The Aeration Zone: A liberal breath of fresh air

Contributors (otherwise known as "The Aerheads"):

Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
ChiTom in Illinois -- KISSweb in Illinois -- HoundDog in Kansas City -- The Binger in Ohio

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Immigration, more to read

A few days ago, I posted a piece about immigration policy -- not a very perceptive or provocative piece, but a piece. One reader suggests I link to this

Go there. It's really worth the read.

Meanwhile, I'm getting more and more bothered by Bush's guest worker program. But what else is new?

The Big Yawn

Peter Daou notes that we've become so jaded the news that Bush was trying to plant evidence to justify going to war with Iraq is greeted with a collective yawn.

Maha writes: "When The Guardian reported last February about another Downing Street memo in which President Bush suggested luring Saddam Hussein into war by "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours," there was much scoffing and hoo-hawing from the Right. But today the New York Times reveals that the memo is real."

The implications are staggering, but the nation's collective response? A big yawn.

Maha quotes the Peking Duck, who explains: "In ordinary times, it would be a bombshell: A secret memo proves that our president told his people a series of lies leading to wanton and needless death and destruction. He had planned to wage his war no matter what, and was even prepared to create fake evidence to justify the invasion.... In ordinary times, he'd be impeached. But these aren't ordinary times. We are all so used to this sort of thing that it has almost no effect at all. It's just another day in the Age of Bush, where we're always winning the war and we're always right and no mistakes are ever made."

Boston Globe Obit: In lieu of flowers vote Democratic

Grant Urry

Of Winchester on January 04, 2006. Husband of Lillian (Alibertini) Urry. Father of Lisa Urry of El Cerrito, CA, Meg Urry of Guilford, CT, Serena Urry of Detroit, MI and Anthony Urry of Livonia, MI. Grandfather of Amelia, Lily, Sophia, Alex, Grant and Evan. Brother of Zada Christiansen of Salt Lake City, UT and Daniel Urry of Birmingham, AL. Also survived by many nieces and nephews. Ph.D. from University of Chicago 1953. Professor of Chemistry (retired) at Tufts University. There will be no Funeral Services. Friends are asked to remember him by voting Democratic. Lane Funeral Home Winchester - Burlington 781-729-2580

George W. Bush's America

Corporate profits are way up, being carried on the backs of the workers in America :

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. corporate profits have increased 21.3% in the past year and now account for the largest share of national income in 40 years, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

Strong productivity gains and subdued wage growth boosted before-tax profits to 11.6% of national income in the fourth quarter of 2005, the biggest share since the summer of 1966. See full story.

For all of 2005, before-tax profits totaled $1.35 trillion, up from $1.16 trillion in 2004 and just $767 billion in 2001.

Meanwhile, the share of national income going to wage and salary workers has fallen to 56.9%. Except for a brief period in 1997, that's the lowest share for labor income since 1966.

"It's a big puzzle," said Josh Bivens, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute. "If this is a knowledge economy, how come the brains aren't being compensated? Instead, the owners of physical capital are getting the rewards."

Wingnuts label Jill Carroll a terrorist

The wingnuts really are something else. Now they're blaming Jill Carroll for not getting killed when she was kidnapped. Must be because she's a terrorist. Here's Debbie Schlussel's take on it:

Why was Jill Carroll freed? Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she HATES AMERICA and our Mid-East policy. And, oh yeah, she HATES ISRAEL, too.

Another Bush appointment

Straight from Kevin Drum:

FOX, MEET HENHOUSE....Hey, guess who President Bush has nominated to head up the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division? That's right: the guy who represented Wal-Mart in trying to prevent a class of 1.5 million women from suing the company for discrimination in pay and promotions! He also appears to oppose pretty much every regulation related to wages and hours ever passed.

What a perfect nominee. If he didn't exist, the Republican Party would have to have invented him.

You've got to protect those monopolies

Here's the Bush administration's latest effort to protect its favored monopolies:

WASHINGTON - Soldiers will no longer be allowed to wear body armor other than the protective gear issued by the military, Army officials said Thursday, the latest twist in a running battle over the equipment the Pentagon gives its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Army officials told The Associated Press that the order was prompted by concerns that soldiers or their families were buying inadequate or untested commercial armor from private companies — including the popular Dragon Skin gear made by California-based Pinnacle Armor.

Of course, this means that many soldiers will have no body armor at all since the government is still not supplying adequate quantities. If I recall correctly, it's also true that the government is charging wounded soldiers the cost of their damaged body armor.

That's what I call "supporting the troops."

Scalia flashes bird, photographer fired

The Boston Herald published the photo yesterday (also seen here on Scatablog). Today the photographer gets fired by the Catholic Church. (Seems to me it's Scalia that should be fired).

A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston’s newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.

Your homeland security dollars

Americablog found this in the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General's Report (February 2006):

For example, a Fortune 500 refinery received a port security grant in round five totaling almost $1 million for fencing and surveillance upgrades at a refinery located in a major port. It did put up the same amount in matching funds. This company recently reported 3rd quarter net income in excess of $1.2 billion. We remained concerned about the absence of more specific guidance on security measures proposed by private companies that are capable of paying for them, and what measures they should pay for.

Nothing like a little subsidy here and there for the big oil companies, is there?

A new noun/verb

This sure didn't take long. Direct from Wikipedia (via TPM), here's the latest new noun/verb:



* A term that describes a false or out-of-context photo used in order to advance an agenda. That photo shown on O'Reilly's show last night was a kaloogian!

transitive verb: kaloogianed

* To modify a photo such that it constitutes a kaloogian. This is the image after getting kaloogianed

see also "kaloogianist"

[ Named for Howard Kaloogian, a California state assemblyman. While running for Duke Cunningham's vacated congressional seat, Kaloogian used an image of a street corner in the Istanbul suburb of Bakirkoy in order to promote the notion that "downtown Baghdad" was "much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be," blaming the incorrect perception on the media.

The day after the Kaloogian was uncovered, candidate Kaloogian attempted a mulligan by submitting another photo depicting a calm Bagdhad. Athough the newer photo appeared to be a picture of Bagdhad, it lacked the detail necessary to support his claim, in effect representing another Kaloogian.]

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Watch your wallet

Prepare for a major drop in the dollar:

TOKYO (AFX) - With the US trade deficit at a record high and global interest rates rising, East Asian economies need to be prepared for a possible sharp slump in the value of the dollar, the Asian Development Bank warned here.

'Any shock hitting the US economy or the global market may change investors' perceptions given the existing global current account imbalance,' Masahiro Kawai, the ADB's head of regional economic integration, told reporters on a trip here. The ADB's headquarters are in Manila.


This report from Americablog is pretty funny.

Yesterday, Frist tried to pull of an event for an immigration group and the press to make himself appear more balanced on the immigration issue. In fact, he's been one of the anti-immigrant leaders in Congress. But we heard a great story about how a funny thing happened on the way to Frist's event: Congressman Joe Crowley showed up and took it over…

Crowley was actually the only lawmaker who showed up. His view on immigration is the polar opposite of where Bill Frist stands. Crowley spoke in favor of legislation that includes a guest worker program and a clear path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented living in America. He blasted the GOP enforcement-only legislation passed in the House, and then talked about how Frist's proposed bill is similar to that House legislation.

Scalia's gesture examined

As we noted in an earlier post, the Boston Herald reported on Monday that Justice Scalia had flipped the bird to its reporter and photographer while in a Catholic Church on Sunday.

Yesterday (or perhaps the day before) Scalia sent a scathing letter to the Boston Herald, saying that the reporter was wrong, that the gesture was not lewd, and essentially said that the reporter was an anti-Italian racist.

Today, the Herald shoots back, together with the photo:

Amid a growing national controversy about the gesture U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the freelance photographer who captured the moment has come forward with the picture.

“It’s inaccurate and deceptive of him to say there was no vulgarity in the moment,” said Peter Smith, the Boston University assistant photojournalism professor who made the shot.

Despite Scalia’s insistence that the Sicilian gesture was not offensive and had been incorrectly characterized by the Herald as obscene, the photographer said the newspaper “got the story right.”

Smith said the jurist “immediately knew he’d made a mistake, and said, ‘You’re not going to print that, are you?’ ” …

Smith was working as a freelance photographer for the Boston archdiocese’s weekly newspaper at a special Mass for lawyers Sunday when a Herald reporter asked the justice how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship.

“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ ” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.

