Saturday, September 22, 2007

Little things -- A soldier's story

By Libby Spencer

Obsidian Wings apparently has a fairly new blogger who is a soldier posting from inside Iraq. G'Kar puts up a moving post on the little things that put a more humanitarian face on the occupation.

He speaks of delivering flour to the poor villagers and of a factory built with US dollars that will eventually employ 50 locals. Now I'll admit, I've done my share of sneering about these tiny projects in comparison to the wholesale violence we're helping to perpetrate in the country, but hearing G'Kar's side of it reminds me of why it's important.

I don't expect that we will make any big differences in Iraq. The government doesn't appear to be interested in doing anything but preserve its power base, and I don't know if that will change even if the U.S. does decide to actually pull out, which seems implausible in any case. I can't make the Iraqi government work any better. I may not even be able to do much to make the Iraqi Army work any better. But I can try to help those Iraqis who want to make their country better succeed in their own small ways, and I can take advantage of my own position to directly aid Iraqis it is in my power to help. It doesn't sound like much. It probably isn't much. But few of us are destined to make a big difference in life; if I can make a little difference, that has to count for something.

Read the whole thing. It's a beautiful and clear-eyed post. It reminds me that if anything is to salvaged out of this debacle it will be because of men and women like G'Kar who reach out to help, not as occupiers, but as fellow human beings.

This is precisely the sort of operations we should focusing on instead of chasing down insurgents, however they're defined these days. One factory and couple of truck loads of flour won't erase the pain of the thousands of innocents who died, but for those 50 Iraqis who have a job now, and for those who saw the tanks come to deliver bread instead of bombs, it will at least leave a postive impression of individual Americans.

That is important and I'm glad that at least some of our troops get an opportunity to build good will between our nations instead of being forced always to kill an ill-defined enemy that too often catches the innocent in the cross-fire.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)


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The draft

By Capt. Fogg

Much is being made of the argument that re-instituting the draft would shorten or end the occupation of Iraq or perhaps would curb any further Napoleonic urges of our warpresident. At one time I bought into it, but as someone who came of age as the US had begun sliding down the bloody slope of increasing involvement in Indo-China I have to reflect on that experience which so disturbingly presages our world.

The arguments for the draft assert that it would increase opposition from those of draft age and their parents and thus impede capricious military adventure. Another argument is that increasing the difficulty of raising a large army would also make aggression less attractive.

I have argued from experience in other venues that the existence of the draft made it far easier for war supporters to dismiss protest and to marginalize the opposition with accusations of cowardice and lack of patriotism. It is after all, different to hear objective arguments from someone who is not in danger of any discomfort than from someone who may shortly be in harms way or is the parent of a draft age child. That war went on for some 16 years and that makes it hard to argue that the draft did more than make more noise and tear gas in the streets. Nixon supporters loved him more for standing up to or ignoring public protest and saw it as courage and character.

Lacking a draft today, the neocons have to work harder and use more absurd accusations against dissenters because that opposition comes from a non-draftable public. In my day, nearly anyone favoring withdrawal from Vietnam could be and usually was dismissed as a cowardly communist sympathizer and draft dodger -- regardless of his status or hair length. Bush doesn't have quite that ability at present.

I think I can argue too, that what has kept us out of Iran and perhaps Syria so far has been the inability of the Bush administration to go to war with the army they wish they had. If we had instituted the draft in 2001, he would surely have had it by now. In some respects, giving Bush a small but efficient, well trained, motivated, equipped and professional military is like giving Barney Fife one bullet to carry in his shirt pocket. He's going to have to think carefully before using it.

Of course Bush didn't think too carefully or listen to those who did when he decided to "liberate" Iraq; my arguments are more valid for a sane and intelligent leader than they are for George and it's true that the professionalism of our troops might have convinced him he could do this on the cheap and so avoid public wrath, but I still lean towards the belief that a peacetime draft would not have prevented the attack of Iraq and the neglect of Afghanistan and that the lack of it may have prevented the ground invasion of Iran and any other oil rich country Cheney might want to claim for his corporations. I have to ask myself: would the world be a safer place if George had a 2 million man army?

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Burmese monk update

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Following up on a post from the other day, in part on the tear-gassing of monks in Burma, it appears that the courageous opponents of that country's reprehensible totalitarian regime are refusing to back down even in the face of brutal oppression:

Leaders of protests by Buddhist monks in Burma say they intend to continue their peaceful demonstrations until the military government collapses.

The statement by the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks came as 1,500 monks took to the streets of Rangoon in their biggest protest yet.

This is the fifth straight day of marches by monks in protest at recent government attempts to silence critics.


In a strongly-worded statement, seen by the BBC, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks described the military government as "the enemy of the people".

It said the monks would keep up their protests until they had "wiped the military dictatorship from the land of Burma".

I applaud their efforts and wish them well. An enormous task lies in front of them, and success will not come without a great deal of sacrifice, but their cause is noble and just. The rest of the world -- and by that I mean the U.N., but also opponents of totalitarianism and other forms of political oppression everywhere -- would do well to come to their aid.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Reaction note

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I apologize for the paucity of posts here over the past day or so. Various factors -- work, family, generally not feeling well -- have limited my blogging.

But, fear not, it is but a temporary lull, so keep checking back for new posts. I'll be back to my usual blogging soon, and, of course, there will continue to be many new posts from the co-bloggers.

-- Michael


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We're even!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Boosted by high commodity prices and a weakening U.S. dollar, the loonie reached parity with the greenback Thursday for the first time in nearly 31 years, promising to boost the energy and import sectors and give consumers cheaper vacations but spelling more trouble for Canada's industrial heartland.

The loonie, which has been gaining on its American counterpart since bottoming out below 62 cents in early 2002, has recently been on a spectacular run, up from 95 cents at the start of September and from under 90 cents last spring.

