Sunday, July 31, 2005

A Huge Job for Karen

Now that this maladministration has renamed the "Global War on Terror" the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism," it's possible the reputation of the United States abroad will begin to improve greatly. Possible, but not likely.

Perhaps we would have a better shot at restoring our reputation if we began actually listening to what other nations have to say about the terrorist violence. Given that Egypt itself has just been the subject of terrorist bombings, one would think that the US would be paying close attention to how that nation is responding to the devastation.

Al Wafd (Egypt) has a suggestion or two that might accomplish more in restoring our national integrity than a mere meme change.

It is apparent, from all of the events that we've been witnessing, that the world has entered a dark tunnel with no end in sight. It is also plain to see that the United States is pushing every nation, even its closest allies, into murky uncharted waters; this due to its oppressive policies and its blatant disregard for international law since it crowned itself the only world superpower. ...

The time has come for the United States to rethink its policies, to respect international authority, and to dismiss those who are followers of the "law of the jungle" and the arrogance of power. And the time has come as well for America's allies to wake up from their slumber before it is too late. The war on terrorism starts with the spreading of justice, with the powerful nations respecting the small ones, and with non intervention in others' affairs.

Think those little tasks are on Karen Hughes' agenda as the new State Department public relations head?

Why, I'm just sure they are.


Congress has taken its annual August recess, and on Tuesday President Bush is scheduled to start his. Those folks have been busy the past month, so they probably need a respite. I mean, legislatin' is hard work...hard. Congress has managed to give the president almost everything he has demanded: bankruptcy reform, CAFTA, immunity from lawsuits for the gun manufacturers, an energy bill, and a host of other must-have bills.

The one thing they didn't give him, confirmation of John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, will probably be handled by the president himself. CBS News is just one of many outlets predicting a recess appointment:

President Bush intends to announce next week that he is going around Congress to install embattled nominee John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, senior administration officials said Friday.

Under the Constitution, a recess appointment during the lawmakers' August break would last until the next session of Congress, which begins in January 2007.

Not just Democrats will be upset if the President makes the appointment:

Critics say Bolton, who has been accused of mistreating subordinates and has been openly skeptical about the United Nations, would be ill-suited to the sensitive diplomatic task at the world body. The White House says the former undersecretary of state for arms control, who has long been one of Bush's most conservative foreign policy advisers, is exactly the man to whip the United Nations into shape.

This week, critics raised a fresh concern, saying Bolton had neglected to tell Congress he had been interviewed in a government investigation into faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee said he would vote against Bolton if given the chance — and would oppose a recess appointment if it is accurate that Bolton's form was originally incorrect. "Any intimidation of the facts, or suppression of information getting to the public which led us to the war, absolutely should preclude him from a recess appointment," said Chafee, of Rhode Island.

Also Friday, 35 Democratic senators and one independent, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, sent a letter to Mr. Bush urging against a recess appointment. "Sending someone to the United Nations who has not been confirmed by the United States Senate and now who has admitted to not being truthful on a document so important that it requires a sworn affidavit is going to set our efforts back in many ways," the letter said.

Still, the Democrats should show some wisdom in framing their inevitable outrage when (if) the President makes the expected appointment. As the article points out, the Constitution does allow for the action. Furthermore, many presidents have exercised that right as noted in this dated CSPAN article.

President Clinton has now made 56 recess appointments in his 6 ½ years, the last being James Hormel as Ambassador to Luxembourg on June 4, 1999.

President Bush made 77 recess appointments during his 4 year tenure, and in 8 years as President, Ronald Reagan made 243 such appointments.

President Carter made 68 recess appointments over 4 years in office.

Democrats need to lean on the fact that Bolton is just the wrong man for the job. The mere fact that he so openly showed his contempt for the UN on several occasions ought to be sufficient evidence that his appointment will weaken the US presence at the UN rather than strengthen it. The fact that he lied on the questionnaire form required for the hearings, a form that requires a sworn affidavit declaring the truthfullness of the nominee's responses is strong evidence that the man cannot be trusted. The fact that he was interviewed in connection with the leak of Valerie Plame's identity and status as a covert agent for the CIA is evidence that he may very well be implicated in that whole sorry and sordid affair and could potentially not be around to serve out even his limited term as ambassador.

Even if the appointment was simply intended to get Bolton out of the State Department where he apparently wreaked a lot of havoc into a less 'sensitive' slot, the rest of the world cannot be happy with the backhanded slap to the United Nations.

And then, when the outrage slows to a simmer, the Democrats should make it a point to take a long, hard look at the nomination of John Roberts, nuclear option be damned.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

A New Grassroots

Recently, the FEC held hearings to gather information for promulgating (or not promulgating) election rules to cover the internet, including blogs. Atrios testified at the hearings, as did Kos. Kos's prepared statement (posted at the link I just gave) gives a pretty good reason why the FEC should not attempt such regulation:

It is my position that the Internet is so different than television, radio, and print media, that the current campaign finance regime doesn't fit and different techniques must be employed. It would be like asking me to wear a suit that was designed for an NFL offensive lineman to wear - some serious tailoring is needed.

How are Internet technologies different than their offline media counterparts?

The barriers to entry are ridiculously low. A computer and an Internet connection can turn anyone into a publisher who can speak to a mass audience. Every single one of the communication technologies I mentioned above - the blogging, podcasting, Yahoo Groups, etc - is available to people for free. By comparison, it takes millions to start or buy a newspaper, television station, magazine, or radio station.

And that low barrier to entry ensures that anyone can communicate. It ensures that corporations or labor unions or wealthy individuals have no bigger say than people like me... [H]ere is a medium that didn't care about things that didn't matter - like class, wealth, influence, or social networks.

So we have a democratic medium that allows anyone to have true freedom of the press. We have average citizens, publishing their thoughts, their research, their journalism, their activism, and encouraging others to do the same. Almost daily on my site, readers exhort each other to engage in some kind of political activity, whether it's phone calls to particular members of Congress, discussions about impending legislation or fundraising to help a favored candidate. This is what democracy should look like - an active, engaged, passionate community working with like-minded individuals around the country and even around the world to make that world a better place.

Kos was not just uttering some self-serving pie-in-the-sky idealism in his statement. Howard Dean showed how effective the internet can be in a campaign during the 2004 Presidential Primaries. More recently, a special election for the Second District of Ohio House seat, gives dramatic evidence of the same thing. Paul Hackett's campaign gave a shout-out to the blogging world and over $350,000 was raised in less than a week. What is significant are the numbers given out by Act Blue (which acted as the clearing house): 6945 donors gave $366,465.47. The numbers have no doubt changed since I last checked, but the figures show that the average contribution was less than $75.

The FEC shouldn't be looking to enact regulations on the blogs, but rather should be sending out emcpuragement. Surely we would have a more honest and responsive government if its elected officials received their campaign funding from individuals rather than from corporations, unions, and PACs. Campaigns still retain the responsibility for the record keeping and for advising contributors of the appropriate election laws.

Perhaps the best potential side-effect of this new type of grassroots effort is that we might be able to dispel some of the cynicism that has infected so much of the citizenry. And that would be a good thing.


Manned space flight (i.e., the shuttle) gets all the glory and most of the press ink. This morning, however, some other astronomical news hit the wires, and the discoveries described are pretty fascinating.

First, scientists using land-based telescopes have discovered another member of our solar system.

Astronomers in the United States have announced the discovery of the 10th planet to orbit our Sun. The largest object found in our Solar System since Neptune was discovered in 1846, it was first seen in 2003 but has only now been confirmed as a planet.

Its discoverers are Michael Brown of Caltech, Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz of Yale University.

David Rabinowitz told the BBC News website: "It has been a remarkable day and a remarkable year. 2003 UB313 is probably larger than Pluto. It is fainter than Pluto, but three times farther away.

"Brought to the same distance from the Sun as Pluto, it would be brighter. So today, the world knows that Pluto is not unique. There are other Plutos, just farther out in the Solar System where they are a little harder to find."

It was picked up using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory and the 8m Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea."

Equally as interesting is the news that a tiny moon of Saturn actually has an atmosphere. This discovery comes via the Cassini space probe, an international project being managed by NASA/JPL.

