Saturday, August 19, 2006

Checks and Balances = Jihad (aka- Bush Cultists Fail Logic)

President Bush yesterday morning on Thursday's court ruling:
"I would say that those who, um, um, herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live."

That nature being, apparently, that we live under a quasi-monarchical President who alone has the sole authority to decide what laws are relevant, who is a terrorist, and which of its constitutionally-required duties the other branches of government are allowed to undertake. Ohh, he meant the whole terrorism, thing? Well, even ignoring the President's exaggeration of the threats, that is simply irrelevant. Not only did this ruling have no impact on surveillance methods (unless all the FISA judges are on vacation), the 'nature of the world' is not what our judges base their decisions on... it's the rule of law and our Constitution. Perhaps the President needs a refresher course on the 'nature' of our democracy. It is not up for President Bush to decide if his illegal wiretapping is, well, illegal. That is for our courts to decide. And based on the results from a number of federal judges as well as the Supreme Court (in both Hamdi and Hamdan), they see the Bush/Cheney argument as the unamerican bunk it is.

Meanwhile, the hardcore Bush cultists are freaking out over this decision. We are hearing the usual rants- this is a terrorist victory, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was appointed by Carter and did civil rights work (and is therefore a leftist radical), etc... Tim Grieve has a good roundup of some of these in Salon's War Room, featuring quotes from the National Review, Wall Street Journal, and Rush Limbaugh. But, surprise surprise, one of the most nonsensical rants came from Rupert Murdoch's NY Post (*). Let's take a look-

The American people are suddenly less safe today - thanks to a presumptive and overtly political ruling by a left-wing Michigan federal jurist.

Right off the bat- fearmongering and the personal smearing of the judge. How exactly a court decision on constitutional issues makes anyone 'less safe' is unimportant to the Post; all that matters is that the ruling dared to question the President and that makes the judge another "Michael Moore or George Soros".

The fact is, though, the program has been effective - and doubtless is a major reason why America has not yet suffered another major terrorist attack since the Twin Towers were destroyed.

Once again, another opinion by the Post, not backed up by facts. The administration has offered no proof that this program has been effective (to the contrary, numerous government agents have worried it may be counterproductive, leading "to dead ends or innocent Americans"); the program is secret; even most members of Congress have not been briefed on it. So what proof does the Post for such an assertion? None; they know no more about it than we do.

But here is the main point and a question I would demand every Bush defender answer: What is the difference in terms of success between legal wiretapping and warrantless wiretapping? Contrary to the spin which even the media is regurgitating, this ruling has NO impact on wiretapping abilities. The President always had the authority to wiretap suspected terrorists and still does... with a court-approved warrant as required by the '78 FISA law and Fourth Amendment. Going outside this system is unnecessary, as FISA allows for emergency wiretapping to begin sans warrant, as long as one is filed for within 72 hours (15 days in 'wartime'). The administration has yet to offer a valid reason why this wasn't good enough, other than an off-hand remark by Attorney General Gonzales in January that the paperwork was too 'cumbersome'. Feel safer now?

The obvious conclusion is that there is no difference between the wiretapping approved with a FISA warrant and that done in secret without one in terms of results. The real answer is that they did it simply because they wanted to, based on the Cheney doctrine of unlimited executive power.

Or as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said of the program earlier this year: "We have to collect the right dots before we can 'connect the dots.' " This program, he said, "provides the United States with the early-warning system we so desperately needed on Sept. 10."

Speaking of connecting the dots and September 10... in regards to the latter, we did intercept a communication on that date warning of the next day's attacks, but it wasn't acted on because they simply didn't have anyone to translate it. And in regards to 'connecting the dots', as that example illustrates, the pre-9/11 problem wasn't a failure to collect the dots, but to connect them. Doing so is a question of intelligence; not sure how warrants and court oversight impede that.

As for the president's power to authorize warrantless surveillance, it was eloquently defended back in 1994 by Jamie Gorelick, then the Clinton administration's deputy attorney general and later one of the more blatantly anti-Bush members of the 9/11 Commission:

"Case law," she told Congress back then, "supports that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes, and that the president may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the attorney general."

We don't recall outraged Democrats yelping about the threat to civil liberties at that time.

Perhaps not- but I do remember Republicans yelping about that (how things have changed). By the way, bold added by me... notice how they try to morph wiretapping with physical searches? At the time of Gorelick's statement, warrantless physical searches were not illegal under FISA law. The subsequent outrage about this from conservatives luckily prompted a revision of FISA by Congress (working with Congress- what a concept!), who made such searches illegal. But the Post doesn't disclose those pesky details in their attempt to insinuate that Clinton (or any other President post-FISA) authorized warrantless wiretapping, for which no evidence or accusations have been made.

That's because this is all about partisan politics - and ideology.

So says the Post right before engaging in a partisan attack on Judge Taylor.

With luck, the judges hearing those cases will appreciate that any threat to the civil liberties of Americans pales next to the danger posed by the jihadists intent on destroying them.

