December 30, 2005

Here's What Happens To Those Who Die For Bush's "Noble Cause"

Amazingly, around one in four US adults still believe:

- that Saddam Hussein "helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11,"
- that "several of the hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11 were Iraqis," and
- that Iraq "had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded."

And 41% wrongly believe that "Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda".

2006 is gonna be a long year. Let's hope it's a good one.

December 28, 2005

Oh Puh-lease!!!

"Propaganda gets a bad rap..."
The Year In Review

Robert Steinback suggests that Bin Laden may have "won" after all...
If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution -- and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it -- I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled.

Had anyone said our president would invade a country and kill 30,000 of its people claiming a threat that never, in fact, existed, then admit he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat -- and expect America to be pleased by this -- I would have thought our nation's sensibilities and honor had been eviscerated.

If I had been informed that our nation's leaders would embrace torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, hold prisoners for years without charges and operate secret prisons overseas -- and call such procedures necessary for the nation's security -- I would have laughed at the folly of protecting human rights by destroying them.

If someone had predicted the president's staff would out a CIA agent as revenge against a critic, defy a law against domestic propaganda by bankrolling supposedly independent journalists and commentators, and ridicule a 37-year Marie Corps veteran for questioning U.S. military policy -- and that the populace would be more interested in whether Angelina is about to make Brad a daddy -- I would have called the prediction an absurd fantasy.

That's no America I know, I would have argued. We're too strong, and we've been through too much, to be led down such a twisted path.

What is there to say now?
I get a bit annoyed when even the anti-Bush press is quoting this 30,000 figure for Iraqi casualties. Sure, if avoids another stupid fight (and we all know how wingnuts ignore the forest to focus on a single ailing tree) but it is such a conservative estimate as to be almost ridiculous. I mean, all credit to the Iraqi Body Count team for putting it together but really... It is fanciful to pretend there are not more casualties (even IBC say it is a minimum) and, I would argue, it is disrespectful to the dead.

December 24, 2005

Bush Wiretaps Were Illegal

Bush's AG has argued that the President was authorised to do wiretapping of US citizens because Congress's support for the war included "all necessary and appropriate force".

Now firstly, wiretapping is not "force". But even so, Tom Daschle explains that Congress never authorized anything of the sort:
As drafted, and as finally passed, the resolution authorised the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organisations or persons" who "planned, authorised, committed or aided" the September 11 attacks.

"Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the Administration sought to add the words 'in the United States and' after 'appropriate force' in the agreed-upon text," Mr Daschle wrote.

"This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas … but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused."
Bush's Legacy: A Grim Outlook

From Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson:
How will 2006-08 work out economically and geopolitically? Here is what insiders are beginning to guess.

If there is good news, it will come from the economic side. Extensive spending on Iraq and on rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina more or less ensures that the US locomotive will continue to help sustain global growth. That is a short-run plus for Americans and for people abroad.

But for the US this short-run plus will grow into a gigantic long-term minus. Why? Because budgetary spending out of control will exacerbate the remorseless trend of increasing US indebtedness to nations abroad. Trouble, trouble for the US dollar out there a decade ahead.

Understand that American society has become a me-me, now-now, consume-consume people. Once upon a time, as a nation, we saved 10 per cent of our income. Now that's below 1 per cent. No wonder we must pawn our assets to foreigners and finance our investings from the savings of poorer people in Asia and Europe.

By good luck in Bill Clinton's second term from 1996 to 2000, his overbalanced surplus budget forced down the nation's excess consuming and stepped up the US saving rate at least a bit.

Then, as we all know, Bush's 2000-04 voodoo economics reversed all that the economic doctors had prescribed: to act now to prepare for the demographic crisis in 2010-20, when swollen numbers of baby-boom retirees will have to be supported by lean numbers of working-age taxpayers.

Ben Bernanke, who will replace Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan on January 31, recently told the world that no future disorderly run against the dollar will happen because there is a "glut of saving abroad" eager to hold safe dollar assets. Being of high IQ and with superior training in economics, Bernanke will surely soon change his mind on this and return to the majority opinions of economic experts.

Good luck in economics for Bush until 2008 will not keep him from being remembered in future history books as a voodoo economics leader whose tax handouts to our upper-income classes were most definitely not the reason for present US economic stability. To understand this, only recall how Adolf Hitler's extensive spending on preparation for Germany's war of revenge did wipe out its 25 per cent depression unemployment rates.

Turn now to 2006-08 geopolitics. Accept that US voters will not "stay the [past] course" until a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq gets established. Pigs will fly before that happens. So a new exit plan has to be in the cards.

* We won't leave Iraq "until our generals there tell us we can". Canny Washington insiders translate this as "our generals will tell us it's time to leave when the Pentagon tells them to tell us that".

* When will that be? The new game plan dates this just after "a strong Iraqi army has been built". Such a build-up could be possible. With 50 per cent unemployment rates in Baghdad and 75 per cent rates in the countryside, you can recruit an army of Shi'ites in the Shi'ite regions and a largely Kurdish army in the northern areas. A strong army of minority Sunnis in the Sunni region is more problematic. (But not impossible. An anti-American Sunni, with two sons, will be tempted to send one into the new army and send the other into the insurgent terrorist ranks.)

Africa has taught us how divergent tribal armies breed incessant civil wars. Never mind. A US exit strategy is the topic under discussion. Hopefully the marines will be back in the US before those unpleasantries do break out.

A complete US pull-out from Iraq will not be necessary. When no American soldiers occupy ground space in Iraq, no longer will television show our voters pictures of the 15-plus heroes who were killed that day.

Economists understand the principles of substitution. Bombers in the sky can displace US youths on the ground.

As in Bush Sr's 1990 Gulf War, US military might can operate by remote control. Unmanned drone planes and sky-high piloted planes can safely drop millions of bombs on insurgent outposts.

But won't that kind of bombing - as with the World War II bombing of Hamburg and Bremen and Tokyo and Osaka - kill a lot of civilians? Yes, alas. But it is the US exit strategy that is under discussion.

Along with bad press among future economic historians, Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld risk being remembered in 2050 along with Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun.

Moral: The game of geopolitics is not a game for sissies.

December 23, 2005

A Very Merry Christmas To One And All

... even Republicans!!!

Before boarding his helicopter for yet another vacation, George W. Bush said 2005 has been a good year for the American people.

Yeah... right.... whatever!
Dirty Politics

Here's a couple of important issues that are deserving of more debate...

Look at this Los Angeles Times report on Bush's string of embarrrassing political failures lately:
In the Senate's three major votes this week, Republicans won support from just four Democrats on Arctic drilling, two on the Patriot Act and none on the budget that ultimately required a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Dick Cheney to pass.

Many GOP strategists say they expect the party to use these votes against Democratic candidates next fall, particularly the filibuster against the Patriot Act.

Despite public warnings to that effect from key GOP figures, the Democrats maintained their filibuster.
Now, the proposal to drill for oil in Alaska was actually buried (why???) in a massive Defence Dept spending bill. So come the 2006 elections, GOP candidates will be saying crap like "My opponent voted against supporting our troops in Iraq".

Isn't that ridiculous? But most voters are simply not paying attention to what is going on at this level of politics today, and they probably won't bother to dig out the truth from the lies when they vote in 2006.

Like I always say, we get the governments we deserve. But surely there should be some drive to stop this dirty trick of burying important issues in totally unrelated bills? Unless Bush & Co want to admit that oil and the military are inextricably linked in their own crazed logic...?

And that's another thing: the convoluted logic about what is in "the national interest". It's a well-known dirty secret that successive US governments have identified the USA's growing reliance on dwindling supplies of international oil as a major economic dilemma, and many seemingly non-related issues (the Iraq War is only the most obvious) have actually been driven by the need to secure oil supplies.

