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


Friday, September 29, 2006

Beat the clock

I'm moving this weekend, so I won't be posting until next week. In the meantime, check out the 'War in Iraq costs' page, sent to me by OD1. You can see the constantly updating total cost, the costs to your community, and what we could've done with all that money if we'd put it someplace else. I could've paid for professional movers in less than one second. Instead I'll be in hell this weekend. You might be, too, if you spend too much time on the site.

Current cost: $330,178,400,000. And counting.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Today's GOP: Lesson One

As often as we see this simple precept of the Republican party, it's something that many people seem to forget, and a lot of Congressional Democrats just never seem to grasp.

The first paragraph of the AP's latest report on the Bush administration's detainee legislation: "President Bush urged the Senate on Thursday to follow the House lead and approve a White House plan for detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects, saying, 'The American people need to know we're working together to win the war on terror.'"

The second paragraph of the same report: "Bush met in the Capitol with Senate Republicans the day after the House passed the legislation that Republicans likely will use on the campaign trail to assert that Democrats want to coddle terrorists."

It's a simple lesson, but Democrats and the mainstream press seem incapable of absorbing it-- it doesn't matter how much you try to cozy up to the neo-fascists. You'll never be their friend.

Contractor failure: not just for Halliburton anymore

My title should have been a lot more generalized-- the story of reconstruction in Iraq is one of colossal incompetence and corruption across the board. The administration's chief qualification for installing Americans to work with the Coalition Provisional Authority was solid right-wing credentials, and contracts went to cronies. It was a recipe for disaster, and that's just what we've got. Beyond the theft of American tax dollars by partisan hacks and corrupt businessmen, it's undoubtedly enraged the population of Iraq and fueled the insurgency. Yet it's barely made the news and Congress has abandoned oversight.

The latest flame-out comes courtesy of an outfit called Parsons Corporation:

A few weeks ago evidence of Parsons’s incompetence was its failure to successfully complete a $243 million contract it had for construction of 150 health clinics in Iraq. In the fall of 2005, Parsons had assured the Army Corps of Engineers that was supervising the project, that 114 units would be completed before the end of the year. Instead, only 20 were completed. Parsons spent $60 million of the $243 million on its own management and administration. Health clinics was not its only failure.

Parsons had a contract for $99.1 million to build the Khan Bani Saad Correctional Facility North of Baghdad. The prison was to have been completed in June 2006. It was not. According to a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers, Parsons said the project could not be completed before September 2008 and would cost $13.5 million more than the $91 million for which the contract had been awarded. The contract was cancelled.

Now the Washington Post reports on their latest failure:

A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.

The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed "the rain forest."

"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress. "The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."

Party like it's 2004

Specifically, run your political party like it's 2004. It's amazing to see the GOP base their strategy on claims that were proven false two years ago, but their strategists clearly see it as the best hope for staying in power.

On Hardball this afternoon, House Majority Leader John Boehner was asked questions about Iraq. Boehner insisted that Saddam had WMD and that we just "haven’t found them yet". Boehner also states that Saddam was supporting the terrorists for 9/11 and was "providing cover" for the training camps in Iraq.

Matthews was in shockingly good form during this interview. He would not back down from Boehner and in turn Boehner came off like a bumbling idiot. Boehner says that we will listen to the generals on the ground in Iraq, and Matthews responded by asking him why the generals come out and talk about how bad things are in Iraq once they retire. Boehner refused to answer that question.

Crooks & Liars has the video.

Wal-Mart, Target to offer workers unaffordable healthcare

When I signed on with some temp agencies after a pretty serious financial setback, I found that they all offered insurance-- which the people working there often whispered I shouldn't sign up for, since it would take a huge chunk of my earnings and provide minimal coverage with large deductables. No surprise there. Their raison d'etre is injecting themselves into the employment process and skimming money from struggling workers. Wal-Mart and Target, on the other hand, are America's largest retailers, and very profitable besides. I think three of the Waltons were among Forbes' ten richest Americans, or at least the top twenty. And as my Republican friends might say, you don't get those inherited... errr, I mean hard-earned billions by being Mr. Nice Capitalist.

Wake Up Wal-Mart reports:

Among the most striking findings outlined in Wal-Mart’s 2007 benefits booklet is the substantial health care cost a low-paid Wal-Mart worker would be forced to pay under the so-called ‘Value’ plan. A typical individual Wal-Mart worker who enrolls in the Value Plan will face high upfront costs because of a series of high deductibles, including a minimum $1,000 deductible for individual coverage, a $1,000 in-patient deductible per visit, a $500 out-patient surgical deductible per visit, a $300 pharmacy deductible, and a maximum out of pocket expense of $5,000 for an individual per year.

In total, when factoring the maximum out-of-pocket expense and the cost of the yearly premium ($598 a year for an individual under the Value Plan), a typical full-time worker (defined by Wal-Mart as 34 hours) who earns 10.11 an hour or $17,874 a year, would have pay nearly 30 percent of their total income for health care costs alone.

Incredibly, the health care cost burden actually worsens should an uninsured Wal-Mart worker enroll their family under the Value Plan. Again, because of multiple deductibles for each family member, and when factoring in the cost of the medical premium ($780) and maximum out-of-pocket expense ($10,000), a Wal-Mart worker whose family is insured under the “Value Plan” could pay as much as 60 percent of their total income towards health care costs under Wal-Mart’s most “affordable “health care” plan.

The Prospect's Ezra Klein adds:

More worrisome, though, is that Target has promised the same move, which will mean that the two largest retailers will both eschew traditional health care plans for low-cost (to the company), high-risk (to the employee), astonishingly stingy offerings. Now, of course, any retailers who seek to compete with them -- and that includes supermarkets, clothing outlets, and all the rest -- will be at a competitive disadvantage if they fund traditional health care plans for their employees. It also means producers will be under added pressure by Wal-Mart and Target to make the same shift in order to lower their labor costs and, thus, prices. If the producers refuse, Wal-Mart can simply replace them with their in-house brands. This is how a race to the bottom starts. This is how employer-based health security dies.

New maxim: A rising tide leaves plenty to drown.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bye-bye habeas corpus

Another post from Glenn Greenwald points out just how far the White House is going in their war on terror. Which is creeping ever closer to France's Reign of Terror.

Under the military commission legislation blessed by our Guardians of Liberty in the Senate -- such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- the U.S. military could move Hussein to Guantánamo tomorrow and keep him there for the rest of his life, and he would have absolutely no recourse of any kind. It does not need to bring him before a military commission (the military only has to do that if it wants to execute someone) and as long as it doesn't, he is blocked from seeking an order from a U.S. federal court to release him on the ground that he is completely innocent. As part of his permanent imprisonment, the military could even subject him to torture and he would have no legal recourse whatsoever to contest his detention or his treatment. As Johns Hopkins professor Hilary Bok points out, even the use of the most extreme torture techniques that are criminalized will be immune from any real challenge, since only the government (rather than detainees) will be able to enforce such prohibitions.

Put another way, this bill would give the Bush administration the power to imprison people for their entire lives, literally, without so much as charging them with any wrongdoing or giving them any forum in which to contest the accusations against them. It thus vests in the administration the singularly most tyrannical power that exists -- namely, the power unilaterally to decree someone guilty of a crime and to condemn the accused to eternal imprisonment without having even to charge him with a crime, let alone defend the validity of those accusations. Just to look at one ramification, does one even need to debate whether this newly vested power of indefinite imprisonment would affect the willingness of foreign journalists to report on the activities of the Bush administration? Do Americans really want our government to have this power?

The changes that the administration reportedly secured over the weekend for this "compromise" legislation make an already dangerous bill much worse. Specifically, the changes expand the definition of who can be declared an "enemy combatant" (and therefore permanently detained and tortured) from someone who has "engaged in hostilities against the United States" (meaning actually participated in war on a battlefield) to someone who has merely "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States."

I guess the rub is that no matter the definition, it doesn't have to be proven.

The classified report that wasn't, then was, then wasn't

With Bush's announcement that-- because of more despicable government leaks-- he would be declassifying an April National Intelligence Estimate, the press failed to ask an obvious question: why was it classified in the first place?