Translation- Take my liberty if you spare me death! Go America!

In the end, though, only one point is needed... the President of the United States does not have the power to break the law or Constitution, in secret, on his say-so. That the Bush cultists would rather engage in a false debate on terrorism over the real issues surrounding this case is expected, but sad. This issue is too important to be dragged down to the Rove level of gutter politics.

Finally, more bad news for the President... his terror scares aren't helping his sagging approval ratings.

[PS- See also the following for more info on this saga:
-AP: Bush defends surveillance program
-AP: Feds appeal ruling on surveillance
-AP: Hard to predict 6th Circuit's NSA ruling

Editorials from NY Times and Washington Post (with rebuttals to the latter here and here).

*See also previous NY Post insanity- here, here, here, and here.]

Fancy Liberal Filth

I highly recommend this; it's hilarious and fun!

See how right-wingers see the New York Times.

[Similar parody in the comics of the San Francisco Chronicle- here.]

Odds and Ends

Despite the ceasefire, Israeli soldiers re-enter Lebanon to battle Hezbollah, stating that they cannot wait for the promised U.N. peacekeeping force to arrive. And Israeli troops criticize the way their government has handled the war. Many in that country demand accountability for the failures. Meanwhile, President Bush insists that in time people will realize that Hezbollah lost. Que?

The U.S. is pushing for the U.N. to impose immediate sanctions on Iran unless they stop enriching uranium.

Demands grow in the U.K. for Tony Blair to resign over his support for President Bush.

Republican Senator George Allen had a bad week after a racially-sensitive remark made toward an Indian man documenting his campaign for the opposition.

A new poll shows Republicans losing the 'security moms'. But how are the MILFs voting?

Finally, with all the big stuff in the news- Iraq, Israel/Lebanon, the wiretapping decision, etc- what is the media talking about? The Ramsey murder story. Journamalism!!@ Even the NY Times had almost seven times as many reporters on the Ramsey story as they did the wiretapping one. Jon Stewart ripped the press a new one over their obsession with that story. My question... who is John Karr and where did Karl Rove dig him up?

Meanwhile, In Iraq...

How are things in Iraq at the end of this week? Let's take a look.

Firstly, the war in Iraq has now outpaced U.S. involvement in WWII:
Iraq > World War II (The Nation)

And older troops are being called up again to die for Rumsfeld's mistakes:
Troops long out-of-uniform sent to Iraq (AP)

Moving over to Iraq, in the Kurdish north, things are not as calm as one thinks:
Kurds flee homes as Iran shells Iraq's northern frontier (The Guardian)

In the capitol, things are even worse:
7 Killed as Full-Scale Sectarian Fighting Rages in Baghdad (NY Times)

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are forced to double funds to import oil into the country:
Iraq faces fuel crisis amid the violence (AP)

The investigation into the Haditha massacre looks into whether Marines destroyed evidence:
Marines May Have Excised Evidence on 24 Iraqi Deaths (NY Times)

Here at home, the Congressional Budget Office shows the deficit growing, in part due to the costs of war:
CBO Forecasts ‘Staying the Course’ In Iraq Would Increase Deficit By $1.3 Trillion Over Next Decade (Think Progress)

The Pentagon has begun an in-depth reassessment of what went wrong:
Pentagon studying its war errors (Boston Globe)

Reports indicate the administration is quietly giving up on democracy succeeding in Iraq:
Bombs Aimed at G.I.’s in Iraq Are Increasing (NY Times)

Finally, CNN's Jack Cafferty runs down all the times we were told we had achieved in Iraq.

[PS- I said it before, but I'm serious about this... Let's officially take bets now- 1) President Bush stubbornly stays the course out of continued delusion and misplaced pride? Or, 2) An October surprise of troop withdrawals to be seen on every news channel? My money's been on the latter for months. What say you, blog reader(s)?]

Thursday, August 17, 2006

BREAKING: Federal Judge Rules Warrantless Spying Unconstitutional; Orders Halt

America may be finding its way back just yet. From the world of checks and balances-

AP: Judge nixes warrantless surveillance
A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

"Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion...

This is a great- if possibly temporary- victory for democracy and the rule of law in America.

For the legal-detail-minded, you can read Judge Taylor's opinion here. In it, she states, "In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained." You can also read her injuction against the program here, in which she "enjoins the administration from 'directly or indirectly utilizing the Terrorist Surveillance Program'."

Glenn Greenwald read the opinion and broke it down. Key parts for me:
(a) it rejected the "state secrets" assertion in these cases because the program has already been publicly confirmed by the administration (this is a reaffirmation of the ruling Judge Walker made last month); (b) it ruled that warrantless eavesdropping violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures; (c) it ruled, using Supreme Court post-9/11 precedent, that the Executive's powers in the national security area do not grant him extraconstitutional power, and that courts are empowered under our Constitution to enjoin and restrict the exercise even of national security powers, even in times of war, when the President's conduct violates the law or the Constitution; (d) it rejected the administration's claim that the AUMF constitutes authorization to eavesdrop in violation of FISA, noting that FISA is an extremely specific statute while the AUMF says nothing about eavesdropping; (e) it rejected the Bush theory on presidential power, noting 'there are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution'; and finally (f) given all those findings, issued a permanent injunction enjoining the Bush administration from continuing to eavesdrop in violation of FISA.