Soaring demand for Canadian commodities, ranging from oil and wheat to coal, potash, nickel and zinc – have helped propel the currency, while a weakening American economy has dragged down the greenback, the world's most widely held and traded currency.

At 10:58 a.m. EDT, the loonie first crossed the threshold to hit $1.0004, then eased back slightly to close at 99.87 cents (U.S.), up 1.37 cents from Wednesday.

The last time the dollar was at par with the greenback was Nov. 25, 1976, when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and René Lévesque had just become premier of Quebec. That high point for the currency signalled the beginning of a long slide for the loonie, as national unity concerns and mounting worries about Canada's worsening government finances over the next decade or so scared away foreign buyers of the currency.

This is great news for those of us who travel to the U.S. and who buy U.S. goods, but, obviously, it's lousy news, lousy news getting lousier, for our industrial sector.

Still, it's a point of pride for us after decades of having our dollar -- and, in a way, us -- looked down upon and made fun of. We should not make too much of this -- currency trading is notoriously fickle -- but there's nothing wrong with feeling good about it.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Like sugar to petulance

By Creature

Dear President Bush,

Let me begin by saying that you are the greatest president ever and it is my pleasure, as a citizen of the United States, to serve you in any way I can.

I am writing you because I have a really big, novel idea to run by you, and while I realize that what I am about to propose will require a really tough decision on your part, it is a decision that I assure you will be all yours. See, I was thinking, since Iraq has been such a success, and since history will clearly celebrate you as a hero for launching the war, freeing a people, and keeping America safe for years to come, maybe it's time to think of refocusing your steely, admirable, resolve toward bringing your glorious and unquestionably proper war to a close.

It's something to think about, but again, only when you are ready and all according to your own time line. Thank you for listening and thanks again for being a great leader.

-- Creature

[Why the sugar? Blumenthal will explain.]

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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By Edward Copeland

Pundits and lawmakers alike seem content to sigh and admit that congressional Democrats are powerless to do anything to stop the war in Iraq, since Republicans are staying in line until after primaries next year and they don't have the power to override an inevitable Bush veto. They may well be right, but that doesn't mean they can't score some points since the majority of the country is on their side and want our brave men and women out of Iraq.

Now, I've recommended this before and I'm going to keep bringing it up in the hope that some Democrat in Congress might see it and get a strategic clue. You will never get legislation that includes a timeline. You don't have the guts or the votes to de-fund the war. You can't even get them to agree to being decent enough to allow our fighting men and women to have at least as much time at home as they do on their tours of duty.

There is an option: It has always been an option. Give Bush what he wants: A pristine, clean war funding bill with no strings or deadlines, just one simple addition: Force them to pay for it by revoking the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.

That might not get through Congress either and if it does, it will put Dubya in a quandary: Which is more important to him? His messianic mission in the Iraqi quagmire or the wallets of his richest friends? Odds are, it won't get passed either (if somehow it did, all the better) but it will put the already-wounded GOP on the defensive if they dare to oppose it. Do they want to appear as if they are willing to sacrifice American lives but not to sacrifice their wealthiest friends' largesse?

They can't come up with a good rationale for opposing it without an immediate counterstrike pointing out the obvious: They don't support the troops. Democrats will have a great talking point regardless of the outcome and the Republicans will suffer another serious blow. Do it Congress. Fund the war and pay for it by repealing the tax cuts on the richest Americans. Find your guts and do it.

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87.0736% extremist

By Capt. Fogg

New York Rep. Peter King thinks there are too many mosques in the US. I don't know whether that's true. I can only say that I've seen exactly one since I was old enough to know what a mosque was and I've been old enough for a long time. But Representative King is a Republican, a part of Guiliani's campaign and the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and so has a personal financial interest in the marketing of hysteria and the promotion of irrational sectarian hatred.

85% of them, however many of them there might be, are controlled by extremist leadership, says Representative King. 85% -- although that number is probably there because it sounds like statistics but would be impossible to confirm or deny -- and besides, extremism is a relative and thus easily invoked term. Extremism can, according to traditional Republican values, be good: "no vice" as that icon of Republican virtue and multiple felon Spiro Agnew once told us. All in all, it's not a good argument, just one of the few left at the bottom of the barrel of bullshit.

Of course I think there are far too many Churches in the US and 87.0736% of them are extremist in that they are promoting the restriction of civil rights according to the teachings they invent for the purpose of undermining democracy and liberty and justice for all. They've succeeded in requiring our children to acknowledge their pantheon of bizarre deities and to swear that magic beings are involved in the government of the US. They have succeeded in replacing our coinage with little copper and paper religious engravings and they are constantly telling us what we can read, see, say and investigate; whom we can spend our lives with, how we can define our families, what we can teach our children about science and mathematics.

They not only promote wars and violence, they teach us that religious wars and violence are good when done in defense of an almighty dictator and are happy to provide all the fictitious history you could ever want to benefit their crusades and their war against science, math, physics, history, law, logic, cosmology, geology, paleontology, meteorology, statistics, probabilities and the origin of species through natural selection.

They promote the kind of mental illness that would allow, for instance, Mitt Romney, a follower of one Joseph Smith: demonstrable liar, forger and sexual pervert, to elevate his campaign to deny civil rights to people his sexually perverted and somewhat unclean looking prophet didn't like. It allows extremist followers of a Roman Bishop like Rudolph Guiliani to close a public museum for Blasphemy because he didn't think we should have the right to view a painting of a magic virgin who has babies with invisible gods that didn't adhere to the precise iconography of his church.

Too many Starbucks, too many SUV's and burger joints, and way too Goddamn many churches.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ground Zero visit forbidden

By Libby Spencer

I expect Commissioner Kelly has some 'splaining to do after having spawned a small tsunami of outrage with his mistaken remarks on an Iranian state visit to Ground Zero by Ahmadinejad. It turns out the little tourist trip was ruled out a month ago. As of course, it would have to be. Fully a quarter of that city would shoot the Ahmadilooney dead on sight. No way they could provide security for such an event. He's going to have to sightsee by helicopter just like all the other rich tourists.

