Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sign of the Apocalypse #51: George and Britney

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Watching Back to the Future yesterday for the millionth time -- yes, it's that good, and the two sequels aren't far behind -- I was struck once again by the scene where Marty and Dr. Brown meet for the first time back in 1955. This part, in particular:

Doc: So tell me, Future Boy, who's president of the United States in 1985?

Marty: Ronald Reagan.

Doc: Ronald Reagan, the actor? Ha! Then who's vice president? Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the first lady.

Marty: Whoa, wait Doc.

Doc: And Jack Benny is the secretary of the treasury. Ah.

Marty: Doc, you gotta listen to me.

Doc: I've had enough practical jokes for one evening. Goodnight, Future Boy.

To Dr. Brown, it is inconceivable that the president in 1985 is an actor -- particularly, one imagines, such a second-rate actor and right-wing blowhard as Reagan. He wants proof that Marty is from the future. This fact is a joke, however, not proof.

Marty soon provides ample proof. He knows how Doc bumped his head, knows about the flux capacitor. And then, of course, he shows him the De Lorean. And the video camera:

Doc: This is truly amazing, a portable television studio. No wonder your president has to be an actor, he's got to look good on television.

Doc is right, of course. Presidents, and presidential candidates, need to be telegenic, and tech-savvy. They need to look good on television -- as well as on YouTube and the campaign videos they put up on their websites. Policy, principle, and character still matter, but image matters, too, more than ever. I'm not saying anything new here. Everyone knows this.

But consider how far we've come. The line between entertainment and politics has been blurred -- by Clinton, to a great extent, but any president of the '90s would have blurred it, been required to blur it. Bush is less Hollywood than Clinton, but he is no less a product of our multimedia age, a politician-president dependent on the manufacturing of image, on how he is sold to the American people and to the world beyond. And we all know what he and his manufacturers wanted that image to be: a man of conviction, of deep religiosity, a common man, tough, determined, strong, the virtuous leader who stands firm against infidels at home and abroad.

But what a joke he has become. Are we even in a position to understand this?

Nixon was unpopular, too, a generation ago, and for good reason. He was a crook, a drunk, a paranoid, and there was Vietnam and Watergate. But my purpose here is not to compare Bush to Nixon, and certainly not to diminish the gravity of that horrible period in American history -- liberating, in the end, but horrifying, at the time. It is, rather, to remark on the appalling poverty of George W. Bush and of the Bush presidency generally.

For all that he has done wrong, for all that has gone into making him one of the worst presidents of all time, and his presidency one of the worst of all time, and without diminishing the gravity of this horrible period in American history, Bush has become a laughingstock, the butt of a perpetual political joke, an embarrassment, to himself and to his country.

His address on the Iraq War and Occupation this week was but the latest episode, predictably appalling. There was an attempt to present the manufactured image, a resolute president, but the image is transparent now, and has been for a long time. We all see through it, at least those of us who aren't trapped by delusion, and the content and substance of Bush's address could be, and was, observed and analyzed for what it was: as much of a joke as the man who delivered it.

Just how much of a joke? I wasn't quite sure until I read an intriguing post by Michael Currie Schaffer at TNR's The Plank:

On Sunday night, it seemed pretty clear that Britney Spears' performance at the MTV awards ceremony was the biggest prime-time fiasco of the week. Then came Thursday night and President Bush's Oval Office address on Iraq. At first blush, coverage of the white trash kid turned tabloid fodder and the rich kid turned good ol' boy would seem to have little in common (besides, of course, the four years of high-profile futility that followed the respective 2003 triumphs of Spears' In the Zone album and Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech). But what's astonishing is the similarities in this week's coverage of the two fallen ingenues.

Schaffer goes on to compare the coverage in juxtaposition. And it fits: Bush is Britney, Britney is Bush, they are two sides of the same coin, the same joke.

Whatever one can say in retrospect about Nixon, what is now abundantly clear is that the best comparison to Bush is a white-trash pop tart with a drug problem and possibly serious mental-health issues.

What more do you need to know about the state of America today? This is a Sign of the Apocalypse, to be sure, but it is also, if there ever was on, a Sign of America's Imminent Collapse.

Thankfully, he'll be gone by January '09. But how much more damage can he do, jokes and all, before then?

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The crony general slinks away -- "I have seen tyranny, dishonesty, corruption, and depravity of types I never thought possible"

By J. Thomas Duffy

The question really begs, given his memory issues, is if Crony General Alberto Gonzales remembered where the exit was.

The Crony General served his last day yesterday, leaving with the scales of justice very much not balanced, after his caretaking role as the nations' top law enforcement officer.

And it is just astounding how telling statements hang on this man.

The Garlic pointed out how The Commander Guy noted, shortly after it was announced the Crony General would slink away, that he "He aggressively and successfully pursued public corruption...".

Yes, he did that quite well, and the Bush Grindhouse is most appreciative for that.

And yesterday, who exactly was the Crony General referring to when he served this one up:

"Over the past two and a half years, I have seen tyranny, dishonesty, corruption, and depravity of types I never thought possible," Gonzales said at a Hispanic Heritage Month ceremony at Bolling Air Force Base. "I've seen things I didn't know man was incapable of ..."


If The Decider Guy's book is titled Dead Certain, the Crony General's should be, using the above statement, Dead On.

Whatever you do Alberto, be sure not to go fishing with Dick Cheney, or any of his men.

Bonus Crony General Links

Andrew Cohen: Good Riddance

Murray Waas: Aborted DOJ Probe Probably Would Have Targeted Gonzales

Washington Post: Justice Dept. Probing Whether Gonzales Lied

Top Ten Cloves: How It Would Be Different If Alberto Gonzales Was The Head of March Madness

Alberto Gonzales Sings 'Justice For Sale'

Two peas in a very well corrupted -- but protected -- pod.

