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Thursday, November 30, 2006

“A war crime of the first magnitude”

This what you call a withering assault from a respected analyst:

Joe Biden appeals to racist right

Joe Biden seems to be trying to tailor his appeal to the racist right as he trolls for votes in South Carolina:

Biden noted Delaware was a border state and "a slave state that fought beside the North. That's only because we couldn't figure out how to get to the South - there were a couple of other states in the way."

I guess he doesn't think he's going to be able to appeal to the netroots crowd. He's right.

[A hat tip to TalkLeft]

Who does what to whom

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Saudis have said that they will come in to protect the Sunnis from the Shi'ites if the U.S. pulls out. This is likely to put the Saudis on a collision course with the Iranians, who are supporting the Shi'ia. Now, if that leads to some kind of Saudi-Irani war, the Saudis are going to get crumped unless someone else comes in to defend them. Just look at the relative populations of the two countries. Saudi has a population of 27 million, of which almost 6 million are non-Saudi, so that leaves 21 million Saudis. Iran has a population of almost 69 million, more than three times more than Saudi Arabia.

So, who is there to defend the Saudis? Well, it's hard to think of any country that has a decent sized army. Egypt? I doubt it. The Turks are not very likely to go in to defend the Sunnis. Their biggest concern is with the Kurds. So they might get involved to keep the Kurds under control, but not to defend the Saudis defending the Sunnis.

So, guess who gets to defend the Saudis in their war with Iran. Somebody's got to protect the oil wells, don't they?

Overrun with prisoners

The U.S. Department of Justice released new statistics on the U.S. prison population today, so I thought I go look at how our prison population compares with that of other countries. Here's what I found:

The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, some 701 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (606), Belarus (554), Kazakhstan and the U.S. Virgin Islands (both 522), the Cayman Islands (501), Turkmenistan (489), Belize (459), Bermuda (447), Suriname (437), Dominica (420) and Ukraine (415). However, more than three fifths of countries (60.5%) have rates below 150 per 100,000. (The United Kingdom’s rate of 141 per 100,000 of the national population places it above the midpoint in the World List; it is the highest among countries of the European Union.)

Some great company we have up there at the top of the list, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, etc. Is this a sign that we have a truly sick society or is there some more benign explanation? I really don't know.

Meaning of freedom

I have just been reading a speech given by Bill Moyers to the cadets at West Point earlier this month. It is long, but well worth the read if you have the time. Here's just one short passage from it. He's talking about General Kosciuszko, a Polish-Lithuanian who had came to the U.S. in 1776 and joined up to fight in the Revolution. He later returned to Poland, where he ultimately led a losing fight against Russia in the 1794 insurrection and was imprisoned in St. Petersburg:

Upon his release from prison, Kosciuszko came back to the United States and began a lasting friendship with Jefferson, who called him his “most intimate and beloved friend.” In 1798, he wrote a will leaving his American estate to Jefferson, urging him to use it to purchase the freedom and education of his [Jefferson’s] own slaves, or, as Jefferson interpreted it, of “as many of the children as bondage in this country as it should be adequate to.” For this émigré, as for so many who would come later, the meaning of freedom included a passion for universal justice. In his Act of Insurrection at the outset of the 1794 uprising, Kosciuszko wrote of the people’s “sacred rights to liberty, personal security and property.” Note the term property here. For Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” Kosciuszko substituted Locke’s notion of property rights. But it’s not what you think: The goal was not simply to protect “private property” from public interference (as it is taught today), but rather to secure productive property for all as a right to citizenship. It’s easy to forget the difference when huge agglomerations of personal wealth are defended as a sacred right of liberty, as they are today with the gap between the rich and poor in America greater than it’s been in almost one hundred years. Kosciuszko—General Kosciuszko, from tip to toe a military man—was talking about investing the people with productive resources. Yes, freedom had to be won on the battlefield, but if freedom did not lead to political, social and economic opportunity for all citizens, freedom’s meaning could not be truly realized.

Think about it: A Polish general from the old world, infusing the new nation with what would become the marrow of the American Dream. Small wonder that Kosciuszko was often called a “hero of two worlds” or that just 25 years ago, in 1981, when Polish farmers, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, won the right to form an independent union, sending shockwaves across the Communist empire, Kosciuszko’s name was heard in the victory speeches—his egalitarian soul present at yet another revolution for human freedom and equal rights.

Pandora's box

It doesn't sound to me as though the Bush meeting with al-Maliki accomplished much.

AMMAN, Jordan - President Bush said Thursday the United States will speed a turnover of security responsibility to Iraqi forces but assured Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Washington is not looking for a "graceful exit" from a war well into its fourth violent year.

Handing over more responsibility for security to the Iraqis isn't going to get anything done. They can't handle the responsibility they have now. It might free up our troops so they could leave, but Bush once again said we're not leaving. If this means handing over responsibility to al-Sadr's militias, then the Saudis say they will have to come in to protect the Sunnis -- that will be really nifty. Who else will come in at that point? Iran? Turkey? You can easily see this exploding into a huge mess.

Meanwhile, the Iraq study commission has chopped off Bush at the knees by coming out in favor of withdrawal (more or less). He walks a little weird on those stumps.

Unfortunately, Bush opened Pandora's box and now the rest of us are going to suffer the consequences for years to come.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Matt Stoller has a scary post up over at MyDD. He seems to think there's a real risk from a McCain-Lieberman unity ticket, particularly since Lieberman just came out very well in the Quinnipiac fuzzy wuzzy was a bear ratings.

I hope he's wrong.

I can't see McCain leaving the Republican party, even if he's not nominated by them, so I don't see an independent ticket as very likely. However, I certainly can see Lieberman bolting the Democratic party. Would he do it to run as McCain's Vice President? I'm not sure. He's got a pretty inflated ego at this point. But, who knows?

On the other hand, I really don't think I believe the Quinnipiac findings are accurate. After all, I don't think most people even know who Obama is. Yet he comes in second in the ratings. Seems odd to me.

al-Maliki meeting postponed

So the highly touted face off between Bush and al-Maliki didn't actually happen today.

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- President Bush's high-stakes summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was put off Wednesday after public disclosure of U.S. doubts about his capacity to control sectarian warfare.

The White House said the two leaders would meet Thursday.

The postponement was announced shortly after Bush arrived here for talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II and al-Maliki. Bush's meeting with the king was to proceed on schedule.

Something's obviously up. A large part of al-Maliki's government resigned today, so there may not be a government any more. Also, the White House leaked a memo to the NY Times, published this morning, highly critical of al-Maliki. I have a feeling tomorrow's meeting is going to be pretty tense. Meanwhile Rome Iraq burns.

E-mailing grades illegal

I left the formal teaching profession before the advent of e-mail, so it surprises me to learn that (at least in New Jersey) it's illegal for a professor to e-mail a test grade to a college student, even if the professor has their written permission to do so. Yes, I can see that there are legitimate concerns over the privacy of e-mail. But, given that the State is also compiling an on-line data base containing the grades, addresses, and other information on every public school student in the State, the emphasis seems misplaced.

The Quebec Nation

This doesn't sound like a great idea to me, but then again, I'm not Canadian (yet anyway) and I hadn't even heard about this till five minutes ago. I'd be curious to hear how Canadians feel about this and whether they can separate their feelings from their birth language.

The Canadian parliament has recognised Quebecers as a nation within a united Canada after backing a proposal that had already led to the resignation of one minister in the minority Conservative.

The House of Commons, voted 266-16 on Monday in favour of the motion which the government sees as a way of placating French-speaking separatists.