Even foreign aid is conditional on whatever is deemed to be "in the national interest", so citizens of one impoverished country starve while their oil-strategic neighbours get aid drops (and most likely military deals as well). Remember, training Bin Laden and selling chemical weapons to Saddam were once considered "in the national interest".

A more enlightened, less hypocritical outlook on matters of principle like these would serve everyone far better in the long run.
A Good Question

From readers of Josh Marshall:
When was the last time there was a major terror alert? They were something like a regular occurence for the eighteen months or so before the 2004 election. And through 2004 the administration pushed the line that al Qaida was aiming to disrupt the elections themselves. But as near I can tell there hasn't been a single one since election day.

Through 2004, of course, critics of the administration routinely questioned whether the frequency and timing of the various terror alerts were not all or in part for political effect.

How do we explain what appears to be a night and day difference between the year prior to November 2004 and the year since in terms of terror alerts and scares?
WaPo's lead today: The Department of Homeland Security is a story of bureaucratic warfare and unfulfilled promises.
Bottling It Up

Never mind that he has been caught out lying repeatedly, bringing the White House and his own position into disrepute. Never mind that his habitual lack of response is indicative of an autocratic government bent on destroying the very foundations of US Democracy. WaPo does a fluff piece on Scotty McLellan:
"We've come to understand that no matter how we slice and dice something, Scott's going to stick to the recipe," says Ken Herman, White House correspondent for Cox News Service. "I can't think of any topic where on the sixth or seventh iteration of a question we get something different from the original answer. By somebody's measure, that's the definition of doing the job well. Certainly not ours."

As with most people who do regular televised battle with McClellan, Herman says McClellan is a nice guy, polite and friendly off-camera. "He seems to have the right temperament to be a punching bag," Herman says.

"Who knows, maybe he goes home at night and kicks his dog?"
NB: Don't worry! WaPo gently assures concerned readers that McLellan and his wife have two dogs and three cats - "all of them rescued strays and none of which McClellan has ever kicked".
Always Good For A Laugh

Slate Magazine's Editorial and Political Cartoons.

December 22, 2005

The View From Chile

From people who have lived through the nightmare:
It would seem that George Orwell’s “1984” is now at hand; that Bush is aiming to outdo Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who also justified his assault on the human rights of Chileans in the higher name of a “war on terrorism.”

The slippery slope that Bush has embarked upon leads to a police state, plain and simple...
In case you missed it, neighbouring Bolivia this week elected its first indigenous President, Evo Morales, who calls Bush a "terrorist".

Popular left-wing governments now hold power in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela - take a look at a map - there's not much else down there in South America! One day somebody is going to have to clean up the foreign policy disasters of the Bush administration. We've come a long, long way since those global outpourings of post-9/11 sympathy, haven't we?
Bush's Illegal Wiretaps Put YOU In More Danger

No wonder judges are resigning:
Experts cautioned that future legal prosecutions could be tainted if evidence was uncovered about a terror plot using a wiretap determined to be improper.

"Imagine if there is evidence critical to a criminal prosecution and the defendant challenges the evidence because it is constitutionally suspect," said Beryl Howell, former general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It could jeopardize any criminal case."
The key to Bush's legal defence, of course, is that "9/11 changed everything" and now the USA is at "war". For a start, that's no excuse for breaking the law (and it didn't work for Nixon). But in any case, as Kevin Drum says, it's time we had a proper debate on this assumption:
What is "wartime"? Is George Bush really a "wartime president," as he's so fond of calling himself? Conservatives take it for granted that he is, while liberals tend to avoid the subject entirely for fear of being thought unserious about the War on Terror. But it's something that ought be brought up and discussed openly...
Surprise Suprise Surprise!!!

... as Gomer Pyle might say.

Now that governments around the world have rushed to stockpile Donald Rumsfeld's tamiflu anti-avian-flu drug, we find out that it doesn't even work.

This blog just clocked 50,000 "visitors" since April 2004. Thanks, Santa!
Iraq Election Results

Iraq looks set to splinter in three, with religious groups dominating the government(s). It will be pro-Iran, anti-Israel and anti-US. It will not be anything Westerners would recognise as a Democracy. Ironically, however, that appears to be what the people of Iraq want (and after all, it is their country). Unfortunately, Iraq will also remain wracked by violence for the foreseeable future, while groups jockey for power and demands for US withdrawal grow.

The Independent has some good analysis:
The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.
RJ Eskrow says Iraq has become the very model of a Red State:
An election driven by religion. A deeply polarized electorate. Disputed voting results, where the only question is whether the fraud was small-scale or massive. Yes, we have succeeded in exporting American-style democracy to Iraq. The question of whether it was worth it has been answered - with a solid "no" - by the American people, but they lack leaders who will speak for them. You get the democracy you pay for.

The mission of "exporting democracy" to Iraq had four key goals:

1. To create a US-friendly nation in the region
2. To build a working model of democracy as the neocons conceived it for the Middle East
3. To provide Israel with an ally in the Arab world (which Chalabi had promised to deliver)
4. To isolate Iran from the Arab world

What have we gotten instead, for the massive loss of American and Iraqi life and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent so far?

1. A country where 82% of the population "strongly opposes" our presence and 45% support armed attacks against US troops
2. A highly conservative, religiously-based electorate that's a far cry from the neocon vision of liberal democracy
3. A country that appears to be drawing closer and closer to Israel's enemies
4. A new ally and sister country to Iran, with similar religious and political beliefs.
Juan Cole says (just quietly) I told you so.

Omar and Mohammed at Iraq The Model call the election results "shocking" and "disturbing". Quite an understandable reaction given how vociferously they have baracked for their US invaders. Mind you, there are rumours suggesting that the "brothers" are no longer even living in Iraq and have not been living there for some time.

Not surprisingly, the ITM comments section is also a lot more downbeat these days. One wag mocked how ITM readers are aghast at the thought of religion influencing Iraqi politics, yet are all for it in the USA. Other than that, there was just the usual hollow sound of a hot breeze blowing across a desert of empty minds...
Why can't everyone in Iraq just get along? WHY!??!?!!??!???!???!?!?!??!?!
Dave From Chicago | Email | Homepage | 12.21.05 - 7:53 pm | #
The People Speak: Impeach Bush Now!

Wow! CNN is asking people what they think about impeachment. At the moment, a whopping 89% are in favour!!!

Go take the poll here.

Obviously, it's an internationally-accessible website, but nevertheless the results are quite amazing. Please go and make your own voice heard (you can bet the wingnuts will).

This astonishing poll comes just days after Washington Post Polling Editor Richard Morin ridiculed readers for demanding a similar poll at WaPo. After fobbing off three questions on the issue, Morin finally exploded, saying that WaPo editors consider all such calls for impeachment just an orchestrated campaign from a single loony left website:
We first laughed about it. Now, four waves into this campaign,we are annoyed. Really, really annoyed.
So it seems that the more readers demand impeachment, the less likely WaPo is to discuss it! Go figure! But then Morin added:
That said. we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion - witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls.
Hello? The President lies repeatedly to the US public and Congress, defies the Constitution and declares that he will continue to do so, and that is not grounds for even dicussing impeachment? We now have people like Rep. Conyers, Senator Barbara Boxer and John Lewis talking about it, Wolf Blitzer is talking about it, freaking John Kerry is talking about it (in the Murdoch Press, even), Conservative scholars Bruce Fein and Norm Ornstein are talking about it, FOX News Legal Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano is talking about it, Alison Stewart (substitute host for Keith Olbermann at Countdown) is talking about it, the vast leftwing blogosphere is talking about it - so where the $%&* is the WaPo???!

PS: Drudge is running interference as usual, claiming Clinton and Carter did the same thing with wire-taps. Think Progress makes short order of the lies.

