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


Monday, July 31, 2006

Right-wingers take a page from al Qaeda's book

The conflict between Israel and Lebanon took a turn for the gruesome as the incompetent Condi Rice hit the panic button and Israel launched an offensive against Qana that killed a number of children. Meanwhile, right-wing pundits are demonstrating exactly why (lifelong Republican) John Dean's book 'Conservatives Without Conscience' is so timely.

Liberal blog Sadly, No! featured this compare 'n contrast exercise a week ago:

“I am not buying into the innocent civilians meme. If by ignorance, complicity, neglect or helplessness the Lebanese wouldn’t throw Hezbollah out and establish a strong government, then they must pay the price for the sins of Hizbollah [sic].” -Small-time right-wing blogger

“You may then dispute that all the above does not justify aggression against civilians, for crimes they did not commit and offenses in which they did not partake… This argument contradicts your continuous repetition that America is the land of freedom, and its leaders in this world. Therefore, the American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies.” - Osama bin Laden

But it isn't limited to nobodies. Whiskey Bar noted that Rush Limbaugh is getting into the game with a similar post today:

"Until civilians -- frankly, I'm not sure how many of them are actually just innocent little civilians running around versus active Hezbo types, particularly the men -- but until those civilians start paying a price for propping up these kinds of regimes, it's not going to end, folks. What do you mean, civilians start paying a price? I just ask you to consult history for the answer to that.” - Rush Limbaugh

"We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal . . . As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places." - Osama bin Laden

The neo-fascists have gone so far off the deep end with their fantasies of a totalitarian America that they're making the same arguments as the world's most wanted terrorist.

Democratic report to catalogue White House lawbreaking

Gotta love that John Conyers. Summarizing a pending update to the 2005 report, he wrote that the administration has allegedly broken more than two dozen laws, some on multiple occasions:

The laws implicated by the Administration’s actions include federal laws against making false statements to congress [sic]; federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other government employees; Executive Orders concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence; federal regulations and ethical requirements governing conflicts of interest; the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; communications privacy laws; the National Security Act; and the Fourth Amendment.

Quite a list, but the White House has been getting away with it for years now, and as always, any semblance of accountability will come only through winning this year's elections.

Iraq intel failure report will see another election come and go

In 2004, the senate vowed to publish a two-part report on the runup to Iraq. The first was to look at the mistakes intelligence agencies made. No problem. It came out that year. The second part was to look at how the administration misused intelligence to push the case for war. Being an election year, the stonewalling began. No report.

Last year, Democrats loudly protested, and extracted another promise from Kansas senator Pat Roberts (one of the most reliable Bush allies in the body) that it would be completed very, very soon. But it isn't anywhere near completion, and we're in another election year.

The Republican-led committee, which agreed in February 2004 to write the report, has yet to complete its work. Just two of five planned sections of the committee's findings are fully drafted and ready to be voted on by members, according to Democratic and Republican staffers. Committee sources involved with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they are working hard to complete it. But disputing Roberts, they said they had started almost from scratch in November after Democrats staged their protest. (. . .)

The section most Democrats have sought, however, is not yet in draft form and might not emerge until after the November election, staffers said. That section will examine the administration's deliberations over prewar intelligence and whether its public presentation of the threat reflected the evidence senior officials reviewed in private.

White House's Middle East policy: blame Clinton

When discussing 9/11, one of Fearless Leader's favorite tactics was to say that America grew complacent in the 1990s, lulled into a false sense of security because things were pretty peaceful. Code language for saying it's Clinton's fault we were attacked, and a handy way to dodge the pesky revelations that the Bush administration had ignored a number of intelligence warnings related to the plot.

Taking another trip to the well, in his recent press conference with Tony Blair Bush used the same code to blame Clinton for the current violence. Not only that, but he retools the tactic of falsely linking 9/11 with Saddam Hussein and even throws in one of his classic straw man "some people say" lines. In short, he's responding to the chaos by campaigning-- the only thing he knows how to do.

BUSH: It's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, "Let's hope everything is calm" -- kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.

And so we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.

BUSH: And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for.

In the long term, to defeat this ideology -- and they're bound by an ideology -- you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible. And I believe it will happen.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Passion of the blah, blah, blah

When 'The Passion of the Christ' was released (as the only snuff film to earn unqualified praise from American fundamentalists), there was plenty of talk about Mel Gibson's kooky father, who apparently has some uncharitable ideas about Judaism. Gibson was quick to distance himself from the stories of Pop's problems with Jewish folks, but there was also a heap of criticism of the movie itself, largely along the lines that it was based not so much upon divinely-inspired religious texts as anti-Jewish propaganda pieces from the Middle Ages. Gibson distanced himself from that as well, although it couldn't protect him from a skewering on South Park that portrayed him as being violently insane.

The recent revelation of Gibson's arrest in Los Angeles for drunk driving, complete with anti-Semitic tirade and alleged COPS-esque attempt to make a break for it aren't going to help. In other news, it still doesn't hurt to be rich and famous when you break the law.

Allegations that police in Malibu tried to cover up an anti-Semitic outburst by Mel Gibson are to be investigated by an independent review body.

The actor and director was stopped for alleged drunk driving early on Friday. A bottle of tequila was reportedly found on the back seat of his car.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said that Mr Gibson had been pulled over while speeding at 87mph (140km/h) and arrested “without incident.”

But according to a website, the arresting officer’s original report said: “Gibson blurted out anti-Semitic remarks about ‘f***ing Jews’ [and] yelled out ‘The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,’ then asked: ‘Are you a Jew?’ ” (. . .)

James Mee, the arresting officer, wrote that Mr Gibson’s behaviour was highly emotional from the moment he pulled him over. His report says: “Gibson angrily stated . . . ‘My life is f***ed’ . . . [and] became fixated on his notoriety and the concern that this incident was going to be publicised. In order to calm Gibson’s concerns, I directed [him] to the back seat of the patrol car, telling him that, if he remained co-operative, I would interview him without handcuffing.”

At this point Mr Gibson appears to have attempted to flee.Deputy Mee wrote: “Gibson bolted . . . as he said ‘I’m not going to get in the car’.”

Notes from the NPR underground

I caught some shows today, and I was struck by a couple of things. One was a report on bias in the news during the show On the Media called "I Know You Are But What Am I?" While the host acknowledged that any reporter is susceptible to slanting news coverage, unwittingly or not, readers/listeners/viewers are, too. Hardly a surprise. But to prove the point, they cited a study that showed the more informed news consumers were on the Israel-Lebanon conflagration, the more likely they were to see bias against their own side. Sorry, but I'm still not feeling embarrassed about my criticism of the mainstream press.

The issue of bias in the news has been a serious bone of contention for liberals and conservatives in recent years (although for much longer with conservatives), and media outlets have largely gone on the defensive-- although they've shifted heavily toward the right while doing so. Of course, I only think that way because I'm a liberal. And that isn't what I'm getting at here.

My point is this: you'd have to be a total idiot to think that the current turmoil in the Middle East would provide a fair assessment of people's ability to assess the news objectively. The conflict between Israel and its neighbors has lasted for decades, and it's a religious conflict-- hardly a laboratory for cool logic and level-headed analysis. The host spoke with a man involved with a study that found pro-Israeli news consumers thought coverage was anti-Israeli. Can you guess what pro-Lebanon news consumers thought?

This isn't surprising news, it's stupefyingly obvious given the nature of the conflict. Permit me to point it out anyway-- a religious war isn't the same thing as a politician's public statement on, say, tax policy. One is about ideology, the other is about simple facts. Using it as the basis for criticizing the public's response to the mass media is hopelessly simplistic, and borderline offensive. Unfortunately, that fits right in with a major criticism from the left-- that the pundit class is more invested in proclaiming their superiority than doing their job. Seriously, wouldn't anyone who'd taken a journalism class expect a difference in public perception of religious issues and something like the defense budget?

