Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging

Ken Leonard

A visitor to the Wild Human Park.

The French Get It... why didn't the Democrats?

From Le Monde on September 26,2006:

The pressure exerted over the past few weeks by George Bush, to obtain a law from the Congress to validate decisions he made in the name of his "war on terror," is about to bear fruit.

Republican senators who had resisted the White House say that they have reached a compromise that respects human rights. But the truth is that this apparent victory hides a capitulation on a vital point: the President of the United States sees himself as having the right to authorize the CIA to employ methods of interrogation that respect neither American law nor international law codified under the Geneva Conventions. It is quite clear, that the agency will still resort to torture, as it has very likely done for the last four or five years, in detention centers located outside of the United States and kept secret.

...At a time when an "intelligence community" report, divulged by The New York Times, estimates that the Iraq occupation has not lessened the terrorist threat, but has, on the contrary, made it worse, Mr. Bush is using his usual card: to play on the fear of terrorism before thinking of ways to counter it. If the United States passes a law authorizing the use of torture, their enemies will have won a victory.
[Emphasis added]

Why, yes. I believe that nails it, and quite nicely.

Freakin' Quislings.

More Congressional Silliness

After two years of doing little besides caving into the White House, Congress finished the run-up to the November elections by denying the President one of the things he wanted: a comprehensive immigration bill. Instead, the Senate decided that the Great Wall Against Brown People's Incursions was enough. From the Washington Post:

The Senate gave final approval last night to legislation authorizing the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, shelving President Bush's vision of a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration laws in favor of a vast barrier.

The measure was pushed hard by House Republican leaders, who badly wanted to pass a piece of legislation that would make good on their promises to get tough on illegal immigrants, despite warnings from critics that a multibillion-dollar fence would do little to address the underlying economic, social and law enforcement problems, or to prevent others from slipping across the border. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) surprised many advocates of a more comprehensive approach to immigration problems when he took up the House bill last week.
[Emphasis added]

While Congress was willing to build the Great Wall, it wasn't quite ready to fund it.

...Congress approved $1.2 billion in a separate homeland security spending bill to bankroll the fence.

That figure, however, is only a down payment and falls far short of the $6 billion the fence is expected to cost.
[Emphasis added]

But Congress wanted to secure the border, which this Great Wall will do...sorta kinda.

Lawmakers from both parties conceded that even at 700 miles in length, the barrier would leave nearly 1,300 miles of border uncovered.

...Advocates and opponents of the measure said it is not clear that the fence can be built as the bill envisions. The Arizona branch would have to plunge down steep ravines and scale craggy mountain peaks. "This is not Iowa farmland," said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Construction is "going to be near impossible."

A vast stretch of the Arizona fence would traverse the lands of the Tohono O'odham Nation, which strongly opposes it and could bring suit, said Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.). Construction crews would have to deal with rivers and streams running north to south and wildlife migration routes that do not respect the U.S.-Mexico divide. And the Border Patrol does not have enough agents to stop smugglers from simply knocking holes in remote stretches.

But, hey! It's going to be one dandy Mother of a Wall!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging: A Reprise

When he was young and sweet...

A Pox On Both Their Houses!

Yesterday, Congress decided that winning elections was more important than the US Constitution and more important than basic human decency. Members of both Houses also gave the Emperor yet more power. Some Democrats colluded by voting for the bills in question. From an AP on-line article:

Breaking with their party, a handful of Democrats in competitive congressional races voted to approve President Bush's system to interrogate and prosecute terrorism suspects.

In doing so, they took away one arrow Republicans plan to use in their soft-on-security attack on Democrats.

...Six weeks before congressional midterm elections, the Republican-controlled Congress overcame differences within the GOP to approve the president's sweeping anti-terrorism legislation that prohibits war crimes while defining such atrocities as rape and torture, and establishes military tribunals to prosecute terrorism suspects.

The Senate approved the measure 65-34 on Thursday, one day after the House voted in favor 253-168. The House was taking a final vote on the bill Friday before sending it to Bush.

Among the eight House Democrats who supported the bill are two congressmen running for Senate seats in states that Bush won in 2000 and 2004.

Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown, cast as an ultra-liberal by Republicans, is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in Ohio, and may be trying to project a more moderate position. That also could be the case in GOP-leaning Tennessee, where Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr., also being tagged as a liberal, is challenging Republican Bob Corker.

The six House Democrats running for re-election who voted in favor of the legislation are in GOP-leaning districts that Republicans are making a play to win in November. They are: Democratic Reps. Melissa Bean in Illinois, Jim Marshall in Georgia, John Barrow in Georgia, Leonard Boswell in Iowa, John Spratt in South Carolina, and Edwards in Texas.

"They are voting in line with what they perceive to be the views of a majority of their constituencies on this issue," said Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist.

The Democrats who broke ranks in both houses should be ashamed. They took the coward's way out by not distinguishing between the unconstitutional dumping of habeas corpus and real security, and they did it just to get some votes. To say they did so to align themselves with what "they perceive to be the views of a majority of their constituencies" is a cop-out. Yes, they are supposed to represent the people of their district or state, but they are to do so in the best interests of those constitutents and of the country.

Each one of those Democrats took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. They failed miserably, and the fact is, they didn't have to.

They could have challenged the accusation of being obstructionists by stating that they were indeed obstructionists in that they were obstructing a power-mad administration from defying the basic rights accorded to Americans by the the very Constitution they have sworn to uphold.

They could have rebutted the accusations of being soft on terror by pointing to the recently released NIE report which shows that this nation by going to war in Iraq and in engaging in horrible abuses of human rights by using torture in interrogations and detentions in secret prisons have caused an increase in the number of terrorists sworn to attack this country. By fighting the root causes of that increase, they could have shown the world that Americans do not condone the criminal behavior of the current regime.

But no, these Democrats chose the easy path, the low road.

Quislings. Each and every one of them.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Sad Day For America

Of all the responses to the news that our government has decided that habeas corpus and rules against torture are too pre-9/11, the one that struck me as most on-the-mark was provided by Roadmaster, a frequent and sagacious commenter at Eschaton. I quote it here in its entirety (with permission).

(with reference to Jeff Foxworthy)

You MAY be in your own "Axis of Evil" if your nation is kicked off the UN Human Rights Committee and is replaced by Libya.

You MAY be in your own "Axis of Evil" if the Chinese Constitution has better human rights protections than your own.

You MAY be in your own "Axis of Evil" when Kim Jong Il can reasonably argue that your foreign policy is directly lifted from one of the movies he wrote, directed, and starred in.

You MAY be in your own "Axis of Evil" when aging Chilean and Argentinian generals think you are too severe on those you have imprisoned.

You MAY be in your own "Axis of Evil" when Saddam Hussein would win a current Iraqi election in a landslide - even with Jimmy Carter monitoring it.

You MAY be in your own "Axis of Evil" if Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Vlad the Impaler all nod approvingly from beyond the grave.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Minor Cosmetic Surgery

It now appears that at least one of the two "security" bills before Congress will get passed and sent to the Emperor by the end of this week. While the NSA wire tapping bill probably will not get out of the House in time to reconcile with the Senate version, the bill dealing with interrogation and trial of detainees probably will pass the Senate quickly enough for reconciliation. From the NY Times:

...Republicans were optimistic about eliminating last-minute concerns over a separate measure laying out rules for interrogating terrorism suspects and trying them before military tribunals. They said they were hoping to send the bill to Mr. Bush by the end of the week for a signing ceremony that could help them kick off the home stretch of the campaign with a message that Republicans were taking strong steps to protect the nation from terror attacks.

...Democrats, while being careful to say that they had made no decision to block the detainee bill, expressed rising concerns about changes to the proposal that they said went beyond what Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, had described Monday as merely “technical changes.”

And what were these changes?

In one change, the original language said that a suspect had the right to “examine and respond to” all evidence used against him. Mr. Graham and his colleagues in resisting the White House, Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and John McCain of Arizona, had insisted that the provision was necessary to prevent so-called secret trials. The bill submitted late Monday dropped the word “examine” and left only “respond to,” reviving complaints about secret trials, this time from Democrats.

In another, the original compromise said that evidence seized “outside the United States” could be admitted in court even if it had been obtained without a search warrant, a provision Republicans and Democrats agreed was necessary to deal with the unusual circumstances of seizing evidence on the battlefield.

