Sunday, July 29, 2007

Here's to Mr. Audacity

Image of Original Painting, "Binky's Bad Karma," Used with Permission of the Artist, Mark Bryan

We have to give this to Mr. Bush ~ no law, & no tired meme, will he allow to to stand in the way of his quest for all-encompassing executive power. In today’s news, courtesy of The Hill, we learn that Bush used his Saturday radio address to try press forward with his overwrought claims that the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, & the FISA court, established in the aftermath of Nixon’s excesses to prevent an executive who wishes to style himself King from spying without warrants, except in certain instances, is outdated. It doesn’t address modern technologies like cell phones & e-mails, he says, & we need to update it.

Of course he casts it in patriotic terms:

“’Every day that Congress puts off these reforms increases the danger to our nation’ Bush said in his weekly radio address. ‘Our intelligence community warns that under the current statute, we are missing a significant amount of foreign intelligence that we should be collecting to protect our country.’

“The administration’s updates to FISA focus heavily on modern technologies not around when the bill was passed almost 30 years ago, such as cellular phones and e-mail. Bush argues that the extended powers his proposal grants are essential to national security.

“’It will streamline administrative processes so our intelligence community can gather foreign intelligence more quickly and more effectively, while protecting civil liberties,’ Bush said.

As John Dean pointed out in an article for Findlaw a year ago about Russ Feingold’s resolution to censure Bush over his overbearing & quite probably illegal spying programs:

“Feingold's preamble points out that Bush openly lied to Americans about his secret wiretapping, on repeated occasions: On April 20, 2004, Bush said, `When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.’'; on July 14, 2004, he claimed that ‘the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order’; and on June 9, 2005, he said, ‘Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools.’

“All this was untrue. Bush had authorized these very law enforcement officials to bypass federal judges, and proceed without warrants. Why he engaged in such bald-faced lies, in circumstances where it was not necessary, is unclear.

“Senator Feingold's proposal has no chance of being adopted in a GOP-controlled Senate - one that includes, as well, more than a few spineless Democrats. Still, he has made his point. As Feingold told the New York Observer, ‘What [the Republicans had] succeeded in doing, [since this issue has arisen] was to sweep the illegality under the rug.’ Feingold added, ‘I decided it was time to include that on the record and came up with the censure proposal, to bring accountability back into the discussion. And I succeeded in doing that. That's been achieved.’

The resolution was ignored. But the battle goes on. The point here is that Bush’s whining about the necessity of “reforming FISA” seems to be based on the same old lies, fearmongering & paranoia. I’ve no doubt that data-mining & other domestic spying programs have been in effect for a long time, & as Patrick Leahy, interviewed by The Hill, “….stated this week that the Bush Administration abuses the current FISA law and should not be granted further powers.

“’This supposed self-examination, with no involvement by the courts, no report to Congress, and no other outside check, essentially translates to ‘trust us,’ Leahy said ‘With a history of civil liberties abuses and cover-ups, this Administration has squandered our trust.’

“Civil liberties advocates are also opposing the proposal.

“Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union said it is ‘outrageous’ for the administration to say it needs additional powers ‘to wiretap without warrant’ adding that FISA must not be modernized but should instead be followed.

“’This is not the time to hand even more power to an administration that has permitted the wholesale abuse of civil liberties; has denied the legislative branch’s constitutionally mandated oversight role and refused to hold the attorney general accountable for a series of conflicting claims that defy logic, the law and common sense,’ said Fredrickson. ‘The only thing more outrageous than the administration’s call for even more unfettered power is a Congress that would consider giving it to them.’”

Keep up with the ACLU’s campaign to bring Buschco to heel here (I especially like the checklist of characters involved):

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Demon Princess's Best Birthday EVER!

Yes, I realize it'll come as a shock to some to be informed that Demon Princess does indeed have a human mother, & a very good one at that, but there it is. I'm not sure where she went wrong, exactly, but it doesn't have anything to do with toxic Chinese food or thalidomyde or anything.
I'm just a natural.
And I have to have done something right somewhere along the line to be rewarded with birthday presents like these:
1. Congress finally gets up the cajones to subpoena Karl Rove!
Today's New York Times: "[T]he chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, announced that a subpoena was being issued to Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political adviser, to provide information on the firings last year of nine federal prosecutors. The White House has asserted executive privilege in resisting Congressional demands for testimony by present and former presidential aides."
2. "Four Senate Democrats called for appointment of Special Counsel to investigate whether Mr. Gonzales perjured himself before Congress."
3. FBI Director Robert Meuller also testified today that 'Berto (*gasp*) lied when he told Congress the other day that the relevant spying program was something other than the Terrorist Surveillance Program. "But today’s developments seemed to mark a shift toward suggestions that he actually committed crimes in testifying before Congress."
Wooo-hoo! Demon is off to celebrate the big day with dinner out, & will leave y'all to peruse the article:

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Speedy Gonzales Zips Around Congress

