Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Justice Stacked Against the Seamen

Our troops are being tossed out in many ways. I came across accounts of two today.

The misuse of our system of justice for servicemen seems to have been mauled very badly. Now, it seems that those who were appointed to judge Coast Guard cases were told what justice to dispense. It was not what usually is called Justice.

Two retired U.S. Coast Guard judges are expected to tell a congressional oversight panel today that the agency's administrative court system is biased against civilian defendants.

Jeffie J. Massey, who retired as an administrative law judge in March and said in a sworn statement days later that she was pressured to rule for the agency, will testify before the Coast Guard subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee.

Also scheduled is a former judge, Rosemary Denson, whose job was eliminated 10 years ago by Coast Guard officials who complained that she was taking too long handling difficult cases.

A third retired judge, Peter A. Fitzpatrick, is also expected to testify. He could not be reached for comment.

The committee called the hearing to explore claims, detailed last month by The Sun, that the Coast Guard's administrative court system is stacked against the tugboat pilots, charter boat captains and other mariners who appear before it.

The courts, which handle charges of drug use, misconduct or negligence brought by the Coast Guard, can revoke the credentials a civilian mariner needs to work on the water.

Massey said her testimony will echo her sworn statement, in which she said Chief Judge Joseph N. Ingolia told her to always rule for the Coast Guard no matter the evidence. Massey also said she overheard another judge voice fear for his job if he ruled in a mariner's favor.

"I'll tell the truth to anyone who wants to listen," she said.

Where did all that money come from, that we're tossing into the quagmire called the Iraq War? Out of the pockets, and sometimes the skin, of our servicepeople. In November, it was our contractors, paid out of Americans' pockets, that left four servicement stranded, taken hostage. The contractors blame the servicemen. This is outrage number two from reading the news recently.

...Crescent violated U.S. military regulations while being paid millions of dollars to support the U.S.-led mission in Iraq. The company routinely sacrificed safety to cut costs. On the day of the kidnappings, just seven Crescent guards protected the immense convoy as it drove through southern Iraq, a force that security experts described as inadequate to fend off a major attack.

Former senior managers with Crescent denied any wrongdoing and said the guards who were seized had been well equipped and simply failed to thwart the kidnappers.

"We pretty much catered to them. We spoiled them," said Scott Schneider, the company's former director of security.

The atrocities grow ever larger, and ever more impossible to stomach. The systems have been stacked against our troops, yes, those much lauded heroic figures that we are setting up as targets for anyone to shoot at who gets in range. What are we doing for our troops? and the American public? Lying to them.

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A Good Idea

For over six years, our elections have been marred by irregularities. I tend to hang out in the camp that says the "irregularities" were deliberate attempts at sabotage, that elections were stolen as part of a nationwide campaign to install a Thousand Year Reich. Tinfoil hat aside, however, one way to fix one of the problems attendant to our election process is to demand that each and every electronic machine have a paper trail. Since 2005, the Democrats have been proposing bills that do just that. As in editorial in today's NY Times points out, another bill has been proposed in the 110th Congress, once again by a Democrat (Rep. Holt, D-NJ), and hopefully this time it will pass. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that this is an important first step in defeating voting fraud.

Electronic voting machines in their current form simply cannot be trusted. Just last week, a team of computer scientists from California released a study of three different voting systems that once again showed how easy it is to hack into electronic systems and alter the count.

The most important protection against electronic voting fraud is the voter-verified paper trail, a paper record that the voter can check to make sure that it properly reflects his or her choices. There should then be mandatory audits of a significant number of these paper records to ensure that the results tallied on the voting machines match the votes recorded on paper.

Rep. Holt's bill needs to be passed by the House and sent over to the Senate before the end of the year. But this is just a first step. The Democrats won the last election by the kind of margin that couldn't be manipulated via the machines. A combination of turn-out and general disgust with the Republicans over the Iraq War and over the corrupt malfeasance of several members of the GOP as the election neared ensured that victory.

However, massive voting-list purges, intimidation tactics against new citizens, and voter-fraud witch hunts by a politicised Justice Department also have to be stopped. Until the whole system is cleaned up, citizens will remain skeptical that their votes have any meaning, and tht means too many of them will just stay home.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

A Legacy Worth Having

Walter F. Mondale brought to our attention this morning a few things that he has seen happening under the present regime and especially the totally warped way that his former vice presidency has been handled by Cheney. It must be particularly painful to that honest and decent man to see the damage to our nation.

This all changed in 2001, and especially after Sept. 11, when Cheney set out to create a largely independent power center in the office of the vice president. His was an unprecedented attempt not only to shape administration policy but, alarmingly, to limit the policy options sent to the president. It is essential that a president know all the relevant facts and viable options before making decisions, yet Cheney has discarded the "honest broker" role he played as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff.

Through his vast government experience, through the friends he had been able to place in key positions and through his considerable political skills, he has been increasingly able to determine the answers to questions put to the president -- because he has been able to determine the questions. It was Cheney who persuaded President Bush to sign an order that denied access to any court by foreign terrorism suspects and Cheney who determined that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rather than subject his views to an established (and rational) vetting process, his practice has been to trust only his immediate staff before taking ideas directly to the president. Many of the ideas that Bush has subsequently bought into have proved offensive to the values of the Constitution and have been embarrassingly overturned by the courts.

The corollary to Cheney's zealous embrace of secrecy is his near total aversion to the notion of accountability. I've never seen a former member of the House of Representatives demonstrate such contempt for Congress -- even when it was controlled by his own party. His insistence on invoking executive privilege to block virtually every congressional request for information has been stupefying -- it's almost as if he denies the legitimacy of an equal branch of government. Nor does he exhibit much respect for public opinion, which amounts to indifference toward being held accountable by the people who elected him.

Whatever authority a vice president has is derived from the president under whom he serves. There are no powers inherent in the office; they must be delegated by the president. Somehow, not only has Cheney been given vast authority by President Bush -- including, apparently, the entire intelligence portfolio -- but he also pursues his own agenda. The real question is why the president allows this to happen.

Three decades ago we lived through another painful example of a White House exceeding its authority, lying to the American people, breaking the law and shrouding everything it did in secrecy. Watergate wrenched the country, and our constitutional system, like nothing before. We spent years trying to identify and absorb the lessons of this great excess. But here we are again.

Since the Carter administration left office, we have been criticized for many things. Yet I remain enormously proud of what we did in those four years, especially that we told the truth, obeyed the law and kept the peace.

While the whole nation has seen the disarray in our constitutional system that this cabal has brought about, it has to be much more painful from the point of view of the people who used their offices to protect and defend our country and its laws, as they swore to do. Thanks are due Walter Mondale for speaking up.

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Monday Morning Shocker

Even on a Monday morning, it's hard to pass by an op-ed piece with the following title, "The erotic undertones of the administration's words on enhanced interrogations." The column by A.S. Hamrah appears in today's Los Angeles Times and makes a pretty good case that "the more the White House refines the rules, the pervier things get" (its subtitle).

Right before his recent colonoscopy, Bush announced that he had issued an executive order banning cruel and inhumane treatment in interrogations of suspected terrorists. This clarified interrogation guidelines he had issued last fall banning techniques that "shock the conscience." While the guidelines appear to be a step toward more concrete protection of human rights, the administration's constant rejiggering of the border between interrogation and torture reveals something else: a Sadean interest in the refinement of torture, a desire to define what is and is not "beyond the bounds of human decency," as the order puts it.

The claim that there is an element of sexual perversity in the government's interest in prisoner abuse may seem broad, but consider how officials discuss it. And when it comes to pictures documenting torture, they react in ways that should be as interesting to psychoanalysts as they are to constitutional lawyers, civil libertarians or investigative reporters.

In April, former CIA Director George Tenet appeared on "60 Minutes," telling interviewer Scott Pelley -- between swigs from a tiny bottle of Evian and his insistent, repetitive bark that "we don't torture people" -- that the reason he has never personally seen the evidence of the interrogation techniques he refuses to talk about is because he is "not a voyeur." ...

Maybe the reason members of the Bush administration are reluctant to look at evidence of torture is that if they did, they would be forced to admit that, for them, what happened at Abu Ghraib really wasn't torture. For them, evidently, it was sex, and that's why they won't watch.

It's not like government officials have never come right out and said that. In 2004, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) bridged the gap between the painful and the erotic by dismissing the Abu Ghraib abuses as a mere "sex ring": "I've seen what happened at Abu Ghraib, and Abu Ghraib was not torture. It was outrageous, outrageous involvement of National Guard troops who were involved in a sex ring." When asked to clarify, Shays backtracked and dug himself in deeper at the same time. "It was torture because sexual abuse is torture

This is more about pornography than torture."