The bill introduced Monday dropped the words “outside the United States,” which Democrats said meant that prosecutors could ignore American legal standards on search warrants within the country. The bill also broadened the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant, from anyone “engaged in hostilities against the United States” to include anyone who “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.”

The Democrats sat on the sidelines during this whole dog-and-pony show between the three "mavericks" (McCain, Warner, and Graham) and the White House, thereby losing an opportunity to make the noise necessary for clarifying these Constitutional issues to the American public. Now they are faced with the prospect of the choice between blocking a bill they have to know is constitutionally defective and thereby setting loose the GOP mantra of being weak on security, or giving in and letting the bill pass. Once again, they have been outplayed tactically.

The bill is still deeply flawed, and should be defeated. Unfortunately, it will probably pass, setting up a future Supreme Court case. It should never have happened.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


After weeks of framing the elections in terms of the Global War on Terror rather than the disasterous Iraq war, the White House got back-doored by a nearly six-month old intelligence report. The Great Iraq War has made the Global War on Terror more difficult, according to an April NIE analysis. We are now less safe from terrorism than we were in 2001. Democrats jumped on the news, as well they should have. From an article in today's Washington Post:

Democratic lawmakers yesterday seized on elements of a new classified intelligence assessment as validation of their long-standing position that the Iraq war has been a distraction from the broader war against terrorists, seeing the new study as an opportunity to undermine President Bush's determined offensive to turn terrorism to political advantage in the midterm elections.

A classified National Intelligence Estimate, completed in April but disclosed in news reports over the weekend, offers the U.S. intelligence community's first formal evaluation of global trends in terrorism since the April 2003 invasion of Iraq. U.S. officials said the report concludes that the Iraq war has fueled the growth of Islamic extremism and terror groups, but White House officials responded that the reports reflected a selective and distorted interpretation of the study.
[Emphasis added]

The regime's spinmeisters went into immediate action, but their remarks were undermined by some key Republican lawmakers. If the report didn't say we are less safe, why not declassify it so we can see what it actually said?

Administration officials rejected calls from Democrats -- and some Republicans -- to release an unclassified version of the report, and one official said the NIE discussed how the Iraq war has been used as a propaganda tool by terror groups.

Sen Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, joined in the call to declassify the new NIE. He said the administration should do so, so "the American people can see the material for themselves and come to their own conclusions," adding: "There is a false impression that the NIE focuses solely on Iraq and terrorism. That is not true. This NIE examines global terrorism in its totality."
[Emphasis added]

Why, yes, Sen. Roberts, that's a great idea. Unfortunately, this regime doesn't do open and transparent. It is more into reclassifying than declassifying, and this time that propensity has managed to bite the regime in the backside.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Immigration Games

Of the nineteen days that Congress will meet between the summer recess and the election recess, only five remain. Republicans had hoped to end this session with some red-meat legislation on the books to tout to the electorate in what has become a very close campaign. That means a lot has to be done this week: the Senate has the NSA spying bill, the torture "compromise" bill, and now, according to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, an immigration bill to consider. Here's what an AP article had to say:

Maneuvering toward a pre-election showdown on immigration, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Sunday said he would seek passage of legislation to secure the borders and predicted Democrats would resist.

"Right now I got a feeling the Democrats may obstruct it," said Frist, R-Tenn.

The bill is all that is left of a comprehensive immigration proposal generally backed by President Bush that included provisions for a guest worker program and ways for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to work toward legal status and eventual citizenship.

Frist led a bipartisan effort to pass that measure this year, but House Republicans opposed it as too lenient on immigrants in the country illegally.

The bill in question is one that essentially calls for the building of a high-tech wall along the Mexican border that the House wanted in their bill passed last December. The GOP strategy is clear: the Republicans want to come out of this session looking tough on border security, and they want to paint the Democrats as obstructive and weak on terrorism.

Is the wall all that important to Republicans? Well, not enough to, you know, actually fund it. In another AP article we learn that the Republicans aren't real big on that second part of the equation:

House Republicans have whipped through a series of bills to crack down on illegal immigration with hopes they might provide an election boost in November.

But there's wide disagreement on what they would cost and little inclination among lawmakers to come up with the money in any case.

...Lawmakers, however, repeatedly have passed legislation ordering increases in border security without the money to pay for them.
[Emphasis added]

The shell game is pretty obvious, but the results often involve increased costs to the state and local authorities who now are facing yet another unfunded mandate. I'm sure the folks in Texas, Arizona, and California are just thrilled about that.

If it weren't so cynical, this latest GOP move would be hilarious.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sunday Poetry: John Donne

(Dedicated to those of us of a certain age.)



by John Donne

No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face ;
Young beauties force our love, and that's a rape ;
This doth but counsel, yet you cannot scape.
If 'twere a shame to love, here 'twere no shame ;
Affections here take reverence's name.
Were her first years the Golden Age ? that's true,
But now they're gold oft tried, and ever new.
That was her torrid and inflaming time ;
This is her tolerable tropic clime.
Fair eyes ; who asks more heat than comes from hence,
He in a fever wishes pestilence.
Call not these wrinkles, graves ; if graves they were,
They were Love's graves, for else he is nowhere.
Yet lies not Love dead here, but here doth sit,
Vow'd to this trench, like an anachorite,
And here, till hers, which must be his death, come,
He doth not dig a grave, but build a tomb.
Here dwells he ; though he sojourn everywhere,
In progress, yet his standing house is here ;
Here, where still evening is, not noon, nor night ;
Where no voluptuousness, yet all delight.
In all her words, unto all hearers fit,
You may at revels, you at council, sit.
This is love's timber ; youth his underwood ;
There he, as wine in June, enrages blood ;
Which then comes seasonablest, when our taste
And appetite to other things is past.
Xerxes' strange Lydian love, the platane tree,
Was loved for age, none being so large as she ;
Or else because, being young, nature did bless
Her youth with age's glory, barrenness.
If we love things long sought, age is a thing
Which we are fifty years in compassing ;
If transitory things, which soon decay,
Age must be loveliest at the latest day.
But name not winter faces, whose skin's slack,
Lank as an unthrift's purse, but a soul's sack ;
Whose eyes seek light within, for all here's shade ;
Whose mouths are holes, rather worn out, than made ;
Whose every tooth to a several place is gone,
To vex their souls at resurrection ;
Name not these living death-heads unto me,
For these, not ancient, but antique be.
I hate extremes ; yet I had rather stay
With tombs than cradles, to wear out a day.
Since such love's motion natural is, may still
My love descend, and journey down the hill,
Not panting after growing beauties ; so
I shall ebb out with them who homeward go.

Your Tax Dollars at Work...

...or one reason the CIA budget is a secret.

One of the sections of the "torture" bill the Emperor wanted would free the CIA to continue their interrogation methods as usual without the threat of criminal or civil liability, and he wanted the legislation to be retroactive. Apparently now that he's been forced to admit the US is operating "black prisons" for those interrogations, he wants to make sure things can continue in the same vein. The problem is that other nations aren't quite so compliant as the US Senate. They don't like the fact that their citizens are being kidnapped and then tortured. The Spanish, Italians, and Germans are especially cranky on the issue and there are criminal investigations going on over the matter. This article from the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung details what the investigation in Munich has turned up so far in the kidnapping of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen.

On the following day their Boeing 737 took off from Mallorca and landed in Macedonian Skopje, where the CIA group took the kidnapped German-Lebanese, Khaled el-Masri. As he recalled, the Americans flogged him before putting him into their aircraft. Later they threw the innocent man into a dungeon in Afghanistan where he was cross-examined for months because of his alleged ties to al-Qaeda.

The public prosecutor's office in Munich, which has been searching for the kidnappers for two years, now possesses a list of the presumed culprits. Spanish authorities sent the names in answer to an official request by Munich authorities. The kidnapping of el-Masri may well have been part of an anti-terror operation by the world's most powerful spy agency, but nevertheless, the Spanish police found it astonishingly easy to trace the Americans. The CIA used, among other things, the same aircraft again and again to transport its secret prisoners, including a Boeing with the identification number N313P, which had been sighted at many of the world's airports. It had also landed remarkably often on Mallorca. Public pressure encouraged the Mallorca authorities to pursue the clues left by the CIA.

...For the sake of convention the Americans half-camouflaged themselves: they arrived at the hotels with diplomatic passports, and at least some of them may have used fake names. The user of the Boeing was listed as a company called Stevens Express Leasing."

