In this month's Washington Monthly:
About the only failure more pronounced than the president's has been the graft-filled plunder of GOP lawmakers—at least according to opinion polls, which in May gave the GOP-controlled Congress favorability ratings in the low 20s, about 10 points lower than the president's. This does not necessarily translate into electoral Armageddon; redistricting and other incumbency-protection devices help protect against that. But even if many commentators think that Republicans may retain control over Congress, very few think they should.
If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government—indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government—is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.
Ma Bell, risen from near death like the hydra, now says they own your phone records and will disclose them however they see fit:
The new policy says that AT&T—not customers—owns customers' confidential info and can use it "to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."
The policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers of its new video service—something that cable and satellite providers are prohibited from doing.
I will now begin the process of switching our home-phone service...
Scientists find more evidence that the planet is, on average, its warmest in 400 years:
A panel of top climate scientists told lawmakers that the Earth is heating up and that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming." Their 155-page report said average global surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose about 1 degree during the 20th century.
Overall, the panel agreed that the warming in the last few decades of the 20th century was unprecedented over the last 1,000 years, though relatively warm conditions persisted around the year 1000, followed by a "Little Ice Age" from about 1500 to 1850.
The President still doesn't believe there's a connection between human activities and global warming in much the same way that South African president Thabo Mbecki doesn't see the connection between HIV and AIDS.
942 days, 20 hours left.
New Scientist is reporting this hour that a man died in Beijing of H5N1 bird flu fully two years before China admitted any human cases:
The case suggests that, as has long been suspected, many more people have caught H5N1 flu in China than have been reported, and for a longer time. The more human cases there are, the more chances the virus has to evolve into a human pandemic strain of flu.
"It's a very important issue that needs to be clarified urgently," Roy Wadia, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said on Thursday in Beijing. "It raises questions as to how many other cases may not have been found at the time or may have been found retrospectively in testing."
Remember what I wrote about an hour ago that governments suppressing the press is bad for democracy? Well, I forgot to mention that it's bad for our health as well.
More on this later, but just keep in mind that oppressive regimes always attack the press before attacking the people. Keeping a free and open press is an absolute requirement of democracy.
On that theme, three stories:
As I describe these things, I can't help but to compare what the Republican officials are doing in this country to what another party's officials have done throughout the last century in places like China and the U.S.S.R. I can't understand why this doesn't bother them more. After all, our party has the reputation for collectivism; they've always argued for "small government." Paraphrasing Ralph Kiner: "If Eisenhower were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave."
I refer here to President Roosevelt's approval rating after the Battle of the Bulge. Josh Marshall's people found a beautiful document prepared in the 1940s; Marshall himself explains why this is not simply a poke-in-the-eye for Fox News—er, Press Secretary Tony Snow:
There's a serious underlying point here about the administration's basic frivolousness in its conduct of the war.
No one thinks you can fight a war or conduct any project of great consequence by following minor oscillations in polls. But long term and imbedded trends in public opinion mean something. In this case, the public can see President Bush doesn't know what he's doing.
Having his flacks go out and compare him to great wartime leaders of the past and insult the American people in the process doesn't change that.
Jack Abramoff's right-hand man, David Safavian, was convicted today of lying and obstructing justice:
Safavian was charged with lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist's interest in acquiring properties from [General Services Administration], the property managing agency for the federal government. He was also charged with obstructing investigators looking into a golf trip he took with Abramoff in 2002.
TPM Muckraker has a thorough dossier on this clown.
Krugman (sub.req.) hits it on the nose today:
[I]f the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have the last three elections been dominated by talk of terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no better way to do that than accusing the other party of being unpatriotic and godless.
Thus in 2004, President Bush basically ran as America's defender against gay married terrorists. He waited until after the election to reveal that what he really wanted to do was privatize Social Security.
Salon's "Ask the Pilot" last week argued that the U.S. should not look at El Al as the best example (for us) of how to run airline security:
Why can't we, or why don't we, have a system like theirs?
Unfortunately, that's a bit like asking why America's streets can't be as clean as Singapore's. Mostly it's a case of scale. The United States has dozens of mega-terminals, and hundreds more of varying sizes; the nation's top 25 airports each process more than 20 million people a year. Tel Aviv is Israel's sole major airport, handling 9 million passengers annually—about the same as Raleigh-Durham, N.C. The ability to focus on this single, consolidated portal makes the job comparatively simple. There are aspects worth borrowing, for sure, but it's naive to think Israeli protocols can, in whole, be fitted to a nation that is 50 times more populous, and immeasurably more diverse and decentralized.
I'm not sure what to make of an MSNBC report about a circumcision trial, except tasteless jokes:
Groups opposed to circumcision are watching the case of an 8-year-old suburban Chicago boy whose divorced parents are fighting in court over whether he should have the procedure.
The child’s mother wants him circumcised to prevent recurring, painful inflammation she says he’s experienced during the past year. But the father says the boy is healthy and circumcision, which removes the foreskin of the penis, is an unnecessary medical procedure that could cause him long-term physical and psychological harm.
The couple’s 2003 divorce decree gave the father the right to offer input on medical decisions.
So, for the moment, this is a parental-rights issue, whose specific subject is what Alfred Hitchcock would characterize as the MacGuffin. But then one gets to this line:
David Llewellyn, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in circumcision cases, is helping the father’s attorneys without a fee.
He—excuse me—specializes in circumcision cases? This is a legal specialty? I must have missed that class at Loyola, no doubt because it's a Jesuit school. Perhaps if I'd gone to Yeshiva, I'd have taken that course. Actually, if I'd gone to yeshiva, I would definitely have taken that course, come to think of it.
Anyway, I suppose to most people circumcision is no laughing matter, but I'm (technically) Jewish, which I think gives me license. You can stop reading now if you get squeamish, because here come my two favorite jokes on the topic:
- I decided not to practice Judaism when I was very young. The first mitzvah was fine, but the second one...
- Why are we Jews so frugal? Because we're 10% off at birth.
I think now I'll quit while I'm behind.