Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Brian Williams Interviews a pretty incoherent Bush

The question is: Is Bush a schlemiel or a schlamazel? Does it make a difference?

Via Crooks and Liars

Countdown covered Brian Williams interview with Bush last night.


Video - WMV Video - QT

For someone who does not like how the public perceives him, Bush does not help his case any in this interview. Take this little exchange:

WILLIAMS: When you take a tour of the world, a lot of Americans e-mail me with their fears that, some days they just wake up and it just feels like the end of the world is near. And you go from North Korea to Iran, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, and you look at how things have changed, how Americans are viewed overseas, if that is important to you. Do you have any moments of doubt that we fought a wrong war? Or that there’s something wrong with the perception of America overseas?

BUSH: Well those are two different questions, did we fight the wrong war, and absolutely — I have no doubt — the war came to our shores, remember that. We had a foreign policy that basically said, let’s hope calm works. And we were attacked.

Last week Bush said that he never implied any connection between Iraq and 9/11, yet both Iraq and the War on Terror have again been lumped together and Bush says that the war "came to our shores". Sure the war with terrorism did, but the war with Iraq did not come to our shores. Is it any wonder why people say the White House has tried to link Saddam and 9/11?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Let's Take A Ride on the BMT

If we can't make it to the diner, let's take a subway ride through Brooklyn. It's the next best thing to being there. Do you have 15¢ for a token? Michael Quill would be happy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Republicans use racism in Rhode Island

Via Daily Kos

Republicans: Scary brown people are invading Rhode Island.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The South's Gonna Rise Again? In NJ?

Having lived in Texas for 25 years, I'm not surprised to see this kind of nonsense. Even though we live in a decent suburb, when my son went to high school, he told me there was a sizeable group of kids, and even some teachers, who were into the "South's gonna rise again" mentality. I still think that putting up statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis is like honoring traitors. I've often wondered whether this rebel stuff was just a southern thing or whether it's become identified with a general feeling of bigotry all over the country. Here seems to be the answer.

Via fourfour

A confederacy of dunces

Can you spot the irony?


Look closer (while considering that the name of this fine establishment is FreedomUSA):


Ah, the Confederacy lives! In Having grown up in Jersey, I've come to expect anti-foreign language sentiment. But rebel flag swag? Really?

Maybe I was too immersed in reality TV to notice New Jersey's secession some 200 years late? Because, I ask, like apparently so few have before me: if your state was never part of the Confederacy, why in the blue fuck would you want to wear something with a rebel flag on it?

And, if you're a thinking person, why would you want to wear such a flag at all? Really, I'm curious. I can't offer you answers, but I can offer you options if you're convinced that the Battle Jack is the new black.

Good ole Jersey.

It all started so innocently, too, my immersion in, what seems to me, nostalgia for the days when black people weren't considered people. In New Jersey.


When we saw this undoubted future Daisy Duke early into our South Jersey vacation, the bf and I had no idea what we were in for.

We started catching on the next day, when we saw this:


Because, like most things, the way to show pride of your "heritage" is to immortalize it on foam that you're gonna end up rubbing your tits and/or genitals all over as you careen through God's brown ocean.

"Where do you even buy something like that?" the bf asked me. I didn't know.

But I would learn!

We visited Wildwood the next day. Wildwood is a body louse clinging to a sweaty shaft of hair in the Armpit of America that is New Jersey. This is, of course, its charm. Wildwood, like many costal resort towns in South Jersey, is home to a tourist-bating boardwalk. But Wildwood's boardwalk is unlike many of its neighboring counterparts. It's a massive, 38-block stretch that sports no fewer than five amusement parks and hundreds of crooked, carnival-type games (knock bottles over, get the ball in the basket, fill the clown's mouth with water to pop the balloon, etc.) complete with managing foreigners who harass anyone who walks by (and, no doubt, annoy everyone with those damn accents). Food is everywhere -- literally. It's being sold everywhere you look, it's on the boardwalk attracting seagulls, it's stuffed in the patrons' mouths. Perhaps the only source of commerce that's more present is that of the junky, "sundry"-cum-T-shirt shop. As a rough estimate, we'll say that there are an average of three of such places per block. If there are around 100 places to buy T-shirts (or 75, or 50 or whatever), I'd say that at least half of them have prominent displays like this:


We'll get to the actual content of the shirts in a bit (but really, "You wear your X...?" How fucking 15 years ago!). The point here is that this shit is everywhere.


