Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Devil in the Details

Scooter Libby's defense appears that it will hinge on him being overwhelmed by details. It was just too, too much to keep track of all those converstions with reporters during
the hectic rush of issues and events at a busy time for our government.
Damn, that hectic rush. It was, no doubt, the kind of rush created by talking to multiple reporters, abusing journalistic source protection, asking to be cited as a "former Hill staffer" rather than a "White House official" in an effort of political retribution against a whistleblower by exposing the cover of the whistleblower's wife, a CIA NOC.

Yes, I'm sure it was all rather confusing.

The Italian Job

Like rats abandoning a sinking, flaming ship, George Bush's strongest allies in the Coalition of the Willing are beginning to back away from the wreckage that is the White House administration today. The willing seem a little less so after Fitzgerald's investigation started digging into corners previously left dusty.

Clearly seeing the grand jury writing on the White House walls, it took less then a day after Libby's indictment in the Plame affair for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to come forward and declare that he had "tried many times to convince the American president not to go to war." All to no avail, of course. For someone who has been a strong Bush/Blair ally, indeed, someone who brought Italy into the disaster in Iraq against the wishes of a majority of Italians, Berlusconi's "revalation" is rather amusing, the timing impeccably maladroit. Also of note is how George Bush has now become "the American president" as opposed to a dear "friend," something Berlusconi has called Bush many times. The backpeddling is furious.

Of course, Berlusconi's expression of reservations about invading Iraq had not been widely known though he claims to have made efforts to avoid the war. Just a few months ago and after the death of Italian intelligence offiicer, Nicola Calipari, in a much-publicised checkpoint shooting incident, Berlusconi was trumpeting his country's commitment to the Iraq escapade and that America and Italy
remain solid in their work in favor of the people and the Iraqi government, for the reconstruction of a stable, free and democratic Iraq.
With the White House in turmoil and the whole "intelligence failure" being exposed apace, it will be interesting to see how "solid" Berlusconi remains toward the work in Iraq. In fact, I fully expected that the "solid" is sublimating into rhetorical vapours with every syllable uttered by Berlusconi.

Not that this should surprise. Like all such friends, when things go awry, it's everyone for themselves and Berlusconi is merely demonstrating that quality that sets his ilk apart. Facing an upcoming election and behind in the polls and with eyes and ears looking toward Rome and Berlusconi's intelligence agency, SISMI, having some not entirely known hand in the Niger document forgeries, Berlusconi knows he's got his own hide to protect first, so it is time to start bailing out White House affiliation as quickly as possible.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hugh and Cry

It is a near guarantee that reading the artless opinionating of Hugh Hewitt will not impart upon the reader any new insights into the nature of anything other than, perhaps, the depths intellectual depravity that passes for much of what is generally considered right wing "punditry." More likely than not, it will simply annoy. And so it was with his latest piece in the NY Times on Friday, which I couldn't help but glance because it was one more draft in the panoply of fightin' words amongst the right wing over the Harriet Miers nomination. Hugh goes on at length about his untrustworthy fellows at NRO's The Corner and their misbegotten criticisms of the nominee and the nomination. Woe is Hugh over the unseemly rift in right wing whingers.

But it took no more than a one paragraph before Hugh would, as certain as the day is light, offer up a palette of hard boiled bullshit that was simply astounding:
The right's embrace in the Miers nomination of tactics previously exclusive to the left - exaggeration, invective, anonymous sources, an unbroken stream of new charges, television advertisements paid for by secret sources - will make it immeasurably harder to denounce and deflect such assaults when the Democrats make them the next time around.
Yes, the tactics were harsh and conducted by foks who know them well. But in Hewitt's clueless universe, these tactics had been previously exclusive to the left. Interesting how the right adopted them so well with hardly a learning curve it sight.

Like most disingenuous right wing hacks, Hewitt's invocation of this oft-repeated yet boundless lie leaves me to wonder whether it is borne of willful stupidity or shameless deceit. Most of the time, who can tell? If that latter, it is not a very convincing attempt to deceive and only the most ignorant of rubes would buy it. Of course, there seems to be no shortage of such creatures on the American political landscape these days and I am also always left to wonder whether the Hewitts of the political realm actually believe their own rhetorical manure. If Hewitt does believe that smear tactics are "exclusive to the left," this doesn't say much about his always less-than-penetrating intellect.

Lee Atwater brought the politics of smear to fore during the 1988 presidential campaign and they were seen in the shellacking that a desultory Dukakis then received. Atwater's protege, Karl Rove, not only learned the tricks of his mentor but brought them to a level not imagined by the old man. And one thing was certain, regardless of party affiliation, if you were an opponent of George Bush, no holds would be barred in the fight for office.

John McCain learned this well in the 2000 GOP primaries when the Bush campaign smeared him with allegations of fathering an illigitimate black child, a child that McCain had, in fact, adopted. Rove strategy also called into question the nobility of his service in Vietnam and questioned his mental state after years as a POW. Attacking an opponent's military service was a tactic that would serve well in the presidential campaign fours years later. The tactic was borne of necessity and it followed directly from George Bush's own obvious lack of serious military service, intellect, moral quality or aptitude in anything. Most people who have payed attention to the previous campaigns of Bush will likely not recall many, if any, qualities that would recommend the man for the presidency. Other than a fondness for clearing brush and running oil companies into bankruptcy, I still have yet to hear just what it is that George Bush is good at, exactly.

Given that Rove's job was to get such a wretched candidate elected, the only avenue open was attack. But it wouldn't just be direct opponents of Bush who would wind up in the cross hairs and this was seen in the sickening smear campaign against Max Cleland, decorated Vietnam vet and multiple amputee from that war, who opposed the bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security because that GOP monstrosity would have eliminated labour rights for the department's employees. In the 2002 election campaign against Saxby Chambliss, who managed to avoid Vietnam with a string of deferments, Cleland was painted as someonee close to resembling bin Laden, complete with television advertisements blending images of the two, claiming that Cleland's vote against the Homeland Security bill made him kin with the head of al Qaeda.

John Kerry would become the next major victim of right wing smear machine and another Vietnam Vet to be vilified for his service during what has come to be known as a swiftboating campaign. Of course, with the focus on Kerry, the attacks and defense, Bush managed to very nearly sail through without much need to address his own paltry and questionable service record. This was a campaign comprising television ads, a television "documentary," and print, including a book demonstrating a vast range of deceipt and dissembling. Needless to say, the vitriol during this episode was approaching record campaign levels.

Right wing vitriol has yet to reach the lofty heights it attained during the Clinton years, however. Clinton truly riled the righties and I've never really understood just why that was and still is, though many have speculated that, ultimatley, it was the Clintons' outside-the-beltway provenance that brought them the DC deep-fryer. Nonetheless, right wingers still love to launch tirades against the man and, given the grim state of the GOP controlled White House and Congress, it seems the only thing they can do to distract themselves from the ignominious problems swirling around many of the heads of the GOP leadership. Republicans long ago gave up any right to make any claims about a vituperating left since Clinton had turned them into raving lunatics. Well remembered claims from the right that Clinton was a murderer, a rapist, a coke-head, a gun-runner ought to ring loudly in the head of anyone who would consider the ill-considered opinion of Hewitt. To have listened to the right during the Clinton persecution, it seemed there was no depraved act beyond the bounds of a legendary and rapacious bestiality. Just where was Hugh Hewitt when that was going on?

