Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Questions about Intelligence use the press needs to ask

Paul R. Pillar, who until last year coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East for the CIA tells the press how they were too trusting of government statements about the uses of Intelligence on terrorism and the Middle East. He provides several questions they should have been asking if they had been properly aggressive about doing their jobs.

Q. Why was more not done before 9/11 to counter the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda in response to the intelligence community's highlighting of that threat -- as reflected in DCI George Tenet's public statements?

Q. How exactly is the reorganization of the intelligence community under the legislation of December 2004 supposed to correct what the 9/11 Commission stated were problems in counterterrorism? What effect, if any, does the reorganization have on the problem of insufficient or improper use of intelligence by the policymaker?

Q. When was the decision to go to war in Iraq made, what beliefs and analysis led to that decision (as distinct from arguments used to muster support for the decision), and where did those beliefs and analysis come from?

Q. On any future matter major national security decision:

  • What beliefs and analysis underlie the decision?
  • Where do those beliefs and analysis come from?
  • How do those beliefs and analysis compare with public arguments used to justify the decision?
  • What questions about the issue have policymakers posed to the intelligence community?

Q. When an intelligence assessment becomes a matter of public knowledge: Who asked for the assessment, why was it requested, and what determined how the questions were framed?

Q. When intelligence officials speak or testify, to what extent are their statements constrained by policy preferences?

I think I'd one other question, and that is whether the admiinstration is attempting to use the publicly reported Intelligence to conceal the real reasons they intend to take a given action.

Medical Malpractice crisis has ended.

Kevin Drum reports on a study that shows that in 2005 medical malpractice premiums increases only 2% in the first six months and increased not at all in the second half of 2005.

The study he references also explains that in the last three decades, medical malpractice premiums have increased sharply along with all other property insurance premiums when investment income to insurance companies dropped sharply, and then did not increase when investment income was high. There is no correlation to some fictional increase in medical malpractice legal judgements, and caps on such judgements have not correlated to decreases in medical malpractice insurance premiums.

Why am I not surprised? Laws thgat put caps on medical malpractice judgements are nothing more than another Republican scheme to redistrubute money from injured people to the insurance companies who lobby Congress and make large contributions to mostly Republicans.

[Cross posted from Social Security & Medicare Notes on Feb 28, 2006.]

Monday, February 27, 2006

Airlines are looking for this biofuel

Scientists at University of North Dakota are preparing a new jet fuel from processed crop oils for testing by the Air Force. The fuel is expected to be cheaper than the current petroleum-based jet fuels as well as being a step towards breaking our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. See the Boston Globe.

Katherine Harris will win Florida Repub Primary

Karl Rove hates it. Katherine Harris is going to win the Republican Primary in Florida for the right to oppose the incumbent Democratic Senator. Why? Because the right-wing Republicans give her total credit for disqualifying enough Democratic voters in 2000 to allow the Supreme Court to appoint Bush President.

Not a story that Karl Rove likes to hear, but because of her running for Senator, it will be repeated again and again.

But the really good part?

She has no chance at all of unseating Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in the general election. Her candidacy is nothing but a large negative for the Republican in Washington.

See New Donkey.com.

Why do Democrats permit violations of human rights?

Intrepid Liberal Journal offers a good attack on the anti-homosexual legislation that is being passed in some states and localities. Here is a quote:
Once upon a time this country had “slave” states and “free” states and it appears we’re headed towards “tolerant” states and “homophobic” states under the law. That is not acceptable. It’s wonderful some mayors are presiding over gay marriages while different states have codified civil unions. But suppose your roots are in a community that doesn’t provide equal protection under the law? We're supposed to be one country.
All the rhetoric in the world does not make the allowance of homosexuals to contract a legally binding marriage to a person of the same sex a threat to the legally identical marriages of people of separate sexes.

The anti-homosexual agenda is the same as the anti-woman agenda. Someone out there wants to regulate who everyone else has sex with and how much fun they have with it. The anti-gay-marriage agenda is the same as the anti-abortion agenda. Both are efforts by a group of busy-bodies to gain control over how everyone else has sex and what they do with it. Nothing else. The whole thing is a shell game to give power to a few religious leaders. Society would be much better off if those religious leaders all died overnight.

Of course, mental health practitioners would find half their business disappearing, but that, too, is a good thing.

Missing email from Cheney's office appears

The AP reports that 250 pages of emails previously subpoened by the prosecuters of "Scooter" Libby have surprisingly been found and delivered to the prosecution. Previously the Office of the Vice President had declared that for some reason they had not been archived by the White House archival process.

I wonder if someone wallked into the White House living quarters one day and found an unexplained box holding the previously lost email on the living room table. Such experiences have been known to happen in the White House.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Oil independence possible - if we pay the cost

It is possible for America to become independent of foreign oil, but only by "...stricter conservation, higher fuel-economy standards, alternative fuels made from common crops and next-generation batteries for hybrid cars that could get more than 100 mpg." The problem is that as long as the Middle East has such large supplies of oil available, the costs of such alternatives will remain higher than the cost of using oil.

Is energy independence really worth the higher costs and less efficient economy that will result in the near future?

[See article at Knight-Ridder.]

Iraq will fall apart. NeoCons knew, didn't care

Although Bush stated when he ran for President in 2000 that he would not get involved in "Nation Building", when 9/11 happened and exposed his total failure to understand foreign policy and terrorism he listened to Cheney and turned to the NeoCons for an idea how to respond. The NeoCon preplanned response was to assume that any nation in which the population was freed from the control of government would automatically and immediately become a free enterprise democracy on its own. All that was required was to remove the oppresive government.

The complete falsity of this assumption has been (again) proven. A democracy based on a free-enterprise economy society may start from releasing some of the economic control of government, but it requires massive amounts of nation building over extended periods of time to bring the democracy part into being. Even then, the democracy is uncertain.

It doesn't help if the society to which such changes are being applied is not yet a true and unified nation.

The result of these miscalculations was to require massive efforts of nation-building in Iraq following American military operations to disrupt the existing but fragile "nation" that was there under the oppressive tyranny of Saddam. As nasty as the dictatorship of Saddam was, such governmental oppression was required to hold the disparate tribes, religions, cultures and groups together in a single state. Iraq was not and is not a natural nation.

In his ignorance Bush and his trusted advisors saw the use of the American military as being the end-state in creation of a democratic free-enterprise based nation, much as appeared to have been the case in Germany and Japan after WW II. The difference is that both Japan and Germany were nations before WW II.

As a result of their failure to perceive this, Bush and his supporters had no clue how expensive and time-consuming the necessary nation-building was that would automatically result from the preemptive invasion of Iraq. Even to suggest to them such likely problems before the invasion of Iraq was, in their minds, nothing more than political obstruction from the uninformed non-conservative non-believers, something they expected from any non-conservative to their proposals. The conservatives were right and they knew it. Why listen to obstructionists?

Well, maybe because they had an element of understanding of what was happening? But the obstructionists were the enemy. You don't learn from your enemies. You crush them politically.

Such self-certainty is almost invariably wrong. It clearly was in this case.

The real question is whether the Bush administration knows now that those objections were based on good understanding of what would be involved in the invasion of Iraq. It is clear that the conservatives of the Bush administration would not in the past accept advice from those who have a different idea of what was required to change the Middle East.

That is easily understood if you know the history. For the most part the conservatives who currently run the American government have spent their political careers fighting against those very experts and downrating their knowledge and experience. Why should they change that now, even when the results of their invasion of Iraq isn't progressing as expected.

The NeoCon theoreticians had a somewhat better understanding than Bush and his advisors of what they were getting into, but not enough. They simply assumed that America, as the sole remaining "SuperPower," would be able to easily deal with the nation-building if they could get over the "Viet Nam Syndrome" that they thought was the only thing that inhibited the use of military power. They thought that all that was needed was to convince America to actually use the massive and overwhelming military power we then had.

