Saturday, October 01, 2005

Blogger is Bloggered

Posts disappear and change order dramatically. Something to do with recent maintenance of the data base? I have a longish post on the American Street (see column on the right for the link) in the meantime. When things have calmed down here there will be more.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Bennett Slip

It's showing. You must have read or heard all about what Bill Bennett said recently but if you haven't here is the bit from Bennett's own show:

CALLER: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't -- never touches this at all.

BENNETT: Assuming they're all productive citizens?

CALLER: Assuming that they are. Even if only a portion of them were, it would be an enormous amount of revenue.

BENNETT: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as -- abortion disproportionately occur among single women? No.

CALLER: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.

BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both -- you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well --

CALLER: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.

BENNETT: Well, I don't think it is either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

Quite a few people are discussing Bennett's statement out of context but even within context it's fairly bad. He picks African-Americans as the group to use in his stupid example, and that is racist. Because if he had really wanted to make the point by picking a group with very high crime rates he should have suggested aborting all male fetuses. And don't you now go saying that I have advocated that, because I didn't. I just pointed out how one can see that Bennett uses an "out-group" for his example, and by doing that he others the members of that group.


He has written such a true piece that it's a crime I can't just print it all here. But I can give you a sample, about "That's the way it is":

Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He sold all his stock in HCA, which his father helped found, just days before the stock plunged. Two years ago, Mr. Frist claimed that he did not even know if he owned HCA stock.

According to a new U.S. government index, the effect of greenhouse gases is up 20 percent since 1990.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a 33-year-old Wall Street insider with little experience in regulation but close ties to drug firms, was made a deputy commissioner at the F.D.A. in July. (This story, picked up by Time magazine, was originally reported by Alicia Mundy of The Seattle Times.)

The Artic ice cap is shrinking at an alarming rate.

Two of the three senior positions at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are vacant. The third is held by Jonathan Snare, a former lobbyist. Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group, reports that he worked on efforts to keep ephedra, a dietary supplement that was banned by the F.D.A., legal.

And so it goes on, from yet another proof of criminality or incompetency in the Bush administration to something that is really worrying (avian flu, for example) for everyone else except this obsessive-compulsive government of ours. Never mind hurricane rescue preparadness, never mind dirty nuclear bombs, never mind the avian flu or global warming. What really matters is to dismantle the Social Security system, to fight brown people somewhere outside the U.S., and to gather as much money as possible into the neocon coffers. And to ban gay marriage and guarantee that women are in the kitchen with lots of children. - Not that Krugman said all of this; I just latched on to get my rant in as well.

But the point he makes is a very important one. This government is adrift in a hurricane of greed and ineptitude and we are all going to suffer for it.



Hank is under anesthesia right now. Her left front shoulder is being x-rayed. She should come home tonight.

Iraq. A Mess.

I don't write much about Iraq because it pains me far too much. I demonstrated against the war before it started because the whole plan was clearly hatched up by total lunatics and every scenario I tried out in my head ended up in too much blood flowing for no great results. And once the invasion started it was already too late for all practical purposes. To make a difference by writing about it, I mean, including a difference for the wingnuts. If they had followed my advice they'd be a lot better off today.

There is nothing I'd like better than to be proved wrong about Iraq, for the sake of all the innocent Iraqis, but this is very unlikely:

Sunni-led insurgents killed at least five people in a crowded vegetable market on Friday, the Muslim day of worship, police said. New information also emerged about coordinated suicide and mortar attacks the day before in another mostly Shiite city that left nearly 100 people dead.

Elsewhere, in the southern city of Basra, an Iraqi police convoy was ambushed late Thursday, killing four policemen and wounding one, said police Capt. Mushtaq Khazim.

The new surge of violence before an Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's constitution has killed at least 190 people, including 13 U.S. service members, in the past five days.

The insurgents have vowed to wreck the referendum, whose passage is crucial to prospects for starting a withdrawal of American troops.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, the country's most feared insurgent group, has declared ``all-out war'' on the Shiite majority that dominates Iraq's government, and moderate Sunni Arab leaders have urged their community to reject the constitution, saying it will fragment Iraq and leave them weak compared to Shiites and Kurds.

And soon we may see the most awful of the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib. See why I don't want to write about it all?