These days, Clinton appears to us as some long-lost, good humour man, his corn-pone horniness seems an innocent gaffe compared to the bloodyminded machinations of the current occupants of the White House. And Hewitt is still harping about Clinton's "scandal-plagued" admininstration as though this one is all sunshine and daisys.

Move along, Hugh, just move along.

Check Mate

We all should probably check the initial giddiness that many who have needed to see the White House brought to task for, what is now clear to most, the illegal invasion of Iraq and the disinformation campaign that sought to justify that action. Dark Wraith over at the UnCapitalist Journal has a significantly different view of Libby's indictment and I have to say I agree that this is likely just more white wash on the whole story. And while Fitzgerald says that, "it's not over," it probably really is. I don't think anyone should be surprised if nothing else comes of this.

Fitzgerald had garnered a lot of people's hope that something significant would actually come of his investigation. He certainly seemed to be digging and willing to bust anyone to get to the bottom of the Plame affair. Libby's indictment for what I would call the paltry side effects of the actual crime might very well be the only result. Negotiations between Fitzgerald and various White House players gave the appearance that serious criminal indictments for violations of the Espionage Act might have been in the works. That now does not seem to be the case. And Fitzgerlad's investigation, like every other investigation of this White House, will produce no public revelations about the depths of mendacity within the administration that produced the "intelligence" used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

If Libby's indictment is the best that Fitzgerald can up with after two years, it should not be expected that much else will come out of the US attorney's efforts. Like other "investigations" that found fault with low level grunts for Abu Graib, that found fault with anonymous CIA analysts for "faulty intelligence," that ultimately have sought to cast blame anywhere and everywhere except for the place where blame actually resides, Fitzgerald's inquiry has offered up a small sacrifice to appease the moiling masses. Libby is the chum meant to satiate an appetite for justice.

Anyone who thought Rove might go down -- or anyone else in the White House for that matter -- should probably just put away that fanciful notion. Another shameful episode and its attendant white washing in the terrible tenure of this administration is now coming to a close.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Knowingly and Corruptly

I can't help it, but I just love reading these words:
I.LEWIS LIBBY, also known as "SCOOTER LIBBY," defendant herein, did knowingly, and corruptly endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice, namely proceedings before Grand Jury 03-3, by misleading and deceiving the grand jury as to when, and the manner and means by which, LIBBY acquired and subsequestnly disclosed to the media information concening the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA.
In fact, I've read them several times and the giddiness has not yet subsided.

It all sounds so legal and official; just plain satisfying. And it's those particular words, "knowingly" and "corruptly" juxtaposed with "influence," "obstruct," and "impede," words that could be applied to many White House activities and players, that are so satisfying to finally see in an indictment by a federal grand jury. It may not the be the most satisfying of charges, as opposed to violations of the Espionage Act or some such, but it's a start.

The Weak End Edition

Some of you may know that the White House recently came down on the Onion for its use of the Presidential Seal in satirical articles. The Onion apparently took umbrage to this intrusion and lack of humour on the part of the White House and produced and article for their phoney "Weekender" magazine, like the kind you find in weekend editions of newspapers.

Well, no presidential seal is anywhere in sight but talk about collateral damage. Next time, the prez should just take the hit and shut up.

Fighting for Profit

Gilead had been engaged in a headlong battle with Swiss company, Roche, for rights control of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu. Tamiflu is the drug touted in most media stories regarding Avian Flu as the best, if somewhat questionable, defense against potential infection. However, it is a fight that many others are now fighting on behalf of Gilead.

This is not hard to understand because now that Tamiflu is mentioned this way in many, many news articles, the profits are about to become huge. Just reported, Chiron Corp. was granted a $62.5 million contract to produce Tamiflu, since Roche appears unable to meet the escalating demand, having just declared restricted access to the drug by US markets. That announcement was not met with great mirth and US Senator Charles Schumer immediately demanded that Roche give up its claim on the rights to Tamiflu, a demand that now appears close to being satisfied.

Gilead, which licenses the rights to Tamiflu, has claimed the Roche has never seriously marketed the drug, but now that the media is doing the job for them, who needs Roche anymore? Back in June, Gilead served notice that the license would be terminated. This was only a short time after increasing numbers of outbreaks were beginning to be reported and the subsequent ramp up in media coverage. However, if multiple licenses are granted to a number of manufacturers, Gilead, which receives royalties on sales, may back off the fight, something that could take a year or more.

But again, the fight appears moot at this point, because negotiations have prevailed in Gilead's favour and others are about to begin production. Roche even got on the ball and announced they will build a new factory for Tamiflu production. No one goes to that kind of trouble for a one-off and I can only imagine that this will mean yearly ocurrences of potential epidemic "threats." We had one just last year, when the panic mounted after a flu vaccine shortage spooked everyone. Oddly enough, that shortage was cause by vaccine contamination at the production facility in England, owned and operated by one Chiron Corp.

One thing is certain, Gilead is mostly concerned about the selling the drug, and lots of it. With the media selling it for them, multiple companies about to join the production line and governments around the world buying it up by the truckload, Gilead will be sitting pretty. Indeed, Gilead is now being cited by the SPX as a "superstock." And that is probably putting a smile on the face of Donald Rumsfeld.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Going Down

President George W. Bush's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, White House counsel Harriet Miers, abruptly withdrew from consideration on Thursday after fierce criticism from the right and the left about her credentials for the lifetime job.
Well, I wonder if it's now time to bring out the big dog.

Previously, I had discussed two possible operational scenarios for the Supreme Court appointment. So it looks like Plan 1 is in play. No one, at this point, should be surprised by a nomination of an extremely right wing jurist. Whether that nominee will also be a Bush loyalist will be entirely up to Bush because he now thinks he's running the show.
Mr. Bush thinks that his own ability and authority derives from his policies; that Rove is an extension of the president, not a puppet master
Bush's putative belief in his own "ability" maybe the reason for the less than advisable Miers nomination because it is clear the White House didn't have much of a backup plan when conservatives went wild.

And after tomorrow, who knows? Bush may actually be the one running the show. If the Miers fiasco is any indication of his abilities, that won't be pretty.

One really has to marvel at the "reason" Miers offered for her withdrawal when she claimed that process of Senate confirmation, as demanded by the US Constitution,
presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.
If that is any indication of Miers view on the Constitution and the structures of government prescribed therein, it is perhaps good that she bugged out when she did. I'm sure the Senate wouldn't have appreciated that position.

Of course, there is an unstated preamble to Miers' reasoning, something along these lines,
George is really pissed and he's not so cool right now, what with all hell breaking loose within the White House and any number of staffers about to be indicted, the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of ... us.
That sounds about right.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Exception to the Rule

I shouldn't be surprised by it, really. But I am getting a little annoyed by the media's couching of terms surrounding the battle between the White House and the Senate over the anti-torture ammendment in the recently passed military spending bill. The NY Times headlines the story thusly,
White House Seeks Exception in Abuse Ban
Talk about dancing around the issue. NYT makes it sound like that's a good thing. It would be much more appropriate, if considerably less than unbiased in the eyes of Bush supporters, would be a headline that read something like,
White House Seeks to Extend Detainee Abuse
Because that's what it really about.

As with the Abu Graib debacle, where the administration insisted that abusing prisoners is not an "American value" and that just because we did it doesn't mean we'll do it ... again, the White House will, in this case, insist that they won't actually abuse people but it's just nice to have to option open. Hey, you never know when it might come in handy, like a free safety floating around in the backfield.