Aggressively everywhere.

Incredibly, though I've visited Wildwood many times throughout my life, I'd never really noticed it before. I guess I was just walking around blindfolded, perhaps with one of these over my eyes:


Oh but there's more rebel-flag merchandise to be had in Wildwood. Things like...







and, my personal favorite...


...hermit crab shells. I mean, why should hermit crabs be denied the chance to express their Confederate pride? That would just be cruel. I'm glad that someone's thinking about the crustaceans.

Besides, it looks great in its natural habitat, right?

I know that my pearl clutching may come off as overly politically correct. You know how I know this? A T-shirt told me.


I mean, what the fuck does that even mean? Historically accurate when? While playing dress up? While spouting off antiquated ideas? Historically accurate where? In the ass that you're talking out of? Isn't one of the main goals of studying history to learn about the mistakes of the past so that we don't repeat them?

I know those who are the type to wear T-shirts like the one above or those who put rebel-flag mudflaps on their 4X4s will defend the flag as not a symbol of slavery, but of heritage. But even if the Civil War was more about commerce than slavery, doesn't the effect of the South's intended outcome provoke the slightest bit of embarrassment in people? Big ideas of struggle aside, isn't the practical implication of such heritage to deny rights to blacks?

And really, to anyone who does fly the rebel flag with pride, I ask: do you willfully associate with black people and if so, what do they think of your expression or heritage? Do you care about black culture? How many albums by black people do you own? How many movies by black directors have you seen? How many books by black authors have you read? And, for that matter, how many books have you read, period?

Regardless of how the case for rebel-flag waving can be cooked to seem benign and neutral, many of these T-shirts aren't so fiddle-dee-dee about the old days. No, they're out to offend.


Is anyone surprised that "its" is missing an apostrophe?

You can check the displays above to revisit the whole "You wear your X, I'll wear my X," thing, the unabashed racialism of "Smart Ass White Boy" and the implied white supremacist statement of "If You Ain't Redneck, You Ain't Sheeit." Oh, and then there's this one, which I don't even think I have the capacity to fully understand:


It's just plain bizarro.


But what could the kid learn from his parents that a hermit crab couldn't teach him?

I should note that besides the two girls up top with the towel and boogie board, I didn't see anyone actually rocking any of this stuff. The fact that it's so available for purchase makes me assume that there's some sort of demand for it. But then again, maybe not. Any manager of a store who'd say, "Hmmmm, you know what residents and visitors of the once-UNION state of NEW JERSEY need? Rebel flag gear!" probably can't be counted on to understand something as complex as the law of supply and demand.

As potentially offensive as this stuff is in both nonchalant ("Oooh, look at how nice the red looks as the light goes through the suncatcher! Like blood!") and overt forms, the ubiquity of it is, in a way, hilarious to me. Certainly, if you view this material in the most offensive light -- as an endorsement of the dehumanization of black people -- it comes from a place of such ignorance and stupidity and ultimate powerlessness that it's hard to take seriously. There's very, very little weight behind it all. In this desperate, pitiful nostalgia, this willful ignorance, there's just a larger-than-life caricature of real human emotion. It is, then, kitsch.

But maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe I'm the ignorant one.


OK, fine. Give me one. Explain to me how this doesn't turn its back on humanity and progress. I'm all ears. Really.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Saying No to King George


From my "Capital Games" column at

In ruling on Thursday that the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional and must be halted, U.S. district Judge Anna Diggs Taylor slammed the White House on several critical fronts.

