Duck Blind Justice. If it quacks like a duck, it's only Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who last week did indeed quack like a duck in response to questions about whether he should recuse himself from judging a case brought before the Supreme Court by his friend Dick Cheney after details surfaced about a jet-setting duck-hunting trip he'd taken with the vice president three weeks after the case was filed.
The matter at hand is the secret meetings Cheney convened on U.S. energy policy shortly after the Bush administration took office. While California was enduring its industry-induced energy crisis (and the White House wouldn't even return phone calls from our senators), the same executives who were gaming the state were sitting in the White House, along with top oil execs and others (but not consumer groups or environmentalists), forming policy in secret. Despite being pressed by Congress, Cheney has refused to release any information on the meetings. Even the conservative organization Judicial Watch is so concerned over this new level of government secrecy that it joined in a lawsuit with the Sierra Club for release of the meeting's records. They prevailed in lower courts, so Cheney appealed it to the Supreme Court, where his friend Scalia sits.
Scalia has refused to recuse himself from the case, telling an audience at Amherst College two weeks ago, "It's acceptable practice to socialize with executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them. That's all I'm going to say for now. Quack, quack."
Hunting for Dollars. Sojourning in the outdoors evidently does a man good, according to a piece by Jane Meyer in the Feb. 23 New Yorker titled "Contract Sport: What did the vice president do for Halliburton?" She reports that it was on a 1995 fly-fishing trip with then-former Secretary of Defense Cheney that Halliburton executives decided he should be the company's new CEO, despite Cheney's having no prior business experience. It was on a 1998 quail-hunting trip that CEO Cheney negotiated Halliburton's $7.7 billion acquisition of Dresser Industries.
Meyer's article also cites how when Cheney ran the Pentagon, it paid Halliburton nearly $9 million to come up with strategies for privatizing support functions then done in-house by the military. Later, at Halliburton, CEO Cheney capitalized on the privatizing groundwork laid by Secretary Cheney, snorkeling up Pentagon contracts. Cheney earned $44 million for his efforts. The company gave over $700,000 to Republican candidates, who in turn gave Halliburton even more contracts. Despite having done business with terrorist-sponsor states such as Iran, Libya and, yes, Saddam Hussein's Iraq (some on the sly via the company's foreign subsidiaries), Halliburton was awarded no-bid contract after contract for the rebuilding of Iraq, where it remains despite apparent overbilling totaling hundreds of millions of dollars for troops' food and fuel, as well as whistleblowers' claims that the company is screwing taxpayers by paying top dollar for the goods it procures because, under its contract, the greater Halliburton's costs, the bigger its profit. When American soldiers are dying almost daily in Iraq and Iraqis are still without security or basic necessities, it's nice to know that someone's making out well there.
Faith-Based Intelligence. A commentator on CNN—sorry, don't remember who—joked recently that the White House had relied on "faith-based intelligence" in building its case for war with Iraq. Veteran Bush watchers have noticed that's often the case: conflicting facts or points of view are ignored by our "uniter" president. That's why we're deploying an untested $31 billion missile-defense shield that many experts say simply won't work. It's why the president's budget is upping funding for abstinence-only sex education from $100 million to $270 million, despite evidence it's far less effective than real sex education in preventing pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in our youth. And it's why more than 20 Nobel laureates and some 40 other distinguished scientists signed a declaration last week accusing the Bush administration of unprecedented censoring, distorting and manipulating of scientific findings to match its agenda in matters including global warming, power-plant emissions, AIDS research, the health hazards of farm wastes, lead poisoning in children and prewar Iraqi weapons capabilities. Watching the Watchdog. In his astute LA Times "Regarding Media" column, Tim Rutten doesn't shy from naming names when critiquing the lapses and follies of our media. His "Now Smear This: A web of deceit" piece last week properly castigated news sources that ran with the apparently baseless Matt Drudge web report that John Kerry had an affair with an intern and also those who accepted as real a doctored photo that posited Kerry alongside Jane Fonda at a 1970s antiwar rally. "As late as Tuesday," he wrote last Wednesday, "some papers were treating the photo as legitimate." Atypically, he didn't mention that one of the papers was his own, where the previous day, Times' staff political cartoonist Michael Ramirez drew Kerry embracing "Hanoi Jane" while trying to divert attention by pointing and shouting, "Quick! Look! A Texas Air National Guardsman!"
Running with a sliming falsehood is par for the course with Ramirez, who is nearly unique in the annals of political cartoonists. Where others use their pens to puncture the pompous and rail at the powerful, Ramirez ceaselessly sides with entrenched power. Conservatives may own the three branches of government and practically everything else, while questions abound about their misuse of power, but Ramirez reserves his ire for lesbians, environmentalists and now war heroes.
Warring on Warriors. If Kerry had been with Fonda, so what? Questioning a deceitful war, then and now, is an act of patriotism, and Kerry's patriotism had already been proved on the battlefield. As for that "Texas Air National Guardsman," Ramirez ignores that Kerry has refused to criticize Bush's Vietnam-era activities. But Ramirez's own paper and others have reported that even if Bush had shown up for duty (which is still in doubt), that duty could have consisted of merely sitting around reading magazines and flight manuals. It also appears obvious that Bush's acceptance in the then-battle-free Guard and its flight school—over hundreds of more qualified applicants—as well as his rank and early exit from the Guard were due to favoritism granted his rich and powerful family.
That evidently doesn't trouble Ramirez or conservative hate-cow Ann Coulter, the latter of whom has instead attacked triple-amputee Max Cleland in her syndicated column. Because the former senator dared to question the military credentials of a "war president" who cloaks himself in flight gear and battleships, Coulter went on the attack:
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"Maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam," she wrote, because his wounds occurred while picking up an errant grenade during an airlift instead of battle and, she claims, could have as easily happened to a Guardsman at home. "Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam."
Coulter didn't bother noting that Cleland's luck at limb-loss was heightened by this being the tail-end of the 1968 siege of Khe Sanh, where Captain Cleland had just endured four nonstop days of savage fighting, for which he was awarded the Silver Star for exposing himself to rocket and mortar fire in order to administer first aid to wounded comrades.
That evidently isn't enough to qualify Cleland to question the records of those in the administration who only grew rich off the wars fought by others. Instead she sneers at the "liberals who have suddenly become jock-sniffers for war veterans."
Foul Discharge? While the White House has argued that Bush's honorable discharge from the Guard is proof that he hadn't been AWOL, Harry Shearer noted on his Le Show (on KCRW-FM 89.9 Sundays at 10 a.m.) that accused D.C. sniper and former Guard member John Allen Muhammad had been AWOL, had struck a superior officer, had stolen and had other citations against him, yet he still received an honorable discharge. And Muhammad didn't even have Bush's family connections. You're Supporting Terrorists When You Masturbate! At least you'd think so, given the Bush administration's new push to keep porn out of your grasp, as reported in the Times on Valentine's Day. While the nation's ports remain largely undefended, the Justice Department is adding 51 new employees, including 10 FBI agents, to protect us from naked people pleasuring one another. The senior counsel heading up the election-year porn war is Bruce A. Taylor, who had worked at Justice during those fun Reagan years and previously headed Citizens for Decency Through Law, the organization founded by Charles Keating, who, through his other organization, Lincoln Savings and Loan, had no moral qualms about bilking elderly people out of their life's savings.