Obviously, because the report argues that Iraq has made America less safe and provided an incubator for new terrorists. Which means that the White House was "playing politics" with information that otherwise would've been public (and keep in mind that only part of the report will be declassified, allowing the admin to further pick and choose what the public knows about the war). What would a total hypocrite do? Claim that the move is an effort to prevent everyone else from playing politics with information that wouldn't have been leaked if the White House hadn't been afraid it would hurt Republicans in the election. Surprise, surprise. Enjoy yet another helping of Soviet-style reasoning from Fearless Leader:

"Once again, there's a leak out of our government, coming right down the stretch in this campaign, you know, to trade confusion in the minds of the American people, in my judgment, is why they leaked it. So I told the DNI [director of national intelligence] to declassify this document.

"We'll stop all of the speculation, all the politics, about someone saying something about Iraq, you know, somebody trying to confuse the American people about the nature of this enemy. And so John Negroponte, the DNI, is going to declassify the document as quickly as possible, declassify the key judgments for you to read yourself and he'll do so in such a way that he'll be able to protect sources and methods that our intelligence community uses. And then everybody can draw their own conclusions about what the report says. Thank you."

If large and important parts of the NIE can be safely declassified and known by the American public, why were they classified in the first place? And why have they been kept classified since April? Obviously, the NIE is being declassified now only because the White House needs a political defense to the New York Times article reporting that the NIE concluded that the war in Iraq worsened the terrorist threat. But it is really amazing just how transparent the White House is being about the fact that it routinely conceals information as "classified" not because it is secret but because it is politically damaging.

Rice lies to portray Clinton as liar

Rice has been a reliable attack dog for the White House, but found herself the object of some intense right-wing criticism after her feckless trip to the Middle East during the Israel-Lebanon violence. So maybe she's redoubling her efforts in transforming the role of Secretary of State to GOP campaign operative. I suppose it's lucky for her that the news business is about repeating quotes rather than analyzing their truthfulness these days, because a few minutes of research demonstrates the complete dishonesty of her latest attack-- which is another attempt to blame Clinton for 9/11.

A memo received by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shortly after becoming National Security Advisor in 2001 directly contradicts statements she made to reporters yesterday, Raw Story has learned.

"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice told a reporter for the New York Post on Monday. "Big pieces were missing," Rice added, "like an approach to Pakistan that might work, because without Pakistan you weren't going to get Afghanistan." (. . .)

However, Raw Story has found that just five days after President George W. Bush was sworn into office, a memo from counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke to Rice included the 2000 document, "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects." This document devotes over 2 of its 13 pages of material to specifically addressing strategies for securing Pakistan's cooperation in airstrikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But what else would you expect from a woman who claims that the infamous "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States" was a 'historical document'? It's common knowledge (at least to those who go outside the mainstream media for their news) that Dick Cheney's terrorism task force never met before 9/11, in spite of warnings from the departing administration. But the press is still equating objective reporting with he-said/she-said stenography, and the public is stuck with it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Olbermann calls the tune

Crooks & Liars has always been quick to the punch when Keith Olbermann delivers one of his increasingly outraged attacks on the right wing. And this is a doozy.

But if his own fitness to serve is of no true concern to him, perhaps we should simply sigh and keep our fingers crossed, until a grown-up takes the job three Januarys from now.

Except… for this:

After five years of skirting even the most inarguable of facts — that he was President on 9/11 and he must bear some responsibility for his, and our, unreadiness, Mr. Bush has now moved, unmistakably and without conscience or shame, towards re-writing history, and attempting to make the responsibility, entirely Mr. Clinton’s.

Of course he is not honest enough to do that directly.

As with all the other nefariousness and slime of this, our worst presidency since James Buchanan, he is having it done for him, by proxy.

Thus, the sandbag effort by Fox News, Friday afternoon.

Consider the timing: The very same weekend the National Intelligence Estimate would be released and show the Iraq war to be the fraudulent failure it is — not a check on terror, but fertilizer for it!

The kind of proof of incompetence, for which the administration and its hyenas at Fox need to find a diversion, in a scapegoat.

It was the kind of cheap trick which would get a journalist fired — but a propagandist, promoted:

Promise to talk of charity and generosity; but instead launch into the lies and distortions with which the Authoritarians among us attack the virtuous and reward the useless.

Includes video.

History: reversed, rewritten, and dumped down the memory hole

While the neo-fascists have fallen back on Clinton hatred in advance of the election (hey, it's all they've got, all right?), no one is talking about what a complete 180 they've done when it comes to the use of military force and respect for the office of POTUS.

"The suspicion some people have about the president's motives in this attack [on Iraq] is itself a powerful argument for impeachment. After months of lies, the president has given millions of people around the world reason to doubt that he has sent Americans into battle for the right reasons."

That wasn't a cut-and-run Democrat talking about Bush. It was GOP majority leader Dick Armey talking about Bill Clinton. And whether it was Iraq, Kosovo, or Somalia, right-wing voices were united: America became involved under false pretenses, the president lied us into it, and there were no tangible gains to be made by acting.

"Perceptions that the American president is less interested in the global consequences than in taking any action that will enable him to hold onto power [are] a further demonstration that he has dangerously compromised himself in conducting the nation's affairs, and should be impeached."

That was the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. But the piece assembles a whole mess o' quotes, all of them pushing the same line: stop the fighting, impeach the president. It's a testament to the right-wing spin machine and an indictment of our hapless press, and it's costing the nation dearly.

Video follow-up: Clinton on Fox and Bush's "comma"

Eschaton posts a YouTube video from the Daily Show on media coverage of Clinton's Fox appearance. Although the former president was ambushed and subjected to fact-free accusations of causing the 9/11 attacks, and although the media have conveniently forgotten their eagerness to report "wag the dog" stories whenever Clinton proposed military force in his second term, it was boiled down for public consumption to "president goes insane on TV."

At Crooks & Liars, there's a clip of Jack Cafferty talking about Bush's flippant assertion that the violence in Iraq is nothing more than a "historical comma." Which, in addition to being thoughtless and cruel, still doesn't make sense.

Putting the pride in prostitution, GOP style

If you're not familiar with the story of Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and the Northern Mariana Islands, you should be. It defines the corporatism, cronyism and pay-for-play ethos of the new Republican party. In short, Abramoff and the congressmen on his payroll worked hard to pass legislation that would qualify the islands to put 'made in the USA' labels on their manufactured goods while denying workers a minimum wage, standards for working conditions, or other rights. And the factories were often stocked with young women from other countries who were told they were going to the US, only to have their passports taken away and be forced to work around the clock in sweatshops-- or, if they were attractive, sex shows and brothels.

It's pretty clear that the corrupt Republicans knew exactly what they were doing across the board. As TPM Muckraker reports, was even willing to attack the victims of forced prostitution to push their business-friendly agenda and keep raking in the cash. But I guess if you're going to be a whore, it's better to do it willingly and make piles of money instead of being coerced into it at age fifteen.

In November of 1997, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) publicly questioned the credibility of a teenage girl's claims that she'd been the victim of the sex trade in the Northern Mariana Islands. The statement, which Rep. Hall entered into the Congressional Record, was prepared by Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist for the islands.

"[S]he wanted to do nude dancing," Hall's statement said of the fifteen-year-old girl. She had earlier told federal investigators that she'd been forced to work for a local nightclub in a nightly live sex show. You can read the entirety of Hall's statement here.

Press accounts at the time detailed how the girl had been taken from her parents in the Phillippines, and forced to perform sex acts on stage and before video cameras at a Northern Marianas sex club. A 1998 Department of Labor report confirmed those reports.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Newztim wth Katiy Coorik

Rather than link directly to Katie Couric's new blog, I thought I'd go through Charlie Pierce's post on The American Prospect. I haven't taken the time to tune in "Hard News" Couric since she stepped behind the anchor desk, but her early and fawning interview with Bush (and all the talk about her wardrobe) were a pretty clear indication of how much news we'll be dished up every night.

