Saturday, April 08, 2006

Congress to fold on war with Iran.

Sy Hersh writes in the April 17th issue of the New Yorker that the administration is preparing a massive airstrike on Iran, which will include tactical nuclear weapons.

How is Congress going to handle this you ask? Just like they handled Iraq, roll over and play dead.

Hersh writes that:

"In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat. A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who did not take part in the meetings but has discussed their content with his colleagues, told me that there had been 'no formal briefings,' because 'they're reluctant to brief the minority. They're doing the Senate, somewhat selectively.'

The House member said that no one in the meetings 'is really objecting' to the talk of war. 'The people they're briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq. At most, questions are raised: How are you going to hit all the sites at once? How are you going to get deep enough?" (Iran is building facilities underground.) 'There's no pressure from Congress not to take military action,'the House member added. 'The only political pressure is from the guys who want to do it.' Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."

Gosh, this sounds familiar doesn't it?

Friday, April 07, 2006

W. is reading your e-mails. (I'm looking at you Taylor!)

The NYT reports:

" A former AT&T technician said on Thursday that the company cooperated with the National Security Agency in 2003 to install equipment capable of 'vacuum-cleaner surveillance' of e-mail messages and other Internet traffic. (A) suit, filed in January in federal court in San Francisco by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, says the company helped the security agency invade its customers' privacy..."

The EEF web site says:

"The evidence that we are filing supports our claim that AT&T is diverting Internet traffic into the hands of the NSA wholesale, in violation of federal wiretapping laws and the Fourth Amendment,' said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. 'More than just threatening individuals' privacy, AT&T's apparent choice to give the government secret, direct access to millions of ordinary Americans' Internet communications is a threat to the Constitution itself. We are asking the Court to put a stop to it now."

Hmmm..I wonder why W. didn't mention that yesterday?

A radical vision for the Democratic Party. And it ain't Hillary or John Kerry.

I'm so sick of the Democratic Party these days. You've got John Kerry trying to come off as Bush-lite on one end of the spectrum and on the left you've got Cynthia McKinney re-running 1960's. Isn't there anyone out there like a John McCain ---but without the religious baggage --- who has the ability to calmly articulate a political platform that corresponds to the real concerns of a majority of Americans? The powers-that-be in both parties are so out of touch with what most people go through in the real world that they're just incapable of appealing to the voters on the issues that really matter to them. All we get is demagoguery and nonsense. No wonder no one votes!

Here's my vision of a platform that would be a winner for the Democrats. First and foremost is a focus on the pocket book:

As FDR said, "Liberty requires opportunity to make a living --- a decent living according to the standard of the time, a living which gives a man not only enough to live by, but something to live for."

In accordance with this I would increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This is the amount a study found a person who pays rent, in all but four counties in the U.S., would have to make in order to afford anything other than just the rent.

Big business would naturally reject this outright, but to balance this supposed untenable cost of doing business, I would then propose creating a universal health care system that would lift that crushing burden on business of providing this one their own. This would immediately solve some of the problems GM is having, for instance, and would also make American manufacturing more competitive. The majority of countries that we compete with have a massive advantage over our manufacturers because they don't have this huge added cost. Paying for universal health care could easily and cheaply be accomplished by cutting out the middlemen --- the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Also, with the organized power of the government and its purchasing power, the cost of drugs would plummet.

Such a leveling of the playing field would lessen the pressure for manufacturers to move their jobs overseas. People making more money and being healthier would raise profits and create more jobs. Sky high CEO pay packets don't trickle down and they don't lift all boats, despite John Snow's protestations to the contrary. Real money in real people's hands is the only thing that will ultimately benefit big business and average Americans in the end.

Higher wages and free health care won't solve all the problems this country has, of course. For the 37,000 million Americans in real poverty, 13% of the population, who are totally out of the job market, I would call for a massive public works program to rehabilitate our crumbling infrastructure. Put all of America to work! It is estimated that it could cost 100 trillion dollars to bring our roads, highways, bridges and public buildings up to snuff. In order to pay for this, in part, I would raise taxes on the rich, who are quickly becoming a permanent aristocracy under this administration, and I would impose a wind fall tax on the oil industry.

