Thursday, July 31, 2008

Istanbul, Thursday 31 July: Topkapi Palace

Topkapı Sarayı, (L) entrance to Second Court and (R) Second Court.

(Below): View of the Bosporus from the Fourth Court (Tulip Garden).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Istanbul, 29 July

Tea in the Grand Bazaar.

Munich, Sunday 27 July

Surfing the Eisbach next to the Haus der Kunst:

Third Verse, Same as the First (Two)

Still in Istanbul. So many meze, so little time. Here's the column that I wrote the week of July 13 when I was out of town with a bad Internet connection and no access to Google. I don't really have much research capacity without Google these days. My suggested title, above, didn't make the cut; the Herman's Hermits reference was just too obscure. My editor also has issues with the Bruce Willis joke, because he considers Die Hard the best Christmas movie ever, which is apparently why they show it every year right after It's a Wonderful Life.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 20, 2008

In 2000, voters were urged to elect as president a charismatic fellow with a distinctive speaking style. The candidate didn’t have much experience, but he would bring dramatic stylistic change. He would usher in a different kind of politics, where people mattered more than party. He’d restore America’s greatness and honor.

Instead of the bitter partisan debates of the previous eight years, we’d have a new governing philosophy. It was called “compassionate conservatism,” recognizing that it wasn’t enough just to cut taxes; we also couldn’t leave any child behind.

The same people who sold you that particularly overblown bill of goods -- that George W. Bush was a “uniter, not a divider,” that he would have a more “humble” foreign policy, and that cutting taxes would raise so much more revenue that we could rebuild our overstretched armed forces, unleash legions of faith-based welfare workers, and leave no child behind, all without breaking a sweat -- those same people have some new hooey for you.

It doesn’t really have a name yet, so instead of “compassionate conservatism,” call it “amnesiac conservatism.” It’s a hope that you won’t notice that the exact same people who made these now-outlandish claims about George W. Bush (and who supported him unquestioningly, so long as he was popular) now claim that the best way to reject Bush is to elect John McCain.

How else McCain can be “change we can believe in”-- unless you forget everything about these past eight years? How else can you swallow that supporting W’s tax cuts, environmental policies, Supreme Court appointments, letting business lobbyists write the laws, and war in Iraq is the only way to “real change” from W?

The same people, the same policies, and the same spin is somehow change? Trying the same thing again and again but expecting a different result is either madness, or the McCain campaign. McCain thinks remaking a bad movie with Bruce Willis instead of Chuck Norris makes it a good movie. It doesn’t, except to people who think Bruce Willis is a good actor -- and we certainly don’t want them running the country.

This “vote for the Republican, because he’s the least like the Republican” gambit is getting almost comical. Last week, McCain’s lead foreign policy wonk, Randy Scheunemann, attacked Barack Obama claiming that Obama’s policy on Iraq was too much like George W. Bush’s. “We cannot afford to replace one administration that refused for too long to acknowledge failure in Iraq with a candidate that refuses to acknowledge success in Iraq,” Scheunemann said. (H/t: Talking Points Memo.)

So it’s come to this, Republicans arguing that the best way to correct Republican mistakes is to elect another just-as-mistaken Republican.

Not only is this absurd, but it’s also a lie. McCain now claims that Bush refused to recognize failure in Iraq in 2006 -- but in 2006, McCain was supporting Bush and telling us that things in Iraq were getting better. Same thing in 2005. Same thing in 2004. Same thing in 2003. You get that many “same things” in a row, you get to call him McSame.

Maybe Iraq is going better because of the just-recently-concluded surge (if you don’t look at the political goals, and discount the impact of other factors, like refugee flows, arming and paying Sunni groups, walling off Baghdad neighborhoods, and intra-Shia political dynamics). But it’s like a football coach arguing that because he “won” the third quarter, he deserves a new contract despite having coached the wrong game with the wrong team in the wrong stadium.

Fareed Zakaria noted in Newsweek that in 2006, when violence in Iraq was at its worst, McCain said we couldn’t leave because “the consequences would be tragic. Today, he says that things are going so well that if we leave, the consequences would be tragic. In other words, his whole plan for Iraq is the same as George Bush’s – ‘keep doing what we’re doing.’”

When the people offering more of the same keep telling you that it’s really, really different, then they’re not telling, they’re selling. Again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Greetings from Istanbul

The view from the balcony.
The food's pretty good, too.
My Print Battles With Andy Thomas Will Have More Episodes Than A Soap Opera

Apologies for the light posting recently, I'm now three columns behind, but I've been travelling. In fact, this column comes to you from Istanbul, where raki is the answer that doesn't depend on the question.

