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


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Beware of Republicans in tight races

George Allen's tragicomic 'Macaca' bit from a few weeks ago appears to have cost him in the polls, with his comfy double digit lead evaporating since the event. But with the GOP getting more and more anxious about the elections, we're guaranteed to see plenty more race-baiting in the coming weeks.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, whose recent comments have stirred controversy, says the United States is up against a faceless enemy of terrorists who "drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night."

During a fundraiser Wednesday with first lady Laura Bush, the three-term Montana senator talked about terrorism, tax cuts and the money he has brought to his state. Burns is one of the more vulnerable Senate incumbents, facing a tough challenge from Democrat Jon Tester.

He has drawn criticism in recent weeks for calling his house painter a "nice little Guatemalan man" during a June speech. Burns, whose re-election campaign is pressing for tighter immigration controls, also suggested that the man might be an illegal immigrant. The campaign later said the worker is legal.

Catapult the Propaganda

When Fearless Leader uttered those words, they might've been the most honest of his presidency. Even though many right-wing bloggers and even some of the most fervent pro-Bush Congressmen have abandoned their mission to demand that the media report on all that "good news" from Iraq, the White House is boldly staying the course.

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.

The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.

Perhaps the saddest part of the article is author Walter Pincus using the term "coalition forces." I didn't think anyone was still using that old chestnut.

GOP co-opts 'fascist' leading into elections

It's been a while since Bush started tripping over the term 'Islamo-fascism,' but variants of the word are becoming increasingly common from the White House and Republicans seeking re-election. The irony is staggering coming from the most authoritarian and reactionary manifestation of the Republican party in modern America, but as a professor of government quoted in the article puts it, they "probably had a focus group and they found the word 'fascist.'"

Bush used the term earlier this month in talking about the arrest of suspected terrorists in Britain, and spoke of "Islamic fascists" in a later speech in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Spokesman Tony Snow has used variations on the phrase at White House press briefings.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, in a tough re-election fight, drew parallels on Monday between World War II and the current war against "Islamic fascism," saying they both require fighting a common foe in multiple countries. It's a phrase Santorum has been using for months.

And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday took it a step further in a speech to an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, accusing critics of the administration's Iraq and anti-terrorism policies of trying to appease "a new type of fascism."

The move by Rumsfeld to go from painting White House critics as anti-American to Nazi sympathizers is the antithesis of what freedom is supposed to mean in this country, a move more in line with the fascism he ostensibly decries and, in a word, disgraceful. But Keith Olbermann delivered an outstanding commentary on this sickening new GOP ploy on his show Countdown, and Crooks and Liars has the video. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kenneth Tomlinson under fire. Again.

Tomlinson came under attack during his tenure at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting when it became clear that he was violating regulations in an attempt to turn PBS into a propaganda arm of the Republican party. In spite of his close ties to the White House, he had to step down.

But perhaps because of his close ties to the White House, he landed in another cushy job-- as head of the State Department's Broadcasting Board of Governors. With his renomination to the position soon to be taken up by the appropriate senate committee, it's emerging that Tomlinson has once again used a position to further his own personal agenda.

State Department investigators have found that the head of the agency overseeing most government broadcasts to foreign countries has used his office to run a “horse racing operation” and that he improperly put a friend on the payroll, according to a summary of a report made public on Tuesday by a Democratic lawmaker.

The report said that the official, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had repeatedly used government employees to perform personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit.

The summary of the report, prepared by the State Department inspector general, said the United States attorney’s office here had been given the report and decided not to conduct a criminal inquiry.

The summary said the Justice Department was pursuing a civil inquiry focusing on the contract for Mr. Tomlinson’s friend.

I suppose there might be no option for the poor guy but an insanely lucrative lobbying career.

New questions about the UK bomb plot

Speaking of failures of the press, the New York Times is now (is anyone still paying attention?) pointing out some of the serious questions about the timing of the UK bomb plot arrests-- and by extension the draconian and often bizarre restrictions immediately placed on all flights.

While British investigators had hard evidence of several men talking about their desire to blow stuff up and kill people (not unlike the recent New York tunnel case), there doesn't seem to have been an active threat. They were obviously dangerous men, but the authorities were doing excellent work and in complete control of the situation.

Consider this statement:

Hours after the police arrested the 21 suspects, police and government officials in both countries said they had intended to carry out the deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11.

Not to make light of terrorist plots, but I'm sure there are plenty of extremists, potential terrorists, and delusional fools who aspire to such infamy. But "intended to" doesn't equal "ready, willing and able to." And a populace exhausted by constant-- and dubious-- terror threats, subjected to sudden and extreme changes in air travel rules only to learn that it was all for nothing is going to become increasingly difficult to protect when the inevitable terror attack does take place. It's the obvious and dangerous consequence of using terrorism as a political football.

Despite the charges, officials said they were still unsure of one critical question: whether any of the suspects was technically capable of assembling and detonating liquid explosives while airborne.

A chemist involved in that part of the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was sworn to confidentiality, said HMTD, which can be prepared by combining hydrogen peroxide with other chemicals, “in theory is dangerous,” but whether the suspects “had the brights to pull it off remains to be seen.”

While officials and experts familiar with the case say the investigation points to a serious and determined group of plotters, they add that questions about the immediacy and difficulty of the suspected bombing plot cast doubt on the accuracy of some of the public statements made at the time.

“In retrospect,’’ said Michael A. Sheehan, the former deputy commissioner of counterterrorism in the New York Police Department, “there may have been too much hyperventilating going on.”

The press fails miserably. Again.

Like the Miami terror arrests, and the New York tunnel plot, and possibly even the UK bomb plot, the arrest of that guy in the Jon Benet Ramsey case was seen by the media as a chance to saturate the news with breathless and interminable coverage of a story about which there were serious misgivings from the start-- at least from anyone who cared enough to do a little digging. Apparently most mainstream journalists don't fit that description.

We're all used to being let down by the press these days, and especially cable news stations. And although it's Monday morning quarterbacking to mention it, I was satisfied that the suspect had nothing to do with the crime more than a week ago. There seemed to be plenty of inconsistencies in the story, but no actual evidence. We might expect the media to ignore news in favor of sensationalism these days, but some solid criticism never hurts.

Samples of Karr's DNA had been taken upon his arrival in Boulder on Thursday and they were tested at the Denver Police Department's crime lab over the weekend. Despite his insistence that he killed Ramsey -- and the 10-day media frenzy that has followed -- the tests have failed to put him at the scene of the crime and he may be released entirely by the end of the week.

What is amazing to me is the media circus that has followed this "case" for almost two weeks now without really a shred of proof that anything had truly developed in the 10-year-old mystery. And we're not just talking about an informational mention on page six or seven of the local newspaper, or a 90-second story buried in the second half of a one-hour newscast.

We're talking about hour upon hour of coverage, with some cable news networks devoting the entire hour of a 60-minute newscast to a developing story that could very well have turned out to be a lot of noise about nothing. We're talking about alleged journalists and editors whose judgment made them decide that John Mark Karr's plane ride from Thailand to the United States, where he sat, who he talked to, what he ate and even what procedure was used to allow him to use the bathroom was their very top story.

Specter. GOP move to dismantle FISA

Senator Arlen Specter spent a week or so patting himself on the back for his 'compromise' with the White House on warrantless wiretaps, but it was obvious upon examination of his proposal that he'd given the administration everything they wanted.

Now his proposed legislation is set to come up before the Judiciary Committee, and if anything, it will be more White House-friendly than even he planned.

The judiciary committee originally sought to bring the NSA wiretapping program into compliance with FISA, but in practice, critics claim, Specter’s FISA amendments actually give the president freedom to expand his wiretapping activities.

A statement released by the office of Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) states that Specter’s bill “gives him even more power than he has asserted under his illegal NSA wiretapping program.”

A different bill, written by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and cosponsored by Specter will also appear before the committee Thursday. Its provisions would do more to limit the NSA program than Specter’s, and would even mandate that the program face judicial review.

But a Senate aide who works closely with Specter tells Raw Story that, “The White House said they would veto any bill that includes a provision for judicial review.”

