The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Two stories more connected than they appear

First, House Majority Leader John Boehner is renting an apartment from a D.C. lobbyist:

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who was elected House majority leader last week, is renting his Capitol Hill apartment from a veteran lobbyist whose clients have direct stakes in legislation Boehner has co-written and that he has overseen as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee.
The relationship between Boehner, John D. Milne and Milne's wife, Debra R. Anderson, underscores how intertwined senior lawmakers have become with the lobbyists paid to influence legislation. Boehner's primary residence is in West Chester, Ohio, but for $1,600 a month, he rents a two-bedroom basement apartment near the House office buildings on Capitol Hill owned by Milne, Boehner spokesman Don Seymour said yesterday. Boehner's monthly rent appears to be similar to other rentals of two-bedroom English basement apartments close to the House side of the Capitol in Southeast, based on a review of apartment listings.

I mean, come on. Pretend to have a little distance.

Second, due to Administration budget cuts (part of their effort to reduce people's faith in the federal government), the National Transportation Safety Board can't do its job:

Last year, the agency's accident investigators showed up at 62 percent of all fatal plane crashes, compared with 75 percent of all fatal crashes in 2001, according to NTSB numbers. But data from the Federal Aviation Administration—which is required to send an investigator to every accident and take note of whether the NTSB is on the scene—indicate that NTSB investigators showed up less than half the time last year.
"The consequences are, you're going to miss some things," said Gene Doub, a former NTSB accident investigator who teaches at University of Southern California. "Every one of these are not just dumb pilots. Some are airspace-system or training issues or airworthiness issues."

So once again, budget cuts have real consequences. The NTSB is one of our most important federal agencies—at least, if you ever get into an airplane, car, train, or ship—and needs enough money to do its job.

What's it going to take before we undo the Republicans' gutting of our government?

Drowning the suit puppy in the bathtub

George Deutsch, the suit puppy who wanted to tell NASA scientists about science, has resigned:

George C. Deutsch, the young presidential appointee at NASA who told public affairs workers to limit reporters' access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned yesterday, agency officials said. Mr. Deutsch's resignation came on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the agency asserted.

Oops.

McCain lies about my man Barack

There was a dust-up between Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) today, in which McCain mistook integrity for mere politics:

"I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics, I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble," the Arizona Republican said in a letter to Obama. "Please be assured I won't make the same mistake again."
In response, Obama sent a letter back to McCain, saying he was "puzzled" by McCain's reaction and insisting he still supported a bipartisan approach to ethics reform. "The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you, nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem," Obama wrote.

(Obama has published the entire exchange on his Website.)

Only, once you read the Republican proposal (that would limit the actions of lobbyists) and the Democratic proposal (that would actually address earmarks and other abuses of power), it's hard to fault Obama from not joining the majority.

Plus, McCain's is a peculiar criticism, since Obama never actually committed to anything. Instead, he declined to support the Republican proposal, which is totally different.

Josh Marshall adds a good political perspective:

But the key here to note is what's behind this dust-up. Obama is a rising star among the Democrats. Republicans want to lay a backstory for feature criticisms and character attacks against him. So, for instance, if Obama is the vice presidential candidate in 2008, they want to have a history of attacks on him banked, ones that allege he's a liar, or too partisan, or untrustworthy, whatever. It doesn't even really matter. What matters is that there already be an established history of them. Point being, that in early 2008, they want to be able to simply refer back to Obama's 'character issue', the questions about his honesty, etc. rather than have to make the case on its merits.

McCain v. Obama in 2008? Now that would be a good race.

Disclosure: I contributed time, money, and—no kidding—coffee to the Obama primary and general campaigns in 2004.

Exactly the wrong way to govern

The Bush Administration (1077 days, 17 hours left) released its 2007 budget proposal today, which will cut or reduce 141 programs, including Medicare (down $36 billion), the drug-free schools initiative (axed), law-enforcement grants to help local jails house illegal immigrants after arrest (axed), Amtrak (down $300 million, or 25%), Employment and Training (down $648 million)...and on and on.

Remember, the Administration wants to cut the Federal government down to the size at which they can "drown it in the bathtub." Part of that strategy involves cutting programs, then using the resulting disaster (Katrina, anyone?) to "prove" that government programs "don't work."

Imagine if your kid gets Bs in school, then cuts studying 20%, then gets Cs, which prove studying "doesn't work." You'd ground his butt, wouldn't you?

The Administration thinks Americans are stupid. Let's prove them wrong.

What's in a name?

There's a big flap up the street from Inner Drive Technology World HQ about Northwestern University engineering professor Art Butz, a holocaust denier. Seems Butz merrily burbled to an Iranian newspaper as part of the latter's reporting on the Iranian president's burbling on the same theme.

The University's response was immediate and strong:

Northwestern University President Henry Bienen said Monday that [Butz'] recent comments denying that the Holocaust happened are "a contemptible insult to all decent and feeling people" and an embarrassment to the university.

Actaully, I think they're just an embarrassment to Butz, and I would urge Northwestern students to give him all the respect due a nutter like him. But the University is a place of learning and openness, and that means tolearance, even in the face of stupidity.

Plus, Butz probably formed those views—or the appearance of them—as a way of acting out against the ridicule he suffered as a child for his name. His parents, Dick and Connie Butz, did what they could, but you know...

