Saturday, March 24, 2007

Weekend Video Theatre: Professional Important News

Jon Stewart and Demetri Martin look at Viacom's decision to go after YouTube-

Quote of the Day

With the news that the Democrats in the House did pass their Iraq funding/timetable bill (which, of course, prompted an immediate veto threat/photo-op from the President)-- a symbolic victory for now, and unfortunately not much else-- I'd like to follow up on my post from yesterday.

Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former supporter of the Iraq war, obviously disagrees with the advice Andrew Sullivan gave that Democrats should just stay back and let the President continuing failing until they can save the day in 2009. Beinart has a message for Democrats: Go for it (now).

"Despite today's conventional wisdom, Democrats didn't suffer in the 1970s for opposing Vietnam. And they're even less likely to pay a political price for trying to end the war in Iraq.

In 1973 the Senate voted to suspend funding for American military operations in Vietnam; the next year, Congress voted to cut off aid to the embattled government in Saigon. Some of today's commentators argue that those votes devastated the Democratic Party in the mid-1970s. But if so, the Democrats had a strange way of showing it. They won the 1974 midterm elections in a landslide. Two years later, Jimmy Carter grabbed the White House. To be sure, Watergate played a major role in those victories. But if the party's efforts to end the war weren't the primary reason for its success, they certainly didn't hurt.

It's true that in 1972, antiwar crusader George McGovern suffered one of the biggest political wallopings in American history, losing 49 states to Richard Nixon. Surely then, Democrats suffered for opposing Vietnam? Actually, no. People forget that in 1972 Nixon ran on a peace platform too. In his convention speech, he boasted that he had ended the draft, withdrawn American troops from ground combat, pursued a negotiated settlement with North Vietnam and reduced U.S. casualties 98%...

...That's not to say Nixon and McGovern held identical views. While Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam, McGovern promised to end the cold war itself...

...While many conservatives see anti-Iraq Democrats as McGovern's spawn, they're a very different breed. Pelosi and Reid aren't against the war on terrorism; their Iraq-withdrawal bill actually increases funding for Afghanistan. Today's antiwar movement doesn't raise a middle finger at the Pentagon. In fact, Democratic leaders say they're defending an American military ravaged by too many deployments and too little funding. And if today's Democrats aren't McGovern, today's Republicans aren't Nixon. George W. Bush isn't winding the Iraq war down; he's ratcheting it up, and the G.O.P. presidential front runners are following along. In 1972, polls showed that more Americans thought Nixon rather than McGovern would end the war. It's virtually impossible to imagine voters saying something similar about a Clinton-McCain or Obama-Giuliani race in 2008.

The real danger for Democrats in the Iraq debate isn't that they'll oppose the war too aggressively; it's that they won't oppose it aggressively enough. In 1972, Nixon attacked McGovern as a liberal extremist, which wasn't exactly wrong. But the Democratic Party has become more moderate since the Clinton years, and in the past two presidential elections the G.O.P. has attacked Al Gore and John Kerry less as ideological radicals than as soulless opportunists, weather vanes willing to say whatever it took to win. As pollster Ruy Teixeira has noted, surveys in recent years show Democrats trailing the G.O.P. by more than 20 points when it comes to 'know[ing] what they stand for.'

If the public doesn't like what you stand for, then you should probably adjust your views. But if the public doesn't believe you stand for anything, then you had better show them that you do. That's the problem the Democratic Party faces today. And the solution is to end the war in Iraq."


Risking Escalation

Glenn Greenwald has some thoughts on what the Iran/Britain situation says about our continued presence in Iraq.

[PS- Iran defends its actions, while the U.N. approves new sanctions on the nuclear issue.]

Americans Coming Out Of The Progressive Closet?...

...Or just my silly, wishful thinking again?

Some encouraging poll numbers/trends show the American people growing move away from 'conservative' beliefs over the past several years. When you see all the various graphs all together, it's pretty convincing.

Kevin Drum has a follow-up post on this, summarizing: "In a nutshell, what I think happened is this: beginning in the early 90s the Republican Party hitched its wagon to two things: tax cuts and culture war politics. In the short term this worked nicely: people like low taxes and talk radio was pretty successful at keeping cultural conservatives in a constant state of inchoate outrage. George Bush and Karl Rove were this strategy's ultimate practitioners, and the attacks of 9/11, which they treated as a culture war issue, kept the GOP successful through the first part of this decade... But in the long term this strategy has been a disaster... The GOP isn't dead, and Democratic victories in future years are hardly assured. But there's not much question that Republicans are going to have to find a new schtick." I think that's about right.

Andrew Sullivan has more thoughts on what the Bush/Rove coalition did to conservatism.

Three Strikes And You're Out

Semi-breaking-news from the latest 'document dump' via the AP-
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in an hourlong meeting last fall, according to documents released Friday that indicate he was more involved in the dismissals than he has claimed.

