Saturday, August 25, 2007

Surging Iraq to death

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Or: Just another year in the life and death of Iraq. The AP reports on the surge and the death toll:

This year's U.S. troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in Baghdad down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago.

Some of the recent bloodshed appears the result of militant fighters drifting into parts of northern Iraq, where they have fled after U.S.-led offensives. Baghdad, however, still accounts for slightly more than half of all war-related killings — the same percentage as a year ago, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

The tallies and trends offer a sobering snapshot after an additional 30,000 U.S. troops began campaigns in February to regain control of the Baghdad area. It also highlights one of the major themes expected in next month's Iraq progress report to Congress: some military headway, but extremist factions are far from broken.

In street-level terms, it means life for average Iraqis appears to be even more perilous and unpredictable.

And this death toll is just what is known to the AP. What of all the deaths that have gone unreported? What of the non-lethal casualties? And what of the violence more generally?

Read the AP article for the sobering statistics.


Certainly not to the warmongers, the Bushes and Kristols, who are calling for more time, more war, with no apparent end to any of it. Drunk as they are, the truth, as reflected in these numbers, must mean nothing to them. Or, rather, they mean success, once twisted around the filtered through the prism of righteous delusion.

Bush said this today in his weekly radio address: "We are still in the early stages of our new operations. But the success of the past couple of months have shown that conditions on the ground can change -- and they are changing."

The "early stages"? -- "success"? -- "change"? Their war evidently isn't the real war. Their Iraq is evidently not the real Iraq.

There has been more than enough time and more than enough failure.

And it is long past time for this madness to end.

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Our schools have gone crazy

By Libby Spencer

This is what happens when we allow fear to dictate our lives. A junior high school kid is kicked out of school for drawing a gun. No, I don't mean pulling a gun out of his bookbag, I mean literally drawing a gun.

Officials at an Arizona school suspended a 13-year-old boy for sketching what looked like a gun, saying the action posed a threat to his classmates. The boy's parents said the drawing was a harmless doodle and school officials overreacted.

Chandler district spokesman Terry Locke said the crude sketch was "absolutely considered a threat," and that threatening words or pictures are punishable.

I don't know about you, but as long as I've been alive, boys have been drawing pictures of guns and dead bleeding bodies and car crashes and other horrible scenes of monsters and mayhem without going on killing sprees in their later life. This kid just drew a gun, and it wasn't even a particularly good sketch. One might have thought it was some kind of spaceship if you didn't know what it was ahead of time.

This is part of a disturbing trend in schools where kids are being regularly punished for "thought crimes" that in past generations would have considered a rite of passage. Small wonder kids have no respect for authority when their school officials make such a mockery of the phrase that used to define this country -- land of the free and home of the brave.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Krazy Kavalier Kristol

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From TP: Yesterday on Fox News -- where else? -- Krazy Kristol argued that "the surge clearly is working" and that it should continue, with current troop levels, for "another six months," perhaps even "another year or so" (note the "or so" -- it could mean anything, but what it certainly means is open-ended war, a war with no end in sight).

In so arguing, and in maintaining a degree of hawkishness that is truly insane, Kristol finds himself in opposition not just to many in his own party, not just to the overwhelming majority of the American people, but to the intelligence community (the NIE asserts that the surge is clearly not working) and the military (which recognizes, and worries about, the strain that comes from overextension).

As TP reminds us, "Kristol has never served in the military and was one of the most cocksure voices pushing for the current escalation strategy" -- he was pushing war with Iraq, and American hegemony generally, long before Bush embarked on this disaster of a war in the Middle East. It is awfully cavalier of someone who has never gone to war to be such a warmongers -- and particularly at this stage of such a disastrous war. It is easy enough to go on TV, the friendly confines of Fox News, and call for war and more war, endless war -- what is the risk, that he could further damage his credibility? It is much more difficult, one imagines, to call for war when you yourself, or your loved ones, would be put in harm's way. Which is why I have a great deal more respect for John McCain than for Bill Kristol.

Kristol wants six more months or another year, or more, of this war, of this occupation. But what of the lives he so cavalierly puts at risk? What of those troops, those men and women with loved ones back home, those men and women who are living with the daily strain of war and who have seen their tours of duty extended?

What of them, and what of the Iraqis? No matter, Kristol is hardly in a position to understand the human cost of war.

He might as well be playing Stratego -- the object: American (and Republican) hegemony.

Does this mean that no one who hasn't been to war, or whose loved ones haven't, should support war? No. What it means is that one shouldn't be so cavalier about it.

But that is precisely what Krazy Kristol has become. He has been wrong about this war all along -- just as he has been wrong about American foreign and military policy for even longer. And he wants more of it. He will continue to be wrong, but he will continue to flourish on Fox News, where being wrong comes with the territory.

Which, on its own, wouldn't be so bad: a lot of people are wrong about a lot of things. But what is so bad about this is that this war isn't a game -- the troops, the civilians, the "enemy," however defined, aren't pieces on a board to be moved around and put in harm's way, and sacrificed, for the sake of the larger goal of winning the game, no matter what.

(And if you don't win, so what, you just start over -- Iran?)

Bill Kristol has become one of the war's most appalling advocates. And he is only getting worse.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Vick in hell

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The NFL has suspended Michael Vick indefinitely following "his plea agreement in federal court admitting to conspiracy in a dogfighting ring and agreeing that the enterprise included killing pit bulls and gambling" -- he denied that he gambled on the fights, but he "agreed to plead guilty to the first count of the original two-count indictment against him -- that he was part of a conspiracy to operate a dogfighting ring across state lines".

Federal prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 12 to 18 months, but, no matter the sentence -- and "U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson is not bound by any recommendation or by the sentencing guidelines -- Vick will be getting off easy.

Good for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for going with an indefinite suspension, good for federal prosecutors for pursuing this case. Let's hope the Atlanta Falcons cut all ties with Vick, just as many of his sponsors have. And let's hope Virginia state prosecutors bring a case against him, too. And let's hope something good comes of this, namely, awareness of the existence of dogfighting and efforts to stop it, everywhere.

Should Vick play again in the NFL? I am tempted to say no, but it would be a pleasure to have him booed everywhere he went. And it would be a similar pleasure for him to drop back to pass and be crushed by a linebacker or safety on a mission. Crushed, driven into the ground, left to writhe in agony, justice done.

