Thursday, August 30, 2007

"When we say 'progress'

it means just what we choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

From this morning's WaPo:
Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

[. . .]

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."

Trust Begins with Honesty

. . . seen last night on a church billboard in Greenville, SC, the epicenter of church marquee wisdom.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Welcome back to Whose War Is It Anyway?

. . . where everything's made up and the facts don't matter.

Responding to President Bush's latest rewrite of history, Mahablog has an incisive post on how the right prefers mythology to facts anyway. Someone after my own heart, Maha draws from sources as varied as Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, and Star Trek: The Next Generation to paint a picture of a group who speaks in archetypes rather than information. Or, as Greenwald put it last week:
Love war? You are Churchill, a noble warrior. Oppose war? You’re Chamberlain, a vile appeaser. And everyone else is Hitler. That, more or less, composes the full scope of “thought” among this strain on the right.
Maha elaborates:
In the rightie mind, any attempt to avoid war is “appeasement.” In his new book A Tragic Legacy, Glenn Greenwald writes (p. 177) that when Ronald Reagan signed the INF treaty with the Soviet Union in 1988, rightie editorialists everywhere evoked Neville Chamberlain and accused Reagan of “appeasement.” Earlier, in 1984, Newt Gingrich scorned Reagan’s rapprochement with Gorbachev as “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolph Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.”

Got that? All “enemies” are Hitler (whatever you think of Gorbachev, he’s hardly Hitler). So much as meeting with “enemies” is Chamberlain and Hitler at Munich. So how do we deal with nations whose interests don’t harmonize with ours? Rightie mythos leaves us with no option but war.
Those who after WWII swore, "Never again" have been pretty slack, I guess. Gorbachev was Hitler. Bin Laden is Hitler. Saddam was Hitler. Kim Jong-il is Hitler. Ahmadinejad is Hitler. Even Markos Moulitsas is Hitler. Throw in Dick Shawn and you've got a casting call for Springtime for Hitler.

There is some reason to the right's reflex for reference, I grant you. There's an economy to speaking in archetypes. I prefer using images from popular film. For a columnist, it's cheap shorthand that allows you to cram more message into limited column inches. It has its place. For a White House in which message discipline is the one thing at which it excels, speaking in commercials comes naturally, but it's no substitute for effective governance. Katrina proved that graphically and tragically.

Democracy works best when the electorate can make informed decisions. Rhetoric -- especially from our leaders -- designed more for conveying impressions than information doesn't serve citizens or democracy well. Salesmanship is no substitute for leadership.

Read the whole post over at Mahablog to get the significance of:
“Sam Waterson and John Malkovich in Phnom Penh! FDR at Yalta!”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tired of the medicine show

In today's L.A. Times Newt Gingrich challenges presidential candidates of both major parties to new "Lincoln-Douglas" style debates -- nine 90-minute debates on Sunday nights in the nine weeks leading up to the 2008 election:
Our system to elect a president is not working for the American people. The big-city-machine bosses of the past have been replaced by professional political consultant bosses. Sadly, the role of the candidate -- the man or woman who would lead the most powerful nation on Earth -- largely has been reduced to raising the money to hire consultants and then reading what the consultants scrawl on 3-by-5 cards. It's a stunningly dangerous development for a democracy.

We don't really have presidential debates today; we have a kind of meaningless political performance art: a recitation of talking points choreographed to avoid any risk.
Agreed. Sounds good, Newt. But is the current, consultant-driven "debate" format the cause of political malaise, or merely a symptom? Will your proposed solution remedy "news media coverage that is narrow, negative and so short in its attention span that no serious idea gets full consideration." And by the time we get there, will anyone be left watching? Or will they instead go to bed on Sunday nights to prepare for their 50+ hr weeks at multiple jobs they hold to keep their financial lives afloat?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Glenn Greenwald coming to Asheville

The good doctor is bringing Glenn Greenwald to town:

Glenn Greenwald coming to Asheville

Posted by: ecthompson

Glenn Greenwald

The Errington Thompson Show is bringing Glenn Greenwald to Asheville. September 13th. He will be lecturing on UNCA’s campus at 12:30. A book signing is planned and a trip to Drinking Liberally that evening at 7 pm. He will be doing an interview for the Errington Thompson Show.

Mark your calendars!!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another project

Weekends are when I normally get in some more lengthy, thought-out pieces. Right now, however, I'm trying to get a non-blogging political project off the ground. It's threatening to rust on the launch pad for lack of attention.

