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

Saturday, May 06, 2006

World War III

You didn't learn from crusade?

In an interview with the financial news network CNBC, Bush said he had yet to see the recently released film of the uprising, a dramatic portrayal of events on the United Airlines plane before it crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

But he said he agreed with the description of David Beamer, whose son Todd died in the crash, who in a Wall Street Journal commentary last month called it "our first successful counter-attack in our homeland in this new global war -- World War III".

Bush said: "I believe that. I believe that it was the first counter-attack to World War III.

He thinks he's Churchill. He's on a messianic quest to establish a legacy among the war Presidents. And he's sending us right into a pit of death.

Help us. Lord, help us.


Set the Spin Cycle to Goss

The disconnect between the official reasoning for Porter Goss' abrupt resignation yesterday and what lurks beneath the surface is staggering. All the major papers peg the problem as a "turf war" between Goss and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte (slightly below the surface is the fact that the two were frat brothers at Yale). And that could well be. Certainly there was some restructuring on intelligence in terms of who reports to whom and what-not. But I don't see how you can ignore the fact that Goss was connected, through the number 3 man at CIA "Dusty" Foggo (who he hired), to the emerging Duke Cunningham-Brent Wilkes-"poker parties" at the Watergate-hookers of unidentified gender scandal. Goss was kicking ass at CIA and purging it of elements undesirable to the President. He was working the partisan job he was hired to do. He was on top of all the leak probes. How did this not fit with the White House plan?

The New York Daily News is not afraid to say what lies beneath, but they're a lone voice in the traditional media:

"It's all about the Duke Cunningham scandal," a senior law enforcement official told the Daily News in reference to Goss' resignation. Duke, a California Republican, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty in November to taking $2.4 million in homes, yachts and other bribes in exchange for steering government contracts.

Goss' inability to handle the allegations swirling around Foggo prompted John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, who oversees all of the nation's spy agencies, to press for the CIA chief's ouster, the senior official said. The official said Goss is not an FBI target but "there is an impending indictment" of Foggo for steering defense contracts to his poker buddies.

You have to turn to the blogosphere for any account of a larger connection than "the turf war". Laura Rozen, who appears plugged in on this issue, describes the disconnect:

The main question is why Goss's departure suddenly became a matter of the deepest urgency yesterday.

Think back to yesterday morning. The top news after the Patrick Kennedy crash was that Bush's poll numbers were at an all time low, and that he was starting to see a real erosion of support from conservatives. Gas prices and immigration and Iraq. So Bush gets briefed by his staff that day, and decides: hey, let's fire Porter Goss. He's killing morale at the Agency. He's just seen as far too political. And John Negroponte is threatening to quit if he stays. He's given me an absolute ultimatum. Let's get this out today.

Come on. That's just not how this White House has responded to these sorts of tensions in the past. They never move fast. They withstand criticism of appointments for months. They resist criticisms of unpopular agency heads for weeks (Michael "heckuva job" Brown), months (Snow), years (Rumsfeld). Think how much speculation there was in the press before Card's and McClellan's announced retirements, and how warm and friendly were those departures. It's hard not to believe that something moved very quickly on the radar this week that prompted an unusually quick decision. One that took a lot of people who would normally have been advised by surprise. (It's my understanding that the heads of Congressional intel committees were not informed in advance).

Negroponte has President Bush's ear every single day when he delivers the President's daily intel brief. If he had been lobbying to get rid of Goss, and the President was inclined to support that decision, there were a hundred ways to do it in a way that would project stability, confidence, normalcy. There was hardly a show of that yesterday. They could have named a successor. There could have been a leak to the press about Goss being tired (remember all the foreshadowing in the press about how tired Andy Card was after all those 20 hour days that preceded his departure?) and wanting to spend more time with his family, or that Bush was unhappy with him. There was none of that. It was a surprise move. What happened this week that Negroponte and Bush acted so swiftly?

Does the way it happened resemble the slo-mo, warm and fuzzy way Andy Card and Scott McClellan were retired? Or does it rather have more in common with the swiftly announced departures of Claude Allen and David Safavian from their posts, a few days before we hear of federal investigations?

This was clearly hastily administered, on the very same week that Foggo started to be investigated and the FBI started filing subpoenaes against the hotels. Foggo's resigning next week, he announced it to the papers in the middle of last night, and he's under federal investigation. I don't even know if I believe the "Foggo was an embarrassment and so Goss has to go" storyline (I mean, why not fire Foggo and be done with it?).

This diary suggests that the recent CIA pushback (Tyler Drumheller, Ray McGovern, Paul Pillar) might provide a clue. Of course, those guys are all retired. Retired generals weren't able to stop Rumsfeld. No, I think this is about a run-of-the-mill Washington corruption scandal.

Meanwhile Michael Hayden is being touted as the replacement. Hayden was out front as the public face for the Administration on the NSA wiretapping story, having been the top man at NSA at the time. I recall Hayden having trouble knowing the intent of the fourth amendment during those exchanges:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.


GEN. HAYDEN: Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

This guy's going to run the CIA.

Stop using the telephone, folks.


Friday, May 05, 2006

The Definition of Diplomacy

To this Administration, it means "telling our friends what we're going to do (and to get out of the way) and telling our enemies to piss off."

Last month, the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea wanted to meet privately with his North Korean counterpart, hoping he could persuade Pyongyang to return to talks on eliminating its nuclear weapons program.

But the meeting between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Premier Kim Kye Gwan on the sidelines of a conference in Tokyo never took place.

Hill's superiors in Washington forbade him from talking directly to the North Koreans, said three U.S. officials, a conference participant and another knowledgeable expert. All requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue [...]

"I believe that diplomacy is not simply meant for our friends. It is meant for our enemies," said Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term. "In fact, our enemies need diplomatic engagement more.

"We ought to have sufficient self-confidence in the correctness of our policy and the ability of our diplomats."

It's clear that the Bushies aren't practicing diplomacy in Iran because they want diplomacy to fail, leading the way to an invasion. But not engaging the world in this manner makes everybody less safe. I thought the point was to find more allies and cooperate with everybody, since stateless terrorists are likely to set up shop anywhere. We could have negotiated with Iran years ago, before Ahmadinejad was even known outside of Tehran, and settled this issue. I believe that's what the American people would want; someone who defuses conflict, rather than someone who goes out looking for a fight. This standoffishness is what is leading North Korea and Iran into the nuclear club rather than the negotiating table.


Red Herring

So we've heard the last of Zacarias Moussaoui for our lifetime, as he goes off to rot in Supermax. (that's a really interesting story, by the way).

Whether or not Moussaoui should have gotten the death penalty is immaterial to me. I'm with Will Bunch and, perversely, Michael Isikoff in thinking that this whole thing was a show trial and a red herring:

What this trial ought to do at this point provoke a debate and discussion and concentration on why we haven`t tried the people who were responsible for 9/11 [...]

...there was a feeling, that for altogether understandable reasons, that the country needed a trial, the cathartic effect of a trial to deal with the most horrific crime in American history.

But the point is that after the time that they indicted Moussaoui, we came to get into custody the people who were directly responsible for that crime, the architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (pictured here at top), Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was Mohammed Atta`s collaborator at every step of the way -- twice in 2001, Atta leaves the country to consult with Ramzi bin al-Shibh about the for the attack -- the financier who was also in custody, Qualli bin Atassh (phonetic) who helped planned it at the Malaysia meeting.

But the government has been completely stymied about what do to with these people. Why -- and this is the one where it is really worth connecting the dots. It goes straight into the White House, the Oval Office and the vice president`s office because key decisions were made about aggressive interrogation techniques that were going to be used on these people.

And it should disgust any American with a sense of patriotism that we will never see justice done to the real perpetrators of that horrible day. And we can't see justice done because the government is afraid of the injustices that would be uncovered by putting them on trial.

Maybe that excites the eye-for-an-eye Hammurabic Code-worshipping warbloggers (the 82nd Chairborne, I picked up from TBogg), but it's a black mark on our own souls. We don't want to judge the likes of Ramzi bin al-Shibh lest we be judged. In that sense, we've become what we despise.


What the Hell's Going On

Laura Rozen says this Goss shit-canning was abrupt:

I hear that when Porter Goss went to meet with Negroponte today, he didn't know he was going to be leaving the job. And that it would have been the President's decision, not Negroponte's.

And Josh takes us into the weeds of the Hookergate story. The #3 man at the CIA, "Dusty" Foggo, is very involved with Brent Wilkes, the main briber in the Duke Cunningham case. They've known each other since high school. You need to read his post. And this.