In mentioning Abu Graib, I want to reiterate the now rather specious notion that Bush and other administration officials insisted on: torture and abuse are not part of some American value system. Let us ignore whether the rest of the world -- especially the muslim world after the latest atrocity in Afghanistan -- believes Bush when he says such things. Let's pay attention to what White House insistance on getting exceptions to anti-toture laws says about, not only this administration, but our vaunted system of values.

When Abu Graib first hit the news, Bush defenders laughed about the abuse: why is wasn't abuse at all! Just a laughing good time. As more and more and more news came out that the abuse was widespread, systemic and had resulted in the deaths of many detainees, the rhetoric on the right shifted to defense of the practices on the same grounds the White House used: enemy combatants can be tortured. They're not real soldiers. Have at it! Clearly, these folks didn't seem to possess those American values that George Bush thought Americans must have. Of course, George Bush and the rest of the White House do not express such values either.

This couldn't be better illustrated than by the current disagreement between the Senate and the White House. Bush has threatened to veto the bill -- his first and only veto to date if he uses it here -- if the amendment is not removed or, apparently, if they cannot get some sort of "exception" to the rule. They're really demonstrating to the world the unseemly side of themselves -- many might say that is the only kind of side they have -- by even getting into such an argument. And, of course, the fact that it even is an argument is what I find to be beyond belief.

Frankly, I have no idea why the White House is pursuing this at all. It is serving only make them look like the ruthless, bloodyminded bastards many already think they are. Why pursue it? Does anyone seriously think that the CIA or military intelligence or whatever other black-ops groups are out there will not torture people in far away lands when the mood strikes them? Shit, they're probably doing so right now, somewhere.

So why is the White House assuming the publicly assinine position of "wanting" to retain an ability to officially condone the abuse and torture of detainees? I can't imagine. Apart from displaying abject moral turpitude, it is a political dead-ender. Why even bother? But if we thought the world distrusted us as hypocritical jokers before, well, guess what? We are looking worse to them right now for even having such a debate and, if the Senate backs down, any chance of recovering some of the world's respect will disappear. And, for all intents and purposes, the US will look like some fucking tinpot dictatorship ... with nukes.

Raising Conservative Hackles

After embarrassing herself and the White House with the less than stellar questionairre answers, Harriet Miers is now expected to be questioned by Arlen Specter (R-Pa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, about her views on White House policy regarding the detainment of "enemy combatants" at Gitmo. Not that anything will come of that, really. Roberts found for White House detainee policy in a case before his district court, so what is going to come of such questioning?

More interesting was the reaction some senators are having to a 1993 speech that Miers delivered to the Executive Women of Dallas, which discussed abortion and voluntary school prayer, in which she said,
The underlying theme in most of these cases is the insistence of more self-determination. And the more I think about these issues, the more self-determination makes the most sense.

Now, you've got to believe that isn't going to sit well with red-state senators and their "base." Indeed, Brownback (R-Kan) said that such statements raised questions and that a willful bias toward "self-determination" will be "something we'll have to probe." Well, that ought to be fun. Probe away, Browny, probe away.

I always marvel at so-called conservatives who expound at length about keeping gubmint out of people's lives but balk when a discussion about abortion, gay marriage or any other thing they find personally offensive evolves that way. In those cases, social conservatives don't like any notion of self-determination and insist that government insert itself -- up to the hilt -- in anyone and everyone's life.

Ahnold's Street

Take a jaunty stroll down Schwarzenegger Street.
The happy, cuddly neighbours are fun to meet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Values Voters

Paul Reikoff, over at Operation Truth, pointed out something I'd like to acknowledge a little further. I had discussed the recent Senate vote regarding the military defense fill and the McCain amendment that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any prisoners held by US forces. It is embarrassing enough that, in the 21st century, this sort of thing needs to be codified in US law when it is present in nearly every international treaty the US has ever signed. Embarrassment further educed by Bush threatening to veto the bill because of this amendment (see the BHC, Vol. 64, The Virgin Veto). But, as Reikoff notes, shame should also be cast upon the nine senators who opposed the bill's passage, most of them from the deeply red and "moral values" south:

Allard (R-CO)
Bond (R-MO)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Stevens (R-AK)

A pox upon you and your vile values.

Silencing is Golden

Commenter Lizzy pointed me toward a story that is getting some legs of late. Daniel Goetz is a soldier stationed in Iraq who has been posting to his blog, All the King's Horses, that he started in February, 2005, shortly after receiving a stop-loss order from the military. Goetz has been rather critical of the mission in Iraq, though he claims he has observed military restrictions on communications that exist within the Uniform Code of Military Justice. His postings spoke of the very grim reality the US military was delivering upon the people of Iraq and it is clear that it was having its effects upon the soldiers as well.
We - the forlorn Atlas, who bears the burden of lofty decisions - salute you, the free. May this day be a blessing to you and yours as you celebrate your freedom from the clutches of tyranny and strife. May your beer be as cold as the hearts of your enemies and your fireworks carry the zeal of your patriotism.

On this day, may you not be napalmed by an invading Army. May you not be tortured for a parking violation. Today, may your hometown not be bombed. When you sit down to eat tonight, may armed men not barge into your house and search your wife’s underwear drawer. May you not be zip-tied, marched outside, beaten and shot in the face.

God Save America.

God, save America.
On October 13, Goetz was named Vet of the Week by Operation Truth. While grateful to know that his words were reaching people, he also knew what that might mean:
I am excited and nervous for the extra attention this will attract.
Goetz's anxiety appears to have been well founded because a week later, he posted his last entry, the lastest victim of Army censorship. After months of critical posting, his last post thanks everyone for their positive feeback and support and
I am officially a supporter of the administration and of her policies. I am a proponent for the war against terror and I believe in the mission in Iraq. I understand my role in that mission, and I accept it. I understand that I signed the contract which makes stop loss legal, and I retract any statements I made in the past that contradict this one. Furthermore, I have the utmost confidence in the leadership of my chain of command, including (but not limited to) the president George Bush and the honorable secretary of defense Rumsfeld. If I have ever written anything on this site or on others that lead the reader to believe otherwise, please consider this a full and complete retraction.

I apologize for any misunderstandings that might understandably arise from this. Should you continue to have questions, please feel free to contact me through e-mail. I promise to respond personally to each, but it may take some time; my internet access has become restricted.
As usual, moves toward censorhip like this garner far more attention than the actual information being censored and Goetz's story is blasting around the web. The military has never really figure out that this actually happens.

The military never likes it when soldiers criticize the "situation on the ground" and Goetz had certainly been doing that. But this move appears to be one more borne of pathetic desperation. With the constant and continuing instability in Iraq, a soldier's silence is now one of the few things the Army can actually enforce. The tactic is not new and it has been in abundant display within the Bush administration.

It is interesting to note that, as usual, the right wing side of the blog world completely ignores stories such as these -- at least I don't see any of the tighty-righties like powerline showing up in a google blogsearch. But this is nothing surprising. Can anyone, at this point, understand just how administration supporters manage to spout their meaningless "support the troops" drivel while paying no actual attention to the troops or the treatment they receive at the hands of this callous administration?

We have seen Bush supporters become downright hostile towards troops when they get uppity. Many will recall the inane howling about -- especially deranged folk demanding a firing squad for -- the soldier who asked Rumsfeld about humvee armour. Just what is it that these people mean by the now trite phrase? This is rhetorical, of course. We know exactly what they mean by it: shut up! Even if you're a soldier. They don't want to think about anything and they certainly want neither you nor any soldier telling them something that might cause it to happen, however remote a possibility thinking may be to them.

