Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Baby on Board

If the Haditha/Marine masacre turns out to be true, that will be bad enough. Summary execution of civilians is pretty much rock bottom in terms of military behaviour of an occupying force. But, despite what appears to be an entirely accidental event, this is about as appalling as things can get:
U.S. forces killed two Iraqi women — one of them about to give birth — when the troops shot at a car that failed to stop at an observation post in a city north of Baghdad [...] Nabiha Nisaif Jassim, 35, was being raced to the maternity hospital in Samarra by her brother when the shooting occurred Tuesday.
Apparently this roadblock was fairly new and, in a panic, the driver simply failed to notice signs. No doubt this was a legimate concern for the guards at the post, but this is certainly something that will not help the American image in that country, whose people are becoming increasingly desperate to see US forces leave. Actually, they're increasingly desperate for all of this to end, though it seems doubtful at this point that the evacuation of US troops is going to help that along. The only people in Iraq US forces seem able to control are the very ones who don't need it. On top of that, they accidentally get shot while having babies. This is just horrific.

Military officials issued their boilerplate response to this horrific event:
The loss of life is regrettable and coalition forces go to great lengths to prevent them.
Encouraging words, I'm sure. I don't why they bother issuing such worthless, empty statements.

Whistle Stop

Lately, leaking and whistleblowing on the part of government employees has been the one of the only sources of real information we get out of the executive branch of the Bush administration. Hell, this is apparently how Bush gets some of his information. Given this, it comes as no surprise that the Supreme Court, ably quaterbacked in their decision by the pro-government toadies Roberts and Alito, voted to curb
protections for government workers who blow the whistle on official misconduct.
This sounds about right for Alito and Roberts, two privileged Republican tight-wads who never saw a secret government program they didn't like.

Indeed, the Supreme Court is taking the track a few of us knew was the true aim of Bush's appointments: favouritism toward big business and government. We first saw this tack in Kelo v. New London, which infuriated many on the left and the right. Conservatives were especially irked by what they considered a flagrant violation of property rights. Though overreach of eminent domain had been taking place for sometime at various local and state levels, a Supreme Court decision in favour of big business economic development was seen as a dispicable bias to monied interests over middle class property owners. When conservatives were praising Alito and Roberts during the respective nomination processes, it certainly became clear that such a position would be assumed by these two once on the Big Bench. It was their position prior to the appointment.

Which is why I found it amusing when conservatives yowled about the Kelo case. There they are all were, happily dreaming of the demise of Roe v. Wade when -- BAM -- property rights abuse blindsided them.

And now we have a new decision -- the deciding vote apparently cast by Alito -- favouring the government being able to protect its dark underbelly from those working within who might expose secret and unseemly goings-on, whether they be simple incompetence and corruption or more sinister matters. Such a position on the part of Roberts and Alito was entirely expected and, as Stephen Kohn, chairman of the National Whistleblower Center, declaimed,
The ruling is a victory for every crooked politician in the United States.
And god knows there's a lot of those around these parts.

Could anything else have been expected? Justice Kennedy, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion, put the Court's position very succintly, though I suspect he may not have realised just what it was he really was saying when he wrote that employees' communications
must promote the employer's mission.
The employer in this case being the government. And we know what sort of mission they're on these days.

This decision is not without a larger context, of course, and the recent statements by Attorney General Gonzales that the DoJ was considering the prosecution of journalists who had reported various leaks recently (CIA secret prisons, NSA wiretapping) falls under the same rubric as this Supreme Court decision: shut down leaks and information about what the US government is secretly -- and probably illegally -- doing. This is really a two-pronged approach in dealing with inconveniently exposed truths.

The direction to which the Supreme Court has now turned is as significant as it is grave. Having decisions rendered by the High Court that have favoured big business and government over the interests of American citizens speaks of one and only one thing: corporatism. Of course, this condition has plagued poliltical systems for a long time but in the United States, the one counterveiling force had been an independent judiciary. The appointments of Alito and Roberts severely tinged that independence with an all-too obvious bias and we are now only seeing the initial evidence of that bias. It is only bound to get worse.

Meanwhile, "values voters" are wondering what happened to Roe v. Wade. They will be wondering for a long time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Peace and War

...when we're talking about war, we're really talking about peace.
--George W. Bush, 6/18/02
We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace -- a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.


As we defend the peace, we also have an historic opportunity to preserve the peace. We have our best chance since the rise of the nation state in the 17th century to build a world where the great powers compete in peace instead of prepare for war.
-- George Bush, West Point, 5/27/06

50 killed in Afghanistan air strike
U.S. Airstrike Kills At Least 16 Afghan Civilians
Probe likely to show Haditha civilians murdered
Kabul erupts over U.S. military accident
55 Dead in Iraq Civil War

Monday, May 29, 2006

European Freedom of Expression

Yes. Freedom of expression. That was the phrase emanating from many European lips during the Muhammad cartoon controversy as rightists and their attendent rags defended their overt provocation of Muslims everywhere. It was blatant hypocrisy, of course, since a few European countries have laws banning public statements of Holocaust denial.

And now, France has just charged a one of the country's biggest rap stars with "offending public decency," a charge stemming from a law introduced by a Daniel Mach, a man who appears possessed of many of the same qualities that caused Joe Lieberman to launch his own crusade against "offensive music." The French law makes it a "criminal offence to insult the dignity of France and the French state" and Richard Makela, aka Monsieur R, is facing potential jail time for calling France a "bitch."

And the Euros were telling us that the Muslims were touchy.

But Europeans value freedom of expression, just as long as it's directed at someone or something outside of Europe. Don't forget that, or your ass could wind up in a freedom of expression loving prison.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Will and Poor Testament

Much like his predecessor as America's most incisive public conservative thinker -- a term loosely used -- George Will emulates William F. Buckley in that he is routinely thumped for his variegated crimes against logic by people who actually think. Lately Will has been at times cogent and at others not so, and while I did enjoyed his slapping of John McCain for what is sure to be some flagrant hypocrisy on the subject of campaign finance, Will's most recent effort, advocating for open, free "market-based" campaign financing, employed a fallacious argument that could not be allowed to pass without comment.

Will argues that a large majority of the American public have expressed opposition to public campaign financing because only a small percentage of taxpayers check off the contribution box on tax returns. While drawing such a conclusion from that statistic might seem dubious to you or I, it is axiomatic to George Will. The argument not only employs an enormous logical leap, it is, at its utmost, entirely specious. Will employs here the classic argumentative tactic of conflating correlation with causation.
Even though the checkoff does not increase the individual's tax bill, support peaked in 1981, when 28.7 percent of taxpayers used it. So even then it was opposed by more than 70 percent of taxpayers. In 1994 Congress responded by increasing the checkoff's value to $3. This empowered fewer people to divert more money from the government's pool of revenue collected from all taxpayers. All this to fuel a program opposed by the vast majority of taxpayers, a program that subsidizes political advocacy that most taxpayers do not endorse.
As readers can see from this, Will's crime against logic is far worse than simply arriving at an unsupported conclusion. He arrives at an unsupported conclusion based on an unsupported premise, which is assumed to be fact: not checking the box on a tax return means you, as a taxpayer, oppose public financing. It might surprise many taxpayers to learn of their surprisingly strong opposition to public campaign financing as it was probably hitherto unknown to them until George Will finally pointed it out.

In fact, Will, as he often does, fails to account for any external factors that are, in all likelihood, far more influential in this matter than opposition to public financing of presidential campaigns, such as simple apathy or downright disdain for the political process. With Congressional approval dipping to new, low levels, it would appear to be a far more reasonable conclusion that most people simply won't contribute money to a political system they largely regard as populated by a lying, thieving bunch of as-yet-unarrested criminals. That the American political class is viewed this way by a nearly equally large majority of Americans Will thinks "oppose" public campaign financing, is due in no small part to the fact that political campaigns in this country are extremely beholden to big money influence. While Americans view Congress as corrupt and choose not to contribute to the political campaign circus, Will interprets this as "opposition" to public funding and, as corollary, support for privately financed campaigns. I doubt one could come up with a more wrong-headed conclusion regarding the current political climate.

