Saturday, June 10, 2006

Specter Proposes Giving Bush The 'Option' Of Obeying The Law, Proposes Amnesty For Past Violations

"Unless they’re prepared to have a determination on constitutionality as to their programs, window-dressing oversight will not be sufficient."
-Sen. Arlen Specter (Feb. 16, 2006)

"Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."
-President George W. Bush (April 20, 2004)

In the past six months or so since the revelations of the President's secret warrantless spying program, there have been a number of stories of the politics surrounding it (Sen. Roberts refusing to let the Intelligence Committee hold hearings, Cheney's constant interfering in congressional oversight attempts, new revelations about phone record collection or the media being spied on, etc.) that have been more than frustrating to read.

This one may officially take the cake.

In a previous entry on Wednesday, I noted how wannabe-maverick Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter went back on his promise to force executives from the top telecommunication companies to testify on their role in the widespread NSA program and how Specter also continued in his pattern of offering legislative cover for the administration's abuses. But a new article in today's Washington Post makes that look like nothing... the headline calls it 'compromise', but in fact Specter and the Senate Republicans are preparing to sweep this all under the rug permanently. I will bold the key sections.

Washington Post: Specter Offers Compromise on NSA Surveillance
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed legislation that would give President Bush the option of seeking a warrant from a special court for an electronic surveillance program such as the one being conducted by the National Security Agency.

Sen. Arlen Specter's approach modifies his earlier position that the NSA eavesdropping program, which targets international telephone calls and e-mails in which one party is suspected of links to terrorists, must be subject to supervision by the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The new proposal specifies that it cannot "be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to gather foreign intelligence information or monitor the activities and communications of any person reasonably believed to be associated with a foreign enemy of the United States."

Bush has cited his constitutional authority as president as justification for undertaking the warrantless NSA surveillance.The White House and Vice President Cheney have said up to now that no additional legislation is necessary to bring the program within the law....

Okay, let's review...

In the mid '70s, Congress investigates the numerous abuses of executive power committed during the '60s and '70s (in Kennedy/Johnson administrations and most flagrantly by President Nixon) and concludes that this must never happen again, passing several laws (such as the War Powers Act) to make sure it does not. These laws give the government all the power they need to protect national security, but to do so with legal oversight to prevent future abuse. One such law- the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)- requires that warrants be issued for all surveillance, allows for secrecy and expediency in doing so, and makes it a crime for any government official to order warrantless surveillance. This law works perfectly through four administrations during the zenith of the Cold War and later conflicts. In 2001, an administration is sworn in with a Vice President who has long been a vocal supporter of limitless executive power. Later that year- even while Congress is (apparently wasting its time) amending FISA to give the President more leeway- said President secretly orders the NSA to begin a wiretapping program without warrants, in violation of existing law. In 2004, the NY Times learns of the program but does not report based on a request from the White House. A year later, they publish the story, which is followed in subsequent months by more revelations of how widespread the program is- involving thousands of innocent Americans, the acquisition of millions of private phone records, and targeting journalists among other news. As the White House stonewalls and gives unsatisfactory legal rationale for their actions, Congress initially is vocal in the majority against these actions, some even mentioning the "i" word. However, months of political pounding by the Vice President and others wears down Congress, who are now prepared to "compromise" with the White House, giving them the "option" of following the law at their discretion (but hey, no pressure) and insisting that they will not attempt to limit on exert their constitutionally-mandated oversight duties on the President's questionable actions.

Does that about sum up this madness?

But wait! It gets worse...
Another part of the Specter bill would grant blanket amnesty to anyone who authorized warrantless surveillance under presidential authority, a provision that seems to ensure that no one would be held criminally liable if the current program is found illegal under present law.

Forget Ford pardoning Nixon in '74. This is- in spirit, if not in legal actuality- a preemptive pardon of the President and those who aided him by the legislative branch for potentially criminal actions that they have almost totally failed to investigate! To say that this is beyond backwards and a betrayal of the system the Founders established would be an understatement.

Jack Cafferty's must-watch rant on this hits all the right points.

All this while Specter and Cheney continue the charade of their 'feud' to keep the press entertained and occupied... Of course, I am uncertain if the White House would even accept Specter's generous proposal because its premise of 'options' and 'amnesty' suggests that the President might not, in fact, have the inherent authority to do as he pleases in the neverending war on terror. If I were a betting man, I would bet heavily that this proposal will go nowhere, but the mere proposal of it reveals two things: 1) How willingly Congress is allowing the administration to castrate them, and 2) how strongly the Republicans are working together to sweep this under the rug... and the Democrats can't be bothered to notice, of course.

I sit here having another political crisis of faith. I'm worn out. I may need another catharsis.

Trying to wrap my head around all of this is difficult. Where most people still see a minor debate between the executive and legislative on surveillance activities in the war on terror, I see a major constitutional crossroads. We are either a country ruled by law or a country ruled by men. Thomas Jefferson said we are the former; George W says we are the latter. Who do you side with?

Looking back through the thus-far short history of this scandal (and comparing it to how other historically recent ones-- Watergate, Iran-Contra, Lewinsky-- went down), it is breathtaking to see how far down this is on the political radar. Just six months ago, the President admitted to one of the biggest abuses of power in decades and now members of Congress are scrambling to acquiesce to the whole thing because it's politically expedient to do so. I can not believe that a) this is not getting major press, and that b) people are so nonchalant about the whole thing. Perhaps the latter is easier to understand.

Our most basic freedoms are the ones we pay least attention to and therefore the easiest and quickest to erode. While in recent months, Americans have gotten up in arms in large numbers when they felt, for instance, their 'right' to inexpensive gasoline was being threatened, the creeping monarchism of the Executive branch barely registers on most people's radar. It doesn't affect our day-to-day lives, so it's deemed unimportant and filed in the 'meh' drawer. In fact, some of my closest friends have insisted I should discuss these things less because it makes me sound 'extreme'. But what about all of this is not extreme?