For months, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other administration aides have been defending--even championing--what they call the "terrorist surveillance program," under which the National Security Agency can intercept communications that involve an American citizen or resident without a warrant if one party to the communication is overseas and suspected of being linked to anti-American terrorists). They have maintained that the president has the authority as commander in chief to authorize such surveillance. Though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) generally forbids wiretapping without warrants, the White House has contended that Bush is not bound by the limitations of that law. This claim--arising from the Bush administration's view of expansive (even supreme) presidential power--set up a constitutional clash. And in the first round of the legal battle, Judge Taylor has knocked out the White House argument.

In her decision, she accused the administration of dishonestly arguing that the lawsuit filed by the ACLU and others (including journalists, researchers and lawyers) against the NSA wiretapping should be dismissed because it would expose state secrets:

It is undisputed that Defendants have publicly admitted to the following: (1) the TSP [Terrorist Surveillance Program] exists; (2) it operates without warrants; (3) it targets communications where one party to the communication is outside the United States, and the government has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda. As the Government has on many occasions confirmed the veracity of these allegations, the state secrets privilege does not apply to this information.

She added:

Defendants assert that they cannot defend this case without the exposure of state secrets. This court disagrees. The Bush Administration has repeatedly told the general public that there is a valid basis in law for the TSP. Further, Defendants have contended that the President has the authority under the AUMF [legislation authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq] and the Constitution to authorize the continued use of the TSP. Defendants [the Bush administration] have supported these arguments without revealing or relying on any classified information. Indeed, the court has reviewed the classified information and is of the opinion that this information is not necessary to any viable defense to the TSP....Consequently, the court finds Defendants’ argument that they cannot defend this case without the use of classified information to be disingenuous and without merit.

In other words, Bush cannot hide behind an it's-classified defense. (Taylor did say that the administration could do so in a related matter--the data-mining of phone records by the NSA. That's because not enough information has been publicly released about this covert program.)

The judge reserved her sharpest words for slicing and dicing the administration's contention that Bush had the authority to ignore FISA and, in essence, act outside (or above) that law. And she cited a favorite Supreme Court case of conservatives to make this point: Clinton v. Jones. In that case, the justices ruled that Clinton could be sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones. Taylor wrote:

It was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The three separate branches of government were developed as a check and balance for one another. It is within the court’s duty to ensure that power is never "condense[d]...into a single branch of government." Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 536 (2004) (plurality opinion). We must always be mindful that "[w]hen the President takes official action, the Court has the authority to determine whether he has acted within the law." Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 703 (1997). "It remains one of the most vital functions of this Court to police with care the separation of the governing powers....When structure fails, liberty is always in peril." Public Citizen v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 491 U.S. 440, 468 (1989) (Kennedy, J., concurring).

Though pundits, partisans and legislators have debated the legality of the warrantless wiretapping program, Taylor rendered a clear verdict:

The wiretapping program here in litigation...has undisputedly been implemented without regard to FISA violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Bush, as president, she added, has no extraconstitutional powers:

The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well....In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained.

She noted:

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the
Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all "inherent powers" must derive from that Constitution.

Once again, a court has told Bush that he is not all-powerful. He cannot create military tribunals on his own. He cannot detain American citizens as enemy combatants without affording them some elements of due process. Taylor's decision will probably be appealed by the Bush administration, and the case will wind its way toward the Supreme Court. But this decision reaffirms--and puts into practice--the bedrock principle that a president's power does not trump the workings of a republican government, even when it comes to war. Weeks before he took office in 2001, Bush quipped, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." Democracy, though, is not easy. And a commander in chief has to abide by the rules, as various courts have now ruled. The administration's King George approach to governance has taken another blow. But it's royally unlikely this president is going to accept the decision and give up his claim to the throne.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