Update: The psychedelic, kaleidoscopic, ever-changing world of 'Berto's DOJ: Since yesterday's testimony, all the news agencies have set about trying to confirm 'Berto's surprise testimony that the spying program he tripped himself up testifying about once before was, really, as he testified yesterday, a program not heretofore disclosed, so, er ~ he wasn't technically lying to Congress the 1st time.
Everybody finds that, um, he was. At least the Congresspeople he claims were briefed about it say it was the Terrorist Surveillance Program 1st reported by the New York Times that they were briefed upon, not the unnamed "other program" he said he couldn't talk about. Still, through a spokesman, 'Berto, like his boss, stays the course when confronted. And, we dare speculate, will be able to rely on the boss's exertion of executive privilege if Congress has the chuztpah to try to get to the bottom of it.
'Berto, appearing before Congress today, finally got the castigating tongue-lashing from Leahy, Specter, & others we've all been righteously hoping for ~ & had the sense to keep the shitty smirk off his face this time, but all else seems to remain fundamentally unchanged ~ that is to say, stonewalling, when it doesn't suit his agenda to testify.

But he did come up with a few surprises nonetheless, as a result of others' testimonies. For instance, he did suddenly remember the meeting with Monica Goodling in his office, wherein, as she said, he told her what his recollection of events surrounding the dismissed attorneys general was (*in advance*), & he also defended his visit (in his capacity as WH counsel) to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital bedside, again, the direct result of James Comey's testimony.

And in that case, he reassured a worried nation, everything he had previously said about there being no concerns about the legality of the spying programs they sought to get a gravely ill & heavily sedated man to approve was true, because (*here's the bombshell*) he wasn't talking about the spying program the NYT unearthed, but another one ~ moreover, the "gang of eight" Congresspersons who sit on the exclusive little committee that Bushco will actually deign to brief on such sensitive matters of national security all agreed that would continue, with the inference that it was legal. But at least one of the Committee members begs to disagree:
"...Gonzales reiterated today that the dispute was not about the program that Bush described [the program 1st reported by the NYT] . Gonzales also said he misspoke during a news conference in June, when he said it was the same program.
"Gonzales said an emergency meeting was held on the afternoon of March 10, 2004, with the so-called "Gang of Eight," which consists of the bipartisan leadership of the House, Senate and both intelligence committees. Gonzales said congressional leaders agreed that the intelligence activity should continue, and he and Card traveled to George Washington University Hospital that evening to visit Ashcroft, who was recovering from gall bladder surgery.
"'Mr. Comey had informed us that he had not approved continuation of a very important intelligence activity, despite the fact that the department had approved that activity over the course of two years,' Gonzales said. 'The consensus in the room was that we should continue the activities, at least for now. . . . We felt it was important that he knew of the opinion of the leadership.' Gonzales acknowledged that, as Comey testified, Ashcroft declined to overrule Comey.
"Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who at the time was ranking member of the Senate Intelligence committee, said there was no consensus among the 'Gang of 8' about the legality of the program, nor were the congressional leaders ever expected to give their approval to the program.
'"He once again is making something up to protect himself,' Rockefeller, now committee chairman, said of Gonzales."
Elsewhere in the hearing, to charges that the Department of Justice is dysfunctional & paralyzed under his command, "He disputed charges that morale in the Justice Department has plummeted under his leadership, saying that morale can best be measured by 'output.' The department's output in the last six months has been 'outstanding,' he asserted.
"I've decided to stay and fix the problems," he said in response to a question.
Despite "...withering criticism from the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), and from its top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.)":
"'The attorney general has lost the confidence of the Congress and the American people,' Leahy said. He said the administration 'has squandered our trust' and told Gonzales bluntly, 'I don't trust you.' Specter said there was 'evidence of low morale' at the Justice Department and blasted what he described as Gonzales's lack of 'personal credibility.' He called the department 'dysfunctional.'
More to the point, "Specter raised the prospect of calling for a special prosecutor to press a potential contempt-of-Congress citation over the White House's refusal to provide certain documents and sworn testimony regarding the firing of nine federal prosecutors last year. He denounced the Bush administration's stand that it would prohibit the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from pursuing a contempt citation.
'"Now if that forecloses a determination of whether executive privilege has been properly imposed, then the president in that manner can stymie congressional oversight by simply saying there is executive privilege,' Specter said. That would spell the end of congressional oversight and take the controversy 'to a really incredible level,' he said.
"'Now we've been exploring some alternatives,' Specter said, noting that "the attorney general has the authority to appoint a special prosecutor.' He told Gonzales, "You're recused, but somebody else could do it.'
"Specter added, 'We also have the alternative of convening the Senate and having a contempt citation and trying it in the Senate.'

"Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee announced that it will press toward a constitutional showdown with the Bush administration over the U.S. attorney firings scandal.

"Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the committee, said it will vote on Wednesday on contempt citations for the White House chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers. Both refused congressional demands for information on the dismissals after President Bush invoked executive privilege.
"The move puts House Democrats on a legal collision course with the White House, which said last week that it will not allow the Justice Department to prosecute executive branch officials for being in contempt of Congress.
"Gonzales's promise to remain in office comes as many Justice Department employees say they are dispirited and have little confidence in their politically wounded leader.
"Most members of Gonzales's senior staff have resigned or are on the way out. Several outside candidates turned down chances to be considered for the job of his deputy, and more than a half-dozen other top positions remain filled by temporary appointees. Some of the department's key legislative priorities -- including intelligence law revisions and anti-crime proposals -- also have bogged down because of the fight with Democrats over the prosecutor firings...'It obviously has a serious impact,' said [a] former official, who would discuss the department's internal workings only if not identified.
"Many lawmakers, including some Republicans, have said that Gonzales should resign..."
For more on the lengthy hearing today, see WaPo commentary by Dana Milbank: "With Senate & Gonzales, Familiarity Breeds Contempt,"


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bushco Summons Big Guns In Iraq ~ Madison Avenue

Touchingly American: In PR & Sales Campaigns We Trust ~ Who Wouldn't Be Moved?

To borrow a familiar old-school meme from one of the original hotbeds of avaricious American consumer-bot-ism, gag me with a spoon!

The Pentagon, which we trust to direct the expenditure of blood & treasure in the waging of noble & righteous wars on every part of the world which may not agree that resource extraction for our benefit is the most noble & pressing cause ever, apparently commissioned a study by expert marketers in order to obtain advice on how to sell the failed war in Iraq to Iraqis! When I first saw the blurb under the headline, I thought it must be some deliciously snide & snarky editorial commentary, a joke:

"TODAY'S HIGHLIGHTS: In the advertising world, brand identity is everything. Volvo means safety. Colgate means clean. IPod means cool. But since the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003, its "show of force" brand has proved to have limited appeal to Iraqi consumers, according to a recent study commissioned.
But reading further, the price tag alone convinces your Demon that they're deadly serious.

American taxpayers have footed a $400,000 bill to get advice from Madison Avenue because Bushco still doesn't understand why the project there is going so dismally & irretrieveably south, & got sparkling drops of murmured wisdom from the marketing gurus like this in return:

"[The study] concluded that the 'force' brand, which the United States peddled for the first few years of the occupation, was doomed from the start and lost ground to enemies' competing brands.
Sez the WaPo: "While not abandoning the more aggressive elements of warfare, the report suggested, a more attractive brand for the Iraqi people might have been 'We will help you.' That is what President Bush's new Iraq strategy is striving for as it focuses on establishing a protective U.S. troop presence in Baghdad neighborhoods, training Iraq's security forces, and encouraging the central and local governments to take the lead in making things better."

We seriously doubt that, at this late date, the Iraqis can be convinced by a mere PR campaign that America is there to do anything but "help" them establish permanent bases in the interest of "helping" them liberate the oil from underneath their sands, but *ahem* you go, Doodz.
The price tag was also well worth it to obtain doses of ingenious old-fashioned American salesmanship like these:

"For the U.S. military and U.S. officials, understanding the target customer culture is equally critical.

'[Study co-author] Helmus recommends expanding military training to include shaping and branding concepts such as cultural awareness, and the study underscores the perils of failing to understand your consumer.

"'Certain things do not translate well,' the study warned. 'Danger lies behind assumptions of similarity.' A gesture Bush made during his 2005 inaugural parade -- the University of Texas 'hook 'em horns' salute with raised index and pinkie fingers -- stands for the 'sign of the devil' in some cultures and an indication of marital infidelity in others. A leaflet dropped to intimidate Iraqi insurgents, the study noted, 'also reached noncombatants' and 'gave everyone who picked it up the 'evil eye.' "

'Words cause similar cultural confusion,' it said. The Arabic word 'jihad,' for example, has religious connotations for Muslims; its repeated use to connote terrorism is insulting and also perversely lends legitimacy to violent acts.

"Schattle acknowledged that much of what works for consumer advertising in the United States might not translate well in Baghdad. But urban ops, he said, is all about experimenting and adapting to new realities.

"'We want to look at new concepts, new business practices, to see if there are things that we can learn,' he said. Since his office was established after the U.S. military issued a new doctrine for urban warfare in 2002, 'we've been collecting lessons learned from all over the world,' he said. 'Not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but places like the Philippines and South America. Wherever there have been fights, we went out and looked at them.'

"The challenge for the advertising study, he said, was to find 'something we can learn from Madison Avenue or from the marketers, the best in the world, that might help us when we're trying to deliver a message about what democracy is.'
(Democracy IS a commodity bought & sold on the open market, doncha know? Where have you been?)

"In Iraq, Schattle said, the 'urban population is the center of gravity' and the problem is 'how we influence them to be on our side, or at least not be an enemy' when 'what they see is armor.' The goal of such studies, Schattle said, is to distill what works and incorporate it into future training.

"Adversaries are doing their own shaping on Iraq's urban battlefields. While intimidation, coercion and assassination might not make them beloved, such techniques effectively limit public outreach to U.S. forces, the Rand study notes.

