Sunday, August 29, 2004

Sweeps Weeks
I got home from the United for Peace and Justice rally in Manhattan today to read that the Phillies had inflicted a 10-0 beating on the Milwaukee Brewers, sending the Budsters to their 11th straight loss and re-scaling Mount .500 at 65-65. Cory Lidle, probably the dumbest acquisition of Ed Wade's "look, I'm doing something" trades, threw a shutout and hit a home run; Marlon Byrd, one of the team's biggest disappointments, hit the team's first grand slam of this miserable season. The victory marked the fourth straight Phils series to end in a sweep; no idea if that's any kind of team record outside of a long winning or losing streak. In this case, the Phils lost three at home to Houston, swept the Brewers in Milwaukee, got broomed again in Houston, and then placated some home fans by waxing the Brewers again. In other news, Randy Wolf's disappointing season is likely over with an elbow injury, and touted--but evidently tiring--pitching prospect Gavin Floyd will make his big-league debut next Friday night against the Mets. Going nowhere in dramatic style: your 2004 Phillies.

But at least it looks like Larry Bowa is going somewhere after the season: to the unemployment line. Randy Miller reports that the decision has been made, though Dead Weight's announcement yesterday that Bowa will serve out the season (with no mention of 2005) suggests that there's a thin line between showing the guy respect and just hanging him out to dry. Also gone, according to Miller, are hitting coach Greg Gross, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, and third base coach John Vukovich, who had been coaching with the team since Reagan was in office. In an accompanying article, Miller offers some early favorites to replace Bowa, including Jim Thome confidant Charlie Manuel, former Astros skipper Larry Dierker and the ex-Mets, Reds and Dodgers manager Davey Johnson--my hands-down first choice. Until someone competent is actually named, though, I'll remain fearful that the Cult of 1980 will resurface once again and inflict the hideously inept Bob Boone upon us. At least Mike Schmidt was so bad at the helm of the team's A-ball affiliate in Clearwater that we probably won't see him in the dugout... unless Dead Weight really feels the need to sell some tix. Another column on, by Mike Sielski, rightly takes Wade to task for not dismissing Bowa a month ago, when it might have done some good.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Third Rail Blues

Everyone has been so fixated on what will happen in the streets during this week's Theoligarchy Fest! at Madison Square Garden that there's been little focus on what might be said within the hall. I've personally found it hard to believe that the Republicans would abandon the politics of smear and spectacle, at which they're so skilled, to actually offer any policy substance during their Week of Wank--but this wire story suggests that Bush is likely to discuss Social Security privatization during his speech on Thursday.

I always have trouble believing that Bush can hold his own in any policy conversation weightier than the merits of Roger Clemens vs. Nolan Ryan, but if he's really prepared to talk about this in any greater depth than "Uhmerkins shud git th'chance t'hav munny win ther uld," I'd give him credit for doing so.

Easy to say, of course, because I don't think there's any chance he gets into it any deeper than the cheerleading level. (Gotta go with what you know, right?) He certainly won't take on the many and severe problems with the plan. Privatizing Social Security makes sense as long as, one, you're willing to distort the stock market by infusing massive public monies into it and two, you don't mind blowing up two cornerstones of the 70 year-old program: that each generation's payments aren't invested toward their own eventual retirement but rather go to support those currently retired, and that your eventual benefits from the program are based solely upon your earnings during years of work. Switching the first premise so that current workers would divert some portion of their current SS payments into personal accounts would put the screws to current beneficiaries and force government to raise a great deal of money to maintain their current benefit levels; the second would give great advantage to those Americans who better understand the stock market, and/or have the time and money to retain such expertise. Guess who benefits from that switcheroo? Yep, the same folks who always seem to win under Bush's economic policies. Funny, that.

Finally, the creation of new accounts would do for the investment community what the perpetuation of employer-provided health care has done for the insurance industry: create untold billions in new business. Those firms are all generous donors to Bush and his ilk, proving again that the best investment of all in today's America is a six-figure campaign contribution to Republican Jihad.

This Mother Jones brief offers a great quick rundown on the potential disaster of privatizing Social Security.

What I find really interesting, though, is that this move would seem to represent more of a political risk than Karl Rove usually likes to take on in his generally negative and substance-free electioneering. Social Security was once widely described as the "third rail of American Politics": any candidate who touched it was considered likely to die, politically speaking. Now, Bush played with the idea of privatization in 2000, as Bill Clinton actually had before him, and the blue-ribbon panel he commissioned to study the question came up with a number of privatization plans. None of this seemed to hurt him, certainly not to the extent that Ronald Reagan was once bludgeoned by the Democrats over his perceived attack on Social Security in the 1982 midterm elections. But by 2002, with financial scandals flooding the news and the stock market way down from its dot-com heyday, Republicans were running away from the scheme; the third rail apparently had been reactivated.

Now the market is back up, the CEOs seem to be behaving themselves, and nobody in my generation thinks Social Security will be around by the time we retire anyway. I'm sure the Republicans have polled the crap out of this question, else they wouldn't raise it... and besides, the dismal Bush record doesn't give them a ton of great options in terms of what to talk about. But the politics of Social Security remain dynamic, and the Democrats have a long track record of effectively "scaring" voters on the question. It's not honest, and it happens to be bad policy--as Greenspan (himself a villain of long standing in the Social Security wars) noted yesterday, we do have to take this issue on. That will eventually mean, in all likelihood, a higher retirement age and some reduction in benefit payout. But in this case, I'm willing to accept sketchy means to the absolutely crucial end of getting Bush on that bus to Crawford, Texas.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Republican Campaigns: It's a Short Playbook

Someone on today pointed out how the Republicans smear the military record of any Democrat who goes up against them, even one as seemingly unimpeachable as John Kerry's. If my man Wesley Clark had won the nomination, I'm sure we'd be hearing 24/7 about how he almost started World War III with the Russians, or why Defense Secretary Richard Cohen had him yanked from command. If Bob Kerrey, say, had ran and won the nomination, it would be All War Criminal, All the Time. And of course, if Dean had hung on, we'd see Early '70s Draft Dodging Ski Bums for Truth polluting the airwaves--and, no doubt, CNN kissing their collective ass.

But a little alternate reality helps to really frame what's going on here. Imagine how the Republicans would spin it if Bush had gone to Vietnam and was awarded three Purple Hearts and the other decorations Kerry won... and the Democratic nominee had used his family's heft to pull a soft assignment which it's quite arguable that he didn't even fulfill! Anyone who doesn't think Rove would sell... well, not his soul--not even a Republican can sell what he doesn't have, except maybe Ken Lay--but let's say his children's... to switch the candidates' Vietnam-era track records just hasn't been paying much attention to politics over the last twenty-plus years. Yeah, Bob Dole had the military record Clinton lacked in 1996, as Bush 41 had before him, but the country couldn't have cared less about anything foreign policy-related in those (hard as it is to believe) more innocent times.

