Friday, July 18, 2008

Democrats eager for retroactive immunity

Previously I posted a Chicago Tribune editorial which accused the democrats of cowardice in voting for the new FISA guidelines which granted retroactive immunity to BOTH the telecos AND the White House. While John Russonello's arguments for cowardice are compelling, I find Glen Greenwald's arguments that the democratic votes for retroactive immunity were based on complicity with the white house in committing war crimes and violating the U.S. constitution to be completely convincing.

Greenwald's piece cites an interview in Harper's conducted by Scott Horton of Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side

[I]nside the White House there [had] been growing fear of criminal prosecution, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the Geneva Conventions applied to the treatment of the detainees,” ... it was this fear that led the White House to demand (and, of course, receive) immunity for past interrogation crimes as part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. But Mayer noted one important political impediment to holding Bush officials accountable for their illegal torture program:

An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.

As we witness not just Republicans, but also Democrats in Congress, acting repeatedly to immunize executive branch lawbreaking and to obstruct investigations, it’s vital to keep that fact in mind. With regard to illegal Bush programs of torture and eavesdropping, key Congressional Democrats were contemporaneously briefed on what the administration was doing (albeit, in fairness, often in unspecific ways). The fact that they did nothing to stop that illegality, and often explicitly approved of it, obviously incentivizes them to block any investigations or judicial proceedings into those illegal programs.

Greenwald cites a Washington Post article which notes that Nancy Pelosi was among four members of congress given a "virtual" tour of CIA's detention sites and techniques. Not only did none of that small bipartisan complain about the torture techniques at that time, at least two of them urged the CIA to push harder.

So ... is it any wonder impeachment was long ago taken off the table? Or is it any wonder that Barak Obama would choose to NOT risk throwing House Speaker Pelosi under the bus, because to do so would damage the democratic brand? How much lower can the republican brand sink at the present time? Not much, really. And at this juncture, conventional wisdom sees democrats making significant gains in the House, the Senate, and winning the Presidency. But if leading democrats are complicit IN THE WAR CRIMES, then the value of being a dem (at the present time) is tarnished at a minimum.

Then too, Pelosi is a D.C. democratic power center, with a constituency of politicians. Far better to make nice to them than to risk exposing their complicity in WAR CRIMES.

In addition, democrats Jay Rockefellar and Jane Harman (at that time, chair of the Department of Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intellegince) were briefed on the interrogation program. Harman subsequently wrote a letter of concern asking if the enhanced interrogation techniques had been approved by the president.

From Scott Horton's interview with Jane Mayer:

In White House meetings, Cheney warned that if they transferred the CIA’s prisoners to Guantanamo, “people will want to know where they have been—and what we’ve been doing with them.” Alberto Gonzales, a source said, “scared” everyone about the possibility of war crimes prosecutions. It was on their minds.

An administration whose reelection campaign strategy was based on scaring the American public would be scared, VERY concerned about war crimes prosecutions. And about perjury -- remember, neither Cheney nor Bush swore under oath when they were jointly interviewed during the Valeria Plame investigation.

Greenwald's concluding paragraphs:

So, of course key Congressional Democrats who were made aware of these illegal torture and surveillance programs are going to protect the Bush administration and other lawbreakers. If you were Jay Rockfeller or Nancy Pelosi, would you want there to be investigations and prosecutions for torture programs that, to one degree or another, you knew about? If you were Jane Harman, wouldn’t you be extremely eager to put a stop to judicial proceedings that were likely to result in a finding that surveillance programs that you knew about, approved of, and helped to conceal were illegal and unconstitutional?

When President Bush and Vice President Cheney celebrated the signing of the new FISA bill at the White House along with Jay Rockefeller, Steny Hoyer and Jane Harman (see the wonderful photos here), they weren’t just celebrating with the political officials who helped protect them from consequences for illegal acts. They were celebrating with those who were participants in those acts, and who were therefore just as eager for immunity and an end to judicial proceedings as Bush officials themselves.

For $8.34 you can make history

Sean Teavis, an information architect running for state representative in Kansas has gotten an incredibly imaginative campaign fund raising effort off to a fantastic start. Check it out!

Amongst other fascinating facts illustrated are:

Winning elections in America is all about name recognition.

Only 14% of people know who Nancy Pelosi is.
Only 0.003% know who Dirk Kempthorne is.

93.4% of the time it's the candidate with the most money for advertising that wins.

No candidate for State Representative in Kansas has ever had more than 644 donors.

