Friday, August 04, 2006


Condoleeza Rice remains optimistic about progress in Mideast diplomacy-

AP: Rice signals possible Lebanon compromise
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed support Thursday for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon as the first phase in ending the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. It was the most concrete signal yet that the U.S. may be willing to compromise on the stalemate over how to end the fighting.

Moving closer to the position that France and other European countries are taking, Rice predicted that a U.N. Security Council resolution would be approved within days that would include a cease-fire and describe principles for a lasting peace...

Me? I'll believe it when I see it.

[UPDATE: An agreement is being finalized today in the U.N. Security Council.

UPDATE #2: Not that it matters at all... the violence rages on unabated.]

Meanwhile, there's an excellent piece in Salon by Sidney Blumenthal entitled 'The neocons' next war', which asserts that the usual hawkish forces in the Bush administration are setting Condi up to fail in her erratic, and often one-sided, diplomacy efforts in hopes of allowing the conflict to widen. Of course, the less-than-secret fact that the U.S. is providing Israel with both weapons and NSA intelligence undermines anything that Ms. Rice does or says in that region and makes a peaceful compromise less likely. The article sums up how the neocons are viewing this crisis as the last chance to implement their grand vision by noting that "the neocon scenario extends far beyond that objective [of removing Hezbollah from Lebanon] to pushing Israel into a 'cleansing war' with Syria and Iran... which somehow will redeem Bush's beleaguered policy in the entire region." Blumenthal's conclusions are shared by many.

Ignore that this failed neoconservative arrogance has helped radicalize the region further. Or that what was to be the democratic template for the Middle East is fast turning out to be another problem for Israel. These warmongers inside the administration won't hesitate to use Israel's fight (and Israel may be quite happy to be used) to achieve their long-held goals. They'll get that square peg to fit into that round hole just yet, you'll see.

Sadly, Hezbollah is an entrenched part of these countries, not a rogue militia. Dislodging them or marginalizing their power isn't simply a matter of dropping the right amount of bombs. It's a question of reaching out to the Arab people living in these countries, recognizing they have legitimate concerns, allowing for some level of compromise with them, and encouraging them then to take back their countries from the radical elements that control the region and lock them in circular violence. Easier said than done, but that seems to me the right direction to move toward. That does not mean turning our back on Israel, our ally, but rather a recognition that having embraced a one-sided approach has been disastrous. Current policy will only continue to fail.

[PS- Some thought-provoking blog entries from Ted at State of the Day and from Nonie Darwish at Huffington Post on Israel's goals and the responsibility of Muslim leaders, respectively.

See also previous entry: Holy Crap, There's A War Going On!]

The Real Agenda, Continued

Before I left for vacation last month, I wrote an entry entitled 'The Real Agenda', examining (once again) the ways in which President Bush was using the terror war to increase his own power and to put himself above the law, at the expense of both checks and balances as well as the success of the war itself. This motive covers numerous related scandals- warrantless wiretaps, torture, secret prisons, leaks, etc. This saga continues- not that one would know from watching the news- and I'm due for a followup post (some previous posts on the topic- here). Let's start in July.

In regards to legal challenges to Bush's warrantless spying program, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit last month "aimed at blocking AT&T Inc. from giving telephone records to the government for use in the war on terror". U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly cited- what else- national security concerns as his reason for this decision. Nothing like a permanent national security crisis to deflect accountability.

As Robert Scheer lamented on KCRW's 'Left, Right, and December' last December, this line of thinking means that "we probably can't have a democratic society" if we are in a perpetual state of war.

Better luck was had prior to that decision, when a federal judge in San Francisco issued a ruling "on an obscure procedural point in a court case between the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit, and AT&T. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected the government's claim that because of the doctrine of state secrets, traditionally used to prevent the introduction into court of specific evidence that might compromise national security, he should dismiss EFF's entire case against the phone company." This lawsuit was based on the findings of AT&T whistleblower that I first blogged on in April.

Judge Walker stated that "To defer to a blanket assertion of secrecy would be to abdicate [our constitutional] duty."

Let's hope there are more judges like Walker out there than Kennelly.

The Slate article on this decision further states that the Walker ruling "makes it less likely that Specter's [wiretapping] bill will prevail. Specter's premise is that regular courts cannot handle these extremely secret and sensitive matters. Walker punctured that myth of secrecy in his observation that the administration has discussed the surveillance program at length, and in his argument that litigation touching on the basic facts of the program is unlikely to change the way a terrorist works." This is good news, as Sen. Specter's numerous attempts at 'exerting oversight' have actually been Orwellian shams aimed at further empowering the President.

Speaking of Sen. Specter... he's at it again!!!

Pretending to be outraged this time at the President's continued use of signing statements to circumvent the laws he signs, Sen. Specter stated early last week that "We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will... authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional". If I believed that he was serious, Specter would get an enthusiastic thumbs up for this. But fool me once... etc.

Criticisms of the Specter saga are available from Glenn Greenwald (here/here) and Salon.

A Salon followup sees all of this as echoes of the Nixon era.