This column is now part of a series, in response to a mention of Andrew Thomas in a prior column which rated a response from his office, and unfortunately for both readers and me, it's marred by a factual error; Joe Arpaio didn't endorse anybody in 2004, he was friends with the "instant Democrat" who took the nomination. As the column that ran this past Sunday notes, I had 3 political junkies read my comments and none of us remembered it that way. So that gave the other side a chance to respond, and I needed to address it two weeks later (the week in between I was in Philadelphia with a bad wi-fi connection, so it had to wait until I returned home. Actually, it had to wait until the night before I left for Istanbul, and I only got to pack after I wrote the column.) But if Andrew Thomas (and Barnett Lotstein) want to waste their time in a pissing match with me, I'm delighted to oblige.

Here's what the Tribune archives (not available online) had regarding 2006, nothing later than early June; this will be relevant for the 7/20 column:

Publication: Tribune 2003-Current; Date:2004 Jun 04; Section:East Valley News; Page Number: 7

Ex-prosecutor plans run for county attorney


Former prosecutor and judge Don Harris held a news conference Wednesday to launch his Democratic campaign for Maricopa County attorney, an office he held for five months in the 1970s.

"The morale in the county attorney’s office is at an alltime low, and I plan on restoring the office to the way it once was," Harris said. The first thing he would do if elected is clean out the "deadwood," he said.

Harris, who was appointed county attorney from 1976 to 1977, also served in the county as a prosecutor from 1967 to 1969 and as Maricopa County Superior Court judge pro tem in 1998. He said that in all he has more than 40 years of legal experience, including private practice.

Harris, a former political independent, described himself as friendly with Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio on Thursday said he has not endorsed Harris or any
other candidate for county attorney.

"When I endorse somebody, the world knows it," Arpaio said. "I’ve known him for 24 years, he’s a good lawyer."

Harris joins Republicans Andrew Thomas, Andrew Pacheco, Rick Poster, Mike Bailey, Jerry Landau and Tom McCauley and fellow Democrat Jonathan Warshaw in seeking to replace outgoing County Attorney Richard Romley, who will leave the post in January 2005. Romley, a Republican, has said he is interested in running for governor in 2006 after serving four terms.

The Democratic primary is Sept. 7.

My suggested headline was "DISCLOSURE: I REALLY DON'T LIKE ANDREW THOMAS" but the editor went off in a different direction. I think the newspaper version is available here but I've either got too a weak wi-fi connection, or else it's older than 2 weeks and dropped from the Tribune website.

And of course, the original column, about the Bush Justice Department, has been superceded by yet another Inspector General report, which shows that the Bush administration put politics ahead of the so-called war on terror, rejecting an experienced career prosecutor because his wife was (gasp!) a Democrat. It's good to know she's being represented by John Dowd, who also represented Fife Symington in his bank fraud trial. Seems fitting somehow.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 13, 2008

Last month, in a 689-word column attacking the Bush administration’s politicizing of the Justice Department, I included a 39-word slam on Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. I didn’t note, as the conventions of journalism apparently require, that Tim Nelson, one of the two Democrats vying for the nomination to oppose Thomas in November is married to one of my law partners, and that I’ve contributed to his campaign. (29 more words)

Even a part-time opinion columnist needs to make these disclosures in print, even though you can search my political contributions at several websites, and my partner is listed on both on our firm and the Arizona Corporation Commission Web sites, too. But I knew it, I blew it, and if I caused Bob Satnan or Le Templar any embarrassment, I regret it because it was my fault, not theirs.

But this disclosure business is truly odd, because I apparently needn’t disclose that I’ve known Tim Nelson longer than I’ve known his wife; he volunteered for my 1994 campaign. I apparently don’t need to disclose that my wife, who has a different last name, contributed to Tim’s campaign. I also apparently didn’t need to disclose that I worked for Terry Goddard when he was Mayor of Phoenix 24 years ago, even if six years ago Goddard’s opponent for state Attorney General was Andrew Thomas.

For his part, Thomas doesn’t need to disclose anything, apparently. He first ran for county attorney in a crowded GOP primary and got the coveted Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorsement, which is a pretty significant political debt to carry. But anytime Thomas does Arpaio’s bidding, he needn’t disclose that. Such a world we live in, where standards for part-time opinion columnists are stricter than for public prosecutors!

