Friday, September 29, 2006

Pre-October surprise

Josh Marshall sums up the Foley scandal:
If I'm understanding this correctly, that means that the leaders of the House Republican caucus have known for almost a year that a member of their caucus was having cybersex with an underage congressional page. And apparently they did nothing about it.

I guess this is what they mean by eliminating the separation between church and state, with Foley as priest and the Republican leadership as the Catholic church.

Update: a dKos writer makes the same kind of comparison:

Fifty years from now, when historians write about the social problem of sexual predators in early 21st Century America, they will put a photo of Cardinal Bernard Law next to a photo of Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

On the other hand, the Republican response should come as no surprise: the problem was that Foley was gay. Of course he preyed upon underage boys -- that's what "they" do, doncha know. Take it from Mr. Family Values, Newt Gingrich.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The New Enabling Act

I fear it will do no good. I fear it is too late. But my take on the torture bill is up at Raw Story. The New Enabling Act is a sort of history lesson, about the worst sort of history, and how we are repeating it.

Update: It did no good. It was too late. America -- what I mean when I say America -- is no more. The line running from the Magna Carta through Independence Hall has been severed.

Via Shakespeare's Sis, another writer sees similar parallels. And a reader points out another from Thom Hartmann from early 2005 that foreshadows today's events.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Odd, I hadn't heard

U.S. deaths in war now exceed 9/11 losses

Now the death toll is 9/11 times two.

U.S. military deaths from Iraq and Afghanistan now surpass those of the most devastating terrorist attack in America’s history, the trigger for what came next.

The latest milestone for a country at war came Friday without commemoration. It came without the precision of knowing who was the 2,974th to die in conflict. The terrorist attacks killed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Blogging 300

On the other hand, there are still some things seriously wrong with how the blogosphere works. Like, for instance, the fact that some of the most important voices belong to people who have unrelated day gigs (part and parcel of why they are able to speak truth about politics), and therefore feel the need from time to time to devote themselves to other tasks.

Witness Bilmon, one the best of the best. He (She? I always assumed Bilmon is a he, but that could be mere projection on my part) was one of the leading voices when I first found the blogosphere. Then he went largely silent for many months. Then he came back with a vengeance. Now he has announced another long hiatus.

Understandable. But a damned shame, nonetheless.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Blogging 101

There are still many, even in my own circle, who do not understand why some of us find blogs even more important as a news source than the mainstream sources. Attaturk @Rising Hegemon offers an eloquent demonstration of the reason.

The current Newsweek cover in various markets:


Deja Fool

Specter Objects to Part of Detainee Bill
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday he has a problem with the Republican agreement on rules for the interrogation and trial of suspects in the war on terror.

President Bush is pushing Congress to put the agreement into law before adjourning for the midterm elections, but Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Sunday he "vigorously" disagrees with the habeas corpus provision of the bill.

The provision would allow legal counsel and a day in court to only those detainees selected by the Pentagon for prosecution. Other terror suspects could be held indefinitely without a hearing.

"The courts have traditionally been open to make sure that individual rights are protected, and that is fundamental," Specter said on CNN's "Late Edition. "And the Constitution says when you can suspend the writ of habeas corpus, in time of rebellion or invasion. And we don't have either. So that has to be changed, in my opinion."

Specter scheduled a hearing on the issue for Monday. Otherwise, he said, most of the legislation is a "big improvement" over what Bush originally proposed.

How many times is this movie going to be re-run? The over/under on the interval between (a) the moment when Arlen imitates a Senator and (b) when the Dick tightens Arlen's choke collar and he pronounces himself satisfied has to be about 72 hours.

There is no better example in contemporary politics of sound and fury signifying nothing than Arlen Specter pretending to question the Bush Administration.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Just that simple

Ariel Dorfman in the WaPo via Marty Lederman:
I will leave others to claim that torture, in fact, does not work, that confessions obtained under duress . . . are useless. Or to contend that the United States had better not do that to anyone in our custody lest someday another nation or entity or group decides to treat our prisoners the same way.

I find these arguments -- and there are many more -- to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America?

Saturday, September 23, 2006


How does the Bush Administration respond to the inflammatory words of Hugo Chavez at the U.N. mere days ago? By proving them right.

New colors

Esoder whipped this alternate mascot some time ago. I held off posting it because I just knew things would get worse, that our government would offer up more obscene betrayals.

Behold V-meme.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Darkness descends

Greenwald, guesting @ Salon, surveys the wreckage:
The president got everything he wanted. What he calls the "program" -- and which much of the world calls "torture" -- will continue unabated, arguably even stronger, as a result of this legislative "compromise." In his celebratory statement Thursday night, the president was absolutely right when he said: "I had a single test for the pending legislation, and that's this: Would the CIA operators tell me whether they could go forward with the program, that is a program to question detainees to be able to get information to protect the American people. I'm pleased to say that this agreement preserves the most single -- most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets."