Last winter, when an Australian TV network released photos and videos from Abu Ghraib, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, speaking for the coalition forces, called the report "unnecessarily provocative." He didn't say the images were wrong or criminal.

Instead of just banning torture outright, as the high school students asked him to do, Bush's new executive order, which purports to be an "interpretation of the Geneva Convention Common Article 3," reduces torture to a series of deviant acts. It dwells on "sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation."

It's the exact kind of list you'd expect to find from the kind of people who go on TV and announce to the public that they're not voyeurs. Now that they've defined torture so carefully, it should be much easier for them not to look at it.

That's an interesting analysis, one that, to our shame as a nation, rings true. It also explains a lot about this current administration on issues that go beyond the torture of prisoners.

Heckuva way to start the week, but I'll take it.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Sandra Cisneros

You Called Me Corazon

That was enough
for me to forgive you.
To spirit a tiger
from its cell.

Called me corazon
in that instant before
I let go the phone
back to its cradle.

You voice small.
Heat of your eyes,
how I would've place
my mouth on each.

Said corazon
and the word blazed
like a branch of jacaranda.

Sandra Cisneros

Our Friends, The Saudis: Redux

Yesterday, I posted on the current round of talk with Iran on its role in supporting the Shi'ite militias in Iraq. I suggested that the talks were not going to accomplish much, given the administration's observable bias against the Shi'ite leadership in Iran. Two weeks ago, I posted on the Saudi's role in Iraq, which consists of providing nearly half of the foreign fighters in Iraq, all of whom are fighting on the side of the Sunni insurgents. The US has not, to my knowledge, held any formal talks with the Saudi government on the issue. That apparently is about to change, according to an editorial in today's NY Times. Secretary of State Rice and Defense Secretary Gates are planning to visit with Saudi leaders to discuss things.

So far, neither Washington nor Riyadh is spending any time thinking about containing the chaos that will follow the inevitable American withdrawal. The only good news is that President Bush is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Saudi Arabia for what we hope will be a frank discussion.

A failed Iraqi state with Saudi Islamists holed up in Al Qaeda sanctuaries in its western deserts is clearly not in the interests of the Saudi monarchy. But for Ms. Rice and Mr. Gates to have any chance of changing Saudi policies, they will have to go beyond the administration’s usual mix of bullying and denial and address legitimate Saudi concerns.

One such concern is Iran, which is bankrolling and training Shiite militias, building a power base in Shiite areas of Iraq and drawing the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, into its orbit. Iran’s expanding influence poses a major threat to Saudi Arabia.

I'm not so certain at this point that an American withdrawal from Iraq is inevitable at this point. Nothing the White House has said or the Congress has done can possibly lead to that conclusion. However, should a withdrawal actually occur, chaos can be avoided if, and only if, our friends the Saudis are willing to cooperate by stopping the flow of jihadis, money, and arms to the Sunni minority.

Selling the Saudis more arms (they are a major beneficiary of the just-announced $20 billion arms deal with countries in the region) is not going to do the trick. It is entirely too likely that at least some of those arms will be used against US troops in Iraq. The US will have to make it clear that the Saudi support for the Sunni insurgents will have to stop taking the form it has for the past few years. The problem right now is not Iran, but Saudi Arabia.

As the editorial suggests, talks with all of Iraq's neighbors will be required,and those talks will have to include not only Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also Syria and Jordan. It is the talks with Saudi Arabia, however, which are the most important right now.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Lizard

Once again, JohnJS has come through with a great picture.

Talking At Iran

One of the things I've learned over the years is that how a problem is framed pretty much decides what the proposed solution will look like. That's why I wasn't too surprised by the unanimous Senate vote (97-0) last week on Iran. Sen. Lieberman (I-Connecticut) used this language in drafting his proposal: "The murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable act of hostility against the United States." (The quote is taken from here, more about which in a moment.)

Now who is going to vote against a bill with that kind of language?

At the time the vote was reported in the media, I admit I was a little stunned. My first thought was, of course, that members of Congress hadn't learned one damned thing since they authorized the use of force in Iraq. My second thought had to do with the timing, which I found to be a little odd. Why in July? Is this the start of intensive propaganda for a September War?

Well, as to the second part, maybe yes-maybe no. What was coming up, however, was the second round of the US-Iran talks in Bagdhad, and such a vote surely sent a message to Iran, coming as it did just a few days before the start of the talks. The tone that resolution set was picked up and carried forward by the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, at the opening of the talks. From the United Arab Emirates Emirates Tribune:

Speaking at a news conference after meeting his Iranian counterpart, only the second direct encounter in almost three decades, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad Ryan Crocker accused Iran of stepping up its support for militia groups in Iraq. "What we have been seeing on the ground over the last couple of months represents an escalation, not a de-escalation," he alleged.

While that asssessment may be true (or may not be), that Iran might be supporting the Shi'a militias certainly makes sense. The Shi'a are in the majority in Iraq, and the Shi'ite government of Iran has to be relieved that the Sunni power that ran the deadly Iran-Iraq war for so long has ended . Just as important, however, is the fact that, like the rest of the Middle East, Iran does not want nor does it need an unstable Iraq. To reach that end, Iran is reaching out to all the Shi'ite factions.

Just as important is the fact that Iran has shown (at least to this point)unwavering support of the US-backed regime of President Nuri al-Maliki:

Moreover, the Bush administration narrative ignores the fact that Iran's primary ties in Iraq have always been with those groups who support the U.S.-backed, Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, including the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Da'wa Party and their paramilitary arm, the Badr Corps, rather than with anti-government militias. This proves that Iran's fundamental interest is to see the Iraqi government succeed in the war-torn country, according to Professor Mohsen Milani of Florida International University, a specialist on Iran's national-security policies.

That means that the US and Iran share a common goal in Iraq, and surely Ambassador Crocker and the White House know this. Then what's the problem? Well, a few come to mind. The first is that we have a history of bad feelings over thirty years to overcome. The second is that right now, the current US administration wants the bad news from Iraq to cease without addressing the root of the bad news. The White House has no intention of leaving Iraq and a stable Iraqi government with the ability to quell sectarian violence leaves us with no excuse for staying.

Third, the current administration knows that a second Shi'ite nation in the Middle East makes the Sunni government of Saudi Arabia very uncomfortable, which may threaten our source of oil. That issue is being addressed by the reports today of a rather sizeable arms deal with the Saudis.

Fourth, and probably more important than any of the other reasons, the remaining neocons, including the Vice President, have a hard-on for a war against Iran. That means that the whole concept of a meaningful discussion with Iran on Iraq has been doomed from the start. Like the dog-and-pony-show trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees are supposed to represent justice, these talks with Iran are supposed to represent an attempt at actual diplomacy. In the meantime, hundreds of US soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians will die.

We don't have seventeen months to waste on this kind of posturing.

But, then, what do I know. I'm just an old broad who isn't even an orthodontist.

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What would you do if you couldn't even run your fan? I admit I totally borrowed this from Rorshach. You see, I grew up in Texas in the '50's and when it was 110F we were ordered to lie on the floor in front of a fan during the afternoons. It's hotter than that in Baghdad, and no fans!!

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only "an hour or two a day" of electricity. That's down from an average of five to six hours a day earlier this year.

But that piece of data has not been sent to lawmakers for months because the State Department, which prepares a weekly "status report" for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only "an hour or two a day" of electricity. That's down from an average of five to six hours a day earlier this year.

But that piece of data has not been sent to lawmakers for months because the State Department, which prepares a weekly "status report" for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.

For those of you who have never lived without the basic comforts, that may not be meaningful. I shall continue biting my tongue and not express violent intentions toward the war criminals.

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Putting A Leash On Lobbyists

One of the promises the Democrats made while campaigning for the November, 2006 election is that they would clean up the corruption in Congress. It appears that they are finally getting around to doing something on that issue, according to an article in today's NY Times.

Congressional Democrats reached tentative agreement Friday night on a major overhaul of lobbying rules that would for the first time require lawmakers to identify lobbyists who assemble multiple donations and turn them over to candidates. ...

The tentative proposal puts new requirements on lobbyists as well as on lawmakers, and orders disclosure of contributions that have become alternative ways to curry favor with politicians by giving to entities like favored charities, special awards and honors and presidential library funds. Lobbyists would also have to disclose at least twice a year if they paid for meetings or retreats.

