Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ridiculin' th' Bastids Good n' Proper
Tony Snow moved directly from the Faux News Channel, where he was a commentator, to the White House, where he became the new Bush press secretary. Karl Rove's analysis went like this: "This move sets the stage, if Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retires, for the nomination of Justice O'Reilly." --Joe Bob Briggs

Friday, April 21, 2006

Casualties of Whine House Rejig? Hardly...

In the cosmic order, there are few people as unimportant as press secretaries. Sen. Gene McCarthy used to say that no campaign was real until you had sacrificed at least one campaign manager (who mattered some, but not much) and one press secretary (who didn't at all, but the press thought s/he did.) G'bye, Scottie McClellan -- some other dogged, humorless maven of mendacity will replace you but to no avail. It is not spokesbodies, or getting the message out, that make or break Administrations, it is events that do so.

In a pair of almost-insightful pieces, Thursday's Financial Times got the quotes right but the storyline slightly askew. McClellan had no power to lose, and Karl Rove hasn't lost any. Behind the deckchair reshuffling, however, must lurk a visceral sense of panic at the Whine House so extreme as to gladden schadenfreudeian hearts everywhere.

The FT Washington reporting team of Edward Alden, Caroline Daniel and Holly Yeager spawned some gems. After you strip away all the happy talk about how this Bolten fellow is really gonna haul Bush outta the mire, you get to the interesting parts. [Annotations in brackets below are neither recompensed by, nor do they appear in, the Financial Times. You have one guess as to their actual provenance.]
The moves are part of a reshuffle aimed at reviving Mr Bush's second term and helping the Republican party to right its fortunes before November's mid-term elections, in which Republican control of Congress could be threatened. [They still think a steady diet of blue smoke, mirrors and fervor about God, Gays, Guns, GIs, Anti-Abortion and Anti-Taxation -- possibly wafted on a few really tiny, almost negligible mushroom clouds over Teheran -- will be sufficient to retain both House and Senate. So far, this remains as delusional as the Iraq war policy, and for the same reasons -- these guys are, at heart, con-men, that is to say, one-trick ponies, that is to say, doomed.]

Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant, said: "The Whi[n]e House has recognised what everyone else knew for months now - things needed to change." [Pas de merde, Monsieur Sherlocke. When Rethug consultants start talking about what everybody already knows, the party's knickers are well and truly in a twist. Having no inside knowledge, this looks like Frank's cutting ties to the Bushies in order to take up with McCain or Hegel or some other crown prince.]

[Luntz] said ... a new focus [was] on the importance of communications. "If this administration wants to save its Republican allies, it will continue to focus on message delivery," he said. [Well, yeah, you have to run the advertising campaign so the Mighty WurlitzerTM Noise Machine built around talk radio and Faux News will know which way the wind blows. But no message is sufficiently strong to overcome an indigestible bout of continuous bad news. And there is no way Fitzgerald, Abramoff, Enron trial, Iraq civil war, anti-Iranian nuke-rattling and the path to $100/bbl oil deliver anything but bad news. Furthermore, the notion that Bush gives a rodent's hindquarters about anybody but himself is dubious at best. Sure as excrement his mommy and his daddy never gave him any better example, even if he'd been paying attention if they had.]

Scott McClellan, the public face of the Whi[n]e House for three years, resigned amid [...] shouts from reporters of "dead man walking." [Haven't scanned Post or Times but would instinctively bet this observation was omitted.]

Mr Bolten has aggressively reached out to Congress. Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, speaking on Tuesday, said he had had more conversations with Mr Bolten in the past week than he had with Mr Rove in the past six months. [There is something so pathetic about watching the dilatory and ineffective Frist suck up to the gutted, blasted, withered Whine House operation that you know he decided to put the boot into Karl, not over any specific actual neglect, but just on general principles.]

The changes reflect the return of a classic Washington figure: the dominant Whi[n]e House chief of staff. [No sooner does Sally Quinn offer soothing perception-management tricks to Laura and George than, after a month to percolate through the dim Wasp brain, they are made manifest. The irony is well lost on the Whine House couple that these are the same tricks Sally used on Ben Bradlee when she wanted to stir up the Post newsroom. But palace coups in the outlying corridors of power such as the traditional media are far, far more capable of inducing institutional change than are palace coups at the actual national palace. Events are too intransigeant for even skilled Administration liars, whereas events are about the least important component of intra-media politics.]