I sincerely hope Goetz and every other soldier over there gets out of that hellhole alive. This is neither a realistic nor pragmatic hope, but it surely is more realistic than hoping that the Bush administration will suddenly discover an exit strategy, something they have cared nothing for since day one of this deadly debacle.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Knowing or Not

Sometimes I see a headline and have to believe that whoever wrote it knew exactly what was really being said, which is what occurred to me when I saw this one, because this just can't be unintentional:
Microsoft to Enter Market for Business Intelligence
Now that's funny.

Research Threat to National Security

Most have heard of the past and continued efforts on the part of the Bush administration to ignore and downplay scientific research that spoils efforts to advance their political agenda. I have been looking forward to a talk this week by Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, appropriately enough entitled, The War on Science.

So it was interesting to see an article in the Hopkins Newsletter this week discussing the concerns that research universities are beginning to express about potential restrictions on research and publication by a myriad of government agencies that might claim such publication would be a national security risk. As we've come to understand with this administration, national security can mean a wide variety of things, from everything to practically nothing.

Unfortunately, the article lacks any sort of detail about what kinds of research may have or migth be restricted but that is not really a fault of the article. The government agencies, which are also unidentified, won't tell anyone what the restrictions are either. Hopkins President Brody says,
They can come in after the fact and say `that work you were doing in your lab is too sensitive, we're not going to allow you to publish it.

But when asked what this discretion entails, President Brody replied, "I have no idea. It's up the government. [They] decide what's sensitive but unclassified."

According to Brody, the government has increasingly begun to assume a broadening range of undefined authority with respect to designating research material a "threat to national security."

Dr. Ted Poehler, president of research at Johns Hopkins, further describes the concern and the potential for governmental interference:
What has happened in the past few years is that some government agencies have tried to censure, often in funding documents, the fact that if some kind of, what they call `sensitive information,' emerges from what we do or is involved in what we do, that they have the right to review or restrict dissemination of the information.
Hopkins has joined an impressive group of research universities, or, if you're a right winger, the ultimate lefty cabal, including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Chicago and Stanford, to express concern and offer resistance to such meddling.

What we can see really going on here is that the Bush administration is developing a new set of research classifications -- post hoc -- so that if any new research does not pass some unspecified, political correctness litmus test, the appropriate government agency can exert national security authority without telling anyone what the security threat actually is.

Bush more or less laid foundation for this with his initial restriction on federal funding for stem cell research. But, as was seen, the public nature of the announcement create a storm of bad publicity for Bush as it became obvious that the White House was willing to kill potentially valuable scientific research in order to pander to the fundamentalist base, most of whom probably had no idea what stem cell research was before Bush brought it to their easily crazed attention.

The White House has since learned how to handle things behind the scenes. As Poelher pointed out, these restriction are usually found, but not clearly described, in funding documents. Funding-cut threat is a favoured federal tool for restricting or otherwise prohibiting politically distasteful science.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Court Jester

This could be considered a follow-up to The Character of a Nation because it is still National Character week, a week that George Bush called upon, among others, "public officials" to observe with "appropriate activities."

With this in mind, it seems "appropriate" to note that Tom DeLay made his appearance in a Texas court to enter a plea on charges of money-laundering and conspiracy. DeLay has a slightly different take on those felony counts and claims
I have been charged for defeating Democrats. I have been charged for advancing the Republican agenda.
This, of course, explains why he then asked that the sitting judge, Bob Perkins, recuse himself from the case because Perkins is an avowed Democrat in the Democratic Travis County. And ... the judge agreed, saying the the trial should be decided by the region's Republican chief judge.

If any of this sounds absurd to you, well, that's because it is. It appears that we are now on a downward spiral into a realm of jurisprudence where the most important factor in trial proceedings is party affiliation.

But, buried in the story, a little noticed info-bit popped out. Irony stabbed me in the eye when reading that DeLay was flown to his court appearance in Texas to answer charges of "conspiring to inject illegal corporate funds into that 2002 campaign" by none other than R.J. Reynolds on that company's private jet. Reynolds claims, naturally enough, that the jet was "used in compliance with regulations," though just how much different that is from non-compliant favours Reynolds has done for DeLay is hard to gauge. Reynolds has also given DeLay's defense fund $17,000 to help him fight those partisan charges of "advancing the Republican agenda." The Republican agenda, it would seem, is on full display and Tom DeLay is the window dresser.

National Character, stand up a take a bow.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Character of a Nation

Is there a better, more visible embodiment of a "national character" than the acts and priorities of a country's own government? Most assuredly, yes. In fact, any number of factors might indicate a national character better than the behaviour of government. Dictatorships, monarchies, despotic regimes, all display behaviours likely far removed those of its citiizens. Though the character of individuals within any nation will span the spectrum human disposition, such governments as these are hardly representational of the character of its people.

But the government in a putative representational democracy should be the best indicator of a nation's temperment and this notion was given voice by Lincoln when he declared that the United States was a country founded upon the notion of a
government of the people, by the people, for the people.
It can be easily argued that such an ideal is nothing but fanciful and that, in fact, it has never really been true. But it is still an ideal Americans would wish were true -- some even might believe it -- and the history of this country is an indicator that the struggle to make it actually true has been ongoing. Lincoln obviously knew that there were serious lapses in what American society then defined as "the people." Lapses exist today.

Nonetheless, America's mythical view of itself has always maintained that its government was of "the people" and that this must mean the bearing of the government is, by definition, that of its people.

It was with this myth in mind that I was interested to note that George Bush just proclaimed the week of Oct 16-22 National Character Counts Week with this bold rhetorical flourish:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 16 through October 22, 2005, as National Character Counts Week. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, parents, students, and all Americans to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.
As George himself might say, those are some high falutin' words and, to his credit, at least he didn't explicitly mention shopping as one of the "appropriate activities" in which Americans might engage in demonstration of our "national character." But also I wonder if he sees Fitzgerald's (public official) investigation (activity) of nearly every damn White House staffer as appropriate to the week. I know I sure do.

In any event, I was amused, bemused rather, about this when I read what Congress and Bush chose as an "appropriate activity" during this proclaimed national character week:
Congress gave the gun lobby its top legislative priority Thursday, passing a bill protecting the firearms industry from massive crime-victim lawsuits. President Bush said he will sign it.
Kristen Rand, of the Violence Policy Center, immediately said that "this legislation will make the unregulated gun industry the most pampered industry in America." I think Karen is overstating things a tad because the gun industry has an awful lot of competition for this prize from the defense industry, the oil industry, the financial industry, the telecom industry, the housing industry and any number of other "industries" willing to pony up the big bucks for a little congressional love. In fact, the competition for "most pampered industry" is rather hotly contested.

Our national character, as presented by Congress to us this week, can be summed up fairly succinctly: lawyers, guns and money. At the very least, this move is an embarrassment, both for what it says about those in government and, more importantly, what it says about the state of this democracy and the lost ideal that the nation is governed by "the people."

The passage of this bill during the week of "national character" typifies this administration and Congress. The bill is obviously far from the first of its corporate-friendly kind. But the move exemplifies for us that this administration and Congress are not only self-serving legislation peddlers but that they are also utterly tone deaf. They tell Americans to do one thing while they do something else entirely. They tout "national character" while perfoming craven legislative cartwheels for coporate interests. One couldn't dream up a better counterexample to the myth of a government "of the people."

