The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Civil war in Iraq only a surprise to the Bushies

It's gotten to the point where revelations like this only serve to remind me of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark-- just one more artifact wheeled into a giant warehouse never to be seen again. But in each of those crates is another example of this adminstration's willful ignorance of any information that doesn't mes with their desired reality.

U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.

Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions - not foreign terrorists - and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

The existence of the top-secret document, which was the subject of a bitter three-month debate among U.S. intelligence agencies, has not been previously disclosed to a wide public audience.

The reports received a cool reception from Bush administration policymakers at the White House and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the former officials, who discussed them publicly for the first time.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and others continued to describe the insurgency as a containable threat, posed mainly by former supporters of Saddam Hussein, criminals and non-Iraqi terrorists - even as the U.S. intelligence community was warning otherwise.

Robert Hutchings, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, said the October 2003 study was part of a "steady stream" of dozens of intelligence reports warning Bush and his top lieutenants that the insurgency was intensifying and expanding.

"Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios," Hutchings said in a telephone interview.

The office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte declined Tuesday to comment for this article.

Utah House rejects creationism bill

And they do it by a large margin. This is good to see.

House lawmakers scuttled a bill that would have required public school students to be told that evolution is not empirically proven-- the latest setback for critics of evolution.

The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Chris Buttars, had said it was time to rein in teachers who were teaching that man descended from apes and rattling the faith of students. The Senate earlier passed the measure 16-12.

But the bill failed in the House on a 28-46 vote Monday. The bill would have required teachers to tell students that evolution is not a fact and the state doesn't endorse the theory.

Buttars certainly isn't putting any intelligence into 'intelligent design.' Evolution doesn't claim that humans are descended from apes. Should a guy who'd flunk jr. high science really be passing state laws?

The increasing irrelevance of The New Republic

Hopefully with Franklin Foer taking the helm the moribund magazine will come back from the brink. As they've moved further and further right during the Bush years, circulation has dropped from more than 100,000 to just 62,000.

There have been a number of trivial and silly pieces appearing there lately, like assaults on musician Conor Oberst (better known as the frontman for Bright Eyes) and hipster commentator Sarah Vowell. But it's pieces like Ryan Lizza's recent article on the Hillary Clinton menace that show how brain-dead the magazine has become.

While there are plenty of lefties populating Hillaryland [Look, Ma, I made a funny!], especially in her circle of female confidantes, the spirit of the place is far from the communist salon imagined by the right. Read, for example, an excerpt of the mission statement of HillPAC, which is the closest thing in Hillaryland to her national platform:

We believe America must return to the path of fiscal responsibility that led to unprecedented prosperity during the 1990's, helping to create more than 22 million new jobs and leading to historic, low levels of unemployment, inflation, crime, and interest rates and high levels of home ownership, access to education and productivity.

HILLPAC supports candidates who are working to restore investor confidence, ensure corporate accountability and protect workers' pensions.

There are very few Democrats whose central message is about interest rates, crime, productivity, and investor confidence. And the ones who exist have been hounded into silence in recent years by the Internet left. Hang out in Hillaryland long enough and you realize it has embraced almost none of the hyperpartisan culture of the so-called netroots that many Democrats are chasing. And the makeup of Hillary's core political consulting team suggests that's not going to change.

Why a multi-page "expose" of Hillary Clinton's inner circle? Nobody really cares about her except for the Bushies. But TNR has become increasingly antagonistic toward bloggers recently. The Internet left hounding Democrats into silence? So-called netroots? How could a demographic he qualifies with the term 'so-called' manage to have so much power over whatever unnamed Democrats he's referring to?

I used to really like The New Republic for their committment to accuracy and objectivity. But unsubtantiated attacks and angry editorializing have become commonplace in the pages of TNR, and that sort of thing should really be left to Bill O'Reilly. It just stinks of the sort of self-congratulatory attitude of Beltway pundits that they're the only ones fit to speak out on politics. And the more they decry those they deem unworthy, the more readers seem to be tuning out.

Another day, another corrupt Republican.

Amazing. Over the weekend Florida's Kathryn Harris and Virginia's Virgil Goode were tied to dirty money through the case of Randy Cunningham. Now we travel to Georgia for yet another vacation getaway courtesy of Abramoff & Co.

A Georgia congressman omitted a trip paid for by a client of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff from travel disclosure forms, even though he declared it on his personal income filings, Raw Story has found.

The congressman -- Rep. John Linder (R-GA) -- took a five-day trip to Puerto Rico with his wife in August 1998. The trip was paid for by Future of Puerto Rico, Inc., a nebulous lobbying group that sought to advance Puerto Rican statehood and other island causes. The group was a client of Jack Abramoff, the former conservative superlobbyist who pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in January.

Linder, the longest-serving Republican in the Georgia House delegation, was first elected in 1992. He sits on several powerful committees -- including Ways and Means and Homeland Security -- and was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1996-1998.

The GOP defense that 'everybody does it' is proving to be a grim reality-- on one side of the aisle, anyway.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The GOP loves our (healthy) troops. Screw the rest.

Hang on to your magnetic yellow ribbons, folks. Even the awesome power of those positive vibes emanating from your SUVs might not be enough to help this time.

At least tens of thousands of veterans with non-critical medical issues could suffer delayed or even denied care in coming years to enable President Bush to meet his promise of cutting the deficit in half — if the White House is serious about its proposed budget.

After an increase for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing by leaps and bounds, White House budget documents assume a cutback in 2008 and further cuts thereafter.

In fact, the proposed cuts are so draconian that it seems to some that the White House is simply making them up to make its long-term deficit figures look better. More realistic numbers, however, would raise doubts as to whether Bush can keep his promise to wrestle the deficit under control by the time he leaves office.

Keep in mind that health care costs are rising at more than twice the rate of inflation. Also take note that prominent Republicans are probably starting to think that dropping Bush in the shark tank might be their only hope for staying in office. The Democratic strategy should be to constantly remind people of just how often incumbent Republicans have merrily gone along with White House scams in the name of power. I've said it before, but somebody with money and a research staff needs to find out how often every Republican Congressman has voted with the White House.

Nookyalur President goes radioactive

It's been funny to hear pundits from both sides predict that the port sale wouldn't be much of an issue with mainstream America.* It might be enough to rub off on GOP imcumbents through election day, but my own opinion that it would have a tangible effect on the White House seems to have been vindicated.

The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they're opposed to the agreement. (. . .)

Still, the [shooting] incident appears to have made the public's already negative view of Cheney a more so. Just 18 percent said they had a favorable view of the vice president, down from 23 percent in January.

Even when some polls showed Bush's approval below 40% lately, most of the talking heads put it in the "low to mid- forties." I thought even that was pretty optimistic, given the endless stream of bad news from the economy to corruption to the war. But as time moves on and the White House is more and more frequently telling the public that things are just peachy when they obviously aren't, more of true believers are peeled away. It really is getting to the point where the only people supporting this administration are dyed-in-the-wool "my party right or wrong" kooks.

* For instance, this breathtakingly arrogant statement from ABC's "The Note," touted as the insider's go-to page for what the day's news cycle will bring:

Port security:

(If you expected The Note to report on the meaning of the flap, the delay, the brouhaha, the whole thing — you expected wrong.
Wake us when it’s over.)

The Note: fingers squarely on the pulse of mainstream America.

UPDATE (2/28): Those clever wags at The Note are now saying that this bit was an "experiment in which we see how easy it is to get liberal bloggers and e-mailers mad at us, and the beginning of the experiment in which we see how mad they get when we joke about their getting mad." Which reminds me a lot of what an elementary school student would consider brilliant playground strategy. "Ha! I convinced you I was an idiot! You fell into my trap!" What it doesn't do is explain why these masterminds actually didn't comment on the port sales.

