Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is that Hall of Fame, or Hall of Shame?

By J. Kingston Pierce

There just seems to be no end to the bizarre saga of
Larry Craig, the Republican senior U.S. senator from Idaho who was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this last summer after he allegedly endeavored to solicit gay sex in a bathroom stall.

Three months later, once news of his arrest and subsequent entering of a guilty plea had surfaced, he held a press conference during which he insisted, “I am not gay,” and said--or so listeners thought--that he would relinquish his Senate seat by the end of September. Craig’s Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, still reeling from last year’s election-tipping scandal involving congressional pages and Representative Mark Foley (R-Florida), and battered more recently by news that Louisiana’s junior U.S. senator, Republican David Vitter, had been a client of prominent “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s escort service, appeared relieved that they could dispense with the Craig mess so quickly, without public hearings. Tom DeLay, the disgraced former U.S. House majority leader from Texas, smugly declared on Chris Matthews’ Hardball show that Republicans purge their bad apples from Congress, while Democrats rally behind theirs.

Yet within days of his news conference, Craig began backtracking from an apparent willingness to leave office early. He’s since sought to convince a Minneapolis judge that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, on the grounds that it was somehow entered under pressure (the judge denied Craig’s motion), and has announced that he will serve out his present Senate term. This, despite the fact that it will likely drag on for months the coverage of behavior that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)--also rumored to be gay--has already called “unforgivable.” As the Associated Press phrases it, “Now Republicans are powerless to stop a process almost certain to do more political damage to the party in general than to a retiring senator.” (I bet Idaho’s minority Democrats are salivating at the prospect of making Craig the poster boy for their state’s GOP failures in the next election, no matter who the actual Republican nominee for his seat turns out to be.)

If all of this idiocy and hypocrisy (Craig being one of the U.S. Senate’s leading homophobes) weren’t enough to bewilder Idahoans and other Americans alike, today brought Larry Craig’s induction into the Idaho Hall of Fame. Apparently, the decision to so honor the second-term senator was made last March, well before he started demonstrating his “wide stance” in a Twin Cities john. More than a few of his constituents thought Craig’s induction into the ranks of Idaho’s renowned citizens ought to be reconsidered, among them Kootenai County Republican precinct committeeman Phil Thompson. “Maybe in 10 or 15 years we can think of this hall of fame stuff. Now is not the time,” Thompson was quoted as saying this week. “It’s a sad day to be a Republican.”

Regardless of such understandable concerns, Craig joined 11 others in Boise this evening for their joint induction into that Hall of Fame. As one reader of the Idaho Statesman newspaper put it in commenting on the event, “I have never been more ashamed to be an Idahoan.”

READ MORE:The GOP’s Crowded Closet,” by Joe Conason (Salon).

(Cross-posted from Limbo.)


UPDATE: See our previous posts on the Larry "Wide Stance" Craig scandal here. -- MJWS

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Headline of the Day (Condi Rice edition)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The academic (and armchair) Cold Warrior comes to her senses. From the AP:

Here are the specifics:

The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has amassed so much central authority that the power-grab may undermine Moscow's commitment to democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

"In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development," Rice told reporters after meeting with human-rights activists.

"I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma," said Rice, referring to the Russian parliament.

Oh... where to begin?

First, what's this "commitment to democracy" mentioned in the first paragraph? Since when has Moscow (i.e., Putin and his cabal) been committed to democracy? Putin is an opponent of dissent and opposition, as leaders of the pro-democracy movement like Garry Kasparov know all too well. Liberal democracy is hardly what his regime is about.

Second, remember when Bush looked into Putin's soul? Yeah, well... Bush and Putin are still on pretty warm terms. And, indeed, so are Condi and Putin.

Third, what about those ongoing tensions between their two countries? What about all that talk of escalation?

Fourth, Rice is right about "too much concentration of power in the Kremlin," but most of us are well beyond the stage of doubt and questioning. We have no doubt. We have no need to question. Putin is an autocrat, ruling as a law unto himself, crushing the pro-democracy movement, striving to find a way to remain in power, if not in the same office. The Duma is an impotent tool under Putin's presidency, but it would become the locus of power, superior to the presidency, under a Putin premiership, what with a crony-puppet like Viktor Zubkov installed in the Kremlin.

Fifth, how about the (unintentional) irony? Rice is worried about what Putin has done, but should she not be similarly worried about what her boss has done?

* Consider how Bush has treated the U.S. presidency's "countervailing institutions" -- ignoring Congress (or using it as a rubber-stamper), circumventing the courts (and trying to turn the Supreme Court into a partisanized wing of the conservative movement), firing federal prosecutors, packing the civil service with cronies and hacks, politicizing the intelligence community, favouring one key department (Defense) over another (State).

* Consider Bush's use of signing statements to rule as a law unto himself.

* Consider Bush's conduct of the war on terror, including illegal domestic surveillance and the use of torture in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the very principles of the United States.

* Consider the influence of executive power fanatics like Cheney, Addington, and Yoo throughout the Bush Administration.

* Consider how Bush and those around him have wreaked havoc on American democracy.

And so on, and so on, and so on...

Is there reason to worry about what Putin is up to in Moscow? Yes, absolutely. But there is also reason to worry, much closer to home, about what Bush has been up to in Washington.

Some are worrying, some are doing more than worrying, speaking out and taking action against Bush's abuses. Condi Rice, yet another enabler of those abuses, isn't one of them.

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Top Ten Cloves: Reasons for Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore not to run for President

News Item: Gore Wins the Nobel. But Will He Run?

By J. Thomas Duffy

10. Holding off making any kind of announcement, anxiously waiting to see if his real dream job comes through -- Managing the New York Yankees.

