Saturday, December 30, 2006


Say it ain't so! : U.S. Official Overseeing Oil Program Faces Inquiry

The Justice Department is investigating whether the director of a
multibillion-dollar oil-trading program at the Interior
has been paid as a consultant for oil companies hoping for contracts.

Collusion between the Bush administration and oil interests? Nah!

Conservatism Never Fails: A (Pretty) Short History of Wingnutism

Saddam Hussein has been hanged. President Bush observed it "is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy..." How many is that now?
"First it was weapons of mass destruction. Then when there were none, it was that we had to find Saddam. We did that, but then it was that we had to put him on trial," said Spc. Thomas Sheck, 25, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "So now, what will be the next story they tell us to keep us over here?"
(h/t to Atrios)

The LAT asks "How would four of the greatest war leaders in history have handled Iraq?" Three historians and an anthropologist weigh in for Ghengis Khan, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Dubya, you're no George W.:
Until the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, Washington thought of the war against Britain as a contest between two armies. When the British army presented itself for battle, as it did on Long Island in the summer of 1776, Washington felt honor-bound to fight — a decision that proved calamitous on that occasion and nearly lost the war at the very start. That's because the British had a force of 32,000 men against his 12,000. If Washington had not changed his thinking, the American Revolution almost surely would have failed because the Continental Army was no match for the British leviathan.

But at Valley Forge, Washington began to grasp an elemental idea: Namely, he did not have to win the war. Time and space were on his side. And no matter how many battles the British army won, it could not sustain control over the countryside unless it was enlarged tenfold, at a cost that British voters would never support. Eventually the British would recognize that they faced an impossibly open-ended mission and would decide to abandon their North American empire. Which is exactly what happened.
See, the British defeatocrats would have won if they'd simply taken Bush's advice: "We'll succeed unless we quit."

(h/t to Mahablog)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Great. Just what I wanted. I've been so focused on Iraq that I missed this entirely. (from today's NYT)
Somalia’s Islamists and Ethiopia Gird for a War

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Dec. 9 — The stadium was packed, the guns were cocked and even the drenching rain could not douse the jihadist fire.

Thousands of Somalis, from fully veiled, machine-gun-toting women to little boys in baggy fatigues, gathered Friday to rally against what they called foreign aggression. As a squall blew in, they punched wet fists into the air and yelled, “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.”

“I am ready to die,” said Osama Abdi Rahim, dressed head to toe in camouflage and marching around with a loaded rifle. He is 7 years old.
It seems Ethiopia is propping up the UN- and US-backed Somali transitional government in Baidoa while Mogadishu has been taken over by Islamist radicals.
Memories are still fresh of the botched American-led relief operation in the early 1990s, and more recently of the covert American effort to bolster Mogadishu’s warlords in an 11th-hour bid to prevent an Islamist takeover. That strategy backfired, driving more people into the arms of the Islamists.
. . .

"If this thing goes to a military fight,” Ms. Frazer [the State Department’s top official for Africa policy] said, “it’s a bloodbath."
And while no match for Ethiopia militarily, the Times reports, the Islamists enjoy popular support against a government seen as a US puppet. That has one Islamist official -- who once talked of power sharing and elections -- backed into opposing a government "that has been totally rejected by its own people.”

Some of the Iraq warbloggers from Right Blogistan will surely take refuge in blaming it all on the anti-American, anti-Bush US press which won't report the good news from Somalia: the Islamists are winning hearts and minds by "organizing neighborhood cleanups, delivering food to the needy and resuscitating old national institutions like the Supreme Court..."

Not that they'll need it. Crowds gather to watch public floggings and a cleric north of Mogadishu has issued threats to behead those who fail to pray five times a day.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Johnny Gray sees things in black and white

Updated below

I read Mark Danner's New York Review of Books piece on the Iraq war. He reviews "State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III" by Bob Woodward, "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11" by Ron Suskind and "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration" by James Risen.

It creeped me out.

The Washington policy apparatus that has been in place for decades has been cut out of the loop by the Bush administration, seen as an impediment to decisive action. The policy shops still functioned, but were talking to themselves. "Rice said the interagency was broken," Woodward reports.

Suskind elaborates:
Sober due diligence, with an eye for the way previous administrations have thought through a standard array of challenges facing the United States, creates, in fact, a kind of check on executive power and prerogative.
. . .

For George W. Bush, there had been an evolution on such matters — from the early, pre-9/11 President, who had little grasp of foreign affairs and made few major decisions in that realm; to the post-9/11 President, who met America's foreign challenges with decisiveness born of a brand of preternatural, faith-based, self-generated certainty. The policy process, in fact, never changed much. Issues argued, often vociferously, at the level of deputies and principals rarely seemed to go upstream in their fullest form to the President's desk; and, if they did, it was often after Bush seemed to have already made up his mind based on what was so often cited as his "instinct" or "gut."
"There was never any policy process to break, by Condi or anyone else," Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state told Suskind. "Bush didn't want one, for whatever reason."

Suskind continues:
Of the many reasons the President moved in this direction, the most telling may stem from George Bush's belief in his own certainty and, especially after 9/11, his need to protect the capacity to will such certainty in the face of daunting complexity. His view of right and wrong, and of righteous actions— such as attacking evil or spreading "God's gift" of democracy—were undercut by the kind of traditional, shades-of-gray analysis that has been a staple of most presidents' diets. This President's traditional day began with Bible reading at dawn, a workout, breakfast, and the briefings of foreign and domestic threats.... The hard, complex analysis, in this model, would often be a thin offering, passed through the filters of Cheney or Rice, or not presented at all.
Danner explains,
[T]he War of Imagination draped all the complications and contradictions of the history and politics of a war-torn, brutalized society in an ideologically driven vision of a perfect future.
. . .

If the sober consideration of history and facts stood in the way of bold action then it would be the history and the facts that would be discarded. The risk of doing nothing, the risk, that is, of the status quo, justified acting.
Whether or not "The Decider" knew what he was doing or not.

I had a vision of George W. Bush as "Johnny Gray," the locomotive engineer in Buster Keaton's "The General" (1927). A locomotive chase ensues after yankee spies steal Johnny's engine and kidnap his girl, although has no plan for what to do if he should actually catch them.

Through a series of accidents this hapless "man of action" finds himself in the middle of a battle wearing a Confederate uniform and an officer's sword belt. Whenever he is at a loss for what to do, he draws the sword. He finds that men rally around whenever he brandishes it authoritatively. Not that he has any idea what to do with it.

Only his own dumb luck keeps Johnny Gray from being killed (because Keaton, of course, wrote, directed and acted the role). Bush, if well-intentioned, is not so skilled as Keaton, but just as clueless as Johnny Gray. Only, the deaths in the Iraq tragicomedy are real.


The December 2006 National Geographic magazine shows the costs of the Iraq debacle in the black and white in the photo gallery for the article, Iraq War Medicine.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Slowly getting back into it

Trying to get back into a groove, post-election.

Here are some proposed rules for Progressive Realpolitik from Chris Bowers:
1. The Democratic Party is the primary vessel of the progressive coalition. It is impossible to enact real change without an electoral apparatus within your movement. In a two-party system, it is thus necessary to adopt one of the two parties as the electoral vessel of your coalition.

2. Within the coalition, intra-party democracy must always be adhered to. All party nominees must be determined by an elective primary open to all registered members of the party in the relevant district. The winner of the primary must always be supported by all members of the party apparatus, and all rank and file members should vote for the nominee (especially those who voted in the primary).

3. Party elections should be fair and open to all members of the party, and no one should ever be forced or muscled off of a ballot for a party office or nomination for public office.

4. There are no litmus tests to join the coalition. No one has to read or sign off on any document stating support for a particular policy. If someone wants to join, registering as a Democrat should be the only requirement.

5. Under no circumstances should any member of the party apparatus support any member of any opposing coalition, (in other words, any other political party).

