Friday, August 25, 2006

To Washington

I am leaving for a mini-vacation to our nation's capitol. Just a short weekend trip with a friend. Should be interesting, even though all the politicians have settled down in their home states for a long summer's nap. I went to DC last summer too and had the pleasure of bumping into Sen. Kerry on the street. I won't have such luck this year and I was so looking forward to heckling incumbent Republicans too.

Plans are typical- visit all the sites, take pictures, do the museum thang, and eat dinner at Union Station. Weather report seems so-so, but if it rains, I'll just take shelter in the Jefferson Memorial, no one ever visits that thing anyway.

See you on Monday! Don't invade any nations I wouldn't invade.

Katrina Anniversary Approaches / Bush Stages Photo-Op

I hope everyone all got a chance to see the Spike Lee documentary "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts", which I blogged about on Monday. It was excellent; really covered all the angles of the tragedy, with a needed focus on the human element of what happened. If you missed it, HBO will air all four parts together this Tuesday, the anniversary of when Katrina made landfall.

As that anniversary approaches, the Bush administration prepares ways to deal with acknowleding one of their greatest domestic failures. Needless to say, a renewed effort to fulfill the promises of last September isn't high on the list. As is the specialty, expect just empty rhetoric.

AP: Bush: Katrina recovery will take time
President Bush cautioned against placing too much importance on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's Gulf Coast strike, saying a long, sustained rebuilding effort is still needed...

Translation? President Bush: 'Please don't think about the Katrina anniversary at all... so that I can smash you over the head with the 9/11 anniversary until the elections! Woooooooo!'. This is also part of a concerted GOP effort to marginalize the Katrina anniversary, trying to paint it as merely a "regional concern" and not a national issue.

Of course not all of the delays in rebuilding are the federal government's fault (the barely-existed WTC site construction efforts demonstrate how local politics can bring these projects to a standstill due to bureaucratic nonsense... insert comment here about Nagin, stones, and glass houses), but the President took ultimate responsibility for the rebuilding last September and has all but abandoned his many lofty promises to the people of the Gulf Coast.

And yet the White House somehow found time to stage an elaborate photo-op this week.

From the AP article-
Bush spoke on the South Lawn of the White House after meeting in the Oval Office with a New Orleans-area man who lost his home in the storm. Rockey Vaccarella, 41, of Meraux in St. Bernard Parish, has been traveling the Gulf Coast region to mark the Katrina anniversary...

..."I told Rockey the first obligation of the federal government is to write a check big enough to help the people down there," Bush said. "And I told him that to the extent that there's still bureaucratic hurdles, and the need for the federal government to help eradicate those hurdles, we want to do that."

Vaccarella said he wanted to thank Bush for the federally provided trailers that have provided temporary housing to many in the region who lost homes, but also to keep the pressure on...

The official story goes that Mr. Vaccarella had traveled all the way from the Gulf Coast trying to get a meeting with the President and- unlike Cindy Sheehan last summer- was indeed granted one. The President's meeting with Mr. Vaccarella, and his praise for the President, was all over the news yesterday, but the media didn't ask too many questions.

If they had, they would've discovered, as Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch did, that- "Turns out that the earthy Vaccarella -- a highly successful businessman in the fast-food industry -- is indeed a Republican pol, having run unsuccessfully under the GOP banner for a seat on the St. Bernard Parish commission back in 1999... And in fact, Vaccarella seemed very confident that he would be meeting with Bush when he left home, to the point where he had a date scheduled and everything." Surprise! Another blogger looks at his trailer, which doesn't appear to be an official FEMA one at all.

Think Progress has video of Bush and Vaccarella from a news report on CNN.

David Weigel, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, shakes his head at this photo-op, stating "Even if this deep, dark secret never matriculates outside the blogs, I'm wracking my brains to understand the point of this 'PR coup.' Is a cheerful white guy really the mascot who can erase Bush's Katrina problem? Is his sing-song praise of federal spending going to motivate the GOP base? More evidence that Rove's touch has lost any of its Midas-like qualities."

Digby has another great analysis along these lines: Massaging Katrina.

This sums of the President's leadership (as we have seen through numerous crises)- Watch a major disaster unfold, do nothing, assign blame, make a number of false promises, and stage photo-ops and media blitzes to counter all of that. Actual leadership, sacrifices, compassion, or results will not be forthcoming.

