Friday, March 31, 2006

Screwing the Troops -- Again

About six months ago, the Pentagon announced that it would reimburse soldiers who purchased body armor from private companies -- probably due to the fact that it was an embarrassing situation to discover that not all the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were adequately supplied with the protection that the torso-covering armor and ceramic plates provided. Now, in a rather dizzying reversal, the Army is announcing that the use of privately-purchased body armor has been banned. Claims that the privately-produced armor may not live up to Army standards ring rather hollow when compared with the protection that troops get from no fucking body armor at all. The Army has gone so far as to announce that the beneficiaries of any soldier killed while wearing privately-purchased armor, such as Dragon Skin, may not receive the death benefits from their SGLI life insurance policies. Troops can also face potential disciplinary action for wearing non-government issue armor, no matter how much they (or their families) paid for it, or how much more effective they believe it is compared with the GI stuff (when they can even get that!).

This just sad, sick and sad and completely of a piece with the times in which we're living. The more this administration and the Fightin' 101st Keyboarders and the bedwetting chickenhawks with ribbons on their SUVs talk about how they "support the troops," the more the troops themselves get a righteous un-Vaselined screwing. People are getting killed, coming home maimed and wounded and scarred, their benefits are being cut, their families are not being adequately taken care of, and they are constantly being lied to and jerked around by demagoguing politicians and an administration that doesn't give two shits about them -- but fully expects them to back their policies and vote for them, election after election. Sick and sad and disgusting.

Just a thought: This latest anti-troop policy couldn't have anything to do with war-profiteering for defense contractors, or a possible lack of sufficient donations to the GOP by companies such as Pinnacle (makers of the popular Dragon Skin and Python Skin), could it? Naaaah. That's just crazy talk!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Grassroots Volunteers for Jerry McNerney in CA-11

Thom K from the blog This Is What Democracy Looks Like has asked a few of us BARBARians to post something about a local Democrat running for the House who needs some cash and support. Being the obliging sort that I sometimes am (when I'm not being a snarky, surly curmudgeon), I'm happy to reprint his request here, and to place the ad he provided over on the right. This is what Thom had to say:

As a grassroots activist I sometimes feel powerless against the Washington insiders. That all changed as Christine Cegelis and her volunteers proved it is possible for us to have a fighting chance against the beltway bureaucrats. Cegelis proved that the grassroots candidates are competitive in 2006 and I'm here to tell you the primaries aren't over yet!

Just like kid oakland blogs about how "We all live in Richard Pombo's district", I felt like I also lived in Christine Cegelis' district. I followed Cegelis' race closely because I'm a grassroots volunteer for Jerry McNerney, running for congress in CA-11. Jerry's Democratic primary fight is similar to that of Cegelis'. In 2004 Cegelis and McNerney stood up to incumbent Republicans when no other Democrat would. Now, in 2006 they both face(d) Washington supported primary opponents. Another similarity that pisses me off to no end is that the last time I had checked, both candidates couldn't get their biographies and pictures posted on the DCCC candidate site while their Washington supported opponents did.

I know the McNerney campaign finance dude will not be happy with me for saying this, but I guess that's the advantage of being an unpaid volunteer:-) There's a grassroots approved way to make your contribution to the McNerney campaign. We've got a lot of bloggers out there writing stuff about the CA-11 race, and it would be great if you could make your contribution to the McNerney campaign as a statement supporting blue bloggers. Jerry does have a blog too and you may have caught his posting about "The Real Fighting Dems" a few months ago. Matt, at the Say Not to Pombo blog, has an ActBlue contribution page where you can contribute your green grassroots bucks to Jerry McNerney. Scroll down to the bottom and make sure you contribute in the correct box for Jerry McNerney. Make your contribution with 11 cents added so Matt knows we are showing him some grassroots green. As an example, you would enter $50.11 in the Jerry McNerney box at:

I can't say enough about how great it is to work for a campaign that really is grassroots. Jerry McNerney has hired not just one, but two, yes T-W-O, of the Bay Area DFA 1.0 and 2.0 people as paid campaign staffers. Many of you may have heard of Vicki Cosgrove and Eden James from Northern California and Oakland DFA. I thought I knew a lot of people in the area, but they are amazing.