Ahnuld's Veto Day in California

Arnold Schwartzenegger, the Governator of California, has today vetoed the bill to legalize gay marriage. He also vetoed several other bills:

On a day when the governor rejected 52 bills, he discarded proposals that would have helped consumers buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. He refused to expand punishments for employers that flout minimum wage laws, pay women less than men or resist paying workers' compensation claims.

He declined to protect nurses from being required to work overtime or having to lift patients on their own. And he vetoed legislation to allow workers locked out by employees during pay disputes to collect unemployment benefits.

The governor also vetoed a bill to create greater oversight of the state's $3-billion stem cell research program.

Schwarzenegger enjoys a solid 33% approval rating... But an e-mail from informs us that he also

signed a measure intended to ensure that pharmacists do not deny women emergency contraception. The bill by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, was prompted by publicized cases in which pharmacists, refused to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception known as "morning after" pills, out of moral concerns."

Thus, I can't give Ahnuld a zero approval rating here.

Poor governator. He's not finding politics quite as much fun as he may have thought at the beginning. I almost feel guilty for adding this funny "California Dreaming" to the end of this post, courtesy of Little Sister:

Der New 2005 California State Employee Handbook

By Arnold Schwarzenegger

Sick Days

Ve vill no longer accept a doktor's shtatement as proof of sickness.
If you are able to go to the doktor, you are able to come to verk.

Personal Days

Each employee vill receive 104 personal days a year. Dey are called
Saturday and Sunday.

Lunch Break

Skinny people get 30 minutes for lunch as they need to eat more, so
that dey can look healthy. Normal size people get 15 minutes for lunch
to get balanced meal to maintain their average figure. Fat people get
5 minutes for lunch, because dat's all der time needed to drink der
Shlim Fast.

Dress Code

It is advised that you come to verk dressed according to your salary.
If ve see you vearing $350 Prada sneakers, and carrying a $600 Gucci
Bag, ve assume you are doing vell financially and derefore you do not
need a raise. If you dress poorly, you need to learn to manage your
money better, so dat you may buy nicer clothes, and derefore you do
not need a raise. If you dress in-betveen, you are right vere you need
to be and derefore you do not need a raise.

Bereavement Leave

Dis is no excuse for missing verk. Dere is notting you can do for dead
friends, relatives, or co-verkers. Every effort should be made to have
non-employees attend to da arranchments. In rare cases vere employee
involvement is necessary, da funeral should be scheduled in da late
afternoon. Ve vill be glad to allow you to vork troo your lunch hour
and subsequently leave vone hour early.

Restroom Use

Entirely too much time is being spent in da restroom. Dere is now a
shtricht 3-minute time limit in der shtalls. At der end of tree
minutes, an alarm vill sound, der toilet paper roll vill retract, the
shtall door vill open and a picture vill be taken. After your second
offense, your picture vill be posted on der company bulletin board
under da "Chronic Offenders" category.

Tank you for your loyalty to our great shtate. Ve are here to provide
a positive employment experience.

Tank You, Der Governater

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Friday Dump

It is usual for certain types of news to be released on Fridays, especially anything that the powers-that-be would prefer not widely discussed. So I am wondering if this is the reason that it is on a Friday that Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter imprisoned during the course of the Plame investigation, has agreed to testify after all.

Probably a red herring. The whole investigation has been full of red herrings, and I doubt that we have seen the end of them yet. But for what it's worth, here is what Miller herself says:

I am leaving jail today because my source has now voluntarily and personally released me from my promise of confidentiality regarding our conversations relating to the Wilson-Plame matter. My attorneys have also reached agreement with the Office of Special Counsel regarding the nature and scope of my testimony, which satisfies my obligation as a reporter to keep faith with my sources.

This enables me to appear before the Grand Jury tomorrow. I'll say nothing more until after my testimony. I do, however, want to thank The New York Times, and my husband, family and friends, for their unwavering support. I am also grateful to the many fellow journalists and citizens from the United States and around the world, who stood with me in fighting for the cause of the free flow of information. It was a source of strength through a difficult three months to know they understood what I did was to affirm one of my profession's highest principles.

If You Want To See A Funny Picture

go and visit the derenegade. This one makes me think all sorts of possible thought bubbles one could add to the president's head.

Haiku Time

Because I don't feel like writing anything serious right now. I can't write haikus in English yet, but I bet that you can! So write me one about some recent political event or whatever else has caught your attention using only three lines with five, seven and five syllables.

