Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ouch! That's Gotta Leave a Mark

Condi Rice, Secretary of State Sponsored Terrorism, hasn't had an easy time of it. No matter where she goes and what she says, she always manages to put her expensively shod foot in it. Transmitting the lies, threats, and outrageous demands of the White Palace is hard work. Hard, I tell you. And what does she get for all this effort? Well, recently she received a rather resounding bitchslap from Mexico's La Jornada.

Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cast aside her impressive academic background and spoke as if she had never read anything other than Captain America or Superman comics. The terrorists, Rice said, lack any motive other than the desire to kill. As if it was only that simple.

...Even the most extreme instances of human violence, such as the cruelty brought about by Hitler's orders, or those of Stalin, Truman, Sharon, Saddam and the Bushes, still have recognizable causes and can be explained. When these leaders carried out massacres or destroyed defenseless towns and cities, they acted in the interest of irrational national plans, avaricious economic interests, and crazed geopolitical designs. The desire to kill doesn't come out of nowhere, and such is the case for presidential offices as well as the hovels where serial assassins hide from the authorities.

Just as in previous cases, there is a criminal attitude to be found in the Palestinian young men that arrive with dynamite and nails bound to their torsos to a place full of Israeli civilians, searching for the only kind of equality they can grasp with the inhabitants of the oppressing country: equality in death.

But the desire to kill comes later. First, you have a situation in which a community of people has been converted into livestock, or something worse, confined and in tatters on their own land, humiliated, plundered, and reduced to misery by a military power endowed with atomic fangs. The Israeli occupation has deprived the children, adults, and elderly of Gaza and the West Bank, as well as those that will be born in these lands, of the concept of a future. Their lives tick away as they live in intimidation and terror, suffering unjustifiable aggression, and enduring the dispossession of land and water, confiscation, banishment, and the threat of a missile falling on their homes, streets, cars and stores at any moment. In this land, one doesn't have to be a terrorist or even resemble one, to suffer the punishment and reprisal [meant for terrorists]. Countless children have crossed fields only to be shot and killed, and too many elderly women have been buried alive, pummeled by bulldozers.
[Emphasis added]

If Condi and her Emperor in Chief had even the slightest grasp on history, they would have realized this. But, then, perhaps this is all too nuanced for the muscular foreign policy the Emperor know, bombing and blowing things up.

Reality just isn't part of the equation for this regime. And the whole world is going to suffer for this death dealing flaw.

The Stepford Press

For at least the past five years, the so-called liberal media have been in the hip pockets of the current regime. Too many reporters have been happy to regurgitate 'talking points' issued by the Republican White House without comment or analysis and have been only too happy to write entire stories based on "anonymous" sources who have "leaked" information that the White House wanted on the front page. A few reporters, however, have taken a different route and actually done their jobs on such issues as the NSA domestic spying program and the existence of secret CIA prisons. Those few reporters and their honest work really upset the apple court and the powers that rule this nation. As a result, there are some pretty draconian measures being considered. A NY Times story in this morning's edition describes those measures.

Earlier administrations have fired and prosecuted government officials who provided classified information to the press. They have also tried to force reporters to identify their sources.

But the Bush administration is exploring a more radical measure to protect information it says is vital to national security: the criminal prosecution of reporters under the espionage laws

Such an approach would signal a thorough revision of the informal rules of engagement that have governed the relationship between the press and the government for many decades. Leaking in Washington is commonplace and typically entails tolerable risks for government officials and, at worst, the possibility of subpoenas to journalists seeking the identities of sources.

But the Bush administration is putting pressure on the press as never before, and it is operating in a judicial climate that seems increasingly receptive to constraints on journalists.

...One example of the administration's new approach is the F.B.I.'s recent effort to reclaim classified documents in the files of the late columnist Jack Anderson, a move that legal experts say was surprising if not unheard of.
[Emphasis added]

Clearly it is easier to go after the printer than the leaker because the printer's identity is known. The result of even one prosecution, whether successful or not, will have the desired chilling effect on the press. Reporters will have to turn away sources who might be revealing information which will upset the White House powers, whether truly dealing with national security or not, for fear that the FBI will be knocking on their cubicles with warrants in hand. Whistleblowers will go unheard; government abuse will go unrevealed. And that is the whole point of the White House plan to further emasculate the press.

We will have a Stepford Press, only more so, and one of the most important of the First Amendment rights will have been made moot.

Scary times, these. Very, very scary.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bonus Cat Blogging

Home Boy being owlish.

What Our Friends Are Saying

Pakistan has served as a critical ally in our battles in Afghanistan. Its president has damaged his own credibility within that nation by cooperating with the Emperor in tracking and capturing Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives. Apparently that wasn't good enough for the Emperor, because he refused to give Pakistan the same deal he gave India (a long time and bitter enemy of Pakistan) for nuclear weapons. The Emperor even dissed Pakistan while explaining why the US wouldn't also give Pakistan a nuclear package. The fallout from that decision is now showing openly, as this piece from the Pakistani news outlet, The Frontier Post.

As to Bush's claim that God spoke to him to destroy the world, he must realize that God only speaks to his prophets and not to Don Quixote, an impractical idealist who champions hopeless causes and is a daydreamer, for he might act out his dream with open eyes to make it possible.

All the messengers of God came to spread love and peace, not to destroy humanity. It is not God's messenger but the devil that carries such delusory hallucinations. Bush and his cabal are following a radical ideology with unalterable objectives to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world.

The U.S., because of this jackboot policy, is hardly winning friends or influencing people, except negatively. Anti-American feeling has never been as rife or on such a global scale, despite the fact that Washington is spending billions of dollars on TV and radio propaganda, directed at altering the perceptions of people in the Middle East.

...Gone are the days when American citizens were revered around the world for their love of democracy, justice and human rights. They were once models to be emulated. Now the same models have got to the point where Americans invariably say they're Canadians when asked where they come from.

But to sustain public optimism, the Bush Administration struggles to keep old lies alive until new ones roll off the assembly line.

If Washington is serious about fighting terrorism and dampening anti-Americanism, it is going about it the wrong way. No matter how much it spends on propaganda, unless it changes the way it treats the rest of the world, anti-Americanism not only stays, but will certainly increase.
[Emphasis added]

Although I wouldn't compare the Emperor to the gentle and loveable Don Quixote, the writer of this piece does have a point: at this stage, Mr. Bush does appear to be delusional, and dangerously so. In other words, we've worn out our welcome in yet another country and part of the world.

Way to go, George.

Looking Busy

The preferred illusion of this regime is that of looking busy rather than actually doing something. This stance comes in particularly handy when the American public is seriously upset about an issue, like the dramatic surge in gasoline prices. The Emperor is especially good at this routine as evidenced by his recent pronouncements. The act is, however, growing stale. An editorial in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune called bullshit on the president's suggestions.

[T]he striking thing about President Bush's latest promises to ease Americans' pain at the pump is their utter irrelevance; you cannot find an industry analyst who will credit these moves with more than trivial impact. That and the weird irony of announcing them in a speech to the Renewable Fuels Association, whose members know better than most how thoroughly this president has squandered five years of opportunity to get real about energy policy.

Most Americans already understand that U.S. gasoline prices are high because world oil prices are high, reflecting such global factors as surging competition from buyers in China and India. What they may not know is that U.S. oil companies have plenty of crude on hand; gasoline stockpiles are low because of other factors, principally a temporary dip in refinery capacity. Halting government petroleum purchases will make a tiny difference at best in gas supplies, and none in pump prices.

...Perhaps the biggest single reason that gasoline prices are painfully high right now is that for a very long time they have been too low, encouraging Americans to drive longer distances at higher speeds in bigger, gas-hogging vehicles. It's a trend that oil companies, both foreign and domestic, have been only to happy to exploit, with the Bush administration's blessing.

This president has had five years to raise fuel economy standards, launch a Manhattan Project-style initiative for renewably fueled automobiles, construct a system of taxes and incentives to encourage conservation ... the list can go on and on. Instead he has pretended the long-term answer is to drill wells in the Arctic wilderness, and the short-term fix is to halt strategic stockpiling, because "every little bit helps." Can anyone take him seriously on this subject anymore?
[Emphasis added]

I doubt that the Emperor should be taken seriously on any subject, given his propensity for falsehood over the past five plus years. On this subject, however, he and the Vice Emperor have made it clear by their actions that their oil buddies were running the show right from the start. What is refreshing is that the media and their readers are finally getting the picture.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Sleep work is hard. Hard, I tell you.