I'm not sure how much more Republican-style irony I can take from this administration. After a decade of decrying the lawbreaking of Clinton, they're actively dismantling legislation specifically designed to prevent presidents from breaking the law.

But Raw Story also reports today that there's another effort underway to call for accountability on the issue:

Two attorneys representing claimants in a lawsuit over wiretapping by the National Security Agency claim that they have sent subpoenas to the White House today, Raw Story has learned.

Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, who say they represent hundreds of plaintiffs in lawsuits against Verizon, AT&T, and the US Government, will announnce today that they are serving both the Bush administration and Verizon with subpoenas.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Productivity still up, wages still down

Things might not be tough all over, but it's pretty damn close.

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

Until the last year, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by the rising value of benefits, especially health insurance, which caused overall compensation for most Americans to continue increasing. Since last summer, however, the value of workers’ benefits has also failed to keep pace with inflation, according to government data.

At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.

It's interesting to note that we're in a situation where rising health care costs are figured in to be a plus for American workers. Needless to say, the GOP is trying to fix that, too, by shifting the costs from corporations to workers without addressing the skyrocketing costs. In other words, things can still get a whole lot worse.

The Stars and Stripes of Corruption

Here are two stories that highlight the importance of this year's elections-- and why we're likely to wind up with more of the same next year. It's become routine for Congressional Republicans to use shifty parliamentary procedures to muzzle Democrats, quietly kill off legislation they don't like, and otherwise use their majority status to wreck the nation.

The latest example is an attempt at government spending transparency, which passed unanimously in a voice vote (i.e., 'with cameras on'), but is ironically being held up by an individual whose identity remains a secret.

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which Coburn has called “Google for government spending,” calls for a single, publicly accessible Web site that tracks the approximately $1 trillion in federal contracts, grants, and loans — among other allocations — awarded each year, providing detailed information on the ward’s recipient, amount, and intended purpose. “The concept behind the bill is really quite simple: put information on government spending out there for all to see and greater accountability will follow,” Coburn said during the July 18 hearing on the legislation. “It will also change the expectations of those receiving funds…they will know in advance that the information will be public.”

The Web site itself would be created and operated by the Office of Management and Budget. A search engine would enable anyone to “literally type in a name... for example, ‘Halliburton’, ‘Planned Parenthood’, or ‘Alaskan bridges’, and something will show up,” said Coburn’s spokesman, John Hart. “Another great example is if someone wanted to get quick and accurate information on Katrina reconstruction, they’ll just type in the name of the contractors.”

Co-sponsored by 29 senators on both sides of the aisle, the bill has garnered widespread support from more than 100 organizations, ranging from Greenpeace to Jim Dobson’s Focus on the Family. However, just as the legislation was gaining momentum, it was blocked from floor consideration by an anonymous hold — the unofficial procedure whereby a Senator requests that the floor leader prevent a particular bill from reaching the floor.

How is the public reacting to this latest outrage? With an alarming degree of apathy. Corrupt Congressman "Duke" Cunningham's seat was filled by a lobbyist, and although politicians like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum and Bob Ney are finished or in big trouble, many Congressmen currently under investigation for corruption are set to coast to re-election this fall, as PBS' Now reports.

Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA), has been under federal scrutiny but is expected to easily win the re-election by a landslide in his district. A local DNC official tells PBS that Lewis' campaign has accumulated over $1.5 million, while his Democratic opponent struggles to raise any funds, and the National DNC has not provided cash or other resources.

Lewis is Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and as such is one of the most powerful members of The House. He stands accused of handing out money as earmarks, and receiving campaign contributions and other favors in return.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

News Blackout

It looks like I'm in for a few more busy days. Expect posting to resume next week. Although I'll probably have to get a news fix over the weekend and be unable to resist putting up a couple of posts.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bush, a Flashman for our times

I recently wrote a post about the curious fact that Bush's vacation reading always makes headlines. While it would be interesting to know what a sitting president is reading, the whole thing just stinks of a White House effort to cast Fearless Leader as serious-minded and intelligent, in spite of being known as the least "intellectually curious" president in modern history, if not ever.

Ezra Klein observes that the White House Press Office is now going a step further, releasing a list of sixty books the president is supposed to have read this year. Somebody out there did a rough take on the numbers, and finds that Fearless Leader would be reading a minimum of several hours every day to have gotten through the list. Hard to believe coming from a man who once boasted of having the day's top news stories condensed and summarized for him instead of bothering with newspapers.

This site has a selection of Bush's alleged reading list, and it's actually pretty funny. There are several of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels present, and I actually enjoyed that series. But there are also a couple of George Fraser's Flashman novels (if you're not familiar with the character, I highly recommend reading about them here) -- stories of a craven, bullying asskisser who bungles his way through the Victorian era and somehow always comes out a winner. Somehow they strike me as a much more suitable choice for the Boy King than MacDonald's two-fisted knight errant.

PS- Why in the world doesn't the president's reading list include anything about, say, the Middle East? I hear some big things are happening over there.

Verizon saves customers $1.25-- and only charges $1.20 for it!

Ah, the marvels of corporatism. Verizon lobbied hard to get a federal tax, the Universal Service Fund, stricken from the lawbooks. It amounted to $1.25 per DSL customer per month. But they're not passing the savings on to you-- the difference is being made up by a price hike thanks to a new Verizon surcharge of $1.20. They call it saving you a nickel. I call it bribing legislators to boost executive salaries.

The Onion decided to take aim at Verizon with a 'news in brief' story titled "Verizon Introduces New Charge-You-At-Whim Plan."

Joe Lieberman makes me nervous

Eric Alterman predicts that Joe Lieberman is still in the running to replace Donald Rumsfeld if he wins in November. While I wouldn't have that thought that the Democratic senator replacing a dyed in the wool neocon would be a bad thing, Lieberman's recent interview with far-right pundit Glenn Beck (the weird swipe at Nagin nicely demonstrates his committment to hackery) made me wonder what the heck is going in Joe's mind. His views sound no different than the most outspoken and bellicose neocons. (excerpts courtesy TPM Cafe)

BECK: I am so afraid that we are going to see Lebanon fall into the hands totally of Hezbollah...that you're gonna start to see Iran come into Iraq. The entire Middle East is gonna be on fire. And we are going to find ourselves like Ray Nagin found himself with buses in a parking lot.


BECK: Why is it there aren't more politicians saying, Guys, this is World War III. We are in deep trouble.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, I mean, I don't know the answer to that...Everything you just said about the Middle East is right....If we walk away [from Iraq], then the Iranians will as sure as I'm talking to you surge into Iraq, certainly take over the south and all the oil that's there....We'll have 200-dollar barrel oil, we'll be paying six or seven bucks a gallon. And that'll just be the tip of it. I mean, there'll be instability and war throughout the Middle East. We've got to wake up to this....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gone. But not fishing.

There was plenty of news today, but it was a busy one for me. Hopefully I'll get to it all tomorrow. Sorry for the lack of posts.

Monday, August 21, 2006

US-UK rift appears to widen as Blair criticizes Bush

In the wake of the Israel-Lebanon violence, British lawmakers and Blair himself appear to be getting more vocal about their dissatisfaction with White House policy. But the prime minister is facing increased accusations that his recent opposition to White House policy, particularly in the Middle East, is just an attempt to salvage his own career.

The alliance between George Bush and Tony Blair is in danger after it was revealed that the Prime Minister believes the President has 'let him down badly' over the Middle East crisis.

A senior Downing Street source said that, privately, Mr Blair broadly agrees with John Prescott, who said Mr Bush's record on the issue was 'crap'.

The source said: "We all feel badly let down by Bush. We thought we had persuaded him to take the Israel-Palestine situation seriously, but we were wrong. How can anyone have faith in a man of such low intellect?"

The disclosure comes ahead of a mini recall of Parliament to allow MPs to vent their fury over Mr Blair's handling of Israel's war with Hezbollah and whether the recent terror plot in Britain was affected by his role in the Iraq war.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday Funny: The Traitorous New York Times

Looks like I could've been more timely with this link, but in case you haven't seen it, have a look. It should be good for some chuckles.