Otherwise, he can rot in hell.


For more on the Vick saga, see the excellent coverage at -- here (pre-indictment) and here (post-indictment).

Here's their response to today's plea agreement: "Case closed. He admits to gambling, and he admits to killing dogs."

ESPN had been reporting that Vick wasn't going to admit either to gambling or to killing dogs, but, as it turned out, he admitted to everything.

The punishment won't fit the crime(s), but hopefully it will be severe.

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Political prognosticating presumptuous?

By Carol Gee

In the wake of a failed Bush administration, the 2008 election campaign began immediately after the 2006 elections. To elect Democrats in 2008 is a big political goal that will use millions of dollars, gazillions of spoken words, and gallons and gallons of journalistic ink (electronically speaking, of course).

Why on earth would politicians want to subject themselves to such a high cost endeavor? What candidate tactics will be new to this election? What will the current administration and congress leave behind to govern?

What does current news or commentary foreshadow for 2009 and the beginning of a new era of governance? Today is Friday, August 24, 2007. It seems to me that we can presume at least three issues will continue to drive electoral politics: the war in Iraq, an increase in the influence of the blogosphere, and a rise in power at the centers of both political parties. To illustrate, I offer these items.

The war in Iraq - I have always been sorry that former New York Governor Mario Cuomo never got a chance to be President. This man has a capacity for speaking the truth, utilizing heart mind and spirit, and being wise. His words urging Democrats to find their vision are featured at the beginning of this piece. The Center for Media and Democracy post by John Stauber (8-20-07) was titled, "Iraq: The "Gift" That Keeps On Bleeding." The author examines current alliances within the Democratic party, how the 110th Congress is reacting to the war in Iraq, the Center's contributions to the YearlyKos conference, and what Iraq War Veterans Against the War are doing right now to make a difference. Stauber also plugs Mat Bai's popular new book, "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics." To quote what really caught my eye from the post,

Shortly after the November 2006 election . . . liberal legend Mario Cuomo analyze[d] the Democratic Party in the wake of its stunning electoral victories that had given Democrats control of the US Congress. Cuomo criticized the Democratic Party for lacking vision, big ideas and a winning political argument. His recipe for future Democratic victories was simple: "You seize the biggest idea you can, the biggest idea you can understand. And this is what moves elections."

Cuomo then dared to voice an inconvenient truth: "Now it's 2006 and we're all rejoicing. Why? Because of Iraq. A GIFT. A gift to the Democrats. A lot of whom voted for the war anyway." The former New York governor challenged his partisan audience, "If Iraq is not an issue, then what issues do we have to talk about? … Where does that leave you? It leaves you in the same position you were in in 2004 – without an issue. Because you have no big idea."

The story of Cuomo’s speech is from the concluding pages of Matt Bai's new book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. Bai writes, “An uncomfortable silence hung over the ballroom. No one had yet expressed the situation quite that crassly, although everyone knew it was an accurate accounting.”

Blogosphere journalism - The mainstream media can no longer hold an exclusive claim to professional journalism. The blogosphere has increasingly broken the news, kept important stories alive, and done significant investigative or analytical writing. Members of the mainstream media must now check the web the first thing after starting their shifts. Jay Rosen at PressThink compiled a list (augmented by comments) of the best examples of bloggers' significant valid journalistic coups of recent times. It makes one proud! Quoting just a bit,

A reading list, with different kinds of complications—some big, some small—to his tales of virtue and greatness in reporting and blogging.

. . . This is what I pulled together—draft version—as my list of somewhat representative, by no means definitive or even halfway-complete list of cases.

. . . March, 2007. Firedoglake at the Libby Trial. Popular lefty political blog provides the only blow by blow coverage of the trial by splitting the work among six contributors who bring big knowledge to bear for a committed-to-the-case readership; news media repy on the blog for its updates and analysis.

Congress center weighting -- Centrists in both parties are becoming more influential in Congress. They have the votes to help one wing or another of either party to pass or block any bills introduced. Many presume that the congressional and presidential elections will be won by those who can garner enough votes from the centers of both parties to win majorities. Today's news items focus only the congress. However, it must be noted that members of the House and Senate are running for President while still serving.

  • Republicans -- Influential Senator John Warner made the headlines yesterday following his recent trip to Iraq. Faiz at Think Progress posted this yesterday: " Sen. Warner Calls On President Bush To Begin Iraq Withdrawal In September." To quote Warner:

    I say to the President, respectfully, pick whatever number you wish. You do not want to lose the momentum. But certainly, in the 160,000 plus — say 5,000 — could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.

  • Democrats -- John Kraushaar, from, wrote (8/24/07) about the clear split in the Democratic party between Liberals and recently elected Centrist legislators. "Liberal blogger targets ‘Bush Dog' Dems." To quote:

  • A leading liberal blogger has declared political war against centrist Democrats – the latest move in an intensifying show of dissatisfaction with the Democratic Congress by the once-friendly blogosphere.

    Matt Stoller, who blogs at the well-trafficked, has compiled a list of 38 House “Blue Dog” Democrats who have voted with Republicans on key legislation, and called on the activist community to put pressure on them – and perhaps challenge them in primaries – if they fail to shape up.
Predicting or trying to influence the outcome of the 2008 election will keep all of us political news junkies well occupied for the next year and a half. The way I will make my choice among the Democratic presidential hopefuls will be to ascertain who could be the best guardian of America's Constitution. Pure and simple. How will you choose?

Here are some additional blogging references:

  1. Project for Excellence in Journalism: "Understanding news in the information age"
  2. Public Knowledge - "a Washington DC based advocacy group working to defend your rights in the emerging digital culture."
  3. Happy - "Real news. Compelling stories. Always Positive"
  4. Texas Weekly-"Texas government, Texas politics"

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Is the White House Iraq Group opening up franchises?

By J. Thomas Duffy

I'm a little surprised that didn't come out with a theme song for it:

We're a Fear Mongering Flag
We're a Terror-Raising Flag
And whenever Bush speaks may it wave

We're the emblem near
Bush's Imperial sphere
The Home of Spin and the Smear

Ev'ry heart beats fast
With each Iraq policy recast
Where there's always a boast or brag.