That aside, I think the outrage over the request is way overblown. The man is a loudmouth boor, but he hasn't actually done anything to us yet and he is a world leader. He's not the first nutcase that somehow managed to rule a country. Think Idi Amin. Ahmadinejad asked to be allowed to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site to open the UN session. Who knows, maybe he sees himself as a emissary of peace and love, not so unlike our own president.

Sure it's crazy. But for myself, I don't think it's all that much crazier than say, jumping into an orchestra pit. It's certainly not worth turning into an international incident.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Warrantless surveillance and national security

By Carol Gee

Congress is beginning to take a fresh look at what they did in a big hurry in early August to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Due to Richard Nixon's Executive Branch abuses, FISA originated in 1978 to bring court oversight to warrant less unreasonable searches and invasions of privacy against American citizens. Ironically titled, the "Protect America Act," the recent amendment to FISA does not go far enough to protect our constitutionally guaranteed Fourth Amendment rights.

Soon after passage of the Protect America Act, its controversial aspects raised red flags around the country. The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima reported (on 9/15/07) that the "Bush Administration [is] Aiming to Ease Surveillance Concerns." To quote:

The Bush administration, facing withering criticism over its temporary foreign intelligence wiretap law, has launched a campaign to assure Democratic lawmakers that the law will not result in domestic surveillance without a court order, and at the same time it has indicated that it is willing to consider changes.

The effort comes as Congress prepares to tackle a broad overhaul of the government's foreign intelligence wiretap authority.

In a letter sent to Capitol Hill yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein said the Protect America Act, passed in August under intense White House pressure, does not authorize physical searches of homes, domestic mail or people's personal effects and computers, and that Justice Department lawyers "do not think" it authorizes the collection of medical or library records.

Concerned about the new Act's possible erosion of Americans' civil liberties, the House Judiciary Committee held a House of Representatives Oversight Hearing on 9/18/07 . It was chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan). The Ranking Member was Dan Lungren (R-California). Witnesses (full statements in pdf are linked to their names) included: Adm. Mike McConnell -- Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Kenneth Wainstein -- Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Ben Powell -- Counsel to the DNI.

Additional fears raised by DNI in his opening Judiciary Committee statement -- Pointing out a recent National Intelligence Estimate's expectations of increased danger to the United States from al Qaeda, it is the position of the administration that the new law does not go far enough. They want a new definition of "electronic surveillance." And they are still demanding that retroactive immunization from law suit* be granted to the telecommunications companies who have been required to cooperate in facilitating the intelligence surveillance programs. A New York Times article (9/18/07) headlined "Spy Chief: China, Russia Spying on U.S." To quote:

China and Russia are spying on the United States nearly as much as they did during the Cold War, according to the top U.S. intelligence official.

Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, says in testimony prepared for a Tuesday congressional hearing that a law passed last month expanding the U.S. government's eavesdropping power is needed to protect not just against terrorists but also against more traditional potential adversaries, such as those two Cold War foes.

''China and Russia's foreign intelligence services are among the most aggressive in collecting against sensitive and protected U.S. systems, facilities and development projects, and their efforts are approaching Cold War levels,'' McConnell says in his testimony. ''Foreign intelligence information concerning the plans, activities and intentions of foreign powers and their agents is critical to protect the nation and preserve our security.''

The new law will also enable the intelligence agencies to identify ''sleeper cells'' of terrorists in the United States, according to McConnell's statement to the House Judiciary Committee.

The Judiciary Committee hearing was carried on C-SPAN. Watching and listening twice and taking notes, I clarified for myself a great deal about what concerns remain with members of Congress. For a good summation read Jesse Lee's The Gavel: (blogging for Nancy Pelosi) "Judiciary Hearing on Warrant less Surveillance and FISA." The post includes several videos and some excellent quotes. Several key areas of concern emerged from the committee member's questions.

The Hearing's "Bones of contention" from its members --

  • History of the Bush administration's broken trust with Congress - Several members of the committee discussed the failure of Congress to exercise proper oversight in past years. They also reminded the witnesses that the administration began the surveillance operations in secret without appropriately informing key members of Congress. Ranking Member Lamar Smith, (R-Texas) asked for a full explanation of what the program does to protect civil liberties. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), asked a series of questions regarding whether the scope of congressional oversight was covering all of what began as mere "presidential authorizations." Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal.), pointed out that the amendment is "either poorly drafted or intentionally drafted to be overly broad." Rep. Delahunt (D-Mass.),

    reminded the witnesses that the mistrust is not personal but institutional. . . FISA came about because of executive abuses. We are not working around the margins here. We can give you what you need and assure fundamental freedoms at the same time.

    Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), asserted that

    Congress has not been able to rely on the administration's information provided to Congress. . . The Protect America Act can be a stark intrusion on innocent Americans. Why not get a warrant?. . . Now we are contending with spy satellites. Americans are up in arms. You take away the bar [courts], there could be miscues. The spiralling sown of civil liberties is the real danger."

  • Amount of work needed to get a FISA warrant -- Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) explored the claims of DNI McConnell that a FISA warrant takes 200 man hours of work to prepare, as asserted in the El Paso interview.* Representative Delahunt assured the witnesses that

    Congress would provide the intel community "all the resources you need" to do the work and "assure fundamental freedoms at the same time." He noted that the FISA court warrants are "perfunctory. Over 10,000 have been issued and only a small number (15-17) have been denied."

  • DNI McConnell's declassification of information in an interview- After the issue had been raised by Chairman Conyers and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va), Representative Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) got McConnell to admit that he declassified intelligence information on his own authority for an El Paso Times interview. He revealed the summary number ( less than 100) of cases with FISA warrants authorizing targeted domestic surveillance*.