"Enemy forces have also learned that 'doing good works is a classic approach to winning friends and influencing people' and frequently provide basic services that the U.S. military is unable to match. "

Er ~ yah. Demon also imagines that raping young girls, pillaging museums, & covering up out-&-out murder of civilians by American forces by planting amaturish "evidence" near the slaughtered bodies is nothing a good dose of feel-good, old fashioned American ad campaign snake oil can't fix, neither. And they may want to rethink this as well: Bush okays resumption of harsh interrogations at Gitmo:

No worries. If all else fails, after all, it's nothing that a lush string soundtrack overlaid with images of sunshine, rainbows & mouth-watering lollipops can't fix. It'd be a hard-hearted fiend who wouldn't be seduced by American consumer culture, after all. There is no greater vision to which to aspire. Might want to lace their drinking water with some magic fairy dust & heavy-duty antidepressants while y'all are at it.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Rethinking Justice

Ill: The Worried Shrimp

Thank you, Li'l Bush! This just might be the impetus the country needs!

Whoa Nelly! Today's news (WaPo) is absolutely astounding.
Bush, never famous for his logical precision (he instead thinks with his anti-intellectual &~ as it turns out ~ dyspeptic gut) & has, just maybe, pushed his "privileges" so far that even the most deluded, distracted, & similarly anti-intellectual Americans can't fail to miss it. Proving what the rest of us have long suspected ~ that, even more so than Nixon, the man is his own worst enemy. With the *minor* distinction that Nixon's delusional arrogance was epic, therefore tragic in the Greek sense, in scale, not least because he was on some level aware of it, while George's is merely buffoonish, because ~ all indications are ~ George is not aware of it in the least.

Somewhat like off-the mark comparisons of Anna Nicole Smith to Marilyn Monroe ~ the former was just a listless imitation of the latter. But I digress.
Your Demon has long thought that Bush's & the Neocons' genius, if history will at all be kind enough to remember them in those terms, may well be that they & he, as their willing posterboy & spokescowboy, pushed American constitutional government to its breaking point & thereby inadvertently forced all of the rest of us to rethink the entire project, & I don't mean law & legal things (boring, & just the tools), but where America's soul is located in terms of what it means to be America, & how we will treat our own population as well as our position in the world.
In today's news we see that Bush, in the ongoing effort to hide the partisan purge of U.S. Attorneys from their posts, has come out & declared the broadest assertion of executive privilege ever ~ in effect announcing to the country what we've all come to suspect ~ the Department of Justice (traditionally above politix) is being treated under Bushco as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP, & nobody there can be made to investigate the executive branch or force it to heel. Of course, they say this knowing that the in the D.C. court will foolishly back them.
"Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
"The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.

"Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, 'whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.'
"But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.
"'A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case,' said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. 'And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen.'
"The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, added: 'It has long been understood that, in circumstances like these, the constitutional prerogatives of the president would make it a futile and purely political act for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys.'

"Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration's stance 'astonishing.'
"'That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers,' Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all."
I agree with Rozell; moreover, I think it's time to remove the Justice Department from the executive branch, as Waxman alludes later in the article. Seems that Republicans & Democrats in the White House have been dancing around the "executive privilege" argument for decades ~ 1st asserting it, & rather than provoke a full-blown Constitutional crisis on the matter of separation of powers, backed down, but as this Administration shows, it's never too late to resort to an argument a previous (more popular) Republican president contemplated making. (As long as it's not Nixon ~ too close for comfort.)
I also have no doubt that the triple-headed creature that is the Bush-Cheney-Gonzales mindmeld will, unike the more sensible & honest men before them, gladly put a torch to the Constitution rather than have their machinations exposed.
And so, we're forced to rethink whether trusting the executive to enforce laws, potentially against themselves, was ever a very good idea. Maybe in a grander America, where gentleman-politicians could be counted upon to behave honorably & in gentlemanly fashion, at least with respect to each other, reliance on self-enforcement & the overarching notion of a Constitutional government was sufficient. No more, apparently.
Bush has not just exposed the cracks in the facade, but has purposely driven & hammered forcefully upon an enormous wedge in his quest to widen them. Thank him, y'all. I maintain he's doing we progressives a huge favor. The uglier & more hateful George & his neocons make themselves ~ cartoonishly so, & they've been all about just that for 6 years ~ the easier it will be to rid ourselves of them. They're doing all the heavy lifting themselves.
What I worry about now is that the weak-kneed entrenched Democrats might be too comfortable with the status-quo to be up to conducting an overhaul that is so very clearly necessary.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Real Reason We're In Iraq

We're sure it wouldn't be because Iraq has the 2nd largest oil reserves in the world