But critics said the proposal could actually bolster the pro-independence opposition.

Dollar drops

The value of one Euro in U.S. dollars.

Watch your money depreciate.

Civil War

Is there anyone besides Bush who still denies that Iraq is in a civil war? Even Colin Powell has now declared it one.

I saw something yesterday that the NY Times has given its reporters permission to call it a civil war.

Our favorite plagiarist runs for president

Joe Biden says he is in the race. The degree of self-deception that could lead him to think he had even a flicker of a chance to win the nomination, much less the job, is hard to comprehend.

Tom Friedman goes off the deep end

The transcript of a TV interview with Tom Friedman (via Crooks and Liars):

Friedman: …To have a proper civil war you need to have two sides —-you have about thirty sides—It's beyond a civil war there.

Vieira: So what does that mean in terms of our role there then, Thom?

Friedman: Um, Obviously when you're dealing now with something broken up into so many little pieces–it's hard to believe that anything other than re-occupying the country–um, and establishing the very coherent order we failed to do from the beginning is really the only serious option left.

Vieira (stunned) But, is that really a serious option—to reoccupy the country?

Friedman: Well, I'm simply saying if you actually want to actually bring order there—the idea that you're going to train the Iraqi army and police to this kind of fragmented society is ludicrous. Who's training the insurgents? Nobody is training them and they seem to be doing just fine. This is not about the way–it's about the will. Do you have a will to be a country? If you don't have that then there's not much training is going to do..

The man's lost his marbles altogether. Re-occupy Iraq? And, just what are we doing now? I hope people are beginning to realize that this guy has really bad judgment.

Judge rules against Bush on terror lists

Another judge has ruled against Bush's intrusive policies to fight terror. Unfortunately, we still have to wait a long time before these rulings face their final test in the Supreme Court.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal judge in Los Angeles, who previously struck down sections of the Patriot Act, has ruled that provisions of an anti-terrorism order issued by President George W. Bush after September 11 are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins found that part of the law, signed by Bush on September 23, 2001 and used to freeze the assets of terrorist organizations, violated the Constitution because it put no apparent limit on the president's powers to place groups on that list.

Ruling in a lawsuit brought against the Treasury Department in 2005 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Collins also threw out a portion of Bush's order which applied the law to those who associate with the designated organizations.

"This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists, an authority president Bush then used to empower the Secretary of the Treasury to impose guilt by association," said David Cole of the Washington-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

"The court's decision confirms that even in fighting terror, unchecked executive authority and trampling on fundamental freedoms is not a permissible option," he said in a statement

Pakistan advises Nato to accept defeat in Afghanistan

It's not just Iraq that's unravelling now:

Senior Pakistani officials are urging Nato countries to accept the Taliban and work towards a new coalition government in Kabul that might exclude the Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, has said in private briefings to foreign ministers of some Nato member states that the Taliban are winning the war in Afghanistan and Nato is bound to fail. He has advised against sending more troops.

Western ministers have been stunned. "Kasuri is basically asking Nato to surrender and to negotiate with the Taliban," said one Western official who met the minister recently.

It doesn't get us very far to mourn what might have been, but the missed opportunities are painful. I wonder if America will ever recover from the effects of the past six years. And, God help us, we have two more years to go. Publius worries that they may be the worst yet, since Bush has no vested interest in political popularity at this point. He may just decide to screw things up for spite.

To Conservatives and Republicans

Michael Moore's latest epistle:

A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives

November 14th, 2006

To My Conservative Brothers and Sisters,

I know you are dismayed and disheartened at the results of last week's election. You're worried that the country is heading toward a very bad place you don't want it to go. Your 12-year Republican Revolution has ended with so much yet to do, so many promises left unfulfilled. You are in a funk, and I understand.

Well, cheer up, my friends! Do not despair. I have good news for you. I, and the millions of others who are now in charge with our Democratic Congress, have a pledge we would like to make to you, a list of promises that we offer you because we value you as our fellow Americans. You deserve to know what we plan to do with our newfound power -- and, to be specific, what we will do to you and for you.

Thus, here is our Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives:

Dear Conservatives and Republicans,

I, and my fellow signatories, hereby make these promises to you:

1. We will always respect you for your conservative beliefs. We will never, ever, call you "unpatriotic" simply because you disagree with us. In fact, we encourage you to dissent and disagree with us.

2. We will let you marry whomever you want, even when some of us consider your behavior to be "different" or "immoral." Who you marry is none of our business. Love and be in love -- it's a wonderful gift.

3. We will not spend your grandchildren's money on our personal whims or to enrich our friends. It's your checkbook, too, and we will balance it for you.

4. When we soon bring our sons and daughters home from Iraq, we will bring your sons and daughters home, too. They deserve to live. We promise never to send your kids off to war based on either a mistake or a lie.

5. When we make America the last Western democracy to have universal health coverage, and all Americans are able to get help when they fall ill, we promise that you, too, will be able to see a doctor, regardless of your ability to pay. And when stem cell research delivers treatments and cures for diseases that affect you and your loved ones, we'll make sure those advances are available to you and your family, too.

6. Even though you have opposed environmental regulation, when we clean up our air and water, we, the Democratic majority, will let you, too, breathe the cleaner air and drink the purer water.

7. Should a mass murderer ever kill 3,000 people on our soil, we will devote every single resource to tracking him down and bringing him to justice. Immediately. We will protect you.

8. We will never stick our nose in your bedroom or your womb. What you do there as consenting adults is your business. We will continue to count your age from the moment you were born, not the moment you were conceived.

9. We will not take away your hunting guns. If you need an automatic weapon or a handgun to kill a bird or a deer, then you really aren't much of a hunter and you should, perhaps, pick up another sport. We will make our streets and schools as free as we can from these weapons and we will protect your children just as we would protect ours.

10. When we raise the minimum wage, we will pay you -- and your employees -- that new wage, too. When women are finally paid what men make, we will pay conservative women that wage, too.

11. We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don't put those beliefs into practice. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs ("Blessed are the poor," "Blessed are the peacemakers," "Love your enemies," "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn't just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism -- starting with the fanaticism here at home, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world.

12. We will not tolerate politicians who are corrupt and who are bought and paid for by the rich. We will go after any elected leader who puts him or herself ahead of the people. And we promise you we will go after the corrupt politicians on our side FIRST. If we fail to do this, we need you to call us on it. Simply because we are in power does not give us the right to turn our heads the other way when our party goes astray. Please perform this important duty as the loyal opposition.

I promise all of the above to you because this is your country, too. You are every bit as American as we are. We are all in this together. We sink or swim as one. Thank you for your years of service to this country and for giving us the opportunity to see if we can make things a bit better for our 300 million fellow Americans -- and for the rest of the world.


Michael Moore

It's Israel-Palestine, stupid

It seems to me that this comment by Juan Cole is so self-evident that it shouldn't have to be said. But, most Americans simply can't seem to wrap their minds around the fact that it's the Israeli-Palestine thing that is the underlying driver of Middle East tensions:

A surprise for Americans: The most urgent and destabilizing crisis in the Middle East is not Iraq. It is, according to King Abdullah II of Jordan (who will meet Bush today), the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is a major engine driving the radicalization of Muslims in the Middle East and in Europe. It seldom makes the front page any more, but the Israelis are keeping the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in Bantustan penitentiaries and bombing the ones in Gaza relentlessly, often killing signficant numbers of innocent civilians. Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Rubin, David Wurmser and other Likudniks who had managed to get influential perches in the US government once argued that the road to peace in Jerusalem lay through Baghdad. It never did, and they were wrong about that the way they were wrong about everything else.