Here's an exclusive for the social scientists at The Note: it's really pretty easy to elicit outraged hate mail from Internet users. And it doesn't make any difference whether they're liberals, conservatives, Lindsay Lohan fans, or speedwalkers. Now can we get back to the news?

Monday Funny: Guy walks into a bar edition

Passed on from a source I'll refer to only as M.O.T.H.E.R. is this joke making the rounds on what I'll only refer to as "Internets." In an every-so-slightly edited version.

The President, First Lady and Dick Cheney were flying on Air Force One.

George looked at Laura, chuckled and said, You know, I could throw a $1,000.00 bill out of the window right now and make somebody very happy.

Laura shrugged her shoulders and replied I could throw ten $100.00 bills out of the window and make ten people very happy.

Cheney added, That being the case, I could throw one hundred $10.00 bills out of the window and make a hundred people very happy.

Hearing their exchange, the pilot rolled his eyes and said to his co-pilot,

"Hell, I could throw all of them out of the window and make 256 million people ecstatic."

Coast Guard stated security concerns prior to port sale

Oops. Another apparent lie from the White House has bitten the dust. And along with it, another right-wing talking point.

Citing broad gaps in U.S. intelligence, the Coast Guard cautioned the Bush administration that it was unable to determine whether a United Arab Emirates-owned company might support terrorist operations, a Senate panel said Monday.

The surprise disclosure came during a hearing on Dubai-owned DP World's plans to take over significant operations at six leading U.S. ports. The port operations are now handled by London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company.

"There are many intelligence gaps, concerning the potential for DPW or P&O assets to support terrorist operations, that precludes an overall threat assessment of the potential" merger," an undated Coast Guard intelligence assessment says.

"The breadth of the intelligence gaps also infer potential unknown threats against a large number of potential vulnerabilities," the document says.

Won't it be nice to have an administration that doesn't lie to the public as calmly as they breathe air?

Today in GOP corruption

It just keeps coming, don't it?

*Katherine Harris' hopes for reaching the US Senate (which weren't too hot to begin with) just took another turn for the worse. Looks like she was accepting donations in exchange for favors even before it was in fashion.

*Missouri's governor Matt Blunt-- also facing an uphill re-election battle-- has decided it's time to bring out the bug guns in pandering to the fundamentalist right by trying to ban the 'morning after pill'. Which would result in hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies each year. Of course, after they're born, it's no concern of the fundies whether they live or die. (Thanks to Shallow Larynx, our man in Missouri.)

*Disgraced doughy guy Randall "Duke" Cunningham was a little more organized in how he took his bribes-- he actually composed a "bribe menu" detailing how much his intervention in the legislative process would cost potential beneficiaries. (Thanks to Mil Apodos, our man from everywhere... and nowhere.)

*Two more members of Ohio's Republican machine have been convicted due to their involvement in the Coingate scandal, bringing the total to five-- including the governor. That figure doesn't include non-politicos like Tom Noe, who was the guy spreading the cash around in return for government favors. (Thanks to OD1, our man in Ohio.)

*Army auditors flagged some $250 million in dubious charges by Halliburton in their no-bid contracting in Iraq. They've decided that the American taxpayer is going to fork it over anyway.

Ahhhh, another beautiful day in the republic.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

At least Afghanistan is under control... right?

Reports have come out about a prison in Afghanistan that's a sort of 'Gitmo on steroids.' Many prisoners, horrific conditions, no charges, no representation. And in a particularly Soviet-era touch, photographs of the facility aren't allowed. But they're having a little trouble with prison management over there these days.

Hundreds of Afghan security forces have surrounded a notorious high-security jail where an uprising by up to 2,000 prisoners is under way.

Taleban and al-Qaeda members as well as ordinary criminals are involved.

Sources have told the BBC that seven people have been killed during the rioting, although top Afghan officials have denied any deaths.

Scores of security forces continued to arrive at Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi jail as negotiation attempts apparently failed. (. . .)

Our correspondent said gunshots could still be heard from within the prison walls.

Trouble apparently started at about 2200 (1730 GMT) on Saturday in Block 2 - which houses 1,300 inmates - after a change in prison uniform rules.

By Sunday evening local time, up to 750 inmates jailed for ordinary criminal offences in another block had begun burning furniture in support of the Block 2 prisoners.

Some reports said the riot developed into an escape attempt, with prisoners trying to get over the walls.

Negotiation attempts? Since when do we negotiate with terrorists. Oh yeah, since the Iran-Contra deal.

250 Cheney 'Plamegate' e-mails turned over to Fitzgerald

The remarkably leak-proof investigation of Patrick Fitzgerald into the revelation of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame took another turn at the end of the week. I wouldn't put too much stock in the purported 'explosive' nature of the documents, especially if they were given up without a fight, but at least the investigation is still on track.

The White House turned over last week 250 pages of emails from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. Senior aides had sent the emails in the spring of 2003 related to the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald revealed during a federal court hearing Friday.

The emails are said to be explosive, and may prove that Cheney played an active role in the effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s prewar Iraq intelligence, sources close to the investigation said.

Sources close to the probe said the White House “discovered” the emails two weeks ago and turned them over to Fitzgerald last week. The sources added that the emails could prove that Cheney lied to FBI investigators when he was interviewed about the leak in early 2004. Cheney said that he was unaware of any effort to discredit Wilson or unmask his wife’s undercover status to reporters.

Cheney was not under oath when he was interviewed. He told investigators how the White House came to rely on Niger documents that purportedly showed that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country.

Cheney said he had received an intelligence briefing on the allegations in late December 2003, or early January 2004, and had asked the CIA for more information about the issue.

Cheney said he was unaware that Ambassador Wilson was chosen to travel to Niger to look into the uranium claims, and that he never saw a report Wilson had given a CIA analyst upon his return which stated that the Niger claims were untrue. He said the CIA never told him about Wilson's trip.

However, the emails say otherwise, and will show that the vice president spearheaded an effort in March 2003 to attack Wilson’s credibility and used the CIA to dig up information on the former ambassador that could be used against him, sources said.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

WIlliam F. Buckley declares opposition to war

In the National Review yesterday, one of the prime movers of the post-Goldwater conservative movement called the Iraq venture a failure. In fact, he concedes that the policy of sending such a small force in to depose a nation's government and then secure the entire nation was a mistake. And this comes just after a new wave of right-wing groups have started airing paid ads claiming that this is a lie propagated by the 'liberal media.'

One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samara and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that “The bombing has completely demolished” what was being attempted — to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.

The Iraqis we hear about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans aren't on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors. And so they join the clothing merchant who says that everything is the fault of the Americans.

Perhaps it's just a signal that prominent conservatives are ready to throw this entire administration to the wolves in hopes of maintaining Republican dominance of the government. The UAE port sales demonstrated a distinct shift away from lockstep party discipline in an election year when the increasing public opposition to the war and the administration could spell big trouble for GOP incumbents. The vigor with which candidates try to distance themselves from the Bushies is directly proportional to the vigor with which Democratic condidates should highlight their support for White House policies.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Your Tax Dollars at War

Crooks & Liars has a video clip from The Daily Show all about the cost of war in Iraq. From the good ol' days of being reassured that it wouldn't cost the US any more than $1.7 billion to the $300 billion disaster it's become. And in a moment so disturbing it'll make the flesh crawl right off of your bones, Jon Stewart points out that that breaks down to $2,083 for every taxpayer. Just subtract it from your $300 tax rebate from 2001.