The measure would set a one-year ban on lobbying for former House members and senior staff members, and two years in the Senate. New restrictions would be put on lobbying by spouses, and lobbyists would be required to disclose any previous experience in the executive or legislative branches.

Politicians would be banned from trying to pressure firms and associations to hire certain lobbyists based on partisan background — the so-called Republican K-Street project. Lawmakers and top aides would have to recuse themselves from issues where there could be a conflict because of negotiations for future employment, and such negotiations would have to be disclosed within three business days. New public databases would be established of lobbyists’ disclosures as well as of lawmaker travel and personal financial data. Penalties for violations would be increased.

That's a rather nice, if ambitious, start. Cutting the financial umbilical cord between Congress and K Street is necessary if we are to stop the Abramoff-style pillaging of the government. Although Sen. Mitch McConnell has indicated that Republican senators "probably" would vote for the proposal, actually getting such a bill through the House and the Senate is far from certain.

The agreement has been tentatively reached in the Democratic caucus, and only in informal meetings because one Republican senator stopped any formal conference on the issue. It would have been nice if the NY Times had revealed just who that senator was, but I guess we should be satisfied that the story was reported at all.

But if the 110th Congress manages to get this kind of reform passed, then maybe they can turn to the other part of the issue, that of Congressional ethics.

We'll see.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Keeping the Barriers Up

There's not much that the cretin in chief can do that surprises me, it would take his turning into a decent law-abiding citizen really to be a surprise. Today, though, I ran into another kink in that rotten waste of good air that I hadn't known about. If a bill passes that prohibits discrimination against gays, he's promised to veto it. In anticipation of that, the measure has been contained as an amendment to the war funding, something the sponsors are sure will be veto-proof.

Earlier this year, Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), the two lead sponsors of the Senate hate crimes bill, decided to offer the bill as an amendment to the defense measure as a safeguard against a possible veto by President Bush.

The White House announced in May that the president was strongly considering vetoing the hate crimes bill on grounds that state and local law enforcement agencies should prosecute hate crimes and the federal government should not become involved in such prosecutions. The announcement came one day before the House voted 237-180 on May 3 to approve a version of the hate crimes bill identical to the one before the Senate.

Reid removed the defense bill from the Senate floor after Republican senators staged a filibuster to kill a separate amendment to the bill backed by Democrats that called for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq by May 1.
Georgetown University government professor Clyde Wilcox, author of the book “Politics of Gay Rights,” said he expects the Senate to pass the defense authorization bill sometime this year based on precedent. When that happens, he said, there would be enormous pressure on the president to sign the bill, even if it has a hate crimes amendment attached to it.

There really isn't any indecency that the present resident of the White House avoids, but using a veto to prevent fair treatment of citizens is about as nasty as I can imagine. That veto is suddenly getting a lot of action. If anybody plans to make this country a better place, you're going to get vetoed. Has Yale apologized yet for letting him loose?

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Friday Catblogging

Wonderfully creative cat-making from http://flickr.com/photos/brill/, courtesy of Dave Brill.

The Emperor's New Tools

Because he isn't getting much cooperation from Congress anymore, the President has just taken to passing his own laws. The most recent is an executive order giving the CIA expanded authority to detain and not-exactly-torture anyone in the world if the Director thinks it's necessary. In her latest column for the Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks takes a look at the latest walk on the dark side by this administration.

...On July 20, President Bush issued an executive order "interpreting" Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, as applied to secret CIA detention facilities. On its face, the order bans torture -- but as an editorial in this paper noted Thursday, it does so using language so vague it appears designed to create loopholes for the CIA.

Just as bad, though barely noted by the media, last week's executive order breaks new ground by outlining the category of people who can be detained secretly and indefinitely by the CIA -- in a way that's broad enough to include a hefty chunk of the global population. Under its terms, a non-U.S. citizen may be secretly detained and interrogated by the CIA -- with no access to counsel and no independent monitoring -- as long as the CIA director believes the person "to be a member or part of or supporting Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated organizations; and likely to be in possession of information that could assist in detecting, mitigating or preventing terrorist attacks [or] in locating the senior leadership of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces."

Got that? The president of the United States just issued a public pronouncement declaring, as a matter of U.S. policy, that a single man has the authority to detain any person anyplace in the world and subject him or her to secret interrogation techniques that aren't torture but that nonetheless can't be revealed, as long as that person is thought to be a "supporter" of an organization "associated" in some unspecified way with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, and as long he thinks that person might know something that could "assist" us. ...

I was going to suggest that this latest edict was reminiscent of the Argentinian policies of 'disappearing' people, but the analogy isn't quite accurate. The generals there just disappeared their own people. Our Commander-in-Chief has decided to disappear citizens of all the other nations. In fact, he already has, as Ms. Brooks points out:

This isn't just hypothetical. The U.S. has already detained people based on little more. According to media reports, the CIA has even held children, including the 7- and 9-year-old sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In 2006, Mohammed was transferred from a secret CIA facility to Guantanamo, but the whereabouts of his children are unknown.

Somehow I don't think those other sovereign nations are going to be happy with this latest edict from the boy who would be emperor. Not happy at all.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Crook's Place Is In Court All Right

In Texas we really have a place in court for crooks. As Justice of the Supreme Court, that is. Justice Hecht got a bit of attention when he broke precedents by testifying in favor of his pal Harriet Miers' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices are supposed to be apolitical, if you recall from your high school courses in civics and government.

With the crooks in the executive branch of government the politicization has occured on so many levels that we are forgetting about the standards we used to have. This Texas Justice has reached all sorts of new peaks, of the downward sort, in behavior. Now he's being charged with accepting bribes. It seems he gets a deep discount from the law firm that's defending him against charges of misbehavior - and making favorable rulings on their cases before the Texas Supreme Court, from which he should be recused.

Controversial Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht could once again find himself in a familiar role - defending himself against charges of judicial misconduct.

Consumer group Texas Watch yesterday announced it had filed charges against Hecht with three public agencies over "illegal discounts" from a law firm he hired. The complaints allege Hecht got $100,000 off a $440,000 bill by well known Texas firm Jackson Walker, which frequently appears before the Texas Supreme Court.

Hecht incurred the bill during his successful efforts to remove a misconduct sanction imposed on him last year by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC). The SCJC said Hecht should not have used his chambers to conduct press interviews boosting old friend Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

The complaints against Hecht are the first Texas Watch has brought in its 10-year history. "Justice Hecht's recent actions merit a full and complete investigation," said Alex Winslow, Executive Director of Texas Watch. "It appears that he has abused his position ... by negotiating a sweetheart deal."

Hecht's subsequent efforts to pay off the remainder of his bill have also attracted attention across the state. Most recently, records revealed that the justice had delivered favorable Supreme Court verdicts recently to law firms that had given to his legal defense fund, LNL reported.

In Texas justice is often a joke, and the state is trying to pass on this tradition to the federal level. It seems from the recent decisions of our U.S. Supreme KKKourt that the fix is in.


Thursday Birdblogging

Feral Liberal went canoeing this past weekend, and found a great picture waiting to be taken. This Green Heron is fishing, and standing very still so he won't alert dinner that dinner is about to be ... dinner. Occasionally, they let out a squawk that sounds more like he's been stepped on than birdsong.

'The Green Heron is one of the few tool-using birds. It commonly drops bait onto the surface of the water and grabs the small fish that are attracted. It uses a variety of baits and lures, including crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, or feathers. ' from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Green_Heron_dtl.html

You can also hear what the green heron sounds like at that site.

Thanks, FeralL, glad you keep us in Great Lakes area birds. I haven't seen one of these since I left the East Coast, and btw, today is Chincoteague Wild Pony Swim day. The birds will all be scared off by the droves of tourists.


How Surprising!

The Pentagon is back to the old "winning hearts and minds" tactic, only this time the hearts and minds belong to the American public. In a report issued by a terrorism study group at West Point, the Pentagon hopes to prove that most, if not all, of the detainees at Gunatanamo Bay are very, very bad men, according to an article in today's NY Times.

Accelerating the public relations battle over terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, a new study of detainees in 2004 and 2005 requested by the Pentagon argues that many were a proven threat to United States forces. They included fighters of Al Qaeda, veterans of terrorism training camps and men who had experience with explosives, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, it said. ...