Sunday not-so-funny

Concise. Pithy. I like that. But it looks like the extras are on loan from Jumble, which is kind of odd.

Thanks to Vigil-auntie.

The gang violence absent during Katrina is now appearing

Right-wingers are still circulating e-mails that condemn New Orleans residents for their behavior in the wake of Katrina. Although you probably remember that all those initial reports of gang violence, rape and murder turned out to be false. Ironically, the real violence is occurring now, months later, as the government has consistently failed to deal with rebuilding the city in a competent, timely manner.

Three brothers and a friend were killed in a neighborhood not far from the French Quarter, and a fifth person was gunned down in a separate incident hours later, authorities said Saturday.

The shootings were the latest round of killings as the city struggles to rein in drug- and gang-related violence that has shadowed the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

In mid-June, Gov. Kathleen Blanco sent the Louisiana National Guard and state police to New Orleans to help fight crime there after five teenagers were shot to death in a single attack.

Such sensational murders have a crippling effect on the city's struggle to rebuild its tourism industry and persuade evacuees to return, said New Orleans city councilman James Carter, who heads the council's committee on crime.

Remind anyone else of Iraq? Government policy is all about claiming achievement while refusing to act. Leadership has been redefined as nothing more than 'staying the course,' even when the consequences are disastrous.

House GOP sets mimimum wage bill up for failure

Republican senators seem less than pleased with the bill pushed through by their House counterparts. Democrats have been trying to pass the first minimum wage increase in almost a decade, and the vulgarians in Congress insisted on linking it with cutting the estate tax and loosening health care standards for insurance providers.

On the eve of adjourning for a month of campaigning in their districts, House Republicans early today pushed through a controversial bill linking a minimum-wage increase to a package of tax cuts.

The hastily crafted measure almost certainly will die in the Senate, a prospect that several Republican lawmakers acknowledged even as they prepared to cast votes. (. . .)

These are wonderful accomplishments: House Republicans showing results for the American people," said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), the fourth-ranking Republican in the House. "We didn't want to leave for August without accomplishing both of these."

Incredible. They effectively kill a minimum wage increase, but take credit for passing one. This is just the sort of anti-worker ideology that should outrage the public, but probably won't.

NYT endorses Lamont

It's nice to see media outlets get beyond their simplistic assertion that Ned Lamont's candidacy is only about the war in Iraq.

Mr. Lieberman prides himself on being a legal thinker and a champion of civil liberties. But he appointed himself defender of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the administration’s policy of holding hundreds of foreign citizens in prison without any due process. He seconded Mr. Gonzales’s sneering reference to the “quaint” provisions of the Geneva Conventions. He has shown no interest in prodding his Republican friends into investigating how the administration misled the nation about Iraq’s weapons. There is no use having a senator famous for getting along with Republicans if he never challenges them on issues of profound importance.

If Mr. Lieberman had once stood up and taken the lead in saying that there were some places a president had no right to take his country even during a time of war, neither he nor this page would be where we are today. But by suggesting that there is no principled space for that kind of opposition, he has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support.

Megachurch pastor decries theocracy, loses 20% of congregation

I'd say this is a must-read. Reverend Gregory Boyd used several sermons at his 5,000 member church to ask congregants to stop tying Christianity to a political party, unlink religion and military power, and focus on good acts rather than a religious state. The result was a loss of members, employees, volunteers, and funds. But the article also highlights the classic story of a group of people eager and willing to be used by demagogues to promote a Christian Taliban.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns. (. . .)

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

McCain bails on campaign finance reform

McCain-Feingold. That was the popular name of proposed legislation that might help rid national elections of special interest dollars and leveling the political playing field through public funding of elections. John McCain's name was at the head of the list of co-sponsors, but with the bill being introduced again, he's gone missing.

The quartet of lawmakers behind every major federal campaign finance restriction in the past decade is suddenly missing one of its members.

The elided surnames of the four men, "McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan," have become synonymous with so-called campaign finance reform, but Senator McCain, a Republican of Arizona, is conspicuously absent from the latest effort.

On Wednesday, Senator Feingold, a Democrat of Wisconsin, Rep. Martin Meehan, a Democrat of Massachusetts, and Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican of Connecticut, introduced a bill to revive the crumbling system for public financing of presidential campaigns.

The bill is largely identical to a measure all four men introduced in 2003, but this time around Mr. McCain is not on board.

A spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, Eileen McMenamin, did not return calls seeking comment for this article, but several people involved in discussions about the legislation said the senator's absence was related to his widely expected bid for the presidency in 2008.

A longtime advocate for campaign finance restrictions, Meredith McGehee, said she believed Mr. McCain's decision stemmed from a desire to avoid criticism if he decides to forgo public financing during the Republican nominating contest.

With two years to go until the presidential election, McCain has been doing 180s on a number of the issues that first endeared him to Independents and Democrats. Too bad it isn't sinking in with the public yet. He still enjoys a very positive rating with both groups, even as he tries desperately to curry favor with Bush Republicans.

Wage growth lowest in more than 60 years

People are working harder and more efficiently, but the already-wealthy are reaping all the rewards.

The growth of employee compensation, already thought to be the slowest in any post-World War II recovery, has been even weaker than previously assumed, the Commerce Department said Friday.

In its annual benchmark revisions to gross domestic product and gross domestic income, the government said employee compensation actually totaled $7.03 trillion in 2005, about $83 billion or 1.2% lower than previous estimates of $7.11 trillion.

Rather than growing at a 2.9% annual pace in inflation-adjusted dollars, compensation instead grew 2.3% between 2003 and the end of 2005.

Wages grew at a 1.8% real annual pace, revised from 2.2% earlier. With the workforce growing about 1.3% per year, real wages per worker were up about 0.5% per year, about half the previous estimate.

Benefits also grew slower than previously assumed, rising at an inflation-adjusted 4.9% annual rate rather than 6.0% pace originally reported.

A different picture on wages, from different data source, was revealed Friday by the Labor Department, which said the employment cost index rose 0.9% in the second quarter, the fastest growth in costs since early 2005.

Bechtel contract pulled for being overbudget, behind schedule

It's perfectly clear that the GOP-controlled Congress isn't going to do any investigating into the billions that have been pocketed by corrupt contractors, but at least they're being dismissed after swiping vast amounts of cash and failing to do their jobs. I guess.

The United States is dropping Bechtel, the American construction giant, from a project to build a high-tech children’s hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Basra after the project fell nearly a year behind schedule and exceeded its expected cost by as much as 150 percent.

Called the Basra Children’s Hospital, the project has been consistently championed by the first lady, Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was designed to house sophisticated equipment for treating childhood cancer.

Now it becomes the latest in a series of American taxpayer-financed health projects in Iraq to face overruns, delays and cancellations. Earlier this year, the Armey Corps of Engineers canceled more than $300 million in contracts held by Parsons, another American contractor, to build and refurbish hospitals and clinics across Iraq. (. . .)

Beyond the consequences for health care in southern Iraq, abandoning the project could be tricky politically because of the high-profile support from Mrs. Bush and Ms Rice. Congress allocated $50 million to the Basra Children’s Hospital in late 2003 as part of an $18.4 billion reconstruction package for Iraq. Now the government estimates that the cost overruns are so great that the project will cost as much as $120 million to complete and will not be finished before September 2007, nearly a year later than planned. Some other estimates put the overruns even higher. Kadhim Hassan, general director of the Basra Health Department, said the project would be no more than 40 percent complete once the original $50 million, much of which is going to subcontractors, had been used up. He said little work had been done for months.

It's a pretty simple equation: months turn into years, and the Iraqis are still denied water, electricity and medicine. This makes Iraqis angry. Angry Iraqis take up arms against Americans. America becomes less able to maintain security and complete rebuilding projects. Repeat.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Republican Congressman calls for Democratic majority

Thanks to OD1 for sending this my way. Former Republican Representative Peter McCloskey recently wrote a piece arguing that the tidal wave of corruption and big money influence that has taken over the GOP should cost them control of the House this fall.