Mystery Man Confirmed

Nobody really knows what John Roberts will do on the bench. The wingnuts think that he will get rid of abortion and affirmative action and civil rights and otherwise make things pleasant for corporations and the radical religious right. The Democrats hope that he won't do those things, or at least not very vigorously, and even if he does he won't be any worse than Rehnquist was. It's the next nominee that will be important for the Democrats to fight. That seems to be the consensus on the left.

It was clear from the very beginning that Roberts would sail through. After all, he at least knows how to do law and that's about as good as any wingnut offer we will get. But he is very young to be the Chief Justice, and whatever he will turn out to be will affect us for a very long time. This and the next Supreme Court nomination may well turn out to be the most damaging parts of the Bush era and the very odd 2004 elections.

I hope that I am overly pessimistic here, naturally. So it is with some pleasure that I turn to the other mystery man confirmation, that of Roy Blunt to step into the pants of Tom DeLay. What happened to Dreier's nomination? The rumors are that he didn't get it because of his gayness. Could that possibly be true?


That was my first reaction on reading David Brooks's most recent babble in the New York Times. But it was short-lived, I swear, and quickly passed into a study of what Brooks is saying about Tom DeLay's recent troubles, and this is that pretty much DeLay is over, and that the whole Bush administration is a mess. Heh. (Pardon me.)

Brooks uses sports metaphors in his column, calling DeLay "the designated hitter". He argues that DeLay is a good man who has done nothing for his own advancement. Instead, all he has done was for the team: the Republican party.

If Brooks is right (I have no way of knowing) it might be time to look at this team concept and the use of sports and war metaphors in general in political commenting. Feminists have long pointed out how this particular way of viewing politics makes it hard for women to run for elected office, because the concepts of war and sports are still fundamentally seen as masculine. But it is pretty clear that running politics like it was a war or a baseball game isn't ultimately good for the country, either.

Yes, I was gloating. It's a nice feeling, all warm and fuzzy and full of little lightning strikes of pure exhilaration. After all these years I'm allowed to feel warm and fuzzy for a few seconds. But Brooks doesn't really want that: he concludes his little piece by implying that the Democrats are not going to be any better at all:

Politics is a team sport. Nobody can get anything done alone. But in today's Washington, loyalty to the team displaces loyalty to the truth. Loyalty to the team explains why President Bush doesn't fire people who serve him poorly, and why, as a result, his policies are often not well executed.

Loyalty to the team is why I often leave meals with politicians thinking "reasonable in private," but then I see them ranting like cartoon characters on TV. Loyalty to the team is why someone like Chuck Hagel is despised in Republican ranks even though, whether you agree or not, he is courageously speaking his mind.

Will we learn from DeLay's fall about the self-destructive nature of the team mentality? Of course not. The Democrats have drawn the 10-years-out-of-date conclusion that in order to win, they need to be just like Tom DeLay. They need to rigidly hew to orthodoxy. They need Deaniac hyperpartisanship. They need to organize their hatreds around Bush the way the Republicans did around Clinton.

Funny. Didn't Brooks quite recently write that the Democrats are all scattered and confused because they never had this wonderful era of ideological purification that the Republicans went through? Or was it Tierney? In any case I have no doubt that there are corrupt Democrats. There are even corrupt priests, I've been told. But the danger of excessive party discipline on the left is very distant, to be anticipated around the time when the Devil opens the skating rinks in Hell.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

And the Enron Era Continues

Now in trailers:

Four hundred squat white trailers sat on train cars in the Norfolk Southern rail yard Tuesday, waiting for the long trip to the Gulf of Mexico. In Nappanee, 15 miles away, 200 or more are produced each day.

This is what $521 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency contracts looks like: Gulf Stream Coach Inc.'s bare bones Cavalier trailers. They have a steel chassis, a wood frame and white aluminum siding. There's a couch, a kitchen table, a three-burner stove, a double sink and a refrigerator. Each has an adult-size bed and a set of bunk beds, and they can be hooked up to air conditioning and sewer and water lines. A toilet, a shower, and a place to wash your face complete the unit.

Demand couldn't be greater.

"As fast as we can put them on there, they're moving them down there," said Gulf Stream marketing director Steven Lidy, watching the company's trailers being hitched for the ride to the rail yard Tuesday.

The giant award to Gulf Stream for 50,000 housing units is part of unprecedented federal spending to answer one of the basic needs caused by the hurricane disasters of Katrina and Rita: providing an estimated 600,000 displaced people with housing.

