Saturday, December 08, 2007

More about wounded warriors

By Carol Gee

Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) announced at a news conference yesterday that a Senate-House Defense Authorization conference report had been agreed upon. The main news discussion focused on the revelation of an interrogation videotape of water-boarding of two detainees that the CIA has since destroyed. As a result The Wounded Warrior Act is a piece of legislation included in that report that may escape notice. To quote the [pdf-29 pages] Senate Armed Services Committee Chair's news release:

This Conference report . . . Wounded Warrior Act which will address the substandard living conditions, poor outpatient care and bureaucratic roadblocks and delays faced by injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere. These provisions will dramatically improve the management of medical care, disability evaluations, personnel actions, and the quality of life for service members recovering from illness or injuries incurred while performing their military duties and begin the process of fundamental reform of DoD and VA disability evaluation systems.

"Warriors in clashing cultures" was a S/SW blog post I did in March of this year, shortly after the Walter Reed Hospital scandal broke. We are still at war in Iraq And Afghanistan and wounded warriors are still trying to put their lives back together. Since the scandal broke there have been commissions appointed, recommendations made, lots of firings and hirings. A short blurb from discussed a recent development regarding that promises to be a good thing for veterans, new leadership. An army physician who has come up through the ranks will take the helm of the V.A. for a year. To quote:

VA nominee's pledge
Pledging to ''do the right thing,'' Veterans Affairs nominee James Peake said Wednesday he will be an independent advocate for thousands of injured veterans and will fight for the needed funding for their care. In a 21/2-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the retired Army lieutenant general also vowed to work on making significant headway in fixing gaps in care and reducing delays in disability pay. The full Senate is expected to confirm Peake as early as this month.

"Wounded Warrior 3 Nov 2007 pictures from Germany" is a fascinating album with photos from "wrblack101" at There are no words with the images but they tell their own story. Starting in December of 2004, this intrepid photographer has put up 33 albums headed "Wounded Warrior Trips." I was unable to find anything about the circumstances of the trips. His profile states that he is a "Senior Intelligence Analyst." The trips, evidently, happened about monthly since they began.

The Wounded Warrior Project lists rallies and other supporting events such as 'M.S. Garvey's Letters To The President - Venice, CA.' Their excellent website reports that:

The Hartford Ski Spectacular is now in its 20th year! Come out to support our wounded warriors at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, CO, December 2 – 9, 2007 and be part of one of the nation’s largest winter sports festivals for people with disabilities.

My reference links:

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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The law is over

By Capt. Fogg

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time? How stupid are you? This isn't our country, this isn't a democracy, there isn't any law but the Party and if you're a member and you do the crime, you don't pay a dime.

I've been following the Ann Coulter voter fraud case all along and while we were teased with occasional hints that justice might prevail, only idiots like me would believe for a moment that this bipedal lamprey would suffer the slightest indignity or inconvenience for her felony.

Face it, a crime syndicate owns America and the illusion of any rule of law is now something only the deranged or delusional can believe in. If your party credentials are fit, they're bound to acquit - if it actually gets that far.

Ann of the thousand lies ran out the clock on her voting fraud charges after the Florida Elections commission, an arm of the Republican Party decided the crime was committed when she registered a false address, not when she used it to vote. Of course a crime is not a crime when the voice of the Party speaks through your rectum and nobody amongst the Palm Beach legal structure, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, would file charges against her; neither the Sheriff nor the Supervisor of Elections who represent the Republican Party and not you or me.

We're too sickened by it to cover the details,

says Brad Blog, but they cover it better than I'm patient enough to do. I'm too angry to be sickened. I'm angry, not at the Republicans, but at you, America; the 300 million idiots who bicker about whose bullshit religion has a better fake God and about gay marriages and football and cheap pisswater beer and iPods and Mexicans and talentless gyrating entertainers spewing mindless popular passions.

At least when the Mafia takes over a business or neighborhood, people wait until some windows and kneecaps are broken. Not us. We were just so busy proving that Jews and Wal-Mart hate Christmas that we just handed over our birthright to the Vandals without even knowing it. It's your damn fault and I hope you like what comes next.

(Cross-posted from
Human Voices.)

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The pecking order has changed

By Carl

It appears that avian flu has
begun its migration to mammals:

The father of a Chinese man who died of bird flu has also been infected with the virus, raising fear of human-to-human transmission.

The World Health Organization said it could not rule out the possibility that the H5N1 virus had spread from the son to the father.

For the most part, humans have caught the virus from sick birds.

Scientists fear if the virus gains the ability to pass easily between humans, tens of millions of people could die.

A statement on the Chinese ministry's website said a 52-year-old man in eastern Jiangsu province identified only by his surname, Lu, has been confirmed with the virus, just days after his 24-year-old son succumbed to it on 2 December.

Members of the same family have died before, but it's been difficult to tell whether it was human-to-human contagion or contact with affected birds, since the family members have all had interactions with their bird stock.

In this case, however, there is no clear non-human link to the virus, ratcheting up the probability of mammalian adaption by the virus. If so, we're talking about the possibility of an outbreak at least as severe as the
Hong Kong Flu of 1968, and perhaps as virulent as the Spanish Flu of 1918.

In both cases, it took from seven to ten years between the first recognized avian outbreak until the virus became activated in mammals. In the case of the Hong Kong flu, it skipped the intermediate mammalian outbreak to attack humans directly, so we might not get a warning when the avian flu epidemizes.

Ironically, the Hong Kong flu hit American shores from returning troops ending their tours of duty in Viet Nam, and here we are, debating ending yet another war in Asia and bringing troops home. Osama might be rubbing his hands in glee.

The death rates for the Hong Kong flu were low. Of 50 million reported cases in the US, for example, 33 thousand people died. The death rates for the Spanish flu were tragically high: 50-100 million estimated dead, with about twice that number reporting the disease (or symptoms just like records are incomplete).

Right now, the avian flu mortality rate is skewing towards the high end of this scale. For example, in China, 26 cases have been reported, with 17 fatalities. A total of 200 people worldwide have died of the avian flu.

And then
there's Ebola...

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

We've put up a new presidential poll (from Newsvine), and I encourage you all to take it.

It's over on the right sidebar, near the top of the page (main or post) -- you can't miss it. Just select your preferred candidate from the drop-down box, Democrat or Republican, as you will, it's your call, along with your home state (or international). And that's it. Done. Your vote will be recorded -- anonymously, of course, unless the NSA is paying attention -- and added to the total.

There are some odd choices -- who supports non-candidate George Pataki, for example? -- but it does allow you to register your support for Al Gore or Chuck Hagel. But go ahead and support one of the major candidates, if you prefer, or whomever you like best.