Some excerpts:

I am a Republican, intend to remain a Republican, and am descended from three generations of California Republicans, active in Merced and San Bernardino Counties as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. (. . .)

It has been difficult, nevertheless, to conclude as I have, that the Republican House leadership has been so unalterably corrupted by power and money that reasonable Republicans should support Democrats against DeLay-type Republican incumbents in 2006.Let me try to explain why.

I have decided to endorse Jerry McNerney and every other honorable Democrat now challenging those Republican incumbents who have acted to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have flatly reneged on their Contract With America promise in 1994 to restore high standards of ethical behavior in the House and who have combined to prevent investigation of the Cunningham and Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals. These Republican incumbents have brought shame on the House, and have created a wide-spread view in the public at large that Republicans are more interested in obtaining campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists than they are in legislating in the public interest.

Recommended reading.

Unified Front

One of the risks BushCo ran with an invasion of Iraq, as I've mentioned many times before, was the possible consequences of destabilizing the only secular regime in the region. Hussein was a bastard, but from a purely pragmatic standpoint, his presence kept other radical governments in the region wary. We've taken away that fear and paved the way for Iraq to become another radical theocracy and terrorist haven. Not to mention turning the population of the Middle East even more against American policy.

Now the New York Times reports that people across the Middle East are turning from sympathy for Israel for the terrorist attacks and suicide bombings they've endured, and starting to favor Hezbollah. Oh, joy. An even more destabilized Middle East, firmly united against the United States.

At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.

Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for more than two weeks, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

The Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.

An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hezbollah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trumpeting American plans for a “new Middle East” that they say has led only to violence and repression.

If the neocons and tough-talkin' Republicans are as eager as they sound for a massive war, they're certainly on the right track.

Bill Frist: Up is the new down.

Bill Frist, appearing on Hannity & Colmes, pretty much sums up what's wrong with the Republican party these days.

Let's see here, Congress has raised the debt ceiling five times to accomodate unprecedented foreign debt, and we're seeing some of the worst violence in Iraq since the invasion, can't even control the capital, and have lost 2,600 Americans and over 300 billion dollars. Oh, and Osama bin Laden is still at large after nearly five years. The official GOP response?

"We're for tax cuts. They're for tax hikes. We're for staying the course in Iraq and the War on Terror. They're for cutting and running."

How about this: "We're for banging our heads against the wall. They lack the resolve to keep at it." In the storied Republican gift for campaign language, this pretty much sums up why every Republican should be thrown from office this fall.

How to be a total jerk and still get ahead

The sound clips I've heard of the Bolton confirmation hearings have all been pretty much the same: Senator asks serious policy question, Bolton provides non-answer dripping with rudeness and condescension. And occasionally insults Bill Clinton for everything going wrong in the world.

Salon has a piece on how the hearings are going, documenting Bolton's show of "nothing but scorn" for his interlocutors. It's pretty sad.

Even worse, Republican Senator George Voinovich has changed his mind about Bolton. Last year, he gave an impassioned statement about the reasons why Bolton shouldn't be sent to the UN, breaking ranks from his rubber-stamp colleagues. Voinovich was certainly right, concerned as he was about Bolton's volatile temper and complete inability to work with other human beings. But now Voinovich is repeating White House talking points-- if we switch horses in midstream, the terrorists win. Yes, he not only changed his mind, but is resorting to the "criticism equals treason" argument for giving the neocons everything they want. Tragic.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Military spending for dummies

I've written my share on the massive government waste going toward missile defense-- Bush has been spending billions of dollars each year on that boondoggle. And a couple of days ago, Think Progress reported that the Pentagon had approved an $11 billion plan for the F-22 fighter jet.

Not only is it the world’s most expensive fighter jet, but it was conceived in 1985 to fight a Soviet fighter jet that was never built. As wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo show, U.S. air superiority is not in doubt. So it is perplexing that the independent Institute for Defense Analyses would recommend that the Pentagon continue purchasing a jet that has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns.

The Washington Post wrote the following: The endorsement came from the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a federally financed research center whose president, Dennis C. Blair, is a member of the board of a subcontractor for the F-22 Raptor fighter program, EDO Corp. EDO developed a missile launcher for the F-22 and has held contracts worth at least $38 million that are part of the program, according to its news releases.

Today, USA Today reports that our military forces are plagued by a lack of equipment, and therefore not combat ready.

In a letter to President Bush, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said that "nearly every non-deployed combat brigade in the active Army is reporting that they are not ready" for combat. The figures, he said, represent an unacceptable risk to the nation. (. . .)

In a statement released late Wednesday, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, said much has been asked of the Army during the nearly five years the U.S. has been at war.

"I have testified to the facts about our readiness and I remain concerned about the serious demands we face," said Schoomaker, adding that the Army needs more than $17 billion in 2007 and up to $13 billion a year until two or three years after the war ends.

Congressmen are calling for an emergency appropriation to fix the problem, but $11 billion was handed over for an obsolete plane that even Donald Rumsfeld has spoken against. Just more savvy military policy from BushCo.

US agreement to increase India's nuke production

Two days ago, news emerged that Pakistan was working to build a plutonium-production plant-- and that the White House concealed the information from Congress.

Now the Independent reports that the administration's arrangement for giving nuclear technology to India would allow them to increase nuclear warhead production by fifty a year.

The US House of Representatives was set to vote yesterday on a nuclear deal with India that threatens to fuel a nuclear arms race in Asia. The deal, a centrepiece of the Bush administration's foreign policy, comes as the US is pressuring Iran and North Korea to halt their nuclear programmes.

Under the deal, the US will sell India nuclear fuel and technology for civilian purposes, in exchange for India putting most of its reactors under international safeguards. But a former head of Indian intelligence has said publicly the deal will allow India to produce 50 more nuclear warheads a year than it can now, by freeing up existing uranium reserves for military use.

It's pure neocon policy. While the rest of the world is justly concerned with the proliferation of nukes and a second arms race (Mmmmm.... can't wait to live in fear of nuclear annihilation again), the BushCo cabal is doing everything they can to speed it up. To think, in late 2004 Bush agreed with Kerry in their debates that loose nuclear materials were the greatest threat posed to the US.

Legalize it! Spying, I mean. Not pot.

Senior Justice Department and intelligence officials urged Congress yesterday to approve new laws to accommodate the government's controversial warrantless eavesdropping program.

Arguing that the 1978 law governing surveillance of terrorists is out of step with current technology, the officials, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said they previously had not sought new legislation to avoid disclosing a key part of the operation. That is the ability to intercept foreign phone calls and e-mails no matter what their destination as they pass through telecommunications facilities inside the United States, said Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency.

The FISA laws were enacted because of Richard Nixon's abuse of executive power-- they don't have anything to do with 'technology' issues, and even permit warrantless spying for two weeks while a warrant is sought. The FISA court has rejected maybe one or two percent of requests for warrants. But it's the same rationale Bush offered in arguing why he shouldn't have to obey the laws. Speaking in his most condescending tone, he pointed out that the laws were enacted in the (gasp!) seventies. But now it's 2006! You'd have to be a real chump to think that such ancient history could apply to today's society.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rolling Stone: Neocons have pushed Iranian war for years

There have been several stories in Rolling Stone over the last few months that have caused quite a stir in the press-- or at least the blogosphere. "Worst President Ever?" was one, and then there was Robert Kennedy, Jr's piece on voter fraud in Ohio. A new story, Iran: The Next War?" should do the same.

The right-wing press will have a fit, of course, but we've seen plenty of evidence lately that the neocons are crafting foreign policy, and they want war. Bad. Read the article, and wait for the firestorm.

