Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pre-War Intelligence 'Manipulated' / War Still Mired In Quag

I haven't written a full post on the Iraq war since Monday and already I feel out of the loop! Time flies when you're having fun escalating a war. The big news of the week is this, which really should just be confirming the obvious at this point-
A "very damning" report by the Defense Department's inspector general depicts a Pentagon that purposely manipulated intelligence in an effort to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida in the runup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, says the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"That was the argument that was used to make the sale to the American people about the need to go to war," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. He said the Pentagon's work, "which was wrong, which was distorted, which was inappropriate ... is something which is highly disturbing."

The investigation by acting inspector general Thomas F. Gimble found that prewar intelligence work at the Pentagon, including a contention that the CIA had underplayed the likelihood of an al-Qaida connection, was inappropriate but not illegal. The report was to be presented to Levin's panel at a hearing Friday...

Bold added by me... this doesn't involve Anna Nicole Smith, so you might've missed it.

It can't be reiterated enough, but this wasn't just some good idea that turned sour. It was a con job from the beginning. The lies of the administration started this war. Their hubris ensured its failure.

The article continues, though, with relatively good news for one former official-
The report found that former Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith had not engaged in illegal activities through the creation of special offices to review intelligence. Some Democrats also have contended that Feith misled Congress about the basis of the administration's assertions on the threat posed by Iraq, but the Pentagon investigation did not support that.

There's no law specifically, I guess, against cooking intelligence, so you're good to go, Doug! Wooo! Mr. Feith was, of course, one of many at the head of the campaign to market the war in 2002/2003. He helped direct the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) in this role from his position at the Pentagon. Here's how he now defends the actions from that period-
"This was not 'alternative intelligence assessment'. It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance."


Here is a guy who was #2 at the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld, helped craft the case for war, a case revealed to be wrong (either on purpose or on accident, depending on your point of view), a case that convinced the country we urgently needed to go to war, a war that has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars with no end in sight... and he's saying that all was just some minor, side 'criticism' of the actual intelligence and that he never really endorsed it any way. Just really let it sink in.

Moving on, an oversight hearing earlier this week by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that "The Federal Reserve sent record payouts of more than $4 billion in cash to Baghdad on giant pallets aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis". And who was there to defend it? Why, former administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient L. Paul Bremer, of course.

And while the President and the majority of Republicans in the Senate continue to support the escalation, officials deep inside the Pentagon are trying to develop plans to prepare for what many see as the inevitable failure of the President's 'new way forward'.

Finally, another helicopter crashed (the fifth in a two-week period), killing many soldiers, as the new Baghdad security crackdown is now under way (and going swell, I imagine).

It's really going to be a very long two years.

Iran Offered Concessions In 2003; Cheney Said No (Pt. II)

Last month, I did a post on a BBC story that revealed that "Iran offered the US a package of concessions in 2003, but it was rejected" by the Vice President's office. In short, Iran offered to officially renounce its ties to terrorist groups and make its nuclear program more transparent, in exchange for some concessions from the U.S. It might've been the beginning of the end for a hostile relationship between our two nations, but that's Middle East diplomacy (an apparent no-no to Mister Cheney), so we'll never know what might have been.

In a Senate hearing this past week, Secretary Rice played dumb about this.

Newsweek provides a memory refresher... a copy of the actual document sent to the U.S. State Department by Iranian officials in 2003. It's a very interesting read... I recommend reading it (and storing it to memory, Condi!). TPMMuckraker has an analysis.

Opportunity lost and thrown away.

And what's that there? Why, it's Secretary Gates brandishing his not-so-smoking gun on Iran.

[PS- This article'll sober you up: Target Iran: US able to strike in the spring (The Guardian)

UPDATE: More detail, with historical context, via Vanity Fair- here.]

An Improvement

Not surprisingly, polls are showing an increase in the public's support of, and confidence in, Congress. The disapproval % for the branch still is higher than the approval %, but the gap has significantly narrowed since November. The same polls show, again not surprisingly, that the President's approvals are staying at their long-time lows, with no boost from the State of the Union.

So kudos to the new Congress. Now get back to work, you damn bums.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Iraq Inc.

An interesting piece on Slate-- today's recommended read of the day.

If the Iraq War Were a Corporation--
How a real CEO president would turn it around.

2008 and Healthcare

I think it's a safe bet at this point that healthcare will be the top domestic issue/concern of the 2008 campaign. The Democratic candidates more specifically are focusing on this (John Edwards' proposal is being thoroughly dissected). As of now the Republican candidates are too busy fumbling over the social issues (gay marriage, abortion) that their base is obsessed with. But they'll have to discuss actual policies eventually, right?

