Saturday, June 17, 2006

Specter Serious About Spying Amnesty / Gov't Stonewalls Courts

One week ago, I wrote a detailed post about the latest- and most frustrating- development in the scandal surrounding President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program. A Washington Post report stated that Sen. Specter "has proposed legislation that would give President Bush the option of seeking a warrant from a special court" and that the bill also "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." In summary, it is as constitutionally ass-backwards a piece a proposal as there ever was. Sen. Specter appeared to be doing what he always does- shouting to the cameras about how he will rein in the President publicly, while giving him what he wants privately.

But then the next day, Sen. Specter went on CNN and said the story was a lie. A twist!

It turns out that the liar, not surprisingly, is Specter. The Post story was accurate.

Blogger and lawyer Glenn Greenwald was able to obtain a copy of the proposed legislation that the Post wrote about and has concluded that their interpretation of it is accurate. Specter's proposed bill wishes to amend- with retroactive authority- the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), so that the President's warrantless wiretapping would become now, and forever, legal. The implications of this are staggering. The main way he would do this is, after each part in the original FISA law stating wiretapping is only legal as "authorized by statute", by adding "or under the constitutional authority of the executive"... the President's questionable constitutional authority in this regard being the White House's main defense (now that their original defense based around the Afghanistan war resolution was laughed out of Congress). Specter's planned acquiesence to the White House's warped defense is despite his previous public condemnations of their argument as "strained" and "unrealistic".

Greenwald looks at what this all means-
Currently, Section 109(a) of FISA provides that "A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally - (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute . . . ." That means that anyone who eavesdropping on Americans without complying with the warrant requirements of the statute (FISA) is committing a felony. To amend this provision to include the phrase "or under the constitutional authority of the executive" after "authorized by statute," makes it legal to eavesdrop not only in compliance with FISA (i.e., by obtaining a warrant), but also under the "constitutional authority" of the President to engage in warrantless eavesdropping even if that warrantless eavesdropping is prohibited by FISA (which it is).

Put another way, since 1978 in this country, there has been only one way to legally eavesdrop on Americans -- by complying with FISA. This amendment adds a second way to legally eavesdrop on Americans -- without warrants, under the President's direction. And astonishingly, the amendments are made retroactive all the way back to 1978, which means that the President's illegal behavior during the last four years in ordering eavesdropping without complying with FISA's requirements will be cleansed of their criminal nature and made legal, as a result of this newly created "second way" of legally eavesdropping on Americans...

He concludes-
The White House insists that it has clear legal authority for warrantless eavesdropping, so why are retroactive amendments to FISA's criminal provisions necessary at all? And if we stand by and allow the Republicans in Congress to legislatively exonerate the President and his aides from breaking the law, it is hard to imagine what we won't stand by and tolerate. If the President can break the law and then use his party's control over the Congress to grant him legislative immunity from the consequences of his criminal behavior, no hyperbole is required to say that the rule of law exists only as an illusion.

And, once again, that's what this scandal is really about.

Meanwhile, an update to the case in the U.S. District Court in Detroit I wrote about on Monday, which is the first to look at the President's spying program. The case is quickly getting tied up in Orwellian gridlock, as the government's lawyers are refusing to cooperate and are insisting that this case should not even be tried because it's bad for national security for the courts to review the President's actions. Invoking the state secrets privilege, the lawyer said "the evidence we need to demonstrate to you that it lawful cannot be disclosed without that process itself causing grave harm to United States national security." Well that settles that then, no? As the NY Times notes, "The privilege can limit and even extinguish cases that would reveal national security information, and it is fast becoming one of the Justice Department's favorite tools in defending court challenges to its efforts to combat terrorism." Still, even if we accept their argument that revealing program details could be harmful, it ultimately irrelevant to determining whether or not the program is simply legal or not.

Anonymous Liberal, guest-blogging for Greenwald, summarizes this point-
The President and the Attorney General have publicly admitted that the NSA program involves exactly the sort of warrantless surveillance which FISA forbids. This is not in dispute. They claim, however, that the president has the inherent authority under article II and the statutory authority under the AUMF to disregard FISA's prohibitions. Those are purely legal arguments, the resolution of which in no way depends on the as-of-yet undisclosed details of the program.

So even if we take the administration's word that disclosure of these remaining details would be harmful to national security, it's hard to see how that matters. The government should not be allowed to invoke the "state secrets" doctrine to dispose of a case that can be litigated without reference to those "state secrets."

As a commenter to his entry notes- "The moment we start saying that what the law says (which is an inevitable consequent of saying what it allows) is a 'state secret', we've entered the realm of Kafka's worst nightmares." The Kafka-esque nature of the Bush administration's argument is further explored, in regards to their rendition and secrets prisons in addition to this wiretapping program, by columnist Michael Kinsley at the Washington Post. I'll give him the final word in this entry. He concludes-
It's true that you and I are not being grabbed on the streets and sent to a former secret police torture-training camp in Godforsakistan. Nor is the government eavesdropping on your international phone calls or mine. Probably. Because I like you, I'll forgo the usual ominous warning about how they came after him and then they came after her and then they came after you. I'll even skip the liberal sermonette about how even bad guys have rights.