The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”

Yesterday, Herald reporter Laurel J. Sweet agreed with Smith’s account, but said she did not hear Scalia utter the obscenity.


Congress needs a refresher course in basic macroeconomics. It is the spending by the bottom three quarters of the income brackets that drives the economy, not the top 2%. With a fraction of the tax breaks accorded the top 2%, the bottom three quarters could sustain our economy by spending with less reliance on foreign credit to support their spending. That would be good for America because foreign nations, especially the Asian Tigers would hold less U.S. debt which would reduce their influence on U.S. foreign policy. Brookings estimated that one pass by China on a round of financing of U.S. consumer debt could cut ½ - 1% off the US GDP growth rate. Can we seriously believe that China cannot act unilaterally, i.e. take over Taiwan and expect any serious US opposition? The Administration talks tough about these issues, including China’s regressive trade policies, i.e. their artificially high currency value, but has no real leverage in these matters. Despite the logic of reducing this dependency, to do so would interfere with Bush's plan to put his wealthy constitutes ahead of the interests of the country. The argument that rewarding the wealthy with tax cuts encourages investment dissipates with the reality that investment has risen faster than necessary over the past eight years to sustain acceptable GDP growth rates, and (speaking of basic macroeconomics) has been driven by the multiplier and accelerator facilitated by a significant decline in interest rates orchestrated by years of monetary ease by the Fed. The recent pace of investment has little or nothing to do with the tax cuts for the wealthy. The Bush Administration merely used this irresponsible and unfair policy as a smoke screen (by, in Third Reichian fashion, continually repeating lies about it) to feather the nest of their political base.

Politicians without a party

Maybe I'm just a bit paranoid, but I have a feeling the White House has issued a new dictate to the press. I suspect they've told the press not to mention the party affiliation of Republicans who get into newsworthy trouble. Here's one example from today's news:

WASHINGTON - Rep. Jim Ryun (news, bio, voting record) on Wednesday denied allegations by Democrats that he received a "sweet real estate deal" when he purchased a town house from a nonprofit group with connections to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Kansas Republican bought the historic Capitol Hill town house for $410,000 on Dec. 15, 2000. That was $19,000 less than the U.S. Family Network paid for the home about two years earlier, in January 1999, despite a sharp rise in local real estate values during that time.

Usually, you would see the first line written, "Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kansas) ...", but not here. Not now that he's in trouble. Now, he's just Rep. Jim Ryun. No party. No state.

Last night, Josh Marshall noted that ABC had failed to give the party affiliation of Jack Abramoff in its story on his sentencing. Just good old everyday citizen, Jack Abramoff.

Given the Republicans' penchant for getting into trouble, I suspect the ranks of these partyless politicians will grow rapidly.

[It's a bit strange, but I've also noticed that most (based on a very non-random non-scientific sample) Republican Congressmen don't list their party affiliation at their campaign websites whereas most Democrat Congressmen do. Take a look and see if this holds true for your own Congressman.]

The Silence of Congress and the Thriving of Evil

Congress has forgotten the repudiation of Richard Nixon after he stated "if the President does it, it's not illegal" by its failure to hold President Bush to the law that he has broken by directing illegal wiretaps be implemented. Have we forgotten Edmund Burke's warning that "when righteous men remain silent in the face of evil that evil triumphs." We sent our Congress to uphold the law. It is time for them to end the silence and uphold the law by executing a censure of President Bush.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Saudis have a nuclear (or is it a nukular) program?

I have no idea about the reliability of this source, but this story doesn't surprise me.

BERLIN, MARCH 29 : Saudi Arabia is working secretly on a nuclear programme, with help from Pakistani experts, the German magazine Cicero reports in its latest edition, citing western security sources.

It says that during the Haj pilgrimages to Mecca in 2003 through 2005, Pakistani scientists posed as pilgrims to come to Saudi Arabia in aircraft laid on by the oil-rich kingdom.

Between October 2004 and January 2005, some of them took the opportunity to "disappear" from their hotel rooms, sometimes for up to three weeks, it quoted German security expert Udo Ulfkotte as saying.

According to western security services, the magazine added, Saudi scientists have been working since the mid-1990s in Pakistan, a nuclear power since 1998 thanks to the work of the now-disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan
After all, Bush's best friends live in Saudi, so why shouldn't they have the bomb?

Alert: Don't obey the army or the police in Iraq

Via Riverbend (hat tip to Kevin Drum), we learn some more about how well things are going in Iraq:

I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the page. The usual- mortar fire on an area in Baghdad, an American soldier killed here, another one wounded there… 12 Iraqi corpses found in an area in Baghdad, etc. Suddenly, one of them caught my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read it correctly.

E. was sitting at the other end of the living room, taking apart a radio he later wouldn’t be able to put back together. I called him over with the words, “Come here and read this- I’m sure I misunderstood…” He stood in front of the television and watched the words about corpses and Americans and puppets scroll by and when the news item I was watching for appeared, I jumped up and pointed. E. and I read it in silence and E. looked as confused as I was feeling.

The line said:

وزارة الدفاع تدعو المواطنين الى عدم الانصياع لاوامر دوريات الجيش والشرطة الليلية اذا لم تكن برفقة قوات التحالف
العاملة في تلك المنطقة

The translation:

“The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”

That’s how messed up the country is at this point.

We switched to another channel, the “Baghdad” channel (allied with Muhsin Abdul Hameed and his group) and they had the same news item, but instead of the general “coalition forces” they had “American coalition forces”. We checked two other channels. Iraqiya (pro-Da’awa) didn’t mention it and Forat (pro-SCIRI) also didn’t have it on their news ticker.

We discussed it today as it was repeated on another channel.

“So what does it mean?” My cousin’s wife asked as we sat gathered at lunch.

“It means if they come at night and want to raid the house, we don’t have to let them in.” I answered.

“They’re not exactly asking your permission,” E. pointed out. “They break the door down and take people away- or have you forgotten?”

“Well according to the Ministry of Defense, we can shoot at them, right? It’s trespassing-they can be considered burglars or abductors…” I replied.

The cousin shook his head, “If your family is inside the house- you’re not going to shoot at them. They come in groups, remember? They come armed and in large groups- shooting at them or resisting them would endanger people inside of the house.”

“Besides that, when they first attack, how can you be sure they DON’T have Americans with them?” E. asked.

We sat drinking tea, mulling over the possibilities. It confirmed what has been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning- the Iraqi security forces are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.

But it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can’t even trust its own personnel, unless they are “accompanied by American coalition forces”.

Homeland (job) Security

A number of bloggers have commented on the recent story about GAO investigators smuggling radioactive material into the US. While disturbing, I am not so sure that this particular incident can be used to tar-and-feather The Regime (as deserving of such treatment as it is). Such a slip could happen under any administration. The real management issue is, how likely is it to happen (again)?

So here's a better, related case. In Eric Umansky's survey of newspapers for March 29 in Slate, we read:

USAT notes that the Department of Homeland Security is doing a fine job of ... losing its managers. The department is "hemorrhaging on the front lines and higher up," said one analyst. Among the currently open spots are the heads of the divisions for cyber-security, for technology, and for disaster response. Surveys have consistently ranked the department among the worst to work at.

Now I feel better! Get out the tar and the feathers . . . and a little cesium-137. The one federal agency that The Regime can take sole credit for, one that is critical to the Global War on Terror which justifies the Regime's existence (and its lawbreaking and deceit and killing and torture), and it can't even keep employees.

Republicans For Terrorism: There They Go Again

Kos identifies the following amendments proposed by Senate Democrats to the recently-passed Supplemental Spending Bill to strengthen the anti-terrorism efforts :

Lieberman Amendment No. 3034; To protect the American people from terrorist attacks by providing $8 billion in additional funds for homeland security government-wide. REJECTED BY REPUBLICANS
Menendez Amendment No. 3054; To provide an additional $965 million to make our ports more secure. REJECTED BY REPUBLICANS
Stabenow Amendment No. 3056; To provide $5 billion for our emergency responders. REJECTED BY REPUBLICANS
Under the political standards they have adopted in recent years, don’tcha think it’s perfectly fair to ask the Republicans, “Why did you vote with the terrorists over and over again? Don’t you want to protect Americans?”

(dis-)Honesty, Intemperance, Religiosity & Ben Domenech

If it is not too boastful, I think that the "great minds" proverb is at work, for I have been reading the same Glenn Greenwald post as Walldon, this morning. Only my attention was more drawn to his follow-up comments on last week's Ben Domenech/plagiarism/Washington Post dust-up itself, and the particular LA Times article he cited.

