Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bush proposes and Cheney touts government-paid supply-side propaganda.

Apparently for Bush and Cheney, putting pressure, intimidating, browbeating and bribing other federal agencies into reporting only what they wanted and not reporting what they didn't like (e.g. the CIA with Iraq, Education Dept. payola scandal, abstinence education, side effects of abortion, and a bunch of others I'm too tired to name right now) is not enough. Now, they've moved to the realm of creating new offices that they can be assured will tell them whatever they want to hear.

According to The Washington Post, Cheney was at CPAC today touting Bush's proposed "dynamic tax analysis office"--a federal government analysis division that is dedicated to proving the efficacy of supply-side tax cuts. If I weren't living in America, I would think Pravda had come back to life. Oh wait--this is neocon America. It all makes sense. Presumably, the next thing we'll hear is that the "independent and non-partisan dynamic tax analysis office" found that tax cuts are boosting federal revenue. I wonder if we'll get to find out about the background of the people that will be staffing this office. Maybe someone can ask Scotty McC and have him "get back to us" on it.

And the federal government is going to spend $513,000 paying people to repeat the supply-side mantra back and make speculative guesses about a subject that has been a central debate of economists forever--and we all know what direction they're going to guess in:

Yes, Master Bush! Tax cuts for the rich are increasing federal receipts! What's what? Oh, that massive flood of red ink stretching as far as the eye can see? Yeah, you're right, Mr. President, it kinda is reminiscent of when Reagan did the exact same thing, but I gotta tell you Mr. President, without your tax cuts for the wealthy, this would have been a veritable tsunami of red ink! I don't know what shape the federal budget would have been in without all those extra yacht sales tax receipts! It could have been a disaster!


In other news today, NAMBLA announced the creation of a commission to study the positive effects for young boys that ensue from relationships with older men...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Cheney speaks. For once, I agree.

[Written for Daily Kos]

In the Feb. 10th edition of the Washington Post, Jim VandeHei writes that Cheney wants to see the NSA spying situation to become a political issue for the 2006 Congressional elections.


For once, I agree with him.  Yes, the NSA spying fiasco should by all means be a subject that carries well into  and beyond election day 2006.  But where others here may see opportunity, I see danger.



Some in Washington are yielding to the temptation to downplay the threat and to back away from the business at hand," Cheney said. "That mind-set may be comforting, but it is dangerous.


That's what Cheney said at the annual CPAC conference.  It has a familiar ring to it.


Now refresh your memories on what recommended diarist thereisnospoon said about the lack of public penetration any one of the numerous daily scandals actually acquires in the public eye:


Yet nothing changes.

My apolitical friends remain clueless and apolitical.

The media continues to carry water for Bush, even though it's clear by now to everyone with eyes that the emperor has no clothes.

The Democrats, while they are doing better, continue to be unable to get their message across to John Q. Public--partly because the media hamstrings them.


And the GOP, meanwhile, laughs all the way to the bank, as they realize that they can truly get away with anything.


We may think that the pretty blatantly illegal activity of this administration is a weakness, but they don't see it that way.  That's because they know something we refuse to fully admit: that the public's attention span is short, and their unnuanced apolitical apathy will remain as ubiquitous as it ever was.


Because of this, where you may see opportunity--or, at the very worst, frustration that the message about their scandal and illegal activity just doesn't get through--I see worse.  I see foreboding.  I see the very things that should be our strengths used against us.  We know they do this, especially on national security issues.  Somebody lost three limbs serving this country when his opponenent never served?  Imply that he's an ally of Osama.  Someone receives three purple hearts while his opponent was drunk?  Mock him with purple hearts.  Someone has extensive experience in foreign policy?  Call him a consummate untrustworthy Washington insider, even though you've been President for four years.


You get the idea.  Every time they do something like this, it boggles our minds that the public doesn't care and the Fourth Estate, whose jobs we thought it was to actually convey some semblance of truth, refuses to point out the obvious in the apparent interests of non-partisan equivocation, or, in some cases, to serve their corporate masters who are in turn served by the GOP war on the middle class.


My friends, this is what I see with the NSA scandal.  I can almost guarantee you that in a few months, when election discussions really start heating up, our candidates will have to start defending themselves against charges that they don't want to see Al-Qaeda spied on.  We will be forced by the talking heads and the print sources who march lock-step with the talking points of their Republican masters to answer charges that by opposing wiretapping on Al-Qaeda that we have forgotten the lessons of Sept. 11th.