Nonetheless the investigators quickly discovered a clear pattern. The agents could have recovered from their duties in other cities; they could have stayed in different hotels or even slept in the airplane. But the CIA, it seems, decided such games of hide and seek weren't necessary. When the Americans kidnapped Abu Omar from Milan, a year before they kidnapped el-Masri, twenty-two agents used ordinary mobile telephones which left evidence all over the country. After the successful operation they spoiled themselves by spending several days in a luxury hotel in Venice, and for this the hotel bills alone amounted to almost $160,000, paid for with CIA credit cards.

Perhaps this was a small material compensation for the fact that the agents in what is described by the U.S. Government as "the war on terror" had to undertake such dirty jobs. When the Italian government issued arrest warrants against the suspected Americans, the CIA is said to have been surprised. In the meantime, however, the American agents are afraid of the legal consequences of their actions: They have obtained insurance to protect themselves against possible civil suits by the people they kidnapped.
[Emphasis added]

I don't know which fact I find most appalling, that the CIA was so brazenly open in what they were doing, or that they only stayed at the most expensive hotels and ran up $160,000 in bills which we are paying for.

Either/or, the Spanish, the Italians, and the Germans are deadly serious about the investigation. I don't think they will be terribly impressed by the US Senate's new and improved torture legislation. Neither should we be.

Arnold Says "NO!"

California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger finally pointed to the line he was unwilling to cross during this election season. Lately, he had been moving to the center after three years of following the pro-business program he was most comfortable with. This is California, and it is election time, so the move to the center was fairly predictable. However, he was not willing to commit the state to a universal health care plan. From the Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday vetoed a bill that would have created a universal health care system run by the state.

Senate Bill 840, written by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, would have abolished the role of private insurance companies in health care. Instead, the state would have covered everyone. Theoretically, the system would have been financed by taxes on individuals and businesses that would have replaced the health premiums that both now pay to private insurers. Doctors and hospitals would have remained private.

In his veto message Friday, the Republican governor said government-run health care was not a solution. About 6 million Californians are uninsured.

"I want to see a new paradigm that addresses affordability, shared responsibility and the promotion of healthy living," Schwarzenegger wrote. "Single-payer, government-run health care does none of this."

Apparently Governor Schwartzenegger is unfamiliar with the plan just approved by another Republican governor, this one in Massachusetts. While the California plan was different than the Massachusetts one in several respects, the basic idea was the same: cover everyone, and do so by adding a tax that is roughly equivalent to the monies paid by individuals and businesses to pay for health insurance. In the long run, both businesses and individuals would benefit because the state would be in a better position to control health care costs than would even large businesses. People would be covered and would be more apt to seek care immediately, thus cutting the costs of care and losing fewer hours from work. Companies wouldn't have the high costs of insurance coverage affecting their bottom lines and would have a more productive work force.

The Governator's arguments that this would add another large bureaucracy to state government, that it doesn't emphasize "shared responsibility and the promotion of healthy living" are nothing more than a cigar smoke screen. The real reason lies in the fact that one of the most powerful groups in the state is the insurance industry. It is also one of the most generous campaign donors. And that is the real reason Mr. Schwartzenegger wouldn't cross that line.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging:Desert Tortoise

Ellen Schafhauser

Ancient Eyes

Molly Ivins, As Usual, Nails It

As more and more of the details come out on the "compromise" torture bill, it's clear we've been had by the three "mavericks." The fact that the word "compromise" is even used in this context is a sure bell-ringer. Molly Ivins agrees.

Some country is about to have a Senate debate on a bill to legalize torture. How weird is that?

... A debate on torture. I don't know -- what do you think? I guess we have to define it, first. The White House has already specified "water boarding," making some guy think he's drowning for long periods, as a perfectly good interrogation technique. Maybe, but it was also a great favorite of the Gestapo and has been described and condemned in thousands of memoirs and novels in highly unpleasant terms.

I don't think we can give it a good name again, and I personally kind of don't like being identified with the Gestapo. How icky. (Somewhere inside me, a small voice is shrieking, "Are you insane?")

The safe position is, "Torture doesn't work."

Well, actually, it works to this extent -- anybody can be tortured into telling anything that's true and anything that's not true. The more people are tortured, the more they make up to please the torturer. Then the torturer has to figure out when the vic started lying. Since our torturers are, in George Bush's immortal phrase, "professionals" and this whole legislative fight is over making torture legal so the "professionals" can't later be charged with breaking the Geneva Conventions, Bush has vowed to end "the program" completely if he doesn't get what he wants. (The same thin voice is shrieking, "Professional torturers trained with my tax money?")

...I was interested to find that the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is so in favor of torture he told McCain that the senator either supports the torture bill or he can forget about the evangelical Christian vote. I'd like to see an evangelical vote on that one. I don't know how Sheldon defines traditional values, but deliberately inflicting terrible physical pain or stress on someone who is completely helpless strikes me as ... well, torture. And, um, wrong. And I've smoked dope! Boy, everything those conservatives tell us about the terrible moral values of us liberals must be true after all.

I think she has summed it up nicely.

Mr. Fox Has the Keys To the Henhouse

The Food and Drug Administration is just the latest federal agency to come under scrutiny over the way it carries out its mandate. Like most of the others, the FDA received poor grades. From the NY Times

The nation’s system for ensuring the safety of medicines needs major changes, advertising of new drugs should be restricted, and consumers should be wary of drugs that have only recently been approved, according to a long-anticipated study of drug safety.

The report by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, is likely to intensify a debate about the safety of the nation’s drug supply and the adequacy of the government’s oversight.

...The report made these recommendations, most of which would require Congressional authorization:

¶Newly approved drugs should display a black triangle on their labels for two years to warn consumers that their safety is more uncertain than that of older drugs.

¶Drug advertisements should be restricted during this initial period.

¶The F.D.A. should be given the authority to issue fines, injunctions and withdrawals when drug makers fail — as they often do — to complete required safety studies.

¶The F.D.A. should thoroughly review the safety of drugs at least once every five years.

¶The F.D.A. commissioner should be appointed to a six-year term.

¶Drug makers should be required to post publicly the results of nearly all human drug trials.

...Critics of the food and drug agency have long been divided into two warring camps. Some say the agency fails to approve life-saving medicines quickly enough, while others say that it is so intent on rapid approvals that it fails to ensure the safety of the drugs.

The institute’s report champions the latter view by calling for greater caution. It suggests that one of the agency’s biggest problems is a deal struck in 1992 between Congress and the drug industry in which drug makers agreed to pay millions in fees to speed reviews. This deal has increased pressures on drug reviewers to act quickly, and it has limited “the ability of reviewers to examine safety signals as thoroughly as they might like,” the report said.
[Emphasis added]

While the report presents clear and doable recommendations for fixing some of the most glaring deficiencies, the fact that Congress has to authorize the solutions presents the biggest problem. PHARMA is one of the largest and most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. The defective Medicare drug plan is evidence of that.

The pharmaceutical industry is likely to fight at least some of the proposals, said Charlie Cook, a Washington political analyst.

“One should never underestimate the influence of the drug industry,” Mr. Cook said. “But I would think that at least the outlines of many of these recommendations would have a decent chance of getting through Congress.”

A decent chance? Would that be an adequate description for that zone best characterised as "zero to none?" I recommend against holding one's breath for reasonable corrective legislation from Congress in this regard. Until Congress is elected under a system that does not require massive infusions of cash from special interest groups of all stripes, decent reform is just not going to happen.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Robert De Micheli

Somebody's kitty.

Some Deal...

A lot of us worried that the stand-off between Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham and the White House on the torturing of detainees was nothing more than theater, that in the end the Emperor would get what he wanted. I was a bit more optimistic than that, but I was wrong. The news broke yesterday that a deal had been reached to break the stand-off, and the deal turns out to be no real deal at all. From an article in the NY Times

The agreement says the executive branch is responsible for upholding the nations’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions, leaving it to the president to establish through executive rule any violations for the handling of terrorism suspects that fall short of a “grave breach.” Significantly, Senate aides said, those rules would have to be published in the Federal Register.

The agreement provides several pages describing “grave breaches” that would not be allowed, starting with torture and including other forms of assault and mental stress. But it does not lay out specific interrogation techniques that would be prohibited.

...The senators agreed to a White House proposal to make the standard on interrogation treatment retroactive to 1997, so C.I.A. and military personnel could not be prosecuted for past treatment under standards the administration considers vague.