BONUS CLIP: C&L has also just put up a truly bizarre clip of Rita Crosby, she of the voice like honey poured over gravel, accusing Democrats of recruiting convicted felons in their vote drives. Chrs Matthews and Joe Scarborough are clearly taken aback at this mystifying proclamation, but what no one seems to notice is that A) she sees 'hoodlum' as synonymous with 'black' in her tirade, and B) she seems to be confusing efforts to ensure that people are granted their constitutional rights with a strange cabal to woo underworld figures. It's incredible that stupefying drivel of this sort qualifies as informed political analysis on today's cable news channels.

Rasmussen poll shows Dems leading on security

This isn't earth-shattering news, but it does indicate the potential benefit to Democrats in tying Repubicans to the UAE port sale-- and otherwise citing the laundry list of Bush family ties to nations that are dubious allies in the 'war on terror.'

Just 17% of Americans believe Dubai Ports World should be allowed to purchase operating rights to several U.S. ports. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that 64% disagree and believe the sale should not be allowed.

From a political perspective, President Bush's national security credentials have clearly been tarnished due to the outcry over this issue. For the first time ever, Americans have a slight preference for Democrats in Congress over the President on national security issues. Forty-three percent (43%) say they trust the Democrats more on this issue today while 41% prefer the President.

NEWS FLASH: Some faith-based programs proselytize

Unsurprising headlines are everywhere these days, but at least this is another blow to Rick "Spreading" Santorum. It's one of his pet projects.

The Silver Ring Thing, based in suburban Pittsburgh, is a nationwide program that uses music and comedy skits to promote premarital abstinence. The ACLU claimed in a May lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston that the program was crossing the line by using federal grant money to urge teens to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.

During the past three years, the federal government has awarded more than $1 million to the Silver Ring Thing.

The Department of Health and Human Services suspended funding for the program in August, citing concerns that "the federal project that is funded ... includes both secular and religious components that are not adequately separated."

It terminated the grant, effective Jan. 31.

Total Information Awareness alive and well

It was reported earlier this week that a Defense Department program that paid Iraqi journalists to produce pro-US stories that Rumsfeld had vowed to stop is, in fact, fully functioning. Rummy explained that it was undergoing a "review process."

Now it looks like another program of dubious legality (that's putting it kindly) is enjoying the same secret life.

A controversial counter-terrorism program, which lawmakers halted more than two years ago amid outcries from privacy advocates, was stopped in name only and has quietly continued within the intelligence agency now fending off charges that it has violated the privacy of U.S. citizens.

Research under the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness program -- which developed technologies to predict terrorist attacks by mining government databases and the personal records of people in the United States -- was moved from the Pentagon's research-and-development agency to another group, which builds technologies primarily for the National Security Agency, according to documents obtained by National Journal and to intelligence sources familiar with the move. The names of key projects were changed, apparently to conceal their identities, but their funding remained intact, often under the same contracts.

It is no secret that some parts of TIA lived on behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget. However, the projects that moved, their new code names, and the agencies that took them over haven't previously been disclosed. Sources aware of the transfers declined to speak on the record for this story because, they said, the identities of the specific programs are classified.

Admin's 'economic boom' spin is a bust

As if we didn't know, the White House's rosy proclamations on the vigor of the US economy aren't all they're cracked up to be. They just look rosy when you fiddle with averages. As Robert Reich just put it on Al Franken's show, "if you take me and Shaquille O'Neal, our average height is 6'1"." Robert Reich is 4'10" tall. So it's pretty misleading to take America's richest, who are benefitting from Bush's policies to the tune of hundreds of thousands a year, it can make the unpleasant reality of the working poor sound a little more sunny. But they aren't benefitting at all.

In his State of the Union address last month, George W. Bush described an economy that is "healthy and vigorous." A new report from the Federal Reserve explains why it might not feel that way to you.

The Fed says that average family income, after adjusting for inflation, fell more than 2 percent between 2001 and 2004 -- a dramatic and unhappy turnaround from the 17 percent gain in average after-inflation income Americans enjoyed during the prior three-year period.

Of course, income averages tell only part of the economic story. Some of the other numbers are worse, and they suggest that the rich-getting-richer, poor-getting-poorer dynamic is alive and well in America today. For the poorest 20 percent of America's families, the Fed says, median net worth dropped 11 percent, to $7,500, between 2001 and 2004. For the richest 10 percent, it rose by a respectable 4 percent, to $924,100.

But even for those lucky ducks, the gains may be short-lived. The Fed says that a major part of the growth in net worth came from the explosion in housing prices over the last three years. If the real estate bubble finally bursts -- and it's sure feeling leaky in some parts -- those paper gains could disappear. Don't expect renters to shed any tears. The Fed says homeowners saw a 1 percent increase in their net worth over the last three years. For renters, it was a 22 percent drop.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lou Dobbs blasts the White House

In this link, Dobbs points out the various business ties between White House officials and the UAE.

The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is a major investor in The Carlyle Group, the private equity investment firm where President Bush's father once served as senior adviser and is a who's who of former high-level government officials. Just last year, Dubai International Capital, a government-backed buyout firm, invested in an $8 billion Carlyle fund.

Another family connection, the president's brother, Neil Bush, has reportedly received funding for his educational software company from the UAE investors. A call to his company was not returned.

Then there is the cabinet connection. Treasury Secretary John Snow was chairman of railroad company CSX/. After he left the company for the White House, CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World for more than a billion dollars.

In this link, Dobbs takes Bush up on his ludicrous challenge to explain what difference there is between UK management of a port and UAE control of a port. Fish in a barrel.

President Bush has put forth a challenge tonight that I simply can't ignore. The president yesterday said he wanted those who are critical and questioning of this port deal to "step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company."

Well, first of all, Mr. President, to equate any country to your principal partner in the coalition ignores that special relationship this country's enjoyed with the United Kingdom for decades and decades. This also is not just a British company and an Arab company, as I think you well know.

Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation is a British privately owned company. Dubai Ports World is a UAE government controlled and owned company. You see the difference, of course.

And furthermore, the money used to fund the 9/11 attacks, most of it, in fact, was sent to the hijackers through the UAE banking system. In fact, two of the hijackers were originally from the UAE.

Prior to this story, the Carlyle Group's greatest media exposure was through Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11-- which no rightie would regard as anything but baseless propaganda. And any press about the machinations of the military-industrial complex is welcome as far as I'm concerned. When outfits the GOP have relentlessly portrayed as enemies of America are shown to be bedfellows of prominent Republicans, it can only add to the momentum of Democrats in the coming elections. When neo-fascist stalwarts like Bill Frist, Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay are taking a stand against the White House, and media figures like Lou Dobbs are this openly critical of the administration, we've really got got something. Democrats should be tripping over themselves shouting their opposition and reminding America that national security is only a concern to Republicans when it doesn't mean smaller profits.

Rove begins the backtracking on port sales

Just heard this on Ed Schultz-- Rove announced that the president is now willing to hold off the transaction to allow time for an investigation.

The right-wing talking heads are going to have their work cut out for them doing a 180 from this week's tough talk from the pres, who's now caving to massive pressure from all sides.

More info on this as I find it.

Sectarian violence on the rise in Iraq

There are a lot of worried people in Washington in the wake of yesterday's attack on a Shiite shrine. While it might not be indicative of a full-blown civil war, it puts already-overworked American troops in a dangerous position.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani warned that widespread rebellion could engulf his war-torn country, as sectarian bloodshed over the past two days have claimed the lives of more than 130 people.