The ten-day forecast calls for heavy project work with intermittent blogging.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

State secrets and the secret secrets that hide them

Trying to get at the truth in the domestic surveillance lawsuits is tough when anything you say can or even remember may be declared a state secret in the wiretapping lawsuits:
“Is it the government’s position that when our country is engaged in a war that the power of the executive when it comes to wiretapping is unchecked?” Judge Harry Pregerson asked a government lawyer. His tone was one of incredulity and frustration.

Gregory G. Garre, a deputy solicitor general representing the administration, replied that the courts had a role, though a limited one, in assessing the government’s assertion of the so-called state secrets privilege, which can require the dismissal of suits that could endanger national security. Judges, he said, must give executive branch determinations “utmost deference.”

“Litigating this action could result in exceptionally grave harm to the national security of the United States,” Mr. Garre said, referring to the assessment of intelligence officials.
That is, when we say "terrorist," you say "case dismissed." It's a patriotic Pavlovian imperative.

Terrorist -- salivate -- take a pellet.

The New York Times reports that all three judges were inclined to hear "one or both" of the cases at issue.

But to sue, you must have standing. To have standing, you must have proof you've been targeted, and that's a state secret.
“Whether plaintiffs were subjected to surveillance is a state secret,” the Justice Department said in a recent brief ... “and information tending to confirm or deny that fact is privileged.”
In a the case brought by an Islamic charity, the plaintiffs had mistakenly received a government document the charity claims proved they had been subjected to surveillance. It has since been reclaimed by the government. Even their memories of the document are secret.
Judge Pregerson, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, appeared irritated with the government’s arguments, and he became frustrated when Mr. Garre said he could not provide simple answers to questions about the scope of a recently amended 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Mr. Garre said it was a complicated law.

“Can’t be any more complicated than my phone bill,” Judge Pregerson said.
Can't say. It's a state secret.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Another day, another recall

Will someone please get the government off Chinese manufacturers' back? The Los Angeles Times explains the recent trend:
First it was tens of millions of containers of pet food recalled because of tainted ingredients from China; then it was 1.5 million of the popular Thomas & Friends wood trains, made in China, recalled for lead paint.

Two weeks ago, El Segundo-based Mattel Inc., one of the most trusted names in playthings, jolted consumers with warnings that 1.5 million of its Chinese-made Fisher-Price toys also could contain lead paint.

And on Tuesday, Mattel recalled more than 18 million more toys worldwide because of new worries about lead paint and, because of design problems, magnets that can come loose and cause serious health problems if swallowed.
Parental responsibility is the answer here, clearly. Responsible parents teach their children not to put things in their mouths. It's not toy manufacturers' job. Business Week explains that while Mattel works hard to ensure product safety, even a minimum of parental responsibility could minimize ingestion risks:
Not all recalls are due to suppliers cutting corners. In the case of the recalled magnetic toys, technology advanced faster than toymakers' perceived risk. Mattel's quality guru Walter noted in an interview with BusinessWeek in late July that the company puts products through rigorous stress tests. The industry didn't anticipate, however, that if two or more of the high-powered magnets were ingested at once they could close off the intestines of small children. In newer versions of the toys the magnets will be locked into the products in such a way that a child cannot break them free.
See, parents? Keep your child from ingesting more than one magnet and there's no problem.

Just now on NPR, a Mattel spokesperson noted that each year the multinational has many recalls, so this one, while regretable, is nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

Nothing a tax cut wouldn't solve.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hell, yes!

Just watched Markos (Daily Kos) on Meet the Press with former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN), Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. Markos, who has been hard on the DLC as right-leaning "centrists," was critical again with Harold Ford sitting beside him. He and SusanG wrote this about the DLC in today's Washington Post:
Last week, at the YearlyKos convention . . . [t]he DLC was nowhere to be found -- unless you looked in Nashville, where its members continued to preach, in empty halls, about the "vital center." Even the Democratic presidential candidates have figured out where the heart of the party now lies: with the new, unashamedly progressive movement.

The DLC had two decades to make its case, to build an audience and community, to elect leaders the American people wanted. It failed.