In that article, we read:

While the initial concerns about Domenech were raised by liberal bloggers and online commentators alarmed by the extremity of his politics and the recklessness with which he expressed them, his critics didn't stop there. Because his career-- if a 24-year-old can be said to have such a thing-- has essentially been conducted online, there was a digital trail to follow through cyberspace. And follow it they did, within hours. What they found was not simply vulgarity and intemperance, but serial plagiarism of an unsophisticated, unimaginative undergraduate sort.

Several things arise out of this matter.

First, it seems odd to me that only the plagiarism issue counted against Domenech for the Washington Post. It may or may not be reasonable to say that the Post should having caught this themselves before hiring him, and certainly, once the case was made, they needed to let him go. Plagiarism raises fundamental issues of honesty and judgment, critical to journalism (if not necessarily to a blogger, per se).

But what about that "extremity . . . and recklessness", "vulgarity and intemperance"? That was a matter of public record, not requiring Google searches and comparisons-- simply reading what their prospective employee had written. "Vulgarity and intemperance" are not the sole province of the radical Right, nor am I suggesting some prudish standard for the "blogosphere" in general. But one might have thought that the Post, home to editorialists such as Broder, Cohen, Raspberry, and Will, had slightly higher standards for its writers than this. Do they think that little of bloggers as a group? Was this appointment merely appeasement or some political payback/payoff? Who knows? But one might have hoped that a hitherto respectable newspaper like the Post would want to raise the level of blogosphere with the blogs it hosted. Apparently not. Maybe the LA Times is the paper most worth respecting these days?

And then there's Mr. Domenech himself. Mr. Domenech claims (here, for instance) to be a Christian, holding to a "literal" interpretation of Genesis, part of an of an "inerrant" Bible. Fine and dandy (debate over this belief belongs in another sphere). Christians are prone to human failings like everybody else: plagiarism is hardly rare, nor vulgarity and intemperance. Yet Christian values are supposed to militate against such things, if I am not mistaken.

In our current global, political situation, intemperance combined with "literal" interpretations of "inerrant" scriptures is not a happy mix. Suicide bombings, beheadings, executions of converts, nuclear proliferation, cross-burnings, homophobia: the list goes on and on. The issue is not so much that people of different faiths argue, intellectually, about the relative merits of their faith, values, and holy books. But religious fundamentalism seems to breed and, worse, to sanctify intemperance, and intemperance is deadly: that is a problem.

Before we of a Christian bent complain about the sins of others (Islamists or Bill & Hillary), we might just look at the "log" lodged in our own eye,* as that inerrant Jewish Teacher we claim to honor once said. If I am not mistaken, that teaching-- taken as "literally" as a metaphor can be taken-- precludes intemperance. (Don't call Coretta Scott King a "communist" without first at least wondering if you are a fascist.)

The word, Ben, is repentance.

*Just in case, here is the text, from the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew chapater 7:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.

Greenwald hits the nail on the head

As usual, Glenn Greenwald hits the nail on the head with this comment:

As I have written about before (and wish I could write more about right now), so much of the resentment towards the blogosphere and the accusations of "irresponsibility" come from establishment journalists who have grown accustomed to being unchallenged and never being held accountable. They deeply resent the accountability which the blogosphere presents, and ironically, the accusations of irresponsibility against the blogosphere grow in proportion to the blogosphere's effectiveness in exposing the corruption and error which underlies so much of what the establishment media does.

I usually don't like to post stories about the blogoshpere. They tend to get a bit too inbred. But, I really do get sick of having people turn up their noses when you talk about blogging or reading the blogs. Sure, many blogs are crazy teenage nutcases, but most of the blogs I read are committed to serious political commentary. And, most are far more perceptive in analyzing the facts than most mainstream media reports. That's not to say that blogs can replace the mainstream media. They probably can't because we need some organized, well funded source to gather the facts. But, the blogs can certainly work to keep the media honest.

Abu Ghraib photos to be released - finally

The ACLU reports that the Government has finally agreed to release the rest of the Abu Ghraib photos. I have a feeling there's a catch in there somewhere, but ...

NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union today announced that the Department of Defense has withdrawn its appeal of a district court order compelling it to turn over images depicting detainee abuse by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Defense Department will identify which public images come from the contested trove and release any additional images in its possession.

"A picture is worth a thousand words, but we have yet to hear one word of acknowledgment from Secretary Rumsfeld and other top officials that their policies and actions were responsible for the torture and abuse seen in these notorious photos," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "The ACLU will press on with its lawsuit to hold high-level officials accountable for creating policies that resulted in the abuse of detainees. If the American government wants to restore faith in our commitment to human rights, we must hold high-ranking officials accountable for their actions."

Today's developments mean that an earlier district court decision concerning the photographs will stand. That decision, written by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, held that "Publication of the photographs is central to the purposes of FOIA because they initiate debate, not only about the improper and unlawful conduct of American soldiers, 'rogue' soldiers, as they have been characterized, but also about other important questions as well -- for example, the command structure whose failures in exercising supervision may make them culpable along with the soldiers who were court-martialed for perpetrating the wrongs."

Your FBI at work

Barkley at Max Speak you Listen reports the following:

The following is something that has not hit the media at all, other than a story in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record that simply repeated FBI propaganda about this awful case. Harrisonburg, Virginia happens to have one of the largest enclaves of Iraqi Kurdish population in the US. They all came in the late 1990s to flee from Saddam Hussein's regime after working for pro-US NGOs and having their lives threatened. They applauded at the fall of Saddam.

However, four of them have been arrested for transferring funds to their families and charitable organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan without a license, a felony offense under the Patriot Act and the act to keep Cubans from sending money to their relatives in Cuba. One has been convicted in a trial in which most of the evidence was not allowed and in which the FBI suggested that the defendant was a terrorist. These people were cowed into not talking to the media, and now they are all in deep trouble. Their homes have been raided, their money seized, even things like medical insurance cards (with one wife pregnant), applications for citizenship are off, they are facing deportation, and so on. They were assigned a Croatian translator for the court. There is a serious string of outrages associated with this with no coverage by any serious media. The FBI agent in charge even told them, "I know you are not the bad guys, but too much paperwork has gone forward on this."

He/she doesn't give a source for the story, so I have no idea how accurate it is, but if it's true, it certainly wouldn't surprise me.

Another example of a free democratic republic at work

Juan Cole reports that:

The proto-fascist mini-state of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Arbil [Irbil], northern Iraq, has sentenced an Austrian-Kurdish journalist to 18 months in prison for criticizing Massoud Barzani.


Barzani last allied with Saddam Hussein against fellow Kurds as late as 1996, only a decade ago. And you can't criticize him?

If Syria or Iran had done this (not that they don't), there would have been a huge squeal of outrage from the American right. I challenge Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, and Christopher Hitchens to intervene effectively to get Kamal Sayid Qadir out of Barzani's jail. Here is something all of us, left and right, can agree on, and I hope the Left blogs the hell out of it, too. Will someone please start a blog to count the days Qadir is not free?

I'm not starting that blog, but someone should.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What's Arlen Specter up to? Playing patsie to Bush again?

Apparently, at the close of the NSA hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Arlen Specter said that Rus Feingold had requested a postponement in the hearings on his motion to censure Bush which were scheduled for Friday. Here's Feingold's response to Firedoglake:

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

In Response to Chairman Specter’s Comments Regarding the Scheduled Hearing on the Censure Resolution

March 28, 2006

There is no truth to the claim made today by Chairman Specter that I have asked for a postponement of Friday’s hearing on the censure resolution and I am very puzzled how the Chairman could have reached that conclusion. I hope the Chairman is not backing away from his commitment to hold the hearing on Friday morning.

Democrat who support Bush illegalities

As Glenn Greenwald points out, over the weekend Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said he believes it's perfectly okay if Bush broke the law by spying on US citizens. As Levin said, "...the question is is it legal, or do you have to modify the law in order to make it legal."

What's wrong with the Democrats? They're so damned scared of their own shadows that they're willing to sell our country to the tyrants rather than resist them on a national security issue. Jeese. God, I wish there were some way to start a viable new party and get rid of all these creeps.

Supremes may reject Bush Guantanamo trials

It's beginning to look as though the Supreme Court is going to reject Bush's arguments about trying the Guantanamo detainees. Nevertheless, Scalia has refused to recuse himself even though he has alread commented about his opinions (no one arrested on the battlefield has a right to any kind of trial) regarding the case.

