Saturday, September 23, 2006

October Surprise Watch?

Some news this weekend to help you get your cynicism on...

First up- Rumors abound (again) that Osama bin Laden has died in Pakistan, possibly of typhoid. I can remember many similar stories/rumors in the past few years and feel that further speculation now is pointless until these reports are/aren't proven. Don't believe the hype is a generally good idea here. More info/analysis from UPI- here.

Second- Concerns grow over whether the administration is secretly preparing for war against Iran. The Nation reads the tea leaves and they don't paint an encouraging picture. Reports have been creeping out for months that the military is preparing for it. Third time's the charm, eh neocons? Meanwhile, Pentagon Papers-leaker Daniel Ellsberg encourages an insider to leak the administration's Iran plans.

Iraq: Our Continuing Lil' Quagmire

Amidst all the news of the President and the GOP Congress coming together to embrace torture and codify it in American law (aww, group hug!!), many headlines on Iraq fell through the cracks.

The Democrats absolutely need to make demanding accountability for this debacle a cornerstore of their midterm election message. With that in mind, I thought I'd help them out by providing some helpful stories of interest to guide them on their way.

-AP: War price on U.S. lives equal to 9/11
-NY Times: Strained, Army Looks to Guard for More Relief
-Guardian Unlimited (UK): Civilian deaths soar to record high in Iraq
-Reuters AlertNet: Security developments in Iraq, Sept 22
-BBC News: Iraq torture 'worse after Saddam'
-Bloomberg News: Clinton Says Iraq 'Hasn't Helped' War on Terror
-Crooks and Liars: Rep. Tim Ryan Blasts the Administration’s Iraq Record
-MyDD: GOP Rep.: "I Wish it was My Party" Investigating Iraq Policy

Had enough?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bill Clinton Hits Back Against 'Path To 9/11' Spin

Former President Bill Clinton taped an interview for Fox News' Sunday show, hosted by Chris Wallace. Blogger Atrios wrote earlier today that "Apparently Wallace had promised that the first half of the interview would be about the Clinton Global Initiative [which is raising billions of $$ to deal with global crises such as poverty and AIDS], but he broke that promise and for his second question he said something along the lines of 'what my viewers want to know most is why you didn't do more about terrorism and Osama Bin Laden'." That's how it went it down indeed, and an early transcript indicates ol' Bubba came out swinging.

From the transcript-
Clinton: Let's talk about it. I will answer all those things on the merits, but first I want to talk about the context in which this arises. I'm being asked this on the FOX network. ABC just had a right-wing conservative running their little pathway to 9/11, falsely claiming it was based on the 9/11 commission report with three things asserted against me directly contradictory to the 9/11 commission report. And I think it's very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say I didn't do enough claim that I was too obsessed with bin Laden.

All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said that I did too much. Same people. They were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993 the next day after we were involved in Black Hawk Down and I refused to do it and stayed six months and had an orderly transfer to the United Nations...


Wallace: .. bin Laden says, but it showed the weakness of the United States.

Clinton: Bin Laden may have said it -- but it would have shown the weakness if we left right away. But he wasn't involved in that, that's just a bunch of bull. That was about Muhammad Aidid, a Muslim warlord, murdering 22 Pakistani Muslim troops. We were all there on a humanitarian mission; we had no mission, none, to establish a certain kind of Somali government or keep anybody out. He was not a religious fanatic ...

Wallace: Mr. President ...

Clinton: ... there was no al-Qaeda ...


No, no -- I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill [bin Laden]. The CIA was run by George Tenet that President (Bush) gave the medal of freedom to, and he said he did a good job setting up all these counter-terrorism things. The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came there.

Now if you want to criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan -- which we got after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible. While I was there, they refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred special forces in in helicopters, refuel at night. Even the 9/11 commission didn't do that.

Now, the 9/11 commission was a political document, too. All I'm asking is, anybody that wants to say I didn't do enough, you read Richard Clarke's book ...

Wallace: Do you think you did enough, sir?

Clinton: No, because I didn't get him.

Wallace: Right.

Clinton: But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try, they did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clark, who got demoted.

So you did FOX’s bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know... I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked why didn’t you do anything about the Cole. I want to know how many you asked why did you fire Dick Clarke... Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about…

WALLACE: [laughs]

CLINTON: You said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion dollars plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.

Full transcript of the whole interview- here (more on the Fox News spin here and here)

He also has some great things to say on the midterms and the Republican's use of fear.

Also: Bill Clinton speaks with Keith Olbermann on his Global Initiative.

Odds and Ends

Here's some miscellaneous stories that fell through the cracks in the past few days...

First up- 'Homophobia On A Plane'? It appears that a gay couple was harassed by American Airline employees aboard a transcontentinal flight for kissing. The airline insisted- falsely- that the airline had a policy against kissing on planes. In reality, the stewardess and some passengers were just uncomfortable with the couple. When the couple expressed outrage, the captain threatened to divert the plane. "Our passengers need to recognize that they are in an environment with all ages, backgrounds, creeds, and races. We have an obligation to make as many of them feel as comfortable as possible," an airline spokesperson said. No comment.

Karl Rove is promising conservative activists an October surprise. OMG, think it'll have to do with terrorism??!

Meanwhile, further proof of how far this administration has strayed from our constitutional roots... White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said today that it is not up to our courts to decide which laws are unconstitutional or not. Said Snow- "No, as a matter of fact the president has an obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. That is an obligation that presidents have enacted through signing statements going back to Jefferson. So, while the Supreme Court can be an arbiter of the Constitution, the fact is the President is the one, the only person who, by the Constitution, is given the responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend that document." Tony Snow, meet James Madison (ask him about 'tyranny').