...Still, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said he would press to change a provision in the proposal that would deny detainees a right to challenge their captivity in court.
[Emphasis added]

Some deal, indeed.

Further, even as the deal was being announced, the White House was already spinning it in such a fashion that effectively returns the issue to where it was before the stand-off, something the NY Times noted in its editorial today.

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration’s supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

The editorial concludes by calling for the Democrats (who have been deplorably silent, apparently happy to remain on the sidelines during the Republican internal kerfuffle) to work to change the deal, or at least to keep it from a vote until after the elections. Given the posture the current Senate Democrats have taken on this and other issues, I don't expect much of a response. After all, the election isn't too far away, the Democrats wouldn't want to look soft on terror. It wouldn't be prudent.

And once again, the simple verities are ignored. No one has the courage to state clearly and without ambiguity that torture is wrong.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Business As Usual: The Interior Department

The Interior Department has been in the news the last week or so, and it hasn't been good news. We've learned that "anything goes" when it comes to corruption in the upper regions of the department charged with protecting the public's ownership of federal lands. Today the NY Times published a lengthy article on a law suit filed by four Interior employees over the Department's efforts to curtail their efforts to recover money from gas and oil companies that were blatantly cheating the government.

Four government auditors who monitor leases for oil and gas on federal property say the Interior Department suppressed their efforts to recover millions of dollars from companies they said were cheating the government.

The accusations, many of them in four lawsuits that were unsealed last week by federal judges in Oklahoma, represent a rare rebellion by government investigators against their own agency.

The auditors contend that they were blocked by their bosses from pursuing more than $30 million in fraudulent underpayments of royalties for oil produced in publicly owned waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
[Emphasis added]

When these four auditors discovered the scams being run by some oil companies, they were told to back off or higher-ups would be upset. Instead of supporting the auditors by allowing them to issue the requisite paper work (including subpoenas) to recover the money owed, the department powers undercut the auditors by refusing to allow the work to continue. Given the current regime, the reasons are pretty clear.

...By any measure, the Interior Department under President Bush has placed top priority on increasing oil and gas production in the United States. Under its business-friendly agenda, the department has increased incentives for drilling in risky areas, has speeded approvals for drilling applications and has campaigned to open more coastal areas for oil exploration.

...the agency’s own statistics indicate that revenue from auditing and enforcement plunged after President Bush took office.

From 1989 through 2001, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, auditing and other enforcement efforts generated an average of $176 million a year. But from 2002 through 2005, according to numbers that the department provided lawmakers last May, those collections averaged only $46 million.
[Emphasis added]

My, surprising.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What Color Is the Sky On His Planet?

Yesterday, George W. Bush spoke at the United Nations. His speech sounded very familiar, primarily because it is essentially the same speech he gave five years ago and multiple times in the last two weeks. Although the speech was delivered to the world body, it was fairly clear that the real intended audience was the United States: the terra-terra-terra motif was strong, as was the unstated justification for the Iraq War (freedom for the Middle East imposed by the barrel of a gun). From the NY Times:

Mr. Bush also defended his foreign policy, exhorting the world leaders in attendance to join with him in his goal of transforming the Middle East by pushing for democracy there.

“From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom,” Mr. Bush said. “And the nations gathered in this chamber must make a choice, as well: will we support the moderates and reformers who are working for change across the Middle East, or will we yield the future to the terrorists and extremists?"
[Note: a transcript of the speech is located here.]

It is unlikely that the world is going to believe this speech any more than it has the past speeches. It will be seen as just one more piece of evidence that our Emperor refuses to have anything to do with reality. I suspect that this piece from Financial Times Deutschland could just as well have been written for today's edition as for the date of its publication (September 12, 2006).

Clearly nothing new ever occurs to George W. Bush. On the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks the U.S. President gave his old standard Why-We-Have-to-Hold-Firm speech with the old familiar argument: America has been attacked and has to carry the battle to the terrorists.

The best remedy for terrorism is freedom and democracy, therefore young Americans must fight and die in Iraq. Every failure strengthens the terrorists and leads to further attacks. And he addresses Osama bin Laden in the usual way: We'll catch you, he says to the terrorist, a threat that, after a five-year chase, sounds a bit comical.

In theory, Bush's line of reasoning, which he has repeated more or less verbatim for years, isn't entirely wrong and has a certain internal logic. In practice, it has long since been proven unsuitable as a strategy in the battle against Islamic terror, or as a justification for the Iraq War. That Bush continues to rattle this off proves yet again that for the President, reality is an uncomfortable parallel universe, one with which he prefers not to come into contact.
[Emphasis added].

It's kind of embarrassing: the rest of the world has figured this out, but between 35% and 40% of Americans still haven't.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cutting Through The Crap

Amidst the wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and the rumors of war (Iran), the Emperor continues to push for a free pass for the CIA to torture "detainees." Critics of the regime's policies are branded as traitors who are more interested in protecting terrorists than protecting Americans (a boehn-headed charge if there ever was one), so it is becoming increasingly dangerous to criticise this blatant breach of basic human rights. Even the most archly conservative media outlets are finding it difficult to defend torture, but their editorial comments are clouded as they look for nuanced reasons to support a "compromise" between the administration and the US Senators who are balking (so far) at Bush's demand that a bill be passed that completely bypasses the Geneva Conventions.

That is why it was so refreshing to read the editorial in today's Star Tribune.

On the question of what interrogation methods should be allowed against enemies who would employ terrorism, the basic principle at issue can become temporarily hazy. So let's cut to its core: The president of the United States is arguing that this nation cannot afford the humane treatment of detainees required by the Geneva Conventions. That is a repugnant notion, unworthy of this great nation.

The Bush administration claims we face a grave threat to our existence from Al-Qaida and others who use the tactics of terrorism. That, President Bush argues, is why the Geneva Conventions cannot be honored, why Congress must pass legislation allowing their circumvention. He's wrong.

...To our knowledge, over the ensuing half-century of mortal nuclear danger, no president ever expressed a worry that the Geneva Conventions posed a risk to the survival of the United States. Nor did a president claim, as Bush did until hauled up short by the Supreme Court, the executive authority to waive the conventions' requirements without consulting Congress.

Two decades ago -- and probably two decades hence -- Bush's desire to sweep aside the conventions would have been seen almost universally as odious and indefensible. Today, thankfully, four courageous Senate Republicans see it that way and are defying Bush's desire to sweep them aside. The pity is that it's only four.
[Emphasis added]

No arguments as to the efficacy or non-efficacy of torture as an interrogation method. No fluff as to hypotheticals ("If you knew that torturing a terrorist would get information that could stop a nuclear attack on Des Moines..."). No convoluted arguments as to the effect such treatment would have on American prisoners in the future. Just one simple, undeniable fact:

Torture is wrong.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Campaign Game-Playing

I think the GOP has succeeded in making security the main talking point for the 2006 elections. I suppose it's as good an issue as any this year, but I would have preferred the Democrats' having the spine to force other issues onto the table, like the real effect of the "Bush Boom" economy on the average American family or the cost of congressional corruption to the taxpayer. What is heartening, however, is that the Republicans (including the Emperor) have discovered the downside of harping on terra-terra-terra in ways they hadn't counted on. Even the Washington Post felt compelled to chastise the GOP for some outrageous assertions on the security issue in one of today's editorials.

"I LISTEN TO MY Democrat friends, and I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people."

That was House Majority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio talking to reporters last week. He should apologize.

For five years the country has been debating how to balance aggressive action to prevent and punish terrorism with core concerns about privacy and other civil liberties. On many issues -- the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in secret prisons, warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency, prohibitions against torture -- Democrats, joined by some brave and responsible Republicans and more often than not backed up by the courts, have served as an important brake on an administration heedless of constitutional requirements, international law and national reputation. On some matters -- for instance, their overblown denunciations of the USA Patriot Act -- Democrats have been mistaken in their criticisms.

While I hardly think the Democrats were wrong in their denunciations of the USA Patriot Act, especially as to its casual bypassing of constitution rights, the editorialist at least acknowledges the Democratic Party's concern that all of this security tough talk was nothing more than a way for an out of control administration to usurp all the power and money it could.

Democrats need to point that fact out over and over again. They have already pointed out that in terms of real "homeland security" the GOP and the administration have failed miserably as noted by the 9/11 Commission. It took the nearness of an election and miserable poll numbers for Congress to pass a port security measure, hastily drafted and weak as it was.