In a larger sense, though, there's nothing new about the Republican campaign this year. Not only does the dark lineage of Atwater/Rove Republicans smear the service of patriotic Democrats in defense of the Quayles, Shrubs and Dicks (pun intended) who love war but aren't man enough to fight themselves; they're using all the established memes and themes from election cycles past. Consider:

1) "Flip-flopper"/"Opportunist"/"Exaggerator"

Witness Slick Willie, Al "The Whopper" Gore, and of course Kerry's supposedly chronic equivocation. It's a great way to win over people who equate contemplation with weakness and who don't want to be bothered by considering more than one side of any story. And of course, it's a crock--at least insomuch as every public figure with a few exceptions (the late and lamented Paul Wellstone, Russ Feingold, and... crickets) does this. This list of Bush's flip-flops alone should demolish the meme, but some myths are too treasured to part with.

2) "Hee-za Libburl!" Ah yes, the "L" word. Never mind that Bill Clinton was much more of a classical conservative in terms of fiscal responsibility and on social legislation like the 1994 Crime Bill than the Banana Republicans led by Tom DeLay whose only agenda was to stop Clinton and amass power. Al Gore was tarred with this brush as well, though the fact that 2.7 million of us voted for Nader should give some hint as to his true liberal cred. (There was also the factor that Al Gore seemed like a tool.) And now this nonsense about Kerry as "the most liberal Senator"--never mind that he was a deficit hawk from way back when (as his "empty" Senate record clearly shows); he was a very successful prosecutor in MA who emphasized victims' rights; and he supported welfare reform... in Ted Kennedy's state, no less.

I happen to think Kerry is less of a tool than Gore was, and I'm planning to vote for him, but it's not because he's the Great Left Hope. That man died in the Minnesota woods two Octobers ago, and we still miss him terribly.

(This link in the graph above offers a painful reminder of just how much Paul Wellstone meant to Americans who otherwise despaired of honest and brave progressive representation in Washington, DC--and, though it's not fair, I think it sheds some light on why so many of us have invested our hopes in Barack Obama. There is a void in our national life, waiting to be filled by a great liberal champion who might inspire us to dream bigger dreams. I wish the two could have served together.)

3) "He's crrrrazy!" They didn't hit Clinton with this one so much, I guess because it interfered with the slick Lothario image they used on him. But Gore, during the campaign and especially since he's emerged in the last two years as a devastating critic of the administration (I wonder where that eloquent, passionate public figure was in 2000), has been labeled by "experts" from Charles Krauthammer to Bill Safire and George Will as "unbalanced," "shrill", "divorced from reality," etc. Now, I'd submit that the average rantings of Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum or James Inhofe or your theocrat right-wing madman of choice are probably a lot closer to the funny farm than anything Gore has said, but Doctor Krauthammer has not yet offered a diagnosis on the issue.

This is the most recent tactic they're trying on Kerry. One of Bush's drones came out last Friday night after Kerry finally spoke out about the Smear Boat ads, and only said, "He's losing his cool... he's wild-eyed." Good thing that guy didn't see Dick Cheney's pleasantries on the floor of the Senate last month!

And that's the Republican playbook in a nutshell: they have nothing to offer the country on the merits, so they slime their opponents and seek to turn every contest into a referendum on the personality of the Democrat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


The NFC East preview package I wrote for is now online. Of course, now I get to enjoy the helpless feeling of watching events invalidate what I wrote--though I'm not sure if the absence of any reference to Correl Buckhalter in my Eagles preview was just serendipitous on my part, considering the season-ending injury Buck suffered in last Friday night's exhibition win over Baltimore, or the product of seamless skilled editing from the team at

A more serious worry is the "Fischer curse." Now, it's not exactly up there with the SI Cover Jinx, but after the 2003 New York Giants responded to my anointing them the Beasts of the East with a trainwreck 4-12 season, I'm all but wrapping myself in aluminum foil and dancing in a thunderstorm: I picked the Eagles to win the division.

I also proposed writing a regular weekly column for, which we tentatively called "Fisch on Friday" (thinking, I guess, we could thus appeal to pre-Vatican II Catholics of the Mel Gibson mode). I never heard back from my contact over there, which is roughly equivalent to a screaming "NO!" Maybe I'll post the sample column, which I thought was pretty decent, on here. In the meantime, I do recommend's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, written by New Republic editor and Brookings Fellow Gregg Easterbrook. Any writer who can bounce back and forth between gridiron strategy and trivia, sci-fi exposition, ancient history, unapologetic babe-watching and current events is okay with me, even if he didn't like Kill Bill. (And clearly, I don't think he's an anti-Semite; the only anti-Semite I'd ever recommend on this blog is T.S. Eliot.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The C Word

Democrats remain frustrated that the Bush campaign--whoops; I mean, unaffiliated groups with no connection, at least not of the (uncut) umbilical variety, to the campaign--has successfully kept the focus on what John Kerry was doing on those Vietnamese rivers 35 years ago, rather than this president's signal failures in every area of national policy from economic management to war-fighting and foreign relations. Some of them are getting downright pissed. Among this group are two of my favorites, Josh Marshall of and Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect. And in their fury, they seem to have settled on a compelling counter-meme: namely, that Bush is a coward. First, Tomasky, who suggests we keep in mind what the Republican ticket was up to while LTJG Kerry was under arms:

George W. Bush spent those same years in a state of dissolution at Yale, and would go on, as we know, to plot how to get out of going to Southeast Asia. On that subject, here's a choice quote. "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment," Bush told the Dallas Morning News in 1990. "Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."

Let's parse that quotation phrase for phrase. We do not, of course, know the full context of the conversation he was having with the reporter, and we don't know exactly what question Bush was asked. But his words begin from the presumption that actually going to Vietnam was absolutely not an option. The quote is entirely about how to avoid going. He wasn't prepared to damage his hearing intentionally for the sake of securing a deferment (he probably meant a 4-F classification and confused the two). And he wasn't willing to go to Canada. So he took the third option, the Air National Guard. And note how the choice was about bettering himself, not about thinking of a way to best render service that this child of privilege might -- had he been possessed of the moral fiber and sense of duty of, say, John Kerry -- have considered his obligation, especially considering that, on paper at least, he supported the war.

