Friday, December 30, 2005

All Tied Up: Padilla, Alito and the Graham-Levin Amendment

I can't help but think that there is more going on with the Padilla case than at first meets the eye, that the entire issue of the criminal indictment of Padilla on November 22 was just part of a ruse designed to forestall an expected Supreme Court review until the administration had fully installed Samuel Alito onto the bench. The White House and anyone else who has been paying attention to the various documents that have revealed Alito's support for police-state action are well aware that having Alito on the Supreme Court would be a boon in any hearing the DoJ might bring before the justices regarding the indifinite detention of "enemy combatants."

First, let's look at a time line of various events surrounding the Padilla case and the Alito nomination.

September 9, 2005 - 4th Circuit upholds Padilla military detention. Padilla's lawyer files an appeal with the Supreme court.
October 4, 2005 - Miers nominated to SCOTUS.
October 27, 2005 - Miers withdraws her nomination
October 31, 2005 - Bush nominates Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
November 15, 2005 - Strongly condemned by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Senate passes the McCain-supported Graham-Levin amendment restricting writs of habeas corpus specifically directed at detainess in Guantanomo Bay. Passed as an amendment to the defense authorization bill
November 22, 2005 - Six days before the DoJ had to file legal arguments with SCOTUS in the Padilla case and after three and half years in prison -- held without charges -- suddenly Padilla is indicted on new charges and DoJ aims to take the case to criminal court but not on the original allegations of involving the 'dirty bomb' or Al-Qaeda ties. Gonzales specifically mentions that the Supreme Court case is now "moot." and that Padilla's previous designation as an "enemy combatant" was now "legally irrelevant”.

December 16, 2005 - Lawmakers Back Use of Evidence Coerced From Detainees
The provision, which has been a subject of extensive bargaining with the Bush administration, could allow evidence that would not be permitted in civilian courts to be admissable in deciding whether to hold detainees at the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
December 22, 2005 - Luttig's 4th Circuit Court denies the maneuver to criminal court.
December 28, 2005 - DoJ appeals and asks the Supreme Court to overrule the 4th Circuit decision.
January 9, 2006 - Alito hearings planned. full Senate vote expected by Jan 20.

This sure is starting to look like the DoJ is stalling in the hopes of not having to face the Supreme Court until Alito gets on the bench. I don't hold much hope that that won't happen. The Republicans will pull out the stops and used their "nuclear option" should the Dems threaten a fillibuster. I certainly don't see the craven Bill Frist having any compunction about doing that in order to get his cherished "up-down" vote for Alito, in which case Alito is in.

I can't help but wonder, though, what the DoJ would have done had the 4th Circuit ruled against the military detention of Padilla in the first place, though given Luttig's heritage, that is probably an unlikely thing to imagine. Would they have appealed it to the Supreme Court then? Since it appears to most that the DoJ is trying to avoid a SCOTUS review of the case, this couldn't have been seen as a very good option, at least right away. But once the case got to the 4th Circuit, it should have been obvious to DoJ lawyers that the Padilla case was going to the Supremes, on way or another, as a loss by Padilla most certainly was going to be appealed, which it was, and it seems hard to believe that the DoJ wouldn't appeal a decision against them.

Which is where the Supreme Court nomination comes in. With the DoJ knowing the case had to be going to the Supreme Court, Bush nominates Alito, who is hand-picked as a man with a legal outlook that clearly would support the indefinite detention claims of the White House. The surprising and unrelated criminal charges brought against Padilla appear to be nothing more than a stall tactic designed to drag out the case until a favourable SCOTUS bench has been fully populated. And at this point, it looks like it will happen.

Should the current DoJ appeal of the 4th Circuit's ruling against Padilla's transfer drag on for awhile (I have no doubt they will be able to drag it out for awhile yet) and until Alito is sworn in, I would not hesitate to guess that suddenly the DoJ will become much more willing to pursue the Padilla case in front of the Roberts Court. Roberts, of course, is already there and is also a jurist who has displayed a penchant for the heavy hand of government authority.

The only part of this that makes no sense is the Miers nomination. Why stuff that in there and stall Alito getting to the bench? It may have been part of a larger scheme to create a some outrage, which would then make the otherwise unpalatable Alito look a little less so. Or it may have just been Bush acting on his own, which usually results in some untoward outcome. This may have been what necessitated the "surprise" Padilla indictment. Or it may have been a putative monkey wrench designed to make the Alito nomination, the Graham-Levin amendment and the Padilla case look a little more unrelated.

With the Graham-Levin amendment now on the books, a decision by the Supreme Court in favour of the DoJ and against Padilla will effectively shut down any further detainee challanges to the odious White House policy of indefinite detention. At this point, if I were Padilla, I'd be inclined to take my chances in criminal court because at least he will get into court. But don't look for the DoJ to let that happen either. I doubt they have any intention of ever trying Padilla on these new charges.

Here is what I can see happening: the DoJ stalls long enough and until Alito is on the big bench. At this point, the DoJ withdraws its criminal indictment of Padilla knowing full well that Padilla's original case will be struck down by the Supremes. I expect the vote will go exactly as it did in Bush v. Gore, with Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy ruling in favour of the DoJ position. Padilla is marched off to Gitmo, never to heard of again. No other legal challenges to the policy can be brought by any other detainees, their right to habeas corpus having been callously revoked by a craven Congress, which, yet again, appears only to willing to do the necessary bidding on behalf of this shameful White House administration.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chicago Says No to Chavez Offer

[I encourage everyone to pass this story around. This is beyond the pale.]

Around Thanksgiving time, Hugo Chavez was getting some good PR for his offering steeply discounted oil, via Venezuela's CITGO company, to states about to be hit by cold weather and high heating bills. Venezuelan oil first made land fall in Massachusetts and then the Bronx, NY. The offer made to Chicago came in the form of diesel fuel for public transportation, because Illinios does not much use heating oil.

But, apparently, the city of Chicago is refusing the discount fuel offer. cernig at the UnCap Journal has just posted a story found at Chicago local paper The New Standard, which is reporting that the Chicago Transit Authority kept secret an offer from CITGO that the company would provide discounted fuel with the stipulation that the CTA pass on the savings to Chicago's poor commuters in the form of free or discount travel passes.

Instead of jumping at this offer, the CTA not only turned it down but is now proposing a fare hike:
In an October meeting with representatives from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the city's Department of Energy and other city officials, Citgo unveiled a plan to provide the Chicago with low-cost diesel fuel. The company's stipulation, at the bidding of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was that the CTA, in turn, pass those savings on to poor residents in the form free or discounted fare cards.

But two months later, despite claims of a looming budget crisis, the CTA president "has no intent or plan to accept the offer," according to CTA spokesperson Ibis Antongiorgi. She gave no explanation.

Most likely because there is no explanation. At least, not a good one. But it gets worse. Not only is the CTA refusing the offer, they don't want residents even knowing the offering was made.

In place of the proposed discount, which the CTA apparently does not want Chicagoans to even know about, budget shortfalls will be addressed by fair hikes. Chicagoans who are unaware of the Venezuela offer will be hit with an increase of 25 cents per ride next month, and discounted route-to-route transfers will be eliminated for passengers paying cash.
As we might have expected, the ugly realities of politics are likely what is interfering in the Chicago offer. Because the CTA is beholden to the federal government for transportation funding, officials in that agency are probably worried that accepting cheap fuel from Chavez will be met with financial rebuke from Washington. And they are probably right.