The White House's Dan Bartlett put it best, and most accurately, when he said: "We proposed a more direct approach to bringing clarification. This one is more of the scenic route, but it gets us there." Only the Bush administration could speak of taking a "scenic route" to torture. But Bartlett's description, creepy and chilling though it may be, is not mere spin designed to make a compromising president look triumphant. Bush, in fact, did triumph and did not compromise in any meaningful sense, because the only goal he had -- to ensure that his "alternative interrogation program" would continue -- was fulfilled in its entirety as a result of this "compromise" (with the added bonus that it will even be strengthened by legal authorization from Congress).

Marty Lederman, both here and here, provides the legal and statutory analysis as to why and how the "compromise" legislation legalizes the president's torture program, and I will have more on that later. But the bottom line should not be clouded. This debate was never about legalistic disputes concerning the wording of amendments to the War Crimes Act or what phrases would be used to statutorily define "torture." What was implicated by this controversy was something much more profound and fundamental: namely, what kind of country we choose to be, and whether we will adhere to or repudiate our defining national principles and values.

If this "compromise" legislation is enacted -- and it can now be stopped only by the invisible, impotent congressional Democrats -- the United States will be a country that has formally legalized torture, and the president's "interrogation program" will continue unimpeded, with firmer legal authorization than ever before. And the American people, through our representatives in Congress, will have embraced and approved of the use of torture. Far and away, it is the impact on our national character that will be the most significant and enduring result from this "compromise."

The palace eunuchs once known as the Congressional Democrats will boldly change the subject. An almost unprecedentedly unpopular President will again get his way. Congress will sanction Bush's dictatorial sadism.

And the America that once was -- the inhabitant of the moral high ground, the aspirational archetype -- is no more. America the officially licensed thug now takes it place.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The least likely mutiny

The current Harper's magazine has a call to rebellion by government officials from Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. It isn't online but you can read excerpts here. This isn't exactly what he had in mind, but it is a helluva start: Rendition - CIA ‘refused to operate’ secret jails
The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators’ refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

When Mr Bush announced the suspension of the secret prison programme in a speech before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, some analysts thought he was trying to gain political momentum before the November midterm congressional elections.

The administration publicly explained its decision in light of the legal uncertainty surrounding permissible interrogation techniques following the June Supreme Court ruling that all terrorist suspects in detention were entitled to protection under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions.

But the former CIA officials said Mr Bush’s hand was forced because interrogators had refused to continue their work until the legal situation was clarified because they were concerned they could be prosecuted for using illegal techniques. One intelligence source also said the CIA had refused to keep the secret prisons going.

They are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons -- fear of getting caught -- to be sure. But this move indicates that even in the CIA they are now less afraid of the Bush cabal than they are of what will follow. Two years ago, such a mutiny would have been unthinkable.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Anti-Sully

Jim Henley @Unqualified Offerings so gets it:

If Something’s Not Worth Doing It’s Not Worth Doing Right
Inconveniently, the Bush Administration’s effort in Iraq has been so cosmically inept you feel sheepish holding it up as an example of a structural flaw in interventionism itself. Maybe, a voice whispers, this crowd really did just suck that much. But I have to throw the flag when the lesson Greg Djerejian draws from the story is

We must now focus on lessons learned, including ensuring that a nation-building effort is never again run via such cronyistic folly, but rather by finding and incentivizing the best and the brightest to man the effort, selected mostly by rigorous meritocratic criteria. Rumsfeld initially demanded ownership of this nation-building effort and ran it with his typically cheap bravura, a frivolity that would have led a better man to long ago resign in shame (it should be noted too that the President and the Vice President are totally complicit in the mostly bungled effort).
Near as I can tell, he’s not using the phrase “best and brightest” with even a hint of irony. This isn’t the first war to produce a slew of articles and books about American naivete and vainglory abroad. This isn’t the first political party to produce a clown college of political missionaries.

Before we get too wrapped up in finding and incentivizing, it’s worth reviewing just what a stupid idea the Iraq plan was in the first place. Yglesias gets part of it:

The idea was that we were going to reconstruct Iraq into a stable, unitary, liberal democracy in the heart of the Middle East. The odds of achieving this were always extremely low.
But it’s worse than that. “We” were going to reconstruct Iraq into a stable, unitary, liberal democracy in the heart of the Middle East so that the rest of the Muslim Middle East would remake itself in Iraq’s image so that a violent fringe of the Muslim Middle East would cease committing terrorism against the United States and the mass of the Muslim Middle East would drop its objections to American policies in the region because they now basked in the sunshine of freedom. The standard theory, you’ll recall, is that oppressive governments denied self-expression to their people, bamboozling them with anti-Israeli and anti-American propaganda. The most restless among their subjects turned their violent frustrations outward instead of upward. Democratic reform in the Middle East would change all this. That was how the conquest of Iraq would win the Global War on Terror.

The Iraq War could only count as a victory, on its advocates’ own terms, if the rest of the Muslim Middle East set about emulating a stable, unitary, liberal democratic Iraq and anti-American terrorism ended because of that.

Of all the reasons the Big Idea should strike you as self-evidently stupid, the biggest, I think, is what we might call the attitude problem. The Big Idea is monumentally condescending. Those silly Hajis don’t know their own minds! They say they hate our policies, but that’s just confusion!

