Monday, May 29, 2006

War & Rumors Of War: Who's Better Qualified Than Those Who've Been There?

(c) The Worried Shrimp

Regarding news of Bush's decision to invade Iraq, I remember turning to others in the room & saying: "It's going to be another Vietnam."

And on the topic of war, during the Presidential elections, I thought that men like John Kerry, whose broadness of vision enabled him to see all sides of an issue at once, as opposed to George's inexperienced know-nothing arrogance & heedlessness in the same matters, was far preferable. War, after all, is rife with ambiguity, both on the ground & in the policy boardrooms, & a realistic approach to that fundamental aspect of the nature of war is mandatory. I didn't expect that from George, who, after all, had gone AWOL during Vietnam & had no grounding in the helpful realities to be had from actually experiencing it. Not to mention Cheney, who spent that war hiding in school.

What possessed some Americans to vote for them under the circumstances I'll still never understand, but the end result is that we've gotten the government we deserved. A great enough number of us refused to pay attention to candidates who were more comprehensive & careful in their thought processes--and only now are we realizing that the capacity to appreciate nuance, though not as telegenic in terms of soundbytes--is far preferable to running a country according to shallow jingoisms & war-campaign sloganeering.

Moral of the story: running a "successful" (& dirty-tricky") election campaign is NOT the same as running the most powerful nation on earth, & I'm hopeful that we, collectively, have learned our lesson about that. Following shallow thinkers into war where they're concerned only with consolidating their own power & disingenuously, has begotten only huge deficits, a looming Constitutional crisis & wholesale dilutions of our civil liberties at home, & torture & abuse scandals, the slaughter of civilians, & denial & cover-ups abroad.

It seems we really do have a re-enactment of Vietnam on our hands, replete with massacres of civilians whose languages & customs our troops do not understand. News flash: the situation in Iraq as well as Afghanistan is swiftly getting totally out of control. What next?

Last month, rather late at night, I caught a broadcast of John Kerry speaking at Boston's Faneuil Hall on C-Span, & was very impressed.

If only he could have said the things he said in this speech, as naturally & with such dignity of delivery in his campaign, maybe the outcome of the last presidential election would have been very different. Instead of the tired & haggard man who was apparently paying too much attention to his handlers' demands for short & snappy soundbytes, this John Kerry addressed the issues thoroughly & with aplomb. I found myself sitting my living room applauding.

On the verge of another "Apocalypse Now" with multiple junior Colonel Kurtzes running amok, I just thought I'd share a transcript of Kerry's speech. Kerry delivered this address in Boston on April 22nd, 2006, the 35th anniversary of his testimony to the Senate concerning his experiences in Vietnam, because, he said, "history is repeating itself." The speech concerns patriotism & dissent in a time of war, & the present assault on free speech in America. Below are Kerry's remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thirty-five years ago today, I testified before the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, and called for an end to the war I had returned from fighting not long before.

It was 1971 - twelve years after the first American died in what was then South Vietnam, seven years after Lyndon Johnson seized on a small and contrived incident in the Tonkin Gulf to launch a full-scale war-and three years after Richard Nixon was elected president on the promise of a secret plan for peace. We didn't know it at the time, but four more years of the War in Vietnam still lay ahead. These were years in which the Nixon administration lied and broke the law-and claimed it was prolonging war to protect our troops as they withdrew-years that ultimately ended only when politicians in Washington decided they would settle for a "decent interval" between the departure of our forces and the inevitable fall of Saigon.

I know that some active duty service members, some veterans, and certainly some politicians scorned those of us who spoke out, suggesting our actions failed to 'support the troops'-which to them meant continuing to support the war, or at least keeping our mouths shut. Indeed, some of those critics said the same thing just two years ago during the presidential campaign.

I have come here today to reaffirm that it was right to dissent in 1971 from a war that was wrong. And to affirm that it is both a right and an obligation for Americans today to disagree with a President who is wrong, a policy that is wrong, and a war in Iraq that weakens the nation.

I believed then, just as I believe now, that the best way to support the troops is to oppose a course that squanders their lives, dishonors their sacrifice, and disserves our people and our principles. When brave patriots suffer and die on the altar of stubborn pride, because of the incompetence and self-deception of mere politicians, then the only patriotic choice is to reclaim the moral authority misused by those entrusted with high office.

I believed then, just as I believe now, that it is profoundly wrong to think that fighting for your country overseas and fighting for your country's ideals at home are contradictory or even separate duties. They are, in fact, two sides of the very same patriotic coin. And that's certainly what I felt when I came home from Vietnam convinced that our political leaders were waging war simply to avoid responsibility for the mistakes that doomed our mission in the first place. Indeed, one of the architects of the war, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, confessed in a recent book that he knew victory was no longer a possibility far earlier than 1971.

By then, it was clear to me that hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen-disproportionately poor and minority Americans-were being sent into the valley of the shadow of death for an illusion privately abandoned by the very men in Washington who kept sending them there. All the horrors of a jungle war against an invisible enemy indistinguishable from the people we were supposed to be protecting-all the questions associated with quietly sanctioned violence against entire villages and regions-all the confusion and frustration that came from defending a corrupt regime in Saigon that depended on Americans to do too much of the fighting-all that cried out for dissent, demanded truth, and could not be denied by easy slogans like "peace with honor"-or by the politics of fear and smear. It was time for the truth, and time for it all to end, and my only regret in joining the anti-war movement was that it took so long to succeed-for the truth to prevail, and for America to regain confidence in our own deepest values.

The fissures created by Vietnam have long been stubbornly resistant to closure. But I am proud it was the dissenters-and it was our veterans' movement-and people like Judy Droz Keyes-who battled not just to end the war but to combat government secrecy and the willful amnesia of a society that did not want to remember its obligations to the soldiers who fought. We fought the forgetting and pushed our nation to confront the war's surplus of sad legacies-Agent Orange, Amer-Asian orphans, abandoned allies, exiled and imprisoned draft dodgers, doubts about whether all our POWs had come home, and honor at last for those who returned from Vietnam and those who did not. Because we spoke out, the truth was ultimately understood that the faults in Vietnam were those of the war, not the warriors.

Then, and even now, there were many alarmed by dissent-many who thought that staying the course would eventually produce victory-or that admitting the mistake and ending it would embolden our enemies around the world. History disproved them before another decade was gone: Fourteen years elapsed between the first major American commitment of helicopters and pilots to Vietnam and the fall of Saigon. Fourteen years later, the Berlin Wall fell, and with it the Communist threat. You cannot tell me that withdrawing from Vietnam earlier would have changed that outcome.

The lesson here is not that some of us were right about Vietnam, and some of us were wrong. The lesson is that true patriots must defend the right of dissent, and hear the voices of dissenters, especially now, when our leaders have committed us to a pre-emptive "war of choice" that does not involve the defense of our people or our territory against aggressors. The patriotic obligation to speak out becomes even more urgent when politicians refuse to debate their policies or disclose the facts. And even more urgent when they seek, perversely, to use their own military blunders to deflect opposition and answer their own failures with more of the same. Presidents and politicians may worry about losing face, or votes, or legacy; it is time to think about young Americans and innocent civilians who are losing their lives.

This is not the first time in American history when patriotism has been distorted to deflect criticism and mislead the nation.

In the infancy of the Republic, in 1798, Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts to smear Thomas Jefferson and accuse him of treason. Newspapers were shut down, and their editors arrested, including Benjamin Franklin's grandson. No wonder Thomas Jefferson himself said: "Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism."

In the Mexican War, a young Congressman named Abraham Lincoln was driven from public life for raising doubts about official claims. And in World War I, America's values were degraded, not defended, when dissenters were jailed and the teaching of German was banned in public schools in some states. At that time it was apparently sounding German, not looking French, that got you in trouble. And it was panic and prejudice, not true patriotism, that brought the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II-a measure upheld by Supreme Court Justices who did not uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution. We are stronger today because no less a rock-ribbed conservative than Robert Taft - "Mr. Republican" himself - stood up and said at the height of the second World War that, "the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur."

Even during the Cold War-an undeclared war, and often more a war of nerves and diplomacy than of arms-even the mildest dissenters from official policy were sometimes silenced, blacklisted, or arrested, especially during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s. Indeed, it was only when Joseph McCarthy went through the gates of delirium and began accusing distinguished U.S. diplomats and military leaders of treason that the two parties in Washington and the news media realized the common stake they had in the right to dissent. They stood up to a bully and brought down McCarthyism's ugly and contrived appeals to a phony form of 100% Americanism.