Last week, Gonzales said he "was not involved in any discussions about what was going on" in the firings of eight prosecutors that has since led to a political firestorm and calls for his ouster...

That's called a lie. Time to go, Alberto.

[Related: New U.S. attorneys seem to have partisan records (McClatchy Newspapers)]

See, That Wasn't So Hard, Was It?

Israeli politicians appear to have a quicker learning curve than our own-
Vice-Premier Shimon Peres told a panel investigating the government's handling of last year's war in Lebanon that Israel's decision to invade was a mistake and the military was unprepared, according to testimony made public Thursday...

..."The greatest mistake is the very fact of war," he told the commission. "If it had been up to me, I would not have gone into this war."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed the commission, headed by a retired judge, under intense pressure from a dissatisfied public because of the inconclusive war...

Oversight, accountability, honesty, learning lessons... Mr. Bush, are you paying attention?

(John Bolton begs to differ, of course.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

More Odds and Ends

Another crazy week... I vote the whole world takes a vacation. Until then, here's the news-

The chief of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, told the Senate that President Bush's ban on federal funding of stem cell research leave his agency fighting "with one hand tied behind our back." He urges lifting the ban... the one the President used the only veto of his presidency to uphold. Better wait 'til 2009, Doc.

Sec. Gates on Guantanamo: Close it down. AG Gonzales and White House: Get bent, Gates.

Even from jail, the spirit of Abramoff continues to bring down Republicans: "J. Steven Griles, the second-highest official at the Interior Department during President Bush’s first term, pleaded guilty today to lying to a Senate committee about his ties to Jack Abramoff."

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin helps Jon Stewart figure out that John Bolton is a moron.

Finally, another good healthcare rant for our mutual catharsis.

Quote of the Day

With Democrats facing pressure from both sides on the war (from the anti-war voices chiding them for their slow action, to the President threatening to kill any bill that isn't a 100% support for the war), they've got to be feeling pretty stressed out right now.

I personally understand that they're doing the best they can given the mixed political environment-- the inconvenient truth being any bill passed by the House will be killed by Senate Republicans + Connecticut For Liebermans; and even if passed there will be vetoed and we end up back at square one-- but, yea, it's a mess.

Andrew Sullivan says that the Democrats don't deserve that mess and they should let the President have his war and choke on his failure. This mess will never really be sorted out until 2009 anyway, as many are quickly realizing. Says Sullivan on the current situation-
"Micro-managing a war from the Congress is a fool's game. Trying to cut off funds actually helps Bush: it relieves him of the responsibility for the nightmare his incompetence and arrogance have created. The cold truth is: There will be no resolution to this war before the next election, and instead of trying to create one, the Democrats should simply give the president what he wants, expand the broad defense budget to protect the military from being totally broken before the next election, and simply hold Bush accountable for the results. It's his war. Make him own it. If by some miracle, the surge succeeds, then it's good for Iraq and America. And if the Democrats have funded it, they can also take some credit. If it fails, it will be Bush's final, miserable failure.

The current mess merely confuses Bush's responsibility. The Democrats should clarify it, and fund the war fully - entirely as a way to express support for the troops. Then Obama or Clinton or Edwards or Gore can run on a simple program to end it in 2008. And they can argue that any vote for a Republican in Congress will risk a continuation of failure."

As far as political strategy goes, he's spot on. The downside? Leaving the war to Republicans means staying forever. And that's not an outcome they want to be responsible for.

So while I am very sympathetic intellectually to the warning Mr. Sullivan is giving Democrats, my conscience tells me otherwise. Playing politics with this war (and with the actual human beings involved in it) is what the Republicans have spent the last 4+ years doing. Not exactly a model of success that the new majority should follow. But their options are limited.

Iran, You're Not Exactly Helping Yourself Here...

Not the kind of news one likes to wake up to on a quiet Friday morning. From the AP: "Iranian naval vessels on Friday seized 15 British sailors and marines who had boarded a merchant ship in Iraqi waters of the Persian Gulf, British and U.S. officials said. Britain immediately protested the detentions, which come at a time of high tension between the West and Iran."

The report adds some historic background behind this, noting among other things that "The U.S. Navy said the incident occurred just outside a long-disputed waterway called the Shatt al-Arab dividing Iraq and Iran." A volatile situation, obviously.

Let's see how the man who rules the media's world is handling this delicate situation-

(Yikes! Red font = serious! Mr. Drudge is getting sloppy, though, he forgot the siren.)

Yes, this is definitely a volatible situation... and Mr. Drudge and his ilk couldn't be happier.

[UPDATE 5:30pm: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has cancelled his visit to the United Nations.]

Stop Hitting Yourself, Mr. President.

As I said the other day, the White House should've quit while they were behind.

I watched most of Tony Snow's press briefing on Wednesday when I was off... what a trainwreck. For a bunch of guys supposedly gearing up for a 'fight', these guys look nervous as hell. I don't think he answered a single question directly.