Hmm, how long have we been in Iraq, again? And why are we there?
It's taken some time to get an of inkling what could be the real reasons (besides Israel), which, even now, are being kept under wraps, but with this week's reports by the WaPo on Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force, & the almost-under-the-radar story of Iraqi oil workers protesting the new Iraq oil law (which is one of the benchmarks Bushco says that government must meet before the U.S. will entertain any notions of withdrawing), we start to get a fuller picture, but nobody is really talking about it, & the MSM, for the most part, has let the story slide.
According to the WaPo, in 2001 Cheney started convening the task force, relying heavily on fellow oil men:
"In all, about 300 groups and individuals met with staff members of the energy task force, including a handful who saw Cheney himself, according to the list, which was compiled in the summer of 2001. For six years, those names have been a closely guarded secret, thanks to a fierce legal battle waged by the White House. Some names have leaked out over the years, but most have remained hidden because of a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that agreed that the administration's internal deliberations ought to be shielded from outside scrutiny.
"One of the first visitors, on Feb. 14, was James J. Rouse, then vice president of Exxon Mobil and a major donor to the Bush inauguration; a week later, longtime Bush supporter Kenneth L. Lay, then head of Enron Corp., came by for the first of two meetings. On March 5, some of the country's biggest electric utilities, including Duke Energy and Constellation Energy Group, had an audience with the task force staff.
"British Petroleum representatives dropped by on March 22, one of about 20 oil and drilling companies to get meetings. The National Mining Association, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and the American Petroleum Institute were among three dozen trade associations that met with Cheney's staff, the document shows.
"The list of participants' names and when they met with administration officials provides a clearer picture of the task force's priorities and bolsters previous reports that the review leaned heavily on oil and gas companies and on trade groups -- many of them big contributors to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party. But while it clears up much of the lingering uncertainty about who was granted access to present energy policy views to Cheney's staff, it does not entirely explain why the Bush administration fought so hard to keep it and other as-yet-unreleased internal memos secret."
At the very least, the lack of transparency should give us all cause to pause. Whether those same oil interests were given an extraordinary voice in formulating oil law in Iraq is a question unanswered.
The news this past week that Iraqi oil workers were renewing their protests over the proposed law on the grounds it gives foreigners (read us) too much control piqued this Demon's interest in it & prompted me to try to learn more about it. Details, however, are hard to come by, as The American Lawyer, trying in April to track down Ronald Jonkers, the American energy lawyer working behind the scenes in Iraq advising the Iraqis on the law, also learned.
"The new law attempts to balance the interests of the warring Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd factions, none of which necessarily correspond with those of the United States, nor those of the oil companies and law firms that make up a powerful U.S. constituency.
"So it would be hard to overstate the delicacy of Jonkers’s role. Neither he nor the U.S. Department of State would discuss exactly what Jonkers is doing in Iraq these days. The U.S. government would not even officially confirm that he’s there, although sources ranging from watchdog groups to a family member have confirmed his role to The American Lawyer. Jonkers did not return repeated calls and e-mail requests for comment. David Foley, a spokesman for the State Department, would say only that 'our guys are helping the Iraqis write their law and pass their law,'and that 'the hydrocarbon law is critically important.' Energy lawyers agree.
'“Pretty much all the major oil companies are taking a very close interest in the future potential in Iraq,' says Mathew Kidwell, a partner in the Dubai office of Fulbright & Jaworski. 'We have certainly had discussions with a number of our oil industry clients about the legal framework.'
Formerly assistant general counsel for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, "a U.S. agency that provides financing and political risk insurance to American businesses investing overseas, often in energy projects in high-risk, war-torn environments like Iraq’s,"...Jonkers followed that gig as a "project finance lawyer at Clifford Chance from 2003 to 2005, [where he] structured energy projects in Russia and telecommunications systems in Bangladesh, among other deals. He did similar cross-border finance work at Hills Stern & Morley. (He’s been on leave from the firm since heading to Iraq more than a year ago.) So Jonkers is well versed in the sorts of oil laws that American businesses and their lawyers hope will emerge in a new Iraq."
"Since setting passage of the oil law as a benchmark for the Iraqi government in January, President George W. Bush has emphasized that the draft law, which was only made public in March, would distribute oil revenues evenly throughout the country on the basis of population, rather than where the oil is produced. While that’s widely seen as key to preventing factional conflict, that provision was already part of the Iraqi constitution, ratified in October 2005.
"What’s really new about the law is that it would open the Iraqi oil industry’s doors wide open to foreign investment. Under Saddam Hussein, foreign investment was strictly limited, as it is in most major Middle Eastern oil-producing countries. Under the new law, the Iraq National Oil Company would have exclusive control of only about 17 of Iraq’s approximately 80 known oil fields. The law would also allow the government to negotiate different kinds of exploration and production contracts with foreign oil companies, including Production Sharing Agreements, or PSAs. Energy lawyers favor these because they allow oil companies to secure long-term deals and book oil reserves as assets on their company balance sheets. A report on the future of Iraq’s oil industry from the International Tax and Investment Center, an industry organization whose board includes senior officials of the world’s largest publicly held oil and oil services companies, as well as partners from five Global 100 firms, confirms that’s exactly what the energy industry has been pressing for.
"So far, Fulbright’s oil company clients are pleased with the draft law. 'The consensus seems to be that, from what we’ve seen, it’s a good first step,' says Jeremy Sheldon, partner in Fulbright’s London office.
"But there is opposition to the law from a wide swath of Iraqi interests. Many fear it will hand over to foreigners too much control over Iraq’s most prized natural resource. A group of Iraqi oil experts wrote an open letter to the Iraqi parliament complaining that the law’s emphasis on quickly attracting foreign investment could lead the government, now weak from the ongoing war, to seal long-term deals with foreign companies that are not in the long-term interest of the country. Production contracts, for example, could remain in effect for decades. If a future government tried to change the law or terms of signed contracts, it could land in costly international arbitration, where conflicts over such contracts are usually decided. "
"The resurgent Iraqi trade unions have also come out against the law. The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, representing about 26,000 workers in the industry, could pose a serious obstacle by threatening to shut down oil production, something the federation has done three times since it formed in 2003.
"Critics worry about the multinationals’ commitment to the country (or lack thereof). Under the proposed law, foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in Iraq, hire Iraqi workers, or partner with Iraqi companies.
"Critics also resent the secrecy surrounding the process. Not only were negotiations behind closed doors, but the proposed law wasn’t publicly available until recently, although the British and American governments, and many oil companies, were given early drafts, says Greg Muttitt, codirector of Platform, a London-based oil industry watchdog: 'Iraqi civil society has been excluded from the process. Even Iraqi MPs are seeing the law for the first time now.' "
Besides being so disappointed & disillusioned to learn that the reason we overthrew Saddam wasn't the WMD's, the presence of Al-Queda, the mobile biological warfare labs, or even the fact that, as George said, "he was a bad man," your Demon will be tracking this site for further news: Price of website keeps track of the issues. Sign up for e-mail alerts.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mr. American Enterprise ~ Making Money Off Misfortune

