Saturday, May 20, 2006

Take My Liberty If You Spare Me Death

In the wake of the ever-growing revelations about the White House's domestic spying authorizations, many Bush apologists are blowing off criticism of the scope of these programs, insinuating that civil liberties and privacy are a pre-9/11 luxury we can no longer afford. It's amazing to see conservatives- small government advocates and constitutional absolutists- now desperately looking to Big Brother to keep them safe in our indefinite war on terror. Fox News pundits are particularly prone to this cowardice, as Jon Stewart recently highlighted. It was also on display this past week during Gen. Hayden's confirmation hearings, as the Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Roberts- master of the Bush era coverups- and other panel Republicans used every opportunity they could to remind everyone of how Al Qaeda will kill us all in the near future.

No doubt giving them my phone records is the key to preventing that, though.

Matthew Yglesias brilliantly summed this up. It's so well-written, I reproduce it in full-
"I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties," Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) remarked at yesterday's Hayden confirmation hearings, "but you have no civil liberties if you are dead." This comes via Dave Weigel and nicely encapsulates at least three different pieces of horribly misguided rightingery.

First off is the sheer cowardice of it. Sure, liberal democracy is nice, but not if someone might get hurt. One might think that strong supporters of civil liberties would be willing to countenance the idea that it might be worth bearing some level of risk in order to preserve them.

Second is just this dogmatic post-9/11 insistence on acting as if human history began suddenly in 1997 or something. The United States was able to face down such threats as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany without indefinite detentions, widespread use of torture as an interrogative technique, or all-pervasive surveillance. But a smallish group of terrorists who can't even surface publicly abroad for fear they'll be swiftly killed by the mightiest military on earth? Time to break out the document shredder and do away with that pesky constitution.

Last, there's the unargued assumption that civil rights and the rule of law are some kind of near-intolerable impediment to national security. But if you look around the world over the past hundred years or so, I think you'll see that the record of democracy is pretty strong. You don't see authoritarian regimes using their superior ability to operate in secret and conduct surveillance to run roughshod over more fastidious countries. You see liberalism prospering -- both in the sense that the core liberal countries have grown richer-and-richer and in the sense that liberal democracy has consistently spread out from its original homeland since people like it better. You see governments that can operate in total secrecy falling prey to crippling corruption. You see powers of surveillance used not to defend countries from external threats, but to defend rulers from domestic political opponents.

The U.S.S.R., after all, lost the Cold War, not because we beat them in a race to the bottom to improve national security by gutting the principles of our system, but because the principles underlying our system were actually better than the alternative. If you don't have some faith the American way of life is capable of coping with actual challenges, then what's the point in defending it?

What he said.

Is this really what we've become?

Iraq's Cost? Well, I... Ummm, Uhh, 9/11.

Defending the Iraq war in a FOX interview, Rummy again falls back on a 9/11 reference-
RUMSFELD: And there’ve always been people who have looked at the problems and they’re real problems, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s a pretty picture. It isn’t a pretty picture. It’s a tough business, and our guys over there [in Iraq] are doing an absolutely superb job and they’re proud of what they’re doing and they know that they’re making progress and they know they can’t lose over there.

O’REILLY: No, they can’t lose militarily, but it’s cost the United States taxpayer about $400 billion up this point.

RUMSFELD: Think of what 9/11 cost us. Wouldn’t you rather fight those people over there instead of fighting them here?


RUMSFELD: Think of what happened to our economy, think what happened to the stock market.

O’REILLY: Absolutely.

RUMSFELD: Think of what happened to the airlines here after 9/11.

Interesting that the 'cost' that concerns them most is the financial one. How nice.

Meanwhile, despite promises last year of some troop withdrawals, the Defense Department is scaling back its promises. According to the Washington Post, Rumsfeld "said he cannot guarantee that there will be substantial withdrawals of U.S. troops from Iraq this year, and warned instead that leaving that country precipitously could create a sanctuary for al-Qaeda and other terrorists."

Don't worry everyone, I'm sure the next six months will bring the breakthrough we need.

UPDATE: Yes, it appears another one of those breakthroughs is already upon us. The Iraqi parliament has approved a new Cabinet. No doubt we'll hear how this proves imminent victory is right around the corner. But, as the 'six months' link above illustrates, the past few years have been filled with stories supposed to be signs of that (elections, a constitution, etc), but have done nothing to stop the chaos that rules Iraq and the sectarian strife that has prevented the government from being effective. We've been here before.

UPDATE #2: New reports show ethnic cleansing taking hold in Iraq. Yep, totally worth it.

[PS- Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, it's ummm, not doing much better.]


When I went online Friday morning, I saw this as the top headline on Drudge-

Even though Drudge has been posting these fearmongering (and often misleading) headlines for almost a year, this story seemed so horrific that it quickly spread. Within a few hours, I saw it posted on the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan's blog, and other sites. This seemed pretty significant, a step way over the line, and too familiar historically.

Fortunately for everyone (particularly Iranian Jews and Christians), it is not true.

940 Montreal is reporting that "independent reporter Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli Middle East expert who was born and raised in Tehran, says the report is false... 'Nowhere in the law is there any talk of Jews and Christians having to wear different colours. I've checked it with sources both inside Iran and outside,' [he said]". The AP report further indicates that the original story was false.

For what its worth, the original link for the story that Drudge posted is now a blank page. In addition, his posting on it is completely removed from his site without mention. Much like the Bush administration and their 2002 claims that Iraq and Al Qaeda were connected, perhaps it seems so embarrassing in retrospect, he'd rather pretend it never happened. Unlike that example, though, I think Drudge probably believed the information he put out... if only, in part, because it fit his predeterminded agenda.

We still don't have a definitive answer on where this story originated from, but the facts so far indicate it is indeed false. This is not to say that the Iran regime is squeaky clean (their feelings on Israel are well known), but I think that this incident shows that as our government's hyped-up conflict with that nation escalates, we can expect as shameful a misinformation campaign was we got on Iraq in 2002/2003.

Too bad Judy Miller has left the NY Times. Cheney loved those above-the-fold headlines.

[PS- Not wanting to be fooled again, Senate Democrats today "called for a new National Intelligence Estimate to be undertaken on Iran". Good for them. They're becoming proactive on these important issues and that's an encouraging sign. ]

Iraq War Rationale Revisionism, Take 43

Tony Snow has survived his true initiation as White House Press Secretary... answering, and hastily deflecting, one of Helen Thomas' questions about why we really went to war with Iraq. Let's see what particular angle of bullshit Snow used on Thomas, with this transcript from yesterday's press gaggle, courtesy of Salon War Room-
Thomas: The new Italian prime minister says that the president's invasion of Iraq was a grave error. As the new kid on the block, can you give me the latest rationale the U.S. has for invading Iraq?

Snow: There has only been one rationale, as you know, Helen, and this that Saddam Hussein had resisted -- what is the proper number? -- 17 United Nations resolutions, and had refused repeatedly to permit weapons inspectors to do their work, and consistent with that. And also we had cited other concerns in terms of democracy and human rights. That case has never changed. Also the case laid out and voted by the United States Senate --

Thomas: He finds that as a justification to invade a country where we had choke-hold sanctions, satellite surveillance --

Snow: Helen, I'm not going to get in another argument about the -- this is a three-year-old argument and you're trying to reargue the case. The president made his case back then. The United States Senate voted overwhelmingly.

Thomas: He did not make the case.

Snow: Well, in your opinion he didn't make the case. He made the case. He laid out his reasons.

Thomas: He made the case, in your opinion?

Snow: Yes.

The UN resolutions? That's the top rationale this week? I thought we were still going with the 'spreading freedom and democracy' angle. Oh well, Tony's new so it's okay if he's confusing his talking points, and at least he didn't say 'tar baby' again.