The Democrats have plenty to pound the Republicans with, security included. Then, perhaps they should adopt Newt Gingrich's tongue-in-cheek recommendation for a campaign slogan: "Had Enough?"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sunday Poetry: William Blake

(From Songs Of Experience)

The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpiller and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain.

And the Hits Keep On Coming

Switzerland's 24 Heures has also weighed in on the aftermath of 9/11. large measure, September 11 is the story of the tragic failure of the response to these traumatizing attacks. War in Afghanistan; in Iraq; a hysterical and counterproductive struggle against terrorism, with its slip-ups that tarnished the image of our democracies. When intelligence was required, brutal force against the wrong targets was employed instead. [Emphasis in original article]

Let's be clear about this. After September 11, America could not remain with her arms crossed, merely resorting to diplomacy. Such an attitude would have been interpreted as a sign of weakness; as though the world's hyperpower is incapable of defending itself. In this context, the war in Afghanistan was undoubtedly legitimate. After all, bin Laden had found refuge amongst the Taliban. And for the record, these same Taliban, and this must be understood, didn't achieve power in Kabul without the benefit of several backers, including indirect support from the United States.

Even so, there was a certain coherence to the idea of striking the enemy at the heart. The result? pitiful. Bin Laden is still on the loose, the Taliban are making a strong comeback and the country is again covered with fields of poppy. Afghanistan is at the edge of collapse.

The case of Iraq is worse again. To blindness was added a messianic ideology. Saddam was surely a criminal, but he didn't represent a real threat. He had neither contacts with terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda nor weapons of mass destruction. In this bad American case file all that remains is a helpless rage and the vengeance associated with the desire to control Iraq's oil resources. In a word, an operation guided by ideology and meant, moreover, to bring home a "jackpot." As delirious an adventure as was the departure of the Crusaders a thousand years earlier. After all, their motivations while marching to the Holy Land were not only religious.

...Where we should have isolated those who practice terrorism, Washington supplied the compost of fantasy that confirmed their own thesis and reduced reality to a black and white world. As the Americans developed their response, they found echoes and confirmation [of their thesis] amongst stricken populations, who were the first victims of the American steam roller.

At the end of the day, the result is stupefying. Bush's America, victim of September 11, has become a torturer in the eyes of most of the world's residents.
[Emphasis added]

I would disagree that going to war in Afghanistan was absolutely necessary, especially for the reason given: it was important that Americans not look like wimps. The crime was horrific and should have been treated as a crime. A punitive war against the people of Afghanistan was not justified.

The rest of the analysis, however, is on the mark. What I have found interesting in my recent survey of the foreign response to this five year anniversary has been how often the religious metaphors have arisen, especially that of the Crusades. Of course, the language used by the US regime, especially recently, certainly fosters such such a response. However, President Bush has used messianic language for a long time, so the harvest was certainly forseeable, and, sadly, accurate.

Bush Unhinged

Yesterday I described the Emperor as the WATB-in-Chief for his behavior during Friday's press conference. Today, the NY Times used a more polite term in its editorial: "Bush Untethered."

On Friday, President Bush posed a choice between ignoring the law on wiretaps, and simply not keeping tabs on terrorists. Then he said the United States could rewrite the Geneva Conventions, or just stop questioning terrorists. To some degree, he is following a script for the elections: terrify Americans into voting Republican. But behind that seems to be a deeply seated conviction that under his leadership, America is right and does not need the discipline of rules. He does not seem to understand that the rules are what makes this nation as good as it can be.

...Legislation is needed on the prisoner issue, although not as urgently as Mr. Bush says. Three Republican senators, John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham, have a bill that is far better than the White House version but it, too, has some huge flaws that will take time to fix. It will be hard in an election year, but if the Republicans stand firm, and Democrats insist on the needed changes, they might just require Mr. Bush to recognize that he is subject to the same restraints that applied to every other president of this nation of laws.
[Emphasis added]

The Gray Lady has made a good point, which would have been sharper if she hadn't also printed an op-ed piece by one of the Bush-enablers in the same edition. Mr. Yoo, who served in the Bush regime 2001-03, believes in an imperial presidency, even though he tries to frame the issue as "restoring" the presidency.

But the president has broader goals than even fighting terrorism — he has long intended to make reinvigorating the presidency a priority. Vice President Dick Cheney has rightly deplored the “erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job” and noted that “we are weaker today as an institution because of the unwise compromises that have been made over the last 30 to 35 years.”

...That is why Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of signing statements — more than any previous president — reserving his right not to enforce unconstitutional laws.

A reinvigorated presidency enrages President Bush’s critics, who seem to believe that the Constitution created a system of judicial or congressional supremacy. Perhaps this is to be expected of the generation of legislators that views the presidency through the lens of Vietnam and Watergate. But the founders intended that wrongheaded or obsolete legislation and judicial decisions would be checked by presidential action, just as executive overreaching is to be checked by the courts and Congress.

But the presidency, unlike Congress, is the only office elected by and accountable to the nation as a whole. The president has better access to expertise from the unified executive branch — including its top secret data — than the more ad hoc information Congress develops through hearings and investigations.

That is why, while jealous of its prerogatives, Congress usually goes along with a president’s policy decisions. A strong executive can accept responsibility for difficult choices that Congress wants to avoid. The Republican Congress, for instance, wanted to give President Bill Clinton a line-item veto, only to be blocked by the Supreme Court. Despite hearings and criticism of the energetic executive, Congress has yet to pass laws reining in Mr. Bush very much.

Congress has for years been avoiding its duty to revamp or repeal outmoded parts of bygone laws in the light of contemporary threats. We have needed energy in the executive branch to fill in that gap. Congress now must act to guide our counterterror policy, but it should not try to micromanage the executive branch, particularly in war, where flexibility of action is paramount.
[Emphasis added]

If the segment I have cited from Mr. Yoo's screed seems a bit internally inconsistent, that is only because it is internally inconsistent, and intentionally so. First Mr. Yoo states that we shouldn't worry about the President gathering too much power by over-reaching because Congress and the courts can rein him in. Then he states that Congress shouldn't try to micromanage the executive because he has better information. Which is it, Mr. Yoo?

Mr. Yoo is correct in one respect, however. Congress has not done much to rein the Emperor in. Hopefully that will change following the November elections.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Alpaca!

Abel is growing my sweater.

Another Healthy Dose of Anwaar Hussain

Once again, my favorite Pakistani prophet has spoken out against the Bush regime with clarity and lucidity. Once again, the Pak Tribune has printed what no US press outlet dares to.

This September 11, as the swirling ashes of the Twin Towers continue to descend far and wide, it is a full five years since the start of the American Inquisition. September 11, that heinous crime that should have been registered in the nearest NYPD precinct that same evening to begin a relentless hunt for the criminals by that precinct’s homicide detectives, has instead turned out to be Manna from Heaven for the flag bearers of the new Inquisition.

Over the course of history, the word inquisition has been restricted to refer to Spain in the Middle Ages. But if one seeks to explain the dangerous mix of religious prejudice, Christian holy war, Islamic jihad, ethnic profiling, racism, mock trials and eavesdropping by secret police, no other term comes to mind. Not only that, like the export of the Spanish Inquisition, the American Inquisition too has been taken to the far flung corners of the earth. The torturing of victims in secret dungeons remains the same. Missing are burnings at the stake, but given the hideous wonders that white phosphorous can perform on human flesh, and in far less time, who requires such an inefficient procedure?

Although it's common knowledge, one never tires of quoting the prophetic words of President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower, spoke by him during his farewell address to his nation on January 17, 1961:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or our democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

One notes with great irony that, riding on the back of the crime of September 11, a powerful cabal of Americans has dealt a death blow to the deceased President's momentous words, almost word by word. Not only has the "misplaced power" arisen "disastrously," but with "violent method," they continue to use the awesome power of America's military to achieve sinister "goals" while withdrawing the "liberty" of Americans, and in the process, making them ever less "secure."

...So this 5th anniversary of that dreadful crime, as President George W. Bush sits in his predecessor’s chair gorging himself on 9-11 Manna from Heaven, with the flag bearers of the American Inquisition lurking just in the background, let me remind readers that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had finished his prophetic farewell speech with the following words;

"To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration:

We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love."
[Emphasis added]

Why, yes, I believe Mr. Hussain has once again nailed it.