9. James Baker just scares the bejeezes out of him.

8. Thinks the phrase "First Lady Tipper" sounds like something off a Sexual Predator List.

7. Can drag out the suspense of the firm denial for a few months and relish seeing the Clintons twisting with the thought of his running.

6. Holding out -- If he can solve this Global Warming thing, some country will surely offer him a kingship.

5. Would be too tempted to do those prime time, national television speeches with his Oscar and his Nobel Peace Prize sitting on the desk in front of him.

4. Doesn't want to be petty -- Likely, in his first official act as President, if elected, would be to issue a Signing Statement on how much now-former-President George Bush sucks.

3. Knows he'll catch shit from the Green crowd when he flies into those Global Warming concerts in Air Force One.

2. Oh God, the diets...

1. Doesn't want to be the one to evict Vice President Dick Cheney, who, being addicted to the power as he is, will refuse to leave his office on January 20th, 2009.

Congratulations! ... Way To Go There, Big Al!

Bonus Gore Wins! Links

Josh Marshall: On Gore

Steve Benen: Gore has quite a decade

Scarecrow: Al Gore Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Carl Pope: Why Al Gore deserves the Nobel Peace Prize; Gore's epic effort to focus attention on the perils of climate change supports the goal of preventing wars.

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Of spoils and spoilsports

By J. Kingston Pierce

“It’s like the best revenge fantasy ever, come true: Everyone who was ever mean to you, who wrote you off or sabotaged you? That nasty high school guidance counselor? The catty New York Times columnist? The partisan Supreme Court justice? Well, they can kiss your Oscar, your Emmy or your Nobel Peace Prize, because you won all three! In the same year!”

Those words belong to Salon editor Joan Walsh, but the sentiment regarding Al Gore’s win this morning of the Nobel Peace Prize is shared well beyond Salon’s San Francisco offices. “Once lampooned and beleaguered, Vice President Al Gore is avenged,” Mike Allen pronounces at The Politico. “Denied the presidency in the chaos of the Florida recount of 2000, he now has received what is arguably the most prestigious award in the world. His obsession with the environment and global warming, which led former President George H.W. Bush to mock him as ‘ozone man,’ has now been certified on a global stage as a worthy and consequential crusade.” Pseudonymous blogger Tristero piles on with his own back-pats: “Thinking about Al Gore’s career and his character--abundantly on display, for example, in the fall of 2000 and then again in 2002, and then once more in his prominent role in environmental causes -- I remember that there really are times when a prominent public figure truly can serve as a great example for kids on how to live a meaningful life. And for grown-ups, too.” Meanwhile, The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber wonders idly how the Texas frat boy who took Gore’s place in the Oval Office is reacting to the former veep’s latest triumph:

Watching Al Gore take a well-deserved victory lap this afternoon, I couldn’t help wondering what George W. Bush must be thinking. I mean, I know the guy still believes history will vindicate him and all, but, really, this has got to be pretty painful. Bush, according to various accounts of the 2000 campaign, absolutely despised Gore. He regarded him as a preening, self-righteous phony.

So Bush somehow manages to avenge his father’s defeat and vanquish the vice president of the United States. And yet, seven years later, it’s Gore who’s being hailed around the world as a prophet and a savior and Bush who, if he’s still being discussed at all, is mentioned only as the punchline to some joke, or when his poll numbers reach some new historic low. It must eat him up.

For his part, Gore has been amazingly restrained in the face of so much good news. Remarking on today’s commendation
at his Web site, he writes, “I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the world’s pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis -- a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years. We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.” The ex-VP adds that he’ll donate 100 percent of his share of the Nobel Prize money (somewhere in the vicinity of $1.5 million) to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit organization he founded, and which he explains is “devoted to changing public opinion in the U.S. and around the world about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.”

Inevitably, Gore has also been forced to shoot down renewed speculation that his hat trick of successes this year will provoke him to run for the White House. Again. “My sense is that this won’t affect that calculation,” Gore adviser Michael Feldman tells The Politico. “He has said all along he has no plans to run for president. He’s been spending all his discretionary time on the climate crisis. This great honor will further enhance that.” It will enhance, too, his presence on the campaign trail, when--although he won’t be stumping for himself--he will likely speak out in support of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or whoever the 2008 Democratic nominee turns out to be. There’s a moral gravity inherited by Nobel Peace Prize winners that simply isn’t available to rest of us mortals, and next year’s nominee will hope to exploit that.

Hoping to neutralize the ex-veep’s effect on that coming race, right-wing commentators and bloggers were quick to attack Gore and his Nobel victory--lest Americans start to reassess the man whom Republican’ts and their media toadies have disparaged these last eight years as “wooden” and “weird,” and begin to see him as he really is: superior to Bush Jr. In the National Review’s blog, The Corner, Iain Murray sought to equate Gore with Osama bin Laden, who Murray claimed idiotically, “implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance” on global warming. Painkiller addict and radio comedian Rush Limbaugh scoffed: “So now ‘Algore’ will join Yasir Arafat among the list of noble Nobel peace laureates.” He went on to charge that members of the Norwegian Nobel committee have “rendered themselves a pure, 100 percent joke.” Bush, ever the spoilsport, couldn’t so much as bring himself to congratulate his onetime opponent, even though, as Salon’s Tim Grieve pointed out earlier today, he has previously been conscientious enough to applaud everyone from spelling-bee winners to sports champs. When asked this morning whether the prez would dial up Gore to congratulate him, deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto responded, “I don’t know of any plans to make calls to any of the winners at this point.”