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court sharply questioned plans for military trials for foreigners held at Guantanamo Bay, in a historic argument Tuesday over President Bush’s wartime powers.

Several justices seemed deeply concerned that the government had gone too far in its plans to hold a special trial for Osama bin Laden’s former driver on a conspiracy charge.

Some were downright indignant over the Bush administration’s claim that a new federal law bars the high court from ruling in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan…

Without Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative Bush nominated last year, the argument seemed lopsided against the government. Roberts voted in the case on a lower court and had to recuse himself. Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito hinted their support for the administration.

So much for a democratic independent Iraq

From the NY Times :

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 28 — Senior Shiite politicians said today that the American ambassador has told Shiite leaders to inform the Iraqi prime minister that the Bush administration does not want him to remain the leader of Iraq in the next government.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari holding a news conference last week in Baghdad, Iraq.

It is the first time the Americans have directly intervened in the furious debate over the country's top job, the politicians said, and it is inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting last Saturday to pass a "personal message from President Bush" on to the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who the Shiites insist should stay in his post, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite politician and member of Parliament who was at the meeting.

Not much ambiguity about who thinks he's running the show, is there?


I haven't blogged much about the immigration issue largely because I don't have any particularly notable ideas about it. I do feel strongly that all the anti-foreigner stuff you keep hearing is just racism in (not very good) disguise. The idea of evicting 11 million illegal aliens is both ridiculous and unconscionable. The idea of building a Berlin Wall to keep people out strikes me as insane. Walls have never worked before (e.g., the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall in Britain). This one will cost billions and do next to nothing except promote hatred between the U.S. and Mexico.

Paul Krugman made a fairly convincing case yesterday that further illegal immigration from poor countries may not be in the country's best interests, but I don't see any easy way to prevent it.

In any event, something brought the issue close to home yesterday. I have hired a landscaper to re-do the front of my property. The guy is Hispanic, probably Mexican, possibly illegal -- I have no idea. He and his team work the day shift for another landscaping company and are moonlighting on this job.

Yesterday, they showed up at about 5:15 pm. By 6:15 pm, the four of them had cleared out, roots and all, two huge (20 ft. tall) old rhododendrums and two sizeable (12-15 ft. tall) old mountain laurels, roots and all, and dumped and spread a truckload of fresh topsoil.

Having tried to remove much smaller dead shrubs myself, I can estimate that it would have taken me at least three or four days to remove each of these shrubs. That's about two man-weeks. These guys did it with nothing but picks and shovels in less than an hour (four man-hours). It was truly phenomenal.

Anyone who works their tail off like that after a full day's work deserves to be a citizen of this country if they want to be. I don't care whether they're legal or illegal.

Fitzmas in the Spring?

Word has it that more Fitzgerald indictments of administration figures are in the works. Keep your fingers crossed.

Although the situation remains fluid, it's possible, these sources said, that Fitzgerald may seek to indict both Rove and Hadley, charging them with perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy related to their roles in the leak of Plame Wilson's identity and their effort to cover up their involvement following a Justice Department investigation.

The sources said late Monday that it may take more than a month before Fitzgerald presents the paperwork outlining the government's case against one or both of the officials and asks the grand jury to return an indictment, because he is currently juggling quite a few high-profile criminal cases and will need to carve out time to write up the indictment and prepare the evidence.

I'm hoping that Cheney will be included on the list, but that's probably a pipe dream.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum

The news is out that Andy Card has resigned as Bush's chief of staff to be replaced by consummate Bush insider Josh Bolton. Ho hum.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sharpe James out

Rumor on the blogosphere has it that the Mayor of Newark, Sharpe James, has decided not to seek re-election (for the umteenth time). James has been mayor of Newark since God knows when, and he has become the Richard J. Daley of Newark. He also has a seat on the NJ State Senate (the fact that local politicians can also have seats in the Senate or the Assembly has always bugged me). For those of us who live in northern NJ, this is going to be a big deal. For the rest of you, rest in peace.

Rove helping Fitzgerald pin tail on Cheney?

Raw Story has put up an article saying that Karl Rove is helping Patrick Fitzgerald develop an indictment against Dick Cheney.

Karl Rove, Deputy White House Chief of Staff and special adviser to President George W. Bush, has recently been providing information to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the ongoing CIA leak investigation, sources close to the investigation say.

According to several Pentagon sources close to Rove and others familiar with the inquiry, Bush's senior adviser tipped off Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to information that led to the recent "discovery" of 250 pages of missing email from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Rove has been in the crosshairs of Fitzgerald's investigation into the outing of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson for what some believe to be retaliation against her husband, former U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, Joseph Wilson. Wilson had been an ardent critic of pre-war Iraq intelligence.

While these sources did not provide any details regarding what type of arrangements Rove's attorney Robert Luskin may have made with the special prosecutor's office, if any, they were able to provide some information regarding what Rove imparted to Fitzgerald's team. The individuals declined to go on the record out of concern for their jobs.

According to one source close to the case, Rove is providing information on deleted emails, erased hard drives and other types of obstruction by staff and other officials in the Vice President's office. Pentagon sources close to Rove confirmed this account.

I have no idea what this bodes for a Rove indictment, but I can't imagine anything better than a Cheney indictment, so go Karl, go.

Scalia losing it

Something seems very strange about Scalia recently. As Chitom relates just below, Scalia gave an opinion about an up-coming Supreme Court case when asked a question after a speech in Switzerland. Now, he has reputedly flashed the bird in a Catholic Church. Here's the Boston Herald take, via Americablog:

A Boston Herald reporter asked the 70-year-old conservative Roman Catholic if he faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state.

"You know what I say to those people?" Scalia replied, making the obscene gesture and explaining "That's Sicilian."

The 20-year veteran of the high court was caught making the gesture by a photographer with The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper.

"Don't publish that," Scalia told the photographer, the Herald said.

This is the same guy who believes it is improper decorum for women to wear pants while attending Supreme Court sessions. It seems to me this is improper decorum for any Supreme Court justice. Like Chitom, I hold him in contempt

O Justice, where art thou?

Whatever decorum, discretion, and restraint that used to mark Supreme Court justices (at least, as one thought) seems to be dissipating rapidly. From Mr. Alito's thank you note to James Dobson, to speeches by Ms. Ginsburg and Mr. Scalia and Ms. O'Connor (who at least is speaking now from retirement), there seems to be a sea change.

Today comes word, yet again, from Mr. Scalia. According to Newsweek:
During an unpublicized March 8 talk [a big, 1 hour audio-video file!] at the at the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, Scalia dismissed the idea that the detainees have rights under the U.S. Constitution or international conventions, adding he was "astounded" at the "hypocritical" reaction in Europe to Gitmo. "War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," he says on a tape of the talk reviewed by NEWSWEEK. "Give me a break." Challenged by one audience member about whether the Gitmo detainees don't have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, Scalia shot back: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."
Newsweek, reasonably, raises the issue of whether or not Scalia should recuse himself from an upcoming case this week, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that contests what legal rights Guantanamo detainees deserve or should have.

But that is not what strikes me. Rather it is Scalia's perception that apparently all Guantanamo detainees are "combatants", who were "captured . . . on a battlefield", where they were "shooting at my son".

First, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he does not think all of them were specifically targeting his own son. Nevertheless, it is astounding how he personalizes this. Recusal may be appropriate on the basis of his making these comments at all, but this personal, felt connection to the case itself seems sufficient grounds for him to step back all by itself. Victims give evidence in the trial of their assailant: they do not serve on juries; they do not serve as judges.

Secondly, how does Mr. Scalia know that these detainees, particularly detainee Hamdan, were combatants captured on a battlefield? By most accounts that is not so. According to a recent article by Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, for example:

Fewer than half were caught on battlefields in Afghanistan or by U.S. troops. A majority were turned over by Pakistan (often for cash bounties). Few "combatants" are even accused of having fought. Many are held simply because they were living in a house associated with the Taliban or working for a charity linked to the group.
One might give the military and its civilian leadership in The Regime the benefit of the doubt in waging war against an unconventional foe, where the term "battlefield" becomes more nebulous. ("War is war"-- but not always.) But it is precisely here that the issue of legal rights comes up. How do we know these non-uniformed, not captured-in-actual-battle people are enemy combatants? Their case is more like that of an accused criminal than that of a conventional uniformed soldier. They need a trial, a fair trial, to determine the appropriateness of their status as P.O.W., or whatever.