It paints a chilling portrait of the detainees, asserting that publicly available information indicates that 73 percent of them were a “demonstrated threat” to American or coalition forces. In all, it says, 95 percent were at the least a “potential threat,” including detainees who had played a supporting role in terrorist groups or had expressed a commitment to pursuing violent jihadist goals. The study is based on information from detainees’ hearings in 2004 and 2005.
[Emphasis added]

All of this means, of course, that those very, very bad men should be denied even the most basic human rights, such as the right to challenge their detention and the right to see the evidence that will be used against them in the dog-and-pony-show trials known as Military Commission Hearings. Otherwise these very, very, VERY bad men might actually be judged innocent, and we can't have that. That would release "potentially" dangerous men back into the world.

We are being told that we must accept this "neutral" report (commissioned by the Pentagon and prepared by a group at one of the Pentagon's own training grounds) because it is based on "publicly available" information gathered from transcripts of the very reliable dog-and-pony-show trials from 2004 and 2005, which the US Supreme Court held to be unconstitutional. The fact that the secret evidence, which is highly classified and which neither the detainees nor the American public have any right to see, might tell a different story should not bother us, because these are very, very, VERY bad men.

This report is reliable because it was prepared to inform us as to what really is going on, and, well, because the Pentagon doesn't want us to be mislead by the very, very, VERY bad men and their attorneys.

The authors made clear that one of their goals was to affect public attitudes. They said the report should “enhance our collective understanding of the threats facing the United States, its allies and its interests and how we respond to them.” [Emphasis added]

You know what?

I call bullshit.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Take Me to the Movies, Please

We have a date for the movies. Seems some one with the means to put together a documentary has gotten fed up with the media's blindness to the executive branch's total incompetence, if you're giving the benefit of the doubt, or criminality, if you're not. And this same person has made a documentary of what the U.S. did to Iraq.

If you could sit through Fehrenheit 911 without doing any damage to yourself or others, you should be able to get through this one, too.

In "No End In Sight," first-time director Charles Ferguson sets out to explore the management of the war in Iraq in the months following the US-led invasion in March 2003.
"I knew most of the large-scale facts: but when I learned just how crazy and just how stupid much of the administration's behavior was, I found myself quite dumbfounded," he added, citing Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer's May 2003 decision to disband the Iraqi army as a prime example.

Critics and analysts have said the decision was instrumental in fueling the Iraqi insurgency, leaving hundreds of thousands of young Iraqis with military experience unemployed and seething with resentment.

"Bremer made this decision on (CPA defense advisor) Walter Slocombe's recommendation, when neither of them had been to Iraq and Bremer had been on the job for only nine days," Ferguson said.

"What do you say when you learn something like that? And there were many, many things like that, dozens of them."
Asked whether he believed the film had uncovered evidence of impeachable offenses, Ferguson was similarly equivocal.

"Is unbelievable carelessness and stupidity an impeachable offense?" he asks. "I don't know ... I really don't."

It's good to know that the number of us disenchanted with U.S. press coverage of atrocities is increasing, and the more who put together factual analyses, the better. This is a good addition to our growing knowledge, and to growing amazement at how badly the country is being served by those in high offices.

If you're watching Abu Gonzales making the administration's disregard for law more obvious every day, you may join me in thinking his 'testimony' yesterday was another dry run for the White House. If he isn't prosecuted for criminal conduct, the whole bunch of them is safe.

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Electioneering On The Taxpayer's Dime

The dream of the Thousand Year Reich has apparently not died in the White House, even after the Democratic victories in 2006. The administration apparently continues to hold Republican pep rallies for the faithful who have been given government jobs as a result of their previous campaign donations, according to an AP report published in the Sacramento Bee. This time it involves ambassadors and other diplomats.

Starting in 2001, White House political aides gave at least a half-dozen briefings to top diplomats about key congressional and gubernatorial races and Bush's re-election goals, according to documents obtained by the Senate committee.

The diplomats were Bush appointees, several of whom had contributed heavily to the campaigns of Bush and other Republicans. Administration officials said Tuesday there was nothing surprising or inappropriate about the briefings.
[Emphasis added].

It may not be surprising, given this administration, but it is inappropriate, and perhaps even illegal as a violation of the Hatch Act. The article points out that as recently as January, 2007, Karl Rove attended a luncheon for some of these diplomats and spoke about the Democratic incumbents being targeted in the 2008 elections. The implication is clear: keep the money coming, folks, we've got a campaign to run. This is precisely the kind of pressure the Hatch Act was designed to prevent.

As the article points out, these kinds of activities have been endemic in this administration:

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel recently concluded that General Services Administration head Lurita Alexis Doan violated the Hatch Act when she purportedly asked political appointees to help GOP candidates in tight races.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., recently criticized top officials of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for traveling to events designed to boost Republican lawmakers in tough re-election campaigns. Waxman chairs the House oversight committee.

And the official White House response to the discovery of the electioneering on worksites during work hours?

"You've got political appointees getting political briefings," White House press secretary Tony Snow said with sarcasm. "I'm shocked. Shocked."

You should be shocked, Mr. Snow, and you would be if you were any kind of real American concerned with the rule of law.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Incompetence Reigns, Meaning It's DOJ News Again

The Department of Justice has turned into an oxymoron under the reign of the morons at the executive branch of our government. Their use of waiving the usual machinery of justice is appalling, even to the WaPo editorial board.

AJUDGE'S decision this month to throw out criminal charges against 13 former employees of the accounting firm KPMG illustrates what has gone wrong with the government's pursuit of corporate cases, and why a legislative remedy is needed.

In his July 17 decision, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of New York dismissed the charges because he found that the Justice Department had so egregiously violated the constitutional rights of the defendants that allowing the cases to go forward would be wrong. What prompted Judge Kaplan's extraordinary action was evidence that federal prosecutors had demanded that KPMG stop paying legal fees for the individual defendants, even though companies commonly pay such fees unless employees are convicted. The Justice Department, according to Judge Kaplan, strongly suggested that cutting off the legal fees would put the company in the government's good graces and possibly help it avert indictment. The incentives for KPMG were palpable: Remember the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, which collapsed after Enron-related charges were lodged against it?
Judges -- not Congress -- are usually in the best position to keep overzealous prosecutors at bay, and no one wins if corporate crooks get away scot-free. But this Justice Department seems to have lost sight of the enormous hammer it already wields over companies and individuals alike -- without resorting to extraordinary measures. A modest check on that power is appropriate.(Emphasis added.)

Stacking the DoJ with inferior, politically motivated, hacks in key positions has turned it into an embarrassment to this country, and a hindrance to justice.

Just recently in Gitmo proceedings, defendants were charged incorrectly, and the responsible judge threw them out. In that case, their incompetence prevented an injustice, but that can't be counted on in all instances.

The comments to the editorial, which include mine as 'jocabel' (my cat), show a glimmer of the kind of public awareness of what is being done to this country by the end of the Rule of Law.

reporter1 wrote:
My goodness, the DOJ made an error that allowed some corporate friends of this Republican administration to escape criminal charges.

I'm sure it was all a mistake. After all, this administration is tough on crime . . . right? . . . I mean tough on Democrats who commit crimes.

You can bet those guys at KPMG are not Democrats.

Now things are in focus.

jocabel wrote:
'A modest check' will make not a dint in the much vitiated DoJ. The executive branch has been prostituted to political ends, its role as public servant violated by this administration. A change of president, and new direction, is what is needed.

dlellis wrote:
Based upon the widespread disregard of the Bush Administration for civil liberties and Constitutional rights the only legislative remedy would be impeachment. Passing a law that would essentially say that Justice must obey the law is meaningless and even stupid.

Even if the Congress passed the legislation and overrode the Bush veto it would draw, the stonewalling of the Bush Administration on releasing information would prevent the Congress and the judiciary from being able to determine if the Administration continues the abuses.

bird52 wrote:
We don't need "a modest check" . We need a SERIOUS check on the extraordinary abuses of the AG. Impeachment is too kind.

BTW, your editorials are so-oo, uh ,namby-pamby. This administration has been a certifiable disaster for the entire world and you react as if someone used lemon at high tea (sniff!).

H5N1 wrote:
Another heckuva job, Gonzo and company! DOJ will take decades to recover from the Bush Administration, if indeed it ever can.

Open1 wrote:
The Bush Mafia seems to have lost sight of the enormous hammer it already wields over companies and individuals alike -- without resorting to the US military for domestic special operations and domestic covert action for domestic political gain.(Emphasis added, heh)

Increasingly, the knowledgeable comments to WaPo editorials are full of the facts that the editorial board shies away from if it doesn't outright contradict them.

