Thursday, November 30, 2006

'Heck of a Job' Maliki

NYTimes: President Bush today proclaimed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki "the right guy for Iraq... ."

Associated Press: "Thirty Iraqi lawmakers and five cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said they were suspending participation in Parliament and the government to protest al-Maliki's decision to meet with Bush."

LA Times: "At least 215 people were killed in coordinated car bombings Thursday in a Shiite Muslim slum of Baghdad, a stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Al Mahdi militia. Hundreds more died in days of reprisal attacks, as Shiite and Sunni militiamen pounded neighborhoods with mortar rounds and gunfire.

"As the toll grew, Iraqis on both sides of the sectarian divide directed their anger at the United States and demanded an immediate pullout. "

Al Jazeera: "There was a bigger meeting attended by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state and national security adviser, and Jordan's prime minister, foreign minster and intelligence chief. Al Jazeera said the meeting discussed the Iraq issue at length, but it was not attended by al-Maliki."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Judge: Beach Businesses Subject to Taxation

Pensacola Beach businesses are subject to real estate taxation on their commercial leaseholds even if they do not have title to the real estate or buildings, Escambia County circuit court judge Nick Geeker ruled yesterday. The decision directly affects many of the approximately one hundred hotel, restaurant, and souvenir shops on the beach.

Still pending are lawsuits brought by home and condo residents who are also challenging renewed efforts by Escambia County to impose real estate taxes on occupants of the island, which is titled in the county's name. Whatever the outcome of the suits, the issue is unlikely to be resolved until all appeals are exhausted over the next two years.

As reporter Derek Pivnick writes in today's PNJ:
It's the first loss in the court battle against property taxes on structures -- homes, businesses and condominiums -- on the beach.
* * *
If the ruling is upheld on appeal, it could mean a substantial influx of tax money for Escambia County. More than $12 million in taxes remains unpaid, according to Escambia County Tax Collector Janet Holley's office.
June Guerra, owner of the still-closed Jubilee Restaurant, spoke for many when she told the News Journal, "The county's taxation is going to be the downfall of the island."

If not a downfall, certainly a radical change. Businesses, unlike residents, can always pass the added expense of real estate taxes onto their customers. As prices escalate, fewer local mainlanders will be able to afford beach accommodations, restaurant meals and beverages, and other goods and services.

Over time, many believe, raising the cost of having a business or home on Pensacola Beach will price the average family out of the market -- both as day visitors and as potential home owners. To survive, properties will have to convert to more high rises, greater density, and higher prices.

Mainlanders and politicians who are applauding today's ruling could well find themselves unable to afford a visit to the beach tomorrow.

South Florida -- here we come.

Additional Links

Beach Leaseholders' Lawsuit Filed (Dec. 21, 2004)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Insurance Reform Takes A Holiday

As Paige St. John reported last week, the passion for insurance reform which Florida legislators showed on the campaign trail suddenly has cooled. There will be no special session to stem the tide of rising rates, cancellations, and unconscionable foot-dragging on hurricane claims.

What is less evident at the moment is that once the legislature convenes "on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March every year" true reform will become even more difficult. In the general session, which lasts only 60 days, other issues will compete with insurance reform.

Multiple reform proposals will be sent to multiple committees. Press coverage will be more difficult as legislators play whack-a-mole with competing insurance proposals. Insurance industry lobbyists, however, will be working the hallways and back rooms full-time. It'll be more difficult for the public to keep tabs on the issue than it would have been if a special session had been called and therefore easier for your local legislators to camouflage their own votes.

That's the real reason reform advocates like Insurance Reform Now! are disappointed with Jeb Bush's refusal to call a special session to concentrate on the insurance crisis. A special session would have trained an undiluted spotlight on the issue. As Sherri Hudson of Brevard County is quoted saying--
"No, this can't wait. We needed it yesterday."
Hudson's group, which is heavily weighted toward real estate and local insurance agent interests hurt by skyrocketing property insurance rates, has outlined a wide-ranging series of proposals they hope will be considered. On close inspection, the list looks like a bad smorgasbord of conflicting ideological tastes. But some of the more intriguing proposals include a moratorium on rate increases, anti-cherry picking rules, an end to the phony corporate-subsidiary dodge so many corporations use to hide profits and emphasize losses, and reform of the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Company.

Until the legislature comes to accept that adequate and affordable hurricane insurance is a public necessity every bit as important to the public weal and the Florida economy as police protection, roads, schools, and -- dare we say it? -- multi-million dollar beach renourishment projects, it's unlikely the insurance crisis will be resolved.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Holiday Hoo-Ha

Yesterday's Pensacola News Journal arrived in the flower bed with a copy of Gannett Corp.'s Bella Magazine stuffed inside. This is "The Holiday Glamour Issue," the cover tells us. "Free" it says in the upper right hand corner.

We've been overcharged.

Bella bills itself on the masthead with these words: "Beautiful women, sassy attitude, smart magazine." We think that's awfully close to false advertising. More accurate would be, "obnoxious writing, repulsive attitudes, stupid advertising vehicle."

The entire magazine is a monument to the mega-media publisher's desperate search for something -- anything -- to generate more advertising revenue. Charging for an issue of Bella Magazine would be just short of a mugging. So they have to give it away for free.

Out of 60 pages in the current issue (counting the paginated front and back covers) 15 are entirely filled with ads, 35 pages are cluttered with a half-page or more of advertisements, and 6 and a half others consist of "holiday trend reports" and other shameless product promotions deceptively disguised as substantive articles.

That leaves 4 and a half pages of actual substance in the 60-page magazine, along with scattered textual breaks between the half-page ads.

As always, however, this hideously high ratio of ads-to-content doesn't stop Gannett from going on the cheap, too. The slick, full-color cover of Bella coordinates with the low-grade newsprint paper inside about as well as cowboy boots with a halter top on a pregnant Britney Spears.

To all appearances, moreover, the greater bulk of the few pages of content were written by just two people, Sloane Stephens Cox and Kimberly Blair. Both are young journalists that show talent when they write for the newspaper. Seeing that talent wasted on Bella's low level of corporate thievery isn't bella to watch. Invece, li rende ammalati.

Magazine "fasionistas" -- to use the repellent yet much-repeated neologism the conscripts at the PNJ employed while shamelessly hyping the magazine -- are scandalized. Or, they would be if they actually get around to reading the print version of Bella.

No one has as yet, it seems. At least, not in print form. We checked with several friends who subscribe to the News Journal to see what they thought. None of them even noticed that Bella had been included in the paper! Every one of them told us they threw it out without really looking at it.

Other than the blatant promotion the News Journal itself gave this wretched spawn, the only other media organ to notice was New York's Gawker, a web site that claims to be providing "daily Manhattan gossip and news" from "the center of the universe."