To see the (continuing) tragedy of New Orleans- and the Gulf Coast at large- deemphasized and written off with another White House photo-op is disgusting. This a real tragedy, real people are suffering, and a real American city was totaled. These failures did not end last September- they continue today.

I hope the White House won't succeed in making Americans lose sight of that.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Environmental Success Story- With Lessons To Be Learned

Proof that if people, politicians take decisive action against an environmental threat, we can get results-

BBC News: Ozone hole stable, say scientists
Leading scientists in the United States say the hole in the ozone layer of the Earth's atmosphere above the Antarctic appears to have stopped widening.

The ozone layer blocks the Sun's ultra-violet rays, exposure to which is harmful to humans, animals and plants.

International agreements were reached to end the use of ozone-depleting chemicals called CFCs after the hole was discovered in 1986.

It is hoped the hole may "heal" fully over the next 60 years...

(bold added by me)

Humans have caused most of the environmental problems we've seen developing over the last 50+ years... but we also have the potential to help fix them as well. The former is passive, the latter requires aggressive action. Can't we all agree that its in everyone's best interest to take action again? Why does this have to be a partisan issue? Is the planet not the most bipartisan entity around?

Hopefully the weather this summer will convince people time for action has come again.

Rosa Parks Rolls Over In Grave

No, this isn't a flashback article... it's from today's paper in Shreveport, Louisiana-
Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children...

...After Richmond and Williams filed complaints with the School Board, Transportation Supervisor Jerry Carlisle asked Davis to make seat assignments for her passengers, Sessoms said.

"But she still assigned the black children to the back of the bus," she added.

And the nine children had to share only two seats, meaning the older children had to hold the younger ones in their laps.

A new solution reached Monday by School Board officials has a black bus driver driving across town to pick up the nine black children...

Separate but equal still lives in some parts of the South.

(And in the hearts of many Southern politicians too)

Conservative Junkies Jonesing For Next War

Those wacky Republicans are getting totally impatient for their next war- hurry up, George, our bombs aren't getting any younger! With their massively impressive foreign policy track-record, it's understandable why they're looking forward to having another quagmire victory under their belt.

NY Times: Some in G.O.P. Say Iran Threat Is Played Down
Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.

Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

The complaints, expressed privately in recent weeks, surfaced in a Congressional report about Iran released Wednesday. They echo the tensions that divided the administration and the Central Intelligence Agency during the prelude to the war in Iraq.

The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate...

We should totally listen to these wise voices... after all, we don't want the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud! Wait, that sounded familiar. Nah, nevermind. Let's roll!

Note that they are attempting to use Iran's connections to Hezbollah, in light of the recent war, as one possible reason to justify action. Yes, the connections are real and concern is legitimate, but we've known since the 2002 State of the Union that the administration wanted to go to war with Iran and that was long before the recent war and before the election of Ahmadinejad (their current boogeyman). As with Iraq, we are seeing a preset agenda being pushed using current events, fearmongering, and other emotional appeals to sell it. That the intelligence communities are all in agreement that the threat from Iran is likely exaggerated (and Iran may be allowing it to be exaggerated, as tensions with us help Ahmadinejad domestically)- not to mention that we do not have the resources to finish the two wars we have, let alone start a new one- is merely an annoyance to them, and not of any interest. Let's look at a few articles on this point-

-The Guardian (UK): 'Significant gaps' in American intelligence on Iran
-Think Progress: Experts Speak: No Good Military Options in Iran

And this one too- US interventions have boosted Iran, says report.

As before, the conservatives won't let facts get in the way of marketing this product.

A commenter at Wonkette also makes this important note- "I just hope SOMEONE in the administration reads a little and realizes that Iranians are Persians, not Arabs. I don't recall any Shia in Al Queda. The only countries we KNOW didn't directly support 9/11 via citizens or actual financial support are Iraq and Iran. Ummm...Damn."