Strangely, Czech President Vaclav Klaus parroted the American right-wing line. Described as “a rare vocal global- warming skeptic among heads of state,” Klaus is said to have been “somewhat surprised” by Gore’s Nobel win. “The relationship between his activities and world peace is unclear and indistinct,” spokesman Petr Hajek said in a statement. “It rather seems that Gore’s doubting of basic cornerstones of the current civilization does not contribute to peace.”

Of course, Gore need not pay attention to such naysaying. He’s too busy trying to find a little bit of room between his Emmy and Oscar for his Nobel medal.

Had history gone in a different direction, the United States would have benefited from Al Gore’s hard-won wisdom and leadership in the White House. As it is, over the last seven years we’ve suffered through natural calamities, economic downturns, the war-caused spread of terrorism in the Middle East, repeated Republican scandals, and a dramatic erosion of America’s worldwide standing. The bottom line is spelled out by Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report: “Everything Bush touched led to disaster. Everything Gore focused on turned out to be right.” History will recognize the difference, even if some Americans still don’t.

READ MORE:Gore and U.N. Panel Share Peace Prize,” by Dan Balz and Juliet Eilperin (The Washington Post); “Prize Caps Year of Highs for Gore,” by Jim Rutenberg (The New York Times); “From One Prize to Another,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “What Should Gore Do Now?” by David Roberts (The Huffington Post); “Will Gore Fall Prey to the Nobel Curse?” by Eric Weiner (National Public Radio).

(Cross-posted from Limbo.)

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"We never thought the day would come"

By Carol Gee

When private companies get into the intelligence business we traditionally think about the "gum shoe" -- Private Eye/Mickey Spillane -- model. But this story is a bizarre new twist on privatized intelligence info and a government leak, perhaps even by the DNI?

I am not saying this is the case here, but DNI McConnell has the authority to declassify at will. I have written at S/SW about the questions this raised with Members of Congress in the past. I quote from the Washington Post's story headlined, "U.S. Intelligence Officials Will Probe Leak of Bin Laden Video." Written by Joby Warrick on Wednesday, October 10, 2007, the article opens with this astonishing news:

U.S. intelligence officials will investigate allegations that the government improperly leaked a secretly obtained Osama bin Laden video, alerting al-Qaeda to a security gap in the terrorist group's internal communications network that it was able to shut, an intelligence spokesman said yesterday.

Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said officials are looking into the leak allegation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which passed the video on to the White House and the director of national intelligence's office before its leak.

"At this point, we don't think there was a leak from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or the National Counterterrorism Center," Feinstein said.

. . . SITE provides copies of videos and other al-Qaeda material to subscribers, which include intelligence agencies, private companies and news organizations. SITE has acknowledged alerting clients that it had obtained the bin Laden video and would release it when safe to do so. During this period, SITE also negotiated with at least two television networks that were interested in obtaining the video once cleared for release, but it reached no deal before the video was leaked.

This is what I feel might possibly have happened. Based on sheer speculation, I think that when DNI McConnell got the tape, he perhaps did the normal director thing. He passed it along to a subordinate, who then passed it around, without making sure that his people knew of the proprietary nature of the SITE material. Though this is hard to believe, because I am sure that NSA has dealt with SITE in the past. That was one thing that SITE was concerned about, of course. But the revelation of "sources and methods" was obviously much more worrisome.

A Fox News article revealed that the FBI did not think there had been severe damage to national security. To quote:

Speaking with FOX News, Steven Pomerantz, a former FBI counter terror chief, said sometimes private organizations like SITE will come up with intelligence information that helps antiterror efforts "based on some unique capability or unique opportunity that they have. ... But in terms of the overall gathering of intelligence, 99.9 percent of that is gathered by the government."

He said he believed it would be a mistake to be alarmed by something like this to imply that the government's ability to collect intelligence has somehow been severely impacted by an event like this. That may be an exaggeration."

Well, for SITE's part, their source is gone and they were severely impacted. And of course the al Qaeda source may have been severely impacted as well, perhaps fatally.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Obama, a leader in words only

By Creature

Barack Obama is confusing the fuck out of me. See, until this morning I was rah rahing Obama and his full frontal attack on Hillary for her Iran vote. A vote that exemplifies, once again, that she really doesn't understand that George Bush and Dick Cheney do not believe in using such votes as leverage. If we've learned anything over the last few years it's that Bush and Cheney believe Congressional support for belligerent action is an invitation to drop bombs, not an invitation for tea. So, today I find out that Obama is talking a good game, yet was absent for the actual Iran-as-threat vote that he is hitting Hillary over the head with. WTF? This is not leading. This is political cowardice and I am disappointed.

Update: Um, I guess, never mind with the whole disappointed and cowardice stuff. As pointed out to me in the comments our dear majority leader Harry Reid is to blame for Obama missing the vote. Now, maybe there's a bigger issue here of too much campaigning and not enough governing, but I will leave that aside for now. So, rah rah to you, Senator Obama, for keeping the heir to the presidency's feet to the fire. Hillary clearly does not understand that what we need now is less with the hawk and more with the talk.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Al Gore and the IPCC win 2007 Nobel Peace Prize

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Make sure to read J. Kingston Pierce's post here.)

He won!

Al Gore and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have won The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Gore "is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted," according to the Nobel citation.

For more, see the NYT, WaPo, CNN, the AP, Reuters, and the BBC -- but, of course, the reporting is everywhere. For reaction, of which there will be a great deal throughout the day, see Memeorandum.

And to those who question what Gore has done for world peace, that is, who question the connectiong between global warming (and the awareness thereof) and world peace, to the deniers, to the clueless, imagine what chaos will be unleashed upon us when the seas rise, millions die, and the world as we know it falls apart.


