Friday, August 31, 2007

Bush White House protecting Rep. Jerry Lewis

Scott Paltrow at the Wall Street Journal reports that the investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) has been slowed by failure to fund the instigation. [H/T to Laura Rozen.]

This is another defense, following the bribe given to the U.S. Attorney Debra Yang who had been investigating Rep. Lewis. See Question: Does Rep. Jerry Lewis know something that will further damage the Republican Party and/or the White House, or is this just the Republicans acting to defend one more Republican Congressman and his Congressional seat?

Plans for war with Iran well-advanced

Raw Story provides excerpts on a report drawn up to document U.S. war plans. Here is a summary of how it will be done:
Plesch and Butcher examine "what the military option might involve if it were picked up off the table and put into action" and conclude that based on open source analysis and their own assessments, the US has prepared its military for a "massive" attack against Iran, requiring little contingency planning and without a ground invasion.
The study concludes that the US has made military preparations to destroy Iran’s WMD, nuclear energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic infrastructure within days if not hours of President George W. Bush giving the order. The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.
  • Any attack is likely to be on a massive multi-front scale but avoiding a ground invasion. Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the charge of using too little force and leave the regime intact.
  • US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.
  • US ground, air and marine forces already in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan can devastate Iranian forces, the regime and the state at short notice.
  • Some form of low level US and possibly UK military action as well as armed popular resistance appear underway inside the Iranian provinces or ethnic areas of the Azeri, Balujistan, Kurdistan and Khuzestan. Iran was unable to prevent sabotage of its offshore-to-shore crude oil pipelines in 2005.

  • Nuclear weapons are ready, but most unlikely, to be used by the US, the UK and Israel. The human, political and environmental effects would be devastating, while their military value is limited.
  • Israel is determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons yet has the conventional military capability only to wound Iran’s WMD programmes.
  • The attitude of the UK is uncertain, with the Brown government and public opinion opposed psychologically to more war, yet, were Brown to support an attack he would probably carry a vote in Parliament. The UK is adamant that Iran must not acquire the bomb.
  • The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.
When asked why the paper seems to indicate a certainty of Iranian WMD, Plesch made clear that "our paper is not, repeat not, about what Iran actually has or not." Yet, he added that "Iran certainly has missiles and probably some chemical capability."

Most significantly, Plesch and Butcher dispute conventional wisdom that any US attack on Iran would be confined to its nuclear sites. Instead, they foresee a "full-spectrum approach," designed to either instigate an overthrow of the government or reduce Iran to the status of "a weak or failed state." Although they acknowledge potential risks and impediments that might deter the Bush administration from carrying out such a massive attack, they also emphasize that the administration's National Security Strategy includes as a major goal the elimination of Iran as a regional power. They suggest, therefore, that:
This wider form of air attack would be the most likely to delay the Iranian nuclear program for a sufficiently long period of time to meet the administration’s current counterproliferation goals. It would also be consistent with the possible goal of employing military action is to overthrow the current Iranian government, since it would severely degrade the capability of the Iranian military (in particular revolutionary guards units and other ultra-loyalists) to keep armed opposition and separatist movements under control. It would also achieve the US objective of neutralizing Iran as a power in the region for many years to come.

However, it is the option that contains the greatest risk of increased global tension and hatred of the United States. The US would have few, if any allies for such a mission beyond Israel (and possibly the UK). Once undertaken, the imperatives for success would be enormous.
Butcher says he does not believe the US would use nuclear weapons, with some exceptions.

"My opinion is that [nuclear weapons] wouldn't be used unless there was definite evidence that Iran has them too or is about to acquire them in a matter of days/weeks," notes Butcher. "However, the Natanz facility has been so hardened that to destroy it MAY require nuclear weapons, and once an attack had started it may simply be a matter of following military logic and doctrine to full extent, which would call for the use of nukes if all other means failed."
The study excerpted here is from the paper
"Considering a war with Iran: A discussion paper on WMD in the Middle East" – written by well-respected British scholar and arms expert Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and Martin Butcher, a former Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and former adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament
The recent increase in propaganda designed to justify the war against Iran is especially noticeable from the News Corp publications and particularly FOX News.

As for when the Bushies will pull the trigger on the attack, my bet is that they are watching the polls. The poll results are being looked at two ways.

The first focus of the "Attack Iran" propaganda effort being coordinated out of the White House is to see how much general approval they can get, especially among independent voters. They will pull the trigger as soon as they think the American electorate generally will support them, unless it means too many Republicans are likely to lose in the 2008 election as a result. The second focus is the 2008 election and how the attack on Iran will effect the Republican Party effort to regain control of the House and Senate in 2008.

Enough push back from people who recognize that this is an unnecessary war will delay it until November 2008. After that the White House has the rest of November, all of December and most of January to attack Iran. They will do it.

Why? Simple. They have no positive legacy anyway. But the hardliners are certain that Iran is an existential threat to the U.S. An attack on Iran would stop or severely delay any threat Iran poses. They know that the Democrats will not conduct the attack on the flimsy evidence that exists to so frighten the hardliners. The domestic political cost in the 2008 election will remain too high for them to conduct the attack before that election, but nothing prevents them from acting afterwards.

It is my opinion that the Bush hardliners will take that last 12 weeks in the White House after the election to conduct a "Hail Mary" action. The attack on Iran will be seen as the last chance for a big gain. They really think it will very possibly create - at the last moment - the positive legacy for the Bush administration that has eluded them for eight years now.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

GOP - Party of Death and Torture, but Perry approves clemency once

Texas has executed 400 people since the death penalty was reinstated. As of today, Gov. Rick Perry (Republican) has approved this one act of clemency which will keep a man for going to the needle for a murder he didn't know was happening.

Perry's clemency approval is one more than his predecessor, George Bush, approved.

What I can't understand is what happened to Rick? Is the stalwart representative of God and the GOP who is Governor of Texas going soft? I doubt it. There must really be some political backlash that Governor "Goodhair" is facing. I wonder what it is?

Maybe the Texas GOP is finding that promoting executions and torture is becoming less popular with the voters? I sure hope so.

September: a bevy of stage-manged fluff that still says Iraq is a failure

Emptywheel takes a look at the series of reports on Iraq dues out in September, and the conclusion is that many people involved in writing the reports are leaking them to avoid having the Bush administration water down how bad the situation there really is.

What's really bad is that, even watered down, the Bush administration is failing in Iraq. Here is what we can expect:
  • The Petreaus Report (written by the White House since they don't trust Gen. Petreaus to lie for them.)
  • The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq.
  • A report requested by Congress from an independent commission headed by retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Jones.
  • A GAO report, also requested by Congress. A 69 page draft of this report was leaked to the Washington Post because people involved with it feared that the results were so negative that the White House would water it down before it was released.
The Bushies keep lowering the bar about what success in Iraq is, and even after a dozen or more bar-lowerings, they still cannot meet the extremely low levels of success they attempt to define for themselves. That in itself should be recognized as an admission that the battle for the Occupation of Iraq has been lost long ago.

September is not going to be a kind month for the Bush administration.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

OK. If Texas is number one in windpower, is TXU ripping me off?

So Texas is the number one state in wind power.

Why does TXU want to build more coal-powered plants, and why the Hell am I paying two to three times the rate per KWH as I would in other states? Why are state-run power companies the lowest priced in the U.S.?

Monopolies like power generation companies and distribution networks need to be nationalized so that we get reliable power at reasonable prices. TXU is proof the free market does not work on natural monopolies.

Bush is unbelievable.

The federal government response to the disaster we call Katrina is in the news right now, and Bush has been bragging how well he handed it.

Yeah, Right. From Rick Perlstein:
In their goofy "Fact Sheet" the White House issued today about how marvy they've handled Katrina reconstruction, they include something not within spitting distance of a "fact": "The Administration Has Provided A Total Of $16.7 Billion In Federal Funds As Part Of The Largest Housing Recovery Program In U.S. History."

Doesn't that sound like $16.7 billion has been spent? Not really. That was the amount set aside. As I noted below, as of March, only $1 billion of it had been spent, almost all in Mississippi; then when the world found out what was going on, HUD spent but another $3.8 of it.

Meanwhile, let's remember what Katrina housing "recovery" has actually looked like. Remember the formaldahyde trailers? The government-issued campers contaminated wiht a carcinogen. Reported the Washington Post a couple of weeks back, "Concerns about formaldehyde contamination have existed for more than a year, but FEMA was slow to react, and when it did, downplayed the health risk. But lawsuits, environmental groups and warnings by independent experts and doctors have pushed FEMA to seriously re-evaluate the risks."
Then is also from Rick Perlstein
Here's one from last October. Within the homelsand security bill, congress specified qualifications for any new FEMA chief: "a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management," and not less than five years of executive leadership."