Of course, federal officials won't say anything because they know, full well, what a bunch of cruel douche bags they would be made to look like. The thinking in Washington these days is, better to have people only think you're a callous politiking prick rather than actually admit to it.

With the poor expected to suffer in a winter made more brutal by high prices for home heating -- both oil and natural gas -- and fares for public transportation going up due to high fuel prices, Washington can think to do nothing for poor Americans but instead and as usual prefers to play politics. This is brinkmanship of the most callous and petty kind: playing tic-tac-toe with political foes and fucking over the poor while doing it.

Happy New Year, Washington. I am especially looking forward to the day when you fail to make us shake our heads and clench our fists at your childish, pathetic behaviour.

Ping Pong Padilla

Justice Department prosecutors have reacted rather strongly towards the 4th Circuit's ruling that the government could not transfer Jose Padilla to civilian court to face some other, wholly unrelated charges that, at the time, appeared to come out of nowhere. It looked to everyone, including the 4th Circuit, that the government was attempting to avoid a hearing by the Supreme Court, which would be the final arbiter of the government's claimed right to hold citizens indefinitely and without trial as long as the label "enemy combatant" was plastered all over the prisoner. To most, this was a clear violation of constitutional rights and when the DoJ switched course on the charges, it seemed obvious that they were not at all confident as to the outcome of a Supreme Court decision on this.

As was well-indicated at the time, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is the same court that ruled in favour of the indefinite military detainment of Padilla on the grounds that he was an "enemy combatant" despite his status as a US citizen. This decision was appealed and was schedule to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Formerly praised for this and other government-friendly decisions, now the Justice Department is claiming that the 4th Circuit court is infringing on the President's "authority to run the war on terror." They never get tired of using that one, do they?

This is a particularly odd claim from the DoJ considering that it was this same court that ruled in favour of indefinite detention in the first place. Short listed for the Supreme Court nomination that eventually went to Alito, the 4th Circuit's Michael Luttig is now being portrayed as flip-flopper in the war on terror.

Perhaps the DoJ just thinks that the earlier ruling was a ruse designed to get the case in front of the Supreme Court, whereby those damnable liberals on the bench might actually shoot down the whole indefinite detention position. Those liberals can be cunning fiends, playing the courts like that.

In response to the 4th Circuit's rebuke of the Padilla bait-and-swtich, the DoJ has decided that, rather than actually pursue the Padilla case directly and defend their position in front of SCOTUS, Justice officials are appealing the 4th Circuit's decision to refuse the Padilla transfer. This is not the behaviour of anyone confident of their legal reasoning.

Frankly, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the DoJ suddenly withdraw from the civilian court transfer should Alito find his way onto the big bench. In fact, this appeal may stall things long enough for that to happen. With Alito and Roberts on SCOTUS and towing the police-state line, the DoJ could be fairly confident that almost any decision on government infringement on individual rights would go their way. Anyway, keep an eye open for that move.

A little summary:

Before Congress rescinded habeas corpus for "enemy combatants," Padilla's case was heard, finally, by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Padilla could be held by the military as he had been. An appeal of that decision was filed and the Supreme Court was due to hear the case.

Some while later, the DoJ suddenly charged Padilla with unrelated crimes and requested his case be transfered to civilian court in Miami. The 4th Circuit, obviously pissed off, said no, you have to have your case heard, as is, by SCOTUS and refused the transfer.

After first being thrilled with the 4th Circuit's earlier decision that permitted the "enemy combatant" detention policy and thus supported Bush in the war on terror, now the DoJ is claiming that the 4th Circuit is obstructionist and getting in the way of the efficient prosecution of the war on terror.
The DoJ, as any arm of the Bush adminstration does, has issued a few strongly worded and amusingly ironic statements regarding the 4th Circuit's smackdown. Much as the White House howls about anyone questioning their authority to spy on Americans or whatever other shit they have done or may be doing, the Justice Department (and what on Orwellian perversion that term has become) has called the decision
an unwarranted attack on the exercise of Executive discretion.
Whatever other qualities this particular executive may have, discretion is not one I would attribute them.

I don't know how these guys can write stuff like this. They must all be rolling on the floor, howling with laughter, like I imagine script writers for The Daily Show must do:
"Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, yeah, use that 'unwarranted attack' line again. Ah, ha, ha, ha!

Oh no you're not going to pull out 'usurp authority'?! Stop, stop, you're killin' me! Ah, ha, ha, ha!!"
But it gets even better. This one must have busted more than a few guts:
There is nothing remotely sinister about the government's effort to pursue criminal charges that minimize evidentiary complications. There is no basis for questioning the good faith of the government in moving forward with the indictment.
DoJ lawyers, the gift that keeps on giving. Ho, ho, ho.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bush orders NSA to collect "young, fresh virgins," feeds upon still beating hearts.

[another executive order exposed...]

Crawford, Tx - (ATS) President Bush today acknowledged that, along with the executive order he signed ordering broad swath surveillance of American communications, he also signed another secret executive order that required the NSA to apprehend and detain young, fresh virgins so that he could feed on their still-beating hearts.

From his ranch in Texas, Bush said that he required such sustenance in order to preserve his vitality. Bush claimed that such vitality on his part was demanded by the needs of national security and likewise by a vigorous prosecution of the War on Terror. In response to critics of the executive order, Bush said that he "absolutely" had the authority to order the NSA to round up a supply of young, fresh virgins and that it was "shameful" anyone would question his powers as commander-in-chief. He further denied that this was an exercise of unchecked presidential power.

While admitting that Congress did not expressely approve the virgin-heart consumption order, Bush asserted that White House counsel approved the order and claimed that it was a "presidential prerogative." It is widely believed that John Yoo's legal opinionating, which also advanced the reasoning behind the policies of detainee abuse, abrogation of the Geneva Conventions and the NSA surveillance program, is also likely behind the young, fresh virgin executive order.

"If the president needs to consume the still-beating hearts of young, fresh virgins in order to vigorously pursue the War on Terror, then it is within the powers granted him as Commander-in-Chief during wartime," said White House spokeman, Trent Duffy.

Duffy added: "This is a limited program. This is not about consumming the still-beating hearts of all virgins, but only those of the youngest and freshest. The president believes he has the authority -- and he does -- under the Constitution to do this limited program."

Civil liberty groups immediately demanded accountability, claiming a right to know who, exactly, was being targeted by the executive order.

"This is outrageous. Can't the president just eat a steak?" asked Human Rights Watch spokeperson, John Smith.

Bush attempted to further assuage concerns, claiming that the virgin-heart consumption order was "a necessary part of my job to protect you, unless, of course, you're a young, fresh virgin, he he he. But really, how many of those can there be? Most Americans simply won't have to worry about my live-flesh eating habits at all."

Supporters hailed reports that President Bush was consuming the still-beating hearts of young, fresh virgins.

"This is great news. I always knew that this good and great president must be doing something to keep up with the daily tribulations that the prosecution of the War on Terror must exact," said popular right wing pundit and fellow live-flesh consumer, Ann Coulter.

Coulter further added, "there is nothing better than good, fresh, still-throbbing organ meat to keep up the strength. And George Bush has shown true presidential forsight in signing this executive order. Liberals will fume at this news, which I think is great."

Even some suspected young, fresh virgins were willing to admit that Bush may very well have the authority to order the consumption of their own still-beating hearts.