You can’t do a genuinely effective job of “freeing” people you think so little of. While hawks from President Bush on down accused doves of “thinking some people don’t deserve freedom,” it was the hawks themselves who located all of the wisdom on our side, and all of the pathology on the Other. Why on earth would conquerors like that pay any real attention to what their subjects/clients thought their society needed? What could people like that know that mattered?

Focusing on the bungling may be effective short-term politics. But perfect execution of such a fundamentally flawed idea -- an idea rooted in arrogance befitting 19th century British colonialism -- would have likely brought us to the same place.

Sully and the liberal war hawks cling to the belief that the plan could have worked -- that their noble experiment was dashed by the incompetence of its implementation. They refuse to acknowledge the fault within.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Conal, party of four five

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Yoo Boob

John Yoo, professional torture apologist, , offers up absurdity on toast from the pages of the New York Times today.

How the Presidency Regained Its Balance - New York Times

The changes of the 1970’s occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon’s use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents. Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution, which purports to cut off presidential uses of force abroad after 60 days. It passed the Budget and Impoundment Act to eliminate the modest presidential power to rein in wasteful spending. The Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act required the government to get a warrant from a special court to conduct wiretapping for national security reasons.

These statutes have produced little but dysfunction, from flouting of the war powers law, to ever-higher pork barrel spending, to the wall between intelligence and law enforcement that contributed to our failure to stop the 9/11 attacks.

If there has been a more absurd statement from a conservative recently, it does not come to mind. I seem to recall that such folks generally considered the Cold War to consititute a serious national security threat to U.S. soil.

Similarly idiotic rewriting of history abounds:

The judiciary, too, has been increasingly assertive over the last three decades. It has shown far less deference to the executive in this war than in past conflicts. This energetic judiciary is partly a response to Congress’s bulked-up power; the courts have had to step in to try to repair the problems created by vague laws that try to do too much, that state grandiose goals, while avoiding hard policy choices.

Hello, Yoofus? Remember Youngstown Steel in the 50's? Truman tried to nationalize steel production, and the Supremes yanked his choke collar? Remember the way civil rights happened in the 60's? Remember Roe v. Wade? And you are going to tell me that since that time, the Supremes have been more assertive?

As usual, Greeenwald is on the case. The real outrage is that the NYT consistently offers such absurdity its platform.

Update: Josh Marshall makes the same point as well.

So If an influential Republican penned an OpEd arguing that the moon is made of green cheese, the Jews sunk the Titanic, and Green M&Ms are an aphrodesiac, would they run that, too? Is there no filtering for absurdity or outrage?

Friday, September 15, 2006

That'll keep the Mexicans out

Iraq to dig trenches around Baghdad - Yahoo! News
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi security forces will dig trenches around Baghdad and set up checkpoints along all roads leading into the city to try to reduce some of the violence plaguing the capital, the Interior Ministry said Friday.

The plan to dig trenches around Baghdad will be implemented in coming weeks, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Kareem Khalaf told The Associated Press.

It comes as more than 130 people were slain in two days — either killed in attacks or tortured and dumped in rivers or on the city's streets.

"Trenches will be dug around Baghdad in the coming weeks when the third part of the Baghdad security plan is implemented," Khalaf said.

The security plan, known as Operation Together Forward, began June 15 and is being implemented in three phases. The first phase included setting up random checkpoints around the city, phase two began Aug. 7 and focused on the most violence-prone areas of Baghdad — mostly the Sunni Arab southern districts. Phase three reportedly includes cordoning off and searching other parts of Baghdad, including predominantly Shiite areas.

Khalaf said that except for the trenches, vehicle and pedestrian traffic would be restricted to just 28 entry points with manned checkpoints.

"We will leave only 28 inlets to Baghdad while all other inlets will be blocked. Supports will be added to the trenches to hinder the movements of people and vehicles. The trenches will be under our watch," he said.

Or perhaps you prefer thinking of Cold War-era Berlin as the role model here.

Put aside how laughably archaic this approach is on a tactical level, and think about the big picture. Fences, walls and moats are designed to keep evil out (or, occasionally, in). When you control both sides, a moat is unnecessary. So the building of a barrier around the capital city of the chief battleground in the war on terrah is telling. Just as Hamid Karzai is the president of Kabul, the nominal government of Iraq, seated earlier this year, is now willing to fall back to trying to govern Baghdad.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bob Ney to plead out

Washington — Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney has agreed with the Justice Department to plead guilty to at least one criminal charge in a deal that could be announced as early as Friday, Capitol Hill sources said Thursday.
Ney’s woes stem from dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff that became public in 2004. A Texas Indian tribe told the Senate Indian Affairs committee that Ney agreed to help them re-open a closed casino in exchange for political donations and a trip to Scotland to play golf.

Ney said he was misled by Abramoff and his associates. He denied wrongdoing even after Abramoff and other lobbyists for casino-operating Indian tribes pleaded guilty to criminal charges that stemmed from efforts to ply Ney with gifts including sports tickets, meals and trips, that were in exchange for official acts.

