Saturday, June 03, 2006

Saturday Morning Funnies: Week In Review

So very, very sleepy. I'll let the cartoons do most of the talking tonight.

But first- With Iraq devolving further into chaos in addition to more news of civilian massacres by U.S. forces, an ever-increasing national deficit, Americans more and more cynical about their government's intentions, energy concerns, and a myriad of other problems, President Bush is set to tackle America's top crisis on Monday in a major address in unity with his fellow Republicans... those damn queers who want to get married.

Worst President... etc.

Friday, June 02, 2006

How Would A Patriot Act?

I read a lot of political books. I recently read "Lapdogs : How the Press Rolled Over for Bush" (a thorough detailing of how the press has replaced serious journalism with political cheerleading and beltway conventional wisdom) and just finished reading "Playing President : My Relationships with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan, and Clinton--and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush" (a genuinely great collection of personal interviews and articles by longtime journalist Robert Scheer which gives insight into the Presidents profiled). The book I am reading currently- so far the best- is Glenn Greenwald's "How Would a Patriot Act?: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok".

For several months, Greenwald has been doing geniunely great reporting on his blog about political and constitutional abuses occurring under our current political leadership, most notably the NSA spying scandal. His work- which has led to reports in the Washington Post among other outlets and was even referenced by Sen. Feingold during the censure hearing- is the basis for this new book. Needless to say, I highly recommend it. Even more impressively, it is set to debut at #11 on the NY Times Best Seller List.

But other than just plugging the book, I wanted to highlight a passage from the preface that really stood out to me more than anything else I've read so far in the book. I've always felt that one of Bush's most spectacular failures is not just his failure to utilize the post-9/11 moment (when all the world was united with us and when he had all of our support) to enact meaningful change, but in addition his decision to willfully abuse that moment to realize the extreme policies those in his administration has been yearning for for years. In one perfect sentence, Greenwald sums up this failure-
"It appeared that in the great national unity the September 11 attacks had engendered, the administration had seen not a historically unique opportunity to renew a sense of national identity and cohesion, but instead a potent political weapon with which to impose upon our citizens a whole series of policies and programs that had nothing to do with terrorism, but that could be rationalized through an appeal to the nation's fear of further terrorist attacks."

That sums up the Bush administration's post-9/11 political maneuvering in a nutshell. It sums up how they used the nation's pain and emotional instability (turning it into weakness rather than strength- the opposite of what FDR did after Pearl Harbor) to sell Americans a litany of unamerican wares... the war in Iraq, warrantless spying on american citizens, torture, rendition, prison without trial, media manipulation, secrecy, and an unprecented and frightening expansion of executive power. It all goes back to that.

Years from now when we look back on that moment- and how it was wasted- I believe we will be truly ashamed.

The Right To Vote (*)

UPDATE: Farhad Manjoo at Salon takes a critical look at these assertions. Worth considering.

Not that this will convince anyone new or get national media attention (they love to look the other way if a story's too complicated or doesn't involve missing white girls), but Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written a bombshell report for Rolling Stone magazine on how the 2004 election was stolen. For many, this idea is not new and has been extremely well-documented since November of that year. A quick Google search will find countless websites with detailed information on the voter fraud that occurred all over the nation.

The report- Was the 2004 Election Stolen?
Republicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.

Like many Americans, I spent the evening of the 2004 election watching the returns on television and wondering how the exit polls, which predicted an overwhelming victory for John Kerry, had gotten it so wrong. By midnight, the official tallies showed a decisive lead for George Bush -- and the next day, lacking enough legal evidence to contest the results, Kerry conceded. Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush's victory as nut cases in ''tinfoil hats,'' while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as ''conspiracy theories,''(1) and The New York Times declared that ''there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale.''...

...The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush's victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.(11)

Any election, of course, will have anomalies.... But what is most anomalous about the irregularities in 2004 was their decidedly partisan bent: Almost without exception they hurt John Kerry and benefited George Bush. After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.... And that doesn't even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.(15)...

...Indeed, the extent of the GOP's effort to rig the vote shocked even the most experienced observers of American elections. ''Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen,'' Lou Harris, the father of modern political polling, told me. ''You look at the turnout and votes in individual precincts, compared to the historic patterns in those counties, and you can tell where the discrepancies are. They stand out like a sore thumb.''...

A must-read. It's very long, but worth printing and bringing with you on the train.

[Related- Jack Cafferty does a report on CNN on dangerous trends threatening our voting system.]

[PS- Democracy Now did an excellent report on electronic voting machines on Wednesday.]

Diplomacy's Boring, Can We Blow Stuff Up Yet?- Pt. II

An update to the last entry on our beginning diplomatic talks with Iran-

AP: 6 world powers agree on Iran incentives
Six world powers agreed Thursday to offer Iran a new choice of rewards if it gives up suspect nuclear activities or punishment if it refuses, a gambit that could either defuse a global confrontation with the Islamic regime or hasten one.

