As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, March 31, 2006

You'll Use The Armor We Don't Provide You, Private!


Soldiers will no longer be allowed to wear body armor other than the protective gear issued by the military in the latest twist in a running battle over the equipment the Pentagon gives its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We're very concerned that people are spending their hard-earned money on something that doesn't provide the level of protection that the Army requires people to wear. So they're, frankly, wasting their money on substandard stuff," said Col. Thomas Spoehr, director of materiel for the Army.

Families of the troops would not beg friends and relatives, run fundraising drives on the Internet, and re-fi their houses for body armor if their kids didn't need it. The military clearly doesn't give our troops the protection they deserve. Randi Rhodes often says things on her show like "They don't want these kids to come! They don't want the wounded to be a financial burden!" I'm beginning to think that she's right.

Sen. Christopher Dodd has been a stalwart on this issue. In fact the Democrats seem a hell of a lot more concerned about the welfare of America's sons and daughters than the Republicans if you look at the record. How many more times do we have to hear stories like this about troops being inadequately equipped? The military has a $493 billion budget. They can't stop the militarization of space and inoperative missile defense systems for a couple days and free up all the money they'd need to make sure everybody in the field has the best body armor?

This is the type of stuff that sickens me. The next time I hear somebody say "you don't support the troops" I'll point them right here. If I can stop from punching them in the throat, that is.



Yet another aide of Tom DeLay decides to put his name in the Grand Old Police Blotter:

Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, entered the guilty plea to one count of conspiracy in federal court as part of a deal with U.S. Justice Department prosecutors in which he has agreed to tell all he knows.

Rudy worked for DeLay from 1995 through 2000, while DeLay was a Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rudy then joined Abramoff as a lobbyist. They conspired together to influence members of Congress, prosecutors said.

Beginning in 1997 and continuing while he worked for DeLay, Rudy accepted numerous items of value from Abramoff and others while he repeatedly took official action on their behalf, prosecutors said.

Rudy accepted $86,000 from Abramoff while working as a DeLay staffer, according to the court documents. In return, Rudy asked lawmakers to vote against an Internet-gambling bill that would have harmed one of Abramoff's clients.

Within a year of leaving DeLay's office, Rudy communicated with employees still in the office, seeking to influence official action, prosecutors said.

Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio is alluded to in Rudy's indictment, as he was in Abramoff's. Are we still going to hear that this was a bipartisan scandal that affected both parties equally? Because if you're keeping track of the indictments and those named therein, all subjects of this investigation are Republican. It's simply ludicrous to think otherwise.

I'm sure this is all part of that War on Christians they had the conference about the other day. I mean, clearly these activist judges are going outside accepted Judeo-Christian law, which has NOTHING about lobbyists and golf trips in it!


Leahy on Censure

A very calm, reasoned, intelligent statement that is probably as close as I'm going to see to my opinion on the matter. Nobody in the Administration will cooperate with an investigation, and based on what little we know right now, we know the President broke the law. The burden of proof rests with him to explain why. A long excerpt:

After this hearing, we will have heard from a total of 20 witnesses.  Of those, only one had any knowledge of the spying activities beyond what he had read in the newspapers.  That witness was Attorney General Gonzales, who flatly refused to tell us anything beyond “those facts the President has publicly confirmed, nothing more.”  [...]

Because the Republican-controlled Congress has not conducted real oversight, and because the attempts this Committee has made at oversight have been stonewalled by the Administration, we do not know the extent of the Administration’s domestic spying activities.  But we know that the Administration has secretly spied on Americans without attempting to comply with FISA.  And we know that the legal justifications it has offered for doing so, which have admittedly “evolved” over time are patently flimsy.  I therefore have no hesitation in condemning the President for secretly and systematically violating the law.  I have no doubt that such a conclusion will be history’s verdict.

History will evaluate how diligently the Republican-controlled Congress performed the oversight duties envisaged by the Founders.  As of this moment, history’s judgment of the diligence and resolve of the Republican-Controlled Congress is unlikely to be kind.  

Our witnesses today will address whether censure is an appropriate sanction for those violations.  I am inclined to believe that it is.  If oversight were to reveal that when the President launched the program, he had been formally advised by the Department of Justice that it would be lawful, that kind of bad advice would not make his actions lawful, but might at least provide something of an excuse. 

If, on the other hand, he knowingly chose to flout the law and then commissioned a spurious legal rationalization years later after he was found out, he should bear full personal responsibility.  To quote Senator Graham from an earlier point in his congressional service, when he bore the weighty role of a House Manager in a presidential impeachment trial:  “We are not a nation of men or kings, we are a nation of laws.”

I have said before that this Committee needs to see any formal legal opinions from this Administration that address the legality of NSA practices and procedures with respect to electronic surveillance.  The American people have a right to know whether or not their President knowingly chose to flout the law when he instructed the NSA to spy on them. 

That is why our next step should be to subpoena the opinions.  We know the President broke the law – we should find out why.

I also support Sen. Schumer's call to fast-track the various lawsuits over this program right to the Supreme Court, so we can get a binding judge's ruling on the program. Discovery of the legal opinions used to make the case for the program is essential as well. Leahy brings the number to 4 of those in favor of the censure resolution, with 2 other leaners (Maybe Leahy sees himself as a leaner and not a supporter). That's pathetic, but there is a spot of gaining momentum in the Senate, at least.


The Storm Before the Calm

The head of the IAEA asked for calm in the Iran debate. On the same day, both Iran and the US announced bombing tests, with ours being a 700-ton device that will result in a mushroom cloud (smoking gun?) to rise over Sin City, Las Vegas.

There's calm for you. Not exactly in the predisposition of the main actors in this slowly developing crisis.


The Censure Hearings

Earlier this week a series of federal judges from the secret FISA court testified to the Judiciary Committee about the NSA's domestic spying program. They all seemed to agree with Chairman Specter's belief that they needed judicial oversight (which typically takes the form of warrants) over the controversial program. This would suggest that they believe that the President is overstepping Constitutional authority by seeking the wiretaps without a warrant or judicial review, as deemed necessary by statute. That would mean that the President is breaking the law.

Today the same Senate Judicary Committee is holding hearings on Future President Feingold's call for censure over the program. For the first time since 1974, at the height of Watergate, John Dean testified on Capitol Hill. I had the pleasure of hearing Dean speak a couple years ago, and have read his prodigious work on this subject before. He was again eloquent today.

"To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question," Dean told the panel. "I think it's a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States."

He added in prepared testimony that if Congress doesn't have the stomach for Feingold's resolution as drafted, it should pass some measure serving Bush a warning.

"The resolution should be amended, not defeated, because the president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers," Dean said in prepared remarks. "He needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences."

All the Republicans on the committee could do was cry politics. Feingold and Dean preferred to talk about the good of the nation and the restoration of Constitutional authority over the executive branch. I, of course, find that to be the stronger argument. Here's Dean on the wiretapping and why lawbreaking was probably not even required:

There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons.

Indeed, here, Bush may have outdone Nixon: Nixon's illegal surveillance was limited; Bush's, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope. First reports indicated that NSA was only monitoring foreign calls, originating either in the USA or abroad, and that no more than 500 calls were being covered at any given time. But later reports have suggested that NSA is "data mining" literally millions of calls - and has been given access by the telecommunications companies to "switching" stations through which foreign communications traffic flows.

In sum, this is big-time, Big Brother electronic surveillance [...]

No one questions the ends here. No one doubts another terror attack is coming; it is only a question of when. No one questions the preeminent importance of detecting and preventing such an attack.