This is not to say that such behaviour is particular to this White House. But with Bush at the helm, the current crop of players has raised the bar of hypocritical, self-serve, special-interest catering to a level not seen before in the annals of a government "of the people, by the people and for the people."

How farcical those words now sound. Congress stood up this week and announced that they are not a government of the people. When are we going to listen?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hi Ho, Hi Ho !

Those Texans are completely out of control. They've just issued an arrest warrant for the Bugman:
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A Texas court on Wednesday issued a warrant for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's arrest, and set an initial $10,000 bail as a routine step before his first court appearance on conspiracy and state money laundering charges.Travis County court officials said DeLay was ordered to appear at the Fort Bend County, Texas, jail for booking, where he'd likely be fingerprinted and photographed. DeLay's lawyers had hoped to avoid such a spectacle.
DeLay's world is spinning rapidly out of his control. And, frankly, at this point I don't care how much of partisan Ronnie Earle may or may not be. I just want him to have a solid case because if he doesn't and DeLay walks, the right wing of this country will become completely unhinged. If you thought they already were, well, I suspect we haven't seen anything close to what they may yet unleash should DeLay beat this. Please, Ronnie, please have a good case.

[hat tip: Republic of Dogs]

Giving Religion the Boot

My earlier opinion that Mier's religious beliefs ought to be moot when considering her for the Supreme Court appears now to be shared by the White House itself. As one Bush aid puts it,
We got distracted by discussions about her faith and church attendance that really have no bearing on her qualifications for the court.
Well, I'm glad someone in the White House recognises that. They may or may not believe it, but at least they acknowledge that her churchiness is not a relavent facet of the public discussion that should surround Miers' qualifications.

They have also apparently begun to realise that sicking Pat Robertson on Republican senators is probably not the best of strategies either. Rove's line that Miers was "an evangelical Christian ... from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life" was enough to assuage the idiot concerns of James Dobson, but it clearly didn't fly with hard line Republicans, who define "conservative" in terms that expand beyond what kind of church the nominee attended.

So now the White House is relaunching Miers in a kinder, gentler way. Instead of her commitment to Jesus, we are now being doused with buckets of adjectives brought to us, of course, by none other than the NY Times:
Intelligent. Meticulous. Selfless. Insightful.
Oh, and let's not forget "gracious" and "funny." I know I always look for a Supreme Court justice who can really yuck it up on the bench and turn those dreadfully boring "arguments" and dreary legal citations into something a little bit edgy and fun.

But that is not nearly the end of her legal resume. Unable to cite anything regarding legal cases Miers has dealth with,
I was racking my brain trying to think of something specific,
one White House aide came up with this brilliant Supreme Court qualifier
She is a very good bowler. For someone her size, she actually gets a lot of action out of the pins.
I smell confirmation!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Faulty Powers

The mounds of speculation surrounding the CIA/Plame investigation is becoming nearly unfathomable. Everyone has a theory about who said what to whom and what will happen. At the moment, it looks like Cheney's office is point of focus and several have sounded off with howls of glee at the prospect of a frog march.
I love the smell of indictments in the morning
will be the happy refrain should the Post's prediction that Fitzgerald will hand out the papers on Wednesday come true. And finally, adding fuel the raging Flame, Judith Miller offered up her own self-gratified account of her conversations with those various White House officials who, at the time of the leak, had all denied that they had ever, ever spoken to anyone about Valerie Plame.

You're not going to learn much directly from Miller's account of herself. She's far too busy covering her ass to fess up to anything. But one particular part of the story caught my eye.
I recalled Mr. Libby's frustration and anger about what he called "selective leaking" by the C.I.A. and other agencies to distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments. The selective leaks trying to shift blame to the White House, he told me, were part of a "perverted war" over the war in Iraq.
Ha! Now, that's funny. I have to really wonder if Miller believed that the CIA was shifting "blame" onto the White House at the time. Does she now believe that? If that was the CIA's intent, it was only partially successful.

There are a lot things that are funny about Libby's "frustration and anger," not the least of which is the White House's own selective intelligence cherry picking. It has since become abundantly clear that, yes, the CIA was leaking information -- information that contradicted White House claims -- and that they were probably doing this for a number of reasons. Libby's and, by default, Miller's assertion that the CIA's prewar intelligence was "unequivocal" is another calculated delusion; the repetition of a known falsehood that they hope will eventually be believed by sheer force of will. Miller, wittingly or not, continues to dish out the White House agitprop.

Many of the White House's now-known false claims about Iraq WMD had been doubted by low level experts both at the CIA and the Department of Energy. These doubts were being downplayed or outright ignored by upper management, possibly even by Tenet, who seemed intent on delivering a "slam dunk" for Bush. Although, on the Niger yellow cake story, Tenet himself had to finally pull the plug:
Tenet had telephoned a Bush aide and sent two memos to White House officials asking them to remove the uranium reference from a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7 [2002].
Despite this, Bush would still make the claim in the State of the Union speech in January, 2003. Bush would couch it such terms that would relieve him of any blame for inaccuracy by telling Americans that, if the claim is not correct, well, it's the bloody Brits' fault:
the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
It was immediately pointed out that the Hussein urananium-hunting claim was, if not wrong, completely unverified. And we would not know until months after the SoTU speech that the administration had been fairly warned off the notion by the findings of a one Joseph Wilson. The White House would launch into one of their patented blame-game routines by claiming that the CIA never stopped them from putting those words in the speech, even though Tenet had done exactly that months earlier. And it was Rice who would lead the chorus of fault-casting:
The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety. With the changes in that sentence, the speech was cleared. The agency did not say they wanted that sentence out.
Another good, though lesser known example of White House intel fudge can be had in the tale of those ominous aluminum tubes that all White House politburo members had claimed were proof of a nascent nuclear weapons program. Condi Rice even went so far as to say that the tubes "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," despite the fact that some of the features (anodizing) specifically ruled this out. DoE and CIA analysts raised these technical arguments, which either never bubbled up to Tenet or were ignored by the White House. Considering how Tenet treated the yellow cake story, fault does not likely sit with the CIA.

The White House even ignored the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which concluded that:
The 81mm tubes sought by Iraq were 'not directly suitable' for centrifuges, but appeared intended for use as conventional artillery rockets.
So much for being bamboozled by the CIA.

Now, I am not about to claim that the CIA's motivation in leaking substantial arguments against White House claims was based entirely on some need to expose "the truth." This has never generally been feature of CIA behaviour. People in the CIA are tricky, probably far trickier than Karl Rove has ever imagined. They're spies, for god's sake. It's what they do. It is completely believable that, indeed, the CIA was playing both hands: put out semi-believable intelligence for the White House while making sure "concerns and doubts" were known. Thinking this would exculpate them for either potential WMD search outcome, they instead took more heat than they probably were prepared for when the search turned up nothing, a result they more than likely expected.

What I think the CIA was probably not prepared for was the virulent assault they suffered at the hands of the mainstream press. When the White House started blaming the CIA and congressional Republicans also pointed the finger -- via the "investigations" -- the media slurped it all up and spewed it across the land. And despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Americans likely still believe that the WMD fiasco and, ultimately, the war itself, is the fault of the CIA and its "faulty" intelligence.

Monday, October 17, 2005

China Doll

American diplomats across the board have expressed dismay at the news that Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, will be heading to China for talks on military relations. It is expected that wide-ranging diplomatic devastation will also be on tap with Rumsfeld scheduled to visit South Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Lithuania. One source said, that, yes, the diplomatic corps has its concerns:
With very delicate talks in the works with China and North Korea, yes, we're worried. This is his first visit to China. That combined with the fact that no one ever knows what the idiot is going to say, least of all him, well, God help us. He goes to China with the mouth he has, not the one we want him to have.