"There are two paths ahead," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket said in announcing agreement among the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China on a package deal for Iran that carries the threat of United Nations sanctions.

The package would be on the table for a proposed new round of bargaining with Tehran over what the West calls a rogue nuclear program that could produce a bomb. The U.S., in a major policy shift, agreed this week to join those talks under certain conditions. It would be the first major public negotiations between the adversaries in more than a quarter century...

It looks like we're playing nicely with others so far. We're growing up.

I also wanted to reprint this comment that I found on a Huffington Post news item (about John "Recess" Bolton talking tough on Iran), which gives a great history of post-WWII Iran and our relationship with it. This is not to justify the current regime or their rhetoric, but merely to highlight their complicated history and how we often create international messes under the foolish notion that we're serving our national interests along the way. So here it is-
History lesson: The U.S. and Britain staged a coup in 1953 against Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadeq, overthrowing an elected official of a sovereign nation. In his place, the U.S. installed a corporate puppet, the Shah. The Shah was a brutal dictator who ran Iran with the same kind of totalitarian tactics familiar to Soviets. During that time, hundreds of thousands of Iranians made their escape, many coming to the U.S. Most of those people still have family back in Iran, innocent Iranians who want nothing more than to live in peace.

As a result of our incessant meddling in Iranian affairs, a groundswell of hatred eventually led to the toppling of the Shah and the installment of Iran's current, oppressive theocracy. True, a lot of people were fooled by Khomeini, thinking he was a Ghandi-like figure. Obviously he was not and neither are Iran's current rulers. Yet the truth about Iranian society is far more complex and nuanced than you are clearly too intellectually lazy to discover.

Iranians are not Arabs. They are Persians. They have an amazing history of scientific invention and literature. Iran is a beautiful country with cities as familiarly metropolitan as many in Europe. It has a very substantial and growing movement of younger citizens tired of the ruling theocracy. Unlike other nations, Iranians are not cowards. They will eventually take care of their own house.

The problem with dipshits like Bolton and Bush is that by inflaming tensions with Iran they keep giving power to Iran's tyrants, which has the tandem effect of undermining all domestic opposition in Iran. So in effect, Bush and Bolton are aiding Iran's tyrants.

And get this: if you think Iran will be a "cakewalk" like Iraq then you have another think coming. Iranians are fiercely proud. Iran is not an artificial construct of a country, as is Iraq. The Iranian army is better-equipped, better financed, better armed and more motivated as a result of their past dealings with Britain and the U.S. to put up the fiercest of fights.

So if we cannot afford or are not prepared to go the distance in another ground invasion using our already stretched forces, are you proposing we just murder thousands of innocent Iranians in some carpet bombing scenario? Is that the macho cowboy way?

Do you honestly believe that we can change the regime by effecting that kind of chaos? You don't have a clue what the reality will be if Bush starts this fight. Well here it is:

We will lose. We will again have a Vietnam-like defeat, on top of the unfolding Iraq disaster, to eradicate the morale of our armed forces, which in turn will dissuade a huge percentage of potential military recruits. If Bush invades or attacks Iran he will be forced to reinstate the draft. That is a fucking guarantee.

Now you loudmouths, are you prepared to put on your fatigues and fight Iranians in the streets of Tehran or are you just going to keep bloviating on these blogs about how tough you are? Right....

I think that says it all.

Sadly, such complicated history lessons are not something the current administration have ever taken into consideration... The mere idea that the country has people in it is probably not something the Cheney/Rumsfeld crew considers. It is all an means to an end for them.

[Related reading- Bush and Iran: Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis]

Random News Stories Summarized

More stuff that is happening in our little corner of the world...

In my recent post on King President Bush's growing abuses of executive power, I noted that Attorney General Gonzales and the FBI Director are pressuring "telecommunications officials to record their customers' Internet activities" and retain the information. USA Today elaborates on this in a new story. The article states that "Top law enforcement officials have asked leading Internet companies to keep histories of the activities of Web users for up to two years to assist in criminal investigations of child pornography and terrorism, the Justice Department said Wednesday", but adds that "Justice is not asking the companies to keep the content of e-mails, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. It wants records such as lists of e-mail traffic and Web searches, he said."

Meanwhile, the AP reports that the request "has prompted alarm from some executives and privacy advocates".

Moving on, as the aftermath of the Haditha massacre unfolds, things go from bad worse. Amid news of further civilian killings by U.S. forces, the Iraqi Prime Minister has made strong accusations against our armed forces that cannot be dismissed in terms of their significance. From the NY Times (via AmericaBlog), Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki "said violence against civilians had become a 'daily phenomenon' by troops in the American-led coalition who 'do not respect the Iraqi people.'". Does it even need to be said that when the Prime Minister- whom we helped select because Bush and crew didn't like the old one- is accusing the U.S. of systematic war crimes, that we have entered a whole new level of disaster in Iraq? The word 'quagmire' doesn't really cover it anymore.