6. Outside of issues relating to corruption, Democrats must never criticize each other in the same manner that Republicans criticize Democrats.

7. No Democrat should ever publicly call any Democrat unelectable, or publicly rank candidates based on perceived electability.

8. Don't expect the party to change on it's own. Be prepared and willing to change it yourself.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bad faith

(This piece first appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on October 22, 2006.)

If they had voted away the right to bear arms, we’d have had a revolution. When they gutted habeas corpus, we hardly noticed.

“The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” – U.S. Constitution, Article I

America confronts a serious threat from terrorism, but faces neither rebellion nor invasion.

No matter. With little debate 65 U.S. Senators voted September 28 to deny habeas corpus review for alien detainees in U.S. custody. Every Republican but two approved the “Military Commissions Act of 2006,” a broadly written bill concerned primarily with tribunals for terror suspects detained since September 11. Twelve Senate Democrats joined the Republican majority.

Thirty-two Democrats and 218 Republicans (all but seven) approved the final bill in the House. And so Congress repudiated a fundamental principle of liberty that predates the Magna Carta.

Ironically, the 14 Guantanamo suspects facing charges receive limited due process under this bill. Hundreds of others face legal limbo, barred from contesting their indefinite imprisonment.

Habeas corpus (“you have the body”) is not a right many Americans use daily. Still, the “Great Writ,” the prisoner’s right to challenge the king’s reasons for jailing him, has been a cornerstone freedom for centuries. Until now.

"What the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA). He then voted for the bill he called "patently unconstitutional on its face."

His colleagues also knew that the Supreme Court will likely overturn the habeas provision. But a party rocked by scandals and an unpopular war in Iraq needed a divisive vote with which to paint Democrats soft on terrorism.

All who voted yea proved they were soft on the Constitution.

To recap, 65 Senators and 250 congressmen approved a bill that undermines the Constitution they swore a solemn oath to uphold. President Bush will sign it.

Consider that when asked, “Who do you trust?” But there are more skeletons in this closet.

The War Crimes Act that enforces the Geneva Conventions makes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners a federal crime. When the Supreme Court ruled this summer that Geneva’s Common Article 3 applies to all detainees, CIA interrogators scrambled to buy legal-defense insurance. Bush administration lawyers had led them to believe that Geneva did not apply to “enemy combatants,” and that waterboarding and other abuses were legal.

Thus the hurry to pass the Military Commissions Act before Republicans lose control of Congress this November.

The act parses the meaning of cruelty and grants legal immunity retroactive to 1997 for both interrogators and senior officials involved in all but “grave” prisoner abuses.

The president decides what is “grave.” The act bars courts from reviewing his decisions.

A recent estimate says that America holds 14,000 prisoners in camps from Bagram (Afghanistan) to Guantanamo. Retired Army Major General John Batiste testified recently that of 13,000-plus once held in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, “probably 99 percent … were guilty of absolutely nothing,” but “the way we abused them turned them against the effort in Iraq forever.”

Stay this course? No.

Raise questions about prisoner treatment and hardliners suggest you “don’t get it,” and invariably change the subject to al Qaeda’s barbarity. “The terrorists” deserve no rights.

Assuming that’s true, then presumably the innocent do. Justice, honor and decency demand that. What percentage of those 14,000 prisoners are guilty of nothing? Which are “the terrorists” deserving military justice?

The administration won’t say and thinks patriots wouldn’t ask. Americans who do are soft on terrorism.

The detainee treatment question is not about the blackness of terrorists’ hearts.

It is about our own hearts. About our standards of behavior, not theirs. Neitzsche cautioned, "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster."

Fighting terrorism requires tough measures. Tough, but smart. And effective.

Promoting democracy requires living by our principles, not retreating from them.

America aspires to set a standard for the world, a moral high bar so high that sometimes she fails in reaching it. In our post-9/11 zeal we allowed our enemies to re-set that bar for us – ankle-high. Stay one step above those who cut off prisoners' heads on videotape and we can still claim moral superiority. Not that the world will pay attention any longer.

Osama bin Laden wants to destroy America? He needn’t bother. We just might do it for him.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Honest Mistakes

Disgraced former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) has come out as a gay alcoholic after it was revealed he sent sexually explicit Instant Messages to an underage House page. This may send the GOP into a tailspin of spinning to attempt to get some distance from the scandal ahead of the Nov. 7 election.

Stepping up to help are their friends at Fox News:



Sexual predators are by definition all closet Democrats too. Ask Bill O'Reilly.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Four wake-up calls and a prophet

Former president Bill Clinton got right back into Chris Wallace's face on Fox News Sunday, making Wallace look like the Maxell tape dude with his hair and tie blown back. It was as a satisfying and stunning tour de force by Clinton.

The New York Times and other national papers revealed this weekend some of the contents of the classified National Intelligence Estimate from last April. The consensus of sixteen intelligence services is that the Iraq debacle was worsened the terrorist threat by creating more jihadis faster than we can kill them.

No kidding?

For his part, President Bush told us just the opposite on August 21:
You know, I’ve heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of “we’re going to stir up the hornet’s nest” theory. It just doesn’t hold water, as far as I’m concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.
One wonders is he a) not reading his own intelligence reports, b) refusing to believe his own intelligence reports, or c) lying?

Senate Democrats today, led by Byron Dorgan, heard testimony from retired generals John Batiste, Paul Eaton and Col. Thomas Hammes on the conduct of the Iraq debacle. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not come off too well. Batiste:
Bottom line, our nation is in peril, our Department of Defense's leadership is extraordinarily bad, and our Congress is only today, more than five years into this war, beginning to exercise its oversight responsibilities. This is all about accountability and setting our nation on the path to victory. There is no substitute for victory and I believe we must complete what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare. Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of U.S. Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build "his plan," which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace, and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty. Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today.
On MSNBC tonight Keith Olbermann took it up a notch further with his commentary on the Republican effort to revive the Bush presidency by rewriting history to divert blame from themselves:
... perhaps we should simply sigh and keep our fingers crossed, until a grown-up takes the job three Januarys from now.
And quoting Orwell:
"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power...

"Power is not a means; it is an end.

"One does not establish a dictatorship to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

"The object of persecution, is persecution. The object of torture, is torture. The object of power… is power."
And then there's this eerily prescient warning from Walter Russell Mead's 1987 Mortal Splendor – the American Empire in Transition:
The men who wrote – designed – the Constitution did not consider democracy to be good in itself. On the contrary, they feared nothing so much as unbridled democracy, even an unbridled representative democracy. Political theory in the eighteenth century still looked back tot the ancient world, and the observations of Aristotle and Polybius seemed to have been amply confirmed by events since their era. Classical political philosophy distinguished three basic forms of government and taught that each form had a characteristic corruption. Some thinkers postulated a cycle to government – from monarchy to aristocracy to democracy to tyranny. The tendency of democracy to evolve into tyranny was widely noted in the ancient world, perhaps because there were so many examples A strong leader caters to the prejudices or gratifies the passions of the uneducated, unreflective mob, and so is freely given the highest offices in the democratic state. He consolidates this power, fortifies his position, and ends by subjugating the state to his will. (Pg. 105)

In the original American Republic the informed consent of a small number of electors held the system together; the contemporary Republic counts on the uninformed acquiescence of a vast number of voters. The citizen has been replaced by the consumer of government as the building block of the state. The citizen helps shape the state by actively participating in its affairs; the consumer accepts or refuses a package prepared for him or her by others.