But your rights and mine are not supposed to be at the whim of the government, let alone the president. They are based in the Constitution and the willingness of those we put in power to obey it -- even as interpreted by judges they may disagree with. The most distressing aspect of this story is the apparent attitude of our current rulers that the Constitution is an obstacle to be overcome -- by conducting dirty business abroad or by wildly disingenuous interpretations of laws and the Constitution.

Amen. And tell it to the Republicans.

[PS- Specter's at it again- threatening to subpoena White House documents on the program.]

[PPS- Total Information Awareness lives on... minus abuse protections.]

[Related reading from Nat Hentoff at the Village Voice-
Closing Our Courts:
Crying 'state secrets,' the administration seals the courts to avoid scrutiny

Miscellaneous News

It's 11am. Do you know where your empty rhetoric is?

Before I head to work, hear are some stories that fell through the cracks this week.

In addition to empty Iraq rhetoric, Congress also voted itself a raise.

Meanwhile, The Supreme Court shows off its 'new conservatism' (?!) with Justice Alito on board. The AP reports that a Court decision "made it easier Thursday for police to barge into homes and seize evidence without knocking or waiting" and that "The court, on a 5-4 vote, said judges cannot throw out evidence collected by police who have search warrants but do not properly announce their arrival." The decision is causing some controversy.

President Bush does good; creates a new marine sanctuary in Hawaii for endangered species and ocean-area conservation. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called it "a large milestone". It pays to be an area without any oil.

Homeland Security finds that major cities- including New Orleans- are still not ready for catastrophe.

Back in Congress, the Democrats lead by example on the ethics front... Democratic leaders, led by Nancy Pelosi, "stripped Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of his committee seat on Friday in an unprecedented action against a lawmaker ensnared in scandal, but not under indictment". Jefferson is under investigation for taking bribes. Pelosi told reporters "This isn't about proof in a court of law. This is about an ethical standard."

The same week, Democrats reveal their plan for taking back Congress- focusing on a 'new direction'. "Our new direction will advance a common agenda, seek common ground, and apply common sense in the service of the common good. We know that with a new direction, we can meet our national challenges in a way that makes our nation stronger, our economy more vibrant, and our families more secure. Instead of record deficits, we will go in this new direction in a fiscally sound way. We will make America more competitive and not heap mountains of debt on future generations," their announcement reads. Republicans responded with the usual talking points.

In Iraq news, the first stage of the investigation into the Haditha massacre is complete. No details are known yet, because the investigation is ongoing.

Finally, an odd development in Iraq, as the Washington Post reported on Thursday that "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday proposed a limited amnesty to help end the Sunni Arab insurgency as part of a national reconciliation plan that Maliki said would be released within days. The plan is likely to include pardons for those who had attacked only U.S. troops, a top adviser said." The idea of granting insurgents amnesty as way of helping to curb fighting met with loud approval from congressional Republicans and outcry from their Democratic colleagues and liberal bloggers (such as AmericaBlog). However, a twist came yesterday when the Washington Post had an updated story stating that "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office on Thursday accepted the resignation of an aide who had told a reporter that Maliki was considering a limited amnesty that would likely include guerrillas who had attacked U.S. troops, the aide said." The aide stands by his initial remarks on the amnesty idea. Me, personally? I'm not sure I'm as opposed to the idea as the AmericaBlog folks, but I'm certainly not as enthusiastic about it as some Republicans were. It's hardly without precedent, if anything.

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Tell all those assholes in D.C. to get us the f--- out of here. This is bullshit."*

Well the Republican Congress has their meaningless, rhetorical 'victory' in this week's Iraq 'debate'. The Associated Press reports that "In a 256-153 vote that mirrored the position taken by the Senate earlier, the GOP-led House approved a nonbinding resolution that praises U.S. troops, labels the Iraq war part of the larger global fight against terrorism and says an 'arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment' of troops is not in the national interest." Wow, sounds like victory is around the corner with such decisive action! The real reason is the elections, of course. The article later notes "Republicans likely will use Democratic 'no' votes to claim that their opponents don't support U.S. troops". Count on it. Shades of 2002 (in which Vietnam vet Max Cleland was defeated by Republicans with ads allying him to Saddam Hussein and bin Laden), the Republicans, despite having been proven wrong on almost every aspect of this war, will continue to paint their opponents as weak surrender-monkeys. Winning the war takes second place to winning the elections. And that is why I believe they are capable of winning neither.

Many Democrats did stand up and fight back against this rhetoric, though.