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Election Year Disaster

Congress has just had its worst nightmare come true: six months from an election, gasoline prices have gone through the roof and so have oil company earnings. The Republicans were already in trouble, what with corruption scandals and a president whose popularity is beginning to equal that of the missing Osama bin Laden. Now, however, incumbent Democrats are beginning to feel the heat. They can't just stand there and point at their opposition, saying "See? See what failures they are?" Democrats have to do something. But not just anything. The American public has become much too cynical for that. Election-year grandstanding isn't going to cut it for either party.

The NY Times offered Congress a few tips this morning.

The battle to see which political party can out-pander the other on the subject of gasoline prices is embarrassing. If American consumers are having sticker shock at the pumps, it's because of a series of policy failures that stretch back decades. The last thing the country needs now is another irresponsible quick fix.

...The main problem is not environmental regulations or even rapacious oil companies. It certainly isn't the fact that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been kept off limits for drilling. Americans' outsized demand for oil and gasoline pushes up prices, and now that the economies of huge countries like China and India have taken off, there will continue to be more competition for the world's available oil. There are policy solutions for the problem of excess demand, chief among them higher fuel economy standards. But more than five years into the Bush administration, there has been only a minuscule increase in mileage standards for S.U.V.'s and no increase for cars.

The oil companies' mind-boggling profits have produced calls for a windfall profits tax. It would not be too difficult to set up a system that would capture a percentage of the companies' extraordinary profits, and the money could be used for long-term solutions, like research into alternate fuels and mass transit. That would be fair. Oil companies are indeed profiting from events that have little to do with their efforts. If some of those profits were taxed and flowed into the public treasury, the money could go toward public purposes.

...But their [poor and middle class families] problem is more than gasoline prices. It's their vulnerability to the price increases, which results from stagnating wages and a lack of savings. If the Bush administration had devoted as much political capital in the past five years to wage and job growth initiatives as it has to cutting taxes for the wealthy, these struggling families would be better able to weather higher prices at the pump.

Congress's frantic gestures this week are, at bottom, an attempt to divert attention from its past failures to act, and its resulting inability to shield Americans from the burden of high prices at the pump. But the pain of high gas prices will only get worse unless Congress changes its priorities, now.
[Emphasis added]

There will be no quick fix this time. Offering American families $100 to use towards gas purchases is as laughable as it is insulting. Halting the storage of oil in the federal reserve for a period of time sets the wrong precedent. Suspending clean air regulations only dirties the air. Americans will have to suffer through this because prices will drop little, if at all.

Instead, Congress should consider the future. In addition to raising mileage standards, it should also consider dropping the tariffs on Brazilian sugar cane based ethanol and demand car makers design autos that can run on it as they do in Brazil. It should fully fund research into alternative energy sources that would run industry as well as cars and trucks.

And to do this, Congress might consider repealing the tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations (among them the oil giants). It might also consider tying the Emperor's hands when it comes to further war-making.

And that's just for openers.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Color Me Shocked.

On my way home from work yesterday I filled up my Honda Accord in Mid-Wilshire. It was $3.179 a gallon for regular. When I arrived in Pasadena, the first station off the freeway was at $3.299. The station closer to my home was at $3.279. I make a pretty good salary, but I also drive a lot in my work, often up to 500 miles per week. Even with a relatively fuel efficient car, driving has become a major expense.

What is also going to become a major expense is eating, because the cost of transporting food to the grocery store is also rising dramatically. In fact, all goods will be more expensive as the costs of manufacturing and distribution rise along with the price of energy. What I believe to be a shaky economy to begin with may very well fall flat on its face. It's in times like these that citizens look to their government to, well, just do something. The Emperor finally got the message, but his response was typically weak, ignoring the real source of the problem. In fact, it was so weak that even the Washington Post editorialist was appalled.

NO DOUBT IT makes everyone feel better when the president states his concern for Americans, who are now paying more than $3 a gallon for gasoline. Unfortunately, the measures President Bush chose to announce this week to combat high prices are either meaningless or possibly dangerous in the long run, even if they do offer a bit of temporary relief. For example, just talking publicly about "price gouging" can spook gasoline providers into slightly lowering prices. And maybe it's useful to inspire state officials to start looking harder for crooks, given that price gouging is defined at the state level, not by the federal government. But in the long term, such talk encourages the public to believe that evil price gougers are responsible for higher pump prices, when the real culprits are global economic growth, increased demand and Americans' own large cars.

The president has, of course, had plenty of opportunities over the past five years to shape a more rational energy policy, one that would have provided incentives to move away from oil and toward other energy sources. He could have lobbied harder to remove the oil industry tax benefits from the energy bill he signed. He could have insisted that Congress add more tax breaks for hybrid cars, as he now says he wishes it had done. He could lift the tariffs on Brazilian ethanol, which would help address some of the ethanol shortages across the country. He could have endorsed a tax on oil and coal, which of course would not lower the price of gasoline but would, again, begin to reduce demand while encouraging investment in new technologies.

And he could have used his statutory authority to raise automobile fuel economy standards or persuaded Congress to find other ways to improve mileage per gallon of U.S. vehicles.

A fairly good list of answers, to which the mean-spirited part of me would have added a revisiting and repealing of the tax breaks and tax incentives awarded the oil companies. Their quarterly profits are in the billions. They don't need more.

Still, that even the Washington Post editorial page noticed the failure of the regime's energy policy is a bit of welcome surprise.

More, please.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Some Leaks Are Better Than Others... Part II

Yesterday I posted on an incisive editorial from the Minneapolis Star Tribune (scroll down to "Some Leaks Are Better than Others..."). Today, the newspaper which printed the story leading to the firing of Mary O. McCarthy finally weighed in. From the Washington Post:

IF CIA OFFICIALS leaked information about the agency's secret prisons to The Post's Dana Priest, then the American public owes them a debt of gratitude. We don't know who the sources were for Ms. Priest's Pulitzer Prize-winning work, though we assume there were many. (The news and editorial departments here operate separately, and they don't share such information.) Last week a CIA officer on the verge of retirement, Mary O. McCarthy, was fired for speaking to Ms. Priest and other journalists, though she says she did not provide classified information about the secret prisons. Anyone who talked from inside the CIA violated the agency's rules, if not the law. But they also upheld the public interest.

The Bush administration is holding a number of terrorism suspects incommunicado in secret prisons abroad without due process or even notification of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and some detainees have been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This is a gross violation of international law and American values, and it's essential to our democracy that such an exceptional policy be subject to public debate. Maybe disclosure of the prisons damaged national security -- the CIA has offered no evidence of that -- but it's hard to imagine what could be more damaging than the existence of the system itself. CIA Director Porter J. Goss appears to have dismissed Ms. McCarthy to send a message to others who leaked to the press. That's a questionable use of his authority.
[Emphasis added]

While the editorial's position in the matter is certainly understandable (WaPo, after all, was the paper that printed the story that offended the CIA and the regime), one wonders why it took so long to get written. I would have expected the editorial over the weekend (Sunday, at the top of the page) or yesterday (when an uninvolved newspaper took a much stronger stance -- see my last post). What was the paper waiting for? Were they polling their readers and advertisers?

I suspect the editorialist had to think long and hard on the issue, especially since that page was recently graced with an editorial supporting the President when he made the Valerie Plame leak possible by declassifying parts of a document. They key, of course, is mentioned in the paranthetical aside from above: "The news and editorial departments here operate separately, and they don't share such information."

Heh. That much is pretty clear.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Some Leaks Are Better Than Others...

...but only the Emperor gets to decided which is which.

The CIA's firing of Mary O. McCarthy for leaking information on the secret US prisons in other countries is a pretty good example. Although Ms. McCarthy disputes that she admitted telling a Washington Post reporter about those prisons, she has been fired and faces criminal charges. A rather blunt editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes the difference between the CIA secret prisons story and the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame by the White House.

On one level, CIA Director Porter Goss' decision to fire Mary O. McCarthy for leaking classified information to reporters may simply reflect necessary agency discipline. But it also perfectly fits the pattern of this administration: Hide unflattering information that Congress and the public should know, while selectively leaking classified information that fits the White House political agenda.