More from Greenwald on the ruling's longevity and consequences- here and here. One thing the legal scholars like Greenwald and Jack Balkin are saying is that while the ultimate conclusions are accurate, the arguments left some holes-- enough to guarantee an appeal. The Bush administration is expected to appeal, of course, and has asked to delay the halt.

Here's a suggestion for the President- get the warrants! Stop violating our Constitution! Problem solved!

Finally, the Wonkette gang- snarky as always- don't believe the NSA would listen anyway.

[PS- In an unrelated blog post written yesterday, arch-conservative Powerline blogger John Hinderaker writes of the possibility of a Feingold candidacy in 2008 brought on by the Democratic party 'moving left'. In it, he writes that no Democratic president "would stop eavesdropping on international conversations among terrorists", implying that's something anyone has argued for. This willfull ignorance of the very nature of this scandal is a success for Karl Rove, who took a major constitutional conflict on the limits of presidential power and turned it into a fake debate with fictional Democrats who don't want to spy on terrorists. I ranted on the same thing last week when Bill O'Reilly declared the U.K. arrests a victory for President Bush's argument for warrantless wiretapping, even after noting that warrants were filed for that surveillance! Hinderaker also asserts that he "expect[s] a Democratic administration to be less scrupulous than the Bush administration has been in respecting civil liberties". Yes, the same Feingold who wanted to censure President Bush (and was called a traitor and terror-sympathizer by the Powerline crowd for his efforts)- and who has just now released a statement of support for the ruling- would be worse than Bush in his mind. Not that these people thought Bush did anything wrong; in fact, they've been arguing against the civil liberty argument- a 'luxury' in 'wartime'- for years. Proof again that there is no logic or continuity in the mind of the American Republican.

Far-right screeching on the ruling begins- here/here. RNC campaign ads surely follow soon.]

Moving On

With the latest 'terrorist' scare headlining the usual places yesterday, I think this is needed.

In their new issue which poses the question 'What If 9/11 Never Happened?', New York magazine also has an article on the grief culture that has consumed America since the attacks (the "age of terror" the main article calls it). It definitely spoke to something I've been thinking about about for a while... namely, as I mentioned in my entry yesterday about refocusing the war on terror, that it's time to stop letting said war dominate American life and politics. Our leaders and relevant agencies (FBI/CIA/NSA/Military) will still be dealing with the terrorist threat and tracking down plots on a daily basis- and have been for over a decade- but the country as whole needs to finally move on.

That may sound harsh to some, but eventually the grieving process does come to an end. Five years later, it's definitely past time. We always remember those we lost, but we move on. To allow one singular event- no matter how powerful- to dictate the policies and lifestyles of a nation like ours is simply irrational. If a psychiatrist was diagnosing America and its behavior post-9/11, he'd definitely recommend we be medicated. A "national neurosis, a perpetual childhood," the article calls it. In addition, as the article notes, this grief culture plays into the hands of our enemies by making us appear weak and fragile... two words one would not normally associate with this country. We have let the terrorists win by legitimizing their power and winning their PR war for them.

This stalled, perpetual grieving culture can be blamed on the two parties most responsible for enabling it-- firstly, the politicians, namely the Bush administration whose political survival depends on the 'daddy state' they created to hide their foreign and domestic failures. Secondly at fault is the media, who love the sexy excitement that can be exploited from terror stories. We have the power to force them to stop this charade by moving on ourselves. We have to. So many important issues- namely the entire domestic agenda of the United States (job creation, healthcare, minimum wage, rebuilding New Orleans, immigration, etc)- have been on pause for the last five years. We can finally tackle those issues while keeping our eye on the terrorism ball, if we learn to put the latter in its proper context.

We shouldn't forget the lessons of that day, but it's time to be America again.

Let's move on.

Did Hezbollah Win? Yes And No.

This war between Israel and Hezbollah almost certainly isn't over- merely paused by a fragile U.N. resolution- so identifying a 'winner' at this point is quite silly. As the ceasefire took hold, both sides, not surprisingly, claimed victory. Hezbollah says it defeated Israel simply by surviving. Israel, backed up by President Bush, says it defeated Hezbollah by putting it on the ropes. But since the goal of each in the war was to annihilate the other, obviously they both lost. The countless piles of dead civilians on both sides, as well as the massive damage done to Lebanon's infrastructure, would validate that.

But, in this time-out period, it is clear who is winning the propaganda/PR end of the war.... Hezbollah by a mile. Israel didn't help matters; their failure to communicate with Lebanon (and the world community at large) to simply articulate their long-term strategies cost them support and sympathy in a struggle where they normally would've had it with little question. A big reason that Hezbollah has managed to booster its profile, particularly among even many moderates in Lebanon, is the work they have done in that country. The NY Times has details-
As stunned Lebanese returned Tuesday over broken roads to shattered apartments in the south, it increasingly seemed that the beneficiary of the destruction was most likely to be Hezbollah.