"The [Oval] office has not had a functional structure for the last six years. You had three people who outranked the chief of staff - Karl Rove, the vice-president and Karen Hughes. The chief of staff title did not matter," said one Republican strategist. [Still doesn't. Bolten's got the title, Dick and Karl and Karen still have the juice because that's based not on title, but on having a connection with that twisted little addicted brushcutter's soul. In Shakespeare, when the King is incompetent, all his courtiers are too. Shakespeare didn't make that up, he watched it. Neither people nor empires have changed sufficiently in the 390 years since his death to invalidate his insight.]

Although Mr Bolten and Mr Rove are close, the decision to shift Mr Rove marks the first time he has formally lost power. [If he has. Br'er Rabbit was just as dangerous to communal tranquillity in the tall weeds or the briar patch as he was on the broad highway.]

"Bush is reaping what he sowed in the first term. The elephant in the room is Karl Rove. His instincts were to develop an agenda that focused on targeting the base. It got Bush re-elected but was a flawed strategy for governing," [a Republican strategist sniped.] A key test of the relative clout of [Rove vs. Bolten] could come over a new Treasury secretary. Robert Zoellick, the deputy secretary of state, has been angling for the job. "The real problem there is Karl, who has had run-ins with Bob. If Zoellick gets Treasury then Josh has won and Karl has lost," said a Republican strategist friendly to Zoellick. [If anybody imagines a new Treasury guy is going to suddenly have actual, real economic influence -- as none of his Bush2 predecessors was allowed to -- they must've recently been to Thailand and purchased more bhang for the baht. The Bushies already have an economic policy. Build the rich a higher pie. And nothing is going to be allowed to interfere with that, which is going just fine the way it is, thank you very much.]

"The only way to get an A player is to say that there are big things to be accomplished and you are the one to do it. Yet there is no agenda. Instead, they are saying the president needs you. That is not enough for an A-list player," said one Republican strategist. [Exactamundo. Hence, Zoellick is not an A-list player. Hence, he may well get the job.]

Sunday, April 16, 2006

New Email Signature

Courtesy the energetic and far-sighted Kam Magor of Austin TX, the below e-mail signature has been adopted (as amended by the Slangwhanger-in-Chief) for all accounts. Go thou and do likewise.
DANGER: Owing to illegal and unconstitutional Executive Orders, the National Security Agency reads email without warning, warrant, notice or judicial or legislative oversight. You have neither recourse nor protection save to urge investigation into censure or impeachment of the president. Support S. Res. 398 (Feingold) and H. Res. 635, 636 and 637 (Conyers).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

God Bless the Village Voice

Once the only Queen of Snark, the Voice is less distinctive than it used to be. But that's what happens to pioneers. Entire communities grow up around them. Next thing you know, they're not on the frontier anymore.

Her formerly eldritch voice may now be muted, but the old girl still packs a sting in her tail. Here she takes on the Untreated Alcoholic Preznit using the acid inks of Ward Sutton:

Consummation Devoutly to be Wished

Here is a heartening prediction of what life will be like for Enron's Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling the first week subsequent to their forthcoming fraud convictions.

Dave Coverly's "Speed Bump" 'Toon Calls the Enron Turn

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wisdom of Billy-Bob

Quoth the AP of Wm. J. Clinton speechifying this week:
[Clinton] also reflected on his own decisions when, as commander in chief, he was urged to launch a military strike somewhere in the world.

''I always thought of Senator Fulbright and the terrible quagmire in Vietnam and how many times we sent more soldiers and found ourselves in a hole and kept digging because we didn't want to look like we were weak. So anytime somebody said in my presidency, 'If you don't do this people will think you're weak,' I always asked the same question for eight years: ''Can we kill 'em tomorrow?''

''If we can kill 'em tomorrow, then we're not weak, and we might be wise enough to try to find an alternative way,'' said Clinton.

'Nuff said.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why Bush Loved Ken Lay

Enron czar Ken Lay hasn't testified in his own defense yet, but his chief hatchet-man, Jeff Skilling, took the stand Monday and will likely be there all week and possibly into next. In a copyrighted Enron-Trialwatch blog on the Houston Chronicle site, reporter John Roper captures the similarities between the Bush style and the Enron style.
'I was changed...'

Skilling said he changed in 2001 following an accident at an Enron plant where three men were killed and several injured.

"I was changed," he said.

Skilling described for jurors visiting a victim in the hospital and talking to families of the employees.