The standard rules do not apply very clearly. Mr. Scalia's son may have been shot at. One can understand his feelings. But Mr. Hamdan has a father, too. Do we know that Mr. Hamdan was shooting or preparing to shoot at anyone? Is there a fair and recognizably just procedure by which this can be determined? This is the question to be answered and the issue to be addressed. But Mr. Scalia seems already to know the final outcome without benefit of a hearing. Convict first; ask questions later. In Mr. Scalia's case, it is not the question of justice in military tribunals about which we have to worry, but rather whether justice can be served in the Supreme Court.

All Mr. Scalia usually seems prepared to do is to apply this rule or that to a case and not ask the bigger questions about what is right. This time, he doesn't even need evidence. Recuse? Nah. Resign. Mr Scalia, you may be a lawyer and a sitting member of the Supreme Court, but you do not merit the title "Justice". Mr. Scalia, I hold you in contempt.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bush eclipses Gueverra as promoter of socialism

It's rather ironic that George W. Bush has done more to promote socialism in Latin America than Che Gueverra ever dreamed of:

Che Rides Again (On a Mountain Bike)
By Nick Miroff

Saturday 25 March 2006

Has Latin America ever had such a unifying figure?

At political rallies, his visage is held aloft as a beacon to regional independence and self-determination. He's helped forge new trade partnerships to spur economic growth and alleviate poverty. And his leadership has fanned a gale-force electoral trend that's sweeping the hemisphere to topple one pro-Washington government after the next.

Who is this grand inductor of Latin American leftism? Venezuelan fireball Hugo Chavez? Blue-collar Brazilian Lula Ignacio da Silva? Bolivia's coca-farmer-cum-president, Evo Morales?

¡Epa! It's George W. Bush, the accidental revolutionary.

In the past five years, the swaggering Texan has inspired a leftward surge that is uniting Latin America and threatening to knock Che Guevara right off all those natty t-shirts.

When Che's ill-fated insurgency ended in the jungles of Bolivia with his death in 1967, his vision of a single, unified, socialist continent remained utterly unfulfilled. U.S.-backed right-wing military dictators would rule much of Latin America over the ensuing two decades, and many of Che's followers would be tortured and killed in efforts to overthrow them.

As democracy returned to the region at the end of the Cold War, most Latin American governments rushed to embrace the "Washington consensus" - market-oriented liberalization policies that cut social spending and privatized national industries in order to pay down national debts. But the formula, pushed on the region by successive American presidents, largely failed to deliver the goods and left entire governments bankrupt and beholden to foreign lenders. For Latin America's angry, marginalized, impoverished masses, already-threadbare social safety nets only unraveled further.

"The macroeconomic proposals of the Washington consensus have not been working," says Guillermo Delgado, professor of Latin American Studies at UC Santa Cruz. "That model was supposed to create prosperity and, after so many years, such prosperity has not been seen and class polarization has grown deeper."

Sensing an opportunity, new social and political movements in the region began marshalling their forces. Then George W. Bush came along, combining Yankee hubris with a Che-worthy radicalizing touch.

Bush has since presided over one of the most significant political re-alignments in the history of the Western Hemisphere. By this summer, every major Latin American nation but Colombia is likely to be run by elected leaders with stronger backgrounds in Marx than free markets. If Cold War-era "domino theory" has been a bust in the Middle East, it's working with textbook precision in Latin America.

A Time for Leadership

For some time now, I've been saying that the Democrats need to stop sitting around testing the direction of the wind and take a leadership role in changing the wind if it's in the wrong direction. I'm glad to see that Scott Shields at MyDD seems to agree:

Leadership is not about testing the waters of public opinion and jumping on the bandwagon. Leadership is about putting forward and making the case for new ideas that help shape public opinion. In both political parties, there is a serious lack of leadership at the federal level…

… Senator Russ Feingold has been leading. When the Republicans tried to pull their patented reverse-psychology jujitsu, the media bought into their spin, many of his Democratic colleagues flinched, and Feingold stood firm. Since then, the polling has shown that the nation has not yet decided where it stands on censure, and Feingold's continued to make his case. And the media has been backing away from the Republican assertion that the censure resolution is a net gain for them.

Take a look at the headline of the AP story Jonathan mentioned earlier -- "Feingold's Censure Call Gives Him Boost." I think this shows the real value of leadership. Censure may not have the support of the majority, but does that mean we shouldn't pursue it? Did the Civil Rights movement have the support of the majority? Should progressives therefore not have pushed a civil rights agenda? Of course not. As Feingold is quoted as saying in the article, Democrats basing their tactics on reaction to the opposition is simply a bad idea.

Feingold said his sole purpose was to hold Bush accountable, but he argued that it's also good politics. "These Democratic pundits are all scared of the Republican base getting energized, but they're willing to pay the price of not energizing the Democratic base," he said. "It's an overly defensive and meek approach to politics."

At the end of the day, Republicans are going to say whatever they're going to say, no matter what we do. Democrats would do well to follow Feingold's example by ignoring them and trying to shape conventional wisdom rather than respond to it. I think we're seeing some of that in Democrats refusing to go along with the anti-immigration zeitgeist. But even then, with half a million people marching in the streets of Los Angeles, it's hard to argue that yours is a pro-immigration voice in the wilderness.

Honestly, I'm still not sure what kind of impact this will have on 2008. Will it help Feingold with the base? Of course it will. But who knows if it will be enough to help him win the nomination. But that's not what's important here. Really, I hope the ultimate outcome is that Feingold's stance empowers other Democrats running in elections at all levels in 2006, 2007, 2008, and beyond. People are desperate for alternatives to modern Republicanism and it seems to me that if they were convinced that Democrats are ready to lead, we'd be looking at landslides across the board. Voters might not agree with every Democratic position and proposal, but people aren't looking for positions and proposals -- they're looking for leaders.

Had enough?

Here's some good news from Time Magazine:

In recent weeks, a startling realization has begun to take hold: if the elections were held today, top strategists of both parties say privately, the Republicans would probably lose the 15 seats they need to keep control of the House of Representatives and could come within a seat or two of losing the Senate as well. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who masterminded the 1994 elections that brought Republicans to power on promises of revolutionizing the way Washington is run, told Time that his party has so bungled the job of governing that the best campaign slogan for Democrats today could be boiled down to just two words: "Had enough?"

Saturday, March 25, 2006

If you shout, I can't help hearing it

This story about a man who was arrested in Illinois for piggy-backing on another person's Wi-Fi signal caught my eye because I do it all the time. The man was sitting in his parked car on a public street using his laptop when he was arrested. He was fined $250 and sentenced to a year's probation.

Now, it seems to me this is insane.

I travel frequently with my laptop. Usually, when I boot it up when I am staying at a friend's house, the laptop automatically recognizes a nearby Wi-Fi signal from a nearby house (if the friend doesn't have Wi-Fi) and goes online without my even being aware of it. In fact, I've found that there are very few places where you don't find an active Wi-Fi signal. One of those happens to be my mother-in-law's house. When I go there and want to get on the net, I usually hop in my car, drive two or three doors down the street, and turn on my computer. There's almost always a signal nearby.

This does no harm to the person I'm piggy-backing on. It does not even touch his computer at all, with the activity being confined to his router. While it may in theory slow his own response time while I am using his signal, the effect is imperceptible. I've never noticed any difference in response time when I have three or four computers accessing my Wi-Fi signal as compared with a single computer. And, further, I have no way (that I know how to effect) of eavesdropping on anything the owner of the signal is doing.

The person whose signal I am accessing could very easily protect himself if he did not want someone else piggybacking on his signal. Every router I've seen comes with easy instructions on how to protect the Wi-Fi signal with a password so others can't access it. The people I am piggybacking on obviously took no steps to do so, and I think it's reasonable to infer from that that they did not care if someone piggybacked on their signal (or at least did not care enough to protect themselves). Obviously, I did not take any active steps to break their password, since they didn't even try to protect the signal with one. There's no breaking and entry here.

So the fact is, I am sitting perfectly legally in a public place, or in my friend's house. The Wi-Fi signal from someone nearby has invaded (I don't mean that in a derogatory sense) my space. The person who is sending that signal has taken no steps to protect it from being used. I have taken no steps to hack into a protected system. I am not eavesdropping on private communications. No harm is done to anyone. And, frankly, I didn't do anything other than turning on my own computer to effect the connection. The link could have been established without my even being aware of it. [I'll note here that occasionally, even in my own house, my next door neighbor's signal is stronger than my own Wi-Fi signal when I'm in a far corner of the house. On those occasions, my laptop will sign on to the neighbor's signal without my being aware of it, and against my wishes.]