I know from reading the posts that there are some people who want to give up on the Democratic Party, but we're not ready to do that. We volunteers are not only fighting to put a great candidate in office, but we're also fighting for the future of our party, so let's get to work. We have only a few days till the Friday deadline.

You Go, Joe

Well-known blogger and fellow BARBARian The Poor Man has a great post up (which itself is linked to a story on Daily Kos) quoting much of a speech recently made at Florida State University by ambassador Joseph Wilson (Mr. Valerie Plame), in which the ambassador took some mighty swings at quite a few low-hanging softballs (Bush, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Ken Mehlman, Scooter Libby, Ann Coulter, etc.) and knocks each one out of the park and into the cheap seats. Here's just a small taste:

When the Democrats take control of Congress, their first order of business needs to be crushing the neoconservatives out of power in every foreign policy arena. Drive a damn stake through the heart of every single one of them, whatever it takes. They have been wrong, fundamentally wrong, on every…single….position they have ever taken. They have not been right about one single thing.

Really, you should read the whole speech. Joe says things that I wish all Democrats today were saying. As someone in the comments there put it, it "makes a fella proud to be a Wilson." I couldn't agree more.

Quote of the Day

Direct from's War Room (and thankya, Tim Grieve):

George W. Bush on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: "I judge the president based upon his honoring of the institutions that make democracy sound in Venezuela ... And it's very important for leaders throughout the hemisphere, whether they agree with America or not, to honor the tenets of democracy. And to the extent he doesn't do that, then I believe he should be subject to criticism."

Ouch!! Doesn't it hurt when you twist yourself all up like that, Mr. Preznit? I thought pretzels were dangerous to your health!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Lying and Dying and Wars, Ho-Hum

By now, most everyone who lives or spends time in the blogosphere (or is just out there paying attention) is well aware of the recent New York Times article verifying the memo outlining the January 31, 2003, Oval Office meeting between Tony the Poodle Blair and our own inimitable Preznit Tough Talk McAWOL, in which it was made clear that they were hell-bound for leather to start a war in Iraq regardless of what the inspectors found or what the UN said or pretty much any other consideration in the whole damn world. There can really be no question anymore -- except perhaps among that dwindling third of the country that still worships at the Altar of Bush, and ascribes to him the power of angels to dance on a pinhead (Rummy comes to mind), among other supernatural feats -- that our president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors and is responsible for incredible, staggering amounts of bloodshed and carnage through his scheming, duplicitous ways. There are just way too many smoking guns at this point to deny it.

Perhaps the most damning item contained in the memo is the idea floated by the Bushitter of painting some American U-2s in UN colors and flying them over Iraq in the hopes of provoking Saddam's military into shooting them down, thus giving the US an excuse to start the war. In other words, he was willing to sacrifice American lives so that he could point to the deaths of those pilots and say "See? We were attacked! We have to defend ourselves!" -- at which point he could then begin the real sacrifice of American (and Iraqi) lives that ended up getting started anyway, and continues unabated to this day. How is this any different from the manufactured way that Hitler began World War II in Poland? For that matter, how is it different from the Gulf of Tonkin ruse that sucked us into the quagmire of Vietnam? It's way beyond cynical -- it's on a whole 'nother level.

But as bad as all this is -- and really, this is bad, it's heinous and evil and calculatingly Machiavellian -- what's worse is that there will likely be no consequences to Preznit Death Merchant because of this. The Downing Street memo has come and gone, and nothing. The admitted defiance of the law and the FISA court in the NSA wiretapping scheme has so far led to nothing more than Russ Feingold's lonely cry in the wilderness for censure. Valerie Plame gets outed as a CIA undercover operative just out of spite, and the only consequence is that Scooter Libby now has to wait for a trial to occur so his boss's boss can pardon him. Nothing sticks to these guys. Nothing they do gets the American people worked up enough to react with anything more than a collective yawn and maybe a wistful sigh for some half-remembered days when the nation was at peace and the government had a surplus of money, and politicians -- including presidents -- were expected to follow the rule of law and uphold the Constitution.

