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

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mars, Bitches.

So we all had a laugh at President Bush's vow to stamp out the great distress of our time, human-animal hybrids, at this week's State of the Union Address. But Matthew Yglesias notes that the last time Bush made a wild, silly charge like this in the State of the Union, every lawmaker made fun of it and had a good old time - and then they funded it anyway:

What nobody seems to realize is that the mission to Mars is still on. The plan was met with immediate derision from commentators on all sides, and massive initial skepticism in Congress, but thanks to timely lobbying by aerospace contractors, the money's been appropriated anyway. Meanwhile, funding for NASA's basic science and educational programs is vanishing, sucked up by the pointless and absurd Mars plan.

The agency goals set out in this document are very specific:

Recognizing the need to reinvigorate the Nation’s civil space program and keep NASA focused on compelling and inspiring goals, President Bush outlined a bold, new vision for human and robotic space exploration on January 14, 2004. NASA will develop the necessary capabilities to move humans beyond Earth orbit, where we have been confined for more than 30 years, and on to the Moon, Mars, and destinations beyond. Both human and robotic explorers will help broaden scientific understanding of the universe and the possible existence of life beyond Earth...

The President’s vision for space exploration calls for a series of robotic spacecraft to explore the Moon starting in 2008 to advance lunar science, provide detailed maps of the Moon’s physical geography and natural resources, and identify the best locations for humans to visit. NASA plans to return humans to the Moon by 2020 to learn how to live and work over the long periods of time that will be required for human visits to more distant locations. All the while, NASA will build on the success of spacecraft currently orbiting Mars as well as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers to develop and launch a series of increasingly capable spacecraft to orbit, land, and travel on Mars to sharpen our scientific understanding and test many of the technologies necessary to support future human exploration of the planet.

These aren't just rovers. These are plans to put a human being on Mars at a time when the greatest scientific and engineering minds in the country should be focused on increasing fuel efficiency and renewable resources.

So here's what happens... 1) The President announces a ridiculous initiative designed to pull focus from nefarious activities... 2) The Congress, the punditocracy, everyone lines up unanimously in opposition to this initiative... 3) Quietly, behind the scenes, the White House puts the intiative into motion, generously funding whatever narrow interest group will benefit from it.

Animal-human hybrids better watch out... a whole group of hunters are about to get rich!


Shock of the Week

The Libby trial will conveniently commence after the 2006 midterm elections.

The U.S. district judge who set the trial date? A Bush appointee.

He set the date so far in advance because Libby's lawyer would be "tied up" with a 10-week trial that started in early September, conveniently enough, 8 weeks before the midterms.

Are they conspiracy theories when the evidence is in such plain view?

UPDATE: Libby's lawyer in question, the one with the scheduling conflict, is a Democrat named Ted Wells, I've learned. However, you have to wonder what judge set his September trial date. I'm actually trying to find this out as we speak.


The Game Plan

A strategy is emerging in the White House to next week's Senate Judiciary hearings on the NSA illegal spying program. They're going to shut up, shut up, and when that's done do some more shutting up. Yesterday's session in the Intelligence Committee offered a sneak preview:

Senate Democrats on Thursday angrily accused the Bush administration of mounting a public relations campaign to defend the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program while withholding details of the secret eavesdropping from Congressional oversight committees.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the Senate Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, compared the administration's public disclosures of limited information about the N.S.A. program in the six weeks since it was first disclosed to what he described as a similarly misleading use of intelligence before the war in Iraq.

"I am deeply troubled by what I see as the administration's continued effort to selectively release intelligence information that supports its policy or political agenda while withholding equally pertinent information that does not do that," Mr. Rockefeller said.

Another Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said the administration had engaged in "consistent stonewalling" to prevent the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees from carrying out their oversight duties. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, suggested the administration's public accounts of the eavesdropping program were contradictory, noting that President Bush had described the agency's interception, without court warrants, of "a few" messages, while Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, had referred to "thousands" of messages.

In a pointed exchange, Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, asked Mr. Negroponte whether there were any other "intelligence collection" programs that had not been revealed to the full Intelligence Committees.

Mr. Negroponte replied, "Senator, I don't know if I can comment on that in open session."

They're going to try and run out the clock on this while continuing to marshal public support through dishonest statements (like the whole "If Al Qaeda is calling, we want to know about it" business, when that's not the issue). Though members of the Cabinet, and the President himself, have offered some details about the spying program in the past, now they're going to stop talking.

Think Progress has more examples of stonewalling in yesterday's session:

WYDEN: Mr. Director, is it correct that when John Poindexter’s program, Operation Total Information Awareness, was closed, that several of Mr. Poindexter’s projects were moved to various intelligence agencies?

NEGROPONTE: I don’t know the answer to that question.

WYDEN: Do any of the other panel members know? The press has reported intelligence officials saying that those programs run by Mr. Poindexter — I and others on this panel led the effort to close it. We want to know if Mr. Poindexter’s programs are going on somewhere else. Can anyone answer that? Mr. Mueller?

MUELLER: I have no knowledge of that, sir.

WYDEN: Any other panel members?

HAYDEN: Senator, I’d like to answer in closed session.

They simply refuse to give Congress the ability to conduct their job, which includes vigorous oversight of the executive branch. If this is the same way in Judiciary, and the Democrats get their act together there (with Arlen Specter, a chairman more favorable to wanting oversight than Bushite lapdog Pat Roberts, who heads Intelligence), I think we could see contempt of Congress citations here. This is absolutely ridiculous, and the Democrats have to mount as aggressive a campaign as they've ever done to get to the bottom of it.

"A-Hole of the Week" honors go to the aforementioned Pat Roberts, who can't even come up with an original line (John Cornyn said this idiotic remark a month ago):

At the close of the hearing, committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) angered Democrats by suggesting they were more focused on threats to civil liberties by intelligence agencies than threats from terrorist networks.

"I would only point out that you really don't have any civil liberties if you're dead," Roberts said.

Give me liberty or give me death. Without freedom there's nothing to defend. A real American would know that.


Throwing Money Down a Fire Pit

Remember those heady days when Paul Wolfowitz said Iraq's oil revenues would be sufficient for them to pay for their own reconstruction? Funny story...

President George W. Bush soon will ask Congress for another $120 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing their total cost so far to about $440 billion.

That's enough to buy General Motors Corp. 33 times or Google almost four times, at current stock prices.

Or, enough to buy one religious theocracy in the midst of a civil war, and one narco-terrorist state!

By the way, the Defense Department, WITHOUT this money, is getting something like $439 billion in the 2007 budget,a 5% increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, we just cut $39 billion in low-income federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, TANF, the student loan program ($12 billion less for kids who want to go to college), and law enforcement for deadbeat dads who skip out on child support (!).