The resulting lack of substance in political life appears on every side. In the extreme, one sees the figures of Johnson and Nixon preaching peace while preparing to widen a war. From day to day there are endless arguments over prayer in schools, tax reform, and other issues dear to the hearts of P.T. Barnum’s latter day descendents and spiritual heirs. A Gresham’s law of political discourse seems to be at work; bad political discourse drives out good. Political life increasingly revolves around the state of the economy, a preoccupation that differs little from the “bread and circus” politics of the Roman Republic. The circus acts are provided by a political system that has deliberately and knowingly turned over much of its policymaking authority to unelected boards of experts and officials. (Pg. 120)

The right also depends on the widespread illusion that the free enterprise system is associated with and upholds the traditional social and family values. The gap between illusion and reality here also must be covered by a charismatic personality, which can evoke traditional values even as they fade. (Pg. 258)

Conservatives will believe that foreign policy conflicts are part of a life-and-death struggle that America must win at all costs. They will know – or think they know – what policies would enable the United States to win the coming battles, but they will not be able to follow these policies within the limits of constitutional government. (Pg. 259)

A hypothetical Nixon-Kissinger team of the future, confronted by an equally intractable war in a region of vital interest to the United States, would face many painful perplexities. The obvious American stake in the region – oil fields, the Panama Canal – might elicit initial support for the war. But anything les than a victory on the scale of the Grenada invasion would lead to a steady erosion in that support, both within and beyond the armed forces.

Assuming that decisive military victory proved elusive – that the Nicaraguans or the Argentines or the Philippine communists or whoever else – resorted to prolonged and bloody guerilla resistance, what then? Pressure to withdraw or to negotiate “from weakness” would mount; they would be felt throughout the political system. A public by turns uninformed, misinformed, and disinformed would weaken and waver. What then? Suspend civil liberties – officially and with fanfare or unofficially with goon squads? Lie about the progress of the war and the prospects for peace?

Friday, September 22, 2006

What difference does it make if a few prisoners get tortured?

Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster): What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later … The country is in danger.

Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy): But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men - even able and extraordinary men - can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities.… How easily that can happen! There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the "protection" of the country. Of "survival". The answer to that is: survival as what? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Will the real conservatives stand up, please?

"'Conservative' is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals."
-- the blogger, Digby

"In conservative intellectual discourse there is no such thing as a bad conservative. Conservatism never fails. It is only failed."
-- Rick Perlstein

"How exactly does one convince the teeming masses that Republicans deserve to stay in power despite botching a war, doubling the national debt, keeping company with Jack Abramoff, fumbling the response to Hurricane Katrina, expanding the government at record rates, raising cronyism to an art form, playing poker with Duke Cunningham, isolating America and repeatedly electing Tom DeLay as their House majority leader?

How does a God-fearing Reagan Republican explain all that away?

Easy. Blame George W. Bush.


If I were a GOP candidate this year, I would ... say that our president was wrong to believe that the United States could fight a war, cut taxes and increase federal spending, all at once."

-- Joe Scarborough in the Washington Post

Because, see, that's just not real conservatism. The last guy who tried something like that was Ronald Reagan. It didn't work then either.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

And the BinLadofascists?

(cross-posted from Daily Kos)

The Bush administration wants to make sure we never forget the lessons of 9/11. Because God forbid terrorists should ever get their hands on a nuclear bomb.

So I don't forget, check me here to see if I have the chronology right...

After they took down the twin towers on 9/11, we declared war on the Bin-Ladofascists.

Then we invaded Afghanistan to hunt them down with their enablers, the Talibanofascists, led by Mullah Omar. We killed a bunch, but failed to capture or kill bin Laden or Omar.

And then, while Afghanistan was still unstable we suddenly decided we had to run over, invade Iraq, and hunt down the Saddamofascists. (Many Americans somehow got the impression that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, but Bush now says Iraq had nothing to do with it. Stupid Americans.) But we did capture or kill many of the Saddamofascist top dogs, to give credit where it's due. But the press refuses to report our successes. For example, we succeeded in moving the center of jihadi activity 1000 miles closer to Israel and Europe.

Then we decided to stay in Iraq and use our sons and daughters as human flypaper so we could attract and kill Islamofascists and keep them from attacking us here. Instead they attacked Bali, Madrid and London.

And though only 100 or so foreign fighters showed up (last I heard), thousands of the locals (who really don't much like each other) decided they didn't like having us there either and began fighting both their neighbors and our troops.

Now, because there's another trash-talking, shoot-from-the-lip leader like ours in Iran, there's been talk around Washington (some old, some new) about turning east, this time to attack the Iranofascists.

Meantime, Iraq is in a low-grade civil war and the Talibanofascists are making a comeback in Afghanistan.

And Osama? Remember Osama? (You are supposed to pee yourselves at the sound of his name. I think he had something to do with 9/11.)

Osama has safe harbor somewhere in the Pashtun region of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Islamic republic where the A.Q. Khan network has a history of transferring nuclear bomb plans, nuclear equipment and nuclear materials to radical regimes for the right price.

Which is why neocon hawks want to attack Iran.

And, uh ... what were the lessons I was supposed to remember?

Monday, September 11, 2006

The U. S. Constitution ... for the good times

AMERICABlog brings us the messages of 9/11:
The lessons of September 11
by John in DC - 9/11/2006 01:31:00 PM
  • The Constitution only applies when the going gets easy.
  • War is the answer, even when you forget the question.
  • The truth is for sissies.
  • America has never faced an enemy as dangerous and as intent on killing us as King George, the Civil War, World War I, the Germans, the Japanese, a nuclear Soviet Union Al Qaeda.
  • The real September 11 story was badly in need of editing.
  • Just because they say it makes it so.
  • We have always been at war with Oceania.
  • A fool is born every election day.
  • Due process is for the innocent.
  • Patriotism means never having to say you're sorry.
  • It's all Sandy Berger's fault.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Threatened Birthright

(This piece first appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on September 8, 2006.)

The America I grew up in was a superpower, not because of her military might, but because of her ideals. People everywhere thirsting for freedom looked to us. That felt good.

I’d like that feeling again. I want back the America that led by example. She condemned countries that locked people away without charge and that attacked other nations without just cause. America was slow to anger, fierce in battle, humble in victory, generous in peace, a defender of the weak who didn’t despise the poor. She strove, however imperfectly, to better herself and to achieve her highest ideals.

That birthright is threatened, not by Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but by our own “leaders.”

In damage done to America’s reputation, Abu Ghraib was the worst foreign policy disaster of my lifetime, save for the Iraq occupation.

Add to those the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, secret prisons in Europe and warrantless domestic surveillance. To typically moderate Americans our present course looks disturbingly immoderate.

“Leaders” flush with moral clarity saw an opportunity to remake the Middle East, starting by replacing the Iraqi dictatorship with democracy.

A noble-sounding goal, but having nothing to do with Sept. 11, President Bush admitted recently. Instead of inviting debate before testing this democratic domino theory, they sold a war of choice as a war to eliminate an urgent WMD “threat.” The Washington Post’s George Will ridicules the policy as “unrealism.”

“Foreign policy ‘realists’ considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists’ critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem.” With the widespread escalation in Middle East violence, Will scoffs, “That problem has been solved.”

American troops face a strengthening Iraqi insurgency amidst civil war. In Afghanistan the Taliban is resurgent and their Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice is back. In Pakistan, Osama makes videos.

The Iraq occupation has weakened our military, destabilized the Middle East, strengthened Iran politically, allowed North Korea to build its nuclear arsenal, undermined our credibility and we have lost the moral high ground we held on September 11. On ABC’s “This Week,” (Aug. 13) Fareed Zakaria observed, “We have united our enemies and divided our friends.”

The majority party’s plan of action? “Victory.”

They invaded Iraq for the same reason they impeached the last president: not because circumstances warranted, but because they could.

They justified their actions in 1998 with impassioned rhetoric: no man, not even a president, is above the law; America sets the example; the world is watching.

Today they call the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and fight to preserve the option to torture detainees held indefinitely without charge. Even administration apologists struggle, as one editorial suggested, “to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him.” The world is still watching.

“Leaders” flew tons of cash into Iraq on pallets, disbursing some from pickup trucks. The Coalition Provisional Authority played football with “bricks” of $100 bills. $9 billion has gone missing.

Louisiana homeowners displaced by Hurricane Katrina are just now seeing $9 billion in rebuilding funds.