McCarthy was fired for leaking information to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest about the CIA's system of secret prisons around the world where terrorist suspects are held. For her reporting, Priest won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize. The judges thought Priest -- and by extension, McCarthy -- had done a significant public service.

...Colleagues report that during the time she worked at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, she was a stickler for following rules and protecting classified information. She also was not timid about expressing her opinions on intelligence issues, even to President Bill Clinton himself.

What changed her? We'd bet it was the Bush administration's willingness to engage in ethically and legally questionable activities and then use the classification system to keep them from public view -- or, conversely, to make public classified information that should never have been released, such as identifying Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative.
[Emphasis added]

This is a distinction with a difference, something the White House knows full well, but conveniently ignores. If Ms. McCarthy in fact released that information to the press (and at this point she denies admitting she did so), then she should qualify as a whistle blower and be protected as such. She will have done this nation a great service. As the STrib editorialist concludes:

There is a good reason for classifying information that would damage national security if released. But the Bush administration has warped that concept in order to deceive Congress, the American people and the world about the nature -- not the substance -- of highly questionable activities. That's why people like McCarthy, Drumheller and others finally are forced to do something that goes against every fiber of their professional beings: They break the rules because the rules have been manipulated for venal ends. Breaking them is the only way to shine sunlight on ugly truths. Washington needs more sunlight.


Monday, April 24, 2006

The Unitary Executive

The Emperor don't need no steenkin' Congress. That certainly seems to be the message when it comes to his appointments. If Congress won't swiftly approve them, the Emperor simply waits until Congress goes into its many recesses and then installs the appointees without Congressional approval. From the NY Times:

George W. Bush's high-handed attitude toward his own majority in Congress keeps getting worse, and we keep waiting for the Republicans to notice they are being insulted.

The latest case in point is President Bush's appointment last week of the next two public trustees for Social Security and Medicare. Normally, those positions require confirmation by the Senate. But leaders from both parties had made it clear they objected to the president's choices. Then the president did an end run, installing his candidates while Congress was in recess.
[Emphasis added]

Apparently Congressional Republicans are supposed to toe the line when it comes to party loyalty, but the President, not so much. In other words, under this President, it is not a matter of party loyalty, but rather of personal fealty. Given that this is a Congressional election year, and not a Presidential one, I think we can expect more of this imperious behavior out of the White Palace. Incumbents need to get back to their states and districts to campaign and to mend fences. The Emperor has figured out how to use that to his advantage.

Maybe the Republican Congress Critters will get tired of being dissed by their fearless leader and start pushing back.'s an election year.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Personal Book Whoring

As I note here on the blog, in addition to practicing law ("practice...practice...practice"), I write. I've been lucky enough to get published, primarily by Bellowing Ark, a literary magazine out of Seattle.

These fine folks are now publishing a novel I wrote, and it will come out serially (like the way Dickens did it). Subscriptions to the novel (the first section of which has just come out) are available here.

I recognize that $24 is a hefty sum for what even I admit is a light-hearted comedy*, but with the subscription you get 10 issues of the magazine, and it contains some incredible poetry, fiction, and essays.

So, humor an old lady and click on over to Bellowing Ark and subscribe.

*I'm not kidding: think a pet tiger, telepathic tortoises, aliens, a Christian militia group , two retired marines building a huge ocean going boat in the desert, and a lawyer who has gone "Into the Desert" to dry out.

Regarding Iran: More From Our Allies

The rest of the world continues to monitor the US rhetoric and actions at the UN and in the press, and what they are hearing is not making them happy. Iran appears to be the next Iraq. Germany's Financial Times Deutschland considers the evidence and recognizes the pattern.

We don't know how many years it will be before Iran has a nuclear weapon at its disposal. Nor do we know if in the remaining two and a half years of his administration, American president George W. Bush is prepared to bomb Iran if it doesn't give up its nuclear program.

But we do know this: The American president says publicly that for the destruction of the Iranian nuclear program, even the use of tactical nuclear weapons is legitimate. Those familiar with the Pentagon warn that the U.S. Defense Department's most recent war plans against Iran are more than routine planning for a remote possibility.

...It's true that European officials report that according to the American administration's own statements, Washington isn't seriously considering an attack on Iran. But we know how much we can depend on such assurances: Bush and his confidantes have shown that they mislead the public, their allies, and if necessary their own officials, if they think it's necessary for the success of their foreign policy plans.

...The first option - the repeated bombardment of a country that has attacked no one - would be indefensible, even for the U.S., especially if Teheran could portray itself as a victim. The West could survive this, but will in the end be forced to accept a country that had recently been a victim of a massive American air attack as a nuclear power.

...The demands of the Europeans and of more sensible U.S. senators are correct: it is high time that the U.S. began negotiations with Iran, and at the conclusion of the proceedings, Washington must declare that it recognizes the regime in Iran and will conduct no violent regime change.
[Emphasis added]

This op-ed piece is fairly balanced, noting the aggressiveness of the Iran stance and suggesting the assertion that Iran wants the enriched fuel only for energy purposes to be ludicrous. Still, the emphasis is on what the US should and must do to avoid another war in that volatile region.

The piece also cannily points out the Emperor's messianic belief that only he has the courage to bomb Iran, that his successors would never carry out such a drastic plan. The whole world has apparently figured out the modus operandi of this regime. If only the citizens of this nation would in time for the November elections.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

...And Influencing People

This past week was quite an interesting one, especially as it concerned the visit of the leader of the People's Republic of China (which is, unbeknownst to our current regime, the correct name for what we used to call Red China). I finally figured out what had been setting off little bells in the back of my head ever since the Emperor in Chief consummated the nuclear deal with India a few weeks back. Here's the piece of the puzzle that finally allowed for things to fall into place, and, ironically, it comes from an analysis piece written by C Raja Mohan for the Indian Express.

Diplomatic protocol that so obsesses foreign offices around the world has political meaning only when it is broken consciously or disrupted by unanticipated acts. Both happened during the ceremonial reception for Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House lawns on Thursday.

As India and China closely watch the other’s relationship with the US, comparisons between the White House receptions for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last July and Hu are inevitable.

Singh was among the few leaders whom President George Bush chose to offer a full ceremonial visit. Bush has been rather choosy about having pomp and ceremony for visiting leaders.

Most visits are usually treated as official or working visits that don’t involve the pageantry. The Chinese apparently insisted and got a full state visit for Hu.

But while Singh got a dinner banquet, Hu was offered only lunch, to the irritation of the Chinese. While this protocol difference was clearly a planned one, the protest by a Chinese woman produced an unexpected complication at Hu’s reception.
[Emphasis added]

The rest of the article is a rather detailed examination of what the writer sees as China's liabilities as far as America is concerned, including the lack of religious liberty and the intolerance of dissent. That section certainly added a dimension to the puzzle part I mentioned earlier. Mr. Raja Mohan made it clear just where his natural sympathies lie.

India and China, as close as they are geographically, are even closer when it comes to their current rate of economic development. Both have burgeoning economies and are hungry for foreign investment and expansive trade deals. Both are busy trying to lock up energy deals with oil and natural gas producing countries. They are competitors, serious competitors, especially in that part of the world. They also are both on the cusp of becoming super-powers at a time when the US, weakened by wars and economic woes, is beginning to falter.

Now, about that nuclear deal with India: at first I thought it was simply a mild rebuke to Pakistan for their failure to shut off the support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the country. That seemed silly then, as it does now, but I didn't quite get it. Pakistan, even with nuclear weaponry, doesn't have the economy which India does. It isn't as useful to the US as India just might be.

The current US regime, by granting 'special favors' to India, is giving a clear signal to the world just which of the two Asian nations it is willing to gamble on. India will serve as a kind of counterbalance to China, a nation which our country doesn't have much of a clear read on because of the relative newness of the relationship. I suggest that is why Mr. Singh got a full state dinner and Mr. Hu only got lunch.

I just hope Mr. Bush has an ace or two up his sleeve. China just happens to hold an enormous amount of our national debt.