From Robert Drefus in Tom Paine:
For the most radical-right neoconservative Jacobins amongst the Bush-Cheney team, the possibility that Iraq might fall apart wasn’t even alarming: they just didn’t care, and in their obsessive zeal to overthrow Saddam Hussein they were more than willing to take the risk. David Wurmser, who migrated from the Israeli-connected Washington Institute on Near East Policy to the American Enterprise Institute to the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans to John Bolton’s arms control shop at the State Department to Dick Cheney’s shadow National Security Council in the Office of the Vice President from 2001 to 2006, wrote during the 1990s that Iraq after Saddam was likely to descend into violent tribal, ethnic and sectarian war.

In a paper for an Israeli think tank, the same think tank for which Wurmser, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith prepared the famous “Clean Break” paper in 1996, Wurmser wrote in 1997 : “The residual unity of the nation is an illusion projected by the extreme repression of the state.” After Saddam, Iraq would “be ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families,” he wrote. “Underneath facades of unity enforced by state repression, [Iraq’s] politics is defined primarily by tribalism, sectarianism, and gang/clan-like competition.” Yet Wurmser explicitly urged the United States and Israel to “expedite” such a collapse. “The issue here is whether the West and Israel can construct a strategy for limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse that will ensue in order to move on to the task of creating a better circumstance.”
Robert Dreyfuss is a freelance author who wrote the book "Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam" (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005).

Bush did not understand or like nation-building when he first ran for President. It should be no surprise that he did not understand that his use of the military would require him to do nation-building to do what he wanted done, or that he has failed miserably in his attempt to do it.

Sadly, even his five years of failures have not taught him enough to do the job. It doesn't look like he can learn.

Who benefits by bombing the Samarran mosque?

Did Sunni insurgents bomb the golden mosque in Samarra? Or was it al Qaeda members attempting to instigate an Iraqi civil war? Or was it more complicated than that? Here are some informed speculations from the blog Iraq Dispatches.

One thing which is clear it you want to understand the Middle East. You can't. Nothing is what it seems. No outsider will ever have a clue, and neither will most Iraqis. We don't even know who all the different players are, let alone how they each benefit from an action like this bombing. So we simplify, losing all connection with reality. Read this to see other ways of looking at the event.

Ulimately the real question we might be able to answer is how we benefit or lose in various situations. We'll really only get that when we look back at what happened and what the historians write about it.

But for right now, go read Iraq Dispatches.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

40 Million Pound robbery goes off without a hitch

From the Independent:
By Geneviève Roberts
Published: 23 February 2006

An armed gang posed as policemen to abduct a security manager and his family before stealing up to £40m in one of Britain's biggest robberies.

A gang of at least six people tied up 15 members of staff at the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent, before making off with the cash
What is it with Britain and big-money robberies? In any case, it won't be too long before this one appears in the movies.

The other war - the one in Afghanistan

The insurgency in Afghanistan is active and growing, with Taliban and drug traffickers working in close cooperation much as is done in Colombia. In Afghanistan the problem is growing rapidly, with the new opium crop in south Afghanistan expected to double this year. This is in the British sector. Along with the growth of the drug revenue, the insurgency is growing. This is from the Independent:
Engineer Mohammed Daoud, the governor of Helmand, stresses that the revenue from opium is fuelling the insurgency. " You cannot separate instablity and drugs in this province," he said. "The smugglers and drug dealers have very close connections with the Taliban and both support each other."
I strongly supported our invasion of Afghanistan, and still do. The real problem is that Afghanistan was within our capabilities to deal with, as long as we did not also unnecessarily invade Iraq. But that decision has been made and we are committed to two wars which have stretched American and British capabilities beyond current capacity. We now need to get serious and ramp up to handle them both. Screw Rummy. We need more troops on the ground in the two countries, and soon.

Or we need to get out of Iran as soon as possible, let the Iraqi government deal with the civil war we have set off, and focus on Afghanistan and our problems with Iran. There is no third viable course of action, and failure to recognize and act on this recognition is rank stupidity - stupidity which after five years I anticipate from the Bush administration.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What power does Bush have in the next two elections?

The key to the Presidential election of 2004 was Bush's presentation of himself as the better choice for American security. He lost on every other issue that was important to American voters, but security ensured his (re?)election.

So where is he now? He is telling us that the United Arab Emirates can take control of the largest six ports on the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans and we can "Trust him to have ensured our safety."

Yet two of the 9/11 attackers were from the UAE. The Republicans in Congress are standing up and complaining that this is a deal that must not be accepted. Frankly, for a government whose only source of power is its supposed ability to offer security to America, this is a really bad decision.

Technically, I am not sure it is such a bad decision. The issue of security is almost entirely separate from the issue of port management. Port management appears to be mostly a case of accounting, contracting of stevedores and port contractors who build docks and container management systems as well as money management. Security is handled separately by the local governments.

Politically, however, it indicates a true "tin-ear." They have just gone afoul of their key constituency. They seem to be not interested in American security.

This seems to be a major issue to be used to attack the administration. Whether they are right or wrong, they appear wrong. Time to attack them!

The Republicans you see are not the Republicans who run for office.

There are Republicans who offer a nice face to the media, and there are those who run the election campaigns. They are not the same. Nor, are those who make the government decisions the nice ones. Here is Digby
Sometimes I get criticism from my readers for suggesting that the Democrats must play on the same playing field as the Republicans. They say, "we shouldn't become them." But I never suggest that the Democrats should lie, cheat or play dirty as the Republicans do. I suggest that they wise up and stop pretending that Republicans are anything but ruthless adversaries and adjust accordingly. They can be beaten with smart strategies, but not unless the Democrats internalize the connection between the nice men and women they are working with on capitol hill every day with the thugs they hire to get elected. They are all cogs in the same cutthroat political machine.
The nice Republican faces did not preemptively invade Iraq. Those nice Republican faces, however, are controlled by people such as Dick Cheney who are truly nasty people.

It is the Cheneyesqe decisions that are the face of America to the rest of the world, not the nice guys.

America is moving towards a neofeudalist society.

So what is a neofeudalist society? Go read Emptywheel at the Next Hurrah.

Don't be to dismissive. As a student of management, I worked for an Oklahoma University that was operated as a Barony by its President - until he was caught issuing Grant checks to fake students and cashing them himself.

As I discussed this apparent continuation of feudal management techniques with management consultants, it appears that feudal techniques are alive and well among managers. It is modern scientific psychology-based management that is often hard to find being used.

Go read the article. It describes a great deal of the world we live in.

The disgusting comments of Ann Coulter

Arianna Huffington offers us this list of some of the crap that Ann Coulter shits into the American media.
This is the voice of the Republican Party. They invite her to speak at their conventions and love what she says. The applause and approval at those conventions and her book sales should make it clear that the Republican Party is anti-American.

Is a college degree worth the loans?

Is it worthwhile to take out student loans to get a college degree? Statistics say yes, even if the debt is almost unmanageable. But what happens if you fail to get the degree and drop out? You still have the debt, but don't have the expected increase in income to pay off that debt that the degree would have gotten you. Then what?

Kathleen McArthur briefly discusses the issue.

Credit Card issuers vs. Loan Sharks. Different?

Which is preferable? Credit cards or loan sharks? This Washington Post article suggests that credit card issuers have become more dishonest and distruptable than illegal loan sharks. Go see why.

Monday, February 20, 2006

From Bush: U.S. on verge of energy breakthrough

The Associated Press reports that Bush has made the following statement:
"Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people," Bush said. "We're on the edge of some amazing breakthroughs — breakthroughs all aimed at enhancing our national security and our economic security and the quality of life of the folks who live here in the United States."

Later Monday, Bush visited the United Solar Ovonics Plant, which makes solar panels, in Auburn Hills, Mich., outside Detroit. "This technology right here is going to help us change the way we live in our homes," Bush told reporters.
OK. Is this like his statement in the State of the Union speech a few years ago that he was going to make a major push to develop hydrogenfueledd cars? Something that may someday be important but will have no effect in the next ten to twenty years? Or is it just something a speech writer has pulled out of thin air for him to say as a political "feel good" statement?