The "I-word" is back.

The revelation that President Bush secretly authorized a domestic spying program has incited a handful of Congressional Democrats to discuss his possible impeachment. And while continued Republican control of Congress makes such a move extremely unlikely, the word is reemerging into mainstream political discourse.
Time for a poll NOW, Mr Morin? If YOU think so, let Mr Morin know in your own words - email him:

UPDATE 2: Howard Fineman chips in, predicting that 2006 will be "the angriest, most divisive season of political theater since the days of Richard Nixon".

UPDATE 3: Joe Conason in the New York Observer:
Recklessly and audaciously, George W. Bush is driving the nation whose laws he swore to uphold into a constitutional crisis. He has claimed the powers of a medieval monarch and defied the other two branches of government to deny him. Eventually, despite his party’s monopoly of power, he may force the nation to choose between his continuing degradation of basic national values and the terrible remedy of impeachment...

December 21, 2005

Towards Impeachment

U.S. Representative John Conyers has introduced a bill to censure Bush and Cheney, with the prospect of eventual impeachment. Conyers argues that because the Bush administration has failed to provide information on their manifold exploits, it is currently not possible to impeach. So he aims to censure them, demand answers and THEN impeach.

Shakespeare's Sister has more here.

John Nichols at The Nation has a good article: Raising the Issue of Impeachment.

Elsewhere, Jack D. Douglas has a good rant at the perils of creeping Fascism:
Bush II has proudly and defiantly thrown the gauntlet of Despotic Tyranny into our faces in this vast Media Propaganda Campaign this week. He is utterly convinced that the American people will stare into that face of Tyranny and applaud its dictates and spying and mass murders and tortures.

I fear he is right and I am certain this is a great turning point for us Americans, a moment of fateful and fearful commitment.
And Sydney H. Schanberg looks at the US war propaganda machine in action:
The Rendon Group and the Lincoln Group are two of the companies working for the Pentagon. Both say they are forbidden by their contracts to talk about the details of their work. The Pentagon insists that all the stories they produce contain accurate information. No one can be surprised about propaganda efforts, since they've always been used in wars and occupations to counter adversarial or false information in the local press. But if the stories are factual, as the Pentagon says, why the secrecy?

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld regularly accuse the press of failing to give a complete picture of what's taking place in Iraq. That's laughable - the laughter of the theater of the absurd. If they want us to enlarge the portrait of Iraq, then please open some doors and let us see the whole picture. And not just in Iraq, but on domestic policy as well.
I like Schanberg's description of the Bush team's spin focus:
The Bush circus train now is easy to describe?its crew members are still running an election campaign, with all the bells and whistles: the carefully selected audiences, the president's incessant stump speeches, the stage props, and the billboard-like slogans. This is more like a sales campaign for a new line of gas-guzzling SUVs than a competent government leadership team wrestling with matters of war and peace and the travails of ordinary people.

To this White House, apparently, everything is merely an issue of image, of getting a soothing message up on some giant screen.
That giant screen is called television.
Bush Versus Confucius
Others are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Others are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
When I was young and merry in my ways, I read (as intellectually curious young Westerners are wont to do) a bit of Chinese philosphy, including the simple but enlightening Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse and the rather more obscure Analects of Confucius.

As a young man seeking wisdom for my personal growth, I was frequently frustrated by how often these Chinese philosophers started talking about Big Picture issues, like Kings and Empires, politics and good government. How is that going to help me in life, I wondered, unless I become the bloody Prime Minister?

Now that I am older and wiser in my ways, of course, and particularly over the past five years, I can appreciate such guidance more readily. For example:
If you governed your province well and treat your people kindly, you kingdom shall not lose any war. If you govern selfishly to your people, you kingdom will not only lose a war, but your people will break away from your kingdom.
There are inevitable parallels between self-governance and "government" as we normally understand the word. If a man cannot control his own desires, how is he going to control a nation? If a man does not understand his own self, how can he understand others?
"If you govern the people legalistically and control them by punishment, they will avoid crime, but have no personal sense of shame. If you govern them by means of virtue and control them with propriety, they will gain their own sense of shame, and thus correct themselves."
Another example (touching on the death penalty, which George W. Bush so readily endorses):
Chi K'ang asked Confucius about government, saying, "What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?" Confucius replied, "Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it."
Oh, for a breath of such fresh air!

These Big Picture issues inevitably have an impact, for better or worse, on one's spiritual development. How is a person to find inner peace when surrounded by social chaos, immorality and violence? Consider for example this little parable:
One day, his students and he passed a grave where they saw a women weeping at a gravestone. She told Confucius that her husband, her husband's father, and her son were killed by a tiger. When Confucius asked her why she didn't leave such a fated spot, she answered that in this place there was no oppressive government.
Confucius said, "Remember this my child. An oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger."
If George W. Bush is still trying to understand why Iraqis still show such tolerance for violent "insurgents" and religious fundamentalists in their midst, he could do worse than contemplate that story. If that's a little too obtuse for him, how about this (switching back to Lao Tse):
Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao,
Counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe.
For this would only cause resistance.
Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed.
Lean years follow in the wake of a great war.
Just do what needs to be done.
Never take advantage of power.

Achieve results,
But never glory in them.
Achieve results,
But never boast.
Achieve results,
But never be proud.
Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.
Achieve results,
But not through violence.

Force is followed by loss of strength.
This is not the way of Tao.
That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end.
This is the wisdom of the ancients. But Bush is a modern-day fool, a serial liar and a bragging buffoon who evinces no visible sign of intellectual curiosity other than fretting (lately) about how history will judge his illegitimate rule.

Egged on by the neoconservative ideologues who brought him to power, Bush has sought to impose a global US Empire using "awesome" military might. The results have been exactly the opposite of what the fools in the White House expected. We now have a superpower loathed across the globe, an army at breaking point, an economic bubble waiting to explode. It's not as if these things could not have been foreseen:
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
I have often said "we get the governments we deserve". As caring citizens of the world, we should all try to improve ourselves, every day. And hopefully one day we will be able to select leaders who are a bit closer to what Lao Tse once called "the men of old".
Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.
Therefore followers of Tao never use them.
The wise man prefers the left.
The man of war prefers the right.

Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man's tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart,
And victory no cause for rejoicing.
If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing;
If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself.

On happy occasions precedence is given to the left,
On sad occasions to the right.
In the army the general stands on the left,
The commander-in-chief on the right.
This means that war is conducted like a funeral.
When many people are being killed,
They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.
UPDATE: The Prophet Isiaiah was also pretty on the ball:
Yes, with stammering lips and in a strange language he will speak to this people...
You Have Been Warned

By Cenk Uygur:
If the President feels he has the authority to clearly break one federal law, how many others does he feel he has the authority to break? If the President doesn't need to abide by the Fourth Amendment, does he have to abide by any of the rest?

And if you're a Republican who adores this President so much that you will stand by his every decision, I urge you to finally use some caution here. If you set the precedent that a President can ignore any of the amendments he feels impede the security of this country, what will stop a Democratic president from ignoring the second amendment to take away the guns of potential "enemies of the state"?

If this President has used the FBI and the Pentagon to spy on anti-war and other political opposition groups domestically, what will stop a Democratic President from spying on right-wing militia groups and pro-life organizations that might turn violent?

President Bush is playing his favorite game -- opening up Pandora's Box and seeing what flies out. If you thought that was a bad idea in Iraq, wait till you get a load of it here.