Salon also reminds us of a 2004 study that showed how the Bush administration has used over two dozen rationales for the war since 2001. The study looked at "everything from the five front-runners – war on terror, prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, lack of weapons inspections, removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Saddam Hussein is evil, to the also-rans – Sen. Joe Lieberman’s 'because Saddam Hussein hates us,' Colin Powell’s 'because it’s a violation of international law' and Richard Perle’s 'because we can make Iraq an example and gain favor within the Middle East.'"

Meanwhile, here's more news for Snow to spin, if he's ever asked about it-
A year after Bush administration claims about Iraqi "bioweapons trailers" were discredited by American experts, U.S. officials were still suppressing the findings, says a senior member of the CIA-led Iraq inspection team.

At one point, former U.N. arms inspector Rod Barton says, a CIA officer told him it was "politically not possible" to report that the White House claims were untrue. In the end, Barton says, he felt "complicit in deceit."...

...This story quickly fell apart behind the scenes, it has since emerged. Testing the equipment in early May 2003, U.S. experts found no traces of biological agents, and later that month the U.S. fact-finders filed their negative report from Baghdad.

But on May 29, Bush assured Polish television: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories." Then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell later made similar statements. As late as January 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney called the trailers "conclusive evidence" of Iraqi WMD, one of the reasons given for invading Iraq...

WMD? But Tony said there was only one rationale for the war.

Gosh, it all does get confusing, doesn't it?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mission Accomplished!

President Bush rides into Arizona to celebrate his victory in solving the border crisis.

"Major comprehensive immigration reform has ended. In the battle of the border, the United States and our far-right allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing the Republican majority."

Meanwhile, in more symbolic election-year politics, the Senate yesterday approved a measure that would make English the "national language" of the United States. They said the purpose was to encourage Republicans to vote national unity among immigrants. The measure wouldn't really do anything legally (ie. end bilingual voting ballots, etc), but boy it sure does feel good, doesn't it! This country needs to embrace the English language in totality, which is why the measure no doubt also encourages major cities in California and the southwest to change their names. "Los Angeles"? No me gusta!

Man, this is gonna be a looonnggg summer.

UPDATE: A reminder the White House website is available en espanol. Holy hypocrisy, Batman!

[PS- Violence erupts!- San Diego Border Reopens After Shooting- Take that Mexican insurgents! I guess we're turning the corner in the Republicans' latest political war.]

[PPS- While you're building fences, maybe you should rebuild those levees in New Orleans? Remember New Orleans? Gulf Coast almost wiped out because federal government was too distracted with vacations and mass incompetence? Hurricane season's coming, ya know.]

Republican Senate Deals With Concerns Over War Debt Spying Energy Homos

To prove to voters that they are capable of shamelessly exploiting many volatile issues at the same time for short-term political gain, the Senate is dusting off the anti-gay marriage ban! Yes, what with two ongoing wars, a mounting national deficit, concerns over domestic spying, concerns over gas prices, etc, it is good to see the Republicans tackling America's greatest problem: gay marriage. Looks like the GOP is giving in to the religious right's political blackmail. The proposed constitutional amendment (coincidentally only discussed in even-numbered years) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will go to the full Senate for a vote. This farce was made more interesting, from a news perspective, when Russ Feingold got into a heated exchange with the 'maverick' chairman of the Committee, Arlen Specter.

From the AP-
A Senate committee approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage Thursday, after a shouting match that ended when one Democrat strode out and the Republican chairman bid him "good riddance."

"I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shouted after Sen. Russ Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," Specter finished.

"I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman," replied Feingold, D-Wis., who is considering a run for president in 2008. "See ya."

Good for Feingold, refusing to take part in this election year 'moral' charade.

Sen. Feingold objected to several things. The first is, of course, the fact that this seemingly unconstitutional amendment was even being debated. The second was Specter's decision, as Committee chairman, to hold the hearing in a smaller room not open to the public instead of the Committee's usual, larger space in another building. No doubt the Committee knew they were doing dirty work and were ashamed to have the public see them selling gays down the river all so that James Dobson can live in a more homo-free society. Sen. Feingold's office released a statement on his decision to leave the hearing-
"Today's markup of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage, in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of people other than Senators and their staffs present, was an affront to the Constitution. I objected to its consideration in such an inappropriate setting and refused to help make a quorum. I am deeply disappointed that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee [Specter] went forward with the markup over my objection."

As for the Chairman's integrity-
Not all those who voted "yes" support the amendment, however. Specter said he is "totally opposed" to it, but felt it deserved a debate in the Senate.

It's nice to see how little his beliefs mean when his party is facing possible electoral defeat.

Finally, the money quote from Sen. Leahy:
"I didn't realize marriages were so threatened. Nor did my wife of 44 years."

Of course, as the AP article also notes, this amendment has no shot of passing the full Senate (nor do they want it to, they need to keep it around for 2008). But the symbolism is enough to please the religious right. They don't mind being used; they insist upon it. Republican voters are like Charlie Brown. The Republican party is Lucy. Wedge issues like gay marriage are the football. And every two years, Lucy holds up the football and the Charlie Browns all run for it, only to get it pulled away at the last second, leaving them lying flat on their ass. And every two years, the Charlie Browns keep coming back to Lucy, utterly failing to have learned any lesson of any kind. If you read 'Peanuts', you know that Charlie Brown never stopped trusting Lucy. I imagine the same results here.

[PS- Even George Will is not impressed with the GOP's faux-moral crusade:
Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'?]

No Sir, This Is Not Good

Please read... This is what happens when a purposeless war goes on for too long.

MSNBC: Lawmaker: Marines killed Iraqis ‘in cold blood’-
Navy conducting war crimes probe into November violence in Haditha

A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.

From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children...

Rep. Murtha has said that these accounts were true. He discussed the story on MSNBC the other day. NBC says military officials told them the evidence backs up this account. “This one is ugly," an official told them. An investigation is ongoing.

Rather than get into a lengthy discussion on this, I'll direct you to Billmon, who shares many of my sentiments on this. Needless to say, "this one is ugly" is an understatement. Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, explores the reactions from right-wing blogs, who are very angry... not at the possible murder of civilians, but at people like Rep. Murtha for bringing this story to light. Living with ones head in the sand is, apparently, very patriotic.

This war really needs to end soon.

[Knight-Ridder: Pentagon report said to find killing of Iraqi civilians deliberate]

"They Call It Pollution. We Call It Life."

I mentioned the other day how the Competitive Enterprise Institute- an advocacy group funded by Big Oil- was set to air ads to try and rebut the "global warming alarmism" they see out there. The ad is so hilarious, I have to feature it here. Click the image below for the link and remember- C02 is life!

ThinkProgress explores the details in the ad-
New Ads Funded by Big Oil Portray Global Warming Science as Smear Campaign Against Carbon Dioxide

[PS- Less than a week away from the debut of Al Gore's masterwork.]

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Reading The News Is Fun

Came across this headline on Yahoo, it just sort of jumped out at me...

"U.S. Won't Say if It Aids Somali Warlords"

We live in a funny world.

What We Learned From The Hayden Hearings...

...Apparently nothing.

Same old talking points, many of the Democrats didn't address any of the obvious questions I posed in my last entry (Only Sens. Wyden and Feingold took a stab at real substantive inquiry) and the Republicans just settled for trying to scare everyone. This morning a Firedoglake commenter posed this question that every member of the Intelligence Committee should've asked (which I think sums it up): "Given how any information about NSA programs has only come to our attention through the media, how can I be certain that we have now been fully briefed? Give me a reason why we should trust that we aren’t going to find out in six weeks or six months that there are other programs, or other aspects of the current program that someone just 'forgot' to tell us, or decided we really didn’t need to know. How can we be certain, given the president’s predilection for authorizing that laws and procedures can be ignored, that we are only being briefed to the extent that the president has decided is appropriate?". Given what came of the hearings, that probably would have been a good question to ask.