At what point did our priorities as a society get this out of whack?


Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Free-for-All in Iraq

I think we're going to hear a lot more stories like this:

Robert Stein Jr. could not have been clearer about his feelings toward the American businessman who was receiving millions of dollars in contracts from Stein to build a major police academy and other reconstruction projects in Iraq.
"I love to give you money," Stein wrote in an e-mail message to the businessman, Philip Bloom, on Jan. 3, 2004, just as the United States was attempting to ramp up its rebuilding program in Iraq.

As it turned out, Stein had the money to give. Despite a prior conviction on felony fraud that his Pentagon background check apparently missed, Stein was hired and put in charge of at least $82 million of reconstruction money in the south-central Iraqi city of Hilla by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American-led administration that was then running Iraq.

In a federal court on Thursday, the court papers indicate, Stein was expected to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, possession of a machine gun, and being a felon in possession of firearms. He is accused of giving millions of that money to Bloom, and taking millions more for himself.

Stein used some of his stolen money, the papers say, to buy items as wildly diverse as grenade launchers, machine guns, a Lexus, "an interest in one Porsche," a Cessna airplane, two plots of real estate in North Carolina, a Toshiba personal computer, 18 Breitling watches, a six-carat diamond ring and a collection of 2002 silver dollars.

The media might actually cover this one, too, because there's sex involved:

And if all of that were not enough reason for Stein to love giving money to his partner, the papers say, there was another: Bloom kept a villa in Baghdad where he provided women who gave sexual favors to officials he hoped to influence, including Stein. Bloom's lawyer, Robert Mintz, declined to comment on the case.

That's $2 million accounted for, then, out of the $8.8 billion dollars missing from the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Who's next on the docket?


The Mole

Joe Lieberman's got nothing on Henry Cuellar:

Cuellar was one of several Texas Democrats to support Bush over Al Gore in 2000.

Cuellar later was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Rick Perry before being elected to Congress as a Democrat.


For the speech Tuesday, Mr. Cuellar positioned himself along the president's route and grabbed a seat on the Republican side of the aisle. Custom dictates that the Democrats stay to the speaker's right and Republicans to the left, making it easier to gauge party-line splits on applause lines.

"Doesn't really matter," the congressman said. "It's the U.S. Congress side. I didn't see any sign that says Democratic or Republican."

There is no Republican in his Congressional race. The far-right Club for Growth has ENDORSED him (first time they've endorsed a Democrat).

Do you get the feeling that Cuellar is the ace in the hole for the GOP in case all the Diebold machines konk out on Election Day? If the House gets too close to call, they'll tap Cuellar to switch his designation to Republican.

Well, there's an opportunity to thwart that. There is a Democratic primary in this district on March 7, and his opponent is former US Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. He was redistricted out in the Texas power grab of 2004, forced into Cuellar's district, where he lost the 2004 primary by only a handful of votes.

The blogosphere's starting a fundraising drive, give if you can. Cuellar is officially no longer flying under the radar.

(By the way, the photo is Cuellar with Bush from a couple nights ago)


Calling The Carter Commission

Republicans in the House are voting for their Majority Leader today by secret ballot. And I guess they're using Diebold:

House Republicans are taking a mulligan on the first ballot for Majority Leader. The first count showed more votes cast than Republicans present at the Conference meeting. Stay with for updates.

They can't even vote for their own people without cheating. Actually there's a long history of internecine dirty tricks in the GOP. The two men who practically invented the modern Republican Party teamed up for one of the most storied ones:

In 1973, when Karl Rove was recruited to run for chair of the College Republican National Committee, a group of supporters paired him with Lee Atwater, who at the time was president of the College Republicans in South Carolina. Rove was to be the candidate and Atwater his Southern campaign chair. In March, Rove took the train from Washington, D.C., to Columbia, South Carolina (a $25 overnight ticket) where he was met by Atwater and another young hardball Republican, John Carbaugh, later to become advisor to Jesse Helms. With a Gulf credit card, Rove and Atwater rented a mustard-brown Ford Pinto and proceeded to spend the next week campaigning together across the South, visiting state college Republican chairpersons and asking for support.

The deal went like this: Rove was to be chair and Atwater would take Rove's old job, executive director of the College Republican National Committee. Both of them would be in Washington with an office and a phone and the run of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

But to get to Washington, they had to win, and to win, they had to out-politick the other guys. The two of them -- Rove and Atwater -- crisscrossed the South in the spring of 1973 lining up support in advance of the summer convention where the new chairman of the College Republicans was to be chosen. Atwater knew all the fronts and fissures of campus politics in the region: who was important and who was not. By the time they rolled into Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks in June for the convention, Atwater and Rove had a battle plan. And in the end, according to his opponent, Rove had to steal the election to win.

The hotel in Lake of the Ozarks was swarming with young Republicans. There were sessions on practical politics in the little meeting rooms and politicking in the hallways, particularly for the election of the new national chair. Atwater and Rove cruised the rooms and the bar, looking to lock up votes. There were three candidates for chair: Rove; Robert Edgeworth, a Goldwater devotee who had headed up Students for Nixon at the University of Michigan; and Terry Dolan, the future founder of the National Conservative Political Action Committee. Dolan, whose acerbic personality made it difficult to round up support, realized that he didn't have the votes to win and threw in with Edgeworth.

It was a two-man race for a majority of the votes. But which votes? Rove and Atwater's plan, supported by a faction within the College Republicans sometimes called the Chicago Boys, took as a point of pride its influence on the gears and levers of the organization. Atwater and the Chicago Boys decided the best way to win an election was to make sure the votes that counted were their votes. There was suddenly a flurry of challenges at the credentials committee, which went into the night.

"The credentials committee savagely went through and threw out, often on the flimsiest of reasons, most of my supporters," said Edgeworth, who steered his own campaign with a bullhorn and a stack of proxies, which challenged Rove and Atwater. (Source: James Moore interview with Robert Edgeworth, July 2002.)

Tempers flared and there were near-fistfights. Edgeworth supporters shouted at Rove's people, who shouted back. The committee was stymied. The next day, with everybody gathered in a large hall, Rove's name was entered into nomination, and as the roll was called, region-by-region, one voice shouted "Aye" and another voice yelled "No." Then, against a chorus of boos and cheers, Edgeworth was also nominated, just as Rove had been, and the same thing happened. Each side declared victory.

"I gave a nice acceptance speech, thanking everybody for electing me. Then I sat down," said Edgeworth. "Karl got up, gave a nice acceptance speech for everybody who had elected him. Then we both went to Washington D.C."