"It said to me that life is short," Skilling said.

He said that the incident drove home his desire to leave the company to spend more time with his family.

Positively Rovian in its mendacity, this doubletalk implies Skilling left Enron not in contemplation of its inevitable blow-up, but for purely human reasons. Here's a guy who never thought of anything but a pile of dollars (unless it was to humiliate his co-workers in public) all of a sudden waking up to wife-and-childer just in time to get out of the burning barn before the roof caves in.

Even if true, this ain't no Damascene conversion like St. Paul's. This is an obscene conversion. And the likelihood of its truth is down there with where Enron stock is today. Some Texican PR counsellor got to him and he paid attention. "Humanize yerself f'r th' jury, Jeffy. Don't let 'em think yew wuz ever in it f'r th' money. Yew jest went ta work ever' day outta pyore humility an' goodness."

Lay/Skilling have to pretend the company was just fine till those evil short-sellers on Wall Street started valuing Enron like a (gasp!) trading company, instead of like some kind of new business paradigm that sorta had a hedge fund and sorta had a pipeline and swapped assets around from division to division, not to (choke) hide any underperformance but to achieve (sob) business synergies...

Hey, for good Republicans like Lay, Skilling and Bush, the market can do no wrong. Except when it's inconvenient for them, like the time Bush went busted in Arbusto.

The background is that Lay was a junior-college business theorist looking for a way to use the Gingrich/DeLay/Bush hatred of government regulation to open up some otherwise unattainable cookie jars. Skilling was the hotshot consultant who helped him find those special chocolate chips iin those jars. The Bush Republicans benefited from their campaign contributions. All shared a cocky, hubristic attitude, feeling that until they came along, business was too stodgily focused on, you know, making things. They were out to change that. And they did.

A Financial Times article Monday compared the Lay/Skilling case to the great fraud trial of Samuel Insull, the Chicago electric-traction monopolist, in 1934. His interlocking series of companies and fronts laid off risk, and hid assets, so the electricity and tramcar customers of Chicago could be safely gouged with no one able to penetrate the accounting fog. Mister Dooley, Finley Peter Dunn's great Chicago Irish philosopher from the first quarter of the century, got it right. "There's no greater fortune to be made, Hennessy me lad, than by shaving quarter-cents off the poor day in and day out." Insull got off. Lay and Skilling are obviously hoping for a repeat.

But Insull's example may be trumped by the words of scaly, vicious Wall Street founder Daniel Drew, whose little lesson on the perils of (ironically) short-selling was coined somewhere around 1834: "Him that sells what isn't his'n, must buy it back or go to prison."

Ultimately Lay and Skilling were selling things they didn't have (broadband futures, Brazilian, Nigerian and Indian electric power) but making money fraudulently driving up the price of electricity in California and Oregon. Insull actually delivered something, though at a higher price. At the end of Enron, there was nothing left to deliver but its leadership over to justice.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Four Thousand and Ten Words

poor baby...

his legacy memorialized...

once and future...

coming soon...
Hersh Blows Lid Off Bush Plan to Nuke Iran

Writing a copyrighted story in the issue of the New Yorker that hits the stands Monday but is already online, Seymour M. Hersh shows the inner workings of the Bush/Cheney/Rove Maladministration's ripening scheme to drop nukes on Iran. But his reporting also shows how the Administration's orchestrated drumbeat for a preventive Iranian war has grown so persistent and dissonant that it has scared the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hersh does not explicitly connect the plans to nuke Iran with the desperate Republican political situation in the run-up to the mid-term Congressional elections in November. Republicans clearly need a distraction from news of their policies of lying, spying, torture, corruption and incompetence. But long-time observers of the Rove/Bush campaign style know that perversion of the US's (formerly ironclad) no-first-nuke-use policy for political gain is no wise beneath them.

Why does the US bombing plan inevitably turn nuclear? Because bunker-busting bombs are nukes, and the principal Iranian installations targeted are hardened in the Russian manner to withstand conventional explosives. There will doubtless be a PR offensive to claim that `tactical' nukes are different from `strategic' or city-killing nukes, but this is unlikely to matter to 1.2 billion Muslims or, indeed, to Americans who can feel the breath of history upon their necks.

Citing "intensified planning for a possible major air attack," Hersh's sources say the bombing is scheduled for spring, which gives it another seventy days to happen (if the petroholics have considerably more regard for the integrity of the calendar than they have for the Constitution.) One source notes the appalling truth that, in his rageoholic, grandiose way,

"...the President believes that he must do `what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,' and `that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.'"
As a Democratic House member told Hersh,
"The most worrisome thing is that this guy [Bush] has a messianic vision."