NAFTA and Immigration

I suspect every American has their own theory about why so many people from Mexico and Central America slip across our borders. Some people genuinely believe that these "illegals" pour across our southern border to get on our welfare rolls and to have access to free, tax-payer funded education and health care. Others believe that they come for the opportunity to start a new life in the land of freedom, free from the corruption and stifling politics of their own land. Me, I've always believed they've come to work, sending their paychecks to support families back home, always intending to return to their homeland, even if their exit is not always possible. Each reason has a bit of truth to it, but none of us has any real solid and objective proof of our positions, and for that reason, we're not exactly sure how to fix the problems that have arisen.

Octavio Ruiz, globalization coordinator for the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition-the Resource Center of the Americas, wrote a very thought provoking opinion piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune which explores one of the elements in this massive and complicated puzzle.

The 12 million Mexicans working in the United States who will be criminalized by proposed immigration legislation are the same people who were promised the possibilities of a decent living with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

...According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of immigrants to the United States from Mexico actually decreased by 18 percent in the three years before NAFTA's implementation. But in the first eight years of NAFTA, the annual number of immigrants from Mexico increased by more than 61 percent.

The cause was twofold. First, NAFTA's agricultural provisions resulted in a flood of subsidized corn being imported into Mexico from the United States. The effect in rural areas was that some 1.5 million rural families -- and some researchers claim twice that -- were driven out of business. Their only options were to move to the cities and seek whatever work, at whatever wage, could be found, or to cross the border. A very large number chose the second option.

[Second] Because NAFTA's labor rules did not provide Mexican workers with gains in workplace rights, the trade deal also hurt urban workers. Deprived of their ability to join unions or to organize, Mexican manufacturing workers saw their real wages fall by more than 20 percent over NAFTA's first five years. Today, workers in the country's vast export manufacturing sector, the maquiladora factories, earn from one-fourth to half of their previous wages. Such pay does not even provide very basic necessities for a family. Many of these workers eventually choose the hardships and uncertainties of crossing the border over the certainty of long hours in unhealthy conditions for below-subsistence wages.

...It is time for a different policy for engagement with the global economy. Instead of one built on maximizing the supply of "cheap labor" and excluding worker rights from our trade agreements, we need one based on raising the standard of living in all nations. Instead of one based on the displacement of small farmers in our trading partner nations, we need one that develops local markets for those farmers. Otherwise, we will continue to push people into a situation where they have few options other than to immigrate north.
[Emphasis added]

Simply building a wall and threatening felony status is not going to be the answer if Mr. Ruiz is correct, and he does make a compelling argument. Our nation, and all of the nations of the developed world, need to stand back and take a long hard look at what unfettered, multinational corporation based globalization has meant to the rest of the world and what it is now costing the wealthier nations.

I recommend you go to the entire piece written by Mr. Ruiz. It is well worth the read.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday Critter Blogging

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You want to make what bed? This one? I just made it. You're welcome.

When Spring Break Is Over

The Senate will be back in session shortly, and one of the issues Senator Frist will have to deal with is immigration reform. Hopefully he and Senator Reid will leave off the sniping long enough to get something sensible done, now that the hornet's nest has been roused. While the issue is a complicated and tricky one, there simply has to be a practical solution, even if not a complete one.

The problem is that it's an election year, and Congress Critters will all be more interested in garnering votes than working on an actual solution. I believe that Representatives Sensenbrenner and Tancredo had the upcoming election in mind when they rammed through that foul House Bill in December. What those two gentlemen did not have in mind, however, is that millions of immigrants would actually get excited enough to become very, very visible over the issue. As a result, Frist and Reid are not going to be able ignore the House Bill in the hope it would just be forgotten.

I was pleasantly surprised that an editorialist at the Chicago Tribune (not a newspaper I am particularly fond of right now) was thinking along the same lines.

On several occasions over the last few decades, Americans have debated what to do about illegal immigration. What's different about this year's debate is that it includes a lot of non-Americans. The surprise element has been a wave of huge demonstrations across the country by illegal immigrants themselves.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of protesters has clearly given the issue more prominence than it had before. It has also stimulated strong reactions. Some radio hosts and commentators have criticized demonstrators for brandishing flags from Mexico and for missing school to demonstrate. Others praise them for peacefully dramatizing the nation's dependence on undocumented workers.

The marches may have also had an impact on Capitol Hill. In December, the House of Representatives passed a bill mandating a variety of strict enforcement measures, from building a 700-mile-long wall on the Mexican border to making it a felony to be in the United States illegally. Shortly after the first protests, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that was far more generous than the House proposal, dropping the criminal penalties and creating a guest-worker program to let some foreigners come and go legally.

But it's easy to overstate the effect of the protests. The Senate was never likely to embrace the House bill. And the rallies have probably strengthened pre-existing opinions more than they have changed minds.

... But there appears to be a public consensus in favor of three things: more resources to secure our southern frontier, a procedure offering legalization to some illegal immigrants, and serious penalties to discourage employers from hiring people who are not entitled to be here. Americans are realistic, recognizing both the serious risks caused by porous borders and the impossibility of deporting or incarcerating 12 million illegal immigrants.
[Emphasis added]

If senators listened at all to their constituents while on Spring Break, they probably heard much the same thing the Trib has described. Hopefully, they listened closely enough to come back with a sense of how to accomplish something sensible and humane.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Them Pesky Retired Generals

For the past week, the Emperor and his minions have been spinning furiously in response to the retired generals who have spoken out against Donald Rumsfeld and the way he has mismanaged the Iraq invasion. Thanksfully, the smearing and side talk just hasn't taken hold. Evidence of their lack of success is this rather pointed April 18th editorial from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The administration sometimes gives the impression that it has accepted accountability for its mistakes on Iraq. At the end of March, for example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "I know we've made tactical errors -- thousands of them, I'm sure." But that statement only pointed elsewhere -- at the military's execution of strategy.

Two days later, Gen. Anthony Zinni said of Rice's comment, "These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policies made back here. Don't blame the troops. They've been magnificent." is clear that there was seething resentment -- resentment that is now finding expression. The generals variously resented the administration's failure to build coalitions with our allies, its casualness in going to war, its contemptuous treatment of officers who dissented from within, its war plan with insufficient troop levels, its decision to dismantle the Iraqi Army, its insistence that abuses at Abu Ghraib were the isolated acts of a few ... and so on.

If you listen to several of the retired generals, you see a pattern: They're all highly experienced military brass who felt the civilian leadership neither understood military officers' expertise nor respected their advice.

...What is so noteworthy about the so-called Revolt of the Generals is that their words ring true to anyone who's been paying attention to Iraq, and that their insights and frustrations clearly represent more than their own individual thoughts. To that point, Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings called it "a referendum on the centerpiece of the Bush presidency."

Bush is failing that referendum, but still isn't accountable -- not for the selective use of intelligence and phony arguments he employed to make the case for war, not for thumbing his nose at U.S. allies, not for the way the war has been prosecuted.
[Emphasis added]

The editorial also pointed out what we all pretty much knew. While serving, the chain of command must be respected, and criticism of the civilian leadership of the military is not tolerated. Once these generals retired, however, they are simply citizens and are entitled to exercise their right to speak freely, even on issues such as this.

Karl Rove must be losing his touch. Swiftboating men considered to be heroes didn't work this time. Perhaps that's why he's decided to spend more time on the elections and less time on White House policy. With any luck at all, his failure to offset the generals' criticism will be replicated during the election season.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Clean Cups! Clean Cups!

Ah...more merry madness courtesy of the government. From the NY Times: the National Archives, documents have been disappearing since 1999 because intelligence officials have wanted them to. And under the terms of two disturbing agreements — with the C.I.A. and the Air Force — the National Archives has been allowing officials to reclassify declassified documents, which means removing them from the public eye. So far 55,000 pages, some of them from the 1950's, have vanished. This not only violates the mission of the National Archives; it is also antithetical to the natural flow of information in an open society.

...What makes this all seem preposterous is that the agreements themselves prohibit the National Archives from revealing why the documents were removed. They are apparently secret enough that no one can be told why they are secret — so secret, in fact, that the arrangement to reclassify them is also secret. According to the agreement with the C.I.A., employees of the National Archives are also prohibited from telling anyone that the C.I.A. was responsible for removing reclassified documents.
[Emphasis added]

Here's how they system is supposed to work. After a period of time, when the reason for classifying a document no longer exists, documents are declassified and given to the National Archives. Historians and, for that matter, the public at large then have access to the materials. Many of the 55,000 pages now reclassified were in fact reviewed by historians and published.