Sen. Specter's declaration came after the American Bar Association recommended that Congress pass legislation requiring a judicial review of these statements. Some task force members went so far as to say that Congress could sue over them. ABA President Michael Greco was on Democracy Now last week to discuss this matter. A snippet from the discussion-
MICHAEL GRECO: The American Bar Association has a task force looking at the presidential signing statements practice. We released the report two days ago here in Washington. The major finding of the task force is that a president's use of signing statements to ignore enforcement of laws is violating the Constitution. The report also found that the system of checks and balances, in which the three branches of government have powers clearly delineated, but clearly limited, are being harmed by the practice of the President in denying Congress its proper role in the process of government.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Greco, for non-lawyers, can you explain exactly what these signing statements are and why suddenly the President is using them hundreds of times? How does the process actually work? He sits down and signs a bill, and then what?

MICHAEL GRECO: Under the Constitution, Congress enacts a law, sends it to the President. The President has two choices under the Constitution: either approve that law in toto, without picking and choosing which portions he's going to enforce, or he vetoes it. Those are the only two choices. Now comes something called a presidential signing statement that presidents had used before President Bush, but before President Bush, all presidents combined had only issued 600 signing statements. President Bush in the last five-and-a-half years has issued more than 800 of them.

What a presidential signing statement is is a little statement that the President attaches to a bill when he signs it, and the President, in a sense, in essence, is saying in that little statement, “I find some fault or some problem with this law, and I don't intend to enforce a part of it or all of it, because I think it's either unconstitutional or it interferes with my powers.”...

...Let me make one thing clear: we are not singling out President Bush. This practice of signing statements precedes him, but the frequency and the purpose to which this president and future presidents might make of the signing statement is what is of concern to the American Bar Association, because it is harming the separation of powers and checks and balances system that has seen us through for the last two centuries in this country.

Greco also criticized proposed 'compromises' on President Bush's domestic spying program, stating that it "falls way short of the protections that the American people deserve to have under FISA and under the Fourth Amendment".

Moving on to the administration's handling of detainees, the administration is still looking for how to revise their policies in light of their defeat in the recent Supreme Court decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Expect them to search for loopholes. According to the Washington Post, this is the plan-
A draft Bush administration plan for special military courts seeks to expand the reach and authority of such "commissions" to include trials, for the first time, of people who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and are not directly involved in acts of international terrorism, according to officials familiar with the proposal.

The plan, which would replace a military trial system ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June, would also allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court’s jurisdiction. The two provisions would be likely to put more individuals than previously expected before military juries, officials and independent experts said...

More of the Orwellian 'just trust us, okay?' approaching to prosecuting the war on terror.

The Hamdan decision also made it more likely that members of the Bush administration and related military personnel can now be prosecuted for war crimes. You better believe they're working overtime to avoid that. According to an article in Salon, President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales are at the forefront of this. They write that "To preempt any prosecution, administration officials are now quietly circulating legislation to change the statutory interpretation of the War Crimes Act of 1996. In short, the legislation would make it difficult to prosecute U.S. personnel for the harsh interrogation methods authorized by President Bush and the Justice Department." This 'legal escape hatch' plan is meeting some opposition.

Finally, Rep. John Conyers (ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee) has issued the final version of his 350+ page report- 'The Constitution in Crisis; The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War, and Illegal Domestic Surveillance'. It's one helluva damning report.

Rep. Conyers discusses the report in a blog entry today.

And that's where we stand right now.

[PS- Just a note that Sen. McCain- GOP 2008 frontrunner- shares the President's views on executive power.]

[PPS- The Onion's take: Bush Grants Self Permission To Grant More Power To Self]

Joe Lieberman: The 11th Hour Democrat?

Man, Joe Lieberman really doesn't want to lose his seat...

Down in the polls significantly, Sen. Lieberman is desperate to prove that a) he is not a tool of the Bush administration and that, b) he can so be critical of the Iraq war! Or so is my reading of this shocker from Raw Story- Lieberman expressed support for those who are calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. Said Lieberman, "Rumsfeld serves at the pleasure of the President. But, I can tell you this, if I were President, I would say 'Thank you, but we need some new leadership at the Pentagon.'"

This is in stark contrast to previous comments by Lieberman implying that Rumsfeld's critics were dead wrong and that mere criticism itself will endanger the war. And quite surreal considering the Senator was rumored to be a replacement for Sec. Rumsfeld down the line.

Make no mistake- this is all about Tuesday's primary and his attempt to save his drowning campaign.

Josh Marshall looks at that race as it stands 5 days away and concludes that Sen. Lieberman is toast. I say that it's probably closer than the polls indicate. He predicts, for what its worth, that Lieberman will also not follow through on his threat to run as an Independent. If that is the case, it will only be if the Democratic party and friends can convince him to quietly walk away, because he really seems to believe that the U.S. Senate cannot possibly survive without him. Marshall does share my belief that it was Lieberman's egotistical decision to plan a preemptive Independent run in the first place that sealed his fate with voters. He ran this race in the absolute worst possible, almost going out of his way to reinforce every negative opinion people have developed of him.

And hey, when all else fails, fight dirty. Examples- here, here, and here.

Finally, Firedoglake's Christy Smith makes the case for Ned Lamont, as opposed to just Lieberman opposition.

