Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Lesson #34: Do not go into the garage with the Avenger Cat alone.

Hey, Wait a Minute!

Something about the NY Times article I cited this morning (scroll down to "Supreme Slap-down") has been bugging me, so much so that I went back and re-read the article to see what was nagging at me. I found it:

Construction crews went to work Thursday morning as usual at Camp Six, putting final touches on a hulking, $24 million concrete structure that is to be the permanent, medium-security facility for terror detainees.


A "hulking, $24 million concrete structure"? "Permanent"?

Curious about that little note, I did a quick Google search and found this piece on the VOA web site:

Most of Guantanamo's detainees are in open-air cells made of chain link fence with a metal roof, or simple barracks where up to 10 cooperative men are allowed to live together. But some are in a new, modern facility that cost more than $30 million to build, and looks like it is there for the long term.

...Camp Five is a two-story building surrounded by high fences and barbed wire, with fenced exercise yards nearby. It can house up to 100 detainees. And perhaps more important, there is another similar building under construction right next to it that will be known as Camp Six. The large cranes, hard-hatted construction workers and piles of building material do not look like part of any facility that is going to be abandoned anytime soon.
[Emphasis added]

And the regime is looking for a way to close down Gitmo? It sure doesn't look like it to me. In fact, this construction is more than a little reminiscent of the base construction going on in Iraq. I get the distinct impression that the Emperor has no intention of closing down either operation, Supreme Court decisions be damned.

The Supreme Slap-down

Well, it appears that one branch of the federal government is willing to function properly. In a 5-3 ruling (with Chief Justice Roberts not participating), the Supreme Court has determined that the Emperor's plans for military tribunals for Guantanamo Bay detainees are unlawful and beyond the scope of executive powers. The Defense Department (aka "The Department of Blowing Things Up") has decided the decision wasn't so bad and immediately began spinning the court's holding. From today's NY Times:

As the Supreme Court prepared to rule on the Bush administration's plan to try terror suspects before special military tribunals here, the commander of Guantánamo's military detention center was asked what impact the court's decision might have on its operations.

"If they rule against the government, I don't see how that is going to affect us," the commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, said Tuesday evening as he sat in a conference room in his headquarters. "From my perspective, I think the direct impact will be negligible."

The Defense Department repeated that view on Thursday, asserting that the court's sweeping ruling against the tribunals did not undermine the government's argument that it can hold foreign suspects indefinitely and without charge, as "enemy combatants" in its declared war on terror.

Privately, though, some administration officials involved in detention policy — along with many critics of that policy — were skeptical that Guantánamo could or would go about its business as before. "It appears to be about as broad a holding as you could imagine," said one administration lawyer, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the ruling. "It's very broad, it's very significant, and it's a slam."
[Emphasis added]

A slam, indeed! The majority opinion made it clear that the US Constitution and the Geneva Conventions do indeed apply to Guantanamo Bay.

Thursday, in rejecting the administration's elaborate plan to try Guantánamo detainees by military commission, as the tribunals are called, the court struck at one of the first ramparts the administration built to defend itself against criticism that Guantánamo was a "black hole" in which men declared to be enemies of the United States were stripped of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

...In his majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said that the United States was legally bound by Common Article 3, as the provision is known (it is common to all four Geneva Conventions). He said the article "affords some minimal protection" to detainees even when the forces they represent are not signatories to the conventions themselves.

The military "commissions" as designed by the Emperor and his minions are a travesty, and the US Supreme Court noticed. The broad "war" powers claimed by the Emperor have no basis in law (the Court by implication noted that there has been no Congressional declaration of war in the first place) and the Court made that clear.

The GOP-led Congress is already scurrying to put together a bill that will pass Consitutional muster. Hopefully such a bill would provide for a real legal process for these prisoners, one that would not have secret evidence unavailable to defendants, one that will allow for an actual defense. If it doesn't, I suspect the Supreme Court will issue another slap-down.

Note: the full text of the holding and dissenting opinions is located here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

How ... Obtuse

News of the three suicides at the Guantanamo Bay prison June 10, 2006 continues to reverberate all over the world. A major newspaper here in the US isn't letting the story go, either. Yesterday, the LA Times did a follow-up article on the issue.

In the sharpening debate about whether suicides among detainees here are political statements or the actions of hopelessly depressed individuals, officials at the federal detention center outlined sweeping efforts to prevent them — but admitted nothing could stop the most determined prisoners.

Contraband sweeps and a security overhaul have turned up evidence of prisoners trying to open their veins with the metal mesh walls of their cells, hoarding prescription medicine — one prisoner stored 16 painkillers in his artificial leg — and waging hunger strikes.

..."It is not possible to make a detention facility or a prison suicide-proof if you have detainees or prisoners bent on suicide," said Navy Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the prison and its interrogations operation.

..."The campaign against us, the operations against us, are less about the length of their detention than about the effect they think they'll have," Harris said of recent incidents, rejecting the notion of Guantanamo critics that despair over indefinite detention was driving detainees to harm themselves.

Even if Admiral Harris were correct in his assessment on the reasons for the suicides and the other multiple attempts, his method of handling the issue seems to be playing right into the 'suiciders' hands. Perhaps Admiral Harris should be cut a little slack because he is simply the overseer, part of the lower-middle management of the Global War on Terra enterprise. At the same time, however, his callous comments are only fueling the anger in the rest of the world.

It's clear that he just. doesn't. get. it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Some More Good Questions

It looks like at least some members of the media have had enough of the bullying by the current regime. From an editorial in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

President Bush's denunciation of newspapers that exposed the secret use of international wire-transfer information to track terrorists rings hollow. For years the administration has publicly included financial investigations in its arsenal of methods for tracking terrorists. Therefore, people all over the world -- certainly including members of Al-Qaida -- could assume the United States was using that tool. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times reported that Al-Qaida "long ago began transferring money through other means" than the banking system.

If financial investigations were assumed, why is Bush asserting that this program's exposure is "disgraceful" and does "great harm" to the United States? To us the steady drumbeat of attacks on the press -- which Vice President Dick Cheney and Treasury Secretary John Snow began immediately after the first stories came out on Friday -- actually looks like the tactics of a cornered administration playing defense by going on the offense, thus avoiding the real issues: Is this program lawful? If so, how does it protect the privacy of financial data? Does it undermine the integrity of the international banking system? Are adequate systems in place to prevent abuse?

...Privacy advocate Steven Aftergood said of Bush administration officials, "Their policy is 'Trust us,' and that may not be good enough anymore." It isn't good enough, sorry to say. This administration's expansive claims of power -- and not only this latest use of them -- must be scrutinized at every turn.
[Emphasis added]

In the past, we have always counted on our free press to do that kind of scrutiny. It is beginning to look like at least some members of that estate are ready, willing, and able to perform that essential civic duty once again.


Now Here's An Idea

I kept waiting for some member of Congress to snap back at the White House attack dogs over the breach of Americans' privacies via the NSA illegal wire taps, the illegal telecom data mining, and now the (probably) illegal tracking of wire transfers. The current regime claims that such activities are necessary in the Global War On Terra. Wouldn't someone in Congress say, "Oh, yeah? Well, then, prove it!"?

Someone has finally asked a question, although it wasn't quite the question I had hoped for, and it wasn't from a seriously concerned Democrat, and the intention behind the question wasn't as pure as I would have liked. From an article in the NY Times:

Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, asked the director of national intelligence on Tuesday to assess any damage to American counterterrorism efforts caused by the disclosure of secret programs to monitor telephone calls and financial transactions.

Mr. Roberts, Republican of Kansas, singled out The New York Times for an article last week that reported that the government was tracking money transfers handled by a banking consortium based in Belgium. The targeting of the financial data, which includes some Americans' transactions, was also reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.
[Emphasis added]

The Emperor and his minions have led the attack against the NY Times (again) for doing what a free press is supposed to do: inform the people of government actions. Rep. King (New York) has even called for treason proceedings against the reporters, editors and publishers. Senator Roberts is obviously part of this crass attempt to chill any further such articles.

Still, I really would like to see the government's response to Senator Roberts' demand. I'd like to see exactly what damage has been done by alerting the public that the government, allegedly our government (as in "We the People..."), has found yet another way to spy on us.

My guess is that the intelligence folks will decline to answer because that information is just too double super secret and its revelation will surely encourage our enemies and result in an attack on our soil. But now the question has been asked and reported on, so it can't be unasked.

And maybe, just maybe, more Americans will notice the crickets and figure it out.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Flag vs Constitution

OK, I admit it: I'm both too late and too early with this post. Right now, the Senate is voting on a constitutional amendment on flag burning. I suspect that before I even finish this post the results will be known. Expect an update. But that's the early part.