"How can we deny the president that which he needs in order to fight the terrorists?" asked one such virgin, who wished to remain anonymous. Though unwilling to donate her own heart to the War on Terror, she said that if there is a need for the still-beating hearts of people like her then the president should be brought those hearts as needed.

Mixed reactions from Congress were the order of the day with most Democrats expressing dismay at learning what they described as an overreach on the part of the president. Republicans in the House and Senate seemed nonplussed by the news.

"Yeah, I can understand the need," said Senate Majority leader Bill Frist.

"My days of mercilessly torturing and killing cats under the guise of 'medical research' has granted me the wisdom to know that Bush's executive order is absolutely necessary," Frist said.

Other Republicans were not as willing to grant Bush such immediate leniency.

Former Republican congressman Bob Barr said "this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it's okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war."

Dana Rohrabacher (R-Ca), however, took issue with Barr and declared that he is "not only proud" of the president's strong stance in ordering up still-beating virign hearts, but, he says, America "can be grateful to the president."

Perhaps the strongest negative reactions to news of Bush's order has come from community groups and parent-teacher associations, some of whom claim that federal agents have approached schools and reqeusted the names of addresses of known or suspected young, fresh virigins, though at the time they did not know why. Now they are furious.

"Although, I did vote for Bush, I think he has simply gone too far. They can't do this, can they?" one stunned Ohio parent asked, fearing the worst.

She was told that, unless Congress acts, not only can the NSA do this, they will continue the program at the behest of the president.

Further claiming national security needs, the White House continues to deny calls for an explanation of the secret "young, fresh virgin extraordinary rendition and heart consumption" program, as it is officially known, or any details as to how many young, fresh virgins have been involved or how many still-beating hearts may have already been consumed by President Bush.

"This is matter of national security in a time of war. The president needs you to understand this and to have patience as his administration continues in the struggle against violent extremism," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

"Actually, the president doesn't need you to understand anything," McClellan added. "We have asserted, repeatedly, that the president is not constrained by law during wartime. How many times do we have to say it? Please, just shut up."

Congessional Democrats are calling for an investigation though it remains unclear at this time whether GOP House or Senate leadership will abide the demand.

Proud and Grateful

I don't spend much, well any, time watching talking heads on teevee and this is from a few days back but I just saw a transcript of CNN's The Situation Room that I find rather hard to stomach. Bob Barr and Dana Rohrabacher discussing the whole NSA surveillance issue.

Barr has been very critical of the presidential spying decree, stating repeatedly that is unlawful and should be viewed and treated as such. But I never realised, until just now, what a simp Rohrabacher is.
BARR: Here again, this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it's okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war.

The fact of the matter is the law prohibits -- specifically prohibits -- what apparently was done in this case, and for a member of Congress to say, oh, that doesn't matter, I'm proud that the president violated the law is absolutely astounding, Wolf.

ROHRABACHER: Not only proud, we can be grateful to this president.
The few, the proud, the mewling.

I can only imagine that if Bush said he needed to feed on still-beating hearts of young, fresh virgins because it's "wartime," Rohrabacher would be leading the posse and rounding them up post-haste.

Willful, Knowing, Intentional

Richard Causey, former chief accountant of Enron, and his lawyers had entered into a plea bargaining session on or about Christmas eve. Causey, along with Jeffery Skilling and former Chairman Ken Lay, were indicted on a rather large array of fraud charges in connection with the Enron accounting scandal.

I was rather amused, as I often am upon seeing the words of Enron executive's lawyers, to see that Ken Lay's lawyer declared Richard Causey to be a "guy with a pure heart." Why Lay's lawyer feels a need to say this is not made clear, though I suspect it had something to do with keeping Causey butter-side up because if he did turn, it would be a real mess for Skilling and Lay. And to be sure, praise also was coming from Skilling's lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, who said that Causey was "one of three innocent men about to go to trial." You were probably unaware of the fact that the American judicial system is heavily biased against rich white guys and often wrongfully convicts such downtrodden wretches.

Well, I guess Causey didn't have much faith that the judicial system would recognise his innocence because he just copped a deal with federal prosecutors. Now, it is uncertain at this point as to which of the charges of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading, lying to auditors and money laundering he may have pleaded guilty to, but he must have realised that he got the raw end of a very bad deal and decided to "give a little back." If he's lucky, he'll be walking in a few, potentially miserable years, but he'll be out long before Lay and Skilling ever see the light of day outside a compound. And at the rate witnesses are turning on those two, that day may never, ever come to pass.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Black Jack

I remember seeing Lewis Black awhile ago when he made an appearance at a local Catholic college. He railed on the ID nonsense trial in Pennsylvania and hammered on creationism and conservatism. It was a performance that was clearly designed to stirr up the pudding that may have coalesced inside the heads of students who were receiving a stern and conservative education.

Though I don't think a strictly "conservative" education implies the teaching of creationism as science -- in fact, strict conservatism ought to brand ID as the obvious mythology that it is. Conservatism and religious fundamentalism have, unfortunately, become intertwined in today's political climate. But, for more on that I suggest Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas.

In any event, Black had said that, as he made his rounds on the college circuit, he had been rather amazed to learn how conservative many college students were these days. He found it alarming, really, and he said so. He posed the rhetorical question, "if you're conservative now, what's next for you? Nazism?" I sensed more discomfort than amusment in the crowd at that extreme rhetorical flourish, as though Black might have spoken some heretofore unacknowledged or as yet unrealised truth.

But Black's question is not one that would likely have troubled John Yoo. Yoo describes himself as a "lifelong conservative" and much as Black posited, he seems very much inclined toward the above described political path. In fact, Yoo's ascendency to the position of leading legal scholar in the black arts appears headed very much in that direction. Having been the lead counsel for the Bush administration in drafting legal positions that, to say the least, are rather unlimited in their prescription that executive power is essentially unchecked in a "wartime emergency," Yoo has been taking some heat lately and rightly so. Americans are not generally taken with behind-the-scenes advisors who tell the president that he is not a president but a king.

Indeed, Yoo's counsel is seen as chiefly responsible for the White House legal positions that the Geneva conventions are entirely ignorable, that torture is not torture until organ failure and/or death occurs, and that the latest revelation -- the President has executive power to conduct unlimited surveillance on Americans on American soil -- is not only just but good. Nothing about these opinions would lead anyone to believe that Yoo is anything but a freaking fascist. Or a totalitarian. It is so hard to tell the difference when opinionating gets this far out of whack.

The provenance of Yoo's legal reasoning is rather hard to understand given his strong opposition to communist rule and his belief that conservatism is grounded in "reason and reasonableness." Such perhaps was the case before Yoo worked his way onto the scene, but I can't help but wonder how he comes to view unchecked executive power as in any way reasonable or conservative. It certainly has no basis in reason and the Enlightenment-influenced founders were well aware of the history of people occupying positions of absolute authority. It is this ungratifying history that is the primary reason why the Constitution has a Bill of Rights.

If Yoo's reasoning does prevail and Congress makes no move against it, then this country is headed down a very black path. Such reasoning is easily extensible. For what then constitutes "unreasonable searches and seizures"? There is nothing inherent in email and telephony monitoring that would restrict government surveillance to these technologies since the Bush administration claims to be simply searching for "keywords" that might expose "plots" and "terrorist activity." Searching for such things in street corner conversations is an obvious next step; many cities already have security cameras festooned all over downtown buildings in a non-stop search for bad things. And, of course, should such "keywords" be noted, under Yoo's odious legal reasoning, extra-judicial rendition would be the order of the day and any citizen could be hauled off and "interrogated" to the rather extensive limits provided for by John Yoo's opinion.