But Lane Hudson at Huffington Post caught a very important tidbit that even went over my head. The President's argument against allowing Rove and Miers to testify in public under oath and/or with a transcript is that it will be easier for them to lie this way 'executive privilege' requires him to protect the integrity of private counsel he received from his top aides (Glenn Greenwald's brilliant smackdown of this dodge even forced Snow to try and explain away his past opposition to it). But when asked during yesterday's briefing whether the President was involved any of the discussions over whether to fire certain Attorneys, Snow insisted 'no'. But then, asked a CNN reporter, if the President wasn't involved in these discussions, and therefore didn't seek counsel on it from Rove or Miers, how can he claim 'executive privilege' to forbid their testimony? "That's an intriguing question," Snow responded, before slinking away from the subject.

Translation: 'Oops! Caught us!' (though I imagine their answer will be on broader grounds)

Salon's Joan Walsh has one theory on why Snow was so slippery and evasive yesterday... Snow remembers how the White House hung Scott McClellan out to dry right after the Plame leak in 2003 when was sent out to tell the press corp that neither Karl Rove or Scooter Libby were involved in any way with the leak. That turned out to be a-- you guessed it-- lie.

I should also add a reminder that that case ended with the conviction of a senior administration for what? Lying to federal officials and obstructing justice. And Karl Rove (the Kevin Bacon of Republican scandals, apparently) just barely escaped indictment for the same crimes, and was only spared by Patrick Fitzgerald when he went back and agreed to 'amend' his previous testimony. Yea, gosh, I don't know why Democrats don't trust him.

Meanwhile, back on the actual substance of this scandal, new revelations continue to reiterate that this was all about, as Andrew Sullivan said last week, "trying to rig the justice system to perpetuate Republican control of the House and Senate". Or, more to the point as Josh Marshall notes, "The president fired US Attorneys to stymie investigations of Republicans and punish US Attorneys who didn't harass Democrats with bogus voter fraud prosecutions."... It obviously wasn't for poor performance, as USA Today reminds us that three of the eight removed "ranked in the top 10 for prosecutions and convictions by the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys." And the White House and Justice Department still haven't provided a real answer on the missing emails.

On that note, finally, all the lies and misdirection and obfuscation just serve to reiterate that the critics are right on this one. The President's failed to prove otherwise, as even the National Review notes. The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum sums up the reality that has ensured that the President has already lost this battle-
They've now had nearly two months to come up with a simple, clear, understandable explanation for why they chose those eight to fire but not the others. So what is it? And why has it taken such an interminable amount of internal chaos to come up with something?

People aren't stupid. If there were a simple, innocent explanation we would have heard it in January. The fact that the president of the United States held a press conference eight weeks after this issue first hit the media and still didn't have a plausible story to tell suggests pretty strongly that there is no plausible story to tell.

Sure there is... the story is that Democrats are being too partisan. Didn't you get the memo?

Mr. Gore Goes To Washington (Pt. 2)

Al Gore blogs about his recent visit to Capitol Hill.

Odds and Ends

Here's some miscellaneous news rescued once again from the cracks...

Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) has come out of the closet as... GASP!... an atheist. He's the first member to do so. Say it loud! We're here, we don't believe in any god, get used to it.

Speaking of blasphemy, many Democrats appear to now be worshipping at the conservative altar of tax cuts. But I thought they were all out of control liberals? So confused.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is coming back to New York to speak with the U.N. Security Council. Meanwhile, after the embarassingly bungled saber-rattling overload last month, the Bush administration decides that maybe this diplomacy is worth a real try.

Speaking of New York, looks like we get to join in the primary 'Super Tuesday' fun now too.

And down south, South Carolina makes it official... they hate gay people.

Finally, more climate change 'alarmism' from Reuters: "The impact of global warming on the vast Southern Ocean around Antarctica is starting to pose a threat to ocean currents that distribute heat around the world, Australian scientists say, citing new deep-water data." I didn't find this story on Drudge, of course.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

America's Finest News Source

Discussing the few outlets that actually got the Iraq story right from the beginning, Salon's Joan Walsh makes a point to single out one whose 'coverage' was unintentionally (and hilariously) right on the money... The Onion.

The Onion is celebrating the 4th anniversary of the war all week by putting on the main page some classic articles from the war. A screengrab is below.

There's probably no more succint a summary of the ridiculous debate that took place in 2002/2003 between war critics and war supporters than the fake-- but yet so real-- Point ('This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave Of Anti-Americanism')/Counterpoint ('No, It Won't') "debate" that I highlighted there.

It hasn't gotten much better since then.

Meanwhile, In Iraq...

Hey, here's the good news from Iraq the liberal media won't report!

AP: ' Shiite militia may be disintegrating'

Yes!!! Woooo! Suck it, surrender-monkeys! Wassat? I should actually read the article?? Well, okay, if you insist, but the headline seems to be... oh... oh dear-
The violent Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army is breaking into splinter groups, with up to 3,000 gunmen now financed directly by Iran and no longer loyal to the firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, adding a potentially even more deadly element to Iraq's violent mix...