The bottom line- Iran is not an imminent threat. They are a situation that should be monitored closely by the international community, and acted upon where needed. But this consistent warmongering by the right-wing (of which we have numerous examples in the past several months) is insanity. They don't merely believe we need to act; they want this war. They may not even fully realize why, but they want it. Wars may be necessary in our country's future, but no responsible citizen or politician must allow this crowd to start another one. Period. The neocons have done this country incredible harm and yet they still claim to know what it best for us; no accountability at all. Two quagmires in and they're itching for a third. They have proven their inability to lead. They need to focus on diplomacy- easier said than done, I fully understand; but if they cannot even succeed at that, then they sure as hell can't try bombing another country into democracy.

The scariest part is that as the road to war heats up, the media will lap it all up again and the people may soon follow. Learning lessons is apparently not something Americans do very easily.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

9/11 Report: The Comic Book

Did you want to read the 9/11 Commission report, but found it too stuffy?

Well, good news!

The 9/11 Commission Report is now available in... graphic novel form!

Using every skill and storytelling method [Sid] Jacobson and [Ernie] Colón have learned over the decades, they have produced the most accessible version of the 9/11 Report. Jacobson’s text frequently follows word for word the original report, faithfully captures its investigative thoroughness, and covers its entire scope, even including the Commission’s final report card. Colón’s stunning artwork powerfully conveys the facts, insights, and urgency of the original. Published on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, an event that has left no aspect of American foreign or domestic policy untouched, The 9/11 Report puts at every American’s fingertips the most defining event of the century.

Preview: here. A sample scene-

"Oh no, musta been pilot error! Time to finish reading My Pet Goat! Fart."

The reviews are in!

Conservative: "This comic purposely buried the truth about Able Danger!"

Far-right Weirdo: "Needs more Islamofacism fight scenes! This comic reminds us of why liberals hate America!!11"

Liberal: "Wait... what? Can we please have a reasoned discussion about this?"

Far-left Weirdo: "Bullshit! This comic clearly covered up U.S. complicity in the 9/11 attack. Here, take this pamphlet."

Seriously, though, I am buying this, if only to see how they illustrated the look on the face of Condoleeza Rice when they forced her to discuss the 'Bin Laden Determined To Attack' memo. I never did read the official Report and this looks like an accessible substitute. And taking an incredibly important and complex report and making it available in comic form for the average citizen to read? It's quintessentially American.

Now, *That* Is Playing Hardball

Watch Paul Hackett and Chris Matthews argue circles around, and downright embarrass, Van Taylor (a Republican candidate for Congress in Texas) on the issue of the Iraq war- why we are there, who we are fighting, etc.

Crooks and Liars: Paul Hackett on Hardball

Democrats, you really lost a major player when you pushed Mr. Hackett to the side.

Odds and Ends

Backdoor draft alert! Facing recruiting failures, "President Bush has authorized the U.S. Marine Corps to recall 2,500 troops to active duty because there are not enough volunteers returning for duty in Afghanistan and Iraq".

Jonathan Schwarz looks at the status of some of the foreign policy 'experts' who helped cheerlead this war into creation. Digby does as well.

Glenn Greenwald on the aftermath of Judge Taylor's ruling against warrantless wiretapping.

Meanwhile, Pat Buchanan stills hates brown people; believes the U.S. is under invasion.

New revelations indicate former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage may have been Source #3 in the Plame leak scandal. Plame herself is considering a lawsuit.

Israel states it has no plans "to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon".

Finally, Iran states it's ready for 'serious negotiations' over its nuclear program.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When The Levees Broke

If you have HBO, I hope you will be watching tonight the first part of Spike Lee's four-hour documentary, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." The second half airs tomorrow night. It has been almost a year since New Orleans nearly drowned in the waters of Lake Pontchartrain (while Mississipi and Alabama suffered the direct brunt of Katrina's wrath), and little has changed for the people of that town. They've been working hard to rebuild their lives, but government- at all levels- has largely abandoned them.

Few people probably remember today that on the evening of September 15th, President Bush turned on some temporary lights in Jackson Square and promised us "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen", spelling out in great detail an immediate and grand national plan for recovery that in all likelihood only existed in the script of that speech.

The Associated Press has a great, detailed rundown of the failed promises of the government in the aftermath of Katrina. Bookmark this one. It breaks down the promises- and the reality today- into several categories: Emergency Assistance, Cleanup, Housing, Rebuilding, Levees, and Poverty.