What is at issue here, instead, is Bush's means of achieving his ends: his decision not only to bypass Congress, but to violate the law it had already established in this area.

Congress is Republican-controlled. Polling shows that a large majority of Americans are willing to give up their civil liberties to prevent another terror attack. The USA Patriot Act passed with overwhelming support. So why didn't the President simply ask Congress for the authority he thought he needed?

The answer seems to be, quite simply, that Vice President Dick Cheney has never recovered from being President Ford's chief of staff when Congress placed checks on the presidency. And Cheney wanted to make the point that he thought it was within a president's power to ignore Congress' laws relating to the exercise of executive power. Bush has gone along with all such Cheney plans.

Just because an offense is impeachable doesn't mean you should impeach. And there's going to be literally years of information requests and stonewalling and claims of national security that will forestall any further understanding of just what the President has done here. But what's out there now at the very least demands censure, for the sake of the credibility of the United States Congress. That's what's at stake, and in this long process I think eventually the American people will understand that in growing numbers. Already a majority favor it in at least one poll.

I'll end with this quote from the end of Dean's FindLaw column, and it's extremely important:

I was delighted that Professor (David) Cole closed his real-world analysis on a very realistic note: "Michael Ignatieff has written that 'it is the very nature of a democracy that it not only does, but should, fight with one hand tied behind its back. It is also in the nature of democracy that it prevails against its enemies precisely because it does.' (Justice Department lawyer and architect of the legal underpinnings for the policy John) Yoo persuaded the Bush administration to untie its hand and abandon the constraints of the rule of law. Perhaps that is why we are not prevailing."

That's so fabulous and stirring that I ought to print it again. What we're talking about it whether we have a true constitutional democracy or a shadow play. The issue is that crucial.

P.S. Absolutely disgusting that most of the Democratic Senators didn't even bother to show up to this hearing. Sen. Kennedy is engrossed in the immigration debate that was happening concurrently, but the others have little excuse. They continue to run and hide, and we the people continue to pay the price with Republican Administrations that break the law with impunity. Thanks, guys.


Devil's in the Details

Let's not forget the bigger story to come out of Rice's visit to the UK: she acknowledged "thousands" of tactical errors in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted on Friday the United States had probably made thousands of errors in Iraq but defended the overall strategy of removing Saddam Hussein.

"Yes, I know we have made tactical errors, thousands of them," she said in answer to a question over whether lessons had been learned since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision, that Saddam had been a threat to the international community long enough," she added.

She ended up claiming that history will judge the effort for trying to bring peace and stability to the Middle East, not over the thousands of errors along the way.

I believe that she believes that. I believe that the whole admnistration believes that. That's why the postwar planning and tactical strategy has been so uniformly horrible. They don't think they're being judged on it, so why put any effort into it? So many people take this "they're right on the big picture" tactic in defending the Administration (I call it "The Hitchens Gambit") that it's in some way assured that the tactical effort will be slipshod as if it doesn't matter. That's like failing a math test and protesting because "I made the effort to TAKE the test, after all... what's the big deal about getting the questions wrong?"

This is kind of the same thing the Right always accuses educators of doing: rewarding effort and not testing. Of course, IOKIYAR. When things don't go their way, they'll always come up with an argument that suits their needs.


You can't make this shit up

Overheard on NPR this morning: a report about protests of Condooleezza Rice's visit to Blackburn, England. Rice then gives a quote, basically saying "If I couldn't go somewhere because of criticism against me and my policies, I wouldn't be doing my job."

Then the reporter says, "Rice cancelled a visit today to a mosque in Blackburn."



Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tip Of The Iceberg

It's been a while since I've fired up the old Plame-o-meter and taken a look at the Fitzgerald investigation, but this week we've had a couple juicy revelations. There's the bit about Karl Rove playing footsie with the prosecutor and helping him find a bunch of emails that were incredibly damning to Scooter Libby's case (emails that were claimed to be "lost" by the Office of the Vice President). The guy wants to save his ample skin and is clearly giving Fitz whatever he wants.

But today's story is even more revelatory. Because it shows that the Plame affair was really just a part, a small part, of a much larger coverup. Murray Waas writes in the National Journal that:

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true, according to government records and interviews.

Hadley was particularly concerned that the public might learn of a classified one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, specifically written for Bush in October 2002. The summary said that although "most agencies judge" that the aluminum tubes were "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."

Three months after receiving that assessment, the president stated without qualification in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

For some reason people forget about the aluminum tubes claim. It was a key part of the rationale for war, more important than the yellowcake even, and it was completely without merit. This story suggests that the Administration already knew the evidence on aluminum tubes was weak, but they went ahead and used it to hype the threat anyway. I know the word "treason" has become the exclusive privilege of the right in talking about Democrats, but that's exactly what the scenario described here is.

At the time that Wilson came out with his op-ed and Tenet decided to take the fall, you could definitely sense an effort to wrap the whole thing up, put a bow on it, and very quickly and quietly send it out the door. Because if word got out that Bush was continually briefed that the aluminum tubes were probably not used for WMD, that really would have been it. It was a very sensitive time, and people were cracking under the strain of the eventual futility of the WMD snipe hunt. The Administration was right to try and cover the whole thing up, for the purposes of self-preservation. But of course, that's also a crime. A crime of the highest order. One which demands accountability. Here's the whole thing in a nutshell:

"Presidential knowledge was the ball game," says a former senior government official outside the White House who was personally familiar with the damage-control effort. "The mission was to insulate the president. It was about making it appear that he wasn't in the know. You could do that on Niger. You couldn't do that with the tubes." A Republican political appointee involved in the process, who thought the Bush administration had a constitutional obligation to be more open with Congress, said: "This was about getting past the election."

Booman has a great timeline of events that shows how the aluminum tubes information was used at the time. Bush was using the info in speeches as early as October of 2002, despite being briefed on their shaky basis at least two weeks prior.

All I know is that we need to see that October 2002 President's Summary. That's the primary evidence in Waas' story. What we now know is that the decision to out Valerie Plame was but one of a series of coverups designed to make sure that this information never reach the eyes and ears of the public. Everything flowed from this. It's a major revelation and it's not going away anytime soon.

P.S. Somebody call Dick Durbin:

Durbin concluded, "In determining what the president was told about the contents of the NIE dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- qualifiers and all -- there is nothing clearer than this single page."

Tell him to fight for release.


Chemical, Biological, and Dromedariological Weapons

I keep forgetting to apologize to everyone on the right for being skeptical of their claims about Saddam's deadly weapons caches, now that it's been revealed the not only did he have them, but they were mobile.

Saddam Hussein planned to use "camels of mass destruction" as weapons to defend Iraq, loading them with bombs and directing them towards invading forces.

The animals were part of a plan to arm and equip foreign insurgents drawn up by the dictator shortly before the American-led invasion three years ago, reveals a 37-page report, captured after the fall of Baghdad and just released by the Pentagon. It is part of a cache of thousands of documents that the United States Department of Defence says it does not have the resources to translate [...]

The memo details a training commission to be headed by senior officers, including a colonel from the "Directory of Political Orientation". Their job, says the report, was to "prepare a very intensive training course", "to raise the physical fitness and train in the use of Kalashnikovs and hand grenades".

It continues: "The largest section of the course will be specialised to focus on using the explosive material in the body, in motorcycle, in cars, and in camels". Camels will be "provided by the Directory of General Military Intelligence".