Bush signed the bill with a smile, noting specifically that it would "help our government respond to emergencies and natural disasters by strengthening the capabilities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency." The White House emailed that statement to reporters.

Then, quietly, the next week—anyone remember?—Bush dribbled out an 8 PM signing statement asserting that he wouldn't follow the provision because it "rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office."

Yes: he said that the only people experienced and knowledgeable to hold an office were people who weren't experienced and knowledgeable.
And people really don't think that the Bush administration can really be as incompetent as its performance has suggested. But the fact it that first they are incompetent, then they lie about what they have done, and they hide all of that behind a wall of secrecy so that no one can really be sure how incompetent they really are or how egregious their lies really are.

Of course the wall of secrecy hides the incompetence even as it makes their lies and their lies about their lies harder to pin down.!

Just how corrupt ARE the Republican politicians?

TPM Muckraker totals up the current scoreboard. From the past:
  • Jack Abramoff. (Prison)
  • Ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA). (prison)
  • Ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) (Prison.)
  • Ex-Reps. Mark Foley (R-FL) (Retired due to sex scandal)
  • Katherine Harris (R-FL) (Defeated)
  • Tom DeLay (R-TX) (Retired due to criminal indictment)
  • Curt Weldon (R-PA) (Defeated)
  • Ex-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) (Defeated)
Next we have the current scandals:
  1. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) (Sex scandal)
  2. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) (Sex scandal)
  3. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) (Payoff from Veco Oil Co)
  4. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) (Numerous scandals under investigation includein payoffs from Veco Oil Co.)
  5. Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL) (Abramoff-related investigations)
  6. John Doolittle (R-CA) (Abramoff-related investigations)
  7. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) (Investigation for corrupt land deal)
  8. Rep. Gary Miller's (R-CA) (another crooked land deal.)
  9. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) (Insider land deal that failed to pass the "smell" test.)
  10. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) (Under federal investigation apparently connected to the Duke Cunningham scandal.)
  11. Rep. Ken Calvert's (R-CA) (Crooked land deals)
  12. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) (Ethics investigation connected to the removal of New Mexico U.S. Attorney Iglesias) and
  13. Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) (Ethics investigation connected to the removal of New Mexico U.S. Attorney Iglesias)
Republicans lost control of both the House and Senate in 2006 partly because of the many scandals that they had prior to that time. The current situation looks even worse for them come the election of 2008.

TPM Muskraker promises to keep us informed of further developments in The Grand Old Docket.

Theories vs. ideology; Which provides better government?

Conservatives and Liberals both try to take the lessons of the past, learn from them, and use them to predict future events. That ability to see reality as being past, present and future is unique to human beings. This plays out in (among many other things) the ways government functions.

Government is always a group experiment in trying to do those things today that provide the best outcomes tomorrow. A good government is one that gathers evidence, develops theories or ideologies of cause and effect and tries to govern from those theories or ideologies.

The difference between a theory and an ideology is (1) how perfect decision-makers expect the ideas of cause-and-effect that make it up are expected to be and (2) how the decision-makers act when it fails. Governing is deciding how to allocate resources and act today so as to achieve a better-predicted future. So let's look at the process of predicting the future and acting today in order to achieve a preferred tomorrow.

That process involves gathering data on events that have occurred in the past, learning which events appear to cause others to occur, and seeing the resulting outcomes. We then choose to take actions in the near future which will be more likely to result is the ultimate futures we prefer. The discipline of General Semantics calls this time-binding and defines it as "the distinctive human ability to build on the accumulated knowledge of others." Every human being does this.

The knowledge that some events cause other events to happen is called a theory. The more often we see that one event, "A", appears to cause another event, "B", to happen, the more certain we are of the theory that event "A" will cause event "B." We use such theories to guess what is the best action to take today to result in the future outcome we most desire. But "theories" come in a wide variety of strength or reliability. Some are pure guesses; some are almost certainties.

Physicists and chemists have developed some very strong theories about the causes and effects in their intellectual realms. Theories in history and the social sciences never approach the degree of certainty that is possible in the physical sciences. Strong theories in the physical sciences result from isolating cause "A" and result "B" from all other confounding possible causes for result "B", then measuring all the objects and forces that remain within the isolated system. Advances in the physical sciences have come from isolating the items studied, identifying every object within the isolated set of items, measuring the forces within that set and then manipulating the forces to a measured degree and measuring the result.

The process of isolating the system, identifying and measuring the objects and forces inside it, and repeatedly testing measured changes in that system to prove cause-and-effect has proven very successful, although it still hasn't worked to give reliable weather predictions.

If theories in weather prediction are not yet perfect, then those in history and social systems are extremely weak. The subjects studied in history and the social sciences are complex systems that do not allow chains of cause-and-effect to be isolated from unexpected outside events. In addition, history does not really repeat itself in detail. On top of that, historical data is, for the most part, whatever is accidentally recorded at the time of an event. Measurements of what event historical event "A" caused another historical event "B" are extremely rough in the best of cases.

Government, however, is an institution designed to do those things today that provide improved outcomes tomorrow, so it sits squarely in the middle of history and the social sciences. Theories of government, history and the social sciences tend to be based on estimates of which guess is better than the others, and cause-and-effect relationships based on such data are rarely very accurate and never precise.

But even with the very best of data, human beings have very limited ability to analyze data and make predictions if the data comes from complex systems. Humans can observe that one event will usually lead to another event as long as nothing from the outside those events interferes, but in human social systems there is always a set of interfering events, too many to take account of. The result is that human beings can predict simple things reasonably well, but cannot identify cause-and-effect in systems very well.

But we are human beings. It is a characteristic of the human being to try to predict what will happen in the future and to cause a better future. Politicians build their careers on providing ideas that if we do something, "A", it will cause event "B" to occur in the future. Or the opposite - if we don't do "A" then "B" will NOT occur. Politicians fight other politicians to apply social resources to their preferred action "A" rather than the alternative "A-prime" proposed by another politician, or to prevent event "X" so that event "Y" will not occur.

Both Conservatives and Liberals play this prediction game. Each takes advantage of the accumulated knowledge from the past on which to base the theories of cause-and-effect they try to sell the voting public. Let's skip the part that describes how the theories determine which facts from history are considered more important than others and go straight to what happens when the theory is used to determine which actions should be taken today fails to achieve the desired future outcomes.

Theories of future outcomes are guesses made with greater or lesser ranges of uncertainty. They are not and cannot be certainties. Performing and action "A" today to cause a result "B" tomorrow is always an experiment. So what happens when the outcomes of an action do not match the results the theory the action was based on? What does the decision maker do when the experiment fails? Here is the difference between conservatives and liberals.

Liberals take the results that don't match those predicted by the theory and go back to revise the theory for future use. Check the measurements. See if all the objects and forces in the theory were accounted for and if any new ones appeared in the experiment. Find out what changed from what was expected, and take the changes into account before using the theory again in the future.

Conservatives reject the evidence that the theory failed. Instead of revising the theory, they defend it. Here are the conservative's defense measures:

  • First they attempt to simply ignore the evidence of failure. The first line of defense is to hide the evidence or lie about it. [The Bush administration has sometimes even stopped providing reports that previously were regularly prepared and published in such areas as environmental science and economics.] If others keep bringing it up, they attack those people bringing up the evidence.
  • Second is the excuse that the action has not been allowed enough time to succeed. This is usually accompanied by tactical changes in the application of the effort, each of which must be given more time to succeed. [This is the source of the famed "Friedman Unit.' "A slight change and it will be working in six more months!"]
  • The next line of defense is to blame those who bring the evidence of the failure and suggest a conspiracy to damage the conservatives for political reasons. Rather than discuss the theory and the evidence for its success or failure, conservatives move the issue to one of who has power and who wants to take it away.
  • The final line of defense for conservatives is to blame those who implemented the action for its failure. Conservative ideology is perfect. If the attempt to apply conservative ideology failed to achieve the outcome conservatives expected, then those who applied Conservative ideology must not be "True" conservatives. Any failed outcomes prove that the perfect ideology was not applied or was not given enough effort.
The 'theory' of cause-and-effect that conservatives used has been elevated to the level of an 'ideology.'

The difference is that an ideology is perfect, where a theory is not. The result of this thinking is that while a theory can be revised, an ideology must be defended.

So the blame for the failures of an ideology always lies outside the ideology itself, and anyone who takes responsibility for a failure is proven NOT to be a conservative. The problem is that an ideology will always fail. It is based on the same imperfect information sources as any other tentative and fallible theory. An ideology is just a theory, even after it has been given sacrosanct status as "Perfect, not open to challenge or revision."