There is, of course, more talk that Gore will enter the presidential race. If only. He likely won't.

But I wish he would. He is the most qualified person in the world for the job.

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All eyes on the prize

By J. Kingston Pierce

Yesterday’s big news was that British novelist Doris Lessing has won the 2007 Novel Prize in Literature. Will today bring word that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore--applauded by many, but chided by some for his courageous stand against global warming--has captured this year’s Nobel Peace Prize? If so, he will be the 20th individual U.S. recipient, and only the second veep (after Charles G. Dawes in 1925) to receive that honor, which has previously gone to Theodore Roosevelt, George Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel, Jimmy Carter, and others.

The 59-year-old Gore--whose 2006 documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, picked up an Academy Award earlier this year--is widely considered the front-runner for this honor. However, he may be in close contention with Finland’s former president Martti Ahtisaari, who Reuters explains “helped broker a 2005 peace deal between Indonesia and its Aceh province to end 30 years of conflict and is U.N. special envoy on Kosovo--a task where he faces stiff resistance from Serbia and Russia.” The outcome depends on whether the Nobel committee again extends the definition of what it considers means toward peace. If it does, this race may not be close.

Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope wrote yesterday in Salon: “Regardless of the outcome [of today’s Nobel announcement], Gore is, quite simply, the indispensable player in the drama of mankind’s encounter with the possibility of destroying the climatic balance within which our civilization emerged and developed.” Not only did the onetime U.S. senator from Tennessee come to see early on how “carbon emissions are slowly causing the planet to overheat” (Gore initiated congressional hearings on the subject way back in the 1970s), but, writes Pope:

He recognized, too, that the incredibly hard task of turning around the world’s energy economy would become impossible if we waited for global warming to announce its presence, stage left, with alarum and hautboys as Shakespeare might have scripted.

So for years he accepted the thankless role of Cassandra, the Greek prophet no one would heed. But unlike Cassandra he did not sit by to watch fateful tragedy unfold. Once, when I was particularly frustrated by challenges I faced in my job at the Sierra Club, Gore heard me out and replied: “Never, ever give up.” That would seem to be his motto, as reflected in the thousands of speeches he has delivered, the Live Earth concert he built from scratch, the naysaying he has endured, the movement he inspired.

Pope goes on to suggest that Gore’s odds of winning the Nobel might be helped by recent precedents. “In 2004,” Pope observes, “the Nobel Peace Prize went to Kenyan environmentalist
Wangari Maathai. She is not a general or president. She was founder of the grass-roots Green Belt Movement, which planted more than 30 million trees across the country, providing jobs, power and education to women in the process. In the Nobel committee’s words upon awarding that prize: ‘Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment.’” The Nobel committee may view Gore similarly, suggests the Sierra Club exec, “as someone who has spent much of his career staving off conflicts by uniting strange bedfellows behind the common cause of protecting humanity’s only home.” Pope concludes:

In the 20th century peace was something to be achieved after the horrifying bloodletting of world war began. In the 21st century, although the world faces a new era of turmoil, peace ultimately must be about identifying and resolving the sources of conflict before battles break out. That’s why no one deserves the Nobel Peace Prize more than Al Gore.

Predictably, there are many right-wingers, including
a rapidly shrinking contingent of George W. Bush supporters, who don’t want to see Gore take home the Nobel Peace Prize, and thereby enhance his rock star status. They still hold a vicious grudge against him for winning more votes in the 2000 presidential race than their Connecticut cowboy. On Wednesday, the conservative New York Sun newspaper editorialized in favor of General David Petraeus as an alternative. Its endorsement of Bush’s strongest recent advocate for the seemingly endless and deadly war on Iraq is rather petulant (the paper remarks, for instance, that “It is true that General Petraeus doesn’t seem to hate President Bush, which in recent years has seemed to be one of the pre-requisites for winning the prize”), and it is predicated on a pretty bizarre belief that Petraeus is trying to “save the nation of Iraq” by furthering a conflict that has already killed an estimated 1,084,379 Iraqis and left their country vulnerable to a worsening civil war and terrorist encroachment from outside its borders.

Republicans may also fear that his winning the Nobel Peace Prize might encourage Gore to run for president again. The former VP is one of the few Americans with the name recognition to leap into the 2008 presidential contest this late in the game, after raising less money than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and still come out on top--points mentioned in my psychoanalyst friend Trip Quillman’s op-ed piece last May in The Seattle Times. National polls taken earlier this month show Al Gore in third place among Democratic contenders, behind just Clinton and Obama. Even though Gore has said on more than one occasion that he has no intention of running for office in the future, a group calling itself Draft Gore purchased a full-page ad in The New York Times yesterday, encouraging Bill Clinton’s former No. 2 to step up to the campaigning plate once more and swing for the fences. “You say you have fallen out of love with politics, and you have every reason to feel that way,” the group says to Gore in that “open letter” advertisement. “But we know you have not fallen out of love with your country. And your country needs you now--as do your party and the planet you are fighting so hard to save.”

In all likelihood, a Gore candidacy would spell trouble for what seems, at this point anyway, like the inevitability of Hillary Clinton capturing the Democratic presidential nomination next summer. His prominent and repeated denunciations of Bush’s Iraq war and expansion of power sit very well with Democrats and others, who worry that the present White House is shredding the U.S. Constitution for its own dictatorial ends, and are leery of the dynastic fragrance of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton succession in the Oval Office. The GOP should be even more concerned about running the robotic Mitt Romney, the say-anything-to-win Rudy Giuliani, or Fred “Dumb as Hell” Thompson against a man committed to saving the earth for all mankind. The GOP nomination in 2008 is fluid at this stage of the game, because Republican’ts don’t much like any of the 10 white males still vying for their votes. Even Giuliani, running hard on his record of looking less incompetent than Bush did on September 11, 2001, is trailing Clinton by a long shot, and according to a new Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll, his support is much wider than it is deep. (Clinton, on the other hand, has strong support among her Democratic backers.) Just imagine how poorly Giuliani would stack up against the principled Gore.