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Around the world: China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Germany, and Japan

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Another entry in our ongoing series -- some stories from around the world that might be of interest to you:

1) China: "China's Supreme Court has ordered judges to be more sparing in the imposition of the death penalty. An order on its website said execution should be reserved for 'an extremely small number of serious offenders'."

This is a very positive step in the right direction -- and I say that as an ardnet opponent of the death penalty and as a long-time critic of China on human and civil rights. One hopes that there is something to it, that it isn't some charade of justice to bolster the country's image as it develops into ever more of an economic superpower, seeking ever more international investment, and as it prepares to host next year's Olympic Games.

For more on China and the Olympics -- and on support for China from Bush and Spielberg, among other such complicit luminaries -- see Eric Reeves's important piece at TNR: "How... can the premier event in international sports be hosted by a nation complicit in the most heinous international crimes? The Chinese regime is guilty of perpetrating the ongoing destruction of Tibet, supporting the vicious Myanmar junta, engaging in gross domestic human rights abuses, and, perhaps worst of all, facilitating genocide in Darfur."


2) Russia: Vladimir Putin, the country's autocratic president, is set to step down next year. But don't count him out just yet -- "Putin has said he expects to remain an influential figure in Russian politics after he steps down next March. Speaking to Western journalists and academics, he did not rule out standing for president again in 2012 or 2016."

At least he's not pulling a Chavez... yet.

Or... is he? Putin picked the relatively obscure Viktor Zubkov to be Russia's prime minister this week. Zubkov is, needless to say, Putin's man, and "Putin also gave a heavy hint that... Zubkov might emerge as a candidate to succeed him as president". Putin's caretaker president, perhaps, for '08 to '12, the puppet to Putin's puppeteer.

Vladimir the Terrible, who doesn't think much of dissent and opposition, will not give up power anytime soon.


3) Zimbabwe: How bad are conditions in that tyrannized African country? "Pets are being slaughtered for meat in shortage-stricken Zimbabwe and record numbers of animals have been surrendered to shelters or abandoned by owners no longer able to feed them, animal welfare activists say. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it could not feed surrendered animals or find them new homes and was being forced to kill them and destroy the corpses."

Horrible. (For our previous posts on Zimbabwe, see here.)


4) Germany: Troubling news from the former GDR -- "The eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, which had the highest incidence of far-right attacks in Germany last year, has launched a parliamentary inquiry into the region's police force following accusations that it has failed to investigate racist assaults properly. The probe comes at a time of heightened public awareness of right-wing extremism in the east of Germany..."

Such right-wing extremism is never good, but German neo-Nazism, rightly or wrongly, seems particularly troubling, given that country's past. To its credit, though, it has a good record combatting neo-Nazism -- the West, that is, not so much the East, and now united Germany is contending with long-dormant extremism in the latter. At least the state government seems to be taking action.


5) Japan: "After a 17-year hiatus between lunar missions, Japan launched an unmanned orbiter today that carries the hopes of a nation looking to claim its place as a serious space power."

We are only at the beginning of what will be a long and likely contentious battle to dominate space.

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I second the motion! -- "More than ever, impeachment is the cure"

By J. Thomas Duffy

Just caught a great post by Scarecrow, over on Firedoglake:

Scarecrow: More Than Ever, Impeachment Is the Cure

Yes! -- I second the motion!

Following The Commander Guy's delusional rambling last night, the iron is as hot as ever for the Democrats to strike... And, Lord, knows, there's ample violations that can be charged against the Bush Grindhouse (wading through those may be the bigger part of the problem).

What's to lose?

Quite likely, a majority of the country will rally behind you.

The consequences of not removing this rogue administration is that, should a Dem win the 2008 Presidential Election, they will be inheriting all the bullshit that has been built up... Over 100,000 troop still in Iraq... The diminished standing and integrity of United States of America around the world (I'd place a bet that many of our international friends would stand and cheer at Impeachment hearings being called).

The Garlic has had an open invitation out there since July, absent any Congressional action -- A Citizen's Arrest.

And for you, Ms. Speaker of the House, pulling up my best Ronald Reagan imitation -- "Sit Down At That Table!"

Bonus Impeachment Links

Digby: Impeachment


The Raw Story: Kucinich announces impeachment charges against Vice President Cheney

(Cross-posted at The Garlic)

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The lies and exaggerations of George W. Bush

By Michael J.W. Stickings

President Bush is set to address the nation, and the world, in just over half an hour. Topic: Iraq.

What will he say? The Politico has excerpts of his speech -- "as released by the White House for use on dinnertime newscasts" -- which means we can all start ripping it to shreds, as it deserves, well in advance of the actual event. This also saves us from the annoyance and simultaneous anger of having to sit through, and pay close attention to, yet another presentation, however inept, of this president's self-righteous delusion.

Some key points:

1) Once more, as if nothing has been learned, the war in Iraq will be linked to the war on terror. They are, in Bush's view, or at least according to the spin, one and the same: "Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq’s government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home." It is true that al Qaeda is operating in Iraq, but that version of al Qaeda is not the only opponent of the U.S. war and occupation and was not operational in Iraq before the war. Al Qaeda existed before the war, but this al Qaeda didn't. And it is not the case that the objectives of the terrorists and extremists in Iraq are the same as those of terrorists and extremists elsewhere. I'm sure the latter are happy to have the U.S. bogged down in a lost war in the Middle East while they plot further activity.