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How Unhelpful

The President giveth, but mostly the President taketh away. Our Dear Leader has promised action on securing the safety of our imported food supply by appointing a cabinet level committee to look into the problem, but has also effectively cut the budget of the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency created to ensure food safety. An editorial in today's NY Times points to the shell game being played out by the White House.

President Bush took a potentially useful step last week, appointing a cabinet-level committee to find ways to ensure the safety of imported food and other products. But his actions would be a lot more credible if the administration had not been cutting the staff and budget of food safety programs at the Food and Drug Administration while also planning to eliminate half of the agency’s laboratories.

Hearings before a House oversight subcommittee raised serious questions about the F.D.A.’s ability to protect the public against contaminated or adulterated foods. William Hubbard, a former top agency official who consults for a coalition of industry and consumer groups, told the committee that the F.D.A. has lost some 200 food scientists and 700 field inspectors over five years, exactly the wrong direction when food imports are skyrocketing. He also noted that the small budget increase the White House has proposed for food safety next year would be a decrease after accounting for inflation.
[Emphasis added]

Congressional hearings have received testimony on the recent spate of questionable food being imported which details the problems. Shippers know which points of entry are the most lax in terms of testing, and also know which private labs the government uses can be bought off. Is it any wonder that even our toothpaste has been adulterated? Yet the only response from the White House has been to promise another committee closely tied to the current regime by its cabinet-level status.

We know what the problems are and some pretty good ideas of how to fix them. We already have an agency, it just needs adquate funding and adequate oversight. This is not rocket science.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Everyone Doesn't Have YouTube, Didja Know?

The Democrats usually have my sympathies, and I am very hopeful that the political philosophy that embraces public service, and that quaint concept "of the people, by the people, and for the people" will be returned to power in time to keep this country from disaster. Therefore, I am sorry to say that tonight's debates leave me cold not just because CNN is playing god in them, but because they assume anyone, anywhere, can watch them.

There is a growing segment of households in this country that cannot have all the goodies. The expenses of having a place to live, getting to work, clothing the kids, feeding the family, and the occasional emergency are the total load they can afford. Our luxuries of iPhones, instant internet access, pagers, are beyond the necessities they can afford.

I have always thought it was snotty to think that telephone polls represent total American opinions, because they can only be conducted by landline phones. An increasing number of the very mobile underclass are dependent on mobile phones or employment offices' answering services.

Today a close look at the Democrats' CNN debate site, Charleston, S.C., turned up a large community that will not be able to participate in this 'public debate'. They don't have YouTube access, don't have the highspeed cable connection.

Less than a mile and a half from the Citadel, the site of the Democratic presidential debate tonight, sits Cooper River Courts, a public housing project. Forget the Web. Never mind YouTube, the debate's co-sponsor. Here, owning a computer and getting on the Internet (through DSL or cable or Wi-Fi) is a luxury.

"I am low-income and computers are not low-income," says Marcella Morris, sitting on the front step of her apartment building on a sweltering day last week.
"At one level, the YouTube debate shows that the Web has really become a centerpiece of American political culture," adds Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet. "At another level, it also shows that the debate is not for everybody. It's certainly not available to all Americans."

That is especially true at Cooper River Courts, where Tiara Reid, 14, in her jeans shorts and pink striped top, runs up and down the complex asking friends if anyone wants to go the library. Finally her mom, Jossie, who works at a deli, drives her and a neighbor's daughter. With school out and without Internet access at home, the library is the only place where she can go on the Web -- for a maximum of two hours a day. Says Tiara: "It's 10 minutes to get to the library if someone drives you. It's 15 minutes if you take the 30 bus. It's about 30 minutes if you walk." On the library's second floor, she folds herself up on a chair and updates her MySpace profile, sends e-mails on her Yahoo! account and, if there's time, surfs Disney.com.

These are the very people who need to elect to our highest office some one to represent them. These are the very people who have been robbed and abused by the present executive branch in its total lapdance for the corporations and the extremely rich. They need to be in touch and their voices need to be heard.

Town meetings are prevalent in New England, they're a wonderful way of getting everyone involved, and giving everyone a voice. Wouldn't a city like Charleston - or, closer, Dallas - be increasing democracy exponentially by providing public forums using YouTube to connect to real debates, real events. It's a thought, maybe one way of getting the people involved in their government who have the highest risk level if it continues being the property of the privileged.

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Creating Reality

Many of us have taken great delight in skewering the utter incompetence of the current administration, especially as it relates to foreign affairs. I'm quite fond of the "the gang who can't shoot straight" tag myself. However, Rosa Brooks suggests a different take, one that is absolutely chilling. From her July 20, 2007 column in the Los Angeles Times:

In a much-quoted 2004 New York Times Magazine article, journalist Ron Suskind described a 2002 conversation with a senior Bush advisor — widely assumed to be Karl Rove — who added an extra gloss to Kristol's aphorism, making it clear that "reality" can mean different things to different people.

As Suskind relates the story: "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.' " ...

In a very real sense, Suskind's "senior Bush advisor" has been proved more right than wrong. The administration did create realities to match its darkest visions, reshaping the world with remarkable speed and thoroughness.

In 2001, administration stalwarts suggested that Osama bin Laden rivaled Hitler in the danger he posed to U.S. security and insisted that Al Qaeda's power was so great that nothing short of a "global war on terror" was required.

At that time, most experts say, this description of Al Qaeda simply wasn't true. It was little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs, well financed and intermittently lethal but relatively limited in their global and regional political pull. On 9/11, they got lucky — but despite the unexpected success of their attack on the U.S., they did not pose an imminent mortal threat to the nation.

Today, things are different. Thanks to U.S. policies, Al Qaeda has become the vast global threat the administration imagined it to be in 2001. Our ham-handed detention and interrogation tactics and our ill-advised invasion of Iraq have alienated vast swathes of the Islamic world, fueling extremism and anti-Americanism. Today, Al Qaeda is no longer a single organization. Now it's a franchise, with new gangs of terrorists around the world proudly seizing the "Al Qaeda" affiliation.

Other neocon fantasies have also come true. In 2003, there was no alliance between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and no Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Iraq. Today, thanks to the administration's actions, Iraq has become a prime training and recruiting ground for Al Qaeda, and the NIE has declared Al Qaeda in Iraq one of the greatest threats to U.S. peace and security.

Ms. Brooks' analysis doesn't just work in the foreign policy arena, however. Domestically, this administration has worked diligently to expand the power of the president to the point that no constitutional rights are considered inviolable, not habeas corpus, not privacy, not free speech. What is inviolable is the position that the unitary executive is the source and the holder of all power.

In other words, it's their reality, we just suffer in it.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday Poetry: Langston Hughes


Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

Langston Hughes

Voter Intimidation

One of the items in the GOP bag of tricks is labeled "Voter Fraud." It gets hauled out a few months before any given election and strange things begin to happen. US Attorneys suddenly start pushing for indictments against those who allegedly voted improperly in a previous election. Thousands of names are purged from voter rolls as purportedly being those of felons or those of people ineligable to vote. The result is the same: vote suppression by voter intimidation.

One of the biggest targets for voter intimidation in California has been immigrants who have become naturalised citizens. Now, some immigrants/citizens who have made it into the state legislature are trying to do something about it. From today's Sacramento Bee:

One day last October, Jose Solorio was sorting through his mail at his home in Orange County when he came upon a letter written in Spanish that stunned him.

The mailer -- which he later learned was sent to 14,000 other naturalized citizens with Latino surnames -- warned immigrants who vote they are committing a crime punishable by jail time and deportation.

As a Santa Ana city councilman, former state Senate fellow and graduate of Harvard University's School of Government, Solorio knew that isn't true. ...

The latest episode of voter intimidation in Orange County prompted Solorio, a Santa Ana Democrat, to introduce Assembly Bill 122. It would require election officials to give candidates a copy of provisions of the law that prohibit voter intimidation and the criminal penalties.

Another bill, AB 288 by Assemblyman Curren Price, D-Inglewood, would require people convicted of voter intimidation to pay a restitution fine, in addition to any existing fines, with the money to be used for voter education campaigns.

"Current law doesn't provide for any reimbursement by the party convicted of intimidation," said Price. "So the state and counties end up paying for public information to dissuade such acts."

While both bills are moving through the Legislature, a third voter intimidation bill has stalled for the session in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

AB 46 by Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Garden Grove, would have turned voter intimidation into a felony-only offense. Under existing law, prosecutors have the option of filling misdemeanor charges.