Wonkette humorously liveblogged the hearings for all the sad details-
Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, and Pt. 5

"Hmmmm, which of these committee members should we wiretap first?"

AP: Hayden Insists NSA Surveillance Is Legal

[PS- Even though the media at large is apparently quite okay with the government spying on their phone records to unroot their sources (and using the Patriot Act as legal justification), ABC News is still taking note. ABC's Brian Ross was interviewed on Democracy Now on Tuesday; pretty informative interview.]

Grilling The General: It's Time To Get Some Answers

UPDATE #2: The open session of today's hearings is almost over. We haven't gotten many answers.

Today begins the confirmation hearings for potential CIA chief Gen. Michael Hayden. These hearings have taken a greater importance given Hayden's previous role at the NSA at the time President Bush authorized his warrantless surveillance program. One would think that the numerous conflicts of interest (his connection to the growing NSA scandal, to the Defense Dept, White House, etc) would be enough for most Senators to vote 'no' here, but I think he will be confirmed with ease. Sadly, very few Senators will want to go on the record as having voted against a military man in a time of war(s). Still, the hearings provide a great opportunity for any courageous Senators (okay, just Russ Feingold, who sits on the Intelligence Committee) to grill the General about the surveillance program.

Back in March, I made a list of serious questions that should be asked in regards to the program and the President's actions. To date, none of these questions have been answered. Surprise! I am copying and pasting these answers here, as a way of crossing my fingers in hopes that I, a lowly blogger, do not have a more inquisitive mind than members of the United States Congress.

Questions that should be asked- Why did the President need to break the law, as opposed to simply wanting to? How did the incredibly accomodating provisions of FISA (which, among other things, provides options for retroactive warrants) hamper the President's ability to move quickly in ordering surveillance? Did the President and the Justice Department just think up the AUMF and/or Article II legal justification after the program was outed or is that what they believed all along? Why did the President make several statements in 2004 making it clear (falsely) that all wiretapping involved court orders? How does this program relate to recent reports of the Pentagon (etc) spying on peaceful political activists? How many secret, illegal spying programs are going on? Why did it take so long for Congress or the courts to be briefed on them? Since no court orders or records are kept of this warrantless wiretapping, how can they offer assurances that innocent Americans aren't being spied on (factoring in FBI reports noting that this has happened)?

More- Considering terrorists are very well familiar with methods and practices of surveillance, how did the leak hurt national security? Does the President respect whistleblower laws? What impact does jailing reporters have on a democracy? Does the President believe there is any limit to his power? If so, where specifically would he draw the line?

Finally, some new questions that have arisen since March...

How is it legal or right to collect a massive database of billions of Americans' phone records? How do these programs even help us in terms of terrorism? Are they even essential or necessary? Did the government force the telecommunication companies to hand over customer records and/or authorize them to lie about their involvement? Why did the Justice Department so willingly allow its investigation of the program to be killed? Why the NSA kill a program developed in the late '90s that would have "enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws"? Was it because of "a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers"?

Finally, since we now know that journalists are being spied on, why should we believe any assurances that ordinary Americans aren't being spied on? How far does this program?

My expectations are not very high that much of this will addressed.

AP: Hayden to Face Tough Questions at Hearing

[UPDATE #1: As an illustration of the lack of a grownup debate over these issues- and the desire by partisan Republicans to dismiss opposition as being from weak Democrats who support terrorism- look no further than today's lead editorial in the NY Post. In what they no doubt considered an intelligent argument, they wrote "Only a moron would object to such [surveillance] precautions - and a malign moron, at that. Sadly, Washington doesn't lack for morons - so Hayden's role in developing these programs is going to be a major issue in his confirmation process." To the majority of Americans- Republican and Democrat alike- shown in polls to be concerned about these programs, you are apparently a moron. They conclude that readers should "pay close attention [during the hearings] to those who oppose the nomination, and to those who support it. To those who oppose a vigorous anti-terrorist stance, and to those who support keeping America safe. This nomination is a no-brainer." Signed, Karl Rove.]

Peace Talks? What The Hell Are Those?

Matt Drudge took a break from his immigration headlines to post a potential story to hit today... It appears that the White House is taking another step, like immigration, most administrations would have looked into sooner than 5.5 years into a presidency-

And some crazy Republicans think we should be talking to Iran too!!!


[UPDATE: Here's the article- U.S. Said to Weigh a New Approach on North Korea]

Can We Erect A Fence That Will Protect Us From The Far-Right Too?

Like the President, the Senate attempts to work out some middle ground to appeal to all sides on the immigration issue (I'm sorry, I mean CRISIS!!!), but will likely also make both sides more angry. In President Bush's post-9/11 'with us or against us' political climate, introducing the concept of 'compromise' to his dutiful supporters seems to be evoking a similar reaction to when cavemen first encountered fire- fear and confusion.

AP: Senate OKs Border Fence, Backs Citizenship
The Senate endorsed a chance at citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants Wednesday but also voted to build 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the Mexican border in increasingly emotional debate over election-year immigration legislation...

Sounds like a fair compromise; we all understand that it's important to have secure borders.

Say, what's our plan for securing the Canadian border... I... Hello? Hello?

I'm sorry, I forgot that border security is an afterthought to many on the right who are simply glad to have found a new scapegoat to distract the base from the GOP's miserable political failures in a volatible election year. Ohhh they're still going to work on that gay marriage ban and complain that Democrats will surrender to Al Qaeda, but they're having so much fun on the Mexican issue that those can wait until June or July. Railing against gay marriage will be much funner for them to do during Gay Pride Week anyway.

In my previous entry about the politics of these immigration debate (if it's even civilized enough to be called a debate), I posted some comments to Glenn Greenwald's blog which reiterated my belief that all this out-of-nowhere conservative anger at the President and his immigration policies is a thinly veiled election year stunt allowing them to throw him under the bus without admitting he (and they) have been wrong on most of the issues, particularly the war. As one commenter noted, "I'm beginning to think the whole immigration thing was ginned up to give the base an excuse to desert Bush while pretending it has nothing to do with losing the war in Iraq, corruption, incompetence, and the utter failure of conservative theory to transplant in the real world." It appears many more people are figuring this same thing out... here are some of the better worded examples I've found.

Andrew Sullivan receives a very perceptive email-
"This may or may not be an obvious point, but don't you find the right-wing hyperventilation about such a dated issue as immigration a bit too contrived and convenient? Put another way, many of us have suspected a day would come I which even the most adamant Bush loyalists/apologists would have to acknowledge that his entire presidency, aside from being a manifest case study in incompetence, was also a repudiation of nearly all things that Republicans once held dear.

That said, for several years running, I’ve often wondered how exactly this would happen. Riddle me this, riddle me that: as polls have revealed that their audiences had become hip to this President’s considerable shortcomings, under what pretense could Hugh Hewitt, the boys at Powerline, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and company (to say nothing of Republican congressmen running for reelection) possibly turn their back on this President without completely invalidating nearly every word they’d spoken or written in the previous 6 years blindly defending him?

The answer, it turns out, has been to use the age-old debate about immigration to set the President up and then, as he rejects the ridiculous proposal of erecting walls around the nation and conducting mass deportations, use the occasion to throw him under the bus. In fact, were I more cynical, I would think it a near ideally orchestrated political strategy which would provide cover for the Republican machine to distance itself from a President who must know his fortunes are irreversibly sunk at this point anyway."

Digby looks at it as a result of the President inflaming nativism and militantism after 9/11
Isn't the "war" as constructed by the Bush administration over? World War IV seems to have shriveled overnight into a smallbore police action without a bang a whimper or even a muttered grunt. We've just spent the last four and a half years in a frenzy of nationalistic passion, going so far as to burn The Dixie Chicks in effigy and change the name of french fries in the congressional cafeteria (a direct homage to the World War I era change of the word saurkraut to "liberty cabbage.") Now it looks like we are settling down into an acceptance of the fact that we need to do everything we can to stop terrorist attacks, but if one happens the country will survive and life will go on. We have, after all, just proved that.

