Archive for January, 2007

Rest In Peace, Ms. Ivins

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Molly Ivins, one of my favorite political columnists, died today from breast cancer.  She was 62.

The writer, who made a living poking fun at Texas politicians, whether they were in her home base of Austin or the White House, revealed in early 2006 that she was being treated for breast cancer for the third time.

More than 400 newspapers subscribed to her nationally syndicated column, which combined strong liberal views and populist-toned humor. Ivins’ illness did not seem to hurt her ability to deliver biting one-liners.

I first started reading Ms. Ivins’ columns when I lived in Houston in the early 80′s.  The Texas legislature almost makes Alabama’s look good by comparison, and she loved to point out its pitfalls — with great humor and insight.

Ivins loved to write about politics and called the Texas Legislature, which she playfully referred to as “The Lege,” the best free entertainment in Austin.

“Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair’s-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother?” she wrote in a 2002 column about a California political race.

My sympathies to her family and friends.  She fought a good fight.

Note to anyone who feels compelled to say something nasty in the comments:  I have no problem with disagreement on political opinions, but personal attacks on someone who’s just passed away will not be tolerated here.  This warning is NOT directed at any of my regular readers (you will understand my sensitivity on this issue), but to those who like to surf around the internet and drop poison as they go.  I’ve already seen some incredible nastiness out there, much of it disguised as concern.  Do it here and I’ll delete your comment and ban you.

Enough With the Gay Boogeyman Already

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Pam highlights an editorial in the Alamagordo (New Mexico) Daily News that made me crack up laughing.  The paper’s assistant editor, Jeff Stevens, is irritated, and rightly so, by the introduction of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

It seems to me Republicans spend more time thinking about gay sex than any other group of people in the known world even more so than gay people trying to find other gay people with whom to have sex.

Of course, I’m talking about our very own esteemed state representative Gloria Vaughn. In case you missed the latest, Vaughn has proposed we amend the New Mexico State Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

…Evidently, every New Mexican makes a decent living wage. No child will go to bed tonight with an empty stomach, because they are all well fed. For that matter, no child will go to bed with an empty mind because our education system is tops in the world.

Evidently our streets are free of drugs. Every New Mexican has a job and can feed their families with a $5.15 minimum wage. Our roads are the best in the nation. Everyone in the state has access to affordable health care.

We can only assume such is the case, because Vaughn isn’t seeking to amend the Constitution to solve any of those problems. No. The most important item on her agenda is to make sure that gay people can’t marry one another in the state of New Mexico.

I can almost hear Ms. Vaughn giving this speech in a sweet, hesitant, ladylike voice:


“I just feel that it’s the right thing to do, and maybe children would grow up with both parents and know who they are, and not come up against two ladies or two gentlemen. Although I’m sure that they make wonderful parents. But, I feel, according to the Bible, it strongly suggests that’s why God created Adam and Eve.”

Others have made this observation before me, but I suggest if Ms. Vaughn is worried about going against God, she should give up that truly heinous dye job.  Meanwhile, I hope the people of New Mexico show the same common sense demonstrated by Mr. Stevens.

And the Hits Just Keep On Coming

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Troy King is either totally clueless or completely tone-deaf when it comes to ethics.  The Birmingham News keeps finding more and more questionable situations in which Troy just happened to find himself.  The latest?  He accompanied the director of an advocacy group when she went to ask Roy Johnson for money.  Mr. Johnson was then the chancellor for the state’s two-year college system and, btw, the target of an AG’s investigation.  Troy has since recused himself and turned over the investigation to the St. Clair county’s district attorney, and Mr. Johnson was fired before he could pay the extor— I mean, find some grant money.

Miriam Shehane, executive director of Victims of Crime and Leniency, said King accompanied her to a meeting with Johnson to ask the two-year college system to provide grant money for VOCAL.

The meeting, in March 2006, came months after the attorney general’s office and federal prosecutors began investigating the two-year college system. A spokesman for King said the request was not improper because King was not asking for anything for himself.

Of course he wasn’t, but his mere presence at the meeting made Ms. Shehane’s request an offer Mr. Johnson couldn’t refuse.  Here’s the man who’s investigating you coming in and asking for money — even if it wasn’t for himself and even if he didn’t ask directly — and you think you have the option of saying no?

Shehane said she left the meeting with a good feeling about the grant, but it ultimately did not materialize. The state school board fired Johnson in July.

Or maybe Troy’s not as scary as he thinks he is.  I don’t think Roy Johnson ever hired the mother of one of Troy’s staffers, despite Troy’s request that he give her a job.

Appointing Troy King has to be the worst decision Bob Riley ever made.  Bob can’t run for re-election in 2010, but he might want to help out his party’s next candidate by getting rid of this embarrassment sooner rather than later.  I hear Troy has gubernatorial aspirations himself.  Please, God, tell me the people of Alabama aren’t that stupid.