But Couric's blog continues the proud tradition of news-studs your David Brinkleys and John Chancellor. But with a sorely needed dose of jaunty fun in place of all that boring grown-up stuff.

I’ve been working this week on a profile of Condoleezza Rice for Sunday’s 60 Minutes.

This is a woman who is “scary smart” – so intelligent, it’s scary. She seems to have a photographic memory. She can tick off events and dates in a way that made my head spin. She’s also an astute, passionate student of history--and history is what is giving her enormous confidence and comfort in the crafting of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy.

During our interview, she cited the Civil War, the Cold War, and other dark days in international history to demonstrate that very trying times are often worth the end result.

Don't you feel safer knowing that the Secretary of State has heard of the Cold War and the Civil War? She really is smart! The whole entry is worth a look, though, in this funny-yet-sad decade. Couric seems to be channeling the presimuhdent himself when she claims to have divined global policy after hearing a couple of anecdotes about Rice's childhood.

Onward, Christian soldiers

This recent op-ed from a Maine newspaper highlights an effort by a Republican Congressman to insert some old time religion in a pending defense bill. In short, it allows military chaplains to say prayers at official gatherings. Specifically, prayers exclusive to their own sect. I can't even imagine the firestorm that would erupt if a Muslim chaplain said a prayer to Allah in front of a few batallions, but the fundamentalists are eager to give Christians that right.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which is being considered now by Congress, appropriates the money this country uses to pay for the operations of the U.S. military -- the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The bill has hundreds of provisions in it, including ones to pay soldiers, to expand service academy exchange programs with foreign military academies and to buy helicopters. The bill is a virtual laundry list of what it takes to run our national defense. (. . .)

But the defense bill is being held up by a number of disagreements between the House and the Senate. Among them is a particularly inappropriate provision, inserted into the House version of the bill by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. -- head of the House Armed Forces Committee -- that would break with tradition and allow military chaplains to say sectarian prayers at official gatherings.

Ever mindful of the voting power of religious conservatives, Hunter and his Republican colleagues who support the measure say that chaplains leading services at mandatory events should be able to offer prayers that use the language and philosophy of their respective religious traditions -- referring to "Christ," for example, rather than simply to "God."

The measure has been championed by evangelical Christian groups such as Focus on the Family. "Chaplains take their orders on prayer from a much higher authority than their commanding officer," said one minister.

There is some Republican opposition to the provision, which is a sleazy and sneaky attempt to tack a 'culture war' salvo onto a bill that keeps the government running. So there are two problems here-- not only of promoting specific religions in the armed forces, but of the willingness to highjack the legislature to do it.

The next arms race

BushCo caused a lot of consternation with their tacit support of India's nuclear weapons program, and Pakistan's revelation that they, too, have nuclear capabilities stoked fears of a new nuclear arms race in that region of the globe.

Now, with Iran working on their program, Egypt is beginning to show signs of their own ambitions of nuclear proliferation.

As a child in the eighties, I remember living at a time when nuclear war was seen as a very real possibility. It isn't something that people talk about now, but the US is abandoning efforts to contain the former Soviet Union's nuclear materials and efforts to keep nuclear scientists from going to work for countries like Iran and Egypt. I'm guessing the brinkmanship of two superpowers with massive nuclear arsenals is nothing compared to the uncertainty and fear that a dozen small, unpredictable states similarly armed would create. Unfortunately, our leadership is turning a blind eye at this critical time, trying to wiggle out of arms control treaties and making deals to share nuclear technology instead of working toward containment.

The Clinton-Fox interview

Fox host Chris Wallace's attempt to ambush Clinton has generated an incredible amount of blog buzz over the last week. Ostensibly on to be interviewed largely about the Clinton Global Initiative Conference, the host used the ol' bait and switch and started accusing Clinton of giving Osama bin Laden a free pass and failing to respond to terrorist attacks. Clinton wasn't having any of that, and turned the tables on Wallace, asking him questions that he could only dodge-- because answering honestly would've meant acknowledging Fox's rigt-wing agenda.

Crooks and Liars has video of the first 20 minutes of the interview, plus a transcript.

Media Matters dissects Wallace's false claims that Fox has asked Bush administration officials plenty of tough terrorism questions.

Think Progress has a shorter video, plus links to their posts on Wallace's claims of asking Republicans tough questions.

Bush: Iraq violence just a historical "comma"

Aside from the fact that Fearless Leader's comment doesn't make any sense, it certainly highlights his total disregard for human life. It reminds me of the time he mocked a Texas death row inmate who asked for clemency, saying to an interviewer in a falsetto voice that her words to him would probably be "Don't kill me. Please don't kill me."

More than 22,000 American troops killed and wounded, and perhaps 100,000 Iraqis dead-- and it merits nothing more than a shrug from this guy. Scary.

BLITZER: Let’s move on and talk a little bit about Iraq. Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war–if not already a civil war–We see these horrible bodies showing up, tortured, mutilation. The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, al Qaeda in Iraq is still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see — you see it on TV, and that’s the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there’s also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people…. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy.

You see? It doesn't matter because freedom could possibly be on the march. Crooks & Liars has the video if you've got the stomach for it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The "Compromise" On Torture, or A Time For Fear

There was a lot written about the debate over Bush's torture demands today, and none of it good.

As Ezra Klein points out, this was the extent of the White House concession on their desire to keep detaining and torturing innocent people, free of government oversight:

[T]he legislation will enumerate "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions which, if committed, could expose US officials to criminal prosecution. The list includes acts such as rape, murder and intentional infliction of bodily harm. For less-than-grave breaches, however, President Bush would be given authority to interpret the Geneva Convention provisions through an executive order. Defendants and their lawyers will not be given access to classified material in military tribunals, and prosecutors will enjoy wide latitude, according to Hadley, in the use of hearsay evidence, with burden on the accused to show that such evidence is either unreliable on irrelevant before it could be excluded.

Not unlike the warrantless wiretap debate, the White House got everything it wanted after some pretend resistance from Republican senators who at least wanted the right to claim that they're independent thinkers. Better for the election, you see.

Charlie Pierce writes that while the Democrats were content to watch the GOP seemingly fight each other over this one, it played out as a resounding defeat for the Democrats-- and more astonishingly, for the rights we consider to be the most fundamental to our way of life:

And the Democratic Party was nowhere in this debate. It contributed nothing. On the question of whether or not the United States will reconfigure itself as a nation which tortures its purported enemies and then grants itself absolution through adjectives -- "Aggressive interrogation techniques" -- the Democratic Party had…no opinion. On the issue of allowing a demonstrably incompetent president as many of the de facto powers of a despot that you could wedge into a bill without having the Constitution spontaneously combust in the Archives, well, the Democratic Party was more pissed off at Hugo Chavez.

Glenn Greenwald joins in blasting the Democrats for badly misplaying their hand on this one. And it's hard to argue, unfortunately. It might've seemed smart to stand back and watch the GOP beat themselves up, but the Democrats always seem to forget just how reactionary the Republican party is at the moment.

And finally, Greenwald posts a sort of epilogue, in which Tony Snow bullshits his way through another stupefyingly dishonest rewriting of American history, courtesy of BushCo. The Democrats wouldn't fight, and the press will dutifully print up Snow's comments without pointing out its fundamental dishonesty. Two more years of this and America will be unrecognizable as a democracy.

Snow: "No, as a matter of fact the president has an obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. That is an obligation that presidents have enacted through signing statements going back to Jefferson. So, while the Supreme Court can be an arbiter of the Constitution, the fact is the President is the one, the only person who, by the Constitution, is given the responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend that document, so it is perfectly consistent with presidential authority under the Constitution itself."

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Papers No. 78: "The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts ... It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the Executive. For I agree, that there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers."

James Madison, in Federalist Papers No. 47: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Ohio Rep. claims press release as own work

You'd think that Republican loyalists would've figured out by now that plagiarism ain't what it used to be. Especially in politics, the Internet has made it nearly impossible to get away with swiping other people's work and publishing it under your own name.