I guess the big issue for me is whether we are heading towards a universal healthcare system... or instead some muddled 'compromise' that will act as a bandaid to a shotgun wound. The biggest obstacle to getting a universal system is the Republican base, which still sadly has a strong hold on their party. To the right-wing in this country, anything left of Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman is full-on socialism. Bring up 'universal healthcare' during the campaign and the GOP will try and have voters picturing a hammer and sickle. The Democrats' mission then is to not only ignore this noise (not something they've always done well) and get people to focus on their actual problems and priorities and not fictionalized political boogeymen.

A recent encouraging sign, noted by many, was the proposal by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last month for "a system of universal health insurance" for his state. It's a start for an important dialogue on the issue.

It was this story, though, that I read yesterday that showed me just how big this issue has gotten. Walmart customers/employees are seen, stereotypically of course, as typifying middle America. So if that company-- not exactly known as the most conscientious employer around-- is starting to address healthcare concerns, you know the issue has hit the big time. Still, they didn't exactly hit it out of the park right away-
Executives from Wal-Mart and three other large U.S. employers on Wednesday joined union leaders in calling for "quality, affordable" health care for every American by 2012...

...The partnership of business and union leaders laid out four main goals, including universal health care coverage for all Americans and boosting the value of every U.S. dollar spent on health care. The business and union leaders' coalition, dubbed "Better Health Care Together," pledged to convene a national summit by the end of May to recruit others from the private sector, labor, government and nonprofits...

Still the second paragraph notes that-
However, they did not propose any specific policies to achieve this goal, or commit to spending any extra money in the near-term to provide health coverage to more workers.

Ummm, yea, you might want to get on that, folks.

This says it all-
"2012 is a still long way away. What about now?" said Dana Rezaie, a widow with three children who works nights stocking shelves at a Wal-Mart store in Fridley, Minn.

And on that note, Tim F. at Balloon Juice took a look at the state of healthcare yesterday-
Surprisingly, many people still don’t know that America is the only country in the developed world without universal government-supported healthcare. We alone allow entire classes of citizens to simply fall through the cracks, for whom waiting for surgery is a non-issue and a single bad turn can wipe out the life savings, eat the house and leave you bankrupt. An astonishing number of Americans either cannot afford coverage or due to actuarial decisions by the insurance biz cannot find it at any cost.

I bet that most Americans would be genuinely surprised to learn stuff like this. We just assume this is how it is and how it always will be. It is not this way this way in the rest of the industrialized world. Yes, every nation's system is different, but the fundamentals are the same. You get sick, you get taken care of. Period.

Some of the news development I mentioned in this post are very encouraging along the lines that Tim says in his post. As he also says, Democrats need to fight for this issue fearlessly. If the GOP wants to fight for the status quo or the big business interests opposed to universal coverage, let them pay for it at the ballot box.

Next Week, On '24'....

I will never get tired of mocking Boston for this. Just so, so dumb. What a perfect real-life satire of post-9/11 insanity it was (and still is, if news of the resignation of the executive VP of Cartoon Network is to be believed).

Meanwhile, In The Rest of the World...

What's happening in the rest of the world? Let's take a look...

Both U.S. and North Korea officials are warning against 'counting chickens before they hatch', but the big news today is: "The prospect of initial steps towards ending North Korea's nuclear arms programme brightened on Friday as negotiators considered a plan for Pyongyang to suspend operations at a nuclear plant within two months. .... in return for energy and economic aid."

I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I won't start counting chickens or other farm animals yet.

And in the Middle East, the big news (also in a fingers-crossed, don't count animals yet way) is that "Rival Palestinian factions signed a historic deal to form a national unity government after marathon talks in Mecca aimed at ending lethal infighting and a crippling international boycott."

Elsewhere, Iran's leaders warn the U.S.: You attack our back, we'll attack yours.

Finally, China's President assures everyone that his country is not "forming neo-colonialist ties with Africa in its bid to access the vast natural resources of the world's poorest continent". Gosh, they just want to help! KCRW's 'To The Point' also looked at this issue.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Recommended Reading

OMGZ, did you know that Whatsherface is dead??!?!!! This is huge important news. Presses are being stopped as we speak. I can't think of a single news event today more important than this! However, if you are one of those weirdos who's not interested in that, here's some obviously less important things to read about. Enjoy-

CREW: Criminals and Scoundrels: The 25 Most Corrupt Officials of the Bush Administration

I assume the above is the short list; it's missing the real heavyweights. Still, a Cliff-Notes look at some of the lesser-known scoundrels you don't hear about in your nightly newscast!

The right-wing noise machine loves to create scandals out of thin air. And the media loves to obsess over them (hey 24 hours a day is a LOT of time to fill). Most of the smaller, sillier stories will be remembered by no one in a week.

Rolling Stone's blogger asks: Why does Bill Richardson get no respect?