But should old threats never be forgot,
Keep your eye on the Fear Mongering Flag.

Of course, we speak of the new Ari Fleischer flag-waving venture, Freedom Watch.

Now, last we saw Fleischer, the former Bush Grindhouse flak, he was cutting his sweetheart immunity deal in order to testify in the Scooter Libby Trial.

Can't have federal charges hanging over you when you're launching a new jingoistic propaganda group, can we?

The first sentence on their website shows, immediately, the folly of their work:

Welcome to Freedom’s Watch, an organization dedicated to fighting to protect the ideals and issues that keep America strong and prosperous.

How's that for some Newspeak?

With the financial drain Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq has placed on the country, and the grinding down of our military forces, those "ideals and issues' are out-the-window.

But it gets better:

  • Our mission is to ensure a strong national defense and a powerful fight against terror, especially in Iraq. On the domestic front, our mission is to give hope, lift people up, and achieve prosperity through free enterprise.
  • Those who want to quit while victory is possible have dominated the public debate about terror and Iraq since the 2004 election.
  • Our group will give a voice to those who believe that victory is America's only choice. For those who believe in peace through strength, the cavalry is coming.
  • Our goal, as we await General Petraeus' report, is to make sure our elected leaders do not abandon our nation's mission in Iraq and that they do not cave in to the demands of those who want to cut and run.
Surely, this must have Little Billy Kristolnacht welling up.

And you just gotta love that "the cavalry is coming" line...

And to give you some real flavor of this, Fleischer appeared on Hardball yesterday, and here, after watching one of Freedom's Watch's ads -- a wounded soldier on crutches, saying we "can't surrender", followed by a shot of the World Trade Center, on September 11th, 2001, as the second jet is about to crash into the tower -- is the exchange between Fleischer and host Mike Barnacle:

BARNICLE: God bless him and God bless his service. We need more noble Americans like that. But I‘d like to ask you, how many Iraqis do you figure were on that plane that you showed the shot of flying into the World Trade Center?

FLEISCHER: Mike, it is not about the 2002 decision to go into Iraq. It‘s about terrorism that exists in Iraq today. It‘s about al Qaeda shooting at our troops today and whether or not Congress is going to abandon this mission and leave Iraq to these terrorists. The 2002 debate is an old, stale debate about why we went into Iraq with Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

BARNICLE: But Ari...

FLEISCHER: You can relive that all you want. Our troops aren‘t reliving that. They‘re living the fight today.

BARNICLE: Ari, the ad is so powerful—the visual aspect of the ad is so powerful, with that wonderful, noble young man and the sight of that plane flying into the World Trade Center, filled with Saudi terrorists, not Iraqis, could lead several Americans, I would expect, to think that, Oh, Iraq was in on 9/11. Don‘t you think so?

FLEISCHER: Mike, you‘re stuck in the 2001-2002 timetable and debate. It is so far beyond that debate. That‘s like saying we have never should have gone into Germany because, after all, it was just the Japanese who attacked at Pearl Harbor. The threat in Iraq today is a threat that comes from al Qaeda. It comes from separatists. It comes from Sunni and Shia. And the problem is, if we cut now and we surrender now, that area will explode, and of course we‘ll be in greater risk, at greater danger from terrorists who gather there. Of course we will, not only in Afghanistan, but there, as well.

Notice, while Fleischer chides Barnicle about "being stuck in the 2001-2002 timetable and debate", he's using phrases, such as "We cut now" and "we surrender now", and, of course, squeezing in, continuing the Bush Grindhouse branding of "Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction".

Must have been like riding a bicycle for him.

It's a $15-Million ad buy, so while not omnipresent, it is significant.

Throughout the interview, Ari was in form, staying on message, hitting those "stay the course" talking points.

However, true to form of the Bush Grindhouse, using the soldiers as props, Ari came through in flying colors.

Right after the above-referenced Freedom's Watch ad finished, Barnicle nailed him:

BARNICLE: What is that soldier's name, Ari?
FLEISCHER: Mike, I don‘t have his name in front of me. There are four people, soldiers and their parents who have lost children in battle, as well, who...

Andy Card's head must be exploding... Launching this in August?

Cue up Que Sera Sera...

Bonus Ari Freedom's Watch Links

Watch The Hardball Interview with Mike Barnicle and Ari Fleischer

Joan Walsh: Ari Fleischer, reporting for duty!

Think Progress: Original Iraq War Propagandist Ari Fleischer Returns To Flack For Bush’s Escalation

Tom Matzzie: An open thank you letter to Ari Fleischer

Lies... Propaganda... Like riding a bicycle...

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dueling electoral college measures?

By AviShalom

Next year, Californians may be asked to vote on two conflicting measures to change how the state's presidential electors are allocated. Currently, like all states but Maine and Nebraska, California awards all its electors to the statewide plurality ticket for President and Vice President.

Republicans may throw their support behind a plan to change to the Maine and Nebraska model: one elector for the winner of the plurality in each congressional district, and two for the statewide plurality winner.

Democrats may back an initiative that would enter California into the proposed "National Popular Vote" interstate compact by which the electoral college would be converted into a nationwide plurality direct vote.

The status quo method is awful and should be abolished forthwith. However, is the congressional-district plan favored by some Republicans an improvement? On strictly small-d democratic grounds, absolutely not. Most congressional districts are totally safe for one party--even more than the state itself--and so this plan makes a problem (non-sensitivity to the popular vote) worse, not better.

Of course, on large-D Democratic grounds, the congressional-district plan is a major threat. It would essentially compensate the GOP for its likely loss of Ohio's 21 electoral votes in 2008. And the measure would be effective in the 2008 election were it to be on the ballot in February (presidential primary) or June (regular state primary), and were it to pass.

While a poll recently suggests 47% would favor the congressional-district measure and 35% oppose it, an actual vote is unlikely to result in 50% support, once statewide voters (most of whom have favored Democrats by wide margins in elections in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was not a candidate) catch wind of what is a pure partisan vote-grab.

The other measure would not take effect in 2008, but only after other states whose electoral votes sum to the 270 needed to elect a president had likewise signed on to the compact. At that point, states with enough to ensure victory in the electoral college to the popular-vote winning ticket would have bound themselves legally to give all their electoral votes to that ticket.