  • Nature of intelligence failures before 9/11 -- . . Sheila Jackson Lee reminded the witnesses that "9/11 had nothing to do with the FISA court. The information was out there. It could have been avoided. It was the intelligence culture, not the American people at fault here." Adm. McConnell agreed about where the failures 'to connect the dots' were located, and that 9/11 could have been avoided with good intelligence sharing. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Alabama) closed the questioning by confronting Adm. McConnell's inference that not missing a call from someone in a San Diego "sleeper cell," could have prevented 9/11. Davis said, "It was a number of critical events, not just his one." McConnell conceded, "We could have done a better job as a community."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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From Florida to Burma -- a tasered heckler and tear-gassed monks

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There has been a good deal of attention, and rightly so, directed at the tasering of an obnoxious heckler, Andrew Meyer, at a John Kerry speech at the University of Florida on Monday. The right, notably Michelle Malkin and the obnoxious hecklers at The Weekly Standard, have been using it to attack Kerry, as if the whole incident was somehow his fault. (No, they would not be heckling so had the victim been a heckler at a Republican event, and, of course, the right remains enamored of fascist police tactics generally, as long as the victims are the right victims, such is the right's penchant for authoritarianism these days.) But two police officers have been suspended without pay, the president of the University of Florida, Bernie Machen, has called the incident "regretful" and called for a state investigation, and Kerry, who insists his exchange with Meyer was a "good healthy discussion," one that he "could have handled... without interruption," criticized both the tasering and the arrest. If anything -- and I do not mean to diminish the severity of the incident -- this was yet another brutal example of the use of excessive force by the police, an unfortunate and unnecessary use of excessive force that just happened to have involved, indirectly, John Kerry.

There needs to be an investigation, the use of excessive force by the police needs to be challenged, and, ultimately, the use of tasers needs to be addressed once and for all. There is no excuse for what happened here, as in countless other incidents that never make their way onto YouTube.

As always, you can find a lot of reaction at Memeorandum -- and I recommend in particular the thoughtful reactions of Melissa McEwan, Steve Benen, Pamela Leavey (a dedicated Kerry supporter), Libby Spencer, and the GTL (and, yes, I do agree that Kerry ought to have responded more quickly and more forcefully).


While the tasering of a single heckler at the University of Florida has received coverage here, there, and everywhere, however, we would do well to remember that in some other parts of the world police and military brutality is a way of life (and death).

It is always reprehensible, but what is happening in the totalitarian state of Burma, what the totalitarians call Myanmar, is appalling. This is not to attempt to quantify such brutality but rather to remark on the totalitarian scope of brutality in some other parts of the world. There is brutality in the U.S., to be sure, as in other liberal democracies, but it cannot in general be described as totalitarian. It is, thankfully, the (admittedly all-too-common) exception -- and the aggressively indignant reaction from all across the spectrum, even from hypocritical right-wingers looking to score cheap political points, would seem to indicate that, as a rule, such brutality is not sanctioned.

(Or maybe not a rule: The widespread brutality at America's horrific correctional facilities goes largely ignored, and, of course, there is the widespread, and state-sanctioned, use of brutality under the guise of national security, much of it finding gleeful encouragement on the right.)

Regardless, to return to Burma, the brutality there resembles the brutality of some of the more noteworthy totalitarian regimes of the last century. Consider this latest example:

Military officials in Burma have used tear gas to disperse hundreds of monks holding a rally in the north-west city of Sittwe, reports from the area say.

Some of them were beaten and several were arrested, eyewitnesses say.

The tasering of a heckler at a John Kerry speech is hardly defensible, but nor is the tear-gassing of monks at a peaceful rally to oppose political oppression. But where the tasering triggered immediate and widespread opposition, a likely investigation, and possible reform, not to mention a popular YouTube clip, the tear-gassing and the beatings and the rest of the brutality in Burma will continue under a regime that is terrorizing the Burmese people.

Brutality everywhere, from Florida to Burma, must be resisted and opposed and brought to justice. But let us remember that it is happening everywhere.


This is one of the "better" YouTube clips of the Meyer incident. It is clear that the police acted with excessive and completely unnecessary force:

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Got veg?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Though I do not always approve of its tactics, nor of its targets, I respect and admire PETA. And though I am not a vegeterian, let alone a vegan, I am moving in that direction, having given up most meat -- I still eat chicken, turkey, and fish. I am hardly an absolutist in this regard -- on eating, that is -- but I am certainly adamant in my objection to animal cruelty, much of it practised by the food-processing industry.

Regardless of my own inclinations, however, I could not resist posting this enticing photo from The Globe and Mail: "Actress Alicia Silverstone appearing naked in a print ad to promote vegetarianism, produced by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."

It's an awfully persuasive image, isn't it?

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Media lobbies Vegas court to delay OJ proceedings until November Sweeps

Amicus brief filed; Media caught "flat-footed," need time to ramp up for Doc Blocs and Cooper's emotions

By J. Thomas Duffy

In an unprecedented amicus brief to the Clark County, Nevada court, and coming down on the side of the court, a conglomeration of media - primarily cable television, print and on-line tabloids, are asking that legal proceedings against O.J. Simpson be delayed until November.

Citing "the public's right to know", the brief states that, with the new television season premiering next week, the start of the NFL football season and Major League Baseballs pennant races, playoffs and World Series, and Britney Spears's legal matters, will "dilute resources" and "not serve the public's interest in this matter".

The amicus brief also stated that "by moving these proceedings to November, we, the media, will be in better position to present and promote said proceedings for the consumption of the public interest."

Attachments to the brief included reams of Nielsen ratings from both of Simpson's murder trials, and past November Sweeps results, as well as a DVD collection of MSNBC 'Doc-Blocs" that featured, or mentioned Simpson.

"We got caught flat-footed", offered one cable news executive.