No one who has been listening to the Emperor, Vice-Emperor, and Secretary of Blowing Things Up can doubt that we are in fact involved in a 21st Century Crusade against Islam, coupled with the punitive power of the Inquisition. Even the Pope has chimed in to support this Holy Cause.

And while happily burning, pillaging, and raping the rest of the planet, the regime is at the same time systematically dismantling the very freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution here in the US in order to complete the process. Congress, at least up to this point, has quite cheerfully cooperated and colluded with the regime every step of the way.

I am reminded of the lament of more than one Old Testament prophet: "How long, O Lord, how long?"

I pray just until November.


Somebody Call the Wah!-mbulance

The WATB*-in-Chief finds himself fighting members of his own party rather than the Democrats on "security" issues less than two months before the mid-term elections. President Petulance is so distressed that the Senate will not give him the butt-covering legislation he wants that his now threatening to take his ball and go home. From today's NY Times:

Speaking at a late-morning news conference in the Rose Garden, Mr. Bush said he would have no choice but to end a C.I.A. program for the interrogation of high-level terrorism suspects if Congress passed an alternate set of rules supported by a group of Senate Republicans.

Those alternate rules were adopted Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee in defiance of Mr. Bush. Setting out what he suggested could be dire consequences if that bill became law, Mr. Bush said intelligence officers — he referred to them repeatedly as “professionals” — would no longer be willing and able to conduct interrogations out of concern that the vague standard for acceptable techniques could leave them vulnerable to legal action.
[Emphasis added]

Well, duh!

The whole point of the legislation being promoted by Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham is to make clear that the interrogation techniques used by the CIA and the military are illegal under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, a treaty to which the US is a signatory. Torture is banned. Period. CIA "professionals" should be "vulnerable to legal action" if they use torture to get information. So should their superiors for promoting and allowing such techniques, and that is what I think is really going on here.

I think President WATB* and his minions have finally figured out that they may in fact lose control of at least the House in the November elections. That means the regime will be facing investigations into the malfeasance and incompetence of the past nearly 6 years. What Mr. Bush wants in this bill and in the one hanging fire on the illegal warrantless spying on Americans by the NSA is a means to retroactively make legal what clearly is illegal, as in "If the President does it, it isn't illegal."

And if the WATB*-in Chief carries through on his threat to close down the operations in question, the terrorists haven't won, the American people have. I think the three GOP senators believe that, as do the Democrats standing firm with them.

*WATB is short for Whiney-Ass Titty Baby, a term of art coined at Eschaton to refer to any issuer of immature complaints.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

I'm tryin' to sleep here...

Lobbying for Torture

The Emperor made an unaccustomed trip to Congress yesterday in order to bring pressure to bear on a bill he wants passed, one that allows for the torture of prisoners captured in the Global War on Terra. He didn't succeed, which is remarkable. What is more remarkable, however, is that the Washington Post editorial board is glad he didn't succeed. From today's edition:

...Mr. Bush didn't come out and say he's lobbying for torture. Instead he refers to "an alternative set of procedures" for interrogation. But the administration no longer conceals what it wants. It wants authorization for the CIA to hide detainees in overseas prisons where even the International Committee of the Red Cross won't have access. It wants permission to interrogate those detainees with abusive practices that in the past have included induced hypothermia and "waterboarding," or simulated drowning. And it wants the right to try such detainees, and perhaps sentence them to death, on the basis of evidence that the defendants cannot see and that may have been extracted during those abusive interrogation sessions.

That is a pretty good description of what Mr. Bush wants. Fortunately, some of the more conservative members of his own party have reached the limit in their patience with the current regime when it comes to such anti-American behavior. Hopefully, the Emperor's sheep in the full Congress will follow the lead of Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham rather than cave to petulant President. This editorial from the Washington Post (a news outlet which has not exactly been hypercritical of Mr. Bush these past 5+ years) will give them some courage.

Still, to be on the safe side, perhaps Americans who understand that compromising our values in this area makes us just like the "enemy" and justifies the "enemy's" behavior should let their senators and representatives know what is expected. It couldn't hurt.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

People Are Talking

I generally don't make my foray into international news outlets until the weekend, but I was curious to see if the American observance of 9/11 had been noted elsewhere. Silly me! The world, which had responded with such universal sympathy and support for our nation in 2001, certainly did have some opinions about that horrific day and the events that have occurred since then. Here is a sampling from around the world.

The Netherlands:

The five-year war on terrorism has produced inadequate results. In various parts of the world, America and its allies are involved in a military conflict against the excesses of radical Islam. The struggle is prolonged and demanding, the goals are uncertain, and there is no winner on the horizon. The world after 9/11 is no better off than it was before, and due to increasing tensions, it is perhaps even worse in some places. In Iraq, the invasion has become bogged down in a civil war. Sectarian violence and a lack of security overshadow Saddam's fall and the success of free elections. Iraq has become President’s Bush's foreign policy Waterloo. An ideology died here too - that which spawned plans for the democratization of the Middle East.

...Five years of war without a final victory and the radicalization of Islam should force a change in strategy. According to recent remarks by four-star general and Middle East expert John Abizaid READ, this is the view within U.S. military circles. Abizaid put the subject of America's preoccupation with firepower as a solution to everything up for debate, and argues for negotiation and greater local involvement so that the region's people, not the Americans, can determine its future. This is correct; but its political translation, which boils down to the acknowledgement of a failed policy, is long overdue.


Five years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, America has more enemies in the world than it had before. Who would have predicted it, with the wave of solidarity which followed the nightmare of carnage broadcast on live television? Planes used as missiles in the blue skies over New York and Washington; victims jumping out of windows; desperate phone calls; and the Towers crashing to the ground in a "tsunami of dust." It is first of all the shock: 2,992 deaths, a country under siege. Then the shock wave, which to this day shakes the United States and the rest of the planet. It's time to take stock.

...After the attacks in Madrid, London or Bali, no one would think of denying the reality of the terrorist plague. But in light of the Iraqi fiasco and the shipwreck of the New Middle East after the confrontation between Israel and its neighbors (Palestinians and Lebanese), the concept of imposing democratic change by the use of force has lost many adherents. According to a survey by Transatlantic Trends RealVideo, 77 percent of Europeans and 58 percent of Americans disapprove of George Bush's management of international affairs. Guantanamo, the secret interrogation techniques of the CIA and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has not only tarnished the image of the United States, they have shaken its moral authority. Aligned with Israel, the War President is not viewed as a mediator of peace. In their arm-wrestling match over nuclear weapons, Iran holds its head above that of a weakened America. If this isn't a direct consequence of September 11, it is a result of how Bush has chosen to react to it. Even when the use of force is necessary, it complicates diplomacy and legitimizes violence.

Some may claim that the world has hardly changed, that globalization continues and that international tourism has never been so good. But the future is much darker since the smoke of the World Trade Center rose over the horizon.


President Bush has ruined the standing of his country in Europe, weakened the support for NATO among the European people, and on both sides of Atlantic, the nuclear dispute with Iran excites greater concern than instability in Iraq.

...For the first time since 2002, the majority of Americans polled rejected the foreign policy of their President (58 percent); in Europe it was 79 percent; the worst for Bush were France, Spain, and Germany, with 85 percent disapproval.

The descending curve of European approval tracks closely the declining support for a leading American role in global affairs. In Germany in 2002, 62 percent of those asked approved of such a role; this year, 43 percent approved. A bare majority of Europeans (including 56 percent of Germans) advocate a European Union security policy independent from the United States, while in NATO stalwarts like Italy, Germany, Poland, and Turkey, support for the alliance has declined significantly.


Al-Qaeda could likely have been easily defeated had American leaders channeled all of America's resources into pursuing this threat. But instead of isolating and wiping out al-Qaeda, Bush has created a long list of new foes for his ever-broadening war on terror. In doing so, he has bolstered the popular impression that the U.S. is waging a Crusade against Islam - an impression which al-Qaeda skillfully exploits to gain added support.

After five years of bloodshed and with no end in sight, it's time for Americans to re-evaluate U.S. policies in the War on Terror.


This Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which the Bush Administration has used to justify invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, prevent a settlement of the Palestinian question, and then under the guise of false democracy, launch projects for the "Greater" and then the "New" Middle East.

If we were to grade the performance of the United States over the last five years, we would have to say without hesitation that it gets a big zero - and the blame goes to the worst administration to govern the United States since World War I.

Not only has its reputation, prestige, credibility, and economy been diminished, but its influence has declined after a series of major foreign policy failures.