No surprise that Iraqi war veterans are concerned they will face the same level of scorn and/or indifference when returning home that Vietnam vets faced. I imagine the psychological scars that destroyed many veterans' lives after Vietnam will also be a factor now.

As for Afghanistan... it's only looking slightly less horrific these days.

In other news, hurricane season has begun and things aren't looking much better now than last Fall on the Gulf Coast. [*insert heckuva job reference here*] Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially takes reponsibility for the flooding of New Orleans based on their failures in building the levees. They said they can hope the tragedy has given them the lessons needed to create better flood protection. In related news, radar maps show that New Orleans is sinking.

In a rare occurence, politicians from both parties are angry over the same issue. Homeland Security's decision to cut anti-terror funding to New York and Washington DC (while increasing it in smaller, heartland areas) has been met with anger by both conservative and liberal outlets. The story gets odder as ABC News reveals that a Homeland Security form used to figure out the new funding stated that New York has no national monuments or icons. As ABC notes in response, "The formula did not consider as landmarks or icons: The Empire State Building, The United Nations, The Statue of Liberty and others found on several terror target hit lists. It also left off notable landmarks, such as the New York Public Library, Times Square, City Hall and at least three of the nation's most renowned museums: The Guggenheim, The Metropolitan and The Museum of Natural History." Mayor Bloomberg summed it up by stating that "I think the facts are clear. What they've really done is taken what was supposed to be threat-based and just started to distribute it as normal pork." Politically motivated mistakes like this is exactly what the 9/11 Commission warned us about.

In other news... massive deficit and debt? Must be time to cut more taxes!

Finally, in humorous right-wing immigration 'crisis' land, two stories of interest. Michelle Malkin wants to tell you how much she supports the shit out of Dunkin Donuts because they don't hire illegal immigrants. "National security never tasted so good", she states. No, honey, that's a munchkin. Moving on to the insane rather than amusing, a new report states that "VeriChip Corporation has proposed implanting the company's RFID tracking tags in immigrant and guest workers." Let's pray that Congress wasn't listening.

Andrew Sullivan: Analrapist

(That's an 'Arrested Development' reference for you poor fools who never saw the show.)

Blogger Andrew Sullivan and his readers have been having a back-and-forth trying to analyze President Bush, in particular the bubble in which he lives and his failures as a leader in general. It's been interesting reading. Sullivan started it off-
There is also the unnerving possibility of psychological denial. I was struck, for example, by the fact that the president recently cited Abu Ghraib as one event that he regrets and that has deeply damaged the war on terror. So I scratch my head and ask myself: has it occurred to him that even the various official reports he commissioned trace that incident to decisions the president himself made to relax detainee standards in the war? Is he even aware that these incidents, again according to his own government's reports, have been replicated in every theater of combat? And yet, when given the chance to draw a line under all this, and embrace and enforce the McCain Amendment, the president still refused, and issued a signing statement reserving the right to break the law.

My only rational conclusion is that the president cannot face the consequences of his own actions and so simply blocks them out. Confronting Cheney and Rumsfeld on this is beyond his capacity. His psyche, rescued from alcoholism by rigid fundamentalism, has been sealed off from rational assessment of empirical reality, from basic concepts of responsibility and accountability. The people he has surrounded himself with have only one thing in common: the knowledge that the maintenance of his denial keeps them in their jobs. And so we have this bizarre unending war of attrition, where no strategic logic can be discerned, where goals are set with no means to attain them, and where American soldiers and Iraqi civilians are put through a grinder of brutality and terror. I'm saying this as someone who desperately wants us to succeed, but simply cannot understand why the president refuses to commit the necessary resources to do so.

In a later entry, a reader added this excellent reply-
"I think what you have is a man of fundamentally weak character. I mean, we're talking about someone who is essentially afraid of the Washington press corps. Ponder that for a moment and imagine how Al Quaeda must make him feel."

True. And sad.

Here's another story for a trained psychiatrist to analyze...

Bloggers dug up a section from a 2003 interview with President Bush in which he describes the laughs he and Laura shared on the night of September 11th. He says that, after a false security scare, he and Laura were thinking about how funny they must've looked hustling around the White House in their sleepwear. Bush noted that "the day ended on a relatively humorous note" for him. It is nice to know that, while I was awake all night replaying in my mind the sight of people jumping 95 floors to their death, the President was chuckling with the wife before falling asleep. Between the My Pet Goat incident in the morning and this at night, I don't believe it is cynical to state the President failed to comprehend the seriousness of the day's events.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Diplomacy's Boring, Can We Blow Stuff Up Yet?