I'll put up some reminders now and then, but, for now, just do it.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

The secret tyranny of the Bush regime

By Libby Spencer

This is good news. Via Emptywheel, another senator steps up to do his job for the people and try to save our form of democracy.

Until now, the unitary executive theory has remained unexplained, since the White House has kept the rulings from public scrutiny under state's secrets. But Sheldon Whitehouse took the time to pore through OLC rulings and discovered what was hidden in that dismal piece of unread legislation, the so-called Protect America Act, that the Congress passed in August. (Of course the hurried passage had nothing to do with their vacation plans.)

It turns out it "provides no - zero - statutory protections for Americans traveling abroad from government wiretapping." Whether you're on a business trip or a family vaction or even a serving soldier, the government can wiretap your every electronic device -- at will. If you so much as cross the border to go shopping, you can be targeted -- at the Bush regime's pleasure. As Mr. Whitehouse notes, "[U]nless Congress acts, here is what legally prevents this President from wiretapping Americans traveling abroad at will: nothing. Nothing."

The good Senator also finds the darker foundation that upholds this breach of civil rights and it amounts to a total repudiation of the whole concept of checks and balances. The complete details are at the link but the short version couldn't be more hair raising.

In a nutshell, these three Bush administration legal propositions boil down to this:

1. "I don't have to follow my own rules, and I don't have to tell you when I'm breaking them."

2. "I get to determine what my own powers are."

3. "The Department of Justice doesn't tell me what the law is, I tell the Department of Justice what the law is."

I read that and I looked at the definition of tyrant. An absolute ruler who governs without restrictions. And then I wondered how anyone could argue that Bush isn't the living embodiment of that definition.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Romney and Kennedy: A comparative quantitative analysis


We have been hearing a lot this week about how Mitt Romney's "religion" speech (6 December 2007) is similar in purpose to John Kennedy's speech on his religion (12 September 1960). I did a bit of comparative quantitative research. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing these two speeches have in common is their having been delivered by politicians from Massachusetts.

    Word counts (Romney, Kennedy):
    Total words: 2550, 1566
    Own religion*: 1, 19
    God: 14, 1
    faith: 16, 1
    religion/-ous: 40, 19
    Jesus and/or Christ: 3, 0
    Christian: 1, 0
    Protestant: 0, 4
    Jew: 2, 3
    Islam/Muslim**: 4, 0

One might get the impression that these speeches had rather different audiences and purposes.

* I.e. "Mormon" or "Catholic" and variations like -ism.

** Also "Islamist"; One of Romney's references to Islam contained the words "radical violent" as modifiers, while one of his references to Jews had "killing" right before it (coming immediately after the reference to "radical violent Islam," of course).

(Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.)

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Put up or shut up

By Creature

A few weeks back when Michael Mukasey was up for confirmation, and it looked like my senator--and Mukasey buddy--Chuck Schumer would be the deciding vote, I wrote a letter to Senator Schumer nearly begging him to vote against the nomination. Senator Schumer did not. A few days ago I received an email back from the senator explaining his vote. His decision came down to this, one, "critical reason": "[T]he Department of Justice is a shambles and is in desperate need of a strong leader committed to depoliticizing the agency's operations."

Schumer's justification for voting in favor of a flawed nominee also included this: "More importantly, Judge Mukasey has demonstrated his fidelity to the rule of law, saying that if he believed the president were violating the law he would resign."

I bring all this up not to re-open old wounds between me and my flawed senator. No, I bring up the senator's explanation because with the big news today that the CIA obstructed justice by destroying two videotapes which had documented the illegal interrogation of terror suspects, it's time for the flawed senator and his flawed nominee to step up. Schumer must insist on an investigation--insist in public or private, I don't care--and the attorney general must either prove his independence by launching such an investigation, or, if he is unwilling to do so, he must promptly resign.

It's put up or shut up time. America's waiting.

More from Glenn, Marcy, and Marty.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Kangaroos and climate change -- a farting perspective

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A curious item I came across yesterday:

Australian scientists are trying to give kangaroo-style stomachs to cattle and sheep in a bid to cut the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, researchers say.

Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas.

While the usual image of greenhouse gas pollution is a billowing smokestack pushing out carbon dioxide, livestock passing wind contribute a surprisingly high percentage of total emissions in some countries.

"Fourteen percent of emissions from all sources in Australia is from enteric methane from cattle and sheep," said Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland state government.

"And if you look at another country such as New Zealand, which has got a much higher agricultural base, they're actually up around 50 percent," he told AFP.

Researchers say the bacteria also makes the digestive process much more efficient and could potentially save millions of dollars in feed costs for farmers.

Sounds good, no?

Well, no. Not really.

It may be true that flatulent methane emissions from cows and sheep account for a disturbingly high percentage of overall greenhouse gas emissions in farming-heavy countries like Australia and New Zealand (and presumably in much of the developing world), but the main cause of the climate crisis is human action (or "forcing"), not animal farting. These animals, after all, were emitting greenhouse gases long before the crisis began, and I'm not so sure that a phenomenon that is largely a result of excessive human interference with natural processes should be dealt with by further human interference with natural processes. The priority should be to deal with human forcing, not with what animals are doing naturally. This just sounds like more human meddling with nature.

Which isn't to say that all human meddling with nature is bad, of course. We all meddle with nature whether we like it or not. I meddle with nature every time I turn on a light or get into my car. In a sense, being human means, and even requires, such meddling. And, in this case, there may be a good reason to look into what can be done about the stomach bacteria of cows and sheep and other such animals. These are not "natural" animals, after all. Humans are raising them and otherwise controlling their natures. Humans are feeding them, and deciding what to feed them, and that feed may not be what they would feed upon in nature.

But if a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by adding certain bacteria to certain animals, then let that be a positive consequence of such meddling, not the primary reason for it. The reason I say this is that the focus needs to be on what humans are doing, not on what animals are doing, and I fear that it will be too easy for humans to continue to meddle with nature in response to the climate crisis than to address their own actions and to change what they are doing to make the climate crisis what it is.

Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions should be celebrated, and, ideally, any and all legitimate efforts to do so, including this one, should complement each other, united for a single purpose, but there is simply no excuse for not dealing first and foremost with what we humans have done to cause this crisis and are still doing to exacerbate it. In the end, we will have only ourselves to blame, not the flatulent farm animals that are only doing what nature is directing them to do.

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Freedom equals religion????

By Carl

Mitt Romney, December 6, 2007 -- "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

Errrrrrrrrrrrrr, not so much.

Apparently, Mitt hadn't farmed out a study of history to his staff to discuss in committee and prepare an executive summary of religion throughout history.

Indeed, a cursory glance at history shows that religion thrives where freedom is denied. This is part of the reason that marx called religion the opiate of the people.