Saturn's tiny icy moon Enceladus, which ought to be cold and dead, instead displays evidence for active ice volcanism.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found a huge cloud of water vapor over the moon's south pole, and warm fractures where evaporating ice probably supplies the vapor cloud. Cassini has also confirmed Enceladus is the major source of Saturn's largest ring, the E-ring.

Cassini flew within 175 kilometers (109 miles) of Enceladus on July 14. Data collected during that flyby confirm an extended and dynamic atmosphere. This atmosphere was first detected by the magnetometer during a distant flyby earlier this year.

The ion and neutral mass spectrometer and the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph found the atmosphere contains water vapor. The mass spectrometer found the water vapor comprises about 65 percent of the atmosphere, with molecular hydrogen at about 20 percent. The rest is mostly carbon dioxide and some combination of molecular nitrogen and carbon monoxide. The variation of water vapor density with altitude suggests the water vapor may come from a localized source comparable to a geothermal hot spot. The ultraviolet results strongly suggest a local vapor cloud.

The fact the atmosphere persists on this low-gravity world, instead of instantly escaping into space, suggests the moon is geologically active enough to replenish the water vapor at a slow continuous rate.

While I always get caught up in the excitement of a shuttle launch, I think we have gotten more scientific bang for our buck from these unmanned projects. Budgetary constraints and worries about the safety of the aging shuttle fleet makes me think we really ought to shelve the shuttle program for the time being. If this Administration and NASA really are committed to a manned flight to Mars, they ought to find a way to fund it specifically without it cutting into these purely scientific outreaches.

That having been said, I sincerely hope that the current shuttle crew safely complete their mission, and that they come home as the heroes they surely are.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Stem Cell Research Bill

Today, Senator Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, announced that he would support the stem cell research bill. This means the Specter-Harkin bill will be brought up for an up-or-down vote once the Senate reconvenes after the August recess.

WASHINGTON, July 28 - In a break with President Bush, the Senate Republican leader, Bill Frist, has decided to support a bill to expand federal financing for embryonic stem cell research, a move that could push it closer to passage and force a confrontation with the White House, which is threatening to veto the measure.

"While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitations put in place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases," Mr. Frist says, according to a text of the speech provided by his office Thursday evening. "Therefore, I believe the president's policy should be modified."

"Cure today may be just a theory, a hope, a dream," he says, in the conclusion of the text. "But the promise is powerful enough that I believe this research deserves our increased energy and focus. Embryonic stem cell research must be supported. It's time for a modified policy - the right policy for this moment in time."

Folks on the right are screaming that Frist has betrayed his 'right to life' position in favor of his family health care business getting more government contracts. Folks on the left are chortling because it appears that Dr. Flip-Flop has flipped once again in the hopes of garnering the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination.

Me, I don't care what his reasons are. I care deeply about this bill, as do the majority of Americans whether they have a vested interest in finding the cure for such conditions as spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, heart disease, cancer or not. It is the right thing to do.

The president has promised a veto, and I don't think he is backing off. The Press Gaggle of July 29,2005 did, however, contain some interesting language.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his position very clear. Nothing has changed in terms of his position. We are going to continue to aggressively advance medical research, while also maintaining the highest ethical standards.

Q The Republican Party appears to be moving away from this President on this issue. How does he react to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that there are many Americans that share the President's view that we need to continue to explore and advance science, but we need to make sure that we maintain ethical standards. As I said, these are decisions that have far-reaching consequences. And that's why the President worked to find common ground on this difficult issue.
[Emphasis added]

What needs to happen is a Senate vote that passes the bill by 61 or more votes. What also needs to happen is that members of the House who did not vote for the House version need to be brought around. If enough Americans make their wishes known in concrete fashion, I believe the President will not issue his first veto on this bill.

I urge you all not only to write your congress critters, but also to check in with StemPAC for further recommendations for action.

Do it. Now.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Intimidation Factor

I admit that there is a kind of cosmic irony that I, a life-time liberal, am appalled at the leaking of a CIA agent's identy. After all, the CIA has a history of doing some incredibly nasty things in the world. Still, even I admit that for security purposes, it is important to know just what those who would do this country harm are up to. If we live in a world where one nation seeks to destroy another, then a CIA is a necessary evil. However, the agency and its members should be loyal to our nation and its Constitution, not the current resident of the White House.

That is why I think the real horror in the Valerie Plame matter is that her identity as a covert operative was compromised for purely political purposes: to discredit her husband after he exposed the administrations lies to justify the invasion of Iraq. Whether a specific federal statute has been violated or not, the deliberate leak of her identity and status for such purposes is heinous.

The Star Tribune editorialist (referring to a Washington Post article) agrees:

In fact, the CIA had worked hard to convince the White House that the Iraq-Niger allegations didn't hold water. So what you have here is the White House, which got caught erecting a fanciful case for war, aggressively trying to pin responsibility on the CIA and undermine the credibility of whistleblower Wilson.

The Niger-Wilson-Plame-Iraq scheme involved much more than the politics such tactics usually further. It involved decisions about spending American blood and money in an unnecessary war. Rove's patented tactics are ugly on the campaign trail; they have absolutely no place in the White House.

Harlow said "he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be used."

Harlow said he then checked that Plame was indeed working under cover and called Novak back to reiterate that she did not send her husband to Niger and that her name should not be used. Novak later wrote that the person he spoke to at the CIA said if her name were revealed, she probably would never get another overseas assignment and that there might be "difficulties" if she even traveled abroad. But, Novak said, he wasn't told that revealing her identity would endanger her or anyone else.

Novak has been around Washington for decades. Even a novice would know Harlow's message meant that outing Plame would be dangerous. Novak appears so eager to carry White House water that he ignored the CIA warnings.

Indicted or not, by the time this investigation has run its course, chances are good that no one in the White House, nor Novak, will find themselves covered in glory.

Complicating matters even further is the message that Porter Goss sent to the CIA employees shortly after assuming his post as Director:

[CIA employees are expected to] support the administration and its policies in our work. * * * As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies.

It is clear to me that the outing of Valerie Plame was an intimidation tactic directed as much to the CIA as it was to Joe Wilson, and that is scary.

From "Old Europe"

The French have watched as terrorist attacks have hit Madrid and London over the past months. I doubt very much they feel secure from such hits just because they actively opposed the war in Iraq. After all, they also have a sizeable number of Middle Easterners who came to France to find jobs, and France hasn't exactly been gentle in their attempts to ease the flux of foreign workers from outside Europe into the French culture.

The July 26th issue of Le Monde has a rather interesting article analyzing some of the problems seen in the war on terror. While I disagree with the simplistic meme that the struggle is against "Extreme Islam," some of Jean-Marie Colombani's comments are on the mark:


The American military intervention in this country, as the Europeans predicted, has only exacerbated the rancor of Islamist militants. It has played the role of "recruiting agent for terrorism," according to the latest report from Chatham House [a London Think Tank]. It keeps a good part of the Arab-Muslim world hating the United States and clearly serves as a pretext. Even worse: with today's instantaneous globalization of images, the responsibility for each car-bomb massacre in Baghdad is not attributed to one or another group of Sunni insurgents. It is blamed on the American occupation and considered additional proof of the "war" that the West is waging against the Muslim world. Hundreds of millions of Muslim television viewers hold the United States responsible for the daily carnage in Iraq. The validity of this reasoning can be discussed, but this dominant view cannot be ignored.


Clearly, Western democracies can and must get more involved in resolving regional conflicts, better integrate Muslim minorities, and distance themselves from regimes long-considered friends but which are obstacles to reform in the Arab-Muslim world.

But the West lacks the key answers. The battle against Islamist extremism is unfolding within the Arab-Muslim arena, so it is partly out of the hands of the United States and Europe. It is the battle of progressives against autocrats and dictatorial regimes, that of reformist imams versus fundamentalist ones, of those who want compromise against those who want purity. These changes are slow precisely because they are so decisive.