In fact, September 11 was significantly about the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, and as long as the Israelis continue their actual creeping colonialization of Palestinian land while they pretend to engage in a (non-existent) "peace process," radicalism in the region will only grow. Polls taken in the last few years have shown that 64 percent of Egyptians expressed satisfaction with the Mubarak government, but only 2 percent had a favorable view of US foreign policy (i.e. knee-jerk pro-Likud policy) in the Middle East. That is, the argument that authoritarian government breeds radicalism is either untrue or only partial. It is the daily perception of a great historical wrong done to a Middle Eastern people, the Palestinians, that radicalizes people in the region (and not just Muslims).

Funny money

I don't know how far this will get on appeal, but it's interesting that a U.S. district court judge has said that our paper money is illegal because all our bills are the same size, regardless of denomination:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 — A federal judge here ruled on Tuesday that the government illegally discriminated against blind people by printing its paper currency on bills of the same size that could not be distinguished by touch.

Every other country in the world has different sizes for different denominations. When I travel, I find that a bit of a pain, since I have a wallet that's just fine for U.S. bills but won't hold the larger foreign bills unless I fold them various ways. While I would be perfectly happy to put up with the inconvenience if it helps the blind, I suspect there will be a lot of guys (Rush Limbaugh comes to mind) who will object.

It depends on the meaning of the word "obvious"

I've argued here before that there are too many people out there claiming patents on things that obviously shouldn't have patent protection, such as putting peanut butter on crackers. Now there is a case before the Supreme Court that may help resolve this problem:

The patent in dispute is for an adjustable gas pedal, designed to work in vehicles equipped with electronic engine controls. In the past, gas pedals that could be adjusted for the driver’s comfort worked mechanically. The new version, produced by a Canadian company, the KSR International Company, under contract to General Motors, combined an adjustable pedal with an electronic sensor.

Claiming that it had already patented such a product, a rival company, Teleflex Inc., sued. KSR argued that Teleflex’s patent was invalid because the combination of the two elements was obvious. A federal district judge in Detroit agreed, and dismissed the infringement suit.

But the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has jurisdiction over all patent appeals, overturned that decision. It ordered the district court to reconsider the case under a test that makes obviousness harder to prove — and therefore makes patents easier to obtain and defend. It is the validity of that test that is at issue in the case, KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc., No. 04-1350.

The Federal Circuit’s test for obviousness is usually referred to as the teaching-suggestion-motivation test. Under the test, a patent cannot be rejected as obvious unless the party challenging it can show that at the time of the invention, there existed a “teaching, suggestion, or motivation” that would have led a person familiar with the field to put existing products together. Meeting that test often requires a jury trial, making patent litigation prolonged and expensive.

James W. Dabney, the lawyer representing KSR, told the justices that the Federal Circuit had improperly displaced “skill and ingenuity” as the benchmark for obtaining a patent and replaced it with what amounted to an “entitlement” to patent protection. But the Supreme Court itself “has rejected time and time again the notion that someone who was the first simply to take advantage of the known capability of technology was entitled to a patent,” he added.

The federal Patent and Trademark Office agrees with the critique and entered the case on the side of KSR. Thomas G. Hungar, a deputy solicitor general, told the justices that “as the sole means of proving obviousness, the teaching-suggestion-motivation test is contrary to the Patent Act, irreconcilable with this court’s precedents, and bad policy.”

Mr. Hungar added, “It asks the wrong question and, in cases like this one, it produces the wrong answer.”

The justification for awarding temporary monopoly protection to a product in our society is NOT, as many believe, because the inventor has an inherent property right to his invention. Indeed, in the U.S. there has never been a "property right" to ideas. The reason for patents under the U.S. Constitution is an economic one -- it is to create an economic incentive for people to invent. Giving away the incentive to those who do the obvious is a horrible mis-allocation of resources. I'm on KSR's side on this one. There should be a pretty high hurdle to proving non-obviousness. The reward should go to those who really had to work for it.

How petty can you get?

Bush banning i-Pods to N. Korea to get Kim Jong Il's goat.

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration wants North Korea's attention, so like a scolding parent it's trying to make it tougher for that country's eccentric leader to buy iPods, plasma televisions and Segway electric scooters.

The U.S. government's first-ever effort to use trade sanctions to personally aggravate a foreign president expressly targets items believed to be favored by Kim Jong Il or presented by him as gifts to the roughly 600 loyalist families who run the communist government.

I mean, really, how petty can you get? It's like three year olds in the sand box fighting over their toys.

Will the adults please step in and take over?

Lame duck meets dead duck

Bush is supposed to meet with Nuri al-Maliki later today. As Maliki was leaving Iraq, one major city there, Baqouba, was closed down by street fighting, the al-Sadrists said they would make good their threat to boycott the Iraqi government if Maliki met Bush, people continued to turn up dead and wounded all over the country, and the U.S. prepared to leave Anbar province for good. Maliki may not make it home as premier. Bush has no power to change anything anymore.

It appears Iraq is unravelling faster than I can describe it. Soon, there will be government in name only -- if that's not already the case. If there were ever a "failed state," it's Iraq at the moment, but that designation seems to blame the Iraqis for their plight. In fact, Iraq is a "destroyed state," and we were the ones who almost single handedly destroyed it.

I hope the two have an enjoyable time chatting about the weather.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Beware those octogenarian extremists

If you want another example of how far our national conversations have been distorted by the right-wing, consider this. It’s Kevin Drum, one of the best liberal bloggers on the net, talking about the problems with “centrism.”

I'd argue, for example, that good analysis supports a fairly extreme view on Social Security (just leave it alone for now)... (

Here we have the single most popular social program in the history of the country, one that has been in place for over 70 years since the Great Depression, and preserving it in its present form is characterized as an “extreme” view. Granted there may be some irony in its use here, and he makes a worthwhile point in a useful post. But the very idea is disturbing that the word “extreme,” at least without the most dripping sarcasm, could flow off the pen and into a post as a characterization of the desire to keep the Social Security program.

Those San Francisco values (and we all know what that means, heh heh)

I’m deep in the heart of North America, North Coast only, and I get as sick of cracks from the two Left Coasts about "flyover-country" as any Red-blooded heartland American. But this is good. I remember wondering about 10 years ago if civilization was in serious decline as visionary managers even “out here” started discarding their coats and ties. One of my colleagues wisely reminded me that most of the best stuff in the information revolution was coming from the eastern shore of the Bay, where casual Friday had long ago been displaced by casual every day.

No bands without original members allowed

Not too long ago, I was watching one of those nostalgic PBS fund raising shows featuring old singing groups from the 50's and 60's. Among the groups was the Kingston Trio. As they went through a brief history of each of the current members of the Kingston Trio, it became clear that none of them were part of the original group that became famous at San Francisco's Hungry I. In fact, most were not even second generation members of the group. Since I had attended several concerts with the original group, I found it a bit disappointing.

Well, now, it appears it will also be illegal, at least here in New Jersey:

Original members of the bands Sha Na Na and The Drifters urged New Jersey legislators Monday to support a measure that would penalize impostors who perform while posing as members of famous oldies bands.

“In a sophisticated form of identity theft, impostor groups are duping consumers and stealing the names, the remuneration and the legacy of the pioneers of rock ‘n' roll,” Jon Bauman, formerly “Bowzer” of Sha Na Na, told legislators.