Now, none of this suggests that I think Gore will run. Or that he should. I take him at his word when he says that he has no interest in making another try for the presidency. And in fact, if he’s so committed to ending global warming, he can probably do more good as a private citizen with a Nobel Prize in his pocket than he could as the American chief executive--a position that would necessarily force him to focus on more than melting icecaps, dying polar bears, and the catastrophic future flooding of coastal cities. When asked, in the wake of that Draft Gore ad, whether he could be persuaded to make a comeback bid for the White House, Gore spokesperson Kalee Kreider said, “Vice President Gore truly appreciates the sentiment and the feeling behind the ad, but as a private citizen his efforts are going behind a campaign of a different kind. The vast majority of his energy right now is going into educating people about the climate crisis and trying to get that issue to a tipping point.”

So Clinton and Giuliani can probably stop sweating the chances of Gore entering the 2008 race. But look out, Martti Ahtisaari. You’re up against a heavyweight.

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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Sound and fury, signifying nothing

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Mainstream media outlets have already moved on from Burma. What is it now, to them, but a story of the past? What more, to them, is there to say?

Not much, not much at all, there are new and far more sensationalistic stories to tell, upon which to report. And for the mainstream media outlets of our sensation-driven society, what is important about the news is what is new.

This is a generalization, of course, and something of an exaggeration. The reporting continues, to a point, to a limited extent, to the extent that serious outlets like the BBC continue to focus on what is not an isolated but an ongoing story, one that requires out ongoing attention.

And there is news, activity, something upon which to report, a slap on the wrist, less than that, from the U.N.:

The UN Security Council has adopted a statement deploring Burma's military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The agreement came after China lifted its objections to a statement first drafted by the US, UK and France.

It represents the first time the 15-nation body has taken any formal action over Burma.

The move indicates a shift of position by China, which had previously used its veto to stop the council from criticising Burma's military junta.

The statement "strongly deplores the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators" in Burma and calls on the junta and all other parties "to work together toward a de-escalation of the situation and a peaceful solution".

It also calls for the early release of "all political prisoners and remaining detainees", urging the junta to prepare for a "genuine dialogue" with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The statement -- which, unlike a resolution, requires the consent of all 15 council members to be adopted -- was issued by Ghana's UN Ambassador Leslie Christian, the council's president.

A statement. Great. Ooooooooh. I'm sure the totalitarians are trembling in fear. Some comments:

-- A statement from the U.N. Security Council may be meaningful, but what effect will it have? Will deploring "the use of violence," however "strongly," stop Burma's brutal military junta from using violence, strongly? Will it persuade the junta to negotiate, to compromise, to engage in "genuine dialogue," to seek peace? Of course not. It should go without saying that diplomacy is a necessary and effective tool with respect to international affairs, but it often requires teeth to be effective in any real and substantive way. This is a statement without teeth.

-- Has China really shifted position, that is, taken a new and tougher line on Burma? Is it now on the side of the U.S., the U.K., France, and other western democracies? Of course not. China agreed to a statement without teeth, a statement that will have little to no effect, not to sanctions, not to international action of any kind. As I put it last week: "It is China, after all, that has been one of the leading supporters of the totalitarians, propping up their regime and profiting off their tyranny. Why would they agree to an international sanctions regime? Given how much they object to international interference in their own country -- what with their own atrocious human rights abuses -- and given how much they profit off tyranny around the world, in Africa as well as in Asia, it is in their interest to object to such pressure here."

-- Is this the best the U.N. can do? Maybe -- given China's veto, given Russia's veto, given the reluctance of India and Burma's other regional neighbours to do anything about what is happening in Burma, preferring to regard it as an internal matter, a domestic problem. Because of this, the U.S., the U.K., France, and their allies may need to act on their own, outside the U.N. -- multilaterally, that is, but without a formal stamp of approval from the U.N. I am a supporter of the U.N., in general, but it is not always the most effective vehicle for international action.

-- On India: Consider the utterly appalling fact that India is set to sign a significant port-development deal with the junta. Given its massive investment in Burma, why would India support tough measures directed against the junta?

-- On China: Same thing. Why would China support tough measures? Aside from its own massive investment in Burma, it is busy suppressing dissent at home.

-- This statement is a start, maybe, but not nearly enough. The problem is, there may not be anything more to come.

For more, see our previous posts on the situation in Burma here -- including a post on what can be done to liberate the people of that oppressed country. (Would enhanced sanctions work? Maybe, maybe not.)

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXXII

By Michael J.W. Stickings

We haven't done one of these in, oh, weeks, and yet, of course, the violence has continued, the life and death of an occupied, war-torn, divided land. One simply can't keep up with it.

But, yesterday, there was this, and it was terrible:

A U.S. attack killed 19 insurgents and 15 civilians, including nine children, northwest of the capital Thursday — one of the heaviest civilian death tolls in an American operation in recent months. The military said it was targeting senior leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Of course, there is often no clear line separating the insurgents (and al Qaeda) from the civilian population, and, well, war is hell. There will inevitably be civilian casualties, no matter the care taken to prevent them.

But in Iraq, where the U.S. should no longer be, such an incident only serves to remind us of the horrible human cost of this disastrous war.