As infrequent contributor Cosmo says: "Perhaps you're not considering the substantial advantage that these walking bombs WOULD NOT NEED TO STOP FOR WATER FOR QUITE A WHILE ON THEIR JOURNEY OF DEATH. And if you thought you needed any more proof that iraq was somehow complicit in 9/11, well here it is (although their original plan was a more high tech solution: segways with bombs heading for significant U.S. sites!)."

This is going to get a whole lot more fun before we're through, I gather.


Enforce the Laws

The LA Times must have read my blog about employer enforcement of illegal immigrant workers, because they ran the numbers.

A New Jersey labor broker and a security guard firm in California are among thousands of businesses that have filed Social Security tax payments for a large number of workers that do not match any known taxpayer. That, the Social Security agency says, is a sign that the workers are most likely illegal. In 2001, payments for 96% of the New Jersey company's workers did not correspond to any taxpayer on file.

Yet the authorities who enforce immigration law have no access to the names of the companies or the workers.

That is just one of many ways that legal barriers, funding priorities and other problems make it hard for immigration officials to go to the one place they know undocumented workers will be: the work site.

I mean, it's completely ridiculous. The article goes on to note that in the entire country in 2004, THREE companies were fined for hiring undocumented workers. THREE. There are 90 federal workers charged with finding employer violators. For the whole country. Less than 1% of all immigration enforcement money goes to the one place we know the undocumented wind up: the workplace. Yet the tools are in place for employers to comply:

One tool employers... could use is Basic Pilot, run by a branch of the Homeland Security Department. It is a voluntary worker-verification program established in 1996 that many in Congress would like to make mandatory for all companies.

Under Basic Pilot, employers enter employee information into a website within three days of making a new hire. The system then matches the information with data at the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, using Social Security numbers to confirm or deny the employee's eligibility to work. Employees who do not get confirmation must be fired.

About 5,500 of the country's 8 million employers were registered to use Basic Pilot in March.

The House and Senate have compulsory database checks for all workers in their competing bills. The Senate bill increases funding for on-site checks. And both bills encourage employers to use Basic Pilot. But of course the problem is enforcement.

I don't want to break up families that come here because their home countries are so oppressive they can't make ends meet. But I'd rather they are given a chance to contribute to society meaningfully rather than become the low-wage slaves to companies who are out to maximize profits and are under no pressure to adhere to current law. Right now, because employers are allowed to get away with paying undocumented workers under the table, the real harm is being done to the lower classes, whose wages get depressed by the competition.

One interesting option is that one of the penalties that would be part of a guest worker plan with a path to citizenship would essentially be community service. This would definitely be a penalty, one used in thousands of criminal cases annually, and would benefit the community and its crumbling infrastructure. But until you get comprehensive with a plan and address workplace enforcement, nothing will change. Of course, that would require the current Administration to actually stand up to Big Business rather than allow its party to demagogue about the "brown hordes." I don't expect the kind of leadership you would need to get illegal immigration under control. It would require picking on someone your own size instead of a poor person trying to do whatever he can for his family.

P.S. Mark Kleiman at "The Reality-Based Community" is on the same wavelength, and has this brilliant suggestion:

Big rewards — I'd propose green cards — for any illegal who turns in an employer for hiring him. You wouldn't have to actually give those rewards very often, because the threat of putting himself at his employee's mercy would discourage any sane employer from playing games.

There's more to the debate than enforcement, but that aspect has really been left out in the cold. These ideas make perfect sense.


Undermining Democracy

I've touched on this before, but it's so important, because it really shows the bankruptcy inherent in this so-called "democracy project" we've undertaken. Our ambassador in Iraq has now taken to appealing to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to try and overturn the will of the Iraqi people.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is reportedly campaigning to either dump the United Iraqi Alliance's (UIA) candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, or force him to withdraw. Khalilzad has taken the drastic measure of appealing to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to that effect.

There are conflicting reports from Iraq about the mechanism of sending this message to Sistani and about who conveyed it. [...]

According to one report, the US government sent a letter on the issue to Sistani. Washington has denied Bush was the signatory. In all likelihood, Khalilzad used one of his own back-door functionaries to send a letter.

According to another source, Khalilzad used a meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), to deliver the message to Sistani. Considering the sensitive and highly unusual nature of the request, Hakim reportedly refused it at first, but then passed it on.

Jaafari has ties to Iran, is the preferred candidate of Muqtada al-Sadr, won't shake hands with women, and recently laid a wreath at the grave of the Ayatollah Khomeini. He presided over chaos as the interim Prime Minister. But he was duly elected, in an election we shepherded. To go to Sistani and try to gain some moral authority by having the region's most powerful Shiite bless what amounts to an internal coup reeks of desperation. It also will intensify Shiite restlessness; they've already accused Khalilzad of siding with the Sunnis (Khalilzad, unfortunately, IS a Sunni) and causing the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra.

The Bush Administration has denied seeking to ouster Jaafari... sort of.

Bush spokesman Scott Mcclellan was asked about reports that Bush had written to powerful Shia leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim asking him to oust Jaafari as the next Premier.

"I don't think that's an accurate report at all, what you just described," Mcclellan told reporters yesterday asking about the reports.

"It is up to the Iraqi people to decide who the Prime Minister is," he said.

The reports say the letter was given to Hakim by the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

But Mcclellan said, "I know of no letter." Hakim heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the main party in the Shia United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) that won December elections.

So McClellan says it's not exactly as the reporter describes, and there was no letter... although, no word on, say, a phone call or a meeting. And "It is up to the Iraqi people," which is why, as the report says, we're trying to persuade leading Iraqis so they will make the switch.

Another way we've undermined democracy in the region is through these "psy-op" news stories the Lincoln Group continues to place in Iraqi papers. The Independent (UK) has printed some of these stories, and as it turns out, according to one of the stories, "IRAQI ARMY DEFEATS TERRORISM"!

That's great! Since they've got it under control, can we leave now?


You Didn't Tell Us You Were Gonna Get SICK

I'm a couple days late to this party, but seeing that this affects me, I want to call attention to it:

Former Members Sue Blue Cross (of California)

The state's largest health insurer systematically — and illegally — cancels coverage retroactively for people who need expensive care, 10 former Blue Cross members claimed in lawsuits filed Monday.

The suits, filed simultaneously in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, allege that Blue Cross of California and Blue Cross Life & Health operate a "retroactive review department" devoted to finding ways the company can escape its obligations to members who become seriously sick.

"Blue Cross' conduct is particularly reprehensible because it was part of a repeated corporate practice and not an isolated occurrence," according to the suits. The former members seek compensation, damages and court orders prohibiting the alleged practice [...]

Christie Bewley of Whittier said Blue Cross dumped her after her physician discovered she had ovarian cysts. According to the suit, she has been unable to afford to obtain a diagnosis since losing her coverage.

Blue Cross also allegedly canceled coverage for Laura Khatchikian of Los Angeles when she became pregnant with twins — more than a year after she began paying monthly premiums.

State regulators say that although a handful of such cases brought up in the courts are under investigation, "we have not seen this type of problem" called in by consumers seeking help, said Amy Dobberteen, chief of enforcement for the Department of Managed Health Care.

The suits involve health policies purchased by individuals, not group or employer-sponsored coverage. To obtain such policies, applicants must fill out a health-history questionnaire.

That would be my policy: an individual Blue Cross PPO.

They just jacked up the rates, and sent me a letter saying "due to rising costs, we will need to raise your premuims.  Also, here are the services we will no longer cover."