The issue of who was the rightful chair was to be decided by RNC Chairman George Bush. Both sides made their cases, but Rove seemed to have an advantage, having already met Bush while working as executive director of the College Republicans. Before Bush had announced his decision, Dolan went to the media with some particularly damning material about Rove -- tapes and transcripts of "dirty tricks" seminars.

"I forbade [Dolan] to do it but he did it anyway," Edgeworth said.

The Washington Post published the story under the headline, "GOP Probes Official as Teacher of Tricks." This was exactly the kind of publicity the Republican party did not need. The storm clouds were building over Watergate. The Senate was investigating. Nixon had announced in April the departure of John Dean, John Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman. And now George Bush, who as chairman of the party had pledged to keep the GOP free of Watergate taint, was having to deal with a published report in the Washington Post -- adjacent to the day's Watergate investigation story, for god's sake -- about tape recordings and "dirty tricks" workshops by a GOP college operative.

In fact, Dolan's evidence had been given first to the RNC and quietly reviewed by a committee and dismissed. Only afterward did the tapes and affidavits find their way into the media. Now in the bright light of a newspaper report, Bush promised to reopen the inquiry. Three weeks later, September 6, 1973, he sent a letter to both candidates declaring Rove the winner.

Edgeworth wrote back asking on what basis Bush had made the decision -- and got a blistering reply.

"He sent me back an absolutely furious letter in which he wrote me out of the party. He said he certainly would not answer such impertinent inquiries from someone who was disloyal to the party and leaked hostile information to the press, which I had never done."

The response was odd, Edgeworth thought. Bush was angry not because a Republican had conducted seminars on campaign espionage, but because someone had gone to the press with the story. Obviously, the priority was containing the scandal, not getting to the bottom of it. This was all about loyalty and the club; no true Republican would violate the party code by going to the media. That was the message that Edgeworth heard.

A few months later, Bush hired Rove as his special assistant at the RNC.

So anybody that expected the Majority Leader election to go smoothly just doesn't know Republican politics in the modern age. After all, you have candidates who hired lobbyists to help them politick for the job, who share the same links to lobbyists that Tom DeLay had, who all have ties to Jack Abramoff. Roy Blunt's wife is a lobbyist for Big Tobacco. John Boehner gave out checks from lobbyists to members of Congress on the House floor. The so-called "reformer," John Shadegg, has run on a record of being less corrupt than the other two.

I think it'll take 309 ballots or so before they get this one right.

UPDATE: Only took two! Congratulations to John Boehner, who will make the process of getting lobbyist money to his members THAT much easier. He's publicly opposed to even the meager reforms Republicans have offered.

Thanks for the gift.


Groundhog Day!

And Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow. Which, of course, means three more years of President Bush.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sorry Crown Prince Abdullah, We Din' Mean It!

That whole "reduce dependence on foreign oil" thing? just funnin'.

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.

But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.

I didn't think "America is addicted to oil, and we must break this addiction" meant "we must slow the growth of this addiction, yet still remain as addicted as we are now." But I'm not good at Beltway-speak.

It's amazing to me that anyone takes this guy seriously anymore. I read reviews on this speech as if any word in them would have meaning beyond last night. Puh-leeze.

This is just hilarious:

(Bush) pledged to "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past"...

"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

He said the broad goal was to displace foreign oil imports, from anywhere, with domestic alternatives. He acknowledged that oil is a freely traded commodity bought and sold globally by private firms. Consequently, it would be very difficult to reduce imports from any single region, especially the most oil-rich region on Earth.

Asked why the president used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands." The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble.

He should fear that his remarks might get him laughed out of the country. The President said "end dependence on Middle Eastern oil" but meant exactly the opposite because the American people are stupid? Oh, OK.

Was ANYTHING true in that speech?


Crumbling Before Our Eyes

Good Lord, two more dead miners in West Virginia today. And now the governor is shutting it down.

"We're going to check for unsafe conditions, and we're going to correct any unsafe conditions before we mine another lump of coal,'' Manchin said.

In the absence of literally any federal oversight or response to this rash of disasters, the state government had to step in and I applaud them.

In yesterday's SOTU speech, one of the ways that Bush suggested weaning us off our "addiction to oil" (and how's that for projection? OUR addiction, sir?) is through expanding the production of "clean-burning coal." Which means more mining. Which means we might actually have to have a Mining Safety and Health Administration that does something useful for a change.


Stop Manimals!

We need to support the Prez on this one and stop the mad scientists aiming to enslave us by concocting a super-race of mole-men in their swanky labs. Visit and do what you can. The very future of the nation hangs in the balance.


Paging Ms. Woods

Rose Mary Woods was the loyal secretary to Richard Nixon who "accidentally" erased 18 1/2 minutes of potentially incriminating audio evidence from the Watergate tapes.

While she was performing her duties, she said, the phone rang. As she reached for it, she said she inadvertently struck the erase key on the tape recorder and kept her foot on the machine's pedal, forwarding the tape.

A photograph taken of Miss Woods re-creating the event, nearly sprawling to do both simultaneously, made her gesture look like a gymnastic feat. Some wags, according to a Washington Post article at the time, dubbed it "the Rose Mary Stretch."

Well, it appears the prosecutor in Plamegate appears to have found the "Rose Mary Stretch II," or "the Rove Mary Stretch":

Fitzgerald, who is fighting Libby's request, said in a letter to Libby's lawyers that many e-mails from Cheney's office at the time of the Plame leak in 2003 have been deleted contrary to White House policy.

We already knew that then-White House counsel Abu Gonzales tipped off the troops in the Oval Office that something was coming down the pike:

As White House counsel, [Alberto Gonzales] was the one first notified that the Justice Department, at the request of the C.I.A., had opened an investigation into the outing of Joseph Wilson’s wife. That notification came at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2003, but it took Mr. Gonzales 12 more hours to inform the White House staff that it must “preserve all materials” relevant to the investigation.

It's been a time-honored tradition in modern Washington, from Rose Mary Woods to Fawn Hall, to destroy the evidence. But in the Internet age, there's data recovery, which makes it at least possible to find these missing emails. The point is that this is classic obstruction of justice. That was one of the indictments brought down on Scooter Libby. Unca Karl Rove, Unca Dick Cheney, better look over your shoulders, dudes.


Save That Money You Don't Have

Amazingly enough, that call to defiantly "go shopping" back in 2001 has produced a nation that's broke as a joke:

The Commerce Department reported Monday that the savings rate fell into negative territory at minus 0.5 percent, meaning that Americans not only spent all of their after-tax income last year but had to dip into previous savings or increase borrowing.

The savings rate has been negative for an entire year only twice before -- in 1932 and 1933 -- two years when the country was struggling to cope with the Great Depression, a time of massive business failures and job layoffs...