But see, times have changed, haven't they? The American populace, by and large, no longer gives a skinny rat's ass about what the administration does in their name. They'd have to first go find a skinny rat, and that would involve getting off of their couches and out of their La-Z-Boys and maybe even turning off the TV, and that isn't going to happen. The real fault, though, lies with a rubber-stamp, complacent Congress that has been derelict in its duty, that has abdicated its responsibilities to the American people in order to rake in illicit Jack-Me Abramoff funds and avoid the behind the scenes wrath of Turdblossom Rove and Buckshot Cheney. This is where the responsibility really rests -- with the branch of government that chooses not to use its power as a check and a balance on an out of control executive. Because, as we said here yesterday, "Republicans don't believe in the Constitution" and "Republicans believe the President is above the law." You can take that to the bank, and it will be worth a hell of a lot more than any speculation that this latest memo -- or any other evidence of blatant criminality on the part of the Chickenhawk in Chief that may turn up -- will go any further in holding him accountable than all the mountains of evidence piled up against him already have.

Caption Contest

"Hey! Can we make this thing higher?"

Okay, your turn. Sorry, no prizes, just the satisfaction of knowing that your particular caption was the best of the bunch. And yes, I do mean you.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Links From One Of My Favorite Frogs

Couple of good posts over at our pal Kvatch's Blognonymous today. The first has to do with the Kvatch Kommandos, a group of soldiers with a message to send to the good people of the Bay Area (and the rest of the country as well), and how, unlike their beleaguered counterparts in Iraq, they're advancing and really making progress.

The other one that I like has to do with the post I made last week concerning the GOP ad currently out, the one that shrilly warns that if the people elect Democrats in '06, the likely outcome is censure and/or impeachment of Preznit Dain Bramage. (If only we could be sure that that would happen!) There are some great comments there, perhaps best of all Kvatch's suggestion for slogans the Democrats should be using in their election strategy: "The Republicans don't believe in the Constitution" and "The Republicans believe the President is above the law." I think these themes ought to be repeated liberally (pun intended), pounded into people's heads every day from now until November, to get our message through.

There's also a link to the ad in question there (it's a .pdf file of the email I sent out last week, with my message and the the ad), so you can see it for yourself. Check out the lily pad when you get a chance!

Je Suis un Blaguer

From my "Weird and Wonderful Words" calendar for today: Blaguer -- A person who talks pretentiously. From a French word, blague, meaning "pretentious falsehood," self-aggrandizing stories knowing no borders.

Man. Guess they got my number, huh?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bring It On!

In the best of times, satire is hard to do. Given the Orwellian times in which we live, with the Clean Air Act, the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind and other government programs doing pretty much the exact opposite of what their names might imply, satire is damn near impossible. How are you supposed to parody an administration that constantly beats you to the punch -- and insists that it's playing it straight?

Listening to Air America radio yesterday, Randi Rhodes was complaining that the Republican National Committee had recently produced an ad warning of the danger to the nation inherent in Senator Russ Feingold's attempt to censure the president for his illegal wiretapping venture. Their ad warned in dire terms that if the public dared to elect a Democratic Congress in '06, the voters could expect more of the same, and perhaps even impeachment proceedings. Ms. Rhodes' complaint was not so much with the RNC ad itself, but that it was almost exactly the same as a parody ad that her show had aired just the day before.

This morning my friend, JurassicPork, proprietor of the site Yep, another Goddamned blog, sent me a copy of the Republican ad that is even now making its way across the internets, scaring Republican sheep no end and attempting to rally the base to come out in herds -- I mean droves -- to vote in the '06 elections and prevent the unthinkable possibility of the current administration ever being held accountable for their shady dealings and criminal behavior. The ad fairly quivers with fear and anger at the prospect that -- horrors!! -- someone might dare to question the Commander in Chief Chimpy McJingo about his blatant and admitted violations of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA laws about obtaining warrants for wiretaps.