The bill languished in the Appropriations Committee amid concerns by a rare alignment of Democrats, Republicans and the ACLU that it would limit the flexibility of prosecutors and contribute to prison overcrowding.

All three bills deserve serious consideration and passage. Although I generally side with the ACLU, this is one time I don't. Voting is too precious a right to ripped from a newly naturalised citizen or any other citizen for that matter. Make voter intimidation a felony and prosecute it as such: send a message to those who count on keeping people away from the polls that such activity will not be tolerated in a democracy.

As to the overcrowding of prisons issue I would simply suggest that if we stopped slamming people into prison for victimless crimes there might be plenty of room for those who don't trust democracy enough to let it flower.

Get. It. Done.

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Water, Water All Around

There've been several discussions I've gotten involved in lately about the water situation. In North Texas, Lake Texoma between the two states (yes, Texas and Oklahoma) has been the reservoir (put in in 1943) was expected to keep water on hand for local towns and farmers forever. Now the demands on it have grown, and other lakes have been put in, but Dallas, not that far away, has needs growing faster than its resources. Presently Dallas is fighting it out with conservation areas to supply water for a growing population.

This is the growing problem throughout the American West, and in many other places as well. Recently, U.N. president Ban Ki-Moon (see Losing a World) pinpointed water conflicts as a major reason for the Darfur horrors, because formerly noncompeting populations found that their lives depended on a water supply that wasn't (shades of the American West) big enough for both of them. As global warming progresses, deserts are going to increase, as they are increasing now. The prospect of conflicts to come are not just dangerous to the underdeveloped countries. They're happening here as well.

Near here, Lubbock depends on the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground lake that made life livable there for long years, but is now being tapped out. I was looking at Lubbockonline this morning. It looks pretty bad.

Water's fallen everywhere but the spots we tap to drink.

Rains that have swamped streets, delayed construction and muddied fields around Lubbock have barely dampened the watershed of languishing Lake Meredith, the Sanford reservoir that was once the city's primary source of drinking water. That means directors of the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, which manages Meredith, must continue to mine the Ogallala Aquifer to provide drinking water to Lubbock and 10 other customer cities. General Manager Kent Satterwhite declined to say by how much the levels of their well fields in Roberts County had fallen, but the well fields need a break.......Pumping in the Ogallala, a massive, underground formation stretching from the Texas Panhandle into Nebraska, outpaces how quickly the resource can replenish itself. It also requires much more energy - and therefore money - to pull water out of the ground than to pipe it out of a lake.

Another crisis of course, is happening in Las Vegas, a city built on total disregard of the resources a city needs in order to survive.

Central Nevada farmers like Roderick McKenzie fear booming Las Vegas is going to suck them dry. They're fighting a plan to pump billions of gallons of water south across the desert, saying it would eat up groundwater supplies and could spell the end for ranchers and farmers in rural valleys. With one ruling in hand for billions of gallons of rural Nevada water, the water supplier for sprawling southern Nevada is pressing for billions of additional gallons a year - in a move that pits farmers and ranchers against developers eager to keep the gambling mecca booming. ...."The availability of water in these basins is highly suspect," added Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "It's a desert, with barely water enough for the farmers and ranchers whose lives depend on it."

"SNWA could turn this vast area into a national sacrifice zone for the sake of unchecked growth in Las Vegas," Fulkerson said.

For now, these battles are being fought out in council meetings and are conducted with civility, for the most part. To hark back to an earlier hint, though, the words from our Western history "this place isn't big enough for both of us" presaged violence to come. There's a history of violence in the growing competition for resources. It's coming to real shortages, to be experienced by real people. We need to plan now to keep from disasters to come.

Los Angeles had the least rainfall in its history this year. Use of recycled 'grey water' has been suggested.

North and South Central Texas received record amounts. That does not need to be ominous. An executive branch with wisdom would be working on this coming contretemps now.

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The First Veto Override?

The president has signalled that he intends to veto the Children's Health Insurance Program bill proposed by the Senate. The bill, which budgets $35 billion over five years, is to be funded by an increase in federal tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. The president's proposal would only have budgeted $5 billion over that five years and would, contrary to White House assertions, result in the dropping of hundreds of thousands of children covered by the program.

A lot of Republicans have signed on to the Senate version: it passed out of committee with a majority of Republicans voting for the measure. The House, which is still working out its version, is said to be even more generous, but House leaders will no doubt concede to the Senate version, if only in conference, because the bill is so desired at this point.

Will enough Republicans vote to override the promised veto? According to an article in today's Los Angeles Times, the votes just might be there. November, 2008 is drawing closer, and none of them want to be tarred with the brush of voting to hurt kids with health problems. The president's version will certainly do that, according to some state officials:

Some state officials say the administration is not offering nearly enough money to meet current commitments, much less help more children.

"The funding that was provided in the first decade when most of us were building our programs is simply not sufficient to continue," said Lesley Cummings, an administrator of California's program.

A recent study estimated about 200,000 children could be dropped from coverage in California under the president's plan, she said.

The irony of the president's harsh stance is that this man campaigned on a theme of "Compassionate Conservatism," citing the Texas CHIP plan which he signed as evidence of his committment to that theme. The Times article gives a different version of that history:

Back in Texas, where Bush was governor in the early days of the program, former state Rep. Glen Maxey, a Democrat, said the president was "no friend of this program."

The initial allocation of federal funds for Texas would have supported coverage for 500,000 children, Maxey said. But Gov. Bush's first proposal called for covering only about 150,000, according to Maxey, who formed a legislative caucus to build support for covering the larger number.

The turning point was a 1999 committee vote in the Texas House, which signaled broad support for the more generous plan. Maxey said Bush later came up to him on the House floor, put his hands on his shoulders and conceded he had been outflanked.

Bush signed the bill and when he ran for president in 2000, cited it as an example of "compassionate conservatism."
[Emphasis added]

In keeping with his original feelings on the issue, Mr. Bush now claims that the bill proposed by the Senate is merely the first step towards a national takeover of health care, and he won't allow it.

Some compassion, eh?

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bonus Critter Blogging: Gazelle

(Photograph by A & M Shah/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes and published in National Geographic.)

Problems In Pakistan

Our best friend forever in Pakistan, President/General Pervez Musharraf, is facing some serious turmoil in that country. The violence has extended from the tribal territories into the major cities, and Mr. Muscharraf's control is getting shakier by the day. An op-ed piece published July 21, 2007 in Pakistan's The Daily Jang indicates the general belief that the president of Pakistan should have chosen his friends more wisely.

Pakistan's tribal belt is under fire again, just two weeks after General Musharraf received Pakistan and a U.S. intelligence reports indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining a stronghold there.

The picture that the U.S. report paints is so extreme, that journalists are asking the Bush Administration why the United States isn't sending troops into the tribal areas as it did to Iraq. The government has refuted the U.S. report, but given that its own reports also show a resurgence of pro-Taliban forces, it hasn't a leg to stand on. The real question really is, haven't the Bush Administration and U.S. intellectuals learned anything from Iraq?

Repeatedly asking Pakistan's government to launch military operations or sending U.S. troops into the area will do nothing to eliminate anti-American sentiment there, and it's clear that the strategy of force adopted after September 11 has made the region more vulnerable than ever. Afghanistan is hardly stable and Iraq is major tragedy, where death tolls of 100 a day have become routine. And the proxy war that the Pakistan Army has been fighting against its own people on behalf of the United States is failing. ...

Suicide bombing, which is now a routine matter, didn't exist in Pakistan before September 11. At the same time there has been an extreme polarization within society due to the war on terror, which could be a prelude to secular and religious civil unrest in Pakistan. Before the United States even contemplates attacking another country or part of a country (i.e., Pakistan's tribal areas), it must demonstrate how past interventions in the name of war on terror have reduced the terrorist threat.

The question is simple: what would the objective be of such military operations in the tribal areas? If the objective is to reduce jihadi sentiment in the area, clearly the strategy of force is not working. For over four years now, the Pakistani military has undertaken operations in the area, and now both Pakistani and American intelligence claims that the concentration of pro-Taliban forces is at a high point. If force is the answer, then why has it failed to deliver?
[Emphasis added]

Clearly the use of force has had no effect on terrorism. Reports here and abroad make it clear that the US (and other countries who were foolish enough to sign on with the US in these excellent adventures) are less safe from Al Qaeda style attacks than we were before 9/11. The ranks of jihadists have been swelled by young and not so young, poor and not so poor Muslims because the US policy is seen as anti-Islam, not anti-terror. Given the US's stance in the Israel-Palestine issue, it is difficult to fault that logic, but the logic becomes even more plausible as Afghanistan and Iraq continue to go up in flames and the White House continues to shake its sabres at Iran and Syria.