The only positive aspect to this is that, much of the time, no one has any idea what the hell he's talking about. This is our imagined "best case" scenario.
The trip is expected to last a week, at which point diplomatic negotiators are planning to restart talks and repair the anticipated damage.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Pinter Patter

Rightwingers usually fume when things don't go their way, politically. Despite control over Congress and the White House -- or at least what they thought was control -- they must be a frustrated lot these days. And now they are furious with the Nobel Committee and its award of the esteemed prize for literature to Harold Pinter. Thinking that anyone expressing dismay and anger at the Bush-led assault on international law with an illegal invasion is, necessarily, "deranged," those unhappy little war-mongers at LGF are beside themselves with indignation at the award.

Never mind that Pinter has long been opposed to war in general and that the Nobel is awarded for a lifetime of work, much of which was produced long before Iraq was even a neo-con gleam in Wolfowitz's rheumy eye. The muslim-hunting shitcakes at LGF have nothing but disdain for the academy and, well, literature in general. Or so says one particularly incensed rube:
Nobody takes this stuff seriously anymore. I can't remember the last time I read a literary novel by a living writer or attended a play by a living playwright.
The addled fellow is apparently unaware that the remark is much more a reflection on him than Pinter.

I wonder what these dolts thought about the Nobel going to J.M. Coetzee in 2003? (Ok, well maybe "thought" isn't quite the right word.) I was unfamiliar with the author at the time but the Nobel always makes me curious to check out some work. When I had heard of the award, I immediately grabbed a few of Coetzee's books.

Waiting for the Barbarians, written in 1980, is an haunting story of the life of a civil servant, a judge, stationed in a remote military outpost of some unspecified, overreaching "empire." Written well before neo-con fantasies, it struck me as an amazingly relevant statement on today's climate. It is an intensely personal view of the military and the effects of its brutal ham-handedness upon the inhabitants of the occupied land. Indeed, it is told in such a way that it's time frame is almost unknown, as is the country in which it is set.

Needless to say, the book did not depict such military adventurism in a good light. But the dumb-dumbs at LGF were probably never bothered by Coetzee because

a) they never heard of him


b) he has never flat-out said Bush is a war-mongering idiot.

A very personal man, it is unlikely Coetzee would ever actually feel compelled to say this. Coetzee doesn't usually feel a need to state the obvious. And when he does, he doesn't state it obviously. His work is far more subtle than that.

Pinter, of course, has railed on the Bush administration quite openly, and this is what really bothers the Bush fawners on the right. They just don't like anyone criticizing war or its proponents. Even when that war has been as badly bungled as Iraq.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Piety, Society and the Supreme Court

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the current debate about the Miers nomination is how the discussion has become the exclusive domain of the Christian right and its requirement that Bush satisfy their demands for a "very conservative" jurist. As I pointed out earlier, this phrase has a very narrow meaning for Christian groups the White House should, as they argue, appease. Indeed, the White House sought to reassure such groups, through various media vehicles, that Miers is very religious and has, in fact, been "saved."

With little counter by Democrats, no one seems to be the slightest bit bothered by the fact that the Bush administration and their base of Christian fundamentalists has now defined that a Supreme Court justice ought to be an overtly religious person. Until now, this has not even been close to being a qualification for the Supreme Court nor should it have been. Nor should it be now. But the White House continues to defend the clearly unqualified Miers by simply saying that she is "exceptionally well qualified." No proof of such quality has ever been provided nor is any likely to be forthcoming because, quite simply, there is none. We can only infer from this that, by "exceptionally well qualified," the White House means she has been saved by Jesus. Need it be said that, as a qualification for a seat on the Supreme Court, this should be, at best, irrelevant. Well, it apparently needs to be said now. It is a job that demands the highest levels of knowledge and understanding of jurisprudence and its application under the US Constitution. It most assuredly is not a job that demands one has taken Jesus Christ as their saviour. If that is all that informs Miers potential opinions, then we have got a serious problem.

It should be obvious to anyone serious about this American experiment in democracy that if religiosity comes to define how the law of the land is adjudicated, this experiment will veer onto an trajectory no one can right now contemplate. Unfortunately, the Democrats are leaving themselves out of any serious discussion along these pertinent lines. They have been cowed for too long by overbearing fundamentalists who have co-opted the moral high ground with talk of "family" and "values," as though no one posses such qualities who is not possessed of an equivalent religious zeal. But one need only to look at the current crop of investigations, indictments, crony contracting and murderous warring to see that the putative Christian leaders of this government simply pay no attention to actual Christian ideals. Indeed, Christians in the US don't practice a lot of what they claim everyone else should.

George Monbiot points to a recent study by Gregory Paul of 18 developed democracies. From Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies in the current edition of the Journal of Religion and Society:
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies....

The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health....

There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems
Clearly, religious belief, or rather, public, faux-religious bleating is not the certain road to healthy society the Christian right would have us think. This has been, if not obvious, then at least vaguely sensed by almost everyone except the Christian right. Indeed, the chronicle of pedophilic priests, serial-killing church goers, murderous anti-abortion Jesus freaks, moralistic child pornographer Boy Scout leaders, child-molesting Christian Coalition leaders, and closeted homosexual, gay-bashing Republicans seems nearly endless. Paul's study seriously quantifies what has been suspected and anecdotally reported for sometime. If public White House pronoucements of Miers' piety do anything, it is to serve as a warning.

Obviously, religion is no balm for dysfunctional society. And Paul's study strongly correlates public religiosity and societal dysfunction. Historically, publicly-endorsed religion has often been the worst kind of canker. We do not need religion informing the actions of our government. A distrust in governments themselves and religions in general is a cornerstone of the US Constitution. And the day we fail to recognise that, this democratic experiment will be over. Discussion surrounding the nomination of Harriet Miers needs to return to a sane realm wherein her actual judicial qualifications are what is important, not her religious beliefs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Unseen Plan plays out

Well, that didn't take long. After my earlier prediction that the rubes of the Christian right would be called upon to amp up attacks on the various stalward GOP senators who have had the temerity to oppose the Miers nomination, I wasn't entirely sure how long it would take for a call to action. But the call to arms has been sounded and who would be the one to launch the first salvo? Why, assassination advocate and resident Christian crazy, Pat Robertson, of course.

On the 700 Club, Robertson more or less threatened those senators (is Brownback hearing this?) with immediate dismissal if they did not repent their ungodly ways:
These so-called movement conservatives don’t have much of a following, the ones that I’m aware of. And you just marvel, these are the senators, some of them who voted to confirm the general counsel of the ACLU to the Supreme Court, and she was voted in almost unanimously. And you say, ‘now they’re going to turn against a Christian who is a conservative picked by a conservative President and they’re going to vote against her for confirmation.’ Not on your sweet life, if they want to stay in office.
The Christian right, as manipulated by the GOP, is becoming a fairly deterministic system. And one of the best things about such a system is that its behaviour is entirely predictable given a set of known parameters and their boundary values. The parameters in this system are abortion, gays, and what the White House is saying. This is what should rightly be called "Christian science."

Though it certainly appears that White House forces are at work getting Miers on to the Big Bench and the Dems will be as maladroit and feckless as ever, I have to say, this is amusing to watch.