A major reason — in addition to its hard-won reputation as the only Arab force that fought Israel to a standstill — is that it is already dominating the efforts to rebuild with a torrent of money from oil-rich Iran...

In his victory speech on Monday night, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, offered money for “decent and suitable furniture” and a year’s rent on a house to any Lebanese who lost his home in the month-long war.

“Completing the victory,” he said, “can come with reconstruction.”...

...While the Israelis began their withdrawal, hundreds of Hezbollah members spread over dozens of villages across southern Lebanon began cleaning, organizing and surveying damage. Men on bulldozers were busy cutting lanes through giant piles of rubble. Roads blocked with the remnants of buildings are now, just a day after a cease-fire began, fully passable...

....Hezbollah’s reputation as an efficient grass-roots social service network — as opposed to the Lebanese government, regarded by many here as sleek men in suits doing well — was in evidence everywhere. Young men with walkie-talkies and clipboards were in the battered Shiite neighborhoods on the southern edge of Bint Jbail, taking notes on the extent of the damage.

“Hezbollah’s strength,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese American University here, who has written extensively about the organization, in large part derives from “the gross vacuum left by the state.”...

Yes, this rebuilding/charity work is just propaganda work for the well-connected Hezbollah, but it works. It should come as a surprise to no one that the loyalty of a poor Lebanese citizen whose home was bombed will end up going to those who helped rebuild it. Just as Americans don't pay attention to the minutia, and are ill-informed, of politics, so the Lebanese people may give little thought to the fact that these great services are being provided by a group that is doing their country, and the region, great harm.

(On a sidenote, it should make us feel ashamed that a terror organization is doing impressive rebuilding work in Lebanon, while we are bungling projects left and right. We can't rebuild Iraq- and much of the money allotted for that has 'disappeared' thanks to companies like Halliburton- and we can't even rebuild New Orleans, a city in our own country. Not relevant to this discussion, just thought it was pretty sad.)

As I said earlier this month as ceasefire talks were beginning, this grassroots popularity of Hezbollah needs to be taken into account in any plans to remove it. Sadly, Hezbollah is an entrenched part of these countries, not some rogue militia that can be bombed away. The path to marginalizing them is a question of reaching out to the average 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, especially with the Lebanese government refusing to disarm Hezbollah or accept responsibility for them, but that seems to me the right direction to move toward. Responding with force when necessary- and not in an undefined way as was occurring- can be argued for, but you cannot truly defeat Hezbollah so long as it retains this level of cult hero status among the people there.

Win over the Lebanese people and you're on the path to defeating Hezbollah. Yes, this may involve the type of 'carrot and stick' diplomacy the war-hungry neocons hate so much, but considering they have no victories and only quagmires to show for their supposed brilliance, I'm not too concerned with their position. Israel and the U.S. want a war, but maybe they should look first at the weapon Hezbollah has succeeded with- propaganda. If they can't even win that war, then all the katyusha rockets in the world will do little but pile up more bodies.

UPDATE: Hollywood plays too! Stars take out a letter condemning Hezbollah and Hamas.

Meanwhile, the U.S. prepares- albeit somewhat clumsily- its own efforts in Lebanon.

[PS- The most ardent Bush cultists believe the U.N.'s resolution to the conflict constitutes the greatest failure of his presidency and of the century thus far. Yipes! Harsh! Meanwhile, as the conflict refocused attention on Iran, a group- including 21 former generals, diplomats and national security officials- tries to tell the President that Iran is not the crisis he believes it is.]

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

President Bush: 'Why Don't Iraqis Appreciate Our Sweet Gift Of Freedom?'

George W. Bush just wants to be appreciated; he just wants to be given all the credit he deserves. Don't worry, Mr. President, I am sure the history books will give you the acknowledgment you so sorely deserve.

NY Times: Bush Said to Be Frustrated by Level of Public Support in Iraq
President Bush made clear in a private meeting this week that he was concerned about the lack of progress in Iraq and frustrated that the new Iraqi government — and the Iraqi people — had not shown greater public support for the American mission, participants in the meeting said Tuesday.

Those who attended a Monday lunch at the Pentagon that included the president’s war cabinet and several outside experts said Mr. Bush carefully avoided expressing a clear personal view of the new prime minister of Iraq, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

But in what participants described as a telling line of questioning, Mr. Bush did ask each of the academic experts for their assessment of the prime minister’s effectiveness.

“I sensed a frustration with the lack of progress on the bigger picture of Iraq generally — that we continue to lose a lot of lives, it continues to sap our budget,” said one person who attended the meeting. “The president wants the people in Iraq to get more on board to bring success.”

Ahh, that's the conservative approach I know and love! Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, Iraqi people! We can't do it all for you, that's not the job of government (just ask anyone living in New Orleans). We gave you freedom and democracy and you went and fucked it all up! For shame! You owe President Bush, and America, a big apology for making us look bad.