Most of those killed are believed to be Sunnis who were gunned down in a wave of retaliation attacks after the bombing Wednesday of a revered Shiite shrine that has left dozens of mosques damaged or in ruins, prompting fears of civil war, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The upsurge in sectarian killings came after suspected al-Qaeda linked militants attacked the 1,000-year-old Imam Ali al-Hadi mausoleum, known as the Golden Mosque, one of the country’s main Shiite shrines, in Samarra, north of Baghdad, sparking militia battles and sectarian reprisals.

A spokesman for the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars blamed the violence on the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and other Shiite religious leaders who called for demonstrations against the shrine attack, reports the Associated Press.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

GOP senator favors publicly-financed elections

That Ohio's Republican Senator Goerge Voinovich is on board is great news, but the issue isn't even on the radar of the mainstream press. Al Franken has been making some cogent and compelling arguments in favor of the measure recently, but the bad news is that the public might tune out when they hear the words 'publically-financed.'

The truth is that taxpayers would stand to save billions by taking funding away from big business, who invariably use their millions to enact legislation that benefits their bottom line, and not the worker or consumer. And government would save billions by getting rid of corporate-backed earmarks. And facing the largest deficits in world history, we could certainly stand to free up some tax dollars.

Sen. George Voinovich, Ethics Committee chairman and a sometime gadfly to Republican leadership, is warming to Democratic-backed proposals for public financing of federal elections.

Voinovich (R-Ohio) told The Hill that he has met with Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) to discuss collaboration on the public-financing pitch Durbin is crafting with Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), the Rules Committee’s ranking Democrat. Snagging the endorsement of Voinovich, who last year bucked his party by opposing the confirmation of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and has so far taken a supporting role in the GOP’s push for lobbying reform, could give the public-financing concept considerable momentum.

“Maybe it is the answer,” Voinovich said. “Too much of our time is spent raising money, time spent campaigning, time buying TV ads. When everyone’s out there trying to raise money, dialing for dollars ... until we deal with this issue you’re going to continue to have problems.”

Voinovich’s enthusiasm for a public financing system, versions of which have been instituted at state and local levels in seven states, comes as Republicans continue to hammer out a lobbying-reform package that can be swiftly marked up after this week’s recess.

Public financing is unlikely to show up in either the Senate or House leadership’s lobbying and ethics overhauls, but Voinovich joins a growing chorus of members seeking to add new campaign-finance restrictions to any broader institutional cleanup effort.


Salon has posted a chilling story that demonstrates this admnistration's committment to simply doing away with the concepts of accountability, transparency, and checks & balances. There's a reason that progressives refer to Bush as George II, opposed Alito in part for his support of the "unitary executive" theory, and are ready to fight with everything we've got to regain the leglislative branch this fall. Because if we don't, the nation really will be in the thrall of neo-fascism.

On March 25, 2003, President Bush signedExecutive Order 13292, a hitherto little known document that grants the greatest expansion of the power of the vice president in American history. The order gives the vice president the same ability to classify intelligence as the president. By controlling classification, the vice president can in effect control intelligence and, through that, foreign policy.

Bush operates on the radical notion of the "unitary executive," that the president has inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances. By his extraordinary order, he elevated Cheney to his level, an acknowledgment that the vice president was already the de facto executive in national security. Never before has any president diminished and divided his power in this manner. Now the unitary executive inherently includes the unitary vice president.

The unprecedented executive order bears the earmarks of Cheney's former counsel and current chief of staff, David Addington. Addington has been the closest assistant to Cheney through three decades, since Cheney served in the House of Representatives in the 1980s. Inside the executive branch, far and wide, Addington acts as Cheney's vicar, bullying and sarcastic, inspiring fear and obedience. Few documents of concern to the vice president, even executive orders, reach the eyes of the president without passing first through Addington's agile hands.

Highly recommended.

More Republicans against port sales

MSNBC has an article that quotes several Republican legislators stating unequivocally that they oppose the sale, and have the votes to override a veto. It's nice to see the word 'debacles' early in the article.

On the heels of debacles over government eavesdropping, Katrina recovery and Vice President Cheney’s hunting accident, people in both parties are suggesting the port security issue is another case of Bush appearing to be tone deaf to controversy. (. . .)

Republican Rep. Peter King and Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, both of New York, said they will introduce emergency legislation to suspend the ports deal.

“I will fight harder than ever for this legislation, and if it is vetoed I will fight as hard as I can to override it,” said King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., also indicated Bush faced a serious struggle.

“This deal doesn't pass the national security test,” Saxton said. “I think it's a mistake. If necessary, Congress should act independently of the President. Frankly, I think we can override a veto. We have more than enough votes to do it.”

“I think somebody dropped the ball. Information should have flowed more freely and more quickly up into the White House. I think it has been mishandled in terms of coming forward with adequate information,” said Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y.

UPDATE (2/23): House Speaker Dennis Hastert has come out against the port sale, and so has former Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Can such things be?

Several shocking items have come out today, so I'll just list 'em.

1. Treasury Secretary John Snow stood to make a bundle by selling port management to another government. According to the Majority Report, $33 million. And he only scored that amount if management changed hands within a set amount of time. The Carlyle Group and Neil Bush are also involved in cutting deals with the UAE.

2. The Falafel King, Bill O'Reilly, actually said on the air that we should get our troops out of Iraq "as fast as humanly possible." Just a few months ago, he was comparing war critics to Nazis.

Okay, so the first one isn't really shocking. Except in the sense that the mainstream press is actually picking up the story. That's very bad news for BushCo, and as I've said before this story just isn't going to wash with the angry Republican base.

There's another interesting angle on the port story that's developing. It isn't going to be used by the Hannitys and Limbaughs out there, and you'll see why. One defense of the transaction is that it would be "racist" to deny the UAE the right to manage reports. Of course, the GOP regularly relies on racism to get out the vote, and it's lily-livered liberals who are supposed to be dangerously naive when it comes to race. Not to mention that the race issue is a complete straw man-- this isn't about skin color, but security issues surrounding control of US ports by a government that has clearly supported terrorism in the past.

(Ambrose Bierce reference in the title, there. He's a favorite of mine.)

Choosing sides on the port sale issue

I'm actually linking to a right-wing blog here. But I have a couple of reasons for doing so. First is the post itself-- a slightly amusing letter from a Republican Representative to the White House.

As some politicians voice their support for Bush on this issue, including McCain and good ol' Joe Lieberman (technically it's not so much direct support, but a "let's wait 'till all the facts are in before judging").

But what's most interesting about the post are the comments from their rightie fans. It gives a good indication of how the Bushies will respond to critics. It's basically the above statement-- don't go flying off the handle without knowing all the facts.

Normally that's sensible advice. Which you only hear from the neo-fascists when they need some time for damage control.

The facts are quite simple, really. The UAE has concrete links to terrorists, supported the Taliban, and has become a major crossroads for black market arms shipments and money laundering. They shouldn't be managing US ports.

Religious attacks in Iraq prompt retaliation.

The report of rising tensions between the Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq is a worrisome development. One of the most dreaded outcomes of Rumsfeld's committment to low troop levels in Iraq was a religious civil war. There are indications that it's brewing.

Thousands of Iraqis have gathered at the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, where two men blew up the famous golden dome in a dawn raid.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual head of Iraq's Shia Muslims, has called for a week of mourning.

Shias in Baghdad attacked at least five Sunni mosques in reprisal raids, with disturbances reported in other cities.

The BBC's Jon Brain in Baghdad says the attack was almost certainly designed to raise the existing tensions between the majority Shia and minority Sunni populations.

The shrine is one of two tombs in Samarra for revered Shia imams, which attract pilgrims from around the world.

It was attacked one day after at least 22 people died when a car bomb exploded in a market in a Shia neighbourhood of southern Baghdad.