Since social systems are too complicated for any theory to work perfectly, people operating from an ideology will always be forced back on the Conservative's defense methods described above.

When the conservative ideology fails, government by conservatives will always be redirected from governing according to the needs of the people governed to defending and enforcing the ideology as it fails. Since the ideology cannot be changed, as it continues to fail the efforts to prop it up become more radical and extreme.

This caused the collapse of the Communist ideology driven government in the Soviet Union. It is causing the collapse of the conservative ideology as the guiding ideology in the United States. It will cause the collapse of any theocracy in the Middle East or anywhere else.

Government is always an experiment in determining cause and effect and attempting to actually achieve the preferred outcome. Ultimately every government depends on being recognized as legitimate by the people governed. When government begins to defend a failed ideology instead of providing the outcomes the people expect they will replace it.

The USSR fought that off for a generation by preventing their population for learning what outside governments were providing for their populations. American conservatives will not be able to keep Americans ignorant and enslaved to their ideology for nearly that long.

Oh, and why do conservatives elevate their theories of government to the level of ideologies?

I have a theory about that. The mass of voting conservatives have a low tolerance for ambiguity. Their leaders play to that by promising certainty. But this is a theory. It is open to revision given better information.

Gays get out! A call to purge the GOP of homosexuals

The Idaho Values Alliance, a long time supporter of Idaho Republican Sen. Craig, is now asking for his resignation. They start off by saying that he should resign IF he is homosexual, but then they continue
It strains credulity to think that the senator can provide an explanation for his guilty plea if he did nothing more than accidentally brush someone’s foot with his shoe and pick up a piece of paper off the floor.

The Judeo-Christian tradition says that the standard for identifying the truth is that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact is confirmed.” The senator’s guilty plea, when added to the officer’s testimony, satisfies the biblical standard for confirming the essential truth of what happened, and unless the senator can provide a compelling and convincing explanation for his plea, we will need to regretfully accept that the fact of his behavior has been established. It seems unlikely that he can “unring the bell” his guilty plea has sounded.
So - if he is homosexual he should resign, and the evidence as they see it make it extremely unlikely that he is NOT homosexual. But they continue to say
One larger issue must be addressed. The Republican Party platform clearly rejects the agenda of homosexual activists. The Party, in the wake of the Mark Foley incident in particular, can no longer straddle the fence on the issue of homosexual behavior. Even setting Senator Craig’s situation aside, the Party should regard participation in the self-destructive homosexual lifestyle as incompatible with public service on behalf of the GOP.

No member of the Republican Party in the 1860s could represent his party and be a slaveholder at the same time. Nor can the Republican Party of today speak with authority and clarity to the moral issues that confront our society and at the same time send ambivalent messages about sexual behavior. It is time for the Republican Party to be the party that defends the American family in word, deed, and by personal example.
This is a call for the purge from the Republican Party of such people as Sen. Craig, and very likely Ralph Reed or Sen. Lindsay Graham.

So why should they be purged? Because people like the Idaho Values Alliance consider them "Sinners." Says who? Some power-hungry political leaders who use religion as their base of power, that's who.

I strongly suspect that Ralph Reed is gay, and I don't like him. But my dislike is based on his efforts to impose religion on our secular government. I rather respect Lindsay Graham because he is a man who learns on the job and does not seem to demonize his opponents. I objected to his role in the effort to convict Bill Clinton in the Senate impeachment trial, and I dislike his support for a number of Republican policies, but those are political judgments, not judgment on him as a "Sinner."

I very much respect and like Barney Frank from Massachusetts. He is often described as the smartest man in the House of Representatives, and his ability to get off a great quip is legendary. Why should we remove people like Barney Frank and Lindsay Graham from government service just because someone has read a book that answers all questions and rejects them? Biblical Inerrancy, besides being bad religion, is also a rotten way to run a government.

Apparently, however, the people in the Idaho Values Alliance think it is the source of all good government and are willing to destroy the political career of Sen. Craig from Idaho over the issue.

Government is not religion, nor is religion a good basis for government. Religion is too inflexible to be allowed to ever have the power to govern people on any basis. Religion can observe, advise and recommend, but never govern. The result of religious government is always war.

In the meantime, if the GOP conducts a purge of homosexuals, all they will do is drive them deeper into the closet or destroy the careers of some people, occasionally good and occasionally bad (like all the rest of us.) As a Democrat the only good thing I see coming from that is a weakening of the Republican Party and ultimately the rejection of the social conservatives by the rest of that party.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How many top DoJ resignations now?

On December 7, 2006 the Bush Department of Justice (DoJ) fired eight U. S. Attorneys in a single day, stating that it was for performance reasons. This Pearl Harbor Day purge was unique in the history of the DoJ. The Washington, D.C. media made a one-day story of it, and moved on to more interesting things, like the latest from Nicole Richie or Lindsay Lohen.

The unique event and the failure of the Bush administration to provide a satisfying explanation for it must have bugged Josh Marshall, because he didn't let the issue go. Josh's refusal to let the issue go has led the Congress to look more closely at the DoJ and also to a series of interesting stories out of the Department of Justice this year. Let's look at some of the stories that have resulted from Josh Marshall's curiosity and refusal to let a good story be ignored.

Of particular interest was (and continues to be) the U.S. Attorney for San Diego, CA who had successfully investigated, prosecuted and imprisoned California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (for longer than any other Congressman has ever been imprisoned) and continued to investigate Cunningham's briber, Brent Wilkes as well as the Number three ranking CIA executive, "Dusty" Foggo. Carol Lam's firing has all the appearance of being an effort by the Bush administration at Obstruction of Justice.

Next we learn that the U.S. Attorney from Los Angeles, Debra Yang, had been on the list to be fired, but resigned in late November to take a Partnership at the Republican law firm which was defending Rep. Jerry Lewis as he was being investigated by (oops) U.S, Attorney Debra Yang. The partnership came along with a $1.5 million signing bonus. There is a saying in Latin America. "Plata o plomo." Silver or lead. It looks very much as though Debra Yang, a 47 year-old divorced mother of two young children was given the option of taking the signing bonus or being fired on Pearl Harbor Day with the rest.

News reports state that Rep. Jerry Lewis has decided to retire rather than run for a 16th tern, although his office denies that he has made such a decision.

Another U.S. Attorney, Paul Charlton of Arizona, was fired because he was investigating a crooked land deal by Republican Rep. Rick Renzi. While the investigation into Rep. Renzi has been slow-walked since U.S. Attorney Charlton was fired, Rep. Renzi has just recently announced that he is not going to run for reelection in 2008. That is one short step short of a guilty plea.

Two more of the Pearl Harbor Day purge, David Iglesias, fired U.S. Attorney from New Mexico, and John McKay, fired U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, present a good case that they were fired for refusing to bring flimsy indictments against Democrats that would influence an up-coming election.

The cases of Iglesias and McKay show what happened when the DoJ tried to order ethical attorneys to bring politically-motivated cases to influence elections so the Republicans could win. They refused and were fired. Then there is the unethical U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Steve Biscupic, who was on the list to be purged on Pearl Harbor Day until he brought corruption charges against Georgia Thompson who worked as a civil servant for the State of Wisconsin. This case was so weak that the Appeals Court threw it out at the end of oral argument and chastised the U.S. Attorney for even bringing it. See also NY Times gets it right! See editorial today.. Ms. Thompson was accused of a crime that had not occurred and was convicted with no evidence. But that didn't matter to U.S. Attorney Biskupic. He created an issue the Republican candidate for governor of Wisconsin could use to attack the Democratic incumbent, and Biskupic kept his job when ethical attorney's were being fired. [Biskupic remains as a U.S. Attorney today.]

There are more situations which deserve close investigation, but the real set of problems all go back to the politisation and mismanagement of the Department of Justice. See my earlier article The deeper problem revealed by the US attorney Purge.

It should be no surprise when Paul Kiel at talking points memo muckraker lists the recent top level resignations from the Department of Justice.
"1) Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, today.
2) Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty announced his resignation May 14th.
3) Acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer (the Department's #3) announced that he was withdrawing his nomination for the position June 22nd.
4) Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, resigned March 13th.
5) Department White House liaison Monica Goodling resigned April 6th.
6) Michael Elston, McNulty's chief of staff, resigned June 15th.
7) Executive Director of the Executive Office of United States Attorneys Michael Battle, announced his resignation in mid-February.
8) Bradley Schlozman, an attorney in the Counsel to the Director staff at the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, formerly the U.S. attorney for Kansas City and a former acting assistant attorney for the Civil Rights Division, resigned mid August.