More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. “I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States,” said another person who attended.

What a bunch of ingrates. If a foreign military came to occupy my country, I know I'd be greeting them like liberators and lining rose petals all over the streets of the Green Zone for them. And with the great, well-organized plan we brought to this war, I don't know why they don't appreciate all the civil war progress we're making.

More great news today alone for the Iraqis to appreciate- here, here, and here.

[PS- MSNBC's Joe Scarborough poses the question: Is Bush an idiot? / Video]

Debunking The Myths

There are many myths the Bush supporters have used to defend the Iraq debacle- ties to Al Qaeda, WMDs, etc. One of them is that what Bush & co. did was a simply an extension of the Clinton/Gore administration's policy toward Iraq, or that the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act was justification for invasion. This is simply a lie. President Clinton did not believe in preemptive war and never made a move to invade Iraq or any nation in that region. Yes, Iraq was an issue in 1998, but invasion wasn't an option. Believing this also requires ignoring that the '98 policy was largely influenced by the neocons who planned the '03 invasion, that former Vice President Gore was one of the most vocal opponents of the march to war in late 2002, and that the White House purposely ignored intelligence in the runup to war that debunked their case. In regards to the larger issue of the Iraq Liberation Act, the most succint debunking of this myth came on 'Hardball' tonight in Chris Matthew's interview with Connecticut Senate candidate Ned Lamont. Here's a transcript I typed up-

Matthews: "You've got Bill Clinton on your side, he's probably the most popular Democrat in the country. He said something the other day... he said Joe Lieberman is probably the only Democrat in the entire United States who would've supported going to war in Iraq even if we knew ahead of time there was no WMD. What do you think of the fact that Bill Clinton is taking sides on your behalf now?"

Lamont: "I don't think in a heartbeat that Bill Clinton would've invaded Iraq like George Bush did, aided by Joe Lieberman every step of the way. Frankly, I don't think George Herbert Walker Bush would've invaded Iraq that way. And I think President Clinton, I'm proud to have him on the side of this campaign, I think he's right about that. I think Sen. Lieberman has been egging the United States to invade Iraq ever since 1991. He was there in 1998 for the Iraq Liberation Act. And he still wants to stay the course. Now it's three and a half years later and we see what a bloody mess we're in right now."

Matthews: "Well, why did Bill Clinton sign the Iraq Liberation Act in '98?"

Lamont: "I don't think he was talking about an invasion. I think at that point he was talking about ways that we might be able to aid some groups within Iraq, hopefully to destabilize."

Matthews: "Correct answer, Mr. Lamont, because the Iraq Liberation Act said nothing about any military action by us against Iraq."

If any site posts video of this exchange, I'll update with a link.

UPDATE: Crooks and Liars now has video of this.

The UK Plot- One Week Later: Don't Believe The Hype?

When I first wrote on the breaking news from London last week, I stated that it was clear that was a very legitimate plot, but also noted many suspicious aspects of the news, particularing the political timing of it. An observer with a good memory could name countless plots that the U.S. government tried to hype up as the next 9/11 (Jose Padilla and his 'dirty bomb', Richard Reid the shoe bomber, the Brooklyn Bridge blowtorch plot, the Lakawanna terror cell case, the chemical attack/duct tape announcement, the Citibank building plot, the Liberty Library Tower plot, the Miami 'terror' group, etc), but turned out to be minor schemes with little evidence that they were as grand as advertised. One week later, many are wondering whether the U.K./U.S. plane plot will eventually be lumped into that pile.

John at Americablog was the first to raise questions last Thursday about the seriousness of the plot, but as the evidence- or lack thereof?- grows, many others are suspicious. These concerns gained legitimacy earlier this week when Craig Murray- Britain's Ambassador to Uzbekistan- wrote in detail why people should be skeptical.

Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan sums up where this stands-
So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by. Remember: the British authorities had all these people under surveillance; they did not want to act last week; there was no imminent threat of anything but a possible "dummy-run," whatever deranged guest-bloggers at Malkin say....

...I'd be interested in the number of plotters who had passports. How could they even stage a dummy-run with no passports? And what bomb-making materials did they actually have? These seem like legitimate questions to me; the British authorities have produced no evidence so far. If the only evidence they have was from torturing someone in Pakistan, then they have nothing that can stand up in anything like a court. I wonder if this story is going to get more interesting. I wonder if Lieberman's defeat, the resilience of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the emergence of a Hezbollah-style government in Iraq had any bearing on the decision by Bush and Blair to pre-empt the British police and order this alleged plot disabled. I wish I didn't find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson.