If things do break down, it will mean a more active role for Shiite-controlled Iran, which has already been reported as sending arms to Iraqi insurgents.

Port deal skirted mandatory security investigation

Salon has a link-filled piece outling the latest developments, and it's a classic "lying or incompetent" situation. But it looks like the White House's defense is going to be the Enron defense: I didn't know what my underlings were doing.

It seems like just yesterday -- and, in fact, it was -- that George W. Bush was insisting that the plan to turn over control of six U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World, a company controlled by the government of Dubai, had been subjected to "careful review" by "people responsible in our government."

But just before Bush spoke yesterday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace said they didn't hear about the plan until this weekend. And now the White House is saying that the president didn't learn about the plan until "the last several days" -- which is another way of saying, after his administration had already approved it.

So here's a question: If the "people responsible in our government" aren't the president, the secretary of defense or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are they? The answer, it seems, is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is headed by Treasury Secretary John Snow, who used to be the chairman of CSX Rail, which sold its own port operations to Dubai Ports World in 2004. Snow's committee approved the Dubai Ports World deal earlier this month after a brief review. Federal law requires that the committee engage in a 45-day investigation -- and leave the final decision to the president -- when the plans of a company controlled by a foreign government could affect U.S. national security. Snow's committee didn't engage in such an investigation, and administration officials are apparently at a loss to explain why not.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

U.A.E. company would control US military shipments

In my previous post, I cited only the practical and political issues surrounding the sale of port security to a state-owned Dubai firm. There has been an incredibly amount of political hay-making since 2000, and one might be inclined to write this off as much ado about nothing.

Think Progress points out another reason (aside from the UAE's history of blocking our efforts to bring terrorists to justice) that this business venture is a hugely troubling proposition:

A major part of the story, however, has been mostly overlooked. The company, Dubai Ports World, would also control the movement of military equipment on behalf of the U.S. Army through two other ports. From today’s edition of the British paper Lloyd’s List:

[P&O] has just renewed a contract with the United States Surface Deployment and Distribution Command to provide stevedoring [loading and unloading] of military equipment at the Texan ports of Beaumont and Corpus Christi through 2010.

If I may be so bold, I'll address the racial dimension of this issue. After all, Ann Coulter recently used the term 'ragheads' before a conservative audience to huge applause. With Karl Rove leading the charge, the GOP has gleefully exploited racial fears to win elections over the last few decades. And this could be an instance when the GOP is hoist by its own petard. They've repeatedly encouraged political action on the basis of race to such a point that their most fervent and ignorant supporters will finally be hard-pressed to defend this proposal. Mr. White Fundamentalist Patriot would not only send American jobs abroad, but he'd send them to the land of the 'ragheads'-- those they've been taught to hate for the last three and a half years.

Republicans join Dems against port sale

Bill Frist, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki-- those are a few prominent Republicans who are speaking out against the 'outsourcing' of security to a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates.

Who's for it? Michael Chertoff and Alberto Gonzales are talking it up, which means that the White House engineered the deal.

It clearly isn't going to happen, for several reasons. The most obvious is outsourcing security of US ports to the terrorist-supporting UAE. But supporting the venture would be political suicide for anyone seeking re-election this year. And it would demolish the GOP's favorite 21st century applause line: Democrats are weak on national defense.

In fact, it is so clearly, obviously, inevitably doomed to failure that you've got to wonder why the White House continues to push for it. Clearly someone stands to profit in a big way. But who is it, and what do they hope to gain?

UPDATE: Ed Schultz has a theory-- Secretary of the Treasury John Snowe, formerly in the shipping business and with a history of deals with the UAE. And we all know of the Bush family's dealing in the Middle East, from Iraq to Saudi Arabia to Bahrain.

UPDATE: Bush is actually threatening to exercise veto power-- for the first time during his term in office-- to make sure this business deal goes through. There isn't even a remote chance that it would survive an override vote. But the White House is likely to drop even further in the polls if this story dominates the news this week.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Yes, ANOTHER post on the Cheney shooting

One thing I failed to notice over the last eight days is that the right-wing pundits' fervent insistence that this isn't news can only mean one thing-- they're worried.

And although I'm fairly tired of the story myself (hunting mishaps, humjobs-- I'd rather focus on world-changing news), if this is what it takes for the press to grow a spine and start calling the White House on their evasions and inconsistencies, so be it.

The thing is, the more the press roots around on this seemingly simple story, the more troubling it becomes. Every new piece of information seems to suggest that Cheney's primary objective was to cover up the story and prevent it from ever seeing the light of day. And everything that's occurred since last weekend has been done in the name of managing the damage done after the initial attempts to keep a lid on the story failed.

Considering that the story made the respective covers of Time and Newsweek, it's going to be water-cooler talk for at least another week. And the right-wing might suffer from an acute case of Nicole Holloway Syndrome. Fox News has devoted massive amounts of airtime to the case of a missing white chick, and they might fall victim to their own petard. They've inspired other cable news channels to emulate their 'success,' which stems in large part from covering the salacious at the expense of the relevant.

Moving on to the latest bit of info (the first paragraph cites Time's article):

But the statement 'didn't say much of anything,' [Cheney aide Mary] Matalin says—not even that Cheney was the shooter. Matalin then spoke with a second aide and with Cheney's family and heard different versions of what had happened in the shooting. She decided no statement should be released amid the confusion. Matalin spoke with Cheney, and, she says, they agreed that 'a fuller accounting, with an eyewitness,' would be preferable.

Time also reports a poll showing that almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) think Cheney should have taken immediate responsibility for the shooting incident. His approval rating stands at 29%; President Bush's approval rating is 40%.

And if you haven't seen the footage of Matalin's nonsensical defense of Cheney from yesterday's Face th' Nation, it's been a hot topic on Air America and the blogs today. Crooks & Liars has it here (14-meg file).

UPDATE (2/21): The late night shows are still running with the story.

Leno: I don't want to say that Cheney drinks a lot of martinis, but he has the only reported case of liver with onions.

Ferguson: Cheney's doctor told him to stay away from alcohol, so he bought a 12-foot straw.

Stewart: I don't want to say that Cheney drinks a lot, but he once got an alcohol rub and almost broke his neck trying to lick it off.

C & L has a clip from Letterman with a satirical political ad that concludes with "Cheney: Just a Big Bowl of Bad."

Do as I say, not as I do.

Mil Apodos (aka 'The Colossus of Oaxaca') provided me with a welcome chance to be a complete smartass. Bush has been hitting the campaign trail (never has one man run so much for so little) to talk up his new initiatives on weaning the nation off foreign oil-- which apparently include encouraging private donations to alternative energy companies while his administration hands out billions of tax dollars in subsidies to big oil.

For me, the article is all about one little sentence that shows just how seriously the administration takes its committment to America's energy independence:

While Bush is highlighting his budget proposals to help wean America from foreign oil, the lab he visited is meeting a $28 million shortfall by cutting its staff by 32 people, including eight researchers.

Maybe he's trying to replace the Bush Doctrine with the Magoo Doctrine.

UPDATE (2/21): Mil Apodos spoils the fun, but at least the result is a good one. The 32 workers fired from the renewable energy laboratory he visited yesterday were in the process of being reinstated in the days leading up to Bush's visit. Bush says it was a bureaucratic snafu-- and I'll bet those 32 employees have never been happier to see the president. The WaPo has an article about it:

The Energy Department said it has come up with $5 million to immediately restore jobs cut at a renewable energy laboratory President George W. Bush will visit on Tuesday, avoiding a potentially embarrassing moment as the president promotes his energy plan.