Enter Jean Schmidt, the Ohio Congresswoman who narrowly defeated Paul Hackett and, near as I can tell, made the news only when she embarrassed herself. Like her debut speech on the House Floor, in which she accused (by proxy, conveniently) John Murtha of cowardice. Or the revelations that she'd added some phony claims to her official resume. Now she's back, having passed off a press release-- by another Ohio Congresswoman, no less-- praising the GOP's brilliant Medicare plan as her own original op-ed.

It's impossible to excerpt, because Scmidt didn't just borrow a phrase here and there. Instead I'll highlight one of the more immediately apparent differences between the original and the copy.

Pryce: And there’s more good news.

Schmidt: And there is more good news.

Dept. of Education latest to face charges of wrongdoing

Wow. When it rains, it pours. First the administration was hiring loyal but incompetent people for the reconstruction of Iraq. Then Housing and Urban Development officials were found to have encouraged the giving awards only to party loyalists. Now a report from the Department of Education has found that they, too, are running in true BushCo form. Of course, these are just the recent reports. Cronyism and mismanagement have also caused trouble for the FDA, the FCC, and most notoriously FEMA. Then there was that bungled attempt to turn public broadcasting into a propaganda arm of the neo-fascists. At least they have a perfect excuse: "See? The federal government can't do anything right!"

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its review of how Reading First, a billion-dollar program each year, that it says has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

It also depicts a program in which review panels were stacked with people who shared the director's views and in which only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.

In one e-mail, the director told a staff member to come down hard on a company he didn't support, according to the report released Friday by the department's inspector general.

"They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags," the Reading First director wrote, according to the report.

You have to torture a few eggs to make an omelet.

Another story I should've written about sooner, and another link from Salon. When it was reported that Bush would have to scale down his torture demands amid an outbreak of common sense among a handful of prominent Republican senators and Colin Powell, it also emerged that BushCo had detained an innocent man and sent him to Syria to be tortured.

These two events should spell the end of Bush's torture agenda. But unless the media connects the two stories, as it should, it probably won't have any effect. It certainly hasn't changed Bush's plans-- not unlike his total confidence that the death penalty has never meant the execution of an innocent man in light of the release of dozens of unjustly convicted death-row inmates after DNA testing.

Despite the stonewalling and coverup by the Bush administration, the Canadian report was able to conclude "categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense." It also found that both the American government and the Syrian government lied to Canada about Arar's whereabouts because they knew the Canadians would object to their citizen being brought to Syria to be tortured. Put another way, our government abducted a completely innocent Canadian citizen and deliberately caused him to subjected, in Syria, to the most brutal and inhumane treatment imaginable (where, among other things, he confessed under torture to training in an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan even though he was never in that country).

Now that all of this has been revealed (by the Canadian government, which -- as free and open governments do -- candidly acknowledged its own unjust role in this travesty), what is the Bush administration's reaction? Obfuscation, denial, bureaucratic buck passing and outright deceit. The New York Times reports on the reprehensible refusal of Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department even to admit the most basic facts and acknowledge that anything wrong occurred here, let alone to accept responsibility for it and make amends.

George Allen enjoys him some ham

Although the story has been snowballing all week, I haven't written about it yet. The short version: George Allen is asked about his Jewish heritage. He almost makes a smart move by claiming it's irrelevant to the election. Which it is. But he also treats it like an insult, referring to the questions as 'aspersions.' Then he acknowledges a Jewish ancestor or two, while claiming that he still "enjoys a ham sandwich." Which comes across like an 'I can't help it, but I'm not tainted' defense.

Now it's turned, predictably, into a story of the 'liberal media' sending out the goon squad to demolish the career of a wholesome GOP luminary (who just happens to have a long and troubling history of flirting with racists). And right-wing pundits are throwing around the same old lines in an attempt to claim that they're the victims, and it's actually the guys who didn't make the ham sandwich/aspersion remarks who are the virulent anti-Semites. All pretty typical, but worth a look. I guess.

Nationalizing disenfranchisement

One of the tactics GOP-controlled state governments have been using to repress the vote has been to demand that voters show a state-issued photo ID at the polls. For many Americans, the natural response would be "so what?" Everyone has a driver's license or a passport, right? The thing is, those least likely to have these forms of ID are poor, elderly, and minorities-- those for whom getting a photo ID presents some actual hurdles involving money and mobility. And they tend to vote Democratic.

The Republican tactic was to disguise this latter-day poll tax as an anti-illegal immigrant bill by adding it to a bill that includes provisions for building one of those doomed-to-fail walls between the US and Mexico.

Republicans pushing for tougher means to stem illegal immigration got a boost Wednesday when the Senate agreed to consider a bill that would build a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and the House approved a measure that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Republicans in both chambers said the steps were necessary to protect the United States from illegal immigrants entering the country or trying to corrupt the voting process.

There doesn't seem to be any evidence for an organized immigrant plot to sway national elections, but I suspect the coding will be clear to party faithful, and the neo-fascists have a handy way to claim that this has nothing to do with squelching the vote. And most other Americans will fail to appreciate what a difficult hurdle this will be for a whole lot of fellow citizens. But the really scary thing is that this stands to become the official national policy of the Republican party-- one that, once again, overrides states' rights to expand the power of the federal government.

HUD takes a hit for cronyism

Everyone learns about the spoils system in jr. high history, but what a great opportunity for kids to see a real-life example. Less than a week after reports that Iraq contracts were handed out only after hopefuls passed a Republican loyalty test, a report finds that the same mentatlity guided Bush's department of Housing and Urban Development.

Top aides to Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson testified that they and other senior staff members were advised to take political leanings into consideration when awarding discretionary contracts, according to an internal report issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general. (. . .)

The inspector general's investigation was launched following an exclusive Dallas Business Journal report on comments Jackson made at an April 28 real estate gathering in Dallas. At the private event, Jackson, former president and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, told attendees he canceled a contract with a contractor who had criticized President Bush.

"Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use the funds to try to campaign against the president?" Jackson said at the event. "Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe." (. . .)

In an executive summary of the inspector general's report, investigators found that "the substance of the remarks by Secretary Jackson were partly true." Based on testimony by Jackson and others, such an encounter took place in the lobby of HUD headquarters between an African-American male and then-Deputy Secretary Jackson, and this incident formed the basis of the story Jackson relayed to attendees at the Dallas real estate event. However, the investigation found no evidence that a contract was canceled as a result, and the contractor in question said he had not been, or did not recall being, involved in the encounter, according to the summary report.

It's an odd sort of story. While it's acknowledged that cronyism was the standing rule, the report minimizes the impact it might have had. Then again, HUD produced the report themselves.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

And with an infinitely long lever, we could just launch Iraq into space

For a while there, military commanders were beginning to talk about troops reductions. Pundits were suggesting that Bush could start initiating a phase-out prior to the election. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore, as the title of this WaPo article observes ( '06 cuts in Iraq troops unlikely).

But the money quote comes from General John Abizaid, who's toed the administration line all along. It isn't reassuring.

Asked point-blank whether the United States is winning in Iraq, Abizaid replied: "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."

Isn't that another way of saying no?

Congress makes lobbyists' dreams come true

Also from the mysterious Cypher comes a story about a little-known and highly secretive practice by Congress that allows them to do big favors for their corporate overlords with little fear of being caught-- everyone gets a big pile of money but the taxpayers.

Each legislative season, corporate executives and lobbyists quietly draft hundreds of bills to suspend tariffs. Over time, the changes cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, a Washington Post analysis of U.S. trade data found.

Most of the tariff suspensions involve obscure chemicals and dyes, but many other products show up, including boilers for nuclear reactors, green peanuts, child potty seats, unicycles -- even chocolate coatings for laxatives.

"It's become sort of a lobbyists' dream," said Jim Schollaert, a former State Department trade specialist who now represents domestic manufacturers. "It's a gravy train, and there's little work to it."

The bills in Congress generally give no hint of whom the suspensions have been designed to benefit and sometimes refer to the products only by strings of numbers linked to phone-book-size tariff tables. But many corporate names can be found in reports on the legislation produced for Congress by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Lawmakers usually introduce the provisions at the behest of companies in their districts. Many of those companies and their executives have given federal campaign contributions totaling millions of dollars.