It's an interactive piece called "What Right-Wingers See When They Read The New York Times," including a headline that magically transforms from 'Security Scrutiny' to 'Map: Where Exactly to Attack.' Clever.

The tragic legacy of Katrina

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, there will be plenty of media coverage. "One year later" stories are already being published, in fact, and from the look of them it won't be positive pre-election coverage for the ruling party. But that can't be helped-- there really isn't a way to spin the incompetence, fraud, and simple disinterest that have defined the federal response.

In fact, this is an area in which the right-wing echo chamber is especially weak. Pundits are still clinging to lines like it's all the fault of local officials, which was plausible at the time, but not a year later. Then there's the (not even subtle) racism of arguing that the populace couldn't be helped because they were all drug-addicted gang members. The usual anti-federal government schtick doesn't work too well when your party's in charge, and it was further undercut by the common knowledge of BushCo incompetence at FEMA.

From the article:

*A June report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that FEMA wasted between $600 million and $1.4 billion on "improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments."

*The [cleanup] job still isn't done. More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina. So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding.

*Meanwhile, FEMA flailed and flip-flopped on its contracting policies for trailers, mobile homes and other temporary shelter. The first big contracts were handed out non-competitively to four well-connected companies — Shaw Group, Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp.

*Despite Bush's Jackson Square promise to "undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities," state and local officials had a hard time reaching a deal for federal aid to help residents rebuild their ruined homes.

*White House Katrina recovery czar Donald Powell has said that the administration intends to wait for the completion of a $20 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study, due in December 2007, before it decides whether to enhance the flood protection system in southern Louisiana enough to resist a Category 5 hurricane.

*Bush offered three proposals in Jackson Square to help combat poverty around the Gulf Coast region. Two of them never went anywhere — the creation of "worker recovery accounts" that would help evacuees find work by paying for school, job training or child care while they looked for employment, and an Urban Homesteading Act that would give poor people building sites for new homes that they would either finance themselves or obtain through programs such as Habitat for Humanity. A third proposal, the creation of a Gulf Opportunity zone, did come to pass. Signed by President Bush in December, the legislation gives $8.7 billion in tax breaks to developers of low-income housing projects, small businesses and individuals affected not just by Katrina but by hurricanes Rita and Wilma as well.

And there you have it. Katrina was just one more way for the GOP to nickel and dime the working classes while giving massive handouts to corporations, and (keep in mind that the administration was regularly cutting levee funding prior to Katrina) reject the ounce of prevention and the pound of cure.

Friday, August 18, 2006

When corporate PR efforts go bad

Whatever Andrew Young might've accomplished during his tenure as "chairman of Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group created and financed by the company to trumpet its accomplishments," he pretty much managed to undo in a matter of seconds this week, followed by an almost immediate resignation.

The civil rights leader Andrew Young, who was hired by Wal-Mart to improve its public image, resigned from that post last night after telling an African-American newspaper that Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners had “ripped off” urban communities for years, “selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables.”

In the interview, published yesterday in The Los Angeles Sentinel, a weekly, Mr. Young said that Wal-Mart “should” displace mom-and-pop stores in urban neighborhoods.

“You see those are the people who have been overcharging us,” he said of the owners of the small stores, “and they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs.”

I suspect "Wal- Mart PR flack attacks Jews, Koreans, Arabs" isn't the sort of headline they were looking for.

The second bounce that wasn't

Since the UK plot made the news, pundits have been talking about what a boost it will provide Republicans almost as much as Republicans have been talking about Democrats' desire to see terrorists win.

But in spite of the repetition that, like the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, this means a bump in presidential approval ratings and the general fortune of Republicans, the facts don't appear to back up this bit of 'conventional wisdom.' When there was an increase Bush's numbers, it invariably changed within the poll's margin of error.

In six of the seven national polls, the president's support dropped or remained the same since Americans heard about the alleged terrorist plot. In other words, the story that would obviously help Bush's standing isn't helping him at all.

I think we've reached a point in which hitting the panic button simply no longer works to the Republicans' benefit.

I don't doubt that people are still worried about terrorist attacks, but for years now, it's been a given that any time the nation turned its attention to the possibility of a threat, Bush would benefit. For reasons that I've never been able to appreciate, Americans trusted the president on this issue, even when they distrusted him on everything else.

Republican politicians for Lieberman

The strangeness of the Lamont-Lieberman race in Connecticut is self-evident, but the White House and other Republican politicians and organizations (like the NSRC) have added a layer by publicly supporting Lieberman instead of the candidate who won the Republican primary. How unusual is it for a sitting president to show support for a candidate from the other party instead of endorsing his own? Not at all, according to Tony Snow-- who, typically, then went on to prove the opposite. But hey, the man spins. It's his job.

"Actually, there have been races in the past where candidates didn't meet the expectations of the local parties, and presidents have stayed out, Democrats and Republicans, in the past."

Reporters demanded examples. The next day, Snow produced a list. "In 1970, President Nixon took a neutral position in the US Senate race between [Vietnam war critic] Sen. Charles E. Goodell (R-N.Y.) and challengers Rep. Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.) and James L. Buckley ." In 1980, GOP officials did not support a Republican in Michigan, the list said.

Snow gave other examples that didn't fit his own criteria, meaning that this has happened on two occasions in the last few decades, "one involving an alleged sex offender and the other a Klansman."

Cunningham's dirty laundry. Literally

Blogs have been abuzz about this story since it was announced, and it certainly has its moments-- in the notorious Kitty Kelley style, as "Duke Cunningham's wife tells all." Receiving particular attention was the allegation that Cunningham, in an attempt to save some of his filthy lucre, "dumped a duffel bag full of dirty laundry and $32,000 worth of cash in [ex-wife] Nancy's driveway" the night before he was sentenced.

Spend a little of your Friday feeling like a sleazy voyeur, and check it out.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Judge demands halt to NSA wiretaps

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the U.S. government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered it ended immediately.

In a 44-page memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, -- who is based in Detroit, Michigan --struck down the National Security Agency's program, which she said violates the rights to free speech and privacy.

Salon's Tim Grieve adds:

Quoting the late Chief Justice Earl Warren, Taylor wrote: "Implicit in the term 'national defense' is the notion of defending those values and ideas which set this nation apart. . . . It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of . . . those liberties . . . which make the defense of the nation worthwhile."

There's never really been any question that the White House's wiretapping was in violation of the FISA law. The administration's defense will be centered on whether the president's "wartime powers" are an acceptable justification for this particular bit of law-breaking.

Politicians try to manipulate Wikipedia bios

Although Minnesota Congressman Gil Gutknecht (who made the news by abandoning his support for the Iraq war after seeing the country for himself) is the star of the show in this article, there's apparently no shortage of politicians trying to cast themselves and their records more favorably on Wikipedia. This marks the second time Gutknecht has been caught attempting to alter his entry.

Now Gutknecht, in effect, tried to expunge a reminder of a 12-year term-limit he imposed on himself in 1995.

Page histories available on Wikipedia show that Gutknecht's office tried twice -- July 24 and Aug. 14 -- to remove a 128-word entry on him and replace it with a more flattering 315-word entry taken from his official congressional biography.

In both cases, the original entry -- including his term-limit promise -- was restored within hours.

Trying to conceal instances of hypocrisy seems to be the most common reason politicians do this, but a Gutknecht aide had a hilarious response when asked about the attempted whitewashing: Ignore the man behind the curtain.

"We're concerned when anyone looks to Wikipedia for factual information," said Gutknecht spokesman Jon Yarian. "This is the same source that called former Assistant Attorney General John Seigenthaler a murderer in his official Wikipedia entry ... I would encourage people to find a more trustworthy place to do their research."

How serious WAS the UK plot?

There have been some odd questions floating around regarding the foiled UK bomb plot-- how close was the plan to fruition? Did a White House desperate for "good" news pressure authorities to move before they were ready? Were the new security measures justified? That last question came to the forefront after fighter jets were scrambled to escort a plane diverted because of a woman's anxiety attack. Now conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan is taking the questions even further, and he's not alone.