Dissenters are not always right, but it is always a warning sign when they are accused of unpatriotic sentiments by politicians seeking a safe harbor from debate, from accountability, or from the simple truth.

Truth is the American bottom line. Truth above all is fundamental to who we are. It is no accident that among the first words of the first declaration of our national existence it is proclaimed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident…".

This hall and this Commonwealth have always been at the forefront of seeking out and living out the truth in the conduct of public life. Here Massachusetts defined human rights by adopting our own Bill of Rights; here we took a stand against slavery, for women's suffrage and civil rights for all Americans. The bedrock of America's greatest advances-the foundation of what we know today are defining values-was formed not by cheering on things as they were, but by taking them on and demanding change.

And here and now we must insist again that fidelity, honor, and love of country demand untrammeled debate and open dissent. At no time is that truer than in the midst of a war rooted in deceit and justified by continuing deception. For what is at stake here is nothing less than life itself. As the statesman Edmund Burke once said: "A conscientious man should be cautious how he dealt in blood."

Think about that now-in a new era that has brought old temptations and tested abiding principles.

America has always embraced the best traditions of civilized conduct toward combatants and non-combatants in war. But today our leaders hold themselves above the law-in the way they not only treat prisoners in Abu Ghraib, but assert unchecked power to spy on American citizens.

America has always rejected war as an instrument of raw power or naked self-interest. We fought when we had to in order to repel grave threats or advance freedom and self-determination in concert with like-minded people everywhere. But our current leadership, for all its rhetoric of freedom and democracy, behaves as though might does make right, enabling us to discard the alliances and institutions that served us so well in the past as nothing more now than impediments to the exercise of unilateral power.

America has always been stronger when we have not only proclaimed free speech, but listened to it. Yes, in every war, there have been those who demand suppression and silencing. And although no one is being jailed today for speaking out against the war in Iraq, the spirit of intolerance for dissent has risen steadily, and the habit of labeling dissenters as unpatriotic has become the common currency of the politicians currently running our country.

Dismissing dissent is not only wrong, but dangerous when America's leadership is unwilling to admit mistakes, unwilling to engage in honest discussion of the nation's direction, and unwilling to hold itself accountable for the consequences of decisions made without genuine disclosure, or genuine debate.

In recent weeks, a number of retired high-ranking military leaders, several of whom played key combat or planning roles in Afghanistan and Iraq, have come forward publicly to call for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And across the administration, from the president on down, we've heard these calls dismissed or even attacked as acts of disloyalty, or as threats to civilian control of the armed forces. We have even heard accusations that this dissent gives aid and comfort to the enemy. That is cheap and it is shameful. And once again we have seen personal attacks on the character of those who speak out. How dare those who never wore the uniform in battle attack those who wore it all their lives-and who, retired or not, did not resign their citizenship in order to serve their country.

The former top operating officer at the Pentagon, a Marine Lieutenant General, said "the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions--or bury the results." It is hard for a career military officer to speak those words. But at a time when the administration cannot let go of the myths and outright lies it broadcast in the rush to war in Iraq, those who know better must speak out.

At a time when mistake after mistake is being compounded by the very civilian leadership in the Pentagon that ignored expert military advice in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, those who understand the price being paid for each mistake by our troops, our country, and Iraq itself must be heard.

Once again we are imprisoned in a failed policy. And once again we are being told that admitting mistakes, not the mistakes themselves, will provide our enemies with an intolerable propaganda victory. Once again we are being told that we have no choice but to stay the course of a failed policy. At a time like this, those who seek to reclaim America's true character and strength must be respected.

The true defeatists today are not those who call for recognizing the facts on the ground in Iraq. The true defeatists are those who believe America is so weak that it must sacrifice its principles to the pursuit of illusory power.

The true pessimists today are not those who know that America can handle the truth about the Administration's boastful claim of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. The true pessimists are those who cannot accept that America's power and prestige depend on our credibility at home and around the world. The true pessimists are those who do not understand that fidelity to our principles is as critical to national security as our military power itself.

And the most dangerous defeatists, the most dispiriting pessimists, are those who invoke September 11th to argue that our traditional values are a luxury we can no longer afford.

Let's call it the Bush-Cheney Doctrine.

According to the Bush-Cheney Doctrine, alliances and international institutions are now disposable-and international institutions are dispensable or even despicable.

According to the Bush-Cheney Doctrine, we cannot foreswear the fool's gold of information secured by torturing prisoners or creating a shadow justice system with no rules and no transparency.

According to the Bush-Cheney Doctrine, unwarranted secrecy and illegal spying are now absolute imperatives of our national security.

According to the Bush-Cheney Doctrine, those who question the abuse of power question America itself.

According to the Bush-Cheney doctrine, an Administration should be willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the Iraq war, but unwilling to spend a few billion dollars to secure the American ports through which nuclear materials could make their way to terrorist cells.

According to the Bush-Cheney Doctrine, executive powers trump the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.

According to the Bush-Cheney Doctrine, smearing administration critics is not only permissible, but necessary-and revealing the identity of a CIA agent is an acceptable means to hide the truth.

The raw justification for abandoning so many American traditions exposes the real danger of the Bush-Cheney Doctrine. We all understand we are in a long struggle against jihadist extremism. It does represent a threat to our vital security interests and our values. Even the Bush-Cheney Administration acknowledges this is preeminently an ideological war, but that's why the Bush-Cheney Doctrine is so ill-equipped to fight and win it.

Our enemies argue that all our claims about advancing universal principles of human rights and mutual respect disguise a raw demand for American dominance. They gain every time we tolerate or cover up abuses of human rights in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, or among sectarian militias in Iraq, and especially when we defiantly disdain the rules of international law.

Our enemies argue that our invasion and occupation of Iraq reflect an obsession with oil supplies and commercial opportunities. They gain when our president and vice president, both former oil company executives, continue to pursue an oil-based energy strategy, and provide vast concessions in Iraq to their corporate friends.

And so there's the crowning irony: the Bush-Cheney Doctrine holds that many of our great traditions cannot be maintained; yet the Bush-Cheney policies, by abandoning those traditions, give Osama bin Laden and his associates exactly what they want and need to reinforce their hate-filled ideology of Islamic solidarity against the western world.

I understand fully that Iraq is not Vietnam, and the war on terrorism is not the Cold War. But in one very crucial respect, we are in the same place now as we were thirty five years ago. When I testified in 1971, I spoke out not just against the war itself, but the blindness and cynicism of political leaders who were sending brave young Americans to be killed or maimed for a mission the leaders themselves no longer believed in.

The War in Vietnam and the War in Iraq are now converging in too many tragic respects.

As in Vietnam, we engaged militarily in Iraq based on official deception.

As in Vietnam, we went into Iraq ostensibly to fight a larger global war under the misperception that the particular theater was just a sideshow, but we soon learned that the particular aspects of the place where we fought mattered more than anything else.

And as in Vietnam, we have stayed and fought and died even though it is time for us to go.

We are now in the third war in Iraq in as many years. The first was against Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction. The second was against terrorists whom, the administration said, it was better to fight over there than here. Now we find our troops in the middle of an escalating civil war.

Half of the service members listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall died after America's leaders knew our strategy would not work. It was immoral then and it would be immoral now to engage in the same delusion. We want democracy in Iraq, but Iraqis must want it as much as we do. Our valiant soldiers can't bring democracy to Iraq if Iraq's leaders are unwilling themselves to make the compromises that democracy requires.

As our generals have said, the war cannot be won militarily. It must be won politically. No American soldier should be sacrificed because Iraqi politicians refuse to resolve their ethnic and political differences.

Our call to action is clear. Iraqi leaders have responded only to deadlines-a deadline to transfer authority to a provisional government, and a deadline to hold three elections. It was the most intense 11th hour pressure that just pushed aside Prime Minister Jaafari and brought forward a more acceptable candidate. And it will demand deadline toughness to reign in Shiite militias Sunnis say are committing horrific acts of torture every day in Baghdad.

So we must set another deadline to extricate our troops and get Iraq up on its own two feet.

Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to deal with these intransigent issues and at last put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave.

If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end. Doing so will actually empower the new Iraqi leadership, put Iraqis in the position of running their own country and undermine support for the insurgency, which is fueled in large measure by the majority of Iraqis who want us to leave their country.