Political liberty and economic liberty go hand in hand. As FDR pointed out, "The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect citizens in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live. Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair."

Nowadays, we can't even depend on our right to vote, so I would call for the end of the "Help America Vote Act” and would give the power of running elections back to the states and various localities. Federal funding would be provided for which ever system the states chose, but there would be no mandate to follow Federal guidelines. No matter what voting machine a state chose to use, there would be a verifiable paper record of the votes.

And to really make sure the people's voices made a difference in elections, I would scrap the current bi-cameral set-up and create a quasi-parliamentary system. I'm not sure exactly what kind of set up would work just yet, but the having the number of representatives set at 435 ad infinitum is getting more and more anti-democratic ever year. Right now, I think every representative represents 100,000 people and as the population grows that number grows too. There is no way for the people's House to effectively do the bidding of the people with that kind of lopsided arrangement.

I would increase the tenure of representatives to perhaps three years, so they don't have to start trolling for money as soon as they take their seat, and I would limit the president's term to six years. And as an added check on the executive, I would pass an amendment to the constitution that allows for a recall of the president in cases of egregious mismanagement as we have today. If the president is an actual danger to the government and the constitution we shouldn't have to just wait him out and cross our fingers that he doesn't leave a wake of destruction behind him. We've seen the pitfalls of one party controlling all branches of government and if Congress is incapable of checking a rogue executive, the people must have that option.

These are just a few basic ideas I have that would make our country more democratic and economically healthy. If a candidate came up with this sort of new thinking, I would certainly go right out and vote for him or her. Anything is better than what we've got to look forward to now.

Rummy and Condi: The Battling Bickersons.

Part of what W. said yesterday might tend to explain the awful mess we're in. In his opening remarks in Charlotte yesterday W. said:

"In order to make good decisions, you've got to rely upon good people. People have got to feel comfortable about coming in the Oval Office and tell you what's on their mind. There's nothing worse than people walking in, say, well, I'm a little nervous around the guy, I think I'd better tell him what he thinks he needs to hear.

You can't do the country justice, you can't make good decisions unless you've got a lot of good, competent people around you, and I do -- Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State; Don Rumsfeld -- (applause) -- the Vice President."

That's kind of a funny thing to say because Cheney apparently dosen't even bother to let W. what he's up to most of the time, based on how long it took him to get around to telling W that he shot someone.

As For Rummy and Condi, there seems to be a bit of a contretemps (figuratively speaking of course) brewing between the two of them. The WaPo reports that:

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not know what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was talking about when she said last week that the United States had made thousands of 'tactical errors' in handling the war in Iraq...Rumsfeld said calling changes in military tactics during the war 'errors' reflects a lack of understanding of warfare." (As if he knows anything about it!)

Remember, Condi said in the UK that, "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure." WDAY's Scott Hennen asked Rummy, "Do you agree with that? Have we made thousands of tactical errors? And does that concern you?" Rummu answered, "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest."

He doesn't either, though, that's the problem. Rummy explained that "The enemy's got a brain; the enemy watches what you do and then adjusts to that, so you have to constantly adjust and change your tactics, your techniques and your procedures."

But you go to war with the army you've got, not the one you'd like, right Rummy?

Good golly gracious, the enemy's got a brain.

Not my favorite guy either.

George Bush got a tongue lashing yesterday in North Carolina and it was long over due. Harry Taylor, a member of the audience at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte where W. was holding another one of his "Town Meetings," called him out on his domestic spying program and his dictatorial misrule.

Taylor said, "You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air, and drinking clean water and eating safe food...What I wanted to say to you is that ---in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, or more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency, by the Senate and ---" At this point he was booed down by the freedom loving audience --- "And I would hope --- I feel like despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration, I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself."

Well said Mr. Taylor! You let our boy King know what's the minds of millions of Americans around the country and peoples all over the world. You're a real patriot!