Under the agreements signed in 1999, however, the CIA and Air Force were allowed to reclassify materials without having to provide a reason. The National Archives were not allowed to even mention that the materials had been removed, why, or by whom. How silly is that?

While the agreements were reached before the current regime slouched into office, the process has been used extensively in the last five plus years. How surprising is that?

Lewis Carroll would have been so impressed.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tactically Nuking Iran

Ever since the true horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki emerged nearly sixty years ago, a world-wide taboo against using nuclear weapons has evolved. Embodied in such international pacts as the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and responsible for various nuclear disarmament plans, that taboo is clearly being nibbled at by the US in its sabre rattling agains Iran. In today's NY Times, Michael Levi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a co-author of "The Future of Arms Control," offers a more pragmatic response to the hinted-at use of "tactical" nuclear weapons, "bunker-busters." According to Mr. Levi, these weapons just aren't needed.

THERE has been a lot of debate over reports that the United States is exploring the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran. Setting aside the question of whether military action is wise — and there are strong arguments for focusing on nonmilitary options — one thing is clear: the nuclear option makes little sense.

...In general, there are three intertwined reasons military planners might consider using nuclear weapons against an underground target: uncertainty about the target's location, concern that the depth makes conventional weapons impotent, and a need to destroy the target near-instantaneously. None of these apply in the case of Iran.

...In the end, the nuclear option makes little sense — and flirting with it undermines the American stance against nuclear proliferation. Taking nuclear weapons decisively off the table would reinforce the taboo against the bomb, and make American actions to oppose proliferation more effective.
[Emphasis added]

What Mr. Levi doesn't mention is that there are more serious reasons for not using nuclear bunker-busters. Those reasons are outlined more clearly at the Union of Concerned Scientists web site on the issue.

May 2005

The Bush Administration has again requested funding from Congress to research a new type of nuclear bomb. The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) is a nuclear weapon that would burrow a few meters into rock or concrete before exploding and thus generating a powerful underground shock wave. Its hypothetical targets are deeply buried command bunkers or underground storage sites containing chemical or biological agents.

The RNEP budget: RNEP is not just a feasibility study: the Department of Energy's 2005 budget included a five-year projection—totaling $484.7 million—for the weapons laboratories to produce a completed warhead design and begin production engineering by 2009.

...Technical realities:

According to several recent scientific studies, RNEP would not be effective at destroying many underground targets, and its use could result in the death of millions of people.

* RNEP would produce tremendous radioactive fallout: A nuclear earth penetrator cannot penetrate deep enough to contain the nuclear fallout. Even the strongest casing will crush itself by the time it penetrates 10-30 feet into rock or concrete. For comparison, even a one-kiloton nuclear warhead (less than 1/10th as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb) must be buried at least 200-300 feet to contain its radioactive fallout. The high yield RNEP will produce tremendous fallout that will drift for more than a thousand miles downwind. As, Linton Brooks, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration told Congress in April, "the laws of physics will [never allow a bomb to penetrate] far enough to trap all fallout. This is a nuclear weapon that is going to be hugely destructive over a large area" if it goes off underground.

* RNEP could kill millions of people: A simulation of RNEP used against the Esfahan nuclear facility in Iran, using the software developed for the Pentagon, showed that 3 million people would be killed by radiation within 2 weeks of the explosion, and 35 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would be exposed to increased levels of cancer-causing radiation.
[Emphasis added]

These are the lessons we should have learned from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The death toll would be high, and more than our putative enemies would be horribly affected.

If the US is really serious about the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, the avowed reason for its concern with Iran, swearing off the use of the very weapons the US would deny Iran would place this nation in a much stronger position diplomatically. Of course, that assumes that the US is really serious about nuclear non-proliferation in this instance.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Ma Bell and Big Brother

In an unusual twist on the NSA story of the illegal warrantless wire tapping of Americans, it appears that AT&T has provided some extra help to the government. A NY Times editorial reminds the growing communications giant of its responsibilities in today's edition.

A former AT&T employee has come forward with documents suggesting that there may be a lot more domestic spying going on than President Bush has admitted. The AT&T documents suggest that telephone companies may be helping the government engage in wholesale interception of telephone calls, e-mail messages and Web surfing. If AT&T is violating its customers' privacy rights, it should come clean, and stop immediately.

According to Mark Klein, a longtime AT&T technician who is now retired, AT&T maintained a room at its San Francisco Internet and telephone hub where its customers' data could be mined by keywords, e-mail addresses and other attributes. Mr. Klein says the National Security Agency was given access to the room and the data. He says other technicians have reported to him that similar rooms exist at other AT&T sites.

...The lawsuit [filed by Electronic Frontier Foundation] seeks damages on behalf of a large number of AT&T customers, which could provide the company with a strong incentive to re-evaluate its policies. But even without the suit, AT&T has a reason to worry if it is participating in illegal domestic spying. In the age of unfettered communication, no company should want to get a reputation for allowing the government to listen in on its customers' phone calls, read their e-mail and monitor their Web activity without the requisite legal showing.
[Emphasis added]

AT&T may have been subject to some pressure from the current regime, but it also is a big enough company that it must have some lawyers on the payroll who remember their Constitutional Law course in law school. By cooperating in this fashion, the company is complicit in what surely is illegal spying. The EFF suit may very well be matched by others, and this could turn out to be a very expensive mistake for the telecommunications company. One certainly hopes so.

I probably should add a disclaimer at this point. I am an AT&T customer, one who just went through a very bad experience with the company's service department. I guess it's time for me to go shopping around for a new telephone service. I hope I'm joined by a whole lot of other AT&T customers.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Priorities, People! Priorities!

So here I sit on Easter Sunday, wondering if Jesus is looking down and frowning, muttering something like, "I spent three hours suffering on the cross for this sorry lot? Whatever was I thinking?"

But wait, it gets better, say I.

Look closer: both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be battle zones, with innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire. All signs point to a coming attack on Iran. The Katrina refugees still have no place to call home. Thousands more Americans will be thrown out of jobs as Ford tries to restructure. Gas prices have breached the mystical $3 per gallon mark and many people will not be able to afford getting to work shortly. Soon they won't be able to afford milk and bread as the fuel costs raise the price of staples.

But it's an election year, that time in the cycle when the politicians suddenly remember they have constituents. They decide to start paying attention. And then they come up with a plan. Here's the GOP's plan for the rest of this year's Congressional Calendar, courtesy of the AP's Laurie Kellman:

Protection of marriage amendment? Check. Anti-flag burning legislation? Check. New abortion limits? Check.

Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority.

In a year where an unpopular war in Iraq has helped drive President Bush's approval ratings below 40 percent, core conservatives whose turnout in November is vital to the party want assurances that they are not being taken for granted.

..."The marriage amendment is in a class by itself because of what's at stake," [Gary] Bauer [head of Americans United to Preserve Marriage] said.

House Republican officials close to the scheduling process said the marriage amendment is headed for a House vote in July.

Sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also a possible presidential candidate, the measure would have the Constitution define marriage as the union between a man and a woman - in effect rescinding a 2004 Massachusetts law that made gay marriage legal.

Sending the proposed amendment to the states for ratification may not win the two-thirds majority required in the House and Senate. But committing to a vote in June is a gesture of good faith that would resonate with social conservatives, Bauer said.

So now we see what is really important: depriving gays of the civil rights heterosexual couples enjoy, protecting the sacred cloth that waves over government buildings, and making certain that women can't just assume they have control over their own bodies.

Yeah, that's the ticket: that'll make Jesus happy, make everything worth it.

Won't it?

The Bleak Outlook on the US-Iran Matter: Part II

Yesterday I posted on the Dutch view of the increasing acrimony between the US and Iran (scroll down to "...Part I). Today, I present a more pessimistic view: that of the Russians who see war as a forgone conclusion. The Russian news service Novosti contains an analysis piece by Pyotr Romanov which even sets out a time line.

The United States and Iran seem firmly set on a path leading to the hell of war. There are hopes for the best - and I myself would be happy to find that I have erred on the pessimistic side. But the way things look, here and now, hopes are increasingly overshadowing a very grim reality.

Assertive statements from the American side and war games in the Persian Gulf on the Iranian side scream equally of muscle-flexing. Both sides, while portraying the other as the new evil empire, are in fact perfectly aware of the danger that its opponent poses, both ideologically and politically. Though neither risks thumbing its nose at third-party peacemakers, neither actually listens to anything they say, either.