[Iran expert and career employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency Larry] Franklin—a devout neoconservative who had been brought into Feith's office because of his political beliefs—was hoping to undermine those talks. As FBI agents looked on, Franklin entered the restaurant at the Ritz and joined two other Americans who were also looking for ways to push the U.S. into a war with Iran. One was Steven Rosen, one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington. Sixty years old and nearly bald, with dark eyebrows and a seemingly permanent frown, Rosen was director of foreign-policy issues at Israel's powerful lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Seated next to Rosen was AIPAC's Iran expert, Keith Weissman. He and Rosen had been working together closely for a decade to pressure U.S. officials and members of Congress to turn up the heat on Tehran.

Over breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton, Franklin told the two lobbyists about a draft of a top-secret National Security Presidential Directive that dealt with U.S. policy on Iran. Crafted by Michael Rubin, the desk officer for Iraq and Iran in Feith's office, the document called, in essence, for regime change in Iran. In the Pentagon's view, according to one senior official there at the time, Iran was nothing but "a house of cards ready to be pushed over the precipice." So far, though, the White House had rejected the Pentagon's plan, favoring the State Department's more moderate position of diplomacy. Now, unwilling to play by the rules any longer, Franklin was taking the extraordinary—and illegal—step of passing on highly classified information to lobbyists for a foreign state. Unable to win the internal battle over Iran being waged within the administration, a member of Feith's secret unit in the Pentagon was effectively resorting to treason, recruiting AIPAC to use its enormous influence to pressure the president into adopting the draft directive and wage war against Iran. (. . .)

In recent weeks, the attacks by Hezbollah on Israel have given neoconservatives in the Bush administration the pretext they were seeking to launch what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls "World War III." Denouncing the bombings as "Iran's proxy war," William Kristol of The Weekly Standard is urging the Pentagon to counter "this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities." According to Joseph Cirincione, an arms expert and the author of Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, "The neoconservatives are now hoping to use the Israeli-Lebanon conflict as the trigger to launch a U.S. war against Syria, Iran or both."

Now that I think about it, Al Franken has been playing a clip of Bill Kristol being interviewed shortly after the Iraq invasion in which he dismisses as 'pop sociology' the notion that there could be any tension between religious sects in Iraq. It's long been a secular nation, he argues, although any college student with a rudimentary knowledge of Iraq (or Tito's Yugoslavia) wouldn't dare take such a position. You'd think that would be a big black mark on his status as informed conservative commentator, but it increasingly looks as though we're in for a repeat of the lead-in to Iraq.

Colbert takes a potshot at morning shows

After Fox took his jokey interview with US Representative Robert Wexler and predictably turned it into an attack on the Democratic Congressman, Stephen Colbert used the opportunity to totally ignore them. Instead, he took a look at the Today show and Good Morning America, who also reported on his interview. Their approach wasn't quite as bad as Fox, but still pretty braindead. Sort of a tut-tutting, "Oh my, isn't it a good thing that we're bright, serious people who are above that nonsense, dear viewer?" approach.

I never thought of morning shows as much more than sanitized TV versions of 'Morning Zoo' radio, but Colbert's writers really run with it. Starting with the shows' rather sanctimonious take on the Colbert Report, we're treated to a montage of high-minded morning journalism (keep in mind that Katie Couric graduated from the Today show to the anchor chair of CBS evening news), from the classic staged footage of a reporter rowing through six-inch deep floodwaters to a game of Texas Hold 'Em with a chimpanzee. Good stuff.

Payola hits the blogosphere

If you were running a political blog, it'd be pretty devious to take cash from a candidate and then write nice things about him without telling your readers, right? If you let them know about the relationship, readers would be able to judge your posts on their merits, fully aware of potential bias.

There have been cases where prominent bloggers go on hiatus to work for a campaign, but what about bloggers who keep posting while working for a politician? The man behind the unfortunately-named right-wing blog 'Ankle Biting Pundits' accused Markos Moulitsas of doing just that. Calling the story a "scandal" equal to the Armstrong Williams affair and Moulitsas a "paid shill" for Howard Dean, he failed to note that the Kos proprietor had clearly posted on the front page that he was doing some work for Dean. A disclaimer visible to all readers.

You can probably already see it coming. The reactionary blogger in question has now been revealed to be on the payroll of John McCain's PAC while he was writing favorable pieces about McCain. Without informing his readers.

It was actually the National Review Online that took the blogger to task. Unfortunately, they didn't mention his hypocritical and dishonest attacks on Moulitsas. It is the National Review, after all.

The 2000 election, bad journalism, and the fix we're in

There have been a pair of excellent articles on The Daily Howler this week. They frequently look at the state of journalism and its legacy from the 90s, when it so easy to build a career on pinata-fying Clinton and Gore.

The first post starts off with another bit of bad journalism from NYT reporter Ann Kornblut, who was recently corrected after an outcry from the blogosphere on a story in which she completely misrepresented a speech by Hillary Clinton. And Kornblut is at it again.

The body of the piece is a look at how journalists are revisiting the 2000 election now that Gore is in the news again. Some are copping to the fact that he never claimed to have invented the Internet, but not the many other ways in which they helped torpedo his candidacy.

The second post begins with the scary news that more Americans believe the myth of Saddams' WMDs and ties to al Qaeda now than a year ago. And other instances of the public failing to know the facts. Again, the body of the post is part two of how the media is rethinking their history of dumbing down political discourse vis a vis the 2000 election, but doing nothing about it.

It isn't pleasant reading (a WaPo story from just three days ago repeats several long-since debunked stories about Gore), but it's worthwhile. Tomorrow's installment will be about Eric Boehlert's look at the Swift Boat campaign-- certainly an excellent example of the media jumping all over a hot-yet-bogus, then dropping it when the truth came out. All to the detriment of another presidential candidate.

Different judge, different ruling on NSA/AT&T case

Coming as it did in the wake of the Hamdan case, when many were openly relieved that there was finally a response to the White House's 'unitary executive' power grabs, the decision of a federal judge in California to uphold a case against illegal government wiretaps and a company that became a willing party was also welcomed.

But there are a number of these cases, and a federal judge in Chicago has decided to throw one out on the same grounds the other judge cited to uphold: national security. The judge in California noted that the programs were already public-- thanks in part to disclosures from the government and AT&T.

"The court is persuaded that requiring AT&T to confirm or deny whether it has disclosed large quantities of telephone records to the federal government could give adversaries of this country valuable insight into the government's intelligence activities," U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly said. (. . .)

Justice Department attorneys had argued that it would violate the law against divulging state secrets for AT&T to say whether it had provided telephone records to the supersecret spy agency.

The ACLU argued that the practice was no longer secret, because numerous news reports had made it clear that phone records had been given to the agency.

But the judge said the news reports amounted to speculation and in no way constituted official confirmation that phone records had been turned over.

Sounds like we'll have to wait for the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on this one.

Prominent conservatives urge replacement for Rice

This article is a strange one. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration’s national security and foreign policy agenda.

The conservatives, who include Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle and leading current and former members of the Pentagon and National Security Council, have urged the president to transfer Miss Rice out of the State Department and to an advisory role. They said Miss Rice, stemming from her lack of understanding of the Middle East, has misled the president on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

So far, so good. She's shown pretty clearly that she's ineffectual at best and incompetent at worst. The strange part is the nature of the charges against her. Although Rice 's sole "virtue" is that she shows blind loyalty to the Bush-Cheney agenda, she's accused of being too much her own person in crafting policy. It makes no sense, I know, but it all becomes clear later in the article:

Several of the critics have urged that Mr. Bush provide a high-profile post to James Baker, who was secretary of state under the administration of Mr. Bush's father. They cited Mr. Baker's determination to confront Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein in 1990.

A leading public critic of Miss Rice has been Richard Perle, a former chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and regarded as close to Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Perle, pointing to the effort by the State Department to undermine the Reagan administration’s policy toward the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, has accused Miss Rice of succumbing to a long-time State Department agenda of meaningless agreements meant to appease enemies of the United States.