And once this has happened, every single time a Democratic candidate or official stands up and says, "no, we absolutely should be eavesdropping on Al-Qaeda", you'll see it reported by the traditional media that another Democrat has broken ranks and supports the President's policy on terror.


And all the while, we'll be stuck here writing diaries about how pissed we are that the media is failing to report that we've always supported spying on Al-Qaeda, but that the legal means that had previously been used to do it were doing just fine.  We'll have recommended diaries about the latest asshole media talking head who just carried water for a Republican candidate in spite of the presence of obvious facts suggesting the contrary.  And once again, the talking heads will say that we don't have a vision on national security and feed the perception that the Republicans are the party of national security.


It is a dark vision, and I would like to think it's impossible.  But my heart tells me that it isn't.  I feel a dark sense of dread that very soon, all of our own rifles will soon be pointed at us.


And soon, 2006 will come and go, with the exact same messages and sound bites as the 2004 campaign.  And we'll be left wondering why the hell the media can't see the obviousness of the truth.  We'll be wondering why the hell the public doesn't care.  We'll be baffled that despite the twice-daily scandals, we didn't get the equivalent of the Contract with America revolution of '94.


I like to end such "I fear for the world" diaries with a call to action--a call to push for a solution that I think will find us a way out of this hell.  But truth to tell, this time, I have none to give.


We've been screaming all we can about the particulars of the law--about the difference between legal and illegal wiretapping.  About the ineffectiveness and immorality of widespread data-mining.  About the fact that spying on communications is perfectly legal with a warrant and we support all such legally warranted spying.  The only thing I can say at this point is this:  keep up the good work.  I know that if we can't do it, nobody else will.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

This will chill your spine a little

Tom Holsinger comments on a post on the right-leaning blog Volokh Conspiracy's entry regarding the WaPo article referenced below.

<--shudder-->

You've got to like this part:

Judicial persistence in infringing on the executive's core responsibilities will result in more than resistance - the judicial branch risks its independence. Which is a good thing IMO. If they want to be legislators and executives, they should run for election.


Put back in Roman times, this would read: "In short, judges, if I don't like what you do, I, the Imperial President, will annex you. So you can either support everything that I do, or you can be eliminated. Your positions exists merely at my discretion."

Seriously...I mean, what purpose does this guy think the judicial branch is supposed to serve? A figurehead rubberstamp that gives only the appearance of separation of powers?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

FISA court vs. NSA: just keeps getting better.

The Washington Post reports on the fissure between two of the FISA court judges and the NSA/Bush administration.

Let's recap:

--the FISA judges told the NSA/Justice Dept. that if challenged, the program would likely be found unconstitutional, so they didn't want any evidence resulting from it to be used as probable cause for a FISA warrant.
--the NSA assured the court that no requests containing such evidence would come before the court.
--James Baker...JAMES A. BAKER, Bush's lawyer in Bush v Gore!...found out that the NSA wasn't living up to its promise, and informed the FISA judges.
--After a suspension of the program, the NSA once again provided tainted evidence, prompting an undoubtedly pissed-off FISA court to issue an ultimatum.
--The Justice Dept. didn't like Baker because he had his doubts about the legality of the program.

And now the money section of the article:

Shortly after the warrantless eavesdropping program began, then-NSA Director Michael V. Hayden and Ashcroft made clear in private meetings that the president wanted to detect possible terrorist activity before another attack. They also made clear that, in such a broad hunt for suspicious patterns and activities, the government could never meet the FISA court's probable-cause requirement, government officials said.

So it confused the FISA court judges when, in their recent public defense of the program, Hayden and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales insisted that NSA analysts do not listen to calls unless they have a reasonable belief that someone with a known link to terrorism is on one end of the call. At a hearing Monday, Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the "reasonable belief" standard is merely the "probable cause" standard by another name.

Several FISA judges said they also remain puzzled by Bush's assertion that the court was not "agile" or "nimble" enough to help catch terrorists. The court had routinely approved emergency wiretaps 72 hours after they had begun, as FISA allows, and the court's actions in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks suggested that its judges were hardly unsympathetic to the needs of their nation at war.

On Sept. 12, Bush asked new FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III in a Cabinet meeting whether it was safe for commercial air traffic to resume, according to senior government officials. Mueller had to acknowledge he could not give a reliable assessment.

Mueller and Justice officials went to Lamberth, who agreed that day to expedited procedures to issue FISA warrants for eavesdropping, a government official said.