I don't see why that should make me a criminal. If it does, something is wrong with the law.

Is it illegal for me to overhear it when the next door neighbor shouts to his dog outside his front door while I'm sitting on my back porch? It seems to me the situation is roughly analogous.

I'd be interested in hearing counter-arguments.

Who's spying on whom?

I have a feeling based on this article that the Republicans aren't going to like the NSA spying program much once Hillary gets elected prez (if she does).

A former Pentagon official gunning to be the Republican nominee to run against Hillary Clinton claims that the New York junior Senator is using helicopters to spy on her, according to a story on the front page of Saturday's New York Post, RAW STORY has found.

Kathleen McFarland, a first time candidate for office, is reported to have "stunned a crowd of Suffolk County Republicans on Thursday" with her claims.

"Hillary Clinton is really worried about me, and is so worried, in fact, that she had helicopters flying over my house in Southampton today taking pictures," said McFarland as related to the Post by "a prominent GOP activist who was at the events." …

"She wasn't joking, she was very, very serious, and she also claimed that Clinton's people were taking pictures across the street from her house in Manhattan, taking pictures from an apartment across the street from her bedroom," added the eyewitness, who is not involved in the Senate race.


McFarland spokesman William O'Reilly responded that the GOP hopeful was just kidding around with her far-fetched claims.

"It was a joke, and people laughed," O'Reilly insisted.

But three witnesses who were present said nobody in the audience cracked a smile.

"The whole room sort of went silent when she said it," one person said

The Battle for Bagdad has already begun

You won't learn anything about it from reading anything in the US press, which I pronounced DOA in an earlier post, but the UK's Independent is willing to say it. The civil was has not only begun, but the battle for Bagdad is in full swing:

Battle for Baghdad 'has already started'
By Patrick Cockburn in Arbil
Published: 25 March 2006

The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest.

"The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. "Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

Many Iraqi leaders now believe that civil war is inevitable but it will be confined, at least at first, to the capital and surrounding provinces where the population is mixed. "The real battle will be the battle for Baghdad where the Shia have increasing control," said one senior official who did not want his name published. "The army will disintegrate in the first moments of the war because the soldiers are loyal to the Shia, Sunni or Kurdish communities and not to the government." He expected the Americans to stay largely on the sidelines.

Throughout the capital, communities, both Sunni and Shia, are on the move, fleeing districts where they are in a minority and feel under threat. Sometimes they fight back. In the mixed but majority Shia al-Amel district, Sunni householders recently received envelopes containing a Kalashnikov bullet and a letter telling them to get out at once. In this case they contacted the insurgents who killed several Shia neighbours suspected of sending the letters.

"The Sunni will fight for Baghdad," said Mr Hussein. "The Baath party already controls al-Dohra and other Sunni groups dominate Ghazaliyah and Abu Ghraib [districts in south and west Baghdad]."

The Iraqi army is likely to fall apart once inter-communal fighting begins. According to Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and expert on Iraq, the Iraqi army last summer contained 60 Shia battalions, 45 Sunni battalions, nine Kurdish battalions and one mixed battalion.

The police are even more divided and in Baghdad are largely controlled by the Mehdi Army of the radical nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organisation that has largely been in control of the interior ministry since last May. Sunni Arabs in Baghdad regard the ministry's paramilitary police commanders as Shia death squads.

Mr Hussein gave another reason why the army is weak. "Where you have 3,000 soldiers there will in fact be only 2,000 men [because of ghost soldiers who do not exist and whose salaries are taken by senior officers]," he said. "When it comes to fighting only 500 of those men will turn up."

Iraqi officials and ministers are increasingly in despair at the failure to put together an effective administration in Baghdad. A senior Arab minister, who asked not to be named, said: "The government could end up being only a few buildings in the Green Zone."

The mood among Iraqi leaders, both Arabs and Kurds, is far gloomier in private than the public declarations of the US and British governments. The US President George W Bush called this week for a national unity government in Iraq but Iraqi observers do not expect this to be any more effective than the present government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. One said this week: "The real problem is that the Shia and Sunni hate each other and not that we haven't been able to form a government."

The Shia and Kurds will have the advantage in the coming conflict because they have leaders and organisations. The Sunni are divided and only about 30 per cent of the population of the capital. Nevertheless they should be able to hold on to their stronghold in west Baghdad and the Adhamiyah district east of the Tigris. The Shia do not have the strength and probably do not wish to take over the Sunni towns and villages north and west of Baghdad.

Though the Kurds have long sought autonomy close to quasi-independence, their leaders are worried that civil war will increase Iranian and Turkish involvement in Iraq. Mr Hussein said he feared that civil war in Baghdad could spread north to Mosul and Kirkuk where the division is between Kurd and Arab rather than Sunni and Shia.

Already Baghdad resembles Beirut at the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, when Christians and Muslims fought each other for control of the city.

The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest.

"The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. "Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

Many Iraqi leaders now believe that civil war is inevitable but it will be confined, at least at first, to the capital and surrounding provinces where the population is mixed. "The real battle will be the battle for Baghdad where the Shia have increasing control," said one senior official who did not want his name published. "The army will disintegrate in the first moments of the war because the soldiers are loyal to the Shia, Sunni or Kurdish communities and not to the government." He expected the Americans to stay largely on the sidelines.

Throughout the capital, communities, both Sunni and Shia, are on the move, fleeing districts where they are in a minority and feel under threat. Sometimes they fight back. In the mixed but majority Shia al-Amel district, Sunni householders recently received envelopes containing a Kalashnikov bullet and a letter telling them to get out at once. In this case they contacted the insurgents who killed several Shia neighbours suspected of sending the letters.

"The Sunni will fight for Baghdad," said Mr Hussein. "The Baath party already controls al-Dohra and other Sunni groups dominate Ghazaliyah and Abu Ghraib [districts in south and west Baghdad]."

The Iraqi army is likely to fall apart once inter-communal fighting begins. According to Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and expert on Iraq, the Iraqi army last summer contained 60 Shia battalions, 45 Sunni battalions, nine Kurdish battalions and one mixed battalion.

The police are even more divided and in Baghdad are largely controlled by the Mehdi Army of the radical nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organisation that has largely been in control of the interior ministry since last May. Sunni Arabs in Baghdad regard the ministry's paramilitary police commanders as Shia death squads.

The Presidential Coup d'Etat

If Glenn Greenwald hadn't said it first, I would have tried, but I wouldn't have said it quite so clearly or forcefully:

... As I have documented more times than I can count, we have a President who has seized unlimited power, including the power to break the law, and the Administration -- somewhat commendably -- is quite candid and straightforward about that fact.

I believe that even people who are aware of these facts have not really ingested or accepted the reality that we have an Administration that has embraced this ideology of lawlessness. Yesterday, I received numerous e-mails from people asking why I had not written about this report from the Boston Globe, which reported:

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.

The reason I didn't was because, as extraordinary as this signing statement is in one sense, it really reveals nothing new. We really do have an Administration which believes it has the power to break all laws relating, however broadly, to defending the country. It has said this repeatedly in numerous contexts and acted on those beliefs by breaking the law -- repeatedly and deliberately. They are still breaking the law by, for instance, continuing to eavesdrop on Americans without the warrants required by FISA.

This is not theory. The Administration is not saying these things as a joke. We really do live in a country where we have a President who has seized the unlimited power to break the law. That's not hyperbole in any way. It is reality. And the Patriot Act signing statement only re-iterates that fact.

In response to the Republicans' question (number 27) about whether President is exceeding his power by not just executing the laws but also interpreting them, the DoJ said this:

In order to execute the laws and defend the Constitution, the President must be able to interpret them. The interpretation of law, both statutory and constitutional, is therefore an indispensable and well established government function. . . .

The President's power to interpret the law is particularly important when he is engaged in a task -- such as the direction of the operations of an armed conflict -- that falls within the special and unique competence of the Executive Branch.

The "unique competence of the Executive Branch," to them, encompasses pretty much everything of any real significance, including what can be done to U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. With regard to all such matters, the President not only executes the law, but interprets it, and Congress is without power to do anything to restrict the power in any way. Here they are -- saying exactly this, again.