See no evil

I remember urban horror stories from way back when about people being mugged, assaulted, what have you in places like New York and the rest of the populace being too frightened to lend a hand. From the mysterious Cypher comes a story that shows we didn't have a thing on Baghdad.

On a recent Sunday, I was buying groceries in my beloved Amariya neighborhood in western Baghdad when I heard the sound of an AK-47 for about three seconds. It was close but not very close, so I continued shopping.

As I took a right turn on Munadhama Street, I saw a man lying on the ground in a small pool of blood. He wasn't dead.

The idea of stopping to help or to take him to a hospital crossed my mind, but I didn't dare. Cars passed without stopping. Pedestrians and shop owners kept doing what they were doing, pretending nothing had happened.

I was still looking at the wounded man and blaming myself for not stopping to help. Other shoppers peered at him from a distance, sorrowful and compassionate, but did nothing.

I went on to another grocery store, staying for about five minutes while shopping for tomatoes, onions and other vegetables. During that time, the man managed to sit up and wave to passing cars. No one stopped. Then, a white Volkswagen pulled up. A passenger stepped out with a gun, walked steadily to the wounded man and shot him three times. The car took off down a side road and vanished.

No one did anything. No one lifted a finger. The only reaction came from a woman in the grocery store. In a low voice, she said, "My God, bless his soul."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wednesday Funny: Congressional Corruption

Isn't corruption depressing? Not anymore, thanks to... well, just have a look. It's kinda funny.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)
With the aid of Rep. Richard Pombo, Lewis tipped over a vending machine and stole at least $20 worth of assorted snacks.

Lewis deftly snuck in a provision on a bill that gave a two million dollar grant to his granddaughter's lemonade stand. After the little girl expanded her lemonade stand, she then somehow scored a three billion dollar no-bid contract with the U.S. Military to supply lemonade to Camp Anaconda in Iraq.

Though Lewis denies it, there is strong evidence to support the case that he jammed a butter knife into the coin slot of a "Pit Fighter" arcade game at a laundromat to get free credits.

Replace q's with n's, and voila! New speech!

In the wake of a story about a retired Air Force Colonel who argued that we're already beginning military action against Iran, and the public outrage of the IAEA against an administration report on Iran's nuclear program that they claimed was filled with bogus intelligence, Bush spoke about Iran in front of the UN. And the speech sounded eerily similar to the line we heard in the runup to the invasion of Iraq.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in particular, said a report by House Republicans contained "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information."

"The dispute was a virtual rerun of the months before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq," Knight-Ridder reported.

Once again, the offices of Cheney and Rumsfeld are "receiving a stream of questionable information that originates with Iranian exiles," Knight-Ridder writes.

The head of the infamous Office of Special Plans, Abram Shulsky, now helms a new Iranian directorate at the Pentagon.

And once again, President Bush is addressing the UN General Assembly, calling for sanctions. "Iran must abandon its nuclear weapon ambitions," Bush said today. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the UN tonight, skipped the speech.)

Failing upward with BushCo

Andrew Natsios managed Boston's 'Big Dig' project, which was way behind schedule, way overbudget, and continues to be plagued by problems because of shoddy construction. Give that man a prize!

As director of U.S. Agency for Intenational Development Natsios promised that the U.S. contribution to reconstruction of Iraq would be no more [than] $1.6 billion. Congress has already appropriated nearly $20 billion for reconstruction in Iraq. The CBO estimates the total cost of reconstruction will be between $50 and $100 billion.

But wait! There's more! The White House thinks Natsios' sterling record makes him the perfect man to handle one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world today:

U.S. officials say President Bush has decided to appoint former U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios as his special envoy on the crisis in Darfur.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Shouldn't this come BEFORE the guilty plea?

Although it sounds like something from a Democratic stump speech, I really can't think of another way to put it: Republicans continually show nothing but contempt for the nation's government. To be fair, the Louisiana Democrat who refused to consider resignation after being caught with all that cold cash in his freezer did the same thing. But the shenanigans of Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, to name just two, show just how much incumbency trumps responsibility.

GOP anxiety ran high over the weekend, thanks to Ney. While he sprang a bouquet of revelations on them last week -- admitting to felonies, revealing his alcoholism, publicly apologizing for his misbehavior -- an announcement he'd be leaving Congress wasn't among the bunch.

And despite public efforts by GOP leaders and anonymous bitter Republicans to convince him to leave on his own, Ney made it pretty clear today he's not gonna go along.

"Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) sent two letters to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) today announcing he would immediately step down from his Financial Services subcommittee chairmanship and also relinquish his chairmanship of the Franking Commission, which oversees and sets guidelines for mass mailings sent from Congressional offices," Roll Call (sub. req.) reports this afternoon.

Path to 9/11 writer: my fictions were the truth

The criticism of The Path to 9/11 revolved around several scenes that were either pure conjecture or were openly contradicted by the public record. Before it aired, ABC removed any reference to the film as a documentary (it wasn't) based on the 9/11 Commission report (it wasn't) and edited some of the controversial scenes-- although they left others intact. Now the screenwriter has spoken out, declaring that his fictionalized scenes were a more accurate depiction of reality than, uhhhh, reality. The Wall Street Journal's opinion page was more than happy to provide a forum for this remarkable declaration.

His argument is apparently that 'the media' is actually a Clinton-dominated conspiracy to protect his record-- something that is clearly true based on their refusal to cover stories like Whitewater or his dalliance with an intern.

Cyrus Nowrasteh, who penned the screenplay for the recent ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11” – widely criticized for factual inaccuracies and concocted or conflated scenes – hit back today at critics, including reporters at The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

His column, “The Path to Hysteria,” appears online today at the Wall Street Journal's site. Its subhed: "My sin was to write a screenplay accurately depicting Bill Clinton's record on terrorism."

The movie was edited at the last minute under orders from ABC after complaints of inaccuracies and alleged unbalanced treatment of the Clinton and Bush administrations, which came from liberals, former Clinton aides, an FBI agent who quit as a consultant to the film, 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, and some conservatives, as well. The movie also lost its original description as being primarily based on the 9/11 Commission report.

“Clearly, those enraged that a film would criticize the Clinton administration's antiterrorism policies--though critical of its successor as well--were willing to embrace only one scenario: The writer was a conservative hatchetman,” Nowrasteh writes.

Air Force Col: We're already moving on Iran

It's difficult to understand why the administration is so eager to attack Iraq after botching Afghanistan and Iraq. It's difficult to understand why right-wing pundits are so eager to cheerlead for another military venture that would clearly end in disaster. It would further destabilize the Middle East, further weaken the military at a time when it's already dangerously overstretched, and cement our reputation as an international pariah when many countries already regard us as the greatest threat to international security. Not to mention costing hundreds of billions more dollars and the lives of more US troops when we can ill-afford either.

But according to a retired colonel who taught at the U.S. Army’s National War College, we're already there. His arguments, via Think Progress:

1) The House Committee on Emerging Threats recently called on State and Defense Department officials to testify on whether U.S. forces were in Iran. The officials didn’t come to the hearing.

2) “We have learned from Time magazine today that some U.S. naval forces had been alerted for deployment. That is a major step.”

3) “The plan has gone to the White House. That’s not normal planning. When the plan goes to the White House, that means we’ve gone to a different state.”

Leading into elections, GOP targets... Rosie O'Donnell

Raw Story combines some amusing reports of Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum's increasingly weird behavior in his re-election bid with an indication of just how serious the Republican party is about confronting the serious problems the nation is facing.

This weekend, Santorum reportedly accosted a Pennsylvania reporter, saying "I have to raise tens of millions of dollars because of the junk you feed the people of Pennsylvania.” Santorum then allegedly used an expletive to describe the reporter's coverage before going on to attack the paper.

A release issued by the DSCC includes retellings of Santorum "tantrums" on KQV radio, the Don Imus radio show, and C-SPAN--where the Senator repeatedly mouthed the word "bitch" during a debate with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). (. . .)

Republicans, for their part, turned their attention last Friday to TV talker Rosie O'Donnell, for observing on last Wednesday's broadcast of The View that, "as a result of the attack and the killing of 3,000 innocent people, we invaded two countries, and killed innocent people."