Moving on, new information about the growing scandal in which Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson was revealed earlier this year to be doling out contracts based on whether the recipient was a supporter of the President or not. An Inspector General investigation reveals that this was very widespread. Some Democratic congressmen have called for Jackson's resignation.

Virgin CEO Richard Branson pledged $3 billion to invest in alternative energy to combat global warming and appeared on 'Good Morning America' to discuss how Al Gore convinced him of the dangers of global warming.

Finally, news that a "scorching internal review of the Bush administration's billion-dollar-a-year reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted." Oops.

Quote of the Day

"In each instance, Republican lawmakers are advocating a radical outcome that vests extraordinary powers in the president. But because their legislative approach for achieving that end in each case is slightly less radical than the president's, the media depicts their proposal as moderate and mild. Meanwhile, the Democrats are silent, invisible and completely absent from the debates, which means that the full range of views is marked by the president on one end and right-wing Republican senators on the other end (only millimeters away from the president), with the 'middle' being as close to the president's position as one can get without embracing it in full..

...It's a great trick that worked very well -- to perfection, really -- to obtain for the president the power to torture, and it is guaranteed that it will be used again to obtain for him the power to eavesdrop on our conversations without judicial oversight of any kind. Do Democrats have any strategy at all for derailing this tactic? The answer to that seems depressingly clear."
--Glenn Greenwald, lamenting how perfectly the GOP torture drama unfolded for them.

What a sad moment this is for America- just about to legitimize torture.

And sadder still that our opposition party does not see fit to oppose it.

White House, Senate Reach 'Compromise' On Torture/Tribunal Bill

Well, here's the news on the faux-compromise between Bush and the Senate-
The Bush administration and Senate Republicans announced agreement Thursday on terms for the interrogation and trial of suspects in the war on terror...

...Details of the agreement were sketchy...

...One official said that under the agreement, the administration agreed to drop language that would have stated an existing ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was enough to meet Geneva Convention obligations. Convention standards are much broader and include a prohibition on "outrages" against "personal dignity."

In turn, this official said, negotiators agreed to clarify what acts constitute a war crime...

A summary of the general compromise is here: GOP, WH Fashion "Framework of Agreement"

On Monday, I wrote a cynical post expressing doubt that the trio- McCain, Warner, Graham- would risk hurting electoral chances by fighting Bush all the way and they would reach an agreement. I proposed three possible scenarios, of which the second has come to pass: "the Senate trio 'compromise' with the White House, basically give Bush what he wants with slightly nicer wording, and hold a big photo-op together in Washington for the media." These things have gotten too predictable; all the magic is gone.

(UPDATE: Now there is newer information that "Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession." Unbelievable, but predictable at the same time. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo sums up this faux-compromise thusly: "from what I could tell the torture compromise is that we agreed not to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, only to continue violating them... The senate won't formally reinterpret the Geneva Convention or explicitly sanction the president's torture policies. But they'll allow him to keep using them.")

With a mere week left until the current Congressional session ends (they won't be back until after the elections), the White House is desperately hoping the Republicans will work together long enough to approve his agenda. There were likely be a major rush in the House and Senate to get these bills passed before then. I hope this will fail.

Marty Lederman, whose writing on this issue has been excellent, looks at the compromise and declares it to be an almost-complete capitulation to the White House position. He writes-
[T]he Senators have capitualted entirely, that the U.S. will hereafter violate the Geneva Conventions by engaging in Cold Cell, Long Time Standing, etc., and that there will be very little pretense about it. In addition to the elimination of habeas rights in section 6, the bill would delegate to the President the authority to interpret "the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions" "for the United States," except that the bill itself would define certain "grave breaches" of Common Article 3 to be war crimes...

...And then, for good measure -- and this is perhaps the worst part of the bill, for purposes going far beyond the questions of torture and interrogation -- section 7 would preclude courts altogether from ever interpreting the Geneva Conventions -- any part of them -- by providing that "no person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas or civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States, is a party as a source of rights, in any court of the United States or its States or territories."...

Related reading: The "scenic route" to torture (Salon War Room)

And blogger Digby sums up how the all-too-familiar media narrative of this will play out-
McCain, the Republican rebel maverick, showed that Republicans are moral and look out for their troops.

Bush, the Republican statesman and leader, showed that he is committed to protecting Americans but that he is willing to listen and compromise when people of good faith express reservations about tactics.

The Democrats showed they are ciphers who don't have the stones to even say a word when the most important moral issue confronting the government is being debated...

...I honestly think it would have been much, much better if they'd have forced their way into the debate and taken a firm stand -- if only to show they give a damn. This is a turn-out election and I have a feeling many a Democrat's stomach will turn as they see this triumph of GOP "leadership" in action. Why bother to vote when the Democrats don't bother to show up?

Yes, I'm very angry at the Democrats for staying on the sideline. A huge mistake.

The media appears to have already internalized the spin that this was a serious compromise.

Meanwhile, there's more GOP bullshit 'compromise'...

...this time on the warrantless wiretapping issue-
Faltering under Republican infighting, President Bush's embattled anti-terrorism agenda has some new momentum from a House member who has rewritten her warrantless wiretapping bill more to his liking and from maverick GOP senators open to talks on how to handle detainees.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., is swapping her original bill giving legal status to Bush's domestic surveillance program with one that would grant a key administration request: allow wiretapping without warrants on Americans when the president believes a terrorist attack is "imminent."...

...Under the measure, the administration would be required to share more details of the nature of the threat with the House and Senate leaders and the chairmen of both intelligence committees, who then would decide without administration input which lawmakers would receive the classified information...