Once you allow the President to be above the law, there is no telling what could happen. Even if you like this President, there will one day be a President you don't like quite as much. It's almost as if the founding fathers were right to limit the powers of the executive branch. Smart fellows, those founders were. Maybe it's not such a good idea to ignore that little constitution they wrote.
Slate has more interesting background on the NSA here. An example:
In the Reagan years, Rep. Norman Mineta, D-Calif., who served on the House intelligence committee, neatly summarized the relationship between the spies and the committee: "We are like mushrooms. They keep us in the dark and feed us a lot of manure."
Liar, Liar

Pants on fire:
In 2004 and 2005, Bush repeatedly argued that the controversial Patriot Act package of anti-terrorism laws safeguards civil liberties because US authorities still need a warrant to tap telephones in the United States.

"Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order," he said on April 20, 2004 in Buffalo, New York.

"Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so," he added.

On April 19, 2004, Bush said the Patriot Act enabled law-enforcement officials to use "roving wiretaps," which are not fixed to a particular telephone, against terrorism, as they had been against organized crime.

"You see, what that meant is if you got a wiretap by court order -- and by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example," he said in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

But under Bush's super-secret order, first revealed Friday by the New York Times and details of which have been confirmed by Bush and other top US officials, the National Security Agency does not need that court's approval.

"A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order," he said July 14, 2004 in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.

"In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order," he said. "What the Patriot Act said is let's give our law enforcement the tools necessary, without abridging the Constitution of the United States, the tools necessary to defend America."

The president has also repeatedly said that the need to seek such warrants means "the judicial branch has a strong oversight role."

"Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property," he said in June.

"Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the United States," he added in remarks at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy.

He made similar comments in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 20 2005.
Dick Cheney's bum is also pretty hot (and I mean that in the most profoundly non-sexual way):
Vice President Dick Cheney offered similar reassurances at a Patriot Act event in June 2004, saying that "all of the investigative tools" under the law "require the approval of a judge before they can be carried out."

"And similar statutes have been on the book for years, and tested in the courts, and found to be constitutional," he said in Kansas City, Missouri.
And Scott McClellan... well, he has no ass left at all:
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Bush "was talking about (the issue) in the context of the Patriot Act."

December 20, 2005


Martin Garbus compares Bush's legal defence with Nixon's:
In its filed brief the Justice Department claimed there were 1,562 bombing incidents in the United States from January 1, 1971 to July 1, 1971, including the bombing of the Capitol building, and that the "seriousness and magnitude, (of these) threats and acts of sabotage against the government exist in sufficient number to justify [these] powers." Robert Mardian, who was later to become a Watergate defendant, argued before the Court on behalf of the government that there was, in effect, an ongoing war within the United States that justified invoking the president's powers as Commander-in-Chief, a power which overrode the privacy rights of American citizens as provided for in the Fourth Amendment to the constitution of the United States.

A unanimous Supreme Court (the vote was 8-0, with Justice Rehnquist recusing himself because he was in the Justice Department legal counsel's office when the domestic spying program was formulated), with Justice Powell writing the opinion, in United States v. U.S. District Court, unambiguously rejected any such notion, articulating a clear-cut admonition to those who would diminish the import of the Fourth Amendment by suggesting that domestic spying at the whim of the president would be permitted under any circumstances.
Follow Da Money

We will track down the terrorists and cut off their sources of funding:
Bush administration policies, grand and obscure, have financially benefited companies or lobbying clients tied to at least 200 of the president's largest campaign fund-raisers, a Toledo Blade investigation has found. Dozens more stand to gain from Bush-backed initiatives that recently passed or await congressional approval.

The investigation included targeted tax breaks, regulatory changes, pro-business legislation, high-profile salaried appointments, and federal contracts.

Mr. Bush's policies often followed specific requests from his 548 "Pioneers" and "Rangers," who each raised at least $100,000 or $200,000 for his 2004 re-election. The help to business fund-raisers sometimes came at the expense of consumers or public health concerns... Bush is gone. Surely...?!?!
All The News That Bush & Co See Fit To Print

Newsweek reveals that on December 6th this year, George W. Bush met with the publisher and editor of the New York Times (who had sat on the story for a full year) and begged them not to publish revelations of his illegal phone-tapping program.

While the NYT went to press with it anyway (which way is the wind blowing today?), it is now quite clear that Arthur J. Salzberger Junior is totally unfit to own a great newspaper like the New York Times, let alone take top-level editorial control of it.

As Arianna asks, what other stories is the NYT sill sitting on? It is now quite clear that Bush would not have won re-election without the help of the NYT. Hopefully they can remdy the situation by putting him and his fellow cabalists in jail. But that will probably have to include Salzberger.
Bush Rules, OK?

In the coming weeks you will probably be hearing a lot of discussion about the John Yoo memo. Here's an excerpt:
In both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution, Congress has recognized the President's authority to use force in circumstances such as those created by the September 11 incidents. Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the President's determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.
An old Newsweek article said this memo may have been laying the groundwork for the Iraq invasion long before it was discussed publicly by the White House:
The memo, written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, argues that there are effectively “no limits” on the president’s authority to wage war—a sweeping assertion of executive power that some constitutional scholars say goes considerably beyond any that had previously been articulated by the department.
Links courtesy of Josh Marshall, right on the ball as always.

Marshall also links to an interesting letter (a.k.a. a get-out-of-jail-free card) from Senator Rockerfeller, Ranking Member of the senate intelligence committee, basically complaining that he cannot determine the value or legality of Bush's illegal eavesdropping program because he was not legally allowed to discuss it with anyone, not even his lawyers.
The Press Has Moved On. Again.

New Orleans is a devastated city. I know, that's not exactly breaking news. But I just got back from there, and all I can say to everyone I've talked to since is: New Orleans is a devastated city, almost beyond belief....

Here's a thought...

Given that a leaked email from Rove to Hadley is somewhere close to the heart of the Fitzgerald enquiry, given that there are rumours that Rove is on the outer with Bush (whether Bush admits it in public or not), given that Hadley appears to be a "true believer" in the neo-con fantasyworld (as opposed to more hard-headed opportunists like Cheney), given that there is talk that Hadley could be taking a more prominent role in setting the White House's PR agenda (i.e spin), and given that there has been a fairly obvious shift in spin tactics over the past week or more, would it be reasonable to hypothesize that Hadley has recently advised Bush to go to the American people and basically just tell the truth (within limits, of course!)?

Or is this Barbara Bush's hand at work, sweeping Cheney and Rove from the Oval Office and telling George to come clean (within limits, of course!)?

In any case, it seems that Bush's new candid (within limits, of course) approach is only getting him into deeper and deeper waters... But where will it end?

Do Bush, Hadley and Co really believe that they can sweet-talk the US people into sharing their neo-con fantasies? Can we expect Rove and Cheney to be served up as sacrificial lambs on the media altar of post-facto truths (within limits, of course)?
A Bridge Too Far

Wow. Forget about stopping the blog, folks! The events of the past few days are simply astounding.

Suddenly we are talking impeachment. But this time it's for real:
U.S. Rep. John Lewis said Monday in a radio interview that President Bush should be impeached if he broke the law in authorizing spying on Americans.

The Democratic senator from Georgia told WAOK-AM he would sign a bill of impeachment if one was drawn up and that the House of Representatives should consider such a move.

Lewis is among several Democrats who have voiced discontent with Sunday night's television speech, where Bush asked Americans to continue to support the Iraq War. Lewis is the first major House figure to suggest impeaching Bush.

"Its a very serious charge, but he violated the law," said Lewis, a former civil rights leader. "The president should abide by the law. He deliberately, systematically violated the law. He is not King, he is president."
Bush and Co are panicked and bullshitting for all they are worth right now.

The key issue here is why the Bush administration did not pursue their illegal eavesdropping program through the normal channels. Bush says they needed to act faster than FISA would allow them (even though FISA has been a virtual rubber stamp for years). So why didn't they improve FISA, or work out another solution? Bush and Gonzales say they didn't need to, because the authority to bypass the court derived from the Constitution and Congress' vote authorizing the use of military force after the 2001 terror attacks. That's pure bullshit, as many commentators have shown. And US Senators who voted to allow that use of force are astonished that such a vote could be considered carte blanche for dictatorial powers!