It is difficult to understand the Administration fixation with regime change in Iran without remembering that Winston Churchill tried controlling the tribes by a policy of air bombing after WWI in order to secure Middle Eastern oilfields for the West. As a diplomat told Hersh,

"...the Administration believes [the problems of the Middle East] cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years."

Despite the Administration's rigidity, cooler heads may yet prevail. Many of these wear hats with gold braid. Stunningly, one of Hersh's sources

"...confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. `There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,' the adviser told me. `This goes to high levels.' The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. `The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks,' the adviser said. `And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen.'

The Pentagon appears to have better political heads than those upholding civilian hats. One military source told Hersh,

"...bombing Iran could provoke `a chain reaction' of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world."

Failure to grasp this elementary principle sent us into Iraq where, according to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, it worked so well they want to try it again in Iran.

There is, just as in pre-war Iraq, real doubt as to whether Iran's activities are capable of supporting its indisputable hostile intentions.

"The International Atomic Energy Agency [is] inclined to take a hard stand against Iran. `All of the inspectors are angry at being misled by the Iranians, and some think the Iranian leadership are nutcases--one hundred per cent totally certified nuts,' the diplomat said. He added that [I.A.E.A. chairman] ElBaradei's overriding concern is that the Iranian leaders `want confrontation, just like the neocons on the other side'--in Washington."

Even so, diplomacy is fighting a rearguard action against politically-driven militarism. But a diplomat reminded Hersh,

"'It's too early to give up on the U.N. route.' He added, `If the diplomatic process doesn't work, there is no military "solution." There may be a military option, but the impact could be catastrophic.'"
For instance, recent oil price spikes consequent upon Nigerian guerrilla activity might look like raindrops in a tsunami compared to the aftermath of Christians nuking Muslims. Hersh notes four ugly probabilities:
  • "... the price per barrel would immediately spike, to anywhere from ninety to a hundred dollars per barrel, and could go higher, depending on the duration and scope of the conflict."
  • "Iranian retaliation might be focussed on exposed oil and gas fields in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. They would be at risk, and this could begin the real jihad of Iran versus the West."
  • "'The best terror network in the world has remained neutral in the terror war for the past several years,' [a] Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said of Hezbollah. `This will mobilize them and put us up against the group that drove Israel out of southern Lebanon. If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us.'
  • "[A source said,] 'If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.' The American, British, and other coalition forces in Iraq would be at greater risk of attack from Iranian troops or from Shiite militias operating on instructions from Iran. [A retired general predicted that] '...the Iranians could take Basra with ten mullahs and one sound truck.'"

Hersh's diplomatic source sadly noted,

"'There are people in Washington who would be unhappy if we found a solution. They are still banking on isolation and regime change. This is wishful thinking.'"

The only thing standing between us and another neoconservative-fuelled messianically-deluded oil war may be our military, not our political leadership. We may indeed have reached the point forecast in the 19th century by a British general, Sir William Francis Butler:

"A nation that draws a demarcation between its thinking men and its fighting men will soon have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools."
Except our fighting leadership may prove a lot less foolish than the cowards in the White House.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

DeLay's Successor

Clearly no motive is too low to be assigned to DDTom DeLay. Obviously he did the hari-kiri dance to keep the campaign money for a defense fund, and to try to save the seat for the Reptilican Party.

However, if old-line segregationist Bob Eckels gets the nomination, he will be hard to beat. Now a Harris County Commissioner, he started out as a School Board member when Impeach Earl Warren was, if not his slogan, that of his supporters.

Various other Texican State Senileists, Reprehensibles and Houston City Council Critters are threatening to run, but the Slangwhanger-in-Chief has yet to receive a morning-line on them from his folks back home in the flatlands.

A no-name quasi-moderate like Tom Campbell, the ex-NOAA lawyer who got 30% against DeLay in the primary, would be good for the Dems because independent Steve Stockman would siphon off all the serious right-wingers.