[UPDATE: The NY Times analyzes this story and is skeptical of the administration's intentions. They state that recently "it became obvious to Mr. Bush that he could not hope to hold together a fractious coalition of nations to enforce sanctions — or consider military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites — unless he first showed a willingness to engage Iran's leadership directly over its nuclear program and exhaust every nonmilitary option." Yep, sounds just like the pre-Iraq scenario again. Furthermore, it notes that while our allies are pleased with the diplomatic turnaround, some have "questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence". I bet Vice President Cheney (whom the article notes was dead set against this new diplomatic route) misses the good ol' days when Judy Miller was still at the Times to pass along his 'scoops'- above the fold, natch.]

The White House decides to give this diplomacy thing a try-

AP: U.S. sets conditions for talks with Iran
- The United States is prepared to join other nations in holding direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program if Iran first agrees to stop disputed nuclear activities that the West fears could lead to a bomb, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday...

TruthDig summarizes the significance of this announcement: "It’s a dramatic about-face, and comes a mere three weeks after the Iranian president sent a personal letter to Bush--the first direct communication between the two countries in over 20 years."

Of course, my cynical side (which sadly often ends up bejng right) tells me that these 'talks' are just a way for the Bush administration to appear to be taking the diplomatic high road so that when they begin military action, they can say "hey, we tried!". They did similar things before the invasion of Iraq. Of course, my optimistic side tells me that, seeing how badly they've mangled their two current Middle East military quagmires, no one in the administration except for Cheney and Rumsfeld are pushing for another military mess for our overstretched and abused military resources to deal with. I have a feeling we'll know which wins- cynicism v. optimism- by November.

Iran, meanwhile, responds-
Iran's foreign minister on Thursday welcomed direct talks with Washington on his country's disputed nuclear program but rebuffed a U.S. proposal that Tehran must suspend uranium enrichment as a condition, state-run television reported...

..."We won't negotiate about the Iranian nation's natural nuclear rights but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about (our) common concerns," he added...

Note that they didn't call us the 'Great Satan'. See, we're making progress already.

Meanwhile, words of caution from the United Nations-
Iran does not pose an immediate nuclear threat and the world must act cautiously to avoid repeating mistakes made with Iraq and North Korea, the head of the U.N, nuclear watchdog agency said on Tuesday.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the world shouldn't "jump the gun" with erroneous information as he said the U.S.-led coalition did in Iraq in 2003, nor should it push the country into retaliation as international sanctions did in North Korea...

..."You look around in the Middle East right now and it's a total mess," he said. "You can not add oil to that fire."...

The White House refused to heed the UN's warnings last time. How'd that work out again?

Finally, Ivo Daalder at TPMCafe ponders whether sanity is returning to U.S. foreign policy.

[PS- Progress in North Korea too? More news for time to tell...]

Hannity's Cool With It, Though

Via ThinkProgress, Fox News takes a strong stance on the recent news from Iraq-

Follow-up question, John... is killing pregnant women bad too? I need my talking points.

Links of the Day: Early Edition

Just another random collection of stories I find interesting...

-The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families launches campaign to knock down the state's new abortion ban:
Abortion ban repeal drive gets 37,846 signatures

-More evidence for that ungodly science and evolution stuff is found in the holy land:
Prehistoric ecosystem found in Israeli cave

-The most frequently targeted cities again get the short end of the anti-terror stick. Peoria needs its anti-terror funding, ya know:
N.Y., D.C. to get less anti-terror funds

[PS- That crazy campaign right-wingers started to mail bricks to Congress in support of a wall on the Mexican border was highlighted in the NY Times. Turns out they didn't bother to find out who was behind it.]

Honest Opinions

Amir Taheri, the neocon-connected perpetrator of the false Iran badge story that ran earlier this month in conservative publications like the NY Post and Canada's National Post, visited with the President at the White House this week. He was part of a small group of so-called experts on Iraq who met with Bush. Press Secretary Tony Snow said the guests were invited for their "honest opinions" on Iraq. Mr. Taheri joins a distinguished line of liars- call it the Rumsfeld Brigade- who help shape our country's foreign policy.

Par for the course for this administration.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

To Hillary Or Not To Hillary?

That is the question I want you, my dear blog reader(s), to answer.

Yesterday I posted another entry on the 2008 debate of Hillary v. Gore as the Dem nominee.

I got this comment-
I think it would a great mistake to dismiss Hillary. She is far more electable than any other democrat. Just look at her poll numbers. Yes, we're not happy about the war in Iraq, but the war was Bush's doing not hers. If you want another Republican in power, cannibalising your own is good way to do it.

I understand where he/she is coming from. Democrats do have a history of eating their own.

But I disagree.

I fleshed out my opinions in my reply-
My opposition to Hillary is less about her support for the Iraq war (if I refused to vote for a Democrat who voted for the war, I couldn't have voted for Kerry... there are few Democrats who didn't make that mistake); it is mostly about her electability. I know that her poll numbers are higher than many and that she has a lot of money to throw out the election, but like I said I believe she will crash and burn at the ballot box.