Better to be conventionally wrong

Dday live-blogging at Hullabaloo from the Netroots Nation meeting in Austin Texas posts these fascinating comments from Paul Krugman:

Paul Krugman ... says he was never told to stop writing what he was writing in the run-up to war through much of the Bush years, but he was told that he was making management nervous. In 2005, he was indirectly told to lay up a bit, and that "the election solved some things." He said that a lot of these failures of the media aren't exactly political. They go beyond politics. "It is better to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right." The example is how nobody who was actually right about the war is allowed to comment about it, but that's also true with the housing bubble, etc. "There's something wrong with you if you actually figure this out too early." There's a narrow range of being counter-intuitive. It's acceptable, for example, to say "Bush is actually better on the environment than you think."

Most Americans don't write shallow politcal commentary for a living

Mean Maureen is back to her faux hissy fit trick of dumping on democrats for the most spurious of non-reasons. The Columbia Journal Review calls her on it.

Is it just me, or is there something a bit sad about using your New York Times column to pay this level of attention to a candidate’s eating habits?

Dowd concludes today’s column with perhaps her most revealing observation: “If Obama gets elected and there is nothing funny about him, it won’t be the economy that’s depressed. It’ll be the rest of us.”

Really? It’s definitely true that a president who’s hard to make fun of would make Maureen Dowd’s life more difficult—which is what seems to be the concern here. Still, most Americans don’t write shallow political commentary for a living. And, call me crazy, but I kind of think that after eight disastrous years under a president who got into office in part because he seemed like an easy-going guy, they’d settle for a president who was, you know, good at being president.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

U.S. forces needed to protect Saudi oil

Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror is full of interesting observations. After Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait:

... President Bush was hesitant about how America should respond. His foreign policy alter ego, Secretary of State Jim Baker, and his Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, were reluctant to act. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, however, thought that Iraq had just changed the strategic equation in a way that could not be permitted to continue. So did British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The two argued that nothing stood between the advance units of the Iraqi army in Kuwait and the immense Saudi oil fields. If we did nothing in response to Iraq's seizing Kuwait, Saddam Hussein would think that he could get away with seizing the Saudis' eastern oil fields. If that happened, Baghdad would control most of the world's readily available oil. They could dictate to America.

Reluctantly, Bush and his team decided that they needed to defend the Saudi oil fields, and do so quickly. They needed Saudi permission for the defensive deployment, but there were some in the Pentagon and White house who thought that U.S. forces needed to protect the Saudi oil with or without Saudi approval.

For all the irony challenged literalists

Who were upset by the New Yorkers

Obama-as-a-Muslim magazine cover

Here's one
for you

David Horsey's Seattle Post-Intelligencer Political Cartoon or July 15, 2008 should become a classic. In rapid response to the New Yorkers controversial Barak-as-a-Muslim,
Michelle-as-an-armed-militant, Usama portrait hung on the wall, American Flag burning in the fireplayce, Horsey produces a "mirror image".

Featuring the 71-year old republican nominee clad in a hospital gown, eyes close, sitting on a wheel chair, drool dripping down his chin, while singing "Bomb bomb bomb -- bomb bomb Iran" hands folded on his lap and his botoxed wife emptying large quantities of pills from a bottle into her hand saying:

Here, John. Take some of my meds
To get you through the inauguarl parade!

This scene too takes place in front of a portrait on the wall of Darth Vader (Dick Cheney) while underneath the portrait, in the fireplace burns a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

What I have just described sounds like cruel carcicature, yes?

Oh, and this portrait too adorns the cover of a magazine -- The National Review.

No fair, some McCain partisans would say.

Ah -- but it is "entirely" fair, for juxtaposed in the upper left hand corner of the cartoon is the by now familiar cartoon depiction of the democratic nominee and his wife (albeit, only about 1/4 the scale of the FAKE National Review cover drawing).

And NOW the irony is apparent.

A thing of beauty, and a joy to behold.

Iran had its chance to buy U.S. nuclear reactors

John Margolis remembers history and doesn't this seem ironic (but typical of bushworld -- where people make their own reality):

Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely for civilian use to generate electrical power. Iran’s once vast oil reserves have peaked and are going into decline while its population continues to rise. Washington dismisses Iran’s need for civilian nuclear power as `preposterous,’ though in the 1970’s Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney went to Tehran to try to sell 27 US nuclear reactors to the Shah of Iran.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shadow of Chambliss ads still looms large

The following editorial appeared in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. Repeating a theme has has written about before, John Russonello takes democratic senators to task for not doing their job of upholding the constitution - in re: FISA among other other matters which might summon forth the "Dems are weak on terrorism" specter of Saxby Chambliss proclaiming Max Cleland weak on terror.