This is September 11 five years later: a political tool in the hands of the Bush administration, and a cushion for patronizing pronouncements for its opponents. The war against terror is not what it used to be - and it is sometimes hard to believe those who are running it.

Sad, isn't it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It Is To Laugh, Again

For a man that the Emperor said he didn't think much about, Osama bin Laden sure has been name-dropped a lot in the last few weeks. The latest reference came from Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. From the NY Times:

Osama bin Laden, Mr. Chertoff said, has made it clear that scaring the United States into an unsustainable spending spree is one of his aims. In a 2004 video, Mr. bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, spoke of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

“He understood that one tool he had in waging war against the United States was to drive us crazy, into bankruptcy, trying to defend ourselves against every conceivable threat,” Mr. Chertoff said at a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “We have to be realistic about what we expect and what we do. We do have limits, and we do have choices to make.”

...Others who spoke at the hearing, including Richard A. Falkenrath, the deputy commissioner for counterterrorism at the New York City Police Department, questioned just how good a job Mr. Chertoff was doing divvying up his limited resources.

Mr. Chertoff, since he was named secretary in February 2005, has talked of the need to make spending risk-based, but his department has also been lambasted for compiling a list of possible targets that included a petting zoo, a bourbon festival and a popcorn factory, while at the same time it cut antiterrorism grants to high-risk cities like Washington and New York.
[Emphasis added]

Clearly Mr. bin Laden's comments are useful in the terra-terra-terra fear mongering this election season. The fact is, however, that his remarks seem to have been quite prescient. The US under the current regime has in fact spent the country into a state quite close to bankruptcy, but the funding hasn't gone into make the nation more secure, but rather into making us less secure. The billions poured into the Iraq War rat-hole has succeeded only in creating new terrorists the world over and in destroying any credibility in US foreign policy. Even our "allies" are distrust us.

And as to using risk-based analysis in distributing funds, I'm sure the citizens of New York and Washington, DC have a few suggestions for Mr. Chertoff. In the mean time, our chemical and nuclear plants remain unprotected, as do our ports and our mass transit systems. I take no comfort in knowing that a petting zoo is safer or that a bourbon festival is more secure.

But then, I don't think this is about security at all, at least not homeland security. It's more about job security for a select few and about increased power for an even more select few. I think my opinion is beginning to be shared by more and more Americans, at least I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Great Awakening?

It has been no secret that the Emperor has been using the anniversary of 9/11 as a theme for his multiple speeches over the past two weeks. The hope was that by emphasizing a major disaster and connecting it the "Global War on Terror" the American public could be brought around to believing that the Iraq War is a necessary element in the overall strategy in that broader war for a safe and secure America and that only Republicans could lead in the effort. It's election time, after all. Hey, it worked in 2002 and 2004, right?

Well, the strategy may not be working this time around, according to an interesting little article in today's NY Times. One of a series on a district in Colorado that is pretty evenly split along party lines, the piece examines the response to the President's recent speechifying.

Mr. Bush has plenty of supporters in this Denver suburb and the surrounding cities, an evenly divided swing district that is a bellwether in the battle for control of the House. But interviews over the last three days here found Republicans, Democrats and independents all expressing degrees of skepticism about Mr. Bush’s motives in delivering a set of high-profile speeches on terrorism and the war in Iraq two months before Election Day.

While it is too early to know whether the White House will succeed in winning over enough voters to make a difference in what is shaping up as a tight race, the interviews suggested that Mr. Bush’s newest efforts to cast his party as better suited than Democrats to defend the country had yet to overcome concern and anger among many voters about Iraq and a more generalized sense of discontent with the administration.

... “I think it is the only card they have got,” said Floyd Ciruli, a longtime Denver pollster, referring to the national Republican focus on terrorism. “Will it make a difference in Colorado? Absolutely not.”

If so, that would be bad news for Congressional Republican leaders. They are counting on Mr. Bush’s concerted efforts to both raise his own public approval and to simultaneously help give Republican House and Senate candidates an edge on the security issues that have dominated the last two national elections. But polls indicate that the climate is different this year, with fewer Americans confident that the fight against terrorism is going well, and Democrats, including Mr. O’Donnell’s opponent, Ed Perlmutter, are vigorously trying to counter Mr. Bush.
[Emphasis added]

While the article tends to emphasize that people are growing weary of the constant harping on security (how many times can one realistically cry "wolf!" without becoming a bore?), it hints at what I suspect is the real feelings at play here: " a more generalized sense of discontent with the administration." Most people are seeing their real wages drop and their expenses (fuel, heating, essentials) rise, even while they are working longer and harder. Billions of dollars are being poured into Iraq and the President has assured them that this will continue indefinitely, even as the federal deficit continues to grow.

I sense a replay of the feelings expressed so well by a political animal from the recent past: "It's the economy, stupid," and that might very well be the crucial factor this November.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In Memoriam

I seriously considered taking the day off from blogging today, as much out of a sense that this day has become so laden with political talking points that real grief and remembrance seems pushed into the background as out of a sense that I really didn't have much to add to the discourse. Still, this blog is one way I use to try to make sense out of what is going on around me, so just ignoring the day didn't seem like the best thing to do.

Instead, I'm simply going to post a section from one of the better pieces written for today, an editorial published in the Star Tribune.

But this anniversary is a day to focus on the more difficult entries on the list of changes: those deeper, if initially incremental, shifts that have led us to violate first principles. More than liquids on planes or biometric IDs, they will define us in their profundity.

Over the past several days, one such transformation has been the stuff of daily headlines. At stake is nothing less than this nation's commitment to the rule of law and to international legal and moral standards -- indeed, to the very principles that have made America a leader of nations, deserving of its stature. We are talking about the way in which suspects in the war on terror are treated and tried.

Remember the moving service at the National Cathedral just three days after 9/11? Much was said on that day to unite the nation in mourning and resolve. Of particular relevance today are the words of the Very Rev. Nathan Baxter, dean of the cathedral, who prayed for "the healing of our grief-stricken hearts, for the souls and sacred memory of those who have been lost" -- and something else:

"Let us also pray for divine wisdom as our leaders consider the necessary actions for national security, wisdom of the grace of God that as we act, we not become the evil we deplore."


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday Poetry: More Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility --
A fairer House than Prose --
More numerous of Windows --
Superior -- for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars --
Impregnable of Eye --
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky --

Of Visitors -- the fairest --
For Occupation -- This --
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise --

Losing Traction?

The AP headline that floated across the top of my screen (an annoyance that comes courtesy of my Earthlink account) stated "Low Turnout at L.A. Immigration Rally." Apparently only about 350 or so folks showed up, as opposed to the 500,000 who attended the march and rally earlier this year. From that AP story:

Few people turned out Saturday for a rally demanding amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants, the latest sign of pro-immigrant groups' struggles to regain momentum after hundreds of thousands marched for the cause in the spring.

Local bands played rock music, vendors offered chicken tacos and dozens of activists set up information booths in a downtown field. But only about 350 people showed up, and many were organizers and journalists.

Sounds like a complete bust, right? I suppose, in some respects it was. Still, the march came after several days of a Latino conference held in Los Angeles in which community leaders discussed the next steps in immigration reform. I think those efforts are a bit more noteworthy, especially at this point in the process. The LA Times had a rather unusual article on that event, unusual insofar as it seemed to be reaching to downplay its significance. Here's the part of the article that I found useful.

Has the immigrant rights movement fizzled?

At a national Latino conference that drew hundreds to downtown Los Angeles last week, movement leaders emphatically said no.

Although Congress has stalled action on broad immigration reform and Labor Day marches failed to mobilize wide support, activists said they were only now beginning to roll out the next stage of their battle: a massive effort to produce 1 million new Latino voters and U.S. citizens.

"Now is not march time," Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in Los Angeles, said Saturday. "We're mobilizing voters. That's the big deal."

...Louis DeSipio, a UC Irvine associate professor of political science and Chicano/Latino studies, said it was premature to dismiss prospects for broad immigration reform.

He said such aims could take years to achieve. The 1986 amnesty for illegal immigrants, for instance, took a decade to pass and did so abruptly, just as most members of Congress thought the provision dead.

DeSipio said movements cannot be built from marches alone.

"It's good they've moved away from the marches," he said. "Marches can get people's attention, but it doesn't necessarily get a higher percentage of the community involved in civic participation. That's what things like get-out-the-vote and voter registration drives do."