"War on Terror" is a fashionable expression: it is no longer a question of the "Third" or even "Fourth World War." This is as sad as it is dangerous. A war ends with the surrender of one side or by negotiation. This will not be the case in the fight against Islamist terrorism. It requires a multiple, multifaceted response that involves diplomacy (regional conflicts), police action (infiltration and surveillance of networks) and, above all, ideology (helping the cause of reformers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). Because those laying the bombs under the banner of al-Qaeda are operating in autonomous cells without really answering to any "center," al-Qaeda is less an organization, and even less a state, than it is a "brand." And this brand designates a fight that they are leading against democracy and all forms of freedom.

Columbani's warning that we in the West have a long struggle before us, one that will depend on "a multiple, multifaceted response" that must go beyond mere military intervention, is clearly an appropriate one. Unfortunately, I fear the American response of appointing Karen Hughes to clean up our image in the Middle East falls short of the necessary response.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Old Lady and the Bus...

...and the light rail and the subway.

Because of a recent health problem, my doctor has insisted that I do no driving for a month, so today I returned to work via public transportation. I live on the east side of Pasadena, and I work in the Mid-Wilshire District of Los Angeles, which is about 19 miles each way. While I was driving, that meant surface streets, two freeways, and then surface streets to work, the reverse coming home in the afternoon. With the hours I choose to work, most of the time my commute took about 30 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes in the afternoon. If I had a later afternoon appointment, the drive home usually meant an hour and half or more.

I was pretty sure that the commute by public transportation would take longer, especially in the morning, and I was right. Still, it wasn't all that bad, and with a little tweaking on the first bus I take, I think I can get it down from the hour and fifteen minutes it took this morning. The afternoon really isn't going to change. The bus, light rail, and the subway were all clean, well-lit, and really well air-conditioned. Because of the rules on music players, it was reasonably quiet with only the occasional cell-phone interrupting the peace. I was too nervous about making the correct connections, or I would have read, just as most of the other passengers were doing. I'll take a book with me tomorrow.

The cost? Comparable to driving. My day fare was $3 for all the busses and metro trains and subways I wanted to take. Gasoline is currently at $2.62 per gallon, which means that I would have spent slightly than $3.75 for the 38 mile round trip. My employer pays for my parking at the office, so that doesn't enter into the equation.

The one thing I noticed both when I got to work this morning and when I got home this afternoon was that I wasn't as frazzled feeling. I actually came in the door whistling. I didn't have the start of a headache. On balance, the extra time the public transportation plan cost me was probably worth it.

So, why don't I do this all the time? I need my car for my job. My employer is willing to work with me for the appearances I have to make out of the office (our gopher is really going to be a gopher as he drives me around) for the time being. The reason I need the car is that Southern California hasn't quite figured out how to cover this megalopolis with adequate links yet, although apparently they're beginning to work on it. Still, given the price of gasoline (which I don't believe will ever go down) I think more and more people will be driven to public transportation. I just hope that the local governments in this and surrounding counties can gear up fast enough for it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Apparently Class is Still Out

I was disappointed that the editorialist of one of my favorite newspapers still doesn't get it fully.

It's not Al-Qaida against whom we struggle, in the main. It's a larger, more diffuse and thus more difficult enemy: radical Islam.

In a sense, it is unjustifiable to assign these suicide-bombing terrorists to Islam, for they actually have little association with the central teachings of the noble religion that brought the world many of the initial scientific discoveries upon which modern society is built. On the one hand, you can't argue with the radicals: If they say they are from Islam, then they are. On the other, they really do not represent Islam.

Why is it in the United States that deaths by terrorism in London so transfix us while deaths in Sharm el-Sheik or Baghdad are recorded but not tarried over? The difference in reaction should inform us about human nature, and allow us to understand other perspectives. Life isn't cheap for any culture, but loss of life is more comprehensible, more immediate, if it is from within our own culture -- no less for others than for those from the West.

Most of all what these attacks should tell us is the folly of the Bush administration's approach to terrorism -- a conclusion we reach without rancor or a desire to score political points. The Bush administration has long pooh-poohed the notion that fighting terror will be mostly a struggle of intelligence and law enforcement and international cooperation. Senior officials in the administration want mightily to believe that attacking state sponsors of terrorism will suffice, but it will not.

People are more frightened, more suspicious, more tentative. The challenge is to get through this new phase of terror without turning on each other. We must pull together. And for young men like the bombers from Leeds, the time has come for choosing: Either they are British or Spanish or Egyptian or they are not; their first identity must be clear.

While some of the opinions expressed are quite clearly correct, such as the view that a purely military solution will not suffice, the writer fails to take into account a history that goes further back than 9/11/01. Abhinav K. Aima, a journalism instructor at the University of Minnesota, Duluth gives a more reasoned analysis here

From press reports it seems that many people agree with the slaying of Menezes – better one dead “terror suspect” than dozens of innocent commuters. And so it is that the logic of colonialism, for this tactic of shooting “terror suspects” dead comes most recently from Israel, has visited upon British soil. The great colonizer is now treating its own people and its foreign residents exactly as it treated “terror suspects” in its colonies a mere fifty some years ago.

The reason why the West was largely successful in defeating terrorists such as the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof group or the Symbionese Liberation Army is precisely because their grievances failed to find a sympathetic ear among any sizeable section of their community. But it is exactly these successes that have blinded some thinkers in the West to the inherent flaws in their approach to anti-colonial terrorists, who actually do have a political platform of genuine grievances. If the West genuinely wants to defeat terrorism then the need of the hour is to provide for the economic, cultural and political freedom, the sovereignty, which will empower and allow Muslim population states to exercise their will – even if it means the free election of Islamist leaders. As long as the West, and specifically the United States, continue to rule their economic colonies through dictators, kings and rigged elections, they continue to empower the political platform of terrorists.

And killing innocent brown people, in colonist styled police operations, because they are “terror suspects” does not help extend the cause of the U.S.-British alliance among their target audience.
[Emphasis added]

The new western colonialism is simply an extension of the old colonialism of centuries past, with the added and complicating factor of the need for oil in an energy-hungry world. Until the West recognizes what that means, it will, by its every action, continue to radicalize the people of the Middle East.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Blast From the Past

Given the current furor over the illegal burning of a CIA agent for political reasons by the current maladministration and its obvious connection to the fixing of facts in the lead-up the the Iraq War, I thought it might be interesting to look at a news article published two years ago by The Guardian:

According to former Bush officials, all defence and intelligence sources, senior administration figures created a shadow agency of Pentagon analysts staffed mainly by ideological amateurs to compete with the CIA and its military counterpart, the Defence Intelligence Agency.

The agency, called the Office of Special Plans (OSP), was set up by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to second-guess CIA information and operated under the patronage of hardline conservatives in the top rungs of the administration, the Pentagon and at the White House, including Vice-President Dick Cheney.

The ideologically driven network functioned like a shadow government, much of it off the official payroll and beyond congressional oversight. But it proved powerful enough to prevail in a struggle with the State Department and the CIA by establishing a justification for war.

Mr Tenet has officially taken responsibility for the president's unsubstantiated claim in January that Saddam Hussein's regime had been trying to buy uranium in Africa, but he also said his agency was under pressure to justify a war that the administration had already decided on....

Mr Gingrich visited Langley three times before the war, and according to accounts, the political veteran sought to browbeat analysts into toughening up their assessments of Saddam's menace.

Mr Gingrich gained access to the CIA headquarters and was listened to because he was seen as a personal emissary of the Pentagon and, in particular, of the OSP. ...

"They surveyed data and picked out what they liked," said Gregory Thielmann, a senior official in the state department's intelligence bureau until his retirement in September. "The whole thing was bizarre. The secretary of defence had this huge defence intelligence agency, and he went around it."

In fact, the OSP's activities were a complete mystery to the DIA and the Pentagon.
[Emphasis added]

This article was published July 17, 2003. Given the time line involving Joe Wilson's op-ed piece in the New York Times (July 6, 2003) and Robert Novak's column outing Wilson's wife as a CIA agent (July 14, 2003), the Guardian article adds some interesting context to the whole sordid stream of events.

Intelligent Believers

I am more than annoyed at the Religious Reich these days for any number of reasons, not the least of which is their current anti-scientificism. Why those folks believe that evolution is ungodly is beyond me. As most folks know, I am a Christian (albeit a rather heretical one), and I fail to see how evolution is inconsistent with a mature spiritual belief system.