And, finally, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Wan Kim was another notable resignation (on August 23rd), although Kim's troubles were unrelated to the firings scandal.
High personnel turnover is a symptom of a poorly run organization. It is an especially bad sign when the guys at the top are all leaving at once. This isn't politics so much as it is bad management and an attempt to politicize the DoJ. And, like Alberto Gonzales himself, the major problems of the DoJ have come out of the White House.

Gonzales took over as Attorney General on February 3, 2005. It has taken him two years and seven months to literally destroy that organization and its reputation.

It is really strange that no one in the Washington D.C. press corps was curious about the Pearl Harbor Day U.S. Attorney Purge like Josh Marshall was.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Speculations on the Gonzales resignation

I wonder if Alberto Gonzales is resigning in order to lower the level of conflict between the Executive Department and the Congress? If so, it isn't going to work. If anything, the conflict is going to increase.

Does the resignation of Gonzales make it less likely that the Department of Justice will attempt to influence the 2008 elections? I'd say that depends on the degree of openness that the DoJ is forced to undergo, especially Voting Rights Division. One commitment the Senators need to extract it the rebuilding of the Voting Rights Division and making it more transparent.

The new Attorney General needs to firmly agree that he will take Contempt of Congress cases against White House employees to Court. Gonzales has publicly stated that he would not act on such Congressional requests.

Gonzales' resignation becomes effective September 17th. I wonder if there is any significance in that date? It appears to shut out any possibility of a recess appointment by bush.

Gonzales' legacy will almost certainly be that he is responsible for the effective destruction of the Department of Justice and a sharp reduction of the DoJ's reputation for the honest enforcement of law. It may also be the complete discrediting of the theory that U.S. Attorneys can be fired for purely political reasons, and that the Attorney General sometimes has to tell the President that something the President wants done cannot be done because it violates the Rule of Law.

The coming battle over Gonzales' replacement

We are at the moment waiting for the official announcement of Albert Gonzales' resignation as U.S. Attorney General.

There is going to be a big battle over his replacement. Bush is going to try to appoint someone who will attempt to apply conservative ideology in the way I just described in my post "Conservatism failed? Do it again with twice the effort. (Failure assured.)" This will be the conservative ideologue who will be supported by the Republican Party and a few conservative Democrats.

The Democrats will demand a replacement who will enforce the law and the Constitution rather than enforce conservative ideology.

No one can satisfy both requirements.

NPR just speculated that the two current front running choices are Michael Chertoff, presently Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Paul D. Clement, currently Department of Justice Solicitor General.

Both are conservative ideologues before they are lawyers. Neither is likely to actually investigate the warrantless wiretaps or the reasons why the US Attorneys were purged on Pearl Harbor Day, 2006. If they follow the Bush administration tradition they will lie to the Senate (as did Justices Alito and Roberts) and then do as they wish

Two other possible names according to Daniel Metcalf (interviewed on NPR) are Sen. Orrin Hatch and ex-Sen. John Danforth. Metcalf suggests that each has an "in" for confirmation by the Senate since they are both members of the Senate club. The drawback for Sen. Hatch is that he has been a vigorous, but that Sen. Hatch has has spent a great deal of his legitimacy by defending Gonzales so strongly. Ex-Sen. Danforth, as a confirmed Episcopal Priest, should be able to politically get past the problems created by Gonzales' many "I don't know"'s and misleading statements to the Senate during hearings.

There will be other names floated in the near future.

Of course, there is also the problem of the jelly-spined Democrats currently dominating Washington D.C. They will try to get binding commitments from whoever the nominee is. Will they hear what they want to hear and roll over?

Still, the only place the Bush administration is going to be able to effectively push their idea of conservatism is in foreign policy. That means that America can expect to see more self-destructive foreign policy initiatives over the next 17 months.

I do predict that Bush 43 will start something risky and ill-advised in foreign policy after the November 2008 election and hand it off to his successor. That is what Eisenhower did with the Bay of Pigs, handing it off the John Kennedy, and it is what Bush 41 did with his actions in Somalia in 1992, handing that mess off the Bill Clinton.

NY Times reports Gonzales has resigned; Good riddance

More Bush administration housecleaning as August comes to a close. The New York Times has just reported:

WACO, Tex., Aug. 27 — ­ Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Attorney General's resignation had not yet been made public.

Mr. Bush had repeatedly stood by Mr. Gonzales, an old friend and colleague from Texas, even as he faced increasing scrutiny for his leadership of the Justice Department, including his role in the dismissals of nine United States attorneys late last year and questions about whether he testified truthfully about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. [Snip]

Mr. Gonzales's resignation is the latest in a series of high-level departures that has reshaped the end of Mr. Bush's second term. Karl Rove, another of Mr. Bush's close circle of aides from Texas, stepped down two weeks ago.

The official said that the decision was Mr. Gonzales's and that the president accepted it grudgingly. At the same time, the official acknowledged that the turmoil over his tenure as Attorney General had made continuing difficult.

"The unfair treatment that he's been on the receiving end of has been a distraction for the department," the official said.
OK. So Karen Hughes left long ago, and Karl Rove just resigned. Less well-known are Harriet Miers and Dan Bartlett who have also left.

Does Dick Cheney count as part of the Texas take-over? He was, of course, a resident of Dallas, TX in 2000 but transferred his voting residence back to Montana to avoid the problem that the Constitution does not allow the President and Vice President to both be from the same state.

It's good to see Gonzales go. America is much better for his resignation.

Conservatism failed? Do it again with twice the effort. (Failure assured.)

Booman has provided an excellent summary of the efforts and results of the Bush - Neoconservative approach to the Middle East.
First the administration did everything they could to undermine Barak and help Sharon get elected. Then they stood by and clapped as Sharon dismantled the Palestinian Authority. Then they pushed for Palestinian elections, publicly backed Fatah, and watched Hamas sweep to victory. Then they gave a green light to a disastrous invasion of Lebanon. And this led to a total victory of Hamas in Gaza.

Now the Palestinians are divided, Israel is weak, and the prospects of a peace process lie in ashes. How can this administration 'refurbish' a peace process that lies in cinders? Is this 'realism'?

We have 'liberated' the Arab Shi'ites of Iraq and backed a Shi'a dominated government there for the last four years. Our new strategy is to make a 'political-military alliance with the dominant Sunni Arab powers -- especially Saudi Arabia'?
This is what the Bush - Cheney administration has done so far. Their ideologically-based and reality-free efforts have all failed and mostly made things worse than they were before.

This is an administration which emotionally mirrors its leaders. They do not self-analyze or accept the criticism of others. They know that what they are doing and have done is correct, so failure has to be the result of sabotage by liberals, spies or other enemies while criticism of what they know to be "right" is just another tool their enemies use to prevent them from acting.

They know they are "right" in what they do, so they attribute what they do to "Conservatism." In case one of their own, like Bush, is clearly established to have screwed up things badly, they can reject him by claiming that he failed to remain a conservative. The proof is that things got screwed up, and since conservatism is perfect and cannot fail the reason things got screwed up is that Bush (or whoever the failure of the day is) failed to remain a conservative.

The result is that they do not learn from their failures. They can't. They never acknowledge failure.

So when their efforts fail, the response is to return to "conservative principles" and redouble the effort. Somehow doing the same thing over again but twice as big and with twice the effort is going to succeed when it failed previously.

This is an innate human characteristic of ideologically-based organizations in which individuals are promoted to senior power positions based on their ideology rather than their demonstrated competence on the job. The Communists running the Soviet Union continually failed in economic, political and social efforts for exactly the same reason. Each time the application of Communist ideology failed to solve some pressing problem, they searched for a scapegoat, blamed him for failure to apply true Communist ideology, and instead of working to find the source of the problem they again attempted to apply Communist ideology, but which greater effort. The result was that they ran their society into the ground.

The very idea that conservatives label "Liberalism" means to reject failed ideologies, identify failures when an outcome is not good, then find real solutions and try again with different procedures. There is no "Liberal-based movement" and never will be. "Liberals" (as conservatives label them) are actually just people who are willing to identify problems and try to solve them on their own basis rather, identify failures and attempt to reword the solution when the failed parts are identified. This requires that failures be recognized and responsibility for those failures be ascertained.

This realism-based approach differs sharply from the continual attempts to apply some on-size-fits-all ideology. It starts with recognizing failure and ascertaining responsibility for that failure. The Cheney - Bush - NeoCon adventure in Iraq is such a failure, and the responsibility for that failure lies squarely on George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the conservative-dominated Republican Party.

Until and unless the conservatives recognize and publicly acknowledge their own responsibility (and that of the Imperialist and militarist conservative ideology) for the failure of the Iraq adventure they cannot be accepted as part of the solution.