What we are really talking about here are the most basic building blocks of our republic- the rule of law, constitutional freedoms, separation of powers, etc. If we 'compromise' on those (to use the Washington Post's polite wording), then we have compromised away the basic values that this country was founded on. With the 230th anniversary of our independence approaching and our soldiers dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, perhaps that's something people should actually consider worth caring out.

We face a constitutional turning point in our country and everyone is asleep at the wheel.

Glenn Greenwald's on the job again with great analysis-
...Congressional abdication is so uniquely damaging because the Founders assumed that Congress would naturally and instinctively resist encroachments by the executive, and the resulting institutional tension -- the inevitable struggle for power between the branches -- is what would preserve governmental balance and prevent true abuses of power. But for the last five years, Congress has done the opposite of what the Founders envisioned. They have meekly submitted to the almost total elimination of their role in our Government and have quietly accepted consolidation of their powers in the President.

If the Congress is unmoved by their constitutional responsibilities, then at least basic human dignity ought to compel them to object to the administration's contempt for the laws they pass. After all, the laws which the administration claims it can ignore and has been breaking are their laws. The Senate passed FISA by a vote of 95-1, and the McCain torture ban by a vote of 90-9, and it is those laws which the President is proclaiming he will simply ignore. And yet not only have they not objected, they have endorsed and even celebrated the President's claimed power to ignore the laws passed by Congress. And that failure, more than anything else, is what has brought us to the real constitutional crisis we face as a result of having a President who claims the power to operate outside of, and above, the law....
I highly recommend reading the comments to his post. Very informative back-and-forth.

Digby weighs in as well.

UPDATE #2: For a similar/broader take on this, see a previous entry I did in February.

UPDATE #3: Sen. Specter is at it again, pretending he intends to rein in the President.

[Related report from the Village Voice- Justice Department's Black Site:
The administration censors internal probe of lawbreaking by the Oval Office and the NSA

Staying The Course, Etc.

Despite news that Iraq has finalized its government, President Bush still needs no exit strategy...

NY Times: Bush Wary on Hopes of Iraqi Timetable for Control
President Bush sought today to dampen any expectation that the new Iraqi government will soon be able to provide security for itself and the Iraqi people and thus allow American troops to come home.

While saying that he is "thrilled" that the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "a man with a lot of blood on his hands," has been eliminated, the president stopped short of endorsing a recent statement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Iraqi forces will be able to control their country within 18 months....

Yea, fuck you al-Maliki, who do you think you are, the leader of Iraq or something?

We've got oil to pump freedom to spread and, ummm, permanent bases to build?-
Congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the United States on record against the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country, a lawmaker and congressional aides said on Friday...

Gee, that's sure to allay Muslim fears that we intend to control the region military.

Finally, the President is going to figure out an Iraq strategy next week. Sweet!!! :-D

[Related- Troop Cuts in Iraq Won't Meet Goal This Year, Officials Say (NYT)]

Saturday Morning Funnies

Here are two cartoons I came across this week, both based around the same theme. Each has their charms. The first one certainly takes the cake for its depiction of President Bush as an idiot manchild wearing a helmet. My friend Anthony called that his favorite caricature of the President ever. Of course, the second one manages to incorporate Bush's Big Brother tendencies in addition to his gay-baiting, which deserves props. With our Constitution being kicked around like a soccer ball, it's good to see at least some quality cartoons being produced about it.

[PS- For the requisite Zarqawi cartoon, check out the always excellent Tom Toles- here.]

'Net Neutrality' Defeated In The House... Senate To Debate Next

In the battle for the future of the internets, Round One is corporations 1, actual people 0.

AP (via House passes telecommunications bill-
'Net neutrality' dominates debate

...The vote [on a new telecommunications bill] came shortly after the House rejected a Democratic-backed amendment aimed at better protecting Internet users from pricing or access discrimination that Internet providers might apply. The issue of "net neutrality" dominated debate on the bill..

...[Democrats] also said the bill does not adequately address "net neutrality," preventing companies from discriminating against competitors or less affluent consumers by restricting access or charging higher fees.

The telephone and cable companies that provide the service say further regulation is unnecessary and would hamper efforts to expand high speed services.

Demanding assurances of net neutrality are content providers such as Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Yahoo! Inc., and Internet users ranging from the Christian Coalition to rock musicians...

...Without that amendment, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, "telecommunications and cable companies will be able to create toll lanes on the information superhighway. This strikes at the heart of the free and equal nature of the Internet."...

Don't be surprised to be paying premiums for more popular sites in the future, ala cable TV movie channels.

You can see how each congressman voted- here. Guess which side stood up for neutrality?

Of course, Round Two- the Senate- may yield a different outcome. Fingers crossed.

For what was at stake in this fight, see yesterday's excellent Washington Post editorial:
No Tolls on The Internet

More analysis from Huffington Post's Eat The Press section and TPM Cafe.

Friday, June 09, 2006

I'm The Decider, Not The Explainer

President Bush once explains to us how it works...

"I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel I owe anybody an explanation."
-President George W. Bush

[Quote taken from a larger exploration of Bush- The New York Review of Books: Power Grab

Photo from 'Eat The Press'- I Never Thought I Would Say This, But The White House Could Learn A Thing Or Two About Spin]

It's Not Just Robert F. Kennedy Jr...

...More and more people are realizing the 2004 election was plagued by problems and fraud-

AP: Inquiry Finds Problems in 2004 Election
Many of the voting and counting mishaps of the bizarre 2000 general election were not fixed four years later and brand new problems arose, including a rash of fraudulent voter registrations in some areas, congressional investigators say...

But I'm sure everything will go smoothly this time around, right? (*sigh*)

[See also previous entry- The Right To Vote (*)]

Secret Prisons: As American As Apple Pie

Another update from the Washington Post on the CIA's secret torture prisons-

Washington Post: European Probe Finds Signs Of CIA-Run Secret Prisons
A European investigator concluded Wednesday that there are "serious indications" that the CIA operated secret prisons for senior al-Qaeda figures in Poland and Romania as part of a clandestine "spider's web" to catch, transfer and hold terrorism suspects around the world.