UPDATE: Peter Beinart defends Lieberman's integrity... circa 1991. Ummm, what year is it, Pete?

[PS- U.S. troops in Iraq say civil war is already underway there. And we're the babysitter.

See also previous entry- Meanwhile, In Iraq...]

Is This One Of The Signs Of The Apocalypse?

Those concerned about climate change gain an unexpected ally...

Reuters: Heat converts Bush ally Robertson on global warming
Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said on Thursday the wave of scorching temperatures across the United States had converted him into a believer in global warming.

The view put him at odds with fellow Republican President George W. Bush, who has benefited politically from Robertson's backing and who has refused to embrace the concept of human-caused global warming.

"We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels," Robertson said on his "700 Club" broadcast. "It is getting hotter, and the icecaps are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air."...

Does this make President Bush more behind the times than Pat Robertson? A frightening thought.

Hopefully, though, as the 'debate' over this science decreases and concensus grows, it will mean more action. The increase of dialogue about climate change is encouraging, but all that talk means nothing unless it is followed up by broad, global action. Joining most of the world in ratifying Kyoto- much as it would anger conservatives- would be a good start. Increasing the tax incentives for owning hybrid/alternative enery cars (Andrew Sullivan makes a good case for a broader gas tax) is another no-brainer. And maybe also all those things I heard talked about when I was fifth grade but to this day remain uncommon- solar panels, wind power, ethanol, etc- can be widely implemented with the government's help. None of this is crazy, radical stuff either; these are commonsense solutions.

For now, I'll remain cautiously optimistic for a shift in this direction.

[Related- More Frequent Heat Waves Linked to Global Warming (Washington Post)]

Democrats Defeat GOP's Sham Estate Tax/Minimum Wage Bill

On Monday, I blogged about a definite low for the Republican party as the elections approach... after years of stopping votes on a minimum wage increase, the Republicans attempted to undercut a key Democratic campaign by proposing a bill to raise the wage. The catch? The bill would also cut the estate tax and would override higher minimum wage increases passed in some states already. As hoped for/expected, the Democrats in the Senate killed the bill. From the NY Times-
Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked legislation tying the first minimum wage increase in almost a decade to a decrease in the federal estate tax, denying Republicans a legislative victory as lawmakers head into a crucial month of campaigning before the November elections.

Republican backers of the measure, dubbed the trifecta for its three chief elements, fell 4 votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate. Democrats had argued that it was a bad bargain to exchange a $2.10 wage increase for struggling workers for a costly tax cut for the country’s wealthiest families.

“This trifecta is a high-stakes gamble with America’s future,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. “This is the worst special-interest bill I have seen in my time in Congress.”...

The Washington Post has more.

While I am glad the Democrats stood on principle, this is hardly good news. It means that we will have to wait until January when the new Congress is sworn in (assuming the conventional wisdom that the Democrats will retake at least the House) before we get a real vote on a minimum wage increase.

Secondly, the Republicans already got what they wanted out of this charade... campaign ammo. As I noted on Monday, the Republicans planned to "use this against the Democrats either way. If the Democrats vote for it, they will say the Democrats flip-flopped on tax cuts. If the Democrats stand on principle and vote against this, they will say the Democrats aren't serious about the minimum wage increase." Now that the latter has happened, these GOP talking points are already in circulation (see for example the comment by 'John S' at TruthDig). Expert to hear all the usual pundits blathering about how Democrats don't really care about the minimum wage, and how the Republicans are the true working class heroes, in the coming months.

Based on what polls show how the American people are feeling these days (and with Democrats finally dusting off their spines as November approaches), I am not as worried as I once might have been that these tricks will work this time around.

People are getting smarter. And madder. November 7 is National Throw The Bums Out Day.

[Related- Washington Post (E. J. Dionne Jr.): The End Of the Right?]

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Meanwhile, In Iraq...

The larger Middle East conflict has taken some public attention away from Iraq, but there's a lot in the news to talk about there. First up, after receiving broad criticism for refusing to testify at a public Senate hearing on Iraq, Sec. Rumsfeld reversed course and decided to testify. How do you think that went?

Senators lashed out at Sec. Rumsfeld for his failed policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The media reports seem to focus on the remarks of Sen. Clinton, but she was not alone in her assessments. Whatever they asked him, or said to him, I am sure that it did not go far enough. I am sure they didn't remind him that he has a history of lying and/or revisionism about previous statements, such as his past assurances that they knew where WMDs were. I am sure that they didn't ask him to clarify why, as early as the afternoon of 9/11, he was instructing those around him to find a way to use the attacks to justify an invasion of Iraq. Or his recurring denials that he even advocated an invasion at all.

As usual, he answered with typical Rumsfeldian circular answers- "Are there setbacks? Yes. Is this problem going to get solved in the near term? I think it's going to take some time." Am I a complete failure? Yes. Will I admit to that? No.

But his biggest whopper may have been his response to Sen. Clinton's blasting of the "happy talk and rosy scenarios" coming from the administration. Rumsfeld responded, "Senator, I don't think that's true. I have never painted a rosy picture. I've been very measured in my words and you'd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I've been excessively optimistic. I understand this is tough stuff."