There are several factors for this. First, she is way too divisive. Republicans loathe the Clintons with a fiery passion; they will unleash their worst on her. Liberals don't trust her because of her right-leaning pandering. The center oddly enough may be her best best for support, but the reality of sexism will hurt her chances of getting male swing voters. Second, her popularity as a Senator in a blue state is not likely to translate to national support. Third, there is the fact that Senators have an awful record in presidential elections. The last time a President was elected from the Senate was John Kennedy in 1960 and that was a close race.

Hence, my support for Gore, another popular Democrat who has already proven his electability and has none of Hillary's baggage. Should he continue to be adamant about not running, I'm sure there is a popular (and liberal) governor somewhere who would make a good candidate.

So where do you stand on this big debate?

Try our luck with Clinton? Or find a stronger candidate? You already know where I stand.

Some blog posts of relevance:
-Why Hillary Clinton Is No Bill Clinton
-If Not Hillary, Then Who?

Last Throes

"The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
--Vice President Cheney May 31, 2005

It's been one year since that criminally ignorant statement. How are things going now?

For starters, not only are we not near an end, we're actually sending more troops in-
The US military has deployed about 1,500 additional troops to Iraq to back up US and Iraqi forces trying to restore order in western Al Anbar province, a Pentagon spokesman said.

General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, ordered the deployment of two armored battalions from Kuwait, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman...

Sounds like we're turning another corner, as they stand up we'll stand down, etc etc.

The Pentagon states that the insurgency is in its last throes steady through 2007.

Meanwhile, relentless violence in Iraq killed 54 people yesterday alone and wounded over 120 others.

Finally, as Rep. John Murtha continues to insist there was a coverup of the Haditha massacre of civilians by U.S. marines, the murders increase tensions between the U.S. and Iraqi leaders. The Prime Minister said he was losing patience with excuses from U.S. troops that they kill civilians by 'mistake' and wants an investigation. Worst of all, the new Iraqi ambassador- our big ally, ya know- said on CNN today that Marines killed his cousin during the massacre. He stated "I believe he was killed intentionally. I believe that he was killed unnecessarily." He said Gen. George Casey (top U.S. commander in Iraq) is aware of all the details of this incident, but they haven't been forthcoming with them. That's some pretty serious shit. As TruthDig notes, "This is huge: The ambassador of a newly minted 'friendly' country went on national TV to accuse the U.S. of murdering a relative. Diplomatically speaking, it’s a violent smack across Bush’s face." And just like the Dubai ports deal and numerous other important issues, the President only found out about the massacre when he heard it from the press. Shameful.

Did we win those hearts and minds yet?

Firedoglake has a great take on all the latest Iraq news-
So Much for the Pre-Election Troop Withdrawal?

Is it 2009 yet?

"Has Our Success in the War on Terror Made Bush Vulnerable on Other Issues?"...

...Rush Limbaugh wants to know.

Whatever he's on, I want some too.

Whistleblowers Are Sooo 20th Century

The Supreme Court does away with another one of those pesky freedoms the evildoers hate us for...

AP: High court trims whistleblower rights
The Supreme Court scaled back protections for government workers who blow the whistle on official misconduct Tuesday, a 5-4 decision in which new Justice Samuel Alito cast the deciding vote.

In a victory for the Bush administration, justices said the 20 million public employees do not have free-speech protections for what they say as part of their jobs.

Critics predicted the impact would be sweeping, from silencing police officers who fear retribution for reporting department corruption, to subduing federal employees who want to reveal problems with government hurricane preparedness or terrorist-related security...

A disturbing sign of things to come in the Roberts/Alito era...

SCOTUSblog warns that "This apparently means that employees may be disciplined for their official capacity speech, without any First Amendment scrutiny, and without regard to whether it touches on matters of 'public concern' -- a very significant doctrinal development."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bush Taps That Ass Paulson For Cabinet

President Bush has selected a new economic spokesperson Treasury Secretary...

AP: Bush taps Paulson for Treasury Secretary
Treasury Secretary John Snow resigned Tuesday and President Bush nominated Goldman Sachs chief executive officer Henry M. Paulson Jr. as his replacement — another chapter in the shake-up to revive Bush's troubled presidency...

All in all, a decent nominee by Bush administration standards. I expect little opposition.

He even supports the Kyoto Protocol! Crazy tree-hugging hippie CEO.

Things That Happened This Weekend

Afghanistan- you know, the original war we lost focus on- managed to top Iraq in the headlines as the long-growing tensions there have exploded into the open. A traffic accident involving a U.S. military truck caused rioting and anger directed at the U.S. occupying forces. After the U.S. truck crashed into traffic in Kabul, killing several, "rioters stoned the U.S. convoy involved in the accident then headed to the center of town, ransacking offices of international aid groups and searching for foreigners in a display of rising resentment over civilian deaths in the war against insurgents." Reports also indicate that U.S. and Afghan troops may have fired on the rioting crowds. The U.S.-backed government has been working to quiet the violence. What was most newsworthy about this incident was how it exposed the strong anti-U.S. anger among Afghans after five and a half years of occupation.