I hope is is telling the truth, that it means something and that it is near-term and not just political pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.

More likely it issomethingg like Bush's promise last Fall to rebuild New Orleans after Katrina hit it. That was a feel-good statement designed to assuage the then high political demandthatt the government do something and do it immediately. Since then no effective steps have been taken by the federal government to do anything. Either there are no funds or the agencies that might have done something are so poorly managed that nothing they have tried has been effective. That is, there are real management problems.

In short, if Bush promises something it is a good idea to get someone else to verify that what was promised is real. He has no credibility.

Addendum 02-21-2006
Here is one major reason why we can't trust anything Bush says. There is no coordination between what he says and what is really happening.

Bush was all set to make this big speech on how our technology is going to provide such great breakthroughs that we can anticipate much less need for foreign oil. He gave the talk at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Except that two weeks before he gave the speech, the government laid off 32 employees there.

The guy who is standing up there telling us what the government is supposed to be doing has no clue what the government he supposedly heads is actually doing.

More news on teaching Darwinism

Here is something in the Independent that you won't read in the American media. American scientists are asking American mainstream religious leaders to encourage the teaching of Darwinism.
American scientists have denounced the so-called "intelligent design" movement and are urging mainstream religious groups to help promote the teaching of the Darwinian theory of evolution in the country's schools.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general science organisation, has issued its statement in rebuke to 14 states that are considering legislation that would undermine evolution teaching.
First point - why do I have to find this in a London paper instead of the American media?

Second point - Why has this taken so long, and why in Hell haven't the American mainstream religious leaders not already doing this in an organized manner?

Wal-Mart CEO to employee - Quit bitching. Just quit.

The CEO of Wal-Mart recently told an employee who was complaining about the inadequate health benefits the company offers that if he doesn't like them, then he should quit and find other work.

When a store manager complained to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott about the low pay, inadequate health insurance and continual union-bashing that Wal-Mart practices, Scott told the manager "Quite honestly, this environment isn't for everybody. There are people who would say, 'You should take the risk and take billions of dollars out of earnings and put this in retiree health benefits and let's see what happens to the company'. If you feel that way, then you as a manager should look for a company where you can do those kinds of things."

Do we need to know anything else about Wal-Mart to quit buying there?

This was published in the Independent from London. We haven't seen it in U.S. news media, have we? I'm sure that we can thank the government for permitting the concentation of the corporate media for this "oversight."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rumsfeld complains U.S. losing war to al Qaeda

Rummy is right. We are losing the propaganda war to al Qaeda. But not for the reasons he thinks. In this BBC article he is reported as saying:
The US is losing the propaganda war against al-Qaeda and other enemies, defence chief Donald Rumsfeld has said it must modernise its methods to win the minds of Muslims in the "war on terror", as "enemies had skilfully adapted" to the media age, he said.

Washington and the army must respond faster to events and learn to exploit the internet and satellite TV, he said.
The problem is that al Qaeda is promising to offer a better and more religious life to Muslims, and then backing its promises up with the actions of dedicated Muslims. Extremist Muslims, yes. But real Muslims who are living the life they claim they are working and fighting for.

The Bush administration, however, offers what are clearly nothing but hollow promises. They claim to be working for democracy and free elections, then behind the scenes are seen to be manipulating the structure of the government of Iraq and the elections themselves to prevent real democracy.

Who do you trust? Those who promise actions and then undertake them, or those who offer pie-in-the sky and don't deliver?

While promising democracy, the Bush administration is opposed to effective methods of ensuring human rights. That is the lesson from the practice of rendition, Guantanamo and abu Ghraib. The Bush administration position on using torture when it wants to, and using rendition when the forms of torture that are too extreme to pass American muster appear to be needed are well known. The 500 prisoners at Guantanamo who are held with no rights whatsoever are a festering sore on the reputation of America.

It doesn't help at all that the entire world knows that Bush stole the election for President in 2000, and with the help of Diebold and the Secretary of State in Ohio probably stole the Presidential election of 2004. The Bush administration is seen as not being a legitimate government by many people world-wide.

How do you modernize media methods and exploit the internet and satellite TV to provide a positive message when the reality that you are attempting to cover up is so patently anti-humanitarian? The problem Rumsfeld and the Bush administration has is not the inability to use the modern forms of communication to provide a positive public relations message. It is the fact that the basic truths of the Bush administration are so entirely opposite of the message the audiences they are trying to convince really want to see. Al Qaeda is winning the propaganda war because it is more attractive to many Muslims than the Bush administration, not because Americans aren't using the most modern techniques to get their message out.

Propaganda works best when it is clearly in synch with the underlying truths of the government using it. The Bush administration is in synch with Dick Cheney and his compadre Don Rumsfeld, and Cheny and Rumsfeld are not a people very many people in the world want to have anything to do with.

Rummy is right. We are losing the propaganda war. But we are not losing because we can't properly use the modern technology. We are losing because of the feudal attitudes held by Cheney and Rumsfeld, and the total inability of George W. Bush to recognize and effect the actions those two are directing.

If Rummy really wants to win the propaganda war with al Qaeda, his first step will be to close down the prison at Guantanamo. His second will be to start prosecuting senior military commanders who encouraged the abu Ghraib tortures or let them get out of hand.

We won't see that happen. Cheney, Rumsfeld and the NeoCons simply can't recognize what went wrong.

Five best stars for Intelligent extraterrestial life

Margaret Turnbull, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC has winnowed down her list of 17,000 stellar systems that might be inhabited to the five best possibilities. BBC has the story.

Besides being most likely to hold intelligent life, these stellar systems are also the five best choices for us to move to if our current solar system becomes uninhabitable. The key is that they are the most like the system we currently live in.

These stars were chosen because they:
  • are at least 3 billion years old.
  • have at least 50% the iron content of our sun.
  • have no companion star.
  • are no more than 1.5 times the size of our sun.
  • are not variable stars with a lot of solar flares as these tend to be too young.
The five best candidate stars are:
  • Beta CVn: a sun-like star 26 light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici (the hound dogs)
  • HD 10307: has almost the same mass, temperature and iron content of the Sun
  • HD 211 415: has about half the metal content of the Sun and is a bit cooler
  • 18 Sco: a near match for the Sun in the constellation Scorpio
  • 51 Pegasus: a Jupiter-like planet has been found here, may also host planets like Earth
So, my question is - if Beta CVn is only 26 light-years away and is so much like our system that it might also have intelligent life, why have we not identified radio waves from there yet? Twenty-six years for light (thus radio or tv signals) to get from here to there. They've been able to watch "I Love Lucy," "The honeymooners," "Gilligan's Island," "The A Team," and even "The Rockford Files." Why haven't we seen their radio waves? Don't they have culture also?

Is intelligence that rare?

Addendum Feb 20, 2006
A more detailed article cam be found in The Independent.

The new plan for regime change in Iran.

The Bush administration wants to use the older Polish model for causing regime change in Iran. The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article on the idea. Condoleezza Rice is trying to get $75 million to provides support to internal Iranian opposition groups and to get other Middle Eastern nations to similarly support the Iranian opposition groups.

This is not a bad Idea. Diplomacy has failed to work with Iran, and military options are at best limited. Efforts to foment regime chamge as happened in Poland are about all that is left. But the circumsantces are not as favorable for the U.S. as they were in the 80's.

At the time Polish Solidarity was able to bring down the Polish Communist government, America had an extremely favorable reputation around the world. It was the beacon of democracy, opportunity and the rule of law, and was also economically on top of the world. Being supported by America could cause nationalists in Poland to be angry at the interference, but a large number of the Polish people felt that America was better than their own government.