Even today, no one would deny that Islam is a religion, and that fundamental Islamists are against freedom. Yet, there's religion, being used to both terrorize nations, as well as pacify them.

I'm fairly sure that's not what Romney meant, yet his words echo hollow in the corridor of current events.

Too, Christianity has its fair share of tyrannical popes and autocratic kings, both of whom used the cudgel of the Bible to keep their people in line, while cynically holding out the carrot of "life everlasting."

And if religion requires freedom, Mr. Romney, just why was a part of America formed by the Puritans? They were escaping... ready?... religious dogma in England!

Your own religion is rife with examples of organized religion shunning your ancestors. Look at how the Mormons were driven from New York State into Ohio into godforsaken Utah, where in the middle of one of the most desolate places on the planet, Joseph Smith decided he'd found paradise.

It was paradise, sir, merely because no one was around to harass and oppress your forebears and their...I'll be kind...quirky thoughts on God and who precisely was He? I mean, come on...the Angel Moroni? There's a clue there, sir, if you take off the "i"...

Freedom is not religion, and religion is not freedom, and neither requires the other to exist. Even the ancient Greeks, the first truly democratic society on the planet, used religion not for freedom but to keep the citizenry (and more, the slaves) in line.

Freedom and religion, in fact, might be viewed as antithetical, antagonistic, even, and there's the rub and the idiocy of your comments yesterday. Rather than reassure the nation that you are, indeed, a mainstream conservative from a mainstream religion (and not a cult of blind fools), all you have succeeded in doing is handing the primary season to Mike Huckabee or Rudy Giuliani, by exposing a troubling neglect and ignorance of your own background, nevermind world events.

In short, Mr. Romney, you've gone from competent CEO to out-of-touch chairman of the bored.

And we on the left thank you.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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United Nations associated with Middle East news

By Carol Gee

President George W. Bush has never been an ardent supporter of the United Nations. He has only used the organization when it has been convenient, or as "cover" for his military adventure in Iraq. I am not sure why the administration now welcomes its presence at the Hamdan military tribunal proceedings now going on at Gitmo. The United Nations Office at Geneva is reporting that a special UN expert on human rights from Finland was invited to a December 5 military hearing at Guantanamo Bay

Martin Scheinin, issued the following statement today:

Geneva, 3 December 2007: -- The Special Rapporteur welcomes the invitation extended by the Government of the United States of America for him to attend and observe military commission hearings scheduled to commence on 5 December 2007 at Guantanamo Bay.

...The Special Rapporteur’s mission report on the United States is expected to be presented and considered by the resumed sixth session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 12 December. In addition to the presentation of his reports, the Special Rapporteur will report orally on his observations regarding his trip to Guantanamo Bay.

"Witnesses to Take Stand for First Time in Guantanamo Detainee Prosecutions," reports Fox News. After six years of detention the big news is about a long awaited tribunal hearing for the man suspected of being a driver for Osama bin Laden. Coincidentally at the same time, yesterday's Supreme Court session was on the rights of the Guantanamo detainees:

Witnesses are expected to take the stand Thursday for the first time since the U.S. government began attempts to prosecute terrorism suspects at Guantanamo.

An expert in Middle Eastern affairs is expected to testify for Salim Ahmed Hamdan to support the defense argument that he could have been a driver for bin Laden without being a hardcore Al Qaeda member with knowledge of terrorist attacks.

Prosecutors are expected to present about five witnesses to back their case that Hamdan should be charged as an unlawful enemy combatant, in the second day of pretrial hearings to determine whether the military tribunal at this isolated Navy base has jurisdiction over the case.

Evidently signals got crossed between Israel and the U.S. State Department recently. Again it was about on what use to make of the United Nations, not how to see them as partners with any standing. From, "the global news service of the Jewish people," comes the interesting headline, "Envoy: Israel asked U.S. to pull draft":

Israel asked the Bush administration to pull a resolution hailing the Annapolis peace parley, said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Zalmay Khalilzad was on the hot seat this week after the Bush administration pulled a draft resolution on Nov. 30 hailing the peace conference that he had submitted to the U.N. Security Council.

Khalilzad told Reuters Tuesday that he believed the decision to pull the resolution came from “the highest level” of the Israeli government. Israeli and Palestinian officials said last week they had seen the draft resolution. Though the Israelis told the press they had no objection to the text, they argued that a Security Council resolution was an inappropriate measure.

The U.N.'s efforts to eradicate cluster bombs are back in the news. I wrote a post about these horrible weapons in September of 2006. Today's headline reads, "Conference on Cluster Munitions," to be held in Vienna, Austria, 5-7 December, 2007. The story came from Crisis Prevention and Recovery:

This third Conference on Cluster Munitions within the Oslo Process is another important step towards an intended international ban on cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. Some 118 countries are so far registered to participate in the Vienna conference which is an increase from the 68 states that attended the second conference in Lima in May 2007.

The UN has, on numerous occasions, appealed to the international community to address the inhumane effects of cluster munitions. On 17th September 2007, the UN established a position calling on Member States to address immediately the horrendous humanitarian, human rights and development effects of cluster munitions by concluding a legally binding instrument of international humanitarian law.

Examples of the impact of cluster munitions on civilians in the Middle East -- From the same organization, here is a summary of the cluster bomb impact on Afghanistan:

As a result of this 'area-contamination', the impact of cluster munition use extended beyond the immediate threat to personal security and safety. Cluster munitions destroyed homes and prevented their reconstruction until clearance could be undertaken. Agriculture was affected, as contamination extended over vineyards, walled gardens and wheat fields. Livestock was killed, and areas available for gathering vital resources, notably firewood, were restricted due to the presence of unexploded cluster munitions. 11 As has been noted in other locations, civilians were left with a choice between suffering a loss of livelihood and severely deprived living conditions, or risking their safety in order to generate income and gather resources.

To conclude today's post I quote from an earlier piece that sounds eerily familiar. It also addressing the U.S. vs. the United Nations and the Middle East. The title and entire concluding section I used then are still just as appropriate:

  • Views from a parallel universe -- July 17, 2007
    There is reality, and then there is "Bush reality." Many of us responded with a big yawn to the recent news of a call for peace by OCP...

    U.S. Middle East view trumps that of the U.N. -- Our State Department reports on OCP's "briefing" meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon, as if he were a beginner needing to learn a thing or two:

    President Bush (July 17): "...One of the things I briefed the Secretary on was my views about extremism and these radicals that will do anything to disrupt the goals set by the United Nations and/or disrupt the advance of democracy in peaceful societies. Al Qaeda is strong today, but they're not nearly as strong as they were prior to September the 11th, 2001, and the reason why is, is because we've been working with the world to keep the pressure on, to stay on the offense, to bring them to justice so they won't hurt us again; to defeat them where we find them."