“Leaders” rewarded corporations for moving jobs and hiding profits offshore with a tax holiday, the American Jobs Creation Act.

Goldman Sachs dubbed it “no lobbyist left behind.” Bush’s former chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers observed, “you might as well have taken a helicopter over 90210 (Beverly Hills) and pushed the money out the door.”

Preaching “free trade” in one breath, with the next they insist that Americans pay the world’s highest prescription drug prices and fight to keep out lower-priced medications from Canada. They cite “safety” concerns.

Congressional earmarks have exploded in number.

Our “leaders” hope to privatize Social Security, putting the retirement safety net into the hands of Wall Street. They pay for tax cuts for wealthy contributors with record debt for our children.

They smear their critics as out of touch.

For working families each year the treadmill gets faster … and steeper. The treadmill is winning.

These “leaders” have forgotten for whom they work. Too many have forgotten how to lead, if they ever knew. And if they won’t, it’s up to non-politicians with passions larger than their ambitions.

It’s time to reclaim our birthright. It’s time to hold our “leaders” accountable to a higher power: the American voter.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

We weren't misled. We simply misunderstood.

From yesterday's presidential news conference, re: Iraq:

Q: A quick follow-up. A lot of the consequences you mention for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

BUSH: ... You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and, you know, kind of -- the "stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were --

Q: What did Iraq have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.
Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks? Gosh. Half the country just sort of, you know, kind of arrived at that conclusion spontaneously? That's gotta be a record. Or some kind of Bermuda Triangle thing. Mr. Straight Shooter wouldn't, you know, sort of spin things, would he?

From The Numbers War in the May Atlantic:

For most of the war, a kind of reprise of the Vietnam body-count dispute has been taking place over the size and strength of the insurgency. In the fall of 2003, the Pentagon hosted regular briefings for think-tank experts in which it put the insurgent strength at around 5,000. Even then there were signs that officials were not being fully forthcoming. At one such meeting, a participant noted the large number of insurgents being killed or detained (information tracked monthly in O’Hanlon’s Iraq Index) and asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whether this showed that the insurgency faced clear annihilation. “I asked him, ‘Don’t the numbers look pretty good?’” the participant says. “But he declined to make that claim. He was acknowledging that things weren’t quite as they appeared.”

O’Hanlon’s and Cordesman’s statistics have often served as leading indicators of how the situation in Iraq is changing. Their estimates of the insurgency’s magnitude, juxtaposed with the number of fighters killed and detained, continue to indicate an opposition much larger and stronger than is being acknowledged. (Cordesman noted early on that, contrary to popular opinion in this country, the insurgency appeared to consist primarily of Iraqis and not foreign infiltrators.) Last year, for example, the Pentagon routinely estimated that there were around 20,000 insurgents under arms. The Iraq Index reported 23,500 insurgents killed or detained across 2005 alone—so had the insurgency been static, it would have been wiped out entirely sometime around early November.
From the AP:

Republican Sen. John McCain, a staunch defender of the Iraq war, on Tuesday faulted the Bush administration for misleading Americans into believing the conflict would be "some kind of day at the beach."
"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required," McCain said. "Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I'm just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."
My take on today's train-wreck, by Lestatdelc dissects the speech at Daily Kos.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Exaggerating the significance of shallow differences"

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter wrote in his 2004 What We've Lost that Americans 'are more divided than at any time since the Civil War'. American observers of the political follies are inclined to agree. Mistakenly, it appears.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life this week issued a report on its national sample of 2,003 American adults and their attitudes towards a range of hot-button social issues. The study finds Americans becoming slightly less tolerant towards legal abortion. But while still opposing same-sex marriage, “Americans, by 54 percent to 42 percent, have come to support civil unions that would provide gay and lesbian couples many of the same rights as married couples,” the New York Times reported, noting “Americans are less likely to think that sexual orientation can be changed than they were a few years ago.”

If anything, the study’s results show that American attitudes are far more moderate (or maybe conflicted) than ideologues on either side of the liberal/conservative divide would have us believe.
Public attitudes across a set of five issues that have been the focus of intense political activity in recent years -- gay marriage, adoption of children by gay couples, abortion, stem cell research and the morning-after pill -- show a mix of conservative and liberal majorities. On none of the five issues does more than 56% of the public line up on one side of the question or the other …

Just over one-in-ten Americans (12%) takes the conservative position on all of these items, and a somewhat larger number (22%) take conservative positions on none of the items. Thus, much of the public falls between the extremes on this collection of issues. About one-third of the respondents (34%) are squarely in the middle, taking two or three conservative positions out of a possible five; 16% are mostly liberal (taking only one conservative opinion) and 16% are mostly conservative (taking four conservative opinions).
Even on abortion Americans remain about evenly divided, yet according to the report:
[T]wo out of three Americans (66%) support finding “a middle ground” when it comes to abortion. Only three-in-ten (29%), by contrast, believe “there’s no room for compromise when it comes to abortion laws.” This desire to find common ground extends broadly across the political and ideological spectrum. Majorities of Republicans (62%), Democrats (70%) and political independents (66%) favor a compromise. So do majorities of liberals, moderates and conservatives. More than six-in-ten white evangelicals also support compromise, as do 62% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics.
The Pew report concludes,
Despite talk of "culture wars" and the high visibility of activist groups on both sides of the cultural divide, there has been no polarization of the public into liberal and conservative camps.
This comes as a shock to faux-populist talk radio and Fox News hosts for whom the culture wars meme is the foundation of their infotainment empires. Outrage sells advertising. Consensus is a yawner.

Geoffery Nunberg noted this week on Fresh Air (and in his book Talking Right) how conservatives – so boastful of their supposed dominance of “the marketplace of ideas” – have consciously worked at reducing policy disagreements to caricatures of their foes’ “tax-raising, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving” lifestyles. Nunberg observes, this “fascination with lifestyles always leads to exaggerating the significance of shallow differences."

Pew’s study suggests those overhyped differences are a mile wide and an inch deep. . Dispel that "divided nation" myth by highlighting common ground, and Democrats can begin reclaiming the middle and leave Republicans to their unshakeable 16%.

If America is going to survive its red/blue period, it needs to get past the vacuous silliness of reducing political disagreements to matters of consumer preferences of the kind David Brooks described in Bobos in Paradise or Claritas Marketing uses in naming market segments “Young Digerati,” “Golden Ponds,” and “Shotguns & Pickups.” Or for that matter, the microtargeting categories in the Republicans’ Voter Vault or the Democrats’ Datamart databases.

The marketplace of ideas this is not.

Somehow I don't think Republicans mean to reduce their conservatism to -- per the National Review's Rod Dreher -- "accepting bad beer, lousy coffee, Top-40 radio, strip malls, and all popular manifestations of cheapness and ugliness as proof that One Is Not an Effete Liberal."

Cheez Whiz, Rush?

(cross-posted at Daily Kos)

Monday, July 31, 2006

The idea of America has been stolen

More often than not I find the New York Times' Thomas Friedman too fond of his own ideas to take seriously. Yesterday on Meet the Press, however, he got my attention. Tim Russert asked for comment on Friedman's column from days before, in which he observed, "The world hates George Bush more than any U.S. president in my lifetime."
MR. FRIEDMAN: It was strong. It’s meant to be strong. Look at the situation we’re now in. You can’t go anywhere in the world right now—and I travel a lot—without getting that feeling from people thrown in your face. Why is that? You know, I’ve been asking myself that a lot. Some of it’s excessive, this dislike, this distaste, this hatred of George Bush. But what’s it about? Whenever you see something that excessive, you know?

And the way I explain it is this way: Foreigners love to make fun of Americans. Our naivete, our crazy thought that every problem has a solution, that silly American notion, that silly American optimism. But you know what, Tim? Deep down, the world really envies that American optimism and naivete. And the world needs that American optimism and naivete.