The requirement for detailed paperwork was greatly eased, allowing the NSA to begin eavesdropping the next day on anyone suspected of a link to al Qaeda, every person who had ever been a member or supporter of militant Islamic groups, and everyone ever linked to a terrorist watch list in the United States or abroad, the official said.


Recap:

--The Justice Dept. was LYING ITS ASS OFF about why it was conducting the surveillance--saying on one hand that the court wasn't capable of handling the scope that they needed, so they needed the program, and saying on the other hand that the program was limited and targeted. So which is it?

--The Bush administration is LYING ITS ASS OFF about why it was ordering the surveillance. The FISA court, with restrictions eased after Sept. 11th, was more than capable enough of enabling the NSA to monitor the network of Abu Zubaida in a legal fashion, resulting in his capture and the breakup of his network.

And now, I bring you the recap of the whole article according to Redstate.com:

--WHY DOES THAT SURRENDER MONKEY FISA COURT HATE AMERICA!!!!!

Iran is the key for victory in 2006 and beyond.

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

Election fraud. "Osama bin Laden? I'm not that concerned about him." The Downing Street Memo. Curveball. Social Security reform. "You're doin' a heckuva job, Brownie." Regressive tax cuts. Massive deficits. Enron and Ken Lay. Halliburton. Torture. Unconstitutional indefinite detentions of U.S. citizens without trial or due process of law. Hostage-taking of spouses. Tom Delay. Jack Abramoff. Duke Cunningham. NSA/FISA/warrantless wiretapping. Trying to cut the Social Security death benefit. Anything else I left off the list that I should have mentioned.

You may categorize these as Republican scandals. I categorize them a different way:

Scandals that failed to bring this administration down, any one of which may have ruined any other administration. And every time another one emerges from the woodwork, we mutually express our revulsion, as well as our relief that this one will finally be the one that broke the camel's back. But it never is.

But there's one situation now that gives us the opportunity to break free of this cycle of disbelief: Iran.

We can keep on pressing on all the failures and scandals of this administration. But as John Cornyn so eloquently said, "none of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead." Our dear Senator Feingold's response to this was certainly worth noting, but the unfortunate fact is that a good deal of the public thinks that Feingold is nice in theory, but will side with Cornyn at the ballot box.

This was perfectly illustrated in a conversation I had with an old family friend not too long ago. He's a Democrat in all respects, but he doesn't follow politics very deeply. He asked me what the whole NSA/FISA thing was about, and I explained it to him. He said, "I don't really care, if they keep me safe. If they spy on my internet use, so what? I'm not doing anything wrong."

My friend will still vote Democratic. But there are many, many others who won't. And until we convince the American public that we will keep us safe better than the other guys--and Iran gives us the perfect opportunity. You may think that Iran will just be another foreign policy opportunity for the Republicans to exploit, but I counter that national security is not open to just one party to exploit. It's our national security too, dammit. I believe in what Wes Clark told me just this past Saturday:

our best hope is to take back one House of Congress. And the best way to do that is to talk national security and challenge them on it head-to-head.


And we now have the perfect opportunity. Iran has been in the news a lot lately, and we can either take advantage of it or we can fail to and let it take advantage of us.

Picture two different possible scenarios. In one, our congress, as the minority party, does its best to extract information to be released to the public about all the scandals of this administration, trying increasingly and ever more fervently to capitalize on a "throw the bums out" mentality that is currently rather pervasive among the electorate. Meanwhile, the Bush administration proudly announces the withdrawal of some forces from Iraq, boosting his public opinion polls. All the while, the Republican machine continues to ratchet up the rhetoric about the grave threat posed by Iran and their nuclear ambitions. By the time the Democratic leaders get their act organized enough to respond, Fox News will be introducing every other international news segment with the background "Iran: imminent nuclear threat." Chris Matthews will have Nagourney from the New York Times on his show, talking about the next scandal to hit the airwaves, and concluding his segment with "the Democrats are so desperate to bring down this administration that they're willing to let their country get nuked in the process." As tensions rise and unreliable intelligence is leaked to the public, tensions grow and the nation rallies around the current leadership, which keeps on repeating the mantra that they will keep us all safe from the imminent threat and makes everyone who disagrees out to be an unkempt granola-eating pacifist. End result: the Republicans keep their majority in 2006 and solidify their ability to maintain their assault on the democratic process.

