Browsing the blog archives for March, 2006.


Action

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Bush Administration

And don’t forget Ned Lamont. Also Francine Busby, Jon Tester, and Eric Massa. This is the last day of the quarter and there’s a big push for donations.

Also — somewhere this morning I read a complaint that bloggers weren’t discussing the Democrats’ “Real Security” plan. So I printed the thing out and gave it a read. (Here it is in PDF format; it’s short.) And here it is in outline form:

I. Ensure Military Strength

A. Rebuild the military; invest in equipment and manpower. This includes strengthening the National Guard.

B. GI Bill for the 21st Century — provide enhanced health and other benefits for active, reserve and retired military.

II. Defeat Terrorism

A. Eliminate Osama bin Laden, destroy terrorist networks, finish the job in Afghanistan.

B. Double size of special forces; enhance intelligence capabilities.

C. Combat (metaphorically speaking, I assume) economic social, and political conditions that encourage the growth of terrorism.

D. Contain nuclear materials; discourage nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea.

III. Homeland Security (Note: Can we ditch the “homeland” thing? Gives me the creeps.)

A. Implement recommendations of 9/11 Commission.

B. Screen 100 percent of containers and cargo bound for the U.S.

C. Safeguard chemical and nuclear plants, protect food and water supplies.

D. Prevent outsourcing of national security infrastructure.

E. Support first responders such as firefighters and emergency medical workers with training, staffing, equipment, technology.

F. Protect America from pandemics by investing in public health infrastructure.

IV. Iraq

A. Transition to full Iraqi sovereignty asap.

B. Insist that Iraqis get their governmental act together.

C. Engage in a “responsible redeployment” of U.S. troops.

C. “Hold the Bush Administration accountable for its manipulated pre-war intelligence, poor planning and contracting abuses that have placed our troops at greater risk and wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.”

V. Energy Independence

A. Achieve energy independence by 2020. This means no more oil from the Middle East and “unstable regions.” We’d better hope Canada remains stable.

B. Develop alternate energy sources.

Comments: As Ron Brownstein said yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, this plan lacks specifics. However, consider what “specifics” the Bushies ever churn out, e.g., “as they stand up we’ll stand down.” I would argue that the Dems can’t do much more than provide an outline until they get some power in Congress. What’s the Bush excuse?

The plan does not call for a withdrawal from Iraq. But we’ve got some working room with that phrase “responsible redeployment.” That could be construed as an endorsement of Jack Murtha’s “over the horizon” redeployment plan.

Robert L. Borosage wrote,

Democrats do pledge — however incoherently since they have no power now — to make 2006 a year of transition in Iraq. They pledge to redeploy the troops and have Iraqis take over running their own country. This is stark contrast with the Bush promise that the troops will be there till at least 2009. …

… By highlighting the difference, activists can help cement Democrats to a withdrawal posture, and help frame the choice this fall. In 2004, Democrats like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were calling for more troops in Iraq. Now mugged by reality, Dems are calling for “redeployment.” Don’t focus on the timidity; highlight the contrast with the president. That poses the choice for the country — and locks Democrats into a clear position.

One might wish the Dems could lock themselves into a clear position, but maybe Borosage has a point.

Any more thoughts?

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Bush Is Dissed

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Bush Administration, Iraq War, Middle East

What Juan Cole says:

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has blown off the president of the United States. Bush sent Sistani a letter asking him to intervene to help end the gridlock in the formation of a new Iraqi government. Asked about his response, an aide said that Sistani had not opened the letter and had put it aside in his office.

Sistani does not approve of the American presence in Iraq, and certainly disapproves of the Bush administration’s attempt to unseat Ibrahim Jaafari as the candidate of the United Iraqi Alliance. Middle Easterners have had Western Powers dictate their politics to them for a couple of centuries and are pretty tired of it.

More jaw-dropping information in the Professor’s post; it’s worth reading all the way through.

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Crabs in a Barrel

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big picture stuff, blogging, Bush Administration, conservatism, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Republican Party

At the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson writes about “The Meltdown We Can’t Even Enjoy.”

It’s frustrating. The three overlapping forces that have sent this country in so many wrong directions — the conservative movement, the neoconservative movement and the Republican Party — are warring among themselves, doing their best impression of crabs in a barrel, and sensible people can’t even enjoy the spectacle. That’s because it’s hard to take pleasure in the havoc they’ve caused and the disarray they will someday leave behind.

“Crabs in a barrel” — what perfect imagery! Can’t you just imagine all the righties, all the Bush culties and fundies and neocons and Big Gubmint-hating quasi-libertarians confined together within their shared lies and resentments? And as the reality of their failed ideologies closes in, see how they pull in their eyestalks and scramble for whatever crumbs of self-validation they can find?