As to the late part, I have been busy posting links to this Star Tribune editorial whenever I can. I should probably have just blogged on this really quietly eloquent editorial before this, but other stuff got in the way. At any rate, here's a large selection of the piece:

America is a nation built on four flimsy sheets of parchment. They're not as thrilling to look at as Old Glory, but the brittle pages of the U.S. Constitution have done more to sustain American liberty than any flag ever could. It's too bad, really, that Americans don't pledge allegiance to the Constitution -- and don't revere it as they do the Stars and Stripes. If they did, they'd see the folly in defending a rectangle of cloth at the expense of the parchment's promises.

Not that the flag really needs protection. It waves in every day everywhere and is trampled underfoot rarely anywhere.

But whenever an election draws near, lawmakers trot out a constitutional amendment to ban "flag desecration." Pandering to public fondness for the most colorful symbol of U.S. freedom, Congress is gunning once again for the amendment's passage.

...That's where the four sheets of parchment come in: Its 4,543 words spell out the inviolability of American liberty -- and couldn't be clearer in instructing lawmakers to keep their hands off the entitlements citizens enjoy.

Among the most precious is the right to dissent -- even by means that most consider repulsive.
[Emphasis added]

What so angers me is that both sides of the aisle are playing this ridiculous and this dangerous game. Democrats as well as Republican leaders are bathing in the crap of pseudo-patriotism. I am still dopey enough to believe that this nation can be the beacon on the hill of all those drippy political speeches, but only if we cling tightly to our constitutional guarantees.

I not only believe radical leftists have the right to dissent by burning a flag, I believe radical rightists such as the Ku Klux Klan have the right to march and speak in support of their despicable beliefs. I believe both Noam Chomsky and Ann Coulter have the right to their platforms. If we lose that, we're lost. Totally lost.

For the first time in a long time the vote in the Senate will be close.

Kyrie Eleison.

UPDATE: 4:20 PM (PDT): By one freakin' vote

A constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration died in a cliffhanger vote in the U.S. Senate Tuesday, one week before Independence Day, one vote short of the support needed to send it to the states for ratification.

Maybe I Will, and Maybe I Won't

Senator Arlen Specter claims he is not owned by the Emperor. He has promised hearings on all sorts of issues, but when it comes time, Mr. Specter's harumphing is replaced by the sounds of crickets. The latest outrage he intends to inevestigate is that of presidential signing statements. From the AP comes this article by Laurie Kellman.

A bill becomes the rule of the land when Congress passes it and the president signs it into law, right?

Not necessarily, according to the White House. A law is not binding when a president issues a separate statement saying he reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard it on national security and constitutional grounds.

That's the argument a Bush administration official is expected to make Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has demanded a hearing on a practice he considers an example of the administration's abuse of power.

"It's a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution," Specter said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm interested to hear from the administration just what research they've done to lead them to the conclusion that they can cherry-pick."

...But the session also concerns countering any influence Bush's signing statements may have on court decisions regarding the new laws. Courts can be expected to look to the legislature for intent, not the executive, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., a former state judge.

"There's less here than meets the eye," Cornyn said. "The president is entitled to express his opinion. It's the courts that determine what the law is."

But Specter and his allies maintain that Bush is doing an end-run around the veto process. In his presidency's sixth year, Bush has yet to issue a single veto that could be overridden with a two-thirds majority in each house.

Instead, he has issued hundreds of signing statements invoking his right to interpret or ignore laws on everything from whistleblower protections to how Congress oversees the Patriot Act.
[Emphasis added]

The Emperor is not the first to issue signing statements, but generally speaking (as the article points out), past presidents have used the statements to direct enforcement of the law by the appropriate federal agency. Mr. Bush uses them to make it clear he is above the law being passed and he will decided whether or not to abide by it himself or to enforce it. This is clearly unconstitutional. The question at this point is whether anyone in Congress is going to do anything about it.

Mr. Specter claims he will, but his track record on facing down the White House is not very impressive in that regard. Maybe this time? Possibly, but not likely.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Terror Index

Yesterday, I posted excerpts from a delightfully snarky op-ed piece from Anwaar Hussain. In that piece, Mr. Hussain alluded to the findings of a Foreign Policy report entitled The Terror Index.

I only briefly scanned the report yesterday, but I read it more closely this morning. It's a short piece, and it has some helpful charts (which I would include if I could figure out how), so I recommend you go over and have a look-see. It's pretty revealing, and very damning as to the Emperor's current posture of "staying the course." Here are a few excerpts from the report.

Since 2001, terrorists have found their targets on almost every continent, with bombings in Bali, London, Madrid, and elsewhere. Five years on, however, America has yet to experience another attack. But Americans appear less convinced that their country is winning the war on terror. In the face of persisting threats, including a growing number of terrorist attacks around the world, numerous reports show that Americans are losing faith in their government’s ability to wage the war successfully and to protect them from the terrorists’ next volley. Barely half of Americans today approve of the way in which the war on terror is being handled, and more than one third believe the United States is less safe today than it was before 9/11.

These pessimistic public perceptions could easily be attributed to the high cost, in both treasure and lives, of counterterrorism efforts. After all, Americans are constantly being told by their elected leaders that their pessimism is wrong, that the war is being won. But they’re also told that another attack is inevitable. Which is it? To find out, FOREIGN POLICY and the Center for American Progress teamed up to survey more than 100 of America’s top foreign-policy experts—Republicans and Democrats alike.

...Participants include people who have served as secretary of state, national security advisor, retired top commanders from the U.S. military, seasoned members of the intelligence community, and distinguished academics and journalists. Nearly 80 percent of the index participants have worked in the U.S. government—of these more than half were in the executive branch, one third in the military, and 17 percent in the intelligence community.

Despite today’s highly politicized national security environment, the index results show striking consensus across political party lines. A bipartisan majority (84 percent) of the index’s experts say the United States is not winning the war on terror. Eighty-six percent of the index’s experts see a world today that is growing more dangerous for Americans. Overall, they agree that the U.S. government is falling short in its homeland security efforts. More than 8 in 10 expect an attack on the scale of 9/11 within a decade. These dark conclusions appear to stem from the experts’ belief that the U.S. national security apparatus is in serious disrepair. “Foreign-policy experts have never been in so much agreement about an administration’s performance abroad,” says Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and an index participant. “The reason is that it’s clear to nearly all that Bush and his team have had a totally unrealistic view of what they can accomplish with military force and threats of force.”

...The index’s experts were similarly critical of most of the policy initiatives put forward by the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush since September 11. Eighty-one percent, for instance, believe the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, negatively affects the war on terror. The index’s experts also disapprove of how America is handling its relations with European allies, how it is confronting threatening regimes in North Korea and Iran, how it is controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and its dealings with failing states, to name just a few. “We are losing the war on terror because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause,” says index participant Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “[O]ur insistence that Islamic fundamentalist ideology has replaced communist ideology as the chief enemy of our time ... feeds al Qaeda’s vision of the world.”

...a majority agrees that the war requires more emphasis on a victory of ideas, not just guns. That is hardly surprising, considering that nearly 80 percent believe a widespread rejection of radical ideologies in the Islamic world is a critical element to victory. To win the battle of ideas, the experts say, America must place a much higher emphasis on its nonmilitary tools. More than two thirds say that U.S. policymakers must strengthen the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. At the same time, the experts indicate that the U.S. government must think more creatively about threats. Asked what presents the single greatest danger to U.S. national security, nearly half said loose nukes and other weapons of mass destruction, while just one third said al Qaeda and terrorism, and a mere 4 percent said Iran. Five years after the attacks of September 11, it’s a reminder that the greatest challenges may still lie ahead.
[Emphasis added]

The first thing that struck me was the depth of experience of the participants in this survey. The second was the breadth. Foreign policy practitioners to academics to military commanders to intelligence experts from both sides to no sides of the aisle: their opinions aligned dramatically.

What the report shows overwhelmingly is that the current regime has done everything wrong in every arena that it could. From foreign policy, to domestic policy, to military policy: wrong, wrong, wrong. One is left with two possible explanations. Either the current regime is incredibly stupid in their handling of these issues, or the current regime is despicably evil in its plans.

Neither gives me much comfort.

Too Sweet

The Congress spent an entire week debating resolutions (non-binding) for the development of a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq. The results in each house were clear even before the votes: the Republicans (who control Congress) saw any attempt to impose a timetable or even conditions for a timetable as evidence of "cutting and running" and "admitting defeat," and they would have none of it.