To illustrate the absurdity of Will's causistic reasoning, we could very easily draw the conclusion that, because most elections (until the 2004 presidential one) see a majority of Americans choosing not to vote, the majority of the citizens of this country oppose democracy. Is that really what Americans are saying by not voting? It is if you draw conclusions the way George Will does -- with a big, fat, giant, red crayon. There has been much written about why Americans are so thoroughly apathetic about their own democratic processes, much of it centering on disenchantment with the political process and the corruption that has been introduced by the now enormous money flows.

The larger issue of the tawdriness of the American campaign spectacle is left untouched by Will, for it hardly serves his purpose to acknowledge the shameful state of monied politics today. While most other democracies have hard and strict limits on the length of election campaigns, in the US, the campaigning never stops. So much time is now spent by national candidates humping for money at fund raising events -- and doing so on the tax payer nickel -- nothing of much serious thought is ever conducted within the halls of Congress or the White House.

By this I do not mean that serious things do not arise, but that they generally do so because so little attention is paid by elected officials, who are now pressured by increasing demands for time on the fund-raising and campaign trail. You need only look at the current state of things to see that that is a truism. Iraq, torture and NSA spying are due in no small part to the fact that elected officials were cursory and brief in their treatment and oversight. We have astounding debts and trade imbalances because elected officials failed in fiscal oversight of the Treasury and catered to corporate interests at the same time they were off attending their own fiscal conditions.

Indeed, most of the activity we see Congress engaged in these days is simply reactive; what does the latest poll show? what did the White House just do? what, in god's name, did the NY Times just print? And these reactive strikes are carried out from only one perspective: election or re-election prospects. You need only watch Bill Frist tell Americans that now -- right now -- gay marriage and flag burning are the country's two biggest concerns, when what they really are is the latest, desperate move by a Senate Majority leader, worried about poor poll numbers and a looming election, pandering to an ever-diminishing GOP "base."

The political class in this country is now entirely invested in one thing and one thing alone: ensuring their next electoral victory. This has never not been true but today money -- not policies or ideas -- is the dominant factor in elections. And what conservatives like Will, who think that politics, and therefore government, ought to function as a "free market," continously fail to acknowledge is that, in a free market, the goods will always go to the highest bidder.

PornCon 5

As unlikely as Gonzales' and/or Mueller's resignation might be over this Jefferson document fight, news arrives that strongly suggests such action would probably suit us all rather well:
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller on Friday urged telecommunications officials to record their customers' Internet activities....

In a private meeting with industry representatives, Gonzales, Mueller and other senior members of the Justice Department said Internet service providers should retain subscriber information and network data for two years.
All of this is to be done, of course, in the noble cause of striking a blow against child pornographers everywhere. In covering his police state tracks with an air of respectability, Gonzales spoke at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and insisted that ISPs "must retain" customer records for a "reasonable amount of time." Presumably, this means for as long as it takes the DoJ to sniff through them.

But Gonzales sought to assure those at the talk, though the rest of the country is loathe to buy it, that they simply mean well and that they really don't intend to trounce all over rights of privacy. Heaven's no!
Record retention by Internet service providers consistent with the legitimate privacy rights of Americans is an issue that must be addressed.
These words from the man who delivered to the White House the delicious reasoning that torture wasn't torture unless organ failure occurred. By extrapolation, I take the above statement to imply that a violation of privacy isn't a violation of privacy unless similar organ failure occurs. And even then, it's iffy.

Given Gonzales' short but odious history in the service of this administration, you have to believe this is pretty much a carte blanche statement veiled with an air of legitimacy -- something it certainly doesn't have. Because to Attorney General Gonzales, there simply are no legitmate privacy rights. At least none that would get in the way of the Bush adminstration poking around wherever it wants to poke. They're either doing such things to protect us from terrorists or because they're saving the children.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Mora on Torture

Despite his endorsement of the debacle in Iraq, retired Navy general counsel, Alberto Mora, seems to have joined up with the torture awareness campaign, if only by coincidence. Nonetheless, after some introductory equivocation about Afghanistan and Iraq, Mora moves into an spirited admonition of torture and more generally, cruel and inhumane treatment, calling such policy and practice, An Affront to American Values.
It is astonishing to me, still, that I should be here today addressing the issue of American cruelty -- or that anyone would ever have to. Our forefathers, who permanently defined our civic values, drafted our Constitution inspired by the belief that law could not create but only recognize certain inalienable rights granted by God -- to every person, not just citizens, and not just here but everywhere. Those rights form a shield that protects core human dignity. Because this is so, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel punishment. The constitutional jurisprudence of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments outlaws cruel treatment that shocks the conscience. The Geneva Conventions forbid the application of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to all captives, as do all of the major human rights treaties adopted and ratified by our country during the last century.
Of course, critics of White House policy regarding the treatment of detainees have been saying this for sometime now. The various ankle-biting pundits (Charles Krauthhammer, Glenn Reynolds, Powerline trogs) who regurgitated strawman and reductio ad absurdum arguments in order to "prove" that torture was not only desirable but necessary in some cases would do well to read General Mora's article. And then move on the Constitution. It seems more than a few of them expressing opinions in the public sphere aren't too terribly familiar with that august document.

Terrorism brought to you by Enron

Michael Hammerschlag (HammerNews), over at Op-Ed News, has a concise and heated follow-up to the Lay and Skilling convictions about the conspiracy by Enron and other power companies, such as Reliant, to nearly drive the California economy into receivership. Their scheme did manage to bankrupt PG&E, but after driving a recall campaign against the sitting Democratic governor, as a Republican friendly with Lay, Arnold Schwarzenegger forgave most of the $9 billion that Enron et al. had sucked out of California.

Where were the media tools during all this? Espousing GOP talking points that it was all California's fault because their environmental laws had prevented power stations from being built. This was utter nonsense, but once the points were issued, the story had been told; the flaky green freaks of California were to blame for their own power shortages, not the fact that Enron had conspired with power stations to actually shutdown power production, engage in power "laundering," and fake power delivery scheduling. At the time of the artificial crisis and before any of the Enron scheme came to light, I remember speaking with energy traders who also believed that it was all California's fault. The credulity exhibited in general was rather appalling; a putative problem that had supposedly been mounting for years suddenly gave rise to 90-fold prices increases? Energy delivery is fine one day and then California experiences rolling blackouts the next? That just didn't make sense.

Hammerschlag suggests that the price gouging conspiracy concocted by Enron actually amounted to terrorism and concludes,
We were close to invading Arabia in 1973 because OPEC raised oil prices only 4-fold. But when the crooked corrupt electricity cartel robbed California blind by raising prices 90-fold, the US government, via the FERC (whom Lay had helped appoint), sat on its hands. Enron, the other power companies, and their many confederates in the Republican Party committed economic terrorism against the people of California (13% of US GDP at $1.55 trillion) and therefore America. The fact that Republicans were able to avoid any blame and even use it to overthrow the Democratic Governor while the MSM slept, set the pattern for all the horrors to come of the Bush regime.

Another Indonesian Disaster

My god. As though these people haven't had enough trauma:
A powerful earthquake flattened buildings in central Indonesia early Saturday, killing at least 2,900 people and injuring thousands more in the country's worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami.
Next up: Pat Robertson proclaims: those people displeased God somehow and, therefore, deserved it.

Update: death toll up now to 3500.

Congressional Raid Kerfuffle

Well, this is getting interesting. Gonzales says he'll quit if the White House orders the FBI to return evidence gathered in the raid of Jefferson's office. The whole GOP power structure is wrapping around and chewing on itself, and Bush probably has no idea what the hell to do to appease all parties. It may be that there will be no way to appease them all. His order to seal the evidence for 45 days merely stalls a decision while some back room deals are no doubt underway.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member's office....