...The number of new Latino voters grew by 35,000 in Los Angeles County from March to August, helping to boost their share of the electorate from 20% to 24% over last year, according to an analysis of Los Angeles County registrar-recorder data by the Latino officials' organization.
[Emphasis added]

It's become clear that no immigration reform bill is going to get through Congress before the elections. For all the huffing and puffery of recess "hearings", it's just not going to happen. The GOP is divided on the issue, and the Emperor is fairly impotent on the issue, no matter what he does. There's an election to be salvaged.

This fact has been appreciated by the immigrant political community. On the one hand, it keeps 11 million people in limbo, not knowing just what is going to happen. On the other hand, however, it gives them a little time to start doing the hard work that results in the kind of change that is needed. The marches are necessary to keep the issue in front of folks. The voter registration and GOTV efforts are necessary to resolve the problems.

It looks to me like the immigration rights has indeed not fizzled. It's just organizing. I am cautiously optimistic.

Slip, Slidin' Away

Today's NY Times has a facinating, long article on the diminution of Vice-Emperor Dick Cheney's influence in the White House. Written by David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, the article traces the rise and then the waning of Mr. Cheney's power in the regime, and does so by pointing to the earlier 'victories' and the recent set-backs.

From those first moments five years ago when Secret Service agents burst into Vice President Dick Cheney’s office on Sept. 11, lifted him off his feet and propelled him to the underground Presidential Emergency Operations Center, the man who had returned to Washington that year to remake the powers of the presidency seemed unstoppable.

Within minutes, Mr. Cheney was directing the government’s response to an attack that was still under way. Within weeks, he was overseeing the surveillance program that tracked suspected terrorist communications into and out of the United States without warrants. Within months, he and his staff, guided by a loyal aide, David S. Addington, were championing the reinterpretation of the rules of war so that they could detain “enemy combatants” and interrogate them at secret detention facilities run by the C.I.A. around the world.

It was Mr. Cheney and his staff who helped shape the rules under which members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda were denied some of the core rights of the Geneva Conventions and would be tried by “military commissions” at Guantánamo Bay — if they faced trial at all.

...There is little question that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney still share the goal of expanding the power of the presidency: legislation they have sent to Congress would essentially allow them to set the rules of evidence, define interrogation techniques and intercept domestic communications as they have for the past five years.

But they have been stymied in their effort to simply assert those powers and carry them out with minimal oversight, as part of Mr. Cheney’s declared goal to restore to the presidency an authority that he believed was dangerously eroded after Vietnam and Watergate.

I would have placed the rise of Mr. Cheney's power earlier in the administration, perhaps at the point he called in the energy executives to a secret meeting, but it has been clear to most of us that it has been Mr. Cheney's voice calling the shots for the past five years. This article, however, brings out details that when placed in context show just how far the administration has gone to usurp as much power from the other branches of government and how successful it was in doing so.

Why the sudden decline in Mr. Cheney's power? The article suggests that the loss of Scooter Libby (currently under indictment for lying in the Valerie Plame matter) is a big reason. Mr. Libby was the "eyes and ears" of the Vice Emperor in Washington. I'm not so sure that is such a big reason. I think Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush and the rest of the administration quite simply overplayed their collective hand. When you intrude on the fiefdoms of Congress too often, sooner or later there is going to be a push-back. And when you lose people like Senator John Warner and Senator Lindsey Graham, you have lost a great deal.

Further, this administration has simply been too wrong and too incompetent too many times. From Iraq, to Katrina, to the economy, to foreign affairs, to spying illegally on Americans, the American public has finally noticed just how poorly it has been served by the administration and by Congress. That's dangerous to the party in power when it's an election year, which this is.

My cavils aside, the article is pretty well-written and reasonably well-sourced. It's worth the five minutes it will take to read it in its entirety.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Oppossum

Just Exploring

Paraguay Gets It

About 60% of the American public has finally had enough of the Emperor and his five years of disasterous incompetence. I've gotten the impression that the rest of the world is wondering what took us so long. A recent op-ed in Paraguay's Neike makes it clear that this Central American country has correctly assessed the efficacy of the Bush doctrine.

When Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, he also wanted to frighten Iran (which is situated between these two nations). After the 1979 revolution, Iran became Washington’s greatest Middle East adversary. Since the late nineties, however, it has shown signs of edging closer to the West, and stood behind initial Anglo-American victories in Afghanistan (2001) and Baghdad (2003).

Iran has taken advantage of the fact that the United States demolished two of its top enemy governments, on its east (Afghanistan) and its west (Iraq), only to profit afterwards from dethroned Taliban and Pan-Arab efforts to undermine and paralyze the United States.

Ahmanidejad's election as Iranian president [reflects] the strength of a particular wing of the ayatollahs, who believe that Iran should take advantage of Bush’s failures to transform itself into a regional and nuclear power.

The stumbling, bumbling, fumbling of our current regime has made possible the exact opposite of the very things which it claimed to have wanted: a nuclear free Iran hemmed in by stable and democratic neighbors. Even our hemispheric neighbors have noted the failures of our foreign policy.

Heckuva job, George.

Bolton: Round Two

John Bolton's re-nomination as Ambassador to the United Nations is temporarily being placed on hold by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which seems to mean that confirmation hearings won't be held until after the November elections. Bolton, the current UN Ambassador, got the position by recess appointment after the Republicans were unable to summon the votes necessary to block a threatened Democrat filibuster. Since then, Senator Voinovich (Republican) has changed his mind and has indicated he would vote for confirmation. With that switch, I would have thought the Republicans would have pushed the nomination to a vote quickly. I forgot that we are in the midst of the campaign season. From yesterday's NY Times:

The twisting route toward a formal confirmation vote on John R. Bolton as United Nations ambassador took another unexpected turn on Thursday when Senate committee action on the nomination was suddenly put off.

The delay appeared to represent the influence of international affairs on this year’s Congressional elections. Senate officials from both parties said the decision to scrub the vote in the Foreign Relations Committee at the last minute came at the request of Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican facing a primary election contest on Tuesday.

Mr. Chafee is considered a moderate and faces a conservative primary opponent who says the senator too often breaks with party ranks.

...Given the solid block of Democratic opposition to Mr. Bolton, the defection of even a single Republican would prevent the committee from sending the nomination to the Senate floor with the panel’s endorsement. The nomination could still be sent to the floor without a recommendation.

Apparently the committee chair wanted to spare Sen. Chafee the embarrassment of handing his right-wing opponent a campaign issue, especially since Sen. Chafee, while a moderate, still is a Republican and has voted with the party more often than not. Still, I'm wondering if there isn't more in play here than a simple bit of courtesy.

That in mind, I wandered over to TPM Cafe's Bolton Watch, which is an excellent source for all things Bolton. Scott T. Paul's "...Note to Senator Hagel" provides some additional information on the puzzle.

Earlier this week, Senator Hagel, you revealed that you had a "direct and honest conversation" with John Bolton. Today, Bolton traveled to your home state of Nebraska and gave an hour-long speech. In case you missed it, the boiled down version is: "go to hell."

I heard Bolton's remarks in Lincoln today. He didn't once discuss the importance of the United Nations or its key place in U.S. foreign policy. He didn't cite a single success story, despite S-G Annan's recent diplomatic trip, the cease-fire resolution in the Middle East, recent progress on Darfur, or any of its invaluable ongoing humanitarian, environment, democracy-promotion, or development work. It's not hard. Just today, the General Assembly adopted Annan's U.S.-backed counterterrorism strategy. That's important and timely, but apparently didn't warrant a one-sentence mention in Bolton's speech.

Instead, before moving on to hot-tempered rhetoric on Iran and North Korea, his remarks on the U.N. focused on sex, fraud, and corruption - nothing new, and nothing particularly useful for someone who's trying to work with other countries.

Senator Hagel, another moderate Republican who has parted company with his party far more noisily than Sen. Chafee ever has, just might still be on the fence. If so, and if he is aware of the speech Bolton gave in the good senator's own state, then it is possible that a Bolton confirmation from the Senate just isn't going to happen now or before the end of the year when Bolton must leave his job at the UN under the law.

The question remains: will the Emperor issue another recess appointment? Scott T. Paul has noted a couple of signals from the Administration that no such appointment will be made a second time. That information is contained in an earlier post on Bolton Watch. If that is the case, than Mr. Bolton will be out.

See what a well-unified Democratic bloc can do?

More like this, please.