Gawker apparently made the mistake of assuming the on-line version of Bella was a duplicate of the print version. So it published a deliciously nasty little item claiming that Bella's "fawning profile" of Pensacola native Brooke Parkhurst, featured on the cover, was written by her sister, Sloane Stephens Cox. That would be the same Sloane Stephens Cox listed in the masthead as a "writer" for Bella Magazine.

It turns out, however, that a different byline was attached to the story in the print edition. There, in live black-and-white on cheesy newsprint paper, the Parkhurst cover story is attributed to Ms. Cox's cell mate at Gannett's own version of Abu Ghraib, Kimberly Blair.

Two days ago, Gawker published a correction. Sort of:
Seems that Brooke "Belle in the Big City" Parkhurst was none too pleased that we'd called her sister out for writing a puff piece about Brooke in Bella Pensacola magazine. Turns out, her sister didn't actually write the story, which we apparently would've known if we'd had a print copy of the mag on hand--anyone?--because the mistake only appeared online. Brooke herself emailed us, sniffing,
"i would like a correction on y'all's part but i'm sure that's too much to ask."

Nope, Brooke, not too much at all! See, what happened was that Brooke's sister, Sloane Stephens Cox, usually writes the cover stories for the magazine, and her name automatically comes up when a feature goes online. Whew. We sure are glad that's been resolved.

That anyone connected with Gannett thinks readers would swallow the story that Ms. Cox's name "automatically" is attached to any Bella cover story when it's published on-line is newsworthy in itself. It conveys a rather different corporate attitude about the magazine's target audience than "sassy" and "smart."

Try "stupid" and "gullible."

In the end, that's the root problem with Bella. It isn't that some Pensacola women (and men) aren't interested in "beautiful women" or don't appreciate "sassy" fashion and life style writing -- at least in moderate doses. It's that Pensacola area readers aren't as stupid as Gannett Corp. or its advertisers seems to think.

We know when we're being had by a commercial flier gussied up to look like a real magazine. And that's all Bella amounts to.

Who Rules?

Who rules? Homeland Security.

It sure isn't ordinary citizens of the United States. From today's New York Times:
The Homeland Security Department will require virtually all air travelers entering the United States after Jan. 23 to show passports -- even U.S. citizens.

Until now, U.S. citizens, travelers from Canada and Bermuda, and some travelers from Mexico who have special border-crossing cards for frequent visitors were allowed to show other proofs of identification, such as drivers' licenses or birth certificates.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff disclosed the effective date of the initiative in an interview with The Associated Press. The Homeland Security Department was planning to announce the change on Wednesday.

We're already on the way to a national I.D. system for domestic work, travel, voting, and benefits. As former Georgia congressman Bob Barr wrote this month, "National guidelines for standardized IDs, and a proposed database for states to share voter-identification information, are the beginning of a "show us your papers" society.

And you can't leave without the government's permission, either.

On the other hand, corporations remain free to siphon off billions in federal Homeland Security Department funds for private profit with no accountability. From today's Washington Post:
Private consultants hired by the Department of Homeland Security have found widespread problems with its contracting operation, including nearly three dozen contract files that could not be located.

Files that could be found often lacked basic documentation required under federal rules, such as evidence that the department negotiated the best prices for taxpayers, according to a copy of the consultants' report obtained by The Washington Post.

Private consultants hired by the Department of Homeland Security have found widespread problems with its contracting operation, including nearly three dozen contract files that could not be located.

Files that could be found often lacked basic documentation required under federal rules, such as evidence that the department negotiated the best prices for taxpayers, according to a copy of the consultants' report obtained by The Washington Post.

From "of the people, for the people" to "of the Government, for corporate profit."

Feel safer, now?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Feel A Draft?

Join the debate at Why Now?


The Washington Post is reporting a special advisory committee appointed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff has identified three options for fixing the Iraq disaster. They are being called "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home."

The winner? None of the above. The advisors -- who probably cut their teeth on weapons procurement programs, where the customary approach is to have two cakes and eat two more, all at taxpayer expense -- are leaning toward a "combination plan."

One defense official with a tin ear calls it "Go Big but Short While Transitioning to Go Long":
Under the hybrid plan, the short increase in U.S. troop levels would be followed by a long-term plan to radically cut the presence, perhaps to 60,000 troops.
Critics say this is just "a way to moonwalk out of Iraq."
"[T]hat is, to imitate singer Michael Jackson's trademark move of appearing to move forward while actually sliding backward.
You know your nation's leaders are stupid when the best they can do is turn to Michael Jackson for inspiration.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cheaper, Better, Accurate Elections

Oregon's Secretary of State, Bill Bradbury, explains in tomorrow's Washington Post how that state's vote-by-mail system works. It's 30 percent cheaper, voter turn-out is a nationwide high of 70 percent (and higher in presidential election years), it's convenient for working citizens, fraud-free, and it leaves a paper-trail to make recounts easy and accurate.

No wonder it will never be adopted in Florida. It makes too much sense.

Homo Sapiens Hanky-Panky

The Christian Science Monitor, among others, earlier this week reported the exciting news that two scientific teams working in Europe and the U.S. are well on their way to finishing "a rough draft" of the entire genome of Neanderthal man.
[U]sing the 38,000-year-old remains of a 38-year-old male, found in a Croatian cave, each group now says it has rebuilt, or sequenced, long segments of Neanderthal DNA - the twisted, ladder-shaped molecule in the nucleus of cells that holds an organism's genetic blueprint.

The technique is not only yielding new insights into Neanderthals, reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature and Friday's issue of Science, it's also likely to prove an important tool in teasing out secrets about how plants and animals evolved, researchers say. DNA "is the ultimate forensic record of evolution," says Sean Carroll, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There's never been a more exciting time to be an evolutionary biologist."

The disturbing part in all of this is what looks like a new wrinkle in an old debate. Not the debate about what happened to Neanderthal man. The one about why Homo Sapiens, sapiens men can be such brutes to women.
Although the genome is far from complete, the teams have used the data to test questions about the history of humans and Neanderthals. One centers on the contentious issue of whether the two species interbred during the 10,000 to 20,000 years they shared the same territory in Europe and western Asia. Several paleo-anthropologists hold that the fossil record points to some interbreeding.

Dr. Rubin's group says that the genetic information his group has gathered so far shows no signs of interbreeding. The second team, led by Dr. Paabo of the Max Planck institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, suggests genes may have been mixed, but only in one direction - from male humans to Neanderthal females. [emphasis added]

Get it? Today's New York Times editorial calls it "hanky-panky." Others might call it rape.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Drilling Rig Boycott Barrier

We and a thousand others from Pensacola wanted to protest the one public hearing in Florida that Minerals Management Service allowed yesterday over its most recent 5-year plan to sink "exploratory wells within a hundred miles" of Pensacola Beach.

But the oil-friendly U.S. agency scheduled the hearing too far away, at mid-week, and during working hours. Plus, the weather was wretched.