And then there's the superhawk with feathers, the man I like to call Citizen Dick:

Dick Cheney is another who, on paper at least, supported the war. But we know Cheney's story: A series of deferments going back to 1963, when he was a student at Casper College in Wyoming. As Tim Noah reported in Slate, Cheney went on to marry -- as fate would have it, right after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when it was clear that young single men would be called up in larger numbers than before. And then he went on to have a child, Elizabeth, born precisely nine months and two days after the Selective Service ended the proscription on the drafting of married but childless men. What a happily timed burst of passion he and Lynn were consumed by! So, while Kerry was plying the Mekong Delta, Cheney was safe and dry stateside, dropping out of Yale because his grades weren't sufficient to maintain the scholarship the school had offered him.

Everyone knows Cheney's quote, delivered to the Senate committee that was vetting him for service as George H.W. Bush's Defense Secretary, that he "had other priorities" than going to fight for his country. But he made another comment at that hearing that's less known and more damning: He said he "would have obviously been happy to serve had I been called." That, as John Nichols notes in his recent book Dick, is not just an obfuscation or a tap dance; it's a lie. He was called, and he ducked.

Tomasky's ire is actually directed more at the credulous press corps, which once again has allowed itself to be manipulated into telling the Republican story virtually unchallenged just months after all but admitting it got rolled--and ill-served the public in doing so--during the runup to war in Iraq. (On last night's Daily Show, Rob Corddry brilliantly mocked this perversion of objectivity by stating that he shouldn't let himself stand between those who were talking to him, the Republicans, and those who were listening to him--all of us.) Josh Marshall is angry about this too--he's directed withering comments at dimwitted media outlets that have somehow transubstantiated Bush's blanket condemnation of all "527" ads, including factually derived charges by groups like, into a request for the Swift Boat liars to pull their spots.

But Marshall makes a much more personal, and utterly damning, case about Bush's moral cowardice. It's an outstanding bit of argument:

A moral coward is someone who lacks the courage to tell the truth, to accept responsibility, to demand accountability, to do what's right when it's not the easy thing to do, to clean up his or her own messes. Perhaps we could say that moral bravery is having both the courage of your convictions as well as the courage of your misdeeds.

...On the balance sheet of moral bravery, as opposed to physical bravery, the two men are about as far apart as you can be on Vietnam. On the one hand you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went, and put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have George W. Bush who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go; just not him. It's the story of his life.

That is almost the definition of moral cowardice.

Marshall goes on to offer more contemporary examples of Bush's moral cowardice, positing a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam I haven't seen suggested anywhere else: that Bush's lies and equivocations on the latter reflect the same lack of character he showed during the former:

The key for the Kerry campaign to make is that the president's moral cowardice is why we're now bogged down in Iraq. It's a key reason why almost a thousand Americans have died there. President Bush has set the tone for this administration and his moral cowardice permeates it...

The president didn't think he could convince the public of the merits of his reasons for going to war. So he lied to them. He greatly exaggerated what was thought to be the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and completely manufactured a connection between Iraq and al Qaida. He couldn't get the country behind him on the up-and-up. So he took the easy way out; he took a shortcut; he deceived them. And now the country is paying a terrible price for it.

He and his advisors knew that if they levelled with the public about the costs of war -- in dollars, years, soldiers -- he'd have a very hard time convincing them. So he didn't level with them. He took the easy way out.

...once it became clear that the president's plans for post-war Iraq were producing poor results, he refused to shift policy or to reshuffle his team. He refused to demand accountability from his own team because of how it would have reflected on him. He's preferred to continue on with demonstrably failed policies because to do otherwise would be to admit he'd made a mistake and open himself to all the political fall-out that entails. And that's not something he's willing to do.

The stubborn refusal ever to change course, which the president tries to pass off as a sign of leadership or devotion to principle, is actually an example of his cowardice.

For the same reasons, he runs from soldiers' funerals like they were burying victims of the plague -- because it's the easy way out. If there's a problem, he denies it or finds someone else to take the fall for him.
The same sort of moral cowardice that led him to support the Vietnam war but decide it wasn't for him, run companies into the ground and let others pay the bill, play gutter politics but run for the hills when someone asks him to say it to their face, those are the same qualities that led the president to lie the country into war, fail to prepare for the aftermath and then refuse to take responsibility for any of it when the bill started to come due.

Let the word go forth: Bush is a coward.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Maybe They Only Look Dead

Last summer, the Phillies started a long road trip in Milwaukee against the then-last place Milwaukee Brewers. They got swept in Beer City, won just once over the rest of the trip, and nearly cost Larry Bowa not just his job--oh, if only--but whatever slim margin he has left, blood pressure-wise. Helped out in part by the fact that Marlins couldn't buy a win during the same period, they survived the skid, put together a modest winning streak and stayed in contention till they collapsed in the last week of the season. But in retrospect, it was the Milwaukee trip that started the long downward spiral.

A year later, the Phils reached Milwaukee after a 1-9 homestand that was arguably the worst in the team's incredibly grim history, three games under .500 and evidently dead where they stood. They had concluded the homestand with an improbable 12-10 loss in which they hit into a triple play and blew a 7-2 lead late in the game--the fifth time over the homestand that Ed Wade's Army of creaky old relievers were put to rout after the team led in the late innings.

So I guess it makes perfect sense that they swept the Brewers in Milwaukee this weekend, keeping at least a shred of hope alive and regaining the .500 mark. It's amazing what a little timely hitting can do: in Saturday's 8-6 win, the Phils came up with six runs in the eighth inning, getting four hits with men on base during the frame. Chase Utley's bases-loaded triple was the big blow. Today saw more of the same, and even better, they did it with two outs: a run-scoring hit (and another on which Abreu was nailed at the plate, ending the inning) following a two-run Doug Glanville homer (I shit you not, dear friends) in the third; two more two-out hits in the seventh, including a ground-rule double by David Bell that scored Abreu. In the 10th with the game tied 4-4, they didn't wait to do the damage: two singles sandwiched between two walks started the inning and scored the go-ahead run. Then after Glanville, idiotically swinging at the first pitch after Lou Collier had walked the bases loaded, grounded into a fielder's choice, young Mr. Utley delivered again with a two-run single. A Jimmy Rollins double and a sac fly from Placido Polanco finished the five-run frame, which was needed as Bowa decided to play Roberto Roulette. But Hernandez could only give back two of the runs, and the Phils finished the sweep.

For the two games, they scored 17 runs, which probably justifies the 21 guys they stranded over the same time. For a team that hasn't hit with guys on base all year, the well-timed knocks were proverbial manna in the desert.