And so when we go from a country that, historically, has always exported hope to a country that always exports fear, what we do, and what this administration has done, is actually stolen something from people. Whether it’s an African or a European or an Arab or Israeli, it’s that idea of an optimistic America out there. People really need that idea, and the sort of dark nature of the Cheneys and the Bushes and the Rices, this, this sort of relentless pessimism about the world, this exporting of fear, not hope, has really left people feeling that the idea of America has been stolen from them. And I would argue that that is the animating force behind so much of the animus directed at George Bush.
It's a precious hope that America once embodied that has gone missing, that somewhere there is a place where people can speak and act freely. The last few years have taken from them even that. The Bush administration gives lip service to the idea of freedom while cultivating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation to give itself free reign to run amuck abroad and as its principle tool in maintaining control at home.

My wife reports that at the flea market, people now lower their voices and look over their shoulders before speaking critically of their freedom-loving leaders. Last week in front of the house, as a neighbor spoke with her expressing his disdain for Bush and his policies, a workman at a nearby house spoke up, telling them to "watch your mouths."

It is not only foreigners who have had something precious stolen.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Name It and Claim It" Conservatives and "Left Behind" Warriors

There is a variant of the prosperity gospel known colloquially as "Name It and Claim It" Christianity. It teaches that the Bible is perfect, eternal and unchanging, like God its author. And in the Bible God makes promises of rewards for believers. Since God is ever faithful, he will (he must) deliver on those promises if the believer asks in the right way.

For the savvy initiate, it is simply a matter of naming the desire and invoking the appropriate verse. Sure as cranking the mechanism makes Jack pop out of his box, the creator of the universe can be made to deliver what the believer wants.

When the magic doesn't work one never questions the theology, but the believer who must have done the incantation wrong:

"Did you plead the blood? You have to plead the blood."

"Did you ask in the name of Jesus?"

"Do you have unconfessed sin in your life?"

And so forth. The fault lies with the bad believer, not the bad theology.

Conservatives have their own version. "Conservatism never fails. It is only failed." Rick Perlstein wrote at the Huffington Post. If conservative governance doesn't live up to its advance billing, it's because the practitioners were never real conservatives.

Huge deficits, huge expansion of government, failures in policy and execution? Surley not "the natural, even inevitable result of ... conservative governing philosophy," but of a cabal of faux conservatives who got conservatism wrong.

The parallels with "Name It and Claim It" Christianity were irresistable.


And the "Left Behind" wing of the GOP got a gift this week from William Kristol, publisher of the "Weekly Standard" (The Official Bathroom Reading of the Official Bathroom).

One of the most influential and best-known neocons, Kristol went all "Michael Ledeen" in his recent column, "It's Our War." (Meaning the current fighting between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah). Ledeen has been cheerleading in print for action against Iran for some time and is straining against his leash again. Now Kristol's all for doing Iran too (and maybe Syria). He suggests hitting Iranian nuclear facilities now. "Why wait?"
They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak.
The fact that it's a result of the U.S. getting bogged down remaking the Middle East in the last instant war Kristol and his PNAC buddies were so hot to start has gotten lost with the WMDs.

So, Bill, when do you and Michael and what army ship out? I'll pay for your very own M4 myself, but we'll have to hold a bake sale to buy you body armor.

Meanwhile, Armageddon fans are celebrating the carnage.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


(This piece appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on July 11, 2006.)

It’s time again for the GOP’s sales team to re-shoe its warhorses, as it does roughly every other year. They’ll lead them down to the U.S. House and Senate and trot them around the ring for their dwindling base.

Yes, the flag burning and gay marriage amendments to the United States Constitution are back, and just in time for the mid-term elections. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) recently told Fox News Sunday that America needs them. Like River City needs a boys’ band.

Healthcare, deficits, gas prices, port security, the bleeding in Iraq, and (heaven forbid) congressional reform can wait. Instead, the GOP thinks the House, the Senate, and fifty state legislatures should be debating a constitutional response to flag-burning jerks (rarer than small-government conservatives lately). And to prevent one of the “Queer Eye” Fab Five and his partner from filing a joint tax return.

You’ve seen this rerun. Frist and pals bring the amendments to the floor for their biennial defeat. (The Senate voted down the Marriage Protection Amendment on June 7.) Then all summer they try giving wedgies to Democrats who vote “no” because they dared to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Then after the first Tuesday in November, Republican leaders put their warhorses out to pasture for another two years.

It’s respect for such cherished traditions that keeps us from seeing politicians as cynical and manipulative.

And later this summer, because the “survival of civilization” will be at stake, they will ask whom you trust to protect you. You can trust those who overestimated the Iraqi threat and underestimated the occupation’s cost in blood, treasure and moral authority. Or, as Vice-President Dick Cheney has hinted, you can make the wrong choice, vote for Democrats, and die in the next attack.

Your choice. Take your time.

In fact, America once fought a civil war to decide whether or not this union would survive. There were over half a million casualties.

We’re still here.

In World War II, we fought a fascist threat that murdered millions and threatened to enslave the world. There were over one million American casualties.

We’re still here.

For most of my life, through the Cuban missile crisis and until the Berlin Wall came down, we lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation on 30 minutes warning from a fleet of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. Real missiles. Real nuclear warheads. Real weapons of mass destruction.

And we’re still here.

Bird flu was recently the threat du jour. In press reports about a potential pandemic, the lack of vaccine and hospital beds, and the possibility of millions dead, there was no suggestion that it was a threat to America’s survival. A faceless virus, bird flu wasn’t marketable as the latest, greatest foreign menace.

For all the horrors they’ve inflicted, terrorists will never threaten America’s survival. Deadly foes, certainly. Yet of the threats we’ve faced, terrorism wouldn’t even make the top ten. But fear of it, like gay marriage and flag burning, makes a dandy campaign issue when your record on everything else stinks up the place. (Where is Osama bin Laden anyway?)

Even the fearmongers admit another attack is almost a certainty (that is, they can’t stop it). But anyone faint-hearted enough to believe civilization itself is on the line should be home hiding under the bed, not leading this country or the men and women who defend the ideals bound up in her flag.

Speaking of which, on the way out of town late on Memorial Day, I realized I’d left the house without my work shirts. I stopped at Westgate Mall in Spartanburg, S.C., to buy a couple. Along the curb, in the grass strip around the perimeter of the mall, stuck into the ground every ten feet was a small American flag on a stick. Hundreds of them. Some were knocked over. Others already lay in the gutter.

If we successfully peel away part of our First Amendment with the proposed flag bill, flag desecration (blasphemy, in essence) will become a federal crime. Proponents will, true to form, enlist lobbyists to help write a retailer-friendly definition of desecration into the U.S. Code.

The “curbs and gutters” exemption will demonstrate how unserious the amendment’s sponsors always were.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Where profits cannot be made

“Bush Is Not Incompetent” is a June 26 web post on George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute site. Instead of explaining Republican failures as products of Bush’s incompetence, Rockridge recommends branding them as the logical — the inevitable — results of pursuing the Republican vision.

One passage describing that vision jumped out:
Stewardship of the commons, such as allocation of healthcare or energy policy, is left to people’s own initiative within the free market. Where profits cannot be made — conservation, healthcare for the poor — charity is meant to replace justice and the government should not be involved.
Where profits cannot be made describes in a nutshell the miserliness of this view. Only this view is Republican more than conservative. Rick Perlstein observed that conservatives themselves believe:
Republicans are different from conservatives … I learned it making small talk with conservative publisher Jameson Campaigne, in Ottawa, Illinois, when I asked him if he golfed. He said something like: "Are you kidding? I'm a conservative, not a Republican."
One can often determine whether the conservative brain or Republican brain is dominant by how a conservative starts the political conversation. The conservative-dominant want to talk about social issues first. The Republicans go straight for the money issues (regulations, taxes, etc.). Where profits cannot be made, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, etc. are not the proper function of Republican government. Government is for promoting “a healthy bidness climate,” as they say in Texas.