Here is part of one such rebuttal from yesterday's House session...
"[A]t a time when Americans and Iraqis are giving their lives in the one of the most brutal wars of our time... an internal Republican memo was circulated outlining the Party's plan of attack for today. It instructs Republicans to paint a picture of, quote, 'a Democrat Party without a coherent national security policy that sheepishly dismissed the challenges America faces in a post-9/11 world,' end quote. We'll hear a lot of that empty propaganda today, I'm sure.

How will such divisive rhetoric help our soldiers abroad, Mr. Speaker? What could it possibly have to do with the war we are fighting?...

...So I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that today, instead of proposing serious solutions to the problems we are facing in Iraq, Republicans are offering us a "yes" or "no" vote on a resolution drowning in patriotic rhetoric and offering us an open-ended fight against an open-ended enemy.

Debate is about choice - but there is no choice here today. What we have is less like our democracy and more like a Soviet election.

Americans expect real debate in their Congress. They don't expect their Representatives to passively acquiesce to the assertions of a meaningless resolution based on White House talking points. And they expect their elected officials to have a meaningful discussion on the future course of the greatest challenge to our nation in a generation."

--Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY)

Full statement- here. Video clip- here.

Video of more Dems denouncing the stunt and the GOP's failed leadership on the war- here.

Unfortunately for our leaders, it's not the war between reality v. rhetoric that concerns voters. It's the real one.

[*Quote from a soldier's letter in this Salon article summing up this whole shameful show:
Resolved: America great! Bin Laden evil! Go Bush!-

Not even the inventor of "freedom fries" could stand to be present at the GOP-controlled Congress' absurd "debate" over Iraq.

Quote of the Day: Flashback Edition

"Mr Secretary, why have we turned this into, what is becoming more and more every day, an American war, and in your opinion, is this essential to the security of the United States?... At what point does this become our war and not their war?... I would hope very much that we are going to stop escalating this war any further. I think it was about a year ago that you told me we had lots of wiggle room. I think we're running out of wiggle room."
-Sen. Joseph Clark to Secretary of State Dean Rusk (Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony, 1966)

How does that old saying go? Those who do not learn from history...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Reality v. Rhetoric (aka- Surprise! Iraq Is Still A Security Nightmare!)

Lots of Iraq news in the past few days while I took a much-enjoyed break from blogging (anyone miss me?)... will try to process it all. The overarching story is that President Bush and the Republicans are going on the offensive on the Iraq issue.

First up is news that "the House today will embark on its first extended debate on the war, with Republican leaders daring Democrats to vote against a nonbinding resolution to hold firm on Iraq and the war on terrorism". The reason for this political stunt is obvious- "Republican leaders are moving quickly to capitalize on good news and trying to force Democrats on the defensive". Expect endless 9/11 references.

However, many congressional Republicans see this for what it is. Rep. Walter 'freedom fries' Jones Jr. stated yesterday that "This is nothing more or less than really a charade". And Rep. Wayne Gilchrest got even more to the point, stating "To me, the administration does not act like there's a war going on. The Congress certainly doesn't act like there's a war going on. If you're raising money to keep the majority, if you're thinking about gay marriage, if you're doing all this other peripheral stuff, what does that say to the guy who's about ready to drive over a land mine?" Bingo. We need a plan; the GOP leadership offers more slogans.

As for the Democrats, I hope they will not hide from this stunt. They should embrace it and use it as an opportunity to seriously debate the realities of this war. As a Huffington Post commenter quipped "How about a nonbinding resolution that 'The Iraq War was an unnecessary diversion from the real global fight against terrorism and has done more to promote that same terrorism worldwide than any other causative factor in the last decade.'? I'd vote for that." So would I. Another adds that "Democrats should pound away on the fact that we are less secure than we were the day after 9/11... Just because we have lost almost 2,500 soldiers, spent hundreds of billions of dollars and listened to the jingoism of this administration, we are not safer. We are broke, and we are not secure." Arianna Huffington herself made this same point on the foreign policy panel at Yearly Kos last weekend. Finally, a third adds that Democrats should get proactive and propose "a sufficient occupation force and a rebuilding plan" (the latter including rolling back the recent tax cuts to fund a 'Marshall Plan' for Iraq and replacing military contractors with unemployed Iraqis) to solve the underlying problems- the violence and destroyed infrastructure- in order to expose how hollow the current plan is. They get it... Democrats, do you?

The bigger story this week- the President makes another 'surprise' visit to Iraq!!!

AP: Bush backs Iraqi leader in surprise visit
President Bush assured Iraqis in a surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday that the United States stands with them and "the future of your country is in your hands." Bush discussed next steps in the troubled three-year-old Iraq war in a meeting with newly named Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki...

...Bush traveled to violence-rattled Baghdad less than a week after a U.S. air strike killed terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The president was expected to be in Baghdad a little more than five hours...