I'm sure Rep. Wilson genuinely feels that the oversight provisions here are good, but they are beyond pointless. All this 'compromise' ignores the fact that the President violated the law (something that used to considered a big deal). In addition, all of these proposed wiretapping resolutions are shortsighted... the underlying issue behind this scandal is the President's belief that he has the inherent authority to violate congressional law at will.

So if this 'compromise' (which still regards warrants after an excisable afterthought) passes, the President still has no legal requirement to comply with the new oversight rules, because in his mind ignoring it most- or all- of the time is within his constitutional powers. These bullshit 'compromises' the GOP rubberstamp Congress attempts to pass through are meaningless; they resolve nothing in the grand scheme of things. Until the larger issue of the President's radical views of executive power itself is checked by Congress (the courts are already getting on the ball here), then all of this is just theatre. I don't understand why Congress doesn't understand these fundamental points- if they are just blind or they just choose to ignore for partisan reasons. Probably a little both.

Cenk Uygur gets the last word: "So, in the end, the president who started out by claiming to be a compassionate conservative will go down in history as The Torture President. Just when you thought Bush's legacy couldn't get any worse."

Yes, Virginia, There Is An Israel

This certainly seems like encouraging news...

AP: Abbas: Unity gov't will recognize Israel
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that the planned national unity government will recognize Israel and renounce violence, in his most direct such commitment yet amid intense diplomacy to resolve the Mideast conflict.

The statement came as Abbas' moderate Fatah faction struggles to win agreement from the governing Hamas to recognize Israel in negotiations to form a national unity government. The militant Islamic group Hamas won elections in January and has refused to recognize Israel, end violence and honor past agreements with Israel.

Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting Thursday that he has recently sought to establish a government of national unity "that is consistent with international and Arab legitimacy" and that responds to the demands of the key parties promoting Mideast peace — recognition, ending violence and honoring past agreements...

Not sure much in the way of progress will follow this, but hey it's something.

Miscellaneous Torture News

In another earlier entry on the torture debate, I noted how conservative pundit Tony Blankley was proudly predicting how Americans would overwhelmingly side with the President on his pro-torture view. Initial polls indicate this was as wrong as I knew it would be. From Think Progress: "An NYT/CBS News poll released tonight shows that 63 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should follow international agreements on detainee treatment (v. 32 percent who think the U.S. should 'do what it thinks right, regardless of what other nations think'). Also, 56 percent say torture is never justified, while 35 percent say sometimes it is."

It is sad how low their opinion of the American people is, that these conservatives actually believed Americans would embrace torture as a rallying cry.

Meanwhile, the case of Maher Arar (a Canadian citizen who was abducted by the Bush administration and rendered to Syria to be tortured) has revealed again the rhetorical lengths administration officials will go to cover up their crimes and lies. A blog post by Andrew Sullivan sums up what a vile man our Attorney General is-
It's not easy dissembling as smoothly as the attorney general. But he outdid himself on Tuesday, when asked about the U.S.'s seizure of an innocent man at JFK airport, and deportation of him to Syria, where he was brutally tortured - sorry, subjected to "coercive interrogation techniques" with a metal cable. No one disputes the facts of this story, but Gonzales said Tuesday:
Well, we were not responsible for his removal to Syria. I'm not aware that he was tortured.
The New York Times takes it from there:
The attorney general's comments caused puzzlement because they followed front-page news articles of the findings of the Canadian commission. It reported that based on inaccurate information from Canada about Mr. Arar's supposed terrorist ties, American officials ordered him taken to Syria, an action documented in public records.

On Wednesday, a Justice Department spokesman said Mr. Gonzales had intended to make only a narrow point: that deportations are now handled by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice.
Ohhh. I see. So it all depends on what the meaning of the word "we" is. Like the president's oft-stated position: "We do not torture."

Don't ya just feel proud?

On a related note, here's a less-than-pleasant headline from the BBC:
Iraq torture 'worse after Saddam'

Finally, from the Financial Times, news on why Bush winded down the secret prison program-
The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished...

...But the former CIA officials said Mr Bush’s hand was forced because interrogators had refused to continue their work until the legal situation was clarified because they were concerned they could be prosecuted for using illegal techniques. One intelligence source also said the CIA had refused to keep the secret prisons going...

This all makes me very ashamed.

And yet, if what the media says is true, the spotlight of this issue has actually helped the President and his party a little bit... because apparently just discussing terrorism is enough to qualify you as being "tough" on terrorism. In reality, of course, torture: a) is cowardly, b) doesn't even work anyway, and c) further destroys our credibility. Those fundamental points got lost in this lil' 'debate' that we had.

What a sad moment for America.

Democrats: 'Hugo, You Crazy!!'

Democratic leaders- not sharing President Bush's philosophies, but not wanting people to think they feel he leaves a smell of sulfur behind- express outrage at the remarks the Venezuelan president made to the U.N.

Pelosi jumps in too: Leading Bush critic at home calls Chavez a "thug"

Glenn Greenwald actually gives some balanced thoughts on this whole brouhaha.

(UPDATE: Jeff Cohen exposes the hypocrisy of right-wingers angry at Chavez.)

[PS- Conservative newspapers (NY Post/NY Daily News) state they don't like the United Nations being in New York and declare that it must leave. Blueduck37 declares that these editorial writers must get their heads out of their asses and is sorry that the U.N.'s bumpy existence makes them feel upset. I refer them to this calm take:
United Nations belongs in New York City]

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's The Real Economy, Stupid! (Pt. II)

Beneath all the happy 'indicators' the new economic news is less than stellar...

AP: GOP talk of vibrant economy rings hollow
Used boots fetch $3 and old salt-and-pepper shakers bring in a buck at a makeshift flea market along Highway 27, presumably not what President Bush and Republicans have in mind when they herald a vibrant economy.