Rozen's post said that Goss' firing "may have to do with how Goss handled a management issue concerning Foggo." Justin Rood says Goss was told to fire Foggo, who's likely about to get indicted, and Goss refused.

Of course, there's far more speculation about this on the Internet than on cable news, which is wrapped up in the Patrick Kennedy checking into rehab story. Funny, Rush Limbaugh didn't get a whole lot of play when he was booked by the cops on charges related to the same sort of prescription drug addiction. Funny how that works.

(By the way, as long as we're on the scandal in DC beat, to update a recent post, I'm very encouraged that Pelosi has essentially cut William Jefferson loose and said "Your ethics are your problem.")


A Fragile Peace in Darfur

I don't really trust the Sudanese government, so the promise of this reported peace deal is a little slighter, in my mind. And not every rebel group is on board. And there already was a cease-fire agreement signed in 2004 that did nothing.

But if this clears the decks for a UN presence and makes the Khartoum government more accountable, I'm all for it. But we can't turn our backs.

I wish I could take this guy at his word:

Government spokesman Abdulrahman Zuma was optimistic earlier Friday after the announcement that the rebel group would sign.

"The deal is peace," he said. "I think that the victory today is for Sudan."


Welcome to Your Theocracy, Baghdad

I keep hearing from my neocon acquaintances that Ayatollah al-Sistani is a wise moderate who deserves a medal, or Time's Man of the Year award, for promoting compromise and getting elections done and generally being the George Washington of Iraq who's going to make everyone play nice and keep the country together.

Andrew Sullivan notices that the Ayatollah's version of equality is a little unequal:

The religious head of Iraq's Shiite population, Ayatollah Sistani, recently issued an edict calling for the brutal murder of all gay people in Iraq. "The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing," this spiritual leader declared. Shiite militias are apparently making good on the fatwa.

He cites this from the London Independent:

A number of public homophobic murders by the Badr militia have terrified Iraq's gay community. Last September, Hayder Faiek, a transsexual, was burnt to death by Badr militias in the main street of Baghdad's al-Karada district. In January, suspected militants shot another gay man in the back of the head.


Ahmed Khalil was shot at point-blank range after being accosted by men in police uniforms, according to his neighbours in the al-Dura area of Baghdad... Ali Hili, the co-ordinator of a group of exiled Iraqi gay men who monitor homophobic attacks inside Iraq, said the fatwa had instigated a "witch-hunt of lesbian and gay Iraqis, including violent beatings, kidnappings and assassinations". "Young Ahmed was a victim of poverty," he said. "He was summarily executed, apparently by fundamentalist elements in the Iraqi police."

Because we are so desperate to declare victory and get out of Iraq, because we're so desperate for good news, we've turned over the reins to an Islamic theocracy that is more similar to Iran than anything else. Of course, in Iran, public executions of gays are also commonplace. Therefore we are in the odd position of proclaiming that democracy is spreading in the Middle East while homosexuals are burned to death in the streets. Maybe this isn't incongruous the Dr. Dobson crowd, but to Americans blessed with sanity, it's awful strange.


Porter Goss Is Gone

CNN is reporting that CIA Director Porter Goss has resigned. Goss has been implicated in the growing lobbyist-hooker scandal (I can't believe I just typed that) involving Duke Cunningham and defense contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes. This resignation just added a LOT of speculation to that. Goss wasn't even there a year.

I know the corporate media is pushing this whole "Patrick Kennedy got in a car accident and might have been drunk! Drunk Kennedy! Look over here! Kennedy! Drinking!" but now that there's a resignation, Hooker-gate has to go to the top of the sensationalism list, no? And before anyone yells hypocrisy, this is a clear, simple situation of lobbyists providing perks for access to Congress (Goss was in Congress at the time). Josh Marshall nails it:

[W]hile the Kennedy story is 'newsy' it doesn't really have any greater policy implications. And the public trust implications are minor. The Wilkes-Watergate-Hooker story, on the other hand, is both. It's salacious, which the press loves. And it's also directly tied to crooks ripping off taxpayers, probably allowing our service members abroad to have shoddy equipment or defense dollars going to worthless projects.

So, we're on the Kennedy case. But why the silence on the much bigger scandal bubbling up out of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee?

Cricket, cricket ...

The crickets will get louder now, I suspect...


Bill Frist's Persistent Legislative State

I can't get out of my head the fact that the leader of the Republican majority in the Congress proposed a $100 bribe to get his party on the side of Americans feeling the gas crunch. We hear a lot about tipping points, the moment when the country collectively wakes up from their stupor and realizes that the folks running the show are the most incompetent boobs ever the hold the office. But this may really be that tipping point.

If you polled Americans about their thoughts on this rebate, I'd guess you'd get about 95% opposition. Real Republicans would hate it because it's a government handout; Democrats hate it because it's naked political pandering; and everybody agrees that $100 is a pitiful sum that maybe would fill up your SUV for a week. It's also clear that giving taxpayers $100 dollars so they can give it over to the oil companies is kind of corporate welfare by proxy, and in a time when people are starting to get educated about global warming and America's addiction to oil, it's the polar opposite of encouraging conservation.

The New York Times has an analysis of the short and painful life of this proposal, and it reads like an Adam Nagourney hit piece on Democrats, only with a different target. Frist is portrayed in the piece as hastily agreeing to the idea without telling his colleagues, forcing them to defend something they didn't particularly like:

That night, Mr. Frist's chief of staff, Eric Ueland, and a handful of other Senate staff members — the worker bees who drive the machinery of Congress while their bosses take either the credit or the heat — came up with their own version of an idea that had been circulating among Democrats (I'd like to see any Democratic attribution for that- ed.): a rebate to taxpayers, in this case for $100. Mr. Frist signed off and made plans to introduce it at a news conference the next day.

But the idea, part of a larger eight-point plan, fell flat. It was ridiculed by consumers and scorned by fellow Republicans in and out of Congress, including some of the seven senators who, like Mr. Thune, had stood beside Mr. Frist to announce it.

"I never was in favor of that," Mr. Thune said Thursday. "We all got out there and tried to put our best face on it."


Mr. Frist failed to air the plan with all of his Republican colleagues, a serious oversight in the eyes of lawmakers who were caught off guard when they heard about it. One Republican, Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, said that after he caught wind of it he quietly tried to steer leadership aides away. "I made it clear in no uncertain terms to some of the staff that this was bad politics and bad policy," Mr. Sununu said.

Without feeling invested in the rebate, senators felt free to criticize it publicly. One of the first to do so, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, acknowledged that Mr. Frist had been hurt by the episode. But he said there were other victims as well.

"I think it hurt all of us," Mr. Cornyn said, referring to his Republican colleagues. "It appeared to be a nonserious response to a serious problem."


In one sign of how haphazardly the plan had been thrown together, lobbyists for businesses — an important element of the Republican base — quickly mobilized against a provision that would have generated billions of dollars by changing the way businesses treat inventories for tax purposes The business lobby complained that it had not been consulted, and by Monday Mr. Frist had scuttled the provision.

The coup de grâce for the rebate came on Tuesday afternoon, when the House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, called the plan insulting.

Later, at a White House meeting, Mr. Boehner told Mr. Frist he had not realized it was Mr. Frist's plan. But the political damage was done: the story of the House leader lambasting an idea from his Senate counterpart was impossible for the news media to resist.

Those stumbling, bumbling Republicans.

That this proposal came from the Majority Leader gave it the imprimatur of a Republican proposal. Debbie Stabenow was apparently out there pushing a $500 rebate, but she was marginalized as just a voice in the wind. This was one instance where the "top-down" structure of the GOP ended up hurting them in the minds of the electorate. Republicans then had to scramble to disassociate from the idea, which meant they had to publicly fight about it, also hurting their image.

This passage shows exactly how things have changed during the Bush Presidency, and could be the most hopeful sign for Democratic resurgence in a long while.

Mr. Ueland turned to a senior aide on the Senate Finance Committee, Mark Prater, for guidance. The committee staff had calculated the cost of the federal gasoline tax at $11 a month for the average consumer, roughly $100 over nine months.

Mr. Prater reminded Mr. Ueland that the Bush administration in 2001 sent rebate checks to taxpayers . Mr. Ueland ran the idea past his boss.

"It seemed reasonable to him," Mr. Ueland said, describing Mr. Frist's reaction.