There are clear indications that the Middle East is in for yet another major conflict. To adjust a changing world, Iran and the U.S. are equally desperate for a major breakthrough. But regrettably, both seem to think that such success comes easier through the use of force rather than through dialogue or diplomacy.

...There is no need to go through the entire list of pro-war considerations. What has been said is probably enough to realize that, whoever tries to bring peace between America and Iran, be it the United Nations, Western Europe, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or Russia, will have their attempts fall on deaf ears.

...For it is no longer a question of "if." It is a question of "when." Rough calculation point to the end of this year.
[Emphasis added]

Romanov's analysis does provide an entire laundry list of reasons why at this point both nations seem to favor war rather than dialogue and diplomacy. Click over to see the list. It contains no surprises as to the causes of the current impasse. What is interesting is the basis for Romanov's belief that the war will commence before the end of the year.

In his opinion, Congress would never let Bush start a pre-emptive war with less than a year left in his term, especially if the midterm elections whittle away his majority in Congress. A war, however, does require some planning and shifting of assets, which should consume several months. What Romanov couldn't have been aware of, however, is that the planning has apparently been underway for nearly two years, according to the UK's Guardian, which yesterday revealed the following:

British officers took part in a US war game aimed at preparing for a possible invasion of Iran, despite repeated claims by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, that a military strike against Iran is inconceivable.

The war game, codenamed Hotspur 2004, took place at the US base of Fort Belvoir in Virginia in July 2004.
[Emphasis added]

It is clear that the only way to stop this inexorable march toward war is for citizens of the US to make it dramatically clear to Congress and to the White House that we will not stand for another war. Like those opposed to the current bill on immigration reform, we will need to take to the streets as well as the fax machines. According to Romanov, we don't have much time.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Bleak Outlook on the US-Iran Matter: Part I

I made my usual Saturday trip over to Watching America to see if the rest of the world was as concerned with the growing conflict between the US and Iran as I was. It is. There were quite a few stories dealing with this issue. The Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad presented one of the more typical views of the problems facing us all.

Iran has succeeded in creating a nasty dilemma for the rest of the world: it has successfully enriched uranium for the first time. That could be the first step toward the production of nuclear weapons. It appears that the United States is pursuing the wrong solution to this problem: a military attack. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear “watchdog” of the United Nations, is in danger of being pummeled between hardliners in both Teheran and Washington. A diplomatic solution - highly preferred in this situation - is becoming ever more elusive, as divisions are increasing within the U.N. Security Council (responsible for setting policy in this conflict). It is in this way that this train keeps racing forward, with an unpredictable fanatic as the conductor, a ticket checker that wants badly to prove himself, and agitated and concerned passengers. The chances for a bad result are high.

...Warren Christopher, the former U.S. Secretary of State, has argued before that even America cannot sustain and win two wars at the same time. But regardless: it is a bad idea to force Iran back into the fold by using military force. The repercussions will be negative, inside Iran as well as throughout the Islamic region. Relations with Europe, including Great Britain (it is against military action), would be seriously tested. And then we are not even talking about Iran’s partners-in-oil: Russia and China.
[Emphasis added]

The metaphor of a coming train wreck is an apt one. As long as both Iran and the US continue to shake their fists as each other, little in the way of resolution short of war is possible. What is so disconcerting to the world is that both Iran and the US sound confident of victory in such a scenario, and neither seems terribly concerned with the consequences to the immediate area and to the rest of the world.

Unless both nations are restrained long enough by their respective citizens and world allies, war seems unavoidable. Needless to say, the November elections here in the US now loom even larger.

Limited Options

Iran's nuclear future continues to be on this nation's mind. Both the US and Iran have kept the dispute simmering, each trying to outdo the other in outrageous charges and countercharges, which is another way of saying that the news isn't good. An editorial in today's NY Times reminds us all that the US really doesn't have many options in dealing with the problem.

Let us not kid ourselves. Iran's drive to develop nuclear weapons technology would pose an enormous challenge for Washington even if the Bush administration had not tied United States ground forces down in Iraq, squandered its diplomatic credibility over Baghdad's nonexistent nuclear program and pursued a reckless energy policy that has made America the world's most extravagant oil guzzler and helped maximize Iran's petroleum leverage.

But those disastrous decisions have left Washington with far fewer plausible and credible tools than it might have had for managing a crisis that very much needs to be managed. The prospect of Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons, even in ten years' time, rattles people and governments, not just in Israel, but across the Middle East and beyond.

...The logical method would be concerted and coercive diplomacy. And that's where the costly policy mistakes of the past few years come in. Some of the countries Washington most needs to work with are still wary of the Bush administration's intentions, consistency and commitment to multilateralism. And the Iranians, with their increasingly strong hand in Iraq, do not seem to be feeling very coerced.
[Emphasis added]

One of the "disastrous decisions" that complicates things was the one that cheerfully welcomed India into the nuclear family under recently completed negotiations. India was never a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a treaty that Iran did sign and more or less abided by until recently. Obviously the regime looks to India to be a counter-balance to China in the East, but Iran sees itself as such a counterbalance in the Middle East. If India is entitled to nuclear weapons, why not Iran? That's the question that Iran is clearly hoping will be asked over and over again throughout the world and in the United Nations.

Direct negotiations with Iran, led by diplomats with less rhetorical baggage than the Secretary of State but with the authority to commit the US to a reasonable resolution is clearly the best option. Yet, the Emperor and his minions seem determined to continue with bellicose language, both explicit and implicit.

Military action, even in terms of an air campaign only, is quite simply the wrong approach. We have too many troops located within missile striking distance from Tehran. We have too many "allies" in the Middle East who desperately want to avoid more US led wars in the region. We have gone to that well too often, all with disasterous results.

Iran, which is certainly not helping to ease the tension, knows this and is playing on it. The Emperor in Chief has, once again, painted us into the corner he keeps claiming we've turned.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

It's a bowl. It's empty. Do something.

Asking Questions

It appears that the White House is beginning to lose its strangle hold on the media, at least some of the media. Scooter Libby's testimony that he released classified information to journalists in an attempt to undermine Joe Wilson and his assertion that the regime knew the claim of Iraq's attempt to get uranium ore from Niger were false only when told to do so by the Emperor and Vice-Emperor stunned those who have been following the Fitzgerald investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame. When the news hit, the White House spin machine went into high gear, but this time, not everybody in the media bought into the spin. It took a few days, but the Star Tribune figured out just what was going on and raised some very pertinent questions about the White House efforts.

So far the White House hasn't contradicted Libby's testimony but has issued a series of vague defenses that raise more questions than they answer:

• The White House says Bush was trying to correct Wilson's errors and set the record straight on Iraq's weapons program. But it turns out that much of what Libby leaked was wrong -- and the White House had been warned about it by career intelligence officers at the CIA and the State Department, according to a long account in Sunday's New York Times.

• The White House says the president has the authority to release classified intelligence. Then why didn't he go public with the document in a speech or press briefing, rather than leaking it covertly to sympathetic reporters -- especially at a time when he was denouncing the practice of Washington leaks as a threat to national security?

• The White House says Bush wanted the document made public and was in the process of declassifying it when Libby spoke to the reporters. Then why authorize the leak before it was declassified, and why only the portions most favorable to the White House?

These questions are important to ask, even if we can't really expect any honest answers from this regime. The fact that a midwestern newspaper asked them, however, is important. Citizens in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and the rest of the 'heartland' can no longer be assumed to be the docile sheep Washington folks have assumed them to be.

The real kicker is the conclusion of the editorial:

It became clear long ago that the White House botched the prewar intelligence on Saddam Hussein and his weapons program. Some Americans will forgive the president for that failure; others will not. But if it turns out that the White House knew it was operating on false information and used it to discredit those who knew better, that will be unforgivable. [Emphasis added]

Nicely done.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Well, Now: Here's An Idea

The Iran "problem" continues to hog the headlines and blog posts. Yesterday, Iran announced it can now enrich uranium. Also yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the United Nations to take a tougher stance on the issue. An AP report in the Star Tribune runs down the US position:

Denouncing Iran's successful enrichment of uranium as unacceptable to the international community, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday the U.N. Security Council must consider "strong steps'' to induce Tehran to change course.