If Yoo's reasoning does not prevail, and I hope for everyone's sake -- including those gibbering idiots who think directionless bulk surveillance of American citizens is a fine idea -- then Bush, who ultimately has the responsibility for heeding or not the advice he has been given, ought to be rightly smacked down and hard. And John Yoo should be right next to him for providing such loathesome, totalitarian advice.

Sublime to Ridiculous

There can be little more aggravating than people who cheat charities, though the history of such activity is long and ugly. WaPo has just posted news that some 50 people have been indicted for defrauding the Red Cross of Katrina relief funds and this activity appears to have been centered in Bakersfield, Ca.
Seventeen of the accused worked at the Red Cross claim center in Bakersfield, Calif., which handled calls from storm victims across the country and authorized cash payments to them. The others were the workers' relatives and friends, prosecutors said last week.

The scam came to light when Red Cross officials noticed that a suspiciously high number of people were picking up Red Cross money at Western Union outlets near the Bakersfield center, even though few evacuees were in the area.
An intial round of 15 indictments had been made back in October but this round more than triples those made earlier. Though the program has been shutdown now, even more indictments are expected. Several hundred thousand dollars were shunted to call center workers, friends and family.

Oh, humanity! Is there no limit to our wanton greed? no barrier to our scheming avarice?

Out Damned Spot!

It doesn't look like the NY Times puff piece about Allawi and Chalabi that I mentioned earlier has done much good. At least, it hasn't done much good for Ahmed Chalabi, not that anyone should have expected it to.

Iraqi citizens have, in large numbers, voted neither for Chalabi nor his party and, with 95% of the vote counted, it appears that he will be denied a seat in the new parliament, having registered as little more than a blip -- 0.89% -- on voting radar screen.

Which is not to say that Chalabi won't worm his way into government somehow. Even before the vote count is complete, Ahmed is already working the line, glad-hand smiling his way into the whatever good graces the Kurds might possess. As his spokesman assures us:
What I can say is Dr. Chalabi will have an important role, whether in the government or outside.
This sounds like more of a warning than a warm promise.

Ironically enough, Chalabi withdrew from the ruling Shiite party, which is likely to have the plurality in an expected coalition government, when the party failed to promise to make him prime minister. Now, he is struggling just to get into parliament.

Of course, Chalabi's role in bringing the US into Iraq in the first place is now well known, his disinformation having been piped directly into the White House and onto the front pages of the NY Times via the equally complicit agitprop conduit, Judith Miller. In fact, the Pentagon had bought -- literally -- the Iraqi exile's tales of WMD stockpiles and up until quite recently, Chalabi was receiving a rather generous stipend from the Pentagon of $340,000 a month as just reward for all that first rate intel he had provided: mushroom clouds, rose petals and the like.

US support for Chalabi has been toggled a number of times and it was not so long ago that Chalabi's Baghdad office had been raided by Iraqi police and US forces after he was suspected of supplying Iran with US state secrets. Double, super-duper secrets. Considering the row the White House is now having with Iran, this should hardly have endeared Chalabi further and, indeed, it appeared that he was to be cast out of any future Iraqi government considerations.

Perhaps Chalabi's phoenix-like rise is a testament to his deal-making abilities, because no sooner did he meet with the scorn of CENTCOM and the CPA for allegedly passing Iraq operations details to Iranians, than he was back on top of the nascent Iraq democracy heap, having made it first as interim Minister of Oil and then as Deputy Prime Minister. But now he finds himself in danger of being shut out of the government, which one can only assume, he originally had encouraged the US to help establish with the removal of Hussein. I am probably overstating things here a bit and I expect that Chalabi will live up to the above stated promise to -- somehow -- exert his influence on Iraqi policy. In Chalabi's case, this could mean anything from afternoon chats with the PM over tea to another regime-changing invasion, though I suspect that the Pentagon will be encouraging the tea-time chat approach for the foreseeable future.

Interestingly enough, back in May of 2004, Chalabi was nonplussed by the prospect that an actual democratic and free election in Iraq would yield a government the US could sorely do without and
he has dismissed fears that a hard-line Shiite regime might emerge in Iraq.
While such a result may have seemed obvious to any number of semi-conscious people, Chalabi is still probably wondering where all the rose petals have gotten to. Acutally, that is a complete load. He knows and we know that it was all damnable ruse to get the US into Iraq: he wanted it and the White House wanted it. Theirs was, to say the least, a sympathic relationship.

Despite his equivocal, self-interested posturing, I can't help thinking that Chalabi's Pentagon stipend will get a kick start again because contrary to what Chalabi and the White House wanted, it does indeed look like the US government will start to have to deal with at least a semi-hard line Islamic theocracy. And now that his break-out party's hopes look doomed, look for Chalabi to begin to exert his influence in ways that may, yet again, be as opaque as they have been in past.

Monday, December 26, 2005


If you haven't seen the Smigel cartoon (SNL) Divertor, check it out. No doubt, Rove picked up a few tips for future diversions.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

To/From Russia With Love

Russian Bill Moves to Limit Activist Groups

Russia's lower house of parliament Friday approved a controversial crackdown on the activities of nongovernmental organizations, brushing aside widespread concern that the measure would stifle civil society in Russia and mark another regressive milestone in the country's post-Soviet evolution.

The legislation creates an agency to oversee Russia's 400,000 foreign and domestic NGOs and gives that agency authority to shut down any NGO perceived to be a threat to Russia's "sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, unity, cultural heritage or national interests."
FBI Watched Domestic Activist Groups

Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief.

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

No Mao Row

A few items back, I discussed a story that was raging around the net about UMass Dartmouth student who claimed that he had been questioned by Department of Homeland Security agents after having requested Mao's "little red book" via an inter-library loan. As cynical as I am, this didn't strike me as particularly surprising, though some of the details did seem a tad "off." In fact, the whole thing sounded silly, really, but I and many others spared no time sounding off about what appeared to be yet another example of Bush administration overreaching.

John McAdams of Marquette Warrior had pointed out in the comments that there was some debate as to the legitimacy of the story. Indeed, it now appears that the story is a hoax. Joe Gandelman has the details but the bottom line is that the "student," who has yet to be named, confessed to simply making shit up. Like there isn't enough real nonsense to keep track of.

This is exactly the kind of story that makes legitimate criticism of the administration's actual behaviour all the more difficult. When mendacious claims like these surface, keeping alert of real news is all that much harder. And those on the right are correct in pointing out that critics of Bush glommed onto this one with a little too much zeal and insufficient skepticism. Ultimately, though, the real culprit is the The Standard-Times, which reported this story with insufficient fact-checking and relied on hearsay. Didn't these guys learn anything from Judith Miller?

And whoever this "student" is, I'm sending a big, hearty "fuck you, asspiece" his way.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Alaska Abridged

I was wondering when further news about the Alaskan "bridges to nowhere" was going to surface. Well, it finally has.

Anchorage Daily News has a fascinating story that details the connections that the chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, Art Nelson, has with the fishing industry and presents a possible reason for the proposal of the "other" bridge. I say "possible" here only in deference to the fact that no one outside Alaska's political circle jerk really knows what the reason for these bridges might be. No one seems able to be to apprehend an actual good reason for the bridges, so what is detailed here may be the only one possible.