So none of us could attend the boycott.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hadi Headed for Hoosegow?

Is the head of Florida's deservedly-maligned Department of Children and Families, Lucy Hadi, headed for the hoosegow? So it would appear, according to the New York Times.

Abby Goodnough reports that "at least one judge has raised the possibility that the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families could go to jail for contempt of court" for consistently ignoring court orders to "promptly transfer severely mentally ill inmates from jails to state hospitals."

State law requires that inmates found incompetent to stand trial be moved from county jails to psychiatric hospitals within 15 days of the state’s receiving the commitment orders. Florida has broken that law for years, provoking some public defenders to seek court orders forcing swift compliance.

With the state now rebuffing even those orders, a rising number of mentally ill inmates, now more than 300, have been left without treatment in crowded jails because the state’s 1,416 psychiatric beds are full.

Local police have neither the training nor the tools to properly care for mentally unbalanced inmates. Two died in police custody here in Escambia County over the last year and a psychotic incarcerated in Pinellas County jail "gouged his eyes out."

The root source of the problem, as always, is that state government has been deliberately short-changing social services. The culprit behind that strategy is out-going governor Jeb Bush.
This year, DCF's budget was cut by $53 million "which public defenders say makes no sense given the inmate crisis and the state’s $8 billion budget surplus."

What's a judge to do when the highest officials of state government choose to ignore state law?
Judges in Broward, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade Counties are... weighing motions to force the department to comply with the law or to hold it in contempt for letting the mentally ill pile up in unsuitable jails. The department appealed after three state judges in Miami ordered it to take custody of several inmates last month, but a panel of the Third District Court of Appeal indicated last week that it might rule against the department and its secretary, Lucy D. Hadi.

“It strikes me that ultimately you’ve got contempt issues,” Judge Frank A. Shepherd said during oral arguments, “and Ms. Hadi may be going to jail.”
If Hadi goes to jail for contempt of court, do you suppose her co-conspirator, Jeb Bush, will bail her out?

Bolton Is Toast

It's one thing for the lame duck Senate in the waning days of Republican control to contemplate confirming George W. Bush's second nomination of the execrable house-wrecker, John Bolton, to be U.N. ambassador. It's quite another for them to pick between Bolton and a patently superior alternative candidate who is a widely-respected Republican.

And that's just what's happening in Washington as Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Or) and Jim Walsh (R-NY) promote 30-year veteran congressman Jim Leach (R-Ia) for the post which effectively is ambassador to the world.

"I can't think of any American better qualified to represent our interests before the United Nations," Walsh is saying. "He is the most diplomatic politician I have ever met,'' says Blumenauer.

As we noted in our post-election 'surprises' item, Leach actually expressed relief when he was narrowly defeated for reelection earlier this month. For decades, he's been a steadfast, moderate voice of reason in a political party that's been hijacked by reactionary extremists. But Leach's diplomatic personality and the persuasiveness of his reasoned arguments have won many fans from both sides of the isle.

The former career Foreign Services officer and current chairman of the House Banking committee also is under active consideration for the soon to be vacant position of President of the University of Iowa. Much as the university might want him, the nation needs him more.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Jesus Camp" Reviewed

"His singed eyes, black in their deep sockets, seemed already to envision the fate that awaited him but he moved steadily on, his face set toward the dark city, where the children of God lay sleeping."
-- Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear It Away (1955)
The late short story writer and novelist Flannery O'Connor once said, "My audience are the people who think God is dead."

O'Connor was herself a devout Roman Catholic. Most emphatically, she did not think that god was dead. Yet, when she wrote with sympathy and dark humor about the violent extremism of primitive Southern fundamentalists, the purposes and vision of her art often were misconstrued by reviewers, academics, religionists, and sometimes even her own family.

The grotesque, tormented fanatics she wrote about 'cannot possibly exist' was a common complaint in her time. She invented them simply for exaggerated effect, others suggested. The Protestant rural South that O'Connor depicts is 'demented', some argued; if the deranged people of whom she writes exist at all, fellow citizens of Milledgeville, Georgia, claimed, they certainly are not found in any numbers.

If those criticisms of Flannery O'Connor's work had any small merit then, they surely do not now. America has caught up with Flannery O'Connor's fiction. Doubters have only to see Jesus Camp, now playing at Gulf Breeze Cinema 4.

The film, as Kirsten A. Powers efficiently describes, is a documentary "which chronicles a North Dakota summer camp where kids as young as 6 are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in 'God's army... .'" Without benefit of narration, we simply see and hear what can only be described as brain-washing techniques used by adult evangelicals on their own adolescent children.

They home school them against evolution. During church services they lead prayers to a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush. Before meetings they recite a 'pledge of allegiance' to a flag resembling the pop-culture version thought to have been carried into the Christian Crusades. And, at summer camp the children are dressed out in camouflage and practice military maneuvers with wooden swords while giving Heil Hitler-like straight-armed salutes.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady abruptly begin the film Jesus Camp in a nondescript Missouri motel meeting hall off an interstate highway exchange. It's the kind of room that might easily be the site of a weekend company training session for Xerox repairmen. Instead, we see it filling with dozens of suburban soccer moms and their adolescent children whom they've hauled along for a weekend Play-and-Pray that apparently doubles as a recruiting session for "Kids on Fire," a fundamentalist summer camp.

The camp, we learn soon enough, is run by Becky Fisher in a remote part of North Dakota. Fisher is a Pentecostal minister of the charismatic variety that talks in gibberish called "tongues" and lays hands on people to "heal" them. She would be right at home in an O'Connor story.

A woman of gargantuan girth, Fisher is seen early in the film haranguing the children and their mothers about the evils of modern America. Among these she includes, without hint of irony or self-awareness, people made "fat and lazy" by too much fast food. Secular humanists in the audience will laugh. The true believers in Fisher's audience would not even see the reason.

As Fisher explains candidly to the camera, her church is training the children to be religious warriors who will "take back" the U.S. government. They are using, she says, techniques pioneered by Muslim religious extremists. 'Except," she adds with a smile, "we're right."

Before going to camp, the documentary invites us into the neat, average-looking suburban homes of some of the children's families. 'We don't believe in evolution,' Levi, a 12 year old boy recites for his mother by rote during a home schooling session at the kitchen table. Then he adds, unprompted, 'Galileo was right to renounce science, too.'

A cute ten year old girl dances to "Christian Rock" so frenetically in her pink-on-pink bedroom that she works up a sweat. Then, she worries aloud that some who see her may mistakenly suppose she is "dancing for the flesh" instead of for god.

The boy Levi could be a stand-in for Francis Marion Tarwater, O'Connor's troubled orphan in The Violent Bear It Away. Tarwater's crazy grandfather had prophesied that he would become a prophet in his own right and this haunts the boy throughout the novel. Levi hankers to become a minister, too. At camp we see him assiduously practicing his sermonizing skills, measuring each new phrase he has thought up for its emotional impact on a future audience. ('Use your youth until you're in your thirties,' Rev. Ted Haggard advises him, 'and by then you'll have content.')