"Hey, just wanted to pop in and say hello. Sorry I can't stay long, but I've, umm, got to get the fuck out of here."

As usual, the media gushed over the trip.

I did a rant back in April over these White House 'surprise' visits to Iraq and how insane it is that the media ignores the reality of why the administration must travel in secret to that country (and how sovereign is Iraq really if the U.S. leader doesn't have to clear with the Prime Minister when he is coming?). Here is a summary of what I said then: "The elephant in the room (pardon the pun) that the media ignores every time is that these trips are only a 'surprise' because they have to be. If the trip was announced in advance, it would require extra security preparations to combat the extra violence and planned attacks that would surely await them upon arrival. The security situation in Iraq is a nightmare, the country is awash in violence, and the White House likely isn't sure which members of the Iraqi government can be trusted with advance knowledge of Bush administration travel plans. And so our country's leaders must travel in and out of Iraq in secret to speak with Iraqi leaders inside the heavily fortified Green Zone... The real surprise will be a day when Iraq is safe enough to visit openly and without military protection." That the President only stayed a few hours proves this point- the reason he had to come in secret and leave almost as soon as he arrived was so to avoid any kind of attack from occurring.

I'd give the President credit for being proactive, but we need real change, not photo-ops.

Glenn Greenwald sums up the madness that has been the resulting rhetoric from the trip-
As of two weeks ago, the long-standing consensus outside of the ever-dwindling circle of True Believers is that the Iraq invasion was a failure -- a mistake -- and the best we could hope for was to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from that country without triggering even worse disasters. For months and months, polls have showed that solid majorities of Americans believe the war was a mistake. That consensus didn't arise as a result of a single event, or a report of a car bomb, or because one bad thing happened. It was because the war itself has been failing fundamentally... But to the media, a photo op here, a cosmetic personnel change there, and the death of a single terrorist -- and all of those problems magically vanish.

Funny how that always happens, isn't it?

More spot-on analysis from the NY Times editorial page and Firedoglake (here and here).

Meanwhile there is some concern that Bush's trip may backfire on the Iraqi government-
[I]nstead of bolstering that effort [to unite the country of Iraq], Bush's trip could push away the very Sunni Arabs Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is trying to court... [because] many Iraqis are already wary of the Cabinet — assembled from second and third choices to overcome sectarian objections and bearing fingerprints of the Bush administration...

He could start by reminding them that he's much better for them than the White House's originally planned puppet leader for the country- Ahmed Chalabi. And hey, to be fair, Al-Maliki didn't know about the trip anyway, so if it plays well in Iraq, he can take credit for it. If it doesn't, he can feign ignorance of the whole thing.

Meanwhile, both U.S. and Iraqi forces took advantage of the recent press with a new attempt to crack down on violence. These crackdowns have always occurred around major events- elections, etc- and the real question is whether this is the beginning of a real solution or just a finger in the dam.

The trip also helped distract from news the U.S. plans to keep troops in Iraq for decades.

Bottom line- We all ideally would like to be proven wrong and have everything turn out great in Iraq. I have never and will never support the preemptive invasion of that country and the continued lies used to prop it up, but I would love nothing more than for the Iraqi people to somehow make some lemonade out of this lemon of a war. With that said, there is nothing defeatist or wrong with calling a spade a spade and pointing out that President Bush's strategy is not conducive to that outcome and is actually making the problem worse. As I noted at the beginning, the Democrats would do well to realize that.

[UPDATE: A sad milestone today- U.S. military deaths in Iraq reach 2,500 (AP)]

Surprise Journal Entry about Surprise Visit and Surprise Press Conference!

[NOTE: This entry was written by my friend Bill for my LiveJournal group. It was so good and directly relates to the topic I was going to write on next, then I am reposting it here. Enjoy it... because laughing at all of this nonsense is important.]

President Bush called a surprise press conference today to discuss his surprise visit to Iraq. With this many surprises in one week, one might wonder what Bush has in store for us next! Perhaps he'll have a surprise tea party with Ali Khamenei, Kim Jong-Il, and Hamas. All surprises aside, the press conference had everything you would expect from your run-of-the-mill grilling of a man who has drastically slipped in the polls: strong rhetoric, self promotion, and a few laughs at the expense of Iraqis.

Here are some highlights:


"By helping this new government succeed, we'll be closer to completing our mission, and the mission is to develop a country that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, and a country that is an ally in the war on terror. We'll seize this moment of opportunity to help the Prime Minister. We'll defeat our common enemies. We'll help build a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and that will make Americans and Iraqis and the world more secure."

Self Promotion!

"And that's why one message that I will continue to send to the enemy is, don't count on us leaving before the message is complete. Don't bet on it; don't bet on American politics forcing my hand, because it's not going to happen. I'm going to make decisions not based upon politics, but based upon what's best for the United States of America.

Shameless Attempts at Humor!