Andrew Greeley agrees with me. In his column in the Sun-Times, he puts it quite eloquently.

My leap from beauty to Beauty is not scientific. It is philosophical, metaphysical, religious. Science, however impressive, however sophisticated as a way of knowing, cannot leap beyond itself and should not try. Evolution is godless only because it lacks the tools to make an act of faith or of non-faith. The biologist must make either a leap of faith or non-faith (or hide behind the shield of agnosticism). But his biology no more constrains him to one answer than to the other. My faith does not constrain me to question or to support his evolutionary models. As a scientist (of a sort) myself, I have to say that his model seems to be only one that fits the data. My faith in Beauty (design, if you wish) is not an alternative to his, but exists in a different order of knowledge, an order which one must protect from invasion by science, just as one must protect science from invasion by religion. [Emphasis added]

Whether one believes (as I do) that there is something that stands behind the universe and holds it lovingly, or one believes that there is no such force, the facts as we know them (and operate under) tell us important and useful things. I, for one, am grateful that there were emergency room doctors, nurses, and technicians who have trained in science available a short time ago when I needed them. I think my faith was enhanced with that experience.

You go, Fr. Greeley!

[Note: Thanks to DWD at Eschaton for the tip. By the way, DWD has written a great book on a holocaust survivor. Go here for more info]

Sunday, July 24, 2005

It Didn't Take Long...

...for a response to Senator Tancredo's outrageous comments on bombing Mecca.

On July 15, 2005, the Colorado Republican told a radio talk show host the following:

"Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded.

It appears Muslims heard what clearly was intended as a threat. Al Bayane, a Moroccan journal, reports the response of one Islamic organization to the news.

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) expressed its indignation at the extremist declarations made by Congressman Tom Tancredo [A Colorado Republican], who insinuated the capacity of the United States to destroy Mecca, should the U.S. be the target of a terrorist attack perpetrated by extremists belonging to Islam.

The Organization said in an official statement that the declarations of the Congressman are themselves the height of extremism, reflect a terrorist intent and convey fundamentalist views in the service of terrorism.

ISESCO underscored that such declarations emanating from a person who is supposed to represent the American people seriously undermines the relations of his country and the world’s Islamic States, and hampers the efforts deployed to counteract terrorism and foster a constructive dialogue among cultures and civilizations.

ISESCO, which gathers fifty-one member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, pointed out that it is the conscience of the Islamic world. Hence, in their name, it denounces these extremist declarations by a member of the U.S. Congress, which run counter to the spirit of international law as they may further escalate tensions which prevails in today’s world.
[Emphasis added]

Senator Tancredo, who is usually fulminating against illegal immigration, has admitted that he is considering a presidential run in 2008 if no one in the GOP comes out strongly on the issue. However, even before the July 15th radio interview, he had made his feelings about Islam quite clear:

"We are at war with militant Islam. That's it. That's the bottom-line basic truth. We'd better understand it, and we'd better react to it," he said. "That's how far this has gone, this politically correct attitude, that you can't even say that. You can't even utter those words."

Perhaps, Senator Tancredo, the reason this nation would prefer you didn't utter those words is that they might very well provoke the kind of attack you seem to be inviting.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Ah...The Humanity!

I've developed a thirst for discovering what the rest of the world really thinks about the United States. Fortunately, the internet makes that discovery process a whole lot easier than it used to be. One great gateway into this process is Watching America which presents a survey of world journals with both an English translation (sometimes edited)of the article and the original article itself.

I discovered this article from l'Humanite on Watching America's site and was fascinated.

It's a fact that since the attacks in 2001, flexibility in Washington doesn't exist. After the terrorist catastrophe there was no "return to normal," and for Ghassam Salamé [citation] this lack of return to normality is problematic for the world's biggest power. Since it suffered the terrorist earthquake, America has imposed its national preferences on others through globalization. It has embarked on a neo-imperial project with unprecedented military resources. In 2004, the [U.S.] military budget reached nearly $416 billion, 6.5 times that of Russia ($65 billion) or nine times that of France. And the risk of a split with Europe is being cemented.

As John Ikenberry said, American neoconservatives have become theoreticians of "hegemonic stability," totally "obsessed by the material sources of power." There is thus no place for "the role of ideas, standards and institutions," which could create unnecessary doubt. It is time for totally reexamined relationships of force, even within the country [the United States]: the "President" prevails over the "deliberating organs," the military over "the other instruments of influence," and the Pentagon over "the other government departments."

Like the world, American democracy is suffering.

That analysis is pretty damning, especially since it appears to be right on the mark. The article goes further, however, and points explicitly at what has arisen since the 9/11 attacks.

But the Americans are not solely responsible for their malady. For Ghassam Salamé and Moses Naïm, the American malady is the result of a "toxic combination" of circumstances and a "permissive environment," in which the following have come together: "compliant secret services," Democrats afraid to look like traitors, "Republicans who follow blindly," not to mention "servile diplomats," "complicit journalists" and "docile foreigners!" It's hardly surprising that the century has become perniciously "Wilsonian" and that the United States reigns alone over the common domains of airspace, sea and digital technology. In fact, if Rosen is to be believed, "NATO, ANZUS and the treaty with Japan are not alliances between equals but security guarantees granted by the imperial power to its subordinates." The allies have become "clients" who buy their collective security from the United States.

If this analysis is an accurate one, and I have reason to believe it is, given the developments within the US since 9/11, those of us who believe the direction we are heading in is the wrong one will certainly have our work cut out for us. We will have to literally unseat almost the entire Congress and the current Administration. We will somehow have to push the corporate media to start doing their jobs properly. And we will have to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we have begun removing the log from our own eyes.

We have no other choice. In the words of a fool under different circumstances, "Bring it on!"

Confirming Justice

The Senate will have to scurry to hold hearings and a vote on John G. Roberts' nomination to the United States Supreme Court in time for the October opening of the Court's next session. From the looks and sounds of things, he will get the confirmation unless some dreadful secret about the man suddenly emerges during the hearings. Still, I hope that real hearings are actually held, ones that seriously consider this man's credentials for sitting on the highest court.

Any such nominee is carefully prepped for the confirmation hearings, and I'm sure that Judge Rogers has been advised not to answer questions that deal with issues which will be heard in the next session. Committee members know this, yet I hope they will still probe the nominee on the general issues which face the Supreme Court every session.

The Washington Post reports that Democrats on the Committee are leaning towards exploring the nominee's views on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Democratic senators signaled yesterday that they may quiz President Bush's Supreme Court nominee more closely about his views on interstate commerce than on abortion. But some Republicans, sensing that John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination is off to a powerful start, counseled him to say as little as possible on all fronts.

Key Democrats,meanwhile, hinted that the hearings may focus less on abortion -- an emotional issue that many Americans associate with Supreme Court struggles -- than on the Constitution's commerce clause, which regulates interstate commerce. The Judiciary Committee's most senior Democrat, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) , told reporters that he cares about how a Supreme Court justice can affect "real people's lives."

"The most obvious area is in the area of the commerce clause," Kennedy said.

"Neither the Supreme Court nor any circuit court has adopted Judge Roberts' crabbed view of congressional power under the Commerce Clause," the liberal Alliance for Justice said in a report. "The effect of Judge Roberts' views on Congress' Commerce Clause authority might threaten to undermine a wide swath of federal protections, including many environmental, civil rights, workplace and criminal laws."

The approach does make sense in some respects. Judge Roberts has only sat on the bench for two years, and has written few opinions which will give some insight into his judicial philosophy. The one dissenting opinion that has liberals concerned is one in which he felt that the Endangered Species Act, based on the Commerce Clause, should not be applied to cases where the species involved never leaves the State of California in any way, shape, or form. In other words, Judge Roberts appears to be a federalist who would limit the scope of the federal government in purely states' affairs. We should hear more about his thinking along those lines.

But, as a recent poll reported (again) by the Washington Post, Americans also want to hear this nominee's position on that hot-button issue, abortion.

A clear majority of Americans say John G. Roberts Jr. should be confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court but want him to state his views on abortion before the Senate votes on his nomination, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. ...

Nearly two in three -- 64 percent -- said he should publicly explain his views on abortion before the Senate acts.