There Was No Place Like Dubrow's

There was no better place to sit, schmooze and enjoy good food than Dubrow's Cafeterias in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Eve, the great granddaughter of the founder of Dubrow's has a blog recounting her family's memories of the people and the places. I left Brooklyn long before the demise of this great cafeteria chain but I always wondered why the concept didn't continue to do well into the 1990s since cafeterias are still popular in Texas and California. Maybe the customer turnover wasn't as quick at Dubrow's as it was in a McDonald's or a Burger King, which could have led to lower profits. Dubrow's was like dining in your Aunt's Ceil's house, except it didn't have furniture covered in plastic. It was comfortable to just sit and eat and maybe that was part of the problem. There's a reason that the seats in fast food restaurants are made of hard plastic. On the other hand, many fast food places are now encouraging people to linger with Wi-Fi internet access and so on. Maybe Dubrow's was just too far ahead of itself.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reuters pulls doctored Beirut photo amid uproar


Reuters notice to discontinue use of a digitally altered photo. Click the image to read more. (Image: Reuters)Reuters, the UK-based global news agency, admitted Sunday that at least two of its published photos had been digitally edited and, under pressure from critics, "killed" a photo of a Beirut skyline after an Israeli bombing raid - issuing an apology and the original, unedited photo. Adnan Hajj, the photographer credited for the photos and their crude alteration, is the same freelance Lebanese photojournalist responsible for many of the dubious Kfar Kana photos. Click Here to read more.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

U.S. Prepares for Possible Showdown in Cuba, Congress Seeks to Encourage Cuban Dissidents

We have 45 million people without health insurance in the U.S.; people are losing their pensions and are forced into bankruptcy, but we have millions of dollars for other countries. Maybe some wealthy Cuban citizens can send us some money since all Cubans have access to free medical care.


WASHINGTON Aug 2, 2006 (AP)— The White House and Congress, caught unaware by Fidel Castro's illness, prepared Wednesday for a possible showdown in Cuba as lawmakers drafted legislation that would give millions of dollars to dissidents who fight for democratic change.

"The message will be, `The United States stands with you,'" Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., one of the bill's authors, said in an interview. "Be ready to assert your independence."

There was no sign of upheaval in Cuba on Wednesday, two days after Castro stunned U.S. officials and many of his own countrymen with the news that he had temporarily ceded power to his brother, Raul, in order to undergo surgery.

For now, Bush administration officials and members of Congress were focused on offering dissidents cash for fighting for democratic change.

Legislation sponsored by Nelson, fellow Floridian Mel Martinez, Majority Leader Bill Frist and others would authorize as much as $80 million over two years and pay half of that almost immediately to dissidents and nongovernmental organizations on the island.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

US Airways To Tackle Complaints

$8.50 an hour to handle thousands of complaints? Somebody tell the Republicans there's no need to raise the minimum wage after all.

Via the Washington Post
By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; D01

Wanted: US Airways customer service agents.

Job: Responding to a backlog of e-mails and letters from US Airways travelers.

The correspondence, mostly complaints, is piling up at the airline's Tempe, Ariz., headquarters. Since its merger with America West last September, US Airways has attracted a flood of unhappy comments about its new merged Web site and frequent-flier program. The carrier has put out the word on its internal bulletin boards that it needs workers to respond to about 6,000 e-mails and 1,500 letters.

Since May, complaints have poured into US Airways' customer-service department as travelers have had difficulty navigating the Web site or found discrepancies in their frequent-flier account balances. Of the nation's top 20 airlines, US Airways received the most complaints filed in May with the Transportation Department, according to the agency's latest Air Traveler Consumer Report. A traveler who contacts the government is often one who had an unsatisfactory response from the airline itself.

'We got slammed,' acknowledges Elise Eberwein, spokeswoman for US Airways. 'We have a long way to go, and we'll get there. We have to establish ourselves as a customer-relations center that not only apologizes when things go wrong but also works hard to convince customers to give us another try.'