After five speeches in three weeks failed to bump up his dismal poll numbers, Bush has even resorted to a press conference! (full text here). That's a sign of real panic from the Bushies.

Bush told the press that the US Constitution also gave him powers to subvert FISA (although he sounded a little confused about exactly whose idea that was):
We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker, and that‘s important. We‘ve got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent.

We use FISA still. You‘re referring to the FISA accord in your question. Of course we use FISAs.

But FISAs is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect.

And having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.

As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.
As usual, the press conference questions were more illuminating than the "answers". Here's one good question that had Bush stumbling for the right cliché:
QUESTION: You‘ve talked about your decision to go to war and the bad intelligence. And you‘ve carefully separated the intelligence from the decision, saying that it was the right decision to go to war despite the problems with the intelligence, sir.

But, with respect, the intelligence helped you build public support for the war. And so, I wonder if now, as you look back, if you look at that intelligence and feel that the intelligence and your use of it might bear some responsibility for the current divisions in the country over the war.

And what can you do about it?

BUSH: Yeah. No, I appreciate that.

First of all, I can understand why people were — you say, Well, wait a minute: Everybody thought there was weapons of mass destruction; there weren‘t any. I felt the same way...
And here's another example of a good question that didn't get a straight answer:
Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a President during a war, at wartime? And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?
Things are so desperate that Alberto Gonzales has held a press conference too! Kos wraps up his convoluted logic like this:
Gonzales says it was okay to spy on Americans without authorization because the war resolution gave them that power. But when asked why they didn't ask for specific congressional authorization, he says, well, Congress wouldn't have given them that power.

Eschaton is all over the latest news, including other laughable defences from Alberto Gonzales (a man who should have his law licence revoked before he is sent to jail).

Strange days indeed... Michael Moore's website captures the latest idiocy very well:
George Blames
First Amendment
September 11th attacks may have been stopped if not for free press

Dick Blames
Fourth Amendment
September 11th attacks may have been stopped if not for right to privacy
And lest you think that Bush's latest pleas for "understanding" (he used the word "understand" 25 times in yesterday's speech) signal a change in attitude, it's worth noting that Bush is now threatening legal action against those who spilled the beans on his illegal eavesdropping program:
My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war. The fact that we‘re discussing this program is helping the enemy...
Not surprisingly, wingnuts like Michael Ledeen are all for chasing down these cursed un-American evil-doers!

Meanwhile, Condi Rice pleads "I'm not a lawyer" and says "what happens today can affect what happens tomorrow, but not what happened yesterday." OK? History is bunk, as someone once said.

And a few readers comments from TPM Cafe should help give a feel for the zeitgesit:
Our basic freedoms are being threatened by a President who has run amok because he is scared.

That's right, there is no other possible explanation. His job, the terrorists and his opponents have all scared him, and he is reacting like a gambler, doubling and re-doubling his bet that he can scare enough people so that the country will more or less support his abridgement of our freedoms...

Of course he's scared. Wouldn't you be scared if you were in so far over your head. Paul Begala once said Bush is in so far over his head that he's like Mini-me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This guy is so uncomfortable with himself that he can't even walk down a hallway without his bogus John Wayne strut. What he needs is therapy, not another three plus years in the White House.
Visit for more on the impeachment moves.

UPDATE: Former White House Counsel John Dean, who was President Nixon’s counsel at the time of Watergate, said that President Bush is “the first President to admit to an impeachable offense.” Senator Barbara Boxer is asking Constitutional scholars their opinion...

And just for the record, here's that old W quote:
"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

December 19, 2005

Drop It Like It's Hard, George

In his fifth desperate PR speech in less than three weeks, Bush has become a beggar and a loser:
I do not expect you to support everything I do. But tonight I have a request: do not give in to despair and do not give up on this fight for "freedom"...
Meanwhile, Dick "Sideshow Bob" Cheney, perhaps stung by recent "chickenhawk" comments from Hillary Clinton, has made his first, totally unexpected (not even the Iraqi puppet PM knew he was coming) trip to Iraq. And the Big Dick has lost none of his fevered optimism:
I think the vast majority of them think of us as liberators!
Unfortunately, rhetoric only goes so far in trumping reality. And meanwhile...

December 18, 2005

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death

It's time to choose, America.

George W. Bush has now openly and defiantly admitted that he authorised a secret, illegal eavesdropping program that spied on innocent US citizens. In classic Bush-speak, he criticized whistle-blowers for letting the US public know what is happening to their once-precious Democracy:
The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am president of the United States.
Problem is, the spying was illegal under the US Constitution. And how the $%&* can you defend this assault on basic human rights as "protecting civil liberties"? Only in Bush's world...

Senator Russ Feingold expresses the common outrage:
The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.
This is the same President who authorized torture. This is a President who doesn't care that he took the world to a war of choice based on faulty intelligence, but says he would do the same again (indeed, he says that a few more governments around the world still need to be changed).

Bush believes that he has the right to do whatever he wants, because he is the President. He believes this because that's what people like Rumsfeld, Cheney and Alberto Gonzales tell him. And his is too uncaring, obstinate or just plain stupid to seek the truth or even solicit other people's opinions.

The moment is here, America. The President of the USA is a criminal, and has admitted as much himself. You must now choose: your Constitution or the Bush cabal?

Richard Nixon once argued that "when the President does it, that means it's not illegal". Americans rejected that lie once. It is time to do so again.

It's over to you now, America...

UPDATE: Dammit, people, this is massive!

For starters, the NYT delayed publication of the story for a year! Why? The WaPo has a break-down here. Allegedly is was "to conduct additional reporting". In fact, it was not for that reason, nor for the sake of national security, but so the GOP could win the 2004 elections!

Remember, these are the guys who brought us Judith Miller. They also spiked the story on Bush wearing a wireless transmitter in his jacket at the TV debate just before the election - and this is supposed to be the most liberal paper in the USA???

The residents of the Bush White House believe they are above the law. That's because they know that by the time crimes like this reach the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court will be a GOP rubber stamp (just like Arthur Sulzberger Jr,. the publisher of the NYT).

This is clearly an impeachable offense, America.


UPDATE: From the Post-Gazette:
The idea that all of this is being done to us in the name of national security doesn't wash; that is the language of a police state. Those are the unacceptable actions of a police state.
From Juan Cole:
The answer to Ben Franklin's comment about what sort of government the constitution enshrined--"A republic, if you can keep it"-- has been answered. We've lost it, folks...

It was a good run, this United States of America with its Constitution and its Bill of Rights. How sad that a gang of unscrupulous criminals has been allowed to subvert its basic values altogether.

Is there even a single one of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights that Bush and his henchmen have not by now abrogated by royal fiat?

And why? Because of a single attack by a few hijackers from a small terrorist organization? The thousands lost in the Revolutionary War did not deter the Founding Fathers from enshrining these rights in the Constitution! The fledgling American Republic was far more unstable and facing far more dangers when this document was passed into law than the unchallengeable hyperpower that now bestrides the globe as a behemoth.

Have we lost our minds?
New York Times editorial:
Let's be clear about this: illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not. Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing that. The law governing the National Security Agency was written after the Vietnam War because the government had made lists of people it considered national security threats and spied on them. All the same empty points about effective intelligence gathering were offered then, just as they are now, and the Congress, the courts and the American people rejected them...

[The Bush] White House has cried wolf so many times on the urgency of national security threats that it has lost all credibility. But we have learned the hard way that Mr. Bush's team cannot be trusted to find the boundaries of the law, much less respect them.