The most obvious question should refer to his answer in previous confirmation hearings wherein he stated that he believed Roe v Wade is the law of the land. Will he continue to hold that view when he is on the very court that established that important precedent?

Additionally, Roe was decided not on the Commerce Clause, but on one of the 'penumbral' rights not specifically enumerated in the US Consitution: the right to privacy. I think the Senators have every right, not to mention the duty, to question Judge Rogers on his views of this right and how it pertains to a woman's right to control her own body. Hopefully there will be at least one Senator who will ask the question. Hopefully the nominee will answer directly.

We shall see.

Working Late,

or how things get done.

The LA Times reported early Friday evening on a Friday hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The subject of the hearing was the appointment of Karen Hughes to the State Department as the chief Public Relations Official. What is so unusual about that?

A scaled-back Senate Foreign Relations Committee showered praise Friday on Karen Hughes and put the former political adviser to President Bush on a fast track to confirmation as the State Department's top public relations official.

Only two senators attended the hearing. In the absence of votes in Congress on Fridays, most lawmakers leave early for the weekend.
[Emphasis added]

The two Senators in attendance were the Committee Chair, Richard Lugar and George Voinovich, both Republicans. You would expect them to favor the confirmation of Ms. Hughes, and you would be right.

Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said "virulent anti-American hatred in the Islamic world" is a security concern.

"In an era when allied cooperation is essential in the war against terrorism, negative public opinion overseas has enormous consequences," he said.

And Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, identified the enemy as Muslim extremists.

"Somehow we have got to change people's heads and their minds," he said.

Was this a case of the Republicans holding super double secret hearings behind the Democrats' backs? Not exactly:

Lugar read a statement of support from the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware.

That Karen Hughes will in fact have an easy confirmation is clear, but I don't understand why the Democrats are so willing to roll over on the issue that they won't even appear at a committee hearing, even if it is held on a Friday, a day most people consider part of the work week.

Here is a list of the committee members.


ChairmanRichard G. Lugar Indiana
Chuck Hagel Nebraska
Lincoln Chafee Rhode Island
George Allen Virginia
Norm Coleman Minnesota
George V. Voinovich Ohio
Lamar Alexander Tennessee
John E. Sununu New Hampshire


Ranking Member Joseph R. Biden Delaware
Paul S. Sarbanes Maryland
Christopher J. Dodd Connecticut
John F. Kerry Massachusetts
Russell D. Feingold Wisconsin
Barbara Boxer California
Bill Nelson Florida
Barack Obama Illinois

Perhaps we ought to let them all know that we expect a full work week from them when important matters are to be decided.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Critter Blogging

Inter-Species Snuggle Posted by Picasa

This is another pic sent from a good friend who snagged it from a blog he has promised to find and send me the url for. In the meantime, until I get to the photo developer kiosk at the drug store, this will have to do.

Maybe next week....

More From Across the Pond

One of the more conservative blogs I visit regularly is British and very libertarian. The home page is decorated with what appears to be a nine millimeter semi-automatic resting on a tome by Karl Popper. Although I disagree with most of the posts, I often find myself nodding appreciatively at the thought-provoking and civilized way in which the opinion is couched. I also appreciate the name of the blog: Samizdata. Given the current attempts at regulation of American bloggers by the FEC, I suspect that the term will begin to gain some currency here in the US.

At any rate, I was intrigued with Perry de Havilland's post this morning. Clearly written in response to the second bombing of London in two weeks, Mr. de Havilland's comments are, for the most part, actually quite sensible.

Endlessly blathering on about how "Islam is a religion of peace" or alternatively to call for expelling 'Muslims', simply because they are Muslims, is the sort of wilful blindness and one size fits all collectivism of a sort I would rather leave to socialists of both left and right. Anyone who values western liberal civilisation needs to think a little harder than that, avoiding both atavistic collectivism and a head-in-the-sand refusal to see we have a serious problem that will not go away on its own.

We do not need Muslims to approve of alcohol or women in short skirts or figurative art or bells or pork or pornography or homosexuality or (particularly) apostasy. We have no right to demand that at all and obviously not all Anglicans approve of some of those things, so why require that Muslims must?

No, what we do have the right to demand (and that is not too strong a word) is that they tolerate those things, which is to say they will not countenance the use of force to oppose those things even though they disapprove of them. In fact it is not just Muslims from whom we must demand such tolerance.

If we can get them to agree to tolerate those things, then it does not matter if Muslim women wear burquas because as long as they are not subject to force, a woman may elect to say "Sod this for a game of soldiers!" and cast off that symbol of misogynistic repression... and if she does not do so, well that is her choice then... but she must have a choice. They do not have to look like us (I do not hear calls for Chinatown to be razed to the ground), they do not have to share our religion(s), or lack thereof, but they do have to tolerate our varied ways and if by their actions or words they show they do not, we have every right to regard them as our enemies as take action against them to defend ourselves.

It's pretty hard to argue against that, although I certainly think a blanket "take action against them" approach might result in a Floridian bloodbath if taken to extremes.

While I hope I don't have to ever reprise Mr. de Havilland's post after a terrorist attack in the US, his words are certainly sage, coming as they do so soon after two attacks on his homeland.

Getting Some Traction for an Up or Down Vote

No, not the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts: Specter's stem cell research bill.

Apparently Mr. Specter is tired of the Senate Majority Leader's intransigence on bringing his bill up for a vote. Today's Washington Post describes Specter's next move:

With prospects dimming for a simple Senate vote on a bill to loosen President Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) threatened yesterday to circumvent the political logjam by attaching the wording to the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services.

I was fascinated by the use of the words "political logjam" by the writer. That's exactly what the problem is. Those conservatives who are obviously conscious of President Bush glaring over their shoulder have set out competing bills (allowing for only adult stem cell research) designed to 'peel away' Republican support for the Specter bill.

Frist has been trying to get an agreement from Specter that no bill will come to the floor for a vote unless there are at least 60 supporters for the bill. Is Mr. Frist insisting on a veto-proof bill? No, not hardly. He wants a filibuster-proof bill. Yes, that's right. The Republicans are apparently capable of (gasp) filibustering, bringing proceedings to a halt. Apparently filibustering is acceptable when the GOP does it, but not when Democrats do it.

Normally I find the passage of controversial bills by tacking them on as amendments to must-pass budget bills disgusting. This time, I am willing to hold my nose, since it appears to be the only way to get a vote on the record.

And again (said the nag), call your senators and urge them to vote for the Specter-Harkin bill. Now.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

No Time to Get Film Developed, so...

Early Critter Blogging Posted by Picasa

Shielding the Press

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently holding hearings on a proposed federal bill which would allow journalists to protect their sources. The bill parallels the laws 49 states have enacted to accomplish the same thing. Although the original bill was introduced before Judith Miller went to jail on a civil contempt charge for refusing to name her source for an article which she never actually published, the hearings are taking place against that backdrop.

As to be expected, the New York Times has weighed in on the bill.

It was immensely encouraging to see Republican and Democratic lawmakers testify together yesterday about the need for the federal government to follow the lead of 49 states and guarantee that journalists are allowed the right to protect the names of confidential sources in most circumstances. Two Republicans, Senator Richard Lugar and Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, and Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, spoke eloquently about the role of a free press in a democracy. They have also shown that drafting a responsible shield law is not as hard as some critics say. Just this week, they amended bills pending in both houses of Congress to address the government's concern that the rights of reporters should not override the security of the nation when it faces an imminent threat.

I find it ironic that the editorial concluded with the following:

Congress, which has managed to consider pork-barrel spending and corporate giveaways, should be able to find the time to pass such a vital law in this session.

Perhaps the "pork-barrel spending and corporate giveaways" would not have passed so easily if The New York Times and other major media outlets had done their job and reported on such pending legislation (or at least commented on them) before the bills were passed.