Yes, Iraq was a brutal, bloody place under Saddam. Yes, Iraq will continue to be a brutal, bloody place once the occupation ends. But the reality here is that it was an American air attack that killed civilians, children.

How does that make you feel? And what do you think should be done about it?

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How 'bout them Yankees?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Yankees lost to the Indians 6-4 on Monday, and that was that. It was Game 4 of the ALDS, and, with the win, Cleveland took the series 3-1.

I'm not a Yankees fan -- I grew up an Expos fan, but, now that they are no longer (and, no, I cannot root for the Nationals), I have come to like the Jays, my hometown team -- but I have long preferred them to the Red Sox and have generally respected them throughout the Joe Torre era, especially a decade ago, and less so in recent years, with the inflated payroll and the overpaid, overrated, aging ex-superstars. And I was rooting for them to beat the Indians, more in anticipation of a Yanks-Sox series, for the Indians are a likeable team, and I will root for them over the Sox. But too bad, I thought, for guys like Mussina and Posada, Matsui and Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte, Wang and Cano, Hughes and Chamberlain, less for guys like Abreu and Damon, not at all for guys like Clemens and Giambi, both of whom, for different reasons, I dislike.

And what of Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod? Will he be back? Does it matter? Would the Yankees be better off without him (and his huge salary?) He may be the best player in baseball right now. I like his game, but I can't say I like him. Respect and admiration, but not much else.

For hardcore baseball fans like me, though, the Yankees are nothing if not good drama, better in loss than in victory, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to yet another year of disappointment -- for them, if not for us. Will Torre be fired? Will they resign their free agents -- Posada and Rivera? Will they let Abreu walk? Will Pettitte leave, again? And, of course, what about A-Rod? Will he opt out of the remainder of his massive, bloated contract and test the waters of free agency for what could bring him a new deal at around $30 million a year?

If, like me, the plight of the Yankees interests you, check out Mark Starr's advice column at Newsweek. And, while you're at it, check out Alan Massie's semi-serious comparison of the Yanks to Bush's America at TNR: Bush is to blame for the Yankees' plight. Consider this: "[T]he Bronx Bombers haven't won a World Series under a Republican president since the Eisenhower administration. Just seven of their 26 titles have been won while the GOP possessed the White House." Coincidence? Maybe not. If you like the Yanks, vote Democratic. (If you don't, vote Democratic anyway and hope there's no connection.)

Anyway, the whole point of this post, now much longer than intended, was to put up this striking photo, which accompanies the NYT article linked above. It's A-Rod in the dugout after Monday's game, dejected. It is awash in pathos and melancholy -- the sad, lonely superstar, suffering in solitude, hidden from, yet surrounded by, the qualitatively different dejection of his, and his team's, fans. Whether you feel sorry for him, however, along with his team, is up to you.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Intel: and then they adjourned -- Rep. Reyes hearings, Part 4

By Carol Gee

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was drastically amended by Congress in August. The resulting temporary law is a major assault on the civil liberties of our citizens. The amendment is, sadly, titled "The Protect America Act" (PAA). J. Thomas Duffy at The Reaction linked to an interesting post about what is now going on in Congress with the PAA: "New Train Wreck Coming on FISA" by Matt Stoller (Sep 25, 2007). Stoller discusses what might soon happen to this temporary measure in Congress unless there is strong citizen protest. To quote:

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are disorganized and giving no signals to members on the FISA wiretapping expansion and retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies, which is going to result in horrific legislation. In the Senate, Jay Rockefeller is once again inviting Mike McConnell into closed hearings on how to fix the FISA law, and the markup is next week. There are no drafts of legislation around, which is a bad sign. The Senate Judiciary Committee is hamstrung by Dianne Feinstein, who prevents a majority, and by the instincts of Democrat leaders who, in a conflicts between Judiciary and Intelligence, will go with Intelligence because of a perceived fear of national security weakness.

Rockefeller, in order to get something 'bipartisan' that can pass the Senate, is working with Kit Bond to draft something that can get to 60 votes. Bond of course is close to McConnell, and so it's likely that the bill coming out of the Senate Judiciary is going to contain retroactive immunity for telecom companies (thank you lobbyist Jamie Gorelick) and a permanent fix to FISA that expands executive power. Reid and Pelosi, ironically, by ordering Democrats to move quickly so as to fix the problem they caused in July, are just accelerating the process of crafting this horrendous bill. This is complicated of course by the millions that telecomunications companies give to members on the Hill to prevent things like net neutrality from passing, though of course here too there's no logic since much of that money goes to Republicans.

In the House, the Intelligence Committee is slightly better, but we have no drafts of legislation and it's going to be marked up next week.

Which brings up House Intel Committee Oversight -- This post is the final in a series detailing (from my real-time notes paraphrased) what individual members of the House Select Committee on Intelligence said during a recent (9/20/07) hearing.

(See "Fifty Ways to Understand the "Protect America Act" for help with the definitions and/or jargon). The posts "Opening Salvos," "Checks & Balances," and "The Devil is in the Details" bring us today to the hearing's midway point, where Rep. Holt, a Democrat, was questioning Director of National Intelligence Adm. Mike McConnell.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) asked about the terms of the new law regarding foreign intelligence:

Does it allow searches of homes, mail, and personal records - such as medical or library records? Would you object to changing the language to prohibit certain practices? Later he asked about the law's Emergency Standards now under the new law. Who determines that? And who provides oversight in the agency? . . . Did lawyers from the V.P.'s office office work on this legislation? Independence --the ability to speak truth to power -- is so important for the DNI. Do you have that?