In other words, less service, more expensive.

This doesn't surprise me.

Actually, when I tore my Achilles in 2004 they weren't too bad (although they wouldn't cover the diagnostic MRI at ALL).  But when I got some routine blood work last year they wouldn't pay for the doctor visit because I didn't go to their approved "wellness center."  Which they never told me about, of course, and there isn't one all that close to where I live, either.

I really don't want to pay money to a company with business practices this dishonest, and I'd love to give them the old heave-ho, but since I've had a kind of major surgery within two years, I doubt any other provider would be willing to allow me to purchase health insurance from them. As I freelance, I don't have the leverage that group coverage provides.  

And there, my friends, is the great catch-22 of insurance, which this story only seeks to cement.  They only want you if you're healthy.


Jill Carroll is Free

Great news. So was the rescue of the three peace activists last week. That was a bigger story overseas, because two of the hostages were British. The US military is to be applauded for that rescue. Here Carroll was dropped off at the Iraqi Islamic Party offices. US officials deny the paying of ransom, but of course that doesn't mean a private entity didn't do it. It seems like that's what happened.

But most importantly, she's free. I want everyone to make it out of Baghdad alive. Particularly the troops.

Incidentally, there are still three Iraqi journalists being held against their will in Iraq. And 39 journalists in all have been kidnapped since the start of hostilities. 89 have been killed, and scored wounded. No matter how many pictures of other countries Howard Kaloogian can dig up, Iraq is a very dangerous place. And we haven't been able to subdue that. Jill Carroll's release is a source of hope, but let's not forget the other millions at risk.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Picture Gate: Give Me A Break

The guy's substitute picture is a wide shot of the Green Zone shot from a hotel room. No shit.

You can see the police station in it. The police station that was attacked a year ago.

By the way he acknowledges that these pics were taken last July, when he was there. Last July is "recently."

If you can't find one decent shot of peace in Baghdad (which, again, would prove nothing), you must obviously conclude one thing: you weren't allowed to leave the fortified areas. Which makes sense, since practically NO ONE is allowed to leave. To claim that the media is whitewashing Iraq, to set up this tautology where one picture would prove that, and then to come up with, first, a picture from another country, and second, a wide shot from a hotel, shows an unbelievable amount of either self-delusion or plain old douchebaggery. Josh Marshall has this right:

There are a lot of people dying in Iraq right now. There are a lot of American soldiers doing their best to do their job in Iraq and come back home alive. Kaloogian's cheap tricks suggest he doesn't care much about either. He just cheapens what everyone over there is going through.

By the way, Olbermann, Newsweek and The New York Times have covered this today.


Real Security

I think you have to give the Democrats some credit for actually pushing back on the issue of national security. This is a far cry from 2002 and 2004, when the party tried to split the difference on Iraq and security and focus on bread and butter issues. The historical time was simply not right for that strategy. They've at least realized that they need to speak up and show some kind of plan.

I touched on this "Real Security" initiative earlier today, and was a little dismissive because I figured it wouldn't get any press coverage, which it really didn't (the Times article is in the back of the paper). These stage-managed Democratic things simply don't get the time that, say, any speech by Bush gets. And while it's important to have some semblance of a plan on national security, the fact is that under the current White House none of it has any chance of being implemented even if the Democrats took back both houses of Congress. That's dangerous, in a way, because it could lead to charges of "broken promises" should we win on it.

And while Harry Reid's comprehensive, point-by-point summary of what Democrats have done and what the Administration isn't doing along these lines is great for changing the narrative should anyone wish to do so, it's freaking LONG. That's fine with me, but it's not exactly soundbite-friendly in an increasingly soundbite-dependent world. It's a great repository of information, a place I'll probably go back to again and again. Great research document, but shouldn't be part of what is essentially a PR presentation.

And the issue of Iraq, given that this plan is a consensus document among a group with no real consensus, is still troubling. Outside of Jack Murtha and Russ Feingold I've yet to see true leadership on Iraq; saying that "Ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces" doesn't mean anything. I mean honestly it doesn't. "responsible redeployment" is slicing the salami pretty thin. You're either for redeployment or you aren't. Chris Bowers puts it into one short summary:

Short version: if someone has an explanation for why Democrats aren't running on withdrawal when they themselves support it, when it is extremely popular nationwide, when it draws a contrast between congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans, when it creates a wedge in the Republican voter base, and when it is the number one issue nationwide, let me know, because I can't think of one.

It really is time to be bold. If you don't have a solid strategy, don't put out a position paper that doesn't really take a position on the number 1 issue to the country. I know the problem is that there are no good ideas with respect to Iraq. The window has closed on positive solutions, IMO. It's almost devious, how the Republicans can fuck up with such impunity and then say "See, the Democrats don't have any ideas on how to fix it!"

Murtha's position is at least one of principle, and one borne of sound military acumen. The country largely supports it in every opinion poll. Therefore no Democratic leader will touch it with a ten-foot pole. See how that works?

P.S. Actually Pachachutec has an excellent summary of all this.


Quick hits

Here's some items that might not deserve their own post, so I'll go through them all rapid-fire style:

* 6 years for Smilin' Jack. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, and of course that's just the beginning. Abramoff is getting a reprieve from his jail time so he can continue to cooperate with the ongoing Justice Department corruption investigation. But sooner or later, he'll have to hit the slammer. And nobody deserves it more.

* The Security Council has reached a deal on Iran, which has all sorts of compromises and nonbinding language in it. Compromises are typically successful if absolutely nobody is happy with the outcome. However, binding or nonbinding, if you recall hearing "Saddam wouldn't comply with UN resolution 1441," this would be the Iranian antecedent. Actually I have no problem with a muscular diplomatic stance in this case. Of course, my spider sense tells me the US agreed to whatever concessions they needed just to get a unanimous resolution on Iran, which will come in handy later.

*Newly minted fundie John McCain is flip-flopping all over the place. He supports an anti-gay marriage amendment now? Add that to delivering the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's college (he once called Falwell one of the agents of intolerance). I know you have to eat a lot of shit to get elected, but Mr. Straight Talk's gonna get sick with that kind of appetite.

*3 years worth of insurgency, lack of postwar planning, chaos, and civil war in Iraq? All Saddam's fault. Can you imagine the situation there if he wasn't under lock and key all that time then? What a ridiculous statement. It's the Iraqi version of the "Blame Clinton" mentality.


Crunch Time in the Imperial Presidency, Pt. I

Two meetings yesterday could determine the very fate of our democracy, and I really don't think I'm being hyperbolic about that. I'll discuss the first here. Yesterday we had oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, over the legality of the special military tribunals being used at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Allowing these tribunals would basically set the precedent that the President can detain anyone, hold them indefinitely, and adjudicate them according to standards in direct contrast to the codes of both military justice and accepted constitutional law.

And the Supreme Court wasn't buying it.

The Supreme Court gave a skeptical hearing Tuesday to the Bush administration's claim that the president has the power on his own to create and control special military tribunals to punish foreigners he deems to be war criminals.

Five of the eight justices hearing the case commented that the laws of war and the Geneva Convention set basic rules of fairness for trying alleged war criminals.

And they questioned whether the president was free to ignore those basic rules — as well as the rules of American military law.

The justices' skepticism suggested a second setback might be looming for the administration's legal strategy in the fight against terrorism. Two years ago, the high court said war — even a new kind of war on terrorism — did not give the president a "blank check" to make new legal rules for capturing and holding prisoners [...]