So what happened next? The Prime Minister of Iraq included a timetable for withdrawal of American troops as part of the peace offer to insurgents and General Casey, the US commander in Iraq, presented plans for a phased withdrawal of troops to the administration. Some troops would be coming home as early as September, 2006. Naturally, the Democrats are having a field day with the news. From the Washington Post:

Senate Democrats reacted angrily yesterday to a report that the U.S. commander in Iraq had privately presented a plan for significant troop reductions in the same week they came under attack by Republicans for trying to set a timetable for withdrawal.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that the plan attributed to Gen. George W. Casey resembles the thinking of many Democrats who voted for a nonbinding resolution to begin a troop drawdown in December. That resolution was defeated Thursday on a largely party-line vote in the Senate.

...Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), one of the two sponsors of the nonbinding resolution, which offered no pace or completion date for a withdrawal, said the report is another sign of what he termed one of the "worst-kept secrets in town" -- that the administration intends to pull out troops before the midterm elections in November.

The Republican response to those charges were predictable: Casey's plan is different because it is being proposed by someone on the ground in Iraq, and besides, it's just a contingency plan, one of several that have been developed to deal with changes in Iraq. Since that was basically the tenor of the Sen. Levin's plan, it looks like a distinction with no real difference.

Once again this regime has put the Republicans in Congress in a box for the Democrats. Karl Rove directed the dog-and-pony show as a way of portraying the Democrats as soft on security, soft on war waging the whole time he and his boss had to know that bringing down troop levels before the elections was in the works. No doubt another major withdrawal is being contemplated for 2008, close to that November election, as well.

This is not to say that the Emperor is developing a plan for total withdrawal from Iraq. He has made it clear that our occupation will continue into the next administration, and presumably beyond even that. We wouldn't have built such permanent bases and a huge "embassy" compound if we were leaving.

No, this is just cynical election year politics. Unfortunately for the Republicans in the current congress, news of General Casey's "plan" got leaked to the press at a totally inappropriate time. What a nice gift for the Democrats. Let's see if they can do anything with that gift.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sunday Poetry: Requiescat In Pacem

Just about every person I've talked to agrees with me that the last couple of weeks have been rough. One young man, however, has had to deal with heartbreak during that time. So, to show my affection and admiration for NTodd, the following poem by Dylan Thomas is offered in honor of his mother.

A Refusal To Mourn The Death, By Fire, Of A Child In London

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

More Anwaar Hussain

I've posted several of Anwaar Hussain's op-ed pieces in the past, and I must tell you I find him to be a very interesting man. Here's the standard bio affixed to each of his articles:

Anwaar Hussain is a former Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter pilot. With a Masters in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad, he now resides in United Arab Emirates. He has published a series of articles in Defense Journal, South Asia Tribune and a host of other web portals. Other than international affairs, Anwaar Hussain has written extensively on the religious and political issues that plague Pakistan.

And here's his most current effort in the Pakistani Pak Tribune:

Let us turn to a survey that has been done of 100 leading American foreign policy analysts. Released by the journal Foreign Affairs on June 14th, the report is entitled "The Terrorism Index".

...Despite the U.S. President's claim that he is winning the War on Terra, some 86 percent of these specialists believe otherwise. They think that the world has grown more, not less, dangerous, and that the main reasons are war in Iraq, the detention of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. policy toward Iran and American energy policy.

Almost 80 percent of the analysts say that a widespread rejection of radical Islamic ideology is crucial if terrorism is to be eradicated, but that this goal requires "a much higher emphasis on non-military tools." Across the board, they rated Washington's diplomatic efforts as appalling, with a median score of 1.8 out of 10. The Department of Homeland Security was rated for effectiveness at only 2.9 out of 10.

...In plain English, what these experts are saying is that after five years of the War on Terra, the world is much more insecure than it ever was, and that the war itself is a ringing failure. Period.

...What the experts did not say, was said by the Washington-based Pew Research Center's poll of almost 17,000 people from Britain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United States. The Foreign Affairs Journal report comes on the heels of this Pew poll, and the combined reading puts to rest any doubt that one may have regarding the complete collapse of the War on Terra.

According to the global poll, conducted between March and May, Pew found that President George Bush's six years in office have so battered the image of the United States that people worldwide see Washington as a bigger threat to world peace than Tehran. This despite the fact that throughout the period the poll was conducted, the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, intensified by hard-line comments from its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was repeatedly in the news.

...For the first time in the past five years, two influential reports are simultaneously speaking straight and to the point. No six-of-one-and-half-a-dozen-of-another language. The message is clear: The Texan's War on Terra is a miserable disaster.

However, there is a silver lining for the man from Crawford in the Pew poll. Majorities in two countries, India and Nigeria, have expressed confidence in him.

With a third reelection impossible for Bush, and the world wishing to begin its own "War on Terra" against him and his gang, Bush had better begin weighing his chances for the top slot in one of these countries (hint: Nigeria has proven oil reserves of 36 billion barrels).
[Emphasis added]

How odd it is that these two reports have not really received any attention by the American press. Could it be that this would be considered poor form during an election year? Or is it that the conclusions of those reports are so obvious that the press just assumes everyone here knows about them. Well, if the latter, color me embarrassed. I didn't know just how deeply disasterous the current regime has been, although I certainly suspected it.

And how amazing Mr. Hussain is. Well-done snark in one's first language is tough enough. He has managed to succeed in his second (or third) language.

Clearly Watching America is one of the real gold mines for information on the internets.

And This Is Surprising, Why?

It appears unlikely that Congress will pass an immigration reform bill this session. The House has balked at the promise of what it calls "amnesty" for those immigrants here illegally. You will recall that the House Bill, passed in December, would make felons of those here illegally. The Senate version would set forth a series of steps leading to citizenship. It is clear that the White House favors the Senate bill. In an attempt to soften the House opposition, the Emperor went on television and directed states to provide National Guardsmen to assist at the border. Clearly that wasn't enough red meat for House Republicans.

Today's NY Times has an article that clarifies just what is going on in this war between Republicans here.

That disappointing news for Mr. Bush signaled the apparent collapse of a carefully orchestrated White House strategy to push a compromise immigration bill through Congress this summer — and in the process invigorate Mr. Bush's second term with a badly needed domestic victory.

The decision by the House leadership to defy the president after he had put so much prestige on the line — including a rare prime-time Oval Office speech for a domestic initiative — amounted to a clear rebuke of the president on an issue that he has long held dear.

... It was undone as well, White House and Congressional leaders acknowledged, by a sharp division over whether to focus on the short term or on the party's long-term political prospects. Mr. Bush's aides saw the House bill, which would make it a felony to live in this country illegally and would close off any chance to win legal status, as a threat to their attempts to broaden the party's appeal to Hispanic voters.

House Republican leaders saw Mr. Bush's approach — calling for tougher enforcement as well as avenues to legalize the illegal workforce and create a possible path to citizenship — as a threat to House Republicans already fearful of losing control of this fall's elections by angering voters who viewed the plan as amnesty.
[Emphasis added]

We've known all along that this issue was all about political advantage. If immigration was such an important matter, why did it take five years into the regime and an election year before it reached the consciousness of Congress?

Both sides of this Republican debate are pandering: the White House to the Hispanic citizenry, the House to the racist right wing of the party. The only surprising thing is that they are being so open about it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: Pandamonium


Just chillin'

Hit 'em With the Other Chair, Howard!

Here's the full text of Howard Dean's June 24, 2006 radio address on behalf of the Democratic Party, taken from the DNC web site.

Good morning. This is Governor Howard Dean.

Nearly four years into the war in Iraq, over 2500 brave American soldiers have been killed, more than 20,000 brave American soldiers have been wounded, and $2.5 billion dollars are being spent every week as sectarian violence continues. Corruption and fraud are rampant, and the overall quality of life for the Iraqi people has not improved. Religious fanatics harass women and business owners just yards from the green zone in Baghdad and renegade militia within the Iraqi army are fomenting civil war.

In the meantime, the Bush Administration has left Afghanistan exposed to a resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda; and taken its eye off the ball in places like North Korea and Iran which have now become greater threats.

Those are the facts on the ground.

The bottom line is that the Republicans don't have a plan. 'Stay the course' is not a plan. Saying the problems in Iraq will be left to the next President, is not a plan. Our troops deserve better.

Democrats are determined to set a different course for our Nation, to tell the truth to the American people, to save the lives of our American soldiers and keep America safe. We want to act now rather than let political wrangling lead to more dead and wounded Americans.

We will defend America, but we will be tough and smart.

A majority of democrats have called upon the President to change course in Iraq. Democrats have also offered a plan that asks the president to responsibly redeploy our troops. We believe that we ought to focus on training, logistics, and counter-terrorism, and we can do that with a redeployment of our troops.

The phased re-deployment strategy proposed by Democrats this week calls on the President to do the following:

· First, work with the Government of Iraq to begin a phased redeployment of United States troops from Iraq by the end of this year;

· Second, submit a plan to Congress by the end of 2006 with estimated dates for the continued phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq;

· Third, we have also told the President that we demand accountability for the resources being spent in Iraq. The cost of the Iraq war will be at least one trillion dollars, enough to finance a health care program for every single American - including our veterans coming home from the war.