{*head explodes*}

I, I don't even know where to begin.

I don't know what is scarier to me... the idea that Rumsfeld would tell such a poor lie to the Senate or the idea that he actually believes that the things he says are the truth.

(Examples of Rumsfeld's past optimism are being provided by Think Progress and TruthDig.)

"What has two thumbs and loves to make shit up?... This guy."

UPDATE: Video highlights of Rumsfeld's responses available- here.

Others testifying today did not share Sec. Rumsfeld's delusional worldview.

Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command, took a more realistic approach, warning of civil war. He stated that "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably is as bad as I’ve seen it in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." The danger of impending Iraqi civil war was also raised in Britain this week. Britain's ambassador to Baghdad, William Patey, wrote to Prime Minister Blair and other top leaders in a memo that leaked, "The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy. Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq -- a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror -- must remain in doubt."

A grim, but realistic, assessment.

Meanwhile, public support here in the U.S. for the war continues to decline. A new Gallup poll shows that 55% of Americans "now want a complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq in the next 12 months... with 19% supporting immediate withdrawal and another 36% wanting it done by August 2007." 54% also said the war was a mistake. Contrary to how it's been portrayed, this has been the majority opinion for some time.

More optimistic than this were some Iraqi officials. According to an AP report, "President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday that Iraqi forces will assume security duties for the whole country by the end of the year, taking over responsibility from U.S. and other foreign troops now policing all but one of the 18 provinces... Iraqi leaders had said previously that their goal was to be fully in control of security by the end of 2006, but Talabani's statement was the most specific." Talabini expressed confidence that his government will eliminate the extremist groups in the country.

I'd love to see that outcome rather than the grim ones looming on the horizon now, but we've heard too many similar pronouncements and milestones for me to get even remotely optimistic. But, as he noted, if Iraq is able to defy history and achieve stability, that will be something they have to do on their own. Even then, we are still stuck with a fundamentalist Shia government more ideologically aligned with our enemies than us.

Sec. Rumsfeld, any thoughts on that?

More Odds and Ends

Here's another no-shit headline: 'Heat, humidity combine to torture East'.

And I thought Congress had banned torture.

Speaking of the weather, Rep. Blunt, the majority whip, says don't expect action on climate change if GOP retains congressional control. Another motivator to run out and vote this November.

President Bush heads to Crawford for his annual vacation, his shortest one since taking office (look, mommy, he's learning!). The shorter stay definitely decreases the chances that an American city will face destruction on his watch.

NORAD finally releases their tapes from 9/11. Conspiracy theorists to have field day.

Three and a half years after embarrassing themselves and America, the GOP Congress quietly changed 'freedom fries' and 'freedom toast' back to their original 'french' names in the congressional cafeteria. Did it really take them that long to realize what morons they were? Even one of the switch's originators, Rep. Walter Jones, long ago realized what a bad idea all of this was.

Pennsylvania GOP props up Green Party candidate for Senate in desperate effort to save Rick Santorum's reelection.

With 5 days to go, Ned Lamont leads Sen. Lieberman in the polls. Think Joe has learned his lesson? Me neither.

In celebrity/Mideast news, Bill Maher says in a blog entry that maybe there's a little Mel Gibson in all of us. While I agree with his point that more world leaders need to step up and openly condemn Hezbollah, I reject the notion that criticism of Israeli tactics constitutes anti-semitism. That's a shield that they have often used to deflect their critics. As I noted earlier this week, most of the world respected the initial reasons/goals for Israel's actions, but have grown concerned/wary about how Israel has been going about all of this. That's not denying Israel's right to defend its borders and citizens; it's questioning whether a continuing 'shock and awe' campaign with mounting civilian deaths is really the way to loosen Hezbollah's grip on the region.

In conclusion, the UN isn't anti-semitic. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on other hand, certainly is.

No-Shit-Headline Of The Year

Saw this AP headline last night on Yahoo: "Mideast war rages with no end in sight".

Drat. Turns out that light I saw at the end of the tunnel was just a large explosion.

[Israeli warplanes hit Beirut suburbs (AP)]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Laughing While The Mideast Burns

President Bush and the White House yuck it up on the last day of the current Briefing Room.

Snippets from the gathering (video is available in the multimedia box on the right)-
MR. FITZWATER: Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Marlin, you're looking as pretty as ever.

MR. FITZWATER: Thank you, Mr. President. Really good to see you.


THE PRESIDENT: I know you've been complaining about the digs for a while. (Laughter.) So this is like the end of an old era. And let me just say, we felt your pain. And so we decided, you know, to help you renovate and come up with a new Brady center.

And so I want to thank the former spin meisters for joining me up here. Tell my people how to do it, will you? I mean, it's a -- (laughter.)

But, anyway, Laura and I wanted to come by and wish you all the best as you get to new headquarters for a while. I look forward to welcome you back here in, I guess, six or seven months. Is that right?

Q Nine months. We hope.

Q We're setting no timetables, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: That's what you get when you bring your crackpot up from Texas. (Laughter.)