By contrast, consider the scenario in which we follow Wes Clark's lead and challenge them about national security, and Iran in specific, before all the chips are out on the table and the Republican machine fires up the rhetoric on Iran. Imagine a scenario in which all of our Democratic leaders--led by our fighting Dems running for Congress and Senate, backed by our current Senators, and backed by our 2008 Presidental frontrunners, including a Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Imagine that we keep on repeating that Iran is a decade away from building a bomb, and that an attack will not increase our long-term security, but will fan the flames of fundamentalism while distracting from the more imminent threat of already extant nuclear material falling into terrorist hands. Imagine all of our leaders continuing to repeat that we need to have talks with Iran directly, rather than outsourcing our diplomacy to Europe like we outsourced getting Osama to Afghan Warlords.

Imagine after this that every time the Republicans ratcheted up the rhetoric on Iran that we responded every single time with the talking point that the Republicans are trying to use a military solution that is unwise and counterproductive to distract from the scandals that are plaguing the Republican leadership in the White House and Congress--the same effective argument the Republicans used against Bill Clinton. Imagine the voting public going to the ballot box in 2006, consistently reminded of these issues and consistently reminded of the 50+ veterans we have running for office, compared to the 2 they have running.

If we do that, you'll be looking at a completely different dynamic come November. We must not continue to rely on their own errors and scandals to bring them down, expecting that pointing it out will be enough and that the public will eventually see the light. Instead, we have to trump them on the issue that allows the public to ignore them in first place.

Iran is the key.

Comment on W's proposal to gut the Social Security death benefit

This comment by Kimberly Stone concerning Bush's proposal to eliminate the Social Security death benefit doesn't just deserve a link. It deserves to be reproduced in full. If profanity offends you, stop reading.

My disgust and rage are beyond words. (3.96 / 104)

Perhaps I should tell Preznit George W. Fucking Asshole Bush that:

(1) I was a widow at 40 years, 1 month, and 1 week. My husband wasn't yet 40 and took his own life. I found out the next day we had nothing in the bank. Nothing. I had about $18 in my wallet, the police had not yet released my husband's wallet to me (which turned out to be empty), and I had a jar of change on the kitchen counter. It costs $5000 to put a dead man in a box and burn him up. He didn't live to draw social security. So, you actually saved thousands. So, Mr. President, Bryan saved you some money and you should thank him, you fatuous fuck, and I did, indeed, take my $255.

(2) My mother was widowed at age 69, a widow of an 83 year old decorated disabled veteran. The treatment of the North Texas Veteran's Administration Hospital toward my father was of a standard of care that would be considered inhumane to a stray dog, much less a man whose body bore permanent scars and disfigurement for your freedom. My father died October 31 and the VA promptly took his entire month's disability payment out of my mother's bank account, and gave us the run around on getting it back. We finally had to humbly beg a Congressman to get them to send us a form, which they took 8 months to process, and then sent us a letter stating we were denied a pension and endure a VA employee saying she hadn't read our 'raggedy ass' letter so she couldn't respond to why the matter hadn't been handled correctly. We hadn't applied for a pension, just for that month's disability payment to be returned. SO, Mr. President, considering your veteran-hating Federal government fucked my mom over for nearly a year, she'll take that $255, thank you very much you worthless filthy maggot of a National Guard deserter.

George W. Bush is scum. Really and truly scum.

RedState Smackdown!

Smagar at RedState thought he (?) was being clever by challenging the Band of Brothers--the Democratic vet candidates running for federal and statewide offices--to answer individual policy points.

The smackdown comes in the form of a comment by a certain jackb29. Read it. Enjoy it.

I myself, however, will actually challenge the policy positions in my next post, and point out that Smagar still isn't as clever as he (?) at first supposed.

Iran nukes a decade away

As reported by the Washington Post, Iran is about a decade away from having a nuke:

By the estimates of U.S. and allied intelligence analysts, that day remains as much as a decade away -- assuming that Iran applies the full measure of its scientific and industrial resources to the project and encounters no major technical hurdles. But whether Iran's leaders have reached that decision and what concrete progress the effort has made remain divisive questions among government analysts and U.N. inspectors.


At the WesPAC fundraiser I attended on Saturday (I posted a photo from this fundraiser earlier) Wes Clark stressed in no uncertain terms that the solution first and foremost is to talk to Iran--something which this administration has not done. These intelligence reports and estimates--namely, that Iran is about 10 years away from having a bomb, barring any major technical or diplomatic hurdles--suggest that any attack by this administration on Iran's nuclear sites will be entirely politically motivated and not motivated by any genuine desire to ensure the safety of the United States.