To which I say: Good. Bring it on. Given the president's dwindling popularity, I'd like to see this ad played out a national stage. Put it in all the major newspapers, run it on the major networks in prime time. Let people know the potential consequences (actually, the upside) of electing a Democratic Congress. In truth, I wish that the Democrats had created an ad very much like this one themselves; they should be sending the Republican ad out to all their constituents in an attempt to turn the tables on the fear-mongers and their flock. My only worry is that there are too many Democrats currently in office (hello, Joe Lieberman!) who would run screaming from the censure/impeachment scenario, even if they did gain the majority.

Be careful what you wish for, Republicans.

Cross posted at This Is What Democracy Looks Like.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stop Your Whining!

In the category of "this shouldn't come as a surprise..." is this recent study, cited in the Toronto Star, alleging that whiny, insecure kids tend to grow up to be whiny, insecure conservatives -- and that you can predict, with a fair measure of accuracy, what kind of politics a person will embrace later in life by how he or she behaves as a child. It has always struck me how right-wingers tend to be so shrill and defensive, even after getting their own way time after time (even after controlling virtually every part of the government and judiciary and media in this country for the past five-plus years). I guess maybe this study sheds some light on the reasons behind that particular mind-set.

As Tom Tomorrow once said, the only thing Republicans like whining about more than the politics of victimization is whining about how victimized they are. It's very much like the "liberal media" myth -- virtually all evidence is to the contrary and it's easily disproven, but that particular canard -- just like the notion that conservatives are constantly being smacked down and put upon by a hateful liberal populace -- is hard-wired into their little lizard brains and no amount of arguing or empirical evidence will convince them otherwise. The media is liberal because they say it's liberal. Conservatives are victimized because they say they're victimized.

In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Can't you just see a young Karl Rove pissing and moaning about some imagined neighborhood slight? He's still getting back at that girl who smacked him for sporting a Nixon bumper sticker on the basket of his bike when he was a kid. Not to mention his (alleged) boss, the bully, who still acts like a petulant child any time someone asks him a question he doesn't want to answer or disagrees with him.

As my friend Eric, who sent me the link to this story in the first place (and thanks for that!), said, "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be wingnuts."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Lies and the Lying Presidents Who Tell Them

These past few days I've been making up for lost time in sending letters to the editor of the SF Chronicle. Here's the latest, and a bit more commentary afterward:

Editor --

Two headlines in the first section of the Chronicle (3/21), both of them datelined Baghdad, spell out in no uncertain terms just about all there is to tell about the current situation in Iraq: "39 more killed as surge of violence grinds on" and "U. S. Marines shot and killed 15 civilians, residents say." Meanwhile, in a speech in Cleveland on Monday and a White House press conference Tuesday, George Bush trotted out many of the same tired lies and obfuscations about his war of choice that he's been parroting all along, telling an increasingly skeptical press and public that progress is being made, things are going well there, and claiming that the public would still support him if only the media would report the "positive" news.

This brazen display of stubbornness and arrogance in the face of the carnage that he brought on Iraq and on our troops is akin to a man who has murdered your wife and children standing up in front of you in court and claiming that "It's all the media's fault. They aren't reporting on all the wives and children out there that I didn't kill!"

-- EW


This is clearly a president who is not just isolated and out of touch, but who is criminally negligent and unable to see the train barreling down the tracks, coming straight at him. His refusal to acknowledge the truth of the situation in Iraq, even as nearly everyone around him does (with the exception of a handful of presidential advisors and sycophants, like the clueless Donald Rumsfeld and the pathological Dick Cheney, who, on Face the Nation Sunday made the claim that his statements about "our troops being greeted as liberators" and the Iraqi insurgency being in its "last throes" some months ago were "basically accurate" and "reflected reality"), does not only a disservice to his own credibility but to our foreign policy and the very lives of many of the citizens of this country as well. He is now crying wolf about Iran in almost exactly the same manner as he did three-plus years ago about Iraq, but who is willing to listen to him and take him at his word? We've seen how that movie plays out, and most of us don't like the way it ends.

Or, more accurately, the way it goes on and on and on...