The trailers are emblematic of the scale and scope of the federal effort in the region. The spending is a window into the urgent, sometimes haphazard contracting process, much of it done with little or no competitive bidding, like Gulf Stream's contract.
(Bolds mine.)

Little or no competitive bidding. This is because of the urgency, you see. It's also a lot easier to just look up who has already gotten federal money and to hand out more to the same companies.

But it would be very interesting to see what the actual contracts look like. For example, it isn't too hard to find out how much a trailer like the ones supplied by Gulf Stream would retail. Then one could compare that price to the prices in this contract, to get a starting point.

DeLay in the Enron Era

I'm listening to Al Franken's show on Air America and he is just telling how Tom DeLay has stepped down as the House Majority Leader because he has been indicted in a criminal investigation. Maybe times are finally changing; I remember writing about one of DeLay's schemes about a year ago and even then it seemed not quite ethical (channeling donations to the Republican party via something that looked like it was funding children's welfare).

Add DeLay to what is happening to Frist. Then stir in a little bit of Karl Rove's problems. Sprinkle liberally with Michael Brown and FEMA. If desired, add a little bit of alcohol use by the president...

The Enron Stew.
Here are more details on DeLay's current dilemma, via Atrios:

A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on one count of criminal conspiracy, prompting the Sugar Land Republican to give up his leadership post in Congress.

"I have notified (House Speaker Dennis Hastert) that I will temporarily step aside from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County District Attorney today," DeLay said in a statement.

The charge, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years incarceration, stems from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

John Conyers Writes Letters

With apologies to Atrios from whom I stole this nifty little title. Here is an example of a letter by Representative Conyers on the treatment of arrested peace protesters:

September 27, 2005

Office of the Chief

United States Park Police

Dwight E. Pettiford

1100 Ohio Drive S.W.

Washington, D. C. 20242

Dear Chief Pettiford:

I am writing to request information regarding the treatment of individuals arrested on September 26, 2005 in front of the White House and processed at the United States Park Police Anacostia Station.

Yesterday 384 protestors, including peace activist Cindy Sheehan, were arrested outside the White House and were brought to United States Park Police Anacostia Station. I was very surprised to learn that many of those arrested were kept handcuffed in vans and buses for up to 12 hours before they were charged and released. Some of those were released at 4:30 in the morning after being arrested at 4:00 the previous afternoon. Many of those held captive the longest were grandmothers and senior citizens. Those released after midnight were unfamiliar with Washington, DC and had no means to travel back to their hotels once the metro had closed. Anacostia is not frequented by taxicabs after midnight.

I have the following questions regarding the treatment of those arrested yesterday:

1. Why was the Anacostia Station chosen as the sole location to process all 384 arrestees when there were several other Park Police stations in the greater Washington, DC area?

2. In what other circumstances have arrestees been detained by U.S. Park Police for periods exceeding twelve hours before being charged with a crime?

3. In what other circumstances have arrestees been detained by U.S. Park Police, and kept handcuffed on buses for periods exceeding ten hours?

4. What is the established U.S. Park Police procedure for processing large numbers of arrestees in the Washington, DC area?

Please respond to the Judiciary Committee Minority Office at 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, telephone number 202-225-6504, fax number 202-225-4423.


John Conyers, Jr.

Ranking Member

House Committee on the Judiciary

Sodom and Gomorrh

Rorschach has a post about an interesting study which argues that the more religious countries may in fact be the more sinful ones:

"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world's only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from " uniquely high" adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

The implication is that religion may not be that helpful as an aid towards a more ethical or moral society. Or is it? The problem with correlational studies like this one is that they tell us nothing about causality. In this particular study, for example, we find out that the United States appears to be both more religious and more "sinful" than most Western European countries. But we can't actually conclude that it's the religiousness which causes the sin. It could be the other way round: the sin might drive people to religion, or it could be that there is something else about religious people that makes them both pious and sinful at the same time, or countries which have large religious majorities might have small very sinful minorities who are not religious, or the correlation might be just a historical coincidence.

If we could get data from many time periods and if we could establish that the religiosity was first and then the sinfulness followed we'd have a stronger case for arguing that it's the Bible-thumping which causes extramarital humping and so on.