So where are the fevered 101st keyboarders and their yellow elephant buddies going to put all that frustrated, video game-fueled testosterone and hatred for "the enemy?" They're going to put it where it's easiest, where they can enjoy it and where they don't have to put their own miserable lives on the line: against illegal immigrants, including women and children.

Finally, John at AmericaBlog makes the comparison to the gay bashing in 2004.

This isn't to say that immigration isn't an important issue that needs to be addressed politically. Or that we should have an open border policy. Or that we shouldn't enforce our immigration and labor laws. Almost no one is arguing that.

It says that the issue itself comes second to partisan Republicans who will do anything to retain their endangered power.

[PS- For proof of that, see Michelle Malkin in action, hilariously outrageous as always.]

[PPS- Some familiar faces- Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman - will help build a virtual fence. What, no Halliburton?]

Gore In '08? (A Continuing Plea For A Comeback)

Now even the AP is taking notice-
Is Al Gore Running for President Again?

Could the Gore momentum even drag Dick Morris back into the Democratic fold? Hmmm.

Meanwhile, even though he's still out of politics, Gore faces an impending smear campaign... from Big Oil. Think Progress reports that "the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) will unveil two 60-second TV ads focusing on what it calls “global warming alarmism and the call by some environmental groups and politicians to reduce fossil fuel and carbon dioxide emissions.” The ad, which will be aired in more than a dozen cities across the country, is being released just a week before the May 24th opening (in LA and NYC) of Al Gore’s new movie on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth." The CEI receives major funding from Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute.

Think of them as the Swift Oil Veterans For Truth.

One reason I am now positive that a Gore run is the Democrats' best shot at electoral victory in 2008 is by looking at the right-wing reactions to him, compared to other candidates. The supposed Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, is mocked by the right, but they also discuss her respectfully as a formidable opponent (neocon tool John Podhoretz has even written a book- 'Can She Be Stopped'- to discuss the supposed inevitability of a Clinton win). They can afford to discuss her in this manner because, in reality, they know she is not a threat. Mentions of a Gore run, however, elicit derision and dismissal on the right. My instincts tell me this is because they know that, unlike Hillary and the year 2000 Gore, he will not be pushed around. He's the real deal now.

Finally, the American Prospect's Ezra Klein starts a 'Gore Watch' feature.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Good News For Democrats... And A Word Of Caution

From the Washington Post-
Public confidence in GOP governance has plunged to the lowest levels of the Bush presidency, with Americans saying by wide margins that they now trust Democrats more than Republicans to deal with Iraq, the economy, immigration and other issues, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that underscores the GOP's fragile grip on power six months before the midterm elections...

...Democrats are now favored to handle all 10 issues measured in the Post-ABC News poll. The survey shows a majority of the public, 56 percent, saying they would prefer to see Democrats in control of Congress after the elections...

But don't crack open the champagne bottles yet, my dear liberal friends...
Congressional Democrats are rating only slightly more favorably than congressional Republicans, and 52 percent of those surveyed said the Democrats have not offered a sharp contrast to Bush and the Republicans.

Note to Democrats: You're ahead in all the polls. It is okay to start campaigning now.

Journalism Dead, News At 11

If the Constitution falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yesterday I posted about a story I read which I believed was a major revelation in relation to the President's increasingly widespread domestic spying efforts... news from ABC News online that "A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources." Translation: The government is spying on reporters' private phone conservations in order to find whistleblowers who have leaked information to them. This is a major abuse of power, proof that the spying activities are not just focused on terrorists, and is an unconstitutional assault of the freedom of an independent press.

Seems like a major story, no? Headline news in most of the major papers?

Apparently not.

Aside from the original reporting at ABC News online, I have only come across two mentions of this huge story- a critical report from conservative commentator Joe Scarborough on MSNBC on Monday and a story on last night's 'Colbert Report'. Yes, you read that right. Comedy Central covered the story; CNN did not. Atrios is also shocked by the lack of outrage on the part of the media, noting the silence thus far from the editorial pages of the NY Times and Washington Post.

Yesterday, I also noted the original ABC News item was swarmed with right-wing comments calling the press "seditionist creeps" and repeating the far-right meme that the media are traitors and trying to sabotage the government's actions to keep us all safe from terrorism (® Bush/Cheney Co., 2001). This talking point is frightening in what it implies this group thinks of the First Amendment. They hear the word "leak", they think Karl Rove liberal treason. Reality doesn't mesh with that. An example of a bad leak would be if the press revealed exact locations of troop batallions overseas or the operational details of our military hardware. That's when loose lips sink ships. But this does not happen (except when Geraldo Rivera is involved), if only because such information is not newsworthy or necessary for us to know. But the media revelations that they complain about are those exposing abuses of power (secret torture prisons, widespread domestic spying), things that it is the media's duty to inform the public of. Knowing the extent of the government's torture policy does not endanger national security... the government's torture itself is what endangers national security. The complexities of the issue of leaks and journalism is ignored; it's simple to them- Press bad, government good.

Considering what lapdogs the press has been in general in recent years, perhaps it is no wonder that it seems extreme to some on the rare occasions when they actually do what they're supposed to... dig for the truth. I firmly believe if these far-righters had their way in 1972, Mark Felt would've been uncovered and imprisoned (along with Woodward and Bernstein) and President Nixon would've served out his second term in full.

We'll see if their standards remain the same under a Democratic president.

The comments under the newest ABC News online update- which states, among other things, "The records were obtained with the use of what are known as National Security Letters, which can be signed by an FBI agent and are only for use in terrorism cases"- seem to get the point of all this a lot better. One commenter notes "The government is trying to classify anyone who exposes those government programs that are illegal and unconstitutional as a terrorist or somehow aiding and abetting." Another rightfully asks, "Why has this story not been picked up on other services? This seems like a huge story."

They get it. The press at large- the targets here- seem not to.

It must be that liberal media bias I hear so much about. They just won't shut up about this story! Why I couldn't turn on a news program today without hearing about.... umm, Britney's pregnancy. I realized at this point that if learning that the government is spying on them won't wake the media up from their self-induced beltway slumber, nothing will. I fear that Carl Bernstein may kill himself just so he can roll over in his grave.

Bottom line- If we keep accepting each new revelation, where does it end and who makes that decision? The Decider? The NSA? It's a very dangerous path to head down and a particularly wrong one for a nation which verbally worries about losing its "freedoms" to our enemies.

The Politics Of Immigration Reform

The President's attempt at compromise last night- a first- seems to have alienated everyone.

In particular, the right-wing base of the Republican party is up in arms over this (literally, in the case of the minutemen). Glenn Greenwald has an excellent roundup of these reactions. Michelle Malkin again blew off the President's rhetoric as an "amnesty sham". National Review's Mark Levin said "This is pure idiocy, and it has the potential of being far more damaging to this nation than any big-government power-grab perpetrated by any previous president and Congress." Powerline blogger John Hinderaker stated bluntly, "President Bush doesn't have many chances left to salvage his second term. After tonight, he might not have any."

Speaking of Hinderaker, his post has a story unintentionally revealing the subtle racism behind all this conservative outrage, as well as some general stupidity-
I rode home from the airport in a taxi a few minutes ago. My driver, as is almost always the case in Minnesota, was an African immigrant. No sooner had I gotten into the cab than he began talking about the speech and railing against Bush on the theory that the President is anti-immigrant. I patiently tried to explain that President Bush is in trouble because he is not just pro-immigrant, but pro-illegal immigrant. I explained that he has argued for a guest worker program and a path to citizenship, and has said repeatedly that it would be impossible to deport all the illegals.

My cab driver was completely disoriented by this. I could tell he didn't believe it. Like nearly all African cab drivers, he listens to public radio all day long. Twenty minutes with me wasn't enough to overcome years of liberal indoctrination. He simply wasn't able to absorb the idea that President Bush might not be a racist who hates immigrants. I'm sure he'd forgotten everything I said by the time he left my driveway.