There you have it-- it's the neocons, they want war, and they see her as a useful fall guy.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More fun with Fox and Stephen Colbert

One thing that annoys me about debating right-wingers in the age of Fox is they way they've adopted one of the network's favorite cheats, the "out of context" defense. Bill O'Reilly is a master of this, endlessly referring to Media Matters as smear merchants when all they do is provide video and text outtakes from his show-- unedited. Just claim that without noting something from elsewhere in the show, or a different show, or a speech from ten years ago, that your critic is taking it out of context-- and no one can ever pin you down. You can conveniently weasel out of anything you say, and even turn the tables on your critics.

Of course, Fox has also mastered the art of deliberately taking things out of context in order to deceive the poor slobs dumb enough to regard 'Fox News' as something other than an oxymoron. Case in point: Stephen Colbert begins a bit with "Let's have some fun," and proceeds to goad a laughing and uncomfortable Democratic Congressman into saying he likes nose candy and hookers. Fox's technical wizards leave the egging on and the laughter on the cutting room floor and present it as "shocking" footage of an arrogant Democrat making light of drug use. Of course, they left in those initial four words-- that way they can claim it was obviously a spoof, but gullible viewers can give themselves an aneurysm thinking about how evil Democrats are.

The audio is lousy, but you can see the Fox clip (complete with phony outrage from the anchor) and the actual clip at the link above. Includes complimentary Michael Moore-style narration from whoever compiled it.

Diebold long aware of security vulnerabilities

Another story courtesy of the Mysterious Cipher and Brad Blog. At the end of June, New York University's Brennan Center for Justice released a report stating that, given the terrible security of electronic voting machines, a single person versed in computer use alter the outcome of an election.

Now a group of computer science specialists write that Diebold, at least, was fully aware of the problems with their machines-- and ignored them.

Recently, computer security expert Harri Hursti revealed serious security vulnerabilities in Diebold's software. According to Michael Shamos, a computer scientist and voting system examiner in Pennsylvania, "It's the most severe security flaw ever discovered in a voting system."

Even more shockingly, we learned recently that Diebold and the State of Maryland had been aware of these vulnerabilities for at least two years. They were documented in analysis, commissioned by Maryland and conducted by RABA Technologies, published in January 2004. For over two years, Diebold has chosen not to fix the security holes, and Maryland has chosen not to alert other states or national officials about these problems.

Basically, Diebold included a "back door" in its software, allowing anyone to change or modify the software. There are no technical safeguards in place to ensure that only authorized people can make changes.

A malicious individual with access to a voting machine could rig the software without being detected. Worse yet, if the attacker rigged the machine used to compute the totals for some precinct, he or she could alter the results of that precinct. The only fix the RABA authors suggested was to warn people that manipulating an election is against the law.

GOP mayor arrested on kiddie porn charges

The mysterious Cipher directed me to a Brad Blog story about an Illinois mayor who was just arrested for distributing child pornography over the Internet. It's been a big year for busts of this sort-- and they always wind up being conservative politicos.

Ripples of shock spread from the little Village of Green Oaks, IL, through the Illinois political establishment on Monday as the news spread: Mayor Tom Adams, age 68, had been arrested at his home on Anderson Drive, and charged with distributing kiddie porn over the internet.

If convicted, Tom Adams could face 15 years in prison for each person who received child porn from him via the web.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Adams was being held on $100,000 bail. The charges against Mayor Adams were over a year in the making, according to the Tribune.

Adams used multiple screen names to send the child porn, and he was first snagged when in 2005 he sent several images of child pornography to an undercover police officer in Florida.

Tom Adams told authorities he was addicted to child pornography.

He was mayor of a town with less than 4,000 people, but Tom Adams had some pull in Illinois politics.

Isn't it accepted that people are never cured of that sort of thing? The post provides examples of Adams' political connections, and it's hard to imagine another explanation for letting him continue unchecked after having the goods on him for more than a year. As the Tribune article makes clear, he was still in possession of child porn when they raided his home yesterday.

Environment Committee Chair: global warming is Nazi plot

Nazis are everywhere these days-- blogofascists, environmentalists, liberals in general. Seems like you can't swing a Bible without hitting two of 'em. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe spotted a new crop over the weekend-- Al Gore and anyone else concerned about global warming. Which would ostensibly include thousands of scientists from around the world and big ol' list of Nobel laureates.

Is U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who believes that manmade global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," losing the public relations battle on that issue? (. . .)

In an interview, he heaped criticism on what he saw as the strategy used by those on the other side of the debate and offered a historical comparison.

"It kind of reminds . . . I could use the Third Reich, the big lie," Inhofe said.

"You say something over and over and over and over again, and people will believe it, and that's their strategy."

Cynical types might think that a right-wing senator's opinion doesn't really outweigh that of the world's scientists. But just because Inhofe received almost $300,000 dollars from big oil for his 2002 election campaign doesn't mean he's a phony. He could be genuinely delusional.

Pakistan building up nuclear arsenal

There were plenty of people who expressed concern when the White House decided to share nuclear technology with India (not so much about the decision to import Indian mangoes). Pakistan and India both have nuclear capabilities now, and a history of antagonistic relations. The obvious concern was an arms race in the region, and things do appear to be heating up. The White House just wanted to keep it secret.

The Bush administration acknowledged yesterday that it had long known about Pakistan's plans to build a large plutonium-production reactor, but it said the White House was working to dissuade Pakistan from using the plant to expand its nuclear arsenal.

"We discourage military use of the facility," White House spokesman Tony Snow said of a powerful heavy-water reactor under construction at Pakistan's Khushab nuclear site in Punjab state.

The reactor, which reportedly will be capable of producing enough plutonium for as many as 50 bombs each year, was brought to light on Sunday by independent analysts who spotted the partially completed plant in commercial-satellite photos. Snow said the administration had "known of these plans for some time."

The acknowledgment came as arms-control experts and some in Congress expressed alarm about a possible escalation of South Asia's arms race. Some also sharply criticized the administration for failing to disclose the existence of a facility that could influence an upcoming congressional debate over U.S. nuclear policy toward India and Pakistan.

This is a pretty troubling revelation-- it has huge implications for the region and our foreign policy, but the White House decided it was better to hide the information. After all, it could make Bush look bad.

Monday, July 24, 2006

If you can't rig the rules, rig the playing field

Two stories emerged yesterday about ways in which the White House is getting just what it wants, in spite of being unable to kill the estate tax and being forced to act on renewing the Voting Rights Act. In short, since Republicans haven't been able to pass legislation their supporters favor, they're trying to sabotage the system instead.

David Cay Johnston writes about goings-on at the IRS. It's no secret that poor Americans are more likely to be audited than rich Americans, with the agency going after peanuts from lower-class people who often just made mistakes on their returns rather than targeting rich tax cheats. The Bushies are just making it official policy:

The federal government is moving to eliminate the jobs of nearly half of the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit tax returns of some of the wealthiest Americans, specifically those who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer parts of their fortunes to their children and others.

The administration plans to cut the jobs of 157 of the agency’s 345 estate tax lawyers, plus 17 support personnel, in less than 70 days. Kevin Brown, an I.R.S. deputy commissioner, confirmed the cuts after The New York Times was given internal documents by people inside the I.R.S. who oppose them. (. . .)

But six I.R.S. estate tax lawyers whose jobs are likely to be eliminated said in interviews that the cuts were just the latest moves behind the scenes at the I.R.S. to shield people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance devices from thorough audits.

Over at the Boston Globe, Charlie Savage (who did the earliest real reporting on Bush's signing statements) finds that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is facing a new influx of employees: right-wingers and fundamentalists who oppose civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

In an acknowledgment of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants -- not political appointees. (. . .)

Hires with traditional civil rights backgrounds -- either civil rights litigators or members of civil rights groups -- have plunged. Only 19 of the 45 lawyers hired since 2003 in those three sections were experienced in civil rights law, and of those, nine gained their experience either by defending employers against discrimination lawsuits or by fighting against race-conscious policies.