As for Utley... well, my girlfriend has developed a crush on the guy, and if he keeps hitting like this, I might encourage her to share her Phils Pheelings more broadly. 51 RBI in just 209 at-bats is absurd. And while it still makes me a little nervous that so much of his value is in his slugging percentage--Utley is batting .278, but his on-base percentage is just .309, a Glanville-ishly small difference--it surely seems like he's running more deep counts and battling pitchers much better than he did even earlier this season. Now if Bowa would just play him at least against all right-handers... his .889 OPS against righties, and Polanco's .820 mark against lefties, gives the Phils a sort of two-headed Marcus Giles, if the manager were only smart enough to realize it.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Battle Stations

Yesterday I wrote a long diary essay on that suggested Kerry really has nothing to worry about, despite some recent indications that the polls are moving away from him. Basically I argued that because the campaign is now limited by its $75 million in public funding and saving money for the post-Labor Day sprint while Bush continues to raise private funds until he's nominated, Kerry has less of an on-air presence right now--but the underlying factors, including the implausibility of framing the race on Kerry's character rather than Bush's (atrocious) record and the tendency of undecided voters to break late against the incumbent, remained strongly in the challenger's favor.

A bit more than 24 hours later, this all remains true. But I also think Josh Marshall is right that it's time to give the bully a bloody nose:

This whole Swift Boat episode is entirely in keeping not just with the record of George W. Bush, but, to be frank, his whole family. Think back to the 1988 and 1992 presidential races. Partly, it's in the their political DNA. But it's also in the nature of blue bloods trying to ape populist politics -- for the key example, see the 1992 GOP convention in Houston and the sad antics of Bush family retainer Rich Bond.

I said a few days ago that it was ridiculous to compare the ads run by Moveon to the Swift Boat ones. And it's true -- they're very soft soap in comparison. But that's a mistake. They should be hitting much harder.

The president has chosen the ground on which he wants to fight this campaign. And as per usual he's mobilized friends and family retainers to do the fighting for him. The president is playing tackle football, not touch or flag. If the Dems keep up with the latter they'll lose.

Back in the primaries John Kerry would say that if the Bushies thought they could pull a Max Cleland on him, he'd say, "Bring it on." Well, it's on.

It's true that Kerry to some extent "brought it on" himself by pushing his military service as such a big selling point. And the Bushes are really just running the same crap they've thrown at Democratic contenders Dukakis, Clinton and Gore before Kerry--he's an opportunist, he's unprincipled, he's a little crazy. Maybe the principle of diminishing returns is at work. But Clinton was the only one to withstand the attack, probably because he hit back the hardest. Now Kerry needs to do the same, and Marshall correctly points out that the Bush record--from his Alabama AWOL days in/not in the National Guard to whatever deregulatory atrocity his minions pushed through last week--is such a target-rich environment that the Democrats absolutely must strike back. Maybe the best way to do it is to simply ask the American people questions on Bush policy choices, e.g.

--Would you have invaded Iraq, with a thousand Americans killed, despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction and the near-total opposition of the rest of the world, with bin Laden and al Qaeda still at large?

--Would you have given away trillions in projected surpluses to pass tax cuts that privilege wealth over work and the already-rich over the middle class?

--Should the government have exposed a CIA operative for apparently political reasons, thus committing a felony offense, and then effectively stonewalled the investigation?

--Is a prescription drug benefit passed through misinforming Congress and offering much more value to pharmaceutical donors to the president than to American seniors, really a benefit worth the name?

and of course...

--Are you--and is America--better off today than we were four years ago?

Feel free to add your own. Try it, it's fun.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Difford, Tillbrook, Dubya

There's a new Infuriational Reading posted, for the first time since... um... well, it's been a long time. Okay? I know.

Anyway, the point is the story. David Sirota, the man behind the Daily Progress Report put out by the Center for American Progress and a frequent guest on Al Franken's show (Franken serenades him with "My Sirota," to the tune of "My Sharona"), has gathered the data on just how far the Bushistas have bent over (I choose the metaphor advisedly) to accommodate Bid'ness. "The Big Squeeze" details how in health insurance, prescription drugs, energy policy, wages and taxes, the moneyed few are getting well while the rest of us are getting screwed. Trust me, this will not fail to Infuriate.

And speaking of which, the Phillies today blew a 7-2 lead, hit into a 5-4-3 triple play, and lost 12-10. They were swept by the Houston Astros to finish the homestand at 1-9, which incredibly is a franchise-worst mark. It's hard to believe that the team with more losses and last-place finishes than any other in sports history has any depths left to plumb, but there it is.

My favorite stat about the homestand is that in the nine losses, the Phils led in seven of them. And Ed Wade's vaunted bullpen --Worrell, Horrendez, Homophobe Jones, Felix Rodriguez, Cormier--blew five of those leads. As in politics, so in baseball--in 2004, regime change is a complete imperative.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

What Goes Around...

I'm enough of an egomaniac to find it gratifying when some dumb idea I had later shows up in the mainstream media or the published ponderings of the punditariat. So it is today, as a guest op-ed in the New York Times by former Ronald Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin considers how John Kerry might turn Reagan's biggest gun from the 1980 election against the Gipper's self-anointed true son and heir currently occupying the Oval Office.

Here's what I wrote about this, Saturday evening on (where else?)

...the famous analysis Reagan advanced when he was running against Jimmy Carter--"Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"--probably is a valid way to look at the country as a whole, and render some verdict on those who are in charge of it. The exercise of democracy--voting for president every four years--actually demands that we indicate at least a preliminary opinion on the job they're doing, and in terms of what happens in the real world that opinion is probably more important than "the verdict of history" (though IMO that is also pretty important).

Now, the president doesn't have everything to do with the answer to Reagan's question--stuff happens, from 9/11 to the bad part of the business cycle--but my view (admittedly biased, but I hope broadly informed) is that in everything from long-term economic outlook to national security to international standing to "process stuff"--which is everything from the privileging of disinterested expertise I was talking about in my last post, to the approach to regulation (financial, environmental, etc) and general keeping faith with the core principles of the country--the question is answered with a shattering NO.

And here's Wirthlin, in today's article:

I fear that something Ronald Reagan, David Gergen and I did 24 years ago may have armed Senator John Kerry with a potentially lethal rhetorical weapon. While helping Mr. Reagan prepare for his debate with President Jimmy Carter, we came up with what was probably the most devastating line Mr. Reagan used against Mr. Carter: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
Of course, the question is better suited to a challenger than an incumbent, and Mr. Reagan could ask it with reasonable confidence that most voters would answer no; it is doubtful whether that same certainty exists for President Bush.