So now, as in 1971, we are engaged in another fight to live the truth and make our own government accountable. As in 1971, this is another moment when American patriotism demands more dissent and less complacency in the face of bland assurances from those in power.

We must insist now that patriotism does not belong to those who defend a President's position-it belongs to those who defend their country. Patriotism is not love of power; it is love of country. And sometimes loving your country demands you must tell the truth to power. This is one of those times.

Lives are on the line. Lives have been lost to bad decisions - not decisions that could have gone either way, but decisions that constitute basic negligence and incompetence. And lives continue to be lost because of stubbornness and pride.

We support the troops-the brave men and women who have always protected us and do so today-in part by honoring their service, and in part by making sure they have everything they need both in battle and after they have borne the burden of battle.

But I believe now as strongly and proudly as I did thirty-five years ago that the most important way to support the troops is to tell the truth, and to ensure we do not ask young Americans to die in a cause that falls short of the ideals of this country.

When we protested the war in Vietnam some would weigh in against us saying: "My country right or wrong." Our response was simple: "Yes, my country right or wrong. When right, keep it right and when wrong, make it right." And that's what we must do again today.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Power Behind The Throne

Image of Original Painting, "Dick," Used with Permission of the Artist, Mark Bryan

The Boston Globe, first to break the story about (& actually count) the number of statutes George Bush has decided he won't obey, since he is a Constitutional scholar, after all (see May 2 "Above the Law" blog entry below), has tenaciously stuck with it. Three cheers for the Globe!

The second installment reveals that it's not George at all, but (surprise!) Dick Cheney's omnipotent & ever-present hand deciding what laws the federal government will & will not obey.

Yesterday, the Globe reported:

"The office of Vice President Dick Cheney routinely reviews pieces of legislation before they reach the president's desk, searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on presidential power, according to former White House and Justice Department officials.

"The officials said Cheney's legal adviser and chief of staff, David Addington, is the Bush administration's leading architect of the 'signing statements' the president has appended to more than 750 laws. The statements assert the president's right to ignore the laws because they conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution. Er, make that Cheney/Addington's interpretation...

"The Bush-Cheney administration has used such statements to claim for itself the option of bypassing a ban on torture, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and numerous requirements that they provide certain information to Congress, among other laws.

The Globe additionally notes that "previous vice presidents have had neither the authority nor the interest in reviewing legislation. But Cheney has used his power over the administration's legal team to promote an expansive theory of presidential authority. Using signing statements, the administration has challenged more laws than all previous administrations combined.

"'Addington could look at whatever he wanted,' said one former White House lawyer
who helped prepare signing statements and who asked not to be named because he was describing internal deliberations. 'He had a roving commission to get involved in whatever interested him.'

"Knowing that Addington was likely to review the bills, other White House and Justice Department lawyers began vetting legislation with Addington's and Cheney's views in mind, according to another former lawyer in the Bush White House.

"All these lawyers, he said, were extremely careful to flag any provision that placed limits on presidential power.

"'You didn't want to miss something,' said the second former White House lawyer, who also asked not to be named.

We BET he asked not to be named. We can just hear Cheney now: "Your name is shit in this town. Go fuck yourself!" Dick has such a way with words.

America, did you realize you were actually electing Dick Cheney President?

Flower Leis & Lies

Morgue with bodies of Iraqi civilians thrown in heaps: from video provided to Time Magazine by Iraqi journalism student

Well, not only were we not greeted with flowers & a big welcome as "liberators" as the Bush Ministry of Disinformation once promised Iraqis would, we've gotten to the point where our forces are allegedly slaughtering civilians, & as with everything in this Administration generally & anything & everything to do with the glorious "war on terror" specifically, when the facts don't support the propaganda, they're covered up.

So it was with the Marine debacle of murder-lust, venting their rage & frustration on civilians, including women & children, last November (before I began this blog, so bear with me as we catch up.) Click on the title bar to read the article.

The simplest way to state it: anybody here remember My Lai in Vietnam? If 1968 was before your time--I was just a Demon Princessette myself at the time--I'll refresh us all thus.

We realize that Bush, Cheney & the rest of the hawk brigade don't remember it, because, hey--if you're wealthy & privileged, you never have to fight--although you can grow up to be assholes who send others off to do your dirty work for you.

And, yes, folks, these are real contemporaneous photos, not reenactments. (With the possible exception of the first, the provenance of which I can't document.) Seems that then, as now, young men under ferocious stress can't resist documenting their handiwork, and the rest were taken by press photographers after the fact.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gonzales Unbound

Photo: The Washington Post

I have to admit that I have never been able to take Alberto Gonzales seriously, & I daresay I'm not the only one. Maybe, just maybe, that's what's behind the startling revelations Friday that: (1) he apparently was playing at donning the King's mantle as the righteous decider when the King wasn't looking, and (2) threatened to resign if the King takes away his new-found, & very scary, self-appointed authority to conduct raids on Congressional offices.

Alberto just strikes me as a guy who got where he is by playing the mealy-mouthed humble toady & yes-man, by pretending to deny himself in the name of a greater cause by kowtowing to those in power, making a career of flattering the dim bulbed-George, who famously values loyalty above all else.

In short, a man who has made slavish obsequiousness his primary career strategy?

But--surprise!--'Berto bursts out of his box & makes a bold power play when it seems that George was about to reverse 'Berto's magnificent coup in conducting an after-hours raid on a misbehaving Democrat's Congressional offices--by the way, a very daring & audacious power play &, to all appearances, at least, a trampling of the Constitutional separation of powers principle that's never before been breached in this country's history.

My guess is that while the fearless leader was looking the other way (famously a "delegator" in true business-school style) Alberto got really full of himself & decided to arrogate unto himself "Chief Cop" status & supreme investigative authority.

A clean-up Congress crusade would be just the thing to show disenfranchised & disapproving voters that the Republicans are indeed capable of wiping out the corruption for which this Administration is sure to be remembered. What better way to show America that all this "unitary executive" power is a good thing than by addressing those problems in a high-handed, authoritarian way? They all thought it'd be safe to target a corrupt Democrat (who, by the way, I'm not defending), but a major wrench got thrown into the works when Bush loyalist & Speaker of the Republican-controlled House Hastert objected to the overreaching assertion of authority.

By the way, in case you missed it, a rumor promptly surfaced, reported by ABC News, aimed to chill Hastert's threats (we daresay) that Hastert himself was the next target, having to do with the filler-of-GOP- campaign-coffers Jack Ambramoff. That little tempest died down in short order, but not before, we imagine, thoroughly pissing off Mr. Hastert.

Hastert met with Bush about returning the Democrat's files, & when it seemed that Bush just might cave, Alberto, along with several others in his office, tossed hissy fits, threatening to resign in outrage, we suppose.

Bush's temporary solution was not to return the fruits of the seizure, but to place them under seal until Congress, 'Berto & the FBI can work out their differences, and, incidentally, the American public can be distracted from a matter that, in any event, taxes their wee brains & only makes them more impatient with the few remaining non-'Berto lawyers who actually are concerned about how things are done & remain convinced that "results" don't matter if the procedures by which they were effected is rotten to the core.

Begging the question, in my opinion, who exactly has the right to be self-righteously outraged here: Alberto Gonzales & his camp of power-blind fools, or the voters?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

America's War On Terror As Seen By The Rest

Another cool & succinct video from a Brit's point of view. Maybe they have a point? Click on the title bar to see it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bush Fails Presidential Personality Test

Demon Princess knows what her readers have come to expect. Along with trenchant, straight-talking political news analysis (usually depressing, but hey, I can't help that), some levity, some fun: funny songs, funny videos ("Bomb Iran"), funny pranks (Dick Cheney print-out target).

I try my best.

In that today's posts were mostly bad news: the George Juggernaut successfully continues to crusade against your civil liberties, & the dissemination of any form of information that would impair its continued ability to lock you up, tie you down, & fuck you relentlessly (& not in a good way), I thought I'd add something amusing--a spoonful of sugar, if you will, in the form of a interesting tidbit about George's personality as compared to other presidents. You'll need it as well when I tell you that Hayden was confirmed today.

Well, I think it's funny, but I do have a dark & perverse sense of humor.

This from a favorite columnist for FindLaw, John Dean. Yes, THAT John Dean, formerly counsel to the Nixon administration until he resigned in disgust. Let's just say he's an expert in bad presidents behaving badly, which makes it all the mo' bettah. In April he wrote:

"President George W. Bush's presidency is a disaster--one that's still unfolding. In a mid-2004 column, I argued that, at that point, Bush had already demonstrated that he possessed the least attractive and most troubling traits among those that political scientist James Dave Barber has cataloged in his study of Presidents' personality types.