Four lobbyists, including Ney’s former chief-of-staff, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case.

Ney, ney.
Ney ney ney, ney.
Hah hah hah,
Go-od bye.

Un-Sullied by reality

Political Sybil Andrew Sullivan has been more good witch than bad witch lately. But even when he is arguing in favor of a reality-based position, elements of magical thinking seem to poke through. To wit:

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: Fire. Rumsfeld. Now.

The reason I am and have been so angry at this administration is because I believe we had an astonishing chance to turn around the Arab-Muslim world with a serious effort to transform Iraq, and Bush didn't trust the American people enough to do it. I regard that as a betrayal of his 9/11 promise.

Thus Sully is firmly in the "I was right but betrayed" camp. Never mind that never in a gazillion years would Americans have agreed to sacrifice nearly 3000 dead, tens of thousands severely wounded, and and $300 billion to "transform Iraq." Never mind that there is little evidence that anyone in the Bush Administration had a clue about what might be involved in such a Quixotic undertaking. The plan Sully embraced was perfect; the fly in the ointment was Rummy's execution.

Sully clings to this binky as a way of avoiding the pain of confronting his own eagerness to believe the objectively absurd: that we could somehow instigate a democracy at gunpoint and create a chimera -- a government at once compliantly pro-Western and representative of a populace that is not.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Martingale much?

Last month I explained why it was so massively, cosmically stupid. Today, William Kristol and Rich Lowry adopt it as their hail Mary.
There is no mystery as to what can make the crucial difference in the battle of Baghdad: American troops. A few thousand U.S. troops have already been transferred to Baghdad from elsewhere in Iraq. Where more U.S. troops have been deployed, the situation has gotten better. Those neighborhoods intensively patrolled by Americans are safer and more secure. But it is by no means clear that overall troop numbers in Baghdad are enough to do the job. And it is clear that stripping troops from other fronts risks progress elsewhere in the country.

The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment. This means the ability to succeed in Iraq is, to some significant degree, within our control. The president should therefore order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.

Exporting Iraq

Remember the classic exchange between George Bush and Vladimir Putin a mere two months ago about the desirability of exporting the Iraqi model to Russia?
During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same," Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly."

Russia may be uninterested, but there is another enthusiastic importer of all that has worked in Iraq:

Taliban adopting Iraq-style jihad |
Even in near-total darkness, the wounded Taliban fighter insists on masking his identity, his head and face covered by a tightly wound white cloth. Only two bright eyes and a confident voice tell how Afghanistan's Islamist militants are ramping up their fight against US and NATO forces.

He speaks a warning, of how the "new" Taliban has become more radical, more sophisticated, and more brutal than the Taliban ousted by US-led forces in 2001 - and of how its jihadist agenda now mirrors that of Al Qaeda, stretching far beyond Afghanistan.

Among the keys to the Taliban resurgence - which is sparking lethal violence on a scale unknown here for almost five years - are crucial lessons drawn from Iraq.

"That's part of our strategy - we are trying to bring [the Iraqi model] to Afghanistan," says the fighter. "Things will get worse here."

Those "things" include suicide attacks, assassinations of government officials, moderate clerics, and civilians, along with guerrilla tactics now in use against Western forces in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where NATO claims to have killed more than 500 insurgents in 10 days of intense fighting.

Like the man said:
Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.) The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Teh funny juxtpositionjuxtaposition

from the personalized Google home page:

Search giant, heal thyself.

All those in favor?

Courtesy Wikipedia:

The full text of the amendment (passed several times by the U.S. House of Representatives):

The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
This proposed amendment was intended to give Congress the right to enact statutes criminalizing the burning or other desecration of the United States flag...

Monday, September 11, 2006


I've tried to avoid the significance of the day, but I can't.

Like Digby, like Olberman, mostly I'm angry. But the pictures bring back the horror, too.

I have nothing profound to say. The sense of loss and incompleteness return, unbidden, stubborn.

And I grieve.

How to be the Taliban's BFF

The Statesman
Jamilla Niazi is a 40-year-old woman with a freckly face and high cheekbones. When she arrives in a refugee camp in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, to speak to me via webcam, her features are hidden behind the blue burkha she is forced to wear in the scorching summer swelter. She peels back the gauze and smiles.

She doesn’t do this much any more ~ not since the death threats began to come every night, pledging to burn her in acid. Jamilla has, the author’s rage, committed an offence against the immutable moral laws of Afghanistan: she is the headteacher of a school for girls.

“The Taliban have come back. They control this area now,” the aid worker from the Senlis Council, who is with her, tells me. The night before we speak, they burned down a school in nearby Nabili, and they have announced they are coming for Jamilla next.

Jamilla grew up in a country where 40 per cent of women had jobs ~ better than some western countries at that time ~ but when the Taliban took over in 1996, she was ordered to go home and live the rest of her life in purdah. The sound of women laughing was declared an offence, punishable by whipping. Women accused of adultery, lesbianism or reading a book other than the Koran were shot in the Kabul sports stadium before a howling male mob.