Twilight of the Neocons

Neoconservative scholar Francis Fukuyama isn't a guy I agree with too often, but I think his piece in the New York Times is fascinating stuff. Political science isn't my thing. At all. But I'm fairly well-versed in philosophy-- particularly political philosophy and the philosophy of science starting with the mid-18th century. I'm also a staunch opponent of Hegel and his philosphical heir, Marx. On the other hand, I'm a big fan of Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell. And Fukuyama makes some very interesting observations that compare the neoconservative movement with the sort of pseudoscientific historical determinism of Hegel and Marx that, to me, has represented the greatest obstacle to democracy and freedom in the last two centuries. While I am sympathetic to some of the goals of Marx, e.g. social justice and equality, the tragic reality of Marxism is that it has invariably resulted in a totalitarian nightmare when practiced.

In describing the neoconservative movement as "Leninist," Fukuyama touches on the arguments made by Sir Karl Popper in the 1950s: war is inevitable and moral, history is to be shaped through force, and oligarchy is the most efficient form of government.

But rather than writing an extended piece on political philosophy, I'll just direct you to Fukuyama's piece and Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume 2.

A few passages:

In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support. (. . .)

There were other reasons as well why the world did not accept American benevolent hegemony. In the first place, it was premised on American exceptionalism, the idea that America could use its power in instances where others could not because it was more virtuous than other countries. The doctrine of pre-emption against terrorist threats contained in the 2002 National Security Strategy was one that could not safely be generalized through the international system; America would be the first country to object if Russia, China, India or France declared a similar right of unilateral action. The United States was seeking to pass judgment on others while being unwilling to have its own conduct questioned in places like the International Criminal Court. (. . .)

The United States needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries. The world today lacks effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action; creating new organizations that will better balance the dual requirements of legitimacy and effectiveness will be the primary task for the coming generation. As a result of more than 200 years of political evolution, we have a relatively good understanding of how to create institutions that are rulebound, accountable and reasonably effective in the vertical silos we call states. What we do not have are adequate mechanisms of horizontal accountability among states.

While I naturally disagree with some of Fukuyama's conclusions, it's valuable to hear a critique of neoconservatism from a (former) true-believer.

Bullying the pulpit

While it isn't noteworthy that the GOP is actively courting fundamentalists by promising them religious legislation, it's important to remember that religious leaders using their sermons to support partisan politics means that their church shouldn't be tax exempt-- because it isn't a house of worship at that point, but a political recruiting station.

The North Carolina Republican Party asked its members this week to send their church directories to the party, drawing furious protests from local and national religious leaders.

"Such a request is completely beyond the pale of what is acceptable," said the Rev. Richard Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

During the 2004 presidential race, the Bush-Cheney campaign sent a similar request to Republican activists across the country. It asked churchgoers not only to furnish church directories to the campaign, but also to use their churches as a base for political organizing.

The tactic was roundly condemned by religious leaders across the political spectrum, including conservative evangelical Christians. Ten professors of ethics at major seminaries and universities wrote a letter to President Bush in August 2004 asking him to "repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign," and calling on both parties to "respect the integrity of all houses of worship."

Fortunately, there are religious leaders of conscience out there who recognize the dangers of undermining freedom of religion in this country. And it's always good to hear them remind the nation that religious does not equal conservative-- crazy and religious equals conservative.

How Homeland Security works for you

Stories like this can't help but make you wonder what those thousands of wiretaps are all about. If it's just a righteous devotion to national security, then why are Homeland Security personnel scoping out Internet porn?

The men looked stern and wore baseball caps emblazoned with the words "Homeland Security." The bizarre scene unfolded Feb. 9, leaving some residents confused and forcing county officials to explain how employees assigned to protect county buildings against terrorists came to see it as their job to police the viewing of pornography.

After the two men made their announcement, one of them challenged an Internet user's choice of viewing material and asked him to step outside, according to a witness. A librarian intervened, and the two men went into the library's work area to discuss the matter. A police officer arrived. In the end, no one had to step outside except the uniformed men.

They were officers of the security division of Montgomery County's Homeland Security Department, an unarmed force that patrols about 300 county buildings -- but is not responsible for enforcing obscenity laws.

If port security is handled by Saudi Arabia, though, they really will have a lot of time on their hands.

Possibly coming soon: The Privacy and Civil Rights Protection Board

Back in the final days of his administration, Bill Clinton had a counter-terrorism task force with whom he met regularly (more than once a week, if I remember correctly). It stayed intact over the transition to the Bush White House. But no-one in the administration had met with them in the year before 9/11. Now the White House is treating civil rights with the same sense of urgency:

For Americans troubled by the prospect of federal agents eavesdropping on their phone conversations or combing through their Internet records, there is good news: A little-known board exists in the White House whose purpose is to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are protected in the fight against terrorism.

Someday, it might actually meet.

Initially proposed by the bipartisan commission that investigated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was created by the intelligence overhaul that President Bush signed into law in December 2004.

More than a year later, it exists only on paper.

Foot-dragging, debate over its budget and powers, and concern over the qualifications of some of its members — one was treasurer of Bush's first campaign for Texas governor — has kept the board from doing a single day of work.

On Thursday, after months of delay, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a first step toward standing up the fledgling watchdog, approving the two lawyers Bush nominated to lead the panel. But it may take months before the board is up and running and doing much serious work.

Maybe this is a blessing in disguise-- given the crackerjack results we've seen from other Bush appointees, inaction could be the protection our best liberties have.

NPR repeats dubious Reid-Abramoff ties without explanation

NPR came closer than the AP to getting the story right, but still failed to mention those three little words that make all the difference: quid pro quo. By failing to point out that the issue here is whether legislators did favors for lobbyists after taking money from them, NPR does nothing to clarify this.

Furthermore, this permits the GOP to claim that Democrats are 'corrupt' merely because they accepted donations from any group connected with Abramoff or any of his partners. Whether those groups of accused of any wrong-doing or not. Case in point are the tribes that Abramoff is accused of cheating himself. And accepting donations from a victim of Abramoff is hardly the same as accepting money from the corrupt lobbyist.

The two instances the NPR story specifically mentions are his opposition to expanded numbers of Indian casinos and his support for a minimum wage increase in the Marianas Islands. Lobbyists involved with Abramoff were for the other side, and contacted Reid's office and gave him some money, ostensibly in an attempt to change his stance on the issues. He didn't. Therefore, Reid did not do favors for Abramoff's associates in exchange for money. Pretty simple, isn't it?

This is the fundamental issue in the Abramoff scandal, but AP and NPR failed to mention it. And by omitting this basic fact, they turn a non-story into the incorrect allegation that this is a bi-partisan problem. It isn't.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

'Westworld' author now a presidential science advisor

Yes, it's really that bad. Bush's sound energy policy is being shaped in part by an airport paperback author. As opposed to, say, scientists.

Mr. Barnes, who describes Mr. Bush as "a dissenter on the theory of global warming," writes that the president "avidly read" the novel and met the author after Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, arranged it. He says Mr. Bush and his guest "talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement."

"The visit was not made public for fear of outraging environmentalists all the more," he adds.

And so it has, fueling a common perception among environmental groups that Mr. Crichton's dismissal of global warming, coupled with his popularity as a novelist and screenwriter, has undermined efforts to pass legislation intended to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that leading scientists say causes climate change.

Mr. Crichton, whose views in "State of Fear" helped him win the American Association of Petroleum Geologists' annual journalism award this month, has been a leading doubter of global warming and last September appeared before a Senate committee to argue that the supporting science was mixed, at best.

Has anyone combed over the annual budget for massive handouts to dinosaur-hunting commandos? How about beefing up border security to ensure that we aren't overrun by bald android cowboys? (Especially if they're gay bald android cowboys!) Hey, it could happen! The guy who wrote about it is a presidential advisor!