Now, however, America is suffering from a government that unnecessarily invaded Iraq, then fostered torture in Abu Ghraib, CIA renditions to secret prison camps around the world, refusal to allow the inmates in Guantanamo to have any real review of their status, and a number of other extremely negative images. From being the beacon of democracy to the world America under the Bush administration is recognized to be corrupt, a great deal more authoritarian than previously, poorly governed and economically failing. When the most pro-American nation in the Niddle East, Turkey, shows a movie that portrays American soldiers as brutal killers, and it is the most popular movie in the nation, America's reputation is really in the toilet. The fact is, today Russia is probably perceived as a nation that is more free and reliable in support of human rights and democracy than America is.

The Bush administration has fought valiantly to keep the new abu Ghraib pictures from being published, but it was really just a matter of time. The real damage to America occurred earlier, when the abu Ghraib tortures occurred and were permitted to go on until outsiders became aware of them. The only way to prevent the public damage from that kind of activity is to keep it from happening in the first place, and if it does occurr, to quickly step in and clean house. Abu Ghraib is at best an absolute failure of the military chain of command up to at least the Secretary of Defense. If it isn't a failure of the chain of command to provide command and control, then the commanders encouraged it and are directly responsible for initiating the tortures.

The fact that there are so many pictures tells us that it occurred over a long period of time. This indicates that there was a wide acceptance of torture and an absence of control. The Military Police commander at abu Ghraib was responsible, but so was the Military Intelligence Commander who was surely aware of it if he didn't order it. The two had overlapping responsibilities in this case. The torture should never have been permitted to happen, but it did. When it was found out, the commanders should have been punished, but they weren't. Following the inability of the invading American to maintain security and prevent looting after the fall of Baghdad, Abu Ghraib was where the war in Iraq became unwinnable. At that time the entire Middle East became opposed to anything America wanted.

America's negative reputation under the Bush administration makes support of Iranian opposition groups by America a lot more of a PR negative to them with the average Iranian than was the case for the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 90's. Torture and rendition are just bad ideas. Even if in individual cases they can get needed information that is reliable (an iffy proposition in itself) the overall reputation the inevitable leaks create make it much more difficult to get people in anothe rcountry such as Iran to accept the direction and support of America in opposition to their own government.

I'm going to give Condi Rice my best wishes, and hope she is persistent and effective. But the Bush administration doesn't seem to understand how difficult their reputation is making her job.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Paul Hackett quit the race. This is why.

So why did Paul Hackett drop out of the Indiana Senator Primary race?

Here is what he said: Hackett blames inside-the-beltway Democratic leaders who do not want to have an upstart defeat the favored Democrat, Sherrod Brown.

Next, supporting Hackett’s claims, is a Mother Jones article written by David Goodman . He describes a campaign of economic sabotage, whisper campaigns, and threats orchestrated by inside-the-beltway Democrats who feared that he could not defeat Republican Senator DeWine.

But then there is this article by Elizabeth Auster, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It offers a different but complementary story, one of confusion and disorganization in the Hackett campaign.

Hackett prides himself on his independence and forthrightness, the very characteristics which made him such an attractive candidate. But the process of getting elected at the statewide level requires that the candidate set up an organization, then turn over his personal schedule and his message to that organization for the period of the campaign. That tends to knock the independence out of people. Hackett wasn’t ready to sacrifice those parts of himself that he was going to have to give to his organization.

Then there was the problem that he hates fundraising. He couldn’t beat Brown without a major fundraising campaign in which he was the key fundraiser, and he wasn’t willing to do that work.

I’ve always thought that being a successful politician was a specialized and very difficult job. I detested Texas Senator Phil Gramm, but his ability to do the 18 hour per day job necessary to get elected got my respect.

Hackett wasn’t ready to sacrifice what was required to get elected. Frankly, I really regret that. I like him as a candidate. He is very attractive. But a well-organized well-funded experienced but generally blah candidate will defeat a personally attractive inexperienced, disorganized, poorly funded candidate every time. Sherrod Brown really does have a much better shot at beating DeWine than Paul Hackett did.

Friday, February 17, 2006

New Fed Chairman to aid Democrats in November election

New Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, tells Congress that he anticipates further need to increase interest rates to head off inflation. (Knight-Ridder)

Further interest rates this Spring will very probably result in decreased general economic activity and increased unemployment in late Summer and early Fall. This is well-timed for the election. With all the other problems that the Republicans are having (Iraq War, Culture of Corruption, exposure of Republican selling of Congressional earmarks, accidental lawyer shootings, etc.) Republican incumbents and Republican wannabees are going to have real problems when the November 2006 election occurs.

Thanks, Ben. Any little assistance to bringing America back to some similcra of good sense and reasonable government is greatly appreciated.

Cheney is above all rules and law. Just ask him.

DavidNYC explains why Dick Cheney was the cause of such a rare hunting accident. The rule for hunting is that you do not drink the same day you are going out to shoot. Cheney sayid he drank "a beer with lunch" (ever hear an alcoholic explain why he was drunk? "I had a beer or two.")

So why shouldn't Cheny have a beer (or two or three or ...) before going out hunting? He is the Vice President of the United States. Laws and rules don't apply to him. He is above all that bullshit required to keep the Peons in their place.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Here it is! The first trial balloon.

Peggy Noonan, Presidential speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and as much of an insider as any Republican living is posting the question of the day today in that most Republican of publication, the Wall Street Journal. And what is the question of the day for Republican insiders today?

"Who will replace Dick Cheney as Vice President."

This is the first trial balloon. It didn't take long. Cheney is toast. It is just a matter of time.

Tristero at Hullaboloo briefly describes what this will mean for Democrats before he throws in a bit of snark.

This is Cheney's Chappaquiddick

Apparently a lot of the delay in notifying the Press about the Saturday Cheney shooting was spent trying to explain why Cheney was hunting with a woman who is not his wife. Also, the physician (Braddock) who first gave out the very positive story about how mild Harry Whittington's injuries were is "Dr. David Blanchard" who is listed as Vice Chairperson of World Hope International, a Christian evangelical aid group. Evangelicals strongly support both Bush and Cheney, and it is not a surprise that an evangelical physician should downplay the seriousness of Whittington's injuries. This is all from R. J. Eskow writing at the Huffington Post.

This is not a one-day story now. It really does begin to resemble Chappaquiddick.

The dysfunctional White House decision-making

From Michael O'Hare at Mark Klieman we get another description of how the Bush White House functions, with a comparison to the history of the Shogunate in Japan. O'Hare's description is about what I thought.

From the beginning, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld have run the Federal Government, with Bush performing the ceremonial Presidential functions and giving speeches in front of carefully vetted audiences who will not contradict or challenge him.

Suddenly the Saturday Cheney shooting exposes (again) the dysfunctionality of this White House. The Vice President runs his own operation without significant input or control by the staff of the President, and he has no oversight. When critical decisions have to be made, they generally come from the Vice President's office. Bush doesn't like complicated decisions. He wants his staff to tell him how the problem will be solved, and all Bush has to do is say yes or no. More complicated and time critical stuff comes from Cheney's office. Bush has "delegated" that kind of stuff to him.

This is why no one in the White House took control of the Katrina reaction. That was supposed to be "delegated" to FEMA, but no one higher up realized that FEMA had been gutted when it was folded into the new Department of Homeland Security. Then Cheney was on vacation in Montana most of that week. There was no one in the White House to pull things together, realize that an administrative disaster was occurring on the Gulf Coast and make the federal government react. The Congressional report this week and the hearings with Chertoff have made this very clear. But Katrina was history being described. The Saturday Cheney shooting shows the same weakness.

The shooting happened on a Saturday when Cheney was on vacation. Then, Cheney was almost certainly in shock and reacted badly as is normal when someone is in a severe accident. Cheney went into a state of shock and reacted without lucid thought. He really does not like the Press, so he reacted in his normal manner by cutting the Press completely out of the loop. He was in a funk at least through Wednesday and probably still is. He unfortunately has no superior except Bush to tell him to snap out of it and get the story out to the Press before it eats the White House alive. Bush should have done this.