As Hinderaker intelligently explains, it is a well documented fact that all cab drivers- aside from being African immigrants- listen to public radio all day long, the sole purpose of which is to brainwash Africans and smooth jazz fans with liberal indoctrination. Thank goodness Mr. Hinderaker is here to set us all straight, even if that damn liberal NPR-listening African didn't appreciate it.

Meanwhile, Matt Drudge has up this deliciously sensational story about a mini-race-riot that broke out last night at a Waffle House in the heart of conservative America-
A parting gunshot from a vehicle leaving Waffle House in West Asheville, NC shattered a window and caused a minor injury, police said.

The shooting happened around 3:00 a.m. Saturday after a group of whites argued with a group of Hispanics at the 24-hour restaurant on Smokey Park Highway, Asheville police Lt. Wallace Welch said

“The two groups were jawing back and forth with each other over citizenship issues and whatnot,” Welch said.

I've been to Waffle House. It can get pretty rough in there, particularly if one of the regulars encounters someone with brown skin. Sadly, I think this is actually a perfect snapshot of the temperature and maturity of the immigration 'debate' being put forth from the Malkin wing of the GOP.

I hope this is just an isolated incident and not a sign of things to come.

At least in Congress things are moving forward for a change (at least for now), thanks to cooperation between both parties and... yep, compromise-
Buoyed by President Bush, supporters of immigration legislation established command in the Senate on Tuesday, brushing aside potentially crippling challenges to a bill that blends tougher border enforcement with a path to citizenship for millions in the United States illegally...

...The Senate bill provides additional funds for border security, the guest worker program, an eventual opportunity at citizenship for most of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country and a tougher program of enforcement to prevent the hiring of illegal workers...

I expect, though, that squabbling between the House and Senate will stall this for months.

Finally, a central question asked by many on the left is 'why now?'. Nothing has changed in the immigration situation recently, so why have the Republicans suddenly upgraded the situation to a 'crisis'? Obvious answer: It's all political. More specifically, it's all about the midterm elections.... Illegal immigration is the new gay marriage.

A Talking Points Memo readers compares it to the color-coded terror alerts that permeated the '04 election season.

In addition, a commenter at Greenwald's blog notes "[This debate] allows them to vent sheer, unbridled rage at a president who has failed, but not direct that fury at the failed policies they supported, and often still do." Another person hits on the same point, adding "I'm beginning to think the whole immigration thing was ginned up to give the base an excuse to desert Bush while pretending it has nothing to do with losing the war in Iraq, corruption, incompetence, and the utter failure of conservative theory to transplant in the real world."

[*points to nose*] By George (W), I think you've got it.

Sweeping It Under The Rug

Last Thursday, after the initial report in USA Today about the NSA's phone record database followed by a pledge by 'maverick' Republican Senator Arlen Specter to call the telecom execs to testify, CNN's Jack Cafferty said that the Senator "might be all that stands between us and a full blown dictatorship in this country". However, as I noted yesterday, Specter is all talk. Every week, after the latest revelation of Executive abuse, Specter shows up on TV like clockwork to vow he will do whatever it takes to bring the President back under the law. Of course on this, like his 2004 pledge to "bring centrist judges to the bench", he always caves in at the end. We now have the latest example of this, a move that will take the President's illegal actions and make them legal-
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and conservative members of his panel have reached agreement on legislation that may determine the legality of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program, GOP sources say.

Specter has mollified conservative opposition to his bill by agreeing to drop the requirement that the Bush administration seek a legal judgment on the program from a special court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.

Instead, Specter agreed to allow the administration to retain an important legal defense by allowing the court, which holds its hearings in secret, to review the program only by hearing a challenge from a plaintiff with legal standing, said a person familiar with the text of language agreed to by Specter and committee conservatives...

(bold added by moi)

Mr. Cafferty, what was that you were saying about Specter standing between us and the potential dictatorship you were concerned about? That's like saying the only thing standing between us and fire is this big pile of really dry leaves. Let's face it, there are no 'maverick' Republicans. It's a farce. We need oversight. This November- throw the bums/elephants out.

And why is Specter's 'compromise' so bad?
An expert in constitutional law and national security, however, said that the change would allow the administration to throw up huge obstacles to anyone seeking to challenge the program’s legality.

Well, duh.

Glenn Greenwald asks the right questions posed by these moves-
Could anything be more obvious at this point than the fact that the Bush administration deeply fears having the legality of its eavesdropping activities adjudicated by a federal court?... [W]hy it is that they are so eager to avoid a judicial ruling on the legality of this program if they are so confident that the president did nothing wrong? People who are unjustly accused of violating the law are eager to have their name cleared. Why isn't the president?

A good question, maybe one new Press Secretary Tony Snow could answer...

...Or not. He said today it would be "inappropriate" to comment on these NSA matters.

In related news, the involved telecommunication companies are now issuing vaguely worded denials to distances themselves from the program. These statements came from BellSouth and Verizon. Josh Marshall doesn't buy it, stating "If you own a business and someone accuses you of an offense that goes to the heart of your responsibility to your customers, do you wait a week to deny it? I doubt that very much." He also looks at the wording of the denials to see what they're really saying. A good analysis; see the link for details.

Finally, President Bush reassures Americans that "We do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval." Is he telling the truth? Who knows. Perhaps it all depends on what the definition of is is.

In a very interesting move, the President is reversing his previous position on congressional oversight which has been up to now to only brief a select few members of Congress, even though that violated the National Security Act of 1947. From the AP-
The White House, in an abrupt reversal, has agreed to let the full Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees review President George W. Bush's domestic spying program, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

The Republican chairmen of the Senate and House panels disclosed the shift two days before a Senate confirmation hearing for Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden as the new CIA director, which is expected to be dominated by concern over the program...

A move toward allowing more oversight... or just the appearance of it? Stay tuned.

Gore In '08?

Andrew Sullivan joins the movement-
The Case for Gore

I sense a growing movement here.

Whereas Hillary is telling us that she wants to run, we're telling Gore that we want him to run. That's unique in politics. He represents what could have been and his renewed passion and sense of purpose make him genuinely appealing. His credibility on the issues he's fought for since he's been away (the environment, against the Iraq war, etc)- which the majority is now leaning left on- certainly helps us as well. Finally, as Sullivan notes, "If we're looking to heal the wound of 2000, who better?"

[PS- The infamous claim he said he 'invented the internet' ... debunked.]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gov't Releases Video of 9/11 Pentagon Attack

The Pentagon released security video footage of the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11 to Judicial Watch (a public interest thats looks at government corruption) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the group. The group said they requested the footage because it is "important to complete the public record with respect to the terrorist attacks" and because they "hope that this video will put to rest the conspiracy theories involving American Airlines Flight 77".

Having seen the video, I am doubtful any of the conspiracy theorists will be reassured by the footage. Heck, I don't buy all the 'Loose Change' theories on what happened that day (c'mon folks, even if they were as evil as that, our government isn't competent enough to pull off such a scheme), but I find this security video raising more questions than answers to the skeptics. The poor quality of the footage will be enough to make some people scream 'coverup'. Oh well, it matters little. Those who want to believe conspiracy, will. And those who don't buy those theories won't be sold by this. But, hey, the video is out there and you can watch and make your own conclusions.

Video: Defense Department Releases September 11 Pentagon Video to Judicial Watch

And the AP report...

AP: Pentagon Releases 9/11 Security Video
The Pentagon on Tuesday released the first video images of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the military headquarters building and killing 189 people in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The images, recorded by Pentagon security cameras outside the building, were made public in response to a December 2004 Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch, a public interest group. Some still images from the video had previously been leaked and publicly circulated, but this was the first official release.