Democrats voted for FISA out of fear

It was not the fear of terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists that motivated Barack Obama, many Democratic senators and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to grant President George W. Bush expanded powers to wiretap Americans in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Instead, it was the fear of Republican campaign operatives who paralyze Democratic lawmakers with these words: "My Democratic opponent is weak on terrorism."

The advice that Washington wise men give to Democratic incumbents is that, even if you think it is wrong, vote for the president's anti-terrorism bills or the Republicans will do to you what they did to Max Cleland. A decorated Vietnam War hero, Cleland lost his seat in the U.S. Senate in 2002 when Georgia lawyer Saxby Chambliss ran ads declaring Cleland was soft on fighting terrorism.

Although it was six years ago, the shadow of Chambliss ads still looms large over the 21 Democratic senators, including the party's presumptive presidential nominee, who voted last week to loosen court checks on government wiretaps.

It is the same Chambliss ghost that coaxed 12 Democratic senators and 32 House Democrats to help pass the Military Commissions Act in October 2006. That law gave the president the authority to imprison people indefinitely and torture them based only on suspicions rather than on evidence. The legislation violates the Constitution and the basis of our laws going back to the Magna Carta. Never mind, they said, it is six weeks before the elections, and we can fix it later.

The presumption by political consultants is that voters are incapable of dealing with choices, especially with emotional issues such as terrorism.

Our focus groups and surveys over the last several years show the opposite. In fact, people can become emotional about the loss of their constitutional rights and what they perceive as government abuse if the point is made clearly.

One example: A 2007 national survey my firm conducted for the American Civil Liberties Union reported that 51 percent of the public believed Congress was right to give the president "the authority to listen to telephone calls of U.S. residents the government believes may have ties to terrorists without getting a court warrant." Forty-six percent thought Congress was wrong to give the president this authority.

But the numbers reverse when voters are asked to choose between two points of view: 57 percent said "government can just as effectively combat terrorism by getting court warrants before eavesdropping on phone calls of U.S. residents," while only 40 percent said that "in order to fight terrorism the government needs to be allowed to listen secretly to telephone calls of U.S. residents the government believes may have ties to terrorists."

Even with the president's approval rating at an all time low, Democrats are unwilling to offer voters a clear choice on issues as fundamental as our constitutional rights.

I can only explain this as a phenomenon of the "incumbency class" in Washington. These are the politicians and consultants who share an interest in avoiding distinctions on issues in order to get re-elected and rehired with the least amount of effort.

This may work for Democrats in the Congress, but Barack Obama should be careful not to play this game of blur the lines. People do not want their president to be afraid, they want their president to lead.

John Russonello is a partner in an opinion research firm, Belden Russonello & Stewart, in Washington.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

devaluation of facts in the age of Bush

dday posting at Hullabaloo compares McCain's bald face flip flops and his denials (which look pathetic in light of the wonders of you tube, TV, etc) to the Zachary Taylor's campaign in a time when communications were not instantaneous.

[T]here's been such a devaluation of facts in the age of Bush and his spinners who create their own reality, that McCain's campaign might figure they can lie with impunity, deny it when challenged, and never give it a second thought.

Disinformation, bull-roar, high trivia & lies

Bob Somersby of the Daily Howler, commenting on the abominable cover in the New Yorker magazine -- which has the potential to swing the election to McSame

But this is the way our elections now work, and the Remnicks rarely seem to notice. Repeatedly, our elections are driven by disinformation, bull-roar, high trivia and lies—often driven along by major pundits who, at their best, can’t seem to care. Let’s put Michelle in a giant huge Afro! Let’s show the two of them burning the flag! Most important: Let’s make Obama a Muslim! To them, this seems like a joke—like a sally that is tres amusant. To us, it seems more like a reprise of Al Gore said he invented the Internet—or of those Swift-boat tales.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Old warnings - who reads WaPo op-eds anyway?

Fifty-seven days before September 11, 2001, Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and Steven Simon, assistant director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London wrote an editorial in the Washington Post warning of the dangers of Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Some excerpts from that editorial follow:

July 16,2001 -- The Washington Post

It has become clear in the past few months that the United States must overhaul its diplomacy toward the abject yet dangerous country of Afghanistan. The stakes have become too high to maintain a policy that is not working.


