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The World Social Forum in Caracas provided living proof of
alternative political and social visions, but raised new questions
about government co-optation.

In the first of what will be a number of critical votes on renewal of the Patriot Act, only three members of the U.S. Senate supported Russ Feingold's effort to prevent enactment of a version of the law favored by the Bush administration.

Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who cast the sole vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, has promised to fight at every turn to prevent renewal of the Patriot Act in a form that does not respect civil libertries.

On Thursday, he sought to clarify the rights of individuals and institutions that might be subject to inquiries undder the act. But only two senators, West Viginia Democrat Robert Byrd and Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords sided with him.

Why expect political balance on talk TV when the networks are wedded to the belief that all the action is on the right?

In a DNA-driven search for biological roots, it behooves us to be less
romantic about connecting with our ancestors. If we biologize our
history, we will be forever less than we could be.

Although his language is less blatant than Richard Nixon's, George
Bush is claiming the same imperial powers today that led Congress to
pass the Foreign Intelligence Security Act.

The Bush Administration failed to protect New Orleans and has yet
to rescue its displaced citizens. We need an independent investigation
to force accountability.

It's now clear that Bush & Co. had no interest in reality-based
intelligence to justify the decision to invade Iraq.

If the war in Iraq is winding down, why does the Pentagon need so
much money? Because the Bush Administration has visions of a permanent
war economy.

I do a fair amount of TV.

And though I never, ever, check my integrity at the door, I have to admit that there are some shows you wish you hadn't agreed to go on. I won't name names.

A couple of weeks ago on RadioNation, host Laura FLanders asked what it's like to do battle with someone on TV and then schmooze with them in the "Green Room" before or after airtime? I replied, in all honesty, that I almost always keep my nose in my files--which I carry around like Linus's security blanket. That technique effectively precludes hanging out with guests you'd rather observe than make friendly with. (Think Ann Coulter.)

Goodness gracious! Could it be that comedians are doing a better job of connecting the dots regarding Dick Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors than are the unintentionally ridiculous members of the White House press corps?

Huntergate is certainly worthy of coverage, especially now that the vice president has admitted to shooting while intoxicated. But the on-bended-knee "reporters" who hang around the briefing room waiting for a presidential spokesman to feed them their daily diet of spin look pretty absurd chasing after this particular story with so much gusto while they continue to ignore the big picture of Cheney's misuse of intelligence data before and after the invasion of Iraq and his role in schemes to punish critics of the administration.

If the Bush administration's court reporters are not quite up to the job of holding the vice president to account, however, the nation's fearless comedians are up to the task.

One of the perplexing things about the Democratic Party is how it rewards and glorifies consultants and experts who get major issues so wrong. Back in 2002, former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm, convinced a wide swath of the Democratic intelligentsia that Saddam possessed WMD's and thus had to be removed. Needless to say, he was wrong.

Undeterred, Pollack returned two years later with The Persian Puzzle, a book about Iran, which met with glowing reviews. Senator Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, gave his House counterpart, Rep. Jane Harman, a copy with the inscription: "Jane, read this and you will know what you're talking about."

"When Ken Pollack talks, I listen," Harman said yesterday at the Brookings Institution. You see, Pollack has just authored a mammoth new report on Iraq which tells the Bush Administration and the Democrats how to make that mess right. For the last two weeks, Pollack has been selling his recommendations in meetings with Congress and the Executive Branch. Though the report contains a lot of good, detailed information and analysis, Pollack's central thesis reinforces the view of many foreign policy elites that prolonging the American occupation will benefit Iraq.

PLAN D--D FOR DISGUSTED

Douglaston, NY

This afternoon, my friend Michael Mushlin--a longtime member of the invaluable Correctional Association of New York and a venerable professor at Pace Law School--sent me a worthy article offering empirical evidence for a proposition we intuitively know: Harsh prison conditions in fact contribute to recidivism. What struck me in reading the article, just hours after skimming today's New York Times profile of Dick Cheney's hunting victim, is that Texas lawyer Harry Whittington has made the same point. "While serving on the board of the Texas Department of Corrections in the 1980s," the Times reports, "and after observing the conditions in many state prisons, Whittington once claimed, 'Prisons are to crime what greenhouses are to plants.'"

Now, as the inimitable Molly Ivins put it in her column yesterday, Whittington isn't some flaming liberal. He's a liberal, Ivins writes, "only by Texas standards, and that sets the bar about the height of a matchbook. Nevertheless, [he] is seriously civilized, particularly on the issues of crime, punishment and prisons."

Seriously civilized. Hard to think of the Texans in this Administration--or its second-in-command, for that matter--in those terms.

This morning the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that ABC World News Tonight co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas is pregnant--mazel tov! Before everyone piles on about what this means for working women--if her maternity leave lasts longer than a weekend can all women be fired right away?--let's not overlook the most interesting bit. It was an accident! "This was about as unplanned as it gets," Vargas told the paper.