"We are bombing innocent people in other countries," she added.

Though the US has never claimed that no civilians were killed during strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, a release issued by the Republican National Committee targets the statement as a controversial claim.

Yet in spite of this one-two punch of GOP insanity, most pollsters are still predicting that they will remain in control of the senate. Heaven help us.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More madness from Rumsfeld

This is incredible. Behold:

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The fact of the matter is - if Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq, he would be rolling in petrol dollars. Think of the price of oil today. He would have so much money. And he would be seeing the Iranians interested in a nuclear program, he would be seeing the North Koreans developing a nuclear program, and he’d say well why shouldn’t he - and he would. So we’re fortunate that he’s gone.

First, the fact that the administration still can't justify their war after more than three years is beyond disturbing. Second, high oil prices came after the invasion, and are explained in no small part by the recent, that is post-invasion instability in the region. Third, he's actually acknowledging that the US attacked a country with no nuclear program rather than two members of the "Axis of Evil" who do have nuclear ambitions. Brilliant.

Cronyism with a capital C

Aside from the corruption and billions of dollars that have vanished into contractors' pockets during the erstwhile reconstruction of Iraq, there's the rather obvious consequence of unfinished public works projects there-- people in an unoccupied country who continue to be denied are likely to be angry. Angry people make the insurgency larger. And a larger insurgency makes it even more difficult to complete those unfinished public works projects. Rinse. Repeat. But the Washington Post reports on allegations that the reconstruction has precious little to do with military strategy or smart policy. More than ever, it just looks like a welfare program for loyal Republicans.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

November elections a potential disaster

Over the course of this year, there have been stories out of several states on tactics being used to make it more difficult for people to vote. Many are reminiscent of the Florida 2000, if not as egregious as the notorious purges of thousands of legal voters. But it amounts to the same thing, with bureaucratic and financial obstacles being put in place to make voting a nightmare for the elderly and poor. Then there are the unreliable electronic machines that are popping up everywhere without any of the serious questions about their security being addressed. It all adds up to trouble-- for Democrats, naturally.

This year, there are debates over standards for keeping voter registration rolls up to date; for the handling of "provisional ballots" used by people who do not show up on those rolls but believe they are legally qualified to vote; and for assuring the validity of electronic vote counts through the use of paper trails for all electronic machines. State legislation requiring state or federal identification for all voters has been challenged in courts.

One reason many issues are coming to a head this year is that the Help America Vote Act set the start of 2006 as the deadline for states to comply fully with its regulations.

Help America Vote does not mandate electronic voting, but it has greatly accelerated that trend. The law banned lever machines and punch cards to end debates about ambiguous "hanging chads" of the sort that occurred in Florida in 2000. What is clear is that electronic machines have their own imponderables.

In Montgomery County, the breakdown came when election officials failed to provide precinct workers with the access cards needed to operate electronic voting machines. In Prince George's County, computers misidentified some voters' party affiliation and failed to transmit data to the central election office. At least nine other states have had trouble this year with new voting technology.

During Illinois's March primary, poll workers in Cook County (Chicago) experienced problems at hundreds of sites with new voting technology, delaying results in a crucial vote for the county's board.

In Ohio, results from the May primary election were delayed for nearly a week in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) when thousands of absentee ballots were incorrectly formatted for electronic scanners and had to be counted by hand.

Twenty-seven states require electronic voting machines to produce a paper trail available for auditing during a recount, but an analysis of Cuyahoga County's paper trail by the nonpartisan Election Science Institute showed that a tenth of the receipts were uncountable.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tearing down the "One Percent Doctrine"

It's been a while since I checked in with mathematician John Allen Paulos' column Who's Counting? I can credit him in part with my political wake-up call in the mid-90s, when I read his excellent book A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. In a lucid and engaging series of brief essays, Paulos points out (via basic but oft-forgotten mathematical concepts) the many ways in which facts can be skewed, misrepresented, and otherwise tweaked to push an agenda. Little did I know how relevant this knowledge would become in the 21st century.

Although the professor is best known for his efforts to popularize mathematics, and several books to that end, his column with ABC News is long-running and increasingly political. Scientists have been grumbling about this administration's policies since they took office, on issues ranging from the embarrassing evolution "debate" to global warming. In a recent column, Paulos turns the tables rather nicely on Dick Cheney's One Percent Doctrine of pre-emptive war-- and on the larger dangers of ideologues who disguise their agenda with nonsensical sloganeering.

Imagine what would happen in various everyday situations were the Cheney doctrine to be applied. A young man is in a bar and another man gives him a hard stare. If the young Cheneyite feels threatened and believes the probability to be at least 1 percent that the other man will shoot him, then he has a right to preemptively shoot him in "self-defense."

Or an older woman visits her Cheneyite doctor who, finding that the woman has suffered from a sore throat and fatigue for months, orders that she be put on chemotherapy since the likelihood of cancer is in his opinion at least 1 percent. Further tests, he might argue, would take too long.

A Cheneyite gambler would be a casino's dream. The chance of rolling a 12 with a pair of dice, for example, is 1/36, almost 3 percent, and hence would justify the gambler betting his house on rolling a 12. (. . .)

A companion to the Cheney 1 percent action doctrine (if the probability is at least 1 percent, act) is the administration's non-action doctrine (if the probability is less than 99 percent, then don't act). This latter doctrine is generally invoked in discussions of global warming, where it seems absolute certainty is required to justify any significant action. Ideology determines which of these two inconsistent doctrines to invoke.

Slash and Burn

It's really amazing to see just how rapidly the Republican party has abandoned the stewardship of the nation and turned political office into little more than a moneymaking scheme. Get elected, make your fortune. Or second fortune, considering how much it costs to run in the first place. The mysterious Cipher sent this article showing that it isn't all about Jack Abramoff's cronies, big oil, and Halliburton.

On April 15, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a proclamation creating the 328,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument. More than half of all the giant sequoia groves in the world are in this monument, with most of the remainder found in the adjacent Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The popularity and awe-inspiring beauty of the giant sequoia forest led President Clinton to permanently protect it, expanding on orders to restrict logging in Sequoia given a few years earlier by President George Bush Sr. (. . .)

This fall, Sequoia National Monument will again become ground zero in the timber wars, with a California congressman proposing legislation to allow commercial logging on areas within its boundaries. Passage of The Giant Sequoia National Monument Transition Act of 2006 (HR 5760) would allow the forest service to proceed with commercial logging projects, ignoring the federal court ruling against such projects, a ruling based on potential harm to the landscape and the rare wildlife that depends on it. Written by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, HR 5760 would perform an "end run'' around that decision, and defy the legal tenets of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bob Ney to plead guilty

It sounds like the Ohio Congressman is going through some hard times these days. This is the first I've heard of his difficulties with alcoholism, and I feel bad for the guy. Not so much when it comes to the criminal charges, though.

Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, has agreed to plead guilty to federal criminal charges related to his dealings with the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, lawyers and others with knowledge of the investigation said Thursday.

A guilty plea would make Mr. Ney, a six-term congressman, the first member of Congress to admit to criminal charges in the Abramoff investigation, which has focused on the actions of several current and former Republican lawmakers who had been close to the former lobbyist.

People with detailed knowledge of the investigation said Mr. Ney had entered an in-patient rehabilitation center in recent days for treatment of alcoholism, making it uncertain whether he would appear at a court hearing to announce the plea. Lawyers and others would speak only anonymously because of concern that they would anger prosecutors.

They said the agreement with the Justice Department — and the exact criminal charges, which are expected to include conspiracy and false statement — would be disclosed in Washington as soon as Friday and would probably require Mr. Ney to serve at least some time in prison.

In spite of personal lobbying trip, Bush might not get it all from Congress

After Senate committees approved several bills that grant the White House increased authority to use warrantless wiretaps, things were looking good for the administration's efforts to legalize extra-legal means of surveillance, detention, and of course torturing prisoners. But several Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee broke with the party line when it came to the detention and treatment of prisoners.

"Four of the 13 Republicans on the panel joined the 11 Democrats to pass their version of the measure, rejecting Bush's proposal to bar defendants from seeing classified evidence prosecutors may want to use in court," reports Bloomberg News.