Former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Sought Immunity in 2004

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Fleischer went to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in 2004 and offered to give testimony regarding the Valerie Plame leak investigation in return for immunity, and he’ll testify in the Scooter Libby trial next week.

Once the deal was struck in February 2004, Fleischer revealed that he had discussed Plame with reporters in July 2003, days before leaving his job at the White House. He also said he learned about Plame from Libby, who was the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Fleischer’s testimony is significant because he says he talked to Libby about Plame days before Libby told the FBI he was surprised to learn it from a reporter.

Court documents show what Fleischer told the grand jury: that he had had lunch with Libby on July 7, 2003 and during that lunch, Libby told Fleischer that Wilson’s wife had sent her husband on a trip to Africa to examine intelligence reports indicating that Iraq had sought to buy uranium ore from Niger, Hester reports.

Fleischer described the lunch as being “kind of weird” and that Libby typically “operated in a very closed-lip fashion.” Fleischer “recalled that Libby ‘added something along the lines of, you know, this is hush hush, nobody knows about this. This is on the q.t.’”

This story may have come out on a Friday afternoon, but I doubt it will get buried.  Fleischer will testify, Cheney will testify, and Karl Rove has been subpoenaed as well.  Will Rove and Cheney end up in a courtroom smackdown?  Stay tuned.

Bushco — returning honor and dignity to the White House.  Who knew they meant after they leave office?

Libby Trial Turns Into Tutorial On Bushco Press Manipulation

Friday, January 26th, 2007

As if we didn’t already know.  Dick Cheney’s former communications director, a witness in the Scooter Libby trial, confirmed that the Bush administration did its best to freeze out unfriendly reporters and dump bad news late on Friday afternoons to bury it as quickly as possible.  And too many reporters just accepted whatever Bushco fed them without question — Tim Russert apparently being one of their favorite go-to guys.

Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.

This delicious morsel about the “Meet the Press” host and the vice president was part of the extensive dish Cathie Martin served up yesterday when the former Cheney communications director took the stand in the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Flashed on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. Option 1: “MTP-VP,” she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under “pro,” she wrote: “control message.”

“I suggested we put the vice president on ‘Meet the Press,’ which was a tactic we often used,” Martin testified. “It’s our best format.”

Folks around the blogosphere have been saying this for years, and I guess it’s nice — in a sad way — to hear it confirmed by a Cheney minion.  The ongoing consolidation of our corporate media leads to reporters who are afraid to ask the hard questions for fear of angering those in power.  Rock the boat too much, and you may find yourself out of a job, with nowhere else to go.  After all, the newspaper or TV/radio station down the street is likely owned, or soon to be bought, by the same people who just fired you.  I guess it’s easier, and safer, to sit back and let the wholly-owned corporate politicians manipulate you — and the story.

The slow demise of an independent press is just another casualty of a society where the political leadership protects corporate interests to the exclusion of almost all else and the general public is too busy watching American Idol or following the latest celebrity scandal to pay attention to what’s happening around them.  It’s time to wake up, people.

For more on the dangers of media consolidation, watch Bill Moyers’ speech at the recent National Conference for Media.

Busy Political Times In Alabama…

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

…and the legislature isn’t even in session.  Several big stories have hit recently:

First, I was out of town when the Troy King/Alabama Power story broke.  Seems Troy took his family and a bunch of church friends to a luxury skybox full of food and drink (not that kind of drink, y’all — Troy is a good Baptist, and I’m sure he don’t hold with drankin’ alcohol) at Turner Field to see a Braves game, courtesy of the kind folks at Alabama Power.  Whose customers Troy is supposed to represent before the Public Service Commission.  Customers whose collective desire to keep rates affordable might preclude Alabama Power’s ownership of a luxury box at Turner Field.

Alabama Power didn’t bother to report this little gift until questioned by reporters for the Birmingham News, contending the expenditure didn’t add up to the reporting threshold of $250 a day per public official.  Let’s see: 14 tickets with a face value of $45 each, which Troy got to distribute as he saw fit, and a food bill totalling $1,262.64, paid by two individual lobbyists.  Troy repaid $486 to cover the cost of his family’s food because the lobbyist who footed that bill was ill and couldn’t be present, as required by law when feeding and watering a public official.  That all adds up to $1,406.64, only — umm — 5.6 times the reporting threshold.   Which, both Troy and Alabama Power contend, wasn’t all spent on him or his family, so somehow, magically, it didn’t benefit him at all.  Uh huh.

Good to know the person in charge of prosecuting ethics violations that rise to the level of illegality doesn’t see a problem here.  And this isn’t the only time that Troy’s been afflicted with a bad case of ethical confusion.