In any event, during the dust up surrounding the thousands of earmarks that had made their way into the transportation bill, the Gavina Island bridge seemed to attract the most attention. Though the Knik Arm bridge remained out of the spot light, it too appears to share a similar provenance with that of the Gavina Island proposal.

But first, we going to have back up a bit a present a little introduction to Alaska's inbred political aristocracy.

First, let's lay out the players:

Ted Stevens - US Senator (R-Ak), Chair, Senate Transportation Committee.
Frank Murkowski -
Governor (R) Alaska.
Lisa Murkowski - US Senator (R-Ak). Daughter, Gov. Murkowski.
Ben Stevens - Alaska state senator (R). Son, Senator Ted Stevens.
Don Young - House Rep. (R-Ak). Chair, House Transportation Committee.
Art Nelson - Chair, Alaska Board of Fisheries. Son-in-law, Don Young.
Appointed to Fish board by
Gov. Murkowski.

Now that we have defined the terms, we can begin. I will reiterate these relationships on occasion, because, as you might imagine from the relations above, things will get a little convoluted.

When the transportation bill was being assailed by critics on both sides of the isle for being riddled with pork barrel projects, one earmark drew special rebuke: some $450 million or so for two bridges in Alaska. These bridges, as far as anyone could tell, were proposed spans connecting the mainland with places to which Alaskans -- most Alaskans -- seemed uninterested in visiting.

Nonetheless, when fellow Republican critics denounced the projects, Ted Stevens (R-Ak) bellowed outrage and suggested that anyone questioning his taxpayer pork would have he, Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, to answer to. The noises went off.

Though the $453 million has been relabled and sent to Alaska as a general fund, that money is stilll going to Alaska. This despite the fact that most Alaskans preferred that the money go to Katrina reconstruction, a suggestion that, to Alaskan Rep. Don Young (R-Ak), who helped reconcile the House and Senate bills with Ted Stevens, was simply absurd:
They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
Such an utterance clearly indicated that "united we stand" was not part of the 17-term congressman's lexicon.

Back when the transportation bill was passed, the Gavina Island bridge was being examined and, as the BHC pointed out, Gavina Island, while rather unpopulated and desolate, was home to at least one interested and interesting party: US Senator Lisa Murkowski's mother.

Now, that may seem like a trivial connection and, to reasonable people, it might be beyond imagining that politicians would bother to jack the US taxpayer for $230 million just so Lisa's mom can get off Gavina island a little more easily. But remember, we are discussing Alaskan politicians here, people who are most assuredly not reasonable, especially when it comes to spending the taxpayer nickel. And, in case you haven't yet noticed, the Alaskan political establishment has the distinct look of a mob family.

But news about the "other" bridge was wanting. Until now. It turns out that the proposed bridge to Port Mackenzie would connect the mainland to a point near where Art Nelson's company owns 60 acres of waterfront property. Nelson, you'll remember, is Don Young's son-in-law. Don Young is the House Rep. who helped write the House Transportation and House-Senate reconciliation bills that carefully preserved the earmarks for the two bridges.

Art Nelson, while being chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, is also partners in a company called Point Bluff LLC, the company that owns the land on Point Mackenzie. Point Bluff was started in 2002, just one year before the appearance of the first version of Young's highway bill, which included an earmark for a bridge to Point Bluff's 60 acres.

Point Bluff is heavily involved in the fishing industry and at least one of Fish Chairman Nelson's business partners, Al Chaffee, is an owner of Highland Light Seafoods and Yardarm Knot Fisheries. At this point, it should not surprise anyone to learn that Nelson himself was employed by various fishing industry organisations until landing the sweet seat -- appointed by Gov. Murkowski -- as the man who "oversees" the industry itself.

This can all be rather confusing, so I think a summary of the bridge connections is entirely appropriate at this point:

Don Young (R-Ak) is chairman of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This committee specially earmarked and appropriated $453 million for two bridges in Alaska. One of those bridges is planned from the mainland to the nearly unpopulated Gavina Island, where lives the mother of US Senator Lisa Murkowski, daughter of Alaska's Governor, Frank Murkowski.

The other bridge will cross to the near equally unpopulated Port Mackenzie, close to where Don Young's son-in-law and Alaska Board of Fisheries chairman Art Nelson is partners in a fishing industry company which owns 60 acres of land there.

Nelson, of course, maintains that there is clearly no conflict of interest in any of these arrangements.


The People's Work

We all know Tom DeLay is the king of political money raising in America. DeLay and his fellow indicted, mobster-affliated, money shuffler Jack Abramoff certainly have made for a well-oiled machine of political influence peddling. But you probably didn't realize just how well-oiled it has been:
Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often getting there aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests.

Public documents reviewed by The Associated Press tell the story: at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts; 100 flights aboard company planes; 200 stays at hotels, many world-class; and 500 meals at restaurants, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.

Of course, none of this is paid for by Tom DeLay but by flush campaign donors who are more than happy to entertain the influential Republican. Who says money can't buy love?

I took a little trip in the way back machine and found this little nugget. Here is what Tom DeLay had to say about the obvious graft he saw in Congress when he first moved into the House leadership:

The time has come that the American people know exactly what their Representatives are doing here in Washington. Are they feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special interest groups? Or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The people, the American people, have a right to know...I say the best disinfectant is full disclosure, not isolation.
- U.S. Rep.Tom DeLay, 11/16/95
Tom DeLay claimed to be steamin' mad at dirt back in those long forgotten days of the GOP's Contract with America. Remember that quaint notion?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Impeachment Poll

Msnbc is conducting a poll right now. The question asked is simply stated and it would be pretty hard to claim that the question itself was scewing the results. The poll asks,
Do you believe President Bush's actions justify impeachment?
Pretty straight forward. Answers can be one of
1) yes
2) qualified no
3) no way!
4) don't know.
With 44,000+ votes cast, it is not looking good for Bush: 88% say impeach. It certainly looks like there is selection effect here and once the link showed up on eschaton, well, the yes vote probably pulled away on the back stretch. But you'd think the Bushies would be coming in hard and fast to counter the lobsided histogram. [Update: the voting numbers are up to 70,000+. Ratios are unchanged. 22/12/05]

More interesting than the overwhelming "yes" vote is that the votes for 3) no way! are far outpacing (almost 2-1) the votes for a qualified no. The qualified no admits that Bush has made some missteps but has done nothing impeachable.

Low turn out by Bush supporters might be understood by the thinking that they would not even dignify such a scurrilous, traitorous poll with their tender attentions. Of course, if they are Bush supporters chances are fairly high that they also watch Fox and have been warned off MSNBC ever since Bill O'Reilly, richly enough, labeled the network as some sort of communist agitprop center.

Frankly, if Bush supporters are supporters at this point, there is simply nothing that the man could do or be shown to have done that would cause them any consternation at all. Or, as cernig said,
Let's face it - if the news broke that Bush ate infants these people would immediately post recipes for BBQ Baby-ribs and swear they had been eating it for years!
The mental gymnastics the right (actually, I don't like calling Bush supporters right wing at all anymore. That seems like it's giving true right wingers a bad name) has enagaged in everytime some new ill, some extant violation of the public trust has been exposed, is not only amazing, but really rather alarming from a psychological perspective.