The New Jersey measure would make it a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act for any person to advertise or perform using the name of a famous band without having at least one original member. Fines would range from $10,000 to $20,000 under a bill that cleared the Senate Commerce Committee on Monday and is scheduled for a hearing Dec. 7 in the Assembly.

Alcee Hastings out

TPM Muckraker tells us that Alcee Hastings has withdrawn his name from contention for the chair of the House Intelligence Committee (more or less at the same time Nancy Pelosi said she would not name him chair).

Glenn Greenwald has already given us the skinny on why Jane Harmon is a terrible choice, given that she was more solidly for Bush than Bush himself.

So, let's hope Pelosi finds someone good to fill the role.

Dems win PA House

Dems take back PA:

By a single vote, Democrats will enjoy majority control of the Pennsylvania House for the first time in a dozen years when the Legislature convenes early next year.

That's because a House seat in Chester County flipped from GOP to Democratic hands when absentee ballots were counted this afternoon. The House will be 102 Democrats and 101 Republicans, pending the outcome of expected court challenges.

In an electoral ordeal that sometimes threatened to mirror the 2000 presidential debacle in Florida, elections officials in suburban Chester County handed the Democrats the keys to the House when unofficial tallies showed Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith winning the closely watched 156th District. The seat was in GOP hands.

Officials said Smith defeated Republican Shannon Royer by 23 votes. Going into Tuesday's vote count, Smith trailed Royer by 12 votes, down from an Election Day margin of 19 votes.

Is it time to start some re-districting?

Update: Ooops, I see from Kos that we need Senate too. Re-districting will have to wait.

Undermining Baker-Hamilton

More efforts on the part of Bush to undermine the Baker-Hamilton report before it's out.

Directly seeking help from Iran and Syria with Iraq, as part of new, aggressive diplomacy throughout the region, is expected to be among the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton group.

But Bush continued to express his administration’s reluctance to talk with two nations it regards as pariah states working to destabilize the Middle East.

Iran, the top U.S. rival in the region, has reached out to Iraq and Syria in recent days — an attempt viewed as a bid to assert its role as a powerbroker in Iraq.

Bush said Iraq is a sovereign nation, free to meet with its neighbors. “If that’s what they think they ought to do, that’s fine,” he said. “One thing Iraq would like to see is for the Iranians to leave them alone.”

The president added that the U.S. will only deal with Iran when they suspend their program of enriching uranium, which could be used in a nuclear weapon arsenal.

Gingrich considers revoking the first amendment

I have a feeling this position is widely held among the Republican elite:

A former Republican speaker of the house mulling a possible presidential run has said that America may need to reexamine freedom of speech in order to prevent future terrorist attacks.
The Constitution is just an out-of-date piece of paper, you know. They'll make America really great by being like ... hmmm ... the Soviet Union.

Why Cheney went to Saudi

Kevin Drum spotted this gem in today's Washington Post:

Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats. The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally.

So, this wasn't some great plan to line up the Arab countries to help us, as it had been portrayed by the White House. Instead, Cheney was called to the carpet to be scolded by the Saudis... and, he dutifully went.

Meanwhile, Iraq continues to crash and burn, and Bush continues to say, "stay the course."

That great sucking sound

Don't worry, it's just your home equity that's being sucked away:

WASHINGTON - Sales of existing homes posted a tiny increase in October but the median home price fell by a record amount. Analysts forecast more price declines in coming months as the once-booming housing market undergoes a painful correction.

There are now 7.4 months of inventory on the market, so don't count on a quick sale if you're planning to jump ship.

Anbar province lost

Today's big news is the leak of a Marine Corps intelligence report saying we've lost Anbar province:

The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military's mission in Anbar province.

I'm sure someone will get the axe for writing that, but it's simply one more item in the growing mountain of evidence that tells us we should leave.

Whose debt is it anyway?

Andrew Tobias:

Have I mentioned lately that the National debt will be around $10 trillion by the time Bush leaves the White House? EIGHT trillion of which will have been racked up under just 3 of our 43 presidents – Reagan, Bush, and Bush? Have I mentioned that annual interest on the debt already amounts to 40% of all the personal income taxes we pay?

Obviously, we can't make Reagan pay off his share, but maybe we could send the bill for the rest to Bush I and II. How 'bout that?

Better than Jean Le Carré

The Russian spy murder story seems to be widening. Now another anti-Putin activist seems to have been polluted. Eighteed people have been tested for polonium radiation:

Detectives have found traces of polonium 210 at the London offices of the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, it was revealed last night. Officers were searching 7 Down Street, Mayfair, after the discovery of the radioactive substance that killed Mr Berezovsky's friend and former employee, Alexander Litvinenko…

Sources confirmed that traces of polonium 210 had been found at the address. Mr Berezovsky, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, refused to comment yesterday on the revelations. "I don't want to comment anything about it," he told the Guardian. "I don't know anything about police at my office."

…Detectives were also searching the offices of a security and risk management company in Grosvenor Street, in the West End of London, where traces of polonium 210 have been found. A spokesman for the company, Erinys, said it had alerted police because Mr Litvinenko had visited its offices on a "totally unrelated" matter some time before he was admitted to hospital. He added: "None of our staff with whom he had contact have suffered any ill effects."

The development came as the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said three people had been referred for further radiation tests at a special clinic after contacting NHS Direct in the past few days. They were among 18 people referred to the HPA for possible further examination since the radiation alert was issued on Friday.

In the past four days around 500 people have contacted NHS Direct saying they were concerned they may have been contaminated after visiting the Piccadilly restaurant Itsu or the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square on November 1, the day Mr Litvinenko first became ill.

And I used to think that New York State tax authorities had a long reach.

Rejecting Baker-Hamilton

Josh Marshall makes the point that I was thinking when I read this article about Hezbollah and IRan training the Mahdi army in the NY Times this morning -- it's a Cheney plant:

The truth or falsity of this new intel from the same sources of the reliably bogus intel of recent years, though, seems of secondary interest to the debate that's getting set up. It's a recipe and the argument for staying in Iraq permanently. We can't get out because getting out means coming to an accomodation with Iran and Syria who've already been meddling in Iraq.

That the Bushies seem to be trying to set this thing up in order to head off any recommendations from the Baker-Hamilton Commission was reinforced when I got on the net and read this article reporting that Bush is saying the sectarian strife in Iraq is part of an al-Qaeda plot.

ALLINN, Estonia -President Bush said Tuesday an al-Qaida plot to stoke cycles of sectarian revenge in Iraq is to blame for escalating bloodshed, and refused to debate whether the country has fallen into civil war.

"No question it's tough, no question about it," Bush said at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. "There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of the attacks by al-Qaida causing people to seek reprisal."

It sure looks to me as though Bush has rejected the Baker-Hamilton approach before he even knows what it is. One thing's for sure. We're not going to be talking to Iran or Syria anytime soon.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What Bill Murray, Michael J. Fox, and the Social Security Baby Boom Surplus have in common

Here we go again, and here is all you need to know that demonstrates why there is not a Social Security crisis.

Alan Greenspan, usually considered by conservatives to be a pretty smart guy (and a tad bit more knowledgeable than Mr. Tim “Chalkboard-Two-Workers-for-One-Retiree” Russert), had a remarkable flash insight into the fact that someday, all those Baby Boomers, born between 1945 and 1965 or so were going to retire someday. He said to his 1983 Social Security Fix-It Commission, which Ronald Reagan thought was a good idea, “We have to do something about that. We need to plan for the future. We need to build a surplus in the Trust Fund for when that day comes. Think of it like a college fund, built up and then sitting there to be used when the Baby Boomers start to retire (beginning about 2010), and then to be used up someday when they have died off. By about 2030, they will start dropping like flies. Let’s call it the Baby Boom Social Security Surplus.”