The Unseen Plan

Everyone, everyone, seems utterly mystefied by the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Even to this day. But a reader wrote in with a couple of theories about what it might really mean, things that I had considered as well:
1) Bush nominated someone unqualified (he likes people like that) knowing that she my not be confirmed. That way he can cry foul when he puts up a second nomination.

2) The conservative right is saying that they aren't happy with Miers is smokescreen to calm some uninformed liberals to think that she is a safe bet. This woman is as right to life as they get.

Both good theories. My own thinking was along the lines of (2), although they both might be operative. Here is how that works:

Knowing that no known whacko they nominate will be greeted without argument from Dems and lefties, the White House picks Miers -- a complete unknown to most -- fully expecting the right will be angered. Rove knows he can placate the Christians after some work on the phones calling Dobson and the like. In fact, stories abound after the nomination described exactly this. Then the NY Times moves in and spills the sonorous praise on her nearly continuously. It seems to an obvious hole in this theory that, if Rove really had planned this, the phone work ought to have be done well in advance, or at least somewhat in advance. For the putative "brain" Rove is assumed to be, scrambling after the announcement does not reinforce the notion of a well-planned action at all.

But we'll continue along these lines anyway. Rove knows that calming the Christians is easy once he gets the Dobsons and Perkins jerk-offs in line. And Dobson is already there. And with no resistance on Miers from the Dems, who are just sitting back -- something they shouldn't be doing -- all Rove has to take care of is a few stuffy Repub senators. And it remains to seen just how long that stuffiness will last. And that is where Dobson comes in. He has sway over a few of those "Christian" senators, like Brownback.

If GOP senators do resist -- doubtful despite the bluster -- then the White House falls onto plan (1). Meirs is defeated, and then they nominate a known right wing whacko. The Times will be employed, again, to start sending out the next series of stories about how this newly-nominated right wing nut is really not all that crazy. This may or may not follow, depending on whether Miller and others are indicted.

If Rove and others in the White House (Libby?) are indicted, then all bets are off. It is hard to know what Bush will do if that actually happens. In fact, Bush won't know what Bush will do if that happens.

But why even nominate Miers in the first place? Because, ultimately, the White House, i.e. Rove and his GOP machine, want a turn key solution on the Supreme Court. They aren't really interested in abortion or gays, but what they do want is someone who will back up the corporate interests that the GOP loves so well. Miers is clearly that person. This is something that Christians have never really figured out. Nominating a jurist who is a strongly fundamentalist Christian might even cause problems for the GOP if, God forbid, that nominee turns out to actually be Christian. At these levels of government, though, that seems highly unlikely.

Gray Lady Down

The New York Times has been in a full frontal White House supplication mode of late and the timing of it coincides exactly with Judith Miller's release from jail. Shortly after Miller's release and her subsequent grand jury testimony in the Plame/CIA leak investigation, questions were immediately raised about her and the Times' involvement in the leak. Deftly or not, George Bush then nominated his White House counsel and former personal lawyer, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court. This caused a great howl from the right and, more notably, from the Christian right, who looked to Bush to provide them with a staunchly conservative jurist who would occupy a seat on the big bench. To the Christian right, of course, "conservative" has a very narrow meaning: anti-abortion and anti-gay. Harriet Miers' record, or lack thereof, did not meet these criteria.

The criticism of Bush's nomination was a fierce blend of rancour about her lack of obvious qualifications and that the nomination was, as it appeared to most, a blatant crony appointment. Republicans, indeed the country, were in no mood for anymore Michael Brown fiascos. Lefties and Democrats, by and large, reclined and watched the bloodletting.

But the New York Times, for reasons known only to themselves, engaged on a campaign of defense for the nomination and the woman herself. From the outset, the Times ran stories (here, here and here) that at first declared her nomination a "relief," that attempted to demonstrate how staunchly anti-abortion she is and then portrayed her as a "hard-working advocate for the President." All of these came out on the same day as the nomination. More soothing strokes ensued ( here, here and here) that called her a "quiet force for change in a male dominated era," followed then by stories of Bush and the White House calmly reassuring the "public" about Miers that she will be " a good, conservative judge." At this point, much of the consoling was meant for high ranking Republican senators as anyone else. Naturally, Elizabeth Bumiller added her own particular brand of White House ass-licking to mix with a rosy portrait of Miers, informing us all of her "intense devotion to Mr. Bush." This is, apparently, meant to comfort those few who still think Bush deserves intense devotion.

Still more stories would follow and we would then be told that "she has plenty of practice with the less provocative legal questions posed in most of the court's cases," and that the whole question about abortion would likely be moot:
It may be that abortion is the most important question that the court decides but it's close to the least frequent
Onward, Christian soldiers! nothing to see here.

The onslaught would not yet be over because we would then be reassured by Bush that Miers "won't change" and would be confirmed, as though Bush's request that everyone should just trust him had already been satisfied. Still more Miers nomination canoodling would appear and speak of the "warm Bush - Miers friendship," wherein it is conveyed how "cool" George is in Harriet's eyes. By this time the throat had tightened and teeth ached. The heavy doses of saccharine had been far too intense.

But the bromides didn't seem to be working on the nay-sayers. Did all those conservatives not read the Times? It finally must have dawned on the editors that, indeed, most conservative do nothing but make fun of the NY Times. The critics continued and finally the Time's brought out the big guns. Laura Bush stepped up to lay down the smack and call every damn one of Miers' and George's critics "sexist." Surely, that would do it.

An amazing performance, to be sure. And during this entire time, while much of the rest of the media world wondered, if only occasionally, about Judith Miller's involvement with the Plame investigation, the NY TImes has chosen to remain completely silent on the subject. Perhaps that's just as well, because it now looks like Miller is going back to the grand jury to testify, yet again, in the Plame case. But you won't read that at the NY Times. At least, not until everyone else knows it.

The Time's editor, Bill Kellor, claims that his paper won't print anything until they, themselves, have conducted a thorough investigation of their own investigative reporter. Just when that will be is almost anyone's guess. But the question Kellor should asking himself at this point is will anyone believe it or, for that matter, even care?

And if an answer in Miller's involvement in the Plame case is boosterism of Bush's Supreme Court nominee then the question is, what does the White House have on Miller and/or the New York Times? or are both parties firmly locked arm-in-arm and in this together? Of course, we don't really know what "this" is yet. But the New York Times will, in due course, set everything straight. Right?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The "Upside" of Global Warming

After the September post, Global Warming and Remote Sensing of Climate Indicators, I was, perhaps not amazed, but at least interested in the NY times story today about various "entrepreneurs" who have seen the commercial potential of northern ports as new Arctic shipping lanes open up.

The article begins by summarily regaling readers with the tale of one Pat Broe of Denver, Co., who bought the derelict Hudson Bay port in Churchill, Manitoba from the Canadian government for -- woo hoo! -- $7. Given that the effects of global warming were already manifest in 1997 when the purchase was made, this is not a particularily flattering commentary on the acuity of the Canadian government, as Mr. Broe expects that the port will soon be doing $100 million a year in newly established shipping business. Of course, there appears to be no concern at this point as to what Mr. Broe's investment will be worth once Churchill is completely submerged by rising arctic waters. But it does appears that the ungainly frozen lid has been lifted from the Arctic honey pot:
With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north.
Newly available shipping lanes are only one piece of the much larger northwest passage pie as new oil and gas reserves are beginning to reveal some potential, one as close to the north pole as 200 miles. Displaying the apalling lack of perspective that has led to this condition in the first place, transportation minister of Manitoba, Ron Lemieux tells us, as all equivocating Canadian officials will do, that it's all good ... maybe:
It's the positive side of global warming, if there is a positive side.
Of course, there are those officials who still refuse to believe, despite all contrary evidence, that there is anything to all of this jibber jabber. Mayor of Vorkuta, Russia, Igor L. Shpektor raises hyperbolic extrapolation as logic argument:
We are not going to have apple trees growing in Vorkuta.
The tacit acknowledgement of global warming conveyed by the newly emerging plans of arctic commercialisation does not seem to carry with it any likewise acknowledgement that there might actually be a downside to the disappearance of the polar ice cap.