Simpson, 60, was arrested Sunday and charged with multiple felonies, after allegedly breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room, with accomplices and robbing, at gun point, a memorabilia dealer of items that Simpson claimed were his own.

The civil-court-convicted murderer and former pro football star is being held without bail, and, if convicted, faces anywhere from 2 - 60-years in prison.

Ironically, just last week, the controversial Simpson murder book "If I Did It" was released.

"This is tough timing," admitted MSNBC General Manager Dan Abrams, who also hosts the program MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams.

"We're just getting back into the groove after the summer ... Labor Day and - bang - this drops in." added Abrams, who quickly hustled out to Las Vegas to broadcast his program from Sin City last evening.

"If we can get this into the November Sweeps," said a wistful Abrams, "man, it will be through-the-roof ratings."

"We can get a whole winter's worth of Doc Blocs out of this," said Abrams

CNN, who also joined in the brief, stated that its' star anchor, Anderson Cooper, is just returning from Iraq.

In the brief, CNN offered that "a November time period would allow for Mr. Cooper to gather the proper amount of emotions in which to cover these proceedings."

Various news companies, both with part of the amicus brief, and not involved in the brief, indicated they have already been receiving complaints from their viewers and readers.

An independent survey of those complaints made by The Garlic show that a large percentage of them lament the demise of The World Weekly News and are asking these media outlets if "Bat Boy" or "Big Foot" were involved or accomplices of Simpson.

Bonus Links

ABC News: Apparent Tape Released of O.J. in Vegas; Apparent Audiotape Released of Sports Memorabilia Dispute Involving O.J. Simpson in Las Vegas

Breaking News! Fox Bounces The Juice and Brings In The Scooter; OJ Out, Libby In, As Fox Looks To Make Lemonade Out Of Their Lemons; Reagan Snares Cheney Aide For “If I Leaked ...” Special; No Hush Money But Donation Made To Defense Fund

Top Ten Cloves: Uses For The Cancelled O.J. Book On Thanksgiving Day

OJ, Vatican Said To Sign Deal, Merge Hunts

Were Batboy, and Big Foot, accomplices of Simpson in his alleged armed robbery?

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Counting votes -- a primer

By Carol Gee

Your vote counts -- or does it?
Remember that the 2000 U.S. presidential election was not honest. Many questioned the results of the 2004 elections. Congress wants to see to it that Election 2008 is different. Legislators remembered that vulnerable voters are not yet guaranteed their franchise unless there is an actual recorded vote.

Next year's election is not yet safe for even the most
informed voters. Freedom of information is not easy for the average voter. My first information about voting came from the League of Women Voters. Today's post hearkens back to my days of moderating LWV candidate forums, linking voters and candidates running for election. Only this time (beginning with this paragraph) I am linking my readers to tried and true political reference pages on the Internet. I encourage you to click on them. Many are guaranteed to become your favorites and bookmarks.

Leaders in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives must be able to count their votes. Remember it takes 67 Senate votes to to override a presidential veto. Democrats are not yet safe from a veto by our current president (OCP). Remember that Senators and Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have their votes counted very differently.

Staying informed -- I watch C-SPAN and listen to NPR to see the outcomes of key votes. Every week I get an AOL Government Guide e-mail from VoteNote letting me know how my senators and representative voted on various congressional bills. Contacting Congress is an important adjunct to casting a formal ballot in an election. It is another way of making your vote count.

Keeping up with what is going on on The Hill can be daunting. Following politics nationwide can be even more demanding. Learning what is happening at the state (line) level is interesting to some, but not to others. More federal statistical information is available than many of us can digest. So, if you get lost in all this, start with the best central portal, USAgov. Happy clicking, voters!

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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The salami tactics of Hugo Chavez

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In the first episode of the great Yes, Prime Minister, "The Grand Design," new PM Jim Hacker meets with the government's chief scientific advisor to discuss defence policy. The advisor, a hawkish Austrian, argues that the Soviet Union would use "salami tactics" to take over Europe, that is, a "slice-by-slice" plan with no one slice so grave as to compel the West (or the U.K., in this case) to respond militarily. (The 16 YPM episodes originally aired on the BBC from 1986-88.) At each slice/stage of the scenario, he presses Hacker -- What would it take for him to act? An incursion into West Berlin? Or would the Soviets have to go so far as to take over the Reform Club, one of London's old political establishments? Would he ever respond with nuclear weapons? Probably not.

My point here is not to make a case for military action against Venezuela, but it is clear that Hugo Chavez is using salami tactics in his drive to establish so-called "Bolivarean" socialism -- that is, his own national-socialist autocratic rule -- in that country. I wrote about this last week: "Sometimes revolution can be achieved without sudden, dramatic bloodletting." There are a number of different prongs to Chavez's continuing revolution, a number of slices. They may be examined individually, but they are best understood as variations of the same, as components of a single overarching plan. The nationalization of industry, the seizure of private property, repression of dissent and opposition, control of the media, one-party rule, rule by decree, and, soon, the removal of constitutional impediments to the permanent and perpetual rule of the leader himself.

The pattern is clear. One slice, then another, and another, and another, with no one slice so grave as to compel anyone to act (although there are courageous opponents of Chavez's tyranny in Venezuela, and there was a coup, if not one worthy of much admiration, in 2002). And there has been another, as the AP is reporting:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened on Monday to close or take over any private school that refuses to submit to the oversight of his socialist government as it develops a new curriculum and textbooks.

"Society cannot allow the private sector to do whatever it wants," said Chavez, speaking on the first day of classes.

All schools, public and private, must admit state inspectors and submit to the government's new educational system, or be closed and nationalized, with the state taking responsibility for the education of their children, Chavez said.

A new curriculum will be ready by the end of this school year, and new textbooks are being developed to help educate "the new citizen," said Chavez's brother and education minister Adan Chavez...