DNI McConnell answered by giving information on the following issues:

  • Regarding bulk collection of communication data, metadata amounts to the communications roadmap...
  • "I would not object to statutory language prohibiting practices, but I would have to see it first." The DNI admitted that he had not fully read the 6 page law (during those final rushed negotiations between Congress and the Whitehouse). There was extensive consultation between the team of 20 lawyers about it. However, McConnell strongly reiterated his willingness to keep his distance from those to whom he is supposed to speak the truth...
  • McConnell brought up again his view that "Before we changed the law we were losing 50% or 2/3 of the intelligence capability." (?!)
  • Rep. Holt asked about McConnell's claim that U.S. help along with German surveillance recently caught a group of terrorists. Holt revealed that efforts to catch the German terrorist cell began before the new law. Adm. McConnell replied that his quotes were "taken out of context."
  • An"emergency" is determined by the analyst, according to the DNI. Decisions would be made the same way under the old FISA law and the new PAA law.
  • There is no judicial oversight with foreign intelligence through warrants. The oversight is at three levels: 1) civil liberties protection is reviewed by the professionals internally at the agency level; 2) the procedures are reviewed by the DOJ and also reviewed by the FISA court; and 3) finally by Congress.
  • As for the information on how many U.S. citizens are overheard at the incidental end of wiretapped conversations, the DNI said that "it might not be knowable."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R- Cal.) -- Asked if the Assistant A.G. testifying (Kenneth Wainstein) would be willing to go to jail over the issue of whether a warrant was required. The AG said he was not willing to break the law. Rep. Issa then discussed the "reported 12 hours wait (another 2 1/2 pages of paperwork)" in the kidnapped soldier case (see previous posts). The member, contrasting General Petraeus's war power of killing terrorists vs. the intelligence process, questioned people's objections to listening or looking in on troops in theater. Rep. Issa gave a warning that the troops "will be monitored in theater, and they expect to be." He also proposed that th"e 4th amendment follows citizens overseas." Saying to the Democratic majority, "please don't let us hurt ourselves again," regarding passage of the new law, he wants support for the change. Congressman Issa expressed anger because the committees were "selectively given information (regarding Israel's bombing in Syria)." Adm. McConnell stated that "sunshine is good," referring to keeping Congress informed on as much intelligence as possible.

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) -- Tierney read the [105-a of PAA] language in Congress' proposed Bill #3356. "What was the objection?" he asked DNI McConnell. The DNI explained: "A surveillance Target can only be one sided; whether you intercept incidental conversation is not the issue." Rep. Tierney suggested that, "Technology may not have been issue. The real issue was probably who decided who is to be targeted." Adm. McConnell reiterated that he objects to the FISA court having anything to do with foreign to foreign surveillance. Tierney asked:

"Could the court rule on the 'reasonableness' of methods and filters or privacy mitigation used by the system. 'Clearly Erroneous' is now the new standard that pertains to the surveillance review that would prohibit further such agency actions.Would you object to an Inspector General review?"

McConnell implied that foud levels of review is plenty. Later in the hearing, Tierney returned to the number of communications in the database: "The subset could still be a substantial number." The DNI does "not believe the new law required minimization, but it is still being used anyway." Tierney asked whether there would be objection to FISA court review of the minimization procedures? McConnell did not want to be "forced under a time constraint." Tierney replied that a "political timetable was what was going on just before the last minute law was rushed through. We should require inspector general reviews and audits in the new law. We need to understand this very large data base to, from, or about transactions. Can you look at a sampling?" Adm. McConnell said he would "see what is doable."

Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) -- quote:

There is no question that you will get your tools. The real question is oversight, checks and balances. We need to clarify these laws... The National Security Agency is in my district... I believe we're close to resolution, but our issue is oversight. There is no need to have probable cause in an emergency. But no judicial oversight; it is not the constitution. I agree that telecoms need immunity. We want to know what we are giving immunity for. But we must have the documents. Nothing blanket will be authorized.

DNI McConnell said that he recommended that Congress gets what it needs of the documents from the administration. Later in the hearing, Rep. Ruppersberger said:

We're looking for clarity. And we're getting very close here. We must have judicial oversight. Right now there is not independent judical review. We are a county of laws. Minimization cannot take the place of court oversight. We'll give you the resources if you need it to handle the workload. Right now there is search and seizure without a court order; it says so in the law. We don't have clarity. The real question is the constitution. That is our job to protect the Constitution.

Rep. Jan Shankowsky (D-Ill.) -- Would the Director please provide (in classified session if necessary) classified specific instances of when the agency was prevented altogether from collecting foreign intelligence. Rep. Shankowsky asked if the congressional proposal, "3356," fixed the prob. AG Kenneth Wainstein -- "It might have required us to make the legal showing that the target was an agent of a foreign power." Asking about Minimization and the collection of Incidental information - the Member asked how often it is used. How often personal info gets collected under the new act? How is it disseminated? How can we do oversight if you can't know what is in the database? DNI McConnell said that "finding out might require significant extra effort on our part. There are billions of transactions. Queries of the database is the only way how we can know about Incidentals. Shankowsky asked about civil liberty protections, saying that protections must become a priority regardless of the effort required. Chairman Reyes reiterated that "the Committee will do that."

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) -- The intelligence gathering process is both legal and technical. The PAA did nothing to change the technical requirements that take a lot of time, also. Rep. Langevin felt that Adm. McConnell had "made inconsistent statements - saying that House bill #3356 was unacceptable, that you had never read the bill because it was so complex. It was only 6 pages long." McConnell retold the story of...