Today the Right Blogosphere is swarming over the critical news that Borders Books refuses to stock a magazine that published the Danish Mohammed cartoons. Other recent blogswarms involved displays of the Mexican flag. For the past couple of days righties have labored mightily to assure themselves that the opinions offered by some retired FISA judges was the opposite of what the judges actually said it was. They’re still picking through the intelligence garbage dumped by John Negroponte. John Podhoretz of the National Review criticizes the just-released Jill Carroll for not being anti-Muslim enough. And for the past several days a number of them, led by John Fund, have been obsessed over a former Taliban member enrolled at Harvard.

Crumbs, I say. The same people who spent the past several years congratulating each other for their grand “ideas” are running (sideways) from big issues as fast as their scaly little legs can scramble. Robinson continues,

It would all be entertaining if the stakes weren’t so high. Iraqis and Americans are dying; the treasury is bleeding; real people, not statistics, are at the center of the immigration debate. Iran is intent on joining the nuclear club. Hallowed American traditions of privacy, fairness and due process are being flouted, and thus diminished.

Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes a gloomier look at the Big Pcture

It’s not merely that the Bush administration has run aground on its own illusions. The real problem runs deeper, much deeper, and at its core, I think, lies the fact that out of fear and laziness we insist on trying to address new problems with old ideologies, rhetoric and mind-sets.

To put it bluntly, we don’t know what to do, and so we do nothing.

Run through the list: We have no real idea how to address global warming, the draining of jobs overseas, the influx of illegal immigrants, our growing indebtedness to foreign lenders, our addiction to petroleum, the rise of Islamic terror . . .

Those are very big problems, and if you listen to the debate in Congress and on the airwaves, you can’t help but be struck by the smallness of the ideas proposed to address them. We have become timid and overly protective of a status quo that cannot be preserved and in fact must be altered significantly.

The Republicans, for example, continue to mouth a cure-all ideology of tax cuts, deregulation and a worship of all things corporate, an approach too archaic and romanticized to have any relevance in the modern world, as their five years in power have proved.

The GOP’s sole claim to bold action — the decision to invade Iraq in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 — instead epitomizes the problem. The issue of Islamic terrorism is complex and difficult, and by reverting immediately to the brute force of another era, we made the problem worse.

Yet in recent years the Dems in Washington have offered little else but tweaks to the Republican agenda.

It’s not as if the big, bold ideas needed to address our real problems don’t exist. Sure, they exist — among people with no power to implement them. And thanks to the VRWC echo chamber, those people are painted as dangerous, radical, impractical loonies by just about everyone in both parties and in major news media. Eugene Robinson calls on the Dems to “put together an alternative program that will begin to undo some of the damage the conservative-neocon-GOP nexus has wrought.” But the party as it exists now hardly seems capable of such a challenge. It’s too compromised, too tired, too inbred.

What’s a progressive to do?

As a practical matter, the way Americans conduct elections makes third parties irrelevant. If we had run-off elections or a parliamentary system, I’d say abandon the Dems and form something new. But our system marginalizes third parties; there’s no way around that. Our only hope is to reform the Dems.

Meanwhile, conservatives are being challenged to choose between loyalty and principle. On the Blogosphere, loyalty seems to be winning out. And the righties scurry to hide inside fantasies that George W. Bush is a great leader, and the majority of the American people are still behind him. Snap snap snap.

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Bad Web Day?

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blogging

I’m having a terrible time with the web today; it’s like half the internets are offline, including Google. But some sites are available, so I don’t think it’s a technical problem at my end. Are your links working where you are?

Update: Whatever the problem was has fixed itself. Carry on.

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Link-o-Rama

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Bush Administration

For your reading enjoyment:

Murray Waas, “Insulating Bush”

Keith Burris, “This Is About War and Democracy”

Sidney Blumenthal, “Bush’s Card Trick”

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Dump Joe Lieberman

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Democratic Party, elections

Ned Lamont needs your support.

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4 Comments

Spilled Milk

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Bush Administration

Dan Froomkin:

With his vision of Iraq belied not only by an insurgency that he didn’t anticipate, but also by sectarian rivalries that he disregarded before the invasion, President Bush has come up with a new rhetorical line of attack: It’s not my fault, it’s Saddam’s.

Agence France Presse reports: “President George W. Bush said former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s brutal divisive legacy, rather than the US-led invasion, was to blame for Iraq’s current sectarian violence.” …

… “Today, some Americans ask whether removing Saddam caused the divisions and instability we’re now seeing. In fact, much of the animosity and violence we now see is the legacy of Saddam Hussein. He is a tyrant who exacerbated sectarian divisions to keep himself in power,” Bush said.