...While Rice took a strong line, she did not call for an emergency meeting of the Council, saying it should consider action after receiving an IAEA report by April 28. She did not elaborate on what measures the United States would support, but economic and political sanctions are under consideration.

Clearly both sides of the dispute are ratcheting up the pressure and, unfortunately, the heat. However, buried deep in the news story was a rather interesting suggestion on how the whole problem just might be defused.

At the private Arms Control Association, executive director Daryl Kimball said the administration should consider direct talks with Iran on the nuclear issue. And, he said in an interview, "the administration should be extending non-aggression pledges rather than implied threats in order to weaken Iran's rationale for a nuclear weapons program.'' [Emphasis added]

If in fact Iran is basing its desire for nuclear weaponry on fears of a US attack (and this is not so outrageous a position, given the proximity of US forces in Iraq and the famous "axis of evil" meme from an earlier State of the Union address by the Emperor in Chief), removing the threat of an attack by offering a non-aggression pledge in negotiations would deprive Iran of an excuse.

The key is that of direct negotiations, which the US has long refused. That kind of diplomacy is apparently too nuanced for this regime. Instead, the US has chosen to sit back while Russia and the EU have carried the load of negotiations. The problem is that Iran doesn't feel threatened by Russia and the EU.

If the regime were serious about wanting to resolve the issue, it would step back, assess the problem in terms other than the hostile, and would engage Iran directly. Of course, if the regime is not interested in a peaceful resolution because it has already decided on a military approach, then it's just a matter of time, like it was in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blast From The Past

Ah...the heady days after Baghdad fell: good times, good times. The unstoppable and mighty US war machine had moved swiftly across the desert sands, encountering varying degrees of resistance, into Baghdad, which fell amongst swirling rose petals and proferred candies. Not too long thereafter, the victors found the indisputable proof of why the invasion was necessary: weapons of mass destruction. Or did they? Not according to a lengthy article in today's Washington Post.

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.

The authors of the reports were nine U.S. and British civilian experts -- scientists and engineers with extensive experience in all the technical fields involved in making bioweapons -- who were dispatched to Baghdad by the Defense Intelligence Agency for an analysis of the trailers. Their actions and findings were described to a Washington Post reporter in interviews with six government officials and weapons experts who participated in the mission or had direct knowledge of it.

None would consent to being identified by name because of fear that their jobs would be jeopardized.
[Emphasis added]

Once again we've been provided with evidence that this regime continued to lie about the need for war even after the invasion had taken place. The Emperor in Chief had been advised several days before he made his speech crowing about the discovery of WMDs that those trailers were evidence only of Iraq's capabilities with weather balloons.

Just as importantly, nearly three years later, the government officials and weapons experts involved will not speak for attribution "because of fear that their jobs would be jeopardized." That is what our government has come to.

And we should believe the Emperor when he tells us no military action in Iran is contemplated at this time?

I keep waiting for the regime to run out of bridges to sell.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Well, Duh...

The hottest topic of discussion this past weekend was the possibility that the current US regime would attack Iran, possibly with tactical nuclear weapons. Whether in the blog world or on the Sunday morning talk shows, people suddenly were facing the fact that the government just might be stupid enough to engage in another military action in the Middle East. The Emperor in Chief and his minyons all disavowed any intention to bomb Iran back to the dark ages, stating over and over again that diplomacy was the weapon of choice but never taking the military option off the table. We all know what that means...we've seen this scenario play out before. This time, however, the media doesn't seem to be quite as cooperative, as the NY Times makes clear in an editorial today.

Iraq shows just how badly things can go wrong when an administration rashly embraces simple military solutions to complicated problems, shutting its ears to military and intelligence professionals who turn out to be tragically prescient. That lesson has yet to be absorbed by the Bush administration, which is now reportedly honing plans for airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Congress and the country need to ask the administration just what is going on, and just what it hopes to accomplish by this latest saber rattling.

If the administration's real goal is to change minds in Iran and energize diplomacy, it is not going about it in a very smart way. If, instead, it intends to proceed with a bombing campaign when and if diplomacy fails, Congress and the public need to force the kind of serious national debate that never really took place before the American invasion of Iraq.

...An American bombing campaign would surely rally the Iranian people behind the radical Islamic government and the nuclear program, with those effects multiplied exponentially if the Pentagon itself resorted to nuclear weapons in the name of trying to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs.
[Emphasis added]

First, BushCo doesn't seem to accept the fact that we simply cannot continue to pre-emptively attack Moslem countries in the Middle East with impunity. Sooner, rather than later, this tactic will ignite the kind of holy war that can only result in catastrophe for the entire world.

Second, BushCo cannot be allowed to continue using military action for political gain. The polls show the both the Emperor and the Republicans are unpopular and distrusted in large part because of the Iraq debacle. Starting another war is not going to change that. It merely will cause the needless deaths of thousands.

While it would have been nice if the NY Times and other media sources had spoken out against the war in Iraq before it got started, at least the Times is willing to do so this time around. Now, if Congress will do its freakin' job, there's a chance we can head the cheery marauders off at the pass.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Alternative Fuels, Bitches!

I just filled the tank of my Honda Accord, and the price at the pump was $3.049. The oil companies explain away this $.20 hike in the last two weeks as a combination of speculation in the crude market and the switch over to summer fuel from the winter variant. Whatever. At least some countries are confronting the oil barons with an alternative. Today's NY Times article on Brazil's response gave me some hope that the lock on energy held by the big three oil companies is about to be picked.

At the dawn of the automobile age, Henry Ford predicted that "ethyl alcohol is the fuel of the future." With petroleum about $65 a barrel, President Bush has now embraced that view, too. But Brazil is already there.

This country expects to become energy self-sufficient this year, meeting its growing demand for fuel by increasing production from petroleum and ethanol. Already the use of ethanol, derived in Brazil from sugar cane, is so widespread that some gas stations have two sets of pumps, marked A for alcohol and G for gas.

...Brazilian officials and scientists say that, in their country at least, the main barriers to the broader use of ethanol today come from outside. Brazil's ethanol yields nearly eight times as much energy as corn-based options, according to scientific data. Yet heavy import duties on the Brazilian product have limited its entry into the United States and Europe.

... The use of ethanol in Brazil was greatly accelerated in the last three years with the introduction of "flex fuel" engines, designed to run on ethanol, gasoline or any mixture of the two. (The gasoline sold in Brazil contains about 25 percent alcohol, a practice that has accelerated Brazil's shift from imported oil.)

But Brazilian officials and business executives say the ethanol industry would develop even faster if the United States did not levy a tax of 54 cents a gallon on all imports of Brazilian cane-based ethanol.

...But when sugar prices rose sharply in 1989, mill owners stopped making cane available for processing into alcohol, preferring to profit from the hard currency that premium international markets were paying.

Brazilian motorists were left in the lurch, as were the automakers who had retooled their production lines to make alcohol-powered cars. Ethanol fell into discredit, for economic rather than technical reasons.

Consumers' suspicions remained high through the 1990's and were overcome only in 2003, when automakers, beginning with Volkswagen, introduced the "flex fuel" motor in Brazil. Those engines gave consumers the autonomy to buy the cheapest fuel, freeing them from any potential shortages in ethanol's supply. Also, ethanol-only engines can be slower to start when cold, a problem the flex fuel owners can bypass.

... Ethanol can be made through the fermentation of many natural substances, but sugar cane offers advantages over others, like corn. For each unit of energy expended to turn cane into ethanol, 8.3 times as much energy is created, compared with a maximum of 1.3 times for corn, according to scientists at the Center for Sugarcane Technology here and other Brazilian research institutes.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to improve that ratio to 10 to 1," said Suani Teixeira Coelho, director of the National Center for Biomass at the University of São Paulo. "It's no miracle. Our energy balance is so favorable not just because we have high yields, but also because we don't use any fossil fuels to process the cane, which is not the case with corn."
[Emphasis added]

Brazil has worked on this issue for thirty years, in fits and starts, but has managed to overcome the main technical obstacles. There are still a few more obstacles to overcome, like the effect of increasing use of pastures for the growing of cane, causing cattle ranchers to search for new land in forest areas, and the problems with increasing demands on labor (both problems are discussed in the article), but Brazil has stuck with the program.