More from Booman:
The real 'realism' is that we have utterly failed in our Mideast policies, and we better start facing up to the consequences. Permawar is not the answer. We don't have the money.

We need to start planning for a future where we do not dominate the Middle East. This will involve significant economic risks...especially for the availability of cheap and readily available energy. It also suggests that Israel should start getting serious about a permanent, sustainable accommodation with the Palestinians and their neighbors. Keeping a few of their most ardent and unquestioning supporters, like Joe Lieberman, in the U.S. Senate is not going to be enough to sustain an acceptable level of security. We cannot continue to take on the blowback risks and international hit to our moral standing that our support for Israel currently entails.

That's 'realism'.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Things government does well that private enterprise can't or won't do

Want a list of things done by government better than by private enterprise? Check this post out.

There are a lot of things that private enterprise does better than government, but they all are based on a private company that chooses a market to serve and focuses on that market, ignoring everyone else. They are also things that do not require spending money today for long-term uncertain returns in the distant future. That's why government funds basic science which is published without patent, and private enterprise designs and builds patented products.

Go read the article at Firedoglake. Things that would never have been built by private enterprise include nuclear power, Boulder Dam (for power, flood control and irrigation), computers generally (developed for the federal census and then social security programs), space rockets and satellites, microcomputers (developed first for the use of the space program since it cost too much to put vacuum tubes into space), jet aircraft, supersonic aircraft, the interstate highway system, the Internet, and myriad other things. Each of those was initiated and provided early funding by the government.

At some point lots of it was spun off from the government programs into private enterprise, but investors would never have placed their money in any of those items if government had not proven the ideas and developed the first products.

We also wouldn't have (as an example) pocket calculators if it weren't for Texas Instruments or personal computers without Hewlett Packard and Apple, so I am not attempting to belittle private enterprise. My point is that there are things best done in the private economy and others best done by government. Trying to replace government with private organizations will result in the governmental job not being done well. The key is to recognizes what functions belong to which sphere of society.

Jonathon Chait explains Bill Krystol, editor, liar and thug

You can't watch TV out of Washington, D.C. and ignore Bill Kristol who is the coeditor with Fred Barnes of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard NeoCon Magazine. Kristol writes editorials, which according to Jonathon Chait "...have come to consist of stubborn denials of any bad news, diatribes about internal enemies, and harangues against the cowardice of Republican dissenters."

Kristol is a NeoCon attack dog, hired and paid for by Rupert Murdoch (owner of FOX News and News Corp.) Kristol is clearly a very bright man, and speaks well, but his intent is entirely to push a limited political agenda consisting of militarism abroad and support for right-wing Republican Neo-Conservative Authoritarianism here in the United States. He tries to cloak this political agenda in pleasant sounding ideas and goals, but as the fortunes of the Bush administration and the Republican Party have declined in recent years his covering of positive thoughts has become quite frayed.

He does believe that what he wants to happen is important and is unwilling to admit that the failure of the Bush administration to achieve what he wants is based on the inherent flaws of conservatism. It can't be that the American superpower that defeated (proven by the fact that it outlasted) the inherently flawed Communist USSR does not have the power to enforce its demands on the people of the backwards Iraqi nation.

So Kristol has to find another source for the failure of conservatism. This is the source of his frequent complaint about "traitorous liberals." Ann Coulter and much of the Bush administration is beginning to echo this left-over idea from the Post World War I German complaints that they lost WW I because the Socialists "Stabbed them in the Back."

As I said, Bill Kristol is very bright. He frequently makes his irrational ideas sound well thought out although less so as the Bush administration collapses into itself in both Iraq and domestically. Always remember that to say Bill Kristol is a NeoConservative means that he is a student of Leo Strauss. As Chait says Kristol "...once explained his belief in the philosopher Leo Strauss to journalist Nina Easton thusly: 'One of the main teachings is that all politics are limited and none of them is really based on the truth.' "

This explains the other thing Chait wrote about Kristol. He does not distinguish between his opinion and factual reality. To me that has always been the mark of someone who is insane, but for Bill Kristol it has become a career.

Chait concludes by saying:
There was a time when neoconservatives sought to hold the moral and intellectual high ground. There was some- thing inspiring in their vision of America as a different kind of superpower--a liberal hegemon deploying its might on behalf of subjugated peoples, rather than mere self-interest. As the Iraq war has curdled, the idealism and liberalism have drained out of the neoconservative vision. What remains is a noxious residue of bullying militarism. Kristol's arguments are merely the same pro-war arguments that have been used historically by right-wing parties throughout the world: Complexity is weakness, dissent is treason, willpower determines all.

Kristol's good standing in the Washington establishment depends on the wink-and-nod awareness that he's too smart to believe his own agitprop. Perhaps so. But, in the end, a fake thug is not much better than the real thing.
It is true. Kristol does have good standing in the Washington establishment. This is a deep indictment of the Washington establishment.

Scott Horton at Harper's Magazine adds to Chait's discussion of Kristol by describing the utter irrationality of Kristol's attack on Scott Beauchamp for what he wrote about American soldiers in Iraq. In this he was supported by unsourced but official statements from the U.S. military PR operation:
I have no idea whether Beauchamp’s story was accurate. But at this point I have seen enough of the Neocon corner’s war fables to immediately discount anything that emerges from it. One example: back last spring, when I was living in Baghdad, on Haifa Street, I sat in the evening reading a report by one of the core Neocon pack. He was reporting from Baghdad, and recounted a day he had spent out on a patrol with U.S. troops on Haifa Street. He described a peaceful, pleasant, upscale community. Children were out playing on the street. Men and women were out going about their daily business. Well, in fact I had been forced to spend the day “in the submarine,” as they say, missing appointments I had in town. Why? This bucolic, marvelous Haifa Street that he described had erupted in gun battles the entire day. In the view of my security guards, with which I readily concurred, it was too unsafe. And yes, I could hear the gunfire and watch some of the exchanges from my position. No American patrol had passed by and there were certainly no children playing in the street. This was the point when I realized that many of these accounts were pure fabrications.
As the disaster in Iraq deepens and the 2008 election gets closer, we can expect more lies from Kristol and his fellow neocons, stacked on top of efforts to destroy those who disagree with the lies and cover-ups.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lieberman criticizes Democrats for criticizing Maliki

Poor Joe. Apparently his Republican "friends" don't trust him enough to keep him informed of their next PR offensive. Within mere minutes of the time Joe Lieberman criticized Democrats for trashing Iraqi PM Maliki, the Republicans released "...excerpts of a new National Intelligence Estimate from our intelligence services that...criticized the performance of the Maliki government in terms that are awfully similar to the things Democrats have been saying."

I can understand why Joe has abandoned the Democrats and gotten cozy with the Republicans. Joe's sole purpose in life these days is to convince Americans to shed American blood fighting in the Middle East to defend the Israeli nation with it's right-wing Likud government and policies, and among Americans only the Republicans are willing to conduct such idiotic wars.

But you'd think that at least the Republicans would keep him in the loop regarding their intended propaganda operations, wouldn't you?

Unless they don't trust someone who has become a traitor to the Democratic Party like Joe has. If he'll stab his previous Democratic friends in the back, perhaps his new Republican friends feel they need to be cautious around him.

Bush administration humor

This is funny.

But don't read it. It's off the record.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Researchers cause out-of-body experiences

An enduring mystery for each human being is the question "What is consciousness?" Or in other words, "How is it that I perceive whatever it is that is me?

To make the question more personal, consider that as you read this, you are aware that you are reading it, and for most of us that person - that self-aware you - is looking out at the world from somewhere behind your eyes.

Who or what is that looking out from behind your eyes?

A little over 20 years ago Marvin L. Minsky published a fascinating book entitled The Society of the Mind. In it he points out that the mind actually consists of a lot of relatively simple functions. In order to get the body to do anything, there has to be a function that links together the necessary simply basic functions and activates them while suppressing those functions not needed.

Interestingly, those things we do most efficiently are things in which we are not aware that we are doing all this linking and activating of lesser functions. When we get good at doing something, it becomes unconscious, like driving a car. But when we have a problem or things cease to be routine, then we become conscious of the process and attempt to modify it. Whoever it is that becomes aware of the process is that thing we call our "self".

So what is this "self?"

No one knows, but presumably it is another function of the mind. [As an aside, remember that we are talking about the functions of the mind. How the physical brain creates the mind is another issue entirely. Let's not confuse the two things. Now, forget about the mind-brain connection for the moment and let's get back to the present issue.]

One characteristic of this "self" is that we normally identify it with our body. So how do we deal with reports of "Out of body experiences?"