So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by. Remember: the British authorities had all these people under surveillance; they did not want to act last week; there was no imminent threat of anything but a possible "dummy-run," whatever deranged guest-bloggers at Malkin say. (Correction, please.) Bush and Blair discussed whether to throw Britain's airports into chaos over the weekend before the crackdown occurred.

Sullivan also cites a former British ambassador:

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time. (. . .)

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance.

I'd hate to learn that this is like recent US "terror plots" that collapsed under scrutiny, especially given the sweeping changes in air travel rules and the disturbing implication that Britain is complicit in this administration's record of lying about threats for political gain. Even worse, right-wingers are using the story to justify torture and searching all Arab and Muslim travelers at airports. Extremism in response to dubious threats has been the hallmark of the Bush era, and we'll be paying the price as a nation for a very long time.

Like Iraq violence, Afghani poppy production hits new high

While we're hitting milestones throughout the Middle East, they're not the sort to cause celebration in the White House. Afghanistan already produces almost all of the world's opium (and by extension heroin), and since the previous record in 2004, the poppy crop has increased about 50%.

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has hit record levels - up by more than 40 percent from 2005 - despite hundreds of millions in counternarcotics money, Western officials told The Associated Press.

The increase could have serious repercussions for an already grave security situation, with drug lords joining the Taliban-led fight against Afghan and international forces.

A Western anti-narcotics official in Kabul said about 370,650 acres of opium poppy was cultivated this season - up from 257,000 acres in 2005 - citing their preliminary crop projections. The previous record was 323,700 acres in 2004, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. (. . .)

The U.N. reported last year that Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,500 tons of opium - enough to make 450 tons of heroin - nearly 90 percent of world supply. (. . .)

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimate that opium accounted for 52 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product in 2005.

"Now what they have is a narco-economy. If they do not get corruption sorted they can slip into being a narco-state," the U.S. official warned.

Transforming Afghanistan could've been a genuinely great accomplishment for the administration (and a rare success in the 'war on drugs'), but the diversion of manpower and money to Iraq looks increasingly like a disaster for both.

Violence in Iraq isn't just up-- it's at an all-time high

While Bush is reportedly feeling peevish about a lack of gratitude for what he's accomplished in Iraq, Iraqis are declining to express gratitude more aggressively than ever.

The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found.

The bomb statistics — compiled by American military authorities in Baghdad and made available at the request of The New York Times — are part of a growing body of data and intelligence analysis about the violence in Iraq that has produced somber public assessments from military commanders, administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Allen campaign attempts another spin on 'Macaca'

At this point, Allen might be wishing he'd just offered a quick apology and gotten this story out of the news. While the newest explanation isn't racist, it's still offensive and not very convincing, given that it's taken a couple of days to come up with it. It even throws in the beloved GOP "low-level staffer" excuse.

According to two Republicans who heard the word used, "macaca" was a mash-up of "Mohawk," referring to Sidarth's distinctive hair, and "caca," Spanish slang for excrement, or "shit."

Said one Republican close to the campaign: "In other words, he was a shit-head, an annoyance." Allen, according to Republicans, heard members of his traveling entourage and Virginia Republicans use the phrase and picked it up. It was the first word that came to his mind when he spied Sidarth at the weekend's event, according to Republicans who have been briefed on Allen's version of the event.

Of course, Allen didn't say Mo-caca. He said Ma-caca. Twice. And even though they've got a right-wing blogger circulating a photo that purportedly shows Sidarth's "mohawk," he still doesn't have one.

Cable hosts air bogus attack ad-- without corrrecting it.

Hillary Clinton is unlikely to lose her bid for the senate this year, but her Republican opponent is still using the official party strategy of trying to link her to terorrism. The ad claims that "Senator Hillary Clinton opposes the Patriot Act and the NSA program that helped stop another 9/11," when in fact she voted for the Patriot Act. I won't even bother with the fanciful claim that some massive plot was foiled because of illegal wiretapping. But in spite of the ad's false claim, several cable news hosts aired that portion of the ad without pointing out its inaccuracy. Keith Olbermann, on the other hand, set the record straight, which many consider to be the actual job of people in the news industry.

As a bonus, the Daily Howler article also comments on a stupefying online New Republic article in which the author professes her love for the comedic stylings of Ann Coutler. It's as illogical and idiotic as you'd think.

Bush: No policy changes on Iraq

Contrary to Ken Mehlman's brave attempt to remove "stay the course" from public discourse and replace it with "adapt and win," several papers are reporting that Bush is still a stay the course kinda guy. The reports are on a recent meeting with Middle East specialists, in which Bush expressed frustration that he isn't being hailed as a hero in Iraq, but that he'll keep trying.

The NY Times had the following to say:

President Bush made clear in a private meeting this week that he was concerned about the lack of progress in Iraq and frustrated that the new Iraqi government — and the Iraqi people — had not shown greater public support for the American mission, participants in the meeting said Tuesday.

So much for all those corners we've turned. The LA Times focuses on Bush's unwillingness to change tactics, particularly the notion of partitioning the country:

Rejecting a policy alternative that has been gaining support in the U.S. and abroad, Bush told the experts that dividing Iraq would be "like pouring oil on fire," said Eric M. Davis of Rutgers University, one of the experts who met with the president Monday over Texas brisket and iced tea at the Pentagon.

The experts said in interviews that Bush signaled that he intended to make no policy changes in Iraq, despite warnings from military leaders and election-year arguments from Democrats that the war is a drain on resources and a distraction from the administration's campaign against terrorism.

Put 'em both together, and you've got a president who acknowledges that we aren't making progress, but refuses to do anything about it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Senator Allen-- not just for racists anymore

After George Allen's comments addressing an American of Indian descent as 'Mr. Macaca' caused a huge uproar in the conservative community, the campaign tested a few unconvincing explanations that didn't hold water given the appellation's similarity to a derogatory French term for black North Africans-- and the fact that the French-speaking Allen's mother is from French Tunisia. Earlier today Allen offered a classic non-apology, saying "I'm sorry if he was offended."

But The American Prospect has another story about Allen that's as common in today's Republican party as racism, if not more so: shady business dealings that are drawing the attention of the law. From a summary of the article published on the site's blog:

In the 1990s, [Allen] served on the board of a Virginia tech firm called Xybernaut Corp. Xybernaut manufactured and marketed a product as sci-fi-like -- and dubious -- as the company’s name: a wearable hands-free computer headset, with a little screen that flips down in front of one eye. The product barely ever sold, and the company's rise in the go-go '90s was fueled by seedy financial backers and offshore front groups -- all while Allen served on the board. Xybernaut is currently embroiled in an array of class-action lawsuits and an SEC investigation.

"Stay the course" takes a powder

The Daily Show caught RNC chair Ken Mehlman testing out a new talking point in Iraq. One that cynics might suggest unlinks the White House with the bling pursuit of their failed Iraq policy. But not without providing some context:

George Bush, May 2, 2003: We've gotta stay the course, and we will stay the course.
George Bush, April 5, 2004: We will stay the course.
George Bush, April 6, 2004: We'll stay the course in Iraq.

Ken Mehlman, August 13, 2006:

We're not coming in and saying 'stay the course.' The choice in this election is not between 'stay the course' and 'cut and run' because it's between 'win by adapting' and 'cut and run.'

Apparently only one half of their election-year Iraq strategy was going well in the focus groups. Crooks and Liars has the video.

FCC investigates airing of fake news stories

It's been a while-- years in at least one case-- since the story broke about TV news shows broadcasting as genuine news stories that were produced by the White House (e.g., the infamous "No Child Left Behind earns an A+" story) and corporations. The FCC is pretty slow on the draw here, but at least they're acting on it.

The FCC wants to know if dozens of broadcasters aired video releases as legitimate news stories without telling viewers their true sponsors were corporations.

FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said Monday that the agency issued 42 formal letters of inquiry to holders of 77 broadcast licenses in its investigation of the practice. (. . .)