But unfortunately, I'm afraid, it fell on deaf ears. Where there's no feeling there's no sense, they say. Although W. seemed to be very gracious in telling the crowd to let Taylor speak, it was all part of the show. The new White House strategy is, according to the WaPo, "To put him in front of crowds for spontaneous exchanges to show he is not afraid of criticism." They plant a few critical voices in these PR events and he makes sure to call on them. Just like when he called on Helen Thomas for the first time in three years at his snap press conference last week. It's not that he's anymore interested in listening to what his critics are saying now than he was before, but it does give him an opportunity to show how "open-minded" he is. It's all totally bogus.

In answer to Taylor's critique, W. let loose with some real whoppers.

After the obligatory reference to 9/11 he said, "I'm not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program, and I'll tell you why...I called the people responsible for helping to protect the American people and the Homeland. I said is there anything more we can do. And there --- out of this national --- NSA came the recommendation that it would make sense for us to listen to a call outside of the country, inside the country from al-Qaeda or suspected al-Qaeda in order to have real-time information from which to possibly prevent an attack."

I think what he was trying to say there was that the NSA only listens to calls coming from without the country, but that's not exactly true. There have been reports in the press that some "mistakes" might have been made and domestic calls had actually been monitored. In fact, as W. was assuring his adoring listeners that he only spies on al-Qaeda, AG Alberto "Waterboard" Gonzales was testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee on domestic spying. Eric Lichtblau writes in the NYT that Gonzales suggested that, ‘the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occurred exclusively within the United States.' When asked whether this was a possibility Gonzales said, "I'm not going to rule it out."

Of course, no one knows for sure what the administration is really up to because they won't let anybody know, not even Congress. Despite W.'s assertion in North Carolina that he took his decision to spy on us to "members of Congress from both parties and briefed them on the decision that was made," and that "both chambers were fully aware of" the program [fact check], Republican representative James Sensenbrenner (no left wing commie pinko) accused the administration of "stonewalling." Sensenbrenner asked Gonzales, "Mr. Attorney General, how can we discharge our oversight responsibilities if every time we ask a pointed question, we're told the answer is classified?"

Sensenbrenner reminded Gonzales that, "If we're properly to determine whether or not the program was legal and funded -- because that's Congress's responsibility -- we need to have answers, and we're not getting them." [WaPo] Yeah right, that's what he thinks! W. has got lawyers that say different. W. said, "Now you may not agree with the constitutional assessment given to me by lawyers --- and we've got plenty of them in Washington --- (He's such an outsider, isn't he?) but they made this assessment that it was constitutional for me to make this decision." (Right a whole bunch of yesmen like Gonzales.)

In case you were wondering if Gonzales admitted that they're spying on Americans at home, after the hearing a DOJ spokeswoman, Tasia Scolinos, clarified Gonzales' remarks. "The Attorney General's comments today should not be interpreted to suggest the existence or nonexistence of a domestic program or whether any such program would be lawful under the existing legal analysis."

That pretty much clears things up, right?

I don't think W. is the only one who should be ashamed of himself. How about Congress for letting him get away with this?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The president has set high standards.

The WaPo reports:

"WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide told prosecutors President Bush authorized the leak of sensitive intelligence information about Iraq, according to court papers filed by prosecutors in the CIA leak case. Before his indictment, I. Lewis Libby testified to the grand jury investigating the CIA leak that Cheney told him to pass on information and that it was Bush who authorized the disclosure, the court papers say."

Well, well, well. I seem to remember Scott McClellan saying back in July of last year that, "No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States. The president has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."

Well, Mr. president, what do you have to say for yourself?

"I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information, inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business." [WaPo]

We're waiting dubya.

Give it up Cynthia!

The Cox News Service reports that the prosecutor investigating Cynthia McKinney's scuffle with a Capital Hill police officer has turned the case over to a grand jury. The jury will decided whether McKinney should be charged with assaulting a police officer, a felony, or simple assault, a misdemeanor.