Put another way, the Administration has seized the power of Congress to make the laws, they have seized the power of the judiciary to interpret the laws, and they execute them as well. They have consolidated within themselves all of the powers of the government, particularly with regard to national security. This situation is, of course, exactly what Madison warned about in Federalist 47; it really is the very opposite of everything our Government is intended to be:


As usual, the most amazing aspect of all of this is not that the Administration is claiming these powers. It is that even as it claims them as expressly and clearly as can be, the Congress continues to ignore it and pretend that it still retains power to restrict the Administration by the laws it passes. And the media continues to fail in its duty to inform the country about the powers the Administration has seized, likely because they are so extreme that people still do not really believe that the Administration means what they are saying. What else do they need to do in order to demonstrate their sincerity?

MSM are dead

It's rather depressing to come home from three weeks of ignoring the news to see that the primary focus of the news these days is the Washington Post's fiasco with palgiarist extraordinaire, Ben Domenech. Was there ever better evidence of the death of the main stream media?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Chickens Roosting? Reaping and Sowing? Going Around and Coming Around? Take Your Pick

I liked what Springer said on Air America this morning (Yes, if you haven’t heard him, he’s actually very good: thoughtful, civilized, and strong, with a great grasp of issues and fact. Very respectful to opponents.)

He put it in very simple terms. The Administration refuses to commit to an intention not to maintain long-term bases in Iraq. Springer said, essentially, “OK, but if that’s what they want, just remember this: the longer we stay, the more people there will be who want to blow us up.”

There's another good and true sound bite for second-by-second repetition. Our kids are going to have to deal with a world we keep making worse. George and Dick may not really care about that, at least not as much as not looking weak. How do the rest of us feel?

It just gets worse and worse

According to Raw Story, the Justice Department chose today, Friday, to file answers to Congressional inquiries about the NSA wiretapping program. For the most part, the response refused to answer the questions asked, but in one case, they did admit that the spying included lawyer-client and doctor-patient conversations. If they've gone that far, I don't doubt they're also listening in at the confessional. And, since they refuse to define the term "terrorist," there's no way to limit who they're listening to.

I'm reminded of a scene in the Counterfeit Traitor, an old favorite of mine starring William Holden, whose role is to play an American ex-pat who is using his feined anti-Americanism to gain a foothold in spying on the Hitler regime. In the scene I have in mind a Nazi investigator for the SS impersonates a priest so he can hear the confession of William Holden's contact, who is also his lover. The lover unwittingly spills the beans to the non-priest, leading to her arrest and execution. It's a really creepy scene, but now we have our own government doing the very same things.

In the words of a Broadway play, "Stop the world, I want to get off."

How long is it going to take?

How long is it going to take before somebody in Washington wakes up and realizes our government has been stolen? We learn from Josh Marshall today that Bush has once again issued a "presidential signing statement" declaring that a law he is signing into being is not binding. Meanwhile, Congress lies back and snoozes.

Via Andrew Sullivan, the Globe reports another presidential 'signing statement.' In this one the president claims that the oversight provisions in the recently passed Patriot Act are not in fact binding.

There's really no overstating the importance of the president's disrespect for and serial violations of the law he has sworn twice to uphold.

Taliban redivivus?

Georgia10 at DKos drew attention to a hopeful story on CNN that the Afghan government is working to release Abdul Rahman, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, rather than executing him.

Yet CNN posts another story in which four Afghani Muslim clerics (3 Sunni, one Shiite) all call for the execution in the face of the government's perceived reluctance, and at least one calls for lynching if Rahman is released.

I don't know, I am a pretty liberal Christian: I am not proud of a lot of things we have done, and I think we need to resist judging Muslims or Islam by some set of standards that we barely manage to pay lip service to ourselves. I am reluctantly content to accept legal restrictions in Muslim countries against Christian proselytizing/evangelising. But this seems beyond the pale to me.

If the man is executed for this reason, I think that our military and financial aid to Afghanistan needs to cease the next day. Am I missing something? Has anybody seen what American Muslim leaders are saying about this?

Homeland Security: religion but no security

A NY Times editorial today takes on Michael Chertoff's unbelievably lackadaisical approach to the safety of American chemical plants.

. . . This week, when Mr. Chertoff appeared before executives of the chemical industry, whose plants remain one of the nation's greatest vulnerabilities more than four years after 9/11. Mr. Chertoff did not chastise the industry for failing to protect chemical plants adequately. He proposed weak federal safety standards. He did not even fully embrace a recently introduced bipartisan Senate bill that would create meaningful standards.

Instead, Mr. Chertoff seemed perfectly content to defer on key security matters to an industry that contributes heavily to Republican campaigns but has proved to be dangerously unwilling to take public safety seriously.
Mein Gott. Speaking of Gott, I guess maybe it's a good thing that Homeland Security has an office for faith-based development (see Homeland Security Gets Religion and its update): "in God we trust", indeed, for we surely can't trust Chertoff. (And this is not even to get into the issue of which Religious Right organizations get all this federal money: one story here.)

So says Max Sawicki

Max speaks, I listen:

Senator Russell Feingold is the best man for president. I don't know what works politically. My new theory is the you go with the best person and his or her virtues will be apparent and he/she will win, or not. By best I mean smart, forthcoming, and courageous. Not full of shit. People consumed with tactics and stragery turn into weasels. I'm sick of that.

I think I'm on board with that.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Insurgency Activity Today

These all appeared to be separate incidents. Don’t know whether this constitutes a civil war or not, but the casualties reported exceeds 100 deaths in a single day. That’s the equivalent of over 36,000 dead for the year. In a country with less than 10% of the population of the U.S. Roughly equivalent impact to U.S. losses in World War II. Last throes?

AFP: Car Bomb kills 15 (“mostly police”) at Baghdad anti-terrorism unit
AFP: 3 Policemen killed by car bomb north of the Baghdad
AP: Civilian wounded by Iraqi army patrol
AP: Roadside bomb kills 1 policemen, wounded 2 civilians
AP: bomb outside Shiite mosque kills 6, wounds 20
AP: Officials discovered bodies of 16 pilgrims on Baghdad highway
Reuters: Chief of the Iraqi army in Kirkuk escapes attack
AP: Roadside bomb kills four in Baghdad
AFP: Roadside bomb kills Iraqi policeman, three wounded in Babylon
AP: Bomb wounds four civilians in Baghdad
Reuters: Roadside bomb kills four police in Baqubah
Reuters: Car bomb kills three police in northern Baghdad - al-Magrib St
Reuters: Iraqi soldier killed near Iskandariya
Mortar wounds two civilians in Baghdad
Reuters: Bomb wounds one Iraqi near bus station in Baghdad
KRG: Kirkuk: Insurgent doctor killed dozens of wounded soldiers
AP: At least 35 Iraqis die in two bombings in Baghdad (updated)
AP: Gunmen kill two police in north Baghdad
AP: Two civilians shot dead in Baghdad – drive-by shootings
AP: Mortars fired in Karbala, no injuries
Orlando Sentinel: Seminole man dies in convoy attack in Iraq
NYTimes: Another Abu Ghraib trial leaves top brass unscathed
AP: Fourteen bodies found in Iraq – Fallujah

Back from New Zealand

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and my vacation to New Zealand is now just a memory and a bunch of digital pics that still have to be organized. I had not looked at the news for almost three weeks. That's partly because I didn't want to and partly because the newspapers in New Zealand are really just cheap versions of Sports Illustrated.

Consequently, it's going to take me awhile to get back up to a full head of steam. I haven't even fully digested the little news I've picked up since I returned -- Smuckers has a patent on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, your tax preparer can sell your tax returns to the highest bidder, Rove is optimistic, Bush says Iraq is not in a civil war ...

In any event, it appears my co-bloggers have done a great job keeping things going here at Scatablog, so I'll look forward to reading their posts while I get back up to speed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why Does President Bush Hate Ray Bolger and Kansas?

Don’t expect to see this in your favorite Big Media newspaper, but AP actually did an excellent review of how Bush uses the straw man argument to the extreme whenever he wants to be seen picking a rhetorical fight.

Straw Man argument, of course, is setting up an exaggerated and false picture of what the opponent believes or says, and then knocking it down – and in the case of a wannabe cowboy like GW, with a flourish such as the quick puff to the smoking gun barrel. Do you want to have a simple picture of what’s going on here? Think Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow. Remember how the Cowardly Lion picked on the Scarecrow because he was afraid of a fair fight? That’s Bush.