But Jamilla could not accept being reduced to the status of a piece of soft furnishing: she set up a secret school for girls in her home, where she continued to teach them to read and write. Even so, “when I was shut at home and not allowed to go out, it was like being in jail,” she says now. “For six years, I was sick in my head. Now my head is hurting again. I am frightened because we are going back to that time.” She did not think it would be like this. “I was so happy to see the foreigners [in 2001], we all cried with joy to see the Taliban leave,” she explains.

“All the women were happy and most of the men too. But now we are not happy.” When the Taliban reformed and began to psychologically dominate her hometown of Lashkagar once more, Jamilla began to worry her school would be attacked. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted in May that more than 200 girls’ schools have been destroyed by the Taliban, almost certainly an underestimation. Teachers have been gunned down in front of their pupils, and there was even a landmine placed in a playground.

When the death threats began, she approached the nearby British military base for protection. Since the western rhetoric at the time of the invasion was all about how we were committed to women like Jamilla, she assumed her school would be offered immediate protection.

The individual British soldiers were very sympathetic ~ but explained, “We’re not in that business.” Their orders do not include directly protecting female civilians and girls’ schools from Talibanist slaughter. Sorry.

The day I spoke to her, Jamilla had finally decided to go into hiding. I ask her if I should change her name in this article to protect her from further threats. “No,” she says. “Use my name.” She does not want the Taliban to take even that away from her.

Just five years after all the lush promises, how did Afghanistan end up like this? The Senlis Council, an invaluable independent think-tank, has more than 50 researchers living among ordinary Afghans, and in their exhaustive report “The Return of the Taliban” they give us the answer. The determination of the Bush administration to fight a “war on drugs” in Afghanistan has guaranteed we will lose the war against the Taliban.

Over the past five years, with British and American military support, a sinister corporation called DynCorps has been going to the fields of the poorest farmers in Afghanistan and systematically destroying them.

This is because they are growing opium poppies, used to make heroin that is freely bought on the streets of the West. Emmanuel Reinert, the executive director of the Senlis Council, explains, “The Taliban revival is directly, intimately related to the crop eradication programme. It could not have happened if the USA was not aggressively destroying crops. It is the single biggest reason Afghans turned against the foreigners.”

How would we react if we were already starving ~ one-quarter of all Afghan children die before their fifth birthday ~ and a foreign army declared its intention to wipe out 70 per cent of our economy? Reinert adds, “If you look at where the Americans have carried out the forced eradication programmes, it’s where people cannot feed their families. That’s where the Taliban is opportunistically gaining support.” People whose crops are being trashed will support anyone who rallies to defend them ~ even this monstrous Islamist Khmer Rouge, who have seized on the heroin eradication programmes, along with the evidence of US torture camps, not least Guantanamo Bay, to show “the West is waging war on Islam”.

If this aggressive counter-narcotics strategy is not drastically altered, Reinert says, “in the next six months the legitimacy of the Kabul government will collapse, all the cities of the south will fall to the Taliban, and they will mount an assault on Kabul”.

What bitter irony. Afghanistan is the war America forgot before we screwed up the forgotten war. And it is the one in which American troops were greeted as liberators. Now the endlessly suffering Afghans are suffering a resurgent Taliban among their re-arranged rubble.

From the start, Iraq was at best a near-impossible mission. Iraqis combine expectations of a high standard of living with ancient, unresolved ethnic divisions. Fixing Afghanistan would have been a comparative cakewalk. The fact that the Bush cabal has managed to utterly screw the pooch there, too is arguably a far more damning indication of their utter inability to accomplish, well, anything than is their manifest failure in Iraq.

Nixon went to China. Carter gave us the Camp David Accords. Reagan engaged in detente with the Soviets. George W. Bush, assuming he finishes out his term, will have not a single accomplishment to his credit.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Metaphor of the day

Can a python bite off more than it can chew?

A little bloating after a big meal is an occupational hazard for pythons. But this unfortunate creature found itself unable to slink away and sleep it off.
In fact, after swallowing a pregnant sheep, it couldn't move at all.

Firemen in the Malaysian village of Kampung Jabor, about 190km east of Kuala Lumpur, easily caught it after it was spotted on a road.
Pythons eat no more than once a week but when they open their incredible hinged jaws, anything is fair game.

This 5.5m python found its eyes were definitely bigger than its belly.
But sometimes their food really doesn't agree with them.

In October last year, a 3.6m python came off second best in Everglades National Park in Florida.

The snake, which tried to swallow a 1.8m alligator whole, exploded, said scientists who found the gory remains.

Interpretation left as an exercise to the reader.

Osama's accomplices

FRom the UK Guardian via Wolcott:The weekend's 9/11 horror-fest will do Osama bin Laden's work for him
Were I to take my life in my hands this weekend and visit Osama bin Laden's hideout in Wherever-istan, the interview would go something like this. I would ask how things have been for him since 9/11. His reply would be that he had worried at first that America would capitalise on the global revulsion, even among Muslims, and isolate him as a lone fanatic. He was already an "unwelcome guest" among the Afghans, and the Tajiks were out to kill him for the murder of their beloved leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud (which they may yet do). A little western cunning and he would have been in big trouble.