The view we are given into this seemingly normal exterior world with an appallingly primitive spiritual core is not entirely monochrome. At camp, one articulate eight or nine year old openly confesses his doubts about god and the bible because, he says, there seems to be no evidence for either of them whatsoever. He is quickly shamed. After Becky Fisher sternly says, "We don't have phonies in the army of God," the boy winds up tearfully confessing to the sinful bent of his intellectually curious mind.

In the absence of any narrator of the film, Pensacola's own Mike Papantonio -- an Air America talk show host as well as a prominent local lawyer -- provides the only counterpoint to what we witness. In occasional cut-aways, we see him in the studio from time to time declaiming on the air against Jesus Camp and, near the end of the film, debating or interviewing Becky Fisher -- it's hard to tell which.

The film's subjects, however, more often than not expose their own fallacies. Therein lies any fun for the audience.

Nowhere is this so more than when the film makers follow some of the Jesus Camp families on a pilgrimage to the Rev. Ted Haggard's megachurch in Colorado Springs. You can see a cutting from the documentary for yourself on YouTube.

In the film, Haggard interrupts a sermon to stick his face into the camera and make inappropriate jokes about 'knowing what you did last night' and pretending to demand blackmail to keep 'your secret.' Embarrassed when he saw the scene later on celluloid, Haggard accused the film makers of having had "an agenda" -- which Ewing and Grady vigorously denied.

We don't have to wait for End Times to know how this one turned out. Haggard resigned from the church a little over one week ago after admitting he was a "deceiver and liar" who was "guilty of sexual immorality." It was he, not the filmmakers, who turns out to have been burdened by "a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life."

Secular humanists will find in this film ample proof of the rank hypocrisy that seems endemic to the current crop of religious revivalists. But they will also see a powerful spiritual commitment to changing American political and public life -- by marrying their church to our government. It seems to be a spirit as imperishable in their lives as it is antithetical to the American tradition and constitutional law. No matter how many of them may be unmasked as hypocrites, sinners, or cynics, one comes away from this documentary convinced they will persist... and persist... and persist.

As Neva Chonin wrote in her review of "Jesus Camp" for the San Francisco Chronicle, "The film offers one answer to why the country's Evangelical minority packs such a political wallop, and it's frighteningly simple: They're efficient -- and ruthless."

The real-life Jesus Camp closed last week (not the movie). supposedly a casualty of the documentary. But don't think for a moment the camp "counselors" have quit. Any day, now, they'll be coming toward the "dark city" near you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pensacola News Jammies

(Above: Stephan Sharkansky, recently named a "best blogger in Seattle"
seen here in his working pj's and bathrobe)

Media giant Gannett Corp., publisher of the Pensacola News Journal and 90 other daily papers, announced the day before the congressional elections that it is shifting "all of its newspapers to 24-hour converged newsrooms."
The Gannett initiative, titled the "Information Project," is requiring each newsroom to submit a plan for a fully 24-hour converged newsroom by mid-November, editors said. Most will be implemented by next May.

Three Gannett papers -- the Des Moines (IA) Register, The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Florida Today in Melbourne, Fla. -- have been implementing the approach in recent months as test sites.

Des Moines editor Carolyn Washburn said the changes have included more online databases, from election information to local events calendars, with added staff as well. "The biggest challenge has been work flow," she told E&P. "Everyone is trying to figure out how to balance [demands]."
Gannett's corporate bean-counters doubtless expect the innovations will cut expenses by producing smaller hard-copy papers and heftier, more up-to-date web sites.

More haste, less filling. Exactly like a blog.

According to Wired News, a closely related initiative is Gannett's plan to "use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features." The full crowdsourcing memo has been published here.

"Crowdsourcing" is boardroom-speak for "volunteer labor." Again, just like many blogs.

Yet another dramatic change will be in the working hours of journalists:
At the Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, N.J., Executive Editor Charles Paolino predicted an earlier workday for many staffers. "Most activity now is 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon, but I can see a few people being here quite early in the morning," he said. "One of the biggest changes will be organizing when we go to work."
Exactly like the blogs.

We're predicting that before you know it the dress code at the Pensacola News Journal will be changing, too. If the reporters and editors who are left after the next round of staff cuts will be expected to newspaper less, blog more, and work all hours of the day and night, they might as well do it in their jammies and bathrobes at home -- just like all the other bloggers.

From there, it's only a short step to paying journalists the same as bloggers -- nothing. That ought to make Gannett's Wall Street investment bankers happy. And that's all that counts in the world of journalism these days, right?

Florida A National Laughing Stock - Again

Voting machines in Sarasota County, part of Katherine Harris' congressional district, appear to have malfunctioned on Election Day, sending as many as 18,382 votes into never-never land.

The error may have cost Democratic candidate Christine Jennings the election. According to Herald Tribune reporters on the scene, Bob Mahlburg and Maurice Tamman:
If the missing votes had broken for Jennings by the same percentage as the counted votes in Sarasota County, the Democrat would have won the race by about 600 votes instead of losing by 368... . Even if the undervote had been 8 percent -- more than three times what it was in Manatee [county] -- Jennings would have won by one vote.
As the Orlando Sentinel explains:
[T]he final results showed that 18,382 people either chose not to vote in the House race, were confused and missed the contest on the ballot, or were victims of a malfunction in the touch-screen-voting machines.

This so-called "undervote" raised suspicions among Democrats because it represented almost 13 percent of all people who cast ballots in Sarasota County on Tuesday.

That percentage is high by almost anyone's standards -- especially in a race in which the candidates raised $8 million to reach out to voters through TV and other advertising.

By contrast, the undervote in the U.S. Senate contest in Sarasota was only 1,600. In the governor's race, it was only 1,800.
Already, the news is sweeping the country. Once again, Florida's inability to manage the math or hold a clean election makes us a national laughing stock.

Dept. of Amplification

See also, "Damaging Democracy" (Nov. 7, 2006)

Northwest Florida Congressional Wrap-up

It wasn't a surprise that Joe Roberts lost to incumbent Jeff Miller. In this redneck of the woods, he never had much of a chance. Roberts surely knew that, even if it was bad form for him to admit it openly.

The Democratic Party and, in fact, all the people of Florida's 1st Congressional District should be grateful that he made the effort. Roberts ran an up-beat, positive, issue-oriented campaign and made a contest of it. Without him, what was supposed to be an exercise in representative democracy would have degenerated into merely another coronation of the mediocre by the oblivious.

Joe Roberts cheerfully took on the task of running against a deeply entrenched, well-financed incumbent in what surely is the last place in the nation where an upset could be expected. And, he did it with virtually no financial support from the national Democratic Party, little attention from the media, and against the stiff wind of four meretricious cavalcades through Pensacola by the Bush entourage in just two years.