Its members number in the hundreds, compared with the millions that the people-powered movement can claim, and they are reduced to attacking our movement from the studios of right-wing Fox News and pleading that in the next election they'll really prove that the mushy, indistinguishable "middle" is where the American people want to be.
The DLC believes the country is more conservative than it is, Markos contends. Ford cautioned this week against pushing the party too far left and ignoring the "vital center."
Every four years, in the heat of the nominating process, liberals and conservatives alike dream of a world in which swing voters don't exist. Some on the left would love to pretend that groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council, the party's leading centrist voice, aren't needed anymore.
More to the point, it's the DLC that finds itself out of the mainstream. The Beltway-centric group is too inclined towards a politics that goes along to get along, instead of standing on principle. Standing for something. Anything, besides behaving like a battered wife. "Centrist" accommodation of this administration brought us the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and last week's FISA bill. If that's all Democrats have got, we don't deserve to lead the country. That's why there is a progressive movement.

As I have written before, the electorate (from left to right) wants to vote for candidates who are unapologetic about what they stand for and govern like they mean it. They voted for the Mayberry Machiavellis, so skilled at posturing about principle, but whose "principled" leadership brought us Iraq, domestic surveillance, waterboarding, Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. attorney firings, voter caging and the Katrina debacle.

Voters got burned. They want and deserve the real deal.

NBC's David Gregory (sitting in for Tim Russert) kept pushing Markos about whether he and the netroots were pushing the Democratic party to the left. As in his WaPo piece, Markos made the case that the progressive grassroots/netroots movement isn't about him, or who's liberal or conservative -- progressives supported a slew of candidates last fall with some fairly conservative views. Unlike the more diffident DLC, the progressive movement is about reclaiming the Democratic wing of the Democratic party and making no "triangulating" bones about it.

I'm reminded of a tale by Decatur, Georgia's Roy Blount, Jr. As I heard him tell it, he was miffed to read a national story about Southerners eating kaolin (clay) for settling stomachs. (A traditional remedy, kaolin is a principle ingredient in Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate.) An educated man hoping to overcome negative southern stereotypes, Blount found himself facing questions from uppity Yankees: "Do you eat dirt?" Blount said (as I recall),
Now there are only two ways to answer a question like that. One, you can deny you eat dirt. They won't believe you. They know you come from dirt eaters and will think you've gotten too good for your upbringing. Or else you say. "Hell, yes, I eat dirt! I understand you people up here eat cold soup and raw fish!"
Right back at you.

In spite of Markos' stinging critiques, DLC chair Harold Ford ended the MTP interview saying he expects to attend next year's YearlyKos convention. Harold, welcome to the "Hell, yes, I'm a Democrat" wing of the Democratic party.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Conformity and Despotism?

"In any game where the rules have been abandoned, those with the fewest scruples win." -- Daniel Brook, "The Trap"

Brook was talking specifically about the rise of lobbyist influence in Washington, but the sentiment applies to much of what's gone on in D.C. in the last decade. Andrew Sullivan has described the impulses driving American politics as "scruple-free." Corporate American has both enabled and followed its Washington misleaders, reaping economic windfalls, but those rewards have not trickled down to Average Joe.

"The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America" deals with the corporatization of America and the loss of freedom Americans face as a consequence. He profiles working people who feel they've sold their souls for economic security, stifling their urges to serve their communities in order to finance middle class homes and families once attainable on teachers' and firefighters' salaries.

Yet even while New Deal policies were building a powerful, more egalitarian American middle class, Barry Goldwater warned that:

Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
Goldwater said that on the heels of the conformist, red-scare 1950s, and (ironically) on the cusp of a radically nonconformist decade. Goldwater conservatives advocated smaller government and free markets as the means for unleashing individual talent and avoiding the bogeyman of creeping socialism. But were their fears justified? The conservative policies begun under Ronald Reagan and accelerated under George W. Bush have left Americans with fewer choices, not more, Brook argues:
A free-for-all society does not set people free. Instead it sets in motion a moral race to the bottom reminiscent of the savage state of nature described by seventeenth-century British political theorist Thomas Hobbes in which simply surviving becomes the overarching goal of human life and all higher aspirations must be stifled. "No Arts; no Letters" was Hobbes's stark phrase. Yet any civilization worth living in depends on having some talented people who opt not to maximize their earnings potential and instead pursue less lucrative creative and service professions.
For all the promises of greater freedom, conservative economics has delivered wealth for a few and insecurity for many. Freedom, as Goldwater understood it, meant freedom to spend more of your money as you see fit. That you'd be free to determine how you spend your life was assumed. "The Trap" examines how, whether they want to or not, more Americans -- including her best and brightest -- are compelled into serving corporate interests at the expense of their own. Necessity, not choice, is keeping them out of lower-paying public service jobs, from teaching to the Peace Corps. Many who can still afford college graduate with loans nearing six figures -- conservatives having worked to eliminate state funding for college tuitions in recent decades. Saddled with debt, with pay scales stagnant, unions under assault, and private health care costs skyrocketing, Americans who hope to cling to a middle-class lifestyle are finding themselves limited, not emancipated.