    So that is the Bush Middle East reality. And then we have the rational reality for which we can only wish -- intelligent, non-delusional, realistic about the facts, respectful of other Western leaders, honest and fair, consistent and timely, reasonable. I am not holding my breath for peace to break out in the Middle East any time soon.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

A loaf, a fish, a crock

By Capt. Fogg

There are millions of people out there praying that a little will turn into much, says the would-be preacher-president Mike Huckabee. He's right. Very little would have to turn into much more than this shameless huckster could possibly have to offer by himself; for him to be even remotely what the world needs to put in the White House. It may be an effective way to latch on to the dreams of the witless, some of whom are convinced that invisible spirits have a secret plan of Glory for them too, but when half the candidates claim that god wants them as their co-pilots, it gets hard to deal with all the loaf and fish metaphorical bullshit. How long will it be before we see a shirtless Mike with bleeding stigmata or Mitt with his head in a white hat reading the secret golden tablets?

I've been off-line with a nasty virus for nearly a week and the relief of finally feeling better was instantly tempered by the disgust generated by images of Preacher Mike and Prophet Mitt in full revival mode this morning. Which one is more God smitten and thus better suited to understand complex geopolitical, economic, strategic and scientific problems? Doesn't matter. America's problems will be solved by raving and swooning and not by intelligence, knowledge and experience. Just keep sticking our head deeper into the crock and we'll all feel much smarter by and by.

Last week I had lunch with a couple of the country's premier geneticists. We discussed the recent progress in understanding neurodegenerative disease at the molecular level. Not long ago I read that an unspeakably huge hole in the visible universe may confirm the existence of parallel universes. Mankind might seem to some as emerging at long last into the full light and glory of truth. Somewhere in America, blue-suited idiots rave about the Bible like paleolithic shamans dancing around their fires in some cro-magnon night.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Bush league reforms

By Carl

When history looks at the Bush administration from the perspective of the American people, it's overwhelming conclusion will be "who did the policy really benefit, since it clearly didn't benefit the citizenry?"

Too, with
today's announcement of "mortgage relief for homeowners," we should anticipate history. An historian's job is not easy, and bloggers should assist him (or her) in any way possible:

The plan hammered out by the U.S. Treasury Department in talks with mortgage industry leaders would bring relief to many of the 2 million homeowners who took out adjustable rate loans with low teaser rates due to move sharply higher in the next year or so.

Officials fear 500,000 Americans are at risk of losing their homes.

The initiative is designed to temporarily hold rates steady for subprime borrowers who could not afford to stay in their homes otherwise. A senior White House official said Bush would discuss the agreement at 1:40 p.m. (1840 GMT) on Thursday.

"No one wins when a house is foreclosed on -- the homeowner loses; the lenders lose; communities and neighborhoods lose; investors lose; and the economy suffers," the official said.

Ah, let's take a closer look at that, particularly in light of Hillary Clinton's analysis yesterday:

Clinton said mortgage lenders and brokers who lowered underwriting standards were also deserving of blame for the housing market mess, as were regulators who failed to provide adequate oversight.

She pinned some of the responsibility on ratings agencies for giving high marks to securities later deemed to be much riskier, and on speculators who bought multiple properties in the hope of profiting from a strong housing market.

She also pointed out that a mortgage was no longer a mortgage, but an "asset" underpinning a securities (a derivative), which could be bought and sold like a commodity.

This action spreads the risk of the loss (see the article I originally quoted) amongst the business community, in particular, away from the banks who lent the money in the first place!

So the lender doesn't lose, meaning there's got to be a better reason why banks and mortgage makers would agree to a rate freeze.

The White House is touting that the agreement will help over a million homeowners who face enormous rate increases in the next twelve months (roughly two million), and many of the 500,000 homeowners already in default on their mortgages:

The official said the plan could help more than a million qualified homeowners with subprime loans avoid foreclosure over the next couple of years. However, private-sector analysts said the numbers would likely be much lower.

"In theory, the plan could help as many as 750,000 subprime homeowners," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's "In practice, my sense is that it will probably help at best about 250,000 homeowners."

And so how does this plan work?

Under the plan laid out by the investor group, homeowners who have shown they are a reasonable credit risk, but who could not afford their homes with higher rates, would qualify for "fast-track" loan modification and the five-year interest rate freeze.

Borrowers who can afford their current loan terms would get help refinancing, but those who cannot and were poor credit risks would probably still lose their homes.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, there's the "benefit" to banks! The bill does nothing to wipe out the really bad lending decisions that were made by the banks, meaning they can write them off, taking a one-time hit to earnings, once the freeze is in place. This frees up future earnings (and by extension, their stock prices) and bolsters their balance sheets long-term by wiping out the calculations needed to determine the bad debt expenses associated with the truly exploitative loans.

In effect, what this reform is saying is, if you could have afforded your mortgage five years ago under these new terms, then you can keep your house. If not, tough luck, sucker! We take your house AND all the equity you've built up in it, and will sell it off to make our mortgage back.

Yea. Bush "reform"...

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Dick Cheney

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm sure many Republicans said or did many crazy things yesterday, but the craziest of them all had to be Dick Cheney, for this:

Vice President Cheney today predicted Iraq will be a self-governing democracy by the time he leaves office, calling the current U.S. surge strategy "a remarkable success story" that will be studied for years to come.


Cheney said that by the middle of January 2009, it will be clear that "we have in fact achieved our objective in terms of having a self-governing Iraq that's capable for the most part of defending themselves, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a nation that will be a positive force in influencing the world around it in the future."

All of that by 2009? "Yes, sir," he replied.

Now, if by a "self-governing Iraq" he means an Iraq with an impotent government in Baghdad allied to Shiite militias, U.S.-armed Sunni death squads roaming the country and cleansing it with brutal abandon, a quasi-autonomous Kurdistan in the north, Turkish troops attacking Kurdish separatists on Iraqi territory, sectarian violence bordering on civil war (if not outright civil war), an Iraq teetering on the brink of chaos, an Iraq having experienced a mass exodus of refugees (including many who would have been at the forefront of a new Iraq), an Iraq without much of even the most basic infrastructure, and so on, and so on -- well, if that's what he means, he may yet be proven right.

Seriously, though, how is it possible that Iraq will be a self-governing democracy in just over a year? Will Iraqis be so happy at Bush's departure from the White House that they will lay down their arms and their grievances and move ahead in peace, love, and harmony? And what about the not-so-small matter of the ongoing American occupation of Iraq? It seems to me that a self-governing country must, by definition, be able to provide security, to be able to defend itself. But Iraq will be in no position to do that by January 2009. Will it govern itself democratically with the U.S. still occupying the country? Or is Cheney indicating that the U.S. will have pulled out by then?

(Questions, questions.)