The four Republicans acted against the White House today only a few hours after the president paid a rare visit to Capitol Hill in order to personally lobby House members to support his plan. (. . .)

The bill passed by the Senate panel had been drafted by Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey O. Graham, and Chairman John Warner. Senator Susan M. Collins was the fourth Republican to vote for the bill.

"Voting 15-9, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the bill they said would provide suspects more legal rights than Bush wanted and resisted his attempt to more narrowly define the Geneva Conventions' standards for humane treatment of prisoners," reports Reuters.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The "no terrorist attacks since 9/11" fallacy

Forget about the fact that Republican claims that they're doing a great job because America hasn't been the target of a terrorist attack since 9/11 is a completely bogus argument. While it might be true that we haven't been attacked since then, it proves nothing about their ability. Sort of like saying "No one has dared to test my kung fu skills since I signed up for lessons, so I must be a total badass." Oh, and it isn't even true.

Perhaps the single most common refrain from the White House and the president's allies is that there have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. That's incorrect — about a month after 9/11, someone sent weaponized anthrax to two Democratic senators and several news outlets. Five Americans were killed and 17 more suffered serious illnesses.

For reasons that I've never been able to explain, the incident — I suppose one should call it an "attack" — is hardly ever mentioned. No one knows where the anthrax came from, who sent it, or why. It was a horrifying incident, immediately on the heels of another horrifying incident, but five years later, it's almost as if the episode never happened.

One woman in Florida who was widowed by the attack is still waiting for some answers, and she's willing to go to court to get them.

It must be rerun season

In an astounding bit of political deja vu, the House Intelligence Committee has produced a report on Iran's nuclear capabilities that actual experts are decrying as a pack of lies. Certainly not the sort of thing you start a war over, anyway.

U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program angrily complained to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman yesterday about a recent House committee report on Iran's capabilities, calling parts of the document "outrageous and dishonest" and offering evidence to refute its central claims.

Officials of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in a letter that the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements." The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy was hand-delivered to Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.

The IAEA openly clashed with the Bush administration on pre-war assessments of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Relations all but collapsed when the agency revealed that the White House had based some allegations about an Iraqi nuclear program on forged documents.

After no such weapons were found in Iraq, the IAEA came under additional criticism for taking a cautious approach on Iran, which the White House says is trying to build nuclear weapons in secret. At one point, the administration orchestrated a campaign to remove the IAEA's director general, Mohamed El Baradei.

GOP leadership and our struggling military

I remember it well. A sterling example of what the age of Bush Republicans and the neo-fascists was to bring. An endlessly-repeated right-wing talking point built on deception. And another way in which the GOP has claimed an issue in the media that they have no clue how to handle.

n July 26, congressional Democrats revealed that a full two-thirds of the active U.S. Army is officially classified as "not ready for combat." The head of the National Guard responded to the news with a troubling announcement of his own: The National Guard is "in an even more dire situation than the active Army but both have the same symptoms; I just have a higher fever." But--in spite of the fact that the Army has almost no nondeployed combat-ready brigades at its disposal--military deterioration has not become a campaign issue the way it did in the 2000 presidential campaign.

Six years ago, George W. Bush and the congressional leadership repeatedly attacked the Clinton administration for both underfunding and overusing U.S. ground forces in places like Bosnia and Haiti. While such charges conveniently overlooked the fact that Bill Clinton's defense budgets were in fact $2 billion more than the final George H.W. Bush defense plan for 1994-1999, they achieved their purpose nevertheless. Bush's oft-repeated campaign promise that "help is on the way" for the men and women in uniform elevated his standing in military circles. A slew of retired generals and admirals publicly endorsed the Bush-Cheney ticket, with some hinting that the Clinton administration had jeopardized our national security through neglect of the Armed Forces. The new Bush administration, they believed, would restore the military's cold war prowess.

Yet, rather than providing help, the Bush administration's strategic miscalculations and gross mismanagement of resources have pushed the all-volunteer force perilously close to its breaking point.

Recommended reading.

Good news for white supremacists.... errrr, I mean 'pessimists.'

The outrage liberal bloggers have felt at their underrepresentation in major news outlets has gone on the back burner of late, even though cable news continues to be a conservative stronghold and major newspapers still seem to be convinced that giving jobs to right-wing pundits is still the perfect way to end criticism from conservatives. But a brand new blog on the LA Times site appears poised to reignite the debate when their new kid on the block wrote the following just a few days into his new assignment:

Some good news for pessimists today: California is headed toward a political system dominated by a white minority which votes and sets public policy at the ballot box, while Latinos and other ethnic groups that make up the majority of California's population sit on the sidelines.

....White people are expected to be only one-third of the state's adults in 2040, the report said. But their power at the ballot box will remain strong — still representing a majority of voters in 25 years.

At best, sloppy. At worst, openly racist. Liberals have been putting up a hard fight against this sort of stupefying "political punditry" being given the imprimatur of respectable news outlets-- a fight that shouldn't be necessary in the first place. But whether it's about fear of right-wing attacks on the 'liberal media' or the bottom line, it's obviously the new conventional wisdom for the American press. Too bad for the nation.

Top Verizon exec publicly supported wiretap programs

When allegations emerged that the telecom giants had been lending a voluntary hand to the administration in a wiretapping program that has since been ruled unconstitutional, the denials weren't far behind. But Raw Story has posted an article revealing that a vice president (and legal man) at Verizon has long-standing ties to the CIA and the Bush family. And he's a big fan of warrantless wiretapping. A few notable quotes:

"I believe that the critical legal powers are granted directly by the Constitution itself, not by Congressional enactments. When the Nation itself is under attack by a foreign enemy, the Constitution vests the broadest possible defense powers in the President...No foreign threat can arise that the Constitution does not empower the President to meet and defeat."

"While the PATRIOT Act was a major step forward and remedied FISA's most severe problems, I believe FISA remains too restrictive in a fundamental respect. It still requires that the government establish 'probable cause' that an individual is either 'a foreign power' or an 'agent of foreign power.'"

FISA's severe problems? The whole point was to prevent the president from abusing his office to spy on political opponents, right?

So it ISN'T about military force?

You'd think that this quote came from someone who believed that the war on terror was an intelligence and law-enforcement operation, rather than pre-emptive military action.

“100,000 troops there in Pakistan is not the answer, it’s someone saying ‘Guess what?’ [i.e. `I know here he is’] and then the kinetic action begins.”

But it came from Fearless Leader himself, who apparently favors mockery over even his own positions. Just savor the irony of the National Review's own explanation.

On Bin Laden, Bush emphasized the importance of intelligence. Perhaps with those critics on his mind who argue that we took our eye off the ball by not committing the troops necessary to find the terror leader, Bush said [this].

Three Senate bills to expand wiretap power

One bill was even co-sponsored by Dianne Feinstein, which expands the powers of the White House, but at least attempted to avoid completely abandoning Congressional oversight.

Under intense pressure from the White House, the Senate Judiciary Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Specter that would give legal status to Bush's warrantless wiretap program. The bill would allow -- but not require --Bush to submit the program for review by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal before which the government is the only party allowed to present evidence or argument. The bill also would allow the administration to seek "program warrants," good for entire categories of wiretapping and monitoring activities, instead of the case-specific warrants that have been required (but, under Bush's program, weren't obtained) previously. (. . .)

The committee also approved two other wiretap measures today. The first, sponsored by Graham and Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine, would allow the administration to engage in surveillance for 45 days -- rather than three days, as set forth in the law currently -- before seeking a warrant. Like Specter's measure, that bill passed on a party-line, 10-8 vote. The second measure, sponsored by Specter and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, would provide the executive branch some additional wiretap authority but would also require more briefings on warrantless surveillance activities. It passed through the committee with the support of all of the Democrats and two Republicans, Specter and Graham.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Right-wing judicial nominee held up... by Republicans

Less than a week ago I wrote about an RNC wesbite that set out to scare voters by telling of a near future run by Democrats in which Bush's judicial appointees would be blocked, leaving courts to languish. At the time, I pointed out the obvious Harriet Miers mess. But I wasn't counting on seeing another example of the GOP doing exactly what they warned against just six days later.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are holding up the nomination of Peter D. Keisler to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Bush administration’s top priority on judicial nominees this fall, according to knowledgeable sources.