If the commission determines after investigation that a licensee has violated sponsorship identification rules, the FCC may impose monetary fines of up to $32,500 per violation, and initiate license revocation proceedings against licensees. Section 507 of the Communications Act establishes civil and criminal penalties for violation of disclosure requirements, with the possibility of a fine of up to $10,000 and as much as a year of imprisonment.

I have to say, that opening sentence gets it wrong. We already know that stations did just that. The question is their motive. The stories were free, which would mean they were misleading the public to save some cash. Or it could have been a combination of ignorance and laziness. The question to be resolved is whether it was out of greed and malice or just incompetence.

'06 Voter Suppression Guide

Salon posted an interesting/disturbing article on Republican efforts to prevent seniors, minorities, and the poor from voting in November's election, and although the author makes it clear that he's not sold on the theft of Ohio in 2004, he cites plenty of other reasons to be worried about the right to vote on a more fundamental level-- state legislatures are disenfranchising legal voters by the tens of thousands.

Six states are highlighted, and the strategy is the same-- finding ways to charge people money to prove they're US citizens and instituting new bureaucratic processes to prevent people from registering unless they're willing and able to devote hours or weeks to jumping through hoops.

"I think this is all part of a nationwide effort of the Republican Party to suppress votes, because that's the only way for them to stay in power," says William Groth, an attorney filing a lawsuit challenging the voter I.D. law on behalf of the Indiana Democratic Party, a case now on appeal. Between 8 percent and 23 percent of all registered voters in the state may lack the proper photo I.D., so the added costs -- comparable to a poll tax -- and obstacles of the I.D. law are going to make low-income and minority voters far less likely to vote, according to research by political science professor Margie Hershey of Indiana University.

But some determined Hoosiers won't give up trying to vote. Take the never-ending bureaucratic maze Theresa Clemente, a 79-year-old Fort Wayne resident born in Massachusetts, has been forced to navigate. An Indiana resident for 15 years, she'd never had a driver's license when she moved to the state to live near her son. So when she learned that the state required a state-issued photo I.D. to vote, her husband drove her down to the delay-plagued Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get a photo I.D. On her first visit, she brought her Social Security card, her voter registration card, two bills and a credit card, but that wasn't good enough. She had to return three more times, with BMV drones telling her successively she needed a copy of her birth certificate, then a $28 state-certified birth certificate from Massachusetts, and finally a marriage certificate because her birth certificate listed only her maiden name -- although all her various I.D.s carried the married name she has used for 53 years.

The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and although there are plenty of stories of Democrats and Republicans manipulating elections to their advantage, I don't know of any instances outside of Jim Crow where we've seen such a concerted effort to deprive people of this right. A must-read.

George Will attacks admin, praises Kerry

Here's something you don't see very often, but I'm always willing to praise a conservative pundit for showing some intellectual honesty. During his presidential campaign, John Kerry suggested that anti-terrorism was about law enforcement-- and was soundly ridiculed by righties for being a weak-kneed coward who didn't understand that it was actually all about military action. The UK bomb plot gives the lie to that argument, and Will admits it by contrasting their success with the disaster in Iraq.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."

Nobody knows Jews like I know Jews

This web-only article from Newsweek is really worth reading, if you want to start your day off feeling a little flabbergasted. Written by "rabbi/Bush supporter" Marc Gellman, it's really breathtaking in the scope of its ignorance. Beyond the typos and grammatical errors, it reads like a decades-old tract on race, and would likely never see the light of day if it were about, say, Latinos or blacks. It also throws out sweeping proclamations without a single supporting fact or statistic.

It's almost impossible to know what to excerpt, because although each paragraph is a motherlode of stereotyping and disingenuous arguments, it's so garbled and rambling that choosing a brief passage is impossible.

But here, at least, is my favorite sentence:

A shvitz (there are hardly any of them left) is a place where heterosexual Jewish men used to go to sit in a searingly hot steam room, get hit with soapy oak-leaf clusters called pleitzas, eat herring and black bread with red pop, play cards and tell jokes.

Just so you know these 100% NOT GAY Jewish fellahs are keepin' it real, he adds:

Most had money but none of them had a Volvo or had read Kant or Hegel or listened to The Dead or smoked dope.

Huh? Real Jews don't read philosophy, and they're no more hippies than they are homosexuals. Apparently the other qualification is voting a straight Republican ticket. I can't begin to do this piece justice in a single blog post. Just have a look at it, in all its "if you're Jewish and vote against a Jewish candidate, you're a traitor" glory.

UPDATE: The blogs are doing their thing by looking at Rabbi Gellman's record. And it probably won't surprise you to learn that he's a total fraud. Although he's currently saying Jews who didn't vote for Lieberman are self-hating fakes, he didn't think that was the case in 2000, when he claimed that "Another consequence of this historic selection is that it now frees Jews to vote against Lieberman even though he is Jewish." How convenient it must be to live the life of a hack.

Monday, August 14, 2006

George Allen vs. pigmentation

A few months ago, The New Republic printed an article on Virginia senator (and presidential hopeful) George Allen's lengthy history of linking himself to racism and the shit-kickin' Confederacy-- an odd choice for the pampered teenage son of a wealthy Californian, but the right-wing equivalent of hipsterism. And a cinch for racists, of course.

Aside from that, I've been saying for much of the year that these elections are going to be the ugliest we've ever seen. And with an increasing number of pollsters suggesting that the GOP is in serious trouble this fall, it's just going to get uglier faster.

Allen's unsavory bit of race-baiting last Friday managed to be laughably dishonest even as it tapped into the undercurrent of racism that energizes so many "red-state" Republicans. Which reminds me, I need to make another prediction-- there's no way Republicans are going to enter the election season without more demagoging on the immigration issue. Watch for it.

S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of Virginia, had been trailing Allen with a video camera to document his travels and speeches for the Webb campaign. During a campaign speech Friday in Breaks, Virginia, near the Kentucky border, Allen singled out Sidarth and called him a word that sounded like "Macaca."

"This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great. We're going to places all over Virginia, and he's having it on film and its great to have you here and you show it to your opponent because he's never been there and probably will never come."

After telling the crowd that Webb was raising money in California with a "bunch of Hollywood movie moguls," Allen again referenced Sidarth, who was born and raised in Fairfax County.

"Lets give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," said Allen, who then began talking about the "war on terror."

There you have it. "Hollywood liberal" paranoia, xenophobia, War on Terror fear-mongering, and a huge helping of unintended irony. Yes, welcome to America, Mr. Sidarth. Never mind that you-- unlike George Allen-- were born and raised in Virginia. You just don't look the part, and that's enough for the decidedly non-southern man who proudly sported Confederate flags from high school through his law career, only changing (and denying) his habit once it could harm him politically.

UPDATE: While the WaPo didn't mention it, my first thought on 'Macaca' was that it resembled macaque. And while I wouldn't credit most Republicans these days with the brains to be familiar with species of monkey, Atrios writes that it's a "surprisingly common" ethnic slur referring to North Africans. And as it happens, Allen's mother is an immigrant from French Tunisia.

Considering that the Macaca business was a prelude to terrorism talk, however, I'm equally inclined to think that Allen might've hoped to imply that the volunteer was of Arabic descent. Think al Qaqaa, or Muqtada al-Sadr. Maybe Allen thought he could get a twofer and really lock in the moron vote.

To make the whole incident just that much more pathetic, one of Allen's spokesmacaques has claimed that Macaca was a "variation" of mohawk, after the hairstyle-- which Sidarth does not wear. Yet another Republican "how do we spin this" conversation I wish I'd been privy to.

UPDATE 8/15: The WaPo follows up with an editorial that points to a recent Allen statement that "we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas." Then they point out the many ways in which Allen's comments were clearly racially motivated. Worth a look.

I'll take mine Democratic-- hold the "ic."

This is something that's annoyed me for quite a while. I've mentioned it before, and although it isn't what you'd call a crisis it is an apt example of how childish the ruling conservative mentality is. It's also a horrid example of the whole "framing" issue that's been a constant meme on the blogs for years now.