We know him for his incessant warmongering, but Cheney is also really good with the delusional happy talk. And, here, he has outdone himself.

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What would the Founders think?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Much food for thought from Andrew Sullivan:

Maybe this isn't acknowledged enough, but it seems to me that the Founders would for the first time be pleased with how the United States has been adjusting policy and personnel in wartime this past year. I think when historians look back, they will note a few things. The first is that an untrammeled executive branch, high on its own rightness, certain of everything, contemptuous of critics and empowered by understandable public fear... made all the mistakes you'd expect from one-man rule in a permanent "emergency". The half-assed commitment to Afghanistan, the reckless over-reach with Iraq, the embrace of torture as a primary weapon in the war against Islamic terrorism, the loss of critical allies, the collapse of American moral standing, and then apocalyptic rhetoric over Iran: all this was fueled by a president with no impediments, sealed in an ideological cocoon wound more tightly by his re-election, a victory that reinforced all of his worst instincts in the first term, and lost us two critical years in Iraq.

Far be it from me to try to delve into the minds of the Founders -- at least not here, at this late hour -- but I do think they would generally be appalled by the Bush presidency. And although Andrew is right that policy has been adjusted, it must be stressed that all of the items he lists here are still being fueled from an ideological cocoon. The White House is still self-righteous and contemptuous and still operates according to a self-defined state of permanent emergency.

Further, I'm not so sure the White House now faces such robust impediments. Andrew is right that last November's Democratic victory had its positive consequences, notably with respect to Bush's foreign policy: there is now Gates, not Rumsfeld; Rice is working on diplomacy, not warmongering; etc. But other than that -- what? Have the Democrats really saved the war in Iraq, as Andrew suggests? Hardly. It was simply time for Rumsfeld to go, and he went. Rice is battling Cheney, but she has along been part of the problem, not the answer to the problem, and the recent foray back into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too little too late and arguably a last-ditch effort to salvage something for Bush's legacy.

If anything, it's not so much that Bush has been reined it but that he is now, finally, at long last, politically bankrupt. Meanwhile, the commitment in Afghanistan remains "half-assed," Iraq remains a disaster, torture is still being used as a weapon (and is being advocated by Bush's would-be successors on the GOP side, with the exception of McCain), and, the NIE notwithstanding, the warmongering rhetoric on Iraq continues. As well, allies remain lost -- and those that are now more friendly, such as Germany and France, maintain their serious reservations. And it will take a long, long time for the U.S. to recover its "moral standing" -- or at least whatever moral standing it had even before Iraq, which may not have been much throughout much of the world.

Maybe Obama is the right way to go now, maybe not. I haven't yet made up my mind, except that the right choice will be the Democratic candidate. Andrew is right to praise the American system, which is indeed, more or less, self-correcting. This was the genius of the Founders at work. But he overstates the "course adjustment" that he claims has taken place during Bush's second term and particularly since the '06 midterm elections. The Democrats, both in Congress and on the stump, are, I think, working to check the presidency, to hold Bush to account, to block its attempts to trample all over the Constitution, both with respect to Iraq and other foreign and domestic policy issues. But they can only do so much and are, in my estimation, doing a lot less than they ought to be doing. And, of course, Bush is still the president, and is still doing much of what he has been doing all along. And therein lies the ongoing problem, one that historians, one hopes, will judge accordingly.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Perpetual War

By Carol Gee

First there was World War I, then World War II. Now the U. S. is involved in a so-called "War On Terror." Shouldn't it be more properly named the "Perpetual War"?

The shadow that the Middle East conflict, whatever you call it, casts over the United States profoundly changes the facts and realities in Washington this very day. Congress is in the midst of a protracted fight over funding the war, searching for different ways to hold the administration accountable. At the same time the other co-equal branch of government, the Supreme Court is at the moment hearing arguments about the detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The New York Times reports that, to quote:

Several hundred spectators lined up at the Supreme Court on Wednesday to watch lawyers for the Bush administration and 305 detainees in custody at Guantanamo Bay argue over the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects, many of them held at the military facility for nearly six years.

Lawyers for the detainees want the right to contest detention in U.S. civilian courts. The 305 men are held at Guantanamo as ''enemy combatants.'' It is the third time since 2004 that the Supreme Court has examined the administration's detention program. The justices have ruled against the administration in the two earlier cases.

. . . The case could turn on whether the court decides that Guantanamo is essentially U.S. soil, which would make the case for detainee rights stronger.

. . .The administration also argues that panels of military officers that review the detainees' status as enemy combatants are adequate, even if the Supreme Court decides they have the right to contest their confinement.

The justices, however, decided to review the issue in June, after having turned down the detainees' appeal in April. They provided no explanation, but their action followed a declaration from a military officer who criticized Combatant Status Review Tribunals.

While doctrinaire Republicans rigidly hold to the path of waging war in the Middle East, Democrats holding leadership positions in Congress still need to take a position on national security. Their options are five, according to Ed Kilgore of The Democratic Strategist (Archives: Nov. 12, 2007). To quote:

As a Veterans Day meditation, I thought it might be a good idea to take a fresh look at one of the most contentious subjects in intra-party discussions: How Democrats can clearly differentiate themselves from Republicans on national security issues without falling into the "weak on defense" stereotypes conservatives have spent many years and billions of dollars promoting.

To make a very long story short, there have been at least five basic strategic takes on this subject among Democrats in recent years:

1) Ignore national security as "enemy territory" and focus on maximizing Democratic advantages on domestic issues (the default position of Democratic congressional campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s).

2) Agree with Republican positions on national security to "take them off the table" and then seek to make elections turn on domestic issues where Democrats have an advantage (the Dick Gephardt strategy for congressional Dems in 2002 and for his own presidential campaign in 2004; also common among Democrats running for office in conservative areas).

3) Vociferously oppose Republican positions on national security (and particularly the use of military force) in order to convey "strength," on the theory that "weakness" is the real message of conservative "weak on defense" attacks (a common assumption among bloggers and activists arguing that a single-minded focus on ending the Iraq War is a sufficient national security message).

(4) Oppose Republican positions on national security while focusing on Democratic respect for, and material support for, "the troops" and veterans, on the theory that a lack of solidarity with the armed services is the real message of conservative "undermining our troops" attacks (a common theme in the Kerry 2004 campaign and in post-2004 Democratic messaging).

(5) Find ways to compete with Republicans on national security without supporting their policies and positions (e.g., the 2002-2004 Clark/Graham "right idea, wrong target" criticisms of the Iraq invasion as distracting and undermining the legitimate fight against terrorists).