But the reaction of conservative talk-show hosts was hostile. Though the rebate was couched in a broader plan that included provisions to allow drilling in the Arctic refuge, protect against price gouging and repeal tax incentives that benefit energy companies, the proposed $100 rebate provided a neat sound bite. Callers denounced it as pandering, and Rush Limbaugh said senators were "treating us like we're a bunch of whores."

I remember when everybody got their $300 in 2001. Most people I knew were kind of OK with it, happily musing about where to spend it. Something has changed in the American character. Obviously we were in a time of surplus then, and deficit now. But maybe it's something deeper. Maybe it's that it happened in an election year, and it looked too much like buying our vote on the cheap. Or maybe we see the disaster of Iraq, Katrina, and Medicare Part D and wonder why we're being bought off when that money could go where it's needed. Maybe, as Michael Tomasky noted, Americans want to contribute to the common good, to something greater than themselves, and getting one C-note just doesn't seem kosher.

Or maybe the Eureka moment has occurred. Maybe everyone looked at their morning paper and said, "My God, these guys have no idea what they're doing. Giving away a hundred dollars?" (Or, as we've all put it in the Dr. Evil voice, ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!) The bankruptcy of the supposed "party of ideas" was on full display. People are done with such an unserious approach to governing. That's what the low Presidential approval ratings are all about. He doesn't take his job seriously. He talks down to the American people. He treats us like children. And now we see that the Republican Congress is the same thing.

I think this could be an important moment for the Democrats if they take the reins. I want to see DNC ads highlighting this ridiculous rebate. The Republicans will whine that they pulled the proposal and the Dems don't have any ideas of their own, but the people will get the point. These guys don't know what they're doing. They'll say anything to get your vote. They'll even pay you off. I envision a humorous ad where a bagman hands a voter a package, reminding the voter to "vote for us in November" or something. The voter hurriedly opens it to find it's mostly bubblewrap and straw, with a single hundred-dollar bill inside. "A hundred dollars? What a ripoff!" Then the factual information. "The Democrats don't think you can be bought and paid for. These are serious times. They call for real solutions. The Republicans don't have them."


Thursday, May 04, 2006

The New Magic Bullet Theory

Lightning. That's the official assessment of the lead apologist for the mining industry as to the cause of January's Sago Mine disaster:

A mining professor suggested that an electrical pulse from a lightning strike snaked into the mouth of Sago Mine and traveled down a conveyor belt, where it caused the explosion that led to the deaths of 12 miners.

Once inside, the charge stopped just feet from the sealed-off section where the blast occurred, Thomas Novak, a professor at Virginia Tech, told a panel Wednesday on the second day of hearings into what caused the blast.

"Lightning doesn't have to strike something directly" to cause an explosion, Novak said, then agreed under questioning that his preliminary findings could be characterized as a "hypothesis."


United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts challenged Novak on the improbability of the explosion having been caused by a lightning strike so far from the mine and one traveling such an indirect path.

"In the history of coal mining in North America … can you cite one single incident where lightning has struck the ground without going through a conduit of some type, such as metal pipe?" Roberts asked.

"No, I can't," Novak said.

"But you come today suggesting that that's what happened at Sago, is that correct?"

After a pause, Novak replied, "That's correct."

Arlen Specter would be proud. (I know, I gave Specter some love earlier in the day, but you have to be fair and balanced.)

It's comforting that an industry which has been so maligned this year with their record on worker safety is coming up with fanciful, act-of-God explanations for why their mines unsafe. I mean, maybe a badger accidentally dropped a lit match into an opening! Why aren't we fighting a war on badgers?

There are legitimate reasons why those miners aren't alive and well today. Like the slow response, and the poor ventilation system, and the buildup of combustible methane gases in unsealed areas, and the failure of emergency air packs, as described by the accident's sole survivor, Randall McCloy.

Why is the mining industry focusing on magic runaway lightning?


Swami Froomkin

Dan Froomkin on Wednesday:

The traditional media's first reaction to satirist Stephen Colbert's uncomfortably harsh mockery of President Bush and the press corps at Saturday night's White House Correspondents Association dinner was largely to ignore it [...]

Now the mainstream media is back with its second reaction: Colbert just wasn't funny.

Yes, it turns out Colbert has brought the White House and its press corps together at long last, creating a sense of solidarity rooted in something they have in common: Neither of them like being criticized.

The headline in the Op-ed column on Thursday:

So Not Funny

And if anyone speaks for the mainstream media, it's Richard Cohen.

By the way, Cohen wants you to know he's a funny guy:

First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy. This is well known in certain circles, which is why, even back in elementary school, I was sometimes asked by the teacher to "say something funny" -- as if the deed could be done on demand.

When someone, in the first sentence of an article, tells you they're a "funny guy," you immediately know two things: (a) he's not funny, and (b) he's not a good writer.

He also hated one joke because "it's a mixed metaphor," when that was the point of the joke.

The Editors give this guy a proper burial, but let me just add one thing. Cohen says "Colbert was not funny." If he were honest he'd say "Colbert was not funny to me." And, seeing as you and your counterparts in the media who've acted like stenographers and suck-ups to the throne over the last five years were the butt of the joke, color me unsurprised. Colbert did the same thing onstage that he does every night on TV. You bizarrely enjoy it there, but when confronted with it in the face, you don't like it. Color me unsurprised.

Note: I can't believe we're still talking about this on Thursday, a week later. Maybe Ray McGovern calling Rummy a liar to his face will change the conversation.


The Forgotten War

By all accounts, we are pulling up stakes in Afghanistan and letting NATO peacekeeping forces shoulder the burden. What we have achieved there is not victory but the APPEARANCE of victory, helped by the distraction of another, more disastrous war and a media that can't keep their eyes on more than one thing at a time.

But make no mistake, things aren't exactly peaches and cream in Afghanistan. Although that's what this this Wall Street Journal article wants you to believe, with all its talk of "the virgin market" and Yale business graduates at cocktail parties waxing poetic about the country's untapped potential. Michael Yon, a journalist who I've only recently discovered (thanks to Howard Kurtz, he said through gritting teeth), puts the article in its place:

...a Marine officer was asked to pick a story about current events and comment on it. He held a copy of the Wall Street Journal, a paper I first started reading as a teenager. The WSJ is a reliable source, and so I’ve stuck with it through the years. The Marine was holding a WSJ in front of this distinguished group of military officers that also included DEA and FBI officials, not to mention the representatives of CBS, CNN, Al Jazeera and others. As the Marine opened the paper, I said something like, “That’s yesterday’s Wall Street Journal? That’s easy. Turn to page A16 and there is a commentary about Afghanistan. It’s pure bullshit.” There was a microphone in front of me, but luckily, the crowd was mostly military and they laughed off the language. [...]

While I was there, one driver under contract for a friend — who has been doing business in Afghanistan since 1997 — was murdered. They shot his truck with RPGs and small arms fire and killed him. There were attacks every day. Even some of the bases might be in danger of being overrun. [...]

These cocktail party interviews have no place in the Wall Street Journal, and should not count as informed reporting. I very much hope that Iraq and Afghanistan become self-sufficient, prosperous countries, but misleading people who might invest money, energy and blood into these areas is no way to make that happen. I’ll still pick the WSJ out of any 10 papers, but I should hope the editors exercise more circumspection when printing commentary.

In fact, the media is not up-playing the danger in Afghanistan but seems to be grossly missing it. Unfortunately, I predict NATO and other forces will lose increasing numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan. The place is bad. Really bad. And it’s getting worse. Yesterday an Indian engineer was murdered. They cut off his head. Also, yesterday, the car bomb in the photo above exploded close by some employees of a friend. I was close by two bombings in just six days in Lashkar Gah, a place they used to call “safe.”

And then we have this disturbing news:

Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar says that he is ready to fight under the banner of al-Qaeda, according to a video broadcast by al-Jazeera TV.

"We hope to participate with them in a battle that they lead. They hold the banner and we stand alongside them as supporters," he said in the video.

The rebel warlord is classified as a terrorist by the United States.

He is opposed to the central government of Hamid Karzai and urges war against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Hekmatyar was Afghanistan's prime minister from June 1993 to June 1994. His faction, the Hezb-e-Islami, helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

What this says to me is that the fractious rebel forces, previously a nuisance, are starting to consolidate. The more the US pulls up stakes, the more that the Taliban and its coalition presses the advantage. From The New York Times:

Building on a winter campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations and the knowledge that American troops are leaving, the Taliban appear to be moving their insurgency into a new phase, flooding the rural areas of southern Afghanistan with weapons and men.