"Now, in early 2006, Bush has continued to sink lower in his public approval ratings, as the result of a series of events that have sapped the public of confidence in its President, and for which he is directly responsible. This Administration goes through scandals like a compulsive eater does candy bars; the wrapper is barely off one before we've moved on to another.

"Currently, President Bush is busy reshuffling his staff to reinvigorate his presidency. But if Dr. Barber's work holds true for this president--as it has for others--the hiring and firing of subordinates will not touch the core problems that have plagued Bush's tenure.

"That is because the problems belong to the President - not his staff. And they are problems that go to character, not to strategy.

..."Barber, after analyzing all the presidents through Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, found repeating patterns of common elements relating to character, worldview, style, approach to dealing with power, and expectations. Based on these findings, Barber concluded that presidents fell into clusters of characteristics.

"He also found in this data Presidential work patterns which he described as 'active' or 'passive.' For example, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were highly active; Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan were highly passive.

"Barber further analyzed the emotional relationship of presidents toward their work--dividing them into presidents who found their work an emotionally satisfying experience, and thus 'positive,' and those who found the job emotionally taxing, and thus 'negative.' Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan, for example, were presidents who enjoyed their work; Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon had 'negative' feeling toward it.

"From these measurements, Barber developed four repeating categories into which he was able to place all presidents: those like FDR who actively pursued their work and had positive feelings about their efforts (active/positives); those like Nixon who actively pursued the job but had negative feelings about it (active/negatives); those like Reagan who were passive about the job but enjoyed it (passive/positives); and, finally, those who followed the pattern of Thomas Jefferson--who both was passive and did not enjoy the work (passive/negatives).

"Interestingly, the category of presidents who proved troublesome under Barber's analysis is that of those who turned out to be active/negatives. Barber placed Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in this class.

"...the evidence is overwhelming that George W. Bush is another active/negative president, and the past two years, since making that initial finding, have only further confirmed my conclusion.

"Because active/negative presidencies do not end well, it is instructive to look at where Bush's may be heading.

"Recent events provide an especially good illustration of Bush's fateful-perhaps fatal-approach. Six generals who have served under Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have called for his resignation-making a strong substantive case as to why he should resign. And they are not alone: Editorialists have also persuasively attacked Rumsfeld on the merits.

"Yet Bush's defense of Rumsfeld was entirely substance-free. Bush simply told reporters in the Rose Garden that Rumsfeld would stay because 'I'm the decider and I decide what's best.' He sounded much like a parent telling children how things would be: 'I'm the Daddy, that's why.'

"This, indeed, is how Bush sees the presidency, and it is a point of view that will cause him trouble.

"Bush has never understood what presidential scholar Richard Neustadt discovered many years ago: In a democracy, the only real power the presidency commands is the power to persuade. Presidents have their bully pulpit, and the full attention of the news media, 24/7. In addition, they are given the benefit of the doubt when they go to the American people to ask for their support. But as effective as this power can be, it can be equally devastating when it languishes unused--or when a president pretends not to need to use it, as Bush has done.

"Apparently, Bush does not realize that to lead he must continually renew his approval with the public. He is not, as he thinks, the decider. The public is the decider.

"Bush is following the classic mistaken pattern of active/negative presidents: As Barber explained, they issue order after order, without public support, until they eventually dissipate the real powers they have--until 'nothing [is] left but the shell of the office.' Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all followed this pattern.

"Active/negative presidents are risk-takers. (Consider the colossal risk Bush took with the Iraq invasion). And once they have taken a position, they lock on to failed courses of action and insist on rigidly holding steady, even when new facts indicate that flexibility is required.

"The source of their rigidity is that they've become emotionally attached to their own positions; to change them, in their minds, would be to change their personal identity, their very essence. That, they are not willing to do at any cost.

"Wilson rode his unpopular League of Nations proposal to his ruin; Hoover refused to let the federal government intervene to prevent or lessen a fiscal depression; Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam while misleading Americans (thereby making himself unelectable); and Nixon went down with his bogus defense of Watergate.

"George Bush has misled America into a preemptive war in Iraq; he is using terrorism to claim that as Commander-in-Chief, he is above the law; and he refuses to acknowledge that American law prohibits torturing our enemies and warrantlessly wiretapping Americans.

"Americans, increasingly, are not buying his justifications for any of these positions. Yet Bush has made no effort to persuade them that his actions are sound, prudent or productive; rather, he takes offense when anyone questions his unilateral powers. He responds as if personally insulted.

"And this may be his only option: with Bush's limited rhetorical skills, it would be all but impossible for him to persuade any others than his most loyal supporters of his positions. His single salient virtue as a campaigner was the ability to stay on-message. He effectively (though inaccurately) portrayed both Al Gore and John Kerry as wafflers, whereas he found consistency in (over)simplifying the issues. But now, he cannot absorb the fact that his message is not one Americans want to hear [and] that he is being questioned, severely...staying on-message will be his downfall.

"Other Presidents-other leaders, generally-have been able to listen to critics relatively impassively, believing that there is nothing personal about a debate about how best to achieve shared goals. Some have even turned detractors into supporters-something it's virtually impossible to imagine Bush doing. But not active/negative presidents. And not likely Bush.

"Active/negative presidents--Barber tells us, and history shows--are driven, persistent, and emphatic. Barber says their pervasive feeling is 'I must.'

"Barber's collective portrait of Wilson, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon now fits George W. Bush too: 'He sees himself as having begun with a high purpose, but as being continually forced to compromise in order to achieve the end state he vaguely envisions,' Barber writes. He continues, 'Battered from all sides . . . he begins to feel his integrity slipping away from him . . . [and] after enduring all this for longer than any mortal should, he rebels and stands his ground. Masking his decision in whatever rhetoric is necessary, he rides the tiger to the end.'

"Bush's policies have incorporated risk from the outset. A few examples make that clear.

"He took the risk that he could capture Osama bin Laden with a small group of CIA operatives and U.S. Army Special forces-and he failed. He took the risk that he could invade Iraq and control the country with fewer troops and less planning than the generals and State Department told him would be possible-and he failed. He took the risk that he could ignore the criminal laws prohibiting torture and the warrantless wiretapping of Americans without being caught-he failed. And he's taken the risk that he can cut the taxes for the rich and run up huge financial deficits without hurting the economy. This, too, will fail, though the consequences will likely fall on future presidents and generations who must repay Bush's debts.

"What We Can Expect From Bush in the Future, Based on Barber's Model"

"As the 2006 midterm elections approach, this active/negative president can be expected to take further risks. If anyone doubts that Bush, Cheney, Rove and their confidants are planning an 'October Surprise' to prevent the Republicans from losing control of Congress, then he or she has not been observing this presidency very closely.

"What will that surprise be? It's the most closely held secret of the Administration.

"How risky will it be? Bush is a whatever-it-takes risk-taker, the consequences be damned.

"One possibility is that Dick Cheney will resign as Vice President for 'health reasons,' and become a senior counselor to the president. And Bush will name a new vice president--a choice geared to increase his popularity, as well as someone electable in 2008. It would give his sinking administration a new face, and new life.

"The immensely popular Rudy Giuliani seems the most likely pick, if Giuliani is willing. (A better option for Giuliani might be to hold off, and tacitly position himself as the Republican anti-Bush in 2008.) But Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Bill Frist, and more are possibilities.

"Bush's second and more likely, surprise could be in the area of national security: if he could achieve a Great Powers coalition (of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and so on) presenting a united-front 'no nukes' stance to Iran, it would be his first diplomatic coup and a political triumph.

Seems highly unlikely, as Bush treated the Chinese leader very poorly, & Cheney out-&-out pissed off the Russians, both since this column was written, & as they're both afflicted with the "real man's" inability to apologize, that's that.

"But more likely, Bush may mount a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities- hoping to rev up his popularity. (It's a risky strategy: A unilateral hit on Iran may both trigger devastating Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq, with high death tolls, and increase international dislike of Bush for his bypass of the U.N. But as an active/negative President, Bush hardly shies away from risk.) Another rabbit-out-of-the-hat possibility: the capture of Osama bin Laden.

"If there is no 'October Surprise,' I would be shocked. And if it is not a high-risk undertaking, it would be a first. Without such a gambit, and the public always falls for them, Bush is going to lose control of Congress. Should that happen, his presidency will have effectively ended, and he will spend the last two years of it defending all the mistakes he has made during the first six, and covering up the errors of his ways.