Times are "very good for the rich and very, very bad for the poor" who "can't afford to live," laments Larry Mitchell, 43, a now-and-then merchant peddling his wares recently in a submarine sandwich shop parking lot. He says the middle class is "having a hard time."

In the Ohio River Valley, where people decry high gas prices, stagnant wages, lost jobs and factory closures, many don't buy the claim that the economy is humming along.

Seven weeks before the midterm elections, the gulf between Bush's perceptions and that of voters form the political backdrop across the country as well as in a region with several competitive House races...

The article goes on to detail some personal stories of how the economy is affecting the average, working/middle-class American, which are worth reading. It also goes on to note, however, that the economy is not an issue that is heavily influencing how people vote- Iraq and terrorism remain tops.

That does not mean, however, that politicians should ignore the issue. It affects us all on a daily basis, far more than the abstract threat of terrorism does (and certainly more than the bullshit 'values' issues the GOP tends to focus on in election years). There is real unhappiness all across the country with how our economy is being exported and gutted by big business and the government. Any politician who took a stand on this issue would likely do very well on the national stage.

[See also previous entry: It's The Real Economy, Stupid!]

Hate To Say I Told You So

Just following up on two stories I blogged about recently...

First- I blogged a few times about not believing the full hype on the foiled UK liquid bomb terror plot. After the initial media coverage, quietly-removed updates indicated that the story we were told did not match the facts at hand. A real plot, yes, but far too early in planning/speculating to have been hyped as an imminent threat worthy of not letting me bring toothpaste with me on an airplane.

Now new findings indicate further that this plot has more akin than I thought to the plot to topple the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches... a crazy scheme by genuine terrorists that would've been self-foiled by its own inherent flaws. Namely, the issue of turning an airport bathroom into a laboratory and not getting beat down by fellow passengers before you had a chance to plug in the bunsen burner. The always-snarky gang at Wonkette has details:
Can We Please Bring Our Damned Coffee On the Plane Again, Idiots?

Second- I blogged on Monday about a report that President Bush was "preparing an astonishing U-turn on global warming". At the time I noted that any changes were likely to be minor or cosmetic... and noted that he made many lofty environmental promises in his last State of the Union, most of which were immediately ignored. Now details of Bush's plan are out and while they are an improvement by Bush standards (which had been previously been deny the problem), they rely too much on research and not enough on action. Think Progress has the details on the policy announcement by the Department of Energy:
Bush Administration Announces Half-Baked Climate Change Plan

I really wish I'd have been proved wrong on that last one in particular.

Darn That Liberal Media, Pt. 2,474!

Tom Tomorrow has a preview from Jeff Cohen's new book 'Cable News Confidential'-
For two decades, I’ve been preoccupied with one issue above all others: that both ends of the political spectrum get their say in the media. One reason (among many) that I worked so hard to retire George W. Bush in 2004 was my nightmare that a defeated John Kerry would be hired by cable news to represent “the left” day after day on a TV debate show.

Fox News Channel often gets blamed for the standard format that pits forceful, articulate rightwingers against wimpy, halting liberals. Fox’s pairing of righty heartthrob Sean Hannity with back-pedaling, barely left-of-center Alan Colmes is a prime example of this lopsided format.

But it’s wrong to blame Fox for television’s center-right, GE-to-GM spectrum. That format was firmly in place years before there was a Fox News. The real culprits: CNN and PBS.

Take Crossfire, started by CNN in 1982 as the only nightly forum on national TV purporting to offer an ideological battle between co-hosts of left and right. Crossfire’s co-host “on the left” for the first seven years was a haplessly ineffectual centrist, Tom Braden, a guy who makes Alan Colmes look like an ultraleft firebrand.

In CNN’s eyes, Braden apparently earned his leftist credentials by having been a high-level CIA official—ironically enough, in charge of covert operations against the political left of Western Europe. Braden was paired on Crossfire with ultrarightist Pat Buchanan. During the Braden-Buchanan years, LSD guru Timothy Leary told a reporter that watching Crossfire was like watching “the left wing of the CIA debating the right wing of the CIA.” It may have been Leary’s most sober observation ever...

...The taboo against genuine progressives as hosts was even clearer when Crossfire needed substitutes “on the left” and CNN chose Beltway centrists like Jodie Powell (President Carter’s press secretary) and Morton Kondracke (yes, the guy now on Fox . . . and no, he was no more progressive then). These were men who would never declare themselves to be “on the left” in real life; they seemed to wince when CNN made them say it on television....

...Seeing liberals on TV back-pedal night after night in the face of the Buchanans and Hannitys helps create a public image of the American Left as weak, evasive, lacking in values—and the American Right as clear, firm and moral. Pundit TV has defined not only a skewed spectrum of debate but a road map for defeat of liberal politicians.

Imagine if the American Right had been represented year after year on TV not by the Buchanans and Hannitys, but by Republican pundits allied with Christine Todd Whitman and Arlen Spector—moderates dismissive of their party’s activists.

Now imagine that the American Left had been represented on TV not by the Bradens, Kinsleys and Colmeses, but by progressive pundits like Barbara Ehrenreich and Jim Hightower.

Neither scenario is easy to imagine—which says a lot about the real bias of TV news.