Each spring with the arrival of warmer weather, the fighting season here starts up, but the scale of the militants' presence and their sheer brazenness have alarmed Afghans and foreign officials far more than in previous years.

"The Taliban and Al Qaeda are everywhere," a shopkeeper, Haji Saifullah, told the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, as the general strolled through the bazaar of this town to talk to people. "It is all right in the city, but if you go outside the city, they are everywhere, and the people have to support them. They have no choice."

There's a certain sense of "damned if we do, damned if we don't" going on here. A continued presence keeps soldiers in harm's way and increases thoughts of permanent occupation. Leaving allows opportunities for the Taliban to strike. But clearly we finished this war on the cheap while nobody noticed. If we continued with the successful campaign to drive out the Taliban, which I found necessary, I don't think we'd be where we are today. We have a somewhat stable capital in Kabul, and the rest of the country literally ready to go off at any moment. The NATO peacekeeping mission is undefined. The Taliban has lots of money and lots of weapons, and you have to suspect that they're coming from Pakistan, our supposed ally. And we're losing the heartland of the country.

Uruzgan, the province where President Hamid Karzai first rallied support against the Taliban in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, is now, four years later, in the thrall of the Islamic militants once more, and the provincial capital is increasingly surrounded by areas in Taliban control, local and American officials acknowledge. A recent report by a member of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan shown to The New York Times detailed similar fears.

The new governor, Maulavi Abdul Hakim Munib, 35, who took up his position just a month ago, controls only a "bubble" around Tirin Kot, an American military officer said. The rest of the province is so thick with insurgents that all the districts are colored amber or red to indicate that on military maps in the nearby American base. Uruzgan has always been troublesome, yet the map marks a deterioration since last year, when at least one central district had been colored green, the officer said.

"The security situation is not good," Governor Munib told General Eikenberry and a group of cabinet ministers at a meeting with tribal elders. "The number of Taliban and enemy is several times more than that of the police and Afghan National Army in this province," he said.

This is actually really bad. I can envision a scenario where there is a massive offensive. That's what appears to be happening. The Taliban is moving into various cities and positioning themselves to strike. And at the same time, we're moving out and giving operational control up to the British-led NATO forces.

I'm concerned. We were right to take out the Taliban for human rights reasons alone, yet alone the fact that they were harboring terrorists. And now it appears that those factions are alive and well and preparing to again overrun the country. We failed by not finishing the job in Afghanistan. It's coming back to haunt us, but for too long the public has been missing the story over there. If Afghanistan fails we will actually be worse off than when we began this war on terror.


Democratic Wins (If They Mean Anything)

These are nothing to write home about, and certainly not as important as the sham of an ethics bill passed by the House the other day, but this week has seen a couple Democratic victories in Congress. First the House approved a very strict anti-gouging law that was pretty much written by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington.

With bipartisan support, the House approved on a 389-34 vote a measure that would create a price-gouging law and permit large fines and jail time for violators.

The Senate has yet to consider the legislation.

The House did reject a Republican bill that supporters said would make it easier to build refineries in hopes of easing tight gasoline supplies.

All but 13 Democrats opposed the measure, intended to quicken the permitting process. They said it would not bring down gas prices, could lessen environmental protection and usurp local say where refineries go.

Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Virginia, said the problem was not a delay in permitting.

"The real reason we have a refinery shortage is the companies that own refineries are profiting enormously from the ... refinery bottlenecks," he said.

It's a cosmetic measure, and putting the authority to bring penalties in the hands of the Federal Trade Commission and not the Justice Department waters it down, but with GOP domination in Congress (for the next 6 months, anyway), you have to take the victories where you can get them. Like on denying funds for permanent bases in Iraq, which has now passed both houses of Congress. Now, it's debatable whether or not any additional funds are needed for these bases, as so many of them appear to be already built. But it's out in the light of day now, and Congress is on record against enduring bases.

But the real elephant in the room is whether or not Congress should bother making any laws at all. Hundreds of Congressional statutes have been nullified by Presidential signing statements, according to media reports. And Sen. Arlen Specter is pretty mad about it:

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing the White House of a ''very blatant encroachment" on congressional authority, said yesterday he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

''There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here," Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. ''What's the point of having a statute if . . . the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?"

Specter said he plans to hold the hearing in June. He said he intends to call administration officials to explain and defend the president's claims of authority, as well to invite constitutional scholars to testify on whether Bush has overstepped the boundaries of his power.

It's unclear what Specter and the Judiciary Committee can really do about this, outside of offering it up for public scrutiny. And in an election year, that might be enough to at least slow down the perverse use of signing statements. I think the Democrats, for their part, might want to get this out in the open rather than relying on moderate Republicans to make noise. I'd love to see a press conference where Harry Reid says, "Have you all noticed that this President hasn't vetoed a single bill in his entire term of office? Don't you find that odd? This is unprecedented in the history of the country. Have you ever wondered why? Do you think maybe it's because he's using signing statements to get around Congressional overrides? That he's crossing out laws made by Congress in the manner of an absolute monarch?"

Future President Feingold gets it:

It was during a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the FBI that Specter yesterday announced his intent to hold a hearing on Bush's legal authority. Another committee member, Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, also questioned Bush's assertions that he has the authority to give himself an exemption from certain laws.

''Unfortunately, the president's signing statement on the Patriot Act is hardly the first time that he has shown a disrespect for the rule of law," Feingold said. ''The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that the president has used signing statements to reserve the right to break the law more than 750 times."


Feingold also said Bush's legal claims have cast a cloud over a host of rules and restrictions that Congress has passed, using its constitutional authority to regulate the executive branch of government.

''How can we know whether the government will comply with the new laws that we passed?" Feingold said. ''I'm not placing the blame on you (FBI Director Robert Mueller), obviously, or your agents who work to protect this country every day, but how can we have any assurance that you or your agents have not received a secret directive from above requiring you to violate laws that we all think apply today?"

Mueller replied: ''I can assure with you with regard to the FBI that our actions would be taken according to appropriate legal authorities."

This is unbelievably serious and Congress needs to draw attention to it if they want to have a say over anything that happens in the country in the next two and a half years. Specter said it best.

''We're undergoing a tsunami here with the flood coming from the executive branch on one side and the judicial branch on the other," Specter said. ''There may as well soon not be a Congress. . . . And I think that most members don't understand what's happening."

You would think the Congress would have a vested interest in its own relevance. But as long as they give up their responsibility to govern, they weaken the institution of checks and balances. This should be THE campaign slogan for the midterms. "Vote Democrat: Restore Checks and Balances!"


Someone Punch Me So I Can Stop Laughing

Cheney Criticizes Russia on Human Rights

It's tragic that such a straight-forward statement (which is certainly true, Putin has been backsliding on democracy and consolidating power) is rendered so hilarious in the hands of Dick Cheney, in whose hands the United States has completely abdicated the moral high ground. It's not even worth going into the examples, but how about this:

Although other firms also have contracts supporting the military in Iraq, the U.S. has outsourced vital support operations to Halliburton subsidiary KBR at an unprecedented scale, at a cost to the U.S. of more than $12 billion as of late last year.

KBR, in turn, has outsourced much of that work to more than 200 subcontractors, many of them based in Middle Eastern nations condemned by the U.S. for failing to stem human trafficking into their own borders or for perpetrating other human rights abuses against foreign workers.

KBR's subcontractors employ an army of workers to dish out food, wash clothes, clean latrines and carry out virtually every other menial task. About 35,000 of the 48,000 people working under the privatization contract last year were "Third Country Nationals," who are non-Americans imported from outside Iraq, KBR has said.

"Pipeline to Peril," which was based on reporting in the U.S., Jordan, Iraq, Nepal and Saudi Arabia, described how some subcontractors and a chain of human brokers allegedly engaged in the same kinds of abuses routinely condemned by the State Department as human trafficking.

The newspaper retraced the journey of 12 men recruited in 2004 from rural villages in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal and documented a trail of deceit, fraud and negligence stretching into Jordan and Iraq. Most of the men had contracts filed with their government falsely promising them positions at a five-star hotel in Amman, yet all 12 were sent into Iraq in August 2004. They were ultimately kidnapped from an unprotected caravan traveling along what was then one of the most dangerous roadways in the world: the Amman-to-Baghdad highway.

Those workers and others suffered from a chain of exploitation that began in their home countries, where families often assumed huge debts to pay fees demanded by brokers, to Iraq. Even after discovering they'd been deceived, workers felt compelled to head into the war zone, or remain in danger for much longer than they desired, just to pay those debts.