(In regard to a question probing the deadline for providing electricity to Iraqis):

"The answer to electricity is, sooner the better. It's hot over there, (laughs to self, but changes tone when he realizes nobody else is laughing) and it would be helpful if people had the capacity to cool their homes. It would be a pretty good signal that the government is making a difference in somebody's life."


And what George Bush press conference would be complete without numerous ironic references to his feeble leadership skills:

"Democracy causes you to respond to the people's needs. Tyrants don't have to. They don't have -- sometimes they may have to, but they always have got kind of an interesting way of helping suppress dissent."

"Remember that Saddam did a really good job of milking the society to keep himself in power....And he divided society and pitted people against each other in order to justify his own presence."

"That's the great thing about being elected; you get a sense if people don't kind of like what you're doing, or not. "

(In an unrelated news story, Bush's speechwriter for the past seven years resigned today. Seriously, I'm not kidding.)

Neoconservatives Declare Victory, Prepare To Close Up Shop

Here is a story of great interest to me that has received little attention... The infamous neoconservative think tank Project For A New American Century is closing up shop (although their fascist ideas will no doubt reemerge in a new form in the not-too-distant political future) after less than 10 years and two disastrous wars later. Washington Post columnist Al Kamen reported on Monday that-
The doors may be closing shortly on the nine-year-old Project for a New American Century, the neoconservative think tank headed by William Kristol , former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and now editor of the Weekly Standard, which is must reading for neocon cogitators and agitators...

...The goal was to continue the Reaganite, muscular approach to projecting American power and "moral clarity" in a post-Cold War world, the group's manifesto said. The targets were liberal drift and conservative isolationism.

PNAC and its supporters dominated the Bush administration's foreign policy apparatus and championed a policy to get rid of Saddam Hussein long before Sept. 11, 2001...

...There had been debate about PNAC's future, but the feeling, a source said, was of "goal accomplished" and it looks to be heading toward closing. Former executive director Gary J. Schmitt , who had been executive director of President Ronald Reagan 's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, left recently for a post at the American Enterprise Institute. (Not a big move. Actually, only five floors up from PNAC.) Still, seems like a short century.

"Sorry for destabilizing the Middle East and destroying the U.S.'s reputation worldwide. We gotta run."

I first wrote about this group last June on my old blog after the Downing Street memo surfaced. I also wrote about the neocon implosion after William Kristol was schooled by Stephen Colbert in April.

I have always been so amazed that this group has gotten so little press/attention in the past years, given that a) they were the ideological architects of the Iraq war, and b) its members overwhelmingly make up the President's political inner circle and include his biggest supporters in the press. Just check out this list of its members and supporters over the years: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Scooter Libby, John Bolton, Richard L. Armitage, William J. Bennett, Jeb Bush, Zalmay Khalilzad, Robert Zoellick, Dan Quayle, William Kristol, and newspaper columnists Norman Podhoretz and Charles Krauthammer. These people created the Bush foreign policy. Much blood is on their hands. If the left-wing equivalent of this group had existed before/during a disastrous and politically embattled Democratic administration, I am sure it would have been covered in spotlights. Still, after years of pulling the strings from the shadows, it goes now to die a much deserved political death.

Farewell. We'll always have the Weekly Standard.

[See also previous entry- Neoconservatism Is Dead, Long Live Neoconservatism]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

President Bush Admits Guantanamo Sucks, Feigns Inability To Close It

President Bush pretends to be concerned about the horror he has created down in Guantanamo Bay-
President George W. Bush acknowledged on Wednesday that the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where three detainees committed suicide, has damaged the U.S. image abroad and said it should be shut down.

But he said a plan for relocating the prisoners was needed first and he also was awaiting a Supreme Court decision about the forum for handling detainee cases.

"I'd like to close Guantanamo, but I also recognize that we're holding some people there that are darn dangerous and that we better have a plan to deal with them in our courts," Bush told a news conference in the White House Rose Garden...

Translation: "Oh sure, I'd like to close Guantanamo, but as President of the United States, I don't have the authority."

So he needs to wait for the Courts to force him to close the prison, but he doesn't need (or want) to listen to the Congress or the Courts or anyone else to continue his illegal, warrantless wiretapping program or any of his other misdeeds. He even goes out of his way to try and stop them from doing so. I see how it works.

Of course, this I-hate-Gitmo-but-it's-outta-my-control line is the same talking point President Bush has been spewing for months on the issue. They know the world sees the prison as the aberration that it is and he wants to protect himself from the fallout, hence distancing himself from it rhetorically. But closing it would be a direct admission that its existence was a bad thing and that it many of its inhabitants are not the villains he insists they are. Doing so would further expose what a power-grab of a farce he has reduced the war on terror to and that would destroy what's left of his credibility. So, much like the Iraq war, he's going to continue to pay lip-service to the problem, wait out the remainder of his term, and leave the problem for the next President to clean up.