This view has become commonplace as more Americans have moved from the “Boomers and Babies” to the “Pools and Patios” market segments. I watched that transition begin when as a twenty-something I waited tables. Customers would ask if I was in school. I had graduated, I explained. With a degree in philosophy.

Their eyes glazed over.

“What are you going to do with it?” they’d ask, trying to figure how this (a liberal arts degree) translated into that (cold, hard cash). You could see them weighing the two, mentally rubbing their fingers together quizzically. Education as an end in itself? Education as a path to becoming an informed citizen? Education even where profits cannot be made? Surely, you’re joking?

It’s a far cry from an America founded by the most educated men of their era. Perhaps of any era. A far cry from a day in which the Founders designed government to put people ahead of moneyed interests like the British East India Company. A far cry from the day in which Benjamin Franklin, entrepreneur and self-made man, refused a patent on his famous stove saying, "As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others, freely and generously, by any invention of our own.” Promoting the general welfare has been replaced in the Republican age by “I’m all right, Jack.”

It is that crass idolatry that progressives must discredit. Once Bush is gone, the boosters of Republican theology who have successfully and by design gutted the budget surplus, centralized power, rolled back environmental regulations, given away billions to their corporate cronies, etc. will still remain. When Republicans up for re-election in 2008 start giving Bush the cold shoulder, we cannot let them distance themselves from the Republican record too. Democrats still have to discredit the worldview that gave rise to Bush.

In my district registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, yet our congressman is a Republican. Many “Reagan Democrats” vote with us in local elections, but for the GOP in federal races. (The state house and the legislature is controlled by Democrats, but our congressional delegation is majority Republican.) They are just looking for a reason not to vote Republican. We need to give them one.

We should spotlight the ideological differences between Republicans and conservative voters who still believe in the ideals of the Founders and in government of the people. We should appeal to the better angels of conservatives’ nature, split the GOP coalition, and turn the more moderate elements our way.

There has been some debate in the left blogosphere about whether Democrats should try to peel off some of the GOP’s conservative supporters or focus on energizing their own base. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t win by shifting the same die-hard, bicoastal base left or right; we win by making our coalition bigger and more representative of the entire country. It is the strategy behind Howard Dean’s fifty state plan. Widening the irritated seam between more moderate social conservatives and moneyed Republicans is one way to do just that.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Circular Reasoning 101

Al Qaeda's "worst of the worst" do not deserve Geneva Convention protections.
The "worst of the worst" are held in Guantanamo.
Detainee "X" is in Guantanamo.
Therefore, detainee "X" does not deserve Geneva Convention protections.
He is al Qaeda.

Trust us.

Who is to say which detainees are al Qaeda and which are innocents? By the administration's spokespersons, there are no innocents there. And indeed, some of the Guantanamo prisoners may be the worst of the worst. A cunning few so far released have returned to the fight, as the Washington Post reported as early as October 2004.

And such reports further justify for the administration harsh treatment of "enemy combatants": designated such by the executive branch and deserving of indefinite detention. Without review. Without oversight. And without access to legal challenge by any due process Americans would recognize from our own system of justice. Those released for having no intelligence value or for posing "no further threat" receive no acknowledgement of innocence, no acknowledgement of U.S. error and no apology. Detainees are guilty by virtue of being detainees.

The Supreme Court's ruled last week in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the administration's tribunals can go forward, but not by it's own ad hoc rules (that allow, among other illegal practices, the admission of coerced evidence). The strictures of the Geneva Conventions apply, the court decided. The jettisoning of the accused's basic rights cannot be justified on arguments of "practicality." The tribunals must conform to law, either the Uniform Code of Military Justice (as JAG lawyers have argued) or to new rules set by Congress.

SCOTUSblog reviewed the ruling this way:
Even more importantly for present purposes, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva applies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it. This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely," and that "[t]o this end," certain specified acts "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever"—including "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." This standard, not limited to the restrictions of the due process clause, is much more restrictive than even the McCain Amendment. See my further discussion here.

This almost certainly means that the CIA's interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the Administation has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes).
As two callers to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" asked, critics of the ruling ask how stateless actors such as members of al Qaeda merit protection under the Geneva Conventions. It's stunning how people have bought into the argument that anyone held in Guantanamo is, by definition, a member of al Qaeda.

The Supreme Court's ruling addressed the nature of the Guantanamo tribunals (as well as the applicability of Geneva standards). But no charges have even been made against many Guantanamo detainees. So let's review a few cases of Guantanamo's "stateless actors."
Chinese Muslims sent from Guantanamo to Albania
Lawyer plans trip to check on clients after legal battle ends
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff May 6, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The US military said yesterday that it had transferred five Chinese Muslims from its Guantanamo Bay prison to Albania, apparently ending a long legal fight over their fate on the eve of arguments before a federal appeals court.

The five men, who all belong to an ethnic group known as ''Uighurs," had been imprisoned at the base for more than four years. More than a year ago, a military tribunal had determined that none of them had been enemies of the United States after all, and cleared them for release.

However, the US could not send them back to their homeland because the Chinese government has a history of persecuting Uighurs, who have been seeking greater autonomy from the central government. No other country would take them in, either, and they remained stuck in the American prison.

Last December, a federal district judge ruled that it was illegal for the Bush administration to continue to incarcerate the men because it had no basis for holding them.

No lawyers and thin accusations

Newsday, June 15, 2005

... a German Turk, Murat Kurnaz, was held in part because he knew another man who "engaged in a suicide bombing" -- except, Kurnaz's lawyer says, the man is alive.

Cases like Kurnaz's, lawyers say, show how thin the evidence can be. He was told at his tribunal he was being held in part because he was friends with Selcuk Bilgin, who "engaged in a suicide bombing." Kurnaz said he knew of no ties Bilgin had to terrorism, and the tribunal gave no evidence that he did. Not only is Bilgin alive, but Kurnaz's lawyer, Baher Azmy, has a letter from German prosecutors clearing Bilgin. On top of that, classified portions of the proceedings, later revealed in a briefly declassified filing, indicated Guantanamo's intelligence task force thought Kurnaz had no value to the U.S.
From an NPR interview regarding this case:
HITT: The reason they give for holding him? A friend of his named Selcuk Bilgin blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Turkey in 2003. That’s 2 years after Kurnaz got picked up.

AZMY: So, setting aside the sort of remarkable legal proposition that one could be detained indefinitely for what one’s friend does, it’s actually preposterous in that a simple Google search or a call to the Germans would have revealed that his friend is alive and well, and under no suspicion of any such thing.

HITT: You heard that right. Kurnaz is in Guantanamo because two years after he got picked up, a guy he knows became a suicide bomber. Except that he didn’t become a suicide bomber and is currently living in Germany.
And this. Abdullah Al-Noaimi was interviewed this spring; he is one of three Bahrainis released without comment last November after four years in Gitmo. He and others, he said, had been turned over for cash. He sounded like an American kid:
HITT: This is not how he thought things would go with the Americans. In fact, back when he was being held in a Pakistan jail, when he found out Americans would be taking them, he was relieved. He told the other prisoners it was good news. He knew America. He knew how the people were.

ABDULLAH: I lived in so many places, like Europe and England and Germany and France, but the difference was in the States, everywhere you go, they welcome you. Like, when you go into supermarkets, everybody goes like, “How you doing?” and everything. That’s the thing that was in my mind. I was like, please, oh, everything’s going to be fine. They’re gonna understand.

HITT: So how did he know so much about American supermarkets? Well, in 1994, he came to America for the World Cup finals. In fact, Abdullah’s been here a lot. He’s been downhill skiing in the Midwest. He attended Old Dominion University in Virginia for a while, and has taken other trips, too.

ABDULLAH: And in ’96, I was in Disneyland in Orlando. (Hitt chuckles) And for spring break, I was in Daytona Beach with some of my friends.