Oh. Well I'm sure in another six months, we'll have this all cleared up. Stay the course!

Still In

John Edwards held a press conference this afternoon, amidst reports that his wife's cancer had returned. Rumors were that Edwards was dropping out. Affirming that the cancer was back, but treatable, Edwards denied the other rumors. "The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly," he said, but adding "Any time, any place I need to be with Elizabeth I will be there — period."

Not sure if this was the right call, but it would've been a shame to lose him from the race. Poor Ms. Edwards.

Stupid Oversight Taking All The Fun Out Of War

Military finally realizes maybe it should kinda do something about all the war profiteering...

AP: Defense vows crackdown on fraud in Iraq

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mr. Gore Goes To Washington

"We have everything we need to save (Earth) except for political will -- but in the United States of America political will is a renewable resource," Al Gore has said on many occasions. Today, he returned to Capitol Hill to discuss climate change with House and Senate environmental committees and to renew some political will...

AFP: 'Al Gore issues lawmakers dire warnings on climate change'

I had the day off, so I watched most of of it on C-SPAN. Gore was compelling as usual, not only on the science, but making very specific recommendations on how to proceed. There'll be lots of debate on those. And aside from Sen. Inhofe's expected denialist shenanigans (which have been gleefully hyped by Matt Drudge in advance), I think all the questioning produced some important discussions. As usual, of course, my cynical self prevents me from being optimistic on any results anytime soon.

A rundown of his legislative recommendations (with full opening statement video)- here.

We Can't Stay Forever

Staying forever. Based on what I read, that seems to be the Republican position on Iraq.

I crossposted my entry on learning the lessons of Iraq (spoiler alert: we won't) to the LJDemocrats Live Journal group, and a regular conservative poster there responded.

He said, "The number sent is irrelevant as it's the jobs they perform, missions tasked, and competancy of those in field that matters most. Looking at the numbers, the surge seemed to have put a dent in terrorist activities. All violent activity is down since February." I then pointed him to a relevant link showing statistics indicating the much-touted decrease in violence reports are selective and misleading. He responded noting that, yes, there has still been some drop in the numbers at this time.

I responded by urging him not to ignore to bigger picture and by saying this...

Sending in tens of thousands of new soldiers (note: actually, they're not new soldiers, we're just recycling the old ones... in some cases, even the injured ones) into Iraq-- Baghdad specifically-- may indeed result initially in lower violence in those specific, targeted areas. More cops on the street = less crime.

But, it's also still a whack-a-mole strategy. We've had similar short-term 'success' with previous escalations. We can scare a few baddies out of Baghdad, but they'll just set up shop in the nearby areas. And then, as soon as we leave, or decrease our numbers, they will come right back. They can wait us out. They have the numbers and home-court advantage. Unless we are planning to stay indefinitely and just have the U.S. military officially become the Baghdad Police Department, that is an inevitability.

Iraqi forces won't be any better prepared in one year, two years, or five years to handle things without us than they would be in 2007. After all, we've been hearing since 2004 how they're almost there and then-- surprise, surprise-- we read a report a week later saying maybe one or two units may be ready. Eventually.

We are not fighting a foreign enemy or defending our vital interests or our direct security or anything of the sort. We are defending Iraqis from other Iraqis. It's not our war. It never should've been our war in the first place, and many tried to warn against this very outcome to many deaf ears.

Yes, our leaving will be a bumpy ride, but that will always be the case. It'll be the case tomorrow, next month, next year, next decade. And it's best that we begin the tough road out now while we still have a somewhat functioning military left (and living, intact soldiers; and a treasury) than have to chopper the last soldiers out in a desperate flee five years from now, when god knows what other outside concerns we'll then be unprepared to deal with.

But conservatives have no answer for that, at least none that isn't simply a series of platitudes about American resolve and false cries of 'fighting them there instead of here'. And, in his last response, the aforementioned poster accused me of advocating surrender. Ending the war at any point to them is surrender. They're waiting for a grand, black-and-white victory (the kind they thought they had almost four years ago when the President landed on that aircraft carrier). Real life doesn't always work that way, and they'll be waiting a long, long time before they find anything they'd feel comfortable calling 'victory'. At this point, I'd define being able to get out with minimal collateral damage as 'victory'.

So I thusly assume that they intend to stay forever. Let's hope the people in Washington who believe otherwise will soon grow the balls necessary to rescue us from this cycle.

'Wall Street Worried The Far Left Is Hijacking The Democratic Party?'

More fair and balanced journalism from Fox News.

Digging In

I think I covered all the relevant facts about Purgegate in my earlier entry, but some final thoughts on strategy for now before I move on to a more pressing subject.