He's got another great excerpt too: “Ann Coulter and Me”

I watched that buffoon James Carville on 'The Colbert Report'; seeing his oral farts that passed as speech reminded that he too was once considered a representative voice of liberals by CNN's 'Crossfire'. It speaks volumes of the low opinion cable news has for actual liberals and how odd it would be to actually see one on TV. I could also go on a rant about Phil Donahue's removal from MSNBC just before the start of the Iraq war (Donahue made the mistake of refusing to properly cheerlead for it). His replacement- Keith Olbermann- likely surprised MSNBC by being as liberal as he is, and sadly these days seem too preoccupied wishing he was Ed Murrow to really create a voice of his own. Oh well, that's why Al Gore created the internet- so liberals would have somewhere to go.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where The Fuck Are The Democrats?

A question I would really like the answer to.

The elections are less than two months away; they really should start campaigning soon.

Iraq Troop Levels: Going Up, Not Down

Sending more troops in? Must be turning that corner again.

Bloomberg News: Abizaid Says No Troop Cuts in Iraq Before Mid-2007
The U.S. is unlikely to cut the number of its troops in Iraq until at least the middle of next year because the sectarian violence is greater than expected, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East said today.

General John Abizaid said the U.S. has over 140,000 troops in Iraq, up from about 131,600 in February when he, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, said troop levels might be reduced by the end of this year...

...The precise number of U.S. troops is murky. Abizaid today it was over 140,000. His staff later said it was closer to 142,000. Colonel Nelson McCouch, spokesman for Casey, said in an e-mail from Baghdad Sept. 17 that the current level is about 147,000...

Here's a recipe for you... more troops + same old failed plan = MORE FAILURE

It's really, really time to wrap this up. How many more years are we going to keep 'staying the course'?

Finally, some headlines that have been buried among all the Congressional Torture Saga...
-AFP: 22 killed in Iraq violence as US warns of upsurge
-AFP: Nearly 6,600 civilians killed in Iraq in two months: UN
-AP: U.S. military deaths in Iraq hit 2,687

Quote of the Day

"If the U.N. seems corrupt, slow and ineffective, that is because it reflects the state of international relations, not because of the institution itself. It seems ironic that we attack an institution that operates under the goals of peace and human dignity, associating it with the corrupt leadership of the warring nations themselves. Essentially, by attacking the U.N., we are blaming the peacemakers for perpetrating wars...

...For the rest of, we had better learn to live with the world, because it is here with us, until we blow it up."
--AM New York columnist Jordan Schneider, defending the U.N. during this heated General Assembly session.

Related reading... world leaders explain the obvious to Bush/the U.N.:
Bush Allies In War On Terror: We Need A New Approach (Think Progress)

Beyond Satire Indeed

I've often lamented how the sad state of our political climate almost renders satire obsolete and now I have another great example... Glenn Greenwald has a must-read writeup on how Michelle Malkin (who like the entire right-wing blogosphere is blasting McCain, Democrats, and others traitors for standing up to Bush's draconian pro-torture legislation) is now arguing for the right to a fair trial and adherence to international law for terrorist suspects... in Indonesia who are Christian. You have to read this one.

This example perfectly illustrates how the far-right views the war on terror as just a means for a battle between Christianity and Islam... and not really about stopping terrorism at all. We can't get these people out of power fast enough.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Quote of the Day II

"Freedom by its nature cannot be imposed. It must be chosen."
--President Bush, speaking to the U.N. today, unintentionally conceding his entire foreign policy a failure.

Besides the Iran issue, the speech also focused on the problems between Israel, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories and the urgent need to find a solution. Some of the things he was saying seemed to make sense... once you got past the fact that these were hardly new concepts, and that his administration scrapped the U.S. policy of being an honest broker in those conflicts in favor of a one-sided policy, that his administration ignored the historic opportunity to create a Palestinian state in the immediate 9/11 aftermath and use the international capital it afforded us to even further get the region to reach agreements, and that the situation has been ignored in general (and will continue be to ignored) because we have been focused on our Iraqi quagmire. Also, his call for Muslims to marginalize the extremists in their ranks is the right sentiment, but rang hollow from a man who has done so much to inflame said extremism.

But if you ignored all that, then it was a nice little speech.

"You say we're headed to war. I don't know why you say that."

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table."
--President George W. Bush (February 22, 2006)

"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
--Then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card on the Iraq war debate (September 2002)

The marketing campaign for the Iran war would seem to be fully underway now.

Time magazine has given the administration's next product a cover story spotlight.

As with Iraq, it will all start off subtle and hypothetical, before warnings of mushroom clouds and terrorism will attempt to convince Americans that attacking Iran is a matter of imminent national preservation. As almost half the country still believes the pre-war lies (Saddam had WMDs, ties to al Qaeda/9-11), so too will it become accepted conventional wisdom that Iran has a nuclear weapon and was plotting armageddon. The Bush cultists have proudly declared this war to be on its way. And if when the war implodes on us, President Bush will be getting ready to leave office, so he won't care anyway.

The Iran issue is to already shaping up to be a top one at the U.N. General Assembly this week, where President Bush and President Ahmadinejad will both speak, though obviously not together. Bush has thus far refused to meet with his Iranian counterpart, a poor move in my opinion. It plays right into Ahmadinejad's hands be able to (somewhat correctly) paint Bush as a weak coward who does not want to work for a diplomatic solution. It is a shame also that they won't meet, as they have more in common than either would care to admit. Besides the fact that both their foreign policies are guided by devotion to their evangelical beliefs, they also both need to boost exaggerated conflicts in order to counter domestic disapproval in their countries.

As this article notes, "When President Bush addresses world leaders at the United Nations this week, he will have fewer options and lower expectations on almost every major foreign policy front than a year ago".

Still, as with Iraq, lack of international support won't deter the neocons one bit.

President Bush started off subtlely, speaking about international sanctions and warning of 'consequences' if Iran does not cooperate. Now that all seems fine and dandy by itself, but we saw in the buildup to Iraq that any diplomatic overtures are likely to be revealed as mere window dressing.