Meanwhile, conservative credentials have risen sharply. Since 2003 the three sections have hired 11 lawyers who said they were members of the conservative Federalist Society. Seven hires in the three sections are listed as members of the Republican National Lawyers Association, including two who volunteered for Bush-Cheney campaigns.

Both articles are highly recommended.

Arlen Specter defends the indefensible

When Arlen Specter boasted of his 'compromise' with the White House on warrantless wiretapping of Americans, most media outlets lazily concurred, failing to note that Specter had defanged congressional and judicial oversight of the executive branch.

Today, the WaPo features an op-ed by Specter in which he continues to brag about the compromise. But as Glenn Greenwald notes, the "compromise" seems to have involved Specter saying "you can do whatever you want, just pretend I stood up to you."

With the Specter legislation, Bush has not agreed to allow the FISA court, or any other court, to adjudicate the legality of his eavesdropping program (meaning whether he has been violating the law for the last five years by ordering warrantless eavesdropping). To the contrary, the Specter bill would all but kill pending litigations around the country which allege that the President acted criminally by violating FISA. Nor would the Specter bill require the President to submit eavesdropping requests to courts for approval. To the contrary, the bill expressly allows the President to eavesdrop on Americans with no judicial oversight.

Another simple question the White House can't answer

[NOTE: Blogger is having all kinds of problems today, but I'll keep trying to post.]

I have my problems with Tim Russert, but sometimes he's right on the money. Case in point: an interview yesterday with White House chief of staff Josh Bolten on stem cells. It's always a waste of time listening to an administration shill regurgitating talking points, but it's fun to see them get a total beatdown.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, 128 embryos were adopted. But 400,000 are now not being used, and will be probably discarded. And you’re saying they should not be used for research by the federal government.

MR. BOLTEN: Yes, that is the president’s policy.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you then move to close down in vitro clinics—if, in fact, those embryos are being created and used by private companies for research and the president’s spokesman says that’s murder, and the president said it’s a human life, why not then close down the in vitro fertility clinics? Because they’re creating embryos that, in the president’s view, will be murdered.

MR. BOLTEN: That’s not where the president has, has drawn the balance. He’s drawn the balance with—the line with federal funding, people’s tax dollars not going to—not going to incent the further destruction of the human life. Look, 400,000...

MR. RUSSERT: But he will—he will allow private cell research companies to “destroy human life.”

MR. BOLTEN: That issue isn’t before him. What’s before him is what—the issue of what will federal funds be used for.

Look, those, those 400,000 fertilized...

MR. RUSSERT: But he could take steps to outlaw that.

MR. BOLTEN: Those 400,000 human—fertilized human embryos, I’m sure the president fervently wishes that, that every single one of them is going to get adopted and turn into one of those beautiful kids we saw at the ceremony.

Russert also trashes Karl Rove's phony argument about adult stem cells being "far more promising." Bolten can't answer that, either.

ABA blasts Bush's signing statements

There's nothing they can do about it, of course, but having the story in the news is still a good thing. The signing statement issue has gotten very little attention, in spite of being an unprecedented abuse of presidential authority.

The American Bar Association said Sunday that President Bush was flouting the Constitution and undermining the rule of law by claiming the power to disregard selected provisions of bills that he signed.

In a comprehensive report, a bipartisan 11-member panel of the bar association said Mr. Bush had used such “signing statements” far more than his predecessors, raising constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws on the ground that they infringed on his prerogatives.

These broad assertions of presidential power amount to a “line-item veto” and improperly deprive Congress of the opportunity to override the veto, the panel said.

In signing a statutory ban on torture and other national security laws, Mr. Bush reserved the right to disregard them.

The bar association panel said the use of signing statements in this way was “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.” From the dawn of the Republic, it said, presidents have generally understood that, in the words of George Washington, a president “must approve all the parts of a bill, or reject it in toto.”

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Monday Funny, with Gloomy Gus

Start your week off right-- with nervous, slightly uncomfortable laughter.

This Modern World By Tom Tomorrow

South Dakota GOP moves to define abortion as murder-- and murder doctors

Those zany fundamentalists, I tell ya. When they're not trying to outlaw science education or mandate prayer time or plaster "I am the Lord thy God..." on every public owned building in the nation, they're doing their level best to turn back the clock on women's rights. What a fun bunch.

Doctors who perform illegal abortions under the terms of HB1215 could face a first-degree murder charge under revised homicide provisions in South Dakota law, a lawyer for the South Dakota State Medical Association says. Pierre lawyer Dave Gerdes said in a legal memo written for the association that if HB1215 survives challenges at the ballot and, possibly, in court, it could combine with a revised state homicide statute to pose an ominous legal threat to doctors charged with violating the law.

"It is at least possible that a prosecutor or a court will decide that a physician performing a procedure qualifying as an abortion under the language of the new statute can be prosecuted for first-degree murder," Gerdes wrote in the memo.

In response, the prime sponsor of HB1215 said Thursday that violating the law would be a Class 5 felony, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. But Republican Rep. Roger Hunt, a lawyer from Brandon, wouldn't rule out the possibility that a doctor could face a murder charge and even the death penalty in certain situations.

The only good thing about the newly-emboldened fundamentalist movement is that the more open they push their agenda of theocracy and apocalypse, the more the public wakes up to their madness.

Bizarroworld Weekend: White House Un-Reality

Think Progress catches a pair of classic BushCo disinformation moments from the weekend talking head shows.

First, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten was on Press the Meat today to declare that speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani feels "appreciation for the sacrifice so many Americans have made" in Iraq.

al-Mashhadani was quoted just yesterday as saying "The US occupation is butcher's work under the slogan of democracy and human rights and justice.”

On Friday, the White House awarded itself a big gold star in releasing “Setting the Record Straight: President Bush's Foreign Policy is Succeeding,” which four times made the beyond-dubious claim that the world is "rallying" behind the White House.

UN representative John Bolton apparently missed the memo, because in a Fox News appearance yesterday, he acknowledged that his public support for a successor to Kofi Annan "would probably be the kiss of death for that person."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Situation worsens in Afghanistan

Afghanistan still gets very little press, although the conditions there are deteriorating for the same reasons they are in Iraq-- lack of manpower, no clear strategy, and the corruption of contractors. Unlike Iraq, the international community is trying to keep things under control. But it doesn't appear to be working.

The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan yesterday described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people.

The assumption within Nato countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said yesterday. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".

Meanwhile, in Iraq:

A ban on private vehicles had kept down violence Friday after one of the most violent weeks in the capital this year. It expired Friday evening, and within hours, heavy bursts of automatic weapons rang out.

Scattered bombings and shootings were reported in the capital late Friday and Saturday.

Elsewhere, three people were killed and five were injured in a bombing and shooting in the main market in Baqouba, where U.S. forces killed five civilians — including two women and a toddler — the day before. The U.S. troops had taken fire from a building during a raid for suspected terrorists.

Bolton UN confirmation, take two

Whenever Bolton has made the news after failing to be confirmed for the UN by the Senate, it's been bad. All he seems to be known for is being combative and uncooperative-- and that's aside from his history of publicly decrying the UN itself.

It'll be interesting to see how the next round of confirmation hearings play out in the coming week. We'll see the GOP trying to keep its members in line by claiming that it's imperative to stay the course with the current crises in the Middle East. On the other hand is the failure of diplomacy under this administration-- a situation that will be exacerbated if we once again flip off the world by sending them a man known best for his contempt of diplomacy.

United Nations envoys complain that US Ambassador John Bolton's ways foil goals, according to article on the front page of Sunday's New York Times.

"But diplomats focus particularly on an area with less evidence of instructions from Washington and more of Mr. Bolton’s personal touch, the mission that he has described as his priority: overhauling the institution’s discredited management," Warren Hoge writes for The Times.

"Envoys say he has in fact endangered that effort by alienating traditional allies," the article continues.