At this moment the House is debating the idea of tying the funding for the war to the performance of the Iraqi government, as reported in the Washington Post article,"Hill Democrats Explore New Strategy on Iraq." More specifically, Republicans are attempting a measure that would instruct conferees to "go on with business as usual." To quote the story about what might be coming up before long:

Facing increasing evidence of military progress in Iraq, some Democratic congressional leaders are eyeing a shift in legislative strategy that would abandon a link between $50 billion in additional war funding sought by President Bush to a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. Instead, they would tie the measure to political advances by the Iraqi government.

The Bush Administration will be remembered for going to war. Not only did they invade Iraq when it was not necessary, but they have remained in perpetual war with the other two co-equal branches of the U.S. government. Today the battle rages in Washington as lawyers for people unlawfully detained plead for justice, and legislators try to exercise their constitutional rights over the war-making powers of the Executive. The shadows of unnecessary perpetual wars at home and abroad grow longer as the years go by. Let us hope that 2008 brings better weather.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Is Dubya the Iranian Candidate?

By Edward Copeland

Could George W. Bush be the Iranian Candidate? Like Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, who spouted anti-communist rhetoric while secretly working for their agenda in the U.S., could Dubya really be an Iranian plant? Can you imagine anyone else who has done as much for Iran than he has?

I originally wrote those words in a tongue-in-cheek post on my blog July 26, 2006. Now, in light of this week's National Intelligence Estimate, I have to wonder if I stumbled upon the truth in my jest.

Think about it. He lumped Iran in with the Axis of Evil just as students and reformers were making strides in that country. Dubya may want to blame everything on Iran's batshit crazy president, but he didn't win election until after the Axis of Evil speech.

Iran was similarly held in check by the buffer of their crazy neighbor next door, Saddam Hussein, but Dubya took him out and turned that country into a chaotic mess where Iran's religious leaders wield influence they never had before.

Over in Lebanon, a fledgling democracy gets cut off at the knees by Iranian-backed Hezbollah who baited Israel into a conflict that set Lebanon back while Dubya stood off to the side, cheering on the fighting as long as he could.

Dubya's lip service to democracy in the region has made radical Islamic elements gain more power in Egypt.

If you want to go way back to the "issue" in question, where did Iran get the nuclear technology it was using to develop both weapons (now apparently abandoned) as well as energy? By the same Pakistani scientist who gave nuke knowledge to North Korea by way of using the ports of the United Arab Emirates, whose deal to gain control of important U.S. ports Dubya tried to save.

Now, with the various U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously deciding that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons pursuit four years ago, Dubya tries to play dumb and say he had no idea while he pumped up World War III rhetoric. What has happened as a result of this dismantling of what little credibility Dubyaland had? Iran's president, who was growing unpopular in his own country for failing to deliver on campaign promises, has gained in popularity.

I still think Dubya isn't smart enough to cook this up on his own, but he certainly could be a brainwashed dupe. If Dubya is the Iranian Candidate, perhaps Darth Cheney is Mrs. Iselin.

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NIE reaction round-up

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(My own reaction is here.)

Slate's Fred Kaplan, one of my go-to commentators on military and national security issues, examines the recently-released NIE and admits that "President Bush and the administration's hawkish faction, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, can take some solace from the new intelligence estimate. For instance, the NIE states, again 'with high confidence,' that until the fall of 2003, the Iranians were developing nuclear weapons. It also notes that they are continuing civilian work 'related to uranium conversion and enrichment.'"

However, it was "increasing international scrutiny and pressure" that prompted Iran to halt the militarized component of its nuclear program, not the saber-rattling of Cheney and the warmongers.

Kaplan's very sensible conclusion: "If there was ever a possibility that President George W. Bush would drop bombs on Iran, the chances have now shrunk to nearly zero."


But wait. Not so fast.

As I argued yesterday -- see link above -- Bush's NSA/mouthpiece, Stephen Hadley, responded to the NIE by patting the Bush Administration (and himself?) on the back, by praising his boss's "strategy" (which, as spun, includes aggressive international diplomacy, not gearing up for war), and by issuing, between the lines, a carefully and indeed esoterically presented advocation of the warmongering position.

That advocation continued at Bush's press conference yesterday -- needless to say, the scribes on hand were curious: the NIE seems to refute the claims made by Cheney and the warmongers with respect to Iran's nuclear intentions and current capacity. In response to the first question, the president said this: "Here's what we know. We know that they're still trying to learn how to enrich uranium. We know that enriching uranium is an important step in a country who wants to develop a weapon. We know they had a program. We know the program is halted."

In other words, fuck the NIE.

The militarized component of the program may have been halted, but Iran still seeks nuclear weapons and therefore remains a serious threat. Note that this was one of the revisionist arguments made in support of the Iraq War: Saddam may not have had any WMDs, but he once had them and may have sought them again and was therefore a threat -- and so pre-emptive war was justified. The case for immediate war -- Cheney's case -- may have suffered a serious blow with the release of this NIE, but the case for war, according to the warmongers, remains.

To Bush's credit, however, he praised the intelligence community for its "good work" and declared that ongoing international pressure is required -- on the latter point, I agree; on the former point, I assume the intelligence community got this right and is therefore deserving of praise. Still, he argued that "[t]he best diplomacy, effective diplomacy, is one of which all options are on the table" -- this is the thin end of the wedge, an opening for the warmongers. If and when the U.S. determines that diplomacy is not working and/or that Iran is not negotiating in good faith, the "option" of pre-emptive military action can be triggered.

And for all the pro-diplomacy talk from the president, I return to a point made by Kevin Drum (among others): "This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA -- all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless." Which means that Bush and his top officials have essentially been lying about, or at the very least misrepresenting, the Iranian threat for at least the past year -- but probably for much longer.


Some important articles/posts to check out:

Scott Horton, Harper's: "[We] have been pointing for the better part of the year to the very strange goings-on surrounding the preparation and issuance of a vital intelligence report on the state of Iran’s nuclear project. The White House, and particularly Vice President Cheney, has been feverishly attempting to stop its issuance. The Director of National Intelligence, McConnell, has been at odds to oppose its declassification. In sum, something was there and the war party was intensely upset about it."

Think Progress: According to The New Yorker's Sy Hersh, "Bush actually knew about the NIE at least two days earlier and had a 'private discussion' about it with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, MD, last week."

Think Progress: At his press conference yesterday, Bush admitted this: "I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John -- Mike McConnell came in and said, We have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze." So McConnell didn't tell and Bush didn't ask? About something as important as Iran's nuclear program?

TP: "At the same time Bush was ratcheting up the rhetoric on Iran, he was told by his National Intelligence Director that that [sic] have 'some new information.' Yet Bush wants the public to believe he never learned what the information was, nor was he interested." More, WaPo is reporting that "intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration" as early as July. Which means that Bush and the warmongers were making their case against Iran even after the new intelligence was first disseminated.