2) The Surge is working: "our success in meeting these objectives" -- namely, providing security -- "now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home." To be fair, there has been some success -- but no one really doubted that there would at least be some success. There has been success in Anbar, for example, where the U.S. has allied itself with Sunnis, formerly of the insurgency in some cases, against al Qaeda. But how long will that delicate arrangement of coinciding self-interest last? Similarly, some neighbourhoods in Baghdad may be safer than they were before the Surge -- although the casualty rates for the city, as for the country as a whole, remain extraordinarily high. Again, though, how long will that that last?

Furthermore, as Slate's Fred Kaplan pointed out the other day (and has pointed out repeatedly, not that the mainstream news media pay attention to such things, so gullible they remain, so beholden to talking points), "the U.S. Army and Marines [will] run out of deployable troops" in April of next year. Bush will argue that some troops will come home because of the success, but the truth is that troops have to come home no matter what. The Surge will not end because it has been, or by then will have been, successful, it will end because there just aren't any more troops to keep it going. Bush will lie about the Surge's success, or at least will exaggerate what successes there have been, but he will also lie about why some of the troops will be coming home.

3) Consider this idiotic statement: "Americans want our country to be safe, and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq. Yet those of us who believe success in Iraq is essential to our security, and those who believe we should bring our troops home, have been at odds. Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home." First, "success in Iraq," whatever that even means (it keeps changing, with the bar being continually lowered as realities on the ground contradict the warmongers' faulty plans and rosy predictions), is not essential to U.S. security. Yes, the U.S. and local allies are fighting al Qaeda in some parts of Iraq, but a U.S. withdrawal would not necessarily unleash that version of al Qaeda on American interests. Al Qaeda in Iraq could merge with al Qaeda elsewhere, but al Qaeda is operational, and a threat to U.S. security, regardless of the fortunes of al Qaeda in Iraq. Besides, it is probably better for al Qaeda to have the U.S. spending so much of its military and political capital fighting its offshoot in Iraq.

Bush's argument is also unfair. On one side he puts those who care about U.S. security, while on the other he puts those who want the troops to come home. Which is to say, those who want the troops to come home do not care about U.S. security. But the Iraq War and Occupation has actually weakened U.S. security by overstretching the military, exacerbating instability in the heart of the Middle East, straining relations with allies, alienating and antagonizing the Muslim world, boosting the cause of al Qaeda and of like-minded terrorists generally, and turning U.S. attention away from the more serious threats elsewhere. What's more, the Iraq War is not a war against terrorists but a war of occupation in the middle of a sectarian civil war. Bush, as always, wants to blame others for what has gone wrong, or for what could go wrong, but he has only himself -- and those around him, those who have waged and supported this war -- to blame.

Just wait, though: more and more blame will be directed at the Iraqis themselves. It will be their fault -- along with the fault of the war's opponents at home, Bush's political opponents -- that the war wasn't a success. Eventually, the U.S. will withdraw to troop levels well below those of the pre-surge period and Iraq will be left much as it is now, a mess with pockets of temporary, periodic success. And Bush and the warmongers will

4) And consider this one: "Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East. We should be able to agree that we must defeat Al Qaeda, counter Iran, help the Afghan government, work for peace in the Holy Land and strengthen our military so we can prevail in the struggle against terrorists and extremists." Yes, that's true, the U.S. does have "a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East," but the U.S. war and occupation has not prevented chaos and not provided hope -- in fact, it has done the reverse: so much chaos, so little hope. And the question is not about agreement on the points Bush lists but about how to achieve those goals: How do you defeat al Qaeda? How do you deal with Iran? How do you help Kabul? On these points, Bush, the Bush agenda, has been wrong, wrong, and wrong.

So what is Bush going to do? To support Petraeus, of course, to do what Petraeus has recommended, which is to continue the Surge until it is no longer possible to sustain it. On this, Bush and Petraeus are of the same mind -- the partisan Petraeus, who has expressed interest in running for president, whose political future has been talked up by Krazy Kristol and others on the right. How could they not be of the same mind?

One final point here: Bush seems to believe -- that is, he is making the case, whether he believes it or not -- that the Iraq War is the central theater of the larger war to defend America and defeat America's new Enemy, the monolith of Islamic Terrorism. To drive that point home, he drew it all back to 9/11, again, as he and those on his side so often have: If the Enemy is not defeated in Iraq, it will strike again, there will be another 9/11, or worse -- that is the message, in essence, his argument in support of the Iraq War and Occupation. It is, to repeat, a flawed argument, but it is the argument we will keep hearing from those who find themselves on the wrong side of reality.


UPDATE (9.43 pm): It's over. There will be a lot of reaction to Bush's address -- on television, in newspapers, on the radio, in the blogosphere, from candidates, experts, pundits, and anyone and everyone with an opinion -- but what more is there to say, what hasn't already been said? Thankfully, the Democrats are hitting back -- Obama was quite eloquent just now on Larry King -- and they need to direct the media's fickle and short-sighted attention to Bush's lies and exaggerations, to the truth behind the talking points and happy talk.

CNN has a recap.

I'll have more later.


UPDATE (11:19 pm): USA Today's Mike Carney has reaction from leading Democrats and Republicans.

Here's Ted Kennedy: "It’s clear that President Bush intends to drag this process out month after month, year after year, so that he can hand his Iraqi policy off to the next President. We have to change our policy now. Until we do, our troops will continue shedding blood in the streets of Baghdad and our national security will remain at risk."


UPDATE (11:24 pm): Joe Gandelman has a great round-up over at The Moderate Voice. (I've cross-posted this post there -- see here.)