This whole thing to me is just silly. Yes, McKinney is annoying and she sometimes puts her foot in her mouth, but she's not exactly the first congressman to have done that. The right wing bloggers and the House Republicans are trying to make this into a big deal and the Democrats are characteristically running for the hills, but this is just a tempest in a tea pot. McKinney hasn't helped her cause by claiming that this is a matter of "racial profiling" and calling out all the usual liberal suspects to stand next to her. With all the indictments coming down for Tom DeLay's associates and his decision to pull out of his House race in Texas, we should be cracking open the champagne and celebrating. But no, here's Cynthia McKinney gumming up the works with her shameless grand standing, giving the likes of Ann Coulter and O'Reilly a tailor-made issue to beat the Democrats up with.

Give it a rest, Cynthia. I know you were given a raw deal with the whole 9/11 comments thing and you lost your seat because of Aipac money, but you're back now and your seat isn't in jeopardy, so just admit you made a mistake and let's get on with it.

News flash:

WaPo reports:

Rep. Cynthia McKinney apologized this morning on the House floor for her scuffle with a Capitol Police officer, expressing "sincere regret" and saying there should not have been any physical contact with police. "I come before this body to personally express again my sincere regret about the encounter with the Capitol Hill police," McKinney, a Democrat from Georgia, said in an one-minute statement to her House colleagues. "There should not have been any physical contact with police. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all, and I regret its escalation."

Johnny come lately.

John Kerry says it's time for the troops to come home. [WaPo] Gosh, this couldn't have anything to do with the fact that polls are showing a majority of Americans are now firmly against the war, could it? With finger bravely stuck in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, Kerry says, "There is reluctance by people here to push this envelope, and I think you have to push it." Wow, what a principled stand! Where was Kerry (aka "the backbone") three years ago? Oh right, he voted for giving Bush carte blanc to do whatever the hell he wanted to do. I can't remember, has he decided whether he now regrets that vote?

Kerry is all about pushing the envelope now that Bush is clearly in trouble on this issue. The prevailing thinking on this is that Kerry is staking out a position to the left of Hillary in the hopes of wooing the anti-war Democrats. Mission not accomplished. I say a pox on both their houses. The only thing more nauseating than Hillary's 'tougher than Bush sans the religious fanaticism' election strategy, is Kerry's Johnny come lately conversion to the anti-war position.

Thanks John, but no thanks. If it comes down to a choice between Hilary and Kerry in '08, I just might sit this one out. And this is coming from someone who has never missed an election, even though I only voted for a winning ticket twice in my entire life, and that was for Bubba. Mondale, Dukakis and Kerry, big time losers. Never again.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Israel Lobby. There's no such thing.

There is much talk recently about the "Israel Lobby" and its detrimental influence on our foreign policy. A new working paper by John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt has brought this subject to the fore again and Max Boot has heroically come to the rescue of Aipac in an Op-Ed in the L.A Times. Boot sets out to discredit this new attack on "the friends of Israel" by arguing that it's just as "nutty" as the anti-communist ravings of Robert Welsh of the John Birch Society. Welsh used copious footnotes to prove his fevered paranoia of an imminent communist take over, and so too, Mearshhiemer and Walt's 83 pages of text and 211 footnotes produce "evidence to prove the unbelievable." (We don't need no stinkin' footnotes!)

Before you even bother to look into what the paper says or check out the references it uses to back up its conclusions, just know that it’s all anti-Semitic paranoia. That's usually the argument that ends all discussion when it comes to Israel. Any other issue under the sun is up for debate in a democracy like the United States, except Israel. But anti-Semitism isn't the only arrow Boot has in his quiver, besides the fallacious footnotes there's the "faulty reasoning," like, for instance, the "terminal lack of seriousness" in Mearshiemer and Walt's proposition that: "The mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about." (How crazy is that?) If that were true Boot counters, "Social Security, the Second Amendment and Roe v. Wade must not be 'in the American interest' either, because they are all defended by even more powerful lobbies."