Money quote: "The job of clearing debris left by the storm remains unfinished, and has been plagued by accusations of fraud and price gouging. Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers or mobile homes, with no indication of when or how they will be able to obtain permanent housing. Important decisions about rebuilding and improving flood defenses have been delayed. And little if anything has been done to ensure the welfare of the poor in a rebuilt New Orleans."

One could hope that the anniversary might guilt people back into action, but I doubt it. There's too much going on (wars, a deficit, job loss, etc) and the Gulf Coast just isn't high on priority list. Better luck next hurricane.

Meanwhile, on the political side of this tragedy, Digby writes on the "duelling pageants" of the upcoming anniversaries of Katrina and of 9/11. Guess which one the government wants us to remember more? Some destruction and death is more politically beneficial than others. He hypothesizes that whoever "handles the [two pagents] most skillfully will have the edge in November." As he states-
We already know the Republicans are running on 9/11. They are undoubtedly gearing up for a five year anniversary commemoration in which the subtext, as always, will be portrayal of Republicans as being strong enough and tough enough to keep the country safe compared to the vacuous and naive Democratic ninnies.

The Republicans are counting on the fifth anniversary to remind people of Bush's Bullhorn moment, which was sold as a moment of potent muscular leadership when in fact it was what he had been training for since his days on the sidelines at Andover prep...

...That brings us to the other big pageant this fall. A few days before 9/11 we are going to memorialize another day of national horror: the death of a huge swathe of an American city, while the president and John McCain shared a few laughs over birthday cake.

Salon's War Room has a similar post today: Katrina and 9/11: Unhappy anniversaries

I would add that both tragedies shared one thing in common- an absence of leadership. That's more true for the New Orleans tragedy, of course, as the numerous stories of local courage and heroism on 9/11 did help spread some light into that darkness. The Big Easy was not so lucky.

So watch the movie, write a letter to Congress or the local paper, etc... With any luck, maybe we can speed up the other duelling tragedy pageant- seeing whether either the Ninth Ward or the World Trade Center site will be rebuilt by the end of the decade.

Listening To Bush Now Would Be A 'Disaster': Blueduck

President Bush gave another press conference on Iraq this morning.

AFP: Quitting Iraq now would be a 'disaster': Bush"

The odd thing is that some people are treating this like it was a big deal! First of all, he does this little song-and-dance on a regular basis. He remembers that the war is unpopular, comes out all dressed up nicely, speaks while not even bothering to give us a variation on the usual 'stay the course' rhetoric, lies about some stuff, thanks us, and then goes for a jog. There should be a new rule put in place for this crap... unless the President has something new to report or has actually come up with one of those 'war plans' or 'exit strategies' that were so popular back in the day, no media entity- not one newspaper, wire service, or TV network- should cover these farces. He's not saying anything newsworthy, so stop treating it like breaking news. Hey, did John Karr confess to killing Natalie Holloway or is that happening next month? Let's look into that.

The two big parts of this press conference that people seem to be focusing on are not new revelations. The first- the one the wire services are headlining- was Bush's remark that "We’re not leaving so long as I’m the president. That would be a huge mistake." Well that's not news. The President made clear his 'I'm just gonna leave my mess for the next guy to clean up approach' to this war as far as back as March when he said about U.S. forces leaving Iraq, "That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq". See you in 2009!

To give up on Iraq would be to lose 'our soul as a nation', President Bush said today. Sir, you sold that for thirty pieces of silver years ago. He also said as bad as Iraq is now, it would be worse if we left. He's right- why, civil war may even break out!

The second part- that a few blogs are focusing on- was the President dismissing the notion that his administration ever implied direct links between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks (of course, this disavowment came only after a reporter called him on his attempts just seconds earlier to use the attacks to justify the invasion!!). Yessir, that significant percentage in polls who still believe Iraq had a hand in the 9/11 attacks must've gotten that idea from somebody else! But again, this isn't new. They've been making that denial for a while now too... along with denying that they expressed certainty on the WMD issue, that they claimed Iraq was an imminent threat to America, or even ever advocated their own invasion of Iraq in the first place, etc etc.

Just a note, though- he also did say that he was "concerned" about all the "talk about civil war" he's been hearing. Silly White House gossip! This is a little better than earlier this month when he said, "You know, I hear people say, Well, civil war this, civil war that. The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box." Maybe we're making progress after all!