What a joke.

Meanwhile, the administration is working hard after the recent suicides to get the prison out of the press. A new report states that "The United States military has ordered all independent media off the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base following the suicides of three detainees". All media were ordered to be off the base by 10am this morning. It's time to push the prison back into the shadows. This move has been highly criticized by the press, of course, not that the President ever cared what they had to say about anything.

And so the nightmare continues...

[PS- Andrew Sullivan takes a look inside life at Guantanamo Bay prison.]

[PPS- Michelle Malkin expresses her sympathies to the inmates who committed suicide.]

Hurricane Rant

I've been amused by all the news media obsessing over tropical storm Alberto.

Look, we are all glad that these storms are getting some much deserved attention from both the media and local officials, but let's not hype these things up just for the sake of appearing involved. They did this with Hurricane Rita after Katrina too. I think most Americans are more concerned with whether the infrastructure is ready to deal with another big storm rather than the cool new graphics the cable news channels came up with for them.

Or how about instead of overcompensating for past mistakes by hyping up each new storm that sweeps across the ocean, why doesn't someone actually remember that a city was nearly destroyed last summer and we should probably pay some attention to seeing it rebuilt?

I have a feeling the much-suffering residents of New Orleans would appreciate that.

Lowering The Bar

Not exactly 'mission accomplished', is it?

AP: Rice: No guarantees on Iraq, Afghanistan
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the U.S. military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan do not assure those countries will become successful democracies. But she said the chance for success is worth the price...

Amazing how three years and a harsh, unforgiving reality can change the rhetoric...

She gets points for honesty, though.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Quote of the Day

"We all have to get together in this country and stop this right now and stand up to those who would demagogue. There is nothing- absolutely nothing- wrong with criticizing our government, on any topic, and challenging it to live up to the democratic ideals. It is not unpatriotic. In fact, what could be more patriotic?"
-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (to graduates at the University of Chicago)

[Newsday: Bloomberg: Criticizing government can be patriotic]

It's Official: Rove Won't Be Charged

Did you hear that high-pitched sound this morning ringing across the nation?

That was the collective sigh of relief from a White House which just got very good news...

AP: Rove won't be charged in CIA leak case
Top White House aide Karl Rove has been told by prosecutors he won't be charged with any crimes in the investigation into leak of a CIA officer's identity, his lawyer said Tuesday, lifting a heavy burden from one of President Bush's most trusted advisers.

Attorney Robert Luskin said that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald informed him of the decision on Monday, ending months of speculation about the fate of Rove, the architect of Bush's 2004 re-election now focused on stopping Democrats from capturing the House or Senate in this November's elections...

At least this will end all the right-wing blogs from labeling Fitzgerald as some out-of-control liberal maniac out to destroy the White House. The man is one of the most respected federal prosecutors and has conducted this investigation professionally. While I am not happy with this decision, I have no doubt that Fitzgerald carefully considered all the information he had at his disposal before making it.

So kudos to Mr. Rove, who gets to give his undivided attention back to dividing America for short-term political gain.

On another note, now that Rove is no longer the subject of the "ongoing investigation" in the Plame leak, will the White House finally answer questions about his role in the whole affair? It's a valid question. It's one I doubt will be addressed. The media has never been interested in this story and, sadly, I doubt that will change now, even though one of the White House's top stonewalling reasons has been removed. The many lingering questions- who was Novak's source, how coordinated was the leak between the various officials involved, why did Rove and Libby mislead McClellan about their involvement, etc- still need to be answered.

In conclusion, I think Howard Dean sums up my feelings on this decision:
"If Karl Rove had been indicted it would have been for perjury. That does not excuse his real sin which is leaking the name of an intelligence operative during the time of war. He doesn't belong in the White House. If the President valued America more than he valued his connection to Karl Rove, then Karl Rove would have been fired a long time ago. So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but its not very good news for America."

[PS- Some early analysis from the gang at Firedoglake, who've followed the case closely.

UPDATE: More analysis and speculation on Rove's status by Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake.]

Couldn't Have Happened To A Nicer Hypocrite

Here's some news that cheered me up this morning....

The Advocate: Mary Cheney's book sells fewer than 6,000 copies since release

I am not sure who she expected would want to read the book to begin with.

[See previous entry- Mary Cheney Is An Awful Person]

Guantanamo Suicides Refocus Spotlight On The Prison

For quite some time, inmates at Guanatamo have tried to commit suicide, but the guards have always been quick to stop them (this isn't a bad thing, of course). Some more disturbing aspects of this have been prisoners on hunger strikes. The guards have taken those prisoners from their cells, strapped them to tables, and forcefed them with tubes (a practice Andrew Sullivan lamented yesterday). However, this past weekend, the first successful suicides at the prison occurred when three prisoners- two Saudis and a Yemeni- hung themselves inside their cells.