Now, in the rest of the article Wirthlin gamely tries to frame a way in which Bush could offer an affirmative answer to the question... well, sort of. What he really does is tell an amusing story about how Bush turned a favored rhetorical device of Al Gore's back against him in 2000--something I totally missed, reminding me once again of just how tuned out I was from an election in which I detested both of the principal contenders; considering the 2000 Phillies were even more pathetic than this year's edition, I really wonder just what the hell I spent my time thinking about that summer--and then offers this less-than-rousing recommendation:

Likewise, President Bush must take "Are you better off?" out of play for Mr. Kerry. He can do this by laying out the list of reasons Americans are better off, particularly on issues of security in the broad sense. He must persuade voters that while America continues to gain traction during one of the most challenging times in our nation's history, those successes would be reversed were John Kerry to be elected.

Listen closely, dear friends, and you'll hear the faint but unmistakeable sound of whistling in the dark. ("Continues to gain traction"?)For one thing, this approach isn't exactly resonant with the "optimist" mantle that Bush has tried to claim; for another, Kerry need only point to tangible measures--from the stepped-up incidence of terror attacks post-9/11 compared to pre-, to poll numbers showing America's global prestige at an all-time low, to reporting that the number of "Iraqi insurgents" has increased about tenfold since Bush declared Mission Accomplished, to demolish the "better-off" claim. (As for economic measures, last month's anemic job-growth numbers have sent the Bushistas running hell-bent from their earlier claims of "turning the corner"; a man can take only so many comparisons to Herbert Hoover.) Wirthlin, of course, is not dumb; from his pundit's perch, he's secure enough to suggest what Bush should do, but he probably knows damn well that actually doing it is close to impossible.

By the way, in my philliesphans post I invited conservatives to offer their own reasons why we as a country are better off today than we were four years ago. Not one of them responded.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Short Attention-Span Tuesday

If they really do move the poor Montreal Expos to Virginia next year, or whenever, I'd like to see them named "NoVA Mob". Y'know, like the guys in the William Burroughs novel, or Grant Hart's post-Husker Du band. I have to think the merchandising guys would be beside themselves...

I've done something the last couple days that I hadn't had the chance to do since 1992: watch the Summer Olympics without any financial stake or personal involvement. I spent the '96 Games in Atlanta, working 18 hour days for three weeks amidst "terror bombings" (how little we knew, back then), rude foreign journalists and ruthlessly mercantile pseudo-southerners, as part of my employment with; four years later, I took a month off from my then-new job at the Center to work freelance for a now-dissolved internet firm, Quokka, that had the contract for NBC's online Olympics coverage from Sydney. More 18-hour days (but this time, from 3pm til 9am the next morning), a hotel room straight out of "Barton Fink," my hopeless crush on the (engaged) woman who headed our remote production unit, a truly horrible diet. I did make something like $10,000 for the month.

The point is that I never got to watch any of it on TV. I'm doing so this year, and I'm oddly enjoying it--especially the swimming, which is the only one of the Olympic sports I really know anything about. This poor Michael Phelps kid is looking more and more like a victim of his own great ambition: he went looking for eight gold medals, which would have been a record, and would have entailed his beating some of the world's best swimmers in races they'd competed in for years but Phelps had not trained for until rather recently. He gave it a heroic shot in the 200 meter freestyle, but Ian Thorpe--the hometown hero and all-around major star of the Sydney games, what with his freakishly large feet and nose--took the gold, and Phelps couldn't quite catch 2000 gold medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands, who touched the wall nine hundredths of a second ahead of the American. So despite the fact that Phelps took a close bronze in that event, and took gold while setting a freakin' world record in the brutally tough 400 meter individual medley swim, all the chuckleheads in the media can talk about is that "he failed to beat Mark Spitz." (That's true of the article linked here, by the way--which was written by the same guy who led the on-site aquatics coverage in Sydney four years ago, for which my "team" back in San Francisco was the "remote mirror".) Frankly, who gives a Spitz? The kid is turning in one of the greatest swim performances of all time.


Probably like most folks, I was riveted by the Jim McGreevey resignation story last week--we heard about it from passers-by on the beach and were sure it was a joke, at first. I saw McGreevey at a workforce development meeting in early 2003 and thought he was an impressive guy--great command of details, lots of energy. I'm sorry to see him go... but cheating is cheating, and the public payroll isn't a trough for friends and lovers to feed at whether you're McGreevey, George Pataki--who's apparently made a career of this, with only Tom Robbins of the Village Voice seeming to get particularly upset about it--Gov. Bill Clinton (who reputedly stashed an unqualified Gennifer Flowers on the Arkansas payroll during their affair), or former DC Mayor Marion Barry, who might have been the all-time worst offender. So McGreevey probably deserves the bum's rush, totally irrelevant to the revelation of his homosexuality.

But the revelation does throw light on some other interesting issues, and trust Dan Savage to explore them with his usual neo-Swiftian bravado. The man who redefined "Santorum" has a great piece concerning what l'affaire McGreevey tells us about the larger question of gay marriage in today's

Gay Americans -- the out variety -- no doubt expect the newly out McGreevey to follow the standard high-profile/celebrity coming out story arc: Write a book, get a boy/girlfriend, go on "Oprah," make ass of self. (See: Greg Louganis, Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell, et al.) Not me. I'm hoping for a different outcome this time. In my perverse heart of hearts, I hope Mr. and Mrs. McGreevey remain married. It might help Americans realize that people marry for lots of different reasons, and that romantic love need not be the only reason -- or even a reason -- that two people decide to spend their lives together.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Phils are Phorked
As in, Stick a fork in 'em, they're done.

Today's loss finished a sweep at the hands of the less than mighty San Francisco Giants. The Phils held leads in all three games in this series, and gave it away every time. Blame Brett Myers for Friday's follies, Milton and the bullpen for Saturday's swoon, and a little bit of everything--but mostly Bowa, who batted Doug Glanville in the #2 slot for the second straight unfathomable day, and the offense (let's start calling them the Mike Lieberthal all-stars, for the veteran catcher's stunning inability to hit with men on base is apparently spreading to the rest of the roster)--for Sunday's sucktacularity.

The team is now back at .500, 59 up and 59 down. As the Cubs also continue to lose, they haven't technically drowned in the wild card pool yet, though it sure looks like they're floating face-down and I don't think they've moved--unless you count the looking-up motion of watching balls sail over outfield fences--since coming back from the west coast.

It's damn hard letting go. I'm finishing a big project at work, on which we're partnering with a research group based in Albany and the primary liaison is also a displaced, fanatical Phils phan. The final report is due September 16, and back in January and February when we were getting it going, the two of us had a grand time joking about whether or not we'd hand it in before the Phils clinched the division. Now the question--a much more fitting one, given the team's history--is whether or not they'll be mathematically eliminated before we finish the project.

In South Jersey last week, I was also able to watch and listen to more Phils games than I probably had all year to date; honestly, this proved to be the worst part of the vacation. But I think I'm ready to start backing away, picking up the pieces or what have you: I turned it off after 7 today, with the team down 2-1.