The invested delusion that Bush is good and right, or that he has America's best interests at heart, has become so severe in these people (Kristol, WSJ editorial page, Malkin, etc), it truly does appear that they are utterly divorced from reality. Hell, they'd probably call for MSNBC to be shut down for conducting such a poll. Sedition! they would cry. Traitors! Ahh, I can hear it now and haven't heard it since, well, since they called the NY Times traitors a few days ago.

I think the delusional games Bush supporters play now stem from what Kunstler has called the psychology of previous investment. That is, our willingness to face facts diminishes in proportion to the investment made in a certain belief, way of life, what have you. And at this point, Bush supporters are so heavily banked on a loser, they just won't -- can't -- face it.

Like any desperate gambler who is in hawk to the house and needs to play "one more hand," Bush supporters just cannot come to grips with the fact that backing Bush has put them way, way down in the hole. They are psychologically unprepared to just walk away and finally admit that Bush is exactly what he appears to be.

Judicial Pre-emptive Strike

Happy news is a rarity these days. But I have to confess a minor glee upon hearing Judge James Jones' decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board. He smote school board members as liars and faith peddlers who displayed a "striking ignorance" of ID itself. Check out this summary at the York Daily Record of various interesting snippets of his opinion. Biting, to say the least. Indeed, the most interesting aspect of the opinion was the strength of its vehemence. Judge Jones was clearly not happy to have been repeatedly lied to in his court and he let that be well known.

There was, however, another salient feature of Jones' opinion, which I expect will become a hallmark of almost every judicial rendering in the future. Jones included a pre-emptive clause in the opinion that explicity stated that his opinion was not that of an "activist judge." Jones is obviously well aware of the current political climate surrounding judicial decisions that come down against the Christian right: whenever they don't get their way, a decision is the result of "judicial activism" no matter how well-grouned in common or statutory law. Here is what Jones felt the need to write about his decision:
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
I'd like to buy the good judge a beer, if I ever get the chance. And, just as Jones predicted, that is exactly what started burping out of the mouth of John West of the Discovery Institute. West called the decision "egregious" judical activism. Who would have guessed.

In case you might not understand the reference Jones makes to the "law firm" about which he speaks, I refer you to The Bonehead Compendium, Vol 66, Can I See Your ID? , which discusses the fact the law firm in question, The Thomas Moore Law Center, fished for just such a case for years before finally bumbling upon the Dover School Board. But TMLC isn't just any law center. As the BHC notes, TMLC has long history of pursuing Christain causes:
The center is funded by Domino's Pizza king and anti-abortion crusader Thomas Monaghan, and Richard Thompson, known for his unhinged pursuit of Jack Kevorkian. Indeed, these two "lawyers" have taken the keenest interest in defending unseemly behaviours exhibited by anti-abortion fundamentalists and other religious causes; threatening ob/gyn doctors, preventing gay couples from receiving job benefits and other of God's work.
Anyway, congratulations, Mr. Jones. I'll also note here that Jones -- appointed by Bush -- is a conservative and a Republican in the best sense of those words, a sense we see far too little evidence of anymore.

White House Records

The Heretik points us to a White House transcript of remarks made by Bush in April of 2004. He made a comment about "roving wiretaps" and how the procedures for conducting surveillance did not change under the Patriot Act. And the may be true, the Patriot Act did not allow unwarranted surveillance ungoverned by, at least, the FISA court. Of course, Bush's executive paid no attention to what even his vaunted Patriot Act did and did not allow. But that is not what he said a year and half ago:
there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.
"Nothing has changed, by the way." This is an especially odd thing for Bush to say, considering that he and various other administration officials and handlers have been repeating, ad nauseum, that everything had changed since 9/11. Given what is now known and admitted, it would appear the the latter statement is indeed the operative one here.

Bush signed his executive secret order in the fall 2001. Even though some in Congress knew of the order, and they would know that Bush had lied when he made this statement, any discussion revolving around the NSA program was verbotten. Which is to say, no one could even call Bush on this lie. What a great system.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Then and Now

This is story that is getting some play. Jon Alter discusses how, on Dec. 6, Bush "summoned" Times' editor Kellor and publisher Sulzberger to the White House and tried to persuade the two to not publish the story that they eventually did, which exposed the NSA domestic surveillance program.

But it appears the Bush did not do this out of any great concern for national security, as he now contends:
Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker.
I guess it is somewhat comforting to see that Bush may not be entirely possessed and actually did recognise that this little I Spy program could cause a few legal ripples for his administration, if not himself directly. Of course, such moments of reflection tend not to hang around Bush's head for too long and certainly not with Abugraiberto wispering in his ear, horns and pitch fork at the ready:
don't worry about a thing, Pres. I can make it all go away, just like the last time.
Today, we see Bush standing firmly in his belief that it was well within presidential legal authority to order such activity because, as Gonzales asserts, Congress pretty much signed off on it when they voted the President the power to conduct military operations in the war on terror. In other words, Bush thought his order was illegal before he didn't.

Various legal beagles are weighing in on this, usually coming down in favour of their own partisan tendencies. I suspect, though, that something like this won't come out of the wash too well. But I could be entirely wrong. These days, Americans seem willing to absorb any abuse of power if they are told often enough that it will make them safer.

I mean, if this country can now engage in debates about whether or not we should torture people or that secret prisons are effective and perfectly reasonable facilities for the CIA to have, nothing is off the table. And you know that is true because Bush's freaking numbers are up!

Baby, nothing bothers us now!

The Long and Winding Win

Other than as a vehicle for comedy, I can't imagine why anyone seriously bothers to comment on anything Bush says anymore. It's utterly baffling to me. Indeed, most reactions to Bush's speech last night mostly seem to decry the yawner for interrupting:

a) football

b) other programming:
why the fuck did my tivo of “family guy” feature 20 minutes of this bullshit?

damnit bush, this is the last straw

But I had to laugh at a comment I saw over at Ballon Juice. Pretty much sums up the Prez's thoughts on Iraq in his speech last night:
Now THAT was some truly great news from President Bush tonight! Not only are we winning the war in Iraq, we apparently are going to be winning it for a long long time.

Don’t look at this as 10 more years of war, look at it as another ten years of victory.

Good one.

Fly by Wire

No, this is no political rant. This is something that is actually intrinsically interesting.

Ever since my sister studied bats, I, too, have been fascinated by the creatures, mostly because of their amazing aeronautical ability via employment of sonar and ecolocation.

A bat once got into my house and was flying around. I watched, fascinted by the exacting, silent flight. Unlike a bird, this creature made no audible sound as it moved, somewhat frantically, looking for a way out. I would have thought a screen might present some problems for it, but apparently not, because it would fly right up to a screen, stop short of collision and veer back around, up and down stair ways, in and out of rooms. Not once did the bat come close to colliding with anything, and this was within a rather constrained set of corridors, rooms and stairwells. I doubt most birds would have managed such navigation problems as elegantly.

Anyway, I finally snagged the creature in a towel, took it ouside and let it go. I imagined the little guy was a bit freaked, but I was thankful for the dazzling show it had put on. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Well, it looks like they have other mechansims at work that help them figure out what is going on. Amazing beasts.
John Zook, a neurobiologist from Ohio University who conducted the new study, found that touch-sensitive receptors on the bats’ wings help them maintain altitude and catch insects in midair.

Zook believes the touch-receptors work together with echolocation to make bats better, more accurate nocturnal hunters. It’s thought that echolocation helps bats detect their surroundings, while the touch-sensitive receptors help them stick to their flight path and snag prey.