Floyd Abrams, Judith Miller's lawyer, and a famous and very respected First Amendment lawyer, testified at the hearings yesterday. Although it is possible that Mr. Abrams didn't fully intend to criticize the current media, it is hard to miss his point in the following:

The public’s right to know is not satisfied by news media which act as conveyor belts for handouts and releases, and as stationary eye-witnesses. It is satisfied only if reporters can undertake independent, objective investigations. [Emphasis added]

While I believe the shield law is a good idea, I also admit to believing that today's media probably don't deserve such protection unless they are finally willing to do their job properly, even if it means cutting off a source who burns them or being cut off from the rounds of cocktail parties where such connections are made.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

In the Meantime

I warned folks here that while we were spending all of our time gawking and squawking at the White House's current discomfort with the Plame investigation some mean and nasty doings could be afoot in Congress. It now appears that my paranoia was not too far off base. The Specter-Harkin Stem Cell Research bill is now in some trouble.

As this article in the Washington Post points out, the addition of hearings for the Supreme Court nominee announced last night to the Senate agenda only makes it more tenuous that the stem cell bill will even come to the floor for a vote. That new chore, along with the competing bills introduced to peel off conservatives who had promised to vote for the Specter bill, does in fact complicate matters.

WASHINGTON -- Chances for a Senate vote soon on stem cell research grew uncertain Tuesday as the sponsors of a half-dozen bills haggled with each other and Majority Leader Bill Frist over which should come up for debate.
Asked whether the bill was stuck or even dead for the year, Frist, R-Tenn., said, "Not yet."

Frist, balancing the interests of the White House, Senate Republicans and his own presidential ambitions, has circulated proposals that would require any stem cell bill to get 60 votes instead of the normally required simple majority _ 51 if every senator votes. That could preclude the House bill or any of the Senate bills from reaching the White House. Frist's office noted that filibusters _ which require 60 votes to break _ have been promised by senators on both sides of the issue.

Specter and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, had announced months ago that their bill mirroring the House's version had more than 60 votes to pass. Smith, however, said Tuesday he counts only 54 votes if a competing measure also is debated on the Senate floor.

I'm afraid we've all dropped the ball on this. We've bought into the wall-to-wall coverage on the Rove/Lewis/Plame matter, and we're about to do the same on the nomination of Mr. Roberts to the Supreme Court. What is really galling about all of this is that the House managed to push through a bill that is comparable to the Specter bill, and if the Senate somehow manages to pass the Specter bill with 60 votes or more, a veto-override is a real possibility.

The fact that the Washington Post and the New York Times have covered the problem (albeit lightly) will hopefully catch more than my attention long enough for some phone calls and letters being dashed off to Senators urging them to vote for the Specter bill this session.

Go, contact your senator. Now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From Across the Pond

It appears that not everyone agrees that fighting terrorism in Iraq keeps us from havingto fight terrorism in the homeland. The theory that the conflict in Iraq acts as flypaper, drawing terrorists from around the world to Baghdad where they can be immediately dispatched to the great Islamic hereafter really didn't make much sense to me. After July 7, it apparently doesn't make much sense to Londoners either.

The BBC has an online article summarizing a think tank report.

The Chatham House and Economic and Social Research Council paper says the Iraq war has boosted al-Qaeda.

UK involvement in operations against Osama Bin Laden's network has also raised the attack risk, it adds.

The full report (which can be found in PDF format here) suggests that Britain's engagement in the Iraq War provides a kind of context for the Muslim backlash leading to the rise in attacks in various places in the world.

More damning, however, is the conclusion in the report that Britain has allowed the US to take the lead in the war on terror, thereby inhibiting Britain's own efforts at anti-terrorism:

It said the Iraq invasion, in which the UK had been "pillion" passenger, had damaged the counter-terrorism campaign.

Instead it had boosted support, training and fund-raising for al-Qaeda.

The current British government has naturally taken the position that linking the London bombings to British involvement in Iraq is incorrect, but it is hard to dispute the conclusions of this report:

But the report said: "There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism."

Particular difficulties, indeed. What is especially disheartening is that those particular difficulties involve a war that was started on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (none of which have ever been found), a war started once the facts were 'fixed' (as noted in the Downing Street Memos) by the Bush administration. Thousands of US, British and other coalition partners, Iraqis, Spanish, and now Londoners are dead or maimed because of lies. And there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Now, Here's A Good Idea..."


From CNN:

- A Colorado congressman told a radio show host that the U.S. could "take out" Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked the country with nuclear weapons.

Rep. Tom Tancredo made his remarks Friday on WFLA-AM in Orlando, Florida. His spokesman stressed he was only speaking hypothetically.

Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded.

Now that kind of talk is sure to make friends and influence Muslims in the Middle East and around the world. I wonder if our friends, the Saudi Royal Family, are pleased to know that an elected American government official has suggested that the holiest site in Islam (located in their country) would make a pretty cool target in our war on terror.

His handlers quickly moved to dispel the notion that Congressman Tancredo was issuing threats:

Spokesman Will Adams said Sunday the four-term congressman doesn't support threatening holy Islamic sites but that Tancredo was grappling with the hypothetical situation of a terrorist strike deadlier than the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Sorry, Mr. Adams, but the damage is done.


[Thanks to Culture of Truth (whose blog is worth visiting) for the tip.]

Deja Vu

I remember the '60s and '70s. I remember taking part in my share of demonstrations for civil rights and against the Viet Nam war. I also remember my embarrassment when my older brother's security clearance was held up for a while because my "file" with the FBI troubled someone at the Pentagon.

Fortunately, my brother was able to convince the government that while I was a bit odd, I was an essentially harmless idealist, and that those arrests were just a little 'youthful indiscretion.'

When I applied for admittance to the State Bar of California, I openly disclosed my activities of the '70s and my arrest record (trespassing, all charges dismissed), which apparently satisfied the Bar because I was admitted. Still, I was worried. See, I knew that I hadn't been youthfully indiscrete, nor had any of my friends. We knew what we were doing. And I didn't regret anything I had done. I still don't.

That's why the article in today's New York Times caused me to shiver.

WASHINGTON, July 17 - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected at least 3,500 pages of internal documents in the last several years on a handful of civil rights and antiwar protest groups in what the groups charge is an attempt to stifle political opposition to the Bush administration.

The F.B.I. has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace, an environmental group that has led acts of civil disobedience in protest over the administration's policies, the Justice Department disclosed in a court filing this month in a federal court in Washington.

It appears that the government is back to the collecting and keeping of information of citizens engaged in exercising their First Amendment Rights. I had sincerely hoped that such attempts to bully citizens into silence over governmental overreaching had died with J. Edgar Hoover. My hope was obviously misplaced.

Protest groups charge that F.B.I. counterterrorism officials have used their expanded powers since the Sept. 11 attacks to blur the line between legitimate civil disobedience and violent or terrorist activity in what they liken to F.B.I. political surveillance of the 1960's. The debate became particularly heated during protests over the war in Iraq and the run-up to the Republican National Convention in New York City last year, with the disclosures that the F.B.I. had collected extensive information on plans for protests.

Still, the debate over the F.B.I.'s practices intensified last year during the presidential campaign. The F.B.I. questioned numerous political protesters, and issued subpoenas for some to appear before grand juries, in an effort to head off what officials said they feared could be violent and disruptive convention protests. And the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation and subpoenaed records regarding Internet messages posted by critics of the Bush administration that listed the names of delegates to the Republican convention.

Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 1,000 antiwar groups, said she was particularly concerned that the F.B.I.'s counterterrorism division was discussing the coalition's operations. "We always assumed the F.B.I. was monitoring us, but to see the counterterrorism people looking at us like this is pretty jarring," she said.

Pretty jarring, indeed. I think we need to remind this maladministration that 9/11 did not change everything. And I think Congress should look into this and consider the effect of the Patriot Act on the lives of citizens actively concerned with the continuation of the freedom that has always been the hallmark of this country.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Crunching the Numbers

I'm not a trained economist, nor do I play one on TV, but even I know that the economy can't get started without decent job growth and that job growth just isn't there.

The Star Tribune noticed the same thing.

During last year's presidential campaign Democrats pummeled President Bush for his handling of the economy, noting that his job-creation record was the worst since Herbert Hoover. But voters seemed to shrug off the issue, Bush won the election, and the topic pretty well dropped off the national radar.

...At about 180,000 new jobs per month, the economy is creating barely enough employment to absorb a growing population, let alone provide hope for workers seeking new or better jobs. While it's true that the nation's unemployment rate fell to a low 5 percent in June, that was chiefly because thousands of workers simply dropped out of the labor force and are no longer counted in the government survey.