Despite all these academic and uninteresting reservations I do agree that the study shows us that the Christian Right in the United States is full of baloney when it portrays this country as the last shining and virtuous one among the Sodom and Gomorrh of the corrupt west.

The Best Bumper Sticker Ever

Rapture Is Not An Exit Strategy

The Short and the Sweet

News about the Bush administration, very condensed because I have to go somewhere.

First, Michael Brown (the one who is going to study his own incompetence and get paid for it) has given us a statement about why he did so poorly as the head of FEMA. It has to do with Democrats.

Second, the Enron era of the administration continues. Curioser and curioser.

Third, via Hesiod, Laura Bush will be participating in reality tv! Because that is what the focus groups show will work to make the president look better, even though the president doesn't listen to focus groups.

The idea is for you to read each of the articles I have linked to. There will be a quiz later on...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Only In Wingnuttia!

Raw Story reports that FEMA has rehired Michael Brown, the guy who used to run FEMA (to ground) as a consultant. Guess what his job description is? To evaluate the FEMA response to hurricane Katrina!

Then Osama bin Laden should be the judge in the international court on terrorism.

Pardon me while I go and bang my head against the garage door.

Cindy Sheehan

has been arrested outside the White House. At least according to MSNBC. And here is more:

Sheehan and several dozen other protesters sat down on the sidewalk after marching along the pedestrian walkway on Pennsylvania Avenue. Police warned them three times that they were breaking the law by failing to move along, then began making arrests.

Sheehan, 48, was the first taken into custody. She stood up and was led to a police vehicle while protesters chanted, "The whole world is watching."

Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in an ambush in Sadr City, Iraq, last year. She attracted worldwide attention last month with her 26-day vigil outside
President Bush's Texas ranch.

More Enron Era

The Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (aka the catkiller) may be in trouble, perhaps of the type that bothered Martha Stewart (of the iron-your-underwear fame). It is a story of blind trusts and what a blind trust means. Blind trusts are used to absolve federal politicians who own stock from accusations of conflict of interest: if they don't know what stocks they own they can't be accused of conflict of interest with respect to the involved companies. The idea is to hand over the day-to-day running of the portfolio to an outsider who will then take care of it without informing the owner as to its contents. This can't work completely as the politicians do know what they had in their portfolios to begin with. Like, say, shares in a family-owned company:

Blind trusts are designed to keep an arm's-length distance between federal officials and their investments, to avoid conflicts of interest. But documents show that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist knew quite a bit about his accounts from nearly two dozen letters from the trust administrators.

Frist, R-Tennessee, received regular updates of transfers of assets to his blind trusts and sales of assets. He also was able to initiate a stock sale of a hospital chain founded by his family with perfect timing. Shortly after the sale this summer, the stock price dived.

A possible presidential contender in 2008, Frist now faces dual investigations by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission into his stock sales.

Think Progress presents a history of the events in this little scandal. And a little scandal it is, nothing to compare to the big scandals that this administration is busy organizing. It is not even comparable to the hiring scandal my previous Enron era post referred to. But it's a sign of the times, a sign of the Republican strong values and ethics.

Today's Quiz

You know how liberal the Hollywood establishment is? The wingnuts moan and groan about it daily, and this moaning and groaning may have had an effect on the new batch of movies just coming out. Does "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" support the theory of Intelligent Design? Is "Just Like Heaven" a retake of the Theresa Schiavo case?

I don't know, but a recent movie review in the New York Times suggests that this might be the case, and that more generally the new movies slant slightly to the right. This quote is on "Just Like Heaven" where the heroine, Elizabeth, lies in coma:

Would I have been happier if Elizabeth died? The very absurdity of the question - what kind of romantic comedy would that be? - is evidence of the film's ingenuity. Who could possibly take the side of medical judgment when love, family, supernatural forces and the very laws of genre are on the other side? And who would bother to notice that the villainous, materialistic doctor, despite having the religiously neutral last name Rushton, is played by Ben Shenkman, a bit of casting that suggests a faint, deniable whiff of anti-Semitism? Similarly, it can't mean much that Elizabeth, the ambitious career woman, is sad and unfulfilled in contrast to her married, stay-at-home-mom sister. Or that the last word you hear (uttered by Jon Heder, first seen in "Napoleon Dynamite") is "righteous."

What caught my eye was the little sentence about "Elizabeth, the ambitious career woman" being "sad and unfulfilled in contrast to her married, stay-at-home sister", and I tried to recall at least one movie in the last ten years which would have depicted an ambitious career woman as happier and more fulfilled than a stay-at-home wife. I can't think of a single movie like that. Can you?