The President said that he was oh so very sad this has all gotten so political (translation: I wish this hadn't been exposed and that Democrats would just leave me alone already). Firstly, this is pathetic since it was the political machinations of his crew (ranking U.S. Attorneys based on loyalty, forcing some Attorneys to pursue false investigations for political ends and punishing those who didn't, blaming 'poor performance' for those asked to resign, lying to Congress about all of that, etc) that got us here. But secondly, the President could've stopped this political headache for himself a week or two ago. Before the Rove/Miers revelations, the fault for this lay solely with the Attorney General. Had the President taken his resignation quietly when the first calls came, this scandal would be currently fizzling out.

But no, he wants to show those Democrats who's boss and appease the base. So he fights.

Now, with his not-exactly-unexpected defiance, he is threatening to turn what was a medium-sized political scandal into a full-blown constitutional crisis over "executive privilege" (a fight President Nixon took all the way to the Supreme Court 33 years ago and lost). President Bush is now responsible for escalating the very scandal that he is shedding crocodile tears for keeping Washington from going about its more important business.

Is this guy a moron or what? He should've quit while he was behind.

[UPDATE: More shades of Nixon... an 18-day gap in the emails the White House released.

UPDATE #2: A couple of the missing emails have been dug up.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Morning in America

Time magazine has a crying President Reagan on its cover of the current issue, for its cover story- "How The Right Went Wrong". The story is about lamenting the sad current state of the Republican party, the cover image indicating the editors' belief that the right went wrong after Reagan's two terms in office ended.

Greg Saunders has a few bones to pick with that assertion. As he notes, there is a talking point (now absorbed into their own conventional wisdom) that the problem is that Reagan conservatism was betrayed (read: not, in their opinion, that Reagan conservatism was the problem to begin with) and that they just need to return to those roots. Of course, the problem is that they are attempting to return to roots they don't actually exist. Buried in the Time article, he points out, is the inconvenient truth that even Reagan wasn't what the right calls a Reagan Republican. From the Time piece-
The principles that propelled the movement have either run their course, or run aground, or been abandoned by Reagan’s legatees. Government is not only bigger and more expensive than it was when George W. Bush took office, but its reach is also longer, thanks to the broad new powers it has claimed as necessary to protect the homeland. It’s true that Reagan didn’t live up to everything he promised: he campaigned on smaller government, fiscal discipline and religious values, while his presidency brought us a larger government and a soaring deficit. But Bush’s apostasies are more extravagant by just about any measure you pick.

Tearing down the ability of the federal government to serve the greater good (while increasing it in actual size and concentrating federal power in the hands of a select few); trickle-down, 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' economics; deregulation; breaking down walls between church and state; taking political craftmanship to new heights; etc... All these modern aspects of conservative government began during the Reagan Revolution. Viva la revolucion! George W. Bush and the Republican congress didn't fail Reagan's legacy, he embraced Reaganism, but taken to its most extreme (and incompetent) level.

Their crime was exposing the folly of this worldview.

Accepting this would force the right to either look further back for conservative heroes (Eisenhower would be a good place to start) or start a new conservative movement over from scratch, casting aside the extremist elements that have taken control. That's a long-term committment. But they have neither the patience nor desire for that, so they're looking for the easy road back into power... by painting the recent GOP leaders as poseurs to Reagan's crown and hoping that by emphasizing this conservative heyday that exists in their fantasies (and by demonizing the Democratic party in debate terms circa 1972), it will be morning in America again come 2008.

The Democrats may well unintentionally aid them in this effort by nominating someone uninspiring and polarizing like Ms. Clinton, but I think only the party faithful are buying this narrative. As blogger Atrios once poetically said, you can't unshit the bed.

[UPDATE: This new editorial cartoon by Lloyd Dangle pretty much sums it up.]

Odds and Ends: Special All Purgegate Edition!

The Alberto Gonzales death rattle and new revelations of the backstage political shenanigans behind the U.S. Attorney firings are the big story of the day, so let's catch up.

President Bush continues to avoid reality this morning by "calling his longtime friend [Gonzales] to express unwavering support in the face of calls for his resignation". Heckuva job, Abu Gonzo!

They also denied a McClatchy newspapers report that they're searching for his replacement.

Meanwhile, the White House took a major dump last night, releasing thousands of documents and emails relating to this issue. Talking Points Memo has a look at what's in these documents and Salon's Tim Grieve has a look at what's still missing.

Most obvious revelation? The White House really, really didn't like Patrick Fitzgerald.

Meanwhile, in a completely unprecendented move, the White House is moving to bar Karl Rove and Harriet Miers from testifying under oath to Congress about their roles in all this. The White House then offered the following 'compromise'... "to make political strategist Karl Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers available for interviews — but not testimony under oath — before congressional committees investigating the firing of eight federal prosecutors." It would be behind closed doors and no transcripts would be allowed. Senator Leahy: No deal.