After that, the Social Security Trustees began on a consistent basis predicting “Key Dates,” including the year the surplus would stop building – i.e., the year we would have to start using it, which we will call the Start Date – and the year it – the surplus -- would finally be used up, or the End Date. After the End Date, we would have to go back to the original pay-as-you go system that worked for about 50 years before this Baby Boom “bulge” mucked it up (like, according to The Greatest Generation and Generation X, they do to everything else). Back in 1994, for example, the Social Security actuaries fed in their economic and demographic assumptions, and voila, they predicted the Start Date (for the combined retirement and disability funds) would be in 19 years, 2013, and the End Date would be 35 years in the future, or 2029.

Now if this were a perfect science, or for that matter even an imperfect science, those dates would have stayed the same, and each year the Doomsday scenarios would have kept getting closer and closer – with the clock ticking louder and louder each year. In fact, they did for awhile, and in 1998 the Start Date was still 2013, so it would now be only 15 years until we would have to start dipping into that surplus. The End Date was actually moved up a year during that period, to the point where it looked to be only 32 years in the future.

But guess what. The Baby Boom Surplus went into a Super-Groundhog Day time-warp. It was Back-to-the-Future and then some as each year both the Start Date and the End Date moved further and further away. Time moved backwards on the Doomsday Clock, and by 2003 the Start Date was not expected until 2018, still 15 years into the future, and the End Date had been moved all the way out to 2042, or 39 years into the future. For a period of about six years, in other words, the problem kept getting better and better – much, much better and better – simply by doing absolutely nothing.

Since 2003, in years that happen to coincide with (a) Bush having appointed the majority of the Trustees, (b) Bush deciding he wanted to promote his privatization plan in earnest, (c) knowledge of the right wing that privatization talking points would be improved if the Doomsday Clock started back in the right direction, and (d) an unexplained change in the way the critical productivity growth assumptions for the future are made, the Trustees’ projections have, in fact, come back down: to 11 years for the Start Date (2017, which, however, remains several years further out than was expected just 10 years ago). As a special bonus, even with the recent accelerations under Bush, the Start Date has been put off until longer after Boomers start retiring than they said would be the case in 1995. It's like your kid deciding to spend the first two years at the community college instead of Princeton.

It is important to realize that the Trustees actually have used three different sets of assumptions, optimistic, pessimistic, and a higher probability scenario in the middle. All the confident predictions about what “will” happen to Social Security somewhere close to the middle of the 21st century are based on that in-between set of assumptions. Most journalists should appreciate that: isn’t the truth always “somewhere in the middle”?

Now if you think about it, the real problem predicted is not that the Baby Boom Surplus is inadequate. We will not need to even start tapping into it until about 6-7 years after the retirement bulge has begun, and it should last about a full decade after the retirement rate has begun settling back closer to steady ratios in relation to the working population. The real issue is whether the working generations will generate enough revenue to support the steady-state retirement ratio after that.

The moderate scenario (and, of course, the pessimistic one) says probably not, while the optimistic version says yes, no problem. The optimistic version has been closer to reality over the last couple of decades than the supposedly more prudent one. Will that continue to be the case? Who knows? -- and that is the whole point. The experts have barely any more of a clue than you and I do as to what will happen with many of the critical assumptions in 30 or 40 years. They haven’t even been able to get the Start Date right, much less the End Date that's about 25 years later.

The issue is not whether we have a potential problem with Social Security. Yes, you can say we have a potential problem -- one we have been living with for two decades -- because the methodology chosen as a prudent one suggests that a problem will occur. The sole issue for now is whether we have a “crisis” that requires action at this time. Because we do not know whether we have a problem, we can hardly have a crisis. We do know that, despite the models Social Security has chosen to use as an exercise in prudence, actual experience provides significant evidence that we do not have a real problem looming in the future. Without a clearer picture, that is reason enough to merely keep watching, as the Social Security Administration does, and to recognize that changing the formulas right now – and taking money from people to solve a problem that from actual experience probably does not exist -- would be irresponsible. Beyond that, if the Social Security fish are still in the freezer, we have a whole load of fish that have thawed and need to be fried before they start to spoil.

As Reed Hundt at TPM Café says, “Social Security faces a lack of funds to pay its commitments some years after the ice caps will, under current trends, have melted, flooding Florida; after oil hits several hundred dollars a barrel; after income inequality turns America into France of 1788; after rising Asian competition eliminates the American Dream -- see my book "In China's Shadow." So let's get our priorities right.”

Save this table and use it when the pontificators start pontificating. They will.

Column 1 is Year of Trustees Report, Column 2 shows how many years into future Baby Boom Surplus stops growing, and Column 3 shows years into future Baby Boom Surplus is exhausted.

1994 19 35
1995 18 35
1996 16 33
1997 16 32
1998 15 34
1999 15 35
2000 15 37
2001 15 37
2002 15 39
2003 15 39
2004 14 38
2005 12 36
2006 11 34

Israeli apartheid in Palestine

Jimmy Carter comes out against the Israeli apartheid in Palestine:

Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter called Israeli "domination" over Palestinians "atrocious" during an interview Monday on ABC's Good Morning America, RAW STORY has learned...

"Well, Robin, I have spent the last 30 years trying to find peace for Israel and Israel's neighbors, and the purpose of this book is to do that," Carter responded. "But you can't find peace unless you address the existing issues honestly and frankly."

Carter said that there was "no doubt now that a minority of Israelis are perpetuating apartheid on the people in Palestine, the Palestinian people."

Many Democrats are uncomfortable with Carter's use of the term "apartheid" to describe Israeli policies. Even Congressman John Conyers, the incoming House Judiciary Committee chairman known for his more liberal ideology, has criticized the term's usage.

Unfortunately, the Democrats are no better than the Republicans on this issue. For most Democrats if Israel did it, then by definition it's good. In that view, I'm afraid the politicians reflect the view of the general public. Israel can do no wrong.

Partly, the general public holds this view because no one has guts enough to challenge it for fear they will be labeled an anti-semite.

Good for Jimmy Carter.

As bad as the worst

John Aravosis at Americablog makes a good point after observing that China has deep sixed an aids activist. How can we complain, given that we do the same things here:

But with all due respect to AIDS activist China has now disappeared, this doesn't appear any different than what the US government now does to those it suspects of being a threat to our way of life, so what's the difference? I can't stand the Chinese government - they're one of the most vile regimes on the planet - but how do we criticize their actions when the Bush administration does the same thing? Gonna complain that China is ignoring international law? Domestic law? Any Chinese version of habeas corpus? That they're refusing to let the disappeared see a lawyer? That they're refusing to make the charges public, to hold a public trial? These are all things the Bush administration and the Republican Congress have now dispensed with in America - and the American people didn't give a damn. So what right do we have to demand more of China than ourselves?

Half billion $ for W Library

Bush is trying to raise $500 million to fund his library. That's a half billion (with a "b") dollars. Since every document is triply classified by this administration, there will be nothing to put in it that anyone will be allowed to look at for the next millenium except "My Pet Goat."

Eager to begin refurbishing his tattered legacy, the President hopes to raise $500 million to build his library and a think tank at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Bush lived in Dallas until he was elected governor of Texas in 1995.

Bush sources with direct knowledge of library plans told the Daily News that SMU and Bush fund-raisers hope to get half of the half billion from what they call "megadonations" of $10 million to $20 million a pop.