I've caught conservative friends who are quite sensible people using the term Democrat as an adjective without even realizing their error, and that's exactly how sneaky propaganda is supposed to work. And this has worked beautifully for the GOP-- especially, as Hertzberg notes in his article, because the number of prominent Republicans who regard it as cheap and contemptible has really dwindled in the last decade.

There’s no great mystery about the motives behind this deliberate misnaming. “Democrat Party” is a slur, or intended to be—a handy way to express contempt. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, of course, but “Democrat Party” is jarring verging on ugly. It fairly screams “rat.” At a slightly higher level of sophistication, it’s an attempt to deny the enemy the positive connotations of its chosen appellation. (. . .) And no doubt there are plenty of others who say “Democrat Party” just to needle the other side while signalling solidarity with their own—the partisan equivalent of flashing a gang sign. (. . .)

In the conservative media, the phenomenon feeds more voraciously the closer you get to the mucky, sludgy bottom. “Democrat Party” is standard jargon on right-wing talk radio and common on winger Web sites like, which blue-pencils Associated Press dispatches to de-“ic” references to the Party of F.D.R. and J.F.K. (The resulting impression that “Democrat Party” is O.K. with the A.P. is as phony as a North Korean travel brochure.) The respectable conservative journals of opinion sprinkle the phrase around their Web sites but go light on it in their print editions.

Recommended reading, especially for having some fun with an annoying topic. Of special note is the observation that William F. Buckley, Jr., Reagan and Bush I eschewed the tactic, while for Bush II, it's routine. Just one more sign of how far the party has fallen.

Hersh: US helped plan Israel's attacks

Seymour Hersh has written some hard-hitting pieces in the last few years, and this is no exception. Now that Israel and Lebanon are working on a tense cease fire that few seem optimistic about, serious questions are arising about what exactly has been accomplished. My guess is not much-- many innocent people are dead, and both sides are claiming victory. Hersh reports that the conflict was another neocon project to test their already-failed doctrine of preemptive war.

In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush Administration seemed strangely passive. “It’s a moment of clarification,” President George W. Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, on July 16th. “It’s now become clear why we don’t have peace in the Middle East.” He described the relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the “root causes of instability,” and subsequently said that it was up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days later, despite calls from several governments for the United States to take the lead in negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire should be put off until “the conditions are conducive.”

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Return of the low-level staffer

Last week was a big one for accusations of using the UK plot for political gain. There was Cheney, Tony Snow and Lieberman claiming that terrorists were thrilled with Ned Lamont's primary win in Connecticut, renewed calls for support on the Iraqi war (which never had anything to do with terrorism), and even arguments that it proved the necessity of granting the administration the right to break laws with impunity. You can add 'fundraising tool' to the list.

Democrats assailed the Republicans Friday for e-mailing a fundraising appeal mentioning the war on terror hours after British authorities disclosed they had disrupted a plot to blow up aircraft headed to the United States.

"In the middle of a war on terror, we need to remain focused on furthering Republican ideas more than ever before," former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said in a letter that asked for donations to the Republican National Committee.

The RNC blamed a low-level staffer for distributing the fundraising appeal, which the party said had been scheduled for release before news of the plot broke.

"Once the RNC learned of this error we ceased distribution of the e-mail," said Tracey Schmitt, a party spokeswoman.

Low-level staffers seem to have an extraordinary amount of authority in the Republican community. They can get Photoshopped campaign ads on TV, launch smear campaigns, and initiate fundraising drives-- all without having a single supervisor approve their work.

Aw, c'mon, it's all we got.

This article from the Christian Science Monitor suggests to me that the administration is more concerned with racking up convictions of nobodies and claiming success than catching actual terrorists. But that would be totally out of character for them, wouldn't it?

Salim Ahmed Hamdan never planted a bomb, never took a hostage, never wielded a box cutter, never fired a weapon in anger, and never planned an attack of any kind.

What he is alleged to have done, according to his US military commission charge sheet, is work as Osama bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan.

So how could military prosecutors at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, charge him with being a terrorist and war criminal? The answer boils down to a single word: conspiracy. (. . .)

Four of the eight justices participating in the case ruled that the military commissions at Guantánamo did not have jurisdiction under the law of war to prosecute suspected Al Qaeda members for allegedly engaging in a conspiracy.

Conspiracy is not a war crime, said Justice John Paul Stevens in his plurality decision. And special military commissions can only try war crimes, he said.

The ruling is significant because all 10 detainees at Guantánamo slated for military commission trials have been charged with conspiracy, and seven of them (including Mr. Hamdan) face only a single conspiracy charge.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Latest White House budget requested cut in bomb detection technology

Stories like this have become so commonplace it would be comical if it weren't such a serious matter. Whenever there's talk of preventing terrorist attacks, somehow port security or securing unprotected nuclear material is never discussed. Instead, we're told how important it is that government agencies be free to act outside the law with no accountability. Then it's revealed that the agencies are spending their resources spying on pacifists and anti-war activists. And round and round we go.

Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., who joined Republicans to block the administration's recent diversion of explosives detection money, said research and development is crucial to thwarting future attacks, and there is bipartisan agreement that Homeland Security has fallen short.

"They clearly have been given lots of resources that they haven't been using," Sabo said. (. . .)

The department failed to spend $200 million in research and development money from past years, forcing lawmakers to rescind the money this summer.

The administration also was slow to start testing a new liquid explosives detector that the Japanese government provided to the United States earlier this year.

The British plot to blow up as many as 10 American airlines on trans-Atlantic flights would have involved liquid explosives. (. . .)

The administration's most recent budget request also mystified lawmakers. It asked to take $6 million from the Sciences & Technology Directorate's 2006 budget that was supposed to be used to develop explosives detection technology and divert it to cover a budget shortfall in the Federal Protective Service, which provides security around government buildings.

The reaction of DHS? To lie, of course. It's always about perception, not results.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a news conference Friday, said the department was trying to stay ahead of terrorists.

“We’ve spent about three-quarters of a billion dollars in research on emerging types of technologies in explosives,” Mr. Chertoff said. “And we are constantly monitoring the world for developments that occur in the field of improvised explosive devices, precisely so we can start to work on countermeasures.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

Heads of Pentagon intel department step down

The UK story has meant another round of claims that criticism of the administration is actually tacit support for terrorists. The problem, of course, is that like the Soviet Union more resources are being spent on propaganda than in building successful institutions (in this case to defeat terrorism), and the result is a playground for the corrupt. TPM Muckraker finds a perfect example:

As the Washington Post's Walter Pincus noted today, the director and deputy director of the Pentagon's controversial domestic intelligence branch are stepping down simultaneously. In a very understated way, Pincus manages to raise an eyebrow at the fact both men decided to retire at exactly the same time, amid ongoing investigations that threaten to touch their operations.

The organization, known as "CIFA" -- for Counterintelligence Field Activity -- was first in hot water for keeping track of anti-war demonstrators and peace groups. Later, it became known that a company deeply involved in the Cunningham corruption scandal had played an important role in developing the center, and held numerous contracts to provide the center with staff, technology and support. It was created in 2003, largely through efforts by Burtt and James King, a senior executive at the scandal-linked company, MZM.

The politics of the UK bomb plot

The story still dominates news sites and the blogs, of course, and coverage of the domestic ramifications is largely disappointing. Greg Sargent notes that many news outlets are portraying the story as a potential "big win" for the GOP, helpfully repeating the Republican talking point that only their party is interested in keeping the nation safe.

Glenn Greenwald spends more time looking at right-wing blogs than I could stomach and finds just what you'd expect-- endless arguments that the story justifies every White House policy out there, from torture to warrantless wiretaps, and proves (this time for sure!) that Democrats want the terrorists to win.

At Slate, Fred Kaplan points out in an article I highly recommend something very obvious that's being ignored in most other press accounts-- the UK's successful efforts to foil the plot through law enforcement, intelligence and international cooperation, represent a strategy that's largely been forsaken by the White House.

There's a broader lesson here, and it speaks to the Bush administration's present jam throughout the Middle East and in other danger zones. If the British had adopted the same policy toward dealing with Pakistan that Bush has adopted toward dealing with, say, Syria or Iran (namely, it's an evil regime, and we don't speak with evil regimes), then a lot of passenger planes would have shattered and spilled into the ocean, hundreds or thousands of people would have died, and the world would have suddenly been plunged into very scary territory.