Given the billions being drained out of the economy to pay for the war in Iraq, with no end in sight, I certainly don't see any improvement in employment numbers any time soon, because this administration is just not that concerned about building the economy from the bottom up. I guess it smacks too much of a liberal concern for the least of us.

The closing of the STrib editorial is a powerful indictment:

It's not fair to hold any one president responsible for large shifts in a very large economy. But this president has shown no interest in the tools that are available to help vulnerable workers -- an increase in the minimum wage, an increase in worker-training funds, an expansion of subsidized health insurance -- and instead has offered tax cuts overwhelmingly tilted toward the most affluent Americans. That strategy didn't help typical workers in Bush's first term, and it shows no sign of working any better in his second.


And the Nominee is...

Now that Justice Rehnquist has laid to rest the rumors of his resignation, most folks figure that President Bush will be naming his nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor within a few weeks. Obviously he (and a lot of other people, including me) would like the new Justice in place when the next Supreme Court Session opens in October. Such a nomination also will probably be announced sooner, rather than later, to direct attention away from the frenzy of the Rove-Plame controversy.

As is usual with this Administration, there have been no leaks on who is on the 'short list' for the nomination, although USA Today recently posted a list of likely choices. This list is similar to most of those circulating in the media, and really contains no surprises. All are conservative jurists, which certainly is the President's right. Some are more noxious than others, however, and I'm sure the President knows he will have a fight on his hands if he gets too extreme.

In his regular Saturday radio talk of July 16, the President promised this:

My nominee will be a fair-minded individual who represents the mainstream of American law and American values. The nominee will meet the highest standards of intellect, character, and ability, and will pledge to faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our country. Our nation deserves, and I will select, a Supreme Court justice that Americans can be proud of.

He also went on to express his desire that the nomination hearings would be dignified and fair. His statement, touted by some news services as containing hints, is actually the equivalent of white bread and I don't think gave a clue as to whom he intends to nominate.

Justice O'Connor was often the swing vote on such issues as abortion rights and the death penalty. I think it safe to say that Bush's supporters are urging him to keep that fact in mind when selecting his nominee. I also think it safe to say that liberals are also urging Senate Democrats to keep that fact in mind when the nomination is formally presented by the White House.

This nomination (and I think this Administration will realistically have at least one more nomination in the coming year or so) is an important one. For an absolutely superb analysis of just how important, I urge you to read Katha Pollitt's piece on this. Rather than cite snippets of her post, which would break up her sharp and compelling argument, I will allow you the pleasure of reading the whole post.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


When Arnold Schwartzenegger became the Governator of California, he proudly told everyone that he would not accept any salary for the position. Because the state's finances were in such bad shape, many citizens uttered a loud "Huzzah!" Here was a citizen-official who was determined to be above mean political gain. Or so they thought.

It turns out that Governor Schwarzenegger had a contract with the publishing company that puts out body building magazines. Arnold was a world class body-builder, so that does make sense. Furthermore, nothing in California state law precludes a state official from holding outside employment. So what's the current brouhaha about, anyways?

Well, to begin with, the contract in question is drafted to pay the governor 1% of ad revenues to the magazine for the next several years. The current estimate is that Schwartzenegger could make upwards of $8,ooo,ooo over the life of the contract. Why is this such a bad thing? Well, the primary advertisers in Muscle and Fitness and Flex magazines are food supplement manufacturers who promise bulk and cut physiques.

As the Star Tribune points out:

Last year, Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have regulated the use of performance-enhancing substances in high school sports. That move led some lawmakers to accuse the governor of having a conflict of interest because he acted on legislation that could hurt the nutritional supplements industry while taking millions of dollars from magazines that rely on the industry's advertising for profits.

The Governor's excuse? The bill was poorly drafted. He will consider a new bill.

Hello? That's a clear conflict of interest, and Schwartzenegger should have known better. Whether the supplements are good or bad, effective or ineffective is not the issue. What is important is that he has a financial interest in food supplements selling.

The STrib article leads with the news that the governor has terminated the contract, apparently surprised at the hubbub.

Given his current poll numbers, the timing is rich. Yes, Arnold, you got caught.



I've never understood why people vandalize places of worship. I just don't get it. If there is a God, chances are pretty good that no mere human has the complete and irrefutable take on Godhood, so attacking a symbol like a church could really be a serious mistake. If there isn't a God, vandalizing a church is sort of a meaningless waste of time. Like I said, I just don't get it.

Today's Washington Post has an article about arson at a small UCC church about to celebrate its anniversary.

Last weekend, someone broke into St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ. The perpetrator smashed a window of the fellowship room, then crawled in and set fire to a pew and the choir platform where the organist plays. The only clue to motive was anti-gay graffiti spray-painted on the red brick wall in the rear.

Five days earlier, the General Synod of the national church announced its endorsement of same-sex marriage, though its decision is not binding on individual churches.

The irony of this hateful act is that the arsonist may just very well have radicalized many members of the congregation on the issue.

The St. John's congregation of 150 has never taken a position on the issue. By all accounts, most parishioners would oppose it. But as the only UCC church in the area, St. John's became a target.

The good news in the article is that the community has come to the aid of the church:

Many churches nearby responded to the incident with an outpouring of support. A Presbyterian church down the road provided two tents for the anniversary service. A Lutheran church offered its kitchen to prepare the food.

The bad news is that none of the local pols seem to care too much:

No elected official, however, has issued a public condemnation.

Like I said, I just don't get it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Blogorama: Niches

[Another in the continuing series of blogs I would add to my blog list if I knew how to make one.]

Another nice thing about the blog world is that you can find some pretty neat sources of information on topics that may interest you, but that many of your friends couldn't care less about. I'm sure that with a little work I could find a blog about the latest trends in Charles Williams scholarship or one about key collecting. Today's two blogs occupy their own little niche, but both are well worth the visit even if their subject matters are not such as usually grab your attention.

Sallyh has constructed a nice little home for progressive recipes at La Poissoniere. The recipes are donated by her fans and devotees, and are usually presented with heavy dollops of snarkitude:

The idea that we could have the Republicans roasted on a spit would be tantalizing, although I don't think they'd taste very good. So here's the place to put things that do taste good!

Sallyh has promised to put the collection of donated recipes into a book which will be available at the Labor Day gathering of Eschatonians. (For more about that gathering, go visit this blog.) The comments sections of each post contain the recipes and some wonderfully wicked sidelights. While man cannot live by bread alone, this blog is one heckuva good place to start.

There's nothing better for post-prandial pleasure than music, and NY Mary serves that up with Power Pop, which she describes as

An idiosyncratic blog dedicated to the precursors, the practioners, and the descendants of power pop.

My tastes in music are pretty eclectic, but I really stopped paying serious attention to current trends in popular music about ten years ago. Well, after reading NY Mary on a regular basis, I've managed to find some new music that is incredibly satisfying, primarily because her blog appeals to just about anyone (whether undereducated or very sophisticated). It helps that her readers have a welcoming forum to post on their own finds:

Once in a while, they find me, but more often readers just hip me to stuff they've heard which they think might be my kind of thing. That's not always the case, but it is often enough for me to have discovered some really wonderful stuff under the radar.

Both sites deserve regular look-sees. Go, now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

More Than Rove Could Go Down

The hot topic currently is Plame Gate: who burned Valerie Plame's cover as a CIA agent. The most likely candidate at present is Karl Rove, the Presiden't closest advisor. Even the media has gotten frisky, challenging White House Press Secretary on the issue three days running at the Press Gaggle and running frequent stories in both the print and television forums.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I really am enjoying the circus. Very little would make me happier than to see a man who makes the Nixon Administration's version of 'dirty tricks' look like school yard pranks get busted hard by a Federal Grand Jury, but I think we need a little perspective here. While many of us are devoting a lot of time and energy speculating on whether Rove will finally get his come-uppance, Congress is back in session with a huge 'to-do' list. I would hate for some really bad legislation to slip through and for some really good legislation to fail because the progressive community is too busy reveling in the circus to yank on the leashes of members of Congress.