Without a doubt, the most important commercial aspect of the disappearing arcitc ice will be the newly available oil and gas regions. The world is now gearing up for a full frontal oil exploration assault on the arctic seas as ice cover becomes less and less of a problem. The irony couldn't be more stark.

Since the dawn of the industrial age, humans have been pumping millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and surely that has had its effects upon the global climate. Those effects are now manifesting themselves in a variety of ways and one of the most worrisome is the melting ice caps. That this is happening cannot be denied and governments and industries appear now to be counting on it. Now that those ice caps are receeding, new sources of petroleum are being exposed to exploitation, which will allow us to continue to befoul the planet with yet more petroleum energy consumption. This, of course, will further accelerate the warming. It is almost as though nature is handing us a red hot poker and telling us to shove it up our ass. And we appear to be more than willing to comply, if only for the sake of a buck, which is what our self-induced environmental myopia is really all about.

There have been a number of stories recently about sundry ecosystems around the world being affected by global warming. Vast tracts of the Siberian permafrost are melting, which will likely result in the release of enormous quantities of methane. Methane is a very efficient greenhouse gas, much more so that carbon dioxide, and the melting peat of Siberia has set in motion another postive feedback loop. In fact, every example of global warming's macro effects displays this very same characteristic.

As a species we do know what it is we do to this planet, even though some are steadfast in conscious denial. The debate as to whether the planet is warming is a non-existent one, especially in light of the fact that intrepid capitalists -- the ones usually asserting that global warming is fiction -- are leaping at the opportunities presented to them by the obvious effects. It is clear to most rational people that we must stop being the driver of all these positive feedback loops. Personally, I think it is too late for us to do anything, no matter how serious we might become. The ice caps are melting. Siberia is melting. The Amazon is ablaze. These are things which will feed themselves now. I fear that these forces, now unleashed, may be too great to counter with any insipid Kyoto protocol. On top of all this is perched an American Congress populated with fiends like James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who recently pronounced his excitment about a "market-based approach" to environmentalism and how he looked forward to rolling back emissions regulations so as "not to impede clean air progress."

Skeptics have and will argue that global warming and cooling cycles are the natural order and this is true. We do know the earth's biosphere is warming. We don't know for certain that we are the entire cause. We are surely part of it. We also don't know that anything we might do now will halt the processes that have been set in motion. But one thing is certain, as citizens of this planet, we need to stop dithering while the evidence mounts, proclaiming the calamity, and get serious about what we're going to do. Somehow, drilling for more oil in the arctic to ensure our oil profligacy doesn't appear to be the most beneficial approach we might take.

Monday, October 10, 2005

We're from the Government ...

Now this is interesing.

Christopher Michael Wilson of Lakeland, Fla. has just been arrested on obscenity charges. Wilson established an amateur porn website that struck a deal with soldiers stationed in Iraq: the soldiers would get free access to the porn by providing pictures from Iraq. The pictures started out innocently enough: "buddys in front of the tank" snapshots and then progressed to female soldier "performances." But soon soldiers began posting images of horrifying Iraq corpses, groups of them huddled around a carbonized corpse, pointing and smiling, ala Abu Graib. How many "bad apples" can there be?

Germane to this is that purported soldiers commenting on the site were defending the poses as "soldiers just blowing off steam." Now that does sound familiar:
This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?
It should be noted at this point, Wilson is a staunchly pro-war Bush fan and membership on the site appears to be much that way, as well. Comments on the grisly images began forthwith. None of them were charitable to the image of pro-war fanatics. Many of them were of the "burn the ragheads" rhetoric that has generally been shut of the mainstream media reportage. This particular story had creeped into the mainstream, the word was getting out and suddenly Wilson is arrested on trumped up obscentity charges. Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida, is outraged by the perversions:
It is the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct. It is as vile, as perverted, as non-normal sexual conduct, which rises to the level of obscenity, as we've ever investigated.
This is particularly funny as the porn on the site was, as implied above, amatuerish at best. It is doubtful Sheriff Judd has ever seen the site. But even if he has, it would not have been the poloriod snaps of girlfriends and wives that would have met with his ire. More likely, the photographs posted by soldiers depicting US forces, yet again, as callous, sadistic fiends is what had poor Sheriff Judd so exercised. He was also likely swayed toward that opinion by the Army in what appears to be an obvious effort at damage control. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, thinks so, too:
For this to be treated in a manner that suggests the Army does not take this seriously is only going to further harm our nation's image and interests around the world, particularly in the Muslim world.
Mr. Hooper is entirely correct about the harm these images may do but he is notably incorrect about the degree of seriousness with which the Army takes this lateset assault on the image of the US military. It is precisely because the Army take this seriously, that they are shutting it down ... and covering that up. Sheriff Judd is there confirm cover and assauge concerns of military censorship,
none of the 20 films and 80 photographs that brought about the charges involves pictures of the war dead
that his obscenity charges have nothing to do with the Army's interest in the case
Indeed. Who could think otherwise? With the vast sea of porn available on the web, Wilson's amateur samplings were simply beyond the pale.

Irony plays an important part in this moral lesson. The pro-war right, in their aggrandizement of Iraqi dead, have unleashed upon themselves the very government whom they have so strongly supported. And how they hath reaped what they hath sown.

Just a note about lame ass media in this country. Here is how the Baltimore Sun chose to identify the offending website,
Wilson's site, not named here because of its graphic content and name.
Well, here it is

Note: That link may break at any time. That in itself will be interesting to watch because, in this damnable day of the internet, Wilson's site servers are actually located overseas and outside the jurisdiction of the US authorities. But, of course, there are ways around pesky international law and sovereignty.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Flanigan's Wake

So, Timothy Flanigan's nomination for Deputy Attorney General has been withdrawn admidst the expanding investigation of that monstrous money maw of the already indicted Jack Abramoff. Indeed, as the investigation of Abramoff's various and sundry dealings progresses, he is beginning to look a lot like the recently discovered giant squid, as his political tenticles are yanked into daylight from the depths of the dark, unseemly underworld that is Washington today.

What is fascinating and, ultimately, disturbing about Flanigan's move -- no doubt encouraged by the White House -- is not the withdrawal itself nor that Flanigan was involved with the uber-lobbyist. No, what is amazing about it is that Alberto Gonzales sailed through his confirmation for Attorney General with the full knowledge of the Senate that he had supplied the legal justifications that led to the abuses and toture discovered at Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay. This was not enough to prevent Gonzales' confirmation and while Flaningan appears to have also been involved in the torture "reasoning" that sought to allow such abuses, his ties to off shore tax havens, illegal money funnelling and lobbyist-sponsored junkets are what have proved too, too serious for the White House to pursue the nomination.

This is, more than anything, a disappointing though not surprising display of priorities of this country's politics. Careless fund-running can prove politically deadly. Justifying torture ... not so much.