The Democratic Party owes him, even if Roberts doesn't see it that way. Maybe the new majority in the House and Senate will have the sense to draft him into service with some Party or alphabet-agency that would give him the opportunity to work for bettering the lives of working men and women, small businesses, and the veterans he cares about so much.

If that were to happen, given the seismic shift about to rattle Washington, the irony would be Joe Roberts could wind up doing more good and influencing public policy more than Jeff Miller ever will as an undistinguished member of a nationally-rejected minority in the coming 11oth Congress.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Whadda ya think? (Reader poll)

In his inimitable way, Billmon reminds us that Rumsfeld wasn't the only member of this administration to whom Mr. Bush pledged his undying loyalty just a few days ago.

Also, reader paperfrog in today's comments section makes this prediction: "Cheney will 'retire' next. Early 2007, maybe."

Whadda ya think?

Will Dick Cheney be the next to go?
Yes. Paperfrog is right - he'll 'resign' by the end of 2007.
I hope not. Who would babysit George W.?
No. Cheney will never leave office, ever. He thinks he's dictator for life.
Free polls from

Beltway Bullshit

Washington Post, Nov. 8, 2006:
Senior and former officials close to Rumsfeld say he will not be driven out by Democrats throwing their weight around in Congress. He has repeatedly said he would not quit, and defense officials say criticism makes Rumsfeld dig in his heels.

"He's not resigning," said one of those officials. "He's best when he's criticized."
San Diego Union-Tribune, Nov. 8, 2006:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a key target of Iraq war critics, gave no indication Wednesday that he planned to step down in the wake of Democratic midterm election gains, his chief spokesman said. Eric Ruff, the Pentagon press secretary, said he participated in meetings with Rumsfeld on Wednesday morning and heard no talk of changing war strategies or of Rumsfeld leaving his post.
George W. Bush, Fox TV Interview, Nov. 1, 2006:
President Bush said Wednesday he wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain in his administration until the end of his presidency, extending a job guarantee to two of the most-criticized members of his team.
Talking Points Memo, Nov. 8, 2006 - 12:52 pm EST:
"Bush just announced that Robert Gates, the CIA Director under Bush 41, will replace Rumsfeld."
Washington Post, Nov. 8, 2006, 1:32 pm:
In a White House news conference a day after midterm elections delivered the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, to Democratic Party control, Bush said he has chosen former CIA director Robert Gates to succeed Rumsfeld.

"Now after a series of thoughtful conversations, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that the time is right for new leadership at the Pentagon," Bush said.

The announcement came a week after Bush had said Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney would be staying in their jobs after the elections.

Election Surprises

Florida: It's no surprise that Katherine Harris lost badly to incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, but anticipation continues to build over her threat, as originally related last week to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, to write a "tell-all book about the conspiracy to undermine her Senate bid." The Washington Post picked up on this and now word has spread all the way across the nation as far as Los Angeles.

If Harris also 'tells all' about the 2000 Florida recount that put Bush in the White House, it's bound to be a best-seller. But, please: No make-up tips, okay?

Louisiana: Maybe we shouldn't be surprised, but incumbent Rep. William Jefferson (D-Cold Cash) topped a crowded list of multiple candidates seeking his seat in Congress. Only one of those politicians is publicly known to keep $90,000 in cash in a home freezer. But this is Louisiana, where nothing is beyond imagining. There will be a run-off election between Jefferson and state representative Karen Carter, also a Democrat, on December 9.

Texas: Widely unpopular incumbent Texas governor William Perry spent over $20 million to win reelection, but with only 39 percent of all votes he fell considerably short of a majority. Among the four other candidates, cowboy comedian, mystery-writer, and stage-performer Kinky Friedman garnered 12 percent -- or 11 percent more than the Libertarian candidate. Friedman's official campaign slogan was , "Why the hell not?" Instead of conceding defeat, he told disappointed supporters last night he will "take to the streets" and "form a shadow government."

Also in Texas, Democrat Nick Lampson won the congressional seat that once belonged to ex-majority leader Tom Delay, who's now under indictment. Oddly, however, Houston dermatologist Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Republican, will be the one serving out the remaining two months of Delay's abandoned term in office. Sekula-Gibbs was a write-in candidate against Lampson but the only one who officially filed to run in a separate race for the rest of Delay's expiring term.

North Carolina: For the first time in over a decade, Democrats will constitute a majority of this state's 13-member congressional delegation. Heading the list of victors was ex-NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, who ran an aggressive campaign demanding "accountability from the Administration over the course of events in and return credibility and competence to Congressional oversight."

Iowa: Republican Rep. Jim Leach, a 30-year veteran, former Foreign Service employee, chairman of the House Banking Committee, and one of the few remaining moderates in the G.O.P. narrowly lost to Cornell College Prof. Bruce Braley (D-Mount Vernon) in a recently-reapportioned district. Both incumbent and challenger had opposed Bush's war in Iraq. Both ran entirely positive campaigns, never stooping to negative attacks. How Iowa of them.

Although Braley's victory was razor-thin, Leach conceded early this morning and said, "This is the happiest day of my life. It’s as if a burden has been lifted."

South Dakota: Almost 90 percent (!) of voters in this state rejected the proposed "Judicial Accountability" referendum which "would have created a special grand jury of South Dakotans to review complaints against jurors, county commissioners, prosecutors, city councilors, board members and judges - in essence, those with judicial immunity." A companion measure to ban all abortions was soundly defeated 55-45 percent.

Another measure that would have legalized medical marijuana was defeated 52-48 percent. According to an AP dispatch, "law officers" opposed the initiative, arguing "medical marijuana would send a mixed message to children concerning drug use." Presumably, now that the measure has failed, the message is un-mixed: 'If you're dying we want you suffer excruciating pain.'

Oregon: In the blue state of Oregon, where moderate and even liberal politicians still can find a home in the Republican party, voters soundly rejected measures to limit the growth of state government, to cut taxes to the bone, and to require parental notification before abortions for teens under age 18.

Also, by a very wide margin they extended a state-sponsored discount program for prescription drugs. One ballot initiative spokeswoman commented afterwards, Oregonians care deeply about the future of the state, and they want to invest in things like education, public safety and health care."

Criminy! Imagine that! An electorate that looks beyond its own parochial pocketbook interests and cares deeply about building a sound future for later generations! No wonder Oregon is at the opposite end of the continent from Florida.

Dept. of Amplification

One that was no surprise: "Northwest Florida Congressional Wrap-up"

Bad Night for Bush

You know it was a bad night for George W. Bush when the best election news he could find is the reelection of Joe Lieberman.