Unsafe and Insecure

Warrantless wiretaps, bad (and illegal) as they are, apparently aren't enough for Preznit Incompetent Lying Idiot and his crime family administration. The Carpetbagger Report, citing a story from U. S. News, has a post up accusing the Bushists of moving in the direction of warrantless physical searches now as well.

We've all heard, of course, about the Bush administration's warrantless-search program that included officials tapping phones and reviewing electronic communications without warrants. Moving the ball forward in a disturbing way, U.S. News published a very important story this week about an angle to warrantless searches that we hadn't heard before: physical searches.

In the dark days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a small group of lawyers from the White House and the Justice Department began meeting to debate a number of novel legal strategies to help prevent another attack. Soon after, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to begin conducting electronic eavesdropping on terrorism suspects in the United States, including American citizens, without court approval.

Meeting in the FBI's state-of-the-art command center in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the lawyers talked with senior FBI officials about using the same legal authority to conduct physical searches of homes and businesses of terrorism suspects — also without court approval, one current and one former government official tell U.S. News. "There was a fair amount of discussion at Justice on the warrantless physical search issue," says a former senior FBI official. "Discussions about — if [the searches] happened — where would the information go, and would it taint cases."

FBI Director Robert Mueller was alarmed by the proposal, the two officials said, and pushed back hard against it. "Mueller was personally very concerned," one official says, "not only because of the blowback issue but also because of the legal and constitutional questions raised by warrantless physical searches."

The article suggests the administration hasn't searched homes and businesses in the United States without warrants — but that Bush officials believe they could do this whenever they want. (More...)

Of course, if you've got nothing to hide (or steal), you shouldn't be afraid of government agents rifling through your personal effects, right? I'm sure every good Bush-supporter out there would be more than happy to do his or her patriotic duty and let the police or the FBI take a good, close look into their closets and drawers and under their beds. Really, it's the American thing to do.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Letters to the Editor

Reading the SF Chronicle today, I was inspired to write the following two letters to the editor:

Editor --

The lead-in sentence just below the headline ("The Defiant War;" also see here and here) of the March 19 edition of Sunday's Insight section is disingenuous at best, incorrect and insulting at worst: "When it began three years ago, few people could have anticipated that the combat in Iraq would last so long or that the enemy would become a stubborn and resilient insurgency."

In fact, millions of people all over the world marched in the streets and protested in cities everywhere because we anticipated exactly that; and we have, unfortunately, been validated in our predictions since then. Those of us who opposed the war since late 2002 have been proven correct in our assessment of the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the U.S., our belief that he had no viable WMD, and our predictions that entering into a war with Iraq would ensnare us in a quagmire that would make the debacle in Vietnam look like a cakewalk. It's just a shame that the media and the government ignored our voices before the war began and has continued to do so in the time since then.

For you to say that "no one could have anticipated that the combat in Iraq would last so long" is on a par with Condoleezza Rice's claiming, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people... would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile," or the president saying about Hurricane Katrina that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Yes, and no one could have expected the Spanish Inquisition, either.


And this one:

Editor --

Given the increasing number of child-molestation cases that have come to light over the past decade or more among the Catholic clergy world-wide, you would think that Cardinal William Levada would, at best, want to lay low on the subject of children and adoption (Cardinal Levada's Edict, Insight, March 19). He and his church hardly have any credibility on the subject of child-raising these days. Therefore, for him to send out a directive opposing the adoption of children by gay couples or individuals smacks of the rankest hypocrisy -- and illustrates, quite vividly, the ultimate disregard he and his church have for these most vulnerable members of our society.

Why anyone pays attention to the medieval pronouncements of these smug, self-righteous hypocrites is beyond me; then again, I gave up religion years ago because I never did understand that mind-set.


Whether either one gets printed or not is, of course, a crapshoot -- but at least I get to reprint them here.

Three Years and Counting

On Saturday, March 18th, I joined a few thousand of my fellow San Franciscans down at Civic Center to do one of the things that we do best: protest the war. We gathered in the morning at Civic Center, marched a few miles through the Tenderloin, downtown and South of Market areas, then made our way back to Civic Center for more speeches and drum circles and socializing. Here are some of the pictures I took during the day. As always, click on the pictures for larger versions.