But a spokesman for Sessions has denied his boss’s involvement.

Democrats and their allies are also hinting that they will oppose Keisler, but the opposition of Grassley and Sessions is surprising, as they have been two of the staunchest supporters of President Bush’s nominees.

The D.C. Circuit is important to White House officials because it is the second-highest court in the country and because it is expected to review the verdicts of military commissions on terrorist detainees, whose prosecution is a high Bush priority.

As the article points out, the nominee is dependably extreme, with a record of supporting Bush's torture measures. Which makes it even more confusing. The article presents some weak hypotheses on why the nomination is being blocked, but clearly the senators think it's to the Republican advantage to hold off on promoting a staunch Bush ally at this particular time... *cough* election season.

What to do about Iraq?

I'm certainly not afraid to admit that I have no idea what the best option is. Neither do a lot of experts. It's a matter of choosing the least-bad option at this point, and I don't know what that is.

It seems to be easier for Iraq boosters. They get to chastise critics for having no solutions without presenting any of their own-- the default being, presumably, "at least we're doing something by staying the course/fighting for victory." But it's now clear that that's no solution at all. The status quo is a dismal failure. But as The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum points out, that's all they've got.

There is, at this point, not much question that an American withdrawal from Iraq would lead to massive bloodshed, a Shiite theocracy, and considerably enhanced influence for Iran in the Middle East. It would be a debacle almost without parallel.

And yet, like most other critics, [The New Republic's Lawrence] Kaplan offers no better answer. In fact, he gives the game away with a comparison to Vietnam (something that's apparently OK for conservatives):

Then, as now, responsibility for the war's outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war's aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence. The genocide that followed in Cambodia and the spectacle of Vietnam's reeducation camps will not be repeated in Iraq. But ask any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent U.S. forces, Iraq's ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold.

But this is exactly the problem, isn't it? We stayed in force in Vietnam for nearly a decade, and we still couldn't accomplish our goals. Should we have stayed another decade?

I agree with Drum that an important point has been lost in the shuffle: this debate is so intense and venomous only because the "war's architects" screwed up so completely. Yet no one is calling for accountability, they're still running the show, and they're plan seems no more sophisticated than to keep pursuing a plan that's already failed. And that really is no solution at all.

'Path to 9/11' inaccuracies nothing new for writer

The blogs did a nice job of uncovering the right-wing and fundamentalist ties of the creators of 'The Path to 9/11.' The NY Times reports that the film's writer was brought on board for his screenplay of the 2001 Showtime movie 'The Day Reagan Was Shot,' but fails to note that there's more than a passing connection between the two. To wit, completely fabricating events to make certain people look bad.

In both movies, administration officials were portrayed as dangerously incompetent, bringing the United States to the brink of disaster. In "The Path to 9/11," it is National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who come in for the harshest, and most disputed, treatment. In "The Day Reagan Was Shot," it was Secretary of State Al Haig whose reputation was impugned. He was portrayed as bringing the country to the verge of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

In December 2001, when "The Day Reagan Was Shot" premiered, Richard Allen, formerly the national security advisor under Reagan, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to castigate the film's creators, calling the movie's portrayal of the events inside the White House that day "fictional."

"How do I know it is fictional? Because I was there. Oh, and I had a tape recorder ...

"Situation Room meetings are rarely tape-recorded, but because we were dealing with a national emergency that afternoon, I placed my own small recorder in the center of the table. I captured the entire proceedings, about six hours. Written versions of these events have appeared since, some mostly accurate, others mostly inaccurate, but none has approached 'The Day Reagan Was Shot' for brazen distortion ...

"The film places generals in the Situation Room when they were not there; introduces conversations that never occurred; claims that a 'red alert from NORAD' was in progress (there is no such thing) and that a Soviet 'wolf pack' was off our coast with malign intent. (It wasn't: There were more Soviet subs than usual because it was the end-of-the-month changeover day, as we figured out within 20 minutes.) ...

I guess the good news is that the 9/11 film is over and done with, and didn't get terribly good ratings-- twice as many people tuned in to Sunday's football game, and just as many chose to watch a rerun of another network's documentary on 9/11.

Snow joins Saddam/al Qaeda chorus

It's been common knowledge among news junkies for years. The president denied it just a couple of weeks ago. The Senate Intelligence Committee just refuted it (again) in a recent report. But everyone else in the administration is publicly insisting that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda, giving us all the justification we needed to launch the disastrous invasion.

At least Tony Snow had a different take on contrary evidence. Cheney and Rice just claimed that they hadn't seen any of the reports that there was no connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. Snow settled on dismissive scorn, and tried to define down the 'relationship,' perhaps hoping the press would just accept his definition of the term and ignore future White House attempts to make the false claim:

SNOW: And there was a relationship in this sense: Zarqawi was in Iraq. Al Qaida members were in Iraq. They were operating, and in some cases operating freely. From Iraq, Zarqawi, for instance, directed the assassination of an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan.

But did they have, you know, a corner office at the Mukhabarat? No. You know, were they getting a line item in Saddam’s budget? No.

There was no direct operational relationship, but there was a relationship. They were in the country. And I think you understand that the Iraqis knew they were there. That’s the relationship.

QUESTION: Saddam Hussein knew they were there. That’s it for the relationship?

SNOW: That’s pretty much it.

QUESTION: The Senate report said they didn’t turn a blind eye to that.

SNOW: The Senate report — rather than get — you know what? I don’t want to get into the vagaries of the Senate report. But it is pretty clear, among other things, again, that were Al Qaida operators inside Iraq, and they included Zarqawi, they included a cleric who had been described as the best friend of bin Laden who was delivering sermons on TV.

By this logic, since the White House claims to know that there are terrorist cells operating in the US, they have a relationship with the terrorists.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday Funny: New Anti-Terrorism Strategy

Courtesy of The Onion.

The White House recently released an updated version of its anti-terrorism strategy, "National Strategy For Combating Terrorism." Here are its main new components:

  • Setting up decoy "pro-terrorism centers" around nation to capture terrorists
  • Staging, foiling series of attacks
  • Ignoring terrorists so they get frustrated and go away
  • Introducing new slogan: "If you see, hear, feel, smell, or taste something, say something"
  • Holding all Americans until they feel safe again
  • Increasing national wait times
  • Allocating $1.2 trillion for development of terror-seeking missiles
  • Stopping terrorism for real this time

Pulling teeth with Fearless Leader

Recent interviews with the president have seen him doing what he does best: responding to questions with aphorisms, using patriotic buzzwords that everyone loves to hear, and talking about anything but reality. Katie Couric gushingly thanked him for sharing his broken-record routine with her, but that's not how I'd respond to a man who treated me like the stereotypical yokel treats a non-English speaker or an impatient adult treats a slow 8 year-old. That's the treatment Matt Lauer of the Today Show got.

To Lauer's enormous credit, and given the strange circumstances, he pushed as hard as was possible on the subject of the president's right to torture people. The way you knew he'd pushed hard was that the president began talking in smaller and smaller circles. He needs to be able to do this to keep people safe. He kept repeating that he needed these powers "within the law," and that "we don't torture." Lauer started to describe "water-boarding." The president refused to talk about "techniques that we use on people." He began to sputter, "Let me finish." Once again, he climbed on his little one-man railroad that traveled from "protecting the nation" to "we don't torture" to "within the law." You half-expected little springs to start bouncing out of his ears. "It's my job to protect YOU," he told Lauer at one point. What was more significant was the president's demeanor. He was loud. He was poking at Lauer's chest. He seemed convinced that his argument would be more compelling if he e-nun-ci-a-ted it like a man chewing steel and if, while doing so, he JUST MADE IT LOUDER.

The Daily Show has long been pointing this out, and for me it isn't getting any easier to listen to a total nimrod who thinks his interlocutor is the stone-headed dummy. (Includes a link to the video.)