"There is, however, the possibility of another terrorist attack, and if one occurred, Americans would again rally around the president - wrongly so, since this is a presidency that lives on fear-mongering about terror, but does little to truly address it. The possibility that we might both suffer an attack, and see a boost to Bush come from it, is truly a terrifying thought."

Well, I admitted I had a perverse sense of humor, didn't I? In that a lot of people already think 911 was an inside job (apparently there's a movie positing that scenario) this idea won't come as much of a surprise. I don't hold with that conspiracy theory, BTW, although it's impossible not to note that 911 certainly made George's career, & he's attempted to get all the mileage he can out of it.

Whippin' Congressional Behinds & Keepin' 'Em In Line: The Unimatary Excessutive

Just in case Congress hasn't gotten the message yet--who's in charge, that is-- over the weekend the FBI raided the Congressional offices of a Louisiana Democrat at the Justice Department's behest.

Nobody's likely to come to the Democrat's defense on the merits, because it certainly seems that he's been doing wrong (as politicians in Louisiana are notoriously wont to do), but that's really beside the point. The point is: the arrogation of executive branch to itself power over Congress, & woe to those who fall out of favor, or were already on the wrong side as far as Bush & Gonzales are concerned.

According to indie press group Consortium News,

"Over the past weekend, George W. Bush and his Justice Department signaled to the U.S. press corps and Congress that they are not beyond the reach of Bush’s 'plenary'–or unlimited-powers as Commander in Chief or his authority as 'unitary executive,' deciding what laws to enforce and how.

"On May 21, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told ABC’s “This Week” that news organizations like the New York Times could be prosecuted for publishing classified information about the 'war on terror,' such as the disclosure of Bush’s secret program of warrantless wiretapping inside the United States.

"The night before that TV interview, the FBI conducted an extraordinary raid on the Capitol Hill office of Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana as part of a bribery investigation, raising bipartisan concerns about the Executive Branch trampling congressional rights and intimidating members of Congress."

Even House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Bush loyalist, got the message: "The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case,” he said.

"Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night crossing this Separations of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by members of Congress,” Hastert said. [Washington Post, May 23, 2006]

Consortium News goes on to tie the disparate bits of info together & connect the dots:

"The implicit chilling effect on congressmen and senators, who might otherwise consider holding Bush accountable for his own abuses, could not be missed.

"Gonzales delivered a similar warning to the news media, that the administration is dusting off the 89-year-old Espionage Act as a legal justification for prosecuting journalists and their sources when stories appear citing classified information, such as the New York Times article about Bush authorizing wiretaps of some American communications without court warrants."

Gonzales played coy on the topic of prosecuting journalists over the publication of leaks of classified information, though the story broke last week that one of the fringe benefits of amassing a huge database of public citizens' phone records (including calls made by them) is the fact that those reporters' calls can be, & probably will, according to Gonzales, tracked to determine the government sources of the leaks.

“'We are engaged now in an investigation about what would be the appropriate course of action in that particular case, so I’m not going to talk about it specifically,' Gonzales said. But he cited 'some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility.'

"Though Gonzales did not mention a specific statute, he apparently was referring to the Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917 during World War I and bars an unauthorized person from receiving defense information and passing it on to others."

All guesses are that the rarely-used Espionage Act, historically applied to spies for other nations--not American journalists trying to do their part to disseminate information that ELECTED American leaders find inconvenient & would rather not be made public--will likely be resurrected as a novel legal basis for those who wish to spill vital though inconvenient truths about this administration.

Demon Princess wonders what Arlen Specter must be thinking now, what with his recent caving in to his fellow elephants on the matter of making warrantless spying legal--after the fact. Are they eunuchs, one & all?


"The administration’s position seems to be that if Bush classifies his abrogation of laws and the Constitution–as in warrantless spying on Americans and torturing detainees–he can then have his Justice Department investigate, prosecute and jail the whistleblowers who expose these controversies.

"As part of this trend, the Bush administration also has moved to reclassify historical information previously released and stored at the National Archives. Plus, his CIA has clamped down on what former CIA officials can write and the FBI is even trying to seize old documents from the estate of the late investigative reporter Jack Anderson.

"In what could be almost an enunciation of an Official Secrets Act, FBI spokesman Bill Carter declared about the Anderson case, “no private person may possess classified documents that were illegally provided to them.”
[NYT, April 30, 2006]

"While that prohibition may seem reasonable to some Americans, the clinker is that Bush gets to decide what is secret and what isn’t, which means that he can make selective disclosures of sensitive information to help himself and punish the exposure of innocuous secrets that might embarrass him.

"In the ABC-TV interview, Gonzales made clear that the administration believes government secrecy supercedes the First Amendment.

“'I understand very much the role that the press plays in our society, the protection under the First Amendment we want to promote and respect,' Gonzales said, 'but it can’t be the case that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity. … We have an obligation to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity.'”

And, by definition, the criminals are not WE. L'etat, c'est moi.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Paradise Lost

Cool animated video by Diesel (click on title bar): because it's evocative, & very, very true. Suck-eeng haoles! Can't leave anything alone.

Left to right: Madame Pele's Artwork, Big Island; Kauai Valley; Maui Moon

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Riot in Cell Block 4


My goodness, how inconvenient!

Just as the UN finds that Cuba's Gitmo is a vacationer's paradise of water boarding & anti-anxiety meds, the uppity inmates, even those on their best behavior, & so allowed to live in relative comfort, start to try to commit suicide & attack the guards!

What excuses will Rummy pull out of his capacious ass now?

The BBC, as usual, does the best job of reporting on the way-fucked-up mess, thoughtfully including both the UN's report & questions-&-answers on the quaint & archaic Geneva Conventions. (<>

The BBC seems to think that Americans have forgotten all about these things, & "The Beeb" wouldn't be far wrong about that.

According to the New York Times, U.S. military officials complained that the inmates just did it to make them look bad (what's wrong with indefinite detention without charges, after all?) and the United States blamed the liberal media--er, the UN Committee for having rushed to judgment & having its report already written, the moral equivalent of fixing the facts around a pre-determined policy.

Uh, sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Demon Princess wishes they'd make a greater effort to come up with fresher, more entertaining exuses. They're boring me.

"Military officials said the prisoners' actions were apparently aimed at raising political pressure on the Bush administration over its detention policy. Pressure was also ratcheted up by the report issued in Geneva by the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

"After a lengthy review of United States policies, the committee dismissed several basic legal arguments the Bush administration had offered to justify such practices as the incommunicado detention of prisoners overseas and the secret transfer, or 'rendition,' of suspects for interrogation by other governments.

"The panel, which monitors compliance with the Convention Against Torture, the main international treaty that bans such conduct, also concluded that the Central Intelligence Agency's widely reported practice of holding detainees in secret prisons abroad constitutes a clear violation of the convention.

"The United States 'should investigate and disclose the existence of any such facilities and the authority under which they have been established,' the committee said in its 11-page preliminary report. It also called on the Bush administration to 'publicly condemn any policy of secret detention.'

"The recommendations of the committee are not legally binding. But they are likely to be more influential than previous international reviews, in part because the Bush administration clearly took the process seriously, sending a delegation of more than two dozen officials to Geneva earlier this month to present its legal case.

"On Friday, some of those administration officials responded to the report by defending the United States' treatment of suspected terrorists, and criticizing the committee's evaluation as flawed and superficial.

"'I think the committee was guided more by popular concerns than by a strict reading of the convention itself,' said the State Department's legal adviser, John B. Bellinger III, who led the delegation.

"'It obviously causes us to question whether our extensive presentation was worth it,' Mr. Bellinger said.

Apparently the UN Committee does not yet recognize that all laws, even international ones, are subject now to revision by U.S. Presidential fiat.

How dare they question us?! Even after we deigned to take their silly Committee & complaints seriously?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tail Continues To Wag Dog

Poster: Micah Wright/Propaganda Remix Project

The GOP believes, as we all well know by now, that the best defense is a good offense, & the fact that they must have been practicing their pitches since Bush first named Hayden his nominee was evident today in his confirmation hearings. We have every reason to suspect that the reason Bush wants Hayden to lead the CIA is his previous stellar performance as the architect of the NSA's secret spying programs, both domestic & international. Which shows, indeed, that he deserves what is really a promotion.