The whole thing still defines logic. All year I've told myself that this team has 95-100 win talent. I look at the roster and I still see it. Thome and Abreu are legit all-stars, Utley is a solid offensive contributor, Polanco and even Lieberthal (if you trust the numbers rather than one's own lyin' eyes) are doing about what they're supposed to do, and Rollins and Bell have actually exceeded expectations. The rotation features two guys with ace stuff, Padilla and Myers, and lefties Wolf and Milton who are solid 2-3 quality. The bullpen is deep and talented. Yes, I know about the injuries, but if it's not an excuse for the now-kicking-our-asses Braves or the apparently unsinkable Anaheim Angels, why should we get a pass?

All that's left to do--as if we haven't been doing it already--is something we Philadelphians are good at and naturally take to: assigning blame. I hate Ed Wade, I'll probably always hate him, the fact that Paul stinkin' Abbott made ten starts for this team is beyond sad, and I think he made a potentially big mistake a couple weeks ago trading all the second-level prospects for irrelevant role players. But I can't deny that he put together a team with by far the most talent in the division. One more right-handed slugger would have been nice, but that's a fairly minor quibble.

His biggest fault, and one I think he'll finally address (albeit way too late), is not recognizing how badly Bowa and his coaching staff have hurt the club. Saturday on the pregame radio call-in show, my final exposure to the team while driving home, Wade didn't speak about Bowa's job security at all when one caller demanded he immediately axe the skipper; this seemed like a hint that he's finally going to make the move, though I'm sure it won't be till November. Others think the injuries will save Bowa's hide again, but I can't be that pessimistic--and it's not exactly like this club was a juggernaut even when Burrell, Millwood, Madson and Wagner were all healthy.

Okay, it's probably not all Bowa's fault. But these neanderthal Bowa defenders I find online, who write things like "change the players, not the manager", apparently fail to realize just how much change this team has seen since midseason 2002. Gone are Scott Rolen, Travis Lee, Jose Mesa, Terry Adams, and Robert Person among others; in their stead we've added Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, Kevin Millwood, David Bell, Placido Polanco, Eric Milton and Tim Worrell. That's a serious net increase in talent on hand, but the team is playing as bad or worse as they did in that first disappointing year. It's time to at least test the theory that Bowa is a big part of the problem; it's pretty damn clear he's not helping, at any rate.

Let's hope Bowa and his merrie men are cut loose, a real skipper like Davey Johnson or AAA manager Mark Bombard is brought in along with one or two big additions--Matt Clement and Magglio Ordonez are my picks--and we get a chance to see what this team really can do in 2005. And that at least the Eagles will provide their usual allotment of laffs and good times before they too inevitable crush me...
A Few Good Links
With the Phillies' hopes all but crushed, I returned from vacation desperate to find good news on the other obsession. Happily, the punditariat obliges: David Broder, the "Dean" of Washington columnists--I'd editorially add, with a tip of the cap to Homer Simpson, that Broder is in fact a "crusty old dean"--and foremost carrier of the sacred Conventional Wisdom, suggests that Bush might be cooked:

The factors that make President Bush a vulnerable incumbent have almost nothing to do with his opponent, John F. Kerry. They stem directly from two closely linked, high-stakes policy gambles that Bush chose on his own. Neither has worked out as he hoped.

The first gamble was the decision to attack Iraq; the second, to avoid paying for the war. The rationale for the first decision was to remove the threat of a hostile dictator armed with weapons of mass destruction. The weapons were never found. The rationale for the second decision -- the determination to keep cutting taxes in the face of far higher spending for Iraq and the war on terrorism -- was to stimulate the American economy and end the drought of jobs. The deficits have accumulated, but the jobs have still not come back.


Long after Hussein was defeated and captured, the American forces occupying Iraq have found no evidence of the supposed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. The rationale for a war that has taken nearly 1,000 American lives, caused several thousand American casualties and cost well over $100 billion does not exist.

Linked to the decision to go to war was the decision not to do what every other wartime American president has done -- raise taxes to pay for the cost of hostilities. Instead, in the face of growing annual deficits, Bush continued to press a compliant Republican Congress for more and bigger tax cuts. In 2003, when he asked Congress for $87 billion for Iraq, Bush said, "I heard somebody say, 'Well, what we need to do is have a tax increase to pay for this.' That's an absurd notion. You don't raise taxes when an economy is recovering. Matter of fact, lower taxes will help enhance economic recovery. We want our people going back to work."

Despite the triple dose of stimulus -- tax cuts on top of historically low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve Board on top of a huge increase in federal defense and domestic spending -- the recovery from a not-very-severe recession during the first year of Bush's term has been painfully weak. Especially when it comes to his No. 1 goal of producing jobs.


Just before the new numbers came out, the president was bragging to campaign audiences, "When it comes to creating jobs for America's workers, we've turned the corner, and we're not turning back." Democrats are making that phrase as famous -- or infamous -- as the "Mission Accomplished" sign on the aircraft carrier Bush visited in a premature celebration of the end of major fighting in Iraq.

The president has suffered other blows to his credibility -- a survey of seniors earlier this month showed major doubts about his touted Medicare prescription drug plan. But they pale in importance compared with Iraq and the economy. In The Post's polls every month since January, more voters have voiced disapproval of his performance on those two issues than approval.

I don't read the Washington Post much anymore--it disgusts me, frankly--but I might check it out to see if their other columnists take cues from Broder and start advancing the notion that Kerry is likely to win. They just seem to work that way in the Great National Swamp.

Then there's our pal Charlie Cook, back from a hiatus of a few weeks with more good news for the Democrats:

This election is certainly not over but events or circumstances will need to fundamentally change the existing equation for President Bush to win a second term.

The argument made here and in other places was that, with President Bush already laying claim to roughly 90 percent of the Republican vote, and Kerry holding almost that high a share of the Democratic vote, there was very little room in this race for either candidate to enjoy the kind of bounce that used to occur, when partisan cohesion was not nearly as strong as it is today. As veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart puts it, we have a "concrete trampoline," which makes it almost impossible to get much of a bounce.