On Pensacola Beach, Thomas Campanella handily won reelection as SRIA representative. His opponent, Portofino resident Johnny Johnson, ran what passes on the beach for a high-tech, glitzy, media-intensive campaign. Somehow, Johnson found a way to spend $1,292 on his year-long campaign, without once buying drinks on the house. That's historic.

We'll have more obscure election news a bit later.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


For anyone who thinks the avalanche of Republican voter suppression activities, like those described here and here and here, isn't serious stuff -- think again. at mid-day Tuesday announced -- Political Action is offering a $250,000 reward for new material evidence leading to a felony conviction for an organized effort of partisan voter suppression or electronic voting fraud.

Throughout the day accusations of election fraud and voter suppression incidents have been flooding into state and federal authorities throughout the country. In Virginia, the FBI has launched a criminal investigation into charges of voter suppression. In 20 Congressional districts, NRCC robocalls appearing to come from Democrats harassed voters with repeated calls in an apparently coordinated campaign to suppress the vote.

Complementing an earlier reward for whistleblowers, MoveOn's reward is being offered to anyone who provides this information.

A quarter mil' will pay off a lot of college tuition debts, Young Repubs. If you have the goods, contact: Trevor Fitzgibbon, Laura Gross or Alex Howe, 202-822-5200, all for Political Action.

More Democracy Damage

Jesse Singal of The Washington Monthly passes along a new Law and Order plot, fresh today. The opening scene takes place outside a polling place in Maryland:
I could have sworn that Martin O'Malley is the Democratic candidate for governor. Apparently I was mistaken.
* * *
As I approached the polling place here at Parkdale High School, a man in an Ehrlich-Cox shirt handed me a two-page fold-out pamphlet. * * * Under the headline, "DEMOCRATIC SAMPLE BALLOT" was a comprehensive listing of candidates, each with an X next to his or her name. In the parallel universe contained within this pamphlet, Robert Ehrlich is the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and Michael Steele is the Dems' pick for the Senate. The intent could not be clearer: to confuse those looking to vote a straight Democratic ticket.
* * *
I talked to the man who handed me the pamphlet... [H]e told me that, starting last Friday, some people had come to the Philadelphia homeless shelter where he said he volunteers, and had begun to recruit residents. Eventually, he said that 300 people filled five buses. He said he was paid $100 for the day's work.
* * *
At the bottom of the front page, the small print reveals the pamphlet's origins. The two-line disclosure reads: "Paid and Authorized by Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee" and "Paid and Authorized by Steele for Maryland, Inc."
Tunk -tunk.

Billmon plays the judge:
The modern GOP -- or, more specifically, the Axis of '70s Campus Republicans now running it -- really is just a criminal enterprise disguised as a political party.

Dirty tricks, large and small, are a sorry fact of life in American politics, but what the Republicans have done over the past few weeks -- the surrealist attack ads, the forged endorsements, the midnight robo calls, the arrest threats, the voter misinformation (did you know your polling station has been moved?) -- is sui generis, at least at the national level.

Preview of coming attraction: Why Now?'s computer at great peril to itself rescues from Republican hackers.

Damaging Democracy


Do you think Iraq has some purple ink they could spare?

Almost from the moment U.S. polls opened today, reports of Republican Party efforts to intimidate, harass, and out-right deny the right to vote began rolling in from across the nation. Josh Marshall at TPM is keeping tabs.

The Washington Post reports those deceptive "robo-calls" that many are getting also have been traced back directly to the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C.
Some voters, sick of interrupted dinners and evenings, say they will punish the offending parties by opposing them in today's elections. But critics say Republicans crafted the messages to delude voters -- especially those who hang up quickly -- into thinking that Democrats placed the calls.

* * *
[T]he NRCC recently spent about $600,000 in at least 45 contested House districts for robo-calls, which are among the least expensive campaign tools. The brief calls typically begin with a speaker offering "some information" about the Democratic nominee and then immediately accusing the nominee of seeking to raise taxes, among other perceived wrongs.

Many voters hang up as soon as a robo-call begins -- without waiting for the criticisms or the NRCC sign-off at the end -- so they think it was placed by the Democratic candidate named at the start,
Early this morning the Election Incident Reporting System of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was providing up to date information on poll problems around the country. By 9:30 am CST, however, it seemed to be on the brink of crashing, possibly from too many users.

Try to directly access the "Nov. 7 Matrix report", anyway. Once you get through, click on a state to get details for any locale. The last time we succeeded in getting through, Florida was running second only to Ohio in voter complaints of broken machines, wrongful denial of a ballot, and voter intimidation by partisan poll watchers.


The EIRS has had to restrict access to their own field reporters "due to massive traffic volume." They're promising to "summarize findings during the day for the public and make a full report... after the election."

Sounds like there are a lot complaints rolling in. Problems with electronic voting machines are being reported in Houston... Cleveland ... Missouri ... Iowa ... Pennsylvania ... Indiana... Florida, Colorado... New Jersey ... etc. etc.

Voter intimidation complaints are being investigated in Virginia ... Kentucky ... Suppression calls giving voters the wrong polling place have been reported in New Mexico ... And so it will go all day long, we expect.

An Act of Patriotism

Graphic courtesy of Veterans Against the Iraq War

As one must expect, this morning's Pensacola News Journal covers yesterday's visit by George W. Bush like a wool blanket. One pulled over the eyes.

Michael Stewart's lede says it all:
President George W. Bush preached to a choir of about 10,000 of the party faithful at the Pensacola Civic Center Monday.
The press coverage includes the obligatory fawning choir quotes from 8 year-olds ("I like President Bush because he does nice things and makes taxes low") ... and quips ("Look around. This is one of his strongest support groups in the whole country.") ... and hackneyed adolescent expressions ("... awesome").

Amidst all this, one Bush fan's remarks caught our eye and just won't let go. Reporter Stewart happened across a couple by the name of
Mr. and Mrs. Goodspeed, with children in tow. The husband is identified as "a historian at the National Museum of Naval Aviation on base. " The historian's wife is quoted as saying:
"To be patriotic means to support the president whether or not you agree with his politics."
That can't be right. As G. K. Chesterton famously observed, the kindred expression "My country, right or wrong" is like saying "My mother, drunk or sober."

How much more wrong-headed is "My president right or wrong?" Those words are "an oath of obedience." They express a political philosophy with which our Founding Fathers would have violently disagreed.

In fact, those radical forebears of ours did violently disagree -- by sparking a revolutionary war against the chief executive of their own time, King George III, and his entire ruling government. The very system our Founding Fathers created has a built-in invitation for every citizen to oppose -- not to support -- a president or a congressman or any of part of the government when you don't agree.

Your opportunity to do that very thing comes today in the voting booth. Vote for or against the incumbents. But above all, vote.

It's what a true patriot would do.

Monday, November 06, 2006

G.O.P. Cold Shoulders

In Pensacola Monday, G.O.P. candidate for governor Charlie Crist gave George W. Bush the cold shoulder and stayed away. Bush, in turn, shouldered Katherine Harris (R-Debacle) into "a spot in the audience well out of any camera shot of the stage."