The receptor cells give bats constant feedback about their wing positions. When a bat’s wing isn’t properly angled or curved during flight, air passing next to the wing can become turbulent. Merkel cells help bats remain aerodynamically efficient by alerting them when their wing position or curve is incorrect, preventing the creatures from stalling in midair.

more ...


The Future is Now

Back in 2003, John Ashcroft dismissed criticism of Patriot Act provisions that would allow the FBI to search, among other things, library records of ordinary citizens. In fact, Ashcroft called such criticism, "hysteria." Despite strong opposition to the provisions by the American Library Association and that a federal court had condemned Ashcroft's Justice Department for their abuse of the law, he deprecated complaints, saying:
Now, you may have thought with all this hysteria and hyperbole, something had to be wrong. Do we at the Justice Department really care what you are reading? No.
Wrong. In contrast to Justice Department claims that they had never used the Patriot Act to secretly request library records, the ALA reported that, in fact, at least 545 libraries had received such requests or had been directly visited by federal or local authorities. Whether these were fishing expeditions was uncertain at the time but the leading House critic, Rep. Bernies Sanders (I-Vt), presciently warned us all in September of 2003,
The bottom line is not so much what may or may not have been done in the past, but what might be done in the future.
Well, that future is now.
A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
The words of de Maistre are ringing in my head right now:
Nations get the governments they deserve.
De Maistre meant it in an entirely different context, of course, and his firm belief in authoritarian conservatism and rejection the French Revolution might have even led to him conclude that the Bush administration is perfectly justified in doing what they're doing. But that doesn't mean we believe that and it doesn't make his pronouncement any less applicable to this nation of idling, consolate masses or the band of Orwellian good fellas currently seated in the White House.

The corollary to de Maestre's statement might be along these lines: if you're asleep at the wheel, someone will grab it and point you in a direction you don't want to go. You may be asleep for any number of reasons, but the point is that your attention has been misdirected and not focused on the task at hand. You might put up some initial, faint-hearted, bleary-eyed resistance, but the wheel-grabber works to calm you down. All the while they will be telling you to relax because "they know where they're going." Please sit back and enjoy the ride.

During the trip that has now been wrested from your control, they will be calming you with words like, "security," "protect," and "safety," and telling you that they're steering you away from bad things you have bumped into on the road before; things like "terrorists," "evil-doers," and " freedom haters." They will appear to be very strong, confident and determined. This will assure you, or at least part of you, that maybe they are right.

While they are doing this, they will be stepping on the accelerator and pointing the vehicle straight toward a very big cliff. Though your indolence prevented you from noticing before, you will suddenly become aware of the fact that your hands and feet have been bound, your mouth gagged.

[via All Spin Zone]

Saturday, December 17, 2005

McCain's Posturing Morality

A fierce flurry of news is swirling around Bush's approval of unwarranted NSA spying on American citizens. But there is small yet significant item presenting itself today, though it will likely be largely ignored in favour of the spy story. The NSA spy story, significant as it is, is not really all that surprising. Almost nothing that hits the headlines regarding anything that Bush is doing or has done can ellicit any surprised reaction anymore. But on to the "other" item of the day.

The mainstream boldly declaring that the White House had "back down" on the McCain amendment carried with it the smell of something rotten. The putative "back down" was nothing of the sort. After the White House had threatened to veto the defense spending bill appended with the McCain amendment, news broke that the Army field manual had been rewritten with new and, more importantly, classified, i.e. secret, interrogation techniques. The McCain amendment explicity cited the Army field manual as the authoritative guide to interrogation techniques. Two days after the rewritten field manual was delivered, suddenly the White House found itself amenable to the McCain measure.

The morality of torture as a practice of US agency has no real meaning for these people, least of all McCain. He now appears to be even more the posturing pol than his support for the Graham-Levin amendment, which stripped detainees of any right to habeas corpus, had previously demonstrated. The McCain measure will have no real impact on the conduct of interrogations since that is now, and has been for sometime, outsourced to various facilities around the globe. With foreign agents performing the "interrogations," McCain's effort presents only the simulacrum of a strong moral stance against abuse. It is nothing of the kind.

Anyone having doubts about such a statement would do well to now take note of the fact that, just yesterday, House and Senate lawmakers passed a measure that would
enable the government to keep prisoners at Guantánamo Bay indefinitely on the basis of evidence obtained by coercive interrogations.
That rotting smell I mentioned earlier intensified significantly with this move, US foreign policy attained a degree of putrifaction that should have American citizens reeling from the stink.

The position of US foreign policy now seems to be something like this:

US government agents will not torture, anymore, and will only use interrogation techniques described in a newly written, secret Army field manual appendix. This carries no real world impact, because the CIA has been kidnapping and shunting people to various foreign soils and having them tortured there. These detainees, who, at times, have turned out to be innocent bystanders, have no recourse, via habeas corpus, to appeal their illegal detention. This was already true in foreign lands but is now also true for detainees at Gitmo. After several months or years and, after possibly having their penises sliced and diced repeatedly, detainees may be released onto a dark road in the middle of Albania with no acknowledgment that any of this had ever happened. That is the story for the ones who are let go.

Despite the fact the America's staunchest ally in Bush's war on terror has just ruled that coerced testimony is impermissable in UK courts, US agents, likely attached to the White House, will now legally use the coerced testimony to justify whatever it is that needs justification at any given time. It matters not that this testimony will quite likely be a lie, said for no other reason than as a desperate bid to, please, please, have the penis slicing come to end. Such lies will probably bolster some preconceived or strongly asserted, though entirely unwarranted position. In this case, it will allow the US government to keep detainees indefinitely locked away based on only the extracted testimony of other detainees, who are also locked away. This is, in effect, a closed-circuit tattle-tale loop, unable to be broken by the application of habeas corpus.

Congress has just approved all of this.

I like cernig's take on the McCain amendment and, I think, he is spot on: the torture amendment is toothless but makes McCain look tough and moral when, in fact, he is nothing of the sort and with it has made his bid for the presidential candidacy in 2008. What better thing to have under your political belt than a "torture ban the White House backed down on"?

But let us ask, how could any truly moral fellow, seeking to ban mistreatment of detainees, also vote to suspend habeas corpus for said same detainees and then vote to approve the use of testimony gained by coercion of those detainees? It is, to put it mildly, a morally inconsistent position. Which is why McCain's is not a moral stance at all. It is a calculating political one. And what it really does, at least for anyone who is paying attention, is to make McCain look like just another posturing hack, unconcerned with the real state of the American experiment.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Manual Dexterity

No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.
The White House, in a further indication of its strong feelings, bluntly warned in a statement sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday that President Bush's advisers would urge him to veto the $442 billion defense bill "if legislation is presented that would restrict the President's authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice."
The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods .... The techniques are included in a 10-page classified addendum to a new Army field manual that was forwarded this week to Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence policy.
The White House backed down to a forceful campaign by maverick Republican senator John McCain .... "This agreement basically does two things: One, puts into the Army Field Manual the specific procedures for interrogations.
"We've been happy to work with him (McCain) to achieve a common objective ... we have worked very closely with the senator and others to achieve that objective."


Brett Hume thinks he knows what torture is and it is clear from this that his opinion has been well instructed by Abugraiberto Gonzales. Note the conceit that torture has a definition, one that came straight from Gonzales' White House Counsel office:
Torture has an actual definition, and it means extreme physical pain, it also means the kind of thing associated with the failure of your organs. Now waterboarding is hair-raising and frightening, terrifying as it obviously is, would not appear to fit that category.
It would be an interesting excercise to see how these pudgy milquetoasts' views of torture would change if they were strapped down and had their finger nails pulled out. No organ failure, right, Brett? Can't be all that bad.