Dick Marty, a Swiss lawyer working on behalf of the Council of Europe, the continent's official human rights organization, said at least seven other European nations colluded with the CIA to capture and secretly detain terrorism suspects, including several who were ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing...

That last point is one of the big problems with this- besides the legal and moral issues, of course- when the administration chooses to fight a war that is so vaguely defined, we often fail to differentiate from the bad guys... and those that just look like them or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Haditha is further proof of this. And sure, 'mistakes' like that happen in every war, but very rarely have they have been done so systematically as part of a larger theory of lawlessness and power expansion. That is what makes much of this unique.

On a related note, I read this excellent editorial on Guantanamo in The Nation-
"We don't want to be the world's jailer," insists Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Really? The Bush Administration seems to be waking up to the realization that Guantánamo Bay shames the United States before the world. The President and the Secretary now portray themselves as hapless custodians caught between Al Qaeda operatives and a slowpoke Supreme Court. "I would like to close the camp and put the prisoners on trial," the President declared May 10. It's as if Bush, Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had never promulgated, approved or defended Guantánamo's law-free zone over the past four years.

The clock seems to be running down on Guantánamo. Last year Amnesty International secretary general Irene Khan was widely derided for describing Gitmo as the gulag of our times, but now impatience emanates from the world's capitals and even from the confines of the prison itself. In London, Lord Goldsmith--attorney general for Bush's staunchest ally and no stranger to harsh antiterrorism legislation--adopts Khan's analysis, calling Gitmo a global symbol of injustice: "The existence of Guantánamo Bay remains unacceptable." In Geneva the UN Commission Against Torture calls on the United States to close Guantánamo and any other prisons whose secrecy and lawlessness facilitate waterboarding, short-shackling or other brutalities that place our nation in violation of the Convention Against Torture. (CIA nominee Michael Hayden refused to condemn waterboarding at his recent confirmation hearing.) And in Guantánamo itself recently, a wave of suicide attempts was followed by a skirmish between guards and prisoners who had improvised weapons from lighting fixtures and electric fans.

While the White House party line on Guantánamo shifts, the lies that justify it go on...

And they won't end until the Supreme Courts stops them or until 2009, whichever comes first.

As I noted on Wednesday, Canada's recent terror success disproves the need for all of this.

Links of the Day

Is it Friday already? Oh, thank God.

While you're staring at the clock, waiting for the work week to end, here's some links...

-Tom Delay officially leaves Congress, regrets that he wasn't a bigger asshole:
DeLay leaves Congress with defense of partisanship

-Congress continues to max out the credit card on the war, but at least the Gulf Coast's getting some cash:
Iraq war, hurricane aid agreement reached

-Finally, Stephen Colbert delivers a rousing commencement speech:
Colbert Tells College Graduates: Get Your Own TV Show

...And Hannity Is Her Lucius Malfoy

As many of you no doubt have heard, She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has released a new book and has said more wacky things to get her name in the paper. And it worked like a charm. Her wacky hijinks on the Today Show had the following reactions: liberal blogosphere collectively foaming at the mouth, far-right bloggers praising her, moderate right bloggers politely condemning her, and even a front page cover on a NY daily newspaper! Jeepers!

Now I have a strict policy on this blog of not giving You-Know-Who any free publicity, but this madness needs to end. No, not her madness, that will continue as long as Regnery still gives out book deals and as long Hannity still has a show on Fox. The madness I'm talking about are the liberals who give her credibility by even acknowledging her existence. Oh sure, I understand it's important for people to stand up against right-wing buffoonery, but there are bigger fish to fry in that sea. And yes, the producers of the Today show are to blame for even inviting her on a guest (if a liberal counterpart existed for her, no network would ever give him/her airtime... case in point: CNN's treatment toward the calmer Micheal Berg), but it's time everyone realize that this is all staged. Do you think she really believes these things? Maybe, maybe not. But the larger truth is that she decides what would be the most inflammatory thing to say (blow up the NY Times building? Nuke the Middle East? Been there, done that) that will maximize her press- she does it every time and everyone keeps falling for it. And- surprise- her book winds up #1 at As long as her tactics are successful, they will continue. This should be the turning point- from now on, You Know Who must get the silent treatment. For when an actor's box office totals dwindle, their career will slowly fade away.

Finally, I think Andrew Sullivan's take on her is now the definitive one-
...But the problem with [You-Know-Who] is that she is a form of camp, is she not? The minute you take her seriously, you lose grip on her reality. She's not a social or political commentator. She's a drag queen impersonating a fascist. I don't even begin to believe she actually believes this stuff. It's post-modern performance-art... Half the time, I tend to think that a Hannity or O'Reilly or Malkin actually believes their own rhetoric. With [You-Know-Who], I don't believe it for a second. And so her vileness cannot be taken seriously. She is worse than vile. She is just empty.

(bold added by moi... and You-Know-Who's name removed)

As he said elsewhere, the real joke is on her fans... like these clowns, for instance.

This will be the last I intend to write about this person. I hope others will follow suit.

[PS- For a humorous look into the right-wing mind, read Michael Smerconish who finds her rhetoric merely the equivalent of an anti-Bush shirt he saw at an airport once.]

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sanity- 1, Republicans- 0 (Pt. II)

In a total shocker, Congress does the right thing...

Reuters: U.S. Senate blocks permanent estate tax repeal
The U.S. Senate on Thursday killed a bill backed by President George W. Bush that would have permanently repealed estate taxes.

On a vote of 57-41, the Senate blocked consideration of a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would wipe out what Republicans call the "death tax."...

Sorry millionaires, no luck today. Apparently someone reminded our fine friends in the Senate that more tax breaks for rich folk in a time of massive deficits and war looks bad to voters. Score one for the little guy.

al-Zarqawi Killed

Good riddance.

AP: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed in air raid
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader in Iraq who waged a bloody campaign of suicide bombings and beheadings of hostages, has been killed in a precision airstrike, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday. It was a long-sought victory in the war in Iraq...