Mr. Bush said he would not retract his secret directive or halt the illegal spying, so Congress should find a way to force him to do it.
From the Denver Post:
If we give up our liberties in the name of anti-terrorism, the terrorists have already won.
Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has promised hearings early next year:
There is no doubt that this is inappropriate.
Jane Smiley calls this "the greatest threat to the US since the Civil War":
The outcome of such policies will be a dictatorship or a tyranny. Such policies cannot be reconciled with the US as we know it, or with the vision of the Founding Fathers...

Our government was devised as a set of ideas about how to avoid kings, aristocracies, and tyrannies. If it fails at that, or is manipulated into producing tyranny, then we are no longer living in the US, we are living in a no man’s land, without an actual identity... The loss of our moral compass is devastating.
Smiley cites an article from Karen Kwiatkowski in which three witnesses confirm that Bush referred to the Constitution as a “just a god damned piece of paper.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein calls it "the most significant thing I have heard in my 12 years" in the Senate:
How can I go out, how can any member of this body go out, and say that under the Patriot Act we protect the rights of American citizens if, in fact, the president is not going to be bound by the law?
And finally, in an excellent (must-read!) article, Trey Ellis ties all this into the bigger picture with a key quote from arch-neocon Michael Ledeen:
"We should not be outraged by Machiavelli’s call for a temporary dictatorship as an effective means to either revivify or restore freedom."
UPDATE: David Sirota points readers to the most important question:
why would the President deliberately circumvent a court that was already wholly inclined to grant him domestic surveillance warrants? The answer is obvious, though as yet largely unstated in the mainstream media: because the President was likely ordering surveillance operations that were so outrageous, so unrelated to the War on Terror, and, to put it in Constitutional terms, so "unreasonable" that even a FISA court would not have granted them.

This is no conspiracy theory - all the signs point right to this conclusion. In fact, it would be a conspiracy theory to say otherwise, because it would be ignoring the cold, hard facts that we already know.

December 16, 2005

And Over To You, Readers...

For some time now, I have been questioning the value in continuing this blog.

My main aim when I started out was twofold: to bring public attention to the forces which control our lives, and to educate myself in the process. Specifically, the blog became anti-Bush because of the Iraq War lies, which really shone a spotlight on the dangerous liaisons between Western governments and Big Business. This has become something of an obsession as I have learned more and more about what is going on in today's world. It has been an alarming, sometimes exhilirating, endlessly frustrating, but ultimately educational experience.

We have come a long way since the days when every second post here was considered a "conspiracy theory" and Bush supporters were regularly threatening violence against me for even countenancing such thoughts. Let's consider for a moment what has been achieved since I started this blog:

- Despite successful re-election campaigns, Bush, Blair and Howard are now polling at near- record lows,
- More than half the voters in the USA are now aware of the Iraq War lies,
- A procession of whistle-blowers have been encouraged to come forward with evidence like the Downing Street Memos,
- US politicians are now openly calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, with strong public support,
- Bush's GOP is engulfed in scandals - DeLay, Frist, PlameGate and more - as they head into the 2006 elections,
- Resistance from ordinary Iraqis has frustrated US efforts to seize Iraqi oil and spread a military presence across the region,
- This resistance has also helped dispel support for the neocon myth of the USA playing the role of an un-challenge-able global empire,
- US atrocities in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, secret torture centres and rendition flights have been brought to light,
- The UN has resisted US efforts to control its agenda, and the IAEA head (whom the USA sought to remove) was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace,

There is much more, of course... and I am not taking credit for all of them!

But with Bush now being described as a "lame duck" President for the next three years (his backdown on McCain's torture bill was a glaring example of how little political power the White House now exerts in Washington), with Cheney hiding from the lights in his bunker and Rumsfeld set to be replaced in the coming months, I feel that the main aim of this blog - to bring public attention to these things - has now largely been achieved. I feel that it is now up to Americans - not an Aussie like me - to continue the reform from here on in.

Having said that, I do enjoy the journalistic aspect of blogging and plan to continue with it in some form or other. In the coming week or two, the blog counter below should hit 50,000. That's a lot of hits (even if half of the visits may have been mine!). I really do appreciate the constructive feedback I have had over the years, and I am glad to have served as a source of information for countless search engine requests.

So this post is to solicit your feedback as I ponder how best to expend my energies in the coming year... What do you all like/dislike about this blog? How do you think it could be improved? How do you think it fits within the larger picture of the blogosphere - is there a need for blogs like this when we already have valuable sites like, alternet, working for change, ICH, etc?

I will be eager to read any comments (and if there are none, that will tell me all I need to know).
Voices Of Reason

"'Terrorism' is what we call violence of the weak, and we condemn it; 'war' is what we call violence of the strong, and we glorify it."

- Sydney Harris.
The above quote comes via a fellow Aussie blogger, Antony Loewenstein, a Jewish-Australian journalist who knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

It's always nice to hear clear, coherent arguments on complex issues, and Lowenstein's blog is a very good read indeed. I found him again (I lost touch after the demise of Margot Kingston's Web Diary) after reading an article of his in New Matilda, an online Aussie magazine with a lot of promise. Check them out if you have time...
Don't Get Too Excited About 2006...

Diebold voting machines are still not safe:
A political operative with hacking skills could alter the results of any election on Diebold-made voting machines -- and possibly other new voting systems in Florida -- according to the state capital's election supervisor, who said Diebold software has failed repeated tests.

Ion Sancho, Leon County's election chief, said tests by two computer experts, completed this week, showed that an insider could surreptitiously change vote results and the number of ballots cast on Diebold's optical-scan machines.
Round Em Up

Ariana looks at how the Pentagon is now spying on peaceful activists, among others, and recalls the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover:
Now it looks like those ugly days of government paranoia and officially sanctioned lawbreaking might be making a comeback. A secret DoD database obtained by NBC News indicates that Pentagon intelligence and local law enforcement agencies are using the guise of the war on terror to keep an eye on the constitutionally protected activities of anti-war activists. And, despite strict restrictions on the military maintaining records on domestic civilian political activity, evidence suggests the Pentagon is doing just that. According to NBC, the DoD database includes "at least 20 references to U.S. citizens," while other documents indicate that "vehicle descriptions" are also being noted and analyzed.

And it's not just the Pentagon. Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has also been recording the names and license plate numbers of peaceful anti-war protesters.