· Fourth, expedite the transition of United States forces in Iraq to a limited presence and mission of training, providing logistical support, protecting United States infrastructure and personnel, and participating in targeted counterterrorism activities.

· Finally, our plan recognizes that during and after the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq, the United States will need to sustain a non-military effort to actively support reconstruction, governance, and a durable political solution in Iraq.

The Iraqi leaders themselves have set a six-month goal for assuming their responsibility for security. Our proposal for the beginning of a phased redeployment by the end of this year fits the goals of Iraq's leaders very well.

We have asked Republicans of good will to come forward to support a policy that is good for America and good for our troops. And some have.

Democrats will continue to offer America a real change, a new direction for our country. We see a country in which honesty, openness and respect is restored to our government. We see an America where we are all on the same team again, working together to deal with problems American Families face, Defense, Security, Health Care, Jobs. We see an America where the Government does not question the patriotism of any American if they disagree with the President.

The parallels between the mistakes being made today in Iraq and the behavior of our government a generation ago are striking. Troops are sent to fight by an administration that refuses to listen to the advice of military leaders. The Administration decides it's ok to conceal information from the Congress and the American people. Promises like "stay the course" "Peace is at Hand" or "the insurgency is in its last throes" are made by an increasingly desperate Administration.

A majority of the American people don't believe the President is telling the truth, while the Administration and its supporters question the patriotism of veterans who disagree with them, accusing them of "cut and run".

And among the victims are brave American soldiers who are the targets of an insurgency because of failed political leadership and a lack of foresight and planning. We don't want another wall with 55,000 names of courageous Americans who were let down by their Government.

The words "cut and run" don't belong in this debate. That's a disservice to our courageous soldiers. This debate is about not making the same mistakes our Government made a generation ago.

Democrats believe it's time for a new direction in Iraq that's tough and smart, and we offer America a security strategy that's tough and smart.

This is Gov. Howard Dean proud of our troops, and proud to be part of a party offering America a new direction.

Our Friends In Kuwait

As the news of the deaths of the three detainees at Guantanamo Bay continue to reverberate around the world, yet another Middle East country weighs in on the unnecessary tragedy. Kuwait, once quite cozy with Washington, points out the obvious in this editorial from Al-Watan published June 14, 2006.

The deaths of three Arabs - two Saudis and one Yemeni - at that American detention facility of ill repute at Guantamamo, may have been suicides, as the official American version of events claims, or might have been the result of torture, as claimed by a Saudi lawyer and a number of young Kuwaiti men who were released recently from that military base from hell. But whatever the reason for their deaths, the undisputed fact is that the three victims were detained in an illegal way, at an illegal place.

However, more importantly, the incident is the most recent in a series of deliberate assaults directed against Muslims in the name of the "War on Terrorism." And an end to the aggression doesn't seem to be on the horizon any time in the near future.

This incident comes against the backdrop of raids carried out by a group of American soldiers and Marines, which targeted families in three adjacent homes in the Iraqi city of Haditha. The outcome was that 24 Iraqis were killed in cold blood, among them women and children.

These events and incidents illustrate a pattern and beg the question for the thousandth time, a question which the American administration has yet to answer: What is the definition of terrorism?

After the events of September 2001, the U.N. General Assembly failed to agree on a global definition of terrorism, because member countries were divided against themselves. While the Bush Administration emphasizes from time to time that the American war on terrorism is not specifically directed against Islam and Muslims, events on the ground in all areas of the world, from the detentions and prosecutions of the security services to torture operations, demonstrate to Islamic peoples that it is they alone who are targeted.

Even outside of the area of security, the United States is pursuing a discriminatory policy toward the Islamic community. The great American fuss being raised over Iran's nuclear program has no other purpose but to keep the Islamic countries in the Middle East at the mercy of Israel's nuclear deterrent.

Is it mere coincidence that the unfortunate residents of Guantanamo are all Muslim?
[Emphasis added]

Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha: it's pretty hard to fault the argument of the editorialist. Apparently he is unaware of the long and loathsome principal of profiling in American criminal justice.

Kyrie Eleison.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Sleeping should not be such hard work.

Wow. Just...Wow.

And now for a bit of good news: the United States Supreme Court has issued a decision in an employment law case that actually broadens protections for employees. The case, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, is discussed in today's NY Times.

The Supreme Court substantially enhanced legal protection against retaliation for employees who complain about discrimination or harassment on the job, in a ruling on Thursday.

The 9-to-0 decision adopted a broadly worded and employee-friendly definition of the type of retaliation that is prohibited by the basic federal law against discrimination in employment.

... under the standard the justices adopted on Thursday in an opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, any "materially adverse" employment action that "might have dissuaded a reasonable worker" from complaining about discrimination will count as prohibited retaliation. Depending on the context, retaliation might be found in an unfavorable annual evaluation, an unwelcome schedule change, or other action well short of losing a job.

Remarkably, this broad new standard of what counts as prohibited retaliation was adopted by all nine justices. The unanimity of the holding is a refreshing change from the 5-4 decisions which I had begun to think was how the Court would operate for the next ten years.

The full text of the opinion is located here. The basis for the holding is pretty clear cut:

The anti-discrimination provision seeks a workplace where individuals are not discriminated against because of their status, while the anti-retaliation provision seeks to prevent an employer from interfering with an employee's efforts to secure or advance enforcement of the Act's basic guarantees.

Nicely done, Justice Breyer.

And score one for the workers.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

War Strategery

Having finished with debates on the most crucial issues facing America (gay marriage and flag burning), the Senate turned to one of the minor ones: the war in Iraq and the toll it is taking on the country's psyche, economy, and credibility in the world. It is, however, an election year, so the debate has been couched in slogans and slurs. From the NY Times:

More than three years after it cast the votes setting the nation on the course to the war in Iraq, the Senate on Wednesday began the first extended debate on whether the time had come to end that war.

With polls showing that Americans believe the war is going badly but are ambivalent about how to respond, both Democrats and Republicans worry about how it will affect elections in November. They staked out starkly different visions in the debate. Democrats insisted that the war had cost too much and that the United States must begin pulling troops out, while Republicans equated any withdrawal with retreat.

...But Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, called any withdrawal of troops "a significant step on the road to disaster."

"The options on the table have been there from the beginning," he said. "Withdraw and fail, or commit and succeed."

...Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, who is facing a primary challenge in Connecticut from an antiwar candidate, said he would vote against his party's amendments.

"The war to remove Saddam Hussein may have been a war of choice, but it is now a war of necessity," he said. "We must win it."
[Emphasis added]

I'm not certain the American public is all that "ambivalent about how to respond." Every poll I have seen makes it clear that Americans want the troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, and they want to see some clear progress in that respect. The problem is that this war was started and fought without any kind of sensible planning, so there is no plan for exiting. What should have been in place before the first boot hit the ground wasn't. To insist we "stay the course" is ludicrous because it implies a course has been laid out. It hasn't, and never was. Americans want such a plan and they want it now.

Why should the Iraqi government expend energy directed toward security and self-governance when the US has shown it is willing to "stay the course" and allow for the deaths of more US soldiers? Why should Iraqi soldiers and police officers do the dangerous and dirty work when the US insists it will? Where's the incentive?

The Democrats have proposed two different (and competing) amendments on the issue. One, supported by Senators Kerry and Feingold, demands a time table for withdrawing US troops. Another, proposed by Senator Levin, demands the development of benchmarks made by the Iraqis to determine the withdrawal of US troops. Both demand that a plan be developed.

The Republican's response to both has been "cut and run!" and "stay the course!" Those answers confirm what many of us have long suspected: the current regime has no intention of leaving Iraq. We are there permanently.

And as for Senator Lieberman? Well, in the wise words of a sister crone, Hecate, "He should just bite me."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Put A Muzzle On Him

I've been terribly remiss in my trips to the Minneapolis Star Tribune web site. If I'd been on the ball I would have seen this hilarious editorial, which was posted June 19.

The Condoleezza Rice State Department is proving more adept at diplomacy than the Colin Powell State Department. Part of her success is tied to her cagey effort to move John Bolton from Washington to New York, where he serves -- minus Senate confirmation -- as the ambassador to the United Nations. Problem is, he's plowing just as wide a path of destruction through the United Nations as he plowed through overall U.S. foreign policy when he worked in Washington.

...Bolton's latest contretemps involves Secretary-General Kofi Annan's plan for reform. Annan developed a series of quite radical proposals, aimed at eliminating useless work and assigning staff where they were most needed. Poor nations rejected key parts of Annan's plan, fearing they would dilute Third World power in the organization. So Bolton responded that if they continue to resist reform, wealthy countries (which pay for a huge percentage of the budget) should stop paying for the United Nations.