We are already seeing a replay of the run-up to war with Iraq via a series of faulty intelligence reports from the White House and its surrogates in Congress. Here's one report from the AP:
A recent House of Representatives committee report on Iran's nuclear capability is "outrageous and dishonest" in trying to make a case that Tehran's program is geared toward making weapons, a senior official of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has said.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday outside a 35-nation board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says the report is false in saying Iran is making weapons-grade uranium at an experimental enrichment site, when it has in fact produced material only in small quantities that is far below the level that can be used in nuclear arms...

The Washington Post has more on this.

More from McClatchy newspapers (via Talking Points Memo)-
Some officials at the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department said they're concerned that the offices of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney may be receiving a stream of questionable information that originates with Iranian exiles, including a discredited arms dealer, Manucher Ghorbanifar, who played a role in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

Officials at all three agencies said they suspect that the dubious information may include claims that Iran directed Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, to kidnap two Israeli soldiers in July; that Iran's nuclear program is moving faster than generally believed; and that the Iranian people are eager to join foreign efforts to overthrow their theocratic rulers.

The officials said there is no reliable intelligence to support any of those assertions and some that contradicts all three...

...Adding to the unease, Rumsfeld's office earlier this year set up a new Iranian directorate, reported to be under the leadership of neoconservatives who played a role in planning the Iraq war...

To quote our fine President: "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Finally- a reminder that Iran is not a nation planning for war. Concerns over a nuclear program are absolutely justified (though also hypocritical given our support for the proliferation in other countries), but the real facts suggest the level of fearmongering over this is not justified. Will any of that be pointed out as the media gets into war preparation mode? Have we learned our lessons? No and no. And, short of a serious pushback from Congress, the United States will continue to expand its quagmire in the Middle East.

The United States, on the other hand, is preparing for war inside Iran already.

Democrats should make one thing clear: War with Iran IS on the ballot this November in the form of every Republican candidate. If the current Congress is reelected, the White House (as after 2004, when Bush claimed a mandate for his whole agenda and declared his accountability moment over) will see that as a thumbs-up for the American people for his vision for the Middle East and his whole war philosophy. Just one more thing to keep in mind between now and November 7th.

Had enough?

Quote of the Day

"At one level this battle between the White House and a rebellious handful of Senate Republicans is a war of words - a fight over legalese, interpretations, meanings.

At another level this is about core American values, about the rule of law and maintaining this nation’s reputation for taking the moral high ground.

And this time George W. Bush has picked the wrong fight at the wrong time with the wrong people."
--From today's editorial in the conservative Boston Herald

Al Gore: End C02 Emissions; Tax Pollution, Not Paychecks

Al Gore gave a major speech on global warming at NYU yesterday. I don't know how far he is planning to run with his proposals, but he introduced some pretty radical (and I do not use that term in the negative way here) ideas for cutting down pollution and restructuring our tax system. The key sections-
"Well, first of all, we should start by immediately freezing CO2 emissions and then beginning sharp reductions. Merely engaging in high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions while continuing to steadily increase emissions represents a self-delusional and reckless approach. In some ways, that approach is worse than doing nothing at all, because it lulls the gullible into thinking that something is actually being done when in fact it is not...

...For the last fourteen years, I have advocated the elimination of all payroll taxes — including those for social security and unemployment compensation — and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes — principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution....

....This is an opportunity for bipartisanship and transcendence, an opportunity to find our better selves and in rising to meet this challenge, create a better brighter future — a future worthy of the generations who come after us and who have a right to be able to depend on us."

I'm not grabbing my cheerleader outfit just yet, but color me intriqued.

Of course, if seriously proposed, our oil-dependent political climate would eat this alive.

Still, this seems the right direction to move toward. What Gore is proposing may seem too radical to some, so likely at best you would get some compromised, watered-down version of what he is proposing. Which would be better than nothing, of course.

I'm some economists would pour over Gore's proposal quite a bit, and would have many questions. For me, I think the biggest questions would be... what happens if/when the U.S. becomes carbon neutral? What do you tax then? Also, it would seem some massive bureaucracy would be needed to determine which companies emit what and how best to measure who owes what. Would this become the job of the IRS then? This also could backfire with even more companies leaving America to avoid paying their fair share and/or to avoid cutting down their precious, cost-saving pollution. So no, not perfect. But like I said, it's a visionary idea and hopefully (assuming the media gives this attention) will get people of all political stripes debating these important issues.

(And, of course, a policy speech like this does seem indicate a certain someone is not done with politics...)

'We Do Not Torture'

Amid news that we may be getting that 'compromise', more thoughts on the torture issue...

Andrew Sullivan posts a good clip of a prophetic scene from 1998's "The Siege", in which Denzel Washington plays an FBI agent speaking out against the draconian anti-terror measures being undertaken by the government. In the scene, he says to a General about to torture a suspect, "What if what they really want is for us to herd children into stadiums like we're doing? And put soldiers on the street and - and have Americans looking over their shoulders? Bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit? Because if we torture him, General, we do that, and everything that we have bled and fought and died for is over, and they've won. They've already won!"

Meanwhile, Gregory Djererjian sums up how I feel about all this insanity-
I try hard to respect the Office of the President of the United States, but it is truly a miserable wretch of a man who would threaten to disband the CIA interrogation program if he doesn't get his wish to eviscerate a good deal of Article 3 compliance thereto, as the President threatened at a press conference last week. This hullabaloo about "outrages against personal dignity" versus "shocking the conscience" is a tempest in a teapot. Outrages against personal dignity are like pornography, which is to say, you know it when you see it...