"They say he combatively asserts American leadership, contests procedures at the mannerly, rules-bound United Nations and then shrugs off the organization when it does not follow his lead," writes Hoge.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Anti-Science Friday: WSJ calls for more Star Wars funding

Unbelievable. I've long railed against the boondoggle of missile defense-- it's a great concept, but it's also proven to be nothing more than an extremely expensive pipe dream in the decades since it was first dreamt up by the Reagan White House. Never mind what a nutty idea it was then, Reagan has been elevated to the status of false idol by America's right wing, and can retroactively do no wrong.

As physicist Robert Park observes in his latest newsletter:

In 1984, President Reagan called on the scientific community to
render nuclear missiles "impotent and obsolete" with the Star
Wars missile defense system. Nine years and $30B later SDI was
terminated. There was nothing to show for it. George W. Bush,
who knows as much science as Reagan did, declared we would
have a
missile defense by 2004. When North Korea announced
last month
it would test a missile capable of reaching San
Francisco, the
Pentagon revealed our missile defense had never been turned on.

It didn't work, doesn't work, and I've never heard a scientist claim that technology has reached a point where a system would be viable. That hasn't stopped the batshit crazy Wall Street Journal editorial board from blaming Democrats (huh?) for that fact.

You can read it if you like, but it's only useful as a lesson in sophistry-- the science is ignored, and rigged tests are cited as successes. They vaguely acknowledge that missile defense doesn't work, but talk of the "strategic value," presumably as a decoy. The problem with that is that decoys tend to work only once in wartime, and if the missiles have been fired, it's a moot point anyway. Weak. And while they claim that petulant Democrats would've killed the program a long time ago (and led us to a nuclear holocaust, naturally), the fact that some $100 billion has been spent on the failed program seems to be a pretty weak platform for launching an attack against naysayers.

The piece ends with the claim that "missile defenses are a necessary part of America's intiterror state arsenal." Maybe someone should tell them that we've had some pretty unpleasant experiences with terrorists who didn't use ballistic missiles. It wouldn't cost $10 billion a year to prevent another 9/11, but no one on the right seems interested.

How to be a terrorism foe... or at least look like one

The Mysterious Cipher sent me an op-ed from the Boston Globe that takes a little time from this week of horrific international news to focus on some horrific domestic news. It still freaks me out to think that just a couple of years ago I would've scoffed at anyone who used the term 'police state' in connection with the United States, much less used it myself. Actually, what freaks me out is how readily such terms are used these days, and by people who are anything but radical.

The administration has suffered some setbacks recently thanks to responsible judges, but as the author of this piece reminds us, even the policies that aren't patently illegal suffer from the same overzealous incompetence that characterizes the entire Bush era.

In the six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, the US government rounded up 1,200 people as suspected terrorists, or their supporters. All that was necessary for an Arab illegal immigrant to be considered a suspected terrorist was to encounter FBI agents in New York or New Jersey. None of the detainees proved to have links to the attacks. (. . .)

Hundreds of disruptions have occurred at American airports since Sept. 11 after security breaches set off fears of terror attacks. The subsequent lockdowns boosted local television news ratings. Though no terrorists have been apprehended, thousands of Americans have been arrested at airports for violating Transportation Security Administration regulations or other rules.

Since 2001, federal officials have carried out wave after wave of arrests and crackdowns on alleged terrorist financing. But none of those apprehended in the United States have been linked to Al Qaeda. And the vast majority have been arrested merely for carrying more than $10,000 out of the country without filling out a government form. Because the $10,000 rule was enacted as part of the Patriot Act, federal officials portrayed all the arrests as victories over terrorism. (. . .)

Thousands of Americans have had their phones tapped without a warrant, but none has been charged with supporting or conspiring with Al Qaeda.

In spite of all this, the author asserts (undoubtedly correctly) that the next step is for Congressional Republicans to make an end run around the Hamdan decision, allowing the White House to set up kangaroo courts and make further bogus claims about their successes in fighting terror-- and using civil rights abuses as a platform for flogging Democrats.

Negroponte blocks CIA reports on Iraq

Speaking of the administration's utter refusal to face facts on Iraq policy, Harper's is reporting that John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence, is preventing the CIA from compiling a report on the situation in Iraq because he “doesn't want the president to have to deal with that.”

I reported in May that despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq, no National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been produced on that country since the summer of 2004. The last NIE, a classified document that the CIA describes as “the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue,” was rejected by the Bush Administration (after being leaked to the New York Times) as being too negative, though its grim assessment subsequently proved to be highly accurate.

The situation has gotten even darker since my initial story—a United Nations report cited in Wednesday's New York Times found that an average of more than 100 Iraqi civilians were killed each day in June—and I've learned from two sources that some senior figures at the CIA, along with a number of Iraq analysts, have been pushing to produce a new NIE. They've been stonewalled, however, by John Negroponte, the administration's Director of National Intelligence, who knows that any honest take on the situation would produce an NIE even more pessimistic than the 2004 version. That could create problems on the Hill and, if it is leaked as the last one was, with the public as well.

To sum up, the facts are unacceptable and must be ignored.

In a different piece, it is suggested that a high-level CIA official was in Negroponte's sights because of his criticism of Iraq policy:

However, the source told me, Kostiw ran afoul of Hayden’s boss, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. It appears that Kostiw's grim assessment of the situation in Iraq, where he traveled regularly over the past several years, displeased Negroponte, who “wasn't happy with his criticism,” said the source. “He said [Kostiw] wasn't being supportive enough of the policy.”

Iraqi officials brace for collapse, civil war

There's a reason Vladimir Putin got lots of press for retorting that he certainly wouldn't want a democracy like that of Iraq after a jab from Bush-- it's because everyone but the White House and a minority of Americans knows that the country is on the brink of disaster. Now a Reuters correspondent writes that Iraqi government officials are close to abandoning any idea of a stable nation.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," one senior government official said -- anonymously because the coalition under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki remains committed in public to the U.S.-sponsored constitution that preserves Iraq's unity.

One highly placed source even spoke of busying himself on government projects, despite a sense of their futility, only as a way to fight his growing depression over his nation's future.

"The parties have moved to Plan B," the senior official said, saying Sunni, ethnic Kurdish and majority Shi'ite blocs were looking at ways to divide power and resources and to solve the conundrum of Baghdad's mixed population of seven million.

"There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into east and west," he said. "We are extremely worried." (. . .)

Some Western diplomats in Baghdad say there is little sign the new government is capable of halting a slide to civil war.

"Maliki and some others seem to be genuinely trying to make this work," one said. "But it doesn't look like they have real support. The factions are looking out for their own interests."

Plenty of bright commentators have been observing that Iraq's best hope for the future is to break up into a loose confederation of states, but the dispersion of natural resources makes that an unwelcome prospect for Sunnis. But it doesn't really matter as long as this administration refuses to face reality.

Bush heckled during NAACP speech

The photo of Bush's reaction can just be added to the file. As with, most recently, his barely-concealed rage at the reporter who wore sunglasses while asking a question in a Rose Garden press conference, Bush adopts that smarmy look that says "I can't believe someone as great as I am has to put up with such stupidity." It reminds me of those stories about G-Dub flipping his wig whenever a staffer has to share bad news. The guy's living in a dangerous fantasy world in which he's a competent and wise leader.


Toward the end of his remarks, two protesters interrupted the president, shouting inquiries about Vice President Dick Cheney and the situation in the Middle East.

"Stop being a Stepin Fetchit for Dick Cheney!" one shouted in a reference to a black actor known for stereotypical portrayals of black minstrel characters.

Bond approached the microphone, but Bush told him not to bother trying to quell the disturbance. "Don't worry," Bush told Bond. "I'm almost done."

"I know you can handle it," Bond replied.

He handled it, all right, the only way he knows how. By 'staying the course' and reading the speech someone wrote for him. Sad.

UPDATE: The official White House site sanitized the transcript of the event by excising the heckling (and the exchange cited above) and presenting the ironic and intense acknowledgment Bush received for saying "many African Americans distrust my political party" as some sort of agreement with him that it was an unjustified shame. Sadder.