Proposed Florida Consitutional Amendments

The best blawgger in Florida, Matt Conigliaro of Abstract Appeal, has a convenient, truly fair & balanced rundown of the proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution which you will see on the ballot when you vote tomorrow.

We've already urged a "No" on Amendment No. 3. FWIW, the League of Women Voter of Florida agrees with us, as does the Pensacola News Journal -- and for the same reasons. When and if the Florida legislature finally allows voters the freedom to propose new state statutes by referendum, it might make sense to require a super-majority to change the state constitution. But not until.

The League also urges "no" on all the other proposals except No. 1 (Yes) and No. 8 (no position). Go here for the reasons and click on "LWVF" Ballot Question Positions [warning: Word format.]

Project Vote Smart Florida also has information on who proposed which of these amendments (5 of 6 came from the state legislature itself -- and that ought to tell you something.) Vote Smart also provides a summary of balanced pro-and-con arguments for each proposition.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

You Call It Torture, We Call It Top Secret

Remember the old song Let's Call The Whole Thing Off?
You say EE-ther and I say EYE-ther,
You say NEE-ther and I say EYE-ther
Either, either
Neither, neither
Let's call the whole thing off.

You like po-TAY-to and I like poTAH-to
You like to-MAY-to and I like toMAH-to
Potato, potahto,
Tomato, tomahto.
Let's call the whole thing off
Prof. Marty Lederman remembers it:
You Call It "Torture"; We Call It "Coming Into Possession of Classified Information"
Why can't Majid Khan have a lawyer, according to the Department of Justice? Because he might tell the lawyer how he was treated by the U.S. government. Think about that for a second.

The theory of the government's case here is contained in the remarkable tenth paragraph of the Declaration of Marilyn Dorn, CIA Information Review Officer. Dorn writes:
Information relating to the CIA terrorist detention program has been placed in a TOP Secret/SCI program to enhance protection from unauthorized disclosure. Because Majid Khan was detained by the CIA in this program, he may have come into possession of information, including locations of detention, conditions of detention, and alternative interrogation techniques, that is classified at the TOP SECRET/SCI level.
Joe Marguiles, quoted in the Post article, is right: This goes beyond Orwell into Lewis Carroll territory, topping the formidable list of jaw-dropping Bush Administration euphemisms.
Read more.

National Guard, Reserve Call-Up Coming

You knew it was coming. You just didn't want to think about it, did you?

From Sunday's Washington Post, "The Army's National Guard and Reserve are bracing for possible new and accelerated call-ups, spurred by high demand for U.S. troops in Iraq... ."
Two Army National Guard combat brigades with about 7,000 troops have been identified recently in classified rotational plans for possible special deployment to Iraq, according to senior Army and Pentagon officials, who asked that the specific units not be named. One brigade could be diverted to Iraq next year from another assignment, and the other could be sent there in 2008, a year ahead of schedule.
Bush won't budge. So your sons and daughters will have to.
Next year, the number of Army Guard soldiers providing security in Iraq will surge to more than 6,000 in about 50 companies, compared with 20 companies two years ago, Guard officials said. "We thought we'd see a downturn in operational tempo, but that hasn't happened," said one official."
Bush will stay the course. So your fathers and uncles will have to alter theirs.
A more sweeping policy shift is under consideration that would allow the Pentagon to launch a new wave of involuntary mobilizations of the reserves, as a growing proportion of Guard and Reserve soldiers are nearing a 24-month limit on time deployed, they said.
Maybe you think you've already done your 24 months in Iraq? Think again:
[R]eservists' service may not exceed 24 cumulative months, instead of consecutive, and individuals may not be involuntarily deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan more than once. A change in that policy or a new presidential order could open up greater access to the reserves.
Your life belongs to George W. Bush.
"Think about being away from your employer 18 months and the friction that causes back with the family. Do you have a job? Is your life on hold? Do you not get that promotion?" he said.
Be sure to bring your own body armor.
The Iraq war has also eaten up large quantities of the Guard's equipment. More than 64,000 pieces of equipment have been left behind in Iraq, contributing to a $24 billion equipment shortfall as Guard units have only an estimated one-third of their essential gear on hand, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Do it for us. We need the oil.
As he barnstorms across the country campaigning for Republican candidates in Tuesday's elections, Bush has been citing oil as a reason to stay in Iraq.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

King's X - Neocon War Advocates Take It All Back

"The expression king's X is an exclamation used among children during fights and games to call a temporary truce or an exemption from being tagged."
-- Random House Word of the Day
They just keep falling off George W. Bush's train. First, it's the growing number of citizens who want to protest the Iraq war. Then it's the highest ranking officers in the military services.

Now, it's the neocons who got us into this mess in the first place.

Vanity Fair has the exclusive: "In a series of exclusive interviews, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, David Frum, and others play the blame game with shocking frankness. Target No. 1: the president himself.
Richard Perle:"'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.' * * * Could we have managed that threat by means other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have."
David Frum:"I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
Frank Gaffney:"[Bush] doesn't in fact seem to be a man of principle who's steadfastly pursuing what he thinks is the right course. He talks about it, but the policy doesn't track with the rhetoric, and that's what creates the incoherence that causes us problems around the world and at home."
Michael Rubin:"Where I most blame George Bush is that through his rhetoric people trusted him, people believed him. Reformists came out of the woodwork and exposed themselves." By failing to match his rhetoric with action, Rubin adds, Bush has betrayed Iraqi reformers... ."
Nov. 4 pm

Kevin Drum at WaPo's Political Animal makes several trenchant observations about the Vanity Fair article. This part captures the full flavor:
"[I]t was only a matter of time before the neocon hawks began claiming, like old-time Trotskyists, that there was nothing wrong with their ideas, only with the fools who had bungled their execution. Richard Perle states this the most directly... .
* * *
It's worth saying very plainly what's going on here: the neocons are using these interviews to make the case that neoconservatism is in no way to blame for the disaster in Iraq. If they had been in charge things would have been different.
* * *
This baby needs to be strangled in its crib. The 1997 "Statement of Principles" of the Project for a New American Century, the neocon Bible, was signed by, among others, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, Scooter Libby, and Elliot Abrams. All of these men were deeply involved in the formulation, planning, and execution of the Iraq war. The neocon creed was part and parcel of every move they made.
* * *
The failure of Iraq is inherent in the naive idealism and fixated ideology of neoconservatism, and shame on us if we let them get away with suggesting otherwise."

Armed Services in Revolt

It's official: the U.S. Armed Services are about to become dissenters against the Bush Administration's Iraq war policies.