Full coverage on Yahoo- here.

Now onward at last to Osama?

Still not awake enough to write in detail, but here are some other blog reactions I came across this morning... AJ at AmericaBlog says "GREAT. Whatever you think about the war in Iraq, Zarqawi was a significant threat to Coalition troops and Iraqi military forces and civilians, and his death is a victory for progress and security... While the so-called al Qa'ida in Iraq was a relatively small group, it's an important success for both tactical and psychological reasons due to the disproportionate impact they had through mass casualty operations." A commenter at Huffington Post (noteworthy since most of the comments there are flamewar insults) states "The killing of al-Zarqawi is a great event for the US military, and they should be lauded for it. However, this is now the important time. Just as the toppling of Saddam left a power vacuum into which al-Zarqawi stepped into, the military and the US government cannot allow the power void of al-Zarqawi to be filled by something more sinister. This is an opportunity for a real turning point in Iraq. I just hope that the turn is not immediately eastward." What they said.

All analysis aside, much deserved praise this morning to our troops for a job well done.

UPDATE: Official responses from Pres. Bush, Sec. Rumsfeld, and other world leaders.

Spin-free blog reactions from State of the Day, TPM Cafe, Think Progress, and Juan Cole.

Finally, a interesting CNN interview with Michael Berg- whose son was murdered by Zarqawi.

UPDATE #2: Must-read column by David Corn- The Death of Zarqawi

UPDATE #3: A great analysis by The Independent (UK)- Al-Zarqawi: A life drenched in blood

[Related- US ambassador warns of Zarqawi backlash (AP)]

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Cheney Pulls The Strings

When a congressional attempt at oversight is thwarted, be sure Dick Cheney is behind it...

USA Today: Senators won't grill phone companies
Lawmakers, Cheney strike deal on NSA

A last-minute deal Tuesday with Vice President Cheney averted a possible confrontation between the Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. telephone companies about the National Security Agency's database of customer calling records.

The deal was announced by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. They said Cheney, who plays a key role supervising NSA counterterrorism efforts, promised that the Bush administration would consider legislation proposed by Specter that would place a domestic surveillance program under scrutiny of a special federal court.

In return, Specter agreed to postpone indefinitely asking executives from the nation's telecommunication companies to testify about another program in which the NSA collects records of domestic calls...

...The deal prompted protests from Democratic lawmakers, who said the Republican-controlled Congress had refused to challenge the administration's expansion of presidential authority. “Why don't we just recess for the rest of the year, and the vice president will just tell the nation what laws we'll have?” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the committee....

Specter = tool; Leahy = man who understands the concept of checks and balances. Dick Cheney's likely to tell him to go fuck himself again. This move prompted one helluva rant from CNN's Jack Cafferty, who feels particularly betrayed after praising Specter last month under the assumption that he would use his committee for its required oversight duties. Here's what he had to say-

CAFFERTY: What an idiot I am. I actually thought at the time Senator Specter was going to exercise his responsibility to provide some congressional oversight of the executive branch, you know, see if the White House is playing by the rules. Silly me.

In the end, Senator Specter has turned out to be yet another gutless Republican worm cowering in the face of pressure from the administration and fellow Republicans. There are not going to be any hearings. Americans won't find out if their privacy is being illegally invaded.

You know what the Senate Judiciary Committee settled for instead? Senator Orrin Hatch said he has won assurances from Vice President Dick Cheney that the White House will review proposed changes to the law that would restrict certain aspects of the NSA program.

Dick Cheney is going to decide if it's OK to spy on American citizens without a warrant. And this worthless bunch senators has agreed to let him do it. It's a disgrace.

Crooks and Liars has video, if interested.

Meanwhile, ol' 'Maverick' Specter's pretending to be angry again. Right on schedule too.

USA Today had another story the other day which, not directly related to this one, does summarize how backwards the people running Congress are these days. The title of the article says that Congress is "pushing back against Bush's expansion of presidential authority", but that headline is very deceiving. Here's what they're pushing back against-
Republican and Democratic House leaders join forces to protest the FBI search of a congressman's office. The Senate Intelligence Committee demands fuller briefings from the CIA. The Supreme Court hears a landmark case challenging presidential war powers.

After five years of a concerted White House campaign, there are tentative signs that Congress and the courts are beginning to push back against what has been the greatest expansion of presidential powers in a generation or more...

Good news to some extent (hey, it's something), but it's noteworthy that caused this pushback was not any of the major revelations like domestic spying or secret prisons or signing statements, but the investigation of a criminally corrupt congressman. To recap, when it comes to our privacy and constitutional rights, Congress is happy to let the White House sell us out. But when it comes to their privacy and constitutional rights, boy howdy Congress is on the ball. The article does note some positive developments- measures demanding more thorough congressional oversight, the McCain torture ban - but those are symptoms... they fail to solve to solve anything unless they deal with the larger disease that is a President who believes he is above the law and the constitutional separation of powers. Until they do, Congress can pass all the laws and measures they want, but (as with the torture ban) the President will still feel free to disregard them at will.

On a related note, Greg Djerejian explains with examples Cheney's key role in unraveling the restrictions on torture and how this administration has refused to learn from any of its mistakes. Frightening.

[PS- With news like this of the Republicans laying down for the administration's abuses of power, the Democratic base is demanding that members of their party pick up the slack. A Knight-Ridder report on this states "The fault line is evident as Democrats gather for spring and summer sessions filled with demands for bolder action by the congressional wing of their party, especially if they win control of the House or Senate in November." These demands are stronger still in some states where Democratic delegates have proposed resolutions for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Of course, the Democratic leaders in Congress reaction to all this? Continue to sweep the base under the rug, lest they scare away swing voters or upset Tim Russert or something.]

Sanity- 1, Republicans- 0

Well, as expected, the Senate voted against the gay marriage amendment and it goes now to die a much-deserved political death with other GOP overreaches like the Schiavo incident and Social Security privatization.