And, while AG Gonzales still has his job for now, the Senate voted 94-2 (!!) "to end the Bush administration's ability to unilaterally fill U.S. attorney vacancies". Kate O'Beirne at the conservative National Review says the reason Republicans aren't going to the mat on this is that many still feel burned for listening to the White House and standing by Rumsfeld last Fall.

Finally, Kevin Drum cuts through the conservative spin that is out there on this.

[UPDATE 6pm: Just finished watching the President's press conference (video- here). Very defensive, very nervous. For the most part, he just reiterated what I mentioned above. No new news here. He's digging in.

The President did, however, say that he's very upset that things have gotten so political... over his politically-motivated firings of select U.S. Attorneys. He also had a message to Democrats: Stop being so partisan and insisting that my staff whom I swear did nothing wrong testify under oath! No show trials! He blew off a question about how some of the firings appear to have impeded investigations against key Republicans. Threw in that old GOP standby about 'voter fraud' investigations for good measure. Finally, when asked about whether the Attorney General can really do his job if he no longer has the support of either party, Bush retorted that Gonzales had his support and that's all that matters. His majesty has spoken.]

Yet Another Example of Why The Patriot Act Is Bad (Pt. 2)

A followup to revelations from earlier this month about the FBI abusing the Patriot Act.

From the AP-
The FBI engaged in widespread and serious misuse of its authority in illegally gathering telephone, e-mail and financial records of Americans and foreigners while hunting terrorists, the Justice Department's chief inspector said Tuesday.

The FBI's failure to establish sufficient controls or oversight for collecting the information through so-called national security letters constituted "serious and unacceptable" failures, said Glenn A. Fine, the internal watchdog who revealed the data-gathering abuses in a 130-page report last week...

...In 2001, the Patriot Act eliminated any requirement that the records belong to someone under suspicion. Now an innocent person's records can be obtained if FBI field agents consider them merely relevant to an ongoing terrorism or spying investigation.

Fine's review, authorized by Congress over Bush administration objections, concluded the number of national security letters requested by the FBI skyrocketed after the Patriot Act became law..

Fine said the violations were unintentional, but that conclusion has been disputed by critics of the Patriot Act...

I don't know why people are so shocked that this law was abused or that proper 'safeguards' were not put in place to prevent said abuse. After all, we are dealing with an administration has regularly made clear they do not believe the constitutional system of checks and balances applies to them (for example, when signing the Patriot Act's renewal last year, the President added a signing statement saying he didn't believe he was bound by oversight requirements of it). Also, you may insert the GOP talking point about not having civil liberties if you're dead here.

So be angry, but please don't feign surprise, Mr. Republican.

However, hope on the horizon? A small, but prominent, group of conservatives are set to launch a campaign "to restore checks and balances and civil liberties protections under assault by the Executive Branch," arguing that, "since 9/11, the President has acquired too much power." As always, a start.

Questions and Answers

On Sunday, I noted that Matt Drudge was hyping the 'grilling' that Al Gore is going to get when he testifies to the House and Senate tomorrow about climate change. Drudge listed some proposed questions leaked to him that were sure to leave Gore 'scrambling' for answers.

Well, you don't have to wait 'til tomorrow... Climate Progress has the answers now.

Breaking News: Healthcare Still An Important Issue

Some interesting, in an obvious kind of way, news from Reuters-
At least two of the health care proposals being presented to Congress would cover all or nearly all of the Americans who lack health insurance, and many would lower spending, too, according to an independent report released on Monday.

Many of the plans would do more to cover uninsured Americans and lower costs than President George W. Bush's proposals, said the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, which studies health care issues...

...Several studies have found fault with the current U.S. system -- a free-for-all in which employers provide most health care, government programs provide much of the rest and 47 million Americans are left with no health insurance...

This is really one of the main issues where the American public is way ahead of the people in Washington DC. As I noted last month, there are encouraging signs in this regard, but results are still years away. I'm not overly optimistic.

Quote of the Day

"The biggest role [in the war on terror] -- assuming we actually want to win, that is -- will be played by programs and policies that work to convince the Muslim world that we're not at war with them. Policies and programs aimed at winning them over and persuading them to stop supporting or tolerating terrorism in their midst. In the long run, short of turning the Middle East into a glassy plain, it's simply the only way to win.

But money talks, and judging by the money it spends the Bush administration couldn't care less about that stuff. Instead, Bush is all military all the time. It's the fastest way imaginable to lose the war on terror and mortgage our country's future to the Bank of China at the same time. Quite a legacy, no?"
--Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum on how we've spent alot of $$ to lose the war on terror.

For future generations wondering what we were thinking, I impart this important lesson... a fearful population + elected leaders with dubious intentions and gross incompetence = failure. Avoid both ingredients.

[PS- Related note: Here's the no-shit headline of the day, one that should nailed to the door of every idiot Republican/Lieberman who repeats the 'fighting them there so we don't fight them here' talking point: 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq May Not Be Threat Here' (via Washington Post).