Bush loyalists have already identified wealthy heiresses, Arab nations and captains of industry as potential "mega" donors and are pressing for a formal site announcement - now expected early in the new year.

So tell me, now that Bush is lower in the polls than ever, now that his party has lost power in Congress, now that most everybody in the world hates him, who the hell is going to give $20 million at a pop for his library?

Zelikow out

Philip Zelikow, the only person at the State Department who seems to have a clue about the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is on his way out. He's the guy who said this last September:

For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.

They say he's not being fired, and I certainly hope they didn't fire him for saying this, but I sure wish someone would listen to him. From what I can tell, no one in government seems to think there is any urgency to solving this problem.

DOJ to white wash investigate warrantless surveillance program

Maybe I'm just overly suspicious, but something sure seems fishy about this to me:

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's internal watchdog said Monday it has opened an investigation into the agency's use of information gathered in the government's warrantless surveillance program.

About six months ago, Bush personally refused to grant security clearances to a similar group from the DOJ. Low and behold, now that the Dem's are coming into power he's granting security clearances to a group that previously said it didn't have jurisdiction over the program.

Is this a way to white wash the program? Is it an excuse to stall on Congressional investigations? I haven't quite figured it out, but they're not doing this because they're good guys.

Even more evidence of fishiness is the fact that it was reported first by Faux News.

Your Beltway Press in action, Part 359: the Nancy Pelosi-Jane Harman mud-wrestle

Glenn Greenwald, (Unclaimed Territory) is on a roll with trenchant deconstruction of Beltway Centrism – the mushy worldview of Washington-based pundits that expects Democrats to split the difference on principles to accommodate the current occupants of the Executive branch, presumably for the more important purpose of maintaining a level of tranquility permitting Georgetown gatherings to stick to witty small talk.

Now that the “debilitating” one-day battle for Majority Leader between Steny Hoyer and Pelosi- supported Jack Murtha is moldy news, the current obsession of the Beltway centrists seems to be Nancy Pelosi’s choice for chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Jane Harman from California is the longest-standing Democrat on the committee, but she supported the Iraq War and has otherwise been a Lieberman wannabe on eavesdropping and other issues allegedly advancing the war on terrorism. Pelosi is reported not to want to appoint Harman, and the Beltway Punditry is in a snit, reverting to childish attacks on her for letting petty “personality conflict” affect her decision-making. Greenwald helps illuminate why civilization hangs in the balance over this decision:

There is nothing "credible" about Harman. Yes, she is smart and knowledgeable, but she has been wrong about everything that matters, particularly in the intelligence area. But she was wrong in exactly the same way that the Beltway geniuses and The New Republic and David Broder and Fred Hiatt were wrong. For that reason, they don't want her to be repudiated and rejected because that would constitute a repudiation and rejection of them. So they build up and glorify the "credible," responsible Harman because she represents them, and they hate Pelosi in advance for rejecting Harman for being wrong about everything because they feel rejected by that choice.

As a result, Pelosi and her opposition to Harman have to be belittled and removed from the substantive arena. Harman supported the most disastrous strategic decision in our nation's history and repeatedly defended the administration's worst excesses. That ought to be disqualifying on its face. But the Beltway media are guilty of the same crimes, so they want to pretend that Harman -- just like Steny Hoyer -- did nothing wrong and the only reason not to anoint her to her Rightful Place is because of petty, womanly personality disputes that have no place in the public arena.

For the same reason, they decree that Pelosi must prove that she's a "responsible" and serious leader. How does she do that? By embracing the Beltway establishment types, including those -- especially those -- who have been so wrong about so many things.

More background on the Bush-enablers in our nation’s capital can be found in Greenwald’s weekend post, “The ‘centrist’ position on the war in Iraq” . These people may be household faces from the talking-head circuit, but they are talking strictly to each other. They are not your friends

A hopeful development in Israeli-Palistinian dispute

I don't know what brought this on, but it's certainly a refreshing change:

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, has said Israel is ready to "withdraw from considerable territory", free Palestinian prisoners and release funds to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for the return of a soldier seized in June.

He also said a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was possibile if peace talks were begun.

It is the first time Olmert has offered to exchange prisoners for Gilad Shalit, whose capture in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants triggered an Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip.

Olmert's speech came after a ceasefire agreement took effect in Gaza on Sunday morning.

I hope these efforts lead somewhere. This is the first ray of hope I've seen in the Israeli-Palestinian situation in a very long time.

al-Maliki pelted with stones

I have a feeling that the al-Maliki government is about to collapse. He's hated even among his own sect:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The motorcade of Iraq's prime minister was pelted with stones on Sunday by fellow Shi'ites in a Baghdad slum when he paid respects to some of the 200 who died there last week in the deadliest attack since the U.S. invasion.

The anger in Sadr City, stronghold of the Medhi Army Shi'ite militia, boiled over on the third day of a curfew imposed on the capital by Nuri al-Maliki's U.S.-backed national unity coalition as it scrambled desperately to stop popular passions exploding into all-out civil war between Shi'ites and the Sunni minority.

"It's all your fault!" one man shouted as, in unprecedented scenes, a crowd began to surge around Maliki. Men and youths then jeered and jostled as his armored convoy edged through the throng away from a mourning ceremony for one of the 202 victims of Thursday's multiple car bomb attack in Sadr City.

How many governments toppled in South Vietnam before we got out of there? I seem to recall three or four. I hope we don't have to wait for three or four more governments in Iraq before we get out.

A Trojan Horse

As you probably have heard, Joe Lieberman hired a former aide to Sen. McCain as his communications director. When I heard this I just thought Lieberman was up to his old tricks. It didn't occur to me that this could create a huge problem. But it can, since the Senators' aides get to sit in on all the Democratic strategy sessions:

Yet another Senate Democratic communications director, one whose boss looks a lot like a presidential candidate, said, “What’s more dangerous than a Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Independent sitting in our strategy sessions? One who is a prodigious leaker. ... I think our ability to speak our minds and get something done in our meetings just plummeted.”

Executive Privilege

The Democrats are going to try to do some oversight during the next two years, but don't expect them to get anywhere. The Cheney Administration will refuse to hand anything over.

A close look at key moments in Cheney's career -- from his political apprenticeship in the Nixon and Ford administrations to his decade in Congress and his tenure as secretary of defense under the first President Bush -- suggests that the newly empowered Democrats in Congress should not expect the White House to cooperate when they demand classified information or attempt to exert oversight in areas such as domestic surveillance or the treatment of terrorism suspects.

Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor, predicted that Cheney's long career of consistently pushing against restrictions on presidential power is likely to culminate in a series of uncompromising battles with Congress.

"Cheney has made this a matter of principle," Shane said. "For that reason, you are likely to hear the words 'executive privilege' over and over again during the next two years."

It's not clear just how far the Democrats would be willing to push, nor is it clear which side the Supreme Court would support, but I foresee a constitutional crisis in the offing.

A burst of diplomacy

Ah, George W., the ultimate diplomat:

WASHINGTON - President Bush reaches out to allies this week for help in quelling violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a burst of diplomacy from a Baltic summit of NATO partners to Mideast talks with Iraq's prime minister.

Just back from an eight-day trip to Asia, Bush was leaving on Monday on another overseas trip as pressure builds at home for a change in his administration's Iraq strategy amid deepening tensions and violence in that country.

It's really inspiring to see our dear leader out there doing the diplomacy thing. Makes you feel really confident about the future, doesn't it?