The airplane is a thin white blur on the video as it slams into the Pentagon at ground level. Almost instantly a white flash and a huge orange fireball appear on the video, followed by a tower of gray-black smoke. One of the videos shows a Pentagon police car driving in the direction of the impact point shortly after the plane hit...


ABC News: The Government Is Snooping On The Media

Not surprisingly, further revelations show the government's spying is not targeted only on terrorists and reveals that (*SHOCK*) when you free the Executive branch from any oversight or even moderate legal restraints, they will abuse their power...

ABC News: Federal Source to ABC News: We Know Who You're Calling
A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation...

Why how very Nixonesque of them!

Some more detail on what information exactly the government is looking at-
The official who warned ABC News said there was no indication our phones were being tapped so the content of the conversation could be recorded.

A pattern of phone calls from a reporter, however, could provide valuable clues for leak investigators.

This revelation sheds more light on the report from early January that posed the question of whether CNN's Christiane Amanpour was being surveilled. At the time, it seemed like an odd question that came out of nowhere. Knowing this, we can see that many in the media may been hearing whispers for months that this activity was occurring.

By the way, read the comments at the ABC News link... I wonder if some right-wing blog didn't direct people there, because most of the comments seem to be coming from the crowd that was bitching about 'pulitzer prizes for treason' recently. Comments include "I'm tired of the press helping our enemies", "Excellent the Media needs looking after, Traitors most of them....", "good, you seditionist creeps deserve what you get", and "I hope the information they gain allows them to catch the scum that leak information, and helps them arrest the communist scum who publish it." And that's just four comments in a row I picked at random! These are the people who loath the press as an institution and who have been successfully battering it down to a shell of its former self... They're the far-right who see the press as traitors and would prefer never to have found out that their government was operating secret torture prisons or violating the Constitution and spying on Americans, all so they could sleep safely in their warm Republicans beds. It doesn't disturb them that the government would seek to monitor and intimidate a free and independent press; what bothers them are the (now) rare occassions when said press reveals the potentially criminal actions of our leaders. Methinks some of these so-called conservatives should reflect on what freedoms specifically will be left for us to protect if we make all these concessions. I also have a feeling they would not be celebrating this Orwellian behavior if the President were a donkey and not an elephant.

One also wonders if this will be the straw that actually gets the media up in arms on this story?

Sadly, I doubt it. Few are willing to rock the boat, even if they're already being pushed overboard. So far, only conservative MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough has spoken out. He declared that the President has "contempt for democracy" and noted that "Had this alleged power been used during the Nixon administration, Deep Throat would have been exposed before Watergate erupted." Bingo.

Of course, if you asked the people posting at the ABC news item above, they would probably tell you that Deep Throat was a "traitor" and that Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein were the "seditionist creeps" and "communist scum" that published his revelations.

Matthew Yglesias explores the dark path this slippery slope leads to, given what we know of the other actions of the administration: " It's important to link this up to the broader chain. One thing the Bush administration says it can do with this meta-data is to start tapping your calls and listening in, without getting a warrant from anyone. Having listened in on your calls, the administration asserts that if it doesn't like what it hears, it has the authority to detain you indefinitely without trial or charges, torture you until you confess or implicate others, extradite you to a Third World country to be tortured, ship you to a secret prison facility in Eastern Europe, or all of the above. If, having kidnapped and tortured you, the administration determines you were innocent after all, you'll be dumped without papers somewhere in Albania left to fend for yourself."

Finally, Josh Marshall gets right to the main point of all this-
If that's true, then I think we can set aside any pretense that administration policy on all manner of electronic surveillance isn't being brought to bear on political opponents, media critics, the press, everybody.

I think part of the issue for many people on the administration's various forms of surveillance is not just that some of activities seem to be illegal or unconstitutional on their face. I think many people are probably willing to be open-minded, for better or worse, on pushing the constitutional envelope. But given the people in charge of the executive branch today, you just can't have any confidence that these tools will be restricted to targeting terrorists. Start grabbing up phone records to data-mine for terrorists and then the tools are just too tempting for your leak investigations. Once you do that, why not just keep an eye on your critics too? After all, they're the ones most likely to get the leaks, right? So, same difference. The folks around the president don't recognize any real distinctions among those they consider enemies. So we'd be foolish to think they wouldn't bring these tools to bear on all of them. Once you set aside the law as your guide for action and view the president's will as a source of legitimacy in itself, then everything becomes possible and justifiable.

Just some more stuff to ponder.

Finally, polls continue to show only a slight majority are concerned about all this. [*sigh*]

ABC News reports partial acknowledgment by the FBI, with the Patriot Act as rationale-
...Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government...

Hmmmm. A new layer. And more reason to be scared by the Patriot Act!

Josh Marshall has a new entry up, given these new details-
...In a criminal investigation, which a leak investigation can be, investigators can look into all sorts of private information -- phone records, financial records, travel records. They can subpoena you before a grand jury and on and on...

...But in his report Ross doesn't seem to be talking about subpoenas in the course of a conventional criminal investigation. He appears to be referring to something more on-going...

...Given the Bush administration's self-servingly indulgent definition of the War on Terror, I don't doubt that they would define finding leakers as a subdivision of fighting terrorism, or for that matter scrutinizing political opponents...

Further updates from ABC News and other outlets should help shed more light on this.

A detailed interview at Salon features details and insight on the NSA's activities.

[PS- Sen. Specter complains about lack of oversight on all this spying... apparently, he forgets (once again) that he's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and therefore controls what is and isn't investigated. Senator, you seem like a really nice guy and all, but please stop going on TV to vow you will rein the President in, unless you actually intend to do it. Okay?]

[PPS- U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte appears to have lied. Are you surprised?]

This Modern World

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Speech

First thoughts... Standard rhetoric, but well delivered, with some ideas worth considering.

A Huffington Post commenter sums it up, though, at its most basic level: "This plan has less to do with poor Mexicans going north than with Bush polls going south."

Money quote from the President tonight- and irony overload-
"We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone’s fears, or exploiting the issue... for political gain."

Yes, George, it would be bad for a politician to incite fear and anger and to exploit important issues for cheap political gain. Boy, I'm glad we haven't had a leader like that in the past few years!

To be fair to the President on an issue where he's gone against his increasingly scary base, there was a lot that was good in the speech (having border enforcement focus not on the draconian wall building and minuteman vigilantes the far-right is yearning for, but on providing adequate funding and resources for the Border Patrol, cracking down on employers who exploit immigrants, paths to citizenship for many illegals, understanding the solution is less about new laws and more about enforcing existing ones, and telling the far-right to get over their obsession of calling every proposal 'amnesty'), but ultimately nothing new that would justify a primetime television address. While I do support some of things noted in the speech (secure borders should be a no-brainer), most of it has been outlined by the White House before.

And hey, for once a speech that didn't mention 9/11 and/or accuse his critics of hating America!

There was a lot in the speech that was bad (the deservedly-maligned National Guard ploy which wasn't worth the hype, the slave labor guest-worker plan which sounds more awful every time he mentions it, the cheesy 'human' interest story of the nice immigrant in the hospital at the end that all politicians apparently feel obligated to use, and finally, the fact that this is only being discussed because everything else- the war, etc- is going bad), of course. He does seem genuinely to want to find compromise with Congress, though the House will likely not play along.

Who knows if anything will come of this or if it will quickly be lost in all the political noise.

UPDATE: A good take on the speech by Marc Cooper at TruthDig:
His address had nothing to do with actual border policy and everything to do with domestic electoral politics.

The real mission of the 6,000 National Guard troops he has called out is to quell the rebellion on the president’s right flank, the flaring mutiny of his own conservative base. Indeed, if the president were being honest, the mobilized troops would be taken off the federal payroll and moved onto the books of the 2006 national Republican campaign.