And it is in this environment that the major domestic initiative is a plan to set aside money for healthcare expenses.



None Dare Challenge King George

It's one thing for a known antiwar protestor to be thrown out of the State of the Union (although she was there as a guest of an elected official, and all she did to incite the Secret Service, apparently, is take off her sweatshirt). It's quite another for an Republican elected official's wife to get the same treatment:

The wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young said she was ejected during President Bush's State of the Union address for wearing a T-shirt that said, "Support the Troops Defending Our Freedom," a newspaper reported Wednesday.

Beverly Young said she was sitting in the front row of the House gallery Tuesday night when she was approached by someone who told her she needed to leave, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

After reluctantly agreeing, she said, she argued with several officers in an outside hallway.

"They said I was protesting," she said in a telephone interview with the newspaper Tuesday. "I said, 'Read my shirt, it is not a protest.' They said, 'We consider that a protest.' I said, 'Then you are an idiot.'"

No, they're doing their job. You see, in King George's America, only he gets to have an opinion. Anyone else's opinion has the potential of being irresponsible, and therefore must be silenced.

At least, that's the way it is in the America within the line of sight of the King. I'm a little flabbergasted that he thinks he can run an address to Congress the same way he runs one of his pre-screened "dissent is treason" town hall meetings.


More Lying on Spying

One thing I have to take issue with in the State of the Union Address was this passage:

It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack -- based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute -- I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.

Pretty much all of that is patently false, but let's just focus on the idea that we could've stopped the September 11th attacks if we had the authority to intercept these phone calls from two of the hijackers. First of all, if the authority for domestic wiretapping is granted by inherent commander-in-chief powers in the Constitution, why weren't we doing it then? I mean, if other Presidents had used this authority, certainly President Bush should have used it to try and stop 9/11, right? Is he admitting that he failed on 9/11 here?

Well, he ought to, since, as Max Blumenthal writes:

In fact, Al-Midhar (one of the hijackers who made this call) bought his plane ticket for Flight 77 with his real name. At the time, he was wanted by the FBI and CIA for attending a terrorist meeting in Malaysia. He was also on a State Department watch list called TIPOFF. Al-Hazmi also bought a ticket for Flight 77 using his real name. And he shared an address as 9/11 hijacker Nawaq Alhazmi. Al-Midhar, for his part, was living with Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the plot.
Al Gore brought these facts forward in his 2003 speech, "Freedom and Security," and to date, no one has challenged him.

The point is, if existing programs had been utilized properly, and the FBI had conducted simple searches for common addresses among wanted terrorists living in the US, the 9/11 plot might have been foiled. Besides being illegal, Bush's domestic wiretapping program was -- and is -- unnecessary in protecting America from terrorism.

Furthermore, international wiretapping done by the NSA on the day before 9/11 turned up chatter like this:

September 10, 2001: NSA intercepts two messages in Arabic. One says; "The match is about to begin", the other says; "Tomorrow is the zero hour". The NSA claims that the messages were not translated in time.

So the FBI dropped the ball. The CIA dropped the ball. The NSA dropped the ball in translating wiretaps properly. And this is the group we want to give MORE power to spy? How about they master the programs already in place before starting new ones they can botch?

We know that virtually all of the calls and phone numbers turned up in this "terrorist surveillance program" have led to dead ends or innocent Americans. We also know that the current domestic spying would be completely legal were the government simply to get a warrant under FISA. They didn't even try to do this before 9/11. Afterwards, they decided warrants weren't necessary. Given all these facts, one can only conclude that the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" isn't about watching terrorists. It's about watching Americans.

P.S. Watch this amusing video and sign the No Spy List.


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A State of The Union is Maryland!

"You can look it up! Fact check it!"

Well, anyway, that would have been better than this mishmash of past speeches, nods towards fixing problems he wouldn't possibly touch (like energy policy, for example), meaningless rhetoric about a "hopeful America," and basically a lot of talk. Whatever. I can't get excited about these kinds of speeches anymore because I've heard them all before and they produce little results. His credibility is strained with me, to say the least. Although I think he's got the animal/human hybrid cloning crowd on the run now. That's bold leadership, to stand up to the powerful "half-man, half-horse" lobby.

Tim Kaine, on the other hand, I hadn't heard before. I thought he pretty much spoke to the businessman in all of us. It was a simple call for good and efficient government. This republic is literally dying for that after the last five years. I can't stand the whole "better way" thing, but running on good government (which dovetails nicely with culture of corruption) can work.

However, there was precious little on Iraq and national security. Talking about body armor and butting veteran's benefits is great, but they picked someone who could only paint foreign policy in domestic terms. Not good considering that is such a perceived weakness. Overall, this wasn't a speech that I would have given, but I understood its focus and thought it did its job.

HuffPo has a roundup of Democratic repsonses. I hope they try to get all over television today. There's a lot of hay to be made linking Bush's words with reality.

UPDATE: Reading through the HuffPo stuff, I have to say I totally agree with Craig Crawford.

A major metropolitan area wiped nearly off the face of the Earth, and it merits only six sentences on the next-to-last page of the President's State of the Union Address?!?!? Can there be any more proof that the federal government is washing its hands of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Dozens and dozens of paragraphs on rebuilding other nations, but barely a mention of New Orleans.

Well, why call attention to your failures, I guess. Still, should ANYONE in this country be satisfied with that?


Caspar Weinberger Gives Aid and Comfort to the Enemy

Does this ever sound familiar:

Ronald Reagan's former defense secretary says he pleaded for the president to put Marines serving in Lebanon in a safer position before terrorists attacked them in 1983.

Caspar Weinberger says he was "not persuasive enough to persuade the president that the Marines were there on an impossible mission." The bombing in Beirut killed 241 servicemen.

I'm not saying that Weinberger sounds like a certain Mr. Murtha in this statement, the difference of course being that Murtha didn't have to get a Presidential pardon to avoid trial. But this notion that leaving=losing appears to have a long history. According to some press reports (which my Google monkey refuses to find for me at the moment) Weinberger had the hardest time getting around the idea that leaving Beirut would mean that "Marines cut and run."

Leaving does not mean losing in Iraq. That's an insult to the Iraqi people. Staying certainly means losing lives. And given that we've installed a theocratic Islamic republic, abandoned most of our proposed reconstruction projects, and failed to provide even basic security, it's an open question whether winning and losing mean anything anymore in Iraq. I've said for a long time that we passed that window ages ago. Now we appear to be holding on to a fanciful notion of victory while our troops are in the line of fire. Just like in Beirut. Weinberger is likely spinning himself into the hero since his opponent in this case is no longer alive, but the similarities are obvious. Iraq may not be Vietnam so much as it is Lebanon.