The Tribune also found evidence that subcontractors and brokers routinely seized workers' passports, deceived them about their safety or contract terms and, in at least one case, allegedly tried to force terrified men into Iraq under the threat of cutting off their food and water.

That is most salient considering the guy going on and on about the destruction of human rights in Russia once headed the company charged with human trafficking and indentured servitude in Iraq.

Of course, Deadeye Dick is really upset because he believes Russia is blackmailing the world community when it comes to oil and gas. Everyone knows that's his job. Like when Halliburton (it all comes back to them, doesn't it) was overcharging our own Army for gasoline. The Great Game for oil is alive and well, and Russia is a major player. You can forget about the happy talk about democracy or human rights. When it comes to this White House and the Kremlin, there's only one langugage they're both speaking. The international language of petrol.

We actually need to get to a point in this country where we can speak out internationally about human rights and nobody snickers. But that will only happen through a change in leadership.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Burying the Lede

Driving in this morning I heard an NPR report about the government's bird flu plan (short version: you're fucked). And it went through how the pandemic would be incredibly disruptive, and how state and local law enforcement must take the lead in planning (I call it the Katrina Pre-Emptive Strike), and how we'd have to ration medical care, and all that. Terrifying that the feds are already throwing up their hands before bird flu even hits our shores. Terrifying enough, before the postscript.

At the end of the story, as an aside, like it was mentioning that Brad and Angelina met on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, was this tucked-away comment:

"The government may deploy the miltary to maintain order."

(head turning in a double-take) Wha-wha-wha???

Shouldn't that merit more than one line at the very end of the story? They just zipped through it and moved quickly on. It was surreal.

"(mumble) (mumble) martial law (mumble) (mumble)... HEY CHECK OUT THIS SQUIRREL ON WATER SKIS!!!"

Most of today's published reports about the "National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza" (which, as I said, basically reads "we don't have a strategy," although the folks at The Flu Wiki are somewhat more optimistic) don't mention this development. This WaPo article has nothing. Neither does the AP story. The Time story only mentions the National Guard. The New York Times report has this:

Local police departments and state National Guard units would have primary responsibility for keeping order, but the military would be available to assist.

OK, what does "assist" mean? Would that violate the Posse Comitatus Act? Does that matter to this White House?

CTV of Canada at least has the decency to put this in the headline:

The United States government plans to stockpile vaccines, limit international and domestic flights, quarantine those who become ill and bring in the military to maintain order if a flu pandemic strikes the country.

Oddly enough, CBS4 Denver comes the closest to adding any details to what the military would be providing:

The report envisions possible breakdowns in public order and says governors might deploy National Guard troops or request federal troops to maintain order. The military also could be activated to enforce travel restrictions and deliver vaccines and medicines, the report says.

That sheds a little light, but obviously the media isn't giving a full picture of the role of the federal military in combating an influenza pandemic. There was a lot of debate about deploying the military during Hurricane Katrina, and the relative benefits and costs associated therein. Instead of having that debate with regard to the bird flu, apparently the repsonse plan has been written with some sort of military deployment already factored in. But I wasn't sure. So I went to the source. In the Implementation document, here's how they describe the military role:

We will provide State and local law enforcement with the guidance,training, and exercises needed to prepare them to respond during a pandemic influenza outbreak,including how to assist and facilitate containment measures.Similarly,we will provide Governors with specific information concerning the processes for obtaining Federal law enforcement and military assistance.

OK, fine. If the help is requested, it ought to be provided. It goes on:

While we rely upon local and State entities to maintain civil order, it is essential that we be prepared to respond in the event ofa breakdown of order that cannot be handled at the local or State level. We will ensure that Federal law enforcement agencies and the military have the necessary plans to assist States with law enforcement and related activities in the event that the need arises.

That's just way too vague. I don't know if those necessary plans are legal, I don't know who decides if there's a breakdown of order. And then there's this bit about the role of the Secretary of Defense:

The Secretary of Defensewill be responsible for protecting American interests at home and abroad. The Secretary of Defense may assist in the support of domestic infrastructure and essential government services or, at the direction of the President and in coordination with the Attorney General, the maintenance of civil order or law enforcement, in accordance with applicable law. The Secretary of Defense will retain command ofmilitary forces providing support.

So Rumsfeld controls the military on American soil? The military takes on a law enforcement capability?

I'm not uncomfortable with the military playing a role in the event of an outbreak. I'm uncomfortable with the complete lack of debate over what that role should be. There's more in the implementation document, but it's quite long at over 230 pages. I'll continue to track this.

P.S. I want to say for the record that I totally had the bird flu before it was cool. Back when it was on indie record labels. Back in the day.


William Jefferson Needs To Resign

I refuse to defend corrupt Democrats, and the evidence mounting against Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana is starting to be overwhelming:

A Kentucky businessman pleaded guilty in federal court this morning to giving Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) more than $400,000 in bribes to promote his high-tech business ventures in Africa.

Vernon L. Jackson, owner of Louisville-based iGate Inc., declined to comment after his appearance in the Washington courtroom of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. He pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery.

Jackson is the second person to plead guilty in theinquiry of the New Orleans congressman. In January, Brett M. Pfeffer, 37, a former Jefferson aide, pleaded guilty to bribing his ex-boss. Pfeffer worked for a wealthy Northern Virginia woman who invested in Jackson's company, iGate, which was trying to sell Internet and cable television service to Nigeria and Ghana. Pfeffer told a federal judge that Jefferson demanded a stake in the business in exchange for using his influence in Africa to promote iGate's technology.

There's just too much smoke here. Jefferson should not seek re-election. It is true that if you got rid of every corrupt Congressman there wouldn't be that many Congressmen left in DC. It's also exactly the right thing to do.

As a reform Democrat I cannot allow my party to go along to get along when there's an effort to clean up Washington. I defend Alan Mollohan, who stepped down as the head of the House ethics committee, because he was accused by a GOP front group called the National Legal and Policy Center without presenting any evidence to him, or allowing him to receive the report. There may be some indiscretions in Mollohan's file, and the investigation ought to proceed. But in Jefferson's case, we're talking about two guilty pleas. Something's going on there.

This really doesn't detract from the systematic culture of corruption on the Republican side of the aisle, an insidious attempt to own K Street, shut elected Democrats out of the legislative process, and reward wealthy contributors with favors, all the while getting rich themselves. But the media will be sure to spin it with an "everybody does it" storyline. I hope the Democrats get out in front of that and jettison their corrupt elements, proving a commitment to honest and open government.


Go Juan

Juan Cole is majorly pissed off and he deserves to be.

I belong to a private email discussion group called Gulf2000. It has academics, journalists and policy makers on it. It has a strict rule that messages appearing there will not be forwarded off the list. It is run, edited and moderated by former National Security Council staffer for Carter and Reagan, Gary Sick, now a political scientist at Columbia University. The "no-forwarding" rule is his, and is intended to allow the participants to converse about controversial matters without worrying about being in trouble. Also, in an informal email discussion, ideas evolve, you make mistakes and they get corrected, etc. It is a rough, rough draft.

Hitchens somehow hacked into the site, or joined and lurked, or had a crony pass him things. And he has now made my private email messages the subject of an attack on me in Slate. (I am not linking to the article because it is highly unethical and Slate does not deserve any direct traffic from my site for it.) Moreover, he did not even have the decency to quote the final outcome of the discussions.

I'd like to take this opportunity to complain about the profoundly dishonest character of "attack journalism." Journalists are supposed to interview the subjects about which they write. Mr. Hitchens never contacted me about this piece. He never sought clarification of anything. He never asked permission to quote my private mail. Major journalists have a privileged position. Not just anyone can be published in Slate. Most academics could not get a gig there (I've never been asked to write for it). Hitchens is paid to publish there because he is a prominent journalist. But then he should behave like a journalist, not like a hired gun for the far Right, smearing hapless targets of his ire. That isn't journalism. For some reason it drives the Right absolutely crazy that I keep this little web log, and so they keep trotting out these clowns in amateurish sniping attacks. It is rather sad, that one person standing up to them puts them into such piranha-like frenzy.

The article that Hitchens decided to vomit up (and, given that he's a known drunk, I mean that literally) attacked Cole for his objection to saying that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for "wiping Israel off the map." It's not only dirty but kind of unnecesary journalism for Hitchens, as Cole explains the same thing publicly right here:

President Ahmadinejad, it should be freely admitted, has, through his lack of diplomatic skills and his maladroitness, given his enemies important propaganda tools. Unlike his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier. He went to an anti-Zionist conference and quoted Ayatollah Khomeini, saying that the “Occupation regime” must “vanish.” This statement about Israel does not necessarily imply violence. After all, Ariel Sharon made the occupation regime in the Gaza Strip vanish. The quote was translated in the international press, however, as a wish that “Israel be wiped off the map,” and this inaccurate translation has now become a tag line for all newspaper articles written about Iran in Western newspapers.