This is a serious slice, and there is a lot here: the submission of the private to the public, a leader speaking for "society," a new (re-)educational system, propaganda, threats of nationalization and state control, the concept of a "new citizen," nepotism. This could be 1984. There may not yet be any killing fields -- none that we know of -- but the rest is beginning to look a lot like the tyrannies, the totalitarian tyrannies, of the last century. Pol Pot, meet Hugo Chavez.

Some will accuse me of exaggeration, of misrepresentation. But therein lies the problem: Chavez is a smart guy, and he knows what he's doing, and he's doing it in such a way as to minimize suspicion and criticism, to come across as a man of the people, not the people's oppressor. He's not rolling into Caracas with tanks and death squads, but he doesn't need them. Not yet. Not with his salami tactics, grabbing slice after slice.

From populist to demagogue to tyrant, all with a bright red shirt, a huge smile, and some rousing anti-American rhetoric -- and with many in his own country and around the world giving him the benefit of the doubt. But all you have to do is put the slices back together to see what he's really up to.

And it isn't all fun and games.

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Greek elections


Greeks went to the polls Sunday in general elections.

The ruling New Democracy clings to a narrow majority: 152 seats (50.6%), despite only 41.8% of the vote. The Socialist Party (known by its Greek acronym, PASOK) came in second with 38.1% of the vote and 102 seats. (See more-detailed results below.)

In part because of the recent devastating fires, the vote was closer than expected a month ago when the Prime Minister opted to go to the polls early. As a result, it was not immediately clear on election night who had won. Also in part because of the fires, voting for smaller parties was significantly higher than in past elections. These smaller parties include a far-right party that has not been in parliament previously and has been internationally denounced for its "virulent nationalism, anti-semitism, racism and xenophobia."

I still am not clear on the details of the electoral system (despite electoral systems being a specialty of mine), which has been changed since previous elections. However, the broad outlines are that the party with the most votes is guaranteed 40 "bonus" seats, while the other 260 now appear to be allocated as if there were a single national district. (I explain my "backwards induction" regarding the election at Fruits & Votes.)

Results in more detail, via EuroTrib -- the parties that made it into parliament have the following seat totals, vote percentages (and change in seats and votes from 2004):

ND (conservative) 152 41.84 % (-13 seats, -3.52%)
PASOK 102 (socialist) 38.10 % (-15, -2.45%)
KKE 22 (old school communist) 8.15 % (+10, +2,26%)
SYRIZA 14 (antineolib left - greens - radicals) 5.04 % (+8, +1.78%)
LAOS 10, 3.79 % (not in the 2004 parliament)

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Constitution Day of Awe

By AviShalom

September 17 is US Constitution Day, a public commemoration first officially observed only in 2005, but which marks the day, in 1787, of the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

This year, Constitution Day falls during the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur when Jews the world over assess their actions in the past year and atone for their sins and thereby seek to "return" (t'shuvah) to the right path.*

The coincidence of Constitution Day and the Days of Awe is thus a perfect opportunity for Americans -- Jew and Gentile alike -- to assess whether our path is the right one. Has the Constitution been faithfully upheld by the party in power? By the "opposition"? By the media? By us as individuals? Are we as a nation even aware of the core precepts of limited, constitutional, government? How many of our citizens know that Madison's original "Virginia Plan" for the constitution was radically different from what was completed as a politically feasible draft 220 years ago this day?**

Limited government is a radical idea of which America was one of the originators, but it seems we have strayed very far from the path set by our founders 220 years ago. What steps can we take as a nation to return to the constitutional path? What have we, individually and collectively, failed to do in the last year to reinvigorate our electoral and constitutional processes? Many of us who were fortunate enough to live in the handful of swing districts and swing states thought we were taking an act of t'shuvah by voting for the party opposed to the incumbent executive. And then what? In the fundamental sense of restraining the president's claimed wartime powers at home as well as abroad, not much. We as a nation have a lot of "returning" and atoning yet to do.

What can we do in the coming year to set the constitutional and democratic path straight again? Work for fundamental electoral reform, so that we can be represented swing voters without regard to our address? Work for constitutional reform in the spirit of the original idea of constitutional government, if not in its precise, politically bargained, structure?

We should not fear reform, or shrink from even "radical" ideas for improvement in our democracy. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1810, and in words that are literally carved in stone in the Jefferson Memorial, said:

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions... But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Even more, Jefferson warned against what he referred to as "sanctimonious reverence" for the Constitution and its founders.

If we use Constitution Day, and other patriotic commemorations, as an opportunity for "sanctimonious reverence," we as a nation are idolators--as any student of Jewish history and the Bible will know, one of the worst of all sins.

We Jews give honor to our Torah as a guide to life --a "constitution," in a sense. We don't idolize it, but we revere it as the document of our people's quest to make sense of the world and to guide us in living ethical lives. The progressives among us read it critically and while we certainly do not propose to amend the Torah, we do regularly reform how it is understood in our era, to keep it going hand in hand with progress of the human mind.

So, just as Jews have historically read the Torah and interpreted it and shaped its application -- even in early rabbinic times through Talmud -- and endeavored to keep it up to date through commentaries and discussion, so we Americans should do with our Constitution. We must not idolize it, or its original authors. For we are its authors. It is our Constitution, and we are responsible for making sure that our leaders -- and we ourselves -- live by its precepts.

Wherever Americans gather -- in public events for patriotic days, in our schools and civic clubs, and in our synagogues, churches, mosques, and other religious institutions--we should make the Constitution come alive by reading it and discussing its relevance to our times. We should embark on a national program not only to read the Constitution itself, but to read the Federalist Papers (an "American Talmud"?), and to read generations of commentaries, controversies, and reform proposals. Always to ask ourselves, is its implementation consistent with its principles? If not, how can we return to the original paradigm in our own days?

This Constitution Day, let us be in justifiable awe of our constitutional heritage, but let's not be afraid to be critical, to be reformist, to take the difficult steps towards national t'shuvah.