Via Joe -- Make sure to read Andrew Sullivan's masterful response to Bush's address. Here's a key passage:

He seemed almost broken to me. His voice raspy, his eyes watery, his affect exhausted, his facial expression almost bewildered. I thought I would feel angry; but I found myself verging toward pity. The case was so weak, the argument so thin, the evidence for optimism so obviously strained that one wondered whom he thought he was persuading. And the way he framed his case was still divorced from the reality we see in front of our nose: that Iraq is not, as he still seems to believe, full of ordinary people longing for democracy and somehow stymied solely by "extremists" or al Qaeda or Iran, but a country full of groups of people who cannot trust one another, who are still living in the wake of unimaginable totalitarian trauma, who have murdered and tortured and butchered each other in pursuit of religious and ethnic pride and honor for centuries. This is what Bush cannot recognize: there is no Iraq. There are no Iraqis. There may have been at one point -- but what tiny patina of national unity that once existed to counter primordial sectarian loyalty was blown away by the anarchy of the Rumsfeld-Franks invasion. The president's stunning detachment from this reality tragically endures -- whether out of cynicism or delusion or, more worryingly, a simple intellectual inability to understand the country he is determined that the United States occupy for the rest of our lives.

Brilliant. And exactly right.

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By Capt. Fogg

If you're a human being, you are saddened by the story of Youssif, the Iraqi boy set on fire by unknown assailants. His face is deformed and we can only imagine how this child's view of the world is deformed by the pain he's been through and the ugliness he sees in the mirror. Of course you and I are pleased to see that some American hearts bled enough that he will receive the best in burn treatment and reconstructive surgery in the US.

Dr. Peter Grossman spoke on CNN this afternoon, outside the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks California, about the course of surgery that will probably involve more pain and as much as a year of treatment. He seemed a bit non-plussed when the reporter asked him how seeing Youssif had changed his views. For a second I half expected a denunciation of war, of violence, of the unthinking, uncaring horror of using massive military force to bomb crowded cities, but no, Grossman gave CNN what CNN wanted.

CNN wants heroes and has been blathering for weeks about heroes as though we needed men of marble instead of a world where common decency was common. Acting as though the masked men who burned a little boy could be taken out of context of the country we have destroyed in the name of fake freedom and real oil, he told us that all the good, warm, caring loving Americans who will surely send him teddy bears and pay for his expenses until they forget about him, balance out the bad men.

Youssif is 5. Had he been a dozen years older we would care about him as much as we care about all the other "Hadjis" we identify with "alqaedainiraq" -- many of whom are shot, arrested, tortured, and blown to bits with little fanfare every day: just another brown skinned teenager standing in the way of the oil giants. It's too much to expect of CNN to ask how many children have been burned by American bombs or Iraqi bombs in the war America started; burned maimed, killed, orphaned, made homeless and deprived of a childhood and education. It's exactly what we expect of these toads to blame it on "alqaedainiraq." It's exactly the kind of tokenism we expect of self-idolizing Americans.

That this story was followed by an expensively produced ad gushing over America and it's commitment to FREEDOM accompanied by golden sunsets and pictures of men in battle dress, is fitting. Why bother with truth, justice, honesty, and a concern for humanity when we can grab the oil, kill anyone who stands in our way, and make it all disappear behind a curtain of flags and patriotic advertising and a few token acts of mercy?

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Headline of the Day (Russian sex edition)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

They do have curious ways of getting things done in certain parts of the world. Consider, for example, this:

Okay, I'm hooked. Let's have the details:

The governor of Ulyanovsk region in Russia is offering prizes to couples who have babies in exactly nine months -- on Russia's national day on 12 June.

Sergei Morozov wants couples to take the day off work to have sex. If a baby is born on national day, they will receive cars, TVs or other prizes.

Mr Morozov has declared Wednesday "family contact day" as part of efforts to fight Russia's demographic crisis.

Um -- "family contact day"? I suspect that something has been lost in translation. Either that, or a more suitable name ought to be chosen. (Sperm Donation Day? Copulation for Population Day? Fuck for Russia Day?) Still, what's not to like about a day off to do it?

Besides, think of the prizes. This will be Ulyanovsk's third such sex day, and this year the grand prize was an SUV.

And it seems to be working: "the region's birth rate has risen by 4.5% over the last year."

Good times.

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". . . like an ubiquitous spook" (Part IV)

By Carol Gee

Yesterday was the day, six years ago, that New York's World Trade towers fell. Thousands of people died across the nation that day. Not long after that the so-called war on terror began. And thousands more have died -- our brave soldiers, as well as innocent people living in Iraq and Afghanistan. For two days, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker spoke to Congress -- and through them to American people -- about how the war is going in Iraq. Time and perhaps investigative journalism will tell whether they were able to convey an accurate picture. They did not talk about some of the more obscure and unintended consequences of the way the Bush administration has waged that war for six years.

The most serious one, apart from the terrible loss of life and national treasure, has been a serious erosion of civil liberties of U.S. citizens. Another has been the politicization of the war. Disentangling the Military from Civilians and Politics was my South by Southwest post on 9/6/07. (The words in bold are pertinent to today's last in my "Ubiquitous" series). I began the previous post with this:

In a time of war it is inevitable that the U.S. Military will be deeply involved in the business of the nation. Our first president, George Washington understood how important it is to put civilian leadership over the military. Most of the time this check and balance system works very well. Since the turn of the century, however, the Military has become the answer for far too many of the country's questions. And that is a natural reaction because its discipline, organization, and resources work so well to solve serious problems. They provided invaluable help with natural disasters around the world, with gathering signals intelligence, and with being available to protect the homeland from invasion from a foreign nation. Success has been more elusive when the Military has tried to wage war against non-uniformed terrorists, when they have been asked to do the work of nation-building and diplomacy, or when they have set up their own internal intelligence gathering system.