Say 'Government cheese!'

Bush is known for his canned speeches, and having an extraordinarily difficult time talking coherently when he isn't carefully scripted. But I recently became aware of another issue-- apparently the White House prefers to avoid having him photographed without pre-planning everything.

It's just the latest disturbing issue from an administration that works harder to control information than any of their predecessors.

White House photographers aren't looking for a handout these days. In fact, they've gotten far too many.

While the practice of providing news organizations with staged photos of events involving the president goes back decades, veteran shooters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue say it has become almost a regular occurrence with the Bush Administration. A review of Associated Press archives found that during the entire eight years of the Clinton administration, only 100 handout photos of events were released to the press. During the first five years of Bush's presidency, more than 500 have been distributed.

The key is that each of these events was closed to news photographers.

"They average about two per week," said Susan Walsh, an AP photojournalist and president of the White House News Photographers Association, after directing that review. "The White House staff photographer's role is to document the president. They have now crossed the line and become public relations photographers for the administration."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Politics and "politics."

An illuminating post at Daily Kos points out the disingenuousness of our foreign policy. When we promote our agenda in a thoroughly hostile nation, that's goodwill. When another nation outdoes us on the charity front, that's propaganda.

On a personal note, I have yet to turn my heat on this winter. That's the life of a student for ya. Luckily for me, it's been mild. If I had to cover the $400 per month bill my folks have been paying, I'd be on the streets. Which really makes you wonder about those multi-billion dollar subsidies our government is still handing out to big oil companies-- you know, those guys making unprecedented profits.

What does the incumbent party say about inexpensive heating oil for Americans? That Venezuela is full of damn, dirty rats:

The House Energy chairman said Thursday he suspects politics, not charity, is behind the Venezeulan offer to provide cheap heating oil to poor Americans.

They said they are concerned the oil deals are "part of an unfriendly government's increasingly belligerent and hostile foreign policy toward" the United States.

What do they say about efforts to Farsi-language broadcasts into Iran? Charity, naturally. But definitely not politics.

The bulk of the money, $50 million, would go toward establishing a round-the-clock television broadcast into Iran in Farsi, according to a state department official, along with improvements to radio and satellite broadcasting.

"The regime's policies are risking the total isolation of Iran, and the people of Iran shouldn't suffer from that," Ms. Rice told the Senate panel.

Ahhh, the homes I could heat with $50 million dollars. And weren't these guys adamantly opposed to intervensionism and 'nation-building' back in 2000? (For you slowpokes out there: Yes, they were.) Seems to me as though that kind of dough could also save some lives in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have already died.

Speaking of the House Energy Chair stepping down, though, you might recall that the last Chair, Louisiana's Billy Tauzin, stepped down in February of 2004-- and immediatley became one of the highest-paid lobbyists in Washington on behalf of... energy companies. I believe the current Chair is California Republican Bill Thomas, who in April 2005 fought for energy company tax breaks. Welcome to government by CEOs, for CEOs.

Which reminds me of the other phrase that makes my flesh crawl every time I hear it these days. "Playing politics." When you hear a Republican utter those words, you know it involves the public getting screwed.

Ohio's DeWine: "Legalize it!"

Think Progress has a new angle on the NSA story: the White House is getting behind plans to legalize wiretapping that was previously illegal. Here's what the Ohio senator had to say about his proposed legislation:

"You know,theres been some controversy about whether or not this program is legal or not legal. I think we need to get beyond that. And the vast majority of American people believe these calls need to be listened to. But we don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional. So I think we need to put that beyond us."

Funny how he doesn't make any claim that the program is legal in the first place. Instead, it just begs the question-- if, as the White House loves to claim, there's nothing illegal taking place, why would there be any need for this legislation?

Somebody give those Democratic senators a cookie

Here's something we see precious little of these days: Democrats seeing a good opportunity and immediatley pouncing on it. It's just the sort of story that should be used non-stop to turn the tables on a GOP whose only weapon is fear over national security-- and who are ready to turn ports over to foreign country to turn a quick profit.

Two U.S. Democratic senators said on Friday they would introduce legislation aimed at blocking Dubai Ports World from buying a company that operates several U.S. shipping ports because of security concerns.

Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Hillary Clinton of New York said they would offer a measure to ban companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from acquiring U.S. port operations.

"We wouldn't turn the border patrol or the customs service over to a foreign government, and we can't afford to turn our ports over to one either," Menendez said in a statement. The Senate Banking Committee also plans to hold a hearing on the issue later this month.

P&O, the company Dubai Ports World plans to buy for $6.8 billion, is already foreign-owned, by the British, but the concern is that the purchaser is backed by the United Arab Emirates government.

The UAE company would gain control over the management of major U.S. ports in New York and New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Miami and that has sparked national security concerns among lawmakers.

"I will be working with Senator Menendez to introduce legislation that will prohibit the sale of ports to foreign governments," Clinton said in a statement.

Grassy ass to Mil Apodos for the link.

Stay frosty, you mooks! We keep our stories straight and the heat won't get wise, see?

The Cheney shooting incident is beginning to get a little old as the initial comedic euphoria wears off and the depressing fogbank of right-wing spin rolls in. Aside from comedians, most liberal pundits are paying a whole lot of attention to the story. I certainly haven't heard any serious calls for Cheney to step down. But to listen to the righties, you'd think that we had our torches out and were heading for the castle. Instead of dealing with it and moving on to other issues, there's the usual manufactured outrage over how 'crazy liberals' are foaming at the mouth and blowing everything out of proportion. Tiresome stuff.

But one thing the story continues to point out is how incapable the entire admin seems to be of doing anything these days. Haven't these guys ever seen a gangster movie?

Vice President Dick Cheney said he didn't immediately disclose his hunting accident because he wanted the confusing details to come out right. Instead, authorized accounts came out slowly — and often still wrong.

The result: a week of shifting blame, belatedly acknowledged beer consumption (not "zero" drinking after all) and evolving discrepancies in how the shooting happened, its aftermath and the way it was told to the nation.

"There's a reason they call this crisis management," said corporate damage-control specialist Eric Dezenhall, "and that's because it's a mess."

Friday, February 17, 2006

White House nixes wiretap investigation

In the least surprising story of the day, some of the administration's lapdogs in the Senate put the kibbosh on calling for accoutnability and the rule of law.

The Bush administration helped derail a Senate bid to investigate a warrantless eavesdropping program yesterday after signaling it would reject Congress's request to have former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other officials testify about the program's legality. The actions underscored a dramatic and possibly permanent drop in momentum for a congressional inquiry, which had seemed likely two months ago.

Senate Democrats said the Republican-led Congress was abdicating its obligations to oversee a controversial program in which the National Security Agency has monitored perhaps thousands of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents and foreign parties without obtaining warrants from a secret court that handles such matters.

"It is more than apparent to me that the White House has applied heavy pressure in recent days, in recent weeks, to prevent the committee from doing its job," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said after the panel voted along party lines not to consider his motion for an investigation.

There are few phrases I dread hearing as much these days as "party line vote," because it always means more trouble for the country.

The best defense

Salon has an interesting piece about Libby's defense team borrowing tactics from the Iran-Contra era. Hey, it worked then.

In a legal brief filed late Thursday in federal court, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald accuses lawyers for Scooter Libby of trying to "graymail" the government by demanding access to thousands of pages of classified documents that Fitzgerald says are irrelevant to his defense.

"Graymailing" -- a tactic used to varying degrees by defendants in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s -- occurs when a government official charged with a crime demands access to large quantities of classified material in an attempt to force prosecutors either to put national security at risk by producing the material or put the prosecution at risk by allowing the defendant to argue that he can't get a fair trial without it.