(Yes, I know this post barely made it up while it was still Sept. 17, but I posted it only after some gentle prodding from Michael. Thanks, Michael!)

* It is worth noting here that "right path" does not carry the theological implications for Jews that it might for members of other religions, nor does it mean primarily seeking forgiveness from the Divine (though it means that, too). It means first and foremost repairing our own personal relationships, working to correct injustice, and committing acts of gemilut chasidim or "loving kindness."

** The Virginia Plan, in a nutshell, called for both houses of congress to be apportioned to the states based on population and for the executive to be elected by congress, and to have no veto over legislation. The upper house members would actually have been elected by the House of Representatives (from candidates nominated by the state legislatures) and while the president would not have had a veto, he could have convened a Council of Revision, which would have included judges, to consider a law's constitutionality. Congress would have retained the final say on which laws were constitutional--including those passed by state legislatures. Madison was a "federalist," but his constitutional proposal was centralizing, nationalizing, and majority-empowering. These remain fundamental democratic principles worthy of reenactment in our time.

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Canadian by-elections


There were by-elections (i.e., to fill vacant seats) in three Canadian federal parliamentary ridings (districts) today. All three are in Quebec: Outremont, Roberval/Lac Saint Jean, and Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot.

Why are these seats vacant. explains:

Liberal Jean Lapierre, elected in Outremont in the past two federal elections, stepped down to resume his media career. Yvan Loubier, elected five times for the Bloc Quebcois in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, switched to provincial politics and ran unsuccessfully for the Parti Quebcois in the March Quebec election. Five-term Bloc member Michel Gauthier quit his Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean seat, partly for health reasons and to work in the media.

Given the unexpectedly large swing in Quebec during the 2006 general elections from the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) to the Conservatives, which resulted in the current minority Conservative government (the smallest minority government in Canadian history), the by-elections might give us nationally relevant information about voting trends.

Following are the 2006 and 2004 results in these districts (independents with small vote totals excluded).

2006: Lib 35.2, BQ 29.0, NDP 17.2, Cons 12.7, Green 4.8
2004: Lib 40.9, BQ 33.2, NDP 14.0, Cons 6.0, Green 4.3

Roberval/Lac Saint Jean
2006: BQ 45.2, Cons 37.2, Lib 7.7, NDP 5.5, Green 4.3
2004: BQ 59.4, Lib 23.3, Cons 8.7, NDP 5.7, Green 3.6

Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot
2006: BQ 56.0, Cons 24.8, Lib 9.8, NDP 5.5, Green 3.9
2004: BQ 62.4, Lib 22.1, Cons 11.0, NDP 2.5, Green 2.0

Note that even though the Conservatives did not win any of these in 2006, their votes surged in each from very low levels in 2004.

The Globe and Mail reports that Liberal leader Stéphane Dion leader could be in trouble if his party fails to hold Outremont, which has not been won by a Liberal only once since 1935. If the Liberal lose this seat, it would most likely be to the NDP candidate, who may be picking up some tactical voting from BQ supporters. The NDP previously has been shut out in Quebec other than a by-election win in 1990, so a win there would be significant for both the Liberals and the NDP.

The other ridings are in rural areas, and the BQ may hold them both, but if it does not, it will be interpreted as another sign that the party is faltering badly. In Sainte-Hyacinthe the Conservatives are getting help from the provincial ADQ (which had surprising success in the recent provincial election), and the Conservative candidate in Roberval is the local mayor. So a pick-up of a seat (or two) for the federal governing party is possible.

Aside from extrapolations to possible trends in party support, the other potential impact of these by-elections is that, if the NDP wins Outremont, it would be in a pivotal position to support the Conservative government in exchange for policy concessions, given the current party standings. FPTP* parliamentarism in action: on a single local race the national power balance rides.

(Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.)

*"FPTP" = first-past-the-post, or the single-member district, plurality vote system used in Canada, the USA, and the UK.

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The delusional necessity of war with Iran

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A few weeks ago I wrote about the coming war with Iran in a post entitled "Wag the dog in desperation". In it, I made the case, as many others have done, that Bush, Cheney, and the warmongers need a new war to recover their credibility and to get their project of global American hegemony back on track. Iraq has been a failure, but why not try again with Iran? And forget regime change and occupation. This will be a massive, media-friendly, video-game-like strike on Iran's nuclear and military infrastructure, and it will be designed so as to minimize American casualties and to avoid the sort of quagmire that Iraq has become.

The motivations are complex. Bush, Cheney, and the warmongers, many of them neocons, may believe in their delusions. They may believe that war with Iran is the right thing to do -- right for them, right for the country, right for the world. How frightening it is, however, when the delusional have the largest military arsenal in the history of the world at their disposal.

And yet there is more: The delusional are also playing politics, personal and party both. They may believe that war with Iran is the right thing to do, but they may also believe that it is the right political thing to do. For them, moving on from Iraq to Iran would give them a second shot at the lasting glory they so desperately desire, but it would also benefit them, and their allies, politically. You see, they need America to be at war. They need an Enemy, an Other, a Purpose. Idealistically, they seek global American hegemony. Realistically, they seek those wars that will keep them in power: the endless war on terrorism, a war that can never be won, Iraq, a war that turned into a disaster, and now, soon, Iran, the merger of political and ideological necessity.


I presented some of the latest evidence of the coming war in that "Wag the dog" post. Here is more, from the U.K.'s Sunday Telegraph:

Senior American intelligence and defence officials believe that President George W Bush and his inner circle are taking steps to place America on the path to war with Iran, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran, amid growing fears among serving officers that diplomatic efforts to slow Iran's nuclear weapons programme are doomed to fail.

Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.

Now it has emerged that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, who has been pushing for a diplomatic solution, is prepared to settle her differences with Vice-President Dick Cheney and sanction military action.