But Bush does not like conflict, so he was not going to beard Cheney in his den. In the absence of initiative from the President there is no one else with sufficient stature in the White House to shake things up. Bush also has no interest in the mechanics of government, so he isn't going to trust his instincts on how to handle the Press over those of Cheney. With Dick Cheney in his funk-based paralysis and both Bush and Cheney living in a bubble in which bad news is not easily given to them, no one in the White House did anything useful at all until finally Rove took matters in hand and got Cheney to go on FOX News.

The last element of the problem is that the Republicans generally are very "top-down leadership" oriented. Subordinates are there to respond to orders from the superior beings they work for, not to second-guess those orders and critique the performance of their superiors. This is part of what we all know about Bush not liking to hear bad news. Cheney is no different. Glenn Greenwald describes it as the "Bush Cult." No one was going to put their career on the line and take initiative. Even if they got everything right, they were likely to get their head handed to them. This White House is famous for its top-down discipline. Of the Bush/Cheney/Rove triumvirate who run the White House, only Rove seems to have news sources that can break through the White House information bubble.

So now we know for sure that this White House is thoroughly dysfunctional. But was there any doubt, except in the details?

Iraq War was a gift to al-Qaeda

Professor Paul Rogers, a security expert, told delegates at a conference on politics and terrorism that the Iraq war is a training ground that al Qaeda can use to hone expertise in urban warfare and train terrorists who will threaten the West for the next three decades.
Prof Rogers, from the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, added: "The real gift to al-Qaeda is a long-term urban combat training zone, not a rural one as previously.

"That is going to come back and haunt us over the next 20 to 30 years."
Had Cheney, Rumsfeld or Bush bothered to ask the CIA for an analysis of what would happen in post-invasion Iraq, this is what the CIA would have told them. But they didn't never ask for that analysis until a year after the actual invasion when the insurgency that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush had not anticipated was really beginning to hurt.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A discussion of the felony Cheney committed

Jerry Ward, Idaho Democrat discusses the crime that Cheney committed when he shot Harry Whittington.

The facts in the case are clear. A felony was committed last Saturday. But it was a felony committed by the Vice president of the United States in an extremely small county in Texas. It will be swept under the rug.

There really are people who are above the law, and in Texas they are called Republicans with money and power.

Cheney wants war with Iran - very much

Juan Cole offers an explanation for the revelation by Cheney that Valerie Plame ran a CIA operation that was likely to stop the Iranians from getting nukes. If the CIA had such an operation, and it was effective, then the ability of Dick Cheney to convince the Congress to support a war with Iran to stop their nuclear weapons progress was very low. So to get his war with Iran, Cheney had to destroy the CIA's anti-nuclear proliferation effort aimed at Iran.

It is also well known that someone among the NeoCons leaked to Ahmed Chalabi that U.S. Intelligence had broken the Iranian secret diplomatic codes. Chalabi immediately reported this to the Iranians causing them to quickly shift to codes which are more difficult to break.

If we can't read their diplomatic mail, and we can't keep track of their progress in developing nuclear weapons, and if they clearly are working to create such weapons, our only way of dealing with the threat that the Mullahs of Iran represent will be to militarily invade Iran.

This appears to be the motive behind recent actions by Dick Cheney and the Neocons. They can't get regime change without an invasion, so they will sabotage any U.S. activities which stand in the way of a full-blown invasion and regime change in Iran.

America and the world would be a lot better off if Dick Cheney were no longer Vice President of the U.S.

So what happens to Dick Cheney if (God forbid!) Harry Whittington dies?

How did the shotgun pellet get to Whittington's heart?

The New York Times got this report from a well-known physician:
Dr. O. Wayne Isom, the chairman of heart and chest surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, said it was unlikely that a pellet would migrate to the heart through the bloodstream, as some have assumed from the account of the Texas doctors.

The reason, Dr. Isom said, is that the pellet would have to enter a vein, travel to and through the lung vessels that go to the heart, and then lodge in heart tissue, not in one of its chambers. The pellets were approximately five millimeters, about the size of a BB, and larger than most blood vessels, said Dr. David Blanchard, director of emergency services at the hospital.
A more likely explanation, Dr. Isom said, is that the pellet lodged in or touched the heart when Mr. Whittington was shot.
So the pellet did not migrate through the blood system to the heart.

So the question is, how close was Cheney to Whittington when Cheney shot him? The reports have rather consistently said 30 yards.

Not a chance. This pellet went through a heavy Winter coat, then through Whittington's skin and muscle, between his ribs and lodged near his heart. 7 1/2 shot from a 28 gauge shotgun could not possibly have enough power to penetrate all that deeply at 30 yards.

Obviously Whittington was much closer to Cheney than 30 yards when Cheney fired. This is an attempt at media manipulation by the Cheney protective society.

Another point. I have seen a lot of news reports that claim it was Whittington's fault for not letting Cheney know where he was. Sorry. That is a no-go.

The man firing the weapon has the absolute responsibility for ensuring that he is firing it safely. The victim of the shooting shares none of the responsibility unless he is threatening the shooter. If that were the case, Cheney's Secret Service Officers should have shot Whittington. There is no other exception.

Cheney is entirely responsible for shooting Whittington. Period. All of the strange aspects about this incident come from the Cheney Office and its awkward attempts to manipulate the media reports so that Cheney avoids the blame for what he did.

More interesting information.

According to CNN the doctors have reported that the pellet affecting Whittington's heart measures approximately 5 mm. [See 8th paragraph in the story.] But the news reports all say that Cheney was shooting a 28 gauge shotgun firing 7 1/2 shot. Those pellets are 2.41 mm. There is no 5 mm pellet in any factory load for the 28 gauge shotgun. See Confederate Yankee.

A question.

I am a firearms aficionado, but not a hunter or a shotgun fan. Still, it is my understanding that sometime in the 80's bird shot was changed from lead shot to steel shot because birds tended to eat the spent lead in waterways and then die of lead poisoning. So what, you say?

So a CAT scan uses some rather massive magnets to take its pictures, and steel, unlike lead, is highly affected by magnetic fields. Could this be why the hospital did not use the 64 slice CAT scan? Because it might move the pellet?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Molly Ivins on who Harry Whittington is

It seems that Dick Cheney shot one of the few Texas Republican Liberal Lawyers. Does that really sound like an accident to you? Go read Molly Ivins.

The Cheney shooting story will not go away

It is the perfect metaphor for the current Republican administration, and the media love to run this kind of metaphore. Go see the explanation at "There is no blog".

A treatise on Republican hypocrisy

Glenn Greenwald takes Glenn Reynolds to task for his frequent demand that Democrats disavow insignificant fringe characters like Ward Churchill, while at the same time he appears as a featured speaker along with the truly sick Ann Coulter at the most important meeting of conservatives of the year and joins in the applause at her viscious talk about killing enemies of conservatism.

This is must-read Greenwald.

Monday, February 13, 2006

WH exposure of Plame shut down monitoring of Iranian WMD

The exposure of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent shut down a major CIA effort to monitor Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iran. Raw Story presents the story:
According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.

Speaking under strict confidentiality, intelligence officials revealed heretofore unreported elements of Plame's work. Their accounts suggest that Plame's outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for U.S. national security and its ability to monitor Iran's burgeoning nuclear program.


According to intelligence expert John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, U.S. officials were not aware of the extent of the proliferation until around the time of Khan's dismissal.

"It slowly dawned on them that the collaboration between Pakistan, North Korea and Iran was an ongoing and serious problem," Pike said. "It was starting to sink in on them that it was one program doing business in three locations and that anything one of these countries had they all had."

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan became the United States' chief regional ally in the war on terror.

The revelation that Iran was the focal point of Plame's work raises new questions as to possible other motivating factors in the White House's decision to reveal the identity of a CIA officer working on tracking a WMD supply network to Iran, particularly when the very topic of Iran's possible WMD capability is of such concern to the Administration.
So, somebody tell me again how the Bush administration is making America safer from its enemies. Please be convincing this time.