And while conservatives talk a good game on supporting entrepreneurship, Brook says:
A 2005 survey showed that 28 percent of Americans have considered setting up their own businesses, compared to only 15 percent of Europeans. Yet the employment statistics reveal that Americans are far less likely to actually do it -- 14.7 percent [pg. 66] of the European workforce is self-employed, compared with only 7.3 percent of Americans.
National health care in EU countries explains that discrepancy, Brook suggests. In 2006 the Financial Times (Britain's Wall Street Journal) found less entrepreneurial inhibition in Europe:
With its low [real estate] costs and generous welfare net, Berlin is a entrepreneurs' heaven, where barriers to entry are low and failure rarely entails personal ruin. In the past two years, twenty-seven thousand companies have been created.
Brook cuts the quote too short, however. The Times continues: "... and they are overwhelmingly one-person businesses."

Conservative pro-big business policies and anti-government orthodoxy here made things even worse with the recent bankruptcy "reform" that makes individual entrepreneurship that much more risky. Brook laments:
America is thwarting the very ambition that has long defined its people.
And under conservative economic policies, are we coming closer to realizing Goldwater's feared conformity and despotism?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Your Values at Work

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer is back with lengthy piece on the CIA's "black sites" and procedures used in "extraordinary rendition."
... A former member of a C.I.A. transport team has described the “takeout” of prisoners as a carefully choreographed twenty-minute routine, during which a suspect was hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, and transported by plane to a secret location.

A person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry, referring to cavity searches and the frequent use of suppositories during the takeout of detainees, likened the treatment to “sodomy.” He said, “It was used to absolutely strip the detainee of any dignity. It breaks down someone’s sense of impenetrability. The interrogation became a process not just of getting information but of utterly subordinating the detainee through humiliation.” The former C.I.A. officer confirmed that the agency frequently photographed the prisoners naked, “because it’s demoralizing.” The person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry said that photos were also part of the C.I.A.’s quality-control process. They were passed back to case officers for review.

A secret government document, dated December 10, 2002, detailing “SERE Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure,” outlines the advantages of stripping detainees. “In addition to degradation of the detainee, stripping can be used to demonstrate the omnipotence of the captor or to debilitate the detainee.” The document advises interrogators to “tear clothing from detainees by firmly pulling downward against buttoned buttons and seams. Tearing motions shall be downward to prevent pulling the detainee off balance.” The memo also advocates the “Shoulder Slap,” “Stomach Slap,” “Hooding,” “Manhandling,” “Walling,” and a variety of “Stress Positions,” including one called “Worship the Gods.”

[. . .]

According to sources familiar with interrogation techniques, the hanging position is designed, in part, to prevent detainees from being able to sleep. The former C.I.A. officer, who is knowledgeable about the interrogation program, explained that “sleep deprivation works. Your electrolyte balance changes. You lose all balance and ability to think rationally. Stuff comes out.” Sleep deprivation has been recognized as an effective form of coercion since the Middle Ages, when it was called tormentum insomniae. It was also recognized for decades in the United States as an illegal form of torture. An American Bar Association report, published in 1930, which was cited in a later U.S. Supreme Court decision, said, “It has been known since 1500 at least that deprivation of sleep is the most effective torture and certain to produce any confession desired.”

Under President Bush’s new executive order, C.I.A. detainees must receive the “basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.” Sleep, according to the order, is not among the basic necessities.

In addition to keeping a prisoner awake, the simple act of remaining upright can over time cause significant pain. McCoy, the historian, noted that “longtime standing” was a common K.G.B. interrogation technique. In his 2006 book, “A Question of Torture,” he writes that the Soviets found that making a victim stand for eighteen to twenty-four hours can produce “excruciating pain, as ankles double in size, skin becomes tense and intensely painful, blisters erupt oozing watery serum, heart rates soar, kidneys shut down, and delusions deepen.”
Torture is like sexual relations (as in Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"). Define torture in narrowly enough, as John Woo did for the Bush administration, and -- voila -- it disappears. A president can look into the cameras and say with a straight face, "We do not torture."

