and ribbon-cuttings and other such photo-ops ... to claim credit for whatever is being instituted. But generally she gets away with it. When she showed up for the Dell factory opening, she got called on her hypocrisy in the Winston-Salem Journal last Thursday:


Perhaps the most curious presence was U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th. She sat right up on the stage with Dell, Easley and assorted other bigwigs.

As a state senator, Foxx opposed corporate raids on the public treasury. She voted against tax breaks for FedEx in 2002 and for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 2003.

But she was nowhere to be found when the General Assembly met in special session Nov. 4, 2004, to vote on the Dell incentives.

A few days before that session, she cited a prior family commitment as the reason for her planned absence. That's interesting, especially when you consider the fact that she had a congressional election Nov. 2.

When asked before that election where she stood on the Dell package, Foxx ducked the question. "If I saw the legislation, I would answer that," she said in a story published on Election Day 2004.

Yet there she was yesterday, smiling along with the rest of the luminaries.

When she was asked after the multi-media show if she had changed her views on incentives, she started by talking about the quality work force in the Triad and what a good thing Dell is.

Asked another way if she had changed her view, Foxx replied that she "didn't have anything to do with it .... I missed that day. I had previous plans I couldn't change."

But would she have voted in favor? Or at least "paired" her vote with another senator so we would know where she stood?

"I don't deal in hypotheticals," she said.


Madame Foxx deals. She's just dishonest about it.

Tom DeLay, Still Running the House

It's very clear from this that Tom DeLay is still operating in the House of Representatives as Majority Leader, indictments be damned! He was chief knee-capper inducing moderate Republicans to change their votes yesterday to pass the "Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005" (see previous post down-thread).

Said Representative Sherwood Boehlert, moderate Republican of New York, who is chairman of the House Science Committee and who worked hard to defeat the bill because it (once again) shoves money at the already filthy rich oil companies: "We're enriching people, but we are not doing anything to give the little guy a break."

The only silver lining in all this malfeasance is that the Senate would also have to pass this piece of crap, which so far, at least, it shows no signs of doing.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Virginia Foxx, Bad for the Environment

Quite a scene today in the U.S. House of Representatives on the passage of H.R. 3893, the hilariously misnamed "Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005," more aptly known as the "Air Polluters Empowerment Act of 2005." On what was supposed to be a five-minute vote, the Republicans were losing, so the chair held the vote open for over 40 minutes while the usual arm-twisting went on, and the bill finally passed 210-212. I tuned in on C-SPAN in time to hear the Democrats chanting "Shame! Shame Shame!" on the floor of the House.

No arm-twisting required for Madame Virginia Foxx's vote to pass this abomination. She proudly cast her vote to do the following, according to the League of Women Voters (of which Madame Foxx was once upon a time, in her deep "liberal" past, a proud member): "Under the guise of post-hurricane energy relief, H.R. 3893 would do little to solve our country's energy problems. Instead, this legislation undermines existing environmental protections, makes smog worse and fails to provide for much needed energy conservation measures." Here's a statement about the bill from the Natural Resources Defense Council. And here: "The bill is a grab-bag of industry-friendly proposals that were rejected when Congress passed a controversial energy bill last summer. Its plethora of ill-conceived policies is aimed at further boosting profits for oil and gas companies while proposing to sharply curtail laws that safeguard public health and the environment."

The worst part for us in these mountains is that this bill allows, apparently, greater pollution from asphalt plants, but we're still trying to get to the bottom of that particular language (it's a very long bill with the usual dense language). Madame Foxx has a history of trying to help asphalt plants do their dirty business (from her N.C. Senate days, when she voted to allow asphalt plants to start operating prior to getting air quality permits), so we aren't surprised.

Another Great Learning Moment

During the original Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., back in the 1920s, so many people wanted to get into the courtroom to hear testimony that local officials set up loud speakers among the trees on the courthouse square, and hundreds of local citizens sat and listened with rapt attention to the defense's parade of scientific witnesses on the evidence of evolution. It was a great learning moment for rural people denied any ready access to mainstream science.

They listened not to stoke up their bigotry against Darwin but because they were genuinely interested in learning what evolution was ... what the "theory" allowed.

Because, see, scientific theory ain't wild speculation. A point driven home yesterday in testimony during Kitzmiller v. Dover up in Pennsylvania, another of those Scopes Monkey Trial moments.

Barbara Forrest, a witness for the prosecution (the evolution side) in the Dover trial, offered this definition of theory:

"A theory is well established science," Forrest said. "When you propose an idea, it is a hypothesis. When a person purports to have a scientific theory, the research has already been done."

Defense counsel Richard Thompson (for the creationist, anti-evolutionary side) responded, "Would you agree that there are different definitions of theory?"

"In science, there is one," Dr. Forrest answered. "It is an explanation that is confirmed."

Source: Speaking Freely, the blog for the Pennsylvania ACLU.

Bush's Numbers, Rove's Testimony

Yesterday brought two developments of some renown: Karl Rove was ordered back for his fourth swearing-in before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame case. And CBS News released a new poll showing El Presidente's over-all approval ratings now in the high 30s.

(Buried deep in the NYTimes story about Rove's forced march back to the grand jury room is this sentence: "In recent days, Mr. Rove has been less visible than usual at the White House, fueling speculation that he is distancing himself from Mr. Bush or has been sidelined.")

Back to the new CBS poll, which arrived in my in-box late last night: "President George W. Bush's overall job approval rating has reached the lowest ever measured in this poll, and evaluations of his handling of Iraq, the economy and even his signature issue, terrorism, are also at all-time lows."