The airline is aiming to add dozens to its staff of 140 customer-service workers. Offering pay of $8.50 an hour, US Airways is hoping to attract workers at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or the equivalent. Candidates need to have data-entry skills and excellent written and verbal communication skills.

While many frequent fliers applaud the carrier's new effort to respond to customer complaints, some travelers said they were alarmed that US Airways would not be relying on employees with greater seniority and airline experience to address their concerns.

'People who have been in the business longer have more understanding and can better respond to customer concerns,' says US Airways frequent flier Andrea Williams of New Hope, Pa. 'I wonder how an 18-year-old who was just hired by the airline can actually respond to my issues.'

Ken Rinzler, a lawyer from the Wesley Heights section of Washington, said he became so frustrated with the lack of response from airlines that he stopped sending his complaints years ago. 'My experience with airlines is that customer service is generally useless. They're generally not much empowered to make much of a difference,' Rinzler said.

US Airways executives defend their hiring program and insist that the new employees will be fully trained and able to address travelers' concerns as needed.

The new staff will free senior workers to answer customer-complaint telephone lines. Only about 50 percent of customer service phone calls are now getting answered because of the amount of time, as much as 20 minutes per call, each worker spends on them, Eberwein said.

'I'm proud that we are putting a program like this together and that we are not going to try to spin our way out of a time when we can use the additional help,' Eberwein said.

US Airways said the jobs are only temporary, lasting about two weeks to three months, or as long as the airline needs the workers. After their assignments are completed, the employees will then be 'on call' to return during peak periods.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company"

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Stranger saves father, 2 sons from drowning

This is really an amazing story of courage and determination. I'm familiar with the Niagara River, where this incident occurred. The fact that a passerby could jump in and save three people from the swirling water is incredible.

Stranger saves father, 2 sons from drowning: "Stranger saves father, 2 sons from drowning
Last Updated: Monday, July 31, 2006 | 5:08 PM ET
CBC News

A St. Catharines, Ont., man who plunged into the Niagara River and rescued a man and his two children from drowning Saturday is still stunned by his own actions.

'I don't know how I did it. I don't know how in that type of water I was paddling with one arm and carrying a person. And I don't know how I did it three times. I have no idea,' Mathew Vizbulis told CBC Radio.

The 28-year-old man was getting ready to rock climb near the Niagara River when he heard a woman's panicked screams. At first, he wondered if it was a child, but when the screaming persisted he ran to the shoreline.

There, in a narrow passage in the Niagara River called Devil's Hole, he saw three bodies floating face down in a swirling, bubbling eddy.

Here is what the Niagara River looks like downriver from the Falls:

'They were already incapacitated and completely exhausted from going through the rapid. It was either I jump in or these three people perish within seconds,' said Vizbulis.

So, he jumped in and swam 20 feet out to the eddy. As the three cycled in the eddy, Vizbulis grabbed them as they passed by.

Then treading water with one hand, he hauled them with his other hand to the shore, first the father, then the older son and finally the youngest boy.

A British couple had shown up at the scene and helped by pulling the man and two children up on to the shore.

The Brampton, Ont., family had been hiking in the Niagara Glen along the river's shoreline Saturday when the 11-year-old boy slipped on a rock and fell into the river. His 17-year-old brother and his father jumped in to try to save him, then got caught in the eddy.

Niagara Parks Const. John Gayder said he has no doubt the incident would have ended in a triple drowning if Vizbulis had not intervened.

The younger boy was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and the other walked out of the glen with a bit of help.

As for Vizbulis, he only suffered from adrenaline coursing through his veins.

'I had to sit there for almost 40 minutes and I was gritting my teeth because the adrenaline was so strong, and I really couldn't move and I was shaking,' he said, adding he couldn't even sleep that night because of the adrenaline.

Vizbulis said the family was quite grateful, and the father tried stuffing money into his hands in thanks for his brave act.

He refused, saying there's no price on life.

Niagara police say they plan to nominate Vizbulis for a bravery award."