Mr. Gonzales was joined in raising the possibility of resignation by the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the officials said. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty told associates that they had an obligation to protect evidence in a criminal case and would be unwilling to carry out any White House order to return the material to Congress.
The arrangement between Congress and the White House has been fairly clear for sometime: we'll relenquish serious congressional oversight of your flagrant violations of law and the Constitution and you leave us to our internal corruption network. The GOP-led Congress was clearly getting bitched slapped by the DoJ anyway as both the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals expanded in scope. There wasn't much they could do about that, though, as key parties of both cases were copping plea agreements left and right. With the DoJ asking questions about Speaker Hastert and his relations with Abramoff, the raid of Jefferson's office finally bunched up congressional panties.

Bush right now is caught between a hard-line stance by his beloved Attorney General, a man who has given so much to Bush over the years (lots of executions in Texas, justifications of torture, etc.), and the Hastert-led GOP revolt against intrusion by the DoJ. I can't see much of a compromise here as the positions are very clear and there doesn't seem to be a lot of wiggle room: retain the documents seized or give them back. It's hard to meet half way on something like that.

Bush's implementation of his long sought police state has experienced its first real snag. What will he do? He has 45 days to figure it out.

Friday, May 26, 2006

NY Mayor Slams GOP War on Science

Another Republican fed up with his fellow GOP hacks. Bloomberg, speaking at the Johns Hopkins commencement today, decided to use his time on the dias for something other than stump speeches, unlike his fellow Republican collegue, John McCain:
Distancing himself from national Republicans and the Bush administration, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday urged an end to the political manipulation of science, which he said had been used to discredit the threat of global warming and undermine medical advancements in areas like stem-cell research.

In a speech to graduating students of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Mr. Bloomberg railed against what he sees as ideologically motivated arguments that have fueled debate over hot-button issues like teaching evolution in public schools and the Terri Schiavo case.

"Today, we are seeing hundreds of years of scientific discovery being challenged by people who simply disregard facts that don't happen to agree with their agenda," Mr. Bloomberg said. "Some call it pseudoscience, others call it faith-based science, but when you notice where this negligence tends to take place, you might as well call it 'political science.' "

Incumbent Challenge Uprising

A new campaign has been launched in California by challengers to the Democratic incumbents in three districts. Charles Coleman, Jr., Bob McCloskey and Marcy Winograd are fed up with the tired Democratic incumbency and who isn't at this point? Given the craven position of most Democrats in confirming Hayden as Director of the CIA, I can't find fault with the need to boot these worthless Democrats out on their asses. They have generally acquiesced to most of Bush's agenda, only really getting bent out of shape when the FBI started to raid congressional offices; the widening investigations that are now threatening to engulf many in Congress and led to the raid of Jefferson's office in the Captiol finally crossed the line for them.

For this Congress, no line was crossed by torture and indefinite detention. In fact, Congress aided and abetted the White House by passing the Graham-Levin amendment. For this Congress, no line was crossed by illegal wiretaps and wide scale monitoring of phone records. In fact, Congress aided and abetted the White House by shutting down their so-called investigation of the program For this Congress, no line was crossed by an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation in violation of international law. In fact, Congress aided and abetted the White House and happily abrogated their constitutional responsibility. But the constitutional line was crossed when the FBI started sniffing around their dirty drawers in the Capitol.

Despite their minority position in Congress, the Democrats have barely made a fuss about any of this. They have hardly acted the part of "opposition" party. Speaking out against that which is clearly wrong is how one normally moves from a minority position to the majority. Democrats, by and large, have failed to recognise this, preferring to linger in the shadows of the Republican party and feed off whatever the GOP happens to toss their way.

But Democrat timidity is not entirely their fault because a system is now in place that fully ravages and demonizes anyone who does try to oppose the Bush agenda. But in of spite the existence of this system, there are Americans who realise how intolerable this situation is. Incumbency is the real problem and it has become time to stand up against those so entrenched, especially when they are so clearly not doing their jobs. Simply content in dodging GOP and media criticism for being "obstructionist," Democrats are clearly incapable of doing the "people's work" anymore.

Say what you like about voting Democratic just to reign in Republican control of Washington but the Democrats on Capitol Hill right now hardly seem capable of doing anything differently than a Republican controlled Congress. As one friend of mine said, Democrats would need 90 seats in the Senate before Bush would suffer an agenda defeat. With only 14 Dems voting against the nomination, the Hayden vote would indicate that that is close to being true. It is clearly time for a change. Not with Republicans, though -- we've always known what to expect from them -- but with the Democrats. They are the ones who are truly failing in their duty to this country.

The Irrational Voice

[also at Op-Ed News]

It is widely recognized that the image of the United States has been dealt a series of damaging blows by the Bush administration. This has come as a direct result of the neo-conservative theory of "benevolent global hegemony," though one is pressed to find evidence of actual benevolence within the implementation of the pie-eyed neo-con wet dream. In defiance of international law, the illegal invasion of Iraq has fomented sectarian violence to the point that Balkanization of the country is a likely possibility. The incredibly corrupt and virtually failed reconstruction effort has been a boon to American contractors, while Iraqis have experienced little or no improvement in their lot. The entire Middle East is now concerned about the extant conditions wrought by Bush administration policy, just as the White House further threatens military action against Iran.

Regarding Iran, the official position of the White House has been to advocate diplomacy in the nuclear dispute while not actually engaging in direct talks with Tehran and leaving the "negotiations" to proxies. While ridiculous, this position further evinces that the White House really isn't interested in actual diplomacy at all. Iran has been the party most amenable to talks with the US and this now has been clearly voiced by Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif, who issued a statement that the Iranians wish to conduct a "serious discussion" to resolve the dispute:
We are prepared to engage in serious discussion in order to resolve this issue, and we have not made any exception with regard to the United States.

If they're looking for solutions, why are they not talking to one side of the problem? There is a resolution to this situation, and the resolution is easily attainable, provided you look for it.
In return, Iran wishes the United States would cease with "intimidation tactics" as a good faith measure toward resolution. Zarif said that a solution is "easily attainable" in an environment free of intimidation and pressure. There is nothing unreasonable in this position at all.

So what is the response of George Bush to this offer of serious negotiations? Why, he scoffs at it, of course:
President Bush, speaking at a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, rejected the idea of approaching Iran with incentives.

They're the ones who walked away from the table. It's on them.
Ignoring the fact that the White House has never actually been "at the table," what exactly is "on them" is not at all clear at this point. Presumably, this means do exactly what the White House wants and do so without any back talk. This is what is regarded as negotiation by the Bush administration.

Bush added further hypocritical fuel to the fire by saying that Iran
needs a government that is going to recognize that part of being a great country is to be in line with your international obligations.
This is an astounding statement coming from a man who defied the UN Security Council, launched an illegal invasion in violation of international law, rejected international strictures on the treatment of prisoners, conducts or supports coups against democratically elected governments and happily furthers the proliferation of nuclear technology.

From a diplomatic perspective, it is now the White House that appears to be the irrational voice in the Iranian dispute. As the White House refuses to negotiate directly with Iran, the curious sight of Iraq's new foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari backing Iran on the nuclear issue has just appeared, which only further serves indication that it is the Bush administration that now appear to be the only unwilling party in the dispute. Of course, with close ties to Iran (Iraq's Prime Minister al-Malaki is from the Dawa party), Iraq's motivations are clear but that does not discount White House intransigence on this issue. Nominal diplomatic relations in the region are what is desired and needed and this effort is not being helped by the position of the US, which is, and has been, do what we tell you. Benevolent or not, this will always be the position of any power that claims a right to global hegemony. That is the reason the world is strongly resisting such efforts on the part of this administration. The frightening aspect of this drama is that it is the White House which is failing to recognise that, in the world's eyes, it is they who are in the compromised position.

The exceptional hypocrisy of the Bush White House as regards "international obligations" has never been more dazzling than it has been with respect to Iran, though it is evinced by any number of other behaviours, as well. While declaiming "international obligations," Bush routinely violates them. While loudly dismissing Iran's compliance with the NPT, Bush merrily sells more nuclear technology to a country that has never been a signatory to the treaty. While they claim insistance upon diplomacy, the White House partakes in nothing of the kind. While ratching its own military spending to new and lofty heights, the White House decries modest increases in military spending by Russia and China. While threatening and planning military strikes and launching illegal war, Vice President Cheney denounces Vladimir Putin for his intimidation tactics. While conducting programs of broad surveillance and monitoring of its own citizenry, the Bush administration expresses dismay that the spread of "freedom" has not been heartily embraced elsewhere. While proclaiming that his number one priority is the safety of American citizens, Geroge Bush ignored a drowning city as he strummed guitars on the campaign trail.