Q No comment, sir. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: So, like, suede chairs? (Laughter.) Is that what you're looking -- kind of velvet armchairs? Armchairs. Everybody wants to be able to lean back.

It looks a little crowded in here. And so you want to double the size?

Q Yes.


Q Mr. President, should Mel Gibson be forgiven? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Is that you and Gregory standing back there?

Q I was there first. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: You know --

Q -- complaining of the Jews --

THE PRESIDENT: Is that Sam Donaldson? (Laughter.) Forget it. You're a has-been. We don't have to answer has-been's questions.

Q Ohhhhh!

Q Mr. President, do you want to say a little about the White House press corps, please?

THE PRESIDENT: Say something about the White House press corps?

Q Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: It's a beautiful bunch of people. (Laughter.)

Q How about your best moment in here, sir? Can you remember your --

THE PRESIDENT: My best moment in here is when my press conference ended. (Laughter.)


THE PRESIDENT: Well, you're the head of the whole thing. Like, have you got a thing -- a role to play?

Q No, no, no

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. But anyway, good luck.

Q What about Crawford?

THE PRESIDENT: For those of you going to Crawford, saddle up. All right, good to see you.

Yee haw!

As a Washington outsider, these masturbatory, backslapping events between politicos and the press make me queezy. With everything going on right now (war expanding all over the Middle East, global warming, genocides, deficits and job loss, New Orleans, etc), the idea of both the President and these top reporters getting together to joke around about Mel Gibson and suede chairs and celebrate their own importance is a bit surreal. Go back to work, people. No one cares that the reporters will be lied to in a different room next year.

Say It Ain't So, Bloomy!

Did NYC officials deny Central Park protest okay during the 2004 Republican convention for political reasons (ignoring the understandable irony of needing a 'permit' to protest in America)? Not that it was ever really in doubt, but now it seems there is proof...

NY Times: In Court Papers, a Political Note on ’04 Protests
When city officials denied demonstrators access to the Great Lawn in Central Park during the 2004 Republican National Convention, political advocates and ordinary New Yorkers accused Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of squelching demonstrations that could embarrass fellow Republicans during their gathering.

The Bloomberg administration denied being guided by politics in banning the protests. Instead, officials said they were motivated by a concern for the condition of the expensively renovated Great Lawn or by law enforcement’s ability to secure the crowd.

But documents that have surfaced in a federal lawsuit over the use of the Great Lawn paint a different picture, of both the rationale for the administration’s policy and the degree of Mr. Bloomberg’s role in enforcing it.

Those documents, which include internal e-mail messages and depositions in the court case, show that Mr. Bloomberg’s involvement in the deliberations over the protests may have been different from how he and his aides have portrayed it. They also suggest that officials were indeed motivated by political concerns over how the protests would play out while the Republican delegates were in town, and how the events could affect the mayor’s re-election campaign the following year...

File this one in the "duh" column.

(Not that anything will come of this, I believe, much to the chagrin of angry New Yorkers.)

[Related documents]

Odds And Ends

Some random news of interest on this very hot, global warming kinda day...

Israel seizes gorillas guerillas in a new raid in Lebanon.

Speaking of that war- have conservative bloggers and pundits finally gone over the deep end? If so, how can we tell the difference? In regards to the deaths of over 60 Lebanese civilians earlier this week in the town of Qana due to an Israeli bombing campaign gone wrong, the conservatives state that... it's all a conspiracy and Israel didn't do it. Ignore that Israel has already apologized for the massacre. You see what really happened was that Hezbollah killed all those people, framed Israel, and the media's been covering it all up! DUH! At the center of all of this was, not surprisingly, Michelle Malkin and the usual suspects... Then again its gets worse as others like Rush Limbaugh take that narrative and go further, stating that these civilians (and others) deserved to die anyway because they choose to live in a country with such radical elements. Hmmm, that sentiment sounds familiar.

And so, as neoconservatism implodes on the far-right, does indifference to and/or defense of mass killing become the next logical step for the true believers?

Meanwhile, (saner) bloggers ponder the hard question- how do we deal with Hezbollah?

On the subject of Middle East oil, Congress says that we need another quick, temporary fix.

Meanwhile, the Swift Boat chameleons who attacked John Kerry in 2004 are now rebranding themselves and setting their sights on Rep. John Murtha because of his criticism of the Iraq war. Aren't election years keen?

Evolution isn't going to let Kansas push it around anymore.

Finally, Scooter Libby really hopes the jury believes that remembering stuff is hard work.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Holy Crap, There's A War Going On!

This topic, coming back from vacation, was the most difficult for me to approach here. The conflict is so complicated and grand that one doesn't even know where to begin. I don't have much to add, but I will take a look at where we stand and how U.S. leaders are approaching the Mideast situation disaster.

Big news today- after agreeing to a 48-hour ceasefire in light of numerous civilian deaths, Israel resumed the bombing of Lebanon hours after making that pledge-
Israeli warplanes carried out strikes in southern Lebanon on Monday, hours after agreeing to temporarily halt air raids while investigating a bombing that killed at least 56 Lebanese civilians, mostly women and children seeking shelter. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there will be no cease-fire, adding that "Israel is continuing to fight."...