And why am I attacking this man in the puerile and juvenile fashion of Ann Coulter? I don't rightly know. It's early, I haven't had enough coffee, and I guess some views really do require a lower form of ridicule, consistent with their intellectual honesty.

The Daily Northwestern reports:

Prof. Peter Hayes, chairman of NU's German department. Hayes, who teaches History of the Holocaust, describes Butz as "a crank and a fool."
"I just hope people will not overreact to this," Hayes said. "He loves the attention and why should we give it to him? This is how he publicizes his crazy views and we should just treat them with the contempt they deserve."

I don't think taking out a full-page ad in the Daily Northwestern is really required, for the same reason I don't think engaging Ann Coulter in any form of debate is required. As my friend Cameron says, "The thing about wrestling with a pig is, you both get dirty, but the pig likes it."

Original headlines for today's stories

Two noteworthy stories in today's Washington Post.

First, Boehner Opposes Sweeping Changes In Lobbyist Work. There's not a lot in the article we didn't already know, but I was thinking it might have been titled "Burglar Opposes Sweeping Changes to Door Locks" without too much irony. To repeat: lobbyists are only a symptom of the much larger problem of Republican corruption. Having the guys who broke the rules in the first place propose new rules insults our intelligence.

Second, Handful of Races May Tip Control of Congress. This filled me with a momentary twinge of optimism, but then a cursory reading calmed me down:

Democrats are poised to gain seats in the House and in the Senate for the first time since 2000. The difference between modest gains (a few seats in the Senate and fewer than 10 in the House) and significant gains (half a dozen in the Senate and well more than a dozen in the House) is where the battle for control of Congress will be fought.

So, unlike in countries with fully-realized democracies (like Canada, for example), we aren't really looking at a huge swing in either direction. There is something deeply troubling about a system in which 98% of the legislature is almost completely safe from a serious election challenge. Even the Soviet Union had more turnover.

Why the Administration's war on science is bad for us

Where to begin today? There's a smorgasbord of religious extremism on display today, with Bush administration incompetence on the dessert table, so much so that you might start to think there might be almost a symbiotic relationship between the two.

First, in a not-entirely-unpredictable display of intolerance for Western tolerance, Lebanese terr--sorry, protestors burned the Danish Embassy in Beirut this morning:

The violence in Lebanon came a day after thousands of protesters in neighboring Syria set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in the most violent of furious demonstrations by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Twelve caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was practicing self-censorship when it came to Muslim issues.

Der Spiegel has the Danish view:

"We expected these kinds of threats," said Jyllands-Posten spokesman Tage Clausen, looking calm, composed and almost peaceful given the commotion surrounding his newspaper. The bomb threat, he said, just served to show how relevant the debate that the newspaper unleashed four months ago is in contemporary society. In September, Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's highest-circulation newspaper, published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad—one showed him wearing a bomb as a turban with the fuse already burning.
Clausen said the paper did not intend to provoke Muslims by running the political cartoons. "Instead we wanted to show how deeply entrenched self-censorship has already become," he said. After the explosive reaction to the drawings, however, you would be hard pressed to find a Danish cartoonist willing to risk drawing any caricatures relating to Islam.

The newspaper has published an open letter to Muslims, in part apologising, and in part explaining to the 15th Century why the 21st Century is different:

In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.
Maybe because of culturally based misunderstandings, the initiative to publish the 12 drawings has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the rest of the world.
I must categorically dismiss such an interpretation. Because of the very fact that we are strong proponents of the freedom of religion and because we respect the right of any human being to practise his or her religion, offending anybody on the grounds of their religious beliefs is unthinkable to us.
It is the wish of Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten that various ethnic groups should live in peace and harmony with each other and that the debates and disagreements which will always exist in a dynamic society should do so in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

An article from the Los Angeles Times' media critic about our tolerance of fundamentalist intolerance suggests we need a little less tolerance dealing with these thugs:

In Iraq on Friday, the country's dwindling community of Chaldean Catholics prepared for more of the terrorist attacks that have become routine; there were no reported attacks on Muslims in any of the countries where the Danish caricatures were republished. Muslims in those places may have been affronted, but they are not in fear for their lives. No Western leader claims that Ferdinand and Isabella did not expel the Moors from Spain or that there were no massacres during the Crusades. If they did, they'd be howled off the podium and ridiculed into obscurity. The president of theocratic Iran claims that there was no Holocaust and people across the Islamic world applaud.

This dovetails nicely with Talk of the Town in this week's New Yorker, about the Hamas victory:

Among the fundamentalists, the idea that Islam is superior to other religions has become predominant. Long before it took over the Palestinian parliament, Hamas managed to turn what we thought to be a national conflict into a religious war.

Next, on the same topic (i.e., religious fundamentalism's jihad against reason), the New York Times reports NASA Administrator Michael Griffin called for more openness in the agency in response to widespread and growing political interference from Administration appointees. For example, as part of their war against science, the Administration wants the word "theory" appended to the phrase "Big Bang:"

The Big Bang memo came from George Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.
In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

The story about NASA and the stories about the Muslim world's reaction to the Danish cartoons are connected. Religion and politics need to be separate, as our founders understood, and the Bush administration does not.

This last story kind of brings it all together. MSNBC is reporting this hour that a major Al Queda prisoner has escaped:

A man considered a mastermind of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 soldiers in a Yemeni port in 2000 was among 23 people who escaped from a Yemen prison last week, Interpol said Sunday.

So do you feel safer than six years ago?