Ill: Webdailyplanet

GWB Sez: "It's a way to encourage people to transfer from the private sector to government health-care plans. . . . I think it's wrong, and I think it's a mistake."
Today's news that Bush threatens to veto a renewal of a plan to cover more uninsured children & the poor has your Demon spitting blood, but she really can't decide where, exactly to direct her vitriol first ~ Bush, as always, is at least consistent in being the shill for the corporations doing such a bad job of things that they're destroying their own markets in the rapacious pursuit of profit. Talk about a dysfunctional industry ~ seconded only by automakers who insist on building gas-guzzling, chrome encrusted SUV's.
I say let them adapt to changing market conditions or die like the dinosaurs they are. The bulk of the U.S. population is aging, as well as living longer. What's the private health insurance industry's response to that? After demanding & collecting our premium payments for years, we find ourselves dumped unceremoniously when we develop serious health problems, as we all inevitably do (unless, of course, you're immortal or a member of Congress, & in the latter case you enjoy the finest health care in the country, at the taxpayers' expense).
Try the high-risk healthcare pool, if your state has one, & if you can afford to maintain the premiums, pay sky-high decuctibles, & go without prescription coverage. In my state, private health insurers have so cowed the state regulatory board, which at one time insisted on advocating for consumers, the insurers threatened to stop offering their wares, & now there may as well be no regulatory board at all. We take what we're offered, & we will like it.
No, I can't feel sorry for them & their dwindling profitability. Business is business, eh Bush? Keep up or die. So sorry. Nothing personal.
Not that I don't also reserve some ire for the "Key members of the Senate Finance Committee [who] announced a bipartisan deal late last week that would raise the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 61 cents, to $1 a pack, to expand the program by $35 billion over the next five years. That would create total program funding of $60 billion over the period -- enough, lawmakers said, to cover 3.3 million additional kids while keeping the focus on children of the working poor. The committee is expected to vote on the plan as early as this week."
Or the equally annoying "House Democrats, meanwhile, have sought an even bigger increase: $50 billion, for a total of $75 billion in funding over five years. It would be paid for, at least in part, by trimming payments to private Medicare plans for seniors. Such an expansion would reach even more of the nation's 8.3 million uninsured children and, more generally, provide a foundation for further efforts to cover more of the 45 million uninsured Americans, they argue."
The time for tinkering & preposterous "sin taxes," as well as shameless attempts to rob Peter to pay Paul is long past. (Lessee, children or seniors, who gets healthcare?)
We have a genuine healthcare crisis on our hands. Step up to the plate & do the right thing. Universal healthcare for all.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday 13th ~ Bad News In Bushworld

Ill: The Worried Shrimp

Befitting the dateline, seems the news today is mostly bad for Bushco: in the wake of general outrage over various & sundry items such as (arrogant) illegal spying, Gonzales apparently (arrogantly) lying to Congress when he said he was unaware of any problems with same, the Iraqi government (what's left of it) going against the Administration's wishes & refusing to rubber-stamp an oil-revenue law that would purportedly give foreign interests (read US) too much control, (arrogant) defiance of Congress & in the refusal to have ex-White House counsel Harriet Myers testify regarding the partisan purge of U.S. attorneys, Bush continues in character ~ that is to say, we can't help but think: look, look over there ~ evil terrorists are planning to attack soon, er pretty soon, uh, maybe not. All that before an internal sting operation showed America how easy it would be for terrorists to access dirty-bomb building materials from *you guessed it* Bushco's government. No wonder Republicans are running from Bush for their political lives.

It's taken 6 long years, but the American public seems to be coming around ~ impeachment talk is gaining steam, even from a conservative law professor who cites the Federalist Papers of all things: Watch the program tonite on PBS.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Big Brother Is Watching ~ But We Won't Let You Prove It

Ill: Micah Wright/Propaganda Remix

Used with Permission

Tangled in the Sticky Wicket of the Bushco State, Court Says "Do Not Pass Go"

Last week' s most distressing ~ or more precisely, frightening ~ news was that two Republican appointed judges of the Sixth Circuit reached what strikes me as a Kafka-esque ruling in denying a group of Plaintiffs who were very likely spied upon without warrants their day in court ~ based on an exceedingly narrowly drawn, & indeed, twisted, technicality, with the result that you, my friend, however much you value your privacy, & regardless whether spying on you is legal or not, cannot contest it. (WaPo article: )

A very bizarre result ~ a jaw-dropper, in fact. Last I checked, we are all still living in the USA as opposed to some flimsy 3rd-world dictatorship, where, as Karl Rove warned us, the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses.