It's interesting; I was discussing this with a friend this morning after he mentioned the non-ceasefire ceasefire by Israel and I couldn't believe how far they'd come in two weeks. When they first began their campaign, most people were shocked, but in general understood where Israel was coming from and understand what their goals were in terms of strangling a long-time enemy once and for all. Call it a 'ripping off the band-aid' foreign policy approach. But after two weeks of constant bombing and attacks, much of which now seems to lack any specific purpose in light of all the civilian deaths, most of the world seems to have given up on Israeli knowing when to quit or what they are doing. Calls for a real ceasefire and more diplomacy are increasing. Even the NY Post- never a critic of Israeli policies- seemed to share this worn-down sentiment on its cover today. Backing out of the ceasfire promise didn't help. So in two short long weeks, Israel seems to have almost gone out of its way to make itself much less sympathetic in this conflict. This isn't to say, of course, that anyone is sympathetic to the state of Hezbollah, but it just seems its the Lebanese people who are being most punished here and not that terror group. The long-term goals still make sense, but I see little evidence that this will achieve anything other than cyclical destruction.

It's time they dropped the bravado and articulated whatever their long-term plan is.

Meanwhile, on the U.S. front, in addition to sending Sec. Rice to talk with world leaders, President Bush continues to insist that he will not join in calls for a ceasefire unless it is "accompanied by a wider agreement addressing the root causes of the fighting, such as Hezbollah's control of southern Lebanon, and Iran and Syria's influence in Lebanon." Which, of course, will be very easy to accomplish with bombs raining down all over Lebanon, right? Right? {*sigh*}

The not-so-secret truth is that the White House and its political allies are very approving of what Israel is doing and would prefer a wider escalation in the region (particularly against Iran and/or Syria) rather than a ceasefire. Josh Marshall summed this up in a good, balanced post yesterday: "There's more here than the US not wanting a ceasefire before meaningful changes on the ground have happened in south Lebanon. Or at least I fear there is... [T]here do appear to be forces in Washington -- seemingly the stronger ones, with Rice just a facade -- who see this whole thing as an opportunity for a grand call of double or nothing to get out of the disaster they've created in the region. Go into Syria, maybe Iran. Try to roll the table once and for all. No failed war that a new war can't solve. Condi's mindless 'birth pangs' remark wasn't just a gaffe -- or perhaps it was a gaffe in the Kinsleyan sense of inopportunely saying what you really think. That seems to be the thinking -- transformation through destabilization."

And that's a scary thought in light of what we've seen already.

Further reading, for those interested:
-AP: Bush looks to UN for Mideast solution
-Newsweek: Making Enemies: Hamas and Hizbullah should not be confused with Al Qaeda. Bush's insistence on doing so shows his failure to understand his foes.
Time Magazine: Why the Middle East Crisis Isn't Really About Terrorism
-Salon War Room: Bush: We have to destroy Lebanon in order to save it
-NY Times: Child Victims Incite Anger in Lebanon and Beyond
-Reuters: Raise readiness, Assad tells Syrian Army
-James Zogby (HuffPost): What Must Be Done in Lebanon

Finally, an interesting discussion on the Bush foreign policy by Chris Matthews and Don Imus of all people.

[PS- Meanwhile, back in Iraq, things aren't going much better. Iraqi Prime Minister Malaki's visit to America didn't go as well as hoped. In particular, his comments about Israeli were not in line with our government's stance, though he did repeat the White House talking points in regards to Iraq and the war on terror. And as the bodies in Iraq continue to pile up, more and more Democratic leaders in Congress unite to call for troop withdrawals from the country. They wrote a letter to President Bush to express their concerns about the war. Recent polls support their position.]

Minimum Wage Increase... Another Victim of Election-Year Politics?

For months, Democratic party leaders have been calling for a federal increase in the minimum wage. The minimum wage has not been increased from the low $5.15/hr in nearly 10 years. Democrats have made fighting for this increase a cornerstore of their election year pitch. The Republicans have, of course, fought this every step of the way, partly because of their duel bases of big businesses and wealthy Americans, and also to refocus the election year dialogue toward issues like abortion, religion, and guns. You know, the big issues that affect all our lives (I had blogged/ranted about this contrast a month ago). So imagine my surprise when I came across this last week...

AP: House Republicans plan minimum wage vote
House Republican leaders, giving in to political reality, plan a vote to raise the $5.15 minimum wage before leaving Washington this weekend for a five-week recess.

"Whether people like it or not, we need to go ahead with it," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., who supports the idea. "There's a general agreement among Republicans (opposing the raise) that "maybe we don't like it much, but we need to move forward with it just for political reasons."...

Wowza! Could it be that the Republicans did indeed give in to political realities and realized that Americans have been calling for a wage increase for several years? Could it be that they decided to take the lead on this issue, so that the Democrats could no longer critique them for ignoring it? Is this interesting turn of events too good to be true?

There has to be a catch, right?

Oop, wait! There is!
Republicans muscled the first minimum wage increase in a decade through the House early Saturday after pairing it with a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates...

...Still, GOP leaders saw combining the wage and tax issues as their best chance for getting permanent cuts to the estate tax, a top GOP priority fueled by intense lobbying by farmers, small business owners and super-wealthy families such as the Waltons, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune.