A bill to enter the state into the compact passed both houses of the legislature last year but was vetoed by the Governor.

I have discussed the National Popular Vote plan at Fruits & Votes, including making the point that this is not a partisan vote-grab, unlike the California Republicans' congressional-district plan (and to be fair, state Democratic efforts to play the same game in GOP states like North Carolina). In fact, I suspect that the Democratic Party nationally is marginally favored by the current use of statewide plurality in 48 states (and DC). But a direct vote--essentially what the National Popular Vote interstate compact would give us--is preferred democratically (small d).

If both measures in California qualify for the ballot and are approved, the one with the higher vote total would prevail. That's a lousy way to choose from among three alternatives, of course. But for me, as a small-d democrat, it is easy. The status quo is preferable to the congressional district plan, and the national popular vote is vastly preferable to the status quo.

You may read more about the National Popular Vote interstate compact at the movement's website.

(Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.)

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The End of Maliki

By Creature

AP: Report Will Be Critical of Iraq Leader

A lukewarm vote of confidence from the president, a strongman coup being plotted, Hillary on board with Maliki's ouster--and maybe we have to wonder if she's not working in concert with the Bushies to help his end along, and now a new report critical of the Iraqi prime minister. With the military-half of the surge being spun as victory, this is the next phase in Bush's grand attempt to stall the war until it's his turn to run out the White House back-door. You see, we can't leave, we need to give the new Iraq, Maliki-free, government a chance.

The tick-tock strategy continues.

Update: Juan Cole has more on the coup rumors. So much for democracy, beacons, and all that freedom jazz.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Activism -- power through words and feet

By Carol Gee

Activism exercises power through what is written or spoken. The words chosen are crucial to making a difference. Change happens when activists speak out powerfully enough about what actions need to be taken. Except for the war in Iraq, few Bush administration initiatives have raised more furor than the recent late night Congressional amendment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Journalists may or may not see themselves as activists. The mainstream press is beginning to be more active in general against the current administration, perhaps taking their cue from the example of the New York Times. That newspaper originally broke the story about the existence of a warrant-less wiretapping program involving American citizens in the fall of 2006. Though I must say that even the Times held that story for a very long time. It has sometimes erred and occasionally blunted its investigative journalism over the years of the Bush administration. But they were more successful than most at keeping us informed. And they have done it again with Risen and Lichtblau's NYT story 8/18/07 , which I featured in one of my recent posts, "More on FISA" at South by Southwest. The NYT article revealed what the opposition to the amended FISA law has been doing following the bill becoming law.

Bloggers often see ourselves as activists. Increasingly the mainstream media find out what readers may be interested in by reading the blogs. Additionally, more and more bloggers work as investigative journalists who actually find and report original news items. At the very least the blogosphere is often responsible for keeping an issue alive in order to mobilize the action necessary to force change. Today I am featuring a links list of significant blogs on the subject of - FISA - who else is watching? :

Back to the war in Iraq, we cannot imagine a much more powerful statement than one made by six soldiers who fought in Iraq, writing their truth on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. Soldiers acting as activists penned "The War as We Saw It" (on 8/19/07). Note that these military men would probably bristle at being called activists. To quote from their very courageous editorial:

VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

[authors] Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

Activists will be on their feet taking action at the local level during Congress' August recess. Very often utilizing the blogosphere for news and information, supportive voices and new ideas, they will be contacting or visiting their Senators and House members. Activists are organizing and attending protests, and advocating for a change in the direction Congress is taking regarding the Iraq war. The story, "Anti-war activists think global, act local" is from (7/30/07). To quote:

Thwarted so far in Congress from forcing an end to the war in Iraq, anti-war activists are mobilizing to pressure members back home.

. . . Lawmakers will spend a month at home with voters in August, a prime opportunity for anti-war groups to influence them. Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.) met recently with representatives from the National League of Cities and the Center for American Progress to talk about local efforts, he said.

"It's the grass roots and the public taking hold of the issue. The push has to come from the bottom up," he said.

Activists cannot operate in a vacuum. It takes all kinds of actions to make a difference. Things as simple as taking the time to comment on a blog post, keeping up with the latest news, watching C-SPAN, noticing when influential members of the mainstream media let lies go unchallenged, doing an internet search when you don't understand something, talking politics to friends and family, or offering support to a burned out blogger - all are small acts of involvement of words and feet in the fight.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Iraq wasn't like Vietnam, until it was

By Michael J.W. Stickings

That is, until it suited the president to make the comparison. Which he did. Yesterday:

President Bush defended his ongoing military commitment in Iraq by linking the conflict there to the Vietnam War, arguing Wednesday that withdrawing U.S. troops would lead to widespread death and suffering as it did in Southeast Asia three decades ago.

"One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 'reeducation
camps' and 'killing fields,' " Bush told a receptive audience at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention."

In response, Ted Kennedy noted that Bush is "drawing the wrong lesson from history," which is, of course, true. What is Bush saying, that the U.S. should not have withdrawn from Vietnam, that the war should have gone on? Giuliani made very much the same argument in his recent Foreign Affairs piece -- see Fred Kaplan's thorough dismantling of that piece here. It's a remarkably stupid argument, but it's one that seems to be rather popular on the right: Vietnam was a failure not because it was a terrible war but because it wasn't waged effectively, because the U.S. withdrew too soon, because liberals and peaceniks and other traitors got their way.

And so now, Iraq, which is not a failure because it is a terrible war, and because the warmongers got it all wrong, but because it hasn't been waged effectively, or competently, and because the liberals and peaceniks and other traitors are getting their way -- and so the war isn't really a failure at all, it just looks that way, and victory, whatever that means these days, is right around the corner, just give it a chance to succeed.

And you see whose fault it is, right? Not the warmongers -- not Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld, not the neocon utopians at The Murdoch Standard or any of the other cheerleaders on the right -- but the war's opponents, who just aren't giving it a chance, even now, years after it started.

And when the U.S. does withdraw -- sometime, inevitably -- you see who will be blamed, right, when Iraq descends further into chaos?