Here's the official AP report on the status of the suspects:
British judge mulls status of suspects

In my initial post last week, I expressed hope that this story was everything we were told it was- a great foiling of a major plot by British officials- and that it would not require our usual cynicism. Clearly, we should all be thankful that the British authorities stopped this plot, no matter what the level. I asked this question at the end- "[I]s that what it seems? Very likely. But it'd be stupid/lazy not to ask questions." And now that many very important questions have popped up, it appears that cynicism is justified. Our leaders are the boys who cried wolf... they've lied to us so many times, that when they finally tell the truth, it may understandably fall on deaf ears. Did the British police really stop the wolf from eating the sheep? Maybe. But they should also be understanding that many are approaching this story with caution and skepticism.

It is also a given we can expect at least one more story like this before November.

[PS- Further reading on the history of the Bush administration's political (ab)use of terrorism:
-Time magazine (Josh Marshall): Toying With Terror Alerts?
-Keith Olbermann/Countdown: The Nexus of Politics and Terror (Video)
-Robert Scheer: Spinning Old Threats Into New Fears]

Duck and Cover, The Islamofascists Are Coming!

You Tube = awesome.

I found this old Cold War 'duck and cover' educational film strip.... hilarious!


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Misplaced Priorities... And A Proposal For A Democratic War On Terror

If the Democrats wanted to finally fight back on the political aspects of the war on terrorism (which they appear to be doing to their credit), there seems to me a theme that they can use to sum up, and condemn, the Bush/GOP approach to that war... misplaced priorities.

Misplaced priorities like abandoning the hunt for bin Laden in order to pursue the misguided neoconservative adventure in Iraq. That debacle has also cost U.S. taxpayers over half a trillion dollars, money being wasted even as President Bush had been planning to cut airport security funding. Or misplaced priorities like the use of the war to expand presidential authority, when doing so has resulted in distractions and unnecessary constitutional conflicts. Misplaced priorities like dropping the hunt for the 2001 anthrax attack perpetrators when it appeared to be homegrown and difficult to trace. Misplaced priorities like ignoring the impact our dependency on foreign oil has on the war. Misplaced priorities like ignoring the advice of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, while demanding absolute loyalty to the failing Bush/Cheney approach. Misplaced priorities like firing much-needed Arab translators/linguists (who could have made the crucial difference in foreseeing 9/11) simply because of our closeminded, backwards, and homophobic military laws. 55 linguists have been discharged for being gay. That one's personal for me.

That does not seem to me the actions of those who take it seriously.

No politician, Democrat or otherwise, should be afraid to say this: the Bush/Republican approach to the issue of terrorism is a disaster just waiting to explode. Our safety is something we owe to the dedicated people in intelligence/law-enforcement agencies, in spite of the broader 'war on terror' policies.

The Democratic Party needs to come forth and call for a refocused, and serious approach to dealing with terrorism. This would primarly involve realizing that if a 'war on terror' is to become a lasting presence in our lives the way the Cold War was a generation ago- ideally with less propaganda and fearmongering, though- then we must realize (as John Kerry, Howard Dean, and others have tried to instruct to deaf ears a couple years back) that it is more an issue of international police work and not a problem that can be defeated by traditional military means. As conservative columnist George Will noted today, "F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg (where Mohamed Atta lived before dying in the North Tower of the World Trade Center) and High Wycombe, England."

In addition, instead of actions which further radicalize Muslims/Arabs, we should reach out to the Muslim majority as allies of peace and encourage them to root out, and isolate, the radicals who would creep up around them-- while also addressing the root causes of radicalism in those countries.

Firstly, on the foreign-policy front, it means realizing terrorists don't have the easy connections to nation-states that fit into the traditional military planning that those running the Pentagon cling to. For instance, the terror suspects arrested in the U.K. were all homegrown British citizens. There is also word they may have had loose ties to Pakistan. Should our response to their plot then involve strikes on Britain and Pakistan? Of course not; and no one would suggest that. It should also be noted their plot had no connection to Iraq, Iran, Syria, or any of the other nations neocons have been planning to overthrow/occupy for a decade (those situations should be monitored strongly, of course, with an emphasis on united, international diplomatic pressure).

Military action in a 'war on terror' should be extremely limited- and targeted only. For instance, our original campaign in Afghanistan where bin Laden was residing and where his training camps were in high numbers, is an example of where action was needed (and has been mishandled by our leaders). Going beyond that- ie. preemptive wars and/or forcing democracy on random countries- is unnecessary and unjustified. Such actions have left our military depleted and ill-prepared for potentially unforeseen threats. They have also exascerbated the very problems they intended to solve. For the most part, the military should be used as a peacekeeping force (perhaps in the Sudan if resources allow?) and not an occupying power. U.S. taxpayer money should not be used to build permanent bases in the Middle East or toward military contractors for endless pork-barrel projects.

A general concensus should be reached with the Congress and American people before any military action is taken. Keeping the Congress fully informed will avoid future problems. Wherever possible, seek international allies (real allies, not the faux-coalition Bush strong-armed into signing on to his Iraq adventure). This will help restore America's perception abroad.

A move back toward diplomacy would also be key, part of which would include rebuilding international alliances and accepting a more even-handed approach. We would work with our Arab neighbors in the world, but also exert significant pressure on them to flush out the radical elements within their own borders (ie. recognizing that there's a world of difference between Hezbollah and the Lebanese people... and reminding the latter that they have the ability to marginalize the former). No more looking the other way.