A federal court confirmed that Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa by convicting four of his operatives for those crimes. Bin Laden, who continues to plot against Americans from Afghanistan, almost certainly ordered the bombing of the USS Cole, which makes him responsible for more American deaths in the past eight years than any other foreign actor. Ahmad Ressam, an Afghanistan-trained operative who was apprehended bringing bomb material into the United States before the millennium, testified this month that his target was Los Angeles International Airport -- a clear sign of these terrorists' desire to attack Americans at home.


Now the United States and its partners have an opportunity to force change upon the Taliban and perhaps clear the way for its removal. Support for the group has waned in Afghanistan as the modicum of stability it brought to the country has been overshadowed by deprivation, relentless military campaigning and oppressive governance. Regional experts point to a growing number of disenchanted local and tribal leaders. By demonstrating a serious concern for the people of Afghanistan, the West can expose fissures in the Taliban and create a constituency for change.


This is an appropriate issue for the G-8. All members except Japan have arrested bin Laden personnel operating within their borders, fear terrorist attacks and share an interest in Asian stability.


Afghanistan's terrorists continue to pose the most dangerous threat today to American lives
, and Afghanistan's people are on the verge of disaster. It is time to turn off the policy autopilot and move Afghanistan up on the agenda.

At the time, the president and vice-president were undoubtedly consumed with what they considered to be more urgent matters.

Rewind the clock to 1996 and pick up on some intriguing elements of a 5-year story from 1996-2001 story from The Fraudulent War by Richard Behans:

In late 1996 ... the Bridas Corporation of Argentina signed a contract with both of Afghanistan's political forces, the Taliban and General Dostum of the Northern Alliance, to build the Trans Afghanistan Pipeline. (pg 56)

Unocal, fought Bridas' efforts and success at every turn, hiring a number of consultants in addition to Mr. Kissinger: Hamid Karzai, Richard Armitage and Zalmay
Khalilzad. The latter two men would be prominent members of the Project for the New American Century. In 2001, Mr. Armitage would become Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush Administration. (pg 57)

Unocal hosted Taliban leaders at its headquarters in Texas and in Washington D.C., seeking to have the Bridas contract voided. The Taliban refused. Mr. John J. Maresca, a Vice President of Unocal, testified to the House Committee on International Relations on February 12, 1998. He asked to have the Taliban removed from power in Afghanistan, and for a stable government to be installed instead.
(pg 58)


Unocal's pipeline prospects declined further on October 12, 2000. Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda struck again. The USS Cole was bombed in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39. (pg 61)

[After the 2000 election] Unocal's fortunes improved dramatically. In direct contravention of the Clinton Executive Order, the Bush Administration itself immediately resumed negotiations with the Taliban. In exchange for a package of foreign aid, the Administration sought secure and exclusive access to the Caspian Basin for American companies. (The Enron Corporation also was eyeing a pipeline, to feed its proposed power plant in India.) The Bridas contract might still be voided. (pg 65)

Mystified by the inanity

In today's Daily Howler, Bob Somersby notes that Maureen Dowd's Sunday column is a reversal back to her earlier form of inane obsessions and carcicatures:

Carr gets it right: In today’s Times, David Carr writes another worthwhile media column, examining the press corps’ reaction to the Obamakids’ interview. We were struck by this passage:

CARR (7/14/08): Malia was more than ready for her moment, gushing about seeing her mother in People magazine along with “important people” like Angelina Jolie.“We’re always looking for younger readers, so it was a nice moment,” said Larry Hackett, managing editor of People. “And I have to say, I find the flap mystifying.”

Let’s be cruel. Things have deteriorated to the point where staffers at People are mystified by the inanity of the political press corps.

Remember the basic analytical category: Your political press spends vast chunks of time on things that aren’t worth discussing. If citizens want to improve the dialogue, we must avoid being drawn into these disputes. We must remind the public of the basic problem: Most of what gets discussed is sheer trivia. Topics that appeal to Dowd/Barnicle/Carlson are, at heart, not worth discussing.

They gave us Bush by discussing these topics. (Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones!) Happy with how that turned out?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

There will BE NO MORE

So maybe this isn't news, but Mary, posting at The Left Coaster links to a Barak Obama quote

This Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. When I am president, there will be no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens; no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime; no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. Our Constitution works, and so does the FISA court.

This quote is most interesting for what it DOES say:

There will be NO MORE

a) illegal wire-tapping of American citizens
b) national security letters to spy on citizens not suspected of a crime
c) tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war

Is this Senator Obama's polite way of "revealing" to the public that in fact all of the above HAVE occurred under the Bush administration?

Is this a revelation on Obama's part, or a surmise?

Enquiring proles want to know.