Yes, Bush's Iraq-is-like-Vietnam flip-flop serves a dual purpose: to make the case for the war now and to prepare the ground for the politics of post-withdrawal. See what you traitors have done, Bush and the warmongers and the cheerleaders will say, Iraq, poor Iraq, is another Vietnam, and it's all your fault, you made us lose. They will re-write history, a common enough practice on the right, and spin Iraq this way and that, making the analogy where once the analogy was anathema, for there is apparently no low to which they will sink to avoid taking any responsibility for what they have done.


-- Steve Benen notes that historians are not impressed with the analogy, not at all.

-- For more reaction, see Josh Marshall, Taylor Marsh, Steve Benen, Barbara O'Brien, Cernig, and D at LG&M. And there's a lot more at Memeorandum.

-- Pamela Leavey has John Kerry's response: "Invoking the tragedy of Vietnam to defend the failed policy in Iraq is as irresponsible as it is ignorant of the realities of both of those wars."

-- The Hill: "Democrats blast Bush’s Vietnam comparison."

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Bad inflation

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Hey, I complain when the Blue Jays raise their ticket prices. But this -- well, this provides some perspective:

Zimbabwe's annual rate of inflation jumped to 7,638% in July according to the first official figures to be published for three months.

And it could be -- and get -- even worse:

Last month, the International Monetary Fund warned annual inflation could reach 100,000% by the end of the year.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe has said the real year-on-year inflation is far higher than the official rate -- claiming it was nearer 13,000% in June.

Well done, Tyrant Mugabe. Quite the little paradise you've got over there.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Retro Rudy... When the emperor has no clothes, I guess, we're supposed to compliment his hair...

By J. Thomas Duffy

Just last week, and earlier this month, The Garlic highlighted the shark-jumping abilities of America's Mayor.

Then, on Saturday, Alex Koppelman, of Salon, dug into Hizzonor's claim of his Ground Zero heroics, and came out with "After 9/11, Rudy wasn't a rescue worker -- he was a Yankee; Giuliani said he spent as much time at ground zero as many rescue workers. Where was he really? Much of the time, at baseball games."

Well, apparently, the shark handlers took umbrage to that characterization.

Joan Walsh has a piece today, detailing the blowback on Koppelman's "After 9/11, "Rudy wasn't a rescue worker -- he was a Yankee" from the National Review, and not one defender, but three;

When the National Review attacks

Not sure how that plays out for the Presidential Pennant Race, when you have to go three-deep into the bullpen to bailout a wannabe Yankee. It's more than probable that's there's a stadium-full of inimical press waiting in the on-deck circle.

Bonus Links

Wayne Barrett: Rudy Giuliani's Five Big Lies About 9/11

Where's Ernest Borgnine when you need him?

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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More Canadian dead

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The unpleasant latest: "The dangers of Afghanistan were driven further Wednesday night with news that two Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed and another soldier and two Radio-Canada television journalists were injured."

The Canadian death toll in Afghanistan since 2002 now stands at 68, including a diplomat. Yes, far fewer than the number of Afghans killed, and far few than the number of Americans killed in Iraq, but still deeply troubling for this country.


I tend to support Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan, in some form or another, more than most other Canadians, but my support is wavering, uncertain.

Canadian troops -- who are doing a "fabulous job," said Bush at the recent summit in Quebec -- are scheduled to come home in February 2009. "Canada has performed brilliantly," echoed Harper.

They are both right, regardless of whether or not the troops should be there at all.

The troops make us proud, regardless of the mission.


And should they be there? Let's see how 2008 goes. It is much easier to support a NATO-led action than a U.S.-led one, but my support would be more robust, I suspect, if the U.S. hadn't turned away from Afghanistan to wage irresponsible war in Iraq.

The Afghans need us, the Taliban is totalitarian, and the cause may be just.

But the mission must be clear.

And the cost? Every life lost hurts dearly.

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The absolute hope of continued chaos

By Creature

Yesterday we learned, from former CIA operative Bob Baer, that the United States "will hit [Iran's] Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps sometime [in the] next six months or so." Today, ThinkProgress has the mustache that refuses to fade away, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, "absolutely" giddy about that prospect. Do they not think there will be repercussions? Do they not think there will be consequences? I'm guessing they do think and they would relish an all out war.

The more these neocons talk, the more it's clear that the chaos in Iraq was just what they wanted so they could have an excuse to go after Iran.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The ownership of failure

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Fred Barnes's Rovian "big idea" for Republican "recovery"? -- "ownership," that is, the ownership society, including (yes, here we go again) Social Security privatization. (So he argued yesterday at the WSJ.)

Sure, why not?

Pretty much everything else has failed, more failure, including more electoral defeat, lies on the horizon, Iraq has been, is, and will continue to be a disaster mitigated only by deception, Bush has been one of the worst presidents of all time, the GOP's primary political strategy teeters on the twin pillars of fearmongering and division, the party's internal divisions are as naked as ever, the candidates for its presidential nomination are uninspiring at best, irrational hope hoists an actor, or the generic character he plays, into the ranks of party stardom, and the party's two main ideas, or ideologies, are, at present, fascism and theocratism, Christian nationalism of a decidedly authoritarian nature.

Even Fred Barnes, Krazy Kristol's partner-in-lunacy at The Murdoch Standard, finds all that rather troubling, not because it's all inherently troubling but because the Republicans won't win if that's all they've got. (Can you feel his pain?)

Hence: "ownership." (Forget that Americans don't want what the Republicans want to give them. I'm sure there's some Rovian plan to scare them into submission once more.)

Hence this piece of advice: "The recipe for Republicans is to stop acting like, well, Republicans -- that is, Republicans of recent vintage."

Good luck with that. You know what they say about the leopard.

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Moose gas

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm really not sure what to make of this article, nor of the scientific research reported in it, but, well, here you go:

Norway is concerned that its national animal, the moose, is harming the climate by emitting an estimated 2,100 kilos of carbon dioxide a year through its belching and farting.

Norwegian newspapers, citing research from Norway's technical university, said a motorist would have to drive 13,000 kilometers in a car to emit as much CO2 as a moose does in a year.

Talk about scapemoosing.

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Ratfucking New York

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Republicans are good with the dirty tricks, but something tells me it isn't a good thing to be on Eliot Spitzer's bad side.

If anyone has the balls to crush the ratfuckers, and the Republicans generally, it's Spitzer.