In more encouraging news, the move appears to have worked against the Republicans, as I noted on Monday. Rather than energizing the base, it reminded them (ala the $100 check plan because of gas prices) how desperate the Republican party is to hold onto power and how out of touch they are with the real issues in this country. In that regard, it is almost good this was brought up again this year... it exposed the anti-gay-marriage movement for the farce that it is.

On this note, conservative pundit Bill Bennett was on the Daily Show last night and he and Stewart debated the gay marriage issue. Stewart took him to the woodshed. Stewart did what he does best... takes these issues and boils them down to their most basic points. In doing so, he exposed how silly the right-wing argument about this is and by the end he even got Bennet to admit- albeit in his own 'activist judges' way- that the debate is over and gay marriage is coming. You can see video- here. Money section-
Stewart: So why not encourage gay people to join in in that family arrangement if that is what provides stability to a society?

Bennett: Well I think if gay... gay people are already members of families...

Stewart: What?!

Bennett: They're sons and they're daughters..

Stewart: So that's where the buck stops, that's the gay ceiling.

Bennett Look, it's a debate about whether you think marriage is between a man and a women.

Stewart: I disagree, I think it's a debate about whether you think gay people are part of the human condition or just a random fetish.

Watch the full interview; it's a great back-and-forth.

[PS- Not all good news... Macy's in Boston caves to conservative activists and removes a gay pride window display. And this is in a state where gay marriage is legal. Pretty pathetic.]

[PPS- The House is expected to give this nonsense a try next month. Sigh.]

Forgetting Katrina

Nine months after one of the worst disasters in U.S. history, it's been all but forgotten by the people in power.

Arianna Huffington looks at how this has happened-
Why, despite the occasional big story hitting the front page of the New York Times or leading the nightly news, the event John Zogby predicts will become more of a defining moment for America's future than 9/11, has been largely forgotten by the public -- and, even more critically, by our leaders.

Now, I understand why the GOP has been only too happy to sweep it under the rug. The last things they want voters reminded of are Bush playing that guitar while New Orleans drowned, his presidential flyover, his promise to rebuild Trent Lott's house, and the glaring chasm between his post-Katrina rhetoric -- "We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives" -- and the stark current reality. Over nine months later, 250,000 are still homeless or displaced, bodies are still being found, tens of thousands of homes still need rebuilding, disaster preparedness for New Orleans has been cut in half, and hurricane recovery funding is still slogging its way through Congress.

But why are Democrats sending mixed messages about Katrina? Yes, the Democratic National Committee held its annual spring meeting in April in New Orleans, saying the devastated city would be a symbolic image for the 2006 campaign. "The Republicans," said Howard Dean, "have cut and run when it comes to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and we will not do that."

But yesterday, on the floor of the Senate, while denouncing the ludicrousness of the GOP's pandering gay marriage ban, Harry Reid castigated the administration for avoiding the most pressing issues facing Americans: "high gas prices, the war in Iraq, the national debt, health care, senior citizens, education, crime, trade policies, stem cell research." Notice Katrina didn't even make the list. An incontrovertible testament to the incompetence and misplaced priorities of the GOP, yet New Orleans doesn't even beat out stem cell research in Reid's Top Nine concerns?

I couldn't help but wonder if Katrina didn't make the cut because it's not polling very well these days.

What she said.... And she's right, both parties are guilty on this one.

New Orleans deserves better than being on the second-tier of some political to-do list.

The Lessons From Canada's Anti-Terror Success

This is a big story that occurred during my brief break from blogging.... The Canadian government arrested over a dozen people suspected of planning a string of terrorist attacks in that country. The exact details of their plot are still being figured out (some alleged plots include attacking high-profile targets in Ontario and an attack on the Prime Minister and Parliament), but the suspects are already being processed through Canada's legal system...

AFP: Canadian terrorist suspects appear in court
Fifteen Canadian terror suspects arrested over the weekend appeared in court under tight security, as details emerged about their alleged homegrown plot.

One defense lawyer told reporters outside the courthouse that his client was accused of plotting to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The allegations of an Al-Qaeda-inspired plot to attack high-profile targets in Ontario, Canada's largest province, has rocked the country, and officials have signaled more arrests are coming...

What a stark contrast to the Orwellian way the U.S. has dealt with terrorism thus far.

While some aspects of the story seem a bit odd at first (beheading the Prime Minister?), Canada's success in uncovering this terror group is noteworthy. But what is most noteworthy to me how is Canada's success here disproves the myths that President Bush and his most ardent supporters have been spewing for the past few years. In order to uncover this plot, Canada didn't need to detain these men in military prisons without due process, did not need to set up secret prisons in foreign countries, did not need to torture at will, did not need to order wiretaps without warrants or legal oversight, did not need to collect the phone and internet records of its citizens, did not need to set up color-coded terror alert charts and other political tools meant to install fear in its citizens, did not need to consolidate power in one branch of government at the expense of others, and did not need to launch preemptive wars in countries not related to the terror threat.

They did it with the regular tools that they, and we, have always had at our disposal. Amazing, no?

It's almost as if the reason our President is doing those things has nothing to do with terrorism at all...

[Related blog post- Remedial NSA eavesdropping course (Glenn Greenwald)]

U.S. Offers Iran Incentives To End Uranium Enrichment

An unexpected turn of events that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of press...

AP: U.S. to give Iran nuclear technology
A package of incentives presented Tuesday to Iran includes a provision for the United States to supply Tehran with some nuclear technology if it stops enriching uranium — a major concession by Washington, diplomats said.

The offer was part of a series of rewards offered to Tehran by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, according to the diplomats, who were familiar with the proposals and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were disclosing confidential details of the offer.

The package was agreed on last week by the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — the five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, in a bid to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran...

A significant change in our policy. Iran is currently weighing the offer.

Hmmm. Maybe Cheney's not gonna get to nuke them after all...

Related: Son of toppled shah sees Iran foot-dragging (AP)

[PS- Fox News has advice on how to help the stock market- bomb Iran! How nice.]