Could there be any doubt that the world now casts a skeptical eye on anything this White House says? Have we ever seen a more comtemptible embarrassement on the world stage than that which has been placed on display by this administration and which is being conducted in the name of these United States?

These are, of course, entirely rhetorical questions.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

In Good Company

These are some numbers from about a year ago. They were appalling enough then but given the recent study of mortality rates that showed the United States hovering down the list next to Latvia, it seemed like an interesting refresher regarding this country's continued insistence that it has "the best health care system in the world," while health statistics constantly demonstrate a reality quite apart from the myth.

In a study of ensured and financed maternity leave around the world, 163 of 168 surveyed countries had programs for paid maternity leave. You might expect that the poorest countries in the world probably wouldn't have such programs and you'd be right, mostly.

Countries that did not have a paid maternity leave program:
Papua New Guinea
United States

Oh, to be known by the company we keep.

Iraq Dialectic

Bush Administration policies in Iraq have largely been a failure. It has created a failed state in that country, which is in flames and seething with new religious and ethnic nationalist passions of a sort never before seen on this scale in modern Iraqi history. The severe instability in Iraq threatens the peace and security of the entire region, and could easily ignite a regional guerrilla war that might well affect petroleum exports from the Oil Gulf and hence the health of the world economy.
-- Juan Cole,
Professor of Middle East History,
U of Michigan,
Critique of US Policy in Iraq,
May 24 2006

As a result of our military action, Iraq is more free and probably more prosperous than before. And it has a pro-American government that lacks both the capability and the desire to export terrorism.
-- Powerline,
somewhere in Minnesota,
May 24 2006
We report, you decide.


Not much to say about this, other than it's about time. And, oh yeah, hallelujah!
Jury Convicts Enron's Skilling and Lay
There is still hope for justice in this country, however small the dollops might be. But when those dollops are as moist and chewy as this, well, that's mmm-mmm good.

Appeals are expected, years more delay -- hell, Lay could be dead before he sees the inside of a cell -- but the record is now there.

By the way, if you've haven't seen Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, do so.

Mix Master

ABC's Brian Ross is pushing his report that Dennis Hastert is "in the mix" in the Abramoff investigation. After Ross reported that Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (R-Ill), was being investigated for his fund raising ties to federal inmate #27593-112 (aka Jack Abramoff), Hastert called the report untrue and demanded a retraction. Instead of that, Ross persisted with his FBI sources who confirmed that Hastert was indeed falling under the purview of the Abramoff investigation. The DoJ even issued a denial of the report, though federal investigators say that this denial merely indicates that Hastert is not a "target" or a "subject."

This is all rather bizarre. The DoJ statement reads,
Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.
This seems pretty unequivocal. Of course, we are talking about a department full of lawyers, so "unequivocal" is probably not a word that should be used in describing anything that might issue forth from such an organisation. Of course, we have heard those exact same words said of Karl Rove before, too.

Reportedly, both federal inmates, #94405-198 (aka Cunningham) and #27593-112, are singing like canaries right now and this is especially interesting in light of the fact that, after the FBI raid on Jefferson's congresssional office, Hastert had immediately denounced the action as a violation of the constitutional seperation of powers. While that appears to be strictly true, it also appears entirely disingenuous. Hastert has never before expressed any concern for constitutional propriety when White House policy has been at issue, such as violations of FISA with the NSA warrantless wiretapping. And, worse, the White House has absolutely subjegated the Constitutional requirement that international treaties be treated as "the law of the land," just as surely as any congressional legislation. Hastert has been remarkably silent as regards the Constitution in application to the White House policy that didn't affect him directly.

But suddenly, with Hastert's clear ties to a convicted felon said to be "fully cooperating" with federal investigators on the radar, the Constitution is held in high regard. Perhaps he thinks that he can stall enough to get that shredder in his office fired up and humming away.

When the House comes crumblin' down

Well, suddenly all those protestations from Hastert about the FBI raid of William Jefferson's office are starting to make a whole lotta sense:
Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

The other tribes were represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who reportedly has provided details of his dealings with Hastert as part of his plea agreement with the government.

The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.
It looks like Jefferson's corruption story just got shunted to the back pages. Abramoff rules!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In Furtherance of Corporatism

If you thought that the bungling and corruption exhibited by DoD contractors couldn't possibly get worse than it is right now, here's some news that declaims a whole new level of under-the-table dealings:
President George W. Bush has bestowed on his intelligence czar, John Negroponte, broad authority, in the name of national security, to excuse publicly traded companies from their usual accounting and securities-disclosure obligations.
Presidents themselves have always had authority, since the 1934 Securities Exchange Act, to do pardon companies working on top secret projects from full financial disclosure rules. Like so many other of Bush's activities in the last 5+ years, his delegation of this authority is unprecedented.

The larger worry that I see is not necessarily that Negroponte now has this ability but that the Bush administration's definition of just what constitutes "national security" is so vague, open-ended and nebulous, the potential exists to grant disclosure waivers to almost any corporation. Oil companies? Cleary, there's a national security issue the Bushies can easily embrace. The potential for abuse is, as with most things Bush, enormous. And it can now all be done without him having to acknowledge any complicity on his part.

Bullish on Pandemic

You probably didn't imagine a silver lining in the potential for avian flu to make the jump to a human transmission vector. But there is one if you work on Wall Street, whose denizens never saw a disaster they couldn't make money from.

And so it was today when news came that six members of an Indonesian family died from avian flu, which led many to jump to the conclusion that the H5N1 strain had possibly mutated to the point that a human-human transmission vector had been formed. This is the terrible fear of the disease, which so far, has not demonstrated any such vector. At least, it is a terrible fear of most people. But not Wall Street. Those happy folks immediately saw opportunity and pounced on biotech companies, pushing up stock prices of BioCryst, Peramivir (up 15%) and others.

Reports one excited analyst with Rodman & Renshaw:
The entire space is up today and it's because bird flu has hit the front page again, and the potential for human-to-human spreading is being talked about, though the WHO is not changing their status.
He almost sounds disappointed with the intransigent WHO: damned bureaucrats! when are you going to get this bloody pandemic off the ground, anyway?

Blogroll heads up

I'd like to give a shout out to a couple of blogs I have been exposed to through the Torture Awareness campaign. I've enjoyed reading some top notch work at both the Osterely Times and misneach, whose work has appeared in Asia Times (a fine article here). Many of those on the Torture Awareness campaign blogroll are unknown to me and I intend on checking out as many as I can.

Another thing about this blogroll that I do find bothersome is the fact that not one "big blog" has shown up there. My Left Wing, of course, is a biggy but upon going over there, there is barely a mention of the campaign other than some miniscule link buried in amongst a zillion other blogroll links on the site. And, no, none of those blogrolled in the campaign appear there as result of the campaign. I always find it frustrating when big blogs do shit like this and it merely reinforces the homeostatic nature of the current blog establishment. It may not have been done consciously, but O'Connor should correct this and make the campaign a prominent feature. O'Connor benefits from her site appearing on everyone else's blogroll and does so without reciprocation. C'mon Mary Scott, you know better than that.