The Patriot Act is still under review, and merits some priority because parts of it sunset this year. The last time I checked, the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 is still stuck in committee. And, right now, the various stem cell research bills are currently being debated in the Senate.

The Specter-Harkin bill on stem cell research, which mirrors (to a great extent) the recently passed House bill, is facing some problems because 'parallel' bills have been introduced which suggests there are less 'immoral' ways to do the needed research. An editorial in today's Washington Post points to the strategy some conservatives are employing: the use of these parallel bills to peel off conservatives currently on record as favoring the Specter-Harkin bill.

Mr. Bush's policy on stem cell research was not as bankrupt an idea as his fiercer critics sometimes make out. It allowed federal money to begin flowing to a field that might promise dramatic breakthroughs in the treatment of devastating diseases. At this point, however, the policy has outlived its value and is impeding research. Consequently, the public now faces the question of whether to let moral anxiety about the use of human embryos frustrate science that could save and improve many lives.

...But these small clusters of cells, which are not yet even fetuses, are routinely generated in fertilization clinics in quantities that exceed the number of embryos that will actually be implanted in women. They will never grow into babies; the only question is whether they will be discarded or used in a fashion that benefits humanity.

Alternative strategies for creating stem cell lines -- an idea discussed yesterday in an op-ed column by Leon R. Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics -- should certainly be explored, and it makes sense for Congress to support such research. But these techniques are, at this stage, nascent and uncertain and have not yet successfully yielded cell lines.

One of the things I have noticed about intelligent adults is that they can handle several tasks at one time, never losing sight of the bigger picture because some shiny distraction looks fun. I would hate for another bankruptcy bill or national identification card bill to slip through because we were transfixed by bringing Karl Rove down.

We need to make sure that our senators pass the Specter-Harkin bill and we need to urge all of our congress critters to get busy on voting reform and on repealing the more egregious parts of the Patriot Act. That done, we can grab the popcorn, sit back, and watch Plame Gate unfold without feeling guilty.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Secret White House

More than one president has complained of being 'knee deep in leaks,' and the current president made it clear at the start of his admninstration that such behavior would not be tolerated in his White House. While it's ironic that the current Plame investigation has to do with intentional leaks, it has been hard for the press and the public to get any clear view as to how this president governs.

More than White House discipline is involved here: Mr. Bush and his crew have used some 'tools' more extensively than any prior administration. The New York Times editorial today comments on this.

The Bush administration is classifying the documents to be kept from public scrutiny at the rate of 125 a minute. The move toward greater secrecy has nearly doubled the number of documents annually hidden from public view - to well more than 15 million last year, nearly twice the number classified in 2001 - as bureaucrats have invented more amorphous categories like "sensitive security information." At the same time, the declassification of documents required under the Freedom of Information Act has been choked down to a fraction of what it was a decade ago, leaving the government working behind an ever darker, ever denser screen.

Thomas Kean, the co-chairman of the independent commission on the 9/11 attacks, warns that the official twilight could not be more counterproductive for security.

"The best ally we have in protecting ourselves against terrorism is an informed public," Mr. Kean said. The government's failure to prevent 9/11 was linked to barriers in the sharing of information between agencies and with the public, he said, not to leaks of sensitive information.

This process has been in place from the very start. A quick Google of "White House Secrecy" yielded thousands of hits. Here are a few:

The Christian Science Monitor (3/25/02):

WASHINGTON – From the very start, George W. Bush made it clear that his would be a leak-tight White House. In the past year, he has succeeded to a remarkable degree, and is even carrying that promise far beyond his relationship with the media.

The president's emphasis on confidentiality predates the war on terror, though. In his father's administration, the younger Bush took a special interest in helping with leak control. He had his own papers from his time as Texas governor archived in his father's presidential library, so that they would not be managed by the state of Texas – or subject to the state's open-records laws.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal (10/09/03):

Washington - One of the nation's leading newspaper executives took the Bush administration to task Wednesday for what he termed an "unsettling trend toward governmental secrecy."

Tony Ridder, chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, the industry's largest and most important trade organization, said the resultant fear, frustration and anger felt by many veteran journalists in the nation's capital are "unprecedented, even going back to the dark days of Watergate." (10/16/03):

"This administration has repeatedly demonstrated a predilection for secrecy. Withholding information is the default. Disclosure is like pulling teeth.

They see little room or need for public oversight," Aftergood (Steven Aftergood heads the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy)said.

Transparency in government is essential in a democracy, which even the most conservative of citizens can appreciate. While some government functions must be secret (such as the intelligence work of the CIA), especially in a time of war, the blanket classification of information as 'secret' is dangerous, especially when that classification prevents the very people who need the information from getting it.

How ironic, then, that this maladministration chose to leak the identity of a CIA agent as a form of revenge on her husband.

Pressing On...

I usually leave the citing of the White House News Gaggle to Holden at First Draft because he does such a terrific job of it. Today, however, I feel compelled to get in on the act.

The press is finally warming up to the Plame Gate story and Karl Rove's role in outing the CIA operative. On most days, the press swallows Press Secretary Scott McClellan's non-responsive answers to softball questions in toto. On July 11, for a change, they kept at him. Here's a sample of the contentious exchanges:

Q Scott, I mean, just -- I mean, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said, and I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation --

Q Why are you choosing when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?
MR. McCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish --

Q No, you're not finishing -- you're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American people, he did, indeed, talk about his wife, didn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, there will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.

Some two years into the investigation of the leaks to Bob Novak which resulted in his column outing Valerie Plame, the press is finally starting to ask questions. What took it so long? And, just as importantly, why now? I mean, we are talking about a press who basically ignored the Downing Street Memos as "old news," burying the few stories published deep into the paper, page 29 or so.

One of my favorite commenters at Eschaton has a suggestion that I think hits the mark:

My point, exactly. All human beings not directly related to the press by blood, or professionally, are irrelevant (perhaps that's just human nature, too). So if they die for a "major lie" (how many "major lies," in fact?), it's bad, but "old news" by the time the Downing Street Memo "proves" it.

But Rove gets caught in a war of weasel words which sends Miller to jail and causes Cooper to split hairs in his own defense, and suddenly "major lies" are intolerable?

Well, whatever works, I guess.
I'll retire to Bedlam.....Rmj, Wandering Aengus

Whatever the reason, I hope the press keeps it up, and not just on this story, but also on all of the other issues facing the nation right now.

Monday, July 11, 2005

An Interesting Time Line

Back in June, I posted a time line on the lead-up to the war in Iraq. The events of the last couple of weeks in connection with the "Plame Affair" has prompted me to tweak that time line a little to see if any interesting patterns emerge. Here it is.


Mickey Herskowitz was selected to ghost-write candidate George W. Bush's autobiography during the campaign.

“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”


Richard Clark told CBS news that within days after 9/11, the Administration wanted to lash out at Iraq:

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush ordered his then top anti-terrorism adviser to look for a link between Iraq and the attacks, despite being told there didn't seem to be one.


Joseph Wilson goes to Africa to determine whether or not Niger was selling yellow cake uranium to Iraq at the request of the CIA.


Bombing by the RAF and USAF is increased significantly, according to a memo leaked by The Times of London:

The RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown. The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.


The Downing Street Memo is prepared summarizing recent talk between the US and UK:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.


The President delivers the State of the Union Address on 1/28/03:

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.


President Bush announces the start of the Iraq War on 3/19/03:

Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly, yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.


Joe Wilson publishes an op-ed piece in The New York Times on 7/6/03. In that column, he indicates that there was no credible evidence of uranium sales by Niger to Iraq. His conclusions are based in part on his 2/2002 visit to Africa.

On 7/14/03, Robert Novak publishes a column about the now debunked claim that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger and in which he names Wilson's wife as a CIA operative:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.

So, there you have it. Remember, the initial reason for going to war against Iraq was to forcibly remove weapons of mass destruction from the arsenal of Saddam Hussein. We learned from the Downing Street Memo that the administration was determined to go to war, so determined that facts would be fixed around the WMD rationale. Wilson not only refused to fix the facts, he also published a column in which he openly stated that the Niger-Iraq story was bogus. Many people (including me) believe that the outing of his wife was retaliation for that column.

Whether any administration official gets convicted of any charge in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that this administration operates arrogantly and corruptly.