...An essential part of Rice's job at State is containing the damage that Bolton can cause anywhere he applies his boorish bluster. The best thing would be to sack Bolton and let him slink off to a think tank. At the least, he needs to be put on a short leash and forced to wear a muzzle.

Rice should arrange a fitting for those devices early this morning, even as she withdraws the threat to withhold U.S. funding and upbraids opponents of reform.
[Emphasis added]

Now that, my friends, is high class snark.

GOP In Disarray*

(*Well, not exactly, but since the mainstream media keeps portraying the Democratic Party in those terms with headlines akin to the title of this screed because of disputes on the issue of troop withdrawal, I decided to do my part to provide balance.)

It appears that the GOP-led House of Representatives is going to stall on immigration reform, according to an article by Carl Hulse in today's NY Times.

In a decision that puts an overhaul of immigration laws in serious doubt, House Republican leaders said Tuesday that they would hold summer hearings around the nation on the politically volatile subject before trying to compromise with the Senate on a chief domestic priority of President Bush.

...The unusual decision to set a new round of hearings on legislation already passed by the House and the Senate places a serious roadblock in the way of Mr. Bush's drive for major changes in immigration policy.

The leadership decision reflected the deep resistance among House Republicans to the bipartisan approach approved in May by the Senate and generally endorsed by Mr. Bush. That bill combined new border enforcement with a program for temporary guest workers and the ability of illegal immigrants to qualify for citizenship by meeting a series of requirements.

House Republicans passed a party-line bill late last year that focused solely on border enforcement, and they said a majority of the public backed their approach. Many House Republicans consider the Senate bill amnesty for those who have entered the country illegally.

...The focus of the summer hearings and the schedule were uncertain Tuesday as Republicans suggested that they would be used both to explore the content of the Senate bill and to survey public opinion on the issue. But it was clear House Republicans intended to use the forums to try to expose what they saw as failings in the Senate bill and to build public opposition to that approach.
[Emphasis added]

What's really going on here is that the Senate decided to actually do immigration reform, while the House had planned on using the the term as a euphemism for immigrant bashing in order to fire up the far right base of the party enough to get them to the polls in November.

The result may very well be a bit of blowback, especially if no bill makes it to the Emperor's desk before the election. One certainly hopes so.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Conventional Wisdom From the Washington Post

The Washington Post continued its series of editorials examining the US policy on detention of 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. I commented on the first Sunday and the second yesterday. The third editorial appeared in this morning's edition.

IN THE DAYS and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, senior Bush administration officials decided that harsh interrogation methods were necessary to prevent devastating attacks on the country -- and that such methods could be carefully administered and limited to the most urgent cases. This thinking proved disastrously flawed. Once the administration lifted the strict regulations that long had governed interrogations of foreign detainees, abusive practices spread quickly across the government. Confusion over rules led to the torture not just of senior al-Qaeda leaders but also of common detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. The damage done to U.S. honor and prestige around the world, and to America's ability to mobilize support for the fight against Islamic extremism, far outweighed any intelligence gathered.

...Congress last year passed the McCain amendment, which prohibits "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of all prisoners in U.S. custody. But it has become increasingly clear that the administration has not accepted that ban as the last word. It still has not renounced the right to subject some detainees to practices such as "waterboarding," or simulated drowning, even though they violate the law. It has yet to adopt clear standards governing the interrogation and treatment of foreign prisoners, or return to full compliance with such treaties as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. Until this situation changes, there will be more of the lawlessness and simple confusion that have led to hundreds of cases of abuse, and dozens of homicides, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

The administration is seeking to evade the McCain ban in more than one way. The law required that the Army's standard interrogation manual, overridden in 2002, once again govern all questioning of prisoners held in Defense Department facilities. But the Pentagon has prepared a new manual; Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have pushed for it to include a classified annex in which some harsh techniques are again authorized for use against prisoners deemed "enemy combatants."

...Once abuse is entirely banned, there is no reason for the United States not to return to full observance of the Geneva Conventions, and there are many benefits in doing so. Following the Geneva Conventions does not necessarily mean granting prisoner-of-war status, and the many privileges that come with it, to all detainees; al-Qaeda fighters and other terrorists might legally be excluded from POW status following a tribunal hearing. But returning to Geneva could improve the chances that its provisions against inhumane treatment will be respected by other countries, including those that capture American servicemen.

...All of this the United States should in any case want to do, in its own interest. It should establish one set of rules for questioning all prisoners. Those rules should conform with international treaties and the U.S. Constitution, so that inhumane treatment is at all times forbidden. And the rules should be public, so that the world can see that the United States has returned to its fundamental values.
[Emphasis added]

I have to admit that WaPo has impressed me so far in this series, especially since this newspaper, considered one of the premier papers in the country, has long justified the current administration's behavior in many appalling editorials and columns. At the same time, however, the editorialist seems to be working under several assumptions that I find questionable.

The first I mentioned yesterday: WaPo seems to think that this Congress will enact legislation which will actually put a limit on the unitary executive. Little from this GOP led Congress gives me any hope in that respect.

The second is that the Emperor will accede to such limitations. While today's editorial does obliquely address the Emperor's signing statements and their impact in the section quoted above, it does not make clear that such behavior by the executive is a clearly unconstitutional usurpation of power from the legislative branch of government.

The third is perhaps the most troubling of all and was noted by Nora in a comment to yesterday's posting (scroll down to the comment at the end of "Shining Some Light..."): the editorialist believes that some detainees, those considered active and dangerous terrorists, are not entitled to the full protection of US and International law. If we are indeed to return to our "fundamental values," then all prisoners (or, to use the intentionally obfuscating imperial euphemism, "detainees") are entitled to the protection of law, not just some.

On balance, however, I am pleased that the Washington Post is at least looking at what I consider to be a source of national shame.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Shining Some Light on Detentions

As it promised in yesterday's editorial, which I discussed here, the Washington Post offered some suggestions to improve the conditions at Guantanamo Bay and other sites holding prisoners without charge or access to legal remedies. In today's edition, the editorialist proposes the obvious: Congress should get involved.

Currently no federal statute governs where or how long a detainee may be held or what his rights are. Nor do the Geneva Conventions, which President Bush in any event wrongly set aside. No law governs whether he will be prosecuted, released, transferred to another country or indefinitely detained. No law guarantees him judicial review or access to counsel. The result is a haphazard system driven more by convenience to the administration than by reason or justice.

Some Taliban fighters and al-Qaeda militants are held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, subject to an initial status hearing to determine whether they are "enemy combatants" and then an annual review of whether they are still dangerous. A different group is held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, which has a less protective set of rules. Still others get turned over to foreign governments, while high-value al-Qaeda detainees are whisked away to secret CIA prisons with no known rules at all. It is long past time to rationalize this system and bring it into accord with international norms through predictable and defensible laws, passed by Congress and worthy of a democracy.

Properly crafted, an administrative detention law for foreign detainees captured abroad would provide for a substantial military hearing to establish that an inmate is actively engaged in terrorist activity. The hearing would take place promptly, with military counsel available to the detainee and able to attack the government's evidence. A finding that an individual may be detained would entitle the military to hold and interrogate him, but it would be subject to appeal to the federal court system and regular review. Critically, it would have the imprimatur of Congress, and it would apply to all detainees who are neither under indictment nor held under the Geneva Conventions.

The goal should be a system that regulates, legitimizes and subjects to rigorous oversight detentions that the administration now treats as outside of both the laws of war and the protections of criminal law. The administration cannot create such a regime on its own. It can do so only by inviting the other two branches of government into the process.
[Emphasis added]

It is hard to fault the process the writer is urging, but it is just as hard to envision either this president or this Congress actually engaging in such a process. It is clear that the current regime has little use for the other branches of government beyond rubber stamping the White House policies. The Emperor has chosen to rely the concept of the unitary executive, certain that this unconstitutional principle gives him all the power necessary to do the work of all three branches. Evidence of this reliance are the hundreds of signing statements the executive has issued every time a new law is brought to him from Congress. Most of the time, the statement is little more than an assertion that the Emperor will execute the law only if it suits him.

And this Congress has certainly shown no evidence that it is willing to challenge the Emperor on anything. While there may be howls of outrage on occasion, inevitably, once the headlines move on to another subject, the huffing and puffing disappears, and Congress goes meekly about its duties, debating bans on flag-burning and gay marriage. Crafting the kind of legislation this editorial is talking about would require a willingness to do the hard work of actually, well, crafting the legislation, and then making it clear to the executive branch that it would have to, well, execute the legislation under threat of impeachment. I don't see either Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist or House Speaker Denny Hastert willing to take on that kind of responsibility.