What is especially intriguing is the fact that cane ethanol can be made more efficiently than the corn-based version and has much higher energy yields. The promise of this renewable energy form has even been recognized by Archer-Daniel-Midlands, who apparently wants in on this new technology.

Brazil has made it clear that it is willing to share the technology in exchange for the lifting of high import duties in the US and Europe. Leaders of both areas would be wise to take Brazil up on its offer.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Turnabout, Fair, and All That

The Emperor in Chief and his minions are currently focussing on Iran in a way that is more than slightly reminiscent of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. As long as the military option remains on the table, we have to be worried, especially since the nature of the targets in Iran invites the use of tactical nuclear weapons by the unstable junta we refer to as BushCo. Unlike Iraq, however, Iran has a functioning military and a fairly homogenous society who would not take kindly to this kind of "interference." Already the US sabre rattling has provoked similar responses from the leadership in Iran, including one rather startling suggestion proposed in the state controlled Iranian news outlet Aftab News.

The head of the political party, the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran, Hasan Bayadi [who is Vice President of the Tehran City Council], has suggested to the Iranian Ministry of defense that it conduct war games near American border to show the strength of Iran's military.

...Every year the American military conducts war games near countries which are unfriendly toward the United States, such as North Korea, Syria or Iran, to show them how mighty the U.S. military is, and just as they have invaded our own air space and territorial waters. They say it is unintentional – and use the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as a pretext - to send us a message. And what is the message of these invasions of our airspace? The message is, "We can attack you whenever we wish; you will find no shelter from our military threats; and the shadow of fear will perpetually hang over your countries ..."

Therefore, we, recommend to the new Iranian defense minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar that he take the initiative and prepare a military exercise with nations in the Western Hemisphere, such as Cuba and Venezuela.

...Bayadi ends his suggestion by stating that such war games with our allies in the region, near the U.S. border, would pave the way for military cooperation with other governments in the region. They would also provide a platform for Iran's military to show the world, especially the Imperialists, how strong Iran really is. Finally would also be an opportunity and to Iran's great advantage for the Iranian armed services to test their powers against those of our allies overseas.
[Emphasis added]

Fortunately, I was able to swallow the mouthful of coffee I had just taken when I read this piece, but then I was struck by the fact that Iran could probably pull this off with a little financial assistance from its allies (Russia, China, even Venezuela), and I have no doubt that Hugo Chavez, who does have sense of humor, would go along with the plan. After all, how could the US justify stopping any such exercise?

The result, of course, would be a heightening of the tensions on the issue at a time when ratcheting up the heat is the last thing the world needs or wants. Still, embarrassing the Emperor does have a certain appeal, I must admit.

At Least Someone Gets It

Today is Palm Sunday, the entrance to Holy Week which culminates in Easter, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection, the high point in the Christian calendar. That's why it was so startling, and so fitting, for the NY Times to publish an op-ed piece from Garry Wills (professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University) on the issue of Christian politics. Professor Wills' comments are especially pertinent because we are also entering an election season.

THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

...But doesn't Jesus say to care for the poor? Repeatedly and insistently, but what he says goes far beyond politics and is of a different order. He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. "Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me" (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.

The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

...Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.

...The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.
[Emphasis added]

Professor Wills has nailed it, from both the theological and the Constitutional perspectives. Go read the entire essay because he gives the biblical justification for his thesis.

Thank God someone gets it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"But, Mom, All the Kids Do It!"

That excuse didn't work for me as a twelve-year-old, and it shouldn't work for the Emperor in Chief, allegedly an adult, and one charged with the security and safety of an entire nation. The excuse was toted out in a really sappy "analysis" piece in today's NY Times.

That President Bush authorized an aide to disclose classified intelligence on Iraqi weapons, as asserted in court papers, comes as no shock to official Washington. The leaking of secrets has long been a favored tool of policy debate, political combat and diplomatic one-upmanship.

...But the accusation that Mr. Bush, through Vice President Dick Cheney, authorized the aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr., to fight back against critics of the war by discussing a classified prewar intelligence estimate comes at a particularly awkward time for the administration.

...Scott McClellan, the president's spokesman, disputed the charge of a double standard on leaks. "There is a difference between declassifying information in the national interest and the unauthorized disclosure" of national security information, Mr. McClellan said Friday. Of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, part of which Mr. Libby shared with Judith Miller, then a Times reporter, Mr. McClellan said, "There was nothing in there that would compromise national security."
[Emphasis added]

The article goes on at length to point out the Democratic Presidents who have leaked classified information to gain some kind of political or diplomatic advantage, which the writer seems to feel somehow justifies the Emperor's and Vice-Emperor's release of information to Judith Miller in order to discredit a critic of the regime's push to the invasion of Iraq.

Let's be clear here. The regime engaged in this ploy so that they could cover the lies which had been used to convince Congress, the nation, and the world to invade Iraq. As a result of this invasion, nearly 2,400 American soldiers have been killed, thousands wounded grievously, and tens of thousands Iraqis have been killed. Billions of dollars that could have been better spent on education and health care (or, at the very least, used to bring the budget nearer to balance), have been poured and continue to be poured into this misadventure with no end in sight. The Republican regime played a petty game of "gotcha" just so the Liar-in Chief could get re-elected.

Here is where Mr. McLellan's distinction-without-a-difference breaks down. "Declassifying information in the national interest" is most assuredly not the same as declassifying information for the sole purpose of hiding a lie. What Bush and Company did was not in the national interest, it was in a single man's political interest. The result of the action was actually detrimental to the national interest by every standard imaginable.

What was in the national interest was the whistleblowing of information that the government was engaged in an illegal program of spying on Americans. Obviously Mr. McClellan and his bosses have different standards of morality than the rest of the world. That others have engaged in similar behavior is no excuse.

The NY Times should be ashamed of itself.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Go away. I'm busy.

Domestic Imperialism

That the Emperor in Chief believes the presidency has unlimited powers has long been clear. Now, he isn't even pretending otherwise. Yesterday, he refused to apologize for illegally spying on Americans. Also yesterday, his Attorney General, Alberto "Betito" Gonzales, went before a House panel and hinted that the spying program, heretofor claimed to involve communications where one party was located abroad, could be justified when both parties were here in the US. Even Rep. "Tex" Sensenbrenner was appalled at Betito's testimony. From the NY Times:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggested on Thursday for the first time that the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States.

"I'm not going to rule it out," Mr. Gonzales said when asked about that possibility at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The attorney general made his comments, which critics said reflected a broadened view of the president's authority, as President Bush offered another strong defense of his decision to authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without warrants on international calls and e-mail messages to or from the United States.

..."Mr. Attorney General, how can we discharge our oversight responsibilities if every time we ask a pointed question, we're told that the answer is classified?" Mr. Sensenbrenner asked. "Congress has an inherent constitutional responsibility to do oversight. We are attempting to discharge those responsibilities."

..."You would look at precedent," [Gonzales] said. "What have previous commander in chiefs done?"

Answering his question, he cited Woodrow Wilson's authorizing the interception of all cables to and from Europe in World War I "based upon the Constitution and his inherent role as commander in chief."

Mr. Gonzales said he would use that legal framework to decide whether intercepting purely domestic communications without a warrant was legally permissible. He would not say whether such wiretapping has been conducted.

..."No one in Congress would deny the need to tap certain calls under court order," [Rep.Adam Schiff] added. "But if the administration believes it can tap purely domestic phone calls between Americans without court approval, there is no limit to executive power. This is contrary to settled law and the most basic constitutional principles of the separation of powers."
[Emphasis added]

The article makes clear that the Justice Department backed away from the AG's comments later, stating that those comments were not intended to indicate the existence or non-existence from any purely domestic program. It was another one of those non-denial denials that this regime has hauled out on regular occasions. Still, it is horrifying to think that any of our communications can now regularly monitored by the regime.

"We're at war" is the justification.

Excuse me?

We are not at war. Congress authorized the use of force as a last resort in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. That was not the formal declaration of war required under the Constitution. Just as importantly, that authorization was based on the lies spun by the regime, lies which are now becoming clearer and clearer. The authorization was obtained by fraud.

As much as I loathe all that Rep. Sensenbrenner has done in Congress to date, if he suddenly wakes up to what Bush and his minions have done to this nation and its Constitution, I will honor him for finally doing his duty as a representative and as an American.