The Cost Of Bush's Border Politics

President Bush supports the troops the base...

UPI: Border mission drains war 'reset' fund
When the Senate took $1.9 billion out of the war supplemental to fund border security last month, $1.6 billion came out of funds to replace equipment destroyed or worn out from four years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The money was diverted at the behest of the White House in a last-minute bid to address growing political unrest about illegal immigration. The Office of Management and Budget championed the change without input from the Army or the Marine Corps whose budgets were sliced, a Pentagon budget official told United Press International last week...

...Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul McHale said in May the Defense Department will be completely reimbursed for the costs of the border deployment, about $756 million.

It will be reimbursed, but with money taken directly out of the Marine Corps` and Army`s pocket -- $500 million and $1.1 billion respectively -- that was intended to replace trucks, jammers and radios...

Sorry soldiers, you can have new armor next year, the GOP has an election to win.

And since we are told that much of this beefed-up border presence is about the security of our border in dangerous times, do you think the news of apprehended terrorists in Canada will bring conservative demands to build a wall on our northern border as well? Because, after all, this has nothing to do with xenophobic, anti-Mexican sentiment, right? Of course not. Nope. No sir.

[PS- Speaking of this immigration debate, look who the right-wing's fervor is bringing out into the open...]

Quote of the Day II: Limbaugh's On The Goofballs Again

Rush Limbaugh looks at the Haditha massacre and only sees more evidence of the liberal conspiracy...

"This Haditha story, this Haditha incident, whatever, this is it folks, this is the final big push on behalf of the Democratic Party, the American left, and the Drive-By Media to destroy our effort to win the war in Iraq. That’s what Haditha represents — and they are going about it gleefully. They are ecstatic about it… Folks, let me just put it in graphic terms. It is going to be a gang rape. There is going to be a gang rape by the Democratic Party, the American left and the Drive-By Media, to finally take us out in the war against Iraq. Make no bones about it."

Rush, seek help immediately. Thanks.

Audio- here.

As Think Progress notes, "taking the allegations seriously is essential to our success in creating a secure and democratic Iraq. The Iraqi people need to know the truth, which is that the alleged conduct is not tolerated in the United States military or in American society. It requires a thorough investigation by the United States government, thorough coverage by the United States media, and appropriate outrage by the American public, left, right, and center. Anything less does a disservice to all the troops in Iraq who have held themselves to highest ethical standards under extreme pressure."

What they said.

[Related blog post- How Can Uncivilized People Conduct a ‘Clash of Civilizations'? Ask Tony Blankley]

Quote of the Day: George Will Describes Anal Sex For You

George Will explains to us all the lessons of AIDS, 25 years later...

By 1987, when President Ronald Reagan gave his first speech on the subject, 20,798 Americans had died, and his speech, not surprisingly, did not mention any connection to the gay community. No president considers it part of his job description to tell the country that the human rectum, with its delicate and absorptive lining, makes anal-receptive sexual intercourse dangerous when HIV is prevalent.

Yes, if only Reagan had described to Americans the mechanics of anal sex in detail, things could've been so different...

[Washington Post: 25 Years of Deadly Lessons]

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bush And Dobson Sitting In A Tree...

So the President gave his big anti-gay speech today. Marriage is under attack!!!! From uhhh, activist judges and uhhh, homos, and uhhh terrorists and stuff. Surprise surprise, though, the President made sure the crazy religious fundamentalists who orchestrated this sham were kept hidden out of camera range during the speech. And in the White House Press Room, Tony Snow referred to the anti-gay measure as a civil rights bill and, when questioned about that bizarre statement, found himself stumbling yet again.

Still some posts by Andrew Sullivan give me hope that, as I asserted in my entry last night, most Americans- conservatives included- would see through this transparent ploy. He links to a Fox News website item on the measure, which has reader comments at the bottom. While there are the few that post things like "Common sense dictates that marriage is ONLY between a man and a woman. Unfortunately we have to resort to a constitutional amendment to affirm what we have all known for thousands of years.", most seem to see this for what it is. Here are two encouraging comments-

"What we have here is a too obvious political play that unfortunately scapegoats a minority as a means to gather votes. This is unkind, manipulative and divisive. My wife and I are Christians. We are not remotely confused abut our own marriage. Are we supposed to care about this because some other Christians are offended? Does this really threaten traditional marriage? Are there truly couples in traditional marriages who are personally confused and threatened by this? Fear not! We know two women who both earlier had children from a traditional marriage. They later lived with one another. They’ve also made sure their children have male influences. Why not let them and all their children have health insurance benefits and no extra problems? I say this to President Bush: We as a nation ought not impose particular religious beliefs on strangers doing no harm in the name of gathering votes."

And the money comment, which says it all-
"I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. That's what makes it so painful to watch the Bush administration set up another silly straw man issue in order to score a few political points. A gay marriage amendment? Forgive me, but who cares? We have stellar deficits, a pending Iraqi civil war, a foreign policy that in shambles, border security issues, gas at $3.00 a gallon etc. As a Republican, I cannot wait for the next presidential election. I'm sick of my party being led by a man whose sense of achievement is predicated on catching a big fish."
Feel the anger.

In closing I post an email Andrew Sullivan received which gives me hope Bush and his bigotry are going down in flames-
Having just watched George Bush speaking in his desultory way about gay marriage, I felt a secret glee rise up within me. I think we just watched the death of the opposition to gay marriage.

When a hugely unpopular President rises and speaks with the megaphone of the Presidency about an issue that most consider to be deeply personal, he drags this issue from the realm of family, morals, and religious tradition, into the crass world of politics. By tying gay marriage to the fading star of contemporary 'conservatism', the President has given many people who may otherwise be uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex relationships the concrete reason they need to change their minds. 'If these guys are so hard against it,' millions of Americans without a direct stake in this debate must be thinking, 'it may be a good thing'.