It is time to ask: Which is the more "moral" course—to shun odious regimes as a matter of principle or to take unpleasant steps that might prevent mass terror?

One article is noteworthy for doing something we always expect from journalists but so rarely see these days-- pointing out a pertinent fact (in this case dismissing Cheney's straw man argument) rather than just repeating talking points. Bonus points for acknowledging the GOP rush to make political hay of the story.

On Wednesday, Cheney had suggested that Democrats believe "that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home, which clearly we know we won't, we can't, be," he said.

While some Democrats have opposed some steps in the war on terrorism, and more and more are calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, no major figures in the party have called for a wholesale retreat in the broader conflict.

But Bush's Republicans hoped the raid would yield political gains.

"I'd rather be talking about this than all of the other things that Congress hasn't done well," one Republican congressional aide told AFP on condition of anonymity because of possible reprisals.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lieberman heads off the deep end

The events since Lieberman's primary loss have almost been surreal. Karl Rove gave him a call, while many prominent Democrats have gone on the record suggesting he throw in the towel. But Joe is all about Joe, and it looks like he's going to go Rove on this one-- it's win by any means necessary.

“If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England,” Mr. Lieberman said at a campaign event at lunchtime in Waterbury, Conn. “It will strengthen them and they will strike again.”

This is exactly the same rhetoric we've been hearing from Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and the rest for years now, and it's as disgraceful as it is absurd. I suppose there's a whole lot of ego in there, too, if Lieberman actually thinks jihadists give a shit whether he's in office or not. What am I saying? Coming from a guy who named his new "party" Connecticut for Lieberman, of course there's a lot of ego involved.

I'd say he just cost himself a significant number of Democratic voters, and he certainly can't expect any support from Democratic politicians now.

UPDATE: In pointing out the criticism of Lamont as aiding terrorists that appeared on Wednesday, I need to add that when Cheney and Tony Snow made their statements, they were fully aware of the UK bomb plot-- and that the story was about to make the news. And who knows? Maybe that's what Karl Rove wanted to call Lieberman about before he used the same line about his opponent.

James Baker called in to "fix" Iraq

Interesting story in the Washington Monthly. James Baker is as close as you can get to the Bushes, referred to as their fixer or (as in this article) consigliere, and was on the ground in Florida working to get the recount stopped and the case taken to the Supreme Court. Good for the family fortunes, not so good for tens of thousands of dead Americans and Iraqis.

But the White House is worried that the disastrous invasion of Iraq (and its attendant war profiteering and generally incompetent execution) could cost them dearly if the elections don't go their way this November, and they've called in Baker to help out. But it could just be about shielding Bush and his cronies from accountability.

Since March, Baker, backed by a team of experienced national-security hands, has been busily at work trying to devise a fresh set of policies to help the president chart a new course in--or, perhaps, to get the hell out of--Iraq. But as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work as well. "Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."

As the article subsequently notes, some insiders view this optimistically as a chance to inject some sanity into White House policy (there are no neocons in the secretive group), but concede that "it's Baker's show," and his true motives remain unkown.

GOP's efforts to get Green candidate on PA ballot likely to fail

I wrote recently about Pennsylvania Republicans trying to split the Democratic vote in the race between Rick Santorum and Bob Casey-- the challenger has consistenly led Santorum by ten points of more-- by funding the campaign of a Green party candidate. Unfortunately, it looks like attempts to get the necessary signatures have been less than successful.

After a review of candidacy petitions filed on behalf of Green Party US Senate candidate Carl Romanelli and gubernatorial candidate Marakay Rogers, Dems plan to file a lawsuit bouncing them off the ballot. State Democratic Chair T.J. Rooney said a detailed review of the petitions -- a signature drive admittedly financed almost entirely by GOP supporters of embattled US Senator Rick Santorum -- showed 69,622 of the 94,544 signatures are likely invalid. "Phony names, fake signatures and a tremendous amount of illegal and deceptive practices were uncovered during our thorough and aggressive analysis," said Rooney. The Dems mocked the submitted petitions for being so sloppy as to contain signatures purporting to be for Jesus Christ, John Kerry, Lee H. Oswald, Terri Schiavo and Mickey Mouse. Romanelli countered the move is a heavy-handed, undemocratic effort to block him from running.

Tip for Romanelli: don't claim you're the victim of a conspiracy when Mickey Mouse is one of your supporters.

Feingold takes on the DLC

Russ Feingold spent some time yesterday to to accuse the DLC of weakening the Democratic party as a whole by squelching dissent, particularly on the Iraq war. I have to agree. Lieberman has long been the DLC's poster boy, and played right into the hands of the GOP by taking routine potshots at fellow Dems who didn't agree with his increasingly untenable stay-the-course stance on Iraq. DLC boosters like The New Republic's Marty Peretz have been going bonkers in the wake of the primary doing the same. As noted in my previous post, so are Dick Cheney and Tony Snow. It's been frustrating listening to this bunch claim that a single senate race amounts to a party-wide "ideological purge" in light of their insistence that other Democrats toe the line or face their wrath, and it's nice to hear Feingold call them on it.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold knocked the centrist Democratic Leadership Council today, saying its strategy of hoping to win by being “a little different than Republicans” hasn’t worked. He also accused the group's adherents of instilling fear in Democrats who oppose the war.

“They are the ones that coalesced with the big corporations to pass unfair trade agreements that hurt America,” Feingold said. “It was the DLC that came up with the health care plan with the Clintons that was so complicated nobody could understand it. It’s the DLC that has cut off our ability to say things like, ‘Let’s get out of Iraq because it’s a bad idea.’”

Feingold said DLC consultants “instill fear in Democrats” by saying opposition to the war would be taken as not supporting the troops. “What I want is us to get the right answer whether it’s liberal, conservative or middle of the road,” Feingold said.

Democrats should not try to be just “a little different than the Republicans and hope that we win," Feingold said. "I think that’s what (the DLC) brought us and it hasn’t worked.”

You can even listen to the audio of the entire event at the link.

White House breaks out 9/11 rhetoric over Lieberman loss

I suspect that incumbent Republicans across the nation rejoiced over the story of an apparent airline bombing plot in the UK today. Not because terrorists had been foiled, but because it will serve as an excuse to cut loose with Democrat=terrorist arguments in their reelection bids-- the last few reports of "terrorist plots" here in the US turned out to be more of an embarrassment than anything else.

But who needs an actual threat to make the argument? Tony Snow and Dick Cheney spent yesterday claiming that the primary loss of Joe Lieberman poses a grave danger to US security.

Cheney, during a teleconference he held yesterday, said the following:

The thing that’s partly disturbing about [Lieberman's loss] is the fact that, the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task.

And Tony Snow, while careful to point out that he wasn't quoting the president, showed that he got the memo and said this in reference to the eConnecticut primary at a press conference yesterday:

One of the problems that often besets democracies, which is impatience and hard times, in fact serves as a motivation for terror groups. Osama bin Laden some years ago said that one of the keys is that if you simply stay at terror long enough, the West is too weak; he said the Americans were too weak and would stand down. (. . .)

Number three, another consequence would be that it would inflict incredible damage on America's credibility. We have made it clear and this president has made it clear that we are in it to make sure that the people of Iraq do in fact have the opportunity to live free and in a democracy. And to walk away from that vow would send not only a sign of weakness but also of American unreliability, and it would enable forces of oppression and totalitarianism to rise again within Iraq and elsewhere. A white flag, in short, means a white flag in the war on terror.

Now that some 60% of the public have turned against the war in Iraq, it's become more violent and unstable than ever, and we've turned it from a stable, secular (albeit totalitarian) state into an unstable, likely Muslim theocratic state, you'd think the administration would ditch the Soviet-style propaganda in falsely conflating the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror. But they've got elections to win.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

BP not the only oil company under investigation

When BP closed down the Prudhoe Bay pipeline for extensive corrosion, it seemed to surprise a lot of people to learn that their operations there were already under investigation for an oil spill earlier this year linked to negligence in maintaining the pipeline.