Out of body experiences are subjective - that is, only the person who is having it can actually know he or she is having it. Since it can't be measured, a behaviorist psychologist would simply ignore such reports of events. Unmeasurable psychological events cannot be scientifically studied according to Behaviorism. But what if a researcher could induce such events, and the reports of the resulting "out of body experiences" could be correlated to the efforts to induce them?

Talking Points Memo provides the following Associated Press report, sourced from the Journal Science. (The journal is subscription only.)
Researchers in England and Switzerland have figured out ways to confuse the sensory signals received by the brain, allowing people to seem to be standing aside and watching themselves. [Snip]

Dr. Henrik Ehrsson of University College London's Institute of Neurology and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, explained that he was interested in a person's perception of the "self."

"I'm interested in the question of why I feel that my self is located inside my physical body. How does my brain know that I am standing right here," he said.
And what would happen to the self if a person could effectively move their eyes to another part of the room and observe themselves from an outside perspective? Would the self move with the eyes, or stay in the body, he wondered.

So seated volunteers were fitted with head-mounted video displays that allowed them to view themselves from behind, using a pair of video cameras, one for each eye.
A researcher would stand behind them and extend a plastic rod which they could see toward the area just below the cameras. At the same time another plastic rod, which they could not see, touched their chest.

The volunteers said they experienced the feeling of being behind their own body watching. Many found it "weird" and seemingly real, though not scary.
They felt "that their center of awareness 'self' is located outside their physical bodies and that they look at their bodies from the perspective of another person," he reported.

"The idea is to change the visual input and its relationship to the tactile information," he said. "The brain is always trying to interpret sensory information. The brain can trick itself."

In a second test, Ehrsson connected sensors to the skin to measure electrical conductance, which indicates emotional response.

He then allowed them to watch a hammer swing down to a point below the camera, as though it were going to hurt an unseen portion of the virtual body.
Their skin conductance registered emotional responses including fear, indicating they sensed their selves had left their physical bodies and moved to the virtual bodies where the hammer was swung.

The research has applications in neuroscience and also potentially in industrial applications involving virtual reality, he said.
So who is looking out from behind your eyes if whoever it is can be fooled into thinking it is looking at the back of your head?

Conservatism: A disease imposed on government by uncaring incompetents

Conservatism is the philosophy of a group of parasites that exist to drain society for their own benefit and give nothing back.

Progressivism is the cure.

For proof of these assertions, go read Rick Perlstein's brief history of FEMA.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Atrios describes Pundit David Ignatius' predictions of troop reduction in Iraq

Atrios goes back and lists the efforts that have been proposed to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq or get us out of there. There have been public statements by that great Pundit, David Ignatius, in June 2006, August 2006, on the Baker-Hamilton Report in December 2006 and now July 2007.

Each statement projected success in about one Friedman Unit (six months.)

Over this time while he was predicting a drop in troop strength average American troop level has increased from about 130,000 troops to the current 160,000 troops.

Gives you great confidence in his predictions, doesn't it?

More desk-pounding to attack Iran

Think Progress reports that ex-UN Ambassador John Bolton hopes we go to war against Iran within the next six months.

If Bolton supports an idea, everyone should know that it is a really, really bad idea.

An American attack on Iran is almost certain

Glenn Greenwald has today posted one of the most discouraging articles on the American actions in the Middle East that I have read since the Bush administration was idiot enough to preemptively attack Iraq.

Glenn makes a strong case that an attack on on Iran is close to inevitable. In the last two paragraphs of this post I make my case for a window of between April and June 2008 as being the most likely time for that attack.

Glenn starts by explaining that the Democrats in Congress are caving in to the Republicans on every front (led by Hillary Clinton) because they fear that to oppose the actions of Bush and Cheney in Iraq will raise antagonism towards Democrats in the 2008 election and permit a return to Republican control of Congress. This argument of Glenn's is a continuation of his post yesterday. Glenn's argument is roughly as follows:

Sen. Karl Levin came back from a two day guided tour of U.S. military bases and officer's messes in Iraq with the message from those high-ranking officers that the surge is working, but that the Maliki government has failed to take advantage of the political space that the success of the surge provided. (In this he is supported by Hillary Clinton who will sell out anyone to become President in 2008.) But of course, Levin's message is a load of crap. (See my previous post From GI's; we aren't winning, aren't wanted and can't win in Iraq from the New York Times OpEd by the 82d Airborne sergeants.) Glenn says:
As a matter of substance, Levin's call for the Prime Minister to be replaced is, of course, completely nonsensical. As Hilzoy pointed out, the political failures in Iraq are not due to Maliki's failures and replacing him will therefore achieve nothing. Beyond that, as Rosen explained in the Democracy Now interview:
The Iraqi government doesn't matter. It has no power. And it doesn't matter who you put in there. He's not going to have any power. Baghdad doesn't really matter, except for Baghdad. Baghdad used to be the most important city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled Iraq. These days, you have a collection of city states: Mosul, Basra, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniyah. Each one is virtually independent, and they have their own warlords and their own militias. And what happens in Baghdad makes no difference. So that's the first point.
Iraq is so disintegrated, so ethnically cleansed, so broken that, as Rosen points out, it does not really exist as an entity any longer:
Iraq has been changed irrevocably, I think. I don't think Iraq even -- you can say it exists anymore. There has been a very effective, systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad, of Shias --from areas that are now mostly Shia. . . . And Baghdad is now firmly in the hands of sectarian Shiite militias, and they're never going to let it go.
Rosen reports that the number of externally displaced Iraqis is now close to 3 million -- most of them Sunnis, representing a sizable portion of the Iraqi Sunni population which, in turn, further ensures Shiite sectarian militia control of most of the country. Always obscured by the exciting debate over whether we are "winning" is what happens if we "win" -- the installation of an Iran-and-Syria-friendly Shiite "government" surrounded by an ethnically divided country armed and ruled by sectarian militias loyal to a whole variety of Middle East actors. In light of all of that, Sen. Levin's claim of "military progress" is just incoherent.
The load of Levin crap is intended to allow the Democrats to win big in November of 2008. The beltway Democrats fear that if they attack the actions of the administration they can be painted as unpatriotic and as not supporting the troops while they are in combat. It is this avoidance of discussing the Administrations' idiocy that is causing the surreal "...recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day." which the 82d Airborne sergeants wrote about in their Sunday NY times OpEd.

If it were just the current status of the war in Iraq, that would be bad, but it is actually a lot worse than that. The problem is that Cheney and the Bush administration have determined to attack Iran before then. Glenn Greenwald quotes from an article by former CIA Officer Robert Baer in Time Magazine entitled Prelude to an Attack on Iran. He
...casts such an attack as virtually inevitable prior to the end of the Bush presidency, and likely much sooner than that:
Reports that the Bush Administration will put Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the terrorism list can be read in one of two ways: it's either more bluster or, ominously, a wind-up for a strike on Iran. Officials I talk to in Washington vote for a hit on the IRGC, maybe within the next six months. . . .

Strengthening the Administration's case for a strike on Iran, there's a belief among neo-cons that the IRGC is the one obstacle to democratic and a friendly Iran. They believe that if we were to get rid of the IRGC, the clerics would fall, and our thirty-years war with Iran over. It's another neo-con delusion, but still it informs White House thinking.

And what do we do if just the opposite happens -- a strike on Iran unifies Iranians behind the regime? An Administration official told me it's not even a consideration. "IRGC IED's are a casus belli for this administration. There will be an attack on Iran."
The purpose of attacking Iran is to destabilize the Iranian government and cause it to fall and be replaced. But Glenn has the following opinion (as do i)
Given our militarily weakened state, the latter goal seems virtually impossible. And, ironically as always, a bombing campaign against Iran would do more to strengthen that government than anything else we could do. But Iran is the Evil Enemy. And Enemies must be attacked and bombed and harmed. The people who think that way are very much still in control, beginning with the Oval Office, and it is very difficult to see how that outcome will be averted. Certainly the likes of Carl Levin aren't going to stop it.
Anyone who thinks that a military attack on Iran will cause the overthrow of the Iranian government should look at the history of the Soviet Union.

The purges of high military leaders by Joe Stalin were not conducted because Joe was an evil man. They were conducted because the USSR was highly unstable and Stalin's collectivization efforts had made a revolt quite likely. Stalin was negotiating peace with Germany because he feared losing control of the USSR in the case of war.

But then the Germans attacked the USSR, and instead of overthrowing Stalin they rallied behind him in the Great Patriotic War. Americans often don't realize it but other than in the Pacific, which was a battle of primarily Navy and Marines, the deadliest, most significant, and most massive battles of WW II were fought in the USSR. Soviet citizens may have hated Stalin generally, but they hated the German invaders more.