They certainly aren’t going to be stopping illegal immigration. Most of the Guard will be unarmed. They will be barred from patrolling the border itself, as well as from confronting, apprehending or even guarding the undocumented. The troops will be given solely behind-the-scenes, low-profile, mostly invisible tasks of pushing paper, driving vans and manning computers. Bush could have saved the taxpayers a load and sent a few battalions of Boy Scouts to do this job....

...What a media spectacle was whipped up, by the way, over this totally forgettable speech. CNN treated the speech with all the gravitas of the launching of a manned mission to Mars, complete with a countdown clock and rolling all-day coverage. With boundless shamelessness, the all-news network ensconced the sputtering Lou Dobbs as one of its color commentators for this artificially constructed event, something akin to having asked George Wallace to objectively narrate the Great March on Washington. I don’t fault Dobbs, a modern-day Ted Knight who has found a lucrative niche as CNN’s resident Minuteman. But, please, let us heap industrial amounts of shame on the babbling Wolf Blitzer, who repeatedly deferred to Dobbs as if the latter was the font of all authority on this issue.

A phalanx of reporters will now head to the border, seeking to file feature stories on newly arrived Guard members. And one can expect the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense to accommodate the media spoon-feeding. The safe bet, though, is that this speech, in spite of the cable hype, will soon evaporate into the mists of memory.

The truth be told, the totality of Bush’s speech was rather reasonable. Stripping away the political theatrics and the empty phrasing, and putting aside the undue emphasis on deployment of the Guard, the president did endorse the sort of bipartisan reforms proposed by a coalition stretching from John McCain and the Chamber of Commerce to Ted Kennedy and the Service Employees International Union. And he called directly on both houses of Congress to finally agree upon and pass a bill that reflects that consensus. Problem is that Bush should have been speaking out forcefully in favor of these moves ever since he raised comprehensive reform as a priority in his 2004 State of the Union speech. Unfortunately, he hid under his desk on this issue for the last two years. Only after the right wing of his base rebelled and only after the pro-immigrant movement blossomed in the streets—that is, only after the White House was completely overtaken by events—did the president act. And as usual, it was too little, too late.

That seems to be the general sentiment.

To see why nothing will appease the far-right, read the rant here.

[AP: Bush to Send Up to 6,000 Troops to Border]

[PS- CNN actually broadcast the feed too early. Crooks and Liars has the humorous video.]

National Guard Deployment To Border Likely Just For Show

As we await the address, more updates on his half-assed National Guard plan...

AP: Nat'l Guard Not Expected to Patrol Border
National Guard troops tapped for duty on the border with Mexico will not chase down illegal immigrants but instead will play behind-the-scenes roles in support of border guards, officials said Monday.

Among the tasks they are likely to perform over the coming year: training federal Border Patrol guards, building barriers near the border, improving roadways, providing support for aerial and ground surveillance, analyzing and sharing intelligence, and providing communications systems and transportation, the officials said.

The intent is to deepen the Guard's existing support for law enforcement agencies — but only temporarily...

Well that hardly seems worth the hype, now does it?

As Atrios points out, this dog-and-pony show of throwing a military photo-up toward the border is all part of new White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten's five-point plan for presidential recovery. From a recent Time profile on Bolten-
1 DEPLOY GUNS AND BADGES. This is an unabashed play to members of the conservative base who are worried about illegal immigration. Under the banner of homeland security, the White House plans to seek more funding for an extremely visible enforcement crackdown at the Mexican border, including a beefed-up force of agents patrolling on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). "It'll be more guys with guns and badges," said a proponent of the plan. "Think of the visuals. The President can go down and meet with the new recruits. He can go down to the border and meet with a bunch of guys and go ride around on an ATV." Bush has long insisted he wants a guest-worker program paired with stricter border enforcement, but House Republicans have balked at temporary legalization for immigrants, so the President's ambition of using the issue to make the party more welcoming to Hispanics may have to wait.

Once again, it's all about the elections. The actual policy and its effects are afterthoughts.

Finally, the NY Times notes that President Bush's address tonight is "his first on domestic policy from the Oval Office". Wow. President Bush has a domestic policy? Who says you can't teach an old President new tricks?

Finally, reports confirm the controversial guest-worker plan will be mentioned tonight.

President Bush Plans Wacky Immigration Storyline For May Sweeps

With numerous scandals- domestic spying, the Fitzgerald investigation, CIA nomination troubles- near a boiling point, the President is set to address the nation tonight on the recent immigration (political) crisis. The President is expected to call for thousands of National Guard troops to be positioned at the Mexican border. He may also reiterate his support for a guest-worker program, although I'm sure he'll downplay this. This is a last-ditch effort by the White House to regain support from his base. Right now it is that base that is bringing his approval rating down to the upper 20s (there will always, of course, be the 25% or so who support him through anything... ie. the 30% in the CNN poll who felt Bush did better than Clinton on natural disasters). The base is upset at Bush over many issues- spending, not being 'conservative enough' (!), and immigration. He's focusing on the latter for now. However, in addition to his proposal being half-assed, the President is wasting his time... again.

The government fails to realize that the people screaming the loudest and dragging those numbers down are not the average American who simply want more compassionate policies mixed with some more organized enforcement of the immigration and labor laws. No, the noise is coming from the far-right xenophobes who never will be satisfied until the border is closed forever and the country is rid of immigrants (the brown-skinned ones, specifically). These extremists include people like former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan (who has called for Bush's impeachment for "not doing his duty to protect the states against that [Mexican] invasion") and popular conservative commentator Michelle Malkin (who rants daily on her site about 'Open Borders Bush' and his "amnesty sham"). If the President thinks he can ever appease this base, he is wrong.

Ignoring the obvious fact that this current immigration 'crisis' seemingly came out of nowhere (and in an election year too- gosh!), I think it's safe to say that neither the left nor the right trusts the President to be the one to figure out a solution. I personally feel that throwing another crappy assignment at the National Guard is ridiculous (most of whom were wrongfully sent to Iraq in Bush's war of choice), especially when the President has cut funding to the Border Patrol, the government agency that's actually supposed to handle these matters. In addition, his guest worker plan is an abomination- a sanitized, 21st-century version of slave labor that will do nothing but create a permanent under-class in this country. It is government policy by the corporations for the corporations. His plan also does nothing to address how to respond to the illegal immigrants already here, although the Senate has had some good, and humane, proposals (an earned citizenship plan that would put many on the path to being legalized Americans, depending on their current status) that the President should consider. We need a leader who is willing to find a good balance- respecting the desire of people who wish to immigrant here, but also having strong border control to keep that process organized, and finally creating/enforcing laws that stop the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers for easy profits. That leader will never be George W. Bush, our emperor without any clothes. And so all of this is just another charade.

Finally, I think Greg Saunders has a great take on this, which echoes many of my thoughts-
Heh. The President is going to give a major primetime address on Monday to try to convince the public that, four and a half years after 9/11, he finally cares about illegal immigration. It’s sorta quaint how the White House still thinks the public likes Bush enough to sit through one of his speeches and respects him enough to believe what he’s saying. It’s been a long, long time since he was a speech away from reversing his political fortunes. Too little, too late, Junior.

The big idea that’s apparently important enough to interrupt '24' to tell us about is a plan to deploy whatever National Guard troops the President can scrape together to help secure the border. This might be a good idea if illegal immigration was a sudden crisis, but the immigration “problem” has been brewing for more than thirty years. It’s not like the President can just pretend this snuck up on him. Besides, we already have an agency that patrols the border….they’re the border patrol. If you’re responding to a semi-permanent security situation on the border, you should devote more resources to that agency, not misuse the National Guard again.

Regardless of the merits of the Presidents proposals or their popularity with the public, as someone who’s firmly opposed to this latest bit of pandering, I see very little to worry about. After all, if we learned anything during Hurricane Katrina, it’s that the President’s promises to deploy National Guardsmen are worthless. Just like his pre-hurricane assurances to Louisiana state and local officials, George Bush just wants to give everyone the impression that he’s on top of things, but he doesn’t want to bother with paying attention to a crisis or taking any responsibility whatsoever. The only “crisis” the President is concerned about is the likelihood of Republicans losing the House. So on Monday night, he might give a cute little speech, but we all know it’s not going to mean a damn thing.