Perhaps if we had caught bin Laden and really cleaned up the Taliban in 2001/2002 as we were supposed to, we wouldn't have had to hang around this long. Exit strategies are so 20th century.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, two members of a CBS news crew were killed and a reporter in critical condition. They were killed by a car bomb explosion while doing a report about U.S. troops in Iraq on Memorial Day. The AP report also notes that "an American soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were also killed in the same blast and six American soldiers were injured." A horrible tragedy. This is exactly the type of scenario CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan described in March when she responded to the Bush administration's criticisms that reporters don't report the 'good news' in Iraq by noting that anytime a journalist leaves the secure, militarized areas, they are likely to be kidnapped or murdered. A violent reminder of that reality this weekend. Of course, if you can't find any good news, why not make your own? In related news, Rep. Murtha states that the fallout from the Haditha massacre could undermine our efforts in Iraq even more than the Abu Ghraib abuses. He raised the question of whether there was an effort to initially cover up the incident. Finally, dozens of Iraqis were killed this weekend in a wave of bombings across the country.

All of this is why Sen. Hagel stated yesterday that "I think you could make a pretty strong case that things are worse off in the Middle East today than they were three years ago."

Moving on to Iran, despite initial reports in April that Tony Blair would refuse to offer military support to a U.S. strike on Iran, the Prime Minister appears to be backing down from that. A British press reports states that, according to the Washington Post, "Blair caved in to White House pressure by sharpening language on Iran and softening it on global warming in a speech he delivered Friday at Georgetown University". Not an encouraging report. Meanwhile, European diplomats report that " Iran appears to have slowed its drive to produce nuclear fuel... [possibly] to lower the temperature of its standoff with the West over its nuclear program, and perhaps to create an opening for Washington to join the negotiations directly". Hardliners in the Bush administration refuse to compromise on their stance and remain skeptical of these reports. Here we go again.

In non-Middle East news, President Bush used the holiday weekend to sign into law a bill keeping protestors and demonstrators away from military funerals. The bill was mostly passed because of the increasing number of demonstrations by the far-right, homophobic Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals with signs like "God hates fags", implying the soldiers were killed by God because of the U.S. tolerance toward gays. I've seen some express first amendment concern over the law, but it sounds perfectly fine to me. Some things are sacred- military funerals definitely so.

In depressing political news, Sen. Kerry takes on the Swift Boat liars... two years too late.

Finally, an earthquake in Indonesia has killed over 5,000 people.

King George's America

The Boston Globe has another excellent article on the continuing imperial power grabs of the Bush administration-
The office of Vice President Dick Cheney routinely reviews pieces of legislation before they reach the president's desk, searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on presidential power, according to former White House and Justice Department officials.

The officials said Cheney's legal adviser and chief of staff, David Addington , is the Bush administration's leading architect of the "signing statements" the president has appended to more than 750 laws. The statements assert the president's right to ignore the laws because they conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution...

...Previous vice presidents have had neither the authority nor the interest in reviewing legislation. But Cheney has used his power over the administration's legal team to promote an expansive theory of presidential authority. Using signing statements, the administration has challenged more laws than all previous administrations combined...

This comes on the heels of their key report of the administration (ab)use of presidential signing statements to circumvent the law. Laws that the President has blown off with these statements include "a ban on torture, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and numerous requirements that they provide certain information to Congress", and hundreds of other laws. Frightening stuff for any self-respecting American.

Other examples of this power-grab (stories I've come across literally just this weekend alone) include: The White House citing security reasons for asking federal judges to dismiss lawsuits directed at the NSA's domestic spying program, a report that Attorney General Gonzales and the FBI Director are pressuring "telecommunications officials to record their customers' Internet activities" and retain the information, the White House 'interviewing' members of Congress to try and find leakers, and Vice President Cheney's continuing refusal to comply with an executive order requiring him to disclose his classification and declassification activities. That's four stories this weekend alone. A bit of Googling would likely find me more.

Will the Republican Congress ever push back against this or even ask some hard questions about what the White House is doing? Don't count on it. For me, that's the top reason to elect a Democratic Congress this Fall... accountability. There are many other reasons too- adult fiscal management, less subservience to religious fundamentalists, saner foreign policy pronouncements, responsible leadership- but that's the big reason. Checks and balances need to come back in style.

The media, of course, is as a whole mostly uninterested in these pesky constitutional matters.

In dealing with the fact that far too many Americans seem to find no problem with this radical reinvention of Executive power, Glenn Greenwald explains how in the post-9/11 world, people seem to have forgotten how America is supposed to work. Key sections-
As one can say for so many core American political principles, the U.S. Government under 42 different Presidents has thrived and defended the nation for 220 years without the need to imprison journalists for the stories they publish, but the Bush administration is the first to claim that it has to dismantle these liberties because it is too weak -- and America is too weak -- to maintain national security unless we radically change the kind of country we are...