Of course, Cole says it a little less specifically in the private email confab, so that became more ripe for attack.

I think Cole's being a little charitable toward Ahmadinejad (I think he's trying to say that the Khomeini quote is a metaphysical hope rather than a threat), but he clarifies in the private email:

I should again underline that I personally despise everything Ahmadinejad stands for, not to mention the odious Khomeini, who had personal friends of mine killed so thoroughly that we have never recovered their bodies. Nor do I agree that the Israelis have no legitimate claim on any part of Jerusalem. And, I am not exactly a pacifist but have a strong preference for peaceful social activism over violence, so needless to say I condemn the sort of terror attacks against innocent civilians (including Arab Israelis) that we saw last week. I have not seen any credible evidence, however, that such attacks are the doing of Ahmadinejad, and in my view they are mainly the result of the expropriation and displacement of the long-suffering Palestinian people. (again, charitable, but more a historian's search for root causes -ed.)

Of course, that didn't make Hitchens' story.

Cole also says what I've been saying for months:

As for the matter at issue, Ahmadinejad is a non-entity. The Iranian "president" is mostly powerless. The commander of the armed forces is the Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei. Worrying about Ahmadinejad's antics is like worrying that the US military will act on the orders of the secretary of the interior. Ahmadinejad cannot declare war on anyone, or mobilize a military. So it doesn't matter what speeches he gives.

This is a trick. The Right knows that the word "President" has certain connotations over here, so when they highlight the Iranian President talking like a madman they know it will sound like a military threat. In fact it's just a blowhard without the power to back up anything he says. I've posed this to people on the Right and they literally don't know what to say. If the Iranian President was so important, Mohammed Khatami, the reformer who was President of Iran for 8 years, would have made a difference. He actually could have made some difference if we encouraged and supported him or the reform movement (which we are now coming to, all too late, because it supports our "spreading freedom" through warmaking strategy).

Hitchens owes Cole a major apology but I'm not holding my breath. Meanwhile the US Senate is passing a bill today that makes regime change the policy of the US government with regard to Iran. Deja frickin' vu.



This Kos diary suggests that shopping has taken over for religion as Marx' famous opiate of the masses.

I don't really quibble with that. I mean, what was the message from on high after September the 11th? "Return to the mall!" Surely there was an effort to pacify people's fear with rampant consumerism. No shared sacrifice, no call to be part of something greater than ourselves. Just buy, buy, buy.

But I actually read this weekend Kurt Vonnegut's perspective on Marx' "religion is the opiate of the masses" quote. He doesn't think Marx was being at all negative about religion and I think I agree with him:

KV: I'll tell you what makes socialism stick in people's craw, and politicians always use it to their advantage: Marx's statement ''religion is the opiate of the masses.'' Of course, he did not mean this is a negative way. Hell, Marx benefited from a variety of opiates all of his life, including lots of opium. Americans do not want to have their religion challenge by the state, but Marx had no such thoughts or intentions. And the media propagates this fear. You ask any journalist to recite a quote from Marx, and that is what they will say. The truth is, that is the only one they usually know. Unfortunately, you get someone like Stalin or Castro, who use Marx's words as an excuse to shut down churches, and then people believe that is what socialism is all about, which it certainly is not.

Obviously, this is coming from a committed socialist, but surely, at that time opium was among the few sedatives there were. What Marx could have meant is that religion offers comfort in a psychological sense. Vonnegut makes the point that at the time Marx said it, 1844, America still hadn't abolished slavery. So if God looked down at Russia and America, which would have annoyed him more?

This doesn't negate your point, but it's important to consider. As with everything there's a lot of misinformation and demonization out there. There may be no more socialist an institution than the church, in many ways.


All About the Benjamin

It was absolutely comical to see the Republicans propose a $100 rebate (since killed) to help citizens making under $125,000 deal with rising gas prices. It was truly their Dr. Evil moment. "ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!" (hold pinky to lips)

How anyone can take these guys seriously is beyond me. Not only are they trying to buy us off, they're trying to buy us off for less than my monthly cable bill!

What's interesting is that the real reason the hundred-dollar rebate was shelved was because Big Oil didn't like the funding structure:

Senate Republicans on Monday hurriedly abandoned a broad tax proposal opposed by the oil industry and business leaders, another sign of their struggle to come up with an acceptable political and legislative answer to high gasoline prices.

Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said he had decided to jettison the provision, which would have generated billions of dollars by changing the way businesses treat inventories for tax purposes. [...]

The retreat came after a torrent of objections from business leaders and their advocates, who typically view Republicans in Congress as allies. They said they had been blindsided by the inclusion of the proposal as a central element of the Republican leadership's energy package late last week.

A hundred-dollar rebate sounds small, but when you multiply it by every upper-middle, middle- and lower-income American it comes out to upwards of $20 billion dollars. Big Oil didn't want to shoulder the burden.

In addition, there's something perverse about giving Americans more money to spend on gas so they can contribute to Big Oil's record profits. It's something like a corporate welfare plan.

There may be solutions government can take to combat our energy crisis, but giving away money like a morning radio show definitely is not one of them.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Teaching Them A Lesson

Conservatism had its window to the soul moment today. I often end up getting exactly to this point in the conversations I have with conservatives. After arguing the facts they invent, after trying to force them to accept reality, it always comes down to something like, "Well, the Arabs attacked us, and you have to destroy them because it's all they know," or "it's an honor/shame culture and they need to be humiliated to comply."

Well, we know have the op-ed version of that bile:

Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war. And now this unacknowledged policy, which always makes a space for the enemy, has us in another long and rather passionless war against a weak enemy.

It began, I believe, in a late-20th-century event that transformed the world more profoundly than the collapse of communism: the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty. This idea had organized the entire world, divided up its resources, imposed the nation-state system across the globe, and delivered the majority of the world's population into servitude and oppression. After World War II, revolutions across the globe, from India to Algeria and from Indonesia to the American civil rights revolution, defeated the authority inherent in white supremacy, if not the idea itself. And this defeat exacted a price: the West was left stigmatized by its sins. Today, the white West--like Germany after the Nazi defeat--lives in a kind of secular penitence in which the slightest echo of past sins brings down withering condemnation. There is now a cloud over white skin where there once was unquestioned authority.

Not only is this the kind of argument you would expect to see in some radical Zionist settler magazine, it's remarkably inaccurate to say we are restraining ourselves in this war. As Glenn Greenwald notes, the only thing we're not doing militarily in Iraq is using large-scale carpet bombing to obliterate entire cities, or using nukes. As a coalition, we are doing things like this:

Iraqi, 15, 'drowned after soldiers forced him into canal'

An Iraqi teenager drowned after four British soldiers forced him into a canal at gunpoint to "teach him a lesson" for suspected looting, a court martial heard yesterday.

The soldiers watched as Ahmed Jabar Karheem, 15, who was unable to swim, began to struggle when he was ordered into the Shatt al-Basra canal in May 2003. After the boy disappeared below the surface, the soldiers drove away. His body was recovered two days later.

This was right after the war began, and months before Abu Ghraib, which included electrocution, forced sodomy, rape, and murder in order to extract intelligence. Steele calls Abu Ghraib a mass disinformation campaign, if I'm reading him right.

Anti-Americanism, whether in Europe or on the American left, works by the mechanism of white guilt. It stigmatizes America with all the imperialistic and racist ugliness of the white Western past so that America becomes a kind of straw man, a construct of Western sin. (The Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons were the focus of such stigmatization campaigns.)

We leveled Falluja to the ground. The same in countless other cities. We've increased air power by about 50% in the last six months. This isn't enough. The rhetoric is that of elmination. By attacking America not only the terrorists but all Arabs have forfeited the right to live.

And they say the Left is angry.