And, sadly, he's likely to get it, as even the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee acknowledged today.

The event did have its amusing highlights. The opening salvo was fired by the ever-helpful Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas (R), who rose to the occasion by histrionically overplaying the fear card & setting the tone, even before the hearings began, by castigating the press for divulging national security secrets, finishing off with that tired old admonishment that civil liberties don't matter if you're dead.

It's an old debating ploy, useful, when it succeeds, for cutting off all truly meaningful debate, if that's your aim. It's a false dichotomy, a simple-minded ploy. Roberts pretends there are only two choices for Americans: civil liberties, or death.

I think y'all will agree that, what with Roberts testifying for Hayden, as below, the need for Hayden to testify for himself was pretty well obviated. Americans have exactly two choices. You're either with us or for the terrorists. Trust us, there is no other option. Democrats have let themselves be persuaded that everyone in the country thinks that way. Life without civil liberties, or death. End of story. Obey! Fait accompli.

One step closer to a totalitarian state. What irks me, especially, is Roberts's assertion that the clandestine spying has prevented further attacks. It's just not this administration's M.O. to be silent about such things. The vaunted "war on terror" is as much about propaganda as actual successes. I'm certain that if that was true, we'd have heard about it by now. After all, they could be as mysterious about the details regarding how they prevented it as they're being now: "It's a state secret."

Hayden, a man famously ignorant, by now, of the requirements of the Fourth Amendment
prohibition against "unreasonable search & seizure" & the fact that the Amendment requires "probable cause" be shown (usually to a court) before a search warrant will issue, said with confidence & certainty that all NSA spying programs carried out under his watch have been legal. Yep, I'm personally convinced.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon may have made the General sweat a bit over skepticism as to his credibility, according to the LA Times: Wyden "accused the four-star general of saying one thing in public and another in private. Wyden said that on six occasions, Hayden had assured Congress that the surveillance program only extended to intercepts of international calls.

"'With all due respect, general, I can't tell now if you've simply said one thing and done another, or whether you have just parsed your words like a lawyer to intentionally mislead the public,' said Wyden. 'Well, senator, you're going to have to make a judgment on my character,' the general responded.'I was as full and open as I possibly could be.'

"Hayden would not deny or confirm recent reports that the NSA has compiled phone record patterns on millions of Americans. He did acknowledge a wider role in deciding to target domestic e-mails and phone traffic than previously known, suggesting that CIA Director George Tenet asked him to explore what more might be done to guard against another terrorist attack and to ensure better intelligence reporting. 'We just took too much for granted," Hayden said of the intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war. 'We didn't challenge our basic assumptions.'

"But he defended the intelligence agencies—and faulted the critics who have made intelligence-gathering 'the football in American political discourse' since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks..."

All in all, it was pretty disappointing. Hayden reliably played the "I can't get into that without divulging state secrets," card, just as Bush taught him, or maybe Bush was the student.

For your reading enjoyment & edification, according to transcripts of today's hearing, this is the full rendering of Roberts's opening maudlin diatribe which has so moved me.

ROBERTS: ..."Hayden is no stranger to this committee and he needs no introduction to our members. In other words, we know him well.

"So, General, the committee welcomes you and your guests and your family. Your nomination comes before the Senate at a crucial and important time, because the Central Intelligence Agency continues to need strong leadership in order to protect our national security.

"Now, the public debate in regard to your nomination has been dominated not by your record as a manager or your qualifications, the needs of the CIA, its strengths and its weaknesses and its future, but rather the debate is focused almost entirely on the presidentially authorized activities of another agency.

"The National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program became public last December as a result of a grave breach of national security. A leak allowed our enemy to know that the president had authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people reasonably believed to be linked to Al Qaida--people who have and who are still trying to kill Americans.

"At that time, largely uninformed critics rushed to judgment, decrying the program as illegal and unconstitutional. I think in the interim that cooler heads have prevailed and there is now a consensus that we should not only be listening to Al Qaida communications, but we must be listening to them.

"Last week, in the wake of another story, those same critics reprised their winter performance, again making denouncements and condemnations on subjects about which they know little or nothing.

"Inevitably, all of the media--all of America, for that matter--looks to us for comment. More often than not, although very frustrating, we are literally unable to say anything.

"Anyone who has ever served on a congressional Intelligence Committee has struggled with the issue of secrecy. How do we as the elected representatives of the people assure the public that we are fully informed and conducting vigorous oversight of our nation's intelligence activities when we can say virtually nothing about what we know, even though we would like to set the record straight?

"The result of this conundrum is that we quite often get accused of simply not doing our job. Such accusations by their very nature are uninformed and therefore are not accurate.

"Unfortunately, I have found that ignorance is no impediment for some critics. I fully understand the desire to know; I'm a former newspaper man. But I also appreciate the absolute necessity of keeping some things secret in the interest of national security.

"In this regard, I am truly concerned. This business of continued leaks, making it possible for terrorists to understand classified information about how we are preventing their attacks, is endangering our country and intelligence sources and methods and lives.

"I believe the great majority of American people understand this. I think they get it. Al Qaida is at war with the United States. Terrorists are planning attacks as we hold this hearing.
"Through very effective and highly classified intelligence efforts, we have stopped attacks.
The fact we have not had another tragedy like 9/11 is no accident. But today
in Congress and throughout Washington, leaks and misinformation are endangering our efforts. Bin Laden, Zarqawi and their followers must be rejoicing.

"We cannot get to the point where we are unilaterally disarming ourselves in the war against terror. If we do, it will be game, set, match Al Qaida. Remember Khobar Towers, Beirut, the USS Cole, embassy attacks, the two attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, 9/11, and attacks worldwide and more to come, if our efforts are compromised.

"I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead.

"I have been to the NSA and seen how the terrorist surveillance works. I have never seen a program more tightly run and closely scrutinized.

"When people asked on September 12th whether we were doing everything in our power to prevent another attack, the answer was no. Now, we are, and we need to keep doing it. I have often said and I will say again, I trust the American people. They do have a right to know. I do not trust our enemies. Unfortunately, there is no way to inform the public without informing our adversaries.

"So how can we ensure that our government is not acting outside the law if we cannot publicly scrutinize its actions? This institution's answer to that question was the creation of this committee.

"We are the people's representatives. We have been entrusted with a solemn responsibility. And each member of this committee takes it very seriously. We may have differences, but we take our obligations and responsibilities very seriously.

"Because intelligence activities are necessarily secret, the conduct of our oversight is also secret. In my humble opinion, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to telegraph to our adversaries how we intend to learn about their capabilities and their intentions.

"Oversight of the terrorist surveillance program is necessarily conducted behind closed doors. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been and will continue to exercise its oversight and responsibilities related to the NSA.

"Yesterday the entire committee joined our continuing oversight of the program. Each member will have the opportunity to reach their own conclusions. I have no doubt that they will. I encourage that.

"As we continue our work, I want to assure the American people and all of my Senate colleagues, we will do our duty. Now, with that said, I want to applaud the brave men and women of the intelligence community who are implementing this program. Their single focus and one and only motivation is preventing the next attack. They are not interested in the private affairs of their fellow Americans. They are interested in one thing, finding and stopping terrorists. America can be proud of them. They deserve our support and our thanks, not our suspicion.

"Since I became chairman of this committee, I have been privy to the details of this effective capability that has stopped, and if allowed to continue will again stop, terrorist attacks.
"Now, while I cannot discuss the program's details, I can say without hesitation, I believe that the NSA terrorist surveillance program is legal, it is necessary, and without it the American people would be less safe. Of this I have no doubt.

"Finally, I want to remind the public that this open hearing is only part of the confirmation process. When this hearing ends, this open hearing, and the cameras are turned off, the members of this committee will continue to meet with General Hayden.
It would be inaccurate to state, as one national news editorial did today, that due to the classified constraints, members will be limited in how much they can say at this confirmation proceeding.

"In the following closed door and secure session, the elected representatives on this committee will have the ability to pursue additional lines of questioning and will be able to fully explore any topic that they wish. It is my hope that during this open hearing we can at least focus to some degree on General Hayden's record as a manager, his qualifications as a leader, and the future of the Central Intelligence Agency; issues that should be equally as important to the public."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

He's Makin' A List, Checkin' It Twice

Image: Original Painting, "Rummy's Fiesta," Used by Permission of the Artist, Mark Bryan

Rummy-clause is comin' to town, or something like that. And he can't count that good. Be willing to overlook the fact that some some names seem to be missing.