It will take decades to sort this mess out, just like every other mess George W. Bush has made since taking office. I doubt I will live long enough to see that.

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Higher Education Gets Sold Down the River

We make jokes about the Texas legislature, famous for such idiocies as the bill to allow blind people to hunt, and such idiosyncrasies as the DeLay redistricting that the former Supreme Court struck down as not providing equal representations to people of all races. The legislature here is part-time and often it is suggested that if it were fulltime, the extra time would just mean more damage.

Our lege has outdone itself this time. It has provided so inadequate funding programs for education that many rising college freshmen, after working for the grades to be admitted to colleges and qualifying for scholarships that would be interest free to entice them to finish in four years, are being informed that there isn't money to fund those scholarships. It was a great idea. Much too great for the Texas political criminals who will throw billions at their friends' businesses, and TXU, but cheat the deserving students.

This week – just a month before heading off to the University of Texas at Austin – Brad Barmer got an unwelcome surprise. That $5,170 interest-free loan he was counting on this year? He won't be getting it.

Instead, Mr. Barmer and some 700 other incoming freshmen at UT – and thousands more college-bound students across the state – won't see a dime from the Texas "B On Time" loan program.

Just this month, the state notified college financial aid offices that the program doesn't have enough money to go around. So new students must go without.

Colleges are now scrambling to tell students, many of whom have already paid admissions deposits and signed apartment leases.

Mr. Barmer said he and his future roommate, who's in the same leaky financial boat, are upset.

"I thought for sure I was going to get the money," he said Friday, recalling the award letter UT sent him in April. "I accepted it."

He doesn't want to take out a different loan. What other loan is interest-free – and totally forgiven if you graduate on time with at least a B average?

Campus financial aid officers say they're offering students other types of loans, and that this setback shouldn't prevent them from going to college. But other loans can charge upwards of 6 or 8 percent, with no forgiveness for good grades and timely graduation.

"Basically, I'm trying to earn $5,000 by the end of the summer. I'm working an insane amount of overtime," said Mr. Barmer, who graduated from South Grand Prairie High School and lives in DeSoto.

$8 million short

The state spent $49 million on B On Time loans in the last school year, enough for 12,800 students. But for the school year about to start, there's only an estimated $41 million, enough for 9,900 students.

So the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in a letter to college financial aid officials last week, said there's no loan money for new students.

And some students who got the loans last year – around 650 – won't get them renewed. State officials haven't figured out which returning students will lose out.

Both UT-Austin and Texas A&M University, the state's two largest campuses, are notifying incoming freshmen who won't be getting the loans as expected. Texas A&M sent a letter out to more than 100 students this week. UT is about to tell its students. Mr. Barmer got an early heads-up from a friend who learned from a
financial aid office.
But financial aid officers have a tricky job. Families typically apply for financial aid by February. Around April, colleges notify students of their expected financial aid packages. In many cases, students pick a college based on the aid it offers.
But the state budget isn't approved until the end of May (every two years).

"The financial aid cycle doesn't mesh with the budget cycle either in Washington or in Austin," said Henry Urick, interim associate director of financial aid at UT.
He said families appreciate the early notice so they can plan.

Either way, the loss of B On Time loans will be challenging for some. Mr. Urick said freshmen and their parents are vulnerable, because for many this is their first experience navigating financial aid and paying tuition.

In so many ways, the freshmen/women and some of the upperclassmen/women are just out of luck because they don't have lots of money to spend on lobbying and other forms of influence. These kids are our future, they will contribute more for every hour of education. But the legislature is interested in pleasing their big money interests, not in building a future for the state. They need to hear a lot of complaints, and be taken to task whenever they appear, for this demonstration of graft and corruption. There isn't much worse they can do for our future than to lose students to higher education.

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Blind Review

After the 109th Congress stripped habeas corpus rights from Guantanamo Bay detainees, it left only one avenue of review for them: an appeal to the federal court of appeals on the issue of the validity of tribunal decisions on enemy combatant status. Yesterday, an important ruling came down from the Washington, DC Circuit Court of Appeals on the matter. From today's Washington Post:

A federal appeals court charged with reviewing the enemy combatant status of detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ruled yesterday that the government must provide the court and defense lawyers with classified evidence gathered against the detainees. The ruling indicates that the court wants to conduct full reviews of the Bush administration's decisions about the suspected terrorists.

Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote that the court "must have access to all the information available" to the military's Combatant Status Review Tribunals to determine whether the tribunals were fair to Guantanamo detainees and whether the individuals should in fact be considered enemy combatants. Government lawyers had argued that the court should review only what was in the official record of the tribunals, not all the evidence they had gathered to support the hearings.

The court was ruling on motions filed in two cases arising out of the Detainee Treatment Act, which was passed in late 2005 and gives detainees the right to appeal tribunal decisions to the court of appeals -- currently their only legal option for challenging their detention.

Chief Justice Douglas H. Ginsburg wrote that the court and the detainees' lawyers must see all the evidence because the Detainee Treatment Act requires the court to determine the validity of the tribunal decisions, and doing so without all available information would be inappropriate.

It's bad enough that evidence used by the government was withheld from the defendants and their attorneys, but that the government tried to withhold that evidence from the Court of Appeals is stunning. What? "Just trust us" is now a legally sufficient argument?

Due process is not something that can be limited. We either have it, all of it, or we don't have it all. This government's constant whittling away of centuries old rights has to be stopped, and this is as good a starting point as any.

Unfortunately, in this case, the process is not complete. The government can still appeal this decision to the Supreme Court, and, frankly, given the current makeup of the Supreme Court, I am more than a little nervous about the ultimate outcome.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Lies, Outrageous Lies, and Constant Lies

It's being too kind to denounce the cretin in chief for having no grasp on reality. What he constantly speaks is lies, intentional and idiotic, knowing that having a grasp on the highest office in this country makes him safe from much refutation.

Today, he wanted to accuse the Democrats of working against the troops, although we are actually working against him and for the troops. Forget that everyone listening knows he's telling a lie, and that he vetoes measures meant to help the troops. He's the deciderer liar.

President Bush, ratcheting up a fight with Congress over Iraq, accused Democrats on Friday of conducting a political debate on the war while delaying action on money to upgrade equipment and give troops a pay raise.

"It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field, and give them everything they need to succeed," Bush said in the Rose Garden after meeting with veterans and military families.

Bush spoke two days after Senate Republicans thwarted a Democratic proposal to pull out troops from Iraq. Bush said that instead of approving money for the war, "the Democratic leaders chose to have a political debate on a precipitous withdrawal of our troops from Iraq."

Despite Bush's suggestion that the bill is a must-pass measure that would pay for critical war programs, the legislation is not an appropriations bill that feeds military spending accounts. Called the defense authorization bill, the legislation is more a policy-type measure used by Congress to influence the management of major defense programs, set goals and guide the 2008 military spending bill.

The bill is needed, however, to authorize military pay raises. Congress typically does not finish the bill before fall, and the pay raises are applied retroactively.(Emphasis added)

In other words, Mr. Reporter, it's a lie. Like calling the Democrats obstructionist when GoPerverts are obstructing everything they can in Congress, even accepting the record of the previous day's proceedings. Their role is petty criminality. The C-i-C is committing major criminal behavior. The Executive Liar is determined to keep the U.S.'s interests from being represented.

This is growing into what may well necessitate Speaker Pelosi's putting impeachment back on the table. I admit I prefer war crimes be charged against the entire executive branch, to be brought at Nuremberg or the International Criminal Court. However, with Congress being charged with various false accusations and defied when it brings legal charges against the executive branch's crimes, there may well be no other course. Thanks again, all of you out there putting up signs that say "IMPEACH".

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Friday Catblogging

Why do we call kindness toward others "humanity", sharing "humane??

This is tiger cubs being nursed by a surrogate mom-dog, at Wild Animal World, featured in May in Australia's Brisbane Times.

Newborn tiger triplets in eastern China are being nursed by a dog after their mother rejected them.

Officials at the Jinan Paomaling Wild Animal World in Shandong province are calling the cubs "One," "Two" and "Three."

They have been nursed by a dog since they were rejected by their mother shortly after birth 10 days ago, said Paomaling manager Chen Yucai.

The triplet's adoptive mother, a mixed breed farm dog named "Huani," is expected to nurse the tigers for about a month or until their appetites outpace her supply, Chen said.