Then of course there's the element of white supremacy as a positive. Steele is apparently black. But the argument he's making, which most conservatives make in order to innoculate themselves of any charge of racism, is detailed by the great David Neiwert:

The notion that racism is dead has been a favorite theme of the right for awhile now. It began, probably, with the Thernstroms' America in Black and White, and continued with Dinesh D'Souza's The End of Racism. In a similar vein, the new White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, suggested awhile back that he thinks racism a dead issue:

"Here's the unmentionable secret: Racism isn't that big a deal any more. No sensible person supports it. Nobody of importance preaches it. It's rapidly becoming an ugly memory."
-- Tony Snow, on an October 2003 edition of Fox News Sunday

What Snow is really doing, of course, is defining racism away. This is only true if "racism" is largely just the purview of the Ku Klux Klans and Silver Shirts, the David Dukes and Hal Turners and the National Socialist Movements of the world. It's also only true if you believe that the only racism of possible significance is that which might be condoned by public officials -- that racist acts by ordinary citizens are of no consequence.

The stark reality, however, is that racism not only continues to thrive in America both in less obvious, institutional ways, but also through the auspices of the conservative movement and its official wing, the Republican Party. The 21st-century American right has proven remarkably content not merely to let the embers of racism smolder away at the roots of our society, but to fan them in ways both subtle and unsubtle.

Neiwert's is a long and highly recommneded post. He spins off into the current immigration debate and recent acts of violence against Hispanics (cheered on by talk radio). But the relationship to Steele's piece is important. Steele surely will use his race as proof that he's not racist. And of course he'll explain away racism as irrelevant. What really needs to happen is for everyone to forget there is such a thing as racism, because that'll make it easier to eliminate entire races from the planet. That's essentially his argument.

And the fact that it's directed at Arabs makes it something even black people can "get behind," as long as they ignore their own history.

At least Steele's being honest with the "bomb them into the Stone Age" rhetoric. He clearly believes in American exceptionalism and infallibility, and thinks that gives us the right to bestride the Earth as a colossus, playing executioner at will. I know the answer to this because I've heard it before; "We didn't start this war, but we'll finish it." And we'll finish it if we have to kill everyone in the Middle East to do it.

I thought that Democrats were the ones being racist when they intimated that "Iraqis can't govern themselves" or don't want to be free. Considering that 95%-plus of the fighters in Iraq are Iraqis, Steele and his supporters are asking for the wholesale slaughter of Iraqis and their cities. They'll cloak it in the language of "we're not doing what we need to do," but clearly this shows that all the talk of having to be impressed with the purple fingers and the defiant voting was a load of crap. It ignores the struggle for hearts and minds, it ignores all the points of how Al Qaeda is causing Iraqi suffering, it ignores it all. As Greenwald puts (similar to how I have done it, but far more succinctly):

To sit and listen to people who have spent the last three years piously lecturing us on the need to stand with "the Iraqi people," who justified our invasion of that country on the ground that we want to give them a better system of government because we must make Muslims like us more, now insist that what we need to do is bomb them with greater force and less precision is really rather vile -- but highly instructive. The masks are coming off. No more poetic tributes to democracy or all that sentimental whining about "hearts and minds." It's time to shed our unwarranted white guilt, really stretch our legs and let our hair down, and just keep bombing and bombing until we kill enough of them and win. Shelby Steele deserves some sort of award for triggering that refreshingly honest outburst.



The King Of Comedy


House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) took on a rare role yesterday as a defender of President Bush.

Hoyer came to the defense of the commander in chief after Saturday's White House Correspondents' Association dinner, where the president took a drubbing from comedian Stephen Colbert.

"I thought some of it was funny, but I think it got a little rough," Hoyer said. "He is the president of the United States, and he deserves some respect."

"I'm certainly not a defender of the administration," Hoyer reassured stunned observers, but Colbert "crossed the line" with many jokes that were "in bad taste."

Banging my head against the wall right now.

Steny, here's a guy (Bush) who disrespects you so much as a Congressman that he's ignored as much as 750 laws you spend your life in DC making. He 's basically made you impotent as a legislator, and invisible as a human being. And all you have to talk about is this? This is the last thing you should be worried about as a Congressman. Why even bring it up? Why not give a "no comment" when asked? What purpose does this serve? Especially on a Tuesday night when the story's over?

Obviously Hoyer is allying himself with establishment DC. That's who he's defending. He wanted his nice little backslapping event to be filled with fun, light humor like the President looking under a couch for WMD. He didn't want his glass house to be shattered.

Well, deal with it. The President's a big boy and doesn't need anyone sticking up for him.

And I love when people use the word "offensive" for things which aren't offensive at all. It's a catch-all word for when you feel ashamed and humiliated by someone. There was absolutely nothing offensive about Colbert's set. It's offensive that you don't know that, Steny.


"Faster than Dinosaurs"

I'm stepping into slightly unfamiliar territory here, and I don't have the breadth of knowledge on the subject as, say, this guy. (boy, is that an important diary)

But as a citizen of the Earth, when I see a headline that says Mass extinction rate 'faster than dinosaurs' I tend to sit up and take notice. From The Guardian:

Polar bears and hippos have joined the ranks of threatened species, along with a third of amphibians and a quarter of mammals and coniferous plants, according to the World Conservation Union.

The conservation group's Red List of endangered species found that 16,119 species are at the highest levels of extinction threat, equivalent to nearly 40% of all species in its survey.

Fish are in particular danger, with more than half of freshwater species in the Mediterranean basin facing threats and formerly common ocean fish such as skate disappearing.

The World Conservation Union, known by the acronym IUCN, found that more than 500 species had been added to the ranks of those classified as endangered, critically endangered or vulnerable since 2004 - a rise of 3%.


At present, animals are believed to be going extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the usual rate, leading many researchers to claim that we are in the midst of a mass extinction event faster than that which wiped out the dinosaurs.

There isn't any one reason for this. The major decline in the hippo population is linked to civil unrest in the Congo, leading to poaching and hunting. Loss of habitat through development or degradation or destruction is another reason. And of course there's climate change, pollution, and global warming.

But the one constant in all of this is humans and their relationship to the planet. We're killing it in stages, in a variety of ways, and taking all the biodiversity with us. This is a shocking sentence:

A 2004 report by the University of Leeds found that a quarter of land animals and plants could be driven to extinction by global warming.

Just as a primer (and I needed it too), biodiversity is important because:

Biologists have argued that one of the best values for measuring biodiversity is likely to be associated with the variety of different genes that can be expressed by organisms as potentially useful phenotypic traits or different chemical, morphological, functional or behavioral characters. Because we do not (and likely cannot) know which genes or characters will be of value in the future, they are all considered of equal importance. The assumption is that the greatest value for conservation will come from ensuring the persistence of as many different genes or characteristics as possible.

The survival of genes, species and natural communities requires the preservation of biodiversity at the genetic, species, community, and landscape levels. Each level is dependent on and inextricably linked to the other levels. For example, the continued existence of ecosystems in their present form may be dependent on the ability of 'keystone' species to compensate for changes in the environment, which in turn is a function of their genetic variability and their ability to mutate. Humans are also linked at all levels of this hierarchy.

We're arguably at one of the lower ebbs for biodiversity in Earth history. I've heard the statistic that current living organisms make up only 1% of all the species that have ever lived. Whatever the causes of that (Ice Ages, geological disasters, meteorites), the current extinction rate is unquestionably on our hands.

The environment is always the lonely stepchild when it comes to electoral issues, even if its most vociferous champion is the national candidate. I don't even know if it's possible to get enough people to listen about the effects of climate change. I hope that An Inconvenient Truth will help. But regardless, we can't wait for government to figure this one out, it is everyone's responsibility.

"Biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down," (the IUCN) said. "Reversing this trend is possible [but] biodiversity cannot be saved by environmentalists alone - it must become the responsibility of everyone with the power and resources to act."

I'd love to give a great big action item here at the end but, with the Sierra Club busy endorsing Lincoln Chafee, I won't be endorsing that kind of approach. Grist has some great stuff, and I try to stay educated.


So What To Do In Darfur?

The United States, two years late I might add, is finally responding to public pressure and intervening more directly in Darfur.

The United States' No. 2 diplomat joined Darfur peace talks Tuesday and President Bush called Sudan's leader as mediators tried to get rebels and the government to strike a deal before a midnight deadline.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick headed into a conference room with African Union mediators and delegates from the warring parties.

Rebels stuck to their demands for concessions on security and power-sharing. The Sudanese government said it approved a draft of the peace deal first circulated last week at the AU-hosted talks.

"We asked him (Zoellick) to put pressure on the government side so that we can have a balanced paper - and then we can sign it," said Ahmed Hussein, a spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the Darfur rebel factions.

"We told him that our demands are very limited. We are asking for the rights of the people of Darfur within a united Sudan," he told reporters after meeting Zoellick.