UPDATE 2: Media Matters spotted a Washington Post account of the speech that misrepresents the NAACP audience's Applause-O-Meter. It's a little bit technical and wonky 'n stuff, but what it boils down to is a report that emphasizes applause that rates a 3.5 or so over applause that rates a 4.7. Or so. The bottom line is this: journalistic laziness gives us yet another story benefits America's right wing. No, it isn't a huge deal in and of itself. It's just another example in an endless stream of exhibits-- the subtle distortion of a very simple, observable, demonstrable truth in a minor way that critically alters the story.

Buchanan, Matthews talk sense about war

You know something's off-kilter in political punditry when Pat Buchanan is one of the most sensible voices on the airwaves. But as a post at Daily Kos notes, he and Hardball's Chris Matthews are proving to be the voices of reason as the neocons and their boosters call for more war. These quotes are from Wednesday's Hardball.

Matthews: We've killed 50,000 Iraqi's in a war that was supposed to be a two-day wonder. When are we going to notice that the neocons don't know what they're talking about. They're not looking at this country's long term interest. They're bound up in regional and global ideology and they have had no experience, I'll say it again, in even a school yard fight.

Are these people nuts? You've got to ask yourself. I certainly hope the president is not listening to them because I really question whether they've got America's national interest at heart. They're calling for wars against people that never attacked us. I don't care how bad they are. There are wicked people all over this world but you don't go after people unless they come after you.

Yes, they are nuts. And while they don't have a grip on reality, they do have a grip on the White House.

GOP backs away from "stay the course" Iraq policy

It was just a few weeks ago that Congressional Republicans were blasting Democrats for their "cut and run" approach to Iraq. "Artificial timetables" would embolden the enemy, setting tangible goals would unfairly tie the administration's hands, and total victory was the only option. If the matter comes up for debate again, Republicans will be just as vocal in denouncing opposition to the president's non-plan. It's an election year, you know.

But it's now being reported that more than 100 Iraqi civilians are dying in attacks every day, and several Republicans are starting to publicly acknowledge that staying the course is the worst thing to do now.

Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) is using his House Government Reform subcommittee on national security to vent criticism of the White House's war strategy and new estimates of the monetary cost of the war. Rep. Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse "than we'd been led to believe" and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately.

And freshman Sen. John Thune (S.D.) told reporters at the National Press Club that if he were running for reelection this year, "you obviously don't embrace the president and his agenda."

"The first thing I'd do is acknowledge that there have been mistakes made," Thune said.

Rank-and file Republicans who once adamantly backed the administration on the war are moving to a two-stage new message, according to some lawmakers. First, Republicans are making it clear to constituents they do not agree with every decision the president has made on Iraq. Then they boil the argument down to two choices: staying and fighting or conceding defeat to a vicious enemy.

The shift is subtle, but Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Government Reform Committee set to investigate White House on two new fronts

It sounds like a lot of the credit goes to Henry Waxman, who has long been an opponent of waste, fraud, and shady dealings.

TPM Muckraker expresses some optimism that Jack Abramoff's much-more- extensive- than-previously-lied-about connections to the White House are going to get some scrutiny.

. . .the investigation extends to Abramoff's earlier firm Preston Gates and also Alexander Strategy Group, the now-defunct lobby shop run by Ed Buckham, Tom DeLay's former chief of staff who was very close to Abramoff.

Very quietly, the committee, helmed by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), has been gathering these documents since early March. They're investigating in order “to understand the nature and extent of Jack Abramoff’s interactions with public officials in the executive branch, including the White House, and the legislative branch,” according to a letter from the Committee to Greenberg Traurig's attorney. No hearings have been scheduled yet.

And Think Progress also cites a (subscription-only) Roll Call article stating that the committee will launch a bipartisan inquiry into allegations that White House officials, including former advisor Philip Cooney, edited climate reports to play down the potential threat of global warming.

The White House could be getting a lot more lame duckish a lot more quickly than previously thought. We can only hope.

Tony Snow's Lie of the Day

That'd be a reliable ongoing feature, but the lies are coming a little too thick and fast these days. Today was sort of an unofficial GOP "we like black people" day, with Bush using the occasion of his first-ever meeting with the NAACP to talk about how devoted he was to improving the numbers on black home ownership-- in spite of the Republicans' fierce opposition to anti-predatory lending laws. But Tony Snow really took the biscuit with his 100% false claim that the administration is "closing the racial income gap."

QUESTION: After the speech, people said that the president said what he needed to say about the Voting Rights Act and they were very appreciative of that, but that the speech fell flat when he spoke about education, jobs and other issues. And they felt very passionately that on jobs, housing, education, affirmative action, the administration has not put forth policies that have improved their lives.

How do you respond to that?

SNOW: Well, two things.

First, you take a look at the economic data. And you have seen growing — I guess I could put it this way — income equality has a better record in this administration than in previous.

There was this widening gap. It’s not widening anymore.

Actually, it doesn't get any more untrue than that. BushCo has managed to reverse a trend toward income equality that occurred under Clinton. But we all know how much Fearless Leader hates doing anything like Clinton. Maybe Snow should've argued that the GOP's economic policies are genuinely colorblind-- they punish all non-wealthy Americans equally.

Judge upholds case against AT&T, administration

Some good news in the wake of the Hamdan decision-- patently absurd requests from the government to dismiss the case because of 'national security concerns.' As with the abuse heaped on the New York Times (but not the Wall Street Journal) for their story on monitoring bank transactions, the judge pointed out a very simple fact-- administration officials have publicly discussed the program.

A federal judge declined motions on Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit against AT&T alleging the firm illegally allowed the U.S. government to monitor phone conversations and e-mail communications.

AT&T asked the court in late April to dismiss the case, and two weeks later the U.S. government also asked the federal judge to dismiss it because of the secrecy of the issue.

In a 72-page ruling on Thursday, Judge Vaughn Walker rejected that filing in a case that has raised further attention to the domestic spying program acknowledged by President George W. Bush.

"The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret," the judge wrote. "Public disclosures by the government and AT&T indicate that AT&T is assisting the government to implement some kind of surveillance program."

Presto Change-o!

The renewal of the Voting Rights Act caused some problems for the GOP in the House. There was a struggle to keep it from reaching the floor for a vote, and 33 southern representatives ultimately voted against it.

When it hit the senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist assured the public that there would be a vote... someday. But he was suddenly spurred to action on the very day that Bush decided to break his longstanding tradition of refusing to speak before the NAACP. What a coincidence!

A bill to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 years moved toward passage Thursday, propelled by a Republican push to increase the party's credibility with minorities.

On the same day President Bush was appearing for the first time before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Senate churned through debate on the law, enacted to halt racist voting practices in the South.

Few obstacles stand in the way of Congress renewing the landmark civil rights law — a year before it expires. (. . .)

The bill passed the House 390-33 last week, with opposition mostly from Southern Republicans who said the law unfairly singles out their states for racist voting practices of yesteryear without crediting them with improvements. A few senators have echoed those concerns, but the renewal is expected to pass in that chamber overwhelmingly.

John Dean on authoritarianism

After a flood of news yesterday, things are pretty quiet. What to post? How about a recent op-ed by lifelong conservative John Dean, who's been making the rounds lately to promote his new book Conservatives Without Conscience.

Today's Republican policies are antithetical to bedrock conservative fundamentals. There is nothing conservative about preemptive wars or disregarding international law by condoning torture. Abandoning fiscal responsibility is now standard operating procedure. Bible-thumping, finger-pointing, tongue-lashing attacks on homosexuals are not found in Russell Krik's classic conservative canons, nor in James Burham's guides to conservative governing. Conservatives in the tradition of former senator Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan believed in "conserving" this planet, not relaxing environmental laws to make life easier for big business. And neither man would have considered employing Christian evangelical criteria in federal programs, ranging from restricting stem cell research to fighting AIDs through abstinence.