With apologies to Buffalo Springfield: There's something happening here... and what it is is painfully clear.
Leon Hadar reviews Karen Hughe's disastrous PR trip through the Middle East:
Sworn in early in September, Hughes became the latest top official charged with repairing a U.S. image abroad soured by the war in Iraq and complaints in Europe and the Middle East over Bush’s policies and leadership. In fact, she is the third person that President Bush has appointed to this position since 9/11—more proof that what the White House needs is not another Madison Avenue PR executive or K Street spinmeister. Hughes’s predecessors—Charlotte Beers, a successful advertising hand who helped produce a pathetic propaganda film targeted at Muslim audiences, and Margaret Tutwiler, Secretary of State James Baker’s impressive spokeswoman, were driven out of office not because they couldn’t get a handle on the mechanisms of public diplomacy as a way of fostering goodwill toward the United States and its culture and values. “The problem here is not American popular culture—beloved and emulated everywhere—or even American political culture, imbued with the richest ideas about freedom, democracy, and individual rights,” wrote Arab columnist Fawaz Turki about Hughes’s tour of the Middle East. “The problem rather is American foreign policy, that remains, where it is not bellicose, overtly and unabashedly moralistic in tone,” he stressed, adding, “Let the record show that no one has identified the gushy Hughes as an ‘ugly American,’ just an inane one.” To put it differently, the fault, dear President Bush, does not lie in the American people or even in our “public diplomacy” and its managers, but in your disastrous Middle East diplomacy. “What the United States should be doing is changing policy, not dressing it up to look better,” is the way Cairo’s Al-Ahram put it.
But President Bush had already concluded long ago that they hate us in the Middle East and in other parts of the world because of “who we are”—and not because of what we do. Forget about the bloody occupation of Iraq, the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, or the support for the corrupt Arab regimes. And let’s not dwell on Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, or Intifada II. It’s all the fault of Al Jazeera that keeps showing those “anti-American” images. Let’s just have a good spinning a la Karl Rove to counter those images with great “pro-American” newsbites, visuals, and catchy slogans. Hey, we could even try to plant an enterprising journalist searching for the truth, Judith Miller-style, at Al Jazeera.
And speaking of alienating the aliens, the US Ambassador to Canada has been interfering in their coming elections (just as the US Ambassador to Australia did in ours). Ambassador Wilkins said:
"It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner. But it is a slippery slope, and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship. It shouldn't be lost on any of us that some of your politicians use my country to score political points."
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin responded:
"When it comes to defending Canadian values, when it comes to standing up for Canadian interests, I'm going to call it like I see it. I am not going to be dictated to as to the subjects I should raise."
Scotty McLellan cops another flogging prom the press corps after Bush broke with his own White House policy:
After months of refusing to comment on the Plame/CIA probe, and the indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby--saying he did not want to “prejudge” an "ongoing investigation"--President Bush on Wednesday night unabashedly told Fox News’ Brit Hume that he believed Rep. Tom DeLay was not guilty of charges against him.

This sparked a storm of questioning at the daily briefing on Thursday by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, with NBCs David Gregory leading the way, accusing the administration of being “hypocritical” and “inconsistent” on this matter, “ad nauseum.”

McClellan fired back, denying the charge and suggesting that the newsman was getting “all dramatic about it.”
And did you know that one in twenty US citizens is illiterate in English?
From 1992 to 2003, the nation's adults made no progress in their ability to read a newspaper, a book, or any other prose arranged in sentences and paragraphs. They also showed no improvement in comprehending documents such as bus schedules and prescription labels.

The adult population did make gains in handling quantitative tasks, such as calculating numbers found on tax forms or bank statements. But even in that area of literacy, the typical adult showed only basic skills, enough to perform simple daily activities.

Perhaps most sobering: Adult literacy dropped or was flat across every level of education, from people with graduate degrees to those who dropped out of high school.

December 15, 2005

Heckuva Job, Rummy

Just in from Reuters:
Bush said of Rumsfeld, "He's conducted two wars and at the same time has helped transform our military from a military that was constructed for, you know, the post-Cold War to one that is going to be [when???] constructed to fight terrorism."

Asked if Rumsfeld would stay in the administration until the end of his second term, Bush said: "Yes. Well, (the) end of my term is a long time, but I tell you, he's done a heck of a good job, and I have no intention of changing him."
Bush also expressed support for Cheney, Rove and even DeLay.
The Real Debate

I have often said that Bush is just a symptom of a sick society. Frances Moore Lappe tries to start a debate on the real issue:
Democracy’s core premise is the wide dispersion of power so that we all have a voice. But our market economy is driven by another premise. Its driver is one rule –- highest return to existing wealth, those who own corporate stock. With that one rule, economic power concentrates and concentrates…and concentrates until it becomes so powerful that it subverts the political process.
Today 56 lobbyists –- doubling since George Bush took office—walk the halls of Congress for every one person we’ve put there to represent us.
We have been warned of this danger. Thomas Jefferson warned us. Dwight Eisenhower warned us. Most pointedly, Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned us. “[T]he liberty of a democracy is not safe,” he said to Congress in 1938, “if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism…”
Lappe argues that the USA has become a "thin" Democracy, an empty shell needs to be rejuvenated from within before it can live again. Bravo.
Speaking Of Accountability...

Here's Arianna Huffington:
The Plamegate investigation has exposed the ugly underbelly of modern, big-time journalism: the rampant insiderism, the special treatment afforded superstar reporters, the oh-so-cozy relationship between those in power and those theoretically tasked with covering them, the lack of newsroom checks and balances, the acceptance of transgressions with barely a whimper.

Have the people running these newsrooms never heard the term 'firing offense'? For God's sake, what is it going to take before one of these Plamegate journalistic malefactors is handed a pink slip?
The Buck Stops - ?

Bush has finally accepted responsibility for invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence. Here's what he said:
It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.

And I’m also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we’re doing just that.
Rewind... Play again:
It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong -
Stop right there.

Yes, the intelligence was wrong. But that was only the intelligence that Bush and his top officials - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith and others - hand-picked to support their predetermined course of action. Let's not forget that pesky Downing Street Memo, whose authenticity has never been officially denied:
Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
So "what went wrong" was not really the faulty intelligence, it was how that intelligence was mis-used by the Bush administration. Dick Cheney set up a special Office of Special Plans for just that reason!

As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I’m also responsible for fixing what went wrong -

If Bush is really going to take responsibility for that decision, rather than just saying that he takes responsibility, then there is really only one thing to do - FIRE THE WHOLE DAMNED ADMINISTRATION AND THEN RESIGN!

Because Bush was so personally involved in the lies, he cannot now claim responsibility for "fixing what went wrong". He has lost the moral authority to remain as Head Of State. You don't send a thief to catch a thief.

Instead of resigning, however, Bush says he will fix what went wrong. How?

- by reforming our intelligence capabilities.
Stop. Now what does that mean, aside from giving George Tenet the Medal Of Honour and installing a Bush cabal insider as the new "intelligence czar"?

It means gagging whistle-blowers like Sibel Edmonds while ousting agents like Valerie Plame. It means kidnapping people off the streets and rendering them to secret prisons where they can be tortured. Not for real intelligence, mind you, but for politically expedient confessions that can be used (before they are retracted) to further the Bush cabal's political agenda and drag the USA further down the path of militant Fascism.

It means slamming the door on real accountability. Forever.

Of course, Bush is never going to take real responsibility for the faulty WMD intelligence because he doesn't really care that the intelligence was wrong! He has already admitted as much:
We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of brutal dictator. It is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in his place.
Can you imagine if Bush & Co had tried that line at the UN back in 2003? "OK, there are no WMDs, and we don't want to seize Iraq's oil, establish new military bases before we get kicked out of Saudi, and destabilize the whole region in an attempt to install puppet regimes that will support our glorious vision of a 21st Century US Empire... we just want to help those poor Iraqi people!" The UN, the US Congress, and the people of the USA would never have supported such madness. Even now, most people in the USA and in Iraq believe the invasion was wrong. And that's without waiting to see whether tomorrow's bogus elections in Iraq produce anything more than a fractured state ruled by mullahs and warlords bent on further bloodshed.

Want more proof that Bush doesn't care that the intelligence on WMDs was wrong? Here's what he recently told NBC anchor Brian Williams about the need to invade Iraq:
Whether or not it needed to happen, I'm still convinced it needed to happen.
In other words, I don't care if my decision was right or not, or whether the facts were real or not, all I care about is myself. I don't care about the truth, only about how I feel.

Fantasy trumps reality. George W. Bush, poster child for the ME Generation.

December 14, 2005

Surfing A Wave Of Racist Violence

As an Australian, it behoves me to venture an opinion on the "race riots" on Sydney beaches this week. I grew up on Sydney's beautiful sandy beaches then moved to the inner Western suburbs in my teens, I held a Sydney taxi driver's licence for 5 years and I think I have a pretty good feeling for what is going on down there.