Also, a money quote from terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman- "The lesson of Iraq," he said, is that "a bunch of guys with garage-door openers and cordless phones can stymie the most advanced military in the history of mankind." I'm sure that's the Democrats fault, though, for not clapping hard enough.]

Inconvenient Truths

We see one of many recurring themes in this administration... attempting to bend reality to fit your agenda. Intelligence about country you're rattling the saber at kinda shaky? Exaggerate it. U.S. Attorneys getting a little too independent? Fire 'em. Facts about climate change don't mesh with your regressive environmental policies? Edit the reports.

From the AP-
A former White House official accused of improperly editing reports on global warming defended his editing changes Monday, saying they reflected views in a 2001 report by the National Academy of Sciences. House Democrats said the 181 changes made in three climate reports reflected a consistent attempt to emphasize the uncertainties surrounding the science of climate change and undercut the broad conclusions that man-made emissions are warming the earth.

Philip Cooney, former chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, acknowledged at a House hearing that some of the changes he made were "to align these communications with the administration's stated policy" on climate change.

The extent of Cooney's editing of government climate reports first surfaced in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist, left the White House to work at Exxon Mobil Corp...

I'm as shocked as you are.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Moment of Silence

Private Military Contractors... Or Mercenaries?

Andrew Sullivan on an oft-ignored scandal of the Iraq war.

This crew outsourced everything else, shouldn't surprise people they'd outsource war too.

Lessons? We Were Supposed To Learn Lessons?

Former Senator Gary Hart on the lessons of the Iraq war.

[PS- This is hardly the most shocking, or most long-term, lesson we can learn from this experience, but here's one... never trust President Bush. Remember when he announced his escalation in January, he said he was sending an additional 21,500 troops? Turns out (and quite under the radar too) it's actually closer to 30,000. Maybe more later. And his staff was apparently too busy planning photo-ops to bother writing a new speech. See you next year.]

Happy Fourth Birthday, Iraq War!

Well, here we are on the fourth anniversary of the war. Our little boy is so grown up, isn't he? He's starting to surge already, and he's getting so big, he's threatening to engulf the whole region in giggles and chaos! Personally, I never thought we should've even had the baby, but Daddy Bush insists that this lil' troublemaker's gonna turn out just fine. So keep clapping real hard and don't ask too many questions.

Anway, in lieu of a full, non-sarcastic rant (though I will note this editorial by The Nation magazine gets it about right), I will post the following recommended anniversary reads.


-KCRW's 'To The Point': Americans and the Bitterly Controversial War in Iraq

-Bob Geiger: Yo, Republicans, Micromanage This

-Chicago Tribune blogs: At war's fourth: Bush v Democrats

For anyone who has family/friends serving over there, you have my sympathy and support.

(UPDATE 12:30pm: President Bush delivers an anniversary speech that-- judging by its briefness, its virtual ignoring of the actual facts of this war's history thus far, and its rehashed call for 'patience'-- sounds like it should've been delived at the four-week mark of the war, not the four-YEAR mark. Sadly, I imagine a new version of this same speech will be delivered next March as well.

And Tony Snow to reporters inquiring about the White House's plan: Shut up.)

[PS- See the human element of all of this in 'Hometown Baghdad'.]

Wow, Gonzales Must Really Be In Trouble...

McClatchy newspapers reports that "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales apologized to the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys in a conference call Friday as he tried to hold on to his job amid the scandal over the firings of eight federal prosecutors." A penance conference call? He's really on his last legs.

(I tried my best to recap this whole scandal the other day- here)

What's more is that there is developing new evidence that the U.S. Attorneys were not only ranked by their loyalty to Bush, but that they may have been removed to impede ongoing investigations. For instance, it's now known that the day after San Diego Attorney Carol Lam informed the Justice Department of plans to investigate the just-resigned #3 guy at the CIA (from last May's corruption scandal), Gonzales' now-resigned chief of staff-- Kyle Sampson-- sent the White House an email saying that "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires." Similar revelations like that are trickling out.

I'm sure the President wishes he had pulled a Nixon on Patrick Fitzgerald in 2004.

And as much as I would love to believe all the news reports that AG Gonzales' ouster is "inevitable", I'll remain skeptical for now. Yes, the guy who helped the President legalize torture and warrantless wiretapping and turn the Justice Department into a political arm of the Republican Party deserves his comeupance, but he's also one of Bush's oldest cronies from the Texas days (second only to Mr. Rove, who you can bet is still going nowhere). Also, as Andrew Sullivan points out, Bush has no more true loyalists waiting in the wings to replace him, and certainly can't afford a remotely independent official running the Justice Department at this point.

Of course, this story is getting deeper and deeper inside the White House and will eventually reach critical mass. Then the President may have no choice but to sacrifice Gonzales to save others and hope the story dies with him. But we'll see. For now, Gonzales is hanging on.