Just as George Wallace's extremism nailed shut the sarcophagus of Jim Crow, so this George will be trotted out as the personification of the bigotry of an era passed. Sometimes, a man's reputation rings louder then his arguments. George Bush's failed Presidency will drag this issue down as does a drowning man a healthy swimmer.

Fingers crossed, fingers crossed...

[PS- The AP article: Bush rallies gay marriage opponents ]

Is This America?...

...Because it does get so confusing these days.

LA Times: Army Manual to Skip Geneva Detainee Rule
The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

The decision could culminate a lengthy debate within the Defense Department but will not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged.

For more than a year, the Pentagon has been redrawing its policies on detainees, and intends to issue a new Army Field Manual on interrogation, which, along with accompanying directives, represents core instructions to U.S. soldiers worldwide...

Any debate that the President took the McCain torture ban seriously is over.

The President has made his position on that clear... he is above the law.

And guess who pushed for this the strongest?-
The move to restore U.S. adherence to Article 3 was opposed by officials from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, government sources said. David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and Stephen A. Cambone, Defense undersecretary for intelligence, said it would restrict the United States' ability to question detainees.

My goodness, I am shocked! The usual criminals strike again.

Meanwhile, Steve Benen at Washington Monthly gets why this is so important-
I can't help but wonder if Bush administration officials know or care about how this undermines our standing and credibility in the world. It's simply breathtaking. As Kevin put it a while back, "It's simply impossible to persuade the rest of the world that we're the good guys as long as we persist in plainly repugnant behavior."


Some good news on the horizon, though... the Boston Globe reports that the American Bar Association will tackle the President's use of signing statements to circumvent the law and the will of Congress:
Bar group will review Bush's legal challenges

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Random Ramblings

Back from a long weekend of working and trying to stay awake doing so. Too tired to do any in-depth blogging, though I imagine that will change when President Bush (again) uses the month in which Gay Pride Week falls to play the latest election year round of bash the gays. Yes, with record low approval ratings, reports of massacres in Iraq, and Republicans threatening to stay home on election day, El Presidente is all prepared to announce tomorrow that he will cave into the political blackmail of right-wing religious thugs by throwing them a constitutional gay marriage ban bone he knows will never pass and that everyone knows that he doesn't really give a shit about anyway. Isn't he such a strong leader?

He can't catch Osama, can't stand up to James Dobson, can't be bothered with pesky exit strategies, can't be bothered to veto things, can't be bothered to follow the laws he took an oath to protect, etc. I know I may be repeating myself here, but this all blows my mind. The President- no matter what his political goals for doing so are- is asking for discrimination to be written into the U.S. Constitution. Why it's almost enough to me make more cynical...

I remain hopeful that the majority of Americans do see through this all.

Anyway, before I sleep and get my energy back, I have posted some entries below stating things I agree with on a number of important issues- the President's continued use of fear to keep the American people in control, the Haditha fallout, and the political mood of the country. For your reading pleasure, of course.

So how's by you, everyone?

[PS- My friend Armando sent me the following article... a troubling and important problem:
-The Independent (UK): Public health and religion: Aids, America, abstinence...]

[PPS- This was the title of an actual AP report: 'Prospective Democratic chairs all liberal'. This tells you so much about the media. This was on the main page of Yahoo News the other day. It was actually considered newsworthy that if the Democrats gain control of Congress, many Committee chairs would be.... liberal. OMGZ! Kudos to the AP for getting to the bottom of this intriquing matter. This article illustrates two things- one, the extremely odd way the media covers Democrats; and two, how strongly the word 'liberal' has been branded as a negative word. As shameful as it is predictable. If the situation were reversed- and Democrats were in danger of losing congressional control to Republicans- can anyone picture an AP article entitled 'Prospective Republican chairs all conservative'? I can't.]

Letting Others Do The Blogging For Me: 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'

Via Firedoglake, a great post at the Washington Note sums up why the President- and his party- are in such a bad place these days and why this November is so important-

…It has been said that Karl Rove is "Bush’s Brain". The more important question is: Who is Bush’s conscience? With half of America in a state of total outrage, with independent America turning in 80% numbers against the status quo and with growing unrest among conservatives, what is the Bush-Rove response? Well, its their old standby, lets demonize the gays!…

Think about this: America is engaged in a great battle of ideas against an enemy that murders children in houses of worship and cuts off the heads of the innocent, and our leaders have failed to win this battle even against an enemy so hideously evil.

And what is the response of Bush and Rove? When they are not demonizing the gays, they are waving the flag, preparing to challenge the patriotism of political opponents who prefer supporting those who wear that flag on their shoulder to using the flag as a partisan weapon in the endless political wars that will be the sad legacy of those who never learned that we are, indeed, in this together.

The reason America stands on the brink of an epic election is that this President, his party, and his apologist[s] have let loose dark forces of division and dishonor that have divided our country, alienated much of decent opinion around the world, hurt our military, abused our freedoms in the name of a politics of fear and let loose in the land a kind of politics that violates the cardinal rules of two hundred years of the American family.

In this dark and demeaning vision of political war, anything goes, to win. A heroic Senator who will spend his life in a wheelchair as the price of his heroism is slandered by a guy who never served. A recipient of the bronze and silver stars is smeared because he is in the wrong political party. A Marine Corps hero who is one of strongest supporters of the troops who ever served in Congress is called a coward on the Floor of Congress. A Chief of Staff of the Army is demeaned by ideologues and partisans who were hell bent for a war they knew nothing about.

Six courageous retired Generals speak out with conscience and the editorial page of the Washington Times prints the statute on sedition. The cable talkies run segments with titles such as Hollywood Hates America. When the topic shifts to the atrocity of Haditha one of America’s leading right wing mouthpieces says these things always happen in way and cites, shame, shame, shame, shame and infamy to him, the Marines who took Iwo Jima and the Army heroes who took Normandy with the slander that they too committed acts that were comparable to Haditha. Who in the hell do these bums think they are?