And a lot of people still really want to know whether Al Gore will enter the race. No renewed presidential aspirations yet for Gore, but he keeps busy enough. Next up? Helping to organize a series of Live Aid-style concerts "in seven cities including London, Washington DC, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Kyoto, with major broadcasters and media owners aiming to extend the reach of public awareness of global warming".

A Thorough Investigation, Pentagon-Style

The lead paragraph of this report says it all-
An Army officer who investigated possible abuse at Guantanamo Bay after some guards purportedly bragged about beating detainees found no evidence they mistreated the prisoners — although he did not interview any of the alleged victims, the U.S. military said Wednesday...

Sounds like he did a heckuva job. Nothing to see here, move along...

The Prosecution Rests, Your Honor

Wasn't expecting this so soon... "Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has rested his perjury and obstruction case against former vice presidential aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby." No OJ-style silliness here; just an open-and-shut prosecution case. Pretty impressive.

Now it's the defense's turn. Not sure how the 'my client was too busy to remember things' defense will play with the jury, but I'm sure it'll be entertaining. Originally, reports indicated that the defense would call VP Cheney to the stand. I doubt very much now that will happen.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan looks at the real crime Fitzgerald may be hoping to uncover.

Something Something Diapers

Jon Stewart did a brilliant takedown last night on the media's obsession with the crazy astronaut stalker story. The 24-hour news channels at their silliest since... well, maybe the John Mark Karr stuff. Video here-

Eat The Press (HuffPo): Jon Stewart: Space Puns Might Astro-Not Be A Good Idea

Denial Ain't Just A River In Egypt

This past November's elections seemed to me to represent the implosion of the current Republican party-- the bastardized version that began in the 1980s. But, refusing to learn any lesson of any kind, the loss may have actually made them insaner (is that a word?). And faced with the likely loss of the White House in a year and a half, expect to see an endless parade of crazy shit (see: the Barack Obama is a terrorist story).

The Iraq war remains the top issue they've reality behind on, but a new poll on global warming also blows my mind. Andrew Sullivan takes a look:
Do the Republicans realize how swiftly they appear to be headed for the exits of serious political debate? A National Journal poll shows that 84 percent of a selected group of influential Congressional Republicans deny that there's a human component to global warming "beyond a reasonable doubt". The international scientific community puts the likelihod at 90 percent. Whoever these Republicans are, they are not reasonable people, or even vaguely in touch with reality. Then, from the Christianist wing of the party, we are asked to believe that Ted Haggard is now "completely heterosexual." (Yes, I know Haggard's team of reparative therapists are not Republican officials; but their tight connection with the Rove machine has been integral to previous electoral strategies.) Even the "ex-gay" people don't buy Haggard's story. Check out this exchange from AC360 last night.

I have a feeling that we may be about to see not the slow decline of the GOP as it is currently constructed - but a complete implosion. It appears that many Republicans are privately thinking the same thing.

Their implosion is America's gain.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Preventing The Next War

In my entry yesterday, I said at the end that just as important for Democrats as crafting a way out of Iraq (if not more so in the immediate future) is preventing the next disaster. That next disaster is, of course, a potential war with Iran.

What had been dismissed in the last year or so as paranoia-- that the administration would like to confront Iran militarily -- is now becoming increasingly clear to many. The facts on the ground really haven't changed at all (and what we know isn't definite, but facts can be easily ignored), yet the familiar and escalating (pardon the pun) rhetoric suggests that the administration has more than just 'gunboat diplomacy' on its minds. It is not inevitable, of course.

Democratic leaders thus far have taken a "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it" approach to this matter. This is foolishness. If war happens, the administration will not declare it in any official manner, they will not ask Congress for authorization. Through a number of subtle moves and minor incidents, we could just wake up one day and realize that we are engaged in a new war (maybe similar to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon this past summer). But by that point, the Democrats will have missed their opportunity to tear up the tracks being laid for this.

They need to take action now to engage and investigate the administration's policy and plans toward Iran. Ask questions, hold hearings, force the White House out into the open on this. At the very least, adding some transparency to our foreign policy will be a welcome change.

On a related note,'s Dan Froomkin has a must-read post on his blog entitled "How the press can prevent another Iraq". What he outlines should be basic rules of journalism, but have for the most part been forgotten (especially in the pre-Iraq war period of jingoism and timidity). The press too can/should engage this issue and drag it out into the light. I am not sure whether I should be holding my breath on this one, though.

I'll end with this quote from The Atlantic's James Fallows: "War with Iran would be a catastrophe that would make us look back fondly on the minor inconvenience of being bogged down in Iraq."

If you're concerned, you can always contact your congressman and/or Senators about this.

[PS- While the Senate is stuck on the Iraq debate, the House intends to pick up the slack.

UPDATE (2/7): Sen. Webb seems to be on the ball with this issue.]

Odds and Ends

Here's some miscellaneous news that's been floating around out there...

The U.N. climate panel issues its strongest warnings yet on global warming.