Selected military strikes on terror camps/bases should not be ruled out, but we cannot engage in this haphazardly. We need to verify the intelligence as throroughly as possible. This sort of careful, cautious approach might cause the far-right hawks to gasp, but then they still mock President Clinton's accidental bombing of a Sudanese aspirin factory in 1998, when he was at least aiming at the right country- and bin Laden. Incidents like that do the United States great harm and risk civilian deaths.

Secondly, as we move away from a traditional military approach to a war on terrorism, refocus resources and manpower to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies... like the ones which foiled this plot in London, and could have foiled 9/11 had their eyes been on the ball. This does not mean disregarding laws, courts, and constitutional boundaries as the White House has insisted is necessary. Both Canada and the British authorities- who, by the way, seem to be outperforming us on this front in the past six months- proved that such extralegal violations are not necessary. It seems silly to throw away the freedoms one claims to be defending. Many of the common-sense, but ignored, recommendations for changes/improvements by the 9/11 Commission should be implemented.

Thirdly, we must move away from the Orwellian system of secret prisons and random torture and 'enemy combatants'. Places like Guantanamo Bay must be shut down and all prisoners either charged or set free. The recent Congressional ban on torture must be enforced in total, with an official condemnation of President Bush's circumventing signing statement. With a renewed recognition that the war on terrorism is less a military issue than an intelligence/police issue, all those arrested on suspicion of plotting terrorism must be processed through the regular avenues- not in kangaroo courts or without legal access. They must be either processed out in the open through military or civilian courts, depending on the specific case.

Finally, as I noted above, we need to end our dependency on foreign oil... and hopefully on oil itself, as much as possible. Congress should take official action to further alternative energy resources all across the country: corn-based ethanol, hybrid technologies, wind farms, hydro-power, solar energy, electrical cars, safe nuclear energy if possible, etc. This is near impossible right now because of the stranglehold Big Oil has on our elected officials, but someone in the Feingold mold must put pressure on their colleagues to end this. A move in this direction would note only be a benefit for our foreign policy, it would be a needed move toward environmental conservation in the wake of global warming, and would be a much-needed boost for the American economy.

This is a message that resonates. It's time to stop letting Karl Rove define what is the 'war on terror'. It's time to a) stop letting the war on terror dominate American life and politics, and b) take a serious look at the realities of terrorism and how to fight it.

But hey, what do I know, I'm just a liberal moonbat.

Odds and Ends

Some miscellaneous news of note on this Tuesday afternoon...

Spike Lee has completed a four-hour documentary on the New Orleans disaster set to air on HBO this month, entitled 'When the Levees Broke'. Details from Newsweek- It "will premiere in two parts on Aug. 21 and 22, and then air in its entirety on Aug. 29, the anniversary of Katrina's landfall... Act I covers the storm's arrival; Act II chronicles the failure of the emergency response; Act III follows an abandoned community coming to grips with all that it lost, and Act IV addresses the halting, haphazard effort to begin again."

Christy at Firedoglake also checks in with the situation in New Orleans. She laments the forgotten tragedy and the lack of progress made in the last year.

Meanwhile, the gang at New York magazine pose the question: What If 9/11 Never Happened?

And the NY Times wonders why the courts have forgotten the Bush v. Gore 2000 Supreme Court decision.

Salon takes a look inside the fiasco that is the training of Iraqi forces, noting that "The U.S. effort to train Iraqi forces -- and bring our troops home -- is mired in bureaucratic mismanagement, inept recruits and astonishing shortages of equipment." Another look at the situation in Iraq/Afghanistan from Firedoglake.

Finally, the Israel/Lebanon ceasefire solidifies after a rough start.

Rob The Vote

We all know of massive reports of voter fraud in 2000 and in 2004.

But what about 2006? Salon takes a look ahead to efforts to rob the vote this November-

Salon's shameful six:
There was Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. Here are the six states where vote suppression could cost voters their voice -- and Democrats the election -- in 2006.

...Opinion polls show that a majority of the public wants a Democratic Congress, but whether potential voters -- black and Latino voters in particular -- will be able to make their voices heard on Election Day is not assured. Across the country, they will have to contend with Republican-sponsored schemes to limit voting. In a series of laws passed since the 2004 elections, Republican legislators and officials have come up with measures to suppress the turnout of traditional Democratic voting blocs. This fall the favored GOP techniques are new photo I.D. laws, the criminalizing of voter registration drives, and database purges that have disqualified up to 40 percent of newly registered voters from voting in such jurisdictions as Los Angeles County.