...Article 3 compliant interrogations have stood us in good stead for decades, and there is absolutely no convincing reason for a carve-out allowing the CIA to avoid compliance with its provisions. We know that Army Field Manual compliant interrogations are more than effective, and we know further that torture often leads to false confessions and unreliable information. So if Congress has the will to face the President down (which they must), the CIA interrogation program should be allowed to continue, but with the interrogations pursued in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Convention. This is, after all, how the uniformed services are again now (after belated remedial action) satisfactorily interrogating detainees. Bush, like a petulant adolescent who risks not having his way, is threatening to shut down the entire CIA progam if his gutting of portions of Article 3 doesn't prevail through Congress. Then, the cowardly pro-torture crowd, should god forbid a terror attack subsequently occur, will blame those noted anti-American appeasers and defeatists like John Warner, Colin Powell, Jack Vessey, Lindsay Graham and John McCain for allowing the carnage.

What he said. This is political blackmail on the part of our President, who is undoubtedbly one of the most vile men ever to hold that office. To demand we gut international laws and treaties for his own shortsighted political needs, claiming these decades-old laws are not 'clear' enough for him, is a low point for this country. He must be stopped.

Newsweek's top foreign correspondent Fareed Zakaria also weighs in-
A fierce debate over military tribunals has erupted in Washington. This is great news. The American constitutional system is finally working. The idea that the war on terror should be fought unilaterally by the executive branch—a theory the Bush administration promulgated for its entire first term—has died. The secret prisons have come out of the dark. Guantánamo will have to be closed or transformed.

The president and the legislative branch are negotiating a new system to determine the guilt or innocence of terrorism suspects, and it will have to pass muster with the courts. It is heartening as well that some of the key senators challenging the president's position are senior Republicans. Principle is triumphing over partisanship. Let's hope the debate will end with the United States' embracing a position that will allow America to reclaim the moral high ground...

Personally, I think it will be years before we ever get close to reclaiming the moral high ground. It will take diplomats and American politicians quite some time to undo the damage President Bush has done to our nation after he is gone. But stopping him on this issue (as well as others like wiretapping, etc.) is a necessary start.

Glenn Greenwald also has a great writeup on the loss of our 'moral authority'.

Finally, neocon kingpin William Kristol wants Republicans to embrace torture as their cause approaching the elections. A sad indictment of the small, radical cabal that has hijacked our nation's foreign policy.

(Oh, and someone should remind the President it's not even effective anyway, too.)

The Iraq War: A GOP Trough

A revelatory article in the Washington Post that's old news to those who've been paying attention-
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration...

...The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues....

And, as with all the other related horrors, there will never be accountability for this.

Remember when war-profiteering used to be a bad thing? I don't; I'm too young.

[PS- More grim news from Iraq.

And Senate hopeful James Webb of Virginia spoke very well on the Iraq/terror issue on 'Meet The Press'.]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Liberals And The Threat Of Muslim Extremism

Sam Harris has an interesting editorial today in the LA Times on the schism between the reality of the dangers posed by radical muslims and what some liberals believe of that danger. I do not agree with the whole thing, but it is an interesting read and Harris makes many excellent points. So here it is-

Head-in-the-Sand Liberals

Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists.

For the record, I reject religious extremism in all its many flavors.

"I've Had Enough!"

Sen. Obama shows his fellow Democrats how it's done-

If only the rest of his Democratic colleagues shared his strengths (I can think of others that do: Gore, Feingold, Lamont, occassionally Clinton if properly motivated), then winning elections against what now passes for the Republican party would be a breeze.

Had enough? I have.

This Is Why I'm An Atheist, People

Reuters: Vatican tries to calm Pope row as militants vow war

AP: Iraq al-Qaida says pope, West are doomed

Having faith in something I can understand, but organized religion is just a fucking disaster.

Just my two cents (please don't stone me).


In case you thought you were having a long nightmare over the weekend- yes, the United States is involved in a national debate over how much torture we should be doing. Sorry. So insane is the very concept of this that I was watching 'The McLaughlin Group' yesterday morning, and Mr. McLaughlin himself (normally a very composed man) was freaking out at the very idea of what we may be about to do as a nation... legitimize torture. I gave my thoughts on this whole 'debate' (including the false arguments being regurgitated by Bush cultists) on Friday and I stand by them.

And after being proud of the stand taken against the President's position by Sens. McCain, Warner, Graham, and the Democrats on the Senate panel, the cynic in me- always with an eye on the elections- is wondering what the Republican party is playing at here. If McCain, Warner, Graham are taking a genuine stand based on a long-term view (which sees, besides the general immorality, how this will come back to hurt us for decades), then God bless 'em. But I also wonder if there's a broader political strategy at work here (the Republicans know party in-fighting is less than appealing to voters), one which the White House will find some common ground with them on.

The media is buzzing today about the possibility of a 'compromise' between the White House and the anti-torture Republican trio. Rest assured, that the compromising will not be done by the White House... And I am willing to bet that, par for the course, the compromise will be just for the cameras and the President will get his way in some form.

This likely outcome should be obvious to anyone who has cared to pay attention to events in the past year. We all remember late last year when Sen. McCain and the majority of the Senate tried to pass a full ban on torture. The President fought it every step of the way; Vice President Cheney even crawled out of his bunker to try and strongarm some Republican support on Capitol Hill. The President even threatened one of those vetoes we would later find out is solely reserved for stem cell research. In the end, the ban passed by a veto-proof margin. Rather than admitting defeat, the President pretended the ban was his idea all along and held a photo-op with McCain at the White House to announce the signing of the bill. Weeks later, the Boston Globe revealed that the President had added a signing statement to that bill basically asserting his legal right to ignore it at will. The media at large and the Senate gladly looked the other way.