“The argument that Iraq was stable under Saddam and that stability is now in danger because we removed him is wrong.”

50 years ago:

With his vision of lunch belied by a puddle of milk he didn’t anticipate, young George W. Bush has come up with a new rhetorical line of attack: It’s not my fault, it’s the cow’s.

“Today, some parents ask whether knocking over my cup caused the puddle of milk we’re now seeing. In fact, it was the cow that produced the milk in liquid form, so that when I knocked the cup over it spilled out all over the floor,” Bush said. “The argument that the milk spilled because I knocked the cup over is wrong.”

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Truth by Proclamation

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blogging, Bush Administration, Civil Rights, Congress, conservatism

The story thus far: Yesterday the New York Times published a story by Eric Lichtblau titled “Judges on Secretive Panel Speak Out on Spy Program.” In this story, Lichtblau described the testimony of four former FISA judges to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Bush’s NSA spy program. A fifth judge who was not at the hearing sent a letter to the Committee expressing his opinion.

The main point of the story, per Lichtblau, is that the judges testified “in support of a proposal by Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, to give the court formal oversight of the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program.”

In support of the proposal, mind you. Take note of that.

Lichtblau also wrote that the judges

voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president’s constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.

Judge Harold A. Baker, a sitting federal judge in Illinois who served on the intelligence court until last year, said the president was bound by the law “like everyone else.” If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, “the president ignores it at the president’s peril.”

However, Lichtblau writes, the judges avoided the question of whether the NSA program is illegal.

The judges at the committee hearing avoided that politically charged issue despite persistent questioning from Democrats, even as the judges raised concerns about how the program was put into effect.

Judge Baker said he felt most comfortable talking about possible changes to strengthen the foreign intelligence law. “Whether something’s legal or illegal goes beyond that,” he said, “and that’s why I’m shying away from answering that.”

Now the plot thickens. Also yesterday, the Washington Times published an article by Brian DeBose about the same testimony. And this article was headlined “FISA judges say Bush within law.” Here is the lede:

A panel of former Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges yesterday told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that President Bush did not act illegally when he created by executive order a wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The five judges testifying before the committee said they could not speak specifically to the NSA listening program without being briefed on it, but that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not override the president’s constitutional authority to spy on suspected international agents under executive order.

Clearly, one of these stories is wrong. The question is, which one?

Yesterday John Hinderaker of Power Line accused Lichtblau of having “a huge personal investment in the idea (wrong, I think) that the NSA program is ‘illegal.'” To prove this charge, Hinderaker linked to another Power Line post in which Hinderaker hectored Lichtblau for writing a story Hinderaker didn’t like. Since the story is not linked I can only guess at what’s going on here, but I infer that Lichtblau interviewed people who said the NSA program is illegal as well as people who said it isn’t illegal. Hinderaker objected, thus:

Here’s my problem with your coverage: as a legal matter, there isn’t any debate. The authorities are all on one side; they agree that warrantless surveillance for national security purposes is legal. I think your articles misleadingly suggest that there is real uncertainty on this point, when there isn’t.

So we’re all agreed it’s legal. Except for these guys. Oh, and some of these guys. And just about every constitutional scholar on the planet who is not a Republican Party operative has at least some doubts about the legality of the program. But they don’t count. Clearly, the only reason Lichtblau would have interviewed and quoted such people is that he has a huge personal investment in the idea that the NSA spy program is illegal. Hinderaker, on the other hand, clearly and objectively reasons that doubts about the program’s legality simply do not exist.

Anyway, taking their cues from Hinderaker, the Right Blogosphere declared the DeBose/Moonie Times story to be the correct one. And they would know, as they have no personal investment in any of this.

Unfortunately, the Anonymous Liberal had to go make trouble and read the transcript.

I’ve now read through the transcript, and not surprisingly, it’s clear that Lichtblau was awake during the hearing and DeBose was, well, very confused. …

… Okay, let’s review the facts. The transcript of the hearing–which is very long–is only available via subscription, so you’re going to have to take my word for now. A total of five judges testified in person, and one submitted written testimony. All of the judges made it crystal clear that they had no intention of opining on the legality of the NSA program (“we will not be testifying today with regard to the present program implemented by President Bush”). The judges were there to testify about FISA and about the merits of Sen. Specter’s proposed legislation to amend FISA.

The bulk of the testimony by the judges was in praise of FISA and in praise of Specter’s proposed bill (which is clearly why Specter called them to testify in the first place). Although the judges were careful not to opine about the NSA program specifically, it was clear from their testimony that they believe further Congressional authorization is necessary and desirable and that the judiciary has an important and indispensable role to play in overseeing domestic surveillance.