A bumper sticker puts it in a more commonsense way: You'd know it was torture if it happened to you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Our heroes

This morning's New York Times editorial says it all:
It was appalling to watch over the last few days as Congress — now led by Democrats — caved in to yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers, this time to spy on Americans in violation of basic constitutional rights. Many of the 16 Democrats in the Senate and 41 in the House who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security.

[ . . ]

Mr. Bush’s incessant fear-mongering — and the Democrats’ refusal to challenge him — has had one notable success. The only issue on which Americans say that they trust Republicans more than Democrats is terrorism. At least those Americans are afraid of terrorists. The Democrats who voted for this bill, and others like it over the last few years, show only fear of Republicans.
Our heroes.

Now excuse me while I go rend my garments.

Monday, August 06, 2007

We're worried about Iran supplying Iraqi insurgents?

Today's WaPo:

The Pentagon has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a new government report, raising fears that some of those weapons have fallen into the hands of insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.

The author of the report from the Government Accountability Office says U.S. military officials do not know what happened to 30 percent of the weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces from 2004 through early this year as part of an effort to train and equip the troops. The highest previous estimate of unaccounted-for weapons was 14,000, in a report issued last year by the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

How many thousand M16s did we leave behind in Saigon? Gotta look that up.

That's leave behind, not lose.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

And the good news is?

[updated below]

Slate's Today's Papers provides the good news on House Democrats' caving to the Bush administration's demands for more latitude in evading FISA in conducting spying activities:
It was all about politics, says the NYT and WP, and the Democrats didn't want to spend their summer vacation "fending off charges from Mr. Bush and Republicans that they left Americans exposed to terror threats." The good news for the Dems is that the changes will expire in six months, giving them half a year to grow a spine.
Congress seems to have decided that letting the president play with matches has worked out so well that -- what the hell -- why not hand the most untrustworthy administration in American history a live grenade when it asks for one.

For all the Republicans' woes, with leadership like this and like this it stretches the immagination to think that the country will hand the Democratic party, or at least the congressional wing of the Democratic party, a presidency when it asks for one in 2008.

The people have wised up faster than their leaders.


Enter Yearly Kos. It was great fun this week watching Bill O'Reilly inveigh against Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos ("this hate site") and the Democratic candidates who went to Chicago to speak to the Yearly Kos convention. As E.J. Dionne put it:
Democratic candidates know they owe a debt to Moulitsas. They're paying homage to him because he has started to beat Limbaugh and O'Reilly at their own game. No wonder O'Reilly is so annoyed.
But it's also no wonder that the DLC's own corporate-woman-tough-enough-to-be-president Sen. Hillary Clinton is no favorite of grassroots and online activists, who feel they've been ahead of the corporate wing of the Democratic party on Iraq and other policy matters. The House vote this weekend reinforces that mistrust.

Just as the candidates' appearance at Yearly Kos instead of the DLC convention reinforces the power of online activism in Democratic politics. Says Moulitsas,
“If the DLC had an e-mail list of 3 million people there’s no reason that the candidates would have skipped that convention . . . But they don’t. We have hundreds of thousands, millions, of committed activists that will work to have them elected.”
That's something no candidate can ignore. Having them work against you is even more reason to take pause.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Respect my authority!

The president demands Congress remain in session to pass an update to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) so his legal wiretapping activities will be legal again:
"So far the Democrats in Congress have not drafted a bill I can sign," Mr. Bush said at FBI headquarters, where he was meeting with counterterror and homeland security officials. "We've worked hard and in good faith with the Democrats to find a solution, but we are not going to put our national security at risk. Time is short."

The president said lawmakers cannot leave for their August recess this weekend as planned unless they "pass a bill that will give our intelligence community the tools they need to protect the United States."
Or the terrorists win, we know.

Bush's demand echoes his insistence that Congress pass the Military Commissions Act last September. (The act undermined habeas corpus, in case you missed that.) "The need for this legislation is urgent," Bush said last September. The Congress passed the president's urgently needed bill on September 29.

While he was out fundraising and campaigning, the action-figure president let the Military Commissions bill sit urgently on his desk for two and a half weeks before signing it on October 17.

How many times will Democrats in Congress let this guy play them?

It's legal. Trust us.