Here are some scenarios that could occur with the President's current torture/tribunal plans: The Senate trio stands their ground, Bush capitulates publicly, but adds a signing statement afterward saying he can do what he originally wanted anyway. Or, the Senate trio 'compromise' with the White House, basically give Bush what he wants with slightly nicer wording, and hold a big photo-op together in Washington for the media. Or, the less likely scenario, the Senate trio just folds like Arlen Specter has on the wiretapping issue, but publicly maintains a 'maverick' image.

In the end, no matter which scenario occurs, here is what will have happened in this whole debacle: President Bush will get exactly what he wanted anyway- a congressional approval of his "program" (read: torture and prisons). John McCain will have restored the 'maverick' myth he lost while spooning with the religious right all year. The GOP will be able to say to voters that their members stood up for morals, but stayed tough on terror, and therefore a Democratic congress is unnecessary.

This crowd cannot win wars or balance a budget, but they have mastered the political game.

Finally, the NY Times' Paul Krugman nails what is really motivating the White House's fight-
So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration — more fundamental than any particular policy — has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president’s power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

Indeed, just another chapter in our continuingly permanent constitutional crisis...

[Related reading:
-Firedoglake: The GOP At War With Itself — Honestly? Or As An Election Maneuver?
-Slate magazine: Stream of Conscience-- Why it matters what definition of torture we use.
-Crooks and Liars: Graham Nails Geneva Conventions Argument
-Digby: Tortured Compromise]

President Bush To Embrace Environmentalism?...

...That's what this article in The Independent (UK) implies-
President Bush is preparing an astonishing U-turn on global warming, senior Washington sources say.

After years of trying to sabotage agreements to tackle climate change he is drawing up plans to control emissions of carbon dioxide and rapidly boost the use of renewable energy sources...

Should I start holding my breath now? What do you think?

The article later continues-
Over the past few days rumours swept the capital that the "Toxic Texan" would announce his conversion this week, in an attempt to reduce the impact of a major speech tomorrow by Al Gore on solutions to climate change.

The White House denied the timing, but did not deny that a change of policy was on its way. Sources say that the most likely moment is the President's State of the Union address in January.

Bold added by me... Now, I know the American press is lazy, but I expect better from the British. So for them to state that a possible President environmental reversal could be announced in the State of the Union next year without acknowledging that it was already a key focus of this year's State of the Union is just sloppy journalism.

Before that speech in January, the White House hyped up the environmental issues to be addressed in the speech- alternative energies, foreign oil dependency, etc. After the speech, his Energy Secretary told the press that "the president didn't mean it literally". Oop.

At the time, I was intriqued, but stated in my blog that "This is a good issue to focus on, but given their record on environmental and energy issues, I can't imagine much being done besides a lot of talking." And, almost a year later, I was absolutely right. Hell, they've barely even done the talking part. I also added that- and I think this speaks to how I feel about this news from The Independent- "One would have to be naive to expect better results (or even sincerity) at this point from President Bush."

Case in point: The President's shocking revelation earlier this month that, wait for it... we're addicted to oil! Captain Obvious to the rescue!

As I also stated in January, if we're powering cars with corn in a year or two, I'll apologize.

UPDATE: Another blogger further dissects the politics of this news.

[Related- A new book deal for Al Gore renews speculation of a 2008 presidential run.]

"The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism"

Well, this headline really says it all, no?

AP: U.S. war prisons legal vacuum for 14,000

I'm sure they are all terrorists too, of course.

Quote of the Day

"Barnes continues:
Bush said it's difficult for many people to understand how serious the terrorist threat is. 'It's impossible for someone to have grown up in the 50s and 60s to envision a conflict with people that just kill mercilessly, using techniques that are kind of foreign to modern warfare. But it's real. I'm telling you, it's real.'

I grew up in the 1960's doing nuclear war drills in school. My next door neighbors in Wichita, Kansas had a bomb shelter in their back yard. On October 22, 1962 the president of United States went on television and told the American people that we were on the brink of nuclear war --- and we were. If he thinks that is somehow less frightening than bunch of suicide bombers and nutballs with box cutters, he truly is stupid."
--Blogger 'Digby' on the warped historical perspectives of the Bush cultists

[Andrew Sullivan has another example of the same mindset: That Soviet Union? No Big Deal]

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Weekend Funnies: The What-A-Week-This-Has-Been Edition

[Related reading:
-This Modern World: Permission slips
-Think Progress: President Bush Lets Bin Laden Define America’s Foreign Policy Priorities]

Senate To Ground Zero Heroes: 'No Compensation For You!'

They answered their city's, and their country's, call after 9/11 to do what they could at Ground Zero, inhaling a lung-full of Trade Center dust in the process, but their current cries of sickness have been falling on mostly deaf ears. Some upsetting, but not surprising, news from the NY Daily News on Friday-
Senate Republicans killed a bid for nearly $2 billion to help sick 9/11 responders yesterday - blocking the measure without letting it come up for a vote...

...Clinton's amendment would have provided $5,800 a year for five years for each person sickened from Ground Zero exposure. She vowed to resubmit the measure or propose other legislation to help responders and nearby residents. "Their country should answer their calls for help," Clinton said...

I don't understand why this was rejected- and I'm a generally cynical guy. This Congress has thrown money down the drain on every pork project that's come along, so they can't claim a fiscal high road. These people are sick because the government lied to them about the air at Ground Zero; just give them their due compensation for it. Compared to other things in the budget, like say, Iraq, it's mere pennies. And it's literally the least we can do. It also further confirms that the GOP will use that tragedy to justify all manner of monstrosities... but not the commonsense stuff actually warranted by it. Pretty sad.