As soon as you hear him say, “Some say,” or Some think,” a little light should flash on: “There goes the Cowardly Lion again.” He can’t beat the real argument, so Karl, ever mindful of the need to be seen in attack mode, and never missing a chance to slander the opposition, shows him how to set up a “Straw Man” for all the tough questions. For clarification, obviously the words “some say” may be an attempt at excruciating accuracy, as in “Some say we probably should not have gone into Iraq without a better plan.” But for Bush, rest assured, here comes a whopper that he can knock down easily so he can look really, really tough. Man, isn’t it great to see him pummel Helen Thomas! A man who stands firm, who stands tall, even tall in the saddle, definitely unbending. We all know that a good man is firm to find – well, it was something like that.

Of course, if he hates Ray Bolger, then he hates Dorothy. That means he hates The Wizard of Oz, and anybody who hates the Wizard of Oz certainly hates Kansas, and anybody who hates Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz and Kansas certainly hates America. Some say George W. Bush really hates America.

We Aren't the First to Worry about Growing Inequality

For the tool chest, from blogger Mark Kleiman ( via Brad DeLong ( via occasional commenter to Scatablog David Ollier Weber, here is a good quotation on the insidious consequences of excessive income and wealth disparities from 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume. According to Professor DeLong, Hume was a buddy of Adam Smith, and was generally considered a Tory:

A too great disproportion among the citizens weakens any state. Every person, if possible, ought to enjoy the fruits of his labour in a full possession of all the necessaries, and many of the conveniencies of life. No one can doubt, but such an equality is most suitable to human nature, and diminishes much less from the happiness of the rich than it adds to that of the poor. It also augments the power of the state, and makes any extraordinary taxes or impositions be paid with more chearfulness. Where the riches are engrossed by a few, these must contribute very largely to the supplying of the public necessities. But when the riches are dispersed among multitudes, the burthen feels light on every shoulder, and the taxes make not a very sensible difference on any one's way of living.

Add to this, that, where the riches are in few hands, these must enjoy all the power, and will readily conspire to lay the whole burthen on the poor, and oppress them still farther, to the discouragement of all industry.

Notice how this matches the liberal view of what I would call “the American social contract.” The philosophical right-wing conservative sees that social contract as every man for himself – and yes, that’s probably correct, every man – with only the invisible hand of the market sorting out the consequences. The Calvinist right-wing conservative sees it as every man for himself – yes, that again – but with the consequences already sorted out by God in advance anyway based on the purity of the soul. The left-wing radical wants virtually complete equality -- from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

But David Hume, and most American liberals (or if you will because you are too afraid of that word, progressives), counsels only against “too great a disproportion.” And how do we make that judgment? Hume has a simple answer: whatever it takes, first, to guarantee that the fruits of one’s labor will achieve “all of the necessaries and many of the conveniences of life.” After that, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, go for it! Britney, if you want gold-plated toilet seats or whatever, more power to ya. (Whatever floats your boat, although some believe that's already been accomplished in other ways.) But first, business must be taken care of. It is the conceptual reconciliation of guaranteeing fairness with free market capitalism that FDR needed to save capitalism from itself. Most liberals today, certainly that majority who work in or with Corporate America, have made the same compromise.

So David Hume was a Tory? I’ve contended that today’s liberals are the true conservatives who want to conserve what we have (e.g., the land, air and water) and what we’ve built (e.g., universal public education, Social Security, Medicare, a rudimentary safety net), and to build organically on top of that (universal health insurance, revised minimum wage). Only radicals would want to tear it all up and start over.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Inherent Incompetence of the Right

There’s another important issue raised in the Legal Fiction note below: focusing attention on the incompetence of Bush-the-individual, rather than the GOP generally. But the case can easily be made that extreme right-wingism that has taken over the Republican Party, and has succeeded in completely neutering Republicans who once claimed to be moderates, is inherently incompetent. Besides the right-wing having a blatantly flawed view of the world – the idea that the market, profit motive and competition are the amswer to absolutely everything, as well as extreme sectarian and anti-science attitudes unlike anything seen in the public sphere during our lifetimes – that powerful soundbite noted earlier just happens to capture the essence of it: How can people who despise everything about government be expected to be competent at running it? It’s not just Bush or his people – God knows, they have been criminally incompetent, and sent many thousands to death and dismembership as a result – but the whole right-wing movement that needs to be retired forever from public life.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bush's Reverse Robin Hood Budget

The latest Bush Administration smoke and mirror exercise is their Federal Budget proposal. Re. Social Security: Bush is trying to use the budget to sneak through his old $700 billion dollar plan to privatize Social Security and immediately slash benefits by $6.3 billion dollars. Re. Health Care: Bush would slash Medicaid by $13.7 billion over 5 years, abandoning millions of young, elderly, poor and disabled Americans who depend on Medicaid as their health care option of last resort. Re. Education: Bush is pushing for the largest cut in the history of the Department of Education, and to completely eliminate the Perkins loan, a vital program for college students in need. Re. Child care: Bush wants to kick 400,000 children out of child care programs for low income working families. Re. Budget busting tax breaks for the rich: Bush's budget would only continue to explode the deficit by giving away over $900 billion dollars to richest 1% of the population over 10 years. The result will drive up the deficit. Bush wants to give so much away to millionaires that even after his service cuts the annual deficit would grow by almost $200 billion dollars.

Poverty as a Political Issue? Ha, Give Me a Break!

Legal Fiction (Publius) makes a good observation that even Democrats have avoided talking about poverty for many years now.

Focusing the attention on Bush-the-individual serves two purposes. First, it makes everything easier to understand. It’s sort of like individual-centric sixth-grade history that kids learn – George Washington caused America to be free; the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand caused World War I, Bush caused the Katrina deaths, etc. Second, it allows liberals to ignore their own culpability. With the exception of John Edwards, not a single major Democratic
presidential candidate talked about poverty, much less risked any political capital to address it. And the much ballyhooed netroots don’t seem to give a shit either and I indict myself in that as well). We have all forgotten about poverty and thus we are all to blame for Katrina – and the next Katrina. But focusing on Bush-the-individual is convenient because he plays the role of scapegoat very well.

Remember how every Kerry policy that would have addressed the lowest part of the income scale first was phrased in terms of helping “the middle class”? I am not being critical of it as politics, since almost everyone considers themselves to be middle class. No doubt, Democrats think talking about poverty is a loser with the “real” middle class, who see it in simple-minded terms as taking their money and giving it to poor people. (Who labeled policies to address poverty as “re-distribution” policies? Why, I think you would find it was primarily Republican economists and their dupes in the profession and the media, who found a $2 word for repetition and continuing focus on the desirability for ongoing tax reduction.) We have Reagan and his “welfare queen,” most memorably, to thank for a lot of this, although there certainly have been many to share the blame. Indeed, the Republican Party is built on opposition to “re-distribution” -- take away the taxes used to do it -- heavily tinged with the racism that has never left us and that most African-Americans have spotted quite easily.

The unfortunate reality, after decades of Republican ideological ascendancy, is that everything must be framed in terms of the voters’ self-interest. It least we all believe that. So be it, and it really should not be that difficult. Somehow we need to get across to all voters, middle class and upwards, some simple arguments for eliminating poverty: (1) poverty drags down YOUR wages (the lower the bottom is, the more it allows employers to hold down wages all the way up the scale – duh!!!); (2) poverty drags down the ECONOMY (it slows down economic activity because poor people don’t have as much to spend and live in constant fear of running out of money – duh!!!); (3) Washington can follow policies that either increase poverty or decrease it (under Bush and the Republicans, poverty has increased despite good economic times for the well-off, while under Clinton it came down dramatically – duh!!!).

That’s pretty easy to say, don’t you think? We need to be constantly on the lookout to find simple, few (countable on one hand), Anglo-Saxon, non-Latin-based words to express Democratic principles – something the Democratic consultants in Washington who dominate the party’s messages seem unable to do. Yet, when they are reminded of such simple dot-connections, I would guess that millions of voters instinctively recognize it to be the truth: yes, I guess now that you say it, poverty among millions of people is actually bad for me, too. But if the Democratic Party won’t say it loud and clear, then how can anyone know that Democrats actually get it?

So let’s repeat it: besides being the “right thing to do,” POVERTY DRAGS DOWN YOUR WAGES, POVERTY DRAGS DOWN THE ECONOMY. And if you want to get all moral-values about it, what about the Christian reminder that you get back ten-fold (or at least “bountifully") what you give to the needy? Have the Republicans who claim to be holier than the rest of us conveniently forgotten about that one?