That is why the November elections are important. Now that the Democrats are finally talking in specifics about their plans, I hope they are also going to do so in a way that gets people to the polls. A new and improved Congress is the only hope we have right now.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sunday Poetry

Tonight's somewhat ironic selection is from Emily Dickinson.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--

A New Direction for America

For years, the GOP leadership has lampooned the Democratic Party for not having any solutions to problems beyond raising taxes. And for all that time, the Democratic Party has let them get away with it. Perhaps this election cycle will be different. Given the devastation of the last five years, I certainly hope so.

Yesterday House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered the weekly Democratic Party radio address. I am posting the address in its entirety because I believe it gives grounds for hope. The transcript was gotten from here.

Good morning. This is Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives.

This week, Democrats proposed a New Direction for America - new priorities that will build a stronger country for all Americans.

A New Direction for America means real security in our neighborhoods, at our ports and airports. Right now, according to the 9/11 Commission, the Republican Administration is getting D's and F's in protecting the American people. We need to be getting A's.

A New Direction means expanding access to affordable health care for Americans. We will begin by lowering the cost of prescription drugs by putting seniors ahead of pharmaceutical companies and HMOs.

A New Direction means broadening opportunity by addressing the soaring costs of higher education. We will begin by making tuition tax deductible and cutting the interest rates of student loans in half.

A New Direction means ending our dependence on foreign oil, and we will begin by energizing America with biofuels that send our energy dollars to our Midwest instead of the Middle East. We intend to achieve energy independence within 10 years.

A New Direction means a dignified retirement for all Americans. In light of the new Republican threat to Social Security, Democrats renew our pledge: no privatization of Social Security.

And a New Direction means expanding economic justice by keeping good paying jobs here at home instead of shipping jobs overseas. We will begin with a commitment to research and innovation, ending outsourcing subsidies, and raising the minimum wage.

For nearly nine years of Republican Congress, American workers have been denied an increase in the federal minimum wage - it has been frozen at $5.15 per hour. $5.15 an hour, despite nine years of rising health care and energy costs and inflation. That is immoral.

Our New Direction means that on the first day we control Congress, we will give Americans a raise by increasing the minimum wage.

Our New Direction for America means turning away from the irresponsible deficit spending by President Bush and the Republican Congress that has added $3 trillion in new debt. We will restore the proven budget discipline that eliminated deficits and generated record economic growth.

The American people are insisting on a New Direction at home and in the war in Iraq.

This week, our nation reached the sad milestone of 2,500 deaths in Iraq. Our prayers are with their families and with our brave men and women in uniform.

The financial cost of the war continues to skyrocket toward half a trillion dollars. For the last three years, the President has continued to ask us to 'stay the course.' Stay the course, despite the continued cost in lives, to our military readiness, and to our reputation in the world.

Americans know and Democrats agree: we must change the course. 2006 must be a year of significant transition. It is time for a new direction in Iraq. At the earliest practicable time, the United States must begin the responsible redeployment of its troops, and the Iraqis must assume the burden of defending their own country.

Democrats are united in presenting a New Direction for America, one that will make our nation as strong as its people, one that brings opportunity, security, and prosperity to all Americans.

From your lips to the American electorate's ears, Congresswoman Pelosi.

The Water Carrier Launches a Balloon

Two American soldiers are listed as missing in Iraq and presumed captured by Iraqi insurgents. It is hard to feel anything but dread, given what we know about how prisoners and detainees have been treated by the US at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the secret, CIA-run "black prisons" in Europe. It looks like pay-back time for those two soldiers. It is fitting that Americans be forced to take a long, hard, and honest look just what our leaders have been doing in our name, and just what the consequences of that behavior will probably be. That just such a long, hard, and honest look should be done by a newspaper that has long supported the regime is, to say the least, startling. It is also very welcome. From the first of a promised series of editorials in the Washington Post.

NEARLY FIVE years into a war between the United States and Islamic extremists, U.S. policies and practices for arresting, holding, interrogating and trying enemy militants are in a state of disarray unprecedented in modern American history. They shame the nation and violate its fundamental values. Consider:

· The U.S. military and CIA are holding hundreds of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan and secret prisons elsewhere under starkly varying rules and conditions....Most detentions are not governed by any specific U.S. law or international treaty, since the Bush administration has refused to apply the Geneva Conventions outside of Iraq.

...A number of U.S. allies consider these practices immoral or illegal, and this has hampered their cooperation with American forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

· Guantanamo Bay has become a toxic symbol around the world of U.S. human rights violations, a status magnified by recent suicides. ...the Pentagon is spending millions to build a state-of-the-art penitentiary at the base. The administration seems to have no plan for how and where it will hold long-term detainees, or those convicted of crimes.

· The Bush administration has set aside or evaded the rules for prisoner treatment contained in the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture but has adopted no firm standards of its own.

This political and administrative mess stems directly from Mr. Bush's decision in the weeks after Sept. 11 to take extraordinary measures against terrorism through the assertion of presidential power, rather than through legislation, court action or diplomacy. His intent was to exclude Congress, the courts and other governments from influencing or even monitoring how foreign detainees were treated. ...Mr. Bush's policies have deeply tarnished U.S. prestige abroad, inhibited cooperation with allies and prevented justice for al-Qaeda.

The way to repair the system lies in correcting Mr. Bush's exclusion of Congress, the courts and other governments. New laws and diplomatic protocols are needed to regulate the detention of some terrorist suspects. Courts must be given a role in overseeing those detentions and enforcing existing laws against abusive treatment. Many more terrorists should be put on trial, and those trials that are not conducted under the present justice system should be governed by statutes that ensure fairness.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bonus Critter Blogging: RED Pandamonium

Adam Jones


I've Got the Gitmo Suicide Blues

I'm still trying to process the horrifying news of the three Guantanamo Bay "detainees" who committed suicide last week. Complicating matters is the way the regime's officials handled the stories initially. Although the regime backtracked as soon as rational people started parsing the comments from the officer in charge of Gitmo and the State Department functionary, their efforts were (as I noted earlier) like trying to unring a bell. And the rest of the world, including some allies, jumped all over the story.

First, from an editorial in the Netherlands' NRC Handelsblad:

Through newspaper columns and TV-reports, George Orwell has made a comeback. The "Newspeak" he described in his anti-utopian masterpiece "1984" has been revived, this time by the commander of the American prison for terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. Rear Admiral Harry Harris stated in regard to the suicides of three prisoners last Friday, "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." In Washington, a spokesperson for the American State Department had to outdo this by calling the deaths, "a good PR move to raise attention."

... This "modern day Gulag," as the base is called from time to time, puts the spotlight on the United States as a gross violator of human rights. The three suicides underline this once again, with much negative publicity as a consequence.

...The eventual dismantling of Guantanamo is the only way to end an unacceptable situation that has been going on for too long, and which has had the unintended consequence of serving as a rallying cry for terrorist networks. Lawlessness is unacceptable. The base must be closed.
[Emphasis added]

Next, from Switzerland's 24Heures:

This triple suicide is the logical consequence of the very special method of incarceration at this Naval brig in Cuba. Shackled and often detained in cages, the suspected terrorists with their orange jumpsuits have no idea how long their detention will last. Guilty or innocent, they don't even know the charges held against them. Prisoners of a so-called War on Terrorism, they nonetheless are accorded no protections under the Geneva Conventions, which would at least grant them some form of legal status.

Since 2001, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross and the European Union have denounced the legal limbo of this prison, but in vain. Despite the pressure, the United States has always sought to justify its running of Guantanamo.
[Emphasis added]

Even one of the few Latin American countries who have not balked at US demands weighs in. From Columbia's El Tiempo:

The death of the three supposed terrorists was a setback for Washington, which since January 2002 has held over 460 prisoners in the prison, where national legal guarantees and international human rights treaties have been forgotten. To counteract any indignation over the deaths, U.S. officials made statements sure to go down in history as some of the most cynical ever expressed. Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the Guantanamo base, said "They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own. … It was an act of asymmetric warfare against us."

The United Nations, European leaders and dozens of Congress members have protested the legal vacuum and the proven torture that is perpetrated at Guantanamo. By what authority does the United States judge the human rights conduct of other nations, when it not only maintains a prison that never should have existed, but treats a horrible event like Sunday’s triple suicide with such cynicism?
[Emphasis added]

These comments were not made by the French or the Russians or the Venezuelans, people who have made it clear that the current regime is no friend to world peace. These are from countries that have tried to cooperate with the US when we have done things that actually are intended to promote world peace (and weren't those the days!). This is horrifying, to be sure. But do you know what really ripped my guts out? A poem, one written by a Middle Eastern citizen and published in Okaz. The poet is Hashem Alghdli, and the translator is Nicholas Dagher.