In the event Bin Laden need not have worried. He would agree, as did the CIA's al-Qaida analyst in Peter Taylor's recent documentary, that the Americans have done his job for him. They panicked. They drove the Taliban back into the mountains, restoring the latter's credibility in the Arab street and turning al-Qaida into heroes. They persecuted Muslims across America. They occupied Iraq and declared Iran a sworn enemy. They backed an Israeli war against Lebanon's Shias. Soon every tinpot Muslim malcontent was citing al-Qaida as his inspiration. Bin Laden's tiny organisation, which might have been starved of funds and friends in 2001, had become a worldwide jihadist phenomenon.

I would ask Bin Laden whether he had something special up his sleeve for the fifth anniversary. Why waste money, he would reply. The western media were obligingly re-enacting the destruction and the screaming, turning the base metal of violence into the gold of terror. They would replay the tapes and rerun the footage ad nauseam, and thus remind the world of his awesome power. Americans are more afraid of jihadists this year than last. In a Transatlantic Trends survey, the number of them describing international terrorism as an "extremely important threat" went up from 72% to 79%. As for European support for America's world leadership, that has plummeted from 64% in 2002 to 37% this year.

Make no mistake about the real purpose of PT 911, Bush's speech, and the festival of blood surrounding them. These echoes are a seance: an attempt to conjure the ghost of cowering past. Fear is the new Soma, and King George needs to up our meds.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Shrill: Krugman Friedman nails it

It is behind the wall, of course, but Sully's "money quote" makes me suspicious that someone in the NYT pressroom switched bylines on us:
Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism, and let’s have an unprecedented wartime tax cut and shrink our armed forces. They told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism, but let’s send just enough troops to topple Saddam — and never control Iraq’s borders, its ammo dumps or its looters. They told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism, but rather than bring Democrats and Republicans together in a national unity war coalition, let’s use the war as a wedge issue to embarrass Democrats, frighten voters and win elections. They told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism — which is financed by our own oil purchases — but let’s not do one serious thing about ending our oil addiction.

And Sully also quotes Krauthammer with approval. I wouldn't go that far, but I have to admit that there is more reality in this Krauthammer piece than in anyhting I've seen from him in a long time:
The other rationale for withdrawal is that the war is lost and therefore it is unconscionable to make one more American soldier die for a cause that cannot be salvaged.

It is a serious argument from which we have been distracted during the past several months by the increasingly absurd debate over the meaning of the term "civil war," and whether Iraq is in one.

Of course it is. It began when the Sunni minority, unwilling to accept the finality of the Baathist defeat, began making indiscriminate war on the Kurdish-Shiite majority that had inherited the country as a result of the U.S. invasion.

Iraq is not Spain in the 1930s or America in the 1860s, but whether the phrase "civil war" is to be used is irrelevant. The relevant question is, can we still win, meaning can we leave behind a functioning, self-sustaining, Western-friendly constitutional government?
Yesterday Maliki took over operational control of the Iraqi armed forces, the one national security institution that works. He needs to demonstrate the will to use it. The American people will support a cause that is noble and necessary, but not one that is unwinnable. And without a central Iraqi government willing to act in its own self-defense, this war will be unwinnable.

Must be getting lonely at the wingnut mixers.

Come on in, Ann, the water's fine

Afghanistan news from Yahoo! News
KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide car bomber struck a convoy of U.S. military vehicles Friday in downtown Kabul, killing at least 16 people, including two American soldiers, and wounding 29 others. It was the Afghan capital's deadliest suicide attack since the Taliban's 2001 ouster. The blast near the U.S. Embassy came as NATO chiefs appealed for member nations to send reinforcements to combat resurgent Taliban militants fanning the deadliest violence in five years. A top British general said the fighting in volatile southern Afghanistan was now more ferocious than in Iraq.

Unfabulous fabulist Ann Coulter, two weeks ago:
Last night on Hannity and Colmes, guest host Kirsten Powers confronted Ann Coulter about President Bush’s failure to capture Osama Bin Laden and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

Coulter responded, “As for catching Osama, it’s irrelevant. Things are going swimmingly in Afghanistan.”

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Whipped Mouse

Greenwald nails it.

But the image that I think we really ought to be pushing (and asking ABC about) is this one:

ABC could remedy its apparent omission from their shlockumentary by running Fahrenheit 9/11 right behind it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I ask again...

What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA
In the spring of 2002 Dick Cheney made one of his periodic trips to CIA headquarters. Officers and analysts were summoned to brief him on Iraq. Paramilitary specialists updated the Vice President on an extensive covert action program in motion that was designed to pave the way to a US invasion. Cheney questioned analysts about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. How could they be used against US troops? Which Iraqi units had chemical and biological weapons? He was not seeking information on whether Saddam posed a threat because he possessed such weapons. His queries, according to a CIA officer at the briefing, were pegged to the assumptions that Iraq had these weapons and would be invaded--as if a decision had been made.