News today that, after a threat to sue made by the Associated Press over a Freedom of Information Act that the Department of Defense just lost, or ignored, and years since "Gitmo" first started warehousing & mistreating prisoners, the Department of Defense has finally released a full list of the names of prisoners held there.

Excepting some.

"After years of secrecy, the Pentagon has disclosed the names, ages and home countries of everyone held at the isolated Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba as a suspect in the U.S.-led war on terror.

"None of the most notorious terrorist suspects was included in the list, raising questions about their whereabouts.

"The U.S. says it has held 759 males, ranging from teenagers to older than 70, from more than 40 countries, according to the list released late Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Associated Press.
"While the list includes the 10 detainees who have been charged with crimes, it doesn't include alleged Sept. 11 plotters Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh — whose whereabouts remain secret.
"Lawyers and other advocates will be able to use the new list to track who has been held at the base and find former detainees to help investigate allegations of abuse, Patel said.

"The Pentagon released the list while denying the AP access to other information about the detainees, most of whom were held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

"The handover marks the first time that everyone who has been held by the Defense Department at Guantanamo Bay has been identified, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesman.

"Last month, the military released the names of 558 detainees, also in response to an AP lawsuit.

"The names of all detainees held at Guantanamo Bay were previously kept classified because of 'the security operation as well as the intelligence operation that takes place down there,' said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Ya, sure, you betcha, torture can legitimately be termed a "security operation."

"The new list, when compared to the one from April, shows the Pentagon released many Afghans who were swept up early in the war. More than 90 were transferred out of Guantanamo between January 2002 and the summer of 2004.

"Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, believes U.S. officials are trying to deflect international criticism of Guantanamo Bay by gradually moving out detainees.

"'They are trying to slowly let the air out of the tires as a way to make the problem go away,'" Romero said.

"The list released Monday also does not specify what has happened to former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

[While] the fate of some [British nationals] is documented...transferred back to Britain...what has become of dozens of other detainees was not known.

"Some could be free. Others could be in secret U.S. detention centers, or in torture cells of prisons in other countries.

"The AP sought the names, photos and other details of current and former Guantanamo Bay detainees through a Freedom of Information Act request on Jan. 18. After the Pentagon didn't respond, the AP filed a lawsuit in March seeking compliance.

"The Pentagon later agreed to turn over much of the information. Motions are pending in court for additional information, including the height and weight of the roughly 480 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay to assist with news coverage of a hunger strike.

"The Pentagon refused to release that information, arguing that medical records are private. The military said the hunger strike began in August and has involved a maximum of 131 detainees.
"The U.S. military says about 480 detainees are now at Guantanamo Bay. About 275 have been released or transferred."
* * *

Meanwhile, across the pond, the BBC reports that British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, apparently disagreeing with Prime Minister Blair's characterization & trivialization of Guantanamo as an "anamoly," called for the facility to be shut down. "[Goldsmith] is reported to have serious doubts about whether the indefinite detention of 'enemy combatants' is legal or fair." In a speech in London, he said the camp had become a symbol of injustice and its existence was 'unacceptable'."

In response, U.S. "State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US did not want to release people who might 'end up on the battlefield' or commit terrorist acts."

By the way, for anybody who's interested, this is the legal equivalent of imprisoning a person before he commits a crime, because he might.

If the prisoners have indeed already committed a crime, let them be charged & tried. Indefinite detention is pure bullshit & recognized as such in every legal system of the civilized world. Sometimes I just can't believe these statements are coming from American mouths.

"[I]n the strongest worded condemnation yet from a British government minister, Lord Goldsmith said: 'The existence of Guantanamo remains unacceptable.'

"'It is time, in my view, that it should close. Not only would it, in my personal opinion, be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many--right or wrong--of injustice.

"'The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol.'"
* * *

You won't be surprised, of course, to learn that our Administration told the Brits--our supporters in the Iraq invasion--to "sod off."

Or that the UN has also, late last week, denounced us for our abusive treatment of detainees in Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and God knows where else.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday's Random Musings: Auto Beasts

Source: Outraged Comics

I kinda sailed over this info last weekend, so I can't tell you where I saw it anymore, but I cheered when I read the news: GM is going to stop making Hummers, the urban assault vehicle of urban assault vehicles, pinnacle of superfluous excess in American consumerism, which is itself the pinnacle of world consumerism. Which is, when you think about it, quite a statement.

The monstrous beasts--I won't miss 'em. They're god-awful ugly on top of it all.

Despite the fact that they get less than 10 miles per gallon, the fact that they're no longer being made will render them instantly collectible, but ah well, what can you do? At least there will be fewer of them to try to see beyond & over & through at dangerous intersections for those like me, who still drive their Honda normal-sized cars.

Playing in my mind right now is that really funny commercial for Volkswagen (never mind the ties with all the other German automakers who are in on the SUV action, let's just play along for now). Two people in an "ego-less" Volkswagen drive down a street where the other drivers are all shouting through megaphones what they intend to broadcast to the world by their choice of wheels. (Marketing has become so avant-garde.)

Shouts one man: "Compensating for my personal shortcomings!"

Segue to Washington, DC, where the royalty & their staff live. The news is dismal for us normal-sized car owners. According to a piece in Newsweek:

"With all the histrionics about rising gas prices coming out of Washington these days, SUVs must be an endangered species in our nation's capital, right?

"Well, not exactly. At Capitol Cadillac, just inside the Beltway, SUVs are flying off the lot. Last week, former White House chief of staff Andy Card dropped by to pick up a new SRX, Caddy's midsize SUV, says dealer Daniel Jobe.

"But Jobe's hottest seller, by far, is the newly redesigned chrome-encrusted Cadillac Escalade, an incredible hulk that gets 13mpg in the city. 'My biggest problem is not gas prices,' says Jobe, "it's getting enough of these trucks.'"

Guess that's what it means to be privileged & Republican these days. No more the era of Pat Nixon's sensible & modest "good cloth coat."

This is the age of unabashed GOP bling-bling.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New Poll Shows Miraculous Recovery of Public IQ

My faith has been restored, & I plan to get a good night's rest.

Accounting for the differences in poll results, perhaps, are allegations that the person responsible for the Washington Post poll has a known very conservative bias, not to mention that he didn't have a whole lot of time to be thorough, since the results of his poll were printed less than 24 hours of the first USA Today news report informing us that our government has been covertly, and without any semblance of a principled legal rationale, gathering domestic phone records on Americans since shortly after 911. I won't even address the fact that we've been told umpteen times that the only surveillance so far has been of communications overseas.

But anyway. Seems that the particular pollster is known to have an extremely conservative bias. Or so it's rumored in the blogospere. Maybe he just polled his extended family, who knows?

Or maybe, as I was speculating the other day, the response elicited has everything to do with how the question is framed. Or all of the above.

This more recent Newsweek poll (title bar) asked, "Has the Bush administration gone too far in expanding the powers of the President to fight terrorism?"

As Glenn Greenwald, another blogger with keen interest in politics, as well as a broad legal background as a civil rights & First Amendment attorney, notes, the poll shows that phrased that way, well, come to think of it...

"Yes, say a majority of Americans, following this week’s revelation that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone records of U.S. citizens since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"...53 percent of Americans think the NSA’s surveillance program 'goes too far in invading people’s privacy,' while 41 percent see it as a necessary tool to combat terrorism.

"Even a quarter of Republicans are against it:

"According to the Newsweek poll, 73 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans think the NSA’s program is overly intrusive.

"Worse for the White House -- but great for the country -- a lopsided majority think that the administration is attempting to sieze excess power:

"Nonetheless, Americans think the White House has overstepped its bounds: 57 percent said that in light of the NSA data-mining news and other executive actions, the Bush-Cheney Administration has 'gone too far in expanding presidential power.' That compares to 38 percent who think the Administration’s actions are appropriate."

Says Greenwald in his blog, "I don't even recall seeing that question asked before, but it is very encouraging to see a majority of Americans answer this way. The country does not trust George Bush and is therefore unwilling to vest expanded power in his hands."

Greenwald, an attorney who's been blogging on politics
considerably longer than I, also has a book coming out titled, "How Would a Patriot Act?," about the same issues that get me going & cause me to have uncontrollable outbursts directed at the world at large. "People..." is directed, by the way, not at my friends who actually keep up with my screed; it's more of an existential cry projected into cyberspace at large. Because I can, that's all.

So about this Greenwald book. Looks intriguing, doesn't it?