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Hating the gays

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Just a thought, but it seems to me that the Republicans would do very well in Uganda. And with things not looking so good for them heading into '08, and with gay-hating no longer the vote-winner it once was, they should think seriously of moving there, all of them, and taking their electoral chances in a friendlier environment.

Not that I wish to inflict any more pain on the Ugandan people or anything.

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(Lethal) Toy Story

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It should come as no surprise that dangerous, lead-ridden toys have been manufactured in China, given this:

A U.S.-based workers' rights group said it found "brutal conditions" and labour violations at eight Chinese plants that make toys for big multinationals, and called on the companies to take steps for better standards.

China Labor Watch said in a report issued on Tuesday after several months of investigation that the manufacturers — which served a handful of global players, including Disney, Bandai and Hasbro — paid "little heed to the most basic standards of the country".

"Wages are low, benefits are non-existent, work environments are dangerous and living conditions are humiliating," it said.

It's bad enough, of course, that these toys were manufactured at all, much worse that they were exported to the U.S. and elsewhere, and ultimately consumed -- literally, in some cases.

But here's what pisses me off:

No one gave a shit about any of this, save for the few noble souls who bothered to pay attention to the labour situation in China, and the even fewer who spoke out and tried to do something about it. Consumers may plead ignorance, but is that an acceptable defence? How do you think all that crap is so cheap? If it's so cheap at Wal-Mart, how cheap do you think it was to manufacture in the first place? No matter, it would seem, as long as it's cheap. Consumers want crap and they want it cheap. Beyond that: out of sight, out of mind, not that it was ever in sight. Whether it's toys made in China or clothes made in some American protectorate in the Pacific, or some destitute location in Asia, people, many of them, children included, are being exploited, and abused, so that we in the West can have all the cheap crap we want. Go to Wal-Mart, or Target, or any other such consumer paradise. Look at the people there, the consumers, watch them closely. Observe as they raid the racks and stacks, aisle after godforsaken aisle, pushing their carts with determined abandon, piling high the booty of their deepest yet most ephemeral desires.

Do they give a shit? Hardly.

There may be ignorance behind their dazed looks and glazed visages, but, no, that is not an acceptable defence.

You've heard of blood diamonds? Call these blood toys. And the blood is everywhere.

And what of Disney and Mattel and Hasbro and the other toy giants?

"Instead of concentrating on improving product safety and workers' lives, companies spend their energy creating beautiful pamphlets on social responsibility, disputing critical reports and shifting blame," the report concludes, and there is no doubt, no doubt at all. Their "single-minded pursuit of ever-lower prices and neglect of other considerations," in mutualistic malfeasance with homegrown Chinese horrors, made this happen. Disney and its ilk may claim otherwise, talking the talk, deflecting charges, playing stupid, denying any and all responsibility, any and all knowledge, these multinational versions of Michael Vick, but, come now, what did they do before all this broke, before it became news, before the whole damned mess started to stink so much it could no longer be contained in those wretched Chinese factories?

Not much. Not much at all. Certainly not enough.

They were happy enough, more than happy, to rake in their massive profits at the expense of the exploited and abused, those beyond the reach of the media, those without a voice, those who don't matter, those about whom no one gives a shit, save the noble souls, just as Wal-Mart and its ilk were happy, more than happy, to rake in their own massive profits, just as consumers were happy, more than happy, to buy and buy and buy -- and yes, just as the owners of those wretched Chinese factories were happy, more than happy, to abuse and exploit so that massive profits could be made, including their own, and consumers could pile the booty without any twinge of their collective conscience, the dulled, narcotized conscience of our dulled, narcotized age.

And, really, no one gave a shit until one of us died, until it became a problem for us, isn't that the dark truth here? No one gave a shit about the abused and exploited, that they were dying, that they, the wretched, were being sacrificed for us, sacrificed so that we could satisfy the hollow cravings of our cult of consumerism, morphine for existential meaninglessness.

Lead in our toys! Say it ain't so!

We're shocked, outraged!

We demand action!

But the abuse and the exploitation? -- ah, well, no, we don't know nothin', nothin' at all, that all happens over there, way over there, in some faraway place, to faraway people, we don't know them, no idea, no idea at all, so what if the Chinese are fucking the Chinese, so what if those wonderful companies like Disney, those corporate benefactors that bring so much happiness to our children, that are so wholesome, so about American values, are playing along, enabling it, paying for it, supporting it, encouraging it, denying everything, so what if equally wonderful companies like Wal-Mart are selling all that crap, have you seen their prices, dirt cheap, reduced, on sale, where's my cart, huh, where's my cart, we need to pile up the booty!

And, for all the shock and outrage, what has changed? So some toys, a lot of them, have been recalled. The media are, at long last, paying attention, public awareness has swelled. And?

Go to your local Wal-Mart or Target or wherever they sell cheap crap, which is pretty much everywhere, these days. What do you find there? Is it empty? Are consumers staying away? Are they boycotting, making a statement? Has conscience won out over the mega-desire to acquire as much cheap crap as possible, as defining a desire as there is, these days?

No. No. No. No.

Life goes on. The buying goes on. The piling up of booty goes on.

The eternal recurrence of the same old shit without anyone giving a shit.

And elsewhere, too, around the world, life goes on, the same old shit, the abuse and the exploitation, the fucking and the fucking over, in China or on some Pacific island, to men, women, and children, excused and condoned, denial heaped upon denial, profits skyrocketing, happy, happy, happy, more than happy, brutality served with a global smile and a dulled, narcotized conscience.

And so it goes.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Playing soldier

By Capt. Fogg

I didn't even know it was illegal! According to the Army Times, a 76-year old California man plead guilty last week to charges of wearing a US Army uniform showing the rank of Major General without authorization and was sentenced to probation and a small fine.

Augustine Hernandez showed up at a ceremony last December to posthumously award the Navy Cross to a deceased Marine. Bystanders became suspicious of Hernandez, who was decked out with various medals and ribbons including a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and so they hired an investigator. Although it was found that the man did serve and was honorably discharged from the Army in 1954, it was as a private first class.

I guess it's necessary to enforce these things, but I keep thinking of the Commander guy in his tight flight suit and leather jacket parading around a carrier flight deck and playing soldier. The cameras never got close enough to show whether he was wearing his silver spoon.

Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Let them eat insurance policies

By Libby Spencer

When Bush announced he is the Great Decider, he apparently wasn't just talking about policies that legally and traditionally fall under the purview of the executive branch, he means he's going to make decisions about everything, including mandating policy that should be left to individual state's discretion. And so, in his typical fashion of delivering unpalatable edicts during the August recess, he has decided that the welfare of the private insurance industry is more important than the health of our nation's children.

In a letter sent to the states this week he mandated impossible criteria for states who wish to expand insurance assistance to uninsured children, going as far as to rescind previously authorized standards that have been in existence for years. This new edict not only prevents new enrollees, it will eliminate coverage for children who already depend on the program.

The language of the White House proclamation is telling in that none of the requirements mandated by our "compassionate president" require benchmarks that relate to the health of children. The thresholds instead are predicated on how it affects the insurance industry's bottom line.

Joe Gandelman has his usual link rich post, collecting the various reactions, and expresses his own outrage admirably. Predictably, his comment section has already garnered responses along the lines of, why should we be subsidizing upper middle class kids anyway? And indeed, one can understand how someone living in a place where the median income is in the 40s could be skeptical of NY state's desire to expand coverage up to families making in the 80s. It's difficult for some people to understand the relative nature of the cost of living in different areas of the country.

But the bottom line is, Bush has no right to dictate impossible mandates, against the wishes of the Congress, simply to protect his corporate cronies and however one feels about the program itself, the only certainty is that millions of more children are going to be denied proper medical care by the richest country in the world. That's just a disgrace.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Monday, August 20, 2007

NYT on FISA - Part II: Administration's position

By Carol Gee

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - In the Sunday (8/18/07) news, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times, thank goodness, are still looking at the law under FISA. In Part I of this series, I explored the genesis of the domestic spying law being amended and the sorry history of what may have been done to it by both the administration and Congress. This post explores the administration's intentions about implementing their new bonus powers.

One of the most significant new revelations of the New York Times article, concerns what the administration spokespersons asserted regarding the new law. The amended FISA law gives the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales the power to set up the new procedures and approve the way surveillance is conducted. To further quote the reporters on this crucial aspect of the issue - the position of the administration about what they will do or not do under the new FISA law,

. . . Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the office of the director of national intelligence, said the concerns raised by Congressional officials about the wide scope of the new legislation were “speculative.” But she declined to discuss specific aspects of how the legislation would be enacted.

. . . The legislation “restores FISA to its original and appropriate focus — protecting the privacy of Americans,” said Brian Roehrkasse, Justice Department spokesman. “The act makes clear that we do not need a court order to target for foreign intelligence collection persons located outside the United States, but it also retains FISA’s fundamental requirement of court orders when the target is in the United States.”

. . . At the meeting, Bruce Fein, a Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration, along with other critics of the legislation, pressed Justice Department officials repeatedly for an assurance that the administration considered itself bound by the restrictions imposed by Congress. The Justice Department, led by Ken Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, refused to do so, according to three participants in the meeting. That stance angered Mr. Fein and others. It sent the message, Mr. Fein said in an interview, that the new legislation, though it is already broadly worded, “is just advisory. The president can still do whatever he wants to do. They have not changed their position that the president’s Article II powers trump any ability by Congress to regulate the collection of foreign intelligence.”

. . . Asked whether the administration considered the new legislation legally binding, Ms. Vines, the national intelligence office spokeswoman, said: “We’re going to follow the law and carry it out as it’s been passed.”. . . Bush issued a so-called signing statement about the legislation when he signed it into law, but the statement did not assert his presidential authority to override the legislative limits.

The authors do not name the Democrats meeting with the White House about the amended FISA law. We would not be surprised if none of the misguided Senators or House Members who voted to approve the bill came to complain about it to the administration. They would leave that fight to those losing Democrats whose votes did not prevail that late Saturday night. It is now too late for the "yes"voters to read and understand the legislation they passed. My general understanding is that one reads and understands before casting a vote.

Yes, I am still so mad at those on THE YES LIST, (corrected) I can hardly resist continuing to complain. My planned forgiveness remains incomplete, not that it matters in the least, of course.

Cross-posted at South by Southwest.

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Rudy the Fascist

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Now he wants all foreigners in the U.S. to carry ID cards. "If you don’t have that card, you get thrown out of the country," he said of the so-called "Safe card" -- for "secure authorised foreign entry."

Civil liberties? Never mind. This is Rudy out to prove his authoritarian bona fides to a party that bows down before authority.

The question is, where would it end? What other cards would be required? Foreigners now, Americans later, everyone with ID cards, with the "proper" documents, some with special cards separating them out from the rest, much like in Europe in the '30s.

Don't think it can't happen.

Lincoln may have called America "the last best hope of earth" -- and that may have been optimistic, and perhaps delusional -- but now, once more, darker forces are at work, and rising, in the land of the free.

And they must be stopped.

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The long, lost war

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Iraq war (including the occupation) has been going on for a long time, has cost a huge amount of money (and lives), and has been lost (at least based on initial definitions of victory), but there is another war that has been doing on for much longer, has cost much more money and many lives, and that has also been lost.

What war is that? The war on drugs.

Former BBC reporter Misha Glenny has an excellent article at the Post on that war -- and on what has gone wrong. Here's a key passage:

The trade in illegal narcotics begets violence, poverty and tragedy. And wherever I went around the world, gangsters, cops, victims, academics and politicians delivered the same message: The war on drugs is the underlying cause of the misery. Everywhere, that is, except Washington, where a powerful bipartisan consensus has turned the issue into a political third rail.

The problem starts with prohibition, the basis of the war on drugs. The theory is that if you hurt the producers and consumers of drugs badly enough, they'll stop doing what they're doing. But instead, the trade goes underground, which means that the state's only contact with it is through law enforcement, i.e. busting those involved, whether producers, distributors or users. But so vast is the demand for drugs in the United States, the European Union and the Far East that nobody has anything approaching the ability to police the trade.

Prohibition gives narcotics huge added value as a commodity. Once traffickers get around the business risks -- getting busted or being shot by competitors -- they stand to make vast profits. A confidential strategy report prepared in 2005 for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet and later leaked to the media offered one of the most damning indictments of the efficacy of the drug war. Law enforcement agencies seize less than 20 percent of the 700 tons of cocaine and 550 tons of heroin produced annually. According to the report, they would have to seize 60 to 80 percent to make the industry unprofitable for the traffickers.