None of this is stopping the warmongers, however. It didn't stop them earlier this year, and it certainly isn't now.

At Commentary, leading neocon Norman Podhoretz is attacking the intelligence community -- blaming the messenger, that is, and thereby casting doubt on the intelligence itself. It is "bending over backward" to avoid another Iraq fiasco, giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, and seeking to undermine Bush, against whom it has a serious grudge.

The Weekly Standard, home to neocon saber-rattling at its most grotesque, picks up on Podhoretz's sophistic attack and runs with it.

Bush at least talks positively about diplomacy, about the intelligence community, and about keeping all options on the table -- however insincerely. The neocons have no such diplomatic touch themselves. From the weeds of their rags, from the luxury of their think tanks, they can afford to be more blunt.

The drumbeat for war is as loud and as demanding as ever.


Andrew Sullivan: "My hunch is that this is the final collapse of the neocon wing of the Bush administration. They simply couldn't survive Iraq."

I'm not so sure. Not yet. (See above.)

Glenn Greenwald:

Over the past year, the rhetoric from our Serious Foreign Policy establishment regarding the supposed threat posed by Iran's active pursuit of nuclear weapons has severely escalated both in terms of shrillness and threats. Opposition to this building hysteria has been led by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who -- exactly as he did prior to the invasion of Iraq -- has been relentlessly warning that there is no real evidence to support these war-fueling allegations.

Because of that, he has been relentlessly attacked and smeared by our Serious Foreign Policy elite -- yet again. And yet again, ElBaradei has been completely vindicated, and our Serious Foriegn Policy Experts exposed as serial fabricators, fear-mongerers and hysterics.

A long and rewarding post. Make sure to read it all.

Josh Marshall: "If you look closely at what President Bush said this morning about the Iran intelligence, his dodge about what he knew and when is actually worse than the charge he was trying to deny."

John Aravosis: "Bush lied to the media and got us into a war with Iraq. The media refused to do their job, and led us into that war. Now Bush has been caught lying to us again, repeatedly, about going to war with Iran, and the media has, again, rolled over and kicked its legs up in the air.

Not that one should expect much else from the White House press corps.

Steve Benen: "So, let’s review what we’ve learned from the White House over the last 24 hours. The DNI told Bush there was important new information on Iran, but the president didn’t ask what it was. The president was, and was not, told to “stand down” when it came to Iran, advice he both ignored and did not receive. All the while, the White House was publicly making assessments of the Iranian threat, all of which contradicted the evidence they did, and did not, see. Just when it seemed as if the Bush gang couldn’t get any more embarrassing, these guys manage to kick things up a notch. It’s almost impressive."

For more see more Benen, Matt Yglesias, Cernig, Damozel, Clammyc, Kyle Moore here and here, Libby Spencer here and here, and much else at Memeorandum.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

DA! and NO!


Russian voters Sunday gave a huge "DA!" to President Vladimir Putin in legislative elections that were a de-facto referendum on extending Putin's "national leader" status beyond the scheduled expiration of his presidential tenure next spring.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan voters narrowly gave a "NO!" to the referendum called by President Hugo Chávez to extend his own tenure, as well as his powers and the role of the state in the economy.

I am unsurprised by the Russian result. Some months ago I said Putin's party would win two thirds to three fourths of the seats, despite polls at the time that said 47% of the vote. It would appear that United Russia will have right around 70% of the seats. Stay tuned as to whether this is a step towards having the power to amend the constitution and abolish the term limit, or whether he will find other ways to exercise the dominance that he will claim a mandate for.

I am surprised by the Venezuela result. Pleasantly so. A 51-49 YES would have been a terrible outcome. A 51-49 NO could be salutary.

A couple of paragraphs from Monday's LA Times well sum up what Venezuela's voters turned down:

Chavez's goal is authoritarian in nature, said Agustin Blanco Munoz, a researcher at Central University of Venezuela who wrote a biography based partially on jailhouse interviews he conducted after Chavez was imprisoned for leading the unsuccessful 1992 coup attempt.

"His model isn't communism or socialism. It's a varnish, a cover for a personalist system that exalts Chavez above all else as the caudillo, the new messiah, not the collective society," Blanco Munoz said.

On the Russian vote, it is interesting that the other parties on the ballot listed the top three candidates on their national lists, whereas United Russia listed only Putin. The Times reported that many voters appeared unaware that it was a legislative election. Clearly, that was Putin's intent, by abolishing the nominal tier of the former electoral system, and by creating the mass movement demanding him to stay on. Putin continues to deny he intends a third term. Will he be convinced otherwise, by the great "democratic outpouring"?

Turnout was only around 55% in Venezuela, meaning only around 28% of those eligible actually voted no. But good enough, for now, anyway. Russia's turnout was around 60%, so only about 38% of the eligible electorate has endorsed this overwhelming majority. But good enough.

The above was originally posted on Monday at, where there is also a more extensive (and "political-sciency") discussion of "The electoral path to authoritarianism." The latter post has an extensive and very interesting comment thread, thanks to several very knowledgeable readers from around the world.

Thanks to Michael for reminding me of my blogging privileges here as a member of The Reaction team!

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Punishing peers

By Carol Gee

The consequences of angering one's political peers can be devastating. Today's post is about two individuals and several states that have faced being locked out as punishment for failure to follow established rules.

Democratic National Committee leaders were very serious in their demands for the authority to schedule next year's presidential primary elections. Leaders in both parties are penalizing states who moved their primaries up to January. The inability for the parties to work out differences is very surprising to me. Informed Comment's Juan Cole weighed in on the DNC's punishment of Michigan Democrats for failure to follow the rules of next year's presidential primary scheduling. To quote Professor Cole:

A specter haunts the Democratic Party, and it is the exclusion of Michigan and Florida delegates from the Democratic Convention.

Both the Republican and the Democratic National Committees have been penalizing states that move their primaries up to January, as Michigan and Florida did.

The DNC says it will only recognize the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina primaries in January. Michigan and Florida won't be accepted.

. . . I think the Democrats are crazy not to resolve this thing quick through negotiation, rather than just letting the train wreck unfold.

MSNBC and other media companies became very serious about the growing controversy over talk show host Don Imus' racist remarks uttered several months ago. He was fired by everybody. It looked like all his friends were going to desert him also. But Imus is back on the air, and my roommate, "Seven of Eight," is relieved to have his favorite morning show back. And Imus has not lost all his "friends." In the past two days Doris Kearns Goodwin, Senator John McCain, and Governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Richardson have all appeared on the show. I am not surprised at all. There is too much to gain from an appearance with Imus, and probably not much to lose. USA Today reported on the return of Don Imus to radio and television. The headline read, "An apologetic Don Imus returns to the airwaves." To quote:

His debut on WABC — along with a new cast featuring two black comedians — completed a comeback that seemed improbable at the height of the uproar last spring. CBS Radio fired him on April 12, pulling the plug on his Imus In the Morning program that had aired on more than 70 stations and the MSNBC cable network.