The advert for it reads: "It's not just about the eavesdropping. It's about radical theories of presidential power. When you answer to no one, you're not a President. You're a despot."

Well said, I think.

The book is available on Amazon. com. You can also visit his blog, Unclaimed Territory at

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Frightening News: Public Ignorance Quotient Skyrockets

On the issue of domestic spying--compiling an enormous database of every phone call made domestically, irrespective of any actual connection with terrorist activity)--the Washington Post has reported that "a majority of Americans initially support a controversial National Security Agency program to collect information on telephone calls made in the United States in an effort to identify and investigate potential terrorist threats, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

"The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it."

Demon Princess takes some comfort in the fact that responses to polls have a great deal to do with how the pollsters frame their questions. Maybe these were framed without pointing out that the point of the database was not necessarily tracking terrorists, but a revival of the really scary (long ago discredited & supposedly abandoned) "Total Information Awareness" program. (If you don't need to be convinced of the veracity of what I'm saying here, go click on the title bar to register your concern with your Congressional reps right now.)

I quote an editorial in a Chicago paper whose conservative columnist reminds us what that was all about:
"At first blush this program carries troubling echoes of Total Information Awareness, a proposed Defense Department 'data-mining' expedition into a mass of personal information on individuals' driver's licenses, passports, credit card purchases, car rentals, medical prescriptions, banking transactions and more. That was curbed by Congress after a public outcry. It seems the people who wanted to bring you TIA didn't get the message."

Or maybe they didn't ask, "Doesn't it bug you even a bit that we've been told officially, over & over again, that the only Americans being monitored are those who have overseas connections (bad enough, in my opinion), and the only reason this new information has come out on such a scale is that a newspaper (USA Today) chose to dig deeper? Into those reports of suits brought by the ACLU & the Electronic Freedom Foundation which have apparently been flying under the general public's radar. Hell, people, the signs have been there all along--it's just taken several newspapers to connect the dots. The fact that the Bush Administration does all it can to quash our "free press" when its no longer behaving like a complacent lapdog seems also to be a bit of irrelevant info to most people.

American public, pay attention, lest history prove you really were too distracted, docile or just plain stupid to govern yourselves & the great American experiment in democratic government collapses in the flames of self-absorption, narcissism & preoccupied consumerism. If George & Hayden have their way, we certainly won't be a "free country" anymore.

What I'm really ticked off about here is that I'm hearing deliberate attempts by the defenders of these programs to give the impression that the Fourth Amendment permits their activities, by citing old decisions which are only half the story, or saying that phone companies have gotten your permission to do this to you in their fine print. Which is, in any event, a private contract, not a Constitutional matter. People, the Constitution overrides any private contract with a service provider, & these companies pay their corporate counsels to know that.

But none of them, with the exception of Qwest, challenged the requests to invade your privacy with not even the weak semblance of protection that a FISA order provides. Nobody in this Administration even bothers with that. General Hayden doesn't have the foggiest idea what is required to obtain a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. And that's why I'm so exercised about the whole thing.

Anyway. The 911 card gets played again.

For Americans' general edification, or those who weren't paying attention in Civics class, (or weren't even forced to take it) here's a recap of why it matters. As the Chicago dude reminded us, we, as a country, have been here before.

From MSNBC: Fred Kaplan, a privacy advocate, explains why Americans should care about the NSA's database of phone records.

"We have hit the point where paranoia is a proper frame of mind for assessing nearly everything this administration says or does.

"The moment arrived Thursday, when USA Today revealed that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans, with the aim of creating "a database of every call ever made," to people not only abroad but also within our borders.

"This goes well beyond the scope of the NSA domestic-surveillance program revealed last year by the New York Times. President George W. Bush responded to that story by emphasizing that, under the terms of the program, 'one end of the communication must be outside the United States.' That assurance turns out to have been highly deceptive, if not an outright lie.

"The NSA program, even such an expansive one, might be a good idea. As described by USA Today, it does not involve monitoring or recording the content of all these phone calls (an activity that no agency would have the time to do anyway). Rather, officials describe it as 'data mining,' for the purpose of 'social network analysis.

"Let's say X is suspected of planning terrorist activities. It might be useful to know who's been talking with X and who's been talking with those people. The feds wouldn't just want to take down X. They'd want to take down his whole network. By the time they discover what X is up to, it might be too late to monitor his future calls; so they'd want to know about his past calls. They can't guess, ahead of time, who those people might be—hence the idea of creating a comprehensive database.

"Again, this isn't necessarily a bad idea. But here's the crucial issue: The executive branch of the government cannot be trusted with sole access to such massive and intrusive information. This has nothing to do with who the president is; it has everything to do with the nature of power. To dispute this fact is to dispute the need for checks and balances; it's to dismiss the constitutional premise of the U.S. government.

"All this was widely recognized back in the 1970s, when Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and created the FISA court—whose records would be secret and permanently sealed—to enforce it.

"The issues back then were similar to the issues today. (For a fuller history of what follows, click here.) In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in Katz v. the United States that Fourth Amendment protections apply to wiretaps—except when national security is involved. Nothing in the law in question, it ruled, 'shall limit the constitutional powers of the President to take such measures as he deems necessary to … obtain foreign intelligence information deemed essential to the security of the United States.'

"However, in 1972, the court noted in The United States v. U.S. District Court that the Katz ruling 'implicitly recognizes that the broad and unsuspected governmental incursions into conversational privacy which electronic surveillance entails necessitates the application of Fourth Amendment safeguards.' Noting that statutory guidelines didn't resolve this constitutional tension between national security and civil liberties, the court invited Congress to write new laws that did.

"In 1974-75, Sen. Frank Church's Senate committee uncovered the vast extent of U.S. intelligence agencies' illegal domestic surveillance. So, in 1978, six years after the court threw down its challenge, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which created a procedure by which a president, through the attorney general, can request warrants for surveillance outside normal court procedures. As many have noted, the FISA court usually behaves as a rubber stamp; it considers no opposing motions, and it rejects very few requests. This is as Congress intended. The idea was not to create a fierce watchdog, only to provide a little outside supervision—a bump in the road to let the White House and the intelligence agencies know that they can't use their secret powers in whatever way they like.

"The problem with the indiscriminate data-mining that USA Today details is that it's not susceptible to warrants. Under FISA, the application for a surveillance order must include the identity or description of the target, the nature and location of the place being tapped, the type of information being sought, how long the monitoring will last, and so forth. There's no way, under any law, that an attorney general could ask any court to approve surveillance of everybody, everywhere, forever. That goes beyond what warrants of any sort can do.

"However, none of this snuffs out the spirit of FISA or nullifies the rationale for a FISA court—to provide a modicum of supervision over the executive branch's massive intrusion upon privacy rights.

"Here's where we all have cause to be paranoid. It is clearer than ever that President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and most of those around them are not the slightest bit interested in checks or balances or even in conveying the impression that they're interested. Their official response to Leslie Cauley's story in USA Today is the same as their response to James Risen's story in the New York Times last year: What we're doing is by definition legal, so back off. There isn't a hint of recognition that they're not the only ones to determine what is legal. They don't acknowledge what even many Republican legislators are now recognizing: that the laws in question are vague—in part deliberately, in part because they lag behind the technology—and that it might be a good idea to clarify the law or write new ones. Their solution to all ambiguities is to issue a sweeping edict: l'Etat, c'est le président.

"This dispute is not over some legal fine point; it has all the makings of a constitutional crisis. Even on a less vaunted level, we are in the alarming predicament of facing a president who—at least on this issue—possesses absolute power. Bush and Gonzales may say they won't use the NSA data improperly. But there is nobody who can verify that claim.

"Here's a hair-raising example reported, also on Thursday, by the New York Times' Scott Shane. The Justice Department's ethics office had to shut down its months-long probe into who approved the NSA's domestic-surveillance program, because the investigators were blocked from obtaining the necessary security clearances. "Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter," H. Marshall Jarrett, head of Justice's office of professional responsibility, wrote to Congress, "and therefore have closed our investigation." It was for such stories that the word "Kafka-esque" was coined.

"The House and Senate need to determine whether this data-mining program is necessary. If they decide it is, they need to create some new independent agency with the statutory power, which the FISA court doesn't have, to supervise the program—including notification of, and veto power over, any action any agency wants to take as a result of this surveillance (for instance, if the NSA uncovers a terrorist network and the Justice Department wants to monitor the members' phone conversations)."