For more than four months, both Bush and Kerry have been hovering at around 45 or 46 percent, give or take three percentage points, depending upon the poll, the week and what was going on around the time the survey was conducted. In recent days, most polls have Kerry up a touch over the incumbent, but still well within the surveys' margins of error. The only reason Kerry's slight lead is worth noting is that it occurs in almost all of the recent national polls, suggesting that an edge truly exists, albeit a very narrow one.
Updating some figures that this column published last month with the latest AP/Ipsos survey data, the far more sobering numbers for Republicans are those of voters in the undecided column. Keep in mind two important factors: First, when an elected president is seeking re-election, the contest is a referendum on the incumbent far more than it is a competition between candidates. Second, undecided voters historically have broken heavily against well-known, well-defined incumbents. This has proven true on the congressional, senatorial, gubernatorial and presidential level. That's the origin of the phrase in politics for incumbents, "what you see is what you get" -- you get pretty much the percentage on Election Day that the last round of polls indicate that you will get, while the undecided vote goes elsewhere.
While 49 percent of all registered voters approve of Bush's overall job as president, another 49 percent disapprove. Among just the undecided voters, only 25 percent approve, and 68 percent disapprove. Those are very ugly numbers for an incumbent. Not surprisingly, this pool of undecided voters tend to be disproportionately more Democrat than Republican, with 43 percent identifying themselves as Democrats, 32 percent as independents and only 25 percent as Republicans.
...President Bush must have a change in the dynamics and the fundamentals of this race if he is to win a second term. The sluggishly recovering economy and renewed violence in Iraq don't seem likely to positively affect this race, but something needs to happen. It is extremely unlikely that President Bush will get much more than one-fourth of the undecided vote, and if that is the case, he will need to be walking into Election Day with a clear lead of perhaps three percentage points.

And finally, though I won't quote from it here, I strongly recommend checking out this article from The poster knows his polls like nobody's business, and he breaks down the so-called "battleground states" and suggests that between current polling and the sort of allocation of undecideds Cook suggests (which might in fact be conservative in this case), Kerry is likely to almost sweep the seriously contested states and wind up in the neighborhood of 330 electoral votes.

Now we just have to make sure they don't cheat--and hope that nothing happens at the RNC Death Convention later this month that fundamentally changes the equation... what's that, you say? What if they trot out a captured Osama bin Laden?

Well, timing would be everything in such a scenario, I think. If bin Laden shows up in shackles on Halloween, two days before the election, we could have a problem. But the entire history of the Bush administration has been that over time, people increasingly move away from Chimp-in-Chief; positive events, whether it be capturing Khalid Sheik Muhammed, the war in Iraq, going over there for Thanksgiving, or even nabbing Saddam Hussein, create a short-term bump, but each successive bump has been smaller and has eroded quicker. Getting bin Laden might slightly reverse the trend, but even the craziest pro-Bush hawks concede it wouldn't mean the end of al Qaeda, the collapse of the Iraq insurgency or any other paradigm-shifting outcome. Ironically, Bush himself probably had it right in early 2002 when he described bin Laden as "not that important"; the sort of results he really would need to display in order to change the dynamic in the way that Cook suggests--successful elections in Iraq, sustained job and wage growth here at home, a dramatic reduction in the number and severity of terror attacks worldwide--just aren't attainable in two and a half months.

Which is why I'm so worried that they'll just cheat, by computer voting fraud or suspending elections or some other as-yet unconsidered chicanery.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Gone Slackin'
I write from the little shore town of Beach Haven, New Jersey, where I have decamped for six days of oversleeping, beer drinking, and other forms of advanced inactivity. Thus, blogging probably will (continue to) be light.

Perhaps woken up by the fact that half the team has been disabled, the Phillies are playing their best ball since June. Happily, our beach place is in the Greater Philadelphia broadcast area, or something, so I was able to watch Brett Myers absolutely dominate the Dodgers in yesterday's 4-1 win. Young Nuke, as I like to call him, threw a fiendish curveball and consistently located his 92-93 mph heat, shutting down a fairly good Los Angeles lineup on a day when the Phils fielded what looked a spring training lineup--half good (Rollins, Utley, Abreu, Thome), half 'scuse-mes (Perez, after Bell left with back spasms, Collier, the resurrected Marlon Byrd, and Pratt). With the win, the Phils took five of their last six on a grueling road trip that started with the (latest) wipeout in Florida, and Myers continued his domination of a Dodgers team he shut out back in May. For the year, Brett has thrown 17 scoreless innings against LA, which makes his overall 5.03 ERA look that much worse... now the Phils have a ten-game homestand, and they need to keep it up if they're to stay within striking distance of the wild-card leading Cubs until the cavalry--Burrell, Madson, Wagner, Millwood?--comes over the hillside in two or three weeks.

As for politics, I'm trying to take the week off... but I do have to pass this one along, as it illustrates just how clueless Bush can look when he's not sufficiently "handled" and has to speak outside his comfort zone. It remains astonishing that this severely limited thinker ever came to power, and chilling that there's still a decent shot he might retain it.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Grudgingly Conceded
Ed Wade's Army helped the Phils win a game they badly needed last night. After Eric Milton reverted to the "last five innings, get lotsa run support, don't quite give all of it back" form he showed through most of the first half, and Bowa made his de rigeur idiot move to bring in Roberto "Horrendez" Hernandez and allow the runner he inherited from Milton to score, the bullpen shut down the Padres by stranding six guys over the last three and a third innings. Telemaco, who should have relieved Milton to start with, closed out the sixth; Homophobe Jones looked pretty sharp with a 1-2-3 seventh; fellow new arrival Felix Rodriguez danced through the raindrops in the eighth, allowing three hits but turning a 1-6-3 double play and getting a big strikeout; and then Tim Worrell put the tying runs on base before striking out Brian Buchanan to finish the 7-5 victory, leaving the Phils 4.5 games behind Atlanta and 4 back in the wild-card race, to which I think they'll soon be turning their full attention.

They got help from the Padres, whose ineptitude with men on base mirrored that usually shown by their guests, but for at least one night Wade's relievers came through. If and when Ryan Madson and Billy Wagner make it back, the Phils' bullpen should be an honest-to-God strength. They'll need it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Facing Up to Abu Ghraib

A couple months ago, a friend of mine (whom I know visits this site) sent me and a few other folks an e-mail in which she alluded to as yet unrevealed allegations of raped children and other atrocities at Abu Ghraib... you remember, that former Saddamite prison in Iraq where U.S. soldiers went all Nazi-camp-guard after "Mission Accomplished" was declared. I didn't exactly shrug it off, but I did wonder if perhaps our shared propensity to ascribe all manner of evil to the Bush administration wasn't in advance of the facts as had been reported.

Since then, I've read a number of reports that such atrocities did in fact take place. Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, who broke the Abu Ghraib story among other items having to do with how the administration misled the country into war, spoke about this at a recent ACLU convention. And now Rolling Stone has published an article titled "The Secret File of Abu Ghraib."