Which brings us to the next story:  Rep. Phil Poole, one of two Democratic state senators who changed sides at the last minute and denied Jim Preuitt the president pro tem position in favor of Hinton Mitchem, received a $10,000 contibution from AEA the day before the vote.  Loud squawking has ensued, as it should.  This isn’t the first time Poole has changed his leadership vote at the last minute.  The first time, he got a road project in his district.  It is a little funny to hear so much moral outrage from his fellow senators, though.  Their ongoing unwillingness to pass any meaningful lobbying reform has essentially made them $250 a trick whores, dependent on representatives of special interest groups to tell them how to vote or even to write legislation for them.  Nothing will change until we vote them out of office or, in the alternative, publicly embarrass them into tightening ethics rules and enforcement.  I’m not holding my breath.  Now, I know what Poole did isn’t illegal, but would Troy King see a problem with the appearance of impropriety?  I’m sure he would in this case, since Poole is a Democrat.

On to things that actually are illegal, newly elected County Commissioner Jim Carns is contending that his campaign was harmed by a bogus ad that linked him, along with several judicial candidates, to Roy Moore.  In fact, he’s carried his complaint so far that Rick Spina, a local consultant, and (full disclosure) an acquaintance of mine, has been arrested and hauled off to the pokey — well, he did make bail, so he isn’t there anymore.  I was hoping to find out more than has been reported so far, but my source for all things Vestavia Hills was just as surprised as I was by this.

According to a statement issued by King, investigators found Spina was behind a fraudulent ad linking Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Carns to Roy Moore and several Supreme Court candidates. The ad was published May 31 in The Birmingham News while Carns was a member of the Alabama House but was running for election to the county commission.

Carns defeated his opponent in the November general election. Before election results were tallied, though, Carns said the ad had hurt his campaign.

…The May 31 ad copy read, “Vote for our slate,” and included pictures of the former Chief Justice Moore, and several candidates for chief justice, associate justice and lieutenant governor.

A statement printed on the ad indicated it was paid for by the Assembly of Republicans, a political action committee that never registered with state or county officials, King said. It has been linked to Spina, who ran White’s campaign for re-election to the county commission.

Okay, we don’t have all the facts yet, but this does look really sleazy.  However, it also contains the potential for lots of humorous posts from those of us who have always thought that associating with Roy Moore was harmful.  Wheeler’s already kicked that off here.  Actually, listening to Jim Carns, my former state rep and major suckup to the “Christian” Coalition, tell us how it hurt his campaign to be linked with Roy is more likely to elicit vomiting on my part.  And I do wonder why it’s Carns (who won) and not the other candidates (who lost) who’s making such a big to-do about this now.

This kind of dirty campaign trick shouldn’t be tolerated, and if the facts are as alleged, there should be criminal charges filed.  But if Troy King is intent on prosecuting everyone in this state who uses underhanded tactics to get elected (or their consultants; I don’t see where he’s planning to go after Gary White, the person who apparently was supposed to benefit from the fake ad), he’s going to be very busy for the rest of his term.  In fact, he might even have to prosecute himself.  Now that would be funny.

This Must Sting

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Bob Geiger has a graphic showing Bush’s current approval/disapproval ratings compared to those of Reagan and Clinton at the same point in their second terms.  It ain’t pretty:

Of course, we all know The Decider doesn’t care about public opinion, but the people seeking the 2008 Republican nomination can’t be enjoying this.

via The Vanity Press

SOTU

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

I tried to watch the State of the Union address last night.  I really did.  Got all the way to the point when Bush started introducing his special guests and then switched over to a rerun of Special Victims Unit.  Here’s a little secret: I find SOTU addresses excruciating, no matter who’s delivering them.  They seem to be made up of lots of vague feel-good lines designed to elicit applause, and I expect everyone in the audience is exhausted by the end from being forced to jump up and down like marionettes on strings.

Anyway, if you missed last night’s speech, the New York Times has a transcript that is interspersed with analysis and additional information (for example, a link to the White House fact sheet on the health insurance proposal and reminders of Bush’s proposals in past SOTUs).  It also includes a word counter: ”Iraq” and “al Qaeda” hit the jackpot, with more mentions than in any previous SOTU.

If you missed Jim Webb’s concise, straightforward response, here it is.

So, seven Bush SOTUs down.  One to go.  Woohoo!

Welcome Back!

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Susan at Local Tint has come back from a much too long hiatus and will, I hope, continue to entertain us with her witty and insightful (and sometimes snarky) posts for the foreseeable future.  Her blog is the first I ever visited, back when I was looking for information about the candidates in a contentious special election for state representative, and she got me hooked.

Glad to see you back in action, Susan.

The Plot Thickens…

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Are we about to see Dick Cheney, unindicted co-conspirator?  More as it breaks.