Justice Stephen G. Breyer appeared to agree. "If the president can do this, well then he can set up a [military court] to go to Toledo and … pick up an alien and not have any trial at all," he said.

Actually Breyer said much more. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "This isn't a war, because we're not at war in any traditional sense, this isn't a war crime, because conspiracy is not a war crime, it used to be but it's not considered one now, and this isn't a war crime tribunal, because there's no emergency and it's not on the battlefield."

If you have the evidence to convict the guy who was Osama bin Laden's driver (which Hamdan was), then go ahead and convict. The Moussaoui case is taking place under full view of the public, and the need for military tribunals is nil. Basically this is an attempt by the Administration to hide whatever indiscretions they've made in torturing or exacting harm to detainees, which would certainly play out in open court. Our system of laws simply demand that a defendent confront his accusers and question the evidence used aagainst him. The world won't crumble if these prisoners are allowed to do that. To assume otherwise suggests a disbelief in the American justice system. If you want our courts to run like they did in the 1960s-era Soviet Union, go ahead and say so.

There is a further complication. This case has essentially been tried already, and the Supreme Court sided against the government, saying they don't "have a blank check" even in a time of war. So the Congress passed the "Detainee Treatment Act" with a controversial provision which may or may not strip the Supreme Court of jurisdiction in this case (which seems completely unconstitutional to me; it's basically suspending writs of habeas corpus). So one of the things argued yesterday was whether or not the SCOTUS can decide the case. Sen. Lindsay Graham, who wrote the Congressional law, filed this amicus brief which is the transcript of a floor debate on just this very subject between Graham and Sen. John Kyl of Arizona.

Except, the Lincoln-Douglas debates they weren't. Since they never actually had it. They just inserted it into the Congressional Record after the fact.

Now I realize that the Congressional Record is often not what it appears to be. Much of it is inserted at the last second. And even when statements are delivered live, there are often no other senators in the chamber. But this particular episode appears to go well beyond the normal charade.

What we have are two Senators falsely suggesting--to the highest court in the land--that an imaginary dialogue inserted in the Congressional Record was in fact a live floor debate which reveals the definitive intent of Congress. If all this is true--and it certainly appears to be--Senators Kyl and Graham have some explaining to do.

They'll stop at nothing to defend their Imperial President.

So, incidentally, will Justice Antonin Scalia, who gave his opinion on this case well before the oral arguments commenced. It seems to me that during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings there was all this hullabaloo about how prospective Justices couldn't taint upcoming cases by remarking on anything that might come before them in the future. Mr. Scalia obviously isn't constrained by such modesty:

“War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts,” he says on a tape of the talk reviewed by NEWSWEEK. “Give me a break.” Challenged by one audience member about whether the Gitmo detainees don’t have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, Scalia shot back: “If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I’m not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it’s crazy.” Scalia was apparently referring to his son Matthew, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

That's apparently true even if the detainees weren't picked up on the battlefield, as is the case with so many at Guantanamo, a good majority of whom were sold to the United States by Pakistanis for a healthy ransom (see Habeas Schmabeas for details).

You have to recuse yourself if you prejudge a case like this. Yet there was Scalia yesterday, mocking the prosecutor's arguments (as well as that of his fellow Justices). Only his arguments appeared to fall short yesterday. We can only hope so, as it would strike a blow against the Imperial Presidency.


Picture Gate: Over in a Heartbeat

It's a suburb of Instanbul. Turkey. Not Iraq.

How stupid can you get, Mr. Kaloogian? You could have undoubtedly found ONE picture, at just the right angle, somewhere within the Green Zone, that would have proved your point that wasn't worth proving. Are you that contemptuous of the people that you'd just throw any picture up there and expect nobody to know the difference?

Well, yeah. I remember during the election there was a picture of soldiers that was cut and pasted to make it appear like there were more soldiers behind the President than there actually were. I actually wrote about it. Phony news releases with fake anchors. Phony journalists in the White House press room. Paying real journalists to write sympathetic stories. Planting stories in Iraq newspapers. So this is right out of the playbook.

Incidentally, Kaloogian's Democratic opponent, Francine Busby, is now polling at 45% in the upcoming special election. She could end this race in two weeks and not have to go through a runoff if she gets over 50. Picture Gate makes the potential for victory here even more satisfying. Help out at Busby for Congress if you can.


The Party of Security

The more of these reports I read, the more I think that not only should the US shut down all borders, I should start investing in shovels and titanium sheeting material:

Senators said a report that investigators smuggled enough radioactive material to build two ``dirty'' bombs into the U.S. called into question the Bush administration's efforts to secure the borders.

The sting operation is described in one of three Government Accountability Office reports that was released today. The reports also accuse the Bush administration of being slow to deploy equipment that would detect radioactive materials and say corrupt foreign border officials and poor maintenance of detection devices have left the U.S. vulnerable to terror plots [...]

About 662 known attempts to smuggle nuclear or radiological materials across borders around the world have been made since the end of 2004, said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel's senior Democrat, citing an International Atomic Energy Agency study [...]

On Dec. 14, two teams of investigators -- one on the Canadian border, the other on the Mexican border -- put radioactive material in rental cars and attempted to cross over into the U.S. Kristi Clemens, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the radiological material was cesium-137.

Detection equipment alerted authorities at both borders of the radioactive materials. When questioned, the investigators said they needed the material to calibrate construction equipment, a common use.

The investigators presented the authorities with counterfeit Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses and freight inventories.

This can't be seen as a problem with implementation. We're five years into this Presidency, four and a half years beyond the point where it became urgent to meaningfully secure the borders and ports and chemical plants and water treatment plants and all the rest. There has been bill after bill after bill about this in Congress, practically all of them from the Democratic side, practically of them extinguished or voted down. I don't know how much louder they can be. Today's national security platform press event makes for nice public relations, but it was met with the expected partisan cries. Here's the deal: I don't want to see a dirty bomb set off in this country, and I fear under the current leadership there's literally nothing stopping that from happening. Homeland security has literally become a forgotten stepchild in this Administration, left to Michael Chertoff and his band of bumbling hacks, who still don't check even half the containers at US ports.

And yet we still hear from the media filter that Democrats are trying to "get to the right" of Republicans on security. Security is not a right-wing value. In fact, the body of evidence shows they don't value it at all.


Bravely Bold Sir Hugh

Today's Sir Robin of Camelot Award for Valor in the Face of Danger goes to the indefatigable Hugh Hewitt. This is from an interview he did with Time's Baghdad bureau chief Michael Ware:

MW: Let's look at it this way. I mean, you're sitting back in a comfortable radio studio, far from the realities of this war.

HH: Actually, Michael, let me interrupt you.

MW: If anyone has a right...

HH: Michael, one second.

MW: If anyone has a right to complain, that's what...

HH: I'm sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I'm sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target. Because in downtown Manhattan, it's not comfortable, although it's a lot safer than where you are, people always are three miles away from where the jihadis last spoke in America. So that's...civilians have a stake in this. Although you are on the front line, this was the front line four and a half years ago.

Where does Hewitt get the stones to so courageously step back into the belly of the beast, the scene of attack, with its remains still smoldering four and a half years after the fact? They don't make men like this anymore, except for the other 6 million people that live and work in Manhattan every day. I don't know how he keeps from wetting his pants in a steady stream just by being in the region. He's only a couple hundred miles from where the plane went down in Pennsylvania. DOES HE EVEN KNOW THAT?