Though Cheney was already looking toward war, the officers of the agency's Joint Task Force on Iraq--part of the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations--were frantically toiling away in the basement, mounting espionage operations to gather information on the WMD programs Iraq might have. The JTFI was trying to find evidence that would back up the White House's assertion that Iraq was a WMD danger. Its chief of operations was a career undercover officer named Valerie Wilson.

Your humble scribe, five months ago:
What if it wasn't an accident? What if they outed her not (or not just) to get at her husband, but to get at her?

Think about the demonstrated disdain of Bush and Cheney for any and all intel that contradicted their preordained conclusions about Iraq. Then think about the neocon arrogance that then, as now, targeted Iran as next on their regime change to-do list.

In that context, Valerie Plame's knowledge of what was really going on in the WMD arena did not make her an asset -- it made her a very dangerous woman. When Joe Wilson went public with the truth about the way the Administration cooked the books on Iraq, the Administration must have been concerned that Valerie Plame would do the same when they turned their guns toward Iran.

What if they wanted us to think that their purpose was to smack Joe Wilson, but only as a smokescreen for their next Crusade? Maybe I'm overly impressed with Karl Rove's legendary ability to think five moves ahead, but he loves these kinds of two-birds-one-stone stunts.

Then the rumour was about Plame working on Iran's WMD aspirations. now, well past the level of a rumor, is the report that she was actually at the center of the efforts to find the facts about Iraq's WMD status. That only makes my paranoid suspicion look all the more appropriate.

If I'm right, the fact that Plame was married to Joseph Wilson was not terribly important as motive to out her, though it provided opportunity, in the warped logic that determines strategy inside Bushworld. Given what she was doing, and her ability to undermine the predicate for the invasion of Iraq, she could have been married to Brian Wilson and they still would have found a way to eliminate the threat she posed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

L’État, c’est moi: environmental edition

Bush Declares Eco-Whistleblower Law Void for EPA Employees

The Bush administration has declared itself immune from whistleblower protections for federal workers under the Clean Water Act, according to legal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result of an opinion issued by a unit within the Office of the Attorney General, federal workers will have little protection from official retaliation for reporting water pollution enforcement breakdowns, manipulations of science or cleanup failures.

Citing an "unpublished opinion of the [Attorney General's] Office of Legal Counsel," the Secretary of Labor's Administrative Review Board has ruled federal employees may no longer pursue whistleblower claims under the Clean Water Act. The opinion invoked the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity which is based on the old English legal maxim that "The King Can Do No Wrong." It is an absolute defense to any legal action unless the "sovereign" consents to be sued.

The opinion and the ruling reverse nearly two decades of precedent. Approximately 170,000 federal employees working within environmental agencies are affected by the loss of whistleblower rights.
This is of a piece with the warrantless NSA spying, the Presidential signing statements, and all the other manifestations of an Executive branch utterly contemptuous of any authority but its own.

I consider myself an environmentalist. I'm not pure in my lifestyle or my consumer choices, but I have made and continue to make efforts to make a difference regarding green issues. But this story encapsulates the reasons why I don't spend a lot of time writing about the need for political action on those specific issues: it just doesn't matter what environmental laws say, because these guys will ignore whatever they don't like. The only way to make meaningful progress on green issues is to drive these cretins out of office.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Devaluing Labor

Or, a succinct reminder, from Fred Hiatt's Washington Post, no less, of the reason opinion columns in newspapers are called "OpEds" -- a contraction of "opposite editorial":
The young may be understandably incredulous, but the Great Compression, as economists call it, was the single most important social fact in our country in the decades after World War II. From 1947 through 1973, American productivity rose by a whopping 104 percent, and median family income rose by the very same 104 percent. More Americans bought homes and new cars and sent their kids to college than ever before. In ways more difficult to quantify, the mass prosperity fostered a generosity of spirit: The civil rights revolution and the Marshall Plan both emanated from an America in which most people were imbued with a sense of economic security.

That America is as dead as the dodo. Ours is the age of the Great Upward Redistribution.
For the bottom 90 percent of the American workforce, work just doesn't pay, or provide security, as it used to.

Devaluing labor is the very essence of our economy. I know that airlines are a particularly embattled industry, but my eye was recently caught by a story on Mesaba Airlines, an affiliate of Northwest, where the starting annual salary for pilots is $21,000 a year, and where the company is seeking a pay cut of 19 percent. Maybe Mesaba's plan is to have its pilots hit up passengers for tips.

Labor Day is almost upon us. What a joke.
And isn't it a remarkable coincidence that while median income has been declining in 46 states, it has been rising in the District of Columbia? If you could somehow reverse out the K Street thievery, I'd wager D.C. would look a lot more like the rest of the country.

Progress. Courtesy of the Let Them Eat Cake Party.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Katrina, dissipated

Digby beats himself up for being so wrong about the lasting effects of the Katrina disaster.