Can't we all just get along? I must have seen well over a hundred cops just on the eight-block walk down the street from my apartment. There was only one misdemeanor arrest all day, however.
The prevailing sentiment of the day.
People of all ages, flavors and persuasions attended. One thing most all of them had in common was opposition to the war and animosity to the man occupying the White House.
The fellow on the left, right after I snapped this picture, pointed to his friend behind the sign and said, "Doesn't he look just like Donald Rumsfeld?" The guy did, sort of.
Banjo Man can be seen at just about all the SF protests -- also at the annual Bluegrass Festival and most every major sporting event in the Bay Area, from Giants and A's to 49ers and Raiders and more. He's been a fixture at these gatherings for as long as I've lived here.
Not everyone there had exactly the same agenda.
The words just beneath the photo of Iraqi children with drawn-on berets and mustaches reads "Iraq is not a country of 23 million Saddams."
This fellow asked me for the URL for this site so that his mother could see this picture. I hope they both like it, especially since I cut off the top of his head.
...And the back of his shirt.
...And his friend's shirt.
Just another peace-head.
"The United States of Aggression: One Deception."
There were quite a few veterans and families of soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan there.
Simple yet eloquent.
Tortuous yet eloquent.
The sign reads "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
Peace is patriotic.
...And many patriots agree on one thing.
Only in San Francisco: Politics and garlic fries.
There were lots of creative signs...
As I said, the sentiment of the day.
The one on the left says "Have faith in cynicism and disbelief."
In any language, he's dangerous and deadly.
"An imminent threat to democracy." Maybe we should take preemptive action against him? Oops, too late.
Here's one reality show that needs to be canceled, and quick.
Picasso's "Guernica," now on display at major protest marches near you.
Every good march needs a horn section.
Great sentiment, but again, it may be too late.
Can we quarantine the Mad Cowboy?
Maybe if we had Jack Abramoff lobbying for peace, we'd get somewhere with this administration and their rubber-stamping cronies in Congress.
All over town, people turned out in their windows and on balconies to see the passing parade. Virtually all of them waved and offered encouragement as we walked by.
His ribbon reads "Love America: Impeach Bush." Funny, but I don't recall seeing too many of those on SUVs lately.
The veterans' contingent: Proud to have served their country, angry at Bush for sending young men to their deaths and creating a new class of scarred and wounded veterans under false pretenses.
Preznit AWOL: 'nuff said.
I think I know what they're trying to say.
After we got back to Civic Center, there was a panel discussion with some of the principal architects of the war. For some reason, the statements that they had made in 2003 didn't really synch up with the reality of the situation -- or even their own more recent statements -- today.
He probably can't spell it right either.
Even war protesters like an ice cream now and then, especially after a hot day walking the streets of the city carrying a big sign.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's Really Not That Hard...

David Horsey today from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (and thanks to my friend Pete for this):

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Spineless, Nutless, Useless Revisited

From today's War Room:

The Democrats' "impeachment agenda"

We're hearing a lot about Democrats these days -- from Republicans. Democrats are going to run Hillary Clinton as their presidential nominee in 2008. Democrats are going to try to impeach George W. Bush if they win control of Congress in 2006. It's enough to send the Republican base into panic -- which is, of course, exactly the point.

For the past four years, the Bush White House has kept the American public in line by warning that the terrorists are everywhere and fixing to "hit us" again at any minute. That argument isn't working anymore, at least not to the president's benefit. The public has begun to disapprove of the way that George W. Bush is handling national security; only 30 percent still think that Bush's "central front" in the war on terror -- the war of choice he launched in Iraq -- is actually making Americans safer.

But when all you've got is fear, you'd better hope that everything looks like a monster: So if Osama bin Laden isn't scaring Americans into the president's camp these days, the Republicans have to hope that Sen. Russ Feingold will.