And where's Karl Rove when Shrub needs him?

Specific questions in the CBS poll produced the following results:

Country on the right path? 26% think so

President's over-all job approval? 37% think he's doing all right

Approve of his handling of Iraq? 32% think he's done well

The economy? 32% think it's swell

Does Bush share your priorities for the country? 32% say yes

Pretty consistent ... one-third of Americans can work up some enthusiasm for the godliest president in the history of the universe, Jehovah's Own Choice to do His will on earth.

Of significance for our own local politics in this national poll ... how poorly El Presidente is polling among unaffiliated voters. Only 29% of independents approve of his job performance. And independent voters have a history of punishing the party in power when it comes to voting in local elections. Madame Foxx might take note of that. We certainly do.

Foxx's DeLay Money

Following the indictments of Tom DeLay for laundering campaign money, two Republican House members -- Reps. Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire and Heather Wilson of New Mexico -- have decided to return campaign contributions received from DeLay's PAC.

What about Madame Virginia Foxx and the $10,000 she got from DeLay?

Someone we know made a call to the Madame's Washington office to ask what she intended to do with the DeLay contribution and has received no answer.

Frankly, we're glad she's hanging onto that dirty moolah. The longer she does, the worse it'll look when she finally caves.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Frum on Miers

David Frum, the former speechwriter for El Presidente (of "the axis of evil" fame), clearly does not respect Harriet Miers, but then he used to work with her in the White House. He paints a picture of her that is congruent with our impression of another Bush favorite, Alberto Gonzales ... an intellectual lightweight who got to where she's at by being agreeable to the Bush ego.

But what also emerges from the Frum screed against Miers is what a zone of testosterone the Bush White House has been, a place where "feminine" qualities are not only not respected ... they're sneered at (which explains, we suppose, why Karen Hughes did so well there). Frum's is the neocon version of reality: you're either a warrior for empire, or you're shit.

But so far Frum seems exactly right that Miers lacks a spine, and in the Supreme Court we currently have, the bullies are all on the right-hand side. Miers will surrender her lunch money.

Boone in Creationism News

The NYTimes has a long article this a.m. about competing raft tours on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, one a study tour of evolutionary evidence revealed in that Great Erosion, the other a faith-based raft for people who believe the earth is 6,000 years old and that Noah's Flood carved the canyon.

Among the creationists, we were surprised to find local celebrities: "At orientation, when the rafters wrote their names on mugs, Libbi Hendley, 52, who owns a newsstand in Boone, N.C., with her husband, marked hers with the Christian fish symbol."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Wedge Issues

Today in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the trial of "Intelligent Design," an expert witness for the prosecution, Barbara Forrest, will testify that ID is nothing more "scientific" than warmed-over 19th-century "creationism." Check out her "expert witness report". Forrest is especially interesting on the subject of "the wedge" program being conducted by proponents of "Intelligent Design" to force themselves into school systems as a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution science.

George F. Will: Our President Is Dumb

Did George Will just slap down his very own president for lacking intellectual rigor? "[Bush] has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution." Whoa, dude! Can you get even more condescending? Well, yes, as a matter of fact: "...the president has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution."


Harriet Miers, Suddenly Born-Again

With the Christian Right (particularly) going nuts about Bush's failure to put the Right Judge on the Supreme Court, the new narrative on nominee Harriet Miers has now shifted to her evangelical Christianity, with Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Christian conservative American Center for Law and Justice, carrying the water on this appointment for El Presidente. Sekulow went on Pat Robertson's 700 Club and said Miers would be the first evangelical Protestant on the court since the 1930s: "So this is a big opportunity for those of us who have a conviction, that share an evangelical faith in Christianity, to see someone with our positions put on the court." (NYTimes story today.)

Just so long as she's "independent," right.

And Miers' personal narrative has gone public in a big way, not that we necessarily need to get cynical about how private religion gets paraded every day by this Most Christian administration: As a partner at Locke Purnell Boren Laney & Neely, "one of the most prestigious law firms in the South, with an office on the 35th floor of the Republic National Bank Tower in downtown Dallas," Miers "felt something was missing in her life, and it was after a series of long discussions -- rambling conversations about family and religion and other matters that typically stretched from early evening into the night -- with Nathan L. Hecht, a junior colleague at the law firm, that she made a decision that many of the people around her say changed her life. 'She decided that she wanted faith to be a bigger part of her life,' Justice Hecht, who now serves on the Texas Supreme Court, said in an interview. 'One evening she called me to her office and said she was ready to make a commitment' to accept Jesus Christ as her savior and be born again, he said. He walked down the hallway from his office to hers, and there amid the legal briefs and court papers, Ms. Miers and Justice Hecht 'prayed and talked,' he said. She was baptized not long after that, at the Valley View Christian Church."

Bush administration operatives are peddling this stuff like drug dealers working the corner.

"To persuade the right to embrace Ms. Miers's selection despite her lack of a clear record on social issues, representatives of the White House put Justice Hecht on at least one conference call with influential social conservative organizers on Monday to talk about her faith and character."

Yeah. So I have overwhelming confidence that Harriet will be able to stand up to Scalia and Roberts. With her history of going with the crowd.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Harriet Miers

Don't know what to think of El Presidente's newest pick for The Supremes? Take some comfort from the dis-comfort of the Right Wing. Michelle Malkin declares herself "utterly underwhelmed" and brings together for your reading pleasure some comments from the Republican blogosphere -- mainly negative, with an edge of bullying threat.

ADDENDUM: According to one right-wing group, Miers is "a political crony with no conservative credentials," and they say they'll vigorously oppose her. This according to Drudge.