In addition, Bush called the President of Sudan to push for peace, as Presidents of the world's only remaining superpower need to do. Meanwhile the janjaweed have stepped up attacks, much like the Nazis started engaging in wholesale killing right before the end of WWII. Both want to bury the evidence.

This is why it is so crucial to have the international community united on this issue. The Sudanese government has apparently agreed to disarm the militia in a draft agreement, but given that they use air power to support the militia, I don't think we are in a position to trust them. Sudan is clearly a case of ethnic cleansing, and it's appalling that we've sat idly by for this long. A meager African Union presence in an area this large (7,000 troops in a space the size of Texas) does not work, and I know that's the preferred course of action, but it doesn't reflect reality unless it's backed by NATO in the air. Sanctions are nice. American interests divesting themselves of financial ties to Khartoum is nice. An African Union force that isn't mandated to even shoot is nice. None of it will stop the killing. They haven't worked to date.

So if we're serious about stopping the first genocide of the 21st century, which should be front-page news every day until it's stopped, my initial thoughts are that we must at least consider a full intervention. Mark Leon Goldberg doesn't quite think so, and offers a range of policy options. First he puts things into perspective:

With no expectation that the 130,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq will be rotated out anytime soon, the requisite number of troops that would be required to pacify Darfur are simply unavailable. But even if it were feasible, it would be neither wise nor prudent to do so. Given the experience in Iraq, there is reason to believe that the U.S. military simply cannot undertake such a task, no matter how noble our intentions. American boots on the ground will bolster popular support for the ruling National Islamic Front. They will also inspire jihadis who have rotated out of the Iraqi theatre to respond to Osama bin Laden’s recent call to arms and mount an insurgency against America in Darfur.

Osama's already called for this in a recent tape. We can't hope to control his message. I understand the lack of troops argument (which is why NATO must do its part). But as for bolstering popular support, what choice do we have? This is Goldberg's answer:

I. Diplomatic Pressure

The United States has engaged with Darfur more than any other country in the Security Council, but that is not saying much. The Bush administration has not yet made punishing the men responsible for this genocide a priority. According to an April 5 Reuters report, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton sought to keep top Sudanese commanders off a Security Council list of individuals to be sanctioned for perpetrating the violence in Darfur. To be sure, China and Russia will likely block efforts to criminalize the Sudanese political and military leadership, but this should not deter the United States from trying. Doing so would send the clear message to Khartoum that the counter-terrorist intelligence we have received from them does not give them a carte blanche for genocide.

Further, the United States has not sought to use the International Criminal Court’s investigation in Darfur as leverage against the Sudanese regime. Perhaps because the U.S. delegation to the United Nations is lead by the Bush administration’s most ardent critic of the ICC, the political advantage of this criminal investigation has not been exploited by the United States. This is not to say that paper indictments will stop the genocide, but it should put the regime on the defensive. Men fearing a U.S.-supported articles of indictment are wont to go into hiding, not orchestrate more crimes against humanity.

Finally, the African Union (AU) forces in Sudan have conducted themselves admirably. But at 7,000, their size is paltry and their mandate does not allow for traditional peace-keeping operations... the United States should make a properly mandated AU force a top priority of American-South African relations, and the United States should offer to help underwrite the costs of such a force.

One thing we do have is money, so bankrolling a properly mandated AU force could work. And certainly we need to stop pretending that Sudan is such a wonderful partner in the war on terror when they are terrorizing their own civilians. I'm all for making the perpetrators responsible. But even Goldberg doesn't believe that all of this will possibly work. He has no trust in the current negotiator, Robert Zoellick, and calls on the President to appoint a special envoy. But failing all this, even Goldberg is forced to consider other options:

It is conceivable that should the United States pursue these policies in tandem, the regime in Khartoum will quickly find itself under a strain of international pressure that it has not experienced since it was sanctioned for orchestrating a plot to assassinate Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 1995. But should Khartoum continue to support the their proxy janjaweed militia, disrupt humanitarian access to Darfur, or launch aggressive military campaigns in Darfur, the United States should reserve the right to launch cruise missile or airstrikes against Sudanese military instillations. The regime in Khartoum values its fleet of converted Antonov transport jets above human lives. So why not threaten the government where it will hurt? The leaders in Khartoum are not bloodthirsty thugs for the hell of it. Rather, they devised a counterinsurgency strategy of genocide precisely because it was the most practical way to suppress a rebellion. It would not take much to make that strategy prohibitively expense for Khartoum by taking out a few dozen aircraft.

These aren't easy choices, and Goldberg comes to them in a reasoned way. He lays out the challenges of air strikes and how to manage the situation in the UN. Anyone who thinks that there's no such thing as a realist, progressive, muscular foreign policy should read the Goldberg story.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that we're talking about an Administration that's shown a stunning inability to make foreign policy decisions that are (a) separate from politics and (b) good for the world. I'm not exactly optimistic that these guys will do the right thing. But I feel there must be a continued push to stop what is a clear case of genocide. In this day and age, genocide affects American interests no matter where it occurs. With inaction, Darfur will become as much a part of Bush's legacy as Iraq. To quote Barack Obama, "Paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong. . . . If we care, the world will care."

We can offer these solutions, prove that liberals can be trusted on foreign affairs, and hope that the Administration will heed the advice. We must empower this government to take meaningful action. This weekend I was at a gathering for two of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. They were refugees from the South, fleeing from a different part of the conflict, but the misery they described can only be the same in Darfur, if not worse. We have to do more.


This Is Getting Embarrassing

This is the first and last time I will address the phony, stupid issue of foreign-language versions of the National Anthem. Aside from the fact that it scores a perfect 10 on the "Who gives a fuck?" meter, it's a textbook case of the White House playing to their angry, anti-immigrant base, in open defiance of their past "compassionate conservative" roots.

Not only was a Spanish version of The Star-Spangled Banner, not only are there Yiddish and Polish translations of the song (shout-out to my heritage), not only did Kevin Phillips write in his book American Dynasty about Candidate Bush singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, but now we learn that Jon Secada sang the Spanish version at the President's inaugural ceremony in 2001.

The most surprising thing about all of this is that Jon Secada sung at the White House. But it was before 9/11, a simpler time...

The message here is, don't hype up a fake issue to play to your base if all of these hypocritical statements and incidents are going to come crawling out of the past. It makes you look like a real, er, douchebag. And 68% of the country agrees.


Campaign Daily

Because hey, it's only 2 1/2 years until Decision '08!

-Montana Democrat Jon Tester jumps out to a 6-point lead on incumbent Republican Conrad Burns for the US Senate. Tester is an organic farmer and a proud progressive who's led the Montana Senate to some shocking victories for a supposed "red" state. He still has a primary hurdle but would be a great candidate for November.

-There are actually primaries today in Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio. Already there are reports of lots of voting irregularities in the Buckeye State, where (get this) the Secretary of State who's tasked with handling elections, Ken Blackwell, is also on the ballot as a gubenatorial candidate. New voting machines aren't working, voters in urban counties are being turned away. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Swing State Ohio has a roundup.

-I don't think Rudy Giuliani is likely to get the nomination, but he was out on the stump yesterday in Iowa. Here's something sure to reach the base:

While Mr. Giuliani's advisers have been laying the groundwork for such a presidential bid, he has been coy about his intentions, committing himself only to helping Republicans keep control of Congress in November. But his trip to Iowa came very close to real politicking, as Mr. Giuliani ruminated about the presidency and argued that if Republicans are to be a majority party, they need to accept politicians, like Mr. Giuliani, who support for abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

Good luck with that.

-TBogg reveals the Democrats' secret weapon in 2008: Jim Gilchrist!

Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, is considering a run for president in 2008 representing the Constitution Party.

Gilchrist told WND the only candidate he would support as the Republican Party presidential nominee in 2008 was Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.

"If John McCain enters the race for president," Gilchrist said. "I will definitely run. John McCain should have forfeited his right to run for president on the Republican Party the moment he put his name on immigration legislation with Sen. Ted Kennedy."

A third-party vote like this would have the impact of Nader by a factor of five. I can already see the Hispanic voter registration surges.

-This article about Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel is encouraging if you knew nothing else about what they've done, like contributing to pushing Democrats out of primaries and forcing loser consultants on their handpicked winners. I wish that were the exception but it's all too prevalent. One thing is clear: no matter which Democrats win in November, you can be sure Rahm and Chuck will be in front of a microphone explaining how they engineered the campaign. They've been good fundraisers and good recruiters. Now let the candidates run their own campaigns, that's all I ask.