Supply is so plentiful that the price of a gram of heroin is plummeting in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. As for cocaine, according to the UNODC, the street price of a gram in the United States is now less than $70, compared with $184 in 1990. Adjusted for inflation, that's a threefold drop.

The demand is enormous, the supply is there, and law enforcement efforts and military actions have barely made a dent. Whether it's been the police or the military waging the war, whether the U.S. or anyone else, the drug trade has flourished. Seriously, what exactly has been accomplished? By most accounts -- and by that I mean accounts other than those that hold sway in Washington -- hardly anything at all.

So what is to be done? Glenny doesn't have the answers, and neither do I. Simply, there are no easy answers. I can only repeat what I wrote back in March: "The point is to recognize that the war on drugs, the enforcement of illiberal laws that don't work, cannot succeed. Once that line is crossed, it will be possible to discuss in concrete terms what drugs should be legalized and how best to do so -- and to begin to educate ourselves (and our children) honestly about the risks associated with drug use."

I tend to favour broad legalization, but, again, the point is to move beyond the war on drugs. Why continue to wage a lost war that is costing so much?

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lede of the Day: From Belknap to Gonzales

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Make sure to check out this interesting piece in the Times by Adam Cohen. Here's the opening:

William Belknap, Ulysses S. Grant’s disgraced secretary of war, is experiencing a revival. Impeached in 1876 for taking bribes, he has become the inspiration for a movement to remove Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from office. Impeachment is usually thought of as limited to presidents, but the Constitution not only allows the impeachment of Cabinet members, in Belknap’s case, it was actually done.

Could it be done now? Although much of the impeachment talk has involved Bush and/or Cheney, why not Gonzales? Consider his shady, inconsistent testimony before Congress. Consider his role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys -- whatever the specifics, and much is still not known for certain, he either authorized the firing (injustice) or had no idea what was going on under his own nose (incompetence). Consider his role in Bush's illegal domestic surveillance program. Consider his partisanship, the common denominator of his tenure both in the White House and at the Justice Department.

"Impeachment was one of the important checks and balances the founders built into the Constitution," Cohen reminds us." At state ratification conventions, it was promoted as a tool for Congress to rein in any officeholder who 'dares to abuse the power vested in him by the people.'" (See Federalist 65.)

It is time -- it has been time for a long time -- for Congress to check and to balance, to do what it is supposed to do according to the Constitution. Impeachment is a dirty word in some parts -- even in some parts of the Democratic Party.

But aside from the obvious political considerations -- impeachment could be unpopular and likely would not succeed (Gonzales would resign first, but Democrats don't have the votes regardless) -- is there a reason not to go ahead with it?

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Pimpin' for Rudy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It was only a matter of time, but, then, no one who inhabits reality has ever doubted that the right-wing shills at Fox News -- and what other shills are there at that loathsome network? -- are committed extensions of the Republican Party. And now it's Sean Hannity, one of the most loathsome of the shills, who has made it into the news, not just by being a Republican but by throwing some rather public support behind one Rudy Giuliani, Republican candidate for president:

In a little noticed event this month, Hannity -- co-host of Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes" and host of a popular WABC radio show -- introduced the Republican front-runner at a closed-door, $250-per-head fund-raiser Aug. 9 in Cincinnati, campaign officials acknowledge.

In so doing, some believe that Hannity -- while clearly a commentator paid to express his opinions -- crossed the line from punditry into financial rainmaking for a presidential candidate whose bottom line is now better for it.

"Fox's in-kind contribution to Republican politicians in the form of softball coverage is one thing," said Steve Rendall, senior analyst at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a left-leaning media watchdog group. "But this is the first time they have crossed this line into fund-raising."

This was also the next, and perhaps inevitable, step in the developing convergence of media and politics. No longer determined to remain on the sidelines, many in the media -- not just individuals but entire media empires -- are not just blurring the lines but taking active roles. And this is happening far more on the right than on the left -- indeed, acting under cover of the myth of so-called liberal bias, the right has been working to take over the media and to partisanize them. (Just read David Brock's revealing The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy. The takeover of the media has been one of the right's main priorities since the '70s. Rupert Murdoch is the big name, of course, but the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, owner of The Washington Times, is also a major player, as are many others on the religious right -- see Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.)

For its part, Fox has been pushing the Republican agenda for years, operating as a platform for the Republican Party and, more broadly, for the conservative movement. With Hannity's support for Giuliani, the obvious is just more out in the open.

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NYT on FISA -- Part I: After the vote

By Carol Gee

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - Today James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, thank goodness, are still looking at the law under FISA as recently pushed through and amended by Congress. Democratic leaders opposed the legislation, but did not successfully block it, out of fear that they would be criticized as being soft on terrorism. Many of the members may not have realized what they were doing, said Congressional aides to the authors.

The NYT reports that Congressional Democrats have been meeting with the administration to raise their concerns that the legislation is "overly broad and troubling," and "and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought." The very vocal complaints also spoke to "the diminished role of the FISA court, which is limited to determining whether the procedures set up by the executive administration for intercepting foreign intelligence are 'clearly erroneous' or not." To quote further from their very informative (8/19/07) article,

Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

. . . Several legal experts said that by redefining the meaning of “electronic surveillance,” the new law narrows the types of communications covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, by indirectly giving the government the power to use intelligence collection methods far beyond wiretapping that previously required court approval if conducted inside the United States. These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns.

. . . Some civil rights advocates said they suspected that the administration made the language of the bill intentionally vague to allow it even broader discretion over wiretapping decisions. Whether intentional or not, the end result — according to top Democratic aides and other experts on national security law — is that the legislation may grant the government the right to collect a range of information on American citizens inside the United States without warrants, as long as the administration asserts that the spying concerns the monitoring of a person believed to be overseas.

Whatever explanations and mixed messages are given by the administration, we can only hope that Democrats coming back into session will not feel they must sit idly by for month after month, knowing they made a serious constitutional mistake, or several mistakes. They are not required to remain impotent. Are there no remedies? No ideas? Is there no chagrin? No outrage?

Part II of this series will explore the administration's stated views on implementing the new bill.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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