All the forecasts of Reptilican victory post-DeLay are based on ignoring Stockman. He could prove negligible, but many have yet to be convinced that a far-right candidate in the Texas 22nd District is not as serious a liability to the Reptilicans as was DeLay's upcoming Abramoff indictment.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sharp Texas Scripture

Disgraced, feral ex-House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay will apparently announce his resignation tomorrow, effective in May. He might not only go to jail, he was in danger of getting beat in his home 22nd District. DeLay has been indicted in Texas and almost certainly now faces federal charges as Jack Abramoff sings to prosecutors of fee- for- service Republican Congressional contributions.

Only little-known Republicans will be available to replace DeLay on the ballot. The legality of replacing a candidate who resigns for any reason other than health is in dispute, according to the Texas Election Code, but there is little doubt the Republicans will find a way to violate the law if necessary. The kicker in the deal is that former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman has entered the race as an Independent.

Stockman was a one-term Congressman, fined $40,000 for ethics violations, who supported the NRA-Timothy McVeigh wing of the Republican Party. Of Stockman it was true, as George Dangerfield remarked about Winston Churchill's WWI British Cabinet service, "Many of his colleagues thought him, at best, a necessary evil, while the rest did not find him necessary."

Democratic nominee Nick Lampson is a conservative former Congressman whose emphasis on family-budget issues is incapable of scaring the truest believer. And he used to represent 20% of the Houston suburban district's current population.

Before the withdrawal, a secret mole in a Pentagonicostal congregation on the banks of Horseshoe Lake in Sugarland reported having heard this Palm Sunday lesson read from the pulpit yesterday:
Dearly Beloved, here commenceth a Reading from the Book of Schadenfreude, Chapter 3, Verses 7-16

7 Forasmuch as the demon-spawned re-Publican De-Lay was finally caught whilst defiling the precincts of, and pouching the thank-offerings from, the Temple, to the grave detriment of the people,

8 there came amongst the flat-edged salt marsh grasses of Sugarland a sordid re-Publican Stock-Man, a man thrice before haled in front of the Judges, they thrice finding that his campaign finances stank even unto the nostrils of high Heaven and once thereupon fining him 40 thousand drachmas.

9 He was that same rabid Stock-Man whose deepest ideology tendered not the Holy Lord but instead exalted the sordid marketplace, the extreme militias, and general nutjob batshit-craziness.

10 Yet the rabid Stock-Man swore in self-righteousness and cunning that he wouldst do doughty deeds against the demon-spawned De-Lay, and in the Voter Registration Office didst lay about him manfully with a stylus, using both uppercut and downstroke, such that after due exchange of drachmas his tribe, instead of "re-Publican," became "Independent."

11 And from that day forth the people’s voter cohorts were torn asunder and splitteth mightily, re-Publican against re-Publican, fundamentalist against fundamentalist, such that even the sharpest-sighted creation scientists were not able to distinguish the mirrors of the one from the blue smoke of the other, nor couldst their definitively non-simian noses separate the stench of the one from the suppurations of the other.

12 For in their quest for loyalty, adherence, and votes the rabid Stock-man and the demon-spawned De-Lay didst set banker against investor, real estate agent against developer, minister against churchgoer, pickup truck owner against NASCAR fan, NRA fanatic against hunter, small businessman against deregulator, and didst cause many another sign of chaos in the deep.

13 And there arose an honorable Lamp-Son of the Fortress called Bend, who sitteth on the banks of the River Brazos and verily of the Creek called Oyster, playing soothing but complex melodies upon the zither and the sackbut, the krumhorn and the cymbal, the tabor and the dulcimer; such that the people were delighted therewith under the sight of the Lord, and rewarded the modest Lamp-Son in the popularity polls and upon the hustings, even though he was of the tribe of Dems but of the subtribe of the Blue Dogs.

14 Whereupon the substantial Lamp-son didst bring forth the light of rational discourse on real pocketbook issues unto the 22nd District of the province of the Tejanos, yea, even to the hidden parts of the gated communities thereof.

15 And the demon-spawned De-Lay was sore abashed thereat, and in impotent fury didst gnash his teeth and grind his molars, whilst the rabid Stock-Man wrought wild writhings in the wilderness amongst the briars, like unto the jackal of the desert, in whom there is neither cleanliness, nor virtue, nor usefulness unto man, nor woman, nor beast of the field, nor fowl of the air, nor fish of the sea,

16 save that the rabid Stock-Man maimeth, woundeth and affrighteth the demon-spawned De-Lay forevermore, and unhindereth thereby the staunch Lamp-Son, who from the season of the election henceforward shalt serve the people without stint.

Here endeth the lesson from the Book of Schadenfreude; go in peace rejoicing therein.