...That's how this group of Bush followers thinks America is supposed to work. If you are a U.S. citizen, the President can unilaterally order you abducted and imprisoned; does not have to charge you with any crime; can block you from speaking with anyone, including a lawyer; can keep you incarcerated indefinitely (meaning forever); and can deny you the right to any judicial review of your imprisonment or any mechanism for challenging the accuracy of the accusations. And oh - while it would be nice if we could preserve all of that abstract lawyer nonsense about the right to a jury trial and all that, we're really scared that Al Qaeda is going to kill us, so we can't...

Andrew Sullivan shares the sentiment, stating that "the glee with which some conservatives greet the expansion of unlimited government power is truly remarkable".

Where Greenwald is right is that these ideas are unamerican. Where he is wrong is his implication that this hasn't happened before. There have been previous abuses of American liberties with national security justifications- suspension of habeus corpus in the Civil War, the Alien and Sedition Acts, internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, etc. It should be noted that none of these abuses helped us in our fights. Rather they made them more difficult and remain a stain on our great history. I imagine the history books will share that same opinion on these past few years. Of course, in fairness, those were isolated abuses put in place by otherwise well-meaning Presidents... what we are seeing now represents an unprecedented, calculated effort to use Americans' genuine security concerns to increase presidential power permanently.

I am not sure how to combat this post-9/11 national mindset, short of a trusted political leader coming along and giving America a symbolic pinch and telling them that it's time to wake up from this nightmare.

Surely there must be a politician that can get Americans to understand that dealing with terrorism doesn't warrant surrending our basic American values and issuing unlimited power to a President, particularly one with such a disastrous record on every issue of consquence. True, there have been some- like Russ Feingold among others- but their messages have been suffocated by the same right-wing people that Greenwald and Sullivan are writing about. But there must be some way to get the message over the right-wing noise machine. Ultimately, though, the problem is that these aren't issues that most Americans bother to care about. Bills to pay, TV shows to watch, etc... I see this even when I discuss these issues with my moderately liberal friends. It's a mix of people being detached from the abuses and therefore not understanding the significance, being too busy with day-to-day life to care, and the cynical belief that this is just business as usual for the U.S. government.

I do not foresee a major shift in public concern for any of this.

Pachacutec at Firedoglake summarizes how the administration has converted so many to their beliefs on Executive power-
Bushco has enslaved Americans into a psychological reign of "War on Terror" that amounts to a criminal protection racket. We are told we must be afraid. That is, we are told we must live in terror. This is to protect us from. . . terror. Then, because we feel terrified, we must give up our freedom - freedom to write what we believe without fear of reprisal, freedom of due process and habeas corpus protection, freedom from secret intrusion into our private lives by government.


We've become what the exact goal of terrorism is... afraid, irrational, and self-destructive. President Bush says we are winning the war. Perhaps he means that he is winning, in however he defines his personal political goals. As for the rest of us, our salvation may not come until 2009, assuming the next President doesn't simply continue where George left off.

Finally, some bloggers look at "Top 10 Signs of the Impending U.S. Police State".

More Gore

Please indulge me as I write yet again about Mr. Al Gore (I've gotten some ribbing from my friends), but "An Inconvenient Truth" has wrapped up its inaugural weekend with an impressive box office take. The film made over $406,000 so far, playing on just four screens in the country. Not bad at all. If it means more people will think about the issue, then that's the real success.

The official website has ways individual people can take action.

Meanwhile, more amusing anti-global warming nonsense from Fox News.

Finally, despite his assurances that he has no plan to run, more people are calling for a Gore candidacy in 2008. I saw Gore speak on the issue last week and I believe that he is sincere in his statements that he has no desire to run again. His distaste for the style-over-substance sound-bite political culture has been evident in many of his recent interviews. Still, if the calls for Gore's return continue, here's what I envision happening... It should be (I hope) becoming increasing clear to Democratic leaders that a Hillary Clinton ticket in 2008 will crash and burn at the ballot box. Conservatives want her to run so they can engage in more Clinton-bashing and liberals are disgusted by the soullessness of her positions. Therefore, as '08 approaches, the party may approach Gore and draft him as their candidate. He would ask for many assurances before he accepted- the party leaves him alone to guide his campaign as he sees fit, etc- but this would be the party's best move. Ask Gore to run, let Gore be Gore, and do not try to force on Gore any of the campaign consultants who've been losing elections professionally for decades. That scenario, I believe, would guarantee victory in 2008.

Here's a sampling of writing on this subject-

Andrew Sullivan-
I know of very few Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary. The left-liberal base is enraged by her calculated centrism; the Republican party at this point could unite only if she ran against it; and questions about the Clinton marriage appeared on the front page of The New York Times last week as a virtual editorial begging her not to run.