Clark--and I can think of no more qualified person to discuss these issues--outlined what he thought would be the course and scope of a military strike against Iran, and said that it would certainly be possible to set the program back (though not destroy it completely like the Israelis did Iraq's program in the Osirak strike), but such a setback might have more long-term consequences. The General also openly advocated lifting the sanctions against Iran and flooding the country with U.S. commercial and political ties--not just allowing Exxon to compete with Shell for Iranian oil, but also allowing commerce and relationships among families in Iran and their relatives in America.

If the Democrats win back the Congress--at least one house--in 2006, I predict that the administration will start increased saber-rattling against Iran. In fact, we may see increased saber-rattling in Iran before the 2006 elections as a way of bringing national security issues to the forefront. Either way, our candidates need to follow General Clark's lead in stressing dialogue, diplomacy and economic access. We need to stress the fact that Iran is a decade away from having a bomb and that airstrikes are but a temporary fix that could have severe negative repercussions.

In short, we need to talk about our plan for national security--because as Bush withdraws troops from Iraq (I believe the initial withdrawals will come sometime this summer), Iran will be the next spotlight. So we need to formulate our plan for distribution now, and not be afraid to discuss the issue when it comes up.

Monday, February 06, 2006

FireDogLake is...on fire

Those two ladies are damn good. FireDogLake is your main source for liveblogging of the NSA AGAG hearings.

Update to previous

There is something marginally relevant to the hearings now at RedState--Josterman posted the transcript of the Paul Mirengoff/Pajamas Media kerfuffle.

What I don't for the life of me understand is how they think that this transcript in any way aids their cause. Mirengoff does nothing but repeat the AG's argument that the AUMF authorizes surveillance otherwise prohibited by statute--and then he segues into saying that the only reasonable challenge to the AG's argument is to get congress to revoke the AUMF. The problem Mirengoff has--and this is why Durbin says "you've got it all wrong"--is precisely that the AUMF governs--you guessed it--the use of military force and not the use of surveillance--as well as the fact that FISA's authority to restrict surveillance is EXCLUSIVE and only alterable by changes to or revocation of the FISA statute--which has happened, incidentally, four times since the law was enacted in 1978.

Pajamas media may be very good at repeating exactly what the AG might have said about this situation, but they're obviously not very good at critical thinking.

RedState.com on the NSA/FISA hearings

<--cue sound of crickets-->

I got nothin'. Neither do they.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

What do you do if someone says your religion is violent?

Well, if you're a Muslim radical, you commit violence against the country of the people that dared to say it! That'll show just how wrong they were!

Seriously. I was commenting on a Daily Kos diary about this subject concerning the flag of Saudi Arabia. I want you to imagine something. Imagine you have a nation whose flag consists of a cross, a broadsword, and the phrase "in hoc signo vinces" ("in this sign [the cross] you will conquer"--part of Constantine's vision that led him to march his Christian army into Rome and install himself emperor). Now imagine that that same country had been known to sponsor fundamental Christian radicals who were dedicated to committing acts of terror and murder against "infidels."

I think you'd have a universal outcry in pretty short order--but I just described an exact Christian parallel to Saudi Arabia.

I will say this loud and clear, with no equivocation: UMMA, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. The fact that a series of cartoons published by one newspaper can trigger violence, kidnappings, destruction and you name it against the entire continent in which the newspaper--unaffiliated with any government--is located, is frightening.

It's not as if I don't know that our foreign policy in the Middle East is out of whack, and we need to stop the "Syriana" problem, for lack of a better way to phrase it. But come on. There comes a point at which there is only so much you can do. I do appreciate Muslim clerics coming out against this. Here's a key quote from the article:

Mohammad Rashid Qabani, Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim cleric, urged restraint.

"We don't want the expression of our condemnation (of the cartoons) to be used by some to portray a distorted image of Islam," he said. "Today is a big test for us. Let our expression of condemnation be according to the values of Islam."


I appreciate Qabani's effort. Unfortunately for him, that "distorted image" is becoming increasingly less distorted every single time something like this happens. And it's not like I'm anti-Muslim. I know a good deal about the religion, actually. I spent a lot of time defending the Qu'ran's record on women and other issues, especially compared to the tribal polytheism that preceded it in the Arab world. I have a few Muslim friends. But the facts are what they are.

Further proving that these radicals aren't just angry at Denmark, but want to have any excuse whatsoever to attack non-Muslims, the Washington Post reports that the protesters attacked Maronite churches, and the Red Cross office (!).

Photo with General Clark

I'll be proud of this one--it's going on my wall:



(Click on image for original size)

More posts coming later about my day with the general.

My diary about my Clark meetings