Most Americans, including me, have a great deal of respect for our military leaders. General Petraeus came to Congress with a deep wellspring of credibility on both sides of the political aisle. I posted recently about my own admiration for the work of General James Jones and his Independent Commission on Security Forces in Iraq. Monday there was a "Senate Hearing on the Terrorist Threat Six Years After 9/11," where two of the witnesses are military men. (see it at the C-SPAN website):

Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) presides over a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Cmte. hearing on "Terrorist Threat Six Years After 9/11." Witnesses include: Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell*; FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III; and John Scott Redd, National Counterterrorism Center, Director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

When I watch these good men testify, I am convinced that they are all bright, competent, principled and patriotic. "I can take the measure of them," as it were. It is the government without faces about which I am not so sure. It was not until late 2005 that I mustered the courage to blog about some of the government offices that were reading my blog. It was visits from the military on 12/16/2005 that prompted a post titled "Patriots and the Pentagon." To quote:

At another of my blogs, I wrote about my strange feelings as I discovered that governmental entities were visiting this site in November. And I have never actually physically attended any protests. I merely write online in what I view as a patriotic manner... Last Tuesday NBC first reported that anti-war activists may be the target of spying by the Pentagon... According to my editor, "If Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or John Hancock somehow woke up and read this, they would surely ask, 'How did this happen?'"

Since 2005 I have had many visits from people in many different government offices. The most recent, on September 6, 2007, there was a record on my Site Meter of a visit from NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Center / Marines in Pensacola, Fla.).

Having the Marines read my blog for the NCTC would not bother me so much, if I knew that the government's national intelligence systems worked really well. For example, there is this recent news headline, "Terrorism Watch List Is Faulted For Errors -- Justice Dept. Official Urges Improvement." It was written by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, on September 7, 2007. To quote:

The government's master watch list of known or suspected terrorists continues to be marred by errors and inconsistencies that can obstruct the capture of terrorists or cause innocent people to be detained by U.S. authorities, the Justice Department's inspector general said yesterday.

. . . Its size has more than quadrupled since its creation in 2004, to the point that it contained more than 720,000 records as of April, according to the new report. It is growing at the rate of more than 20,000 records a month.

But Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said its management by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) "continues to have significant weaknesses," producing a high error rate and a slow response to complaints from citizens.

Another example -- one of my favorite bloggers, "cscs" at TPMCafe, recently posted this: "Mathematics" (8/24/07), from which I quote:

Recently, DNI McConnell revealed that putting together a FISA warrant required "about 200 man-hours to do one telephone number." Last year, there were 2181 FISA applications. Wired does the math:

That means government employees spent 436,200 hours writing out foreign intelligence wiretaps in 2006. That's 53,275 workdays. Let's assume dedicated government employees work 40 hours a week with two weeks off a year. That means there were 218 government employees with top secret clearances sitting in rooms, writing only FISA warrants.

This whole line of "200 hours" for a warrant was so obviously unlikely, yet, so far, I can't find anyone who reported it as anything other than straight fact.

September 11, 2001 was a terrible day for the people of the United States. The loss of life, the turn of events in the Middle East, the huge debts incurred, and any resulting fearfulness of our people are all confounding consequences to be confronted. Among the most confounding consequences, in my opinion, was the damage done to the U.S. Constitution. The current administration's terribly misguided effort to "make us more safe" did nothing of the sort. Our leaders must understand that we cannot let the most cherished values of our nation come under successful attack from extremists, because we became too fearful. We cannot let the terrorists succeed with that, any more than with any other aspect of the conflict.

Background reading:

Another new tool coming soon - Hat tip to Brothers Judd for Thanks Admiral -- link to Financial Times, "U.S. spies get a top-secret Web of their own." Quote:

In December, officials say, the agencies will introduce A-Space, a top-secret variant of the social networking Web sites MySpace and Facebook. The "A" stands for "analyst," and where Facebook users swap snapshots, homework tips and gossip, intelligence analysts will be able to compare notes on satellite photos of North Korean nuclear sites, Iraqi insurgents and Chinese missiles.

A-Space will join Intellipedia, the spooks' Wikipedia, where intelligence officers from all 16 U.S. spy agencies pool their knowledge. Sixteen months after its creation, officials say, the top-secret version of Intellipedia has 29,255 articles, with an average of 114 new articles and more than 4,800 edits to articles added each workday.

A separate online Library of National Intelligence is to include all official intelligence reports sent out by each agency, offering suggestions: if you liked that piece on Venezuela's oil reserves, how about this one on Russia's?

* Learn more about the Director of National Intelligence -- from Glenn Greenwald at He writes at length on Mike McConnell (8/23/07 & updates).

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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A man walks into a bar...

By Capt. Fogg

"I can’t get with any religion that advertises in Popular Mechanics."

–Woody Allen, Annie Hall

Nor can I, but I find it equally incongruous that we have television advertisements for a war financed by people who produce and direct it. Neither the Rosicrucians nor Ari Fleischer hiding behind his warmongering Freedom's Watch group have invented anything here. Contrived religions, wars fought and passionately supported for business reasons, quack medicine and sports insanity are old traditions.

So when a man wearing a Texas Longhorns t-shirt gets his scrotum torn off in an Oklahoma bar by a 53 year old Church Deacon, Federal auditor and veteran of our much honored, supported and honorable armed forces, I'm not surprised. Although neither the scrotum ripping Sooner Supporter nor the de-horned Texas man had ever attended the schools in question, the incident was a clear intention to attack Oklahoma values and freedom by Lone Star insurgents. Pre-emptive castration was the only real option. They attacked Oklahoma, after all. Oklahoma and its barroom bullies had little choice but to defend their freedoms and values and honor. Oklahoma is OK.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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568.26 milliliters of your finest ale, my good man!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Europe has finally come to its senses:

The European Commission today confirmed its decision to allow Britain and Ireland to keep some of their old imperial measurements so pubs can still serve pints and road signs will show miles instead of kilometres.