First the Bush administration preemptively invades Iraq for no rational reason, using non-existent WMDs as an excuse. The result of this has been to turn Iraq into a failed state soon to break up into three warring small states, the southernmost small state to be effectively controlled by the Shiites of Iran.

Then the Bush administration shuts down the CIA effort to monitor and possibly control WMD in Iran.

Are George W. Bush, Dick (lawyer-shooting) Cheney and Don Rumsfeld paid agents of the Iranian Mullahs? They couldn't be more supportive of them if they were.

Steve Clemons in his blog The Washington Note suggests that this story can take three different directions. First, certain members of the Bush administration might have objected to the direction the results of Valerie Plame's teams work was taking, and used the means to shut it down. Steve considers this unlikely, but possible. He thinks that it is more likely to be merely internal pettiness in the Cheney groups of actors.

Another possible dimension for this story to take is the damage the outing of Plame has caused to the opinions of America's Intelligence output as a whole. How much will our allies trust our Intelligence product in the future?

Third, Joe Wilson's report on the Niger Yellowcake issue had two notes on possible Iranian efforts to purchase the yellowcake that have received little public attention. This story could be a lead to further investigation of Iran's activities in Niger. Steve Clements is checking the available documents to see if this leads anywhere.

All in all, I really suspect that if American journalists still exist, we will hear more about this story soon.

"Deadeye" Dick Cheney shoots lawyer!

Dick Cheney is only the second American Vice President ever to shoot someone while in office.

Vice President Cheney was hunting quail on a ranch in South Texas, when a covey of quail broke near him. Following one bird with his .28 gauge shotgun he fired and hit a 78 year-old Texas attorney, Harry Whittington, who was a part of the hunting party.

Harry Whittington was peppered in the face, neck and chest, but is reported to not be seriously injured.

News reports do not indicate that Harry Whittington had announced that he was going to vote Democratic or otherwise provoked the Vice President. Associate Supreme Court Justice Scalia has not been contacted to find if, considering the Vice President's record of shooting attorneys, he will swear off future duck hunts with the Vice President. Apparently the Vice President was properly licensed with a general hunting license, and there is no special tag or season for lawyers in Texas.

Snark licenses are available to all who want them, with no limit on even weak or poor snark. This is to good to pass up. The season is open.

Snark Hell! I was suckered by the White House propaganda.

Whittington wasn't mildly hurt. He wasn't "peppered by a little birdshot." He was seriously shot and has birdshot so deep in his body that some is close enough to his heart to give him a heart attack. Cheney nearly killed the man, and the term "nearly" many not be correct.

I apologize for the snarky comments against lawyers. I am also totally disgusted with Dick Cheney and his handlers. This is not a joking matter. Nor is is a matter in which the second ranked official in the United States should have so misled the Press and the Public.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Conservatism has become Bushism

There is no longer a conservative party called Republicans. There is only an authoritarian cult who call themselves Republicans and demand a strong leader, Bush. Read Glenn Greenwald at Crooks and Liars.

In Defense of Ken Starr

OK. I jumped on the bandwagon when shown that Ken Starr had submitted some forged statements to California Governator Schwartzenegger in a last ditch effort to keep a death row inmate from being executed February 21st. [See Ken Starr again demonstrates Republican immorality.]

I really have a very low regard for Starr because of his performance as the Prosecutor in the Whitewater case. But Mark Kleiman makes a good case that Starr was depending on the integrity of a defense investigator, and the investigator could not be depended on.

In addition, Mark makes the point that the only reason Morales got the death penalty is that a jailhouse snitch, "...Bruce Samuelson, testified that Morales had bragged during a jailhouse conversation in fluent Spanish that he had planned to rape and kill Winchell." It was solely this testimony by a jailhouse snitch that established the special circumstances required by California law to impose the death penalty. Only it turns out, ten years later it was learned that Morales does not speak Spanish.

Samuelson used his testimony to avoid a prison sentence for his crime. Rather obviously, Samuelson lied on the stand.

In Texas this wouldn't matter. The Court of Criminal Appeals would rubber stamp the conviction, the Governor would sign the order, and Morales would get the needle for not hiring a more expensive attorney. Probably Schwartzenegger will sign the order for fear of alienating the few conservative voters he doesn't already have mad at him. By the time any death penalty case gets this far, the carrying out of the sentence is almost certain. No one wants to get in the way of "justice" for fear of political repercussions. All consideration of the actual crime and the trial is long past, and no miracle has occurred.

My bet is that the forgeries will have so poisoned the air that Schwartzenegger will not be able to do the right thing. Let's hope he surprises me.

See also Ken Star again demonstrates Republican immorality - Perhaps he is not all bad.

Which is the real Starr? Frankly, I don't know. But the Clinton impeachment documents he submitted to Congress indicates a really sexually sick person. Can that person coexist with a person who wants to save someone convicted of a horrendous murder on weak evidence?

Frankly, I'd love to research and write a biography of Ken Starr.

Michelle Malkin - pundit, not journalist

David Neiwert at Orcinus evaluates a number of publications over Michelle Malkin's career and points out that she has no journalistic experience. Her career has been one fumbled publication after another. Her career has been an example of affirmative action for female conservatives in Journalism. Otherwise, she would have to find real work for a living.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Studies indicate Republicans more biased against Blacks

The University of California at Santa Barbara hosted a conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology at Palm Springs, Calif. Several highly provocative psychological studies about the nature of political belief were presented.

Several interesting conclusions were made by researchers. One was that people are often not aware of the role their own biases and opinions had on their beliefs, so when evidence was given to them that challenged their support for certain politicians many quickly discounted that evidence. This was true even when they easily accepted similar evidence attacking politicians they did not like.

Also, one study showed that Republicans consistently had stronger anti-Black biases than did Democrats and it showed up in their voting patterns.

Read the article for the details.

More evidence that Bush ignored Intelligence re: War on Iraq.

Arthur Silber has an excellen essay on how the Bush administration used Intelligence to pump up war fever for the Invasion of Iraq. A key point is that the administration NEVER ASKED for a strategic assessment of Iraq and the results that would flow from invading that country, and only asked for an assessment of of post-invasion Iraq a year after the invasion. The decision to invade Iraq was made without considering the facts or the likely outcome of such an invasion. In other words, the decision to invade Iraq was not a rational decision.

Silber's final comments on how the assessment that the Bush administration made an irrational decision to invade Iraq sheds light on the current considerations of action against Iran.

Scientific innovation in America is already waning. Here is a major reason.

The Biblical Inerrantists have made a major industry of fighting against the theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory. They start teaching them young, and teach them to lock their minds against science and rational thought. Here, from the LA Times, is an example:
WAYNE, N.J. — Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.

"Boys and girls," Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, "you put your hand up and you say, 'Excuse me, were you there?' Can you remember that?"

The children roared their assent.

"Sometimes people will answer, 'No, but you weren't there either,' " Ham told them. "Then you say, 'No, I wasn't, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.' " He waved his Bible in the air.

"Who's the only one who's always been there?" Ham asked.

"God!" the boys and girls shouted.

"Who's the only one who knows everything?"


"So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?"

The children answered with a thundering: "God!"

A former high-school biology teacher, Ham travels the nation training children as young as 5 to challenge science orthodoxy. He doesn't engage in the political and legal fights that have erupted over the teaching of evolution. His strategy is more subtle: He aims to give people who trust the biblical account of creation the confidence to defend their views — aggressively.
It is this aggressive evangelizing that he is training children to do that locks their minds against science.

Biblical inerrancy is the death of rational thought.

Ken Starr again demonstrates Republican immorality

Ken Starr and co-counsel David Senior submitted six affadavits from jurors to California Governor Schwartzenegger in an effort to get clemency for death row inmate Michael Morales. Michael Morales is scheduled for execution February 21st. According to the LA Times five of the six affadavits are forged.

Typical Republican morality on Starr's part. If you can't get the decision you want honestly, then lie, lie, lie.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cartoongate is propaganda on both sides inflaming their bases.