HITT: You were in Daytona Beach for spring break?

ABDULLAH: Yeah it was year 2000. Bikers Week. (Hitt laughs) I remember the guys, some guys, standing by the sidewalk holding up the signs for the cars passing.

HITT: Right.

ABDULLAH: Some expressions, “Show us…”

HITT: Oh! “Show us…” Right. Yeah, that expression. The “show us your..”

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: We've got to remember that these are very dangerous people. These are people that would gnaw through hydraulic lines to bring [the military transport plane] down.

As of February, 180 of these homicidal hose gnawers had simply been let loose (not just released into the custody of their home governments), per the DOD's own website. 300 (total) "worst of the worst" have been released as of now, per Sunday's Los Angeles Times. Whether or not those released so far ever had any connection to international terrorism, it is clear that the "process," like much else this administration has undertaken, is not working either well or legally.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Take my rights -- please!

I love getting these "pass it on" e-mails that go around on the Net. They come almost invariably from the right wing and are frequently aimed at justifying anything and everything the Bush administration does in the pursuit of "terror." Anyone who doesn't approve of taking liberties with the Constitution and Bill of Rights is either an America-hating Bush-basher, an ally of terrorists, or sorely misinformed about the life or death nature of the terrorist threat.

So you'd better wise up and say, "Take my rights -- please!"

This one from 2005 just came round again:
This WAR is for REAL !

To get out of a difficulty, one usually must go through it. Our country is now facing the most serious threat to its existence, as we know it, that we have faced in your lifetime and mine (which includes WWII).

The deadly seriousness is greatly compounded by the fact that there are very few of us who think we can possibly lose this war and even fewer who realize what losing really means.
It goes on at length about how America is the only force standing between civilization and the homicidal Muslim hordes.

This message reverberates around the echo chamber regularly. See Mark Steyn's piece from the January Wall Street Journal in which he laments the lack of "civilizational confidence" apparent in the west's birth rate gap vis-à-vis Muslims. The cure, presumably, is taking out a few more petty dictators or taking civilizational Viagra.

Somehow this unprecedented threat justifies America sacrificing its own values, violating the Geneva Conventions and torture. From the recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor:
But George Washington and his compatriots took their founding principles quite seriously. On Aug. 11, 1775, Washington sent a blistering letter to a British counterpart, Thomas Gage. He complained about gravely wounded and untreated American soldiers being thrown into a jail with common criminals.

Eight days later, despite threatening to treat British soldiers with equal cruelty, Washington admitted that he could not and would not retaliate in kind, writing: "Not only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides [traitors] whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People."

Imagine that; a government on the run fighting a desperate war against a hated enemy and treating captured prisoners with compassion and decency. No doubt many of the captured British troops had intelligence that might have been useful to the Revolutionary cause - still, decent treatment was the norm. In the current war on terror, that would be described as being "soft."
Like other e-mails, this one makes light of harsh treatment meted out to Guantanamo's "enemy combatants." Torture, abuse, humiliations and indefinite detention without charges of men picked up "on the battlefield" in Afghanistan -- including those sold in Pakistan for a bounty -- are justified. Because these are hardened killers, "the worst of the worst" as we're so often told by honorable men.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Off with their heads

Busy reading this morning, catching up on the outrage and calls for the imprisonment and/or death in the gas chamber of newsmen over the "traitorous" New York Times and Los Angeles Times publishing stories about the SWIFT program. The White House asked them not to. The Wall Street Journal published about SWIFT too, but "friendlies" don't get targeted.

"Loose lips kill American people," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. said, prompting from conservative bloggers a flurry of WWII-style posters targeting the Times. Supposedly, the Times "tipped off" terrorists to our financial monitoring programs.

Were terrorists really not aware we were monitoring internancial financial transactions? I knew. A lot of other people knew too. How?

"We've established a foreign terrorist asset tracking center at the Department of the Treasury to identify and investigate the financial infrastructure of the international terrorist networks." -- President George W. Bush, September 24, 2001

"I have also issued an Executive Order to help deal with this threat by giving the United States more powerful tools to reach the means by which terrorists and terrorist networks finance themselves and to encourage greater cooperation by foreign financial institutions and other entities that may have access to foreign property belonging to terrorists or terrorist organizations." -- President George W. Bush, September 24, 2001

"Our successes breed new challenges. As the formal and informal financial sectors become increasingly inhospitable to financiers of terrorism, we have witnessed an increasing reliance by al Qaida and terrorist groups on cash couriers. The movement of money via cash couriers is now one of the principal methods that terrorists use to move funds." -- testimony before the House Financial Services Committee of Stuart A. Levey, Under Secretary Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, U.S. Department of the Treasury, September 22, 2004 (Levey was quoted in the Times report.)

"We put the world's financial institutions on notice: if you do business with terrorists, if you support them or sponsor them, you will not do business with the United States of America." -- President George W. Bush, 11/7/01

Terrorists need money to carry out their evil deeds. The President’s first strike in the war against terror was not with a gun or a missile – the President’s first strike was with his pen as he took action to freeze terrorist finances and disrupt their pipelines for raising and moving money in the future.

The world's financial institutions have been put on notice -- if you support, sponsor, or do business with terrorists, you will not do business with the United States. Denying terrorists access to funds is a very real success in the war on terrorism. Since September 11, the United States and its allies in the war on terrorism have been winning the war on the financial front:

- President Bush launched the first offensive in the war on terrorism on September 23 by signing an Executive Order freezing the U.S.-based assets of those individuals and organizations involved with terrorism.

- 196 countries and jurisdictions have expressed their support for the financial war on terror.

- 142 countries have issued orders freezing terrorist assets, and others have requested U.S. help in improving their legal and regulatory systems so they can more effectively block terrorist funds.

- The assets of at least 153 known terrorists, terrorist organizations, and terrorist financial centers have now been frozen in the U.S. financial system.

- Since September 11, the U.S. has blocked more than $33 million in assets of terrorist organizations. Other nations have also blocked another $33 million.

- On November 7, the U.S. and its allies closed down operations of two major financial networks – al-Barakaat and al-Taqwa – both of which were used by al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden as sources of income and mechanisms to transfer funds.

- On December 4, President Bush froze the assets of a U.S.-based foundation – The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development -- that has been funneling money to the terrorist organization Hamas.

- The U.S. government created three new organizations -- the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center (FTAT), Operation Green Quest and the Terrorist Financing Task Force. These new organizations will help facilitate information sharing between intelligence and law enforcement agencies and encourage other countries to identify, disrupt, and defeat terrorist financing networks.

- International organizations are key partners in the war on financial terrorism. On September 28, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1373 that requires all nations to keep their financial systems free of terrorist funds.

- The Financial Action Task Force (see note below) -- a 29-nation group promoting policies to combat money laundering -- adopted strict new standards to deny terrorist access to the world financial system.

- The G-20 and IMF member countries have agreed to make public the list of terrorists whose assets are subject to freezing, and the amount of assets frozen.

-- The White House, 12/01
Here's the unclassified banner from the web site of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication,

Their web site includes this:

2. Cooperation - SWIFT has a history of cooperating in good faith with authorities such as central banks, treasury departments, law enforcement agencies and appropriate international organisations, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF*), in their efforts to combat abuse of the financial system for illegal activities.

SWIFT tracking numbers are printed right on bank statements in some European countries, according to a caller I heard yesterday on a call-in show. He called in from Finland.

And this from Counterterrorism Blog:

Reports of US Monitoring of SWIFT Transactions Are Not New: The Practice Has Been Known By Terrorism Financing Experts For Some Time
By Victor Comras

Yesterday’s New York Times Story on US monitoring of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice. In that sense, it was truly new news. But reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries. The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:

“The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Our very own NRA

It has been obvious to me for some time that the further right and the further left one goes in the political spectrum, the more alike conservatives and liberals become. They don't think the same things, but they begin thinking the same way: rigid, dogmatic and intolerant. They just don't see themselves that way: "You must mean those people."