Reuters: Suicides fuel more calls for closure of Guantanamo

Guantanamo is a stain on the American legacy; years from now, we will feel nothing but shame for what was done in our name. Its existence- at the very least- is proof that we are not very good at learning the lessons of our own history. The authoritarian cultists who defend the prison want us to believe that everyone inside is a villainous monster (a dubious assertion at best), but if that was the case, then they should be charged with their crimes and moved into our justice system and out of the shadows of the legal and moral blackhole that is Guantanamo Bay.

Meanwhile, a top U.S. official calls the deaths a "good PR move to draw attention" for the prisoners and an "act of asymmetrical warfare" against the United States. Sounds logical. I heard some are planning to break out and hijack planes to crash into their own homes too. Take that United States of America!

Needless to say, the White House is trying to distance themselves from those sentiments. But they cannot. Guantanamo was a White House creation. It is them. They own it and the shame associated with it. In the end, Guantanamo is merely a sympton of the larger disease that is the system of lawlessness and executive monarchy that George W. Bush has surrounded himself with in the name of his war on terror.

Finally, Democracy Now did a great show on this yesterday. Audio available on their site.

[See also previous entry- Secret Prisons: As American As Apple Pie]

Monday, June 12, 2006

With Congress MIA, Courts To Address Bush's Spying Program

The NY Times had an excellent editorial yesterday summing up the folly of Senate Republicans trying to work with the White House to find a legislative solution to the domestic spying issue, when the real problem is that the White House believes it is above their laws and that no one yet knows how extensive this spying has been.

For more than six months, a few senators have been fumbling around in the dark, trying to write laws covering a domestic wiretapping operation that remains a mystery to most of them. Their ideas are far from radical; some just want to bring the White House back under the rule of law by making the spying retroactively legal. But Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in charge of both overseeing the spying and covering it up, has now made it crystal clear that the White House does not intend to let anything happen. It's time for the Senate to stop rolling over and start focusing on uncovering the extent of the spying and enforcing the law.

A good place to start is by compelling the executives of the major telecommunications companies to testify about reports that they have turned over data on the phone calls of millions of Americans without a court order. Those reports were a reminder that this is not a debate about whether the government should spy on terrorists by tapping their phone calls. President Bush wants Americans to believe that critics of the program oppose that, but nobody does. The real issue is that Mr. Bush does not want to bother with legal niceties like getting a warrant or to acknowledge Congress's power by accounting for his actions...

...Mr. Specter — who last week was bemoaning the fact that Mr. Cheney watched him pass by twice at a Senate buffet lunch without mentioning that he had just stabbed him in the back — still thinks it's a good sign that the vice president's office offered to review his legislation and suggest changes. Mr. Cheney and his underlings are the problem, not the solution, and Mr. Specter should realize that by now. Mr. Specter has the votes to subpoena the executives. All he has to do is drop his idea of meeting behind closed doors, and side with the panel's Democrats, who want to have the hearing in full view of the Americans whose rights are being violated.

The full editorial has details on the various proposals the Senate is considering.

Here's some good news to start... much to the White House's chagrins, courts are beginning to look at the program. The U.S. District Court in Detroit will begin hearing a case today brought up by the ACLU. It is arguing against the program on constitutional grounds-
The National Security Agency's domestic spying program faces its first legal challenge in a case that could decide if the White House is allowed to order eavesdropping without a court order.

The case goes to the heart of the larger national debate about whether President Bush has assumed too much power in his declared war on terrorism....

See? The real issues here aren't too hard to understand. Reuters gets it. Of course, the administration's defenders probably get it as well, but it is easier to pretend what concerns their critics is some strawmen debate over fighting terrorism. As the section I bolded in the NY Times editorial above notes, it has never been about that. But six months later, we are still battling through the strawman narrative, no thanks to the cable news network, who enjoy helping to blur those lines. As I said in my post on Saturday, this is an issue of whether we are a nation of laws or a nation of men. And since it's become conventional wisdom that it would be extreme somehow to discuss impeachment (or heck, even censure) at this point, the absolute least we can do is debate the real issues of this scandal which is- as Glenn Greenwald so aptly states in his new book- a President run amok. Of course, if this case ends up going anywhere, I expect many a NY Post editorial whining about how the press or the courts are trying to aid terrorism.

[PS- Glenn Greenwald takes a second look at the Washington Post report about Specter proposing amnesty in the whole spying brouhaha. I take his point that the Post article may have gotten some facts wrong- Specter strongly insists that's the case- but I think Greenwald may still be giving Specter too much benefit of the doubt. Time and time again, Specter has huffed and puffed at the White House and done little to follow up on his threats. Specter is not serious and never has been. Short of the Democrats in the Senate joining Feingold in stepping up to the plate here, this issue is likely to be buried along with other administration misdeeds.]