Well, I guess that should make two of us. Like Digby (well, ok, in a pale imitation of Digby), I railed at the tragic, incompetent indifference a year ago. And I wrote my outrage into a long piece, "The re-sinking of the Titanic,"that talked about the long-term effects of that disaster from almost a century ago, and about how Katrina would have similar echoes:

The press, miraculously emboldened by some fateful combination of outrage, fear and disgust, has finally found its voice. A real story is finally displacing endless loops of celebrity indulgences and missing white women. And that real story is tailor-made to help the press hold the government’s nose to the steaming pile of poo they have left in our home. Telegenic images of devastation and destruction will remain available for months, as will tens or hundreds of thousands of furious displaced residents. Reporters will not need to trek to far-off lands to bring back footage of failures and broken promises and dead Americans. The tragedy of New Orleans, a tragedy inseparable from issues of class and race, will haunt every living room in America.

Lest we grow tired of the story, the government’s transparent attempts to hide its failures and its apparatus of incompetence offer a seemingly endless supply of insensitivities and outrages that will only feed our anger. Now that skeptics hold the klieg lights, the President’s incompetence transcends the backdrops of his carefully staged photo ops. As Bush careens from one gaffe to the next, one cannot escape the impression that, had he been captain of the Titanic, he would, after reaching the bridge a few hours after first striking the iceberg, have ordered the ship to back up and ram it again.

George Bush’s hagiographic self-image was defined four years ago this week. When there was nothing to do but dig through the rubble and get angry, a dazed and frightened nation gave its new president tremendous credit for figuring out which end of the bullhorn to speak into. The fact that his response killed nearly two thousand mostly poor Americans while enriching Halliburton et al. has taken years to register.

Four years later, the captain of the ship of state has learned nothing. People are again suffering and dying due to the failures of his leadership – and Halliburton again benefits. But this time the bluster and misdirection are fooling no one. And so we may finally have reached a day of reckoning, which should lead to the most important Titanic parallel of all: though he is too craven to do it voluntarily, justice requires that the captain again go down with his ship.

So I , too, am an idiot.

Update: Jonathan Alter adds his mea culpa.

Friday, September 01, 2006

No tin foil hat required - Gasoline prices could keep falling
Gasoline prices are falling fast and could keep dropping for months.

"The only place they have to go is down," says Fred Rozell, gasoline analyst at the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS). "We'll be closer to $2 than $3 come Thanksgiving."
It's good news for consumers and the economy. Continued lower prices "may act like a tax cut" and stimulate spending, says Richard DeKaser, chief economist at National City in Cleveland. He calculates that higher energy prices the first six months cut growth of consumer spending 1 percentage point.

OK, let's review a few fundamentals, shall we?

Prudhoe Bay? Offline.

Iraqi output? Far below pre-war levels.

Alberta tar pits? Expensive, and built to stay that way.

Demand in China? Exploding.

So all of the fundamentals seem to point in the opposite direction from that indicated by Mr. Petropundit.

What, I wonder, could be pushing prices down now? Let me think.... Could there be a political angle? Cui bono?

You don't suppose... nah... the coming election couldn't possibly have anything to do with the drop in gasoline prices (by a whopping dime where I live) and the rosy predictions, could it? I mean, just because prices are predicted (hyped?) to trend downward through the very month the elections take place doesn't mean they are connected, right? It isn't like the Administration has much at stake, or has connections to the oil indistry or anything.

Nah. Couldn't be. Mr. Rozell says the only direction prices could possibly go is down, and why wouldn't we believe him?

Coming Soon: Rhode Island for Chafee?

A new poll out from Rhode Island College shows that conservative challenger Steve Laffey is crushing incumbent GOP Senator Lincoln Chaffee by 17 points -- 51%-34%. Fifteen percent are undecided -- that is, less are undecided than the point spread. Chafee really is on course to lose this thing.

I have no idea if this is a possibility under Rhode Island law. (Calling Dr. Bloor....) But what if Chafee loses and pulls a Lieberman? From the opposite coast, my sense is he is nowhere near as venal as Joementum is, but play along for a minute, becaus it raises a bucnh of interesting questions. What does it do to this race? My guess is Whitehouse still wins going away. What does it do to the Republican Party? That could get interesting -- they must like Laffey better on the issues, but (a) they have the same pro-incumbent bias as the Democrats, and (b) they obviously know that Laffey doesn't have a prayer in such a blue state. One possibility is that it effectively gives Libby Dole a reason to turn off the tap for RI entirely and send her love elsewhere.

But the really interesting question is about the effect on the whole two-party system. The netroots movement is in part a challenge to the machine aspect of party politics. So, obviously, was Ned Lamont's campaign. Now Joe Lieberman is challenging The System. If Chafee does the same, I think it will be safe to conclude that the whole structure is under attack, and that at least some in Washington will feel the need to put down their copies of My Pet Goat.

And what if Chafee and Lieberman join forces and try to create their own "centrist" party? And what if it works for both of them? If Chafee goes that way, it probably helps Lieberman significantly. I don't know if teaming with Lieberman does Chafee any good, though.

I'm not smart enough to see that many moves down the chessboard. But the possibilities are both intriguing and frightening.

Oh, and the whole Lieberman approach seems to have legs in other arenas as well.

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