Actually, it's begging to look as though W has gone into hiding abroad the way his dad did in the final year of his regime. Of course, there were huge differences between daddy Bush and baby Bush. Daddy Bush actually knew something about conducting diplomacy. Baby Bush thinks that throwing a screaming tantrum is the way to get things done.

No deus ex machina here

Much of the focus this morning seems to be on the NY Times report on the Baker-Hamilton commission.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 — A draft report on strategies for Iraq, which will be debated here by a bipartisan commission beginning Monday, urges an aggressive regional diplomatic initiative that includes direct talks with Iran and Syria but sets no timetables for a military withdrawal, according to officials who have seen all or parts of the document.

I've always thought the too many people were looking for the Iraq Study Commission to pull off a deus ex machina. Sorry folks, but it isn't going to happen. Yes, it's probably a good idea to talk to Syria and Iran. We should have been talking to them long before this. But, frankly, there's not much good they can do unless we cede Iraq to them, and I can't see Bush doing that. I'm not even sure he will agree to talk, but if he does it will only be to delay the withdrawal.

As Juan Cole points out so clearly today,

Syria and Iran are not responsible for the resistance in Ramadi or Baquba and probably can't do anything about it. Therefore negotiating with them is not a silver bullet, though it might be useful in its own right.

What is the military mission? I can't see a practical one. And if there is not a military mission that can reasonably be accomplished in a specified period of time, then keeping US troops in al-Anbar is a sort of murder. Because you know when they go out on patrol, a few of them each week are going to get blown up or shot down. Reliably. Each week. Steadily. It is monstrous to force them to play Russian roulette every day unless there is a clear mission that could thereby be accomplished. There is not.

Senator Chuck Hagel's argument for withdrawal is powerful, but it focuses on the botched character of the American enterprise in Iraq and the monetary expense and cost to our military force structure. Those are important arguments, but could be countered by the White House as insufficiently urgent to require a withdrawal.

That is why I think it is important to keep the focus on the question of the US purpose in occupying the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq. Every time you hear someone say that we have to keep the troops in Iraq, press that person to explain what the mission is exactly and how and when it will be accomplished.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Six(ty) Catholics burned alive in Boston after leaving church"

Civil war in Iraq? Consider this. Then multiply each of the numbers by 10 for comparable impact relative to the population.

Whatever it is, it is not good. What can we do to stop it? Is there anything we are doing to slow it down? Does the mere presence of American soldiers prevent it from "exploding" into something bigger? If we actually do anything to try to stop it, are we taking sides in a religious war?

Going from bad to worse

This doesn't sound good to me:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two mortar rounds hit a U.S. military post in eastern Baghdad on Sunday, setting it on fire, police and witnesses said. A large cloud of black smoke was seen rising above Baladiyat, a predominantly Shiite area of capital, at about 3 p.m.

Big Oil Manipulates Prices - surprise, surprise

Associate Press has put together an analysis suggesting that the big oil companies are systematically squeezing supply to artificially raise prices. Sounds like it's time to investigate, but I'm sure no one will:

Yet the AP analysis found evidence of at least an underwhelming industry performance in supplying the domestic market, when profits should have made investment capital plentiful:

—During the 1999-2006 price boom, the industry drilled an average of 7 percent fewer new wells monthly than in the seven preceding years of low, stable prices.

—The national supply of unrefined oil, including imports, grew an average of only 6 percent during the high-priced years, down from 14 percent during the previous span.

—The gasoline supply expanded by only 10 percent from 1999 to 2006, down from 15 percent in the earlier period.

The findings support a conclusion already reached by many motorists. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe gas prices are high because oil companies manipulate them, a Pew Research Center poll found in October.

Clueless in Iraq

Over at TPM, David Kurtz makes an important observation about the piece in this morning's New York Times saying the "insurgency" has become self-financing. Kurtz points out that the secret report on which the NY Times story is based seems to draw no distinctions between al Qaeda insurgents, Sunni rebels, or Shia militia. They're all seemingly lumped together and called "insurgents." As David concludes:

The overwhelming impression I'm left with from the piece is that more than three and half years after ostensibly seizing control of Iraq, the U.S. government is still largely ignorant of the armed groups arrayed against its efforts there.

Open calls for attacks on Sunnis?

In a post from last night, DHinMI at Daily Kos points to a report from the McClatchy wire service that al Sadr's followers have taken over a radio station in Baghdad and are openly calling for attacks on Sunni leaders and Sunni neighborhoods:

Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis "terrorists" and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms.

The two-hour broadcast from a community gathering in the heart of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City included three members of al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc, who took questions from outraged residents demanding revenge for a series of car bombings that killed some 200 people Thursday.

I've looked around this morning, and I can't find anything about this in any of the usual places. Was it just plain wrong? Has the station been retaken? Or, is the press asleep at the switch?

Given the holiday weekend, I'm guessing it's the latter, but who knows.

If it's true, it certainly seems too important to ignore.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

LA Times calls it a "civil war"

I believe this may be the first time that a major U.S. newspaper has actually referred to the conflagration in Iraq as a "civil war." From the LA Times:

BAGHDAD — Iraq's civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before.

Bush screwed up British terror investigation

We suspected it at the time. Now we learn for sure that Bush forced the Brits to screw up the terror investigation for political reasons. Remember the guys planning to make bombs on board planes from liquids they carried on? Of course you do. Now none of can carry liquids on board.

A team of suspected terrorists involved in an alleged UK plot to blow up trans-atlantic airliners escaped capture because of interference by the United States, The Independent has been told by counter-terrorism sources.

An investigation by MI5 and Scotland Yard into an alleged plan to smuggle explosive devices on up to 10 passenger jets was jeopardised in August, when the US put pressure on authorities in Pakistan to arrest a suspect allegedly linked to the airliner plot.

As a direct result of the surprise detention of the suspect, British police and MI5 were forced to rush forward plans to arrest an alleged UK gang accused of plotting to destroy the airliners. But a second group of suspected terrorists allegedly linked to the first evaded capture and is still at large, according to security sources.

The escape of the second group is said to be the reason why the UK was kept at its highest level - "critical" - for three days before it was decided that the plotters no longer posed an imminent threat.

Of course, this isn't the first time Bush has screwed up British terror investigations. He's done it at least once before.

Gasoline prices-surprise, surprise

Notwithstanding the drop in crude oil prices since election day (light sweet crude was at $60.5 per bbl on Nov. 7th. and it's most recent close was $59.24 per bbl), the pump prices at the station I frequent bottomed out at $1.999 per gallon on Nov. 7th. and have now risen to $2.079.

Surprise, surprise!

Gee. I wonder why that would happen.

Former general says Rumsfeld authorized abu Ghraib torture

The former general in charge of Abu Ghraib and who was disciplined for the atrocities there now says Rumsfeld authorized the torture techniques:

MADRID (Reuters) - Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the prison's former U.S. commander said in an interview on Saturday.

Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski told Spain's El Pais newspaper she had seen a letter apparently signed by Rumsfeld which allowed civilian contractors to use techniques such as sleep deprivation during interrogation.

This should get big coverage, but it probably won't. It occurred on a slow weekend, and the government will toss it off as self-interested complaining from someone they punished. The press will buy into that and ignore it. It will get huge coverage everywhere else in the world though.

15 year old untouchable burned to death for accusing high caste man of rape

This is the kind of thing we might once have said happens over there, but nothing like this could ever happen here. It didn't, at least not yet, but there are plenty of other atrocities we comit here that compete with it for infamy.