. . . He pledged to "never say anything in my lifetime that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret or feel foolish that they accepted my apology and forgave me."

But "the program is not going to change," Imus added to applause from the live audience.

Those who had led the criticism of Imus were muted in their remarks over his return.

. . . The show also will be simulcast on cable's RFD-TV, owned by the Rural Media Group Inc. RFD reaches nearly 30 million homes, but with Imus on board the 24-hour cable network hopes to boost that number to 50 million over the next two years.

Senator Kay Baily Hutchison surprised her constituents here in Texas and perhaps some of her fellow Senators by announcing that she wants to take Senator Lott's leadership position, even though she will not be seeking another Senate term. In my opinion, it is the decision to retire from the Senate that enabled our Senator to vote in the rather independent way that will probably get her punished by those in her party. To quote from the recent story in

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who is seeking the No. 3 Republican leadership post in the wake of Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott’s announced retirement, has alienated her conservative colleagues in recent months and endangered her chances of moving up the GOP ranks.

Hutchison voted in October with Democrats to defy a veto threat by President Bush over a proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

. . . She also backed the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for the children of illegal aliens, another big blow to her conservative credentials on an issue that is a top priority for Republican voters nationwide.

. . . Hutchison has already publicly announced that she’s not seeking reelection in 2012. And she has repeatedly declared her interest in running for governor of Texas in 2010, meaning that she could leave the Senate as early as 2009 to conduct a gubernatorial campaign. So her decision to try to move up the leadership ranks baffled some GOP insiders, although none wanted to use their names in any negative comments about her.

. . . backers have begun whispering campaigns against both Alexander and Hutchison, questioning their conservative credibility. And the tactic seems particularly effective against Hutchison. “They have hurt her, that’s for sure,” said the chief of staff to a Senate Republican who has been lobbied by all three candidates. “She has had to respond to it.”

A Republican leadership aide said GOP senators “are scared of Hutchison, but not scared enough of her to make her” conference chairwoman. The aide was referring to Hutchison’s personal lobbying of her GOP colleagues on issues of importance to her, such as funding projects in Texas.

Being locked out is sometimes the punishment for people seeking group membership. People in families, tenants, and those who do not follow the rules and/or displease their peers often get punished. Today's post examined this phenomenon as it has been applied to people involved with the world of politics. It is a dicey enterprise for its participants. And doors can slam shut with a fierceness that must be breathtaking for those who do not play the game.

cross-posted at South by Southwest

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Warmongering fabrications: White House spin and the truth about Iran

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The top story at Memeorandum right now -- and, indeed, one of the top stories anywhere and everywhere -- remains yesterday's stunning release of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that directly contradicts, and refutes, the claims made by Cheney and the warmongers with respect to the Iranian nuclear situation. (Creature commented on it briefly yesterday afternoon.) From the NYT:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran's nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies "do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

But the new estimate declares with "high confidence" that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt "was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure."

This is clearly not what Cheney and the warmongers wanted. What they wanted was, at most, ambiguity -- and enough of it to justify pre-emptive military action.

Although the NIE cites "international scrutiny and pressure" -- and not specifically American scrutiny and pressure -- as the reason Iran backed away from its militarized nuclear program, Bush could take credit for Iran's move, or at least try to. It could be argued, after all, if not without stretching credibility to the point of self-annihilation, that it was precisely Bush's toughness that ultimately kept Tehran under control. In these terms, Iran could be presented as another Libya.

But, again, the warmongers -- and Bush may be sympathetic to their position, if not necessarily among them -- want war. They certainly do not want diplomacy, and they certainly do not want to be told that international diplomacy, which they loathe with venomous irrationality, worked.

So what to do? How to respond?

Evidently, walk a fine line between acknowledging the NIE's findings and continuing to play up the Iranian threat. This is exactly what Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, did. Again from the NYT -- this time verbatim:

Today's National Intelligence Estimate offers some positive news. It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen.

But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem. The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically — without the use of force — as the Administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the President has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran.

The bottom line is this: for that strategy to succeed, the international community has to turn up the pressure on Iran — with diplomatic isolation, United Nations sanctions, and with other financial pressure — and Iran has to decide it wants to negotiate a solution.

In other words: Iran was developing nuclear weapons, we were right there, but we -- note the use of the first person here -- we have slowed them down. Note that Hadley does not say that Iran was but is not now seeding nuclear weapons. The implication is that Iran may still be seeking them. We "were right to be worried," and we still are. Furthermore, the threat remains. There is a "risk" that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, just as there was a risk that Saddam would. But the world is full of risks. Are they all meant to be met with a military response?

Hadley goes on to spin the White House line. Of course we're not out for war, of course we don't want to use force, of course it is diplomacy that is at the forefront, of course Bush is right.

But what is not said here? Read between the lines. There is an admission here that diplomacy worked, but it is hardly a ringing endorsement of concerted international action. For what if "the international community" does not "turn up the pressure," if the U.N. does not enforce sanctions, if Iran does not want to negotiate? More to the point, what if the pressure is not turned up to Bush's liking, or if the sanctions aren't strong enough in Bush's view, if Iran goes not negotiate in good faith according to Bush? Who will ultimately judge whether there is enough pressure, whether the sanctions are strong enough, whether Iran is negotiating in good faith? Bush will, of course. He and the warmongers, in and out of his White House bubble, in and out of his administration.

Yes, what seems to be an admission that diplomacy worked, and may continue to work, is actually, upon reflection, a carefully and indeed esoterically presented advocation of the warmongering position.


An mportant question pertaining to the NIE remains, however, and Kevin Drum (among others) asks it: Why was it released now?

  • "This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA — all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless."
  • "Why were the key judgments finally released? Cheney didn't want them released, Bush surely didn't want them released, and DNI Mike McConnell told Congress a few weeks ago that he didn't want them released. So who did?"
It may have been "congressional pressure," Kevin speculates, and maybe he's right, we'll have to see. But what is certainly the case is that Bush and the top officials have essentially been lying about, or at the very least misrepresenting, the Iranian threat for at least the past year -- but probably much longer. They have been trying to build a case (to fabricate one, more correctly) against Iran -- developing a militarized nuclear weapons program, supplying arms to hostile Iraqi groups, supporting terrorism around the world, operating a terroristic military, threatening its neighbours and, indeed, the entire region -- as apparent preparation for war. In this respect, Iran is very much the new Iraq.

Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the rest of us, and regardless of the spin coming out of the White House, this NIE has effectively overcome their fabrications with the truth.

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