An Open Door to Iran

Iranians have protested repressive measures by their hard-line government for sometime. A state pogrom conducted against liberal reform targeted supporters of the reformist measures of the previous president, Katami. As Kaveh Ehsani noted:
In the past four years, more than 100 independent publications have been banned, and many editors, publishers, writers and translators have been persecuted. Intellectuals, lawyers, academics, pollsters and social scientists have been jailed and mistreated, while student protests against these repressive measures have themselves been violently put down.
A reappearance of disatisfaction with the fundamentalists in Tehran has just manifest itself:
Two of the Iranian capital’s main universities were rocked by protests and clashes between students and police overnight, press reports said on Wednesday. Forty police were lightly injured by stone throwing in front of Teheran University dormitories....
Calling the protesters "troublemakers" belies the crux of the outburst, which was spurred by the forced retirement of some professors at Tehran university and the heavy-handed replacement of top university officials with partisans more amenable to Tehran's hard-line Islamist position. Protesters could be heard saying,
We don’t want the Islam of the Taliban.
If Washington really wants regime change in Tehran, just as the large population (some 2 million) of students apparently do, this is what they should be supporting rather than threatening yet more illegal military attacks.

Of course, Rice requested a big boost in money for such efforts a few months ago, despite some Senators noting that, every time an election happens somewhere lately -- especially in the Middle East -- the results are generally not favourable to the US. There is a good reason for this, though, which the Senators don't seem to want to acknowledge: the US has not historically supported democratic movements or governments elsewhere. This is especially true in the Middle East, except Israel. But given that Iranians appear to be rather discontented with the Islamist hard-liners in charge, now would be a good time to give that ol' democracy thing some sincere support. This would still not likely result in a "pro-US" government as most Muslims are extremely distrustful of US-backed policy, but it certainly would have to result in a better, more moderate government than the one there now. Contrary to what you will hear in the mainstream press in the United States, the Iranian population is quite moderate, something that is not reflected by their government right now. Of course, the exact same thing can be said of the United States.

I don't generally have faith that the Bush administration has any real concerns about supporting democracies. Their rhetoric about spreading freedom is often just wrapping around a "regime change" agenda and they know enough to realise that actual democratic elections in Arab or Muslim countries in the Middle East won't lead to overly friendly governments. But a sincere effort to support such a movement in Iran would be the best strategy toward the long term establishment of normative international relations between the US and Iran.

This could be a win-win for the both countries and the larger region. However, the Bush administration is far too entrenched in the Manichean dialectic of win-lose and us-them so don't look for them to seize the opportunity. Because with Dick Cheney at the foreign policy helm, it is most certain that such an opportunity will be ignored.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bush Jugend

Attendees at a Christian BattleCry event
(and I mean click on it and look)
Images courtesy

The Bush family has some strong historical ties to the Third Reich and, given all the other parallels with the Nazi regime the Bush administration has been constructing over the last few years, it was inevitable that a "youth movement" would eventually spring forth. It has probably been gurgling away for awhile, but the percolation has finally captured some notice. The only major difference between the Hitler Jugend and Bush's BattleCry warriors is that Hitler set about creating his "future Aryan supermen" program much earlier in his reign while the Christianists have take awhile to get the whole show rolled out and into a larger public sphere. Well, that and the fact that attendence at BattleCry events appears to be largely voluntary, though I don't know how voluntary it is for the kids who are dragged there by parents.

After a terrorist action was used to justify an invasion of a foreign country said to be harbouring the terrorists, knowingly skirting the Constitution, the Bush administration implemented a number of police state policies that included wide spread surveillance and monitoring of the domestic population. At the behest of Bush, the Senate is likely to cede control of the civilian Central Intelligence Agency to military control, in the form of a one General Hayden, the man responsible for those surveillance programs. Recently, demonization of a minority population has been attended with calls for militarization of the borders while funding for the civilian Border Patrol was cut. We have recently heard the Attorney General indicate that the prosecution of journalists is within the purview of what is now jokingly called the Department of Justice. More generally, military spending is now shooting the moon while domestic social programs are being pared back. Overlaying it all, of course, has been the constant clamour that anyone criticizing any of this was both unpatriotic and giving "aid and comfort to the enemy."

And now there is beginning to emerge the rather ghastly manifestation of a fundamentalist youth movement, the so-called BattleCry. It is claimed by organisers that these events are "Christian" in nature, though they sport some decidedly un-Christian themes. Such as faux Navy Seals jumping onto the stage and shooting blanks cartridges into the air from their real M-16s. Flames shoot from vertical, cannon-like tubes mounted on the stage. In fact, it has all the trappings of a Ted Nugent concert; camo, M-16s, shaved-headed dudes with bad-ass Van Dykes, fire-belching cannon, rock music, though I expect the Nuge might be a bit jealous of the production values. The one recognizable "Christian" or rather Christianist theme that brought the whole crowd together was, apparently, a strong distaste for abortion and gays. Those subjects just act as catalysts to fuel the fire, though, because what this really is all about is a total assault on society. In fact, Ron Luce describes his movement as a "blitzkrieg." They are, after all, "an Army of God" and coming to seek vengence upon secularism. And reason.

These people are clearly unhinged. They firmly believe that God placed Bush in office and, as they usually do, explain away his excesses because Bush's presidency is the will of God. And who do you think specifically sent a letter of support to this group? Why, George Bush, of course, the movement's guiding light.

People are hesitant about, or actively remonstrate against, drawing comparisons between the Bush administration and the Nazi regime. This is a natural tendency given Godwin's Law (unless you happen to be an oil industry shill appearing on Fox News). However, after seeing this latest festering canker within American civil society, I can't see much reason to hesitate in this comparison anymore.

Al Gorebbels

Betcha didn't know that stumping about global warming and advocating reduced greenhouse gas emissions is roughly equivalent to Joseph Goebbels' Nazi propaganda. Well, it is:
That’s the problem. If I thought Al Gore’s movie was as you like to say, fair and balanced, I’d say, everyone should go see it. But why go see propaganda? You don’t go see Joseph Goebbels’ films to see the truth about Nazi Germany. You don’t go see Al Gore’s films to see the truth about global warming.
This message brought to you by the good people at ExxonMobile.

They get letters

Taking Digby's suggestion, I fired off a letter to the editors of the NY Times regarding their god-awful gossip piece about the Clintons, which is not prominent on the website now, but which was prominent on page A1 of the print edition this morning. I expect they will be getting a lot of these sorts of missives regarding their sudden shift to the gossip rag domain, so you probably won't see it show up there.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm frankly tired of anything and everything Clinton; don't want to hear about 'em. When it became clear that Hillary was simply unserious about opposing the grisly Bush agenda, and instead chose to focus on video games as the next threat to American society, well, that did for me. I didn't have much faith in her to begin with, anyway, and that bullshit posturing merely confirmed what had been highly suspected all along.

Nonetheless, the NY Times bit was about as pathetic a piece as I can recall seeing in a major newspaper. If this is what we can expect from "the paper of record" over the next few months -- prissy gossip about Democrats -- don't be surprised if the GOP manages to hold on those congressional majorities in the fall. Because, after all, the Clinton's only see each other 14 days a month.
Dear Editors,

Despite extant wars in two regions of the globe and the mounting death toll of civilians there, skyrocketing debt and deficits, the putative threat of Iran and the continued struggles of those in the still-devastated Gulf Coast region, perhaps esteemed editors at the New York Times felt it was a slow news day. So slow, in fact, that barely digestible tabloid fluff about the Clintons had to be featured prominently on page A1 of the May 23 edition. The article's purpose was entirely unclear, inscrutable even. But one thing was clear, this was not an article to be featured as news.

As the 2006 elections approach, it would be advisable for the Times to stick to news coverage, instead of fretting about how many days per month the Clintons spend together. Leave that tawdry business to those who do it best. I cannot believe your readers would find this even remotely interesting given our current civic and political climate. Let's not return to those dreary days of Clinton rumor mongering and trash talk. Remember, 9/11 changed everything. If anyone should know this, it should be the editors of the New York Times.
As Digby says, the media appears now to be starting its assault on the Dems, at just about the right time to trivialize them as unserious twits incapable of running the country. I have been waiting for this to start and it looks like the first shots across the Democratic bow are now being fired.

Monday, May 22, 2006

About to be eaten

I can see the feeding frenzy already.