Now it's being reported that Halliburton is under investigation by UK officials for paying out huge bribes in Nigeria to land contracts there-- an operation that began while Dick Cheney was still with the company.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into an alleged Nigerian bribery scandal has taken on a number of new twists, according to information disclosed in the Financial Times in London.

The investigations centre on Halliburton, a US company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and in particular, on one of its subsidiaries, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR). The SFO probe followed criticism that London authorities were doing little on the case even though a British-based company and a British lawyer were allegedly at the centre of a plot to pay more than $170m of bribes to win $7bn of building contracts. (. . .)

The most substantial political dimension of the case, so far, is that it relates in part to the period between 1995 and 2000 when Halliburton was headed by Dick Cheney, incumbent US vice-president. Halliburton became involved in the Nigerian consortium through its 1998 takeover of Dresser Industries, after the first gas plant building contract was signed but before later project expansion deals were agreed.

Split reported to White House approach to Israeli conflict

Toward the end of July, Insight Magazine posted an article about neoconservative desires to see Condi Rice leave the administration. Although I never had the impression that she was doing anything but selling the White House line ("sustainable cease fire") and didn't appear to be doing anything to encourage an end to the violence, she was being accused of undermining White House efforts in the region. The article implied that their efforts were to see the war expand to include Iran and Syria.

Now Insight is back with another article suggesting that the differences really are there, and it sounds like the first time that Rice has decided to disagree with the White House, she's doing the smart thing. And her opponents are the usual idiots.

The disagreement between Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice is over the ramifications of U.S. support for Israel's continued offensive against Lebanon. The sources said Mr. Bush believes that Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah would encourage Iranian adventurism in neighboring Iraq. Ms. Rice has argued that the United States would be isolated both in the Middle East and Europe at a time when the administration seeks to build a consensus against Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Instead, Ms. Rice believes the United States should engage Iran and Syria to pressure Hezbollah to end the war with Israel. Ms. Rice has argued that such an effort would result in a U.S. dialogue with Damascus and Tehran on Middle East stability. (. . .)

The sources said Mr. Bush's position has been supported by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and to a lesser extent National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. They have urged the president to hold off international pressure and give Israel more time to cause strategic damage to Hezbollah as well as Iranian and Syrian interests in Lebanon.

"I think if you think of what's happening in Lebanon and Israel right now, you see the face of the beginning of the 21st century," Mr. Rumsfeld said in a radio interview on Aug. 2.

Aides for Mr. Cheney have argued that the United States should have targeted Hezbollah and Syria during the war against Iraq in 2003.

It also sounds uncomfortably like it's junior versus Dad all over again, and we all know how determined Bush is to reject every policy of his father and Clinton. Too bad neither of them supported all-out war. Then there'd at least be a chance of him trying for peace just to be contrarian.

In case you hadn't heard...

Yes, Ned Lamont defeated Lieberman in the Connecticut primary by a narrow 52-48%. I'm guessing that, as yesterday, the story dominates the blogs. Whatever people write about in terms of the larger ramifications for November and the party in general, the question right now is Lieberman deciding to drop out or (as he says he will) run as an independent. Leading Dems have begun to make it clear that they want to see him drop out to keep the seat in their hands rather than potentially giving it to a Republican in a three-way race.

The right-wing (and lazy journalist) line on the events was already in place before the primary, casting Lamont as an extremist and by extension the whole Democratic party. This is also, sadly, the opinion of DLC types, who we can expect to be very vocal in their laments over the future of the party. Ironically, one of their major criticisms of blog support for Lamont has been that it's more important to hold the seat and your tongue over this campaign. Yet, they'll be performing the role that made so many Democrats angry at Lieberman-- going public with attacks on their own party and giving fuel to Republicans.

Although it isn't online yet, Charlie Cook's look at the race yesterday (titled The Bigger Picture) was one of the more insightful that I've read. Largely because Cook eschews the sloppy-yet-attention-grabbing pundits saying this race mirrors the end of the sixties, when angry young Democrats ticked off the nation and cost their party dearly. Cook's analogy is much more apt and less apocalyptic-- after all, we're just talking about one state contest here, which everyone seems to forget.

Anyone in Connecticut need look no further than New York state in 1980, when liberal Republican incumbent Jacob Javits was defeated in the Republican primary, and again in the general election, by conservative Alfonse D'Amato. While there are those who say that liberal efforts to purge Lieberman is a sign of ill health and a narrowing of the Democratic Party, the Javits upset in 1980 occurred in a year when Republicans picked up 12 seats and control of the U.S. Senate. They also picked up 34 House seats and it marked the beginning of a pretty successful period for the GOP.

I'd like to post the whole thing, including Cook's concerns about ideological purges in politics. But to summarize, he points out that there are other ideological primary challenges out there today, including more moderate Republicans that the party is trying to replace with right-wingers. It's just that Lieberman got all the press.

I don't expect to be writing too much more about this for the time being, since the only real news will be Lieberman's decision: run anyway or drop out. He says now that he's running, but there'll be a lot of pressure on him from party leadership to throw in the towel.

UPDATE: One of the 'ideological primaries' Cook cites was that of Michigan's John Schwarz, a rare moderate House Republican, who was defeated by a more right-wing opponent. That's been one of the more shocking aspects of all the attention paid to the Lieberman-Lamont race. The GOP is already in the hands of extremists-- and they're running the country.

UPDATE: Word is that Lieberman has officially filed the paperwork to run as an independent. National Journal reports that Beltway Republicans are encouraging people to donate to Lieberman.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

DeLay appeals directly to Scalia-- but no dice.

Having lost his original case and an appeal to have his name removed from the Texas ballot this fall after winning his primary but trying to withdraw, Tom DeLay decided to appeal to a higher power-- fiercely partisan Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It wasn't to be, though, and DeLay is now stuck either running for office while under indictment or leaving the ballot without a Republican candidate.

[Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Tina] Benkiser's effort to replace DeLay on the ballot was turned back in a series of court decisions that reached a climax Monday at the Supreme Court. She had sought a delay of an appeals court ruling until Republicans could formally ask the Supreme Court to review the case.

The request was routed to Scalia, who handles appeals from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The New Orleans-based appeals court last week sided with Democrats' claims that, if DeLay is eligible to run but drops out of the race, the Republican Party cannot substitute another candidate.

Less than three hours later, Scalia turned down the request without comment.

Where there's smoke, there's firestorm.

After a freelance photographer sold a Photoshopped image of burning buildings in Lebanon to Reuters, they printed it-- then withdrew it, issued an apology, and fired the photographer. Perhaps the worst thing about it is Reuters' inability to spot such a lousy bit of Photoshopping work. There was plenty of smoke in the picture to begin with, as you can see (with some analysis) here, so it's hard to imagine why the photog manipulated the picture to begin with. Regardless, Reuters owned up to their error and atoned. Case closed, right? Not with right-wing blogs on the case:

It is indisputably wrong for a media outlet to alter photographs or other information so as to falsely represent what is being reported. That is beyond dispute. Yet for three straight days now (and still going strong), the right-wing blogosphere has been wallowing in a self-celebratory swarm because two photographs taken in Lebanon and published by Reuters were found to have been altered using Photoshop by the freelance photographer who submitted them. Rush Limbaugh has now joined the party, decreeing that "Reuters ought to be investigated." (. . .)

These excited bloggers seem to be using the Reuters incident to try to "prove" that the dreaded "mainstream media" -- and Reuters has long been a special target for many extremists on the right (who sometimes refer to it as "al-Reuters") -- is hopelessly biased against Israel and in favor of Islamic terrorists, including Hezbollah, and that nothing the MSM reports about this war, or anything else for that matter, can be trusted. Many of these bloggers appear to hope that this incident will call into question the reliability of all reporting on the war outside of YTNews and Fox, including what happened in Qana, Lebanon, and any reports that reflect negatively on the Israeli war effort.

In other news, liberal bloggers are still extremists living in a state of constant rage.