Iran is one of the oldest nations on Earth. The people there may not like their current government but they will join together to repel any attacker and to prevent that attacker from achieving their goals. Americans reacted exactly the same way September 12, 2001, and Bush/Cheney/Rove/Rumsfeld stupidly threw away their opportunity to lead a unified America against the real terrorists who attacked us.

Only stupid or ignorant people would ignore the reality that an American attack on Iran will unify the Iranian people behind whatever government they have, no matter how much it is disliked. Bush is both stupid and ignorant, and Cheney is certainly ignorant. Yet based on their stupidity and ignorance, along with the acquiescence of the Democratic politicians in Washington, the U.S. is going to soon initiate another unnecessary and unwinnable war in the Middle East.

The Democratic politicians are sitting on their hands for fear of losing the election in November 2008. If they sit on their hands past the excessively early primaries, they need not fear primary challenges. I'd guess that the main reason Cheney/Bush haven't attacked Iran yet is exactly that. Such an attack would cause the defeat in the primaries of too many Democrats who are supporting the war in Iraq and soon, Iran.

The primaries are why I think we have not yet attacked Iran. As soon as the primaries in the larger Blue states are over, Iran will be attacked. The Democratic politicians, by their silence when it counted, will be comitted to support the attack.

If the attack is done no later than about June 2008 things cannot have gone to crap badly enough yet to be a major threat to Republican reelections in November 2008. That makes a window of between about April and June as the most likely time-of-attack. Look for sharply increased media propaganda just before that.

Sure hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bush lost Afghanistan because he is simple-minded

When al Qaeda terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept 11, 2001 everyone knew where they came from. Afghanistan. Bin Laden had been working with the Taliban to control that country and use it as a base so that al Qaeda could use it to train and send out terrorists to disrupt the moderate Islamic and secular governments he wanted to replace. Since they were remaining in power largely by support from the U.S., al Qaeda also went after the U.S.

Pakistani scholar Ahmed Rashid, who has spent thirty years studying the connections between the Pakistani military and religious extremist groups points out in Newsweek that the Afghans hate the Taliban.
The mountains and valleys surrounding Afghanistan are among the least understood parts of the globe, he says. And he believes his findings help policymakers understand and alleviate tensions in the volatile region. He's shared his research with the world and has had high hopes, particularly for successive U.S. administrations. In recent years that hope has been dashed.

Until Bush came into office, Ahmed thought his words mattered to America. In the 1980s, he discussed Taliban resistance with ambassadors over tea. In the 1990s, he collaborated with policymakers to raise Afghanistan's profile in the Clinton White House. But during the Bush administration, he feels his risky research has been for naught.

The administration has "actively rejected expertise and embraced ignorance," Ahmed told me inside his fortress. Soon after the Taliban fled Kabul in late 2001, Ahmed visited Washington DC's policy elite as “the flavor of the month.” His bestseller Taliban had come out just the year before. The State Department, USAID, the National Security Council and the White House all asked him to present lectures on how to stabilize post-war Afghanistan.

Ahmed traversed the city’s bureaucracies and think tanks repeating “one common sense line”: In Afghanistan you have a “population on its knees, with nothing there, absolutely livid with the Taliban and the Arabs of Al Qaeda . . . willing to take anything.” The U.S. could "rebuild Afghanistan very quickly, very cheaply and make it a showcase in the Muslim world that says ‘Look U.S. intervention is not all about killing and bombing; it’s also about rebuilding and reconstruction…about American goodness and largesse.”
What did Bush and Cheney do? Same thing they did to New Orleans. They took their eyes off the ball and tried to solve a minor problem in Iraq by using military force. Bush and Cheney attack people. They don't do nation-building or city-building.

The only tool the Bush administration recognizes is military power. Instead of using aid to rebuild Afghanistan they are trying to dominate it militarily.
America has done the same thing to Pakistan, says Ahmed. After 9/11, the current administration embraced Musharraf’s military regime unquestioningly because it waved a big stick and assured Bush it would smash terrorists with it. America took Musharraf at his word. Meanwhile the dictator "pursued a dual strategy," hoarding U.S. funds while letting pockets of extremism grow.

For years Ahmed has been accusing Musharraf of deceit and calling for America to pressure him to democratize. Now, Ahmed says, America’s vocal, singular focus on terrorism makes it "virtually impossible to convince average Pakistanis that the war against extremism is not just America’s war, it is theirs too.” This lack of local buy-in exacerbates the threat of transnational terror.
Bush never understood foreign policy. He failed to prepare for a terrorist attack on America because he could not conceive of it, and Cheney did not think that terrorism was possible unless it was state-supported. They both thought the Clinton administration people were ignorant and deluded when they briefed the incoming Bush administration that the greatest threat to America during the early 21st Century was going to be terrorism organized by non-state organizations.

That's why they considered the two most important foreign policy issues to be military containment of China and the anti-ballistic missile system. Because the guys at the top did not consider terrorism to be important, the managers of the agencies that had information on terrorists and terrorism (FBI and CIA that we know of) did not consider it important to investigate foreign Muslim aviation students who only wanted to know how to fly a jet but did not consider it important to learn to land or take off. Not did the FBI consider it important to follow up when the CIA informed them that known al Qaeda terrorists had traveled from Thailand to California.

September 11 was a real wake up call to the Bush administration, but one they were not ready for. Their reaction was to increase their secrecy so that no one would realize just how badly they had screwed up and to develop a public relations response to al Qaeda. The PR response was (and still is) encapsulated in the slogan "the Global War on Terror."

War, of course, means troops and bombs, not civilian foreign aid or diplomacy. The Bush administration does not DO civilian foreign aid or diplomacy. They do war and they do pubic relations.

War still means troops. Cheney and the NeoCons do not trust anything short of killing their enemies or holding a gun on them until they are imprisoned. They don't trust any enemy to hold to an agreement, especially in the Middle East. On the PR side they are aware that the word "democracy" is something that a lot of people profess to believe in, and democracy means voting. So they offer people the option between war and elections, and assuming that elections means democracy, they will hold off bombing those people. They believe in bribery or war.

They have been horribly shocked that instead of taking bribes those ungrateful Muslims will fight an insurgency. I am sure that the Bush reaction is that you just can't trust people like that.

The people in the Middle East have a very realistic view of the Bush administration. The Bushies will demand obedience or they will attack your town and kill everyone who moves. Those troops don't care what the townspeople want or need. They just demand obedience or the troops and bombs will be sent in. Then the troops and bombs arrive, the killing will be indiscriminate, since the American soldiers don't speak the language or respect the culture.

Bush and the Bushies consider the terrorists to have a single purpose - to destroy America. They know this and don't care why it is true. Without any knowledge of the causes of the terrorism, they don't trust the terrorists.

Since the Bushies think in sound bytes, the only reason they can imagine for such a hatred of America is that the terrorists are Muslims. Without being able to make a clear distinction between "terrorist" and "Muslim" they assume that all Muslims are terrorists. [This same inability to distinguish between two groups without a clear boundary between them leads to the fallacy many conservatives make when they assume that a human being is human from the moment of conception, and thus assume that abortion is murder. It is a symptom of minds which cannot deal with logical and linguistic complexities and demand that leaders provide certainties.]

Since the Bushies cannot understand the terrorists, they do not trust them. The only way to deal with someone you cannot trust who might threaten you is to use force.

The experts offer complex explanations for why the terrorists are behaving the way they do, but the Bushies cannot understand or trust the complex explanations, so they don't trust the experts, either.

So instead of going into Afghanistan after September 11 and removing the Taliban and al Qaeda, then working to create a nation that would reject such extremism, the Bushies bought into the NeoCon sound byte that they needed to create an Iraqi showcase and let the magic of the free market cause all the Middle Eastern nations to emulate the new Iraq.

Rebuilding Afghanistan would be a complex program. The NeoCons and Ahmed Chalabi offered a simplistic solution that depended on the magic of the free market rather than trust in all those fancy experts.

Simple-minded people act on simple slogans rather than on complex and difficult to understand analysis. Rebuilding Afghanistan was going to be a complex proposition. Attacking Iraq was a lot easier.

So now we are bogged down in an Iraq too complex to understand, Afghanistan is being taken over again by the Taliban and has become the number one producer of Heroin in the world, and the unqualified American support of Pakistan's President Musharraf and his military is threatening to turn Pakistan (a nuclear power) over to the fundamentalist extremists.

In the meantime, Bush remains simple-minded, operating as though sound bytes intended for political public relations campaigns were actually governing policies and Darth Cheney continues to distrust everyone and depend on military force as the solution to all problems foreign and domestic. The only trust that exists is between Bush and Cheney. Cheney trusts that Bush will remain simple-minded and under his control, and Bush trusts Cheney to fix the messes that are too complex for Bush to begin to understand.