William Jefferson (D-La) was caught in a FBI sting operation that filmed him accepting $100K in cash from an "investor," then raided his home and found the cash in the congressman's freezer. Apparently, Jefferson was demanding kickbacks in a Nigerian telecommunications deal. Jefferson has made some pretty stupid remarks, at one point claiming that the raid was
an outrageous intrusion of the separation of powers between the executive branch and the congressional branch.
Which leads one to believe that Jefferson thinks the FBI cannot investigate members of Congress. Is this guy serious? Despite the presence of tin foil wrapped bundles of cash in his freezer, Jefferson declaimed,
I have never, over all the years of my public service, accepted payment from anyone for the performance of any act or duty for which I have been elected.
It seems pretty clear that Mr. Jefferson, on his own, has just entirely neutralized the corruption issue. Jefferson will be held up against the widespread Abramoff scandal, the Cunningham scandal, the DeLay indictment and Frist investigation, and his singular case will be portrayed as evidence that corruption in Congress is "bi-partisan."

Single-handedly, Jefferson has diffused the corruption issue as something Democrats could use. Even before Jefferson's nonsense came on the radar, there was an effort already underway to dismiss the corruption issue as bi-partisan, even though it clearly was not. Jefferson's insistance that he is innocent after having been caught on tape accepting a pay-off and after those who bribed him have already pleaded guilty, will do nothing but help the Republicans in November. This is going to be a media feeding frenzy and only if it isn't will I be utterly amazed.

Nice work, dumb-ass.

A disinformation uprising?

I hadn't seen this earlier but apparently the reports of Gitmo detainees revolting and attacking guards with various bits of hardware might actually be a disinformation campaign designed to demonstrate that the detainees are crazed maniacs who all need to remain just where they are. Evidence that this might be the motivation is clearly provided by the gitmo commander, Adm. Henry Harris:
It was "probably the most violent outbreak" in the camp's four-year history ... "These are dangerous men and determined jihadists."
I can almost hear the words to follow:
And if we need to fake a few news reports that prove our point, well, we know how to do that.
When this story first broke, details were scarce and early reports indicated that, when an inmate tried to commit suicide, guards trying to prevent the attempt were attacked by several other inmates. It then later was claimed that the suicide attempt had been staged.

Now, Moassam Begg, a Brit who spent a considerable amount of time at Guantanamo Bay, says that there is just no way detainees could ever have done such a thing.
Moazzam Begg, the Birmingham bookshop owner released from the camp last year, said the detention cells were too closely monitored and controlled for inmates to organise a revolt so well. Clive Stafford Smith and Brent Mickum, defence lawyers who regularly visit clients in the base, said they suspected the official accounts were "rubbish".

He added that electrical equipment such as fans and cameras were normally out of reach. "It's not like a Second World War prisoner of war camp where you can dig tunnels. There's so much security, day in, day out. Everything is logged, everything is watched, everything is scheduled."

Mr Begg, who was seized by the CIA in Pakistan in 2002, said he was sceptical that inmates would be able to avoid the round-the-clock surveillance by CCTV cameras, foot patrols and watchtowers to make and hide weapons.
This alleged uprising was claimed to taken place on the same day that the UN reissued a call for the Bush administration to close the prison.

[via Phillybits]

Circular Logic

As Bush's popularity ebbs to an all-time low, the dark shadow cast upon Republicans who have ceded to many of the policies that have caused his sinking numbers has occasioned more than a few GOP candidates to distance themselves from Bush. More seats than previously expected are now thought to be "in play" and vulnerable to Democratic victories this fall and this is partially, if not wholly, attributable to Bush's reckless agenda, abetted as it has been by a Republican Congress.

Given this state of affairs, I was more than curious to see this bizarre tautology in WaPo this morning:
Confronting the worst poll numbers seen in the West Wing since his father went down to defeat, President Bush and his team are focusing on the fall midterm elections as the best chance to salvage his presidency and are building a campaign strategy around tax cuts, immigration and national security.
Let's ignore for the moment that this campaign presription is exactly why Bush is so disliked right now. The truly odd notion presented here is that Bush's team views the elections as a way to boost Bush's approval, elections that are in serious doubt directly because of Bush's low approval ratings. In other words, they are going to use the elections, as threatened as they are by Bush's low approval, to boost his approval. Although, maybe this isn't so circular a strategy as it at first might appear, not when you've got Diebold and ES&S on your side.

Here is a better way to improve Bush's approval: change and improve the policies that have led the majority of Americans to think that the Bush administration is incompetent and callous. Help New Orleans. Come up with an actual plan for Iraq. Stop driving this country deeper into debt with more tax cuts. Stop monitoring and surveilling American citizens. And, for god's sakes, stop indefinite detention and prisoner abuse.

The fact that none of this will be on any Republican agenda, least of all Bush's, is surely testimony further offering evidence that neither Bush nor his "team" has any idea why the man is so disliked. Of course, Bush himself is responsible for this lack of understanding. He has spent years surrounding himself with people who can't or won't tell him what really needs to happen.

MSM waking up on electronic voting

Parts of the MSM are awakening from their self-enforced slumber regarding the US electoral process and the vulnerabilities to it that are being presented by electronic voting machine companies like Diebold and ES&S. Newsweek [via Bradblog]:
How bad are the problems? Experts are calling them the most serious voting-machine flaws ever documented. Basically the trouble stems from the ease with which the machine's software can be altered. It requires only a few minutes of pre-election access to a Diebold machine to open the machine and insert a PC card that, if it contained malicious code, could reprogram the machine to give control to the violator. The machine could go dead on Election Day or throw votes to the wrong candidate. Worse, it's even possible for such ballot-tampering software to trick authorized technicians into thinking that everything is working fine, an illusion you couldn't pull off with pre-electronic systems. "If Diebold had set out to build a system as insecure as they possibly could, this would be it," says Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer-science professor and elections-security expert.

Finally, some attention to this ridiculous situation. Will it be enough?

Better Left Unsaid

You'll by now have heard about New School graduate Jean Rohe's commencement speech whereby she labasted John McCain's appearance there and criticised his support for the war in Iraq. This has been buzzing around a bit and Ms. Rohe herself posted an item at the Huffpost as to how her speech came about. Well, it seems that a long time aide to Mr. McCain, a one Mark Salter, took umbrage to Ms. Rohe's uppity back talk and posted a comment that probably would have been better left unposted. I'm sure McCain would have preferred to take his lumps and walk away, content with having mollycoddled the pudding heads at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

But Salter couldn't resist defending a man who appears to most objective observers to have traded in any semblance of dignity for a spot at the Bush table. The slander and derision that was cast upon McCain by the Bush campaign in the run-up to the GOP primary for 2000 was truly one of the more atrocious spectacles seen in any recent political landscape. It had been intimated that McCain had fathered an illegitmate black child and that his mental faculties might be questionable after years as POW in Vietnam. This Rovian campaign feeding frenzy had stripped McCain to the bone. After this appalling treatment at the hands of Bush operatives, McCain chose to choke it all down and give Bush a big ol' hug at the RNC convention in 2004. No one enjoyed watching that and McCain himself looked extremely uncomfortable, as he should have. Actually, that's wrong. He should never have been there in the first place. But for a man who still harboured aspirations for the Oval Office, he had to play nice with Bush. It was the fact of his appearance then that made many realise the man had likely lost whatever valour he may have once possessed (though some will dispute that). Politics, as is often said of that ignoble enterprise, had sucked him dry.

With such well known background, Salter proceeded to criticised Rohe by claiming that she took
exception to the fact that the speech was written with all four commencements he has been invited to address.
No, that is not with what Rohe had taken exception. In fact, she explicitly acknowledged appreciation for knowing exactly what McCain was going to say. I suspect Salter must have been so fumed at the moment he didn't hear a word the woman said nor bothered to read the speech afterwards. Rohe took exception to McCain's support for the war. Salter then goes tiredly on about the rude young-un's derision of McCain and, before long, winds up yelping about character. Naturally enough, commenters savage his stupid and entirely unnecessary remarks.

But I have to wonder, where was Salter's righteous indignation in 2000? Back then McCain was being ravaged, not by some young cocky liberal, but by George Bush's team of political hit men. Well, we know the answer to that. Rove had bigger guns and in the world of politics, McCain has learned to take the hit and keep on sucking the GOP pipe. Salter knows this, which is why he never showed much bother back then and why he does show it now: years of pent up frustration from wanting to shove his fist down Karl Rove's throat and knowing he never could.