European Union rules drafted in 1999 aimed to phase out the imperial measures by 2009, but the EU's executive body decided on a U-turn in the face of public opposition.

The decision "honours the culture and traditions of Great Britain and Ireland, which are important to the European Commission," said Guenter Verheugen, the EU's industry policy commissioner.

I'm not so sure they are -- important to the EC, that is -- no matter how it's spun by Verheugen and his fellow centralizers. This was a case of public pressure trumping the totalitarian tendencies of Europe's regulation-happy technocrats.

Which is fine, really -- and rather gratifying.

Some things -- like the pint, like a pint of beer -- are sacred.

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Blow up

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Toads in an area of northern Germany are being killed off by a mysterious disease -- they are exploding.

Thousands of the amphibians have died in recent days in a pond in Hamburg's Altona district, with their bodies swelling to bursting point.

The toads' entrails are propelled for up to a metre (3.2ft), in scenes that have been likened to science fiction.

Scientists are baffled. Possible explanations include a unknown virus or a fungus in the pond.

Odd and disturbing and, well, horrifying.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bush-Petraeus-Crocker hits

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Some links to Iraq-Bush-Petraeus-Crocker-related stories:

-- WaPo: "Senators Take Petraeus, Crocker to Task." Good, but to what end? Here's Sen. Chuck Hagel, whom I celebrated earlier today: "Where is this going? Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate we're doing now? For what?" The right rhetorical questions from one of the most credible war critics.

-- HuffPo: Petraeus doesn't know if what he's doing in Iraq is making America safer. This he admitted to Sen. John Warner today.

-- CNN: "President Bush is expected this week to announce his plans for cutting back U.S. troop numbers in Iraq, a senior administration official said Tuesday." Troops that are scheduled to come home, with numbers coming down to "pre-surge levels". The first stage of a larger withdrawal or an unavoidable move (there aren't any more troops to send over)?

-- TP: "Is Petraeus’ Drawdown Part Of The White House’s 2008 Political Strategy?" Yes. In this White House, all decisions, Iraq-related or not, are essentially political decisions. Troop cuts to pre-surge levels are quite simply unavoidable given the current realities of the U.S. military, but they will come at a time that most benefits the Republicans, that is, right before next November's elections.

-- Prof. Cole: "Despite what the pundits will say, I fear the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the Hill Monday and Tuesday is not a turning point, does not give Bush breathing room, and is largely irrelevant." As usual, a brilliant post. Read it all.

You can find more at Memeorandum.

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Coup de Caracas

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A few weeks ago, I posted on the latest development in the growing tyranny of Hugo Chavez. You can find that post here -- it includes links to six previous posts on this topic.

There isn't much democracy in Venezuela -- what democracy there is is largely a Chavez-friendly sham introduced by Chavez to sustain his authoritarian rule. At the national level -- if not below it as well -- Chavez's explicit goal is the abolition of democracy altogether, all for the sake of his vainglorious revolution, a national-socialist revolution that looks for inspiration to Bolivar and Castro.

The specific topic of my last post was Chavez's plan to amend the constitution to remove term limits on the presidency, that is, on him and his authoritarian rule, first in the National Assembly and then by way of a national referendum.

As the BBC is reporting, the National Assembly is currently discussing Chavez's plan. And there won't be much debate, let alone genuine opposition. The National Assembly has been wholly pro-Chavez since the 2005 elections, boycotted by the major opposition parties amid credible allegations of corruption. Chavez's legislative minions granted him rule by decree in January and they'll no doubt grant him what he wants now. And then so will the people, in the sham of a referendum that is to follow -- can there be any doubt as to the outcome? Chavez will not allow himself to lose, no matter what. (Update -- 9/12/07: see here. The National Assembly has approved Chavez's plan for the second time -- one more time to go, then the referendum.)

Sometimes revolution can be achieved without sudden, dramatic bloodletting. This one of those times, a calculated plot to use the levers of government to establish tyranny.

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". . . like an ubiquitous spook" (Part III)

By Carol Gee

The FBI Wiretapping Case -

The current administration, through its intelligence efforts, continues to be involved in very widespread (ubiquitous) collection and analysis of information about potential threats on the domestic front. Spooks, spies -- eyes & ears in the skies -- 11/28/06 -- was my first "ubiquitous" post on civil liberties and security.

At this moment (9/10/07) I am listening to a Senate Committee hearing on C-Span on "Terrorist Threats Six Years Later." The Big Four, Michael Chertoff (Homeland Security), Robert Mueller (FBI), Mike McConnell (DNI), and Admiral J.S. Redd (NCTC) are testifying. Civil liberties and privacy are at the bottom of everyone's agenda, Sentors and witnesses have all been speaking only tangentially about those principles.

FBI became ubiquitous in electronic surveillance demands from communications companies - Not long after 9/11/2001 surveillance on both foreigners and Americans became more widespread. The Patriot Act completely reorganized the business of gathering intelligence, giving vast authority to the FBI to spy on all Americans. The story of this effort comes from The New York Times : "FBI cast a wide net." To quote:

F.B.I. Data Mining Reached Beyond Target Suspects, By ERIC LICHTBLAU
September 9, 2007

The F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call and e-mail patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records.

The documents indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on individuals it saw as targets but also details on their “community of interest” — the network of people that the target in turn was in contact with. The bureau recently stopped the practice in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters, officials said Friday after being asked about it.