By the way, later on in the interview Hewitt chides Ware for reporting behind the enemy lines. These are the same people who say the media is contributing to losing the war in Iraq because they're not getting out in the country and seeing what's really happening. Brilliant.

Can someone get Hewitt a tunic and longbow so he can continue his fighting from the front lines?


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Thoughts on Moussaoui

Zacarias Moussaoui is a lunatic and maybe the most unreliable witness in the history of jurisprudence. He's a braggart and self-aggrandizer and I believe his lawyers are more credible than he is. His own testimony should be enough for an insanity plea, especially when it's corroborated by everyone who knew him.

The lawyers presented the accounts of senior Qaeda terrorists who gave statements from captivity to deflate Mr. Moussaoui's surprise claim on Monday that he was to have played a major role in the Sept. 11 attacks. The Qaeda officials, whose testimony was recited in court, portrayed Mr. Moussaoui as an unreliable and unstable colleague who was unconnected to the Sept. 11 plot.

"He had dreams about flying a plane into the White House," a South Asian terrorist known as Hambali, captured in 2003, was quoted as saying. Hambali said Mr. Moussaoui was known to be "not right in the head and having a bad character."

Besides the account of Hambali, the defense on Tuesday offered the recollections of Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a financial and travel planner for Al Qaeda who worked closely with the Sept. 11 hijackers; Mohammed al-Qahtani, who is widely believed to be the real missing "20th hijacker"; and a Qaeda operative known as Khallad, whom investigators have linked to the bombing of two American embassies in Africa in 1998 and the attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen 2000, as well as to the Sept. 11 plot [...]

All provided statements that Mr. Moussaoui was never meant to be part of the Sept. 11 plot.

Mr. Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers, who did not want him to testify, put on less than two full days of testimony, far less than did prosecutors. In a brief rebuttal, prosecutors produced evidence that Mr. Moussaoui had offered to testify for them against himself if they would have agreed to see that he spent his time before execution in a more comfortable jail cell.

This is a crazy person, someone who clearly wanted to kill himself as a martyr years before he faced the penalty of martyrdom. Despite the government's best efforts to bungle the case, it's likely he will get his death wish. How exactly do you deal in the legal system with unstable maniacs that want to die? It's an interesting question, and I'm not sure I have the answer. But one thing I do believe is that all Moussaoui wanted were those 15 minutes of fame in front of the jury and the country. He got to stick it in our faces and become that hijacker and terrorist he always wanted to be.

It would almost be poetic justice not to kill him. Let him rot and deprive him of the glory he seeks.


Picture Gate

I don't know what to make of this.

Earlier today anthony LA over at Kos noticed this portion of Howard Kaloogian's site. Kaloogian is a Republican running for Congress in the seat vacated by the Dukestir, Randy Cunningham. He put up a photo with the following caption: "We took this photo of dowtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."

I don't know what one photo would prove anyway. But the kicker is that the photo doesn't appear to have been taken in Baghdad or even Iraq. Look at it:

There isn't any Arabic script in the entire photo. The two main signs that are readable are "edo," a Turkish ice cream company, and "2.Noter." Noter is Turkish for notary. There's also what looks to be a Turkish cab, and a couple holding hands, the woman wearing a shirt that appears to be a little too skimpy for Shiite-controlled Baghdad.

That's just not Baghdad, and it's bad enough to use the tortured logic of "see, this ONE photo means everything's great in Iraq!" It's worse to use the dishonest logic of "see, this photo of Turkey means everything's GREAT in Iraq!"

Amazingly, Kaloogian STILL has this up at his site.

Francine Busby, the Democrat in this race (who's ahead in all the recent polls, but not by enough to make it out of a potential runoff) hasn't commented on this, and Kaloogian is just one of the many Republican candidates running for this seat. Best that she stays above the fray. But it's certainly something we can laugh about. What a putz and a fraud.


Kadima Wins

In an election with low turnout, Ehud Olmert's centrist party in Israel might have delivered the death blow to Likud once and for all. Benjamin Netanyahu and his party might have slipped into fourth behind a far right populist party named Yisrael Beitenu. Another single-issue party, Gil, which ran solely on raising pensions, appears to have gotten 6-8 seats in the Parliament, where it had none up until now.

Olmert can now run the show, and continue the same path as Sharon was on before his stroke (or step out of that shadow, though I think following in the tradition probably helped him get elected). I still think that removing settlements to consolidate other gains will prove to be a bad idea, one that causes some serious anger. But any party that makes moves toward peace is one that will win over there. The people are simply weary.

The question, of course, is how Olmert will deal with Hamas. I say he ignores them and operates unilaterally, or directly with Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas will certainly resist any attempts to redraw the pre-1967 map, which will lead to more tension. But at least Kadima won't be inflaming those tensions to the extent that Likud would.

One thing it is amazing to see is the spectrum of choices for the Israeli people. I'm beginning to wonder whether the biggest problem in America is the entrenchment of the two-party system. When I visited Ireland (and since I'm pining for vacation again, all of my thoughts will inevitably go back there for the time being), a major story was about a three-day conference held by the Green Party. You literally couldn't find a story on the Greens in the United States if you tried. Third parties add voices to the debate, and they allow voters to choose the best idea rather than the least worst one. Though I think Democrats govern better than they campaign, I often find myself straining to defend them. Joe Biden doesn't speak for me on so many issues, but the party of Biden does, by default.

One thing that would really help third parties in this country, outside of getting rid of the whole "first past the post" system and effectively completely changing the governmental structure, is Instant Runoff Voting. Instead of making one choice for President, for example, you rank order the choices (Candidate a #1, b #2, etc., etc.) If nobody gets 50%, the candidate with the worst showing gets thrown out, and his votes go to whoever was #2 on those ballots, and so on until a 50%-plus-one winner is decided. This eliminates the concern about "throwing away" your vote. For example, it this was in place in Florida in 2000, where Nader's strong third place showing caused both Bush and Gore to finish under 50%, then with IRV Ralph would have been tossed out, with his votes going largely to Gore (presumably), giving him the state. At the same time, this frees up voters to choose third parties without the weight of the "throwaway vote" on their conscience. We desperately need voices outside the two-party system: sometimes I feel like the blogosphere is its own third party. IRV would go a long way.

We should abolish the ridiculous electoral college too, but that's for another day.


Health Care Still The Biggest Issue for Americans

Bigger than terrorism.

It's time for Democrats to come out forcefully for a comprehensive solution to the current health care crisis, no matter what cries of "Hillarycare" they hear from the right. I'd rather be on the side of presenting a solution than blocking one. I'd rather be on the side of the average American than the insurance or pharmaceutical industry. Democrats over the past five years have constantly been in "beat-back" mode, always on the defensive as they parry some fresh Republican rollback or privatizing scheme. We can turn this around in one fell swoop by aggressively advocating a health care plan, backed by big business (who needs comprehensive health care taken off their backs in order to get competitive globally), and forcing the Republicans onto the defensive. When your opponent's message can be successfully condensed into "they don't want your grandmother to get her pills," you're in great shape.

This is completely anecdotal, but on my trip to Ireland, where I engaged quite a few locals on the issues of the day, not one of them complained about health care. Probably because public health is cheaper and better, despite the bogus horror stories you hear about it. A recent study by Maine Rep. Tom Allen shows that, even with the new Medicare plan, prescription drugs are still far higher for seniors on the plan than if they try to obtain them by other means. If it was cheaper, we wouldn't continue to see the elderly buying their prescription drugs from Canada (and increasingly, they get them confiscated by DHS, who of course must protect the monopoly).