Salter would have done well to take his sanctimonius huff and keep it down in whatever gutteral pit all the other suffered indignities lie. For there are surely worse ones than having a college graduate say that she doesn't like John McCain's support of an obviously phony war.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bringing America together

Hey, Bush was right. He is a uniter and not a divider. He's got everyone pissed.

Torture be Damned

The American myth has long been steeped in a polemic of justice and the rule of law. Despite long-known, covert practices by American governments to assist and enforce regime change by any number of nefarious means, this myth has persisted, mostly through an enforced rhetorical narrative on the part of the US political system and a media infrastructure insisting that, indeed, America is the model of international comity. Given extant governments elsewhere in world at any given time, this was not a difficult story to in which to invest. The narrative, in general, refused to recognize covert, illegal support of death squads (Iran-Contra) and various other deadly operations, even when they came to light. These operations were the result of "bad apples," Americans would be told; rogues and scoundrels out of control.

While regions of the world that suffered under the yoke of American foreign policy meddling were fully aware of such behaviour, Americans, for the most part, failed to recognize -- willfully or not -- that such poisonous policies and practices even existed. In fact, the polemic would always insist that such things were not policy at all, that they were anomolous. But until the Bush administration, the tacit agreement that the actual tools of US foreign policy go unacknowledged had never been obviously breeched -- at least not in the main square of public discourse. Today, though, even the pretense that the US government practices what it preaches has flown out the policy window. We now have a government that openly engages in torture, insists that it must do so and refuses to heed international calls to close it most notorious detention center, Guantanamo Bay.

For too long now, the essentials of Bush's policies and practices of extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, abuse and torture, both directly and via proxy agents, have been exposed to public awareness and have been met with what can only be described as a disgraceful nonchalance. While Bush supporters have actively engaged in defending these indefensible practices, it is, in reality, a national travesty that any US government admittedly engages in such dreadful, inquisitional behaviour and one of the varied reason why this country's global image has suffered a severe blow. Recognition of that unwholesome truth comes officially from The State Department, which now advises that the US soccer team refrain from placing US flags on their vehicles during the upcoming World Cup competition. Thirty one other countries will all display their respective flags but the US will drive the only "blank" bus at the competition. One can only imagine what must be going through the minds of the US players, but this is only a small embarrassment resulting from much larger crimes.

With all the other incredible and secret programs being exposed lately, this administration's torture and detention practices have been shoved off the table. Despite recent and occasional international calls to close Guantanamo Bay, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans redirect attentions toward what the GOP thinks will be election winners like tough, militarized operations against illegal immigration. The sudden and disingenuous concern with immigration manifest itself recently in the most ridiculous of Senate maneuvers when the judiciary committee voted forth an amendment that would affirm English as the language of this Euro-centric land. While the Bush administration rebuts calls by the UN to close Guantanamo Bay, Congress busies itself with bills to let Americans know that most of them speak in English.

Suicide attempts amongst Guantanamo prisoners are now routine. On May 18, 2006, four inmates attempted to kill themselves. Potentially facing years more detention under Bush policy without hope of resolution, prisoners are also beginning to revolt.
The further shame of Gitmo lies in the now too-common stories that many, if not most, of the prisoners held there are entirely innocent of any terrorist connections, let alone actual terrorist activity. Goatherds, chicken farmers and other innocents had been rounded up by US forces, headed by the CIA, after a bounty campaign that advertised huge sums of money to any Afghans who could offer information about local al Qaeda operatives. With between $5-10K in the offing, destitute, poverty-stricken people started fingering anyone and everyone and the CIA rounded them all up, related to al Qaeda and not. It was routinely stated by Rumsfeld and others that all of those in Gitmo were "the worst of the worst" and that they had all been taken on the "battlefield," something now known to be completely false:
Of 517 case files examined, only 5% were "scooped up off the battlefield," as asserted by Bush. The rest were handed over to the US by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance, or were handed over to the US to claim the bounty of $5,000-$10,000 that was offered.
The military has now admitted that, indeed, most of those in the detention facility are not terrorists at all and have begun to release many of them after years of pointless incarceration and abuse.

None of this feels right. It shouldn't. Amnesty International shouldn't have to start programs like the anti-torture campaign to get the US to stop the abhorrent practice. Such campaigns are conducted against places like Uzbekistan. That we are used to. But not this. The very sound of it is surreal. How have we got to this point? What madness sought to rationalize and enjoin torture in the war on terror? Whatever has led this band of lunatics to ignore international norms, legal advice and run afoul of civilised conduct will never be known, but we are here now and have been for sometime. I don't denigrate the effort of the blogswarm* nor those of Amnesty International but, at this point, the lawless Bush administration is so convinced of its own mission -- however dastardly it is -- nothing is likely sway them. Lacking an international body this White House would heed, the Bush administration will continue on its virulent path of militarized imperialism and tax-payer funded corporatism. Theirs is an agenda that seeks to threaten, malign and attack any lesser foes possessed of "American interests" and will drain the domestic coffers to do so, while shortchanging its own citizens.

2009 seems like a long way away, but let us hope that it is not so long that this country cannot recover from Bush's reign of terror. This may seem grandiose, but maybe we can begin to turn the myth of America into a reality of which we can all be proud. Because more of the same is hardly an alternative.

*Please visit the other blogs on the anti-toture blogroll on this page. Excellent work is to be found just a click away.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

That Darned Scalia

It's got to be a cold day in hell when Antonin Scalia snaps and feels a need to tell congressional Republicans to screw off. Repubs have adopted some notion that they need to tell the Supreme Court what to do as regards the potential for citing foreign or international law by the Court. Scalia finally blew a gasket:
It's none of your business," he said, referring to Congress. "No one is more opposed to the use of foreign law than I am, but I'm darned if I think it's up to Congress to direct the court how to make its decisions.
Tom Feeney (R-Fa) remains unfazed by Scalia's admonition, though, and insists that Congress needs to reign in a Supreme Court that clearly won't do his mean-spirited bidding, at least not all the time.

Back in 2004, yes, the previous election year, Feeney introduced legislation that would
advise the courts that it is improper for them to substitute foreign law for American law or the American Constitution.
Of course, substituting foreign law for American law is assuredly not what SCOTUS justices were doing and Feeney completely misrepresents the issue; he is a congressman, after all. His bill threatened the Supremes with impeachment if they didn't respond to his legislative knuckle-rap. Feeney was especially chagrined when, in March of 2005, the big bench opined that juveniles could not be executed and had used some citations of foreign law to support the decision. Now that the 2006 election is in the offing, Feeney, who apparently never met a juvenile offender he didn't want to execute, is back on the legislative war path and leading the Republican assault on "activist" judges.

One result of mouths like Feeney's snapping about judges who fail to render decisions that meet with his approval, has been increased death threats against not just high court justices but lower court judges as well. Both Ginsburg and O'Connor, who has since retired, related that they had been receiving death threats from an "irrational fringe" as a direct result of the Republican-led criticism, specifically Feeney's haranguing:
Okay commandoes, here is your first patriotic assignment ... an easy one. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and O'Connor have publicly stated that they use (foreign) laws and rulings to decide how to rule on American cases. This is a huge threat to our Republic and Constitutional freedom. ... If you are what you say you are, and NOT armchair patriots, then those two justices will not live another week.
So, while lefties are routinely labeled as "angry" because they say mean things, assassination remains the preferred tool of right wing extremists everywhere.

After this sort of mad behaviour, one wonders whether the right wingers will now feel some need to punish Scalia. Scalia's outspoken opinion about meddling Republicans -- and you have to know he is speaking about Feeney -- will surely throw them into a tizzy. He's their favoured man on the Court and as right wing as judges get. But with Scalia being as friendly as he is with Cheney, I suspect that even judge-threatening crazies aren't going to risk the wrath of the big Dick.

Friday, May 19, 2006

News Flash: $40K now tax free!