You probably haven't been hearing much about this story on your nightly newscasts, but the Scooter Libby is continuing along (it's too complicated for TV reporters to explain, so they'll just stick to stories about how your shampoo might be giving you cancer). Audiotapes of Libby's grand jury testimony were released today; they show his mindset and motivations at the time. The AP has a writeup with details on the tapes' content, available- here.

Good news, folks! Ted Haggard's out of counseling and is now 'completely heterosexual'.

Charles 'Cully' Stimson, who said last month that corporate clients of law firms representing Guantánamo inmates ('terrorists' as Stimson blanketly called them) should reconsider those ties, has now resigned from his position as deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.

Congress holds oversight hearings on war fraud, while Sen. Lieberman proposes a 'war tax'.

President Bush's new budget proposal reveals what the administration really thinks of the middle class.

John Edwards revealed his healthcare proposal. It's taking some time to figure out.

Finally, Hillary Clinton has more in common with Dick Cheney than you thought.

Meanwhile, In Afghanistan...

I always like to check in that other war we've been fighting for 5+ years... in Afghanisomething or whatever. Make sure I didn't just imagine it or something. Here's the latest news I could find-

AFP: US general takes command of foreign forces in Afghanistan

Monday, February 05, 2007

Senate Republicans Filibuster War Debate

I'm been on and off lately; hopefully that will change in the next few days (work stuff, playing with my new Macbook). In the meantime, the debate on the war continues to twist around in circles. As the President carries on with escalation, and starts laying the groundwork for possible confrontations with Iran, Democrats in the Senate have been debating which of their non-binding anti-escalation resolutions is the nicest. As bad as that was, Senate Republicans have been making it worse.

Now GOP'ers have been playing an interesting game lately. With so many of them up for reelection in 2008 (many more than were last year), they are publicly criticizing the war-- to varying degrees-- but their actual support of it hasn't diminished much. They proved that this afternoon. With the official debate of the anti-escalation measures set to begin today, Republicans filibustered it. The AP has details-
Republicans blocked a full-fledged Senate debate over Iraq on Monday, but Democrats vowed they still would find a way to force President Bush to change course in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. troops...

[The] vote ... sidetracked a nonbinding measure expressing disagreement with Bush's plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.

The vote was 49-47, or 11 short of the 60 needed to go ahead with debate, and left the fate of the measure uncertain...

....But behind the procedural quarrel lay uncertainty about the verdict the Senate would ultimately reach on Bush's decision to send 21,500 additional troops.

Democrats hoped to gain enough Republican votes to pass the measure expressing disagreement with Bush's decision, and to send the commander in chief an extraordinary wartime rebuke on a bipartisan vote...

To no suprise, the Republicans were joined by Sen. Lieberman in filibustering the debate.

I am not 100% sure why Republicans pulled this, symbolically standing by the President today when he is at his least popular. There are a number of reasons, as I see them.

The first is just typical power jockeying. The Republicans are saying "If we critique our glorious Commander-In-Chief at all, it will be on our terms". This can only work if the Democrats let it. It isn't 2002 anymore. The Democrats are in charge now. I hope that the Democrats understand that, otherwise we're all in trouble.

The second thing is that the Republican base still really loves this war, in every contradictory way possible (trying to keep track will drive you nuts). So while the Republicans need to appear critical of the war to some degree to appease the general public, they can't actually take any substantive action against it without alienating themselves from their pro-war base.

Hence, filibustering a debate while pretending that you simply want the 'right' kind of debate.

It's going to be a looonnggg two years, folks.

My prediction: As bad as we all think things are now with the war, with our foreign policy in general.... it will be a lot worse by the time 2008 rolls around. That moment of sanity we had in November after the midterms is gone. We now have a President going for broke and a Republican minority fighting for their life against a Democratic majority who were in turn hoping things would've been easier. If the latter can at least see the next disaster coming, maybe there's a silver lining there. I'll have more thoughts on that tomorrow.

[PS- For those interested, a list of the Republicans up for reelection next year who filibustered the anti-escalation debate is available here. Yes, even Mr. Hagel is on there. Also, President Bush's new budget proposal-- a cornucopia of wishful thinking-- reiterates just how little regard he gives his war once he gets to cut and run back to Crawford.

UPDATE: Detailed analysis- here. As it notes, while all this goes down, the war continues...]

Gore To Discuss Climate Change Before Congressional Committee

Fire up the TIVO, C-SPAN junkies!!! On March 21, Al Gore will appear at a joint hearing before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality and the Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. He will be there to discuss-- yep-- climate change.

The Politico: Gore to Testify on Climate Change

Ralph Nader, You Suck

Consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader = cool. Electoral spoiler Ralph Nader = egomaniac.

AP: Nader leaves '08 door open, slams Hillary

[UPDATE: Some debate of this... here.]