"Nobody ever died of teeth."

A healthcare horror story with some hope for the future...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Quote of the Day

The LA Times' Tim Rutten lamenting the silence on the part of his fellow journalistic travelers on the larger story behind the confessions of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed-
"If you followed this week's news reports on the confession given a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay by the Al Qaeda killer Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, you may have noticed a peculiar silence among the usual media watchdogs...

...As you might expect, this confession set the pundit pack baying in full cry. We've now had 72 hours of faux-Churchillian fulmination on 'evil' and 'monsters' and 'the clash of civilizations' and 'a new era' that makes no allowance for the old-fashioned niceties concerning human rights and due process. But there's a dog that hasn't barked, and its silence speaks volumes concerning one of the American news media's fundamental failures in covering the Bush administration's response to 9/11.

Here you have a guy — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — who has confessed to planning and directing the worst mass murder ever perpetrated on American soil and has admitted to personally murdering a U.S. citizen in what any reasonably aggressive American prosecutor would call a hate crime, and virtually nobody in the news media has called for putting the man on trial. Worse, virtually nobody has bothered to explain that the willfully erroneous way in which this administration has chosen to deal with the Al Qaeda prisoners from the outset has made it impossible to subject them to anything resembling the normative justice they so richly deserve.

Mohammed can't be brought to trial because the White House had him tortured and, therefore, virtually none of what you read this week could be used against him in a legitimate court of law. In fact, who knows which parts of it are true, which parts of it were given simply to stop the water boarding — simulated drowning — to which he reportedly has been subjected, which parts are perverted bravado and which parts are an attempt to draw attention from other Al Qaeda killers still at large? In secret proceedings based on physical abuse, who knows?

But then, when it comes to this issue, the nation's commentators and editorial pages have been derelict and complicit from the start. Their refusal to reject the White House's various euphemisms for torture and evasions concerning the existence of a secret CIA prison system in which suspected terrorists and real terrorists, like Mohammed, have been tortured and held for years without lawyers or recourse to any legal process is a categorical failure of moral responsibility without recent precedent.

This institutional flight from responsibility stands in stark — and humiliating — contrast to the work of individual reporters at the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and other papers, who have risked prosecution — and, sometimes, their editors' displeasure — to expose governmental abuses of human and civil rights in the "war on terror."...

...We rely on our military for defense. We do not ask it to dispense justice on our behalf anymore than we should ask soldiers and Marines to act as police officers. That's why we have courts and cops, and why our laws and, more important, well-established political tradition draw a bright line between their function and that of the armed forces.

We do not refrain from torturing criminals such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed out of some misplaced fellow feeling for them, but out of respect for ourselves.

The general failure of the American media to note and defend those principles is something for which they ought to be held to account."

Al Gore To Testify To Congress / Matt Drudge To Mess His Pants

Matt Drudge's obsession with 'debunking' global warming (and Al Gore as well, because when the facts aren't with you, killing the messenger is an easy out) is as long as it is predictable.

So with Al Gore set to testify before House and Senate committees on global warming, Mr. Drudge is about 10 minutes from messing his pants in sheer glee. No, Mr. Drudge is not interested in hearing a honest, important debate about the nexus between the environment and politics, he is excited because.... some Republican operatives have leaked to him (I'm as shocked as you are) a super-EXCLUSIVE preview of the grilling they are going to give Mr. Gore!!!! Awesome!!

I must confess that the few questions mentioned in Mr. Drudge's **EXCLUSIVE** post are not bad questions, but of course Drudge couldn't resist throwing in the typical joke about how it will be cold on Wednesday. Discussing global warming during winter = proof that Gore is a liar!!! Or something. Who knows.

With quality like this, it's no wonder Mr. Drudge rules the media's world.

"They more or less told me, just be quiet and let it go."

More upsetting images of the conditions at Walter Reed.

Democrats Confront The President On War Power Promise To Try

Last week, I wrote in frustration that "Top House Democrats retreated Monday from an attempt to limit President Bush's authority for taking military action against Iran [by stripping] from a major military spending bill a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran." Democratic leaders felt the amendment was too politically risky a battle to fight simultaneously with the Iraq one. So they dropped it. And many people complained, seeing it as a sign of weakness in the new majority, unwilling to confront the President on the issue of war powers.

Apparently, the frustration was heard on Capitol Hill because it's been mentioned that Speaker Pelosi intends to "bring the measure up as a stand-alone bill". It's a start.

Yes, this might not pass. But it's an important line they need to try and draw, regardless.

Meanwhile, In The Middle East...

Palestine forms new, moderate coalition government. Israel immediately rejects it.

And so it goes...

Quote of the Day

"So what if it's risky? It's the right thing to do."
--New Mexico Governor (and Democratic presidential aspirant) Bill Richardson, defending his decision to sign his bill to legalize medical marijuana in that state.

Nice to see a politician not apologize for doing the right thing (his resume ain't bad either).