"This is the best shot we've got; we're going to take it," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. The unusual packaging also soothed conservatives angry about raising the minimum wage over opposition by GOP business allies...

Pairing it with tax cuts! GOP, you old trickster!

This is, of course, politics at its dirtiest. The article makes clear that conseratives/Republicans are still opposed to a wage increase, but only held a vote to cut off a key Democratic campaign issue at its knees. And by pairing it with more tax cuts for the rich, they assure two things- 1) their base will be appeased, and 2) they have more ammo now for anti-Democrat campaign ads. On the latter note, they will use this against the Democrats either way. If the Democrats vote for it, they will say the Democrats flip-flopped on tax cuts. If the Democrats stand on principle and vote against this, they will say the Democrats aren't serious about the minimum wage increase. As predictable as it is odious.

The Democrats should, however, turn the issue back around and make it clear they will not let the minimum wage be used an electoral ploy. They should let voters know that the GOP is playing politics with their wages and once again putting the interests of the wealthiest Americans ahead of everyone else.

I am not sure if Democrats will push back that strongly, but they aren't keeping silent. Examples-
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed Democrats would kill the hybrid bill, along with its 10-year, $300 billion-plus cost.

"The Senate has rejected fiscally irresponsible estate tax giveaways before and will reject them again," Reid said. "Blackmailing working families will not change that outcome."...

..."Just think of what it is to have a bill that says to minimum wage workers, 'We'll raise your minimum wage but only if we can give an estate tax cut to the 7,500 wealthiest families in America,'" said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif...

...The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said the move by GOP leaders — who actually oppose the minimum wage increase — was a cynical exercise to give political cover to GOP moderates while ensuring the wage increase does not become law.

"They want on the one hand to appear to be doing something and on the other make sure that it doesn't happen," Hoyer said.

It does appear likely the Democrats will defeat this...

...Which is, of course, probably what the Republicans wanted all along.

Please America, I am begging you here. Throw these bums out.

[PS- The Democrats are starting to finalize their electoral strategy. An AP article states "Democrats plan to press for a minimum wage increase and 'tough, smart' national security in their final push to wrest power from the Republicans in the November elections... It's a compilation of positions the party has staked out over the past few months on income, national security, energy, education, health care and retirement accounts." To quote Principal Skinner at army camp, 'Sounds real good, but it needs improvement'.]

The Lie That Wouldn't Die

Last month, as you may recall, a few Republicans (most notably Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and Fox News' Sean Hannity) tried one last-ditch effort to convince Americans that we had found the Iraqi WMDs that the President assured us Saddam was hiding when we invaded the country three years ago. Santorum waved around a classified report he insisted was proof of this. As he was almost immediately corrected that the weapons the report referred to were degraded, discarded munitions predating the first Gulf War, and even as the Defense Department disavowed his 'findings', Santorum and the others barely blinked an eye. We had found the WMDs- that was their story and they were sticking to it.

In my blog entry on that, I stated at the beginning that I was "mostly posting this for posterity because in the coming months and years we can expect the right-wing to cling to the lie that we found the WMDs in Iraq that we were looking for". And cling they have. Sean Hannity, for one, is still bragging about the found WMDs and ranting about the liberal media that has been covering this fact up. Why, they even got the Pentagon involved in the coverup!

More depressing, ignoring Hannity since he's a predictable partisan, is the number of average Americans who still believe the lies and spin used to sell the war. Numerous polls still show, for example, that a high number still believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and/or that the hijackers were Iraqi. Now, in light of the Santorum report, the conservative Washington Times reports that-
Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 -- up from 36 percent last year, a Harris poll finds. Pollsters deemed the increase both "substantial" and "surprising" in light of persistent press reports to the contrary in recent years.

My translation: Blueduck37 deemed the increase "intellectually depressing" but "not super surprising" in light of persistent spin and propaganda in recent years.

Finally, Alex Koppelman at Huffington Post looks at this poll and those praising it:
How The Lies About WMD Continue To Work

"He has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support."

An interesting development- the NY Times endorses challenger Ned Lamont in next week's Connecticut Democratic primary for the Senate slot in November's ballot. The endorsement editorial is a good summary of what is wrong with Sen. Lieberman, why he deserves to have been singled out by the party's grassroots activists, and why he has to go.

The important passages-
[T]his race is not about résumés. The United States is at a critical point in its history, and Mr. Lieberman has chosen a controversial role to play. The voters in Connecticut will have to judge whether it is the right one...

...Mr. Lieberman is not just a senator who works well with members of the other party. And there is a reason that while other Democrats supported the war, he has become the only target. In his effort to appear above the partisan fray, he has become one of the Bush administration’s most useful allies as the president tries to turn the war on terror into an excuse for radical changes in how this country operates.

Citing national security, Mr. Bush continually tries to undermine restraints on the executive branch: the system of checks and balances, international accords on the treatment of prisoners, the nation’s longtime principles of justice. His administration has depicted any questions or criticism of his policies as giving aid and comfort to the terrorists. And Mr. Lieberman has helped that effort. He once denounced Democrats who were “more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq” than on supporting the war’s progress.