The Wisconsin Democrat introduced a resolution Monday that would censure Bush for engaging in a program of warrantless spying and misleading the country about it afterward. Republicans say that Feingold is somehow coming to the aid of America's enemies. Republican Sen. Wayne Allard told a radio station earlier in the week that Feingold's resolution is an attempt to take "the side of the terrorists that we're dealing with in this conflict."

For all the fuss, Feingold's resolution is -- or, at least, ought to be -- a remarkably unexceptional piece of work. Censure is an entirely symbolic thing, so much so that Republicans dismissed it as an insufficiently serious sanction when Bill Clinton got caught lying about a blow job. So what does Feingold's resolution do? It sets out the legal argument against the warrantless spying program -- a legal argument that a lot of Democrats and several Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, seem to have accepted as correct. It states that the president has misled the country about the program -- a proposition that's hard to refute in the face of his 2004 claim that any government wiretap "requires a court order." And then it says that the U.S. Senate "does hereby censure" the president for what he has done. That's it.

If this is -- as the New York Times says today -- a "rallying cry" for those in Bush's base, these are people with some pretty sensitive hearing. Except for that "censure" word, Feingold's resolution says nothing that hasn't been said before -- even by some Republicans. And while Congress heads into a weeklong recess, I hope members of the Senate have a chance to listen to their constituents back home. Americans want to fight terrorism and protect our country from those who wish to do us harm, but they don't want to sacrifice the rights and principles our country was founded upon. One of those fundamental American principles is that the president doesn't get to pick and choose which laws he follows. While Rush Limbaugh and Paul Weyrich may see the resolution as part of some larger "impeachment agenda," it sure seems hard to make the case that this is some kind of united Democratic plot.

That won't stop the Republicans from trying. As John Nichols reports for the Nation, the RNC talking points say that the Democrats have finally found "their agenda" in Feingold's hands -- and that Democratic leaders are "enthusiastically" embracing his plan to "weaken the tools to fight the war on terror." As hyperbole goes, the RNC's claims make the inevitable-Hillary argument seem like a matter of irrefutable mathematical proof. So far as we can tell, exactly two out of 44 Senate Democrats have said publicly that they're backing Feingold's resolution: Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California. We assume Feingold's plan to "weaken the tools to fight the war on terror" is a reference to his fight against renewing the Patriot Act -- a fight in which the Democratic Senate leaders who are supposedly embracing Feingold "enthusiastically" abandoned him rather completely.

But they're all just lying in wait for impeachment, right? It sure doesn't look that way from here. Rep. John Conyers introduced a resolution calling for the creation of a committee to study the possibility of impeachment last year. So far, fewer than three dozen House Democrats -- not one of them a member of the Democratic leadership -- have signed on in support of the measure. Put it another way: About 170 House Democrats haven't.

We don't have any doubt that the terrorist threat is real -- more real, probably, than the Bush administration thought it was before 9/11. And maybe Hillary Clinton will someday be the Democratic presidential nominee -- although at this point in the process in years gone by, Mario Cuomo and Gary Hart looked a lot like locks, too. Maybe Feingold will even find some more Democrats to support his censure resolution; in a statement released by his office today, he said that his colleagues may be swayed during their spring break from constituents who want to keep America safe without sacrificing "the rights and principles our country was founded upon."

But for better or for worse, the fantasy that congressional Democrats are going to be rallying around Feingold or Conyers in a march for impeachment is just that: fantasy. It may represent the fondest hopes of a lot of Americans -- a majority of Americans say Congress should consider impeachment if Bush wiretapped U.S. citizens without warrants or lied about the reasons for war -- or the darkest fears of a few, but that doesn't mean that it's ever going to happen. As Feingold said the other day, members of his party still "run and hide" every time the White House plays the terror card. Maybe everything changes if the Democrats somehow win back both houses of Congress in November. But if the party's leaders can't join in a purely symbolic censure resolution now, can anyone seriously hope -- or fear -- that they'll find the fortitude to take on something more serious then?