Chen said it is common for Chinese zoos to use surrogate dog mothers to nurse rejected tiger cubs.

Huani has nursed tigers from Paomaling before, he said.

"The family is getting along well and seems to enjoy each other," Chen said.

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Something Else I Did Not Know

According to an AP report published in The Sacramento Bee yesterday, where an injured veteran lives often determines how much disability pay he or she receives.

Injured veterans could be shortchanged in their government disability pay depending on where they live because of wide disparities from state to state, an internal study concludes. ...

Since reports of disparities emerged in 2005, the VA has struggled to explain them. It has largely blamed problems on demographic factors beyond its control; for instance, whether a particular state had more Vietnam veterans, who on average receive higher payments, or whether a veteran had legal help when making a claim.

But the study released to the AP found that roughly one-third of the problems could be blamed on poor VA standards and inadequate training. As a result, disability raters in VA regional offices often had too much power and discretion to decide how much pay a veteran was entitled.

The report also faulted the VA for not collecting data on certain types of claims, such as how many post-traumatic stress disorder cases are rejected. As a result, it was impossible to determine whether part of the disparity might be due to a VA office inappropriately rejecting a high number of claims for PTSD, a signature injury of the Iraq war. ...

Among the findings:

-PTSD claims generate among the highest disability pay, averaging $20,000 each year to more than 200,000 veterans. While VA staff expected PTSD claims would be more subjective from state to state, their ratings were actually more stable compared with other injuries and illnesses, such as cardiovascular problems.

-Veterans who receive legal help or aid from advocacy groups receive on average $11,162, compared with $4,728 for those who go it alone. Currently about two-thirds of veterans get such advocacy help; the highest representation is in North Dakota (81.9 percent), while the lowest is in Maryland (44.8 percent).

-Vietnam veterans received annual awards of $11,670, compared with $7,410 for those who fought in other wars. The lowest pay was given to Gulf War veterans - $6,506.

Something's wrong here, and the VA has already promised to improve the training of staff so such disparities are removed. Officials have also indicated that they will be hiring additional staff so that data collection procedures are improved, which should help with making the criteria used in the decision process more objective. That's a good start, but Congress needs to keep a close watch on the agency.

Note: For the state-by-state ranking go here. I was surprised by quite a few of the entries.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thursday Birdblogging; dedicated to Alora

Thursday Birdblogging today is dedicated to Sarah Deere's granddaughter, Alora, who was taken from us on Tuesday. She was a lovely child, whose soul takes flight - and may these birds give her good company. The delicacy of the small crowned bird impresses me as what could be a child's delight. I wish her released soul much joy, and enjoyment

This little brilliant spark is called Cassin's Finch, and was a surprise outside the motel in Colorado Springs, in view of Pike's Peak. These pictures come from http://www.geocities.com/tgrey41/CassinsFinchM2.jpg, and someday I really have to get a working camera of my own, but with help like geocities, I probably am doing better to spare you my amateur efforts.

He's a Western bird, and I took a picture just when they decided they preferred the other side of the bush they were playing on. Here's the bush, anyway. A couple of females and one male Cassin's Finches are in there somewhere.


Truth and decency breaking out in The Media

When, as Atrios posted, Diane Sawyer apologizes for mischaracterizing Senate Majority Leader Reid's vigil for our troops, and the Dallas Morning News asks for decency to counteract the cretin in chief's belligerence, this world is full of light and promise.

There is very encouraging trending toward the rational side at the Dallas Morning News' editorial page, and their plan for fighting terrorism is a good sign. While noting that the cretin in chief will hand on his war to his successor, the editors say they'd like to hear ideas that go beyond jingoism and get-tough military solutions.

The editors cite an earlier analysis from the Aspen Institute's Walter Isaacson;

He recommended a NATO-style Middle Eastern anti-terrorism alliance, a Marshall Plan-type program to help reduce poverty and build a stable middle class in the region, and health assistance to help reduce the pockets of misery that form fertile recruiting grounds for al-Qaeda.

The ideology of liberty sounds great as a slogan, but if the intelligence estimate is any indicator, it's not working as a strategy to stop al-Qaeda.

This is the editorial page that ended 100 years of support for capital punishment this year, and I think their decency and intelligence is coming out in many ways. Rejection of the insanity of the Iraq War is truly something to be proud of, and I am proud to be a subscriber.

The truth hasn't escaped this newspaper's editors, as they point out:
It's impossible to know whether the U.S. strategy has made the world safer. One thing is certain: The White House detoured our fighting forces from their principal mission – fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan – in order to wage a debilitating and divisive war in Iraq, where al-Qaeda was not a threat before 2003.

The light at the end of the tunnel needn't be that trainwreck about to happen, if this kind of enlightenment prevails.

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More Signs Of Life

One indication of just how disasterous the President's excellent adventure in Iraq has been for the US and for the rest of the world is that a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University has written an op-ed piece for today's Los Angeles Times in which he sets out just a few of the consequences of this ill-advised and immoral war. Here's a portion of what Professor Timothy Garton Ash had to say:

... Iraq has not yet begun. Not yet begun in terms of the consequences for Iraq itself, the Middle East, the United States' own foreign policy and its reputation in the world. The most probable consequence of rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in its present condition is a further bloodbath, with even larger refugee flows and the effective dismemberment of the country. Already, about 2 million Iraqis have fled across the borders, and more than 2 million are internally displaced. ...

In an article for the Web magazine Open Democracy, Middle East specialist Fred Halliday spells out some regional consequences. Besides the effective destruction of the Iraqi state, these include the revitalizing of militant Islamism and enhancement of the international appeal of the Al Qaeda brand; the eruption, for the first time in modern history, of internecine war between Sunni and Shiite, "a trend that reverberates in other states of mixed confessional composition"; the alienation of most sectors of Turkish politics from the West and the stimulation of authoritarian nationalism there; the strengthening of a nuclear-hungry Iran; and a new regional rivalry pitting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

For the United States, the world is now, as a result of the Iraq war, a more dangerous place. At the end of 2002, what is sometimes tagged "Al Qaeda Central" in Afghanistan had been virtually destroyed, and there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq. In 2007, there is an Al Qaeda in Iraq, parts of the old Al Qaeda are creeping back into Afghanistan and there are Al Qaeda emulators spawning elsewhere, notably in Europe.

Osama bin Laden's plan was to get the U.S. to overreact and overreach itself. With the invasion of Iraq, Bush fell slap-bang into that trap. The U.S. government's own latest National Intelligence Estimate, released this week, suggests that Al Qaeda in Iraq is now among the most significant threats to the security of the American homeland.

Professor Ash has provided a survey of the kinds of problems it will take decades to unravel, and his conclusion is one that the majority of Americans would certainly agree with:

Looking back over a quarter of a century of chronicling current affairs, I cannot recall a more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster.

Heckuva job, George.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Just What Your War Machine Wanted!

This is so inevitable it's like a really corny punchline. The 'newly captured al Quaida figure' in Iraq has declared they just made up the Iraq chapter. It's all run from abroad. And the people who brought you 9/11 are right there behind the curtain, see?

That the military newsmakers are now not bothering to hire some one else to write up stories to sell their line is not surprising. It made even the most shameless propagandists embarrassed.

A senior operative for al Qaeda in Iraq who was caught this month has told his U.S. military interrogators a prominent al Qaeda-led group is
just a front and its leader fictitious, a military spokesman said on Wednesday.

Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner told a news conference that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq, which was purportedly set up last year, did not exist.
"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an
Iraqi face on the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq," Bergner said.

U.S. military officials in recent weeks have been pressed to explain the link between al Qaeda in Iraq and bin Laden's global network given the military's heightened focus on al Qaeda in Iraq as the biggest threat to the country.
Bergner said Mashadani was al Qaeda's "media emir" for Iraq.
He said the operative was "providing significant insights into the nature and circumstances of al Qaeda in Iraq".

The U.S. military has always said al Qaeda in Iraq was run by foreigners.

It really makes me wonder what they do with the ones who, like certain U.S. Attorneys, don't do what they're needed to do to prove the war criminals right. Say, this 'informant' said that they had sprung up as al Quaida in Iraq because the U.S. had bombed their relatives, including those 'insurgent' women and children, and cows and goats, etc.

Do I really think he'd ever be heard from again? (To use McCain's tactic of posing himself the question he'd like the press to use.) Not on your life.

I do give the writer, Yates, for juxtaposing immediately after the military's 'release' exactly what the military wanted to prove. Good going there.

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