While there have always been simmering tensions between the "surfies" and the "westies" in Sydney, it is impossible not to link these latest disturbances to the Howard government's relentless, fear-based, xenophobic, violent and illegal war-mongering. Indeed, our new anti-terror laws could even be used to prosecute those involved (more here).

The individuals involved are not just tanked up on alcohol - they have been fed a steady diet of adrenalin-pumping violence on their TV news screens for over two years, enhanced by expensive government advertising campaigns exhorting them to be alert and vigilant against a mysterious, unseen "enemy". Faced with this relentless fear-mongering, people naturally feel a primal need to DO SOMETHING - whether it is to fight their perceived "enemy", or fight the relentless stereotyping of themselves, their friends and their families. Sadly, I think riots like this are an inevitable consquence of a bogus war based on lies and simplistic xenophobia.

John Howard denies the linkage:

"Violence, thuggery, loutish behaviour, smashing peoples' property, intimidating people - all of those things are breaches of the law and I don't think the actions should be given some kind of special status because they occur against the background of this or that," Mr Howard said.
Yet the Howard government has successfully exploited an underlying current of racism in every one of the elections it has won. Australia is a worse society as a result, and we deserve the criticism of the international community.

This cartoon says it all, really:

Predictably, voices within the right-wing Murdoch press have quickly come out as apologists for the racists. Rather than stoking the flames, they should be apologizing for their own role in feeding the fire.

There's something else that I want to say here, and that is this: my family have been force-fed this same bullshit for the past few years. My kids see images of violence on the TV news night after night. They ask me about Iraq, Saddam, the war and Australia's involvement in it. My Mum is 63 and she frets about these things. It becomes personal, like it or not.

And always, it all goes back to the war and the original lies about the need for a pre-emptive invasion.
Who Ordered The Torture? Bush!

This analysis from former CIA analyst Ray McGovern is as clear as anything I have seen:
"Dark-side" operations, using "any means at our disposal" -- like, say, "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- by law require a "finding" signed by the president. Before signing, Bush would have sought the advice of his White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales -- the more so, since this particular finding raised serious questions with regard not only to international law but also to US criminal statutes, and particularly the War Crimes Act of 1996 (18 U.S.C. 2441).

Enter the (in)famous memorandum of January 25, 2002, from Gonzales to the president, in which some provisions of the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war were described as "quaint" and "obsolete." Referring to the US War Crimes Act, the author of that memorandum argued that there was a "reasonable basis in law" that Bush could escape future criminal prosecution for violating that law...

And so, on February 7, 2002, Bush signed the watershed memorandum telling our armed forces "to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva." Therein lies the gaping loophole that largely accounts for the widespread practice of torture of the kind so graphically represented in the photos from Abu Ghraib. It was not a "few bad apples" at the bottom. The bad apples were at the very top of the barrel.
Television: Catapulting the Corporate Propaganda

At the core of the Bush neocon administration lies, and the public's willingness to accept them, is a fundamental confict between fantasy and reality. It is a theme that has resounded again and again over the past 5 years, as Bush-lovers blindly ignore concrete facts in favour of sensational talking points and hyperbolic memes.

As I've said before, Bush is a symptom of a sick society. And there can be little doubt in any thinking person's mind that the mind-numbing, lifestyle-substitute opiate of 24/7 multi-channel television is at the core of this sickness. Charles Sullivan calls it The Great Perversion:
Rather than living life, most Americans now experience it vicariously through the medium of television... Contrary to public opinion, the purpose of commercial television is not to inform the people with information that is relevant to their lives. It is to substitute fantasy for reality, lies for truth; entertainment for knowledge...

The experience that most Americans live vicariously through television is an utter fraud. As Thoreau said, “We have become the tools of our tools.” Our lives have become more virtual than real. Fraud does not inform our experience; nor does it provide us with the information we need to make intelligent decisions about life. Like all things American, television has been perverted from a tool with enormous potential for education to the trivial commodity of patent capitalism we call entertainment...

Television is a powerful, seductive, mind numbing drug that renders viewers physically passive, but open to the endless message of blind consumption. It holds the viewers fast while programming the mind to consume and to accept the manifest lies and propaganda spewed forth by the corporate juggernaut that has hijacked both the American government and the public air waves. As a compelling mind altering drug, television is without equal in the annals of human history...

Those who are seduced and mesmerized by television are not likely to make trouble. They are not going to question corporate America’s version of reality and make waves for the status quo. Television is junk food for the mind that leads to morbid mental obesity. The result is impaired mental function. It stifles free thought and inhibits human potential. Nothing in the history of civilization has been more responsible for dumbing down the American public than commercial television. Television numbs the mind and impoverishes the spirit. It is an essential tool of the corporations that have hijacked the American government...
By way of comparison, consider the dedicated pacifist lifestyle of Michele Naar-Obed, who is heading off to Baghdad for a fourth time in three years:
She attended the vigil that night, and the next. When the air war began, Naar-Obed said she climbed to the roof of a Baltimore armory with several of her newfound friends. As antiwar protesters circled below, she said they threw blood, sand and oil off the building.

The theatrics exhilarated her: "I felt that this was the most honest, the most free moment of my life."

Within the next year, Naar-Obed gave up her job, her car and her privacy to become a professional pacifist...
UPDATE: Mind you, television is just a tool. It is not inherently evil! And it can be used wisely: for example, if you have broadband for video, this is hilarious.
Bush's "Democratic" Iraq

Robert Dreyfuss has an excellent article looking at how Iran is supporting the Shiites in Iraq - the same Shiites that the USA is loudly supporting - as they torture and kill Sunnis. He calls it "Bush's Shiite Gang In Baghdad".

Dreyfuss points out that violent Shiiite militias like the Badr Brigade are receiving funds from the Iranians, while the US turns a blind eye. He points to this excellent KR story:
The Iranian-backed militia the Badr Organization has taken over many of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's intelligence activities and infiltrated its elite commando units, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

That's enabled the Shiite Muslim militia to use Interior Ministry vehicles and equipment - much of it bought with American money - to carry out revenge attacks against the minority Sunni Muslims, who persecuted the Shiites under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, current and former Ministry of Interior employees told Knight Ridder.

The officials, some of whom agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of violent reprisals, said the Interior Ministry had become what amounted to an Iranian fifth column inside the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, running death squads and operating a network of secret prisons.
The full article, which includes evidence of a "death squad" operating from within Iraq's Interior Ministry, is well worth a read. For instance, here is the senior U.S. military official in Baghdad, shrugging off the problem:
Everybody says you have a Badr guy in the MOI. Well ... he was elected. And they say he's appointed a bunch of Badr guys. We have a Republican administration in America, and guess what? They've appointed a lot of Republicans. You elected SCIRI, and SCIRI is Badr.
Or what about this:
Col. Joseph DiSalvo, who commands a brigade of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in eastern Baghdad, where there's a heavy Shiite militia presence, said it would be all but impossible for the American military to defeat the militias...

"The coalition forces cannot enforce it (the law forbidding militias). We cannot negate the militias. It would be like having a 2 million-man tribe, and all of a sudden saying, `Tribe, you do not exist,'" DiSalvo said. "You'd have to have more manpower than is feasible."
Dreyfuss then quotes a Washington Times interview with a leading former Iraqi general who says that the network of torture prisons run by SCIRI, Badr, and the Iraqi interior ministry is overseen by an Iranian intelligence officer, Tahseer Nasr Lawandi, nicknamed “The Engineer.”
The Iranian officer not only masterminded interrogations, tortures and executions at the prisons, but also would take part in torture sessions, often using an electric drill, Gen. al-Samarrai said.

Some of the tortured prisoners were found in morgues with drill holes in their legs and eyes, according to another security source, who declined to be identified.
As Dreyfuss says, this sort of information "utterly destroys the Bush administration’s contention that the United States is building “democracy” in Iraq."


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