What Gives Me Hope

I think the Democrats will have a strong message on security nationally in spite of themselves. That's because of Eric Massa and the Veterans for a Secure America. If Dems do take back the House it'll be because of these guys. Their message is razor-sharp and inclusive:

You will notice that I have used the term "Fighting Dem Vets" because there are worthy candidates who are Fighting Dems who are not vets.  Today I wish to address the question of why vet brothers and sisters should band together to receive your support. Right away, I would like to make two points clear. First, we do not believe we are worthy candidates simply because we have served in the armed forces. This is not a single issue movement. In fact, the Fighting Dem Vets are motivated as much by the social and economic issues that face us at home as they are about the threats that face us worldwide. Iraq, for example, should not be seen as an overriding issue with disregard for other vital concerns. Iraq is but one symptom of an agenda that strikes at the heart of our nation. And it is all the symptoms, domestic and international, that must be addressed if we are to save our nation from those who would destroy its values.

America stands on the brink. America must now, this year, in this election, make the decisions that will determine our future. Are we to continue the course that this administration and this Congress have begun?  Or must we instead change the direction to put America back on the course that made us great? I believe that most Americans see this danger and want to not just change the course, but to put America back on course.  And so the gathering on February 8th in Washington, D.C., of an army of veteran candidates is an answer to the call of duty to serve on the home front as we have served on the front lines.

THAT'S the message I needed from Gov. Kaine. I hope the DLC and the centrist strategists don't sink their meathooks into these guys. We need them now more than ever. Let this be the Year of the Vet. The Year of the Fighting Dem. The year when Democrats weren't afraid to speak out and stand up in opposition. The year they weren't afraid to speak their agenda from the mountaintop.

The great thing about the blogosphere is that it decentralizes the process. I believe these Fighting Dems will get a lot of support, more than the national party structures. We'll have our paradigm shift in this election, even if we have to go behind the DC Dems' backs to do it.


SOTU time

I'm really not interested in hearing the same old platitudes in tonight's speech to the nation, but being a glutton for punishment, I'm sure I'll listen anyway. I am interested in how Gov. Tim Kaine does with the Democratic rebuttal. I wasn't terribly excited about giving this opportunity to a guy who's not regarded as a great public speaker. These excerpts are somewhat on target, but seem lkind of mushy-middle, let's-try-not-to-offend-anybody stuff:

Excerpts as prepared for Release:

"I worked as a missionary in Honduras when I was a young man and I learned to measure my life by the difference I can make in someone else's life. Coretta Scott King embodied that value and tonight, as a nation, we mourn her passing. Our faith and values teach us that there is no higher calling than serving others."

Kaine is clearly going for "values voters," which are really hardcore Republicans. I'd rather go after independents with an economic and security message.

"The federal government should serve the American people. But that mission is frustrated by this Administration's poor choices and bad management. Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives. Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers. And our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation."

"I want to offer some good news tonight - there is a better way."

On Economy:

"Tonight, we heard the President again call to make his tax policies permanent, despite his Administration's failure to manage our staggering national debt. Over the past five years, we've gone from huge surpluses to massive deficits. No parent makes their child pay the mortgage. Why should we allow this Administration to pass down the bill for its reckless spending to our children and grandchildren?"

I like the "no parent makes their child pay the mortgage" framing. But who greenlighted the whole "better way" thing? I don't know, it sounds meek to me.

"There's a better way. Health care reforms must focus on making the system serve consumers better. Many states, following the lead of Illinois, have set up simple ways to help our seniors purchase safe, American-made prescription drugs from other countries at a fraction of the price they would pay here. The Administration actually fought against that Democratic effort! In Virginia, we have worked to provide health insurance coverage for nearly 140,000 children who weren't covered four years ago. And Republicans and Democrats alike have banded together to fight the Administration's efforts to slash Medicaid and push more costs on to the states."

See, this I like. There are specifics in there. But how can you talk about this and not address the public health crisis created by this horrendous prescription drug rollout? How can you not link that to privatization, showing that the market does not ALWAYS create efficiencies like magic? Maybe there's more meat beyond the excerpt.

"The President called again tonight for our commitment to win the war on terror and to support our troops. All Americans embrace those goals. We can, and we must, defeat those who attack and kill innocent people. While the images of the World Trade Center are seared in the minds of all Americans, so too are the memories of those who died on sacred ground in Virginia in the attack on the Pentagon. Our commitment to winning the war on terrorism compels us to ask this question: Are the President's policies the best way to win this war? "

"We now know that the American people where given inaccurate information about the reasons for invading Iraq. We now know that our troops in Iraq were not given the best body armor or the best intelligence. We now know that the Administration wants to cut tens of thousands of troops from the Army and National Guard and Reserves at the very time America is facing new and dangerous threats. And we now know the Administration wants to further reduce military and veterans' benefits."

"There's a better way. Working together, we must give our troops the tools they need to win the war on terror. We can do it without sacrificing the liberty we have sent our troops abroad to defend. Our support has to begin at home. That's why we in Virginia - Democrats working with Republicans -- have reformed and enhanced our Department of Veterans Services to help our veterans and their family members access the benefits that they have earned. And, we are working to provide state re-enlistment bonuses to honor Virginians who stay in service to Commonwealth and Country."

You simply have to go further than this. Americans are unified with large majorities to withdrawing from Iraq in a timely fashion, to changing the course. These are simply domestic answers to what are serious problems. They are insufficient for a national debate.

"The better way is to focus on service. It's about measuring what we do in terms of real results for real people. It's not about partisanship or political spin. It's about protecting the rights endowed by our Creator; fulfilling the principle of equality set out in our Declaration of Independence; ensuring that the light of liberty shines on every American."

"If we want to replace the division that grips our nation's capital, we need a change. Democrats are leading that reform effort, working to restore honesty and openness to our government, working to replace a culture of partisanship and cronyism with an ethic of service and results."

OK, but... once again, I'm looking hard for a specific policy and coming up empty. I'm worried that the Democratic centrist "strategists" have us in their grip again. I hope to bring better news after hearing all of it.


Bob Woodruff

I'm grateful that Bob Woodruff and his cameraman will head back to the US tonight, and appear to be on the road to recovery. With all the hoopla over the other big news stories in the blogosphere, particularly Justice Alito, you wouldn't know how big a story this was. But for a major network news anchor to nearly die while carrying out his job in Iraq is kind of stunning. Of course, Byron York can't imagine what the fuss is about:

Yesterday, all the television networks -- not just ABC -- devoted an extraordinary amount of time to the incident. While the story was certainly news, did it warrant two pieces at the top of "World News Tonight" and another at the end?