-- Tim Grieve

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

California Stars

As many of you may already know, NorCal Politics has merged with Calitics and taken on the latter's name. The link there on the right has been changed, and if I ever start getting time to do some regular blogging again, I might even be persuaded to contribute a post or two there myself. In the meantime, those of you interested in California politics -- especially Northern California, especially from a liberal/progressive point of view -- are invited to stop on over and see what they have to say. There are a lot of very talented and prolific people there (unlike at this site, where I hardly ever update any more and when I do, it's rarely worth reading), so do add it to your bookmarks and check in when you get a chance.

Wednesday Vacation Blogging: Yangshuo

We flew from Chengdu, in Szechuan Province, south to Guilin, and then drove to the small resort town of Yangshuo (small by Chinese standards -- the population there is about 400,000) for a few days on our three-week visit to China in 2004. It's all about the Li River and the incredible mountains in the area there. At one time, Yangshuo was visited almost exclusively by Chinese tourists, but in the last few years it has become increasingly popular with Westerners. Reflecting this change, the restaurants there offer a variety of international cuisine, from pizza to burritos to strudel to udon. Fortunately, there are no McDonald's or KFCs there -- yet. There is quite a bit of nightlife, though, with pubs and coffee houses open late and filled with young tourists. But the real attraction is the water and the scenery.

These stark limestone peaks rise up out of the ground to majestic heights everywhere you look.
Roly-poly fish heads are just one of the many delicacies to be found on West Street, the main drag of the town.
The view from across the street from our hotel, looking south.
From the same spot, looking north.
Passing an impromptu lumberyard on our way to a boat tour of the Li River.
These are the officially sanctioned tour boats for Westerners. We had to walk across the bows of these boats to get to our much smaller, private -- and illegal -- craft. When the local authorities came sailing by, we had to duck down inside the cabin and hide, lest the owners of the boat get in trouble for giving an unsanctioned tour.
Like I said, it's all about the river and the mountains. I must have taken two or three dozen pictures just like this one.
Sam was our tour guide and the man who made all our arrangements, from hotel and bicycle rental to show tickets to picking us up and dropping us off at the airport. He totally rocked. That's Mrs. Generik bundled up behind him.
Wandering down West Street. We probably bought two-thirds of all the souvenirs we brought home there.
One reason Western tourists like Yangshuo so much is all the outdoor activities that are available (there's also rafting, spelunking, fishing and much more). I know when I think of "names I can trust in climbing," Spider Man is the one that comes to mind first.
There is a huge outdoor theater on the river, just a few miles and on the other side of the river from our hotel. The night we arrived, they were premiering a show directed by Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) called Sister Liu, and based on a very famous Chinese movie from the early '60s (which, in turn, is based on a centuries-old story that most Chinese people are familiar with. It featured songs, elaborate floating sets and a cast of hundreds. The lighting alone was worth the price of admission.
The next day we bicycled about 5 miles or so to another local waterway, the Jade Dragon River.
Having already eaten breakfast, we passed on sampling any of the local cuisine.
Water buffalo crossing.
The crew there took our bikes and put them on the backs of these bamboo rafts, then took us for a very pleasant trip down river.
My brother, Otis, the Hoodoo of Chengdu, wasn't content being sailed. He wanted to participate. Me, I just sat back and let the crew do the work.
Just one of the sights along the Jade Dragon River.
Mrs. G, clad in what looks like a modified burka, purchases a garland from some of the local merchants along the way. We also bought some fresh oranges.
We rode past farmland and lots of rice paddies on the way back to town.
Water buffalo on a bike in the mist.
That night, we took another trip on the Li River to watch a cormorant fisherman at work.
The fisherman keeps a flock of cormorants that he raises, and when he goes fishing, he ties a string around their necks to prevent them from swallowing the fish. As he poles his way up the river, the birds dive and catch the fish; the fisherman then lifts them up onto the raft and dumps the fish from the birds' throats into a basket at the back of his raft.
Hey, Happy Boy, look at the camera.
The Hoodoo of Chengdu gazes wistfully over West Street.

From Yangshuo, we traveled on to Guangzhou, and then to Hong Kong. Of all the places we saw in China, though, Yangshuo is probably the one that we'd most like to return to someday.
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