The flap over the cartoon of Mohammed with a missile in his turban was set off by what appears to be a Danish anti-immigrant anti-Islam newspaper. It then appears that extreme Islamist leaders spread the images to inflame their followers and set off the current demonstrations and riots. Then Condaleeza Rice lied when she blamed Syria and Iran for instigating the demonstrations. For the details go read Juan Cole.

Those are apparently the basic mechanics for starting all this, but it is no false anger in the Muslim nations. There are demonstrations that range from Indonesia all across Muslim Asia and across Muslm Africa. The cartoons struck a really sensitive nerve, as Juan Cole explains.

The destruction of the American Middle Class

No one can use words better than Gore Vidal to describe what is happening to America..

Berman [Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and author of “Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire” ] sets his scene briskly in recent history. “We were already in our twilight phase when Ronald Reagan, with all the insight of an ostrich, declared it to be ‘morning in America’; twenty-odd years later, under the ‘boy emperor’ George W. Bush (as Chalmers Johnson refers to him), we have entered the Dark Ages in earnest, pursuing a short-sighted path that can only accelerate our decline. For what we are now seeing are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture—a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; and the political and economic marginalization of our culture…. The British historian Charles Freeman published an extended discussion of the transition that took place during the late Roman empire, the title of which could serve as a capsule summary of our current president: "The Closing of the Western Mind."

Mr. Bush, God knows, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, ‘the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.’ This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud.” In fact, close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence. Berman quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the “reality-based” community, to which Berman sensibly responds: “If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed.”

Anyone who has read enough history to begin to recognize the difference between a free nation and a tyranny can see that this is the very essence of the so-called "Republican Revolution." We are today watching America under the Bush administration undergo ‘the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.’ We are also watching the destruction of the Middle Class, to be replaced by a powerful and influential extremely wealthy class and an uncertain and powerless working class with no power and little control over their own lives and futures.

The great expansion of the American middle class came after the Depression legislation which created Social Security and placed organized labor on a level of power similar to that of large corporations. The middle class never achieved a full degree of control over their families and lives since the right wing has systematically blocked any reasonable form of universal health care.

Since Reagan was elected in 1980 we have watched as the power of labor has been systematically destroyed. The Republicans systematically dismantled the Clinton health care proposals in 1993, and since Bush was elected in 2000 the attacks on Social Security have been constant and escalating.

These political attacks on the American middle class, together with the technology that has made global outsourcing of the most lucrative high tech jobs to labor around the world has seen the rapid destruction of the American middle class.

The uber-wealthy have used these trends to split the middle class by offering hope to the upper middle class that if they support the political policies that are destroying the middle class, the top level of that middle class will be absorbed into the ranks of the wealthy. All they have to do is abandon democracy and the power of labor to deal with the wealthy owners of large businesses. But then the ladder into the upper levels of the middle class is removed. That is what it means to price a college education out of the range of the middle and lower economic classes. That college degree is the entry certificate into the upper middle class. Today it is less available to the general publican than at any time since WW I.

This is a two phase attack on the America we thought we knew. The attacks are both economic and political. Along with the economic phase of the destruction of the middle class comes the attack on the liberal American Constitution in which is enshrined the rule of law and a set of individual rights which the government is bound to respect, and which are protected by an independent Judiciary. The political phase is to destroy effective Constitutional democracy protected by an independent Judiciary and replace it with the tyranny of the wealthy who control the government and the courts.

The policies of the Republican Party are ensuring that the America we thought we lived in will not exist within a generation. It's not inevitable. They can be stopped, of what they are doing is recognized and blocked.

Right wingers expose their racism

Digby has an excellent post exposing the right wingers on the internet who do not think they are racist as they expose how racist they really are. The comments are no different from those I remember from the white trash at the segregated all-white High School I attended in the late 50's in East Texas.

Unfortunately, much of that white trash was made up of the children of the ruling class in the city. The kids of the all white political class and much of the professional class. Now that the law no longer permits separate rest rooms and water fountains for Blacks, they think their attitudes are no longer racist. But the attitudes are no different. Those attitudes are a major reason why so many Texans vote Republican today.

Go read Digby.

Bush to try stealth Social Security reform

Kevin Drum reports (from Allan Sloan) that the Social Security reform [That is, phase out of Social Security] is built into the administration's proposed budget.

Last year he announced it with great fanfare and delight in the State of the Union speech. Then he got his head handed to him. This year he is hoping no one will notice it in the proposed budget and sort of "accidently" pass it. What is the matter with these idiots?

This has little chance of passing, but bears a great deal of watching and close monitoring of the actions of our Congressional Representatives.

[Cross-posted from Social Security Notes.]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Clinton deserves credit for much of the good economy in the '90's

Brad DeLong provides the researched detail regarding how much of the good economy of the late '90's can be attributed to the policies of the Clinton administration. The short answer is "A Lot!"

DeLong being an economist, this article provides us wonks with extensive detail backing up his assertions.

[Via Kevin Drum.]

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The eight redacted pages on the Plame Case

EmptyWheel analyzes the newly unredacted eight pages of testimony Fitzgerald provided to the Judges in the Valerie Plame Case.

Is the President above the law? Cheney thinks so.

Kagro X wrote a rather scary essay yesterday that explains why the NeoCons have been pushing this "warrantless wiretap" business so hard. His argument is that the Constitution is never any more or less than what a majority of the current Supreme Court Justices say it is, and that since the Nixon period, the right wing has been stuffing the Court with their own adherents.

Forget what you think you know about Constitutional Law. What Kagro X is doing is laying out the battle ground for real changes in what we all think the Constitution says and requires.

Then go look at this article about where Presidential Signing Statements originated.

The term "Settled Law" was used in the last two Supreme Court Hearings. Kagro X is describing what it takes to move an issue from the category of settled law into the category of law in dispute. The process applies to the powers of the President with relation to the Congress and to Roe vs. Wade.

Bush may get to name even one or two more Supreme Court Justices before he leaves office. What we believe is settled and firm in America is not as long as Bush is President and the Republicans are under the control of the radical right wing.

U.S. Official convicted of theft of Iraqi funds

Here is a story about the kinds of theft, money-laundering and criminality that was common under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq under Jerry Bremer.
Robert J. Stein, 50, of Fayetteville, N.C., admitted that he and his coconspirators smuggled millions of dollars out of Iraq into the United States aboard commercial airliners and laundered cash through multiple bank accounts in Switzerland, Amsterdam and Romania.

Stein was a Defense Department employee who served as a contract official for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, controlling more than $82 million in funds slated for rebuilding the Middle Eastern country.
Stein was a felon who had been convicted of fraud in 1996. Makes you wonder what kinds of personnel standards the Republican CPA had.

The Muslim cartoon controversy in Europe

Josh Marshall offers some really profound comments on the source of the Muslim cartoon controversy in Europe and what it predicts for the future. The controversy is not just a conflict over western freedom of the press when it irritates some muslims in the Middle East. It is a reflection of a core chasm between the beliefs that create the theocracratic governments in the Middle East and the Western beliefs that people tolerate the views of disbelievers without riots, killing and wars. The western separation of Church and State grew out of the 17th century religious wars in Europe.

The separation of church and state issue is at its essence whether the government should enforce laws against blasphemy. One element of fundamentalist religion is that the government should act to prevent blasphemy. This is not a uniquely muslim belief. Western fundamentalists agree that the power of government should be used to repress blasphemy.

The historical key is that of the three "religions of the book" [Jews, Christians, and Muslims] only the Muslims took governmental control of their societies from the beginning. The result has been that Islam, unlike Judiasm and Christianity, never developed institutions that were separated from those of government. As a result, the idea that government would not enforce laws against blasphemy is itself an attack on Islamic religion - or, for that matter, on fundamentalist Christianity or Judiasm.

This conflict will continue into the unknowable future. It is going to be a symptom of the 21st Century. It will also continue to be a problem within American politics. This will not go away, and cannot be compromised.

So get used to it.