Yeah, imagine that World News Tonight would even mention that their anchor had to have surgery where his head was partially taken off! Must have been a slow news day!

The media as it's constructed today reacts more forcefully when something happens close to where they live. That's why the anthrax story was so big in late 2001: Brokaw and Jennings got tainted letters. Unlike that story, Woodruff's experience mirrors what is going on in Iraq every day, and if that's the entry for the traditional media into telling that story, so be it. It seems that the US military would rather there be no coverage of any wounding or any death: witness the ban on photographing flag-draped coffins, or the virtual blackout on images of the dead in newspapers. Woodruff puts the entire story of Iraq in stark relief; it's real, it's happening, and it continues.

I thought this was kind of interesting:

Doctors say the immediate treatment Woodruff and Vogt received in Iraq, and the fact that both were wearing body armor, were crucial in their survival. They were wearing body armor, helmets and ballistic glasses.

Body armor, that's the stuff that soldiers still have to buy on the Internet because the military is still not providing it for them. That's the stuff that the Army has ordered them not to wear and told them that if they do they wouldn't be eligible for $400,000 in family death benefits. That's the stuff that could have saved many lives besides Woodruff's in Iraq, according to a Pentagon study.

Yes, Byron, the coverage is out of proportion. The real story is why every soldier isn't protected as much as these journalists were.


Musing About Movies

It's Oscar day, after all.

from occasional contributor Cosmo:

...after the literal car-wreck that was "weekend." I've moved (Jean-Luc Godard's) Notre Musique down, down, down my Netflix queue and have moved The Killing Fields up as a replacement.

The clincher was the critique in the special features where Mike Figgis offers his commentary on the film. He claims that every scene has so many ideas, that this is what elevates goddard for him. He never elucidates what ideas those might be, and there's a good reason for this... long monologues that sound like they are taken from an editorial or direct from Das Kapital certainly involve ideas, but whether they are the director's or merely a reflection of the dialogue of the times is up for grabs. They also show a distinct misunderstanding of cinema. I really feel like the only "original" spectacle of the film is done much better, with much more wit, with clever undercutting of narrative expectations that nevertheless only add to the pleasure of viewing the film and a much better understanding of cinema can be found in (Luis Bunuel's) The Discrete Charms of the Bourgeoisie.

I am slowly creeping back to my initial gut instinct of 10 years ago that the best thing that ever happened to goddard was casting Jean Seberg in Breathless.

To be sure Notre Musique has plenty of demagogy; after all, the lead character is pretty much Godard himself, and through a lot of it he's teaching a class (the best is when he holds up a picture of a burned-out set of buildings, and asks "where is this?" and everyone guesses Sarajevo or Baghdad and he says "Richmond, 1864."). The Israeli writer/Palestinian writer exchanges didn't exactly ring true either. But I do think there's more to the film than that. There are some passages of unbridled beauty, for instance the wordless sequence with the Native American dancing in the old monastery, or the depiction of Heaven at the end. Godard hasn't totally given up on the crash of images to convey ideas. He has completely disavowed the stylistic tricks of the New Wave that largely brought his cinematic vision to prominence in the first place. And in the absence of that, you do get a lot of speechifying.

Speaking of Crash, I'd say that was the worst movie to get an Oscar nomination since Pretty Woman. It's such a horrendous piece of shit. It gives liberal guilt a bad name. It's an imagined landscape of eternal racism in every single aspect of human existence that could only be written by someone who's never been off the Hollywood Hills. The problem of race is this country is structural and institutional; it's not what happens when you're buying a toothbrush.

Capote was my favorite film of the year, and Enron: The Smartest Guy In the Room my favorite documentary. Both got nominated, so I'm happy.


Chance for Redemption

I think one of the reasons the Alito nomination caused such consternation in the blogging community is because the Senate Judiciary Democrats botched the hearings. Between Roberts and Alito I've come to completely jettison the hearings process as a source of any kind of valuable information. The Dems weren't asking enough questions, they narraowed focus onto trivial issues, and they generally seemed more concerned with hearing themselves talk than anything else. The groundswell of support for a filibuster came too late, and the hearings played a role in that.

I don't know that in our media age whether or not you CAN use Senate hearings to make a case. But we'll certainly have a chance to find out, and quickly, when hearings into the illegal domestic spying program begin next week. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post about questions for the Attorney General. It is now clear that Abu Gonzales lied in his confirmation hearings, and Russ Feingold wasn't hesitant in pointing that out (although an Attorney General lying to Congress apparently makes page A7 nowadays):

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing.

"It now appears that the Attorney General was not being straight with the Judiciary Committee and he has some explaining to do," Feingold said in a statement yesterday.

I have no doubt Feingold will lead the effort in these hearings to get to the bottom of this program and understand why the President chose to ignore standing law. Bush's claim last week that "the law was from 1978 and didn't meet today's challenges" is the latest in a series of ridiculous justifications for the program from this White House. You know, the Constitution's pretty old too, yet a whole lot of Presidents have managed to follow it. If the statute didn't meet changing needs, you change the statute. You don't circumvent it.

Greenwald is absolutely right when he says this:

I believe we should not leave it up to the members of the Judiciary Committee -- again -- to decide for themselves which questions will be asked. We should try to play an active role in demanding that the Attorney General be held accountable and that the real questions raised by this scandal be meaningfully explored.

I hate the words "proactive" and "reactive," but in this case they make sense. I will be calling my Senator on the Judiciary Comittee
and asking her chief of staff to present the right questions on this program, to make sure civil liberties are protected, to make sure the Constitution is protected, to make sure Presidential power is kept in check, and to redeem the notion of Congressional oversight when the executive branch overreaches.

In the end, I believe the President will be forced to stop going around the law. How soon is up to our Democrats on Judiciary. That's a worthy cause.



I guess I was a little blinded by the whole filibuster fight to realize that we actually had the votes to pull it off. Forty-two senators voted against Justice Alito.

To the 17 that went yes on cloture and no on Alito, um, f**k you very much. Unfortunately, thanks to the blogosphere and C-SPAN, we see through your game. Your cloture vote was your vote.

By the way, can we call voting for cloture and voting against the bill/nominee a "Lieberman"? Like, "My senator totally Liebermaned on that bankruptcy bill yesterday..."

Let's not get Liebermaned again. This is your moment, Ned Lamont.

P.S. It's still significant that, after the "Gang of 14" essentially killed the filibuster, that 25 senators (who could have run for cover based on the futility of the exercise) went ahead and voted against cloture anyway.

Incidentally, on the day Strip Search Sam Alito, he of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, gets on the highest court in the land, Coretta Scott King dies. Is that symbolic or what?