The rest of us get to watch the rapid decline of our once-great nation on all fronts as these fools keep trying to solve complex problems with nothing but simplistic slogans-for-policies or military power.

The conservatives are declining in America

Digby presents her analysis of the recent political history of the U.S. It is a lot more positive than I have felt for a long time.

Here is an excerpt of her superb post:
Rove was hailed as a genius because he told everyone he was a genius. (And there was a certain genius in being able to get such a patently unacceptable candidate [Bush 43] into high office.) But the truth is that he has been swimming against a strong tide for some time. We have all been thinking that the Bush II administration was the high water mark of the conservative era, but it was actually a decade earlier --- around 1994. Then we entered into a period of parity and now, finally, the momentum seems to be on the progressive side.

Miraculously, 9/11 only temporarily stalled that momentum politically but it didn't reverse it, largely because Karl Rove missed the opportunity to actually change the course of that slow moving realignment by having Bush reach out to the Democrats and the rest of the world and forge a new sort of consensus. Rove had Bush go the other way and stoke the base. It was a fatal error. And it is the ultimate proof of Rove's arrogant mediocrity. He was given a chance to possibly accomplish what up to then had only been hype
[create a permanent Republican majority.] and he made the wrong choice, most likely because he couldn't give up the idea that he could make it happen through his own strength of will. (We don't need no stinking consensus...) [snip]

Until they reinvent themselves into something new, their movement is moribund and has been that way for a lot longer than all of us realized. For the Republican party it's always morning in America, 1984. They are a nostalgia act and don't even know it.
If Digby's argument is correct, then the Republicans (and especially the White House) have known they were declining at least since Bush 43 was appointed President in 2001. That would explain the major efforts to steal elections. They are in decline, and they reached the pinnacle using Rove's idea that a critical margin of voters would vote for perceived winners. That's the bandwagon effect. But it only works for you as long as you are perceived to be a winner.

I'd guess that Katrina sounded the death knell for that "winner" perception, and it first showed up in the polls with loss of the independent vote. The election of 2006 confirmed that loss, and the 2008 election is going to be a blood-bath.

The wave of Republican retirements from the House that is just beginning is a strong indication that the Republican Congressmen have seen the writing on the wall. [The Senate, being evenly divided at present, still leaves Republican Senators hope that they can perhaps get back into the majority. There is also the fact that being a U.S. Senator, even in the minority, is itself a very powerful position.]

So I feel reasonably certain that the conservative movement is dead, or at least moribund in the foreseeable future.

For the more extended period, however, I an really concerned about the shift of power away from Congress to the President. How much of what the Bush administration has done to create the "Unitary Presidency" can be reversed - ever?

The Cold War saw a period in which the Presidency took on a number of wartime powers beginning in WW II (see, for example Unilateral Presidential Powers: Significant Executive Orders, 1949-99 by Kenneth R. Mayer and Kevin Price) and never gave them up. Add the recent power-grab by Cheney-Bush to that, and the Constitution is beginning to look quite lopsided in favor of the President. The founders intended that Congress be the source of national power and the President be their executive officer.

In any case, I strongly recommend that you read the article Nostalgia Act by Digby.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Atrificial life within 3 to 10 years of being created in lab

From The Associated Press:
WASHINGTON - Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they’re getting closer.

Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of “wet artificial life.” [Snip]

That first cell of synthetic life — made from the basic chemicals in DNA — may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you’ll have to look in a microscope to see it.

“Creating protocells has the potential to shed new life on our place in the universe,” Bedau said. “This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.”

And several scientists believe man-made life forms will one day offer the potential for solving a variety of problems, from fighting diseases to locking up greenhouse gases to eating toxic waste.

Bedau figures there are three major hurdles to creating synthetic life:

* A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.
* A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.
* A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.

One of the leaders in the field, Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School, predicts that within the next six months, scientists will report evidence that the first step — creating a cell membrane — is “not a big problem.” Scientists are using fatty acids in that effort.

His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over. [Snip]

In Gainesville, Fla., Steve Benner, a biological chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution is attacking that problem by going outside of natural genetics. Normal DNA consists of four bases — adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (known as A,C,G,T) — molecules that spell out the genetic code in pairs. Benner is trying to add eight new bases to the genetic alphabet.
Martin Marty made a statement in an interview with Bill Moyers that really fascinated me. He said that the unknown can be broken into two categories. One category is a "Problem" which can be isolated and placed in boundaries, then studied objectively and ultimately understood. The other category is a "Mystery" which cannot be isolated and studied objectively. Mysteries, since they have no boundaries, always include the researcher.

Marty didn't specifically say so in the interview, but I'd say that the study of mysteries is what religion is all about. This article suggests that the creation of life is being or has been moved from the category of mystery to the category of problem.

See also my previous post: where I explain the role of religion in society and differentiate religion (the study of mysteries and the place of human beings in the Universe) from organized religion.

Religion is the study of the mysteries of the Universe. Organized religion is a hierarchical social institution in which religious theories are created and used to - among other things - justify a class of aristocrats (both administrators and priests) who do not produce their own food as well as to justify the existence of religious organizations themselves.

See also: where I lay out my reasoning for the differences and similarities between government and religion.

Problems too big for private enterprise

It is clear to anyone not blinded by ideology that some problems are best handled by letting private for-profit organizations deal with them and others cannot be solved by private enterprise. Creating and selling toothpaste, clothes and consumer electronics are not areas the government should be involved in. The products are manufactured and distributed as a matter of routine and are easily exchanged for money from the end users. For larger products such as automobiles lenders can establish systems of payment that are appropriate for those who need those items. No one dies because those goods and services are not provided as a matter of Right.

Providing military defense, police and justice services and gathering standardized date on the entire population are functions best handled by government because those functions cannot be turned into commodities which the end user can easily be charged for. This includes social infra-structure like building and maintaining roads, bridges, port facilities, levees, dams, etc.

Managing a city and a large region fit into the government category. So does planning and preparation for disasters, natural or man-made. Which brings us to Katrina. The problem with protection from a hurricane, evacuation ahead of it and recovery after it is that it requires close coordination, a lot of preparation work, the training and developing of a professional corps of recovery workers, and it all has to be done on a massive scale which is larger any private organization.

If a hurricane or earthquake were a regular and predictable occurrence, then it might be possible to let a private organization charge subscription fees and offer preparation and recovery services. Such an organization would be an insurance company. The problem is that any expenditures for preparation and for maintaining infrastructure would not be supported voluntarily by all of the population getting the services. This is the "Free Rider Problem."

The "Free Rider Problem" alone kicks the situation into one that requires government (with taxing power) to handle it. It fails just as subscription fire departments in cities failed. A fire department can't just let non-subscriber's property burn down because the fires will jump to the property of subscribers.

The next problem is the cost of preparation for an uncertain but massive event. Rick Perlstein discusses that in today's edition of "Conservative Failure."

Conservatives in government ignore warnings that are likely to cost a great deal of money and may or may not come true. In a private business the managers define the market they will serve and then focus on that market to the exclusion of other subjects. This permits tight focus so that the market can be served at the lowest possible cost. It does have the negative that it sometimes prevents top managers from recognizing other opportunities, but private businesses are small enough that if one organizations ignores a market, another will very probably serve it.

Governments are monopolies. They don't allow competitors. [This is necessary, but I will not discuss why here.] They cannot define a limited group of people to be their market and serve only that group. Governments are responsible for everyone withing their borders, and to some extent, for citizens outside their borders. This is not a choice, it is by definition.

The tight focus on a limited market that permits private enterprise organizations to limit costs and serve only those who are easy to serve is an impossibility for government bureaucrats. The problems dealt with by government are also, by definition, those which private organizations cannot handle effectively.

At this point, consider what it means to be efficient vs. to be effective. An organization is efficient as long as it provides output at the lowest possible cost. Serving only the easy customers and focusing on the process of serving them allows for efficiency.

An organization is effective as long is it performs the most important tasks, regardless of cost.

Government cannot choose which customers to serve most cheaply. It must serve those who it is most important to serve. When a few people reached Canada a few years ago with a very infectious form of influenza, they had to be isolated regardless of what it cost to find and isolate them. The problem was of uncertain size and seriousness, but clearly of great importance. It was too large to be handled by private business organizations, even assuming they could afford to throw the resources necessary at the task. Also, there was no room for an individual who might have the flu to tell government to leave him alone. Free riders are not allowed in Public Health problems. Public health is for this reason a government function, not a private business one.

People who think that the private enterprise model should be the model used by government organizations as well simply don't realize what they would have to give up.

If you haven't already done so, go read Rick Perlstein's description of the conservative failure to deal with Katrina. It's important.