Global Struggle Against Homosexual Extremists

President Bush speaks on the death of homosexual terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi-

Weekly Radio Address: June Terror Update

"We received very positive news this week from Baghdad. Special Operation Forces acting on intelligence from Iraqis killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted homosexual Al Qaeda leader in Iraq. This dangerous same-sex marriage advocate posed a grave danger to 2,000 years of tradition. This is an important victory in our global struggle to protect marriage. Zarqawi, along with his life-partner, Iman Al-Zawahiri, were actively plotting to hijack planes to the United States to get married, putting thousands of traditional marriages at risk. Had he succeeded, this would've been the most dangerous attack on the moral fabric of our nation since an extremist cleric performed a devastating gay marriage in Massachusetts in September 2001. Though we celebrate Zarqawi's death, our fight is not over. Intelligence reports that the sodomists are planning a gay apocalypse, in which a mass same-sex union will take place in dozens of cities at once. This kind of suicidal dedication to their cause will shake the traditional institution of marriage to its core. We must be ever-vigilant, for the enemies of marriage shall show no mercy. Thank you for listening and God bless America."

I feel secure that President Bush will not relent in this important struggle.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Markos Must've Forgotten To Send My Invitation

Here's something light after my last post.

This weekend is the first annual Yearly Kos, a liberal circle jerk convention of top bloggers and Democratic party leaders in Las Vegas, gathering to strengthen the netroots connections and their ties to the Democratic party at large. I don't know if any of this root-connecting will have bloggers turning in clusters, but despite my earlier indifference to the gathering, it seems like it was a very big success for everyone involved.

Vegas was a great choice too, as its the perfect metaphor for the Democrats in this election year... full of wide-eyed hope, rolling the dice with the odds stacked against them, just hoping not to go home empty-handed again.

The convention seems to be getting mostly positive press from both sides and it seems a great opportunity for Democrats to finally do what Republicans have long realized is important... connect with their base. As Adam Nagourney writes in the NY Times, "the blogosphere has become for the left what talk radio has been for the right: a way of organizing and communicating to supporters." Hopefully he means that in a good way. Topics being discussed at the convention's panels and discussion include the power of the internet, the future of the Democratic party, and the failures of duty of the mainstream media. I don't what what impact, if any, this will have long-term, but it's clear there is a movement for change and organization and message here. Too bad it had to come from bloggers and not from the Democrats themselves, but hopefully they're taking notes.

Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid even used the convention to announce a new proposal-
Americans won't be fooled by future intelligence failures if Congress will enact stiffer reporting requirements for the president and the intelligence community, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Saturday.

Reid, in prepared remarks for the YearlyKos Convention of bloggers in Las Vegas, said his proposed legislation is critical as the Bush administration steps up its diplomacy with Iran...

..."All of us as Americans need to review how the Bush Administration cherry-picked and hyped the case for war with Iraq to sell it to Congress and the American people, so we can make sure it never happens again," Reid said.

Reid's proposed bill, called the Iran Intelligence Oversight Act, would require an updated national intelligence estimate on Iran, with an unclassified summary made public....

An excellent idea, but anything involving 'oversight' will be dismissed by President Bush.

C-SPAN has streaming video online ('YearlyKos Convention') of the highlights, starting with the excellent Plamegate discussion panel (featuring Joseph Wilson, reporters Murray Waas- who just did another great article on the story- and Dan Froomkin, and many of the bloggers who have been covering the story on a regular basis). That panel was 90 minutes long; I had only intended to watch a part of it, but it was so good, I sat through the whole thing. LinkTV also has clips, including the foreign policy panel and an excerpt of a speech by cartoonist Tom Tomorrow.

Crooks and Liars also has video of Markos being interviewed on 'Meet The Press'.

ThinkProgress has a good writeup: The Media Descends on YearlyKOS

Not that the media still can't be condescending, of course.

[PS- I am going to Comic Con in San Diego next month. I wonder if Wesley Clark will be there too? I would like to have a lightsaber battle with him; I know I'd lose, but I think it'd make for good C-SPAN.]

[PPS- While the cool-kid bloggers are having their party, some election year advice from Craig Crawford:
After a rare week of good news for President Bush -- saving a California congressional seat and killing a top terrorist -- Democrats now must consider the possibility that November's midterm election will occur in an environment where Iraq is looking up and Republican scandals are fading away. What then? Despite advice from some party consultants that the best campaign strategy would be to keep the slate clean of a specific agenda, Democrats might have to take more initiative...

...House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did lay out some objectives last month in a memo to supporters, saying her first priorities in a Democratic-controlled 110th Congress would be raising the minimum wage, implementing all the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, cutting subsidies for oil companies, reducing student loan rates and making prescription drugs more affordable.

Last week's news from San Diego and Baghdad prove that Pelosi might want to build on that memo and give Democrats a specific platform to run on.

Perhaps they can start with Arianna Huffington's advice- "It's the national security, stupid!"]