The community of interest data sought by the F.B.I. is central to a data-mining technique intelligence officials call link analysis. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American counterterrorism officials have turned more frequently to the technique, using communications patterns and other data to identify suspects who may not have any other known links to extremists.

On the FBI's surveillance system, DCSNet - from (8/29/07) comes this on what we are dealing with, including the breach of security concerns for the system itself: "Point, Click ... Eavesdrop: How the FBI Wiretap Net Operates." To quote:

The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.

It's a "comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems," says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.

Court rules FBI acting illegally -- The ACLU brought suit "for us all." The headline was heartening: "Judge invalidates Patriot Act provisions," from The Washington Post (9/7/07). To quote from the story:

A federal judge struck down controversial portions of the USA Patriot Act in a ruling that declared them unconstitutional yesterday, ordering the FBI to stop its wide use of a warrantless tactic for obtaining e-mail and telephone data from private companies for counterterrorism investigations.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York said the FBI's use of secret "national security letters" to demand such data violates the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers, because the FBI can impose indefinite gag orders on the companies and the courts have little opportunity to review the letters.

. . . But Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in the case, said the ruling "is yet another setback in the Bush administration's strategy in the war on terror and demonstrates the far-reaching efforts of this administration to use powers that are clearly unconstitutional."

The bottom line is, what we have are the courts almost as a last resort. Congress remains supine on our behalf allowing our constitution protections to be ignored. The safety net seems very thin at this moment.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Good post alert: Author under gag order assails producer, ABC for 'Path to 9/11'

By J. Thomas Duffy

I am a little surprised that The Commander Guy didn't take to the airwaves last evening, or issue the message through Faux News and The Sludge Report, that to commemorate the sixth anniversary of September 11th, that we should all go out shopping today...

He could have scheduled a trip to Minneapolis and hit a 3-For-1:

Ahhh, wishful thinking ... I'm sure he's much too busy celebrating the PetraeusReportpalooza ...

So, we point you to today's Good Post Alert, thanks to The Raw Story:

Author under gag order assails producer, ABC for 'Path to 9/11'

We knew this movie was a hack job when it aired ... Now we know just how much of a hack job it was ...

Bonus Links

Open Letter to ABC: Don't Airbrush 9/11

Max Blumenthal: Discover the Secret Right-Wing Network Behind ABC's 9/11 Deception

Joan Walsh: The false path to 9/11

Top Ten Cloves: Things Overheard At ABC Meetings About “Path To 9/11” Movie

Breaking and Developing News! ABC Fesses Up; Plan For 'Path To 9-11' Is To Launch ‘Dancing With History’ Series; Establish “Dancing” Franchise In Same Vein As CSI, Law and Order; Disney Signs Coulter for New Death Wish Projects

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Hagel's rebellion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

We knew it was coming, and now it's official:

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) officially announced Monday that he will not run for a third term and does not plan to run for president in 2008, setting in motion a battle for his Senate seat and leaving anti-war Republicans and independents without one of their candidates of choice in the presidential contest.

Speaking at the Omaha Press Club about six months after balking at a decision on his political future, Hagel was definitive about his Senate plans and all but closed the book on a presidential bid.

“I will not seek a third term in the United States Senate, nor do I intend to be a candidate for any office in 2008,” Hagel said. “It has been my greatest honor and privilege to serve my country and represent my fellow Nebraskans in the U.S. Senate. My family and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity and the trust placed in me by the people of Nebraska. It has enriched all of us.”

Of course, Hagel no doubt saw the writing on the wall. There is simply no future for him in Republican presidential politics -- not now, perhaps not in his lifetime. He could have held on to his safe Senate seat -- an alluring proposition, one imagines -- but for what, to what end? Just to be there, just to be a senator? And as a Republican, for a party that seems to have no room for someone like him in its increasingly narrow and fundamentalist tent? To be sure, Hagel is a solid conservative Republican on many issues that matter to Republicans -- on taxes, for example, but also on social conservative "values" issues that mean so much to the Republican base. But on Iraq, on the issue that has so divided Republicans, and the country, he want his own way, a realist, refusing to follow the president and the warmongers and the madmen in his party, so much of his party, further into what he knew, like so many others, to be a quagmire, a worsening one, one from which there would be no easy remove, one that was proving to be ever more catastrophic, both in and of itself and for his party and his country.

On Iraq, he proved to be a maverick, a critic, an independent-minded Republican -- and Republicans dislike such rebels, not to mention independent thought, particularly so now, in a time of war, of trumped-up war, endless war. You're either with them or against them, to rephrase Bush, and he was against them, forcefully so, and with integrity, credibility. True believers of the full-blown madness still listened to the president, to the warmongers, and followed them, thoughtlessly, but much of the country, most of it, shifted the other way, against the war, seeing it for what it had become, what it is, a disaster, and they, and I, and so many others, of differing persuasions, listened to Hagel, to the case he made, a forceful case, a case not of partisanship or delusion but of principle, and of the truth, grateful that a Republican, one of prominence, came out against the madness that had taken hold in his party, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and throughout the country.

And where did that get him? Effectively excommunicated from his party, a prospective presidential candidate who didn't have a chance in hell, not with the Giulianis and the Romneys and the McCains and the rest campaigning, successfully, on everything Hagel opposed, with respect to Iraq at least, supporting the war, and the surge, and calling for more war, and more and more, a continuation of the madness.

Yes, I admire Hagel, and will miss him, not for his staunchly conservative views, certainly not, but for his independence on this key issue of our time, Bush's War in Iraq, for his integrity and credibility, for being a thorn in Bush's side, in his party's side, for speaking the truth during the reign of delusion -- and I've written extensively about him here, here, here, here, here, and here -- and elsewhere, too.