For more points, mention the name of at least one movie where a mother holding a job outside the home is portrayed as happy and fulfilled.

For bonus points, mention a movie in which the ambitious career man is portrayed as sad and unfulfilled in comparison to his less ambitious and more relaxed peers.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Enron Era

Frank Rich is excellent in his latest New York Times column about the Bush administration's hiring choices:

As recently as 10 days ago, when he resigned before his arrest, Mr. Safavian was the man who set purchasing policy for the entire federal government, including that related to Hurricane Katrina relief. The White House might as well have appointed a contestant from "The Apprentice." Before entering public service, Mr. Safavian's main claim to fame was as a lobbyist whose clients included Indian gaming interests and thuggish African regimes. Mr. Safavian now faces charges of lying and obstructing the investigation of Mr. Abramoff, the Tom DeLay-Ralph Reed-Grover Norquist pal who is being investigated by more agencies than looked into 9/11. Mr. Abramoff's greasy K Street influence-peddling network makes the Warren Harding gang, which operated out of its own infamous "little green house on K Street," look like selfless stewards of the public good.

You know that the arrest of Mr. Safavian, one of three known Abramoff alumni to migrate into the administration, is the start of something big. Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department announced it only after Mr. Safavian had appeared in court and had been released without bail. The gambit was clearly intended to keep the story off television, and it worked.

It won't for long. The Enron odor emanating from Mr. Safavian is of a piece with the rest of the cronyism in the Katrina preparedness package. The handing off of FEMA from President Bush's 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, to Mr. Allbaugh's even less qualified buddy, Michael Brown, in 2003 is now notorious. (The two men have been friends for 25 years but were not college roommates, as I wrote here last week.) But that's only the beginning: the placement of hacks like "Brownie" and Mr. Safavian in crucial jobs hasn't been slowed one whit by what went down on their watch in New Orleans.

Witness the nomination of Julie Myers as the new head of immigration and customs enforcement at the Homeland Security Department. Though the White House attacked the diplomat Joseph Wilson for nepotism because he undertook a single pro bono intelligence mission while his wife was at the C.I.A., it thought nothing of handing this huge job to a nepotistic twofer: Ms. Myers is the niece of Gen. Richard Myers and has just married the chief of staff for the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff. Her qualifications for running an agency with more than 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget include serving as an associate counsel under Kenneth Starr; in that job, she helped mastermind the costly and doomed prosecution of Susan McDougal, and was outwitted at every turn by the defense lawyer Mark Geragos.

Rich goes on to list example after example of very similar hiring choices. Did you know that the Iraq reconstruction process was largely in the hands of inexperienced twenty-somethings whose only relevant experience was being an avid wingnut? Or that being a fundraiser for Bush or his cronies will get you almost any job in this administration, never mind what your actual qualifications might be?

All this might be logical, of course. A party which doesn't believe in the government might well try to run it to ground by appointing lots of really unsuitable people to run things, including FEMA and the reconstruction of Iraq. And friends will always be rewarded, naturally.

But this leaves us taxpayers paying for a party which we were not invited to attend. Even worse, we are expected to pay for the after-party clean-up, too.
Sadly, the Rich column is now available only in exchange for payment or from the paper edition. But Google is your friend.

Fall Garden Blogging


My garden looks like shit, so I'm showing a nice picture from a European poppy garden instead. These are not opium poppies; if you want those scatter the seeds from your poppy seed bagel on some fallow ground. Though of course this would be illegal and not very useful as the poppies themselves do nothing much except look ravishing. And then the police will come and burn down your garden.

My actual garden right now consists of lots of six-foot tall plants that have fallen on top of each other. Hank and Henrietta (my dogs) crawl around in the tunnels that are created this way, seeking for good pooping spots. All this is my fault: I Did Not Stake! Always stake. That is the second commandment of the gardener's bible.

The first commandment is: Work The Garden Hard In April and May. I didn't do that, either. I was here blogging away, and enormous waves of guilt are flooding over me right now. But not enormous enough to send me out with a machete and thick gloves, and that's what is needed to clear the garden.

Does George Bush feel similar waves of guilt for ignoring his allotted garden spot for so long?

Pictures from the Anti-War Rally

Here and here. The next best thing to actually having been there.