Between defending freedom and human life

And violating it

Stands America

As a beacon of light

Or the beginning of the end

She rules the World

With her economic, political and military might

She strikes at the heart of every human agreement

From refusing to ratify Kyoto

To abandoning UNESCO

By subverting the global consensus

On almost every matter

America … America

Therefore what happens at Guantanamo

Must not be overlooked by the honorable

Starting from inhumane imprisonment

On an occupied island

To people being killed

or even committing suicide

Under pressure from global terror

America … America

She is fighting terrorism

And practicing it herself

Will we hear today the voice of the excluded

outside the circle of power?

Will they confront America?

The violations of America

The injustice of America

So the world does not become a jungle

And America remain lawless

Pretending to protect the world

But living by the law of the jungle.

I am deeply ashamed of my country's government.

But I Read It In the Papers! (Part 2)

Yesterday I commented on the NY Times article reporting on the Iraq war debate in Congress here. Another major newspaper also held forth on the debates. The Washington Post article was slightly different as to tone and content.

House Republicans took the offensive, repeatedly asserting that Democrats have adopted a "defeatist" policy of retreat that would embolden international terrorists and imperil national security. Their position was bolstered by a 74-page document drafted by the White House and distributed by the Pentagon, replete with talking points, quotations and timelines to back administration policy. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) called the document "an affront to the American people."

...GOP senators wanted a vote on language recently drafted by Kerry calling for nearly all U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the year's end. But Kerry, his party's 2004 presidential nominee, surprised the Republicans by declining to offer the language as an amendment to a defense authorization bill, after colleagues had urged him to consider possible revisions.

To force a debate and a vote, McConnell, the GOP whip, introduced Kerry's language as his own, knowing that all Senate Republicans and most Democrats would vote against it. Democrats objected when Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called the measure "Kerry's amendment." Kerry said the maneuver led to "a fibbing, fictitious vote."

The Senate voted 93 to 6 to reject the amendment. The six Democrats who voted against killing it were Kerry, Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), Russell Feingold (Wis.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.).
[Emphasis added]

First of all, WaPo did clarify the origin and contents of that Pentagon prep book, something the NY Times failed to do.

Next, WaPo described the GOP tactic with respect to the Kerry amendment in greater detail and quoted Senator Kerry's response to the tactic, which I thought a fair bit of reporting without going overboard.

Finally, WaPo listed those who still voted for the Kerry amendment in the midst of all the partisan maneuvering. If nothing else, it gave those of us in the liberal community some idea of those Democrats who really are trying to do their jobs.

All in all, the Washington Post report did a much better job covering those debates, which is somewhat surprising, given that the editorial board has been conscientiously carrying water for the current regime.

Here's the thing: I don't necessarily want a more liberal media, I just want a fair, objective one. If the press does its job properly, I believe the American people (well, at least 67% of them) will figure out just what the hell is going on and will act accordingly. It's an election year. We need a decent press.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Three cats, after the truce.

But I Read It In the Papers! (Part 1)

It finally dawned on the current regime that the dropping poll numbers for the Emperor and his party were closely related to the public's growing weariness and disgust with the war in Iraq. Because there's an election looming, somebody finally decided something had to be done. A pow-wow on the war at Camp David led to a super-secret drive-by trip to Iraq by the Emperor in Chief which lasted five hours, long enough for the experienced head of the most powerful, most successful at blowing things up military to get an indepth view of the situation on the ground.

That in turn led to a 'press conference' in the Rose Garden at which the Emperor assured us all that Iraq was a functioning democracy. To cap off the whirlwind of activity, Congress was ordered to debate the issue and to pass resolutions to 'stay the course,'even though that course has never really been charted. Ever mindful of the Emperor's power, the Congress complied. We are now in the second day of debate on the various resolutions.

The liberal press, especially that paper of record, duly noted the debates for today's readers. The NY Times weighed in with extensive citing of various sound bites from the debate. However, buried deep within the story is this interesting bit of news:

In a highly unusual attempt to influence the debate, the Pentagon sent a 74-page "prep book" to several members of Congress, outlining what it called "rapid response" talking points to rebut criticism of Mr. Bush's handling of the war and prewar intelligence. The Pentagon sent the book to Democratic leaders on Wednesday night, apparently in error, then sent an e-mail message two hours later asking to recall it. [Emphasis added]

That's it. The article contained no indication of why the Pentagon sent the "prep book" or who ordered it be sent. Even more interesting was the fact that it was intended only for Republicans. No comment on that, either. Apparently the Pentagon is the educational wing of the Republican Party. Who knew? Finally, the article doesn't set out what the prep book contained or even whether the Republican members of Congress refused to divulge the contents, which would at least suggest that the reporters tried to find out.

The conclusion of the article is rather interesting in its phrasing as well.

The combination of the popular and unpopular in this resolution — support for the troops, combined with an endorsement of the administration's policy and a rejection of any withdrawal deadline — left many Democrats in a bind as they headed toward Friday's vote. But some Democrats argued that it left Republicans in a bind, too, committed to an open-ended presence in Iraq. [Emphasis added]

The article asserts as a truth that Democrats are "in a bind." That fact is so indisputable to the reporters involved that those who disagree with the assessment are sloughed off as argumentative Democrats.

Great objective journalism, no?

Intended Consequences

Yesterday I lamented the holding of a federal trial judge which lopped off a huge chunk of the protections promised under habeas corpus (scroll down to "Nightmare"). Today I read about the Supreme Court decision which lopped off a huge chunk of protections promised uner the Fourth Amendment. From an editorial in today's NY Times.

The Supreme Court yesterday substantially diminished Americans' right to privacy in their own homes. The rule that police officers must "knock and announce" themselves before entering a private home is a venerable one, and a well-established part of Fourth Amendment law. But President Bush's two recent Supreme Court appointments have now provided the votes for a 5-4 decision eviscerating this rule.

...The exclusionary rule has sometimes been criticized for allowing criminals to go free just because of police error. But as the court itself recognized in that 1914 case, if this type of evidence were admissible, the Fourth Amendment "might as well be stricken."

...If Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had stayed on the court, this case might well have come out the other way. For those who worry that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito will take the court in a radically conservative direction, it is sobering how easily the majority tossed aside a principle that traces back to 13th-century Britain, and a legal doctrine that dates to 1914, to let the government invade people's homes.
[Emphasis added]

Given the holding by the Supreme Court, and the language used by the majority, it's pretty clear to me how it will rule on the habeas corpus issue in the case discussed in "Nightmare." In other words, the Supreme Court as presently constituted has a taken a hard turn to the right when it comes to the civil liberties of citizens in clashes with the government. The defendants in that case will have a tough road on appeal.

If a more constitutionally sensitive jurist had been appointed to replace Justice O'Connor, there would have been some hope. Instead, Senate Democrats rolled over on the Alito nomination (as it did with the Roberts' nomination). The scary part of all of this is that it is entirely possible (perhaps even likely)the Emperor will have a shot at one more Supreme Court appointment in the next eighteen months. If the Democrats don't develop a spine soon, the Bill of Rights might as well be expunged.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


A horrifying decision issued from a federal court in New York yesterday. From the NY Times:

A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled yesterday that the government has wide latitude under immigration law to detain noncitizens on the basis of religion, race or national origin, and to hold them indefinitely without explanation.

"This decision is a green light to racial profiling and prolonged detention of noncitizens at the whim of the president," said Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the detainees. "The decision is profoundly disturbing because it legitimizes the fact that the Bush administration rounded up and imprisoned our clients because of their religion and race."

...In his 99-page ruling, Judge Gleeson rejected the government's argument that the events of Sept. 11 justified extraordinary measures to confine noncitizens who fell under suspicion, or that the attacks heightened top officials' need for government immunity to combat future threats to national security without fear of being sued.

But his interpretation of immigration law gave the government broad discretion to enforce the law selectively against noncitizens of a particular religion, race or national origin, and to detain them indefinitely, for any unspecified reason, after an immigration judge had ordered them removed from the country.

"The executive is free to single out 'nationals of a particular country' and focus enforcement efforts on them," the judge wrote. "This is, of course, an extraordinarily rough and overbroad sort of distinction of which, if applied to citizens, our courts would be highly suspicious."
[Emphasis added]

It appears this federal judge has gone along with the current regime's belief that all men may be created equal, but some are more equal than others. While this is only a trial court opinion which has no binding legal effect anywhere and which will certainly be appealed, the fact that this opinion could even issue is frightening.

...David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University and a co-counsel in the lawsuit, said the ruling was the only one of its kind and made New York "an equal protection-free zone" because the government can detain immigrants wherever it chooses.