That's why they're pushing so hard for legislation that says so:
A federal intelligence court judge earlier this year secretly declared a key element of the Bush administration's wiretapping efforts illegal, according to a lawmaker and government sources, providing a previously unstated rationale for fevered efforts by congressional lawmakers this week to expand the president's spying powers.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) disclosed elements of the court's decision in remarks Tuesday to Fox News as he was promoting the administration-backed wiretapping legislation. Boehner has denied revealing classified information, but two government officials privy to the details confirmed that his remarks concerned classified information.
This is the point at which bloggers on the right scream for loose-lipped heads to roll, right?

The WaPo report continues:
The decision was both a political and practical blow to the administration, which had long held that all of the National Security Agency's enhanced surveillance efforts since 2001 were legal. The administration for years had declined to subject those efforts to the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and after it finally did so in January the court ruled that the administration's legal judgment was at least partly wrong.
It's a dog bites man story at this point. When this administration starts getting things right it should be real headline news.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Progress in Iraq: Sunni bloc quits cabinet

BAGHDAD — Iraq's main Sunni Arab political bloc withdrew from the government Wednesday, blaming Shiite Muslim leaders for not addressing sectarian issues, as explosions in the streets killed at least 70 people around Baghdad.
That should improve chances of a favorable report in September from Gen. Patraeus. Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald speculated about what the report will tell us:
VandeHei's secret sources reveal that Petraeus is planning on reporting that the strategy he designed, advocated and implemented is, in fact, working. Who would have guessed? And the fact that Petraeus' happy report will be "tempered by continued political problems in Iraq" is supposed to show that Petraeus' report is balanced and candid, even though the actual formula -- the real purpose -- for this "tempered" report is clear:

"Significant military progress" = "the Surge is working."

"Continued political problems in Iraq" = "job not yet done; must stay longer."
Once again, it's "Bush-22." And the spinmeisters who cut their teeth advocating tax cuts as the response to whatever economic news we face -- good or bad -- are already laying the groundwork for spending more lives in Iraq. Steadfast leaders, ideologues or compulsive gamblers?

Don't walk away from that slot machine, boys. You just got her warmed up and she's about to pay off. Just keep shoving in dog tags.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I-35 bridge collapses into Mississippi River

CNN - At least three people were killed when an interstate bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed Wednesday evening, plunging cars and chunks of concrete into the Mississippi River below.
Remember the NYC steam main explosion last month? Rick Perlstein detects a pattern:
The ground opened up beneath a horse stall in Phoenix. An eighty year old sewer line collapsed in St. Cloud. In Tyler, Texas, the sinkhole was caused by crumbling drainage pipes. In San Antonio, "big chunks of rocks were falling off into into the abyss that used to be a street." In Vallejo, California, the pit split an underground gas line (no danger in that). In San Jose, a water main ruptured beneath a high school ("the water may appear dirty," officials assured residents, "but it is safe to drink"). In Sunnyvale, the burst pipe buckled 300 feet of road surface. In Greensboro the sinkhole swallowed a car ("Randy Delano Wood has seen a lot of accidents int he 20 years he has driven for a living. 'But the road falling out from under you is something you never expect,' Wood said.")

The good folks in Greensboro are fortunate enough to have a newspaper editorial writer who connects the dots: "It's like one of those Parade Magazine brain teasers. What do these have in common?"
Not enough money in people's pockets. Time for another tax cut.

And pronto. They'll be starting a betting line in Vegas.

Behind closed doors

Ethics bill passes overwhelmingly in the U.S. House. It's imperfect, but it's a start. The New York Times reports :
The new lobbying bill would, for the first time, require lawmakers to disclose small campaign contributions that are "bundled" into large packages by lobbyists. It would require lobbyists to detail their own campaign contributions, as well as payments to presidential libraries, inaugural committees and charities controlled by lawmakers. The proposal would also put new disclosure requirements on special spending measures for pet projects, known as "earmarks."
The Los Angeles Times concludes:
Democratic leaders, eager to complete work on the bill before breaking for their summer recess, decided to work out their differences behind closed doors and have each chamber pass identical versions.

Complaining about the way the Democrats chose to advance the bill after pledging to lead a more open and bipartisan Congress, Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) said that he wasn't even able to get a copy of the bill until shortly before the vote.

"I got my first copy from a lobbyist," he said.
And they won't be packing up any time soon. It ain't over until the cowboy signs it.