These conventions give you exactly the information you don’t need. Do you seriously think I’d be happy with Andrew Thomas’s job performance if only Tim’s spouse worked elsewhere? But you might want to be reminded of Arpaio’s endorsement in understanding why Thomas gave the investigation of New Times for publishing his home address demanded by Arpaio to outside lawyer Dennis Wilenchik. Then when the public learned of the investigation’s “breathtaking abuse of the Constitution” (that’s New Times’s phrase, but given that Wilenchik had them arrested, they get the call), Thomas -- suddenly free of his supposed conflict that required him to send the case to Wilenchik originally -- halted the investigation.

So, did Thomas have a conflict (in which case he shouldn’t decide whether to drop it) or not have a conflict (in which case he shouldn’t have sent out the case to his former employer)? Or did he really think that the case wasn’t worth pursuing -- but Andrew Thomas has too big a political debt to Arpaio to say “no,” so he referred it out? Now [ital] that [unital] you might want to know.

Thomas and his chief lieutenant, Barnett Lotstein, also think I have a “conflict” in writing about Thomas because I’m a friend of Gov. Napolitano and my law firm has done work for the state. Lotstein says that Napolitano is Thomas’s political enemy, and anybody close to the Napolitano administration can’t ethically write an opinion column about Thomas because he and she are such bitter political rivals.

Whether Napolitano sees things that way isn’t the point; Thomas and Lotstein see Napolitano as a political threat. Yet they see no problem in using their office’s powers against the Napolitano administration. Just to name two, Thomas and Lotstein announced criminal investigations of the state Veterans Home, and that they would sue the state over shifting funding from Arpaio (there he is again!) to a statewide fugitive task force. Napolitano is such a bitter enemy that as her supporter I can’t write about Thomas -- but Thomas can investigate her at will.

So let me disclose: that makes absolutely no sense. Imagine for a moment Andrew Thomas announcing a criminal investigation of a political ally. Do it quickly, though; I wouldn’t want your head to explode.

Do you miss Alberto Gonzales? You shouldn’t. We’ve got Andrew Thomas!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Now Isn't That Special (Interest)?

It's a "just do the math" wonkfest special this week for the holiday weekend. My suggested headline was "When The Candidate’s A Special Interest" but the editor disagreed, and after all my weeks of you reading me kvetch about the headlines -- people, he was right. There, I said it. This is a wonkier version of the Andy Borowitz column, "McCain Proposes Tax Holiday for Beer Heiresses." Newspaper version here.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 6, 2008

When is a “special interest” just so special that it’s no longer special? When it’s your own economic interest.

Guess who benefitted from the Bush tax cuts, and now wants to keep them and add additional cuts benefitting those at the very tippy-top of the income distribution? Naturally, it’s John McCain.

The Center for American Progress took the candidates’ tax plans and 2006 tax returns and figured out how much each would gain under their own policies. (The analysis is a bit rough, because McCain and his spouse file separately and she’s refused to release much information about her taxes. This was a huge scandal in 2004 when the spouse involved was married to Sen. John Kerry, but apparently it’s not a problem if the spouse is married to a Republican.)

Both McCain and Obama have done very well. In 2006, Obama and his wife had total income (2 salaries) of just under $1 million; that put them in the top 0.5 percent of all taxpayers. For their part, the McCains had total income of a little more than $6.4 million, which ranked them in the top 0.1 percent.

The Obamas numbers jumped in 2007, when his book sales took off; their income increased to $4.2 million, but we can’t compare them to the McCains because the McCains’ haven’t released their 2007 tax returns yet -- if they ever will.

Most of the McCains’ income comes from Schedule E of the 1040 form, which they’ve refused to disclose. Schedule E includes business income from real estate, S corporations, and partnerships, and all we know is the raw number -- which could understate actual income, because some Schedule E income gets special treatment and tax breaks, like accelerated write-offs. So the McCains had at least $6.4 million in income in 2006, but it could have been more.

So using the minimum 2006 numbers, what did the Bush tax cuts mean to Obama and McCain? The Obamas got a tasty tax break of $38,169, but they were pikers compared to the McCains, who pocketed $313,413. Now let’s project these incomes to 2010, when the Bush tax cuts are fully phased in. Assuming both make exactly the same, the Obamas would get $47,082 in tax cuts, but the McCains receive $361,830.

So much for Bush; both Obama and McCain have issued tax plans. McCain’s would make the Bush tax changes permanent, repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, double the dependent exemption, and provide tax breaks for Schedule E business income. (Who could have guessed?) Obama would eliminate the Bush tax cuts for taxpayers making over $250,000 a year while retaining most of the child and dependent care credit, and offer a tax credit of $500 to middle- and lower-income workers.

How would each do under their own proposals, using the 2006 numbers? Under Obama’s plan, compared to 2000 tax law, their family saves $6,124, while the McCains save $5,641. Remember, in 2006, the McCains made six times what the Obamas did; under Obama’s plan, the tax cuts phase out as income increases.