We've commented recently about the mounting evidence here and here that active, as well as retired, military brass are starting to speak out against the Bush administration's Iraq war policies. Now comes advance news that, "An editorial scheduled to appear on Monday in Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and Marine Corps Times, calls for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld." has the whole editorial. Here's an excerpt:
[U]ntil recently, the "hard bruising" truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington. One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.
* * *
And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake.
* * *
Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.
With such direct language as that, you can be sure the editorial has been vetted at the highest levels of military command -- short of Rumsfeld himself.

Amplifiication Dept.

Billmon, who says once upon a time he worked for another company that had the Military Times contract, is justifiably uneasy about the implications of the general's outspokenness.
"That Rumsfeld needs to go is self-evident to everyone but Dick, Shrub and Don himself.
* * *
But trying to make Rummy the sole scapegoat for America's failure in Iraq is as big a lie as Shrub's insistence that the SecDef has done, and is still doing, a great job.
* * *
As a group, the joint chiefs are developing a taste for bureaucratic blood -- they're trying to destroy Rumsfeld just as they destroyed Les Aspin and emasculated Wesley Clark. Only now they're doing it openly (or at least semi-openly) and in the middle of an election campaign.

That's usually not a good sign for a republican government -- and I'm not talking about the political party."

Protesting Bush's Visit

Photo courtesy of River City Mud
"Movement for Change President Leroy Boyd said between 50 and 150 members of the sometimes-controversial grassroots organization plan to march outside the [Pensacola] Civic Center during Bush's visit."
Monday, George W. Bush visits what he hopes is still Bush country. Pensacola certainly is among the last to lift the blinders from its eyes, but even here signs of discontent are everywhere. Some suspect a near-majority would like to see Bush leave. Leave Pensacola ... leave Iraq.... leave the White House... and leave our Bill of Rights alone.

Bush's decision to spend more time in this normally blood-red locale just before next Tuesday's congressional election is curious, indeed. Of late, he's been touring mostly small burgs in districts that ought to be secure G.O.P. strongholds. Conventional wisdom would have had him helping out in more populous places where Republican incumbents are running neck-and-neck with their challengers.

Women and Children First

So, why Pensacola? Some say it's a sign that things are no longer bad for the Republicans -- they're downright catastrophic. Almost every Republican is in trouble, so Bush is trying to save the women and children first, those who should have had an easy walk to reelection.

Enthusiastic supporters of Democratic candidate for Congress Joe Roberts are circulating the claim that outside polling organizations are finding local Republican incumbent congressman, Jeff Miller (R-Insipid), is doing poorly. That has to be taken with a several grains of salt since no one seems to have seen the actual polling data or exit polls from early voting stations. Even if only half-true, however, it would explain Bush's decision to return to Pensacola for the fourth time in less than two years.

Polls or not, Roberts wisely is using the opportunity to drive home his own message. As he told reporter Stewart for today's paper:
"The bottom line is Miller is an extremely unpopular congressman, and now he's bringing in one of most unpopular presidents in history to try and dupe people into voting for him."
'Small Town Media' Strategy?

The official White House spin also needs a lot of salt to be digested properly. The official claim is that Bush is being sent --
...for the last stretch going into Tuesday's election small communities where a presidential visit can have a big impression... . He can create a buzz, excite voters for the GOP ticket and draw extensive coverage from the local media.
Yeah, sure. Friday, he found himself in Le Mars, Iowa (pop 9,337). Someone should have told Bush's handlers that LeMars is Dutch Reform country. Old-time Calvinists to you. Nothing "excites" them more than a full day of back-breaking work followed by a supper consisting of a ragged hunk of bread torn off a week-old loaf.

As the cows say in the empty cornfields of Plymouth County, Iowa, as Le Mars goes so goes Elkhorn Township. Media centers, both.

Depression in Pensacola

Here at home the incumbent congressman, Miller, has a weirdly different slant. Friday, he actually said to PNJ reporter Michael Stewart --
"The president obviously wants to show the Republican base is not depressed as the national media would portray it."
Not "as" depressed, perhaps? Just how depressed does Miller think "the base" would have to be before Bush passes them by?

Bush isn't coming to Pensacola to tout the work of local psychotherapists. Nor is he coming here to show "the media" anything about our collective psyche. If that were his purpose, he'd invite the whole town to join him on camera.

But he won't. Only rabid fans who aren't paying attention to the world around them will be allowed inside the civic center to cheer him on.

Un-free Speech

We are living in the Bush administration era of walled-off "free speech zones". Invited to join the audience are only those who thrill to Dear Leader's every syllable, uttered in that phony Texas cowboy accent that turns on and off as easily as a Christian evangelist with a gay prostitute. Others will be shunted far away from the crowds and most especially the cameras.

So, how can local dissenters signal they're not "depressed" but are disgusted with Bush administration policies? Unfortunately, the usual means for exercising First Amendment freedoms have been choked off by this administration.
For the rest of us, that leaves few effective options. You can fly the American flag in the approved distress mode (upside down) as was done in Memphis (see photo above). You can "stand along the highway" far from the action as they were forced to do the other day in Houston and also in Sellersburg, Indiana.

The anti-Bush crowd that gathered along a main street in Richmond, VA. far outnumbered Bush supporters. There, some minor good may have come from waving at "the passing cars" that "honked, flashed thumbs-up or peace signs, and even joined in the chanting whilst waiting for the stoplight." But as a number of eyewitnesses are reporting, Bush himself was shielded from it all by strategically-parked buses and police vans.

Don't bother teaching your 3-year old to say, "Boo, Bush!" It turns out toddlers -- the smart ones anyway -- have learned on their own to say, "Mr. President, that's enough. You need a time out." It doesn't do any good. George W. Bush just won't listen -- to anyone.

In Bakersfield, CA they had an old-fashioned march -- far from the Bush entourage. In Seattle (photo below) a number of protesters dressed up in Bush Criminal Cabal costumes. Bush never saw them. And in Greensboro, N.C.:
"Almost all the protesters wore an orange ribbon and some dressed in orange to show their opposition to the recently passed Military Commissions Act of 2006 which legalizes torture. The act also strips away the right to habeas corpus to anyone Bush declares an enemy combatant, among many other unconstitutional aspects of this new law."

Our favorite post-modern protester remains the Freeway Blogger, who has inspired so many others to capture the attention of daily commuters from Long Island, N.Y. to San Rafael, Cal. and from Portland, Me. to Seattle. In Pensacola, however, the elevated freeway Bush might take would be mostly inaccessible to pedestrian bloggers.

So, what's our own view of the most effective way to protest? Here it is:

Vote Tuesday!

Protest on election day by throwing all the bums out of Congress who enabled Bush, starting with incumbent U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller.
Sure, his Democratic opponent, Joe Roberts, is a long shot. But an even worse bet would be sending the ineffectual Miller back to Washington where he would "stay the course" as an obscure and powerless supporter who reflexively votes for the incompetent Bush administration's most disastrous schemes.