Yes, Chuck Hagel will be missed, but we can thank him nonetheless for what he has done, and we can be thankful that he will still be around for some time to come. He will not seek re-election, but he will, one hopes, continue to speak the truth.


Yesterday there was more nonsense, from Petraeus and Crocker, and today there will be more, and tomorrow yet more, and it will go on and on until the people who are waging this war are no longer in a position to wage it -- and that means especially the civilian, not the military, leadership.

Here's what Hagel said back in January: "There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives." And with Iraqi lives, I might add, and in an especially volatile part of the world. It is being claimed that the surge is the strategy, or what flows from the surge is the strategy, which is the campaign in Anbar and elsewhere, and maybe there is a strategy there, but what of it? There has been success here and there, or the perception of success, or temporary success, but the war has been lost, and the game, a hopeless one, is still being played. For now. Troops will likely be withdrawn next year, not because of success but because there is no other way, and no other troops, and because the madness must begin to end, sometime.

And, through it all, or at least through much of it, once it turned, Hagel was right.

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Conservatives squeak out narrow victory in Morocco

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the G&M (Reuters): "Morocco's conservative Istiqlal party won the most seats in parliamentary elections, allowing it to form the next government with its current ruling coalition allies, final results released on Monday showed. Istiqlal (Independence), a ruling coalition member, won 52 seats, ahead of the opposition Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) with 46 seats, the Interior Ministry said. The final figures showed a record-low turnout of 37 per cent, an apparent snub of a political system whose leaders are widely seen as aloof and out of touch."

-- For more on the elections, see here. For more on Morocco's interesting political-electoral system, see here.

-- Istiqlal (interestingly enough, given its nationalist and pro-monarchy tendencies) is a member of Centrist Democrat International, formerly Christian Democrat International.

-- Morocco's main Islamist party, the PJD, isn't quite as extreme as Islamist parties elsewhere.

-- Although voters may have stayed home in protest against "aloof and out of touch" leaders, one wonders if they'd prefer non-aloof and oppressive leaders. Be careful what you wish for.

-- This election marked the first time a Jewish woman was a candidate for the Moroccan parliament: Maguy Kakon of the (minor) Social Centre Party.

-- A liberal party (Popular Movement, a member of Liberal International) finished a very respectable third, gaining 16 seats. A leftist party (Socialist Union of Popular Forces) finished fifth, another liberal (and pro-monarchy) party (Constitutional Union) sixth.

-- It must be remembered that Morocco is effectively a monarchy. Its democracy isn't a sham or a farce, but King Mohammed VI is in control.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Petraeus brings home the headlines, White House ecstatic

By Creature

The surge circle is now closed.


Los Angeles Times


Associated Press


All these years later and the media still eats their shit right up.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Ignorance is evidence of innocence

By Capt. Fogg

Senator Larry "restless leg" Craig: the season's biggest gift to the Stand-up comedy industry. Senator Bojangles Craig, his toes a tappin' and his lyin' lips a flappin' has got himself a lawyer to tell us all that his guilty plea was the result of stress from having been outed by an Idaho newspaper.

Billy Martin, advocate for the tap dancing Senator with the wide stance, assures us that photos of Craig in gay bars notwithstanding, a vehement denial "put to rest" all the evidence of gayness and so in order to assure everyone that he is not now and never has been a homosexual, he plead guilty to soliciting for gay sex in a toilet. Make sense? Ask a Republican like Arlen Spector.

Under Minnesota law, says Martin, a guilty plea can be overturned only if it was unknowing and unintelligent. Perhaps, if he can convince a judge that Craig is an idiot who doesn't know innocent from guilty he might have a chance. As Spector says, after all, "what Sen. Craig did was by no means intelligent."

If the "I'm not intelligent" defense works, just think of how soon we can empty the jails!

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

And then there was chaos...

By Libby Spencer

Kevin Drum posts one of the best pieces I've ever seen on why we should withdraw from Iraq. Read the whole thing, but here's some key grafs.

Needless to say, this is nonsense. Israel has fought war after war in the Middle East. Result: no regional conflagration. Iran and Iraq fought one of the bloodiest wars of the second half the 20th century. Result: no regional conflagration. The Soviets fought in Afghanistan and then withdrew. No regional conflagration. The U.S. fought the Gulf War and then left. No regional conflagration. Algeria fought an internal civil war for a decade. No regional conflagration.

I think it's worthwhile for proponents of withdrawal to be honest about the likely aftermath of pulling out: an intensified civil war that will take the lives of tens of thousands and end in the installation, at least in the short-term, of an Iran-friendly theocracy. This is obviously not a happy outcome, but neither is it the catastrophe the Chaos Hawks peddle. The alternative is to babysit the civil war with American troops, spilling blood and treasure along the way, without truly affecting the course of events in any substantial measure.

Politically, this is the key battleground now. As long as the Chaos Hawks are able to panic the public into believing that withdrawal will result in a Middle East in flames and ten dollar gasoline at home, no Congress will have the backbone to defund the war and force a pullout. This means that it's time for more sensible regional professionals to screw up their courage and tell the truth: pulling out won't be pretty, but if it's done prudently neither will it be Armageddon. The sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can leave Iraq.

I still have my doubts that it would be as bad as people are predicting. It's already so horrible I don't see how it could get all that much worse. However, I'm certainly willing to acknowledge it's a sobering possibility. But as Kevin notes at the end, "It's way past time for us to start formulating a sane national security policy for an age of terror. Leaving Iraq is the first step."

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)


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