Got an education in that last night after posting my previous piece on Daily Kos to see what reaction it would get.

It was discouraging, to say the least.

I was tired. Normally, I avoid using pro-life and pro-choice (both loaded terms of spin) in favor of pro-abortion and anti-abortion. Spin it as you will, it's not about choice and it's not about life. It's about abortion. And the thread quickly devolved from the topic of whether Democrats are living up to their rhetoric about welcoming minority viewpoints under the "big tent," to finger pointing over the "intolerance" of the anti-abortion faction.

Many of the commenters in the thread as much as insisted that Democrats are the "pro-choice" party -- like they own it -- and anyone who thinks otherwise can either sit in the back of the bus or find a party they like better. It confirmed the complaints I'd heard earlier from anti-abortion Democrats.

This comment set the tone for the evening:
If you'll admit that a pregnant woman's right to life is always more important than a fetus's "right to life", and you'll follow that principle consistently, you're welcome in the tent.

Otherwise, get the hell away from me, you nutter.
And this:
If you can't acknowledge that your personal answer on this issue is not the only possible legitimate view point you have no business in the Democratic party.
I pointed out that what anti-abortion Democrats had asked for was just that. They asked that the party platform acknowledge that the pro-abortion "answer on this issue is not the only possible legitimate view point."

And this:
Do they believe it is a choice between a woman and her doctor or not?

If they don't, good riddance.
The party of Martin Luther King.

It's like Democrats having their own version of NRA "slippery slope" politics, with lifetime members who never saw a gun they didn't like or a gun law they did. "They can have my choice when they pry it ..."

The further left and the further right you go, the more alike they get.

The encouraging part was seeing comments from people -- call them moderates or progressives or pragmatists -- who saw the need for Democrats to focus on broader themes, and start by listening:
Listening isn't ratifying or legitimizing any perspective they may have, but it respects their dignity as human beings, and their right to have their own opinions. I am not talking about any single issue here, at all. I am just talking about dialogue and respect.
Respect is something you both have to earn and show to enjoy. For now, I choose to believe that the such people will be the ones to save Democrats from the curse of the single-issue groups.

There is much work to do. Note to self: brush up on Aristotle.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

You're gonna need a bigger tent.

At the North Carolina Democratic state convention today, the platform approval process was contentious as usual, with several last-minute additions, deletions and replacements. And that was before the resolutions came to the floor.

State chair Jerry Meek runs a political convention like an accomplished auctioneer, moving proceedings along with a breathless, rapid-fire cadence. He goes from “For what purpose does the delegate rise?” to the closing “In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it” so swiftly one expects to hear, “Sold! To the gentleman from Catawba County.”

“This Party shall provide an avenue for the free and open expression of diverse ideas and opinions, including the right of every person to dissent,” the platform’s preamble reads in part. But at the first opportunity to put that principle into practice, tolerance for dissenting voices was selective. As much as Democrats think of themselves as the big tent party, there’s one camel’s nose many activists wish to keep from getting under the tent: pro-life Democrats.

What pro-life Democrats wanted Saturday was some accommodation, a sop to their concerns, an acknowledgement in the platform that North Carolina’s big tent party includes people with significant disagreements on the abortion issue (40% pro-choice, they claim). And they no longer wish to ride in the back of the bus.

They received a chilly reception at the convention in High Point.

Pro-life Democrats from several counties complained they were unrepresented on the platform committee and offered preamble language acknowledging the party’s significant disagreements over abortion. They were roundly shot down.

Later, in an effort to make the “Health and Human Services - Women” section more “abortion neutral,” they sought to include the same significant disagreements verbiage. There were impassioned speeches (some by ministers) about Democrats living up to their promises of inclusiveness. If “big tenters” are going to talk the talk, they need to walk the walk.

This time (by my estimate) the voice vote was only about 60/40 against. Not the accommodation pro-life Dems had hoped for, but a sign they’d gained some real ground.

“You just don’t get it,” one pro-life delegate told me. Too many party activists are largely from urban centers, she explained. They don’t deal with rural voters who say they won’t vote for Democrats because they’re the party of abortion. It’s not just about an issue she feels strongly about. It’s about hard-nosed, practical politics.

Earlier this week Democrats in Congress proposed several amendments for ending the Iraq occupation. While ABC’s The Note thought this a sign of weakness, Paul Begala at TPM Café and mcjoan of Daily Kos cited the competing proposals as a sign of strength. Democrats are actively debating solutions to ending the cycle of violence Iraq, as opposed to the Republicans’ “more of the same” policy.

It’s just that admitting to having a similar debate about abortion isn’t seen as healthy, but a sign of weakness. One convention speaker objected to the platform’s acknowledging pro-choice Democrat’s concerns. The party needs to speak with one voice, he said, and not present an image of equivocation.

But as long as the party’s pro-choice activists refuse to make room under the tent, in the front of the bus, and in their hearts for pro-life Democrats who otherwise agree with them on most every other issue, they’ll continue to lose elections. They’ll continue to lose elections to users who are expert at convincing conservative voters they actually care about the abortion issue – by listening to and including them.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Democrats' six-point plan for losing

Today's New York Daily News column, "Dems turn to the home front" talks about Nancy Pelosi's Saturday radio address and the Democrats' six-point plan for winning this fall's elections. The master plan? Don't mention Iraq.
The party is pushing higher wages, lower gas prices and cheaper college loans in its "New Direction for America" platform, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in the Democrats' weekly radio address yesterday.

While she said the U.S. should start pulling out troops from Iraq "at the earliest practicable time," the platform is all about domestic policies, like bringing down drug prices, keeping Social Security as a government-run program and balancing the budget.
While Bush's Saturday address focused on the latest "turning points" in Iraq, Democrats want to talk about gas prices. That's nice.
The Democrats' new platform will help the party counter critics who say they have no plan, but won't help them win seats in Congress, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said yesterday.
It's not just that they are conflicted over what to do to solve the problems in Iraq. (They are.) It's not just that Democrats think that domestic issues are their strength. (They are.) And it's not just that their polling is telling them to stick with their strong suit. It's that, like religion, when they refuse to engage on the issue, they leave the Republicans to play to what they believe is their strong suit.

Too many Democrats overlook the military the way the GOP tends to overlook the poor. So when polling Democrats, military concerns may not pop out as a core Democrat issue.

It's not a flaw in the polling, but a blind spot, and one Democrats lose points over more than the GOP takes hits for shunning the poor. And because it is a blind spot, they don't even notice the glaring omission, especially when the polling says they should focus on domestic policy.

The electorate perceives that omission as weakness. Rest assured, Karl Rove and Co. will not miss an opportunity to exploit that weakness again this year. Democrats cannot let them.

They cannot come off reactive, saying, "We do too support the troops." If they expect to succeed, the party must engage on defense generally, display active concern for our military, their treatment, their equipment and homeland security, plus display resolve against terrorists as a counterpoint to Republican fear tactics. Republicans think they own the defense issue. Democrats must take their candy away from them.

That doesn't necessarily mean having to have a concensus solution to the Iraq issue first. (The GOP doesn't even have one. Their "plan" is to run up the body count, recite more vacuous slogans, and do more of what everyone can see isn't working.) It means projecting strength, command presence. It means Democrats place their focus on military and security issues up front rather than hiding them in the background.

They must also spotlight weakness on the part of the GOP leadership. Weakness is the one thing Republicans and Reagan Democrats cannot abide in their leaders. GOP leaders want us to be afraid? Perhaps because they are too? In trading e-mails with conservatives over some recent editorials, suggesting their leaders are weak makes conservatives' skin crawl. They become defensive. You know you've hit a soft spot.

Democrats cannot rely on their comfort with and fondness for their traditional domestic issues to carry this election. Rove comes straight at his opponents' perceived strengths. Democrats must do the same with Republicans and not wait to react to being branded first.