"States that are hostile to voting rights have -- intentionally or unintentionally -- created laws or regulations that prevent people from registering, staying on the rolls, or casting a ballot that counts," observes Michael Slater, the election administration specialist for Project Vote, a leading voter registration and voting rights group. And with roughly a quarter of the country's election districts having adopted new voting equipment in the past two years alone, there's a growing prospect that ill-informed election officials, balky machines and restrictive new voting rules could produce a "perfect storm" of fiascos in states such as Ohio, Florida, Arizona and others that have a legacy of voting rights restrictions or chaotic elections. "People with malicious intent can gum up the works and cause an Election Day meltdown," Steele says.

There is rarely hard proof of the Republicans' real agenda. One of the few public declarations of their intent came in 2004, when then state Rep. John Pappageorge of Michigan, who's now running for a state Senate seat, was quoted by the Detroit Free Press: "If we do not suppress the Detroit [read: black ] vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election cycle."

For the 2006 elections, with the control of the House and the Senate in the balance, Salon has selected six states with the most serious potential for vote suppression and the greatest potential for affecting the outcome of key races. In nearly every case, the voter-suppression techniques have been implemented since 2004 by Republican legislators or officials; only one state has a Democratic secretary of state, and only one has a Democratic-controlled legislature...

The six states named are: Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, California, Florida, and Missouri.

Read the link above for details.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

This is the official trailer for the Borat movie due out in November-

Nice. I like.

IMDB page

Seymour Hersh: U.S. Helped Plan Israel's War Against Lebanon/Hezbollah

If true, this probably wouldn't come as a surprise to many. From the UK's Guardian paper-
The US government was closely involved in planning the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, even before Hizbullah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross border raids in July. American and Israeli officials met in the spring, discussing plans on how to tackle Hizbullah, according to a report published yesterday.
The veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh writes in the current issue of the New Yorker magazine that Israeli government officials travelled to the US in May to share plans for attacking Hizbullah...

...The Israeli action, current and former government officials told Hersh, chimed with the Bush administration's desire to reduce the threat of possible Hizbullah retaliation against Israel should the US launch a military strike against Iran.

"A successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign ... could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American pre-emptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations," sources told Hersh...

Seymour Hersh discusses all of this in the New Yorker:
WATCHING LEBANON- Washington’s interests in Israel’s war.

I certainly hope that he's wrong, but I'd bet that he's not.

This does fit in with Sidney Blumenthal's findings about the U.S. government's involvement with the Israeli campaign, as well as our efforts to slow down the ceasefire direction. In that article, he stated "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."

I think Eric Alterman summed all this up well in a new editorial in The Nation, which explores how the neoconservatives have been using Israel's conflict as as their last-ditch effort to get us involved in an all-out war in the region. His conclusion says it best- "Is it me, or are the people who run this country dangerously out of their minds?".

Spoiler alert... the answer is yes.

[See also previous entry for Hersh's original revelations last April that the Bush administration was secretly planning a war with Iran: "You say we're headed to war. I don't know why you say that."

PS- The ceasefire, fragile as it is, holds. Here's where that situation stands:
-AP: Israel-Lebanon cease-fire goes into effect
-AP: Olmert acknowledges war's 'deficiencies'
-AP: Hezbollah claims victory against Israel
-AP Analysis: When will the next war come?]

Republicans Cut and Run From 'Stay The Course'?

The Republicans seems to have finally realized that Americans see 'stay the course' as the empty rhetoric that it is. RNC Chair Ken Mehlman's interview on Meet The Press seems to imply to me they're phasing out that buzzword and replacing it with... a new buzzword- 'adapting to win'. That's leadership, baby!

From the transcript-
MR. GREGORY: This is something that he also said last Sunday during a campaign speech. “The fact is”—this is Senator Lieberman speaking—“I have openly and clearly disagreed with and criticized the president for, among other things: not winning the support of our allies in the run-up to the war; not having a plan to win the peace; not putting enough troops on the ground; putting an American in charge of the Iraqi oil supply. And I said that if I were president, I would ask Secretary Rumsfeld to resign.” Given your respect for the credibility of his views, do you acknowledge that he’s right on these points?

MR. MEHLMAN: Look, the fact is that our mission in the war in Iraq is critical. We agree on that; we agree it’s wrong to cut and run. But look, we’re not coming in and saying “Stay the course.” The choice in this election is not between “Stay the course” and “Cut and run,” it’s between “Win by adapting” and “Cut and run.”

Let me tell you what we’re doing. The fact is, before the successful Iraqi elections, the number of troops went up from 137,000 to 167,000. That’s adapting to win. Recently, the increased troops in Baghdad, adapting to win. We changed how the training of Iraqi forces occurred to involve more Iraqis.

That’s adapting to win.

Good grief.

Is this like when Sec. Rumsfeld and others (temporarily) rebranded the 'war on terror' as 'global struggle against extremism'? If you can't win the war... repackage it! It's all about marketing to these people. They spend so much time looking for ways to get their poll numbers up, while remaining incredibly delusional as to what the situation on the ground in Iraq now. That's part of the reason so little has been accomplished/changed. It's pretty horrifying if you think about it.

Think Progress has the 'stay the course' highlight reel.

UPDATE: The Daily Show mocked this rhetoric last night as well.

[Hat tip- State of the Day]