Monday, January 30, 2006

Miss "I Dunno" Strikes Again

Great. Another excuse from the Queen Bee (as in Blissfully Ignornant) herself, Condi Rice:

Ms. Rice pointed out that the election results surprised just about everyone. "I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing," she said on her way to London for meetings on the Middle East, Iran and other matters. "Some say that Hamas itself was caught off guard by its strong showing."

So nobody in the CIA, nobody in the State Department, nobody at the Defense Intelligence Agency, nobody in the United States government could possibly fathom that an Islamic Arab country might elect Islamist Arabs to run their government? Nobody? After Islamists won elections in Iraq? Egypt? Lebanon? What do you need, a big placard with giant letters saying
"Um, Hamas might take this"?

Remember, this is the same fountain of misinformation that, a month after the "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US" PDB, gave us this:

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."

And this is the GOP's dream candidate? In the words of somebody who's name I forget, "Bring it on."



Digby has an absolutely beautiful post up that sums up my feelings on the Alito subject. There is something of a shift in the Democratic side in that they are starting to listen to their constituents. As Digby points out, I'll never forget that moment during the debate over the Iraq War Resolution when Sen. Feinstein said something on the order of "I know my constituents are dead set against this war, but I'm going to vote for the resolution anyway." What is government if its elected representatives don't respond to their constituents? Well, this time, DiFi, who originally said she did not forsee a filibuster and did not expect one, changed her mind after hearing from her voters. That's a major difference.


So did Bayh, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Kerry and Reid (voted for the war). The entire leadership of the party. Every one of them went the other way this time. I know that some of you are cynical about these people (and, well, they are politicans, so don't get all Claude Rains about it) but that means something. Every one of those people were running in one way or another in 2002 and they went the other way. The tide is shifting. There is something to be gained by doing the right thing...

I believe that there is finally a recognition that the Party has hit the wall. We have moved as far to the right as we can go and we have been as accomodating as we can be without thoroughly compromising our fundamental principles. Most of us are not "far left" if that means extreme policy positions. Indeed, many of us would have been seen as middle of the road not all that long ago. We are partisans and that's a different thing all together. The leadership is recognising this.

No doubt. And this is not to minimize the real ugly prospect of having this ideologue on the Court. But we've fought through harder battles before, and we'll fight through this one. And many partisan Democrats like myself recognize that the best way to fight is at the ballot box. The country is ready for change. Time to give it to them.

And it starts tomorrow night. I hope Gov. Kaine has his game face on.


Just Be Consistent

I saw Ann Coulter's comments asking for the poisoning of a Supreme Court judge over the weekend, and I understand that in her mind, that's a joke. Fai enough. Taste is in the eye of the beholder, but I tell jokes all the time, many of them sick and wrong.

(Incidentally, if you want to see me tell a bunch of jokes, in a row, live, come to my show this Saturday!)

But jokes like this historically get the joke-tellers in a lot of trouble. I know someone who did the old "Good thing I didn't tell them about the bomb in my bag" joke at the airport, and this was well before September 11, and he was detained by airport security for hours. You have to be consistent and at the very least check this stuff out. I don't think Ann Coulter would take steps to put rat poison in John Paul Stevens' creme brulee. But I don't think my meek, unassuming friend has a bomb in his bag, and that didn't stop airport security. Justice Stevens' security detail would be derelict in their duty if they didn't check it out.

I'd prefer to just ignore Coulter, who gives out deaths threats like she's a Muslim cleric. But you have to check this stuff out; where public officials are concerned, you don't get to pick and choose what threats are serious and what are witless rantings.

UPDATE: The Arkansas Attorney General (she was speaking in Arkansas at the time) appears to endorse an effort to get the County prosecutor to file charges. What exactly would those charges be? Being a wanker?


No Give-Up

To read the blogs on the left today, you'd think Democrats just went out and killed puppies. I'm not too happy either about Sam Alito's imminent confirmation. I thought at the very least you deny your opponent a moment of glory at the State of the Union, and force an unpopular President to whine about it from the lectern. Now we'll see Mrs. Golden-Globe-for-crying-on-cue Alito sitting next to Laura Bush, probably with a purple finger and a Health Savings Account in her hands. You'd have changed the narrative with a legitimate one-day filibuster.

But we lost this battle in November 2004 (accepting for a moment that the votes were counted properly). You can do a lot with 40 Senators, but want you can't do is find much political cover, especially when so many of this crop of Democrats come from red states. A 9-vote margin of error as opposed to a 4- or 5-vote is huge. Or better yet, win the chamber and you can defeat these things outright. If it was a question of a few moderates turning to Alito when we had a majority, that's one thing. This is quite another.

That's certainly not a vote for surrender. The thing to do is to channel the negative energy into winning races this November. I got a call this weekend from the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Rather than assail this person with "You Democrats have to stand up and filibuster or you don't get a dime from me ever again" and the like, I ponied up a couple shekels. The key is to win elections.

From a strategic standpoint, a lot of Dems stood up in opposition to this nominee (and I assume more will in the final vote, where Alito probably won't break 65), and the Internet activists made a proud showing. We did about the best that could be done with this crop in there. It's well past time for a new crop.

That means Ned Lamont's possible primary challenge to Joe Lieberman should be supported. It means Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, and Paul Hackett or Sherrod in Ohio, and Jon Tester in Montana, and Harold Ford in Tennessee, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri, and Jack Carter in Nevada, and Ben Cardin in Maryland, and Bob Menendez in New Jersey (technically he's an incumbent, but he just got there), and countless others in the Senate and House need our support. It's one thing to be depressed and upset and angry, and despair that fundamental rights will be taken from the American people. But the judiciary is a co-equal branch of government, and we have the power and the message to take the two others back. Which of course will eventually affect the third.

Matt Stoller sums it up this way:

In case you haven't noticed, the netroots have taken huge strides over the past two weeks.  Here's a quick rundown.

The Filibuster - The Senate was flooded with calls during the filibuster, despite a complete lack of leadership from NARAL, PFAW, and the groups.

Glenn Greenwald and the Dewine Amendment - Glenn Greenwald uncovered the fiasco of the Dewine amendment, which got major media coverage and substantially advanced the story on wiretapping.  He is now blogging questions for the Judiciary Committee, here and here.

Jane Hamsher and the Washington Post - Jane Hamsher led a campaign to force the Washington Post to correct itself on the Abramoff scandal, showcasing the lack of accountability of

The MyDD poll - Chris Bowers led the first open source polling operation ever, funded and designed by you.  This data revealed that there is no national consensus behind the Iraq war, the failure of the Homeland Security's persuasive authority, as well as partisan attitudes behind security concerns.  (And there's more to come.)

SOTU parody - James Adomian released a hilarious SOTU parody, which has been seen 160,000 times so far (44,000 times on our internal host, before we moved it too youtube).