And does anyone have any idea why those who seem to like the idea of torturing people speak out of the sides of their mouths? What is up with that?

Financial Industry Sours on Diebold

Ha! This is great. I love it when the corporate world feeds on itself. There is nothing new about it, but it's always fun to watch.

The UnCap Journal is reporting that some in the financial industry are smelling carrion and are advising investors of a short sell opportunity. Agora Financial has sent out a **Flash Sell Alert** regarding shorting Diebold stock after recent and higly unflattering news items popped up about the company. After CEO O'Dell resigned on the heels of an investigation begun to look at possible securities fraud and insider trading, Finnish security expert Hari Hursta had demonstrated, quite clearly, how easily the memory cards of Diebold machines can be hacked. And what that demonstration did was to expose Diebold officials as liars, for they had told the State Department that what Hursti did was not at all possible. It turns out that, not only was it possible, it was bloody easy to do.

Diebold's days look numbered and the financial industry can smell it.

The Agora email alert is well worth reading, so check it out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Vengence is Mine Sayeth the State ... and Liberals, too

I find it awfully amusing seeing a bunch of well-noted lefties hand-wringing about the death penalty. And given the recent stories about Tookie Williams and Corey Maye, there has been a lot of it lately. The recent commentary flying about the blog-space regarding this issue is notable for one saliant feature: equivocation on the death penalty and how it seems to some of these well-respected yet lesser-thinkers that the death penalty is just fine in civil society. Apparently, the need to look "tough on crime" educes them to shamelessly pontificate that, theoretically, the death penalty is good and just but that only our practice of it somehow fails. I almost sense the fetid air of apologia in some these missives.

For example,

Obsidian Wings:
I don't have any moral qualms about the death penalty as a concept. It may make me seem callous or monstrous to some, but I don't think there is anything wrong with some vicious murderers being punished by losing their own lives.
Kevin Drum:
I'm basically with Max on the whole Tookie Williams/death penalty thing: I'm not opposed to the death penalty qua death penalty, but I long ago became convinced that it was impossible to administer fairly or reliably and thus should be abandoned.
and the man Kevin is with, who seems, not only to embrace revenge but to relish it:
I have nothing in principle against executing guilty people, because I'm o.k. with retribution. Call it revenge if you like. Serve it cold, serve it piping hot, I'm o.k. with it.
I'm sure there are many, many more.

The reek is nosed by a common scent: say that you're for it, in theory, but against it in practice because we just hopelessly screw it up all the time. And, now this is crucial, toss a few adjectives like "vicious" and "monstrous" just for good measure. I can almost hear the simpering: well, he was monstrous, so that makes it ok ... right? In other words, there are no philosophical qualms, only pragmatic ones. Pragmatism is not the foundation upon which civil society is based. Above all, civil society is founded upon an ideal. That ideal, for civil societies save one, does not embrace the death penalty. As for as the last chap, well, civil society appears not to be much of a concern for him at all. It's all Old Testament, eye-for-an-eye for Max.

Where does one begin in addressing these bizarre statements, statements that one must view as contradictory to what one might have thought were the political natures of those making them? These are a sampling of the liberal political realm that will assail the Christian right for their abuse of the ideal of the "culture of life," although they see nothing wrong with embracing the death penalty. Not content to simply mete out justice, some actually proclaim to revel in the vengence. These are supposed liberals who decry the assault on civil society by the machinations of the Bush administration, beholden as it is to Christian fundamentalists, though their apprehension of just what they mean by civil society appears, with this embrace of capital punishment, to be murky and confused.

Let me firstly reiterate that the general goal of the American democratic experiment has been an embracing, participatory civil society. If you are fine with America being a thug state, so be it, but this is not generally how Americans wish to view their country and it certainly is not how any liberals would. At least, I thought that should be the case until recently.

There are any number of reasons, both pragmatic and philosophical, that sould dissuade us from capitol punishment in civil society. I would argue that, firstly, we are hardly in a position to call ourselves civil when we do employ the death penalty. One of things that should be obvious, and is obvious to most other democratic civil societies, is that civil societies cannot be in the business of killing its own citizens, regardless of the crimes involved. This is a position that even stalwart conservative George Will, of all people, will argue (I am not sure if Will has any moral qualms about it and he may come to the opinion from the conservative position of distrust in the competence of government, in general).

On the pragmatic question, which is not really the most compelling, the recent spate of overturned death penalty convictions, via DNA and other evidence, should have already convinced us that the criminal justice system is near moribund. Justice is not being served and the US is on a rampage of jailing more and more people for lesser and lesser crimes, It is highly likely that innocent people have been executed in this country, possibly many. Further, the Corey Mayes story should also inform us that, even when the party is "guilty," the application of the death penalty can be highly questionable and capricious. If Schwarzenegger's denial of clemency demonstrated anything, it demonstrated a callous political posturing that had little regard for any putative rehabilitation.

In fact, what Schwarzenegger's decision did demonstrate was the State message that, rehabilitated or no, we're still going to whack you. The craven position taken is that while we --as a civil society -- incarcerate under the pretense of rehabilition, the State will insist on refusing recognition of any such rehabilitation: if it does happen, we won't believe it anyway. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, this is the reality of justice under American "civil" society. I am not saying that Williams was not guilty -- though he claimed otherwise -- but if his subsequent behaviour in prison did not demonstrate rehabilitation, what would? What is the standard? Clearly, there is no standard and the clemency decision was ultimatley dependent upon the arbitrary decision -- infected by politiking -- of one pusillanimous politician.

But even if it were the case that all death penalties convictions were exactly correct -- the convicted was the real guilty party -- it still should not be done. Civil society should embrace a thoughtful consideration of just what justice is. Civil society is generally of the mind that killing is wrong and tries to discourage such things. Execution does not convey the message that killing is wrong. At all. In fact, what the message does convey is that revenge is acceptable in some cases and that the state will conduct this revenge on behalf of the aggrieved parties. This revenge also appears to be very nearly arbitrary and capricious in its application. Some 1st degree murderers get the death penalty, many do not. Some get clemency, some do not.

The idea that the death penalty somehow exacts justice is a morally conflicted, hypocritical and abysmally wrong-headed stance, regardless of the state of a prisoner's rehabilitation. But if you're fine with state executions being conducted for no other reason than revenge, then whatever you may call yourself, the one thing you certainly are not is a liberal.

Subpoenas for "Defense Contractors"

Oh my, this is interesting.

It looks like Texas prosecutor Ron Earle has picked up on the connection between DeLay, Abramoff and the Cunnigham defense contractor connections. He has issued subpoenas requesting bank records and "other information" from Perfect Wave Technologies LLC, Wilkes Corp. and ADCS Inc. All of these were fingered front companies of Brent Wilkes that were intially tagged by Joe Cannon and Cannonfire. This has the potential to uncover the story that had been breaking underground. Naturally enough, DeLay's lawyer, Dick Deguerin, says that Earle
can subpoena all he wants, there's nothing there. We're not concerned about it.
Such a bracing nonchalance. Keep talking, Dick. Just keeping talking....

All I can say is Earle better get on the stick because it is looking like Wilkes might be in the market for some nice property in Belize on which to retire, far from prodding pesky state's attorneys.