The article title is a little pulpy, but the particulars are almost unfathomable. Keep in mind that these actions were perpetrated, not against suspected terrorists, but rather unto "Iraqi criminals and insurgents":

The secret files -- 106 "annexes" that the Defense Department withheld from the Taguba report last spring -- include nearly 6,000 pages of internal Army memos and e-mails, reports on prison riots and escapes, and sworn statements by soldiers, officers, private contractors and detainees. The files depict a prison in complete chaos. Prisoners were fed bug-infested food and forced to live in squalid conditions; detainees and U.S. soldiers alike were killed and wounded in nightly mortar attacks; and loyalists of Saddam Hussein served as guards in the facility, apparently smuggling weapons to prisoners inside.

The files make clear that responsibility for what Taguba called "sadistic, blatant and wanton" abuses extends to several high-ranking officers still serving in command positions. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is now in charge of all military prisons in Iraq, was dispatched to Abu Ghraib by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last August. In a report marked secret, Miller recommended that military police at the prison be "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees." After his plan was adopted, guards began depriving prisoners of sleep and food, subjecting them to painful "stress positions" and terrorizing them with dogs... In the files, prisoner after prisoner at Abu Ghraib describes acts of torture that Taguba found "credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses." The abuses took place at the Hard Site, a two-story cinder-block unit at the sprawling prison that housed Iraqi criminals and insurgents, not members of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. In one sworn statement, Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, detainee number 151108, said he witnessed a translator referred to only as Abu Hamid raping a teenage boy.

The secret files make clear that day-to-day living conditions at Abu Ghraib were "deplorable" for soldiers as well as prisoners. The facility was under constant attack from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The files make no reference to the number of attacks, but a partial list obtained by Rolling Stone indicates that there were more than two dozen explosions between July and September alone. Six detainees and two soldiers were killed, and seventy-one were injured. But officers at Abu Ghraib told Taguba that their repeated requests for combat troops and armored vehicles to protect the facility were ignored by top brass...

The prison was filled far beyond capacity. Some 7,000 prisoners were jammed into Abu Ghraib, a complex erected to hold no more than 4,000 detainees. Prisoners were held in canvas tents that became ovens in the summer heat and filled with rain in the cold winter. One report found that the compound "is covered with mud and many prisoner tents are close to being under water." Another report described the conditions in one compound: "The area is littered with trash, has pools of water standing around latrines, and the bottles of water carried by detainees for water consumption are filthy. The tents lack floors and are inadequate to provide protection from the elements." Detainees wore soiled clothes because laundry facilities were inadequate; mentally ill detainees were "receiving no treatment."

In a series of increasingly desperate e-mails sent to his higher-ups, Maj. David DiNenna of the 320th MP Battalion reported that food delivered by private contractors was often inedible. "At least three to four times a week, the food cannot be served because it has bugs," DiNenna reported. "Today an entire compound of 500 prisoners could not be fed due to bugs and dirt in the food." Four days later, DiNenna sent another e-mail marked "URGENT URGENT URGENT!!!!!!!!" He reported that "for the past two days prisoners have been vomiting after they eat.
According to an internal Army investigation contained in the secret files, the civilian-run Coalition Provisional Authority had hired at least five members of Fedayeen Saddam -- a paramilitary organization of fanatical Saddam loyalists -- to work as guards at the prison. An Iraqi guard, probably one of "Saddam's martyrs," had smuggled the gun and two knives into the prison in an inner tube, placed them in a sheet and tossed them up to the second-story window of Cell 35. In May, when Taguba testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen.Wayne Allard asked him a direct question: "Did we have terrorists in the population at this prison?" Taguba answered, "Sir, none that we were made aware of." His own files make clear, however, that a more accurate response would have been: "Yes, sir -- but only among the guards."

The whole article is worth a read.

There's also this piece about Pfc. Lynddie England, now on trial for her role in the abuses. Draw your own conclusions, but I think it's pretty clear that the choice between blaming "a few bad apples" and directing responsibility up the chain of command is a false one: both are culpable and should be held responsible.

It is disgraceful and horrifying beyond my ability to express, that Americans have acted this way. While the story has largely disappeared from the mainstream corporate media--it's such a downer, after all, and this is summertime!--I promise you the Arabs will not forget this in any of our lifetimes. The least we can do is take action to punish those responsible, and do so in a timely manner rather than push this off in deference to the political calendar. I'd be pretty surprised, however, to see the Democrats raise Abu Ghraib as an issue this year, for fear of accusations they were politicizing the story... and utterly shocked, of course, to see the Republicans, who have the power to do something about it, do anything whatever to call attention to this national shame.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Taxes and Sleeper Holds

Ponderings while waiting for the Phils to phinally phire Larry phucking Bowa...

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire site notes that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has written a book. Titled "Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics," I only hope it describes how it might feel to live life as Tom DeLay's political hand puppet... does it interfere with digestion, for instance? But apparently instead it includes a policy prescription sure to play well in the "Red States": abolish the IRS.

I note this only because it's a perfect example of the gigantic bait and switch Thomas Frank describes in "What's the Matter With Kansas?" which I picked up from last week. Frank shows in great detail how firebreathing populist conservatives, motivated by their impotent culture-based rage, half-willfully advance an economic agenda that runs directly counter to their own material interests. You might remember how the Gingrich Congress conducted hearings on IRS (mis)conduct a few years back that were sort of the right-wing analogue of Stalinist show trials: leveraging horror stories about abuses of power perpetrated against middle-class taxpayers, they then passed a law that pretty much made it impossible for the agency to mount an effective effort against tax cheats. The main beneficiaries, of course, were those at the top end of the income spectrum who had access to the sort of hired expertise that knows every loophole. Incredibly, audits are now more common for low-income recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit than for those who pull down six figures and up. As Molly Ivins puts it in the article linked above:

The decline in auditing rich people and corporations actually started 14 years ago. Then, audits of the working poor increased by 48.6 percent in 2001. Those applying for the EITC have a one in 47 chance of getting audited, while those making more than $100,000 have a one in 208 chance. In 1988, that number was one in 9, according to the Institute for Public Affairs.

The PW piece cites Matt Drudge--whom I will not link to here--as reporting the rumor that abolishing the IRS would constitute the domestic centerpiece of Bush's second term, were the electorate or Supreme Court or voting machine executives able to inflict such a nightmare upon us. There really is no limit to the irrationality of these guys.

And gruff old Dennis Hastert, erstwhile wrestling coach and ostensible defender of midwestern values, will lead the parade. Jonathan Franzen, the obnoxious but undeniably gifted author of "The Corrections" among other novels, wrote a bemused but somewhat sympathetic profile on Hastert last year for the New Yorker; the piece is worth checking out just to see how skilled the right wing is at attaching a reactionary economic agenda to a reassuring mainstream facade. The article doesn't seem to be online, but this interview with Franzen gives the gist of it.