In the end, I have to believe that most people know by now that the President is a liar. I'm tired of hearing it and I'm tired of saying it. Wake me up when somebody decides to do something about that.

The UK Plot: Don't Believe The Hype? (Pt. II)

Little discussed amid all the hysteria in the wake of the foiled U.K. plot are major concerns with the official narrative of the plot. Let me be clear- there is no doubt the men arrested were potential terrorists revealed through careful police surveillance to be planning attacks. This is certain. But was the attack as imminent and grand as we were told? Did they have the means to pull it off or was the plot still in the discussion phase? These are the concerns after the way the U.S. hyped up the plot.

While reporters and pundits are devoting much airtime to whether WhatsHisFace really killed lil' WhatsHerName, no major pundit that I have seen has had the courage to question the official story of the U.K./U.S. plane plot. Some of these questions were brought to light by Craig Murray, Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan. As he stated, "None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time. In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms... Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests."

I discussed all of that with a friend of mine on Friday night (after seeing 'Snakes on a Plane'... look into that threat, Chertoff!). I stated to him my expectation that, if indeed there was little evidence that they had the means to pull off this discussed plan, the suspects would, for the time being, be splapped with a simple conspiracy charge. British terror laws allow for suspects to be held for as long as 28 days without charges (still better than the indefinite length here under President Bush's self-made rules), so the clock was ticking.

Sure enough, today I read that "11 of the 23 suspects being held in the foiled plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic flights have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder." Officials also stated that they found bomb-making materials in a search. British Home Secretary John Reid said to expect more charges in the next few days. The plot thus thickens.

In regards to the concerns about the timing of the revelation of this plot, there is more evidence that the arrests were rushed due to political pressure. The Observer paper in Britain reports that-
Anti-terror police in Britain have made an angry request to their US counterparts asking them to stop leaking details of this month's suspected bomb plot over fears that it could jeopardise the chances of a successful prosecution and hamper the gathering of evidence.

So it's clear that U.S. government officials were overly enthusiastic to present this news.

More importantly they note further down that-
It is understood that British anti-terror police wanted to prolong their observation of the suspects for as long as possible in a bid to gather sufficient evidence. There are now fears among some Scotland Yard officers that they may have acted too hastily when deciding to arrest the 24 suspects earlier this month. Although martydom videos and the components of a bomb have been recovered in the investigation, linking such evidence to all those arrested could still prove difficult.

The decision to make the arrests that week was not that of the British police/Scotland Yard. That call came from Downing Street. We know from reports that Tony Blair and President Bush spoke a few days before the arrests. We know that right about the time of that call, but before the arrests, the White House renewed talking point efforts to attack Democrats (on the brink of a key victory in the Connecticut primary) on the terrorism issue. This AP report from the 10th sums that up-
Snow said Bush first learned in detail about the plot on Friday, and received two detailed briefings on it on Saturday and Sunday, as well as had two conversations about it with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

But a senior White House official said that the British government had not launched its raid until well after Cheney held a highly unusual conference call with reporters to attack the Democrats as weak against terrorism.

This could all be coincidence. But I don't believe in coincidences where Rove is involved.

In conclusion, it is clear that the British police uncovered a major plot here and should be commended for a job well done. But the real plot they uncovered is clearly not as imminent and glamorous as the one that the media and government- most specifically here in the U.S.- have presented it as. It was rushed into the spotlight for reasons officially unknown. A little skepticism is required still.

UPDATE: A judge tossed a charge in the infamous Jose Padilla case- another plot we were told was the 'next 9/11'.

[PS- Another side-effect of this story... a crop of stories about hysteria and racial profiling on airplanes. Matt Drudge (proudly?) linked to this story this weekend about passengers staging a "mutiny" against two Asian passengers speaking in Arabic to each other. Eep! Foreigners! This was not an uncommon incident in the last two weeks. Several such examples have been proudly heralded on right-wing blogs. Reminds me of why NYPD were ordered in the afternoon of 9/11 to go guard all the area mosques. Glenn Greenwald analyzes these incidents on his blog.

PPS- Tom Tomorrow illustrates a handy guide to taking terrorism seriously.]

Sunday, August 20, 2006


It's Sunday.... so I'm being lazy. Enjoy today's Doonesbury.