Once again I find myself screaming for Democrats to be bold. I don't relish having to defend this party oftentimes, a party whose political instincts have nearly flatlined. I have an upcoming post about the need for third parties, so maybe I'll save this rant for later.


No Street Fight in '06

I guess the Oscar-nominated documentary I wrote about a month or so back might have a happy ending after all:

Mayor Sharpe James said Monday he will not seek a sixth term leading New Jersey's largest city, opening the door to a young rival who lost by fewer than 4,000 votes four years ago.

James, 70, who was first elected to the job in 1986, sent a letter to the city clerk asking that his name be removed from the May 9 ballot. The ballots are to be printed Tuesday.

In the letter, James thanked "the 10,000 loving and caring Newark citizens who signed my petition of nomination."

James' surprise withdrawal makes Cory Booker, 36, the clear front-runner, political analysts said.

James beat Booker by 3,500 votes four years ago in a race so rough that federal election monitors were called into Newark. The race featured physical confrontations between the camps and accusations of signs being stolen.

Sharpe claimed that the problem was dual-office holding (he's been a state senator since 1999), but of course he's been holding two offices for 7 years. Maybe he saw the writing on the wall, that Cory Booker has the skill and talent to deliver for the people of Newark, despite the rough and tumble smear tactics that barely denied him the office in 2002.

Good for Booker. He comes off in the film as a dedicated public servant and a nice guy. We need more of him in politics.


Get Out

I seem to remember a lot of talk by George Bush and his proxies to the effect of "When the Iraqis want us to leave, we will leave." Well, here's our chance:

Iraq's ruling parties demanded U.S. forces cede control of security on Monday as the government launched an inquiry into a raid on a Shi'ite mosque that ministers said saw "cold blooded" killings by U.S.-led troops [...]

One thing was certain: Shi'ite leaders were up in arms against the U.S. forces who effectively brought them to power by overthrowing Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baathist regime.

"The Alliance calls for a rapid restoration of (control of) security matters to the Iraqi government," Jawad al-Maliki, a senior spokesman of the Shi'ite Islamist Alliance and ally of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told a news conference.

The United States handed over formal sovereignty in 2004 but 133,000 troops in the country give it the main say in security.

The US responded to this call by asking that the duly elected Prime Minister be tossed out of office:

Senior Shiite politicians said today that the American ambassador has told Shiite officials to inform the Iraqi prime minister that President Bush does not want him to remain the country's leader in the next government.

It is the first time the Americans have directly intervened in the furious debate over the country's top job, the politicians said, and it is inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting last Saturday to pass a "personal message from President Bush" on to the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who the Shiites insist should stay in his post for four more years, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite politician and member of Parliament who was at the meeting.

Ambassador Khalilzad said that President Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari to be the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. It was the first "clear and direct message" from the Americans on the issue of the candidate for prime minister, Mr. Taki said.

So much for the power of the Purple Finger, and the historic march of freedom and self-government in Iraq. That didn't produce the desired result. So it must be scrapped.

Since the charge of the Administration is that the media is not reporting the good news from Iraq, and seeing that I am arguably the most junior member of that media, I am going to try to set the example for my betters by highlighting some good news, for the sake of balance. After all, I hear that 14 of the 18 provinces in the country are fine! Of course, those provinces by and large don't have any people in them, which means the statement is a bit like saying "See, the sand is not rebelling against us!" But still, that MUST be illustrative of something. So in this spirit, I would like to add to the happy talk and good cheer by reminding you, dear reader, to not forget about the schools:

In just two days, at least 150 people have died in the violence threatening to tear apart Iraq. One of them, Hussein Fadhil, was just 13.

The teenager was in front of his school in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, getting ready to walk into the building when a bomb exploded Sunday, the start of the school week in Iraq [...]

Schools and children have increasingly become targets in a bloody conflict pitting Shiite and Sunni Muslims against each other as Iraq teeters on the verge of civil war. The violence has reached immense proportions in recent weeks, with dozens dying every day and overwhelmed Iraqi authorities seemingly incapable of stopping attacks.

With kidnappings of children and attacks at schools on the rise, some parents are just keeping their kids at home.

Bombs, rockets, mortar and machine-gun fire killed 64 school children from the end of October to the end of February, according to a report by the Education Ministry. At least 169 teachers and 84 other employees died during the same period.

Multiply those figures by 10 to get the equivalent of the US population, imagine 640 schoolchildren and 1,700 teachers and 840 school administrators dying in a four-month period, and ask yourself what the top stories would be in this country. The nation would be going nuts.

Iraq is not secure. Until it is, security will be the only story. We ignore it at the peril of ignoring the lives of many millions of people at risk of perishing in this raging conflagration.


The Immigration Debates

It certainly is amazing what 500,000 people in the streets of America's second-largest city can do. When I saw the picture while I was away, my first thought was "Wow, when was any of this planned?" Obviously I wasn't here, but it seemed somewhat spontaneous. Obviously the immigrant community saw how harmful Rep. Sensenbrenner's punitive bill had the potential of being, and they affected the Senate debate in numerous ways. Here's what the bill out of the Judiciary Committee essentially proposes:

* Allows illegal immigrants who were in the United States before 2004 to continuing working legally for six years if they pay a $1,000 fine and clear a criminal background check. They would become eligible for permanent residence upon paying another $1,000 fine, any back taxes and having learned English.

* Says new immigrants would have to have temporary work visas. They also could earn legal permanent residence after six years.

* Adds up to 14,000 new Border Patrol agents by 2011 to the current force of 11,300 agents.

* Authorizes a "virtual wall" of unmanned vehicles, cameras and sensors to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border.

* Creates a special guest-worker program for an estimated 1.5 million immigrant farm workers, who can also earn legal permanent residency.

You could actually end the immigration debate tomorrow in this country: simply have the Justice Department fine any business shown to have employed undocumented workers by the amount needed to raise the wages of those workers to that of a living wage, plus benefits, and fine them that every day. This Senate Judiciary proposal at least shows a path to citizenship, but still allows for several years of a permanent underclass under a federally administered guest-worker program. Being a federal program, I'm sure it's only necessary for employers to provide workers with the federal minimum wage, now at a criminal $5.15 an hour and well below many state minimums. The immigration debate has splintered the GOP because they are trying to navigate the choppy waters between the anti-immigrant wing who scapegoats those trying to feed their families for all the world's ills, and the corporate wing who needs a steady supply of essentially willing indentured servants. Obviously tougher border security isn't going to work; it hasn't worked for the last three decades, as border security has increased steadily. You need a comprehensive strategy that includes allowing countries like Mexico to improve their own lot instead of having agribusiness export corn to them.

This is a difficult debate and I was pleasantly surprised to see the Senate committee handle it with candor and goodwill rather than the usual rancor. Immigration as it stands right now is unsustainable, but we have to understand that the reason in part is because we've made it unsustainable through our policies like NAFTA, and through the enormous power of corporate interests who invite (and actually count on) illegal activity as part of their economic growth plans. That so many illegal immigrants can get jobs with impunity means that we're either not letting enough legal immigrants into the job market, or we're not enforcing existing laws on employers, with whom we have the only leverage in the matter (it's a lot easier to chase down public businesses than people who may have no fixed address or documentation).

So, that's my perspective. Guest worker=bad. Eventual path to citizenship=good unless you want a permanent class of poor worker bees. Tightening the border=fine but won't solve the problem. Tightening employer enforcement=quickest thing you can do right now to solve the problem.