Unlike the lower court decision by Anna Diggs Taylor which found that the administration had admitted to the program & the fact that it had been carried out with no oversight, the Sixth Circuit, hearing the appeal, did not address the legality of the spying program itself (the one Americans would not know about if not for the New York Times telling us about it, & the same put into effect by Presidential fiat over the Department of Justice's & even the FBI's initial objections.)

The prevailing judges instead chose (at current DOJ's urgings) to focus on whether the Plaintiffs, who were, among others, lawyers representing Muslim detainees whose attorney-client privileged communications would have been seriously breached if the government was listening in without a warrant. They were turned away on the basis that they lacked standing to sue.

"Standing" is lawyer-speak & a basic legal concept, requiring that some harm has actually been done: in other words, you can't file a claim before a court unless & until some actual, legally-recognized harm has been done to you. I have no quarrel with that tenet (on its face, that is ~ the Supreme Court has raised the bar to keep people out in recent years), but it's also an exceedingly cramped decision in that the judges, 2 to 1, also accepted uncritically the DOJ's argument that any evidence could be forbidden to the Plaintiffs based on the government's say-so that any spying programs are "state secrets."

The LA Times reported that Judge "Batchelder wrote: 'The plaintiffs do not — and because of the state secrets doctrine cannot — produce any evidence that any of their communications have ever been intercepted by the NSA, under the TSP, without warrants.'

"Rather, she said, the plaintiffs had asserted 'a mere belief' that their overseas contacts were the types of people being targeted by the NSA.

"The ruling presents 'a Catch-22,' said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and one of the plaintiffs.,1,77388.story?page=1&coll=la-headlines-nation

When the lower court handed down its decision, then & only then did Bush acknowledge the previously existing FISA court's jurisdiction over the matter, so as to be able to argue in this appeal that the illegality of the spying program is now a moot issue ~ however, continuing to reserve the right to resurrect it unilaterally at any time. Moot it's not, in other words.

The state secrets argument is based on a 1953 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Reynolds that, according to the Constitution Project, has resulted in overbroad readings of the doctrine, &, ironically enough, in a case where the widows of Air Force personnel sued the government for the wrongful deaths of their husbands ~ they were forced to drop the case. But it turned out (much later) that there were no legitimate "state secrets" involved ~ the government was just trying to conceal its own wrongdoing. (Proving, yet again, that no irony is too heavy to be lost on, or ignored by, Bushco & its friends in the judiciary.)
Read more about it:

The question is not entirely resolved, however. Several other suits, including one to be heard in the Ninth Circuit, sitting in California, will be addressing the similar questions, & are not bound by the Sixth Circuit's decision.

On another front, & perhaps a more fruitful one, "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) called the court decision 'a disappointing one that was not made on the merits of the case, yet closes the courthouse door to resolving it.' [A] panel has been conducting an investigation into the warrantless wiretapping program. Last month, it issued subpoenas to the administration, seeking documents related to the program's "authorization and legal justification."

The Bush Administration has already said it won't comply with the subpoenas, & a full-blown Constitutional crisis may well be in the making. Since Bushco's arrogance seems to know no bounds, it does appear that nothing short of drastic remedies will loosen its death grip on American democracy. At this point, it seems to be our last, best hope.

The paralells to the Nixon presidency are all too clear to be missed. John Dean wrote late last year on the topic, after the NYT broke the story of the illegal spying ~ Bush as the present-day Nixon, an article worth reviewing again now.

Your Demon would add that the comparison is not quite apt ~ Bush is far worse, as it seems he does it in an effort to provoke exact sort of crisis that Nixon resigned over rather than face impeachment. I predict Bush will not resign ~ he'll stay the course with every misguided & heretofore illegal policy he has so far pursued, & go down, if at all, as the American poster boy for the monarchial "unitary executive" legal theory, which some neocons now on the Supreme Court helped formulate. Long story short ~ impeachment is the strongest course of action.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pouring Fuel On Fire

Ill: "Commander Doom," by The Worried Shrimp
Today, as if to prove that subtle ironies are completely lost on the Bush Adminstration, we see that despite Hayden's decision to release the CIA's "family jewels" ~ a catalogue of the crimes of the Cold-War era, including highly risky underhanded plots to interfere with & manipulate politix in other countries, has not had a whit of effect with respect to today's misguided decisions. Exhibit A: news today that the U.S. plans to foment rebellion within Iraq, ostensibly against Al-Qaida (title bar) ~ who weren't there when we 1st invaded ~ but never mind that. Our presence has attracted them like flies to rotten meat.
The plan calls for us to set up & fund the counterinsurgency of certain Sunnis against Al-Qaida, who are a particularly radical version of the same sect. And, oh, never mind that the move will end up further destabilizing the Iraqi all-but-failed government we installed.
Military officials insist on downplaying our role in the matter.
"U.S. officials insist they aren't actually arming the Sunni tribesmen but simply utilizing them. Nearly every household in Iraq has at least one weapon and the country is awash in guns.
"'We've given them a little ammo, some flares, but mostly humanitarian aid. We're not arming these guys, we're just changing the direction they're pointing their guns in,' Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. ground forces commander, said last month.
"Regardless of where the weapons come from, the risk is that the Sunni tribesmen won't cooperate with the Shiite-led central government if they succeed in crushing their al-Qaida rivals. The effort could end up simply creating new Sunni militias, further undermining the authority of an already weak central government.