The man who sits where Washington sat, where Jefferson sat, where Lincoln sat, claims he has the unilateral, inherent power to abrogate even the Bill of Rights The man who put his hand on the Bible with the trust that the laws are faithfully executed claims he has the unilateral, inherent power to violate the laws of the land at his personal whim, and at this writing, there are more than 700 laws that he asserts the right to violate today. The man entrusted with the legacy of Founding Fathers who were among the greatest and most timeless visionaries who ever walked the earth, claims he can operate beyond the reach of courts, beyond the reach of Congress, without the knowledge of the American people.

Here is our answer to this litany of outages. The Founding Fathers were right: they knew America, this land we love, this land we share, the land of freedom and democracy was based on timeless truths that were so brilliant and profound because they were so simple and so right.

We Americans are all part of a great family, coming together from different backgrounds, with different viewpoints. Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Franklin and the others knew that in our America, we begin with an attitude of mutual respect, shared patriotism, a willingness to put our little differences aside to stand together for the more important things that constitute our common trust. Then, the Founders created institutions that were built from that attitude of shared Americanism, separation of powers, divided government, a free press based on the right to know and on the judgment that an informed citizenry will ultimately take the right course whatever our differences and debates of the moment.

The partisan extremism, demeaning attitudes, divisive strategies, disrespectful contempt of the cardinal spirit of unity and the cardinal institutions of democracy have led George W. Bush and his vision of one party rule inexorably, inevitably, to a continuing series of catastrophic disasters that will only end, when the cardinal rules of Americanism are restored. That is what the 2006 election is all about. Across the Nation and around the world today, we now know, for whom the bell tolls…

Sounds about right to me.

Letting Others Do The Blogging For Me: 'America Deserves Better'

Andrew Sullivan has a great post looking at the Haditha massacre and what it represents-
From the moment George W. Bush exempted U.S. military forces from the Geneva Conventions if "military necessity" demanded it, he sent a message. From the moment George W. Bush refused to accept Donald Rumsfeld's repeated offers to resign after Abu Ghraib, he sent a message. From the moment, George W. Bush appended a signing statement to the McCain Amendment, arguing that as commander-in-chief, he was not subject to the ban on torture and abuse of military prisoners, the president sent a message.

Those messages - in a tense and dangerous war, where bad things will always happen - made a difficult situation one where abuse and war crimes were almost bound to take place. And command responsibility in the military goes upward. The president cannot fill the role of being commander-in-chief in order to declare "Mission Accomplished" and then choose not to fill the role when his troops commit war-crimes and torture and atrocities. In what George W. Bush himself calls a "responsibility society," he has ultimate responsibility for the forces he commands. And there is a direct and obvious line between his decisions to break decades' long adherence to the Geneva Conventions and the pandemic of torture, and now incidents of war crimes, that have plagued this war and stained the honor of this country.

To say this is not to be, as Glenn Reynolds argues, "pathetic and poisonous." It is to face the fact that this president has formally lowered the moral standards for American warfare - in writing, and by his actions. He was given a chance to stop this with the McCain Amendment, and he dodged it. He is now reaping the whirlwind. We all are - not the least the vast majority of great and honorable soldiers whose profession has been stained by a derelict defense secretary and a torture-condoning president. The troops deserve so much better. So does America.

And so did the people of Iraq.

Letting Others Do The Blogging For Me: 'Fear Will Keep The Local Systems In Line'

In a recent entry, I mentioned that I was reading Glenn Greenwald's excellent new book, 'How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok'. I finished it today and cannot recommend it enough.

In one chapter, he explores the administration's use of fear and the role that has played in keeping the scandals involving his power grabs so under control. It is one of the most concise and pitch-perfect summaries of the state of fear that the Bush administration has worked so hard to envelope American with... and the dangerous implications that this has for democracy. Below I copy the introduction-
In one sense, it is difficult to understand how the Bush administration been able to embrace such radical theories of executive power, and to engage in such recognizably an-American conduct -- first in the shadows and now quite openly-- without prompting a far more intense backlash from the country than we have seen. It is true that the President's approval ratings have sunk to new lows in 2005 and 2006. The broad and bipartisan support he commanded in the two years after the 9/11 has vanished almost completely. And yet, despite all of the public opinion trends and the President's steadily declining popularity, there has been no resounding public rejection of the administration's claims to virtually limitless executive power and its systematic violations of the nation's laws.

That is because the Bush administration has in its arsenal one very potent weapon-- and one weapon only-- which it has repeatedly used: fear. Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans have been bombarded with warnings, with color-coded "alerts", with talk of mushroom clouds and nefarious plots to blow up bridges and tall buildings, with villains assigned cartoon names such as "dirty bomber", "Dr. Germ", and so on. And there has been a constant barrage from the White House of impending threats that generate fear-- fear of terrorism, fear of more 9/11-style attacks, fear of nuclear annihilation, fear of our ports being attacked, fear of our water systems being poisoned-- and, of course, fear of excessive civil liberties or cumbersome laws jeapordizing our "homeland security".

Our very survival is at risk, we are told. We face an enemy unlike any we have seen before, more powerful than anything we have previously encountered. President is devoted to protecting us from the terrorists. We have to invade and occupy Iraq because the terrorists will kill us all if we do not. We must allow the President to incarcerate American citizens without due process, employ torture as a state-sanctioned weapon, eavesdrop on our private conversations, and even violate the law, because the terrorists are so evil and so dangerous that we cannot have any limits on the power of the President if we want him to protect us from the dangers in the world.

And later in the chapter he notes why it is so hard for people to cut through that fear-
[O]ne rarely hears anyone arguing that the terrorism threat, like any other threat, should be viewed in perspective and subjected to rational risk-benefit assessments. That is because opinions about terrorism are the new form of political correctness, and even hinting that this threat is not the all-consuming, existential danger to our republic portrayed by the White House is liable to draw questions about one's patriotism and one's sanity.

These themes are seen again this weekend as Glenn analyzes the reactions to the news that Canada apprehended some potential terrorists in his latest blog post:
Remedial NSA eavesdropping course