Gore, moreover, has been proved right about a subject he’s been boring on about for decades. The past few years have revealed an accumulation of new data that have persuaded even sceptics like me that global warming is real, man-made and potentially hazardous. In politics, timing is everything, and, finally, Gore has it.

On national security, Gore also manages to assuage the American centre. He has a long track record of hawkishness, especially with respect to the Middle East. He knows defence policy well, and was a strong supporter of the use of military force within the conservative wing of the Democratic party for years...

...Then there’s the issue of karma. Gore won the popular vote in 2000. If a few old Jewish ladies in Palm Beach had not been confused by their ballots and voted for Patrick Buchanan, Gore would have won Florida as well — and the presidency. Everyone knows this — and that election still wounds America in ways that a Gore candidacy might assuage.

Gore’s penchant for detail, for policy wonkery, has also, in the wake of Bush, come to seem less of an irritant and more of an asset. After watching the incompetence in Iraq and after Katrina, Americans are beginning to want a president who is interested in how government works. Bush never has been. That was his charm. It has also proved his undoing....

Jonathan Chait-
...Clinton's problem is that everything she does to staunch her perceived ideology problem compounds her perceived character problem. What she says about the issues may be popular, but what the issues say about her is that she's a shameless self-reinventor.

Gore is winning plaudits because he's in the opposite position. A couple of years ago he appeared to be veering too far left when he denounced the Iraq war and the administration's disregard for civil liberties. But now, almost no one can argue with those positions — certainly not any prospective Democratic voter. And his focus on global warming, which may not rank high on the list of voter concerns in Ohio, points to his genuine conviction on the issue. Gore cared about the environment before it was cool (or, as it were, warm.) The issue helps him more as a character issue than a substance one.

Gore has expressed a reluctance to run, explaining that he lacks much talent or affinity for backslapping and political sound bites. I find his self-awareness admirable. Clinton seems to have even less natural political talent than Gore. Unfortunately, she's less aware of her limitations.

Frank Rich (surprisingly the least enthusiastic of the bunch, but still supportive of that general direction)-
[Sen. Clinton's] most excited constituency seems to be the right-wing pundits who still hope to make a killing with books excoriating her...

... [Al Gore, as an] anti-Hussein hawk who was among the rare Senate Democrats to vote for the first gulf war, Mr. Gore forecast the disasters lying in wait for the second when he spoke out at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 2002. He saw that the administration was jumping 'from one unfinished task to another' and risked letting Afghanistan destabilize and Osama bin Laden flee. ...

[Democratic leaders in Congress] blew off Mr. Gore for fear that talk of Iraq might distract the electorate from all those compelling domestic issues that would guarantee victory in the midterms. (That brilliant strategy cost Democrats the Senate.) On CNN, a representative from The New Republic, a frequent Gore cheerleader, reported that 'the vast majority of the staff' condemned his speech as 'the bitter rantings of a guy who is being politically motivated and disingenuous in his arguments.'

But in truth, as with global warming, Mr. Gore's stands on Iraq (both in 1991 and 2002) were manifestations of leadership -- the single attribute most missing from the current Democrats with presidential ambitions....

Seems like they all have a similar take on the situation, if varying in their enthusiasm for Gore the Candidate.

[Related- Lights, Camera, Al Gore! (Time magazine) ]

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

From Bob Herbert at the NY Times-
The point of Memorial Day is to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the nation’s wars. But I suggest that we take a little time today to consider the living.

Look around and ask yourself if you believe that stability or democracy in Iraq — or whatever goal you choose to assert as the reason for this war — is worth the life of your son or your daughter, or your husband or your wife, or the co-worker who rides to the office with you in the morning, or your friendly neighbor next door.

Before you gather up the hot dogs and head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself honestly if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for.

There is no shortage of weaselly politicians and misguided commentators ready to tell us that we can’t leave Iraq — we just can’t. Chaos will ensue. Maybe even a civil war. But what they really mean is that we can’t leave as long as the war can continue to be fought by other people’s children, and as long as we can continue to put this George W. Bush-inspired madness on a credit card.

Start sending the children of the well-to-do to Baghdad, and start raising taxes to pay off the many hundreds of billions that the war is costing, and watch how quickly this tragic fiasco is brought to an end.

At an embarrassing press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain looked for all the world like a couple of hapless schoolboys who, while playing with fire, had set off a conflagration that is still raging out of control. Their recklessness has so far cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, many of them children.

Among the regrets voiced by the president at the press conference was his absurd challenge to the insurgents in 2003 to “bring ‘em on.” But Mr. Bush gave no hint as to when the madness might end.

How many more healthy young people will we shovel into the fires of Iraq before finally deciding it’s time to stop? How many dead are enough?

Something to reflect on as we all enjoy our day off.

Related- Memorial Day Truth: There Is No “War on Terror” (Firedoglake)

[PS- President Bush delivers his weekly radio address on this Memorial Day.]

Weekend Funnies: The It'd-Be-Funnier-If-It-Weren't-True Edition