What the Hamas election win means

Hamas has been building its power for decades now, and the election merely exposed what already existed. The New Yorker has an excellent (and short) essay on what happened last week when the Hamas took control of the Palestinian Parliament. Here are a few excerpts:
[When everyone else was watching the Hamas celebrate the election wins last week, Shalom Harari, a former Israeli Military Intelligence officer] "had tuned in to a seemingly tedious military ceremony on Egyptian state television. “Look at the wives of the generals,” he said. “Many of them are wearing traditional head scarves. This was not so ten years ago. And this tells you where we are heading. When the women of Egypt’s pro-Western military élite are dressed like that, you know that the Hamas victory is not about Palestine. It’s about the entire Middle East.""


Harari said that he first took note of the Palestinian Islamists in the early nineteen-eighties, shortly after the Iranian revolution, when Islamists won student elections in the prestigious universities of the West Bank. A decade later, Islamists won elections in chambers of commerce in the occupied territories and, more recently, started to win in municipal elections. Now Hamas has taken control of the parliament, he said, and is sure to challenge Abbas for the Presidency.


Throughout the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood
[of which Hamas is an off-shoot] is the main power with grassroots support. The Islamists are less corrupt. They are the ones with integrity and compassion. They are of the people and they speak for the people. Today in the Arab world, the choice is clear between democratically elected Islamists and Western-leaning dictators.”


The issue, of course, is whether this revolutionary movement, whose charter is devoted to the elimination of Israel, could develop into a ruling party interested in territorial compromise. On that Harari is doubtful. “It would take years before real negotiations could resume,” he said. “An over-all peace agreement is out of the question for a long time. ”

Yet the impact of the Hamas victory, he said, is not local but regional. “As we speak,” he said, “there are growing fears not only in Israel but in Jordan, Egypt, and even Syria. The Hamas victory is a Middle East earthquake. Its shock waves will be felt in every town between Casablanca and Baghdad.”
Harari is saying that we are now seeing clearly the conflict that is facing us in the Middle East.

It is my opinion that if we stick to a strategy of doing nothing more than supporting the pro-Western dictators with their corrupt regimes, we will watch the Muslim Middle East go the same way China did in 1949 when we supported the corrupt right-wing dictator Chiang Kai Chek against the honest and reforming peoples party run by Mao Tse Tung.

The many implications for the corrupt right-wing regime in the United States are staggering. How can they be expected to develop a strategy for dealing with the clear conflict facing the West? Our right-wing failed in China and again in South Viet Nam. They simply can't get handling this kind of social movement right. They are the source of many of the problems rather than the providers of the solutions.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The new bankruptcy bill is in force.

A federal Bankruptcy Judge Frank Monroe complained in a judicial decision about the manner in which the powerful consumer credit industry manipulated the legislative process to pass bankruptcy legislation that has no purpose except to make their industry more profitable at the cost to the nation, the economy and the group of troubled debtors.

TPM Cafe provides a discussion.

Excerpts from Judge Monroe's decision is found here.

An incomplete discussion of HSA's

Who benefits from HSA's? TPM Cafe has a discussion that covers some parts of it.

One problem I don't see discussed is how we get our health care. I have a single physician who I go to first for all illnesses and health issues. He has my records and my healthy history, something no other physician will have. My memory isn't perfect, and in some cases I flat don't know what problems I had. For example, there is one medication my records tell me I am allergic to. I don't recall ever taking it and don't know what it was for.

I also get almost all my medications from a single pharmacist. He has the records of what I am taking, and a program that watches for drug interactions. I recently changed to a stronger version of one medication, and was warned by the pharmacist that it would be dangerous to continue taking the older prescription along with the newer one.

So What?

So I don't shop for price. The risk involved in getting medical services from a different provider with less information is higher than any price savings justifies. An HSA can only save money if I shop for price. I rank my priorities as health first, safety second and a long, long way further down is price.

Frankly, HSA's seem to me to be an effort to prove that all production and distribution of goods and services can be optimized by manipulating the money incentives. That implicitly assumes that I would prefer to be wealthier than I would to be healthier.

Unfortunately for those assumptions, health care is more of a human problem than an economic one. Efforts to apply nothing but economic incentives to the production and delivery of health care will fail some serious tests. Economics are a restriction on health care, but they to not optimize its production and delivery. Health care is too important to basic humanity to treat as nothing more than a simple set of commercial exchanges.

[Cross-Posted from Social Security Notes]

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Want reasonable healthcare for all Americans?

You can't beat Ted Kennedy's current proposal.

This proposal will provide quality affordable health care for all Americans. It will also take the burden of providing health care off of American employers, while allowing those which wish to provide greater benefits to employees the right to do so.

Bush disagrees.
as he attempted to do last year with his Social Security privatization fiasco, President Bush will try to make the American people believe that the solution to rising health costs is to shift more and more of those costs to ordinary Americans, or to deny care to those in need.
The fact is, health care is the provision of health services in a manner that is not directly related to individual productivity, but which is directly related to keeping workers productive.

Employers should not be directly responsible for health costs outside of those related to workman's compenstation which pays for health costs directly caused by conditions of the workplace. Employers shouold not directly be required to pay for the costs of such things as birth defects. Families need to cover those, but they need insurance that covers it. Their employers should NOT be required to cover that kind of insurance. Society in general should. This is a social cost, not an employment cost.

Kennedies proposal comes a lot closer to applying the costs appropriately than the current structure of insurance does, and it makes American employers a lot more competitive internationally than does the current employer-laden structure.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bush on reduction of ME Oil - he didn't mean it.

The best news organization in Washington, Knight-Ridder, published the follow-up on Bush's SOTU promise to cut oil imports from the middle east by 75% by 2025. He didn't mean it "literally."
One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.
But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.


Bush vowed to fund research into better batteries for hybrid vehicles and more production of the alternative fuel ethanol, setting a lofty goal of replacing "more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."
He pledged to "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."
Not exactly, though, it turns out.
"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.
So let's watch the budget and see what our liar-in-chief really meant. Apparently Bush uses words strictly for their impact on his audience, but beyond that impact, they have no real meaning or truth behind them.

The goal of the State of the Union speech last night was not to tell Americans what future policies were going to be, but rather to convince his base not to abandon him this year.

Only anti-social psychotics use words this way. They'll say anything to avoid an immediate failure, but the words do not actually make a commitment of future behavior on their part that they consider binding. The rest of us call this "lying."

DeLay's legal defense funds run short

The Houston Chronicle reports that although DeLay's legal defense fund took in over $500,000 in 2005, his legal expenses for the same period ran at above $1,000,000.

While some of the Republicans the reporter spoke to said that there did not appear to be any dropping off of contributions since he was indicted, less than 15% of the Republicans in the Housed have contributed.

If you slept thru the SOTU ...

you didn't miss anything.

"Bubble boy bush" gave us his normally uninformed opinion on the state of the union. "Tonight the State of our Union is Strong." Then plowed through a weak reading of a laundry list of quickly forgettable insignificant proposals that really don't matter much. He never bothered to mention the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, or if he did I missed it.

His proposal that the federal government should increase financing for mathematics and science education might be of some interest, but wait to see what the funding is, and what the limitations that the lobbyists for the religious right put on it. He has no room within the Republican Party to actually do anything here, so it is an empty promise.

The word "democracy" appeared in the speech. "Freedom" was used frequently. No indication that he knows what either means or how to accompllish them. Considering his delivery, there is even less evidence that he cares.

Oh, yeah. Big promise to achieve energy independence in about twenty years. You know, the stuff he has fought against for the last five years? He is trying to recycle the Carter proposals, apparently. The set of programs the Republican Party worked so hard to kill during Reagan and Bush I? And I thought that for Hollywood to keep trying to recycle old hits meant their writers had run out of imagination. I guess it means the same for Presidential speech writers.

The speech sure didn't live up to its hype. But this person, Bush, has nothing to work with. Three years left in his term, and he is dead in the water with nowhere to go and nothing to do.