Hailing an administration achievement

Common Dreams has a great piece from Juan Cole about FBI plans to profile Muslims rather than require evidence of any crime being planned or having been perpetrated. As the great uniter not a divider in chief would say, "Law enforcement's hard work. Them terraists never tell you where they gonna strike, not even when. But see, they all got dark skin, so, when we see dark skin, funny soundin' names, well, you know what the law was like back in the day a Judge Roy Bean."

It is a mystery why the Department of Justice has not learned the lesson that terrorists are best tracked down through good police work brought to bear on specific illegal acts, rather than by vast fishing expeditions. After Sept. 11, the DOJ called thousands of Muslim men in the United States for what it termed voluntary interviews. Not a single terrorist was identified in this manner, though a handful of the interviewees ended up being deported for minor visa offenses.

Shucks, imagine that ... not a single one! With all them A-rab terraists, you'd a thunk at least ONE of them woulda been one.

The fiasco of the prosecution of the Detroit Four should also have been instructive ... The prosecution alleged that innocent vacation videotapes of places such as Disneyland found in the apartment were part of a terror plot, and that vague doodles in a notebook depicted targets abroad such as a Jordanian hospital and Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey. The prosecution relied heavily on an Arab-American informer who might reduce his own prison sentence for various acts of criminal fraud if a conviction were obtained, and whose testimony against the four suspects evolved dramatically over time. The initial conviction of two of the men, Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi on charges of giving material support to terrorism, which was hailed as an achievement by the Bush administration, was overturned when the prosecution was discovered to have withheld key exculpatory evidence.

Those who believe they can "create their own reality" and have the power to make their subordinates jump through hoops, those masters of the universe, have a rather unique take on their ability to "communicate and sell" their ideas (Andy Card - from a marketing perspective, you don't bring out a new product in August). The following comments from Newt the Grinch Gingrich (Dr. Newt, no less) from an April 22, 2003 American Enterprise Institute "black coffee briefing on the war in Iraq" indicates a lot of ... confidence in the ability of proper "communication" (I think he means propaganda) to sway opinion.

DR. GINGRICH: First of all, as you point out, I did suggest to you that having 95 percent of the Turkish people in a poll oppose our policies, one would normally assume it was either a sign that we were totally out of touch with the world, which is I think the interpretation of some people, or a sign that we had dramatically failed to communicate anything.

Look. What we have here is a failure to communicate?

I think with a reasonable communications plan, that would have been in the 35- or 40-percent approval level. It may not have been a majority, but we would have a substantial minority of the Turkish people who said, yeah, this is the right thing to do for the people next door who are suffering from torture, and who are connected to terrorism, and who are doing things that are harmful, in the long run, to Turkey.

In other words, the State Department didn't do its job, otherwise way more than 5% of the Turkish population would have support the U.S. war on Iraq.

Back to the Juan Cole writing about the Detroit four:

In a startling reversal, two members of the prosecuting team were tried for criminal misconduct, and although they were acquitted, their misconduct was not in question. A Detroit judge even apologized to a third man, who was held for three and a half years on a minor fraud charge and then deported.

Prosecutorial misconduct. That's what it takes for the Bush administration to have an achievement. Aided and abbetted by lawyers, by Supreme Court Justices. A legacy.

Bringing untold misery especially abroad

Writing at Freedom Daily (a libertarian journal of essays) Sheldon Richman makes an obvious point that I hadn't considered before. Call me very slow on the uptake. VERY slow.

It is widely, if implicitly, believed that whenever an American joins the armed forces — and especially when he goes off to war — he’s serving his country. But this assumption cannot withstand historical scrutiny. Wars are things that presidents, their advisors, and patrons engage in for political-economic-ideological purposes. Rarely do they have anything to do with the public’s security. ... When right-wing radio talk-show hosts gush to a military caller, “Thank you for your service to our country,” it should be translated to, “Thank you for your service to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, a coterie of neoconservative intellectuals, [AIPAC, the Zionist government of Israel, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, Raethon, Exxon Mobil, MIT, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, Honeywell International, General Electric, Fedex, Pepsico, Harris Corporation, Dell, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cardinal Health, EDS, Honeywell, Humana, IBM, Oskosh Truck Corp, Proctor & Gamble, Rolls Royce Group PLC, Triwest Healthcare Alliance Co, Tyson Foods, Public Warehousing Company, ITT Corporation, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, - MG] and Halliburton.” The knee-jerk homage paid to people who ... go off to fight wars whenever a president embroils the country in one is a sign of a failure to think. Such failure has brought untold misery both here and especially abroad.