Dennis Hastert made the announcement yesterday that, for income earners who make $40K a year of, your life is tax free!! Hooray for Hastert. I hope he moves on this measure soon:
Well, folks, if you earn $40,000 a year and have a family of two, you don't pay any taxes. So you probably, if you don't pay any taxes, you are not going to get a big tax cut. Oh, wait....
Actually, as you probably already surmised, I was kidding. Fat-ass Hastert appears to simply be under the rich man's delusion that people who earn $40K a year don't actually pay taxes. He then uses this bizarre claim to further assert that that is why you, the $40K wage slave, won't get any tax breaks. You see, Hastert is saying, we've got it all worked out. We in Congress know what we're doing.

Masri Misery

Lebanese-German, Khaled el-Masri, who claims he was abducted by the CIA, rendered to Afghanistan, tortured for five months and then dropped on the side of a road in Albania had his day in court. It was a short one, though, as the judge presiding in the matter threw out his lawsuit, which named George Tenet, 10 CIA employees and three unnamed companies as defendants, on the grounds that it would threaten national security. The judge equivocated about the dismissal, claiming that she was not rendering any judicial opinion on the actual conduct of the CIA or the government, only that
in times of war, our country, chiefly through the executive branch, must often take exceptional steps to thwart the enemy.
In other words, yeah, we fucked you over. Tough. We're thwarting a crazy enemy who will abuse and kill innocent people and we must stop this enemy by abusing and killing innocent people.

Thwarting a terrorist enemy by engaging in terrorist activity against innocent people is, indeed, a savy strategy, despite its not having resulted in any useful information. This is especially true when you can get the courts to play along with the game that torturing innocent people is somehow thwarting enemies and not creating new ones.

It has been fairly obvious for awhile now that this is how the Bush administration will avoid actually answering for any of its egregious behaviours. So far, US courts have been only too happy to abide the position that secret and illegal behaviour is enhancing national security.

Bearing Gifts

The state legislature in North Carolina has been thrashing through some ethics laws lately and has approved a measure -- applicable to the executive branch only -- that would
bar lawmakers from accepting nearly all gifts from lobbyists and their principals, make it a felony to lie on their economic disclosure statements and require ethics training for General Assembly members when they take office.
But an amendment to the bill would actually lower the money threshold on gifts that lawmakers themselves could receive from neighbours and state employees. Said Deomcratic state representative Drew Mecklenburg of the lowered gift threshold:
Even baby Jesus accepted gifts and I don't believe it corrupted him.
Ergo, it is a duty, inspired by the "baby Jesus," to accept gifts as a public servant, because if it didn't corrupt Jesus, well, by god, it surely won't corrupt them.

I wonder if Mr. Mecklenburg is similarly inspired by Jesus' public service by having the flesh flayed from his body while nailed to a cross.

Update: Robb from the comments, nailed it with that now oft-varied and famous line: "I've met baby Jesus and you, Mr. Mecklenburg, are no baby Jesus."

English Minors

Despite my recent criticism of the redirection of the current national debate from pressing problems toward dredged-up psuedo crises of the week, recent actions by the Senate have been truly astounding. They beg and demand criticism in this context.

Firstly, we saw an idiot Senate kotowing to James Dobson's demands for a furtherance of the fundamentalists' cherished prize of a Constitutional ban on gay marriage. And now we are treated to learning that the Senate just voted to make English the "national language" of the United States, although the measure apparently doesn't require any change in current law. Indeed, the wording is so innocuous -- it directs the government to "prreserve and enhance" the role of English -- it is hard to know just what it even means in the real world.

But the real world is not what this time-waster was meant for. Its meaning is apprehended from the very provenance of it's sudden and worthless passage: it is a symbolic gesture specifically designed to show how much the Senate suddenly cares about "real" Americans and "real" America. In other words, it is yet another appeal by Republicans to their shriveling "base." The worst part of this worthless measure -- or the best part, depending upon the strength of your apppreciation for the painfully ironic: it was introduced by James Inhofe (R-Ok).

One of things that I had always appreciated about the United States was the confidence the country demonstrated in itself by not having a so-called national language law. And one of the more odious aspects of the anti-immigration howling was a demand that government "preserve" English as America's language. The irony is fierce on more than one level; that an imported language is labeled "American" and for the reason cited above. Gone from perspective is this country's origins, its very nature. It is NIMBYISM at its most extreme and unappealing.

No posturing about English as regards the United States is too embarassing that politicians won't embrace it and we were treated to such in full monty when Bush said the Star Spangled Banner should be sung in English and only English, as though he had some innate ability to prevent translations. Now there's a postion a uniter -- not a divider -- can really embrace. Is this really what the President of the United States should be worried about? It would seem more than flattering that Hispanics would want to translate the ponderous dirge into Spanish. It probably sounds better, too.

Language laws are assuredly a one way street and they manifest an inherent social insecurity on the part of the "majority," which would wish to believe their heritage endemic to America, as though preordained. But America's English heritage came as the direct result of a long war -- ultimately lost by the French as much as it was won by the British -- well before this country existed.

But insecurity is exactly what Bush has been selling for 4-plus years now. What's next? draconian language laws like those in Quebec that had prohibited English in places of business, signs that must display French words proportionally bigger than English words? Once again, this pandering to the reactionary right is only going to lead politicians in Washington to accede to further reactionary demands.

Unfortunately, the nation's leaders -- how I hate referring to such twits by that label -- have chosen politicking over a recognition of, not only the country's historical embrace of immigrants, cultures and languages, but of their own families' histories. We have a Sectretary of State named Condolezza, an Attorney General name Alberto Gonzales (who apparently has no idea how his grandparents got into the country) and Secretary of Defense name Rumsfeld. We have Senators Akaka, Domenici, Enzi, Feingold, Feinstein, Hagel, Inofe, Inouye, Isakson, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leiberman, Lugar, Martinez, Menendez, Mikulski, Murkowski, Obama, Salazar, Santorum, Schumer, Sununu, Thune, Voinovich. Perhaps the next Senate measure will determine all such alien names to be un-American and any new immigrants will henceforth be name John Smith, just so we can preserve our English heritage. And the one to follow that? Why, how about a law requiring white people to have more babies. It seems like the logical progression and Fox News would certainly get behind it.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Will the American public ever, ever grow tired enough of this GOP-led bullshit gay marriage amendment game they play ever election cycle for voters to boot these dinks out on their ear? I don't know, but it sure looks like Dobson has the Senate in his back pocket because here it comes again:
A U.S. Senate panel advanced a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday.
Feingold reportedly stormed out of the closed door meeting because it was ... closed door. Feingold was not happy with the back room dealings and hoofed it. The judiciary committee, led ably by the now comtemptible Arlen Specter, passed the measure by a party line vote, 10-8.

So, the GOP bows down, once again, to the fundamentalists six months before the elections. What a tiring and pathetic circus the Capitol has become. The corruption is bad enough, the supplication to the White House worse. But with GOP congressional members in serious trouble the gay marriage ban is what they choose to pull out of their piddling bag of tricks. Congressional oversight of the NSA programs? Hah! Iraq? Nope. Soaring deficits? Puleeeze. Actual ethics reform? Surely, you jest. Six months before the threatening November elections, suddenly Mexicans are invading and gays are on the rampage.

Just in case you don't remember, although who can forget, this same shit was pulled -- at exactly the same time of year -- in 2004:
Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment that would effectively ban same-sex marriage failed in the Senate Wednesday afternoon, but supporters vowed to keep fighting for the measure.
-- CNN, July 15, 2004
This time, the Senate is due to take up the bill in "early June." After a few days of hemming and hawing, we'll likely see it going down to defeat again in late June or July. They might dither around to push the debate back. It can 't be too soon, because then all those "values voter" assclowns won't be sufficiently riled up. The Senate will still not have the votes to pass this abomination, just as they did not have two years ago. Nothing has changed, of course. Except the desperation levels of congressional Republicans.

This Congress, and especially the GOP, ought to be ashamed of this disgraceful pandering. Then again, what am I saying? Things seem to have been like this for a long time:
Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.
-- Mark Twain