Not In The Cards

I remember on several occasions seeing Andrew Card described as one of the dimmer tools in the shed, so if anyone was going to need to resign as a face-saving maneuver for the Bush Administration, it was going to be him. He was among the longest-serving senior officials in the White House, but also possibly the least-powerful chief of staff in history, a mere consigliore to Rove's Godfather.

Still, this is probably a net positive for the White House, placating at least some of their base supporters that they understand the scope of the problem in this second term. To the extent that Josh Bolten can come in and actually assert himself, it may make a difference among those predisposed to give this President a chance. Bolten has been in the employ of this President since the beginning of his first term; the notion that he'll bring any fresh ideas is an open question. And I don't know that a "new face" is a complete cure-all for any White House, but of course it may be to the pundit class (although Juan Williams' report on NPR isn't exactly glowing). Like many decisions by this Administration, it appears to be based on image; a younger chief of staff will automatically be invigorating, despite the fact that he's been part of the senior staff all along.

Andy Card's legacy is probably as the guy who said "Hey, Harriet Miers, now THAT'S a good idea," reportedly leading the charge for the nomination while Rove was indisposed with the Plame investigation. In a way, Card has been more foregrounded in the chaos surrounding Rove and Cheney and Libby in this second term, and given what an unmitigated disaster it's been, putting him out to pasture is probably the best thing the President could have done.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Snow Job

Today we get word of even more proof, as if we needed it, that George Bush and his pals were ready to go to war in Iraq long before they admitted it publicly, that the predetermined the date of invasion, and that they were dreaming up ways to provoke Saddam into starting the war so they didn't have to. You wouldn't do that unless you considered an invasion illegitimate, or at least thought the international community would do so.

It also appears to assert that BushCo knew they would find no WMD:

At their meeting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair candidly expressed their doubts that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq in the coming weeks, the memo said. The president spoke as if an invasion was unavoidable. The two leaders discussed a timetable for the war, details of the military campaign and plans for the aftermath of the war.

Without much elaboration, the memo also says the president raised three possible ways of provoking a confrontation. Since they were first reported last month, neither the White House nor the British government has discussed them.

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein. The memo does not indicate how Mr. Blair responded to the idea.

Like the article says, this information has been known for at least two months, published in a book called Lawless World. Still, to get a picture of the almost casual chatter at this meeting, to see all the assumptions coming from BushCo which have now been proven ridiculous, to see these two small stupid men discussing invasions and provocations and schemes like two teenagers looking at a Risk board is most disturbing. If you were paying attention in 2002 and 2003 you knew this was going on behind the scenes. You knew that the official statements, like this one which came out thirty minutes after the events described in this memo, were horseshit:

Q Mr. President, an account of the White House after 9/11 says that you ordered invasion plans for Iraq six days after September the 11th -- Bob Woodward's account. Isn't it the case that you have always intended war on Iraq, and that international diplomacy is a charade in this case?

THE PRESIDENT: Actually, prior to September the 11th, we were discussing smart sanctions. We were trying to fashion a sanction regime that would make it more likely to be able to contain somebody like Saddam Hussein. After September the 11th, the doctrine of containment just doesn't hold any water, as far as I'm concerned.

I've told you the strategic vision of our country shifted dramatically, and it shifted dramatically because we now recognize that oceans no longer protect us, that we're vulnerable to attack. And the worst form of attack could come from somebody acquiring weapons of mass destruction and using them on the American people, or the worst attack could come when somebody uses weapons of mass destruction on our friends in Great Britain….

And so, no, quite the contrary. My vision shifted dramatically after September the 11th, because I now realize the stakes. I realize the world has changed. My most important obligation is to protect the American people from further harm. And I will do that.

He said pretty much the same thing last week when grilled by Helen Thomas at a press conference. He repeatedly said he hadn't made up his mind on war leading up to the invasion. It was dishonest. And maybe it all unraveled into what you're seeing today BECAUSE it was so dishonest. If you're going to war simply because you want to, then postwar concerns about reconstruction and interim governments and democracy promotion really aren't that important. The idea is just to go to war, and that cavalier attitude, the unseriousness of it all (thinking we could bait Saddam with U2 planes with the UN flag painted on them? Are you kidding me?), has led to the chaos over there today, a hot civil war right in the middle of the most dangerous region in the world.

This whole thing is like running into a brick wall, of course. The White House is not going to admit to the patently obvious, and no amount of evidence will convince the rubber stamp Congress to engage in oversight. We have November and that's about all to hang our hat on that there will be an actual reckoning of the way in which this President took us into this war.


What I Missed (The Short Version)

Apparently Republican bloggers like plagiarizing.

Republican Supreme Court Justices like giving the finger in church. (and prejudging cases before they rule on them.)

Republican Senate candidates don't like being coherent ("That is so not like me.")

And Iraq is, well, Iraq.

Did I hit everything?


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ireland - Final Thoughts

Just got back after a torturous 11-hour flight. I'll post some final thoughts.

-OK, truth in advertising laws need to apply over there. Wanting a memorable end to the trip, we booked a room at Barberstown Castle in County Kildare, about a 1/2 hour outside of the airport. We figured that with the name "Barberstown Castle" and the picture of the castle on the brochure that we would be staying in, you know, a castle. Not so much. The very deceptive picture did show a castle, but it was actually a small castle keep on one end of the more modern building which housed the hotel. So we actually stayed in castle-adjacent. We did eat in the castle, which was big enough to fit maybe four tables.

-During the day on Saturday, we drove through the Midlands, which is kind of lean on attractions but plentiful on peat bogs and sheep. There were a couple highlights. One was Clonmacnoise, an early Christian monastery from around the 6th century that had a habit of being burned to the ground and pillaged by Vikings and Normans and the British. I think there were something like 100 attacks over the years until the Brits completely razed in in the 16th century. The site is still an impressive ruin, with a lot of high crosses. It was amusing in the A/V presentation to hear "And Clonnmacnoise was attacked again" about 20 times.

-The other highlight was Birr Castle and Gardens. If it wasn't so rainy (the rainiest part of the entire trip), we would have strolled the expansive grounds more, but as it was we saw the castle (still used today by the descendants of the Earl of Rosse) and a restoration of the giant telescope that the 3rd Earl of Rosse built in the 1870s. At the time it was the largest in the world, and it rises up out of a medieval-looking structure.

-Ridiculous Irish rip-off story of the trip: We went in a convenience store and bought a few items. The clerk asked if I wanted a bag, and I said yes, and he promptly added 15 cents to the total. For a plastic bag.

-Even the tiniest of country roads (and I think we saw all of them) are recently paved and clearly marked. I don't remember more than a couple potholes in 600km of driving (of course, they haven't widened these roads by nary a meter, which still makes them a bit unnerving). And all the roads have these little blue signs saying things like "this reconstruction project partially financed by the European Union." Classic small-government conservatives will decry the high taxes they pay in the EU, but the goods and services in return are notable. Especially considering that I normally drive on the worst roads in America here in LA.

-Overall, Ireland is a beautiful and timeless place that is moving into the modern age. There's suburban-style construction almost everywhere, in the tiniest of hamlets. Bigger motorways are sprouting up. Office parks look newly minted. The "Celtic Tiger" economy looks like it's showing no signs of slowing, although a few detractors claimed otherwise. I highly recommend it for a visit or permanent stay, but bring your wallet: nothing there comes cheap.

The next post will return to the national news, which almost seems depressing... really don't want to go to work tomorrow... sigh.