...the 4+3 versions of bills exchanged between Congress and the Whitehouse. Senior people asking me if I agreed philosophically. And I did. But there turned out to be the possibility of unintended consequences as the lawyers got to looking at 3356. Now there is time for us all to agree on some language.

Todd Tiahrt (R- Kansas) -- asked, "Is it working, the new law?" Adm. McConnell restated that:

  • We had lost half to two thirds of our capability. In a few days we were back up in business.
  • Minimization has worked adequately for 30 years. Incidental conversation are a tiny tiny percentage of billions of transactions. When someone in the U.S is targeted a warrant would be required.
  • Agents get training and oversight and recertification is required.
  • Almost all intelligence is foreign to foreign contacts.
  • With incidental conversations, if there is no harm to the nation -- it is minimized. Otherwise it could be absolutely the most important call, perhaps an attack could be averted. A call made in the U.S. before the 9/11 situation was not captured. But now it would go to the FBI for surveillance.

Later, Tiardt continued: He does not see search and seizure without using minimization. He asked about the rights of foreigners. McConnell stated that "now the FISA court reviews all the procedures," adding that:

What we have now works well, and I'm hesitant to change any of it. I want Congress to get confidence in the process. Come visit us; meet the people -- the professionals. But because of leaks to the press we now can't do a lot of things.

The Committee was then adjourned by the Chairman.

My thought at the end was this: "Again, just trust us."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Hysterical Barry Crimmins Today - The Gipper still tearing up turf!

By J. Thomas Duffy

A fall down, piss-your-pants offering today from satirist Barry Crimmins.

No sneak peaks ... Go over to it and be prepared to have tears in your eyes from laughing.

The Gipper still tearing up turf!

Visit Barry Crimmin's website

Other Barry Crimmins on The Garlic

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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With friends like these...

By Edward Copeland

The Bush family and their foreign policy teams sure have a history of not fulfilling promises to their allies, especially in the Middle East.

While Bush I was right in not toppling Saddam at the time, since all of his advisers, including that model of Dick Cheney, agreed the chaos that would ensue wasn't worth the cost of additional American lives, they also encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam on their own. As the Shiites in the south moved to do just that, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf let Saddam go ahead and crush them, in no small part leading to the resentment we face there now.

Now, another friendly Iraqi has been placed in a quandary that the U.S. seems either unwilling or unable to prevent. As reported exclusively by NBC News, former Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed, who now awaits execution by an Iraqi court, actually was working as a double agent for the U.S. Hashim worked with a CIA task force following the first Gulf War, feeding them information about Saddam and helping them to try to encourage his overthrow.

On top of that, Hashim was introduced to the CIA by Iraq's current president, Jalal Talabani, and who will be charged with the task of signing Hashim's death warrant for war crimes. Talabani wants nothing to do with it.

It seems something went wrong during this invasion. Hashim ended up as one of the players on the U.S. deck of cards and was forced into hiding, where he was promised by none other than Gen. David Petraeus that:

... I offer you a simple, yet honorable alternative to life on the run from Coalition Forces in order to avoid capture, imprisonment, and loss of honor and dignity befitting a General Officer. I officially request your surrender to me. In turn, I will accept this from you in person. You have my word that you will be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, and that you will not be physically or mentally mistreated while under my custody."

Hashim did surrender to Petraeus, under the assumption that he would received immunity for charges that loomed over his head related to Saddam's attacks on the Kurds. Soon after, the U.S. military handed Hashim over to the Iraqi court that sentenced him to death.

Talabani, himself a Kurd, is now in a, to say the least, awkward position, given the task to carry out a death sentence of a former friend and ally in the fight against Saddam on charges relating to the deaths of his own people.

I used to urge him to rebel against the government, and he used to cooperate," Talabani said last month. "So how can I now authorize his execution? I just can’t."

What will become of Hashim? It's difficult to say right now, but it is yet another example of the sheer incompetence with which this administration executed their war on Iraq.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007


By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm busy watching the election returns this evening. Ontario voters went to the polls today to elect 107 provincial legislators, or MPPs, as well as to vote in a referendum on electoral reform, the first provincial referendum since 1924. The Liberal Party won a comfortable majority in 2003 and have, according to projections, won another one, the first back-to-back Liberal majorities in 70 years.

Which means that Dalton McGuinty will remain premier. John Tory, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, is doing poorly in his own riding and may not win a seat. The New Democratic Party is doing better than in '03 but will remain a distant third. The Green Party, the largest of the smaller parties (but one that has never won a seat in the Legislature), is doing well in central Ontario, where the NDP is weak.

I'm sure that readers of this blog, even infrequent ones, even new ones, can guess accurately my political leanings in Ontario. I am, indeed, partial to the Liberals, and was once even a dues-paying member. Owing to the nature of my work, however, which I recently mentioned here, I do not blog about Ontario politics and will not comment on the election other than to say this:

Good for the Liberals. Good for Ontarians.

This is the right choice for Ontario.

If you want to find out more about the election, with up-to-date returns, see the CBC or CTV -- or, for a more Toronto-centric perspective, CityNews.

For those of you who don't know much, or anything, about Ontario -- and I realize this blog has an international, if still mostly American, readership -- we are the financial and industrial center of the country, the most populous of Canada's ten provinces with a population of over 12 million. (See Wikipedia for more. Speaking of which see also the Wikipedia entries for the election and the referendum.)

As for the referendum, I have been intimately involved with the government's electoral reform initiative -- as well as with its democratic renewal agenda generally -- over the past three years, and so will defer to one of the world's leading experts on elections, electoral systems, and electoral reform, co-blogger MSS, who recently posted on the referendum here. (He will no doubt have more to say in response to the vote in the coming days.)

Enjoy your evening, everyone.

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