At this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman’s ability to command Republicans’ attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president’s defender...

...There is no use having a senator famous for getting along with Republicans if he never challenges them on issues of profound importance.

If Mr. Lieberman had once stood up and taken the lead in saying that there were some places a president had no right to take his country even during a time of war, neither he nor this page would be where we are today. But by suggesting that there is no principled space for that kind of opposition, he has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support.

Mr. Lamont, a wealthy businessman from Greenwich, seems smart and moderate, and he showed spine in challenging the senator while other Democrats groused privately. He does not have his opponent’s grasp of policy yet. But this primary is not about Mr. Lieberman’s legislative record. Instead it has become a referendum on his warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction. We endorse Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut.

And there you have it.

Finally, Ned Lamont video blogs!- Let's Talk About Iraq

[PS- More great takes- countering the conventional wisdom- from Digby and Salon.]

Back.... Again

After a false start last week, I am indeed back (hey jetlag's a bitch... plus I've been catching up on 'Veronica Mars' on DVD- great show). Perhaps the most daunting thing for me in terms of post-vacation blogging was the obvious- where to begin?!! With so much going on right now, I just am unsure of what to even say about all this. Alas, I will try to add something to the chorus of voices all throwing their two or three cents around on the state of politics, circa mid-summer 2006.

First up is a post I actually started before my vacation, but never got around to finishing. The thoughts in it still aren't as complete as I would like, but it is a subject- the media's disproportionate criticism of blogs- that I have found fascinating. Maybe you will too!

Anyway, here it is...

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting post about a topic I've been thinking about for a while... why the media is obsessed with the liberal blogosphere (particularly their attempts to- gasp!- try and influence and empower the Democratic Party grassroots), but completely ignores the conservative blogosphere (where the average post is not about helping political causes and movements, but rather just daily rants about how liberals, etc, want America to die and how we need to wage war against everyone and everything). Greenwald particularly focuses on the daily calls on these blogs for violence and/or imprisonment for anyone who they feel does not share the same political interests as President Bush. It is definitely more the rule than the exception too.

As someone who reads, out of intellectual curiousity, popular conservative blogs like Powerline or Michelle Malkin on a daily basis, I can vouch that these people are scary. And I don't mean scary in a 'I disagree with them politically' way, but in a 'Please God tell me these people are actually a form of satire' way. These blogs even made me melt down once and forced a catharis post that still stands up.

I came across a good example of this randomly a couple weeks ago... an entry at Blogs For Bush entitled 'Democrats' Domestic Spying'. The title is obviously intending to portray Democrats as hypocrites on the issue of domestic spying, after revelations and criticism of President Bush authorizing... warrantless wiretaps, phone record databases, email searches, etc. So what did the Democrats do that they has them so angry? The post discusses a door-to-door campaign tactic of tailoring the message you deliver to the homeowner based on signs you can see around their home or what they say (ie. mention child heathcare if they have kids, etc). A typical, decades-old campaign tool (popular by all parties) in their minds becomes... spying. This is one random example; I can find far crazier at some of the blogs mentioned above. They write that "this is both amusing and pathetic at the same time". They are correct in that assessment (oh wait, they were referring to the campaigning thing- my bad!).

What I think makes this significant is that the media/pundits always discuss the 'angry left' out of some old habit, while ignoring that, post-Limbaugh, most of the political vitriol in this country comes from the right. And, unlike the far-left in this country (like the infamous 9/11 conspiracy theorists) who are marginalized, these conservative bloggers wield alot of mainstream influence and are often brought onto cable news show (and not just on Fox) as serious political experts. The media tends to be skeptical or derisive of liberal bloggers, but when the conservative bloggers make up a scandal- ie. does the media want us to lose the war in Iraq- all the news outlets take it up as a serious debate.

This is done for two big reasons that I can think of. The first is simply that the right-wing's chants of 'liberal bias!!' (and protests, etc) have so frightened the mainstream media that their safe instinct now when approaching most stories is to approach it from the Republican point-of-view and work outwards from there. The second is related to the first- in attempts to appear more 'fair', the media sometimes seeks balance even in obviously one-sided stories (ie. the attempts to make the Abramoff scandal about Democrats too). Little do they realize that nothing will appease the right-wing, who care not about media fairness, but simply loathe the press and have been working to hinder it for years.

Left-wing blogs criticize the press as well, by the way, but their criticism centers around correcting the problems of sloppy journalism and those caused by this phenomenon- by attempting to be more 'fair', the media has actually become less balanced. Their blind spot when it comes to right-wing blogs, if only because of their obsession with the liberal ones, is more proof of this.

Finally, Greenwald sums up his findings-
The extremist and increasingly deranged rhetoric and tactics found in the right-wing blogosphere -- not only among obscure bloggers but promoted and disseminated by its most-read and influential bloggers -- is, indeed, "a very common disease." When it becomes commonplace to hurl accusations of treason against domestic political opponents, or when calls for imprisonment and/or hanging of journalists and political leaders become the daily fare -- all of which is true for the pro-Bush blogosphere -- those are serious developments. And they merit discussion and examination by the media.

^ What he said.