"I was shocked." (Vargas got the news 10 days before her debut.) So, a hugely successful, smart, rich, married woman with a three-year-old, who has access to the best medical care in the world, and is moreover 43 years old, can have an accidental pregnancy! Who knew? That must mean a woman can have an unplanned pregnancy and not be a careless, stupid, immature slut, who deserves the scorn of right-thinking people. It's great that Vargas is happy with her surprise, but if it could happen to Vargas, it can happen to any woman. Next time someone starts in on abortion as something that no one would need if women were more responsible, feel free to point this out.

The Patriot Act needs to be reformed so that it can serve as a legitimate national security tool without undermining basic liberties. That's the view of legal scholars, civil libertarians on the right and the left of the political spectrum, and the seven state legislatures and 395 local governments that have passed anti-Patriot Act resolutions promoted by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

For a time, it also seemed to be the view of a remarkable bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators that in December blocked the Bush-Cheney administration's scheme to reauthorize the act without significant changes.

Unfortunately, the coalition fell apart when, under pressure from the White House, Republican senators backed away from the fight and, essentially, gave the administration what it wanted. Then, in another sign that America has no opposition party, senior Democrats joined with the Republicans to accept the White House-backed plan.

For Bill Clinton it was a stain on a blue GAP dress; might Cheney's Waterloo be an errant spray of birdshot? The way the normally dormant Washington press corps has seized upon this so-called "scandal," you'd think the country's lifeblood (and this administration's credibility) flowed through Harry Whittington's 78-year-old veins. Finally succumbing to pressure from Democrats (Nancy Pelosi demanded Cheney "come clean on what happened in Texas"), the nation's editorialists, and even fellow Republicans like Ari Fleischer, Dick is going to make a rare public appearance in a few hours on FOX news. Not exactly enemy territory, but give the man a break. He shot a buddy and hasn't held a press conference in 3 1/2 years.

The folks over at HuffPo have really gone bananas over this one though. Torture proponent Alan Dershowitz hypothesizes that the VP must have been up to something really bad (like drinking and hunting). Bob Cesca repeats Sirius radio's Alex Bennett's rumor that Cheney's missing hours gave the administration time to cover up his own private Lewinsky. It's like mock trial club meets Weekly World News over there.

The only voice of reason in the lot is Harry Shearer's Eat the Press which attributes the whole brouhaha to a little "psychological theory called displacement." The lesson the Bush administration might actually learn from all this: Lie about uranium to provoke war (no big deal), don't report a minor accident for a few hours (get strung up). The next time someone stubs a toe in the White House, I'm sure they'll convene an emergency meeting of Congress. I suppose politics by proxy is better than no politics at all, but I just want to scream: It's the war, stupid.

Has Paul Weyrich, a founding father of the modern conservative movement, been reading The Nation?

Via TAPPED, I see that Weyrich is ringing alarm bells over the possibility of Democrats impeaching the President should they take over the House in 2006. Quite frankly the chances of Dems recapturing the House, despite all the recent GOP missteps, remain slim, and the prospects for impeachment even slimmer. But listen to Weyrich voice conservative frustrations, citing government spending, immigration and the war:

 

I can tell you, if the e-mail and snail-mail traffic I receive is any indication, lots and lots of people are telling me they do not intend to vote in the 2006 election. Others are saying they will vote for third-party candidates. I hear that every election. Little comes of it. But staying at home is a huge problem for Republicans. To say that the grassroots are discouraged is an understatement.

 

Time and again, all we've asked of our government is simple honesty. In the war with Iraq, we wanted an honest assessment of the situation. According to the top CIA Middle East analyst, the administration cherry-picked information to support its drive to war.

According to Michael "Heck of a Job" Brownie, the administration knew about the breach of the levees in New Orleans long before Bush & Co. decided to end their vacations. Little has been done to alleviate the people's suffering. The relief effort has been surrounded in Halliburton-like chicanery and corruption.

Now, as we've now learned, the first Vice-President in 200 years has shot someone and failed to inform the public for a day. But why should he? No one has held him accountable for the Energy Commission. And the government is planning to add $7 billion to the oil companies' Olympic sized profits. No one has held him accountable for releasing Scooter Libby to smear Joe Wilson's wife. He skulks while his chief of staff faces prison.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who was forced to leave Yale University because his penchant for late-night beer drinking exceeded his devotion to his studies, and who is one of the small number of Americans who can count two drunk driving busts on his record, was doing more than hunting quail on the day that he shot a Texas lawyer in the face.

The vice president has admitted that he was drinking on the afternoon of the incident. He claims it was only a beer, according to the transcript of an interview with Fox New Wednesday. But the whole discussion about how much drinking took place on the day of the fateful hunt has been evolving rapidly since Katherine Armstrong, the wealthy Republican lobbyist who is a member of the politically connected family that owns the ranch where Cheney blasted his hunting partner, initially claimed that no one was imbibing before the incident.

Armstrong later acknowledged to a reporter from the NBC investigative unit that alcohol may have been served at a picnic Saturday afternoon on the dude ranch where Cheney shot Harry Whittington.

Condoleezza Rice's myopic optimism mirrors that of the delusional Dick Cheney: Witness her refusal to be alarmed by rise of Moqtada al Sadr.

Among the superrich, there's a growing desire to freeze themselves and
their bank accounts in hopes of rising again. Talk about Groundhog Day.