Agreed 110%. It's all about the election.

Josh Marshall also decries this "stunt", noting that "perhaps the truth here is that bringing in the military is the only way his advisors can think of to create an illusion of decisiveness and power in his current state of political impotence" and that it's "just a gimmick to help the president get through whatever new bad news is about to pop."

Meanwhile, the President backtracks already... the Guard plan would be temporary, he says.

Also, members of Congress of both parties are not pleased with this planned use of the National Guard. An exception is Majority Leader Bill Frist who supports it, which should be enough to convince people what a bad idea this is.

At least FOX will air 'Prison Break' in its entirety after the speech. If not, I would've been really mad.

Links of the Day

Gen. Hayden prepares for his nomination hearings. Sen. Hagel, check for clicks on your phone...

As we start off the week, here's some random links of interest-

-As Iraqi politicians fail to agree on a new Cabinet, another weekend of violence rocks Iraq:
Car Bombers Kill 14 Near Baghdad Airport

-I can't imagine why people are saying that the Army is having recruiting problems:
Report: Mentally ill troops forced into combat

-Finally, the Enron trial nears an end; hopefully justice will be served:
Closing Arguments on Deck in Enron Trial

Christians To GOP: We Notice You Haven't Pandered To Us Enough Lately...

If only there was a dying woman's personal tragedy for the Republicans to exploit this year.

NY Times: Conservative Christians Criticize Republicans
Some of President Bush's most influential conservative Christian allies are becoming openly critical of the White House and Republicans in Congress, warning that they will withhold their support in the midterm elections unless Congress does more to oppose same-sex marriage, obscenity and abortion...

...In the last several weeks, Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and one of the most influential Christian conservatives, has publicly accused Republican leaders of betraying the social conservatives who helped elect them in 2004. He has also warned in private meetings with about a dozen of the top Republicans in Washington that he may turn critic this fall unless the party delivers on conservative goals...

Republicans aren't doing enough for the religious right? Yikes! I'd hate to see what it would take to satisfy them in that case. I can see it now... 'Ok, so we banned gays, made teaching evolution illegal, put the Ten Commandments in courthouses, put Jesus on the flag, outlawed abortion, and made all TV channels redirect to the 700 Club. So what do you want us Republicans to do next, Mr. Dobson?'.

I expect the religious right may get their wishes, as an AP article from last month notes that "Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority".

Sadly, if you speak out against these religious extremists who have hijacked our national political dialogue, you are blown off as being 'intolerant' to religion. Because of this, the Dobsons of this country face little open opposition to their crusades. The media and the politicians are too afraid of their influence to call a spade a spade. It's frustrating for those who know this country has bigger problems than whether or not Focus On The Family gives our nation's direction the thumbs up. With two overseas war spiraling out of control, massive economic debt, healthcare a disaster, and many other problems which affect our lives, the last thing any politician should be worried about is whether some religious fundamentalist is upset that gay people aren't being maligned enough.

Curiously enough, Laura Bush may be going against the Republican grain on this...
Some election-year advice to Republicans from a high-ranking source who has the president's ear: Don't use a proposed constitutional amendment against gay marriage as a campaign tool.

Just who is that political strategist? Laura Bush.

The first lady told "Fox News Sunday" that she thinks the American people want a debate on the issue. But, she said, "I don't think it should be used as a campaign tool, obviously."...

Now this is a welcome change of pace. I'm not sure if she's sincere or if she's just playing at something (perhaps she just wants to distance the White House from the marriage ban movement), but I would like to believe it's sincere. Her husband supports using it as a campaign too, of course, as we all saw two years ago. If Mrs. Bush is as sincere I would like to believe she is, I hope this advice will be given to more than just Fox News anchors.

Unfortunately, it is not Laura Bush who will be controlling the campaigns this summer. It's this guy-
"I basically say, Mr. Vice President, right now marriage is under attack in this country," Frist said on CNN. "And we've seen activist judges overturning state by state law, where state legislatures have passed laws defining marriage between a man and a woman, and that's being overturned by a handful of activist judges around the country. And that is why we need an amendment to come to the floor of the United States Senate to define marriage as that union between one man and one woman."

Marriage is under attack! Man the alarms! Send the National Guard to secure the marriage certificates!

Sen. Frist fails to realize that, unlike 2004, it will not be the evangelicals who decide this election. A lot has happened since November 2004 (the bottom falling out on the war, Hurricane Katrina, and endless revelations of corruption and incompetence stemming from the Republican party); the majority voters right now are the people who are really angry with the way this country is being run (on the real issues, not the made up ones). Change is the theme this year. The people who will be going to the polls en masse this November are those who want to see that the Bill Frists are no longer in any position of power in our Congress. I am hopeful that when these voters see the Republicans once again ignoring the issues of concern to the average American in favor of pandering to special interest groups, it will further their resolve to- as the kids say- throw the bums out.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

President Gore Addresses The Nation

Crooks and Liars has the video: SNL: If Al Gore were President

Even though it was a very tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at what people think a Gore administration would've been like (ie. Chief Justice George Clooney), it was still fun to pretend. With new polls showing the majority of Americans preferred the Clinton administration to the current one on every single issue (including honesty, taxes, national security, the economy), it's nice to see Gore out there to remind people of what could've been had Florida not gone so wrong. Many on the right want us to forget that this is the man who won the plurality of votes on 2000 despite what was correctly assessed as a lackluster campaign. If the Democratic party was smart, they'd remember that. As the '08 political landscape looks right now (though it's way too early to predict), Al Gore may be the party's best chance to stop the McCain juggernaut.

Andrew Sullivan gets a great email on this subject.

2008: Reelect Al Gore!

[PS- Damn that SNL liberal bias! It's a conspiracy I tell ya!]

[PPS- 30% in that CNN poll preferred Bush on natural disasters over Clinton?!! Frightening.]

Waste of Time?

Just a follow-up on an aspect of this NSA story that I've hit on a few times, but I think is getting lost in all the discussion about the legality and public opinion of all of this...

I wanted to remark how little I am convinced that this activity is even helpful at all (meaning not surveillance in general- which has been helpful- but this specific program). The problem pre-9/11 wasn't that we didn't have enough information; it was that we lacked the organization and tools to properly assess the information that we did have. The 9/11 Commission said as much too. It was a failure to connect the dots, not collect them.

And yet, following the attacks, President Bush's reaction was not to create a more responsive, competent government... rather, he decided what was required was Big Brother without limits and a dismissal of the laws and values born out of previous executive abuses.

Here's an example- The 2002 revelation that "Messages intercepted by U.S. intelligence may have warned of terror attacks a day before September 11, but they were not translated in time". This was not a failure of intelligence gathering, but a failure of a bureaucracy not set up properly to analyze what it had received. Had they translated it in time, they might have been able to connect that dot with other dots they already had (Al Qaeda planning hijackings, skyscrapers and sites in NYC and DC eyed, etc.) and notified all airports and airplane personel to add extra layers of security for the morning, among other things. That's just one example off the top of my head.

So what is the lesson that failure had for the NSA and the President? That they need to (for some reason) disregard FISA and spy on random Americans without any oversight in hopes of finding anything useful? Or was it simply that the government needs more Muslim translators? If you actually said the former, then congratulations, the President would like to nominate you to run the CIA.

Bottom line- It's simply illogical to believe that the NSA having secret access to the phone records of millions of Americans is the key to us defeating the Al Qaeda terror network. The fact that the people in the White House believe it is may explain why we still haven't captured Osama bin Laden. They're not looking for him; they're simply waiting for him to call.

[PS- President Bush warns of the dangers this leak may cause.]