"In rural areas, tribal loyalty is often stronger than allegiance to the national government, especially when the central administration is weak.
"'There's no question that the people with guns in Iraq are looking after their own self-interest,' said Jon Alterman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 'And they don't have any sentimental attachment to the central government in Baghdad.'
"Mindful of that risk, the Shiite government's initial reaction to arming Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere was cool. Last month, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said arming Sunnis was simply creating new militias."
Apparently the Bush Administration will not be satisfied until the entire Middle East goes up in flames ~ as evidenced by the news yesterday (that conveniently knocked aside the earlier news that Bush had commuted Scooter Libby's sentence) dramatizing the Administration's long-held position that Iran must be made to heel.
Yesterday's report from US military intelligence was that Iran has been aiding Sunni insurgents in Iraq by promoting Hezbollah-style training & tactics, which, incidentally, provides more excuses for the US to avoid coming to scheduled talks with Iran.
Why engage in diplomacy before you've made such an intractible mess in the MidEast that you've amped your own opportunities to sell the world on the necessity of expanding your "War on Terra"?
Never mind that the root cause of aforesaid Terra is a long history of foreign manipulation & meddling in the region. Escalation, not negotiation, is the aim.


Monday, July 02, 2007

What's In Bush's Mind?

Ill: The Worried Shrimp
Our guess: cotton batting, extreme denial & a pound or so of dustmites

The WaPo, having dissected Dick Cheney, who's been in government so long he leaves (despite his best efforts, & a fetish for secrecy bordering on paranoid neuroticism) a distinct trail of standing for something, although nobody much likes it beyond the most deluded wingnuts, now turns its attention toward George himself, & can't seem to come up with any very good reasons George is the way he is ~ which is to say, obtuse, arrogant, inattentive & so overprivileged that he's never had to pay the price for any of the foregoing. Wealth & privilege have sheltered the bad boy all his life ~ there have been no real no consequences proportionate to the misdeeds.
Now it is showing, & neither he nor the country has any idea what to do about it.
Dan Froomkin highlights the article on Bush (title bar) so:
"It's open season on psychoanalyzing President Bush.
"The Washington Post this morning unfurls a 3,000-word attempt to figure out what's going on inside Bush's head as his presidency collapses around him. A particular mystery: How he is able to remain so calm and resolute amid so many signs of his own failures.
"Peter Baker leads his piece with word that Bush has been summoning authors and philosophers to the White House -- 'looking for answers,' it is said, to such questions as: 'What is the nature of good and evil in the post-Sept. 11 world? What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I'm facing? How will history judge what we've done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?'
If Bush is really seeking answers to these questions ~ & I seriously doubt that, somehow ~ (all indications so far are that he believes his own hype & is perfectly capable of staying on message despite a level of cognitive dissonance that would cause any sane person's head to explode) ~ he might keep in mind that the framing of a question has everything to do with the "answer" reached. If he really cannot think beyond the overly simplified black-white/good-evil dichotomy & begin to perceive the shades of grey, & there's been no indication he can (& nobody around him seems to have enough influence or sufficient inclination to disabuse him of his so-far disastrous world view which takes every conflict, domestic & foreign, to its extreme), he just has no business being President. He has neither the temperament (judicious use of intellectual firepower), nor any respect at all for the power & responsibilities of the office he holds. He betrays no particular knowledge of even recent history, & seems content to think himself beyond legal or basic moral constraints ~ a frat-boy despot who cannot comprehend why all of the rest of us don't get the joke. Isn't that why we "elected" him?
One suspects he really has no depth of self beyond that which his handlers (Cheney, Rove) taught to stay still & look into the camera. Like Popeye, with his exaggerated "musckles," Bush would probably be happy to tell you "I yam what I yam" ~ a one-dimensional character.
Froomkin goes on, "But to me, it sounds like Bush is looking not for answers -- but for rationalizations for his behavior. There is no sign of genuine introspection, no sign of acknowledgment of mistakes, no sign of any significant change of course. In a pattern familiar to anyone who has ever had a drinking problem, Bush appears to be engaged in a furious effort to persuade onlookers that he's fine -- even if he isn't.
"In fact, one could even argue that Bush's search for 'answers' from a parade of easily cowed visitors allows him to avoid a hard look at the one place he is most likely to find an explanation for his predicament: Within himself."
That's always been pretty apparent, in fact. The question we as a country might more appropriately (& fruitfully) ask is why we allowed ourselves to be bamboozled into "voting" for George Bush not once, but twice.