Of course, the problem with Boot's line of reasoning is that, these are all domestic policy issues and all of those supposedly "even more powerful lobbies" are not receiving funding from a foreign power. That's the crux of the issue with the Israel Lobby. Americans lobbying their leaders in the government is one thing, but a foreign power using its money and influence to manipulate the Congress, the media and even American elections to get its way is quite another. (Better get back the anti-Semitism thing.) Especially, a supposedly friendly foreign power that has been spying on our political and economic secrets for decades: The most extreme example being the case of Jonathan Pollard ---considered to be an Israeli national hero --- who passed tens of thousands of pages of U.S. military and intelligence data to Israel and who is now serving life in prison for causing damage "beyond calculation" to our national security, according to prosecutor Joseph Di Genova.

Friends may spy on friends, but they don't turn around and give what they've pilfered to our enemies. The data Pollard gave Israel somehow wound up in the Soviet Union which led to the executions of Russians in America's employ and put thousands of American soldiers at risk. And even more dangerously for our national security, the information that Pollard took from his job in Naval intelligence has helped Israel make its submarines, with their nuclear tipped cruise missiles --- also provided by us ---virtually undetectable to our intelligence services. No matter how benign the intentions of Israel may be, we surely cannot tolerate any other country to roam the oceans of the world with impunity with silent nuclear-armed submarines.

The cost of our friendship with Israel and World War IV:

Some might say that our slavish support for Israel and the zillions of dollars we've spent on it has been all in one direction. Boot concedes that, "the United States has paid a price for supporting Israel," but he claims it's not as great as the price we've paid "for supporting other embattled allies." Really? The price for supporting Israel has been pretty steep if you consider not only the "subsidies" we've sent to Israel to the tune of about $1.6 trillion the past thirty years, but also the extra cost of security we pay at the pump to keep our oil supplies safe from Israel's Arab enemies, who now hate us too. Most Americans could probably understand putting our troops in harms way to fight Hitler in WWII and maybe even to fight the Chinese in Korea or the Vietminh in Vietnam, but fighting World War IV for Israel? Is the support for Israel among the American people really that overwhelming as the "friends of Israel" claim for such an enterprise?

I know there are all those crazy people out there like Mearsheimer and Walt who are "exercised about the power of the Hebrews" and their buddies David Duke and Pat Buchanan, who believe "the invasion of Iraq was a Zionist plot," but what about Phillip Zelikow? A senior adviser to president Bush and executive director of the 9/11 commission, a person in-the-know and not particularly noted for being a hater of the Joos, has also said the invasion of Iraq was solely for the benefit of Israel. "Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? he asked. "I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel."

And perhaps a reasonable argument could be made that Looney ideas of Israeli intellectuals like Norman Podhoretz, who thought the creation of a moderate Arab democracy in the Middle East would cause regimes bent on Israel's destruction to collapse, has now become our own. Podhoretz wrote in 2002 that such a democratic purge should not be confined to Bush's 'axis of evil' countries, but should also extend to the replacement of all the regimes on Israel's hit list. "At a minimum the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as to 'friends' of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt's Husni Mubarak," he wrote.

And what about the horrible mess this misguided strategy has landed us in? As if looking into a crystal ball Podhoretz wrote, "There is no denying that the alternative to these regimes could easily turn out to be worse, even (or especially) if it comes into power through democratic elections," because, "very large numbers of people in the Muslim world sympathize with Osama Bin Laden and would vote for radical Islamic candidates of his stripe if they were given a chance. Nevertheless, there is a policy that can head it off, provided the U.S. has the will to fight World War IV--- the war against militant Islam---to a successful conclusion, and provided that we then have the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated parties."

The question is do the American people have the "stomach" to fight a generational world war on Islam? That's where the Lobby comes in; to make sure none of our leaders or the media dares to question whether this is really in our best interests. This is why the Lobby is so dangerous to our national security. Name me one other country in the world that would let itself be led around by the nose like this?

Next stop, Iran.
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