Asha Katiya was 15 years old. When she was raped she did not, like many Indian women, try to hide it for shame. She went to the police and registered a case against her attacker. She later said he had threatened to kill her unless she dropped the case. This week she was burned to death. A man broke into her house while she was sleeping and poured kerosene over her. The man she accused of raping her has been detained in connection with her death.

But there has been no outcry in India. The case has been barely reported. Because Asha Katiya was a Dalit, a member of the former Untouchable caste, and India has become used to outrages like this being carried out against Dalits.

The worst president ever

I didn't catch it until today, but last Wednesday Bush hit his lowest approval rating ever in the Rasmussen Poll -- 39%. 60% disapprove. They're not doing polling over the holiday weekend. 43% strongly disapprove while only 18% strongly approve.


Israel claims it must invade Palestinian territories to hunt rocket launchers against Israel. Hammas agrees to stop launching rockets if Israel stops invasion. Israel says no. Typical.

JEBALIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) - The Palestinian prime minister said Friday that militants were prepared to stop firing rockets at Israel if it would halt all military action in Palestinian territories. Israel rejected the offer, saying it would respond positively only to a total truce.

Enough with training

Matthew Yglesias says:

If you ask me, the problems with the training programs for the Iraqi security forces has essentially nothing to do with the number or quality of American trainers assigned to the task. Rather, it's a mistake to see the problem as primarily one of organizational competence on the part of the security forces. After all, however bad the US-run training program may be, it's hardly as if Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias have access to some radically better training program. The problems are problems of politics, morale, and motivation. "Iraq’s government has yet to confront the country’s militias," because the government is dependent on the same political forces and actors who sponsor the militias, not because the police need a better training program.


Who's been in power?

Eric Lichtblau writes this as if it's the Democrats fault that the warrantless wiretapping continues unabated:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — When President Bush went on national television one Saturday morning last December to acknowledge the existence of a secret wiretapping program outside the courts, the fallout was fierce and immediate.

Mr. Bush’s opponents accused him of breaking the law, with a few even calling for his impeachment. His backers demanded that he be given express legal authority to do what he had done. Law professors talked, civil rights groups sued and a federal judge in Detroit declared the wiretapping program unconstitutional.

But as Democrats prepare to take over on Capitol Hill, not much has really changed. For all the sound and fury in the last year, the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program continues uninterrupted, with no definitive action by either Congress or the courts on what, if anything, to do about it, and little chance of a breakthrough in the lame-duck Congress.

I mean, come on. Just who's been in power? And, who's still in power during the rest of the lame-duck Congress?

Inside the beltway blarney

Updated below:

Thomas Edsall, guest columnist for the month at the NY Times, writes a piece today that is pure inside the beltway blarney (I would use a stronger expletive if this weren't supposed to be a "family friendly" site). It begins as follows.

Can the Democratic Party become fully competitive? Is American liberalism dead, the 2006 election a last twitch of life before rigor mortis sets in? The answer to both questions is yes...

For the Democratic Party to revive, major tenets of American liberalism, economic and sociocultural, will have to be discarded. The party can join Studebaker and the Glass Bottle Blowers union, it can trudge along as No. 2, or it can undergo a painful transformation — without guarantee of success.

To stay in the fight, Democratic leaders will have to acknowledge political realities affirmed by the electorate in 1994 and 2006. Many Democratic constituencies — organized labor, minority advocacy organizations, reproductive- and sexual-rights proponents — are reliving battles of a decade or more ago, not the more subtle disputes of today. Public sector unions, for example, at a time of wide distrust of government, are consistently pressing to enlarge the state. For these players, adapting to a re-emergent center will be costly.

This is just more of the "Democrats can't win by being Democrats, they need to become Republicans lite," crap. Yes, the Dems made some stupid mistakes when they were in power -- none as stupid as the Republicans I might add. But, in many ways, it was the Dems' inability or unwillingness to lead, to acknowledge and defend their liberalism, that was the problem, coupled, of course, with some of the greed and corruption that has characterized the Republicans now that they've been in power.

I just hope the new Dems don't listen to these old, worn out, and wrong from the start messages. The lesson of the past six to twelve years was not that liberalism was dead, it was that the Dems tried to pretend they weren't liberals.


It seems that Matt Stoller agrees with me, and Atrios agrees with him.

No one to lose to

For some time, I've been thinking that the end game in the Iraq war is substantially more difficult than it was in the Vietnam war. After all, in Vietnam we had someone to lose to. In Iraq we don't. My thinking hadn't fully crystalized (or coagulated) until I saw the title to Maureen Dowd's column in the NY Times [behind subscription wall] today -- "No one to lose to." She concludes:

As Neil Sheehan, a former Times reporter in Vietnam who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Bright Shining Lie,” told me: “In Vietnam, there were just two sides to the civil war. You had a government in Hanoi with a structure of command and an army and a guerrilla movement that would obey what they were told to do. So you had law and order in Saigon immediately after the war ended. In Iraq, there’s no one like that for us to lose to and then do business with.”

The questions are no longer whether there’s a civil war or whether we can achieve a military victory. The only question is, who can we turn the country over to?

At the moment, that would be no one.

Despite her snark, MoDo sometimes has something worth saying, and I think this is a really important point -- even if the original idea is really Neil Sheehan's. We were able to leave a functioning government in Vietnam -- it just was the enemy's functioning government. In Iraq, there is no one. The place is simply going to descent into hell fire.

Of course, the real point is that it's already in hell fire, so the best thing we can do is get the hell out of there. The fact that we caused this atrocity is unfortunate, but now that we've opened Pandora's box, there's nothing we can do but try to run from the furies we've loosed. There's simply nothing we can do that will make things any better.

It's probably even too late to release Saddam and put him back in charge, but if we could, we probably should. Doesn't that tell you something?

And, yet the neo-cons seem to want to try the same thing in Iran. When will they ever learn?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Florida 13

There seem to be two points of view of the 18,000 missing votes in the 13th. Congressional District in Florida. One, which I and many other progressive bloggers have expressed several times and which was picked up by Paul Krugman in today's NY Times, is that the missing votes were due to glitches in (or deliberate tampering with) the voting machines.

In the second, Talk Left defends vigorously the idea that the error was due to bad ballot design and was the fault of the Democrats, not the Republicans or the Republican controlled machine manufacturers.

Talk Left has some additional evidence for his (?) position in subsequent posts today, so you should go back to the site if you want to keep informed on this. Among them is the fact that there were similar undervotes in low visibility races in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.

There may be some truth to Talk Left's position, since 30% of the voters interviewed by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune said that they had been unable to find the ballot for that race on the machine. Perhaps it was just difficult to find because of poor ballot design. However, the Herald-Trib also found that 60 percent of the voters they surveyed said that they had voted in the race but the vote didn't show up on the summary screen. That doesn't sound like a ballot design problem to me. Furthermore, a preponderance of the missing votes were from voters who voted Democratic in other races. Why would poor ballot design disproportionately affect Democrats? [Yeah, I know. The thuglicans would say it's because the Dems can't read and are too stupid to figure things out for themselves. Just proves they were right to insist on literacy tests before allowing black voters to vote.]

Further, I would think that ballot design on an electronic voting machine would largely be determined by the structure of the machine itself. Since I've never voted on one and never hope to, I don't really know.

I'm not willing to exonerate the Dems entirely -- they've certainly done it before, notably the ballot in 2000 where lots of people voted for Buchanan thinking they were voting for Gore --, but I still think the bulk of the evidence suggests the problem was with the machines, not the ballot or the voters.