McCain’s plan does just the opposite; it’s worth more to those with more -- a lot more. Under McCain’s plan, in 2006 the Obamas, with their nearly $1 million income, would get a tax break of $49,392 compared with 2000 law. But the McCains, because they made so much more, would get a “progressively” larger tax cut -- $373,429.

Maybe if you own seven homes and since 2004 have purchased $11 million worth of real estate and spent $273,000 on household staff in 2007, giving yourself a tax break of $373,000 is just rounding error. But if you want to know who benefits under John McCain’s tax plans, the answer is pretty simple: John McCain.

It’s a pretty nice deal for the economic elite he’s offering. And using his own example, McCain’s not rewarding entrepreneurship; the family money comes from selling alcoholic beverages, a totally regulated business, with huge barriers to entry.

People like to think that rich candidates don’t have to reward campaign donors. Yeah, because they’re too busy rewarding themselves.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dog Bites Man! Again!

So the Bush Justice Department was a rigged game? Who could have possibly known? Newspaper versions available here and here.

Difference between Justice, justice more than just a letter
East Valley Tribune, Jun. 29, 2008

Stories about the Bush administration making everything political and trashing whatever they touch have a “dog bites man” quality by now, but it’s still worth considering last week’s report by the Justice Department Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility.

The IG looked at a very, very narrow slice of Bush’s Justice Department activities, the recruiting of recent law school graduates and summer interns -- called the Department of Justice Honors Program (for new graduates) and the Summer Law Intern Program (for students). The report concludes that senior political Justice Department officials illegally used political and ideological factors in choosing which students and graduates got these plum positions.

Bush Justice would use Internet search engines and check out MySpace pages for evidence of “leftists” and “wackos” and “whackjobs” applying for these jobs. Better-qualified applicants were rejected by political screeners if resumes or Google searches showed affiliations with such “far-left” organizations as The Nature Conservancy and Human Rights Watch.

Starting in 2006, political employees Esther McDonald and Michael Elston did the partisan screening. Both are no longer with the Justice Department, of course, but Elston also was involved in the Bush administration’s firing of U.S. Attorneys including Arizona’s Paul Charlton. You may recall how GOP partisans first claimed that nothing was going on, then that it was all perfectly reasonable, and then that it perhaps was a mistake but the people who did it are gone, so move along, please, nothing to see here.

Stories about the Bush Justice Department using political hiring tests started circulating and by 2007, Bush Justice made a big show of changing the hiring process by removing political appointees from the screening. Of course, it was their own “innovation” that put political types in control in the first place, but Bush Justice wanted to make sure that they fixed the “perception” that their own actions created.

Bush Justice spokesman Dean Boyd strongly denied the 2007 stories, saying that political or partisan factors did not play any role in who got picked for the once-prestigious programs. “The Justice Department does not, nor has it ever, solicited any information from applicants . . . about their political affiliation or orientation,” he claimed. Instead, according to a Washington Post report, the changes were designed to “further improve the process and eliminate even the perception of any political influence.”

But thanks to the IG report, we now know that political affiliations and orientation did help determine who got hired. It wasn’t perception, it was fact. Boyd, however, apparently avoided lying outright by artful phrasing. Bush Justice didn’t “solicit” political information; instead, they just used what they got -- and if that wasn’t enough, they used the Internet to find more. It’s the off-the-record quote, the denial “that political or partisan factors play any role in who is chosen” that was an out-and-out lie.

The stories were right, and the 2007 denial was wrong. Anybody taking a Bush administration spokesperson at face value gets what they deserve. (We’re long past “fool me once,” aren’t we?) And it’s not just Justice, but justice, that suffers.

It’s amazing that people who worried, loudly, about the “politicization” of travel agents in the White House Travel Office have nothing to say about the Bush administration turning the Department of Justice into a partisan quagmire. Career employees are leaving in droves, to be replaced by political hacks with an ideological agenda. Prosecutors and law enforcement used to be considered careers, not political spoils.

It’s not just Bush Justice, because it’s here in Arizona, too. Does anybody really think that GOP Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has any valid public purpose behind his demands to copy thousands of Phoenix City Hall emails? Does anybody really believe that GOP Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas wouldn’t use his office to harass and intimidate political and media opponents? Just ask state Attorney General Terry Goddard and Phoenix New Times if you have any doubts.

So it’s not just Bush. Our local Republicans are more than willing to use the criminal justice system for their political benefit. There’s justice, and there’s Republican Justice -- and they’re not the same thing.