Libby and his lawyers, Fitzgerald says, are doing exactly that now.

Libby has demanded the production of approximately 277 presidential daily briefings from 2003 and 2004, apparently to show that he was so "preoccupied" with important national security matters that he might have a hard time remembering the truth about what he told whom about Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald says the request is "nothing short of breathtaking."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to Fox 'n Friends

You know, it's kinda strange. Watching this clip from Salon, you'd almost think that the only way Bill O'Reilly manages to get a point across is by talking over his guests. Or selectively editing the dialogue. Thank goodness he never resorts to mindless flag-waving, or he'd be some sort of hack!

But that couldn't possibly be. The man's a seasoned combat veteran, and he's won a prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting! And what about that hard-scrabble background of his?!?

Funny, but irritating. Just try to keep that fancy-schmancy, elitist latte from rising in your gorge when you hear him ask how Clinton's.... errr, I mean Cheney's recent personal indiscretion has any impact whatsoever on the American public, and why it's news at all. But let me put the question to you, gentle reader: given a choice, which executive branch shot in the face would you take? (Hint: One washes off, while the other guarantees an extensive hospital stay.)

A PSA for those who thought Ann Coulter's 'raghead' remarks were funny

Just why is the race-baiting, two-fisted GOP outsourcing port security to Saudi Arabia? Don't think too long and hard about it, right-wingers. It'll make your puzzler hurt.

The Bush administration on Thursday rebuffed criticism about potential security risks of a $6.8 billion sale that gives a company in the United Arab Emirates control over significant operations at six major American ports.

Lawmakers asked the White House to reconsider its earlier approval of the deal.

The sale to state-owned Dubai Ports World was "rigorously reviewed" by a U.S. committee that considers security threats when foreign companies seek to buy or invest in American industry, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, run by the Treasury Department, reviewed an assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies. The committee's 12 members agreed unanimously the sale did not present any problems, the department said.

"We wanted to look at this one quite closely because it relates to ports," Stewart Baker, an assistant secretary in the Homeland Security Department, told The Associated Press. "It is important to focus on this partner as opposed to just what part of the world they come from. We came to the conclusion that the transaction should not be halted."

The unusual defense of the secretive committee, which reviews hundreds of such deals each year, came in response to criticism about the purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

Hint: You're only a threat if you're radical and penniless. With the notable exception of wealthy oil heir Osama bin Laden, who we'll be apprehending any day now.

Thanks to Mil Apodos, better known in Amsterdam as El Guapo Loco, for this inflammatory bit of info.

UPDATE: Think Progress has some UAE fun facts. And by fun, I mean troubling. For example: The UAE has been a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Lybia. After 9/11, the Treasury Department reported that the UAE was not cooperating in efforts to track down Osama Bin Laden’s bank accounts.

Introducing Your New Ohio GOP All-Stars!

The Mysterious Cipher does her good deed for the day by pointing out the Republican establishment's continuing opposition to reform in what has become a name synonymous with political dirty tricks: Ohio! (Sorry, Ohioans.) Ken Blackwell became the new Kathryn Harris by doing all things semi-legal to tilt last year's election in favor of Bush and Cheney. Oddly, five years after the Florida debacle, Harris has become a GOP pariah. But Blackwell doesn't appear to be smart enough to adopt a different strategy for getting ahead in the Republican game. Mr Blackwell, a word of advice: while the party depends on low-level ass-kissers like yourself to enact their shifty political machinations, they also have to disavow any knowledge of your misdeeds on their behalf. Plausible deniability. You're radioactive, pal.

Ken Blackwell has co-written a book, due out in March, called Rebuilding America. It's described on the book jacket as "a prescription for creating strong families, building the wealth of working people, and ending welfare."

It sounds a little dull, frankly. But Blackwell's co-author, Jerome Corsi, is more than capable of spicing it up.

Corsi is best known as co-author of Unfit for Command, which contained the Swift Boat veterans' allegations about John Kerry's service in Vietnam.

But Corsi has engaged in some less formal writing in the form of postings on the conservative website Free Republic, in which he said some unsavory things about Muslims, Catholics and Clintons. Using the signature "jrlc," Corsi called Muslims "ragheads," called Pope John Paul II "senile," called Hillary Clinton a "fat hog," and called her daughter "Chubby Chelsea."

Raise your glass, friends, to informed political debate. And the political demise of Kathryn Harris and Kent Blackwell. May all right-wing opportunists and toadies suffer a similar career arc.

UPDATE: Fightin' man OD1 rightfully points out my premature jubilation over the wished-for-but-not-inevitable demise of Ken Blackwell. And as an Ohioan, he should know. All other readers are respectfully asked to point out any instances of cynicism-deficiency on my part.

A look at Cheney's appearance on Fox

The New Republic has gone from reliable source of information to political Sybil in the last few years, replacing their willingness to present informed conservative arguments with talking-head hackiness. I still read it, but sometimes I wonder why at this point. There's a bumper crop of ad hominem attacks and ex cathedra arguments that just didn't used to be there. Page two...

This article is a strange hybrid of Bush apologia and sensible commentary. While it points out the inanity of Brit Hume's questions (e.g., 'Did you hit the bird?'), it also makes some interesting points about the shortcomings of Cheney's statements.

When the questions concerned the accident itself, Cheney seemed to be quite forthright and meticulous: "The other hunter and I then turned and walked about a hundred yards in another direction ... I was on the far right ... this entourage behind us, all the cars and so forth that follow me around when I'm out there. But the bird flushed and went to my right, off to the west. I turned and shot at the bird, and at that second, saw Harry standing there." And Cheney even seemed to take responsibility for the problem: "Well, ultimately, I'm the man who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry." (I fired the round, which hit the man, who saved the quail, who'd managed to fly. I don't know why it happened to fly. That's my reply.) Still, he didn't take too much responsibility: "[Y]ou can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but ... it was not Harry's fault." Translation: You can talk about the talking points my henchmen have been putting forward--"[T]he other gentleman made a serious error by not indicating that he was there" (ex-senator and Cheney buddy Alan Simpson, exhumed for the occasion); or "[Cheney] didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do" (Cheney advisor Mary Matalin, presumably endorsing the shooting); or "[Whittington] didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself" (ranch owner Katharine Armstrong, fresh from a talk with Karl Rove)--but far be it from me to blame Harry in any way.

It just serves to show how this administration deals with everything they screw up. Try to hide it. When that fails, find a scapegoat. When that isn't enough, set up a softball interview. And above all, count on the press to move on to the next issue and drop the issue down the memory hole. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, although this isn't the most important story on the radar by a long shot, if it causes the mainstream press to pay attention to the nefarious bungling of the administration, I'm all for it.

UPDATE: One of the most idiotic and phony statements by Cheney was that, when asked why he didn't accompany his dear friend in the ambulance as it headed to the hospital, he said it was too crowded and he would've been in the way. Pretty thoughtful, right? Maybe coming from Joe Sixpack. But consider the fact that Cheney doesn't go anywhere without a massive entourage of secret service members, medical specialists, and other followers. And he's a multi-millionaire who was visiting a ranch owned by a multi-millionare. No additional vehicles available on your drive-thru safari? I doubt it.

UPDATE: Ed Schultz makes an excellent point on his show today. It's as simple as this:

A) The currently fashionable attack on Democrats is that we have a "pre-9/11 mindset." Ill-prepared, out of touch, anti-American, etc.

B) The White House's primary rationale for the 14-hour delay in Cheney's reporting of the shooting accident was that he didn't have "press or staff" with him

I won't bother to point out the sheer stupidity of this argument.