TV Blowhards - We've waged hard-hitting campaigns against Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, tarnishing their credentials as legitimate journalists and challenging the media establishment to examine the unaccountable pundits who grow fat off of spewing dishonest nonsense on TV.  Russert has engaged in a smear campaign against Arianna Huffington after she revealed conflicts of interest on Meet the Press, and Matthews retracted his statements and spent a few days pretending he and Michael Moore were journalistic buddies.

And now we're exploring action against Lieberman.

Congrats.  We're going to change the party.  We're going to do it, because we are doing it.

We are. And so there's a time for despair, and then a time to get to work. In the words of Joe Hill, don't mourn, organize.


The Smartest Trial in the Room

I'm sure the Republicans didn't want the Enron trial to kick off right in the middle of an election year, but there it is.

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of former Enron Corp. chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling with a federal judge warning a pool of about 100 not to use the closely watched case to exact vengeance for the company's epic implosion four years ago.

"I can assure you this will be one of the most interesting and important cases ever tried," U.S. District Judge Sim Lake told potential jurors, who crammed into five rows of a cavernous courtroom and were being questioned individually throughout the day.

The judge hoped to seat a jury by day's end Monday, meaning opening statements could come Tuesday morning in the trial — perhaps the premier criminal case to emerge from corporate scandals that began when Enron went under in 2001.

Lake told the jury pool the trial could take as long as four months. Among the expected witnesses is Andrew Fastow, Enron's former chief financial officer, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in 2004 and faces up to 10 years in prison once he is finished cooperating with federal prosecutors. Fifteen other former Enron executives have pleaded guilty in the accounting scandal.

That's four months of really bad press. Four months of the man once nicknamed "Kenny Boy" all over Court TV and CNN.

Here's an interesting chart of all the major players in the Enron trial, including those in the executive branch. I'm not holding my breath for a lot of dot-connecting here, but in that four months' worth of coverage, it could leak out that the Bush-selected chairman of the Republican Party was an Enron lobbyist, that the pick for Secretary of the Army was an Enron executive, that the pick to head the SEC was an Arthur Andersen lawyer, and so on, and so on, and so on.

It's amazing how little Enron and the side effects of unregulated capitalism factored into the 2004 Presidential race. The goal of the GOP is to gut regulation and make sure private companies operate with total impunity. Enron was the test case of how that resulted. And the Democrats said maybe three words on it. They have a four-month window to expand on those words.


Culture of Permissiveness

For too long our culture has said, "If it feels good, do it."  Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: "Let's roll."

-George W. Bush, State of the Union, 1/29/02

This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?

-Rush Limbaugh, in response to prisoner detainee torture at Abu Ghraib, 5/4/04

And now we can add kidnapping to the list of things accepted under the culture of permissiveness at the Pentagon:

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

Well, this is of course completely sick. The apologists (including Rushbo) will now come out, I suppose, and say that these were vital operations to keep US soldiers alive, and that anyone who doesn't agree with them wants the US to lose in Iraq. Well, I'm pretty much against aping the practices of terrorists in order to stop the reach of terrorism. As Andrew Sullivan puts it:

Sure, it's against the Geneva Conventions. Sure, those Conventions are supposed to apply in Iraq. But this is the Bush administration. King George doesn't have to obey the law; and his military can do anything they want. The Pentagon has gotten used to denying hard evidence of abuse - and no one, of course, has been disciplined for following the instructions given ultimately in Washington. "It's very hard, obviously, from some of these documents to determine what, if anything, actually happened," says the Pentagon spokesman. No, it isn't. And so we slowly descend toward the level of the enemy. Because King George can.

Which is a pretty shrill statement for a right-of-center pundit.

The problem is that such petty conceits as morality, ethics, and a need to be held to a higher standard than butchers and killers has been thrown out with the culture of permissiveness in the Pentagon. Over there, if it feels good, do it. I'm sure that in the fog of war, it feels really great to kick the shit out of the guy who just strafed your best friend (or the guy that you think MIGHT have strafed him, or the guy that has the same skin color as the guy who strafed him). It probably feels good to kidnap a woman who's married to a terrorist who just blew up one of your Humvees. It's up to the civilian leaders to lay down a "new ethic and a new creed." The grunts on the front lines need rules of engagement, in the absence of which they'll simply resort to whatever tactics they think might work. They don't have the luxury of distance, where right and wrong can be sufficiently analyzed. To date not one member of the officer corps has had any official punsihment for Abu Ghraib. Just last week an Army Chief Warrant Officer was given a REPRIMAND for putting a detainee in a sleeping bag, wrapping him in electrical tape, and sitting on his throat until the detainee stopped breathing and died. Like, TOTALLY don't do it again, 'kay? And his lawyer in the case spelled out the current culture of permissiveness:

“What he was doing he was doing in the open, and he was doing it because he believed the information in fact would save lives,” said Frank Spinner, Welshofer’s civilian defense attorney, according to the AP. Spinner added that he was disappointed with the verdict. “The verdict recognizes the context in which these events took place. It was a very difficult time in Iraq. There was confusion, and they were not getting clear guidance from headquarters.”

Exactly. No clear guidance. And by design, I imagine. The "whatever it takes," "if it feels good, do it" mentality has led to physical abuse, rape, murder, you name it, in the horrors and chaos of Iraq. It has destroyed our global standing for a generation. Even the President, albeit a couple years late, understands this:

He declined to predict whether the United States would still have large numbers of troops in Iraq when his successor takes office in 2009 but discussed the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Graib prison.

"We were disgraced," he said.

"I know it caused a lot of people that want to like us to question whether they should, and equally important it gave the enemy an incredible propaganda tool — no question," Bush said.

We were disgraced because of the anything-goes mentality that starts at the very top, with you, sir. We were disgraced, and continue to be disgraced, by the debased mindset that allows for sin in the service to wipe out a supposedly greater sin. In the war or terror, we've discovered that terror is a pretty powerful tool. So much so that we've used it to defeat what we've become.

The Heretik has the final word:

IF MEN STILL HAVE the power of words, some will forever speak of why we must pause before we go to war. We send men off to carry our burdens in war and before they come back, some are made into beasts. Mowhoush the animal is dead forever, Welshofer will live with that death until death itself removes his burden for him. Is it unfair to ask Weshofer to carry that burden alone and how is it others are not held responsible for what these men made beasts do? It is not some unkind god uncaring who made Welshofer participant in putting the animal Mowhoush to death. It is not some abstract cloud of war that told Welshofer what he must clearly do. Welshofer was put to task and Mowhoush put to death by men responsible for all that is unclear, but to their benefit, the beasts who paw this earth, but will not show their faces.