"What this decision says is the next time there is a terror attack, the government is free to round up every Muslim immigrant in the U.S., based solely on their ethnic and religious identity, and hold them on immigration pretexts for as long as it desires," he said. "We saw after 9/11 what the government did in an era of uncertainty about how far it can go. Judge Gleeson has essentially given them a green light to go much further."

Just one more reason why the Democrats were wrong to roll over on the Emperor's various judicial appointments.

I am sickened.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Callous Conservatism

The regime has done it again: the Emperor and his minions have managed to say the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. In this case, the comment came from a State Department official. The State Department is, allegedly, the place where diplomats hang out and collect their paychecks. The comment made was not particularly diplomatic, and, once made, it caused some scurrying in the executive chambers in an attempt to soften the language. Alas, the bell had been rung and would not be unrung, at least in this reality. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The Bush administration distanced itself Monday from remarks by a U.S. diplomat that the weekend suicides of three Arab detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison were a "good PR move."

"I would just point out in public that we would not say that it was a PR stunt," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, using the abbreviation for public relations. "We have serious concerns anytime anybody takes their own life."

Colleen Graffy, deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for public diplomacy, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the deaths at the U.S.-run camp in Cuba were a "good PR move to draw attention."

Graffy also told the BBC the deaths were "a tactic to further the jihadi cause."

Graffy's unscripted remarks threw a monkey wrench in the administration's careful plan to demonstrate concern over the deaths and respond to rising criticism of the U.S. operation of the prison.
[Emphasis added]

Like most other decent people, I was first stunned and then outraged when I first read Ms. Graffy's comments. How could any human being utter anything so callous in the face of death? As I got to thinking about it, however, something occurred to me. In a sense, she may have inadvertently been telling the truth. This also occurred to the editorial board at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as witnessed by their editorial in the same edition:

Colleen Graffy, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, was callous to term the suicides of three Guantanamo Bay detainees as "a good PR move to draw attention." Sadly, she may be right.

That three young men would take their own lives rather than face another day in what Amnesty International calls America's "legal black hole" offers damning testimony.

...The deaths will intensify the global attention on and criticism of the way the Bush administration has used the facility to deny basic legal and human rights.

The administration has applied a cruel Catch-22 at Guantanamo. Were the men there considered prisoners of war, their detention and treatment would be covered under the Geneva Convention. The president says they're not prisoners of war but "unlawful combatants." Were they criminals, they would be covered by U.S. and international criminal justice systems. But the president continues to hold them without charges.

Calls for the mere closure of Guantanamo miss the point. The problem lies not with the facility itself but with the political leadership that would allow it to be put to such use.
[Emphasis added]

Perhaps for these three men, hopeless after three years in this black hole of ever being freed, living under appalling conditions, suicide was not only their only escape, but also their only way to show the world who the real criminals were in the situation they found themselves in.

I doubt this is what Ms. Graffy meant. I also doubt that Mr. Bush could possibly understand this. Neither his Imperialness nor his minions do nuance.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Say, What?

I've long heard rumors of shadowy international organizations being behind major world events. Early in my adult lifetime the Trilateral Commission was supposedly running things, and my mother has long been suspicious of the United Nations. These days, names like Skull and Bones and Opus Dei tend to be tossed into conversation with knowing winks and nods. I wasn't too surprised, then, to read about another secretive group with powers to affect the planet in all sorts of nefarious way. From CTV on June 9, 2006.

A shadowy group of world leaders and decision makers are meeting in Ottawa this weekend, cloaked in a blanket of security and secrecy that has conspiracy theorists' websites working overtime.

Considered one of the world's most powerful and secret societies, the Bilderberg group's annual meeting was scheduled to be attended by about 130 people at the Brook Street Resort.

The guest list, according to an unsigned press release obtained by The Canadian Press, includes the likes of David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Holland's Queen Beatrix, and New York Gov. George Pataki.

And the Canadian complement includes Indigo books CEO Heather Reisman and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna.

...Conspiracy theorists maintain the group has played a key role in world events, allegedly orchestrating the move to a common European currency and getting Bill Clinton elected after he agreed to sign onto NAFTA. And in Yugoslavia, Serbs have blamed Bilderberg for starting the war that led to the downfall of former dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

And according to the release, this year's group will discuss high oil prices and the best way to deal with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But beyond the press release -- which was tantamount to transparency by Bilderberg standards -- there is little indication about what will take place within the hotel.

Canadian writer Daniel Estulin, who has been following Bilderberg for years, describes it as a "powerful" group of politicians and business people with one objective: "To create a one-world government where you don't have individual nations -- you have one region, one religion, one constitution, one church, one currency and one country."

I had no idea!

Actually, I did. My take on the group is that it is composed of people with extensive international connections and too much time on their hands. I'm not too worried, because if these 'powerful movers and shakers' come up with a bullet-proof plan to calm down the Iran situation and if they can get the principles in the matter to listen, well, then we've avoided another unnecessary war.

Besides, one of the central tenets in my life is that I don't do hats, tin foil or otherwise.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Loser Linguistics

One of the more hilarious games played at Eschaton recently involves picking the best slogan for the Democrats to use during the 2006 elections. Many like Newt Gingrich's pick for the Democrats: "Had Enough?" Others prefer more scatalogical screeds, none of which would fit on even a Hummer bumper sticker, or be fit for family viewing. One thing is certain, however, most of us are not all that thrilled with the slogan the Democratic Party has selected.

Geoffrey Numberg, a linguist who teaches at UC Berkeley's School of Information, had an op-ed piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times dealing with just this issue.

"TOGETHER, America can do better." The Democrats' awkward new slogan may not say much more than "Anybody would be an improvement on the current bunch of bozos," yet many Democrats are hoping that it will be enough to bring the party back to life this fall. And they may be right, given the widespread discontent with the administration's apparently bottomless bozosity.

But the very ungrammaticality of the Democrats' slogan reminds you that this is a party with a chronic problem of telling a coherent story about itself, right down to an inability to get its adverbs and subjects to agree. Until Democrats can spell out a more explicit and compelling vision for America, it isn't clear how the party can restore its faded luster.

The right's real linguistic triumphs don't lie in its buzzwords and slogans, but in capturing the ground-level language of politics. When we talk about politics nowadays — and by "we," I mean just about everybody, left, right and center — we reflexively use language that embodies the worldview of the right.

Time was, for example, that the media used "elite" chiefly for leaders of finance, industry and the military — as the British press still does. These days, the American press is far more likely to use it to describe "liberal" sectors such as the media, Hollywood or academia, instead of the main beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts. "Elite" has become a placeholder for the effete stereotypes the right has used to turn "liberal" into a label for out-of-touch, latte-sipping poseurs. The phrase "working-class liberal," for example, is virtually nonexistent nowadays, though people have no trouble talking about "working-class conservatives" — the implication being you can't be a liberal if you can't afford the granite countertops.

It goes on. The media are far more likely to pair "values" with "conservative" than "liberal," even as they more often describe liberals as "unapologetic" (liberalism apparently being something people should have qualms about owning up to). And you hear the same tone in the dominant uses of words like "freedom," "bias," "traditional," and many others, even in the so-called liberal media.

...Democrats can't recapture the language of American politics except by weaving counter-narratives that dramatize their own vision.

That's not a matter of concentrating on symbolic politics while slighting the economic and social programs that brought Democrats to the ball in the first place. From the Progressive reforms of the early 20th century to the New Deal to the Great Society, the most ambitious social and economic programs of the past have always rested on powerful stories that dramatized the stakes and invited people into "a project larger than their own well-being" (as the American Prospect's Michael Tomasky has put it), even as they shaped the language of political discourse in the bargain.

From Jimmy Carter and Mario Cuomo to Bill Clinton and John Edwards, most successful Democratic politicians have been instinctive storytellers. Conventional wisdom credits Clinton's 1992 victory to his insistence that "it's the economy, stupid." But it wasn't just the economy — it was the way he told it, as a story about how "people who work hard and play by the rules get the shaft." That's a miniature narrative, complete with characters and a plot, the size of a capsule movie summary. Today's Democrats, if they choose to, have equally compelling narratives of their own to tell, touching the middle class as much as the working poor. They're stories that dramatize the increasing disparities of wealth and the shift of the tax burden from the rich to the middle class; insecurities over job loss, healthcare, pensions and college education; and a government that has broken faith with the American people.
[Emphasis added]

I think Mr. Nunberg is absolutely correct in his assessment and in his suggested cure. The Democrats do have the language and the stories to counterbalance the world view of the right and the disasterous results of that world view. It is simply a matter of the Democrats finally beginning to stand up and start telling those stories rather than meekly accepting the frames the GOP keeps ramming down all of our throats.

It is neither impolite nor impolitic to tell the truth in the clearest and most strident tones. The nation deserves no less.