There is even "a chilling scenario of how war might come," an escalation of tension initiated by the U.S., beginning, as we have seen already, with ill-founded and trumped-up claims that Iran is supporting the Iraqi insurgency. This will lead to U.S. raids on "training camps and bomb factories" inside Iran, then to "a major Iranian response, perhaps in the form of moves to cut off Gulf oil supplies, providing a trigger for air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and even its armed forces".

And so on.

Bush will have his legacy, the neocons and their ilk will have their war, yet another war, and the rest of us will be left with the consequences of what is sure to be a disaster: fewer U.S. casualties, less of a quagmire on the ground, but repercussions that further weaken the U.S. and trigger turmoil around the world.

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Idiot of the Day: Madonna

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, Madonna, who was in Israel for Rosh Hashanah, met with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Saturday, and referred to herself -- without irony -- as an "ambassador for Judaism".

Whether Judaism likes it or not.

(And likely: not.)

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXXI

By Michael J.W. Stickings

We haven't done one of these in some time, but not for lack of death. There has continued to be much of it, far too much, and today was no exception:

At least 22 people have been killed in a series of bombings and shootings in Iraq, security officials say.

Fourteen people were killed in Diyala province, north of the capital Baghdad, when militants attacked two villages.

At least six people were killed by a bomb near the northern city of Kirkuk and two people were killed by a car bomb in Baghdad.

On one side -- the happy talk, the optimism, the claims of success, from Bush and Petraeus and the war's other cheerleaders.

On the other side -- the reality of the war and occupation, the truth.

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

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Florida Justice

By Capt. Fogg

Maybe it isn't just the very rich that are different than you and I; the very Republican often can rely on a separate and not very equal justice. It seems that flirtatious Mark Foley won't be prosecuted for soliciting sex from a minor because there is a
statute of limitations and he was able to run out the clock by invoking some prohibition against law enforcement being able to look at his computer even though it's owned and paid for by the taxpayers.

Ann Coulter may likewise scoot from under the felonious cloud she raised by
voting in a precinct not her own and giving a false address when registering in Palm Beach Florida. Today's Palm Beach Post tells us:

The Florida Elections Commission investigation into whether populist conservative pundit Ann Coulter voted illegally in Palm Beach is expected to wind down in time for the commission's mid-November meeting. Complainant Richard Giorgio, a political consultant, just sent in additional paperwork on his testimony that he witnessed Coulter's vote in the wrong precinct in February 2006.

I have to admit I had dared to hope, but eyewitness testimony and documentary evidence against such as Coulter, with her friends in the FBI and the Republican Party make prosecuting her as difficult as prosecuting an 18 foot alligator in mating season. I'm sure she will slither away as easily and with the same contempt for the law as any scaled swamp thing. Perhaps the election commissioner should have called Animal Control in the first place.

(Cross-posted at
Human Voices.)

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Top Ten Cloves: How President Bush came up with new slogan of "Return on Success"

By J. Thomas Duffy

News Item: Bush hails troop cuts as 'return on success' in Iraq

10. Like any other successful executive - The Magic 8-Ball

9. Part of a new commercial: "Return On Success - Apply Directly To Your Forehead ... Return On Success - Apply Directly To Your Forehead ... Return On Success - Apply Directly To Your Forehead

8. Just a prelude to new nickmane - The Success Guy

7. Recycled it from his failed Private Social Security Accounts initiative

6. Thought it sounds, kind of, "Ek-A-Lec-Tic"

5. Throwing one out there to Rumsfield... Sounds like something he would say

4. Fate - Spread a bunch of new slogans on the floor, and "Return On Success" was the one Barney peed on

3. Did some research, looking it up on The Google

2. Got it off the banner that will hang on his next aircraft carrier speech

1. Came in the same package as "The Clear Skies Act"

Bonus Links

Glenn Kessler/Washington Post: The President Asserted Progress on Security and Political Issues. Recent Reports Weren't Often So Upbeat.

Barry Crimmins: Return on success?

Joe Gandelman: Bush: Limited Troop Reductions And Longterm Security Commitment To Iraq (ROUNDUP UPDATED)

Breaking News! Giant Search Engine Downed By GOP and RNC Staffers; Google Crashes! Besieged With “I’m Feeling Lucky” Searches From White House, Congress; Amazon, D.C. Novelty Stores Hit With Run On Magic 8-Balls

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Greenspan contra Bush

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's new book, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, is set to be released tomorrow. Now, I've never been a huge Greenspan fan -- he is, after all, a Republican, a Reagan appointee, a long-time friend and follower of Ayn Rand, a fiscal right-winger -- but, well, when he says something, or writes something, particularly about politics, and even more particularly about Bush and the Republicans, it's usually worth paying attention. The BBC previews Greenspan's Bush-related comments here:

The former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan has said President George W Bush pays too little attention to financial discipline.

In a book to be published next week, Mr Greenspan says Mr Bush ignored his advice to veto "out-of-control" bills that sent the US deeper into deficit.


And Mr Bush's Republicans deserved to lose control of Congress in last year's elections, he charges.

He writes that he advised the White House to veto some bills to curb "out-of-control" spending at the time Republicans controlled Congress.

President Bush's failure to do so "was a major mistake", he said.

"Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he says of the Bush administration.

And he charges that Republicans in Congress "swapped principle for power" and "ended up with neither".

"They deserved to lose."

Yes, they did. Clearly. And for many more reasons than fiscal irresponsibility, Greenspan's pet peeve, although the poor state of the nation's finances is very much a result of what they, and their president, have done in power. But where was Greenspan during the early days of the Bush presidency? Supporting those massive tax cuts for the wealthy, of course, and then the plan to privatize Social Security.

Greenspan may have a lot to say now about the blunders of Bush and the Republicans, but he went along for the ride when he ought to have been offering independent criticism of those and other disastrous policies. He will make a lot of money from this book, as from his post-Fed career generally, but, in the end, talk is cheap.

And the economy is still on the verge of catastrophe.

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