Their agenda, to the extent they had one, was to lobby for the continued relevance of the FISA court. …

…I can assure you, though, that at no point did any of the judges come anywhere close to saying that the president “did not act illegally” or that he acted “within the law” when he authorized the NSA warrantless surveillance program. So the Washington Times story is complete rubbish. It could not possibly be more misleading.

This is all very bothersome. The Right had agreed to and proclaimed what the truth is, and here’s this loony liberal muddying the water. No wonder we liberals are so unpopular.

Update: See also Glenn Greenwald, “This Week in the NSA Scandal.”

Update update: Hinderaker is still defending his claim that the New York Times article, not the Moonie Times article, was the one that got the story wrong. And now another of the Power Tools, Scott Johnson, defends Hinderaker’s defense of his claim in a remarkable exercise in intellectual dishonesty. I say “remarkable” not because Johnsons is being dishonest — one expects such things from the Tools — but because he’s so bare-assed about it. He’s claiming that people didn’t say what he quotes them as saying.

Johnson quotes a passage from the testimony that he says belies “the tenor of Lichtblau’s description of the judges’ ‘skepticism.'” This is followed by a passage from the transcript in which two judges say, in effect, that since they don’t know details of what the NSA is up to they can’t offer an opinion of whether what they are doing is illegal or not.

Which is what Lichtblau and the Anonymous Liberal said they said. It was the other story, by DeBose, that claimed the judges had declared the NSA wiretapping program to be legal, and the judges clearly didn’t say that. Yet in Rightie World Lichtblau is “misleading” but DeBose is as honest and straightforward as sunshine itself.

Further, the judges clearly say that what worries them is that the NSA might be picking up domestic communications, which would require a warrant. Get this bit that Johnson quotes:

Judge Baker: Senator, did the statute limit the President? You created a balance between them [in the FISA statute], and I don’t think it took away the inherent authority that Judge Kornblum talked about. He didn’t call it “inherent,” he doesn’t like that. But the whole thing is that if in the course of collecting the foreign stuff, you are also picking up domestic stuff, which apparently is happening, I don’t know that that’s–it becomes a real question, you know, is he under his inherent power? Is he running around the statute?

From which Johnson concludes:

Judge Baker — who observes that he does not think FISA “took away” the president’s inherent constitutional authority to order warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance — is the one judge Lichtblau actually bothers to quote as allegedly expressing skepticism regarding this authority. Did Lichtblau leave the hearing early?

I do not believe that anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the issues in this case has ever claimed that the feds need a warrant to do foreign intelligence surveillance. What people — including the retired FISA judges — are skeptical about is whether the NSA is really limiting its activities to foreign intelligence. Judge Baker just said as much. By essentially changing the subject — by implying that the issue was foreign intelligence surveillance, which it clearly wasn’t — the Tools are trying to wriggle out of having to admit they were wrong.

Johnson concludes,

In short, I don’t think that the judges can fairly be described as having voiced skepticism regarding the president’s constitutional authority to order the NSA surveillance program. Having reviewed the transcript of their testimony, however, I am voicing skepticism that Eric Lichtlbau and the New York Times are reporting on matters related to the NSA program in good faith.

Having reviewed the Power Line web site, however, I am voicing skepticism that the Tools would recognize intellectual honesty if it bit their butts.

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No Shame

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Bush Administration, Iraq War

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press reports,

President Bush said Wednesday that Saddam Hussein, not continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, is responsible for ongoing sectarian violence that is threatening the formation of a democratic government.

Saddam’s sending out evil brain waves from his prison cell. That must be it.

In his third speech this month to bolster public support for the war, Bush worked to counter critics who say the U.S. presence in the wartorn nation is fueling the insurgency. Bush said that Saddam was a tyrant and used violence to exacerbate sectarian divisions to keep himself in power, and that as a result, deep tensions persist to this day.

But … but … but … you told Tony Blair before the invasion that it was “unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.”

D’you think you might have checked that a little more closely before ordering a bleeping invasion, genius?

And what the bleep happened to the bleeping era of responsibility?

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Abramoff Gets Minimum Sentence

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corruption, criminal justice, Republican Party

William Branigin just posted this story at WaPo

Jack A. Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist at the center of a major corruption scandal, was sentenced in Miami today to five years and 10 months in prison for his role in the fraudulent purchase of a fleet of casino cruise ships. An associate received the same sentence.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff, 47, and his former partner, Adam R. Kidan, 41, after considering their pleas for the shortest possible prison terms. Each laid most of the blame on the other for the scam, in which they faked a $23 million wire transfer to obtain financing for the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos from an owner who was later shot to death in a gangland-style hit.

The maximum sentence was seven years six months. However, he’s yet to be sentenced on other charges, for fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. Abramoff pleaded guilty to those charges in January.

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